Monthly Archives: July 2023

Robert Reich: But What’s “Normal” Anyway?

Robert Reich in a small crowd of men. Bill Clinton is leaning down and touching Reich's cheek. The top of Reich's head is below Clinton's shoulders.

Laurie and Debbie say:

Robert Reich is a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley . He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He currently writes regularly at, and for The Guardian.  While he generally writes about politics, from a perspective we both appreciate, today he took the time to write about his life, in Why I’m So Short.

From time to time I burden you with some personal stuff, based on my belief that our values begin with who we are and where we came from. Besides, I’ve been writing this daily letter to you for almost two years, and you have every right to know a bit more about me.

So today I want to get very personal and tell you why I’m so short — a condition that led to lots of bullying and ridicule when I was a kid, which in turn helped shape who I am.

When he failed to pass 5 feet, his mother, who had been expecting a growth spurt,

took me to see a doctor in New York who specialized in bone growth. He took a bunch of measurements, asked questions about the heights of my grandparents and great-grandparents (they were all normal), did some X-rays, drew some blood samples, and three weeks later phoned to say he had no idea why I was so short.

He talks about problems with dating, and about revisiting the reasons for his height when he and his wife started talking about having kids.

Medical science had advanced considerably over the two decades, because there was an answer to why I was so short.

I was a mutant. More specifically, I had inherited a mutation called Fairbanks disease, or multiple epiphyseal dysplasia — a rare genetic disorder that slows bone growth. (The actor Danny DeVito also has this condition.) Normal bones grow when cartilage is deposited at their ends. The cartilage then hardens to become additional bone. But my cartilage didn’t work that way. …

… the geneticist explained that the odds of passing this mutation to my children were very small. And even if they had it, the odds that it would slow their bone growth or cause any other irregularities, or be passed on to their own children, were miniscule.

We decided to have kids. And our sons turned out perfectly normal.

He then goes on to make the important point of the essay:

But what’s “normal” anyway? And why is normal so important?

I’ve had a wonderful life. I have a loving family. I’ve had good friends, work that I consider satisfying and important, reasonably good health except for the above-mentioned problems. So what if I’m very short?

Because he is one of the world’s most prominent little people, parents come to him for advice about short children:

I … tell them that if they or their children are desperate, they can resort to limb-lengthening surgeries, growth hormone treatments with unknown and potentially dangerous side effects, humatrope, and a wide variety of homeopathic or crank remedies.

But I gently urge them not to do any of these things. I tell them to love their short kids. Inundate them with affection, and they’ll be okay.

We both really appreciate this balanced view: there are options (we’ve written about limb-lengthening here and here) and you don’t have to use them. As Debbie said in the 2022 post linked above, “it could be about weight loss surgery, it could be about skin lightening, it could be about body hair removal, but this time it’s about limb-lengthening surgery.”

Reich quotes one pediatric endocrinologist as saying: “They want growth hormone, looking for a specific height. But this is not like Amazon; you can’t just place an order and make a child the height you want.”

He’s honest about the downsides of being short, including when he ran for office and that was all the media wanted to talk about. He cites some interesting studies about the actual lives of short people as opposed to the social assumptions about those lives. He points out the ways heightism is built into language. Think about the people we can “look up to.”

Mostly, however, he’s just talking about himself: what he’s been through, what he’s learned, how he sees himself now. And he wants his substantial subscribers’ list (over 2300 people have liked the post so far) to understand that it is possible to have a really great life without ever reaching 5 feet tall, and that being bullied sucks–but it isn’t necessarily enough reason to dislike or re-form your body.

Every voice for appreciating yourself as you are is valuable: Reich’s is only different because he can reach a wider audience than most.


Debbie is no longer active on Twitter. Follow her on Mastodon.

Follow Laurie’s Pandemic Shadows photos on Instagram.




Racist Erasure at the British Museum: Somehow Not Shocking

photo of Chinese woman on pink background with poetry in Chinese and English. The English reads "Don't speak of how women can become heroes. Alone, I rode the winds east for ten thousand leagues." Translated by Yilin Wang.

Debbie says:

Laurie and I have written before about artists who are mistreated by their venues, including Dorian Katz being censored from trash cans, and the cowardice of the museums which postponed Phillipe Guston exhibits for four years. This time, the shabby museum is the iconic British Museum and the misused artist is a translator rather than a visual artist.

Canadian-Chinese translator, poet, writer, and editor Yilin Wang is facing up against the British Museum, and the facts seem crystal clear. Wang has translated poetry by Qiu Jin, (秋瑾), “a Chinese revolutionary, feminist, poet, and essayist who lived from 1875 to 1907.” The museum has an exhibit called “China’s Hidden Century,” curated by Jessica Harrison-Hall.

When it opened, the exhibit apparently featured Wang’s 23-line translation of a Qiu Jin poem, A River of Crimson: A Brief Stay in the Glorious Capital, with no translator credit (and the museum and the curators had had no previous contact with Wang). According to Wang, this poem was featured “in a giant projection, on a sign, in digital and print audio guides, in an audio form and its transcript, and in an audio guide in their app store, in connection with the physical exhibition.” When Wang learned about this copyright violation, she wrote to the British Museum, an institution more than well-enough capitalized and respected to apologize and fix the problem. She asked that they either pay her and credit her work or remove her translation.

So what did the great minds at the museum do? First, they offered to acknowledge her work, and sent her a permission form, with none-too-subtle prodding to let them use the material for free. Then, before she had time to respond across the 8-hour time difference, they followed up by saying they had “removed her translations,” which turns out to mean that they removed the entire Qiu Jin feature. So, as she says:

The current position is the worst possible outcome – the public are now not only being denied the chance to see my translations, and to know who wrote them, but also the chance to read Qiu Jin’s words too. The result is that two female writers of color have both had their work erased. We are not disposable.

The museum says that the mistake was “human error,” and also says they can’t make quick changes to an active exhibit (although they managed to remove all this material overnight). They have not acknowledged that their named curator certainly looks Caucasian and not Chinese. Wang is crowdfunding for money to pay an attorney to represent her. (Full disclosure; I have donated a small amount to this fund, though I never heard of her before I saw her story on social media.) More details of the story are available at the crowdfunding link.

If everyone involved was of the same race and ethnicity, the only acceptable response to Wang’s letter would have been for the museum to apologize fully and publicly, restore the material with full credit to the translator, and pay whatever the fair market price is for such use, plus damages. (In the U.S., the penalty for copyright violation is three times the original fair charge; this may not be true in either Canada or the United Kingdom, but it’s a benchmark.) Given the clear racist nature of the outcome–women of color silenced and made invisible, refusal to pay what we know a white man would have expected and received–the apology should go deeper, the payment should be higher, and the curators should be apologizing on their own as well as through their employer.

Poetry translation is highly skilled work, and opportunities to have it showcased so publicly are rare. They should not be tainted by racism and greed. I wish Wang successful crowdfunding and successful litigation. The only silver lining her is that I never heard of Qiu Jin, who sounds fascinating, and I will be learning more. If you never heard of her before this post, maybe that’s a silver lining for you as well.


Debbie is no longer active on Twitter. Follow her on Mastodon.

Follow Laurie’s Pandemic Shadows photos on Instagram.