Let us now praise Loud-Mouthed Broads!

The interns and I were talking about Plato’s dialogue Charmides in the afternoon during prep, and then on through tea (apparently, some of them don’t appreciate muffins that leave a warm after burn on your tongue. I, however, thought they went perfectly with today’s post).

Here is my paraphrase of the first part dialogue (Plato’s, not the interns):

Socrates is chatting up Charmides, a handsome, athletic, sweet-natured young man with good manners and a great personality. Charmides is known for having all the virtues a young man should have, especially temperance, so Socrates asks him to explain what that is.

Dr. Bear - Eyes(Editor’s note: the Greek word here is σωφροσύνης, pronounced soph-ro-sun-ace, and involves self-control. We could translate it prudence, but temperance–in the sense of tempering one’s desires and passions–works best, even though I have rarely heard that word used that way since the beginning of the 20th century.)

The young man says it’s like being quiet, or not being too fast.
Socrates points out in how many situations being quiet or slow is actually bad– in Statue_of_a_kouros_Getty_Villa_Collection)classes, the quiet and slow students are not the best, with musicians, the quiet hesitant ones aren’t the best, those who can play loud and fast are generally the best. Do you want your memory to be slow and quiet? Your wit? Your ability to solve problems? No–swift and active.
I might add how many times I haven’t been informed of something until it was too late because somebody was quiet or slow. (“Oh, sorry. I meant to tell you that burner was on.” “You know, there is a tool we got in last week that would have made that easier.” “Didn’t somebody tell you we don’t have to save those anymore?”)

The poor young man says maybe it’s like modesty or meekness.
This won’t do: Homer says that meekness is of no value to the man in need, after all, if you are modest and meek, you won’t be able to speak up for yourself, which would be bad, and certainly a virtue like temperance would be good and not bad?
wode looking rightPersonally, I only value modesty for people who have much to be modest about.
As Wode Toad says: “Modesty is the opiate of the mediocre.”

The young man suggests he heard somebody say it was minding your own business.
Well, says Socrates, if everybody just minded their own business, the plumber would never come to your house, that would be meddling, physicians wouldn’t concern themselves with your body, but would only mind their own, folks couldn’t cook for others, or make clothes for others–it sounds like a pretty chaotic community, doesn’t it?
I might quote Marley: “Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again
“Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Now, what struck me this time through the story, was how familiar the youth Charmides’ account of this virtue was. Not that young men today are prone to temperance, but it sounds like a Madeleine_au_miroir,_Georges_de_la_Tourcertain model of what might be called “feminine virtues,” or “acting like a lady,” or “biblical womanhood,” or some other cheap brand name. Be Quiet. Be modest. Mind your own business.
Even girls who don’t have any of these things overtly said to them, have the practices of being feminine–or, by contrast, not being seen as a pushy broad, or a bitch, a tomboy, or (gasp!) a lesbian–conditioned into them. Don’t be too loud, don’t run and jerk around so, will you sit still?, stop putting yourself out there, let others talk first, don’t be so demanding, don’t be so proud, mind your own business–all of these are part of being nice, and we all want to be nice, don’t we?
I keep expecting one year to have a woman in my classes who is not aware of these expectations, especially since I get a lot of athletes, but all of them are aware of them, and of how often they have failed to live up to them.
Boys get the nice stuff a little, but women of all ages are taught to wear it like a heavy flak-jacket.


In an age of speed and communication, why do we want to tell half the population they should be slow and quiet? Why would we want to tell young people to be quiet? How much do we lose by that?Klimt_-_Pallas_Athene

In an age of loud voices, why are we telling so many bright, insightful voices they should be meek and modest? If they cannot speak up for themselves, who will? Even more, if things need to be said, they should be said, even if they are critical–especially if they are critical and we don’t want to hear them; that makes any culture stronger.

Commerce, of course, blurs the lines of minding one’s own business, but so does minding animals or children, cleaning up a creek, asking somebody how they are doing and really wanting to know, keeping an eye on the neighborhood, improving the world, showing compassion, fixing flats, and so much else.

Dancin'I once told my daughter that she comes from a long line of strong-willed women and a long line of men who somehow got a kick out of strong-willed women.
Now, my grandmother and her sisters would never want to be thought of as loud-mouthed broads–they were all proper ladies (I just wanted a catchy headline). I do, however, owe a big chunk of my notion of what a woman should be like through them, the Thomas sisters. They were all out-spoken, and that was one of the things that made them so wonderful. My grandma was demure and directed the church choir, but she could also command a crew to make thousands of hoagies in one morning a few times a year as a fund-raiser. They could all be deferential, but I would have hated to have run up against them when someone was treated unjustly–they were outspoken; they were forces of nature beautiful and terrible to behold.

Most of all, men or women, why do we make virtue about what we don’t do?
Shouldn’t it be about what we do?

Shout Out!

