Beyond Stubble


“The reptilian brain associates the look with illness, fatigue, a hangover, depression, and the need for a bath.”

There are ways to know what’s coming down, but you have to follow the trail. I have foreseen a radical shift in the physiognomy of the male emerging in the pages of The New York Times, and I should go ahead and announce it now so that you can be prepared.

First of all I’m happy to report that there is some evidence that the popularity of stubble is on the wane. I know it’s fashionable, but I am not alone in finding it off-putting. The reptilian brain associates the look with illness, fatigue, a hangover, depression, and the need for a bath. The look may be “easy,” however, and that makes more sense than the willingness of women to totter around in these platform/stilettos that are currently fashionable.

So when stubble is over, what will replace it? Ironically, the clue came in an article targeted to women. The subject was the crash-dieting some do in order to fit into slim wedding dresses. A few doctors in the United States are beginning to offer something called the K-E diet, which has long been popular in Italy and Spain. It involves inserting a tube into the nose, down the esophagus, and into  the stomach to administer no more than 800 calories of nourishment per day for 10 days. Read Full Post »

The Potato Moment


“What’s in your garden?”

I have been thinking a lot about potatoes lately–and gold. Interesting how subjects converge.

I just checked the price of gold, and it is about $1,660 an ounce, but it may be rising higher because the stock market is sinking. I see gold buying as an investment in the dark side, the fear that economic catastrophe is at hand. The theory is that when all currencies are worthless, gold possessed by the very few could ensure enormous advantage. However, one wonders if a starving man would take all the gold in the world for a single potato. I think of this as The Potato Moment.

The potato, in fact, stars in what may later be seen as an apocryphal story about a looming crisis in human history. I discovered this one night when I chose as bedtime reading a collection of some of the best articles that have ever appeared in National Geographic. I settled on “The Great Potato,” by Robert E. Rhoades, which was published in 1985. It is, indeed, a classic. Rhoades shared some of his research at the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru, which is dedicated to preserving some 13,000 different native strains of potato.

Until reading this article, I had thought that all of a handful of potato varieties I knew about had appeared everywhere simultaneously. However, I learned that the potato originated in southern Peru and northern Bolivia, where farmers still plant hundreds of varieties. It was the Spaniards, and specifically Francisco Pizarro, who caused the potato to travel all over the world. Potatoes were loaded into the hold of his ship as provisions for the homeward journey after his expedition in the 1530s failed to find the fabled gold of the Inca Atahuallpa. Soon after he returned, the humble spud was being planted virtually everywhere.  Rhoades noted the irony that in their pursuit of gold the Spaniards “were unaware of the buried treasure beneath their feet.” Read Full Post »

More on Serving Balance


“If you’re talking to a good person, there has

to be something with which you can resonate.”

In an earlier blog (“One Feminine Principle of Leadership,” March 13, 2012), I proposed that the feminine lead in serving the value of balance. Nice idea, but how do we proceed in this polarized political environment? Within days, a book review offered inspiration.

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has chosen The Righteous Mind as the title of his work about why we vote the way we do. It immediately elicits an indignant reaction: “I’m not righteous; they’re the righteous ones!” But he follows with an ingratiating subtitle: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, and the mind opens. His premise is that righteousness is a shared fault and will only be overcome by listening to what the other side has to say. If you’re talking to a good person, there has to be something with which you can resonate. Accommodation will thus begin.

The review of the book by William Saletan was extraordinarily thorough, and I was immediately inspired to test the idea with regard to several issues. All quotations that follow are from the review, not the book.

Haidt begins his work by pointing out that conservatives are dedicated to protecting the social pillars sustained by tradition, and the primary pillar is the family. The intuitive response is positive. How can you be against the idea of family, in spite of the fact that so many are dysfunctional? The problem is that the nature of the family has changed radically, and many different workable combinations have evolved. Those who have the patriarchal, one-submissive-wife form in mind tend to express their preference in terms that the reviewer describes as “racist, sexist, and homophobic.” The key to alignment here is to open to creative variations on the mini-community that the ideal family is.

“Right.” One can envision the personality of liberal affirmation, arms crossed, an arrogant smile on an intelligent face. However, Haidt doesn’t stand for this imaginary moment of triumph. He describes himself as a former liberal partisan and criticizes his earlier peers as intractable because “they’re so convinced of their rationality, open-mindedness and enlightenment.” A real zinger, and I have to admit a faint wounding.

