Patrick Radden Keefe (2021) Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty.

I hadn’t heard of OxyContin, nor Purdue Pharmacy (Purdue Frederick) that manufactured the opioid drug. Nor had I seen Dopesick, a Disney backed television series based on the manufacture and sale of ‘hillbilly heroin’ that ravaged America, cost 450 000 American lives (and still counting) approximately $2 trillion of collateral damage at a conservative estimate. I hadn’t heard of the Sackler family, or the ‘Cadillac high’ of OxyContin and Valium.  OxyContin was a problem foreign to me, yet familiar. No surprise that the third-generation Sacklers walked away with their billions from its manufacture and ever-increasing carousel of sales. Mortimer and Jacqueline, for example, fleeing to London, where they already had family and they could easily blend in with Russian oligarchs in the money-laundering capital of the world. Business is business in any language.

A shell game, with British tax havens, in which they’d already declared bankruptcy at home. Josh Shipton, Pennysylvania’s Attorney General declaring:

‘I truly believe they have blood on their hands.’    

A drug epidemic without a cause is a contradiction. Patrick Radden Keefe has to show the ‘taproot of the opioid epidemic’ can be traced to Purdue Fredrick. With hindsight, and millions of documents now in the public domain, the differences between probability and inevitability without being over-deterministic. He splits his investigation of the Sackler family into three parts. Patriarch, Dynasty and Legacy, which corresponds with each generation who benefitted from the sale of legal drugs.

The author, in the later stages of writing the book, received a slip with a quotation from The Great Gatsby in his mailbox.

‘They were careless people… who smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up their mess.’   

But there’s much to admire in the Sackler brothers. The children of Jewish immigrants from the Balkans who had come to New York. The Statue of Liberty and the promise (rescinded): ‘Give me your poor huddled masses’. Arthur was born in Brooklyn in 1913. His  brothers Mortimer and Raymond born three and four years later. They lived another kind of American dream: the rags to riches story. Their father Isaac was a proud man, and when his grocery business went bust, he reminded his sons that he still had his good name. They still had their good name. Keefe begins with that irony.

Education was the children’s route out of poverty. Arthur was the trailblazer. In the hungry thirties, when ‘Buddy, can you spare a dime?’ wasn’t just lyrics but a way of life for the majority of working people. The answer no dime and no work, yet Arthur thrived. He’d three, four, five jobs, which he bequeathed to his brothers. A polymath, he felt protective, and more of a father-figure. He was first to go to medical school. Working to pay his fees. None of the brothers found it easy. A quota system in American colleges capped the number of Jewish students. And with around sixty percent of all applicants for enrolment on medical programmes Jewish, both brothers boarded a ship and went to Glasgow to study, but had to return and finish their studies at a non-accredited medical school in Massachusetts when the second world war began in Europe.  

Arthur had already graduated from NYU in 1933, but his sharpness with money and his work ethic meant he could also pay for his brothers’ education. When Arthur lived and worked as a senior doctor at the NYU campus hospital, the chief of department showed signs of senility. His compromised judgement did not stop him performing surgery. Staff nicknamed him, ‘the Angel of Death’.

Arthur tried to stop an operation and save a woman in her thirties with a peptic ulcer, which wasn’t life-threatening. She had small children. The chief surgeon operated and she died. Arthur moved on, ‘medicine is a hierarchy, and perhaps it must be’ was his analysis.

He’d tried but failed. The problem wasn’t his. A constant theme of externalisation. Drug addiction was because of something inherently lacking in the person taking the drug. Or it was a societal problem, not a drug problem. In the same way, guns don’t kill people, people do. The answer wasn’t gun control or fewer guns but more guns. The tobacco industry used the same playbook of Constitutional rights and individual liberty. They were simply selling a product people craved. OxyContin was marketed as a drug that was similarly non-addictive. Promotional literature suggested a ceiling of one percent of people would become addicts. In the same way that Bayer, a pharmaceutical company in Germany, marketed a new wonder drug in pre-first-world-war called heroin as a cure for morphine addiction, despite being six times its strength. The ‘Angel of Death’ has multiple addresses. While a rogue surgeon might kill one or two patients a day, pharmaceutical companies can change the lives of tens of thousands.

Arthur’s genius extended beyond medicine.  He was a marketing god who made much of the family’s money through the sale of Librium and Valium. Roche manufactured both drugs, but they were sold to the public by Arthur’s marketing company, McAdams. They pegged his profits to their sales. Librium, in 1960, for example sold $20 000 worth of drugs. A year later, after Arthur’s intervention, 1.5 million prescriptions were written a month. 15 million Americans had tried it. Librium really was liberation for the drug company. Valium, from the Latin, valere, which means in good health, had a problem faced by Henry Ford. The public could have a Ford car as long as they liked it in black. Librium’s success as a minor tranquiliser to help with general anxiety meant that its generic chemical cousin Valium would eat into existing profit margins. A black and blacker coloured Ford car would compete for the same sales. Arthur differentiated between the product and expanded sales in different directions. He reframed the narrative. What was Valium for becoming what Valium not for?  Men could use it safely at work. Most medical specialists agreed it was a non-addictive quick-fix for women and children. 

