Letters reveal a troubling side of Alistair Cooke

July 19, 2012

Alistair Cooke was the epitome of the civilized man. His English voice, redolent with informed nonchalance, enchanted millions who heard his Letter from America over BBC radio. His observations of American life were cool, witty, empathetic and insightful. He typed them up wherever he was in America, and for 58 years, until he was 95, unfailingly read his words into a microphone in such a beguiling manner it was as if you and he had just struck up a friendly conversation. He enhanced his reputation for authority about his adopted country as the television host successively of the CBS arts program Omnibus, PBS’s Masterpiece Theater, and the BBC’s America and with his best-selling book Alistair Cooke’s America. His range was extraordinary. He seemed to know every region and every rascal in it. He was the American Oracle.

Can it really be the same Alistair Cooke whom we hear again in a new collation of half a century of Letters, this time focused on race relations? In The Custom of the Country, he acquiesces in the denial of certain inalienable rights for one-tenth of the U.S. population, the black citizens. Can the broadcaster known for celebrating American freedom have been a closet reactionary? In a sense we feel we are eavesdropping when we hear our hero express misgivings about the implications of the seminal 1954 Supreme Court ruling desegregating schools:

And when you start with mixed and equal schooling, in a society where the school is also the meeting house, the club, the dance hall – the very focus of young life – how do you prevent people from approaching and at last accepting the final equality of love and marriage?

The Custom of the Country, edited by David Meghan, is absorbing because the reporting is so vivid, but it is also disturbing because it is so honest. We see into the mind of an educated, liberally disposed humanitarian confronted by the daily life of people in the South who happen to be black. About 165 of the original letters touch on race relations between 1946 and 2003. The editor has selected 47 here, of which 44 have not previously been available in book form. As he writes in his discerning introduction to the selection, some observers might have ducked the ugly truth of racial injustice in the South. Alistair Cooke does not. Some of his admirers will wish he had. Cooke’s abiding love of the romance of the South collides with the realities of Jim Crow. He indicts the sins of white supremacists whose segregationist policies are “conceived in hate and spawn illiteracy”; he condemns the “evil delinquents” who spat on the black schoolgirl entering Little Rock; but he exhibits an excess of understanding for the South’s historic excuses. He adopts, as his own, the position of the ruling elites that if the critics would just leave them alone, they’d gradually enter the civilized world. Instead of a cry of pain at the manifold oppressions over decades, we get from Cooke an eloquent cry for tolerance of the intolerable.

These are not sentiments that would win Cooke the sophisticated following he had in his heyday – but that is precisely why this collation is so valuable. Cooke’s own feelings are a remarkable portrait of white liberal opinion at the time – North as well as South. I know his observations to be right on the mark because I followed in Cooke’s footsteps. He was a native of Lancashire in the north of England who won a Harkness Fellowship, a kind of reverse Rhodes scholarship, for two years of study and travel in the U.S. Me, too. Cooke began his travels in the mid-thirties, when pictures of Franklin Roosevelt were the only decoration in the sharecroppers’ tarpaper shacks. I started across the country 20 years later. In economic terms, the ebullient (“I like Ike”) fifties were wholly different from the Depression era of Cooke’s travels; in human terms, the country had not changed at all. The black population in the South was still stuck where it had been since Reconstruction, suppressed in one-party white dictatorships dedicated to white supremacy in 17 Southern and Border States. Negroes, as they were still called, had access only to degraded services and employment, segregated in schools, colleges, hospitals, churches, parks, swimming pools, restaurants, restrooms, streetcars, waiting rooms, elevators, theaters, cinemas, libraries, beauty parlors, bowling alleys, prisons and cemeteries. In many parts of the Deep South they risked their lives if they wanted to vote, and were certain to be convicted of anything a white man alleged against them.

Most Americans, decade after decade, never gave a moment’s thought to the indignities and injustices. Ralph Ellison’s introspective novel The Invisible Man, which came out in 1952, described what it was like to be looked through as if you were as transparent as air. White Americans, north and south, did not “see” the national predicament of the Negro when they hailed a graying “boy” for their bags at the hotel, never noticed that there wasn’t a single black face in the church and on the sports field. They weren’t all racists. They were just oblivious, as Cooke was oblivious in his early years in America. The empathy thought characteristic of his work was absent for people in what he chose to call “darktown.”

