“Generational forgetting”: A year-end reflection

As 2012 comes to a close, there are a few drug- and alcohol-related stories I’d like to forget. But forgetting isn’t always the best way to cope with the unpleasant repercussions of US drug policy. For several generations, social psychologist Lloyd Johnston’s statistics have quantified the adage that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to experiment with bath salts (more on that in a minute).

In 1975, Johnston and his colleagues at University of Michigan began conducting the nationwide survey, Monitoring the Future. By pairing these results with the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (initiated in 1971), we have been able to get a fairly accurate annual look at drug use prevalence for almost four decades. Both surveys were inspired, in part, by the increase in youthful experimentation with psychoactive substances (especially marijuana) in the 1970s. While substance use trends come and go, academic interest in youthful drug use has remained stable.

The good thing about studying high schoolers: We get older, they stay the same age

In examining trends in drug use over the course of several decades, Johnston and his colleagues noticed a pattern: Continue reading →

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Reflecting on Idaho U.S. Senator Mike Crapo’s Unfortunate and Humbling DUI

cab-1.0U.S. Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho had the unhappy experience of being arrested in Alexandria, Virginia for DUI on Sunday, December 23rd, at 12:45am, after failing to stop at a red light.  His reported blood alcohol level was 0.11 percent, somewhat above the 0.08 percent legal limit.  Crapo later expressed deep regret for the incident.  The episode has since been recounted in numerous TV, online, and newspaper reports.

Not the least interesting aspect of the incident is that Crapo (pronounced CRAY-poe) is a Mormon.  Contrary to prevailing impressions, however, survey studies show that Mormonism is not a wholly abstemious faith community.  A 1989 survey, for example, found that about half of adult Mormons sampled (49.3 percent) had consumed alcohol within the past year, including 31 percent reporting drinking within the past 30 days.  Sentiment toward alcohol in the Mormon community isn’t quite as bone dry as U.S. popular opinion might have imagined either.  A 2011 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life found that only a little more than half (54 percent) of Mormon respondents thought “drinking alcohol” was “morally wrong,” 38 percent thought it “not a moral issue,” and six percent thought it “morally acceptable.”  These frequencies contrasted with Mormon views of abortion, for example, where 74 percent of respondents selected the “morally wrong” response. Continue reading →

Call for Participants: BackStory Radio Seeks Questions on Drugs History

Editor’s Note: Okay, Points readers– show that analogue crew over at NPR what you’ve got.

Thrilling Sounds of Yesteryear

Always wanted to be on the radio?  Here’s your chance!  BackStory, a history-focused public radio show, is tackling drugs.  They’re looking for input from historians and non-historians alike.  Here’s the scoop: BackStory is a weekly, hour-long show hosted by three historians:  Brian Balogh and Peter Onuf of the University of Virginia, and Ed Ayers of the University of Richmond.  We air on various NPR stations around the country.

Each week, we put together a handful of stories and ideas to illuminate some broad historical topic:  body image, say, or US-Cuban relations, or epidemic disease.  Points was kind enough to feature our show on alcohol over the summer.  And now we’re tackling a show on drugs, so we turn to you all again.

Specifically, we’re looking for folks to call in to the show for a little conversation with our hosts.  Some of our favorite callers have brought up personal stories or anecdotes from the present day; the discussion with our hosts helps historicize what’s going on now.  But if you just have a burning question about the history of drugs, or an idea you want to bounce off three historians, that’s great too.  It’ll only take about ten minutes, and should be fun, low-key, and illuminating — and you get to be on the radio!  We’re not a live show, so calls will be recorded ahead of time.  The show will be released Jan 11th.

We’re looking to record calls right after New Year’s, so if you’re interested, let us know asap.  Drop us an email at backstory [at] virginia [dot] edu, or leave a note on our webpage. We’ll get in touch with you to tell you a little more about how this works.  Thanks!  Jess, Associate Producer

David Foster Wallace: Life, Writing, Addiction, and Recovery

Editor’s Note:  As of this post, Points will be going on a “holiday hiatus” schedule– a light posting regime that reflects the editorial crew’s commitment to spending the holidays doing life rather than history.  We’ll resume regular posting at the end of January 2013.  I should also note that this will be my last post as Managing Editor; Eoin Cannon will take over that role next month with elan, aplomb, and a host of other personal traits that sound like exotic desserts. 

Viking, 2012

Given that the idea for Points originated when I wrote  a reflection on David Foster Wallace’s death for the ADHS “Daily Register” back in 2009 (scroll about halfway down if you want to see it), it seems fitting that my last editorial effort here is the interview that follows with D.T. Max, author of the impressive new biography of Wallace, Every Love Story is a Ghost StoryWith the help of Rich C., one of Wallace’s sponsors, Max has constructed a picture of the author’s life that gives addiction and recovery the pride of place they deserve.  This account reveals a hugely gifted intellectual struggling not only with clinical depression, but with another conundrum– less clinical but still debilitating: how to speak and write the language of the heart in a world that values the body and the head over that more delicate organ.

Points: Not much of the critical literature on DFW attends to the role of addiction and recovery in his life and work.  Your book puts them at the center, arguing that his participation in 12-Step culture accounts in many ways for this turn away from postmodern form and (non)feeling  and towards fiction that is earnest, morally engaged, and “‘about what it is like to be a fucking human being’”  (178).  Can you talk a bit about how you came to see addiction and recovery as central to our understanding of DFW?

