Sad news

Michael again here.

Brian Micklethwait, the owner of this blog, died this morning of lung cancer. We are all greatly saddened by this terrible news. He will be missed.

Some surprises at the Royal Marsden today

Now that the weather is good and Lockdown seems to be easing, I am doing a lot more getting out, but am in a physical state where properly thoughtful blogging is hard to do on a day when I will be doing or have been doing much else. And today was very busy, by my standards. A complicated and prolonged visit to the bank. Then a haircut. Then a trip to the Marsden and the usual waiting around for blood tests, doctor consultation, and prescriptions. After all that I am no state to say very much here.

So I will content myself, and you, with this photo:

On the face of it, this is a photo of a Royal Marsden Hospital bannister. But that was the law of perfectly focused intervening objects asserting itself. What I was trying to photo was what is going on in the background. That’s right. Not just the Royal Marsden piano. A pianist playing the Royal Marsden piano. Chopin? Mozart? Sadly not. Generic improvised jazz, which is not my favourite. Even so, actual piano playing going on. Could it be that this is a regular occurrence, interrupted by Lockdown, but now resuming? Maybe.

I was going to end this there, but there were two other oddities at the Marsden today that I might as well mention, now that I have actually got started with this posting.

There was also this:

That being a photo taken by my Senior Designated Friend, who was with me at the Marsden today, now that they are getting more relaxed about such things.

What that is of is of an old grey-haired geezer who has presumably been up to no good, handcuffed to a police lady, in the Marsden Outpatients Department, presumably getting treatment. Despite the handcuffs, he seemed like a very well-behaved sort of a guy, but I guess cancer will do that to you.

I have never seen such a thing before in a hospital. That almost certainly being because the Marsden is the only hospital I have much experience of.

And finally, another Royal Marsden first, in the form of a less that totally obliging Marsden member of staff. This was the lady who was doing my blood tests. This hurt a bit more than usual. But worse, I got the distinct impression that she neglected to do the tests for the people doing research into the impact of Covid jabs on cancer patients, which I have been contributing to. I brought in some paperwork, but also mentioned this research, and that the usual routine was quite a large number of blood samples. That would usually mean the person I said such a thing to checking this out in some way, to see if more blood was indeed needed. But this lady just took the one sample and mumbled something about “I just do what I’m told” and the paperwork I brought in only said do one sample. That I said do several, and that I might be worrying about this, didn’t seem to bother her.

Later, we happened to ask the same lady how to get to the pharmacy, and for the very first time, I got directions from a Marsden worker that were hurried and unhelpful, and giving off a bit of a “don’t bother me now I’m busy” vibe. We had to ask someone else as well.

As I say, such has been the hitherto amazing level of Marsden staff helpfulness that these items of less than totally obliging patient service came as a surprise. I wonder if Lockdown easing has meant people coming in to work at the Marsden who are not totally indoctrinated into the Marsden Way, so to speak. Again, as with the visiting pianist, it could well be.

It’s not that the Marsden service is absolutely perfect. But what stands out for me about this place his how kind and patient the Marsden people (almost) all of them are with any difficulties that arise. So today, for instance, I had a rather longer wait for medical attention than has been usual, and I queried this at the desk. A medic then came out to tell me that they were waiting for some test results, hence the delay. This was not a brusque phone message to the desk. This was a full explanation and a courteous apology for the really quite short wait I was having to put up with. I’m guessing the delay getting those test results may have been something to do with the bank holiday weekend, which only ended today. Whatever, the point was they knew I was starting to fret and the medic went out of her way to put my mind at rest.

The test results, by the way, continue to be very good. My cancer continues to be in retreat in the face of the Osimertinib pills I have been taking. Although the side effects of these pills are starting to pile up, the pills are working spectacularly well. The doctors do not promise that these this will continue. Apparently the cancer could mutate, or something. But, so far so good. Wish me luck.

