»  VDARE.com Monthly Diary

  May 2022

First duty.

"We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men."

Right-o, George.


Re-remembering Bertrand Russell.     That observation by George Orwell that I opened with there was part of a book review Orwell published in 1939. The book under review was Bertrand Russell's Power: A New Social Analysis. You can read the entire review here.

The 18th of this month marked Russell's 150th birthday. There have been some scattered tributes on social media.

I thought I would add a tribute of my own. As my fingers hovered over the keyboard, however, I recalled that I had memorialized Russell in my Diary two years ago on the 50th anniversary of his death. Looking it up, I can't think of anything to add; so if you want my take on Bertie, there it is.


Bring back asylums!     Concerning the second item in my opening segment — that mad people should be confined in asylums — I didn't write the words blithely. I am well aware of what ghastly places lunatic asylums too often were.

If you are not so aware, I recommend a few minutes googling on "Byberry State Hospital" in Philadelphia. Charles Lord, a Quaker, registered as a conscientious objector in WW2 and was assigned to work as an orderly at Byberry. He took many surreptitious photographs of conditions in the asylum. In 1946 those pictures were published in Life magazine, to nationwide outrage.

You can easily find Lord's photographs on the internet, though for some of them you need to have a strong stomach — the Male Incontinent Ward, for example. (The next ward over was the Male Violent Ward, known to asylum staff as The Death House.)

It was that and similar exposures that kick-started the de-institutionalization movement. No, it wasn't the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), nor the novel that movie was made from (1962). Nor was it the 1960s rise of psychiatric contrarians like Erving Goffman, Thomas Szasz, and R.D. Laing. They just gave assists to a trend long since under way.

While it is true that at the aggregate, national level, mental hospital populations only began to trend downwards in the mid-1950s, in many places such declines are observable as early as 1947 and 1948, long before the new drugs appeared on the scene.  [Madness in Civilization by Andrew Scull (2016), p.368.]

So asylums … yeah. They are never going to be popular places because of deep, universal human fears. There's no reason why they shouldn't be humanely run, though, if funding and staff training are sufficient and public supervision vigilant, none of which was the case for 1940s Byberry. Surreptitious photographs? This is the age of the smartphone. Byberry wouldn't get away today with what they got away with in 1945.

And there isn't any alternative. Sure, we have drugs for some mental conditions, drugs we didn't have in the 1940s; but they are palliative, not curative — and only palliative if you are sane enough to take them, or else are supervised to do so.

"Community care" is a sick joke, as you can see in the streets of any big city. Andrew Scull, in the book I just quoted, is withering about it.

Without the asylums that once functioned to move such people off the streets, an alternative must be found. And that alternative is often jail. In America, for example, the largest single concentration of the seriously mentally ill resides in the Los Angeles County Jail …

Scull then gives a batch of statistics on mentally ill jailbirds in America, France, and Britain. He concludes:

The confinement of the mad in prisons shocked the consciences of nineteenth-century reformers, and helped to prompt the age of the asylumdom [sic]. The closure of these nineteenth-century establishments has, it would seem, brought us full circle.


Nomen atque omen.     I quoted Andrew Scull just there, and also in my May 27th podcast.

It's a curious thing — well, a little bit curious — that of the half-dozen surnames of people I know in the mind sciences, one is "Scull" and another is "Brain."

Is this phenomenon seen in other branches of medicine? In urology, perhaps? I think I'd prefer not to know.


My Dad the asylum orderly.     In the aforementioned podcast I promised to write about my personal encounters with the psychiatric profession.

I think I've had about the average number of such encounters for a person of my age and origin, so there is nothing very exciting to tell; but a promise is a promise, and I may shed some flickers of light on 20th-century mind science, so here we go. I shall give over a segment to each encounter, starting with this one.

*  *  *

My very earliest acquaintance with psychiatry was second-hand, from my father. In his late twenties, long before I was born, Dad had worked as an orderly at an asylum in or near near Christchurch, New Zealand. In my childhood he would sometimes tell us asylum stories.

Today, a hundred years on, some of those stories sound a bit callous by today's standards. Dad:

"This one inmate believed he was being followed everywhere by devils. You had to be careful not to approach him from behind. When he saw you from the corner of his eye he'd fall down screaming blue murder. Some of the lads (i.e. orderlies) would sneak up on him just to make him scream …"

These orderlies were high-spirited young males, though, doing what they could to find amusing diversions from thankless, low-paid work. Many must, like my Dad, have been World War One veterans, very well acquainted with suffering and death. I don't believe they were being consciously cruel. I never saw Dad commit an act of cruelty.


Ernest Hemingway and me.     In my middle teens I endured a spell of deep unhappiness and made a couple of not-very-determined suicide attempts. That brought me to the attention of the psychiatric profession.

