Monthly Archives: September 2012

Perspective: blind men “see” the pachyderm

Perspective: n.  point of view; subjective evaluation of relative significance; frame of reference.

Pachyderm: n. elephant. from the Greek pakhudermos – thick-skinned. Also the symbol for the GOP.

In various versions of this ancient parable from India, a group of blind men (or men in the dark) touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one touches a different part, but only one part, such as the side, the tail, the leg, the tusk. They then compare notes on what they felt, and learn they are in complete disagreement. We understand then that reality may be viewed differently depending upon one’s perspective, and that what seems an absolute truth may only be partially true.

[I’ve written about this story and the word “perspective” before – four years ago as we were getting to know Sarah Palin…]

One of my feng shui clients is a mediator who often deals with warring families. She had one large blank wall in her office for which I had recommended some piece of art that gave her clients a sense of the work they were doing together – perhaps something implying peaceful solutions, the light at the end of the tunnel, problem solving…

Her brilliant idea was to commission a piece of art that illustrated the story of the blind men and the elephant, visually conveying how it’s possible to “see” a problem from one (limited) point of view, and also recognize that other points of view could be equally legitimate.  She found a skillful quilter, Rosie Rhine, who translated the story to fabric:

quiltstory

The story of the blind men and the elephant is extremely flexible. A few months ago New Yorker cartoonist Tom Cheney used it to depict the sorry state of our economy, perhaps from the points of view of different economists, political players or suffering citizens:

perspective

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Parallel Planets: right wing’s grip on reality

[A repost from 2009. The GOP is still out there in lala land.]

Parallel: adj. extending in the same direction, everywhere equidistant, and not meeting

Planet: n. one of the large bodies that revolve around the sun in the solar system

This was quite a week in la-la land, where hate crimes are a reflection of one’s faith, a decrease in one’s taxes is a cause for a taxpayer revolt, and patriotic disgust at the duly elected Obama administration is sufficient reason for Texas to secede.

The unhappy rightmost fringe of the GOP exists not only on a different planet from everyone else on earth, they also run arguments that directly contradict other of their pet arguments.

We’ll take Tony Perkins first (of the Christian group – Family Research Council). He has created a website “fighthatecrimes.org” to OPPOSE a bill currently in Congress that says people who harm other people because they’re different (gay) will be prosecuted.  Isn’t the first rule of Christianity, “Love Your Neighbor as yourself?”

Then we have the TeaBaggers, who are protesting Anything and Everything Obama – currently “taxation without representation” – even though American voters went resoundingly for Obama last November and 69% support him today. And even though almost all of the protesters’ taxes will be lower, thanks to his tax cuts.

Gail Collins at the NY Times notes:

Have you ever noticed that the states where anti-tax sentiment is strongest are frequently the same states that get way more back from the federal government than they send in? Alaska gets $1.84 for every tax dollar it sends to Washington, which is a rate of return even Bernard Madoff never pretended to achieve. Yet there they were in Ketchikan waving “Taxed Enough Already!” signs and demanding an end to federal spending.

Then we go to Texas, where Governor Rick Perry (whose hair is almost as perfect as Senator John Boehner’s or Ex-Gov Blagojevich) thinks Texas should secede from the United States.  (And wasn’t Todd Palin into that as well, up in Alaska??)

Collins continues:

Have you noticed how places that pride themselves on being superpatriotic seem to have the most people who want to abandon the country entirely and set up shop on their own?

“What a great crowd,” Perry twittered, referring to the protesters he addressed in Austin, some of whom were waving American flags and yelling “Secede!”

Back when we protested the Iraq war, we were called unpatriotic and much worse; we were called traitors. “You’re either with us or you’re with the enemy…”

What makes this tax season so different from a couple hundred tax seasons that preceded it?  Last week’s protests were almost exclusively populated by white folks… Could it have anything to do with racism??

Need I mention that Obama is black?

