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Category archive: Healthcare

Friday November 20 2015

On Friday November 27th (i.e. exactly one week from now), my friend from way back, Antoine Clarke, will be giving a talk at my place entitled “Herding cats, or lessons from drunks about organising anarchy”.

These talks happen every last Friday of the month, and before they give one of them, I ask each speaker to supply a paragraph or two about what they’ll be saying, so I can email my list of potential attenders.  Antoine has just supplied me with ten paragraphs on his talk:

It would be hard to imagine any more dysfunctional organisation than a leaderless group of drunks promising among themselves to quit drinking and to help other drunks to quit.

And then I realized that there is a similar organisation for narcotics addicts, one for cocaine addicts, crystal meth addicts and even “sex and love addicts” - whatever that may mean.

Alcoholics Anonymous has been described as a “benign anarchy” by one of its founders and manages to organize over 100,000 groups worldwide with between 1.5 million and 2 million members. Its power structure has been described as an “inverted pyramid”.

AA operates by having almost completely autonomous branches, no publicity, no professional class of “charity workers” and no set fees.  It has a “12-step program” and “12 traditions” which have been described respectively as “rules for not killing yourself” and “rules for not killing other people”.

The effectiveness of AA at curing or controlling alcohol addiction is not clear cut. Because of anonymity, self-selection and the difficulty of known if someone who stops attending meetings has relapsed or simply found he can lead a functional lifestyle. The fact that over a dozen other organisations have copied AA’s 12-step and 12 tradition system suggests at least some level of success, unlike, say the UK’s National Health Service which has fewer imitators.

One particular problem for AA is that any 12-step program will only really work if it is voluntary, but in the USA especially, courts mandate that convicted criminals attend AA meetings as a parole condition.  I think this reduces recidivism among the criminals (compared with them NOT following a program), but it surely dilutes the effectiveness of AA groups (more disruptive attendees, people going through the motions, possible discouragement of others).

I shall be looking at the elements of AA’s structure and organisational culture to see what lessons can be learned about the possibility of anarchic institutions especially at handling social problems.

What interests me is the “anarchy with table manners” aspect of AA and the contrast with truly dysfunctional libertarian organisations, like the Libertarian Alliance.

I’m also interested in the issue of government interference and the ways in which well-meaning interventions make matters worse. I shall also take a look at the spiritual element of AA’s 12-step program, noting that it claims to work for atheists and agnostics as well as for theists.

Hopefully, this is an attractive alternative to binge drinking on a Friday night in central London.

Indeed.  There will be no binge drinking at the meeting.

Friday August 21 2015

Photoed by me, outside Earls Court Tube, last night:


Click on that to get the bigger, truer, duller, original picture.

Saturday July 11 2015

Who saw that coming?  Not me.  Although in my defence, had Haddin not dropped Root on nought when England were 43-3 and would have been 43-4, it would surely have been a very different match (a match which, having not been dropped, Root (134 and 60 and two wickets at the end with his spin) is now presumably the Man of).  And, I was definitely not the only one who reckoned Australia to be the stronger team, which they may yet prove to be.  Although, this guy hedged his bets and had this to say:

A win for England and the series could be a classic.

I’d settle for a series win for England.  Five nil would be nice.  (Very nice.)

Meanwhile, as worrying for Australia as this loss is the fact that it looks like their much heralded bowling attack may be falling apart.  Harris has retired hurt, and not temporarily.  Now Starc is hobbling.  Johnson will surely have his moments in this series.  (He did today, but only with the bat when it was all over bar Mitchell Johnson having a good day with the bat.)

I started this posting when the ninth wicket fell, in anticipation.  The tenth wicket did not cause any delays.  England win by 169.

Friday June 19 2015

I’ve been giving attention to and often photoing white vans lately, and am starting to notice interesting things about them, of which more in due course.  (Maybe.  I promise nothing.)

But meanwhile, Fridays here have not, lately, seen much in the cat category, which is a thing I like to do on Friday.

So, a picture of a white van with a picture of a cat on it would seem to be in order. 

I have yet to photograph such a thing myself, but I did find just such a picture of just such a white van, here.  But alas, the cat was on it for a not very internetty sort of reason:


There’s lots of cat related stuff on the www, but this is an aspect of cats and the keeping of them that typically gets omitted.  All is cuteness.  Spaying is ... not cute.

Sunday June 14 2015

Can artists learn about how to do art when they get old, from sportsmen?  Can sportsmen learn from artists about how to handle their career twilights?  I face my own twilight now, so I read Ed Smith’s piece about such things with keen interest.