His marketing company employed ‘Reds’ during the McCarthy era. Arthur recognised talent. But on his terms, and at a reduced rate. The FBI had investigated his own brothers. Raymond and Mortimer had been fired from Creedmore Psychiatric Institution in 1953 because they refused to sign a mandatory ‘loyalty pledge’ to the United States. But there was an already upward trajectory as they planned to move beyond psychiatric research and advertising. They acted as a collective. Arthur as Patriarch, and his close friend and supposed business rival, Bill Frohlich as an honorary brother. They formalised the agreement in the late forties. Richard Leather acted as their attorney. They would pool resources. When one died, the others would inherit their corporate assets and control of the businesses. Last man standing would inherit all. Then all of these businesses would pass into a charitable trust.

That was the theory of the greater good, but Arthur had only played lip service to the deal. When Frohlich died, aged 58, in September 1971, his sister and her two daughters received $6.25 million between them. Raymond and Mortimer got $37 million for his assets. Arthur who had purchased Purdue Fredrick for the brothers felt he should have received a third of their windfall. A marker of a wider split in their dynasty.  

Arthur’s first wife, even after their divorce, let him follow the maxim that was hers was his and what his was his too in his obsession with purchasing Chinese furniture and art. Philanthropy was another business. The Sackler name was added to many of the most prestigious museums, universities and colleges such as the Louvre in Paris and Oxford in England—even an escalator in London had the Sackler branding. The tranches of payment were carefully calculated for maximum publicity and accounted for in tax write-offs. Art for art sake. The Sacklers received knighthoods and numerous awards from nations such as France for their charity work. Cultural washing of their dirty business is nothing new. We see similar approaches to Manchester City and more recently Newcastle United.   

Secrecy was Arthur’s watchword. Senator Estes Kefauver was a former lawyer. He had made his reputation investigating the Mafia in the late 1950s and ran for president. His investigation of the drugs industry and monopoly pricing kept returning to Purdue Fredrick and the Sackler brothers. He noted how the Mafia relied on a coterie of lawyers, but had the same accountant, in Purdue Fredrick’s case, Louis Goldburt. The Mafia could buy off sheriffs and public servants. Drug companies had greater financial muscle they could go all the way inside Congress.

‘These drug fellows pay for a lobby that makes the steel boys look like popcorn vendors,’ a staff member claimed.

Corruption ran deeper. Arthur had perfected the art of the stitch up. His company made the product. His company competed with Frohlich’s company to provide marketing for a range of pharmaceutical products, but Arthur had help set up his rival’s company.

The Sackler’s conducted clinical trials. These should have been overseen by a public body the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Barbara Moulton who had worked for the FDA for five years and appeared before the committee concluded they had ‘failed utterly’. Arthur had the agency examiner’s home phone number and could phone him day or night for updates. The carrot was a career changing move after with Purdue after they had left the FDA.

Marketing campaigns used FDA approval to sell their product to the gatekeepers of health, doctors and pharmacists. While extolling the virtues of those that practiced medicine, Frohlich’s data-gathering company, IMS, mined the data and showed a $20 meal voucher was enough to change prescribing behaviour. There was a gap between what doctors said and what they did. The Sacklers widened the gap not just by blitzing advertisements but clinical articles, medical journal—at face value, independent—produced by Arthur’s company, and symposiums, little get-togethers, all free and paid for by the company was standard fare. For example, The Fourth Annual Antibiotic Symposium in early 1956, the keynote speech was given by a public servant Dr Henry Welch in which he claimed a ‘third era of antibiotics’. This was used in promotional literature, printed before the event. It was so good a line it came from advertising copy. His salary at the FDA was $17 500 a year, commensurate with other senior officials. But between 1953 and 1960, investigators found Welch earned $287 142 in publishing ventures (with Arthur’s firms). He claimed his innocence but stepped down from the FDA.  

No surprise that Rudolph Giuliani that stood beside the moron’s moron Trump and claimed the 2020 US Presidential election had been rigged (an idea take from the conspiracy- theory fall-back position before his surprise victory against Hillary Clinton, which he thought he’d lose) when he stepped down from his elected position as the mayor of New York City, and went into business as a consultant, quickly found work with Purdue and OxyContin. It was the marketing of leverage and the blame game.

A top executive from Purdue put it bluntly. ‘Government officials are more comfortable that Giuliani is advising Purdue. [He] would not take an assignment with a company that he felt was acting in an improper way.’

In 2001, when he first went into business with Purdue, the former mayor of New York’s net worth was around $1 million. Five years later, in 2001, Giuliani’s reported wealth was an income of $17 million and assets of $50 million. But he failed in framing OxContin abuse as a purely law and order problem. And he failed to convince anyone but the most partisan followers of the moron’s moron that electoral fraud had taken place. His collective failures have made him a multimillionaire.

When the blinkers of medical respectability and corporate responsibility are taken off, other patterns emerge. Racism worked. African Americans were less likely to be prescribed OxyContin. But in the war against drugs, they were more likely to go to jail. Especially, after OxyContin, heroin became the drug of choice.

Bureaucracy also works. Economists found that in five control states, where licenses for opioid medication had to be filled in triplicate, missed out on the OxyContin sales blitz. That sheltered them from the exponential growth in OxyContin overdose deaths, and they never caught up.

