Escape From New York

Yesterday I left Staten Island for the first time in nine years. That’s right, I hadn’t stepped foot off the island, even for other boroughs, in nine long years. Actually that time went by rather quickly.

The drive was surprisingly non-horrific. With two and five year olds in tow I braced myself for the worst. A couple older kids came along for the ride and Mom did the driving, which was heaven sent- I dislike highway driving to the point of phobia.

We went over the Goethals, the turnpike, various parkways. We stopped for lunch at McDonald’s; I had a double quarter pounder sans ketchup and I threw out the bun (not before offering it to the rest of the family, they declined). It was awkward but doable eating the floppy hamburger patties with my fingers, the meat was terribly overcooked. It was edible, but barely, to the tune of $5. My little guys shared french fries and chicken nuggets, mom had a salad, older kids had an egg mcmuffin, more nuggets and fries. For drinks we had water (me), lemonade, mocha latte and diet coke.

I was surprised how many black people and hispanics are now north of NYC. Nine years ago non-asian minorities faded out a certain radius beyond the metro area with the exception of Springfield, MA. Most of the diners at that connecticut McDonald’s were black or hispanic, and it didn’t turn all/mostly white until Vermont.

After five hours we reached my hometown; I didn’t move here until age seven but it’s essentially my hometown. I wondered if I would start crying after all these years. But it was anticlimactic. There were the gorgeous mountains, lush green rolling in distant landscape. There was the guns-n-ammo shop. More lush greenery, an auto shop. Some kind of manufacturing plant (the sole one in the area, industry here has been decimated). The veterinarian where our sick pets were euthanized so long ago. Pretty colonials and victorians, many but not all in disrepair.

We arrived home to my very grouchy father. Grouchy is my dad’s version of happy, it only goes downhill from there. My little guy was all over the place while we unpacked- I tried to lock him in a playroom via baby gate but he howled pitifully so I let him escape.

My parents had dinner but I told them I would eat later. I went for a walk around local roads and hopped briefly into the woods, climbing a steep incline padded with pine needles and thin weeds. Pine trees towered overhead like solemn angels. I sat under one and patiently slapped mosquitoes as they landed on my skin. Later I ate some salmon and semi-raw hamburgers. My mother was horrified as she packed them out of sight into the fridge, asking wasn’t I worried about eating rare beef? Nope.

This morning I went to walmart. I needed shampoo and razors, my five year old requested pretzels. My mom warned me: the town looked worse than ever, but as I drove it looked the same. There was a new CVS. There was an abandoned something or other. There was the middle school where I was mercilessly tormented by my peers. I peeked down the street to my childhood best friend’s house- I considered driving past but that would feel stalkerish. I have no idea if her parents are even still living, and she has long since moved away.

Walmart… it looked exactly the same as nine years ago, except the shopping carts were in terrible shape (nothing irks me more than lousy shopping carts) and the walls were dinged up, in need of repainting. Two women said hello and politely asked how are you? This jarred me. They don’t do that in Staten Island, not that Staten Islanders aren’t friendly in their own way.

I am here for my aunt’s funeral. It’s all very sad. She should have lived a good twenty, thirty years further. God gives and god takes away.


Breast is Best, or Not

When I first started getting pregnant 17+ long years ago, I took it as a given that I would breastfeed. Of course I would nurse my kids! Breast was best, the formula companies were evil cabals poisoning our planet, and breastmilk is free. I had friends who breezily nursed their children, in public even, lifting a shirt and popping the baby on her boob like it was the easiest and coolest thing in the world.

Then I gave birth, tried to nurse my son, and was met with the most blinding, horrific pain I’d ever experienced (that pain has since been trumped by my horrific homebirth). But I kept at it, and at it, until day 4 when I cracked. “I can’t do this,” I told my mother that night. “If this is what it’s supposed to feel like to breastfeed, the human race would have died out long ago.”

My mother, still working as a principal then, was horrified. “Oh you don’t want to bottlefeed,” she said in her stern teacher voice. “It’s such a pain to prepare bottles, so much effort!”

“Effort I can withstand,” I told her. “Torture I can’t.”

