Will Groundhog Day stop happening tomorrow?

I haven’t tortured myself by following the details, but am I correct in supposing that tomorrow, things will start to open up again?

Here are some photos I photoed of the front of the Old Vic Theatre, which is at the far end of Lower Marsh from me, which I photoed in 2016:

At the time I just thought it was a show, based on a Bill Murray movie. I did not then realise that life would soon be imitating art.

Maybe this movie, and people feeling that they were living in it, has been a contributory factor to people contemplating suicide. Maybe some of them supposed that, like Bill Murray, they could drive off a cliff or whatever, and then just wake up the next morning (i.e. the same morning) with nothing having happened.

What I now feel able to say about Prince Philip

Nothing at all remarkable, just so you now know. Don’t read this posting for dazzling insights. It’s just that the last couple of days and the next few days are an example of a common thing, which is that everyone who is in the habit of expressing public opinions about this or that public thing feels obliged to hold back his or her regular opinions and instead to express an appropriately gracious and portentous opinion about whatever just happened.

For instance, BBC Radio Three, the classical music radio channel I listen to quite a lot, especially on Saturdays, was going to spend this Saturday concentrating on the life and works of Igor Stravinsky, no doubt emphasising what a fine composer the BBC thinks he was. But they scrapped this plan, and instead today merely played a succession of suitably profound and solemn classical selections, and also, I believe, a church service with lots of profound and solemn singing.

“Inappropriate” is typically now just a way of saying “wicked” without sounding like your great grandmother. But for once, this word is now, well, appropriate. Communicators suddenly fear saying anything “inappropriate”. Given that Prince Philip just died, will it make sense for us to be banging on about Stravinsky, or whatever it was were thinking of banging on about? Typically, it does not feel … appropriate.

Sporting events continue, because nothing can be allowed to interrupt that. But black armbands are liable to be worn and long silences endured by all present, during which all rebellious thoughts along the lines of “So bloody what?” are kept under heavy wraps of silence.

Above all, anyone who thinks that Prince Philip was, I don’t know, a horrid old racist, tends to keep quiet about that, for the duration of this strange public moment, or at least to be careful about who they say such things to. Or they do if they are wise, and if they do not want a storm of critical attention on social media, as some presumably do. We must not “speak ill of the dead”. Instead we say things like: “My thoughts are with his family”.

Which some of our thoughts probably are. I can’t be the only one now thinking that maybe the Queen will soon give up the ghost, having lost a husband she has been sharing her life with for so long, and by most public accounts very happily.

As it happens, the opinion I now find I want to express about Prince Philip, in carefully selected company, is a complaint although not that severe a complaint. I don’t think he was a racist; more like an equal opportunities tease, if only to get people to relax in his company and to stop trying to be so damn appropriate. But I definitely have one very particular and personal objection to this man, and by extension to his entire family. (It’s not a big enough objection for me to want them all denationalised, so to speak. As to that argument, I go along with the title of this posting at Quotulatiousness. If they got dumped, the likely alternative would be someone like John Berkow.)

But for now, in the event that you care what I think about Prince Philip and want to learn the particular way in which I objected to him, you will just have to wait.

For me to tell you today would be inappropriate.

Happy Easter!

I hope you are having one.

I definitely am, and I will tell you (a big part of) why. This, on YouTube, from Steve Baker MP, no less.

Just over two minutes long, so not a big chunk out of your life it you follow the above link and watch it all.

I’ll surely have more to say about this by way of thanks. But, busy day for me today, and I could hardly postpone at least noticing this here.

Ask, and you shall receive. This exploiting my impending death to achieve a dose of upward social mobility thing is really working out well.

Funerial thoughts

Strange day. I spent a lot of it planning my own funeral, which will, as is traditional, be an event at which I will be present but not paying any attention, if you get my meaning.

The thing is, it’s no good saying: Look, I don’t care, do whatever you like. If you say that, you are liable to cause endless arguments and at the very least uncertainties among your loved ones about “What he would have wanted”. So, you have to say what you want, even if you aren’t actually that bothered.

Plus, although I say I’m not bothered, I can imagine plenty of scenarios which even the thought of would bother me, so a period of introspection was called for. Just saying “Do whatever you want” would be very selfish, in a bad way. Saying exactly what I want is selfish in a good way.