Money talks and money walks. We’ve been here before. Writing is an act of empathy. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the character Tom Buchanan, for example, is old money and enormously wealthy with property in New York. He’s reading The Rise of the Coloured Empires, when he meets his wife, Daisy’s cousin, the narrator, Nick Carraway. Buchanan isn’t much of a reader, but in the vanguard of the great replacement theory. He has other ideas, none of which are his own. But he’s just the man to tell how it is. And is highly moral, especially where the lower classes are concerned. Meyer Wolfshein, because he was Jewish, in Buchanan’s book was ‘a common swindler’. He liked to gawp at a good wreck. He knew he’d always be able to walk away.The Sacklers are third-generation money, but old ideas die hard, and then sprout back to life in new bodies.  The taproot of the opioid epidemic in America lies rotten in the grave.    

Blade Runner 2049, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, Writers  Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, Director Denis Villeneuve.

I started watching this because it was too early to go to bed and I couldn’t be bothered reading. I’d read Philp K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? And I’d seen the film based on the book. Blade Runner (1982) directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford as a Los Angeles cop in the dystopian LA of 2019. I’m not a fan of Philip K Dick. I’ve also read A Scanner Darkly. The film being better than the book is a collector’s item, but with Philip K Dick I prefer the screenplays. But the special effects are all that matter. They were terrific. Rutger Hauer’s speech about life and existentialism in deep space at the denouement had the taste of freshly made popcorn.  

Rick Deckard’s (Harrison Ford) job was to retire androids. In other words, Blade Runners killed the non-human, android.  K (Ryan Gosling) does the same job as Deckard for the LA police, but K is an android killing androids. I guess there’s a difference, but K is all too human. That’s a theme of Dick’s work. K’s companion Joi (Ana de Armas) is indeed a joy to look at, although sometimes when the spaceship/car is being attacked she flickers on and off like a Radio Rental telly, while he fiddles with the antennae the planet burns, and he’s got to land somewhere while being attacked by unruly natives with spears. Caesar’s modernistic slings and arrows fall short.

Bit of rise of the robots? Bit of a hero’s journey, with the corkscrew twist, where everything he thought to be true was based on a lie. A bit like listening to the moron’s moron. The film starts well. A crossover between the android and human population. The story of Jesus and Mary, but born not in a heaven of binary codes but an android womb. The story of corporations and how they have taken control of our planet. True. In other words, a mixed bag on the wrong plane.

I wondered if we’d seen the last of Harrison Ford. Foreshadowing it’s called. A technical term which means, see you soon Jimmy in Glasgow parlance, or in this case Decker. He’s hiding out in an uninhabited part of the planet with his jukebox and old Elvis and Frank Sinatra hits taking us back to the sixties when the king was middle-aged. Yeh, he’s really aged that much. It’s the uninhabited hotel used in The Shining.  But instead of snow, there’s been some interference and he’s been rendered invisible. Ho-hum. In such a technically advance society as 2049 there’ll be no hiding places. Odds on all the chickens will come home to roost and there’ll be no planet. But that’s another story. So two writers must plot an ending in which K versus Decker becomes K and Decker takes on the world. Hollow as a tin of Quality Street after I’ve broken the plastic seal, but with lots of shiny bits of paper to remind you of what was can no longer be.  

Celtic 2021-2022. Story of our season so far.

We’re six points behind Rangers in the league. Many of us—myself included—was willing to give the incoming manager Ange Postecoglou a free hit this season, especially considering the Eddie Howe and boardroom debacle. A squad not fit-for purpose. Want-aways, from two seasons ago, such as Edouard, Christie and Ayer talking the talk before they walked. We’re in the C-League of European football, which is about the level we’re at. But we’re playing some scintillating football. And if we could defend, the way we attacked, we’d be in the B-League of European football and top of the league. Our soft centre remains a major hangover. Running more, does not mean defending less. There’s been a spate of injuries to our key players. Despite this, we won the League Cup, and the winter-break has come at the right time for us. We’re bringing in reinforcements, predominantly, we’ve been told players from the J-League from which we brought Kyogo Furuhashi. We can beat Rangers, but whether we can win the league is a moot point. I’d guess around 50/50 and we’d need a bit of luck.

Win the league this year and the £40 million Champions League money and the team from Govan will be in financial freefall (I know, they already are), but if they win it, they can pay their debtors and it’s game on. It’s all about the money—we wasted on sub-standard players. Postecoglou tells it like it is. We have no plan B, but plan A might well be enough. The league is everything. All that stuff about giving him time is based on logic. The flipside is giving Rangers more respect than they deserve. And I come from the give them fuck-all school of the true believer. 8-10.  

Stars/Flops. Kyogo is king. Without his goals, particularly, the equaliser less than a minute after the opening against Hibs in the League Cup final, and we’d have been struggling. Jota, who missed the final, is not far behind Kyogo. The Portuguese winger scored five goals in five games before he was injured. Joe Hart has made vital saves and we’ve not had that since Fraser Forster. Tony Ralston has also been a revelation, scoring five goals. The goal against Ross County in 97 minutes tells you all you need to know about him. I didn’t rate him. In the same way, I didn’t rate Nir Bitton. Humble-pie for Boxing-Day’s fixture with a man-of-the-match performance, and a goal, from the stand-in captain.

Carl Startfelt is the accident that’s already happened, a gift to the opposition that keeps giving.

