August 14

Sugar Pies, Honey Buns

I was in the checkout line at the store a couple weeks ago, and the very large woman in front of me was buying two dozen Hostess honey buns. I probably wouldnít have noticed except that she and her three obese daughters were complaining very loudly to the clerk that their brother, who was not with them, would not eat anything else. Just out of curiosity, I looked up the nutrition information on the Ďol Hostess honey bun: 310 calories, 23% of your daily fat intake; 40% of your saturated fat; 1 gram of fiber; 3 grams of protein; 250 milligrams of calcium. I can only imagine what that poor child looks like and how he feels.

Whoever gave him that first honey bun should be sent to jail. And the family who continues to provide him with them should be sent there too. I bet if there were no honey buns in the house, heíd eat something else after a while. Maybe even a piece of fruit!

Everywhere I go, I see obese children, and it breaks my heart. It is not their fault. Americans are constantly being told that we are too heavy and that we are making our children fat, but for various reasons, most people arenít hearing the messages. At least not the entire messages.

Take my parents, for example. When they were both diagnosed with Type II diabetes, they talked to a dietician. Now I was not with them, but I am sure she gave them lots of good advice. I donít know. But I do know what they heard because they tell me all the time:

  1. Ice cream is not bad for you. (I bet the dietician said ďin small quantities,Ē but my dad didnít hear that part.)
  2. Cake is okay without the icing. (My mom will eat 2 icing-less pieces and then a third, smaller one, with the icing.)
  3. Fruit has too much sugar. (They avoid most of it like the plague.)

Thatís it. Thatís what they heard, and they repeat it like gospel any time I dare open my mouth to express concern about their choices. My best friendís mother has been doing the same thing for years. She lost a toe last year.

So why do so many people hear the wrong pieces of information when theyíre being bombarded with it daily? Well, in the case of my parents and my best friendís mom, I think part of it is their generation. Theyíre Baby Boomers, and they are quite used to breaking the rules and getting what they want. If they want a chocolate chip cookie, by God, theyíll have one because their parents fought World War II to preserve their right to that chocolate chip cookie. Yeah, well, I have a right to Social Security and Medicare, but Iím not going to get them because the Baby Boomers will have spent it all on medication and treatments to alleviate all the diet-related ailments theyíve brought on themselves.

For other people, I believe obesity is an eating disorder brought on by various situations. But it seems to manifest itself a lot like bulimia, which is a disorder of equivalents. Bulimics believe that if they ingest 6 ounces of food, they must expel 6 ounces. So they weigh their feces or their vomit to make sure that what theyíve expelled equals what they have taken in. Many of the overweight people I know seem to make the same kind of “equivalents” mistake; they believe that 6 ounces of chocolate pudding is equivalent to 6 ounces of broccoli. They skip the salad at dinner and get cheesecake instead, and they are very honestly mystified by the fact that they are fat and the salad-eater next to them is not.

Another big part of the problem is the “weight loss” industry. Lots of companies are more than willing to take advantage of people who are confused, frustrated, and depressed. People who want to feed their addiction to fat are told that the low-carb diet will work for them. People who want to keep eating sugar are told that the low-fat diet is the way to go. People who are too busy or donít like to cook or hate vegetables or donít want to exercise are given all sorts of options and told they can lose weight. These companies donít really care if anyone loses weight on their products, as long as people buy them. And they do. Because people have forgotten (or don’t want to face) one basic principle, the very simple principle by which absolutely anyone can lose weight: you must burn off more calories than you take in.

And a calorie is a calorie is a calorie. Thatís the great thing about mathematical science. It does not engage in philosophy, psychology, or faith. Itís all about the numbers, baby. If you take in 500 calories, you better burn off 500. It doesnít matter whether those calories came from 4 and a half bananas, one order of French fries or one piece of chocolate cheesecake. And it doesnít matter whether you burn them off doing aerobics or yoga or tap-dancing. A calorie is a unit of energy. Period. Eat one, burn one. Very simple.

Of course, itís not that simple for most people. I have been surrounded by overweight people my entire life. My mother and most of her friends have been obese for decades. My sister is overweight. Four of my best friends have weight problems.

