Letters

Readers respond to recent articles on EMDR therapy, emotional damage in New York, alternatives to violence, women under the Taliban and the non-death of irony.


Salon Staff
October 5, 2001 11:00PM (UTC)

Read "The Mystery Cure" by Janelle Brown.

I usually really like your articles and think your writers take a balanced and intelligent look at issues and the data informing them.

I am surprised at the wide-eyed naiveté with which Janelle Brown has eaten up all of the praises lavished upon EMDR without taking a critical look at the controversy surrounding this treatment. EMDR may be a good treatment for trauma/PTSD but it also has many detractors within the psychological community who argue it is nothing more than classic cognitive/behavioral techniques slickly repackaged and sold to a desperate populace looking for a quick fix.

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Some research shows that the eye movements (finger waving, tapping, whatever) are a sham component of the treatment that add nothing to its effectiveness above simply discussing (processing) the trauma repeatedly and in detail. This is the essence of classic cognitive-behavioral therapy, not some new miracle cure.

The "principles of neuroscience" that EMDR is purportedly based on are hogwash; Shapiro has no training in neuroscience and her language around the mechanisms for EMDR are fuzzy at best.

Some research suggests EMDR is an improvement over traditional psychotherapeutic techniques because it works more quickly; this aspect deserves further study.

I am all for a treatment that works, and EMDR certainly seems to do so for many people. Anything that offers comfort and assistance to those who have gone through horrible tragedies like in New York is worth attention. But to tout EMDR as a miracle cure and then not even discuss the controversy over it or present the other side of the argument is unfair to the many people who at this time seek any answer, any cure for the horrible things they've gone through.

Victims of trauma deserve a balanced presentation of the issues, normally the hallmark of good journalism.

-- Lauren Fox, Ph.D.

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The absolute lack of skepticism in this article was a disappointing lapse from Salon's usual standards. The writer failed to point out that 1) The evidence that EMDR is beneficial is somewhat weak; 2) the treatment is not accepted by the American Psychological Association; and 3) assuming the treatment works, there is no sound theoretical explanation of how it's supposed to work, the invocations of "left brain, right brain" notwithstanding. You did note the broad variation of physical stimuli used by different practitioners (eye movement, hand tapping and alternating sounds), but this variation throws into question the basic practice. If they all work, what's really going on?

Interested readers should check out the entry for EMDR in the online Skeptic's Dictionary (www.skepdic.com) and follow the links there. It is a shame that your writer didn't.

-- Jack Dominey

Thank you for publishing such a good article on EMDR and its humanitarian assistance program. Many people will profit from having read this, and will hopefully look for help for something that can now be treated.

-- Esly Carvalho, MA, LPC, TEP

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Read "Ashes to ashes" by Christopher Ketcham.

As creative as this lead story is, it's more Beat hyperbole than a serious piece of journalism. I love your site, in fact I just told my friend I would subscribe (which seems nuts for a Web site but your stuff is great). But if stories like this are going to be the norm, I'm going to have to think again. Stay away from this drama. The real world has enough.

-- Jim Eagen, New York

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While the events of Sept. 11 are sickening, there's something even more sickening about the way we as middle-class and up Americans grieve: outwardly, with self-indulgent forays into pseudo-literary soundbite bids and adolescent histrionics. I'm not pointing fingers here: I'm above no one myself. We are chronically acting. Half-human and half-loathsome witness to ourselves.

-- Mark

Christopher Ketcham's piece on New York post-Sept. 11 was one of the most chilling stories I have ever read. I hope and pray that New Yorkers have the strength and courage to get through this crisis.

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-- Tom Nord

Christopher Ketcham's melodramatic tale of post-traumatic angst in hipsterville is incredibly self-indulgent. Ketcham tells of an encounter with his mad-at-the-world pal Bob in which Bob has been so affected by the plumes of smoke that waft toward his Brooklyn apartment that he's taken to drunken cuckoo clock maintenance and decided to leave town. Another local sorrow-drowner is suffering from an irritating, yet not-quite-tangible stress-induced leg bump.

As for the author, he's ravaged by insomnia and nightmares because he decided to go down to ground zero to see the carnage for himself, probably not so much to help the victims, but to collect vivid details of the gore he chose to poke at with a gloved finger and then describe in this article. Mr. Ketcham and his friends seem both shocked and greatly inconvenienced to have been forced by this event to crawl out of their own asses. How lucky for them that they can whine about their maladies without the distraction of having to plan a funeral for the father of their three children, or their only daughter, or their wife.