Remember at the start of the campaign there was a debate about whether Leigh Griffiths would or should start. That’s how far we’ve come. Albian Ajeti is still here, in the meantime. A major disappointment had been the injury to our Greek striker, Giorgos Giakoumakis. Little has been seen of him since his missed penalty against Livingston cost us two points. With Kyogo out, this was his big chance to show what he’s about. It’s uphill for him now. A real delight to see eighteen-year-old Joey Dawson, from the Academy, coming on and almost scoring.  Any talk about Christopher Julien return to the first-team is shut down. James Forrest comes and goes. Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo was on the bench against St Johnston. Left back, like the softs centres, is proving as difficult to fill as Kieran Tierney’s boots. Liam Scales has played a few games in that position and even scored a goal. We’re awaiting another Japanese import.  

Cameron Carter-Vickers isn’t a flop, but is average. I’d big hopes for Mikey Johston (I’m still waiting). Liel Abada, with ten goals, has the numbers on his back to suggest promise rather than substance. James McCarthy started very poorly against his old team, Hamilton, but has improved. But it’s difficult to offering him a four-year contract as anything other than wishful thinking.  

Ange Postecoglou reminds us that the team isn’t what he wants it to be. He’s handled whatever has been flung at him with aplomb, while reminding detractors he’s managed in the World Cup, he’s been a success wherever he goes. Kyogo is his signing. Jota a lucky turn of the transfer cards. Starfelt an unlucky turn. With no plan B and a soft centre, Ange needs to keep the poker face and keep turning over aces. We had reminders that new Celtic managers who come in and win the League Cup go on to win the league. Let’s hope for 2022 that doesn’t change. We’re certainly a lot stronger than 2021. Mate, in Ange we trust. Give him the money.  

St Mirren 0—0 Celtic.

We thought it might happen. Tony Ralston pulled us out of a hole against Ross County. But we can’t score without Kyogo. We can’t score without Jota. And so it proved.  Our game against Ranger put back later in the football calendar. Playing without 60 000 Celtic fans helps only one team. That was a positive. But here’s where it gets tricky. Keep winning is what we prayed for. Six changes to the Celtic team that triumphed at Hampden on Sunday.

No David Turnbull. Liel Abada took many of the nine corners in the first-half and his crossing tended to be poor. Josip Juranovic came on for the last thirty minutes. His crossing was better. He even had a shot on goal from a free kick that whizzed past the post.  But on the bright side, the accident that’s already happened, the humble Swede, isn’t in the squad as he’s suspended. But this game would have suited Starfelt. St Mirren offered next to nothing in attack. Scott Bain in goal (don’t know where Joe Hart was). The Celtic keeper had little to do.

Curtis Main bundled him into the net early, then had a decent chance in the box in the second-half. Carter-Vickers almost scored an own-goal.

St Mirren also had their problems to seek. They played with a trio of teenagers in their midfield. Sat in and looked to score from the rare breakaways and from corners and free kicks. Celtic, with around eighty-percent possession, even more in the second half, but still managed to look suspect in defence. Early in the game, Cameron Carter-Vickers, for example, having to make a last ditch tackle on a ball he had in his possession.

But a big night, for the rise of the little men. Owen Moffat broke away near half time and fashioned half a chance, with Rogic and Abada unable to get on his cross ball. But most attacks came down the left (this is a pattern, even without injuries) with Mikey Johnston looked to be our main threat, and have the beating of the Australian full backs, but then faded. In the first five minutes he cut inside, and the St Mirren goalkeeper, Dean Lyness pulled off a terrific save. Liam Scales had two shots on goal, one deflected, neither of which troubled the keeper. Bitton had a free-kick after twelve minutes, which was well saved. Rogic had a pop at goal after twenty-five minutes. Abada scampered around and didn’t get on the end of much.

Five minutes added time after the ninety, but we didn’t score as we did at Ross County. Over thirty shots on the St Mirren goal. We pick up a point from our game in hand, but drop two.  A great night for Rangers. They stay six points clear.  

Ross County 1—2 Celtic.

Liel Abada scored a tap-in from fa Liam Scales pass in twenty minutes. I wasn’t sure who would play in what position, but I knew which way we’d play. We’d go forward, and close down the opposition. And I didn’t care how we played—just win.

That’s pretty much how the first-half panned out.

Bitton came closest, before Abada’s opener with a free header from a corner, which was well saved.

I guessed Ralston and Juranovic on the right. Scales and Montgomery on the left. But it was Scales who found himself in the most dangerous positions. His overlap created the goal and in 47 minutes (extra-time of the first-half) he scooped over the bar from the edge of the box.  Rogic, who was the best player on the park in our last game, dropped to the bench, only to come on and create the winner, of extra-time of extra-time. Turnbull played through the middle, as on Sunday. The saddest part of so many injuries is that players like Mikey Johnston and Giorgos Giakoumakis, who are understudies missed their chance to show what they can do. The Greek striker, in particular, is a big miss.

Abada looked closest to making it two goals up and the cushion that meant we could relax more. Juranovic’s pass found the County keeper Ashley Maynward-Brewer outside the box. Abada rounded him, but from a tight angle his shot was easily cleared by Keith Watson.

David Turnbull had three free kicks from outside the box, none of which troubled the keeper. Nir Bitton took one, which also came to nothing. Juranovic at least made the keeper make a save, when we were chasing a winner.

