Category Archives: HISTORY

Will the Mermaids Sing to Me?

58 days and counting… (to Coachella)

From a cultural standpoint, getting drunk with a few thousand people in the name of music and booze is nothing new.  People have been engaging in these types of social rituals for tens of thousands of years.

In Ancient Sumer for e.g., music and inebriation were part and parcel of ritual worship.  Their big yearly festival included a public act of coitus between the King of Uruk and the High Priestess Ishtar.  While local musicians strummed diatonic scales on lyres, drunken revelers watched the literal reenactment of the mythical union that resulted in the birth of Ninkasi, the goddess of beer!  Over in Ancient Greece, the Oracle of Delphi and her flute wielding female minions spent their off months worshipping Dionysus.  In between all night JethroTull-like jam sessions, they’d drink themselves silly and have orgies with animal bones (aka ‘divine dildos’). Continue reading






When I was a teenager I used to drive into Manhattan by myself and walk around at night.  My mother once told me this was known as a ‘cheap date’…   Once the city emptied out, another city would emerge and I’d spend hours walking while the tired buildings watched over me…  I’m still hard pressed to think of a better way to spend an evening.

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Sea Monkeys?



Elaine Morgan is a tenacious proponent of the aquatic ape hypothesis: the idea that humans evolved from primate ancestors who dwelt in watery habitats. Hear her spirited defense of the idea — and her theory on why mainstream science doesn’t take it seriously here.  History has been riddled with incorrect theories although this one sounds sort of nutty to me – but still, people said the same thing about Kepler when he claimed the Earth revolved around the Sun and clearly he was right.  I don’t know what to think but I find myself asking the question ‘what if we have it all wrong?’ more and more…


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Think… Historical

I’m always stunned when I hear people say they don’t like history.  To be honest, I’m not even sure what this means.  How can you not like something that is so vast and far reaching?  Nowadays, history also includes sociology and anthropology.  So, saying that you don’t like history is a bit like saying you don’t like food.

History is the connective tissue that links events together.  History is every idea that every was.  Without it, how would we understand the broader developments that shaped our lives?  Being able to think historically, that is — being able to interpret the raw data of history using narrative, imagination and understanding — expands our understandings of society, politics, and the economy to name just a few.  Important stuff given the times we live in, no?

For more on the subject check out this book.

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Notes from My Mom

If you’re like me, then you have a mother who arrives for Sunday dinner with at least three cut out newspaper articles (neatly affixed with paperclips), free pamphlets from recent art exhibitions (in a myriad of languages in the event that you have the urge to read about the Norton Simon Museum’s latest installment in French or Greek), and 5-9 pages of typed notes on recent historical facts that she has been reading about over the course of the week.  Mind you, in addition to having both a Masters in Humanities and a PhD from NYU (re. the politics of poetry in the work of Seamus Heaney), my mother is also the President of the Las Angelitas del Pueblo Organization.  There’s no shortage of smarts where she’s concerned.

However, lately she’s been threatening to stop watching TV for a year; though she wonders how she’ll manage without Judge Judy and Stacy and Clinton from whom she refers to as “my friends”.  My stepfather thinks it’s madness mostly because he would have to give up Judy, but he does argue – rightly so – her giving up TV would mean we would be awash in typed memos.  Like the recent eight page doozy on Neolithic towns that she handed me last week.

Here’s a small snippet.  I’ve included her notes verbatim in bold.  My comments are in ital. Continue reading

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Big Brains

While some people have a favorite movie star that they obsess about, I mentally stalk intellectuals.  For years, my go to guy was Harold Bloom the mac daddy of critical thinking.  And yes, Bloom is still a brilliant bloated star in all ways; but in the last year I’ve ventured out of the cushy confines of lit crit and into the bubbling cauldron of anthropology which was where I found my new favorite intellectual Ian Tattersall…

Like Bloom, Tattersall is a Yalie (he’s also English which is always a plus for me), however unlike Bloom he is also a paleoanthropologist and a biological anthropology curator at the American Museum of Natural History (you have him to thank for the refurbished Hall of Human Origins).  His work on human evolution is brilliant – from Lemurs to Bones and Genomes, to Extinct Species, to Neanderthals…  More than that it’s compulsively readable – check out The World from Beginnings to 4000 BCE  for a great starting point or Bones, Brains and DNA if you have young kids.  

But the best reason to like Ian Tattersall is that he’s a nice guy who takes time out of his busy schedule to help others (and by others I mean me).  Case in point: He gave me great notes for a children’s book on evolution that I am working on.  Even better, he also convinced me that Neanderthals didn’t have language*.  When was the last time someone convinced you of that?

*Apparently their larynx was situated too high up in their throats to allow for proper interaction with the hyoid bone – which is how we are able to speak.


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