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inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #0 of 118: Lisa Harris (lrph) Tue 6 Jul 10 06:16
    
I'd like to welcome our very own John Schwartz to Inkwell.vue.

John Schwartz is the national legal correspondent for the New York Times,
which means he covers legal issues on the national desk. Before taking on
that beat in January 2009, he was a science writer for the paper and covered
things like shuttle launches, personal jetpacks and what it's like to wear a
suit of armor while a Tesla coil sends an enormous electrical charge around
your body. (It's frightening and cool, as it turns out.) He came to the
Times in 2000, after 7 years at the Washington Post, where he had worked as
a science reporter and a technology reporter on the business desk. He also
worked at Newsweek from 1985 until 1993.
   His previous book, "Living Terrors," was coauthored with Michael
Osterholm and deals with bioterrorism.
   John was born in Texas, attended the University of Texas at Austin, and
is married to Jeanne Mixon. They have three kids, ranging in age from 14 to
22. Their home is in New Jersey.

And leading this discussion is David Albert.

David runs a computer lab half-time at a K-8 public school, where he
teaches technology and research skills to children of all sizes.  He
also consults on statistical analysis, database design, and other
technology issues for schools and educational organizations.  He has
never particularly noticed being on the short side, except at family
party photo shoots when someone calls out "all the short people in
front" and everyone in the family presses forward.  He has one child
who likes being short.
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #1 of 118: David Albert (aslan) Tue 6 Jul 10 07:14
    
Welcome, John!  And thanks for a book that I expect would be easy to
read for many children in the target age range.  Parents might also
want to read it on behalf of younger children, both to help assuage
their own anxieties about their children's height and to help them
frame thoughts and ideas that they can communicate to their children as
questions arise.

Perhaps it is because I am perfectly average in my own family milieu,
but it never really occurred to me to worry about my height, despite
being somewhere around the 10th or 15th percentile.  I did notice when
all my friends in my 10th grade class came back from the summer break 3
to 6 inches taller than I was, and stayed that way, but it wasn't a
big deal.
 
Your book, perhaps, is written primarily for people who have
significant concerns about their height or that of their children.  In
your book, you mention your parents giving you the option of taking
growth hormones.

At what age do you first remember being personally concerned about
your height, and was that concern true when you were among your family
and similarly-sized people, or did it have more to do with your circle
of friends?

In your research, did short people whose family was of about the same
height as they were, indicate as many concerns about their height as
those who were particularly short even within their family circle?
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #2 of 118: John Schwartz (jswatz) Tue 6 Jul 10 14:38
    

  Hi, David, and thanks for the kind words about the book. I became aware
that I was the shortest kid in my class pretty early on -- it was elementary
school. Not only was I small, I was slow and pretty feeble, and it all
weighed on me. So it was somewhere between the age of six and eight,
about the time we were all lining up to go to the cafeteria, and certainly
about the time that the other kids in my class were jumping up to hit a pipe
that ran across the hallway into the cafeteria. The other kids jumped up and
hit it every time they passed the thing. I couldn't, no matter how hard I
tried.

   I was also the shortest in my own family, but that didn't bother me --
even when my younger brother passed me in height, it just seemed natural by
then, since I'd been so short for so long. When I realized that I was
shorter than my grandfather, who had grown up in Russia, I realized that I
was the smallest thing my family had produced in three generations. But
nobody in my family made me feel short...

   So we're really talking about the other kids at school. Most of them were
buddies, but being called "Short Schwartz" was inevitable.

   The point of the book, though, is that a little ribbing -- even some
bullying -- isn't the end of the world.
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #3 of 118: David Albert (aslan) Wed 7 Jul 10 05:26
    
I guess I had enough OTHER things to be teased about at school that
height never came into it :).

I remember in college being amazed that I felt about average-height in
my dormitory "house" (two floors out of eight).  I have always
wondered if they did it on purpose:  the other houses all seemed to be
populated by giants.  Maybe they really did put all the short people
together.

John, do you find that boys are in general much more concerned with
height issues than girls?  It would seem that short stature can have
many more advantages for girls, especially in the sports that more of
them gravitate to (gymnastics, dance), and even socially perhaps girls
can handle being "cute" for longer in their lives than can boys.

Some small girls I know are actually very happy with their size:  they
enjoy being the ones who at age 10 or 11 can still sit on the
shoulders of their friends, or get picked for certain types of roles in
dramatic productions.  But while I know some small boys who don't seem
to care about their height, I don't know too many who actually prefer
it that way.
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #4 of 118: Mrs. Bigby Hind (jessica) Wed 7 Jul 10 08:16
    
Hey John, I really enjoyed the book and think my 8 year old son, who
is short AND interested in science will really get a lot out of it.

I think you can look at this as a book about shortness, which of
course it is, and it addresses the subject from a variety of angles,
but I also think it's a great introduction to analyzing scientific
studies and how they're reported, regardless of subject matter.

