Letters to the Editor

Is it better to be food-obsessed than fat and happy? Plus: Trolling for errors in "Dutch"; hip-hop merits not less scrutiny, but greater intellectual rigor.

By Letters to the Editor
Published November 10, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

Unpleasantly plump


I'm so glad that Anneli Rufus feels that not eating from dawn till dusk is a
far healthier and happier existence than having fat teenagers be able to wear
"skin-tight tank tops" and walk "hand in hand with boyfriends." I guess my
teenage years of feeling freakish, outcast, alone and miserable about being
30 pounds "overweight" should continue to be the norm. Maybe thin people don't
want to understand that the biggest reason many fat people are miserable is
because other people treat them as subhumans. If Rufus spent a day going
about her business wearing a fat suit, she could be quite reassured that fat
people are still openly ridiculed and reviled, even if they were to exercise
in public instead of daring to eat openly and without shame.

I don't love being fat -- far from it. If I could fit in and look normal, I'd
do it. But as Rufus mentions in passing, diets don't work. After years of
struggle, I refuse to spend my life more obsessed with not eating food than
with eating it. And I'd appreciate it if people like Rufus stopped
worrying about my health risks and minded their own business.

-- Linda Miller

Studies have found that when people who are medically defined as "obese" focus on healthy eating and exercise, their health improves, regardless of weight changes. For example: Many "obese" people cancel appointments with health-care providers because they do not want another "weight loss lecture"; they feel ashamed to exercise in public due to the looks they receive; and a constant focus on the fact that they cannot be healthy and overweight often leads to a defeatist mentality, which then leads to unhealthy eating or other health-damaging activities such as smoking and drinking.

The best thing we as a society could do to promote the health of people with larger bodies would be to promote acceptance of different sizes. It would be very interesting to see if in a more accepting world -- where fat people were viewed as just as valid and acceptable as thin ones; where fat people worked out comfortably at the gym, were smiled at in the street and were supported by the medical profession in leading healthy lives -- the association between weight and many diseases would dramatically decrease. I believe that it would.

One hardly gets the impression that Rufus is concerned about the health of children. If we are, however, what we can do is promote fun physical activity and healthy eating and get images of bigger kids into the media, so that kids grow up feeling good in their bodies. To focus on fatness, with a tone of superiority and mockery (Rufus pointedly describes a girl who is "fat" who is holding hands with a boy as they leave school, as if to say, "How dare she have a boyfriend!"), lays fertile ground for eating disorders, low self-esteem and a lifetime struggle with the scale.

-- Lisa Weiner

I have a stepdaughter who is fat. On the one hand she is uncomfortable in her body; on the other, she refuses to take responsibility for it. Her diet is a nutritionist's
nightmare: rife with sugar and fat, nearly devoid of vegetables or fiber,
full of additives, but lacking in substance. Her hobbies are sedentary
and passive: watching television, reading books, surfing the Internet.
Her private school does not require physical education.
I do what I can, but at 15, she makes her own choices, scorning all
the fresh vegetarian selections I put on the table in favor of (Oscar
Mayer) hot dogs with (Kraft) cheese and (Heinz) ketchup. Homemade
blueberry bran muffins don't taste right to her desensitized tongue, and
are bypassed for Pop-Tarts.

This Sunday her father and I are participating in a 5K charity walk. I do
not know whether she'll join us; it'll be difficult for
her, but a step in the right direction.

-- Jamie Tang

Baltimore, Md.

I am horrified to see the teenagers in my neighborhood. Their parents are
busy people who don't have time to take the young people to sports
activities or spend time cooking meals. They find it easiest to fill their
kitchens with junk food and give the kids money for fast food. As a result
these young people are overweight. One girl is bulimic. Her mother told me she has recently become shy and introverted because she is self-conscious about her weight. She is not old enough to
make decisions about what food to choose; her parents' role is to educate
her about food.

-- Sarah Holland

Herndon, Va.

Echoes in "Dutch" of a 1994 short story


In addition to the other problems in Morris' Reagan biography, there were two
small quotations that caused my little pink ears to perk up. As a fully
qualified journalist, I can state with authority that an "18-point banner"
headline would look extremely odd in a newspaper. A banner headline is one
which stretches across the page. A point -- the vertical size of the
letters -- is 1/72 inch. An 18-point headline is 18/72 of an inch,
which would look like a slug track running across the top of, say, the New
York Times.

Then there's the "Jim Raider, Rocketeer" reference. The Rocketeer was a
cartoon character created by Dave Stevens back in the early 1980s. So far as
I know, the name didn't exist before then, certainly not in popular use.
It appears that one could develop a fine career seeking and listing the
anachronisms, flubs and outright errors in "Dutch." Beats collecting Beanie

-- William Peschel

Book page editor, Rock Hill (S.C.) Herald

Hip-hop hooray

Simon Rodberg correctly asserts that popular culture is a worthy subject of
academic inquiry. But although Rodberg has stumbled upon a rich, complicated
topic -- hip-hop music and its popularity among privileged, white youths --
his analysis is less than rigorous. Instead of addressing rap's notorious
violence, misogyny and homophobia, or its commercialization (remember, hip-hop music is a multimillion-dollar industry, not the underground phenomenon it once was), Rodberg simplistically insists that hip-hop "battles America's economic and political structures" without explaining
exactly how Jay-Z's record sales translate into the economic or political
empowerment of any black or poor person other than Jay-Z.

Rodberg doesn't even articulate how his love of hip-hop has translated into any
real-world activism on his part. His failure to approach hip-hop with the same level of critical thinking he undoubtedly employed in his directed studies classes only confirms the popular belief that the study of popular culture is more often than not the work of fanatics, not scholars.

