Ideology has the function of presenting exploitation in a favorable light to the exploited, as advantageous to the disadvantaged.

Mario Liverani


If a man learns theology before he learns to be a human being, he will never become a human being.

Ludvig Holberg



Two brothers. The older one sits in a wheelchair and appears developmentally disabled. He looks like the actor Alan Ruck. His hair is gray, his face expressionless, staring into the middle distance. His younger brother stands beside him. It’s evening, and they are in a public park, apparently doing nothing. A few moments pass, and then the younger brother reaches over and squeezes his brother’s cheeks together with his right hand, as if trying to compress a sandwich too thick to fit into one’s mouth, a mouth that is now shaped like an “ooh” on his older brother’s face. For some reason, he believes his older brother finds this fun and entertaining. A way to bond. But the older brother eventually protests, pushes away the hand, and expresses his frustration with having his face squeezed like a little child’s, even though he has reached middle age. The younger brother is shocked, speechless and wide-eyed. Not by this unexpected news, but because his brother is speaking like a normal human being.

The wheelchair was a scam. . . .



I am going upstairs to visit the office desk of my friend P., who recently joined the company. He looks a little disoriented, and he’s trying to find the phone number of his manager. P. has forgotten the instructions his manager gave him the day before, and now P. is a little stressed because he’ll have to contact his manager again, who is on vacation. . . .

P. and I are on the road. I’m driving behind him. He’s driving a contraption that is pulling a flatbed trailer loaded with junk while pushing a motor home at the same time. This makes the entire assembly challenging to maneuver. We’re driving on the lower section of a freeway bridge that spans across a wide river. Cars are all packed around us, and P. is swerving left and right, trying to stay in his lane. Then suddenly, he bolts to the left, towards a turnoff, cutting off a few cars in the adjacent lanes. I panic and follow him. Horns are honking and I fear for my life. . . .

P. and I are driving by something like a Kennedy Space Center or some Thiokol test facility. We see rockets strapped to concrete beds, firing their bright orange flames across the city landscape. I stare with awe at the sheer beauty of the scene.


Transformation always has to do with understanding the world as process.

William Kentridge

Claude Lévi-Strauss

There have always been two of him—an appropriate fate for a man who has spent his life preaching that human beings tend to split everything into twos.

Wendy Doniger



We are preparing to interview a candidate at work. We are holding the interview in a play area, like you would see at a Chuck E. Cheese’s or at a Pump It Up. Except this play area is behind a locked door and wire mesh fencing (or, maybe, they’re all like that these days). There’s a surveillance camera above the door and a doorbell button on the wall to the right it. Everything feels dirty, like an old bowling alley.

I am standing by the door and can see a co-worker (J.) through the wire mesh, gesturing to me that the interview will be starting soon. I’m about to ring the doorbell, to get in, when another co-worker approaches the door and inserts a key into a lock. I didn’t notice the lock before. He opens the door and I tailgate into the play area. It’s full of kids and mothers. I’m not sure how we’ll conduct an interview in this noisy environment. One of the mothers wants to stand up but needs someone’s hand to pull on. I offer her my hand. She makes a remark about how husbands no longer fulfill their duties, as she pulls herself up from the pile of colorful beanbags. I see J. in the distance, walking towards another play area around the corner. I follow him into a smaller, quieter play area, where there are no children. All the walls are painted dark red, and the lighting is dim.

I see two young men—boys, in fact—sitting at a picnic bench in the far end of the room. Both appear nervous, and both are avoiding eye contact, especially with each other. They’re just sitting there, silent; nothing is happening, and I assume we’re just waiting for the other interviewers to arrive. But then I learn that it’s more complicated than that. I learn that both of these boys are here for the same interview, after receiving the same appointment via email. After receiving the same email. Somehow, both of them have the same email address. I ask, How is that possible? It must have been a glitch in the system. Oh, no, one of the boys replies, it’s very easy to do, if you know the technical details. But, I answer, that would mean someone did it intentionally. Someone hacked the email system? One of you? . . .

Then I understand why there’s tension in the air. We’re not waiting for the other interviewers. We’re waiting for the police to arrive.

