The Points Interview: Dan Malleck

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Dan Malleck

Dan Malleck is an Associate Professor of Health Sciences at Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario. He is the author of Try to Control Yourself: The Regulation of Public Drinking in Post-Prohibition Ontario, 1927-1944 (University of British Colombia Press, 2012) and co-editor, with Cheryl Krasnick Warsh, of Consuming Modernity: Gendered Behaviour and Consumerism Before the Baby Boom (UBC Press, 2014). Try to Control Yourself won the Canadian Historical Association’s Clio Prize for Best Book in Ontario History in 2013, and Malleck’s writing has appeared in news outlets including the Globe and Mail and The National Post. He earned his PhD from Queen’s University in Kingston, ON. Malleck’s most recent book is When Good Drugs Go Bad: Opium, Medicine, and the Origins of Canada’s Drug Laws (UBC Press, 2015), which he discusses below.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

This book examines the social and cultural forces that combined to encourage the creation of Canada’s drug laws.  It argues that we need to get past the simplistic statement that drug laws were racist reactions to foreigners in our country, and have complex roots.

What do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

The book is not a political history, but it looks at how various cultural, economic, professional and social forces converged in the early 1900s to make it seem necessary to create federal laws restricting opiates and other mind altering drugs.  It takes long time-
line, following the threads of influence as they grew and expanded, gathering energy and cultural currency. I use the metaphor of streams converging into raging river.  

The main question driving the research was “why did we decide that addiction was a problem that needed federal intervention” and “when did it become okay for the government to severely restrict sales of certain substances that were previously generally unrestricted.”  I argue that Canada’s first drug laws were not laws against recreational use, but pharmacy laws that made it restricted certain substances determined to be dangerous. These laws, the results of political lobbying to deal with a social problem, made such restrictions acceptable.  From that point, the definition of “danger” expanded from the potential of death, to the potential for serious damage, to the potential for dependency.  The precedent for national drug regulation, then, was set in the pharmacy acts, which were a combination of professional pressure and social concern over access to poisonous substances.  

whengooddrugsI also challenge a dominant and reductionist narrative that the opium acts of the early 1900s were simply attacks on Chinese people in Canada.  This argument misses the power of the idea that drugs were a problem.  When William Lyon MacKenzie King argued, in his preamble to the 1908 report encouraging parliament to create the Opium Act, that opium’s “baneful influences” were “too well known to require comment” he was channeling that broader concern based upon the familiarity of most Canadians with the challenges of opium as a medicine and a habit-forming drug. He himself had experience of these baneful influences in his personal life, and most Canadians probably knew someone who had an opium habit. Most had probably consumed opium at some point.  To reduce this to an attack on the Chinese is simply a distortion of the past, often for current political reasons.  Moreover, the same session of parliament that passed the Opium Act also passed a Proprietary and Patent Medicines Act, dealing with another significant drug problem.  This book springs from that contention that reducing the drug laws to racist reactionism doesn’t do the story justice, nor does it help us understand the complexity of our drug laws in general, and the challenges of reforming them.

Now that the hard part is over, what is the thing YOU find most interesting about your book?

It’s the same page length as my first book even though it’s much longer, but took less time to write. Figure that out.

Every research project leaves some stones unturned. What stone are you most curious to see turned over soon?

One thing I was never able to do due to the sheer volume of material and time it would take was track the changes in prescribing patterns as different laws came into effect. I have a database of probably hundreds of thousands of prescriptions from pharmacy records that span various provincial and federal law changes, and I wonder if those laws, restricting access to substances like opium, affected the way doctors prescribed, or the way customers purchased (or pharmacists dispensed). I suspect it did, but without a massive team, grant, and hiccup in space/time, I won’t be able to do that.

BONUS QUESTION: In an audio version of this book, who should provide the narration?

Aaron Paul.

 

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The Points Interview: William White

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William White

Today’s Points interviewee is William White, author of such books as Slaying the Dragon:  The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America; The History of Addiction Counseling in the United States; Drunkard’s Refuge:  The Lessons of the New York State Inebriate Asylum (with John Crowley); and Alcohol Problems in Native America: The Untold Story of Resistance and Recovery (with Don Coyhis). His latest book is Recovery Rising: A Retrospective of Addiction Treatment and Recovery Advocacy.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Let me first say that readers who know me well will find this an amusing question. Recovery Rising is a collection of 350+ stories drawn from my nearly half-century of work in the addictions field. The vignettes honor my peers who have long worked in this special service ministry and mark the passing of a torch to a new generation of addiction professionals and recovery advocates. It is both a personalized history of the evolving world of addiction treatment over the closing decades of the 20th century and the opening decades of the 21st century and a collection of reflections about how to conduct oneself within this most unusual of occupations.Read More »

The Points Interview: J. J. Binder

Today’s Points interviewee is J. J. Binder, author of The Chicago Outfit (2003) and most recently Al Capone’s Beer Wars (2017).

