Hitchens talks to Paxman

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.

Copland creatures on a keyboard

More creature stuff. Earlier this evening, I spoke on the phone with friends, exchanging Christmas greetings. The teenage daughter of the family is about to do Grade 8 piano or some such unimaginably precocious thing, and one of the piano pieces she’s doing is by Aaron Copland, entitled The Cat and the Mouse. The idea is that it’s the noise that happens when a cat chases a mouse over a piano keyboard. Never heard of this piece until today. For me, Copland is those cheerful orchestral pieces that everyone knows, like Rodeo and Appalachian Spring. I played a YouTube video of it, done by a kid, and I have to say that to me it just sounded like a fun piece of music.

But here’s a ten year old girl playing it at a Lang Lang master class, back in 2010. She certainly seemed to relate to it. Maybe the mere idea of it being a cat and a mouse running about on a keyboard was enough to get her going. So good is this Kate Lee that I found myself digressing into wondering what she is doing now. I could find nothing of hers since 2017, when she played the first movement of the Ravel Piano Concerto with her school orchestra, than whom she was decidedly better. Presumably she’s studying piano at some music college now, keeping her head down. With Lang Lang on her side, if that is still how it is, she should do well. But then again, how many more oriental piano prodigies are there out there?

Looking forward to hearing the friends’ daughter play this piece.

Signs reflected in cars (and other things (like water))

One of the unconsidered visual trifles of urban life is the reflections you can, if you want to, see in the bodies of cars.

Reflections like this:

It’s one of these.

Here are some reflections-in-cars photos that I posted here in 2019. I never managed much in the way of reflected signs, though. Memo to self …

If robot cars ever abolish cars as we now know them, as they well might, the explosion of nostalgia for these shiny old cars, cars that are now largely ignored from the aesthetic point of view by all but a few petrol heads, will be something to see.

You hate the look of whatever threatens to engulf you. You switch to liking it when it retreats and threatens to disappear. Neon signs are now in retreat, it would seem, so this Real Photographer guy in Boston now likes them. The cars are just one of his ways to notice the signs.

More sport thoughts

Sport has filled the gap in society left by major wars between great powers. In general, as the world gets more peaceful, so too does it get more sports mad.

Earlier this year, a fascinating sporting experiment was conducted. In order to stop The Plague spreading, they stopped Big Sport dead. And all hell broke loose. Politics and political demonstrating, the nearest thing to actual war when there is no war, went berserk. Remember when some guy in American got killed by the US cops, and there were demos all over the world about it? I was out and about in London a few times during all that, and I bumped into all sorts of weird looking characters who ought to have been screaming dementedly at football matches, not wandering about in London, picking fights with total strangers like me. The world’s governments learned their lesson. Screwing with people’s weddings and funerals and Christmas get-togethers is fine. But Big Sport has been bribed and begged to keep going. And as if by magic, the idiot demos have stopped. Poof! All gone. And because of Sport now being allowed, they’ve stayed gone. A big old dog that was barking like hell is now silent. Only freaks with opinions about such things like me are even noticing all this.

So, sport as a whole, very significant. Significant in the same kinds of ways that the Roman Amphitheatres were an important part of the Rome story. Or in the way that things like tourism, pop music, and now social media, are other big parts of the story of the world now.

But the actual results of particular sporting events don’t really bother me that much. I like it that the team I favour is currently top of the Premier League. But if Spurs were seventh or eleventh or even seventeenth, I could live with that. I’d just pay attention to something else. I am not, in short, a Real Football Fan.

But favourite-blogger-of-mine 6k is a Real Football Fan and I really feel for him when things aren’t going his way. And boy, are they, now, not going his way. This time last year, Spurs and Sheffield United were leapfrogging one another towards the top of the Premier League. Now? Well put it this way, one of the more interesting stats you can seek out at any particular Premier League moment is what and where the biggest gap is. Remember when the gap between Man City and Liverpool at the top, and all the rest, was something like twenty points, the biggest gap by far? I do, although I don’t recall exactly when this was because I’m not a Real Football Fan. So, what and where is the biggest gap in the Premier League now? Answer: 5 points. And: It is between the bottom team and the second to bottom team. And Sheffield United are, that’s right, bottom.

To cheer himself up, 6k is now reduced to saying things like this:

Each defeat now makes up a smaller percentage of the overall misery, and so it doesn’t hurt quite as much as before.

