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Posts Tagged ‘Theodore Dalrymple’

Theodore Dalrymple writes at Pajamas Media about the sad case of two doctors who have died from ebola in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia.

As it happens, Dalrymple had visited the same hospital himself, during one of the country’s civil wars. Here’s what he found, as published in our eBook Our Culture, What’s Left Of It:

I saw the revolt against civilisation and the restraints and frustrations it entails in many countries, but nowhere more starkly than in Liberia in the midst of the civil war there. I arrived in Monrovia when there was no longer any electricity or running water; no shops, no banks, no telephones, no post office; no schools, no transport, no clinics, no hospitals. Almost every building had been destroyed in whole or in part: and what had not been destroyed had been looted.

I inspected the remains of the public institutions. They had been destroyed with a thoroughness that could not have been the result of mere military conflict. Every last piece of equipment in the hospitals (which had long since been emptied of staff and patients) had been laboriously disassembled beyond hope of repair or use. Every wheel had been severed by metal cutters from every trolley, cut at the cost of what must have been a very considerable effort. It was as if a horde of people with terrible experiences of hospitals, doctors, and medicine had passed through to exact their revenge.

But this was not the explanation, because every other institution had undergone similar destruction. The books in the university library had been one and all—without exception—pulled from the shelves and piled into contemptuous heaps, many with pages torn from them or their spines deliberately broken. It was the revenge of barbarians upon civilisation, and of the powerless upon the powerful, or at least upon what they perceived as the source of their power. Ignorance revolted against knowledge, for the same reasons that my brother and I smashed the radio all those years before. Could there have been a clearer indication of hatred of the lower for the higher?

In fact there was—and not very far away, in a building called the Centennial Hall, where the inauguration ceremonies of the presidents of Liberia took place. The hall was empty now, except for the busts of former presidents, some of them overturned, around the walls—and a Steinway grand piano, probably the only instrument of its kind in the entire country, two-thirds of the way into the hall. The piano, however, was not intact: its legs had been sawed off (though they were by design removable) and the body of the piano laid on the ground, like a stranded whale. Around it were disposed not only the sawed-off legs, but little piles of human faeces.

I had never seen a more graphic rejection of human refinement. I tried to imagine other possible meanings of the scene but could not. Of course, the piano represented a culture that was not fully Liberia’s own and had not been assimilated fully by everyone in the country: but that the piano represented not just a particular culture but the very idea of civilisation itself was obvious in the very coarseness of the gesture of contempt.

Appalled as I was by the scene in the Centennial Hall, I was yet more appalled by the reaction of two young British journalists, also visiting Monrovia, to whom I described it, assuming that they would want to see for themselves. But they could see nothing significant in the vandalising of the piano—only an inanimate object, when all is said and done—in the context of a civil war in which scores of thousands of people had been killed and many more had been displaced from their homes. They saw no connection whatever between the impulse to destroy the piano and the impulse to kill, no connection between respect for human life and for the finer productions of human labour, no connection between civilisation and the inhibition against the random killing of fellow beings, no connection between the book burnings in Nazi Germany and all the subsequent barbarities of that regime. Likewise, the fact that the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution in China had destroyed thousands of pianos while also killing 1 million people conveyed no meaning or message to them.

If anything, they ‘understood’ the destruction of the piano in the Centennial Hall and even sympathised with it. The ‘root cause’ of Liberia’s civil war, they said, had been the long dominance of an elite—in the same way, presumably, that poverty is often said to be the ‘root cause’ of crime. The piano was an instrument, both musical and political, of that elite, and therefore its destruction was itself a step in the direction of democracy, an expression of the general will.

The full story of his travels in Liberia is contained in Monrovia, Mon Amour.

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We’re working on a new Theodore Dalrymple book (here’s a link to Amazon Kindle editions of some of his others for those who haven’t followed his work).

It is provisionally entitled Murderers I Have Known (or possibly Murderers of My Acquaintance), and it deals with some of the killers with whom Dalrymple dealt during his many years as a prison psychiatrist and doctor.

