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.


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.


Abraham Lincoln and the virtues of patience and calmness in foreign affairs

Another interesting lecture, this time about Abraham Lincoln's foreign policy as President. It featured a preference for waiting and seeing which might well be adopted more often today, rather than media-focused activism.

There is also an amusing caricature at the beginning of his Minister in St Petersburg, during the time of the Civil War, the "bounder" and anti-slavery campaigner Cassius Marcellus Henry Clay (pictured right), who later helped organised the purchase of Alaska from Russia. It was after him, at a couple of generations removed, that Cassius Clay, the boxer, was named.

But most of all the talk is a model of clear speech which many Russian (and other) lecturers could copy with advantage.


The way to write interesting history

For all Russians who wish to write in a way which the reader will follow (and not in the bureaucratese which universities here love), listen to this wonderful programme about the murder of a forgotten President of the United States. I recommend you try to write much as the lecturer speaks (cleaned up a bit for the printed page, of course).

President Garfield (seen, right, on his deathbed) was assassinated in the same year as Tsar Alexander II was, but in very different circumstances indeed.


03 April 2016

The Zimmermann telegram

A fascinating programme from C-Span about  the famous Zimmermann telegram, sent by the German Foreign Office to Mexico in early 1917, offering them parts of the United States which had been surrendered after the Mexican War of 1846 if they would attack America in the event that the United States joined the war on the Allied side. The British decoded the message and used it very subtly to try to influence American public opinion about the war.

There is an interesting Russian angle about the German attempts to attack (in an early form of a-symmetric warfare) the Allies by raising colonial people against their imperial masters. The Irish uprising in 1916 was one example, but there were others. The Russian revolution of 1917 was the only one which succeeded (the British succeeded with the Arab revolt against the Ottomans in Palestine too).