So we prepared a bottle for my son who guzzled that thing like there was no tomorrow. My milk had not yet come in; as a first time mom I didn’t know this was abnormal, and I realize now the poor thing was likely dehydrated and extraordinarily hungry in the name of “breast is best.”

I continued to give him bottles through the next day. This irked my husband who kept harrumphing: “But what about BRAIN DEVELOPMENT?” (Back then they still thought breastmilk increased child IQ, until they figured out smarter women choose to breastfeed, thus their kids are genetically inclined to be smart like mom.) But I kept with my line: If that was what breastfeeding is supposed to feel like, the human race would have died out long ago.

That night (this is day five by now) my milk finally came in. Something in my head clicked. “Let’s try this again,” I told myself. I took off my shirt and sat with my son in the quiet dark, gritting my teeth, and put him on my breast. He nursed, and it hurt like hell, but not quite the hell of the previous days. And this time, unlike every other time, I could hear him swallowing milk.

I quit the formula and continued to nurse him for more than a year. I then nursed my second child for 18 months. And so on. With my fourth daughter I developed recurring mastitis, but I kept nursing because breast is best and every time I tried to wean her I got mastitis from the build up of milk. One time, my fever got so high I hallucinated (which I wrote about in my Wake Up post). This went on for 14 long months while I was bedridden every few weeks with raging fevers. It was so debilitating I had to ration how many times I walked up or down the stairs of our small home. I was only 30 years old but fully expected all this misery and constant infirmity to eventually kill me. I remember lying in the bathtub one time, feverish and in agony with yet another bout of mastitis, asking god to finally take me.

But I kept nursing the babies as they came. I really didn’t know how else to feed a squalling newborn (formula feeding seemed so complicated: what kind of formula? how much? what kind of bottle?) and I still believed there had to be some health benefit to nursing, even though by that point all my kids had eczema and two have severe asthma. Breastfeeding supposedly reduces the risk for both.

In her article The Case Against Breastfeeding Hanna Rosin describes her “aha” moment when she realizes she’s been had by the “breast is best” brigade. Sitting in the pediatrician’s office she reads an article that breastfeeding may not, in fact, reduce the risk of obesity in children. She’s stunned, and realizes her years of breast-based efforts to keep her kids lean and mean may have been for naught.

My own “aha”moment came when I researched drinking during pregnancy. I was flabbergasted to find a study showing children of women who drank moderately during pregnancy actually had higher IQs than the children of mothers who abstained completely. I realized then that just like breastfeeding mothers are smarter (in our culture anyway), drinking mothers probably have higher IQs- being willing to think for themselves, researching the subject- and their children are genetically prone to inherit their intelligence. It was all a lie; breast was not necessarily best, yet I had spent 17 years and immeasurable physical anguish pouring human milk into the guts of my offspring.

But this is where the mommy brain kicks in. For whatever reason, I don’t mind. I’m ok with it, and I’m still nursing my newborn son. To quote Rosin:

My best guess is something I can’t quite articulate. Breast-feeding does not belong in the realm of facts and hard numbers; it is much too intimate and elemental. It contains all of my awe about motherhood, and also my ambivalence. Right now, even part-time, it’s a strain. But I also know that this is probably my last chance to feel warm baby skin up against mine, and one day I will miss it.

Yeah, that sums it up nicely. It’s something that can’t be articulated. When it’s not agonizingly painful or making you sick as a dog, breastfeeding is beautiful, ancient, and visceral. I remember one night those many 17 years ago where I sat up in bed with my son to my breast, and I had the haunting realization that untold women for untold centuries had been sitting up at night doing this very same act and feeling the very same emotions welling up and through them. It gave me goosebumps; I was staggered by the weight of it as my son glugged down milk. It didn’t matter who he would become, it didn’t matter even who we were; we were mother and child in the most basic act of sustenance known to man.


Over my lifelong fascination with prostitution, it never quite sunk in that there are male prostitutes who service female clientele. I mean I had a vague idea such a thing existed- ages ago I saw a news broadcast about it, and I watched the film Star Maps where an attractive woman hires a younger male prostitute to service her, and of course Midnight Cowboy– but it never registered in my mind as being an actual phenomena. And it never dawned on me to google about it; the internet is a treasure trove for this sort of topic.

