Recent Commonplace Entries


“My affairs, I suspect, were a lot like anyone else’s: each a journey into new territory, each an escape from the last, each offering a refuge from I don’t know what – perhaps convention itself –and, in my case, each a vain attempt to find the Ur-woman I never had, never understood, and always suspected by definition.” (David Cornwell [John le Carré] in letter to Adam Sisman, quoted in his Secret Life of John le Carré, p 160)

“The fact that Jews have been indigenous to the Holy Land for millenniums and that more than half of Israel’s population are Mizrahi Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent who have often fled Arab persecution is generally passed over in this prism focused on white imperialism.” (Roger Cohen, in NYT, November 2)

“It is a mark of le Carré’s awfulness that I was several times reminded of the late-period Kingsley Amis, who, when people protested at his self-aggrandizement, rudeness, cantankerousness and so on would reply, ‘Yes, but you see I’m Kingsley Amis’.” (D. J. Taylor, in review of Adam Sisman’s Secret Life of John le Carré, in The Spectator World, November)

“May I add a detail to Robert Potts’s review of Adam Sisman’s study of the emotional and literary repercussions of John le Carré’s tedious lechery (October 20)? I once asked a retired SIS officer about the influence on his former colleagues of le Carré’s novels. I was told, for what it is worth, that until the 1970s SIS officers were generally an uxorial bunch of men, remaining faithful to their wives in a spirit of well-regulated prudence, but that le Carré’s fictions made them feel that they were missing easy tricks. Consequently there was an increase of adulterous adventuring at home and abroad. Perhaps I was being teased, but I think not.” (letter by Richard Davenport-Hines in the Spectator, October 27)

“I once asked Sir Vernon Bogdanor, emeritus professor of politics and government at the University of Oxford, whether he preferred teaching undergraduates or postgraduates. With no hesitation he replied: ‘The undergraduates – they’re much brighter’.” (from letter by David Bussey in the Spectator, October 27)

“In reality, of course, it was a full-scale invasion of Kuwait to expel Iraq’s forces that, after defeating them on the battlefield, very deliberately stopped at the Kuwait-Iraq border for multiple reasons, including the reluctance to replace a destroyed Iraqi army by turning much of the US Army into a Mesopotamian constabulary, which duly happened after the full-scale invasion in 2003. (I testified to that effect before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations just before the war of 2003, with Senator Biden in the chair, but I made no headway at all because the administration representative at the hearing said that it was a fight to bring democracy to the long-suffering Iraqi nation, and when I countered that removing Saddam would bring anarchy and not democracy, I was easily dismissed with the accusation that it was racist to assert that Iraqis were incapable of democracy. I only made things worse by noting that there was no Iraqi nation, only bitterly divided Kurds, bitterly divided Arab Shia priestly dynasties, Turkmens and deeply divided Sunni Arabs.)” (Edward N. Luttwak, in review of Michael Mann’s On Wars, in the Spectator, October 27)

“The United Staes is an extraordinarily resilient country, agile and flexible, and the inherent goodness of the American people is there.” (General Mark Milley, quoted in The Atlantic, November)

“As Biden’s running mate, she became the first woman, first Black American, and first South Asian American to be elected vice-president. Before that, she was the first South Asian American and only the second Black woman to serve in the U.S. Senate. Before that, she was the first woman, Black American, and South Asian American to serve as attorney general of her native California. Before that, she was the first Black woman in California to be elected a s district attorney.” (Elaina Pott Calabro on Kamala Harris, in The Atlantic, November)

“One of his new colleagues told him that the first consideration when voting on any bill should be ‘Will this help me win re-election?’ (The second and third consideration, the colleague continued, should be what effect it would have on his constituents and on his state.)” (McKay Coppins, on Mitt Romney, in The Atlantic, November)

“The world now contains more than 5,400 economic enclaves: estates, islands, parks, havens, free ports, bonded warehouses, export processing zones, special economic zones, free-trade zones, free points, and the like. One geographer counted eighty-two names for them.” (Daniel Immerwahr, in review of Quinn Slobodian’s Crack-Up Capitalism in NYRB, November 23)

“Instead of attacking the welfare state, the theory goes, they can play a zone defense, outrun its regulations, and sap its revenues. Slobodian notes how eager the wealthiest today are to ‘opt out, secede, and defect from the collective.’ They live in compounds, fly on private jets, sail superyachts, hoard art in free ports, buy islands, found online worlds, build bunkers, establish alternative currencies, or launch themselves into space.” (Daniel Immerwahr, in review of Quinn Slobodian’s Crack-Up Capitalism in NYRB, November 23)

“Recent studies show that five thousand years ago carbon dioxide was being pumped into the atmosphere, perhaps in part because of deforestation and tilling of the soil — the beginning, according to some scientists, of the anthropogenic transformation of the earth, though in this case with arguably benign consequences, for the extra emissions may have averted a new glacial period.” (Christopher de Bellaigue, in review of Peter Frankopan’s The Earth Transformed: An Untold History in NYRB, November 23)

“A decline in our sensitiveness and discrimination with words must be followed soon by a decline in the quality of our living also.” (I. A. Richards, according to Richard Davenport-Hines in Literary Review, November)

“For Ms. Braun-Pivet, like many French people, religion is a matter of tradition and heritage and not faithful devotion. Her husband, Vianney Pivet, is a nonbelieving Catholic, and they celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah with their five children.” (from report in NYT, November 23)

“The distinguished Australian Sinologist Simon Leys once observed that comparisons of the CCP elite to the mafia are in a sense unfair to the mafia, in which a certain loyalty to “brothers” does play a part. Losers of political battles at the top of the CCP generally are not relegated to comfortable retirements—they go to prison or worse.” (Perry Link, in review of Ha Jin’s The Woman from Moscow: In Pursuit of Beauty, in NYRB, December 7)

“Unfortunately, she is unmoved by these memories, having that most valuable of all feminine attributed – the ability to see her vices as virtue.” (Ian Fleming, on his wife, from Automobilia, published in Spectator Points of View (1956-1961))

“Lucky Jim is not a stranger to the Establishment – it is even quite likely that Lord David Cecil was his tutor – but he will have to work his passage before he is accepted seriously and not just as an interesting oddity. By the time he has done that. He will have been so groomed by Sir Harold Nicolson, his corners rubbed off by Mr. A. L. Rowse and his sensibility developed by Mr. Cyril Connolly, that he will be fully equipped to recommend travel books to the readers of the Sunday Times and even open an exhibition at the Times bookshop.” (Henry Fairlie, from The Establishment, published in Spectator Points of View (1956-1961))

3 Responses to Recent Commonplace Entries

  1. Pingback: On Privacy and Publicity | Coldspur

  2. Michael

    Not sure where to find on the map “his . . . redbrick house at Purely with its back-garden tennis-court”. Just south of Corydon, perhaps? And a few other typos this month, which are I believe abhorred by you.

    • coldspur

      Thank you, Michael. That damned autocorrect feature, I am sure. I have rebuked my Chief Editor, Thelma. But I am responsible: the buck stops here.

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