sinners, every single overweight one of us! (burp!)

Soundtrack in my head:  The Sneetches, “Broke Up In My Hands”

This past Thursday, I had a rant published in the Wisconsin State Journal about myths regarding overweight people.

It was in response to an April 21st letter to the editor that would have been funny if it weren’t sick. The text of that person’s letter is below:

“It’s foolish to accommodate obesity”

“I read with disgust the recent article on the American company, Amplestuff, which is making products larger to fit the obesity trend in our society.

“Most obesity comes from overeating. When I grew up, this was considered gluttony—a sin. The notion of sin seems unfashionable these days, so how about approaching the problem by stressing the negative medical effects of obesity. It affects the circulation, feet, back and heart, not to mention self-esteem.

“Working to alleviate it will promote a healthier society. Making accommodations to enable ill health is absurd.”

So it’s not enough that overweight people are the subject of jokes, ridicule, and assumptions about one’s competence and ability that really have nothing to do with weight. We are now considered “sinners” as well. Now I’ve heard everything.

Here’s the response I submitted:

So an April 21 letter writer “read with disgust” the article about the online company Amplestuff, which is supposedly enabling our sinful habits by selling products that meet the needs of the obese.

If she really thinks that “making accommodations to enable ill health is absurd,” then I challenge her to spend a whole week at work and at home in a blouse and pants three sizes too small. After enduring the serious discomfort, not to mention the potential damage to internal organs, she can then tell us once again what is “absurd.”

I began gaining a lot of weight when I was vegetarian, and eating the same amount of calories as most people of average size. After ten years of observing how my body reacts to different foods, combined with individualized attention from a couple of nutritionists, I have finally figured out how to get to the point where I’m not gaining weight. I don’t need someone to lecture me on the health consequences of obesity—I feel it every day.

Referring to most obese people as “gluttons” does little to promote the self-esteem she purports to uphold.  If she wants to join the media in looking at us as discipline-challenged food fetishists continually stuffing our hapless gullets with Big Macs and Twinkies, she shouldn’t pretend that she’s being helpful.

Most experts agree that proper diet and exercise is important in any weight loss plan, but there is wide open debate as to just what a proper diet looks like, and I’ve seen how some diets have actually left people worse off. Frankly, I don’t see Weight Watchers, Dr. Phil or the dietary supplement industry showing much success in reversing the tide of obesity, do you?

If one is going to insert the word “sin” into the debate, maybe we should start with the sin of judging others, particularly those in whose shoes one has never walked.

I don’t speak out on this often, but the original letter writer above did an effective job of laying bare some of the stereotypes of fat people.

Stereotypes and judgments of others are ubiquitous largely because they are seldom verbalized. Once they are, the light of day often exposes them for what they are—stereotypes that are no better than stereotypes about people of certain classes, races, ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations.

Sadly fat jokes are still considered socially acceptable. (So are jokes about lesbian and gay people.)  For Exhibit A, consider some direct quotes from a recent AP article about products geared toward the obese. It starts with the headline “Obesity Products Help Americans Live Large.” If the writer really thinks s/he he’s clever with that pun, there’s more. “…obesity products has found its niche in American marketing. Make that a wide berth.”  Hey!  Maybe I could write for the AP, too!

And when it comes to weight-loss programs and dieting, the assumption is always that if it doesn’t work, it’s a lack of willpower of the person attempting the diet. How convenient. Can anyone think of any other consumer product where, if it doesn’t work, the manufacturer’s first response is to say that it’s the consumer’s fault? The Bodypositive website does an effective job of shooting that notion down by pointing out that most weight loss programs do not, in fact, publish data on the short term and long term success rates of their programs, relying instead on anecdotal evidence.  Just give me some nice “before” and “after” pictures, making sure that the person frowns in the “before” picture and smiles in the “after” picture and shucks, of course I’ll try your diet or product.

The problem with the diets that are out there is that there’s this inherent assumption that all human beings have the exact same nutritional needs. Diet program pushers are loathe to admit that their programs may not be for everybody—after all, that would cause them to lose business, wouldn’t it? It’s easier to blame the person trying the diet.

The only book on diet that ever made sense to me was “The Metabolic Typing Diet,” written by William Wolcott and Trish Fahey. It starts with the assumption—logical, you would think—that different people have different dietary needs. It effectively documents the extremely wide range of dietary needs among human beings, how the number of digestive enzymes for certain foods may vary widely from person to person (sometimes by a factor of 100!), documenting how ancestry and environment can have an impact, and the dire consequence that may occur as a result of eating foods not compatible with those needs. It then provides tools for figuring out your own personal dietary needs.

