Another rough day, I’m afraid, so not a lot here.
But something there, with a couple of quotes from a book about Beethoven. But quotes not about Beethoven. About war.
Another rough day, I’m afraid, so not a lot here.
But something there, with a couple of quotes from a book about Beethoven. But quotes not about Beethoven. About war.
I fear that I may now be an I-may-be-about-to-die bore. In the sense that I can think of nothing which I am now doing or saying or even thinking which is not happening under the shadow of my recent lung cancer diagnosis. And given the subject matter of this particular posting, any pretence along such lines would be absurd. Which is why I start with that now. Which could get very boring.
Anyway, what I want to link to is this video, lasting about half an hour, in which Jeremy Paxman talks with the late and then staring his about-to-be-lateness in the face Christopher Hitchens.
Here’s a still from this video, which I think I am presenting because one of the many things I like about this conversation is how Hitchens looks. His head entirely shaven, his face serious, the very picture of a ancient stoic, looking both at death and at the kind of life he might have to suffer before death with an unflinching gaze:
Hitchens’s appearance reminds me of that of my friend and fellow Samizdatista, Paul Marks. “The Sage of Kettering”, as the Samizdata commentariat refers to Paul, looks a lot like this already, despite the fact that to the best of my knowledge Paul is only going to die in the same medically relaxed sense that we all are.
The link to this video was, of course, sent to me, by a friend who had learned of my current medical predicament and thought that I might appreciate learning about it and watching it. Which I very much did, having missed it the first time around.
The friend picked out a bit right at the end, where Hitchens says that he especially appreciated communications from strangers who had in one way or another appreciated something that he, Hitchens, had said or written or done. “If in doubt about whether to send me such a message, do not hesitate. Send it.” Or words to that effect.
He added that he regretted having failed to do this for others in similar circumstances.
I agree on both counts. I am being very cheered up right now by all the kind things that I have persuaded various people, not a few of them pseudonymous Samizdata people whose identities are otherwise unknown to me, to say to me about my own various sayings and doings over the years. And I too regret having failed to do as much of this as I could and should have, when I saw valued friends and intellectual comrades nearing their ends.
New category in the category list below: Death. Here’s hoping that at least some of the remaining postings I manage here are not thus tagged.
By the way, that could be quite a few more. Hitchens was facing the certainty of death, pretty soon, when he did this interview, and he duly died soon after it, I believe. Not long, anyway. All I can really say about my lung cancer is that it sounds pretty bad. But that might merely mean it being pretty bad for quite a while longer.
Not much here today, what with yesterday’s dramas, but I have just ripped off a Samizdata piece, based on my recent medical experiences, entitled On the British National Health Service imbalance between lethargic diagnosis and really rather good actual treatment of serious medical conditions.
It features a link to this mighty beast:
That’s “Brunel”. Brunel has been giving me my first actual doses of cancer treatment, the third dose having been this afternoon. Two more, tomorrow and on the 31st. These treatments have been merely defensive, to stop my spine being damaged by the lung cancer tumor. Next week, if all proceeds as I hope, the actual attack on the tumor and on its spreading consequences will get under way.
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,
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.
I did a piece a while back for Samizdata about that foolish equation people sometimes still make between “the age of exploration” that happened about five hundred years ago, when Europe, until then a backwater, globally speaking, started to connect itself with the rest of the world out there, and space exploration now. Like I said, rather foolish.
The above is one of the many ways in which space travel, unlike those early sea voyages, is profoundly different from anything before attempted by humans. Not saying we shouldn’t do it. Am saying: watch out for very big surprises, often very nasty ones.
I have had that tweet open for over a month, and it refused to let itself be closed. Too interesting. Too dramatic. Too destructive.
It’s always a pleasure to be Quotulated. That particular Quotulation being from a posting I did for Samizdata entitled Jordan Peterson on responsibility – and on why it is important that he is not a politician.
Here’s another bit from that Samizdata piece that was not Quotulated, but which gives you a flavour of it:
But getting back to what Peterson says about “responsibility”, the deeply refreshing thing about how he uses this word is that, because he is not a politician, he separates the benefits to me of me choosing to live responsibly from the idea of him deciding what he thinks these responsibilities of mine should be, and then compelling me to accept them whether I judge them to be wise or appropriate or meaningful for me or not. The process he wants to set in motion in my mind is of me thinking about what my responsibilities should be. He is arguing that I should choose my own cross, as best I can, and then carry it as best I can, because this is what will be best for me. He is not telling me which cross it should be, in a way that he calculates will be advantageous for him.
Because this Samizdata piece was done quite a while back, I began reading the bit of it that the Quotulatiousness guy Quotulated from it knowing only that it was a Quotulatiousness QotD, by somebody or other, and that it concerned Responsibility. I began reading it, and thought: This is not bad. I like this. I do like it when I read something I like, and then find out that I wrote it myself.
It doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes you read something you know you wrote, because your own name at the top was the first thing you clocked, and then you think: This is bollocks. (In this paragraph, for “you” read “I” throughout.)
I have had one of those blogging days. The day was all available for blogging, but instead of me consequently quickly shoving up three or four fabulous little postings here, I got stuck on the first one. So, I eventually let that be and switched to doing another one, a quickie. But that also grew quite a bit, and turned into a piece called On why feminists ought to be glad about skyscrapers. It grew because I found myself also writing about one of the men who designed this place.
