Points Supports the National Endowment for the Humanities

Until last week, Points readers might have thought Donald Trump’s occasional and inconsistent public statements on marijuana represented his greatest stake in any of the blog’s more obvious topics of interest. His appointment of hardline – though increasingly embattled – Attorney General Jeff Sessions attested to his aloofness if not hostility toward the issue, even if several commentators believe cracking down on pot will be an uphill political battle.

However, the most alarming recent development from the White House is the president’s proposal to eliminate the National Endowment for the Humanities, a program that has supported several of the blog’s featured authors, contributing editors, and readers. We urge you to please call your Senate and House representatives to oppose de-funding critical projects by the NEH and other relevant grant-awarding government bodies.

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Tiered Justice

This just in: Lady Justice can see race and class quite clearly from under that blindfold.  In 2012, HSBC a criminal banking conglomerate settled in court for $1.9 billion in fines rather than face criminal prosecution.  Restorative justice has its virtues, but less so when said justice is routinely offered to some and not others.  The 2012 settlement detailed how Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel and Colombia’s Norte del Valle cartel laundered $881m through HSBC and a Mexican unit. In some cases, Mexican branches had brazenly widened tellers’ windows to allow big boxes of cash to be pushed across the counters.  HSBC also violated US sanctions by working with customers in Iran, Libya, Sudan, Burma and Cuba.

More recently, a litany of articles have rightfully criticized our tiered system of punishment that goes well beyond disparate sentencing across lines of race, space, and Pay to Stay jailsclass.  As of late, private run facilities for “select” offenders offer upgraded amenities for the upwardly mobile incarcerated.  For $100 dollars a night, rapists and petty drug offenders, and those found guilty of a range of crimes can sidestep traditional prisons for an extra modicum of safety and comfort.  For that very fee, one sex offender circumvented the indignities and dangers of county jail in order to stay at a boutique jail in Seal Beach, replete with flat screen TV’s, a computer room, and brand new beds.  After serving his six months of pseudo-incarceration, Alan Wurtzel left with an $18,250 dollar tab.  Perhaps more importantly, his experience was most certainly more palatable than that of those serving time in county jail for the very same crime, or in other instances, lesser crimes.  “Pay-to-stay” private jails have been on the rise in California since 2011, adding yet another Pay to Stay jailschapter to our history of unequal punishment.

As an historian of the Crack Era, I’m well-versed in our unfettered enthusiasm for punishment, particularly when it applies to poor nonwhite urbanites.  A closer look at the years leading up to the national panic over crack in 1986 suggest that our patterns of tiered justice have much deeper roots.  As David Courtwright has reminded us again and again, what we think of particular drugs (or crimes) and how to respond to them as a society is often dictated by how we view its particular set of users, or in Wurzel’s case, predators.  The scandal that shook Choate Rosemary Hall in 1984 elucidates this reality.  Perhaps the preeminent preppie connect. choateboarding school in the nation, Choate sprawls across 500 pristine acres in Wallingford, Connecticut, with a century-old tradition of wealth and excellence.  Well-preppie connect. JFKheeled graduates are too numerous to name, but one young man we might remember was John F. Kennedy.  Certainly, young Jack might have been up to similar mischief as his contemporaries were in the early 1980s, mischief that lands citizens from the wrong sides of the track long stretches in county jail, state or federal prison–not Seal Beach.

So what happened at Choate and why should we care?  In April 1984, scholarship student Derek Oatis arrived at Kennedy Airport from what can only be called a two-day business trip to Caracas, Venezuela with former Choate student and his  girlfriend Catherine Cowan.  Per customs agents, a random inspection of the young entrepreneur’s luggage and pockets netted five plastic bags and a talcum powder container filled with one pound of high-Preppie Connect. NYP Headlinepurity cocaine.  Later reports tabbed the take at 350 grams with an estimated street value of $300,000, a substantial amount of cocaine to be smuggling internationally.  Worse still, Oatis had on his person a list of Choate students who were financing his drug run and expecting their drug of choice upon his return.  All told, 16 former Choate students plead guilty to participating in the buying scheme, while countless others managed to elude authorities.  Further investigation by prosecutors revealed that smuggling from Venezuela directly to the school had occurred on at least seven occasions dating back to 1982.

Several curious events ensued.  First, within 24 hours the DEA turned the case over to local law enforcement–an odd decision given the quantity and international scope of the purported crime.  Second, within the same 24 hours, local officials granted Oatis release on $10,000 bail.  Third, New York prosecutors received an unusual call from the then Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, on behalf of Little Rock native and defendant Cathy cathy cowan.Cowan.  Despite feasting upon the political utility of Law and Order politics as Governor, routinely approving hundreds of extradition orders for Arkansas residents prosecuted in other states, Clinton balked in this particular instance.  Clinton delayed the process for months, stating that it would be “unconscionable” to expose Cowan to New York’s harsh drug laws.  After receiving a fair bit of political criticism for the move in a conservative climate of punishment, Clinton personally negotiated reduced charges for Cowan–three years of probation and 1,000 hours of community service.  It is worth noting that Cowan’s lawyer, William R. Wilson had close ties with the Clinton’s.  In addition to his role as a longtime campaign contributor, Wilson had tried cases and shared legal fees with Hillary Clinton.  More germane to the moment, Wilson was at the time representing Clinton’s half-brother, Roger, on federal cocaine charges.  Read More »

New Research on the Opioid Addiction Epidemic

Editor’s Note: Frequent Points readers are aware of Jonathon Erlen’s ongoing bibliography of dissertations related to alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Entries were formerly published in the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs journal but have since moved to the Points blog. Below are a few highlights concerning the United States’ opioid addiction epidemic. Contact Dr. Erlen through the link above.

Comparative Study of Compliance among Patients Attending an Opiate Outpatient Treatment Center in Rural Appalachia

Author: Morris, Jerry R.

http://pitt.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1729568744?accountid=14709Read 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).

torgoff

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 »

Dissertation Roundup: Youth At Play Edition

Editor’s Note: Frequent Points readers are aware of Jonathon Erlen’s ongoing bibliography of dissertations related to alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Entries were formerly published in the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs journal but have since moved to the Points blog. Below are a few highlights concerning drugs and young people. Contact Dr. Erlen through the link above.

The Effects of Exposure to Violent Lyric Music and Consumption of Alcohol on Aggressiveness

Author: Smith, Buren Steve, Jr.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!

What Historians Wish People Knew About Drugs, Part III: William Rorabaugh

Editor’s Note: At the 2017 American Historical Association in Denver, several historians with relevant research interests participated in a roundtable discussion, “What Historians Wish People Knew about Licit and Illicit Drugs.” Keeping with the spirit of the title, Points is delighted to publish some of the panelists’ opening remarks in a temporary new series over the coming weeks. Part III is brought to you by William Rorabaugh, Dio Richardson Professor of History at the University of Washington. Be sure to also check out part II by Isaac Campos

I would like to make four points about alcohol and drug use that historians of both substances need to keep in mind while doing their research.

First, Jack Blocker’s Cycles of Reform is very instructive on the long-term cyclical nature of alcohol consumption in the United States. Heavy use is associated with heavy abuse, and when society becomes alarmed by heavy use, a temperance, prohibition, or other restrictive movement will be precipitated. These movements use different methods, but they do succeed in reducing consumption and harms. As a result, the problem sinks below the radar screen, the public loses interest, and consumption and harms begin to rise again until another cyclical peak and reaction takes place. Alcohol and other substances all take the form of epidemic waves both in the United States and in other cultures. Drug researchers, in particular, can profit from examining the record concerning alcohol, which as a legal, taxed substance for most of American history has better consumption data than is available for most illegal substances.Read More »

Back to the Future: Addiction and the Scientific Method

Editor’s Note: Happy Valentine’s Day! Today’s post on a recent joint conference between the Alcohol and Drugs History Society (ADHS) and the Society for the Study of Addiction comes courtesy of ADHS president Virginia Berridge.

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Society for the Study of Addiction conference joint with the Alcohol and Drugs History Society York England, November 2016

The Society for the Study of Addiction is one of the oldest international societies in the substance use field. It began as the Society for the Study and Cure of Inebriety in the 1880s. It publishes the high impact journal Addiction (known to historians under its historic name of the British Journal of Inebriety).
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The Points Interview: Reid Mitenbuler

9780670016839_custom-f6af410e5df314f2680d56a86ecceeb5e41e0155-s400-c85Editor’s Note: The latest installment in our author interview series features journalist Reid Mitenbuler, author of Bourbon Empire (Viking, 2015).

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

My book uses whiskey as a lens for exploring American history–politics, economics, culture. The product influenced America to a surprising extent. Tax policies surrounding the industry sparked open insurrection (The Whiskey Rebellion of 1794), political corruption (The Whiskey Ring Scandal of Grant’s administration), and economic malfeasance (The Whiskey Trust, otherwise known as “The Octopus,” which copied its charter from Standard Oil). Culturally, the way people drank it (recklessly) helped spur major reform movements–with Prohibition, the template for modern single-issue lobbying was born. With whiskey advertising, you also see how cultural attitudes about race and gender evolved over the years.

But the influence worked both ways. as the nation evolved, from an agrarian to an industrial economy, the production of whiskey itself changed, so I dig into a lot of culinary elements as well, which help modern consumers understand the product.

I build the book around several narratives, and the characters involved are all very colorful. With the Whiskey Rebellion, you have Hamilton vs. Jefferson and a kind of “big vs. small” debate which still surfaces in modern foodie politics. With Prohibition you have a bunch of gangsters. With Repeal, you have a bunch of former gangsters who are now respected businessmen hiring Madison Avenue to clean up their image. It’s the Great American Story.

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

I really wanted to avoid writing a piece of “foodie lit” that regurgitated the kind of tired themes you might find in a lot of popular food magazines. Of course, I also wanted the book to be fun with broad appeal. I hope that alcohol and drug historians will appreciate my looking at food politics and economics with the kind of nuance those subjects deserve. Whiskey, a product that is both agricultural and industrial, offers a great way to explore those kinds of complicated themes.

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

I love the business/marketing stories from my book. When people think about bourbon, the images that come to mind are of log cabins, Appalachia, old men that look like Civil War generals, etc. Those images help sell the product because they’re rooted in nostalgia. They’re like the myths we create about our national identity, drawing on lots of frontier iconography. The real stories, however, are so much more interesting.

For instance I love telling the story of Lewis Rosenstiel, who at one point in the 1950s owned nearly half the whiskey in the U.S. He had gotten his start during the lawless years of Prohibition (with connections to people like Meyer Lansky), then ended up ruling a liquor empire from a floor of the Empire State Building. He was bisexual but kind of owned it, which was controversial for his time, and people whispered about how the blackmail material he held on J. Edgar Hoover was the reason why the FBI didn’t pursue the liquor industry more aggressively. Basically, he was the opposite of what the advertising/marketing would have us believe about this industry. And yet, in his own way he still represented a kind of frontier attitude and dominated the industry. I love that kind of American story.

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

More information about how people in the early 1800s started using the term “bourbon” to describe the unique style of whiskey flowing out of the Ohio River Valley. We know some, and there are lots of good theories, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

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

Well, there is an audio version of my book and a gentleman named Brian O’Neill does it. He has exactly the kind of honey-dipped, smoke-cured voice you’d want to hear narrate a book about bourbon.

What Historians Wish People Knew About Drugs, Part II: Isaac Campos

Editor’s Note: At the 2017 American Historical Association in Denver, several historians with relevant research interests participated in a roundtable discussion, What Historians Wish People Knew about Licit and Illicit Drugs.” Keeping with the spirit of the title, Points is delighted to publish some of the panelists’ opening remarks in a temporary new series over the coming weeks. Our second installment is brought to you by Isaac Campos, associate professor at the University of Cincinnati. Also be sure to check out last week’s series premier by Miriam Kingsberg Kadia and part III by William Rorabaugh.

I’d just like to make five quick points with respect to what I wish all people knew about drug history.

First, humans have been taking psychoactive drugs since humans discovered psychoactive drugs. There seems to be a fundamental human attraction to altered states of consciousness if not a fundamental human need for it. This is old news to drug historians, but it is likely a novel idea to the average person. Thus it’s worth mentioning because it means that we are never going to live in a “drug-free world,” so we need to learn to deal intelligently with people take psychoactive drugs.Read More »