What this blog is for and about

I also offer personally-tailored, individualized English conversation practice (including etiquette) and coaching in writing techniques. Finally, I edit texts such as magazines, business proposals, memorandums, emails so they are presented in English which does not embarrass you or your organization. For further details, please mail me at: language.etiquette@gmail.com

Remember: all pictures can be expanded to full page size by clicking on them.


31 December 2016

Vladimir Putin and grammatical redundancy

An article in today's Financial Times discusses Russia's refusal to implement tit-for-tat (as they are called) expulsions of diplomats after Obama announced that 37 Russian diplomats were to be sent home for alleged participation in the alleged plot to compromise the US presidential election last month. But there is a serious redundancy in the quotation from the expert who comments for the FT:
'Simon Saradzhyan, director of the Russia Matters Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, said Trump’s tweet wasn’t surprising given his past remarks and his stated goal of resetting the U.S. relationship with Russia. 
'“He has grounds to believe this is a smart move,” Saradzhyan said. “Because if Vladimir Putin had reciprocated, which is usually the norm, that would inevitably constrain Trump’s ability to maneuver because, yes, you can blame everything on the past administration.”'
     The phrase "usually the norm" is silly. Something "usual" is, by definition, "the norm". No need to say more. Reciprocation is either "the norm", or it is the "usual" course of action. Either will do; to use both is "over-egging the pudding".

     And with that a Happy New Year to all my valued readers. Enjoy your festive pudding, however many eggs it has been baked with!


04 November 2016

Why the quality of written communication matters: a cautionary example from China. Who could take a company like this seriously?

Dear sir or madam,

We would like to find some suppliers who can supply whisky
if your company is capable of producing or can supply, please send us your quotation. we need a lot of amount.
Hope we will have a good cooperation
Once you get our email ,If you are interested ,please kindly give us a feedback,
Looking forward to hearing from you.

Best Regards.
Zhao jie
Shan Xi Teng Yu Imp&Exp Co.,Ltd
Adress:No.19 Tenglong Pavilion,Mingguang Road,Xi' An,Shaanxi,China
Zip code:710000
Mobil : +8615686223173

29 October 2016

From "Brexit" to "hexit": my Hallowe'en gift to the English language

Neologisms are new words, those created where none suitable to a particular situation exists in English. Anyone can do it. This was mine this morning (and why):

Looking at a particularly elegant couple standing near the bus-stop as I walked over the road to get the hallal chicken to put in my cauldron for the sacred feast, it occurred to me that if "Brexit" has now become the word for "going out with a bang", perhaps "hexit" should be the word for "going out with a witch."

This is my small contribution to the celebration of Hallowe'en this year.

07 October 2016

The subtle art of English humour

Any Russian who wants to understand what тонкий английский юмор is all about has TOTALLY, TOTALLY, TOTALLY got to listen to this documentary programme, possibly the funniest I have ever heard, about the Portsmouth Sinfonia, which was known in the 1970s as "the world's worst orchestra"....

05 October 2016

Donald Trump, Harry Truman and the right way to talk about history

This is how history ought to be described. At the same time, in the early part, the speaker describes Harry Truman as an early version of Donald Trump, only less respectable. Well worth listening to in the current context - but above all: this is how the stories should be told (click on picture to be redirected to the lecture):

David Pietrusza recounts the presidential campaign and election of 1948 that pitted Democratic President Harry Truman against Republican challenger Governor Thomas Dewey.

12 September 2016

The importance of language etiquette

I saw this picture on Facebook yesterday, and it carried with it this commentary which I thought sensible:

I don't judge people based on race, creed, color or gender. I judge people based on spelling, grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure

I wrote this in reply to the caption in the picture:

Surely, it is "wrong" spelling (not "bad" spelling), since that is a binary choice? A word is either correctly spelled or incorrectly spelled. It is not a question of taste where quality comes in (as in "good", "bad" or "indifferent"). Grammar can be incorrect, but can also simply be a different style, or foreign, and still be expressive. Incorrect spelling is just confusing - unless of course you are that semi-literate Irish gent in Goodbye to All That, whose name I forget, who used to write things like "the bluddy Bishop" - which I thought rather nice.

