Monday, February 13, 2012

Is Religion Still an Effective Control for Human Behavior?

I originally wrote this paper for my Philosophy-200 class. The views expressed are my own.

Among the most persistent charges hurled at religion is that it primarily exists as a means for a small group of philosophical oligarchs to control great masses of other people. Atheist writer Austin Cline (2005) states, “It has been argued that one of the reasons for the existence of religion is that it's an effective means for society's powerful to control everyone else.” Religious belief, however, has long served as an effective means of behavioral self-constraint for individuals, providing a ready-made, usable moral philosophy for the non-philosopher to use in his daily life. From the relentless assault on abortion rights from Christian conservatives to the practice of Sharia law even in Western Islamic enclaves, it would seem that religious control of the individual is alive and well. Nevertheless, while large-scale religious control both of adherents and of non-adherents may still be of major cultural, legal and interpersonal importance, the capacity for religion to regulate individual behavior and self-control appears to be waning, and this loss of influence is detrimental to society.

Is religion still relevant? Is its ability to control the masses on the rise, or on the wane? Has our modern world of technology, science, and myriad media role models dampened the influence that organized religion and personal faith hold over our society?

To the atheist, the waning of religion as a dominant cultural, social, and governmental influence would be a welcome development. They assert that religion primarily exists as a means of controlling others, citing as evidence both ancient and modern history from the Crusades and the Inquisition to modern Islamic fundamentalism.  They may believe, as does Austin Cline, that the attempt among the religious to control the lives, beliefs and behavior of unwilling others “…seems to be increasing.” (Cline, 2005) To the worried atheist, the American Religious Right is a group of irrational, superstitious yokels who want to institute a theocracy designed to deprive atheists, agnostics, and those of other belief systems of their civil rights.

These fears are not baseless; large-scale intervention in politics and reproductive rights by the Religious Right has been on the rise for more than 30 years.  Pastors of conservative churches, as well as the Roman Catholic Church, urge their congregations to go out and vote for candidates based on their positions on abortion, the death penalty, contraception, stem cell research, and gay rights. Republican-Party candidates tailor their messages to court the support of these religious and social conservatives, attacking other officials and office-seekers considered too “liberal” for those audiences. Elections have been won and lost based on candidates’ appeal to religious groups, and those decisions in turn affect such things as judicial appointments (including the composition of the Supreme Court) and lawmakers’ support for the Religious Right’s agenda with regard to pending legislation. To the secular segment of American society, such influence seems undue, disproportionate, and even frightening.

            If one asks the Religious Right, however, they might say that society is out of control, having lost the moral compass that religious faith once provided.  Peer-reviewed psychological studies have found that religion is a means of self-control for individuals.  Michael McCullough and Brian Willoughby (2009) quote one such study as stating, “…The researchers found that parents who frequently attended church and who frequently discussed religion in the home rated their children as having higher self-control and lower impulsiveness.”  McCullough and Willoughby examined the mechanisms by which religion and self-control affect one another, opening their own study’s report with the statement, “Many of the links of religiousness with health, well-being, and social behavior may be due to religion’s influences on self-control or self-regulation.” (McCullough and Willoughby, 2009)  

McCullough and Willoughby determined that religion influenced both self-regulation and self-control behavior in subjects. They quoted researchers Baumeister and Vohs as defining self-regulation as, “how a person exerts control over his or her own responses so as to pursue goals or live up to standards.”  Regarding self-control, McCullough and Willoughby stated, “We reserve the term self-control for situations in which people engage in behaviors designed to counteract or override a prepotent response (e.g., a behavioral tendency, an emotion, or a motivation),” giving examples such as overcoming the urge to hit someone who has given one offense. (Ibid.)

McCullough and Willoughby state that prior evidence demonstrates that religion and self-control interact with each other in the following ways:

First, personality research shows that people with higher scores on measures of self-control and personality dimensions that subsume self-control also tend to be more religious. Second, family research shows that religious parents and families have children with high self-control and low impulsiveness. Third, several longitudinal studies shed light on the causal relations between religiousness and personality variables that subsume self-control. Fourth, a single published experiment suggests that religious cognition is automatically activated as a form of self-control in the face of temptation.” (Ibid.)

The authors concluded that religion influenced self-control by regulating goal choice and formation and the selection of principles, as governed by peer pressure, by principles learned under religious auspices, by the sanctification of goals involving greater self-control, and by influencing how goals are internalized. Religion, they stated, also promotes self-monitoring, a key element of self-control, via peer pressure, the fear factor (the fear of going to Hell, for example), ethical instruction, and reinforcement through rituals which activate self-monitoring. (McCullough and Willoughby, 2009)

             In spite of organized religion’s influence on American culture and government, some still believe that Americans have lost their moral compass and spun out of control.  “As a society, we are out of control,” complained Yvette Dombrowski (2011), continuing that America’s “…capitalistic me-first attitudes have made us the laughing stock of the entire world.” 