I found out today that a graphic novelist I have long admired won a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

I discovered Alison Bechdel’s strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” some time in the 80’s. I think it might have been in one of the papers I read, or the paper DARE, which I sometimes helped with. I loved the witty but real storytelling; the sarcastic but wounded characters. It was sort of like Friends, but with human beings instead of characters. They were each unique, but also reminded me of some of my friends I was hanging out with at the time.
However, I was blown away by the drawings–simple, clean, but very expressive, very real. Mellow, not busy, but still full of life. If I could get back to cartooning, that is the way I wish I could draw.

She is also known for the Bechdel Rule, to show how male dominated the film industry is. THE RULE is that:

A movie should have 3 things:
1. At least 2 women,
2. who talk to each other,
3. about something besides a man.

It really is startling how few movies meet those basic criteria.

Ms. Bechdel  put the regular strip up on blocks a few years back, to work on longer pieces. She has published two graphic biographies, Fun Home, about her childhood and her father–being adapted as a musical, and Are you my Mother? She is working on a third, The Secret to Superhuman Strength.
fun home
Her simple but direct depiction of everyday lives shows how powerful and beautiful a kind of literature graphic novels can be.

We now return you to whatever pop drivel graphic universe you were in.

Hot Garden Peppers Muffins

Alternative BakingI was crossing a parking lot a week or so ago, and Jamie, a friend of mine, called me over to his truck. He expressed his sympathy with the various personal & financial travails I have been slogging through, and in parting he gave me some peppers.
I kidded him that I would cook something out of them–maybe muffins.

As I walked away, I began to think about it…..
The first experiment was a bit of a failure, but the flavour was there. This was the second attempt. Next time, I believe I will try a different fruit than pineapple–too sweet, and I have no patience for sweet. I believe maybe blood oranges, or thinly slice Meyer Lemons with the peel.


  • 2 cups flour (Whole wheat, white, both, as you wish)
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp salt
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup of white sugar
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprikaHot Pepper Muffins 1
  • ½ tsp ginger
  • 1 or 2 jalapeño peppers
  • 3 or 4 small sweet peppers
  • ½ cup chopped pineapple
  • ½ cup rolled oats
  • ½ cup oat or wheat bran
  • ½ cup TVP and ½ cup or so of a liquid–I used an ale, but you can use what you want–to soften it.
  • ½ cup pecans
  • 1 cup cooked sweet potato (I like it baked, but I assume canned will do)
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup buttermilk or Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup butter

Step 1, Ready? Bake the sweet potato, soak the TVP, make sure you have all the ingredients.

Step 2, Set: Pre-heat the oven to 350°, chop the pineapple and the sweeter peppers, either grease the muffin tins or put in the cupcake liners (I usually spray a little canola oil in the bottom of these to make things come out easier). I get 2 dozen medium-sized muffins out of this mix.

Hot Pepper Muffins 3Step 3, Go! mixing the wet ingredients: In a large bowl, mix the sweet peppers, pineapple, sweet potato, spices, oatmeal, TVP, pecans, melted butter, salt and sugars. With a garlic press or something similar, mince the hot peppers in–the juice should be there, and the meat very fine, to blend the heat.
I mix all this separately, so I can taste it and see if I need to adjust the flavour–more heat? More sweet?

Step 4, mixing the dry ingredients: In a separate bowl, sift the flours, Hot Pepper Muffins 4baking soda, and bran.

Step 5, combining the big mess: Add the eggs and yogurt to the wet ingredients, mix, then add the dry ones and mix well. The consistency of the mix should be much firmer than batter, but a little more liquid than cookie dough.

Step 6, baking: Fill two dozen or so muffin tins. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 or more minutes. See how they look. It is best if they are a bit toasted. Stick a toothpick in one and see if it comes out battery.

Hot Pepper Muffins 5Step 6, sharing: Unlike most muffins, these are actually better for supper paired with a strong entrée than they are for breakfast. Like all muffins, they are especially great to share with a friend or loved one. I gave some to Jamie, who had given me the fresh peppers, and then ran them around to 10 or more different friends, which was complicated but fun.

Lovely, lovely Notes

Like anyone else, I have a tendency to form an opinion and then let that opinion shape my perceptions. Of course, this is wrong; I should not let my opinions do the work for me, but should try hard to listen to my experiences and let them shape my opinions.
Opinions are a useful and necessary tool for getting a handle on this messy busy world, but aren’t as useful–and are often harmful–if they do not fit the actual world. A flat head screwdriver isn’t the best tool to unscrew a Phillips head screw; a shot-gun is even worse.
That seems hyperbole (Overstated Hyperbolic?!? From Dr Bear?!? I am shocked! Shocked!), but I am certain that each of us have encountered people who use opinions like shotguns, or even heavier artillery.

Experience is our teacher–although not always our friend–and we much be open and pay attention to her.

…But I digress, in my usual New Madrid river flow kind of way.

