Commonplace 2008



“If a man’s name sounds right whether you say it forward or backward, it means he went to Yale.”                                       (Maxim illustrated by Sanders Meade in Cleo Birdwell’s [Don de Lillo’s] Amazons, as recorded in the Spectator, 15-29 December, 2007)


“The Democratic race – three lawyers married to lawyers who talk too much – is very tight and very volatile.”                                         (Maureen Dowd, in NYT, January 2)


“Since the age of 14, I dearly wanted to be regarded as a sex object. I am sick to death that I was loved only for my cooking, accurate seam bowling, ability to solve anagrams and obtain credit from bookmakers.”                                                                            (Jeffrey Bernard, according to Frank Keating in the Spectator, 15-29 December, 2007)


“You cannot be who you are simply as a reaction to someone’s hate. Anti-Semitism is simply not culturally accepted in America. That’s the first place we’ve ever lived in history like that. When they hate you, it’s really easy to know who you are. You’re the person they hate. When they don’t actually hate you, you have to decide who you are.”   (Rabbi Irwin Kula, from the film The Jewish Americans, quoted in NYT, January 6)


“There is nothing inherently less plausible about God’s revealing himself to an upstate New York farmer in the early years of the Republic than to the pharaoh’s changeling grandson in ancient Egypt…. When it comes to prophecy, antiquity breeds authenticity.”                                                                              (Noah Feldman, in NYT Magazine, January 6)


“The French people did not elect him [Sarkozy] to be a rock star. He forgot that he should have a romance with France and not with himself and his paramour.’                                                        (from editorial in Est Républicain, January 7, quoted in NYT, January 8)


“I am faithful – to myself! I am bored to death by monogamy.”                                                                                                                               (Carla Bruni, M. Sarkozy’s paramour, from interview in Figaro Madame, February 2007, quoted by NYT, January 8)


“He committed himself to his father’s life as a young man and he never looked back. He never wavered from his beliefs, from his code, from his way of life. He swore his oath and he never questioned it, he never complained about it.”                                                                                                                          (Salvatore Bonanno, at the end of a 90-minute funeral mass for his mobster father, Salvatore (Bill) Bonanno, from NYT, January 8)


“Brahms did not play the right notes, but he played like a man who knew what the right notes were.”    (unnamed German critic, quoted by Bernard Holland in NYT, January 8)


“They’ve had 700 years of the English; we had 500 years of the Turks. They like drinking; we like drinking. We’re both small countries with really good actors. We have one Nobel Prize; they have four.”                                                                                                                (Goran Paskaljevic, Serbian filmmaker, about the Irish, in NYT, January 9)


But was it the Deep End or the Shallow End?

“He [George Bush] then took a helicopter to the Sea of Galilee, walking out onto a pier with two friars in brown robes, who pointed toward the spot where Jesus is said to have walked on the water, according to pool reports.”                                     (NYT, January 12)


“Freedom is very good for Jews, but not necessarily for Judaism.”                                                                                                                  (Ms. Gwen Goodman, executive director of the new National Museum of American Jewish History, quoted in NYT, January 12)


“You campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose.”                                                                                                                         (attributed to Mario M. Cuomo, in NYT, January 13)


“Many Latinos are not ready for a person of color. I don’t think many Latinos will vote for Obama.”              (Natasha Carillo, 20, of East Los Angeles, quoted in NYT, January 15)


“The best of Mr. Breslin’s work, in numerous columns, was executed in that venerable mode of newspaper writing, the Mock Heroic Deadpan: a prose style in which the author adopts the tone of a Harvard lepidopterist in order to convey events more closely associated with the redemption center at Aqueduct Racetrack.”                                                                                                                                        (Alan Feuer, in NYT, January 20)


“Another member [of the group Radical Marxists at Tehran University], Shahin, 21, who said his father was also a Marxist and was executed by the government in 1988, said the students ultimately want ‘free education, free health care and higher salaries for workers.’”                                                                                        (from the NYT, January 20)


“Gloomy poets are rarely very good, and good poets rarely very gloomy.”                                                                                                              (William Logan, in NYT, January 20)


“If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.”                                                                                                                    (attributed to Confucius by Theodore Dalrymple, in the Spectator, January 12)


The New York Times Gets It Wrong Again!

“Because of an editing error, an Associated Press report in the “Arts, Briefly” column on Thursday about a scheduled appearance by Paris Hilton at Harvard on Feb. 6 misstated the reason for her visit. She will be accepting the Hastiest Pudding of the Lampoon Award from Harvard Lampoon. She is not going for the Hasty Pudding Theatricals’ Woman of the Year Roast, which is on Feb. 7.” (Correction, in NYT, January 21)


“In West Virginia, there is a proverb that says that everything is political except politics, and that is personal.”                                                                                                     (Conni Gratop Lewis, a retired lobbyist for non-profit groups, as reported in NYT, January 22)


“If you want to learn about seismic activity, you study earthquakes, not tremors.” (Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, quoted in NYT, January 20)

(compare: “If you want to understand geology, study earthquakes. If you want to study the economy, study the Depression.” from NYT, August 20, in CP2007)


“The Princeton economics faculty is roughly as cohesive as the various ethnicities of the former Yugoslavia…”                              (Roger Lowenstein in NYT, January 20)


“… that great truth of polite society, the truth that guests have duties in entertainment no less than hosts.”                               (J. C. Masterman, in An Oxford Tragedy, Chapter 1)


“It is the fashion among men of my generation when they wish to bestow the highest praise on a young woman to say, ‘Thank God, she isn’t one of those modern, cocktail-drinking, cigarette-smoking, jazzing modern creatures.”                                                                                                                     (J. C. Masterman, in An Oxford Tragedy, Chapter 5)


“For a bachelor there are few sights more stimulating than a beautiful woman in a temper…”                                      (J. C. Masterman, in An Oxford Tragedy, Chapter 10)


“I feel no shame at being found still owning a share when the bottom of the market comes… I would go much further than that. I should say that it is from time to time the duty of a serious investor to accept the depreciation of his holdings with equanimity and without reproaching himself. Any other policy is anti-social, destructive of confidence, and incompatible with the working of the economic system. An investor … should be aiming primarily at long-period results, and should be solely judged by these.” (Keynes in letter to Francis Curzon, chairman of board of the National Mutual in Keynes’ absence; from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Ch. 1)



“Capitalists and Communists in this country are, I suppose, about equally numerous, each 1 per cent, perhaps of the population. The great majority of people are neither one nor the other, and are just private individuals.”                                                              (Keynes; from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Ch. 1)


“I have said in another context that … in the long run we are all dead. But I could have said equally well that … in the short run we are still alive. Life and history are made up of short runs. If we are at peace in the short run, that is something. The best we can do is put off disaster, if only in the hope, which is not necessarily a remote one, that something will turn up. While there is peace, there is peace…”                                                       (Keynes; from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Ch. 1)


“Nothing in the rules of the club shall interfere with the rancour or asperity of party politics.” (Rule 12 of The Other Club, founded by Winston Churchill and F. E. Smith in 1911; from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Ch. 2)


“Our object in this mad, unavoidable struggle is not to conquer Germany, but to convert her, to bring her back within the historic fold of Western civilisation of which the institutional foundations are … the Christian Ethic, the Scientific Spirit and the Rule of Law. It is only on these foundations that the personal life can be lived.”                       (Keynes; from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Ch. 2)


“… I claim justly that this is the right Socialist solution … But I would also claim that it is the solution which best preserves the rights and interests of the individual. It is for the state to say how much a man is entitled to spend out his earnings. It is for him to say how he will spend it. Liberty and the right to personal choice is thus harmonized with the overriding demands of the community as a whole.”                                                          (Keynes; from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Ch. 2)


“The two men dined in almost complete silence. On leaving, Montagu Norman [governor of the Bank] thanked [Sir Richard] Hopkins for ‘a most interesting evening’. Alan [son] protested: ‘But you never said anything.’ ‘Ah, but our minds were moving along parallel lines,’ his father replied.”                                                                                                                          (from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Ch. 5)


“His [Sir Frederick Phillips’] laconic manner, or, more exactly, his grunts of assent or dispute, were as well known and as well understood in Washington or Ottawa as in Whitehall; at Geneva he could be silent in several languages.”             (Keynes, in The Times; from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Ch. 5)


“If I had taken you very young and had limitless patience, I might have taught you the elements of economics. As it is, I must assume you understand your own art of administration.”                                                              (Keynes, to Sir Richard Hopkins; from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Ch. 5)


“… the greatest woman of the generation which is now passing.”    (Keynes on Beatrice Webb; from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Ch. 5)


“He must have been a great economist but was a bad banker.”                                                                                                         (Sir Montagu Norman on Keynes, shortly after his death; from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Ch. 6)


“J. K. Galbraith, who was neither a spy nor a communist, told James Meade that ‘Russia should be permitted to absorb Poland, the Balkans and the whole of Eastern Europe in order to spread the benefits of Communism.’”                                        (from Meade’s diary; from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Ch. 7)


“I have the worst of both worlds, too old to be compos mentis, and too young to be venerable.”                                                                           (Keynes on his 60th birthday; from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Ch. 7)


“Keynes used to say, ironically, that he used the calm of war to reflect on the turmoil of the coming peace.”                                                                                                                    (from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Ch. 8)


“Into the splenetic category came Keynes’s old friend Foxy Falk, who wrote in The Times of 3 December 1942 that the Beveridge Report was the ‘road to the moral ruin of the Nation … not a symptom of the vitality of our civilization but of its approaching end’. Bob brand agreed: ‘it is the obsession of all reformers that distribution is the whole show. I feel there is some sort of dead weight being placed on the country. Perhaps it is due to the sins of the fathers.’”                                                                                                         (from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Ch. 8)


“A society in which ‘dangerous acts’ by governments become continuous will lose its understanding of why they are dangerous – that is, its sense of what it is to be free.”                                                                                                             (on the Hayek-Keynes dialogue; from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Ch. 8)


“On the other hand, no one who lived through the 1970s can fail to see a great pathos in Keynes’s so English response to Hayek’s warning – ‘Don’t worry, things will be  perfectly all right here in England. Because we’re English, and not crazy like the Continentals.”                                                                                                                                    (from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Ch. 8)


“He once remarked to Roger Fry that England could not have produced a Shakespeare a century earlier: Shakespearean drama was the joint outcome of genius and compound interest.”                                                                                                               (Keynes; from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Ch. 8)


“His deputy chairman, the art historian Kenneth Clark, thought that ‘he displayed [his brilliance] too unsparingly … he never dimmed his headlights’.”                                                      (from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Ch. 8)


“My own experience of life is that, if a chap is personally able to combine the artistic life with other things, it is vastly to the good. One’s artistic activities should not take up a very great amount of actual time. People who have nothing else to do run to seed….  It is much better to have to struggle to find time to do things than to have to take them to fill in the time.”                                                                      (Keynes in a letter to Michael Macowen; from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Ch. 8)


”Nothing can be more damaging than the excessive prestige of metropolitan standards and fashions. Let every part of Merrie England be merry in its own way.”                      (Keynes; from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Ch. 8)


“Two men – yes – I can see they’ve got something to take hold of. But two women – that’s impossible. You can’t have two insides having an affair.”                                                                                          (Lydia Lopokova, overheard in a dinner conversation; from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Ch. 10)


“At one time I had come to believe that the Mayflower came over to this country filled with lawyers. I am now inclined to go back to my original belief that it was filled with theologians.”                                                                                                                     (Keynes; from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Ch. 12)


“I find myself more and more relying on a solution of our problems on the invisible hand which I tried to eject from economic thinking twenty years ago.”                                  (Keynes; from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Ch. 13)


“Englishmen are either boys or old boys.”                        (Lydia Lopokova to Noël Annan; from Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, Epilogue)


“The School Chapel really looked very nice, just as Kate had said it would, though nothing could disguise its complete hideousness.”                                                                                                                           (from Cheerfulness Breaks In, by Angela Thirkell, Ch. 3)


“’Mr. Bissell has omitted to state,’ said Mrs. Bissell, looking affectionately at her husband, ‘that two of them were for Mrs. Dingle. Her husband is apt to get troublesome, and I thought she might get some help.’”                                                                                                                                       (from Cheerfulness Breaks In, by Angela Thirkell, Ch. 14)



“I miss Yugoslavia,” said Mr. Troha, 33, a Slovene entrepreneur, from a warehouse crammed with his collection of Yugoslav memorabilia, including portraits of Tito, vintage sewing machines, Serbian dolls and 50-year-old bottles of Cockta, the Yugoslav Coca-Cola. “We didn’t have anything, but we had everything.”

“In the northern Serbian city of Subotica, one businessman, Blasko Gabric, was so distraught when the name of his former country, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, was finally abolished on Feb. 4, 2003, that he decided to build Yugoland, a four-acre Yugoslav theme park, complete with a mini-Adriatic Sea and a model of Mount Triglav, Yugoslavia’s highest peak. He said the number of visitors had recently exploded.

“As far as I am concerned, I am still a citizen of Yugoslavia,” he said. “Today, we have democracy and nothing in our pockets.”                           (from NYT, January 30)


“When I’m gone I don’t want any of those two-faced bastards who I didn’t get on with standing up and saying nice things about me.”                                            (‘final instructions’ of Fred Trueman, as reported in 2007 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, p 46)






“Robin Day: ‘Mr Feather, wouldn’t you rather have been Prime Minister than General Secretary of the TUC?’    VF: ‘Naw. I’d rather’ve opened the batting for Yorkshire.’”                                                       (recalled by Derek Taylor in private email, February 2)


“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.” (attributed to Winston Churchill by many, and posted as such at the Museum of American Finance [NYT, February 2], but who said it?)


Come Back, H. G. Wells!

“Soon, one day, there will be a world government that won’t let these things be done.”                                                                                                             (French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, taking about Darfur, Rwanda, etc., quoted in NYT, February 4)


“A poem in my opinion is opposed to a work of science by having, for its immediate object, pleasure, not truth; to romance by having, for its object, an indefinite instead of a definite pleasure.”                                                                                           (Edgar Allan Poe, in preface to his 1831 Poems, according to Sam Leith in the Spectator, January 26)


The Joys of Professional Forecasting

“A picture of the economy is starting to crystallize, and it shows the recession has begun. Only time will tell how deep and long-lasting this downturn will be.”                                                                                    (Berbard Baumohl, managing director of the Economic Outlook Group, a forecasting firm based in Princeton, N.J., quoted in NYT, February 4)


“In the mid-twentieth century many writers – among them Jean-Paul Sartre and Mary McCarthy – praised neo-Spartan regimes (China and North Vietnam) but preferred to live in neo-Athenian regimes. They were like the many ancient writers who praised Sparta but did not choose to live there.”                                   (from Stephen Miller’s Conversation, Ch. 2)


“An Enthusiast in Religion is like an obstinate Clown.”                                                                                                    (Addison, according to Stephen Miller’s Conversation, Ch. 3)


“There is nothing which an Englishman enjoys more than the pleasure of sulkiness, – of not being forced to hear a word from anybody which may occasion to him the necessity of replying.”                         (Tocqueville, according to Stephen Miller’s Conversation, Ch. 6)


“Unless I am very much mistaken, frivolity of discourse, mere talk for talk’s sake, is one of the most besetting sins of our generation.”                                              (Virginia Woolf’s grandfather Jem Stephens, according to Stephen Miller’s Conversation, Ch. 6)


“The American cannot converse, but he can certainly orate; even his intimate talk falls into a formal lecture. He speaks to you as if he were addressing a meeting.”                                                    (Tocqueville, according to Stephen Miller’s Conversation, Ch. 7)


“Politeness is essential in social life, but it should have limits; it becomes a kind of slavery when it is excessive.”                                                                                                               (La Rochefoucauld, according to Stephen Miller’s Conversation, Ch. 9)


“None of us can ever express the exact measure of his needs or his thoughts or his sorrows; and human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.”                        (From Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, according to Stephen Miller’s Conversation, Ch. 9)


“The wise man sometimes avoids company, for fear of being irritated.”                                                                   (La Bruyère, according to Stephen Miller’s Conversation, Ch. 9)


“’… among well-bred [polite] people, a mutual deference is affected; contempt of others disguised; authority concealed; attention given to each in his turn; and an easy stream of conversation maintained, without eagerness for victory, and without any airs of superiority.’ (Hume)

In the United States, where people are admired for being natural, sincere, authentic, and nonjudgmental – for being more like Rousseau than like Hume – the prospects for conversation are not good.” (final words of Stephen Miller’s Conversation)


“I’m not out to combat anyone. I’m only doing what the Holy Spirit tells me to do. I’m living my faith, practicing and preaching that Jesus Christ is the only way to God, and they respect me for it. They know where we stand. I’ve said before: let no Muslim think they have the monopoly on violence.”                                (Archbishop Peter Akinola, primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, quoted in Atlantic Monthly, March 2008)


The Rev. J. C. Flannel Lives

“God will download our software onto his hardware until the time he gives us new hardware to run the software again for ourselves.”                              (John Polkinghorne, a physicist and a priest’ quoted by N. T. (‘Tom’) Wright, Bishop of Durham, in interview ‘Christians Wriong About Heaven’ Says Bishop, in Time, February 7)


“If you have a squeamish doctor, get a new doctor. That’s America. Canada got the French. Australia got the convicts. We got the Puritans and never got over it.”                                                (Dan Sage, ‘syndicated sex-advice columnist’, quoted in NYT, January 12)


“There is pain that is perceived, and there is pain that is endured, and they are two different worlds, inhabited by creatures of two different races.”                                                                               (from John Le Carré’s Foreword to François Bizot’s The Gate)


“In 1970, when the Americans arrived in Cambodia, I saw them as allies in my impossible quest. But their irresponsibility, their colossal tactlessness, their inexcusable naïveté, even their cynicism, frequently aroused more fury and outrage in me than did the lies of the Communists.”                  (from the Introduction to François Bizot’s The Gate)



Come Back, Hugh Kingsmill!