These included the infamous Fred West, though the author’s interest is much more in the quotidian nature of your common or garden stabber/bludgeoner.

It will be published after his impending retirement from medico-legal work (he has worked for a long time as an expert witness is murder trials).

More details as and when, but here’s a brief excerpt from the foreword:

Everyone is interested in murder: I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who wasn’t. Bertrand Russell, even at his most pacifist, read one detective novel a day, and he was far from unique in his taste. Perhaps I am deluding myself, but whenever I spoke of a murderer whom I had just met my interlocutor’s eyes never glazed over as they sometimes did (and do) when I spoke (or speak) of other subjects such as politics, philosophy or the wonderful exploits of my dog.

Now that I have retired from medico-legal practice the moment has come, perhaps, for me to reflect upon the meaning and significance of all that I heard or otherwise witnessed in my mildly undistinguished career.

Actually my retirement was not entirely voluntary, in the sense that I declined any longer to jump through the hoops that the bureaucracy now places in the path of doctors who wish to continue to practise. These hoops have little to do with professional competence and everything to do with letting doctors know who is boss; for there is no finer way of controlling highly intelligent people than by making them perform many tasks they know to be pointless but which they nevertheless perform for the sake of a quiet life. Thus the manager’s dream of a world peopled by cringing, creeping time-servers is in the process of formation; the younger generation, which has grown up accepting pointless bureaucratic procedures as a natural and inescapable part of life, has been emasculated without even knowing that anything has been done to it.

I retired, then, at the height of my powers, such as they were and are; it is a long time since a judge or a jury did not accept my view of a case in contradistinction to that of the experts called by the other side. Of course, the expert is supposed to be helping the court rather advocating for one side or the other; he testifies for truth, not victory. But human beings would not be human beings if they did not wish for triumph or at least for vindication by others.

It is better, however, even if somewhat painful, to retire at the height of your powers than wait for them to decline to the point at which you are told humiliatingly that you are no longer up to it. To go out in a blaze, or at least a candlelight, of glory is better than leaving people to shake their heads sadly behind you because you are but a shadow of your former self. It is notorious that those who let decline set in before they retire do not live long, perhaps because they have little else than their work to live for.

Dalrymple seems to prefer murderers to denizens of the accursed box:

In my experience, TV people are as lying, insincere, obsequious, unscrupulous, fickle, exploitative, shallow, cynical, untrustworthy, treacherous, dishonest, mercenary, low, and untruthful a group of people as is to be found on the face of this Earth.

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Pete Ashton’s Undercover has been delayed slightly by legal issues, but will be out in the next couple of weeks.

A copper who admits taking drugs, beating up suspects and urinating in kettles during searches… I wonder how it will be received?

Seamus Heaney is dead. I studied (ie read bits of) his poetry nearly 30 years ago. His death hasn’t hit me very hard, other than that 30 years thought. I didn’t really like his poems – too much mud and potatoes for me – though the one with the three-foot box, a foot for every year stuck in my head, at least partially.

His last words, apparently, were in the form of a text to his wife, written in Latin. ‘Noli timere,’ he typed. (‘Don’t be afraid.’) He didn’t say of what. It must have been difficult, too, what with modern predictive text. In fact, it strikes me as slightly pretentious. But then, he was a poet.

The famous psychiatrist R D Laing’s last words, uttered as he lay on the tennis court after collapsing from a heart attack, were, ‘But I am a f***ing doctor.’

Talking of psychiatrists, and moving in more rarefied air, here is Theodore Dalrymple on second-hand bookshops, and some of the oddities (human and printed) to be found within:

It is all the more remarkable, then, that in so materialistic an age as our own people can be found who not only spend, but want to spend, and cannot conceive of not spending, their working lives in such conditions, and all for little monetary reward. True, they are more or less protected by their avocation from the seamier and more violent side of modern society; burglars and armed robbers in even the worst areas for crime do not think to break into second-hand bookshops; and the comings and going of governments do not trouble them. Not for them, either, the shadow-boxing of modern party politics, in which one political mountebank sets himself up as the last bastion against the depredations of another, in truth not very dissimilar, mountebank. Rather they concern themselves with the eternal verities of light foxing, cocking, small tears to dust jackets, and the like. The worst that can happen to them is a gentle slide into insolvency as rents rise (all such shops are now found in the unlikeliest places because they can survive only where rents are low) and readers decline – both in number and in discrimination. For my money (of which, incidentally, they have taken a lot down the ages) they are the unsung heroes of our culture.

Finally, a strange blunder by the BBC, which used a 2003 photo from Iraq to illustrate the Syrian chemical attack. The picture actually showed shrouded skeletons recovered from one of saddam’s many mass graves. One of the first – if not the first – Westerners at the site was the Daily Mirror‘s Chris Hughes, a good friend of mine, who recounted the story in our book Road Trip to Hell (I know I would say this, but it’s a very good read).

A group of men, who were squatting around a shallow ditch, turned and saw us, taking in Julian’s camera. Adil, a dignified expression of sorrow falling upon his face, approached the men and talked to them for a while, frequently pointing to us and obviously seeking their permission for us to be there.

Finally, one of the men gesticulated for us to come closer, and we walked towards them nervously, fearing what we would see.

At the edge of the shallow grave, the men had placed a white sheet on the dirt; on it, they were carefully, tenderly, arranging the bones of a skeleton to make the shape of a man.

Those bones were all that was left of Hamid Omran. The men were his brother and cousins.

I spoke to them, through Adil. They were astonishingly dignified and polite, shading their eyes from the sun as they looked up at me and answering my questions calmly and politely.

The brother, Abdul, told me that Hamid had been arrested at their home by Saddam’s secret police and taken away for ‘questioning’ on some spurious grounds.

‘He didn’t like Saddam but he had done nothing wrong,’ he said. ‘They came for him in 1994 and the papers show that they killed him a year later. He was 31 when he disappeared and we have seen no sign of him from that day until this.’

He looked around. ‘They massacred people for the whole of the 25 years of that regime,’ he said. ‘Now we have found my brother, at least we can be at peace. But we still have to face the agony. But now Saddam and his friends will face agonies of their own.’

Carefully, he lifted his brother’s skull, and turned it to the side, pointing to a deep depression.

‘They hit him here with an axe or something and it broke his skull,’ he said. ‘But he didn’t die from that. They hanged him later.’

Tears formed in his eyes and he looked away in embarrassment, blinking and wiping his face with the back of his hand and placing the skull back into its position by the side of Plot Number 444.

‘Shukran,’ I said, straightening up and looking away, both to cover his embarrassment and because I was feeling highly emotional myself.

A man was lingering nearby. He told us his name was Mohammed Mohammed, and that he had begun digging graves here when he was 14, as part of his military service.

‘Every Wednesday morning, they had hangings at the prison at dawn and the bodies would come a few hours later,’ he said. ‘Always eight or nine to bury, sometimes more, many more.

‘The oldest graves in the cemetery are from 1983 and the newest are six months old.’

This was when Saddam had declared an amnesty for prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

‘I think I buried maybe 700 or 750 people. There could be two thousand here in total.’

 

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Macarthur Job’s Air Disaster is now out as a Kindle eBook. It’s a fascinating read, and a joy to have worked on; it required (obviously) almost no editing, but we did do a lot of research to add in a more human side of the story to go with Macarthur’s outstanding technical knowledge and explication.

For instance, one of the chapters tells the story of this tragedy, aboard a then-revolutionary (and British-built) Vickers Viscount flying from Chicago to Toronto.

Trans-Canada Air Lines – now Air Canada – was an early adopter of this four-engined turboprop. In Macarthur’s words, its ‘introduction… to North American skies was nothing less than epoch-making. The whining power of the vibration-free, smooth-running Rolls-Royce Dart engines was unlike anything experienced before in commercial aviation. Gone were the grunting starts of great radial engines, blowing smoke as they burst into life; gone were the lengthy, pre-takeoff engine run-ups, when the whole aircraft would seem to stamp and shudder like some great angry animal. And in cruising flight, at pressurised altitudes, passengers could relax in an environment free from the continual vibration and engine noise levels of the past.’

