Thursday, June 28, 2012

Divorce Rates Slide, but Marriage Has a New Message

Dr. Judith Wallerstein
While reading the obituary for Judith S. Wallerstein, a psychologist who rankled feminists 20 years ago with her findings that divorce is permanently traumatic for children, I recalled her influence on my own work as a psychologist. I'd cited her longitudinal study that followed children of divorce for 25 years in my own book, The Case Against Divorce, as part of my argument that the consequences of a split are so dire that in most cases, it's far better to work to heal rifts and stay together. I called divorce "a cure far worse than the disease."

Since my book came out many years ago (and it's still selling in paperback), divorce rates have dropped considerably.  While it's been a pernicious myth that the divorce rate was ever 50% (even at its peak in 1981, the rate was about 25% for first marriages), Census Bureau statistics show that divorce per 1,000 population has steadily declined--plunging from a high of 5.3 in 1981, to 4.7 in 1990, 4.1 in 2000--and in the latest figures (2009), down to 3.1. That's a considerable drop, though the marriage rate has also declined, from 9.8 per 1,000 population in 1990 to 6.9 per 1,000 in 2009.  (Part of that is because older cohorts were larger and married younger.)

As divorce popularity declined, Judith Wallerstein shifted her stance, from warning about divorce impact to structuring the process to minimize damage to children.  I was a bit surprised at this, since I'd considered her an ally in a broader effort to strengthen marriage, imbuing it with a gravitas beyond its function as a love conduit for a couple. But she told the New York Times that when women credited her for their decisions to stay married, "I don't feel, 'Oh, my God, that's wonderul, one more marriage saved.' Maybe it was the wrong marriage."

In her 1989 book Second Chances, the 10-year follow-up of 60 divorced families (with 131 children) in her California Children of Divorce research project, Dr. Wallerstein wrote, "When people ask if they should stay married for the sake of the children, I have to say, 'Of course not.'"

That was a bit different from my response, which would be "Don't stay in your bad marriage for the sake of the children, but they're a great reason to work to make it good." My book talked about all the awful consequences of divorce--to the individuals, their families and friends, as well as the children--and also the flip side, the benefits and joys of restoring and improving a relationship that already has a foundation in time and experience.

Unfortunately, I fear that the institution of marriage has deteriorated, and now expresses the value "follow your heart"--as opposed to its traditional, more honorable but less feel-good counterpart, "do your duty," a dichotomy often noted by my husband.

Part of the gay-marriage mantra is that marriage is a declaration of love, a commitment of the heart. Those who are concerned about the future, however, also see it in a broader context, as the best place for two biological parents to offer their children models of marriage, for problem-solving and relating as a husband or a wife, in a secure, stable context.

Feelings constantly change; the message to children should be that behaving kindly, fairly and respectfully are paramount, no matter the situation or one's emotions. Ideals for behavior, unlike feelings, remain constant. (Remember the olden days, when baby girls were named "Constance" in hopes they'd emulate that virtue?) The importance of providing children with security that transcends fluctuating emotions is why marriage matters to society, and why government gets involved at all.  The fact two people fall in love is irrelevant to the unfeeling government.

Divorce (except in untenable situations like abuse and addiction), is a failure of one or both people to overcome division. Aside from all the emotional pain it causes everyone, it sends the message to children that conflicts may be resolved by running away. Or, that stubbornness, selfishness or rudeness prevail, and retaining one's position is of higher importance than harmony. Judith Wallerstein's findings confirm this.

I know from my experience as a psychologist that people escalate their arguments. That rehashing disputes only makes them grow. That partners can have overwhelming needs to be right. Or to control. Or to withdraw, and these cause anger, distance and disgust.

There's also always the option to accommodate, change and forgive.  People can avoid divorce if they internalize that their spouse is their soulmate, team-mate, source of support and best friend, and keep that as the underlying theme of every interaction, and ideally, every thought.