Cooke recoils from bigotry and violence. He blames the outrages in the South on the “white trash”, and there were certainly a fair portion of goons among them, but he quite fails to appreciate that the mores and practices of society were set by the elites who charmed him as they charmed me so many years later. “Leave the South alone. We’ll solve our ‘problems’ in our own good time. We understand our ‘nigras’.” I heard it as frequently as he must have 25 years before. Their own “good time” had still not arrived. In the South, the distinctiveness of individuals and publications regarded as enlightened was not that they favored desegregation – they didn’t – it was that they were opposed to lynching and the poll tax. The business and community leaders in the White Citizens’ Councils forswore violence while they organized civil repression – the denial of work, credit, supplies, housing, and of course the vote. As for reform, everywhere in the country, north as well as south, the condescending assumption was that improvement in the condition of the black population would come as today’s good deed from white patronage. Almost no one in the mainstream anticipated that the blacks would lead a civil rights movement, whereupon even leading powers in America’s vaunted free press – North and South – got into a fret that their fellow citizens were demanding rights they themselves had always taken for granted as the air they breathed. They tended to deplore “extremism” on both sides, equating the white mob with the non-violent activists. The attitude began to change after the spectacular March on Washington in August 1963, followed the next month by the Birmingham church bombing.

It bothers me, as no doubt it will bother his many admirers, that over a span of years Cooke’s letters about race reveal less sensitivity for the feelings of the powerless minority than they do for the apprehensions of the majority who could summon the coercive powers of the state. I like to think that a generation later he would have felt as discomfited, even angry, as I did. The notes I took at the time, which found their way into my autobiography (My Paper Chase), reflect a deep aversion to the “customs of the country” he’d defended. Perish the thought that I was merely vindicating Cooke’s charge that for lack of self-examination I was one of those liberals who could not resist “the gorgeous impulse towards self-righteousness.” (I was certainly naïve in assuring my Southern hosts that black immigration would never ruffle British society.) At the same time, the letters do suggest a certain evolution in Cooke’s attitude. One intriguing clue David Meghan came upon was in Letter 734, broadcast in 1962. Cooke typed: “I believe with all my heart (I am not quite sure about my head) in the sense and the sanity of having Negroes enjoy the basic political rights that the Constitution boasts…”

But Meghan did not find the chilling parenthetical caveat in the broadcast archives. Second thoughts had prevailed at the microphone. And in two passages I’ve put together from 1994 and 1997 he wrote and spoke of his misgiving:

I marvel sometimes to look back and realize how painlessly, how casually we – a stranger like myself – took for granted this strict social separation as – well, simply the custom of the country.

It struck me as strange at first but then I knew that President Franklin was an uncommonly far-seeing and compassionate leader, but I doubt he ever lost a moment’s sleep thinking about the white signs and colored signs “only” in railroad waiting rooms, public toilets, the galleries, for Negroes only,  in theaters – the wholly white worlds of baseball, football, eating, golf. To think of Roosevelt (or, if you’ll excuse the expression, of me) as crassly insensitive and prejudiced is to make the same mistake as calling Thomas Jefferson a hypocrite because he proclaimed to the death his concern for human liberty and yet kept slaves. It is the cruel mistake of judging a man outside his time.

The letters are, in fact, a literary dramatization of a serious and sensitive observer living what Gunnar Myrdal called The American Dilemma, the conflict between the egalitarian American Creed and the inequitable reality of black life. The South did not have a monopoly of prejudice. Some 63 percent of Americans were opposed to the non-violent protests of the Freedom Riders in the civil rights movement’s summer of 1961. The New York Times tut-tutted that they were “challenging not only long-held customs but passionately held feelings”. Time magazine called it “a confused crusade”. How many today remember that an entire succession of future presidents – Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush vigorously, and Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford vaguely – opposed part or all of  the three major bills of the period: the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1968 Fair Housing Act? They became law because decent opinion yielded to the moral imperatives of Martin Luther King Jr. and Lyndon Johnson, two leaders foremost in challenging the obduracy of received wisdom.

Alistair Cooke’s delayed drop should be a jolt to the complacencies of today. Even with a black president, we are still witnessing the fulfillment of the prescient Senator Patrick Moynihan’s prediction that black poverty, crime and low educational achievement would continue without jobs, retraining and a restoration of black family life.

