Commonplace 2020


 “It is one of the established delights of celibacy to discourse frankly, even grossly, of the vagaries of lust to an attractive woman; . . .” (From Evelyn Waugh’s Unconditional Surrender, Fin de Ligne)

“Only the essentially commonplace are afraid of clichés.” (Everard Spruce, in Evelyn Waugh’s Unconditional Surrender, The Death Wish)

“So says what is called Object-oriented ontology (best known for its disarming acronym OOO). OOO maintains that nothing has privileged status and philosophers exist equally with Xboxes and excrement.” (Stuart Jeffries reporting on Timothy’s Morton’s Humankind in the Spectator, December 21, 2019-January 4, 2020)

“At semiregular intervals, Mr. Haslam issues lists of things he disapproves of on the entirely arbitrary grounds of taste. The lists include — although are not limited to — scented candles, celebrity chefs, Halloween, mindfulness, hedge funds, monogrammed shirts, cuff links, most young royals, colored bath towels, swans and saying bye-bye.” (from NYT, January 9)

“I’ve been reading The Magic Mountain. I am increasingly bothered by Mann – he is on the side of disease. He writes about pathology and calls it life.” (Oliver Sacks, quoted by Scott Sherman in TLS, December 13, 2019)

‘It is a truism that the term ‘Official History’ is self-contradictory, and that this is particularly so of histories of war. It rests on the assumption that no government cares to reveal the full extent of the muddle, inefficiency and waste inseparable from war’s conduct, and perhaps that no government should. Official histories should be marmoreal monuments to the heroism of the men who died in the campaigns they chronicle, blasting no reputations and offending no survivors.” (Sir Michael Howard, in TLS of October 20, 1961, reprinted in TLS, December 20, 2019)

“. . . .we have proved here that the varying ideals of our nations can come together in a harmonious whole, moving unitedly for the common good of ourselves and of the world.” (Roosevelt to Stalin, November 1943, from The Kremlin Letters)

“The Allies are seeking the long range goal of human freedom – a greater true liberty – political, intellectual, and religious; and a greater justice, economic and social.” (Roosevelt to Stalin, May 1944, from The Kremlin Letters)

“  . . . can continue together with our Allies to destroy the Nazi tyrants and establish a long period of peace in which all of our peace-loving peoples, freed from the burdens of war, may reach a higher order of development and culture, each in accordance with its own desires.” (Roosevelt to Stalin, November 1944, from The Kremlin Letters)

“Appeasement has had a good run.” (Churchill, March 1944, from The Kremlin Letters)

“I pray that you may long be spared to preside over the destinies of your country which has shown its full greatness under your leadership . . .” (Churchill to Stalin, February 1945, from The Kremlin Letters)

“Poor Neville Chamberlain believed he could trust Hitler. He was wrong. But I don’t think I’m wrong about Stalin.” (Churchill, February 1945, from The Kremlin Letters)

“I wish to say how glad we all are to know and feel that Generalissimo Stalin is still strongly holding the helm and steering his tremendous ship. Personally, I cannot feel anything but the most lively admiration for this truly great man, the father of his country, the ruler of its destinies in times of peace, and the victorious defender of its life in time of war.” (Churchill to House of Commons, November 1945, from The Kremlin Letters)

“Many of the things that make you a good journalist have to be discarded to make you a good writer. In a novel, every fact is a rock thrown in the hull, and the boat sinks a bit.” (Ward Just, according to Roger Cohen in NYT, January 11)

“LGBT activists will not rest until they have strangled the last Evangelical wedding-cake baker with the entrails of the last homophobic farm fowl.” (Rod Dreher, in the Spectator US Edition, January)

“In intellectual circles, conservatives move quietly and discreetly, catching each other’s eyes across the room like the homosexuals in Proust.” (Roger Scruton, in How To Be A Conservative, quoted in his Times obituary, January 13)

“If there is a naïveté in too blind a faith in the essential decency of human nature, there is also a naïveté of a more dangerous kind in denying the idealistic motives to one’s opponents.” (Iris Origo, in A Chill In The Air, July 4, 1939)

“‘It serves England right’ says an old Liberal, once an ardent Anglophile. ‘For years we’ve all looked to her as the defender of international justice. And now she’s not had the strength to uphold it.’” (Iris Origo, in A Chill In The Air, May 28-29, 1940)

“Debates about poetry have a habit of standing in for larger discussions about culture as a public good or private indulgence, and artists as virtuous citizens or irresponsible losers. Like a washing machine or spin cycle, the argument will quickly pass through the’ unacknowledged legislators of the world’ phase, followed by the ’poetry makes nothing happen’ phase, before (these days) coming gently to rest on the latest crop of young poets posting their work on Instagram.” (David Wheatley, in review of John Burnside’s The Music of Time: Poetry in the Twentieth Century, in Literary Review, October 2019)

‘After his return from N. Africa Eden wrote a memo on the N. African situation after Tunis. After reading it the P.M. [Churchill] commented: ‘This contains every known cliché except ‘God is Love’ and ‘Adjust your dress before leaving.’” (Guy Liddell, in his Diary entry for August 4, 1943)

“One: The world does not exist unless you look at it.

Two: Particles are pushed around by an invisible wave, but the particles have no influence on the wave.

Three: Everything that could possibly happen does, in an array of parallel realities.

Four: Everything that could possibly happen has already happened and we only noticed part of it.

Five: Everything influences everything else instantly, as if space does not exist.

Six: The future influences the past.”  (six possibilities of ‘understanding the world’ provided by John Gribbin in his Six Impossible Things, reviewed by Samuel Graydon in TLS, January 3)

“It is in fact the truth that there are many people in this country who are distressed by the fierce bombing of crowded cities and who have every right, under a free constitution, to make their opinions heard. And even those who, like myself, have come to a compromise with the paradox, ’In order to conquer evil, one must commit evil,’ find it difficult in this matter to steer a steady course between hypocrisy on the one hand and sentimentality on the other.” (Harold Nicolson, in Friday Mornings, p 168, quoted by Iris Origo in War in Val D’Orcia, diary entry for May 31, 1943)

“I have come to give you some advice about my successor. Whomever you choose, under no account must it be Michael Ramsey, the Archbishop of York. Dr Ramsey is a theologian, a scholar and a man of prayer. Therefore, he is entirely unsuitable as Archbishop of Canterbury.” (Geoffrey Fisher to Harold MacMillan, according to Peter Hennessy in Winds of Change)

Eh? “In European literature the military experience has, when it has been properly understood and interpreted, immeasurably enriched that understanding of mankind, of its powers and limitations, of its splendours and its miseries, and not least of its relationship to God, which must lie at the root of all societies that can lay any claim to civilization.”  (Michael Howard, from his essay ‘Military Experience in European Literature’, according to Paul Lay in History Today, January)

“Stalin’s death was not part of any plan; he died without instructions from any higher authority. Stalin died without receiving personal instructions from Comrade Stalin himself. In the freedom and capriciousness of death lay something explosive, something hostile to the innermost essence of the Soviet State. Confusion seized minds and hearts.” (Vasily Grossman, in Everything Flows, Chapter 3)

“Whom, then, should we judge? Human nature! Human nature is what engenders these heaps of lies, all this meanness, cowardice, and weakness. But the human nature also engenders what is good, pure, and kind. Informers and stool pigeons are full of virtue, they should all be released and sent home – but how vile they are! Vile for all their virtues, vile even with all their sins absolved .  . . Who was it who made that cruel joke about the proud sound made by the word ‘man’?’”  (Vasily Grossman, in Everything Flows, Chapter 7)

“‘That’s just a comforting lie. The history of life is the history of violence triumphant. Violence is eternal and indestructible. It can change shape, but it does not disappear or diminish. Even the word ‘history’, even the concept of history is just something people have dreamed up. There’s no such things as history. History is milling the wind; history is grinding water with a pestle and mortar. Man does not evolve from lower to higher, Man is as motionless as a slab of granite. His goodness, his intelligence, his degree of freedom are motionless; the humanity in humanity does not increase. What history of humanity can there be if man’s goodness always standstill?” (Aleksey Samuilovich, from Vasily Grossman’s Everything Flows, Chapter 26)


“But the obvious quotidian logic of chronology is basically too much for the human mind, with the constantly confusing sequence, causation and purpose. Because we come after, it’s easy to suppose we must be the purpose of what came before. That’s what recent generations of humans have supposed and continue to suppose. Such is the nervous logic of living only in the present but also at the constantly moving end point of the chronology of life on Earth.”  (Verlyn Klinkenborg, in New York Review of Books, December 19, 2019)

“In the Crusades it was common for younger sons simply to disappear for years on end and quite often never return. It was a throw of the dice as to whether you ended up wearing robes in some top new castle, married to an Armenian heiress and tucking into a pomegranate breakfast, or chained up in a Seldjuk atabeg’s dungeon trying to lick moisture off the walls.” (from Simon Winder’s Lotharingia, quoted by Neal Ascherson in NYRB review, December 19, 2019)

“Auden’s clever hopes, then, are really clever-clever hopes – too-clever-by-half hopes, not-as-clever-as-they-think-they-are hopes, hopes that are destined to disappoint. The clever hopes he’s presumably referring to include the Treaty of Versailles, the Covenant of the League of Nations, the Dawes Plan, the Locarno Treaties, the Young Plan, the Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments, the Tanggu Truce, the Pact of Friendship, Neutrality and Nonaggression between Italy and the Soviet Union, the German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact, the Soviet-Czechoslovakia Treaty of Mutual Assistance, the Franco-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance, the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, the Anti-Comintern Pact, the Munich Agreement, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact  . . . and every other pact, treaty and agreement after the First World War, all of which we now think of  s leading directly to the Second World War, but which at the time were largely intended to avoid any such thing.” (Ian Sansom, in September 1, 1939, a Biography of a Poem, pp 92-93)

