Picking a Pope

115 cardinals will pick a pope in the Vatican this afternoon. It wasn't always a civilized process. Once, people were suffocated, strangled, urinated on and poisoned.

Island Fever

They’re digging out from under Nemo in the Northeast; and it’s another slushy Sunday here in the Midwest. It might be nice to get off to an island, or not.

White-Fronted Bee-Eaters

Christmas has always been about families and the masses have always been sung by the unmarried. Who live, like White-Fronted Bee-Eaters, as helpers-at-the-nest.

House Mice

House mice, like us, live under despots when they're hemmed in, closed off or locked up. And nobody gets to vote.

Innocent Religions

Thousands of years after the Buddha, Arjuna, Confucius, Abraham, Jesus and Muhammad, fewer women are herded into palaces, and fewer men live alone.

Labor Day

The long, hot summer is over. The hardworking men and women of America are taking a day off.

Bastille Day

223 years ago, on 14 July 1789, the crowds took to the streets in Paris, the Bastille was stormed, and the French Revolution began.

To the Father of Our Country

Over the course of history, there were Fathers of many Countries. And many of them left obelisks.

Happy Single Mother's Day

Most American children were raised by two parents, once. But by last count, more than half of all women under 30 who give birth in the US are without a spouse.

The Gray Divorcee

At last count, roughly 1 in 3 Boomers was single. And we're splitting up later in life. Roughly 1 in 4 divorces are now granted to people 50 and older. Why?

Beware the Ides of February!

It was snowing last week in Rome. The pope made an appearance at St Peter's in a white coat. But in Italy, the middle of February is usually nice time for fertility rites.

Obama Family Values

Meet a product of Chicago politics, an Illinois state senator, US Senator and President of the United States, without a whiff of scandal about his personal life.

Hello, Kim Jong Un

Like his father and grandfather, Kim Jong Un is becoming "a great person born of heaven." There have been other divine kings, in Bethlehem and Rome.

Goodbye, Joe Paterno

Not so long ago, the middle of Pennsylvania was the middle of nowhere. But institutions tend to grow; and sometimes, bad things happen when they do.

Those Who Help Themselves

As advertised, on September 17th, the rabble moved into Wall Street. People sleeping in cardboard boxes and tents occupied a space formerly known as Liberty Plaza Park.

The Helpless

The cover of Kathyrn Stockett’s bestseller, The Help, is covered with birds. I wonder if she knows how apt that is. My friend, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, would.

Apology to Dora Wilcken

The bad thing about polygamy is that it tends to dissipate wealth. But polygyny—which is all over the place—is much worse.

Apology to Maria Shriver

Arnold Schwarzenegger's maid has cost him his reputation, and his wife.

Suicide Watch

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, otherwise known as the bourgeois bohemian, the caviar leftist, the Great Seducer and Porsche tranquille, has been exonerated before, and may be again.

Going Nuts

Losing a lover can be disabling, and nothing is worse than losing a child. But losing a dictatorship must come close.


In May of 1786, the Marriage of Figaro first played on a Vienna stage. The music was Mozart's; the libretto was da Ponte's.

Don Giovanni

Lorenzo da Ponte led an uneven life. Converted to Catholicism at 14, changed his name, became a priest, and seduced another man's wife.

A Story of Two Squares

For the last few weeks, Egypt has been the most exhilarating place on earth. And we've all been living in Egypt.

A Tale of Two Moseses

Once every New Year in the Near East, people acted out a Sacred Marriage rite. Kings played the shepherd, Dumuzi, opposite an anonymous Inanna, the fertility goddess.

And Good Will Toward Men

Every year when the days are bleak and the nights are black, we bring evergreens into our houses and string lights onto our lawns. Then we reassure each other.

Peace on Earth

The Pax Americana is upon us. Past Paxes have had plusses and minuses.

Wasps "R" Us

Dominance contests in paper wasps look a lot like god v the devil in Paradise Lost.

Red State, Blue State

Another election has come and gone. And we have, like so many electorates, thumbed the incumbents down. We've balanced the power of the blues; we've red shifted to the right.

Dirty Politics

9 days from now, on Tuesday, 34 seats in the senate, 435 seats in the house, and 36 governorships will be up for grabs. And not much mud has been slung.

Widows and Orphans

Politicians have promised to look out for widows and orphans, from the beginning of recorded time.