- The Washington Times - Monday, March 22, 2010

Not a disease

“Good intentions aside, is the ‘brain disease’ of addiction really beyond the control of the addict in the same that way that the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease or multiple sclerosis are beyond the control of the afflicted? Showing how the two differ is an important theme of the book. If, as [author Gene] Heyman says, ‘drug-induced brain change is not sufficient evidence that addiction is an involuntary disease state,’ then how are we to distinguish between voluntary and involuntary behavior?

“Heyman’s answer is that ‘voluntary activities vary systematically as a function of their consequences, where the consequences include benefits, costs and values.’ Take, for example, the case of addicted physicians and pilots. When they are reported to their oversight boards, they are monitored closely for several long years; if they don’t fly right, they have a lot to lose (jobs, income, status). It is no coincidence that their recovery rates are high. Via entities called drug courts, the criminal justice system applies swift and certain sanctions to drug offenders who fail drug tests — the threat of jail time if tests are repeatedly failed is the stick — while the carrot is that charges are expunged if the program is completed. Participants in drug courts tend to fare significantly better than their counterparts who have been adjudicated as usual … .

“Contingencies are the key to voluntariness. No amount of reinforcement or punishment can alter the course of an entirely autonomous biological condition. Imagine bribing an Alzheimer’s patient to keep her dementia from worsening, or threatening to impose a penalty on her if it did.”

Sally Satel, writing on “Addiction and Freedom” on March 15 at the New Republic blog, the Book

‘Racism’ again

“The war in the Pacific was a war of racism and terror. Terror in the ways that we will terrorize you with suicide attacks, but also terror in that, you will be on an island with absolutely no escape, and you will be reduced to subhuman levels in order to survive. And racism based solely on the shape of your eyes and the color of your skin — on both sides. Now does that sound familiar by any chance?

“I think in many, many ways, just as ‘Star Trek’ can take events from the 27th century and make them relevant to the way we’re living today, I think we’ve done the same thing with the Pacific. It’s about today. Yes, it’s about the mechanics and the airplanes, and all that stuff is definitely rooted in a time and place, just like ‘Star Trek’ is. But it’s about human beings getting up and deciding, you know what, I don’t hate that guy anymore, or I hate that guy so much I’m going to kill every single one [of his kind].”

Tom Hanks, quoted in “Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks talk about ‘The Pacific,’” by Adam B. Vary, on March 21 at Entertainment Weekly’s Popwatch blog

Forgotten women

“How does a woman overcome the suffocating messages of her culture to become an artist? In ‘Burying the Bones,’ Hilary Spurling unearths the creative roots of the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Pearl Buck (1892-1973). Spurling points out that, although Buck’s most famous novel, ‘The Good Earth,’ is still in print, the author is ‘virtually forgotten.’

“‘She has no place in feminist mythology, and her novels have been effectively eliminated from the American literary map.’ Boldly conceived and magnificently written, ‘Burying the Bones’ should repair Buck’s literary fortunes and restore her to the pantheon of feminist heroines.

“In her foreword, Spurling dates her fascination with Buck to her childhood reading. The first book she remembers was Pearl Buck’s ‘The Chinese Children Next Door,’ about a family of six little girls totally overshadowed and enslaved by the seventh child, a baby brother. When she reread it as an adult, Spurling recognized ‘echoes of stories my mother told me about her own childhood when she, too, had been the last of six unwanted girls.’ For Spurling, these were stories of a remote time and place, but for Buck, who played as a little girl ‘in a Chinese town where wild dogs foraged for babies routinely exposed to die on waste land,’ it was a domestication of the terrors of finding the ‘half-eaten’ remains of bodies, ‘nearly always girls suffocated or strangled at birth.’”

Elaine Showalter, writing on “China Girl,” in the March issue of Literary Review

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