Yoga Boys, Boys of Yoga

Back in August I wrote about ‘Manly Yoga’ and Bro-Culture. But, having been in the UK for a couple of months now, it seems that yoga for boys is also a thing.

According to The Telegraph, we’ve seen the launches of Broga, a version of the practice adapted to suit our “macho” sensibilities, and, yes, Dirty Yoga, a US-based programme which claims to appeal to men as it allows them to do it “in the privacy of their own home, without the need for mats or gurus.” Both prioritize “rugged” strength and physicality over spirituality.

There are others, and one company is Boys of Yoga.


And here is its mantra:

Some guys think that yoga makes you less of a man, the truth is it makes you a better one.
Yoga isn’t just for your mom, your sister or your girlfriend anymore
It’s time to smash the stereotype


They call themselves a “crew” and there’s a section of the website titled “Spiritual Gangster.” The guys are tattooed, bearded, and give off a Vice-like vibe. Similar to “surf, skate and snow sport cultures,” the Boys’ argue, “yoga creates a community of the like-minded. The deeper you go, the more it pulls you in.” This language reminds me of The Godfather. The Boys of Yoga are clearly not the Mafia. But they certainly use a marketing campaign that conjures up such images…

The website features profiles of all the various members of the crew.

Take Kyle Gray, from Scotland:


Here’s an excerpt from his bio, where he refers to himself as ANGEL GUY . BOOK SCRIBBLER . CHEEKY BASTARD . YOGI.

Is there anything you preach but don’t practice?  Fuck, no. I often say at the end of my yoga classes, “eat lots of chocolate and drink lots of wine” – oops!

We’ve all done a few things we aren’t too proud of, care to share one?  I recently lost my shit at a parking attendant who gave me a ticket while I was helping an 80 year old lady into her car. My ego felt bruised that he could do that while I was being of service. I swore lots and lost my mind for a moment. I got into trouble for it but, more, it was a real lesson for me to stop being so self-important. I’ve since written an apology letter.

What was the biggest challenge when you first started practicing?  Strength – my arms were like jello – I could barely hold myself up.

Why did you keep coming back?  The rejuvenating feeling that swirled around me when it was over. That was a triiiip!

What would make you skip practice?  Not waking up in time… I have slept in so many times through morning Ashtanga Mysore class – OOPS!


A few years back Justin Hakuta asked if yoga had lost its mystique. “Gone are the days,” he wrote, “of the loin clothed yogi meditating alone on a mountaintop, unless of course said loin cloth is made of wickable polyester blend, fits your body like a glove and retails for $100 a pop and the yogi in question has worldwide appearances and a DVD series purchasable on Oh, and don’t forget to check their Twitter feed.”

Pretty cynical. But there’s truth there, too. It’s a roughly $7 billlion dollar business and we’ve now got ample styles, options, and brands to choose from, including Antigravity Aerial Yoga,laughter yoga, chair yoga, acro yoga, partner yoga, hiking yoga, dog yoga, and, yup, Boys of Yoga.

Yoga has achieved, in short, a level of infamous popularity, mainstream accessibility and frantic commercialization in the West.

Is this a negative? Is this selling out? Or, as Justin Hakuta asked, has yoga lost its soul? That’s up to you.

With the Boys of Yoga, well, they seem pretty soulful to me.


Here’s an entirely different crew of soulful Boys:


Ultrarunning: Nature and Native Americans

Mo Farah, you wuss! It’s time to take it to the next level with ultrarunning. Here’s an excerpt from “Beer, candy fuelled ultrarunner’s record-breaking race,” by Lindsey Crouse.


At a time when “endurance running” no longer means mere marathons – and even 160-kilometre races are attracting the masses – Karl Meltzer, a former ski-resort bartender, has proved he can suffer longer and faster than almost anyone else. When he staggered onto Springer Mountain in Georgia before dawn Sunday, Meltzer set a record for completing the Appalachian Trail. He covered the 3,524 km over 14 states in 45 days 22 hours 38 minutes.


As commentator Lindsey Crouse put it, Meltzer, 48, is a little different from other titans of the newly booming ultrarunning scene. He is six years older than Scott Jurek, who was featured in the bestselling book about almost-barefoot endurance running, Born to Run – and who set the former Appalachian Trail record last year (46 days 8 hours 7 minutes).

In a sport checkered with mantras such as “clean living,” Jurek sustained his trek on a vegan diet. Staples of Meltzer’s diet, by contrast, included Red Bull and Tang. Jurek incurred a $500 (U.S.) fine and public outrage for opening Champagne at the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine during his record run. When Meltzer finished on Sunday, he walked down the mountain, sat in a chair and sated himself with pepperoni pizza and a beer. It was the latest milestone in an unusual professional racing career.

Meltzer moved to Utah to ski in 1989 and started running the next year. He came to long-distance racing in his late 20s. Primarily a skier, he worked as a bartender at the Snowbird ski resort but took summers off to run. Now, based in Sandy, Utah, he became an ultrarunner in 1996 after completing a 160-km race nearby in just more than 28 hours. In a sport built on superlatives – faster, longer, more, more, more – his 160-km trail race portfolio is formidable: He has won 38 of them, more than anyone else in the world.

