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Enraged is not a good way to end the year

So I will post this without comment:

The New York Times Helped a Vindictive Teen Destroy a Classmate Who Uttered a Racial Slur When She Was 15

May better times lie ahead for all reading this. It is a relief that Brexit is done. Boris’s deal is far from ideal, but there were times during the last four years when I would have counted us lucky to get the referendum vote honoured at all.

Happy New Year!

On the British National Health Service imbalance between lethargic diagnosis and really rather good actual treatment of serious medical conditions

Yesterday I sent out a mass email to a list of my nearest and dearest, as many of them whose names I could remember, telling them that, just before Christmas, I had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and you know, pass it on. I said how bad I thought it was, and it does indeed seem rather bad. And I said what they could all do to cheer me up. Basically, tell me and tell the world what a clever fellow I have been over the years, and what their favourite writings and activities of mine have been. This process is now well under way, and a very gratifying boost to my morale it has already been, morale when faced with cancer being, I surmise, a rather big deal, maybe even a life-saver. My thanks to all those who have already communicated with me along those lines, and long may that process continue.

I put the entire text of that email up at my personal blog, and should you now wish to, you can read it there.

What else to say? Many things, not least that this diagnosis has concentrated my mind wonderfully on what really matters to me. During the last few years, I have found myself writing more and more about trivia and esoterica, of the sort that intrigues me but lacks general appeal, at my various personal blogs, rather than trying to grab the world by the ears here at Samizdata. Although I promise nothing, I now feel that this is liable to change. My life now looks like being too short to be postponing the final bits of ear-grabbing that I now want to try to get done, before I depart. Famous last words are hard to contrive, but some rather more impressive ones than would have happened had I merely died suddenly now seem worth attempting.

I’ll make a start by writing about a phenomenon I have become very aware of during the last few days and weeks, which is the imbalance between the effectiveness of Britain’s National Health Service when it comes, on the one hand, to the diagnosis of a disease, and on the other hand, to the treating of it.

Basically, the NHS does the first very inefficiently and in particular very slowly. But, it does the second really rather well, often just as well or better than the private sector, and often with the exact same equipment and staff.

My understanding of this contrast may be distorted by the fact that I am now being treated, at the expense of the NHS, at London’s Royal Marsden Hospital in the Fulham Road, which has a global reputation for its cancer treatment. But, in not a few of the sympathetic emails I have received from friends and relatives, this same story has recurred, of slow and unsatisfactory NHS diagnosis, then followed by a vigorous, urgent and targetted response to the problem, once that problem was properly understood.

The email which explained this best came from my sister, who was an NHS General Practitioner for all of her working life until she retired.

The problem faced by the NHS in diagnosis is that the NHS is confronted on a daily basis with an ocean of complaints about aches, pains and general misfortunes which can be anything from very serious to hardly counting as real medical problems at all. NHS general practitioners provide a service which stretches all the way from trying to spot something like my lung cancer, to just lending a sympathetic ear to a person who is being tormented by her husband or children, or just generally feeling glum and run-down. The service is free at the point of use. If you are having a miserable life and could use some pills to take the worst of the sting out of that life, and if you would positively welcome waiting in the queue at the doctor’s, thereby enjoying a little moment of blessed relief from the disappointments or even torments of the rest of your life, well, you would visit your doctor, wouldn’t you?

The National Health Service doubles up as a sort of National Friendliness Service. At which point, how is the doctor supposed to decide who he or she should spend serious time with, in this vast and varied queue, and whom he or she should shove to the back of the queue? How is the doctor supposed to spot the serious medical cases, in among the vast throng of the merely unhappy and unfortunate? I’m not blaming these NHS doctors for their problem. They’re doing their best. It’s just that their best is liable not to be that good.

So it is that the NHS takes a huge amount of time to identify the serious cases, such as mine is. A pain in your pelvis, you say? Quite bad, you say? Well, I suppose you could have a test, towards the end of next month. Maybe an appointment with a bone doctor, in January? Would the 21st be convenient? Our budget is rather limited, as I am sure you realise, and time slots soon get taken.

