Commonplace 2016


“All maps are ideological statements about the world.”  (John Overholt, curator of rare maps and manuscripts at Harvard University’s Houghton Library, quoted in NYT, January 2)

“A hardy perennial of postgame news conferences is listening as players attribute their team’s pure dumb luck to Him and His Son. So Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor claims that he knew the kicker would miss and attributes his assurance to God. Cornerback Richard Sherman speculated that Jesus would have approved of the Seahawks’ team effort.  God, perhaps preoccupied with a tricky black hole, has so far declined to offer a comment. Jesus’ telephone number is unlisted.”                             (Michael Powell, in NYT, January 11)

“The confusing part about it was that the basis for McCarthyism, a word suggestive of all bad emotions, was a rational one. There is a perfectly good case for not giving freedom to a way of life (Communism) which is opposed to freedom. It is at least that freedom must be worked for, not just taken for granted.”                                          (Stephen Potter, in Potter on America, p 29)

“Of course to most Londoners the first few pages if the New Statesman are at worst just dear old Kingsley doing one of his griefs in a crown of thorns from Clarkson’s, to quote the old unfair joke – taking a line and being a good Fleet Street editor.”  (Stephen Potter, in Potter on America, p 30)

“I am sick of the way London goes on repeating itself diminuendo and deadendo through the dreary ways out of it, so that you can’t get clear of it; of grimly sexy little shops in Tottenham Court Road, of old oldness, of used-up worn-ness, of the Kensington-ness of The Times and the B.B.C., of the dusty sparrows round the boundary at Lord’s, of the keep-offness, don’t-touchness of the Ancient Flints department of the British Museum, or Hyde Park.”                                                                                                                          (Stephen Potter, in Potter on America, p 33)

“In a pause  . . .  he [Victor Gollancz] tells how the thought of hanging always made him feel uncomfortable and sick since he was a boy, as if this feeling was peculiar and particular to him. “Since I was a child I never sleep on the night of an execution, if I know there is going to be one.” I think in some others this would justify a charge of what I call spiritual swank, but in V.G. it is not, and after all, he has the right to speak of such things, having taken the trouble to do something to alter them.”                                              (Stephen Potter, in Potter on America, p 40)

“Anyone sounds right-wing on a subject he knows something about.”  (Robert Conquest [where?], according to Clive James in letter to TLS, January 1)

“That southwestern corner of Ukraine, which I visited last year, retains the dusty feel of Mitteleuropa. Tucked away behind the bluish Carpathian mountains, I found streets with bilingual Hungarian-Ukrainian street signs, coffeehouses serving strudel and Jewish challah, Ruthenian poets, monuments to Hungarian revolutionaries, paprika fields, roving street children and a Roma funeral procession. In sagging minibuses, I sat with uniformed soldiers back from the Donbass who told me their great-grandfathers had served in the Austrian, Romanian or Czechoslovak armies. It was the Europe of the great Austrian-Jewish novelist Joseph Roth made flesh.”                                                                                           (Annabelle Chapman, in review of Serhil Plokhy’s The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine, in Prospect, January 2016)

“Nick Richardson’s quotation from the ‘Lincolnshire Poacher’ brought to mind the 1920s Communist Party version. The chorus was:

With Moscow gold and dynamite we’ll set the people free.

Oh it’s my delight on a shiny night to bomb the bourgeoisie.

It was a favourite of Denis Healey’s.”                                                                                 (letter by Nick Johnson in London Review of Books, January 21)

“I had also to take very seriously the reality that very few people have ever been solely nationalistic. No matter how strong their nationalism, they may also be gripped by Hollywood movies, neoliberalism, a taste for manga, human rights, impending ecological disaster, fashion, science, anarchism, post-coloniality, ‘democracy’, indigenous people’s movements, chatrooms, astrology, supranational languages like Spanish and Arabic and so on.” (Benedict Anderson from his posthumous memoir A Life Beyond the Boundaries, in London Review of Books, January 21)

“There is no magic mathematical formula to determine how many people we take in. A limitation strategy may even be both morally and politically necessary in order to preserve the state’s ability to function. Limiting numbers is not in itself unethical; it helps to maintain acceptance in society. Without acceptance, a society is not open and willing to take in refugees. If democrats refuse to talk about limits, they leave the field to populists and xenophobes.”                   (German president Joachim Gauck at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, reported in NYT, January 22)

“A historian who does not develop a feel for the gaps in the sources misses out on important connections.”   (Karina Urbach, in Go-Betweens for Hitler, p 15)

“The most important things are not to be found in the files.”                  (Goethe, according to Ronald Lewin in Ultra Goes to War, p 19)

“It is unsurprising that the sadly percipient Roth had an inkling of the danger of Zionism as an answer to the ‘Jewish question’. He feared that reupholstering their millennial contradictions – the genius and the pariahdom – into a patriotic bundle would dock the Jews of their errant uniqueness without securing their salvation. Optimism was never his style.”                       (Frederick Raphael, in review of Joseph Roth’s The Hotel Years, in TLS, January 15)

“The parties do not need laws to make them sensitive to the wishes of the voters any more than we need laws compelling merchants to please their customers. Democracy is not found in the parties but between the parties.”          (E. E. Schattschneider in 1942, according to Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker, February 1)


“In England, one was classified (working class, middle class, upper class, whatever) as soon as one opened one’s mouth; one did not mix, one was not at ease, with people of a different class – a system which, if implicit, was nonetheless as rigid, as uncrossable, as the caste system in India.”                                                                              (Oliver Sacks, in On The Move, p 72)

“Once, when I gave a talk in San Francisco, a man from the audience asked me an odd question. ‘Are you English or are you Jewish?”

‘Both”, I replied.

‘You can’t be both,’ he said. ‘You have to be one or the other’.”                                                              (Oliver Sacks, in On The Move, p 307, Note 9)

“Natural selection almost always builds on what went before . . . It is the resulting complexity that makes biological organisms so hard to unscramble. The basic laws of physics can usually be expressed in simple mathematical form, and they are probably the same throughout this universe. The laws of biology, by contrast, are often only broad generalizations, since they describe rather elaborate [chemical] mechanisms that natural selection has evolved over millions of years . . .”                                         (Francis Crick in What Mad Pursuit, quoted by Oliver Sacks in On The Move, p 352)

“I had the feeling of having been liberated from decades of epistemological despair – from a  world of shallow, irrelevant computer analogies into one full of rich biological meaning, one which corresponded with the reality of brain and mind. [Gerald M.] Edelman’s theory was the first truly global theory of mind and consciousness, the first biological theory of individuality and autonomy.”    (Oliver Sacks, on Edelman’s ‘reentrant signaling’, in On The Move, p 365)

“I had at first the doubtful pleasure of Colonel Larionov as a neighbor. Crushing me sideways, he blew unwanted explanations in my ear through the usual Russian miasma of stale cabbage, garlic, vodka and the current version of the disagreeable Soviet aftershave which used to be known (to us) as Stalin’s breath.”         (Stephanie Park in dispatch to Foreign Office from Ulan Bator, 11 May 1972, quoted in Paddy Hayes’s Queen of Spies, p 243)

“As my Israeli brother-in-law (aged seventy-two) observed recently: ‘I was born in a country of idealists and pioneers and I’m afraid I shall die in a fascist state.’”                                       (letter from Michael Sommer in TLS, January 22)

“Co-operation is much preferable to legislation. The next step is for all parties to collaborate on a way forward to benefit from new technologies while doing what we can to stop those who would do us harm. This kind of co-operation between public and private sectors is needed in free societies where security underpins our privacy, private enterprise and liberal democracy.”                           (John Sawers, ex-head of MI6, in Prospect, February 2016)

“Five minutes later I found myself pressed against a young policeman, who’d locked arms with other policemen along the base of North Audley Street, barring our way into the square. A very English conversation took place. ‘I want you to know, officer, that there’s nothing personal in my squashing against you like this’. The policeman said that he quite understood, sir. I said I was worried about my girls (they were squealing with delight at being squashed); and he said perhaps I should have left them at home. I said, ‘I had no idea that things were going to turn out as rough as thus.’ The policeman said, ‘No sir. Nor did we.’”                                                          (Matthew Spender, in A House in St John’s Wood, p 383)

“Every surgeon carries about in him a little cemetery in which from time to time he goes to pray.”                                                                                                                       (French surgeon René Leriche, quoted by Eve Joseph in On The Slender Margin, reviewed in NYT, February 14)

“The only duty of the historian is to be sceptical, especially of those who claim power over others.”             (Simon Jenkins, in TLS, February 5)

“In Denis Alexander’s review of Faith vs. Fact (January 22), my friend Jerry Coyne’s claim that theology provides no ‘real knowledge’ is dismissed as a ‘scientistic raid’. I wonder if Dr. Alexander, or indeed any other reader, could provide an example of knowledge gained through theology, and above all tell us how they know that knowledge is true?”                                                                                                  (letter from Matthew Cobb in TLS, January 29)

“From a historian’s point of view, the licence allowed novelists is something to envy. How I would have liked to invent a few interior monologues on my recent book of Stalin’s team! It would have made it so much easier to bring the characters to life. But as a historian you’re not allowed to invent interior monologues, only to quote texts that can be footnoted. Moreover, our conventions generally prevent us from using literary works as sources.”                                        (Sheila Fitzpatrick in London Review of Books, February 18)

“There were some harsh exchanges between Medmenham’s photographic interpreters and R. V. Jones, who for all his brilliance was not universally beloved. He often made snap judgements that were inspired but also disputed, and delivered with a rudeness Hugh Trevor-Roper would have respected.”                                            (from Max Hastings’ The Secret War, p 423)