And I’m certainly not the size 3 I was at 16, although I’m considered thin in most of my social circles. It’s relative. I’m actually about 20 pounds overweight for my 5’8″ frame and have been for years. But I do not have an eating disorder. I know exactly why Iím 20 pounds overweight; Iíve eaten 70,000 more calories than Iíve burned off. 70,000! Thatís a lot. But my godmother was about 400 pounds overweight, and I know many people who are 200 or 300 pounds overweight. 100 pounds=350,000 calories. Thatís a lot of honey buns. (1129, to be precise.)

August 13

Impractical Advice

A friend of mine and I were talking about the state of the world today. Like me, she’s the mother of a preschooler, and she has been convinced by everyone around her that her children are in constant danger from germs, child molesters, drug dealers and murderers. Her dentist warns her against the dental dangers of sippy cups and raisins. Her son’s teacher tells her about the perils of magnets. And of course, her television and internet connection provides all sorts of other terrors to keep her awake at night.

Is the world really worse off when than when we were children? Or is it just that nowadays we are inundated with bad news and warnings about how dangerous things are? Every day, I can turn on one of a dozen 24-hour news stations to hear about the latest serial killer, natural disaster or devastating war. I can walk through the grocery store checkout and see ten tabloid headlines screaming at me about the end of the world. But my personal favorite source of impending doom updates is e-mail.

At least three times a week, one of my very well-meaning e-mail correspondents forwards me an urgent safety notice: Don’t sniff perfume samples because serial rapists put chloroform in them to drug unsuspecting women. Don’t drink soda pop directly from the can because rat urine on the can will give you a deadly disease. Don’t flash your headlights at cars without their lights on because gang members use that as a signal to kill you.

The other day, I received an e-mail that listed 10 safety guidelines to remember when you’re getting in your car in a public parking lot. 10 THINGS?!? I can barely remember where I parked and which key goes to my car, let alone another 10 points of safety!

In a world far too eager to provide anxious parents with worrisome advice, I have found two means of saving my relative sanity. The first is to simply turn off the news and avoid the headlines whenever you start feeling overwhelmed.

The second, and most practical piece of advice I can give any nervous parent, is to check , one of the best sites on the web! Edited by Barbara and David Mikkelson, the site delves into the origins of urban legends, myths and viral e-mails. It is thoroughly researched and well-written and helps me sleep just a little bit better.

So the next time you get one of those scary e-mail warnings or a well-meaning friend tells you that his cousin’s ex-husband’s sister’s uncle told him that using your cell phone in a hospital can kill a person on life support, take a deep breath and check out

August 12

Celebrity Meltdowns

First it was Tom Cruise. Now it’s Mel Gibson. Some of Hollywood’s best and brightest just can’t seem to keep their facades together these days. What’s going on out there in LA-LA-Land?

Tom Cruise fired his publicist, hired his sister, started spouting Scientology and jumping on couches, and began berating everyone from a squirtgun-toting fan to Matt Lauer. Mel Gibson got smashed, messed around with a bunch of women who weren’t his wife, drove drunk and showed his chauvinist/racist side. Suddenly, the usually forgiving folks in Hollywood are avoiding Cruise like yesterday’s fashion and calling for boycotts of Gibson’s movies. Is this the same town that forgave Roman Polanski and Robert Downey Jr.?

Now don’t get me wrong. I am absolutely not defending Cruise or Gibson (or Polanski or Downey, for that matter!) As a liberal, I find intolerance abhorrent. Cruise’s tirade against anyone who takes anti-depressants or seeks psychiatric help revealed his intolerance and arrogance. Severely depressed or mentally ill people must do whatever they can to improve their lives; Cruise is not a doctor, and he has no right to flaunt his celebrity in order to forward his own warped opinions. Gibson’s anti-Semitic and misogynistic comments to the officers who arrested him for DUI confirm the rumors that have circulated around him for some time. Like his father, Gibson has an inherent dislike for Jewish people and a lack of respect for women.

Personally, I have never been a huge fan or either actor. I probably won’t go to any more of their movies. The overall Hollywood response to their behavior, though, still surprises and baffles me.

There seems to be little consistency in Hollywood’s reactions to celebrity snafus. Let’s look at some of the highlights and see if we can identify some kind of pattern. In 1921, Fatty Arbuckle was charged with the rape and subsequent death of a young startlet; although he was eventually acquitted, he became an outcast in Hollywood, socially shunned and professionally ruined. In 1952, Elia Kazan went to Senator Andrew McCarthy’s anti-Communist committee and “outed” many of his friends; when he was given a lifetime achievement award in 1999, Hollywood was still split about whether or not to forgive him. In 1977, Roman Polanski pled guilty to sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl then promptly fled the country; Hollywood has turned him into a martyr, setting him up as the innocent victim of an unjust system. Then there’s Robert Downey, Jr. who has been in and out of rehab for a decade and has been arrested on weapons charges as well; Hollywood gives him a standing ovation every time he shows up. Yeah, I just don’t understand.

