I have lung cancer

This afternoon I sent out an email message to about fifty or more of my nearest and dearest, saying that I now have lung cancer. Since among my nearest and dearest are those who read this little blog of mine with any regularity, here is the full text of what that said, for all you good people also:

A message from Brian Micklethwait to as many of his friends, relatives and loved ones whom he can now think of to include in this email list.

Please pass this on to anyone else who you think would appreciate hearing about it, with whatever added apologies make sense for me having neglected to include them on the list to start with.

*****************

Dear friends, relatives, loved ones and well-liked ones:

About a week before Christmas, I learned that I am suffering from lung cancer. I had known for a while that something bad was happening. Apparently I have had it for some time, and it has been spreading. From what doctors are now telling me it seems that I may die quite soon. They don’t put it quite like that, but that is how it now sounds.

But, it may not be quite that bad. Being doctors, they are also giving me reasons for optimism, in among the gloom.

First, I do not have the usual sort of lung cancer, the sort brought on by prolonged and heavy smoking, having never been a smoker of any kind. I am told that this sort of “anomalous” lung cancer tends to respond better to cancer treatment than regular smoker-cancer usually does. I suspect that my very dusty home may be part of what set my cancer off, but the doctors prefer to doubt that, at any rather when they speak to me. Genetics? Other unknown environmental triggers? They prefer not to speculate and just to get on with treating me.

Second, cancer treatment has come a long way in recent years. A doctor recently told me that, had I been in my current condition a decade ago, his advice would have been: “Call your lawyer, your priest, and your undertaker, in whichever order you prefer.” Now, my chances are much better.

Third, because I decided to throw the kind of money I can spare at the private medical sector for the diagnosis part of my problem, my condition is now well understood, and I am now, already, getting cancer treatment, from London’s Royal Marsden Hospital in the Fulham Road, which is about as good as cancer treatment can be nowadays.

And, I’m getting this treatment on the NHS. The NHS is overwhelmed by people who have or say that they have medical problems of all kinds and degrees of severity. Had I relied on the NHS to learn the bad news I needed to know, I would probably still not know it. But, once the NHS knows that you have a serious and potentially fatal condition, it then moves fast, and not just technically well but with great human sympathy, if my early experience of treatment is anything to go by, and if what my doctors and my medically expert friends and relatives (such as my sister who was an NHS GP until she retired) are telling me is so. Especially if you are lucky enough, as I am, to live a mere walk away from the Marsden.

So, wish me luck. I may yet live for quite a while. My condition may stabilise. I may even recover. I now doubt that, but you never know.

Some of you will be content to tell me you are very sorry about all this, and that is fine. Such messages mean a lot, and if that is all you want to say to me that’s still a great deal. Just knowing that there are people out there who sympathise means a lot more than you might suppose. (A word of warning. Those who phone me may be subjected to some coughing at my end, a continuous cough having been one of the early signs of trouble.)

If, however, you would like to know more about how to help me in my weeks or months of misfortune, then keep reading, and I’ll tell you. (I have already embarked upon the years version of this scenario, being already over seventy years old.)

The problem is that, especially in these very socially separated times, physical help can be rather hard to contrive. Besides which, very close friends and relatives are already supplying crucial support in ways that are already helping me and cheering me up enormously. Thanks to them, and to the treatment I’ve already been getting, I have had a surprisingly cheerful Christmas.

But, there is something else I ask you to do, should you be so inclined. Don’t just email me about what you can do to help, email the person who is acting as my Senior Coordinating Friend, so to speak. This is Elena Procopiu (she at the top of the email list above). She is the elder sister of my beloved Second GodDaughter, and I am very close to her entire family. Email her, as well as me. Communicate with her about what you might be able to offer, should you be inclined.

I’m sure that all kinds of assistance, such as experience of similar circumstances as well as merely physical help, may materialise in this way.

But, let me now tell you what would really boost my morale.

Tell each other which of my writings you have most liked, and do so just as publicly as you feel inclined. Blogs postings, blog comments, social media, the lot. My circumstances are now no secret. If I do die soon, I would greatly prefer to do this in the knowledge that various things that I have said and written over the years have left behind them a trail of enlightenment and entertainment, and might be fondly remembered, for a while at least.

This is quite a lot to ask, because I fear that my more impressive pronouncements are scattered in amongst a vast pile of trivia and obfuscation. But, if you want now to cheer me up, try to dig out some of the more worthwhile things that you think I have said and done – often just sentences or paragraphs rather than longer and rarer stretches of eloquence – and hold them up for a bit of admiration and reflection.

