The Man in This Image

From the time I was ten years old, I tried to be a believing Christian. I was raised Anglican from birth but never took it seriously. There is no emphasis on spirituality within Anglicanism. Despite being at church each Sunday it all seemed ridiculous, and it was clear to me that everyone in the pews was there for social reasons and appearances, nothing more. They didn’t meaningfully believe a word they were reciting from the prayer books.

Around that time I befriended a family that had converted to Christianity from Judaism. They were deeply spiritual and believing. I wanted to be like them- but simply couldn’t believe. The whole notion of Christianity was ridiculous to me: a man tortured for my sins is a good thing? And we were supposedly living in the messianic age predicted in Jewish prophecy? None of it made a shred of sense. But I persisted in trying to believe; I prayed, asked God for belief, attended church with this family (much to the horror of my mother). But nothing happened. For a few years I concluded I was an atheist but in my late teens went back to trying to believe in Christianity, this time with more gusto. I explored other branches of Christianity, like Orthodoxy (which I still have a deep respect for). I discovered a beautiful Orthodox church in my neighborhood and spent hours attending liturgy and vespers. I spent so many hours standing during those liturgies that I would be dizzy and weak by the end of it. But I still didn’t believe, and felt like a fake just going through the motions.

Around this time I befriended a friend of the above-mentioned family and we began attending byzantine Catholic masses together. It was in one of these masses that it hit me like a bolt of lightning: I believed in God (so I wasn’t an atheist- yay!) but I simply did not believe in Jesus. This was a radical and huge revelation for me, and a sense of God’s presence flowed through me in a way I’d never felt before.

I can’t remember exactly how or why but I immediately began pursuing conversion to Judaism. Perhaps it seemed like the logical step for a “Christian” who believed in God but not Jesus. Perhaps it was due to the Jewish influence of the above-mentioned family. I’d always been strongly drawn to the few items of Judaica in their home, like siddurs, and had taught myself to read Hebrew from them.

Coming from a Christian background I assumed Jews would be happy to receive and absorb a convert. I was in for a rude awakening over the next few years, but despite the negative experiences I dealt with over the conversion process, it remained an enormous comfort to finally have religious faith. It felt like swimming in a beautiful, warm ocean to have the deep faith I’d been praying for all those years.

But there were problems, and big ones. First, I was already married to a (gasp!) non-jew. My husband is nominally Catholic- it is purely cultural to him- but that cultural part in him runs deep. At first he was accepting of my conversion (in retrospect I think he wanted to appear enlightened and “tolerant”) but we began to have more and more tension between us over my religious beliefs. It got to the point where he was downright rude and cruel to me over it. When it reached the point of the children being raised as Jewish, again, he was initially tolerant, but eventually began to balk over my efforts to raise them in my new faith. It got so bad that I realized I might have to choose between my marriage and my faith. I chose my marriage.

Along with these problems, I began to have issues with Judaism. Not the faith I held within me, but the practical experience of being a convert in the current world of Judaism. While I was always welcomed in whatever shul I attended, it was only until it was discovered I was a convert. Then the attitude quickly changed and I was regarded as a weirdo and an outsider. I quickly learned converts are only welcome within Judaism- and then only to a degree- if they convert for the purposes of marrying a Jew. A “free agent” convert is viewed with suspicion. Don’t get me wrong, people were by and large nice to me- only a handful outright verbally attacked and shunned me- but it was eminently clear from all angles that I was on the outside looking in. I have two particularly vivid and painful memories in this regard, one at a Jewish wedding and another at a Simchat Torah service, where I understood painfully and clearly that I would never be an accepted part of the world I was standing in.

I also consistently encountered the same problem I had with Anglicanism. Reform, Conservative, and even “Conservadox” Jews simply aren’t spiritual. It’s a community and historical identity for them, not a deep spiritual faith. The only place you find consistent pursuit of spirituality within Judaism is in the Orthodox branches, but there was no way in hell (pardon the Christian reference) they would ever let me be a part of their fold, as a Conservative convert married to a Catholic. There were also certain aspects of Orthodox Judaism I could never follow, like covering my hair or dressing ultra conservatively (I dress conservatively, but I do show my arms).

After some years all these problems reached critical mass, and to save my marriage I abruptly abandoned my dearly held effort and left the only religion I’d known in a meaningful way. It is so painful for me that I never talk or write about it (well, until now) and my husband and I never discuss it. He pretends it didn’t happened.

My husband began taking the kids to mass. Remember, he is only nominally Catholic, so it was a “look what they are now” gesture to me. I stood on the sidelines and watched my kids raised as Christians. They were enrolled in Catholic school (we never could have afforded the Jewish day schools anyway) and still are. He dropped off on taking them to mass once the so-there gesture was final, and now the kids don’t even attend mass. I feel like the same cycle of empty religion is being handed to them, just like with me as a child they are being given a “religious label” without spiritual content, though two of my daughters have evolved- without our influence- into Jesus freaks.

For the sake of the kids I tried once again to be a believing Christian. I tried going to mass with them, tried going to other branches of Christianity. Read Christian books. Still nothing. I’ve finally concluded after decades, cumulatively, that I simply am not nor was I ever meant to be Christian. But I feel so distant from Judaism, and it’s been so long now, I no longer feel the deep attachment to Judaism either. I don’t know if this is due to emotional trauma or if I really have lost my faith. Maybe it’s a bit of both.

There were a few tenets in Judaism that I had ethical or doctrinal (to borrow another Christian term) issues with. Namely, I felt the notion of “the chosen people” was unethical, no matter how Jews try to spin it. I also had issues with the situation in Israel, which to be honest I never paid attention to during my conversion process because I was so swept up in my newfound belief. No, I don’t think the Israelis are evil monsters and the Palestinians innocent lambs. But it’s a really ugly situation all around and I know many an American Jew with their own inner conflict on the matter. So in a way it was a mild relief to no longer have to grapple with these issues, and there is a sense of freedom that comes with being “label-less,” but that’s about the only positive thing I can say about having lost my religion.

I have considered just practicing quietly without my husband’s knowledge, or even going back to attending shul. I don’t even know where my conversion certificate is. I could go back to following kashrut- boy has kosher meat gotten expensive!! But we are mostly vegetarian anyway. But I guess it boils down to a fear of being hurt again, and I don’t want to confuse the kids. As far as they’re concerned, they’re Catholic. But why can’t I even bring myself to pray and pick up the siddur? In the privacy of my room, what consequence would that have? But I can’t do it.

I have considered exploring other religions but nothing rings true to me. I know there are plenty of people who happily got through life without a religion, but I’m not really one of them. I feel nameless, homeless, spiritually adrift. The idea of being buried in a Christian cemetery upsets me. Why do I even care? But I’d rather my body be lost at sea, or eaten by wolves.

I ran into the rabbi who converted me a few years ago and he asked where I’d been. I briefly explained it had caused too much tension with my family and had reached a breaking point. He paused for a moment, looking both annoyed and thoughtful. “Well you should have considered that before you started.” Gee thanks. I also ran into his wife sometime later, who asked the same thing- then her eyes zeroed in on a necklace I was wearing with a small stamped image of Jesus- I wore it because it had belonged to my beloved grandmother. I’d never worn it while practicing Judaism but figured I may as well put it back on after the fact. She pointed to it.”Whats that?”

“Look Mrs. Rabbi,” I wanted to say, “If I could believe in the man in this image, I would, but I clearly didn’t and don’t, so could you please get off my case?!” But instead I politely explained it had belonged to my deceased grandmother, and bid her goodbye. That was the last I ever saw of either of them.

jesus
My grandmother’s pendant.

National Geographic: The New Face of Hunger

National Geographic Magazine recently came out with The New Face of Hunger. Like A Place at the Table the article details the “new hungry” in America: many are working poor and most are overweight. So I would have to disagree with the article header that these people are “malnourished.” They are, in fact, over-nourished, like the rest of America. But that doesn’t mean they don’t go hungry or have inconsistent access to food. In fact, overweight people are going to feel hunger a lot harder than a thin person, since their body is accustomed to eating more.

At many points this article had me scratching my head. We hear the usual themes, namely:

* healthy food is expensive
It’s not, and I’ve shown it many times over in this blog. Yes, organic kumquats from Whole Foods are expensive, but non-organic romaine and carrots are cheap at hole-in-the-wall produce stands. I can easily feed my family of 9 on $180-200 a week, which is below what our SNAP allotment would be were we eligible.

* you need to eat healthy foods to stay fit
Again, not true. If you read my blog you know that fruits and vegetables don’t make you lose weight. People can lose weight on twinkie diets. And the “fat head” guy lost weight and improved his cholesterol levels eating nothing but “unhealthy” fast food (he didn’t eat any of the salads). He did, however, limit his daily calorie and carb intake to 2000 kcal and 100 g respectively. And in Supersize vs Superskinny, most of the superskinnies eat junk. One superskinny woman survives on toast and a candy bar each day.

*poor people are more likely to be fat due to the above reason
If you look at data from the CDC you will see the supposed correlation between poverty and obesity is weak, especially in adults. People across all economic strata are overweight. In fact, among certain races and genders, like black men, the reverse it true: wealthier ones are more likely to be fat.

*poor people live in food deserts
The notion of food deserts was long ago disproven. Even the NYtimes admits they rarely exist. Instead, the real problem is when people in suburban and rural areas don’t have a working vehicle. That definitely is a problem when trying to shop frugally for food (or anything else). Perhaps food banks could expand their services to include volunteer grocery runs for car-less families.

The NG article is strong on the ubiquitous push for fruits and vegetables to solve the hunger problem, even going so far as to blame the government for subsidizing corn and soy but not fruits and veggies. As much as I personally love fruits and veggies, they have a very low satiation index compared to protein rich and fatty foods, and this is why the new USDA breakfast/ lunch standards are so troublesome even if kids weren’t throwing most of it in the trash. Indeed, the overweight three year old in this article refuses his free breakfast even when his mother intentionally sends him to school hungry.

