• Recapitulation
    Ernst Haeckel’s now-debunked theory of recapitulation claimed that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” which is a mouthful. The idea was that the development (ontogeny) of an embryo somehow mirrors the evolutionary history (phylogeny) of a species. This implies that a human embryo progresses through condensed stages from microbe to fish and so on until becoming a human …
  • Alchemy
    Here’s the thing about studying science: If you stick to the topic itself and keep your attention focused on flowers, insects, crustaceans, lizards, or whatever, you’ll learn all sorts of wild facts about nature and get better at pub trivia, which is its own reward. Where it gets weird and problematic is when you take …
  • How to win a “hold my beer” contest
    Two bros are drinking beer. The first pulls a stunt. The second wants to top it. “Hold my beer.” Before you ask someone to hold your beer, you might want to know why you’re doing it. The “Hold My Beer” game is not unlike HORSE (the basketball game), except that the stakes are higher, with …
  • Evolutionary writing
    It’s difficult to write about evolution. The first problem: What should be common knowledge is still taken as controversial by the (now) minority of those who reject the evidence of evolution. I watched the Evolution, Ecology and Behavior course in 2016, coincidentally the first year that a survey showed that the majority of the American …
  • Calculus
    It’s the first semester of freshman year at Carnegie Mellon. I’m enrolled in Calculus for Science Majors. After the midterm, I skipped a couple of the weekly recitations. Then, when I finally did show up, I looked for my test in a pile of graded assignments. On one midterm, in the space marked, “Name _______”, …
  • The writer we deserve
    Originally published March 2, 2016, Seattle Review of Books. It’s early in the year, time for taking on ambitious, resolution-worthy reading projects, and what better project than The Dying Grass, the latest novel from William T. Vollmann? Vollmann, our young nation’s own Tolstoy. Russia can keep Count Lev Nikolaevich and his high society, literary friends, …
  • The second-biggest schmuck in the world
    Murray’s wife: “Murray, you’re a schmuck. You’re such a schmuck, you’re the second-biggest schmuck in the world.” “Oh yeah?” responds Murray. “Why aren’t I the biggest schmuck in the world?” “Because you’re such a schmuck!” I’ve discovered a pattern in my writing. The galgo, Cervantes’ invisible dog-narrator of Don Quixote. Barsabbas, the alternate juror of …
  • One month of blogging.
    It’s the usual practice for bloggers and independent scholars to pick a favorite topic, whether it’s World War II history or butterflies or anime or prog rock, and circle around it for a lifetime. It’s a time-tested method for gaining expertise, creating blogs, and joining a community. My way is that of Odysseus resisting the …
  • The Trojan Women
    Seattle’s poetry bookstore Open Books: A Poem Emporium has moved to Pioneer Square! And that’s where I met up with my friend Beverly Aarons, creator of Artists Up Close, for one of our expansive chats about writing, art, technology, and the world around us. Beverly knows that I’m a big fan of the talking-dog genre …
  • Drawings, 2015
    Between 2012 and 2014, I took about a dozen drawing classes at Gage Academy of Art, culminating in a trio — Pen & Ink, Composition, and Beginning Color Theory — with Margaret Davidson. Best art teacher I ever had. At the start of class, we’d put our latest work up on the corkboard and take …
  • Lawmakers
    Round him, as if to catch a haul of fish, I cast an impassable net—fatal wealth of robe—so that he should neither escape nor ward off doom. Aeschylus, Agamemnon, line 1380. Robert Greene’s Laws of Power came out the same year I got an MBA. It was in the zeitgeist, and since then it’s become …
  • Tunics
    “As there are no accounts of these events which are independent of Herodotus, a historical reconstruction, as opposed to a validation of all or part of Herodotus’ narrative, is impossible” Figueira, “Herodotus on the Early Hostilities between Aegina and Athens,” The American Journal of Philology 106.1, Spring 1985, 49). The famine in Epidaurus The Epidaurians’ …
  • Testocles
    History has two Testocles. The rich kids from good Athenian families clamored to the fights at the Cynosarges gymnasium, the best fighters in town, always a good show. If you hung around long enough, you’d pummel and grapple and bleed and laugh with the rest. The good Athenian families were distressed to see their sons …
  • Subway Map for Ancient Greek History
    In studying Ancient Greek History, I found it useful to simplify the map.
  • Sunday shoeshine boy
    “I’d be in the gutter, and they’d stand on the sidewalk, and I’d kneel down, and for five cents, I shined their shoes.” Read LEON: A LIFE (Old Convincer Publishing, 2019).
