rages, stages & dusty pages

hot nerds of the world unite!

Dec 16

Why You Should Care About Sperm


In the 1970s, Danish scientist Niels Skakkebaek began his career researching testicular cancer and genital malformations in young Danish boys.  The simultaneous discoveries that at least 7 percent of the boys had one or both testicles undescended as well as the overall decline in quality of Danish adult male semen led him to delve deeper into the waning reproductive health of Danish men at first, and then eventually, men all over the world.  Here, I review an article from the January 1996 issue of New Yorker entitled “Silent Sperm,” which details the unraveling of the mystery of rapidly declining sperm counts around the world.

Although sperm counts had been regularly tracked and recorded since at least the 30s, if not earlier, very little analysis of the numbers had been undertaken until Skakkebaek began noticing this trend of declining counts.  He started to delve further into the problem, first with a study on what he assumed would be “healthy” test subjects:  men who had worked in nonhazardous office jobs and who generally avoided interaction with harmful industrial chemicals.  Contrary to his expectations, these men also revealed low quality sperm.  The commonly accepted standard for a “healthy man” at the time was 100 million sperm per milliliter, with no more than 20 percent of them immobile and no more than 40 percent deformed (for example, two heads, misshapen, etc).  Skakkebaek’s study revealed that 84 percent of these “normal” men had a sperm count and quality much lower than these standards.

Around the same time (1974), two physicians at the University of Iowa undertook their own study on men who were about to obtain vasectomies—the majority of which had already fathered two or more children and ought to have demonstrated a higher than average sperm count.  In the 386 fertile men they examined, the average sperm concentration was only 48 million per milliliter—far lower than what were considered the minimum standards for a healthy, fertile man at the time.  The two physicians then looked at the records of men who had come to the hospital in the 1950s for infertility issues and found that a large proportion of these had higher sperm counts than those seeking vasectomies in the 1970s.

This disturbing report led to separate studies being conducted in Philadelphia and Houston, which also found declining sperm counts and quality.  Despite the abundance of results from replicated studies that confirmed the Danes’ initial findings, there were well-respected experts in the field who didn’t fully buy in at first, citing analytical errors as a cause for the so-called decline.  For whatever reason, the debate dropped out of the mainstream for over a decade until the 1990s, when Skakkebaek and his colleagues decided to do a meta-analysis of all published studies of sperm counts around the world, going back as far as 1938.  While the average sperm count ended up varying from country to country, the clear trend was toward lower sperm counts in the present.  This re-enlivened the discourse and led to more shocking discoveries in other countries. Reproductive biologist, Pierre Jouannet, at the Center for the Study and Conservation of Eggs and Sperm in France found an average decline of two percent per year from 1973 to 1992, leading Jouannet to conclude that  “if the decline were to continue at the same rate, it will take seventy or eighty years before it goes to zero.”

With the trend of a declining sperm count now well-established, scientists began to turn toward the question of cause.  Of the various and many hypothetical causes, the most commonly cited is estrogen-like synthetic chemicals that have become almost ubiquitous in our time.  Such chemicals can be found in meat and dairy food products, feminine cosmetic and hygiene products, plastics, pesticides and everyday household items.  Skakkebaek believes the worst are phytoestrogens such as those used to treat livestock, and which are also found in baby formulas containing powdered milk.  He believes these phytoestrogens affect the baby’s endocrine system either in the womb, or shortly after birth—the most crucial times in reproductive development.

Along the same lines, there was a study conducted on pregnant rats exposed to DES (a synthetic estrogen that was widely prescribed to pregnant mothers from the 1940s to the 1970s for the prevention of miscarriage) and other synthetic estrogens, which revealed that sperm production in the rat offspring was reduced anywhere from 5 to 15 percent lower than the normal.  Similarly, more and more species of animals affected by the prevalence of phytoestrogens in their habitats are demonstrating abnormal genitalia (such as hermaphroditism) and social behavior, such as the “lesbian” Western Gulls which have begun nesting together rather than with males, who have apparently “lost interest”.  Furthermore, according to the article, it is well known that men who work directly with estrogen tend to become feminized, developing breasts over time and, in some cases, going through a male version of menopause.