“By a Senate vote of 97 to 0, Srikanth Srinivasan was confirmed in 2013 as a judge on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. If nominated, he would be the first Indian-American in line for the Supreme Court. Such a landmark choice could inspire Asian-Americans, who are one of the fastest-growing constituencies in the Democratic Party. But he would not be a wish-fulfillment candidate for many African-Americans — a larger part of the Democratic base — the way Ms. Lynch would be.”                                                        (from NYT, February 17)

Discuss?          “The Soviet empire lasted a lot longer than the white empires in Africa, and was maintained at a fraction of the cost in blood.”        (David Edgerton in the Spectator, February 13)

“It is difficult, however, to perceive the smallest moral superiority in the Soviet system over that of the Nazis, though the West has always seemed willing to accept in mitigation the considerations that Stalin confined his programme of mass murder to his own people and that of Soviet satellite nations, and did not commit a Jewish genocide.”                  (from Max Hastings’ The Secret War, p 543)

‘Moral Swank’                               “  . . not too many years later, although old shriveled leaves remain on the stump to this day, I understood that I lived under an economic system of increasing impurity and injustice for which I, and all those like me, pay with ridiculous wounds to the spirit.”                                                                 (Lillian Hellman, in Willy, from Pentimento)

“The Christ Church manner, that assumption of effortless superiority, is said to be galling to those who weren’t at Christ Church. But we can’t expect the world to be run for the benefit of those who weren’t at Christ Church.” (from Hugh Trevor-Roper’s Wartime Journals, p 48)

  1. “Pursue truth. It is difficult to ascertain, inconvenient to hear, imprudent to tell. Could anything be more irresistibly recommended?”
  2. ‘There are few things so exhausting as the conversation of highly placed fools.”
  3. “Power looks luscious on the bough, but, tasted, it is maggoty fruit. There are no such drawbacks to the sweet and solid satisfaction of revenge.” (selected from Maxims, in Hugh Trevor-Roper’s Wartime Journals, p 49)

‘There are only two classes of men in the British Secret Service,  ̶  those who protect their incompetence by neurotic secrecy, and those who screen it with bombastic advertisement.”                                                                 (from Hugh Trevor-Roper’s Wartime Journals, p 87)

“At a Christ Church Governing Body Meeting, when the investment of college capital was being discussed, someone advocated the general principle of investment in land, since for 300 years this had always proved profitable. ‘But you must remember,’ interposed Hutchinson, the Treasurer, ‘that the last 300 years have been a very exceptional period.’”                                                                   (from Hugh Trevor-Roper’s Wartime Journals, p 124)

“You may read all the documents in the world, but without sense you will not be right, and without style you will not be read.”                                                                                                      (from Advice to historians, in Hugh Trevor-Roper’s Wartime Journals, p 154)

“Shall I explain finally and firmly that I am not a Christian; that I don’t believe in natural rights or the importance of a vegetable diet; that the errors of the Fundamentalists don’t need labouring to me; that I don’t see salvation in the wisdom of the East, or hope in the prophecies of the Great Pyramid, or explanations in the submerged continent of Atlantis; that I don’t believe all lucidity to be shallow, or the profound always meaningless, or shepherds the wisest philosophers; that I don’t think Civilisation is going up and up, or that it bears a fixed relation to morals, and will reach its zenith in a parliament of women; that I don’t believe we’re hovering on the frontier of a new psychic dimension, or that the body is an irrelevant clogging burden whose importunate demands we will one day be able to satisfy with unsubstantial nutriment, so that w e can walk barely touching the ground; that I don’t believe in the Powers of Evil, or that the world is full of Wickedness and Woe, or that all life is vibration, and all history a spiral, or that suffering God is key to the Cosmos, and that vaccination and bloodsports are Sin. But no, it would be no good, no good at all.”                                                 (from Hugh Trevor-Roper’s Wartime Journals, p 173)

“In fact, I support the poor old C of E, of which I am a member (Like Garrod, I am an Anglican, not a Christian), because it does (except where perverted) support civil liberty; it has (if we except some high-church nonsense and some low-church vulgarity) a certain constitutional relation to common sense; and its sound relation to civil power is some guarantee against extravagant pretensions.”                  (from Hugh Trevor-Roper’s Wartime Journals, p 205)


“The factory is just broke. But some still think, ‘Putin loves us; he will throw us some money.’ But we have a market economy. You cannot force somebody to buy our products. Most people are counting on Putin, but my comrades, we cannot remake the communist economy.”                                                (Labour activist Ilya Krovin, in Nizhni Tagil, quoted in NYT, February 23)

“Good sense should have told us that most people don’t have the time and energy to manage an affair, a job, a family and the Long Island Rail Road.”                                                                                                 (John Gagnon, researcher of sexuality, from his NYT obituary, March 2)

“The worst thing that can happen to a journalist is to become a celebrity. The honest job of the journalist is to observe, to listen, to learn. The job of the celebrity is to be observed, to make sure others learn about him or her, to be the object of attention rather than an observer.”         (Ben G. Bagdikian, journalist, to The Progressive in 1997, from his NYT obituary, March 12)

“The accuracy of news reports of an event is inversely proportional to the number of reporters on the scene.”                        (Bagdikian’s Law of Journalism, from his NYT obituary, March 12)

Before Burgess and Maclean?                                                                                                                                                                            “Not long after 1947 the pre-war Marxist illusions about history were called to my mind again when some friends who had also worked in secret intelligence during the war were shown to have been secret agents of the Soviet Union and I was interrogated about them and their motives.”                                              (Stuart Hampshire, in Innocence and Experience, p 10)

“Realism maintains that universal moral principles can’t be applied to the actions of states.” (Hans Morgenthau, in Politics Among Nations, quoted in Jonathan Powell’s review of John Bew’s Realpolitik: A History, in Prospect, March 2016)

Thoughts on Existentialism                                                                                                                                                                                   “This poses a problem: if you say you are an existentialist, then you aren’t.”          (Andy Martin, in Prospect, March 2016)                                                                “Thus began his [Sartre’s] brilliant career as someone who, though he looked like something hanging from the outside of Notre Dame, was extremely attractive to women.”                                                                               ( Andy Martin, in Prospect, March 2016)                                                                                               “The New Yorker’s Talk of the Town section, meanwhile, found him seeming ‘unduly cheerful’ for a philosopher of the absurd, a notion Camus gently rejected. ‘Just because you have pessimistic thoughts you don’t have to act pessimistic,’ he explained. ‘One has to pass the time somehow. Look at Don Juan.’”                                      (from NYT, March 25)

“But most of Shakespeare’s history is the opposite of propaganda: always ambivalent, often amoral, rarely idealized, often derisive, sometimes cynical, with few heroes but many villains and inadequates, much futility, no euphemism, little sign of the benign workings of Providence, no edifying message, no ‘grand narrative,’ and at best a provisional happy ending.”                      (from Robert Tombs’s The English and Their History, p 154)

“But attempts to explain Puritanism as a socio-economic phenomenon have proved a dead end. It appealed to apprentices – just as Communism in the 1930s attracted both coal-miners and Etonians. It also repelled a similar variety of people.”  (from Robert Tombs’s The English and Their History, p 215)

“Disunity was institutionalized, both in religion, the dominant cultural arena, and in ‘Whig’ and ‘Tory’ political identities. This made England (together with the other island kingdoms) unique. Most of Europe moved towards confessionalization, the identification of a state and its people with a single religion; but England became legally divided. It would never recover religious, and hence cultural and political, unity or even consensus: it could never become like Scandinavia.”

“To the Whigs we owe the principle – Magna Carta restated in modern form – that rulers mist obey the law and that legitimate authority requires the consent of the people. From the Tories came the principle – fundamental to any political order – that people have no right to rebel against a government because they disagree with it. Combining these seemingly conflicting principles produced characteristics of English political culture: suspicion of Utopias and zealots; trust in common sense and experience; respect for tradition; preference for gradual change; and the view that ‘compromise’ is victory, not betrayal. These things stem from the failure both of royal absolution and of godly republicanism: costly failures, and fruitful ones.”                                                                             (from Robert Tombs’s The English and Their History, p 263)

“The division [of Benthamites and Coleridgians] covered politics, economics, science, social relations and not least theology – we must always remember that most of the political class, and most of the country, had religious beliefs now rare outside the deepest recesses of the American Bible Belt.”                                     (from Robert Tombs’s The English and Their History, p 434)

“In no other country, surely, has such a bleak memory persisted of economic modernization. This is partly because in England there was no reassuring precedent to follow; because the English historical memory is so coloured by party polemic; and also because there were many voices lamenting the loss of ‘England’s green and pleasant land.’”                               (from Robert Tombs’s The English and Their History, p 461)

“The German chancellor, Prince Bismarck, supposedly told Disraeli in the 1870s that horse-racing meant there was no danger of revolution in England.”                                                                                        (from Robert Tombs’s The English and Their History, p 491)

“The new civil service [in the 1860s] remained small: the Treasury, for example, had only ninety-six officials and the Foreign Office eighty-five – smaller than the press office at the Department of Work and Pensions today.”                                                                                                                                            “The Colonial Office numbered 113 clerks in 1903 – half the U.K. Ministry of Defence’s press office today – to oversee an empire that consisted of over 100 separate political units (not including some 600 princely states).”  (from Robert Tombs’s The English and Their History, pp 499 & 541)

‘Are We All Guilty of Imperialism?’ Discuss

“The empire, a recent study suggests, probably meant less to most English people than to its admirers and critics abroad.”                                                                     (from Robert Tombs’s The English and Their History, p 592, quoting Bernard Porter’s Absent-Minded Imperialists, p vii)

“Were imperialist attitudes so ingrained into the psyche of ordinary British people that they were simply not worth remarking on? If so, a hypothetical absence of pro-imperial sentiments in the private communications of ordinary Britons cannot be interpreted as evidence of the absence of imperial attitudes.”                              (from article by Andrew Griffiths, Associate Lecturer in English at Plymouth University, challenging Porter et al., in History Today, February 2016)