“I detest the notion of a new dawn in which Homo Sapiens would live in harmony. The hope this utopia engenders has justified the bloodiest exterminations in history.”                                                                                (from the Introduction to François Bizot’s The Gate)


“Comrade, one day I, too, will have children, and being deprived of them will make me cry like you. But for the time being my only values are those that will lead to the liberation of our compatriots. My duty is to lead them back to a life of simple pleasures: what more can anyone want from life than a bicycle, a watch, and a transistor radio?”   (the Khmer Rouge Ta Douch to the author, from François Bizot’s The Gate, Chapter 7)


“Comrade, it’s better to have a sparsely populated Cambodia than a country full of incompetents!”                                                                                                                 (the Khmer Rouge Ta Douch to the author, from François Bizot’s The Gate, Chapter 7)


“Argentina has three main enemies: Karl Marx, because he tried to destroy the Christian concept of society; Sigmund Freud, because he tried to destroy the Christian concept of the family; and Albert Einstein, because he tried to destroy the Christian concept of time and space.”                            (from Jacobo Timerman’s Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number, quoted by Christopher Hitchens in Atlantic Monthly, March 2008)


“According to the [U.S.] government, ‘Hispanics’ may be of any race as long as they are of Latin-American ancestry. So, a blond, blue-eyed Argentinian-American whose grandparents showed up from Germany in Argentina mysteriously in 1946 is a ‘Hispanic’ while an Arab-American Muslim is a ‘non-Hispanic white.’”                                                                                                              (Michael Lind in Prospect, February 2008)


“It is only slightly facetious to say that digital information lasts forever – or five years, whichever comes first.”                                                                           (attributed to Jeff Rothenberg of the RAND Corporation in 1995, from a letter to NYT, February 24)


“If such Jews [Wittgenstein and Simone Weil] could ironize their heritage, why should the outsider not do so?’                                                             (George Steiner in Zion, from My Unwritten Books, from review of it in NYT by Ben Marcus, February 24)


“Apparently, it takes a Ph. D. in criminology to doubt that keeping dangerous criminals incarcerated cuts crime.”                                                    (Political scientist John J. DiIulio Jr., quoted in Steven D. Levitt’s and Stephen J. Dubner’s Freakonomics, Chapter 4)


“An emerging market can be defined as a market from which it is difficult to emerge.”                              (Christopher Fildes, according to Ian Cowie in the Spectator, February 16)


Oh, those wacky Western comedies!

“GOING  SOUTH – A colorful Western comedy about an outlaw who is saved from lynching when a spinster agrees to marry him:1978, color”                                                                                                                                            (from a current DVD catalog)


“We read a lot of books which we half understood.”                                                                                                                                    (‘confession by a former German terrorist on his murderous heyday’, reported by Michael Burleigh in the Spectator, February 23)


“The best way to start a library is to leave out the works of Jane Austen.”                                                 (Mark Twain, according to Alberto Manguel in the Spectator, February 23)




“In February 2007, the writer Debra Dickerson, an African-American, told Stephen [Colbert] that Obama lacked African-American authenticity because his father was not a descendant of slaves in America.”      (from a letter in NYT Book Review, March 2)

“Defining the son of a white mother as 100% black is a special device of American racism that has defined logic for more than 200 years.”                                                 (from review by Madison Smartt Bell of Song Yet Sung by James McBride, in NYT, March 2)


“For years, we have used not having our independence as an excuse for everything. Now that we have it, we need to show that we deserve it to be a country and can create a viable economy.’ (Shpend Ahmeti, an economist in Pristina, Kosovo, reported in NYT, March 5)


“A conservatism that makes no demands and enforces no responsibilities is largely a rhetorical posture.”                                                                                                              (Lewis L. Gould, quoted by Peter G. Peterson in Running On Empty, Preface)


“If something is unsustainable, it tends to stop.”                                                                   (Herbert Stein, according to Peter G. Peterson in Running On Empty, Preface)


“Much less is said about what happens when the prewar baby-boomers become not golf-playing sixty-five-year-olds sipping chardonnay at the nineteenth hole, but wheelchair-bound eight-five-year-olds being fed Ensure through a straw.”                         (‘one gerontology professor’, cited by Peter G. Peterson in Running On Empty, Chapter 2)


“Pete, you are probably wondering if I’m a man of high principle. Well, I want you to know that I am a man of principle. And my first principle is total flexibility.” (Senator Everett Dirksen, quoted by Peter G. Peterson in Running On Empty, Chapter 7)


“Since a politician never believes what he says, he is surprised when others believe him.” (Charles de Gaulle, according to Peter G. Peterson in Running On Empty, Chapter 7)


“What are the advantages which we propose to gain by that great purpose of human life which we call bettering our condition? To be observed, to be attended to, to be taken notice of with sympathy, complacency and approbation, are all the advantages we can propose to derive from it.”                                                                  (Adam Smith, in A Theory of Moral Sentiments, quoted by Charles Leadbetter in the Spectator, March 1)


“Criminal behavior party explains the size of the prison population, but incarceration rates have continued to rise while crime rates have fallen.” (NYT leader, March 10; compare from February: “Apparently, it takes a Ph. D. in criminology to doubt that keeping dangerous criminals incarcerated cuts crime”, Freakonomics, Chapter 4)


“Where is freedom. Linden [Nazi historian of literature] says race loyalty. Now the word is class-conscious. Not quite as poisonous, but it does not have anything to do with scholarship either.”                                                                                                                 (from entry for 18th April, 1949, in Victor Klemperer’s Diaries, The Lesser Evil)


“No one conquers any more, everyone ‘liberates’: the armies of the ‘people’s democracies’ do it, the partisans did it… the West wants a crusade in order to liberate the Balkans, a crusade for Christendom, for Europe, for Atlantic culture.”                           (from entry for 6th September, 1949, in Victor Klemperer’s Diaries, The Lesser Evil)


“I found philo-Semitism just as unpleasant as anti-Semitism. I am a German and a Communist, nothing else. Besides the consequence of philo-Semitism was certainly only a reinforcement of anti-Semitism.”                                                                                      (from entry for 2nd January, 1953, in Victor Klemperer’s Diaries, The Lesser Evil)


“H. [Hadwig] opposed with some indignation, that the Jews against the Arabs were ‘worse than the Nazis’… certainly there are Dantesque stages of hell, and Auschwitz is the very last pit of hell. But that the Jews are in the penultimate circle of hell – precisely as Jews they shouldn’t be there.”                                                                                     (from entry for 23rd November, 1957, in Victor Klemperer’s Diaries, The Lesser Evil)


“… and this whole is concentrated more and more on the one Ulbricht, is ever less distinguishable from Nazi attitudes and methods. Say working class instead of race and both movements are identical. Tyranny and narrow-mindedness increase with every day. Agitation against [religious] belief, youth initiation, struggle against ‘ideological co-existence’, against ‘fractionism’, against ‘petty bourgeois arrogance’ – all of its is LQI [Language of the Fourth Imperium].”                                                                           (from entry for 14th February, 1958, in Victor Klemperer’s Diaries, The Lesser Evil)


“In the course of the afternoon it became clear to me that Communism is equally suited to pulling primitive peoples out of the primaeval mud and pushing civilized peoples back into the primaeval mud. In the second case it sets to work more mendaciously and is not only stultifying, but debasing as well, in that every way it trains people to be hypocrites. Thanks to my China trip and fully acknowledging the prodigious achievements here I have finally become an anti-Communist.”                                                                  (from entry for 24th October, 1958, in Victor Klemperer’s Diaries, The Lesser Evil)


“People ask me, ‘As if you aren’t already in a bad enough situation being black, why would you want to be Jewish?’”                                                                                    (Tamar Manasseh, ‘a lifelong member of Beth Shalom’, quoted in NYT, March 16)


“Racialism is worse than communism since its ideology includes eternal hatred: communism, on the other hand, decrees hatred as a way, as a method of conflict, while its final ideal proposes the absence of hate.”                                                                                                    (Nicolas Berdyaev, from The Fate of Man in the Modern World, Chapter 1)


“History needed man as its material, but has not recognized him as her purpose.”                                  (Nicolas Berdyaev, from The Fate of Man in the Modern World, Chapter 1)


“Racialism is a purely Hebrew ideology. The only classic example in history of the racialist ideal is that afforded by the Jews. It was the Jewish race which strove for racial purity, opposed mixed marriages and all sorts of mingling with others, strove to remain a world closed to outsiders.”                                                                                                                       (Nicolas Berdyaev, from The Fate of Man in the Modern World, Chapter 3)


“Only a form of Socialism, which unites personality and the communal principle, can satisfy Christianity….. Christianity will again become the only and the final refuge of man. And when the purifying process is finished, it will be seen that Christianity stands for man and humanity, for the value and dignity of personality, for freedom, for social justice, for the brotherhood of men and of nations, for enlightenment, for the creation of a new life.”    (Nicolas Berdyaev, from The Fate of Man in the Modern World, Chapter 4)


Is Putin Available?

“We need a President who is ready on Day 1 to be commander in chief of our economy.”                                                                         (Senator Hillary Clinton, quoted in NYT, March 25)


“I think, if I had the appointment of the whole staff, that faute de mieux, I would commence by choosing all the best slow bowlers, as I have never seen a slow bowler who wasn’t a terribly clever fellow . . . and perhaps, to give Scotland  a chance, I would admit some golf-players and curlers.”                                                                                                       (Captain Campbell, writing home in 1846 from the Crimea ‘about the problems of finding staff-officers who were not complete imbeciles’, cited in David Crane’s review of Ed Smith’s What Sport Tells Us About Life, in the Spectator, March 15)


“Nobody, or hardly anyone, created evidence for the convenience of future historians.”                            (from John Vincent’s An Intelligent Person’s Guide to History, Chapter 1)


“History is not, in practice or in any simple sense, the study of mankind. It is the study, using some but not all methods, of some men in some societies at some times. It is the study, especially, of societies which preserve records and maintain continuity through long-lived institutions.”                                                                                                                              (from John Vincent’s An Intelligent Person’s Guide to History, Chapter 1)


“Records, like compost, are best well rotted.”                                                                                               (from John Vincent’s An Intelligent Person’s Guide to History, Chapter 1)


“History is about primary sources. All secondary sources were primary sources once, even if the originals no longer survive. Indeed, a primary source is a secondary source which has not yet been interpreted.”                                                                                                                (from John Vincent’s An Intelligent Person’s Guide to History, Chapter 1)


“The essential quality of a reliable eye-witness account is that there should be no other eye-witnesses.”                                                                                                                                         (from John Vincent’s An Intelligent Person’s Guide to History, Chapter 1)


“Meaning is the poetry of history, evidence the prose.”                                                                                 (from John Vincent’s An Intelligent Person’s Guide to History, Chapter 2)


“Try, if you wish, to square the circle, by affirming that bad consequences are the result of bad, or negligent, or thoughtless, intentions, and thus that all is ultimately intention after all, and you may think that your unified morality is discovered. But it is not so easy as that, for is intellectual error, the error of the man who holds that 2+2=5, the result of defective and culpable intention? The circle is not willing to be squared. History has to consider bad men who do good things, and good men who do bad things.”                                                     (from John Vincent’s An Intelligent Person’s Guide to History, Chapter 4)


“Still, classes, structures, value systems, the whole sociological apparatus, do not do certain things. They do not take decisions. They do not write letters. They do not speak or plot or manoeuvre or reunite Germany.  They do not inspire.”                                                                       (from John Vincent’s An Intelligent Person’s Guide to History, Chapter 5)


“As Mr Gladstone rightly said, in the old days one bribed individuals, but in modern democracy one bribes whole classes.”                                                                                                           (from John Vincent’s An Intelligent Person’s Guide to History, Chapter 7)


“Men no more dreamt of a seat in the House of Commons in order to benefit humanity than a child dreamt of a birthday cake in order that others might eat it.”                     (Lewis Namier, quoted in John Vincent’s An Intelligent Person’s Guide to History, Chapter 8)


“History was no longer miraculous. By 1600 God had become a president, not a chief executive.” (from John Vincent’s An Intelligent Person’s Guide to History, Chapter 11)


“Indeed, with their foundation of the Society of Antiquaries in 1572, one can for the first time say that a historian was someone who knew other historians.”                                                            (from John Vincent’s An Intelligent Person’s Guide to History, Chapter 11)


“Jo hansi, voh phansi.’                                                            (an old Hindi saying meaning ‘if a woman laughs, she is already in the net’, according to report in NYT, March 31)





Why Stop Then? Or How to Become Like Zimbabwe in One Easy Lesson

“These tax rebates should be repeated every three months until the economy starts recovering.”                                                                               (from letter from Laurence Seidman, professor of economics at the University of Delaware, NYT, March 31)


“You have a Prose mind not a dialogue mind. Novelists can’t write plays, and playwrights can’t write novels – at least very seldom – Clemence Dane and Galsworthy.”               (Noël Coward to Esmé Lynne, from The Letters of Noël Coward, Chapter 1)


“..I will boldly announce that it is my considered opinion that the human race (soi disant) is cruel, idiotic, sentimental, predatory, ungrateful, ugly, conceited and egocentric to the last ditch and that the occasional discovery of an isolated exception is as deliciously surprising as finding a sudden brazil nut in what you know to be five pounds of vanilla creams.” (Noël Coward to Esmé Lynne, from The Letters of Noël Coward, Chapter 1)


“John Gielgud … recalled that at this period Gladys [Calthrop], Eva [Le Gallienne], Mercedes [de Acosta], and one other (possibly producer Cheryl Crawford) were known as ‘the Four Horsewomen of the Algonquin’”                                                                                                                    (Barry Day, in The Letters of Noël Coward, Chapter 5)


“I do not know you well, but no real human being can be cynical without holding a profound belief in something, some values.”                                             (Arnold Wesker to Noël Coward, from The Letters of Noël Coward, in Intermission: Play Parade)


“Much more has been achieved in the world by private and personal talents than by public and impersonal good works.”                                                            ((Noël Coward to Arnold Wesker, from The Letters of Noël Coward, in Intermission: Play Parade)


“But what the hell is the use of a few people writing balanced and sensible articles when the bulk of the nation is sodden with uneasy prosperity and incapable of thinking seriously about anything but Marilyn Monroe and the Football Pools. It seems to me, oh sadly, sadly, that we’ve lost our will to work, lost our sense of industry, lost our sense of pride in our heritage and above all lost our inherent conviction that we are a great race……..   If only we were not so humiliatingly determined to uphold the mediocre with all our might, protect the fools and decry the intelligent, elevate the condition of the dear old honest working man to such a point that he becomes thoroughly dishonest and works as little as possible for as high wages as possible, and methodically destroy our prestige which fro centuries has been the highest and most respected in the world.”                                    (Noël Coward to Lorn Loraine, from The Letters of Noël Coward, Chapter 25)


“They tell me that for people who really want to meditate the best bet is generally regarded as taking a room in a hospital and ringing the bell.” (Benita Hume to Noël Coward, from The Letters of Noël Coward, in Intermission: A Chatter of Chums)


“I cannot see that any of these changes is for the better, but the great aim of democracy is to make everything as uncomfortable as possible for the greatest number, so the minority may hold its tongue.”                                            (Angela Thirkell, in Three Houses, p 29)