        According to the Washington Post, church attendance is down nationwide, and congregations are growing older. (Banks, 2011) As a result, the boons to individual self-control offered by organized religion have given way to impulsive behavior affecting workplace ethics, sexual activity, and interpersonal relationships.  Peer pressure against unethical or immoral activity often gives way now to peer pressure in favor of such activities. Among the young, athletes, musicians, actors, and other celebrities have replaced parents and spiritual leaders as role models. In the 1990s, the Gallup survey of Most Admired persons often featured religious figures such as Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, and evangelist the Rev. Billy Graham. (, 1996-2011) More recently, role models have more likely been Presidents and First Ladies, or celebrities like Oprah Winfrey. (Ibid.)  A survey by the Pew Forum (2010) showed that young people are less religious and less are religiously active than older Americans.

            How does this waning of religion’s influence among the young affect society as a whole? It removes the beneficial effects of religion on the hearts, minds and characters of young people, forcing them to substitute other models for ethical behavior and moral philosophy.  Schools may provide some moral and ethical teaching, while parental teaching and example solidifies the individual’s view of the world and of his place in it. If those institutions are lacking in moral philosophy lessons for the young, those youngsters may find themselves turning to peers and to such unreliable sources for ethical training as television, film, music, sports, and celebrity culture. A teen might learn through team sports, for example, that loyalty, hard work and fair play are positive ethics to hold in modern society. A child might learn the basic moral lessons taught via certain early childhood-targeted television programs. Joining the military might expose a young man or woman to virtues such as patriotism and duty. Still, the acquisition of moral philosophy would be piecemeal and sporadic, and that philosophy would not contain the explicit and systematic ethical code offered by organized religion. 

            “But,” the atheist might reason, “Religion is for ignorant bumpkins!”  Religion, however, even if false, can have benefits to society. In fact, the actual existence of God has very little bearing on whether religious observance and the societal and self-control that accompanies it has a positive effect on the world around us. When faced with the question, “Is Christianity good for the World?” posed in a debate between the late atheist author Christopher Hitchens and theologian Douglas Wilson, Russell Powell made the following point:

“Posed as a disjunction, the question assumes (and by inference, these opposing authors assume) that religion cannot be both absurd, in the colloquial sense of illogical or laughably false, and good for the world, in the sense of furthering what humans rightly value.” (Powell, 2009)

Nonetheless, the atheist line of thinking continues, for any good that religions have done in the world, they have done much more evil. The late Cornell astronomer and media personality Carl Sagan once said, “In Italy, the Inquisition was condemning people to death until the end of the eighteenth century, and inquisitional torture was not abolished in the Catholic Church until 1816. The last bastion of support for the reality of witchcraft and the necessity of punishment has been the Christian churches.” (Sagan, 1995)

Religion may have produced positive effects over the course of human existence, but it also has a great deal to answer for. The non-believer may see the controlling aspects of religion only in a negative light, because his frame of reference is only the application of human brutality to faiths presumably conceived by golden-rule-teaching pacifists. That inherent conflict is viewed by many is hypocrisy; however, an adherent to the religion in question would defend it on the ground that while those who oppressed others did so in the name of their faith, they were not necessarily practicing their faith while doing so. As the Rev. Bob Eckherd writes, “…we can see even more clearly that a religious belief is poorly defined by selecting as a sample the extreme and vocal minority who least understand or practice the central instruction within its primary texts.” (Eckherd, 2011)

According to Scott Schieman (2010), socioeconomic status is associated negatively with a belief in divine control over the world and human affairs. Schieman writes:

“Individuals who sustain a belief in divine control perceive that God has a determinative influence on the good and bad outcomes in their lives, that God has decided what their life shall be, and that their fate evolves according to God's will or plan for them (Schieman et al. 2005). Moreover, they tend to rely on God in their decision-making and more fervently seek His guidance for solutions to problems.” (Ibid.)

According to Schieman’s study, the higher one’s socioeconomic status, the lower one’s belief in an all-powerful God who directs human affairs, with whom one may have a personal relationship, and to whom one must answer for his behavior. (Ibid.)  For this reason, religious governance of moral philosophy and ethical behavior exists more prominently among poor and less-educated Americans, while those lacking the ethical directives and self-control provided by religion are more likely to be among the better-educated and wealthier classes of society who are more likely, through economic advantage, to seek higher education and to assume leadership roles in society.

Moreover, the combination of low socioeconomic status, poor educational opportunities, and lack of critical-thinking training and skill may lead those in that socioeconomic stratum to place excessive trust in the teachings and preaching of their religious leaders. This, in turn, plays into the hands of those who dismiss the role of religious belief in determining ethical behavior patterns by providing a negative stereotype of religious believers against which those of higher socioeconomic status might wish to define themselves. In other words, to the educated, well-to-do person, religious self-regulation and self-control become undesirable qualities, for the “great unwashed” rather than for the educated person in a position of authority and leadership. If those educated persons are of different faith traditions or are agnostics/atheists, that “us vs. them” mentality may become quite angry and brutal, with those perceived as the enemy demonized, and all that they represent – including faith-based self-governance – rejected and despised.

