Wednesday, February 1, 2023

the last book I ever read (A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance, excerpt one)

from A Little Devil in America: In Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib:

Folks who would become stars of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s had their first big on-camera moments twisting and twirling within the wall of clapping hands. Fred “Rerun” Berry from What’s Happening!! was a hit in the early Soul Train Lines. Jody Watley and Jeffrey Daniel were Soul Train Line partners before the world knew them as part of Shalamar. Columbus, Ohio’s own Jermaine Stewart lit up the line with regularity all through ’77 and ’78. Once, in ’77, Stewart and his companion popped and locked through the line in matching glittering faux tuxedos. In 1986, when Stewart was riding high on the Top Five hit “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off,” Don Cornelius introduced him to the Soul Train stage by saying, He’s made good, and we’re all quite proud of him, and there was Jermaine as beautiful as ever, his hair pressed and laid, a long and radiant black tuxedo jacket hanging off his body. In the ’80s, Rosie Perez perfected the moves that would later serve as the opening to Do the Right Thing, her arms violently swinging at her sides, propelling her waist into short, measured thrusts. When Perez was really on in the line, she wouldn’t even finish dancing all the way down. She’d stop a little over halfway through and then confidently stroll the rest of the way, locking eyes with the camera.

I consider, often, the difference between showing off and showing out. How showing off is something you do for the world at large and showing out is something you do strictly for your people. The people who might not need to be reminded how good you are but will take the reminder when they can. The Soul Train Line was the gold standard of where one goes to show out.

Friday, January 27, 2023

the last book I ever read (Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Family, excerpt fifteen)

from Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Family by Patrick Radden Keefe:

Curiously, a partisan divide emerged among the state prosecutors. Red state AGs were more inclined to go along with the deal the Sacklers were proposing, whereas blue state prosecutors wanted to fight for more. Some speculated that this might be due to how dire the need for emergency funds was in the red states, or to different political cultures—Republicans more inclined to accommodate corporate interests, Democrats more given to redistributionist zeal. But another factor might have been that behind the scenes the Sacklers were actively whipping votes. The family had long understood the physics of political influence and the value of a well-connected fixer. When they needed to make the threat of felony charges go away back in 2006, they deployed the former federal prosecutor Rudy Giuliani. Now that they were facing a cohort of angry attorneys general, they put a new fixer on the payroll: a former U.S. senator from Alabama, Luther Strange, who had previously served as state AG. Until 2017, Strange had been the chairman of a national group called RAGA, or the Republican Attorneys General Association. In the past, Purdue had donated generously to this group, and to its Democratic counterpart, giving the two organizations a combined $800,000 between 2014 and 2018. Remarkably, the company continued to contribute to both groups, even after declaring bankruptcy and even as virtually every state attorney general, Democrat or Republican, was suing them. During the summer of 2019, Luther Strange took part in a RAGA meeting in West Virginia as an emissary for the Sacklers and personally lobbied the Republican AGs in attendance to support a settlement.

To further complicate matters, the plaintiffs’ lawyers, like Mike Moore, who had brought suits against Purdue on behalf of local governments and served as key allies for those trying to hold the Sacklers to account, seemed inclined to accept the settlement as well. Plaintiffs’ lawyers work on a contingency basis, taking up to a third of any final settlement in fees, which means that they sometimes have incentives of their own to seize a multibillion-dollar settlement when it is on the table, rather than take the gamble of pushing for a larger and more just result and ending up with nothing. These attorneys also regarded the Purdue case as one piece of a larger litigation puzzle, in which they were pursuing separate suits against other drugmakers, wholesalers, and pharmacies. Some of the lawyers involved in the bankruptcy suspected that Mike Moore himself might have played a hand, behind the scenes, in conceiving the deal that the Sacklers proposed in Cleveland. It would be a compromise, in which the states would get some much-needed funds to address the crisis, the Sacklers would achieve an outcome they could live with, and the plaintiffs’ lawyers would collect hundreds of millions in fees. These suspicions proved correct: Moore acknowledged, in a subsequent interview, that working with another plaintiffs’ lawyer, Drake Martin, he had “put this deal together” for Purdue.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

the last book I ever read (Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Family, excerpt fourteen)

from Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Family by Patrick Radden Keefe:

Nan Goldin lived. But she often felt a kind of survivor’s guilt, thinking of the friends, so many of them now gone, who stared back at her from her own photographs. Her work found new admirers. Museums ran retrospectives. Eventually, those pictures of her dead friends would hang on the walls of some of the most illustrious galleries in the world. In 2011, the Louvre opened its palatial halls to Goldin, after hours, so that she could stroll through the broad marble galleries, barefoot, and take pictures of the artworks on display, for an installation in which she juxtaposed images of paintings from the museum’s collection with photographs from her own oeuvre. The chronicler of life on the margins had become canonical.

In 2014, Goldin was in Berlin when she developed a severe case of tendinitis in her left wrist, which was causing her a great deal of pain. She went to see a doctor who wrote her a prescription for OxyContin. Goldin knew about the drug, knew its reputation for being dangerously addictive. But her own history of hard drug use, rather than making her more cautious, could sometimes mean that she was cavalier. I can handle it, she figured.

As soon as she took the pills, she could see what the fuss was about. OxyContin didn’t just ameliorate the pain in her wrist; it felt like a chemical insulation not just from pain but from anxiety and upset. The drug felt, she would say, like “a padding between you and the world.” It wasn’t long before she was taking the pills more quickly than she was supposed to. Two pills a day became four, then eight, then sixteen. To keep up with her own needs, she had to enlist other doctors and juggle multiple prescriptions. She had money; she had received a major grant to work on new material and was preparing for a show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. But her efforts to source pills had come to feel like a full-time job. She started crushing pills and snorting them. She found an obliging dealer in New York who would ship her pills via FedEx.