“First, fire the football coach.”                                                                                               (advice given to the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, president of Notre Dame, when the latter asked Dr. Robert F. Goheen, president of Princeton, what his school could do about getting Princeton’s reputation for scholarship, from Goheen’s NYT obituary, April 1)


“Stalin pointed two fingers at Mr. Baibakov’s head, he recalled. ‘If you fail to stop the Germans getting our oil, you will be shot.’ Stalin said. ‘And when we have thrown the invader out, if we cannot restart production, we will shoot you again.”                                                                              (from the obituary of Nikolai K. Baibakov, in NYT, April 2)


“Ours is a risk-taking church, because ours is a risk-taking God.”                                                                        (from advertisement for the United Church of Christ, in NYT, April 2)


“We are fighting against feudalism, we are not fighting against capitalism….. We will create a conducive atmosphere to have more profit for the capitalist. We are not going to do anything else than that.”                                                                               (Prachand, namely Pushpa Kamal Dahal, head of the Nepalese Maoist party, quoted in NYT, April 9)


Time and Tide’s political policy has changed and developed over the years, but it still rests, as it has always rested, on certain principles which have not changed: that freedom is precious for its own sake: that freedom includes the liberty to waste one’s own money and make one’s own mistakes: that injustice cannot be made just by the authority of governments: that tyrants should be overthrown: that each individual human soul is infinitely valuable.” (from Anthony Lejeune’s Preface to the Time and Tide Anthology)


“There are no democracies in the west: there are only rank plutocracies, all of them now Fascist to the fingertips, having thrown over Cobden and Bright, and grasped the enormous economy and lucrativity demonstrated by the Socialists, of State financed Capitalism, which is English for Fascism. England is in fact at present the leading Fascist power in Europe; and the Fascists who are denouncing Fascism in their speeches on the war do not know what they are talking about. They never do.”                                   (Bernard Shaw, from Authentic Shavian Democracy (1945), in Time and Tide Anthology)


“It goes without saying that the man of independent means in public life is rapidly becoming an extinct animal. How valuable he was, how essential it was to have men in high places who could ignore the machine and who could afford to resign on principle, is, of course, a matter of dispute. But that he played a central part in the evolution of our present tradition is incontestable.”                                                                                    (Lionel Robbins, from The Revolution of Our Time (1951), in Time and Tide Anthology)


“For God’s sake, do not drag me into another war! I am worn down, and worn out, with crusading and defending Europe, and protecting mankind; I must think a little of myself. I am sorry for the Spaniards – I am sorry for the Greeks – I deplore the fate of the Jews; the people of the Sandwich Islands are groaning under the most detestable tyranny; Baghdad is oppressed, I do not like the present state of the Delta; Tibet is not comfortable. Am I to fight for all these people? The world is bursting with sin and sorrow. Am I to be champion of the Decalogue, and to be eternally raising fleets and armies to make all men good and happy? We have just done saving Europe, and I am afraid the consequence will be, that we shall cut each other’s throats. No war, dear Lady Grey! – No eloquence; but apathy, selfishness, common sense, arithmetic!’                                                                                                                     (Sydney Smith, in letter to Lady Grey (1823), quoted by George Schwarz in As It Was In The Beginning (1954), from Time and Tide Anthology)


“Parliament is essentially an institution for preventing the Government from doing things.

The function of the back bench in such a society [aristocratic] was clear enough. He had an independent income and there was no payment of members. He had therefore nothing to lose in his pocket by losing his seat. There was in those days little Party organization in the constituencies. He was elected rather because he was a popular local man. So it was improbable that constituents would mind if he defied his Party in the lobby. The hours of the House’s sitting were few. So he could easily keep up other interests or follow another profession and was in no danger of becoming a professional politician.”                                                                                                          (Christopher Hollis, in Farewell to Westminster (1955), from Time and Tide Anthology)


“Belief in systems, in my experience, is usually a result of half-education. The completely ignorant man has no sense of the value of fact. The educated man realizes the value of fact, but also has a sense of its limitations. It is the half-educated man, discovering facts for the first time, who is dazzled by their brilliant possibilities and leaps out of his bath shouting ‘Eureka! Collect all the facts, systematize, and there is the answer to everything!’ And it seems to be nobody’s job to explain that all the available figures aren’t all the facts, and that since all the facts on any subject can never be collected, he must still use his brains and his judgment.”                                                    (Nigel Balchin, in Logs in the Stream (1947), from Time and Tide Anthology)


“Everyone knows that the fixing of a maximum price for anything means, in practice, that this becomes its minimum price.”                                                                                                         (Nigel Balchin, in Logs in the Stream (1947), from Time and Tide Anthology)


“The only thing I know about economic rules is that there are no economic rules.”                                                  (Lord Hailsham, from John Mortimer’s Character Parts)


“Having a bad religion’s much worse than having no religion. You know, atheism once did a useful service in driving out bad religion.”                                                                    (Dr. David Jenkins, Bishop of Durham, from John Mortimer’s Character Parts)


“I think it may be a legend that he [Bogart] was the first actor to say, ‘Anyone for tennis?’”                                  (Lauren Bacall, from John Mortimer’s Character Parts)


“Unemployed men were applauding him [Bonar Law]! So I shouted out, ‘What about the workers!” and someone put their hand on my shoulder to quieten me down. So I shouted it out again much louder and they threw me out. I got my picture in the papers. Once you’ve got your picture in the papers you’re in politics.”                                                                                                           (Lord Shinwell, from John Mortimer’s Character Parts)


“But George Orwell came through to me once. He talked in this plummy voice about Wigan and the wound in his throat and he called me ‘woman’. I said, ‘My name’s Doris Stokes and don’t you ever call me ‘woman’ again!”                                                                                                 (Doris Stokes, medium, from John Mortimer’s Character Parts)


“You can’t prove that Ian Fleming isn’t the greatest writer in the world, although I rather suspect that he is not.”             (Lord David Cecil, from John Mortimer’s Character Parts)


“You know what my grandmother said about Ernest Bevin? She said, ‘They can’t make him Foreign Secretary. He’s got a Bristol accent.”                                                                                                                   (Peter Nichols, from John Mortimer’s Character Parts)


“You know what [Isaac Stern] said? He said playing music in America you feel you’re playing a luxury item; but in England you’re providing a necessity.”                                                          `                       (André Previn, from John Mortimer’s Character Parts)


Religious News

Norway’s governing and opposition parties agreed to loosen the strong ties between the government and the Lutheran Church. The accord, which requires amendments to the 1814 Constitution, stops short of severing church-state ties but says the Lutheran faith will no longer be the official state religion…. The proposed constitutional change will still require the monarch to be Lutheran, but will no longer require Lutheran citizens to bring up their children as Lutherans.”                                   (from NYT report, April 11)

“In much of the developed world, Mass attendance has fallen steeply as religious belief is less often inherited at birth.”                                                  (from NYT report, April 13)

“One of the many contradictions Israel faces in its seventh decade of independence is this: it is a country that is safe for Judaism, but not for Jews.”                                                                                                           (Jeffrey Goldberg, in Atlantic Monthly, May 2008)

“He told me that now I had embraced Islam, marriage to a Muslim woman was possible and he reminded me that my children must be Muslim too.”                                                                                                                        (Hugh Miles, in Prospect, April 2008)

“Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted.”                                                           (Pope Benedict XVI, in address in Washington, quoted in NYT, April 17)

“We deplore those who are led astray – those Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, evangelicals, Pentecostals and many others who cut Christ’s robes like bandits, who are like the soldiers who crucified Christ, who ripped apart Christ’s holy coat.”                        (Rev. Alexsei D. Zorin, Orthodox priest in Stary Oskol, reported in NYT, April 24)

“His father was a Muslim and you can’t take that out of him.”                                              (Ms. Chotiner, a Jew in Florida, on Senator Barack Obama, reported in NYT, May 22. The reporter noted that ‘in Judaism, religion is a fixed identity across generations’.)


“The paradox is that Unesco gives out the Heritage Site label partly to reduce poverty, but reducing poverty is reducing heritage. If you want to preserve heritage, you must keep poverty.”                         (Laurent A. Rampon, former chief architect and director of the cultural preservation office in Luang Prabang, Laso, quoted in NYT, April 15)


So What’s Your Point?

“We call ourselves a Jewish, democratic state. But the less Jewish we are the easier it will be for others to say, ‘Why not just be a democratic state for Jews and Arabs to live in together?’”                                                                                                       (Sharoma Mazalian, who ‘works for a secular, conservative legislator’, quoted in NYT, April 18)


“Everything in sex matters, including the experience of its not mattering.”                                                                                                  (Howard Jacobson, in Prospect, April 2008)


‘What Fresh Nonsense Is This?’ Department

“For the first time in human history, we have the opportunity to come together around a global covenant, to reframe the international architecture and build the truly global society.”                                                                     (Gordon Brown in speech at John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, as reported in NYT, April 19)


“I hold it to be highly unlikely that your class will survive the upheavals of Thatcherism. At present, your heart both thrills and bleeds at the prospect of the coming battle with Scargill; but after the coal miners, who next? The lords on their thrones and acres, the professional interest groups – I understand these matters only in the most general sense – the lawyers, the bowler-hats, the lean and murderous military officers, the alcoholic professors of Greek, the racers of pure-bred horses, the slumberous Clubmen, even the monarchy itself? These are all what Marx called, in his famous article for the New York Daily Tribune of 25 August 1852, faux frais of production, unproductive social overheads which he believed the British bourgeoisie would eventually tire of paying for. I do not hold it to be excluded, Richard, that the belated bourgeois revolution in England, which Marx so pathetically anticipated all through his London exile, will come to pass under this woman!”                                                                                          (Sebastian Ritter, in James Buchan’s The Golden Plough [Heart’s Journey in Winter in the UK], Chapter 2)


‘Prairie Pastel’

“It [the message that ‘the dress is dead’] may also come as unwelcome news to the female members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose wildly anachronistic Laura Ingalls Wilder frocks, Skechers and wave-pool hairdos have become as much an obsession in certain Manhattan circles as their polygamist habits and 416 children.”                                                                    (from NYT, April 24)


“The day oil and gas will finish, we will not go back to our camels.”                                                      (The Emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad Khalifa al-Thani, quoted in NYT, April 30)


“A market without bears would be like a nation without a free press.”                                                                                 (Financier Bernard M. Baruch, according to NYT, April 30)




“Mr. Rangel said he frequently offers rides to constituents so they can discuss their concerns in the luxurious confines of his DeVille. ‘I want them to feel that they are somebody and their congressman is somebody,’ Mr. Rangel explained. ‘And when they say, “This is nice,” it feels good.’”                                                                                                                                 (from report in NYT, May 1, on tax-payer financed automobiles)


“Milosevic was not a criminal, but he made a lot of mistakes.”                                                               (Tomislav Nikolic, leader of Serbia’s Radical Party, quoted in NYT, May 3)


“Were he an Arab leader, David Ben-Gurion once confessed to the Zionist official Nahum Goldmann, he, too, would wage personal war with Israel. ‘Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them?’, he asked. ‘There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: We have come here and stolen their country.’”                                                                                                    (David Margolick, in review of 1848, by Benny Morris, in NYT, May 4)


“To be Jewish today is a question of one’s public culture.”                                                                                            (Professor Peter Gyorgy of Budapest, quoted by NYT, May 7)


“Hitchens’s memory is encyclopaedic. Ian McEwan has observed that it is as if everything he has ever read or heard is ‘instantly neurologically available.’”               (From Alexander Linklater’s profile of Christopher Hitchens in Prospect, May 2008)


“We, as an industry, dropped the ball.”                                                                    (Kenneth C. Griffin, founder of the Citadel Investment Fund, quoted in NYT, May 13)


“I still have not been able to understand what it means to love a country.” (Edward Said, quoted by Tony Judt in Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century)


“When I met my American wife, I presented myself as a cricketer. I didn’t want to have any retrospective discussion. All these guys are in the same boat; it’s a negotiation.”                                                   (Irish novelist Joseph O’Neill, quoted in NYT, May 17)


“Tolstoy’s declared love for humanity appalls me, not because I wish humanity any harm, but because it comes as near to genuine feeling as a tin whistle comes to a Bach partita.”                                         (Theodore Dalrymple, in the Spectator, May 17)


“I too think I can do everything better than anyone else. Still, my ego does allow for the remote possibility that someone might be as good at one or two things. I’ve admitted that ideas coming from others could be valuable as well.”                                         (Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, in Bloomberg by Bloomberg, quoted in NYT, May 20)


“A car should not have any more cylinders than a cow has teats.”                                                                (Henry Ford, quoted in obituary of Beverly Rae Kimes, in NYT, May 20)


“Unhappiness, like grey hairs, is part of life. I am as happy as the human condition allows.”                                   (Enoch Powell, from John Mortimer’s In Character)


“I’m very fond of Graham [Greene], but he relies too much on the magic of religion, which isn’t a durable base. He’s the sort of Catholic who regrets the end of fasting because it’s no fun to eat meat on Fridays any more. I always said Graham is a saint trying to be a sinner, and I’m a sinner trying to be a saint. This annoys him very much, but really Graham has no talent for sinning.”                                                                                                     (Malcolm Muggeridge, from John Mortimer’s In Character)


“I was at a dinner given by Carol Reed and his wife Pempe, and Alexander Korda brought his young mistress whom he afterwards married. Evelyn [Waugh] was horribly rude to this girl and , when I asked him why, he said, ‘It was dreadful of Korda to bring his mistress to Pempe’s house.’ ‘But Evelyn, I brought my mistress,’ I told him. ‘That was quite all right. Your mistress is a married woman.” Evelyn had a strange sense of Catholic morality.”                         (Graham Greene, from John Mortimer’s In Character)


Make Poverty History (Episode XXVII)

“When Harold Wilson was elected, I was literally trembling with excitement. I thought, now poverty will be abolished.”                                                                                                                                          (Ken Livingstone, from John Mortimer’s Character Parts)


“Oh yes. He [Churchill] rang me at 2:30 one morning and said, ‘I thought you’d like to know we’ve settled with the miners.’ ‘Oh, really, prime Minsiter,’ I said. ‘On what terms?’ ‘On theirs, of course’, he said. ‘Dammit, you’ve got to have electric light.’”                                                          (R. A. Butler, from John Mortimer’s Character Parts)


“Baldwin always said there were two institutions you couldn’t possibly fight. The National Union of Mineworkers and the Pope.”                                                                                                                              (R. A. Butler, from John Mortimer’s Character Parts)


“In the early 1960s, Harold Macmillan used to say: ‘The three big interests any prime minister should beware of taking on are the Brigade of Guards, the National Union of Mineworkers and the Roman Catholic Church.’”                                                                                                                                             (Paul Johnson, in the Spectator, June 28)


“Keith Joseph? A wonderful mixture of Rasputin and Tommy Cooper.”                                                                                 (Denis Healey, from John Mortimer’s Character Parts)


“It’s a strange product of social equality. The nearer people are to the poor the less they sympathize with them When I started in Labour politics after the war, we produced a genuine Welfare State that was thirty years ahead of any product of European Socialism. But, strangely enough, we’ve never learned how to manage it, or live with it, or even enjoy it.”                                    (Denis Healey, from John Mortimer’s Character Parts)


“Mr. Hagee’s views flow out of his adherence to what is known in evangelical circles as premillennial dispensationalism, a literlistic approach to biblical prophect that places a special emphasis on the role of the nation of Israel in the end of history.”                                                                                                                           (from report in NYT, May 23)


“There are many socialists who have never come to grips in any way with the problems of economics, and who have made no attempt at all to form for themselves any clear conception of the conditions which determine the character of society…. They have criticized freely enough the economic structure of ‘free’ society, but have consistently neglected to apply to the economics of the disputed socialist state the same caustic acumen… They invariably explain how, in the cloud-cuckoo lands of their fancy, roast pigeons will in some way fly into the mouths of the comrades, but they omit to show how this miracle will take place.”                     (Ludwig von Mises, in Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth, quoted in Alan Ebenstein’s Hayek’s Journey, p 31)


“The wealth of the world is ‘not a fund but a flow’… To keep value in existence, wealth has to be constantly remade.”                                                                               (William Smart quoting Friedrich von Wieser in his introduction to Wieser’s Natural Value)


“That we ought not to believe anything which has been shown to be false does not mean that we ought to believe only what has been demonstrated to be true.”                                                                                                  (Friedrich Hayek, in The Constitution of Liberty)


