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I got that little glass while touring the Oban distillery in 2018.

Tonight is Burns Night in Scotland. For those of you not familiar with Burns Night, I’ll leave you to Google for Scottish sources that can describe it much better than I can. But you’d be safe to assume that Burns Night involves food, drink, and the poet Robert Burns.

Having run low on Scotch, I went to the ABC store in Walnut Cove this morning and was surprised to find that they now carry Oban Scotch. In a way, this is unfortunate, because Oban Scotch costs three times as much as what I usually pay for quite good single-malt Scotch. But it’s Burns Night, and I bought it.

I would not have guessed that food and drink are only the second most important Scottish export to the United States. The first is listed by the Scottish government as engineering and advanced manufacturing. I have no idea what the specifics are for the engineering and manufacturing, but I’m sure it would be interesting.

Last year I came across the web site for Highland Titles. They have an interesting fund-raising scheme. For a certain donation, you get 10 square feet of land in Scotland. It’s a gimmick, of course, but it’s also a smart way of raising money for the conservation and rehabilitation of Scottish land. Lots of people who buy the 10 square feet of land visit the reserves while in Scotland to have a look at their little spot of land, so that brings in more money.

Haggis is traditional on Burns Night, but no haggis is likely be eaten in this house. (In Scotland you can get vegetarian approximations of haggis.) Instead I’m making a chicken pot pie with fake chicken, with winter vegetables on the side. There will be ale to start and Scotch to finish.


Oban, from the ferry. Ken and I toured the Oban distillery there in 2018, but we must have been so mesmerized by the distillery that we forgot to take pictures inside the distillery.



You can get one of these certificates by making a donation to Highland Titles, a conservation and restoration project.



Source: Scottish government web site

My guess is they’ll flee the country



Source: Wikimedia Commons


I have never bought into the belief that Trump always skates, no matter what the crime. Yes, for many years in his New York City days he was able to stay a step ahead of the law (and his creditors). And yes, once he was installed in the White House with a corrupted Justice Department, and with Republicans in Congress either in league with him or terrorized by him, he was temporarily untouchable. One of the reasons why authoritarian strongmen are desperate to stay in power is that, once they are forced out of office, they are quite likely to be rung up for their crimes.1 If Trump had remained in New York as just another con man, he probably would have kept on skating. That is now impossible. Though Republicans have paralyzed America’s political system where they were unable to corrupt it, America’s court system is still functioning, having survived Republicans’ desperate attempts to Russianize it. Judges that Trump appointed have consistently ruled against him, and only one member of the Supreme Court, the odious Clarence Thomas, is willing to pervert the law and the facts to protect Trump. (Thomas’s wife supported the Jan. 6 rally, though I’ve not heard of any evidence that she did anything illegal.) Republican judges can get away with cheating only when things are close or contestable. Trump’s crimes are blatant and are being thoroughly exposed.

I have been saying for a long time that Trump is going to prison. I’ve been accused of being wrong. But I should have said that there was never any chance of Trump being brought to justice while he still had the powers of the presidency. The process of bringing Trump to justice is agonizingly slow, but in the last year much progress has been made, despite the efforts of Trump and Republicans to stand in the way of the law.

Dahlia Lithwick, at Slate, has a pretty good article listing Trump’s most recent failures to evade the law. The piece is Donald Trump Had a Truly Terrible Week. She writes, “Donald Trump has kept the walls at bay, long before he ran for office, by undermining, buying off, out-waiting, and intimidating the justice system. Once he took office, he made the best efforts of any president to buy and sell judges and justices, to bully his attorneys general, and to bluster his way to a lifetime of legal immunity. When you no longer have any authority over the judges, and the prosecutors, and the law enforcement officers, it’s at least no longer possible to simply make the walls just go away.”

The mainstream media can’t just say that Trump is going to prison. They have to hedge, as Lithwick does, by saying that “the walls are closing in,” or that the Trumps face “substantial legal jeopardy.” The mainstream media can rarely print everything they know. And, unfortunately, keeping liberals terrified that Trump will get away with it all, and that he wants back into the White House, is good for ratings.

