Thanks, I had a nice birthday. “What do you want to do on your special day?” Alan asked.

“Take a road trip,” I said.


“Port Huron.”

Why Port Huron? Because I’ve never been there. And now that I have, I don’t think I have to go back. Not that there’s anything wrong with Port Huron, except the fact that the downtown riverfront view is of an oil refinery on the Canadian side. Our part of Michigan is full of reminders that we’re not Santa Fe, with an economy based on art galleries and restaurants, but man — that’s a depressing sight for a Port Huronian, I’d imagine.

Anyway, we saw Port Huron. Shared a pizza with the fam later, had a super-delicious chocolate cake and watched “Thank You for Smoking” on pay-per-view. It was exactly as I remember the book — a fine good time when it was going on, almost instantly forgettable afterward, which makes it a three-star flick in my book. Nothing wrong with that. Aaron Eckhart has quite the chin dimple.

Somewhere along the course of the weekend, I made time to watch “Thin,” a documentary airing on HBO. It’s about women at an eating-disorders clinic in Florida.

If you’ve known anyone with an eating disorder — what am I saying? Everybody has known someone with an eating disorder. I met my first one in college, one of my roommates. She was recovering from anorexia, although she obsessed about food more or less constantly and had a million strange eating habits, including munching on carrots to the tune of a pound a day. The palms of her hands were orange. Another friend shared an apartment in Manhattan with a bulimic. The layout of the apartment was symmetrical, with a bedroom/sitting area on either side and a bathroom in between. A couple nights a week, the roommate would binge and purge, binge and purge, all night long. A few weeks of listening to vomiting and flushing sent my friend back to the closet she was sleeping in, in Brooklyn.

Anyway, it’s very common. And like all problems, it occurs along a continuum. The women in “Thin” are at the shithouse-rat end of the spectrum; one has a tube in her stomach, which her parents had inserted to keep her alive, although it didn’t take long for her to figure out how to flex her stomach muscles to make it work the other direction. The shots of her gaunt belly, with both the tube and the belly-button ring, were ghastly.

What interests me about eating disorders is how mainstream they are, not just in their frequency but in the increasingly open acceptance of them in regular society. For all the dying supermodels, it’s becoming clear that some people don’t really see anything wrong with it. Supportive pro-anorexia and bulimia websites are out there, and unashamed. Victoria “I’m not anorexic” Beckham claims to have a 23-inch waist. A British writer noted this was the exact circumference of her head. I just got a tape measure and checked — mine, too. Women come in all sizes, but this is ridiculous.

Lately I’ve read about something called “exercise bulimia,” no barfing involved, just obsessive exercise to nullify every calorie ingested. This was reported with a shrug; if you have to be bulimic, might as well be this variety.

But I really goggled at a review of “Thin” in the New York Times, in which Virginia Heffernan noted the infantilizing atmosphere at the treatment center where these women are housed, and then writes:

And after all this restraining of their evil ways, the women can only conclude that they are undisciplined, depraved and out of control, though to look at their gaunt forms and hear about their seriousness of purpose, you can hardly imagine that willpower is what they lack. …Why do these so-called professionals talk like carping schoolmarms? Anorexics notoriously inspire annoyance in other people; it’s not clear why. Maybe, in their self-discipline, they make the rest of us feel slovenly.

Calling anorexia “willpower” and “self-discipline” is like saying someone who washes hands 400 times a day has an impressive commitment to personal hygiene. All you have to do is watch these women eat. They ingest every forkful as though it’s toxic waste. One has to polish off a birthday cupcake and takes forever to do so, complaining throughout that it’s “too sweet” and looking, by the last bite, as though she’s just eaten a turd.

It’s true — anorexics inspire annoyance. It puts me off my feed to see someone at the table mopping butter off an English muffin with a thick stack of napkins. It’s annoying to see someone who can’t spend five minutes without thinking about what she won’t be eating for her next meal. All the women in “Thin” came across as girls, even one who already had two children of her own. One was made that way by her own mother, who taught her the tricks of the game, and another hinted at unspeakable trauma in her past, but in all the family sessions you got the feeling their loved ones were trying hard not to slap faces.

Anyway, in a weekend devoted to overeating, it was an interesting contrast.

So, bloggage:

Gene Weingarten diagnoses John Kerry’s humor problem in a tight paragraph:

The man is as strait-laced as a whalebone corset, as rigid as Formica. His business is politics. He should never be anywhere near a joke.