Here’s the thing though: not only do they not make you lose weight, but fresh fruits and vegetables are eaten by hardly anyone- either rich or poor. Here is a USDA pdf containing a detailed list of calorie sources for Americans by food type (scroll to page 25 for it). Unless potato chips, fruit drinks, and french fries count, fresh produce doesn’t even make the list.

caloriesourcesamericans

So why are we wagging our collective finger- and that would include the first lady’s ever reaching finger- at the poor to eat their veggies when no one else is doing it? It would be more efficient simply to encourage more homecooking, whether of foodie-approved dishes or not, to stretch SNAP dollars as far as possible. Perhaps SNAP recipients should receive complementary kitchen items like crock pots and mixers; while it would be an added expense, it would save money- and prevent hunger- in the long run.

For instance one family in this article complains their $125 monthly assistance leaves them with empty cupboards (this is on top of the income of three working adults). But I immediately ran the calculations in my head: $125 can buy 350 lbs of flour (a 50 lb bag is $17), which in turn would make more than 500 3-cup loaves of bread. That’s 16 loaves of bread a day in addition to what they purchase separate from SNAP. Bread may not be the most filling thing in the world but a three cup loaf will certainly get you through, especially if it’s not all you’re eating. But apparently most of these people- and people in general- don’t cook either due to lack of knowledge or because they’re too burnt out, tired and stressed. This is where a housewife would come in handy, but those are going the way of the dodo. In fact the only family in this article that does eat well (and interestingly, isn’t fat) and has a small food stockpile that could last months, is a family where food is managed by a stay at home mom. Ironically she got the nastiest comments from commenters (I haven’t read comments on NG, but did on another site) criticizing her for “not working” and for her irresponsible breeding. I guess we women only have ourselves to blame for this attitude. Ever since second wave feminism, having children and managing a household are considered a pathetic waste of time. And if a mother is poor to boot, forget about it. Her ovaries should be ripped out for the sake of humanity. Thanks a lot Betty Friedan.

Whom Shall Pass

I am now past the point in pregnancy where a miscarriage is considered a miscarriage. It would now be considered a stillbirth, i.e. a death. But it’s still legal to obtain an abortion up to 24 weeks gestation in NY State, which is a strange dichotomy to contemplate. It was the same dichotomy I reflected on when terrified of having miscarried earlier on (it would have been my 4th). But the baby hung in there, and each trip to the sonographer revealed the small miracle of a beating heart. Yet at the same time I was fretting over the possibility of losing the pregnancy, any number of women in the world were determined to terminate their viable pregnancies.

I try not to think about abortion much because, in my view, it’s one of those things in life where there is no ethical answer. There’s probably some fancy term for this in philosophy but I don’t know what it is. It’s unethical to force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term against her will, yet it’s also unethical to snuff out a nascent human life. Every time I try to figure out which is more unethical, I can’t pick. They’re both equally bad.

And both camps of the abortion debate annoy me. The prolifers are disingenuous, because if they really cared about mothers and babies they would stop trying to criminalize abortion and would instead channel their energies into appealing to mothers’ (and fathers’) hearts, offering real assistance to mothers in need (to be fair, there are some pro-life groups that do this). The prochoicers are disingenuous because they pretend the fetus is not a nascent human life. That’s just stupid. Of course it’s a human life. As my atheist friend likes to put it: everyone who is pro-choice was born.

So I try not to think or talk about it much. I did tell my daughters they should never be afraid of my reaction if they fall pregnant inconveniently, and that I would move heaven and earth to help them in such a scenario. They had trouble believing me. “You wouldn’t be mad??” (no) To quote Orange is the New Black, “You think I’m gonna let you ice my grandbaby?”

I don’t judge women who have abortions. I was close to facing this myself when I was urged to abort my now 6 year old due to a very poor prenatal screening. As I waited the agonizing weeks for her test results to return, I wondered what I would do if they were indeed as bad as expected. I vaguely concluded I would terminate only if the baby would die shortly after birth anyway, but I wouldn’t terminate for Down’s Syndrome (I think Turner’s Syndrome was also mentioned). But she was normal and the cystic hygroma disappeared by the 20 week ultrasound.

I will admit, though, it vexes me when pro-lifers are bashed as the world’s greatest threat to civilization. I don’t know when exactly conservative Christianity became the whipping boy of public opinion. I used to be active on a message board with many atheists and agnostics, and they would say unbelievably crude and nasty things about Christianity- but if you raised an eyebrow to Islam, forget about it. You were branded intolerant which of course is the worst thing a human being can be. But when it came to Christianity it was a free-for-all of mockery and hatred.

It seems throughout history there is a musical chairs process between religions, with different faiths in turn taking the seat of oppressor, pitied, hated and favored. Christianity used to be a true oppressor, of course Judaism was hated virulently through certain eras, and in the early part of the 20th century, Islam was a trendy religion much like Buddhism and Hinduism (through yoga) are trendy with hipsters today. European intellectuals and artists would convert to Islam because it was viewed as exotic and mysterious. But today Islam is an oppressor, Christianity is increasingly hated, and eastern religions are the new fad.

My first exposure to abortion was when a childhood friend casually mentioned her mother had planned to abort her, but changed her mind last minute. I remember standing there aghast, feeling I had just glimpsed some mythical crossroads of life and death. In a flash I imagined a world and present moment with her non-existence. For better or worse, pregnant women now stand at this crossroads deciding whom shall pass. I’d like to think they use the power wisely, but life being what it is they probably don’t. It’s a strange ontological matter to imagine who could have been born and what impact they might have had, however great or small. Bobby Fischer’s mother Regina probably would have aborted him if she had quick access to legal abortion; she was destitute, unmarried, deeply secular, and even lived in a homeless shelter for a period. But as my husband likes to say, which thread do you pull?

Robert Redford Lost at Sea

My husband brought home All Is Lost from the library last week and urged me to watch it with him. I stayed up “late” last night to 9pm to see it with him and my older kids. The film is rated PG-13 which is a puzzle; other than containing some frightening and tense scenes, and exactly one vulgarity, this film is barely PG and could probably pass for G without that swear word. So I may let the younger kids watch it as well.

78 year old Robert Redford plays an unnamed man whose small yacht is damaged at sea; a fight for survival ensues. The film is unique to Hollywood as it contains only one actor and hardly any dialogue. Redford has all of 5 or 6 lines and a few are one-word utterances. But far from being pretentious it’s a beautifully told story of desperation and the will to live, not unlike, but not based on, Steven Callahan’s Adrift. I tend to enjoy survival stories because let’s face it, even in the comfortable world every day can feel like survival. So these tales of survival can be infinitely inspirational for diurnal living.

I have to say Redford looks fantastic for an old dude. In some shots he could pass for 50 (although in other shots you can see his age), and he’s remarkably spry though it dawned on me after the fact that they probably used a body double for the more physically taxing scenes.

My only quibbles with the film are mostly technical; although not an experienced sailor myself, I found some of the main character’s choices and (lack of) preparedness questionable, and I’m pretty sure all survival rafts come with built in stills. There were also a few scenes where Redford didn’t look quite dehydrated and exhausted enough- not even a movie star could look that good lost at sea in real life, though towards the end of the film he does look suitably haggard. I also think the title of the film is lousy, and they should have come up with something more creative and interesting.

So the film comes highly recommended for all ages. Watch it with the kids!

all is lost

The New Doctor

As I’ve mentioned previously, though I never intended to blog about it, the insurance policy my husband and I carried for years was cancelled under the ACA. Our only option at that point was to purchase coverage on the exchange (at full price… no subsidies) and we purchased an HMO with the company we’d been with. I checked with my OB’s office three times to make sure she still participated in the plan, and was told by the front desk that she did. Come to find out she didn’t, but by that point our coverage had been wrongly cancelled so it was the least of my problems.

Once our coverage was reinstated I was obliged to find a new OB; the old OB’s office refused to give a recommendation. “Look in the book,” they said. So I looked in the book, narrowed it down to doctors near my house, and researched reviews online. Women sure love their (male) gynecologists! That’s another thing, my old OB is a woman, but “the book” only had male practitioners. Yet they all had rave reviews from adoring patients.

This will sound petty, but the old OB had an office that looked like something off a movie set. It was sleek, spacious, nicely decorated, immaculately clean, and felt more like a spa than a doctors office. The doctor I ended up choosing runs his business out of a run down ranch home. There’s even a “beware of dog” sign in a window and tacky lawn ornaments scattered over the yard. The interior is cramped, filled with Catholic statues, and the sonographers work out of storage rooms in the basement. The walls are covered with pro-life slogans and posters warning of the dire consequences of drinking during pregnancy (haven’t they read Emily Oster in The Wall Street Journal?). The waiting room has a range of patients, but more than a few teen moms with scowling baby daddies in tow.

And the doctor himself remains elusive. I have yet to actually meet him or be seen by him. Instead, I’ve been treated by various nurse practitioners, sonographers, and medical assistants. There are a lot of pictures of the doctor on the walls in between the “don’t drink” posters. Framed pictures of him running a marathon. Pictures of him doing C-sections. Pictures of him as a kid. In a sense this is a relief as I’d prefer to be treated by women, but on the other hand it will be a stranger delivering my baby come d-day.

Despite my complaints I’m happy with the care I’ve received. In fact, before the old OB, I exclusively saw midwives for female stuff. But due to skyrocketing malpractice insurance they had to close their doors. It’s too late to switch doctors now, as I’m too far along. I’m not sure whom I’d go to anyway as the doctors in my network aren’t exactly hamptons concierge material. But I’m lucky to have coverage and access to sophisticated medicine, or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

I’ve watched a few birth videos to try to get myself in the right mindset. Boy is birth disgusting. Why did god/ the universe make childbirth so gruesome and painful? I don’t care what the hippie midwives say: giving birth is scary, painful, and slimy. And why are women always stark naked in their birth videos? I know I’ve complained about this before, but often the dads-to-be are butt naked too. Obviously the women can’t have clothes on from the waist down but is it really necessary to be 100% naked to bring your child into the world? If I ever meet my new doctor, I’ll ask him.