Maybe there are photos I’ve taken over the years that you happened particularly to like. Recycle or link to them too.

Here might be a good place to start.

Or you could try here here.

Or here, which still seems to be working after a fashion.

Or you might care to sample some of these recent efforts, if you have the time.

If you recall having attended one or some of my last-Friday-of-the-month meetings at my home, perhaps because you were kind enough yourself to be the speaker at one or some of them and found that particularly helpful and stimulating, then please take the time to tell any other people who might be interested about that.

This is a lot to ask, but if you don’t ask for what you want in life, or in my case potential death, you are far less likely to get it, and this is what I want. If only a few people feel inclined to say and do things along these lines, it would cheer me up lot as I make my exit, if that is what is about to happen.

A late thought. My deadly sin has always been sloth. Had I merely died, one fine day, just like that with no warning, it is almost certain that I would have died failing to say or do many of the things I would have most wanted to say or do before going. As it is, having now been told about my possibly imminent death before it actually comes may turn into something of a blessing for me. Live every day as if it is your last, we are often told. That is pretty much what I am now doing, as best I can manage in my now weakened state. I still have a few public pronouncements that I’d like to offer to the world before I go, and there is every chance that I may now manage to say at least some of those things, the way I probably would not have done had I just died with no advance warning, and even if I had lived for quite a bit longer.

Which I may yet be lucky enough to do. If so, win-win.

Even if it goes win-lose, I don’t feel that I deserve the sort of send-off I am asking for. All my life, I have been showered with advantages, not least in the form of more unearned wealth than most inhabitants of this planet could ever dream of having bestowed upon them. I have not done nearly well enough as a communicator, given all the chances I have had, for me to be able to expect the sort of send-off that I would like and for it to happen of its own accord.

But, I nevertheless ask for it. This is what I would like.

It is putting it mildly to say that not everyone on this email list shares my political inclinations and attitudes, or for that matter aesthetic tastes and opinions. So if all you really want to say to me is: “Bad luck mate. Nice, on the whole, to have known you”, well, I’ll gladly take that.

I’ve tried quite hard to avoid grammatical errors and mis-spellings in this, but some will inevitably remain. It’s now time to stop this and just send it out. More to come, I hope, maybe from me, maybe from others, with news of medical progress, or perhaps just with news of how it all turns out. But if not, then: not. It was certainly good knowing all of you.

All the very best to you and yours,

Brian Micklethwait

If you are personally known to me and want to get in touch with my very dear friend Elena Procopiu, mentioned in the middle of the above text, I suggest you leave a comment below to that effect, and I’ll be sure that the connection is made.

Cat participates in DarkHorse podcast

I listened earlier in the week to this DarkHorse Podcast with Douglas Murray and Bret Weinstein, in which Murray describes what is going on in Portland, Oregon. And it’s not good. Worth a listen, if you have the time. I’ve not heard Weinstein in podcast action before.

But, look who else joined in, as shown in the bottom right of this screen capture:

The cat made its first appearance in this interview at about 9:23.

What this illustrates is that cats who have been well treated by humans typically enjoy human company. When humans are doing things, cats often like to be part of it. Their anti-social reputation is rather undeserved, I think. Basically, they are not as insanely desirous of human company as most dogs are. By that standard nobody, cat or human, can possibly win any sociability contest. But by any reasonable standard, cats, provided, as I say, that they have been well treated by their human companions, are very ready to be companionable with humans.

How do Dark Horses feel about cats? Does this cat appear regularly on these podcasts? Does it boost traffic? I can’t be the only one who has commented on this feline participation.

Joe Rogan talks with Daryl Davis about how Davis converted lots of white racists

Just finished watching/listening to this Joe Rogan talk with Daryl Davis, about how Davis has been converting white racists into upstanding American citizens. Davis says he doesn’t himself convert anybody. They convert themselves. In this respect he is like those teachers who say “I’m not a teacher – I just get them to learn for themselves.” Those teachers are teachers, and Davis is a converter. He talks with white racists, and then, hey presto they convert themselves. Some, not all of them course.

Two hours and forty minutes very well spent. Never heard of Daryl Davis until today (thank you Twitter). Used to be a full time musician. Got into the racism conversion business when a KKK guy complimented him on his piano playing, at one of his gigs. “Never heard a black guy pay piano like Jerry Lee Lewis.” But Lewis got his piano style from earlier black pianists, just like I did, said Davis. “No.” Yes. And thanks to Davis being a personable and curious guy, they just kept on talking. “Why do you hate me, when you don’t even know me?” That was his starting question to all these characters.

