Gambling on Trump


The boardwalk was deserted on this bright spring day, a solitary security guard with nothing to do staring out to sea. Behind her an enormous empty building loomed. We were in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where my husband was attending a Credit Union Association conference. Quite why credit unions, known for encouraging saving and financial responsibility, should choose to meet in a casino resort is a bit of a puzzle. But when I learned where we would be going I had one goal in mind, not playing the odds, but making a pilgrimage of sorts to the Continue reading “Gambling on Trump”

The Sexy Seniors of Anacortes

Anacortes, Washington

Anacortes is a lovely little town on the shores of Puget Sound in Washington State. It looks like the kind of place where, depending on your viewpoint, either nothing ever happens or dark secrets lurk beneath the placid façade. My sister has lived in Anacortes for many years, recently retiring from the Public Library, a perfect perch to hear the old-fashioned kind of tweets of town gossip. She seems to know everyone in town and they know her, at Continue reading “The Sexy Seniors of Anacortes”

Braggart in Chief


It has come to this. Among the cacophony of opinion pouring forth from editorials, blogs, columns, and endless TV chatter this Presidential Election season, the one that really seems to get to the heart of the matter comes from a primatologist. Yes, Jane Goodall, famed for her studies of chimp behavior, is now the foremost political analyst in the land.

In the October issue of Atlantic James Fallows writes that Goodall told him “Trump reminds me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals.” What, I wonder, made Fallows seek Continue reading “Braggart in Chief”

Body Language in Black and White

Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 2.51.52 PM

President Obama was speaking, his image almost filling the television screen, but my eyes were drawn to two people in the group behind him. They sat in the front row, one on either side of the President at his shoulder level. Two white police officers, a man and a woman. Together the image of the podium, President Obama, and the two officers formed a kind of triptych of mourning. It was Dallas on Tuesday July 12th 2016, the memorial service for the Continue reading “Body Language in Black and White”

Surprised by Patriotism



To celebrate July 4th I dig into The Dabbler archives for a piece I wrote some years ago recording my gradual acceptance of the American holiday and some memorable celebrations over the years. One July 4th I was surprised by feelings of genuine patriotism when I heard the National Anthem performed on a Chinese violin. In this season of xenophobia the sentiments seem especially timely.

Surprised by Patriotism

The End of Reality

truman_show_poster_by_stratosphereman-d63878g (1)
Poster for The Truman Show

In the movie The Truman Show there is a moment when Truman realizes that the horizon he sees is just a backdrop that rips open to reveal the real world beyond. His entire life has taken place on the stage set of a reality TV show. Something like that actually happened last week. But it didn’t happen to just one person; it happened to an entire nation. Now the truth is out. The United States of America doesn’t really exist. It is USA: The Reality Show! Continue reading “The End of Reality”

On My Bookshelf – Etiquette Problems in Pictures

Etiquette Problems in Pictures

Browsing the bookshelves in one’s own home can be as adventurous as browsing in a library. Sometimes I come across long forgotten treasures, like this little book, a gift from my sister. She wasn’t hinting that I needed such a book, she assured me in her dedication:

“Do not suppose that the purpose of this gift is to indicate that you are habitually ill bred! However, with this book never again need you fear committing the inappropriate blunder.”

The book was published in 1922 by Nelson Doubleday, appropriately enough in Oyster Bay, New York, the Long Island hangout of America’s upper crust Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – Etiquette Problems in Pictures”

The Trumping of America


I started these Dispatches five years ago with the idea of trying to explain the curious ways of Americans to the English. I viewed the carnival of American politics with the ironic eye of an outsider. In the last Presidential Primary season I wrote this piece imagining the Republican debates as a kind of reality TV show. I presumed I would write in the same vein this year. The 2016 campaign promised another season of harmless entertainment before Continue reading “The Trumping of America”

Mr. Jefferson’s Books Go to Washington


The British perpetrated many insults upon the American people when they burned Washington in 1814, perhaps the worst to contemporary eyes being the destruction of the Library of Congress. Over 3,000 books went up in flames. But the disaster had the unintended consequence of making the national library better than ever. At his home Monticello in Virginia former President Thomas Jefferson read an account of the loss in the newspaper Continue reading “Mr. Jefferson’s Books Go to Washington”