Faced with this interminable process, while my aches and pains gradually got that little bit worse as the weeks went by, I eventually sought the informal help of medically expert friends. Who immediately advised me to go private to find out what the problem was. Sounds like it’s serious, they said. They recommended a trusted private sector GP, who talked my sufferings over with me on the phone within about one hour, and immediately steered me towards an esteemed colleague. I put myself in this colleague’s hands. I did not and still do not have any private medical insurance scheme. Nevertheless, for the price of a cheap second hand car, I then learned the bad news of what was happening to me in a matter of days. In no time at all, or so it now feels, I began to be treated at the Royal Marsden, for the immediate threat to my spine, which is just next to where the tumor is.

I soon realised that what I had paid for was not just a diagnostic expert, but also an advocate for me, within the NHS system. That advocate could lay out the evidence in front of the NHS. Look, this is serious. Treat this, and you won’t just be chucking money at nothing. You will be curing or at the very least seriously treating a serious condition.

I am not trying to make a partisan political point here. I know I know, NHS equals socialism, yah boo hiss. But I think the distinction is a bit more subtle than that. As I say, the serious treatment of serious conditions bit of the NHS seems, if my experience and that of other emailers to me in recent days is anything to go by, to work rather well.

I think the distinction concerns what in other contexts is referred to as “moral hazard”. It is one thing to exaggerate an ache or a pain in order to have a nice little conversation with a nice doctor and to get hold of a few prescription anti-depressants or some such thing, without having to part with any money you do not have because payday is not until tomorrow. But people don’t fake lung cancer merely to get the sympathetic attention of a doctor. I mean, how would you even do that?

I was persuaded by two dear friends in particular that there was almost certainly something or other seriously wrong with me, and I was willing and could afford to reinforce my question with a stash of quite serious cash. I bought my way to the front of the diagnosis queue, and I do not apologise for this one little bit. I bought my way past various merely unhappy and somewhat discomforted people, and well done me. I now have a fighting chance. It turned out that I did indeed need serious medical attention and I needed it fast. My one big regret now is that I did not start waving my money around sooner.

As I say, it was the way that this original surmise of mine was so strongly confirmed by the experiences of others that made me sure that this was something worth me writing about, at the internet outlet I have at my disposal that will reach the greatest number of potential readers. What I’m saying is: Learn from me about how to throw money, in particular, at the diagnosis stage of a potential illness. If your problem proves to be no big problem and is easily corrected, well, fine, you’ve checked it out. Panic over. But if it is a serious problem, chances are you don’t want to be wasting time, and if you have the money, you should spend it and save the time.

Another way of explaining this is to point out that testing for things like cancer can get decidedly expensive, if it is to be done well. Soon after consulting my private sector diagnostic expert, I had about three different tests, each of them costing well over a thousand quid each. It makes no sense to give tests like that to people who are merely unhappy with their lives and their lot in life, and are telling you they have a tummy ache merely to get a little bit of your attention.

Or to put it yet another way, I look forward fondly to the time when such tests get much, much cheaper. Cancer care itself, I have been learning, is massively better than it was even a few short years ago. Well, likewise and one day, I’d like to think that instead of spending half an hour on some unwieldy and expensive space age contraption at the Marsden, there will come a time when all those complaining of bodily misfortunes, however slight, can just step through a gadget no more complicated than an airport metal detector. If the hit rate for serious conditions is a mere one per two hundred, or some such number, well that’s fine. Cheap at the price.

And don’t get me started on Brunel, which is the Marsden’s even space-agier device which has been giving me my first doses of actual treatment. Brunel is really something.

Like I say, my treatment looks like it’s state-of-the-art.

If this blog post saves or merely prolongs just one life, then good. Mission more than accomplished. This has not been that important a posting, and I certainly claim no originality for it. I’m sure many others have noted the same things as I have just been noticing. But, maybe for just one reader or friend-of-a-reader, it just might be the straw, so to speak, that saves one human camel’s back, if you get my drift.

This posting has been written in some haste, hence its rather excessive length. Brevity tends to take longer, I find. Also, I dare say there’s the odd typo or two, which I will correct as and when I or anyone else spots them. But I am sure you understand my haste. I have lots more things I want to say here before I make my exit, and it looks now like I have far less time to waste than I had earlier been supposing.