Choice quote:

The weird aspect of sporting maturity is that it happens so early in life. An athlete’s career is played out in fast-forward.  Professional and emotional maturity are wildly out of sync.  Andrew Flintoff told me recently that his cricket career was practically over before he felt at his most confident as a person.  Many sportsmen feel the same.  By the time they’ve grown up, it’s gone.  The period of critical decision-making and the exercise of power arrives frighteningly early.  Only when they retire do sportsmen become young again as they rejoin civilian time.

Yes, if you leave pro sport but land on your feet afterwards, much as Ed Smith himself seems to have done, it might be like being born again, rather than the slow death that it often seems to be for many sports people.  But, no chance of any such resurrection for those artists, or for me.  This is it.

Today there was a reminder, for cricket followers anyway, of how sports careers, like lives, can be cut cruelly short.  Sometimes, sportsmen only get to have just the one (short) life.

Two cricket fielders, both running for the same catch in the outfield, collided and had to be taken away in ambulances.  The match was called off.

I learned about this in an odd way.  Cricinfo was doing basic commentary.  Just runs, dots and wickets as they happened.  No frills.  No explanations.  And then, the commentary just stopped.  What was going on?  A complicated run out.  Rain?  But they usually say if it is raining.  Eventually I tuned into the BBC’s radio commentary, and got the story.

Google “Burns Henriques” and maybe also “Surrey” during the next few hours and days, and you’ll get plenty of hits.  Rory Burns and Moises Henriques are the names.  Surrey is their county.  At first I thought Surrey were maybe looking at another death (to add to this one, which caused havoc at the club).  So, I imagine, did everyone who was at the ground and who saw it happen.  But now that seems unlikely:

One piece of misinformation circulating was that Henriques was receiving CPR. Thankfully, rumour was quickly replaced by the sight of Henriques and Burns both sitting upright and giving the thumbs up as they were lifted into ambulances and taken to nearby St Richard’s Hospital in Chichester.

So, can you get hurt, do a thumbs up, and then go to hospital and die?  What do I know?

Get well soon, gentlemen, and hopefully well enough to play again, also soon.

More sports news, old sports news, from a movie I’m watching in the small hours of tomorrow morning on the TV.  I know - how does that work? - time travel.  The movie is Secretariat, about a champion horse in 1970s America.  So, the horse’s champion jockey, the usual diminutive jockey size, walks into the Belmont Ball on the eve of the big race, with a tall and gorgeous blonde on his arm.  He is asked how he convinced the tall and gorgeous blonde to attach herself to him.  He says:

“I told her I’m taller when I stand on my wallet.”

Old joke?  Maybe so, but first time I heard it.

I had no idea how Secretariat would end.  But I know the end now.  Secretariat won Belmont (on June 9th 1973, by the way) by thirty one lengths, a Belmont winning margin never seen since.  Even I know that’s a lot of lengths.  I did not see that coming.

LATER: Burns (a confusing name in a story when injuries are being listed): facial injuries.  Henriques: seriously broken jaw.  Nobody died or is going to.

LATER STILL: One man’s facial injury is another man’s opportunity.  Arun Harinath, playing for Surrey for the first time this season in place of Burns, has just scored a century against Glamorgan.  Such are the downs and ups of sport.

Sunday May 31 2015

Incoming from Michael Jennings:

Truly, that’s a glorious headline.

Indeed it is:

Enrique Iglesias sliced his fingers on a drone during a concert

The drone was not hostile.  It was part of the show, as was Iglesias attempting to handle it.  It was just that it all went rather wrong:

“During the show a drone is used to get crowd shots and some nights Enrique grabs the drone to give the audience a point of view shot,” the statement read. “Something went wrong and he had an accident. He decided to go on and continued playing for 30 minutes while the bleeding continued throughout the show.”

Iglesias was semi-treated immediately after the accident.

Definitely a future trivia question in a pop quiz.  But the worst that could have resulted from this would have been a couple of missing Iglesian fingers.  This ("NY-bound plane nearly collides with drone, FAA says") could have ended far more grimly.

There will be many, many more drone dramas.  They are colossally useful, and accidents buzzing around begging to happen. 

Tuesday May 12 2015

Photoed by me a few days ago, in the Houses of Parliament area:


Like so many photographers these days, this lady is using a smartphone, and like so many smartphone users, she has a smartphone in a pretty case.  I try to collect these, photographically I mean.

I like how I manoevred my way around this lady to make her face unrecognisable - at least, I hope, to a face recognition system.  And I like how she’s wearing a pair of spectacles, by which I mean two pairs of spectacles.  (A pair of pair of spectacles doesn’t sound right at all.)

