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!

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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.

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Canadian Melissa Bishop placed 4th

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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.

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A lumbersexual Broga enthusiast

HERE’S AN EXCERPT FROM THE CBC.

“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?

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WHAT’S A ‘BRO’ ANYWAY?

This video provides a hint.

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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.”

Boom.

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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…

Drug History in CBMH-BCHM

The Drug Policy Alliance, an organization dedicated to the promotion of drug policies based on science, compassion, health, and human rights, recently published an article entitled the “The Real History of Drugs.”

The author, Tony Newman, asks “why are some drugs legal and some prohibited? Why do we arrest approximately 600,000 Americans each year for marijuana possession, but sell tobacco and alcohol on most corners? Why do we lock up people who use meth for years, and dole out the similar drug Ritalin to our children?”

He then answers these questions with a single statement: a mixture of racism, stigma, and the individuals perceived to be using the illegal drugs.

At the same time, the article points toward short, slick videos that address the “real” history of substances, including cocaine, cannabis, and

MDMA

as well as LSD

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The video are well-produced and easily digestible.

Here’s the thing, though. Any “real” history of drugs will require a close reading of Canadian Bulletin of Medical History/Bulletin canadien d’histoire de la médecine.

In the realm of pharmaceuticals, you have Jackie Duffin’s In View of the Body of Job Broom: A Glimpse of the Medical Knowledge and Practice of John Rolph, Stephen Francom’s Pharmacy Records at the Archives of Ontario: Their Form, Content, and Value for Research, Laura Hirshbein’s Masculinity, Work, and the Fountain of Youth: Irving Fisher and the Life Extension Institute, 1914-31, and Peters’s and Snelders’s From King Kong Pills to Mother’s Little Helpers—Career Cycles of Two Families of Psychotropic Drugs: The Barbiturates and Benzodiazepines.

(In fact, the entire volume in which Peters and Snelders published their work contains wonderful, wide-ranging drugs-related articles.)

Then, in the realm of intoxicants and addiction, there’s Krasnick’s Because there is Pain: Alcoholism, Temperance and the Victorian Physician, Dan Malleck’s “Its Baneful Influences Are Too Well Known”: Debates over Drug Use in Canada, 1867-1908, Catherine Carstairs’s Deporting “Ah Sin” to Save the White Race: Moral Panic, Racialization, and the Extension of Canadian Drug Laws in the 1920s, and Dan Malleck’s (yes, Malleck again) “A State Bordering on Insanity”?:Identifying Drug Addiction in Nineteenth-Century Canadian Asylums.

Look, this is not a comprehensive list of all the articles that tackle drugs in CBHM-BCHM. Instead, this is just to provide a flavour…

So, when you’re looking for the “real” history of drugs, go further, dig deeper, and read happily. When you’re looking for answers to questions like those posed by Tony Newman, hit up the CBHM-BCHM.

Enjoy.

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For more on what I’m doing with the CBMH/BCMH, please see the announcement here and be sure to visit https://cshm-schm.ca/

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The Weight of History/The History of Weight in CBMH/BCHM

Or, History has Heft: On Public History and Debates about Weight Loss

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Trying to lose weight isn’t a new phenomenon. Consumers have long searched for a safe and effective approach to lose weight. At the same time, a strong debate persists about the genetic component of obesity, new scholarly sub-fields (see Fat Studies) are emerging questioning the stigmatization of overweight individuals, and our body images are being shaped by these forces. Historians have a crucial role to play in the way in which individuals, communities, and health authorities conceptualize bodies and think about weight.

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In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by Frank L. Baum, all of the characters are searching for something. Dorothy is looking for a way home. The Scarecrow wants a brain, whereas the Tin Man wants a heart and the Lion desires courage.The only way to attain their goals is to visit the Wizard of Oz in the Emerald City. Only with his magic will their wishes be granted. As it turns out, the wizard is a total fraud. He’s just an ordinary man trying to protect his position and his empire. He’s a charlatan looking out for himself.

It is the same with TV’s Dr. Oz. As Americans (and Canadians) seek out their own desires,  be it weight loss or low blood pressure, it’s best to be wary of false wizards.

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In 2014, Dr. Oz was called before a Senate committee on consumer protection and given a public lashing for his promotion of fraudulent weight-loss products. He admitted he was a bit of a cheerleader, using flowery language, although he suggested that it was important to advertise multiple views on the show. He also admitted that some of the products he’s suggested his viewers use don’t necessarily have “the scientific muster to present as fact.” For many, Oz came across as a quack and a huckster.

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Promoted by Dr. Oz

John Oliver, of Last Week Tonight, came down hard on Oz. He taunted and belittled the TV doctor. He used all the bells and whistles he could, including a tap-dancing Steve Buscemi, to continue the public lashing. Likewise, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni described Oz as “a carnival barker” and “a one-man morality play about the temptations of mammon and the seduction of applause….” Then, a group of high-profile doctors called for the removal of Oz in a public letter. They suggested he was pushing “miracle” weight-loss supplements with no scientific proof that they work. He displayed an “egregious lack of integrity,” said the letter, and Oz had shown “disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine.”

In 2015, I decided that I had something to offer about this matter. I felt that, having written about the history of the pharmaceutical industry and diet pills, I could contribute to the understanding of Oz. His influence on people. The role of spurious products in the marketplace. More specifically, I thought I could move beyond the walls of the so-called Ivory Tower and link my academic research with the public and maybe even policy-makers, as Kathleen O’Grady and Noralou Roos have advocated for.

As they put it, “An average paper in a peer-reviewed academic journal is read by no more than 10 people, according to Singapore-based academic Asit Biswas and Oxford researcher Julian Kirchherr, in their controversial commentary “Prof, No One Is Reading You,” which went viral last year….as many as 1.5 million peer-reviewed articles are published annually, with as many as 82 percent never cited once, not even by other academics. In other words, most academic writing rarely influences thinking beyond the privileged circles in which it is constructed – and the vast majority of it is far from influencing public policy and debate on critical issues.”

So, why not try a short piece aimed at the public? Oz was topical, after all.

It was not the first op-ed/web-based article that I had written for public consumption, nor will it be the last. However, the result was stunning. I criticized Oz rather severely (using some of the same language above) and certain readers pushed back hard. Because Oz was a supporter of organic and natural foods, and because he often positioned himself as anti-GMO, I was, by default a supporter of big business, of Monsanto, and a product of the right-wing establishment. It was startling that my piece on Oz would generate such animosity.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised.

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This is where the Canadian Bulletin for Medical History/Bulletin canadien d’histoire de la médecine comes into the story of The Weight of History/The History of Weight. Because any historian wanting to engage with weight loss, dieting, and public health in Canada (as well as beyond) must – absolutely must – engage with CBMH/BCHM.