As it turns out there’s a whole world of heterosexual (or willing to simulate heterosexuality) male prostitutes, and some of the stories are not just fascinating but hilarious. Take NY Post writer Mandy Stadmiller who took up the journalistic cause of visiting the first legal male “prosti-dude” in Las Vegas. She describes him as needy, dorky, beset by mommy issues, none too bright. She departs from the Shady Lady Ranch unimpressed and $500 poorer. She’s even turned off by his over-eagerness (I thought that was the whole point of the transaction?)

A short google stop away is the “companionship service” Cowboys for Angels. What a cute name! It almost makes you feel you’re not looking at a prostitution website. The guys certainly are attractive but my highly accurate gaydar goes off for most of them:

gaydar: ding ding!

… and the remaining “cowboys” sport the fresh out of prison look:

handsome from hard time

which leads me to the reason I would never, ever sleep with a prostitute even if I weren’t married and wholesome- disease! Imagine all the bodily fluids that have gone into and out of these guys.

One or two of the cowboys look like perfect gentlemen:

exudes trustworthiness

What’s a nice guy like this doing on a sleazy website like that?

This cowboy looks like the hooker version of Obama, with some Vulcan thrown in:

obey my executive order

But if you put a gun to my head, and MADE me pick one, I’d pick… hmmm…

sculpted by Michelangelo

I don’t normally find long hair attractive on men, in fact I might pay him an extra thousand to shave it off, but I guess I’m a sucker for the Greek God look. I can almost imagine him gripping a trident, or hurling thunderbolts at his enemies. I could do without that tattoo, but it’s all good.

The Dark Side of Breastfeeding

Having had kids over a span of 17 years, I’ve been privy to changing attitudes toward breastfeeding over that period. When I gave birth to my almost 18 year old way back when, the hospital was barely tolerant of breastfeeding and you had to put up a fight to make sure your baby wasn’t given bottles. Lactation support was nonexistent and you generally felt like a weirdo every time you bared your chest. 15 or so years before that it was almost impossible to breastfeed in a hospital- I had one woman describe to me how nurses threatened her with social services if she didn’t give her newborn a bottle. So I began having children right on the cusp of the Breastfeeding Enlightenment, where mothers were encouraged to breastfeed, hospitals are now plastered with pro-breastfeeding posters, and lactation consultants give out their cell number with an invitation to call anytime.

I nursed all of my children anywhere from 12 months to nearly 2 years. That’s a lot of breastfeeding. I once sat down and calculated how many calories of breastmilk I’ve produced just based on infant weight gain, and it was in the 400,000 range. While I don’t regret breastfeeding, and I’m currently exclusively nursing my 8th, I wish I’d been better informed on the difficulties of “the womanly art.”

1) It hurts at first, and for some women (like me) the pain can be excruciating the first few days or even weeks. The pain fades over the first month and usually disappears by the 4th or 5th week.

2) You may be prone to plugged ducts and mastitis. In some women any kind of upper body exertion (like carrying groceries, or slinging your baby) can trigger plugged milk ducts which can quickly turn into mastitis. And speaking of excruciating pain, mastitis is horrific.

3) Once you get mastitis, you’re at greater risk of getting it again. Some women will get it recurrently with it returning every few weeks.

4) The health and social boons attributed to breastfeeding may not in fact be a result of all that breastmilk. Correlation does not imply causation. For instance, it was widely reported at one point that breastfeeding increases child IQ. Researchers eventually realized smarter mothers were choosing to breastfeed, and thus their children were genetically prone to have higher IQs. Other benefits attributed to breastfeeding probably follow suit, like the lessened chance of obesity and higher socioeconomic status.

5) Once a baby acclimates to the breast they may well refuse a bottle, even a bottle of expressed breastmilk. This leads to a very scary situation where your physical presence is a fragile infant’s sole source of sustenance. Where you go, he must go, which makes things like going to the dentist, running out to the store, or having needed surgery increasingly complicated. Same goes for if the baby needs extended medical attention. While it’s nice to be joined at the hip to your cute newborn, it’s also frightening to contemplate what exactly would happen if he lost access to your boobs.

6) You may not be able to pump. Some women, despite having good supply, cannot pump. Even with a hospital grade rental I get almost nothing. So if you ever are faced with separation from the baby (such as a medical emergency, a career outside the home, or a shared custody situation) and people tell you “just pump,” it may not be so easy.