Compared to that, a somewhat brusque blood tester is hardly worth mentioning, and I only do mention this because, such is the overall standard of Marsden care for and kindness to patients, that it stuck out like a slightly dim bulb in an otherwise totally dazzling chandelier. In many a bog standard NHS place, such a person would fit right in.

Now I’m even more knackered. And tomorrow looks like it will be just as strenuous. I blame the perfect weather.

No more Wheel to be seen from Tottenham Court Road

For me, the important thing about this photo that I photoed last Thursday evening in Tottenham Court Road, just before I encountered yesterday’s Oxford Street beavers, is not what I saw …:

… but what I can no longer see.

A list of those “LA” pamphlets I published in the 1980s and 1990s

Ever since I was diagnosed with lung cancer, I have been in reminiscent mode. Having solicited compliments from others about what a splendid life I have lead, I was advised by my oldest friend (we were at Marlborough together in the 1960s) to do some public thinking along these lines myself. What do I think were my best achievements? Good advice, I think. If you want others to do something, start by doing that thing yourself.

Well, at the heart of anything good that I have done with my life was that burst of pamphleteering that I did on behalf of the Libertarian Alliance (Tame, Micklethwait, Gabb version) in the 1980s and 1990s, and thenabouts.

Because of the chaos that is unleashed whenever you search for “libertarian alliance”, caused by the idiotic feuding that broke out concerning who owned the Libertarian Alliance in the 1980s, between two factions, one lead by Chris Tame (my bit of the “LA”) and the one lead by David Ramsay Steele, both of whom subsequently ran their own distinct and diverging versions of the “Libertarian Alliance”, finding your way to any particular bit of “libertarian alliance” activity can be difficult. And, as I recounted in an earlier posting provoked by a piece of “libertarian alliance” writing, published by me, and written by Paul Staines, aka Guido, I thought that I had permanently lost the link to the list of these publications in .pdf form that lists all the various Libertarian Alliance (Fame, Micklethwait, Gabb version) pamphlets that I published at that time. But Rob Fisher supplied that exact link in a comment on that posting. And this is it.

And just to nail it all down, in a form that I will be able to find again, here is that list, with all the links to the various pamphlet sub-classifications:

Political Notes
Economic Notes
Philosophical Notes
Legal Notes
Cultural Notes
Historical Notes
Sociological Notes
Educational Notes
Psychological Notes
Scientific Notes
Atheist Notes
Religious Notes
Tactical Notes
Foreign Policy Perspectives
LA Pamphlets
Libertarian Reprints
Libertarian Heritage
Study Guides
Personal Perspectives
Libertarian Fictions

For some reason, the top one of those links, to “Political Notes”, doesn’t work, but all the others get you to a list of all the relevant pamphlets. You can get your way to each publication, starting with this one (Political Notes 1 and 2 never made it to .pdf form), but there’s a bit more contriving to do there.

Towards the end of some of the series, the design does a radical switch. These switches mark the moment when I stopped doing the design of these things. (Apologies, but I do not now recall who it was who took over from me.) I stopped doing these designs because the internet had arrived, and I felt that the age of “pamphleteering” was now over, and the age of blogging had arrived.

The one task that remained was somehow contriving to put all these .pdf files that I had “desktop published”, onto the internet. Sean Gabb did that. And once he had, I felt that my job as a Libertarian Alliance (Tame, Micklethwait, Gabb tendency) functionary was done.

Because of the chaos associated with the words “libertarian alliance”, my attitude to the Libertarian Alliance was that this brand was permanently fucked, and the only thing to do about that was walk away from it and to find some other way to be a libertarian, while hopefully extracting the pamphlets out from under the mess, and in general rescuing the best bits done by people on both sides of the great divide by gathering them up and flying different flags above them.

Brian is having internet problems

Michael here. Brian has some problems with his home internet connection and has asked me to post something to this blog explaining this. In terms of health, he is much the same as yesterday and he shall be resuming blogging as soon as he gets a new router, which should be in the next couple of days.

