Science

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Gay Rights Go to Court

I am gay and have been a big fan of reason for many years, so I was disappointed to see Cathy Young spend two pages on a discussion of "gay rights" ("Gay Rights Go to Court," June). Since when do groups have "rights"? Only individuals have rights. Anti-sodomy laws violate the rights of individuals in serious and fundamental ways. But when did a marriage license become a basic human right for anyone?

A marriage license documents the state's sanction of a romantic and sexual relationship between two people. That sanction, in turn, subjects the terms and conditions of that relationship and the rights and responsibilities of its participants to legislation and regulation prescribed by the state. I despair that so many gay people miss the point that the state's refusal to grant them a marriage license is an exemption from the intrusion of that state into their personal lives.

Nothing in the law prevents gay couples from owning property jointly, creating enforceable partnership agreements, powers of attorney, medical proxies, or any number of other legally binding agreements that define and document the nature of the relationship. We should follow the example of the thousands of practicing polygamous families who, rather than lobbying for polygamist "rights," simply live their lives in peace, love, and innocence—happy to be excluded from the repressive mainstream.

John H. Northrup
Littleton, CO

H

I've just finished reading Jacob Sullum's "H: The Surprising Truth About Heroin and Addiction" (June) and am not at all impressed. I find it interesting that while Sullum quotes a sociologist who wrote that "narcotic addicts tend to 'mature out' of the habit in their 30s," every example of a "successful addict" (save one) in the article was 40 or older. How did he come to that conclusion? If he surmised that people in their 30s stopped using heroin because of a lack of criminal or corrections-related activity, he overlooked the possibility that many of them moved or died.

As a law enforcement officer who has seen firsthand the tragic results of heroin addiction, I can tell you that they are that bad, and that frequent. The fact that heroin kills is incontrovertible. Any attempt to minimize this fact, or to try to legalize or normalize or rationalize its use, demonstrates a profound irresponsibility, a profound stupidity, or perhaps both.

Stephen K. Hancox
Flemington, NJ

Thank you for the article. In the 19th century, heroin was considered a "gentle painkiller." Anyone who has enough physical pain to justify morphine use might just as well use heroin. If heroin were legalized, the drug companies that produce morphine would have to compete with low -cost overseas producers of heroin, to the benefit of the consumer. Heroin was actually used to help people get off morphine addiction, as it was considered the less addictive of the two. There is no logical basis for its demonization.

Kirk Gray
Los Angeles

What tripe! I held my dying sister in my arms on the way to the hospital after she overdosed on this "harmless" drug. She had already vomited frothy, blood-specked foam, lost control of her bowels and bladder all over me, convulsed, and died before we could get her to the hospital. I think the New York Times story referenced in the article was fiction, as many of their articles have proven to be, and I think it is very harmful in justifying a filthy, deadly habit.

As my sister yielded more and more of her once beautiful self to this addiction, I tried to help her by intervention, forcing her to go into drug treatment, only to see her time and again sink back into her addiction. Tell the two children my sister left behind that heroin is just a harmless thing.

J. Turner
New Orleans, LA

I just finished reading Jacob Sullum's article; he is partially right and partially wrong.

I am an opiate addict. I have been since the day I tried heroin in San Francisco, back in 1969. I was in the U.S. Army, having the time of my life. I absolutely loved reefer and acid, and when I tried junk I loved that too. I just chipped while I was in the Army. But within two years after I got out of the Army, I had my first habit.

When you're young, kicking a habit is a piece of cake: Three days of feeling crappy, and you're a new man. I would use for a while, then stay straight for a year or two or three, then start over. By 1984 that three days of jonesing had turned into four or five, and it was no fun at all. After 1984 I stayed straight for 13 years. Then in 1997 I hit it hard again for three years. Man, all of a sudden I was sick. After two days, I couldn't stand it anymore. This time, the nightmarish anxiety alone was beyond description. I went and copped some dope, then got on a methadone program. I've been on methadone now for three and a half years. It doesn't get me high, but it does give me that satisfied feeling that an opiate gives you.

I did work the same job for 27 years, and I never had to steal. But I did sell all my possessions a couple of times and damn near lost my house. I retired with a good pension, but I sure do wish I had never tried heroin. If you have never tried it, don't.

Mike M.
St. Paul, MN

Jacob Sullum replies: The study by Charles Winick to which Stephen Hancox refers was based on addicts reported to the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. As I noted, the study has been criticized, mainly because addicts who disappeared from the bureau's files had not necessarily given up heroin. But subsequent research, including the Vietnam veterans study I discussed in the article, has shown that heroin addicts frequently do stop using the drug on their own. The fact that some people continue using heroin into their 40s does not negate that point.

Hancox says "every example of a 'successful addict' (save one) in the article was 40 or older." If by addict he means user, that is not correct. The subjects in the Vietnam veterans study, Norman Zinberg's research, the 1973 Harvard study, and the 1983 British study (all mentioned in the article) included many opiate users in their 20s and 30s. More important, Hancox's failure to distinguish between users and addicts overlooks one of my main points: The vast majority of heroin users do not take the drug daily.