Another stat: Looking at the current Premier League again, there are only two teams which have won even four of their last five games. Man U and, would you believe, West Ham? They are just two of about a dozen teams any one of whom could yet win this thing. Only eight points separates the top thirteen teams. It’s like one of those long distance races, with a big leading bunch. You know who is not going to win, but not who will win from among that front bunch.

But if nobody has five wins from their last five games, does anyone have a complete set of five losses in their last five? Yes, and no prize for saying who. And given that for week after week they’ve had just the one point, it’s been going on for a lot longer than that.

That’s the trouble with arriving in the Premier League after a tough promotion battle and then having a good season and staying up. Your reward is: You have to do it all over again.

I’m now in such a second-hand state about this that I’d now swap a couple of Spurs wins for Sheff U wins, except that there’s no such soccer deity able to arrange this.

What chance does some lowlife American who gets himself killed, in what turned out to be tediously inscrutable and complicated circumstances, have against all that?

Democracy is war by other means – so do not trash it and especially not in the world’s most powerful democracy

This is all good, but this is particularly good:

Before we settled into peaceful, democratic nations, power was decided by Kings, swords, and armies. Power rested with bloody battle and bloody victory. Democratic politics replaced battle and war in the West, but it has always been understood that democratic politics is war by other means and that if democracy is removed from politics then we can only go back to bloody battle and bloody war.

Read it all.

Deep thanks to Stephen Green of Instapundit, for Instalaunching it.

Maybe you don’t agree with the Brit who wrote the piece I’m linking to, and with me, that the Democrats are now attempting an in-your-face coup d’etat. But about half of America does now believe this. If they are trampled over, rather than a decent chunk of them being genuinely persuaded … Well, like I say, read it all.

A dog and a rabbit photoing in New York

Came across this in the New York Times, New York being where this double sculpture is to be seen, or was in January of last year:

The internet wander that took me to these sculptures began with the Diamond Geezer, who, in this posting, says:

Mon 16: A sculpture of a dog and a rabbit on a bike has appeared at Canary Wharf, entirely off the radar of the usual websites and social media influencers who’d normally be going nuts over it (because nobody’s getting out and about any more).

That got me to Gillie and Marc, who made this double thing. There I saw a photo of a sculpture of a pack of photoer dogs could learn no more about that there, so I did an image search, and that got me to the New Yorker piece linked to above, with the above photo at the top of it.

I love the internet.

My piece on Democrat electoral cheating gets Quotulated

It always cheers me up when something I write gets Quotulated. So I am very happy to discover that the piece I did here entitled Why Democrat electoral cheating is no longer okay was thus recognised. This certainly did seem to get an above averagely healthy trickle of readers, and that would presumably be why. That one intelligent human being, not a robot at all, thought that something I wrote was worth going to that bit of trouble for is very good for the morale. Thank you Mr Quotulator. And sorry it took me so long to notice.

Peter Caddick-Adams: If D-Day had been postponed it would have been a catastrophe

I have been reading the recently published book by Peter Caddick-Adams about D-Day, entiled Sand and Steel: A New History of D-Day, the follow-up to Snow and Steel, which was about the Battle of the Bulge. James Holland, quoted on the cover of Sand and Steel, calls it “Magisterial”, which is his way of saying that it is a huge book, with a huge amount of judiciously presented detail. The book is, I’m afraid, too “magisterial” for me now to be ploughing through it from start to finish. What I am now doing is feeling my way into it by looking up, in the index of Sand and Steel, people involved in D-Day whom I already know a little about, and then seeing what Caddick-Adams has to say about them.

I already know, for instance, a bit about Captain James Stagg, the one who supplied Eisenhower with that famous weather forecast, of a break in the bad weather on June 6th 1944, which enabled Ike to say: Go.

Caddick-Adams disapproves of how a little too much honour for this has been heaped only upon Stagg. Stagg was not himself a professional weather forecaster. He did summarise and pass on to Ike what the real forecasters, half a dozen of them, were telling him. That is honour enough for Stagg, but the real hero was the elaborate system that gathered together all the relevant information. Also, the German forecasters told pretty much the same weather story to their superiors, contrary to what Stagg-fans like me had been assuming.

