My Love-Hate Relationship With Lawns

“The average lawn is an interesting beast: people plant it, then douse it with artificial fertilizers and dangerous pesticides to make it grow and to keep it uniform – all so that they can hack and mow what they encouraged to grow. And woe to the small yellow flower that rears its head!”

― Michael Braungart

I have a love-hate relationship with lawns that started back when I was ten, when my father decided I was old enough (or big enough) to take over the once-a-week task that he wasn’t overly fond of – mowing our yard.

Until the age of ten, he and his family lived in the District (as natives refer to it, as in Washington, the District of Columbia) in a series of homes in the 20/30’s that were like any other urban city’s of the day (and even today), with front door steps going straight down to the sidewalk along the street, until the family inherited property and a house in suburban Virginia that included, naturally, a lawn. He was the one delegated to cut it as his father worked seven days a-week during the Depression (four days in his usual job as a fireman, three days as a police officer, both in the District) and his two brothers were too young and small for the manual push-mower. But that lasted only two short summers until his dad died and he had to help augment the family income with an after-school job (the mowing fell to the younger brothers).

After he married, they living in an apartment, and when I and my oldest younger sister came along, he (probably at my mother’s insistence, I’ll wager) bought a home in the suburbs and he, again, had a lawn to cut. I guess, when I turned ten, he felt if he did it at that age then so could I. Thankfully, by then, he’d traded in the old manual push-mower for a nice walk-behind gasoline-powered one.

That’s where the hate part began. I didn’t develop the love part until three years later, when one of his brothers moved to England on a long term job assignment and invited me to come and stay a spell with him – dad said I could go if I earned my own airfare and he’d match it as spending money. And at some $500 each, it was a deal and I humped my butt that summer before, cutting every yard in the neighborhood I could contract for, weekly. Unfortunately, once again back home, even though I never renewed servicing neighbor lawns, ours was back on schedule, and my hate of it returned.

I had a respite when I finally left for college, then moved to California and apartment living, even after marriage. It wasn’t until our two sons were of the age that it was decided we needed a house, and the hated job of lawn mowing came with it. It wasn’t until my oldest turned ten that I decided it was his turn to take over (even now, almost forty, a life-long apartment dweller, is he thinking of buying a house – naturally, with a yard, but with three boys – two more than capable of handling a mower – I don’t think he’s worried about having to do it for at least the next ten years).

Of course, once both of my boys grew up and moved out, the onerous task fell back on me and, now after all those years since and now at seventy, I’m about ready to fork-out money to pay someone else to do it. Which I’d prefer not to do (I can still handle the job) but it’s taking me twice as long as it use to, and there comes a point where my time and lessening energy reserves are worth more than my money.

And as I now look out my front window and realize it’s time to mow yet again, it has led me to thinking about lawns, in general. I mean, why? Why do we bother to have them at all?

Think about the quote above.

Lawns are kinda stupid, if you think about it – the time, effort, expense (gasoline or electricity, pesticides, fertilizers, mulch and whatnot). And the water (something in serious, and I mean dire, shortage of here in the drought-stricken Southwest).

Sure, I love a well landscaped, maintained green expanse; it looks beautiful. And green space is vitally important to the environment and climate. (I’d rather see and enjoy it with more city parks or on the golf course, where someone else has to maintain it, even with taxes and greens fees.)

But I hate everything it takes to maintain a nice, green lawn; the effort and time, of course, but it’s especially the pesticides and fertilizers, which are by definition poisonous, which leech into the underground water supply we drink from (and I’m not convinced any municipal water service can completely remove all of them), that I object to (which is why I don’t use them, as my lawn’s look will attest to). But, more importantly, some seventy percent of all water use in suburban homes is used outdoors on lawns and gardens. And water costs money, payable monthly to the city.

No wonder so many who can afford it are having their yards ripped out and installing xeriscaping, while the many that can’t merely allow their yards to die and go yellow.

Gives a whole new meaning to California being called the “Golden State”.

– Bill

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Politics and Religion – Same-Same – And Why Americans Are Giving Up On Both

“The most important [thing] is philosophy…interpret[ing] the law and not mak[ing] the law.”