Those who fear that Trump always skates have many worries. For example, what if Republicans take the House in the midterm elections and shut down the Jan. 6 committee? That wouldn’t matter, because the Jan. 6 committee will have finished its work by then. At that point, the Justice Department will take over investigating and prosecuting Trump’s crimes. Republicans have no chance of interfering with the Justice Department again until January 2025. New York will put Trump and his brats in prison no matter what happens in Georgia, or at the federal level. Trump is doomed. Some of his assets in New York will be seized. We will find out who the Trumps’ creditors are. The truth about Trump taxes will come out in court. There is not the slightest chance that Trump (or Don Jr. or Ivanka) will ever get inside the White House again.

So what will the Trumps do? Much has been written about whether they will flee the country and where they might go. It wouldn’t be easy being fugitives from U.S. justice. They would not be able to travel to any country where they’d be arrested and extradited back to the United States. It would cramp their jet-set lifestyle severely, but there certainly are countries that would take them in — Russia, for example, or Saudi Arabia. They’re no longer welcome in Europe anyway. Europe hates the Trumps as much as do those Americans (a slim majority) who haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid. Kushner, we know, is trying to get a piece of the at least $500 billion in the Saudi sovereign wealth fund.

In any case, it seems obvious to me that the Trumps are going to prison — unless they leave the country. Whether they’re going to prison is no longer even an interesting question, as I see it. The interesting question now is: What will they do to try to stay out of prison? After all, they already have tried to overthrow the U.S. government to try to stay out of prison. They have the means of fleeing the country, certainly. The Trumps’ Boeing 757 is reported to be in Louisiana right now, having its engines repaired and getting a new paint job. Trump has said he wants to fly it to rallies, painted to look like Air Force 1. My guess, though, is that he’s more likely to sell the jet because he needs the money. It would be much smarter to sneak out of the country in the dead of night on board the plane of one of the Trumps’ billionaire oligarch friends from Russia or the oil countries. Can you imagine Ivanka Trump or Jared Kushner allowing themselves to be handcuffed and taken to jail, where the toilets are not gold? I can’t. They’ll go somewhere posh in the oligarch world where they can continue to live it up, live out their prince and princess fantasies, and run their grifting operations. This gauche palace on the Black Sea sounds just right for Jared and Ivanka. I can easily imagine the Trumps tricking their Secret Service security and running off to an airport. But that would be much easier (and cheaper) to pull off if they do it before they are indicted and a court sets bail. Another smart and Trumpish plan, since there is nothing to stop them from traveling outside the country at present, would be to go somewhere claiming to be on vacation, and then refuse to return to the U.S., claiming that they require asylum because they are victims of a partisan witch-hunt out to get them in the U.S. My guess is that Fox News would be happy to go along with that.

In any case, we liberals need to stop worrying that the Trumps are going to get away with everything. That’s not going to happen. Their crimes are too extreme and too well documented. The Trumps may beat some of the charges, but they can’t beat them all. It has been obvious to reasonable people, for a long time, what the Trumps’ crimes are, and as the investigations of those crimes continue, those crimes are much uglier than we suspected even a year ago. They left a clear trail of evidence. The coup attempt, it seems, was a Hail Mary move, their only hope. Professional propagandists such as Sean Hannity understood that Trump was cutting his own throat, as was revealed by Hannity’s texts to the White House, “No more stolen election talk.” Hannity is smart. The Trumps are dumb as rocks. We have consistently underestimated, not overestimated, the Trumps’ criminality. At this stage, we’re waiting for investigators and prosecutors to build the airtight cases that will be needed to assure convictions when the cases go to court. The Trumps will use their usual tactics to try to pervert justice and declare themselves vindicated.

We’re not quite at the popcorn stage — perp walks, courtroom drama, or waking up some morning to the news that the Trumps have surfaced in some gaudy palace on the Black Sea. But we’re getting there. We might want to stock up on Orville Redenbacher’s best before the shelves are empty at the grocery store.

One huge challenge lies ahead, even after the Trumps are convicted. That is explaining to the American people the extent of the Trumps’ decades of crime and the sheer evil of the conspiracy to steal the 2020 election with a coup, accusing Democrats, as always, of what they themselves are doing. Historians will have the full story. But if the average American hears the full story, some help from Hollywood is going to be needed. One of the most fascinating popcorn events yet to come will be watching how Fox News will create an alternate reality around the fall of the House of Trump, with years of Fox’s lies exposed. When will Republicans cut and run? What new lies will they invent, and who will fall for them next time? That’s the catch, I’m afraid. At least 35 percent of the American population will continue to be idiots begging to be deceived. It’s entertaining to imagine Russia taking in about 35 million “patriot” Americans and giving them nice rural homes in Siberia where they can continue to serve Putin. But the reality is that, after the Trumps are gone, new con men will move in with fresh ways of bamboozling, bilking, and enraging the Fox-watching patriot hordes. I have little hope that the Republican Party actually will reform itself, though Republicans such as Liz Cheney will try.