“Nobody can be a great economist who is only an economist – and I am even tempted to say that an economist who is only an economist is likely to become a nuisance if not a positive danger.”                                                                 (Friedrich Hayek, in lecture at the University of Chicago in 1955, quoted in Alan Ebenstein’s Hayek’s Journey, p 155)


“Today legislatures are no longer so called because they make the laws, but laws are so called because they emanate from legislatures.”                                                                                                                               (Friedrich Hayek, in The Constitution of Liberty)


“I think it was last May, that in my London club I happened to sit on the same table as a Russian scientist, who had come to Western Europe for the first time to attend a scientific conference. He spoke quite good English, so I could ask him what surprised him most on visiting Western Europe. His answer was: ‘You still have so many Marxists. We haven’t any!’”                                                                             (Friedrich Hayek, from exchange at the Hoover Institution in 1983, quoted in Alan Ebenstein’s Hayek’s Journey, p 234)


Letter from Havana, or maybe Pyongyang, but no!…Swannanoa, NC

“Today more and more Chinese working-class people look back at the Cultural Revolution years with fond memories. Despite some shortcomings of the Cultural Revolution, China was a socialist society that was overcoming inequality with full employment, free medical care and free education for its citizens. It was a country that had largely eradicated deeply rooted problems of homelessness, prostitution, bandits and drug abuse.”                                    (letter from Dongping Han, Swannanoa, NC, who ‘teaches history and political science at Warren Wilson College’, in NYT Book Review, May 25)


“Nature in my opinion only appeals to the truly educated.”                                                                             (Rider Haggard, quoted in Juliet Nicolson’s The Perfect Summer, p 139)


Make Poverty History (from 1911)

“There is an imminent danger of famine… the whole thing is as insanely foolish as it is wicked. The trade union leaders talk of putting an end to poverty. Are they really so hopelessly ignorant as to imagine that destroying property, stopping trade and dislocating the whole machinery of civilisation is the way to benefit the poor?”                    (Times leader in early August, 1911, quoted in Juliet Nicolson’s The Perfect Summer, p 189)


“Among the laws passed while Moulin was at Chartres was the first Statut des Juifs, which gave a wider definition of Jewish identity than the one adopted in Nazi Germany. Under Vichy anyone with two Jewish grandparents was Jewish, even if they had converted to Christianity.”                                                                          (from Patrick Marnham’s Resistance and Betrayal [The Death of Jean Moulin in the UK], pp 38-39)


“The best profession is the world is librarian. Municipal librarian in a small town in Brittany. One day, as retirement draws near, one sits down to compose a monograph of eighty  pages. ‘Did Madame de Sévigné once pass through Pontivy?’ And one becomes quite frantic, dashing off stinging letters to the vicar, who is dithering over a crucial date.”                                                  (Charles de Gaulle, according to Patrick Marnham in Resistance and Betrayal [The Death of Jean Moulin in the UK], p 109, footnote)


“Because of her married name – Kohn-Sachs – her [Antoinette’s] identity card was stamped Juif [Juive?], which put her in danger of deportation, so she had to apply to Vichy’s General Commission for Jewish Affairs for a certificate of ‘nonadherence to the Jewish race’, which was issued in November 1941 when Moulin was in England.”                                                                                                                      (from Patrick Marnham’s Resistance and Betrayal [The Death of Jean Moulin in the UK], p 152)




“I tell musicians, ‘Don’t trust nobody but your mama. And even then, look at her real good.’”                                                                                                                           (Bo Diddley, in Rolling Stone interview, 2005, quoted in his NYT obituary, June 3)


“My colleague Francis Crick used to say that God is a hacker, not an engineer. You can do reverse engineering, but you can’t do reverse hacking.”                                                                                                                (Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, quoted in NYT, June 3)


“Russia will absorb communism as a blotter absorbs ink.”                             (Charles de Gaulle [where and when?], according to Robin Harris, in the Spectator, May 31)


“Dr. McLeroy believes that Earth’s appearance is a recent geologic event – thousands of years old, not 4.5 billion. ‘I believe a lot of incredible things,’ he said. ‘The most incredible thing I believe is the Christmas story. That little baby born in the manger was the god that created the universe.’”                                                                         (Dr. John McLeroy, chairman of the Texas State Board of Education, profiled in NYT, June 4)


“As it was, I read fairly widely, and, more important, learned a certain savoir faire, learned how much I could drink, how not to be gauche with women, how to talk to people without being aggressive or embarrassed, and gained a measure of confidence which would have been impossible for me under any other form of education.”                                                                                         (Richard Hillary, in The Last Enemy, p 18)


“In an age when to love one’s country is vulgar, to love God archaic, and to love mankind sentimental, you do all three.”                                                       (Richard Hillary to Peter Pease, quoted by Arthur Koestler in The Yogi and the Commissar, pp 65-66)


“Whether they [the revolutionary intelligentsia] spoke of the necessity of political liberty, or of the plight of the peasant or of the socialist future of society, it was always their own plight which really moved them. And their plight was not primarily due to material need: it was spiritual.”                                                                    (Borkenau in The Communist International, quoted by Arthur Koestler in The Yogi and the Commissar, p 74)


“Watch carefully what you do with your resentment – it is the only historical asset of the poor; without it they would still be in serfdom.”                                                                                                                 (Arthur Koestler in The Yogi and the Commissar, p 74)


“Goethe resurrected is unimaginable in our time, but Voltaire would be within a fortnight acclimatized in Bloomsbury, winning all weekend competitions in the New Statesman.”                                                     (Arthur Koestler in The Yogi and the Commissar, p 69)


“Marxian society has a basement-production, and an attic-intellectual production; the staircase and the lifts are missing.”                                                                                                                                             (Arthur Koestler in The Yogi and the Commissar, p 70)


“There never was an intelligentsia without a guilt-complex; it is the income-tax one has to pay for wanting to make others richer. An armament manufacturer may have a perfectly clean conscience, but I have never met a pacifist without a guilty look in his eyes.”                                          (Arthur Koestler in The Yogi and the Commissar, p 81)


“In this war we are fighting against a total lie in the name of a half-truth.”                                                              (Arthur Koestler in The Yogi and the Commissar, p 106; 1943)


“Constant purges, the monotonously recurrent excommunication of the popular leaders of yesterday, the absence of any rank-and-file influence on the party-line, the sacrifice of thousands in hopeless adventures alternating with capitulations to and alliances with the enemy; the twisting around of slogans to mean the exact opposite of what the words conveyed, indignant denials of the truth of yesterday, and atmosphere of slander, denunciations and Byzantine worship – how can it be explained that millions in the West swallowed all this, and swallowed it voluntarily, in self-imposed discipline, with no Gestapo or G.P.U. to back it up?”                                                                                                                                       (Arthur Koestler in The Yogi and the Commissar, p 131)


“A planned, state-controlled economy is the inevitable next step of historical evolution, and thus ‘progressive’ in the same sense as industrialization, rationalization, air-transport and artificial manure.”             (Arthur Koestler in The Yogi and the Commissar, p 190)


“The atmosphere of democracy has become a stale fug, and those who breathe it cannot be expected to be grateful for the air which it contains. The predicament of Western civilization is that it has ceased to be aware of the values which it is in peril of losing.”                                                 (Arthur Koestler in The Yogi and the Commissar, p 218)


“The Communists became addicted to the bottle, and the evil smell of their diapers bears witness to the indigestibility of its contents.”                                                                                                                        (Arthur Koestler in The Yogi and the Commissar, p 219)


“Everybody with some experience in social work knows that most asocials have some such sort of jealously-guarded private philosophy which they believe to be their unique discovery. Once we accept the principle of reduction as legitimate, there is no means of refuting it. If the world is assumed to be homogeneous, its laws must be traceable either upward to God or downward to chaos; nihilism takes the second course.”                                                                            (Arthur Koestler in The Yogi and the Commissar, p 249)


“I always thought an activist judge was one who got up in the morning and went to work.”                                                          (Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, at the Games for Change conference in New York, quoted in NYT, June 9)


“The British, with their tidy minds,

Divide themselves up into kinds.

The common kind they call the masses,

The better kind – the upper classes.

In either case it’s really not

A specially inspiring lot.

The common ones play darts in pubs,

The others slowly die in clubs.”                                                                                                          (The Social System, by Pont [Graham Laidler] in The British Character)


“The Pretoria High Court issued a landmark ruling on Wednesday classifying Chinese South Africans as black, making them eligible for benefits for those who suffered discrimination under apartheid.”                                     (from report in NYT, June 20)


Oh, very droll, Dean ! Do tell us more….

“..Dean Chadwick was expounding on the Oxford admissions process.

‘There are only two types of young man to whom I would refuse admission to the House’, he said (with a clear glint in his eye). ‘The first is the young man who, by the tender age of 17, claims to have read the complete works of Dostoevsky.’ After a beautifully timed pause for thought, he continued: ‘The second is the young man who, by the tender age of 17, actually has read the complete works of Dostoevsky!’”                                                                                                (David V. Jones, offering a postscript to the obituary of the Very Rev Professor Henry Chadwick, in The Times, June 21)


“If the French noblesse had been capable of playing cricket with their peasants their châteaux never would have been burnt.”                                        (G. M. Trevelyan, according to Ed Smith in review of Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, in The Times, June 21)


“When Lenin read in a newspaper about a strike in England in the course of which the striking workers had actually won a soccer game against the police, he declared that the English would never make a revolution and clamped down on the subsidy for the British C. P. “                    (footnote by Arthur Koestler in his Postscript to Suicide of a Nation?)


“The London netball girls are having a ramble in Kent on February 21. All comrades who want to have a real good time should come along.”                                        (from an undated report in the Daily Worker, quoted on p 8 of Gerald Barry’s This England, 1933)


“A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end… but not necessarily in that order” (Jean-Luc Godard, according to Anne Billson in The Sunday Telegraph, June 22)


“Scratch any cynic, and you’ll find a disappointed idealist.”                                                                                                     (George Carlin, quoted in his NYT obituary, June 24)


“Give me a girl of 8, and I can give you a guarantee of a good marriage.”                                                        (“old tribal expression” in Yemen, according to NYT report, June 29)


“What is true for E. coli is true for the elephant.’                               (Jacques Monod, according to Peter Dizikes in review of Carl Zimmer’s Microcosm, in NYT, June 29)


“Communism is a good thing for Russia, but in England it’s absurd.”                      (Pamela Waley de Bayou, from Fredric Warburg’s All Authors Are Equal, p 9)


“Every writer wants a big seller. It’s not so much the money he craves for. A man wants to be read. The more copies of a book are sold, the more he’s read. Unless a book sells, a writer feels himself to have failed.”                                                                          (George Orwell, according to Fredric Warburg’s All Authors Are Equal, p 15)


“I have been pondering the business of fame since I was young enough to know Valerie Singleton from the Queen. For Americans and foreigners, I should explain that one is a remote, God-like woman, endowed with powerful charismatic charm, and the other is a constitutional monarch recently played by Helen Mirren.”                                                                                                                 (Stephen Fry, in The Daily Telegraph, June 29)


“Old Struthonians are Amateurs and Gentlemen; they fight valiant rearguard-actions in the merry civil war between Eggheads and Engineers; and they see to it that their sons are educated in the same spirit, by becoming thoroughly immersed in Homer’s universe, but not in the universe of Newton.” (Arthur Koestler, in Introduction to Suicide of A Nation?)


“Civilization has already been saved twice, once by Lloyd George and once by Churchill, and is now again in hazard. Who will save it this time, so that consenting adults may go on joyously consenting; Cancer, Kama, and Chatterley continue to edify the young, delight the mature, and solace the old; no colour prejudice any more, from Bow Group to Bow, no class prejudice either; and Empire now on which the sun never rises and a Commonwealth on which it never sets, great acts of statesmanship performed in withdrawing here, there, and everywhere; no poverty any more, bumper to bumper down to the sea in cars; our moral influence in the world mightier than ever before, though, let’s be frank, our military strength diminished (God who made us feeble, make us feebler yet); we Greece to America’s Rome, and, ‘Your Royal Highness, Your Grace, Your Excellencies, My Lords, Ladies, and Gentlemen, as long as we, the two great English-speaking Democracies, stand together…’ with cigar-smoke billowing upwards and brandy-fumes billowing downwards; Here! here! Here! here!

The New Towns rise, as do the television aerials, dreaming spires; the streams flow, pellucid, through the comprehensive schools; the B.B.C. lifts up our hearts in the morning, and bids good night in the evening. We wait for Godot, we shall have strip-tease wherever we go. Give us this day our Daily Express, each week our Dimbleby. God is mathematics, crieth our preacher. In the name of Algebra, the Son, Trigonometry, the Father, and Thermodynamics, the Holy Ghost, Amen.”                                        (Malcolm Muggeridge, in England, Whose England?, from Suicide of A Nation?)


“.. for it is at least better that a country’s affairs should be administered by a secret society than by no one at all.”                                                                                                                         (Goronwy Rees, in Amateurs and Gentlemen, from Suicide of a Nation?)


“British politics have more in common with the Wars of the Roses than with the principles vaguely but potently set forth in the Gettysburg Address.”                                                               (John Grigg, in A Cure for Westminster, from Suicide of a Nation?)


“And the mixture of complacent philistinism, smug superiority, and latent cruelty in the English character. Land of the cat and the hangman, of military punishments, of badger-baiting and homosexual hounding, of savage prosecution of banned books, land of co-respondent and bottled sauces, of sinister officiousness.”                                                                                   (Cyril Connolly, in This Gale-Swept Chip, from Suicide of a Nation?)


“It was not taught by the State,

nor willed by the Powers above;

it broke like a river in spate –

when the English learned how to make love.”                                                                                                                                                                                   (quoted [from where?]  by Cyril Connolly, in This Gale-Swept Chip, from Suicide of a Nation?)


“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;

The courage to change the things I can;

And the wisdom to know the difference.”                                                              (‘a prayer recited at the end of each meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous’, according to Arthur Koestler in his Postscript to Suicide of A Nation?, but what is the origin? Roland Niebuhr? See article in NYT of July 11)





“If a man says he is not afraid of death, he is either lying or he is a Gurkha.”                  (Field-Marshal Sam Marekshaw of the Indian Army, in his Times obituary, July 1)


“Irina Baronova’s sight failed at the end of her life, but she still enjoyed an evening bourbon and soda.”                                      (from her Daily Telegraph obituary, July 1)


“Barely a hundred years ago, Lebanese Christians readily proclaimed themselves Syrian, Syrians looked to Mecca for a king, Jews in the Holy Land called themselves Palestinian … and my grandfather Botros liked to think of himself as an Ottoman citizen,” he writes. “None of the present-day Middle Eastern states existed, and even the term ‘Middle East’ hadn’t been invented. The commonly used term was ‘Asian Turkey.’ Since then, scores of people have died for allegedly eternal homelands, and many more will die tomorrow.”                                                      (from Origins, by Amin Malouf, reviewed in NYT, July 6)


“Fiction is one strident lie – or rather, many competing lies; history is a long narrative of argument and reassessment; travel shouts of self-promotion; biography is just pushing a product. As for autobiography…..”                 (Penelope Lively, in Consequences, Part 4)


“I just wish the other family would kill someone in our family so that this nightmare would finally be over.”             (Vitoria Luli, 37, of Shkoder, Albania, complaining about the fear of Kanun-driven revenge killings of one of her sons, as reported in NYT, July 10)


“.. a seminal project of socially responsible architecture from the period of Utopian thinking”.       (Modernist architect Zaha Hadid describing the housing estate Robin Hood Gardens in Poplar, according to Venetia Thompson in the Spectator, June 28th)



“…. The Bauhaus style proceeded from certain firm assumptions. First, the new architecture was being created for the workers. The holiest of all goals: perfect worker housing. Second, the new architecture was to reject all things bourgeois. Since just about everyone involved, the architects as well as the Social Democratic bureaucrats, was himself bourgeois in the literal, social sense of the word, ‘bourgeois’ became an epithet that meant whatever you wanted it to mean. It referred to whatever you didn’t like in the lives of people above the level of the hod carrier. The main thing was not to be caught designing something someone could point to and say of, with a devastating sneer: “How very bourgeois.’”                                    (Tom Wolfe, in From Bauhaus to Our House, p 16)


“Le Corbusier was the sort of relentlessly rational intellectual that only France loves wholeheartedly, the logician who flies higher and higher in ever-decreasing concentric circles until, with one last, utterly inevitable induction, he disappears up his own fundamental aperture in the fourth dimension as a needle-thin umber bird.”                                                                                    (Tom Wolfe, in From Bauhaus to Our House, p 27)