At which point, it made sense for me to bestow this piece upon the mass media, my version of which is Samizdata. So if you want something of substance from me today, you will either have to wait and hope, or you’ll be satisfied with merely reading this, or you’ll follow the first of the above links and have a go at reading that.
To answer the question I know you’re asking: yes, there is a big old cock joke in it.
Inspired by this Daniel Hannan tweet, I just did a piece for Samizdata entitled It was the New Deal which put the Great in the Great Depression.
I began it as a piece for here, but I then reckoned it should go to there. Making that switch was helped a lot by the fact that Samizdata is a blog powered by WordPress, and so, now, is mine.
This is another of those “memo to self” postings. Well, really, all the postings here are memos to self, but this one is more than usually of that sort.
Earlier today, I managed, at last, finally, to do a Samizdata posting, after a gap of well over a month. It seems to have been quite well received, which is very nice, but really the big thing for me now is that I have done it, well received or not.
And in the course of doing it, I think I have identified an error in my thinking about how I should be writing for Samizdata. I think I was in the grip of what “writing for Samizdata” was supposed to be, for me, and what writing for Samizdata was supposed to be was writing one or nearly one Samizdata posting per day. And then, there came a time when I was unable to do this. And since I couldn’t do it, I pretty much stopped doing it. By aiming at too difficult a target, I was failing, day after day, and that made me just give up totally. That is very silly. But that, I think, is part of what was happening.
But now I think the time has come (in fact the change is long overdue) to revise my model of what writing for Samizdata should now, for me, mean. Me writing for Samizdata means not that I post something on Samizdata pretty much every day, but rather, that I work on my next Samizdata posting, pretty much every day. This means, for example, that by close of play tomorrow, I should have made some headway, not necessarily very much headway, just some headway, towards doing another posting there. The sequence of events will be: decide what to write about at Samizdata, and then start. Make some headway every day. Work at it. Polish it. Try to make it good. When it is good, or seems so, then publish. And if that takes a week, it takes a week. The idea of doing something once a day survives, but not in the form of a finished blog posting once a day, just some work on a blog posting, every day. Believe it or not, I took several days to concoct this latest posting, coming back to it again and again. And that felt like the way I should now be doing it.
The thing is, posting something here every day is quite easy. Not a total breeze you understand, but quite easy. This is because my standards here are very low. When I say something, I do mean something, aka anything. But Samizdata demands stuff that is better than that. It demands stuff that has been polished, worked on, really thought about. In 2005 you could shovel any old junk onto Samizdata and get thousands of readers, and we did, and actually it was pretty good stuff because we had all spent the previous quarter of a century thinking about it, and because we knew that thousands of people were reading it, and commenting in their hundreds. Now, that doesn’t work, or not for me. I now feel that Samizdata, unlike this place, needs better than just any old thing if it is to compete with the mainstream internet media, as it now does.
We shall see.
This recollection about Nelson is fascinating:
He entered at once into conversation with me, if I can call it conversation, for it was all on his side, and all about himself, and, really, in a style as to surprise and almost disgust me. I suppose something I happened to say may have made him guess that I was somebody, and he went out of the room for a moment, I have no doubt to ask the office-keeper who I was, for when he came back he was altogether a different man, both in manner and matter. All I had thought was a charlatan style had vanished, and he talked of the state of this country and of the aspect and probabilities of affairs on the Continent with a good sense, and a knowledge of subjects both at home and abroad, that surprised me equally and more agreeably than the first part of our interview had done; in fact he talked like an officer and a statesman. The Secretary of State kept us long waiting, and certainly, for the last half or three quarters of an hour I don’t know that I ever had a conversation that interested me more. Now if the Secretary of State had been punctual & admitted Lord Nelson in the first quarter of an hour, I should have had the same impression of a light and trivial character that other people have had, but luckily I saw enough to be satisfied that he was really a very superior man; but certainly a more sudden and complete metamorphosis I never saw.
That is Lord Castlereagh remembering the great man. [Correction: It was the future Duke of Wellington. Thanks Natalie – see comment.]
Was there ever a more prefect example of image projection, the nature of which is illuminated dazzlingly, by at first being done wrongly? Whoops! Wrong performance for this bloke! So, leave the stage. Then, re-enter, performing quite differently.
We are not talking “image” and “reality” here. Just two different images and two different realities.
I do not criticise Nelson for his obvious emphasis on image-mongering. On the contrary, it is all part of what an excellent commander he was. I feel exactly the same about another hero of mine, Montgomery, who was similarly devoted to cultivating his own fame.
For me the crucial thing is that the men being lead in battle preferred it this way. Better a self-promoter than a cypher whom you never see. Central to great leadership is understanding and controlling the effect you have on other people.
Findlay Dunachie supplies the above quote in a Samizdata review of books about Nelson, Collingwood, Trafalgar, etc., which is outstanding, as several commenters have pointed out.
Over the last few months and years, the usually quite long review articles by Findlay Dunachie have been, I would say, just about the classiest things at Samzidata. He is not listed there as a “principle contributor”. He is merely a “contributor”. But as far as quality is concerned he has been and is a principle, no doubt about it.
For technical reasons it is not now possible to link to individual author archives on Samizdata, but if you look at everything in the category of book reviews, you will find most of Findlay’s stuff, and not a lot else.
I also particularly recommend this 1996 Libertarian Alliance Historical Note, entitled The Success of the Industrial Revolution and the Failure of Political Revolutions: How Britain Got Lucky.