No true Gael

This sentence was written by a graduate student of Celtic and Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh:

Persecution of the Gaels only intensified in 1688 with the ascension of William of Orange to throne of the United Kingdom. It was under William’s regime that government forces of the UK orchestrated the massacre of the MacDonalds at Glencoe, and that occupying British soldiers erected Fort William in the Highlands in order to better subdue the region’s Gaelic inhabitants.

I am sure that several Samizdata readers will spot the historical error, but that ain’t the half of it.

It came from the second of a series of four posts (1, 2, 3, 4) under the heading “Gaelic Promotion as Social Justice” by Adam Dahmer, published in the Scottish Nationalist website Bella Caledonia.

Here is an extract from Part 4: Promoting Gaelic as an Anti-Racist Action

“So, in conclusion, I say to those who insist that promoting a British language in Britain is racist that I agree with them – but only if the language in question is English. The English language is, and has been for at least 300 years, a language of whiteness, empire, settler colonialism, and cultural genocide – not only in Britain, but throughout the world. English was the language of Indian Removal and Black slavery in North America; the military conquest, occupation, and resource depletion of much of Africa and Asia; and the murder, rape, and cultural degradation of the indigenous peoples of Australia and Oceania. ‘English-language-only’ was the explicit policy of the soul-destroying compulsory state schools to which indigenous people in every conquered land of the British and American Empires – including the occupied Scottish Highlands – were forced to send their children in order that they be divested of their ancestral cultures.

“The promotion of Scottish Gaelic in Scotland is therefore not at all comparable to the promotion of English in Scotland. The former is an example of social justice activism, whereas the latter – if undertaken to the exclusion of the promotion of other languages – only furthers imperialism and cultural assimilation. Therefore, while the suggestion that Scottish children should be taught English in school and be encouraged to speak English on the playground ought to meet with grave misgivings and thoughtful caution, the idea that the same children should learn and speak Gaelic should be entirely uncontroversial – especially if the children in question are, in fact, Gaels. To deny the Gaels the right to use and propagate their own language in the country in which they live and in which that language originated – a country which was, historically speaking, wrested from them through coercion, and which was largely built on lands stolen from them by the state – is to actively will their destruction as a people, and to callously and unconscionably deny them the justice they are due. Conversely, to stand up for Gaelic and Gaelic speakers in Scotland is to strike a blow against global English-language hegemony and white supremacy – not only for the Gaels, but on behalf of minoritized communities throughout the world.”

Bella is a left wing site whose readers are sympathetic to “social justice”. The comments to Part 1 of Mr Dahmer’s four-part essay were admiring, but became steadily less so for Parts 2 and 3, and were mostly scornful by the time we got to Part 4, from which I quote above.

Much of the hostility from commenters arose because Mr Dahmer tries to have it both ways when it comes to defining who qualifies as a Gael. In Part 4 he is in anti-racist mode and proclaims that language is what counts and race has nothing to do with it:

…not all Gaels are white. Membership in the community of Gaelic identity has historically depended not on genetics or blood-quantum, but on being raised by Gaels in a Gaelic community. The child of a Gael, if raised with Gaelic traditions, is a Gael – whether born or adopted, and whatever the colour of their skin.

But that is spoilt by his having spent most of Part 1 saying that certain races have the right to forbid others to learn their languages:

Believers in social justice judge, rightly, that the Black community ‘owns’ those hairstyles, and can therefore decide who gets to wear them; just as members of the American Indian community have proprietary rights over their traditional regalia and any depictions, however caricatured, of their own bodies.”) The same logic applies equally well to all cultural artifacts, including languages, that make minoritized communities distinctive. If you belong to a cultural group which has been historically discriminated against, then you have a right to curate how members of more historically dominant cultures use your cultural artifacts, including the way you communicate.

After all that it was a surprise to learn that Mr Dahmer is from Kentucky. But it’s OK, he’s got a hall pass. In his LinkedIn profile he says, “I hope to help build a community of Scottish Gaelic speakers in Kentucky that will produce Gaelic-language-dominant households by 2050 and Kentucky-born fluent native speakers of Gaelic by 2060.”

