Letters from our readers.
Aug. 7 1998 3:30 AM

Address your e-mail to the editors to letters@slate.com. All writers must include their address and daytime phone number (for confirmation only).


Seth Gets Smoked

I normally find Slate's work to be analytically sound and faithful to the facts. However, Seth Stevenson's "High and Mighty" of July 23 could not be more inaccurate.

First, to suggest that the problem with heroin is that it is illegal--forcing addicts into criminality--is dead wrong. Heroin is criminal because it is deadly, not vice versa. The vast majority of heroin addicts, criminality aside, cannot adequately sustain themselves in society. For this reason, heroin maintenance programs in Switzerland have been forced to create a government subsidized job category: "professional addict." The Swiss give these addicts not just heroin but a salary, housing, medical care, and in many cases even a dog and money to support the dog. Why? Because these addicts cannot hold down a job, and for many heroin is deadly.

If children see what heroin use is really like--not the somewhat benign face Stevenson puts on it--they won't use this deadly drug. To this end, one of the other ads in the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign shows an attractive woman who, as the ad rolls, begins to strip away her makeup. She ages before your eyes, becoming increasingly haggard and ill looking. Finally, she removes her artificial teeth--one of the outcomes of heroin use is the loss of teeth--and she shows just how glamorous heroin use is not. This is real life.


Second, Stevenson's repeated references to marijuana are medically inaccurate. Take a look at recent medical evidence:

A PET brain scan of a regular marijuana user shows that marijuana changes the chemistry of the brain to render vast sections of the brain less active. Moreover, marijuana smoke contains countless known carcinogens, and the lung smoking of marijuana to achieve a high adds to the problem--the smoking equivalent of mainlining cancer into your body. (Smoking just five or more joints a day produces the same lung diseases as smoking a full pack of 20 cigarettes a day.)

However, it doesn't end there. Babies born to mothers who smoke marijuana during pregnancy have an elevenfold increase in nonlymphoblastic leukemia. The most consistent finding from the literature on employee marijuana use is its association with increased absenteeism. It is also associated with increased accidents, higher turnover, low job satisfaction, counterproductive behavior, withdrawal and antagonistic behaviors, and higher use of employee assistance programs and medical benefits.

Stevenson also misunderstands the current ad campaign. The author says the campaign targets children, and he is right. However, the campaign is also largely focused on adults. One of the core messages of the campaign is that parents and other adult mentors need to talk to children about the real dangers of drug use.


The one area where Stevenson has it correct is that it is increasingly hard to educate young people about the real dangers of drug use. Unfortunately, for all his couching language ("Drugs can be awful") and care, the author is part of the problem, not the solution. Inaccuracies like those discussed above, which downplay the dangers in drug use, send our young people mixed messages and increase distrust. Against this backdrop it is easy for young people to not buy the facts about drugs. The bottom line is: We can disagree about policies in a democracy; however, our disagreements should be based on facts. This article largely failed that measure.

--Robert HousmanChief policy adviser, Strategic Planning Office of National Drug Control Policy

Seth Stevenson responds:

I applaud Robert Housman's lust for facts. No one benefits from propaganda based on scare tactics rather than the truth.


But Housman's facts are not facts, and his assumptions are misleading. While his claims of increased child cancer rates have been refuted (see the excellent Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts for a debunking of the study that produced this figure and direct refutations of each of Housman's other factual claims), they are, more important, irrelevant. Obviously, pregnant women should not smoke pot--just as they should not smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol. As for Housman's litany on "employee marijuana use," each of those effects (increased absenteeism, increased accidents, higher turnover, low job satisfaction, etc.) will show up tenfold in relation to employee alcohol use. Without doubt, constant intoxication of any form will hurt one's work capacity. And then this: "Smoking just five or more joints a day produces the same lung diseases as smoking a full pack of 20 cigarettes a day." Funny, I don't see the government arresting pack-a-day cigarette smokers or lobbying to criminalize tobacco.

To be sure, there are "real dangers" of drug use, just as there are real dangers of alcohol and tobacco use. Let's be honest with our kids about all of them, instead of terrorizing them with exaggerations and lies.

The Straight Dope

While you write eloquently regarding your controlled drug use in Seth Stevenson's "High and Mighty," many other less fortunate persons are either dead or not in a position within our society to be heard. Your attitude makes me sick! Publishing that article is like inviting an alcoholic to a wine-tasting party: You're within your rights but very wrong.


--Phil JohnstonLouisville, Ky.

Hey, Wait a Minute, Potheads!

Seth Stevenson's "High and Mighty" practically endorses legalization of heroin and the free use of marijuana among teen-agers. In the article, you mentioned how Republicans are hypocritical in their diatribes against illegal drugs and their resistance to slamming "Big Tobacco." From a perspective you have a point, but I would rather be busy keeping an illegal, dangerous substance out of the reach of my kids than jumping on the bandwagon to tax the crap out of my fellow citizens who smoke a legal substance. I also would rather see my co-workers smoke cigarettes than use marijuana or heroin. Marijuana alters the brain's chemistry to produce hallucinogenic effects, while nicotine only satisfies the addiction the smoker's body feels. Would you want the person driving behind you to be high on marijuana or on nicotine? The chances of him/her plowing into you while under the influence of nicotine are far less than being high on marijuana.

Heroin is a drug that can kill you on the very first try, and most heroin addicts didn't start out shooting up with needles--they were smoking pot as teen-agers.