PHOTO: Alistair Cooke speaks at the taping of the 2,000th program of Letter From America at the British Broadcasting Company’s Manhattan studio, June 17, 1987. REUTERS/Helayne Seidman


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Alistair Cooke offered his own defense, “It is the cruel mistake of judging a man outside his time.” Remember, in the 1950s European nations still had colonies in Africa. Cooke is English and from a nation that, even in the mid-twentieth century, struggled with a history of class-ism.

Assessing Cooke’s enlightenment in the year 1954 through the lens of 2012 is not entirely “cricket.” In the years before the US civil rights movement it would have been a majority view among the educated, liberal, white American elite that “Negro” equality is a laudable goal and one toward which society should continue toward achieving. However, the consensus was that, through no fault of their own, Blacks lacked the education and social structure that would be needed to achieve real equality.

It wasn’t until Martin Luther King, Jr. and the many other heroes in the civil rights movement were able to get their fellow countrymen to understand that, “A right delayed is a right denied” that perceptions changed.

In America in the 1940s and early 1950s there were people of uncommon vision that recognized that the systems of informal repression and segregation in the northern states and legally mandated segregation in the southern states had to end and end now. Their numbers were very small. Still fewer were those in public office or prominence that actively tried to change the system or to speak openly against it.

Injustice is eternal. It surrounds us even today. I don’t see value in holding a person to task for lacking the uncommon insight and clarity to see beyond his time.

Posted by PatientType | Report as abusive

Mr. Cooke was a “sage” of “Humanity” no doubt about it! But for the life-of-me (ME!) why do “Blacks, not only youngsters but adults as of late call each other “NIGAR”?

I thought that was what the “Civil-Rights” movement’s ultimate goal was, to get AWAY from that abusive “stereotype”!!!
If a “White-person” calls a “Black person” a “Nigar” he or she can be crucified and would have to pay “court-damages as well as punitive damages” that could result in MILLIONS OF $$$!!! BUT AGAIN THE QUESTION IS why DO “BLACKS” call each other “NIGAR” when others and myself gave them the benefit of the doubt and TRIED to make a difference in American race-relations??? Was’nt that one of the missions of the “Civil-Rights movement” to get rid of that “N” word???

Posted by Middleclassman | Report as abusive

Reading Middleclassman’s writing against Sir Harry’s writing is an education in style that few should ignore.

Posted by RobertMac1 | Report as abusive

It is an error to confuse a State, a Government, with a country or with a people. Perhaps once there was an American people and that people had a grip on their government. But that most certainly is no longer true. And it has never been true that white and black Americans are one people. They are clearly different. And it is clear that those Statists who desire all humans to bend their knees to their will are in control and bear no allegiance to the people from whom they have sprung.

The issue of the existence of white Americans other than the ruling class simply must be dealt with. After all, however diminished in numbers, they remain the majority of Americans. Yet as a people they are ignored, and as this piece itself demonstrates, disrespected and discounted. They are not merely the half-witted cousins of America’s ruling class, needing correction and leadership from their aristocratic betters. They are a free people and those from which the USA was created.

Perhaps Mr. Cooke saw this, and thought them worthy of something other than oblivion. That would clearly put him at odds with “modern” “liberal” opinion.

Posted by usagadfly | Report as abusive

As an historian he knew the Greatest Generation and their off-spring, he knew the separate cultures of food, music and faith. They were rich and they were proud.
The generation following the liberal enlightenment is often uneducated, lazy, and government dependent. Yes, there are outstanding individuals, but the generation as a group is uninspiring. History is not politically correct, it just is.

Posted by BluePelican | Report as abusive

Let’s be pragmatic. Alistair Cooke wasn’t the cleanest burning engine around, he was guilty on several counts of veiling and failing to report emissions, but compared to the collective holding back, who can doubt that he added horsepower to the drive for equality?

Posted by edwardnelson | Report as abusive

It is easy to become “racist” if one lives in an environment that is. As a child in Florida in the late 50s. I saw segregated water fountains and buses. I embarrassed my father and mother – we were from the north – because I didn’t read the signs over the fountains and drank form the “Negro” one and would go to the back of the bus because I liked the big seats. Everybody on the bus noticed and they apparently didn’t approve either. It was the reaction of everyone else around me that made racism “good thinking” and vital to avoid other people’s stares and funny looks. Rogers and Hammerstain had it right in the musical South Pacific -“that one has to be carefully taught. But actually, it doesn’t have to be so carefully taught.

