I made you a present for Passover

I made you a present for Passover

My brother has a big seder dinner every year for Passover. This year–finally–my kids are big enough to travel all way to Maine for a quick visit, and I don’t have a business trip that is going to get in the way. So we’re going. The catch is that if you’re coming, you have to write (and sing) a Passover-themed song parody. So, yeah, I made this for you. I’m really sorry. On the off chance that you have somehow avoided the original…here you go. Let Us Go, Maybe? So I was talking to El Said life in Egypt was hell Need somewhere else we can dwell, But Pharaoh’s in our way! He says he’ll give us a hand, He says he’s got it all planned He says there’s a promised land, And Pharaoh says “Okay!” Pharaoh’s heart...

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A World of Possibilities

When I was a graduate student, I once threw down with a Very Eminent Shakespeare Scholar about my dissertation topic. I wrote about representations of illness in early modern literature, and he wanted to know why anyone would bother studying that, since we knew that all early modern medicine was nonsense, and modern medical knowledge was the pinnacle of science. I was terrified, but I gave him a few reasons I thought that topic was important, and added that I hoped to hell that modern medical knowledge would be superseded every century, every decade, every year. I hoped that one day people would be horrified by the idea of a mastectomy (an operation that was performed in the 17th century, by the way) or by the idea of using poisons to cure cancer. Part of the...

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The Carol of the Economists

As I said last year, I’d have made you all sweaters or clay ashtrays or something, but time sort of ran away with me again this year, and I haven’t even baked my Gingerbread Keynesians yet. (I like to bite their heads off.) So here, I made you this instead. The Carol of the Economists Hark! Here’s the gist: Economists All seem to say: “Trade every day. Markets are here With goods and cheer For young and old Meek and the bold. Peaceful exchange At short or long range! Goods changing hands! Supply and demand! Prices emerge As they converge. With trade, of course, there’s no need for force. With common law And virtue (bourgeois) We’ll do just fine without design. Spontaneous orders for us! Let’s give a cheer Markets are here! Merry merry merry...

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Learning to Look

Learning to Look

For me, one of the most exciting things about the early modern era is that you can see people learning to look at the world around them in whole new ways. From the beginnings of perspective drawing, to improved mirrors, to telescopes and microscopes, there were so many new ways to see and to study. That meant new things to write about, new questions to ask, whole new modes of thinking. In an earlier post I went a little nuts over the way that Galileo’s discoveries influenced Milton’s depiction of the universe in Paradise Lost. Galileo made available to anyone would could read the wonders of a universe too large to imagine. In much the same way, the publication of Robert Hooke’s Micrographia allowed ordinary people–like Samuel Pepys who...

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The Wine Dark Conundrum

The Wine Dark Conundrum

I always like to drink with classicists, because they (and medievalists) know all the best dirty jokes, and in an impressively wide range of languages.  They also ask really interesting questions. Because it is both an interesting question, and a question that remains unanswered, AND a question about drinking, a particularly delicious query to ponder while gazing into one’s wine glass during the hours between midnight and the arrival of rosy fingered dawn is the question of exactly what Homer meant when he referred to “the wine dark sea.” Scholars have suggested a wide range of theories–nicely summarized here. Maybe the alkaline ground water of the area produced wine that looked more like Romulan ale than a nice chianti. Maybe the ancient...

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There’s this thing called the Internet–Have you heard of it?

President Obama recently said that, “”The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all companies could make money off the Internet.” So now everyone is arguing about who invented the Internet. I thought we all solved that a few years back when we decided Al Gore did it, but apparently we’re still debating it, so here we go again. There’s a nice piece in the WSJ today by Gordon Crovitz called “Who Really Invented the Internet?” that puts paid to the notion that the Internet is a government invention, and that gives a lot of the credit to private enterprise in the form of Xerox. That’s very cool. And it’s certainly part of the story of the Internet. But my...

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Through Optic Glass

Milton met Galileo. Galileo was old, blind, and dying, and under house arrest for his heretical science. Milton was a  young and brilliant writer, with his greatest works and his greatest heartbreaks still ahead of him.  (And there should be a novel or a play about it. Why isn’t there? Surely someone out there has the necessary combination of expertise and ego to imagine that meeting,which  Jonathan Rosen characterized as “Superman meets Batman.” I digress.) Milton was still thinking about that meeting years later. We know, because first of all, how could he possibly not still be thinking of that meeting? Would you be able to forget it? But we also know because when he describes Satan’s shield in Paradise Lost he writes that it is made...

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