The German Juggernaut

My son will return from New England shortly. He’s my son, so of course I miss him, but I didn’t miss being browbeaten and regarded as a lower form of life every time he enters the room. Unless he obtains some kind of high demand but rare degree (and I struggle to think of what that could be, with our constant influx of H-1B visas) he’ll need to polish his people skills in order to be remotely employable. He’s extremely polite and formal with strangers but it goes no further. And behind closed doors, with us in the house, forget about it. He’s all condescension and ire.

argentina

There he is cheering on Argentina. The final match between Argentina and Germany was a painful one to watch. Of course I was rooting for Argentina, having been brainwashed since childhood to equate Argentina winning the world cup with the second coming. But in this case it would have been difficult not to vote for the scrappy underdog up against the German juggernaut. It was like the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match but with soccer balls. Germany had been widely predicted to crush Argentina but it became clear just fifteen minutes into the game that wasn’t happening. Then came the heartbreaking disqualified goal for Argentina, and from that point on I started to feel like I was watching two guys in a bar brawl smashing bottles over each other’s head, and every time you thought one was knocked out, he got back up and smashed another bottle over the other guy’s head. Germany finally won with an overtime goal, and the fact that my dad is technically German was of little consolation to him. If he weren’t crippled with joint problems he probably would have taken a walk around the block to weep.

I received a somber email from my mom describing the medical plight of my father: he will have to choose between a 10 hour reconstructive surgery on his back, or the potential of being confined to a wheelchair. This is due to severe arthritis compounded by decades of obesity. The thing is, until his 50s, my dad would have been classified as “healthy overweight.” Yes, he was heavy- very heavy, in the obese range for much of his adult life- but he remained very strong and active. In his 50s he began to have back pain and by his 60s he was crippled by back and knee pain. He managed to lose some weight for a knee replacement, but now his mobility is hampered by a spine that spent decades being crushed and compacted by weight.

Watching my parents struggle with health woes caused by excess weight is the main reason I am terrified of weight gain; I’ve always aimed to remain at the lower end of healthy BMI (18-20). By the time they were in their 60s their mobility was impaired to the point they could barely climb stairs. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer that was estrogen receptive positive, which has a strong correlation with obesity. They are currently still overweight, but lighter than they’ve been in decades (thanks to Weight Watchers). But even with that weight off, my father’s spine is essentially ruined and will need to be reconstructed if he hopes to regain any real degree of mobility.

Speaking of extra weight, I was reading an article on my favorite topic- the new school lunch guidelines- and was shocked to see this picture of Michelle Obama.

michelleobama

She’s gained an awful lot of weight, which wouldn’t be a big deal were she not poised as the nation’s spokesperson for healthy eating (no more than 2 ounces of meat per lunch!) and weight loss. She doesn’t look to be within normal BMI range anymore. It also looks like she’s suffering from the Lena Dunham syndrome of not having enough up top to compensate for the curves down below. I thought the first lady had big, or at least adequate, boobs? Maybe she normally wears a push up bra. Fame tends to make people gain weight- one of my husband’s favorite pastimes is cackling over before and after photos of celebrities- but if I were championing the cause of national weight loss, I’d be cautious to stay under BMI 25, and not to gain during my tenure as weight loss crusader.

Hookers On Staten Island

Leave it to that bastion of investigative reporting, The Staten Island Advance, to expose the shocking fact that there are prostitutes on Staten Island. Even more shocking: they operate behind the guise of massage parlors! Who would have thought? To make the article even more scintillating, they include this nasty looking pair of legs (knees?) under the headline:

knees
What’s the towel for?

Those look like she-male legs to me. What do you think? Anyway, the Advance describes a network of “massage parlors” that charge $29-$45 for various degrees of satisfaction. There must be hidden costs because that seems outrageously cheap even for partial sex. You’d have to pay me more than that just to show my knees!

The Advance “confirmed” that prostitution takes place in these establishments. I’d like to know how exactly they confirmed this, given the article was written by a woman? I can just see the meeting now where they brainstormed this idea. “Gentlemen, I think we should send our best men in for a massage…”

The thing is, if I were a guy on Staten Island looking to visit a brothel, my primary concern would not be legality but the high likelihood of someone I know recognizing me sneaking into a house of ill repute. Because Staten Island, unlike the anonymous maw of the rest of the city, is a fairly incestuous locale where everyone knows everyone and everyone is everyone else’s cousin. The chances of crossing paths with someone you know, or of someone who knows someone you know, is solidly in the 90% range over every square inch of the island. So I’m wondering if these spots cater to commuters coming through the Staten Island Expressway, looking for bargain outer-outer borough rates and easy parking.

The advertised girls are typically asian, hearkening from all reaches of the orient including Japan, Korea, and China. Wait a second, Japan? I can’t imagine any japanese hooker plying her trade in the states, as the sex industry in Japan is flourishing (and probably much safer than here), and is legal short of actual intercourse. Maybe there would be use for japanese escorts catering to tourists in Manhattan, but not Staten Island which has a relatively small Asian population, and no tourists ever come here except for the free ferry ride. Maybe they should build a massive brothel in St. George instead of a massive shopping center, to tempt tourists to actually step foot on our territory.

The House I Live In

I had high hopes for the documentary The House I Live In; it was highly rated on netflix and the topic- an examination of the “war on drugs-” seemed interesting enough. But little did I know I was in for a solipsistic, almost-two-hour aimless lecture that did little to address drug use and crime in the United States. Filmmaker Eugene Jarecki is puzzled why the family of his childhood african american nanny has endured so much dysfunction and heartbreak, compared to his own upper middle class household of origin. The answer, he concludes, is drugs; moreover, “the war on drugs” which further moreover, at least according to him, has its roots squarely in racism. We then endure a 90 minute lecture on racism, though his premise falls apart in the last segment when the docu acknowledges the majority of people arrested for methamphetamine crimes are white- and they are convicted with the same brutal sentences as other drug offenders.

The meat of his film, namely, the controversial sentences for non-violent drug crimes, and the snake eating tail financial nature of law enforcement and drugs, are sidelined by Jarecki’s whiny postulations on race and class. It would have been far better, and a lot more interesting, to learn more about these excessive sentences and the precise financial processes between law enforcement and drug seizures than to endure the film’s naval staring. He missed a real chance to make a cogent and pertinent documentary, but dropped the ball.

We do meet some interesting people; a few of the drug dealers, and a prison worker who philosophically questions the nature of his business are gripping to watch. But the documentary is neither here nor there and never quite reaches the goal line.

I would have liked to see a discussion of why street drugs are considered so dangerous, yet prescription drugs, particularly psychiatric drugs and painkillers, are not. It would also be interesting to question why alcohol has not in very recent history been considered a drug, despite its intoxicating qualities.

When it comes to drugs I’m not sure I’m libertarian enough to say “legalize it all.” But on the other hand I’ve always been a pragmatist above all else. If an adult is determined to use drugs, there really is no stopping him and you might as well let him go down the rabbit hole. And while in theory drug violence would diminish were the trade legalized- after all, alcohol is sold in highbrow and polite venues- I’m not sure this would necessarily hold true for street drugs, especially as drug cartels from south of the border gain further hold on american soil. In other words, even if legalized, a deep black market for drugs would likely perpetuate.

I feel similarly about prostitution. If consenting adults want to engage in a financial sexual transaction, who am I to stop them, even if I feel such an enterprise might not be the best of life choices for either party? Either way I don’t see either street drugs or prostitution being legalized in the near future. Politicians from both sides of the aisle know it would lose too many votes if they stood up for hookers and gangbangers. Even Bill Clinton postured a tough on crime approach when it suited him.

In conclusion I can’t recommend this lousy documentary unless you have a burning interest in the subject. Maybe Jarecki can come around and offer a decent documentary on drug use and the practical legal prospects to ameliorate the current state of affairs, but The House I Live In is not it.

Which Way Home

Most people by this point are aware of the growing trend of underaged immigrants attempting to enter the US illegally. While the press has made a big deal about the young age of these children, and indeed, some are very young, the truth is that the majority are likely teenagers, and probably teenage boys. This follows a long and steadily growing phenomenon of adolescent and teenage boys from the region “going north,” which in central america and mexico has the same connotation as what “going to california” meant a few generations ago. Despite press reports that they are fleeing gang violence (which we have plenty of here in the good ole USA- in our major cities the majority of crime is gang related), many of these teens are runaways with all the motivations and psychological baggage homegrown runaways carry. In leaked reports about conditions in the detainment centers, psychologists noted many of the would-be migrants had severe mental health problems, including suicidal ideation, that were going untreated.

There is an excellent documentary about exactly this trend called Which Way Home. It’s a few years old so was filmed at the start of this wave of younger immigrants trying to make their way to the US. The travelers are typically male and in the 12-19 range. They ride as stowaways on top of freight trains that snake their way through the mexican countryside- in fact, an unintended bonus to this docu is that we get to glimpse astonishing vistas of rural areas south of the border, as the camera “rides the train” with the boys on their journey. The train is so dangerous that it is nicknamed La Bestia (the beast) by its stowaway riders.

whichwayhome

Most of the boys are running away from bad situations at home, usually involving stepparents or an unwillingness to follow their parents’authority. They view the trip north with excitement and enthusiasm, convinced that wealth and happiness await them on the other side of the border. Some believe they will be promptly adopted by kind and wealthy american families.

There is a particularly heartbreaking scene where a brother and sister, I think they are about 8 and 9, are determined to make their way north. The girl explains to the camera that God and the blood of Christ will protect them on her journey; they are later never heard from again. Unlike the teenage boys featured in Which Way Home, this sibling duo seemed very sweet and well intentioned, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of Hansel and Gretel.

One aspect I’ve noted concerning the recent waves of immigrants is a bipartisan opposition to them, not necessarily among politicians, but from normal people. Even in sympathetic articles on progressive bastions like the NYtimes, the comment sections contain countless statements universally opposed to accepting these children and any more that follow. Even self -identified liberals state bluntly that, particularly in our current economic climate, we lack the resources to properly care for so many children and young adults, and that responsibility for them resides squarely with their families and countries of origin. However, by most estimates, at least 70% will manage to remain either legally or illegally. Ironically, those who do manage to stay will probably find themselves living in areas rife with gang and drug violence, which supposedly is what they are fleeing in the first place.