Curiously, a "grammar socialist" (if that's the opposite of a "grammar nazi") responded by saying rather curtly that I should "Get a life." I took that to mean that one should not criticise those who criticise misuse of English. But what is life if it is without communications? And how does communication work if we do not have accepted conventions for it?

31 August 2016

Lawrence of Arabia: language, romance and marketing a political cause

Here a totally fascinating programme about Lawrence of Arabia. It has many echoes in connection with the chaos in the Middle East today - though I mention that simply to encourage "modern" people to listen to it since these days it seems that an interest in history for its own sake is rarely considered a good reason for withdrawing one's gaze from financial information, shopping offers, sporting trivia or the inanity of contemporary politics.
The programme is about a genius who fell in love with a culture that was not his own, achieved amazing things when his country needed him to in connection with that culture, and then was semi-betrayed by his own people who were in thrall to the version of "modernity" that was all the go in 1919 (at Versailles).
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, his book about his role in the Arab Revolt in Palestine in the First World War, is written in extremely "romantic" language, which was designed to sell a cause - partly himself, and partly the rights of Arabs to be taken seriously in the partition of Palestine. The first worked, and the second didn't. But in making the attempt, Lawrence left behind an extraordinary work of factual literature. It is one of the English language's many "must reads". 

13 August 2016

Life, love and philosophy

It occurred to me listening to this programme just now, that I could never enjoy life "over the piece" with someone who did not enjoy listening to this sort of programme:


12 August 2016

The Unabomber - a study in technological insight

One man and his hut
Today's "must listen" is a fascinating programme about the Unabomber - remember him?
It focuses on the psychology of someone who was unable to relate on a calm basis with people round about him. Even his mother recognised that. Yet he was a mathematics professor at Berkeley and undoubtedly understood some fundamental truths about technology, the main one being that it is likely to destroy society and nature as we know it. 

I must say I largely agree with him there. 
However, the Unabomber's solution reflected Churchill's judgement on Lenin, of whom he said: "His aim to save the world; his method, to blow it up." 

In this case the targets were individuals who were advancing technology. He, by contrast, lived a completely reclusive life in an almost entirely natural situation. He was the ultimate sustainable individual. He was a conservationist. His was a virtuous life. His ideals were unimpeachable. The only problem was that he thought, like Sir David Attenborough, that people are the problem.
We know so much about him because he wrote diaries and letters obsessively. He did so because he did not communicate verbally. 

If you are interested in the psychological problem of people who are forced to live alone, both literally and metaphorically, because they can only broadcast and not receive, you will not be disappointed. The interesting language angle on this is how boringly he wrote. That is what egomaniacs are left with. They are not thinking of the reader. They are like Professor Zorkin - see entry below: 6 December 2013 - the Chairman of the Russian Constitutional Court. However, at least he does not blow people up. Her merely allows the state to act freely, which in some circumstances comes to the same thing.

10 August 2016

EU use of English, compared with US use - a warning about bureuacratic language

Definition of an online platform:

'The European Commission defines an online platform as a business that employs "information and communication technologies to facilitate interactions (including commercial transactions) between users, collection and use of data about these interactions, and network effects which make the use of the platforms with most users most valuable to other users." In their book, "Modern Monopolies: What It Takes to Dominate the 21st Century Economy," Moazed and Johnson have a punchier definition: "a business that connects two or more mutually dependent groups in a way that benefits all sides."'

If you prefer the first definition, from the EU, to the second one, then you must be someone who wishes to speak and not be understood. As a bureaucrat, you will have "targets" for the number of words emitted, but none for the amount of understanding you have generated. The reason is simple. It is easy to count words but impossible to quantify understanding. Bureaucrats only do the easy stuff, however meaningless. The reason for that is simple, too. They get pad anyway - by you and me. Parasites!

See the content of this quote, and the full and very interesting article it comes from, about why Amazon, Google etc. are succeeding due to their clearer understanding of how to think about the market they are in, here: http://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-08-09/the-greatest-tech-businesses-aren-t-really-tech 

05 August 2016

Business English by the Beatles: Ringo talks about Brexit

"I voted for Brexit, because I thought the European Union was a great idea, but I didn’t see it going anywhere lately. It’s in shambles, and we’re all stuck with people who want to make arrangements for their own country and don’t think for the other countries. Britain should be out and get back on its own feet."

Ringo had no education to speak of - not just higher education, but also ordinary schooling as he spent so much of his childhood in bed as an invalid. YET, he understands how to use English - and the key word is SIMPLY. 

