By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
A couple of points in Jarrett Murphy's comprehensive and well-written piece about skin shock therapy at the Judge Rotenberg Center ["School of Shock," October 1117]call for clarification. Missing from the article was mention of a key safeguard in using aversive skin shocks as a supplement to positive rewards. Every student with whom skin shock therapy is used must be pre-approved for that use, on an individual basis, by a Massachusetts probate court. Behavioral rehearsal lessons, in which a student is prompted to engage in the initial (non-dangerous) phase of an extremely problematic behavior, are used very rarely and only when it is more important to prevent life-threatening behaviors such as suicidal behaviors or jumping out of a moving vehicle, rather than to try to treat the behaviors after they have occurred. The assertion that JRC withholds food from some students as an aversive needs further explanation. For certain autistic students their three normal meals are divided into a large number of easily earned mini-meals that are dispensed throughout the day to reward desired behaviors and/or going for periods without displaying undesired behaviors. Numerous safeguards are in place to ensure that the procedure produces no adverse effects on the nutrition and health of the students, and prior court authorization is required to use this procedure. Finally, the terms zap and jolt, when used to refer to the careful administration of behavioral skin shock therapy, are unnecessarily pejorative and sensationalized.
Matthew L. Israel, Ph.D.
Executive director Judge Rotenberg Educational Center
Editor's note: On October 18, the commonwealth of Massachusetts assessed $43,000 in fines to 14 current and former employees of the Judge Rotenberg Center ( featured in "School of Shock," October 1117) for describing themselves as "psychologists" without holding Massachusetts licenses, in violation of a 1996 state law.
I just read Murphy's article and came away upset and frustrated. Not by the obviously galvanizing subject matter, but by the utter lack of genuine analysis or actual investigation on the part of the author. Aside from a few paragraphs toward the end of the piece summarizing official complaints and a short quote from the NYCLU, there's very little in the way of quotes from opponents. There's also very little analysis by experts, pro or con, other than general statements like "experts note" and "practitioners generally believe." Most of the article seems to be merely a tour of Israel's facility and methods. Bad science seems to be at play here, but could Murphy not find an articulate voice to counter Israel? Was he not able to track down a single family whose child had come out of the program in order to get some idea of its effectiveness? For general readers, this was suitably sensational. For astute readers, this was pretty lazy journalism. Here's hoping for a little more meat next time.
It's a nerd, it's a plane
Re Trevor Paglen and A.C. Thompson's "Planespotting: Nerds With Binoculars Bust the CIA's Torture Taxis" [villagevoice.com, October 15 ]: I am disgusted with all this anti-terrorism criticism. I can't believe that the Voice would even think of entertaining this topic. In my opinion, plane spotting not only is wrong, but it should be banned. Now don't get me wrong, if you enjoy watching planes taking off and landing, that's fine. But it should be in a secured area that's under constant surveillance (just in case your local terrorist happens to have an automatic weapon). Identifying planes and tracking communication frequencies open the door to blog sites, and terrorists love monitoring loudmouths and nuts like this guy.
It's quite a stretch to go from spotting a plane to it being a "torture taxi." Does the CIA have access to its own aircraft? It does and always has. Should they be unmarked and without public flight plans? I hope so. We are at war with people who hate America and want our way of freedom to end. I don't want to have to worship Allah. I want to have a CIA. I want them to have the resources to do their jobs. I want America to be free enough that you can make these insane arguments about a plane being a torture taxi.
Kristen Lombardi's "The Squatter" [October 410] is not what I expect from the Voice. It was the voice of a bored yuppie with no stomach for the struggles of the thousands of New Yorkers dispossessed by greedy landlords. Daniel Peckham's wall was knocked down while he lived in his apartment. Larry Tauber, the landlord, was so out of line that he had to be stopped by the courts. Peckham had the courage to fight for his rights as a tenant and the rights of thousands of others like him. Although he is disabled, he stood up against the odds. Shame on the Voicefor vilifying Peckham while exonerating his landlord.
Dr. Harriet Fraad
Money for nothing
Re Jonathan Zwickel's "Dare to Be Stupid" [October 1824]: I am deeply happy for you and Weird Al. It warms my heart to hear how much joy and brilliance Yankovic has brought into your life, as into the lives of the faceless multitude, surely. But Jonathan, you are being paid in U.S. currency to write in ways that bring something fresh and entertaining into every reader's ho-hum day. As an English professor, I must tell you that a good analogy is the only analogy worth putting under your byline. Taking cheap shots at the likes of Taylor Hicks makes you seem petty, unoriginal, tired, and shopworn. This is simply not what your readers are paying for. Not what we have come to expect. You are a writer for The Village Voice, not some tawdry supermarket rag. Take pride in yourself, man. Step up to the challenge! Weird Al is an original. He can afford to Dare to Be Stupid. While you, Jonathan, have a Visa bill waiting for you at home. And I don't think your unrelenting awe of Weird Al is going to sign the check. I hope you agree it's good to keep such things in mind. With diminished hopes, I nonetheless remain most truly yours.