Category Archives: Journalism

If You Thought Things Were Bad in 2008

Lionel Shriver shoves the cream pie of financial reality into our faces:

The entire world is stuck in a debt trap. Public, personal, and corporate accounts are swimming in red ink. As of July, worldwide debt totalled nearly $250 trillion. I know: a large number, and therefore meaningless. But according to Bloomberg, that’s 315 per cent of worldwide GDP. I calculate that’s about £35,000 for everyone on the planet over the age of 14. Mean something to you now?

That fateful year of 2008, global debt was ‘only’ about $175 trillion, and you’ll recall that it was bad real-estate loans that triggered what came close to the end of money, also known as the end of the world. Now global indebtedness is 40 per cent higher.


A Capitalist Sucker is Born Every Minute

graphic of My Favorite Thing is Monsters

No checks or minimal skepticism among people throwing money around like confetti.

“Elizabeth was so committed to making Quintillion successful that she just dreamt all this shit up,” says a former company executive, who, like many sources, spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “The question is not why Elizabeth did it, but rather, how did she think she’d get away with it?”

Quotation of the Day

image of Bosch Hell

We are at a stage in which educated people need to be reminded that a tweet genocide. Or, to put it another way, Dan ReedThomas of Torquemada.

[I]t seems at least possible that tweets are just tweets—that as difficult as criticism in the social media age may be to contend with at times, it bears no meaningful resemblance to genocides, excommunications, executions, assassinations, political imprisonments, and official bans past. Perhaps we should choose instead to understand cancel culture as something much more mundane: ordinary public disfavor voiced by ordinary people across new platforms.

The point has already been made (1969) in a stronger fashion. Kojin Karatani reminds us of Louis Althusser’s words (below). In Althusser’s example, philosophy stands in for “cancel culture.”

The forms and arguments of the fight may vary, but if the whole history of philosophy is merely the history of these forms, they have only to be reduced to the immutable tendencies that they represent for the transformation of these forms to become a kind of game for nothing. Ultimately, philosophy has no history; philosophy is that strange theoretical site where nothing really happens, nothing but this repetition of nothing.

Children and Philosophy

The editors of the Blog of the American Philosophical Association have been kind enough to publish my essay “Kant for Kids.”

Screenshot of Kant for Kids essay in APA blog

He’s More “Real” than You

photo from Jeeves and Wooster

The educated folks sometimes get airs about them. It’s the reason the perfume industry thrives. We need to spice the air after one of these people fouls a room. The person in this example is a former dean of the Yale Law School, who has somehow missed the meaning of the cornucopia of lawyer jokes. Here’s the pollution our former law school administrator is spreading:

Some human beings are not only brighter than others but wiser, nobler, more advanced in the art of living. [They are] more real than others, more fully alert or alive.

Poor Anthony Kronman imagines himself more “real” than you.

Weaponized Children

photo of baby with gun

From today’s London Times:

The man who helped to invent Twitter’s retweet button has compared it to giving a child a loaded gun.

Chris Wetherell, a tech developer who led the team that produced the function in 2009, said he now laments the invention and believes that it has helped to amplify outrage and false news, polarising opinions and creating a gang-like mentality.

Preface to the Justification

graphic about profiteering

Perhaps you notice how the denial is so often the preface to the justification.              — Christopher Hitchens

My last name is not Sackler. The gods sometimes kibitz with kindness. A name once engraved into stone now has stones thrown at it. The people at the Louvre are the latest to distance themselves from the miasma named Sackler. The Louvreans have clipped “the Sackler Wing” of the museum, but they didn’t return the Sackler family’s donation.

You know you’re a witness to a serious life lesson when a plaque about the source of a donation is removed. It’s like some cities in the United States that imagine that the expulsion of a statue of a Confederate officer means the city is then racially and morally fixed. Unbranding can be a kind of branding. Capitalists are magical that way. The energy left over after prostituting yourself can be devoted to denying you’re a prostitute.

Remember when the U.S.A.’s President thought the answer to planes falling out of the sky due to lousy design was simply to rebrand. Sorry, the tweet had “REBRAND,” all caps for an audience accustomed to screaming.

Meanwhile, being a Sackler isn’t fun as it used to be. David Sackler tells a reporter for Vanity Fair that his family is blameless. He decided to speak out, in part because his “four-year-old came home from nursery school and asked ‘Why are my friends telling me that our family’s work is killing people?'” That doesn’t sound like a four-year-old’s sentence, but then this child probably is sent to an expensive school for exceptional and accelerated learners. Let’s give David the benefit of the doubt, or chalk it up to wretched paraphrasing.

The reporter reveals that “at times, [David] appears almost on the brink of tears.” These are the same kind of tears Theresa May had at the end of her time as Prime Minister. Owen Jones called out those kind of tears: “Theresa May didn’t publicly break down over Windrush, or Grenfell, or disabled people having their benefits cut, or children driven into poverty. In the end, she only publicly shed a tear over her own career.” Likewise, David isn’t on the brink out of empathy with any of the people destroyed by opioids. His nascent tears are for him and his kin. In David’s view, according to the interview, “his family is being blamed for something they did not do.”

The article recounts not so much reflections about what the Sackler clan might have done differently while collecting profits from opioids as opioid overdoses devastated American state after state. In the course of denial, David doesn’t see a few howlers sitting out there in the evidence about what his family’s company did. Where David sees benevolent oversight, others see greed and corruption. It takes a minute or two for one of the howlers to unfold:

Sackler points to the decision in 2010 to launch a new form of OxyContin — one that was supposed to be an “abuse deterrent” because it couldn’t be broken down and snorted or injected. “We made a tremendously honest and ethical effort to fix a problem,” he says. “That’s all. To fix a problem.” The reformulated OxyContin, he adds, cost more than $1 billion U.S. to develop. At the time, he points out, the new version was praised by many of the state attorneys general who are now suing the company for marketing it. “We have gone past the point where not good deed goes unpunished,” he says, “into the theater of the absurd.”

But it is hard to see the move as merely a good deed. The abuse-deterrent form of OxyContin was approved a few years before the patent on the old version was about to expire. Then, in what an investiation by Esquire magazine called a “breathtaking pivot,” Purdue fought to prevent would-be generic competitors from copying its old version of OxyContin. The company, Esquire observed, argued “that the drug it had been selling for 15 years was so prone to abuse that generic manufacturers should not be allowed to copy it.”

In an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, venture funding for new antibiotics is declining, “just as new innovation is needed.” Why? It’s about “return on investment,” not about saving human lives. The Sacklers are not sui generis in the pharmaceutical business.