Obesity is not the exclusive focus of all CBMH/BCHM articles addressing health, food, and dieting, although such works as 1987’s “Juan Luis Vives: A humanistic medical educator,” 1993’s “Medieval Women’s Guides to Food During Pregnancy: Origins, Texts, and Traditions,” and 1995’s “Promoting Good Health in the Age of Reform: The Medical Publications of Henry H. Porter of Philadelphia, 1829-32,” showcase the evolving knowledge of nutrition and proper eating in general sense.

More specifically, Lori Loeb explores Upper Canadian quacks and spurious diet drugs in “George Fulford and Victorian Patent Medicine Men: Quack Mercenaries or Smilesian Entrepreneurs?”  Fulford, a Canadian senator and philanthropist, made his fortune from a product called Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills and he serves as a window into the patent medicine industry, which included various obesity “cures.” For Loeb, “Popular obesity cures…were mostly citric acid in water. The dangers of a minority of medicines, especially soothing syrups, which contained laudanum and chlorodynes should not be minimized, but many medicines were not only benign, but even appropriate for common ailments. Indigestion remedies were largely bicarbonate of soda. Rhubarb pills were good laxatives.” (130) The article is useful for a variety of reasons, but one of the more crucial has to be the discussion of professionalization, evolving safety standards, and developing medical knowledge surrounding the patent medicine industry. Essentially, Loeb is placing Fulford – an influential operator in the medical marketplace – under a microscope.

Then, there’s the journal’s approach to alternative medicine. Through such works as Ziadat’s “Western Medicine in Palestine, 1860-1940: The Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society and Its Hospital,” Heap’s “Physiotherapy’s Quest for Professional Status in Ontario, 1950-80,” Jasen’s “Maternalism and the Homeopathic Mission in Late-Victorian Montreal,” and Furth’s Paterson lecture on “Becoming Alternative? Modern Transformations of Chinese Medicine in China and in the United States,” readers have been exposed to conflicts within professional and scientific medicine over alternative medical knowledges, as well as upstart organizations.

What becomes clear in these articles, in addition to Barbara Clow’s excellent work on “Mahlon William Locke: ‘Toe-Twister’“, is that unusual therapies and counter-knowledges in medicine generate tremendous heat. The topic may be “toe-twisting” for arthritis or anti-vaccination narratives or diet pills or organic food/anti-GMO foods – these issues are all of the hot-button variety. And the CBMH/BCHM clearly underlines this. Hence, I should not have been surprised by the response to my Oz article.

Skip ahead.

In 2011, Roberta J. Park wrote about weight loss and public health with “Historical Reflections on Diet, Exercise, and Obesity: The Recurring Need to“Put Words into Action.” She cited how the American Centers for Disease Control estimated that more than one third of all adults and nearly one fifth of children were obese. And she argued, as the title of her paper suggested, more had to be done! It was time to put “words into action.”

Thereafter, in an incredibly ambitious article, Park tackled the historiography and history of diet, exercise, and obesity in (a) the Classical World; (b) the 1700s and 1800; and (c) the 1900s. She concluded with a clarion call – that it was time “sports medical personnel, including physical educators, should embrace lessons from…past successes in promoting exercise and sport among children and adolescents, and rekindle practices once popular and effective but now abandoned.” (397)

Of all CBMH/BCHM articles on weight loss, Park’s is the work most grounded in public policy – and the one most strident in its call for change. For historians and other academics to push for change!

The debate over diet drugs and body image continue. We still gobble up quick-fixes peddled by celebrities and we still search for drugs that will make losing weight painless. As Americans and Canadians continue to struggle with obesity, the history of diet pill regulation may continue to display familiar patterns. At the same time, the CBMH/BCHM can act as a tool in fostering new pathways in the months and years ahead.

The History of Medical Books in CBMH-BCHM

Bookworms & Medical History

Historians know all about books. Publishers. Proposals. Fonts. And proper theoretical frameworks. You name it. Historians have got it cased. Sure, to avoid becoming archaic – extinct – dinosaurs, historians are shifting with the times and engaging in a wider ‘digital turn’. But books still matter.

(Yes, I have a flair for the obvious.)

In Volume 12.2 of Canadian Bulletin of Medical History/Bulletin canadien d’histoire de la médecine , the University of Toronto’s Jennifer Connor offers up a series of articles on  A NEW HISTORY OF THE MEDICAL BOOK. She situates her edited volume in the larger ‘history of the book’ movement of the 1990s. It was a movement, she writes, that witnessed “the establishment of centres for book study at national libraries and universities,” “bibliographies and plans for national histories of the book,” and “new societies, conferences, journals, book series,” as well as “graduate-level courses and degree programs…” (204)

As she prepares CBMH-BCHM readers for the issue, Connor offers a thematic taxonomy of the fourteen essays. It’s a breakdown that includes: (1) the physical form of medical publications; (2) the range of genres for medical writing; (3) the collecting of print material in private and institutional libraries; (4) the links between medical publications and their social or intellectual milieu; (5) and the nature of the publishing enterprise itself.

First she meditates on the history of the book in medicine. She then turns to what the new history of the medical book may look like in the years ahead. Thereafter, she concludes with some general thoughts that still possess force:

“Publishers’ promotion aside, the transformative power of electronic media on the book cannot be denied. Certainly the economic advantages to publishers, researchers, health-care practitioners, and patients alike in having information widely available, continually updated, and easily accessed hold tremendous implications for the health sciences in future.” (211)

Indeed.

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One of the stand-out articles (for me) has to be Heather Burton’s ‘ “Still in Process”: Collaborative Authorship in a Twentieth- Century Biomedical Textbook,’ an account of Molecular Biology of the Cell. More particularly, it’s an account of the “unique and close collaboration between six outstanding scientists” who wrote one of the best-selling textbooks of all time. Even more particularly, it’s about Burton chronicling the writing of the book with one of her own. Essentially, Burton’s awesome article is about a book about a book. Seriously trippy.

Molecular Biology of the Cell, according to Burton was conceived by James Watson as far back as the late 1960s and early 1970s. He saw “that molecular biology was at the forefront of science and that the curriculum was on the verge of changing.” However, the field had no textbook to guide and define it. And he sought to move beyond another boring, traditional text. “His idea was for a bold, fresh approach, yet at the same time one that was comprehensive and cohesive.” (374)

My favourite moment in the article is the authors’ back-and-forth about the writing of their now seminal textbook. It wasn’t always an enjoyable, seamless process. It wasn’t always easy – as any historian or author knows all too well. Yet, the collaborators still managed to have some fun, including posing for a photograph in which they recreated the Beatles’ Abbey Road cover. See page 377 for the image that mirrors the one below.

abbey road

And so the article goes…

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Yet, Connor’s edited issue was not the only place in which CBMH-BCHM drilled deeper into the history of the book.

In 1993, Ian Carr explored the life of William Boyd,  one of the best known figures in the history of Canadian pathology. A professor of pathology in three Canadian universities, Boyd “is remembered chiefly because of the number and success of his textbooks.” (77) The article is called “William Boyd-The Commonplace and the Books.”

In what could have been a straightforward (and Whiggish) history of Boyd, Carr instead gets very interesting. In an effort to understand his historical actor more closely, Carr places a spotlight on Boyd’s ‘commonplace’ book.

