Metior: A Southwestern Sky. Mixed media on canvas by the author.

Metior: A Southwestern Sky. Mixed media on canvas by the author.

Last week two national magazines –GQ and Bloomberg Businessweek-came out with articles referencing the growing popularity of  LSD micro-dosing and other bio-hacks for enhanced work performance and more productive daily lives. These practices have gained critical mass in the Silicon Valley and its spokes in Seattle/Portland/Austin/NYC so their influence is amplified that much more.

It’s no accident that the momentum for the psychedelic-and other substance- fueled bio-hack strategies  emanate from the Valley because substances that alter our mental chemistry….magic mushrooms, salvia, peyote, DMT alcohol….have always been allied with the religions of their times.

Today, objects from the technological cults are fetishized.  Their shaman-geniuses venerated. God is found in algorithmic details.  And our lives experience miracles as a result.

The Bloomberg Businessweek article is an expanded review of A Really Good Day – a book by Ayelet Waldman a former “federal public defender,” now writer who documents her 30 day experience with LSD microdosing over a 30 day period.

The article says, “Waldman’s problems….mood swings…anxiety …were relatively ordinary.”

However the paragraph goes on to say that she got worried. Worried- that the onset of menopause would compound these challenges.  The article says she worried that they “threatened to disrupt her marriage and livelihood.”

She was inspired to try the regime after reading Bay Area psychedelic proponent Dr. James Fadiman’s book from 2011 outlining the 30 day schedule, taking 10 micrograms worth of LSD every three days. This dose is well below the standard threshold for hallucinating. The idea is to take enough to experience more clarity and enhanced productivity but not the over-powering hallucinogen episode.

The GQ piece has an experiential flavor to it (like Maureen Dowd writing about her cannabis experience in CO earlier this year) as the author Josh Dean also try’s Dr. Fadiman’s microdosing schedule on himself while also examining other bio-hacking approaches popular among West Coast techies and executives.

While the author says he didn’t experience any particular expanded feeling of clarity-though he reports more lucid dreaming-he ends the article saying he wants to continue with this strategy.

As it stands now, the microdosing approach is driven by a millennial mindset it’s a measured strategy. Small doses. It’s not about “dropping acid.”  This isn’t about setting up situations where the participant risks at least temporary obliteration of the personality.

No one is looking to escape. This is supposed to be about fine tuning and enhancing the person’s connection with performance.

However one incident recounted in the GQ article concerns the experience of a microdosing practitioner who reported nothing happened when he did the recommended 10 mg. Which is what the author himself said about his experiences.

But in this case the user raised his dosage to 25mg and this appears to have had some real results as he reports: “I realized at the sales meeting that I never cared about the stupid product we were selling, so I went home.”

Okay now we’re beginning to touch on the more traditional effects of LSD-the kind that old hippies can relate to.  And probably the likes of Henry Luce founder of Time Magazine who along with his wife was taking LSD in the early 60s. She was actually quoted saying LSD shouldn’t be given to the masses, but kept for the elites. But Leary, Alpert and the CIA of course had other ideas.

Gary Grant was another experiencer during this time. And if stories-like the one headlined below in a small magazine from the 90’s- are true- even John Kennedy was experienced.

Steamshovel Press-a small title from the 1990s

Steamshovel Press-a small title from the 1990s

Again comparing the millennial LSD use to the 60s several things stand out. For instance the focus. The people who are bio-hacking with LSD and other products which include mixing prescription medicines with other substances according to the imagination of the practitioner are focused on a systematic redesigning of their personalities….on the fly.

But these aren’t the hippies of old. We’re not talking about blotter acid or the orange barrels of yesterday providing unexpected shocks to the kundalini.

No. Today’s pioneers aren’t interested in mystical experiences that risk obliterating the psyche or tearing down the personality. And they’re not, like the 60s, going out and seeking gurus or ashrams to join.

This seems to be a relatively recent response-mirroring the growth of Silicon Valley’s technological influence over our society because throughout the 1990s there were a number of small magazines with a psychedelic focus that still carried the spiritual/conscious raising memes developed in the first onrush of LSD use. See examples below.

The title says everything about this magazine focus.

The title says everything about this magazine’s focus.