Three years of her life disappeared. She was working throughout, but she was sequestered in her apartment, entirely isolated from human contact, seeing virtually no one, apart from those she needed to see to get her pills. She would spend days counting and recounting her collection of pills, making resolves and then breaking them. What kept her in this spiral was not the euphoria of the high but just the fear of withdrawal. When it hit, she could summon no words to capture the mental and physical agony. Her whole body raged with searing, incandescent pain. It felt as if the skin had been peeled right off her. She did a painting during this period of a miserable-looking young man in a green tank top, his arms festering with boils and wounds. She titled it Withdrawal/ Quicksand. At a certain point, her doctors caught on to her and she was struggling to access enough black-market OxyContin, so she lapsed back into using heroin. One night, she bought a batch that, unbeknownst to her, was actually fentanyl, and she overdosed.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

the last book I ever read (Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Family, excerpt thirteen)

from Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Family by Patrick Radden Keefe:

Given China’s fraught history with opioids—the country fought the Opium Wars in the nineteenth century to stop Britain from dumping the drug there, which had given rise to a scourge of addiction—one might assume that there would be formidable barriers to entry when it came to an effort by Mundipharma to change the culture of prescribing. But the company was ravenous for new customers and prepared to engage in marketing tactics that were extreme even by the standards of Purdue. Mundipharma China had been established back in 1993, the same year that the Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology opened in Beijing. The China Medical Tribune, which Arthur had founded, now boasted a readership of more than a million Chinese doctors. In seeking to convince physicians and patients in China that opioids were not, in fact, dangerously addictive, Mundipharma assembled a huge sales force. They were under a great deal of pressure from the company to perform, and they were encouraged with the type of aggressive incentive structure that the Sacklers had always favored. Come in over the company’s quarterly sales targets and you could double your salary. Come in under and you could lose your job. Mundipharma supplied the reps with marketing materials that included assertions about the safety and effectiveness of OxyContin that had long since been debunked. The company claimed that OxyContin was the World Health Organization’s preferred treatment for cancer pain (it isn’t). According to an investigation by the Associated Press, Mundipharma reps in hospitals actually donned white coats and pretended to be doctors themselves. They consulted directly with patients about their health concerns and made copies of people’s confidential medical records.

Mundipharma released a series of flashy promotional videos about its products and its global ambitions, featuring images of smiling patients from a range of different ethnicities. “We’re only just getting started,” one of the videos said.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

the last book I ever read (Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Family, excerpt twelve)

from Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Family by Patrick Radden Keefe:

African Americans had been spared the full brunt of the opioid epidemic: doctors were less likely to prescribe opioid painkillers to Black patients, either because they did not trust them to take the drugs responsibly or because they were less likely to feel empathy for these patients and want to treat their pain aggressively. As a result, levels of addiction and death were statistically low among African Americans. It appeared to be a rare instance in which systemic racism could be said to have protected the community. But people of color were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. Purdue executives might have evaded jail time for their role in a scheme that generated billions of dollars for Madeleine’s family, but in 2016, Indiana’s governor, Mike Pence, signed a law reinstating a mandatory minimum sentence for any street-level dealer who was caught selling heroin and had a prior conviction: ten years. Nationwide, 82 percent of those charged with heroin trafficking were Black or Latino.

Monday, January 23, 2023

the last book I ever read (Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Family, excerpt eleven)

from Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Family by Patrick Radden Keefe:

“Our first month of work for Purdue was quite busy,” Dezenhall wrote to Howard Udell in late 2001. He was particularly proud of an opinion column he had managed to arrange in the New York Post that blamed “rural-area drug abusers” and “the liberals” for cooking up a fake controversy over OxyContin. When the article ran, Dezenhall sent it to Udell, Hogen, and Friedman with a promise that he could turn around the negative narrative. “The anti-story begins,” he wrote.

Dezenhall worked closely with a psychiatrist named Sally Satel who was a fellow at a conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute. Satel published an essay in the Health section of The New York Times in which she argued that hysteria over opioids had made American physicians fearful of prescribing much-needed pain medication. “When you scratch the surface of someone who is addicted to painkillers,” Satel wrote, “you usually find a seasoned drug abuser with a previous habit involving pills, alcohol, heroin or cocaine.” In the article, she cited an unnamed colleague, and a study in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology, but did not mention that the colleague actually worked for Purdue. Or that the study had been funded by Purdue and written by Purdue employees. Or that she had shown a copy of her essay, in advance, to a Purdue official (he liked it). Or that Purdue was donating $50,000 a year to her institute at AEI.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

the last book I ever read (Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Family, excerpt ten)

from Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Family by Patrick Radden Keefe:

Shortly after Rudolph Giuliani stepped down from his position as mayor of New York City, he went into business as a consultant, and one of his first clients was Purdue. When he entered the private sector, Giuliani was looking to make a lot of money quickly. In 2001, he had a net worth of $1 million; five years later, he would report $17 million in income and some $50 million in assets. For Purdue, which was working hard to frame OxyContin abuse as a law enforcement problem, rather than an issue that might implicate the drug itself or the way it was marketed, the former prosecutor who had led New York City after the 9/ 11 attacks would make an ideal fixer. In Michael Friedman’s view, Giuliani was “uniquely qualified” to help the company.

“Government officials are more comfortable knowing that Giuliani is advising Purdue,” Udell pointed out. Giuliani, he maintained, “would not take an assignment with a company that he felt was acting in an improper way.”