Letters for the week of August 24-30, 2005

Close 2 tha Edge catches flak; Doctors, patients, and critics of overmedication weigh in; and Chris Thompson wins one.

“Beenie Man Catches a Fire,” Close 2 tha Edge, 8/3

Don’t baby Beenie Man
I am grateful to Eric Arnold for covering the debate around Jamaican dancehall music and the appearance of Beenie Man in Berkeley, despite the article’s profoundly ungallant tone, and despite Mr. Arnold’s swift dismissal of the violence some dancehall stars advocate against queers. I would like, if I may, to correct a couple of inaccuracies.

First, I did not advocate “mass protest.” My e-mail merely suggested that Mr. Beenie get all the publicity he deserves for his “homophobic lyrics and his cynical apologies.” I urged people to call the club and register their displeasure in a “polite and firm” manner. This is hardly a stirring call for mass action, or am I missing something?

More to the point, Mr. Arnold did his best to downplay the climate of homophobic violence in Jamaica. This has been documented not only by Amnesty International, but also, and in considerably greater depth, by New York’s Human Rights Watch. A November 2004 Human Rights Watch report entitled “Hated to Death: Homophobia, Violence, and Jamaica’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic,” issued several months after the OutRage truce, details at least two murders and numerous violent homophobic incidents directly attributable to antigay prejudice. Far from being unable to pinpoint dancehall as a factor in murderous antigay violence, the report comments, “Dancehall reggae’s celebration of antigay violence reflects views in Jamaica that seem to be shared by government and police.”

It is not as if the problem has gone away, as Mr. Arnold appears eager to suggest. The latest Human Rights Watch press release calling for an end to violence and homophobia in Jamaica is dated June 5, 2005. Mr. Arnold should know this because I forwarded him a URL to the HRW site, for which he thanked me. One wonders if other musicians known to have called for violence against other groups of people would have received such gentle treatment.

I am pleased that the Shattuck Down Low posted a disclaimer indicating that Mr. Beenie would not be performing songs that “promote hate and intolerance.” Perhaps they might have thought of that before they booked him. It is also possible they booked him in all innocence, as did the bookers of Capleton at Reggae in the Park last year. At least now they know about Mr. Beenie’s history.

By the way, gay-bashing actually has happened in Berkeley — albeit several years ago — and it was hard to tell if they hated me more for being a punk or a queer. But they did yell “faggot!”
Tim Kingston, Oakland

You asinine cretin
I resent, first and foremost, the tone of this article, and secondly, what a pathetic paper the Express has become since being purchased by New Times publishing. Did you intend the tone to be controversial?

Your advertising must be incredibly cheap. The content of the paper is laughable, as evidenced by this article, and numerous prior articles. Refer to your recent “Fun” issue, just to provide one example. There are many others.

You just lost an entire market segment, and I will do my best to ensure it. The choice of wording used in this article when describing Community United Against Violence, regarding Tina D’Elia “trumpeting the queer cause.” … Hmm. I believe what they “trumpet” is nonviolence against many people, not only gay people.

If I were to declare open season with weapons on writers of New Times publishing, and extol the benefits of a future without bad journalism from people like yourself, would you think it good showmanship, especially if I said what a wonderful show it would be, and tried to present it as balanced reporting?

I can’t imagine Tim Kingston is impressed with the content of your writing. I hope he has the self-respect to find other freelance jobs than the Express, formerly a wonderful paper genuinely serving the East Bay. Unfortunately, it has become so pathetic it’s no longer worth reading. Especially this article. It appears you are trying to create some “irate” gay “community,” implying we were unable to stop this concert from happening. What we should stop from happening is writing like this. Your career should be over for this article. You asinine cretin.

I saw Beenie Man on Conan O’Brien one evening — he was absolutely AWFUL. Conan O’Brien is by far a more important venue than the Shattuck Down Low. There are other artists I don’t particularly care for, but I can see their appeal. He was an exception. He was so bad I pitied him for having no talent. I wasn’t predisposed to dislike him: I was more curious to hear him and I kept an open mind. HE WAS AWFUL. It appears he is being sold mainly on the value of his controversy.

