Mail Call: Ancient Healing Arts

Our Dec. 2 cover story on alternative medicine moved many readers to share their own positive experiments with "old, experienced ways of healing." Some wrote in praise of homeopathy; one missed the mention of ayurveda. But a naysayer chided, "Get medicine back under scientific authority."

Miracle Cures or Quackery?

As a practitioner of alternative medicine, I thought your Dec. 2 cover story, "The Science of Alternative Medicine," looked like it had been sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry. Alternative doctors are colorfully painted as nutty, their therapies as dangerous. Thousands of years of experience in Chinese, Indian and Arab medicine cannot be totally wrong or dangerous, otherwise our species would have become extinct. We have survived thanks to "alternative" medicine. In fact, if there is any kind of medicine that is alternative, it is our modern scientific approach to sick people that is an alternative to the old experienced ways of healing. Of course, theories are colored by culture and the spirit of the time: the "demon" of the Middle Ages has now been replaced by a bacterium or a virus. So even as our ancestors drove demons out, now we kill germs. Is our view that different?
Hans C. Mol
Arnhem, Netherlands

I am distressed that alternative medicine received positive coverage in NEWSWEEK. Have the bitter experiences of the past that led to medical standardization in Britain and the United States been forgotten under the assault of multiculturalism and political correctness? Does scientific authority and the wisdom of the ages count for nothing? The last Galenic medical textbook may have been published in the 1890s but now, once again, we will hear of the benefits of leeching. I say, get medicine back under traditional scientific authority--the science of all men everywhere that has incorporated such foreign discoveries as rauwolfia, L-dopa and acupuncture without the accompanying bogus voodoo ideologies and superstitions. During a recent yearlong stay in China, I watched hours of government-sponsored programming that extolled Chinese medicine while, at the local city hospital, the big lines were at the Western, not Chinese, windows. A lone soldier stood guarding the Chinese-medicine wicket, almost symbolically.
Nathan Sturman
Gumma, Japan

I was prescribed four antibiotics for a painful and potentially fatal infection in my cervical vertebrae that disabled me. The drugs were ineffective and the infection spread. After three years of antibiotics, I became very ill from the drugs. That's when I started taking a homeopathic medicine. With rapid pain reduction and increased mobility in 48 hours, I stopped the antibiotics. Six months later, a scan confirmed the effectiveness of the homeopathic remedy.
Stephen Kane
Cornwall, England

I found your article on alternative medicine most interesting. I'm 84 and for a long time, I suffered from bad circulation: my feet were always cold, my toes were turning purple. Conventional remedies helped little. About two years ago, a herbalist recommended ginkgo biloba with bilberry to strengthen my capillaries. I took them for two months. Today my feet are warm and my toes have a perfect natural color. My occasional vertigo has disappeared. I felt no adverse effects with these remedies. This year, when a pain started in my hip and knee, I had to use a walking stick. I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis and X-rays showed the disappearance of hip and knee cartilage. Then my doctor recommended glucosamine and chondroitin sulphates. Thanks to those, I've retired my walking stick and enjoy a daily three-kilometer walk.
George Gaganakis
Almeria, Spain

You covered Chinese herbal medicines and acupuncture but not ayurveda, the ancient Aryan science of health. It's based on one of the oldest Indian scriptures and is practiced today by South Asians and even Westerners. It is not just a summary of therapeutics based on herbal, mineral and animal resources of the world but a philosophy of life and living. Its object is to counteract the imbalance of three forces within the body--vata, pitta and kapha--similar to the Chinese yin and yang.
Lionel Fernando
Colombo, Sri Lanka

As I rushed to flip through my alternative-medicine issue, looking for the "Homeopathy in Europe" section, I expected a well-researched article on the subject. But you've done a disservice to the public with your flippant story. In Europe, homeopathy is part of several national-health plans, including the one in England. There are homeopathic hospitals; France and Switzerland are major homeopathic centers. Your references to snake venom and beetle juice were deliberate sensationalism. Certainly they are used, but in a story that offers no explanation, these references can only turn an uninformed reader away from homeopathy. As for the placebo effect, when my toddler's fever disappears within 15 minutes of a dose of belladonna, or when her watery stool improves two hours after a dose of Arsenicum album, that's all the convincing I need. Antibiotics kill healthy intestinal bacteria so vital to a strong immune system. With homeopathy, the symptoms are not suppressed (as with conventional medicine), so you don't have an infection that goes away only to return. You are actually cured. Modern medicine, which does have a role in healing, says research shows that children given antibiotics for ear infections have a higher recurrence rate than those treated without. The difficulty in homeopathy is choosing the right remedy, and often one needs to try two or three remedies before getting it right. But it usually becomes evident within half an hour. Also, as symptoms change during an illness (the dry chesty cough to a wet one with chills), you may need to change the remedy.
Shawdi Honari
Majorca, Spain