“The Foreign Office lost its single copy of the original unexpurgated edition of Mein Kampf, but working out Hitler’s mind had become a preoccupation well outside Whitehall.”                                                                                     (from Robert Tombs’s The English and Their History, p 684)

“He [Ernest Renan] also thought that they [nations] must deliberately ‘forget’ the divisive parts of their history. This is not only undesirable but ultimately impossible: history does not obediently unite us, and it cannot forever be censored.”       (from Robert Tombs’s The English and Their History, p 893)

“Partly for this reason [‘a restless and demanding conscience’], issues in our highly centralized system that in many other European countries hardly figure as ideological controversies – welfare, health care, the education system, even the school curriculum – in England still today take on symbolic importance in which differences of opinion become moral shibboleths solemnly pronounced on by bishops.”                                                                                                                                              (from Robert Tombs’s The English and Their History, p 897)

“I don’t like names; what is capitalism? Is it the United States, France, Haiti or Burundi?”     (President Obama, in Cuba, from NYT, March 27)

“A comment by a Brigadier-General in India around 1920 is telling in this connection: British authority was built on ‘prestige’, he said; once you destroy that, the Empire will collapse like a house of cards’. ‘Prestige’ is – surely – just another name for ‘bluff’.” [Surtees, quoted by Collett]                                             (from Bernard Porter’s Empire and Superempire, p 38)

“Britain’s past, however you regarded it, had left her with a fund of experience and of worldwide relationships that could be utilised, and which placed her in a privileged situation, still, vis-à-vis other countries. She could be compared to an aging roué who, though he may not be able to perform as he once did, retains his memories, and his address book.” [characterizing Blair’s view of Britain]                                  (from Bernard Porter’s Empire and Superempire, p 147)

“If he [Blair] was America’s ‘poodle’, therefore, as he was often portrayed, he didn’t necessarily need a lead to keep him in line with his master. Nonetheless, the walkies was not always a happy one for him. Bush took him along several paths he would rather not have taken, and barred him from sniffing out some scents of his own. This was ’imperialism’ the American way, not the British.”                           (from Bernard Porter’s Empire and Superempire, p 160)

“For democratic leaders this is the tragedy of power: they only learn how to do their jobs once the public is sick of the sight of them, or the constitution is telling them they have reached their limit. But it’s an illusion: it just seems easier because the end is in sight and they have stopped worrying about what comes next.” (David Runciman, in London Review of Books, March 31)


“Ms. Lazareva, who hails from Moscow, recalled waiting in line for three hours each morning to get a jug of milk as a little girl living under communism. ‘If you lived under socialists, you’d hate them too,’ she said. ‘They make everyone poor.’ Although Mr. Sanders, as a self-described democratic socialist, has a vision for America that is distinct from the economic system in the former Soviet Union, the word ‘socialist’ was enough to provoke anxiety in Ms. Lazareva. She was unmoved. ‘Everyone will be hungry, everyone will be poor,’ she said. ‘If it will be Sanders, we will have the same here. Everybody who comes from a communist country, Russians, Eastern Europeans, even Latinos from Cuba, feel this way. When you know what will happen, when you see it — you’re Republican.’”                                                    (from report in NYT, April 9)

Come again?                “But the twentieth century was born blessed with the creatively annihilating energies of free-market capitalism, capable of yielding not only the wealth of nations but also the means of their utter destruction – Henry Ford’s motorcars and Heinrich Himmler’s crematoria, the building of Hoover Dam and the dropping of atomic bombs.”   (Lewis Lapham, in Preamble to Lapham’s Quarterly, Spring 2016)

“What we consider basic aspects of our character – aspects that appear to us like the ruins of a large, emotionally structured composition that was never completed due to the powerlessness and carelessness of its creator, and which is now completely lost but for a few barely discernible fragments – are clearly nothing more than the moments when our desire was at its strongest, and connected to images, sounds, smells that it was not aiming for, perceptions it had looked beyond, as it focused on a goal that was very far away. In other words, these were the moments of our most secret torment.”  (from Gregor von Rizzori’s An Ermine in Czernopol, p 160)

“But, as I say, the most important thing was that we came to converse with our friends in the first place, and only later  ̶  quite a bit later – did we find out that they were Jews. So we didn’t make the usual distinction that Jews are also people, but rather the reverse, that people are sometimes also Jews. This was one of the most beautiful of the invaluable discoveries that we owed to Madame Aritonivich and her Institut d’Éducation, as well as to our parents’ temporary inattentiveness. In this way we learned that what these people known as Jews shared was not so much a common character, but rather common forms of expression: in other words, that there were no ‘typically Jewish’ traits, but rather a characteristically Jewish was of expressing traits that were simply human.”     (from Gregor von Rizzori’s An Ermine in Czernopol, p 229)

“Only the most lethal narcotics or the most feminine – that is to say, the most changeable – woman are able to temporarily create the illusion of the truly lived life, owing to their deadly effects. And the despair into which they plunge us is the voice of out innermost conscience, which opens our eyes to our illusion and reveals the underlying fact that we turn to surrogates to still our true desire – the desire to be extinguished.”    (from Gregor von Rizzori’s An Ermine in Czernopol, p 329)

‘Because among all the phantasms we paint on the cell walls of our existence in an apparent effort to expand them and break through to greater things, it is the image of a secret, high-born ancestor that vouches for the nobility of our own character. It is a metaphor, the most obvious interpretation and reinterpretation of our sense that we are of different blood than the masses, or even  a pious representation of this, which aims to legitimize the feeling of special distinction through the grace of one’s birth. If we still had gods, those among us with a need to feel extraordinary could claim divine ancestry.”  (from Gregor von Rizzori’s An Ermine in Czernopol, pp 353-354)

“Were these activities so awful? Was the espionage, which unquestionably occurred, such a serious threat to the nation’s security that it required the development of a politically repressive internal security system? It may be useful to take a more nuanced position and go beyond the question of guilt or innocence to ascertain not only how dangerous the transmission of unauthorized information was, but also why it occurred. Because espionage is an issue that carries such heavy emotional freight, it is usually treated in a  monolithic way that overlooks distinctions between different types of spying and different types of spies.”                  (from Ellen Schrecker’s Many are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America, pp 178-17, quoted in John Earl Haynes’s & Harvey Klehr’s In Denial: Historians, Communism & Espionage, p 206)

“History does not turn back; life is rich in materials, and never needs new clothes. All reinstatements, all restorations have always been masquerades.”   (from Alexander Herzen’s My Past and Thoughts, p 301)

“It’s a little difficult to know when to trust you people and when not. You do live by rather different standards, don’t you?”      (Lacon to Smiley, in John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Chapter 10)

“Tarr has not lied to us, Peter. Not in any material way. He has simply done what agents do the world over: he has failed to tell us the whole story.”           (Smiley to Guillam, in John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Chapter 22)

“It is the business of agent runners to turn themselves into legends. They do this first to impress their agents. Later they try it out on their colleagues and in my personal experience make rare asses of themselves in consequence. A few go so far as to try it on themselves. Those are the charlatans and they must be got rid of quickly, there’s no other way.”      (Smiley to Guillam, in John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Chapter 23)

“I have a theory which I suspect is rather immoral. Each of us has only a quantum of compassion. That if we lavish our concern on every stray cat, we never get to the centre of things.”           (Smiley to Guillam, in John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Chapter 23)

“We all have our prejudices and radio men are mine. They’re a thoroughly tiresome lot in my experience, bad fieldmen and overstrung, and disgracefully unreliable when it comes down to doing the job.”       (Smiley to Guillam, in John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Chapter 23)

“He had often wondered which side he would be on if the test ever came; after prolonged reflection he had finally to admit that if either monolith had to win the day, he would prefer it to be the East.”         (of Bill Haydon, from John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Chapter 38)

“Katherine Duncan, 30, of West Hartford, Conn., is holding out hope that Mr. Sanders will win, citing personal reasons. A career coach, she has more than $130,000 in student debt after getting her bachelor’s in communications and her master’s in public relations.” (from NYT, April 26)

“It is astonishing that a news organization that regularly promotes liberal social viewpoints could have a double standard when it comes to blatantly discriminating and retaliating against its own hard-working and dedicated employees.”     (Douglas H. Wigdor, a lawyer for the women issuing lawsuit against the NYT, from NYT, April 29)


“In his memoir, he described himself as ‘a citizen of two Americas.’ ‘One of them is the country of Uncle Sam,” he wrote, “an America, in the words of Herman Melville, ‘intrepid, unprincipled, reckless, predatory, with boundless ambition, civilized in the externals but savage at heart. The other is its blessed double, home of heroes and clowns and of the cheerful and welcoming democratic collective — “the place where I was born.” For all of my romantic Satanism and the satisfaction I took and still take in the doctrine of original sin, it is this second America to which I feel culturally and temperamentally attuned.’ ”                     (from NYT obituary of historian Daniel Aaron, May 4)

“If the finest modern experts agree with one another – and even with Aristotle – about a central point, it just has to be wrong.”    (Robert Belknap, in Plots, according to Michael Wood in London Review of Books, May 5)

“A ‘People’s History’ suggests an alternative to an official history. But there is no official account of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. After Mao died, the Chinese people cut a tacit deal with the Communist Party: Raise our living standards and we will allow you to stay in power; we will not ask any questions about the nightmare we endured.”   (Judith Shapiro, in review of Frank Dikotter’s The Cultural Revolution, in NYT, May 8)

“I believe that the less skittish we are around the dead, the more we cling to life. And the more we fall prey to illusions. You convince yourself that the missing people have simply been moved to another camp.”   (Herta Müller, in The Hunger Angel, p 139)

“Having had the gravity of climate change put before their [exponents’ of big science] noses more than a quarter of a century ago, their political masters have done nothing in the interim to beat the essential, orderly retreat away from the first causes of global warming for which Western neo-liberalism is itself, first and foremost, to blame.”   (Mark Levene, in review of Timothy Snyder’s Black Earth, in Times Literary Supplement, May 6)

“Una [Jeffers], uninhibited by an audience larger than one, put the same prejudices more crudely: ‘You’ve heard me protest enough’, she wrote to [Robinson] Jeffers’s publisher Bennett Cerf, ‘about neurots & lost generation & faded wilted pansies – yes, and Communist disease-carriers’. To Mabel Dodge Luhan she vented about ‘namby-pamby Oxonians  . . .  fools & dolts & weak kneed aesthetes and filthy pinks’.”     (Marc Robinson, in review of James Karman’s Robinson Jeffers, in Times Literary Supplement, May 6)

“Nothing excites charges of paranoia more than an accurate memory.”     (Fredrick Raphael, in Going Up, quoted by Jonathan Keates in Times Literary Supplement review, May 6)

“The more I see of politicians the less I think of them! They are seldom influenced directly by the true aspects of a problem and are usually guided by some ulterior political reason! They are always terrified of public opinion as long as the enemy is sufficiently far, but when closely threatened by the enemy inclined to lose their heads, and then blame all their previous errors on the heads of the military whose advice they have failed to follow. The more I see of democracy the more I doubt our wisdom of attaching such importance to it! I cannot see how our present system of democracy can produce real qualified leaders of a nation.”    (from Viscount Alanbrooke’s War Diaries, 1939-1945, 9 July, 1941)

“One thing is quite clear, the more politicians you put together to settle the prosecution of the war the longer you postpone its conclusion!”   (from Viscount Alanbrooke’s War Diaries, 1939-1945, 30 November, 1943)

“He [Churchill] was again in a most unpleasant mood. Produced the most ridiculous arguments to prove that operations could be speeded up so as to leave us an option till December before having to withdraw any forces from Europe! He knows no details, has only half the picture in his mind, talks absurdities and makes my blood boil to listen to his nonsense. I find it hard to remain civil. And the wonderful thing is that ¾ of the population of the world imagine that Winston Churchill is one of the Strategists of History, a second Marlborough, and the other ¼ have no conception what a public menace he is and has been throughout this war! It is far better that the world should never know, and never suspect the feet of clay of that otherwise superhuman being. Without him England was lost for a certainty, with him England has been on the verge of disaster time and time again.

And with it all no recognition hardly at all for those who help him except the occasional crumb intended to prevent the dog from straying too far from the table. Never have I admired and despised a man simultaneously to the same extent. Never have such opposite extremes been combined in the same human being.”               (from Viscount Alanbrooke’s War Diaries, 1939-1945, 10 September, 1944)

“History did not start the war. It is just that history had been used to shape the present by politicians.”   (Tim Judah, in In Wartime: Stories from Ukraine, quoted by Serhy Yekelchyk in Times Literary Supplement, May 13)

Climate Scientists Can’t Make Their Minds Up

“Another scientist, Dean Roemmich, a professor at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego, said: ‘To me it is absolutely inconceivable that the Csiro would imagine ditching such a pre-eminent scientist in a field that is so vital to Australia’s interests. We have so little idea how rapidly the climate and sea level are going to change in the coming decades. It is absolutely crazy to be taking anything away from that focus.’

‘At the beginning of John’s career, we barely knew sea levels were rising,’ said Dr. Willis, who is studying Greenland’s melting ice sheet for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Today we know precisely how fast it is rising and what the causes are and John has made a huge contribution to that.’”   (from report that Dr. John Church was being laid off from the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, in NYT, May 18)

“We’re a bundle of incompatible parts, and we make up stories about ourselves to disguise the fact. The mental unity of the individual is a fiction. There is simply, in the human machine, a multitude of loosely linked behavior systems which take control of the body and participate in a common delusion of being one single self.”     (H. G. Wells, paraphrasing his doctoral thesis ‘On the Quality if Illusion in the Continuity of the Individual Life in the Higher Metazoa, with Particular Reference to the Species Homo Sapiens’ (University of London, 1943), in David Lodge’s novel A Man of Parts, p 397)

“It took him a long time, for instance, to recognize how completely Stalin’s police state had betrayed the ideals of the Russian Revolution. But at least he was never taken in by Mussolini and Hitler, as many British pundits and politicians were.”  (David Lodge on H. G. Wells, in A Man of Parts, p 403)

“She [Moura Budberg] regarded reality as something that could be patted and prodded and twisted like a child’s modeling clay to produce all kinds of interesting and attractive shapes a cording to the needs of the moment, and if you challenged the accuracy of her representations she would just smile and fall silent or change the subject. The embarrassment of the untruth thus exposed somehow became yours and not hers. It was, he suspected, a peculiarly Russian trait.”      (from David Lodge’s A Man of Parts, p 420)

“Students learn in Economics 101 that lower taxes and/or higher levels of government spending can mitigate recessions by boosting aggregate demand. That simple Keynesian idea should be no more controversial today than Darwinian natural selection or global warming.”     (Alan S. Blinder, quoted by Eduardo Porter in NYT, May 18)

“A totalitarian power is mainly busy keeping itself alive.”      (Nobelist Svetlana Alexeivich, quoted by Rachel Donadio in NYT, May 21)

“Being categorical, for Auden, was often a matter of making up categories.”  (Seamus Perry, in review of The Complete World of W. H. Auden, Prose, Volumes V and VI, in Times Literary Supplement, May 20)

“I tell my philosophy students that whenever they find a serious author saying something banal and stupid, they should pause to consider that they may have missed the point.”      (from letter by Brian Epstein, Department of Philosophy, Tufts University, in Times Literary Supplement, May 20)

“Socialism isn’t just labor camps, informants and the Iron Curtain, it’s also a bright, just world: Everything is shared, the weak are pitied and compassion rules.”      (‘one former Communist Party secretary’ to Nobelist Svetlana Alexeivich, from Secondhand Time, quoted by Dwight Garner in NYT review, May 25)

“But in mid-December, a group of students gave the Oberlin administration a list of 50 nonnegotiable demands, asserting that ‘this institution functions on the premises of imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, ableism, and a cissexist heteropatriarchy.’”    (from David Brooks’s Op-Ed in NYT, May 27)

“Of course any novelist would rather have it said that he had drawn an attractive woman than that he had upheld the Moral Law.” (L. P. Hartley, in The Go-Between, Author’s Introduction)

“How would it profit a man, if he got into a tight place, to call the people who put him there miserable sinners? Or himself a miserable sinner? I disliked the leveling aspect of this sinnerdom; it was like a cricket match played in a drizzle, where everyone had an excuse – and what a dull excuse! – for playing badly. Life was meant to test a man, bring out his courage, initiative, resource; and I longed, I thought, to be tested: I did not want to fall on my knees and call myself a miserable sinner.”                (from L. P. Hartley’s The Go-Between, Chapter 6)

“Clustering is antipathetic to us. I have always been disposed to despise people who cluster close in families, gangs, clans and nations. That is my main objection to Jews. And Scotsmen. And the provincial French. I reveal perhaps the immunizing influence of a serum drawn from the very disease, when I say that roughly speaking the English have not this human disposition to remain clustered so highly developed.”   (H.G. Wells, in H. G. Wells in Love, p 115)

“Nature has not bothered to produce any special consolations for her creatures, after her own vague ends have been fulfilled by them. There is no last phase with its distinctive happiness in a man’s life. If we want that we must make it for ourselves.”    (H.G. Wells, in H. G. Wells in Love, p 200)

“I have done my best to evade income tax whenever I could safely do so without incurring anxiety, because I have thought it better, not only for myself but for my world, to live easily and work amply than to overtax myself for fools who build bombers and battleships and for the extravagances of incompetent administrators and officials.”      (H.G. Wells, in H. G. Wells in Love, p 215)

“I lectured thirteen times, the same lecture which I polished continually, mainly on the abolition of distance – my title was ‘Two Hemispheres or One World’ – and the necessity of America, the British states and Russia getting together upon a common understanding of the peace of the world. I was nearly a year ahead in my insistence on that, and we had some brisk discussion with the audience after the final lecture. America at the time [September 1940] was stupidly and ignorantly anti-Bolshevik and sentimentally but still rather ineffectively pro-British.”      (H.G. Wells, in H. G. Wells in Love, p 224)

“Sidney Perigal Waterlow entered the Foreign Office before World War I. He was divorced for nullity. Then just before the war he reappeared in the divorce court as a co-respondent. Instead of patting him on the back and saying, ‘Well done, my boy, you’ve re-established your reputation,’ the Foreign Office insisted, as they had to then, that he should resign.”     (William Cavendish-Bentinck, from Patrick Howarth’s Intelligence Chief Extraordinary: The Life of the Ninth Duke of Portland, p 88)


“A. J. P. Taylor put the case directly to Rebecca: ‘You don’t seem to have made up your mind whether Mike [Mihailović] is right because he is trying to preserve Yugoslavia or whether he is right because he has despaired of Yugoslavia and is going back to great Serbia. All you insist on is that somehow he is right, but you can’t have it both ways.’ Taylor predicted that the post World-War I effort to combine Slavs into multi-ethnic national states was doomed to failure. The Serbs would be better off without the Croats because federations of Slavs would never be stable enough to defend themselves from the great powers. Russian influence was inevitable in the Balkans, and Rebecca should make peace with it. There is no record of her reply to Taylor’s letter, but she would surely have scoffed at this sentence: ‘The Russians are not democratic now, but there is a chance they may become so; there’s not so much chance for us.’ She wanted Russians to become defenders of Western virtues, Taylor alleged, virtues the British were ‘too corrupt and too feeble to do anything about.’ In a passage that could only have maddened her, he deplored Russian ruthlessness while excusing it as an inevitable historical process, one that Great Britain itself had done much to promulgate: ‘The peasant must disappear; that is the lesson of all civilization. Nasty for him, but it can’t be helped. And, in the long run, the Russian way of liquidating him is no worse than our way of the eighteenth century, which has made us the civilized people we are.’ Rebecca had made it clear in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon that British imperialism, as bad as it had been, was not anywhere near as evil as Nazism and Communism. To relativize all forms of imperialism in this way was to lose one’s moral compass – which is what she saw happening in the move from Mihailović to Tito.” (from Carl Rollyson’s Rebecca West: A Life, pp 220-221)

“There is, of course, no reason for the existence of the male sex except that one sometimes needs help in moving the piano.” (Rebecca West, in a Sunday Telegraph book review, quoted by Carl Rollyson in Rebecca West: A Life, p 367)   “The only use of a gentleman in travelling is to take care of the luggage.” (Emmeline Lowe in 1857, according to Sara Wheeler in the Spectator, June 4)

“The concept of fair value under Delaware law is not equivalent to the economic concept of fair market value. Rather, the concept of fair value for purposes of Delaware’s appraisal statute is a largely judge-made creation, freighted with policy considerations.”  (Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster, in judgment on sale of Dell, from NYT, June 7)

“There are sentimental and traditional deferences and reverences, I know, between father and son; bit that’s just exactly what prevents the development of an easy friendship. Father-worshipping sons are abnormal – and they’re no good. No good at all. One’s got to be a better man than one’s father, or what is the good of successive generations? Life is rebellion, or nothing.” (Capes, in H. G. Wells’s Ann Veronica, Chapter the Sixteenth)

Suddenly, I’m So Happy!         “They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought. If you feel you are trapped in a black hole, don’t give up. There is a way out.”         (Dr. Stephen Hawking, quoted in NYT, June 7)

“The intelligence community has grown enormously into a many-headed bureaucratic monster, largely because each intelligence failure caused by gross error induces Congress to give even more money to those who fail, instead of the opposite.”    (Edward N. Littwak, in Coup D’Etat, quoted by Charles Glass in TLS, June 3)

“I like biography much better than fiction: fiction is too free. In biography you have your little handful of facts, little bits of a puzzle, and you sit and think, and fit them this way and that  . . .  it always has and always must have the incurable illogicalities of life about it. Still, that’s where the fun comes in.”       (R. L. Stevenson in letter to Edmund Gosse, quoted by Joseph Farrell in TLS, June 3)

“Whereas Ceausescu succeeded in uniting Romanians in opposition to him, his fall threw them into confusion. What the Romanian revolution does demonstrate is that the heroes die, the fighters go home, and opportunists make their way to the fore.”   (Professor Dennis J. Deletant, of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, in 2012 lecture, from NYT obituary of General Victor Stanculescu, June 22)

“[Hersch] Lauterpacht was to become the better known [than Rafael Lemkin], ending up as a QC and the UK’s judge at the International Court of Justice – even though the Attorney General at the time would have preferred someone ‘thoroughly British’.”    (Joshua Rozenberg in review of Philippe Sands’ East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, in Prospect, June 2016)

Muddled Thinking on ‘Groups’           “Sands remains uncomfortable with the concept of genocide, arguing that by putting one group against another the charge makes reconciliation less likely, ‘It enhances the sense of solidarity among the members of the victim group,’ he says, ‘while reinforcing negative feelings toward the perpetrator group.’ But these victim groups are not clubs that members may join or leave at will. The loyal and assimilated Jews of Germany who were murdered by the Nazis considered themselves more German than the Jewish. Hitler was indeed guilty of genocide.”      (Joshua Rozenberg in review of Philippe Sands’ East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, in Prospect, June 2016)

“The range of its [Russia’s twentieth-century’s] impact in my view of the world was formative, and continues to be even now, partly because the western universities continue to harbour so many nostalgic utopians who think that Stalin and Mao must have been serious about bettering the lot of mankind because they killed so many of their own citizens.”      (Clive James in TLS, June 17)

“Why us the cow green and why is the horse flying in the sky? What has it got to so with Marx and Lenin?”  (questions asked by the Bolshevik authorities of Marc Chagall, quoted from My Life, p 139, by Andy McSmith in Fear and the Muse Kept Watch, p 41)

“How this individual [God] , no longer young, burdened with the personal and too often bothersome errands of Akhmatova, Tsvetayeva and others, can manage in his spare time to direct the destinies of the universe, is simply incomprehensible.”      (Leo Trotsky, in Literature and Revolution, Chapter 1, quoted by Andy McSmith in Fear and the Muse Kept Watch, p 247)


“In our Russian society there is a minority of informed men and women with cultivated minds, who are ready to forgo all personal advantage and determine the course of history so that for ever morality is imposed upon the State. But the majority, the vast majority, of men and women, are passive as brute beasts. Their fates are determined by the blind flight of events, and therefore when they die they fall to dust, without having done anything to impart meaning to life and eliminate injustice and misery. It is the business of the intelligent minority to convert the unintelligent majority into a majority as enlightened as themselves.” (Kamensky to Laura Rowan, in Rebecca West’s The Birds Fall Down, Chapter 12)

“Conspiracy was for him, as she had already recognized, what cricket was for her father and her brothers. It was the game he happened to enjoy. It was his kind of fun. There was no more to his revolutionary passion than that.” (Laura Rowan on Chubinov, in Rebecca West’s The Birds Fall Down, Chapter 16)

“You listen too much to the soldiers . . . You should never trust experts. If you believe the doctors, nothing is wholesome; if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe.” (Lord Salisbury, to Lytton, from A. L. Kennedy’s Salisbury 1830-1903, Portrait of a Statesman, p 106, quoted by Anthony Verrier in Through The Looking Glass, p 16)

“The mistake we made on the frontier of Afghanistan was that we sent gentlemen to talk with the Russians – expecting that they would also send gentlemen on their side. But they in fact do not possess any gentlemen in their political service, & if we are wise we will not let ourselves in for being insulted again but answer to their system of using force ourselves & my belief is that they will cave in if they see we are in earnest.” (Francis Younghusband, from his private diary, quoted by Anthony Verrier in Through The Looking Glass, p 18)

“It is hard to see how to write a historical account of the subjectivity of groups rather than individuals.” (Oxford historian Lyndal Roper, according to Richard J. Evans in London Review of Books, July 14)

“But procedures, after decades of repetition, tend to become values, like it or not.” (Stephen Budiansky on the NSA, in Code Warriors, p 309)


“If Iraq shows the horrors of ill-planned intervention, Syria shows how non-intervention can cause worse suffering and instability.” (Charles Moore, in the Spectator, July 9)


“We also learn that Harold Pinter, who played at the Gover school too, wrote a poem about the great Len Hutton:

I saw Len Hutton in his prime,

Another time, another time.

He sent it Simon Gray, a playwright and friend, then rang the next day to see what he thought. ‘I haven’t finished it yet,’ Gray replied.”   (Matthew Syed, from review of Jon Hotten’s The Meaning of Cricket in The Times, July 30)

“One of the minor, occupational hazards of any secret intelligence service is that only its failures hit the headlines. When it establishes itself in huge, glittering headquarters, publicizes its bosses, and holds press conferences (no matter how misleading: every psychologist knows that deliberate lies are as revealing as believed truth) then it ceases to be a secret intelligence agency.” (from Constantine Fitzgibbon’s Secret Intelligence in the 20th Century, p 175)

Any Religion? Zoroastrianism? Buddhism?   “For eighteen years the furtherance of religion, which is one of the college’s statutory aims, was represented to Junior Members by Ralph Williamson . . .”  (Mark Edwards, Professor of Early Christian Studies and Tutor in Theology, from Christ Church 2015)

“And so on, in what Desmond Fitzgerald (in the World Review) designated ‘Festival English’: a didactic, Arnoldian style of prose, reminiscent of Georgian poetry and William Morris wallpaper, eulogising a ‘forever England’ of greenwoods and larks arising, mixed with ‘documentary or Picture Post English, suitable for conveying information that might be a bit “above” the reader’ – in short, exactly the kind of stuff ‘turned out by poets, often good ones, who are driven by circumstances to work in the BBC and in government propaganda departments.” (from Valerie Grove’s The Lives and Loves of Laurie Lee, p 251)

“Her [Kathy’s] goldenhaired, olive-skinned glow was complimented everywhere, and the chambermaids taught her how to respond with dignity: ‘When men call after you, you can giggle if you are unmarried, but if married, never.’” (from Valerie Grove’s The Lives and Loves of Laurie Lee, p 257)

“Sometimes, somewhere, there’s always another woman, but civilised people have always been able to cope with that one. It’s not new love, but a projection of the old one, and doesn’t count a damn compared with a marriage. But here they go, asking for divorces, and thinking that happiness can be founded on the ruin of two families, as though that kind of happiness was one of the Rights of Man and that such a solution is somehow frank and honest.” (LL to his brother, Jack)    (from Valerie Grove’s The Lives and Loves of Laurie Lee, p 298)

“John Le Carré had something going with George Smiley but should have abandoned him earlier. When, in The Honourable Schoolboy, Smiley revealed a hitherto unsuspected knowledge of Chinese naval architecture, it was high time to toss him over the Reichenbach Falls.” (Clive James, in Patrick O’Brian and his Salty Hero, from Latest Readings)

“There is nothing perhaps so generally consoling to a man as a well-established grievance, a feeling of having been injured, on which his mind can brood from hour to hour allowing him to plead his own case in his own court, within his own heart and always to plead it successfully.” (Anthony Trollope [where?], quoted by Richard Ingrams in review of Michael MacManus’s Edward Heath: A Singular Life, in the Spectator, July 23)

“Nowadays, when people say Europe, they do not mean Sophocles, or Descartes, or Bach, or Roman law. What they mean is a very particular set of institutions, a self-perpetuating alphabet soup of bodies more experienced in social engineering than groundbreaking thoughts.” (Ryszard Legutko, a Polish deputy in the European Parliament for the Law and Justice party, from NYT, August 11)

“But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.”

(from Philip Larkin’s Aubade)

“What is it worth, then, this insane last phase

When everything about you goes downhill?

This much: you get to see the cosmos blaze

And feel its grandeur, even against your will,

As it reminds you, just by being there,

That it is here we live or else nowhere.”

(from Clive James’s Event Horizon, in Sentenced To Life)

“Intelligence analysis is essentially a matter of having ALL the information you need plus the talent for assessing it. The computer will produce all you need to know in the right chronological order, if it is fed correctly. In one sense, however, it will give you too much information in the manner that it spews out far more facts than you need and some of these unnecessary facts may lead you down blind alleys. Now analysis is not just a question of having a sound judicial brain which can weigh all the facts. Not in the spook game it isn’t. Yes, you need such a brain, but you require more than just that. What you need is a sixth sense – a talent to leap over facts and make your assessment by intuition.” (Richard Deacon’s ex-OSS & CIA contact ‘Poe’, quoted in Deacon’s With My Little Eye, p 153)

“If I had known how popular it would be, I would have taken more trouble over it.” (Philip Larkin [after Eubie Blake?] on Church Going, from James Booth’s Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love, Chapter 11)

“I can’t imagine anyone is really happy unless they’re old enough to have utterly escaped from home, & young enough not to be thinking about death.”(Philip Larkin, from James Booth’s Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love, Chapter 12)

“Brueckner: ‘Early Protestantism did it [building morals for use of Nationalism] by combining the functions of the Chief of State and the head of the Church in one person.’

Hitler: ‘That was only a compromise. In itself Protestantism is a creed of rebellion. It is responsible for the so-called liberal minds. In the final analysis it is a destroyer of Nationalism. It is a maker of Sectarianism. Where the Catholic Church gravitates towards one pole – the Pope, the various Protestant sects represent a centrifugal force scattering in all directions. It is a waster where the Catholic Church is a gatherer. If the Catholic Church could be harnessed in the service of Nationalism, it would be a great achievement. Only one thing is wrong with it – it has lost its militancy. It gives too much allegiance to the cross and too little to the sword. The two should be made one.’

Brueckner: ‘As Mohammed did it.’

Hitler: ‘Ah! There was a man! And there is something for us to consider, my friends. Islam is the only religion which owes its success almost entirely to the sword. It became, and in a way still is, the greatest supporter of Nationalism. Even today the dream of all faithful followers of Islam is the creation of a great Moslem State. Now, if you combine Islam and Catholicism into a great religious faith in the service of Nationalism, you have something . . .

Hitler: ‘I have elevated myself from an accidental being to the tool of God. I have created my German nationalist core just as Mohammed created his Arab nationalist core. I am branching out into my world revolution, in the same way a she branched out in his world revolution. I am a prophet in my own right – a second Mohammed! It was the element of distance that stopped Islam short of world conquest – it had to move on horseback. Distance cannot stop me. I have the airplane and the radio. Napoleon relied only on the sword, Mohammed used the sword merely as a means in the service of Faith. That is precisely what I can do after I have proclaimed a new universal faith.’”      (report by Manfred to William Van Narvig, in Secret Sources by Wythe Williams and William Van Narvig, p 197)

“The greatness of a man does not lie in his keeping a promise under any circumstances, but in his strength to break it as soon as the national interest demands.” (Ribbentrop, according to Wolfgang, in Secret Sources by Wythe Williams and William Van Narvig, pp 212-213)

“This plan is not the exclusive product of the Reich Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Military figures were consulted and had a large part in its framing. The plan refrains from the advocacy of a Germanic master race. Its basic thesis is the establishment of a ‘European Federation of Equals’. It provides for individual constitutions, self-government and linguistic prerogatives. The principal union features are: A common customs tariff, common currency, common educational principles and a common defense establishment. With regard to member states separated from the Soviet Union, the plan recommends a Reich guardianship of 25 years, to ‘prepare the populations for self-government in accordance with European ideals.’” (from Secret Sources by Wythe Williams and William Van Narvig, p 326)

“No historian has earned more ridicule than H. A. L. Fisher, who his history if Europe, written in the early 1930s, concluded despairingly that there could be ‘only one safe rule for the historian: that he should recognize in the development of human destinies the play of the contingent and the unforeseen’ and admit that ‘there can be no generalizations’. Fisher’s views have been widely rejected by historian because generalization and explanation have been seen by most of them as their principal business. If historians don’t explain things, they descend to the level of chroniclers.”   (from Richard J. Evans’s Altered Pasts: Counterfactuals in History, p 36)

“In every line of every historical book, judgments of possibilities are hidden and must be hidden, if the publication is to have any intellectual value.” (Max Weber, in Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Wissenschaftslehre, quoted by Richard J. Evans in Altered Pasts: Counterfactuals in History, p 176)

“The fallacy of such thinking is to regard that essential truth as something revealed rather than created. Tolstoy did not make that mistake. He knew that the difference between real and fictional worlds is that a fictional world is wholly known. Nothing could remain hidden from Tolstoy about his imaginary Napoleonic Russia and its Natashas, Pierres and Andreis. But no matter how diligently he or we may burrow in the archives, there will always be more documents somewhere; some may contradict the ones we know, and there is no end to what was never recorded to begin with.” (Richard Taruskin, on Shostakovich and Julian Barnes’s The Music of Time, from NYT, August 28)

“A common currency is threatening the future of Europe. Muddling through will not work. And the European project is too important to be sacrificed on the cross of the euro. Europe – the world – deserves better.” (from the final paragraph of Joseph E. Stiglitz’s The Euro: How A Common Currency Threatens the Future of Europe, p 326)


“The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse to impress upon it.” (Adam Smith, in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, VI.2.42)

“A very distinguished cryptographer on the permanent staff of GC&CS was once asked what he regarded as a cryptographer’s principal requirements, and replied, ‘Oh, I suppose a sharp pencil and a piece of squared paper.’” (Christopher Morris, in Codebreakers: the Inside Story of Bletchley Park, edited by F. H. Hinsley & Alan Stripp)

“The man forced to marry a woman whose face he did not know, 2-TCCP-232, also stayed with his wife after the fall of the regime. But he could not forget his first love. He told the court about meeting his fiancée later. ‘I took her hand,’ he told the court. ‘We embraced. We wept. And we told each other that in this life we needed to do good deeds — because maybe it was bad deeds in our previous lives that had kept us apart, and so if we did good deeds in this life, maybe in a future one we could be together.’” (testimony of man forced to marry by Khmer Rouge, from NYT, September 11)

Maturing Opinions

1) “As a result the British line in the negotiations with the Soviet Union has always seemed to fall so determinedly short of what the situation seemed to require as to invite speculation as to the stupidity or general malevolence towards the Soviet Union of those who originated it. It seems so obvious that the Soviet Union was the only power capable of intervening militarily to aid Poland against a German invasion, that the apparent unwillingness of the British government to accept a Soviet military alliance has only been explicable on the assumption either that the British could not recognise the military realities of the situation, and were therefore criminally stupid, or that they did recognize them, and hoped to lure the Soviet Union into a unilateral guarantee of Poland which would so engage Germany and the Soviet Union in military conflict as to weaken, if not to destroy, them both.”  (Donald C. Watt, in Introduction to Breach of Security, The German Secret Intelligence File on Events Leading to the Second World War, edited by David Irving, p 26, written in 1968)

2) “At no point in Soviet thinking, either during the six months up to September 1939 or at any point from that date to this, can there be discerned any grasp of the one central idea by which British policy has been so severely judged: that the earlier Hitler was defeated and overthrown, the better for all concerned – for Europe as a whole, for France, for Britain and, last but by no means least, the Soviet Union, which was to suffer twenty million dead and the devastation of European Russia.”

“Central, however, was the note of almost adolescent sensitivity which saw slights everywhere, in the dispatch of Mr Strang rather than Lord Halifax, and of Admiral Drax rather than the Chiefs of Staff to Moscow, a readiness to take offence which stemmed from the equally questionable assumption that since Hitler had no plans against the Soviet Union in 1939, Britain needed the Soviet Union more than the Soviet Union needed Britain and should behave as if she did. . . .  The attitude taken by Marshal Voroshilov – what do you want us to do? We will only commit a percentage of the forces you commit – does not strike one as a serious approach to the problems of war against Nazi Germany either; though it is thoroughly consistent with Stalin’s conviction that Britain needed Soviet aid so badly that she should expect to pay whatever price the Soviet Union demanded for Soviet support.” (Donald C. Watt, in How War Came, p 370 & p 611, written in 1989)

“He has warned worshipers that new biometric passports, required by the European Union in return for visa-free access to Europe, were ‘satanic’ because they contained a 13-digit number. “ (on Marchel Mihaescu, the deeply conservative Orthodox bishop of Balti, Moldova, from NYT, September 14)

“What haunts are not the dead, but the gaps left within us by the secrets of others.” (Hungarian-born psychoanalyst, Nicolas Abraham, whom Philippe Sands uses as an epigraph to East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, quoted in NYT, September 17)

“I don’t want to be treated as Sands the Brit, Sands the European, Sands the liberal, Sands the Jew. I just want to be treated as Sands. And we all want that. But actually it’s never going to happen. It’s never going to happen.” (Phillipe Sands, in NYT interview, September 17)

Discuss? “Searching for historical parallels, analysts have made comparisons with Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch hunt in 1950s America, the Stalinist purges of the 1930s and the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960s and ’70s. Mr. Erdogan’s own spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, has likened the purges to what a unified Germany did after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 in removing civil servants and military officers who had served communist East Germany.” (from article on Erdogan’s purges of ‘Gulenists’, in NYT, September 17)

“All of my plays are about people missing the boat, closing down too young, coming to the end of their lives with regret at things not done, as opposed to things done. I find most people spend too much time living as if they’re never going to die.” (Edward Albee in interview with NYT in 1991, from his NYT obituary, September 18)

“I am as worried about the debt burden on my children’s generation as anybody, but deferring maintenance on the foundation of our economy is a much greater risk to them.” (former Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers, quoted in NYT, September 19)

Come Again? “At this moment, we all face a choice. We can choose to press forward with a better model of cooperation and integration, or we can retreat into a world sharply divided and ultimately in conflict along age-old lines of nation and tribe and race and religion.”

“We have to be honest about the nature of these conflicts [in Syria]. No outside actor will ever be able to force people from different religious or ethnic groups to coexist peacefully.” (Barack Obama, in final speech to the United Nations, quoted in NYT, September 21)

Note: “The message  illustrated only too clearly the disordered priorities, the lack of grasp of realities and perceptions outside the United States, the desire to play the great mediator, the preoccupation with American public opinion, and the concentration on easy rhetoric, rather than on politically hazardous and difficult action, to which all American presidents are prone.” (Donald Cameron Watt, on Roosevelt’s message to Hitler and Mussolini, of April 15, 1939, from How War Came, pp 260-261)

“A biography must be loose-fitting enough to contain a myriad shifts and contradictions.” (Alexandra Harris on Boswell and Johnson, from Weatherland, p 198)

“It is a hard thing to think globally, as clearly we must, while also hunkering down and living locally, as sustainability requires.”  (from Alexandra Harris’s Weatherland, p 385)

That Anti-Communist Tyranny! How We Suffered  . . .

“How did the left in the West come to embrace restriction, censorship and the imposition of an orthodoxy at least as tyrannical as the anti-Communist, pro-Christian conformism I grew up with? Liberals have ominously relabeled themselves ‘progressives,’ forsaking a noun that had its roots in ‘liber,’ meaning free. To progress is merely to go forward, and you can go forward into a pit.” (Lionel Shriver, in NYT, September 23)

Eh?  “Probably an inbred trait of human nature renders the attraction of censorship perennial.” (David Bromwich, in London Review of Books, September 22)


“One of my favourite interrogators of such issues was the Oxford philosopher R. F. Collingwood, whose inquiry into the nature of the imaginative re-enactment of historical events as a condition for their writing seemed (and still does seem) something every honest historian ought to take on board.” (Simon Schama, in Dead Certainties, p xiii)

“For it [Henry James’s The Sense of the Past] sets out the habitually insoluble quandary of the historian: how to live in two worlds at once; how to take the broken, mutilated remains of something or someone from the ‘enemy lines’ of the documented past and restore it to life or give it a decent internment in our own time and place.” (Simon Schama, in Dead Certainties, p 319)

“And in keeping with the self-disrupting nature of the narratives, I have deliberately dislocated the conventions by which histories establish coherence and persuasiveness. Avoiding the framing of time-sequences supplied by historical chronologies, the stories begin with abrupt interventions – like windows suddenly opened – and end with many things unconcluded.” (Simon Schama, in Dead Certainties, p 321)

“This is not to say, I should emphasise, that I scorn the boundary between fact and fiction. It is merely to imply that even in the most austere scholarly report from the archives, the inventive faculty of selecting, pruning, editing, commenting, interpreting, delivering judgements – is in full play. This is not a naïvely relativist position that insists that the lived past is nothing more than an artificially designed text (despite the criticism of dug-in positivists, I know of no thoughtful commentator on historical narrative who seriously advances this view.) But it does accept the rather banal axiom that claims for historical knowledge must always be fatally circumscribed by the character and prejudices of its narrator.” (Simon Schama, in Dead Certainties, p 322)

“But to have an inquiry, whether into the construction of a legend, or the execution of a crime, is surely to require the telling of stories. And so the asking of questions and the relating of narratives, need not, I think, be mutually exclusive forms of historical representation.” (Simon Schama, in Dead Certainties, p 325)

So That’s All Right, Then . . .

“The president’s got a lot of confidence that the vast majority of people who serve this country in the national security arena, particularly our professionals in the intelligence community, are genuine American patriots.” (White House press secretary Josh Earnest, quoted in NYT, October 6)

“People of normal intelligence and feeling know the worth of their national culture and leave it to others to recognize and express it.” (Roland Hill, in A Time Out of Joint, p 51)

“Only dogmas could produce such a building; we have only opinions, but with opinions you cannot build cathedrals.” (Heinrich Heine, on seeing Strasbourg Minster, according to Roland Hill in A Time Out of Joint, p 71)

“The most dangerous of all political ideas is perhaps the desire to achieve man’s perfection and happiness. The attempt of creating heaven on earth has ever only produced hell.” (Karl Popper, according to Roland Hill in A Time Out of Joint, pp 245-246)

“What freedom? Our people need freedom like a monkey needs glasses. No one would know what to do with it.” (Elena Yurievna, in Svetlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time, p 64)

“Oh, Lord! You can do whatever you want before you’re forty, you can even sin. But after forty, you have to repent.” (Marina Tikhonovna Isaichuk, in Svetlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time, p 83)

“Ages ago, he was a steel-hearted People’s Commissar. He’d sign the execution lists, he sent tens of thousands of people to their deaths. Spent thirty years by Stalin’s side. But in his old age, he doesn’t even have anyone to play dominoes with  . . .” (Vasily Petrovich N., CP member since 1922, on Lazar Kaganovich (1893-1991), in Svetlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time, p 167)

“Nikolai Verkhovets  . . .  Party member since 1924  . . . Shot in 1941. As the Germans advanced on the city. NKVD officers shot all the prisoners they didn’t evacuate in time. They released the common criminals, but all the ‘politicals’ were subject to liquidation as traitors. The Germans entered the city and opened the prison gates to find a pile of corpses. Before they could begin decomposing, the Germans herded civilians in to have a look at the handiwork of their Soviet regime.” (Vasily Petrovich N., in Svetlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time, pp 182-183)

“I came home twice wounded, with three decorations and medals. They called me into the district Party committee, ‘Unfortunately, we will not be able to return your wife to you. She’s died. But you can have your honor back  . . . ‘  And they handed me back my Party membership card. And I was happy! I was so happy  . . .” (Vasily Petrovich N., in Svetlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time, p 184)

“In Europe, they’ve been tending to democracy for the past two hundred years with the same kind of care they devote to their lawns.” (anonymous, in Svetlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time, p 385)

“Rarely have two successive rulers of a great country responded so absolutely to its changing needs and piloted it so successfully through periods of crisis.” (London Times on the death of Stalin, quoted by Joshua Rubenstein in The Last Days of Stalin, p 114)

“I cannot help coming back to the idea of another talk with Soviet Russia upon the highest level. The idea appeals to me of a supreme effort to bridge the gulf between the two worlds so that each can live their life, if not in friendship, at least without the hatreds and manoeuvres of the cold war.” (Winston Churchill, quoted by Joshua Rubenstein in The Last Days of Stalin, p 160, from Klaus Larres’s Churchill’s Cold War, p 133)

“It is not right that Comrade Rákosi gives directions regarding who must be arrested; he says who should be beaten. A person that’s beaten will get the kind of confession that the interrogating agents want, will admit that he is an English or American spy or whatever we want. But it will never be possible to know the truth this way. This way, innocent people might be sentenced. There is law, and everyone has to respect it. How investigations should be conducted, who should be arrested, and how they should be interrogated must be left to the investigating organs.” (Beria to the Hungarian Communist leader, Mátyás Rákosi, quoted by Joshua Rubenstein in The Last Days of Stalin, p 195)

“The events of the past few years have revealed limits in economists’ understanding of the economy and suggest several important questions I hope the profession will try to answer.” (Janet Yellen, Federal Reserve chairwoman, in NYT, October 15)

“In the small, provincially uncosmopolitan town in North Carolina where I grew up, the definition of exogamy was marrying someone from New Jersey.” (Lauren Collins, in NYT, October 16)

“On the one hand, his was the perfect character for espionage: discreet, fiercely patriotic, courageous, resilient, devious, and capable, if necessary, of complete ruthlessness.” (Mark Cocker on Richard Meinertzhagen, in Richard Meinertzhagen, Soldier, Scientist & Spy, p 191)

“Unfortunately, he was in sufficiently tolerant for an opposing point of view to be pressed or, at least, pressed too hard. Having thrown down an intellectual gauntlet, he could take a show of opposition as a personal attack; and having been affronted he sought to triumph. The goal then ceased to be scientific truth, but private vindication.” (Mark Cocker, in Richard Meinertzhagen, Soldier, Scientist & Spy, p 253)                                                     Cf:“University education enabled one to consider issues dispassionately, and on their merits: whereas in SIS opinions and recommendations seemed to be constantly influenced by personal likes and dislikes, personal interests and prejudices.”  (from the papers of Sir Patrick Reilly in the Bodleian Special Collections)

“That is all one can hope for in life: that one’s parents are harmless.” (Emma, in Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma: A Modern Retelling, p 76)

“In an emerging model of evolution, widely supported by scientists, different types of early humans, including Neanderthals, interbred, and left their genetic traces with many of us today. It is a theory known in the scientific literature as ‘admixture between archaic and anatomically modern humans’.” (from article on the Denisova cave in NYT, October 20)

“Take some advice from two observers who have been around for a while: The long term gets here before you know it.” (Paul A. Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Peter G. Peterson, former secretary of commerce, in NYT, October 22)

“I really dislike the sort of people who aren’t like other people. It’s true other people are so boring. But so are the ones who aren’t like them.” (Sari, in Antal Szerb’s Journey by Moonlight, p 150)

“There’s no such thing as ‘freedom of funding’. Citizens have freedoms; states have duties. In a fascist state, the state has freedoms and the citizens have duties. Without funding, cultural production can’t take place.” (anonymous ‘leader of cultural institution’, objecting to the loyalty stipulations issued by Miri Regev, Israel’s culture and sports minister, quoted in NYT, October 23)

“In that spirit, the document explains, the church cannot ‘condone attitudes or permit rites that involve erroneous ideas about death, such as considering death as the definitive annihilation of the person, or the moment of fusion with Mother Nature or the universe, or as a stage in the cycle of regeneration, or as the definitive liberation from the ‘prison’ of the body.’” (on document issued by the Catholic Church giving guidelines for cremation, in NYT, October 26)

“The other day James Lovelock, the sprightly 97-year-old inventor of Gaia theory, told a mildly surprised Guardian interviewer that he wasn’t remotely worried about climate change any more. A far more plausible threat, he explained, were all the killer robots that would soon emerge and find no use for us inconvenient humans.” (James Delingpole in the Spectator, October 15)

“Later he claimed to have slept with people whose name began with every letter of the alphabet except Q, because the only possibility was Quentin Crisp and he couldn’t face it.” (Rosemary Hill on Steven Runciman, in London Review of Books review of Minoo Dinshaw’s Outlandish Knight: The Byzantine Life of Steven Runciman, October 20)


“It’s been said that Thatcher wanted a society of people like her father, but produced a society of people like her son.” (William Davies, in London Review of Books, November 3)

“Orwell said [that] the most immoral thing a man can say is ‘it will see out my time.’” (heard by John Sutherland at an Orwell Trust committee meeting, recorded in Sutherland’s Orwell’s Nose, p 81)

A Case for Inspector Morse  “Going to university in the fourteenth century sounds like undertaking a tour of duty in a particularly hot war zone. In the 1340s, the homicide rate [in Oxford] was apparently up around 120 – higher than Caracas or San Pedro, Honduras, currently the two most violent cities in the world not officially at war.” (David Horspool, in review of James Sharpe’s A Fiery and Furious People in The Times Literary Supplement, November 4)

“When the young lady became pregnant, her father demanded that Heydrich marry her. The lieutenant refused in righteous indignation. He would never marry a woman, he said, who succumbed so easily to a seducer.”  (Ladislas Farago in Burn After Reading, p 15)

“The security of a cipher lies less with the cleverness of the inventor than with the stupidity of the men who are using it.” (Luftwaffe cryptanalyst Waldemar Werther, quoted in David Kahn’s Kahn on Codes, p 96)

“Fittingly for the language with the most sounds, !Xoon is rich with words that describe noises. The sound of a sharp object falling point-first into sand is ǂqùhm ǁhûũ The sound of a rotten egg when shaken is !húlu ts’êẽ. The sound of grass being ripped by a grazing animal: gǀkx’àp.” (from the NYT, November 26)

“All these aspects have suggested to my mind at times, do suggest to this day, the unorganized, abundant substance of some timorous growth-process, a process which indeed bursts all the outlines of the affected areas and protrudes such masses as ignoble comfortable Croydon, as tragic impoverished West Ham.” (from H. G. Wells’s Tono-Bungay, Book 2, Chapter 1)

“The perplexing thing about life us the irresoluble complexity of reality, of things and relations alike. Nothing is simple. Every wrong done has a certain justice to it, and every good deed has dregs of evil.” (from H. G. Wells’s Tono-Bungay, Book 2, Chapter 4)

“Civilization is possible only through confidence, so that we can bank our money and go unarmed through the streets.” (from H. G. Wells’s Tono-Bungay, Book 3, Chapter 1)

“No one has ever yet dared tell a love story completely, its alterations, its comings and goings, its debased moments, its hate. The love stories we tell, tell only the net consequence, the ruling effect  . . .” (from H. G. Wells’s Tono-Bungay, Book 3, Chapter 3)

“If a judge uses a balancing test, then the balance will almost always come out exactly the way the judge wants it to come out.” (Samuel A. Alito quoting Antonin Scalia, from NYT, November 29)

Eh?  “The outrage of the metropolitan elite in the face of Brexit, Trump et al reminds me of learning Russian in the 1960s. In those Cold War days the only native speakers we could meet to practice the language were émigrés. They were charming and educated people deeply distressed at what had happened to their country, but they completely failed to grasp that they might themselves be partly responsible for the revolution.” (letter from Prof Robin Jacoby in the Spectator, November 26)


“Ah, ‘the special relationship’. It was a necessary myth, a bit like Christianity. But now where do we go?” (historian Sir Michael Howard to Ian Buruna, from NYT Magazine, December 4)

“In the golden California summers before World War II, Sammy Lee, a Korean-American, was just one of the “colored” boys in the Pasadena pool on Wednesdays. That was ‘International Day,’ when Asian, black and Latino children were allowed to swim. After they were gone, the pool was drained and refilled with clean water for the white children who came every other day of the week.” (from the NYT obituary of 1948 Olympic gold medalist Sammy Lee, December 5)

“  . . . young men are often pleased to think that their creative activities would flourish best if they could spend more time getting up late in the morning and taking a longer nap during the afternoon.” (Clive James, in Poetry Notebook, p 121)

“A dangerous point arrives when you tell yourself that you are still proud of your memory. It means your memory is failing.” (Clive James, in Poetry Notebook, p 222)

“Even paranoids have real enemies.” (Delmore Schwartz, according to Mark Ford in TLS, December 2)

Problems of Small Nations           “It does not pay small countries to get entangled in big adventures.” (Andrei Zhdanov, from The Deadly Embrace by Anthony Read and David Fisher, p 381)                                                                           “Britain never had the strength to stop Hitler in the Balkans, and it is difficult to ignore the point that Prince Paul made to America’s ambassador to Yugoslavia, Arthur Lane, in late March 1941: ‘You big nations are hard,’ Paul said, ‘you talk of our honor, but you are far away.’” (from Bradley F. Smith’s The Shadow Warriors, p 52)

“In another he denounces the trend, seen in some Manhattan restaurants and bars, toward decorating with Soviet-era kitsch, including images of Stalin. At least he writes, ‘To the best of my knowledge, there is no Nazi-themed restaurant in New York; nor is there a Gestapo or SS bar.’” (Dwight Garner quoting Peter Singer from Ethics in The Real World, in NYT, December 20)

“Before 2003, believe me, my neighbor didn’t know what I was. No one could ask, are you Sunni? Or Shia? Or Muslim? Or Christian?” (Haseeb Salaam, a Mosul Christian, reported in NYT, December 25)

“Rebecca West, who when asked years later if she had been one of Allen’s mistresses replied, ‘Alas, no, but I wish I had been’.” (from The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War, by Stephen Kinzer, p 43)

“When Eleanor [Dulles] told him [her husband, David Blondheim] that she was pregnant, he responded not with joy but with pangs of guilt for having fathered a half-Christian child when Jewish survival was under threat. That autumn [1934], shortly before the child was born, he committed suicide.” (from The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War, by Stephen Kinzer, p 47)

“For us there are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who are Christians and support free enterprise, and there are the others.” (Foster Dulles, from The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War, by Stephen Kinzer, p 321)

“We had, he said, been close and personal and official friends, but after July 14 things would have to change. Though he would always remain a personal friend I should bear in mind that the United States regarded Russia as the country of the future and his official co-operation would be with them. Britain was old-fashioned and out of date. The war had finished her and the American must ally themselves with the nations of the future. I was a little surprised to hear this from Bedell Smith, but I am afraid that he was only repeating what many American were thinking at the time.” (from Intelligence at the Top, by Brigadier-General Sir Kenneth Strong, p 298)

News from the Caucasus (number 37 in a series)         “An obituary on Dec. 20 about the supermodel China Machado erroneously attributed a distinction to her. While she is believed to have been the first non-Caucasian to appear on the cover of a major American glossy magazine, she was not the first to appear on the inside pages of a magazine. (At least one other non-Caucasian — Adrienne Fidelin, a dancer and model from Guadeloupe — was featured inside a magazine, the September 1937 issue of Harper’s Bazaar.) (from NYT Corrections, December 28)

“This is a clear example of the nirvana fallacy. As the real world is imperfect, all its critic has to do is describe its flaws as fatal and set it against an alternative that is unencumbered by actuality, and thus far superior. The conceit has been used by most utopians, including Marxists, to condemn what exists in the name of what does not. Neo-illiberals belong to a venerable strand of nirvana thinking: the prelapsarian school.” (Henri Astier, in the TLS, December 23 & 30)

“If you have to earn a living, boy, and the price they make you pay is loyalty, be a double-agent.” (Javitt, in Graham Greene’s The Secret Garden, quoted by Michael Shelden in Graham Greene: The Man Within, p 51)

“Although her husband – Henry Walston – was a prominent supporter of the Labour Party, he did not believe in forgoing luxury. He and Catherine owned a yellow Rolls-Royce convertible, an elegant country house in Cambridgeshire – Newton Hall –  a large farmhouse in the nearby village of Thriplow, a house in St, James’s Street, a cottage on an island off the coast of Ireland, a flat in Dublin, and a banana plantation on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia.” (from Michael Shelden’s Graham Greene: The Man Within, pp 357-358)

“Biographies are stories, but they do not have to be fantasies.” (Michael Shelden, in Graham Greene: The Man Within, p 435)