Thursday, June 26, 2014

Fat in the Land of Oz

Pictured above is singer Kelly Clarkson, recently described by someone on You Tube as “a big fat pig.” This is what’s considered fat in America, a country that not too long ago managed to come up with a size 0 for women. I regard this as more of a political slam than a fashion statement, an anti-feminist backlash intended to intimidate women who may have forgotten to obsess about their body size for a minute and think about reproductive rights and equal pay and voter suppression and the economy instead. But our fat-loathing culture asks: “Who do these broads think they are, waddling around, offending everyone’s sensibilities instead of focusing on becoming a size 0” – (a literal nothing!). And of course, if your size is a two-digit number you’re obese and shouldn’t even leave the house (for shame!).

There are other things I could write about today: Team America in the World Cup; Dick Cheney everywhere on TV as if he were releasing a new album; how we shouldn’t even dip our military toe into that sectarian quagmire in Iraq; or the Supreme Court striking down a law that said people protesting outside abortion clinics had to keep a 35-foot distance away from patients entering the clinic (because those ignorant, heartless, slut-baby-killers deserve to be harassed up close before they do one of the most difficult things in their lives).

But no, I prefer to revisit last week’s chastisement of Dr. Oz by the U.S. Senate, which has nothing better to do than lambast the host of an afternoon health information talk show for describing two dietary supplements in what Oz admitted was “flowery language.” He hailed them as magical and miraculous – two words that any adult would take literally. The Senate was worried that the now-famous “Dr. Oz Effect” would encourage millions of fat-obsessed women to run out and buy this shit without knowing what the dangers might be! 

Now, it’s true that dietary supplements, from vitamins to magic weight loss elixirs, are greatly under-regulated, but so are numerous prescription medications that have so many horrific side effects you can’t imagine what medical condition would warrant taking them. Yet doctors can freely prescribe them as they see fit. What doctors are stringently regulated in prescribing are “controlled substances,” also known as serious meds that stop pain, ease anxiety, help you sleep, or just make you feel good. Which is why, after an agonizing major surgery, you’re offered Tylenol.

But I digress. The real issue here is that after 40 years of empowering, self-affirming, feminist philosophy, women young and old still view being “fat” as the worst thing that can happen to them. I’ll never forget the late Gilda Radner saying she would rather have cancer than be fat – and that sweet, brilliant comedian died young and  slim – and riddled with cancer.

I haven’t watched Dr. Oz’s show over the past couple of years, but I previously saw it often. I also once met with him privately, back in the 90s before he was a star, because the then-wife of a friend of mine was a friend of his and he saw me as a courtesy to her. I honestly don’t remember what he advised, but I do recall that in person, as on his show, he was kind, non-judgmental, gentle, and seemed genuinely concerned about my health.

Since then as now I was truly fat, not cosmetically chubby or a perfectly normal weight but fat in my fearful imagination, one could say concern was warranted. I was in my 40s then and still dieted frequently. People who are really fat know that any diet (combined with even minor exercise) will take weight off. What no one has figured out is how to keep it off without dieting for life, because what science and medicine understand about real obesity can fit on the head of the proverbial pin. But Dr. Oz is no charlatan and he didn’t deserve a scolding by the Senate. He tells people to eat healthfully and exercise – and when he finds a product he thinks will help, he talks about it. 

My mother used to say that if anyone ever came up with the real magic pill – the one that would take weight off, keep it off, and still let you eat at least somewhat for pleasure, it would be news on the front page of The New York Times. I know Americans can be stupid about lots of things, so just keep her sensible observation in mind. Until that article appears, really fat people will have to really struggle, if they’re willing. The rest of you should just get a grip. You don’t have to be a 0. You’re not a big fat pig. Stop letting the haters manipulate you. Here: have a cookie.

Friday, June 20, 2014

New York State of High

Well, pot dealers throughout New York State can breathe – or exhale – a sigh of relief. Medical marijuana has been legislatively approved, but our Governor, Andrew Cuomo, has seen to it that patients who will be allowed it (and it’s a narrow list) can’t smoke it. They can eat it, use a tincture, and even vaporize it (like the e-cigarettes you can’t use anywhere in New York City except in your own home), but you can’t smoke it. Smoke is bad, all smoke is bad; Cuomo would like to make New York a smoke-free state. (I know most people hate smoking now, but good luck with that.) So New York’s many recreational pot smokers will still be getting their stash from one friendly neighborhood dealer or another. And we tell kids crime doesn’t pay!

Don’t get me wrong: I’m delighted that people with cancer, AIDS, MS, epilepsy and a few other horrible diseases will finally be able to get the marijuana relief they need. But political leaders still have a blunt up their asses about recreational pot. They’re genuinely afraid of it, think it’s dangerous. Cuomo even called it a “gateway drug,” a term I haven’t heard in decades.