Good for OutRage; apparently the British are more understanding of the potential impact of hate lyrics. As you write in your article, “OutRage’s media-assisted propaganda campaign, dubbed ‘Stop Murder Music,’ whipped its supporters into a zealous frenzy … by dredging up quotes from old or obscure songs.”

I don’t give a shit where his singles were released, whether in Jamaica or elsewhere, it is offensive, explicitly hostile, and it does inspire listeners to commit violence, whether directly or indirectly. At the very least it approves of prejudice, which is the foundation of violent acts against gay people. Does time passed lessen the offense?

Yes, I’m sure gays do find it offensive when people sing the glory of a world hell-bent on murdering them. If I were to write a song advocating murdering you, members of your family, or the publishers of your lousy paper, would you think it humorous? Then I could dehumanize you for being a writer who stoops to the lowest form of sensationalism (you belong on Fox News with this article). Is this the demographic you are attempting to appeal to? I’ll play in San Francisco. Just because my show isn’t in the East Bay, it couldn’t be that offensive. You may, and most certainly would, find out about it. Would you take it personally?

The listeners could think, “Gee, what a catchy tune, it didn’t offend me personally, therefore it couldn’t be that offensive. … I could dance to it.” Do you begin to understand what I am saying, or are you that clueless?

I can assure you if the lyrics which you reference in your article — “come to execute all the gays” — replaced the word “gay” with a derogatory term for black people, it would have created a decimation of your circulation and advertising revenue, as your advertisers fled in fear of guilt by association. Would you have published it? Would you have extolled the stage charm and showmanship of the performer? I can be certain you, and your publisher, wouldn’t have dared.

Tim Kingston was accurate when he said Beenie Man’s lyrics “don’t contribute to social equanimity.” An understatement, to put it mildly. This article was the height of offensive insensitivity. Shame on you, and shame on New Times. You reap what you sow.
Jonathan Burrows, Oakland

“Off Their Meds,” Feature, 8/3

We’re not all Scientologists
A hearty thanks to Stefanie Kalem for her balanced story. I especially appreciate Kalem’s interweaving of the contemporary mental health discourse with Scientologist actor Tom Cruise’s public attack on Brooke Shields a couple of months ago. Since his outburst, things have been especially hot for psychiatry’s critics: It seems anyone who questions medicine has been smeared by association as a “Scientologist” or some kind of freak. Most of us are neither.
Karen Armstead, Oakland

What about psychotherapy?
Kalem misses an essential point in the debate surrounding psychiatric care, psychotropic medications, and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). Specifically, what was glossed over is the efficacy of psychotherapy provided by psychologists, clinical social workers, and marriage and family therapists. Like Dr. Daniel Dorman (a psychiatrist), many psychotherapists are turning toward a more humanistic approach in the care of their clients, working to understand an individual’s history, social environment, and current emotional needs to develop an individualized integrative dynamic therapy for the person in need.

Psychotherapists work WITH their clients to make decisions about the use of medication, but do not prescribe medication. While I do not speak for all clinicians (obviously), I believe that there is a movement growing in the psychotherapeutic community as well, and people finding themselves struggling with mental disorders can gain a great deal of insight and freedom from pain when working with a psychotherapist, with or without medication.
Lea D. Queen, Psy.D, Albany

Biased, naive, irresponsible
I was both intrigued and concerned by Stefanie Kalem’s article. While it’s important to explore mental illness from multiple perspectives, it is biased, naive, and socially irresponsible to imply that willpower is enough to recover from mental illness. Kalem profiles three patients who are attempting to heal themselves without meds — a noble mission, to be sure — but for the sake of balance she should have also interviewed patients and families whose lives have improved with the advent of newer psychiatric medications. The article elaborates in great detail the points of more radical antimedication movements, while Vivian Jackson, spokesperson for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, was only quoted briefly. Medication is not right for everyone, but those who do choose to take it should not be made to feel as if they lack “patience … and tenacity.”

Another point that troubled me was the flippant suggestion that psychiatrists are “pill-pushers.” Good psychiatric care involves an integrated treatment approach combining medications as appropriate, therapy, and family and community support.

