Mark Palermo

America's Problem with the Body

He Was Our S.O.B.
Long Ago Saturday Nights at the Circle 9
The Dark Side of Vaccinations
Wine: Where Ignorance and Pretension Find their Loudest Voice
A 1976 Journey in Search of Self
The Machinery of Mass Dreams
The Outlaw Georgie Bush
Sex Offender Registries Out of Control
Extreme Makeover for Airheads
The Fault Lies not in the Stars, but in Ourselves
Reconsidering George Carlin
If You Think Liberals Are Jerks...
She Couldn't Do Her Chores
Remembering Viktor Frankl
One Day on the Farm-1977
A Fresh Look at Meat
How the Real World Works: A Lesson
30 Bucks for the Human Touch
1929 All Over Again
An Old Man's War, A Young Man's Fight
More Things in Heaven and Earth...
Our Dumbed-down Public Discourse
Bread, But No Roses
Earth's the Right Place for Love
Read This Before Enlisting
Poison Is Good for You: The Fluoridation Scam
Ron Paul:He Makes Too Much Sense
War Is a Racket
Brazil's National Orgasm Day
Calling all Liberals!
Why I Don't Get Flu Shots
What is Community?
Haverhillicus Homocrisicum
If You Wanna Be a Junkie, Why?
Do We Know His Family?
Scam: Youth Sports
A Subsidy for the Human Touch?
How Not to Be Boring
If the Bread and Roses Strike Were NOW
America's Problem with the Body
Columbus Day? or Renaissance Day?
Depleted Uranium Weapons
Mitt Romney: A Clintonian Republican
A Checklist for Conservatives
On Torture and Torturers
Pimp of the Nation
Romney is a Jerk
Hypocrisy and its Champions
The Dumb Society
The Men's Taverns of Yesteryear
On Dittoheads!
Let China Sleep
2004 McDebates
Animal Rights Page
US Wealth Distribution Chart
Public Grief, Private Lives

Years ago, I lived and worked in Madrid, Spain. I have fond memories of that time, especially of the Spaniards, a gregarious and sentimental people. Like the Europeans, I spent lots of time in cafes and bars. I remember a conversation with a young Spanish intellectual in which he remarked, “You Americans have a problem with the body.” He was a thoughtful and intelligent guy, not the rabid sort of anti-Americanist one sometimes finds in European cafes, whose train of logic starts with hatred of America and works backwards producing the appropriate premises. I thought it was a curious thing to say, but in the many years since our conversation, I have realized what he meant.


A good example of our collective problem with the body is the furor over mothers nursing babies in public. I don’t know what can be more natural and wholesome than breastfeeding a baby, but not everyone agrees. On October 13, Emily Gillette, 27, was on a flight out of Burlington, Vermont. She was in a window seat discreetly nursing her baby next to her husband, who was in the aisle seat providing her a measure of privacy. A flight attendant approached Mrs. Gillette, and ordered her to cover up saying, “You are offending me.” Mrs. Gillette refused to cover her child, and she and her family were booted off the flight. As a result, protests by nursing mothers were held in more than 30 airports around the country.


Years ago in North Africa, I saw Arab women nursing babies in broad daylight, on buses, and in outdoor markets. They exhibited no apparent self-consciousness. I saw one Berber woman with breasts the size of pillows nursing a baby on a crowded bus while she chatted with an old man lazily smoking a clay pipe. I had always been taught that Arabs were puritanical and sexually repressed. But breastfeeding had nothing to do with sex for them; it was a natural process like eating or sleeping and they saw no reason for shame over bodily functions.


For Americans though, breasts equal sex -and sex is a problem. The problem with the body, as evinced in toilet jokes, jokes about body functions, and ramblings of potty-mouthed radio talk show hosts and the millions addicted to porn. Wilhelm Reich called it “the emotional plague.” Hollywood, in particular, has blurred the line between sensuality and infantile sexuality. Not surprising then, that ours is a sexually licentious and -at the same time- a puritanical society. Maybe we would do well to heed the advice of a young nursing mother who carried a sign at a recent airport protest: “Breasts- they aren’t just for selling cars anymore.”


Every year at this time, Christmas tree lots sprout up along the sides of highways with signs like the following: Christmas Trees 12 dollars. All trees in“a” lot.  If you don’t know any better, you think 12 bucks is a good price. So you go in to buy your $12 tree. But once inside you find subdivided areas which are lettered: lot A, lot B, lot C, etc. Of course the $12 trees in “lot A” are pathetic, lopsided and/or usually about three feet tall. And naturally, Christmas trees in the other “lots” are of better quality and priced three times higher. But since you are already there…

I get tired of seeing this scam year after year. Imagine a grocery store with a sign outside “All T-bone steaks in ‘a’ case $1 each.” And when you go in, you find they are all gristle and bone with expired freshness dates- not even fit for dogs. But you are already in the store, so you do your shopping. What’s wrong with this picture? The glib, ambiguous use of words to obfuscate clear meaning may not be a violation of the letter of the law, but it is nevertheless a deceptive and unethical business practice which should be stopped.


The Merrimack Valley is a haven for municipal trash incinerators. The Covanta incinerator off route 495 in Haverhill has a capacity of some 1650 tons of trash a day. North Andover’s Wheelabrator incinerator-just a couple of miles downwind on route 125- can burn 1500 tons a day. Between these two incinerators, that’s a staggering 1.15 million tons of trash burned annually. And trash doesn’t just vaporize after incineration. About 30% is left behind as ash. That’s about 345,000 tons of concentrated toxic ash to be landfilled in our community- a legacy for our children’s children. Not to mention mercury emissions. No wonder Rhode Island banned incinerators in 1992. Even the Philippines banned incinerators. Too dirty and unhealthy for the Philippines, incinerators are apparently all right for us. The trash industry has indeed found a welcoming home in the Merrimack Valley.


December 2006