It seems highly likely that we are headed down a collision course with the extinction of our species and we do not know how to stop the engine, nor do we know precisely how or why we’re moving.  While all of the information I’ve read does point toward the possibility that the declining trend could be reversed if conditions were returned back to what they were prior to the start of this decline, I really don’t think that we, as a capitalistic, globalized society, could now make the changes required in our lifestyles and our industrial and consumer practices.

One article I found cited a UCSF study, where 99% of the pregnant women participating in a urine test showed traces of numerous harmful chemicals known to cause birth defects. Some of the chemicals found in the urine have been banned since the 70s, others included highly toxic pesticides such as DDT and the estrogenic phenol chemicals mentioned above, such as BPA (Science Daily, 2011).  Another article discussed a recent study by Kaiser Permanente’s research division, which showed the direct correlation between high levels of BPA and lower sperm counts.  According to this study, “Men exposed to BPA at work and who showed detectable urine BPA had more than three times the risk of lower sperm concentration and vitality than men with no detectable urine BPA (…) and more than four times the risk of lower sperm count and more than twice the risk of lower sperm motility (MSNBC, 2010). 

The amount of evidence that these man-made chemicals are slowly killing us is overwhelming.  But it seems as though the red flag has been waived so frequently about the harmfulness of various foods, common household items, etc, people have succumbed to the “boy who cried wolf” syndrome and have failed to react to the impending threat.  Plastic is still present in nearly every aspect of our existence.  “Green” household products were trendy for a time, but I’ve noticed that ads for such products are far less prevalent than the ads for Clorox and Johnson and Johnson branded products—many of which contain the aforementioned chemicals.  And the meat industry will never give up its eternal quest to maximize profits and minimize quality, even if it means switching from rBST to other, lesser-known hormone treatments.  But if we know anything about mankind, it’s that this is to be expected.  We don’t learn our lesson until it’s too late.  And someday, generations from now, when men have become so feminized and/or otherwise rendered incapable of siring offspring, nature will finally have her last laugh.

Nov 29

excerpt from “back to work” by bill clinton


…contrary to the antigovernment movement’s claim to represent the intent of the framers, our founding fathers clearly intended to give us a government both limited and accountable enough to protect our liberties and strong and flexible enough to adapt to the challenges of a new era (…) In other words, our constitution was designed by people who were idealistic but not ideological.  There’s a big difference.  You can have a philosophy that tends to be liberal or conservative but still be open to evidence, experience, and argument.  That enables people with honest differences to find practical, principled compromise.  On the other hand, fervent insistence on an ideology makes evidence, experience, and argument irrelevant.  There is nothing to learn from the experience of other countries.  Respectful arguments are a waste of time.  Compromise is a weakness.  And if your policies fail, you don’t abandon them; instead, you double down, asserting that they would have worked if only they had been carried to their logical extreme.

A congressional hearing on climate change in March 2011 offered an interesting example of the difference between conservative philosophy and antigovernment ideology.  Congressman Ralph Hall, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, convened a hearing to secure testimony from Dr. Richard Muller, a professor of physics at the University of California at Berkeley, who had long been considered a “climate skeptic.”  Muller started the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project with a team of UC physicists and statisticians to conduct an independent review of the research data in order to challenge the overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming is real, is caused primarily by human behavior, and is likely to have calamitous consequences.  The project’s biggest private backer is the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, established by one of the Koch brothers, conservative oil billionaires who have also funded efforts to defeat proposals to reduce the burning of fossil fuels for transportation and electricity, two of the largest sources of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