Apparently David Bowie (the old blog seems to be back working again without any
Screen of the Red Death
) had a very private cremation, followed by a more public ceremony at which celebs took it in turns saying how great he was. But not being that great myself, I figure the people present at my funeral ceremony would appreciate knowing that this is the actual funeral. If they suspect that the real funeral, the one I was actually burnt at, was earlier, they might not want to be at the later pretend funeral. So, just the one event for me, and everyone will see me being fed into the incinerator room. It’s what I would have wanted.

And now, my Designated Best Friend is in my front room, chucking superfluous paper into supermarket bags:

Since that photo was photoed, three SIX more entire bags of totally obsolete bumph have accumulated.

In other funerial news, earlier today GodDaughter2, the one who has just finished learning how to sing, accepted the job of being in charge of my pathologically huge classical CD collection, when I am dead and burnt. So, if you love classical CDs, and even if you hardly now know me, leave a comment that this is a list you’d like to be on. Don’t wait for me to die before expressing such interest. Think of my beloved CDs not as inanimate objects but as a colossal pack of puppies each of which I am seeking a good home for. If I can die knowing that my CDs will be well cared for and listened to, rather than just thrown into about three skips, well, … that’s what I would have wanted and meanwhile do now want. GD2 herself leads too mobile a life just now to be wanting such responsibilities, and in any case CDs are, for her, absurdly twentieth century and completely superfluous to requirements. But if you, like me, feel differently, then like I say, get in touch, now.

A good day. Good not merely because it was pleasurable, but because I got some difficult and important things decided and done. And because other such things were done for me, by various loved ones. The least these people should be getting from me is a description of what I would have wanted, even if it is a bit of an effort to work out what that might be.

I spent today postponing but mostly organising my death

I have spent my day doing two important things.

First, and this only took a moment, I swallowed an Osimertinib pill. I take one of these pills every day. How hard is that? Harder than you might suppose, at my advanced age with its accompanying loss of short term memory. Several times during the last month or two, I have taken one of these pills, or not, and then moments later not known whether I had taken it, or not.

Hence this contraption, which my Senior Designated Friend gave me quite a while ago. This was when the pill problem was that there were lots of them, but none of them were that important:

I don’t need that, I said. Turns out I do. Now that the problem is just the one pill, but a vitally important one upon which my continuing ability to function now seems entirely to depend, I need to be sure that I have taken one, and only one, of these miraculous little things.

And the other thing I did today, which took pretty much the whole day and which also consumed most of yesterday, was to do that other thing that people who have received a death sentence from the medical profession do, besides take pills. I refer to the process known as “putting my affairs in order”.

The most impressive result of this process so far has been a load of rubbish:

I have been trying to sort my many accumulated bits of paper into more logical piles than they had been arranged in. Happily, the biggest such pile is that one in the above photo, which is the one I’ll be chucking into the recycling bins out in front of my front door, tomorrow.

So, a day spent (1) postponing my death, and (2) trying to make my death more organised.

By the way, I do recommend following the Osimertinib link above, and then feasting your eyes on the list of “Other drugs in the class protein kinase inhibitors”, on the right. It is quite a list, I think you will agree. If any of these are anywhere near as clever as the Osimertinib that I’m taking, then it’s an even more impressive list than it looks.

Patrick Crozier and I talk about death – and lots of other things

The latest Patrick Crozier Brian Micklethwait “podcast” is up, although I prefer “recorded conversation”.

Our subject was … well, basically some thoughts that were provoked by my recent lung cancer diagnosis, and by Patrick’s recent experiences as a carer (see first comment from Patrick) of a dying mother.

But, we did a lot of tangenting, me especially. I think this was because the treatment I’ve been having has been so successful, for the time being anyway, that I was, when we recorded this, and still am, feeling rather cheerful, considering. Thank you Osimertinib, not least for giving me back my voice. We couldn’t have done it without the magic pills I’m taking.

Patrick’s notes, with lots of links to stuff we mentioned, give you some clues about all that tangenting.

I was interested in what Patrick said about grieving. It doesn’t come in stages, said he. It comes all at once.