The second half started much the same as the first half. Ross County looking to hit on the break. Turnbull came close with a turn and dink from outside the box.

Malky McKay’s substitution swung the game more towards the home team. Carl Startfelt lost every ball in the air to the towering centre-forward substitute, Jordan White. Scales didn’t help matters playing a rash past backwards towards Carter-Vickers, only for the ball to be intercepted and County to win a corner. Scales lost his man at the corner and Jack Baldwin equalised.

 Celtic had around twenty minutes of normal time to score the winner. Rangers were well ahead at Ibrox and we would have slipped six points behind.

Starfelt received the first of his yellow cards minutes later. He’d went down in the box, clutching his nose, which was bleeding. But quite simply, Jordan White hadn’t done anything illegal. He’d won four out of four of his headers. This was the old Startfelt, outmanned by a more physical opponent. With Welsh warming up (it’s always easy in retrospect to make the right decisions) it would have been easier to take him off.

Starfelt got sent off for bundling the County winger down at the touchline. Not a good performance from the Swede or his central partner Carter-Vickers. This was epitomised by him shoving into the back of his opponent deep in the County half, and a later wayward shot at goal.

Ralston was on hand to head away a deep Samuels cross to the back post, near the end of ninety minutes. But with six minutes added time it was Celtic doing all the pressing. A penalty claim was waved away by the referee who adjudged a shot by McGregor not to be hand ball. That looked to be that. But it was last kick of the ball stuff. Rogic dinked a ball to the back post. Ralston was magnificent in getting up about his marker and guiding the ball into the goal. Yesssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss.   

Ewan Gault (2021) The Sound of Sirens.

I took Ewan Gault’s novel with me to get my Covid booster and flu jab. An hour-and-half waiting. It’s a pocket-sized book with the print a bit too wee for my liking. But I got stuck in and read most of the short twenty-six chapters in one long wheeze. I kept a few of the pages back to enjoy the denouement when my mind was a little clearer.

Crime/Thriller category. Tartan Noir. Ian Rankin, who wrote William McIlvanney’s latest Laidlaw, knew better than most, the Glasgow detective didn’t solve crimes but solved the world. The setting, Port Cawdor, bypassed by an A-road. Train station closed by the Beeching cuts. The headland were everybody knows everybody else’s business, and it’s a crime to be young. Not that they need much help with the heroin problem in a wee fishing village making national headlines. We’re more in Alan Warner’s Morvern Caller and The Sopranos territory.

First lines. Any aspiring novelist or story writer is told it’s the first line that reels the reader in.  You need to feel it on your tongue that this is the story for you.

The morning I got out of my dead cousin’s bunk and went to the mirror. I still wasn’t used to being at sea and felt sick half the time.

Books ask questions of the reader. The obvious one here is how did his cousin die? Which has to do with plot.

The less obvious one is who is the narrator? Well, that’s simple and complicated, as it should be.

We’ve got both insider and outside accounts. By insider I mean first-person accounts, the story as told by ‘I’ seventeen-year-old Malky Campbell. Bildungsroman. When he gets off his uncle’s fishing boat he buys a bottle of vodka and Great Expectations. I could witter on about the symbolism between the child Pip and the convict Magwitch, but really, nobody gives a fuck.

Amid the Dickensian poverty of Port Cawdor is the dual income, Tory voting, affluence, of those that have had a leg up and made it. Characters such as Inspector Stark, his headmaster wife and Zoe, the head girl at the school. One of the ‘brainiacs’ destined for medical school and better things, which meant never having to return to Port Cawdor.

Inspector Stark as his name suggests, is not one of the chummy insiders at the local nick. He’s the outsider that knows he’s becoming a cliché, investigating the case of why and how Malky Campbell’s cousin, Joe, died on board his da’s fishing boat. We are no longer with the ‘I’ narrator, but third-person, distanced, but close enough to the action. His goal is clear, he’s not overly concerned with the local crime family, the Kerr’s, or the collateral damage they’ve caused, but wants to get Mr Big.   

Junkie Josh sums up the gap (lines so good it was used twice):

‘We are the unprofitable bycatch of humanity. They’d like to throw us in the sea’.  

Literary representation or merit. I’m often not sure what that means. But I’m jealous of how good some of the writing is.

…long days of summer break sweet as a drunk girl’s mouth. Honeysuckle.

I tried to catch the cleaning woman’s eye, she was standing sentry still…A shabby pigeon bobbled across her newly cleaned floor, drawing a wing over its face, like a person going to court trying to hide behind a blanket.

Weaknesses—not really—but things I’d have looked at.

Plot: Although Zoe mirrors Nicky as the good girl/bad girl Malky could hook up with. Nicky’s shambolic and heroin addicted lifestyle means that they meet when they meet. Seems to me naturalistic (whatever that means).

Zoe meeting Malky in a petrol station off the A9, seems forced and unnaturalistic.

Secondary Characters: You don’t want them to be like the identikit Highland towns with shortbread and tartan that Malky hammers through with Zoe in the car. I can’t remember the name of the entertainer who explained that when the curtain goes up, his character had to be dressed a certain way, with shiny black shoes, and sound a certain way. In the next act, his character could be wearing carpet slippers and the audience wouldn’t notice. But the Council workers—Gav, Iggy, Pete and Frank—whose jobs I’m sure Ewan Gault is familiar with (as I am) seem much of a muchness. I couldn’t pick them apart.  But perhaps that’s my failing and not the author’s.

Port Cawdor lives, dive in deep. Ewan Gault has much to be proud of. Read on.  

Derren Brown (2021) A Book of Secrets: Finding Solace in a Stubborn World.

I can’t remember very much about Derren Brown’s guide to practicing stoicism in an unhappy world, Happy. This is the follow up. Pretty good fun, more like a chapbook and diary (his father died during Covid). I’ll no doubt forget all the lessons learned here too.

 Stoics taught us fortitude comes from controlling our thoughts and actions. The common mistake we make is to try and manage things we cannot (serenity prayer). Derren suggests, You are not fragile, you have all the resources you need.

Without stoic wisdom, what is our default mode? Mine is to read books and leave the real world behind, or in front, or wherever it goes when you’re reading.

No feeling is final. Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours.

Knowing Everything.

Let everything happen to you.

Beauty and terror

Just keep going

Leonard Cohen Beautiful Losers:

How can I begin anything new with all of yesterday in me?

Hidden Ambiguities.

I remember moments of my own excessive certainty; my many years as a Christian patiently explaining to anyone who would listen how Jesus must have risen from the dead. There were simply no other explanations for the events that took place. P31

Richard Holloway.

Religious mansplaining.

Whenever a spiritual revelation is enshrined in an institution invented to carry its meaning through time it is easy to understand how its guardians can become overprotective of the treasure they are responsible for, especially if their access to the original it theoretical rather than experiential…there is a clear tendency in subsequent generations to overdefine and concretize the original revelation.

Divinise the one to whom the original revelation came.

Cf. political revelations, ‘Marixsm-Leninism’. Maoism, Fascism.

The New Seekers in the early seventies would like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. The Seekers, a small Chicago based group that believed the world would end 21st December 1954 at 7am. A flood would wipe out humanity. But they would be saved. Picked up by UFOs with whom they were in contact by psychic links with the planet Clarion via automatic writing.  The group had been infiltrated by social psychologists that monitored what happened next, when the flood didn’t happen and the alien never showed up. The group, like the Jehovah’s before them had given away all of their belongings and removed all metal items from their clothing such as fly zips and bra straps, in accordance with the instructions they had received.  

Tears and disbelief were put aside when a message came through the channel of automatic writing that the group had been spared the coming apocalypse. And because of their belief God had also spared the world.

The believers doubled-down on their belief with an outpouring of evangelism. Much like anti-vaxxers, Trumpism and a belief in QAnon hadn’t been channelled, not be automatic writing, but by Russian state hackers.

Michael W. Miller, writing in the Observer about Janet Malcolm makes sense of this cognitive dissonance by quoting her.

Hypocrisy is the grease that keeps society functioning in an agreeable way, by allowing for human fallibility and reconciling the seemingly irreconcilable need for order and pleasure.  

Aristotle: the good life as principally steering a course between the extremes of temperament. Neither intellectual cowardice, nor plastic New Age wisdom.

We have largely forgotten the role of Fortune in our lives. The Greeks were very keen to remind us. Pride, in our modern mantras, at the mercy of FATE.

Schopenhauer mankind trapped between pain and boredom.

Slippery selves every face having its opposite.

Rilke: People in love are the furthest distance.

Arthur C Clarke (1962) Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic [or Star Trek]

We live longer and more happily when we have friends around us.

David Bosiano (2018) Emotional Success.

Prosocial feelings, no man is an island.


Pride in ourself(ves) and others.


John Paul Satre: ‘bad faith’ , an insincere existence.

Nietschean ideal of ‘Become who you are’.

Jonathan Rauch (2018) The Happiness Curve.

Wait, Wait. Wait. Life gets better after your forties.

Paul Harris, American magician: A baby arrives in the world and embarks upon a gradual process of disenchantment.

Busyness. A marker of success. Doing becomes being.

Identity: cognitive dissonance, rationalize and edit out what does not fit in with notions of ourself.

Jim Steinsmeyer, designer of magic and theatrical special effects.  Magicians guard an empty safe. [cf Wizard of Oz, when the curtain pulled a man pedalling a bike and shouting through a megaphone]

Emanuel Levinas: Face to face encounters the bedrock of our existence.

Beauty, striking beauty, causes the body to ache.

Shyness, can make those suffering from the condition (introverts) seem cold and aloof.  Susan Cain (2012) Quiet.

Shyness a fear of negative judgement. 

277 Schopenhauer. Most people discover ‘when they look back on their life that they have been living the whole time ad interim, and they are surprised to see that which they let go by so unregarded and unenjoyed was precisely their life, was precisely that in expectation of which they lived.’

Alan Cumming (2021) Baggage: Tales From a Fully Packed Life.

I was vaguely aware who Alan Cumming is. For independent film consortiums, Miriam Margolyes seems to be the pensioner of choice to go on adventures and sell the results to BBC, ITV or Channel 4. She’s been sent to America a few times and to Australia. The latest wheeze is Scotland. Yes, Bonnie old Scotland. Who’d have thought of that? Monopoly money for old rope. They flung in Alan Cummings as a guide, and driver of their motorhome. He’s Scottish, I didn’t know that. Stanley Kubrick though he was American, so I’m in good company. I wouldn’t know a good actor from a ham. But my partner who watched bits of the scenery in the Grand Tour said Cumming’s dad was bad to him. That piqued my interest. Now is the time to fling in some quotes about happy families being all the same. We’re off to a flyer. Cumming’s da was a sadistic cunt.