The committee members who don’t believe climate change is happening or, if it is, don’t think it’s a problem expected Dr. Muller to support them in their drive to stop the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases by casting doubt on the climate science.  Instead, Muller, a supposedly reliable ally, committed an unforgivable error:  he was more interested in finding the truth than in confirming the ideological convictions of his supporters.  In forthright language, he explained that his project had assembled 1.6 billion temperature measurements and attempted to correct for potential biases he thought might have influenced previous studies.  Then he said that as a result of his own review, “We see a global warming trend that is very similar to that previously reported by other groups.” (…) Muller’s testimony was ideological heresy, a rejection of the predetermined truth that global warming is a hoax.  But Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, which also contributed funds to the Berkeley project, praised Muller’s statement for acknowledging that previous climate studies “basically got it right…Willingness to revise views in the face of empirical data is the hallmark of good scientific process.”

It’s also the hallmark of good public policy.  When our economic plan passed in 1993, it was a comprehensive program of spending cuts, targeted increases in spending on education, technology, and research, tax cuts to spur investment in areas of high unemployment and to help lower-income working families, and tax increases on the largest corporations and the top 1.2 percent of Americans who had reaped most of the income gains and tax cuts of the 1980s.  All the Republicans voted against it, claiming the tax increases would crush the economy, calling them a “job killer” and “a one-way ticket to recession.”  They were wrong, off the mark by 22.7 million jobs.  But today, with federal taxes at their lowest share of national income in fifty years, they’re still saying the same thing.

That’s really why no comprehensive long-term agreement came out of the 2011 budget negotiations.  The central tenet of antigovernment ideology is that all tax hikes, even when coupled with much larger spending cuts, are bad.  The evidence is irrelevant.

(pp. 27-30)

Jun 23


for the remainder of the next year, i will voluntarily cultivate the feeling of moral freedom.  my first act of free will shall be to believe in free will.

william james, 1870 

written while standing on the precipice between a long bout of deep, existential and suicidal depression and an active choice to be well

Mar 25

humanitarianism, american style.


the other day at a career fair where i was representing a training program for a major disaster relief organization, i was approached by a man who was wondering if we had any volunteer opportunities abroad for his son who was looking for something to do. “no….we only send volunteers to assignments around the boring old united states, sorry,” i said jokingly, “but we could really use volunteers, if your son would be interested.” the man sort of brushed aside my offering and went on about his son’s aimlessness. i mentioned the peace corps and how its a great way to get international experience, to which he responded that his son found the idea of “working for free” unappealing.

not so for all would-be volunteers, fortunately. the disaster services secretary in our office once recounted the cadre of calls she received in the haitian earthquake aftermath.  one call was especially memorable, as it came from a well-meaning elderly lady who admittedly had no medical or technical skill set, but who was willing to endure the hardship of travel to the shambles of port-au-prince for the greater good of “wiping the people’s foreheads with a cool cloth to make them feel better”.  

and in the early days of japan the response from the public was pretty much cut from the same cloth…of course that was before a trip to the rubble of a destroyed society earned relief volunteers a shorter lifespan from radiation poisoning. i stood in the doorway to my boss’s office as she sifted through a voicemail box full of concerned citizens wanting to lend a helping american hand. there were messages like “hi, i’m a high school teacher and i have students who are interested in going to japan to help out”.  take a moment to think about the kind of hubris required to make the assumption that the japanese would want or need a bunch of american high school students in their disaster zone……yeah.  

americans are well-known around the world for our generosity and genuine desire to “help”. we can trace our predisposition towards interventionism all the way back to the truman doctrine in 1947, which set america on a new liberalistic path, away from the inward-looking isolationism of yore. for a long time, liberalism was our modus operandi, so it is no big surprise that the trend has been handed down to truman-era grandchildren who are looking for a vietnam-esque sense of purpose. but the current burgeoning of humanitarianism in the west stems from another phenomenon that is a rather unpalatable topic of discussion for anyone attempting to carve out a business in aiding the poor.