Actual Jerry Seinfeld joke– The problem with mall garages is that everything looks the same. They try to differentiate between levels: different colors, different numbers, different letters. What they need to do is name the levels like, “Your Mother’s a Whore.” You would remember that. You would go: “No, we’re not. We’re in ‘My Father’s an Abusive Alcoholic.'”

The same Jerry Seinfeld joke, as would be told by John Kerry– The problem with mall garages is that your mother’s a whore.

Elsewhere in the WashPost, the fascinating story of the AK-47, portions of which I stumbled across in the past. If you saw “Lord of War” you got a nutshell version of this in a Nicolas Cage voiceover, but the story is far more thorough:

The story of the gun itself, from inspiration in Bryansk to bloody insurgency in Iraq, is also the story of the transformation of modern warfare. The AK blew away old battlefield calculations of military superiority, of tactics and strategy, of who could be a soldier, of whose technology would triumph.

Ironically, the weapon that helped end World War II, the atomic bomb, paved the way for the rise of the lower-tech but deadlier AK-47. The A-bomb’s guarantee of mass destruction compelled the two Cold War superpowers to wage proxy wars in poor countries, with ill-trained combatants exchanging fire — usually with cheap, lightweight and durable AKs.

When one war ended, arms brokers gathered up the AKs and sold them to fighters in the next hot spot. The weapon’s spread helps explain why, since World War II, so many “small wars” have lingered far beyond the months and years one might expect. Indeed, for all of the billions of dollars Washington has spent on space-age weapons and military technology, the AK still remains the most devastating weapon on the planet, transforming conflicts from Vietnam to Afghanistan to Iraq. With these assault rifles, well-armed fighters can dominate a country, terrorize citizens, grab the spoils — and even keep superpowers at bay.

And all Mikhail Kalashnikov was after was a decent, non-jamming weapon.

On a more peaceful note, NN.C reader and sometime commenter Jeff Gill turns up in the Columbus Dispatch, defending the Hopewell Indian mounds of Newark, Ohio. Well done.

And now we are 49. Sigh. Oh well — maybe I’ll have a career again by 50.

Posted at 8:13 pm in Current events, Movies |

27 responses to “Thinner.”

  1. Mindy said on November 26, 2006 at 10:29 pm

    Samuel L. Jacson played an arms dealer in the movie Jackie Brown. In it he says about the AK-47 “When you absolutely, positively have to kill every motherfucker in the room….” This has replaced the vision I get of his Pulp Fiction character Jules exclaiming about a mighty tasty burger whenever I see Samuel L. Jackson.

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  2. deb said on November 26, 2006 at 11:03 pm

    i know where virginia heffernan is coming from when she talks about the “willpower” involved in eating disorders. about 20 years ago, i signed up for a diet program offered by weight loss centers of america — five-times-a-week weigh-ins, peeing on pH strips to check for ketosis, and a whopping 800 calories a day. i got down to the lowest weight of my adult life, a mere 2 pounds more than i weighed in seventh grade. i quit when i started enjoying the feeling of power that came from ignoring my own hunger. (it also helped that my best friend, ms. nall, pointed out that dark under-eye circles kind of ruined the effect of having a great butt.)

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  3. brian stouder said on November 26, 2006 at 11:03 pm

    Speaking of holiday goodies, loved the Weingarten bon mot!

    Neatest thing I caught on tv over the long weekend was on C-SPAN’s BookTV. Davaid Cannadine gave a talk about his new book about Andrew Mellon – the best biography of him yet written…..

    also the ONLY major biography written about him! Cannadine has a pleasing english accent, and personifies the somewhat harried intellectual! The first 2 or 3 minutes of his talk, he was shuffling papers madly; he seemed like a fellow who had just burst in, and was late for a flight…but he never missed a beat, and quickly had the crowd solidly with him.

    anyway, his book is added to my Christmas list

    The most annoying thing I saw on tv was a CBS ’48-Hours’ apologia/white-wash for the Ramsey family. My wife wanted to see it, and so I invested an hour of my life into it

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  4. nancy said on November 26, 2006 at 11:09 pm

    See, it’s because I want everyone to be fat like me, Deb. And YOU FELL FOR IT. Ah ha ha ha ha ha.

    BTW, one of the women in this documentary is in the hospital because she attempted suicide (slashed wrists) after eating two slices of pizza. Another checks out after her treatment, goes out to dinner, eats a Caesar salad, goes home and promptly throws it up. She, too, is rehospitalized after a suicide attempt. Poor, sick girls.

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  5. brian stouder said on November 26, 2006 at 11:17 pm

    Have you seen the gossip reports about Lindsay Lohan ‘cutting’ herself?

    See – I can (at some level) ‘get’ the bulemia thing; like the Roman vomitoriums – do the gluttony thing and then purge….and I can almost ‘get’ the anorexia thing – taking absolute control of one’s diet to the extreme end….but what is the ‘payoff’ for cutting one’s self?

    Is it a self-loathing death-wish?

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  6. nancy said on November 26, 2006 at 11:28 pm

    I don’t get cutting, either. The best way I’ve heard it explained is this: That it externalizes internal pain. You feel lousy, you cut yourself, and now you’re bleeding and you feel relief.

    It’s not a death wish. From what I’ve read, the cuts are very rarely suicidal. It’s more like letting air out of balloon in short bursts rather than popping it.

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  7. colleen said on November 26, 2006 at 11:54 pm

    I tivo’d “Thin”, but haven’t had the gumption to watch it. It’s politically incorrect of me to say it, but anorexics and bulimics…well, they p**s me off. Not very caring of me, not very charitable, not at all kind hearted, but there you have it. The jealousy of a fat chick? Perhaps. But it’s like we as a society try to “cure” them, while there’s a little part of our brains thinking “I wish *I* could live on half an apple a day…”

    Are you planning to see “Bobby”? We saw it today. I found it very moving and well done. I was a baby when he was killed, so it’s all history to me. But really….considering what’s going on in our world now? One could argue that not much has changed.

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  8. MichaelG said on November 27, 2006 at 9:58 am

    Happy Birthday, Nance. Don’t look to me for sympathy for being 49, though. I just wish I was 49 again and know what I know now. Hee Hee. Oh, and whatever problems I may have, anorexia isn’t one of them.

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  9. Dorothy said on November 27, 2006 at 10:55 am

    Haven’t seen “Bobby” but we did see “Casino Royale” last weekend and it was fab. We saw “Stranger Than Fiction” on Friday and it was good, but not exactly what I expected. I actually stayed awake for the entire “The Wire” last night and can’t stop thinking about it. It’s like those kids are real people in my mind now, and I’m worried to death about Randy.

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  10. Danny said on November 27, 2006 at 11:51 am

    Well, here is one survivor of anorexia.


    And incase the image tag doesn’t owrk, here is the link.

    Happy, B-day Nance!

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  11. wade said on November 27, 2006 at 1:22 pm

    at least you’re still in your forties – I haven’t been able to claim that for years…

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  12. ashley said on November 27, 2006 at 2:20 pm

    Don’t think of it as forty-nine. Think of it as “quarante-neuf”.

    See,isn’t that better?

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  13. Jeff said on November 27, 2006 at 3:39 pm

    Isn’t Port Huron where the SDS and Tom Hayden met and wrote their big “Port Huron Statement” against the Vietnam War? So, it was an historical field trip — you could take it off your taxes as research for a possible writing assignment . . .

    Thanks for the link, said the fellow who was a young pastor fifteen years ago!

    Peace, Jeff

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  14. brian stouder said on November 27, 2006 at 5:48 pm

    Hey – just read that Pamela Anderson, age suspiciously given as ’39’ – is getting divorced from Michigander Kid Rock!

    They were married four times in their 4 month marriage, and now it’s splitsville. Hell – who COULD stay married, amidst all the stress of that many ceremonies in that short a time?! Have they never watched Bridezilla?

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  15. harrissimo said on November 27, 2006 at 6:05 pm

    the reason that people are extremely annoyed around anorexics is that anorexics are extremely annoying, as are all passive-aggressive people. anorexia is the passive-aggressive condition par excellence–“you want to try to control me and run my life? well, fine, i’ll never let food pass my lips! that will show you, won’t it? now do you see what you made me do to myself?

    it’s a hallmark of passive-aggressive people to offload all responsibility to other people. in particular, they like to offload responsibility for their rage, which is considerable. one good way to know you’ve just been taken in by someone’s passive-aggressive charms is if you leave his or her company with an unaccountable feeling of annoyance, or even rage. if so, congratulations! you’ve just been on the receiving end of a passive-aggressive’s favorite flim-flam. passive-aggressives are world’s most skilled manipulators, and until you’ve been round the maypole with one a few times, you’re likely to feel guilty for getting angry with him or her. my advice: relax–angry is just how s/he wants you to feel. better you than him/her.

