• the origin of Romeo and Juliet?


      When I wrote the essay, Misguided, I assumed the Romeo and Juliet story was fictional. But when I looked into the matter, I found a lot of confusion. Wikipedia doesn’t answer the question but its information does help explain why the guide books were confused. Of the several plays that predate Shakespeare’s (which was written […]

  • how basic knowledge gets lost


      Since the Trump election, we have woken up to the prevalence and danger of  fake news in America. Carefully designed to warp public opinion and spread by social media using high tech analytics, it has become a major threat to our democracy. Huge segments of the population no longer trust in expert opinion, even in logic. But this […]

  • why the Pisa tower leans?


      As for the Tower of Pisa’s tilt, Wikipedia is explicit on the cause: an inadequate foundation on ground too soft on one side to properly support the structure’s weight. The theory of the intentional tilt seems to be as crazy as you might think. Some of the guidebooks’ confusion, however, might be attributed to […]

  • you’re not like your parents? really?


      Psychologists would say that we naturally identify with our parents, either modeling ourselves on them or establishing independent identities by choosing the opposite path. The perfect example of conscious rejection is the 1980’s TV series, Family Ties, starring Michael J. Fox as the hyper-conservative son who mocks the liberal values of his baby boomer […]

  • whither the “generation gap”?


      Hippie gurus and tie-dyed bell-bottoms are history. The police are no longer pigs. Crunchy granola has lost its claim on virtue. Has the generation gap also gone the way of all things sixties? Having lived through the era, I assumed that every generation was doomed to be cut off from the next by dint […]

  • wine cellars and mortality


      One of the essential appeals of “laying down” wine is that you can buy it when it is young and relatively inexpensive, after which it can sit in your cellar aging and taking on value. Over the years, you can chortle at the high price a wine is fetching— in a wine store or […]

  • ‘butterfly’: a linguistic anomaly


      How can we account for the world-wide variety in word ‘butterfly’? The most interesting essay on this linguistic mystery comes from William O. Beeman, of the Dept of Anthropolgy, Brown University, 2000: The Elusive Butterfly. He notes that since the 19th century, “one of the bedrock principles of linguistic analysis” has been that most words […]

  • Why the butter in ‘butterfly?


      Whether it is their metamorphosis, their vibrant colors, their gentle fluttering, their beauty, something about butterflies touches our imaginations. They transcend our negative associations about insects and seem more fairies than bugs. Perhaps this accounts for the great variety of names for butterfly in different languages. The “monarch” was named by a 19th century […]

  • why fear miscegenation?


      The caste system of Mexico held that there was racial mobility in miscegenation. A mestizo line could move forward to become Spanish after three generations of interbreeding with pure Spaniards, whereas mixing with Africans moved one back toward the pure African. Gary Winogrand’s Central Park Zoo photograph from 1967 plays on a buried notion […]

  • faint hope for the Monarchs


      The Monarch figures for 2017 were released in February: down 1/3 from the previously year, which was only slightly better than the figures for 2014 and 2013, the lowest in at least 20 years, a decline of more than 80% in recent decades. According to a report in the New York Times by Michael Wines there […]


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