Letters for the week of August 31-September 5, 2005 

The final word on Darwin; drinking and calculating; plus a whole lot more on the psychiatric drug debate.

"Phillip Johnson's Assault Upon Faith-Based Darwinism," Feature, 7/27

God made the molecules
I read with interest your article on "Philip Johnson's Assault upon Faith-Based Darwinism" and wanted to convey a third explanation offered to me when I was young. This was from my late father, Alan C. Nixon, who was both a scientist (Ph.D in chemistry from UCB) and a Christian. He believed in Darwin's explanation of the origin of the species. When I wanted to know how God entered the picture, he pointed out that evolution could trace the start of Earth to molecules of gas floating around in the atmosphere, but there was no explanation of how the gas molecules got there. His answer was simple: God put the gas molecules there! This seemed to me a reasonable explanation. It would be great if both sides could accept it.
Sandra Nixon, Berkeley

"Disrespecting the Cal Liquor Ban," Cityside, 8/17

We'll need a drink after all this math
I noticed that the interpretation of the results from the Harvard study was a little odd. Your article says "Alcohol programs have proven themselves to some degree, at least in their ability to dissuade middle-of-the-road drinkers." I don't see the numbers supporting that. What the numbers suggest to me is an ability to dissuade people from being middle-of-the-road-drinkers.

The distinction is important. Suppose that 1,000 people attend a series of parties. 197 of them are heavy binge drinkers, an unspecified number of them are occasional binge drinkers, an unspecified number are nonbinge drinkers, and an unspecified number are nondrinkers. Now, we possess a time machine and are able to go back in time and put alcohol programs and stiffer penalties in place for these people beforehand, and then they attend the same sequence of parties. The heavy binge drinkers see no reason to change their drinking habits, but 27 occasional binge drinkers do decide to change their habits, and 34 nonbinge drinkers decide to change their habits. Of these 61 more moderate drinkers, 31 instead become heavy binge drinkers, and 30 become nondrinkers.

According to the article, this would indicate a success. To me, this indicates a failure. What these programs and stiffer penalties seem to do is dissuade moderate alcohol use in favor of either hardcore alcohol abuse or complete abstention. I think alcohol programs should seek and encourage moderate, responsible use of alcohol, which I don't think is something most people are against. If two people are having dinner, and instead of each having two glasses of wine, one abstains and one drinks a fifth of whiskey, it certainly seems to be an overall step backward in responsible drinking.
Sean Reynolds, Alameda

"Off Their Meds," Feature, 8/3

No easy solutions
I worked at Napa State Hospital in the late '60s and early '70s, first as a volunteer as part of a psychology class assignment, and later as a part-time employee on Ward B, known as a vocational rehabilitation behavior modification unit. It was the heyday of psychotropic drugs -- Thorazine, Stelazine, Compazine, Haldol everywhere. I saw the tardive dyskinesia up close, the "Thorazine Shuffle." I didn't believe in pharmacological therapy then, and I still don't. The obscene profits being rung up by the likes of Pfizer and Eli Lilly as more and more "therapeutic uses" are being found for the Prozac and Paxil family of medications are disturbing. If capitalist profit motives were somehow removed from the drugged-society equation, I might be more inclined to look at possible benefits, but I doubt it.

We live in a society that is too quick to look for easy solutions, too uncomfortable with strong emotions being expressed, too unwilling to accept sadness, anger, and fear as logical and human responses to life experiences.
Bob Gotch, Hayward

The drugs work for me
I am a happy consumer of psychiatric drugs and services, and would never think of going "off my meds." It may well not be true for everybody, but the drugs work great in my case. I used to be hospitalized about every three months, but since I have been religiously taking this stuff, that's reduced to once every six or seven years. There is no "community" based on a common mental disorder -- that's like having a "wifebeaters' community" or a "shoplifters' community." There is, however, a mental health community consisting of patients, nurses, doctors, and assorted mental health workers, which is a real community.

Scientology, on the other hand, claims to be a "system of mental health" as well as a religion, and is neither. It is a hobby for people who want to spend their money in that way. People who have actually been hospitalized are classified as "insane" in Scientology and shown the door. They can do nothing whatsoever for the mentally ill or disabled, and will not, despite their propaganda. Therefore one should look askance at their rabid hatred for psychiatry, which does deal with serious mental disorders.
Clayton C.C. O'Claerach, Oakland

How to avoid the cracks
I greatly appreciated Stefanie Kalem's article, as my seventeen-year-old son has been through twelve years of psychiatric programs, medications and diagnoses. Tom Cruise is an idiot, and a dangerous one: As much as I'd like to believe otherwise, my son will always need medication. Gannon has a multidiagnosis of learning disability, seizure disorder, paranoid schizophrenia, and autism, and had I listened to the first professional who told me to load him full of meds and residentialize him, he would have been gone a decade ago. Despite so-called professional opinions, Gannon continues to live at home, and I have been commended for my care of him many times.

I think what Ms. Kalem stressed is that the psychiatric profession does overprescribe, as well as misdiagnose. I have taken my son out of programs after 24 hours because he was insulted to his face, not assisted with toileting matters, and given medication without my signed permission. I feel that the psychiatric profession is a complete draw of the cards, and if you aren't on somebody's ass every single day, you or the child you are advocating for will fall right through the cracks. I have very little faith and belief in the medical and mental treatment Gannon receives, but right now he has a psychiatrist who at least seems to be trying, and for that, I hang in there with the advice and treatments she offers. After a severe mental and physical breakdown less than one year ago, Gannon is still at home and doing all right -- and it is absolutely appalling to note that he began the climbout immediately after being taken off a medication another psychiatrist had prescribed (the same genius who said to residentialize Gannon).


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