According to Carr: “Commonplace books, in which people recorded what they had read, were written in increasing numbers in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; they were used during the Renaissance as places of reference, in formal arguments) but the keeping of a commonplace book gradually became the hallmark of a writer or literary individual. It was, before the Xerox or card index, an artificial memory. Robert Burns, Thomas Hardy, and W. H. Auden, among others, have left interesting commonplace books. William Boyd is therefore in good company. To my knowledge, no other major medical writer of this century has left such a book.” (78)

While some of the material in Boyd’s book may seem frivolous, Carr believed that (and so do I) “the choice of quotations gives a picture of the inside of William Boyd’s mind…” (79)

Kipling and Shakespeare, Milton and Wordsworth – for Carr, the inclusion of these greats offers historians of medicine a more comprehensive view of one Canada’s luminaries in pathology.

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And there’s more…

In David Shephard’s 2000 article on “The Casebook, the Daybook, and the Diary as Sources in Medical Historiography,” readers are exposed to the writings of John Mackieson, Jonathan Woolverton, and James Langstaff – three Canadian physicians.

While diaries and journals have long been used in order to describe personal experiences, explains Shephard, doctors also relate their medical experiences through casebooks and daybooks. And when placed alongside “account books” and “clinical-notes,” the “casebooks” and “daybook” constitute “a common literary genre among physicians in the nineteenth century.” (245) They were, as Shephard argues, “used to report the details of interesting clinical cases, to provide records for future reference, to serve as aides-memoires in the preparation of journal articles, books and lectures, and sometimes to fulfill requirements in a student’s training.” (246)

And so Shephard delves into Mackieson’s, Woolverton’s, and Langstaff’s casebooks/daybooks, thereby moving CBMH-BCHM readers beyond the standard textbook (Molecular Biology of the Cell) and the commonplace book (re Boyd)…

In Shephard’s estimation, these types of historical sources provide a snapshot of medical training and, more importantly, lend insight into rural vs. urban medical practice.

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Accept it. Historians of medicine truly are bookworms. Thanks for reading!

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This short article is part of broader series of posts. And I’m incredibly excited to be working with CBMH/BCHM and University of Toronto Press over the summer months. It will be my pleasure to help out with journal’s migration to the UofT’s publishing platform. As part of this transition, we are moving all of the back issues onto UofT’s server, and in some cases enhancing them, with abstracts and keywords. The journal is about to publish its 66th issue, so there are lots to consider!

As the journey commences this summer, I’ll be posting and tweeting about the process – all of the amazing stops and bumps in the road, as well excellent articles and contemporary health and medicine issues dating back to the mid-1980s. I’d guess holidays would come first, but I encourage you to share and participate in the voyage as much as you can!

@DrLucasRichert

 

Vaccine History in CBMH/BCHM

Vaccine & Immunization History in CBMH/BCHM

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The roadway to effective, accepted vaccines in history is neither smooth nor straight. Vaccines naturally induce potent social, political, and economic responses. They raise questions about scientific authority and the production of medical knowledge. Even more, vaccines have challenged the physician’s influence over patient-consumer choice in the medical marketplace, as anyone who watched Jenny McCarthy shape the discussion over autism and anti-vaccination can attest.

jenny_mccarthy

 

In 2016, commentators and historians are addressing this subject with verve. Many texts – hastily rushed to print after widespread media coverage of Jenny McCarthy’s campaign against vaccines – are aimed at a general audience, whereas others target more specialized academic and historical audiences. Two fine entries in the latter group include Elena Conis’s Vaccine Nation: America’s Changing Relationship with Immunization (Chicago UP, 2014) and Stephen Mawdsley’s very recent Selling Science: Polio and the Promise of Gamma Globulin (Rutgers UP, 2016), both of which concentrate largely on the second half of the twentieth century.

*Conis was the plenary speaker at the recent meeting in Calgary*

* Mawdsley, of course, is CSHM-SCHM ‘s website manager and editor *

And with Karen L. Walloch’s important new book, The Antivaccine Heresy: Jacobson v. Massachusetts and the Troubled History of Compulsory Vaccination in the United States (Rochester UP, 2015), we are exposed to much earlier wrangling over vaccination – specifically, compulsory vaccination – in the United States. Set against the vivid, shifting backdrop of Progressive-era ferment and, more particularly, a modern paradigm of public health predicated on the rise of bacteriology, Walloch examines the landmark Jacobson v. Massachusetts decision of 1905, which upheld a state statute mandating vaccination.

For the authors listed above, resistance to immunization or other medical decisions is not borne out of singular ignorance, nor is it always a function of big government, anti-medical establishment paranoia.

(To be sure, there are very real consequences of ignoring the best scientific evidence on inoculating agent – and there are dangers in not redressing the consequences of ignoring the best scientific evidence and tackling counter-narratives, as in the case of Nicoli Nattrass’ The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back. I have noted this elsewhere).

However, by treating antivaccinationist views coolly, and in seeking to appreciate why well-educated and reasonable people objected to medical innovation, the authors are suggesting that we may develop more sophisticated responses to vaccine counter-narratives and counter-knowledges in the present.

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Vaccine history is old hat for CBMH/BCHM readers, considering such scholars as Katherine Arnup, Barbara Tunis, Maureen Lux, and W.B. Spaulding have all contributed to the historical discussion of inoculation and vaccines.

Indeed, the very first article of the very first issue focussed on Dr James Latham, a “pioneer inoculator.” According to Barbara Tunis, “little has been known of his life or subsequent career” and the “intention of this short biography” was to “examine the broader content of his career as an inoculator and his years in North America.” (1) In unpacking his life and medical practice, Tunis finds that Latham, who lived from 1734-1799, was “materialistic” in his approach to the craft and “following a trend already established in England and America…” (11) It’s an intriguing article!

Later, William Spaulding’s “The Ontario Vaccine Farm, 1885-1916” builds on the work of Tunis and charts Canada’s response to smallpox.  “Established in 1885 by Dr. Alexander Stewart, a local physician, the Ontario Vaccine Farm was the first institution to produce smallpox vaccine in Ontario,” writes Spaulding. (54) The Farm originally consisted of a converted barn where Stewart employed government-approved methods for obtaining and processing vaccine from inoculated calves – and the article is made even more interesting through its inclusion of illustrations.

In 1992, Katherine Arnup once more placed a spotlight on Ontario vaccination, with “Victims of Vaccination?: Opposition to Compulsory Immunization in Ontario, 1900-90.” And, just as Elena Conis and Karen Walloch have recently underlined the tense back-and-forth, push-and-pull among supporters and detractors of vaccination, Arnup does the same. On the one hand, she focuses on the social and political dimensions of a particular struggle over compulsory vaccination against smallpox in the city of Toronto during the first two decades of the 20th century. One the other hand, Arnup turned to contemporary debates, “to the current controversy over the use of the pertussis vaccine, examining the work of the Committee Against Compulsory Vaccination, the group battling against immunization legislation…” (159-160)

And her conclusion certainly presages many of the findings and sentiments found within recent work that give more credence to anti-vaxxers, vaccine hesitance, and vaccine resistors:

“One of the lessons that history can teach us is that in dismissing the opponents of immunization as ‘mere nonentities’ we underestimate the appeal that their message has. Although the vast majority of parents today opt for immunization for their children, increasing numbers of people are expressing concerns about its safety. While there are undoubtedly fanatics among the opponents of immunization, there are also many thousands of concerned parents, wondering what is best for their children.” (171)

In its balance and tenor, it’s strikingly similar to what’s emerging now!