And there’s another wrinkle in this sticky situation: Paris Hilton. Okay, I just used her name as shorthand for what I like to called the “Hollywood stupids.” But just think about all the idiots out there who are doing ridiculous crap ALL THE TIME: Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Tara Reid, Colin Farrell. They are constantly getting drunk, getting high, getting divorced, getting arrested, getting naked. Constantly. And no one in Hollywood calls for boycotts of their work.

Why do some folks get away with really bad behavior all the time and Cruise and Gibson are instantly vilified for one or two unusual episodes? Is it because Hilton, Spears and company are younger? Well, Russell Crowe, who is older than these others and should know better, was quickly forgiven for his phone-throwing incident. Does Hollywood expect the best behavior only out of its truly talented? No, Robert Downey, Jr. contradicts that theory; he’s a Golden Globe winner, Academy Award nominee who’s been pardoned many times for his bad behavior. Does liberal Hollywood forgive only liberals? Well, Kazan was a renowned liberal who had once been a Communist party member himself, and he was thoroughly vilified. Does Hollywood reserve its disdain for misogynists only? I have two words for that idea – Jack Nicholson. Maybe it gets upset only with religious intolerance? Not quite: Leni Riefenstahl, a woman who produced documentaries and propaganda for Hitler, was honored at the 2004 Academy Awards.

I can’t make any sense of it. But I don’t have time to think about it much. I don’t even have time to go the movies more than three or four times a year! If I start making decisions about which shows I’m going to watch based on the morality, politics or values of the performers, I probably will just read a book instead. But then, there are those rumors about Mark Twain being an atheist…

August 11

Too Much!

If there are two words that could describe the United States today, they are ďtoo much.Ē Too much food, too much fat, too much stuff, too much money, too much expense, too much need, too much to do, too much worry. We are an extreme nation; everything we have, everything we do is to excess. Our rich are excessively rich; and I would venture to say our poor feel their poverty more than the poor in other nations because here they see the excess all around them. And what about the people in the middle? Well, our family income qualifying us a middle-class, Iíll serve as representative of that demographic.

We certainly have too much stuff. My husband and I recently inherited an antique sideboard, so I was cleaning out our linen cabinet to make way for it. Amongst my things, I found a lovely tablecloth I didnít even know I owned! As a PC technician at a local company, my husband gets to bring home outdated computer equipment that has been sent to the ďgraveyardĒ in his department. At one point, we had more computers in our house than we had people living in it. I made him start giving them away. Last night, my son fell asleep on our couch, and I picked him up to put him in his own bed. I had to pick my way through the minefield that is his bedroom floor, strewn with a ridiculous number of toys.

Right now, we are also dealing with too much expense. We just found out our health insurance (donít get me started Ė thatíll have to be a whole Ďnother blog entry!) is no longer going to cover the Nexium my husband takes for gastroesophageal reflux. As of next month, it will cost us about $160 a month. So heíll have to go back to the doctor (more money) and try a bunch of new medications (more money) until he can find one that works and is covered by insurance. Gas prices are killing us too. I keep hearing in the local news that the high gas prices arenít changing the way most Hoosiers drive (ďHoosiers Stomach $3 Gas,Ē Indianapolis Star, 7/7/06), but they sure have affected our family. I try to get all my errands done in one trip and minimize the number of places I have to go.

And speaking of errands brings me to too much to do. We were looking at our calendar for the rest of this month. Itís alarming. We have dentist appointments, doctor appointments, family birthday dinners, a college reunion, and swim lessons. My son is starting kindergarten on the 16th, so we have to add school and an open house and a teacher conference to the mix. And my university starts the fall semester on the 23rd, so I have syllabi and lesson plans to prepare, organizational workshops and seminars to attend. My husband and his best friend were hoping to go biking one weekend this month, but there is not a single weekend without at least one event already planned.