Dolce & Doritos

Dolce & Gabbana announced the launch of a unisex perfume for newborns, inspired by the freshness of their breath. “D&G say their scent ‘smells of baby,’” said fragrance expert Vanessa Musson, “but a baby already smells like a baby.”[1] Frito-Lay announced the release of Taco Bell Doritos, which will taste like Taco Bell Doritos Loco tacos, which taste like Doritos.[2]

—Harper’s Weekly Review



I am on a family trip, in a town I’ve visited before (Victoria, B.C.?). I am in a secondhand store. It is a huge building, like a warehouse or an airplane hanger for commercial jets, with large windows all around the top of it, allowing the sunlight to pour in. And it’s full of beautiful old books and other vintage items. I am with one of my daughters. I’m looking for an old black metal rotary lead pointer, similar to the one I had purchased from this same shop twenty years ago. In fact, I find the same worn out card table on which I had found the item. It still has a lead pointer on it, but of a different color and model. For some reason, I very desperately want another lead pointer of the same model. On the table, I see an empty box for one, but I don’t see the model anywhere. I find the owner of the shop, sitting in a rocking chair, an older woman who resembles Mama Jeanne in the film Hugo. I approach her and explain my dilemma. She tells me coldly that she only has what is on display. I repeat my entreaty, only this time, tears well up in my eyes.

You see, I explain to the woman, my wife and I had visited this shop twenty years ago, and I had fallen in love with all of it—the vintage books and antique furniture and all of the old mechanical curiosities. I wanted to live in this place for the rest of my life. And I had told myself that when I retire, I would open a shop just like this one. But twenty years have passed, and I have not even taken one small step towards this dream, and I feel like a miserable failure. While I am telling her this between my sobbing, I notice that my wife is trying to reach me on my iPhone. Her name is flashing on the display in Google colors. I ignore her call and finish telling the owner my pathetic story.

When I finish, her face softens into an expression of sympathy. She smiles in an attempt to comfort me. She tells me that she really doesn’t have the lead pointer I seek. However, she suggests that I may find what I want in another shop that carries antique architecture and scientific supplies. She tells me the owner is known as KCC. I should be able to find the place by searching for “KCC” on the Internet. A sense of hope brings a smile to my teary face as I thank her profusely. She tells me that her husband had passed away years ago, that this shop had been his lifelong dream and, now, it is all that she has that’s left of him. My youngest daughter has been standing beside me this whole time, and tells me that we should be going, to join the rest of our family. I thank the owner once again, and my daughter and I head towards the shop’s glass entrance.

When I awake, I feel empty, for some reason.


War is the unfolding of miscalculations.

Barbara Tuchman


Is ambivalence a bad thing? Well, yes and no. . . .

Garrison Keillor, A Prairie Home Companion

Payne Hollow


I came upon this book by serendipity, in a town that I’ve visited only once and will probably never have the opportunity to visit again—Ketchikan, Alaska. The family and I were on our first—and likely last—Disney Cruise. Ketchikan was one of the ports of call. By this time, none of kids wanted to leave the ship, and the two youngest ones preferred watching the Disney Channel on our cabin’s television set. So it was just the wife and I, strolling along the town’s peaceful streets. Using my handy-dandy iPhone, I searched for bookstores in the area and found only one: Parnassus Books, an independent bookstore established in 1985 (according to the owner Maggie Freitag’s business card).

While browsing the store’s shelves, I came upon a book by Wendell Berry entitled Harlan Hubbard. I had never heard of this book, and I thought I had owned everything (at least, nonfiction) written by Wendell Berry. I flipped through the pages and came upon these lines:

The mind tries to live by the artificial structure of the world, but the body will have none of it, holding to primeval forces. . . . He would not live by mind alone, and he would not put his body and his bodily life under the rule of abstract ideas or monetary values. In its willingness to do that, and so to use the world and its goods without love or care, modern civilization denies the life both of the body and of the spirit.

And that was my introduction to Mr. Harlan Hubbard.

Payne Hollow is a book by Hubbard, about the years he and his wife Anna had spent building a house by the Ohio River in Kentucky, and living there to avoid the pitfalls of the modern world. This was after they had already lived on a homemade shantyboat, drifting down that same river for seven years. Payne Hollow is reminiscent of Thoreau’s Walden, but perhaps written less pedantically and with more humility. I am also tempted to add this book to my collection of “husbands and wives getting back to nature” books, which include The Good Life, Far Out Isn’t Far Enough, and Green Was the Earth on the Seventh Day. Reading its pages can open your eyes to the possibilities of what it means to have “much in little.” And you may find yourself noticing just how abstract and disconnected the modern world can get—and why you may occasionally feel empty inside.