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  16. Danny said on November 27, 2006 at 6:15 pm

    So, are you saying that the person who gets angry is an aggressive-aggressive?

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  17. harrissimo said on November 27, 2006 at 6:36 pm

    hey, Danny, at least unalloyed aggression doesn’t send two mutually contradictory messages at once.

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  18. nancy said on November 27, 2006 at 6:50 pm

    Very true, Harrissimo. I was somewhat chastened today by today’s harrowing NYT story about a mother’s campaign against her daughter’s anorexia, which made the disease sound like nothing less than a version of full-blown psychosis — i.e., nearly beyond therapy. But as I said, it’s a continuum.

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  19. John said on November 27, 2006 at 8:14 pm

    My comment fits into both the eating disorder strain and the passive aggressive idea. I once had a roommate with a history of eating disorders. When I lived with her, post college, she pretty much survived on popcorn and skimpy salads, and wine, but thought she was healthy because she was a vegetarian. At some point my other roommate and I (I was doing the Three-s Company thing) became concerned. When we brought it up she said: “C’mon guys. Who do you know eats better than me?” She was serious. And we both said: “EVERYONE!” at the same time. She’s doing fine now, and is still one of my best friends. But the comments made me thing of another moment back in the day. The other two roommates were pissed at each other, and the non-eating disorder one said to the eating disorder one: “You are being soooo passive aggressive!” The eating disorder one looked perplexed and, finally, said: “They have a word for that?”

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  20. Danny said on November 27, 2006 at 9:23 pm

    Harrissimo, true. I was just making a weak play on words. Whenever talk gets around to pop-psych, I always fancy myself the comedian…with mixed results.

    John, your comment about the roomate who thought she was healthy because she was a vegetarian reminds me of my mother. She does not have any eating disorders, but she used to think that vegetarianism meant potato chips and other junk food. Now she has a somewhat mild case of type II diabetes.

    Hey, did anyone click on that picture I posted above? I thought that was pretty funny. Not sure, but I think that was a friend of someone I work with.

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  21. basset said on November 27, 2006 at 10:39 pm

    Sounds like the AK’s the permanent cure for all that. Cheap, simple, impervious to dirt, sand, gravy, syrup, juice, sauce, and vomit.

    Seriously, though, the AK really is one of the classic industrial designs of all time, right up there with the Stratocaster, the narrow-waisted Coke bottle, and the VW flat four; nothing there but function, and designed so any Third World country with even the most rudimentary metalworking ability can turn it out by the millions.

    Not that having millions of ’em out there is necessarily a good thing – but Kalashnikov sure did accomplish what he set out to do.

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  22. Kevin Knuth said on November 28, 2006 at 8:26 am

    I saw parts of “Thin” this week too.

    Very disturbing- and yes, the women act like children.

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  23. Dorothy said on November 28, 2006 at 9:45 am

    I looked at the picture Danny. That guy’s a real comedian!

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  24. czucky Dimes said on November 29, 2006 at 2:50 pm

    Happy #49 from someone who remembers you sleeping in a bassinet on the breakfast table

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  25. Realist said on November 29, 2006 at 8:21 pm

    I read the article in the Post as well, and I was surprised the author didn’t mention a very important fact about its design: The AK-47 was not an entirely original design as the author would lead you to believe, nor was it the world’s first assult rifle. It was actually BASED ON the world’s real first assult rifle, the German Sturmgewehr-44. Now is it a carbon copy of it? No. But if you look at the two together you can easily see the resemblance, and the Soviets were not by any means averse to copying someone else’s design and improving it, they did it with many other things as well. The two look very similar, both even having the curved (“banana”) magazine. Now I am not at all saying that the Sturmgewehr-44 had anywhere near the influence on the world that the AK-47 did, all I am saying is that the AK-47 was not an entirely original design, just an improvement on an earlier German weapon.

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  26. basset said on December 1, 2006 at 12:31 am

    >the Soviets were not by any means averse to copying someone else’s design and improving it

    true enough, their reverse-engineered B-29 copy being the best proof of that… and original or not, I don’t know of a rifle anywhere in the world that will take as much abuse as an AK and still work.

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  27. Anna said on January 14, 2007 at 7:07 am

    NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) actually has disliked Thin and posted up a response to it, and I agree with NEDA– Thin does not give an accurate representation of the eating disordered, they just focussed on people who are at the end of their ropes, instead of focusing on those whose treatments have succeeded. I myself struggled with anorexia for 12 years, have been in recovery for almost 3 years (and believe me on how much work that took!). The way you generalize people who have eating disorders makes me sick. I know you don’t like the disgusting habits that some of us have (I know they’re not glamorous, and most of us never wished to be dying this slow death and being addicted to this awful habits in the the first place) An eating disorder has some to do with self-discipline gone out of control (hence, perfectionists, many of us are), BUT is not about willpower. It’s about fear. Being too scared to stop. And, after a while, it becomes reality– you can’t just throw on the breaks and stop. You’ll need help, and will have to WANT it. And, one thing I don’t like, is how Thin focussed on just the people who didn’t want treatment, the ones who got stuck in it because of others putting them into treatment. I’m not saying you should just sit back and watch someone die from an eating disorder. But, clearly, instead of an intervention, someone tried to put them into treatment using confrontation, and that doesn’t work. Treatment is only going to work if people want it. Anyhow, I was sorely disappointed in Thin.

    And yes, the pro-ana/pro-mia thing annoys the fuck out of me. Firm believers in “ana” (like it’s a religion, lol) get nasty with me on xanga, because they don’t understand why it’s not okay to post triggering crap (“motivation” they call it), on my recovery loves xangas. They really are thick-headed. And, despite how much I’ve posted on my recovery blogring “Absolutely NO Pro-ana blogrings and NO pro-ana/mia websites allowed!!!” They still join because they don’t get it.

    Do I inspire annoyance If I take napkins and soak the grease out of my pizza? Because many times the grease is too strong for me to stand. I know it’s meticulous, but, If it saves my brain firing a few words of disturbance at me, then why not? And, it puts you off of your feed? What if someone who was anorexic or bulimic was at the table, having trouble eating but they still wanted to recover? What if you’re causing more damage than good when you stare at them eat? It actually makes me very nervous when people stare at me eating. It triggers me. I wish people would pay attention to their own damned food, because I get tired of being a spectacle after a while.

    Unfortunately, when it comes to thinking, the anorexic mindset goes a million miles a minute around food, weight, triggers, everything. Unfortunately, it isn’t so easy to just shut it off, although since recovery I feel like I’m much more alert and that someone has lifted a lamp shade off of my head.

    And I’m sure every man who has had an alcohol problem comes off as being a boy too. Or anyone with an addiction they become wrapped around loses all sense of maturity when the addiction is all they know.

    I know it’s frustrating for families to deal with the eating disordered members in treatment, but at the end of the day, the best thing I’ve ever had is unconditional love. Without it, I’m back at square one. With that said, I hope you never have a son or daughter endure an eating disorder and go through the hell of trying to get proper treatment.

    And yes, I’ve dealt with jealous people too (jealous of what? I don’t know. I wasn’t happy with myself– why should they be jealous) Jealous of… poor bladder control from muscle deterioration? Jealous of… the fact that it hurt every time I sat my ass down because of lack of body fat back there? Jealous of the constant discomfort of being 30 lbs underweight and you feel everything pinching at every void between every bone? Jealous of the lanugo fur I’d shave off and it’d instantly grow itself back 6 hours later? There’s NOTHING to be jealous of. And about the half an apple a day? I don’t call that LIVING. It’s dying. Existing. I can’t dare to call that living.

    harrissimo does have a point. I grew up in a very sheltered family. My mother is of the controlling type. Let’s put it this way, there were many incidents forever stuck in my mind about how she has tried to manipulate me, you get the idea though. It wasn’t like a conscience decision to focus my control of food (or the lack of). it developed into that. And yes, eating disordered people are excellent when it comes to manipulating people. It becomes a whole bunch of denial and manipulation to get people of your back when you don’t want to deal with them.

    And Danny, you’re really not funny. It’s LAME and it’s old. That picture has already been circulating the internet for at least a year, maybe two before you posted it up.

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