Vogue’s Overweight Seven Year Old

A_560x375Last week, I was at the public library with my kids. Sometimes they like to do their homework there, rather than at the kitchen table, for a change of pace. To keep myself amused as Ian worked on math problems, I picked up the library's copy of Vogue. The article about a mom who put her seven year old daughter on a diet completely freaked me out. 

 The article isn't online, but you can read big chunks of it at New York magazine and at Jezebel

The mom, a New York City super rich lady, was horrified and disgusted by her daughter's huge appetite and obese frame. She puts her daughter on a diet and the kid loses weight in time for a Vogue photo shoot.

I suppose that it's a good thing to care about kids' health and eating habits. Michelle Obama has made childhood obesity a big part of her food campaign, but this woman's approach to her daughter's weight was repellent. The woman clearly had food issues of her own and she handed down those issues to her like grandma's wedding china. Her daughter complained about being hungry. She taught her daughter that being hungry is important, so you can look good in clothes. Being slim wasn't about being healthy; it was about being pretty. The mom shamed the girl into losing weight. 

I can guess how that little girl became overweight. Snacks and no exercise. Lots of trips to Starbucks for treats. Kids are naturally thin and common sense will keep them there.

Kids need exercise every day. I bet this girl goes to a fancy prep school in the city, where they don't have a proper playground or recess period. So, the mom needs to take her to Central Park every single day. She needs to take the bike down the elevator and ride to the park. The mom or the nanny needs to get on a bike, too, because if kids don't see you exercising, they won't do it. If it's too cold to go to the park, then they need to sign up for gymnastics or basketball and run around. 

Healthy foods. Don't keep muffins and chips in the house. Don't offer dessert after every meal. Put a serving of meat and vegetables on their plate, even if they are picky. Don't drink juice with meals. Don't eat out too many times. Make her lunch every day, rather than letting her eat the crap that serve in cafeterias. It's really just common sense. 

This mom handles her daughter's weight problem, not by getting her outside or by eating healthy foods at home. She handles it by shaming the kid, which is setting her up for a lifetime of yo-yo dieting and dangerous food disorders. 

Online Outrage

When I was writing academic papers about the Internet, the lit review section was always the same. I would list all the writers who thought that the Internet was the end time of civilization, and then I would list all the writers who thought the Internet was the second coming of Jesus. Then I would make some typical academic waffling and say, "well, it'sa some good and it'sa some bad." (I'm not sure why that came out in a bad Italian accent, but it did.)

The debate continues. 

Sasha Frere-Jones writes that Jonathan Franzen thinks that Twitter is a terrible thing. He also compares Franzen to Kayne West, which is awesome. "I like that Franzen doesn’t sound like a celebrity worried about reducing friction and shifting units. He is the Kanye West of fiction: popular, gifted, influential, and willing to make unpopular statements without the intervention of handlers."

Frere-Jones lists all the great writers on Twitter. I follow most of his list. You should, too. 
Then Stephen J. Dubner of Freaknonomics fame got into a rumble with some academic bloggers. It's a rather long and convoluted fight. I won't go into it. Chris Blattman writes a humble mea culpa and describes some of the dangers of blogging, though he gives in a little too easily. 



A few weeks ago, I watched one of those property shows on HGTV as I folded laundry. A young couple, maybe in their early 30s, walked through a palatial – by my standards – house in Tennessee. It had huge ceilings, a marble floor entrance way, an acre of property, a fireplace. Everything was brand new.

This monster house cost something like $200,000 to $300,000. A house like that in the East coast would cost $800,000. How do construction companies build such a huge house for $200,000? 

As the couple walked through the home, they whined to the real estate agent that the kitchen didn't have marble counter tops. Ugh. Take out the shotgun. Whiny 30 somethings complaining about marble counter tops do not generate much sympathy from me. 

I called my buddy, Suze, to rant about the marble counter top people. She said that younger people had different lifestyle expectations that we do. She talked about a younger cousin's dorm room suite. Each suite had its own laundry. No more doing laundry with 60 other kids in the dorm basement anymore. Several commenters in the higher ed blog post talked about all the extras – Starbucks, climbing walls – that are now standard in the college experience. 

I'm slowly turning into that grumpy old man.  

The 1% Nanny

The parenting blogs are all a buzz about Adam Davidson's magazine piece about high priced nannies. He profiles one nanny  who pulls in serious cash. 