Caddick-Adams is very good about somewhat misleading tales of this sort. His passion for detail, and for tracking down absolutely everyone and anyone who could tell him those details, is all mixed up with him wanting to know what really happened, as opposed to the stories that some people have been in the habit of telling one another, in movies for instance. This great generation of warriors, you can hear Caddick-Adams insisting, deserves nothing less than the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That being why his books are typically so long. The whole truth of something like D-Day can’t be told in a hundred and fifty pages. Sand and Steel is one thousand and twenty five pages long.

Of a lot more interest, to me, than who exactly we should be praising for that most famous and famously accurate of weather forecasts, is what Caddick-Adams says about what might have happened if the weather on June 6th not been so favourable, and if Ike had consequently been forced to say: No. Not yet. Or for that matter if, given the forecasts he did get, Ike had simply said no anyway.

To know this, you have to know what range of dates the Allies considered suitable for the D-Day landings, weather permitting, and why. The relevant passage from Sand and Steel goes thus (pp, 346-347):

Given the specific moon and tidal requirements for the landing, Hogben recalled …

… Hogben being one of Stagg’s weather forecasters …

… they had just six possible days to invade in June: 5th-7th and 19th-21st. ‘We worked out the odds on the weather on any one of those four days conforming to our needs as being 13-1 against. So meteorologically, D-Day was bound to be a gamble against the odds.’ Admiral Alan G. Kirk, commanding the Western Task Force, recorded the factors that needed to come together for the invasion: ‘The night before D-Day had to be reasonably light so that convoys could keep station with ships darkened: he wrote. ‘Airborne operations also required this, necessitating a night with a full moon, or nearly so.’ Next, Kirk identified that ‘H-Hour needed one hour of daylight before the initial landings to enable bombarding ships to neutralise German batteries and drench the landing beaches’, but it needed to be ‘sufficiently before high water for the demolition parties to remove beach obstacles while still dry’.

However, it also had to be ‘sufficiently after low water in order to permit the landing on certain British beaches where sand bars prevented an assault until two or three hours later’. Ideally, the day would be fixed to ensure ‘a second high water in daylight to permit maximum unloading’. In conclusion, wrote Kirk, ‘the only dates on which all these factors were available were 21-23 May; 5-7 and 19-21 June, or 3-5 July’, though Stagg later observed that if they waited for the perfect set ‘it would take 140 years’.

So, if June 6th had not been the right day to be D-Day, what day would have been?

Here is what Hogben said about that (p. 351):

In speculating what would have happened if the poor weather had persisted on 6 June, leading to postponement until the nineteenth, the New Zealander Hogben stated, ‘As it happened, on 17 June, all six of us produced a forecast for the nineteenth for almost perfect conditions – the invasion would definitely have gone ahead, and would have been an utter catastrophe. Complete failure – for on 19 June the biggest storm of the twentieth century lashed the Channel and I doubt many landing craft would have even made it to the beaches. They would all have been swamped with the high winds. It does not bear thinking about.’

Says Caddick-Adams:

Recent statistical analysis supports this. The storm was a ‘once in forty years’ event, a tempest of slightly less ferocity having lashed the Calvados coast in February 1905, emphasising how lucky Eisenhower was to have opted to go on 6 June. …

Under a photo from his own (presumably vast) collection, of a huge wave crashing over the sea wall at Arromanches-Les-Bains, Caddick-Adams hammers home the same point (also p. 351):

The Overlord meteorologists were aware that violent storms often blew in from the Atlantic to batter the Normandy coast. Much documented was the hurricane of February 1905, which threw huge columns of water at the future invasion beaches and sites for the two artificial harbours. In June 1944, the Allied weathermen spotted a lull in the bad weather, but the tempest that began on 19 June replicated the violence of 1905. Postponing the invasion from 6 June to the nineteenth would thus have been disastrous for D-Day and the landings would have failed.

The point being, although the Allied forecasters got their forecast for June 6th right, they got the forecast for June 19th totally wrong, and unanimously so. They would definitely have said: Go. Ike would surely have concurred. And, it would have been a disaster.

The USSR conquering a whole lot more of Europe than it did. No President Eisenhower. Maybe the atom bomb being ready before the end of the war in Europe? The alternative history ramifications are endless.

Maybe D-Day buffs have long known about this June 19th aspect of the D-Day story, but it was all completely new to me.

