In case of hornet attack, grab your tennis racket

If the Asian giant hornets happen to find their way to my country neighborhood, I’ll need some better defense than a spray. Because the giants are immune to it. If they come after you, the literature says, your best hope is a tennis or badminton racket.

Fleeting autumn renews the soul

Spring, I know, is considered by poets and gardeners to be the time of new beginnings. The greening of the land is a metaphor for rebirth, fresh starts. But for me, October has always been when everything is new. That has to do, I believe, with the cadences of boyhood and the remembered events that autumn once contained.

Profiles in pure common sense

The random profiling of individuals by race, religion or national origin is a violation not only of law but also of fundamental decency. But discriminate profiling is a perfectly acceptable feature of everyday life. And in a world plagued by almost continual murderous violence, nations have both the right and the obligation to defend themselves and their people.

Going to bat for a distant relative

A little rush of breeze signaled a strange presence, because no windows were open. Then something seemed to be flying. A moment later the thing passed directly in front of the TV screen, and there was no mistaking the identity of the beast.

Nature and neglect overtake a refuge

Nature is powerful and it is patient. With enough determination and expense, its advances can be slowed, even temporarily halted. But look away for a moment — or worse, for a season — and it will reclaim what it had lost.

Pain of wartime atrocity remains

On a June afternoon in 1944, Adolf Hitler’s troops swept into the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, assembled the population in the market square, confined the men and the women and children in separate groups, and murdered them all.

In Egypt, fervor can turn into fury

Cairo is no place to be when Egypt is in turmoil and passions are running high. I say that from the experience of having been in the city at just such a moment, on Sept. 28, 1970 — the evening of the day that Gamal Abdel Nasser, the country’s president, died of a heart attack while seeing his guests off at the airport after an Arab summit meeting.

A vote for libidos that enlarge brains

Are the dalliances of Mark Sanford, Anthony Weiner, Newt Gingrich, John Edwards and their ilk doing worse than just causing humiliation and private pain — worse even than fouling the political landscape? Could they be rolling back the evolutionary clock to a time when men wore animal skins for shirts and had brains no bigger than a possum’s?

A writer’s computer has no memories

I have experienced an epiphany, though not a revelation of the religious kind, that might very well prove to be my salvation as a writer. It is the understanding that there is nothing to prevent my declaring that this column may be one of the last I’ll write on a computer before returning to my instrument of choice — a typewriter.

Too good to be true is too good to ignore

“Congratulations!” said the faintly accented voice of a woman at the other end of the phone line. It’s a pleasant enough way to begin a conversation. “For what?” I responded. The woman replied: “You’ve won a prize in the sweepstakes.”

Is a name of fame a royal pain?

How do you suppose a British merchant would react today if an American lady on holiday in London were to try paying for her purchase with a check signed Kate Middleton? It could happen. The name’s not that uncommon.

Kids had cicada skin in this game

The insects shed their outer skins and leave those abandoned exoskeletons clinging as crisp relics to the twigs and trunks of trees. It’s the empty bug-shaped shells of the departed insects that children find fascinating.

A land of promise succumbs to Africa’s sad pattern

The east African nation of Tanzania, when I visited there during a long reporting trip in 1964, was not only one of the most beautiful of the continent’s newly independent republics but also, arguably, the most decently and honorably ruled. Optimism burned hotly. There was the sense that a bright future was there to be grasped. Then painful reality set in.

A respite for human, dog and even duck

There’s no telling whom you might meet in that lovely little city park. The joys it offers are of a warm and humble kind. It’s a place where the rush and clamor of the world seem far away and where new and interesting acquaintances are easily made.

For once, let’s cram it down the politicians' throats

St. Louis Children’s Hospital no longer uses sedated cats in teaching how to insert breathing tubes into the throats of infants. Among the alternatives proposed was sophisticated mannequins. I am quite confessedly on the side of the cats. And if lifelike imitations won’t serve to spare them the pain and indignity of tubes being stuck down their throats, I can suggest an alternative. Use politicians.

No mercy for butchers of soldier in London

The two knife-wielding beasts who recently beheaded a young British soldier on a public street in London were not the face of Africa, or the face of Islam. They were the face of an ancient barbarism loose in the world — an evil that knows no nationality or creed, no race or place, but which must be defeated by whatever means of persuasion or degree of force is required if civil life is to remain a possibility anywhere on Earth.

Creatures comfort the mind and soul

Furred housemates may not be the stuff of prize-winning journalism, but it suits my column better than chronicling the triumphs and casual pairings of the entertainment elite, the hopeless ineptitude of Congress or the seamy offenses of two-bit hoodlums.

Toss the tassel and let the sweet beginnings commence

Graduation is one term for it — the ceremony of passage that marks the end of a specific period of learning. Commencement is to my mind the better word, alluding as it does not to a conclusion but rather to a beginning — not what’s behind, but what lies just ahead. Through the course of a life, the starts are what contain the excitement and promise.

Toss the tassel and let the sweet beginnings commence

Graduation is one term for it — the ceremony of passage that marks the end of a specific period of learning. Commencement is to my mind the better word, alluding as it does not to a conclusion but rather to a beginning — not what’s behind, but what lies just ahead. Through the course of a life, the starts are what contain the excitement and promise.

Another plague besets Africa

A plant virus called cassava brown streak disease has spread across much of the African interior, reducing by as much as 50 million tons a year the harvest of a crop upon which some 500 million Africans rely for their staple food.