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The danger at Devil's Gate Dam; doctors and the proper role of diagnostic tests; Tim Rutten on a divided America

May 11, 2011
  • Danger zone: A buildup of sediment behind Devil's Gate Dam could imperil local communities. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Danger zone: A buildup of sediment behind Devil's Gate Dam could imperil…

Water won't wait

Re "Messing with Devil's Gate," Editorial, May 6

I lived in La Crescenta during the great flood of 1938. I remember listening to radio reports that Devil's Gate Dam was in imminent danger of collapsing. Fortunately it didn't, and the Arroyo Seco and the communities below were saved from a deluge of mud and water.

The fact that the dam's basin has been allowed to fill with sediment over the years is a sign of ignorance and mismanagement. The L.A. County Board of Supervisors should make clearing out the basin a top priority.

Maybe the supervisors should also review photographs from the 1938 flood to remind them of the power of unleashed water.

Richard Krown

Rancho Palos Verdes

Your editorial ignores the significant public safety measures passed by the supervisors. The Department of Public Works will immediately remove 25,000 cubic yards of sediment from the dam's face, replace barriers to prevent debris from clogging the valves, take action to ensure regular valve maintenance and modify the Altadena West storm drain to provide an additional outlet for runoff.

The environmental impact report for the 50-acre site behind the dam is vital for a project of this magnitude, which could significantly impact adjacent communities with 300 to 400 trucks daily moving more than 1 million cubic yards of sediment.

The city of Pasadena, the Altadena Town Council, environmental and community groups, engineers and local residents strongly support these safety measures — as well as the EIR for the Devil's Gate Dam project.

Michael D. Antonovich

Los Angeles

The writer is L.A. County supervisor, 5th District.

Another look at medical exams

Re "Diagnosis as disease," Opinion, May 6

Articles such as this by H. Gilbert Welch do a disservice. As a practicing physician for more than 50 years, I have known many people who might be alive today if they had had tests such as PSA screening for prostate cancer, colonoscopies, mammograms and other exams.

On the other hand, I have known others whose lives have been saved or prolonged by examinations leading to early diagnoses.

The implication that the average physician orders tests to augment his or her income or for fear of malpractice claims is false.

Extremely valuable advances have taken place in healthcare since I graduated from medical school. This has led to additional years of healthy life for millions of Americans.

Richard Willner, MD

Long Beach

Welch gets his priorities wrong when he attributes the causes of overdiagnosis to doctors' focus on concern and care for patients rather than money. Healthcare in the U.S. is all about money.

As a psychotherapist, I have had many over-medicated patients stumble into my office after being "treated" by doctors with the cheapest treatment available — drugs — rather than the best, a combination of medication and therapy. Few doctors are willing to recommend psychotherapy, which would put them in the awkward position of recommending treatment not sufficiently covered by most insurance plans. So instead they dish out pills to patients with "the blues" and then more pills when those fail. This is not overdiagnosis; this is under-

diagnosis or misdiagnosis and undertreatment. But it is cheap and fast.

Greg Gearn


Welch's observations about low diagnostic thresholds are on point. One thing he did not touch on is the participation of insurance companies.

When I informed my insurance agent that I chose not to take medication for a diagnosis of osteopenia, a loss of bone density that may lead to osteoporosis, he said that would label me "noncompliant" in the eyes of the insurance company. Translation: higher rates.

Beverly Archer


One nation, divisible

Re "Snapshot of a split America," Opinion, May 7

The most depressing statistic in Tim Rutten's piece — the 79% of "staunch conservatives" who basically refuse to compromise on any issue — exposes the state of our "union." Those conservatives seem less concerned with "liberty and justice for all" and more concerned with creating the kind of theocratic dictatorship we purport to despise.

Those who ostensibly decry big government are the same judgmental ideologues who also wish to eliminate many of the civil rights for which our citizens have so doggedly labored. Whatever "war" we are engaged in is simply with ourselves.

In my humble opinion, our greatness is gone, and we are doomed to mediocrity and a shameless lack of compassion and skillful critical thinking. The "United States" seems to no longer exist.

Rebecca S. Hertsgaard

Palm Desert

Rutten is "troubled" that 79% of staunch conservatives are unwilling to see any more compromise with the established, "progressive" course we have followed for the last 100 years.

In the good old days, conservatives would always give a little — slowing the "progress" a bit in their reticence — but ultimately would compromise with the trends that define goodness and fairness and progress. What's happened now to change that?

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