“During the first movement of industrialism it was the pathetic fallacy that crippled and warped the new achievements of technology; today we are beset by the plutonic fallacy, which turns all living things it touches into metal.”                                                                                                 (Lewis Mumford in Sticks and Stones, Chapter 7, The Age of the Machine)


“The nemesis of mechanism is that it inexorably eliminates the architect – even the architect who worships its achievements!”                                                                                                            (Lewis Mumford in Sticks and Stones, Chapter 7, The Age of the Machine)


“Thus the machine process has created a standardized conception of style: of itself it can no more invent a new style than a mummy can beget children.”                                                               (Lewis Mumford in Sticks and Stones, Chapter 7, The Age of the Machine)


“Just as Mr. Babbitt’s great ancestor, Scadder, transformed a swamp into a thriving metropolis by the simple method of calling it New Eden, so do we tend to lighten our burdens by calling them the ‘blessings of progress’..”                                                           (Lewis Mumford in Sticks and Stones, Chapter 8, Architecture and Civilization)


“A diplomat is a person who can tell you to go to hell and actually make you look forward to the journey.”                                                                                                                                      (Israeli ambassador to the U.N., Dan Gillerman, quoted in NYT, July 20)


“A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”                                                                                                   (The economist Paul Romer, according to Thomas L. Friedman, in NYT, July 20)


“As the poet said: ‘The rolling English country made the ruling English rude.’”                                                                                                               (Michael Barsley, in Ritzkrieg)


“People never find you out if you are never in.”                                                                                            (Maxims of [Colonel] Bogus XXXVII, by Michael Barsley, in Ritzkrieg)


“Let us each be content with our lot. If it is a lot, be content with it. If it is a little, let us be glad it is not less. If it is nothing, let us be glad we have nothing to conceal.” (Canon Fodder, in sermon at the Casual Ward, Slimehouse E., by  Michael Barsley, in Ritzkrieg)


“Idleness is not the same as want, but a separate evil, which men do not escape by having an income.”                                                                                                                (William Beveridge, in 1944, according to Fraser Nelson in the Spectator, July 19)


“Mr President, you simply do not understand the terrible importance of the Communist movement.”                                                                                                                (Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli [future Pope Pius XII] to President Roosevelt in 1934, as recalled by the latter in 1943, and recounted by Andrew Roberts in the Spectator, July 19)


“At one point I really thought you could plan the economy.”                                               (Tim Parker, ‘the controversial private equity player’, once chairman of the Oxford University Labour Club, as reported by Judi Bevan in the Spectator, July 19)


“The sin of intellectualism is worse than death.”                                                        (Stanley Baldwin to R. A. Butler, in the latter’s The Art of the Possible, p 16)


“My future mother-in-law, a formidable Irishwoman, appeared to accept me for two reasons: first, that I was a member of the Carlton Club; and second, that when carving I could make a partridge do six.”      (R. A. Butler, from The Art of the Possible, p 19)


“I do not understand his intellect. It may be my own fault, but I always feel as if in the presence of the chairman of a golf club.”                                                    (Winston Churchill on Wavell, according to R. A. Butler in The Art of the Possible, p 90)


“There is no doubt that the continuity of foreign policy – which caused one Labour man to remark of Ernest Bevin, ‘Hasn’t Anthony Eden grown fat?” – blunted the blood-letting edge of party warfare during much of the Attlee government’s tenure.”                                                                                                 (R. A. Butler, from The Art of the Possible, p 133)


Or the other way around?

“Optimists refuse to acknowledge reality. Idealists remind us that it isn’t fixed.”                                                                                                    (Susan Neiman, in NYT, July 26)


“Just as fish can’t see anything funny about water, people in the motion upholstery field don’t respond to jokes, however inspired, about motion upholstery.”                                                                                            (Roy Blount Jr., to Rachel Donadio, in NYT, July 27)





“In terms of the effect he has had on history, Solzhenitsyn is the dominant writer of the 20th century. Who else compares? Orwell? Koestler? And yet when his name comes up now, it is more often than not as a freak, a monarchist, an anti-Semite, a crank, a has been.”                                                                                           (David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, in 2001, quoted in NYT obituary of Alksandr Sozshenitsyn, August 4)


“There’s a Stalinist in each of you; there’s even a Stalinist in me. We must root out this evil.”                                (Nikita Khrushschev, according to Michael Scammel in his biography, Solzhenitsyn, quoted in NYT obituary of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, August 4)


“Flanders has nothing in common with Holland except language, and the Flemish and Walloons have everything in common except language.”                                                     (‘a friend of Francis Dannemark’, quoted in report on Belgium in NYT, August 4)


“The sand shoveler and the millionaire may change places tomorrow, and they know it; so the former does not usually cringe nor the other strut when they meet. They measure each other fairly; each has had his ups and downs; each pays the respect due to the character rather than the money of the other.”                                                                                                                   (from John S. Hittel’s Commerce and Industries of the Pacific Coast, quoted in Kevin Starr’s Americans and the California Dream, Chapter 4)


“He [Ambrose Bierce] defined the local bohemian as ‘a lazy, loaferish, gluttonous, crapulent and dishonest duffer, who, according to the bent of his incapacity – the nature of the talents that heaven has liberally denied – scandalizes society, disgraces literature, debauches art, and is an irreclaimable, inexpressible and incalculable nuisance.’”                                                                               (from Kevin Starr’s Americans and the California Dream, Chapter 8, quoting The Ideal Bohemian, By One Who Does Not Love Him)


“The progress of civilization had been largely that of building up a middle class between master and slaves.”                               (David Starr Jordan, first president of Stanford University, quoted in Kevin Starr’s Americans and the California Dream, Chapter 10)


“’He is appealing to the meanest passion of mankind, vanity’, says Hamilton of Thomas Jefferson, ‘and the United States, which we tried to make the ideal Republic, is galloping towards the most mischievous of establishments, Democracy. Every cowherd hopes to be President. What is the meaning of civilization, pray, if the educated, enlightened, broad-minded, are not to rule?’”                                                (from Gertrude Atherton’s The Conqueror, quoted in Kevin Starr’s Americans and the California Dream, Chapter 11)


“Indeed, it’s often said that the difference between London and New York is that in London people are rude to your face but loyal behind your back, whereas in New York they’re polite to your face but rude behind your back.”                                                                                     (Toby Young in How To Lose Friends And Alienate People, Chapter 15)


“Socially, a journalist fits in somewhere between a whore and a bartender but spiritually he stands beside Galileo. He knows the world is round.”                                                                                                                            (Ben Hecht in A Child of the Century, p 191)


“Several [black ministers] have been outspoken in their view that a district that is 60% black should not be represented by a white man; Mr. Cohen, who is Jewish, was the object of boos and jeers at a meeting of the Memphis Baptist Ministerial Association last summer.”                                                                          (from a report in NYT, August 7)


“Remember, cultural epochs come and go, but one-ups-manship [sic] is forever.”                                                                                                       (David Brooks in NYT, August 8)


“When a jurist tells me, ‘Evo, you are making a legal mistake; what you are doing is illegal,’ I go ahead even if it’s illegal,” Mr. Morales said. “I later tell the lawyers, ‘If it’s illegal, you make it legal. Otherwise, what have you studied for?’”                                                                                (President Evo Morales of Bolivia, quoted in NYT, August 9)


“Fundamentalism is dictatorship of the mind, but a live culture is an exploration, and represents our endless curiosity about our own strangeness and impossible sexuality: wisdom is more important than doctrine; doubt more important than certainty. Fundamentalism implies the failure of our most significant attribute, our imagination.”                                                                               (Hanif Kureishi, in The Word and the Bomb)


“If I got an impartial witness, I’d think I was wasting my money.”              (‘famed trial lawyer’ Melvin Bell, quoted in NYT article on objectivity of expert witnesses, August 12)


“I should be delighted to know that we Beerbohms have that very adorable and engaging thing, Jewish blood. But there seems to be no reason for supposing that we have.”                                         (Max Beerbohm, quoted in Max Beerbohm Caricatures, by N. John Hall)


“I admire Zionism and am nauseated by it….. What have I in common with Jews? I have hardly anything in common with myself, and should stand very quietly in a corner, content that I can breathe.”                                 (Franz Kafka, quoted by Louis Begley in The Tremendous World I Have Inside My Head: Franz Kafka: A Biographical Essay)


“Undergraduates owe their happiness chiefly to the consciousness that they are no longer at school. The nonsense that which was knocked out of them at school is all put gently back at Oxford or Cambridge.”                                                                                                                 (Max Beerbohm, quoted in Max Beerbohm Caricatures, by N. John Hall)


“To give an accurate and exhaustive account of that period would need a far less brilliant pen than mine.”                                                                                   (Max Beerbohm, in an 1894 essay about the 1880s, quoted in Max Beerbohm Caricatures, by N. John Hall)


“Good sense about trivialities is better than nonsense about things that matter.”                  (Max Beerbohm, quoted in Max Beerbohm Caricatures, by N. John Hall, as recorded by Samuel Behrman, who also said that Beerbohm ‘had a horror of utopians’)


“A portrait is a painting where there is always something not quite right about the mouth.”                                                                                    (John Singer Sargent, according to Max Beerbohm, quoted in Max Beerbohm Caricatures, by N. John Hall)


“Outrage is not a policy. Worry is not a policy. Indignation is not a policy. Even though outrage, worry and indignation are all appropriate in this situation, they shouldn’t be mistaken for policy and they shouldn’t be mistaken for strategy.”                                                                           (Strobe Talbot, deputy secretary of state under Clinton, now president of the Brookings Institution, on the Georgia crisis, quoted in NYT, August 22)


“Certain writers have a style that can be best likened to body odor: irresistible to some, obnoxious to many and apparently imperceptible to the writer himself.”                                                                                                                                              (Robin Macfarlane, in NYT review of Paul Theroux’s Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, August 24)


“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the universe.”                                            (Stephen Hawking, according to Leonard Susskind, in The Black Hole War, quoted in NYT book review, August 24)


“If Obama becomes the president, every remaining, powerfully felt black grievance and every still deeply etched injustice will be cast out of the realm of polite discourse.”                                                                                        (Lawrence Bobo, a black sociologist at Harvard University, in an essay titled President Obama: Monumental Success or Secret Setback?, published in the Web journal The Root, quoted in NYT, August 25)


“Being in a minority within a minority, I had the benefit of being a outsider without feeling inferior. And I never went to university, which meant I wasn’t groomed to conform.”                                                                                                                  (Leo Abse, from an interview in Intelligent Life, quoted in his NYT obituary, August 25)


“The South Ossetians are part of a larger ethnic group that settled on both sides of the Caucasus. They dream of reuniting with the North Ossetians to restore Alania, an ancient kingdom they believe was home to their ancestors, the Scythians.”                                                                                                                                                       (from NYT, August 25)


“For the bureaucracy of the mind, like that of the state, is jealous of those who would scrutinize the harmony of its departments. Yet for some persons there exists an organic harmony between all matter and all activity, whose discovery is the purpose of their lives and whose evidence, being inexhaustible, can only be selected by the good judgement and perpetual curiosity of the individual.”                                                                       (Robert Byron, in The Traveller’s Confession, from First Russia, Then Tibet)


“Levity is the music that accompanies the European’s whoring after false gods, gods which, in fact – and all fact is Marxist – do not exist.”                                                                                              (Robert Byron, in First Russia, Then Tibet, Part 1, Chapter 1)


“But what I will affirm, and what I would beg the reader to share with me, is my contempt of those foreign intellectuals, and particularly those English ones, who, while finding in Russia the exemplar of social and economic planning, the climax of constructive politics, the paradise of YOUTH – in short, the model towards which all truly progressive persons must look for world redemption – are so intoxicated with admiration that they can spare no word of sympathy for their fellow-intellectuals, the me in Russia likest to themselves, for whom there is no place or hope under the system they so ardently covet. That this system would immediately, on attaining power, annihilate these miserable hypocrites, these hypnotees of every windblown theory, these bastards by uplift out of comfortable income, is the one satisfaction I could derive from its introduction into England. These Fabian ghosts, these liberal politicians, socialist editors and female peace-promoters, are the very people who anathematize without cease the tyranny of Hitler and his treatment of the German intellectual. But in Russia, where they are building not only socialism but Fordson tractors, the treatment of the intellectual does not matter: what counts freedom of thought or scholarship beside the regeneration of the Great Unwashed? Very little, I dare say. And as little as these things count in the new world, just so little in this old one count those men whose inheritance they are and who enounce them for a mess of Bolshevik pottage. Let us rather have amongst us the red revolutionary who tries to seduce the troops and goes to prison for it, than those Russophil enthusiasts who acclaim the downfall of their own kin as the ultimate triumph of civilization.”        (Robert Byron, in First Russia, Then Tibet, Part 1, Chapter 2)


“To a country [Tibet], moreover, where justice is cruel and secret, disease rife, and independent thought impossible, Western ideas might bring some benefits. But could the benefits outweigh the disadvantages? In the present state of Western civilization, whose spiritual emptiness in relation to Asia is masked by a brutal assumption of moral superiority, it seems that they could not.”                                                                                                                  (Robert Byron, in First Russia, Then Tibet, Part 2, Chapter 7)


“For a country to have a great writer … is like having another government. That’s why no regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones.”                                                                                                                                                 (from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The First Circle, quoted by Michael Scammell in the NYT Book Review, August 31)




“The authorities began an investigation Monday into the killing of five women in Baluchistan Province who tried to choose their own husbands. The women, three of them teenagers, were shot, thrown into a ditch and buried alive more than a month ago. The authorities suspect they were killed because they had defied tribal elders by marrying without consent. The police said they had arrested three relatives of the women in connection with their deaths. A provincial lawmaker defended their deaths as part of a “centuries-old tradition.”        (an Associated Press report in the NYT, September 2; confirmed in NYT of September 3 that women were members of the Umrani tribe in the village of Baba Kot in Jafferabad. A Baluchistan senator, Israr Ullah Zehri, defended honor killings as ‘our norms’ and said they should ‘not be highlighted negatively’.)


“One of the most difficult things you can do in life is to tell your husband you have left him without telling him one of the children is not his.”                                                                                           (Mary Wesley, from Wild Mary, by Patrick Marnham, Chapter 6)


“Albert Kraus was unusual, perhaps unique, among members of the Paris Gestapo in managing to find refuge in England from torture and summary execution in Paris, and it may be coincidence that he was also the only Gestapo agent who was married to the step-daughter of Winston Churchill’s first cousin and the only Gestapo agent whose mother-in-law had been the mistress of the British ambassador.”                                                                                                                  (from Wild Mary, by Patrick Marnham, Chapter 7)


“..’escapism’ is one of the most efficient bad names invented in our times to hang undesired dogs.”           (Paul Ziegler, from Wild Mary, by Patrick Marnham, Chapter 7)


“There was something about the confessional box that seems to have provoked Mary’s anarchic nature. Richard Mangan SJ, urging her to visit him at Farm Street when she came to London, added, ‘Don’t bother to come to Confession unless you murder much’.