  • Cautionary tales
    Just ten days after watching my first Open Yale Courses lecture, I was talking with Zachary after services and found out that he had studied with Professor Christine Hayes from the Introduction to the Hebrew Bible videos. He invited me to a weekly Talmud study group to talk about whether or not chicken parm is …
  • Swampworld
    I met Stevie on a Sunday summer afternoon outside the T at Kendall Square. She asked me for directions to the movie theater. Sure, I’m headed that way. We walk, we chat. Mind if I join you? We watch the movie, make a date, then another, then more. It was a hot summer, and my …
  • The unelected
    Following the Ascension of Jesus, the apostle Judas “burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out” (Acts 1:18). Peter needed a replacement for the apostleship. Someone else had to take up Judas’ share of the ministry and his position as overseer. In Jerusalem, speaking to a crowd of about 120 believers, Peter …
  • Introduction to the New Testament
    I bought my first Christian Bible at a used bookstore. It felt like buying porn. It was difficult to overcome my reluctance to read the New Testament, almost a superstitious avoidance of a bunch of words on the page. I was only willing to confront the text through the prophylactic of an academic experience, done …
  • The Honeymoon Album
  • “How do you do, fellow kids?”
    Yesterday, I posted a book review from six years ago on Mitchell Duneier’s Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea. Reading old work can be, as the kids say, cringe. And I expect this very post will make me cringe in 2028. My cringeworthy book review contains hip-hop lyrics, extended digressions …
  • If you ain’t ever been to the ghetto
    Originally published at The Seattle Review of Books, June 8, 2016. If you ain’t ever been to the ghettoDon’t ever come to the ghetto’Cause you wouldn’t understand the ghettoAnd stay the **** out of the ghetto “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” (1991), Naughty by Nature Mitchell Duneier’s Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an …
  • Smokey and the Bandit 2027 (a 50th anniversary reboot)
    “In Smokey and the Bandit (1977), the overweight southern cop – so long an image of racialized abuse and white supremacy, and played brilliantly by Rod Steiger in In the Heat of the Night (1967) – became a comic figure who pursued white bandits, not black men or civil rights workers.” Deborah Barker & Kathryn …
  • Don’t Call Me Woke. I’m Sleepless.
    Adapted from 2015 journals “Cast down your bucket where you are.” – Booker T. Washington, 1895. Borrowing a stack of books on African American History. The university librarian at the desk turns deliberately and carefully through all the pages, annotating existing marks. The unspoken message: If you damage these pages, it’s on you. As difficult …
  • Two childhood stories
    “That which is hateful to you do not do to others. All the rest is commentary. Now go and learn.” Hillel The Casio Digital Watch Two months into first grade, our family moved from northeastern Pennsylvania to Montclair, N.J., which had just integrated the school system with busing and magnet schools. I had never met …
  • The weed-out course
    What’s your story? We drove from Pittsburgh to Mazatlan for Spring Break. Four college sophomores in a Jeepster. 7,800 miles in 10 days. Adventure, danger, romance, comedy, la tequila, las drogas, una pistola. No arrests, no fatalities. You want a story? Oh, we’ve got a story. But not yet. What’s your major? I started Carnegie …
  • It all works out, in theory
    Originally published by Seattle Review of Books, February 7, 2018 How do you enter the conversation among generations of Continental philosophers? Learn the lingo — and bring a bodyguard. In The Seventh Function of Language, Laurent Binet depicts the big names in 1980s literary theory — Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva, Bernard-Henri Lévy — as …
  • Thoughts on AI Art
    Based on “Anonymity of a Murmur” how do you view/what are your thoughts on all the AI art out there? Apostasy X Fnord “Anonymity of a Murmur” was posted on Wednesday, but I’ve already moved on from Foucault and it’s too late to turn back now. But you’re in luck, sister, because we are now …
  • Journals
    Morning pages vs. writer’s journal Susan Sontag, in Against Interpretation, on the function of a writer’s journal: “in them he builds up, piece by piece, the identity of a writer to himself.” In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron recommends “morning pages,” three stream-of-consciousness handwritten pages. What’s the difference between morning pages, the release of thoughts …
  • Drone On
    On my walk, I saw three guys on the field below Kerry Park working a roto-copter drone, or whatever you call these mechanical contraptions. Whatever happened to kites? Not thrilled to have a new source of visual pollution. Drone as the term for a flying machine, also the noise that a machine makes, also the …