Pakistan's Army

The conclusions drawn about President Musharraf and the armed forces of Pakistan in your Oct. 14 story "Power and Privilege" (Asia) are not based on facts. State land in Pakistan is not up for grabs by anyone, much less by the Pakistani Army. Uncultivable border wasteland donated by provincial governments is allotted to members of the armed forces with meritorious service in the defense of the country. The purpose of this is to make barren land productive and to keep the borders inhabited. Defense officers are not allotted residences at reduced or subsidized rates. Residential areas are purchased at market rates and developed by the armed forces, and plots are allotted to some officers--who pay in installments--to facilitate their post-retirement rehabilitation. Others are allotted houses or apartments after retirement for which deductions are made from their salaries every month while they are still in service, with the balance being paid from their retirement funds. In November 1999, President Musharraf declared assets and properties owned by him, his parents and both his independent children. He is the first Pakistani leader to do this. You report that the houses and property owned by his parents, daughter and son-in-law are really owned by Musharraf. This is not true. Finally, your apprehensions about the powers of the National Security Council are totally unfounded. The NSC is not a military body; it is a civilian-dominated consultative body. Indeed, of its 13 members, nine are elected representatives of the people. By reporting inaccuracies, you have done no service to your readers. It is important that they have all the facts.
M. Noor Saghir Khan, Director General
External Publicity Wing
Ministry of Information and Media Development
Islamabad, Pakistan

Wild About a Wizard

I'm tired of negative reviews of the "Harry Potter" movies--all written by adults ("Mild About 'Harry'," Nov. 18). The children who made the first film the second biggest moneymaker in the history of movies know what "Harry Potter" is about and how it should be transposed to the screen. The biggest criticism of the first film seemed to be its strict adherence to the book. But didn't the reviewers hear the collective sigh of relief from children all over the world when they saw the movie? Anyone who has ever been involved with reading books to children knows that children hate any tinkering with the plot or characters of a good story. That's why they loved the first movie and will love the second. So, please, employ a child reviewer next time.
Susan L. Throckmorton
Warsaw, Poland

"Mild about 'Harry' "? I'll be as wild about the second "Potter" movie as I was the first. Whether you're tween, teen or 60, the young wizard has the right stuff on paper and on film. Critics live on Pluto and moviegoers on Earth. How can magic be enjoyed from the ninth planet?
Michael G. Driver
Ichihara City, Japan

Will's Vilifications

In "The Nature of Human Nature" (Aug. 26) George Will compares the Nazis of the past to the Palestinian suicide bombers of today, arguing that the worst of human nature came to the top in both instances. But the simple fact is that Palestinians are the victims. They are the ones stripped of all dignity, well-being and future. Any people oppressed hard and long enough will inevitably try to fight back in whatever way they can. The oppressor shapes the oppressed. I would not be at all surprised if, 50 years from now, the five decades of long Israeli occupation of Palestinians is thought of as one of our time's great atrocities.
Stefan Moller
Gotenborg, Sweden

The silly opinions of your columnist Will are often cloaked in intricate language that he must believe lends them an air of scholarly pedigree. But in his latest diatribe against the Palestinians, no amount of fancy language can overcome the journalistic bankruptcy that he betrays. Pray, what is the similarity between Nazis and Palestinians? Is it that they have both earned the enmity of radical Zionists? If so, it's for wildly different reasons, and utterly opposed situations--Nazis were the oppressors, Palestinians are the oppressed. The sad irony is that the intifada, including the suicide bombings, is a pathetic response to Israel's vicious occupation. So Will's wild accusation of "anti-Semitic genocide" is sheer rubbish. As for Palestinian threats to "civilization," Will offers an unashamedly one-sided view and a sad travesty of the truth. One of the hallmarks of civilization is the rule of law which was tragically flouted when Palestinian land was taken, by force, with not a penny of compensation or acknowledgment. The brutal Israeli occupation is no beacon of "civilization," while the corrupt and ineffectual Palestinian Authority is, in fact, a sad parody of this hopeless situation. Such senseless rhetoric emanating from the likes of Will fools no one on this side of the Atlantic. Pity that it can attract a serious audience in America where it has become fashionable to be unapologetic champions of Israeli excesses both in journalistic circles as well as with a few influential but morally questionable officials of the current administration.
Safwan Afifi
London, England

Will's article left me dumbstruck. I reread it, not because it was well written or interesting, but to make sure it had registered correctly. So, a direct parallel exists between Nazi Germany and--no, really--the PLO! The Holocaust can be equated with the activities of groups connected to the PLO? The highly organized, well-equipped, systematic blitzkrieg machine is seriously being compared to the actions of desperate, lone bombers of the PLO on the defenseless Israelis. Ah, of course, the Israelis. I get the gist of this piece now. Fifty years on and still persecuted, vulnerable, dispossessed, innocent, mere victims. As true as that was then, now it isn't. Maybe Will has repeated this tripe to himself so many times that he's come to believe it. More likely, he is simply adding fuel to the fire in an incendiary manner. He's added 2+2 and arrived at 666. For this article to illustrate the worst excesses of mankind with examples which omit the outrageous behavior of Israel is the lowest form of propaganda.
Jan Alkema
Brighton, England

Will points out that Palestinian mothers rejoice when their teenage sons blow themselves up "in the process of blowing up other mothers' children." Though this is truly horrible, it needs to be pointed out that the policies of the West vis-a-vis the Arab world contribute to this. The United States, in particular, stresses the need for elections in the Palestinian territories and "regime change" in Iraq, while continuing to ignore the repressive rule of the sheikhs and kings in this part of the world. As a leader, America should stress democratization in this area so parents can be proud of their sons as lawyers, engineers and people's representatives, and not as human bombs.
Anmol Gupta
New Delhi, India