Happy Holidays from Points!

It’s been quite the year here at Points. We published 93 posts from 27 contributors, including two roundtables on Mad Men and Howard Becker’s canonical book Becoming a Marihuana User. We ran three tributes to scholars we’ve lost over the past twelve months (Joseph Gusfield, Ernie Kurtz and Madelon Powers), and featured seven interviews with Fiction Points, with eight more coming from scholars who’ve written nonfiction works on drug and alcohol history.

In 2015 we covered topics as disparate as alcohol in communist Yugoslavia, the “big tent” of addiction scholarship, and a review of “Spirited Republic,” an exhibit on America’s relationship with alcohol currently on view at the National Archives. We explored the role of toxicology reports in the deaths of those killed in police actions, and explored, with Joseph Spillane, the history of “The Forgotten Drug War.” Contributing editors Michael Durfee revealed the continued importance of the Crack Era, while Bob Beach took a deep dive into Harry J. Anslinger’s Gore File and found amazing things there. We’ve welcomed over a dozen guest bloggers, and heard from scholars who have been with Points from the beginning. We’ve grown, evolved and transformed, and we couldn’t have done it without you, our readers.

This is a season of renewal and reflection, and a time of gratitude and thanksgiving. Fortunately, it’s also a time of rest and peace. With that, we’re announcing that Points will be on hiatus until January 22nd so that we can rest and recuperate, in order to get ready for even more unique and insightful material for the next year. We hope that you enjoy your break and that your holiday season is filled with health and happiness, and Points looks forward to joining you again in January.

Thanks for supporting Points in 2015. We wish you happy holidays and a very happy New Year. We’ll see you in 2016!





A “Gentler Drug War”

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by guest contributor Michael Brownrigg, a history Ph.D. student at Northwestern University focusing on American foreign relations. He is particularly interested in drug policy and the influence of US political culture on the nation’s efforts to regulate the global drug trade. Michael received a BA from the University of Iowa and an MA from Villanova University. Enjoy!

The DEA Museum

The DEA Museum

While on a recent trip to Washington D.C. to do research for my dissertation on the emotional aesthetics of drug addiction in the early twentieth century, I decided to take a quick detour in an effort to escape the archives for a while. My desire for a little diversion took me to, of all places, the Drug Enforcement Agency’s museum. Given my methodological focus on broken American individuals and families who had experienced the trauma of addiction and publicly disclosed their stories of suffering in various cultural forums, I was immediately struck by an emotional appeal to everyday citizens from the head of the DEA, Chuck Rosenberg, that opened the exhibit. “I need your help,” he pleaded when explaining the immense scope of the drug problem in America, “We have an epidemic in this country and you can help ensure that your family and friends make their own good decisions.” Although Rosenberg assures visitors that the agency is marshaling all possible resources to stem the rising tide of addiction, he admits that “we cannot do this alone. We need you to be a leader in your schools and in your community. Get the word out . . . Help us reduce the desire that fuels these criminal gangs.”

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Videos: The History of Cannabis

Editor’s Note: We’ve featured guest posts and interviews with the cannabis historian Chris Bennett several times before on Points, and today we’re thrilled to present a selection of his newest documentaries. Chris has been making videos for years and his work is thoughtful and wide-ranging, and his videos are entertaining, enlightening and beautiful to look at. Thanks for sharing your work with us, Chris! 

Cannabis Historian Dr. Mike Aldrich

Chris Bennett talks to Dr. Mike Aldrich, who has been studying the history of Cannabis and Folklore for close to 50 years. Like a whimsical wizard of weedlore, Aldrich takes us on a fascinating and entertaining tour of cannabis culture and history in India, the Mid East, ancient Greece, Africa, China, ancient Scythia and more.

Michael Horowitz, Cannabis History Mid 19th-Mid 20th Century

Noted drug historian Michael Horowitz discusses Paris’ mid 19th century Hashish Club, Aleister Crowley on hashish and meditation, Timothy Leary’s 5th circuit and marijuana, Cannabis medicine with William O’Shaughnessy and for impotency with Dr. Frederick Hollick, as well as the marijuana fuelled jazz of Mezz Mezzrow.

Kaneh Bosm: The Hidden History of Marijuana in the Old Testament

Chris Bennett takes a look at the fascinating references to cannabis, under the Hebrew name ‘kaneh bosm’ (spelling – qoph nun he’ – bet shim mem) in the Old Testament text that have been suggested by anthropologist Sula Benet and other researchers, with interviews from Prof Carl Ruck, Dr. Ethan Russo, David Hillman PhD., as well as drug historians and authors Chris Conrad, Michael Horowitz, Martin Lee, and Michael Aldrich. Included is a discussion of the linguistics behind the theory as well as a look at the references in context of the Biblical story line and the use of cannabis by the surrounding cultures who influenced the Jewish cosmology, such as the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Canaanites and Scythian.