The other divorce-preventative is to understand that as much as your spouse is your alter-ego, the operative word is alter. Men and women are supposed to be opposites, innately different, and to expect the other to be your clone is not only wrong, but forfeits access to a second perspective--that can enhance and expand yours. A man and woman, hard-wired differently, combine in marriage for the same goals, forming a completed unit. Makes me wonder: How can two men, or two women together replicate those irreplaceable gender differences?

Answer: Marriage has been re-defined. It's now a declaration of love, a promise to care for the other. Companionate, not completionate.

So why has the divorce rate dropped since the early 80s? Is it because Judith Wallerstein taught us that children suffer permanently from divorce? Is it because fewer people marry? Probably both, but I would also speculate that divorce has become widely available and un-stigmatized, while at the same time the strident feminism and self-absorbtion of the past has relaxed, causing many to prefer the less-stressful path, which is to get along.

Don't misunderstand: Divorce remains a serious problem, and the work of Judith Wallerstein still holds. Some marriages are too punishing to continue, and children whose parents split will always agree with Dr. Wallerstein's finding that "for all [the children she followed], a significant part of their childhood or their adolescence had been a sad and frightening time" (Surviving the Breakup, p. 306).

And that might be the most significant deterrent to divorce of all--the memories held by so many now-grown children of their "sad and frightening time" as the collateral damage of divorce.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The "Having It All" Debate, Again: The Truth No One's Willing to Say

Perhaps it came to a head most with a front-page story in Friday's New York Times, "Elite Women Put New Spin on Old Debate." Here, writer Jodi Kantor summarizes the revival of the most trite of feminist slogans, that women can "have it all" by successfully juggling careers with family. The "new spin" is that highly achieving women--and I mean the 1%, who are powerful, wealthy and brilliant--once again fret over their desires to veer from tough, competitive and demanding professional tracks to embrace family life.

Furor was first fanned by the 2011 Barnard College commencement address by Sheryl Sandberg, in which the Facebook board member exorted women to push ever-harder to maximize their work-life potentials, a concept some cheered and others dismissed.

Well, not quite dismissed, as high-ranking women admitted the draw of their children over career, and felt guilt responding to that pull. A cover story in the July-August issue of The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter, Princeton professor and "the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department," under Hilary Clinton, takes us through the angst over issues with her teen sons that led to her resignation from that post. The hurdle, Dr. Slaughter tells us in an accompanying video, was admitting that she wanted time with her children. Feminists want to change the world; they're not supposed to want to change diapers.

But she's quick to reassure us that "I have not exactly left the ranks of full-time career women: I teach a full course load; write regular print and online columns on foreign policy; give 40 to 50 speeches a year; appear regularly on TV and radio; and am working on a new academic book." The difference is that now she sleeps at home rather than away in Washington, DC. Some call that compromise. Not me.

Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter
Nor Lori Gottlieb, whose post on The Atlantic website snarkily docks Dr. Slaughter for her suggestions for solving the career-mommy conundrum, which include increasing respect for parenting, shaping work so parental duties are more feasible, re-defining success to allow career dips for motherhood, and roping in dads.  In other words, after forty years of family-friendly discussion and innovation, Dr. Slaughter trots out tired arguments that employers will gain if they structure their businesses around workers' parental duties.

Lori Gottlieb replies, redundantly because she's so tired, that "Time and space do not magically expand because you'd like to be two places at once or do more things than can fit into a 24-hour period or even a life span."  She very accurately mentions the vast majority of women who don't have nannies or mommy-esque husbands, and might be working two jobs to cover the bills. This is a tempest in a Starbucks cup, because while readers of Atlantic are buzzing about the difficulties fitting in yoga while they write another book and take the kids to karate, the rest of the world doesn't subscribe to the New York Times to even read about their plight.