So I am in the midst of doing that. I’ve figured out most of the foods that make me gain weight. They aren’t necessarily the foods that the media, the diet pushers and the calorie counters think they are. For the last month I have been mostly avoiding those foods, while not laying other serious restrictions on myself calorie-wise or otherwise. So far I’ve lost ten pounds. Not bad.

an “administrative professionals day” story, starring jimmy stewart

Soundtrack in my Head: Chemical Brothers, “Let Me In”

vintage, typewriter, letters

Skitterphoto (CC0), Pixabay

Today is Administrative Professionals Day, a day in which secretaries, clerical workers and other office support staff are recognized and given special appreciation. The very title of this day makes it sound about as exciting as fanfold computer paper or office ceiling tile. But believe it or not, I have an Administrative Professionals’ Day story that is as heartwarming as any Christmas story or Jimmy Stewart movie.

I spent almost all of 2003 either unemployed or surviving on temp jobs, and that month of April in 2003 was probably the worst month of all of them. Earlier that month, I’d been turned down for a job I’d had my heart set on, and I was beginning to really feel frustrated with my job search. I was working between eight and twelve hours a day at two different phone banks. One of them had me calling New England all day trying to persuade busy, irritable businessmen to take a phone survey. (I really had my Boston accent down pat—one of my questions had me asking if something was “very impoahtent, somewhat impoahtent, not very impoahtent or not at all impoahtent”) That job was about to end and I did not know what would come next. And the other job had me being an annoying phone solicitor for non-profits, the type of person I even hang up on.  That organization was about to shut its doors—I had to make sure I deposited each paycheck quickly to make sure it didn’t bounce. My faith in God was being tested like it had never been tested before.

Then, one Monday in late April, as if things couldn’t get worse, I got into a car accident. A woman driving the other direction on Fish Hatchery Road didn’t look hard enough before making a left turn and cut right in front of me. I hit the brake, but couldn’t stop in time, and ended up smashing into her right rear side. Both of us were unhurt, but the front end of my little Geo Metro was smashed up good. However, I was able to drive the car to the repair place with little difficulty, so I thought that maybe the car would be salvageable.

But I found out during lunchtime two days later that my car had been declared totaled. The settlement I would get would pay off the rest of my car payments, but little more than that, and nowhere close to enough money for a new car. My insurance allowed me to have a rental car for one week. I was staring at a blank slate for the following week, unsure if I would work or where, or how I would be able to get a car to get me to work.

All these thoughts were going through my head as I staffed the phones for the afternoon. Then, at the end of one of the phone calls, my supervisor told me that I had a visitor in the reception area.

I walked up front to find an attractive woman with blonde hair waiting for me and holding a yellow rose. She seemed to have a lot of warmth in her heart as she smiled and gave the rose to me.

No, I wasn’t dating anyone. Nor was it the woman who had caused the car accident. It was one of the staff members I knew from Manpower Temporaries, the agency that had placed me with this temp job. I didn’t realize it, but it was Administrative Professionals Day, and they wanted to express their appreciation for all of their administrative temps.

It’s funny—I hadn’t thought of myself as an “administrative professional” up until that point. Actually, I had been a director of a small not-for-profit up until three months before. Nevertheless, the gesture made my day.

In my faith, I believe there are no coincidences and that God has a hand in all arrangements. It actually felt like this flower came directly from God, to offer me condolences and encouragement.

A couple of weeks later, I would find myself in another temp job. My parents would give me my grandmother’s 1985 Plymouth Caravelle, a big church lady/pimpmobile car that would meet my transportation needs for another two years.

Most “administrative professionals” aren’t exactly well-to-do people. Many struggle financially, sometimes as a single parent, sometimes balancing more than one job. So, all you supervisors out there, if you haven’t offered some kind of token of appreciation for your administrative professionals today, I think you need to get on your knees tomorrow and humbly apologize. Don’t do it unless you mean it. But then, why wouldn’t you mean it?…

* * *

The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted down the Markey Amendment that would have preserved Net Neutrality, but the 34-22 margin was a closer vote than expected. Our Rep. Tammy Baldwin voted in favor of the Markey Amendment—thanks Tammy! I think the special interests wanted to sneak this one through, and it’s now clear that this action is seeing the light of day. Keep clicking the orange box in the navigation bar of this website for updates—the fight is not over, and we have some momentum in our favor!

save the internet !!!