-- Nikki Montgomery

Tripping on iboga


Taking a Bwiti initiation was ill-advised and naive.
Unlike what the article asserts, Bwiti isn't a group of people, or a
tribe, or the name of followers of a religion. Bwiti's not a big mystery
in Gabon, either: It's a belief system, a ceremony and a spirit normally
described as a universal ancestor.

During the Bwiti ceremony, Bwiti reportedly appears and takes you through
your life and explains why you did everything you did. This is supposed to
give you enormous insight into your own behavior and others. Later,
sometimes years later, he allegedly reappears for additional insights.

That said, the people I've known who've gone through the ceremony
still drank, smoked, acted as addicted as ever and generally displayed no
more wisdom than any other stoner. Others have reported they went through
the thing as a lark, and now realize that they can never get away from Bwiti.

Daniel Pinchbeck's adventure was a bad, bad idea. Ibogaine is a powerful
drug with properties that should be studied and respected; it's not a source of
wisdom or kicks. And native religions are better understood before they
are practiced, lest one misunderstand the depth of commitment required or
the long-term costs.

Fortunately for his own safety and health, Pinchbeck's descriptions
indicate he probably didn't take near the amount of drugs necessary to do
serious damage, and I'm not convinced his friends in Lambarene took him
through an actual Bwiti ceremony. (Some of his descriptions smack of the
Gabonais' tendency to goof on Americans and separate them from their
money.) These are good things -- it's important to remember the old
proverb about where angels fear to tread.

-- Bill Hatton


Faith healing

The recent article about faith healing raises the broader issue of
the quality of the evidence in studies purporting to show relationship
between religious activity and beneficial health outcomes. As we
demonstrated in a paper published in the Lancet earlier this year, the
evidence is weak and unconvincing at best. Most of the studies cited by
supporters of this point of view have significant methodological flaws which render their conclusions
unreliable. Regrettably, the Harris paper on the effects of
intercessory prayer is no different. For example, the researchers fail
to comment that even though the intercessors prayed for a quick recovery
for their patients, there was no difference between the prayer and
control groups on length of stay in the coronary care unit (CCU) or in
the hospital. And the scale used in this study to assess clinical
course in the CCU has never been validated.

Even if there were strong and unequivocal evidence of a positive
association between religious activity and health outcomes, bringing
religion into medicine still is ill-advised, since it raises significant
ethical issues, namely the possibility of religious coercion, blaming
the victim for illness and intrusions into private realms of the
patients' lives.

-- Richard P. Sloan, Ph.D.

Director, Behavioral Medicine Program

Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center

New York

During a time in my life when I considered myself an atheist, my younger
brother had a terrible rock-climbing accident. He was in an induced coma in ICU for two
months. His last rites were read to him three different times. I started praying, and I asked God -- that entity I didn't think I believed in -- what he wanted me to do in exchange for saving him. I looked up to see "believe in Jesus" etched on the wall.

I didn't become a devout Christian on the spot, but I
did stop saying I was an atheist, and I started praying. And my brother got well.
Even the doctors said it was a miracle.
Today, religion does not matter so much to me, but praying does, and I do it a lot.
I pray for others and I pray for myself. I pray at night, at my desk, in the
car, while on walks. It's not a big ordeal. I just need to do it. I feel like it helps me be a better person.

A friend of mine was recently in the hospital and I put my hands on him and
prayed for him too. I think it's making a difference. I think he does too.
So others can debunk the idea of prayer to help the sick, but maybe that's a sign that we should be praying for them too.

-- Debra Sherman

Sacramento, Calif.

I wish to address Amanda Chandler's "miraculous" recovery from cancer. It is implied that the prayer she received "swayed the odds" of her having malignant cancer. However, since
the doctors quite clearly gave her a 50/50 chance of it being malignant, the
fact that it was not malignant is completely within those odds. To present this story in such a way as to imply that the results were swayed by prayer goes completely against the
concept of a "50/50 chance."

-- Alex MacFarland

This article indicates a profound misunderstanding of Christian Science. While faith is an important element in healing through prayer, in order to heal consistently, it is
necessary to understand God's laws and how they apply to healing as
Christ Jesus illustrated. The pediatric study mentioned was presented
by individuals whose work is to oppose any acknowledgement of spiritual
healing. In fact, that "study" ignored massive amounts of data which
refuted their findings. Rather than "dangling their children over the
edge" as the author states, parents are practicing a scientific healing
method that is highly effective, has no harmful side effects, and heals
its patients morally as well as physically.

-- Warren Berckmann

Spring Lake, Mich.

How San Francisco ruined itself


"Ruined"? Who says it is? It's changed. I've
lived in the Bay Area most of my life. As I walk through the
city, I can be sure I'll encounter a certain amount of selfish, walking
farts of all makes and models, who live to give out bad vibes. Yes,
certain days get ruined by them. But there are also a certain amount of
people who'll give me a warm smile and say, "How you doing?" Both types are
distributed fairly evenly throughout every town in the world. I
still think San Francisco has a preponderance of the latter. As far as income disparity, that's a real problem, and it seems to be getting worse in America. But instead of addressing
it by identifying types of people to hate (vainly and incorrectly, I
might add), let's address it by treating each other more humanely -- whether you're behind the 8-ball or in front of it.

-- Andrew John

Bill Wyman complains about the lack of usable public transportation in
San Francisco. He should try living in Minneapolis, where it is faster to walk or
bike anywhere you want to go downtown than it is to take the bus. The only
place you can go by bus relatively quickly is the Mall of America. I
explored San Francisco and the Bay Area for a week this summer and was blown
away by the convenience, price and range of the public transit there. It is quite feasible to not own a car if you live in San Francisco or the East Bay. It's nearly impossible not to in Minneapolis.

-- Manda Lo

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