This whole "are we spoiled or are we entitled?" back-and-forth, however, doesn't dare tell the real truth. Something no elite achiever, whether she's a time-out mother or a dedicated CEO can mention. But here it is: Women naturally want to be on the scene raising their own kids. And most men do not.

More succinctly: There are innate gender differences that explain the fact that all these newly-liberated and achieving women are in such a tizzy over this, while men are not. The women who are tops in their careers also want to be tops as parents, and the fact they can't is severely frustrating. The men who are tops in their careers love their children, but don't have that umbilical pull to be there raising them.

The women sounding off complain about constraints of organizations and professions. They moan that even with involved husbands and expert help, their children need them. They grouse about the guilt they feel for biting the hand that feeds them so well in tony restaurants, by stepping down from positions they've sought. They describe the lack of understanding and admiration their nurturing and lunch-packing and selflessness for their children earns compared to, say running a marathon.  But they never mention--they can never mention--that traditional gender roles might have some practical and natural basis.

No, they exist as role models to break those traditional gender roles. Dr. Slaughter repeatedly lauds achieving women, foremost among them Michelle Obama, whose current occupation as First Lady is "a very visible investment interval" for the benefit of her daughters, and, Ms. Slaughter assures us, "we should expect a glittering career from her after she leaves the White House and her daughters leave for college."

The elite feminist trope, as expressed by Dr. Slaughter, is that women should excel in their careers in their 20s and early 30s, freezing their ova to insure that when their trajectories are set, it's not too late to conceive. Then, in their mid-30s and 40s, they can intentionally relax a bit on the professional thrust to allow for parenting to weave itself through their meetings, after-midnight writing binges, and flexible office visits, resuming their quests for ultimate occupational fulfillment in their 50s, once the children are safely esconced at Princeton.

Sounds fabulous. Some of us, however, are unafraid to say at the outset that raising our children is a higher calling than advising Hilary Clinton, or even being Hilary Clinton. Some of us don't want to hear from the nanny that little Taylor or Dallas finished their brie-on-baguette sandwiches at the park after school. We'd rather make the snack, pick up our own kids at the bus stop and walk them to the park ourselves, pushing them on swings and asking them about what happened that morning in kindergarten. Every day. We want to be there, not just because we love them (yes, career acheivers do love their children, too) but because we consider it a privilege and a duty and a delight to nurture. We have no issue with that old fashioned idea that children need their mothers, and that mothers are biologically programmed to crave, care for and protect their children. And to imprint them with their values and styles so that they may thrive.

The truth no one seems willing to say is that men and women are inherently and inescapably different. It's not just socialization that causes these differences; it's nature, or God, or whatever you want to believe makes us who we are when we enter this world. Some people are tall, some are smart, some hate cilantro. And women are made to be mothers, and to mother. Women can be competent and excel in a range of other things as well, but the fundamental truth is that women are made to mother.

That's why we're hearing all these teary treatises from the super-successful. For them, it's not a balance; it's a clash. To some of us, being a mother, there with our children, is the epitome of "having it all."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Chihuly Garden and Glass: New Seattle Museum worthy of "Wow!"

View from Chihuly Garden of "Sun" and Glasshouse
It's been open just three weeks, but even months before, my husband and I were peeking through the reed-like iron fence and boarded-up perimeter of glass-master Dale Chihuly's new museum taking shape in the shadow of the Space Needle at Seattle Center.  Now that I've had a chance to wander through, my reaction is "Wow!" not just for the brilliant colors, wormy, blobby and creative shapes, stunning yet familiar compositions, but for the fantasy-worldly experience that plucked me from normal life into enlarged imagination.

I'm a sucker for bright colors, and so's Dale Chihuly, as most of his innovations involve strong hues in moving shapes.  The only muted room of 9 honors the Northwest, where a display of vintage earth-toned Native American baskets, warped by use and time, is mimicked by similarly slumping glass cylinders and bowls in pale egg and ochre tones. But even that display, complemented by dozens of sepia Edward S. Curtis photogravures of dignified local native residents, occupies a hall where spotlights illuminate a wall of brightly-patterned blankets. It seems every Chihuly idea needs primary color pop.