Daryl Davis wrote a memoir about how he did all this converting of white racists, and while listening to him talk, I of course whistled this book up on Amazon. Apparently, I can buy myself a copy of Klandestine Relationships: A Black Man’s Odyssey in the Klu Klux Klan for the giveaway price of (as I now write (subject to change)), £397.50, in hardback. But the good news is that Davis is now working on a revised edition, with more stories along similar lines that happened since he first wrote this book two decades ago. So if, like me, you now want a copy, but if, not like me, you think you’ll have to pay nearly four hundred quid for a copy or go permanently without, well, be patient and stay tuned.

Trump did this good thing, but …

Ronald Forbes, for The Conservative Woman:

WHY is it that almost every conservative defence of Donald Trump begins by disowning him personally like a distasteful object held at arm’s length?

Sure, they say, Trump gave the economy and the job market an electro-shock that Obama said wasn’t possible and didn’t even try, but …

Sure, Trump pulled out of the Paris climate agreement designed by liberal greenery to throttle Western economies and living standards and also out of the mad deal that freed Iran to go nuclear by the mid-2020s, but …

Sure, Trump rolled back Obama’s kangaroo courts on campuses, stemmed the immigration free-for-all, took on China’s communist bullies, read the facts of life to free-riding European partners in Nato, started a historic normalisation of relations between Israel and Arab states, but …

Sure, Trump nominated Supreme Court justices dedicated to the strange idea that the constitution meant what it said rather than what liberal judges would prefer it to say, but …

Well said mate. I like this Donald Forbes man. Who is he?

Donald Forbes is a retired Anglo-Scottish journalist now living in France who during a 40-year career worked in eastern Europe before and after communism.

A background well suited to make a man understand the vast moral chasm that separates being an evil piece of tyrannical shit from being a great man and a great guy, who has his hair done in a rather strange way.

But reading this excellent piece caused me to suffer a spasm of selfish worry. Patrick Crozier and I recorded a chat about Trump, a couple of years back. Did either of us do any of this distasteful-object-held-at-arm’s-length stuff when we talked about Trump? I listened to what we’d said again this afternoon, just to check. Happily, there was hardly anything like that. I once mentioned that picking a President was not the same as picking a father-in-law. (I would now love to have Trump as a father-in-law.) But that’s as near as either of us got to any pre-emptively grovelling (to the evil piece of tyrannical shit tendency) stylistic criticism of Trump. There was some analysis of Trump’s personal style. (He is a Rat Pack fan, basically.) Plus, there was lots of interrupting, and hesitating and mumbling, and general conversational incompetence. But, I’m proud to report that both us talked of Trump’s style and personality only to tease out why it was working so well, and that I for one repeatedly called him a great man. Okay we missed a few of the great things Trump had already done even then, but he’s done so many great things and that’s easily forgiven.

While I’m boasting about my past pronouncements (if I don’t who else will? (the particular bit I’m thinking of is at the end of that which I am about to link to)) see also, on the subject of the difference between mere stylistic impropriety and gigantic moral evil, this.

A bike and a back ache

Today I photoed this guy and his bike, with his permission:

But not his face, although he didn’t seem to mind about that.

I went to the Pedal Me website, but am still none the wiser about the exact relationship between pedal power and e-power that is going on here. What I think is happening is that pedalling does happen, but it creates electricity, and the bike itself is powered by an e-motor. But what do I know? The website is for the benefit of the sort of people who already know, or who don’t care. I should have asked this guy.

A reason I failed to was that I was preoccupied at the time, with my own health or lack of it. These photos were photoed just outside the Victoria Medical Centre, a walk away from me in Wilton Road, which I had been in to find out what was wrong with my back. I’ve had a back ache for about a week, which refuses to go away. Why? Turns out I have a back ache. As in: not a hernia or an appendix misbehaving in a way that would precipitate surgery. Just a muscle strain. Give it a few weeks and it’ll get better, said the doctor. Is walk good? Because I can still do that pretty comfortably. Yes, he said. So I will be trying, weather permitting, and I promise nothing, to be doing quite a bit of that in the next few weeks.

Because of the above, that recorded conversation between Patrick Crozier and me about The Kink has yet to be recorded. That’ll happen when it happens.