I have written in the past about the importance of the hand-written note,  and have spoken disdainfully about electronic communication.
While I still believe in the importance of a hand-written note, in the past few weeks I have had to re-think my view. You see, I received two lovely notes electronically, and I had to admit that they were wonderfully human, and gracious, and authentic. The writers each took time to personalize them, and each of them carried the personality of the person writing, as well as a bit of the conversations we had shared in the past. They showed a respect for me–treating me with kindness and dignity, and even some empathy.

The odd thing about them was, they were both negative responses to requests.
One was a letter from a prospective employer for whom I had made the short list, and with whom I had interviewed; it told me they would be going with another candidate, although they were very affirming of me and my credentials, and were very open about the reasons they had decided to go with the other candidate.
One was a negative response from an RSVP, but it was punctual, gracious, and very kind.

Both were so much more than a computer generated “Thank you for your interest, but…” e-mail, or a dashed off “Sorry, something came up, but let’s do coffee sometime” text.  Each was so much better than the growing tendency not to answer at all. Each of the rejection notes treated me with dignity, as a human with feelings. Each note communicated, was specific, but also was clear and firm, as adult to adult.
Both of the notes were written by human beings.

I guess that is more important than paper or pens and ink or stamps; when we communicate with other human beings, what we say should be able to pass the Turing Test–it should be clear that it is being said by a human being.

Even better, what we write or say might have some basic empathy, so that it is clear that it was said by a real Mensch.


Tomato and Cucumber Salads

Heirloom tomatoes (2)I am fond of tomatoes, and I am fond of cucumbers; this is a pretty good time of year to get either. I have written about these before, both as a blog and an audio–strangely enough, roughly a year ago–so you might look there, but here is another approach.
I had never really thought of this as a recipe, more like something I just threw together every night, but I guess there is a recipe of sorts–but all measurements are approximate, since tomatoes are of different sizes, sometimes you have a lot, sometimes you don’t, and you may need 8 helping if you are having guests, or just 3 or 4 if you are eating alone.

Really, this is what it is all about. These are great salads if you have great ingredients, uninspiring if you don’t. Other than the olive oil and salt, they were all things I could find locally. 

For the Tomato Salad:
Tomato Salad (2)Of course, if you arrange this with sliced fresh mozzarella, it becomes a Caprese Salad.

  • tomatoes
    –about a fist sized helping for each one eating (granted–I have big hands, so be generous). They should be and smell fresh, and it is best if they are an interesting heirloom variety; the last time I made this, for a cast party (I really miss you guys from The Dresser), I found some odd medium sized Tennessee Twister and Stripe varieties which were a delight for the senses.
  • fresh basil leaves
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • a generous amount of olive oil

For the Cucumber Salad:
Cucumber Salad (3)Of course, your could add onion to this, too.

  • cucumbers
    —fresh and local are best, but English cucumbers are really good, too, so locally grown English or Persian are the best. Skins are good, and give more flavor, but if the skin is too tough, peel it, or peel it in strips.
  • fresh savory–a generous amount, maybe the leaves from 4 or 5 stalks.
    —for the idea of savory instead of dill, I am indebted to the lovely Mrs. Rosenbaum of Abingdon, Virginia.
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • vinegar (I like rice wine vinegar because it is sweet & gentle, and doesn’t change the color)

Step 1, Prepare Ye the way: gather and wash all the ingredients. Pat them dry a bit as well.

Step 2, cutting the guests of honor: theoretically bite sized, but I have a big mouth. I prefer the cucumbers thin and the tomatoes thick.

Step 3, a salt: sprinkle with salt to taste (I like quite a bit more than none, but not so salty it overwhelms everything)Savory & Basil

Step 4, adding herbs: strip the savory off the stems, rub it between your palms, and sprinkle it over the cucumbers. Cut the basil in a chiffonade, and sprinkle it over the tomatoes.

Basil Chiffonade (6)chiffonade is leaves cut across into long strips. The best way to do this is to stack a number of the basil leafs together, then roll them sideways into a bundle–like fine cigars rolled on the thighs of beautiful women, and then cut them across the roll with a sharp knife (OK, maybe clean scissors).

Step 4, dressing for dinner: pour the vinegar over the cucumbers and the olive oil over the tomatoes.

Final Step, share and enjoy: serve them to friends on the back porch with a good cheese, freshly baked French bread, some cold water, and a good wine–maybe a nice Côtes du Rhone.

Moving and Striving

It has been a while.

We have had to make some changes, a new setting, a more flexible location, a bit less solidity, a little more melting into air, but the rent was good and we can get out of the lease easily enough.Lettres Gordes

As always, we welcome your letters and solicit your questions.

Although we will continue to have the regular staff,Beer Week 2014 (4) we solved some of our staff shortages.
We are now offering internships. Entrepreneurial experience and philosophy–what could be more appealing? Also, 3 meals day and a place to stay.
Legal restrictions make it impossible for me to mention their names, but welcome aboard, you six.

The format and the menu are the same, which means anything is possible.

HermannOh, a special thanks to our new friend the Graf von Igelström, for helping us move, and especially for all the help straightening out the vent system.
Drop by anytime, Hermann.