Another title from the 90s with legacy focus on psychedelics

Another title from the 90s with legacy focus on psychedelics


Given that the technological sphere is providing the context for much of today’s bio-hacking it’s only natural for the devotees to read the body/mind complex as code to be manipulated and then refocused on specific projects having to do with optimizing their productivity.

No one’s dropping acid to bust out of the system or escape The Man. No. Today’s pioneers are interested in integrating their hopefully heightened experiences with the technological work focused culture they’re immersed in.

And maybe that’s just the way the evolution of ideas goes. What starts outside of the larger system eventually makes its way in towards its center.

One day people will do this with the company’s blessing in certain quarters. It’ll be like Mad Men and their drinks-something to spur creativity. Not for everyone in every industry of course.

But it seems perfectly aligned with the kinds of brain cells needed to communicate with the  gods delivering technological inspiration from the future.

                                                                                                              dean balsamo



Krishna and Gopi Girls by Jodianna. Collage and mixed media on board. 16″ x 16″ x 1.5″ $650 including shipping. More information:

Indian Gurus, Personal Care Products, and the Three Power Points.

“Now all tie-wearing people are sweating. They realize loincloth-wearing people can do many things,” says Baba Ramdev, “unpaid ambassador,” for Patanjali Ayurved the biggest of the various guru-associated Indian companies taking market share from Unilever, Colgate and Dabur in the personal care category.

Last week Bloomberg Businessweek had a fascinating article about the surprising and formidable challenge home-grown, guru-fronted companies like Pantanjali have given the large multinational companies who dominate this industry in India.

Unilever has seen its market share in personal care fall at least 5% over the last few years. Stolen from them by companies associated with various gurus like Ravi Shankar, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and Jaggi Vasudev.

We’re not talking about Sri Aurobindo Ashram or Sai Baba’s incense. Or Rudy’s bread. We’re talking about a billion dollar company in Patanjali’s case with a CEO, childhood friend of the guru, who is India’s 48th richest person.  This is a company that expects to grow its revenue from the present 1.5 billion and 1.2% of India’s personal care category to over 7 billion while capturing up to 35% of the market for Indian honey, Ayurveda medicines and ghee…in three years.

Unilever understands they have something they need to address in the Indian market as their CFO has said of Pantanjali, a company “which everybody has been following with a lot of interest-incredible branding created there.”

And a VP at IIFL Holdings says, “These ayurvedic product sellers are posing a threat to Indian and global players as the product has gained mass appeal,” noting also that profit margins have shrunk as the big companies are forced to address the competition  from the guru companies. And that’s because among other things, “it has made the existing players enlarge their marketing budgets greatly to try and protect their turf.”

All of the established companies facing competition from the Ayurveda-guru companies are rushing Ayurveda lines to market. Coalgate’s come out a line of toothpaste incorporating neem, clove and other traditional herbs and Unilever’s got its Haman soap and a version of the famous Brahmi Oil, a greenish coconut oil based hair treatment infused with traditional herbs


We used to get the latter in an Indian grocery in the East Village, off of 6th where all the Indian restaurants are. It’s got an herbal scent and it is…oily. Good for luster says traditional Ayurveda.

But while this is a great story about capitalism and competition and the power of the “little” guy to disrupt the Indian marketplace, this is not a straight forward story about marketing and the brand.

It’s hard for me to believe Bloomberg and the executives from the large companies quoted in this article don’t see what’s underlying this story.  It’ epic.

They may not want to publicly delve into the powerful complex of ideas fueling the incredible potential for the guru companies- because they may not have a real solution to neutralize the threat. They’re spending more money to counter the home grown Indian guru companies but they’re also continuing to lose market share to them. Not exactly a winning strategy, nor one they like explaining to their investors.

It doesn’t seem like the large companies can stop the babas invading their monopolistic turf because the momentum fueling the guru companies is fed by a unique blend of three of the most important movements-ideas -affecting the planet at this time:

  1. Nativist/Populist thinking and movements.
  2. The desire for natural and pure personal care products/foods/lifestyle.
  3. Religious/spiritual fervor-the realm of the zealot.

Here’s the picture designed for the Bloomberg article. There’s that quote about the loin cloth people and its author Baba Ramdev pictured.