i got a first-hand view of it when an ex announced to me that he was going to afghanistan to do development work for a well-known international organization. my first reaction was sheer excitement for him. sure, afghanistan is hell on earth right now, i thought, but if he survived, imagine all the doors that would open. he would be the most hirable person on the planet. ironically, the afghan recipients of his supposed good deeds were hardly an afterthought in the conversation until, being afghan myself, i attempted to advise him against the american idealism that i had misinterpreted to be his reasons for going and also forewarn him about the culturally-typical afghan mistrust of foreigners and the likelihood that many people will want to kill him.  my argument was put to rest with his retort that he wasn’t going for the people; he was going to satisfy a personal need to gain experience and find out who he was as a person.

after burying ourselves under inescapable debt for an education that, with today’s volunteer tourism has become obsolete, this is how new graduates in the field of international development are conditioned to think. the poverty of the “third world” has long provided jobs for well-to-do professionals around the world and there is an entire industry of organizations who owe their bread and butter to the poverty that they are working to eradicate. hypothetically, if western-style development were the answer, the jobs would have cancelled themselves out.  there would be no need for students to learn about structural adjustment plans (SAPs) and development economics algorithms.  

the unappetizing truth of the matter is that we need somebody to experience tragedy so that we can help them. we need people, far removed from ourselves, to stay destitute so they can be saved. but despite the fact that 1 in 8 americans is food-insecure and that the poverty gap in this country is growing rapidly, we continue to look to the east to find meaning for ourselves and to forget the real responsibilities that we have to our own communities—responsibilities that take commitment and real, lasting dedication to change.  

but then again, it’s hard for american ghettos and well-trained development specialists to compete with the rise in two-week vacations to dusty, ill-kempt orphanages in exotic locales. 

Jan 29

there are two kinds of people in this world…

'twas a toilet that led me to my latest epiphany….proving that inspiration can be found literally everywhere

i walked into the 3 stall bathroom at work that employees share with students and volunteers coming from all walks of life.  unsure about what i might find in the stalls based on previous harrowing experiences, i proceeded with caution.  behind door number one, i found copious amounts of piss dribbled on the seat.  i opted to check out the next stall.  what did door number two hold?  a couple of used toilet seat covers left behind as if an imaginary toilet-seat-cover-fairy would come and use fairy dust to dispose of it.  i didn’t even bother to look in the third stall.  instead, i gingerly nudged the seat covers in the bowl with the bottom of my shoe, trying desperately to avoid getting hypothetical hepatitis b cooties on my michael kors slingback mary janes.  and that’s when it occurred to me:  there are two types of people in this world…those who piss all over the toilets of life with wanton disregard for anyone else, and those who swallow their pride, hold their breath and risk contracting all sorts of unknown nefarious diseases while cleaning it up so that they and others can exist in a clean, comfortable and safe environment.

now, i don’t want to give the impression that i spend my free time cleaning up human waste in bathrooms out of the sheer mother theresa goodness in me, but i’m attempting to use that experience as an allegory for life in general and to serve as a reminder of my responsibility to the community i have chosen.  it doesn’t necessarily require cleaning up after others so much as being considerate, letting go of ego and the “why should i have to be the one to…” line of thinking, cultivating a genuine desire to want to make things better and realizing that it takes a conscious physical effort to do so.  try it sometime if you haven’t had the chance lately and let me know how it goes.

Jan 13

self-knowledge is the open door


don’t you think that most people, knowingly or unknowingly, are always committing suicide?  the extreme form of it is jumping out of the window.  but it begins, probably, when there is the first resistance and frustration.  we build a wall around ourselves behind which we lead our own separate lives—though we may have husbands, wives, children.  this separative life is the life of suicide, and that is the accepted morality of religion and society.  the acts of separation are of a continuous chain and lead to war and to sef-destruction.  separation is suicide, whether of the individual or of the community or of the nation,  each one wants to live a life of self-identity, of self-centered activity, of the self-enclosing sorrow of conformity.  it is suicide when belief and dogma hold you by the hand….you invest your life and the whole movement of it in the one against the many, and when the one dies, or the god is destroyed, your life goes with it and you have nothing to live for.  if you are terribly clever you invent a meaning to life—which the experts have always done—but having committed yourself to that meaning you are already committing suicide.  all commitment is self-destruction, whether it be in the name of god or in the name of socialism or anything else….