– Jamil Jaffer

Jaffer’s quote was about picking someone to replace Justice Kennedy, who announced his retirement from the US Supreme Court yesterday. His exit ensures this to be the chief news de jour for the next few months to come as the President mulls over who he wants to replace Kennedy and until the Senate approves his choice (barring something horrific, like a major terrorist attack or war, that grabs the headlines and our attention).

But let’s look at the quote above. Like all things – especially words – when parsed, one needs to decide what meaning they confer. That is philosophy – dictionary defined as “the rational investigation of truth”. With respect to politics and law, and our Constitution, it is for each Justice to “interpret”, to find and to explain the meaning – the intent behind the words written by the Founding Fathers – as she or he sees it. And when a majority agree on meaning, then the Constitution (and hence, all law) means what they say it means.

Put another way, any consideration of what the law means today is based on the individual political “philosophy” of each Justice’s belief of what the Founding Fathers believed (their philosophy). Since these Fathers have been dead for some two hundred years, we can only take what they wrote within the context of their times. And, as the world has changed radically in so many ways over the last two hundred plus years, who can say with any surety that they wouldn’t say something different today?

The philosophy of the conservative is that jurists should only apply the law as originally written and the philosophy of the liberal is that jurists must make law applicable to today’s circumstances in light of societal change from the distant past.

Nonetheless, the Court “interprets” and “makes” law based on their “philosophy” of what they think the law should be, even if conservatives or liberals sometimes would have it otherwise. Hence, conflict.

And the same can be said about religion. The parallel is absolute, and the quote above is equally applicable.

Religious conservatives (regardless of what religion) believe that their holy writ must be interpreted and applied today as it was written (no matter however many thousands of years ago), whereas religious liberals maintain it must be interpreted within the context of the time it was written and either ignored or adapted to be applicable to today (because there is no way of knowing how the founding father(s) of the religion would think today, given all the changes that have occurred since then). Hence, conflict.

And Americans are getting fed up with the conflict between the conservative and liberal extremist divide in politics and religion, and are bailing out of participating:

• 39 percent of Americans identify as independents, more than they do as Democrats (32%) or as Republicans (23%). This is the highest percentage of independents in more than 75 years of public opinion polling (http://www.people-press.org/topics/political-party-affiliation/).

• Only 64 percent of eligible Americans registered to vote in 2016. Of that number, 40 percent of them didn’t vote. That means only 25.6 of all eligible and registered voters voted (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/05/21/u-s-voter-turnout-trails-most-developed-countries/).

• 40 percent of the unregistered say their aversion to politics is a major reason they don’t want to vote, and 35 percent say voting has little to do with the way real decisions are made, compared with 20 and 19 percent of registered but infrequent voters, respectively (http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2017/06/why-are-millions-of-citizens-not-registered-to-vote).

• A growing share of Americans are religiously unaffiliated…the religiously unaffiliated (also called the “nones”) now account for 23% of the adult population, up from 16% in 2007 (http://www.pewforum.org/2015/11/03/u-s-public-becoming-less-religious/).

• Of the religious, roughly three-in-ten U.S. adults (29%) now say they seldom or never attend worship services, up from 25% in 2003 (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/09/13/what-surveys-say-about-worship-attendance-and-why-some-stay-home/).

• Of that number, 22% are opposed to organized religion. They may hold certain religious beliefs, but they are not currently taking part in religious practices (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/08/24/why-americas-nones-left-religion-behind/).

• And among Millennials, it’s gonna get worse (https://religionnews.com/2018/06/26/why-millennials-are-really-leaving-religion-its-not-just-politics-folks/).

An increasing number of Americans are seeking “the rational investigation of truth” and don’t find it in the extremist philosophies of either pole. People don’t like either-or dogma, be it liberal or conservative, don’t like being told what to believe, what to do, or how to act by those who claim to be the anointed know-it-alls ready to condemn those who think otherwise.

The current state of politics and religion (different but the same) in America today is turning people off, and they are giving up on both.