Angry people need scapegoats – it’s the Mexicans taking our jobs and raking in welfare; it’s the black guys taking over the government.  But no one wants to admit being racist so instead they protest taxes, regulations, religious “persecution”.

Prunes! er…dried Plums!

Prune: A plum preserved by drying, having a black, wrinkled appearance

Plum: A prune before it’s preserved by drying…

Around the first of September the Italian plum trees begin to drop their fruit and I swing into harvest frenzy.

A block up the street from my house are two derelict plum trees I consider my own. Every morning I make my way up the hill to “my” trees, with a couple of plastic bags that once held the morning paper. I call the trees mine because the absent owners of the lot they sit on seem neither to care either for the trees nor their produce, but I do. If I don’t collect the plums they just rot and get eaten by ants, birds, and yellow jackets.

Picking plums is like hunting Easter eggs, because the plums hide in the tall grass under the tree like so many blue-frosted Easter eggs. (Prune plums aren’t ready if you have to pluck them off the tree; they have to drop. Commercial pickers shake the trees.)

I come home laden.I make one batch of plum jam each fall (the best jam in the world), then transform the rest into prunes.You slice them in half, remove the pits and place them on racks in the food dryer for a couple of days per batch.

Since I don’t use any chemicals on them, I bag them up and keep them in the frig or freezer.Prunes are of course famous for helping with “regularity”, but in more recent years nutrition experts extol their anti-oxidant content.

Whatever. I love them. My family loves them. My friends love them. A baggie of my home-dried prunes or a jar of the jam is a cherished hostess gift or stocking present.

I know I said that my favorite dessert in the world was blackberry cobbler, but I forgot my other favorite dessert: plum kuchen.Keep reading: the recipe is at the bottom of this post.

Yesterday I drove past MY trees on the way back from an errand and noticed someone standing under one of them.She had her hands full of MY plums. It turned out to be my dear friend Kathi!

“What are you doing picking MY plums?” I demanded.

“Have you got a baggie in your car?” she responded. “My hands are full and I’ve got a ways to walk yet.”

Kathi and I are going to have to duke this one out. She can go find her own damn tree because there are other derelict prune trees in the ‘hood. In fact Clark County WA, where I live, used to be one of the top prune-growing areas in the US. No kidding.

These trees are vestiges of an agricultural crop that sustained the area for about fifty years starting in the 1880s. By 1900 more than 435,000 prune plum trees were producing 819 tons of fruit a year. I’m not sure whether that was fresh or dry weight.

Prunes were popular because they could be shipped long distances without spoiling. Records from that time suggest that 75% of the crop went to Germany, Austria and Poland.They sold for fifteen cents a pound until after World War I.

After the 1930s California began producing prunes in greater variety and more cheaply and local business declined. A World War II embargo banned shipments to Germany. Then an insect infestation destroyed many orchards, and growers turned to other crops.

Most of the old trees, including mine, are still small, gnarly, sickly. Most are missing at least half their branches, and the branches that remain are often dying or thickly covered with small branches known as water spouts.

And yet, every fall the miracle happens – perfect purple plums plop from the tired old branches – and I am so grateful.

Plum Kuchen (from Gourmet Magazine, ca 1975)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Sift together into a mixing bowl:

2 c. flour
2 T. sugar
½ t. salt
¼ t. baking powder

With a pastry blender or two knives, cut into the dry ingredients until the mixture looks mealy:

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter.

Pat an even layer of the mixture firmly over the bottom and halfway up the sides of an 8” square baking pan. (I prefer an 8” round spring form pan – when you remove the side it looks more like a French tart.)

Over the bottom pastry, arrange:

1 lb. Italian prune plums, halved and pitted.

Sprinkle the fruit with a blend of:
¾ c. sugar
1 t. ground cinnamon

Bake in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.

Beat together and pour over the fruit:

1 egg
1 c. sour cream
,.

Continue the baking for 30 minutes longer. Serve warm or at room temperature.