The book starts with discord. He’s in a marriage, I wouldn’t call it unhappy. They’re trying for a child. She’s an old acquaintance from drama school. A few years older. She’s the star turn with the operatic voice. The diva.  He’s the man with a childish face that gets parts playing adolescents. I thought Cumming was gay. So being married to a woman (he later marries a man) was the done thing. And if you’re going to do the done thing, you might as well do it early.

Before he went from the West End of Glasgow (the snobby bit) to Drama school he worked for D.C. Thompson and Company near Dundee, and near his home. He wrote the Astrology bits and pieces. You will find a stranger in Uranus. Not quite, but similar. The Fiction department. A Thompson clone was on ever floor.  When we grew up, Cummings being much the same age as me, they produced The Beano and Dandy, but also The Sunday Post, with Oor Wullie in it, a true Scottish legend. Cummings points out D.C.Thompson had a London address to give their publishing empire legitimacy. No unions, but Unionism and no Catholics were a given. Cummings ticked all the right boxes. Gay men or women, of course, didn’t exist and were too risqué for even the Fictional department.

I knew he’d done the MC in Cabaret. I hadn’t seen him in that, but watched (I suppose like everybody else) the film version with Liza Minelli. I’d read the Christopher Isherwood books, Mr Norris Changes Train and Goodbye to Berlin on which the musical is based. Cumming suggests that Isherwood and W.H. Auden et al weren’t there to fight fascism or do anything highbrow, but simply wanting to escape England and sample cock. No big surprise.


‘It’s hard to be your authentic self when you don’t know who you really are.’

Cummings was in New York, close enough in his apartment to witness 9/11 and the fall of the Twin Towers. He acknowledges the fear and mistrust of Muslims and those of non-white, pasty, Scottish skin colour that ensued. The finding of a scapegoat and the invasion of Afghanistan, followed by Iraq. And how this all fed into the moron moron’s Trumpism (maybe I’m reading too much into a general observation).

Sean Connery, Billy Connolly, Faye Dunaway, Tina Turner, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Halley Berry, Gore Vidal…they’re all here (apart from Rod Stewart and Elton John). The book was five years late. Too early for a chapter on Miriam Margolyes and her observations on bowel movements and the howls of laughter that ensures. Ho-hum. Read on.    

Celtic 1—0 Motherwell

A Tom Rogic goal in injury-time of the first-half was enough to win it, but left us with a nervy finish. The Australian at time looks a class apart. The free-flowing football associated with Ange Postecoglu is still there to see, but the goals have begun to dwindle.  I looked at the Celtic team and wasn’t sure who was playing through the middle in the traditional, number-9 position. The good news is Kyogo’s injury isn’t as serious as we imagined. My first guess was Liel Abada, but he was playing wide. Forrest also started but on the left. Perhaps even Rogic. But it was the same core with Nir Bitton at the base, McGregor further forward, and David Turnbull pushing even further up the park.  When Pep Guardiola does that type of thing we call him a genius, but then again, he has choices—and is a genius.

The surprise was no Mikey Johnston. I’d have thought him to be certain starter (with Jotta out) and the way we normally play. Most of the team stays much the same, which gives a platform to build from. Mikey Johnston did come up for Forrest, who is added to our injury list, only for the substitute to be subbed near the end, for another of our short-term injury candidates to make a welcome return—Anthony Ralston—to make a crucial block on a Tony Watt equaliser.

Celtic dominated early possession, with Motherwell finding it difficult to get out of their half. In other words it was a usual Premier league game, but Motherwell had a bit of bite and a lot of fight. James Forrest really should have put us ahead in nine minutes, racing through on goal with only the keeper to beat, I thought he’d put it past the post. A replay showed Liam Kelly had saved it and it should have been a corner. The referee missed the save and the corner, and a number of harsh tackles that went unpunished.

Callum Slattery, from the edge of the box, hit the crossbar. Kevin Van Veen picked up the first yellow card after stepping in front of Joe Hart, who was trying to take a quick free kick. The Celtic keeper then made a double save, on thirty-minutes, which bettered the Motherwell keeper’s early save. Sean Goss’s shot from the penalty spot came through a ruck of players. Hart got down to push it away, but up in the air. Tony Watt looked odds on to score from three-yards out, but Hart made himself big and blocked his shot. Motherwell were on the ascendency.

Mikey Johnston had what was once for him a typical mazy run into the box, his shot hitting the side-netting. A mis-hit clearance fell to Turnbull, whose shot ricocheted off the back off a Motherwell defender and forced Kelly to adjust his feet and go the other way, and palm the ball over the bar.

Rogic stepped into put us ahead. A free-kick from Turnbull across the box, dummied by McGregor and finished by the Australian.

A topsy-turvy first-half was followed by a more settled performance by Celtic in the second-half, but as the match neared the end, we needed that second goal to settle the nerves and it never came.

