The Points (Somewhat Grudging) Endorsement: Obama for President

Remember 2008? So much seemed possible then. Farewell, the reformed drunkard frat boy Bush; hail, the hipster Obama, a man who could admit to having enjoyed getting high even as he recognized its dangers and grasped the ethical and political complexity of the global drug supply chain.

We Had Hope

Four years later, with plenty of wry head-shaking, Points grudgingly endorses Barack Obama for President of the United States, primarily (though not solely) because the alternatives would be so much worse.

Points readers are no doubt familiar with the Obama administration’s generally dismal record on drug issues:

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“All in the Game”: Good Police and Narrative Recovery in The Wire.

Editor’s Note: Last week, in the first installment of her series on the formal qualities of narrative and addiction, guest blogger Anne Moore talked about how both literary and psychotropic engagements invite us to the pleasures– and terrors– of delaying closure. Her example was Wilkie Collins’ 1868 novel The Moonstone.  Today she fast forwards about 150 years to find similar structuring principles at work in the HBO series The Wire.

This is Your Brain on Serials

In a comment on last week’s post, Luke Walden asked if Victorian readers experienced the same kind of shame over bingeing on serials that we do—the short answer is yes, as demonstrated by Thomas Arnold’s 1837 anti-serial sermon that essentially boils down to the same argument my parents used about television: serial fiction rots your brain. At the same time, I’m less certain that Victorian serial fans had as conflicted a relationship with addictive reading as we postmodern readers do. In the intervening 150 years since the publication of The Moonstone, it’s become impossible to think of addiction without simultaneously thinking of its structural twin, recovery. The disease model of alcoholism allows for a both/and way of thinking about addiction: the figure of the “recovering addict,” who is simultaneously temperate and addicted.

On the level of narrative, this opens up new ways of thinking about the high associated with what Wilkie Collins calls “detective-fever.”  The Moonstone allows the reader to revel in the pleasures of addicted reading, but the best postmodern serialized detective stories simultaneously highlight and undermine the pleasures associated with addictive reading. The best example of this dynamic is the universally acclaimed HBO series The Wire

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Days of the Dead

In The Labyrinth of Solitude, renowned Mexican writer and cultural critic Octavio Paz observed: “The word death is not pronounced in New York, Paris, and London because it burns the lips.  The Mexican, in contrast, is familiar with death jokes about it, caresses it,

Mixquic, Mexico

sleeps with it, celebrates it; it is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast loves” (Paz, 57).  On the eve of All Saints and All Souls days, the Mexican drug war has spawned a new genre of death imagery that now threatens Paz’s cultural perceptions.

Lenin Márquez Salazar’s paintings document the impact of narco violence.  In one painting of Aparecidos, a young boy wearing a cap with Sylvester chasing Tweety Bird smiles to the viewer before a bound body murdered execution style.  The child’s innocence is blighted by the images of death that surround him in a dreamlike state.  At first glance, he appears unaware, but on closer inspection he appears years older, as he holds the viewers gaze with an uneasy smirk.  Is he the assassin or unwitting victim of a narco drama?  In his landscape series Paisajes,the beauty of the countryside is tarnished by the bound and murdered bodies that mar it,  but the dead are just as essential as the trees, mountains, and sky.

Paisaje I by Lenin Márquez Salazar

For years, drugs have—borrowing from Avery Gordon’s Ghostly Matters–haunted Mexico,

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Irrational Intolerance

On October 27, 1986 Ronald Reagan signed Public Law 99-570 with the overwhelming bipartisan support of the 99th Congress.  Spurred by the June death of basketball star Len Bias, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 hurried its way into federal law nearly as fast as crack emerged onto the national scene.  In prepared remarks that afternoon, the President gushed over his “great pleasure” in signing legislation intended to combat the “evil of drugs” before a group of Cabinet members, Administration officials, members of Congress, and private citizens in the East Room of the White House.  “The magnitude of today’s drug problem,” Reagan suggested, “can be traced to past unwillingness to recognize and confront this problem.”  In short, Reagan and other drug crusaders believed the nation to be all too tolerant of drugs, their users, and purveyors.

The Only Person in the United States Speaking out Against Crack.

Thankfully, Reagan reminded his audience, he and Congress held “the vaccine that’s going to end the epidemic.”  That is, “tough laws” and a “dramatic change in public attitude.”  Draconian mandatory minimums effectively satisfied the first element to this equation.  To fully succeed though, government would need the help of the American people.  “We must be intolerant of drugs,” implored Reagan, “I ask each American to be strong in your intolerance of illegal drug use.”  Positioning his wife Nancy as a crusading pioneer, Reagan took a moment to note the popular success of her “Just Say No” campaign, crediting her sole work for turning “the fight against drug abuse into a national crusade.”  Evidently, the President and his wife remained unaware to the tireless work of grassroots community organizations whom had agitated for reform since early 1985 such as the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition.  Perhaps this is because both the President and the First Lady denied NWBCCC requests to visit with its members, to see the crack problem at its epicenter a year prior.