Was curious to know more about how the people you interviewed enjoyed
(or didn't enjoy) being included in a book directed at kids.
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #5 of 118: person of crevice (obizuth) Wed 7 Jul 10 08:24
    
i really liked the book too! here's what i said on goodreads: 

This isn't just a reassuring book for short kids, showing that short folks 
are NOT doomed to be unpopular, dateless, low-earning, 
Napoleon-complex-having neo maxi zoom dweebies. It's a great book about 
science and media literacy for ALL kids. If you read Short, you'll know 
what questions to ask when you see, say, a story about computer gaming 
causing delinquency or about vaccines causing autism. Who funded the 
research? How big was the research sample? How valid was the way the 
research was done? Can you track down the original research and see how it 
compares to the way the findings were reported on TV, in the paper or on a 
random web site? A lot of adults don't know the difference between 
correlation and causation, and a lot of adults swallow the latest alarmist 
study without looking at the body of research. This book's a great tool. 
It's also easy to read, mixing the science with personal anecdotes from 
Schwartz's childhood as a very small kid in a very large state (Texas). 
Big ups.

***

my first questions: why did you think this book was necessary? 

and

did you set OUT to do a science-and-media-literacy book for kids, or did 
it turn into that as you delved into shortness research? 
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #6 of 118: John Schwartz (jswatz) Wed 7 Jul 10 08:45
    


  David, I have found that, on the whole, girls mind being short less than
boys do. For one thing, girls tend to be shorter anyway -- average height
for men is about 5'10", while for women it's closer to 5'3" or 4"... but
beyond that, height does seem to weigh more on boys. Part of it could be
the importance of height in sports like basketball and football, and part of
it could just be the body image notions that we pick up in life.
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #7 of 118: John Schwartz (jswatz) Wed 7 Jul 10 08:51
    

  Jessica, thanks so much for seeing my sneaky goal: this really is a
science book. Science is the zucchini in the muffin. I figured that some
kids would read the book because they want to know why they are short, but
I'm hoping that they will finish the book with a better toolkit for reading
about science.

   I also think it's a book for any kid who feels different -- I could
imagine a middle school counselor handing it to a kid who is NOT short and
saying, "read this -- and come back and tell me why you think I gave it to
you." I don't know if such things happen these days, but a boy can dream.

   As for whether people minded, or enjoyed, being in a book for kids,
nobody made a big point of it either way. Sometimes they talked about stuff
I couldn't use, considering the audience -- a short buddy told me about the
time a woman he met in a bar, and hit it off with, refused his offer of
dinner because he was too short for her. His response:

  "But I've got an enormous penis!"

   her response:

  "I can't believe you said that!"

  and he said,

   "I can't believe you won't go out with me because I'm short."

  Great story, wrong audience.
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #8 of 118: Ed Ward (captward) Wed 7 Jul 10 08:58
    
As someone who's attracted to very tall women, I can assure you they
have complexes as deep as very short men are alleged to have. 
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #9 of 118: John Schwartz (jswatz) Wed 7 Jul 10 09:07
    

 <obizuth>, I am going to pre-order a tombstone with the words "unpopular,
dateless, low-earning,
 Napoleon-complex-having neo maxi zoom dweebie" on it. You have made my day.

   I just hope they don't charge by the letter.

   You ask: Why did I think the book was necessary?

   snide answer: college tuition for my kids.

   real answer: I was outraged by the FDA decision in 2003 to approve the
use of human growth hormone for kids who are merely short, and don't have an
underlying medical condition that causes them to not produce enough of the
hormone themselves.

   It seemed to me that the government, at the urging of the pharmaceutical
industry, was turning shortness into a medical condition -- a problem that
needed to be addressed. I wanted to tell the kids who are short that it's
okay to be little, and that even though society seemed to have ratcheted up
the pressure on us, we could stand tall anyway.
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #10 of 118: John Schwartz (jswatz) Wed 7 Jul 10 09:08
    

  <captward>, I haven't found anybody yet, male or female, without
complexes...
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #11 of 118: uber-muso hipster hyperbole (pjm) Wed 7 Jul 10 09:18
    
"It seemed to me that the government, at the urging of the
pharmaceutical industry, was turning shortness into a medical condition
-- a problem that needed to be addressed."

Am I correct in observing that the taller you are, the less your life
expectancy?  I like being 6' 1" but I also know that it is going to end
my life a little sooner.
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #12 of 118: Ed Ward (captward) Wed 7 Jul 10 10:36
    
Sorry, I wasn't as clear as I meant to be. I meant height-related
complexes which often have physical effects like backache from
stooping. 
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #13 of 118: John Schwartz (jswatz) Wed 7 Jul 10 12:03
    

  do short people live longer?

  The answer is: maybe. or maybe not. Studies are all over the map. Anahad
O'Connor of the NYT did a nice job of summarizing some of the studies in
this piece:

<http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/10/health/10real.html>

  New studies come out all the time that only deepen the confusion. But I
like the ones that say I will live longer. Clearly, I am so short that I
WILL LIVE FOREVER.
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #14 of 118: person of crevice (obizuth) Wed 7 Jul 10 12:52
    
ahahaha, i am taller than average (for a lady person) but i intend to live 
forever by fueling myself with my own endless bile. 

was it hard for you to write the autobiographical stuff? how much other 
first-person stuff ahve you done in your career? what were your um social 
and family concerns, maybe? in writing this book  -- were there any 
anecdotes you didn't want to share (either b/c they were unpleasant to 
think about or b/c you worried about hurting a friend or family member)? 
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #15 of 118: David Albert (aslan) Wed 7 Jul 10 12:53
    
There are lots of advantages to being short.  There are also
advantages to being tall.  And there are advantages and disadvantages
to most of the differences that make us all unique.  Life is, or should
be, a matter of finding how to use what you've got to best advantage.

