Category Archives: Language

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.

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Auribus teneo lupum

photo of book cover Among the Mad

Someone recommended this novel to me as a fine example of a cozy mystery. It’s well done, set in the early 1930s London, and the main character records some lines from her father that I wish were not timeless:

“You know, Maisie, that when you look at one of these politicians, you’re looking at a thief, a liar and a murderer, that’s the way I see it.”

“Come on, Dad, that’s not like you.”

“No, I mean it. Look — they take our money, they lie through their teeth, and then they send our boys off to their deaths, don’t they? And all the time, they’re in clover, never a day’s risk or a day wanting.”

 

Schrödinger’s Cat in Russia

image of Schroedinger's catYou have probably seen the news that some physicists think they have a new twist on Schrödinger’s cat. In the famous example, the cat is both alive and dead at the same time inside a box. Maxim Osipov has a fully Russian variation in a story called “The Gypsy.” It involves a doctor going to an airport in Sheremetyevo and a conversation the doctoro has with the “security” guys:

Now he’ll hear – for the nth time – their story about an American girl who traveling with a kitty cat –  they put them in special carriers, for the belly of the plane –  and the kitty cat died. The baggage handlers at Sheremetyevo didn’t want any trouble, so they threw the carcass in the trash and replaced it with some cat they caught near the airport. The American girl got into a huff and insisted it wasn’t her kitty –  because her kitty had been dead, and she was taking her home to bury her. She was returning from some town, maybe Chelyabinsk. Last time the story was different: the American with the dead cat had flown in from Philadelphia. Today’s version was more believable, but it was still a lie, of course. The “security” guys call Americans “Americunts” and “Amerifucks” –  ridiculous words, and they’ve never been to America –  but he still laughs every time.

“Good Omens” and the Truth of Temptation

Coincidences sometimes bring illumination. “Good Omens” made it to Netflix at the same time the Pope decided that an old prayer needed to be changed to make God look better. The Pope decided that we couldn’t have a prayer that said God leads people into temptation (“lead us not into temptation”). It’s a familiar picture of God that forgets about the prohibition given to Adam and Even about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, about the flood, about Sodom and Gomorrah, about the temptation of Jesus in the desert. Meanwhile, The Guardian publishes a story about “Good Omens” in which Neil Gaiman tells us that the beauty of “Good Omens” is in the way it doesn’t attempt to depict authorities, including God, as utterly benevolent.

[Gaiman] talks with relish about finding out, on a 2010 visit to mainland China, that his children’s books weren’t available there because, according to his publisher, “you show children being wiser than their parents and you show disrespect to authority and you show children doing bad things and getting away with it”. In response, he decided “to write a book which has all of those things in it”, not least “disrespect for the family unit.”

photo from Netflix series Good Omens

What if We Call Privacy “Shelter”?

photo of see-through bathroom

It’s difficult to understand why more people haven’t left Facebook, especially when you read items like the one below. As Edward Snowden said: “Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”

screenshot of privacy quotation from Twitter

 

 

Quotation of the Day

From Ted Chiang’s story “What’s Expected of Us” in Exhalation:

Pretend that you have free will. It’s essential that you behave as if your decisions matter, even though you know they don’t. The reality isn’t important; what’s important is your belief, and believing the lie is the only way to avoid a waking coma. Civilization now depends on self-deception.

Prison for Life for Boris?

The penalty for misconduct in office, according to The Independent, is life in prison. (The penalty in the U.S. is re-election.) Alex Johnson, commonly known as Boris, uttered some whoppers as a Brexiteer, statements that ended up on the side of a bus, for example. Given Alex’s propensity for never having an unpublicized thought, his statements are well documented. It’s difficult to imagine how the trial could go in his favor. However, the old saying goes, “In law, nothing is certain except the expense.”

photo of Alex "Boris" Johnson