Finally, with Lux’s “Perfect Subjects: Race, Tuberculosis,and the Qu’Appelle BCG Vaccine Trial,” the historiography shifts further forward chronologically and begins to include Indigenous peoples of Canada. The article also recasts Canadian vaccine history somewhat, as it uses themes of experimentation and colonialism to help tell a story about medial knowledge creation and Tuberculosis.

It’s a harrowing piece of scholarship (think Ian Mosby and Susan Reverby) that has the ability to make the reader uncomfortable, even angry. As Lux puts it, “The BCG trial at the Qu’Appelle reserves must be viewed in the historical context of Native-White relations. Native people were viewed as primitives and strangers in their own land and in need of fundamental change.” (291)

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Why do we question vaccines? And who are the thought leaders involved? Are they respectable, or are they hacks? And, more importantly, what can we glean from past debates about vaccines? Yes, the answers to these questions are being debated in brand new scholarship related to the United States and elsewhere, but (as noted in a previous post) it’s exciting that CBMH/BCMH readers were exposed to such historical questions from the journals’s beginnings.

(Please watch for a French version soon)

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

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FRENCH VERSION

Lhistoire de la vaccination et du vaccin dans le CBMH/BCHM

L’histoire nous montre que la route qui mène à des vaccins efficaces et acceptés est truffée d’embuche. Les vaccins entrainent systématiquement d’importants bouleversements sociaux, politiques et économiques. Ils soulèvent des questions relatives à l’autorité scientifique et à la production de savoir médical. Par ailleurs, les vaccins ont contesté l’influence du médecin pour tout ce qui a trait au choix des patients-consommateurs sur le marché médical, comme tous ceux qui ont pu voir Jenny McCarthy mener la discussion sur l’autisme et l’anti-vaccination peuvent en témoigner.

En 2016, les commentateurs et les historiens se penchent sur ce sujet avec brio. Beaucoup de textes (imprimés à la va-vite après une importante couverture médiatique de la campagne de Jenny McCarthy contre les vaccins) sont destinés à un public profane, tandis que d’autres ciblent des auditoires d’universitaires et d’historiens plus spécialisés. Citons comme contributions notables dans la seconde catégorie Vaccine Nation: America’s Changing Relationship with Immunization (Chicago UP, 2014) et Selling Science: Polio and the Promise of Gamma Globulin (Rutgers UP, 2016) par Elena Conis et très récemment par Stephen Mawdsley, qui se concentrent principalement sur la seconde moitié du XXe siècle.

* Conis était la conférencière en séance plénière lors de la récente réunion à Calgary *

* Mawdsley, bien sûr, est l’administrateur du site CSHM-SCHM *

Et avec l’important nouveau livre de Karen L. Walloch, The Antivaccine Heresy: Jacobson v. Massachusetts and the Troubled History of Compulsory Vaccination in the United States (Rochester UP, 2015), on apprend que les querelles concernant la vaccination aux Etats-Unis sont bien plus anciennes (en particulier, la vaccination obligatoire). Avec pour toile de fond cette ère Progressiste vive et mouvementée et, plus particulièrement, un paradigme moderne de santé publique fondée sur l’influence grandissante de la bactériologie, Walloch examine la décision historique Jacobson v. Massachusetts de 1905, qui a confirmé une loi de l’État rendant obligatoire la vaccination.

Pour les auteurs énumérés ci-dessus, la résistance à la vaccination ou à d’autres décisions médicales n’est pas le fruit d’une ignorance singulière. Elle n’est pas non plus la conséquence systématique d’une méfiance paranoïaque envers un gouvernement puissant ou envers le système médical.

Pour sûr, ignorer les meilleures preuves scientifiques concernant l’agent inoculant n’est pas sans conséquences et il est dangereux de ne pas pallier à cette ignorance des meilleures preuves scientifiques et de ne pas lutter contre les récits révisionnistes, comme dans le cas de The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back par Nicoli Nattrass. Et j’ai constaté ça ailleurs.

Cependant, en examinant les points de vue « anti-vaccinationistes » froidement, et en cherchant à comprendre pourquoi des personnes aussi bien éduquées et raisonnables ont pu s’opposer à l’innovation médicale, les auteurs suggèrent que l’on peut aujourd’hui développer des réponses plus sophistiquées aux récits révisionnistes et aux contre-vérités.

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Les lecteurs de CBMH / BCHM en sont bien conscients, étant donné que des chercheurs comme Katherine Arnup, Barbara Tunis, Maureen Lux et W.B. Spaulding ont tous contribué à la discussion historique de l’inoculation et les vaccins.

En effet, le tout premier article du tout premier numéro portait sur le Dr James Latham, un « pionnier de l’inoculation. » Selon Barbara Tunis, «  on connait très peu de sa vie ou de sa carrière ultérieure» et «le but de cette courte biographie » est « d’examiner le contenu plus large de sa carrière en tant « inoculateur » et ses années en Amérique du Nord. » (1) En examinant sa vie et sa pratique médicale, Tunis estime que Latham, qui a vécu de 1734 à 1799, était «matérialiste» dans son rapport à sa pratique et «suivait une tendance déjà établie en Angleterre et en Amérique … » (11 ) C’est un article fascinant !

Par la suite, « The Farm Vaccine Ontario, 1885-1916 » de William Spaulding s’appuie sur les travaux de Tunis et analyse la réponse du Canada à la variole. « Fondée en 1885 par le Dr Alexander Stewart, un médecin local, la Ferme à vaccin de l’Ontario (Ontario Vaccine Farm) a été la première institution à produire le vaccin contre la variole en Ontario», écrit Spaulding. (54) La Ferme se composait initialement d’une grange aménagée dans laquelle Stewart employait des méthodes approuvées par le gouvernement pour l’obtention et la fabrication de vaccins à partir de veaux inoculés. Les illustrations rendent l’article encore plus intéressant.