Rowboat of floats reflect; at right is end of Ikebana boat
And so, entering each subsequent room brings a gasp of surprise and delight. My personal favorite was the Ikebana and Float Boat room, where twin wooden rowboats, reflected on black acrylic stands, hold colorful round bubble-floats, and twisty spiral tubes, respectively. The bubbles, some nearing two feet in diameter, had been tossed as an art experiment into the river near Chihuly's Nuutajärvi, Finland workshop and gathered by local teens into their rowboats, inspiring the arrangement.

Mille Fiori, with 'tower" element in foreground
Another of my faves is the Mille Fiori room, where brilliant oceanic forms squirm and writhe up from the reflective acrylic, culminating with a yellow "tower" of wriggling tubes, the form for which Chihuly is probably most famous. Mille Fiori, of course, means "thousand flowers," but this darkened room definitely feels underwater, despite the tower's explosion of hot colors. The long, hollow forms were fitted over pipes embedded in a concrete stand, not only to provide secure structure but to allow the artist to change the composition's components with ease.

I learned about the exhibits not only from posted descriptions but from a docent whose five-minute explanations suggested her own expertise as a glass-blower.  The garden, with its central medusa-ish orb, often the only "Sun" in our rainy clime, fascinated tourists who learned how long reed shapes are gravity-pulled and annealed, and how chunks of a resin-ish looking material in another garden feature were Chihuly's own invention, for outdoor projects that would otherwise burst from heat and cold. Four-foot glass spikes were like sister shoots in the garden surrounded by the sticker-edged growth of (real) blue thistles.

My friend capturing a piece of the Persian Ceiling
Other memorable environments were created in the Persian Ceiling room, where overhead an amalgam of bright back-lit pieces jumble large and small. "Persian" glass forms are circular, open plates, irregularly and flowingly devised, reminiscent to me of splayed jellyfish or seaweed flowers that would undulate with the currents. With Chihuly's penchant for unusual spirochete, amoeba and anemone-like forms, nine resin-style cherubs tucked among them seemed out of place, but easily ignorable as your neck crinks in fascination with the ample array of weird, mutatious shapes above.

The architectural centerpiece of the museum is the Glasshouse, an arched-sided greenhouse-like hall inspired by Chihuly's love of plant conservatories. Looking up through the clear roof past suspended sets of flower-vine-like Persians, you can see the Space Needle loom, peering at its curious Lilliputian admirers.

Space needle seen through roof of Glasshouse
And so we were indeed in awe, captivated by the creativity and revved by the intensity of the panoply of Pantone, blasted in our awareness by startling confrontation. And of course, I wanted to capture it all, and yes! Photography was not only allowed, but roving staff photographers obligingly took our photos free, with the stunning glass backdrops, sent home by email.

My thrill renews when I view my photos (some in this post) from yesterday, but the images only urge me to escape again to that wondrous world of shape and movement and color. If you come to Seattle, don't miss it.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Very Fattening Drink Kids Guzzled Before the "Obesity Epidemic"

All the outcry about sugary drinks' caloric damage--blaming them, really, for the so-called "obesity epidemic"--got me wondering what people drank before 1980, which is when obesity rates started rising.

I went on a trip down memory lane and realized that as a Baby Boomer kid, my cohort, svelte as we were, operated under a wildly different set of "healthy diet" rules. There was indeed one non-soda liquid that we drank in immense quantities. Not water. Not even lemonade or iced tea. No, what we drank, every day, was--whole milk.

Dietary recommendations for children and teens emphasized that we each needed to consume a quart of milk every day. At 146 calories per cup, mothers were governmentally advised to feed their children 584 calories of bovine secretion every 24 hours. How do I know? I inherited my mother's Parents' Magazine Family Cookbook by Blanche M. Stover, copyright 1953.