– Bill

A Reflection on Introspection: “That’s just who I am.”

“The problem with introspection is that it has no end.”

– Philip K. Dick

I am often off-put when, having asked someone why they behaved or said something I (and I know others around them) find disconcordant – abrasive? mean-spirited? tactless? – with what use to be normal social behavior, and get the answer, “That’s just who I am.”

What can one say to that?

So, unless what they’ve said or done is so off-the-wall, so utterly inane (by most people’s understanding), I won’t challenge them with the response, “Have you ever thought why?”

Because maybe the have and are happy with it, and I don’t want to provoke a discussion (read: argument). Or maybe they haven’t, and I don’t want to initiate a discussion (read: patronizing – “Let me show you where you’re wrong.”)

I think the later position – they’ve never really given any deep, introspective thought to why they do or say some things – is probably closer to the truth. Behavior (which includes speech as well as physical action) should be based on premeditation – sufficient forethought and inner deliberation before the act. Obviously, in the heat of the moment, all of us at times will say or do something stupid. And that’s excusable if followed by an apology.

But, “That’s just who I am” is not an apology. It is a self-serving excuse for bad behavior and shows a contemptuous uncaring attitude towards the other person and their feelings.

It also tells me that that person probably never takes the time to reflect, introspect, consider and mentally debate within their own mind, the “why” behind what they think and how they behave the way they do.

Introspection takes aloneness and quiet solitude. Things in short supply in the hectic world of work and family demands on our alone-time. And some people don’t want alone-time, they are uncomfortable being by themselves, they need to be around other people at all times. For those that do demand “me time”, all too often their alone-time is filled up with the mindless busyness of tv, video gaming, a hobby or something else. Not that any of these time-fillers are bad in themselves, it’s just that they are just that – time-fillers.

And introspection takes time, time for thinking out one’s self beyond superficiality, to really know who and why one is and how to express it to others with something more than, “That’s just who I am.”

Time that most can’t or won’t take. And even if they’ve tried, they find it tedious because it has no end – there is always some new thing to think about, something new happening or may happen, that requires a deeper consideration (“What do I think about that? How should I deal with it?”) than simply waiting and knee-jerking a response when and if it does arise, and justifying it with, “That’s just who I am.”

I suppose it can be said it’s just as bad to over-think things as it is to not think at all, but I believe in the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared.”

I’d rather have a premeditated reason through introspection – no matter how much time it takes, ‘though it may have no end – as to what I’ll say and what I’ll do when it involves others.

But, “That’s just who I am.”

– Bill

Feeling Ashamed

“That concentration camps [existed, and]…there [was] considerable difference[s] in the treatment of their inmates… [all were established by a] totalitarian regime…under the pretext of ‘national security’…[for the] unrestricted and arbitrary domination of [the] stateless and refugees.”

― Hannah Arendt

In the quote above, Hannah Arendt was speaking about the Nazi concentration camps throughout Europe during WWII. But it is apropos, vis-a-vis America’s immigration policies, today.

The Nazi “concentration” camps obviously differed as night is to day to our “internment” camps for our Japanese citizens in that war. And our “detention” camps today for illegal immigrants and asylum seekers are not in any way otherwise comparable, except in the intent and results in the use of concentration camps (in Germany’s case then) to remove, and (in our case today) to keep out, “undesirable” peoples from assimilation into the preferred society.

These “others” were then, as are they today, demonized as enemies to national security – as murderers, rapists, criminals of all stripes, burdens on society, even as “infesting” “animals” – falsely, through the use of propaganda to gain public support for the administration’s actions.

Trump and his ilk either knows no history or is merely indifferent to the lessons it teaches, which is allowing it to be repeated, albeit in smaller and less inhumane measure.

Our new immigration policy is tribalism, pure and simple. Read my post “Tribes Redux” (Dec. 1, 2016).

Trump has obviously forgotten his Irish ancestors who, in search of a better life, came here during Ireland’s potato famine.

And while they, at the time, were considered and treated as “other” and subject to the same false propaganda by the “preferred” society of that day, as he is doing to the would-be immigrants of today, they were nonetheless allowed entry and citizenship.