And Mary once told Jenny Murray’s husband, also a convert, that impatient to catch a train and trapped with a long-winded priest in a confessional in Westminster Cathedral, she had lost patience and burst out with, ‘Oh for God’s sake, Father, shut up and give me the bloody absolution.’”               (from Wild Mary, by Patrick Marnham, Chapter 12)


“There are men you want in your bed, but you don’t want them in your head.”                                                       (Mary Wesley, from Wild Mary, by Patrick Marnham, Chapter 16)


“I always give the whores as little as possible: I don’t think that prostitution ought to be encouraged.”                             (Edmund Wilson, from After The War, in The Twenties)


“What can one do? Go home, love your children, try not to bicker, eat well, walk in the rain, feel the sun on your face and laugh loud and often, as much as possible, and especially at yourself. Because the only antidote to death is not poetry, or drama, or miracle drugs, or a roomful of technical expertise and good intentions. The antidote to death is life.”                                                                                                             (Theresa Brown, sometime English professor, then oncology nurse, in NYT, September 9)


“Gold’n Plump Poultry Inc. of St. Cloud has agreed to allow Somali workers to take short prayer breaks and to refuse handling pork at the company’s poultry processing facilities, under a federally mediated settlement. The agreement is among the first in the nation that requires employers to accommodate the Islamic prayer schedule and the belief, held by many strict Muslims, that the Koran prohibits the touching and eating of pork products. A class-action lawsuit was brought in 2006 on behalf of nine Somali immigrants who worked at Gold’n Plump plants in Cold Spring, Minn., and Arcadia, Wis. The lawsuit accused the Work Connection, an employment agency based in St. Paul that hired workers for the plants in Cold Spring and Arcadia, of requiring Muslim applicants to sign a “pork acknowledgment form,” in which they agreed to handle pork products. According to the complaint, Somali workers who did not sign the document were not hired.”                                                                                                                   (from NYT, September 12)


“Why did she like fat men? ‘I like them to lie on top of me and squash me a bit.’”                                                  (Paul Johnson on Barbara Skelton, in the Spectator, September 6)


“The Soviet Union was not a democracy, but was an example for millions of people around the world of the best and fairest society.”                                                                                                                            (from a textbook approved by the Russian ministry of education, and issued  in September 2008, as reported in Prospect, September 8)


“Characteristic of much of urban America in the 1920s, Babbitt found a special home in Los Angeles. Where middlebrow values had triumphed. ‘The type’, noted Bruce Bliven, ‘is the big, beaming man, with clipped military moustaches, whose golf is in the nineties, motor speed in the sixties, waistline in the forties, wife in the thirties, and sweetheart in the (early) twenties…. Mr. Babbitt. The New American, in Los Angeles as elsewhere, is noisy, cheerful, pleased with himself. He makes plenty of money, spends most of it, drives a snappy car, dressed in snappy clothes.’”                         (Kevin Starr in Chapter 6 of Material Dreams, quoting from Los Angeles: The City That Is Bacchanalian)


“Los Angeles, [Willard Huntington] Wright claimed, had adopted Puritanism as its inflexible doctrine. Fun-loving and robust in its earlier era, Los Angeles now teemed with “leading citizens” from Wichita; honorary pallbearers from Emmetsburg; Good Templars from Sedalia; honest spinsters from Grundy Center – all commonplace people, many of them with small competencies made from the sale of farm lands or from the lifelong savings of small mercantile businesses. These folks brought with them a complete stock of rural beliefs, pieties, superstitions and habits – the Middle West bed hours, the Middle West love of corned beef, church bells, Munsey’s Magazine, union suits and missionary societies. They brought also a complacent intransigent aversion to late diners, malt liquor, grand opera and hussies. They are a sober and phlegmatic people, with a passion for marching in parades and wearing badges. They are victims of the sonorous platitude; at concerts they applaud the high notes, and they vote for their pastor’s choice of candidate.’”                                                                       (Kevin Starr in Chapter 6 of Material Dreams, quoting from Los Angeles, the Chemically Pure, in The Smart Set, March 1913)


“When mathematicians and physicists are left alone in a room, one of the games they’ll play is called a Fermi problem, in which they try to figure out the approximate answer to an arbitrary problem. They’ll ask, how many piano tuners are there in Chicago, or what contribution to the ocean’s temperature do fish make, and they’ll try to come up with a plausible answer.”                                             (Rebecca Saxe, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, quoted in NYT, September 16)


Make Poverty History (cont.)

“.. we in America today are nearer the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land.”                                                                                                     (Herbert Hoover in 1927, according to Alan Jenkins in The Twenties, Chapter 7)


“Miami is the only city in the world where you can tell a lie at breakfast that will come true by evening.”                                                                                                             (William Jennings Bryant, according to Alan Jenkins in The Twenties, Chapter 8)


“Revue is a form of entertainment so designed that it doesn’t matter how late you get there.”                        (Ronald Jeans, according to Alan Jenkins in The Twenties, Chapter 18)


“Americans really are a special people with a special ideology that sets us apart from all other peoples.”                                                                                                 (Professor Steven Calabresi, in ‘A Shining City on a Hill’: American Exceptionalism and the Supreme Court’s Practice of Relying on Foreign Law, a 2006 article in the Boston University Law Review, quoted in NYT, September 18. In a letter published in NYT, September 20, Professor Calabresi, a co-founder of the Federalist Society, stated: “We believe that the rights of man, as President Kennedy said in his inaugural address, ‘come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God’.”)


“The salary of the chief executive of a large corporation is not a market award for achievement. It is frequently in the nature of a warm personal gesture by the individual to himself.” (John Kenneth Galbraith, quoted by Nicholas D. Kristof in NYT, September 18)


“My fear is that taxpayers will be left with the mother of all debts. The federal government becomes the lender and guarantor of last resort and our nation finds itself on the slippery slope to socialism.”                                                                                                                     (Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, quoted in NYT, September 20)


“Short of the gulag, I can’t imagine any work force that would have a so-to-speak 90 per cent disability attrition rate. That defies both logic and experience.” (Glenn Scammel, on the Long Island Rail Road’s disability benefits for employees, from NYT, September 21)


“There are no atheists in foxholes and no ideologues in financial crises.”                 (Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke, reported in NYT, September 21)


“When judging the effectiveness of natural selection, that is selection for fitness, we are always being wise after the event; with artificial selection we are trying to be wise before the event; and what the event proves is that we are all too often ignorant.”                                                                         (Sir Peter Medawar, in The Future Of Man, Lecture 3, 1959)


“We know enough, I think, to be able to say that hybridization between people of different races need not be expected to lead to an improvement, because both races will probably have adopted the well-balanced genetic constitution that matches their own environment [??]; on the other hand, it might prove favourable in the long run because hybridization enriches diversity and might therefore produce a more volatile genetic structure than before. But we cannot be sure.”                                                                                                          (Sir Peter Medawar, in The Future Of Man, Lecture 4, 1959)


“… scientists tend to not ask themselves questions until they can see the rudiments of an answer in their minds.” (Sir Peter Medawar, in The Future Of Man, Lecture 4, 1959)


“People who brandish naturalistic principles at us are usually up to mischief. Think only of what we have suffered from a belief in the existence and overriding authority of a fighting instinct; from the doctrines of racial superiority and the metaphysics of blood and soil; from the belief that warfare between men or classes of men or nations represents a fulfillment of historical laws. These are all excuses of one kind or another, and pretty thin excuses. The inference we can draw from an analytical study of the differences between ourselves and other animals is surely this: that the bells which toll for mankind are – most of them, anyway – like the bells on Alpine cattle; they are attached to our own necks, and it must be our fault if they do not make a cheerful and harmonious sound.”                        (Sir Peter Medawar, in The Future Of Man, final sentences of Lecture 6, 1959)


“When civilizations are in free fall, everything is inverted. It is the sage who say the most foolish things; those behaving with the deepest solemnity become like clowns.”          (A. N. Wilson in Our Times, according to Sam Leith in Spectator review, September 13)


“If you do not absolutely hate him I should marry him; first everyone says he is an absolute angel, and he may be a little dull, but after all, what a comfort it is to be cleverer than one’s husband.” (Mabell Airlie’s advice to Lady Desborough before her marriage to Willie Grenfell, from Ettie: the Intimate Life and Dauntless Spirit of Lady Desborough by Richard Davenport-Hines, reviewed by Philip Ziegler in the Spectator, September 13)


From the Finland Station

“But he [Norman Thomas] must have serious illusions if it is not plain to him that democracy of the capitalist system is at the present time mowing down lives like hay, and by killing off the dispossessed classes through starvation. Disease, and despair – to say nothing of the slaughter of soldiers in imperialistic warfare and the assassination of strikers and radicals – rolling up a record of cruelty which makes the Communist revolution in Russia look like a humanely conducted operation.”                                                                           (Edmund Wilson in The Thirties, Provincetown and New York, 1932)


“I shall vote for the Communist candidates because they seem to me to understand the crisis better than any of the other candidates in the field.”                                                                                           (Edmund Wilson in The Thirties, Provincetown and New York, 1932)


“Stories about movie magnates

What we want is spontanooity.

It’s too insipid (insignificant) to talk about.

I’ll tell you in two words: Im-possible!

I stand where I laid.

We can’t do The Captive (Proust) it’s about Lesbians. Well, make them Americans!           [also variously attributed to The Well of Loneliness, and The Children’s Hour..]

A house with the only real colonial mezuzah he’d ever seen. – Mezuzah’s the Ten Commandments in a gold scroll that you kissed as you went into orthodox Jewish houses.”              (Edmund Wilson in The Thirties, New York, 53rd Street, 1932-33)


“Roosevelt is reported to have answered when someone had said to him that he would either be the best President the country had ever had or the most hated: No – that he would either be the most popular or the last.”                            `                                                                                (Edmund Wilson in The Thirties, 314 East 53rd Street, 1933)


“Esther Strachey said that the Constitution was certainly the sick man of America.”                                                      (Edmund Wilson in The Thirties, 314 East 53rd Street, 1933)


“I said, ‘Merwin [Hart], what is the difference between your ideas and Hitler’s?’ He replied, ‘The American people would never stand for a leader with a mustache like Hitler’s. He ought either to shave it off or grow a bigger one.”                                                                                          (Edmund Wilson in The Thirties, 314 East 53rd Street, 1933)


“He said …. the continued decline in home prices was reducing household wealth…” (Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben. S. Bernanke, reported in NYT, September 25)


“But what is the justification – even aside from the question of miscarriage of justice – of the physical destruction of first-degree murderers? Mass murderers, homicidal maniacs should certainly be put to sleep – as should probably all congenital idiots and hopeless maniacs of other kinds; but the judgments should be made on a basis of mental incapacity and harmfulness to society, not on a basis of retaliation or assumption of incurable turpitude, as is implied by our obsolescence legal code. Which of us is in a position to decide the moral responsibility of Ruth Snyder or Judd Gray, or to take it into our hands to end their lives?”                                                                                                   (Edmund Wilson in Judd Gray And Mrs. Snyder, from The American Earthquake)


“The surest way to shake and embarrass an American political reformer, the surest way to back him down, has always been to accuse him of socialism..”                                                                              (Ben Marsh, Dewey’s political manager, as quoted by Edmund Wilson in ‘Still’ -: Meditations Of A Progressive, from The American Earthquake)


“For the Northerner, the horror of slavery still poisons the memory of that feudal society. But, in a sense, perhaps, the Southern slaveholder was a somewhat more dignified figure than the contemporary beneficiary of capitalism. He might ignore the horrors of the slave trade. He might make a point of locating his slave quarters as far away as possible from his mansion in order that he and his family could not see or hear or smell them. But he could not help knowing very well what he was doing with the people who lived in them, and he did not often pretend to be doing anything else. He might flog his slaves or work them till they broke; but he could not evade accepting the plain implication of his acts – that was all the blacks were good for.”                                                                                                 (Edmund Wilson in Tennessee Agrarians, from The American Earthquake)


“If it can’t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned, or removed from production.”                               (from a resolution passed in 2007 by the city council of Berkeley, California, incorporated into a song by Pete Seeger, as reported in NYT, September 29)




“I’m proud that Stalin came from Gori. He built the U.S.S.R. He brought order where there was chaos. Today, everything is for sale.”                                                                                                                                         (Nodari Baliashvili, reported in NYT, October 1)


“The American economy is in turmoil and the future is uncertain, but even in tough times we cannot afford to abandon our commitment to affordable, accessible, high-quality health care for every man, woman and child in the commonwealth.”                                                              (Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, reported in NYT, October 1)


“One of the more terrifying privileges of marriage is the unparalleled power it lends its participants to wound, maim and annihilate, through the grim weapon of knowing exactly where the other half hurts.” (Ben Brantley, in review of Fifty Words, in NYT, October 2)


“The time and energy and thought which we are all giving to the Brave New World is wildly disproportionate to what is being given to the Cruel Real World.” (J. M. Keynes, in a Treasury memorandum, quoted by Correlli Barnett in The Lost Victory, p 128)


“The evils that Capitalism brings differ in intensity in different countries but the root cause of the trouble once discerned, the remedy is seen to be the same by thoughtful men and women. The cause is private property, the remedy is public ownership.”                                                                                                                          (Clement Attlee in The Labour Party In Perspective, quoted by Correlli Barnett in The Lost Victory, p 213)


“When older people get together there is something unflappable about them; you can sense they’ve tasted all the heavy, bitter, spicy food of life, extracted its poisons, and will now spend ten or fifteen years in a state of equilibrium and enviable morality. They are happy with themselves. They have renounced the vain attempts of youth to adapt the world to their desires. They have failed and now, they can relax. In a few years they will once again be troubled by great anxiety, but this time it will be fear of death; it will have a strange affect on their tastes, it will make them indifferent, or eccentric, or moody, incomprehensible to their families, strangers to their children. But between the ages of forty and sixty they enjoy a precarious sense of tranquility.”                                                            (from Fire In The Blood, by Irène Némirovsky, translated by Sandra Smith)


“It was the community’s business because the community knew he was a Muslim.” (Junnun Choudhoury, secretary at the Jamaica Muslim Center in Queen’s, New York, after a young man with Hindu and Muslim parents was cremated in the Hindu tradition rather than being buried in a shroud, as Islam prescribes, reported in NYT, October 4)


“As he thinks about an autobiography, he said, ’I’m already constructing the lies I’m going to tell.’”                          (of John Le Carré, from an interview in NYT, October 5)


“Beware of geeks bearing formulas.”                                                                        (Warren Buffet, in television interview with Charlie Rose, reported in NYT, October 6)


“Humor is best when you’ve got the person who is listening one or two steps behind and they’re hustling to stay up with you. And in that hustle it’s as if they almost have to snap their heads around to see what just hit them.”                                                                                                                          (Thomas King, professor of English at the University of Guelph, and star of The Dead Dog Comedy Hour, quoted in NYT, October 11)


“In fact, by 1995, [Roberta] Achtenberg was actually having to rein in her zealots  [at the Department of Housing and Urban Development], issuing a clarification that the use of the phrase ‘master bedroom’ in a property advertisement was, despite its clear patriarchal and slave-owning resonances, not actually an actionable offence under the anti-discrimination laws.”                                       (Dennis Sewell, in the Spectator, October 4)


“The most important thing in life is to choose your own parents.”     (Anna Leonowens [of ‘The King And I’], according to Leah Price in NYT Book Review, October 12)


“The goal is to get the engine of capitalism going as productively as possible. Ideology is a luxury good in times of crisis.”     (Nancy Koehn, a historian at the Harvard Business School, on the use of government intervention in the marketplace, from NYT, October 14)


“Watching him during the first several minutes of his delivery, Cecilia felt a pleasant sinking sensation in her stomach as she contemplated how deliciously self-destructive it would be, almost erotic, to be married to a man so nearly handsome, so hugely rich, so unfathomably stupid. He would fill her with his big-faced children, all of them loud bone-headed boys with a passion for guns and football and aeroplanes.”                                                                                                         (from Ian McEwan’s Atonement, Part 1, Chapter 4)


“She reread and committed to memory the commandment: in no circumstances should a nurse communicate to a patient her Christian name.”                                                                                                                                (from Ian McEwan’s Atonement, Part 3)


“It is quite impossible these days to assume anything about people’s educational level from the way they talk or dress or from their taste in music. Safest to treat everyone you meet as a distinguished intellectual.”             (from Ian McEwan’s Atonement, London 1999)


“The problem these fifty-nine years has been this: how can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God? There is no one, no entity or higher form that she can appeal to, or be reconciled with, or that can forgive her. There is nothing outside her. In her imagination she has set the limits and terms. No atonement for God, or novelists, even if they are atheists. It was always an impossible task, and that was precisely the point. The attempt was all.”                                                                                                            (from Ian McEwan’s Atonement, London 1999)


“He’s neither-nor. He’s other. It’s in the Bible. Come as one. Don’t create other breeds.”                                                                                                                   (Ricky Thompson, a pipe-fitter in Mobile, Alabama, talking about Barack Obama in NYT, October 15)


“I do not believe in an ideal society. I do not need an ideal society either, as there is no need for me in such a society.”                                                                                              (From the obituary of Ardeshir Mohasses, Iranian cartoonist, in NYT, October 20)


“If, in short, there is a community of computers living in my head, there had also better be somebody who is in charge; and, by God, it had better be me.”                     (Philosopher Jerry Fodor, quoted by Paul Bloom, in The Atlantic, November 2008)


“If I sleep for three hours, I still have enough energy to make love for another three.”                                       (Silvio Berlusconi, Italian prime minister, quoted in NYT, October 22)


“Economics in the political arena is just ideology marketed in the guise of science.”                         (Uwe E. Reinhardt, a health economist at Princeton, quoted in NYT, October 22)


“The principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a grand scale.”                                                               (Thomas Jefferson, quoted by Peter Jones, in the Spectator, October 18, 2008)


“You have no right at the cannon’s mouth to impose on an unwilling people your Declaration of Independence, your Constitution and your notions of what is good.”                               (George Frisbie Hoar, Massachusetts senator, on President McKinley’s decision to annex the Phillippines, quoted by Simon Schama in The American Future)