Cloaked in New Right rhetoric of family values and firm law and order, Reagan announced the legislation as a “victory for safer neighborhoods, a victory for the protection of the American family.”  United together, Americans would now see to it that, “there’s no sanctuary for the drug criminals,” those “pilfering human dignity and pandering despair.”  Despite loading the bill with excessive fines and mandatory minimums for drug offenders, Reagan quipped: “This legislation is not intended as a means of filling our jails with drug users.”

A quick evaluation of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 makes the previous statement extremely difficult to reconcile.  500 grams of cocaine, 5 grams of crack, or 100 kg of pot triggered a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence.  Moreover, 5,000 grams of cocaine, 50 grams of crack, or 1,000 kg of pot triggered a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence.  To make matters worse sentences doubled in cases where offenders had a prior felony conviction, a third strike earning a life sentence.  Sentences also doubled for those selling to, or using minors to sell illicit drugs.  Perhaps most devastating, no offenders would be eligible for parole. 

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It’s Official! Dr. Bob’s Home and Stepping Stones are National Historic Landmarks

It’s official!  Ken Salazar, the Secretary of the Interior, has formally designated a new round of National Historic Landmarks (NHL), including Stepping Stones, the longtime home of Bill and Lois Wilson in Katonah, New York, and Dr. Bob’s Home, the residence of Dr. Bob and Anne Smith, in Akron, Ohio.  As I have written previously, I …

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I’ve Got a Fever, and the Only Prescription is More Moonstone: Addiction, Reading, and “Detective-Fever” in Serial Narratives

Editor’s Note: Points welcomes a new guest blogger today for a nail-biting series on narrative form and addiction. Anne Moore received her PhD in English Literature from Tufts University in May 2012 with a dissertation (from which her guest series is derived) entitled “After the Break: Serial Narratives and Fannish Reading.” It considers the way that 19th-century novels and contemporary television use the serial format to worm their way into your heart and your head, turning readers into compulsive, over-enthusiastic fans. Other writing of Moore’s can be found online at Parabasis and In Media Res. She lives in Somerville, MA with her partner Ariel and their daughter Isadora. The television show to which she is currently addicted is “Friday Night Lights.”

It’s 3AM. Respectable people have long since been in bed. You think of yourself as someone who’d be in bed by now, too, but you’re not. Just one more, you think, then I’ll be done. The next morning, your eyes are red and you’re embarrassed to tell anyone what you’ve been up to. You finally started watching LOST on Netflix, and made it through the first season in the space of a weekend. All day long, you find your thoughts drifting back to the Island: what’s in the hatch? Will Kate choose Sawyer or Jack? Just watch the first episode, your friends told you, and you’ll be hooked.

Let’s Get LOST

This compulsive relationship to serial narrative is hardly a new phenomenon. As this joke on the website Hooded Utilitarian demonstrates, there is an intuitive parallel between the contemporary television serial and its closest formal predecessor, the Victorian novel. TV shows and Victorian novels share a host of formal characteristics: huge casts of characters, multiple story lines, twisty plots, fully realized settings, not to mention the most obvious parallel of their piecemeal mode of consumption. Although critics have rightfully called into question an easy equation of two such disparate forms, what I will be exploring here on Points for the next three weeks is how similar it feels to read a Victorian novel and watch a TV serial: both forms call up in their readers an oscillation between desire and frustration that mirrors the cycle of addiction.

If we understand the story’s ending as the moment of anticipated payoff, then serials are all about extending the wait for that moment (again, think of LOST). Each installment or episode contains its own moment of formal closure but also gestures toward some larger, more satisfying ending that is somewhere down the line. The structure of serial reading thus mirrors the structure of addiction: obsession with relief from obsession. For instance, the smoker who’s trying to quit knows all too well the conviction that a cigarette will cure her unbearable craving—even though the truth is that smoking the cigarette will only start the timeline of craving over again, stronger than ever. With each new installment, the promise of relief is renewed—and reneged upon.

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Conference Report: Interdisciplinary Conference on Psychedelic Research, October 6-7 2012

Today Points welcomes Netherlander guest blogger Wim Best, PharmD. and registered toxicologist (ERT). He started his career in the pharmaceutical industry and has held positions both in Quality Assurance and Control and Regulatory Affairs. He now works for the Healthcare Inspectorate of the Dutch governmen, where he is responsible for controlled substances. Since 2009 he has been active as a forensic toxicologist dealing with crimes possibly committed under the influence of drugs or medicinal products, and since 2010 he has served as an honorary investigator at Maastricht University, Faculty of Psychology, Dept. of Psychopharmacology.