7) If your milk takes more than 48 hours to come in, your baby may become dehydrated and calorie deprived, which can lead to jaundice, which can lead to your being separated from him while he’s under lights.

8) You may not lose weight while breastfeeding. For every woman who claims to reach a size zero while nursing her baby, there will be another woman who gained. In theory body fat should metabolize into breastmilk, but anecdotally I have encountered countless women who describe having to eat like a horse to maintain an adequate supply, or whose body simply won’t shed weight until she weans.

9) You may not be comfortable nursing in public, and/or, your baby may refuse to nurse in public, or may otherwise be picky about nursing conditions. A couple of my babies simply wouldn’t nurse in public, too distracted by the noise and activity around them. Another wouldn’t nurse unless I was completely topless (not happening in public). This will further constrain your movements since you’ll have to time outings between when the baby is hungry.

That’s about all the negatives I can think of. In fairness I should point out the light side of breastfeeding (yes, I watched the new Star Wars trailer yesterday-can you tell?).

1) It’s free.

2) Baby poop produced by breastfed infants doesn’t smell.

3) Breastfeeding protects the mother from breast cancer to some degree, but whether this is due to suppressed menstruation, exposure of breast tissue to breastmilk, or some other factor, is unclear.

Curiouser and Curiouser

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve been watching a lot of birth videos on youtube in an effort to get myself in the mindset of pushing this critter out of me. I usually watch homemade videos or a reality TV series like BBC’s The Midwives, which is actually pretty good (not to be confused with Call the Midwife which I’m not crazy about).

But I sensed right away something was weird about most of the birth videos on youtube. The descriptions would emphasize the youth of the mother, or the pain she is in, or how graphic the video was. In short it was obvious these were being put up by and for people with some kind of sexual motivation. Now I know there is pregnancy porn out there, and that some men are aroused by pregnant woman, but it never occurred to me there are people with actual childbirth fetishes- you know, of the actual event, with all the slime, poop, screaming, and squalling alien-looking newborns. Oh how wrong I was!

It took me weeks to gather the courage, but I finally googled: do some men have a fetish for birth videos. I kind of wish I hadn’t, because the answer is much stranger than I imagined. Not only are there men aroused by women in labor- but there are women, too, with this interest, or at least there are plenty of women willing to talk about it on the internet. Almost unanimously they identify themselves as straight, have no interest in ever really being pregnant or having an actual child of their own, but for whatever reason they get tremendously turned on by the sight of women pushing out babies while screaming in agony.

I didn’t think at my age I could find something that surprised me, but here you go. I guess I could say this is really weird, but in theory all sexual behavior is weird. I once watched a documentary about gay orthodox jews, and a gay jewish man recounted a discussion he had with a rabbi about gay sex. The rabbi asked him, “Why one earth would a man want to put another man’s penis in his mouth?!” to which the gay man replied, “Why on earth would any man want to put his penis in a woman’s vagina?!” The rabbi thought for a second and conceded he had a point: all sexual behavior is, on some level, irrational.

In my youtube adventures I did discover a gem of a documentary: the Indian-produced Born at Home. Despite what the title conveys this is not a homebirth advocacy film, but rather a docu about uneducated, low caste midwives (dais or dhais) who attend up to 90% of births in rural India and 50% in urban areas. Despite delivering so many of its citizens, the dais have no formal recognition from the Indian government or medical establishment. Dais treat their “patients” with a variety of folk medicine and superstition surrounding the placenta. Folklorically, it is considered a sin to cut the umbilical cord- even long after baby is breathing and the placenta has been delivered. This is why only women of low caste can practice midwifery. More than one midwife describes how an unresponsive newborn can be resuscitated by heating the placenta still attached by umbilical cord. The “life” travels to the baby and revives him. In theory I suppose this might work, since a still attached umbilical cord could function as a conduit delivering heat and a sort of rudimentary blood transfusion.

Without quick access to doctors the midwives are laid back about things like breech births, which most obstetricians would not attempt to deliver vaginally. “The chin gets stuck,” these midwives say shruggingly, “And you stick you finger in the mouth to tilt down the chin.” The only births that cause them trouble, they claim, are transverse births (when the baby is positioned side to side).

