Archive for July, 2011

Short Circuit Enculturation?

July 29, 2011


  In the 7/23/11 Economist there is an interesting article about the evolution of gender roles in societies across our planet.  It cites convincing (to me) studies holding that the nature of agriculture in the land of one’s ancestors determines much about the economic roles of women in that society.

  Up to the fifth millennium BC Mesopotamian women did the farming, tilling their fields with hoes.  The invention of the plow somewhere around 5,000 BC changed things.  Women didn’t have the requisite upper body strength and men took over. 

  “Women descended from plough-users are less likely to work outside the home, to be elected to parliament or to run businesses than their counterparts in countries at similar levels of development who happen to be descended from hoe-users.”

    Things can change and have to some extent in the western world where much farming was done from behind plows, but it took the cataclysm of WWII.  Rosie the Riveter et al moved into jobs vacated by soldiers and sailors headed toward the battlefield.  Still, even now, sixteen per cent fewer adult women than men work outside the home in OEDC countries.

  Makes one think of other long long term ramifications.   Hmmm.  In her book French Ways and Their Meaning Edith Wharton wrote: “…one may safely say that most things in a man’s view of life depend on how many thousand years ago his land was deforested.  And…when…men…are plunged afresh into the wilderness of a new continent, it is natural that in many respects they should be still farther removed from those whose habits and opinions are threaded through and through with Mediterranean culture and the civic discipline of Rome.”

  For example: “There are more people who can read in the United States; but what do they read? The whole point, as far as any real standard goes is there.  If the ability to read carries the average man no higher than the gossip of his neighbours, if he asks nothing more nourishing out of books and the theatre than he gets in hanging about the store, the bar and the street-corner, then culture is bound to be dragged down to him instead of his being lifted up by culture.”

  I’ve recently been entertained by labor strife in France related to an attempt to raise the retirement age from sixty to sixty-two.  But now in light of the likelihood that the leaders of the richest country in the world have squandered our credit rating, the concept of joie de vivre rings with new resonance.  I’m thinking of short circuiting the slow evolution of enculturation by moving to the Cotes d’Azur.

Mens Sano In Corpore Sano

July 24, 2011


  I’d been wondering why my MD brother had no TV in his place (none!) till I began paging through another of his JAMAs (Journal of the American Medical Association).  I figured it out when the following heart pounding sounding title caught my eye: “Television Viewing and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, and All-Cause Mortality”.

  Made me think of the phrase above from the first line of Juvenal’s Satire X which reads in full: “It is to be prayed that the mind be sound in a sound body”.  It will come as no surprise that I’m in agreement and don’t think that either will be enhanced in front of a tube.  (cf “couch potato category tab below right.)  Still, it is fun to see actual peer reviewed evidence (for which I need a dictionary to understand!) in support.

  The study “revealed a linear increase in risk with the number of hours per day of TV viewing for both type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease; the association with all cause mortality appeared stronger with TV viewing time of greater than three hours per day”.

  Interestingly, the authors also relate that for a group of nine year olds, reduced time in front of the television slowed increases in body mass index even without change in physical activity.  No thoughts of “free” Happy Meals and “Livin’ It”.

  Or like Mason Williams* wrote in 1969, “Network television wants to keep you stupid so you’ll watch it”.  And: “Television is not a salesman with his foot in your door, it’s a salesman with his foot in your head”.  

*Mason Williams is an incredible creative force.  He recorded his “Classical Gas” on twelve string guitar in 1968 and won two Grammys.  He was a writer for the groundbreaking Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour the cancelation of which was in part the motivation for the book the cover of which you see above.  He was briefly head writer for Saturday Night Live and could be said to have conceived of music videos and recorded the first one.

The Almighty Has His Own Purposes

July 15, 2011


  OK.  Its having been Monday, the event is well outside the current news cycle, but on July 11th Newt Gingrich spoke at the University of Iowa in the latest of a series sponsored by the Family Leader organization.  That group is led by Bob Vander Plaats who in 2010 headed a successful effort to unseat three Iowa Supreme Court justices for their part in a unanimous decision – not a judgment regarding gay marriage, but rather whether a certain cohort had been subject to discrimination.


  Recently Family Leader offered that “slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President”.

  Uhm, say again? 

  They’ve dropped that observation, but perhaps its utterance was at least partially responsible for Mr. Gingerich and others to decline to sign the Family Leader ‘Marriage Pledge’ endorsing a particular set of values – “…a consistent voice… always standing for God’s truth”.

  For his part, Mr. Gingerich does ask: “Do you believe this is still a country where your rights come from your creator and you are the center of the society…( or do you subscribe to a) worldview in which you’re randomly gathered protoplasm”?