As one of New York City’s elite nannies, Muneton commanded around $180,000 a year — plus a Christmas bonus and a $3,000-a-month apartment on Central Park West.

There's an agency in the city that places high priced nannies. These women are not only Mary Poppins with the kids. They also will drop all plans at a moment's notice to watch the kids and have additional skills.

 According to Pavillion’s vice president, Seth Norman Greenberg, a nanny increases her market value if she speaks fluent French (or, increasingly, Mandarin); can cook a four-course meal (and, occasionally, macrobiotic dishes); and ride, wash and groom a horse. Greenberg has also known families to prize nannies who can steer a 32-foot boat, help manage an art collection or, in one case, drive a Zamboni to clean a private ice rink.

A fellow grad student once told me that she worked for a super wealthy family in the city that got off on having an entire staff of ABDs as servants. She worked for them as a personal assistant as she finished her dissertation in English literature. It was better money than adjuncting. 

This article is getting so much attention, because most people can't afford basic daycare costs for their kids. It's the largest item on monthly budget, after the rent or mortgage payment. Other luxury goods that the rich enjoy like cars and boats are annoying, but accepted. There is a lot of irritation about inequality around childcare.  

Does Sorting Matter?

In Coming Apart, Charles Murray argues that the gap between elite Americans and working class Americans has grown since the the mid-1960s. In addition to the widening income gulf between these two groups, there is also a huge difference in values and cultural tastes. Murray argues that we are sorting ourselves out geographically, cocooned in neighborhoods of like-minded people. Wealthy people hang out with other wealthy people who listen to NPR, drink red wine, and vote for Obama. Working class people hang out with others who watch American Idol, drive a pick up truck, and like Santorum.

There are a lot of problems with Murray's methodology for this book, but let's just say he's right. We do live in communities of like-minded people. Does it matter?

Read more here


Higher Ed Reforms – What Should They Be

One of the unintended consequences of the Occupy Wall Street movement is the public discussion about the costs of a college education and the resultant huge student loan burden on young people. 

Some pundits have blamed over paid college professors for the rising cost of schools. Let me just say that college professors are not over paid. Sure, there are few that break the six figure income bracket, but they are relatively rare and senior group of faculty. Weirdly enough, the professors at community colleges around here are paid better than the local state professors. But that weirdness aside, most college professors make far less than other professions that require eight years of education. For the most part, professors, especially junior faculty, work long hours and there's a lot of stress involved with getting tenure and publications. Putting on a show for distracted kids and grading mountains of papers is no cake walk.  

Others have pointed to the diminishing revenue from state government. There's no question that state government is contributing less to state colleges, but that's the new reality. Money is not going to suddenly appear from the strapped states. So, cuts need to be made. 

We've talked about how difficult it is to make changes in the current college structure with its decentralized decision making. (Links later.) But if purposiveful changes aren't made, then we're going to end up with a situation that makes nobody happy. 

So, since I am lucky enough to have such a highly educated readership, I thought I would throw it out to the audience. Many of you are involved in higher ed as teachers, parents, or students, so you have some ideas on this topic. 

Question of the Day: How should colleges reform themselves, so that young people are not stuck with huge student loan burdens? 

More on Dharun Ravi

As time passes on the Rutgers bullying case, there is growing concern that justice was not served.

The best summary of the facts leading up to Clementi's suicide is from Ian Parker in the New Yorker. The article was so good that I read it twice. Parker explains that much of the discussion about the case is untrue. Clementi's mom wasn't cool about his homosexuality and may have caused him more hurt than his roommate. He may have been contemplating suicide before he went to Rutgers. Ravi never saw him having sex, just making out, with another guy. The video of the two guys kissing was never put on the Internet. Clementi was no angel; he made rude comments about Indians. There was no evidence that Clementi was extremely hurt by his roommates actions. Parker questions whether criminal charges were overstated in order to punish a moral crime. 

There is lots of grey in this story that never made it to the popular media. 

From danah boyd,

As someone who wants to rid the world of homophobia, this conviction leaves me devastated. I recognize the symbolic move that this is supposed to make. This is supposed to signal that homophobia will not be tolerated. But Ravi wasn’t convicted of being homophobic, but, rather, creating the “circumstances” in which Clementi would probably feel intimidated. In other words, Ravi is being punished for living in a culture of homophobia even though there’s little evidence to suggest that he perpetuated it intentionally. As Mary Gray has argued, we are all to blame for the culture of homophobia that has resulted in this tragedy.