Which Way Home is an excellent documentary and worth watching no matter what your stance on illegal immigration. It’s still available on netflix streaming as of this posting.

Fruits and Vegetables Don’t Make You Lose Weight

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has published a study confirming that fruits and vegetables don’t make you lose weight. This is something I’ve pointed out several times in this blog, that telling an overweight person “to eat more fruits and vegetables” is about the most hare brained approach you could take to weight loss (yet is the centerpiece of the new school lunch program). In A Place at the Table there is a particularly painful scene where an obese child is told “to snack on celery” by his doctor.

I love fruits and vegetables and eat loads of them. If it can be slathered in olive oil and roasted at 400 degrees, I’ll eat it. Broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, eggplant, onions, etc.- I eat them by the bucket load. I also love green salads and would happily choose a huge green salad with peanut dressing over a piece of chocolate cake. But I also know that without that olive oil, or the high fat peanut dressing, vegetables will leave you hungry as they are basically water with some fiber and micronutrients. Fruits are slightly more filling because they contain more sugar (and thus more calories) than veggies, but will also leave you hungry soon enough even if you gorge on them. It has been firmly established by this point that the greatest killer of appetite is protein; second to protein is fat, and last on the list are carbohydrates. While carbs have their place in the human diet, they are not the most effective food to quell appetite, which, unless you enjoy a gnawing stomach, is an important step to weight loss.

The most efficient sources of protein are meat, eggs, nuts, beans, and some dairy products (vital wheat gluten is a good vegan source of protein, but obviously no good for people with gluten sensitivities). If I were giving advice to an overweight person, I would suggest they focus on these high protein foods while adding moderate amounts of healthy fats. I would further suggest they try to avoid all starches and sugars, and while eating non-starchy vegetables won’t hurt, they have a low satiation index in bare form so I would not encourage them as a diet mainstay. I would also advise that they limit fruit to raw fruit (no juice or dried fruit) and only one or two servings a day. The last thing I would ever say is, “Snack on celery,” because this sends the message that fruits and vegetables will magically trigger weight loss even if the rest of a person’s diet is not radically altered. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “Well I had a salad so I was good, now I can eat _____.” It doesn’t work that way! This is the same trap exercise can cause. A person works out for an hour then rewards himself- either consciously or unconsciously- with excess food. So if anything, increasing fruits and veggies might give a person the illusion that they don’t have to make greater efforts in weight loss.

Another difficulty with encouraging people to eat more fruits and vegetables is that they perceive starchy vegetables like potatoes and winter squash as “vegetables,” but these foods are just as calorie-laden as bread. Again, were we not living in a world of food excess, bread and potatoes would be great things to survive on and indeed have sustained many a civilization during times of want. But in our current food excess environment a plate of french fries- even sweet potato fries- is nothing but trouble. Same goes for veggie chips and vegetable laced pastas.

I know all this makes me sound like a low carber, but I’m not. If a person isn’t trying to lose weight, carbs are no problem in moderation. But for a person aiming for weight loss, carbs need to be delicately handled and limited because 1) they are calorie dense 2) they do not quell appetite efficiently and 3) they are easy to overeat on. Having gone through partial fasts in the past where I ate very little, I learned quickly that the best way to endure many hours of not eating was to consume some protein, especially animal protein (as a former vegan this was a tough fact to swallow, no pun intended). So while I am not a low carb adherent per se, it’s clear to me that this technique is invaluable when trying to teach people to manage their appetites.

Of course, if a person eats only fruits and vegetables, they will lose weight. Dr. Fuhrman’s Eat to Live plan is based on most calories coming from fruits, plain non-starchy vegetables, and beans (prepared without fat). While he says not to count calories he admits in his book that most people will not be eating more than 1000-1200 calories a day on his regimen, a level most people would lose on no matter what the calorie sources are.

Supersize vs Superskinny

Supersize vs Superskinny is a British TV show that investigates the rising trend of obesity in England. The show pairs up an obese person with an underweight person and asks them to switch eating habits for a few days. Each episode has a segue or two examining obesity in general, and the host of the show, Dr. Christian Jessen- who acts more like a master of ceremonies than a physician- loves to visit the US to show his obese English patients their future unless they change their ways. In America he seeks out morbidly obese men and women, showing graphic footage of health woes like deep skin ulcers, and toes that fall off due to diabetes.

While the show is sensationalist it does take a refreshingly blunt look at obesity and body image. It’s fascinating to see what people- both fat and thin- actually eat in a given day. Some of the obese people never stop eating during waking hours (one unemployed woman refers to nonstop eating as her “job”), while some of the underweight people eat barely one meal a day.

The show does touch on people with under-eating disorders, but rarely, if ever, does it identify any particular episode’s “superskinny” as being eating disordered, though some of them clearly are. In that respect the show borders on unethical; how can a BMI 15 person who barely eats benefit from sitting at a table with a morbidly obese person, while being asked to eat that person’s daily menu? If anything this will only hammer home further the neurotic perception that heartier eating will lead to hopeless weight gain.

Below is a recent episode featuring Lauren and Shelby, two young mothers who weigh in respectively at 395 lbs and 86 lbs. Shelby subsists on one or two pieces of toast and a candy bar each day;  Lauren eats massive portions of fast food in meals that could feed a small village.

Another problem with the show is that they never delve into why people over or undereat. Occasionally the matter is skimmed over, but most shows consist of a rather superficial dealing with the candidates’ eating habits. For instance, in the above episode, superskinny Shelby is borderline starving herself after she has a child. The show chalks it up to her being “too busy” but surely there are other reasons behind such drastic behavior.

After the several-days swap the supersize and superskinny clients are sent home with eating plans designed by the doctor; they return some weeks later for a weigh-in. Indeed, many of the obese people do lose weight, likewise the superskinnies manage to gain, but you have to wonder what happens when the cameras stop rolling.

Despite my complaints the show manages to stay compassionate and light-hearted, and is keenly interesting for anyone who enjoys learning about nutrition, eating disorders, and obesity trends. I hadn’t realized that England has the highest obesity rate of western Europe in its children, with 30% weighing in as overweight or obese, on par with American rates for childhood obesity. As I explained in a previous post, the much touted drop in childhood obesity was smoke in mirrors using a decade-old outlier that may not have been scientifically sound. The rate of American children either overweight or obese continues to increase, particularly among teens. Perhaps Dr. Jessen can start up a US version of Supersize vs Superskinny, though he’ll probably have trouble finding any superskinnies on our side of the pond.

Most episodes of the show are available on youtube, for those interested.

Land of the Living

Over the weekend I had a sore throat and was sneezing constantly. I chalked it up to dust, since I was actually cleaning the house for once. But sunday night I woke up with a raging fever, agonizing body aches, and could barely breathe. I don’t have asthma but was so congested it felt my lungs were packed with cement. Strangely, it was exactly a year ago that I was struck down with the flu. Who gets sick in June??? Me, apparently. Two years in a row.

I stumbled into the bathroom and found the flu remedy I bought last june and downed a dose. Stumbled back to bed but was still in agony. Downed another dose. Took decongestant. Took advil. Rinse and repeat. It wasn’t until morning that it dawned on me I should research if any of this stuff is safe during pregnancy. To my dismay I discovered most of those meds are category C which means they are not proven unsafe, but not considered safe either, for pregnant women. I took 6 more doses of decongestant through the day just to breathe.The next two days were a delirium of pain and wishing for an easy breath.

In retrospect, a normal person would have sought medical care- I was frantic over my wrongly cancelled health coverage after all- but for whatever reason I am always reluctant to see a doctor unless I’m at death’s door. I sure felt at death’s door. But thankfully, seemingly miraculously (I know it wasn’t a miracle, but it feels like one) I found myself in the land of the living today. I’m still weak and feverish, but when we were out of toilet paper (a dire emergency in a large family) I dragged my son to Costco- so he could push the cart and do the heavy lifting- and I nearly fainted in the checkout line.

The school year is officially over. I have a meeting tomorrow with my oldest daughter’s high school to see if she will be kicked out. Despite scoring phenomenally well on the IQ and cognitive tests she was administered, she is failing two classes and nearly failing most of the others. My other kids did very well- the overachiever made ultra-honors all four quarters, the only one in her class to do so and only one of seven in the school. My son did beautifully despite having no formal education for nine years (he had perfect scores on all his practice regents) and even my daughter with developmental delays, and who is not exactly quick on the uptake, managed to be promoted to third grade.

The overachiever has been dwelling on ontological dilemmas recently and confessed to me that she doesn’t see much point to life- death awaits everyone and there is only suffering until then. I told her that life is like a radio: if a radio is tuned to static you will wonder what the hell the point is, but if you just adjust the channel a few notches you’ll hear beautiful music or insightful discussion. When people are caught up in materialism, self absorption, and achievement (not that there’s anything wrong with achievement, but it can become an obsession) they only hear static- their “antenna” is broken. But if they can shift the dial to a better stance they might discover something beautiful.

Speaking of which I discovered this beautiful cover on the ancient contraption known as the radio. Judith Owen sings a beautiful rendition of Mungo Jerry’s not so beautiful “In the Summertime.” I’m not crazy about the graphics to this video so you may want to minimize.

“If her daddy’s rich, take her out for a meal. If her daddy’s poor, do what you feel-” someone’s been reading the manosphere! When I heard Owen’s voice I assumed she was a young african american woman, but surprise surprise, she’s Welsh.

Fossils and Purchased Friends

I saw a vascular surgeon this morning for my zombie-looking right leg that is swollen and discolored. There was a problem with my referral; at first they said I could see the doctor but not have a sonogram. They called the insurance, and then said I could have the sono but not see the doctor. Oookay (I ended up seeing the dr anyway). I was the youngest person in the office by decades, and to my surprise, the only female. I always assumed vein problems were a female thing. Once I got to the sonographer, she asked if this was my first pregnancy. Uh… no. When I told her I have seven children she quite literally nearly fell off her chair. Seven kids! Who has seven kids?

“Orthodox Jews,” I replied. “But I’m not an orthodox Jew.”