…in separation there is no love.  love has no identity…there is no death when all commitment ceases.  self-knowledge is the open door.

- j. krishnamurti, the only revolution (p. 119-120)

Nov 24

be here now

as soon as i wake up, i become conscious of my skin - the soft, thin membrane that marks the limits of me.  what sensations does my skin feel?  warmth, well-being, ease?

i get up; the temperature changes.  how does my skin react?  i cross a room, i feel the contact of my feet on the floor, my hand touches a doorknob, i open the door, i am alive.

i have prepared my breakfast.  i touch things with different textures, different temperatures.  bread, knife, full cup, and so forth.

i take a shower.  the whole of my skin is now touched by the streams of hot water.  if i am absent, unaware, the satisfaction is mediocre; it is an obligatory passage from one act to the next.  if i am present, my whole body will find life, the deep satisfaction of feeling these wonderful sensations of water drops projected onto my skin.

the whole day, my skin will change environments, respond to all kinds of stimulation…

…the more the body is absent to the world, the more intensity is expected and sought after in order to free the ensuing tension.

Daniel Odier, Desire:  The Tantric Path to Awakening, p. 34

Nov 16

might as well face it (you’re addicted to love)

we are young…and even though we may stand heartache to heartache as pat suggests, we somehow still manage to keep the embers of the “happily ever after” dream alive and smoldering.  i cannot count how many times the definition of love has been earnestly deconstructed in conversations among friends in the past week alone…and though i believe that every one of us has an inward inkling of certain realities that underlie the fantasies we wish to project, we never seem to get any closer to actually acknowledging them in a real and lasting way.  why?  is it our naivete that keeps us dreaming?…or our youth…or our deficit of shitty-enough experiences required to shatter the illusions and turn us into cynical old prunes?  well, i don’t know about you, but i have certainly had my fill of cynicism-inducing experiences…and yet everytime i meet that new special someone that makes my heart seem to skip a beat i, just like all the rest of you, swear that ‘this time its for real’…as if all of the other times it was ‘for fake’ or something.  when a person has the tunnel-vision that love can seem to cause, its easy to continue to fall into an involuntary repetition of the same cycle over and over again.  we would be perpetually doomed to strain ourselves day after day, pushing the same gigantic boulder up an insurmountable mountain like sisyphus…if it weren’t for the discoveries of my best friend:  science.  as with every other major question in my life, science has done the work for me in the quest for love and provided answers that appeal to my selectively-rational mind. 

so many studies have been conducted on the question of love, providing another indicator of humanity’s universal obsession with the topic.  the studies have sought to answer how it comes about, for what reasons, and why it often ends.  scientists have thus far been able to discover much about the chemical process involved in falling in love through observing a species that might constitute nature’s cutest couple: the prairie vole. 


prairie voles were selected for relationship studies due to the uncanny similarity of their mating rituals and habits to that of humans.  unlike other rodents and 97% of other mammals, prairie voles mate for life.  in their partnerships, they engage in sexual activity with their mates more frequently than is necessary for strictly reproductive purposes, show a preference for sitting next to their partners as opposed to other members of the opposite sex, and share parental responsibilities throughout the upbringing of offspring.  when a mate dies, the remaining vole will accept a new mate only 20% of the time.  but what is even more interesting than the voles’ adorable dating habits is the biochemical reactions taking place in their little brains and bodies that we have been able to discover throughout the mating process. 

according to a widely accepted view within the scientific community, “love” as we know it, has at least 2 and often 3 stages:  the attraction phase, the attachment phase, and the detachment phase.  all three of these stages are largely reliant on biochemicals and neurotransmitters that chemically resemble and induce the same effects as stimulants such as amphetamines and opiates like morphine.  the phases aren’t always clear-cut, but the major themes are so recurrent that we could write them out before they even happen…like a recipe for love. 