En 1992, Katherine Arnup mit une fois de plus en lumière la vaccination en Ontario, avec « Victims of Vaccination?: Opposition to Compulsory Immunization in Ontario, 1900-90. » Et, tout comme Elena Conis et Karen Walloch ont récemment souligné les tensions liées au va-et-vient parmi les partisans et les détracteurs de la vaccination, Arnup fait de même ici. D’une part, elle s’attarde sur les dimensions sociales et politiques d’une lutte particulière portant sur la vaccination obligatoire contre la variole dans la ville de Toronto au cours des deux premières décennies du 20e siècle. D’ autre part, Arnup s’intéresse aux débats contemporains : « la controverse actuelle concernant l’utilisation du vaccin contre la coqueluche, examinant les travaux du Comité contre la vaccination obligatoire (Committee Against Compulsory Vaccination), qui luttait contre la législation de vaccination …» (159-160)

Et sa conclusion précède certainement beaucoup d’idées et d’impressions que l’on peut trouver dans certains travaux récents qui donnent plus de crédibilité aux anti-vaccinationistes, l’hésitation des vaccins et des résistances de vaccins :

« L’une des leçons que l’on peut tirer de l’histoire, c’est qu’en rejetant les adversaires de la vaccination comme de « simples nullités », nous sous-estimons la portée de leur message. Bien qu’aujourd’hui la grande majorité des parents opte pour la vaccination de leurs enfants, beaucoup de personnes émettent des réserves quant à sa sécurité. C’est sûr qu’il existe des fanatiques parmi les opposants à la vaccination, mais il y a aussi des milliers de parents inquiets qui se demandent ce qui est le mieux pour leurs enfants. » (171)

Dans son équilibre et sa teneur, c’est étonnamment similaire à ce qui est en train d’émerger !

Enfin, avec « Perfect Sujets: Race, Tuberculosis and the Qu’Appelle Vaccin BCG Trial, » écrit par Lux, l’historiographie se penche sur des sujets plus contemporains et commence à inclure les peuples autochtones du Canada. D’une certaine manière, l’article refonde également l’histoire du vaccin au Canada, étant donné qu’il a recours aux thèmes de l’expérimentation et du colonialisme pour raconter une histoire de la création des connaissances médicales et de la tuberculose. C’est un article poignant (cf. Ian Mosby et Susan Reverby), qui a la faculté de mettre le lecteur mal à l’aise, voire en colère. Comme Lux le dit, « Le procès BCG dans les réserves Qu’Appelle doit être étudié dans le contexte historique des relations autochtones-Blanc. Les autochtones étaient considérés comme des êtres primitifs et des étrangers au sein de leur propre pays et comme nécessitant un changement fondamental. » (291)

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Pourquoi nous interrogeons-nous sur les vaccins ? Et qui sont les leaders d’opinion concernés ? Sont-ils respectables ou sont-ils des imposteurs ? Et, de manière plus importante, que pouvons-nous tirer des débats d’antan sur les vaccins ? Oui, les réponses à ces questions sont débattues dans de nouvelles études portant sur les Etats-Unis et ailleurs, mais (comme indiqué dans un précédent post), c’est stimulant de penser que les lecteurs de CBMH/BCMH ont été exposés à de telles questions historiques depuis les débuts de la revue.

 

Medical History and the Arts!

Walt Whitman,  John Keats, and Franz Schubert. Literature, poetry, and classical music.

In the early stages of cataloging the Canadian Bulletin of Medical History/Bulletin canadien d’histoire de la médecine for the University of Toronto it has become abundantly clear that the journal showcased the intersection medicine, health, and the arts. (Here’s the announcement about what I’m actually doing.)

In 2014, the New York Academy of Medicine held its second annual Festival of Medical History and the Arts, which celebrated the 500th birthday of anatomist and humanist Andreas Vesalius. Vesalius’ groundbreaking De humani corporis fabrica (The Fabric of the Human Body) of 1543 remains one of the key Renaissance texts. It profoundly altered medical training, anatomical knowledge, and artistic representations of the body.

Page 174 of Andreas Vesalius’ De corporis humani fabrica libri septem, available at National Library of Medicine

 

While few figures have been so influential to the arts, learning, and medicine – and while Vesalius’ influence has persisted over the centuries in anatomical training, representations of the body and the visual arts – other important figures in the Arts deserve attention, too.

The CBMH/BCHM was addressing this as early as 1984, when S.E.D. Shortt probed Walt Whitman’s and Richard Bucke’s fiery friendship. In “The Myth of a Canadian Boswell: Dr. R.M. Bucke and Walt Whitman,” Shortt seeks to correct the view of Bucke, one of the most notable figures in Canadian mental health history. And he recasts the Bucke/Whitman relationship as one of “symbiosis rather than of master poet and sycophantic admirer.” (55) It’s a fascinating read and timely, especially since the New York Academy of Medicine just this month held a public forum on Walt Whitman, ‘Manly Health,’ and the Democratization of Medicine.

http://whitmanarchive.org/multimedia/image007.html?sort=year&order=ascending&page=1

Available at the Walt Whitman Archive

 

Thereafter, in 1986 (Vol 1) CBMH/BCHM placed a spotlight on the early medical career of John Keats and Franz Schubert’s terminal illness.

For G. Hetenyi, in the early 1980s “considerable uncertainty” still existed about Schubert’s terminal illness and the cause of his death in 1828. Thus, his article, “The terminal illness of Franz Schubert and the treatment of syphilis in Vienna in the eighteen hundred and twenties,” is part biography, part nosography. (51-52)

It ably locates Schubert within a particular medical culture (Vienna) and provides a unique window into his musical career. Along the way, Hetenyi raises some tantalizing questions: Was Schubert being poisoned? Was he suffering from Typhus?

 

Finally, “Keats as a Student at Guy’s Hospital” offers a wonderful snapshot of medical training within an elite institution, as well as the “varied profession.”  According to Donald Goellnicht, “Keats is famous first as a poet, second as a letter-writer, and hardly at all as a man of medicine.” (65-66)

John Keats – available on Biography.com

The goal, then, is to furnish a fuller portrait of Keats’s background. And the reader is exposed to the volatile nature of the medical field in the early 19th century, the gritty and grotesque world of anatomical and surgical education, and absorbing accounts of leading physicians, including Ashley Cooper who was widely regarded as one of the best medical lecturers in Europe.

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In essence, the earliest issues of CBMH/BCHM sought to highlight the crossroads of medicine, health, and the arts, which is, of course, very fashionable now.

The University of Toronto has recently started a Health, Arts, & Humanities Program, while the University of Saskatchewan just launched a Health Studies Program. And this is simply the tip of the iceberg. Many more universities and many lecturers/physicians/educators are evaluating the relationship between Medicine and the Arts.

It’s affirming that Canadian Association for the History of Medicine/  Société canadienne d’histoire de la médecine was doing this from the journal’s inception.

By Lucas Richert @DrLucasRichert

 

 

Medical History on the Move

I have a new blog post on the University of Toronto’s site.

 

I’m incredibly excited to be working with CBMH/BCHM and University of Toronto Press over the summer months. It will be my pleasure to help out with journal’s migration to the UofT’s publishing platform. As part of this transition, we are moving all of the back issues onto UofT’s server, and in some cases enhancing them, with abstracts and keywords. The journal is about to publish its 66th issue, so there are lots to consider!

As the journey commences this summer, I’ll be posting and tweeting about the process – all of the amazing stops and bumps in the road, as well excellent articles and contemporary health and medicine issues dating back to the mid-1980s. I’d guess holidays would come first, but I encourage you to share and participate in the voyage as much as you can!

