A fond farewell to a writer of wit and intellectual integrity

Dalrymple mourns the recent passing of Simon Leys aka Pierre Ryckmans:

I admired Simon Leys more than any other contemporary writer. He was, in fact, my hero, in so far as I have ever had one… From the very first page — no, from the very first sentence — of all his books and essays it is obvious that Simon Leys always knew what he was talking about…

It was George Orwell’s aim to turn political writing into an art, and in this art Leys was undoubtedly supreme.


Was Kafka troubled by his prostate?

The convenience made possible by the internet, or the privacy of staying offline? This seems to be an increasingly pressing question for a large percentage of us. Dalrymple reads his emails and online ads and considers the tradeoffs at the Salisbury Review:

These e-mails are obviously targeted: I doubt that many 20 year-old receive offers of cheap funeral insurance, for example. Computers everywhere know that I am about to receive my old age pension and will quite possibly need urological treatment before burial. Where did they get this information from? From other computers, of course, not doubt some of them governmental. It is all technically admirable but somewhat disturbing.

A Fail-Safe Investment

Writing at Taki’s Magazine, Dalrymple outlines his funeral wishes and in the process makes a few statements that I can assure you are mistaken:

My problem with my own funeral is not how to pay for it: I will leave enough for even quite a grand affair, should anyone wish it. My problem, rather, is this: that if I were to die after my wife there would be no one to arrange it, and quite possibly no one to attend it either. Relatives are the great mainstays of funerals, and I have none within reasonable distance of wherever I am likely to die. As to my friends, they are scattered and lead busy lives; they probably won’t hear of my death for days or weeks after the date of my funeral, if any, has passed. This doesn’t worry me much: I don’t regard a large attendance at a funeral as young people regard large numbers of friends on Facebook, as the sign of a successful life.

We are awfully slow keeping up with Dalrymple on this blog, but I can assure you that if we are still running it when he dies, our readers at least will not have to wait long to hear the tragic news, nor would they allow him to go without a dignified and proper burial. But why worry about an event so far in the future? We likely have thousands more pieces to post before then.

Treating Statistical Markers of Disease Is Not the Same as Treating Disease Itself

You wouldn’t think medical professionals would confuse these things, but according to Dalrymple, this is an easier mistake to make than you might think:

The result of the trial was important for itself, for many patients have been treated with niacin on the grounds that it made “sense” to do so; but it was also important because it points to a general lesson, namely that treating statistical markers of disease is not the same as treating disease itself. This should be obvious, but in practice it isn’t. Doctors increasingly treat risk factors as if they were disease, with the result that they could sometimes be doing more harm than good. Of course, there is a long medical tradition of this.

Read the rest at Pajamas Media

‘Tell the truth but tell it slant’

On the Salisbury Review site, Dalrymple discusses the implications of a recently discovered change of wording in a famous anti-war poem. Which is preferable, “do them in” or “murder” in the below?

You told me, in your drunken-boasting mood,
How once you butchered prisoners. That was good!
I’m sure you felt no pity while they stood
Patient and cowed and scared, as prisoners should.
How did you do them in? Come, don’t be shy:
You know I love to hear how Germans die…

The Triumph of the Trivial

The Internet preserves a young man’s videos of his shoes, but forgets a significant author’s important works:

I suppose that publishing jejune details of one’s day-to-day life gives to that life (in the mind of the publisher, at least) a significance that it would otherwise lack. And since the means to publish such details to the world are now within the reach of almost everyone, and many people avail themselves of these means, the general or average level of self-importance, commonly known as self-esteem, in the population will have risen as a consequence. Some might see this as a good thing, but I can only conceive of it as a force for the narrowing of mental horizons. An age of information is thus perfectly compatible with an age of general ignorance of everything except that which most immediately concerns oneself.

What Moral Narcissism Looks Like in the Medical World

In his Pajamas Media column Dalrymple takes the Lancet to task for its constant sanctimonious moralizing, this time “a typically sickly and nauseatingly unctuous statement of ethical principles” in its majestic-sounding “Declaration of Melbourne”:

We, the signatories and endorsers of this Declaration, affirm that non-discrimination is fundamental to an evidence-based, rights-based and gender transformative response to HIV and effective public health programmes.

One could go mad trying to put this into plain English. It probably means that all patients with HIV, regardless of how they contracted it, should be treated as well as possible. Incidentally, this must be a matter of kindness and decency, or perhaps of expedience, not of rights, for otherwise the right would have been granted for everyone to behave as he wished and for others to pay for the consequences.

How I Rwanda What You Are

Some interesting conclusions from what is, and is not, said at an exhibition on the Rwandan genocide:

The texts accompanying the exhibits were not entirely satisfactory: but then perfection is not of this world. I found, for example, the strenuous denial of any physical differences whatsoever between the Tutsi and the Hutu, and the claim that the difference between the two groups was purely social in origin, not entirely convincing and in any case somewhat sinister in its implications. For it meant that, if there had indeed been genetic or physical differences between the groups, the genocide would have been in some way less serious, less abominable, than it was. But this is wrong: it matters, ethically, not a jot whether there was or was not a real biological difference between the Tutsi and the Hutu, or how great or small the genetic overlap between them is; for the simple fact is – it should hardly need pointing out – that it is wrong in any conceivable circumstances or for any reason whatever for people to massacre their neighbours in an attempt to wipe them out altogether: and this is so whether they are biologically indistinguishable or easily distinguished.

Is Ignorance Really Bliss? What Is the ‘Nocebo’ Effect?

Dalrymple on the placebo effect’s lesser-known cousin

One of my first medical publications was on the nocebo effect, the unpleasant symptoms patients may suffer as a result of being made aware of potential side-effects of a treatment they are about to receive or a procedure they are to undergo. Thus patients who were having a lumbar puncture were either told or not told they might suffer a headache afterwards; and lo and behold, those who were told that they might get headaches duly got headaches while those who were not told didn’t.