Letters to the editor

If you're breast-feeding in public, you are an exhibit; in defense of the easy, three-hour run.


Letters to the Editor
August 2, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

The Body defeats the Midget
BY JAKE TAPPER
(07/26/99)

It is somewhat distressing to hear both the Democratic and Reform parties referred to as "centrist" in article after article in your 'zine, especially those focussing on Ventura, Perot and Weicker.

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Though Reform is not, at least not yet, the party of the religious right, its anti-tax stance is reactionary as can be. The Democrats have certainly, mostly willingly, rushed to the right as Clinton has led the way. What kind of a "left" party could endorse the bombing of Sudan, "most-favored nation" trade status for China, NAFTA, GATT, and intervention into and consequent unimaginable escalation of a Balkan civil war? Meanwhile, the Money Party, under the leadership of Baby Bush, pretends to be becoming centrist. I would suggest your commentators dial 1-900-GET-A-KLU.

--Frank Smith

Bluff City, Kan.

Jake Tapper's report on the Reform Party convention was entertaining and informative -- but it was too heavily slanted toward the former.

Sure, Perot and Ventura are oddballs in their own ways, as are many of the Reform Party's diehards. But the tone of Tapper's article leaned too heavily toward the look-at-the-freaks aspect. Most any reporter could have written this article -- telling humorous tales of Reform Party crackpots is like shooting fish in a barrel. A better approach would have been to evaluate and contextualize the party's popularity in comparison with third parties of the past, or at least link to an article that did.

How does the Reform Party compare with other attempts to enlarge the two-party system in the last half of this century? Any sense of the big picture was missing from Tapper's work.

It's great that you entertain us, but please do a better job of informing us, as well. If you want to do a humorous article, that's great, but at the very least, please use the hypertextual nature of the Internet to give us meatier options.

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--John Tynes

Seattle

What is the difference between Reform Party members and Democrats or Republicans? These individuals squabble about their differences, but to walk out of the GOP and then call yourself a New Party or a Third Party candidate or a Reform Party is a little like changing the same suit with a different company label. It's still the same old suit. And in this case, a cheap suit to boot.

If we're talking about a REAL challenge to the two-party system, a real REFORM, let's bring in the Green Party or members of the Libertarians. Or a combination of both Green (for protection of the environment since Al Gore is too chicken to stand up for his convictions on environmental protection) and Libertarians (for the protection of individual rights and privacy). Now you're talking about a positive change!

If anyone wants to put the Green Party to the test, go to Germany. Not only are their industries producing far less pollution than U.S. factories, they don't lock their citizens up in horrible prisons 20 years to life for a little bit of marijuana. 80 percent of Americans, poll after poll, believe our legislators' anti-drug laws have gone beyond cruelty: they're downright insane. I'd like to see someone out there in the media give some press time to the Greens & Libertarians.

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--Norman Graham

Humboldt, Calif.


The Lactating Feminist

BY ROXANNE BECKFORD HOGE
07/26/99

Women who turn public breast-feeding into a feminist issue, rather than a mannerly one, do nothing to help the cause of female equality, but give great ammunition to the male chauvinists who would call us "femiNazis" and such. Contrary to Ms. Hoge's belief, women in the United States are not forbidden to "use our breasts the way they were intended to be used," any more than men are forbidden to use their penises. It is not the use of these organs that is discouraged, but their use in public.

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Though I do not doubt the sincerity of either Ms. Hoge's feminist principles or her love for her child, I suspect her insistence on public breast-feeding is inspired less by these feelings than by her desire to offend people. After all, she proudly boasts of telling someone "in no uncertain terms that his small talk was a waste of time, as I had a baby to nurse", thus raising her child on a steady diet of breast milk and bad manners. If a man brusquely told her he had better things to do than take time to be polite she would rightfully label him an appallingly rude jerk.

Ms. Hoge justifies her public feedings by mentioning that she doesn't expose anything while she nurses. This is indeed more decorous than whipping out a dripping breast, but then again a man who masturbates or urinates in public will be arrested even if his penis is never visible. Other nursing mothers use breast pumps to provide milk for when breast-feeding cannot be done; Ms. Hoge should consider this option and lose her solipsistic belief that in her case the rules of polite society have been suspended in light of her (presumably unique) ability to bear and feed offspring.

-- Jennifer Abel

Middletown, Conn.

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I'm a career-oriented woman who agrees that breast-feeding should take place in private, away from others who might be offended.

This activity falls in the same category as other actions that aren't welcome in many public places today -- notably smoking or making out. As with those activities, anyone who engages is not only making a personal choice but also inflicting that choice on others in the vicinity, without consent from those other folks.