That’s intense.


What’s the story with Ultras? How it works.

According to the IAAF, ultra races are contested over two different types of race modalities, either over a set distance or a set time. Examples of the former would be 50km, 100km and longer events while illustrations of the latter would be something like 6hr, 24hr, and multi-day events. Both are gaining popularity with the masses and bring their own unique challenges to the racers.

Races are organised on a) trails where athletes get to enjoy the serene environment of a forest. b) track when athletes do not have to venture too far from their start/finish areas and are always within visible region. c) road where athletes can enjoy their road running days and run through both quiet and busy streets. Some ultra races are a combination of two or more of the available terrain, and some also span a few stages and are run over a course of days.

How popular?

As reported by The Guardian, despite the growing interest, the organisation of ultras is still rather disparate, with independent races popping up all over the place, giving the sport a slightly amateurish feel, with camaraderie playing a large part. Some of these are billed as a gentle introduction to ultras. Others, such as Whistler’s Meet your Maker make no bones about what they are: 50 miles of undulating singletrack alpine terrain. So if you really want to run across the US’s national parks, there’s an ultra for you. And if you fancy tackling 4,600m of altitude gain in Luxembourg’s Little Switzerland, you’re in luck.


“Running has seen tremendous growth in the past 20 years,” says Topher Gaylord of Mountain Hardware, an outdoor equipment company that has turned its attention to ultras enthusiastically. “There’s been a tenfold increase in trail events, and the events have seen a massive rise in participation because it’s such a natural way to engage with the environment.”

Nature and Native Americans

Often, the discussion around modern ultrarunning in the U.S. (and to a lesser extent, Canada) revolves around nature and the ways in which Indigenous peoples ran, and ran, and ran some more…

As Andy Milloy phrased it “In the Beginning: Native Americans,” without horses, using only dogs as pack animals, Native Americans were conditioned to cover great distances on foot from an early age. It was recorded that Apache Indians, who were renowned for their toughness, at the age of 15 or 16 had to undertake a long run over rough country carrying a load on their back. Young men would be expected to go without sleep in a vigil that could last 48 hours. They then were required to go out into the wilds for two weeks, living through their own skill and toughness. An adult Apache could travel on foot over the roughest terrain from fifty to seventy-five miles a day, keeping this up for several days at a stretch.

Outstanding runners in such a culture would become key figures in holding together widespread associations, such as the Iroquois Confederacy, or even loose groupings of proximal tribes, by carrying news and other urgent messages. A typical example of the role such runners played is recorded in Peter Nobokov’s excellent book “Indian Running.” In the 1860s a messenger runner of the Mesquakie tribe in his mid-fifties ran 400 miles from Green Bay, Wisconsin to warn Sauk Indians along the Missouri River of an enemy attack. Such messenger runners were probably part of the culture of the Sauk, Creek, Omaha, Kickapoo, Osage, and Menominee tribes, and possibly many others. Such runners dedicated their lives to this endeavour, following a strict diet and often practicing celibacy. On their runs they would carry a dried buffalo heart.



Cocaine Fury

It was tight. It was very, very close. However, Colombians rejected a peace deal to end 52 years of war with Farc guerrillas, throwing the country into confusion about its future. With counting completed from 98% of polling stations, the no vote led with 50.23% to 49.76%, a difference of 61,000 votes. Not much.

According to the major news sources, including the Guardian, The verdict on the deal between the government of Juan Manuel Santos and the Farc means it cannot now be implemented. Polls before the vote predicted that the yes camp would win with a comfortable 66% share. Santos had been confident of a yes result and said during the campaign that he did not have a plan B and that Colombia would return to war if the no vote won. His opponents, led by former president Alvaro Uribe, said a win for their side would be a mandate for the government and rebels to negotiate a “better agreement”.

The Deal

Under the agreement rejected by voters, the Farc’s 5,800 fighters and a similar number of urban militia members would have disarmed and become a legal political party. Whether or when that will happen now is unknown.The deal would have allowed rebel leaders to avoid jail if they confessed to their crimes such as killings, kidnappings, indiscriminate attacks and child recruitment, something that many Colombians found hard to swallow.

At the same time, Sunday’s outcome amounts to a setback for the United States and the Obama administration, which had backed Santos and pledged to boost U.S. aid to Colombia by nearly 50 percent, to $450 million a year. The fate of that funding proposal is now up in the air.




The Future

After nearly six years of negotiations, many handshakes and ceremonial signatures, Colombia’s half-century war that has killed 220,000 and displaced 7 million is not over.

“I am the first to recognize the result,” said President Juan Manuel Santos in a televised address, flanked by members of the government peace negotiating team, who looked stunned. “Now we have to decide what path to take so that peace will be possible. . . . I won’t give up.”