Notes:

1. Authoritarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know. Erica Frantz, Oxford University Press, 2018.


Pub food



Scallop pot pie

In this publess part of the world, if you want pub food, you have to make it yourself. One of the few compensations of January is the pleasure of running the oven. There’s snow outside. That was my excuse for making comfort food.

This is a sea scallop pot pie with potatoes, cauliflower, onion, celery, and peas. There are only seven scallops in the pie, plenty enough to flavor it. The winter vegetables and the crust are the main event. I may make this again for Burns Night, which is January 25.

Ale goes with everything.

Don’t forget to feed the birds



Cat prints and dove prints on my porch

It’s alarming how hard the snow is on the creatures who live outside. While the snow was falling hard yesterday and the temperature was 20F, some doves were sheltering on my porch. Unfortunately they saw me and flew away. After dark, I heard Lily downstairs meowing in such a way that I knew she had seen a cat at the door. This morning there were paw prints. Either a neighbor somewhere is not looking after their cats, or there is a stray. I often think that even the wild animals instinctively look to humans for help when they’re cold and hungry. “So many hungry mouths,” as my mother used to say. Nothing ever went to waste if there was a hungry mouth outside that might eat it.

I put out 45 pounds of seed for the birds a day ahead of the snow, and they worked it all day as the snow fell. During the night I saw three deer pawing the snow to get at the seed. Now I’m afraid it wasn’t enough, but I’m snowed in for at least a couple of days.


This little guy looks like a yearling.

Cherry pie


Maybe pie cherries aren’t as hard to find as I had thought. I usually rush through Whole Foods as quickly as possible, but last week I took my time and did some browsing. I was greatly surprised to see that they have canned cherries. I bought two cans, enough for a nine-inch pie.

It’s inevitable that pie cherries will be pricey. These were $5.79 a can at Whole Foods. Amazon carries them, but I had balked at the price. Previously the Oregon cherries were $7.07 a can at Amazon. The price has come down to $6.19 per can, sold in a four-can pack. I’ve ordered four cans of cherries, not because I plan to make a lot of cherry pie but because the canned cherries have a two-year expiration date, and it’s a good thing to have in the cabinet for company.

I used the recipe from the 1943 edition of Erma Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking. It’s a traditional basic recipe. The recipe calls for tapioca flour as the thickener. I substituted corn starch. Berry pies, in my opinion, should always be just a touch runny and crumbly. The pie was perfect.

If I could, I think I’d live off of pies. Pies have a kind of medieval magic about them, not just dessert pies but also savory pies with a top crust. Cherry pie, in my opinion, is the prince of pies.

Here is a hat tip to Dan, who mentioned in a comment a while back that Stark Brothers, the mail-order tree nursery, has cherry trees. Cherry trees were impossible to find locally. I’ve ordered a Montmorency cherry tree, which is to be delivered in early March.

Falling apart at the seams??


David Brooks has an important — but very misleading — column this morning at the New York Times, “America is falling apart at the seams.” The column tries to pull off the same old deception that so-called centrists always try to pull off. That’s the idea that bad things are always symmetrical, that “both sides” are always equally to blame.

It’s not that America is falling apart at the seams. It’s that Republican, Trumpist America is falling apart at the seams. Republicans are well along in becoming what Republican propaganda and Trumpist trash-talk have taught them to become — insufferable.

Show me someone assaulting airline crew and I will show you a white Republican. Show me someone being rude and demeaning to a waitress and I will show you a white Republican.

Brooks tries to blame the usual conservative boogey men. He mentions that a majority of Americans are no longer members of a church. Small wonder, given that the white churches have driven away decent people, having aligned their religion with Trump and Republican politics. The decline in church membership actually is a sign of moral improvement in American society, given what the churches have become.

Every liberal I know is working extra hard to preserve civility, even though we are often the targets of “fuck your feelings” incivility. A few months ago, a drunk Republican who lives about half a mile away from me threatened to kill me after he saw that the mighty right-wing talking points that he was shouting at me weren’t having the effect he wanted. He had a 9mm pistol in his back pocket. He shouted the N-word several times just to show that he wasn’t “woke.” His intent was intimidation. Trumpist America wants the rest of America to be afraid of them. I told him, and not in a snowflake voice, to stop trying to intimidate me.