I was prescribed electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) and had several sessions at the Pendered Clinic, which was attached in some way I've forgotten to St Crispin's, our county asylum.

The main thing I remember about ECT is, paradoxically, the memory loss. It was transient, but very alarming. I'd be unconscious during the procedure, then wake up in a recovery-ward bed, looking out through floor-to-ceiling windows over some pleasant gardens, with no idea who or where I was, nor who the sad-looking lady sitting nearby was. (She was my mother.)

Memory came back in an hour or so, but that spell of not-knowing was profoundly weird.

Did ECT cure my unhappiness? I can't say I think so. What mainly got me back on the rails was guilt at the distress I'd caused my parents. I resolved to do better, and did. I still feel ashamed of my selfishness. The only cure for selfishness is unselfishness; but you have to summon it.

Some years later, but when household TV sets still dwelt in big wooden cabinets, I asked a seasoned medical professional what he thought of ECT. His reply:

"When your TV goes on the blink, you walk over and give it a smack upside the cabinet. Sometimes that fixes it. ECT is just applying the same principle to your brain."

The most famous ECT patient was Ernest Hemingway, who underwent the procedure several times from December 1960 to June 1961. Two days after coming home from the last round of treatments Hemingway blew his brains out with a shotgun, after writing: "It was a brilliant cure but we lost the patient."

Incredibly (it seems to me) ECT is still in use today.


Over-controlled in Scarsdale.     Forward fifteen years to another spell of unhappiness. By this time I was living in Westchester County, just north of New York City.

Single and quite affluent, I thought I'd give psychoanalysis a try, so I signed up with an analyst in tony Scarsdale. For about a year I attended sessions with him, both individual and group. No, he didn't have a couch; we sat in armchairs. This had the very slight advantage that occasionally — when he turned to answer the phone, for example — I could try for a glimpse of the notes he was taking. The only word I was ever able to make out was "over-controlled."

My psychoanalyst — yes, it's hard to type that phrase without wincing in embarrassment — was a pleasant fellow with a good professional manner. However, I learned nothing about myself that I didn't already know (I was 31-32 at the time), and he left me with the impression that he didn't understand any more about the human mind than I could have gathered from reading magazine articles.

No doubt it was my own unresolved conflicts and repressions that prevented any progress …

That analyst, I am amazed to see, is still in business. He has, says his web page, "over 51 years of experience in the medical field." He must be stonking rich. I used to pay sixty dollars for a 45-minute session — a lot of money back in the mid-1970s; and this, to a guy whose line of work involved no commuting or equipment costs, unless you count the armchairs.

I guess I got him early in his career. I wonder if he still has my notes?


The old man's friend.     Forward eight years. I was living and working in London, between returning from China in Fall of 1983 and moving to the U.S.A. in 1985.

My father, 85 years old, was having episodes of dementia. They came and went, but my mother, although 13 years younger than Dad, was finding it hard to cope. My sister, who lived nearby, helped as best she could; but she had two children, ages 7 and 17, and a full-time job. The situation needed all hands to the pump. I would go home and stay with Mum and Dad at weekends to help out.

Dad's episodes got worse. He would, for example, get up in the middle of the night — this was a frosty English October — and go walking, in pyjamas and slippers, the mile or so to a nearby shopping center.

We called in psychiatric help. A doctor came in and interviewed Dad when he was lucid, which he still mostly was. I was present; it was a bland interview, nothing very probing. A different doctor came and did the same, with a cursory physical exam included.

With Mum near to a nervous breakdown, we agreed for Dad to be admitted to the aforementioned St Crispin's hospital. (Nobody any longer said "asylum.") My sister and I visited there three or four times, and consulted with the doctors. They had nothing helpful to say — nothing at all that we didn't already know. Dad complained that he couldn't eat properly because the orderlies had lost his false teeth.

It ended with Dad getting pneumonia and dying: November 14th 1984. Possibly the pneumonia was triggered by those midnight walks he'd taken before being admitted, I don't know. I do know that the time-honored nurses' descriptor for pneumonia, "the old man's friend," never seemed more apt.

I don't think any of the professional psychiatrists involved did anything to hasten Dad's passing; nor do I think they did anything to delay it. Far as I could see, they didn't do … anything.


Are we over-doctored?     Having spent so many words on mental health, let me enlarge the scope to healthcare in general. It's on my mind because I had my annual check-up with our family doctor this month.

I have a friend who is a medical professional but somewhat skeptical about doctoring as currently practiced. He has a phrase I like: "The medical conveyor." The annual exam puts me in mind of this.

The family doctor has all my records on his computer. Last year a scan showed nodules in my lungs. Did I follow up with lung doctor X about that? I confessed that I didn't. I can't be bothered with healthcare issues unless I'm actually feeling ill. "Well, I'm making an appointment for you right now!"

My PSA level is high; gotta see a urologist. He made an appointment for me with Dr Y.

How about that business with my nose? The melanoma scare? I said it had all been dealt with. "All right; but still, you should check back with the dermatologist, get a full-body scan … Now, when did you last have a colonoscopy?"

I left with a whole calendar-full of appointments with specialists, all of whom will no doubt send me for X-rays or MRIs, followed by return visits. Is it all really necessary, or are the medics just making work for each other?

Prostate cancer, for example, at my age is famously one of the slowest-developing diseases. Far more men die with prostate cancer than die from it.

On the other hand, dying from prostate cancer is a horrible business, so why take a chance? Just so long as Dr Y doesn't want to do another biopsy. There I draw the line.

My colon at any rate is fine. I had the colonoscopy. The doctor who administered it was so pleased with the result he switched me from five years between visits to ten. I don't have to see him again until 2032. I'm thinking of putting my name in for the Colon of the Year Award if I can find some sponsors.

Do doctors themselves put up with this much doctoring? Not at the end of life they don't. Rather than submit to heroic last-chance measures in busy hospital wards, doctors prefer to go home and die quietly among loved ones. Now and then you see a story about this. Here was one at Zocalo from 2011.

It's not a frequent topic of discussion, but doctors die, too. And they don't die like the rest of us. What's unusual about them is not how much treatment they get compared to most Americans, but how little.  ["How Doctors Die" by Ken Murray; Zocalo, November 30th 2011.]

Do doctors who are not facing death ride the "medical conveyor" like the rest of us? I'd really like to know.


Who's paying for my pills?     The financing of healthcare is mysterious to me; even more mysterious than the ultimate fate of the universe, or the nature of consciousness, or the fame of people named "Kardashian," or why anybody pays good money to attend one of Karlheinz Stockhausen's operas.

As a naturalized American of the older age cohort, I take a lot of prescription pills: blood thinners for a-fib, statins for cholesterol, and kinase inhibitors for leukemia.

My pills of course have to be paid for. So … who pays for them?

When I started on the blood thinners, I went to the pharmacy for my first month's batch. They told me there was a fifty dollar co-pay. I protested that fifty dollars seemed excessive for a customer well-insured (Medicare, plus family coverage from my wife's employee insurance). They told me snippily that $50 was what the computer said — Sorry!

I went back when I knew that Mindy would be on duty. She was; I told her the tale. "Oh, you need to get a Janssen card," she said. "Then it'll only be ten dollars."

"A what card?"

"Janssen. I'll give you the number to call."

She gave me the number. I called. They sent me a card. Sure enough, my co-pay has ever since been ten dollars (although the pharmacy needs regular reminders).

So who's paying the other forty dollars? Beats me. Janssen, I guess. So what are they? Some kind of charity? I have no idea.

Similarly with my kinase inhibitors. This is a very new drug, seriously expensive. Just once I saw a full billing statement; it was over thirteen thousand dollars for one month's supply.

What's my co-pay to the specialty pharmacy that supplies it? (Not my regular street pharmacy.) Nothing. It used to be ten dollars a month — a pretty good deal for thirteen thousand dollars worth — but they switched me to a different specialty pharmacy that charges zero co-pay.

On top of that, I've been getting mail from something called the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, a "nonprofit health organization." They have a Co-Pay Assistance Program which, they tell me, can reduce my co-pay for kinase inhibitors down to nothing, or somewhere close to nothing. That's great, and God bless them for all they do; but since my co-pay is already nothing, I don't need their help.

Now, just the other day, I got through the mail, without having asked for it, something called a Prescription Savings Card from some outfit named GoodRx.

Get up to 80% on prescription drugs! Just bring your card to the pharmacy and show it to the pharmacist at drop-off.

The whole world, it seems, wants to pay for my medications. Hey, I'm not complaining; I just wish I could understand the underlying economics of all this. Who's making money? The answer, I feel sure, is the drug companies, but … how?


The War on the West.     Into Manhattan for a book event: Douglas Murray talking about his new one, The War on the West.

Murray is an engaging and witty speaker. The event was sponsored by The New Criterion, so I met some old friends. A pleasant, convivial evening … except for the subway ride back to Penn Station.

You won't learn anything from Murray's book that you haven't already learned from following VDARE.com. From a standing start, in fact, you'd learn less: Murray is an English major with no science, math, or statistics. He's a good polemicist, though, especially when debunking the "anti-racist" cult or mocking the idea of "cultural appropriation." It's a worthy book, making many good points.

Just one small stylistic quibble: What does Murray have against the semicolon and colon? Time and again my reading concentration was stopped by something like this:

It is worth keeping figures such as this in mind as we see the next manifestation of the war on the West. The assault on Western history.  [Page 81.]

Call me old-fashioned if you like, but I cling to the belief that a sentence ought to contain a main verb. All right: If you trawl through my output you might find a verbless sentence, but nothing (I hope) as jarringly disjointed as that.


Commencement report.     May 23rd was Commencement at Adelphi University, from which institution our son Danny has just graduated. This was the first full-dress American commencement ceremony I have attended, and I was surprised at the scale of the thing.

The ceremony was held in Nassau Coliseum, a huge indoor space with seating for fourteen or fifteen thousand, depending on precise configuration. Well over half the seats were filled. Down in the arena were, by my estimate, twelve hundred graduates all gowned, sashed, and mortar-boarded, waiting to step up and collect their diplomas. When we arrived the stadium sound system was playing Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No.1, or at any rate a couple dozen bars of it on a loop, over and over and over and over and over … aaaaargh!

Where higher education is concerned, I'm a cynic: see my opening segment here. However, the cheerful pride of all those thousands of happy parents, siblings, and friends melted my cynicism. So did the reception given to one of the platform speakers: our state's senior U.S. senator, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. When his name was announced there was loud booing from all over the stadium! There are a lot of Republicans on Long Island.

Hard to be cynical again when, after all the speechifying, those hundreds of exuberant young adults stepped up to accept their diplomas with much waving, fist-pumping, impromptu little dances, and general glee.

Yes, it was hard to be cynical. The organizers, however, did their best to make it easier.

These organizers are of course college-admin rodents, fully invested in the Western world's dominant religion — the religion of meek, helpless colored people being insulted and oppressed by sneering, privileged whites. The first quotation offered by any speaker was from … whom? Can you guess? Shakespeare? Keats? Longfellow? Nah, none of those old dead white guys: it was from Maya Angelou.

The keynote speaker was a mulatto lady named Kelly Hall-Tompkins. Ms Hall-Tompkins makes her living as a violinist. So far as I can judge from some internet browsing (which I'll admit isn't very far), she is a good one. She is also, according to her published bios, something close to a hyperpolyglot, with a command of eight languages.

Her appeal to the administ-rats, though, was that she is a Social Justice activist, creator of a charitable organization named Music Kitchen. From her blurb in the Commencement booklet:

Through Music Kitchen, Hall-Tompkins brings professional classical musicians to homeless shelters in New York City, Los Angeles, and other cities across the country and the world to share the transformational power of music with this disenfranchised population.

That sounds like a worthwhile enterprise, although I don't see why homeless people are "disenfranchised." Sure, you need an address in order to register for voting in most jurisdictions, but couldn't homeless people give the address of the shelter?

Once Ms Hall-Tompkins got into stride with her keynote speech, we were getting a full sermon from a true believer. She gave us another quote from Maya Angelou, along with quotes from Nelson Mandela and James Baldwin. No Shakespeare, no Longfellow. She lavished praise on Nikole Hannah-Jones' ludicrous 1619 Project. (What's with these mulatto broads having double-barreled surnames?) She scolded "banks who will not give loans to African-Americans." Could you please name one of those banks, Ma'am?

Still, any residual cynicism was swept away after the ceremony as graduates and spectators milled around cheerfully on the grass outside the stadium in late-Spring sunshine. The Derbs were milling with the rest when a perfect stranger came up to us, shook hands with Danny, and said: "Well done, and … thanks!"

This stranger was a tall, rangy, fit-looking white man in his sixties or seventies — old enough to be a Vietnam vet. He had white hair and a small white beard. By way of explaining himself he just pointed at Danny's sash, then strode away. These sashes are decorated with a couple of brief descriptive words; in Danny's case, ARMY VETERAN.

Cynic? It was all I could do to keep my eyes dry. God Bless America! And congratulations, Son!


Math Corner.     Here's a fine old classic brainteaser. It's usually credited to the 1968 Math Olympiad in Moscow, but I'll bet some diligent research would prove it older. It most recently showed up in the April 2022 issue of American Mathematical Monthly (p. 394).

Brainteaser.  You have a perfectly circular cake, iced on the top but nowhere else. You make a cut from the precise center of the cake to the perimeter (Cut 1). Now you move your knife counterclockwise precisely one radian and make another cut from center to perimeter (Cut 2).

You have cut a sector with two straight sides, angle between them one radian, and one curved side, the same length as a straight side.

Remove this sector, turn it upside down, and replace it in the cake. The top surface of the cake is no longer completely iced. Your sector, roughly one-sixth (actually one-2πth) of the surface, has no icing, only cake.

Proceed another one radian counterclockwise from Cut 2 and perform Cut 3, for a new sector identical in size and shape to the previous one. Remove it, turn it upside down, and replace it. Now almost one-third (actually one-πth) of your cake's top has no icing.

Repeat … repeat … repeat …

It is a true fact — although a counterintuitive one, I have always thought — that after a finite number N of these cuts, the top of the cake will again be completely iced.

What is the value of N?