Read the interview in the link below, in which he discusses the music business as it affects the Beatles today, and you will see what I mean. But I particularly liked this quote above as it encapsulated a complicated issue in less than 50 words. Like many non-native speakers, he survives a grammatical mistake (see if you can spot it) without worrying. THAT is how to write, or speak, English:


18 July 2016

English - the language of the EU, Brexit or no Brexit

A fascinating piece on the subject of the "official" language of the EU - or, at least, its working one. This is more than simply a political development, as it seems many French bureaucrats think, it is a cultural shift that could have immense implications. If you believe, as I do, that languages impose their thought patterns on those who use them (as happens in reverse in the longer term), then this is a fantastically important development:



AMBIVALENCE: the key to good writing

I listened the other day to a very interesting programme about the problem with modern banks. I inferred from it that the reduction in the "financialisation" of London, and therefore Britain, which one hopes will be a result of Brexit, is on balance a good thing.

The subject of the programme was John Lanchester, the ex-Hong Kong but now London-based author of a book about the terminology of finance, called "How to Speak Money". The interviewer was Michael Lewis, author of the wonderful book, "Liar's Poker", about his experiences on Wall Street in the 1980s.

To me, the most interesting aspect of the programme was not so much banks as the craft of writing. Both Lanchester and Lewis are, in their different ways, skeptical of the role of banks. Both see good sides and bad sides to them. And both are, it would seem, are good writers. (I have read only Lewis--his book and lots in Vanity Fair--but he admires Lanchester.) The important thing was that they agreed that you need to feel AMBIVALENT about your subject to write about it effectively.

This is a key insight. Books by total opponents of something (or someone) become tedious hatchet jobs, and books written sycophantically are equally tedious and usually uninformative. As with most things in life, it is important to keep a balance. The key to it in writing is ambivalence. I stress this as I see very sadly, day by day, that quality disappearing from civilised dialogue under the influence of the internet where people tend to shriek at each other, or the world. If you believe, as I do, that verbal violence can be a trigger for physical violence, then this is not only sad, boring, impolite and uncultured, it is also dangerous.

That apart, this is a very interesting programme which I highly recommend:

13 July 2016

Courtesy and kindness from the master of paperback killing

A most enjoyable programme about Ian Fleming and his relationship with the readers of his James Bond novels. There is something charming in the old-fashioned courtesy of a man whose books were dismissed by the sanctimonious socialist, Paul Johnson (in The New Statesman), as being "little more than sex, snobbery and sadism".

And the letter from the pious Edinburgh woman is a classic! As is Fleming's letter to the manager of the Shannon Airport shop after he'd received a letter of complaint about his description of the stock as "junk".


12 July 2016

How bureaucracy killed the genius of Russia, part 79

Here is a fascinating programme, from a source I have only just discovered, about the attempt in the 1960s and 1970s to build a Soviet "internet", way ahead of its time. It failed, and the reason was unrestricted bureaucratic, interagency competition. In short, brilliant and imaginative Soviet ideas were defeated by the realities (note: not the theory) of bureaucracy. I highly recommend this:


09 July 2016

Words are all about context, as a Turkish diplomat once demonstrated

Right now I am reading an excellent book about the origins of the Cold War, called Six Months in 1945, by Michael Dobbs, a British author now resident in the United States. When describing the Yalta conference in February 1945, at which the "war" started (in his view, and I think he is right), Dobbs writes about the British Ambassador to the Soviet Union in terms which vividly illustrate the importance of context when understanding what words mean. Sir Archibald Clark Kerr, an unconventional, Australian-born Scot, was introduced to the Turkish Ambassador, and the rest is a pure lesson in linguistic contextualization - see below:

01 July 2016

History for humans (i.e. not academics): an example I read yesterday

The Russian royal yacht, the Standardt, dressed
This is an account of the Tsar's visit to Cowes in 1909 to watch the yacht racing with King Edward VIII and inspect the British Home Fleet at the Spithead Review (the main naval parade of those days).

This piece conveys something of the mood of the occasion described, while being both factual, selective and semi-poetic. This is history as, in my opinion, it should be written for an audeince if people.