I would be very happy if that happened. I am not holding my breath. I see no evidence that Mr Dahmer’s proposed strategy to bring Scots Gaelic back to life in either Kentucky or Scotland differs from the failing strategies being followed in Ireland, or in Wales or New Zealand.

The irony is that at one point Mr Dahmer does come close to thinking outside the paradigm that Gaelic will be saved by getting civil servants to translate the labels on the insides of the lids of council wheelie bins. In the passage I quoted at the beginning of this post, he said,

‘English-language-only’ was the explicit policy of the soul-destroying compulsory state schools to which indigenous people in every conquered land of the British and American Empires – including the occupied Scottish Highlands – were forced to send their children in order that they be divested of their ancestral cultures.

(Not just the conquered, old boy. Most of the conquerors’ kids got the same treatment.)

For a moment I thought he might be about to suggest that since compulsory state schools destroy souls and minority languages, we might consider no longer having compulsory state schools. It was a vain hope. All he wants to do is to arrange for his faction to decide the curriculum.

It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it

Chorus of dissent after police stop carol singers in car park

Police have been criticised for disbanding an outdoor fundraising performance by carol singers in a quiet village.

Four patrol cars swooped on the socially-distanced “mini-concert” in Woodborough, Nottinghamshire, on Sunday.

The county is in Tier 3, where carol singing is allowed, and organisers said the event had followed coronavirus guidelines. However, officers said that about 40 people had gathered, making others feel “worried and unsafe”.

Anyone might feel worried and unsafe when confronted with this:

Five members of the Woodborough Songbirds were being pulled through the village on a 15m-long trailer decorated with fairy lights when officers arrived. They had planned to sing in six areas in a “Christmas tour”, raising money for the Nottingham Hospitals Charity.

Five “songbirds”. Only four patrol cars. Lesser men and women might have been daunted by that grim arithmetic, but not Nottinghamshire Police.

That’s Niall Ferguson, not Neil Ferguson

North American academia is in the grip of a hideous mania, a cross between the early-modern witch craze and Mao’s Cultural Revolution, in which implacable zealots conduct grotesque show trials, innocent individuals have their reputations, careers and sanity destroyed, and everyone else cowers, terrified that they will be next to be ‘canceled’. (Niall Ferguson, blurb from Quillette book, ‘Panics and Persecutions’).

Now let’s be accurate here. The millions of victims of Mao’s cultural revolution had a very high tendency to end up dead. In early-modern England, you were vastly less likely to be suspected of being a witch, and suspected witches had far better odds: 60% of English witch trials ended in acquittal, and in fully half of those that convicted, the penalty was not death (and those statistics include the notorious brief episode of Matthew Hopkins under the puritans during the civil war, without which they would be noticeable less lethal still). But even an English witch faced greater physical danger than the modern western ‘cancelled’. Who was more cancelled than Mark Judge, but he is still alive and even earning money – washing dishes.

In short, Niall Ferguson’s comparisons, like Neil Ferguson’s pandemic models, exaggerate. What Niall describes is a vile change from academia a few decades ago (politically one-sided though that already was), but it could yet be very much worse – and maybe one day will be if we neglect Edmund Burke’s wise warning:

The only thing necessary for the victory of evil men is that good men do nothing.

Christmas greetings from Samizdata

I wonder what future generations may say?

People in years to come will speculate on the reasons why so many developed countries went for lockdowns, and on such a scale and for so long. The economic, social, cultural and psychological damage is so great that future generations will wonder at the insanity. There are going to be a lot of ruminations on this in future, so here are some brief thoughts from yours truly:

Technology reduced the costs to certain classes of lockdown: A lot of people, myself included, have been able to work from home and run a profitable business. Modern tech tools have enabled this to happen. It is fashionable to rag on Big Tech and all the gadgets we have, but they have been crucial. Before the internet, this would not have been so possible. And I suspect the government pre-internet could not have got away with long lockdowns. Infrastructure is important.

Central bank Quantitative Easing (creating money from thin air by buying assets): This has inoculated (geddit?) governments from the fiscal short-term consequences of lockdowns. UK debt now exceeds GDP for the first time since the end of WW2. Central bank fairy dust reduces the pain. Since the 2008 financial crash, much of the developed world has been on a morphine drip. It is addictive. Mainstream economists, even those who profess to support free markets, think this is okay. But at some point the wheels will come off.