Had it not been for The Kink, there’d be no medical centre like the Victoria Medical Centre, and no complicated bicycles like the one in the above photos. Also, no digital cameras such as the one I used to photo the bicycle. So, I am grateful for large mercies, despite my back aching. But, thank goodness I don’t have to ride such a bike myself.

My homework for tomorrow

Tomorrow, Patrick Crozier and I will, all being well, recording a conversation about the Industrial Revolution, aka The Kink.

Too busy re-remembering what they said to be able to write about that now.

Robot car thoughts

I get emails from Google telling me what the internet has been saying about robot cars, and the most recent such email concerned a Forbes piece, entitled Full Self-Driving Cars Are Still A Long Way Off – Here’s Why. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a robot car believer in the long run, and a robot car sceptic in the short run. People who tell you that robot cars are just about to multiply all over our big cities are hyping – in plain English, lying. But robot cars will eventually happen, and when they do finally get into their stride they’ll change the world. But, I say again, in the short run, it ain’t happening any time soon.

I had another listen to this recorded conversation that Patrick Crozier and I had about transport, in November 2018. Half an hour into this, the fact that Google itself was making noises about how robot cars were now really really going to happen really really soon, just after Christmas, blah blah, was mentioned, and I expressed scepticism. I have now been proved right. Robot cars are still promised, Real Soon Now, and are still not with us in a big way. (The way that e-scooters are already with us in a small way.)

About fifty minutes into that recorded conversation with Patrick, I mention a libertarian headbanger pamphlet I wrote in the 1990s about transport. When I wrote that, I assumed that the system as a whole would be the clever bit, and the vehicles would merely take their orders from this system. I later thought that the way robot cars then started to be developed was proving me wrong. Now, I suspect that the system as a whole will have to be organised differently from the way roads are organised now, and that the system as a whole will end up being highly intelligent, just as I said way back in the last century. More like railways now than the roads now. The reason robot cars are taking so long actually to arrive is that it is being realised that in order for them even to arrive in the first place, the environment they operate in will have to be reorganised in their favour. And once that happens, it will make sense to have lots more central control.

I also had clever things to say about how robot cars would maybe look more like the most expensive sort of Ferraris than regular cars. But that was by-the-by. The point of such whimsy was merely to emphasise that actually, we don’t now know what robot vehicles will end up looking like and behaving like, any more than they knew in the 1890s how cars would end up looking.

Patrick Crozier and I talk about French military disappointments (and so does Antoine Clarke)

These disappointments happened in 1870, 1914, 1917, 1940, 1944(?) and 1954. We don’t talk about them in chronological order, because we started with 1914, which was the failed French Ardennes offensive, right at the start of World War 1. But events in all of those years get a mention.

Listen to our conversation here, where there is also lots of further detail from Patrick. Under where it says “Notes” there are 20 items of relevant information, any one of which could have been expanded into a decent blog posting in its own right.

But hello, what’s this? It’s a conversation between Patrick and our mutual friend Antoine Clarke, whom Patrick and I mentioned in our conversation, several times. This was recorded nearly a decade ago. Not having heard it before, I listened to it last night, further delaying me in putting up this posting.

My main reaction to what Antoine said is that, clearly, what I said about how the French “self image” switched, in Parisian artistic circles, from warmonger to peacenik, took its time spreading to the rest of the country. Antoine talks vividly about his ancestors telling their children that the reason they were born was to get Alsace-Lorraine back from the Germans. Also, he said fascinating things about reparations. French had to pay reparations to get the Germans out of France after the 1870 disaster. And they paid the lot, and the Germans left, far quicker than had been expected. Everyone chipped in voluntarily. I knew none of this.

In general, I think that following our chat about Lockdown, Patrick and I showed a return to form, assuming I’m allowed to say that. Maybe you’ll think better of our Lockdown chat than I do, but for me the trouble with that was that all I recall us doing was expressing our own opinions, much as anyone listening could have done for himself. But people listening need to be told at least some things they didn’t already know, just like Antoine does in his talk with Patrick, for instance with all that stuff about reparations that I knew nothing about. At least, when we talked about France, Patrick and I had read interesting books which people listening might not have read. Patrick had been reading this book, and I’d been reading this book. (I copied both those links from Patrick’s Notes.) That may not be anything like an eyewitness account following one of us having been present as a small child at Dien Bien Phu, or a great uncle reminiscing about bombing French civilians following the D-Day landings. But it is something.