The essay is quite long, but I have chosen the bits giving the views of this Russian – Alexander Spiridonovich, who was on the Tsar’s yacht, Standardt – of the British fleet and their inspection of it. The second to last paragraph is key to the "plot", but don’t read that before you have read the rest. 

Whatever else it may be, it is enjoyable to read and, as you correctly pointed out, a STORY – but it also conveys something which pure factual, analytical history does not – the SPIRIT of the occasion, the human and emotional side of it.

We had before us the entire North squadron of the English fleet. Three lines of huge combat ships and many lines of smaller ships were arranged in parallel in the harbour of Spithead and were lost out toward the direction of Cowes. One hundred Fifty-three of them, without counting the destroyers and the smaller ships, commanded by 28 admirals, who were receiving their crowned admiral, the Emperor of Russia.
Despite the rather strong winds, the ships remained stationary as they were anchored fore and aft.
It was as if immense spindles had been thrown by a powerful hand between the steel giants, ships formed into links between them, at the same time picturesque and yet of an impressive power. In front of this passed the yachts of the Sovereigns.
A characteristic "hurrah", which was similar to our Russian "hurrah", came to us from the ships also along with the sounds of the Russian national anthem. Our sailors responded back at full voice. We passed before ships each more and more impressive. We arrived before the right flank where we found many Dreadnoughts, the pride of the British fleet. This type of ship was at the time a novelty to us, as we did not yet have even one of this class of ship. Seeming like gigantic and monstrous irons as we passed by, they pressed down, so to speak, compressing the entire surface of the sea.
Passing before the Dreadnoughts, the Rurik could not turn as required, could not "deploy" and failed to hook up with one of the ships. It had to execute a manoeuvre which had the effect to make the ship leave the line. It soon joined back up with the rest of the squadron, at the same place it had occupied before the mishap.
The parade of ships lasted more than an hour. Then at 5 o'clock, the yachts returned to their places and dropped anchor, and one of the Dreadnoughts began to salute them with cannon shots. The monster made an indescribable thunder. The Polar Star also dropped anchor. Before us and to our left the entire surface of the sea was covered with yachts and small boats of all kinds. A genuine forest of masts it was, with flags flying from their tops. The tableau was less grandiose than the one in the harbour of Spithead, but was more happy and gay.
Their Majesties spent that day on board the royal yacht. That evening was a dinner, during which there were many proposals of official toasts. The Royal table was decorated with roses and was resplendent with gold dishes. The suite and Captains of the yachts dined separately, but were invited afterward to join with the circle around the Sovereigns.
The King and the Emperor spoke in their toasts of the Anglo-Russian friendship and of world peace.
The King observed that our Emperor was no stranger to England in general, nor to Cowes in particular.
In his response, the Emperor admitted to having been quite struck by the spectacle of the English Navy. He recalled the past and said that he would never forget the happy days which had passed fifteen years earlier under the reign of Queen Victoria.
The second day of their stay in English waters passed, for Their Majesties, with less solemnity.
The weather was exquisite, clear, warm. A soft breeze blew. In the morning they received several deputations, among them a deputation from London, led by the Lord Mayor who gave Their Majesties a magnificent gold coffret. Their Majesties then went on board the royal sailing yacht, Brittania and left to attend the races. The day before, the Emperor had been named an honorary member of the Royal Yacht Club and, as a sportsman, he showed a great pleasure.
Their Majesties did not return to the Standardt until six o'clock, after which they went to visit Empress Eugenie, widow of Emperor Napoleon III, who was on board a private yacht. They stayed with her for about one half hour.
The Emperor gave permission for the English journalists to visit the Standardt. Admiral Tchagyine received them with his customary kindness. The journalists were happily surprised to find in Their Majesties' salon were copies of the works of Shakespeare and other English authors.
Our officers went ashore where they were entertained by the English. Some of our men had even found the means to go to London for several hours.
The only men of the Standardt who did not go ashore were the Emperor, Tchagyine and Sabline. The Empress, to display her appreciation, had each man given as a gift of one of solid gold jetons with both the English and French flags, which they were selling in Cowes. That evening on board the Standardt there was a ceremonial dinner, at the end of which they were going to admire a magnificent tableau. As if by the stroke of a magic wand, the entire English fleet was illuminated with electric lights strung along the outlines of each ship. Under the dark blanket of night, the giant ships seemed transformed to be bordered in silver along their contours. As far as one could see into the distance these luminous spectres appeared smaller and smaller, with the farthest seeming to be mere fine silver threads.
The colossal fleet, stationary and sleeping, was a fairy tale vision.
When we awoke the next morning, the fleet was no longer there. Silently, without anyone having noticed, they left the harbour during the night. Only a true sailor can really appreciate the virtuosity of such a manoeuvre.