He thinks pot smoking is what’s causing the considerable uptick in heroin use. This is not true. What is true is that people want to get high, and getting loaded on perfectly legal and truly dangerous alcohol is often not what they want. But illegal pot – even the mediocre street stuff, never mind the really good stuff – is expensive. Heroin is cheap and a true vacation from reality. Many of the newer heroin users don’t shoot it up, they snort it, like millions used to do with cocaine, which was always pricey but is now virtually unaffordable.

Unfortunately, there will always be drug and alcohol users who behave irresponsibly, driving when they’re truly impaired, giving in to violent behavior, etc. This makes it very bad for people who behave themselves when they’re snockered. I’ve never been much of a drinker, but I was a heavy pot smoker in my day, and if it was legal, affordable and of…high quality, I’d smoke again. And if it was all those things and properly regulated, marijuana would be a true job creator and deliver a fortune in taxes to local, state and federal authorities. It would be a real shot in the arm, so to speak, to a listless economy. 

But so long as people like Cuomo, people who are apparently very ignorant about drugs and human nature, and who feel politically obliged to cater to the square minority are in power, we’ll pretend that pot is a dangerous portal to narcotics and a social scourge instead of the least harmful antidote to the trials of daily modern life contained in the anesthetizing box. Too bad. Too silly, too stupid, and too, too, bad. Hopefully Colorado will set a good example and we’ll live to see sensible policy grow like a weed from coast to coast.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Good Stuff

I like to search Google Images for photos, paintings, posters, cartoons, etc., that I use to illustrate this blog (FYI, if a blog is free to view and has no advertising, you can legally use copyrighted images), as well as decorate my computer desktop (or, as we say in English, screen). The painting above is currently on my desktop; I picked it up in a search for images of summer because it really spoke to me. The blue-gray, the iced tea, the fan. I’m not a summer person, but in summer I like iced tea and fans. I also like my desktop to reflect the seasons and holidays and special occasions or just my mood.

Thinking about what I like reminded me of a thread of emails I recently had with a friend I’ve known since high school. He said he reads my posts with his morning coffee and he couldn’t remember the last time I wrote something positive, that it’s all “complaints” – a choice of words I found odd for what I regard as political analysis and commentary on contemporary culture and major social issues, which is what this blog is about. “I know there’s a lot of woe out there, but there’s a lot of good stuff, too,” he said.

That got me thinking. In my reply, I told him that the difference in our lives might explain the difference in our perceptions. He’s a healthy, busy man with a wife about 15 years his junior and two young children, all of whom he adores, as well as quite a few friends, a dog he loves; and he revels in nature and pretty much ignores politics – so I can see how he perceives lots of good stuff.

But cranky, curmudgeon me, I’m broke, alone, my handful of good friends are scattered across the country, I have no affinity with children/animals/nature and I’m a political junkie. So I don’t see a lot of good stuff. I see the nation, the world and the planet going to hell in a hand basket. I told him I didn’t see any good stuff. “Sunshine and flowers don’t make up for all that,” I said.

But I’ve continued to think about the idea of good stuff, and to ask myself why I don’t see any – or, more significantly, discount the good stuff I do encounter as not being sufficient. I’m mature enough to understand that happiness isn’t a constant state of jubilation, it’s the ability to take conscious pleasure in the many little things we do enjoy, to find at least temporary contentment in the blue-gray and iced tea and fan, to not be so quick to dismiss sunshine and flowers.

Last Saturday, I went out on my mobility scooter (I love my scooter and I’m lucky to have it). It was a hot day, but I was wearing cool clothes and it was better in the shade. The air felt lovely on my face as I scooted along beneath a bright blue sky punctuated with big cotton-ball clouds. That was good stuff. I went for a much-needed haircut to the same nice hairdresser I’ve been going to for 25 years and the shampoo she gave me reminded me of when I was a little girl and my mother washed my hair and how nice that felt. Good stuff.

Later I bought fresh fruit from a sidewalk vendor because those guys have fine produce that’s much cheaper than the supermarket, then treated myself to a multi-fruit smoothie from a food truck and lastly found a windowless building wall, parked against it and smoked a couple of cigarettes as the breeze blew through my blessedly-much-shorter hair (portable ashtray in hand, of course) and that was good stuff too.

And throughout the week, I felt the comfort of good stuff. Early morning with strong iced coffee and a toasted bagel, a slice of cheese flattened down on each half; other food I like; movies I enjoyed on TV; phone calls with girlfriends; the bliss of turning on the air conditioner on humid afternoons; and watching The 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony and listening to so much good music (I miss good music).

I also spent considerable quality time with my many Tarot card decks (which I haven’t done for ages), cleansing them with the sound waves of a strand of Tibetan bells I bought on Eighth Street back in the ‘60s, touching & gazing at & shuffling them and talking to them, getting reacquainted with these special old friends. I did some chores and accomplished a few things long left unattended. I looked for things I hadn’t been able to find and I found them, and found some other wonderful things I forgot I had. It was all very good stuff.