The author suggests that the psychiatric community, aka “The Man,” imposes arbitrary diagnoses and medications on people. In the United States, psychiatric treatment is founded on the concept of autonomy. People in outpatient clinics independently seek treatment and are informed of the risks, benefits, and alternatives. Caregivers support the idea of independence, community building, and psychotherapy. No psychiatrist would deny that we need more research to advance our understanding of mental disorders, that psychotropic medications often have side effects, or that community support and therapy are essential components to recovery from mental illness. Instead of reacting angrily to the psychiatric community like a spoiled Scientologist, let’s instead find a way to collaborate.
Dr. Ellen Herbst, psychiatric resident, San Francisco

Singing in the train
I’m a psychiatric survivor, off the meds for 3.5 years. Life really changed for me when I started getting off the medications. On the plus side, my sexual interest really increased, and I became very creative and prolific with art, writing, and music. My sex life also resurrected; I started dating and experimenting with some new stuff. On the minus side, I find it very, very hard to be in crowds, especially on public transit. I am still figuring out how to manage my anxieties and resulting socially awkward or unacceptable “coping behaviors” — consisting of talking out loud to myself, or singing favorite songs, or humming. I’m told by many I’m a very good singer, most of these many being friends and family. Unfortunately, some strangers get very hostile and rude after a while of putting up with my singing and humming on public transit.

I look forward to a world where people do not feel a need to scream at me, laugh at me, call me rude names, or tell me I must be smoking dope or “need help or a Xanax.” I know that in America we are all supposed to behave in certain ways, depending on our surroundings and whom we are with at the time, if anybody. The ruder, more hostile strangers consider me crazy or find me annoying. My friends and family all love and adore me. What to do? Pray, and find a new way.
Linda M. Smith, Berkeley

“A Good Job,” Bottom Feeder, 8/10

Step up your game
Will Harper may perhaps be the laziest gossip columnist this side of the Mississippi. Since when did Google become the chief research tool for a reporter? Oakland City Councilmember Desley Brooks works for the people of her community, and if she so chooses to hire someone she knows and trusts, what is wrong with that? This is why Will Harper writes for a newspaper that is given away. Step your game up if you ever hope to make it to the big leagues, kid.

Josh Elsworth, Oakland

“The Last Stand of Eddy Zheng,” Feature, 8/10

Name the blunderer
I think the article would have been more complete if it had mentioned Mr. Zheng’s original criminal attorney — a public defender — by name. Records of convictions are public record, and records for a conviction as serious as Mr. Zheng’s are almost never sealed by the court. Anyone could examine the original court records (or the appeal for the ineffective counsel argument) to obtain that information.

I’ve been involved in the criminal justice system multiple times and am currently on probation. In my opinion, your newspaper would provide a public service by naming a criminal defense attorney if an actual appeal based on allegations of ineffective counsel has been filed and is a matter of public record.
Patrick McGarry, Oakland

“Everybody Loves Pizza,” On Food, 8/10

Hardware sellers gotta eat, too

Ambitious Chez Panisse cook + Greedy Landlord + Neighborhood Family-Owned Hardware Store = Ambitious Chez Panisse cook + Greedy Landlord + Pizzaiolo.

Gone are the days when the Express wrote exposés, replaced with restaurant reviews. Temescal area lost a wonderful institution, G&G Hardware, owned and run by the Ghiorso/Graziano families for over fifty years. At G&G, for the price of replacement parts, or a few nuts and bolts, patrons got advice and often help in repairing whatever plumbing or mechanical problem they had. G&G Hardware did not choose to go out of business.
Mike Coffield, Oakland

City of Awards
The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors has honored Express columnist Chris Thompson with one of its prestigious 2005 Golden Dozen Awards, which showcase the nation’s best examples of editorial writing. Of the winning entry, an account of Bill Clinton’s book signing at Cody’s headlined “The Sun King Back in the Spotlight” (City of Warts, 7/7/04), the judge had this to say: “Should an editorial writer merely comment? Or does that variant within the journalistic vocations occasionally have a wider responsibility — sometimes to delve into actual storytelling, and by implication, pronounce with greater subtlety upon issues of public importance? In a fascinating entry which threatens to cross between opinion-writing and traditional feature coverage, this lengthy item provides an absorbing study of much more than a celebrity book-signing event.”

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