I can’t help but think of Clementi’s parents in light of this. By all accounts, their reaction to their son’s confession that he was gay did more to intimidate Clementi based on his sexuality than Ravi’s stupid act. Yet, I can’t even begin to imagine that the court would charge, let alone convict, Clementi’s distraught parents of a hate crime. ::shudder::

I can’t justify Ravi’s decision to invade his roommate’s privacy, especially not at a moment in which he would be extremely vulnerable. I also cannot justify Ravi’s decision to mess with evidence, even though I suspect he did so out of fear. But I also don’t think that either of these actions deserve 10 years of jail time or deportation (two of the options given to the judge). I don’t think that’s justice.

This case is being hailed for its symbolism, but what is the message that it conveys? It says that a brown kid who never intended to hurt anyone because of their sexuality will do jail time, while politicians and pundits who espouse hatred on TV and radio and in stump speeches continue to be celebrated. It says that a teen who invades the privacy of his peer will be condemned, even while companies and media moguls continue to profit off of more invasive invasions.

 (Thanks to Laura GM for the link.) 

Richard Kim from the Nation writes, 

There are all too many cases of gay teenagers whose lives have been made intolerably miserable and who are driven to suicide by the harassment and violence of parents, family, fellow students, teachers and other authority figures. This is not transparently one of them. And the trial and verdict to one side, there is another kind of injustice done when a life is crudely forced into becoming a symbol of social wrongs, when it is made to carry the burden of a composite reality—anti-gay hate crimes—to which it bears but a schematic and hasty relation.

We'll never know exactly why Clementi committed suicide. He seems like a very sweet boy, and his parents, who live only a mile away from me, must be consumed with horrible grief. I do think that wrongs were done to this boy, but maybe the worst wrongs didn't come from his roommate. It came from an overall culture that hates gay people; his own family was not immune to that. It also came from a college campus that throws young people into adulthood without the guidance that they need.

When I was starting off as a reporter for my college newspaper, my first assignment was to write up the police blotter section. It was a lot of fun. I would go down to the campus security building, go over the arrest records, and ask questions of the security chief. I could write about anything – people getting busted for drug dealing, public intoxication, fraternity pranks – except I wasn't allowed to write about the suicides. It happened often enough at our school. We were in the suicide zone of colleges in upstate New York, where there isn't enough sun light. 

I think we turned a very complicated story into a neat and tidy story with a good guy and a bad guy. 

In the Yard

It's been unseasonably warm out here in New Jersey. Sad for the polar bears, but good for me. Steve and I spent the whole weekend outside doing yardwork.


The previous owners had landscapers who did the basics, but that was about it. All the shrubbery is over grown. Leaves are trapped under everything. There's way too much English ivy snaking its way up the pine trees. Two full cords of wood are rotting in the center of the backyard. It all needs to get cleared out. 


While there's plenty of land in the front of the house. It's shady and at a corner. We can't do much with it. The prime real estate of the yard – the zone for grilling and chilling — is quite small. Only 12 feet deep. The patio is crumbling. I don't think the previous owners used the backyard at all and, instead created a shade garden for the birds. And the rats who chowed down on all the bird seed. It's hard to drink beer in an alley full of annoying shrubbery and rats. 


We pulled out about ten of the shrubs yesterday. More still needs to get chopped. 


The good thing about yard work is that killing old shrubbery is cheap. Clippers and a saw. We probably need to rebuild the crumbling patio. That won't be cheap. But we can probably put that off for a year or two. We also need to plant a few new shrubs to help cover up the Taj Mahal that our neighorbors built around their pool, but I haven't decided what will go in and where it will go. I need to cut everything down before I decide what to put in. 

I am in the midst of writing a very serious piece right now about neighborhoods, so I'm only going to write silly stuff on Apt. 11D today. 

Fairytale of New York

It's St. Patrick's Day. I will be avoiding the parades in NYC and Pearl River, NY. I have bad memories of being accosted in the city by drunks, because I have red hair. We're thinking about taking a drive up to a farm, lunch in Cold Spring, then dinner of corned beef at my mom's.