Bernard Aronson, the U.S. special envoy for the peace process, talked with Colombia’s ambassador in an emergency meeting Sunday night. “We believe Colombians want peace, but clearly they are divided about terms of settlement,” he told the Washington Post. “We will continue to support Colombian authorities as they try to build a lasting peace with justice and security.”


In other cocaine news:

Tyson Fury

The world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, who last week pulled out of his proposed rematch with Wladimir Klitschko citing mental health issues, has allegedly tested positive for cocaine. Fury, who holds the WBA and WBO world titles, was informed last Thursday night that his A sample from a random urine test on 22 September had tested positive for the substance benzoylecgonine, the central compound found in cocaine. Fury pulled out of the rematch a day after the test.

After the initial postponement, Fury was pictured shortly afterwards buying England fans alcohol in France at Euro 2016. In the past, the boxer has publicly hinted at taking the drug, in addition to his mental health. Speaking last April on the topic of his depression, Fury stated:  “It’s either high or low. I’m either off my head on cocaine or down on the floor from a tranquiliser injection. Most of the time, I’m just down and depressed like today, because for every high there’s a low.”

Fury’s WBA, WBO and IBF belts could be on the line if the allegations are confirmed.  He later tweeted a picture of himself in Tony Montana’s chair.

“Say hello to my little friend!”




Business Insider, The Guardian, The Independent, Washington Post, and Time

Cocaine and Colombia

The first line of a recent Washington Times story about cocaine in Colombia spells the country incorrectly. ‘Ninety-five percent of the cocaine sold on the streets of the United States today comes from Columbia.’ Don’t get me wrong, we all make mistakes. But c’mon. Really? Then, the rest of the article mixes the spellings.

It’s weird.

Here’s what’s going on, according to the Economist:  “In October some 200 FARC troops here, like up to 15,000 of their comrades across the country, will assemble at a designated area and start putting their weapons into containers under the watchful eyes of a UN mission that will later supervise their destruction. ‘There’s optimism, but there’s also a lot of mistrust,’ says a burly man who is the civilian leader in the FARC territory and gives his name as ‘Grossman.’

The FARC’s disarmament and conversion into a political party is the crux of a peace agreement forged over four years of hard talking in Havana and signed in Cartagena on September 26th. It is not quite true to say, as Juan Manuel Santos, the president, told the UN General Assembly on September 21st, that ‘the war in Colombia is over.’ There are other illegal armed groups. But the struggle between the FARC and the state, exacerbated in earlier years by right-wing paramilitaries, was by far the biggest conflict. It was responsible for most of the 220,000 deaths due to conflict and thousands of kidnappings seen over the past five decades. It displaced perhaps 6m people.


The agreement comprises 297 dense pages. It is of enormous complexity and involves controversial trade-offs, especially between peace and justice. Politically, if not legally, it can only come into effect if it is ratified by Colombian voters in a plebiscite on October 2nd. Polls suggest that around 60% of those that turn out will vote Yes. But will enough do so to meet the minimum 4.5m votes (13%) campaign in which the naysayers, inspired by Álvaro Uribe, a former president, accuse Mr Santos of selling out democracy and claim he could and should have struck a harder bargain. The Yes campaign counters that its opponents really favour war.”

Essentially, this was the best deal that could be struck.

Even the conservative Washington Times, which can’t even spell the country’s name properly, agrees.

“The White House, the Drug Enforcement Administration, State Department and Department of Defense all have means to coordinate with and assist Colombia in fighting drugs. It’s time to recognize the FARC peace deal for what it is — necessary but dangerous — and take steps to avoid the growth of a narco-state in Colombia that could well fuel a drugs-and-crime epidemic in the United States.”

With all the discussion over Donald Trump’s cocaine habit, Colombian policy seemed particularly relevant!

Here’s a classic!





From 2014–2016, Canadian health authorities were forced to address the issue of medical marijuana, even as activist groups and industry sought to influence the decision-making process and its place in the medical marketplace. First, the system was privatized, then issues of use and access, not to mention the full-on legalization of recreational marijuana, dominated headlines.

In light of last week’s shocking medical marijuana report, the policy debate will certainly grow more heated here in the UK. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform stated there is “good evidence” cannabis can help alleviate the symptoms of several health conditions, including chronic pain and anxiety. According to Prof Mike Barnes, a leading consultant neurologist who contributed to the report, “We must legalise access to medical cannabis as a matter of urgency.”

In a recently co-edited series on Canadian cannabis called Waiting to Inhale, it became clear that medical marijuana was a supremely complex policy issue. Some of the questions included, but were not limited to, the tenuous balance between consumers and regulators, Canadian physicians as unwanted gatekeepers, marijuana as a measure (and potential leveller) of inequities, and the major struggles between Big Cannabis and craft cannabis.

Looking ahead, the UK can learn lessons from other countries, including Canada.

Background: Canadian medical cannabis

Medical marijuana has been available in Canada since 2001, after the Canadian Court of Appeal declared that sufferers from epilepsy, AIDS, cancer and other ailments had a constitutional right to light up. Prohibition of this “medicine” was, in short, unconstitutional.