Mithra, Marijuana and the Myths of the Messiah

Cannabis Historian Chris Bennett takes a look at the potential references to cannabis use among the ancient worshipers of the Persian God Mithra, who became popular in ancient Rome and throughout a large portion of ancient Europe. Mithra was involved with the Haoma cult of ancient Persia, and as Dr.Michael Aldrich discusses, recent archeological evidence this ancient world sacrament was a beverage made from cannabis and ephedra. Prof Carl Ruck and Dr. David Hillman suggest by the time the God reached Rome, cannabis was being used as a entheogenic incense to fumigate the cave like temples in which the worship of Mithra took place. Mithra worship is believed to have deeply influenced emerging Christianity in a variety of ways, particularly in regards to the adoption of the God’s birthday December 25th in the 4th century by the Roman Catholic Church.

The Hashish Explorer: Laurence Cherniak

Laurence Cherniak is interviewed by Chris Bennett, about his over 50 years of cannabis activism, opening the world’s first ‘head shop’ in 1965, and the a dventures he had in distant lands chronicling the world’s Hashish culture in his photo filled volumes known as The Great Books of Hashish.

Cannabis in Ancient Greece: Smoke of the Oracles?

POT TV – Host and cannabis historian Chris Bennett talks to Professor of Classics at Boston University, Carl Ruck, along with Dr. David Hillman, who holds the combined degrees of a Ph.D. in Classics and a M.S. in Bacteriology from the University of Wisconsin, where he studied the medicine and pharmacology of antiquity, as well as other scholars, about the role of Cannabis in the ancient Greece.

Topics discussed include the influence on Greek ritual practices from the Scythian and Thracian shaman, known as ‘Kapnobatai’, meaning ‘smoke-walkers’, who were known to fumigate themselves with cannabis smoke to achieve ‘ecstasy’. The potential role of cannabis in the cults of Aphrodite, Orpheus, Apollo, Hera, Dionysus and other ancient Greek deities, along with the potential ritual use of cannabis at the Oracle of Delphi and other sites. The alleged archeological find of ancient hashish at the Nekyomanteion (a place for consulting the dead) on the River Acheron (one of the most famous entrances to the netherworld) as discussed in the book ‘Mysteries of the Oracles’ . The use of cannabis infused incenses and wines in ancient Greece, with a discussion on Homer’s ‘nepenthe’, as well as a look at lotions and ointments that were applied vaginally. The various names cannabis may have been known by during the classic period, and much, much more.

Martin Lee on Cannabis and Creativity in Literature, Song and Culture

POT TV – Cannabis Historian Chris Bennett interviews Martin A. Lee, author of ‘Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana – Medical, Recreational and Scientific’ and ‘Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond’.

Lee discusses the role of cannabis in creativity and the herb’s influence in literature, music, and culture, as well as its history in the United States.


The Social World of Alcoholics Anonymous: How It Works

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Annette R. Smith, and is taken from her 2007 book The Social World of Alcoholics Anonymous: How It Works. Smith received her masters in social work from the University of California, Berkeley in 1961, and her Ph.D. from UC San Diego in 1991. She worked for several years as a psychiatric social worker at Napa State Hospital in California, where she helped develop an innovative co-educational unit for treating alcoholics, who had long been merely warehoused in those giant institutions. As one of the key elements in this new approach, she worked with the local A.A. Hospital and Institutions Committee in bringing A.A. to the inpatients in that program. This experience began her lifetime association with the fellowship. The Social World of Alcoholics Anonymous asserts the value of viewing AA as a social world, and argues that the success of AA is dependent on integration into the social world. Enjoy!

Annette R. Smith

Annette R. Smith

After several years working as a clinical social worker and program manager in the alcoholism treatment field, and being involved as an associate of Alcoholics Anonymous, I returned to school to obtain a doctorate in sociology. As I became more aware of sociological constructs, it became clear to me that although there was considerable literature on the history and philosophy of AA, its value as treatment, its bases of affiliation and the experiences of its members, AA as a social organization and the impact of that organization upon recovery, had not been widely examined.

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A causerie on spontaneity, consumption, and film

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Ferdinand Nyberg, who published his last article, on the drug culture surrounding Berlin’s Görlitzer Bahnhof, last month. Enjoy!

