The Olympics, Race, and the power of Government

The Olympics send a very clear message, not about individualism, or about race, but about the importance of government. The BBC website offers a nice list of medal rankings by nation. It’s an interesting list, because of what it says about human diversity, race and culture. The US at the moment is ranked second, almost […]

The end-game of critical thinking

A friend sent me this link, from last month’s Washington Post, about the Texas GOPs Party platform calling for a ban on critical thinking. The plank in question reads: We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) […]

The necessity of algebra

Recently Andrew Hacker published an op-ed in the New York Times about Algebra. It’s extremely hard for many people, and it’s of dubious practical value, he says. We should de-emphasize it. I’m entirely sympathetic to this point of view, even though in general, I support the agenda of the traditional liberal arts. I’m one of […]

Joe Paterno’s Glasses

Ta-Nehisi Coates, my favorite public intellectual, has a good post at TheAtlantic about Penn State. In the wake of the grotesque and appalling child abuse scandal, they’ve elected to take down the statue of Joe Paterno that stood outside the football stadium. Coates thinks they should leave it up, and put explanatory text around it. […]

Higgs Boatswain

The news is full of Higgs Bosuns. Theoretical physics predicted its existence, and now thanks to the 9 billon dollar Large Hadron Collider, physical evidence, of a sort, has been produced to confirm it. I’m not a physicist, have no training at all in physics and in fact never managed to pass high school algebra. […]

The Evasive Henry Adams

Part of an occasional series series on “lesser known DC” One of the most compelling pieces of sculpture in North America sits hidden in Rock Creek cemetery in DC. It’s a statue that suits its sponsor: smart, tasteful, controlling, melancholy, arch, cryptic. It’s  a monument to decline, and silence. The story is well known to historians. […]

Reclaiming the flag

Today is the fourth of July, and we’ve decided to fly a flag. My wife and I have both hesitated to put out a flag. We both felt it’s become associated with jingoistic rightwingery, with eagle-and-flag empty bluster and an odor of compulsion. My wife grew up on military bases, where the raising and lowering […]

The physical book

After about a decade and a half of work, I finally got the first copies of my latest book, Face Value. It’s out! It’s a history of money, of the ways Americans imagined what money was and what value was. Some of it’s been adapted for this blog. It’s my third book, if you count editing […]

19th century wierdness

Part of an occasional series on “lesser-known DC” The “building” is so grotesquely out of place on the Senate side of the Capitol lawn. Surrounded by hurrying self-important staffers, high-priced lobbyists, and the constant hot bluster of politics, it’s quiet, cool, and enigmatic. It’s hopelessly impractical. It passes time, not legislation. Hundreds of thousands of […]

The Real People

Maybe you’ve seen this astonishing Obama ad featuring Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue talking about all the incredible women she gets to meet including Sarah Jessica Parker, and urging you to enter a contest to have dinner with Wintour, “Sarah Jessica,” and the Obamas. It’s pretty amazing. I find it deeply creepy, but I’m suspicious […]