A hundred years after the first International Opium Convention in The Hague and the discovery of MDMA in Germany, Amsterdam hosted the Third Interdisciplinary Conference on Psychedelic Research organized by the OPEN Foundation. The conference lasted two days, during which speakers and public discussed research, experiences, new ideas and philosophical approaches.

Founding (Freakin’) Father, Albert Hofman

Before I start about the conference, let me introduce the OPEN Foundation. OPEN is an interdisciplinary initiative, started around 2006, the year Albert Hofmann celebrated his 100th birthday. Its aim is to stimulate research regarding all facets of the psychedelic experience.  How?  Well, by organizing lectures and conferences and spreading honest information on both the potential and the risks of psychedelics. Furthermore the foundation hopes to lessen the stigma that is still part of researching psychedelics and hopes to awaken the interest of researchers. And last but not least it wants to create a virtual meeting place for all students that are interested in doing research.

For the latest Interdisciplinary Conference on Psychedelic Research the OPEN Foundation offered a warm atmosphere to both established investigators and rising researchers. Other interested parties, such as the International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research, and Science (ICEERS) who contributed with a clinical track on plant based products and their possible uses in mental health, were also welcome to add their knowledge and experience. Paraphrasing Zinberg: “It is all about drugs, set and setting.”

Setting and Set

The setting: the spiritual ambiance of the Moses and Aäronkerk, a beautiful 19th century church in the center of Amsterdam, spiced up by the introductory lecture by Wouter Hanegraaff titled “Entheogens and Contemporary Religion.” High is in the air!  The set: around 400 people of various backgrounds, interested in psychedelics. Neuroscientists, clinicians, anthropologists, philosophers and users joined forces to open up new ways in the field of psychedelic research.  The drugs: psychedelics.

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Weekend Reads: Lance Armstrong Edition

Viewed from the outside, many proponents of the War on Drugs seem intransigent in their views simply because they find it difficult to allow any new argumentation or evidence to affect what they’ve deemed a moral issue. Much as temperance was in the 1920s, those who support the American government’s battle to retain strict drug laws with severe punishments are undoubtedly engaged in a symbolic crusade (to borrow a term from Joseph Gusfield). Essentially, their support exists in the name of continuing counterproductive and often irrational public policies because, to many, such laws and strictures symbolize something more, something deeper. Many Americans don’t see the loosening of drug laws as a utilitarian means of harm reduction, but as a retreat from the “traditional” values from a morally cohesive age that never really existed.

To be fair, moral crusades regarding drug use are far too complex to be simply be reduced to the simplistic regressive, anti-modernist picture I just provided without heavy qualification. While it is true that the struggle over the meaning of drug laws remains largely politically partisan in American society, one need only look to the news to see how the issue of drugs, government oversight, and moralism can be reframed in a much more complex way. With the recent investigations of Lance Armstrong’s doping and illegal prescription drug muling coming to a close this week, one finds no clear political delineation among the cyclist’s supporters and opponents. Positions on drugs within the Livestrong Industrial Complex vary, as liberals, libertarians, conservatives, and independents struggle to disentangle the implications of L’affair Armstrong.

For those not yet aware, the Plano, Texas-born Armstrong is perhaps the most celebrated road cyclist in history, having famously won the Tour De France seven times, six times after having contracted cancer in his testicles, lungs, abdomen, and brain. Armstrong parlayed his seemingly superhuman ability to perform astounding athletic feats whilst struggling with a life-threatening illness into the multi-billion dollar Livestrong charity, which works as an awareness-raising (though not really a money-raising) foundation on behalf of cancer research. As one might expect, Lance’s combination of non-partisan do-goodery and athletic acumen – not to mention his celebrity romancing – made him an enormously popular and powerful fellow in the worlds of cycling and politics.

Because it seems counterintuitive that someone should not only recover from cancer to win a prestigious endurance race, but should do so without the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) within a sport rife with said drug use, Armstrong has also spent much of his adult life under suspicion. He is undoubtedly the most famous and divisive longtime target of both national and international anti-doping agencies. Despite numerous allegations and investigations, however, Armstrong has never (publicly) tested positive for PEDs and has vigorously defended, in both the courts and the press, his personal reputation as a “clean” racer. Nonetheless, fans and journalists have continued to widely (and openly) suspect Armstrong’s use of non-detectable PEDs, including “The Clear.” 

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