But now, I want to ask about another pair that this lady is wearing.  What I want to know is, what are those rubbery things on her hands?  Are they something to stop her thumbs moving too much?  That there are an exactly matching pair of these devices says to me a condition, rather than a pair of coincidentally matching injuries.  But what might that condition be?  Something like arthritis?  Or am I way off with this guess?  Anyone?

I only saw these rather strange manual additions when I looked later at the picture.  As so often, my camera sees more than I do.

Sunday April 19 2015

I took this snap of a sign, in Chinatown (London manifestation of), just off Charing Cross Road:


What I like about it is how they had to add the English language explanation of what hair “magic” actually involves.  Presumably the oriental characters make it clear to orientals what’s on sale here.  But at first, the English weren’t buying.  I mean, “magic”?  Could be anything or nothing.  Hypnosis?  Pills?  Herbalism?  Magic mud of some sort?  Clearly the English needed further elaboration, however much it spoiled the original splendour of the original sign.

But alas, the nature of the service on offer, once explained, descended in one word from the transcendental to the commonplace.

Monday April 06 2015

Last night, I ventured out to dinner at Chateau Samizdata, hoping that my seeming recovery from flu would not be thrown into reverse.  I felt okay all last night, and I still do.  Not fully recovered, but okay.  But, my sense of taste was and is a mess, in fact now I think about it, it has been for several days.  I have always thought that I have good taste.  Don’t we all?  But just now, I don’t.  Things taste somewhat nasty and metallic.

A little sickness-googling got me to this website, which tells me what would seem to have been happening.  This is quite common, it would seem.

Dinner was great, really superb.  Thank you Adriana.  Even with my taste-buds misfiring, I could still tell that this was fabulously tasty food.  But I couldn’t really appreciate it properly.  It was rather like listening to great orchestral music, but in the Royal Festival Hall.

At least I was able to photo the food being photoed:


Nowadays, this being the twenty first century and all, I think this is the test of whether your cooking at least looks like it will be good.  Do your guests get out their smartphones and take snaps?  If so, success.  If no, fail.

Friday March 27 2015
Wednesday January 28 2015

… because the HDI is basically a measure of how Scandinavian your country is.

That’s Bryan Caplan, complaining about something called the Human Development Index, in a piece entitled Against the Human Development Index.

Friday December 12 2014

I just chanced upon this list of London’s twenty tallest buildings.  What I particularly like about this list is that it includes date of construction.

No less that sixteen of these tall buildings were built during this century.  The other four are: One Canada Square (the pointy Docklands one), “Tower 42” (aka the Natwest Building), the “South Bank Tower”, and the Guy’s Tower (aka the ugly little monster now dwarfed by and right next to the Shard).  Those are all twentieth century.  All the rest are twenty first century.

That last one, the Guy’s Tower was, when first perpetrated, the tallest building in London.  I did not know this.  Now it holds the number eighteen spot.


That’s a picture I took of the middle of the Shard and of the top of Guy’s Tower from Blackfriars Station (the one on the bridge) when both that station and the Shard were still being constructed, in 2012.  I chose that picture because in it, the Guy’s Tower looks particularly ugly and bedraggled and stained and horrible.

I recently speculated that the Guy’s Tower might have made the Shard possible, by destroying all concerns about aesthetic suitability in its area.  Now I am starting to suspect that it may have had an even more profound effect, on the whole of London.  I mean, if that horrid Thing is the tallest Thing London has, then the sooner we build lots of other taller Things the better.  That’s what I would have been thinking in the seventies, if I had been thinking about London Things at all at that time.

What I am saying, to spell it out, is that if that Guy’s Tower had not been built at all, then the subsequent architectural history of London might have been very different, and far less interesting.

Monday December 01 2014

Today I went walkabout in the City of London with my friend Gus, father of Goddaughter 1.  This evening I found, for the first time, this short video interview at the Arup (his long time employer) website, done with Gus in 2010.

Here are four vertical favourite-photos I took:

image image image image

On the left, Gus shows me a magazine picture of the Cheesegrater, taken on a much nicer day than the day, cold and windy, that we were having to put up with today.  Next in line is one of those Big Things seen through a gap in the foreground shots, but with a difference.  This time, there are two Big Things involved.  There is a sliver of Walkie-Talkie on the right, and then way beyond it, you can see the Shard.  Then, we see Gus joke-propping-up the miniature Lego Gherkin that is to be seen next to the regular Gherkin.  On the right, Gus looks up at something or other, this being the best snap I did of him.