“If America came home from Europe and left Nato tomorrow, Russia would soon do to Latvia and Lithuania what it has done to Ukraine, and for much the same reason: Crimea was a strategic priority for Russia, and so is direct access to the Kaliningrad enclave.” (Daniel McCarthy, in The Spectator, US Edition, January)

“It is possible to ignore stereotypes and prejudices if they are not considered to be the material of history; and yet they are a force in history, even though they are also a threat to historical research. They affected even the Duce, who was always anxious not to be regarded as the ruler of a country of pizza eaters, card sharps, and mandolin players.” (Nicola Labanca, in The Italian Wars, from The Oxford Illustrated History of World War II)

“All residents of Puerto Rico can select ‘Yes, Puerto Rican’ on the census to indicate their Hispanic origin. But when it comes to race, residents must choose among ‘white,’ ‘black,’ ‘American Indian,’ multiple options for Asian heritage, or they can write something in. Most Puerto Ricans choose ‘white.’” (from NYT, February 11)

“He [Archbishop John Sentanu] said he fully understood that some people want to, er, ‘test whether the milk is good before they buy the cow’. But now, according to the new guidelines, he believes the royal couple [Prince William and Kate Middleton] were ‘falling short of God’s purposes for human beings.’” (from Private Eye, 7-20 February)

“Biography is a collection of holes tied together with string, and nowhere more so than with the sexual and amatory life.” (Julian Barnes, in The Man in the Red Coat, quoted in NYT review, February 19)

“Somewhere in the cultural compost heap that nourishes the conservative imagination in this country, among the Robertson’s jam jars and Mac cartoons and decaying prints of Zulu, his [John Buchan’s] huge body of work might still be releasing nutrients.” (Christopher Tayler in London Review of Books, February 20)

“Historians have long recognized the importance of emotions in history: uncovering the personal, private stories of how our emotional lives have changed over time, while also constructing broader narratives about how collective experiences and understandings of emotions – anger, sadness, love – can impact on the wider sphere of nations, wars and revolutions.” (Niamh Cullen, in History Today, February)

“The fall of western civilization corresponds with the fall of the Mass.” (Nick Botkins, musical director of the basilica of St. Jude the Evangelist in Stamford, Connecticut, according to Madeline Kearns in The Spectator, US Edition, March)

“We humans are hard-wired towards stereotyping, and, alas, comics echo the way we think.” (Art Spiegelmann, in New York Review of Books, March 12)


“Christ led me to Marx. I don’t think the pope understands Marxism. For me, the four gospels are all equally communist. I’m a Marxist who believes in God, follows Christ, and is a revolutionary for the sake of his kingdom.” (Father Ernesto Cardenal, in an interview in 1984, as reported in his NYT obituary, March 2)

“And there is controversy over Nashville’s signature dish, hot chicken, an African-American creation that many feel has been misappropriated and widely marketed by white people.” (from a report on the tornado in Nashville, from NYT, March 5)


“Virtually the entire increase in mortality has been among white adults without bachelor’s degrees – some 70 percent of all whites. Blacks, Hispanics, college-educated whites, and Europeans also succumb to suicide, drug overdoses, and alcohol-related deaths, but at much lower rates that have risen little, if at all, over time.” (Helen Epstein, Visiting Professor of Human Rights and Global Public Health at Bard, from New York Review of Books, March 26)

“Throughout the history of the world, it’s rarely been the case that people say, ‘You know, this person is really rich, and I really like him.’” (David Rubenstein, co-founder, Carlyle Group, in NYT, March 15)

 “Proud Caucasians one and all . . .

Hear your wives and daughters call  . . .

Rise, defend their spotless virtue

With your strong and manly arms  . . .

Rise and drive this Black despoiler from your state.”

(lyrics to ‘Rise Ye Sons of Carolina’, the anthem of the White Supremacy Campaign, quoted in David Zucchino’s Wilmington’s Lie, p 162)

Check Your Intersectionality Frames!

“She said candidates did not have to choose between class-first politics and addressing racial inequities, but that they must articulate the interplay between them. ‘Intersectionality isn’t about virtue-signaling or wokeness, it’s about how we build a majority in progressive Democratic politics,’ she added. ‘If folks have bad racial justice frames, or gender justice frames, or identity frames, you won’t go anywhere in expanding the party.’” (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, from NYT, March 19)

“A slightly longer runway might enable Kidlington (now ‘London Oxford’) to welcome mid-sized planeloads of Chinese shoppers heading for Bicester Village.” (Martin Vander Weyer, in the Spectator, March 7)

“Tell me about this Plato cat.” (Dave Brubeck’s chat-up line to his future wife for seventy years, Iola, from review of Philip Clark’s Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time in the Spectator, March 7)

“And in another year, everything will be different again. It is always like that, and always will be; you are forever standing on the brink, in a place where you cannot see ahead; there is nothing of which to be certain except what lies behind. This should be terrifying, but somehow it is not.” (from Penelope Lively’s Consequences, p 27)

God and the Corona Virus

“None of us have a fear of corona,” said one of them, Roni Arif, the head of a community health center in Mamuju, Sulawesi. “We are afraid of God.” (from report on the Tablighi Jamaat, in NYT, March 21)

“It’s protecting the clinicians so you don’t have one person who’s kind of playing God. It is chilling, and it should not happen in America.” (Cassie Sauer, chief executive of the Washington State Hospital Association, from NYT, March 21)

“Jesus is my protection. He is my sanitizer.” (Father Allawi of the Maronite Catholic Church in Beirut, from NYT, March 23)

“Well, I was surprised to see the leader of the proletariat so elegantly dressed. His attire was impeccable, and I was particularly struck by the Parisian calf-skin gloves he took off of his beautifully manicured hands.” (Annette Nancarrow, artist, describing Trotsky to her son, as recounted by her grandson, Bret Stephens, in NYT, March 22)

St. Mugg is Back

“In my new book Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times, I argue that without a return to a shared commitment to the common good, liberal democracy will fail. The free market and the democratic state are not sufficient in themselves to sustain a free society. As the sense of moral community has faded, we have had increasing economic inequality, dysfunctional politics, threats to freedom of speech at universities, public shaming by social media, and a breakdown of the arenas such as family and community in which we learn the choreography of interpersonal grace and the habits of the heart that make for virtue. It is the most countercultural book I have written, and also the one I felt most urgent. We need less ‘I’, more ‘we’”. (Jonathan Sacks, in the Spectator, March 14)

“I think of chess-players, crossword-puzzle addicts, Egyptologists, numismatists, philologists, lexicographers, musicologists, – in short, of that particular kind of quiet, self-absorbed, recondite intellect, which is often overlooked or even mildly despised in the modern world, but which, for a few years, came together in a suburban park in the dreary midlands of England, and helped save western civilization.” (Robert Harris, in Foreword to Michael Paterson’s Secret War.)

“As the stricken ships exploded one ship spilled out liquid all over (the water) and as it became alight the ships were all travelling through waves of flaming fire. The sea was so brilliantly lit that the whole scene was like a well-lit stage. The crew on board a burning ship formed a queue and a priest placed the Holy Sacrament into each man’s mouth, made the sign of the cross, then each man, after he had taken the Sacrament, jumped overboard right into the flames. The priest was the last man; he also swallowed the Sacrament, then, clasping his hands together, he too dived into the flames  .  .  .” (S. France, writing about a British Atlantic convoy in 1940, from Michael Paterson’s Secret War, p 111)

“Listening to classical music is like reading philosophy books. Not everybody has to do it.” (Krzysztof Penderecki, from his NYT obituary, March 30)


“Marriages go bad not when love fades  . . . but when [an] understanding about the balance of power breaks down, when the weaker member feels exploited or the stronger feels unrewarded for his or her strength.” (from the prologue to Phyllis Rose’s Parallel Lives, quoted by Tom Crewe in London Review of Books, April 2)

“The triumph of the Thatcherite and Hayekian vision meant that we ended up with a ‘flexible’ economy in which a large number of people are entirely reliant on the near-term vagaries of the labour market for their day-to-day survival, with neither savings nor state guarantees to provide any back-up when the market crashes.” (William Davies, in London Review of Books, April 2)

“The Japanese use the term tsundoku to describe the tendency to acquire books that accumulate unread.” (Toby Harnden, in The Spectator USA, April)

“One-nation Tories in the future, as in the past, should view managers and workers as participants in a common national enterprise of economic development and shared prosperity.” (Professor Michael Lind, of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, in The Spectator USA, April)

“The TLS’s former editor, Jeremy Treglowe, once described Stoppard as ‘a one man Adult Education Centre’.” (Toby Lichtig, in TLS, February 28)

“Whether they have been hard-wired into a Jewish genetic make-up after centuries of the singular Jewish experience it’s impossible to prove, but Lebrecht’s passion is persuasive.” (Mark Glanville, in review of Norman Lebrecht’s Genius and Anxiety, in TLS, February 28)

“He [Dr Otto Dietrich] once remarked at Hitler’s lunch-table that all his best ideas came to him in the bath; Goebbels was quick to ask why he did not bathe more often.” (from Michael Balfour’s Propaganda in War, p 21)

“Hoare, of all unexpected people, said that ‘the English are ready to accept great sacrifices but not minor irritations’.” (from Samuel Hoare’s Nine Troubled Years, p 418, quoted by Michael Balfour in Propaganda In War, p 75)

