Radical Health

Bill Booth kindly invited me on to his podcast to discuss health and medicine. Bill is one of the founders of Radical Americas, an academic network for scholars and activists with interests in radicalism in the Western Hemisphere.




Radical Librarians Unite!

Radicalism at the library is about more than just speaking loudly!

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to get involved with a Radical Collections conference at the University of London. It was called “Radical Voices.” In the “post-truth,” “fake news,” “24-hour news cycle” epoch, it’s absolutely vital to examine the way information – all the materials in archives and libraries – are administered. Librarians and archivists control the data, and so their opinions, their political beliefs matter. Big time. The funders of libraries and archives (and special collections therein) matter. Big time. Ultimately, these individuals and organizations are the gatekeepers, determine access to and consumption of information, and help knowledge-creation.


Here’s a retrospective from James Hobbs.

“Radicalism and the drive for change can take on many forms in the world of libraries and archives, and the packed room for the Radical Collections: Radicalism and Libraries and Archives conference, which took place at the Institute of Historical Research at Senate House Library on 3 March, heard arguments that covered some ground.

Across four panels, the themes tackled included how collections are being developed, catalogued and organised, and who works in them and uses them. These were interspersed with not one, but two fire alarms to keep us on our toes, which led to impromptu networking sessions on the street outside, resumed at the end of the day with wine and nibbles in the Institute of Historical Research common room.

Starting out, Wendy Russell from the British Film Institute archive explored the barriers faced by the director Ken Loach in the 1980s when his TV series for the new Channel 4 about trade unionism, Questions of Leadership, was commissioned and then scrapped, and considered the archive’s significance beyond the fields of TV and film. Lisa Redlinski and John Wrighton of the University of Brighton spoke about the remit of HE libraries with particular relation to the library’s digitisation of Brighton’s rich history of underground and alternative press. And historian Lucas Richert (University of Strathclyde), in his paper about radical psychiatry, LSD and MDMA, raised issues (among others) about how funding from private and public sources can affect the consumption and “selling” of archives.

Panel 1: Chair Richard Espley, Lucas Richert, Lisa Redlinski, John Wrighton and Wendy Russell

After a lunch interrupted by the fire alarm, Mairéad Mooney (University College Cork) looked at British imperialist influences on libraries in the early days of the Irish Free State, and Amy Todman (National Library of Scotland) spoke about the archiving of Engender, the Scottish feminist organisation, since the 1990s. Siobhan Britton (University of Brighton) explored issues surrounding the collection, preservation and accessibility of zines in libraries. (My thanks to her about a lightbulb moment I had midway through her talk when I had an idea regarding my own dissertation.)

Tamsin Bookey (Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives), who navigated the rude interruption mid-presentation by the second fire alarm, described moves in Tower Hamlets to widen participation and attract hard-to-reach potential users (respect people who are hostile, use marketing, get non-gender specific toilets). Katherine Quinn (University of Warwick) spoke about the challenge of radical librarianship in the HE context (the audit culture, and how LIS is drawing on management culture), and, finally, Kirsty Fife (National Media Museum) and Hannah Henthorn (University of Dundee) described the issues they, as marginalised people, faced as they negotiated their way into the archive sector and how the expense of qualifications restrict diversification.

Just how radical some of the ideas discussed really are is debatable. In a point raised by our own Thomas Ash, the non-discriminatory nature of classification terminology, for instance, is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. It’s simply how things should be. A theme running through the day, it seems to me, was that obstacles put in the way of opening up access and information to all – and that really does mean people who currently wouldn’t dream of setting foot in a library or archive – need dismantling, and that means they won’t be the quiet, safe places they are generally perceived to be now. White western patriarchy has had its day. That change seems more sensible and representative of the UK as it is than radical. But the conference provided a great variety of voices that asked questions and offered solutions that deserve deeper and longer consideration – and action.

Julio Cazzasa talked about the problems faced by the Senate House Library’s collection (the Heisler collection of 50,000 items tracing labour and progressive political movements, for instance, is a mixed library and archive collection). Alycia Sellie (CUNY) raised questions of the whiteness of librarians and how collection practices should strive to be radical in relation to the Wisconsin Historical Society’s newspaper and periodicals collection. And the discriminative nature of library classifications (it took the Library of Congress 18 years to remove the subject heading “yellow peril”) and the need for a focus on critical theory in LIS studies were just some of the issues picked up by Gregory Toth of the Senate House Library.”


I’m glad that Hobbs chronicled the event so well.

Thanks to all the organizers (Jordan Landes, Richard Espley, and so many others) for giving me a chance to speak about my research on radical psychiatry and MDMA. And if you want a play-by-play from the event, vist this excellent -tweet based – overview of the conference at Storify at https://storify.com/onslies/radical-voices


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.



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.


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.



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).


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.


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.


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.



Let the good times roll.

A blast from the past…

Podcast Announcement – Radical Mental Health Therapy

I recently had the pleasure of joining Chris Hoff on The Radical Therapist Podcast. You can listen to our lively discussion about the 1960s, long-haired hippies, and mental health services during a period of big-time change. You can download the Pod here or through iTunes. Thanks for listening and sharing! #mentalhealthawareness #healthpolicy