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. […]

Recollections Called Forth by the Closing of America’s St. Petersburg Consulate

U.S. consulate-general, St. Petersburg, Russia The U.S. consulate-general in St. Petersburg became a casualty this week of the current escalation of tensions between the West and Vladimir Putin’s Russia, following the attempted assassination in England of former double agent Alexander Litvinenko and his daughter by Russia’s FSB (successor to the USSR’s notorious KGB). Putin ordered […]

Kisses and Buses: Do You Know the Difference?

Can you tell the difference between a kiss and a bus? What a crazy question! A kiss is a smooch and a bus is a coach, two entirely different things (that almost rhyme). Do you know any other words for kiss? Probably very few. Smooch is pretty good, and if you want to pile on […]

California’s Next Big Thing

It’s been over four years since Sandra and I moved from Hawaii to Wine Country – aka Sonoma County in Northern California – and, while winter is a little chillier here than in “the Islands,” we really love it. One of the things we like best about this area is something we just couldn’t do […]

Guns, not Butter

The “Czar Cannon,” cast in 1586, stands in the Kremlin. Former U.S. and Russian presidents Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev provide perspective on its size. Here, from my personal recollection, is an interesting footnote to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan 38 years ago this month (Dec. 24, 1979). It illustrates the overarching principle governing Soviet […]

The Fortuitous Evolutionary Design of Human Ears

If not for our ears, we might all be wearing a pince-nez Every once in a long while I get a flash of insight. It happened again yesterday morning as I was putting my glasses on and glanced over at our cat. As I slipped the eyeglass “temples” – the supports that extend along the […]

Bolshevik Revolution – A Somber Centenary

The defining moment of the October Revolution, as Soviet propaganda wished the world to see it. Like so much else in the Soviet version of history, it is a false picture. As a student of Russia, I find it impossible to ignore the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, which took place this past Tuesday, […]

Verbiage? No Way!

Verbiage is often pronounced – mispronounced – to nearly rhyme with garbage, something with which it has a bit in common. Hold onto your hats. Here comes another language-related rant. This one’s about the widespread misuse and mispronunciation of the word verbiage. I can’t tell you how many times, as a writer, I’ve been asked […]

A Rose by Any Other Name … Well, Maybe Not ANY Other Name!

Margaux Hemingway While recently browsing the wine aisles, I spotted several moderately priced bottles of Margaux (but not Chateau Margaux, the queen of all wines in that exceptional appellation d’origine, which commands a correspondingly exceptional price). Like many other incidents in life, this find somehow prompted my brain to shift to a new, but only […]

The Commencement Speech You’d Really Rather Hear

Graduation season is again upon us. The season for speechifying. As a professional speechwriter, I’d like to offer the following text for the featured speaker at whichever graduation you’ve been invited to attend: “Good morning, graduates, parents and guests. To provide some unexpected relief, I’ll be brief. I’ll simply answer a question many of you […]