Here is the documentary in full; there aren’t any graphic birth scenes, and in fact only one full labor/ childbirth is shown where a dai presses her grimy bare feet against the delivering mother’s inner thighs while the baby is coaxed out.


Spreadsheet Sex

A darkly humorous story went mildly viral a couple weeks ago, about a reddit user who posted an excel file her husband created detailing the number of times he had requested sex over seven weeks (27) and how many times she refused (24). Here is a link to the original thread but it looks like the poster deleted her post, which read:

Yesterday morning, while in a taxi on the way to the airport, Husband sends a message to my work email which is connected to my phone. He’s never done this, we always communicate in person or by text. I open it up, and it’s a sarcastic diatribe basically saying he won’t miss me for the 10 days I’m gone. Attached is a SPREADSHEET of all the times he has tried to initiate sex since June 1st, with a column for my “excuses”, using verbatim quotes of why I didn’t feel like having sex at that very moment. According to his ‘document’, we’ve only had sex 3 times in the last 7 weeks, out of 27 “attempts” on his part.

And the spreadsheet (source):


She acts all shocked and flummoxed to receive this from her husband, but in looking at the pattern of refusals she seems to know exactly what shes doing: she’s got her husband on a 2 times per month schedule which is probably the least she’s decided she can get away with. Even her excuses follow a pattern- too tired, too drunk, too full, too unbathed. Since when have food and alcohol gotten in the way of sex? It sure didn’t stop King Henry VIII who, by the time of his death, weighed 400 pounds, never bathed, and his castle offered a 1 gallon per day ration of beer, not including parties. Yet he managed to go through six wives and countless mistresses without complaining about being too full.

[An interesting aside about King Henry VIII is that despite having six wives he managed to produce only three living heirs, and only two of those lived to adulthood. I’ve occasionally read this might have been due to Henry having a venereal disease that impacted the fertility of the women, yet, he had as many as seven living children by various mistresses, most of them going on to live long lives. It makes you wonder if, instead of disease, there was some environmental factor within Hampton Court that impaired female fertility (lead? a bad royal doctor?) as one assumes his mistresses were not housed long term in the castle.]

I wonder why excel guy didn’t turn to the manosphere for sage and proven wisdom on how to get his wife to tear off her thong. Back in my message board addiction days, I spent a lot of time on marriage boards where there was an endless stream of beleaguered husbands whose wives simply wouldn’t have sex with them more than once or twice a month, if at all. (Rarely women showed up with the same problem re: their husbands, but it was the exception.) Most had tried mansopheresque techniques like acting more “alpha,” acting indifferent to sexual refusals, and going about their own lives in order to rebuild their confidence (a lot of them take up fitness). But in most of the severe cases, nothing worked.

My impression is if a couple starts out with compatible drives but they’ve hit a rut sexually, then yes, these techniques and others probably can come to the rescue. But if a couple had disparate sex drives to begin with, the imbalance becomes even more entrenched over the course of a marriage until the husband (it’s usually the husband) is expected to be celibate or close to it. Though the female refusal of sex has been going on since caveman days, I have wondered if feminism was the death knell of married sex. Throughout my adolescence and young adulthood it was hammered home that if a woman isn’t absolutely driven to have sex, or has even the slightest inkling she doesn’t want to have sex- even if she changes her mind for any reason partway through- she’s under absolutely no obligation to please her husband, even if she’s the only sexual outlet he has. And since women tend to have more fragile sex drives than men, especially as they age, this leads to a lot of sexually starved men with few options (well there’s always Tarna).

Turning your husband down 24 out of 27 times because you “don’t feel like it” is unconscionable. Entering into a marriage is a sexual contract as much as anything else, and unless you’re loud and clear upfront that your partner should expect sex only 10% of the time he desires it, a sincere effort in the bedroom is called for. But good luck telling wives (and a few husbands) that.

I sometimes wonder how King Henry would fare were he alive today. He’d probably reinstate public executions and get rid of all the immigrants. Maybe he could go on Supersize vs Superskinny to lose some of that weight, though he’d probably just drag the superskinny back to Hampton Court, to fatten her up for his own purposes.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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:


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.