That same morning, our squadron left the English waters and proceeded back, with the Standardt in the lead, toward the Russian coast. The weather had again become sombre. The barometer fell.

10 June 2016

Cycling near the Volga

A ride in rural Russia: the first of my GoPro moves in the series "Routes of Russia".  More to follow on YouTube, but try this one first:

In Vasilyevo and over to Vozdvizhenskoye


08 June 2016

The practical meaning of the words treason and traitor, in past and present

A fascinating lecture about treason, which ought to interest anyone concerned with issues like Scottish independence, Brexit or the way in which the current Russian government tries to enforce the appearance of loyal uniformity of outlook on its subjects. Celebrants of the Easter Rising in Dublin will find much to ponder in it too: https://vimeo.com/109916169

27 May 2016

TS Eliot spots George Orwell's real problem

A fascinating article about TS Eliot's reason for rejecting Orwell's Animal Farm for publication in 1944.
Eliot's reasons seem to me to be sound, especially his observation that the wall-to-wall negativity of Orwell's novelistic vision (I have read all his novels, but enjoyed them only for the amusing extremes of negativity - except 1984 which I hated from cover to cover, however true it obviously all is) is not just depressing, but fundamentally untrue. Life has bright spots as well as dark ones. Orwell's essays are full of light and humour as well as biting criticism. They are brilliant. I still re-read some of them from time to time. But somehow his novels are one-dimensional and almost bitter. It does not surprise me that T.S. Eliot spotted this immediately. Old Possum may have been a bit of a cad, especially where his wife was concerned, but he was certainly a bright cad.

Digitised for the first time by the British Library, Eliot’s rejection is now available to read alongside others including Virginia Woolf’s to James Joyce

26 May 2016

Berry Gordy, Motown and the symphony the Supremes once heard....

A fabulous programme which illustrates the great, eternal truth that gumption and generosity of spirit usually go together. When they do (and only when they do) great creativity can result.
I especially recommend listening to the story of the song that was chosen as the best of the eight. I won't say what it is, but fifty years after I first heard it, it still makes me want to get up and dance, or weave off down the street singing it to myself and the astonished passers-by: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07bt72r

Kirsty Young interviews Berry Gordy, record producer and creator of the Motown label.

24 May 2016

My YouTube videos

Here is a little distraction from the business of writing well, thinking clearly and organising the world to one's own satisfaction.

I have started to make some videos of cycling, the first three of which (only two available so far) are about Campbeltown, where I live when I am in Scotland (alas, not often enough). More will follow about Russia, where, for the moment, I live for the rest of the time.

Below are links to the first two (done with almost no understanding of how to operate my camera and software, but I am gradually getting that under control!):

Sunday morning in Campbeltown

Out to the party cave

More to follow in due course.

In the meantime: enjoy!

20 May 2016

The benefits of slavery: a Scottish view

"A man's a man for a' that..." 
It is always nice to hear the true voice of a culture in clear song. Here is an example of that principle as it applied to Scotland in Napoleonic times - not that many years after, it should be remembered, Rabbie Burns, the people's poet, had signed up to become an overseer on a slave plantation in the West Indies.

This is an article from the Edinburgh Review of 1805 about a book published by a French lawyer on St Domingo (known today as Haiti) in which the advantages of slavery for the negro are carefully considered in the light of the widespread French horror of equality which set in after the excesses of the Revolution.

In the time of the great Scottish Enlightenment, it is worth remembering that an article like this can start with the following endorsement:

"On looking into this work, we were delighted to find that it contained what we had long been extremely desirous to see, a fair, open and avowed eulogism upon slavery, with a manful and consistent vindication of the slave trade, founded upon an explicit statement of those principles which must necessarily be adopted by its supporters, but which so few of them, among us, can be brought to acknowledge."

One Scot criticising other Scots' hypocrisy: nothing new in that!


By the way, I discovered this article in a reference contained in one of the most interesting books about slavery written recently: "Slavery and Human Progress", by the great Professor David Brion Davis, of Yale University.

