If we short people ever rule the world, boarding up all high shelves and outlawing basketball, the first bronze statue we erect on the low steps of our new capitol is likely to be of a 5-foot-10 engineer from San Diego named Thomas T. Samaras.
Is he too tall for the role of Lilliputian hero? Perhaps, but that is the beauty of it. He gives us credibility, and in a stunning 318-page manifesto just published (but hard to find) he explains why the human species must downsize its steadily rising average height (about 5 feet 10 for U.S. men, 5 feet 4 for women) or die.
The paperback volume, titled "The Truth About Your Height: Exploring the Myths and Realities of Human Size and Its Effects on Performance, Health, Pollution and Survival," is, as Samaras, 62, notes in the preface, "not self-serving" because he and the scientists who reviewed the manuscript are all of average or above-average height. Much of the book is so evenhanded and technical it is barely readable; Samaras's work in the "design, development, and production of sophisticated electro-mechanical systems" inspired the project.
What better person to represent the interests of us undersized and voice our unspoken yearnings for lower light fixtures, longer brake pedals and kinder dance instructors than a number-crunching scientist who sees our problems as just a misallocation of resources? Since nature has also not handicapped Samaras with much of a sense of humor, he will not be laughing off, as most of us under 5 feet 6 do, the daily heightist jibes.
We all know, even if we do not talk about it much, that heightism rules human culture. The taller people are nearly always picked first for kickball, homecoming queen and president of the United States. Other books examining these injustices merely purse their editorial lips, point out how sweet and patient we short people are and remark at our bravery in rescuing children from narrow wells and doing stunts for Macaulay Culkin.
Samaras is the first to see us vertically challenged folks as we really are -- the vanguard of a future, much-improved human race and the only salvation from environmental catastrophe.
"Increasing human size has a very high price tag," Samaras writes. "We suffer huge extra costs in relation to health, energy consumption, resources needs, pollution, and economic progress. . . . We need to control both the number of people on earth as well as their physical size. Only this combination will result in reducing the harmful effects of billions of humans on the earth and the threat to the survival and happiness of future generations."
He fiddles briefly with nostrums common to other essays on this subject -- the need to eliminate misconceptions about smaller human size; the advisability of books, college courses and government reports challenging height discrimination; the advantages of nontraditional casting. Michael J. Fox, some zealots believe, would do just fine in Liam Neeson's parts, and Holly Hunter can pout as well as Geena Davis.
But Samaras soon plunges into real-life solutions for an accelerating ecological disaster. Each generation is growing about an inch taller than the last, and that, sadly, is just an average. In my house one son looks down tolerantly from six feet, the other is three inches taller than I am and still growing, and my 10-year-old daughter is stealing my shirts.
This frightening surge of growth hormones is, Samaras reports, the result of overabundant plant and animal protein, milk, fat and especially sugar. Samaras proposes, as a cure, "a low-calorie, low-fat diet for children that will allow parents to control growth without any harmful effects on the child's mental development and physical health."
He does not stop there. "Manipulating our genetic makeup is not popular in the U.S. and is not currently an acceptable approach for increasing or decreasing the size of future generations," he writes. But times, he asserts, may change.
There should be, he postulates, a minimum height for useful physical activity, such as swinging an ax. When the woodsman gets down to about 2 feet 1, research indicates, the ax starts swinging him. Brain size diminishes with height, so Samaras investigates how much smaller we can be and still have enough gray matter to make change and set the VCR to record Oprah (whose height, as we shall see, is a matter of great controversy).
"It would appear," he concludes, "that an average height of 4' to 4'6" would be the smallest we'd want to get."
Science has to shrink the race, he says, because natural selection has blown it. In an eye-popping section of the book titled "How Stature Affects Love Making Ability" (impatient readers may turn immediately to Page 45), Samaras acknowledges that "most women are attracted to men who are taller than themselves."
This, to Samaras and many of the rest of us, is colossally unfair and based on faulty assumptions. Quick to cite a French source when dealing with l'amour, Samaras notes that most women responding to a poll by the magazine Marie-France "did not find tall, athletic looking men to be superior lovers."
And Samaras says Masters and Johnson concluded that "there isn't a relation between a man's skeletal frame and the size of his genitalia." The engineer-author lovingly summarizes their research: They measured 312 subjects in a flaccid state. The largest endowment was found in a man of 5'7" weighing 153 pounds and the smallest was found in a man of 5'11" weighing 178 pounds.
So if we whittle down the race a foot or two, as Samaras suggests, what will we get? He fills one chapter with a pint-size hall of fame, everyone from King Charles I (5 feet 4) to Joyce Brothers (5 feet 1). Samaras struggles a bit at this point in the book, for reasons he underlines in his first chapter: Height reports are often very imprecise and people lie about how tall they are. Height researcher Ralph Keyes found respondents often stretching themselves an inch or so. Doubt about true height is particularly prevalent among celebrities.
"Current Biography," for instance, says Oprah Winfrey is just five feet tall. Her spokeswoman says she is 5 feet 6 1/2. (Check to see if she is wearing heels, Samaras advises.)
His point is that short people have had a remarkable impact on history, either one way (5-foot-1 Saint Francis of Assisi, 5-foot-4 James Madison and 5-foot Mother Teresa) or another (5-foot Attila the Hun, 5-foot-3 Marquis de Sade and the relatively undersize Japanese Imperial Army).
There are plenty of nice productive tall people, Samaras admits, but eventually we will be unable to afford the upkeep on our Abraham Lincolns, Kareem Abdul-Jabbars and Janet Renos. Samaras calculates the demands of a world where everyone is six feet tall and 190 pounds, compared with the same place with everyone five feet tall and 110 pounds. On average, "the larger person creates about 73 percent more wastes due to greater use of water, food, materials, and various products," he writes.
Reaction to his book so far, Samaras says, has been limited and mixed. The mainstream publishers ignored him, he says, so he gave his manuscript to Tecolote Publications of San Diego, a "one-person publisher." Barnes & Noble is so far the only chain promising to carry it. Oprah, however tall she is, has not called.
The responses he has received have often come from scattered news reports of his work. A 6-foot-9 physician who saw a reference to the book in a journal wrote to ask if Samaras expected him to cut his legs off. "I guess he was sensitive about his size," Samaras says. Zero Population Growth, the organization that concerns itself with the number rather the height of people, has shown some interest in Samaras's work, but a spokeswoman said, "We would need more evidence before we would get very concerned about it."
When confronted with Samaras's arguments, Ann Watt, the 5-foot-11 founder of the Tall Club of New York, says with her tongue firmly in her lofty cheek that "everyone knows tall people are considered superior beings and get more accomplished in the world, so if we killed off two short persons for every tall one, we would get more work done."
Samaras, accustomed to ridicule, responds in a quiet voice: "I just want to get people thinking about what I am saying. Bigger is not always better."
"Short or tall," he says, "we are already bigger than 99 percent of the animals that live on Earth."