BLOG INTERRUPTION

When the new design for my blog has been programmed, it will be wonderful. However, in the meantime I must refrain from sharing my thoughts. I hope to be back shortly.

Ellen

 

 

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MORE MOON THOUGHTS

“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.”

My moon book doesn’t go into great detail about the moon’s effect on tides, plant life, and feminine cycles. The primary focus is on the world’s mythologies, and it is clear that the most devastating loss would be that of the idea of life after death so common in those stories. Because it is very hard for humans to understand or contemplate the inevitability of death, the moon’s cycles have been universally comforting.

The concept of the eternal return has also helped us deal with the catastrophes that cyclically beset humanity. Because we have learned to associate death with regeneration, Cashford suggests that we can see apocalypse and the death of a culture as temporary and even necessary so that a people can be revitalized.

These are kind of heavy ideas but easier to contemplate on the threshold of spring. And on the bright side, pardon the irony, the dark of the moon is traditionally a time to seed the void with intentions. That is our work for Tuesday. On Wednesday, when the new moon rises at 8:38 a.m. Santa Fe time, it will deliver the same message that it has delivered throughout human time: “Relax. I’m back!”

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.

This afternoon to escape from too much brain work at the computer, I decided to bake a pecan pie. When I set about the task, I discovered that I would need to substitute whole wheat for a portion of the all-purpose flour required and blackstrap molasses for corn syrup. (I need to go shopping.) So the filling recipe went like this:

1 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup butter, four eggs, 1 cup molasses, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 cups of pecans. You cream the sugar and butter together, add the eggs one at a time and then put everything else together, pour it into the pie shell (which I had already baked at 350 degrees for about seven minutes) and bake for about 50 minutes. Not complicated.

What emerged from the oven was unusually dark as a result of the molasses and the whole wheat crust. I already knew that I like molasses, so I figured that I would enjoy it, and sure enough I did about five hours later after eating my homemade zucchini soup for dinner. As I tasted it, I realized that it wasn’t as sweet as usual and had a pleasant robustness about it.

So then I had the pleasure of not only having done my usual fabulous job on the pastry but of having created, as a result of a sparse pantry, something new. I decided that it was a manly pie, not a feminine pie full of colorful fruit and pastel custards fluffed up with whipped cream, but a dark, rich, muscular pie with nuts. And when I slice up and freeze the remainder, it will become my emergency pie. My manly emergency pie. I feel safe.

CROP CIRCLE UPDATE

Image

“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.

I took an interest in crop circles a long time ago, but I haven’t followed their development. I was struck in this presentation, however, by their evolving complexity. The first designs were really just circles, but they became steadily more elaborate. Among the photographs Bone shared, one design suggested the construction of a compound, another appeared three-dimensional, and one resembled planetary movements. The swirling patterns reminded me of the way filings can be manipulated by a magnet. Photographer Steve Alexander shares a variety of images at http://temporarytemples.co.uk/imagelibrary/2002.html.

Some of the designs are huge, the area covered as much as 1,000 feet wide. An innovation described as “a nest” has recently appeared where, in the very center of the design, stems have been twisted into a knot. It takes Christo weeks sometimes to create his works of environmental art. These usually appear overnight. In one documented case, however, the crop circle was created within 20 minutes–during a daylight hour.

As I said, the complexity of the designs seems to be increasing at a rapid rate, so it appears that the source is evolving. Bone said that crop circles are now appearing in 50 countries and are now being seen in ice and sand as well as on farmland. Wouldn’t it be fun if one suddenly appeared at White Sands?

Crop circles are a matter of interest to only a very small population of people right now, and the “So what?” question hovers. I find their existence hopeful somehow. In a world in which people are fighting to the death over ancient history, something new is developing, something that is extremely beautiful, vibrant, intelligent, and apparently benign. Perhaps there are those with special brains among us who will study the patterns long enough to be able to translate. That could be very interesting. As Donna Bone said at the outset, “They force us to suspend belief about how the world works.”

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.

After I hung up the phone, I puzzled over this for a while. If I had been paying the doctor bill out of pocket, I would have been screeching. Now I’m just curious to see if that surgery charge will be repeated when I see the bill for my next two office visits.

Insurance is good in that the pool covers the cost of very expensive procedures, but it has a terrible downside. Because insured patients are paying so little out of pocket for care, we don’t closely monitor the cost. The result is that physicians’ fees and charges for questionable diagnostic services have exploded. A secondary problem is that because we are out of touch with the cost of healthcare, we are also out of touch with the wisdom of trying to live healthier lives.

In You Can’t Afford to Get Sick published in 2009, Dr. Andrew Weil writes that the Center for Disease Control estimates that each year 1.7 million Americans die and 25 million more are disabled by chronic diseases that are caused or exacerbated by lifestyle factors. However, there is little incentive to alter lifestyle when insurers beat the marketing drum with the message, “We’ll take care of you.”

When you’re unwell, you’re also probably not very inclined to police charges and coverage. And sadly enough, the Medicare population will become steadily less capable of jousting over details as both mental and physical strength decline. With the huge population of Baby Boomers heading toward sunset, we are looking at burgeoning costs for that reason alone.