He’s outspoken with nativist sentiments. “Why shouldn’t our country’s money stay here and be used for this country’s service?” But guess what, and this should feel familiar, his outspokenness and determination to act on his words have made Patanjali Ayurved the most powerful of the guru-companies.

In a way his focus on Indian products by Indians for India echo’s Gandhi. Also the current Prime Minister has added his voice to supporting Indian products.

In the early aughts I was a regular reader of Hinduism Today a magazine focused on the traditional practice of Hinduism. But they weren’t talking about yoga-most people’s brush with Hinduism in the West. The magazine preaches traditional Hindu life and does its part to keep the flame alive all over the world. They make no excuses for believing Hinduism is the only authentic path to keep India true to itself. Its message is delivered with a side of nativism.

This pride in all things India easily lends itself to the movement for pure, healthy, natural products. Traditional Indian cuisine and it’s affinity with Ayurveda practice is already a given. India’s natural products are totally in line with the West’s desire for organic, natural foods and body care. This area is a no brainer for the guru companies who already are aligned through their Yoga and spiritual ashrams. No doubt this desire has been helped by contact with all the western practioners and visitors already committed to a natural lifestyle.

And while products along these lines have always been available-even in the west-ashram-driven businesses  like Sri Sri Ayurveda are now using mass media, point of sales advertising and online marketing. They’ve even drafted Olympic silver medalist P.V. Sindhu as spokesman. I would suggest that the marketing of India’s legacy natural food products is just in its beginning phase with larger campaigns around natural product offerings set to take even more share from multi-national companies who presently dominate the Indian market. The guru’s emphasis on marketing milk, ghee, honey will pull all kinds of other natural Indian products into the guru companies plans.

The spiritual/yoga aspect really seals the deal for various baba aligned companies when you consider the zealot-like devotion to the babas. The religious fervor is a marketer’s dream but without the spiritual practice/yoga schools these gurus command all multi-nationals can do is dream about what it would be like to have brand loyalty like this.

For instance with nearly 10,000 stores selling only its products built on top of its existing franchised yoga studios it’s no wonder Patanjali sales have exploded and allowed them to become such a powerful force in the Indian marketplace.  This (and other guru companies using similar strategies) company appears unstoppable in the near future as their store count expands-taking advantage of more existing land around its yoga centers. They’re able to cut out all kinds of expenses around marketing  further increasing their margins. Patanjali believes they have enough space to expand for the next three years in this manner.

While these companies are not going to drive the multi-nationals out of the country, they are certainly going to make life more difficult for them. And considering the blend of powerful forces behind the home-grown Indian baba companies there’s little the large ones can do to combat them- not when it comes to the kinds of emotional/spiritual energies they have behind them.


(detail) from collage/mixed media work by Jodianna.

Contact the author for more info.  505.570.7325



Wine, Millennials, and Algorithms

A couple of weeks ago Bloomberg Businessweek ran an article about Verve Wine, a new e-commerce site with 1000 bottles for sale and a new way to help consumers discover wines they might not otherwise come across without guidance. But not just any consumers- this new approach is scaled to millennials.

According to the article, Verve’s founder Dustin Wilson  one of only 230 master sommeliers in the world,  “ is targeting millennials who now drink almost half the wine consumed in the U.S. and are more likely to trust an algorithm than a human using incomprehensible adjectives.”

Like Vinfusion, another new approach whose aim is to make it easier for us to enjoy wine- featured in The Economist – (see my comments on it here)

Verve also addresses the suddenly pressing need to by- pass the traditional language of wine in order to give the consumer more useful tools they can relate to for discovering wines they’re not familiar with-and of course drive more sales for those selling wine.

It took me a little time to warm up to Verve’s premise because the attack on the traditional language of wine, railing against its “mystique” and “this high end snooty thing,”  that the respective articles in these magazines take- gives the impression they’re using the same prepared talking points to dismantle the usual criteria with.

But what kind of “incomprehensible adjectives” used to describe wine are we talking about?

In a random search on the web the site Wine Folly came up. They list 40 common adjectives used to describe wine along with their accepted meaning in wine circles.

Some of the examples include:


The word Crisp with wine is more often used to describe a white wine. A crisp wine is most likely simple but goes really well with a porch swing on a hot day.


Sommeliers and wine experts cringe when they hear this term while the rest of us delight. Jam is delicious and it is part of the PB&J experience. In wine, jammy indicates a wine with a cooked berry sweetness that is syrupy and often is used to describe American wines like zinfandel, grenache, cabernet franc and Australian shiraz…don’t be a hater.


When a wine writer pairs down his lengthy description of flavors and characteristics of a wine into one word, he uses dense. Dense is favored for use in bold red wines such as cabernet sauvignon, Côtes du Rhône and Brunello di Montalcino but usually isn’t a positive characteristic in other wines because it implies that wine is handicapped.

While the different words describe the complexities and nuance of various wines they aren’t from an alien tongue. This is the language of wine-now go out and speak it. You read, you sample you note and repeat.

This scenario reminds me of screen writing. There are those who will take endless courses, keep buying books on the topic and take all kinds of webinars on the subject. But what do the successful pros like ‘David Mamet or Brian Koppelman recommend?  Reading Scripts, watching films and writing. That’s the formula.

As society takes on more of the millennial world view do we have to wonder if everything will be about taking the highs and lows, the mistakes and the discoveries, the disappointment and the joys out of cultivating a love for wine (or anything else).

In the case of Vinfusion, the machine highlighted in The Economist article   The traditional language is not only gutted but the actual cultivation  methods –the art to blending -is totally dismissed as well- giving the final product something of the nature of “swill.”

Thankfully Verve doesn’t get rid of all the language of wine. They use a smattering of terms like acidity, alcohol level, and tannin level in their evaluation of your tastes to come up with wines that give a structural form to your tastes as in this example from their press release:


These are the legacy descriptions Verve uses but shifts the emphasis from the more subjective approach to wine adjectives to terms which focus on the structure of the wine.

This approach has everything to do with the founder Dustin Wilson. He has good pedigree having been the head of wine procurement for Eleven Madison Park, a famous restaurant in Manhattan, as well as, the star of a documentary called Somm-tracing his path to master sommelier.

And unusual for an e-commerce startup- Verve actually has a shop in Manhattan where consumers are encouraged to come in for a sit down with an onsite sommelier who, after conducting a Q & A with you about your tastes-will then feed the answers to the “custom software” which will spit out recommendations for you.

From the Verve website:

Coming Soon

Verve Wine is a new place to buy wine online. We curate delicious wines that are thoughtfully and carefully produced from around the world, and deliver them to your door. We will also have a flagship shop in NYC where we’ll host wine tastings, classes and events.

Since there’s only one brick n’ mortar location online users will have to make do with a form they fill out online and submit to the algorithm-driven program to find the best wine selections for them.

But to my mind there’s something of a bubble – an insular feeling about the parameters he’s sketched out to reach millennials.

The whole idea of having a physical location where millennials or anyone else is going to come in and do a consultation seems to be at cross purposes with the stated purpose of this approach in which Wilson says consuming wine, “has become more about camaraderie than having this thing on a pedestal.”  Doesn’t the physical store and the way they go about trying to expand your tastes in this manner imply a gallery type situation-a “pedestal?”

I don’t know many millennials who would consider taking this route with their wine purchasing. And when you consider the fact that most of the wines on their site sell between “$25-$50” it becomes even harder to imagine millennials flocking to this site.

Special occasions… maybe. And maybe Verve will be used for educational purposes-something like the showrooming that takes place with physical stores. But most avid wine drinkers are not spending this much for daily wine consumption.  I would suggest that $7-$10 is more likely with $10 to $20 the average for more well off consumers.

While I do think Verve is on to something –they haven’t opened yet-getting enough traffic to both their store and their online site is going to be interesting to watch. I think it’s going to be an uphill battle.

And that’s because there are already so many upscale grocers like Whole Foods, New Seasons, Central Market in TX, and Kroger’s Main & Vine carrying fine wines why would most people spend time online or in the Verve shop when they can just as easily go into one of these stores and peruse the selections and usually get help with staff in the department.

It’s hard to compete with say going into Trader Joe’s with a bottle you bought there and telling them, “This just doesn’t work for me,” and having Traders just take it back no questions asked.

This personal connection is what  I feel in the end allows grocers with well thought out wine selections to excel-taking what they can from Verve’s approach and incorporating it into their own cultivation of wine consumers. They already have the platform and traffic they’re only limited by their imagination.