The original regulation that allowed patients to access medical marijuana in Canada was enacted in 2001 and called the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR). It allowed patients to possess dried marijuana flower/bud with a license issued by the government, provided that the application was signed off by a physician.

One strain of medicine was available for purchase from one single government supplier, Prairie Plant Systems, but optional licenses were available for patients to grow their own plants or to designate a grower to supply medicine to them.

The MMAR was repealed and replaced by the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), enacted on Apr. 1, 2014. With this, medical marijuana was officially opened for business. And the new rules generated a craze as dozens of new entrants jumped into the marketplace.

As of Aug. 24, 2016 the MMPR was replaced with the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulation (ACMPR). These new regulations included legislation that satisfied the latest Supreme Court decision to allow patients who possess a prescription from a doctor to grow their own medicine.

During this period, certain problems have hindered the medical marijuana industry’s growth in Canada, and Britain could learn from these.

Dispensaries vs. Big Cannabis

These stores and clubs are illegal because they procure and sell their products outside the federal medical marijuana system, which was overhauled and expanded last year to allow industrial-scale production of pot products that are mailed directly to licensed patients.

The pushback against dispensaries has come from national and local law enforcement as well as the Canadian Medical Cannabis Industry Association. Yet, the Cannabis Growers of Canada, a trade association representing “unlicensed” growers and dispensaries, have fought to be included at the table. Along with several other organizations, the CGC has lobbied the government to be included in the new legal regime.

As the New York Times put it, “a lobbying battle is raging between the new entrepreneurs and the licensed medical marijuana producers, who were the only ones allowed to grow and provide the plant under the old regulations. One side complains about being shut out by a politically connected cartel, while the other complains about unfair and damaging competition from those who are breaking the law.”


Medical marijuana has not approved as a medicine by Health Canada, although there is a growing body of clinical evidence regarding its pain-alleviating effects.

As such, physicians in Canada have struggled with the science and ethics of medical marijuana. At the 147th annual meeting of the Canadian Medical Association in Ottawa last August, many doctors expressed serious reservations about prescribing marijuana.

Some doctors said they felt threatened or intimidated into signing prescriptions, whereas others felt as though patients were shopping for doctors. Worst of all, there were reported cases of malfeasance, where doctors charged their patients for a prescription.

The result is that the CMA remains divided on, if not outright opposed to, being the gatekeepers of medical marijuana.

Workplace Safety and Performance

With more relaxed rules around medical marijuana (along with federal legislation looking to legalize cannabis),employers are wondering whether this will grow as an issue when it comes to pre-employment or on-the-job testing.

Aside from certain industries, such as transportation, most provinces don’t have clear policies or precedents for dealing with medical marijuana.

Besides that, workplace screening of marijuana is a mediocre indicator of performance in the workplace as it doesn’t actually test for impairment. Rather, it tests for by-products excreted from the body after the drug’s been ingested.

Looking ahead, human resource departments will be forced to develop a raft of new policies.


The core problem rests with the amount of cannabis veterans are authorized to take. In 2014, Veterans Affairs doubled the amount to 10 grams per day for eligible veterans. Yet, this is twice the amount Health Canada considers safe.

An internal Health Canada document showed that more than five grams has the potential to increase risks to the cardiovascular, pulmonary and immune systems, as well as psychomotor performance and has a chance of increasing the risk of drug dependence.

Ferguson’s office could not find any evidence to support this decision to increase the threshold. Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr expressed shock in March that his department lacked an “informed policy” on the use of medical cannabis, even as the number of claims by veterans for medical marijuana grew more than tenfold over the past two years.


The intersection of vaping and medical marijuana has also caused tension. As vaping has moved from a niche presence to mainstream practice, its unregulated nature – at the federal level – poses problems to policy-makers.

For example, the Ontario government exempted medical marijuana users in mid-November from a law that bans the use of e-cigarettes anywhere regular cigarettes are prohibited. These regulations were set to come into effect Jan. 1. This exemption meant medical marijuana users could vape in restaurants, at work or on playgrounds. However, Ontario’s associate health minister Dipika Damerla stated that the government would remove the exemption.

Local governments in various cities recently voted to implement a vaping bans in public spaces, with only a vape shop exemption predicated on “safety” concerns, specifically for the uninitiated e-cigarette user who doesn’t know how to install batteries in the device. But it was also predicated on the notion that buyers should be able to see what they’re getting, which is the same argument made by authorized medical cannabis users about the value of a local pot dispensary.

The Future

Marijuana remains a highly contested medicine for various scientific, political and social reasons. That is obvious.

Policy makers from government, industry leaders, and physicians will face considerable question marks. Cutting through all the haze won’t be an easy task, yet all participants, including the public, would be wise to use recent examples from Canada to light the way.


Vape Fear

In Martin Scorsese’s 1991 remake of Cape Fear, Robert De Niro plays sociopathic Max Cady, who has recently been released from prison. Years earlier, his attorney, Sam Bowden portrayed by Nick Nolte, deliberately withheld evidence during a criminal trial which would have seen Cady acquitted.