There is nothing troubling to me about Alistair Cooke’s letters. He was aware of the age. The prejudice against dark skin is almost instinctive. It is far older than the issue of white/black relations. Throughout history people seemed to value lighter skin tones over darker ones the way white bread was thought to be more refined than black bread. Blacks and whites lived separate lives in separate spheres back then. And the reverse prejudice was also true. At the very least, people tend to accept their own appearance and those they live with as the standard of beauty. That may be the origin of the prejudice. The women in southern European countries would paint themselves with lead white to lighten their skin tones and women in purdah in the ME and India became pallid from lack of exposure to the sun or labor. The prejudice against dark skin may come from the fact that leisure and wealth means one can avoid darkening in the sun? Even among white people there is a prejudice that lingers in language when we talk about “rednecks”.

It is a very stupid and primitive instinct that can be unlearned. And the easiest way to unlearn it is to get to know people of another skin tone. If one can’t do that – it is harder to overcome the very odd and very old prejudice. The ancient Romans would paint brothel scenes where the woman is white but the man is red.

But it was in the south that I think I first saw black people at all. In the North I hardly saw anyone who wasn’t white. We were even more segregated by income. In my parents day they also tend to be segregated by ethnicity because their hometown – a northern industrial city – was composed of ethnic neighborhoods for the most part. They made a big leap of assimilation just by moving out into the less ethnically defined suburbs. But it was easier to do when it wasn’t a matter of skin color.

Cooke also came from a country that classified all East Indians as “colored”. The man was better than his times.

As much as I admire the works of Alexis de Tocqueville- he had some things to say about race relations in the south that are downright clinical. And the man was not a rabid racist by any means.

BTW – I just read the novel “The Far Pavilions” and in it the author Mrs. M.M. Kaye mentions that it was the women – the “memsahibs” who brought with them the rabid racism and exclusion that altered the race relations between the British and the Indians. It was they who made it a socially unforgivable sin to inter marry with the “subject” populations. Were they jealous of rivals?

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

The very word “racism” has been gamed and, from the start, was a deliberately pejorative rather than a descriptive term. Taken literally, it would mean that the ability to distinguish blacks from whites is “racist”. In fact, to not be able to, in general, would be the same as “blind”.

Clearly there are different peoples on this earth. Clearly all recent research, meaning of the past 30 years or so, has indicated that indeed most of our characteristics are inherited. We are clearly, as peoples, different from one another. The tabula raza and all its descendents are intellectual artifacts rather than believable theories. We must learn to get along with one another rather than pretend our differences do not exist.

Cooke saw this, interestingly, and was ahead of his time. Incivility, impoliteness and harshness are what we must avoid in our relations with one another. Assimilation is dead, dead, dead and will never become a possibility again. Instead we live in an age of differentiation, which often becomes one of discrimination. “Liberals” who pretend to not be able to tell an Afro-American from and African from an East Indian from a Euro-American do no one any favors at all. Those who condemn Cooke for not pretending this are foolish and a major obstacle to improving relations between groups.

Posted by usagadfly | Report as abusive

@txgadfly – what do you mean assimilation is dead? People I know and some celebrities have adopted children from other countries and across color lines. What can one retreat to if, as you say, assimilation is dead? Newcomers to a country will want to learn the second language but perhaps try harder to keep their first. They may not be conformists the way the Ellis Island immigrants sometimes submitted to anglicized versions of their names or even attempted to forget their own ways of life and customs. My grandparents were encouraged – even humiliated – into forgetting their ethnic roots and even the first language. The modern world is making it possible, it seems to me, to assimilate easily, but to exactly what is a question? Modern immigrants seem to be able to keep their identities until they find their places. Modern media seems to be creating a world that differs in language and cultural emphasis only. The ideas that are presented seem to be global.

I also have a question about your use of the term “tabula raza” or blank slate. What theory of the blank slate with descendants? I don’t understand the reference? I thought the human race originated in Africa? It wasn’t a blank slate. I’m too old to believe in the Garden of Eden.

If not assimilation, than what? Cultural or legal miscegenation is really an insult to the other’s entire being.

Alexis de Tocqueville suggested in his history of the French Revolution than the Convention may have been so willing to annihilate the entire class of Aristocrats in France (over 300,000 people) because they were a deeply entrenched caste system and insisted on marrying only within their own class. They had built a gilded railing around their gene pool. They did so because they did not want their wealth dispersed and it became unthinkable, after centuries of intermarriage, that any one of their members would marry beneath their status. The large disparities of income and the difficulty of rising in class-riven societies made it desirable – almost as a matter of life and death – to rise to the top and close ranks. The Britsh, he mentions, did not close ranks genetically, so to speak. It was still possible in Britain to marry well above one’s station if one could weather the withering looks. The 18th century was apparently more open minded than the 19tth.