In such a climate, those who are demonized may in turn demonize their demonizers, as many in the Bible Belt appear to do toward the Northeastern US elite.  The rise of religious conservative assertiveness in the 1970s and 1980s was a reaction to the vast social changes which took place in the 1960s and early 1970s. Whenever change happens at a faster rate than some elements of society can tolerate, there is an inevitable backlash. The 1960s and 1970s brought the (religious-leader-driven) Civil Rights Movement, tremendous technological advancement, and sea-changes in the way American society dressed, spoke, and behaved. Great, charismatic leaders rose, became popular, and were assassinated. The era brought the Sexual Revolution (driven by the introduction of the birth control pill and the relaxation of social mores), advances in civil rights for minorities and women, legalized abortion, and increasingly visible ethnic and religious diversity in the culture. It also brought with it a spasm of reactionary fear from the former dominant culture, which had only recently come out of a period of unchallenged hegemony and prosperity and which seemed shocked to see it all end. This backlash from the white, Anglo-Saxon, Christian social conservative community gave rise to the era of Ronald Reagan, the Religious Right, and to all that have followed in their wake.

Both religious conservatives in the red states and agnostic liberals in the blue behave as if they are under siege. In fact, they are reacting and counter-reacting to the waning of religion’s influence on modern American society. The Western World’s vast scientific and technical knowledge has made blind acceptance of religious teaching difficult for many well-educated Americans. Rather than providing a tool for understanding the Universe, the great religions’ texts now come across to some as simple myths and fairy tales, hardly a basis for a personal ethnical philosophy. Church attendance and religious participation among the young are in decline. In response to this waning of religious influence over the population as a whole, some desire to boost religion’s influence through lobbying legislators and political speechifying from the pulpit. When gains for the religious conservatives become visible, secular liberals recoil in outspoken revulsion and terror. Each side is absolutely convinced it is the victim, yet both factions are attempting to control and to stifle the efforts of the other. Nonetheless, neither side is fundamentally correct in its assumptions, either about the other, or about the role of religion in society as a whole.

Religious practice is both filled with benefits and fraught with peril. It provides hope for life after death, a belief in a benevolent, caretaker God, social interaction and fellowship, and support for the needy and ill. Perhaps most beneficial to society, religion provides a set of rules for social and personal conduct which are agreed-to and obeyed by the majority of a religious community. For believers, religion provides a moral compass and an easily-accessible code of ethics.

Some, however, may find such rules stifling, controlling and intolerant, and may rebel, rejecting the teaching of their parents as something diabolical and designed to squash their emergence as fully-formed, adult human beings. Some may also rebel against the social constructs which may accompany the formation of religious communities. Most rebels against religion seem to become atheists or agnostics, rather than converting to a different system of religious belief. The negative psychological impact of religious practice on some inevitably leads those individuals to suspicion and reaction against religious control – or even religious self-control. And certainly, there are elements within the world’s religions which seek to control and oppress others, particularly women. It is easy to see why some might want to choose a different path other than the one directed by faith and by the instruction of deities.

As the individual decision to choose religion as a source of one’s moral compass and ethics has declined, the efforts of religious conservatives to force Christian belief and practice on those individuals have risen. Religious belief has many benefits, but the choice to believe or disbelieve must be left up to the individual. Religious practice forced upon the unwilling generates animosity and rejection of even the positive effects of religion. Society would benefit from a retreat from influence by large, organized religious conservative movements, accompanied by the return to faith of the individual, with religious diversity fully accepted and celebrated. Such a society of openness and tolerance would remove the incentive for those of other belief systems to attack, while it would welcome them into the great community of searchers for truth and wisdom.

 In such a climate, individual, faith-based self-governance could flourish, and we would be a better, more functional society as a result. Religion, properly utilized, is neither the enemy of rational thought nor a simple set of superstitions and myths which should be stamped out. Unfortunately, abuse of religion (and particularly of Christianity) and unjust bids at controlling others on the part of America’s conservative religious have placed them and their faith at bitter, enraged odds with those who do not share their beliefs. This, in turn, has caused a backlash against religion, accelerated by our society’s growing scientific knowledge base, sending religious practice in America into a tailspin of disuse. The case for religious control - particularly religious self-control - is compelling. Reversing its trend of decline may prove critical to America’s future well-being as a nation. 


Banks, A. (2011) “Church Attendance Down, Congregations Getting Older, Report Says,” Washington Post. September 30, 2011. Retrieved from on December 5, 2011.

Cline, A. (2005) “Using Religion to Control Others,” Atheism, April 11, 2005. Retrieved from on December 5, 2011.

Dombrowski, Y. (2011) “As a Society, We Are Out of Control,” Morning Sentinel. December 3, 2011. Retrieved from on December 5, 2011.

Eckherd, B. (2011) “Is Religion Bad for Society?” Philosophy Now. November/December 2011. Retrieved from on December 19, 2011. (1996-2011) “Most Admired Person (poll),” Retrieved from on December 19, 2011.

Mosser, K. (2010) A Concise Introduction to Philosophy. San Diego: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.

McCullough, M. and Willoughby, E. (2009) “Religion, Self-Regulation, and Self-Control: Associations, Explanations, and Implications,” Psychological Bulletin. 135(1): pp. 69-93. Retrieved from on December 5, 2011.