Still Thames water at the beginning of Lockdown

I think that, on balance, this was the best photo I got yesterday:

But I didn’t photo it yesterday. I couldn’t have. This was taken on April 5th, by Alastair. He showed it to me on his phone, and I said, can I stick it here. No problem.

What we see is the effect of Lockdown when it began, and when it was as tight as they could make it. The point being: no boats moving on the River. So, in the absence of wind, the surface of the Thames is ultra-smooth. Not quite as smooth as an actual mirror, but pretty close. On his phone, I had to take this on trust. But with my clunky old C20–style computer with its big C21 screen attached, I can see it clearly. Wonderful.

It is possible that in the above, April 5th should be read as May 4th, but I don’t believe so. I wish the Anglos could have a conference and agree about the order of month and day of month numbers. 4-5-2020, 5-4-2020? May 4, April 5? I never know which is which. When communicating dates, to myself or to anyone else, I try always to use English for the month, and then it’s clear.

But back to the photo, which was taken with his mobile (a Samsung). But of course. When those things learn to do x25 zoom, I’ll probably stop bothering with a camera type camera myself.

Thoughts provoked by a Paul Graham piece about privilege

Paul Graham:

There has been a lot of talk about privilege lately. Although the concept is overused, there is something to it, and in particular to the idea that privilege makes you blind — that you can’t see things that are visible to someone whose life is very different from yours.

But one of the most pervasive examples of this kind of blindness is one that I haven’t seen mentioned explicitly. I’m going to call it orthodox privilege: The more conventional-minded someone is, the more it seems to them that it’s safe for everyone to express their opinions.

It’s safe for them to express their opinions, because the source of their opinions is whatever it’s currently acceptable to believe. So it seems to them that it must be safe for everyone. They literally can’t imagine a true statement that would get them in trouble.

And yet at every point in history, there were true things that would get you in terrible trouble to say. Is ours the first where this isn’t so? What an amazing coincidence that would be.

Surely it should at least be the default assumption that our time is not unique, and that there are true things you can’t say now, just as there have always been. …

This is a particular version of the general tendency to believe that now, finally, this or that age-old problem has been solved. In all previous times, speech was unfree. Now, people can say exactly what they like!

One of my favourite of such intractable problems is the one about how to look after the very poor and very unlucky. When the Attlee welfare state got into its stride, the error of supposing “welfare” to have been sorted was rampant in Britain, although it has abated now, following many bitter welfare state experiences. Looking after the poor has always been and will always remain very hard. How to separate the deserving poor from the undeserving poor? How to provide help without introducing moral hazard? These questions are very hard, have always been hard, and will always be hard.

I am listening to two smug young white people on the radio smugly assuming that their generation has a unique ability to sort out racial problems and unfairnesses, unlike all previous generations, who were either too wicked or too lazy. That they might be introducing new race-related indignities and insults and assumptions does not seem to register. You surely know the sort of dilemmas I am thinking of. Solve racism by assuming everyone is equally qualified! Solve racism by talking about it endlessly and encouraging the downtrodden to blame everything wrong with their lives on racism! Solve racism by never talking about racism and just self-fulfillingly prophesying that, now, it’s not a thing anymore! Solve racism by encouraging the downtrodden to find ways through racism and around racism! All these notions have truths in them, and dangers attached to them.

An equal and opposite error to this sort of temporal arrogance is the belief that the wrongs of our own time are unique to our own time. I regularly hear it assumed that there is something uniquely mediocre and corrupt about our current gang of politicians, uniquely trashy and mendacious about our media, uniquely ugly and ridiculous about our art, uniquely huge about the gap between our very rich and our very poor, uniquely bad about the behaviour of kids these days. Wrong again.

Many things have got much better. Many problems are solvable and have been solved, or will be. Some time around 1780, all the graphs of human comfort and wellbeing stopped being damn near horizontal and switched to being damn near vertical, in a good way. Ever more people since that magic moment have been able to do things for themselves and each other that nobody could do for anyone before it. We in Britain call this event the Industrial Revolution and those of us Brits who know about it are very proud of the part our ancestors played in this dramatic and continuing improvement in human affairs. The greatest form of historical myopia in the world now, certainly my part of it, may well be the unawareness of the fact of this amazing transformation. (Caused by the unique awfulness of our education system. Our teachers are the worst there have ever ever been!)

Patrick Crozier and I will be talking about this Industrial Revolution in our next recorded conversation.