As ever, there is a price to pay for every great advance. As one of the Canadian Viscounts – CF-TGR – was flying over Flat Rock, Michigan, on the morning of July 9, 1956, the No. 4 propeller broke away from its engine and one of its blades smashed through the passenger section of the cabin, killing a passenger and injuring several others. The pilot managed to land safely.

This is where most of the accounts – including the wiki entry – end. The full story is a much more shocking and moving one.

The passenger was 31-year-old Mary Carolyn Lippert; she was taking her young sons home from a weekend visit to see their father, a junior neurosurgeon at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. The three of them were allocated seats at the front of the aircraft, for Mrs Lippert’s convenience. Unfortunately, this meant she was in the path of the flying propeller when it entered the cabin, and she was decapitated. Her three-year-old, Robbie, was on her lap at the time; his 14-month-old brother, Richard, was by her side.

After a lot of digging, we managed to track down Robbie Lippert and talk to him about the tragedy. He was remarkably unscathed by the experience, even allowing for his age at the time; he put this down to the fact that his father had remarried and that his new ‘mother’ had brought the boys up as her own, while never trying to remove their natural mother from their memories. She was talked about a great deal, and her photograph was always displayed in the house. Here it is, taken shortly before she died, with the endless possibilities of 1950s North America stretching ahead of her:

Lippert Mary Carolyn(Photograph courtesy Mr Robert Lippert)

Theodore Dalrymple’s books continue to sell well – perhaps because he continues to ask important questions, such as this one of Justin Welby and the Church of England:

(D)id the Archbishop himself have a CRB check before he was elevated…?

Here are some links to the Kindle versions of Dalrymple books we’ve published (paper copies are also available in some cases):

Life at the Bottom

Our Culture, What’s Left of It

Anything Goes

Not With a Bang But a Whimper

The Wilder Shores of Marx

Fool or Physician (as Anthony Daniels, being a memoir of his early professional life)

Monrovia Mon Amour

Zanzibar to Timbuktu

If Symptoms Persist (early Spectator columns)

Second Opinion (later Spectator columns)

The Examined Life

So Little Done (the latter has one review, a one star, which is amusing)

And – turning to the entirely trivial – there were times when I honestly never thought I’d see the day again (1977 was the last time), but we are 3-0 up in an Ashes series with one to play. I feel for Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle, who have bowled their hearts out and have been let down by terrible batting. But is 4-0 too much to hope for?

Michael Clarke is still ‘taking the positives’ – the latest one being that the Australians came within 74 runs of beating England at Chester-le-Street – and King Cricket has some further words of consolation:

It’s not all bad news for Australia though. In Rogers, Clarke and Harris, they’ve unearthed some talented young cricketers for the future.

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Somewhere out in space, there really is an asteroid with our name on it. The chances are, Monday Books will be long gone before it hits, but you never know. That’s why they’re thinking of firing lasers at it if they spot it in time. In the film Armageddon, some bloke from NASA says he thinks this is pretty pointless: it would be like ‘shooting a b.b. gun at a freight train’. But what would actually happen if you shot b.b. guns at a freight train? Presumably, enough of them could actually stop the thing? Randall Munroe’s brilliant what if? answers this, with proper physics etc.

This is a really, really good site (and no, we’re not publishing their book, we’ve been beaten to it).

In The Guardian, High Street books stores attack Amazon for ‘tax avoidance’.

I have mixed emotions about this: I love bookshops, particularly indies, and I do support them by buying stuff from them. I’d also like to sell more books in at lower discounts (Amazon’s discounts are punishing). But, as a reader, I love getting a £9.99 paperback for a couple of quid, plus postage. I also just love Amazon, generally. Life would be so much more irksome without it. In the last week, I have used it to buy several books, two torches, four packs of playing cards, some lightbulbs, some white t-shirts and marker pens (for a children’s party) and some vacuum cleaner bags – all without leaving my desk. When you add that saving – the cost of my own time – to the obvious, bottom line saving…

Janet Stewart, manager of the Gerrards Cross Bookshop in Buckinghamshire, was quick to sign up to the new promotion. ‘I think people are becoming more aware of the fact that Amazon and other places aren’t paying their taxes, so we decided to get involved,’ she said. ‘We’re trying to promote ourselves: we’re honest, hardworking people who do pay our taxes – support your local bookshop is the message.’