519djtbjncl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

I would say that the subtitle—A Complete History of Organized Crime in Chicago during Prohibition—accurately describes the book. It examines all the bootlegging gangs and the fighting between them, much of which has not been covered previously.  It also covers all the other major rackets from 1920 to 1934, including narcotics, gambling, labor racketeering, business racketeering, and prostitution. Furthermore, it explores how the upperworld—federal agencies, local agencies, and citizens groups–fought organized crime.Read More »

The Points Interview: Benjamin B. Roberts

Editor’s note: Today’s Points Interview is with Benjamin B. Roberts, author of the forthcoming book, Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll in the Dutch Golden Age, available December 2017. Mark your calendars!
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Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The main question of my book is: “What was it like to be a man coming of age in the early seventeenth century at the height of the Dutch Golden Age”. Rembrandt, who was born in 1606, grew up in this period. I wanted to know everything about being an adolescent and teenager in the seventeenth century. What did they think was cool to wear, how did they deal with their sexual urges, at what age did they start drinking alcohol, and what did they do for fun? Ultimately I wanted to find out if being a young man in the seventeenth century was any different than it is now.

One of the main conclusions from my research is that young men rebelled against the older generation with their physical appearance. They let their hair grow long (shoulder length), wore bright-colored clothing, and accessorized with ribbons, silk stockings, and high-heel shoes. Some young men even wore make-up to conceal smallpox marks they had from childhood.Read More »

The Points Interview: Chris Finan

chrisChris Finan is the author of the books Alfred E. Smith: The Happy Warrior (Hill & Wang, 2002), From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America (Beacon Press, 2008), and Drunks: An American History (Beacon, 2017). He currently serves as Executive Director for the National Coalition Against Censorship and was previously President of American Booksellers for Free Expression. Finan received his PhD. in American History from Columbia University in 1992 and has been involved in anti-censorship efforts for the past 35 years. He lives in Brooklyn.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Actually, one of the first persons I described the book to was a bartender.  I was at a reception at book convention in Minneapolis, and he wandered over before it was time to start pouring drinks to talk about my book, which was on display.  He had been lucky enough to get sober in the “land of 1,000 rehabs.”  I told him that my book tells the stories of the people who have led the recovery movement since the colonial period and ultimately saved his life–and mine.
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Read More »

The Points Interview: Jane T. Merritt

Dr. Jane T. Merritt is an associate professor of history at Old Dominion University and author of the new book, The Trouble with Tea: The Politics of Consumption in the Eighteenth-Century Global Economy (Johns Hopkins, 2016).

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Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The Trouble with Tea explores 18th century consumer culture, market economies, and their political use and meaning.  The core of the book’s argument questions the old adage among economic historians that consumer demand drove merchants to provide an ever-increasing supply of goods, thus sparking a Consumer Revolution in the early eighteenth century.  Tea presents a different picture.  Instead, political concerns about the domination of Britain in a global economy and the corporate machinations of the English East India Company (EIC) in the 1720s and 1730s produced an over-supply of Chinese tea that the Company then funneled to North America, hoping to find a market.  American consumers only slowly habituated themselves to the beverage, aided by the availability of Caribbean sugar.  Still, American merchants and consumers took to tea by mid-century, even as colonial activists called for a boycott of British goods.  Boston wasn’t the only place that held a “Tea Party” to protest imperial tax policy in late 1773.  Citizens of Philadelphia, New York, Edenton, North Carolina, and Charleston also destroyed or forcibly returned the EIC tea commissioned for sale in North America.  In truth, however, Americans did not reject luxury consumption or tea; they simply wanted quicker, easier access to foreign commercial markets, which they returned to soon after the American Revolution.  Ironically, individual states and the new federal government established under the 1787 constitution revived taxes and tariffs on tea as a key source of revenue.  Creating, then fulfilling consumer desires, has always been a driving force in the American economy.Read More »

The Points Interview: Pamela Donovan

Editor’s Note: Pamela Donovan is the author of Drink Spiking and Predatory Drugging: A Modern History (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). She holds a PhD in Sociology from City University of New York Graduate Center. Donovan taught criminology and sociology courses for 20 years, and left academia to pursue freelance book editing and due diligence investigation. Her main areas of interest are drug and alcohol studies, as well as the small scholarly world of rumor studies. Her previous book was No Way of Knowing: Crime, Urban Legends and the Internet (Routledge, 2004).

1. Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.
Well, there are bartenders as part of general audience that might be interested in this topic, and then there are bartenders as bartenders, particularly the ones at nightclubs, who no doubt have an interesting front line view of the current date-rape-drugs scare.
As an interested general audience, I’d say that my book is about the ways in which the fear, and occasional reality, of using drugs surreptitiously on people turns out to be related to other dramatic changes in modernizing societies. These changes include the psycho-pharmaceutical revolution that begins in the mid-1800s and really takes off in the mid-20th century. Governments and medical authorities try to create boundaries around usage that ordinary people resist and find ways around. We long for a series of precise and perfect cures, but we, at the same time, fear being controlled by chemically induced states of mind. We don’t feel like we can balance those benefits and risks ourselves. We are techno-utopians, when we feel as if psycho-pharma can deliver us to our real selves, and five seconds later, we are techno-dystopians, feeling as is we are at the mercy of bad actors who want to turn us into zombies. Read More »