Soundtrack in my head:  Bob Marley and the Wailers, “Get Up, Stand Up”

security, cyber, internet, save the internet

TheDigitalArtist (CC0), Pixabay

Okay, thiis is scary.  I never thought I’d be saying the words Save the Internet. I couldn’t believe it when I first read it, but it’s true.

The Internet as we know it is about to be hijacked by the likes of AT&T, Verizon and AOL.  Your right to read this website and that of many other independent writers, bloggers, small businesses, advocacy organizations, etc will be limited depending on what the Internet service providers decide they want you to see.  My right to have my website seen will not only depend on whether I pay my monthly bill to Squarespace for their software and server space, but also on how much I am able to pony up to AT&T for the right to have anyone who wants to see my website see it. Meaning that I would be competing with multi-million dollar corporations for that right.  You know who would win in that competition.

This will happen unless people act quickly and decisively.

It’s not just your right to read this website, but also your right to buy books online at whatever site you choose, your right to use Google, or download whatever you want to an Ipod.  Advocacy organizations would be at the mercy of Internet service providers.  Large Internet providers like AT&T and Verizon are lobbying Congress hard to gut Network Neutrality, the Internet’s First Amendment. Net Neutrality prevents AT&T from choosing which websites open most easily for you based on which site pays AT&T more. doesn’t have to outbid Barnes & Noble for the right to work more properly on your computer.

For folks in southern Wisconsin, our representative Tammy Baldwin sits on the committee that is discussing this issue right now.  Make sure she hears from you. Call her this week and let her know that you support Rep. Markey’s amendment supporting Network Neutrality.  Ask her how she will vote.  Call both her D.C. office at (202) 225-2906 and either her Beloit office (608) 362-2800 or Madison office (608) 258-9800.

I’ve put a big orange tag on my navigation bar so that you can get involved.  Click it.  Before the ISP’s turn your computer into yet another idiot box.

disclaimer about my last journal posting

Sountrack in my head:  Snuff, “I Can See Clearly Now”

Today, it occurred to me that my last journal posting could potentially cause misunderstanding and consternation among people, particularly those discovering this website for the first time.  So I want to set the record straight.  The fact is, I have a deep reverence for nature and our connectedness with it.  I do not believe, nor have I ever believed that the city of Madison and all humankind is threatened by some invasive kudzu-like species, either alien or terrestrial in origin.

herbicide, pesticide, avignon, in rice field

wuzefe (CC0), Pixabay

As a public service, I should also make it known that Agent Orange and other chemical defoliants can be highly toxic.  Stockpilling large quantities of these items in one’s basement can also be quite dangerous, so please don’t do it.

fear of a green planet

path, forest, ladder, green planet

Uce (CC0), Pixabay

Soundtrack in my head: Coloursound, “Fly With Me”

Who’s afraid of a green planet? We have had 60 and 70 degree weather much of this week—a bit unusual for mid-April in Madison, Wisconsin. There are a lot of trees in the vicinity of our property. Our neighborhood is an old one that still has tall elms forming a very high arch over the street, so it’s very noticeable when things turn green.

Today, as I was walking home, I noticed that the buds from the trees were much larger than they were just yesterday. What looked like dark little knobs yesterday suddenly had little green foliage coming out today. I almost wish I had one of those time-lapse cameras so I could watch the buds bloom.

I remember walking down the street with a bit of a spring in my step, enjoying the weather, and yet, in some ways, it felt unsettling. We are nearly twenty degrees above the normal high for this time of year. I wondered about the forces of nature conspiring to bring us this unusual weather and I began to have images in my mind of the earth’s axis being slightly off kilter.

I remember my first spring here three years ago when everything seemed to turn green literally overnight. I’d moved here mid-winter and so I almost literally woke up one morning with the neighborhood suddenly looking a lot different than I’d remembered it. I walked along the lush vegetation that had seemingly come out of nowhere, and I imagined that the greenery was really this alien presence about to take over. I figured that at the rate things were growing, I could see Madison within a few days being buried up to the height of the Capitol dome by some alien kudzu-like creature that was taking over and which would soon replace humans as the dominant life form on earth—really showing us big time that it’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature.

With these images in the back of my mind, I was talking to a housemate at about 9:30 p.m. tonight when suddenly both of heard loud cracking and clanking noises outside. We rushed out to our front porch and watched as golf-ball sized hail began to hit the ground. I mean, it was as if the street was being pelted with rocks, and the wind picked up and thunder and lighting crackled in the distance. It was more than a little scary, and we wondered how long it would last and whether we would start seeing damage to the roofs and windows. Luckily, the hail stopped within a few minutes, and gave way to a heavy rain which mysteriously made the hail melt and disappear, as if it never occurred in the first place. And then the rain itself stopped as quickly as it came.