She then confided she was tormented over whether to have a second child or not. I told her to have it.

Then on to the Staten Island Mall for birthday shopping for the wild five, and soon to be six, year old. I knew exactly what I wanted: a My Little Pony from Build-A-Bear. Here is a picture from the upper level of the mall:

simall

It’s an average mall as far as malls go, but it’s usually clean and orderly. Not that I go here much. A little known fact about the Staten Island Mall is that the floors are tiled with ancient limestone that contain a plethora of fossils. The floors here, believe it or not, are actually studied by geologists. So I stepped on countless gastropods on my way to Build-A-Bear.

At Build-A-Bear, an astonishingly cheerful young woman welcomed me and asked if I was looking for anything in particular. Why yes I am- and I pointed to Twilight Sparkle on display. “I don’t actually have to ‘build’ it, do I?”

She assured me I didn’t and proceeded to bring a limp Twilight Sparkle to life with a bizarre stuffing machine that looked like something from Willy Wonka’s factory. While she stuffed, we discussed My Little Pony. Is my daughter a fan? Yes, a huge fan. I then told her a lot of adults watch the show, and that my son, while he’d never admit it, was a devoted fan (I didn’t use the term Brony but that’s what he is). She replied many adults come to the store to buy the toys for themselves. Then she asked if I wanted a birth certificate for the new Twilight Sparkle. The whole process was a bit weird, especially being pregnant and walking out of there with a birth certificate for a stuffed animal, but here she is:

rainbowdash

Admit it… she’s cute! I kind of want one for myself.

Under Wraps

My mom is showing up tomorrow and she doesn’t know I’m pregnant. I don’t intend to tell her unless she asks directly. While I look pregnant to myself, I don’t look nearly as pregnant as most of the non-pregnant women on Staten Island. So maybe she’ll think I’ve just gained some weight. With the right clothes, I can pass for thick around the middle, not in the second trimester.

As I’ve mentioned, one of my main problems with Orange is the New Black is how inauthentic the characters are. The ghetto rats are way too articulate and thoughtful. Same for the trailer trash. And Piper’s waspish-ness is very much contrived. She whines and complains way too much for a real wasp. Waspishness is all about the stiff upper lip, but Piper’s incessant whining makes her sound more jappy than waspish. Now I adore most of the jews I’ve encountered in life, but god oh god, do they like to complain. Piper’s mom is no better. [very mild spoiler:] Remember when she visits Piper in prison and is supposedly worried she wouldn’t look pretty anymore? That is a very un-waspish concern. Worrying about your daughter looking pretty would be considered unbelievably shallow and tacky for a genuine wasp. Worrying about a strange hair color, or a tattoo, maybe. But it’s in bad taste to worry too much about looks, beyond the importance of looking neat, conformist, and respectable.

But [another mild spoiler:]- when it turns out the family colludes not to inform Piper of her grandmother’s illness- that is waspy. For whatever reason wasps are stiff lipped about sharing information that might ignite emotion. Ask me how I know!

So there were no gushy phone calls to my mom about my pregnancy, nor were there ever any. And of course, it’s unwaspish to have more than two kids, so I violated a rather massive tenet of waspdom with the third through almost eighth. My poor mom, having to tell her friends that she has ELEVEN (and soon to be twelve) grandchildren (my sister violated the code too, though not as egregiously as I have). She’s loosened up a bit in her old age but I’m sure it’s a moment of horror every time the number falls from her lips. So the unorthodoxy on my part provides even less incentive to spill the beans.

Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever had an emotional conversation with my mother. There were a handful of uncomfortable conversations over the years, but for the most part we interact almost like business associates. In a rare moment of inner exposure she once confessed to my sister that one of her life aspirations was not to be as cold as her parents were. All I can say is if she is the warm version, I can only imagine what her parents were like! I never really knew her father but her mother lived to 103. Over the many years I knew her I never saw any emotion- except mild joy when the Red Sox won another world series (she was old enough to have lived through the team’s 86 year drought). She threw back two martinis every night and watched Jeopardy religiously.

So we’ll see if I can get away with it. I’m joining legions of teenagers worldwide, hiding a pregnancy from my parents. Once the baby is, god willing, at the point of viability I’ll start talking.

Bad Chess in Orange is the New Black

I was looking forward with some enthusiasm to the new season of Orange is the New Black. I was tepid about the first season; while it had its moments of humor, I felt it contained too many implausibilities, lacked pathos, and many of the characters just weren’t funny. I was pleasantly surprised by the first few episodes of season 2; the producers wised up and sidelined Piper and her uber boring ex-girlfriend, allowing secondary characters to take center stage. But unfortunately by midway point I found myself getting bored with dragging, repetitive plotlines and lifeless dialogue.

One character who did intrigue me is Vee, the supposedly Machiavellian drug lord who finds herself in the slammer. In the new season’s episode 7, “Comic Sans,” we find a scene where Vee and Crazy Eyes are playing chess in the janitorial closet. We get a good shot of the board and here is the position:

start position

Crazy Eyes is white and Vee is black. As you can see, black is 4 pawns down (though, inexplicably, only 2 captured pawns are by the side of the board) and has only developed her knight. For reasons that remain mysterious, she has developed her queenside rook. Rooks are typically saved for the endgame or back rank posturing midgame. Crazy Eye’s position is not much better, and she too has only developed her knight, but she is only one pawn down. It’s unclear how Crazy Eyes managed to capture four of Vee’s pawn with only one pawn advanced past the third rank.

As the scene begins Crazy Eyes plays Ba3 (I thought she was going to fianchetto the bishop but no such luck). After some moments of deep thought Vee pushes her pawn to g5. Crazy Eyes cackles and captures the pawn with her miserably placed knight with Nxg5. So we now have this position:

Nxg5

Vee then acts like she’s channeling the ghost of Bobby with Qxg5, then lectures Crazy Eyes about the importance of future time orientation. Ughhhh. Assuming she snatches Crazy Eye’s doubled g pawn, yes, she’ll be in a somewhat better situation, but with an abominable position and non-existent pawn structure (since she doesn’t have any pawns). Not to mention Crazy Eyes can just play Bxf8 (taking black’s DS bishop) which forces Vee to retake with the king, thus losing castling rights. All in all white still has a far superior position, yet this brief section of the game is supposed to convince us Vee is a super-villain genius. I’m not sure even a GM could forge ahead with black’s position, but you never know: I once played a senior master where he was only allowed to move his knights, and I could move any piece, and he still slaughtered me.

I think what happens on these sets is they notice in the script, “Oh, we need a chess game,” and then just scrounge up whoever learned how to set up a board in 4th grade. It’s a pity because they could give a nod to any number of great chess games that have been immortalized in widely available game databases. They could have used a position from the recent world champion match, or from one of the famous Fischer vs. Spassky games. Oh well.

So anyway, after this scene Vee lost all credibility with me and I barely made it through episode 8, which is where I last left our heroines, with Piper lecturing the cafeteria on the burdens of white privilege.

Porn on YouTube

If you’re a parent like me, you probably assume youtube is a safe site for your kids to browse. Until recently my 2nd grader enjoyed endless hours of Pokemon videos on youtube. And in recent weeks, after getting her own email account, my overachiever was spending a lot of time watching lowbrow videos linked to her by friends. Stupid stuff, nothing pornographic, but I began to have an uneasy feeling about all the youtube watching in the house because I had vague memories of accidentally coming across porn on youtube, and having heard stories of it happening to children.

We’ve used K9 Web Protection in the past to filter the computer my youngest kids use, but never installed it on the hand me down computer the middle girls got from my son. So yesterday I finally installed it, went to youtube to test it out, and to my surprise still found plenty of R and X rated videos. Some videos were blocked by K9 (though the thumbnails were viewable) but many were indeed viewable. K9 admits embedded videos pose a problem with content filtering, and that even their advanced youtube filtering (which I had activated) is imperfect. And while youtube has a “safe” setting (forced by default with K9) even this allows any number of questionable videos through.

My husband didn’t know there was porn on youtube and initially didn’t believe me. I told him to look for himself. In fact you can check for yourselves. Turn off the safe setting and type in any XXX term that comes to mind and you’ll get an eyeful (be careful where you do this, youtube saves search and viewing histories if you are logged into a youtube compatible account, which can only be deleted within the youtube interface. If you’re not logged into an account, clearing your browser data should erase it). Try it again with the safe setting on, and you’ll still get an eyeful, though less explicit, but certainly nothing for young viewers.

The reason my husband didn’t believe me is because youtube has a policy not to host pornography, and his company lost their google ads because some of their variant covers contain “good girl art-” topless but otherwise non-pornographic art. So why google would ban them from hosting advertisements, yet allows a flood of porn on youtube, is a bit mysterious. I understand they can’t police every user but there’s an awful lot of porn and sex on the site, while it bills itself as porn-free. Read the youtube community guidelines here- what a joke!

I ended up blocking youtube entirely for the younger kids. My 2nd grader will have to survive somehow with Netflix and my middle girls will have to listen to music on sites like live365.

So parents, please beware of youtube. There may be better filtering software out there, but don’t believe any claim until you test it out for yourself. Net Nanny claims to have dynamic analysis, but supposedly this is what the newer youtube setting on k9 does. And if youtube can’t even block x-rated content with its own safety mode, I remain skeptical of the site and it ability to be filtered adequately when it comes to child safety.

Other than the problems with embedded videos, I highly recommend K9 Web Protection for families with children. It’s such an excellent program it’s hard to believe you can get it for free. It also protects against malware and phishing.

Nickel and Diming

We’re now in the final stretch of the school year. I keep reading news stories that heroin use is on the rise, not just in NYC but across the country. Well if recent weekends have been a taste of summer, with bickering girls, my raving oldest daughter mouthing off , the wild five year old tearing the house apart, my 2nd grader immersed in 12 hours straight of Pokemon, I just might start doing heroin myself.

