• Passages Part II: Berlin

    At the bottom of the memorial, what I felt more than anything, I think, was a sort of fear. The fear of wandering through a world that had closed itself off. Of streets in which no window or door was open. Of storefronts no longer familiar or welcoming. The same remorseless facade around every corner. "I was walking along close to the walls," writes Kafka in his parable The Cell. "Although there were several doors, if one opened them, one only found oneself standing in front of a dark, smooth rockface, scarcely a handbreadth beyond the threshold."

  • Happy Public Domain Day, 2024

    In 1998, Congress passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (derisively known as the "Mickey Mouse Protection Act"). In a nutshell, the legislation extended the copyright on most published works from 75 years to 95 years. Immediately after it was passed, copyrights that had been set to expire in 1999 were extended for an additional twenty years. So followed two decades of public domain silence. This is the year that in many people’s minds, Disney gets its due.

  • March 25th: A Feast of Feasts

    Many Christians celebrate the Annunciation of the Lord on this day, and for years that was my only association with it. As it turns out, some combination of historical circumstances, fate, and tradition has placed a great deal of weight on this date, and the reason the Annunciation has been celebrated then is no mere coincidence but a participation in an older tradition preceding even the birth of Christ. 

  • Bob Dylan at 80: The Ship Never Came In … And That’s OK

    On October 26th, 1963, Bob Dylan performed “The Times, They Are A-Changin’” for the first time in New York’s Carnegie Hall. “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” were also in the set. And he closed with “When the Ship Comes In,” a song he had performed with Joan Baez only a few months earlier at the March on Washington, where Martin Luther King, Jr. would later deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech. Something was happening and Dylan was right in the midst of it.

  • Hammurabi the Humane

    While the ancient world was a world that may very well have been more violent than ours, the law codes of even the most ancient peoples (flawed though those laws were and as ours are) echo through the ages with a basic, humane instinct for justice, mercy and peace.

  • A Paper Thin Distance (Conversation)

    On February 16th of this year, Daryl Davis, an African American blues musician who engages with members of the Ku Klux Klan, sat down with Christian Picciolini, the former leader of a white-supremacist skinhead group, for a conversation at the New York Encounter. Their gripping discussion offers profound insight and ultimately hope for this moment in our nation.

  • Karl Marx’s Letter to Abraham Lincoln

    Wait ... what??? One of the challenges of teaching world history is that events unfold in both time and space. Focus on what was happening all around the world at a given time, and you lose the ability to tell a clear story. But focus on a story as it unfolded in a particular place (say America, France, China or Russia), and you risk putting history into silos.