“..when desire assaulted me, only some outside presence had the power to stop me; otherwise I was powerless against the avidity of pleasure. A penchant for voluptuousness and an obsession for sensuality developed in my flesh, the intensity of which is difficult to describe. The fact that the needle has not left my old woman’s body is a source of constant surprise and humiliation. I thought that, with the years, its tip of fire would completely disappear. Not at all.”                                                                                                                                          (Sister Emmanuelle, from her NYT obituary, October 25)


“It was an aspiration for knightly rank. In the city of Zenith, in the barbarous twentieth century, a family’s motor indicated its social rank as precisely as the grades of the peerage determined the rank of an English family—indeed, more precisely, considering the opinion of old county families upon newly created brewery barons and woolen-mill viscounts. The details of precedence were never officially determined. There was no court to decide whether the second son of a Pierce Arrow limousine should go in to dinner before the first son of a Buick roadster, but of their respective social importance there was no doubt; and where Babbitt as a boy had aspired to the presidency, his son Ted aspired to a Packard twin-six and an established position in the motored gentry.”                                                                                (from Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt, Chapter VI, Part 3)


“Is anything more standardized than England, with every house that can afford it having the same muffins at the same tea-hour, and every retired general going to exactly the same evensong at the same gray stone church with a square tower, and every golfing prig in Harris tweeds saying ‘Right you are!’ to every other prosperous ass? Yet I love England. And for standardization—just look at the sidewalk cafés in France and the love-making in Italy!”      (George Babbitt, from Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt, Chapter VII, Part 5)


“She was full of the joy of righteousness and bad temper. She was a crusader and, like every crusader, she exulted in the opportunity to be vicious in the name of virtue.”                                               (of Zilla Riesling, from Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt, Chapter X, Part 1)


“To the connoisseur of scenes, nothing is more enjoyable than a thorough, melodramatic, egoistic humility.”     (of Zilla Riesling, from Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt, Chapter X, Part 1)


“‘Not till that is done will our sons and daughters see that the ideal of American manhood and culture isn’t a lot of cranks sitting around chewing the rag about their Rights and their Wrongs, but a God-fearing, hustling, successful, two-fisted Regular Guy, who belongs to some church with pep and piety to it, who belongs to the Boosters or the Rotarians or the Kiwanis, to the Elks or Moose or Red Men or Knights of Columbus or any one of a score of organizations of good, jolly, kidding, laughing, sweating, upstanding, lend-a-handing Royal Good Fellows, who plays hard and works hard, and whose answer to his critics is a square-toed boot that’ll teach the grouches and smart alecks to respect the He-man and get out and root for Uncle Samuel, U.S.A.!’”                                          (George Babbitt, from Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt, Chapter XIV, Part 3)


“In matrimonial geography the distance between the first mute recognition of a break and the admission thereof is as great as the distance between the first naive faith and the first doubting.”                                  (from Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt, Chapter XXX, Part 2)


“Politicians, ugly buildings, whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”                                                     (Noah Cross, in the movie Chinatown, quoted in NYT, October 28)


“He who sells what isn’t his’n,

Must buy it back or go to pris’n.”                                                                               (attributed by Floyd Norris to the speculator Daniel Drew, in NYT, October 31)




“Against the beautiful and the clever and the successful, one can wage a pitiless war, but not against the unattractive.”                         (Graham Greene, in The Heart of the Matter)


Shades of Brenda Last

“Of her two sons, Jennie Benchley preferred her older son, Edmund. Robert, thirteen years younger, idolized Edmund too. When Robert was eight, Edmund was killed in the Spanish-American War. Told of her son’s death, Jennie blurted out, ‘Oh, why couldn’t it have been Robert?’”                                                                                                                       (from Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This?, by Marion Meade, Chapter 3)


“[Arthur] Hopkins appeared to be studying the bouncing breasts of Wanda Lyon, the actress playing Belle Sheridan [in Parker’s and Elmer Rice’s Close Harmony].

‘Dorothy’, he said, ‘don’t you think she ought to wear a brassiere in this scene?’

‘God, no’. she replied. ‘You’ve got to have something in this show that moves.’”               (from Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This?, by Marion Meade, Chapter 7)


“Well, I don’t know,’ she told him [Frank Adams, asking how old she thought Hemingway was]. ‘You know, all writers are either twenty-nine or Thomas Hardy.”                                                                                                                             (Dorothy Parker, from Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This?, by Marion Meade, Chapter 9)


“No. It is supposed to fetch the night nurse, so I ring it whenever I want an hour of uninterrupted privacy.”                                                                                 (Dorothy Parker in hospital, to Aleck Woolcott, from Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This?, by Marion Meade, Chapter 10; and see Benita Hulme to Noel Coward in March 2008!)


“When the train of history went around a sharp curve, he fell out of the dining car.”                                  (Dorothy Parker on Walter Duranty, New York Times Moscow correspondent, from Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This?, by Marion Meade, Chapter 13)


“It is remarkable that 14 years after the genocide in Rwanda, U.N. peace-keeping remains as ineffectual at protecting civilians as it was then. This, despite all the rhetoric about the responsibility to protect and never again. Empty slogans for the people of Central Africa.”                                                                       (John Prendergast, a founder of the Washington-based Enough Project, on the Congo fighting, from NYT, November 3)


“To confuse the model with the world is to embrace future disaster driven by the belief that humans obey mathematical rules.”                                                    (Emanuel Derman, author of My Life As a Quant – Reflections On Physics And Finance, from a paper ‘to be published next year in a professional journal’, quoted in NYT, November 5)


“Intellectuals are deviants in the US.”                                                                                                      (William Burroughs, according to Nicholas D. Kristof in NYT, November 9)


“Progressives hope that the Obama administration, like the New Deal, will respond to the current economic and financial crisis by creating institutions, especially a universal health care system, that will change the shape of American society for generations to come.”                              (Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, in NYT, November 10)


“There’s no point in being nostalgic about manufacturing. Many of the lost jobs were low paid. The world wasn’t a better place when we had dark satanic mills.”                                                            (Mike Gregory, director of Cambridge’s (England) Institute for Manufacturing, quoted in Prospect’s Supplement on Manufacturing, November 2008)


“In so doing, they [the Labour government] are—perhaps unwittingly—bearing out Mike Gregory’s dictum that ‘only the government has the capacity to create an industry. Firms don’t do it.’”                (from Prospect’s Supplement on Manufacturing, November 2008)


“Don Dollar, the administrative assistant at City Hall [in Vernon, Alabama], said bitterly that anyone not upset with Mr. Obama’s victory should seek religious forgiveness. ‘This is a community that’s supposed to be filled with a bunch of Christian folks,’ he said. ‘If they’re not disappointed, they need to be at the altar.’”        (from NYT, November 11)


“RNA is like the vice-presidency: it’s executive, it’s legislative, it’s furtive.”                                                                                               (Natalie Angier, in NYT, November 11)


“When for a fish or a piece of leather cut out of a stolen transmission belt, a boy could have the body of  a girl not older than himself or be instructed in lewd practices by a soldier’s widow turned prostitute, what meaning was there in all the pratings of the need for law and order and a decent life?” (from Jan Valtin’s Out Of The Night, Chapter 2)


“The rich must die so that the poor may live.” [cf: Goering’s “Versailles must die so Germany may live”, reported in Chapter 17]                                                                                                     (Hermann Knueffgen, in Jan Valtin’s Out Of The Night, Chapter 2)


“Harry Pollitt had blushed like a clergyman from Kensington.”                                                                    (describing the British communist’s reaction to offers of female hospitality at the Comintern’s refuge in Le Havre, from Jan Valtin’s Out Of The Night, Chapter 13)


“A bourgeois consists of flesh and bone; a communist consists of functions.”                                                                                 (from Jan Valtin’s Out Of The Night, Chapter 21)


“Our British movement is a pain. It will not grow, neither will it die. Harry Pollitt and his crowd are as snobbish and as incapable of revolutionary mass work as they are English.”          (Georgi Dimitrov to the author, from Jan Valtin’s Out Of The Night, Chapter 22)


“The chief reason [for the stagnation of the British Communist Party] was perhaps the mental attitude of the British worker. Another reason was to be found in the ineptitude and arrogance of the Party leadership, and its corrupt point of view that revolution was a good business, provided that revolution did not come. And the third factor was the proficiency of British trade union leaders and of Scotland Yard in the act of sterilizing in the gentlest manner any communist attempt at an offensive.”                                                                                                       (from Jan Valtin’s Out Of The Night, Chapter 22)


“In Russia you are shoved under the country, elsewhere you are kicked out of the country, but in England you are bowed out of the country.”                             (‘Comintern saying on deportation methods’, according to Jan Valtin’s Out Of The Night, Chapter 22)


“If you chase away all the intelligent people who are not pliable, and keep only obedient idiots, then you will certainly ruin the Party.”                                                                                        (Lenin to Bukharin, according to Jan Valtin’s Out Of The Night, Chapter 25)


“We are so respectable that everything we do must be done underground; in the freest countries we must work with illegal methods, so as not to give away the show to the Boudoir Bolsheviks.” (Richard Jensen, from Jan Valtin’s Out Of The Night, Chapter 41)


“No, Karl, they did not die for the world revolution; they only thought they did; they died to gratify the lust for power of the Stalin clique; they died because they had been made to believe that it was more honourable to be a stinking corpse than a living thing outside the party.”                       (the author, to Karl Saar, from Jan Valtin’s Out Of The Night, Chapter 42)


“As a protection against financial illusion or insanity, memory is far better than law. When the memory of the 1929 disaster failed, law and regulation no longer sufficed. For protecting people from the cupidity of others and their own, history is highly utilitarian.”                            (from J. K. Galbraith’s forward to the 1975 edition of his The Great Crash)


“In 1925 began the long series of exchange crises which, like the lions in Trafalgar Square and the street walkers in Piccadilly, are now an established part of the British scene.”                                                (from J. K. Galbraith’s The Great Crash, Chapter 2)


“Mr Mellon was participating in a ritual which, in our society, is thought to be of great value for influencing the course of the business cycle. By affirming solemnly that prosperity will continue, it is believed, one can insure that prosperity will continue.”                                                                    (from J. K. Galbraith’s The Great Crash, Chapter 2)


“One of the oldest puzzles of politics is who is to regulate the regulators. But an equally baffling problem, which has never received the attention it deserves, is who is to make wise those who are required to have wisdom.”                                                                                                                                     (from J. K. Galbraith’s The Great Crash, Chapter 3)


“If buying and selling stocks is wrong the government should close the Stock Exchange. If not, the Federal Reserve should mind its own business.”                                                                              (Arthur Brisbane, according to J. K. Galbraith’s The Great Crash, Chapter 3)


“Wisdom, itself, is often an abstraction associated not with fact or reality but with the man who asserts it and the manner of its assertion.”                                                                                                                                 (from J. K. Galbraith’s The Great Crash, Chapter 5)


“But as the ghosts of numerous tyrants, from Julius Caesar to Benito Mussolini, will testify, people are very hard on those who, having had power, lose it or are destroyed.”                                                                    (from J. K. Galbraith’s The Great Crash, Chapter 7)


“When one goes on a journey of self-exploration, one should go heavily armed.”                                                                                                    (Verlaine, from an entry in George Plimpton’s diary, according to Graydon Carter, in NYT Book Review, November 16)


“A man without history is a man without humor. A man with history is more likely to have humor, because he is more likely to see the irony in things, how things were, and how things turned out to be. And patience.”                                                                                              (Galal Amin, Egyptian economist and author, quoted in NYT, November 17)


“As a writer, he has no equals. Superiors, yes.”               (Milton Berle on Irving Brecher, at the latter’s 75th birthday party in 1989, from Brecher’s NYT obituary, November 19)


“We have certainly lived through a demonstration of my Law of the Banking Cycle: disaster happens when the last man who can remember what happened last time has retired.”                                              (Christopher Fildes, in the Spectator, November 15)


“Although wealth, physical health and social equality may all make their contributions to human happiness, they can do little and cannot themselves be secured, without health in the individual mind. We are our own kingdoms and make for ourselves, in large measure, the world in which we live. We may be rich, and healthy, and liberal; but unless e are free from secret guilt, the agonies of inferiority and frustration, and the fire of unexpressed aggression, all other things are added to our lives in vain. The cruelty and irrationality of human society spring from these secret sources. The savagery of a Hitler, the brutality of a Stalin, the ruthlessness and refined bestiality that is rampant in the world today – persecution, cruelty, and war – are nothing but the external expression, the institutional and rationalized form, of these dark forces in the human heart.”                                                                                                         (Evan Durbin, in The Politics of Democratic Socialism, quoted by David Kynaston in Austerity Britain, A World To Build, Part One)


“If people here stand for the trades unions putting this bloody Beveridge scheme across they deserve to lose the sodding war.”                                                                                                                         (middle-aged man to a Mass Observation observer in London in 1942, reported by David Kynaston in Austerity Britain, A World To Build, Part One)


“What sort of men and women will the New World children turn out to be if they are to have no struggle? One must strive if one is to develop character. Your picture of Rich v Poor does not ring quite true. A considerable number of working-class manage a holiday every year, all the more enjoyable when one has struggled for it. You would make things too easy. Jealousy is the canker of our time. The rich will always be with us in one form or another and rightly so.” (Gasfitter’s wife Margaret Blundell, in 1941 letter to Picture Post, quoted by David Kynaston in Austerity Britain, A World To Build, Part One)


“It takes some spirit to state clearly and fairly the case for wage reduction as a cure for unemployment or an adverse balance of payments, or the case for curtailment of subsidies and the overhauling of the social services as a solvent for inflationary pressures, without being prematurely silenced by the argument that nowadays the trade unions would never stand for such things. Perhaps they wouldn’t; but that is no reason for not following the argument whithersoever it leads.”                                              (Cambridge economist Sir Dennis Robertson, in 1949 presidential address to the Royal Economic Society, quoted by David Kynaston in Austerity Britain, Smoke In The Valley, Part 2)


“The Dalai Lama’s so-called ‘middle way’ is a naked expression of ‘Tibet independence’ aimed at nakedly spreading the despicable plot of opposing the tide of history.”                                                                                                                               (from an editorial in the Chinese Tibet Daily, translated by the Associate Press, from NYT, November 23)


“Hinjew leaders today conceded the merger of Hinduism and Judaism has not worked out as planned, as instead of forming a super-religion to fight off the common Islamic enemy, they have instead created a race of 900 million people who, no matter how many times they are reincarnated, can never please their mothers.”                                          (imitation news story on the Web site SatireWire, reported in NYT, November 29)


“Races are like angels. Many believe in them, devoutly. They can even tell you what properties they have. But the closer you try to examine them to discover their real nature, the more elusive they become.”                                  (molecular anthropologist Jonathan Marks, quoted in The Trouble With Diversity, by Walter Benn Michaela, Introduction)


“Indeed, apologizing for something you didn’t do to people to whom you didn’t do it (in fact, to people to whom it wasn’t done) is something of a growth industry.”                                                     (Walter Benn Michaels, in The Trouble With Diversity, Chapter 4)


“Writing in the American Annals of the Deaf (the article is called “W(h)ither the Deaf Community?”), Johnston worries that ‘easy implementation of mainstreamed education, free universal access to hearing aids for children under age 18 years, and a federally funded universal health care scheme that subsidizes most of the cost of an initial cochlear implant’ are producing a ‘decline’ in the signing deaf community (especially in Australia and the West) that will eventually lead to the loss of language and culture.’ ‘It goes without saying,’ Johnston remarks, ‘that this scenario gives me no joy.’”                                                                                         (Walter Benn Michaels reporting on the Australian professor of sign linguistics Trevor Johnston, in Trouble With Diversity, Chapter 5)


“People elect presidents to protect them from other people’s congressmen.”                                                                                                (Michael Boskin, in NYT, November 30)




“If four generations on I have no knowledge of my genetic past, how does that affect my understanding of my own religious association?”             (Dr Jonathan Ray, a professor of Jewish studies at Georgetown University, commenting on geneticists’ reports of mass conversions of Sephardic Jews and Muslims to Catholicism in the 15th and 16th centuries, from report in NYT, December 5)


“South Carolina – too small to be a sovereign nation and too large to be a lunatic asylum.”                          (‘a 19th-century legislator’, according to Philip Hensher’s review of State by State, specifically Jack Hitt’s contribution, in the Spectator, November 29)


“Statisticians estimate that the average of crime among good golfers is lower than in any class of the community except possibly bishops.”                                                                                                                                            (from Ordeal by Golf, by P. G. Wodehouse)