I don't think it's too much to ask for a person to go to the restroom to breast feed, or to instead bring a bottle along when there's a chance a child may need to eat in public. If a parent is going to a restaurant during a regular feeding time, bringing a bottle is a no brainer. There is simply no good reason why a mother couldn't prepare a bottle (of breast milk or formula), other than a misplaced need to "make a statement." I personally put breast feeding in the same category as a poopy diaper being changed -- it's simply not something I want to see when I'm out for a nice meal or otherwise trying to relax and enjoy myself in an adult setting.

The bottom line is that courtesy is about not inconveniencing, imposing on, or otherwise making others uncomfortable. Because breast feeding does make many people (both male and female) uncomfortable, mothers should refrain from doing it unless they're in a setting where everyone involved would be comfortable with it. On the other hand, adopting a militant attitude and breast feeding in front of someone whom you know it makes uncomfortable, or doing it in front of strangers, is an intentional discourtesy, and a mother shouldn't be surprised by a negative reaction to that kind of rudeness.

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--Lisa Bucki


The invisible mother

BY AMY HALLORAN
(07/26/99)

I had to look to the calendar to verify: 20-some months since I entered the void for the second time, this time wise to the joys of nose-picking and two-handed eating and the sacred pleasure of doing nothing in particular, let alone the mundane pleasure of "getting something done."

Referring to your nursing era as the "Twilight Zone" does not do it justice -- you are neither drugged nor beyond our planet's reality. You are highly attuned to a realm most people don't have call to recognize. Meanwhile, sleep deprivation and the constant production of milk take their toll as you navigate this new space and try to find the connections between it and the reality you were once a part of and know still exists. Somewhere.

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Your body needs more calories, more sleep, even as you get less of each. The Breastfeeding Zone is a place, a space unto itself. And dammit, nobody will cross the line from breast-feeding support groups to general "feminist" approaches to life in supporting the notion that simply nourishing your infant nutritionally and spiritually -- and changing a few thousand diapers along the way, even when sharing that task -- is hard work.

I'm at the tail end of nursing this child now, so I no longer have ponderous great-granny breasts, but I don't think I'll ever forget how my body grew to fulfill nature's call. Nor do I want to. Nor do I want to remain in that body. Nor do I want to deny it, ever. Let's see if we progress from nude pregnant celebrities to nude lactating celebrities. Think it'll happen? Think people will admire, sensually, sexually, humanly, childishly, a body that is thick with nutritional reserves, exploding with milk? If we could, maybe that would bridge the gap.

The letter was supposed to be short. If I had to respond in one telegraphic paragraph, it would be this:

Darn tootin' about the black hole that is the breast-feeding period. Sorry you feel you've lost your breasts to "boobs," but you'll get 'em back -- albeit with different respect. Yes, there is an incredible challenge to your self-identity. Like you, I wish women and humans in general would be more knowledgeably understanding of the "subtle" accomplishments of parenting and mothering -- and not pressure folks to feel like they have underacheived if they have not done something else, too. That well-parented child is PLENTY. A woman has not failed if she does not simultaneously accomplish another major goal while putting her body and mind through pregnancy, labor, and nursing.

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-- Shelley L. Ferguson

Chicago

Amy Halloran's article on breastfeeding was right-on. My children, who are now 17 and 11, were both breast-fed. But I was much more comfortable with the younger one, and fed him longer. Before having children, I would be embarrassed if someone else breast-fed their child in front of me. But I overcame that embarrassment when I was the mother. However, I must say, I did my best to cover us both with a blanket and reveal as little of my breasts to the public as possible. I don't see how anyone could be uncomfortable with that. Also, with the second child, I was in graduate school to become a psychologist, and happened to have a more enlightened group of friends to support me. Good job, Amy!

-- Patty Ferguson

Redding, Calif.

Contrary to Amy Halloran's experience, I am not embarrassed by breast-feeding my child, who is quickly approaching 30 pounds. It is simply part of our life and her nutrition. But public nursing can take planning. I'm attending a wedding next weekend, and I'll scope out a quiet, non-bathroom-related spot for feeding my child. I try to blend in, but never be invisible; I want other mothers and potential mothers (and the men in their lives) to be aware that nursing can fit into any lifestyle -- especially a healthy one.