Other than for those questions, I think the rest of your comment is right on.

Artificial insemination makes it possible to alter the racial characteristics or one’s own offspring. Why shouldn’t someone consider that except that it might confuse the neighbors? I live in a rural neighborhood that is primarily white and it sometimes feels like a reservation. It is easy to become xenophobic and “anti” many types of ethnicity up here because other people with other ethnicities seem to be a rarity. And in spite of the fact that the entire state is not very large – it can feel crowded simply because many have gotten used to less congestion. It must be hard for foreigners who do not have an old New England ancestry to feel at home in a rural area like this because they are conspicuous in their uniqueness and can face some polite but still subtle exclusion, I suppose? New Englanders tend to be reserved. The Chinese who own the restaurants are durable. They keep their minds on their business and I think “assimilation” will happen when they have a better grasp of the language. But they may sense a certain resentment of the mainland because of economic issues. But no one has harassed them or vandalized their homes of businesses. People in this area don’t seem to be very nasty and the law would never permit it.

Perhaps in the not too distant future people will actually be designing their offspring. In fact – human beings may not actually have the same genetic code by them. They might very well be altered for medical or cosmetic reasons? For example the gene that determines steatopygia as well as a number of other genes governing other maladies could possibly be turned off or reprogrammed? If one had one’s genes altered would one still be considered a human being? My answer would be yes because the changes were built on existing “material”. And the future may not be at all spooked by the possibilities.

But assimilation in the sense my Grandparents understood it is almost beside the point now because of the ability of artificial intelligence to bridge gaps of language and culture. Is that what you mean by assimilation is dead?

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

I could not improve on PatientType’s comment if you paid me handsomely. However, I would add in support of his reasoning that knowledge and understanding do not come to us out of context. When your upbringing and social environment are arranged to make you feel comfortable with an unjust status quo, you need exposure to the consequences of that status quo as well as some triggering action to get your thinking running in contrary paths. Hard to blame a white upper crust liberal in 1954 for thinking that separate but truly equal would be a far better arrangement than the one that was evident all around him.

Sir Harold’s piece is thoughtful and seems to attempt to find balance in assessing Cooke’s contributions, yet it still seems (to me) another example of the criticism so often directed at people, whatever their social status, who wish for things to be better and dare to speak some of their less controversial concepts and are pilloried for not being enlightened enough, vocal enough, or willing to sacrifice enough, in support of a cause which inevitably begins generating a highly visible class of true believers. We saw a lot of this in the 60s. The phrase, “either you’re part of the solution, or you’re part of the problem” frequently assumed that the speaker’s idea of a solution was the only one that mattered.

To have a man of Alistair Cooke’s background and influence speaking out in any way against segregation and racial injustice was a positive force. Perhaps he didn’t totally get it. Or perhaps he did, and chose not to engage in a fight he could not possibly win. Why damn the gentleman now for not being a white Huey Newton?

Posted by ChicagoFats | Report as abusive

Whatever his background in Lancashire, Cooke played the part of the English archetype (upper middle, if not upper class).

You are lacking in your history if you don’t know that lot loved the south in the civil war and were bang in with the Southern ‘Gentlemen’ ever since.

He may sound like a liberal to you, I always thought he was a Tory.

Posted by Urban_Guerilla | Report as abusive

I think a person or persons can be judged out side there time, if they only focused on self interest or deny the the existance of a problem that effects others. Especially, if they are in a leadership role of a country where that is their purpose of holding that office is to ensure all people are being treated fairly.

I find it interesting when people use the inferenece of igornance as to what is going on around them as a way to for other now to judge them. People the do not look out for people when they hold the power to render fairness should judge out this times, if not for their handling of situations then for their igornance as a leader not to get involved and rectify the problem.

Posted by GCHodge | Report as abusive


Assimilation always had a goal of incorporating immigrants into the existing culture in such a way that their culture, language and patterns of thought would become indistinguishable from the existing culture.

In other words, immigrants were to become northwestern European in outlook and specifically British, which was that predominate ethnic stock in the USA at its founding. One of the problems with “racism” was and is that it puts up obstacles to this goal. It was believed that humans were born with a nature that was a “blank slate” or a tabula raza, and therefore you could make people into anyone you wished through “education”. Human characteristics were the product of the environment and could be made “equal”. But times change, and goals with them. The USA no longer believes that a “melting pot” is a good idea and instead seeks something more akin to a stew.