And there must be countless bizarre Medicare administrative policies–like the surgery code for a fracture–that open the door to the pillaging of resources, whether calculated or not. For example, a Medicare friend was recently reviewing the expenses for his hospital stay and saw a charge for oxygen on his room bill. He called the hospital to protest, saying he had never used any oxygen. “But it was available,” was the retort.

So one looks at the medical community serving the elderly and asks, Why use a code that doesn’t apply? “That’s the procedure,” they’ll say. Why accept compensation for a service you didn’t provide? “Because it’s available.” Maybe we should shake up the whole healthcare industry a little by doing whatever it takes to stay as fit and healthy as possible for as long as possible. What’s the incentive? It could be fun.

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.

I need to work more on the phrasing, but the idea is that “the feminine ideal of leadership is to serve the good of balance.”

I have been thinking a lot about balance lately as a result of physical therapy for a fractured ankle. A number of exercises involve needing to stabilize in a precarious position. Body and mind are both involved with rare intensity, which reminds me how taxing the cultivation of a balanced perspective is. That in turn reminds me of the giant evolutionary leap Cro-Magnon man may have precipitated by recording the phases of the moon. Perhaps a widespread commitment to a balanced perspective could lead to another evolutionary leap, as I will explain.

This subject takes me back to a meeting I attended in the Senate Banking Committee decades ago. I was on the minority staff and was being instructed to draw up three pros and three cons for consideration relative to a proposed item of legislation. I must have looked puzzled, because I knew what the minority position was. And then the instructions were repeated, as in, “I want the three best reasons you can come up with for supporting this legislation and the three best reasons you can propose for rejecting it.”

I was being asked to develop a perfectly balanced perspective, and that required me to spend days framing the opposition’s position as forcefully as possible. The exercise shifted the focus from “We want a win on this one” to taking an objective look at the downside and potential long-range consequences. It was an exercise I’ve never forgotten, a very taxing exercise that could probably greatly enhance human intellect if it became common.

It is an approach especially suited to the feminine psyche, simply because our historic experience in life has had more to do with keeping the hearth than racking up wins out in the world. It is an approach that requires one to share, if only briefly, the perspective of “the other.” That is huge.

This now takes me to the image of scales, the universal symbol of balance. In Roman mythology, they are held aloft as an ideal by a feminine figure, Themis. The concept of balance is thus aligned with the concept of justice–a noble duality the feminine could happily embrace.

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.

Regarding these two memories, I consider myself the innocent victim of the first and an objective observer of the second. In a third memory, I am sorry to confess that I was the trouble-maker. There was a boy in my class named Fernando whom I didn’t like for cause I have forgotten. There came a moment on the playground when he was in confrontation with two Anglo boys who were my friends. I must have seen them as the champions of my grievance, and I egged them on: “Get him!” I urged. Outnumbered, Fernando backed off, and my friends dropped it. But I will never forget the moment when he turned and looked at me. His face was full of a quality of hatred that I remember as mature, implacable, and murderous.

The dynamic in the Middle East brings up these schoolyard memories for me. There are first and foremost big differences among the participants–in race, religion, language, weaponry, wealth, education, technology, and history–that makes all of them look like “the other” to all of us. There is a lot of symbolic pushing and shoving and threatening going on to dominate Iran in the same humiliating way that made Fernando hate me. In a manner of speaking, we are still at a very elementary level of education in learning how to resolve complex issues with nations very different from our own.

So how do we fix this? My mind, as I mentioned at the outset, turns to the role the feminine could play. This is due to the fact that, in the absence of physical strength, we are naturally endowed with the ability to find creative ways to avoid a physical fight we can’t possibly win. And as with my forged note to the teacher, that creativity can create options.

I have introduced the kind of generality that makes masculine eyes roll. “I know what you’d do,” the men are thinking. “You’d roll over. You’d give in.” This kind of anxiety pushes the feminine into ludicrous response. For example, in running for the country’s highest office, a woman feels the need to assert: “Don’t worry. I’ll launch that nuclear warhead so fast it will make your head spin.” Great.

I freely concede that women simply haven’t had enough experience in negotiating as equals with our men to tap into our real potential in governance, and we need to begin now thoughtfully to prepare for that responsibility. I think that means developing some principles of leadership that are unique to the feminine perspective. These will be very different from the principles established by men since the beginning of what currently passes for civilization, and they may serve to take the latter up a notch or two.

The fact is that, in the international arena, The Man’s Way seems to have brought us very close to a dead end, pardon the pun. Violence has classically been the favored means of achieving some form of victory or domination. We just can’t afford this anymore. The magnitude of potential violence has become too horrifying to contemplate, and yet bullying remains our country’s foremost means of getting our way in international relations.

And that takes us back to the playground. All over the country, our schools are implementing programs to prevent bullying. If we really believe it’s wrong, then we need to walk that talk at the very highest level of government. And if that approach is so imbedded in the masculine psyche that the mere thought of alternatives is repugnant, then it’s time to make room for more creative thinking from the feminine psyche. For the sake of all life on earth, let’s say.

I have some thoughts about the new principles of leadership we might bring to the table, but they can wait until later. I mean, I hope they can wait until later.