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-- Valency Fox

The smartest insight Amy Halloran made in "The Invisible Mother" was comparing the natural act of breast feeding to the natural act of sex. The natural act of sex which I'll just go ahead and assume she does not insist on performing in public. Anybody who must go on for three long pages about her own feelings of awkwardness should realize that if it takes that much to justify the thing, maybe she should be a Mother Who Thinks Again. It reminds me of the woman who insists that fat's where it's at, and that the media is to blame for her shame. If she really thought it were true, she wouldn't care what the media thought. If Halloran really felt comfortable baring her breasts, she wouldn't care what we thought, now would she? Sometimes winning the point isn't as important as seeing the point. There are many activities that go on in the ladies room that wouldn't be all that appropriate for the couch at an art gallery: Breast feeding could and clearly should be one of them. Why did she feel like an exhibit? Because she was one.

-- Carolynn Carreno

Ultra-athletes: Using up too much too soon
BY ANDREW TABER
(07/26/99)

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This note is in response to Andrew Taber's piece on the putative negative health consequences of ultra-distance events. There's no nice way to say this: the article was poorly argued, poorly supported by factual evidence and not at all of the caliber I've come to expect from Salon over the years.

Most glaringly, Taber refers to ultra-folks in the midst of training as being at "maxed-out exertion levels." This shows a stunning misunderstanding of endurance training. As Maffetone's work has shown (and even a short conversation with Mark Allen could have demonstrated), endurance athletes emphatically do NOT train at high exertion levels. We refer to that as "going anaerobic," and it is anathema to good endurance workouts.

Rather, ultradistance training involves lots and lots of time on the trails (or the bike or in the pool), at moderate exertion levels, teaching our bodies how to burn fat as a useful fuel and generally keep running at a steady pace for a while.

Taber's whole argument about "oxidative stress" thus falls flat on its face. There is no evidence to show that a nice, long workout at a moderate pace (in the aerobic zone, not beyond) is any more damaging than a shorter workout at high intensity. In fact, many actual athletes could have told Taber that the reverse sure feels to be true: A one-hour killer workout is much more damaging to one's body, in the short term at least, than a nice, easy, three-hour run.

Second, Taber never thinks to stop and consider the evolutionary basis of human beings before he sounds alarm bells about being in good shape. There's more than a thimbleful of anthropological evidence to show that human beings evolved into bipedal creatures in part so they could cover lots of ground at a slow, steady pace in chasing game. We're not sprinters like the cheetah; rather, we are a persistent, patient pack hunter (ask the Tarahumara about this for a nice perspective). Given this evolutionary background, is it really intellectually reasonable to make a prima facie assumption that the human body "naturally" falls apart when we use it as it has evolved to be used?

C'mon. We've got enough spurious addictions to go around without branding ultra-events an addictive pastime. What's next? Calling life itself addictive, since so many of us just can't seem to let go and die? Is sitting at home and watching hours of TV the only socially-approved way for us to spend our time?

The ultra-folks I know are, bar none, the healthiest and most sane people I know. Yes, I'm an ultra-distance trail runner and, yes, I have a host of physical problems to show from my physical activities. Alas, just about every problem stems not from my running, but rather from the short, intense bursts of power required of high-end rock climbing. I've been left with problems in my elbows, shoulders, ankles (broken), knees (torn ACL), and hips from climbing. Damage so far from all my "excessive" running? Not much; tired legs after a 50-miler, sore feet now and again. Not a bad tradeoff for all the proven, scientifically-supported health benefits that come with regular aerobic exercise.

-- Douglas B. Spink

This article is based primarily on the behavior of top Triathlon athletes. I am an ultra runner who has completed many runs in excess of 50 miles, including four 100-mile trail runs. I have also completed the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. I agree that triathletes at the Ironman level are not laid back. They are quite intense. Ultra runners, however, are laid back, not nearly so intense. I have been running for 22 years, doing ultra marathons for 20 years. I will be 69 in September. I am healthy, have no signs of cancer, rarely get colds or any other sickness. Most people think I look younger than I am. There are many people who participate in ultra endurance events without being obsessive-compulsive. A study of this population as a whole might yield significantly different results than the kinds of problems mentioned in this article.

-- Dan Baglione

Living in a ski resort as I do, surrounded by physically driven athletes, it was refreshing to read Andrew Taber's piece on the dangers of overdoing extreme exercise. I have never understood the constant drive to spend all of one's waking hours pushing oneself to ever more strenuous exertions. While it no-doubt helps practitioners sleep the sleep of the just, it also seems to kill a lot of time. Few of these "ultra" athletes, constantly occupied as they are with one more marathon or one more bike race, ever have any knowledge of current events, politics or the arts. Their conversation revolves around their latest physical feats, and the state of their physiques. Meanwhile, their single-mindedness leads to an incredible narrowness of experience.

