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Monthly Archives: December 2023


I just finished Kenilworth. It’s the ninth of Sir Walter Scott’s twenty-six Waverley novels that I have read. What stands out is his treatment of Elizabeth I. Scott’s Elizabeth I must surely be one of the most terrifying characters in English literature — absolute power and the willingness to use it. I found myself often […]

Two parts snobbery per eight parts coffee

An imaginary 1938 espresso machine, in Italy. Image created by DALL-E 3. I could not find an image of a classic espresso machine that was in the public domain. But if you search for something like “classic Bezzera” you can see what they look like. Given any good thing — wine, Scotch, or coffee — […]

Hot and sour soup

Next time: More mushrooms! I’m pretty sure that I had never made hot and sour soup before. I’m not sure what made me think of it. But the soup was so easy, and so good, that I’ll do it again soon. As usual, I use recipes only to get the concept, then I improvise. I […]

The ecology of corruption

Two angles of the iron triangle: Ronald Reagan with Rupert Murdoch, 1983. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Corruption and national security Heather Cox Richardson’s daily newsletter, “Letters From an American,” is a must-read every day. Today’s newsletter, though (the link is to Substack), is particularly important. It’s about international corruption. Richardson quotes an FBI statement to the […]

Trains: Social glue we Americans will never have

When people ask me why I love Scotland, I have lots of answers. Most of them are nice, because there are so many nice things about Scotland. But I also have a snarky answer: “Scotland,” I say, “is what white people are like when they aren’t Americans.” We Americans are overexposed to wedge-issue social toxins […]

Is it obvious now?

“One down, two to go,” said Elise Stefanik, gloating over the resignation of Liz Magill as president of the University of Pennsylvania. Magill had blindly walked right into Stefanik’s right-wing gotcha trap during a congressional hearing. An orgy of right-wing glee followed Magill’s resignation, amplified by a clueless media eager to pose as nonpartisan and […]

A complete set of the Waverley novels, 1876, Edinburgh

⬆︎ Click here for high-resolution version. The books were a birthday gift For my 75th birthday, a friend who now lives near Edinburgh brought me a stunning gift that he had carried in his luggage across the Atlantic. It’s a complete 13-volume set of Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels, bound in leather, printed in the […]

Try my French verb conjugator

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I made a valiant effort to learn French. For three semesters, I went to night classes at the University of California (Berkeley) extension in San Francisco. With that foundation, I started reading. I never claim to speak French, and my aural comprehension is terrible. But I did […]