Whole milk, by the way, has far more calories than regular Coca Cola, which (according to the company website) provides 88 calories per cup, and thus a "mere" 352 calories per quart.  My mom's cookbook quoted the US Department of Agriculture's calculations of "soda, cola type" in 1949 at 105 calories per cup, while "milk, whole" boasted 165. Guess milk was richer, and cola weaker then.

In pre-obesity epidemic days, skim milk was considered far less healthful for children than whole (which, by the way, has 3.25% fat). Nowadays, the USDA is calling 2% milk "not low fat" and "a poor choice." In school, every cafeteria meal came with a pint of milk; it was expected that kids who brown-bagged their lunches would bring "milk money" to purchase it fresh to accompany their sandwiches.

It's true that milk provides nutrients and protein, so it's more valuable than carbonated drinks.  But when the cholesterol scare occurred, milk and eggs' disappeared from favor. And once schools phased out milk sales, those cute little juice boxes became the go-to drink for moms packing lunches--convenient with no worries about spoilage or leaks.  Those were the days when we thought 100% fruit juice was the healthy option, offering the vitamins of fruit without the "added" sugar.

Now, we're told--at least by the recent HBO series "The Weight of the Nation"--that fruit juices are just as sugary and useless as pop. Even though Mayor Bloomberg isn't restricting big cups of juice the way he's banning servings over 16 ounces of soda, the word's out that every day should be "a day without sunshine." That's a reference to the catchy marketing line of the Florida orange juice producers, singled out for disdain in the HBO series.

It's enough to make you wish environmentalists hadn't made those little bottles of water taboo.

Actually, some sources insist kids need the fat in milk, saying it's essential for brain development. Breast milk, after all, is fattier than whole milk--often 5% fat. And it's sweet--some would even call it "sugary." Lucky for New Yorkers it doesn't come in a container larger than 16 oz.

It's unlikely we'll return to the days when children received their lunch trays sporting a full-fat pint with a cheery, "drink your milk!" But how are concerned parents to wean their kids from Snapple, Capri Sun and Dr. Pepper? To what? "Enjoy your skim!" just doesn't have the same ring.

Health educators are missing a great opportunity: they should teach children the distinction between hunger and thirst.  Thirst is your body needing hydration--water. Hunger is when you need energy--real food. Kids need to learn the difference, and not blow their chance for real nutrition by getting full on a Frappuccino. Or worse, imbibing the 700-calorie Starbucks drink and then dinner, too, without even considering if they're hungry.

I find amusing the tack taken by soft-drink makers defending their products. Coca-Cola's Katie Bayne, in an interview responding to Mayor Bloomberg's proposed big-cup ban, said, "What our drinks offer is hydration. That's essential to the human body. We offer great taste and benefits whether it's an uplift or carbohydrates or energy. We don't believe in empty calories. We believe in hydration."

People who drink tap water believe in hydration, too.

I don't think that drink-makers or the mayor are "bad guys," by the way--I just think all the "experts" ought to step back and allow people to reclaim sensitivity to their bodies' own signals. Not likely to happen.

The dietitians who touted whole milk to a generation of (slimmer) children sincerely wanted those kids to live a long, disease-free life, and of course that's the goal of Mayor Bloomberg and all the authorities who are floundering to find an obesity preventative and cure. Unfortunately, neither are available yet, since more needs to be known about the real causes of the BMI leap between 1980 and 2000. Until the facts arrive, New York's mayor and the rest of us need to relax a bit, listen to our internal cues, and raise our water glasses in a hopeful toast to our health.