I just knew that stuff was bad for you. Now, if you'll excuse me, there's a powdered sugar with my name on it down at Daylight Doughnuts ...

-- Jeff Ryan

Breckenridge, Colo.

As an Ironman-in-training and a Salon fan, I was excited to see an article on the site about endurance sports. I have heard Dr. Kenneth Cooper speak on the risk of oxidative damage in endurance athletes and the importance of taking extra antioxidants, and I think it's a topic worth exploring.

Unfortunately, I think all Mr. Taber accomplished is giving people another excuse not to exercise. I cringed at the impression Mr. Taber left of the endurance athlete -- narrow-minded control freaks. Sure, we're a little on the type A side, but that's because we have a lot to do in a day, in addition to our careers, families, and yes, interests outside of endurance sports. I don't "define my self-worth" through exercise, I simply love being outdoors, like the feeling of my body in motion and above all, setting and reaching goals.

Do I really think this will cut my life short? Not really. But I am interested in the question and I hope medical science looks into it. Mr. Taber says the trend is too recent for study. Hardly. The Ironman triathlon is in its 21st year. The Tour de France began in 1903. Sounds like maybe scientists don't have enough compelling evidence to pursue it. Just like Mr. Taber hardly had enough compelling evidence to lead people to believe that Lance Armstrong's cancer was as a result of his cycling.

Testicular cancer most often is found in men who, at birth, had undescended testicles. Checking into that fact would have helped us readers know where we should point the finger of blame in Lance's cancer. But Lance winning the tour is big news right now, and I'm sure Mr. Taber thought it would make this story better if he could find someone to say riding his bike a lot caused Lance's cancer. He did get someone to speculate. That's not good for our health and that's not good journalism.

-- Kara Thom

Managing Editor, Dallas Medical Journal

I'm amazed that you would allow such a poorly researched and one-sided piece to be published. It scares me to realize that so often only the sensationalized and negative views on life make it into print. I wonder if the author had ever considered attending an ultra marathon for example, considered talking to an ultra-marathoner, young and old, in the interest of writing a fair and well-balanced piece. There are more than a few "old-timers" still running long distances well into their 60s and 70s. As a matter of fact I ran with a 70-year-old in the Massanutten Mountains of Virginia for 90 of the 100 miles of that race this spring, a man who looked to me to be in his late 50s. Go figure! It's a very kind, gentle and interesting group of people I meet on the trails, there's a certain humility that's comes with running into the unknown, admittedly struggling at times, yet realizing that the human body is a wonderful thing, capable of so much more than most thought.

-- John Prohira

Who is to determine what is extreme? The couch potato? The author has been thinking to extreme and should take some of his own advice and "be a proponent of moderation"

I am a 43-year-old, 6-foot, 186-pound male and have been running marathons for 10 years. One year ago I started running ultras and am healthier than I have ever been in my life. I have run two 50-mile races and one 24-hour track run. After running 111 miles at the 24-hour track run I took several weeks off to make sure my body had time to recuperate.

The author is correct in that the ultra distances are very hard on the body but I train to be in shape to handle the stress and then give it time to recuperate. I see way too many sedentary people in this world and would much rather err on the side of too much than too little.

Twelve years ago I quit drinking, and 10 years ago I quit smoking and started running. How I feel now is a world apart from how I felt then! There is no comparison such as the author made: "lumping exercise with traditional vices like smoking and drinking."

-- Scott McQueeney

Just read Andrew Taber's article on endurance athletes. First, let me explain I am one of these "radical" ultra-runners. I have been running for over 22 years now (45 marathons, numerous ultra marathons) and doing ultra runs for 4 years.

Although some endurance athletes do over-train and experience problems, my experience is that the majority of ultra-runners are healthy, happy, well-balanced individuals. Any athlete worth his/her salt has reached a threshold where they are temporarily injured or over-trained.

When I started running 22 years ago, I weighed 20-30 pounds more than now, smoked, drank heavily and popped valiums. I shudder to think of where I would be today had I not started a major lifestyle change and started running marathons (Probably dead, but I would have saved my joints from the damage of running?). Now, I am 57 years old, have a resting pulse rate around 50, normal blood pressure, low cholesterol, and I am frequently mistaken for someone in their 40s, not 50s.

My point? Mr. Taber could have looked a little harder at the other side of this issue, the majority of people who are healthy exercise "addicts" who are not developing cancer or using up their bodies. I believe someone who doesn't exercise regularly is doing more damage to his/her body than those who keep fit.

-- Don Wilkison

Folsom, Calif.


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