“Harold Hobson a little later described him [William Joyce] in the Times as ‘Cholmondeley-Plantagenet-out-of-Christ Church’.” (from Michael Balfour’s Propaganda in War, p 138)

“Few people put in a memoir incidents where what they did looks bad or which they later regretted having done. Instead, most memoir writers recount what they did in a positive light and, if some regrettable event is public and can’t be avoided, it provides a justification or an excuse. There are, of course, memoirists who deliberately mislead, distort, and invent things that never happened.” (from John Earl Haynes’s Introduction to Kaarlo R. Tuomi’s Spy Lost: Caught between the KGB and the FBI, p xxxiii)

“Ms. Lee converted to Judaism [from Jehovah’s Witness] when she married Bruce Karatz, a businessman, in 2001, but has since returned to Christianity.” (of Andrew Cuomo’s former girl-friend, Sandra Lee, in NYT, April 12)

“There is a longstanding Christian tradition that finds it more theologically perplexing when good things happen to good people than when bad things do.” (Ross Douthat, in NYT, April 12)

The Coronavirus: Discussion Points

  1. “  . . . if there is any message Christians can carry from Good Friday and Easter to a world darkened by a plague, it’s that meaningless suffering is the goal of the devil, and bringing meaning out of suffering is the saving work of God.” (Ross Douthat, in NYT, April 12)
  • “If the corona curve continues to crest, Covid-19 might expose as much about the dead hand of capitalism (the corruption, the hubris, the greed) as Chernobyl ever did about communism.” (Ben Scott in the Spectator, April 4)
  • “Covid-19 is indeed the Great Leveller. Conventional wisdoms have been shattered. But crises offer opportunities. Wise heads should be planning ahead. FDR, Churchill, and, yes, Stalin lifted their sights in 1942-43 as the war against Nazi Germany began to turn. Prodded by gifted public servants like Keynes and others, these leaders thought about the future of Europe, the balance of power and the institutions of the post-war world.” (Lionel Barber, in the Spectator, April 4)

“Had that [Italy] then [in August 1943] become, as it almost certainly would have, our main theatre of operations, either General Montgomery or General Alexander might well have penetrated through the eastern Alps by the Ljubljana Pass that summer. The final battles would have taken place in Austria and Bavaria, with the odds on the war being shortened by many months and the Allies reaching Vienna and Berlin while the Russians were still hundreds of miles distant.” (from Dennis Wheatley’s The Deception Planners, p 125)

“Memories of the past [??] are not memories of the facts but memories of your imaginings of the facts.” (Philip Roth in The Facts, quoted by Benjamin Taylor in The Atlantic, May)

“This is not, he insists, an autobiography, which he will never write: ‘I’m too fond of the truth for that.” (Paul Griffiths, reviewing Alfred Brendel’s The Lady from Arezzo in TLS, April 17)

Race is the American dilemma. It is race that, you know, keeps this country in agony. It is our most serious domestic problem. And therefore, we want to think specially hard about anything that involves sorting people out on the basis of one drop of blood of this or that.” (Abigail Thernstrom, to the PBS series Frontline, quoted in her NYT obituary, April 22)

“On one occasion an inspector came to see him after a day in the history department and began the conversation with: ‘The teaching is very didactic.’ Anderson’s response was: ‘Good. What else did you like?’” (From the Times obituary of Sir Eric Anderson, April 24)

“Once critics have accepted a review assignment, their next task is to read the book.” (Phillipa K. Chong in Inside the Critics’ Circle: Book Reviewing in Uncertain Times, quoted by David Gelber in Literary Review, March 2020)

“Time misspent in youth is sometimes all the freedom one ever has.” (Anita Brookner, according to Dwight Garner in NYT, April 25)

“I also understood the main thing: man was human not because he was God’s creation, or because he had an amazing thumb on both hands, but because he was physically stronger, more enduring than any other animal and, eventually, because he succeeded in making his spiritual side the effective servant of his physical side.” (from Rain, in Kolyma Stories, by Varlam Shalamov)

“We realized that death was no worse than life and we were afraid of neither. We were in thrall to total indifference. We knew we could put a stop to this life tomorrow, if we wanted, and sometimes we decided to do so, but every time we were stopped by some trivial thing that was part of life. Either we were going to get a ‘box’, a bonus kilogram of bread, today and it would be simply stupid to end such a day by committing suicide. Or the orderly in the next barracks would have promised to repay an old debt by giving us a cigarette that evening.” (from Field Rations, in Kolyma Stories, by Varlam Shalamov)

“Moscow’s Yaroslavl station. Noise, the urban tide of Moscow, a city that was dearer to me than all the cities of the world. The carriage coming to a halt. The dear face of my wife, who came to meet me, as she had done before, when I came back from my frequent journeys. This time my absence was extensive, almost seventeen years. But the main thing was that I hadn’t come back from a working journey. I had come back from hell.” (from The Train, the last paragraph in Kolyma Stories, by Varlam Shalamov)

Gavin Ewart

I have long been a fan of Gavin Ewart, although for a while my knowledge of him relied exclusively on two snippets of his that were published in J. M. Cohen’s Penguin ‘Comic and Curious Verse’ (including the infamous ‘Miss Twye’). Later, I acquired ‘Be My Guest’ and ‘The Gavin Ewart Show’. A few months ago, I found a copy of Ewart’s ‘Collected Poems 1980-1990’ in Wilmington’s premier second-hand bookshop. It is a hilarious volume: Ewart is a fine parodist, and in his shorter verses, is a combination of Ogden Nash, John Betjeman, and E. J. Thribb. It prompted me to acquire a copy of the Collected Gavin Ewart: 1933-1980, which reinforces how broad his range was. In these two anthologies can be found superb Audenesque ballads, Gravesian poems on love and marriage, as well as the glorious ‘Larkin Automatic Car Wash’, which, besides being an excellent parody, is a first-rate poem in its own right. (See  or .) I reproduce a few samples of his shorter works here:

A Great Poem

This is a great poem.

How I suffer!

How I suffer!

How I suffer!

This is a great poem.

Full of true emotion.


Americans have very small vocabularies.

They don’t understand words like ‘constabularies’

If you went up to a cop in New York and said

‘I perceive you are indigenous!’ he would hit you on the head.

Triolet: Buying Records in July

I’ve purchased The Ring,

I shall play it this winter,

A long-drawn-out thing,

I’ve purchased The Ring

Where for hours they all sing,

It’s not cryptic like Pinter.

I’ve purchased The Ring.

I shall play it this winter.


If you look at the world, it looks bad!

And this can make some people sad.

The slightly demented

Are fairly contented,

The happiest ones are quite mad.

A Pseudo-Laureate Gets Started

(notes on the Queen, etc.)

The Queen is tiny

but her crown is shiny –

the Duke’s not so bad,

he’s a bit of a lad,

and so is Andy,

he’s really randy,

like Christian Keeler

and Rice-Davies (Mandy)

Plenty more of this where it comes from. I shall have to find room for Ewart in my Top 50 Enthusiasms (see Rootless Cosmopolitan), but shall probably just increase the List to 60, to make room for a few others overlooked.

Moreover, in its February 28 issue, the ‘Times Literary Supplement’ published a clerihew of mine, which I had submitted, as one of a pair, after some vague invitation a few weeks before to offer verse on philosophers. Here is the one they published:

To the ladies, Bertrand Russell

Offered an existential tussle:

Each logical proposition

Causing a fresh frisson.

And this was the other, which I think is better.

Michael Oakeshott

Had a storehouse of jokes – not

The lavatorial kind,

But those involving Culture and Mind.

I recall that, in my late teens, I wrote several limericks and clerihews, many of which were about characters at my school known only to a select few. Somewhere in my files they must be lying in wait, and the University of East Montana must be on eager tenterhooks, waiting for my demise to receive the boxes. One I do remember ran as follows:


Did not pen ‘Trains and Boats and Planes’.

(He was so choosy.)

But he did write ‘Thesmophoriazusae’.

That dates it. Enough already.


“History’s what people are trying to hide from you, not what they’re trying to show you. You search for it in the same way you sift through a landfill: for evidence of what people want to bury.” (Hilary Mantel in Giving Up the Ghost, quoted by Clair Willis in the New York Review of Books, May 14)

“A Georgetown University public health expert confidently tweeted that ‘germs don’t respect borders’. If this is true, it is true only in the sense that respecting borders is a human trait. Viruses don’t write novels or read Playboy either, or develop gambling addictions or say ‘for all intents and purposes’ until it gets on your nerves.

This viruses-don’t-respect-borders business is a perfect globalist slogan. It conveys absolutely nothing but aggressively enough so as to cow others into swallowing any inclination to stand up and disagree with you. It is what is called in zoology ‘display’.” (Christopher Caldwell in the Spectator US Edition, May)

“I am in any case a sucker for diaries, and not just because they so often have a freshness, vividness and authenticity that reflective memoirs so rarely achieve. Above all, I love their lack of hindsight, their record of events as perceived and interpreted at the time. If your interest in history is in why people acted the way they did, then you need to know, not what the facts were, but what they believed them to be, and this wonderful fallibility is at the heart of a good diary’s appeal.” (Antony Jay, on Yes, Minister, in London Review of Books, May 22, 1980)

Dr. Heinz Kiosk is Back!

“The plague will continue to crawl out of the woodwork – out of bedrooms, cellars, trunks, handkerchiefs and old papers – as long as human subjects do not question the cruelty and injustice of their social arrangements. We are all accountable for the ills of the world.” (Jacqueline Rose in the London Review of Books, May 7)

“Imbued as they were with Western culture, Americo-Liberians viewed Africans as primitive peoples in need of civilization and Christianity and saw themselves as the country’s rightful leaders.