Why Democrat electoral cheating is no longer okay

To start with, a pre-emptive grovel. I am not a fully fit person just now. I can just about manage photoing photos and posting photos. I can even manage stating my opinions. What I shrink from doing, in my present state of seemingly permanent lethargy, coughing-ness and achiness, is embarking on any sort of argument to the effect that my opinions are correct, with someone who does not share them. You’ll either take these opinions of mine, or leave them. I am now only up to stating what they are.

And when it comes to the rows and ruckuses now happening in the USA about how Donald Trump should turn over a new leaf, become “presidential”, and now let Joe Biden become the next president, I have two opinions, which I will now state.

First, it is my understanding that the scale of cheating by the Democrats this time around was something else again. I won’t persuade you if you don’t agree, and I think I am open to the idea that the gap between where Biden is said to stand now and where Trump has to stand to remain President is just too great for a few legal judgements to make any difference. I just watched Megyn Kelly, whose attitude on things generally seems to resemble mine, say exactly this, and I didn’t blow any gaskets. But for whatever it may be worth, I found this, and this from the BBC, rather persuasive, and in the case of the BBC piece, highly relevant.

The Democrats hate Trump, but last time around they were caught by surprise. This jerk? He’s won this? They just were not prepared for that outcome. That’s why they didn’t cheat much last time around. They hadn’t thought they’d need to.

This time they were ready. They hate Trump just as much as ever, but this time around they grasped that, hateful down-market nincompoop embarrassment though Trump definitely is, he is also, for whatever clutch of mysterious and deplorable reasons, a formidable foe. And they were ready. But they weren’t quite ready enough. The scale of Trump’s achievement shocked them again, and this time around their cheating is, as Americans like to say, off the scale.

My opinion. You have a different opinion? Fine by me. I get it. If you do not share my admiration for Trump, fine by me again.

But here’s another opinion, which it seems to me is a bit less generic, a bit less predictably Trumpist. Because something else has changed.

Democrat electoral cheating is not a new story. I’ve been reading stuff about America and American politics all my life, off and on and mostly off, and like a thread through it all is the fact that in big cities that they run and are determined to go on running, Democrats cheat in elections. So Democrats cheating in elections this time around is not the big change.

The big change is a Republican refusing to retreat in the face of it. Why? Why is Trump being so unpresidential, so undignified, so … just so ghastly? The answer is that the big political picture has been transformed, partly by him, but partly by him responding to the fact that it has already changed so much.

Time was when Republicans were the party of the Lucky Winners. Country clubbers, corporate executives, yacht owners, owners of houses with several garages, presided over by perfectly manicured wives, in charge of several well behaved children and subservient servants. The Democrats, meanwhile, were the party of the workers, of people struggling to do work or even to get work. Any plutocrats who were attached to the Democrats, like the Kennedys or (FD) Roosevelt, were numerically insignificant oddities. (Whether that was true, I don’t know. But this was the dominant narrative, as people say now.)

But that’s all changed. The Democrats are now the party of the Lucky Winners, and also of the unlucky losers at the very bottom of the heap who can only now depend on the crumbs of comfort bestowed upon them by the Lucky Winner class. The Republicans have become the party of the workers in the middle, the middle class, as Americans accurately describe them. The Republicans are the party of the people who still struggle to work and to stay working, and who hate the whole idea of giving up and becoming dependant upon the Lucky Winners.

Not all “workers” voted for Trump. A lot of workers, especially in things like IT, are still solidly Democrat. But the heart of the Trump vote was workers of a certain sort. The heart of the Trump vote was no longer the Lucky Winners class. They have migrated over to the Democrats.

Okay, now for the key bit of what I’m saying.

In olden times, if you were a member of the Lucky Winners class, and your guy lost an election, complaining about cheating was frankly a bit, well, undignified. You and your pals controlled almost all the leavers of power in society. You owned the big corporations. Your children were creaming off most of the expensive education. The world was yours. Were you going to bitch about electoral corner-cutting by a few machine politician Democrats in big cities who had enough clout to say boo to you, every once in a while? This was not a good look. And on the whole, Republicans took their defeats, and if Democrat cheating cost them a win or two, well, that was how it crumbled, cookie-wise. Legally, that may not have been the rule, but actually, that was the rule. Noblesse oblige. Let the people picked by the struggling class have their turn. Suck it up. Go play golf.

But now? Now, what is happening is that the Lucky Winners class is telling the class definitely below it in the pecking order that this subordinate class now has to just lie back and let it happen, when the electoral cheating happens all over them.

This is not a good look either, but it’s what the Lucky Winner class now think they can do, and get away with. Maybe they can, in the sense that they may well get their guy over the line this time around. But if they do, but if it then becomes clear that they did this by cheating on a large scale in this election, then the words “reap” and “whirlwind” spring to mind.

Meanwhile, Trumpists do not now give a fuck about Trump being “dignified” or “presidential”. They voted for him because he was none of those things. Yes, he was born into the Lucky Winners class, but now he’s their Lucky Winner. And they now want him to insist on the principle that cheating in political elections is wrong, dammit! And it is especially wrong when it’s done by the very class of people that has spent the last four years declaring itself to be in every way superior to them – richer, better, better looking, cleverer, wiser, more tasteful, more cultured, more intellectually nuanced, less racist, less “deplorable”, you name it. And if those smarmy bastard liars on the television don’t like this, they can just shove it up their Lucky Winner arses.

I trust that the undignified nature of my language in the previous paragraph is getting my point across. Which is that the argument that those now on the receiving end of Democrat cheating should just roll over in the face of it is now out of date, big time.

Cheating is okay – not good, not completely okay, not dignified – when it is done by life’s strugglers to life’s Lucky Winners. But when the Lucky Winners do it to the strugglers, that’s a whole different ball game, and a game that the Lucky Winners will and will thoroughly deserve to lose. And whether you personally agree with that or not, the particular strugglers on the receiving end of this particular bit of cheating damn well do agree.

That’s what’s changed, and it’s a very big change indeed.

Like I say. My opinions. Take them. Or leave them. And comment all you like. Just don’t assume I’ll have the energy to respond to any responses that this gets.

Reflections on how an abundance of news every day has transformed American politics

This abundance, brought into being by the internet, means that you don’t have to read or listen to anything you don’t want to read or listen to. Whatever view you have of the world and what is happening in it, you can spend whatever time you have each day for such matters to confirm what you already see and think. I now think that the Democrats can only win the Presidency if they get away with their cheating. Meanwhile, Democrats think Trump is just a sore loser and a conspiracy theorist.

And I think the latest Lockdown here is a great folly.

The big change in America, brought by the Internet, is that the “mainstream media” used to be just that, but are that no longer. Before the internet, the “mainstream media” (basically the big television news shows) spoke to almost everyone but a few truly contrarian oddballs and freaks. Now, if you don’t entirely care for the point of view they give you, you can go elsewhere.

This had a knock-on effect on the mainstream media themselves. They started to acquire those inverted commas. They began not to be so mainstream. Their centre-left, what-the-government-is-doing-is-what-matters, if-you-want-something-sorted-get-the-government-to-sort-it attitude mutated towards an extreme left, put-the-government-in-charge-of-everything, capitalism-is-evil agenda. Why? Because if you thought the problem with government was that there was too much of it, you could now go elsewhere for your daily news, and commentary. You could choose, and daily have reinforced for you, any “extreme” agenda that suited you, in a way that only freaks like Marxists and libertarians of my sort used, before the Internet, to do (by writing our own news for ourselves). Now, if the “mainstream media” tried to appeal to everyone, they’d end up appealing to no-one. The smart thing for them to do was to choose the most popular “extreme” agenda and run with that. Which is what they have done, and which is why calling them “mainstream” no longer makes nearly much sense. (It sill makes some sense, because they have gone with the most popular extreme agenda. Which is still a bit mainstream, hence the survival of the expression.)

All that was needed to turn America into a profoundly different place was for a rival “extreme” agenda to arise, comparable in volume and force to the dominant extreme agenda, and, with Donald Trump arriving on the scene and proclaiming such an agenda, there you have it, America now.

And each tribe spends its entire day that it can spare telling itself how right it is about everything, and what evil nincompoops the other fellows are.

I’m part of this. I’m a Trumpist now. A Trumpist with libertarian trimmings and libertarian reservations, but a Trumpist. And I duly think that the Democrats are, on the whole and with various polite exceptions and reservations, evil nincompoops.

All of which explains why my posting here yesterday evening, about literal reflections, although it began as an attempt to change the subject away from mere politics, actually didn’t really do that. What that ended up being about was the human inclination to see what we’re looking for, rather than what merely “is” there.

See also, Scott Adams on two movies.