American Diversity concert tonight in Cambridge

I received a mailing from a music organization in Cambridge, Maskachusetts, “A unique program of music written by women and people of color”:

I’m very sorry that I can’t attend and see if The Mask is about an N95 mask and his/her/zir/their journey of protection (modern update to Gogol’s “The Nose”?). Maybe it will be explained in the program notes and pre-concert lecture.

Note that the concert is entirely free to those who limit their working hours so as to qualify for SNAP/EBT (“food stamps”):

We are proud to participate in the Mass Cultural Council’s ‘Card to Culture’ program. EBT card holders who present their EBT card in person at the Box Office receive 2 free Gold section tickets to a Spectrum Singers concert.


  • Thankful for (Government-supported Harvard University hosts a play in which only those who identify as Black can attend: “We have designated this performance to be an exclusive space for Black-identifying audience members”)
  • Why you want to be on SNAP/EBT
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Book review: the American love affair with opioids, accelerated by McKinsey

Loyal readers may remember a review here of a book by a Los Angeles Times reporter on America’s taxpayer-fueled heroin habit (see Who funded America’s opiate epidemic? You did.). Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty covers the same story from the angle of the family behind OxyContin. The Sacklers, whose names adorn university and art museum buildings throughout the U.S. and Europe, have been convenient scapegoats, but it turns out that they didn’t do it alone. Some things that I learned from the book…

Arthur M. Sackler, the patriarch, died before OxyContin was invented (the slow-release coating was actually the invention of a British company that had been acquired by the Sacklers’ sleepy Purdue Pharma and was used originally for morphine pills called “MS Contin”). He was the significant art collector and benefactor of AOC’s party venue at the Metropolitan Museum (how did it cost $587 for a car ride from the Bronx to the Upper East Side?). With the help of some friendly bureaucrats at the FDA, who would go on to be of much greater assistance to his brothers’ company Purdue, he pushed the limits of what was legal/ethical in medical advertising, especially for Valium and Librium, but museums are still happy to display the name of Hoffmann-La Roche, which actually made the drugs.

The book describes McKinsey, “The firm that built the house of Enron”, working to help Purdue Pharma increase sales of OxyContin even after the company and three executives had pleaded guilty to federal crimes regarding claims made regarding the drug. McKinsey’s biggest idea, according to the author, was that Purdue Pharma’s salespeople should make more frequent calls on the doctors who were the biggest prescribers, i.e., the “pill mills” such as Eleanor Santiago‘s (1 million pills, which resulted in a 20-month prison sentence for the physician). McKinsey also consulted for Johnson & Johnson, the author says, to help them push more opioids out to consumers. (See “Behind the Scenes, McKinsey Guided Companies at the Center of the Opioid Crisis” (NYT 2022))

Speaking of Johnson & Johnson, they owned a division in Tasmania where all of the poppies were grown to enable the production of OxyContin and competitive opioid pills from Janssen (J&J’s pharma subsidiary, now famous for its never-FDA-approved one-shot COVID vaccine) and other companies (in-depth background). The Federal DEA was also complicit in allowing a massive increase in the import quota for this critical raw material.

The author describes Mary Jo White, later appointed by Barack Obama to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission, as instrumental in weakening the government’s efforts to punish Purdue, which was owned entirely by the Sacklers (not, however, by any of Arthur M’s descendants or cash-hungry former wives, “the Valium Sacklers” as opposed to the “OxyContin Sacklers”).

Consistent with Dreamland, the book previously reviewed here, Empire of Pain says that it was common for people to transition from Oxy to heroin sold by migrants from Nayarit, Mexico and that, in fact, 80 percent of heroin overdoses were among people who’d previously been prescribed OxyContin. (See also “From Nayarit to Your Neighborhood: Heroin’s Path to a Ready Local Market”.)

The book supports the heritability of success theory advanced in The Son Also Rises: economics history with everyday applications. Even after a couple of generations that could have succumbed to idleness, the Sackler descendants are reasonably hard-working and successful. Madeleine Sackler, for example, has been successful as a filmmaker (ironically, a couple of them are about life in prison, which is not unrelated to the drug that has funded her lifestyle).