‘We pay tax on everything, rates, rents, staffing as well as corporation tax. Rates on out-of-town and industrial parks are lower than high-street rates,’ Frances Smith of Kenilworth Books told the Bookseller. ‘Perhaps with the decline of the high street, local authorities should look at their ratings structures and reduce the amount small businesses pay and government should seriously look at ways of rejuvenating the high street.

Lower taxes, lower rates – good luck with that!

(No comments: is someone at The Guardian worried that that newspaper’s own tax avoidance schemes might be mentioned? Or are they more concerned than Janet Stewart about libel? Because, as Tim Worstall explains, in The Times [but here reproduced on his own blog], maybe isn’t tax avoidance at all.)

Finally, Theodore Dalrymple on ‘Choice without Consequences’.

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As Excuses Go

A writer of my acquaintance once turned down an invitation to dinner with Hobsbawm (who rarely refused any honor or privilege that the unjust capitalist state could offer him) on the grounds that if Hobsbawm’s political wishes had come to fruition, he would have had his proposed guest shot in short order.

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Theodore Dalrymple’s excellent novella So Little Done (available in pBook form as a two-for-one with The Examined Life) is now available as an eBook on Kindle. (It will be available on iTunes soon.)

It’s an amusing satire on a serial killer.

Meanwhile, whooping cough is back in the US and Dalrymple wonders why. (He doesn’t know, though it seems tort specialists do.)

In the comments below, addressing people who refuse to believe in the general safety of vaccination, someone says:

They should take some walks through really old cemeteries and look at all the children’s grave stones.

We took such a walk the other day, through Painswick churchyard – which must be one of the prettiest in England, and thus the world. (See below: it was a grey day, and I’m a poor photographer using an average camera.) There are whole families buried in these places where none of the children lived beyond five, and the parents survived them by 20 or 30 years.

Painswick Churchyard, Gloucestershire

Talking of Dalrymple and health, readers might enjoy The Wilder Shores of Marx (also Kindle and iTunes only, I’m afraid). Here he’s in Cuba, pondering the success of their system:

Three days after my arrival, with little to do in the evening, I turned on the television – Tele Rebelde, Rebel TV, which, as one might expect from its name, purveys only the strictest orthodoxy – and there he was, Me, Fidel Castro Ruz, speaking to a congress of scientific workers. He had not expected to be called to speak, he said, with all the bashfulness of a diva who finds herself with repeated curtain calls for the 974th time in her career. And of course, he hesitated to speak to so august an assembly of scientific workers about the theory and practice of science…

An hour and forty minutes later, I switched him off in mid-platitude, unable to tolerate a moment more. He was saying that once a new and superior scientific technique had been developed, it should be put into practice at once, that not a single moment, not a second, should be wasted, so that the technique’s maximum potential should be realised in the construction of socialism. The Maximum Leader was dressed in his Sierra Maestra kit, a little better pressed and tailored perhaps, but still recognisable as the garb of his youth. His hair and beard, however, had turned nearly white, and he was now as much Old Testament prophet as student revolutionary. The tablets he brought down from the mountain were carved jointly by Marx and Lenin and Helen Steiner Rice. Do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that… At first, curiosity kept my eyes glued to the screen. Here was an undeniably great man speaking, if greatness in a man is measured by the vicissitudes he had endured and the effects he has wrought on the world. Castro spoke of the montón de cosas – the great pile of things – the Revolution had done, especially in the field of health. A vaccine against meningitis had been developed in Cuba and AIDS was under control, unlike in a country not so very far away. All this the Revolution had done…

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