The Presumption of Misery

A classic essay from the skeptical doctor touching on conservatism, nostalgia, and human nature is available at Quadrant.

The fact that today is tomorrow’s past, and that if we teach no respect for history (except for those figures who were direct intellectual forerunners of ourselves), we too shall soon be consigned to that capacious repository, the dustbin of history, does not occur to those who reprehend both conservatism and nostalgia. But surely a person who has reached a certain age without feeling nostalgia has lived a very unfortunate, indeed a wretched, life.

Photography as an Art

The purchase of a book of photographs of 1930s Mexico gets the good doctor thinking about the notion of photography as art in the November edition of New English Review.

Perhaps an eye can be inculcated early in human life; there have been, after all, periods in history when good taste was pretty general and was therefore not only a matter of individual preference, but social upbringing; nevertheless, there probably exist persons who are irredeemably refractory to all aesthetic judgment of what they see. Even worse, of course, are those who positively like the ugly, or at any rate claim to like it for extra-aesthetic reasons such as that it represents the cutting edge, the avant garde, or some other foolish notion born of the notion that art, like science, progresses.

Bar Talk

Our favorite doctor is back with another insightful Takimag article on this year’s favorite topic—the Wuhan pandemic.

Speaking as the average man in the pub or bar, I have my own scheme. I cannot help but notice that the risk of death from COVID by age resembles very closely the risk of death by age from all causes: That is to say, at a low age the risk is negligible, rising slightly and then very rapidly after the age of 65—though there is no age at which the risk is zero.

Untruthful Pity

Theodore Dalrymple comments on the latest act of Islamic savagery in France and the pathetic, self-flagellating, weak-kneed responses that will likely follow from the politically-correct, liberal Western European intelligentsia.

The night before the latest Islamist outrage in France, in which a terrorist killed three people in the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice, I was reading a short book about Islamist terrorism in Europe, preparatory to writing an article about the beheading by a Chechen refugee of Samuel Paty, the teacher who had used the cartoons of Muhammad in his civics class to teach about freedom of expression, two weeks ago.

The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Snake Oil

In last week’s Takimag column, Dr. Dalrymple considers the role of celebrity endorsements on product sales after President Trump’s COVID-19 medical treatment.

The problem is not so much a cognitive one as emotional. The person apparently taken in by such endorsements is more the victim of false hope than of misleading information. He hopes by some magical process to be more like the endorser if he buys what the latter has endorsed. Endorsements by admired persons appeal to the Walter Mitty in people who lead lives of quiet (or even noisy) desperation.

New book: Around the World in the Cinemas of Paris

Dalrymple has just completed his 44th book (if my count is accurate), and it is now available globally on all Amazon sites (e.g. here in the UK and here in the US). Around the World in the Cinemas of Paris contains his reflections — critical, historical, cultural and philosophical — on 33 international films that he saw when he had some free time in Paris, the greatest city in the world for such films. Many of these films are set in countries that Dalrymple visited personally and therefore triggered his memories of his experiences there. Particularly in this era of COVID-19, the book may remind readers of a simpler time, when we could happily visit a cinema without wearing a mask or worrying about contracting the virus. Hopefully, that time will return soon.

Killing Time with Agatha Christie

The November edition of New Criterion features the good doctor’s essay on the most famous of all mystery writers and one of her more mediocre books.

I am a great admirer of Mrs. Christie. I enjoy her irony, and she sometimes reveals herself to be an acute psychologist. Quite apart from the pleasure she gives, reading her is not entirely a waste of time. She conveys to the reader the impression of enjoying the human comedy without bitterness or rancor, and thereby acts as an antidote to our resentment of the imperfections of the world and existence.

The Common Currency of Contempt

In his latest Quadrant essay, Theodore Dalrymple ruminates on following the news closely, the bad-temperedness and nastiness of modern political discourse, and the authorship of Shakespeare’s works.

In America, where the future of the West is played out, people of differing political standpoints can nowadays hardly bear to be together in the same room. Each thinks the other (there being only two possible standpoints) not merely mistaken but wicked or evil. Luckily, in my French redoubt, I have been able to avert my mind from this, the other and much more serious global warming, that of heating temper.

Everyone’s an Expert

The skeptical doctor provides his latest take on the Wuhan plague in his weekly Takimag column.

One of the effects of the COVID-19 epidemic has been to reveal to a very large percentage of the population the joys of instant expertise. The world now has hundreds of millions, if not several billions, of epidemiologists, virologists, and clinicians, all of whom know best how to deal with the pandemic. The only problem is that their solutions are at variance with one another.

French Mayor Axes Christmas Tree

The anti-Catholic rhetoric of the French Revolution lives on with the obnoxious, Jacobinesque mayor of Bordeaux as our favorite doctor informs us over at City Journal.

Even the faintest connotation of Christianity is reprehended. The Mayor of Bordeaux, Pierre Hurmic, who belongs to the party of ecologists, has decided that, this year at least, the city will not erect the traditional Christmas tree—which he calls “a dead fir”—in its main square. No doubt this is to avoid cruelty to trees.