This of course enraged Cady and fueled a desire for revenge. As punishment, he stalked and brutalized the Bowden family. Yet, being a true believer, he also felt that by carrying out his terrible deeds he was helping Bowden achieve a type of moral and spiritual redemption. In short, he felt his actions were serving Bowden’s interests.


In 2016, consumers, politicians, and health officials are going through Vape Fear. Due to lack of evidence, we are being tested by a product in the marketplace with a potential to improve health outcomes and cause other, if unknown, health problems.

It’s a dual-purpose product, in that it has recreational and medical applications. And in the public arena, opponents and supporters of e-cigarette regulations have contested the best approach to it.

Supporters of stiff regulation declare that children and young people need to be shielded from products that imitate smoking and might encourage nicotine addiction. (Think Mrs. Lovejoy in the Simpsons.) They favour regulation that might guarantee product safety and quality. These individuals also usually advocate on behalf of a precautionary approach – at least until there is sufficient evidence that e-cigarettes don’t undermine recent successes at controlling tobacco.

Opponents of stiff regulation, by contrast, argue that vaping is significantly less harmful than conventional cigarettes and beneficial in helping smokers to quit. They want minimal restrictions on availability and often absolute freedom for advertising, promotion and the use of e-cigarettes in public. (Think Charlton Heston and guns being pried from his cold dead hands.) Restrictions, this camp argues, might put off smokers from swapping to safer alternatives and limit the opportunity of curbing tobacco consumption. Here harm reduction trumps all other suits.

Now, against this messy backdrop, governments have taken action.

New EU regulations in May imposed standardised quality control on liquids and vaporisers across the union. They also required disclosure of ingredients in vaping liquids and child-proofing and tamper-proofing for liquid packaging.  And the NHS has backed e-cigarettes as a quitting aid.

In March, the Scottish government’s Health Bill banned under-18s from both buying the devices and limiting their advertising, which followed Health Scotland’s position paper in March 2015 that “NHS Boards must balance the benefits of e-cigarettes use to smokers with any potential concerns about impact on non-smokers.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has also taken broad steps to crack down for the first time on e-cigarettes, which have been growing in popularity among teens and is projected to be a 4 billion dollar industry this year.

The Food and Drug Administration’s move in May brought regulation of e-cigarettes in line with existing rules for cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco. This had been highly anticipated after the FDA issued a proposed rule two years ago on how to supervise the e-cigarette industry.

“Millions of kids are being introduced to nicotine every year, a new generation hooked on a highly addictive chemical,” U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell stated during the announcement of the new rules. She asserted too that health officials still don’t have the scientific evidence showing e-cigarettes can help smokers quit, as the industry asserts, and avoid the known ills of tobacco.

In all of this, though, a Vape Fear persisted.

Similarly, heart experts recently found that vaping damages key blood vessels in the heart in a similar way to normal cigarettes, and it’s “far more dangerous than people realize.” University College London heart expert Professor Robert West noted, “It would certainly be fair to say the study shows electronic cigarettes are not without any risk.”

Researchers at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Rome thus decided to call the NHS decision to support e-cigarettes “premature.”

Added to all this is the idea of vaping garage labs, a part of e-cigarette mythology that’s difficult to shake. While no one has been publicly exposed for mixing juice in an actual garage, many in the industry have confessed privately that some set-ups that are only marginally better. It was and remains the nascent industry’s dirty little secret.

In my home country of Canada, Vape Fear is certainly present. According to the CBC’s celebrity doctor Brian Goldman, “my sense is that key thought leaders in Canada are alarmist about e-cigarettes.” They “ignore evidence,” “cling to the notion that nicotine addiction, as opposed to combusted tobacco products, is the paramount health problem,” and “overestimate concerns that e-cigarettes act as a gateway to regular tobacco use.”

For Goldman, it’s well past time that his colleagues “look up the facts” and stop “dissing a smoke cessation tool with a lot of potential.” It can serve the interests of public health. Jesse Kline for the National Post has likewise told Canadians, “Don’t believe the fear campaign — e-cigarettes can save millions of lives.”

In Cape Fear, Sam Bowden’s teenage daughter – played by Juliette Lewis – was tormented and assaulted by De Niro’s Max Cady, but she manages to survive. She tells the audience that her holiday in North Carolina had been so peaceful beforehand, “when the only thing to fear on those enchanted summer nights was that the magic would end and real life would come crashing in.”

With vaping, we know this won’t occur until all multitudinous studies have been completed. And regulators and health authorities reach consensus.

Until that point, the regulation and use of e-cigarettes in Canada, the United States, and Scotland will continue to spark serious challenges and health concerns.

Without reliable data and hard evidence, and in a state of affairs where no one has a claim to the unassailable truth, regulations that curtail access and promotion to young people appears to be the surest policy in overcoming Vape Fear.