I honestly don’t know why you should devote an hour and a half of your life to listening to this conversation, what with there being so much else to be attending to in the world these days. If this sounds like it will appeal to you, great, go ahead. But Patrick and I keep doing these recorded conversations because we seem to enjoy them. I certainly do, and I like that I can listen again and be sure what was said. Patrick and I are good friends. We enjoy having long and thoughtful conversations, and these tend to be more thoughtful if we know that others might be listening in. For me, this is the big and immediate benefit of sharing them with potential listeners, quite aside from the matter of how many people actually do listen.

For some reason, the one we did about the Falklands War seems to have attracted the most listeners, by our modest standards. Not sure why. Maybe it was Americans, with their own opinions about what happened, but wanting to experience it from a domestic Brit point of view. Or maybe just younger people, eager to learn about an interesting drama that, understandably, gets rather less attention than bigger wars, like Vietnam and WWs 1 and 2. Or maybe older people wanting to compare our recollections with theirs.

Steve Stewart-Williams on the evolution of the Breton fishing boat

I finished reading The Ape That Understood The Universe about a week ago now, but there is one further bit from this book that I want to scan into this blog, because I think it is my absolute favourite.

At the beginning of the second half of the book devoted to Man, “The Cutural Animal”, SS-W offers six examples of cultural evolution in action. These are: Breton Boats, Conditioned Behavior, Language, Teddy Bears, Businesses, and Science. I have already copied the bits on Teddy Bears, and on Language. Here is the bit about Breton Boats (p. 224):

The first example concerns the fishing boats used by Breton fisherman in the Île de Groix. Where did these boats come from? At first glance, it looks like a no-brainer: If anything’s a product of intelligent design, it’s a boat. On closer inspection, though, it turns out it really is a no-brainer … or at least a partial-brainer, in the sense that human brains played a more modest role in crafting the boats than we normally assume. This possibility was first mooted by the French philosopher Emile-Auguste Chartier (aka Alain), who in 1908, took a Darwinian hatchet to the common sense view. “Every boat,” he observed,

is copied from another boat … Let’s reason as follows in the manner of Darwin. It is clear that a very badly made boat will end up at the bottom after one or two voyages, and thus never be copied … One could then say, with complete rigor, that it is the sea herself who fashions the boats, choosing those which function and destroying the others.

If a boat returns, the boat makers may copy it. If it doesn’t, they definitely won’t. The boats that are most likely to be copied are therefore those that survive the longest. As Daniel Dennett points out, no one needs to know why these particular boats survive. To make a good boat, you don’t need to understand what makes a boat good; you only need to be able to copy another boat. How do you know you ‘re copying a good boat? Well, you don’t need to know, because the sea automatically culls the not-good ones from the boat population. Meanwhile, any especially good boats get copied at a faster rate. Over time, this process of culling and copying fashions more and more seaworthy boats.

Now maybe each and every step in the gradual evolution of the boat was a product of intelligent design: of a thousand forgotten boat makers figuring out a thousand different ways to make their boats more sea-worthy. But maybe not. Maybe many steps along the path were simply fortuitous accidents, which were automatically preserved and propagated. To the extent that this is so, the design evident in Breton boats comes from blind, mindless selection, rather than the machinations of intelligent minds.

Language and Teddy Bears are a bit off the beaten tracks I like to beat. But with this discussion of the design of a quite big physical object, in this case a boat, SS-W’s core agenda, and one of my obsessions over the years and decades ever since I was a failed architecture student, overlap in a very big way. As I said at the end of the language posting linked to above, I have long been thinking along the same lines as SS-W, about “mindless” design. And as I said at the end of another recent posting here, about Facadism, Keeping Up Appearances and so on, it is my earnest hope that I will, by and by, be able to pull such thoughts together in a bigger piece for Samizdata.

The Modern Movement in Architecture was, when it started out, shot through with the idea that you should not “mindlessly” copy an established design, even if it worked well, unless you knew why it worked well. Wrong.