In their search for a promised land of liberty, African-American settlers created a hierarchical society based on many of the same assumptions that justified white supremacy in the US. Race was no longer a dividing line, but class, religion and cultural heritage were. Many indigenous Africans, meanwhile, saw Americo-Liberians as freed slaves with no legitimate claim to leadership, but it was the Americo-Liberians who held power. For the republic’s first 100 years Africans were not allowed to vote unless they proved they had adopted Americo-Liberian culture.”  (Angela Thompsell, from The Foundations of Liberia, in History Today, April)

“In the course of World War II, while the British went short of much else, they nursed an almost unlimited wealth of dud military commanders.” (Max Hastings, in review of Antony Beevor’s Battle of Arnhem, in the New York Review of Books, May 28)

“The idea that Britain remained a first-class power was a fantasy that Churchill desperately tried to promote, even though he knew in his heart it was not the case  . . . One could argue that September 1944 was the origin of that disastrous cliché which lingers on even today about the country punching above its weight.” (Antony Beevor in The Battle of Arnhem, quoted by Max Hastings in New York Review of Books, May 28)

Backward Planning Is So Much Easier

“A newly installed interim marketing executive for Quibi, Ann Daly, once the president of DreamWorks Animation, has worked with Mr. Katzenberg since 1997. He said the change had come about because of a ‘difference of opinion about what the strategy would be going forward.’” (from NYT, May 12)

‘On one side of the road officialdom posted its injunctions to the patriotic to ‘save paper’, ‘save fuel’, ‘save food’, ‘save money’, and ‘waste nothing’; on the other side of the road were celebrated the riotous orgies of waste which officialdom, in all countries, always brings; and along the hard road between marched the British nation, docile, unthinking, unquestioning, staunch, passive, bearing its burden with a coolie-type patience, forgiving everything because it understood nothing.” (from Douglas Reed’s All Our Tomorrows (1942), p 27)

“I sometimes think that if Hitler sends 50,000 parachutists to this country, with orders to report their landing-places by radio, he will get 50,000 radiograms reporting a landing at a place called ‘Gentlemen’; this was the only indication of my whereabouts I ever found.” (from Douglas Reed’s All Our Tomorrows (1942), p 37)

“At this moment, when Australia faces such a threat, a department of our Dominions Office, the branch of our Government which cherishes our relations with the great Dominions, has sent this telegram to the Australian Prime Minister’s Office in Canberra:

            At the moment the Empire team is batting on a sticky wicket, and the Axis fast bowlers have had some success. Our best bats are still to go in and the score will show that we can give as well as take punishment.

Now I know that this cricket talk is not just an obsession, as I thought, but an incurable form of infantile dementia, which grows worse with advancing years.” (from Douglas Reed’s 1942 All Our Tomorrows, p 210)

“When the man Hitler disappeared from Germany, about 1943 (in 1960 he was discovered in Argentina, and interest in him briefly revived because of  a series of articles about him in an American newspaper) there was a great hubbub of jubilation in this country, where the belief was held that the main aim of the war, ‘to put an end to Hitlerism’, was now achieved.” (from Douglas Reed’s 1942 All Our Tomorrows, p 320)


“She [my mother] knew it was her passport out of the working classes and away from the small colliery town of her childhood.  . . .  and my parents were now established in the professional middle classes.” (Margaret Drabble, in the TLS, May 8)

“The different electoral responses to these losses can be largely explained by two things. First, until well into the 1980s England had a significantly larger private sector and homeowning middle-class, concentrated in the south of the country away from its former industrial centres; second, and not unrelatedly, the grip of the upper classes on the English public sphere, which has given them almost complete control over a composite Anglo-British political culture shaped in their image.” (Rory Scothorne, in London Review of Books, May 21)

“M Staats is an anti-Brexit protestor and eco-activist. Protest is a way of life for such people, and at present they are frustrated. This is a boon to ordinary citizens, but a cause of nervous breakdown in the XR classes.” (Charles Moore in the Spectator, May 9)

‘Discretion is the better part of velour . . .’

“Velvet is always the answer – whatever the question.” (‘dandyish curator’ Stephen Calloway to female-to-male ‘drag king’ Holly James, from the TLS, May 8)

“Every Nazi has Jewish ancestors. Every white supremacist has Middle Eastern ancestors. Every racist has African, Indian, Chinese, native American, aboriginal Australian ancestors, as well as everyone else, and not just in the sense that humankind is an African species in deep prehistory, but at a minimum from classical times, and probably much more recently.” (Adam Rutherford, in How to Argue with a Racist, quoted by Barbara J. King in TLS review, May 8)

“She [Ysabel] said: ‘Because you are one of those conceited cads who think it’s mighty fine to be indifferent to people who like you but like to fancy yourself Christ by worrying yourself sick about people who don’t even know you are alive.’

Old Townleigh chuckled: ‘The girl has exactly described the Liberal Party!’” (from Michael Arlen’s Young Men in Love, p 114)

“Serle was that rarest of English politicians – neither a Welshman, an Irishman, a Scotsman, an American, Canadian, nor a Jew, but an Englishman. He knew the English people. Now the English, as opposed to other races, are commonly supposed – by the English –  to mistrust words, phrases. What an Englishman is supposed exactly to do with a word or a phrase, what the exact procedure of ‘mistrusting’ is, has never been clearly defined.” (from Michael Arlen’s Young Men in Love, pp 183-184)

“The loveliness of women! How strange it is that all men do not see it! How strange it is that some men avoid it! Science blinds them. Art misleads them. Philosophy lures them to false gods. Clubs make them fat, politics silly, commerce arrogant, golf bald, bleary and speechless  . . .” (from Michael Arlen’s Young Men in Love, p 218)

“After Stalin’s death, his henchman Vyacheslav Molotov condemned the new Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev for going to a banya with the Finnish president, as though bathing with a foreigner meant capitulation to the international bourgeoisie.” (Rachel Polonsky, in The New York Review of Books, June 11)

Oh, No It Hasn’t  . . .

“The profit motive has been implanted in our deepest history as a species, in our very DNA.” (Marilynne Robinson, in The New York Review of Books, June 11)

Oh, No It Isn’t  . . .

“Our greatest weakness as a species is our inability to see beyond a very short time frame.” (from letter by Naomi Rachel in The Atlantic, June)

“I fully support banning travel from Europe to prevent the spread of infectious disease. I just think it’s 528 years too late.” (Cherokee journalist Rebecca Nagle, quoted in The Atlantic, June)

“All peasants who were more or less comfortably off were labelled as ‘Kulaks’; all who employed hired labour, even during the short peaks of seasonal work; shopkeepers; religious workers; former ‘White’ officers; one-time members of the Tsarist police and gendarmerie; past Cossack Atamans (chieftains of Cossack villages); private owners of corn-mills, butter churns, threshers, sowers or steam engines; almost any family guilty of the crimes of eating and dressing decently and living in tasteful surroundings. And there were many more. Those who refused to become ‘collectivised’ automatically gave the authorities cause to proclaim them Kulaks, and this, in its turn, provided a means of extending the black list.” (from G. A. Tokaev’s Stalin Means War, pp 4-5)

“First, it should be emphasized that Stalin was never a really honest partner to Churchill and Roosevelt. He was a new kind of colleague – one with a stiletto hidden up his sleeve, and a mind alert to discern the moment when it would be safe to stab his Western confreres in the back. Never for a moment did he renounce his ambitious dream of creating a World Soviet Union. He wanted war, because he considered it would advance this project, and his constant hope was that the main combatants would exhaust themselves and each other without involving the U.S.S.R. to any extent which might be termed dangerous.” (from G. A. Tokaev’s Stalin Means War, p 71)

“The Party bosses always considered that they were threatened from somewhere. As far back as 1939. There had been a whole catalogue of cities which, in their eyes, had been imperilled by other centres – Odessa by Bucharest, Zhitomir by Lvov, Minsk by Warsaw, Vitebsk by Kozno, Pskov by Riga, Leningrad by Tallin and Vipuri. And, now that the war was over, and the Communist net had spread in choking coils across Eastern Europe, Sofia was menaced by Athens, Belgrade by Rome, Leipzig by Kassel, Schmerin by Hamburg, Stettin by Copenhagen, the Baltic States by Sweden, Viborg by Helsinki! If Paris became Russia’s, it would at once be threatened by London, and so on; safety would come only when the whole world belonged to the U.S.S.R.” (from G. A. Tokaev’s Stalin Means War, p 152)


“Loneliness is, she argues, a disease of civilization, a product of the way we live, and it should be met with incisive public health intervention.” (Adam Foulds, on Fay Bound Alberti’s A Biography of Loneliness, in Times Literary Supplement, May 29)

“The quotas of victims for each district and town were fixed at N.K.V.D. Headquarters in Moscow. I remember one order to the town of Sverdlovsk for 15,000 ‘enemies of the people’ to be exterminated.

            What happened when these signals from Moscow were received? The District N.K.V.D. officials would draw up a plan based on the number necessary to meet Moscow’s demands. Then the local officials would ransack their lists and records to collect together every sort of incriminating trace; for example, ‘associated with the White Army, bourgeois background, Trotskyist, Menshevik, Esdek, Nationalist’. Often they were hard put to fill out their quota; but they dared not fail to carry out Moscow’s orders speedily and to the letter.” (From Empire of Fear, by Vladimir and Evdokia Petrov, p 74)

“‘The memory is vanishing, and the coronavirus is accelerating this process,’ said Rita Magnani, who worked with Mr. Negri, at the local chapter of the National Association of Italian Partisans. ‘We are losing the people who can tell us in first person what happened. And it’s a shame, because when we lose the historical memory we lose ourselves.’”