Salisbury Cathedral behind sheep

Another notable James Cook photo of his local and favourite cathedral:

It’s nice how the sheep are mostly looking, vaguely curious but in no way troubled, at the camera.

And note how, in the summer, with all those leaves, the tree in the middle would spoil everything.

Taxi with Dettol advert

I like taxi with advert photos. And I like photoing photos that pin down peculiar times, when I look back at them years from now.

So, I like this, which I photoed this afternoon, outside Victoria Station:

The Dettol people must surely be hoping, however, that Londoners remain abnormally keen on cleaning their hands, more so than before all the Covid nonsense. Meanwhile, there’s nothing normal about being made to use gunk like this, in a restaurant, before they accept your order. Unless that becomes the new normal.

Ornamental birds

Today seems to be turning into a bird day here, so here are some more, in the company of lady photoers:

These being the birds:

Ladies like birds, don’t they? Birds can go where they want. Birds are beautiful. Makes sense.

Stephen Davies on the Habsburg failure to dominate Europe

In his new book, The Wealth Explosion: The Nature and Origins of Modernity (see also this excerpt and this excerpt), Stephen Davies argues that the Wealth Explosion of his title happened, in Europe rather than in any the other places where it might have happened, because in Europe, uniquely, nobody was in a position to stop it. In particular, the Habsburgs, who might have achieved domination in Europe in the manner of the Ming Dynasty in China, the Mughals in India or the Ottomans in the Middle East, came close, but failed.

What follows is Davies describing how their attempt nearly succeeded, but finally fell away (pp. 150-152):

So the critical turning point for European and in significant ways world history (because of its impact on later events) was the decade of 1582 to 1592. In those years Phillip II played for the ultimate prize. Had he succeeded in his twin aims, of suppressing the Dutch and either dismembering the French monarchy or reducing it to client status, he would indeed have achieved a dominant position in Europe with no power realistically able to check him and the military revolution in Europe would have had the same result as elsewhere. However, in going for everything he failed in both of his major objectives.

Firstly, Phillip II tried to consolidate his apparent victory over the Dutch by invading and conquering England in 1588 via the ‘Invincible Armada’ which would have given him domination of the Northern Seas, as well as control of England’s wealth and resources. He saw this as both an opportunity and a strategic necessity. In 1585 Elizabeth I had finally entered the war in the Low Countries on the Dutch side through the Treaty of Nonsuch. Then in 1587 her cousin and heir, Mary Queen of Scots, had been executed. This opened up the opportunity for Phillip, as overthrowing Elizabeth would no longer bring a pro-French ruler to the English throne. The Armada came close to success and had it managed to transport the Spanish army from Gravelines to Kent no amount of patriotic rhetoric would have helped Elizabeth’s forces against Parma’s veterans. However, at a crucial point the naval superiority of the English, culminating in an attack by fire ships and combined with a change in the wind, forced the Armada to run round the eastern side of the British Isles. The Armada fatally distracted Parma from pushing home his advantage over the Dutch and gave them time to regroup.

Meanwhile in France, the state of the French monarchy went from bad to worse. In 1584 the Duke of Anjou, the youngest of Henri II’s four children and the heir presumptive to the childless Henri III, died and this left his cousin and head of the Huguenot faction Henri of Navarre as the heir to the throne. The Catholic faction headed by the Guises refused to accept his right and entered into the Treaty of Joinville with Phillip Il. (It was this and Parma’s successes that finally provoked Elizabeth into the treaty of Nonsuch). Then in 1588 a mass uprising by the Catholic League of the Guises drove Henri III out of Paris in the ‘Day of the Barricades: Later that year Henri III treacherously murdered the Duke of Guise at Blois, an action that destroyed any remaining support for him in Paris and the North and East of France. At this point the French monarchy barely controlled a few strongholds along the Loire, and France seemed in imminent danger of succumbing to the Habsburgs. Then, in 1589 Henri III was murdered in his turn, by a Catholic assassin. This meant that Henri of Navarre became King, as Henri IV. He proved to be one of France’s greatest rulers and brought the wars of religion to an end by firstly, becoming a Catholic (“Paris is worth a mass” as he said), secondly defeating the Guises despite intervention by Parma on their behalf, and thirdly by promulgating the Edict of Nantes which guaranteed limited freedom of worship to the Huguenots. This meant that France re-emerged as a great power whereas a few years earlier it had looked as though it would break up or fall under Spanish supremacy, like Italy.