For updates see, @DrLucasRichert and LucasRichert.com

Lucas Richert, PhD

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Radicalism, Trump and the Past

In  the era of Trump and Hillary, we may occasionally forget about strange and seemingly ‘radical’ political moments.  But there have always been times of flux, of discrete moments of radicalism. I’ve tried my best to engage with some of these moments and some of the literature that surrounds these moments.

“The term political radicalism (or simply, in political science, radicalism) denotes political principles focused on altering social structures through revolutionary means and changing value systems in fundamental ways.”

Below are a few examples of specific radical’ moments.

EARLY 19th CENTURY RADICALISM

For example, Peter Adams’s The Bowery Boys: Street Corner Radicals and the Politics of Rebellion (Praeger, 2005). A fly-under-the-radar expose of 19th century radicalism, the book has a lot of resonance now.

bowery boys

At the heart of The Bowery Boys – and of street corner radicalism – is Mike Walsh. His was a New York of ethnic and class division. In his 2005 book, Adams contends that the Industrial Revolution had fostered division by modifying the nature of the urban workplace. People felt disenchanted. Empty. The body was a vessel to be exploited.

He also holds that, by 1820, economic and political power had come to be controlled by a group of commercial and merchant elites (26). Walsh was an anti-intellectual rabble-rouser, who recognized and inveighed against this growing inequality. He voiced the frustrations of New York’s poverty-stricken immigrants and nativeborn alike with his incendiary newspaper Subterranean.

In short, Mike Walsh was radical in a radical time and place, a point
hammered home with vigor in this book. Adams cites Walt Whitman, one
of Walsh’s on-again, off -again supporters as writing, “At this moment New York is the most radical city in America” (63). Adams himself characterizes New York as “a center of radical thinking,” a safe haven rife with bohemians, trade-unionists, and utopian socialists (63). Walsh, a product of this environment, touted the Subterranean as “the most radical paper on earth” (xxi). And Walsh’s Bowery Boys, according to Adams, represented “a radical insurgency that threatened the public order and existing class relations” (xxii)

This sounds very familiar…

The Bowery Boys is also an instructive book for those readers interested in the history of Tammany Hall, the Democratic Party’s internecine squabbling, and as popularized by Martin Scorsese in 2002, the radical ruffians and scrappers that participated in certain Gangs of New York.

 

POST-WAR 60s RADICALISM

I’ve also been very interested in the women and activists of the 1960s & 1970s. Hence, my close reading of Anne Valk’s Radical Sisters: Second-Wave Feminism and Black Liberation in Washington, D.C. (Illinois Press, 2010)

Valk investigates numerous grass-roots movements and organizations, such as the D.C. Women’s Liberation Movement, D.C. Area Feminist Alliance, and Gay Liberation Front. She offers absorbing portraits of movement figures like Mary Treadwell and Etta Horn, but the core strength of Radical Sisters is the delineation of the synergy, cross-fertilization, and antagonism between strains of feminism in Washington, D.C. This monograph, Valk’s first, is thus instructive for those readers with a broad interest in social movement interactions and feminism in the United States.

The book capably captures the points of both convergence and departure that characterized ‘radical’ women’s groups in Washington, D.C. On the one hand, Valk skillfully articulates how dogmatism stunted collaboration and consequently the longevity of certain organizations (the Metropolitan Abortion Alliance). Liberal feminists, she suggests, wanted legal and statutory reform and displayed a “fundamental faith in the soundness of America’s economic and political institutions,” whereas radical feminists, often far more bellicose, wanted to free women “within both personal and public realms” (4).

radical sisters

Read a full review here: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/465454

Radical feminists, in some instances, advocated the toppling of America’s capitalistic economy to terminate patriarchy, racism, and imperialism, thereby creating conditions in which an inclusive democracy would blossom.

In some cases, pugnacious radical women established shelters for battered women, children’s programs, rape crisis centers, and feminist publications such as Aegis andQuest. They were taking control of their bodies.

On the other hand, Valk correctly contends that the scholarly distinctions between radical and liberal are misleading and somewhat overplayed. She illustrates how “the line separating liberals and radicals often blurred” (8) and takes care to clarify how flexibility and adaptation also characterized interactions between movements like the Washington Area Women’s Center and National Black Feminist Organization. In explicating these tensions and negotiations, Radical Sisters paints a picture of a dynamic and protean feminism in the 1960s and 1970s.

Valk’s narrative begins with an overview of antipoverty and civil rights activism in the early 1960s, describing how branches of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) supported women participants in these initial efforts. Together, these groups campaigned to influence welfare policies, reproductive rights, and the socioeconomic status of women. Meanwhile, Valk traces the concurrent rise of radical feminists, who not only took cues from liberal feminism but also served to spark a fiery exchange of ideas about ethnic and class division in Washington, D.C., social movements. She then addresses this evolving dialogue as she unpacks and highlights the Black Power era. “Most Black Power advocates reacted negatively to organized feminism,” she explains, “and black women sought to advance gender equality through racial oppression” (11).

Black-Power-Gossip

Finally, the narrative turns to lesbian feminism, another vital element of the fractionalized feminist landscape. According to Valk, the Furies, as the gay feminist collective was called, distinguished themselves by attacking homophobia in extant feminist organizations, igniting discussion around feminist philosophy, and ultimately alienating others in the broader Washington, D.C., feminist movement.

RECENT ‘BUSH’ RADICALISM

But then I got even more ambitious and modern with Radical in the White House?, which explored a number of books on George W. Bush and radicalism. These books included:

Fred Barnes. Rebel-in-Chief: Inside the Bold and Controversial Presidency of George W. Bush. New York: Crown Forum, 2006. ISBN 030-7336492

Bruce Bartlett. Imposter: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. New York: Doubleday Books, 2006. ISBN 978-0385518277

Sidney Blumenthal. How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0691128887

Sean Wilentz. The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008. New York: HarperCollins, 2008. ISBN 978-0060744809

I felt that clashes over George W. Bush’s legacy – his radical legacy – had begun in earnest.

Authors of all political colorations had begun crafting books and articles about the appalling mishandling of the U.S. economy, the tepid response to broken levees in New Orleans, and the early failed strategy in Iraq, among a host of other topics. Conservatives, for their part, were especially introspective about and critical of their agent in the White House. Michael Tanner, a writer at the Cato Institute in Washington, pilloried the Bush administration’s disloyalty to principles held by those on the Right, whereas others in the conservative establishment – for instance, Daniel Casse – strived to rebrand Bush as a pro-government conservative.

gwb

A significant element of this debate centered on Bush’s putative domestic and foreign policy radicalism. In fact, the topic was broached as early as January 2003. According to Bill Kellar, Bush, the ideological torch-bearer of Reaganism, had a high-quality “chance of advancing a radical agenda that Reagan himself could only carry so far.” Not only were political and economic conditions apposite for the continued promotion of a radicalized version of Reaganite doctrines, but the Bush administration in early 2003 proved adept in pivoting off scandal. In foreign affairs, moreover, Bush’s Middle East policy was considered a “radically new approach” to the region. According to Daniel Pipes, it was time for Americans to buckle up. Succeeding years were going to be a “wild ride.” By 2008, a number of authors – including Barnes, Bartlett, Blumenthal, and Wilentz – began to address the thrills and perils of that ride.

