Cartography and the Vatican

From First Thoughts

I love maps. Adore them. I grew up with those crazy folding road maps and now I refuse to download certain map apps for my smartphone because I am afraid I will disappear into such a rabbit hole that my wife and children will give up on me. As Dirty Harry once said, “A man’s got to know . . . . Continue Reading »

A Sitcom for the STEM Age

From First Thoughts

When I was a teenager, our family suffered from the embarrassment of not having cable television. We had only five channels to watch, and my brother and I were mortified by this travesty. One year, we hit on a strategy that solved our problem. My dad’s cousin (Rod Gilbreath) played infield for . . . . Continue Reading »

Divine Sheet Music

From First Thoughts

Beck Hansen. Stage name: just “Beck”. Avant-garde musician Beck Hansen recently produced a new “album,” Song Reader , that was not released in stores or via mp3 files. Instead, he released the score and asked his fans and other musicians to upload their interpretations of the . . . . Continue Reading »

What’s Old Is New

From First Thoughts

From time-to-time, I teach a course in historical linguistics, which is among my favorite subjects. One of the topics we spend a fair amount of time discussing is what’s called “ Sound Shift ,” which describes how similar vowel and consonant sounds move around over long stretches of . . . . Continue Reading »

Radical (Secular) Fundamentalism

From First Thoughts

Some of my friends and professional acquaintances who are secularists complain that religious social agencies  will not provide primary services to persons who do not share the faith commitments of the agency’s sponsors. They imagine a soup line that includes an armed and perhaps . . . . Continue Reading »

No Religion Please, We’re Americans

From First Thoughts

In my historical linguistics class, we talk about the influence of culture on circumlocutions, the strategy of saying something indirect so as not to offend.  One of the classic examples is that of the refusal of some Victorians to say the word “bull” because it referred to that . . . . Continue Reading »

An Egological Army of One?

From First Thoughts

When the U. S. Army started employing a marketing motto “An Army of One” in 2001, my friends in the military howled that such a slogan was antithetical to the entire concept of martial teamwork.  An officer noted that an army of one was more like a vigilante than a soldier.I thought . . . . Continue Reading »