Yesterday I was at the OB and to my repeat surprise learned I’m still pregnant. This has become quite literally a life and death roller coaster, as every time I have a bleeding episode- the last was 11 days ago, the worst yet- I’m convinced I’ve lost the baby. But he or she is still in there, looking more human with every sonogram. But I’m now under strict instructions not to have sex (what??) and to avoid strenuous physical activity. I’ve never been an exercise person but I’m always active doing something. I had big garden plans and wanted to take the girls to the beach a lot this summer (hauling 6 whiny girls to the beach is a strenuous physical activity). I asked the OB if I could still mow the lawn and she looked at me like I was nuts. So even more stressful, it looks like we’ll be stuck at home a lot.

As the academic year wraps up we’re being nickeled and dimed to death by the Catholic schools. My husband is a passionate advocate for Catholic schools even though he’s not the most religious person in the world. By NYC tuition standards- where the snootier schools in Manhattan can charge 50k per student, most Catholic schools are cheap. But it’s still an awful lot of money, and I have moments when I wonder why we don’t send them to public.

Tuition isn’t the only cost. Their previous two schools were Catholic but served primarily an innercity population mostly funded by scholarships (not for us though). There was free breakfast and lunch, which were disgusting but I told my kids to eat it, and fees were kept down because otherwise no one would pay. The fees at the new school have been a shocker. On top of higher tuition, there are constant expenses multiplied by six: extra groceries for packed lunch, book fees, supply fees, book fairs, holiday fairs, class parties, field trips, christmas collections, retirement collections, cookies for parties, kindergarten graduation and on and on. My overachiever’s field trip was $80 and my oldest daughter will need $30 in cookies this week. Oh, I forgot to mention school uniforms. Even with just one uniform apiece I’ve spent at least $2000 on uniforms this year. There are fall uniforms, winter uniforms, spring uniforms, and gym uniforms. My oldest daughter needs a different color loafer for fall, winter and spring respectively.

So this too is a grim portend for summer, as I’m not going to have much money to spend. And given that I’m supposed to take it easy, I can’t drag them all over the city looking for free events. Even an outing to the mall to walk around requires at least buying them lunch, unless I want to hear nonstop whining all the way home. (Costco gives out free samples, that could be lunch.) The library gets old and to be honest, at least locally, is populated with homeless people coughing like they have TB. And I’ve seen more than one flasher in there- one of them a woman! No thanks. We have a botanical garden across the street, but when I was pregnant with my two year old I barely managed an hour walk without feeling like I was going to drop dead. My husband occasionally takes them to the movies, but with so many tickets involved it’s a rare treat.

For middle and upper middle class metro parents, summer is meant to be packed with back to back enrichment activities for the precious darlings. This must be a city thing, or a generational thing, as where I grew up no one was in intellectually and artistically stimulating summer programs. In high school I took a few college summer courses, but when I was a young child, being sent off for expensive self discovery was unheard of. We played with neighbors, hiked through the woods, and read books. But once I moved to NYC I noticed summer parenting was about camps, arts programs, and athletics, at least for those who can afford it. One mother at the new school recently approached me and asked where I was sending my kids for the summer. Uh, does World of Warcraft count as a “place?”

My Day With Tarna

Someone recently asked me to identify the music towards the end of the documentary My Day With Tarna. Not wanting to watch a kinky sex documentary, I put it off indefinitely, until finally relenting and watching the snippet on vimeo. Just from those few minutes I could see this is, stylistically, exactly the kind of documentary I like. The camera is “quiet,” following the subjects like a ghost or discreet stalker. I can’t stand documentaries that have an agenda and don’t simply allow the subjects to speak for themselves. For example, Michael Moore’s documentaries are agenda driven, but he is also very good at letting his subjects shine through the screen- I will never forget the “pets or meat” rabbit lady from Rodger and Me. Yet one of the worst documentaries I’ve ever seen, Enlighten Up, has a director so determined to have her film go in a different direction that the docu is more about her than the supposed subject (yoga). So anyway, since I was already sucked into the docu, I waited for my two year old to take a nap so I could settle down into 40 minutes of the strange world of Tarna the German dominatrix.

Tarna speaks casually and matter-of-factly about her life as a dominatrix. She discusses at length how sexual arousal is primarily cerebral, and that the services she offers are for the imagination more than the body. She goes on to claim that the greater a person’s intelligence, the more unorthodox their fantasies are. I’m not sure if this has been quantitatively studied, but she bases her stance on the fact that many of her clients are successful (and usually married) businessmen.

She takes us on a tour of the various rooms in the dominatrix studio and describes what transpires within. It was only when she got to the bathroom that I began to have serious regrets about starting the film in the first place, but I was too interested by that point to give up. Incidentally, I had no idea some men have fetishes for sadistic hairdressers. I’m afraid to google so I’ll just take Tarna’s word on it. Wives beware, next time your husband says he’s getting a haircut.

I was dreading the prospect of seeing a lot of graphic dominatrix activity but like Whore’s Glory (which I reviewed here), the camera is surprisingly discreet and even shy, at least at the beginning. There is eventually a graphic but brief scene, which I would prefer to erase from memory, but as quickly as it appears it’s gone. The film style was so similar to Whore’s Glory that I checked to see if Michael Glawogger was involved, and learned that not only he wasn’t, but that he died less than two months ago! Sadly he died of malaria while filming in Africa. He was only 55. This is not only a personal tragedy for his family and friends, but a real loss to the documentary world as Whore’s Glory is an outstanding film, better even than anything Herzog has put out.

I tend not to like short documentaries but My Day With Tarna has a very satisfying story arc that left me with a lot of interest and questions about her enigmatic personality. So even if you’re not interested in dominatrixes, I highly recommend this brief film. It can be seen on vimeo here.

Obesity in a Post-Scarcity Society

As someone who cooks for children, what fascinates me about the school lunch boondoggle is that politicians and experts thought they could succeed where mothers have failed since caveman days: they thought they could make kids eat what’s on their plate. This is a battle since time immemorial, yet the establishment in its arrogance or cluelessness- I’m not sure which (maybe none of these people actually cook for children?) thought they could succeed because it was simply a matter of exposing kids to “healthy food.” A child is never served broccoli at home- serve them broccoli at school, and they will eat it!

As I’ve pointed out before, poor families are reluctant to buy foods that will be thrown in the trash. So they buy what they know their children will eat happily, and it’s not salad bar fare. But this is not the reason in and of itself children don’t like broccoli. Kids- rich and poor- tend not to like greens, legumes, or much raw fruit. Ok some kids do: one of my seven children will eat broccoli, and most of my girls will eat two or three fruit varieties (my son only touches fruit in the form of juice). My five year old loves bell peppers. But even Jessica Seinfeld has to hide broccoli in brownies.

Quite frankly most adults don’t like these foods either. Whole produce makes up less than 10% of the typical adult diet. The main sources of adult calories in the United States come from soda, sugary desserts, bread, chicken (fried?) and pizza.

I grew up a picky eater; there were only a handful of foods I could eat without feeling like I was going to vomit. My parents, like many parents, had the attitude I should eat what was on my plate, and if I refused after a long, miserable dinner battle there was no other food offered. I gladly went without eating and grew accustomed to hunger. By second grade I was so thin the doctors were concerned for my health (I was so thin the car seat belt sensor didn’t detect me in the front seat, and the “buckle” alarm would chime incessantly even when I was buckled), and it was only when the doctors intervened that my parents lightened up and let me eat the few foods I could stomach- bread, cheese, some fruits, and cookies. I despised meat (still do for the most part- though I occasionally eat chicken or mild fish). I still love bread, cheese and fruit but stopped eating desserts forever last year.

With this experience behind me I swore never to force my kids to eat. Yet as the children came and I saw how picky some were, I began to stress about nutrition given by this point I was well read on the subject. But there were no wretched dinner battles. Some of my kids eat better than others, but beyond a few food rules (I never buy soda and only buy candy on holidays) and encouraging them not to waste food, things are very laid back around here. Yet even with the kitchen free for all, three of my kids are underweight and a couple of the normal weight kids aren’t far from underweight. My son is 6’2″ and 145 pounds; he achieved that height primarily on bread, cheese and fruit juice (sound familiar?). More recently he’s eating chicken and occasionally pasta. My kids have been exposed to produce, salads and legumes their whole lives. In terms of my own eating I’m something of a health nut, and have cycled through periods of strict veganism. So they’ve seen plenty of broccoli. They’ve even seen things they would prefer to unsee, like spinach muffins (they nicknamed them algae muffins).

My main pet peeve when it comes to children and food is wasting. This is the one thing that gets me angry and yelling in the food department. I hate the idea of wasted food so much, I’m exacting in terms of what I serve them, and I always check beforehand on what they actually want to eat for a particular meal. As a result I have near zero “plate waste” with my kids. So when I read about lunchroom garbage cans spilling over with fresh fruits and vegetables, and have seen it for myself- my children’s previous two schools participated in the USDA lunch program- in the name of a partisan “healthy eating” bill (it has become partisan because democrats are unwilling to criticize the first lady’s pet project), it breaks my heart. None of that food can be donated per health regulations, even sealed foods like apple sauce cups- once it’s served, it’s eaten or officially trash.

School lunches aren’t making kids fat; the majority of calories are still consumed at home or eating out. The recent downturn in childhood obesity was a numbers trick using a decade’s old outlier with abnormally high obesity numbers (that’s where they got the “40% decrease”). When broken down by age group, and when compared to the previous year, the decrease was marginal and primarily in the age 3-6 group. Obesity actually increased in older children, which runs with what I’ve noticed in high schools. When visiting high schools with my oldest daughter last year, I was amazed by how fat most of the students were. I thought teenagers were pinnacles of health and prime. What’s going on?

I’ve reached the conclusion that in an era of food excess (there is a term for this I learned on a blog I used to read- “a post-scarcity society”) it is simply impossible for the majority of people not to overeat. It’s how we’re programmed in terms of evolution: eat, eat some more, and especially eat what tastes good (sweets, fats, starches) because that’s where the energy to survive dwells. It’s only people who are naturally repulsed by food, or who have the rare psychological wherewithal not to overeat, who will stay thin. In that respect they are the disordered ones. So I don’t think we’ll see any real decline in obesity in the developed world until there are 100% safe and inexpensive pharmaceutical or surgical methods to prevent calorie absorption or alter metabolisms. In the meantime we’re heading toward the vision of Wall-E, where people are so fat they use scooters to get around, and have forgotten how to walk.