Monday, June 11, 2012

NY Big-Soda Ban: Symptom of "The Do-Something Disease"

Mayor Bloomberg announces large-soda ban, May 30 (NYTimes photo)
Everybody's got an opinion about New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed ban (in restaurants, movie theaters, stadiums, arenas and mobile food carts) on sweetened drinks larger than 16 oz.  The American Beverage Association quickly responded with full-page ads in the New York Times, claiming that "beverage calories and added sugars have decreased for more than a decade, while the CDC reports obesity rates continue to climb."

Actually, obesity rates have leveled off since 2000, remaining about the same overall for the past 12 years. However, between 1980 and 2000, adult obesity rates skyrocketed, from about 13% up to 32%, after staying comparatively flat since 1960, when data was first collected. In the same period, the percentage of obese children aged 6-11 swelled from 7% to 20%; teens aged 11-19 from 5% to 18%.

What happened between 1980 and 2000 to cause ballooning obesity? And what happened after 2000 to halt its rise? And why is everyone so upset about it now? 

Could it have something to do with last year's "hate-the-1%" reaction to the recession? Corporations have again become the enemy, the latest in an "us-versus-them" feeling of victimhood as unemployment and a real estate slump drags on, and President Obama laughably insists "the private sector is fine."

In this climate, there's a new receptiveness to explanations of our corpulence that point fat fingers to entities we consider "the powerful." The loudest pundits posit that an explosion of cheap junk food, especially high-fructose corn syrup-sweetened drinks, fattened a gluttonous public victimized by the advertising of greedy corporations marketing their high-profit foodstuffs. Dual-income parents, with no time or energy to cook, but with need for quick and easy dinners, grabbed super-sized buckets and carry-out bags from ubiquitous drive-throughs. They did this for twenty years, scarfing down more and more--enough to push girth figures higher every year for two decades, and keep rates at a distended level for twelve years since.

Warnings about our nation's burgeoning bulk are nothing new; they've proliferated since the late 1970s, when a National Institutes of Health report recommended 23 pages of policies to address obesity, including "that any national health insurance program...recognize obesity as a disease and include within its benefits coverage for the treatment of it." In 1980, the Department of Health and Human Services proposed objectives: Within ten years, no more than 10% of men and 17% of women should be obese, half of America's overweight should start a "weight-loss regimen," and 90% of the populace should understand that reducing requires fewer calories consumed and/or increased physical activity.

With obesity rates leaping, in 1999 Surgeon General David Sacher launched "Toward a National Action Plan on Overweight and Obesity: The Surgeon General's Initiative," and in 2001 Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson declared, "Overweight and obesity are among the most pressing new health challenges we face today." As a result, the 2001 "Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity" urged a wide range of measures, including mandatory p.e., healthy school meals, obesity education, and campaigning against sedentary activities like watching TV--similar to remedies put forward today. More goals were set in the "Healthy People 2010" effort, including a population of 60% healthy weight BMI, with fewer than 15% of adults, and 5% of children and adolescents obese.

But instead of heeding health leaders, the citizenry remained fat--with a third of adults and 15% of youngsters obese, and another third overweight. If chubbies can't help themselves, our benevolent legislators must save them--and so "The Do-Something Disease" becomes contagious. First Lady Michelle Obama adopted childhood obesity as her pet cause, and her "Let's Move!" campaign, with its tax-funded programs, sent tentacles of government urgency into communities. (Now a new study shows that "black girls are less sensitive to the effects of physical activity" than white girls, casting a peculiar twist on the plan.)

Mayor Bloomberg has succumbed to "The Do-Something Disease" with his limit on sweetened-drink cup size in New York. Conservatives cry "nanny state," and the public nixed the size-cap 64-36% in a Reuters/Ipsos poll. But many, including mayoral daughter Georgina Bloomberg, suggest other government-imposed means to shrink the national waistline, such as "lowering the cost of healthy food," or taxing a wider array of junk foods by at least 10%.
Recently, Disney pledged to healthify its theme-park foods, and spurn advertising from sweet and junky products on its kid-centric TV channels. At a news conference, Disney's CEO was flanked by the First Lady herself, who called the corporation's new nutritional guidelines "a game-changer for the health of our children."

