A Digitized Childhood

From Pierre, South Dakota, to Annapolis, Maryland, state boards of education are all striving—with the best will in the world—to ensure that all children have computers in their little hands. From Juneau, Alaska, to Tallahassee, Florida, state governments are all working—in accord with a great moral certainty—to connect all children to the Internet.

At The Algorithm’s Mercy

If you believe that the fundamental fact of the world is the mistreatment of women, you usually discover that each new thing you investigate—quelle surprise!—mistreats women. If you begin with an overwhelming presupposition of racism, you often find racism down at the root of everything. And if you start with the long history of oppressing the poor, you almost always find, at the end of the day, that the poor are being oppressed.

The Limits of the Possible

Modern Europe—as an actual entity, rather than just an idea or some stray fact of geography—was born on June 5, 1947. That’s the day that George C. Marshall traveled up to Harvard to stand on the steps of Memorial Church and announce, “The United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health to the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace.”

A Companion Through Grief

Suppose you wanted to meditate a little about grief. And maybe weigh up what the act of writing is really for: The impulse of authors, the result for readers. Suppose, for that matter, you also wanted to do some serious thinking about human nature and noodle about the nature of friendship.

The Science of Boldly Going Where We’ve Gone Before

All the way back in its first season, Saturday Night Live ran a parody of Star Trek. It was nothing really. Just a quick, one-off sketch. Still, the comedy show managed a little fond mockery of the hokey sets in the older science-fiction series, poked a little fun at the actors (especially William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy) who had chewed their way through the scenery of distant planets, and tweaked NBC for canceling Star Trek—an inside joke, since NBC was also hosting Saturday Night Live, which was at risk of its own cancellation in those early days.

Monstrous Interpretations

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein may be the most over-interpreted book ever written. First published in 1818, it’s a tale of the emerging 19th-century worries about death and grave robbing. Or maybe the book is a rejection of Faust—at least, a rejection of the way in which Goethe’s 1808 classic was understood in England: a tale of a heroic Enlightenment intellectual rising up above the ordinary rules of humanity.

The Fire This Time

As I write, the Black Hills are burning: over 70 square miles in the Legion Lake Fire, with a second fire starting at the French Creek horse camp and spreading through Wind Cave National Park toward the town of Buffalo Gap. For South Dakota’s national forest, the fire has proved devastating. But it’s just a blip when compared with the nearly 400 square miles now burning in California. The Thomas Fire, as it has been named, is already the fourth largest wildfire in California history, with a good chance to move up the rankings—and it follows the Tubbs Fire that blackened northern California and spread into the city of Santa Rosa at the end of October. The West, in other words, is a tinderbox, and this season the flames took hold.