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty is timely given that a lot of our American brothers, sisters, and binary-resisters were just paid $600/week to stay home for two years and consume drugs and alcohol (this Senate document says there was a 30 percent increase in overdose deaths, but blames the “pandemic” rather than the “lockdown”). The antiracism experts at Mass General say that heavy drinking increased by 21 percent during lockdown.

If nothing else, reading the book will make you cautious about taking that first bottle of painkillers that a doctor prescribes!

The author is a New Yorker writer and he asserts as fact that HIV/AIDS would have been a solved problem if Republicans had not blocked federal funding for research into a cure for this disease (yet SARS-CoV-2 continues to kill steadily despite literally $trillions in tax money that has been thrown at it; see Did vaccines or any other intervention slow down COVID?). He also asserts as fact that if Purdue Pharma was liable for opioid-related deaths then gun manufacturers are obviously liable for shooting deaths (never mentioning that the gun manufacturers have always been quite candid about the lethality of guns/bullets and that the theory of liability for the opioid industry is that the companies lied to Americans about heroin-style drugs not being addictive/harmful).

Loosely related… the Temple of Dendur at the Met, in what used to be called “The Sackler Wing” (funded by Arthur M, blameless in the OxyContin debacle), “temporarily closed” in June 2021 for coronapanic:

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Top Gun 3, Balloon Hunter: starring Tom Cruise and Justin Trudeau

Friends on Facebook are still expressing their fears regarding the recent Chinese balloon overflight and thanking the Vanquisher of Corn Pop for saving them from this unarmed threat, which was neutralized by a $1 billion F-22 (cost estimated at $700 million per plane in pre-Biden money). Top Gun 1 had the F-14. Top Gun 2 had the F-18. How about a Top Gun 3 with Tom Cruise in an F-35 versus a fleet of unarmed Chinese balloons?

Some of the latest slow movers were shot out of the sky over Canada. Every contemporary movie needs some Black and Brown characters, e.g., as brilliant scientists who design equipment to track and kill the slow-moving menaces. Combining the two preceding sentences, the obvious choice to portray the Black and Brown characters is Justin Trudeau (he already has the costumes and makeup).

Speaking of Tom Cruise, here is the Church of Scientology’s cruise ship, Freewinds, docked in Aruba:

Of course, I am now telling everyone that this was our ship and that we spent sea days being audited, getting clear, and learning more about Xenu (the last part is sort of true; Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas has a Zumba class led by the vivacious Peruvian cruise director Mey).


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Why can’t we get Art Nouveau furniture made by CNC?

What I wanted for Christmas and did not get is an entire house full of Art Nouveau furniture as seen in the Musée d’Orsay or the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Here are a few images of the collection at the d’Orsay, from our October 2022 trip there:

With modern 3D printing (e.g., for the lamp) and computer numerical control (CNC) routers, what stops the mostly-automated production at near-IKEA prices of replicas of the above works of genius and craftsmanship? An IKEA-crafted bed for comparison:

Maybe the problem is that putting an Art Nouveau piece into a standard American developer-built house or 2BR apartment would make the walls look sadly lacking in ornamentation.


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Did the Silicon Valley TV show predict Sam Bankman-Fried?

Sam Bankman-Fried was notable for his ethical approach to doing business, particularly “effective altruism”. New York Times, May 2022:

He lives modestly for a billionaire and has pledged to give away virtually his entire fortune, which currently stands at $21.2 billion, according to Forbes. A growing force in political fund-raising, he has a super PAC that recently gave more than $10 million to a Democratic congressional candidate who supports some of his philanthropic priorities. … a straight-talking brainiac willing to embrace regulation of his nascent industry and criticize its worst excesses.

Both Mr. Bankman-Fried’s parents are Stanford Law School professors who have studied utilitarianism, an ethical framework that calls for decisions calculated to secure the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. “It’s the kind of thing we’d discuss in the house,” said Mr. Bankman-Fried’s father, Joseph Bankman.

As might be expected for a young man raised on dinner-table discussions of moral theory, Mr. Bankman-Fried is also an admirer of Peter Singer, the Princeton University philosopher widely considered the intellectual father of “effective altruism,” an approach to philanthropy in which donors strategize to maximize the impact of their giving.

Mr. Singer, whose scholarship helped inspire the movement, said he has gotten to know Mr. Bankman-Fried over the years and called his philanthropy “wonderful and really quite amazing.”

