A modern Girl Guide

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Book Review: Patrick Radden Keefe ~ Empire of Pain: The secret history of the Sackler Dynasty (2021)

The concept of legal drug-pushing has been a feature of USA medicine for at least thirty years. Prescription drugs are allegedly tightly controlled but Keefe demonstrates the system was perverted. The corruption was orchestrated by the Sackler Family but other pharmaceutical companies joined in. The net result was hundreds of thousands of deaths from opioid abuse. There were 76,000 deaths in 2021.1

Federal and state government was lobbied with savage meticulous energy,

Purdue [Sackler’s business] and other drug companies…spent over $700 million between 2006 and 2015 on lobbying in Washington and in all fifty states.2

They spent huge amounts of money accessing doctors so they’d prescribe OxyContin. They lied about the strength and addictive power of this drug and the drug was prescribed as a long-term ‘solution’ to pain relief. OxyContin is twice as strong as heroin.

The Sackler’s rewarded top prescribers one of whom was Walter Jacobs. “He often worked only three days a week. Nevertheless, in five years, he prescribed more than 347,000 pills of Purdue opioids.”3

The Sackler family became immensely wealthy and took evasive action when questions were asked. This was entirely successful. Despite mountains of proof they weren’t found guilty of anything more than technical offences. They paid huge fines and walked free.

This is a tremendous story written by a master in the craft. A page turner.


1 Drug Overdose Deaths in the U.S. Top 100,000 Annually (cdc.gov)

2 Keefe p. 346  

3 ibid p.384 

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A dim but logical student

A science teacher tells his class, “Oxygen is essential to life. It was discovered in 1773.”

A puzzled student says, “How did they manage before 1773?”

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Bertrand Russell’s humorous anecdote on faith

“I admire especially a certain prophetess who lived beside a lake in northern New York State about the year 1820. She announced to her numerous followers that she possessed the power of walking on water, and that she proposed to do so at 11 o’clock on a certain morning. At the stated time, the faithful assembled in their thousands beside the lake. She spoke to them saying: ‘Are you all entirely persuaded that I can walk on water?’

With one voice they replied: ‘Yes, we are.’

‘In that case’, she announced, ‘there is no need for me to do so.’

… And they all went home much edified.”

Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays (1950)

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The World Cup, 2022

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How to be generous at Christmas

“showing a readiness to give more of something, especially money, than is strictly necessary or expected”1

Generous gifts at Christmas are a balancing act between social duty, economics and expectations. In the definition (above) ‘more’ is important. A generous person should balance ‘more’ with appropriate. The generous gift is a nuanced understanding of what’s excessive and carefully avoid that pratfall. Excessive gifts are about the giver and not the recipient. When excessive gifts are given, recipients become bit-players in a tableau for someone else’s ego trip.

What is a generous Christmas present?

Two judgements are necessary. Firstly, the generous giver must calculate what she should give and then exceed that. The calculation includes how far social benchmarks should be exceeded. If the ‘going rate’ for a teenage nephew is £50 then £100 is too much. (Is this generous gift a bribe in disguise, trying to  shape future relationships, and is, therefore, manipulation?) £100 should be replaced by, say, £60 a more socially appropriate gift. Generous but not excessive.

Secondly, recipients calculate what’s reasonable. It’s pointless panting for an iPhone from grandad if he ‘shops’ at food banks. Reality informs expectations so they intersect into something which isn’t fantasy. Generosity from this grandad might be a baseball cap. It would be generous because it reflects his economic status and a desire to give any gift at Christmas. A baseball cap exceeds expectations because the realistic expectation is there won’t be a gift of any kind. Generosity means realistic expectations are exceeded.

Christmas presents can be unwelcome because they either are too much or too little. Expectations are unmet or exceeded inappropriately. A rich aunt giving a teenage nephew a pair of socks is being (knowingly?) disappointing. However, if she bought an eBike, that gift flaunts her wealth. Either way the social ‘contract’ related to Christmas presents is shattered.

Social calculation is implicit. Our teenage boy wants an iPhone but knows, and understands, why grandad won’t get him one. He doesn’t resent his grandad because he’s socially aware about socio-economic facts. Grandad is living in poverty and can’t shell out a for a pricy Christmas gift regardless of his desire to look good. People using food banks can’t afford pricy gifts but the calculation is challenging when wealth is ‘smoke and mirrors’.

Wealthy people living in expensive houses might have little or no disposable income because of super-large mortgages.2 Expectations based on visible signs are deceptive. Expectations are heightened and unmet. Blatant poverty is one thing but self-inflicted poverty is difficult to disaggregate by children. The social calculation in this situation is nuanced or, even, impenetrable. Christmas can be very trying for the children of wealthy parents whose peers have wealthy parents with large disposable incomes. Trying to explain to children that they literally can’t afford generous gifts is hard work in a counter-intuitive environment.

Generosity can transform into an arms race and stops being ‘generous’. Gifts become excessive. Excessive is when people lose sight of the meaning of ‘generous’ and think it means an unlimited more. Creating a debt repayment programme to be generous misses the point. Generosity is exceeding expectations which are realistic within your economic environment. A generous gift is appropriately generous and not excessive. And that should be understood by recipients.


1 generous meaning – Search (bing.com)

2 This is probably naïve as people often try to keep up ‘appearances’ by going into debt People are going into debt thanks to Christmas spending | Metro News

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Chris Rock on Fame

Yeah, I love being famous. It’s almost like being white, y’know?

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George Harrison as a parent

In 1978, George married Olivia Arias and in the same year they had a son, Dhani.  Dhani only discovered his father’s past when he was at school.  “I came home one day from school after being chased by kids singing “Yellow Submarine”, and I didn’t understand why.  ‘It just seemed surreal: why are they singing that song to me?” 

I came home and freaked out to my dad: “Why didn’t you tell me you were in the Beatles?” 

And he said: “Oh, sorry. Probably should have told you that.” 

It’s impossible to imagine, John, Paul or Ringo neglecting to mention they were in the Beatles to their children.

*Love and Let Die* – Marginal REVOLUTION

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Duck hunting

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Institutional sadism at Repton School 1930s

“Michael [Dahl’s friend] was ordered to take down his trousers and kneel on the headmaster’s sofa with the top half of his body hanging over one end of the sofa. The great man then gave him one terrific crack. After that there was a pause. The cane was put down and the headmaster began filling his pipe from a tin of tobacco. He also started to lecture the kneeling boy about sin and wrongdoing. Soon, the cane was picked up and a second tremendous crack was administered upon the trembling buttocks. Then the pipe-filling business and the lecture went on for maybe 30 seconds. Then came the third crack of the cane… At the end of it all, a basin, a sponge and a small clean towel were produced by the headmaster, and the victim was told to wash away the blood before pulling up his trousers.”

School of hard knocks Alex Renton; The Guardian Review 8th April 2017 (the headmaster was Geoffrey Fisher later to become archbishop of Canterbury)

A Roald Dahl anecdote about Repton School

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