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Shostakovich, in his memoirs (whose authenticity some have disputed), describes a minister in the Soviet Union praising a great Soviet cultural event, such as (says Shostakovich) the closing of a theater. Not very long ago, the medical director of the hospital in which I used to work sent an e-mail to all its staff describing a forthcoming glorious event in the hospital’s long history, namely its closure. This, he told the staff, was a great opportunity; at last we were masters of our own fate.

Who the we were to whom he referred he did not actually say: presumably...