David Brooks’ self-deceived, centrist, both-sides hand-wringing will do no good, not until the Republican Party rethinks its politics and the white churches rethink their religion. They hate being a minority, and they are terrified by the fact that it is becoming harder and harder for them to dominate.

Pecan pie



Click here for high-resolution version.


This was the first pecan pie I’ve ever made. It also was the most challenging pie I’ve ever made.

The problem was in figuring out when the pie was done. Erma Rombauer, in the 1943 edition of The Joy of Cooking, calls for 375 degrees for 30 minutes. That was not enough. The pie came out of the oven runny in the middle. I had to put it back into the oven. I was afraid I’d ended up with a disaster. But I ended up with the best pie I’ve ever made.

There is a strange alchemy in pecan pie, unlike any pie I’ve ever made before. Corn syrup is an essential ingredient. I had never even bought corn syrup before, but of course I bought some for this pie. My guess is that the eggs and corn syrup interact in a magical way to create a translucent soft custard that caramelizes very quickly in the oven. That’s why it’s tempting to take the pie out of the oven too soon — the top browns so quickly. But the browning of the top is part of the alchemy — a thin, chewy-crunchy crust on top of the pie. As for the bottom crust, I used my regular recipe of olive oil and unbleached flour. Rombauer’s recipe called for pre-baking the crust, which I don’t usually do. What a difference! The crust was flakier, and the chewy texture of the pie melded with the flaky pie crust in an unexpected alchemical way. The effect was so sophisticated that I’d have sworn the pie came from a Paris pastry shop rather than my own oven.

Note to MHK: I forgot to add the coffee, but I will remember next time. There definitely will be a next time.

Cracking out the pecans was tedious, but I got that job done in about half an hour. I couldn’t find an authoritative history of the pecan pie, but the consensus seems to be that it originated in New Orleans, with French (and I suspect African, as well) influence. The pecan tree is native to the Southern United States. Those of you in Europe, I’m guessing, won’t be able to find pecans. But the alchemy of pecan pie could surely be achieved with any nuts that go well with pastry, such as walnuts. Do you have corn syrup in Europe? If not, my guess is that any thick syrup would do. Even molasses (treacle) probably would produce the same effect, though the flavor would be intense. Corn syrup, by comparison, has very little flavor on its own.

I very much doubt that Erma Rombauer’s recipe is her invention. Every basic recipe I’ve seen is pretty much the same. Compare Karo’s recipe. Note that Karo’s recipe calls for a longer bake and an internal temperature of 200 degrees. If I had read Karo’s recipe first, I probably would not have had to put my pie back into the oven.

Erma Rombauer, 1943:

Don’t Look Up


Don’t Look Up can be streamed on Netflix.


First, a hat tip to Ken, who alerted me that this movie is a must-watch. Ken also wrote about it on his blog.

I’m not as critical as Ken on the quality of Don’t Look Up. If there are flaws, I didn’t mind, other than that the movie is about 20 minutes longer than it needed to be. It’s laugh-out-loud funny. It’s surgically accurate. And I rejoice because at last we’re heaping ridicule on Trump, Trumpism, and the millions of gullible and deplorable people who can’t see through Trump and who were willing to kill for Trump in the trenches of Trumpism. (Images from the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol are my evidence that I’m not exaggerating.)

A major — and overlooked — marker in deplorable people’s eagerness to deify Trump was when John Stewart left The Daily Show in 2015. Trevor Noah said that Stewart told him this about why he left The Daily Show:

“He said ‘I’m leaving because I’m tired.’ And he said, ‘I’m tired of being angry.’ And he said, ‘I’m angry all the time. I don’t find any of this funny. I do not know how to make it funny right now, and I don’t think the host of the show, I don’t think the show deserves a host who does not feel that it is funny.'”

It was in 2015 that we lost public ridicule as a defense against the rise of Trumpism. Finally, at the end of 2021, ridicule returns in Don’t Look Up. Stewart is right. There was nothing funny about Trump’s occupation of the White House. We were all angry, too angry to employ ridicule. Hand-wringers on the left told us that we should “reach out” to Trumpists and “try to understand them.” Wrong. We should have relentlessly ridiculed them.