-- Andrea

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Read "Irony is dead! Long live irony!" by David Beers.

Vanity Fair heralding the end of irony and frivolity and yet continuing to glossily roll off the presses is, itself, ironic. I look forward to your next commentary. Thanks for a great article.

-- Jennifer Titus

Nice article on irony. This said sincerely by someone who has suffered for years with the blank stares or puzzled, nodding agreement of non-ironists at my outrageous statements. You neglect, however, to mention that irony cannot be taught wholesale. It requires that a student work closely with a master to understand the sound of one hand snapping its fingers.

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As an elitist ironist, I just hope that popular irony does not debase the form the way public adoration for Georgia O'Keefe ruined my love for her art.

-- Walter Kelly

Well done. I've spent the better part of the last 12 hours on the 61st floor of the tallest building in downtown Seattle staring hopelessly at a legal brief that makes absolutely no sense at all, and I just wanted to thank you for writing the most satisfying story I've read since Sept. 11.

On the bus ride into work this morning I read a story about some popular recording artists re-recording Marvin Gaye's classic "What's Going On." The thought of these people assembled in a studio somewhere butchering such a beautiful song filled me what can only be described as hopelessness (or perhaps despair). I, unfortunately, tend towards the annoying type of ironic detachment you so accurately described. But your article made me feel like all is not lost. It made me see that in the aftermath of such a hideous (and politically defining) event, one of the more serious things a well-heeled asshole like myself can do is to nurture and refine both my love for and my discomfort with the people around me. For this I thank you. Keep up the good work.

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-- Thomas Orvald

Thanks for your wonderful article in defense of true irony (or "good" irony). When I saw all the articles proclaiming the "end of the age of irony," I was equally dismayed. An end to the age of mindless, spineless cynicism? Perhaps, but why parade the end of irony? Certainly no one with anything more than a base understanding of the word (in a way, this issue reminds me of the '80s and '90s corruption of the term "rhetoric") would herald in the end of irony, particularly at a time like this, as you so succinctly point out.

The other thing about all of these articles that bothered me a great deal was that they all seemed, to me at least, to be predicated upon the notion that we were now facing true tragedy, which had never visited the world before, and whose appearance meant that nothing could ever again be funny or viewed ironically (with the more subtle implication that we should all walk lock-step and grave-faced to the jingoistic tune descending upon the nation). To which I say: What? Over a thousand people worldwide kill themselves each day. More than 20 times more people perished in Bangladesh less than a decade ago when a series of waves hit the country (thanks to Annie Dillard for the facts). But NOW nothing's funny? NOW we should stop being smug "ironists?"

Perhaps I march to a different tune, but I've always recognized that the amount of human tragedy and suffering in the world sometimes makes it hard to face the day, and certainly makes one cherish life all the more. I find it more frightening than almost anything that has come out of this mess that it would take planes crashing into the World Trade Center to make a nation of people realize that life is something that needs to be cherished, and suffering and pain are abundant in the world. But I digress. I just wanted to write to thank you for writing such a great article.

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-- Tristan

I enjoyed reading your irony piece. I would inject a tweak for a small slice of the population that I hope is growing. We have given up broadcast TV as the icon of our culture. I didn't see Seinfeld or Letterman or "Survivor." Nor do I care. I don't give a flying leap about what CBS, NBC or FOX thinks of the days news. Yes, I own a TV. I use it to watch PBS, HGTV, TLC, Discovery and other constructive stuff. In fact I have a $16,000 TV. I just don't buy that the national networks defines our culture. They do not reflect our reality, contrary to generally held views. "South Park" is a good example of "successful" irony, humor and symbolism on TV. I do not believe that America has become that low. Only the mindless, baseless lemmings of society fall victim to a false oracle. Irony, symbolism and puns are the mind games of the intelligent. Broadcast television is the domain of the mindless.

-- Bill Brothers, Rocklin, Calif.

Read "What's so funny about peace, love and understanding?" by Jennifer Foote Sweeney.