Because our past policies of inclusion (that made America that “shining beacon” for the world’s tired, poor, and oppressed) we still believed in.

Where would he be today if his immigrant forefathers had been put into a concentration camp upon arrival, then jailed as a criminal, only after to be sent back to Ireland?

One would think that he’d feel the humanitarian shame of the Nazi concentration camps or of our Japanese internment camps, or how children are being torn away from and separated from their parents in today’s immigration and asylum detention camps.

But maybe he doesn’t feel any shame.

I’ll close with my last statement in my post “Hypocrisy in America Today” (Feb. 16, 2017), about immigration:

“If things continue to go in the direction we are going, it will be hypocritical to claim we’re a ‘Christian nation’ (“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” – 1 John 3:17). I am not a prophet, I have no divine revelation, but I do worry about Jesus’ warning about punishment if America reneges on its promises and duty to our fellow man.”

– Bill

“Illegal” Immigrant Children Get To Go To Camp!

“I married a woman who loves to camp, and I am what you would call “indoorsy”… My wife always brings up, “Camping’s a tradition in my family.” Hey, it was a tradition in everyone’s family ’til we came up with the house.“

– Jim Gaffigan

I am greatly fond of the Great Outdoors and enjoy driving through or even hiking through Mother Nature and all its beauty. I even enjoy sleeping there overnight – seeing stars by the billions (unlike the mere hundreds we city folk normally see, if we’re even that lucky), the smell of a campfire and pine trees…and all that goes with it.

But I’m no fan of tents – they are an ordeal to set up and take down, they leak when it rains, unless they’re huge there’s no room for cots or to even stand erect, sleeping bags are restrictive to movement in your sleep and either too hot or not warm enough, whatever is on the ground outside finds its way inside (dirt, plant debris and all the creepy-crawlers), and having to secure foodstuffs in a secure outdoor metal box to keep raccoons and bears at bay.

Maybe because I grew up in a non-camping family; my mother detested the idea and my father simply stated that he’d had all the camping outdoors – in the jungles of the Pacific during WWII, thank you very much – to last a lifetime. But I did my share of tent camping in the Boy Scouts. As a young boy it was fun. Then I grew up and it wasn’t so much.

Yet I married a woman whose family loved to tent camp. Who says opposites don’t attract?

No sir, if you want me to be a happy camper in the woods, I require something more than a tent. Preferably a cabin with all the amenities. Or a proper camper with some semblance of comfort – off the ground to keep the creepies out, a sheeted bed, weatherproof, icebox and stove, and something I can just move with no hassle if the neighbors next to me vex me with their loud voices and/or boombox music, all night drinking party, or if they look like characters straight out of the movie “Deliverance”.

The only concession I’ll make sans cabin is having to use the public facilities – those reeking, grossly unsanitary cesspools that pass as “restrooms” – unless I can find a tree with privacy (for “#1”) or hold it (for “#2).

But that’s me and my take on tent camping. Maybe the thousands of children caught all by their lonesome, entering the US without an accompanying adult, will have a different take on it.

You see, it was just announced that, because there are so many of them (11,000+), the government hasn’t sufficient, proper shelters to place them in. So the White House is proposing to erect “tent cities” at various military bases in the state of Texas (http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/white-house/article213026379.html). It will prevent “vulnerable kids to fall into the hands of traffickers, officials said.” I would assume so, surrounded by a few thousand armed military.

And then there are those kids that accompany their parents (or other adult), all together seeking asylum. Current policy is to cull the children from the adults (https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/07/politics/illegal-immigration-border-prosecutions-families-separated/index.html) – “If you don’t want your child to be separated [from you], then don’t bring them across the border…” Separated indefinitely. No word on where they’ll be going. A shelter? A tent?

Still, the kiddies will probably be better off than their parents (if you can overlook their separation anxieties). Illegally crossing our borders is a crime that the government is now doubling-down on, punishment-wise, and jailing offenders rather than just sending them back home. Except, there aren’t enough jails to hold them. And those who arrive at the border seeking asylum? There aren’t enough detention centers.