--Scott Hicks

Reality Check

Re Seth Stevenson's "High and Mighty": I have one comment in regard to drugs--they kill! My girlfriend's brother was found dead only a few weeks ago of what has since been determined to have been an overdose of heroin. This was someone who no one would have ever thought to have been a drug user. Personally, I don't give a flip what kind of action anyone takes to warn people against the use of drugs, because they are killers.

--Sam McGowan

The Propaganda OD

Having just read Seth Stevenson's "High and Mighty," I must applaud him vigorously. I'm an elementary-school teacher--which is surely the profession most indoctrinated with anti-drug propaganda--in a small Texas town. For me, there's an inherent stupidity in the absoluteness of the "Just Say No" campaign, which insists that drugs and alcohol are completely intolerable in a society where both, especially the latter, are so prevalent. How can we preach such an absolute message to kids all day at school or on television and expect them to ignore our social behaviors every evening? It has become uncomfortable for mom and dad to enjoy a beer or cocktail at the end of the day, lest junior regale them with the evils of drug and alcohol use. What's wrong with a society where supposedly rational adults have to "sneak around" to enjoy a drink within the walls of their own home?

--Pam Ferguson

Coming Clean

You will doubtless get a great deal of trouble about your decision to publish Seth Stevenson's "High and Mighty" on the current drug ad campaign. There is no topic today that is so steeped in cant and posturing. Thanks for pointing out the obvious--that drug use, while dicey, is an established and unavoidable part of human culture and that dishonesty on this point does no one any good.

--Robert FrodemanDepartment of philosophy and religion, University of Tennessee

Gag Yourself With a Sex Dress

In its promotional letter of July 31, Slate wrote, "Dear Reader, Monica's sex dress has resurfaced, and Slate can't stop talking about it."

PLEASE DO! As a new reader, I have to tell you that I was disappointed in this opener. You seemed, at first blush, to be above all the crap/sensationalist headlines the big papers use to sell their stuff. But for days now, all you can talk about is the Clinton scandal. Could you possibly tear yourself away and find something more interesting to discuss? This can't be the only story.

--Claire Wynters

Secret Self-Service

David Plotz is absolutely right in his July 23 piece, "The Secret Service's Real Secret," about the extent to which presidential protection has become absurd, but even Plotz fails to ask outright the most important question: What makes the president's life so valuable? In a democracy, after all, citizens' lives are supposed to be equally valuable. During the Cold War, it was feared that a presidential assassination might set off a nuclear exchange, so by protecting the president, the Secret Service was, at least arguably, protecting us all. But nobody worries about that sort of thing nowadays, and yet the president is more tightly protected than at the height of the Cold War. Perhaps the Secret Service is really protecting its own bureaucratic rear.

--Glenn H. ReynoldsProfessor of law, University of Tennessee

I-Rate About the E-Rate

Trying to be charitable, the best I can muster about Patrick Quigley's July 23 article, "Server Time Out," is that he is simply ignorant of the facts of rural life.

In conservative Texas, we have a Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund for schools and libraries (dreamed up by a Republican state senator, among others) that antedates the e-rate and is far more generous with the telcos' money.

I work for a public library system in central Texas (not even the most rural part of the state) with 61 members. My system and the Texas State Library provide access to a number of rather expensive databases that few libraries can afford to purchase on their own. The smaller, poorer libraries benefit most, as their communities would otherwise not have access to such resources. The most cost-effective way to deliver this service to our libraries is via the Internet.

I have spent a good part of the past several weeks trying to get any kind of non-800 Internet access for two of our libraries that have the misfortune of not having an ISP in their local calling area. (Ironically, thanks to the heavy hand of big bad state government, they can get an affordable ISDN line, but as ISPs are not regulated, there are no ISPs where the ISDN lines terminate.)

Quigley should try getting DirecPC out in the boonies. In the first place, getting service at the rate he quotes requires a dial-up phone line connection to an ISP for the upstream link (there is a much-higher-priced two-way service). Second, while, in theory, Hughes provides a DirecPC LAN service (TIF generously provided two computers for these libraries), I asked several times for pricing and conditions back in April, and I still haven't heard anything more than that it would "probably" be several hundred dollars.

In short, while the market probably will work quite well in providing good telecommunications in dense urban areas, very little has changed over the past few years in the rural areas I work with. I stopped believing the hype about satellite, cable, or xDSL rollouts in rural areas some time back.

I can't resist saying it: Quigley is an armchair theorist spouting snide opinions about circumstances of which he obviously has little firsthand knowledge. His "let them eat cake" attitude is insulting and offensive.

--Bob Gaines Central Texas Library System

Patrick Quigley responds:

I find it upsetting that someone could so quickly lose faith in the possibility of technological innovation in an industry that has been around for less than six years. While it seems as if all our technological problems would be solved if we simply regulated the industry, let me remind you that it took at least six years for even the VHS-Betamax argument to be solved. Economists everywhere would frown on the idea of ghettoizing an industry that is only in its infancy--to do so would irrevocably cripple its progress and make the possibility of lower costs almost nonexistent. Your complaints (e.g., no local ISPs, lack of choice in satellite technology) are exactly the reasons that the e-rate would not work. Without these innovations, which only the market can produce, the Internet connection cost will remain exorbitant, even with the e-rate discounts! Second, the assumption that the Internet industry will all but ignore the needs of the rural population is absurd. The latest census figures show that 24.8 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural areas--to suggest that the industry will ignore almost one quarter of the U.S. market is inane at best.

Address your e-mail to the editors to letters@slate.com. All writers must include their address and daytime phone number (for confirmation only).