(Speaking of those donations to Democrats, will Joe Biden and other politicians refund the money that they received, fraudulently, from FTX customers? The Securities and Exchange Commission says that FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried were stealing money from customers all the time:

in reality, Bankman-Fried orchestrated a years-long fraud to conceal from FTX’s investors (1) the undisclosed diversion of FTX customers’ funds to Alameda Research LLC, his privately-held crypto hedge fund; (2) the undisclosed special treatment afforded to Alameda on the FTX platform, including providing Alameda with a virtually unlimited “line of credit” funded by the platform’s customers

The Democrats are now in the position of Ponzi scheme investors who got paid from other investors and the typical remedy for that is clawback. Joe Biden and fellow Democrats would return their ill-gotten money so that the small depositors at FTX can get some of their money back.)

Who could have predicted all of this? The writers of the HBO series Silicon Valley! In Season 6, which aired in 2018, Gavin Belson, the Hooli founder, introduces a hollow code of ethics for tech companies: “tethics”. Facebook and other California behemoths eagerly sign onto these empty words.

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Bonsai apprenticeship in Japan

From a New Yorker article on Ryan Neil, the founder of Bonsai Mirai:

That day [in 2002], [Masahiko] Kimura, who was then in his sixties, was working on an Ezo spruce with a spiky, half-dead trunk which was estimated to be a thousand years old. A photographer from the Japanese magazine Kindai Bonsai was present to document the process. Neil and the other visitors observed as Kimura, with the help of his lead apprentice, Taiga Urushibata, used guy wires and a piece of rebar to bend the trunk downward, compressing the tree—an act requiring a phenomenal balance of strength and finesse. Kimura misted the branches with water and wrapped them with thick copper wire. He then bent the branches—some slightly upward, some downward—arranging the foliage into an imperfect dome, with small windows of light spaced throughout the greenery. He worked with relentless focus, but what amazed Neil most was the synchronicity of Kimura and Urushibata: whenever Kimura needed a tool, he would wordlessly extend his hand, and Urushibata would have the implement waiting for him.

“So you want to apprentice here?” Urushibata said.

“I do,” Neil said.

“You should reconsider,” Urushibata said, then turned his attention back to the spruce.

How did Kimura become a legendary master?

Kimura is sometimes said to have done for bonsai what Picasso did for painting—he shattered the art form and then reëngineered it. Using power tools, he performed transformations so drastic that the resulting shapes seemed almost impossible. Moreover, his new methods allowed him to execute dramatic alterations in hours as opposed to over decades. Not surprisingly, his accelerated technique was admired and imitated throughout the West.

What about The Son Also Rises: economics history with everyday applications in which success is substantially attributable to genetics?

Masahiko Kimura was eleven years old when his father, a successful engineer, died suddenly.

Kimura apprenticed from age 15 to 26 and did not become a full-time bonsai artist until his late 30s.

Around this time, a thirty-year-old engineer working at Toyota named Takeo Kawabe visited Kimura’s bonsai garden, fell in love with the trees, and asked to become his apprentice. Together, they developed an arsenal of custom devices—sandblasters, small chainsaws, grinders—that made it easy to quickly shape deadwood into whorls and wisps. Using power tools, Kimura could hollow out thick roots, allowing him to coil them up in smaller pots; he could also bend stout trees, to make them appear smaller, or split them apart, to create forest-style plantings.

Everything is bigger and better now:

Of late, the fashion in bonsai has shifted to larger specimens, to accommodate the tastes of wealthy Chinese buyers, who display their prized trees in outdoor gardens rather than inside their homes, as Japanese people do. Kimura’s work, which is monumental by bonsai standards—some trees reached as high as my sternum, with trunks nearly as wide as my waist—was well suited to this trend, and he had profited greatly from it. He told me that he had recently sold a tree to the C.E.O. of a major Chinese tech company. “To them, a million dollars is like a pack of cigarettes,” he said.

The former apprentice rejects his master’s core innovation:

Neil pointedly avoids power tools; he never grinds or sandblasts. This leaves the grain with a nuanced texture laden with spidery fissures. When you lean in close to a classic Kimura tree, in each carefully sculpted curve of the deadwood you perceive the handiwork of the artist. When you lean in to one of Neil’s trees, you marvel at the handiwork of nature.