I was curious about how the right-wing propagandists who feed Trumpism to the Trumpists would respond to Don’t Look Up. I think I found the answer in a review in The Washington Examiner, which boils down to, “Nothing to see here. Move along. Everyone knows it’s really the libs who are ridiculous.”

It is definitely not from the Democratic Party that the ridicule must come. President Biden and the Democrats in Congress understand that. The Democratic Party must stay focused on governing and working for the good of the American people. The ridicule is more a cultural than a political responsibility. Thank you, Hollywood. Television, where are you? More, please.

Two very good essays in the New York Times this morning are reminders that, though Trumpists eagerly embrace their own deception, the rest of us understand quite well what’s going on. The first is by Rebecca Solnit, “Why Republicans Keep Falling for Trump’s Lies.” Solnit focuses on gullibility. The second is by Francis Fukuyama, who focuses on the world’s horror at what happened at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

But understanding what happened is not enough to pull the American Democracy back from the brink. Those who broke the law to follow Trump must be brought to justice. And those who followed Trump but didn’t break the law must face public ridicule and public contempt so severe that they would be embarrassed to show their faces among decent people again for the rest of their lives.

Some progress with the old calculator





There are a number of YouTube videos about the restoration of machines like this (a Monroe 8N-213) and comparable machines (such as the Friden STW10). The challenge to getting them fully operational is getting them to multiply and divide, operations that are much more mechanically complicated than addition and subtraction. So far, though, I have not discovered anything that is actually broken. All the problems have been caused by gears, levers, cams, and shafts that stuck as the old lubricants dried out, plus 50 years of not being used.

Khatia Buniatishvili





Not until last year did I discover the pianist Khatia Buniatishvili. There are many recordings of her concerts on YouTube, and I have listened to almost all of them. Living here in the sticks as I do now, it would be a great overreach for me to claim that she is our greatest living pianist. But I will say (with gratitude for the many concert videos to be found on YouTube) that she is the greatest living pianist that I have heard.

Buniatishvili, according to the Wikipedia article, was born in Georgia in 1987. She started piano lessons, with her mother, at the age of 3. I believe she now lives in Paris. She clearly is in great demand in Europe’s concert halls, and she is a regular at the annual Verbier Festival in Switzerland. Her repertoire is decidedly and unapologetically romantic. Her style is a touch theatrical, in a good way.

My own musical talent is limited, but I was born with a good ear for both language and music. With the exception of my years in San Francisco, where the urban noise was terrible, I have taken good care of my hearing over the years and have no hearing loss. Except when the cat has something to say to me, these days I live mostly in silence. I never listen to music as a “background.” Listening to music requires our full attention and concentration. Audio-only recordings, as good as they can be, can never capture a full musical experience. For that, one must be in the same room as the musicians. When that’s not possible, well-recorded concert videos can come close. Of the various forms of social media, I like YouTube best. There’s plenty of garbage on YouTube, certainly. But the garbage is easy to ignore. YouTube’s search function is pretty good, with just enough imprecision to find things that you didn’t exactly search for but that are good finds nevertheless.

I have enough experience with Europe and Europeans to lament the quality of education that most Americans receive. Music has almost vanished from our public schools. Few Americans ever really master a foreign language. Today, a billion people speak English as a second language, but there are only 400 million people for whom English is the first language. Presumably, Buniatishvilli’s first language is Georgian. She speaks English very well, and her French is even better. She also speaks German. Only a tiny percentage of Americans have access to the kind of privilege and educations they would need to attain so much by the age of 34.

If you have 35 minutes to spare, I highly recommend the performance below of the Beethoven piano concerto. Notice how carefully Buniatishvili listens to the orchestra. Notice how she flirts with the orchestra. Notice how much fun she is having. The conductor, too, is remarkable and is clearly having a grand time. Notice how the conductor, Marin Alsop, often turns back to the orchestra with a smile on her face when the music passes from the piano back to the orchestra. I get the impression that they all had so much fun in rehearsals that they will feel sad when the performance ends.

By the way, in our noisy world, I think that a good pair of noise-canceling headphones is a must, both for preserving some silence and for listening to music. Apple’s noise-canceling headphones are extremely expensive, but the Anker Soundcore Q20 headphones are a bargain at $54.

With the Orchestre de Paris:




An encore at the Verbier festival:




Speaking English:




Speaking French:




Speaking German: