Commonplace 2017


“Jessica Salans, 27, who is running for local office in Los Angeles in 2017, said she found Mrs. Clinton’s feminism outdated, failing to prioritize climate change, income inequality and the toll of American intervention overseas.” (Susan Chira, in NYT, January 1)

“The United States required the resources of an entire continent to defeat German and Japanese fascism, and later Soviet Communism. Without Manifest Destiny, there could have been no victory in World War II. But because settling that continent involved slavery and genocide against the indigenous inhabitants, American history is morally unresolvable. Thus, the only way to ultimately overcome our sins is to do good in the world. But doing good must be tempered by always thinking about what can go wrong in the process. These are all, deep down, the lessons of the interaction between Americans and their landscape.” (Robert D. Kaplan, in NYT, January 8)

“A ruling class on the run is capable of every folly, and displays a remarkable perversity in markedly preferring its enemies to its friends.” (Malcolm Muggeridge in Esquire, September 1968)

“If I have to choose between freedom and security I will always choose freedom – the more so because history shows that security purchased with freedom is in the long run not even secure.” (Malcolm Muggeridge in Esquire, September 1968)

“When Braun asked whether Popov had been called upon after the war to carry out tasks now and then for Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Dusko smiled. ‘That’s a very foolish question, because either way my answer would have to be no.’” (compare Moura Budberg & H. G. Wells: from Into The Lion’s Mouth by Larry Loftis, p 265)

“Espionage, like rugby, is a ruffian’s game played by gentlemen. The World War II double-cross teams of MI5, MI6, and British Security Coordination (BSC) were led by giants of character and culture, including J. C. Masterman, Stewart Menzies, and William Stephenson.” [??] (Larry Loftis in Into The Lion’s Mouth, p 267)

“Outside the world of Tolkienesque fantasy literature, we tend to think that it is normal for there to be just one human species on Earth at a time. The past 20 or 30 millennia, however, have been the exception.” (Dimitra Papagiannni and Michael A. Morse, quoted by Jon Mooallem in Us and Them [about Neanderthals], in NYT Magazine, January 15)

“Off the top of my head, mine would include ‘I know my rights’, village cricket and Elgar, Do-It-Yourself, punk, street fashion, irony, vigorous politics, brass bands, Shakespeare, Cumberland sausages, double-decker buses, Vaughan Williams, Donne and Dickens, twitching net curtains, breast-obsession, quizzes and crosswords, country churches, dry-stone walls, gardening, Christopher Wren and Monty Python, easy-going Church of England vicars, the Beatles, bad hotels and good beer, church bells, Constable and Piper, finding foreigners funny, David Hare and William Cobbett, drinking to excess, Women’s Institutes, fish and chips, curry, Christmas Eve at King’s College, Cambridge, indifference to food, civility and crude language, fell-running, ugly caravan sites on beautiful clifftops, crumpets, Bentleys and Reliant Robins, and so on. They may not all be uniquely English, but the point about them is that unlike the touchstones of Britishness, which tend to be primped, planned and pompous, if you take any three or four of these things together, they point at once to a culture as evocatively as the smell of a bonfire in the October dusk.”  (Jeremy Paxman, in The English, pp 22-23)

“I once asked her [Martha Gellhorn] why she had chosen to live in England. It turned out to be for none of the usual reasons, nothing to do the standard of the theatre, the good airline connections, the relative quality of the media, or anything like that. She loved England for its absolute indifference. ‘I can go away, spend six months in the jungle, come back and walk into a room, and people won’t ask a single question about where I’ve been or what I’ve been doing. They’ll just say, ‘Lovely to see you. Have a drink.’” [‘the privacy of indifference’] (Jeremy Paxman, in The English, p 129)

“In 1990 the then German ambassador in London, sick of the constant Kraut-bashing in the British tabloid newspapers, decided to fight prejudice with knowledge. A meeting was arranged with one of the editors. It was the ambassador’s misfortune to be a relative of the World War One flying ace, ‘the Red Baron’, Manfred von Richthofen. The ambassador deployed all his diplomatic charm as he spent what he thought had been a productive hour or two patiently explaining to the newspaper that h country was not set on creating a fourth reich in which the British Isles would be some offshore slave colony. The following day he opened the newspaper to read an account of his peacemaking under the headline THE HUN TALKS TO THE SUN.” (Jeremy Paxman, in The English, p 131)

“If the Lord God came to England and started expounding his beliefs, you know what they’d say? They’d say ‘Oh, come off it!’” (George Steiner, according to Jeremy Paxman, in The English, p 189)

“Yes, this land is blessed with a powerful mediocrity of mind. It has saved you from communism and it has saved you from fascism. In the end, you don’t care enough about ideas to suffer their consequences.”  (George Steiner, according to Jeremy Paxman, in The English, p 190)

“I also like to to believe that the disappearance of the Pukkah Sahib and his female equivalent at home, the Virago Harrodiensis, will make the English more European. It even seems to me, at times that they are the last Europeans, without being aware of it.” (Arthur Koestler, in the Epilogue to The Invisible Writing)

“One of the surprising privileges of intellectuals is that they are free to be scandalously asinine without harming their reputation.” (Eric Hoffer, according to Fraser Nelson, in the Spectator, January 14)

“It would not surprise me for an instant to discover that there is an evolutionary instinct which causes us to prefer a slightly nasty and authentic person to someone who implausibly pretends to be flawless.” (Rory Sutherland, in the Spectator, January 14)

“Contemporary Indian identity is refracted through a tangled accumulation of 18th- and 19th-century understandings of biology and race, as well as several centuries’ worth of conflicting federal policies. The Constitution uses the word ‘Indian’ twice but never bothers to define it. A congressional survey in 1978 found that, in addition to the different requirements used by tribes and individual states, federal legislation defined Native Americans in at least 33 ways. In 2005, one frustrated judge, quoting an earlier decision, described the legal definitions of Indian-ness as ‘“a complex patchwork of federal, state and tribal law,” which is better explained by history than by logic.’ Given the web of criteria, courts are sometimes called upon to decide whether individuals, or even tribes, are ‘authentically’ Indian. This has led to weighing things like whether twenty-nine 128ths constitutes a ‘significant degree’ of Indian blood (a federal court ruled in 2009 that it did); whether someone who was ‘Indian in an anthropological or ethno-historical sense’ was also Indian for the purposes of criminal jurisdiction if his tribe isn’t federally recognized (the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided he was not); and whether behaviors like eating fast food and driving cars show that a tribe’s culture had been abandoned and its land rights ‘extinguished’ (in 1991, a Canadian court said that they did; the ruling was later overturned).” (Brooke Jarvis, in NYT Magazine, January 22)

“Intellectual honesty is the first casualty of moral outrage.” (Antony Beevor, ‘his favourite saying’, quoted in Prospect, December 2016)

“South Carolina is too small to be a republic and too large for an insane asylum.” [clarification of December 2008 Commonplace item] (South Carolina citizen James Petigru in 1860, according to Ian Irvine in Prospect, December 2016)

“The Soviet system of preserving secrets has been well thought out, refined and perfected. We keep our secrets by destroying anyone capable of talking too much and by the total concealment of a colossal quantity of factual information. Often not very secret. We keep our secrets by a special system of personnel selection, a system of special passes, and a system of vertical and horizontal barriers to prevent access to secrets. We keep our secrets by means of dogs, security guards, special signals, safes and seals and steel doors and an all-embracing censorship. In addition we keep them by means of a special language or jargon.” (Victor Suvorov, in Inside the Aquarium, p 54)

“As long as there are at least two secret organisations fighting each other behind the scenes there is no need to fear a conspiracy within one of them. So long as there two organizations the quality of work is maintained because of the competition. The day one organisation swallows the other will mark the end of the Politburo. But the Politburo won’t make that happen.” (Colonel Kravtsov, in Victor Suvorov’s Inside the Aquarium, p 59)

“But a person who tried to appear good was dangerous. The most dangerous were those who not only paraded their good qualities but who also believed within themselves that they were good people. The most loathsome disgusting criminal might kill a man, ten men or even a hundred. But a criminal will never kill people by the million. Millions are killed only by those who consider themselves good.”  (Victor Suvorov, in Inside the Aquarium, p 62)

“We won’t kill them all, of course, not all of them. Anyone with a big country house and a big car we’ll leave alone, There’s no harm in having big cars and houses. And those who talk about social justice we’ll also leave alone. That’s a fault, but not a very big one. People go astray, and what can you take from them, from the crazy ones? We shall kill, marshal, only the men who link these two things together into one: the men who talk about social justice and go around in big cars. They are the ones for the lamp posts and the telegraph posts.” (Victor Suvorov, in Inside the Aquarium, p 85)

‘Why on earth, Volodya, did you not rush down here with your tongue hanging out? Why didn’t you bring the Bible with you? Why did you conceal it? What use was it to you? There is no God, and it’s time you knew it. All those inventions about God are just vile anti-Soviet rubbish. There’s no going to Heaven after you die. Heaven has to be built here on earth. If you think there will be Heaven after death you automatically disassociate yourself from the active construction of Heaven on earth. We can forgive illiterate old women for believing that, but not you. You’re for the conveyor.” (Victor Suvorov, in Inside the Aquarium, p 224)

“The experts say that in the future the gap between the rich and the poor countries will get bigger. They should know. A bigger gap will mean that the diplomats from the poorer countries will travel in Rolls-Royce limousines, while the diplomats from the richer countries will probably switch to bicycles to save money.” (Victor Suvorov, in Inside the Aquarium, p 232)

“What a yarn or slice of life, with Good Companions (honest Jack Priestley) bringing up the rear, and, in the vanguard, the torch of culture borne aloft; Rare Tom Eliot with his Wasteland, Squinting Jim Joyce with his vocabulary, Yawning Bill Yeats with his hive for the honey bee; in the years to come, Charlie Snow, Dilly Thomas, Johnny Osborne, Kit Logue, and Ken Tynan’s Wolf Cub Group, all wearing their badges as State Registered Satirists.” (Malcolm Muggeridge, in England, Whose England? from The Most of Malcolm Muggeridge)

‘This emerged when Mrs. Webb said, ‘It’s true that in the Soviet Union people disappear.’ She accentuated this last word, disappear, and I realized, even in my somewhat euphoric condition, how happy she would have been if similar arrangements prevailed in the L.C.C., and recalcitrant councilors and aldermen could be made likewise to disappear.” (Malcolm Muggeridge, in Many Winters Ago in Moscow, from The Most of Malcolm Muggeridge)

“There is nothing worse for intellectuals than to attach themselves to authority, other than for money, or for fun at authority’s expense . . .” (Malcolm Muggeridge, in The Loved One, from The Most of Malcolm Muggeridge)

‘Participants in public events are seldom reliable chroniclers of them. Their egos are too involved, their views are too prejudiced, for them to achieve an historian’s detachment.” (Malcolm Muggeridge, in Twilight of Greatness, from The Most of Malcolm Muggeridge)

“If there is one thing worse than a bad actress it is a good one; better Bardot than Bernhardt any day.” (Malcolm Muggeridge, in The Legend of Max, from The Most of Malcolm Muggeridge)

“The English upper classes do not persecute Jews; they ruin them. A Mailer or a Bellow over here, at any rate in Beerbohm’s time, would be sporting a guards’ tie, and, like a Siegfried Sassoon, wearing himself out riding to hounds.” (Malcolm Muggeridge, in The Legend of Max, from The Most of Malcolm Muggeridge)

“The truly religious take no offense when attention is drawn to the absurdity necessarily inherent in the dogmas to which they subscribe and the ceremonies in which they participate. Protests invariably come from the conventionally religious, from the formalists for whom the dogmas and the ceremonies constitute the whole content of their faith.” (Malcolm Muggeridge, in Tread Softly For You Tread on My Jokes, from The Most of Malcolm Muggeridge)


“The problem with viewing the future as territory to be plundered is that eventually we all have to live there.” (William Davies, in London Review of Books, February 2)

“If I’m to receive the death sentence, then I implore you beforehand, I entreat you, by all that you hold dear, not to have me shot. Let me drink poison in my cell instead (let me have morphine so that I can fall asleep and never wake up.’ (from Bukharin’s letter to Stalin, quoted in J. Arch Getty’s & Oleg V. Naumov’s The Road to Terror, p 222)

“But my great guilt lies in the fact that I purged so few of them.” (from Yezhov’s final statement on February 3, 1940, quoted in J. Arch Getty’s & Oleg V. Naumov’s The Road to Terror, p 225)

“These embryos [of sand tiger sharks] had fallen victim to the ultimate in sibling rivalry, a form of utero cannibalism known as adelphophagy (from the ancient Greek for ‘brother eating’) – sibling cannibalism.” (from report in Science Section of NYT, January 31)

“One can demand from newcomers to the country that they respect its laws or the social contract that binds all citizens, but not that they love it: Public duties and private feelings, values and traditions do not belong to the same spheres. Only totalitarian societies make it obligatory to love one’s country.” (Tzvetan Todorov, in Fear of the Barbarians: Beyond the Clash of Civilizations, quoted in his NYT obituary, February 9)

“In the interview in Le Monde, Mr. Todorov said he was skeptical of the concept of good, preferring simple kindness. He cited the Soviet novelist Vasily Grossman, the author of the World War II masterpiece Life and Fate, as someone ‘for whom evil mostly comes from those who want to impose good on others.’” (Tzvetan Todorov, from his NYT obituary, February 9 – compare Victor Suvorov in January)

“Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador to Washington who runs the [Munich Security] conference, asked if Mr. Trump would ‘continue a tradition of half a century of being supportive of the project of European integration, or is he going to continue to advocate E.U. member countries to follow the Brexit example? If he did that, it would amount to a kind of nonmilitary declaration of war. It would mean conflict between Europe and the United States. Is that what the U.S. wants? Is that how he wishes to make America great again?’” (from NYT, February 20)

“In the break-up of a marriage, the world inclines to take the side of the partner with most [sic] vitality, rather than the one apparently least [sic] to blame.” (Anthony Powell, in The Acceptance World, quoted by Richard Davenport-Hines in An English Affair, p 11)

“The history of espionage is the preserve of inquisitive journalists, disgruntled professionals and imaginative fiction writers – categories that confusingly overlap.” (Michael Howard in NYT, February 16, 1986, quoted by Richard Davenport-Hines in An English Affair, p 216)

“Criticism — and its humble cousin, reviewing — is not a democratic activity. It is, or should be, an elite enterprise, ideally undertaken by individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book (or any other cultural object). It is work that requires disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author’s (or filmmaker’s or painter’s) entire body of work, among other qualities.” (Richard Schickel, from his NYT obituary, February 21)

“A compassionate man [Lord Selborne], he was horrified when I described to him how the Russians I had interviewed had been recruited into the German forces. They were starved, three to four weeks without food or water, until they were in some cases reduced to cannibalism. They drank urine and licked condensation off walls. After this, they were lined up and a German officer asked, ‘Who wants to join Vlasov’s Army to fight on the German side?’ There was no response.

The next order was. ‘Every tenth man take one step forward’. And those men were shot. It was hardly surprising most of the survivors put on German uniforms. Once they were in the Army they were told by German officers they would be executed by the Allies if they were taken prisoner or if they surrendered.” (from L. H. Manderstam’s From The Red Army To SOE, p 139)

“Even now the Official Secrets Act looms darkly over writers, and much that is of enthralling interest will never be told. For my part I propose to safeguard myself by disclosing nothing more than has already been revealed by Cabinet ministers, admirals, generals and other exalted writers of war books, and in addition no harm can come of referring to such things as direction-finding, which is now an everyday practice with ships and aircraft. Further, no secret is being given away in stating that it is possible to intercept a wireless message, and in some cases to decipher it.” (Walter Gill, in War, Wireless and Wangles, quoted by Nigel West in The SIGINT Secrets, p 113)

“Most people encapsulate themselves, shut up like oysters, sometimes before they have stopped being undergraduates, and go through life barricaded against every idea, every fresh and unconceptualized perception. It is obvious that education will never give satisfactory results until we learn how to teach children and adults to retain their openness.” (Aldous Huxley, in letter to his brother Julian, on June 22, 1955, quoted by Maria Archera Huxley in This Timeless Moment, p 28)

“The archives made open to the public in the wake of perestroika disabuse us of the myth of the Russian intelligentsia as the innocent victims of the Stalinist regime  – the myth first created in the essays on Russia by Isaiah Berlin after his fateful encounter with Anna Akhmatova in Leningrad in 1945.” (Zinovy Zinik, in TLS, February 17)


Missing the Point?

“I tried them on modern literature, and they laughed at Graham Greene. They couldn’t see why the hero of The Heart of the Matter had to commit suicide because he couldn’t stop committing adultery. ‘Why’, said a bright Malay girl, ‘does he not become Muslim like us and marry both women?’” (Anthony Burgess in unpublished 1977 article, from Times Literary Supplement, February 24)           “Perhaps more to the point – having become a Moslem in 1930, he [St. John Philby] was by then able to satisfy his appetite for women, at the court of Ibn Saud, with slaves and the concubines of princes.” (John Halperin, in Eminent Georgians, p 145)

“I would answer without the least hesitation: I am a Jew, albeit one without any religion or tradition-related attachments, indelibly marked by the Shoah. Ultimately, I am nothing else.” (Saul Friedländer, quoted by Elaine Feinstein in review of Where Memory Comes and Where Memory Leads, in Times Literary Supplement, February 24)

“Professor Lowi acerbically coined what he called the ‘Law of Succession,’ which holds that each new president enhances the reputation of his predecessors. He also posed a corollary: ‘This is the only certain contribution each president will make.’” (from NYT obituary of Theodore Lowi, March 2)

“The Germans suspect there are English spies everywhere. Yet we have no secret service funds, or at least they are much smaller than any other State, and our spies are the worst and clumsiest in the world.” (King George V, in ‘private letter’, quoted by John Halperin in Eminent Georgians, p 38)

“I can’t stick all these little middle-class Labour wets with their Old London School of Economics tie and their women. Scratch any of these cuties and you find the governess.” (Elizabeth Bowen, according to John Halperin in Eminent Georgians, p 113)

On Volunteering

“One can join the army as a conscript or as a volunteer, and either willingly or reluctantly, but a willing conscript is not a volunteer and a reluctant volunteer is not a conscript.” (John Hyman, in Action, Knowledge and Will, p 84)               “There was a more pressing matter for Bevin to address as 1941 drew to a close – Britain’s crippling lack of manpower. ‘Voluntaryism’ had been the foundation of his policy since the start of the war; the British people were to do the jobs they wanted to do, or were called upon to perform, without compulsion.” (from Roger Hermiston’s All behind You, Winston, p 185)

“I have often said that if I wish to name-drop, I have only to name my ex-friends.” (Norman Podhoretz, quoted in NYT, March 19)

“Capitalism without failure is like religion without sin.” (Allan Meltzer, according to NYT, March 20)

“I realized that some other countries, in South America, in Japan, they studied Drucker, and they used Drucker’s ideas and made the countries prosperous.” (Tep Khunnal, former personal secretary to Pol Pot, quoted in NYT, March 23)

“Meanwhile, you might also snap up a deeply discounted nearly-new car and load it with as much gold as you can afford or the suspension will take, then drive to the Alps, buy a ski apartment in Courchevel or Gstaad, and furnish it with bargain-priced English antiques.” (Martin Vander Weyer, in the Spectator, March 4, 2017)

“Claiming victim status is the sole sure means left of absolving oneself and securing one’s sense of fundamental moral innocence. If one wishes to be accounted innocent, one must find a way to make the claim that one cannot be held morally responsible. This is precisely what the status of victimhood accomplishes.” (Wilfred McClay in The Strange Persistence of Guilt, published in Hedgehog Review, quoted by David Brooks in NYT, March 31)


“It is not by recourse to theory that we know there is a tarantula under the toast rack.” (Terry Eagleton, in Materialism, quoted by Alex Dean in Prospect review, February)

“Approaching the issue from an essentially Fabian perspective, he argued that a too culturally diverse nation would undermine the national solidarity required to sustain a tax-funded welfare state. For this he was denounced in forceful – even hateful – terms by some liberals, confirming the paradox that there is no one more exclusive than the person who upholds inclusivity.” (Maurice Glasman in review of David Goodhart’s The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics, in Prospect, April)

“The captive officer, interrogated by a Russian-speaking SAS soldier, explained that he had been captured at Stalingrad by the Germans, who had presented him with a very nasty choice: if he agreed to fight for the Nazis in France, his life would be spared; if not, then not. ‘What would you do?’ he asked his captors. ‘If I go back to Russia, I’ll be shot. If I go back to my German masters, I’ll be shot. And now these Frenchmen want to shoot me too for what I’ve done here.’ According to Cooper, the wounded man ‘implored us to dispatch him rather than hand him over to the French.’ Seekings obliged. ‘Reg shot him through the back of the head.’” (from Ben Macintyre’s Rogue Heroes, pp 251-252)

“Dr. Jeanson calls himself a ‘presuppositionalist evidentialist’ — which we might define as someone who accepts evidence when it happens to affirm his nonnegotiable presuppositions. ‘When it comes to questions of absolute truth, those are things I’ve settled in my own mind and heart,’ he told me. ‘I couldn’t call myself a Christian if I hadn’t.’” (from Molly Worthen’s The Evangelical Roots of Post-Truth, in NYT, April 16)

“The secret to doing good research is always to be a little underemployed.” (psychologist Amos Tversky, quoted by David Leonhardt in NYT, April 18)

“Our systems of censorship, whether voluntary or imposed by a vague and draconian legislation, our skills in artful befriending and the British public’s collective submission to wholesale surveillance of dubious legality are the envy of every spook in the free and unfree world.

No good either my pointing to the many ‘approved’ memoirs of former members that portray the Service in the clothes in which it likes to be admired; or to the ‘official histories’ that draw such a forgiving veil over its more heinous misdeeds; or to the numberless cooked-up articles in our national newspapers that result from much cosier luncheons than the enjoyed with Maurice Oldfield.

Or how about suggesting to my furious friend that a writer who treats professional spies as fallible human beings like the rest of us is performing a modest social service – even, God help us, a democratic function, since in Britain our secret services are still, for better or worse, the spiritual home of our political, social and industrial elite?” (John Le Carré, in The Pigeon Tunnel, p 19)

“Spies are not policemen, neither are they quite the moral realists they like to think they are. If your mission in life is to win over traitors to your cause, you can hardly complain when one of your own, even if you loved him as a brother and cherished colleague, and shared every aspect of your secret work with him, turns out to have been obtained by someone else.” (John Le Carré, in The Pigeon Tunnel, p 19)

“Sakharov asks me whether I ever met Klaus Fuchs, the British atom scientist and Soviet spy, by then released from a  British jail and living in East Germany.

No, I never did.

Then do I happen to know by any chance how Fuchs was caught?

I knew the man who interrogated him, I reply, but not how he was caught. A spy’s worst enemy is another spy, I suggest, with a nod for our rotating ring of fake photographers. Maybe one of your spies told one of our spies about Klaus Fuchs. He smiles. Unlike Bonner, he smiles a lot. I wonder whether that was always natural to him, or whether smiling was something he taught himself to do as a way of disarming his interrogators. But why does he ask me about Fuchs? I wonder, though not aloud. Maybe because Fuchs, in the relatively open society of the West, chose the path of secret betrayal in preference to standing up and openly proclaiming his beliefs. Whereas Sakharov, in the police state that was now entering its death throes, suffered torture and imprisonment for his right to speak out.” (John Le Carré, in The Pigeon Tunnel, pp 120-121)

“He [Nicholas Elliott] was frustrated by our former Service’s refusal to let him reveal secrets that in his opinion had long ago passed their keep-by date. He believed he had a right, indeed a duty, to give his story to posterity.” (John Le Carré, in The Pigeon Tunnel, p 177)

Missing the Point (a continuation from March)                                                                 “‘Now listen, darling’, Doug is saying into the telephone. ‘I’m sorry to hear your old man’s playing around, because I like you both. But look at it this way. When you two got together, you were his bit on the side and he had a regular missus. Then he gets rid of his missus and he marries his bit on the side.’ Pause for effect, because by now he knows we’re listening. ‘So there’s a vacancy, isn’t there, darling?’” (John Le Carré, in The Pigeon Tunnel, p 198)

“Many of the liberal and socialist ideas the Rowntrees, Cadburys and Frys campaigned for, and tried to implement on a small scale, were taken up by the unions, by the Labour movement, and eventually implemented by the state. This was good and necessary, but had its downside. The counterpart to the great privatisation of the British economy of the past forty years is the great nationalisation of culture that occurred much earlier, when swathes of life that had been covered patchily, erratically, unfairly and archaically by religion, private employers, local custom, charities, local committees of worthies and the unreliable benevolence of the rich – education, healthcare, pensions, safety at work, women and children’s rights – began to be provided universally by government. It was a triumph. But it also marked a critical stage in the depersonalisation of institutional culture. It made it easier for companies whose owners have no interest in the cultural weight of the enterprises they control – who see such ideas as history, place, community, aesthetics and paternalism as outmoded obstacles to efficiency – to act as if they operate in a space outside culture, even as their decisions radically transform it.” (James Meek, in London Review of Books, April 20)

“The writer who was born in a big country is always in danger of believing that the culture of his native country encompasses all his needs. Paradoxically, he therefore runs the risk of becoming provincial.” (Jorge Luis Borges, quoted by Julian Barnes in London Review of Books, April 20)

“Culture is born out of exchanges and thrives on differences. In this sense, ‘national culture’ is a self-contradiction, and ‘multiculturalism’ a pleonasm. The death of culture lies in self-centredness, self-sufficiency and isolation.” (Simon Leys, quoted by Julian Barnes in London Review of Books, April 20)

“Many mysteries of life can be answered with the statement: Insurers are bizarrely risk-averse.” (Jonathan Gruber, health economist at M.I.T. who advised the Obama administration over the Affordable Care Act, quoted in NYT, April 19)

Side-Saddle in the News

“There are few more glamorous sights than a pretty girl, riding side-saddle, in her faultless habit, straight and slim, on a thoroughbred hunter.” (Frederick Winterbotham, in The Ultra Spy, p 87)                                                                                 “No doubt it helps that the side-saddle gear is great. And sexy. You balance on a horse by sticking your chest out, and a riding habit is cut to emphasise this. The skirt must give freedom of movement to the legs and the way it hangs sets off the limbs of both riders and horses.” (Simon Barnes in the Spectator, April 15)                “In his ‘Author’s Note’, Haldane said that, after cipher work, he moved to Home Security War Room, and in late 1941 was appointed Personal Intelligence Staff Officer to Brigadier-General C. C. Lucas, Director of Intelligence, Home Security, and a member of the Home Defence Committee. A gentleman of that name and rank did indeed exist, but a Google search elicits little, apart from the fact that Lucas was an aide to General French in WWI, and that he wrote a foreword to a book on how to ride side-saddle in 1938 – hardly the calibre of a man entrusted with Ultra secrets.” (from April coldspur blog)

“. . . but the Communist government there was gradually settling down after the years of genocide, and was telling the world what miracles Russia would achieve with five-year plans and huge armed forces.” (Frederick Winterbotham, in The Ultra Spy, p 116)

“Hitler said the only thing that impressed him was the knife-edge crease in Eden’s trousers.” (Frederick Winterbotham, in The Ultra Spy, p 127)

“You know, if we in Germany hadn’t spent thirty years fighting amongst ourselves over how we were supposed to say our prayers, you British wouldn’t have had the chance to annex half the world.” (Alfred Rosenberg) (Frederick Winterbotham, in The Ultra Spy, p 130)

“Indeed, those who don’t like his [Eamon Duffy’s] work say he is a Roman Catholic first and a historian second. I don’t see what’s wrong with that. All of us bring our whole selves to scholarship, including our faith.” (Giles Fraser, in Prospect review of Duffy’s Reformation Divided: Catholics, Protestants and the Conversion of England, May 2017)


Mixing Computer Science and Commercial Evangelism

“We have a duty to ensure that the Web serves humanity, and all of humanity. . . . The Foundation is not just concerned with the numbers of people using the Web, but also with what sort of web it is – is it open, non-discriminatory, private and available to all, including minorities and women? Is it a propagating medium for truth and understanding, or more so for untruth and discord? Can these parameters be changed?” (Sir Tim Berners-Lee, in Christ Church Matters, Hilary Term)                                                                                                                                                         “Facebook’s next focus will be developing the social infrastructure for community – for supporting us, for keeping us safe, for informing us, for civic engagement, and for inclusion of all. . . .  There are questions about whether we can make a global community that works for everyone, and whether the path ahead is to connect more or reverse course. Giving everyone a voice has historically been a very positive force for public discourse because it increased the diversity of ideas shared. But the past year has also shown it may fragment our shared sense of reality.” (Mark Zuckerberg, in Facebook manifesto Building Global Community, quoted by Farhad Manjoo in NYT Magazine, April 30)

“Historians plunder memoirs for quotations and condemn them for inaccuracy. Rarely do they study them in their own right.” (Paul Seaward in History Today, April)

“When success comes to an American writer, Martin Amis once observed, it changes his life; when success comes to an English writer, he might nervously buy a new filing-cabinet. When success comes to an Arab writer, his face appears on postage stamps.” (D. J. Taylor on Naguib Mahfouz, in TLS, April 28)

“‛As anti-Zionism may often disguise anti-Semitism,’ [Julian] Barnes says in the same piece,’ so Europhobia proves a handy disguise for wider xenophobia.’ By that argument, the dislike of anything at all can be seen as a disguise for dislike of something else.” (from letter from Rosie Brocklehurst in London Review of Books, May 4)

“This is how confused liberals work; they don’t know their own minds until reality hits them with a misfortune or a piece of good luck, and then they go scurrying for the ship’s supplies like a horde of disabused rats.” (Jeremy Harding, in review of R. W. Johnson’s Look Back in Laughter:  Oxford’s Postwar Golden Age, in London Review of Books, May 4)

“I wish Britons hadn’t voted for Brexit, which will make Europe weaker and their own country poorer. But E.U. officials are sounding more and more like a jilted spouse determined to extract maximum damages in a divorce settlement. And this is just plain insane. Like it or not, Europe will have to live with post-Brexit Britain, and Greece-style bullying just isn’t going to work on a nation as big, rich and proud as the U.K.” (Paul Krugman, in NYT, May 5)

“In fiction one is bound to tell the truth, whereas in travel writing one can make things up.” (Rory Maclean in Pictures of You, quoted by Joanna Kavenna in TLS review, May 5)

“And I know that an attitude of moral indignation is peculiarly ineffective in bringing about a change of heart in others. On the contrary, it is an ideal excuse for cruelty.” (Professor J. B. S. Haldane, in foreword to Professor J. Lange’s Crime as Destiny, quoted by Charlotte Haldane in Truth Will Out, p 29)

“The intelligentsia of the Left were the loudest in demanding that the Nazi aggression should be resisted at all costs; when it comes to a showdown, scarce four weeks have passed before they remember that they are pacifists and write defeatist letters to your columns, leaving the defence of Freedom to Colonel Blimp and the Old School Tie, for whom three cheers.” (John Maynard Keynes, on 14 October, 1939, quoted by Joel Greenberg in Gordon Welchman, p 11)

“Colm Toibin once said that there’s no greater joy than correcting someone else’s French. Following that, there’s probably no greater joy than in criticizing someone else’s playlist.” (Dwight Garner, in NYT, May 17)

“I have been slow to acknowledge Sheila Fitzpatrick’s kind remarks about my edited volume Historically Inevitable?, on the Russian Revolution (LRB, 30 March). But I was brought up short by her reference to my ‘free-market triumphalism’ over the demise of communism. Would she similarly accuse me of ‘round earth triumphalism’ over the lack of people who now believe that the earth is flat?” (Letter from Tony Brenton in London Review of Books, May 18)

“The whole thing is tempered by the ‘good-natured assumption’ that Rosemary Hill identified in Cooper’s Class, that ‘everyone is a snob about something and to that extent we are all ridiculous’.” (Ian Patterson in review of Jilly Cooper’s Mount! in London Review of Books, May 18)

Cricket Attire

“If you are playing for the old Crundonians, you may wear a Forester scarf, an Incog blazer, an IZ sweater, a Nondescript belt, but the one thing you must not wear is anything Old Crundonian.” (cartoon by Fougasse, according to D. J. Taylor in the New Book of Snobs, p 55)                                                                                “Here [Lord’s] young men play their few ritual matches for Middlesex on their way from a  degree to stockbroking, medicine, or the Church, and they play in the Harlequin, Quidnunc, Free Foresters or I Zingari caps sanctioned by custom.” (John Arlott, in The Coloured Counties, from The Echoing Green, p 32)

“Weliczker Wells reflected more generally on life under Soviet rule [in Lwów], noting: ‘All of us began to have new “values” in life. Being “happy” could now mean you had a successful day in the sugar queue, or that you had not been interrupted by the police during the night. Above all, we were satisfied as long as the family was together.’” (Christoph Mick, in essay in Stalin and Europe: Imitation and Domination, 1928-1953, edited by Timothy Snyder and Ray Brandon, p 146)

Lesson for Brexit?

“Over the next few years, the CMEA [Council for Mutual Economic Assistance] countries (especially those contiguous with Yugoslavia) steadily escalated their economic warfare against Yugoslavia and tightened their bilateral sanctions. This mounting economic pressure, however, ultimately came to naught. Yugoslavia turned to the West and to the Third World for economic assistance and trade (including supplies of energy, raw materials, and spare parts), and Tito successfully rebuffed Moscow’s attempts to force Yugoslavia to pay for hundreds of millions of rubles’ worth of aid supposedly provided by the Soviet Union in the first few years after the war.” (Mark Kramer, in essay in Stalin and Europe: Imitation and Domination, 1928-1953, edited by Timothy Snyder and Ray Brandon, p 297)

Helpful Insights from Academia: No 179 in a series

“Choosing an African to head W.H.O. was past time. And Britain is in the doghouse for choosing Brexit and undermining global stability — it’s their Guantánamo, their Tiananmen.” (Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa expert on law and global health, quoted in NYT, May 24)

“I do not believe there has ever been an historian who has not exhibited some amount of partisanship; it is a common infirmity of the tribe.” (Herbert Asquith, in Hansard, 30 June, 1899, quoted by Ian Cobain in The History Thieves, p 140)

Making Your Vote Count

“At the International Geological Congress in South Africa last summer, 20.5 of the Anthropocene Working Group’s 35 members voted in favour of calling the Anthropocene an ‘epoch’. There were two votes each for ‘era’ and ‘age’, 1.5 for ‘period’ and one each for ‘sub-epoch’ and ‘none’; three members were ‘uncertain’ and four abstained.” (Jenny Turner in London Review of Books, June 1)


“ . .  the old Pole [Leszek Kolakowski] listened with barely concealed and  increasing annoyance to two young earnest Afghan graduate students holding forth on the value of Marxism in the future of their homeland. When they paused for breath, he spoke slowly, emphasizing every word: ‘Marxism is as much value in the development of Afghanistan as witchcraft!’” (from letter by Richard Gwyn Davies in Oxford Today, Trinity Term)

“The resultant contest between Soviet intelligence and British counter-intelligence resembles – at least until the late 1950s – a football match between Manchester United and the Corinthian Casuals in the years of the decline of amateurism.” (David Cecil, in The Cambridge Comintern, from The Missing Dimension, edited by Christopher Andrew & David Dilks)

“The traditional attitude of the British governing class to the dissemination of information has had a lot in common with the ancient public school attitude to sex. Ideally, it does not happen.” (Alasdair Palmer, in The History of the D-Notice Committee, from The Missing Dimension, edited by Christopher Andrew & David Dilks)

“And so Gibbon confronted fundamental issues that still apply to any historian writing for a wider audience. The critical importance of a clear, lucid and engaging prose style; how far or how little one compromises in order to attract the reading public; and the sacrifices one makes to achieve that ambition. It is not easy being a historian.” (Paul Lay in History Today, June 2017)

“People outside the literary world imagine that books get bought and sold by a small group of people who all know each other, and all dine with each other and all weekend at each other’s houses. And you know what? It’s true.” (literary agent Ed Victor to Will Self, from his NYT obituary, June 13)

“They had drifted apart, as people do when they promise to stay in touch; the ones who are going to stay in touch don’t need to promise.” (from Edward St. Aubyn’s Lost for Words, p 112)

“But the chief sources of terrorism, political violence and intolerance are today little different from those that bred bomb throwers and Bolsheviks a century ago. The idioms might be different – ‘God is great’ rather than ‘Land and Freedom’, Twitter rather than an underground printing press – but the motivation, tactics and imagined futures are not so far apart.” (Charles King, in TLS, June 9)

“This means, as Schumpeter put it in an immortal phrase, that the novel is also a vehicle of creative destruction. Its function, in some properly capitalist ‘cultural revolution’, is the perpetual undoing of traditional narrative paradigms and their replacement, not by new paradigms, but by something radically different. To use Deleuzian language for a moment, modernity, capitalist modernity, is the moment of passage from codes to axioms, from meaningful sequences, or, indeed, if you prefer, from meaning itself, to operational categories, to functions and rules; or, in yet another language, this time more historical and philosophical, it is the transition from metaphysics to epistemologies and pragmatisms, we might even say from content to form, if the use of this second term did not risk confusion.”  etc. etc. (Fredric Jameson in London Review of Books, 15 June)

“The British Army, said one officer in the 1930s, would never take tanks seriously until they could eat hay and whinny.” (Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris, quoted in Ralph Bennett’s Behind the Battle, and cited in Stehen Budiansky’s Battle of Wits, p 49)

“They shout, even cheer, as you approach; the red lights of their life jackets flicker when they are on the crest of a wave and are dowsed as they slip into the trough; their cries turn to incredulous despair as you glide by, unheeding, keeping a stoical face as best you can. But the cold logic of war is that these men in the water belong to a ship that has bought it and that a couple of dozen more ships survive and must be protected . . .  each time was as bad as the first. We never got used to it.” (Hal Lawrence, from HMS Alauria, on not stopping to pick up survivors, quoted in Stephen Budiansky’s Battle of Wits, p 280)

“Kerensky – the last hope – was a vacillating and bombastic weakling, who played ducks and drakes with his own party, with his supporters, and with his country.” (George Alexander Hill, in Go Spy The Land, Chapter 12)

“A queer fate has overtaken many of those Bolsheviks whom I met when they were in power in 1917-18. Volodarsky, Vorovsky, Uritsky died by assassination. Dzerjhinsky and Sverdlov died suddenly and under suspicious circumstances. Lenin survived two attempts of assassination and died as result of a painful illness. Trotsky is in exile in Turkey. Rakovsky and Kamenev are likewise in exile. Only Stalin has kept on the crest of the wave. Truly those who live by the sword  . . .” (George Alexander Hill, in Go Spy The Land, Chapter 13, written in 1932)

“Intellectual Russia had not a very high opinion of the ‘Fourteen Points’. I was discussing them one day with a well-informed Russian, who summed up the Russian attitude when he shook his head gravely and said, ‘The dear Lord God himself could only think of ten commandments in His interview with Moses, but Wilson – true, it is five thousand years later – has managed to think of fourteen’.” (George Alexander Hill, in Go Spy The Land, Chapter 21) [Hill claims this was said soon after Wilson’s announcement, which was dated January 8, 1918. Does it antecede Clemenceau’s similar observation?]

“In revenge for the shooting of Lenin the Cheka took five hundred of the most prominent figures of the old regime and shot them that night in Moscow, and they took the same number of citizens in Petrograd and shot them in revenge for the assassination of Uritsky. Next morning they published a list of the people they had executed. I do not think I have read anything quite so terrible. The people they had seized were entirely innocent and came from every class. Imagine a similar situation in London. the death-toll would include all the prominent politicians of the opposition, commercial magnates like Gordon Selfridge and Sir Herbert Morris, newspapermen like Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Rothermere, the editors of most of the London daily papers, men of the theatre like Charles B. Cochran and Henry Ainley, women like Ellen Wilkinson and Lady Astor, prominent writers and many more humble folk.” (George Alexander Hill, in Go Spy The Land, Chapter 27)

“Similarly Boris Johnson extolled Churchill in what purported to be a serious study but is actually an error-prone piece of self-promotion written in the style of ‘Lord Snooty and his Pals’ in the Beano.” (Piers Brendon, in Prospect, July)


“We had to bring them here where they could do no harm. They are victims of history. Pitiable perhaps as individuals. But we had to sacrifice them to save the country. Some became real criminals in their blind hatred, like Kamenev and Zinoviev, for instance. These two were quite near here before they were taken to the Moscow trial. And even here they tried to organize cells and opposition groups within their own small community. It was a real scandal.” (Local inhabitant in Turukhansk, on Trotskyists, from H. P. Smolka’s Forty Thousand Against the Arctic, p 77)

“’Lenin taught us: He is an idiot who believes in words.’ She [Ostroumova] had been a secretary to Lenin in the days of the revolution, and until a few years ago to Kalinin, the President of the Soviet Union. She loved to quote Stalin’s proverb: ‘American efficiency, German accurateness, Bolshevik ideology – that’s what we need.’” (from H. P. Smolka’s Forty Thousand Against the Arctic, pp 177-178)

“But a man whose career was glorious without intermission, decade after decade, does sorely try our patience.” (Max Beerbohm on Goethe, according to Benjamin George Friedman in NYT, July 2)

“As soon as I’m told not to laugh at something, then it immediately becomes hysterically funny. Disorder is very, very close to order. It’s a bus ticket away from total chaos.” (Michael Palin, from interview in NYT, July 2)

“Poet Stephen Spender was taken aback to find himself attacked after writing an article for the New Statesman, in which he had stated that the International Brigades were Communist controlled. According to Spender, ‘the correspondent agreed that the facts in my article were true, but he said nonetheless that I should not have written them’; Spender was informed that ‘he should consider not the facts, but the result which might follow from writing them.’ ‘Apparently, truth’, Spender concluded, ‘like freedom, lay in the recognition of necessity.’” (from David Baxell’s Unlikely Warriors, p 290)

“The well-to-do local whites (except for the Afrikaners) offered hospitality to the troops, entertaining them with drives round local sights and to sumptuous meals in their homes  . . . One family issuing its invitation added a P.S. ‘No Jews please’. At the appointed time five soldiers arrived at the house and the butler opened the door to five Blacks. The lady of the house said there seemed to be some mistake. ‘Oh no,’ said the men. ‘Our colonel never makes mistakes. Not Colonel Cohen.’” (By ex-International Brigader David Crook, quoted by David Baxell, in Unlikely Warriors, pp 440-441)

“The tragedy of this war is not only that Spaniards are fighting Spaniards, but that Basques are fighting Basques.” (Navarrese friend of Peter Kemp, as reported by him in I Fought for Franco, in Purnell’s The History of the Twentieth Century, No 58)

“As I get older I find it easier to lie awake nights over other people’s troubles. But thats [sic] as far as I go to date. In good time I will join them in death to show our common sympathy.” (Robert Frost, in letter, quoted by David Bromwich in TLS, July 7)

“For indeed, outside of a self-supporting monastery, or the hypothetical desert island, it is almost impossible to live at all without in some degree compounding with evil. If we have to earn our living, we may be engaged in a struggle to out-wit competition in producing a commodity no better than theirs; or it may be in producing a commodity that the world would be better without. If we do not have to earn a living, we are freer, certainly, but with no better conscience, for we live by lending money, or by drawing profit from businesses over which we have no control, of the conduct of which we know nothing, and towards whose doings we are wholly irresponsible. Any scheme for the reconstruction of the economic world, therefore, which will operate for social justice, and which will not demand the absolute adherence, the surrender of Christian allegiance, that fascism or communism demands, has a strong appeal.” (T.S. Eliot, in The Christian in the Modern World [1935], first published in TLS, July 7)

“Any great economic change is certain to have far-reaching effects which cannot be predicted: we do not know in advance even where to look for such changes. We must take the risk. We are doing that in any case, even if we let things drift; any piece of simple legislation may have unexpected consequences; everything that happens has unexpected consequences.” (T.S. Eliot, in The Christian in the Modern World [1935], first published in TLS, July 7)

‘To cry for peace, but ignore the causes of war that are capable of being dealt with by intelligence alone, is worse than folly. There is a difference too between maintaining that war is evil, as the Christian does, and maintaining that peace is a positive good, as the sentimentalist does. Indeed, in the modern world, war is a pleasanter state of things than peace.” (T.S. Eliot, in The Christian in the Modern World [1935], first published in TLS, July 7)

“Nothing in the world hears as many silly things said as a picture in a museum.” (Wallace Stevens, ‘quoting a 19th-century French source, in a 1951 lecture at the Museum of Modern Art’, according to Holland Cotter, in NYT, July 7)

“A statesman – Bismarck if I am not mistaken – once said that to accept a thing in principle means, in the language of diplomacy, to reject it in effect.” (Lenin, according to Catherine Merridale in Lenin on the Train, p 169)

“It is unusual for governments to record unnecessarily in written documents  . . . data that can be used against them.” (George F. Kennan, in The Sisson Documents, from the Journal of Modern History, 28:2 [June 1956], quoted by Catherine Merridale in Lenin on the Train, p 253)

“Illicit finance is a dirty little crime, but lying is corrosive in the longer term. Instead of trusting the masses with the truth about his German friends, Lenin opted to lecture them. Instead of confiding in them, he lied. It was the price he paid in the short term, on their behalf, to save them from their own weakness. He then went on to make 150 million people free (or so he claimed) by subjecting them to a merciless political elite.” (Catherine Merridale in Lenin on the Train, p 265)

“The darkest secret of all was that the men in charge had private doubts. Though they preached dogma to the world, they did not quite believe it for themselves.” (Catherine Merridale in Lenin on the Train, p 266)

“Here was proof of the fact that the SSD was no exception to the historic rule that a dictatorship’s secret policeman are often more astute than the regime they are supposed to protect.” (from The General Was A Spy, by Heinz Höhne & Hermann Zolling, p 200)

“It is in any case hard to find a common denominator between a secret service and democracy; a democratic society increasingly tends to demand public control and absence of secrecy; a secret service, however, must be secret simply because its task is to protect the secrets of its own country and discover those of others.” (from The General Was A Spy, by Heinz Höhne & Hermann Zolling, p 257)

“We now know that for any society to lift itself out of absolute poverty it needs to build three critical state institutions: taxation, law and security. The other stuff, such as health care, education, safety nets, is indisputably highly desirable, but without these first three nothing else can be sustained. Without a capacity to tax there is no meaningful state: for the libertarians who fondly imagine the idylls of a post-state society, I recommend living in Somalia. Crucially, once the state starts getting tax revenue, it has an incentive to grow the economy. Inadvertently, even rulers who have little interest in the well-being of citizens thereby benefit them. Without the rule of law, there is no sanctity of contract or property, so trade and investment are paltry. Without security, bandits rove: people protect themselves by not accumulating assets, or by pre-emptive violence. Hence, without these three capacities, life is nasty, brutish and short: this was indeed the condition of most of the world, for most of human existence.” (Paul Collier, in TLS, July 14)

“An opener, a brightener, a lifter, a tincture, a large gin and tonic without the tonic, a snifter, a snorter, a snort.” (Denis Thatcher’s routine on long-distance flights, according to Ben Wright in Order, Order: The rise and fall of political drinking, quoted in TLS, July 21)

“Either senior management knew what was going on or they did not. If they knew, then they were complicit. If they did not, they were incompetent.” (‘one former regulator’, about UBS, quoted by Ben Chu in Prospect, August 2017)

“I must confess that we British liaison officers were slow to understand their point of view; as a nation we have always tended to assume that those who do not wholeheartedly support us in our wars have some sinister motive for not wishing to see the world a better place.” (from Peter Kemp’s The Thorns of Memory, p 200)

“I never returned to Albania. Within the year communist forces of the LNC and Kosmet had overrun the country. Implacable in their hatred of the British who had nursed them they were determined to destroy all those considered to be our friends. In the eyes of the new rulers of Albania collaboration with the British was a far greater crime than collaboration with the Germans. The fury of the new regime was directed especially against those Albanians who, as our allies, had submerged their political differences with the communists in a united effort to win their country’s freedom. Such men were marked for destruction because their fighting record gave the lie to the communist claim that the Communist Party alone represented the Albanian people in their fight for independence.” (from Peter Kemp’s The Thorns of Memory, p 231)

“We commented on the lack of interest that all of them, old and young, showed in the personalities of the exiled Polish government in London – an indifference which we found everywhere in Poland. It has often been remarked that governments-in-exile tend to lose touch with the people they claim to represent; they tend also to lose their respect.” (from Peter Kemp’s The Thorns of Memory, p 245)


“The cliché is that life is a mountain. You go up, reach the top and then go down. To me, life is going up until you are burned by flames.” (Jeanne Moreau, to the NYT in 2001, from her NYT obituary, August 1)

But the Next Seven Were All Successful . . .                                                        “His first seven marriages ended in divorce.” (from NYT obituary of Ty Hardin, August 7)

Stereotypes                                                                                                                      “His 10-page memo, titled ‘Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,’ argued that ‘personality differences between men and women – like a woman having a lower tolerance for stress – help explain why there were fewer women in engineering and leadership riles at the company.” (from August 9 NYT report on James Damore, fired from Google for ‘advancing harmful general stereotypes’)

“Drawing on that background, Alexievich advances some rough-hewn theses about how men and women perceive war differently: men, she says ‘hide behind history’ and focus on conflicts of ideas and interests; women are ‘caught up with feelings’ and ‘capable of seeing what is closed to men.” (from review by Roland Elliott Brown of Nobel-prize winner Svetlana Alexievich’s The Unwomanly Face of War, in the Spectator, August 5)

“The 2008 financial crisis failed to dent the political establishment’s complacency, even though it had become very clear that their pro-market policies were helping to destroy the social mobility and economic opportunity that underpins a well-functioning democracy.” (Professors Samuel Moyn and David Priestland, in A Problem Worse Than Tyranny, in NYT, August 13)

“Last year, Pope Francis pointedly opined that ‘A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian.’ Someone recently shot back online: ‘Oh please Pope. Stuff your self-righteous indignation and tear down that wall around the Vatican before you start your virtue signaling.’” (from High Horses by Jane Coalston, in NYT , August 13)

“The greatest tragedy of human existence is that we do not all die at the same time as those we love.” (George Kennan, from George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis, p 3)

“All Kremlin leaders including Stalin, they [Mikoyan and Kaganovich] assured Bohlen, had held Kennan in high regard ‘as a serious and intelligent student of Soviet affairs.’ They particularly respected ambassadors ‘who stood up firmly for their country’s interest.’ As opposed to those ‘who attempt to ingratiate themselves with the Soviet Government by hypocrisy and other means.’” (from George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis, p 473)

“Attendance at a single Balliol fellows’ meeting convinced Kennan never to return: ‘I’ve never seen such backbiting, such fury, such factions in my life.’” “Never, I believe, have I parted with greater indifference from any place where I have lived.” (Kennan on leaving Oxford in June 1958)       (from George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis, p 522 & p 538)

“She thereby [anonymous woman] negatively illustrated a positive principle: ‘If you have tendencies which you know yourself are wrong, which you cannot control yet cannot leave, don’t apologize for them – brave them out; they are, after all, a part of you.’” (from George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis, p 545)

“Then the ghosts of the past find you out in your sadness,

And gather about, and point fingers of shame –

The ghosts of stupidities spawned by your madness –

The ghosts of injustices done in your name.

And you grieve with remorse for the sins you’ve committed:

The fingers that roamed and the tongue that betrayed;

But you grieve even more for the ones you omitted:

The nectar untasted, the record unplayed.”      (extract from poem composed by George Kennan for his 70th birthday, from George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis, p 630)

“Salaries have dropped by more than 13 percent over the past two years and the country’s finances have soured, forcing the government to introduce one of the more remarkable tax laws in the world: a requirement that people who are not employed full time pay $240 a year as ‘compensation’ for lost taxes.” (from article on Belarus in NYT, August 14)

Discussion Points from Susan Butler’s Controversial Book
1) “We have different customs and philosophies and ways of life. Each of us works out our scheme of things according to the desires and ideas of our own peoples.

But we have proved here at Tehran that the varying ideals of our nations can come together in a harmonious whole, moving unitedly for the common good of ourselves and the world.

So as we leave this historic gathering, we can see in the sky for the first time, that traditional symbol of hope, the rainbow.” (Roosevelt, at Tehran, from Susan Butler’s Roosevelt and Stalin: Portrait of a Partnership, p 118)

2) “. . . in 1939, the Soviet Union, the embodiment of the Communist model, seemed to be such a vibrant, functioning economy. Indeed the argument could be made (and in many circles it was) that the Soviet Union was more of a success story than America, still fighting its way out of the Depression, or the democratic countries of Europe, which were still trying to recover from World War I.” (from Susan Butler’s Roosevelt and Stalin: Portrait of a Partnership, p 165)

3) “And in the midst of the war, possible evidence surfaced about his [Stalin’s] murder of a group of Polish officers when they had been Russian prisoners of war and the subsequent efforts to cover up the crime. FDR paid the story no attention. He knew Churchill was seriously flawed as well. History has dealt harshly with Stalin but has been kind to Churchill: one reason is that the prime minister was a brilliant writer, and it is his version of history that has come down to us and blinded us to his amoral actions.” (from Susan Butler’s Roosevelt and Stalin: Portrait of a Partnership, p 325)

4) “British rule over India was every bit as brutal as Stalin’s rule over Russia.” (from Susan Butler’s Roosevelt and Stalin: Portrait of a Partnership, p 327)

5) “Stalin had signed a document that stated that the Polish government would not be the one imposed by the Red Army but would instead be reorganized on a broader democratic basis, that it would include democratic leaders from Poland itself and from Poles abroad, and, astoundingly, that it would oversee the holding of ‘free and unfettered elections as soon as possible on the basis of universal suffrage and secret ballot.’” (from Susan Butler’s Roosevelt and Stalin: Portrait of a Partnership, p 430)

6) “‘Worried’ though he was, this statement shows that FDR was not taken in by Stalin, as so many of his critics have claimed over the years. To the contrary, it shows him pursuing a policy of accommodation because he expected it to work out.” (from Susan Butler’s Roosevelt and Stalin: Portrait of a Partnership, p 458)

7) “The bomb caused great anxiety among the Russian people. But it did something more: it created for the first time a feeling of mistrust of America, the only nation Russians had previously and unreservedly considered their friend.” .” (from Susan Butler’s Roosevelt and Stalin: Portrait of a Partnership, p 497)

“The thing that distinguishes the educated from the uneducated man in England, the general formative effect of going to Oxford or Cambridge, seems to me best defined in a single phrase as the acquisition of that sense of humor. There is a habit of satire that you find among educated people, that directs itself against the poor and the underprivileged as roughly as against other groups, and that you can find among people of the most advanced political sympathies, and of the most humble social antecedents. It is just their sense of humor.” (Martin Green, in British Comedy in this Century, from Transatlantic Patterns, p 64)

“It [English culture] consists of a vague knowledge of History, Literature, and Art, an amateurish interest in architecture and costume of social, religious, and political institutions, of drama, of the biographies of the chief characters of each century, of  a few memorable anecdotes and jokes, scarps of diaries and correspondence and family history. All these snacks and tidbits of scholarship become fused together in a more or less homogenous [sic] and consistent whole, so that the cultured Englishman has a sense of the past, in a continuous series of clear and pretty tableaux vivants. This Sense of the Past lies at the back of most intelligent conversation and of the more respectable and worse-paid genre of weekly journalism.” (Evelyn Waugh, in Labels, quoted by Martin Green in Our Turn to Cliché, from Transatlantic Patterns, p 132)

“When we read too much English literature, we grow depressed by the unalterable bourgeois scene which has survived so many literary groups, even as it will outlast our own. Oxford common rooms, London squares, Sussex cottages, sausages, landladies, publishers’ cocktail parties, Sunday afternoons – one can fit almost every English writer into the familiar scene. Tea is being served behind the house with the blue plaque as expertly as when the great man lived there . . .” (Cyril Connolly, in Previous Connections, quoted by Martin Green in Our Turn to Cliché, from Transatlantic Patterns, p 134)

“Thus one thing that has distinguished the English from the Americans’ sense of humor, sense of tact, sense of manners, has been the greater sensitivity of the former to clichés of behavior. There is s story of Matthew Arnold visiting Amherst which illustrates that. He had had various American breakfast specialities pressed on him by an effusive hostess, and when she then offered the blueberry pancakes (or blueberry muffins, or whatever) to his wife, he endorsed them by saying something like, ‘Oh yes, try one, Lucy, they aren’t half so nasty as they look.’ The point of the story is that the offense given was unwilling, even unwitting until the remark was out. And its motive was Arnold’s need to avoid the clichés of enthusiasm and politeness that his hostess was inviting from him. That situation in which an American drives an Englishman to some anti-enthusiastic expression, which both then feel to be offensive, is the archetype of many social misunderstandings between the two peoples.” (Martin Green, in Our Turn to Cliché, from Transatlantic Patterns, p 137)

“Born in Waukegan, Illinois, I get damn sick of non-sequiturs.” (Marc Rose, Reader’s Digest editor, quoted by Harold Evans in Do I Make Myself Clear?, p79)

Omnipotent?                                                                                                                    “At the Vatican, Pope Francis deplored deadly terrorist attacks this month in Burkina Faso, Spain and Finland, entreating God ‘to free the world from this inhuman violence.’ The pope, in a message that Cardinal Omella read aloud, called the violence in Spain a ‘cruel terrorist act’ and a ‘grave offense to God.’”  (from report in NYT, August 20)

“Among an extensive set of recommendations presented to the United States trade representative, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. asked that Nafta guarantee that ‘all workers — regardless of sector — have the right to receive wages sufficient for them to afford, in the region of the signatory country where the worker resides, a decent standard of living for the worker and her or his family.’ A decent standard of living, the labor federation specified, includes food, water, housing, education, health care, transportation, clothing and other essential needs, including the ability to save for retirement and emergencies.” (from report in NYT, August 23)

Discuss?                                                                                                                 “There might have been a few politicians in Washington DC who advocated continuing a friendly stance towards Stalin, but the clashing ideologies would soon make that inconceivable. The Communists were convinced that capitalism bore within it the seeds of its own destruction, and that the American way of life – soulless consumerism propped up by exploitation of the workers, as they saw it – would eventually fold in on itself. Likewise, Americans were convinced that the oppressive tyranny of Communism, not to mention the mad cycle of purges and political imprisonments, would eventually be shaken off by people yearning for liberty.” (from Sinclair McKay’s The Spies of Winter, p 73)

“You think there’s no such thing as mental illness? You mean it’s all in the mind?” (Sidney Morgenbesser about Thomas Szasz’s The Myth of Mental Illness, according to Tim Crane in TLS, August 4)


“If you land with a group of little boys, they are more like scaled-down society than a group of little girls would be. Don’t ask me why, and this is a terrible thing to say, because I’m going to be chased from hell to breakfast by all the women who talk about equality. This has nothing to do with equality at all. I mean, I think women are foolish to pretend they’re equal to men — they’re far superior and always have been. But one thing you cannot do with them is take a bunch of them and boil them down, so to speak, into a set of little girls who would then become a kind of image of civilization, of society.” (William Golding, in an undated interview, from NYT, September 1)

“But then this is Alan Acykbourn who has yet to pass the basic test of excellence in a play: quotability. I doubt if anyone can recall a single line from any of his works.” (Lloyd Evans, in the Spectator, August 19)

“The science of intelligence analysis is the piecing together of many different segments of information, rather than total reliance on a single source. The overall picture is gained by interlocking a series of small pieces together until the final picture shows a completed intelligence jigsaw puzzle and not a myth.” (Nigel West, A Thread of Deceit: Espionage Myths of World War II, p 126)

“Writing is turning one’s worst moments into money.’ (J. P. Donleavy, to Time in 1968, from his NYT obituary, September 14)

“In Modern China, as in Russia and to some degree Japan, there is no tradition of objective historical research. Absurd claims are thus made even by academics, unsupported by evidence.” (Max Hastings, in Introduction to Retribution: The Battle for Japan 1944-1945)

“And I was reminded of Anton Chekhov, the playwright, who, when asked to explain at a rehearsal in the Moscow Art Theater his interpretation of the way one of his characters should be played, could only say, ‘Don’t you see? He wears checkered trousers.’” (George F. Kennan, in Foreword to Around the Cragged Hill)

“We know what we are doing when we actively devise experiments, actively verify and test our beliefs, actively direct our interests and inquiries toward useful and concrete questions  . . . A sequence of abstract thought, and also the stream of our passive impressions together form a sea of ignorance, in which we shall drown, if thought and feeling are cut off from our active interest  . . . Unless we purposefully turn our eyes to look at something that interests us as individuals, we shall literally see nothing in the world, and we shall understand nothing in the real world unless we remember that we freely choose the direction in which to look.” (Stuart Hampshire, in review of The Jameses: A Family Narrative, by R. W. B. Lewis, in New York Review of Books, October 10, 1991, p 4, quoted by George F. Kennan, in Foreword to Around the Cragged Hill)

“The mass, the broad public, the people, or whatever you would like to call it, may not be the ‘great beast’ that some have seen it to be; but collective psychology, particularly in its exalted and demonstrational manifestations, is a much more dangerous phenomenon than individual psychology. Humorless, unreflective, anxiously conformist, it sometimes reveals certain of those qualities – self-centredness, persecution mania, and uncontrollable suspiciousness – that, when encountered in the individual, we would associate with real mental disturbance. But even where these extremisms are lacking, the collective understandings and expressions of any serious social or political ideal are apt to be at best a caricature of the original. I cite this as the basis for my own extreme dislike of all masses of screaming, chanting, flag-waving, and fist-shaking people, regardless of the cause that may have enlisted their enthusiasm. They may not always be entirely wrong in whatever it is they are trying to bring to expression; but you may be sure that what they are crying out for, in their slogans and banners, is oversimplified and largely devoid of serious merit. So strong is my conviction on this point that if ever  a mob of this sort were to be found chanting what purported to be a version of any of my own thinking, I would be appalled, certain that I was being (and that it could not be otherwise) seriously misunderstood and misrepresented.” (George F. Kennan, in Around the Cragged Hill, p 83)

“I had at one time the impression that I was a rare bird among those who had taken a long-standing professional interest in Soviet affairs – a rare bird in the sense that I had never gone through what was often called a Marxist period, a period, that is, of fascination with, and enthusiasm for, Marxist doctrine. I had been put off at an early date by a  number of the features of that doctrine: by the egregious oversimplifications with which it abounded, by the heartless rejection, and consignment to the outer depths, of entire great categories of mankind (not only the so-called bourgeoisie but all others except the ‘proletariat’), and, finally, by the shameless polemic exaggerations and distortions by which all this was regularly carried forward, not to mention the appalling cruelties committed in its name.” (George F. Kennan, in Around the Cragged Hill, p 97)

“I recall being told by our ambassador to one of the East European countries that when the government of that country, for purely political reasons, forced the curtailment of the size of the American embassy staff from eighty-some to fifteen, it was in his estimation the best thing that had ever happened to them.” (George F. Kennan, in Around the Cragged Hill, p 147)

“All politicians seek to amend their own records. Roosevelt told many untruths, and Churchill’s war memoirs are shamelessly self-serving.” (Max Hastings, in Retribution: The Battle for Japan 1944-1945, p 463)

“Rees-Mogg has stepped out of the 18th-century remake of The Code of the Woosters, while Hannan has the constant tra-la-la effusiveness of a man forever on his way home from choral evensong at an Oxford college.” (Philip Collins, from Britain’s New Gaullists, in Prospect, October)

“Many young Germans are extraordinarily ignorant about the Nazi period. Some older ones seem less troubled by historic guilt today than when I first began meeting their generation, a quarter of a century ago.” (Max Hastings, in Introduction to Armageddon)                                                                                             “He has also taken on the country’s postwar culture of atonement and remembrance of that period, calling for Germans to ‘take pride in the performance of German soldiers in two world wars.’” (Melissa Eddy and Steven Erlanger on Alexander Gauland, co-leader of Afd, quoted in NYT, September 24)


Sevastopol Sketches

i) “Yet many natives stress that their grievances have not reached the point of reconsidering the internationally criticized 2014 referendum in which they voted overwhelmingly to rejoin Russia. ‘Stones can fall from the sky as long as we live in our Motherland,’ said Oleg Nikolaev, a successful restaurateur, quoting a Russian expression.

ii) “For example, the government in Simferopol, the capital, imported a Moscow architect to supervise a master regional development plan. One of her first proposals included revamping the central Lenin Square by removing the Lenin statue. Simferopol removed her instead. ‘Crimea did not like this idea of destroying monuments,’ said Aleksandr A. Formanchuk, a veteran local government official.”

iii) “’This is a hero city, a city of warriors, and a warrior is not supposed to reconcile,’ barked Mr. Kiyashko, the local Communist leader, sitting in the party headquarters decorated with giant portraits of Lenin.”        (from article on Crimea and Sevastopol  in NYT, October 1)

The Great Idealist

“’He consciously chose to cooperate with the Soviet Union because of his antifascist beliefs, principles of fair world order, principles of liberty, of social fairness,’ Mr. Naryshkin, a close ally of President Putin, said this month at the opening of the exhibition, ‘Kim Philby: The Spy and the Man.’” (from report in NYT, October 2)

Snippets from Redland

1) “Ms. Ruzickova was born in Bohemia, the daughter of a prosperous Jewish family. She secretly carried a handwritten snippet of Bach’s music to a concentration camp as a talisman, performed slave labor for the Germans in Hamburg, returned home with her hands too enfeebled to strike a keyboard, and survived renewed anti-Semitism in Communist Czechoslovakia. Moreover, the Czech regime condemned the harpsichord itself as a feudal and religious instrument.” (from NYT obituary of Zuzana Ruzickova, October 5)

2) “Iulian Vlad was born on Feb. 23, 1931, in Gogosita, a village near the Bulgarian border, to Nicolae and Eugenia Vlad. His father was a professional church singer who was expelled from the Communist Party for his religious activities and for illegally cutting firewood on his former property, which had apparently been confiscated. Iulian, who had joined the party when he was 15, told officials that he had joined the party when he was 15, told officials that he had tried to persuade his father to leave the church. (Nonetheless, Petru Neghiu, a former military colleague, told the Romanian news media that General Vlad had received the last rites before his death.)” (from NYT obituary of Iulian Vlad, last leader of Romania’s ‘dreaded secret police’, October 5)

3) “’In the camps, many people died of despair, not hunger,’ said Nikolai Maslennikov. He was captured near the Peterhof outside Leningrad in 1942 at the age of seventeen, after a childhood dogged by the fact that his family’s papers were stamped with the fatal words which indicated that they were ‘persons of the second sort,’ the brand laid upon the politically suspect. Maslennikov’s father had once visited England and bought two English suits. In consequence, young Nikolai was forbidden to join the Communist Youth Movement, the Komsomol, and was unable to follow his ambition to study aerodynamics.” (from Max Hastings’s Armageddon, p 398)

“I recently spent a day travelling on buses in the North-east of England. As I boarded the first one, a fellow passenger, presumably hearing my ‘posh’ accent and noting my subdued middle-class dress sense, shouted from his seat: ‘Slumming it, are we?’” (from letter by Georgina Baidoun in London Review of Books, October 8)

“Great novelists come in all shapes and sizes, but one thing they all share is a status of half-belonging. If they had no foot in the door at all, they could hardly understand it; if they completely belonged, they could hardly understand what was distinctive.” (Philip Hensher, from review of Hilary Spurling’s Anthony Powell: Dancing to the Music of Time, in the Spectator, September 30)

“The most important thing by far is that he [the historian] should be a free spirit, fear nobody, and expect nothing . . .  determined . . .  to call figs figs and a tub a tub.” (Lucian, according to Diarmaid MacCulloch in the Bodleian Library Record, Volume 29, Number 1, April 2016)

Eh?                                                                                                                                      “David Lloyd George was a Welshman, and he displayed all the sensibility, the eloquence, and the volatility traditionally associated with that wayward breed.” (Philip Ziegler, in Between the Wars, p 6)

Uncle Joe Stalin in Action

1) “‘Don’t worry, we’ll find you another wife,’ Stalin observed laconically to Poskrebyshev, his long-serving chef de cabinet, when the wretched man’s spouse was dispatched for execution in 1939. Poskrebyshev remained at his post until 1952.” (from Max Hastings’s Armageddon, p 95)

2) “One day in 1941, Russia’s senior airman became drunk and complained to his supreme warlord: ‘You’re making us fly in coffins.” Stalin responded quietly: ‘You shouldn’t have said that.’ The general – Pavel Rychagov  – was shot, along with much of the Red Air Force high command.”  (from Max Hastings’s Armageddon, p 239)

3) “ . . . a British minister who had to fly to Moscow on official business during the war. Long after passing into Soviet-held territory his RAF plane was shot at by a Russian anti-aircraft battery. He complained about the incident in Moscow, despite the entreaties of his Russian liaison officer not to do so. The next day a Kremlin official called to tell him that all eleven men in the offending battery had just been executed.” (from Victor Rothwell’s Britain and the Cold War 1941-1947, p 16)

“Dwight Eisenhower was a steelier and less genial figure than his public persona allowed. Yet the Abilene boy who grew up in classically humble rural American circumstances, the poker-player who retained a lifelong enthusiasm for dime Westerns novels, always behaved in public as one of nature’s gentlemen. Montgomery, the bishop’s son educated at St. Paul’s and Sandhurst, never did. He was a cleverer man and a far more professional soldier than his Supreme Commander, but his crassness towards his peers was a fatal impediment to greatness.” (from Max Hastings’s Armageddon, p 232)

Officially Unreliable (continued)

1) “A key point, it seems to me, is that it is wrong to suppose that written evidence possesses an intrinsic reliability absent in oral testimony. The scientist Solly Zuckerman once told me that when he wrote his memoirs he researched the minutes of important wartime meetings he had attended in the British Public Record Office, these documents, he said, bore scant relationship to his own recollection of what took place. They merely reflected the personal prejudices of whoever was responsible for keeping the record. It does not matter here whether Zuckerman’s memory was correct or the minutes of which he was so sceptical. The point is that written ‘evidence’ about matters of life and death, which all documentation about the Second World War is, should be treated with at least as much caution and skepticism as interviews with witnesses. Over the years, I have encountered extraordinary deceits in official war diaries and suchlike, often designed to achieve post-facto rationalization of what was, to those who took part, merely a ‘cock-up’ which cost lives. Many wartime military commanders exercised a baleful influence upon the writing of their country’s official histories after 1945. I am an unstinting admirer of Winston Churchill, but his history of the Second World War is wildly unreliable. The essence of all these things is, of course, to strive for a balance of evidence.” (from Max Hastings’s Armageddon, Sources and References, p 520)

2) “In 1940, on a famous occasion, I recorded the Cabinet minutes, at the age of twenty-four. Sir Edward Bridges, Secretary of the Cabinet, came into my room – a gross breach of protocol: he should have sent for me – and said ‘I want you to write the Cabinet minutes. I can’t make head or tail of the discussion.’ I stuttered that I had not been there and did not know what they had said. He said if I had been, I would not have been any better informed than he was. I tried vainly to excuse myself, and he thrust his notes across the table and asked me to read them. I was still no better informed. In the event he ordered me to produce the minutes in one hour, saying: ‘This is your subject. You know what they ought to have decided, presumably. Write the minutes on those lines, and no one will ever question it’. He was right. They didn’t.”(Harold Wilson, in The Governance of Britain, p 53, quoted in Anthony Seldon’s The Cabinet Office 1916-2016, p 100)

3) “Crossman wrote dismissively in his diary: ‘It’s important to remember how little historians can trust Cabinet minutes to tell what really went on. What they do tell is what went on according to the officials and the official briefs.’” (Anthony Seldon, in The Cabinet Office 1916-2016, p 166, quoting Richard Crossman’s Diary of a Cabinet Minister, Volume 2, p 149)

4) “Brian Stewart, the Secretary in the late 1960s, wrote about the science of minute-writing. He noted that the minutes produced would not necessarily reflect the discussions in the Committee: . .  . ‘it was an interesting challenge requiring us to invent an introduction and summing up to put in the mouth of the Chairman, to catch the sense of the meeting. Sometimes after particularly turbulent debate, we were forced to minute what we thought the members intended to say, rather than what they actually said’.” (from Michael S. Goodman’s The Official History of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Volume 1, p 5)

5) “I was told just to turn up and get on with the job. After a week in the job I got called into Searight’s [Colonel Eric Searight, JIC Secretary] office who said [discussing Alldis’ draft minutes of a JIC meeting] ‘you can’t make so and so say that’. I said ‘but he did say it’ and Searight said ‘but it’s absolute tripe. You can’t send that around Whitehall over his name’. I said ‘well, what can I do about it?’ ‘Oh no’, he said, ‘your job is to make the minutes readable and correct and not to send out absolute nonsense’. We didn’t alter them factually, we just made them sound like they were uttered by intelligent and gifted and knowledgeable people. Sometimes you had to change them if they said something against the policies of their Department. Very rarely did Committee members want them [the resulting minutes] changing.’” (Cecil Alldis, Assistant Secretary of the JIC in the early 1950s, according to Michael S. Goodman, in The Official History of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Volume 1, p 175)

“The American Bar provided light refreshment for those who could not tarry long, and finally in the beautiful new dance hall, with its modernistic sofas, lalique panels and cleverly concealed lighting Ed Sugarprong and his Twenty-Seven White Hot Tubthumpers provided the hottest jazz to be heard between Hammersmith Broadway and Pelvis Bay.” (Osbert Lancaster, in Progress at Pelvis Bay, p 67)

“It is only when one tries to isolate an Englishman or seeks to hear a proud statement of his nationality from his own lips, that it becomes apparent how rare a bird one is pursuing. ‘Well, of course,’ says one, ‘my family are really Irish by origin.’ ‘My mother’s family, you know,’ remarks another, ‘all came from Scotland,’ while a third confesses, with a smile of infinite roguishness, ‘I suppose I shouldn’t really say it, but we have a lot of gypsy blood on my father’s side.’” (Osbert Lancaster, from Keys to Understanding the English, published in NYT, 1948, and re-published in The Essential Osbert Lancaster, p 95)

“A professional preoccupation with the topical is the surest passport to oblivion, and nothing, not even women’s hair-styles nor the music of the late Ivor Novello, dates so quickly as the apt comment.” (Osbert Lancaster, in Foreword to Signs of the Times)

“Asked at 80 to reflect on her life, she said that she was very happy with it – and that if she were able to live it all over again, she would do everything quite differently.”(Jane Shilling on Tove Jansson, in Prospect, November)

“‘You know, pianists don’t think I’m a real pianist.’ Of course, he added, ‘conductors don’t think I’m a real conductor, and composers don’t think I’m a real composer.’” (Leonard Bernstein to Anthony Tommasini, as recorded by the latter in NYT, October 21)

Discuss (for 40% of the marks)                                                                                “And some there were who were just plain amazed that any British statesman could so effectively combine the highmindedness of Bismarck with the practical ability of Ethelred the Unready.” (Osbert Lancaster on Anthony Eden, in his Foreword to The Year of the Comet)

“It was Sacha Guitry (not James Goldsmith) who originally said, ‘When a man marries his mistress, he creates a vacancy’, and the same goes for friends.” (Julie Burchill in the Spectator, October 14: see John le Carré in April 2017 Commonplace)

“Although Gullah and Geechee — terms whose origins have been much debated and may trace to specific African tribes or words — are often used interchangeably these days, Ms. Bailey always stressed that she was Geechee. And, specifically, Saltwater Geechee (as opposed to the Freshwater Geechee, who lived 30 miles inland). ‘We thought our speech was a bit more musical than theirs,’ she wrote in her book, ‘because we talked a little faster, with fewer rest stops between our words, so that everything ran together. We’d listen to them and say, “Can’t they talk any faster than that? People don’t have all day. ”’” (from NYT obituary of Cornelia Bailey, October 22)

“The bonds of wedlock are so heavy that it takes two to carry them, sometimes three.” (Alexander Dumas, according to Parul Sehgal in review of Esther Perel’s The State of Affairs, in NYT, October 25. But where? Only ‘attributed’, by Elizabeth Abbott, apparently)

“What is more, this camp even has its smoking gun, provided by a U.S. senator who declared in Congress on June 23, 1941, the day after the German invasion, that ‘if we see that Germany is winning, we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible.’ The words were Harry Truman’s, soon to become the first Cold War president, and if they are forgotten in America, in Russian history books they often appear in bold print.” (Gregory Carleton, in Russia: The Story of War, p 107)

“In 1939, the Soviet film industry released Minin and Pozharsky, featuring the Poles as evil aggressors, just weeks after the Red Army invaded Poland. To no surprise, its two directors and two leading actors won the Stalin prize.” (Gregory Carleton, in Russia: The Story of War, p 207)

“What are you thinking of? Nothing can be so deceiving as a photograph. Truth, after all, is an affair of the heart. One can get at it only through art.” (Franz Kafka, from Gustav Janouch’s Conversations with Kafka, quoted by Errol Morris in NYT, October 29)


“As she told Richard Candida Smith in an oral history for the Archives of American Art, her family of secular Jews was both left-leaning and materially comfortable, with a yacht, servants and houses in Florida. ‘Roosevelt was as far right as people were willing to go,’ she said of her parents’ circle, adding that she grew up thinking ‘all radicals were rich.’” (from obituary of art historian Linda Nochlin in NYT, November 3)

“I’ve been married to one Marxist and one Fascist, and neither one took the garbage out.” (Lee Grant, according to Robin Morgan, who amused Simone de Beauvoir with the citation, as reported in NYT, November 3)

“Historians all write what they are, and convert their histories into a kind of blood donation.” (Michael Bentley, in review of David Cannadine’s Victorious Century in the TLS, October 27)

“You should never compliment an author on a very early book.” (Mary McCarthy to Margaret Drabble, from the TLS, November 3)

“We ought to call federal flood insurance what it actually is. It is subsidized floodplain development.” (Phil Bedient, engineer, quoted in NYT, November 12)

“His right hand dealt with grandiose ideas and glory, while his left hand let the rat out of the sewer.” (Nicholas Mosley on his father Oswald, quoted by Roy Foster in his review of Malachi O’Doherty’s Gerry Adams: An Unauthorised Life, in the Spectator, November 4)

We Who Have All The Answers  (part 1)

“‘After the near-collapse of the world’s financial system has shown that we economists really do not know how the world works, I am much too embarrassed to teach economics anymore,’ he wrote. In an interview not long before that, though, he belied any pretense of self-doubt when he was asked whether he was perplexed by the seemingly insolvable challenges of health care economics. ‘Have you ever seen a perplexed economist?’ Professor Reinhardt replied. ‘We have an answer for everything.’” (from the NYT obituary of Professor Uwe Reinhardt, November 16)

We Who Have All The Answers  (part 2)

“We need to rediscover the economics of collective responsibility for the society and ecosystem that we want to live in: collective responsibility for the things we require if we are to sustain human health and prosperity in a livable ecosystem.” (Ann Pettifor in TLS, November 17)

“Any nation experiencing itself within its own narrow limits feels uniquely special. ‘Nobody’s like us.’ Becoming civilized means grasping the paradox that uniqueness is something we all have in common, its diverse forms not necessary rivals, much less enemies, but potential sources of enrichment and enlargement. Nationalism grows from the failure to get beyond those narrow limits, from not looking (in the German phrase) beyond the rim of your own plate.” (T. J. Reed, who tutored me in German literature in 1966, in TLS, November 17)

“If British attributes are lightly born knowledge, social ease, self-deprecation and understated emotion, American strengths are energy, a never-say-die belief in equality, and lots of self-confidence.” (Taki, in the Spectator, November 11)

“Everything was better in Yugoslavia when the old man was running the country. Some say he was a dictator and it was a time of darkness. I say it was the time of peace.” (Zlatko Marencic, on Tito, from NYT, November 26)

Stalin & Patriotism

“James believed that his espionage was the act of a British patriot. When Magnus Linklater broke the story in the Times in 2004, he quoted my comment, which I shared with my brother and sister, that ‘This was exactly the right thing to do. It has not altered the view of him as a man and father of whom we are proud.’” (Hamish MacGibbon, in the biography of his father, Maverick Spy: Stalin’s Super-Agent in World War II, p 178)

Solid Research from the Foreign Office

“Mikoyan is, of course, an Armenian, with all the well-known characteristics of the race; but these characteristics have probably been caused by environment, and the same sort of semi-oriental and semi-commercial environment, producing in each case a certain inferiority complex together with a suspicious and indirect approach to any question, doubtless accounts for the similar methods of M. Maisky, a Siberian Jew.” [Laurence Collier to R. A. Butler] (from British Policy Towards the Soviet Union During the Second World War by Martin Kitchen, p 37)

Essay Question

“Is not the Russian attitude about Warsaw exactly the same as General Eisenhower’s about Paris?” (from 1944 memorandum by Orme Sargent, permanent under-secretary on the Foreign Office, quoted by Marin Kitchen in British Policy Towards the Soviet Union During the Second World War, p 228)

“The danger is not that we shall draw a veil over the enormous blots of the Revolution, over the cost in human suffering, over the crimes committed in its name. The damage is that we shall be tempted to forget altogether, and to pass over in silence, its immense achievements.” (E. H. Carr [where?], quoted by John Bew in TLS, November 24)


“Besides, Mussolini had already calculated that Germany was winning the war, had already as good as won it in fact, and that he would get a better share of the spoils if he came in as soon as possible on the German side – his only anxiety was that the French and the British might surrender before he could declare war, in which case Italy might get nothing, a concern made more acute by Hitler’s apparent indifference to whether Italy joined in the war or not, and by the unmistakable hostility and contempt toward Italy of the German generals, who had no desire to add the Italian army’s logistical problems to their own.” (Michael Korda, in Alone, pp 334-335)

An Economist Speaks  . . .

“I am a member of the independent Industrial Strategy Commission chaired by Kate Barker, and our recommendations focus on cementing a strategic approach to managing the economy into the UK’s institutional arrangements, on devolving much more decision-making to cities and regions which can co-ordinate better government and private efforts, and above all on more investment, by business and government both, in the research and development, innovation, skills and infrastructure that might be expected to bolster productivity.” (Diane Coyle, professor of economics at the University of Manchester, in Prospect, December 2017)

On the Law, ‘Communities’, and ‘Affronts’

“He asked whether a baker could put a sign in his window saying, ‘We do not bake cakes for gay weddings.’ A lawyer for the Trump administration, which supports Mr. Phillips, said yes, so long as the cakes were custom made. Justice Kennedy looked troubled. ‘You would not think that an affront to the gay community?’ he asked.” (from NYT report on Supreme Court debate, December 5)

“Crystal liked people to be fascinating, but she didn’t want them to be charismatic – charismatic meant that they expected other people to find them fascinating.” (Edward St. Aubyn, in On The Edge, p 104)

“Students of the history of economic thought learn early on that taking money from the poor and the middle class to give to the rich tends to reduce overall welfare for the simple reason that an extra dollar provides much more to those few of them than to those already rolling in money.” (Eduardo Porter, NYT, December 13)

“The Czech government had been asked to give representations to the Czech national Jews, and Dr. Benes had refused. Dr. Benes’ view was that in future Jews in Czecho-Slovakia would have to be either Czechs or Zionists; he did not want any more national minorities.” (from secret minutes of meeting of the Jewish Agency held in London on December 4, 1940)

Kitchen Duties
“Well, comrades, won’t it be nice when we have socialism. With communal kitchens, women won’t have to slave in the kitchen any more.” (visiting CP representative in Toronto, according to Gordon Lunan in Redhanded, p 253)
“During Leary’s stay in Algeria, triangular tensions simmered between the Panthers’ less hedonistic agenda, the LSD crowd’s less inclusive hippie ideals (Abbie Hoffman’s wife, Anita, ‘didn’t come all the way to Algiers to work in the kitchen’), and the Algerian culture’s ‘less than uptight’ feelings about drugs.” (John Williams, in NYT review of The Most Dangerous Man in America, by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis, December 28)

“My great complaint is that it is my fate to spend my malice upon such insignificant objects. I hope, Engineer, you have nothing against malice? In my eyes, it is reason’s keenest dart against the powers of darkness and ugliness. Malice, my dear sir, is the animating spirit of criticism, and criticism is the beginning of progress and enlightenment.” (Settembrini to Castorp, in Satana, from Chapter 3 of Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain)

Der Zauberberg Presages Mark Zuckerberg
“Technical progress, he said, gradually subjugated nature, by developing roads and telegraphs, minimizing climatic differences; and by the means of communication which it created proved itself the most reliable agent in the task of drawing together the peoples of the earth, of making them acquainted with each other, of building bridges to compromise, of destroying prejudice; of, finally, ringing about the universal brotherhood of man. Humanity had sprung from the depths of fear, darkness, and hatred; but it was emerging, it was moving onward and upward, toward a goal of fellow-feeling and enlightenment, of goodness and joyousness; and upon this path, he said, the industrial arts were the vehicle conducive to the greatest progress.” (Settembrini, in Mounting Misgivings, from Chapter 4 of Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain)

“Whether he realizes it or not, he illustrates the pertinence of the adage: So long as we are, death is not; and when death is present, we are not. In other words, between death and us there is no rapport; it is something with which we have nothing to do – and only incidentally the world and nature. And that is why all living creatures can contemplate it with composure, with indifference, unconcern, with egoistic irresponsibility.” (from A Soldier, and Brave, from Chapter 6 of Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain)

“We come out of the dark and go into the dark again, and in between lie the experiences of our life. But the beginning and the end, birth and death, we do not experience; they have no subjective character. They fall entirely in the category of objective events, and that’s that.” (Behrens, in A Soldier, and Brave, from Chapter 6 of Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain)

“I should like to know what kind of self-appraisement is at the bottom of the feminine answer. Is it that the woman thinks she owes a man boundless devotion merely because he has conferred the favor of his choice upon so lowly a creature? Or does she see in the man’s love an infallible sign of her personal excellence? I’ve often asked myself these questions, when I have been thinking quietly alone.” (Castorp to Peeperkorn, in Mynheer Peeperkorn, from Chapter 7 of Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain)

“To start life again, what an expression. . . . If there is a thing you can’t do over again, a thing you can’t start over again, it is your life.” (Francoise, in Charlotte Delbo’s Auschwitz and After, quoted in William I. Hitchcock’s The Bitter Road to Freedom, p 272)