How does being one of the world’s greatest bonsai artists compare to filling a chair at a FAANG company?

Neil, now in his early forties, had chronic back pain and was developing arthritis in his fingers. His financial situation, he told me, was “hand to mouth,” and the chaotic nature of climate change was making it harder to keep his prized trees alive. … He has been in therapy for years, attempting to root out the odd mixture of insecurity and callousness that Kimura ingrained in him. During his six years in Japan, Neil was prohibited from dating. When he returned home, he began a relationship with a former schoolmate, and they had a son, but before long they broke up, leaving him a single father with a seven-day-a-week job and perilous finances.

(If the bonsai expert doesn’t earn a lot of money, the mother made the economically rational choice under Oregon family law to leave him with the child. Separately, the above phrase “they had a son” is ambiguous in modern American English. Does it mean that a pair of hetereosexual adults working together produced a son? Or that a non-binary solo adult (“they”) produced a miniature human?)

I won’t be investing $10,000-20,000 in one of Neil’s creations. This is partly because I don’t want to kill a $10,000+ tree via incompetence, but also because I don’t think the species that he works with can thrive in South Florida where they won’t experience cold weather (article that says cold weather/dormancy is essential for temperate species). Florida does have its share of bonsai artistry and commercial bonsai production, but the popular species are adapted to the subtropics. Heathcote Botanical Gardens in Fort Pierce has a substantial collection that was developed by James J. Smith. Here are some photos from an October visit:

Another favorite place is Robert Pinder’s Dragon Tree Bonsai just west of Stuart, Florida. The most interesting stuff is not for sale, but can be enjoyed. A more commercial operation, which can be a good source for supplies such as stone lanterns, is H&F Imports, a.k.a. Sunshine Tropical Gardens, in Davie, Florida.

One nice thing about Florida is that keeping a bonsai in the back yard can be done with zero effort. Just place them where the HOA’s sprinklers will hit them (with “reclaimed water”; maybe best not to ask where this comes from) and Nature takes care of the rest. I did move ours under an alcove for overnight shelter from Hurricane Nicole.


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Taking kids to the Louvre

I’m leaving this here as a reminder to my future self.

One month before any trip to the Louvre: join Amis du Louvre (Adhérent) to get a membership for however many adults are in your household (kids are free). The cards will be mailed out and then you can skip the lines at the Pyramid and other places. You might be able to talk your way in from the Passage Richelieu or Carrousel (underground mall) entrance if you say that you’re going to buy a membership. With the membership, you don’t need to get a timed ticket and then wait in line for 30 minutes to use that time slot.

Once in the Pyramid, skip the Nintendo-based audioguides, which are complex and confusing (and the commentary is limited to a handful of works and isn’t very interesting).

Enter via Richelieu and the French sculptures, especially the Barye animal fights.

Upstairs to Napoleon III’s lavish crib.

Upstairs again to the two Vermeers (one was in Abu Dhabi; one here). Here’s how much demand there was at 1 pm on a weekday to see a painting not called “Mona Lisa”:

Then the huge Rubens salon and walk through French painting to see if the battle scenes catch their eye.

Finally to the Mona Lisa room, which should be revisited on a Friday night around 9 pm if anyone actually wants to see the painting. Note the surgical mask as protection against aerosol viruses in the most crowded room of the world’s most visited art museum (at least 15,000 visitors per day). Fortunately, the ventilation system was upgraded in the 50s… the 1850s.

A mostly-European crowd in which we see reliance on masks, typically mere surgical or cloth ones:

In other kid news, ours enjoyed this stinky cheese from the supermarket:

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Abortion Care Art?

Abortion care for pregnant people seems to be the principal topic among Democrats running for office in the upcoming election. Examples:

(Certainly the decision to continue incubating Joe Biden’s granddaughter was the biggest economic decision that Lunden Roberts has made so far ($2.5 million tax-free downpayment plus unspecified monthly revenue); note that an abortion can often be sold at a discount to the net present value of the expected child support cashflow so it isn’t necessary to have a baby to profit economically from a baby.)