So your main point for writing the book -- horror at the FDA's
approval of a drug to change one's stature purely for the sake of
changing it -- is well taken.  But do you see this PARTICULAR medical
intervention very differently from all the OTHER medical interventions
people engage in when they aren't actually sick?  Is growth hormone
more of a risk than a nose job or breast implants, or do you see the
issues as very similar?

One big difference that I see is that growth hormone is often given to
kids while they are kids, whereas most people wait until they are
adults to get plastic surgery.  But are there any other special factors
that set your book's issue apart from all the others?
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #16 of 118: David Albert (aslan) Wed 7 Jul 10 12:53
    
(<obizuth> slipped.)
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #17 of 118: John Schwartz (jswatz) Wed 7 Jul 10 14:02
    

  <obizuth>, we all know that bile is the true serum of eternal youth. As
for your questions:


> was it hard for you to write the autobiographical stuff? how much other
 first-person stuff ahve you done in your career? what were your um social
 and family concerns, maybe? in writing this book  -- were there any
 anecdotes you didn't want to share (either b/c they were unpleasant to
 think about or b/c you worried about hurting a friend or family member)?

   Writing autobiographical stuff comes pretty naturally to me. I write a
fair number of first-person pieces for the paper. Most of them are humor
essays for the Mutual Funds Quarterly -- my next effort appears in this
Sunday's NYT. But I've also written about my kids in more serious pieces for
the Week in Review, Education Life and other sections.

  Like this one:

<http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/07/education/edlife/07notebook.html?>

  Over the years, I've dealt with the touchy issues of writing about family
by making sure that anyone I mention in a piece knows what's coming and gets
to discuss it with me. When I mentioned the decline of my family's clothing
store in an essay for the Washington Post, some years ago, I had a long
conversation with my uncle about it. He made a case for saying that the
store was down, but not out -- and I thought he made a good point. He was
happy with the story that got published.

   It helps tremendously that I actually like my family, love my folks, and
feel that my life has turned out pretty damned well. That's lousy for
a memoirist these days, but it means that writing about my past and my
family is a relatively happy experience. In the book, I get to write about
my older brother defending me on the school bus. That's a great moment.
Should I have also mentioned that the other older brother used to sit on my
head and fart? Well, he didn't do it because I was short, so the answer is
no.

   My editors cut an anecdote about Mom that she might not have liked, but I
think she would have been okay with. In any case, I had her read the book
when I first got the galleys, and she was very happy with it.
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #18 of 118: John Schwartz (jswatz) Wed 7 Jul 10 14:05
    


David writes:

>> But do you see this PARTICULAR medical
 intervention very differently from all the OTHER medical interventions
 people engage in when they aren't actually sick?  Is growth hormone
 more of a risk than a nose job or breast implants, or do you see the
 issues as very similar?

 One big difference that I see is that growth hormone is often given to
 kids while they are kids, whereas most people wait until they are
 adults to get plastic surgery.  But are there any other special factors
 that set your book's issue apart from all the others?


   I don't think this medical intervention is worse than, say, breast
implants, and I make the comparison in the book. But I do believe we over-
medicalize things, and figured that height was a very good way to introduce
the idea to a young audience. And I do think that the fact that the decision
to get hormone injections is made by the parents, at a very young age, makes
the medical process more problematic, especially since we don't know the
long-term side effects of the use of these hormones, if any.
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #19 of 118: Science is the zucchini in the muffin (reva) Wed 7 Jul 10 16:04
    
Reading with interest. And thanks for the pseud, John.
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #20 of 118: person of crevice (obizuth) Wed 7 Jul 10 17:26
    
ohh, love taht essay about sam/poncho. 
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #21 of 118: Lena M. Diethelm (lendie) Wed 7 Jul 10 17:31
    

So, how tall are you?
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #22 of 118: bill braasch (bbraasch) Wed 7 Jul 10 17:37
    
now we're getting somewhere.
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #23 of 118: Julie Sherman (julieswn) Wed 7 Jul 10 18:05
    
also love the essay about Sam and the poncho
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #24 of 118: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Wed 7 Jul 10 18:23
    
I'm 5'2", and I'm the tallest woman in my immediate family, so I am
following this topic with enormous interest! 
  
inkwell.vue.387 : John Schwartz, Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All
permalink #25 of 118: John Schwartz (jswatz) Thu 8 Jul 10 07:37
    

   I am 5'3", maybe a shade more. I used to be 5'4", but years of carrying
two children on my shoulders and in a Snugli while tromping all over
Manhattan lost me nearly an inch. This, by the way, was not a happy
discovery.
  

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