School Lunch Experiment

In reading about the new USDA school breakfast and lunch standards, I realized I should try a real-life experiment with my own kids: only feed them meals within the parameters of new nutrition standards, just to see if reasonable and satiating meals could be created from the rules. But 1) I didn’t want my already skinny kids to go hungry and 2) I didn’t want to see food thrown in the garbage. I also didn’t want to hear more whining and complaining from my already whiny kids. Then it dawned on me: why not follow the new guidelines myself? Surely the USDA standards for a high school student would be enough for a non-athletic housewife.

Here is a link to the guidelines; numbers in each category are amounts per five day week, while numbers in parentheses are amounts per day. The daily high school amounts come out to:

breakfast: 2 oz. of grains; 8 fluid oz. milk
lunch: 1 cup fruit; 1 cup vegetables; 2.4 oz. grains; 2.4 oz. meat or meat alternative; 8 fluid oz. milk

The fine print provides further stipulations. Milk must be low fat or skim; grains must be whole grain (no white bread or white rice); dried fruit is measured at half capacity (i.e. 1/2 cup dried fruit = 1 cup fruit); fruit juice can only be half of a fruit serving (for lower grades, this would mean no more than 1/4 cup of juice per lunch- why bother?). The vegetable fine print is really confusing. There are five subcategories of vegetables:

dark green
red/orange
legumes
starchy
other

 …but “any vegetable subgroup may be offered to meet the total weekly vegetable requirement” (footnote “h”) and “larger amounts of these [i.e. all sub groups] vegetables may be served” (footnote “f”). If any vegetable can be served to meet the requirements, why bother dividing them into categories? So if I’m understanding this correctly, you can eat as many vegetables (including potatoes and beans) as you want, as long as the meal caloric total does not exceed 850 calories. I have to admit, I’m hard pressed to see how a cup of fruit, a cup of veggies (though a cup of leafy greens is only considered half a cup of veggies), 2.4 oz each grain and meat, and 8 fluid oz of milk will approach anywhere near 850 calories, especially when fat must be less than 10% of all calories (compare this to an Atkins style diet where as much as 50% of calories come from fat). So for an 850 calorie meal, you’re only allowed 85 calories of fat. That’s less than a tablespoon of olive oil.

Breakfast was 2 oz. focaccia and 1 oz. swiss cheese. I only have whole milk in the house, which is not allowed, but a cup of low fat milk is about 100 calories, so I had 100 calories of cheese instead.

breadcheese
Not viking fare.

I ate at 6:30am and was hungry by 8:30, but not severely. I realized after the fact that the focaccia was not whole grain, so I started some (whole, unsweetened) oatmeal with half a cup raisins (which equals “1 cup of fruit’) in the crock pot for lunch. I was ravenously hungry by 10am, but wanted to hold out to noon (I ended up eating at 1pm because I ran errands).

Lunch was a feast compared to breakfast. Since I was allowed “larger amounts” of vegetables I had a large salad, 2.4 oz oats (measured dry) cooked with 1/2 cup raisins, 2.4 oz of baked chicken cutlet, and 100 calories fresh mozzarella (in lieu of 100 calories of milk).

lunch
Better, still not viking fare.

It was all delicious especially since I was starving, but I daresay not kid friendly- except for the measly chicken cutlet. My kids won’t eat oatmeal unless it’s cooked with sugar and whole milk. They may have taken a few bites of salad (minus the vinaigrette) but that iceberg lettuce probably doesn’t cut USDA “dark green” standards.

To my surprise lunch came to ~750 calories which is more than I normally eat for lunch and is at the lower end of the USDA lunch caloric requirements. Most of those calories (500) are pure carbs: oatmeal and raisins. In theory I could have added 100 more calories in vegetables (even potatoes- yet more carbs) while remaining within the guidelines. I felt stuffed after this meal, but I ate everything available. Remember kids are throwing away “gross” foods like salad and unsweetened oatmeal, which for this meal would leave barely 250 calories in chicken and dairy. And sure enough I am seeing the “strange combinations” that occur in school lunchrooms. Who eats oatmeal with a chicken cutlet?

To my disappointment by 4pm- only 3 hours after eating- I was ravenously hungry again! This despite eating twice as many calories for lunch as I normally do. High carb, low fat, low protein meals do indeed leave you hungry. While I’m not a low carb person, I do eat much more fat in a typical day than 10% of my calories. I love vegetables slathered in olive oil; I love nuts and peanut butter, and glop copious butter on bread. By this point I was afraid to eat a “school lunch” dinner for fear I’d be famished by bedtime. So I cooked up some roasted mushrooms drenched in olive oil. Ah- that was better!

Thus my observations are the USDA breakfast is too skimpy, and that the more generous lunch is not kid friendly with its dearth of proteins and grains, is too carb heavy (but not due to grains), and woefully lacking in fat and protein. Also it took a while to eat, which is not a bad thing, but you can’t wolf down salad like you would a sandwich. Many children, particularly those in crowded schools (most of NYC) have brief, staggered lunch periods made even briefer standing in line and fending off obnoxious lunchmates. My kids in Catholic school often have barely 20 minutes to eat. Lunch periods should be doubled in school, especially since kids aren’t learning much in the classrooms anyway. You might as well devote that time to healthy eating.

What the F*** Is a Navy Bean

I’m a little depressed because The New York Times- for the first time ever- didn’t approve one of my comments. I’ve never had a problem with them before, but maybe they hired a new moderator. I thought my comment was informative and even funny, but I guess not.

This was to an article about a bill allowing schools to opt out of the new USDA lunch guidelines that aim to provide “healthier meals” to our nation of junk-eating children. Just like common core and “higher standards,” who can possibly argue with “healthier meals?” But like the common core guidelines, real-world application exposes a rift between theory and practice.

The new guidelines limit calories, fat, sodium, and refined grains. However, they don’t effectively lower carbs, as fruit and legume requirements are increased, while grains and starchy vegetables (i.e. potatoes- i.e. french fries) are limited or eliminated altogether. I’m not an anti-carb person by any means, but it is scientific fact that protein and fat are superior to quelling appetite than are carbs. If you feed a child a carb heavy meal, they will feel more hunger, and sooner, than if they’re fed a meal rich in protein and fat. And of course, the carbs being offered are in the form of fruit and legumes, which kids will throw away at a higher rate than they do grains or potatoes.

lunchstandards
Amounts are per week, parenthesized amounts per day. Amounts are slightly more for high school.

From the time I’ve spent in lunchrooms I’d estimate half of all fruit ends up in the trash, even the kind kids are accustomed to (like bananas and fruit cups). And despite the eager children at the salad bar featured in this article:

saladheaven

…most everything green or legume ends up in the trash too.

Meat or “meat substitutes” are limited to a little over 1.5 ounces a day. If you’d like to visualize that, 2 1/2 chicken nuggets are about 1.75 ounces. Grains are limited to 1.6-1.8 oz a day. Here is 1.8 ounces of Costco garlic bread, if you’re curious what that amount looks like:

breadounces

Good luck making a sandwich out of that. I guess you could slice the bread very thinly.

So basically you’re looking at a high carb, low fat, low protein diet, while limiting the foods kids like best (protein and starches) while replacing them with foods kids like least (fruits, legumes and non-starchy vegetables). With calories for each meal limited, and with so much food being thrown away uneaten, the children are effectively eating very little at lunchtime.

A talented, creative chef familiar with children’s menus might be able to work within these parameters, but let’s face it: most lunch ladies are not creative geniuses. In fact a lot of what lunch ladies do is simply heat up and/or hand out packaged meals. Very few lunchrooms cook from scratch these days. With so many lunches thrown in the trash, kids stay hungry and inattentive, and the children who can afford to drop out of the school lunch program altogether.

My daughters’ school doesn’t participate in the school lunch program; students either pay full price for lunch, or bring bagged meals. They actually have a clever, child-friendly menu, and while it isn’t rich in fruits and vegetables, I wouldn’t say it’s pure junk either. They cycle between pizza, bagels, chicken nuggets, mac & cheese, and grilled cheese– all of it homemade. Beverages are bottled water, milk, or fruit juice. Dessert is available but at extra cost. The kids look forward to lunch, eat it eagerly, and while there’s waste it’s not nearly as bad as other cafeterias I’ve seen. And hardly any of the kids at this school are fat. In fact I can think of only one girl and a couple boys in the middle school who are overweight.

To be honest I feel bad for the first lady getting involved in this in the first place- there are few worse hornet’s nests than forcing kids to eat vegetables. If I were first lady, I’d be wise enough to spend my time in the White House hugging sick babies and giving free magazine subscriptions to senior citizens.

So anyway, for what it’s worth, here is my rejected comment:

Let me tell you about my hospital roommate when I had my last baby. Though on her second baby, she was a child herself at 17. From behind the privacy curtain I heard her brag on the phone about how thin she was, so imagine my surprise when a morbidly obese young woman trudged out from behind that curtain.

She complained mightily and incessantly about the “disgusting” hospital food, which was actually quite healthful and delicious (and would fall nicely within the new lunch guidelines). She touched none of it, and spent all day and much of the night eating chips from a bag. When the baby daddy arrived (and refused to sign the birth certificate) he brought fast food which she devoured happily. If she ate nothing but chips and fast food post partum, what do you think she ate for the entire pregnancy?

One meal served was navy bean soup. My roommate and the father laughed at the very idea. “Navy bean soup? What the f— is a navy bean?!” That went in the trash too.

So this is the palate these lunchrooms are up against. Expecting these kids to eat anything not out of a snack bag or not resembling fast food borders on a joke. And it comes at the expense of a lot of produce and lean protein in the trash.

Lena Dunham and Me

Even though I continue to have light bleeding, I am, according to two sonograms, still pregnant. I saw wiggling arms, legs, and even fingers at my appointment last friday. And yesterday I noted with dismay that my emerging baby bump now protrudes further from my epicenter than my boobs. I wasn’t dismayed by the baby bump, but by the utter lack of competition from my chest.