Pew Forum (2010). “Poll: Religion Among Millennials,” The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. February 17, 2010. Retrieved from on December 5, 2011.

Powell, R. (2009) “Is Religion Good or Bad for Society?” Oxford University Practical Ethics. November 12, 2009. Retrieved from on December 19, 2011.

Sagan, C. (1995) The Demon-Haunted World. New York: Random House. Retrieved from on December 19, 2011.

Schieman, S. (2010) “Socioeconomic Status and Beliefs About God’s Influence in Daily Life,” Sociology of Religion,  71(1):  25-51. February 10, 2010. Retrieved from on December 5, 2011.

Confessions of a Wedding Singer: A Street Guide To Planning Your Wedding Music

Back when I actually was a wedding singer, I dreamed of writing a piece like this and submitting it to one of the national bridal magazines. Writing it up for my COM-345, Media Writing for Communications class had to suffice.

       Before embarking on my operatic career, I spent more than ten years as a cantor and soprano soloist for a large Roman Catholic parish in Washington, D.C. During that time, I sang many wedding liturgies, both at my principal gig and at churches throughout the Greater Washington area. In addition to Catholic ceremonies, I sang for Protestant, Jewish, Filipino, Wiccan, non-denominational, and secular services. I sang for Presidents and Senators, and I sang for regular folks in their family rooms. I witnessed virtually everything that can go wrong – or right – with a wedding, and I lived to tell about it. Now, I pass this store of knowledge on to you, in hopes that it will help you in planning your perfect day.

       My inspiration for this story came from pieces in the Boston Globe involving saving money on the big day, (Cash, 2010) and in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on adding personal touches to one’s wedding (Anonymous, 2010) Both offered a list of unique, workable tips; that is my goal with this article.

       Planning a wedding service begins with the selection of the venue and religious tradition in which it will take place. These choices determine how much music you will need for your wedding, as well as the types of music you may choose and whether you may use recorded music. Most churches still refuse to allow purely secular music during the worship part of a marriage ceremony, though they may permit secular pieces during the prelude and postlude. If you are getting married in a church, synagogue, or other venue with an established music director, consult with him or her regarding your choices.

       If your organist provides you with a list of musical options, I strongly recommend that you choose from among them rather than attempting to offer unusual selections. You may end up handing your musicians something they simply cannot play or do not wish to learn – or they may charge extra for learning the new music. I have seen some brides bring in outside organists or soloists for their wedding ceremonies; be aware that if you are getting married in a church which has an existing music staff, you may be required to pay the resident organist’s fee whether or not he plays.

       If the venue and musicians with whom you are working leave you to your own devices regarding music, there are several sites which I find especially helpful. One site, , offers a comprehensive list of songs, service pieces and other music, encompassing both the Christian and Jewish faith traditions. Its musical selections include a extensive list of contemporary Christian songs both for the ceremony and for the reception. (, n.d.) For a list of more traditional pieces, try (Davies, n.d.) Both of these websites provide worthy selections that will make your day extra-beautiful.  

       If your ceremony will take place outdoors or in a venue which is without organ or piano, consider a string quartet, a traditional harpist, a Celtic harpist or an ensemble. Harpists provide beautiful accompaniment to weddings in resonant indoor spaces, like university libraries, town halls, historical sites, and other beautiful secular venues. offers an excellent article on engaging Celtic musicians for a wedding accompanied by traditional Celtic airs and such hymns as “Amazing Grace” and “Morning Has Broken.” (Duhl-Emswiler, n.d.)  

       Here’s the fast and dirty on fees: According to the American Guild of Organists (AGO), a bride and groom can expect to pay $100-350 to hire an organist for the ceremony only, with costs going up if he or she must also play for a rehearsal. If the organist plans the wedding and engages outside artists, the costs rise even more. Soloists – singers, trumpeters, violinists, and so on – generally have a similar fee structure, though they may charge slightly less than the organist. String quartets tend to run about $500-600 per service. The AGO is an excellent resource for finding a qualified organist and other musicians; for further information, explore (AGO, 2010)

       Several bits of advice to those planning their dream wedding:

       - Be on time! I have seen brides who have shown up 30 minutes late for their ceremonies get half of their music cut by the organist, who had to finish in time to set up for a mass at the church immediately following the wedding. I have seen opening hymns cut to one verse; I have seen trumpeters who had to leave to make their next engagement before the procession had even begun.   

       - If you use a coordinator, be sure she has a musical ear and has listened to every musical selection. I have seen brides held at the back of the church, glowing expectantly, clutching their fathers’ arms, as the big, all-stops out bridal procession music finished and the congregation sat down. Don’t let this happen to you!

       - Keep kitsch to a minimum. I know many brides love the processional from “The Sound of Music.” If your name isn’t Maria, however, please cut the “How Do You Solve a Problem Like…” portion of the piece. Also, leaving the church to the Hallelujah Chorus or to the Star Wars Main Title may say things about your relationship that you don’t want your friends to know.

