What is worth reading, worth writing

I was flipping through a sketch book yesterday, one I keep in the inside pocket of my winter coat, and noticed many notes I’d stopped to make while listening to podcasts as I walk.   I listen to several history podcasts, a few of which strike me as particularly good because they appear to have no political ax to grind.  As a character played by the great Dennis Hopper once told a character played by the great Christopher Walken, about reading history, “I find that shit fascinating.”

It seems to me, particularly in our current political culture where opinionated “partisans” speak loudly and with supreme confidence from their unwashed lowest sphincters, that the facts of what actually happened when have an important place in the conversation.   I know this marks me as somewhat eccentric.   Many people I know prefer to tune out, rather than talk about, the many aggravating, gigantic subjects that are rubbed in our faces daily.  After all, you know now after a few words where somebody stands on all the most important issues of the day, even the most ignorant are today reflexive “ideologues”.

It feels to me like knowledge actually is a kind of power.  Since we are all potential photojournalists now (think of cellphone videos of unarmed black men shot or choked to death  in confrontations with adrenalized cops), I snapped this photo of a page from my sketchbook on the creeping E train to Sekhnetville last night (hence its less than perfect sharpness, sorry, Sekhnet).  


With another click I inexplicably wassupped it to a friend, as the train sat in the darkness near the 67th Avenue station because “there is another train ahead of us.”  A few moments later, as we crept past the next local station,  my friend tapped back words to the effect that, oy!,  I need to read a good novel, take a long walk in a beautiful place, have a vacation.   All true things, but, also, I take this page as an example of these fucking ugly facts not beating my brains in.

The unnaturally Confident Genius-in-chief, a guy with an inferiority complex a mile wide and infinitely deep, has recently called, speaking of talking out of unwashed nether sphincters, for the death penalty for “drug dealers.”   The drug dealers he is referring to are people like the illegal spirits dealers who grew rich and powerful during Prohibition.  The ignorance of the Tangerine Idi Amin (tip of the skull cap to Larry Wilmore) on this notion of solving our epidemic of drug addiction by executing drug kingpins is multi-leveled.   

Why are so many Americans addicted to drugs that make their pain seem to vanish?  The folks who get addicted, it seems to me, have no hope of anything better than making their pain and desperation disappear for a few hours.   The great pleasure of the initial drug experience for addicts, the pleasure that gets them hooked, apparently disappears rather early in addiction.  From then on the game for addicts is not really played for kicks, it’s all about the desperate compulsion to get the drug into the bloodstream to prevent feeling like complete shit.  

Drug addiction is an affliction of despair, of hopelessness.  Give those people an option for a life of connection with others, a productive life of hope and laughs, most of them will choose not to be drug addicts anymore.   This has been seen in place after place where the problem of drug addiction, a disease most addicts are genetically predisposed to,  has been addressed intelligently.  In America we prefer tough love, these criminalized fucks need to spend a few years locked up with violent sociopaths.

I jotted down an arresting stat: more American deaths by drug overdose in 2016 than total American KIA in years of the war in Vietnam.   Fuck.   We beat that record in 2017 and are on a pace in 2018 to beat last year’s record for Americans dead of drug overdose (unless Jared Kushner can find a magic wand to cure the opioid crisis while making peace in the Middle East and avoiding prosecution for what appears to be a string of financial crimes). 

It is a crisis when more people in your country die of drug overdose every year than of gunshot wound, in a country that leads the world by a hefty margin in deaths by gunshot.  The asshole solution: kill the drug dealers.   Duterte in the Philippines does it, why not our own populist president?   So unfair, how come the dictator of a third rate country gets to kill drug dealers, extrajudicially, and the American president, the most powerful man in the world, can’t?  Unfair!   SAD!  It is this two year-old’s level of sophistication that is being brought to bear on our nation’s most vexing problems by our most powerful citizen.  

If the president had a nimble, smart, loyal team of lawyers like Cheney and Bush did, guys who secretly redefined “torture” to make it, arguably, legal for Americans to practice against enemies real and theoretical, he’d soon have the tool in hand he needs to execute drug dealers without trial.  There is already a precedent, two American presidents have openly used it, of killing ‘enemy combatants’ without trial, evidence or any kind of charges against them.  

Obama openly did it to two or three American citizens.  Spin it right, there’s absolutely no problem doing it, you can even joke about it at a press conference, like Obama’s spokesman did when an innocent American teenager and his friends were turned into chopped meat in a remote area in Yemen.   Cheney’s lawyers gave us the president’s absolute right to designate people ‘enemy combatants’, place them on a secret kill list, and have skilled American gamers take them out by remote controlled missiles.  Constitutional law professor and idealist Obama gave the president the right to do this to selected Americans who could be designated ‘enemy combatants’. Word up, Trump.