Rogic had a quieter second half, but had another few chances to add to his early goal. Mikey Johnson shot high and wide and had a back post header saved. But we expected more from Rogic from a Turnbull pass, but Kelly saved. It was all about seeing it out, and claiming victory. No Forrest. No Kyogo. No Jota.  Next up Ross County.      

Celtic 3—2 Real Betis

Team captain, Callum McGregor gave it with  the ‘we’re going all out to win’ rhetoric you’d expect. Ange Postcoglou talked about game time. It’s easy to see what he means with none of the players that started against Dundee United in the final Europa Cup group game. Half-million quid for three points to the winner. In terms of attacking football, Postcoglou seems to have no Plan B. But here is Plan B in action, when the Australian says he’s not an accountant.

Celtic started with their usual high-tempo. They got a corner in the second minute, swung in by Abada. And a corner in the third minute, takes from the right-hand side, also by Liel Abada. It’s not secret Celtic don’t score enough goals from corners and free kicks. Somebody better tell Stephen Welsh that. His deft header had us one up.

But it was Welsh that lost the ball, just over the half-way line in seventeen minutes. Iglesias plays Lainez behind a static Celtic defence to send the Mexican international through on goal. Urhoghide looks a bit raw, but meaty in early tackles and good in the air as you’d expect from a young centre-half, although deployed here—and in pre-season friendlies mainly—at right-back. He covered the ground to put Lainez off, and he shot past the post. In a late clash with Nir Bitton, he suffered a head injury, both players down and adding nine-minutes added time.

Minutes later, Scott Bain made a decent save from Cristian Tello. And it’s all Betis. Bain darts out to block Joaquin’s effort and clear his lines for a corner.

Ismaila Soro and Lainez got involved in a stramash, with the Celtic man accused of using an elbow, with an automatic red, but the ref, rightly flashed yellow. I don’t see much of a future for the Ivorian

Almost half an hour in and the Betis keeper, Rui Silva, got caught with the ball at his feet. That happened a few times during the match. Albian Ajeti got in front of him and the ball was whacked off him, cannoning wide. But Ajeti pulled up and had to come off.

Here’s where it gets worrying, Kyogo came on. Kyogo and Jotta scored most of our recent goals. The Portuguese winger—as we know—is out until New Year. The Japanese icon is our main man. He’s not quite Henrik territory, but with Giakoumakis injured, his value to the team increases more and more. When he hunted down a Betis defender in the second half, and pulled up, I think most Celtic supporters held their breath. He had to come off—a massive worry with seven games coming up on the bounce.

Four goals in nine minutes turned the game into an exciting spectacle. Not that it wasn’t end-to-end before that.

Bitton side-footed a corner, Silva saved it on the line. Bain held a Lainez shot from the right. A cut-back to Ruibal and it would have been a certain goal.

 Callum McGregor, David Turnbull and Greg Taylor come on. But McCarthy seems to have been limping and there was still twenty-five minutes of normal time. I thought the former Hamilton player was a great signing. But a four-year contract, in retrospect, seems the same kind of wrong call that brought Kyogo on—only to limp off. Montgomery playing a more advanced role didn’t do enough to suggest he’ll be in the first team any time soon. I’m not sure about Luke Shaw. I thought he did OK.  Liam Scales did enough to suggest he might well be there, or there abouts in the coming month.

Bain was unlucky not to save the equalising goal and make it 1—1 Joaquin played the ball behind the Celtic defence. Iglesias, on the shoulder of the last defender (as VAR proved) got into the box and got his shot on target. Bain pushed it against the post. It came off the post and hit him and went over the line. More of an own goal than a goal for the Betis’s target man.

Kyogo goes off.

Mikey Johnston beats his man in the area and fizzes a cross across goal. Ewan Henderson, on the back post, scores with his first touch in seventy-two minutes.

Borja Iglesias, in behind the Celtic defence, beats the offside trap and shoots past Bain.

2—2 and with ten minutes of normal time remaining, it could go either way. Johnston plays in Abada. Edge of the penalty area (checked by VAR) just in the box when he’s brought down. Giakoumakis costs us points with his penalty miss against Livingston. Juranovic with his dinked penalty had us thinking we’d win in Germany. Turnbull slotted home with his penalty fizzing into the corner of the net and having us hoping, rather than believing, we can win this fixture.

With five minutes of normal time remaining Bitton and Urhoghide go for the same ball, played in for a corner. Both Celtic players stay down for five minutes. We’ve ran out of subs. Both get up and play on—and they played well.

Mikey Johnson has the ball in the net after some clever play by Abada, but VAR rules the Israeli winger offside and the goal is disallowed.

With almost ten minutes remaining, Celtic and seeing it out, isn’t something we can consider. The ball break for Iglesias in a crowded area but Bain is quick off his line, even though he should have scored.  

A cross from the right, Willian Jose’s header, looks in, but rattles the bar. The rebound hits Canales, but Bitton clears from under the bar.

If we hadn’t run out of subs and out of time, then Mikey Johnston really should have got the hook. Last three minutes of added time. Three Celtic players advance on the Betis goal. Silva races out to the edge of his box. Johnston passes to Abada, but his pass doesn’t reach him. I like Mikey. He’s been bit part, but now he’s a big player for us. He needs to step up.

Shocker, but we saw it out. And we don’t often say that in Europe. Nine points. £4.5 million banked, useful for the signings that are coming in. Few of these second-eleven Celtic players will be here next year.