“Ski-ing, indeed! What on earth does the fellow want to ski for? Isn’t there enough sadness in life without going out of your way to fasten long planks on your feet and jump off mountains?”                                    (from Farewell to Legs, by P. G. Wodehouse)


Existentialist News from Louisiana…

“They don’t generally turn out candidates with ethics problems.”    (Charles E. Cook, publisher of the Cook Political Report, on the ousting of Representative William Jefferson, charged with money laundering and bribery)

“The central insight he [Anh Cao, Vietnamese refugee, who defeated Jefferson] appreciates from his philosophical masters, the Russian and French apostles of existentialism, is the rule for living that ‘life is absurd but one cannot succumb to the absurdity of it.”                                                                                 (NYT, December 8)


… and Identity Problems in Mumbai

“’There is a very deep divide,’ said Mahesh Bhatt, a well-known film produced who is half Muslim, half Hindu, as he sat on a plastic chair on the set of his latest film on Saturday morning, with actors strolling nearby. ‘And if the foreign element is using the indigenous clay, how can justice be done?’”                                         (NYT, December 8)


“Even Woodrow Wilson, the high-minded President of Princeton, ran with the anti-Japanese pack when seeking California votes in 1912. ‘We cannot make a homogeneous population,’ Wilson told a California audience, ‘of a people who do not blend with the Caucasian race.’”                                     (From Kevin Starr’s Embattled Dreams, Chapter 2)


“It got worse for [Henry] Miller throughout the year-long journey. America, he opined, was a long nightmare, and air-conditioned nightmare: routinized, surreal, mechanical. ‘I had to travel ten thousand miles,’ he claimed, ‘before receiving the inspiration to write a single line. Everything worth saying about the American way of life I could put in thirty pages. Topographically, the country is magnificent – and terrifying. Why terrifying? Because nowhere else in the world is the divorce between man and nature so complete. Nowhere have I encountered such a dull, monotonous fabric of life as here in America. Here boredom reaches its peak.’ Take that, Norman Rockwell! And take that, you New Dealers and artistic fellow-travelers, with your Thomas Hart Benton murals and Aaron Copland fanfares extolling a noble land and a free and virtuous people. ‘To call this a society of free peoples is blasphemous,’ Miller argued. ‘What have we to offer the world beside the superabundant loot which we recklessly plunder from the earth under the maniacal delusion that this insane activity represents progress and enlightenment?’”                                                                                                       (from Kevin Starr’s Embattled Dreams, Chapter 7, quoting Miller’s The Air-Conditioned Nightmare)


“Once we were told that we could be Communist and still support the New Deal and Roosevelt, and that the Communist Party was simply a more advanced group going on in the same general direction, it was pretty heady and convincing stuff to us.’”                                                                                 (Budd Schulberg, from Lynn Schwartz’s The Hollywood Writers’ Wars, quoted in Kevin Starr’s Embattled Dreams, Chapter 10)


“’Hollywood,’ W. C. Fields told Gene Fowler one night in the Mocambo, ‘is the gold cap on a tooth that should have been pulled years ago.”                                                                                                              (From Kevin Starr’s Embattled Dreams, Chapter 10)


“On the other hand, Hollywood screenwriter and producer Roy Huggins left the Party after a brief membership, saying: ‘Lapsed Catholics make bad Communists – it’s too much like the Church.’”                                               (From Kevin Starr’s Embattled Dreams, Chapter 10, quoting from Lynn Schwartz’s The Hollywood Writers’ Wars)


“And Keynes, before he died, was no longer a Keynesian, if ever he was.”                                                                                     (Sir John Sparrow, in letter to the Spectator, December 6)


“One cannot decide the foreign policy of a country only as a function of human rights. To lead a country obviously distances one from a certain Utopianism” [in French – ‘angélisme’] (French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, quoted in NYT, December 11)


‘We Are All Guilty’

“The credibility of the whole international community is at stake.”              (Martti Ahtisaari, 2008 Nobel Peace Prize Winner, and former Finnish president, commenting on the continued lack of results in the Middle East, quoted in NYT, December 11)


“It seems to me that just as we are concerned about species disappearing, we need to think about groups – Zoroastrians, Armenians, Greek Orthodox – in the same way we’re sensitive to bald eagles and snapping turtles.”                                     (Jonathan D. Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, commenting on the high birth rate in the Hasidic community of Kiryas Joel, quoted in NYT, December 11)


“People like us should have the religion of despair. One must be equal to one’s destiny, that’s to say, impassive like it. By dint of saying ‘That is so! That is so!’ and of gazing down into the black pit at one’s feet, one remains calm.”                                                 (Flaubert, according to Julian Barnes in Nothing To Be Frightened Of, p 25)


“Perhaps people with a very good memory cannot have general ideas.” [cf. Frank Harris, and Orwell]                                                                                                                               (Jules Renard, according to Julian Barnes in Nothing To Be Frightened Of, p 36)


“Then I became a writer, and started meeting other writers, and studied them, and concluded that the difference between them and other people, the only, single way in which they were better, was that they were better writers.”                                                                                                             (Julian Barnes in Nothing To Be Frightened Of, p 125-6)


“…after two centuries of experiment and failure, the Mexican people only believe in the Virgin of Guadeloupe and the National Lottery.”                                                                                                                                     (Octavio Paz, according to NYT, December 13)


“To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself.”                                                                                                                    (art critic John Berger, according to Manohla Dargis in NYT, December 13)

[cf: The naked, therefore, who compete
Against the nude may know defeat;
Yet when they both together tread
The briary pastures of the dead,
By Gorgons with long whips pursued,
How naked go the sometime nude! (Robert Graves)]


“Management wants to understate and underreport the injuries to the government. I would rather see an engineer on pain pills drive golf balls than drive a locomotive.” (Robert S. Jungbauer, a labor lawyer in Indianapolis) “They succeeded in creating this board that has essentially been self-recreating for no good purpose than bureaucratic entropy.” (Richard Parker, economist at Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.)                               (From NYT report on the LIRR disability benefits scandal, December 15)


“Washington will bail out those who shower before work, but not those who shower afterwards.”                                                                                                                        (Leo Gerard, president of the steelworkers union, to Bob Herbert, in NYT, December 20)

“What is democracy? Democracy is not elections. Democracy is legitimacy.  And legitimacy comes from what you are doing to your people.”                                                                  (Congo warlord General Laurent Nkunda, quoted in NYT, December 20)


“But he [Wellington] has commanded Indian armies, and knows that in the East there are no nations, but only governments, and there the armies are the governments. He looked not to the collective word ‘nation’ but at the human elements who were to be worked with and upon.”                                                                (Spectator, 12 November, 1842)

“The financial injury inflicted by golf on doctors can only be equalled by the financial benefits to the shareholders in life assurance companies, many a man continuing to toddle round the links and pay his premiums regularly who would long ago, but for the healthful influence of golf, have toddled off to the last bunker and left his executors to call in the sum for which he was insured.”                                         (Spectator, 2 June 1906)


“My years on The Spectator left me with one strong belief as to the secret of popular leadership, whether in a paper or in government. It is necessary to understand the habits of mind of the people to whom you appeal, and to respect their honorable prejudices. But it is fatal to keep your ear always to the ground, to speak only smooth things, to give your readers and followers only what you think they will like. That way temporary popularity may lie, but not enduring popularity, and certainly not power.”                                                                  (John Buchan, later Lord Tweedsmuir, in the Spectator, 3 November 1928)

“There is no greater nonsense than that uttered by a Nobel prize-winning economist in a mood of moral indignation.”                                                                                     (anonymous)


“Economists are people who see something working in practice and try to figure out if it would work in theory.”                                    (‘old adage’, quoted in NYT, December 24)

The Popularity of Poetry

“Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people.”                                                                                               (Adrian Mitchell, in preface to 1964 Poems)

“If modern poets do not want to be popular, so be it. They can starve in their garrets.” (Peter Jones, in Ancient and Modern, in the Spectator, December 13)

“To have great poetry there must be great audiences, too.”                                (Attributed to Walt Whitman, in report on poet Elizabeth Alexander in NYT,  December 25)

“You wouldn’t have lasted two weeks with the Nazis. They loved killing guys like you. Poetic guys.” (Leopold Page, né Pfeffenberg, the source of the material for Schindler’s Ark, to Thomas Keneally, from review of Searching for Schindler, in NYT, December 26)
“It is not true that high wages make for prosperity. Instead, prosperity makes high wages.”                                                                       (Albert Wiggin of Chase Bank, countering President Hoover, from Chapter 3 of The Forgotten Man, by Amity Schlaes)


“His [Ray Moley’s] surprise at beholding Roosevelt ‘arose chiefly from the wonder that one man could have been so flexible as to permit himself to believe so many things in so short a time. But to look upon these policies as the result of a unified plan was to believe that the accumulation of stuffed snakes, baseball pictures, school flags, old tennis shoes, carpenter’s tools, geometry books and chemistry sets in a boy’s bedroom could have been put there by an interior decorator.’”                                                                                                                                        (from Chapter 7 of The Forgotten Man, by Amity Schlaes)


“We are beginning to wipe out the line that divides the practical from the ideal; and in so doing we are fashioning an instrument of unimagined power for the establishment of a morally better world.”                                                              (from Roosevelt’s 1937 inaugural address, quoted in Chapter 11 The Forgotten Man, by Amity Schlaes)

“Credit is suspicion asleep.”                                                   (William Gladstone, according to Wendell Willkie, from Chapter 13 The Forgotten Man, by Amity Schlaes)

“It is a mistake to think businessmen are more immoral than politicians.”                 (Keynes [where?], from Chapter 13 of The Forgotten Man, by Amity Schlaes)

“A good catchword can obscure analysis for fifty years.”                                          (Oliver Wendell Holmes, quoted in Chapter 13 of The Forgotten Man, by Amity Schlaes)


“If people look only to their own interests, our world will certainly fall apart.” (Pope Benedict XVI, from the 2008 Urbi et Orbi message, as reported in NYT, December 26)


“Only one person ever sees a film, and a thousand people see a play.”                                                                                 (Edward Albee, according to letter in NYT, December 28)


“People who are afraid to sacrifice somebody have no business talking about a common purpose.” (James Taggart, in Part 1, Chapter 3 of Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand)


“Now Mr. Boyle’s got  a radio program, they give talks about the importance of the steel industry to the country and they keep saying that we must preserve the steel industry as a whole. I don’t understand what he means by ‘as a whole’.”                                                                                  (Hank Rearden, in Part 1, Chapter 7 of Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand)


“I’ll tell you… I’ll tell you something…  unhappiness is the hallmark of virtue. If a man is really unhappy, really, truly unhappy, it means that he is a superior sort of person.”                                     (James Taggart, in Part 1, Chapter 9 of Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand)


“Let me give you a tip on a clue to men’s characters: the man who damns money has obtained it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it.”                                                                (Francisco D’Anconia, Part 2, Chapter 2 of Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand)


“There are no evil thoughts except one: the refusal to think.”                                                            (Francisco D’Anconia, in Part 2, Chapter 2 of Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand)


“Only the man who extols the purity of a love devoid of desire, is capable of the depravity of a desire devoid of love.”                                                                                       (Francisco D’Anconia, in Part 2, Chapter 4 of Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand)


“That’s how it’s always been in this world. There will be no chance for the poor until the rich are destroyed.”                                                                                                                              (‘a pallid, plumpish man’, in Part 2, Chapter 5 of Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand)


“Only I’m not going to say that I’m working for the welfare of my public, because I know I’m not. I know that I’m delivering the poor bastards into slavery, and that’s all there is to it.” (Fred Kinnan, in Part 2, Chapter 6 of Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand)


“Should we sacrifice the contentment of the whole of mankind for the greed of a few non-conformists? We don’t need them. We don’t need them at all. I wish we’d get rid of that hero worship. Heroes? They’ve done nothing but harm all through history.”                                           (James Taggart, in Part 2, Chapter 6 of Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand)

[cf. “Unglücklich das Land, das Helden nötig hat.” (Bertolt Brecht, in Leben des Galilei)


“Didn’t they [the intellectuals] scream that they were the friends of labor? Do you hear them raising their voices about the chain gangs, the slave camps, the fourteen-hour workday and the mortality from scurvy in the people’s States of Europe? No, but you do hear them telling the whip-beaten wretches that starvation is prosperity, that slavery is freedom, that torture-chambers are brother-love and that if the wretches don’t understand it, then it’s their own fault that they suffer, and it’s the mangled curses in the jail cellars who’re to blame for all their troubles, not the benevolent leaders! Intellectuals? You might have to worry about any other breed of men, but not the modern intellectuals: they’ll swallow anything.”                                                                                                                                 (Fred Kinnan, in Part 2, Chapter 6 of Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand)


“Through all the centuries of the worship of the mindless, whatever stagnation humanity chose to endure, whatever brutality to practice, – it was only through the grace of the men  who perceived that wheat must have water in order to grow, that stones laid in a curve will form an arch, that two and two makes four, that love is not served by torture, and life is not fed by destruction -only by the grace of those men did the rest of them learn to experience the moments when they caught the spark of being human, and only the sum of such moments permitted them to continue exist.”                                                                                                           (John Galt, in Part 3, Chapter 1 of Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand)


“For if there is more tragic a fool than the businessman who doesn’t know that he’s an exponent of man’s highest creative spirit – it’s the artist who thinks that the businessman is his enemy.” (Richard Halley, in Part 3, Chapter 2 of Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand)


“Our plan is really very simple. We’ll lift all restrictions from the production of steel and every company will produce everything it can, according to its ability. But to avoid the danger and waste of dog-eat-dog competition, all the companies will deposit their earnings into a common pool, to be known as the Steel Unification Pool, in charge of a special Board. At the end of the year, the Board will distribute these earnings by totaling the nation’s steel output and dividing it by the number of open-hearth furnaces in existence, thus arriving at an average which will be fair to all – and every company will be paid according to its need.”                                                                                                                          (Tinky Holloway, in Part 3, Chapter 6 of Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand)


“’Sacrifice’ is the surrender of that which you value in favor of that which you don’t.”                                          (John Galt, in Part 3, Chapter 7 of Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand)


“The mystics of spirit curse matter, the mystics of muscle curse profit. The first wish men to profit by renouncing the earth, the second wish men to inherit the earth by renouncing all profit.”                 (John Galt, in Part 3, Chapter 7 of Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand)


“It’s an idea that could be told in 300 pages, and she tells it in 1,500, in small type, and beats you over the head with a lead pipe.”                            (the PGA golfer Paul Goydos on Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, from an interview in Golf Magazine, January 2009)


Further Identity Problems … in Sarajevo

“Vedrana Pinjo-Neuschul, who comes from a mixed Serb and Muslim family, has led the fight against Islamic classes in state-financed kindergartens across Sarajevo. Parents may remove their children from the religious classes, but Ms. Pinjo-Neuschul, whose husband is part Jewish, Catholic and Serb, said the policy would stigmatize non-Muslim children.”                                                                                           (from NYT, December 27)


“The enemy of the worker is an unprofitable employer.”       (Samuel Gompers, according to Professor Craver of George Washington University, from NYT, December 29)


“Benign and snobbish, Sir Herbert Warren naturally liked his undergraduates to be a credit to him, and to Magdalen. ‘What does your name mean?’ Sir Herbert once asked Prince Chichibu of Japan, then an undergraduate. ‘Son of God’, was the reply. ‘Ah we have the sons of any prominent men here,’ answered Sir Herbert, absently.”                                                                                     (from Hugh Thomas’s John Strachey, Chapter 1)


“Bertrand Russell once asked Strachey: ‘why are you a socialist? Did you hate your father, your childhood, or your public school?’ Strachey replied, honestly or dishonestly, ‘a bit of all three’.”                                  (from Hugh Thomas’s John Strachey, Chapter 3)


“The proletariat, the red flag, the Host, the Virgin and Child, unadulterated materialism, unadulterated spiritualism, I’ll have nothing to do with any of it. I’ve always thought the Holy Roman Church with its fanaticism, its inquisition and its fundamental falsity, the most sinister organization in the history of mankind. Now it may be that we are in for a similar racket at the hands of the Third International and the G.P.U. Equally fanatical, equally cruel, equally false…”                       (letter from Robert Boothby to John Strachey, 7 November 1932, quoted by Hugh Thomas in John Strachey, Chapter 9)


“It would be idle, for instance to pretend that [in Russia] there were not certain barriers against full intellectual freedom at the present time. The ordinary Soviet public is not in a position to arrive at the whole truth… (But is not practically the great mass of Englishmen, who are at the mercy, day by day, of lying propaganda?)”         (from editorial in Left News, February 1939, quoted by Hugh Thomas in John Strachey, Chapter 12)

2 Responses to Commonplace 2008

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