Cuneiform and Clay Tablets — the Only Thing More Cumbersome Than 3 x 5 Cards for Taking Notes

Cuneiform tablet This month marks the 70th anniversary of what, when I was studying there from 1966 to 1968, used to be called the Russian Research Center. Today, this modest corner of scholarship at Harvard University is known as the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, and it is housed in a much newer, […]

Climbing Fuji

Fuji-san in summer, free of snow Scrolling through my Facebook feed yesterday morning, I spotted a post by my cousin Ken Kelley, who, with several friends in the Anthem Ranch Hike Club, recently climbed Colorado’s highest peak, Mt. Elbert (14,433 ft./4,399 m). Ken reported that it took them not quite five hours to ascend 5,000 […]

One of the World’s Great Museums Is Also the Czar’s Attic

Winter Palace, home of much of the Hermitage’s collection Two recent events — one mundane, the other calamitous — came together in my mind and prompted me to write this short piece about one of the world’s greatest museums, the Hermitage, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The mundane event is my recently begun exploration of the […]

Adventures at the DMV – and Elsewhere

My Soviet driver’s license (and, yes, I certainly needed a haircut!) I’ve just passed the written and vision tests needed (perhaps thanks to advancing age) to renew my driver’s license. The experience with the California Department of Motor Vehicles reminded me of a long-ago brush with Virginia’s DMV. It happened in 1978, shortly after I […]

Nuts and Alligators

Here’s a Foreign Service story that’s too good not to share. Back in the early 1980s when I was working in Washington, D.C., I was assigned for two or three years to USIA’s Foreign Press Center, just three blocks from the White House. It was a great job. The FPC was located in the National […]

Does Voter Apathy Exacerbate Political Polarization?

In the wake of this past Tuesday’s primary elections here in California and several other states, my attention was drawn* to a Los Angeles Times report on voter apathy. “No offense, but I never vote,” a man, age 63, told the reporter. Asked why, the man responded, “I don’t believe in the system.” As someone […]

Want to Have Your Palm Read? Me Neither!

Roma (Gypsy) women Every once in a while, as I drive down the street or highway, I’ll spot a sign calling attention to what is usually a pretty low-rent establishment – a place where, according to its sign, you can get your palm read and your fortune told. In the interest of full disclosure, readers […]

A Hero You May Never Have Heard Of

Norman Borlaug About a month ago I saw an online birthday tribute to a 20th century hero few people have ever heard of. On March 25, Norman Borlaug, an agronomist who passed away in 2009, would have celebrated his 104th birthday. Borlaug’s work, say those who are familiar with it, saved billions of lives. It […]

Furo Adventure

If you haven’t bathed in traditional Japanese style, you’ve missed a great experience. I’ve had a few opportunities to bathe like the locals do in Japan, but none to rival the one I’ll recount below. First though, for readers unfamiliar with Japanese customs, here’s brief intro. In Japan, you get clean before you get into […]

The Limits of Canine Intelligence

  Rin Tin Tin Years ago, when Johnny Carson was the face of late-night TV, he once drew hundreds of outraged letters after he dared to say, in conversation with a guest, that pigs are smarter than dogs. Lassie lovers were not amused. I spent my childhood largely unaware of the limits of canine intelligence. […]