It appears Bush was a radical of various shades. He audaciously and radically bucked the approval of the conservative establishment because he believed in the veracity of his own ideas: on prescription drug entitlements, education policy, and Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, just to name three examples. Yet Bush also oversaw the enactment of hefty tax cuts, first in 2001 and then again in 2003, and these measures – historic in size and scope – symbolized to moderates and liberals a radicalized adaptation of President Reagan’s economic conservatism. Moreover, after his “bullhorn moment” at Ground Zero in 2001, Bush embarked on a radical foreign policy that not only expanded the wartime powers of the presidential office but also included the sanctification of torture and domestic spying.

bush bullhorn

This stimulating and provocative selection of George W. Bush books asks us to acknowledge wildly disparate views of Bush and his administration. The first, a macabre vision, holds Bush as an obdurate radical ideologue who oversaw the precipitous economic and moral decline of the nation.

The second, by contrast, casts Bush as a transgressive conservative, a man driven not by dogma, but rather by a desire for results, for positive conservative outcomes in American society – and by whatever means necessary, including government intervention. His radicalism thus lay in his willingness to defy the shrill cries of his own base. The third view, Bartlett’s forceful argument, holds that Bush was a disloyal scoundrel – in effect, a liberal – and it condemns the president for his very lack of radicalism.

Bush was pretty serene about the whole thing. As he told Bob Woodward: “History. We don’t know. We’ll all be dead.”

The debate continues.

Now, however. Now.

The era of Trump. And Clinton. And Sanders. In 2016, we have a different version of radicalism. According to National Review, “Sanders and Trump Have Risen from the Wreckage of a Broken Culture” and suggests pop culture can “normalize” radicalism with “astonishing speed.” Trump, for his part, has called for a Radical Islam Commission.  He’s also been recast as a Marvel super-villain.

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Let the good times roll.

A blast from the past…

The 10 Best Drug Movies of the Past 50 Years

Cheech and Chong. Tony Montana. Reefer Madness. Blow. These are some of the characters and films that normally come to mind when you bring up drugs in cinema. But let’s get real, folks. It goes so much deeper.

Drug movies are both fascinating and titillating. Whether it’s the “War on Drugs” or depictions of the counterculture or portrayals of Big Pharma and the business community, all sorts of movies have been made about the illicit drug trade, pill-popping, and even more that simply feature drug use. But what are the best drug movies of the past 50 years? High Times has got some ideas. Buzzfeed has done it. And so has IMDB.

Now it’s time to offer a fresh take on the list.

Before we begin, though, let’s establish a boundary or two. What is a drug movie, one might ask? The best way to think about it has to be through heavy drug use and a focus on the drug trade, organized crime, or medical marketplace. This means that Dazed and Confused, which only has mild drug use, doesn’t make it. Neither does The Program, with James Caan. Or Rocky IV.  Or the relatively new Alice in Wonderland. These films feature some drugs use and are trippy to watch, but to make this list drugs have to be absolutely central to the plot. There are other rules, too. First off, alcohol is NOT a drug. (In fact, there’ll be another alcohol list in the future.) Second, power – money, politics, sex, the ability to get others to do what you want – is NOT a drug. Finally (thank fuck), altered perceptions or dream sequences, but which are NOT based on explicit drug use, are thrown out. So, for example, Raising Arizona, The Matrix, or Fight Club have to get bumped from consideration.

Here’s my Top Ten and watch those other more standard lists go Up in Smoke.

10. Sicario (2015)

French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve crushes it. Again. With Sicario (meaning hitman), he drops us into the grisly world of drug enforcement.

I’ve been an outgoing proponent of Denis since Incendies (2010), and he’s continued to crank out brooding and thought-provoking pictures, including Enemy (2013) and Prisoners (2013). After having worked with Jake Gyllenhaal for both films in 2013, he casts Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio Del Toro to headline his take on the War on Drugs’s primary theatre of war – the US/Mexico border.

Emily Blunt is once more playing Ellen Ripley. (Think Edge of Tomorrow – wait, is that what it’s called?). Really, it’s not a bad place to be. She’s steely-eyed and intrepid. And she’s posing moral questions as the focal piece of the film.

sicario new yorker image

Source: New Yorker magazine

The soundtrack is hauntingly grim, the acting is understated, and the cinematography – by the incomparable Roger Deakins – is spartan. Rapid cutting is superseded by long, lingering shots. Movement gives way to stillness. A great example is one of the signature battles of the film, when a traffic jam, not a car chase, ramps up the tension. Deakins, who was burned at the Oscars once more, uses most of the arrows in his quiver to generate one of the most gorgeous films of 2015-2016. By itself, that’s enough to make this list.

 

9. Good Fellas (1990)

GoodFellas tells the true story of Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta in a star-making performance and it wasn’t till Blow (2001) and Narc (2002) that he reached such heights once more. Am I fond of Liotta? Somewhat. But not a lot. I like Liotta as much as, say, Al Gore or John Kerry or, I don’t know, porridge. In this, however, Liotta’s compelling. His Henry Hill is chaotic and flawed. He’s shallow and violent, as well as understandable and all human. At times, I find myself cheering him and pitying him simultaneously. When he suggests, “as far back as I can remember I always wanted to be gangster,” I shake my head and, at the same, kind of wonder. Hmm? This is a testament to Liotta’s best and breakout performance.

In 1990, Martin Scorsese wasn’t unique in addressing organized crime. A tipping point, it seems, had been reached, and audiences that year were treated to an abundance of mafia, mob, and crime films, including: Miller’s Crossing, King of New York, The Krays, The Grifters, and, yes, The Godfather Part III. But GoodFellas stands apart and above.

As Henry is initiated into the world of guns and drugs, gambling and prostitution, he is mentored by Robert De Niro’s Jimmy Conway and Joe Pesci’s Tommy Devito. Both actors have been understandably lauded for their vibrant portrayals of tough guys. Eventually, Henry and his wife Karen (played by Lorraine Bracco) discover the sex and violence of organized crime is thoroughly intoxicating, just as much as the cocaine that they inhaling.

This movie – its soundtrack and cinematography, and so much more – is just as addictive.

8. The Constant Gardner (2005)

Big Pharma. Big Bad Pharma. This is the subject of John Le Carre’s novel and ultimately the movie, directed by Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles. The story is disjointed, relies on flashbacks, and, according to Roger Ebert, is a far distance off ‘a logical exercise beginning with mystery and ending at truth…” Instead, we are pulled into a maddeningly elusive conspiracy and a fragmented narrative in which Ralph ‘Rafe’ Fiennes (i.e., Voldemort, The Red Dragon, Hades, and M) plays a widower in search of the truth. Why is his wife dead? Who is responsible?