But back to the family. Conservatives are concerned about welfare programs that have undermined it. Everyone knows that there are people who game the system, and and there is a trend toward illegitimate children among women who don’t want to lose benefits by marrying. This is a matter of concern even among liberals, and a little give and take could result in the adjustment of benefits to correct unintended consequences. The “give” might reasonably include making birth control readily available to impoverished women who would like to create fewer impoverished children. Once the connection is made, conservatives desirous of cutting back on welfare spending may become receptive to this idea.

Now to the issue of gaming the system. Haidt proposes that conservatives value order more than equality. The opposing perspective is that the degree of financial inequality is escalating at an alarming and untenable rate. Let us be frank. The wealthy, our huge corporations, and members of the medical establishment are all among the multitudes who are gaming the system, and they have more resources than the impoverished to maximize their take. If we can all agree that gaming the system is unacceptable on its face, then we can approach reform on multiple fronts that could enhance the perception of equality in this country. The effort might also forestall the brewing disorder conservatives hate, as in the “Occupy Movement.”

These are just a few examples of the ways in which the search for common ground could lead to constructive compromise, and congressional minds may be more open to this strategy than we have heretofore imagined. We are fast approaching the time when a reputation for ineffectiveness could cause many political careers to self-destruct. Jonathan Haidt’s book might enable some of the righteous–on both sides–to grow, survive, and eventually enjoy distinguished careers. Let’s hope the book becomes a bestseller. I’m certainly going to buy a copy. Read Full Post »

More on Our Luminous Mentor


“Because it is very hard for humans to understand or contemplate the inevitability of death, the moon’s cycles have been universally comforting.”

When I stepped outside to get the paper Monday morning, I saw the last sliver of the waning moon. The dark of the moon will soon be upon us, and it’s interesting to realize what a frightening time this was–and still may be–for primitive people.

I’m back in the book, The Moon, by Jules Cashford, taking another look (See “Moon Thoughts,” March 8) at what we have learned from our “luminous mentor.” He explains that as the moon waned, the early people all over the world danced to ensure its return, believing that they shared its fate. When the bright rim of the new moon appeared, it was an occasion for joy. New moons, he writes, stand “for the beginning that always comes back and never fails, the second chance, the birth forever arising out of death.”

Due to ambient light and very busy lives, most of us don’t pay a lot of attention to the moon’s phases, but I wonder how much we take its presence for granted. I have thought about writing a story that would imagine the dramatic effect of its disappearance. (Perhaps someone has already done this.) I assume that it would not be long before the loss of its distant companionship would turn us into “lunatics.” Read Full Post »

A Manly Pie


“I have the touch.”

Sometimes when I walk around on errands and see young adolescents in the mall or wherever, I feel a little sorry for them because they look a bit lost and bored. My impression is that they spend an awful lot of rather unfulfilling time entertaining themselves with TV, movies, video games, their cellphones and other techie toys and just wandering around the malls looking for something they know not what. I look at them and wonder, “Do you know how to do anything, to make anything?”

I mean, “Do you know how to build a fence, repair a car, sew a dress, knit a sweater, grow something to eat, create a work of art, cook something really delicious from scratch?” Anything like that can be a source of pride, and I wonder if these young people are deprived in this respect.

In a culture where it is so easy to buy everything, I still take pride in the fact that I can make about the best pie crust I’ve ever eaten anywhere. One third cup butter, one third cup of shortening, two cups of flour, one teaspoon of salt, and about five tablespoons of water, depending on the humidity. The magic is in the work with the pastry blender, the knowing how much water is just right, and the skill with which you roll the dough out so that the baked crust is flaky rather than tough. I have the touch. Read Full Post »

Crop Circle Update


“Wouldn’t it be fun if one suddenly appeared at White Sands?”

One of the many things I love about Santa Fe is the open and imagnative mind that is characteristic of residents. I saw that again yesterday at a standing-room-only lecture on crop circles at the International Folk Art Museum.

The speaker was Donna Bone, who has a garden design firm here and who was sharing her experience as a member of an international tour group in Great Britain last year. Her talk was very rich with photographs of the designs, some so beautiful and intricate that the audience gasped. The number of appearances has increased rapidly since the 1970s, and about ninety percent of the formations in the last century occurred in Great Britain. Over 10,000 have now been documented worldwide in fields of crops like borage, oats, wheat, barley, etc.

After the lecture, I turned to the Internet to get more information, and the person who wrote the article on Wikipedia was clearly skeptical. There have been cases where pranksters, artists, engineers, and others have created creditable designs to show how humans could do this work, but they damage plants in the act. In the “real” crop circles, plants will soon stand up again if no one walks on them.