I’m not an expert on reproductive health care, of which we are informed that abortion care is the most critical component, but I had a thought while viewing Love and Birth at the Musée D’Orsay (Georges Lacombe, circa 1895):

Where is the abortion-care-themed art for Democrats who own Hunter Bidens and want to demonstrate their passion for this most important aspect of reproductive health care?

Separately, a Hero of Faucism at the jammed art museum fights an aerosol virus with a humble surgical mask…. worn over a beard:

A masked Follower of Science in front of a sculpture titled “Redneck and Alligator” (well, maybe it is actually a crocodile scene set in Africa):

Here’s an overview of the converted train station:

The ceiling of the museum restaurant:

This prompted our almost-9-year-old to say “Hey look, there’s a peacock. Dad, you need to give me a shotgun and then…. problem solved.” (Readers: If you are having problems with ornamental peafowl on your estate, let me know and we’ll send the youth over to deal with the birds directly.)

Speaking of problems, like most of Paris, the museum is afflicted with gender binarism:

On the other hand, they do give a lot of floor and wall space to Kehinde Wiley:

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Gehry-designed Fondation Louis Vuitton museum

A heroic reader suggested that we visit the Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Bois de Boulogne and was kind enough to pick us up and drive us there. Frank Gehry designed the building in 2006 when he was 77 years old. In other words, he did a few sketches and let a platoon of nameless architects and engineers figure out how to make it happen. Some of the sketches are shown in the museum and they look like a 3-year-old’s art.

The museum is a triumph of form over function. There’s a building and then a bunch of decorative glass is attached to the exterior, supported by a frame. The galleries inside are chopped up so that a recent show was spread over 10 separate galleries for no reason other than each gallery is fairly small. A prefab aircraft hangar would actually work better for the required function of designing an art exhibit.

The exterior is striking and includes a staircase waterfall.

The museum lacks a permanent collection so it is all-special-exhibitions-all-the-time. We visited during a visit comparing Claude Monet, whom most people have heard of, and Joan Mitchell, who never met Monet and whose name is unfamiliar even to art nerds.

From the signage I learned that Monet cranked out 400 paintings from 1900 through 1926 and 300 of them were of water lilies at Giverny. Here’s a triptych that had been scattered to three different museums in the U.S., reassembled on a long wall:

What does Joan Mitchell’s work look like?

Tickets are timed, but the museum was jammed.

Note that a fair number of folks had elected to stay safe from an aerosol virus by voluntarily entering a crowded indoor public environment while wearing surgical and cloth masks. There aren’t enough books and movies featuring Monet’s art so it was impossible to stay home and #StopTheSpread?

My favorite part of the building, though unlikely to be of much use in typical Paris weather, was the series of outdoor terraces.

(Note the Heroes of Faucism, wearing their masks while outdoors.)

When you leave the museum, whose restaurant gets terrible reviews on Google Maps, you’re in the Jardin d’acclimatation:

From 1877 until 1912, the Jardin Zoologique d’Acclimatation was converted to l’Acclimatation Anthropologique. In mid-colonialism, the curiosity of Parisians was attracted to the customs and lifestyles of foreign peoples. Nubians, Bushmen, Zulus, and many other African peoples were “exhibited” in a human zoo. The exhibitions were a huge success. The number of visitors to the Jardin doubled, reaching the million mark.

The Fondation LV is not part of the Paris Museum Pass system and the trip out to the park might not be cheap or simple. I give this place a thumbs-up on a beautiful day and a thumbs-down if the weather is less than perfect.

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Movie recommendation: Official Competition

It is rare for me to recommend a movie without helicopter scenes, but on the Paris-JFK leg of our recent trip, I enjoyed Official Competition, a movie about a rich old guy (comically characterized as a “millionaire” and therefore rich enough to buy a tract house in South Florida?) who funds an enfant terrible director (Penélope Cruz, with spectacular hair) to make a movie from a novel by a Nobel literature winner. The director chooses a popular star (Antonio Banderas) and a brooding acting nerd (Oscar Martínez) to play brothers. The nerd actor lives in an apartment surrounded by books and plays vinyl LPs of avant garde music. He condemns the mass audience for not appreciating great art. Memorable line from an angry actor: “I’ll turn your face into a Picasso.”

All in Spanish with subtitles.

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