The mainstream media: Much of the modern media is full of people who are college/university-educated, and have imbibed much of the Big Government/Precautionary Principle mindset. Nearly all of the MSM criticism of governments during the pandemic has been about them not being even more harsh. There are some dissenting voices, but generally quite marginal. This has created a climate in which governments operate.

There is a natural fund of goodwill (although it is eroding) towards most governments trying to cope. Several senior figures such as Mr Johnson got very ill. There is natural sympathy.

The role of social media platforms will be analysed in how views and panics spread. In fairness, I have seen a lot of examples of contrarian points of view, including some nutty stuff, so I am not so sure how big an “enabler” social media is.

Fear of death: although it is too glib to say that the decline of mainstream religious belief opens the doors to paranoia about death, since people with a secular, philosophical view of the world can face mortality, it clearly must be a factor. Again, preventing death, even if it means creating a living hell, seems a bargain a lot of people are willing to take.

Trust in vaccines: modern science appears to be quicker at coming up with cures and treatments, and we have the growing field of genetics etc to thank for this. A paradox of this is that it means people are even more cautious because they don’t want to put health at risk if there is a vaccine along the way.

“They will now start to understand what leaving the EU really means…”

I had been assured that the reason so many unfortunate lorry drivers were stranded in Kent unable to cross the Channel was that President Macron of France had closed the border for fear of a new strain of Covid. But who I am I to argue with Guy Verhofstadt, until recently the Chair of the EU’s Brexit Steering Group, who tweets,

We forgot what borders look like.
Some thought they would remain open with or without the EU.
They will now start to understand what leaving the EU really means…

In other news:

Brexit trade deal expected within hours – the Guardian.

Brexit deal now imminent – EU sources – the Irish Independent.

Brexit deal ‘done’ with Boris Johnson planning a statement tonight – the New European.

Update: Brexit deal ‘agreed,’ two senior EU diplomats tell DW – German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

A broadside from an actual conservative

How can you continue to treat every British citizen as though they face a very high risk of being hospitalised or even dying as a result of exposure to Covid, when this patently is not true? And why pretend the NHS is overwhelmed when the Nightingale hospitals lie empty? And how, this weekend, could you have bought into and sold the public such a dodgy Covid deaths dossier, your so-called ‘realistic worst case’ scenarios that lack any credibility an excuse for lockdown?

How can you justify failing to subject lockdown to a detailed cost benefits exercise? And yet you are going down the same un-costed route again.

How can you justify outsourcing the entire educational, economic, mental and social wellbeing of the nation to ever more secretive and unaccountable NHS quangos with their own political and vested interests all supposedly under the control of Matt Hancock at the Department of Health?

Lastly, how can you, an economic liberal, be part of a government which has needlessly wrecked Britain’s economy? You and colleagues may be shielded from the onslaught that the nation is about to experience thanks to your publicly-funded salary and pension, but most others – particularly the self-employed, the sole traders and those who run small businesses – face a very different future, one that is genuinely frightening. Irresponsible doesn’t begin to describe the national economic and political catastrophe your latest lockdown decision is leading us to.

Kathy Gyngell

Hong Kong as it was

Here is a long, very good article about Hong Kong as it developed after WW2 under relatively hands-off British rule. That is all fading away, very sadly, at least in terms of its civil liberties. Quite what the future holds for the jurisdiction, I don’t know.

Check out the photo in the middle of a Boeing 747 flying above the roof-tops. Makes the hair stand up from the back of your neck.

Samizdata quote of the day

”The only ways to control an epidemic effectively are by a vaccine or by a change in behaviour. Time and again, the scientists and health professionals have failed the government by ignoring the crucial role of incentives in changing behaviour. If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and the only tool they have had is lockdown.”

Paul Omerod, writing about the UK government’s approach to taking advice during the plague.

Samizdata quote of the day

Don’t forget, of the two miasmic horrors of the 20th century only one is unfashionable currently. A recommendation to invade Poland and turn people into soap will get you jailed these days. A recommendation to invade Poland and eliminate the bourgeoisie as a class gets you a book contract.

Tim Worstall