DTM: I think the single biggest force on David, from the time he entered a twelve-step program in 1988 for the first time until his death, was that program. Continue reading →

The Points Interview — Michael E. Staub

Editor’s Note:  Michael E. Staub’s  Madness is Civilization: When the Diagnosis Was Social, 1948-1980 (University of Chicago Press, 2011) is bedecked with a number of favorable comments at its Amazon storewindow site.  Staub’s previously authored books include an oral history, titled Love My Rifle More than You, about a woman soldier who served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.   The author suggested this work might also interest drug and alcohol historians. 

  1. Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

It would depend on how old this hypothetical bartender was. Is she old enough to remember the 1960s? Let’s assume that she is. Then I’d ask her to remember her reading of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Verge of Time or seeing Alan Bates in King of Hearts or listening to Arlo Guthrie’s riff in “Alice’s Restaurant,” where he discusses how he evaded the draft not because he yelled at the military psychiatrist that he wanted to “kill, kill, kill” but because he’d been arrested for littering. (Admittedly, this is a pretty cultured bartender I am concocting, but it’s my bartender and I’ll imagine who I want to.) So I’d tell the bartender how the 1960s are routinely remembered today for all kinds of things like hippies, Che Guervara, Tricky Dick, Neil Armstrong, Ho Chi Minh, Black Power, and SDS, among others. But what almost always gets left out of the history books is how much critical and popular attention in the 1960s and 1970s was lavished on issues relating to madness and the asylum. And I’d say that explorations into madness often became a means to address a host of other political and social concerns, ranging from the dysfunction of the nuclear family to the devastations of militarism to the problems of gender and race relations to the failures of the educational system. As one social psychologist put it in the early 1970s, and I am paraphrasing here, this was an era in US history when many Americans felt that the entire country had gone crazy, and the question for many was how to maintain their sanity in an increasingly insane society. That’s what my book is about.   Continue reading →

The Wire at Ten– Jonathan Simon, Wiring in the Empirical

Editor’s note– We round out our consideration of “The Wire at Ten” with a post by legal, historical, and policy studies heavyweight Jonathan Simon.  Simon is the Adrian Kragen Professor of Law at UC Berkeley, where he teaches classes on criminal law and socio-legal studies; he is also the author of multitudinous law review and criminology articles as well as several monographs, including Governing through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear (Oxford University Press, 2009), and the forthcoming Mass Incarceration on Trial: America’s Courts and the Future of Imprisonment (New Press 2013). Simon’s post today closes out our series on HBO’s The Wire with a consideration of the overlaps–and gaps– between the show’s narrative “realism” and the empiricism that goes by that name in the contemporary legal academy. Thanks again to all the Wire fans (and non-fans) who contributed to the series: Joe Spillane, Carlo Rotella, Sergio Campos, Stan Corkin, and Jack Halberstam.  All your pieces matter!

The popularity of HBO’s The Wire among legal academics — especially scholars of criminal law–responds to the same transformations in the legal field that have made empirical studies increasingly influential there.  But might the satisfaction of getting “realism” from a DVD (or download) deter a scholar from trading the couch for the backseat of a police car?

This is What Empiricism Looks Like

This is What Empiricism Looks Like

Empirical knowledge about law is enjoying unprecedented prestige in both law schools and courts. Continue reading →

Call for Proposals: “Challenging Punishment: Race, Public Health, and the War on Drugs”

Harry Anslinger, the Original Drug Czar, 1930-1962

Editor’s Note: last summer, Points ran a call for participants in a working group focused on “Challenging Punishment”; this conference is a related but separate event, with its own deadlines.

Friday 4 October and Saturday 5 October, 2013 will see the Challenging Punishment Conference, a two-day critical dialogue among scholars and researchers; health and legal workers; activists and advocates; artists and cultural producers to discuss the relevant issues about the War on Drugs, declared by President Richard Milhouse Nixon in 1971 and now in its fifth decade. The meetings will be held in New York City, on the campus of Columbia University and at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (New York Public Library). The institutional sponsor is the Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS), at Columbia University. Organizers Donna Murch, Associate Professor of History, Rutgers University and Samuel Roberts, Associate Professor of History (Columbia University) and Sociomedical Sciences (Mailman School of Public Health) invite interested parties to submit detailed abstracts of no more than 500 words, describing papers, projects, or panels to challengingpunishment [at] gmail [dot] com by 15 February 2013.

We are facing a moment of crisis and opportunity in the United States’ War(s) on Drugs (WoD). Official federal sanction against drug use is nearly a century old. For many decades since, there have been dissenting voices calling for the relaxation or abandonment of criminal penalties in favor of addiction treatment, mental health care provision, and other public health measures. More recently, even many law enforcement officials, former drug warriors, and conservative opinion makers have declared the War on Drugs a resounding failure. Punitive response continues nonetheless as the nation’s dominant domestic and international drug policy; and drug-related prosecutions since 1980 constitute the largest category of offenses contributing to the expansion of the prison system and — more generally — the carceral state. The War on Drugs is now a crisis of immense proportions.

This conference’s title, “Challenging Punishment,” has two meanings. On the one hand, it refers to the current state of substance abuse policy — which favors incarceration and social immobilization (punishment) over mental health care provision and community empowerment — that very literally challenges the realization of social justice, autonomy, and freedom. At the same time, the participants assembled for this conference will individually and collectively challenge this state of affairs within a wide range of academic/disciplinary research agendas, professional engagements, political mobilizations, and creative expressions.

Topics to be addressed will include (but are not limited to): the carceral state, criminal and juvenile justice policy; importance of race, class gender, sexuality, citizenship status and indigeneity in driving drug policy and mass incarceration; public health and therapeutic culture; punitive vs. redistributive social policy; informal, illicit and underground economies; licit drugs and pharmaceutical industry; culture wars and drug wars; and finally, mobilizing and building coalitions against the War on Drugs.