Sure, there was some bad stuff, too: lots of worldly woe and personal woe too. Still, I didn’t ignore the good stuff, I felt it and was thankful for it. That was an important thing and I’m going to remember to do that from now on. But I’ll still bemoan the misery of our politics and the horrendous state of the nation/world and the decay of contemporary culture – and write about it here. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it and I’ve appointed me. I can’t just lounge in the good stuff all the time. We are who we are.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

The Writing On the Wall

The following article appeared in the New York Times on June 2 in the Science section: “What’s Lost As Handwriting Fades.”

I just read it a little while ago and I’m physically sick. Apparently (I didn’t know this, since I don’t have young children), kids today are initially taught to print in kindergarten and the first grade – then penmanship stops and keyboard facility is emphasized. Cursive (script) writing is no longer taught in an increasing number of schools, and many of today’s teens and those already in their 20s and 30s cannot read or write in script; they can't even print well. The Times article fully explains the horrendous affect that not learning how to write has on brain development and learning ability.

The article really is this post. I beg you to click on the link and read it, especially if children figure in your life in any way. You’ll also want to read it if you care about today's and tomorrow's adults having the capacity for in-depth learning and critical thought – both of which will determine how they can (or cannot) read, work, and be truly functional members of a globally-competitive society, which is to say, think about the impact on the economy this trend will have.

This is the steep downside of our culture's love affair with new communication technology and behavior that I'm always bitching about, and which makes some people think I'm a grumpy Luddite. Not so, and this article tells why. This is the canary in the coal mine, an urgent warning. It’s some scary, terrible shit. Please read it. Read it now. I can’t say anymore.

Monday, June 02, 2014


In 1995, during my freelance writing career, I interviewed Jim Lehrer of the PBS NewsHour when Robert MacNeil, his co-anchor of 22 years, retired, and Lehrer was preparing to staff the anchor desk alone. A seasoned newspaper reporter when the two had first teamed up to cover the 1973 Watergate hearings, Lehrer said he had still  learned a lot from MacNeil, citing as an example that the most valuable follow-up question he could ask an interview subject was “Why?” I found that wonderfully simple, sage and clearly important. I used it often in my own subsequent interviews, always with valuable results, because it took the subject off-guard and “off-script.” To this day I listen for it in on-air news interviews and am sorry to note that I rarely hear it – especially when it really needs to be asked!

Last week, Daily Kos reported on a survey of America’s oft-mentioned “one percent,” the country’s very richest and most politically powerful people. It asked if they favored  such things as: more U.S. companies operating overseas (75%); the federal government providing jobs for all who are willing to work but can’t find jobs in the private sector (8%); cutting Medicare, education, and highways [repair] to reduce the federal deficit (58%); federal spending to ensure good public schools for all (35%); federal government support to ensure college for all who want it (28%);  redistribution of wealth through heavy taxes on the rich (17%); cutting Social Security (33%); and believing it is the federal government’s responsibility to reduce income inequality (13%).

The figures are revealing and discouraging – less in comparison with the general public (who score a high, sharp opposite in this survey) but more in comparison to the famous robber barons of the early 20th century. Generally speaking, today’s rich don’t have their sense of noblesse oblige, of a special responsibility to help society in general and the poor in particular. The survey provided the numbers, but it didn’t ask why people who have so much begrudge others anything, everything?

I have a sense of the why. In the 1970s, I spent four years working for a “society” charity and had occasion to deal with a lot of very rich people. When “in their cups,” as they usually were by the end of a long charity event, they were often childlike and perceivably sad. I had odd, intimate (not sexual, but close, personal, unguarded) experiences with a number of them when they were drunk. When they were sober and their defenses were up, many were hard, rude and haughty.

I think that rather than being oblivious to the rest of the country, they know very well that they have more than they deserve – even if they’ve worked for it, rather than inherited it; “need,” real need, doesn’t enter into the conversation. From their perspective they do need every cent they have and they do deserve it and they’re entitled to it because they’re just better people.

It’s no accident that government benefits are now called “entitlements.” That term is sarcastic and intended to make the rest of us feel worthless and nervy for asking for anything. They don’t believe that ordinary folks, let alone the poor, are entitled to anything; if we were, we would already have it! And it’s certainly not the responsibility of the rich to give it to us, either personally, or via that blood-sucking, tax-imposing albatross around their gilded necks called government.

The charity I worked for was an employment agency for the disabled. We touted the dignity of work (which is very real) and the rich who supported us loved that. When some of them came to our offices, they delighted in seeing our own disabled staff members, people who were missing limbs, or riding in wheel chairs, or trembling with cerebral palsy working to help others like themselves get jobs. The rich like charities for people whose problems “aren’t their own fault,” like the disabled and babies with cancer. But philanthropic giving is way down from what it was back in the 70s – especially for ordinary people with aspirational goals, or poor people trying to get on their feet. Money – and compassion – are hard to come by these days.

Of course there are some rich people who are kind and generous and care about their fellow humans; who are also smart enough to realize that living in a country which is increasingly poor, ignorant, and falling apart is not in their own best interest. But for the most part, the rich care about themselves and they don’t like or care about us. That’s the why. The next follow-up question is: What are we going to do about it?