Greetings, old friends and new, from the beautiful Hill Country of Texas, where I’m on a short retreat at one of my favorite places on Earth, Laity Lodge. I expect to receive at least as much enlightenment here as Jack Dorsey did in Myanmar. 

I am thinking of teaching an upper-divisional course on Mars — on its place in our cultural imaginary and the political and scientific challenges to putting human beings there. What to read? Here are some essentials:

In related news, Voyager II has traveled into interstellar space … after forty years. But that may be a misleading claim, in that it’s not really out of the solar system. That will happen in another … thirty thousand years. But who’s counting? And you can listen too the wind on Mars … sort of.



  • My answer to this question: God. Where’s my money?

  • For what it’s worth, I was not the typical A student: If a course interested me, I got an A; if it didn’t, I got a C … at best. (I don’t think I received a single B as an undergraduate.) I know it’s harder today, but you really don’t have to be Miss PerfectPants throughout your education to make a good life. “Academic excellence is not a strong predictor of career excellence.”

  • The good news is that Harvard’s tuition will soon be free! The bad news is that they’ll charge you $100,000 a year for water to drink.

  • Michel Houellebecq: “I’m a little bit a star…. Inside oneself, one knows one is overrated. Still, rather me than someone else. The other writers who take themselves for superstars are actually less good than me. So why not me?” I know, right??

  • Why Anglicans don’t hear much from the Old Testament any more. Despite having written a biography of the Book of Common Prayer, I didn’t realize just how dramatic the change in lectionary readings has been.

  • Speaking of Anglicans, I am still basking in the glories of the First Sunday of Advent at my parish church, St. Alban’s. Three pieces of music in particular have remained in my mind. The service began with Palestrina’s Matin Responsory, moved to the processional hymn “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending,”, and then at the Offertory featured Handel’s “And the Glory of the Lord”. What a wondrous tradition of music we have.

  • “Oh, I’m interested in the present and the future. I tell you really what’s gratifying about the past is going around and seeing people I don’t know from a hole in the wall who weren’t born when I wrote the pieces that they’re playing – not only just playing them, but playing them idiomatically with the right feeling, with technical expertise – that’s wonderful, that’s the most satisfying thing any composer can ask for. Because, basically, I’ve devoted my life – with the exception of two tape pieces – to writing live music for live musicians. Often when I’m at a concert of a piece people know from recordings, they come up to me after the concert and say, ‘Oh, it’s so much better live,’ and I want to give them a hug.” — Steve Reich

  • I replied to someone who wants to be a writer.