More generally, it is misleading to cite the most extreme examples of heroin use as if they were typical. Some drinkers die of acute alcohol poisoning, get killed in traffic accidents, ruin their lives through excessive consumption, or succumb to the cumulative effects of heavy drinking. (As Hancox might put it, the fact that alcohol kills is incontrovertible.) But these examples of abuse do not prove that alcohol cannot be used moderately and responsibly. Likewise, even if we ignore the various ways in which prohibition makes drug use more dangerous, the fact that some heroin users die of overdoses (or, more commonly, risky drug mixtures) or develop habits that disrupt their lives does not mean there is no such thing as an occasional or moderate heroin user. Indeed, the government's own data indicate that such users are far more common than addicts.

Quacks and Flacks

Chris Mooney ("Quacks and Flacks," June) captures very well some missteps in alternative medicine, some practitioners of which have done a disservice to their profession in not adhering to rigorous scientific standards.

What got left out of "Quacks and Flacks" are the reasons many people have turned to alternative medicine in the first place. Mooney would have us believe only "quacks" and dupes need apply, but many people turned to alternative medicine only after traditional remedies failed them. And many have found relief or cures thanks to those treatments.

I turned to alternative medicine after many unsuccessful attempts to cure my eczema with traditional treatments. At best I found temporary relief. At worst, the use of cortisone damaged my skin nearly beyond repair. It was only after exploring numerous alternative therapies that I was able to find a treatment that brought the condition mostly under control.

Mooney also suggests thousands of people are taking risks when they turn to alternative medicine. What, you mean, traditional medicine has found a cure for cancer? Or AIDS? People aren't as stupid as he thinks. They are seeking out other remedies because they are more aware of the chances of surviving such conditions under traditional treatments than he is.

Of course, like other professions, alternative medicine suffers from malpractice. The woods are full of charlatans and cranks, so it's necessary to be careful and discriminating when choosing treatments and doctors. More scientific rigor in the field should help that selection process. But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater, as Mooney would have us do. That would give little relief to those whom traditional treatments have failed.

Mark Hershey
Taipei, Taiwan

Look Who's Rocking the Casbah

Chuck Freund's article "Look Who's Rocking the Casbah" (June) touched on a fascinating topic, but I could not help but conclude that his evaluation of female sexuality in Arab cultures incorporated stereotypes and elements of Western bias.

Freund's analysis could have benefited from the excellent book Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women, by Geraldine Brooks. Traditionally, sexuality in Muslim cultures has not been devalued and repressed as in the West. Rather, it is supposed to be strictly contained in the private sphere of the home. Women's sexuality has been fully acknowledged from the very beginning. Brooks' title comes from Muhammad's own remarks to the effect that a woman's sexual desire was nine times a man's. Hence Freund's claim that "a woman's enthusiasm for sex is considered suspect by traditionalists" is unfounded. I have seen Arabic movies where women at a wedding reception—segregated into a room separate from the men—sing bawdy songs about the pleasures the bride can expect on the wedding night.

Freund's intimations concerning "modernity" also hit on a topic accorded considerable attention in recent scholarship. Islamic societies are not anti-modern, but rather have been struggling to define their own versions of modernity as filtered through culture and tradition—a project with considerable potential for contradiction and irony, particularly in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Todd M. Michney
Cleveland, OH

Charles Paul Freund replies: Female sexuality in Islamic cultures is indeed supposed to be confined to the private sphere. But the ideal is not sexual enthusiasm, which may threaten a man's control of his wife; it is compliance. Syrian novelist Ghada Samman catches the traditional view through a character who describes the ideal bride this way: "A maid by day, a slave by night, she'll be the ring on your finger which you can turn around as you wish and take off when you wish. And if you rub it, it will say, 'At your service….'"

Certainly, a traditional wife does not make such demands of her husband, as the female characters of Egyptian author Alifa Rifaat know to their sorrow. Last summer's Egyptian film Sleepless Nights features a frustrated wife who actually threatens divorce, one reason the film became a sensation. In any event, Samr, the flirtatious singer whom I described, was expressing herself publicly.

Teddy Roosevelt's Hidden Legacy

Michael McMenamin ("Teddy Roosevelt's Hidden Legacy," June) convincingly shows not only that Theodore Roosevelt had his own foreign policy, but that it was infinitely better than and antithetical to Woodrow Wilson's. What he does not say is that it was Roosevelt who enabled Wilson's foreign policy to come into existence.

In 1912, after failing to win the Republican nomination for president (thanks to party bosses who didn't want him), Roosevelt ran anyway, as an independent Bull Moose. This split the Republican vote and enabled Wilson's victory. Given Wilson's thoroughly destructive impact on the history of the 20th century and the likelihood that history would have been different and better had Roosevelt been president during the Great War, it is ironic that Roosevelt's biggest legacy is that he enabled it all to happen.

Michael Nollet
Melcher-Dallas, IA

What Next for U.S. Foreign Policy?

The impressive accuracy of the interview with me by Jesse Walker ("What Next for U.S. Foreign Policy?," June) was unfortunately counterbalanced by the title placed above it: "The Pacifist."

That term is not accurate, and it may confuse readers. My views do not fall into any of the types of "pacifism." Historically, most nonviolent struggles have been waged by people who were never pacifists. Many groups have chosen nonviolent struggle not on ethical grounds, but because they felt it would be most effective.

That means that future acute conflicts, including against extreme dictatorships, can be waged by people who are not pacifists, through skilled application of strategic nonviolent struggle. That fact opens new possibilities.

Also, my earlier book was mistitled. It is The Politics of Nonviolent Action, not The Politics of Nonviolence. My new book is titled Waging Nonviolent Struggle.

Gene Sharp
Albert Einstein Institution
Boston, MA