Friday 8 September, 2023

Here comes the Sun

My favourite flower. And one of a bunch grown from last year’s seeds too.

Quote of the Day

”He shunned the Press, as as far as he was able, and doled out quotes like a miser giving alms. Hurrying once through an airport, he was hailed by a reporter who asked if he might ‘have a word’. Without breaking stride, Ramsey obliged him: ‘Goodbye’.”

  • Anthony Quinn, reviewing Duncan Hamilton’s biography of Alf Ramsey in the Observer.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Victor Borge | Clair de Lune


And you thought he was just a comedian? So did I.

Long Read of the Day

How Misreading Adam Smith Helped Spawn Deaths of Despair

An edited transcript in the Boston Review of a terrific lecture by the Nobel laureate Angus Deaton at the Tercentenary celebrations of Adam Smith in Edinburgh last June. It’s an impressive lecture that covers a lot of ground. The basic theme is the way some of Adam Smith’s ideas were perversely distorted by an influential group of economists in the University of Chicago and then used to justify introducing libertarian ideas and policies into areas like healthcare where they have had disastrous consequences.

Here’s a sample (informed by the book  Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism by Deaton and his wife, Anne Case.)

In 1995 the painkiller OxyContin, manufactured by Purdue Pharmaceutical, a private company owned by the Sackler family, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). OxyContin is an opioid; think of it as a half-strength dose of heroin in pill form with an FDA label of approval—effective for pain relief, and highly addictive. Traditionally, doctors in the United States did not prescribe opiates, even for terminally ill cancer patients—unlike in Britain—but they were persuaded by relentless marketing campaigns and a good deal of misdirection that OxyContin was safe for chronic pain. Chronic pain had been on the rise in the United States for some time, and Purdue and their distributors targeted communities where pain was prevalent: a typical example is a company coal town in West Virginia where the company and the coal had recently vanished. Overdose deaths began to rise soon afterwards. By 2012 enough opioid prescriptions were being written for every American adult to have a month’s supply. In time, physicians began to realize what they had done and cut back on prescriptions. Or at least most did; a few turned themselves into drug dealers and operated pill mills, selling pills for money or, in some cases, for sex. Many of those doctors are now in jail. (Barbara Kingsolver’s recent Demon Copperhead, set in southwest Virginia, is a fictionalized account of the social devastation, especially among children and young people.)

In 2010 Purdue reformulated Oxycontin to make it harder to abuse, and around the same time the docs pulled back, but by then a large population of people had become addicted to the drugs, and when prescribers denied them pills, black market suppliers flooded the illicit market with cheap heroin and fentanyl, which is more than thirty times stronger than heroin. Sometimes dealers even met disappointed patients outside pain clinics. The epidemic of addiction and death that had been sparked by pharma companies in search of profit was enabled by some members of Congress, who, as Case and I describe in detail in our book, changed the law to make life easier for distributors and shut down investigations by the Drug Enforcement Agency. None of these congressional representatives was punished by voters.

He also adds an interesting footnote for readers on this side of the Pond:

Queen Elizabeth, awarded knighthoods in the 1990s to Raymond and Mortimer Sackler, owners of Purdue Pharma, not for the human destruction they had wrought in the United States but for their philanthropy in Britain, much of which involved what was later called “art-washing.” Many institutions are still trying to extricate themselves from Sackler money, including, most recently, Oxford University in the UK and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine who produced an “authoritative” report that, by several accounts, exaggerated the extent of pain in the United States, and thus the need for OxyContin.

There’s lots more in what amounts to an insightful account of how democracies have got into the mess they’re currently in.

Books, etc.

Jeff Jarvis is ‘retiring’ from CUNY. Note the quote marks. He’s not really the retiring sort. He’s written a nice valedictory piece, though. And I’ve reviewed his new book in the British Journalism Review. You can find a copy of the review here if you’re interested.

My commonplace booklet

Dickens on Effective Altruism

Robert Cottrell has been listening to Dickens…

Of the many sub-plots in Bleak House, I am particularly taken by Dickens’s prescient critique of Effective Altruism through the person of Mrs Jellyby, a middle-class Londoner who is so preoccupied with raising money for missions to Africa that she has no time to spare for her own children. The unwashed little Jellybys fall downstairs, dress in rags, and weep with misery, while their mother, indifferent to what is going on in front of her eyes, devotes her energies to the promotion of grand projects for improving the future well-being of distant peoples. I find it hard not to think of San Francisco as Mrs Jellyby’s house writ large.


Seems I may have been misinformed when I claimed the other day that the Lone Ranger’s buddy Tonto may not have been as dismissive of his boss as I had claimed. (His invariable reply to the Ranger was “Kemo Sabay” which a friend of mine claimed meant “horseshit” in some indigenous language or other.)

Frank Miller pointed me to Wikipedia, which maintains that:

Jim Jewell, director of The Lone Ranger from 1933 to 1939, took the phrase from Kamp Kee-Mo Sah-Bee, a boys’ camp on Mullett Lake in Michigan, established by Charles W. Yeager (Jewell’s father-in-law) in 1916. Yeager himself probably took the term from Ernest Thompson Seton, one of the founders of the Boy Scouts of America, who had given the meaning “scout runner” to Kee-mo-sah’-bee in his 1912 book The Book of Woodcraft and Indian Lore.

Drat and double-drat! I still prefer “horseshit”, though. Much more appropriate in the comic context.

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