In his essay ‘The Dehumanization of Art’ (and elsewhere), José Ortega y Gasset opines that it is to the domains of art and science that one should turn if one wishes to decipher the direction of change in a society. Artists’ methods and practices, in this reading, presage that which will (or at least what might) happen in wider society. The many objections to which this avant-gardist view of culture might be subjected do not interest me here. Instead, I should like to colligate this notion with the idea that an artwork’s ‘identity’ can be found in its minor details, as put forth by art critic Giovanni Morelli. An artist’s style, claims Morelli, and – if you will – an artwork’s ‘truth,’ isn’t found in the ‘big picture’; rather, it is located in its subsidiary features. If an artwork depicts a human, focus not on the body as a whole but on the hands, ears, or other body parts. (Many historians will be familiar with Morelli via Carlo Ginzburg’s essay ‘Morelli, Freud and Sherlock Holmes.’) What happens when we juxtapose these two ideas? I claim that reading art might indeed provide indicators of social change but that these often lie not in the ‘broad strokes’ or deliberate techniques of the artists (or here, auteurs) – instead, changes are best found in their apparently incidental gestures.[1] Below, I identify one such gesture (or gesticulation).

Artificial acting techniques abound, of course. Some of these are immanently tied to generic requirements or traditions. Thus the exaggerated facial expressions, overdone makeup, and high-decibel speaking of a theatre actor is totally acceptable and left unquestioned by viewers. It’s simply how theatre is done; and if actors were to stray from this tradition, the back audience would likely demand a refund. Other artifices, however, aren’t meant to be noticed – these proliferate in film.

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Night Of The Living Baseheads

In the Crack Era, hyperbolic news segments like 48 Hours on Crack Street ruled the scene.  Few dissenting voices were able to marshal necessary counternarratives in the face of panic and political opportunism.  One pe. night of the living baseheadsunexpected, but historically rooted set of voices smashed through the hushed tones of fear and alarm: the voice of politically conscious rap.  Namely, Public Enemy, the self-dubbed “prophets of rage.”  PE’s 1988 offering, Night of the Living Baseheads is both a critique of the crack trade, and media coverage of crack’s ascendance. In short, Night of the Living Baseheads is a clear counternarrative to histrionic anti-crack news specials like 48 Hours on Crack Street which blitzed nightly news throughout 1986 and 1988—both conveniently during election cycles.

The track begins with a grainy recording of Malcolm X: “Have you forgotten that once we were brought here, we were robbed of our name, pe. 48 hours on crack street.robbed of our language.  We lost our religion, our culture, our god… and many of us, by the way we act, we even lost our minds.”  At first glance, this might be PE joining the chorus line of African American voices comparing the scourge of crack to the crushing, systematic exploitation of bondage.  However, a closer look at their accompanying music video makes it more clear who exactly lost their minds in the Crack Era, television news.

Welcome to PETV, the “Black CNN” according to Chuck D.  Less a politician, Chuck D was by his own admission a “dispatcher of PE TVinformation.”  In the words of scholar Tricia Rose, Public Enemy’s work “keeps poor folks alert” from being misled or placated by “media stories and official ‘truths.’”  At a broader level rap music by the late 1980s had become “Black American TV,” a public and highly accessible place where black meanings and perspectives could be shared by people with lived experience rather than fetishized by commentators on nightly news. If rap had truly become “Black American TV,” Public Enemy positioned itself as its most incendiary channel.
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Drugs on the Small Screen

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by guest contributor Michael Brownrigg. Enjoy!

It is often said that we are in the midst of a new golden age of television. A remarkable abundance of compelling stories and indelible characters on the small screen has captivated American audiences, fostering new trends in how and where we consume visual media. It seems that everything these days is must-see TV. The small screen’s renaissance has occurred in the wake of cinema’s so-called “death,” in which quality and experimental content has largely yielded to commercial imperatives, consequently impoverishing the cinematic experience once considered transcendent.

Yet while the surfeit of quality television is striking, so too is the prevalence of representations of drug use available for our viewing pleasure. Indeed, drugs of all kinds, licit and illicit, are more than mere props in recent popular programs, but dynamic characters with the capacity to propel and shift plotlines and enrich visual narratives. Below I briefly examine the integral role of drugs in two critically-acclaimed television programs: Mr. Robot and Fear the Walking Dead. Although significantly different in subject matter, each show depicts American society on the cusp of historic change and situates the addict at the center of stories of structural transformation (or disintegration). While this small sampling only begins to reveal the prominent place of drugs in our visual culture, I hope to draw attention to contemporary assumptions about drug addiction embedded in the imagery that reach millions of Americans on numerous platforms.

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