Meanwhile the Dutch, on the ropes In 1587, were able to recover while the Armada and the war in France distracted Parma. William the Silent’s son, Maurice of Nassau, proved to be an outstanding general and military theoretician and he was able to recapture the key fortresses of Breda and Geertruidenburg and drive the Spaniards south of the Rhine and Maas. At this point the financial burden of the wars proved insupportable once more and in 1609 the Habsburgs were forced to sign the Twelve Year Truce with the Dutch. They had missed their chance.

Arguably though, the Habsburgs had one final try at a dominant position in Europe. Following the reunification of the ancestral Habsburg lands by Ferdinand of Styria in 1618 he became Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II and allied himself with his Spanish cousin Phillip IV, in an attempt to complete the unfinished task of Phillip II, The result was the Thirty Years War of 1618 to 1648, which laid waste large parts of Germany and came to involve almost every power in Europe. Towards the end of the war France, under the leadership of Cardinal Richelieu, intervened directly on the anti-Habsburg side. French forces inflicted devastating defeats on the Spanish at Rocroi and Lens, which marked the end of Spanish military superiority in Europe. The war between France and Spain finally ended with the Peace of the Pyrenees in 1659, which marked the end of Spain as the premier great power in Europe.

Even more importantly, in 1648 the Treaty of Westphalia which ended the Thirty Years War formally recognised the permanent division of Europe into distinct sovereign states, that is to say that there was no hegemon or true supra-national power, and set up a set of rules to govern relations between them. The so-called ‘Westphalian System’ remains the basis of international relations to this day. …

A nearly invisible new bridge from Battersea to Pimlico

There’s a bridge right near where I live that is wending its way through politics to the point where geography and physics and civil engineering will take over, and they will actually start building it.

I refer to the biking-and-walking-only bridge that will eventually join Battersea to Pimlico:

The bridge is at the stage where they are trying to pacify objectors to it. Hence this Canaletto-like pseudo-photo, in which the actual bridge itself is hardly to be seen at all! How could anyone possibly object to this wraith-like presence, scarcely visible through the mist rising from the river and bathing everything in obscurity? The steel struts that will eventually to be seen holding up the actual bridge are invisible in this pseudo-photo, so it’s just as well that the bridge itself, as (just about) seen here, is made by laser-beams projecting into the mist and weighs nothing at all! If you want to protest, protest about those big lumpy old boats clogging up the river and making such a rumpus, not the ghost bridge.

That’s the trouble with infrastructure. Those who will be disrupted by it know exactly who they are, or they think they do. But the far greater number of people who will have their lives somewhat improved by by this or that item of infrastructure only find out about this after it comes on stream. On in this case, on river.

My guess is: I will like this bridge, and will quite often walk across it, if only to avoid a there-and-back-the-same-way walk to and from Battersea. (Now, to avoid this, I often take the train from Battersea to Victoria, and then walk home from there, past my local supermarkets.) But that’s only a guess. Meanwhile, those who now live in the peace and quiet of Georgian Pimlico just know that their sleep will from now on be ruined by noisy bike gangs at 4am, making their way from Notting Hill (after a spot of carnival rioting) to Brixton, and if not by that then by something else equally unwelcome, perhaps originating in Battersea and walking across the river, while probably being drunk. Why take the chance? So, if they can stop the bridge, they’ll stop it, just to make sure.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog