Good blogs are hard to find. Literally. One of the weird quirks of our marvelously interconnected age is how challenging it remains to locate good blogs in one’s field of interest. They’re out there, but existing methods of web searching aren’t particularly helpful in locating them. Sure, we can use basic search engines to find bits and pieces of language–“opium” “moral panic” “Quaalude”–but more often than not, there’s no efficient mechanism for finding tone, point of view, organization, or quality. Those are the things that matter, and it is in that spirit that this ongoing series takes a closer look at some blogs of interest.
The first of these is a sole-authored blog called Drugs, Law and Conflict. The blog’s author is Nina Catalano, currently of Harvard Law School. If you head over to the blog, you’ll notice that Drugs, Law and Conflict has been on hiatus for about a year. Nina reports that the blog may start back up again this fall. Even if it doesn’t, the archive of posts from September 2008 through August 2010 (and there are a lot of them) constitute a useful collection that retains a great deal of value.
The blog offers two self-descriptions, neither of which exactly captures the spirit of the project. From the “About” page we find that the blog “highlights news, research and analysis related to the global trade in illicit drugs,” while the banner tells use that the blog offers “thoughts and research on drug-related violence and disorder.” The latter, I suppose, is a bit truer to the content than the former. The tag cloud tells more of the tale, with “Mexico” and “US Policy” far and away the most prominent post tags, reflecting Catalano’s experience and work in Mexico. Readers of Drugs, Law and Conflict will find links to really thought-provoking work on the US-Mexico drug control relationship, like this short piece by Roger Pardo-Maurer in Small Wars Journal. You won’t agree with everything you read, but most of it’s worth looking at. Likewise, this blog also offers a bit of nice original writing by Catalano on Mexico, some of which you can find here (“A little (true) story about Blackwater and the drug war”) and here (“Thoughts on Mexico”). Drugs, Law and Conflict also offers up some helpful collections of resources, like this sampling of work on human rights and drug policy.
Like any good blog, it’s personal–readers can see what inspires or impresses Catalano, such as the photography of Marco Vernaschi. I’ve shown my students some of his published photographic work from Guinea-Bissau, supported by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting–although there have been recent ethical charges leveled at Vernaschi, there’s no denying his work is deeply compelling. You can check out Catalano’s take here, and here as well in discussing last year’s piece by Vernaschi called “The Cocaine Coast.”
Drugs, Law and Conflict also seems to get progressively more comfortable with the open quality of the blog format, using different media to express complex ideas very simply and powerfully. Here’s a great example from one of the last posts, in which Catalano urges readers to compare and contrast drug route maps from the BBC and from the “Drugs” episode of the 1997 British spoof documentary series “Brass Eye.” Both feature the same “surfeit of arrows” that Willem van Schendel discusses in “Spaces of Engagement: How Borderlands, Illegal Flows, and Territorial States Interlock” (in van Schendel and Abraham, eds. Illicit Flows and Criminal Things: States, Borders, and the Other Side of Globalization). There, van Schednel writes (p. 41-42): “The cartography of illegal flows depends heavily on the persuasive value of the arrow…The visual seduction of the arrow works well: the more alarming and threatening the arrow, the more effective it is–it makes policy makers sit up and pay attention…When it comes to understanding illegal flows, their bold arrows hide more than they reveal.”
And, finally, there are just cool bits scattered here and there, like this curiously compelling animated PSA against marijuana prohibtion, created by blackmustache. I defy anyone to press “play” and not watch through to the end! Go ahead…try it.
In two weeks in “Points on Blogs”…something completely different.
Joe Spillane is Professor of History at the University of Florida. He has authored Cocaine: From Medical Marvel to Modern Menace in the United States (Johns Hopkins Press, 2000) and co-edited Federal Drug Control: The Evolution of Policy and Practice (Haworth Press, 2004). More recently, he authored Coxsackie: The Life and Death of Prison Reform (Johns Hopkins Press, 2014). His current drug-related research agenda includes: the history and development of drug abuse liability assessment; reflections on the nature of drug epidemics; and examinations of drug war “harms” in historical context.