       - Pay careful attention to the lyrics of the songs you select. I have seen brides choose Celtic songs declaring eternal love for Bonnie Johnny - but the groom’s name was Ted! I have seen brides insist on Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro”, not realizing that the title means “O, my beloved Daddy” and that it is followed by a declaration that if Daddy refuses to allow the singer to buy a certain ring, she’ll throw herself into the Arno River and drown.

       Finally, know that of my many weddings, not one failed to live up to the bride’s dream of a magical, truly special day all her own. Every wedding is beautiful - so relax and savor every minute of it. Congratulations!  


AGO (2010) Salary Guide. American Guild of Organists, January 5, 2010. Retrieved from on June 28, 2010.

Anonymous (2010). “Vow to add personal touches.”Boston Globe. Boston, Mass.: Jun 3, 2010. pg. G.20 Retrieved from on June 14, 2010.

Cash, R. (2010). “Save bucks on the big day” The Atlanta Journal - Constitution. Atlanta, Ga.: Jan 14, 2010. pg. D.1 Retrieved from on June 14, 2010.

Duhl-Emswier, B. (n.d.) “Choosing Unusual Music For Your Wedding,” Retrieved from on June 28, 2010. (n.d.) “Music,” Christian Wedding & Planning Guide. Retrieved from on June 28, 2010.

Davies, K. (n.d.) “Planning Your Wedding Music,” Retrieved from on June 28, 2010.

How To Use A U-Shaped Hairpin

This piece was originally an assignment completed for my Technical Writing class, COM-340. It provides additional guidance in the appropriate use of hair implements, for those hungry for greater knowledge after my last post.

      Hairpins come in a great variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. Most women have used a hairpin at some point in their lives, so effective are they as tools for fixing the hair in various desired styles . The focus here will be on the proper use of the U-shaped hairpin, as well as a description of the pin and its properties.  Though some may find these pins daunting to use, with some instruction, the U-shaped pin can open up many new possibilities for effective hair design.

Physical Description

      The U-shaped hairpin, as its name suggests, is formed in the shape the letter “U,” although a rounded letter “V” might be a more accurate description. The pins are generally made of metal, either two or three inches in length, and are approximately a sixteenth of an inch thick. The smaller pins may contain a wavy segment throughout their length; the larger pins are generally smooth, with a wavy segment about an inch wide approximately two inches up each leg of the pin. The hairpins come in a variety of colors, of which black is the most common. They may have a small tip of rubber at the end of each leg in order to avoid injury to the scalp.

Process Description

       U-shaped hairpins have little application to contemporary, shorter styles, so they have fallen into disuse in some areas because many do not understand their application. U-shaped hairpins were primarily intended for use with longer hair and are particularly effective in updos and in half-up, half-down styles. Because the pins lack any opposable tension, they will simply fall out of hair if they are not secured through other means. 

       To secure an updo with U-shaped hairpins, first form the hair into a high ponytail, without the use of an elastic band. Twist the ponytail until it begins to collapse on itself and retract toward the scalp. Allow the circlet of hair to press itself against the scalp. With a U-shaped hairpin, secure the end of the hair to the scalp by tucking the end under the edges of the coil, then inserting the pin through the edges of the coil, pressing through toward the scalp, collecting hair from the scalp above the pin, and finally pressing the pin through to the opposite side of the coil, inserting the pin into the coil at its lowest point, then pushing upward so that the ends of the pin stick out of the coil. Repeat this process with several more pins, placed at various points around the coil, to secure the coil – or chignon – in place. 

       Numerous other styles can be created using the U-shaped hairpin, all of which involve twisting the hair in such a way that the pin has a thick coil or pad of hair to penetrate. To secure any type of hairstyle with a U-shaped hairpin, one must catch hair in the pin both from the coil or pad and from the scalp, sometimes twisting the pin inside the coil of hair or next to the scalp to collect several strands of hair in the pin’s waves. 

       The U-shaped hairpin may be a relic of yesteryear, but it still has applications today, and for those applications, there is no better substitute. Used effectively, the U-shaped hairpin gives upswept styles security and stability impossible with any other hair implement. U-shaped pins are a vital tool for modern hair fashion. 

How To Put A Wig On All By Yourself

Let's just say that the hairdresser/wigmaster in your entourage is nowhere to be found. The following is my description, in layperson's language, of how to wrestle those pesky faux tresses into place. Included is material I previously wrote for Yahoo! Answers (and which the asker chose as the best!).

Divide your hair into little sections and pincurl them to your head (using two bobby pins). Alternately, you can divide your hair into several sections and wrap it around your head (close to the scalp), pinning it securely into place until it is all tightly against your head.

Then take a wig cap (it looks like pantyhose without the legs). Find your hairline just above the center of your forehead and using large U-hairpins (you can get these at a beauty supply store if you can't find them at your local drugstore), stretch open the wig cap and pin the hem of it to your hair at the center point of your hairline, working the pin into the hair that is pinned to your head.

Do this again to the left and right of the center pin, until the front is secure.

Then stretch the wig cap over the rest of your head as far as it will go, covering ALL of your hair. Pin it into place with five or six pins, all throughout the top, back and sides of your hair.

Now do the same with your wig. The wig cap compresses your hair and makes it easier for the wig to fit; plus, it gives you something to stick your wig pins into. Keep sticking pins in until it feels secure.


Wilson, J. (2011) "Yahoo Answers: Ways To Fit a Snow White Wig On (Reply)," Yahoo Answers. November 2011. Retrieved from;_ylt=AsscOzAyo4p_mxFNYfRwqaIMxgt.;_ylv=3?qid=20111111143240AApR1nO&link=mailto on February 13, 2012.

America's Obesity Epidemic

In this era of DVDs and movie theatre opera telecasts, we opera singers are under greater pressure than ever to be slim and camera-ready. Our lifestyles, however, do not always lend themselves to easy weight loss.  Here is my analysis of America's obesity problem, as well as my suggestions for resolving it:

        Americans spend billions of dollars each year on diet products, health clubs, weight loss books, cosmetic surgery, and other products and services which carry the single-minded goal of bringing us the Hollywood-slim figures that few of us seem to have anymore. In spite of all of our best efforts, however, Americans are heavier than ever before in history. Staggering percentages of our children are clinically or morbidly obese. Americans, once identified abroad by our swagger and our confidence, now find themselves given away by their girth. We are spending vast amounts of money on health care related to our national obesity problem, and yet we seem no closer to a cure for what has become a very real, debilitating disease for many in our society. What are the real causes of this obesity explosion? What can we do to stop it, and to restore our people to good health?

       The statistics are staggering: According to Flegal et al in the Journal of the American Medical Association, as of 2008, 68.8 percent of Americans were either overweight or obese. The prevalence of obesity – defined as a Body Mass Index in excess of 30 – exceeded 30 percent among all ethnicities, age groups, and genders. Nearly one in 13 non-Hispanic Caucasian women and nearly one in 8 non-Hispanic African-American women had BMI readings higher than 40 – an indicator of morbid obesity, at which the individual has far greater risk of obesity-related illness and death than at lower BMIs. These numbers have skyrocketed at a rate of approximately 7 percent per decade since 1977 – a trend which is expected to continue if current patterns hold. (Flegel et al, 2010). Childhood obesity has more than tripled since 1980, with the rate of obese children six to 11 years old skyrocketing from 6.5% in 1980 to a whopping 19.6 percent in 2008. (CDC, 2009)

       The costs of obesity-related illnesses also continue to rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the costs of obesity-related hospitalizations, testing, morbidity, and mortality totaled some $92.6 billion dollars. (CDC, 2002) Americans miss work and lose productivity as a result of their weight-related physical restrictions. Medical costs and health insurance premiums continue to rise. Obesity in America is a genuine epidemic – a crisis which seems to have spun out of control in recent years, with no end in sight. How did we, as a nation, reach this point? Most studies point to a combination of sedentary lifestyle and overeating as a cause of overweight – yet Americans seem to be spending billions more on diet books, weight loss programs, health clubs, fitness equipment, health food and weight loss supplements than ever before. Something else has gone awry – something that must be addressed in order for America to finally get a handle on its obesity crisis.

       At one time, Americans were identifiable abroad by their ebullient confidence and Hawaiian shirt-and-shorts sets. Now – as I have experienced first-hand on a number of occasions – we are marked by our fat. I have had the experience in more than one European country of walking into a store or a restaurant and having the sales clerk or waiter look me up and down, then immediately start speaking to me in English. Obesity levels in Europe have not yet reached anything close to the level that they have in the United States, and in fact, I have often heard “fat Americans” used as a Continental pejorative to describe all of us. Clearly, our weight problems are harming our national image abroad.

       I realized during these travels, however, that the Europeans I met had a point. Within weeks of arriving in a country such as France or Spain, I found myself losing approximately 15 lbs (7 kilos), simply by living the way one lives in Europe. Upon my return home to the States, the weight would come piling back on. What is the matter with our culture, that it seems intrinsically structured so as to cause weight gain?

       For one answer, we may look no further than the beloved cars which sit in our driveways when they are not carrying us to the grocery store, to the gym, or to the office. In Europe, I had no car, and all my groceries had to be carried by hand or by grocery trolley several blocks from the supermarket, up several flights of steps, and across my threshold. This simple difference in convenience dictated that in Europe, I had to limit my purchases only to what was completely necessary for me to get through the week, eating the meals that I planned to eat and gaining the nutrition that I needed on a daily basis. There was no room in my little cart for large bags of chips, for example. It was far too heavy to lug 2-liter bottles of soft drinks a quarter mile from the store to my house. According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, “…each additional hour spent in a car per day (is) associated with a 6% increase in the likelihood of obesity. Conversely, each additional kilometer walked per day (is) associated with a 4.8% reduction in the likelihood of obesity.” (Frank et al, 2004) The simple necessity of walking to buy groceries or to get to my workplace was an explanation for my sudden European weight losses. 

       However, I soon noticed differences in the dietary habits of Europeans vs. Americans which also accounted for the difference in our national girths. In continental Europe, a decent bottle of French Bordeaux costs approximately the same in many restaurants as a 10-oz bottle of Coca-Cola. Portions in European restaurants are markedly smaller than in the US – and unlike in the US, where most diners feel under pressure to fork over an additional 18-20% tip at the conclusion of the meal, tipping is neither as compulsory nor as generous in Europe as it is in the US, because the wait staff are paid a living wage for their services. Even in American fast food establishments like McDonalds, the portion sizes of soft drinks are significantly smaller than in the US, with a “large” beverage served in the same container that suffices as a “medium” in America.

       America’s inexorable march toward adiposity began more than a century ago, when the physical-labor-intensive agrarian society which occupied much of America’s heartland gave way to industry and office buildings. Americans who had spent years doing back-breaking work in a field or barn now sat in a cubicle all day, only rising from their seats long enough to visit the lunchroom. In the evening, these new corporate workers sat down to dinner with their families, then repaired to the living room for several hours’ worth of television viewing, followed by bed. Children – whose school year was initially planned to coincide with the planting and harvest cycles of the year, so that they would be available for work on their families’ farms – now spent those summers in front of the television, munching junk food. If their parents were especially enterprising, these youngsters might get in a few hours’ worth of soccer practice or other physical activity per week – however, it was a drop in the bucket compared to the long days of physical labor that children and adults alike experienced in agrarian America. While I am not advocating a return to child farm labor, I note that the marked change in physical activity for all Americans as the farm gave way to the office and school has made a difference in our physical fitness.

       However, our European allies don’t spend all day picking peas in a field. They don’t spend all day in the gym. What other factors might there be to account for the differences in fitness? For a possible answer, I return to the questions of portion size and soft drink consumption. According to a study in the journal Obesity, 76 percent of executive chefs believed that they served “average” portions in their restaurants – even though the portions of steak and pasta that they served were actually “2 to 4 times larger than the serving sizes recommended by the US government.” (Condrasky et al, 2007) Even the supposedly “healthy” choices offered by major American restaurant chains have a remarkably high caloric content – Chili’s Southwestern Cobb Salad, which looks so healthy and diet friendly, was found to contain 970 calories, while the seemingly innocuous Lettuce Wraps at California Pizza Kitchen contained 900 calories! (n.a.,, 2008). Most of the sandwiches offered at fast food outlets contain in excess of 500 calories – not counting additions such as French Fries and soft drinks. Americans are consuming more calories in a meal than they should have in a day, and it is increasingly difficult to avoid a huge caloric intake during restaurant meals.  

       Americans are eating out more often, as well. The Obesity study stated, “The rise in obesity rates over the last three decades has been paralleled by an increase in frequency of eating out and in food portion sizes. The number of meals consumed away from home in the United States has risen from 3.7 meals per week in 1981 to 5 meals per week in 2000. Frequency of eating out has been associated with higher energy and fat intakes and with a higher BMI.” (Condrasky et al, 2007) With Americans eating out more frequently and receiving the enormous portions served at US restaurants, their idea of what constitutes a “normal” meal is undergoing a gradual shift, so that they feel that they must serve their families meals at home which are comparable in size and high-calorie components to what they would receive in a restaurant, lest their family members leave the table unsatisfied. Thus, the cycle perpetuates itself, and Americans take in higher and higher numbers of calories with each meal, even when they think that they are “eating healthily.”

       With those high-calorie meals in many restaurants come liter-sized glasses filled with a soft drink – which are refilled on demand, for free! A liter of Coca-Cola contains some 400 calories. (, n.d.) Over the course of a large, sodium-rich meal, at which the cheerful waitress may scoop up empty glasses and replace them with filled ones three or four times, we can easily see how we may add more than 1,000 calories per meal simply in the sodas that we drink. Multiply that figure by three meals per day, and the number one arrives at for calories added simply in the form of nutrient-free soft drinks is greater than the recommended caloric intake for an individual in an entire day. If he is consuming, say, in excess of 2,000 calories per day just in soft drinks, in addition to three restaurant meals per day (or the at-home caloric equivalent), it isn’t hard to arrive at a figure of more than 10,000 calories per day consumed by one person! How can anyone, regardless of his activity level, avoid obesity based on that level of caloric consumption? Moreover, that person likely has been lulled into thinking that he eats a “normal” diet, because he is not bingeing or snacking – he is simply eating what is set before him in a typical, restaurant-mandated meal. If he is someone who usually requests the “super-sized” items at fast food restaurants, or if, in fact, he does have a compulsive eating problem, it’s easy to see how he may be on the road to morbid obesity and even death.

       An additional hazard for soft-drink consumers (and consumers of other sweetened products) comes in the form of the sweetener that most drink companies use in modern beverages, namely high-fructose corn syrup. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states:

       “The consumption of HFCS increased > 1000% between 1970 and 1990, far exceeding the changes in intake of any other food or food group. HFCS now represents > 40% of caloric sweeteners added to foods and beverages and is the sole caloric sweetener in soft drinks in the United States… The increased use of HFCS in the United States mirrors the rapid increase in obesity. The digestion, absorption, and metabolism of fructose differ from those of glucose. Hepatic metabolism of fructose favors de novo lipogenesis. In addition, unlike glucose, fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion or enhance leptin production. Because insulin and leptin act as key afferent signals in the regulation of food intake and body weight, this suggests that dietary fructose may contribute to increased energy intake and weight gain. Furthermore, calorically sweetened beverages may enhance caloric overconsumption. Thus, the increase in consumption of HFCS has a temporal relation to the epidemic of obesity, and the overconsumption of HFCS in calorically sweetened beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity.” (Bray et al, 2004)

       In other words, high-fructose corn syrup is metabolized differently from glucose, found in cane and beet sugar. It favors the growth of new fat cells, while interacting with the energy-processing and hunger-regulating systems of the body to encourage its consumers to consume even more calories. In a way, it may be like the beer nuts found on bars at taverns, which make the patrons thirstier, so that they buy more drinks. High-fructose corn syrup may help the restaurant and food industries to sell more of their products, but it may well be a major factor in the explosive growth of obesity in recent decades, and it may ultimately be a threat to the public health.

       Finally, the dietary guidelines published by the US government may be faulty. They encourage, among other things, eating four servings of fruit per day and 4 servings of cereals (the popular 4-4-3-2 model, with the “2” representing meats and eggs, and the “3” representing dairy products). Based on this model, the US Recommended Daily Allowance for carbohydrates is 130 g (NAS, 2006) – more than ten times the number of carbohydrates allowed on the Atkins low-carbohydrate diet plan in its weight-loss phase (Atkins, 1972).

        In my consultations with doctors and dieticians alike, I have had tremendous difficulty convincing such experts that it is impossible for me to lose weight on a diet which is high in whole-grain breads and fruit, in spite of recent studies suggesting that the low-fat diets of the past simply do not do the job as well as low-carbohydrate or Mediterranean diet plans. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated that while low-fat and Mediterranean diets were better at improving blood chemistry than low-carbohydrate diets, the participants lost more weight on the low-carb plan than on either of the other two diet formats. (Shai et al, 2008). Perhaps the USDA and the Centers for Disease Control need to take a closer look at the levels of these nutrients that they are recommending, and formulate specific recommendations which not only serve as effective nutritional models, but which are also easier for the typical consumer to relate to in terms of portion size.

       Based on both my research and on my personal experiences with weight loss, I offer several suggestions for conquering the obesity crisis in the United States. First, the government must step in and offer guidelines for restaurants in the portion sizes being offered – perhaps providing tax breaks to those restaurants which give consumers more half-portion and low-carbohydrate options. Somehow – through consumer advocacy, governmental intervention, public awareness campaigns, or a combination – Americans must learn about the impact of soft drink consumption on their health. American soft drink companies must be encouraged or required – as they are, for example, in Australia – to switch back from high-fructose corn syrup to sugar as a sweetener for their beverages, ahead of a possible total ban on the sweetener in all food products.

        Organizing neighborhoods in such a way that it is easier to bring in groceries and to do other shopping on foot rather than by automobile would encourage people to exercise while saving energy and lessening environmental pollution – even offering modern, colorful shopping trolleys for sale in more stores might encourage more people to leave their cars at home in favor of fresh air and sunshine.

       New guidelines must emphasize that excessive carbohydrate consumption – even in “healthy” foods like fruit juice and whole-grain bread – is something to avoid. And finally, Americans must lose the notion that the food service and agricultural industries are responsible for regulating their food intake, and must take on a much more active role in making choices regarding their diet and lifestyle. Only through such a combination of public awareness, community action, corporate responsibility, and government intervention can we hope to solve our obesity epidemic.


Atkins, Robert (1972) Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution. New York: Bantam Books.

Bray, George, Nielsen, Samara, and Popkin, Barry (2004). “Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 79, No. 4, 537-543, April 2004. Retrieved from on May 3, 2010.

CDC (2008) “Childhood Obesity,” National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Retrieved from on May 3, 2010.

CDC (2009) “Overweight and Obesity: Economic Consequences”. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from on May 3, 2010.

Condrasky, Marge., Ledikwe, Jenny. et al (2007) “Chefs’ Opinions of Restaurant Portion Sizes,” Obesity. 15:8, pp. 2086-2094. Retrieved from on May 3, 2010.

Flegal, Katherine, Carroll, Margaret et al. (2008) “Prevalence and Trends in Obesity Among US Adults, 1999-2008,” Journal of the American Medical Association. 2010;303(3):235-241. Published online January 13, 2010. Retrieved from on April 29, 2010.

Frank L.D., Andresen M.A., and Schmid T.L. (2004) “Obesity relationships with community design, physical activity, and time spent in cars,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2004 Aug; 27(2): pp. 87-96. Retrieved from on May 3, 2010.

NAS (2002) “Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrates, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholestrol, Protein, and Amino Acids.” National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved from on May 3, 2010.

Shai, Iris, Schwarzfuchs, Dan, et al. (2008) “Weight Loss with a Low-Carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or Low-Fat Diet,” New England Journal of Medicine. 359:3, pp. 229-241, July 17, 2008. Retrieved from on May 3, 2010, (n.d.) The Coca Cola Company. Retrieved from on May 3, 2010. (2008) “High Fat, High Calorie Salad Shocker.” October 16, 2008. Retrieved from on May 3, 2010.