Now for all my favourite horizontals.

I’m too tired after all that walking about in the cold to say much about these pictures, but see in particular 2.1, which is, I’m pretty sure, some of the bolts, a few of which recently disintegrated.  Now they are having to check all such bolts, and there are a lot.

1.1: Mmmm, cranes.  Grim day, well done my recently acquired camera, good in low light conditions.

1.2: Canon Street tube.  Designed like a bridge, said Gus, ace bridge designer, because under it there are tube lines which it is built on top of, like a bridge.  This is the building I asked about in an earlier posting here.

1.3: I included this because of the sign saying “all inquiries”.  All?  You know what they mean, but there is fun to be had on the phone with this sign.

2.2: A Gherkin detail, is there because I said, when I saw it, that looks rather plastic.  And guess what, it is plastic.

2.4: Shows us the Lego Gherkin in front of the Actual Gherkin

image image image image
image image image image
image image image image
image image image image

3.2: A more fun picture of Gus, featuring also: me, in the right hand purple circle.

3.3, 3.4, 4.1: All the Walkie-Talkie.

4.4: For scaring pigeons, something you seldom see from above.  I saw this particular cluster of pigeon scarers while descending a staircase at Liverpool Street station.  That last was the very last photo I took.

When I emerged from Pimlico tube, near my home, I was amazed at how dark it had become, at a quarter to four in the afternoon.  Like I say, my new camera really did the business today.

Sorry for all the cock-ups and mispronts in this posting.  I’m knackered and am now going to bed.

Thursday October 30 2014

This article confirms not one but two of my medical prejudices, which is double nice.  Experts have their uses, one of which is to tell you that you have been right all along about something they’ve only just discovered.

The article is about artificial sweeteners, and this is how it ends:

What does this all mean?

1. Our gut bacteria matters a lot. Some guts can withstand artificial sugars well and others can’t. It stands to reason that, as we learn more about the uniqueness of our own microbiome, those of us who want to lose weight would be well served by diets that are tailored to the way our body and its biomic mini-me processes sugar.

2. Artificial sweeteners are pervasive and some people still can lose weight and enhance their health while consuming them. But since we now know that, on balance, they seem to be more bad than good, moderating how much we consume might be smart, too.

3. The study suggests that if people replace artificial sugars with real sugars or cut it out, their biomes could change in a way that contributes to the restoration of normal glucose tolerance over time, all other things being equal.

So, artificial sweeteners have a tendency to be very bad for you.  That’s prejudice of mine number one.  But, they may not be bad for you because, and this is prejudice of mine number two, people vary, physically.  There is not just the one way of being healthy.  There are a minimum of several, and what is harmless or even beneficial for you and to those like you may be very bad for other sorts of people.

The basic reason I came to think that artificial sweeteners might be bad for me was, to begin with, pure rationalisation of the fact that I have always thought that they taste disgusting, compared to sugar.  “Diet” stuff, as a general rule, tasted, to me, horrible compared to regular stuff.  In particular, Diet Coke tasted like that pink liqued they make you gargle with at the dentist.  I started out believing that Diet Coke is bad for you because I wanted it to be, and I wanted the Regular Coke that I have always chosen when coking up to be less bad.  But the more I thought about that early frisson of (literally) distaste, the more I came to believe that my at first merely wishful thinking actually did make some sense.  Sugar really is somewhat more natural than most sweeteners, or so I assume, and we are more likely to be creatures that can handle sugar, even if not in the quantities that life now offers.

Plus, about five years ago, my niece told me that aspartame (which she said is an evil chemical used to make evil non-sugar) is evil.  Rubbish says Big Aspartame.  But I reckon, for some people, it is evil.

Monday July 28 2014

Here is a picture, taken from Lambeth Bridge in March of this year:


This is basically one of those “I just like it” pictures, that I came upon last night when trawling through the archives, although I liked it a lot more after a touch of rotation had been applied.  I particularly like the contribution of those leafless trees. 

The red brick tower that dominates this scene is something to do with St Thomas’ Hospital, but further googling made me none the wiser about its exact purpose or provenance.  It was, it seems built in 1865.  Other than that, I could learn little.

But googling did cause me to learn about this other tower, which used to be a hospital water tower and has now been converted into a home.

This sort of modernistic box-mongering can be very dull, when that’s all there is.  But put it next to some more ornate Victoriana, and both styles often look the better for it.

That is also part of the pleasure I get from the above photo.  Even if ancient and modern buildings are not next to each other for real, they can put them next to each other, with a camera.