The Points Interview: Claire Clark

Claire Clark teaches at the University of Kentucky, where she is an assistant professor of Behavioral Science, secondarily appointed in the Department of History, and associated with the Program for Bioethics. The Recovery Revolution: The Battle Over Addiction Treatment in the United States (Columbia University Press, 2017) is a history of therapeutic community treatment for drug addiction.
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1. Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The Recovery Revolution explores the rise of addiction treatment in the United States since the 1960s. It does this by tracing the development of a peer-led treatment model called the “therapeutic community” (TC). TCs in the US had their roots in a controversial California commune, Synanon, whose residents promoted a unique, neo-Victorian brand of drug treatment. At the time, addiction treatment was mostly limited to a few hospitals and correctional facilities; both elites and people struggling with addiction were frustrated with the existing options. A small group of self-described “ex-addicts” ignited a treatment revolution in response, and their moral treatment philosophy had an outsized influence on the industry that developed in the decades that followed.Read More »

The Points Interview: Martin Torgoff

Points is pleased to feature Martin Torgoff discussing his new book, Bop Apocalypse: Jazz, Race, the Beats, and Drugs (De Capo, 2017).

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Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

My last book, Can’t Find My Way Home: America In the Stoned Age, told the story of how the use of illicit drugs went from the underground to the mainstream, and how that changed the cultural landscape of America. This book tells the story of the underground itself–how drug use entered the DNA of our popular culture in the first place.Read More »

The Points Interview: Murray Carpenter

51vvjkjjkll-_sx331_bo1204203200_Editor’s Note: Today we welcome Murray Carpenter to our author interview series. His book, Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us, was published by Penguin in 2014.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world, and yet most of us do not think of it as a drug. We simply think of it in terms of the caffeine delivery mechanisms we enjoy—coffee, tea, soda or chocolate. For most people, in moderate doses, caffeine has short-term benefits, making us feel alert, energetic, and happy. It improves athletic performance, and emerging research suggests long-term health benefits, too. But it has very real risks for some people, triggering anxiety, and interrupting sleep. Caffeinated is a wide-angle investigation of caffeine culture in the U.S. I reported the book from research labs, the Green Mountain/Keurig plant in Vermont, coffee farms in Colombia, the world’s largest tea market in Beijing, a cocoa farm in Mexico, and a triathlon in Hawaii.

What do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

In October 1909, federal agents seized a truckload of Coca-Cola syrup as it crossed the border from Georgia to Tennessee. Harvey Wiley, the hard-charging director of the Bureau of Chemistry (predecessor to the FDA), alleged that the beverage was misbranded, containing neither coca nor kola, and that it was adulterated with an addictive substance: caffeine. (At that time, the caffeine was extracted from waste tea leaves by a fledgling St. Louis chemical company called Monsanto.) The case went all the way to the Supreme Court before being settled in 1917 with a consent decree.

The court documents and press coverage provide remarkable details about the Coke of that era. In those days, Coke was typically sold in 8-ounce servings, with 80 milligrams of caffeine—the exact size and caffeine dose of today’s Red Bull. Put another way, Coca-Cola invented the energy drink more than a century ago. The court case led Coke to alter its formula, reducing the caffeine concentration.

Now that the hard part is over, what is the thing YOU find most interesting about your book?

The most interesting aspect of the book was investigating the powdered caffeine industry. First, I visited the largest coffee decaffeination plant in the US, in Houston, which produces about a million pounds of powdered caffeine annually. I learned that is a drop in the bucket. The U.S. imports 15 million pounds of caffeine powder annually. That’s enough to fill 300 40-foot shipping containers. (Imagine a freight train two miles long, each car loaded to the brim with psychoactive powder.) Most of that is blended into soft drinks. And it’s powerful stuff—a 12-ounce can of Coke requires just 34 milligrams, about 1/64th of a teaspoon. Ten grams, about a tablespoon, will kill an adult.

Most of the powdered caffeine we import is synthetic—produced in pharmaceutical plants. Like much of the pharmaceutical industry, it’s largely been offshored to lightly regulated factories in China and India. Just three Chinese plants produced nearly half of our total imports in 2011, seven million pounds. I tried to visit plants in China, Germany and India as part of my research. My requests for tours were denied. But I did see the exterior of the world’s largest caffeine factory, in a dingy industrial park in Shijiazhuang, China.

Every research project leaves some stones unturned. What stone are you most curious to see turned over soon?

I would like to see more caffeine research in three areas. It would be interesting to learn more about how small doses of caffeine—like the 34 milligrams in a can of Coke—influence consumer choices. We still have more to learn about our genetic predispositions to metabolize caffeine differently, despite a lot of terrific research in this area. Finally, we have more to learn about caffeine’s long-term effects on neurological health. Intriguing research suggests that caffeine is associated with cognitive health, but it is challenging to separate the effects of caffeine from the effects of other constituents of coffee, which is still Americans’ primary source of our favorite drug.

BONUS QUESTION: In an audio version of this book, who should provide the narration?

My boring answer is that the narrator should be Sean Pratt, who actually read the audiobook and did a great job!