With my imagination running wild again, I imagined that this hailstorm was the opening salvo of an invasion. Like many U.S.-style invasions, it begins with heavy aerial bombardment, and eventually it gives way to ground troops coming in and taking over. I walked up in my room and looked at the tree near my window. Maybe it was my imagination but I would swear that the buds on that tree were bigger than they were a few hours before…

intentional community meets intentional community

Soundtrack in my head: Madness, “It’s Raining Again”

team, motivation, teamwork, intentional community

vait_mcright (CC0), Pixabay

Madison Community Co-op, a network of eleven co-op houses here in Madison played host this past weekend to the Fellowship for Intentional Community, a resource and networking organization for the intentional communities movement. It marks the first time that a co-op house or network of co-op houses served as host for FIC’s semi-annual meeting, and in many ways represents a coming together of the housing co-op and intentional community movements.

Co-op houses have a lot in common with other intentional communities, but it seems that the housing co-op movement has often felt like a separate movement. A lot probably has to do with its origins—the main motivation for co-ops has often been economic as opposed to utopian. Housing co-ops came together here in Madison and in other college campuses starting nearly 100 years ago as a means of providing inexpensive housing for students, and even today, there are people who cannot say the word “housing co-op” without having the word “student” also be part of the phrase.

But recently, there has been very strong interest in co-op living for non-students. These “community co-ops” have accounted for most of the growth in the housing co-op movement over the last 15 years. And Madison Community Co-op is the only large co-op system to have embraced the notion of community co-ops—the population of the co-ops is currently about 50% non-students, and even includes families in some cases.

So it was clear this weekend that the movements have more similarities than differences and the different origins of the two movements can be a real opportunity for learning and growth.

International, Ambrosia, Lothlorien and Phoenix Co-ops were fantastic hosts as they provided lodging and rotated duties of cooking and providing meeting space. I am amazed at the effort they put out. Furthermore, there was a lot of informal interaction between the attendees and the co-op residents. In some ways, it looked like two different generations of communitarians meeting—most MCC members are in their twenties and thirties while the FIC attendees tended to be older.

It’s funny how this came all together. Laird Schaub, one of the leaders in FIC and the intentional communities movement had apparently been wanting to connect with the co-op movement for quite awhile and was really interested in holding their meeting in Madison, even though they didn’t have any strong contacts with people from MCC. He flew to the NASCO conference in Ann Arbor last November telling folks from FIC that he’d probably find an MCC contact there. He ended up meeting me at one of his workshops, we got to talking, and a couple of months later, I got the co-op houses to agree to host their semi-annual meeting.

My story is quirkier. Laird did not recognize me at the NASCO conference, but he and I had met before. In 1995, I was looking into intentional communities, and a friend of mine from the Global Walk lived at Sandhill Farm, Laird’s community in Missouri, so my then-fiancée and I went out there to visit. While we were there, we helped out with a project to build a chicken coop made out of straw bale and clay. Our task that day was to apply the clay to the straw bale. It was a muddy, messy proposition. Before working with the clay, I took off my engagement ring (not only had I given my fiancée an engagement ring, but she’d given me one as well) and I put it in my pocket, not realizing that my pocket had a hole in it. I didn’t discover the hole until after we’d finished work that day, by which time it was too late—the ring had disappeared. We embarked on a search for it, but it had rained that day, the ground had become very muddy, and that made finding it difficult if not impossible. We joked that Sandhill’s free-roaming turkey ate it and they would find the ring when they carved the turkey for Thanksgiving, but we knew that it was buried somewhere in the mud around the chicken coop, and is probably still buried there today.

My losing my engagement ring at Sandhill ended up being a harbinger for things to come—one year later, my fiancée and I would break up, and one of the reasons we split was over the issue of community. I wanted, if not a community, then at least a tight circle of friends deeply involved in our lives, but her ideal world included just us, with as much distance from other friends as possible. We each realized that our own heaven would be the other person’s hell, and ultimately, we were each standing in the way of what would make the other person happy.

But through this past weekend, I felt that other cords were being re-established with other parts of my life. I found out that at this time last year, FIC was being hosted by Eco-Village at Ithaca. The founders of that community were also the founders of the Global Walk for a Livable World, and were my first employers out of college. And my Global Walk friend at Sandhill ended up moving to Shannon Farm, and there were several people in Madison this past weekend who know her well. We’ve stayed in sporadic touch over the years and I’m sure we’ll be talking again soon…