University of Strathclyde

I just started a new job as a Lecturer at the University of Strathclyde, based in Glasgow. I’m absolutely thrilled to be a part of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. It was a big, big move – from Saskatchewan to Strathclyde – and, to be honest, I’m still making the adjustment.

( Chips v. Fries ** Football v. Soccer ** Jumper v. Sweater ** Pants v. Underwear ** and so on, and so on…)

Luckily, the transition has been eased by amazing new colleagues, who are quite simply awesome. All the worst horror stories you hear about in academia, including internecine squabbling or raging egomaniacal personalities colliding with each other over hum-drum topics, aren’t an issue here. There’s way too much collegiality and friendliness. Everyone’s chipping in. It’s weird. And I like it.

I will be helping with two modules: (1) Disease and Society & (2) Madness and Society. It’s gonna be a blast!

EpiPen Price Gouging is Old News

On Thursday, Mylan announced a series of steps that will make its EpiPen more affordable for some patients. Over the past few years, Mylan had raised a standard two-pack of EpiPens to roughly $600. It had cost $100 in 2009. Then, following a recent uproar, including a public tongue-lashing from Hillary Clinton and a US Senator whose daughter uses the product, Mylan NV (MYL) said Wednesday it would help reduce the cost of the emergency allergy drug for people who are struggling to afford it. Clinton, for her part, became  excoriated Mylan’s “price gouging,” kicking off another selling spree on Wall Street, where Mylan’s stock has plummeted roughly 11% and the Nasdaq Biotech index saw a 3.4% decline, which was the worst of the summer.


In a press release, Mylan said it would provide instant savings cards worth $300 to patients who have to pay full price for the drug out of pocket. That amounts to about a 50% price cut for people without insurance or for patients with high deductible plans.

“We responded this morning, first and foremost, ensuring that everybody that needs an EpiPen has an EpiPen,” Mylan CEO Heather Bresch said in an interview with CNBC. “As a mother I can assure you that the last thing we could ever want is no one to have their EpiPen due to price.” When asked why the price of EpiPen increased so much over the years, Bresch, who is the daughter of Senator Joe Manchin of Virginia, blamed “the system” which needs to be “fixed.” She said that with the savings card, “We went around the system. The savings card is equivalent to cash.”

In the course of Canadian coverage, it was assumed that Americans would be travelling north to grab cheaper EpiPens. And this is far from new.


In 2013, I wrote about Americans purchasing pharmaceuticals from Canadian stores in Canadian Review of American Studies. The paper was called The Maple Peril and it explored the practice of cross-border drug reimportation, and considered the Bush and Clinton administration’s policies regarding the necessary balance between drug access, affordability, and safety.


In the 1990s, lower drug prices in Canada forged a strong relationship between American consumers and the Canadian industry, leading to the expansion of illegal cross-border reimportation. This occurred in person or through Internet pharmacies. In Canada, the Patented Medicines Price Review Board (PMPRB) imposes federal price regulations, but a number of other reasons also drive down Canadian drug prices. For instance, lower prices on Canadian brand-name drugs are likely the normal result of market economics; that is, prices are matched to different supply and demand dynamics in the Canadian and American markets.

In 2001, as President Bush took office, thanks to Canadian regulations— as well as a weak Canadian dollar—Americans were saving 50 per cent to 70 per cent filling their prescriptions in Canada. In 2004, Canada’s review board reported that Americans paid an average 67 per cent more than Canadians for patented drugs; in 2003, while a three-month prescription for Merck’s cholesterol reducer Zocor cost $172 in Canada, American patients paid $328 for the same pills. The antiretroviral drug ritonavir (Norvir) cost as little as a $700 per year in Canada as opposed to $7,800 per year in the United States.

From the consumer’s standpoint, it was thus eminently rational – or, smart – to seek alternatives to American drugs. And it should come as no shock that drug prices became a major political and economic question mark within the Bush administration.


The troubling matter of drug costs was first contested in the 1950s. Historian David Herzberg argues that ‘‘increasing competition and ever more intense advertising transformed the character of the once staid prescription drug business’’. The new, transformed pharmaceutical industry was challenged in the political arena when, in December 1959, Senator Estes Kefauver (D-TN) took up the general issue of administered prices. Through the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly he investigated a host of industries, including ‘‘bread, milk, auto, steel, and electrical manufacturing’’ industries. He also focused on the American pharmaceutical industry’s monopoly and revealed a ‘‘series of price-fixing and collusion scandals’’.

During the ten-month hearings, 150 witnesses testified about cortical steroids, tranquilizers, antibiotics, and oral antidiabetics. Kefauver, who ‘‘favored an economy in which competition among small producers set prices,’’ asserted that the drug industry practised ‘‘price leadership’’ and suffered little foreign or domestic competition. His two principal experts, Dr. John Blair and Paul Rand Dixon, were media savvy and compared a drug’s production costs to its wholesale and retail prices; thereafter they brusquely questioned representatives of the pharmaceutical industry and neatly underlined the fact that consumers in the United States were paying a hefty sum for their medications. In one extraordinary example, the markup was 7000 per cent.

