Cut off

I think there is a particular evil of our time, one that cuts across the ideological spectrum and demographic groups. It's the idea that in response to some perceived offense in the world, our highest moral imperative is to cut ourselves off from the offense... or some person or institution or place or practice associated [...]

Science and the unseen

Coming back home to the history of science, I wrote about Philip Ball's latest in the LA Review of Books: Science depends on cultural beliefs. Whether it’s an earthy commitment to empiricism or an ethereal sense of wonder about the stars, we commit ourselves to certain notions long before we peer into the microscope or fund [...]

Kimmy Schmidt as our Don Quixote

Branching out a bit, I wrote an essay about "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," Tina Fey's new Netflix show, for the Los Angeles Review of Books. The key idea is that we can view the main character as a person "out of time" like Don Quixote or Ignatius J. Reilly. A preview: The "man out of time" [...]

The fearful, frenzied elites

I've got a new review in the Los Angeles Review of Books of Phantom Terror: Political Paranoia and the Creation of the Modern State, 1789-1848. Here's the gist: Anyone who has studied the politics of this period knows that its elites lived in constant fear of revolution. Zamoyski’s contribution is to transform this fear from a general [...]

The perfect holiday routine

1. Pull up White Christmas on Netflix 2. Watch through the end of the World War II part 3. Unpack the tree and the ornaments while they're on the train 4. Do the heavy lifting during the minstrel and choreography songs 5. Stand back and admire your work while Bing and Rosemary are fighting 6. Settle [...]

Another experiment

Brim Above her eyes a barrier, in her mouth a verb — ditransitive, the nerve — to touch another person without endgame or design, to state one's Gospel in a way that never has the need to say, "My cup runneth over," but just runs. "Brim with me," imperative. She throws the hat away the hope of [...]

A Theory of Friendship (with rockets)

For the past few years, the nature of my work has led me to encounter very interesting people for very short periods of time, usually just a few hours. Most of the time, a personal relationship would not continue after that (though an institutional one sometimes would). This suited me. I like people. I like [...]