His answers rest in the multinational pharmaceutical corporations. In particular, a company that is using Kenya’s population for fraudulent testing of a fictitious tuberculosis drug (“dypraxa”). The drug has known harmful side effects, but this is disregarded, as is the health of the African test subjects. Of course, this sort of testing is based in reality and spots like China, Estonia, Romania, Tunisia, as well as other African countries, have served as fertile testing grounds.

Fiennes, playing Justin Quayle, confronts Big Bad Pharma and suggests that the pill we take – whether for Tuberculosis or Tachycardia –  is more than just an ‘an inanimate fucking object.’

If you like underdog tales, especially ones where caricatured corporations are fucked over by the ‘little guy’ (see Erin Brockovich, The Insider, Michael Clayton, etc.), this movie is for you.

7. Easy Rider (1969)

It’s difficult to begin with Easy Rider, which nearly everyone regards as one of the greatest and most influential drug movies of all time.

Disclosure: I should not have watched Easy Rider at an early age. I found it incredibly jarring. I was in grade 9 and not at all battle-hardened or street-smart. The cruel ending forced me into a funk. It challenged me to think about human nature, the nature of the United States, and served as a bewildering counterpoint to many of the testosterone-fuelled and predictably satisfying action movies (think Arnold, Jean Claude, Sylvester) to which I was exposed in the 1980s.

Wyatt and Billy didn’t deserve that! Who were they bothering? What, there’s not going to be any payback? That’s it?! Jesus Christ. Dammit.

Plot and Characters: Peter Fonda plays Captain America with the old stars and stripes on his back, helmet and bright long-barrelled motorbike. Dennis Hopper plays the sidekick, sporting pioneer trooper buckskins, long mustache and hair. They’re touring around the beautiful USA and shit happens to them: there’s a drug deal, parades, bordellos, Mardi Gras, LSD trips, and unexpected violence.

Easy Rider is a quintessential American road movie.

And the best part of the piece is Jack. This is his breakout. Vincent Canby, writing in the NY Times in 1969, was tepid, even haughty, about the film, but he sure loved Nicholson:

jack

‘Suddenly, however, a strange thing happens. There comes on the scene a very real character and everything that has been accepted earlier as a sort of lyrical sense impression suddenly looks flat and foolish.Wyatt and Billy are in a small Southern town—in jail for having disturbed the peace of a local parade—when they meet fellow-in-mate George Hanson (Jack Nicholson), a handsome, alcoholic young lawyer of good family and genially bad habits, a man whose only defense against life is a cheerful but not abject acceptance of it. As played by Nicholson, George Hanson is a marvelously realized character, who talks in a high, squeaky Southern accent and uses a phrase like “Lord have mercy!” the way another man might use a four-letter word.’

In Jack, we trust.

6. Apocalypse Now (1979)

Francis Ford Coppola had a mental breakdown during shooting, as he wrote the script on the fly and had to negotiate with a hard-partying, spaced-out crew, in addition to the fickle President Marcos of the Philippines. Coppola had to fire the original leading man, Harvey Keitel. Then, Martin Sheen – the replacement – had a heart attack.

Marlon Brando showed up to film his scenes as Colonel Kurtz much like Shaq often did to start the Lakers training camp – in less than ideal shape. Coppola would also have to tread carefully with the mercurial Brando, who hadn’t learned any lines and insisted on being filmed in shadow. And Dennis Hopper. Dennis Hopper being Dennis Hopper, well, he was regularly stoned on marijuana, cocaine, speed and many other drugs. He was manic. Crazed. Demented. A feature of this list a second time, he didn’t have much acting to do in portraying a whacked-out photojournalist drunk on the Colonel’s Cool-aid.

The story, based loosely on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, follows a booze-fuelled, PTSD-suffering, lone-wolf agent as he journeys up a river to find a rogue soldier, Kurtz, who has slowly gone mad, raised his own army, and established his own territory in Vietnam. As this troubled agent/assassin, Willard (first Keitel, then Sheen), heads up the river, the visuals gets increasingly trippy. The imagery, in short, becomes more hallucinogenic. By the time Kurtz converses with Willard, the audience has gone way down deep into the proverbial rabbit hole.

The film is improvisational and chaotic. It’s intoxicating and brazen. And it’s a masterpiece.

5. Dallas Buyer’s Club (2013)

In the excellent 2013 movie, Dallas Buyers Club, we are exposed to valiant patient activism during the AIDS crisis in the United States. Based on the true story of AIDS-stricken Ron Woodroof, a cocaine-snorting cowboy and homophobic Texas tradesman, the film shows a shockingly thin Matthew McConaughey battle his sickness, inner demons, and the authorities in Texas Mercy Hospital, the drug industry, and government.

I’ve reviewed the film elsewhere and I’ve used it to try and communicate the complexities of medical marijuana dispensaries, in particular. I remain convinced that the movie provides a harrowing, insider overview of drug regulation and the politics of medicine in modern society.

Woodroof, who’s unhappy with his illegally purchased zidovudine, known as AZT, and on the edge of death, seeks out alternative and experimental drugs from a doctor in Mexico. Then, Ron, being the savvy entrepreneur/hustler that he is, quickly establishes a club (charging a $400 membership fee) to sell his smuggled wares, including vitamins, DDC, and Peptide T. In doing so, he runs afoul of the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration and is essentially forced to confront the existing power structure of drug regulation.

At one point in the film, he storms a town hall meeting of citizens, drug company leaders, and FDA regulators and, while still quite ill and attached to his IV bag, Ron starts finger-pointing. “People are dying. And y’all up there are afraid that we’re gonna find an alternative without you.” Inevitably, bums shift in chairs. Chests are puffed up. And murmurs echo in the room. “You see,” Ron continues, “the pharma companies pay the FDA to push their product. They don’t want to see my research. I don’t have enough cash in my pocket to make it worth their while.”

The film has strong performances, namely McConaughey and Jared Leto, who plays his cross-dressing compadre. Jennifer Garner,  on the cover of a recent Vanity Fair and recovering from the newest Batman’s infidelity, offers up some of her best work.

With Dallas Buyer’s Club we see the problems inherent in the relationship between big business, regulators, and interest groups. And while the film didn’t get it all right, it’s still a stimulating film and a significant reminder about the power of Big Pharma, the complicated nature of drug regulation in the 20th century, and the ways in which everyday citizens like Ron Woodroof can influence the system.

…THE END? NOPE

FOR THE TOP FOUR, VISIT http://www.alternet.org/drugs/10-greatest-drug-movies-past-50-years WHERE THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED.

SUPER SPECIAL THANKS TO MATT TODD, WHO WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN WORKING THROUGH THIS LIST WITH ME. WE DIDN’T ALWAYS AGREE, BUT SUCH IS LIFE. HE AND I WILL BE RELEASING A MODIFIED (HISTORY-LADEN) VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE IN THE NOT-TOO-DISTANT FUTURE.

HAPPY CANADA DAY!