According to the Wikipedia article, the first image of a crop circle appeared in a 17th century English woodcut, only it is oblong rather than round and reportedly depicts the Devil with a scythe mowing the design. In her presentation, Bone pointed out that it is hard to detect the design of a crop circle on the ground. Now they can be captured with cameras and airplanes and helicopters, so there may have been many more than we will ever know. Read Full Post »

Medicare Non-Fraud


“Because insured patients are paying so little out of pocket for care, we don’t closely monitor the cost.”

Hmph! Now I have personal knowledge of one of the countless reasons why Medicare has become so costly.

I have Medicare benefits now and also supplemental insurance, and the latter always reports back on my charges. I recently got an “Explanation of Benefits” pertaining to an ankle I fractured on New Year’s Day. I was amazed to see a charge for $320.59 for “Surgery,” so I decided to be a good citizen and report what looked like an error.

I was unhappy about this, not wanting to think ill of my doctor, whom I had greatly liked. He was very amiable and encouraging and provided me with a boot at the first appointment. During the next two appointments, he simply tested the growing strength in my ankle, expressing amazement at how quickly I was healing. On the last visit, he jovially dismissed me with a prescription for physical therapy.

When I called the Fraud Hotline, the woman at the other end seemed tired and discouraged–what a job–and I hated to dump my concern on her. I gave her the details, and she excused herself briefly to investigate. When she came back on the line, her voice was rueful. “I have no idea why they’ve done this,” she said, “but a fracture is coded as surgery, and this is correct.” I told her that I was relieved but could see how Medicare will go broke. She chuckled in agreement, updated my information, and wished me a nice day. Read Full Post »

One Feminine Principle of Leadership


“The concept of balance is thus aligned with the concept of justice–a noble duality the feminine could happily embrace.”

In my last blog, I made the point that The Man’s Way of governance has brought us to a very perilous moment in history, and it is time for it to be tempered by The Woman’s Way. I suggested that we begin to prepare for this responsibility by developing principles of leadership uniquely suited to the feminine psyche. They would clarify what matters most to us and how that differs from the masculine approach.

And to be frank, one of the reasons why I think this is necessary is because I have no illusions about the shadow side of the feminine. In fact, the worst abuse of power I have ever witnessed in a professional situation was by two women. So there. We’re not perfect, and we can be scary. Establishing guidelines to promote the enlightened use of power would benefit the collective and also set a nice example for men, who have never done this as far as I know.

I would suggest that there be a total of three principles, because a trinity of whatever seems to be especially memorable to the human mind. All of the principles, if this idea catches on, should be the developed by consensus–at a huge conference of women, for example. However, I do have a thought about one. Read Full Post »

Schoolyard Wisdom


“Don’t worry. I’ll launch that nuclear warhead so fast it will make your head spin.”

Someone recently reminded me that the international tension building about Iran’s nuclear ambitions is a whole lot about politics–here, in Israel, and in Iran. Even if there is a lot of show afoot, however, it is nerve-racking; because we are looking at potentially cataclysmic consequences. Something has to give, big-time, and perhaps that is The Ways of Men. That means that The Ways of Women will be needed in greater measure.

I speak as both a participant and very early observer of schoolyard behavior, which is pertinent here. To give you the framework, I went to an elementary school in El Paso, Texas, where Anglos were outnumbered by Hispanics. The disadvantages of being in the minority, of being “the other,” were most acute on the playground. There I was picked on enough to resort to forging notes from my mother excusing me from recess. The teacher caught on after a while, and I had to return to the arena. What I endured was generally unpleasant, but I don’t remember a specific incident. That suggests that the animosity was tempered, which is typical of girls.

Things were different with the boys, whose tensions typically escalated. Something would begin with a little shove, then there would be a reacting shove, followed by a bigger shove back, leading to a lunge and a blow, and then the boys would be thrashing around in the dirt. Sometimes I’m sure there was a little trouble-maker in the melee, emboldened by a big brother who would come to the rescue if needed or be the later agent of revenge. Read Full Post »

Moon Thoughts


“The evolutionary consequences of a primitive initiative are astounding.”

The moon will be full at 2:41 a.m. Santa Fe time, and I am sorry that weather moving in may obscure its moment of glory. There is little ambient light out where I live, and the heavens on a cloudless night are a revelation. Months ago the sight of the full moon rising inspired me to return to a book in my library, The Moon, Myth and Image, by Jules Cashford. The scholarly work contains more detail than I can handle, but it also presents an idea that I may ponder for the rest of my life.

There have been countless times when I have been grateful for the moon’s distant companionship, but it had never occurred to me that our early fascination with it was the ground on which civilization took root. My moon book presents the theory that acute observation of its phases resulted in an understanding of time that led to both the rational and abstract thinking unique to human beings. Read Full Post »