More on 12 years a slave

There were lots of stories of slavery and escape from slavery written by the slaves themselves;  a whole genre of North American literature. You can find all the published North American slave narratives collected here, free and in digital form. It’s fantastic resource. Some of the narratives were world renowned in their day, some were […]

Why I Probably Won’t Ever Watch Twelve Years a Slave

Twelve Years a Slave is based on the memoir of Solomon Northup, who was born in comfortable freedom and kidnapped into slavery. Right there is the problem. The movie is presented as an indictment of the institution of slavery, and beyond that as a particularly vivid and realistic account of the awfulness of slavery. But […]

What Bitcoin is and isn’t

After the last post on Bitcoin, I’ve been having some interesting discussion with a reader, Jonathon Duerig, about Bitcoin and money. This is the first of a two parter on money and digital technology Bitcoin resembles the traditional gold standard, in that it’s a form of money imagined as outside government interference that can’t be […]

Hating Daylight Saving

Feeling slightly groggy and disoriented this morning? Thank daylight saving, the pet project of A. Lincoln Filene. Daylight Saving was first tried in the US during WWI. It was adopted nationally for one year, in 1918, and then repealed. From 1919 till 1966 Daylight saving was observed by “local adoption.” In 1966, it made federal […]

Schizophrenic Bitcoin

Bitcoin has been back in the news in a big way. In February the Mt. Gox trading site, which handled 80% of the trade in Bitcoins, collapsed, taking 850,000 Bitcoins with it, worth an estimated 450 million dollars. Though CEO Mark Karpeles bowed in shame, it remains unclear if these were stolen, or lost, or […]

Why you don’t listen to music

There’s a good reason why you might not enjoy listening to music as much as you used to: It’s gotten too loud. All music has “dynamic range,” variations in volume between the loud parts and the soft parts. People sing and play at different volumes. Individual notes have an initial attack and then a gradual […]

Jesus, Santa, and White People

Recently Megyn Kelly, on Fox News, made the argument that both Jesus and Santa Claus were “really” white. Let’s put aside for the moment that fact that one is an entirely fictional character and the other is a character for whom very little historical evidence exists. She’s right about Santa Claus–he was mostly imagined by […]

the Vinyl Archive

There’s a well known article by the photographer and critic Allan Sekula which points out that from the beginnings, photographs posed a problem of archiving. You’d go on vacation, take some pictures, send them off to be developed, and they’d come back in an envelope, or as slides. Then what? For most people, it was […]

The Female Dollar

President Obama is considering appointing, among others, Janet Yellen as chairman of the Federal reserve. Predictably, opponents and proponents both take her gender into consideration: she’d be the first female head of the central bank. Yellen’s supporters think having a woman as chair would amount to a breakthrough for gender equality, but opponents have worried […]

History and Faith

There’s a famous (among academics) essay by Hayden White I often ask suffering students to read, called “the Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality,” a ponderous title indeed. White reproduces excerpts from the Annals of St. Gall, a medieval manuscript with multiple authors. It looks like this 709. Hard winter. Duke Gottfried died. […]