  If you visit this space at all it is obvious that I think about this stuff too much and am fascinated by all that remains unknown in this universe.  What I don’t get is the Blues Brothers business about being on a “Mission for God”.  My suggestion for those who think they are is to test the theory with the purchase of a lottery ticket.

  Or, better, consider the perspective of Abraham Lincoln as given in his second inaugural address.  Citizens of both the North and South “read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.  It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged…The Almighty has His own purposes.” 


*cf the Economist blog “Democracy in America” July 12: “Newt’s Theory of Exceptionalsim.”



July 10, 2011


  Recently had the incredible privilege and good fortune to be the only dude in a camp for girls and young women.  For a week and a half I was there to help (well, watch) wife orchestrate a ceramic mural commemorating the camp’s centennial.

  The name of the camp is a Native American word which translates as the imperative “awake”.  Perfect.  Separated from all electronic devices for seven weeks and immersed in nature, the arts (studio and performing), and each other the campers must indeed emerge anew.

  I greatly enjoyed watching and listening to what only could be described as reveille to taps ebullience.  And very happily benefited by this most positive manifestation of emotional contagion.  I felt my psyche reconstellate as neuroses disappeared.  No foolin’.

  Every meal time is characterized by singing.  Songs in thanks, songs for dropping stuff, birthdays, introductions, goodbyes, everything.  I sort of felt like I was missing a gear.  Anyway, one evening after the meal was over, table cleared, and awaiting dessert, I was the only one who’d not retained a fork.

  I asked the sweet young thing next to me what was up.  She looked at me with something between mirth and pity and said “dessert”.  I then asked how all but I knew that it was going to be something for which one needed a utensil. 

  “Mr. Budge, we sang the song!”

  Sung to the tune of Frere Jacques: 

Save your forks
Save your forks
For dessert
For dessert
If they’re dirty lick them
If they’re dirty lick them
Save your forks
Save your forks 

  It was a slap in the side of the head for which I’m grateful.

  I was sad to leave though knew that I was at least as much of a distraction as would have been cell phones, computers, Ipods etc.  Now back behind my desk at my office I understand how the similar experiences of wife and daughters leavened their lives and enhanced their sense of self.*  Needy they’re not.

*cf  Lucifer 7/30/10 

**Couldn’t help but recall that Buddha means “Awakened One”.


Probably Not PC

July 2, 2011

  I’ve always loved fireworks and come naturally by that I guess.  Dad always had ordnance around in abundance.  He went fishing once with dynamite up in Canada.  I love the memory of him relishing the retelling.  It was Bikini Atol revisited with boats rolling gunwale to gunwale; all soaked to the bone; and non-swimmers trembling uncontrollably.  But no fish.

  Explosives have successfully been employed to kill things of course,but – in an incredible yet elementally characteristic paradox of this universe – as modes and expressions of creativity as well.  Several examples:

  First, well first “Let there be light”.  The Big Bang from whence arose all beautiful metaphysical wondering.  Whether or not you believe these fireworks were orchestrated by a dude in robe and slippers you’ll have to admit its unfolding to date is amazing to behold.

  Isn’t that what comes to mind each July 4th or 14th or whatever national holiday or celebration as you watch maybe a chrysanthemum burst first forth

  and then a palm

  and then a crossette

  and then a kamuro

  All followed by first the light and then the resound of the mighty salutes?

  Fireworks were invented in China some 2000 years ago.  The story goes that a Chinese cook accidentally mixed the key ingredients too close to a fire and thus soon saw a flash.  Duly impressed with himself, he made more, packed it in a bamboo tube, and then, well, however you say ‘voila’ in Chinese.  Marco Polo took the stuff back to Florence where color was added and pyrotechnics joined the other arts of the Renaissance with which you might be more familiar.

  More recently, Chinese artist Cai Guo Qiang (b 1957 in Quanzhou) has built a career with gunpowder as the original component of his medium.  He’s big stuff.  He first employed it in the creation of (believe it or not) works on paper – ‘gunpowder drawings’- embodying spontaneity and confronting authority.  They’ve been the subjects of exhibitions in prominent museums around the world including one at the Hirschorn in 2004 over which wife, daughter #1 and I marveled.

  From there he’s gone on to create magnificently choreographed “explosive events” including one watched by billions – the opening of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.  His work is not just of chemistry.  It incorporates motifs, metaphors, and representations of shanshui paintings, Mao*, fengshui, and much more.

  After all of this one should not be surprised to learn that a certain pair became engaged on one July 4, watched the show from a mountain top, and had Handel’s Fireworks  play at the ceremony some weeks later.  It’s been a blast!

*cf Post 2/13/09