“’Memory goes away when those directly involved go away, and we are all old,’ said William Marconi, a partisan who fought Nazis in Tirano in northern Italy. ‘And this virus is killing the old.’”       (from NYT, June 7)

“Political activism is a way for useless people to feel important.” (Thomas Sowell, according to Rory Sutherland in the Spectator, April 25)

“The German occupation of Czechoslovakia had remarkable consequences. Czechs suddenly became suspect foreigners and were treated as German agents. One of us shared a cell with a Czech confectioner who had remained in Russia after World War I and had never been home since; the day after the occupation of Czechoslovakia he was arrested as a German agent. One could hardly fail to admire the German intelligence service, which had apparently had the foresight, before the state of Czechoslovakia came into existence, to recruit a future national of that state to spy against the Soviet Union, which also did not yet exist, in case the still nonexistent state of Czechoslovakia should one day be overrun by the Germans. That, however, was what he was expected to confess.” (from Russian Purge and the Extraction of Confession, by F. Beck and W. Godin, pp 122-123)

Identity Non-Crisis

“I am a Tunisian, but of French culture. I am Tunisian, but Jewish, which means that I am politically and socially an outcast. I speak the language of the country with a particular accent and emotionally I have nothing in common with Muslims. I am a Jew who has broken with the Jewish religion and the ghetto, is ignorant of Jewish culture and detests the middle class. I am poor, but desperately anxious not to be poor, and at the same time, I refuse to take the necessary steps to avoid poverty, a native in a colonial country, a Jew in an anti‐Semitic universe, an African in a world dominated by Europe.” (from Pillar of Salt by Albert Memmi, quoted in his NYT obituary, June 11)


“Yet there’s one opinion they both share: The American experiment is teetering.” (from NYT, June 13)

“It was true, for instance, that a good unit would be at its best soon after a first baptism of fire, and that from then on it was likely to become less and less good, depending on how fast it suffered casualties. It was also true that the most experienced troops were, in the end, the least useful because they had become too knowing. It was also noticeable that units suffering from low morale and high petty crime rates in the ranks were often commanded by officers much decorated for gallantry. Some displays of guts were all right, but experienced troops did not really care for an officer who was too brave. It wasn’t just his neck; he could get them killed too.” (Eric Ambler, in Here Lies Eric Ambler, p 223)

‘Scientific’ Data

“The data were immaculate, he noted. There were few missing variables: Race appeared to have been recorded for nearly every one.” (quoting Dr. Peter Juni, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto, in article on peer review at medical journals, in NYT, June 15)

“One problem, is that it is not clear how race is determined. It shows up in medical records but, said Dr. Peter Reese, a kidney transplant specialist and epidemiologist at the University of Pennsylvania, ‘I worry that in some situations they look at you and assume’. With the formulas, there is no accounting for people of mixed race, as the authors of the New England Journal paper and other doctors have noted.” (from report in NYT, June 18)

“Dr. Darshali A. Vyas of Massachusetts General Hospital, who is first author of the New England Journal paper, said the ultimate goal is for doctors and researchers to rethink the assumption that they can use a patient’s race in making medical decisions. ‘This is a challenge to the field about how we think about race and what our default assumptions are about race,’ she said.” (from report in NYT, June 18)

“But from my own experience of life, I should say that if you take a comfortable, elderly man who hasn’t been near a college for about twenty years, who has been pretty liberally fed and dined ever since, who measures about fifty inches around the circumference, and has a complexion like a cranberry by candlelight, you will find that there is a degree of absolute certainty about what he thinks he knows that will put any young man to shame.” (Stephen Leacock, in Saloonio, from Literary Lapses)

“Most states require fewer minimum training hours to become licensed as a police officer than they do for  barbers or  cosmetologists. New York State law mandates 1,000 hours of training for massage therapists, compared with around 700 for officers. Hawaii has no minimum requirements for police officers, but manicurists must train for 300 hours.” (from report in NYT, June 20)

Cf. W. H. Auden . . . .

“The virus has said, essentially, Halt your economies, reconnect science to a whole understanding of yourselves and the world, or die.” (Jessica Riskin, in the New York Review of Books, July 2)

“Going back to McCarthy, Communist Russia wasn’t necessarily planning to overthrow our country and take over. “(Ivy Meeropol, grand-daughter of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, in NYT, June 23)

“We all feel the urge to conform: it is the most normal of human desires.” (Anne Applebaum, in The Atlantic, July/August)

“He [Peter Fleming, August 1939] identified the following individuals as ‘completely trustworthy men whose services would be of value, if necessary at an early stage’. . .

e)         Roger HOLLIS. (MI5; married; circa 1934). Did several years in China with BAT. Though he has not been there recently, his judgement of Far Eastern affairs has always impressed me as unusually realistic. His cooperation, or even his comments, might be valuable at an early stage, particularly as he is available in London.” (from Alan Ogden’s Master of Deception, p 20)

“For two years, Fleming and the HICCOUGHS case attached little importance to this rather tiresome routine commitment since it was transparently flawed. ‘Why,’ asked Fleming, ‘if our agents could communicate with us by W/T, could we not communicate with them by the same means? Why, if we were forced to broadcast messages to them, did we continue to use a low-grade cipher? How was it that they were all (apparently) able to listen in twice daily at fixed times to receive a message when in most cases it affected only one of them? How was it that the Japanese Radio Security Service never obtained the slightest clue to the places and times at which they transmitted their lengthy and invaluable reports? Why, after all this talk about sabotage and subversion, did nothing ever happen?’” (from Alan Ogden’s Master of Deception, p 228)

“Every man has manifold personalities; there is the self which he never knows; the self which he sees himself; the self which he presents to the world; and the self which the world accepts; lastly, the ever-changing self of the future – battered, shorn, remoulded by external events, worked down, destroyed and raised again by the inner experience of the man.” (Bill Allen on Peter Fleming, from Guerrilla War in Abyssinia, 1943, final words of Alan Ogden’s Master of Deception)

“There is no need to recount here in detail the glorious triumph of the election day itself. It will always be remembered as the purest, cleanest election ever held in the precincts of the city. The citizens’ organisation turned out in overwhelming force to guarantee that it should be so. Bands of Dr Boomer’s students armed with baseball bats surrounded the polls to guarantee fair play. Any man wishing to cast an unclean vote was driven from the booth; all those attempting to introduce an element of brute force or rowdyism into the election were cracked over the head. In the lowest part of the town scores of willing workers, recruited often from the humblest classes, kept order with pickaxes. In every part of the city, motor cars, supplied by all the leading business men, lawyers, and doctors, acted as patrols to see that no unfair use should be made of other vehicles in carrying voters to the polls.” (from Stephen Leacock’s Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich)

“I don’t know – I never have known – where the steamers like the Mariposa Belle come from. Whether they are built by Harland and Wolff of Belfast, or whether, on the other hand, they are not built by Harland and Wolff of Belfast, is more than one would like to say offhand.” (from Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town)

“On the dull student Oxford, after a proper lapse of time, confers a degree which means nothing more that he lived and breathed at Oxford and kept out of jail.” (from Stephen Leacock’s Oxford as I See It)

“At Uxbridge I didn’t have to murder or threaten to murder any of my pupils. Instinctively I went at class order in the right way, and when you know how it is very simple. It is the beginning which counts. Face the class. Begin talking to them at once. Get to business, not with one of them, but with all of them. Talk: don’t mumble. Face them: don’t turn your back. Start work: don’t get fumbling about with a class list of names and a roll call, which you may pronounce correctly or may not. Leave all that till later. Start work, and once started they are lost as far as disorder goes. In fact they won’t expect any. Above all, don’t try to be funny; feeble teachers attempt a footing of fun as a means of getting together. The real teacher only descends to fun when he has established a sufficient height to descend from.” (from Stephen Leacock’s Teaching School, in The Boy I Left Behind Me)

“It was all right to laugh at relics and indulgences and pardons because these things were really funny, being superstitions. It was all wrong to laugh at the Holy Communion of the Church of England because this was sacred mystery.” (from Stephen Leacock’s Gilbert’s Bab Ballads, in The Boy I Left Behind Me)


“Dr. Evans, also a leading collector of African-American art, acquired the bulk of the Douglass collection in the 1980s from a dealer. He described his historic house in Savannah as so crammed with an estimated 100,000 rare books and manuscripts that even his wife never entered some rooms.” (from report in NYT, July 4)

“We had the vaqueros, the cowboys, who came in and out of the village. On Saturday evenings, my dad would take out a guitar, and somebody would bring beer, and my dad would sing some of the old New Mexico songs. All of that crawled into my DNA.” (Rudolf Anaya, from his NYT obituary, July 5)

“He wrote a good deal about philosophy and philosophers, but was himself possessed of very little in the way of philosophical sophistication. The result was that he tended to reduce the subjects of his work to simplified and rather vaguely impressionistic sketches. There is a definite intellectual laziness in his evaluations of the topics he discusses. Many of his essays, consequently, turn out to be little more substantial than senior common room chatter or an after-dinner talk delivered to an aldermen’s association over the port and cheese.” (David Bentley Hart on Isaiah Berlin, in letter in TLS, June 26)

“This was the context for the secret state’s continued interference in the lives of others, at least half a million of them, of whom only a handful were ever shown to be involved in illegal or treasonous activities – and most of these were sitting at desks in MI5 and MI6. More absurdly, only about twenty thousand were actually members of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and their chief occupation seemed to be libelling each other. Like Auden’s poets, they made ‘nothing happen’ in a society for whom dialectical materialism was far less engaging than Dixon of Dock Green, Ealing comedies, the Cup Final, the conquest of Everest, rain-free shopping arcades, John Betjeman, Margot Fonteyn, new schools, employment, immigration. In the international communist movement, the British party was a laughing stock, correctly assumed to be so thoroughly penetrated that it was virtually a branch of the Security Service.” (Frances Stonor Saunders, from Stuck on the Flypaper, in London Review of Books, April 9, 2015)