I pause to reflect on the words of an Iraqi-American doctor, speaking to Brooke Gladstone recently.  He said that when people are not held accountable for their crimes it gives permission for the crimes to continue indefinitely.   When Obama took the famously “high road” on American torture, looking forward and not back (while nobly and folksily admitting ‘we tortured some folks’), he gave the architects and drivers of the recent, widespread American torture program the eternal gift of ongoing silence.  

These creatures who made their bones torturing, first the meaning of the word and then actual humans, continue to live successful lives.  The two fucks who wrote the infamous “torture memo”, government lawyers who claimed it is not torture unless the pain is as severe as the failure of a major organ system, are today quite prosperous and well respected.  One is a tenured-for-life federal judge, the other a tenured professor of, I shit you not, Constitutional Law, at Berkeley.  The two psychologists who reverse engineered the torture program from the SERE manual, and were paid over $80,000,000 for their important work?   Well, they finally had to cough up a few million to private plaintiffs, but that case settled.  Hush money paid, they can get back to their fabulous lives as fabulously wealthy American psychologists.  

Nothing to see here.  Look, we have two completely different systems of law here, one system of justice for the powerful and well-connected, another for losers.  What is news about any of this?

OK, then, who are the Sacklers?   A family name I have a hard time recalling, they currently own Perdue Pharma, a name I can usually recall easily.   I have written about this fabulously wealthy American family, headed by at least three generations of doctors, at least one of whom was an award winning pharmaceutical marketing genius   You can get the bones of their story here, with a link to a thorough, and sickening article about these evil bastards.   Jewish doctors who would make their Nazi colleague Josef Mengele tip his hat to them, if I may be explosively hyperbolic for a moment (nobody here to stop me, I notice).  

What is so evil about the family that created and falsely marketed Oxycontin as a time-released, and therefore low probability of addiction alternative to the other prescription opioids on the market?  For one thing, their widely trumpeted and hugely lucrative claim, inexplicably allowed by the FDA, was total marketing hype not backed by any research at all.  Users intent on getting high have only to crush the pill, et voila, no more time release.  For another thing, the guy at the FDA who approved the false and misleading package insert went on, by sheer coincidence, to work for Perdue Pharma at many times his former salary.   For another, these high society altruists made literally billions on the sale of this overprescribed miracle drug that has been a big driver of the Opioid Crisis.

Many Americans who get addicted to opioids start with a pharmaceutical opioid they, or someone they knew, had prescribed to them by a doctor.  These pills can be quite expensive.  Hard for a drug addict to afford after a while.  Heroin is a cheaper alternative.  In a nation that has no safety regime for illegal drugs, the heroin users buy can be 25% heroin or more, or less.  Enterprising drug entrepreneurs are able to make heroin much cheaper to produce by stepping on the product again, cutting it with more powerful, and much cheaper, fentanyl.   A shot of heroin with enough fentanyl mixed in is deadly.   The addict never knows how strong the white power they are injecting is until it is too late.   Some places have drug testing sites where addicts can find out how powerful the shit they are about to shoot is.   These places are extremely rare in our country, if they exist anywhere. 

As far as executing drug dealers, or even keeping them in check, the Sackler’s corporation has been successfully sued in a couple of states, and settled these suits for many millions, on the condition of absolute secrecy: all research, testimony and evidence in the case must be sealed.  This means every state Attorney General who wants to sue the Sacklers must start at the beginning, pay for all their own medical experts, witnesses, research.   In fairness to the family, they are now worth billions and so are immune from the normal process of criminal justice.   That weasel selling Oxycontin by the pill?   Shoot him dead, a bullet through his fucking head!

The cartoon AR-15 then checks in reminding us not to be so fucking judgmental.  Guns don’t kill people, you know, people using guns do.  It’s like a highly addictive pill in brilliantly marketed form.   If you are not a damaged person, you can use this product safely.   The only wrinkle is that we are, virtually all of us, damaged persons.   Part of the human condition.  

I have been consciously pursuing mildness and non-harm for the last few years.  I was raised in a family where abuse was a common way of showing love.  I have had to deal with anger, otherwise anger will deal with me.  You don’t go from someone who will reflexively scream back at mistreatment into a calm, philosophical person without waging a constant battle, without remaining focused on quieting the reflex to rage.   Sekhnet will frequently remind me that I believe I am doing better in this than I actually am, but she did not know me thirty years ago.

So given a society based on advertising, acquisition, fairly rigid class status, competing, judging, having two sets of laws — a generous one for winners and a viciously punitive one for losers– we all are on our own to do the best we can.  I’d love to read a great novel on a lush green lawn somewhere, with a perfect sky overhead and the lapping of water over rocks in the background.   That is a beautiful part of life: relaxation.  I love to relax.  But there is also work, and this shit, which I also find fascinating, is mine.   Even if I am not currently being paid for it.

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