Kefauver’s subcommittee hearings, aided by the Thalidomide scare in 1962, eventually led to the passage of the 1962 Kefauver-Harris Act. Compulsory licensing and greater patent regulation, significant
pricing reforms, were excluded from the final product. Still, Kefauver’s legislation had a lasting impact. It increased the power of the FDA—the ultimate authority on whether a drug goes to market—and mandated a drug be both safe and effective; the new law also established standardized manufacturing procedures.
According to physician Jerry Avorn, the new law represented a ‘‘watershed moment in the nation’s approach to medications.’’ The legislation ‘‘completely changed the way doctors and patients thought about drugs’’. Just as important, Kefauver (and his pricing hearings) was the forerunner for a cascading set of consumer oriented hearings which focused on the growing power of the pharmaceutical industry’s advertising as well as the addictive nature of stimulants and sedatives.


While President Bush adopted an amorphous position on reimportation, his appointments at the HHS and FDA did not.

In 2002, Tommy Thompson, who had already scuttled the legalization of reimportation, combined US national security imperatives and a policy opposing counterfeit drugs. In his estimation, drugs reimported to the United States from Canada constituted a clear and present danger to American consumers and, building his case, drew parallels with the new War on Terror launched after 11 September 2001. Thompson warned that ‘‘opening our borders to reimported drugs potentially could increase the flow of counterfeit drugs, cheap foreign copies of FDA-approved drugs [what the rest of us call generics], expired and contaminated drugs, and drugs stored under inappropriate and unsafe conditions.’’ Thompson’s argument concluded with a reference to the recent terrorist threats in Washington DC and around the country: ‘‘In light of the anthrax attacks of last fall, that’s a risk we simply cannot take’’.

In 2002, FDA officials underscored the necessity for vigilance against the dangers of drug importation. After chronicling the FDA’s recent legal struggles with counterfeit criminal enterprises in Alabama, Los Angeles, and Texas, one FDA leader recounted the seriousness of drug importation’s risks to public health. ‘‘Throwing open the door to drugs purchased by individuals directly from Canadian sellers,’’ Hubbard said of potential legalized importation, ‘‘will encourage unscrupulous individuals to devise schemes using Canada as a transshipment point for dangerous products from all around the globe’’.

Another tactic was to direct advertisements at consumers. One particular ad, sponsored by the drug industry, depicted two identical looking pills over the caption Quick. Pick the Capsule that Hasn’t Been Tampered With. The advertisement cited the support not just of the FDA and HHS, but the US Customs Service and Border Patrol and the DEA, arms of government usually concerned with protecting
Americans from very different kinds of drugs. The ad warned, furthermore, that allowing Americans to fill prescriptions in Canada ‘‘could open America’s medicine cabinets to an influx of dangerous drugs,’’ and it closed with an appeal to ‘‘Keep Black Market Drugs Out of America’’.

Ominous government advertisements also influenced Americans not to purchase drugs from Canada. A poster sponsored by the FDA and CBP also cast doubts on the safety and quality of foreign drugs. In an ad titled ‘‘Buying Medicine from Outside the U.S. Is Risky Business,’’ a vicious green snake, with fangs bared and piercing golden eyes, is shown squeezing a bottle of pills. To the right of the viper, the ad asked Americans: ‘‘Think it’s safe buying medicine from outside the United States? Think again.’’





Essentially, the recent story of the EpiPen is far from new. Thanks for reading!

Here’s Bernie on prices after the Martin Shkreli story…



Sports and Sports Medicine in CBMH/BCHM

Do you have an Olympic hangover? Missing the thrills and excitement? You’re not alone. People are clearly pining for more of Bolt and Biles, Phelps and the Fijians. But fear not. You can get your fix in CBMH/BCHM.

Back in 2011, the journal held a special issue on sports and medicine. The editors, Eileen O’Connor and Patricia Vertinksy, argued that “elite sport” and “sports medicine are increasingly at the forefront of public consciousness, especially when the Olympic Games come to town…”

But they’re aim was to push beyond the Olympics. It would be an error, they suggested, to “confine the historical study of sport medicine to the world of high level athletics,” considering the linkages “between exercise, sport and medicine for all age groups and in different regions of the world goes back millennia.”

Nevertheless, the Olympics get some attention! Thankfully. In James Rupert’s Genitals to Genes: The History and Biology of Gender Verification in the Olympics and Parissa Safai’s A Healthy Anniversary? Exploring Narratives of Health in Media Coverage of the 1968 and 2008 Olympic Games, readers are exposed to scientific and mass media analyses of the games. Both are excellent and topical articles!


The former is very interesting, especially since the 800 metre women’s final was the most controversial race of the Olympics. Some in the race openly questioned whether Caster Semenya of South Africa should have been allowed to compete due to a condition called hyperandrogenism, where an athlete’s testosterone level is elevated. It’s also been suggested that Francine Niyonsaba and Margaret Wambui might also have a similar condition. According to the National Post, Poland’s Joanna Jozwik, who was fifth in Saturday’s final, and Great Britain’s Lynsey Sharp, who was sixth, both openly questioned the fairness of female athletes competing with high levels of testosterone.