Equally and oppositely, the first lot of Architectural Modernists said that you should turn your back on “mindless tradition” and design anew, from “first principles”. Very dangerous, as a design technique. Sometimes necessary, provided you choose good “first principles”, but never without extreme hazard. Architectural Modernism only worked well, and in a country like Britain has only started to work well, when Modernism itself became a tradition, embodying the experience of what worked and what works, and what did not work and what does not work.

Steve Davies: Four new technologies to be optimistic about

I seem to recall a lecture, given by Steve Davies at the IEA just before Covid and the political reaction to Covid started spoiling all our lives, in which he warned that modernity might be stopped in its tracks or worse by some unforeseeable disaster, and that we should watch out. And I’m pretty sure that, during the Q&A, he even mentioned the possibility of a pandemic.

Now however, Steve Davies says, not unreasonably or inconsistently, that the future is brighter than many now, as the Covid crisis persists, assume or at least fear:

People everywhere need to recover their sense of confidence and optimism and to realise not only that this is, undoubtedly, the best time ever to be alive, but also that the future will be even better.

Davies then writes about four technologies which he says will transform life for the better: autonomous vehicles, synthetic food, artificial intelligence, and anti-aging medical treatments. So, life will not only be better; it will also last for far longer.

Regular readers of this blog will know that recently I have particularly noticed technology number two in the Davies list, synthetic food. And number one, autonomous vehicles, has long been to be an interest of mine also. I agree that both will be “epoch making”, eventually.

But I probably won’t live to see either epoch unfold. As far as I’m concerned, that last one, extended life-span, through the conquest of such things as cancer, can’t come too quickly. Which is why it almost certainly won’t come, for me, quickly enough.

However, I recently I heard some wisdom based on recent personal experience spill out of my mouth, to the effect that, now, being told that I have a potentially quite-soon-fatal disease, at my already quite advanced age, is a big deal, but not that big a deal. This just means that I will die a bit sooner. But what if such a medical mishap meant that I died a lot sooner, like about a two hundred years or more sooner? That would be a very big deal. In an age of multi-century lifespans, if that is what is about to arrive, people will surely become far more risk averse even than they are now, because they will have so much more to lose by dying.

But then again, adolescent boys have long had a lot to lose and they are notoriously prone to risk-taking, just for the hell of it. So, what do I know?

In general, will people actually be any happier? I doubt this, because happiness seems to depend more on one’s internal mood than on one’s mere circumstances. I don’t feel any more miserable now than I was a couple of years ago, when I was unaware of my medical condition and before it started or at any rate before it started hurting.

The Brian Micklethwait Archive goes public

Just over a month ago I learned that I will die rather sooner than I had been supposing, and I asked, by way of being cheered up, for people to say nice things, preferably in public, about my various writings and doings over the years.

The most impressive consequence of this rather vulgar entreaty has so far been the Brian Micklethwait Archive.

It is in the nature of this Archive in my honour that if I had constructed it myself it would be an absurdity, which wouldn’t outlast me any more than this blog will. In contrast, the fact that Rob Fisher, a far younger man than me, has embarked upon this project is a source of profound gratitude and satisfaction to me. If I die soon, this will be a big reason for me nevertheless to die in a state of moderate contentment. Posthumous reputations, such as I now crave on a scale way beyond what I merely deserve, do not establish themselves. They have to be established. I want to be remembered as a writer, yet I do not have so much as one book to my name. This Archive that Rob is gathering up, by cherry picking from my many bits of writing over the years, will make a big difference to whatever continuing impact and influence I may have after I have died.

Rob is in charge of this Archive, not me. It needs to be something he is happy to go on polishing and adding to in the months and years to come, so it must be as he wishes it, rather than as I might have wished it. And I waited until he made it public before drawing attention to it, here, myself. Now I feel that I can without upsetting whatever announcements Rob had in mind to be doing.

Great Men don’t need to advertise themselves. Their achievements speak for themselves. Lesser men like me need to beat their own drums. And it makes all the difference when someone else joins in.

Disorientated and consequently doomed penguin

Never seen this before:

I came across this in the twitter-comments on this tweet about Matt Ridley’s dog making a question mark in the snow. Which was good, but not so good as the disorientated penguin.

“With five thousand kilometres ahead of him, he’s heading towards certain death.”

Death. Can’t seem to avoid it.