When did the universe begin—or did it? And what are we doing in our little piece of it? And …

Theoretical physics doesn’t come easily to me, but Sean Carroll manages to put more of it across than I’d have thought possible for someone whose math education stopped at intermediate algebra. His book From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time asks the question: Why does time only move in one direction? The answer, says Carroll, is connected to the phenomenon of entropy, which also goes only one way: it increases. Exploring this connection leads him through some of the deepest questions scientists ponder: relativity, spacetime, quantum physics, the nature of the universe, and, ultimately, the meaning[…]

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My house is my castle

Many old houses in Brooklyn’s brownstone neighborhoods have beautiful ironwork enclosing their yards. For example:           (Click the photos to see the details more clearly.) First-floor windows, easily accessible from the street, often have iron grilles to prevent break-ins. These too are often quite handsome. Years ago I played host to a group of visitors from a small town in Ohio who laughed merrily when they saw similar grilles on houses on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. They couldn’t get over the idea that all these people were putting themselves behind bars. Imagine living like[…]

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The writer and the archetypes

In the late 70s–early 80s I volunteered in a shelter for homeless women run by nuns. It was the era of “shopping bag ladies,” women who lived on the street and carried their possessions around in bags. To the non-homeless they were mythical figures; no one knew where they came from or why they “chose” to live that way. Theories abounded, and their contradictions intrigued me. I decided to discover the reality. It turned out to be pretty prosaic. The largest single factor in making these women homeless was a political decision: emptying the state mental hospitals without making adequate[…]

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Between the Door and the Street: the stoop, and a conversation

Sitting by a stoop in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, with three other women, discussing gender politics—as an art form. The yellow scarves signal that we’re part of Between the Door and the Street, a work of socially engaged art by California artist Suzanne Lacy. We were among 84 groups on stoops along the block, “performing” our unscripted conversations for a large crowd that strolled the sidewalk, stopping and listening at different stoops as they chose. We stoop sitters represented a huge range of local activist groups. My own group’s subject was second-wave feminism—how it changed us, how it changed society—and what[…]

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Where’s the OUTRAGE?

A city dweller—a true child of concrete—once spent the weekend with a friend in the suburbs. The friend’s cat snared a bird and as cats will do, deposited the corpse as a gift on the doorstep. The city visitor was indignant. “Aren’t you mad at Rudy for killing the pretty bird?” she demanded. “Why should I be angry at a creature for acting according to its nature?” the friend responded. Even at the time, I perceived a real wisdom in this answer (that city creature wasn’t me, by the way). But only recently do I see why. Not long ago[…]

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