phase one - the attraction phase, finds us thinking excessively about that other person.  for whatever reason, we choose to fixate on him/her and all of the wonderful things that seemingly make him/her different.  according to harvard clinical psychiatry professor, dr. john ratey, studies during the attraction phase have often shown an increase of phenylethylamine (pea), which is related to the amphetamine family and might very well account for the physiological responses that we experience such as the notorious stomach butterfly, hot flashes and sweaty palms.  phase one is purported to last anywhere from eighteen months to 3 years…or if you’re in your twenties…more like 2 weeks. 

phase two - as long as neither side of the pair succeed in shattering the other’s idealistic perception of him/her, phase two should begin as scheduled and is associated with increased feelings of comfort, calmness and security in the relationship.  the evolutionary purpose behind phase two is to create conditions secure enough for conceiving, birthing and raising young.  as such, the body experiences an increase in the production of the hormone/neurotransmitter oxytocin, endorphins and the neurotransmitter vasopressin, all of which, whether you would like to believe it or not, lead us to act in very distinct and predictable ways.  lets refer back to our cute little friends, the prairie voles, for example.  in studies, when scientists injected male voles with more vasopressin than naturally occurs in their systems, there was an increase in the amount of time they spent with their pups…and conversely, in other studies when males were given a vasopressin-inhibitor, their interest in and attachment to their partner deteriorated almost immediately and they failed to protect their mate from other male vole suitors.  it is commonly believed that the natural increase in the production of oxytocin and vasopressin at birth is necessary for bonding to occur between a mother and her infant.  the bond is, in turn, necessary motivation for her to continue providing care and protection while the infant grows.  in addition to this bond, the same physiological changes lead the parental couple to also experience a closer bond with each other in which they are more supportive and nurturing.

phase three – the break-up phase, is believed to occur when there are excessive feelings of safety experienced concurrently with a lack of evolutionary need or, in other words, a failure—whether voluntary or involuntary—to conceive.  dr. ratey likens this phase to a bird leaving the nest.  if love’s evolutionary purpose is to create offspring, and none are created, then it is only natural for love to fade after a certain amount of time.  This is believed to be the reason why most divorces occur during the age of reproduction, when no offspring have been produced, and why the majority of divorcees remarry.  it is also possible that neuroreceptors become desensitized after a certain amount of time, thus leading to the inefficacy of attachment hormones to maintain a bond. 

but to look on the bright side, phase three doesn’t always have to mean a break up.  at the 2010 cognitive neuroscience society meeting in montreal, a study was conducted with the purpose of showing how men and women respond to stressful situations.  participants were asked to shove their hand in a bucket of ice water, causing an instant increase in the stress-hormone cortisol.  then, the participants were asked to look at faces containing angry or neutral expressions while having their brains scanned for activity.  the men showed less activity in the face-processing  regions than the control group of men who didn’t shove their hand into ice water, whereas the women showed more activity not only in the face-processing region of the brain, but also in the regions that allow us to empathize with the emotions of others.  the central conclusion to be drawn from this study was that, in times of stress and discordance, women are more likely to bond with others and/or empathize with their emotions…perhaps in order to maintain peace and possibly protect offspring.  i could take a step further and say that this physiological difference could be the reason that so many women are able to put up with a shitty or otherwise unsatisfying relationship for far longer than many men…but, unfortunately, the data isn’t available for that one as of yet.

so there you have it.  next time you are tempted to entertain feelings of self-pity and the notion that you are alone in your experiences of this life, just know that evolution has equipped all of us with the same blunt tools to forge our way through it.  no thought is unique; no feeling is without biological purpose.  for some, having to accept this fact may cause sadness through disillusionment.  in my own case, being equipped with such information helps me keep this monster known as ‘ego’ in check….but i’ll have to save that one for a later post…i can already hear the snores resonating through computer screens.

