Letters for September 22

Readers sound off on dining near the Cal campus, drinking while pregnant, and cannabis as medicine.

“The Wild West,” Food, 9/8

The Problem Is Parking

“Otherwise, the block has seemed curiously cursed. For as long as anyone can remember, UC Berkeley’s ‘neighborhoods’ — those spillover streets where students shop and eat — have been limited to two: Telegraph Avenue and its tiny somnolent twin, Euclid Avenue. Although Oxford Street stands between campus and downtown and thus should act as a sort of dining/retail baleen, it never has. Cal always had its Southside and its Northside, but never had a Westside — until now.”

Not true. There is a very successful spillover dining street on Center between Oxford and Shattuck. Why is this block of Oxford less successful than the adjacent block of Center? Because Center has wide sidewalks with lots of room for seating but Oxford does not. If we want this block of Oxford to thrive, we just have to remove a few parking spaces and use the space to widen the sidewalk.

Charles Siegel, Berkeley

“Confessions of a Pregnant Wine Writer,” Feature, 9/15

Cheers to the Author

Thank you for writing this article! Having had two kids in the last three years, I was shocked to experience the fear mongering about drinking while pregnant — it immediately shut down any reasoned discussion on the topic. Pregnant women can make up their own mind about an occasional glass of wine — this article is about the need for better access to information and the freedom to have a nuanced conversation, without judgment, with our friends, family, and most importantly, medical providers. I am embarrassed for a culture in which dialogue is squashed by labeling it unimportant, inane, or dangerous. Cheers to the author!

Gabriele Fain, San Rafael

The Baby Gets First Dibs

Why would you give alcohol to your baby? Your brain and his/her brain gets first dibs on everything, including alcohol. Why chance it at all? Fetal alcohol “effects” are real and kids don’t get a chance at a good start when they’ve been drinking alcohol in utero. Ten months of abstinence too long? Is your baby worth it? More alcohol? Fetal alcohol syndrome. I’ve seen it over and over again. Those kids can’t keep up in school and they have problems understanding right from wrong. You seem like a really smart, good person. Why would you take a chance? I hope you research this and make a good decision.

Charlene Maxwell, San Lorenzo

The Research Is Real

I am so glad you wrote this article! This subject needs more public discussion, lots of it. A few points:

The writer talks about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and the heavy exposure necessary to cause it. Most experts agree that’s true. BUT there is a spectrum of damage that goes way past the full syndrome — that is, no facial features, but loads of brain damage. NOT NECESSARILY CAUSED BY HEAVY CONSUMPTION. It’s called Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, and between 2 and 5 percent of the population is somewhere on that spectrum.

Yes, true, the most damage is caused by the heaviest consumption. Usually. But the factors of stress, nutrition, smoking, other drugs, genetic vulnerability, state of the mom’s liver — and probably stuff we don’t know about yet — can combine to produce damage in a mom who consumes very little.

All of one’s fingers and toes — and the absence of facial abnormalities — do not a healthy central nervous system make. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disordered people usually look entirely normal. AD/HD symptoms are at the core of FASD, and judgment, reasoning, and memory are usually affected as well. Often it just looks like the person isn’t trying hard enough, they get punished, get depressed, drop out of school. Since there is so little diagnosis of this condition, especially in the Bay Area (go to Seattle, or Minnesota, or anywhere in Canada for that), it is not common knowledge that these neuro glitches are so often prenatal-alcohol-related.

For the those of us who are on the fetal alcohol spectrum and aren’t too bad off (but have struggled mightily to just be “not too bad”) — think how much better off we could have been if we’d had all the brain cells that wandered off, didn’t stick to their destination, or died prematurely when mom took a drink.

To Blair: The small quantity of brain cells your Willa lost to the couple glasses of wine you drank will probably not be missed — chances are that you are among the well-nourished, minimally-consuming, understressed, no-other-substance-using moms whose babies are not severely damaged. And your love for her kept you from acting further on thoughts like: “I like wine, primarily, because it’s an intoxicant. And this teeny glass of Pinot simply hadn’t done the trick.” But we don’t know. It may be that Willa will have some attention problems, or be a little clumsy, and you may be asking yourself for a long time if it WAS those few lost brain cells, those few drinks. And it may be that the timing and genetic vulnerability were just exactly wrong, and that she lost a lot of brain cells. Lord knows all of us hope not.

But — honestly — there is a lot of good research out there, it isn’t taught in most medical schools yet, and without that information we should not trust our gut instinct. Or our feminist refusal to be told what to do. I must say I am struck and kind of baffled by the following statement in the context of the author’s overall point: “If I had to go nine months, or nine years, or the rest of my life without a glass of wine to ensure her well-being, I would.”

PS: Another way to put it — I believe it’s analogous to the global warming issue, in this sense: Even if there is just a small chance that global warming is disastrous, shouldn’t we do what we can to avoid the disaster?

Kathryn Wosser Page, Sonoma

History Suggests Otherwise

Analogous to global warming? What? One is a nearly unchallenged theory in mainstream scientific communities and the other has almost no scientific data of any merit to support it. If you want an applicable analogy, choose breast feeding. The recent gross overinterpretation of highly confounded purely observational data to guilt-trip mothers into twelve months of breast feeding (sometimes resulting in substantial pain and inconvenience) says more about our collective psyches in this new millenium than it does about the science.

We have thousands of years and billions of babies worth of experience to support the safety of moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy. What we don’t know are the effects on a generation of children born to neurotic parents who think that if they just suffer enough, somehow their children will be smarter and less maladjusted than they are.

Joe Levitt (aka Pregnant Doc’s husband), San Francisco

“Go East Man: California Cannabis Seeks Fresh Markets,” Legalization Nation, 9/8

Cannabis Cures

Those who oppose medicinal cannabis should be really ashamed of themselves. There were several scientific studies published just recently that confirmed cannabis’ effectiveness in such diverse conditions as chronic pain, muscle spasms, malnutrition, and glaucoma. Cannabis is also being shown by the most current addiction medicine research as a potential “exit” substance for former alcoholics, hard drug, or even prescription drug abusers to help them stay off those substances. A very recent study just published called the so-called “gateway drug” theory “half-baked.” I simply always called it a fantasy. Both the American Medical Association and the Institute of Medicine are in favor of medicinal cannabis, and the Canadian government even pays for this natural remedy for their veterans! There is growing evidence that cannabis may help prevent such disastrous conditions as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, and a very recent study just published denies any connection between smoking cannabis and the risk for lung cancer! According to the prestigious Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook, 4th Edition, cannabis use suppresses violent behavior and “only the unsophisticated” think otherwise.What we all need to do is reject these baseless, anti-scientific scare tactics of the “opponents” and pass the medicinal cannabis legislation all across the nation, not just in California or Arizona!

Leonard Krivitsky, MD, Philadelphia


In our September 15 food review, we misspelled Locanda da Eva owner Robert Lauriston’s last name.

In our September 15 Ear Bud column, we said the name of a new music venue was called Vitus. The owners have since changed the name to Disco Volante!


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