The thing about breasts is they are the primary determiner of if a woman is “proportional.” So if a woman is on the heavy side, but she has big boobs, things even out and she still looks good. I’ve seen women 40, 50+ pounds heavier than I am, but they look great because they have Venus of Willendorf boobs to accompany the body fat. Yesterday in the school parking lot I noticed the woman parked next to me had boobs so big that were of greater width (individually) than my thighs (individually). She was quite heavy, but looked proportional. Unlike me.

A fat- or pregnant- woman with small boobs just looks weird. Enter Lena Dunham:

nakedlenapingpong

Those tiny things floating atop a fleshy figure look bizarre and unnatural. This is the main reason I’ve always felt self-imposed pressure to be as thin as possible. Because at least if the rest of me lacks curves, I’m proportional (and no, they don’t get bigger when I gain weight).

I know there are more important things in the world than my boobs, but I think we all have some aspect of our body we’re self-conscious about (even if no one else on earth is paying attention). I don’t obsess about it, but I go through phases of noticing other women’s chests and realizing how paltry mine is by comparison. There’s a cashier at Costco with perfect, perky Barbie boobs that must be fake, and she always wears skin tight t-shirts to boot (yes, I will try to get a picture for you). Virtually all the moms at my girls’ school have boobs three times my size. Only a handful of moms have breasts in my size range, including the mom so scrawny she looks ill.

Unlike my previous pregnancies, I am now familiar with the world of pushup bras. These are heavily padded bras that give the impression of larger cup sizes. They look good, but are uncomfortable, and since the padding remains stiff and unmoving, they look fake unless you don layers of concealing clothing to hide their static nature. And given summer is around the corner, and I’ll be even more pregnant in coming months (heat makes me insane when I’m pregnant), sporting a pushup bra won’t be feasible. So, I’ll look like the Venus of Willendorf with a chipped off chest.

The good news is that when I’m breastfeeding, I’m a whopping B cup, so I’ll have a year or so post partum of a natural boob job.

Mass Killers and World of Warcraft

We now have another mass killer who was addicted to World of Warcraft. Anders Breivik, and now Elliot Rodger were both obsessed with WoW. In his manifesto Rodger describes being utterly consumed by the game and caring more about his characters, than he cared about real life.

Hearing these stories always gives me an uneasy feeling because, just as WoW was a large part of these men’s lives, it has been a significant part of my own life for the past 6 years. Apart from some hiatuses when I was pregnant and prone to motion sickness, I’ve played the game religiously though I never reached the point of obsession (a few times I was close). I often dream about the game and details from real life can make me reflect on something in WoW. If I go a while not playing I start to miss the music, geography, and stunning art. And a small part of me, selfishly, does worry these high profile killers will give WoW a bad name, but with so many WoW players there are bound to be a few lunatics in the ranks.

Even more disturbing, I wonder what server these guys were on and if we ever rubbed shoulders. One of the few people I ever spoke to in the game (I typically make a point of keeping to myself) was a young man who was half asian and diagnosed with Asperger’s, or at least said he was. This was some years ago but I remember him being exceedingly polite and helpful when most players can’t be bothered to give you the time of day. I don’t remember his age or even what server I was on but he did share the detail that he’d solo leveled every race and class to 85 (the cap at the time). We had some lengthy, interesting conversations about the game over several days; I had been considering quitting but found it difficult to do so. He offered some sincere advice– he suggested I replace WoW with EVE online (which I never did) and then he just disappeared. I still wonder about him occasionally, and if I should have moved on to EVE.

I do question if video games cause violence. I never played video games before WoW, and I’m certainly not a violent person today, nor was I a violent person pre-video games. I’ve noticed that my reflexes improved a bit since playing (I react more quickly to danger when driving) but other than that I’m the same old me. My son, a hardcore gamer, has never done worse than kill bugs at my request.

There are dangers in these games for certain types of personalities (my own included?) not because they cause violence but because they can become a drug. If a person has trouble dealing with the real world, MMORPGs offer a seductive “hit” to disappear into a dreamworld, and even worse, a dreamworld where one achieves a euphoric sense of power. And just like any drug, the effects can be corrosive and atrophy a person’s coping mechanisms while giving the illusion of pleasure. There was an episode of The X-Files that depicts people who latch themselves to a virtual reality contraption; by the time they’re discovered only skeletons remain. Sometimes when I play WoW I see people who are logged in all day and I’m reminded of those X-Files skeletons. So I guess the trick to these games is to use them, before they use you.

The Alternate OJ Theory

Business Insider came out with an article about a recently published book offering an alternative theory to the Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman murders. William Dear’s awkwardly titled OJ Is Innocent and I Can Prove It puts forth the surprisingly plausible theory that OJ Simpson’s son Jason (from a previous marriage) should have been considered the prime suspect by the LAPD. However, Dear’s theory does place OJ at the crime scene soon after the murders (making him not entirely innocent) which would explain the damning Bruno Magli footprints left behind.

By the time of the murders Jason Simpson had a long psychiatric history of disturbed and violent behavior, at least two times involving knife attacks. In fact he was on parole at the time for the attempted stabbing of his boss with a kitchen knife, and had previously stabbed an ex-girlfriend nearly to death. He had been diagnosed with violent mood disorders and had sought psychiatric treatment for hearing voices not long before the killings. Jason was also fond of wearing skull caps like the one found at the crime scene, which contained african american hair that didn’t match OJ on DNA analysis. One question that comes to mind is if the lab could determine if the hair belonged to someone related to OJ as opposed to OJ himself. I’ve read more than one crime story where a brother was implicated in a crime by analysis of the innocent brother’s DNA. Perhaps DNA technology was not sophisticated enough at the time, but it should be easy enough to do these days.

When watching the trial I generally felt OJ was guilty, based primarily on those bloody footprints left at the crime scene. However, as a sometimes armchair crime buff I do remember thinking something wasn’t quite right. The murders were too abrupt and vicious for a couple that had divorced years earlier. While OJ did have a history of domestic violence against Nicole, he hadn’t made violent overtures toward her in years. OJ had repeatedly cheated on Nicole and dogged her about her weight (even when she was pregnant) during the marriage, which just didn’t add up to a man so possessive and obsessed that he’s triggered into a bloody rampage. And if OJ couldn’t stand the idea of other men around Nicole, why didn’t he kill Kato Kaelin who was actually living on her property?

At the same time there was tremendous circumstantial evidence against OJ, which, if he did help his son cover up the crime, might make sense. The fuzzy timeline of his whereabouts that evening and even the Bronco chase gain clarity through the lens of someone with knowledge of and culpability in a crime, but who wasn’t necessarily the perpetrator.

The main hole in this alternate theory is why OJ would go to such lengths to cover up for his troubled son. Since Jason had a long psychiatric history, surely a sophisticated defense attorney would have moved the courts to find him criminally insane.  And quite frankly, if his son were so violent and mentally ill, he belonged in a psychiatric facility for his own safety, so why would OJ risk life in prison to keep his son out of one? Unless he was complicit in the crime to a further degree than after the fact, taking such personal risks for a disturbed child doesn’t make sense.

I’ve always been fond of alternative and fringe crime theories. One of my favorites is that Vincent Van Gogh may have been Jack the Ripper, which, as far fetched as it may sound, makes for an interesting read.

So I may in fact buy Dear’s book so that I can give a better opinion of his thesis. From what I can gather, detectives did attempt to interview Jason but OJ had already hired an attorney for him by that point (the day after the murders, but before OJ’s arrest), so he remained uncooperative. Why the LAPD then veered to OJ from Jason is unclear.

Ancient Times

Does anyone listen to the radio anymore? Or has it become a relic of ancient times– like the telegraph. My teenage daughter refers to anything before her birth as “ancient times.” The other day she asked if I remember Elvis. Uhm… I’m not that old! My kids have also asked if I remember parasols.

When I was a child and we first moved to New England, the area we lived was so remote only two radio stations came through. There was an NPR station from Burlington- back then it only played classical music. A French station beamed in from Quebec. This was just as well. Despite my mother’s raging feminism she was old fashioned when it came to music: rock was a thing of the devil. We weren’t allowed to listen to pop music even when it was available (who knows- as a quasi-atheist she probably thought it was trashy, not immoral). There was no television reception either. Occasionally a fuzzy station from Quebec came through but it too was in French (on the flip side, my sister and I picked up quite a bit of french). My poor paternal grandmother suffered terribly without her afternoon soaps.

We lived in total social isolation. No one visited the house, we never visited anyone else’s house. We rented a cavernous historic home while our own house was built. We didn’t have enough furniture to fill it, and I have vivid memories of empty rooms, thumping my echoing foot against wood floors so I could hear any sound other than my own thoughts. Because I had no social contact beyond my family, my only exposure to English was at school. Depending on who happened to be in the room (my mother didn’t speak German) we spoke German or Spanish within the confines of the house. I didn’t fully realize I spoke other languages until I reached high school and was automatically placed in elementary levels of those languages– I thought speaking spanish and german was just a strange habit my family carried. I had no idea spanish was spoken by hundreds of millions of people. Even after living in New York City for most of my adult life, it’s still novel to meet other native speakers of Spanish.

Because of my mother’s draconian music rules, my sister and I developed a love for classical and folkloric music. But we also grew up completely oblivious to popular music of any kind. Even at my ancient age I hear songs from the 80s and 90s I never heard as a child. Music from the 60s and 70s was totally unattainable except for the Beatles: my eventual best friend had access to her parents’ complete collection of Beatles records, which we played endlessly on staticky turntables. I learned of Supertramp for the first time in my 30s– The Logical Song and Babaji are my favorites.

So I still obtain a guilty pleasure from listening to the radio. I flip through stations as I drive, and despite the surprising dearth of decent stations in NYC (most are Spanish dance music, or pop music, and the only classical station plays “well known hits”) I occasionally hit upon a treasure. One such treasure was Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Wow is this beautiful- they actually sound a lot like Supertramp. Is this coincidence? With nearly a billion views on youtube I assume this was once a very popular melody. I heard it for the first time the other day while driving to Costco, and nearly pulled over so I could pay it my full attention.