The only remnants of assimilation are those which keep the powerful powerful and the rich rich. And what governmental pressures that remain pressure the original “white” society, not immigrants. That is the opposite of “assimilation”, the opposite of the “melting pot”. And those who support this “new” system are rewarded while those who criticize it are ostracized. This path leads to significant social trouble.

So, yes, assimilation is dead. Long live the coalition of independent cultures. But not all cultures are equal, are they? People bridge gaps, and only voluntarily. Not machines. Not guns or prisons. Not discrimination laws whether “positive” or “negative”, if such a distinction is possible.

Posted by usagadfly | Report as abusive

What an interesting, insightful article about what sounds like an equally interesting, insighful edit by Mr. Meghan of “The Custom of the Country.” Thank you. None of this truly diminishes Mr. Cooke, but rather points out that turning anyone into an icon is a very, very dangerous thing. Richard Hofstadter got it right.

Posted by jlj | Report as abusive

@usagadfly- Thanks for the reply. I suppose you are right that all cultures are not equal but it is very difficult to rank them without examples. I don’t think Europeans tend to feel they are living in benighted countries with inferior cultures. I’m quite sure most Chinese don’t. I’m not sure there are any countries anymore that really believe they should feel inferior except in the world of economic and military power. The military and economic power is more likely to arouse fear and resentment actually. The early immigrants came here to make a living for the most part and that’s what so many legal and illegal immigrants still want. But all the countries in the western hemisphere were attracting large numbers of immigrants around the turn of the century.

I once met a Nigerian migrant who was working his way around Europe. I met him on a train to Naples and borrowed his cell phone to inform the person I was meeting that I was almost there. He knew his way around the station and was helpful. I tried to stay in touch but the connection faded years ago. The USA is not the only country on earth and all the developed and developing countries share so much popular knowledge and culture in common, that it is almost impossible to see vast cultural differences anywhere in Europe unless you look to the out of the way and neglected corners of those countries. Hardly any place in Europe seems to be neglected or under-noticed. Everywhere seems to be “consumer friendly” and it doesn’t seem to matter what nationality one is or the language one speaks. I don’t speak any other than the one I was born with (and still can’t spell reliably) and I felt at home in some ways. Urban life is almost the same anyway whenever you see the most up to date places. The world is designed and built by people who have studied in many other countries and not just here. The ideas spear faster than many realize.

The “melting pot” was always more a slogan than fact. The country used to have more pronounced regional differences but they seem so remote and watered down now that we are into the 4th, 5th or 6th generations since my Grandparent’s day. I feel a pang of nostalgia for it, but they also had their resentments about the way they were treated. It did not totally sour them to their new life. They got more than they lost back then. They were children when they passed through Ellis Island and their parents barely spoke English. They did what they had to survive and tended to do what they were told.

Modern people are not so willing to do what they are told, because more advanced educational backgrounds (world wide) make that almost impossible to do unthinkingly.

BTW – I had an Aunt Concetta or Consiglia (I can’t quite remember) but the immigration officer couldn’t read or pronounce her name and she became “Mini” from thereon. Maybe we should thank him – Mini is so much easier to spell. Sometimes those guys would use a translation guide but I don’t think “Mini” was one picked from the book. He may have been humorous and thought she was acute little girl. But “mini…” wasn’t a common expression back then so I don’t know?

I tend to agree that the country is moving toward some kind of inherited aristocracy like the old European regimes. Issac Assimov once wrote that all democracies tend, over time, to devolve into aristocracies. Now it looks like we are no exception.

I don’t think anyone’s little candles of culture have a chance of escaping the blinding lights of mass media and we are all gumming our chops. Somehow the computer algorithms will rule more than we can imagine. Perhaps the future will allow no room for cultural or national chauvinism?

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

“spear” should have been “spread”.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

“Perhaps the future will allow no room for cultural or national chauvinism?” I should have added: except on demand!

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

[…] Letters reveal a troubling side of Alistair Cooke […]

Posted by News: Google acquires social ad start-up Wildfire | News Aggregator for you | Report as abusive

I’ve searched around for ‘ The Custom of the Country’ edited by David Meghan – can anyone suggest where / how I might read it?

Posted by davidrsmith | Report as abusive