Nov 4

ribs, anyone?


there is a war going on….and i’m not talking about the obvious war on the physical, geopolitical landscape.  i’m talking about a psychosomatic, socio-cultural conflict taking place in at least the u.s…and possibly elsewhere beyond my observation.  so far, i’ve seen it manifested in the various dichotomies of: fat vs. skinny, self-indulgent vs. self-denying, ascetic/cerebral vs. hedonistic/physical, and a power war of the sexes.  at the most superficial level, the overall conflict has been publicly acknowledged most commonly in terms of health and self-image.  you can see it play itself out by taking a look at the entire weight spectrum of western civilization…with the waif-like fashion models personifying the extremely thin at one end and the 1500lb morbidly obese medical mystery at the other.  with such a wide scale, questions are often raised as to what is a healthy size and bmi….what is “normal” when a large amount of the population is…large?  as vanity sizing becomes ever more common, the lines of reality become somewhat skewed and we continue to lose focus of what constitutes “normal” and what is actually a healthy size.        


although obesity is the single largest contributor to the overwhelming health burden in this country with $147 billion spent annually and with 1 out of 3 americans being classifiably obese (scientific american, october ‘10), nothing seems to inspire more anger in certain social circles than a ribcage prancing around on stage showing off some haute couture.  spain’s semi-recent banning of super-thin models was quite possibly the first major governmental intervention in trying to control what i consider “human personal space” (let’s save abortion legislation for a later blog).  sure, there have been smaller-scale laws passed against trans-fats, marketing of unhealthy products, etc, but i don’t know of anything that so aggressively targets and seeks to eliminate a physical body-type than the spain act.  and yet, clearly, there is still something that the majority of us find irresistibly seductive about the symbolism conveyed by such a gaunt figure, or else it would not have persisted in the mainstream for so long.  perhaps its the subtle nod toward the levels of self-denial and, in some cases self-discipline, required to keep up such an unnatural profile…especially in a country where unprocessed, untampered-with food is nearly impossible to find.  drug usage notwithstanding, models—it could be argued—represent the modern ascetic in viewing their bodies as nothing more than an accessory….as opposed to their antithesis: those who practice inordinate self-indulgence through a level of nourishment completely superfluous to a sedentary american lifestyle.    


but there is yet another facet to the weight war:  gender.  over time, women have come to take up less physical space, as manifested not only in their carriage and posture, i.e. sitting with legs crossed, arms folded, etc. but also in what is considered the desirable weight for those whom we would choose to be our icons.  marilyn monroe has been unwittingly chosen as the poster goddess for large women everywhere…and perhaps rightly so.  her size, by today’s standards, would be somewhere between an 8 and a 10, and yet she was considered the epitome of sexual desirability in her day, and perhaps even still.  i know of no modern-day celebs over a size 4 who could claim the same.  on the other side of the gender coin, the average man has come to take up much more space as the well-proportioned, lean frame of the hot leading man of yore has been largely replaced with the unnatural, horizontally-splayed musculature of action heroes and the bungling, bouncing body mass of the chubby comedic everyman….patterns which soon become subconsciously mimicked in the mass audience.  


finally, i think there is a third, extremely subtle element to the battle of the bulge….you may say that i am reaching, but i know that i, at least, have consciously observed it.  what if the flocking of a certain segment of the populace toward a state of physicality that has historically been attributable only to the more economically impoverished regions of the world is a subconscious rejection of mainstream american excess and a slight manifestation of anti-patriotic self-loathing?  is it possible that the elite, upper echelons of society have become so utterly disgusted with the fact that ease and superabundance—once their domain—have now been appropriated by the lesser elite and become the commonplace reality in this country and that the movement towards third-world thinness—which has been occuring over a span of decades—is an act of establishing a new form of elitism?  are ribcages the new status symbol?

i’ll leave it for you to ponder…in the meanwhile, i continue to enjoy my ribs for reasons now and forever unbeknownst to me.

Oct 26


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