Roosevelt and Churchill reappraised by real experts

A fascinating programme by two respectable,
serious but appropriately iconoclastic (or at least icononeutral) historians on the subject of the wartime leadership of Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt.

There are several new insights from the latest books the two have published on the subject. And I should add that one of the historians, Nigel Hamilton, wrote one of the best books ever about the US presidency: "American Caesars". He was also the official biographer of "Monty". The other guy seems to know what he is talking about too, but he is new to me as a historian. Together they give a thought-provoking account of the way the war was run at the highest level.


Incidentally, you can see Nigel Hamilton talking about "American Caesars" at the link below. It includes a long description of the amazing story of Franklin Roosevelt's love affair with Lucy Mercer, with whom he found true companionship after discovering that his wife, Eleanor, was a lemon-faced puritan who was into "good causes", virtue and all the tedium of the of the world improver (unlike her husband who simply wanted to save it from Hitler).


12 May 2016

Green economics: Schumacher and the revolution that has yet to happen

An interesting programme about Ernst Schumacher, the "small is beautiful" economist of the 1960s and '70s. I remember hearing him lecture when I was at University,. I could nnot help wondering why such a polite man would want  to spend his life working fo the National Coal Board.

He was hardly listened to then, and is not much listened to now. But some people think that ought, change, and might just be changing as we speak (of Michelangelo - with he women who come and go).

E F Schumacher

My first GoPro video: bicycles rule!

Campbeltown on a sunny Sunday morning

This will be part of my historical research and communication programme once I get back to Moscow, so I am trying it out here.

This one is completely unedited because I have not yet figured out how to edit, only how to film and upload. But that will come soon, I hope!

Campbeltown on Sunday from the bike

24 April 2016

Early history of the CIA

Fascinating story of how the early ideas were subverted by the activist johnnies who thought they could go shooting and couping etc. Very interesting story indeed, though an awful lot of acronyms.


23 April 2016

What SHOULD one do about Japs in wartime?

Man, that was an interesting one. About Truman, the Japs, Kromatsu (anyone heard of that?) and Alger Hiss etc.

What is wrong with me that I sort of live in the past? I am fascinated by all this. I hope someone else is. If you're out there, I hope you enjoy this.

(Ignore the spelling mistake in the pic.)


Reagan, Gorbachev, and the End of the Cold War

A really interesting debate, producing some surprising views from some authoritative commentators (except Stephen Chone's odd claim that there was no economic crisis in the 1980s Soviet Union - believe me, there was!) on how the Cold War came to an end.

Looking beyond that, their view is that it was re-started by inept Clintonian foreign policy, and massively ramped up by the transparent idiocy, arrogance and blindness of George W Bush (my words!). They are surely right about that, though I am not convinced that Clinton's team was as triumphalist as they suggest. But I am open to persuasion. I'd've liked to have heard more on that.

Anyway, the focus is on Reagan and Gorbachov, and that is fascinating, not least as they were all involved, personally.


19 April 2016

Organised crime and President Nixon - some unadvertised but surprising facts

If you are interested, as I am, in the Nixon presidency and think, as I do, that it was corrupt and legally destructive, you will be interested to listen to this programme about law enforcement under Nixon.

As President, he mounted a major offensive against organised crime, which had been neglected by previous presidents because the arch anti-crime honcho, J. Edgar Hoover, said there was no such thing or, in other moods, that he did  not have the tools to combat it.

If you have read Sam Giancana's biography you will be even more interested to listen to this. The heroes of the hour are Bobby Kennedy, which is uncontroversial, and John Mitchell (see picture), which is highly controversial since the man did jail time for his Watergate involvement. Hard to imagine, but he was a "municipal bond lawyer"--whatever that is!

A must listen for all Nixon/Watergate fans, not least as so many of the people involved are interviewed personally, or described by people who knew them.



18 April 2016

Cuban missile crisis: the Russian view, and the astonishing Cuban one!

Here is a wonderful lecture delivered by a fascinating Russian academic who works in Washington, and who has had the benefit of getting inside Kremlin papers from the son of the man (Anastas Mikoyan) who was sent by the Politburo to Cuba to sort the mess out once the balloon went up.

Professor Savranskaya presents a completely different view of the crisis from the standard one - and it is the subject of a new book she has published. I will be ordering a copy very soon!