Just a few thoughts: There were fast-foods, working moms, ubiquitous Coke promotion, and sedentary TV before the obesity rate escalation began in 1980. And health officials wrung their hands about overly-solid citizens before the obesity increase ceased in 2000. Given that medical experts can't even say for sure what fueled the BMI boom, where's the evidence well-meaning interventions will work?

Unless we're willing to ban all convenience or fast foods (throwing millions out of jobs, by the way), individual choice reigns. If tasty, cheap baked goods sit cheek-and-jowl on the grocery shelf with produce, well, have you ever seen anyone actually buy one of the bananas sitting in the little basket recently placed at your supermarket check-out? You can lead a shopper to apples, but you can't make him eat.

A New York Times article describing residents' pessimism about the Bloomberg soda plan interviewed people imbibing soft drinks; the ones sipping sizes larger than 16 ounces were all sharing.  It's presently cheaper to buy a bigger cup of soda than two smaller ones; so the new ban could bring some a financial penalty.

Even the foremost expert on the psychological effect of portion sizes has his fears. Brian Wansink of Cornell University, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More than we Think, says “I’m really afraid it will be an epic failure,” so that “people won’t have any faith that anything else will work.” Not that they should have any faith that anything else will work, because many researchers believe the rise in obesity is caused by factors outside of human control.

Sudies support that obesity could be caused by (pick your favorite) the evolving FTO gene, environmental influences on the hormones ghrelin and leptin, an Adeno 36 virus, lack of brown adipose tissue related to the COX-2 enzyme, metabolic sensitivity, or environmental chemicals like bisphenol A, pesticides and ptalates--none of them resulting from simple overeating or low physical activity. Realistically, it's highly unlikely that smaller soda cups in some venues will have an impact.

But it's the message that counts, isn't it? "The Do-Something Disease" is about making laws to protect soda-slurpers from both corporate greed (soda is a high-margin item) and themselves.
Fans of 7-Eleven stores can still get their Gulps, which, the chain claims, "are genetically engineered to quench even the most diabolical thirst." Convenience stores are excluded from the cup-size ban, so help yourself to the 20-oz. Gulp, 30-oz. Big Gulp, 40-oz. Super Big Gulp and 50-oz. (down from 60 for ease of carrying) Double Gulp, all of which cost less than $1.85. You can even mix their flavors to your carbonated delight.

Of course, under the Bloomberg restrictions, fruit juices, which confer as many calories as soft drinks, may continue to be sold in any cup size. Also, you can order as many 16-oz. fountain drinks or refills as you like. So the disease to cure first might be the "Do-Something," because the "obesity epidemic" isn't understood, and may not even be a matter of choice.

"The reason we have government in the first place," intones a talking head early in the HBO four-part TV series The Weight of the Nation, which aired last week, "is to solve collectively problems we can't solve individually." In this case, for government to absolve the rest of us of weakness by tackling the conglomerates who stack our comestibles with extra calories and lure us to spend sedentary hours in front of our computers and TVs. We're fat individually, but government will "collectively" fix it.

The series offers the usual suggestions for individuals to modify their diets and activity levels in order to reduce. But as Cindy, of Bogalusa, Louisiana says in the first episode, "It's not easy to take weight off! And that's been liposuction, patches, peels, fad diets, countin' carbs, countin' calories--I've tried it all." Which would mean she failed even when following what the show offers in its very conventional list of resources. After all these years of media advice, at least one of the 1980 obesity-fighting goals has been reached: 90% of adults are well aware--incessantly informed-- that calories and exercise affect their size.

It's tough to await the research necessary to really address the causes of the twenty-year swell in America's girth, but effective cures for obesity require it. In the meantime, silly laws like restricting soft drink cup sizes won't make much difference, except to assuage lawmakers' cravings to do something--anything--about the fat of the land.