“The Kingfish and his group introduced the idea that every ‘player’ is playing not one game, but three: the international game; the United States versus the Soviets versus France versus Britain versus all the other nations of the world sitting around a set of Chinese checkers board; the domestic game: Republicans versus Democrats, or Conservatives versus Labor, or one Communist faction versus another; and a personal game, in which each man advances his own interests.” (from Miles Copeland’s The Real Spy World, p 58)

“It is well known that some of Britain’s most influential labor leaders are Communist Party members whose objective is not so much to better the lot of workers as to bring down the system, but the nature of British Government is such that it is unable to accept this fact of life as a basis for policy.”  (from Miles Copeland’s The Real Spy World, p 234)


“In the United States, many immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean or Asia develop a shared sense of race and grow acutely aware of the role of race in America, a country where it is part of the daily conversation.” (Norimitsu Onishi, in NYT, July 15)

“If, as Doris Lessing was later to claim, Earls Court was jumping, Bexhill, like large swathes of the country, seemed to be in a sort of dormitory coma, as though John Wyndham’s triffids had just passed through and stunned the population. No sound was heard, except the tomatoes liquefying on the vine or the chickens adjusting their snooze positions in the straw.” (David Hare, in The Blue Touch Paper, p 28)

“In future epidemics the first thing that should be done is to lock up the predictive modelers.” (Alex Donaldson, former head of the Pirbright Laboratory of the Institute for Animal Health, quoted in NYT, July 20)


“Anglo-American dinghy realities – deindustrialization, low-wage work, underemployment, hyper-incarceration and enfeebled or exclusionary health systems – have long been evident. Nevertheless, the moral, political and material squalor of two of the wealthiest and most powerful societies in history still comes as a shock to some.” (Pankaj Mishra in London Review of Books, July 16)

“Perhaps more important than the effect this crisis has had on ministers is that it has strengthened the view of the cadre of Whitehall high-flyers that change is needed, that the civil service can’t just go on congratulating itself on being a Rolls-Royce machine.” (James Forsyth in the Spectator, July 4)


“As for Bevin’s character, Adonis’s contention that he had ceased to be working class by the time he came into government because of how he dressed and where he lived is like suggesting that the Marquis of Bath ceased to be an aristocrat when he donned a kaftan and moved into a cottage on his vast estate.” (Alan Johnson in review of Andrew Adonis’s Ernest Bevin: Labour’s Churchill, in the Spectator, July 4)

“The worst thing that a subordinate can do is question orders and be proved right.” (historian Michael Peszke, in The Polish Underground Army, p 174, quoted by Lynne Olson in Last Hope Island, p 397)

“Oh, he’s very gracious. Of course, he’d kill me if he could. But, still, very gracious.” (Jan Masaryk, on returning from Moscow after a summons by Stalin in 1947, quoted by Lynne Olson in Last Hope Island, p 458. Masaryk was killed in March 1948.)


The Cheka? The SS? The Khmer Rouge? Etc. etc.

“Noam Chomsky has accurately described the contemporary Republican Party as ‘the most dangerous organization in human history’.”  (Joseph O’Neill in the New York Review of Books, August 20)

“But when one looks at the list of ‘experts’, one sees the conservative bias – all distinguished economists, but most with a particular bent, and not including any of the true experts in climate science who might have raised an objection.” (Joseph review of False Alarm by Bjorn Lomborg, in NYT Book Review, August 9)

“As a matter of policy, I typically decline to review books that deserve to be panned. You only make enemies.” (Joseph review of False Alarm by Bjorn Lomborg, in NYT Book Review, August 9)

“I went to the local Benedictine abbey to collect the abbot who had agreed to give the Last Rites to my father, who wasn’t a Catholic but wouldn’t have minded. It was a dank, slushy evening, and I had difficulty seeing the road. I didn’t know what to talk about, so I asked him to tell me what the Seven Deadly Sins were. ‘Gee. Gosh. Let me think.’ He could only name four.” (Frances Stonor Saunders, in the London Review of Books, July 30)


“Many a literary home, it seems, contains a bestiary. Animal talk between writers is part of what Janine Utell calls the ‘intersubjective worldmaking’, ’evolving intermentality’ and ‘mutual affectivity’ of couple-hood. Rabbitry and cat-calling might appal those on the other side of the door. Hemingway never returned to the rue de Fleurus [after overhearing a conversation between Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas], but when it is deployed in writing, Utell explains, it becomes part of  a dignified process by which couples ‘appropriate the discourse of a “we”’, in order to ‘become as subjects in relation to and with, and in recognition of, a significant other.’” (Frances Wilson, in review of Janine Utell’s Literary Couples and 20th-Century Writing, in TLS, July 24)

“The reaction to their marriage in Pittsburgh was just as they had feared. When William [Friedman] traveled back home briefly to tell his parents, his mother collapsed at the news that her son had married a shiksa.” (from Jason Fagone’s The Woman Who Smashed Codes, p 97)

“ . . . and afterwards they stayed true to Bacon’s idea in ways their mentors at Riverbank never did, because to really live a life in search of knowledge, you must admit when you are wrong.” (from Jason Fagone’s The Woman Who Smashed Codes, p 158)

“Nothing indeed appears to depend on the knowledge of any language other than English, and even the grammatical use of this is outsourced to foreigners who still possess the abstruse skill of distinguishing nouns from verbs.” (Mark Edwards, Professor of Early Christian Studies and Tutor in Theology at Christ Church, Oxford, in the Christ Church Annual Report, 2019)

China in 2020?

“At the same time, that capability at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy, such [is] the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. If this government ever became a tyranny, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability for this technology  . . .”

(Senator Frank Church, on August 17, 1975, on NBC’s Meet the Press)

“You write better with all your problems resolved. You write better in good health. You write better without preoccupations. You write better when you have love in your life. There is a romantic idea that suffering and adversity are very good, very useful for the writer. I don’t agree at all.” (Gabriel García Márquez, to Peter Hammill in 1988, quoted in NYT obituary of his widow, Mercedes Barcha, August 24)

“Däubler thinks the wretched rates of pay on which intellectuals depend and thinks it is at least one reason why so many of the younger ones are going over to Communism.” (from Count Harry Kessler’s Berlin in Lights, February 8, 1919)

“The Communist Party is lacking in leaders, in experience, in everything that is essential to a successful revolution. Moreover it is riddled with informers. The workers regard the whole revolution as a means of acquiring cars and silk stockings. The German worker is a revolutionary only when he is hungry. A Communist revolution would be possible in Germany only, if a link with Russia were established, with Russian leaders and Russian Red Guards.” (from Count Harry Kessler’s Berlin in Lights, September 4, 1919)

“A terrible era begins for Europe, like the gathering of clouds before a storm, and it will end in an explosion still more terrible than that of the World War.” (from Count Harry Kessler’s Berlin in Lights, January 10, 1920)

“Although he [Lloyd George] did produce a few quite funny remarks, the impression was of a burnt-out volcano belching nothing better than a few puffs of smoke. The vital spark was lacking. An actor too old for his heroics. There was something gruesomely grotesque about this effort to regain the limelight by a demagogic attack on his own creation, Versailles. the convict as public prosecutor. The old lady of easy virtue as the champion of public morality.” (from Count Harry Kessler’s Berlin in Lights, March 24, 1925)

[Einstein, on being asked by Kerr whether he was deeply religious] “Yes, you can call it that. Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in point of fact, religious.” (from Count Harry Kessler’s Berlin in Lights, June 14, 1927)

[Rathenau, to Frau Deutsch] “We ought really to be standing on the barricades. But I can’t. I can’t bear the smell of little people.” (from Count Harry Kessler’s Berlin in Lights, November 21, 1937)

“Once Lawrence [of Arabia] complained about every move of his being followed by the Press. ‘Well, of course, they notice you,’ Shaw replied. ‘You always hide just in the middle of the limelight.’” (from Count Harry Kessler’s Berlin in Lights, November 14, 1929)

“National Socialism is a delirium of the German lower middle class. The poison of its disease may however bring down ruin on Germany and Europe for decades ahead.” (from Count Harry Kessler’s Berlin in Lights, September 15, 1930)

“For a time they [the Glitterateurs] keep their links with Oxford but, if they are successful, increasingly gravitate towards London with its brilliant cluster of media connections, ditching in the process their high, cold North Oxford houses and their high, cold North Oxford wives.” (from Peter Snow’s Oxford Observed, p 149)

“I am conscious of communicating if not with Christ then with the whole of English history and tradition.” (an ‘agnostic worshipper’ at Christ Church Cathedral, quoted in Peter Snow’s Oxford Observed, p 234)

‘Science’ at work

“Companies pursuing coronavirus vaccines have not yet released clinical data analyzed by the participants’ sex, but the Food and Drug Administration has asked them to do so, as well as by racial and ethnic background, said Dr. William Gruber, a vice president at Pfizer.” (from report in NYT, August 27)


“The compact between the Security Service and Blunt was broken by a novice prime minister fifteen years later.” (on Thatcher in 1979, from Richard Davenport-Hines’s review of A Question of Retribution? by David Cannadine, in TLS, August 7)

“The study of history is not a simple amassing of knowledge . . . still less a technique; it is not even an exercise of wise judgment or clever analysis. It is, it must be, a discipline of the spirit, an act of faith in civilization.” (Sir Edgar Iffley, in Angus Wilson’s Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, Part One, Chapter Two)