The talk is also extremely well delivered, and shows just how attractively Russians can speak when they are not fantasising about being gangsters or Bismarck.


17 April 2016

The life and death of an amazing man: James Garfield, President of the USA

One of the wittiest and most interesting talks on a historical subject I have heard. We don't know much about this man, James Garfield, as he was shot so soon after becoming President, and was also so "normal" a man. He was assassinated in the same year as Alexander II was, and the difference between the Tsar and the President could hardly be more pronounced.

I know I have mentioned this programme already, but it so good (I have just listened to it for a second time) that I am going to break the habit of a lifetime and repeat myself!

Enjoy! http://www.c-span.org/video/?325579-1/discussion-assassination-president-james-garfield

16 April 2016

The Soviet Union is coming to Britain

A truly fascinating discussion of a truly horrific tendency in modern British life: making rules for everything, including personal behaviour in public places (private places will be next, mark my words).

For anyone who thinks, like me, that we are heading towards a new version of the Soviet Union, only without the sense of inner freedom which Russians then had, you will not be surprised at any of this. But if, also like me, you think the trend should be resisted, then it will help to understand just how far advanced it already is.

Listen if you dare!


14 April 2016

Reagan - the great man: an appreciation with cautions

Another excellently delivered talk, this time from Professor Brands, from Texas, about Ronald
Reagan and his presidency. He emphasizes "the man who wasn't there" aspect, and shows how his particular form of social emptiness was such a help in dealing with Gorbachev.

Prof. Brands has a lively way of talking and, it would seem, a lively way of thinking. I will be interested to read his book, not least as I rather agree with his view about the official biography of "Ronnie" (aka "Dutch") by Edmund Morris, which I read with  considerable disappointment, especially as Morris has so many interesting things to say about  Reagan in interviews.

See what you think: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExwSBuX6iw0&nohtml5=False

12 April 2016

The man who wanted to be President, but ended up as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

Another fascinating talk (if you can ignore the fifteen minutes at the beginning of mutual
congratulation) about Salmon P. Chase's term as Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court in the late 1860s and early 1870s.

He was the most ambitious man ever to sit on the court, yet he was a serious lawyer, and a man Lincoln admired.

More importantly, this is an excellent insight into how the court worked and thought in those days, and shows how a free society modifies its opinions, practices and views as it moves forward. No pyatiletki!


11 April 2016

The Supreme Court at war with the President during the Civil War

A splendid, and elegantly delivered, lecture on the cases and issues before the US Supreme Court during the Civil War. The Chief Justice, Roger Taney (pictured right), was a pro-slaver, while the President of the country was, of course, the opposite. This illustrates how law can operate in a national crisis of which it is itself part.

Ex parte Merriman (1861), which concerned the use of habeas corpus as a way of getting round the draft, is the most interesting case. That was the Court against the President. The President won.

The talk is introduce by a black Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas. It was delivered within the Supreme Court itself.


10 April 2016

Southern hospitality: American etiquette as it really otta be

Here is an interesting programme, which makes a contrast with Russia today, where so many people I have met outside the Garden Ring of Moscow are embarrassed to socialise with people of different income levels. A great example of "southern" (American) culture is the statement made by one of the people interviewed who is trying to explain the essence of "southern hospitality" (which seems to me to be the essence of Highland hospitality in Scotland too). He says: "In the south you are never to poor to be hospitable."

The unspoken but essential corollary, which is equally rare in modern Moscow, is that you are never to rich to accept hospitality. It is an ideal, of course, not always a fact. But ideals are important, like dreams. This one expresses true etiquette at its most basic level.


05 April 2016

Marriage and politics in Abraham Lincoln's life

And here is a wonderful, and in places very moving, talk about Abraham Lincoln's private life, and especially his relationship with his wife, Mary (pictured right).

It focuses on the very unRussian idea that a leader's character and personal relationships are an important key to his performance in the public domain. The speaker describes the speech Lincoln made from the back of the train that took him from Springfield, Illinois, to Washington to be sworn in as President. He thanked all the people from his home town who had given him so much help over the years, including his neighbour "with whom he shared a house cow". That just about says it all about the United States as a social concept in comparison with the world of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg at the same time.

Though the title refers to his secretaries the talk is more about him and his wife.