Which brings us to our ďtoo much need.Ē We need time. Time to relax, time to think, time to plan, time to be a family. If we had enough time, maybe we could look around and identify the stuff we have too much of and give it to people who need it. (I have a box of old toys and a case of diapers that Iíve been meaning to donate to the church homeless shelter for a month now.) We need sleep! Weíve been blessed with two children who are champion sleepers, but unfortunately, my hubby and I worry too much which keeps us from sleeping enough.

Weíre having a garage sale next week. Itís another event we have to prepare for and set time aside for, but itíll help us get rid of some of the stuff we have too much of and maybe raise a little money to get us some of the stuff we require. Isnít it funny that in a country with too much of everything, we rarely have enough of the things we need? Maybe thatís why we have too much worry.

August 10

Don’t Believe (or Forward) Every E-Mail You Read!

This morning, a very nice and well-meaning friend e-mailed me a dreadful ďarticleĒ masquerading as history, and I couldn’t resist ripping it to shreds. I guess I’ve just gotten tired of everyone in Indiana assuming I’m a conservative Republican and forwarding me this kind of stuff. I hope I didn’t make my friend mad – I really like him- but it is just such drivel, I couldn’t handle it. If you feel the need to see it first-hand, here’s a link:

It is an essay that tries to justify the war in Iraq by comparing it to World War II with Saddam Hussein playing the part of Hitler and various other groups (“militant Muslims,” “Jihadists,” al-Qaeda” – the author doesn’t seem quite sure and uses these terms interchangeably) playing the part of the Nazis. Like most pieces of far-right propaganda, it has many serious problems. As a professional writer and a composition teacher who teaches a class focusing on research, purpose, and audience, I feel qualified to explain some of these.

First, we have problems with research; the article is full of big leaps in logic, many of which build on one another with no research to support any of them. For example, “Had Hitler… invaded England in 1940 or 1941, there would have been no England for the US and the Brits to use as a staging ground to prepare an assault on Nazi Europe. England would not have been able to run its North African campaign to help take a little pressure off Russia while America geared up for battle, and today Europe would very probably be run by the Nazis, the Third Reich, and, isolated and without any allies (not even the Brits), the US would very probably have had to cede Asia to the Japanese, who were basically Nazis by another name then, and the world we live in today would be very different and much worse.” That’s quite a lot to assume in just two sentences! Especially with no support from a credible source. I suppose all these conjectures might have turned out to be true, but they are just as likely not to have.

Then there are problems with purpose. The author seems to be trying to justify the war in Iraq; however, he keeps undermining his own argument by quoting staggering statistics and frightening figures: “The US has taken more than 2,000 KIA in Iraq in 3 years. The US took more than 4,000 Killed in action on the morning of June 6, 1944, the first day of the Normandy Invasion to rid Europe of Nazi Imperialism.” So weíre supposed to feel better about the thousands of young Americans killed in Iraq because itís less than the 4,000 we lost in 1944? At some point, the numbers get so high as to be meaningless to most readers. The casualties all terrifying.

He also seems to be trying to convince his audience that they are foolish not to support the war in Iraq. Well, as a professional writer, I can tell you that most audiences are not really keen on being told repeatedly that they have “short attention spans.” Readers have a tendency not to listen to authors who insult them.

Then there are problems with audience. I cannot really decide who this author wants to reach. If he’s trying to convince liberals, he probably shouldn’t call them names. As a matter of fact, if he wants to reach any Americans, who he says watch too much TV and have such “short attention spans,” he should probably make his essay quite a bit shorter. He says our students need to be better educated in history so their perspective will be “clear,” but then he bandies about terms such as “Inquisition” and “Reformation” without explaining their origins or ramifications. If his intended audience is poorly educated young people, he should do them the service of explaining these terms. To label the two current sides with this kind of shorthand smacks of stereotypical propaganda, which uses vague references to famous events or figures in history to rationalize a point to an audience that has insufficient background to debate the point on an informed basis. The entire thing relies on its audience’s complicity and/or ignorance to prove its point.

Finally, since I teach a course on analyzing your sources for authenticity, authority and currency, I checked this “article” out. There’s nothing on this guy Raymond S. Kraft except an entry in the California Bar Association’s site saying that his license is inactive. I checked the Yahoo Yellow Pages for Loomis, California, and he doesn’t appear to be a practicing attorney there. And as far as I can tell, this was never actually published anywhere significant. *Sigh* Why are people so willing to believe everything they see in print? And for God’s sake, why do they turn it into a viral e-mail?!

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