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Jennifer Sweeney's essay on peace and restraint was right on. Of course we must try to find bin Laden and others responsible for the attack, but meanwhile let's not go to war. Let's be smart, as Sweeney suggests. The smart thing would be to wake up and realize (as one of your other articles said) that we are part of the world -- something Bush and his coterie don't seem to have grasped, but maybe they are just starting to now. The smart thing would be to send food and medical supplies to the 1 million to 5 million Afghans who are going to starve in the next two or three months. The smart thing to do would be to spend billions on programs that help the world's wretched and homeless, tempest-tossed (to quote Emma Lazarus) rather than killing them. We did the smart thing after World War II when we rebuilt Germany and Japan rather than plowing them under in their own rubble, as many wanted to do. I was old enough then to remember how we were taught during the war to hate both Germans and Japanese (the propaganda was fierce; just pull out some of the old pictures of Japanese who look like deranged monkeys and Germans who look like monsters), and when we learned of the death camps at the end, we had good reason to up our feeling of hatred. Yet miraculously, cooler heads prevailed and we had the Marshall Plan. Many opposed it, many were horrified, but who today would say it was the wrong thing?

The smart thing would be to realize that the "you bash me, I bash you" mentality only perpetuates what we say we want to stop. But I don't think we're going to be smart, unfortunately; for a few feel-good headlines, we're going to go to war instead.

-- Ranney Moss

While I understand Jennifer Foote Sweeney's hope for peace, her understanding of Gandhi's nonviolence would increase were she to look backwards several decades. She wonders what Gandhi would do about Osama bin Laden; instead she should examine what Gandhi did and said about Hitler. It seems that even the beloved Gandhi knew the limitations of nonviolence.

Nonviolence does not mean making peace. On the other hand, it means fighting bravely and sincerely for truth and doing what is just. Like all fights, there will be a terrible loss and pain. But a satyagrahi (soldier of civil disobedience) must go on. My success with civil disobedience in South Africa and in India has not come easy. A large number of people sacrificed a great deal, including their lives while fighting for truth and justice.

The doctrine of Satyagraha works on the principle that you make the so-called enemy see and realize the injustice he is engaged in. It can work only when you believe in God and the goodness of the people to see that they are wrong. As a satyagrahi, I do believe that nonviolence is a potent weapon against all evils. I warn you however, that the victory will not come easy -- just like it will not come easy with violent methods such as fighting with weaponry.

-- Daniel Curran

Sweeney's article was its own refutation. She offered up plenty of gooey platitudes to be sure ("victory of awareness, charity and love") and zero concrete substance on how her warm and fuzzy campaign (the "high road") would effect this "change."

This is precisely the problem, the suggestions of the peaceniks and pacifists are uniformly hollow and unspecified. I'm guessing it's because they really don't have anything much to offer the debate but trite diatribes.

-- Greg Scoblete

Maybe this will illustrate to Jennifer Foote Sweeney why her view is in the minority:

What to do if you happen upon a peace rally by stupid, naive, hemp shirt-wearing college idiots, to teach them why force is sometimes needed:

1) Approach dumb, rich, ignorant student talking about "peace" and saying there should be "no retaliation."

2) Engage in brief conversation; ask if military force is appropriate.

3) When he says "No," ask "Why not?"

4) Wait until he says something to the effect of, "Because that would just cause more innocent deaths, which would be awful, and we should not cause more violence."

5) When he's in mid-sentence, punch him in the face as hard as you can.

6) When he gets back up to up to punch you, point out that it would be a mistake and contrary to his values to strike you, because that would "be awful and he should not cause more violence."

7) Wait until he agrees and pledges not to commit additional violence.

8) Punch him in the face again, harder this time.

Repeat Steps 5 through 8 until he understands that sometimes it is necessary to punch back.

-- Brady Lemke

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Read "Terror's First Victims" by Janelle Brown.

I bet Falwell and Robertson are gritting their teeth with jealousy, wishing they could do the same to prostitutes or adulterers in America.

-- Anonymous

I'm sure you've heard this before, but thank you for this article, and for the links to the RAWA Web pages. I know they, as well as other articles about the plight of women in Afghanistan, have appeared on the page in the past. However, this is the first time in the aftermath of the attacks that I've been able to look at them. I've been hibernating from the news, mourning for New York and America.

I always knew the Taliban was evil, but sometimes it takes concrete images to truly know the extent of such horror. This article has opened my eyes to the world beyond my home, and part of me wishes I had remained ignorant, that I didn't have this new pain to carry around. But it's just this pain, the inescapable darkness accompanying knowledge, that can change so much.

-- Andrea Norstad

Why does my reporter's bullshit meter go off when I read a story consisting 90 percent of unsubstantiated statements from an unnamed, unknown source made in a phone interview? Somebody's being conned.

-- Walter Kelly


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