“The brother, as well as being the local archaeologist, is a modern Churchman, which means, as far as I can see, an attachment to any and every belief save the dogma of his own religion.” (Gilbert Stokesay on Canon Portway, in Angus Wilson’s Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, Part One, Chapter Four)

“I will say one thing though: as historians we’ve got to tell the truth about the past as far as we know it, but that’s quite a different thing from searching into the truth of people’s lives here and now. All this prying and poking about into what other people prefer to keep hidden seems to me a very presumptuous and dangerous fashion.” (Sir Edgar Iffley, in Angus Wilson’s Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, Part Two, Chapter One)

“This lie, if lie it is, has become the cornerstone on which a whole false edifice may be erected. And even if its wasn’t so, even if it was just one single historical oddity, I see now that I’ve been wrong all these years in treating it lightly. If an historian has any function at all, it is to maintain honesty. The study of history can’t be the plaything of the sort of egoistic mockery that I’m suggesting Gilbert indulged in.” (Gerald Middleton, in Angus Wilson’s Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, Part Two, Chapter Two)

“’The community is in control of its rules, which are not imposed by outsiders, or invented by a caste of lawyers based on imagined universalist norms which are debated independently of the practices of the community in which they live.’ What does this mean? Is Sharia law okay in Bethnal Green? Or in some cases should a ‘caste of lawyers’ impose ‘imagined universalist norms’, like gender equality? It is not clear.”  (Richard V Reeves, in review of Paul Collier’s and John Kay’s Greed is Dead: Politics After Individualism, in Literary Review, July/August)

“Clearly MI5 and MI6 have trouble recruiting adequate intelligence agents, just as the GRU can no longer find killers with the finesse of Stalin’s Naum Eitingon and Pavel Sudoplatov, and British immigration officials cannot differentiate between a Russian football fan and a hitman.” (Donald Rayfield, in review of three books on Putin’s Russia, in Literary Review, July/August)

“We also learn – inter alia, as Henderson would doubtless say – that the author’s favourite place for morning coffee is the Kleines Café in Vienna’s Franzikanerplatz, where Stefan Zweig probably discussed the best way to bowl a googly with Karl Kraus.” (Stephen Bates, in review of Michael Henderson’s That Will be England Gone: The Last Summer of Cricket, in Literary Review, July/August)

“They came along in their dreary wartime mackintoshes, gas-mask cases filled with Spam sandwiches, and found bright cafes, music, flowers, modern furniture and a spirit of something that none of them had ever experienced in their lives.” (Terence Conran, on the 1951 Festival of Britain, to the Daily Telegraph in 2011, as reported in his NYT obituary, September 13)

“It’s such an English attitude, this inability to forgive the rest of the world for not being England.” (Frances Stonor Saunders, in The Suitcase, Part 3, in London Review of Books, September 10)

“Children of migrants or refugees often assume the role of liaison officers, connecting their parents to the new world in which they find themselves. They act as translators and interpreters, not just of language, but of signs, gestures, social codes. There is a significant shift, even reversal of roles, where the child becomes the mentor, taking the hand of the unsure parent. I think this is how my father lost his childhood.” (Frances Stonor Saunders, in The Suitcase, Part 3, in London Review of Books, September 10)

“’Fighting against far-right extremism is in the DNA of the police,’ said Michael Maatz, deputy chief of the state chapter of the police union GdP. ‘The fact that there are still officers that share radical, far-right and xenophobic content in chat groups is unbearable.’” (from report on North-Rhein Westphalia in NYT, September 17)

“Stern repeatedly emphasizes the ‘complexity’ of the conflict in Israel/Palestine and suggests that it can be explained by our ‘innate tendencies as humans’ to form into ‘an ingroup and an outgroup’, which he traces back to ‘our primitive ancestors.’” (Tom Sperlinger, in review of Kenneth S. Stern’s The Conflict over the Conflict, in TLS, September 18)

“He [Smuts] was always kindness itself to me, and I thought him then, and still think him, incomparably the greatest man I have ever met, possessing Churchill’s versatility and vision without his vices.” (Lord Tedder, in With Prejudice, p 286)

“As he paced to and from across the room, he [Smuts] shot the question at me: ‘Tedder. Has the British Army got no good generals?” (after the death of Gott, from Lord Tedder’s With Prejudice, p 325)

“The Russian High Command had disapproved of our dropping supplies into Poland on the grounds that such supplies fell into the hands of the German, or of partisans who were hostile to the Red Army. There was a good deal of truth in this, because the partisans to whom we were sending supplies looked to London and were not kindly disposed to the Russians.”  (Lord Tedder, in With Prejudice, p 642)

“I then offered him [Stalin] the box of cigars, with General Eisenhower’s compliments. He took his pipe out of his mouth, and said, ‘When do they go off?’ –  to which I appeared to flinch, looked at my wristwatch, and said, ‘They do not go off until I have gone.’ The small joke went down well. We then got straight down to business.” (Lord Tedder, in With Prejudice, pp 646-647)

“But it is also, most interestingly, a sustained study of the clash between the idea of historical truth as a set of objective facts waiting to be uncovered by rigorous inquiry and the more contemporary notion of it as a construct, amenable to (and fair game for) deliberate intervention.” (James Lasdun, in review of Ariel Sabar’s Veritas: A Harvard Professor, a Con Man and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, in London Review of Books, September 24)


“His brief chapters, each exactly ten pages, take the centuries at a fair lick, but never without scattering the most delicious asides: Cymburga, the Polish mother of Frederick III, renowned both for her beauty and for her ability to drive nails into planks with her bare fists; Frederick the Slothful, who travelled his realm with his own hen coops to save on buying eggs; the Habsburg knights who had to cut off their fashionable long toe-pieces when forced to fight the Swiss infantry on foot; Margaret of Parma, another illegitimate child of Charles V by a different serving wench, who grew and carefully trimmed a moustache to provide her with an air of authority when her father made her governor of the Low Countries; Princess Stephanie of Belgium (the betrayed wife of Crown Prince Rudolf who shot himself at Mayerling), who invented the hostess trolley.” (from Ferdinand Mount’s review of The Habsburgs, by Martin Rady, in London Review of Books, September 24)

“Even if ordinary England cares little about the union, its governing, administering and teaching elites – whether socialist, liberal or conservative – claim to care desperately. Among politicians especially, it’s taken as axiomatic that an avalanche of execration and oblivion will thunder down on the British leader who ‘loses Scotland’ (‘loses’ is an interesting word, as if Scotland were not a partner but a possession – a glove down the back of a sofa, or some overseas atoll with a Union Jack and a pelican).” (from Neal Ascherson’s Bye Bye Britain in London Review of Books, September 24)

“Britain is an imaginary realm, floating in a category above mere nation states; England is a European country like its neighbours. Britain is exceptional and must express itself in superlatives (‘world-beating’, ‘global leader’, ‘most efficient on the planet’); England is a medium-sized country with first-rate scientists and rotten management. Britain dreams of becoming a heavily armed, swaggering pirate power, defying international rules; England is a minor, sceptical nation with a taste for satire and democracy.” (from Neal Ascherson’s Bye Bye Britain in London Review of Books, September 24)

“Dr. Marion Suiseeya, who is completing a book that she considers critical to her tenure prospects — about the injustices facing people who live in forests — estimates that she was two months from finishing the manuscript in March, but that it will take her at least four more months to finish now.” (from report in NYT, October 1)

More hokum

“In the US alone, nearly 70per cent of people believe in a literal heaven after death, while just under 60 percent also believe in hell.

Whatever your belief system may be, we are living in an age in which, for many of us, corona virus has thrust death before our eyes like never before. It does us all good to think about what might come after.” (Rachel Ashcroft, ‘a PhD graduate’, in History Today, August)

“Each human being, he thinks, ‘is a little civilization built on the runs of any number of preceding civilizations.’ We have ‘resemblances’, which enable us to live together and socialize. ’But all that really just allows us to coexist with the inviolable, untraversable, and utterly vast spaces between us.’” (Hermione Lee, on John Ames, from Marilynne Robinsons’s Gilead, in review of Jack in New York Review of Books, October 22)

“Intelligent people, however, become intelligent by solving complicated problems.” (from Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, Chapter 18)

“As a well disposed Italian official in the European Commission once told me in the 1970s: ‘You will never be forgiven for not being invaded, occupied or defeated by the Nazis.’” (Christopher Meyer, in the Spectator, September 19)

“Every Arabic word has at least four meanings: meaning A; meaning B, which is completely the opposite of meaning A; meaning C, which is a curse word; and meaning D, which has something to do with a camel.” (‘the great linguist’ Walter B. Henning, according to letter in TLS, October 2)

“Characters in fiction start with uncertainties and end with yet other uncertainties – as people do in real life. Figures in history end up with carved-in-stone certainties.” (Yiyun Li, in New York Review of Books, November 5)

“It is hard, I suppose, to be so far up Stalin’s arse for so long without suffering some impairment of vision.” (Sir Kenneth Dover on Christopher Hill, quoted in A Question of Retribution, edited by David Cannadine, p 80)

“When in doubt, claim credit.” (Tom Maschler, according to his NYT obituary, October 23)

“I love the English ease and geniality, the large companionship of the public-house. But I despise English philistinism, the English middle-class ignorance of the first thing about culture; their complacency and sentimentalism; their obsessions (in a normal peace-time) with bridge parties and golf and motor-cars; their use of the theatre as a place in which to roar themselves silly, or gorge themselves with chocolates. And I despise equally the not-so-long-ago fashionable Bloomsbury-Chelsea highbrowism which does not understand that genius is a miracle to be revered whether in fashion or not.” (Neville Cardus, in Autobiography, p 16)

“We are bound, of course, to admit the phenomenon of the external universe; we have physically to subsist in it, and so the more justly it is balanced the better it will be for introvert and extrovert alike. But I suspect that whatever the condition of material things, whether peace or war, plenty or want, the proportion of happy and unhappy folk all over the earth remains much the same.  The planners of the future invariably forget that in their new world or ‘order’ the old familiar human family will persist, most of them bored for want of instruction in the art of living imaginatively.” (Neville Cardus, in Autobiography, p 45)

“If Alington’s influence did not convert me, it persuaded me at least to thank God that I was an atheist.” (Neville Cardus, in Autobiography, p 81)

“A modest or inhibited autobiography is written without entertainment to the writer and read with distrust by the reader.” (Neville Cardus, in Autobiography, p 123)


“I don’t enjoy traveling anymore

because, for instance,

I still don’t know the difference

between a bloke and a chap.”           (from Safe Travels, in Billy Collins’s Whale Day)

“Years afterwards, when the ineptness of a new clerk was under discussion in the manager’s sanctum and the disposition of those present was to write him down as the worst bungler who had entered the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank’s portals, some white-haired veteran in charge of one of the departments would murmur, ‘No, no, you’re wrong there. Young Robinson is, I agree, pretty subhuman, but you should have seen P. G. Wodehouse. Ah, they don’t make them like that nowadays. They’ve lost the pattern.’” (from P. G. Wodehouse’s Author! Author!, p 29)

“If only the boys would stop being so frightfully powerful and significant and give us a little comedy occasionally, everything would get much brighter. I am all for incest and tortured souls in moderation, but a good laugh from time to time never hurts anybody.” (from P. G. Wodehouse’s Author! Author!, p 33)

“To be a humorist, one must see the world out of focus. You must, in other words, be slightly cockeyed.” (from P. G. Wodehouse’s Author! Author!, p 35)

“‘In Russia,’ says Khruschchev, making his important speech to the Presidium, ‘we have a proverb – A chicken that crosses the road does so to get to the other side, but wise men dread a bandit,’ and then his face sort of splits in the middle and his eyes disappear into his cheeks like oysters going down for the third time in an oyster stew, and the comrades realize that this is the big boffola and that if they are a second late with their belly laugh, their next job will be running a filling station down Siberia way.” (from P. G. Wodehouse’s Author! Author!, p 36)

“I’ve always liked wandering about in the background. I mean, I get much more kick out of a place like Droitwich, which has no real merits, than out of something like Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon.” (from P. G. Wodehouse’s Author! Author!, p 79)

“You say you tend to get tired nowadays. Me, too. After all, we’re both heading for seventy. Silver threads among the gold, laddie. Extract from a book I was reading the other day: ‘Latterly his mind had been going to seed rather. He was getting on toward seventy, you see.’ Have you ever noticed, by the way, what peculiar ideas writers have as to what constitutes old age? ‘He was man not far from fifty, but still erect and able to cross the road under his own steam,’ they write. Or ‘Old though the Squire was, his forty-six years sat lightly upon him.’ At sixty-eight I have reached the stage when, picking up a novel and finding that a new character the author has introduced is sixty, I say to myself, ‘Ah, the young love interest.’” (from P. G. Wodehouse’s Author! Author!, p 134)

Nonsense about Faith

“I believe faith is part of what makes us human. It is a basic attitude of trust that always goes beyond the available evidence, but without which we would do nothing great. Without faith in one another we could not risk the vulnerability of love. Without faith in the future we would not choose to have a child. Without faith in the intelligibility of the universe we would not do’ science. Without faith in our fellow citizens we would not have a free society.” (Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, in the Times in 2013, quoted in his Times obituary, November 9)


“Unsurprisingly, Yi qi is not an ancestor of modern birds. It went extinct after just a few million years, presumably doomed by its sheer lack of competency in the air.” (Sabrina Imbler, in NYT, November 10)

“She seasoned her narrative liberally with the sort of anecdotes which are so often the stock in trade of lovers-to-be: some humorous; some seemingly self-deprecatory yet casting a favorable light on one’s personality as being mischievous, sensitive, or wonderfully naïve; others more directly revealing one’s superior qualities at an earlier age but still a pardonable form of self-boosting because one is not discussing one’s current self.” (from Alexander Klein’s The Counterfeit Traitor, Chapter 29)

“When Timothy Beardson landed in Paris from the Far East, the immigration officer saw his passport was littered with Asian visa stamps and asked what it was like to live in the third world. Beardson replied: ‘I don’t know. I’ve only just arrived.’” (from Beardson’s Times obituary, November 9)

“Another area that is really of interest is Indigenous people. They are often misclassified in terms of their race and ethnicity, and that makes it very difficult to do analyses to figure out what are the trends in those communities and to target interventions accordingly. Being really attentive to detailed data surveillance, and using that to inform how we address these disparities, is going to be very, very central.” (Dr. Céline Gounder, adviser to Joe Biden, from NYT, November 18)

“Yet she bears Stalin no ill will, and also remembers how prisoners cried when, assembled outside in March 1953 to hear a special announcement, they learned that the tyrant was dead. “Stalin was God,” she said. “How to say it? Stalin wasn’t at fault at all. It was the party and all those people. Stalin just signed.” (Antonina Novosad, 93, who spent ten years in Kolyma)

“He later put up eight wooden crosses at the site ‘in memory of those sacrificed.’ But as a firm believer that Russia cannot thrive without sacrifice, he today reveres Stalin. ‘That Stalin was a great man is obvious,’ he said, citing the leader’s role in defeating Nazi Germany and in turning a nation of peasants into an industrial power. Compared with the countless Native Americans killed in the United States, Mr. Naiman said, ‘nothing really terrible happened here.’” (from article by Andrew Higgins on the Kolyma Highway, in NYT, November 22)

“The mind must command the limbs and convert itself into a force that controls the body, even if that part of the body refuses to obey. Those who let themselves go in these circumstances quickly fall prey to death. There is no way out, other than remaining master of one’s body, down to the last muscle. Every temptation must be repressed. When exhaustion tempts one to rest, the legs give up. It is vital not to give in. One must continually urge the mind to victory in the overwhelming struggle against the body.” (From Valerian Albanov’s In the Land of White Death, p 135)

“Any study of adolescence is necessarily a study of the fatuous.” (Henry Green [Yorke] in Pack My Bag, cited by John Updike)


“Try to understand what the author wishes to do, and the do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.” (John Updike’s advice on book-reviewing, according to Adam Begley in the Spectator, November 21)

“That these two [Hitler and Stalin] should be seen as anything other than the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of totalitarianism might seem obvious to anyone beyond the late Eric Hobsbawm, but it does need to be restated occasionally, and Rees does so eloquently.” (Andrew Roberts, in review of Laurence Rees’s Hitler and Stalin in Times Literary Supplement, November 20)

“In an influential essay, “Minimum Wage, Maximum Folly,” published in 2007, he argued that a minimum wage (it was $5.85 at the time) came with ‘legally mandated fringe benefits such as employer payments for Social Security, Medicare, unemployment compensation, and worker-compensation programs at federal and state levels’ that ‘run as high as 30 percent of the hourly wage.’ ‘Put oneself in the place of an employer,’ he wrote, ‘and ask: Does it make sense for me to hire a worker who is so unfortunate as to have skills enabling him to produce $4 worth of value per hour when he is going to cost me $8 an hour? Most employers would see doing so a losing economic proposition and not hire such a worker.’” (from obituary of Walter E. Williams in NYT, December 6)

“Guy Walter’s article about the uninvited use of first names reminds me of a nonagenarian French lady whom my wife used to drive to go shopping. If someone addressed her by her first name she would reply: ‘Have I slept with you?” (letter by Peter Fineman in the Spectator, November 28)

“If this  shameless blackmail succeeds, the populist, xenophobic, nationalist ruling parties in Hungary and Poland will be able to go on doing pretty much what they please, being paid for it generously and, for good measure, biting the German and Dutch hands that feed them.” (Timothy Garton Ash, quoted by Ivan Krastev in NYT, December 17)

“British statesmen became more liberal and less realist; though not cowards and fools, they lost some of their elders’ hard-edged realism and hard-won expertise. In intelligence, wisdom is to information as three is to one. Statesmen did not fail because intelligence was bad; they used intelligence badly because they failed as statesmen.” (from John Ferris’s Behind the Enigma, p 150)

“One of the vital lessons that a university teaches by surrounding you with learned people is that some of them will be fools however much they know. Though there can be erudition without memory, there is no wisdom without judgement.” (Clive James, in The Fire of Joy, p 238)

“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.” (John Allen Paulos, according to Melanie Mitchell in NYT, December 29)

ERASMUS: Integration, Mobility & Wine-and-cheese

“‘Erasmus opens people’s horizons and broadens their conceiving of the world,’ said John O’Brennan, a professor of European studies at the University of Maynooth in Ireland, where he leads a European integration program financed by Erasmus. ‘If that’s not the embodiment of the European ideal, I don’t know what it is.’”

“‘Erasmus is not only the student exchange program it’s known for, it’s also embedded in how the European Union thinks about confronting unemployment and mobility,’ said Paul James Cardwell, a law professor at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow who participated in the program in the 1990s.”

“‘That’s what Erasmus is about: It taught me how to appreciate wine and cheese, how to take the time to socialize through hourslong lunches,’ said Katy Jones, a 28-year-old who went to France as an Erasmus student and runs an English-language program in Lyon.” (from NYT report, December 30)