So now it’s proposed to put the overflows of both in federal prisons pending adjudication of their status, if they’ll be sentenced to jail and then deported, granted asylum and entry, or denied entry and sent back to their country of origin (http://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2018/06/08/immigrants-federal-prisons/).

What a conundrum. Illegal immigrants and asylum seekers. Both looking for a better life. Where do we draw the line, if a line is to be drawn?

On adults, it’s one thing. On children?

It gives a whole new meaning to camping.

Not in the Great Outdoors.

But in a military stockade.

– Bill

A Birthday Thought

“Do you count your birthdays with gratitude?”

― Horace

“Happy Birthday!” they say.
And, “Don’t you look good!”
I don’t know how I possibly could,
But I’ll accept it anyway.

Today, at three score and ten,
Looking in the mirror, I blink.
“Who the hell are you?” and I think,
“That’s not the face I knew back when!”

Sagging skin no longer tight,
Weather-worn, and with hair so gray
My looking good was so yesterday,
Now to me my visage is a fright.

But as bad as all that may be
I think to myself, “Looks better than dead,
I guess I do look pretty good, as they said,
So Happy Birthday to me!”

– Bill

Dealing With Another’s Problems

“There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.”

― John Green

This is going to be a hard, hard, piece to write. Because it involves emotions that are very hard to write about. Because when it involves someone close who is in trouble it is hard to know what to do, to understand what you can’t do, what you have to do.

Like when trying to save someone who is drowning. Or when someone is a drug addict or an alcoholic or mentally ill (all of which are analogous to drownings, I suppose).

I remember when I took my certification classes to be a lifeguard (my summer job for three summers in high school). I was taught, that when you see someone floundering and flailing in obvious distress, unable to swim and in danger of drowning, to extend a pole towards them for them to grasp onto, if it could be within their reach or, if not, to jump into the water with a life preserver (a ring or buoy of some sort) tied to a rope, swim out to near them and throw it to them, telling them to grab ahold and you would pull them to safety. BUT, if in their panic they couldn’t or wouldn’t, to never, ever, get close enough to them to where they could grab ahold of you – they’d climb over you, pushing you down underwater in their attempt to keep their head above water, or would hold you in an unbreakable adrenaline-fueled grip, causing them to take you under with them. Either way drowning you both. Instead, better to let them flounder and eventually go under and, once they’d lose consciousness, you could dive down and retrieve them, pull them to shore and revive them.

And, regardless of what happens, if anyone has to die, it must be them, not you.

The difference between someone who is drowning and is obviously fighting to stay alive and will readily accept any help offered and then learn to avoid a repeat experience, the alcoholic or drug addict – even if they admit they have a problem – will usually allow their addiction to control them so much so that, even if they’ve self-committed to a detox facility, all too often will relapse, and there is nothing one can do to save them from self-destruction.

The same can be said of someone suffering from a mental illness. Not an illness where suicidal or otherwise a danger to themselves or others, an illness where the person, recognizing their problem, continually asks for help yet doesn’t try to even try to do what’s suggested they do to better their circumstances, whether from a mental health professional or friend or family member.

Like alcoholism or drug addiction, mental illness is not something anyone other than the victim can do anything about. It is not just enough that they recognize they have a problem, they have to accept and use whatever help is offered. And sometimes, all too often, they don’t.

And that is a hard thing when that person is near and dear to you. Because, watching them suffer, and their refusing to listen or not trying to do what might help them, it causes you emotional and heartfelt pain.

But when they don’t try, regardless of what happens, if someone is to suffer as a result, it must be them, not you.

Like a lifeguard, all you can do is try to provide them with the means to survive. But unlike physically keeping a safe distance, here you must keep mentally and emotionally a safe distance – you cannot allow their drowning in their problem to cause you drowning with them.

You can only just stand close by, always offering support and all the while you keeping their mental problem from causing you some of your own.

And the only thing you can do, is hope, never giving up the hope they’ll not just hear your offered suggestions, but act on them as well.

That is a hard thing to do.

– Bill