Canadian Melissa Bishop placed 4th


If you’re interested in sports in specific geographical regions, then you can also get your fix. Bouchier and Cruikshank, in Abandoning Nature: Swimming Pools and Clean, Healthy Recreation in Hamilton, Ontario, c. 1930s-1950s, address Canada. Gertrud Pfister tackles “Sports” Medicine in Germany and Its Struggle for Professional Status, whereas the prolific public historian Vanessa Heggie showcases Sport (and Exercise) Medicine in Britain: Healthy Citizens and Abnormal Athletes. It’s a remarkable set of essays.

And below was a remarkable race!

For more on what I’m doing with the CBMH/BCMH, please see the announcement here.


‘Manly Yoga’ and Bro-Culture

Bromance. Brog-Hug. Brocation. Now ‘Broga.’

Yes, this is for real.

According to Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Adina Bresge, “a growing global fitness trend has men ditching dumbbells for yoga mats in so-called Broga classes, a macho twist on the thousands-year-old practice that promises the same punishing workout — with a little added bliss.”

In the UK and beyond, broga is described as ‘macho’ yoga classes which prioritize ‘rugged’ strength and physicality over spirituality.

Until recently, some traditions of yoga were exclusively practiced by men, but it has been largely shunned by male fitness buffs in the modern era. No longer! Yoga instructors are now catering to wannabe-buff men with classes that spotlight strength over stretching, and offering everything from craft beer after class to man-only retreats away from the fairer sex.

No doubt, this will be an Olympic sport in the future. Or, if nothing else, it will elevate to the same level of the Crossfit Games.


A lumbersexual Broga enthusiast


“Yoga is more than just women contorting themselves into vegan pretzels,” says Michael DeCorte, the Toronto “man-treprenuer” behind Jock Yoga, an athletic mashup that combines the mindfulness of sun salutations with the muscle burn of pumping iron.

“Originally, it was just a gimmick,” says DeCorte. “When I first saw it on a poster, it was almost like an oxymoron … You see yoga and think, ‘spiritual,’ and at jock you think, ‘laid-back, swearing, burping.”‘

DeCorte says men can account for anywhere between 50 to 85 per cent of his classes at the Equinox fitness club in Toronto, a striking level of testosterone in an industry whose audience is 70 per cent women, according to a 2016 Ipsos Public Affairs study.

Classes like Jock Yoga have cropped up all over the country, such as Jo-Ga in Halifax, Yoguy in Vancouver and the all-nude male Mudraforce studio in Montreal.

Have you attended?



This video provides a hint.


Other magazines – and even some scholars – have addressed this term in more detail.

For Slate, Bro’s ascendance into the pop cultural pantheon was mostly due to lots of white kids trying to seem cool by emulating black slang.

Here’s how.

As Matthew J.X. Malady (great name) put it, though usage of bro as an abbreviation of  ‘brother’ can be traced back to at least 1660, conversational uses more similar to what we hear today begin cropping up in the mid- to late 18th century, according to lexicographer and Indiana University English professor Michael Adams.

(In particular, he points to the text of a 1762 burlesque play titled Homer Travestie, which includes the word bro several times. “That suggests maybe it’s low or underworld speech—a type of slang of the period,” Adams says. “Brother would often be shortened to bro in this period, in the same way that many names were radically shortened, so that William would be shortened to Wm. You just skip all the letters you didn’t really need to identify the person. So in casual correspondence, that was the way people referred to each other, and it may have migrated into speech.” )

Then, this is where African-American culture comes into the picture.

Again, according to Malady’s research and writing, the use of bro as a simple abbreviation appears to have remained fairly consistent during subsequent centuries. But its slang usage really exploded during the past 100 years or so as it gained popularity in the black community – as a replacement for brother in conversation.

(Use of the term brother in the black church, Adams says, can be definitively dated back to at least the early 20th century, though “that’s partly just the emergence of African-American culture into print, so it’s quite likely that brother associated with the church has a longer history. It just ends up not being recorded anywhere.”)

While the heavy use of brother by those participating in social movements during the 1960s helped propel bro into the realm of casual conversation among activists, its more broad ascendance into the pop cultural pantheon after that was mostly due to lots of white kids trying to seem cool by emulating black slang. As the 20thcentury advanced, first brother and then bro became progressively more common in black speech says Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguistics expert who teaches at Berkeley’s School of Information. “Then,” he adds, “like everything else in black English, it’s appropriated and reinterpreted both deliberately and unwittingly by other speakers.”



As I thought about yoga, health, and masculinity and language, I couldn’t help but think about the metrosexuality vs. lumbersexuality. I have, of course, written about lumbersexuality in the past and present.

And one of the conclusions was that the broader lumbersexual phenomenon was straight culture’s latest attempt to theatricalize masculinity – decades after gays got there first.

Now ‘Broga.’ Much to ponder…