Anxious Days


Editor’s note: This post has been delayed one day on account of dismally slow internet service, most likely caused by the service provider’s defective equipment. Thanks, Ajit Pai, Chairman of the FCC, for continuing to safeguard the interests of monopolistic corporations while disregarding those of ordinary citizens!

Waiting through an outbreak of severe weather can be nerve wracking if you’re one of the millions of Americans living in substandard housing. Related to withstanding severe weather events, substandard housing means no basement or a weak foundation, poorly engineered roofing, shoddy workmanship overall, bad drainage around the structure, easily shattered windows, and any number of other problems large and small generally not present in the well built housing of the upper classes. Should something bad happen to a substandard structure due to severe weather, the people living there often do not have the resources to recover from it.

Severe weather affects everyone, rich and poor, but what is usually overlooked is how the poor disproportionately suffer the adverse effects of it both coming and going. To know that should a tornado, a hurricane, a derecho, a hailstorm, ice storm, or flood deal even a glancing blow to the place you live causes many anxious days, first in watching the weather forecast and then during the day or days of the event. There’s personal safety, of course, and the possibility of unaffordable emergency medical attention, and then the possibility of damage to the structure and the unaffordability of repairs, if it is repairable. The last thing any person living in a structure without a safe, reinforced room or basement wants to hear is the freight train roar of an approaching tornado, and to have children to protect must make even imagining such a scenario unbearable.

Winslow Homer - Hurricane, Bahamas
Hurricane, Bahamas, an 1898 painting by Winslow Homer (1836-1910).

All things are relative, and while comparatively few people in the United States have to exist in notoriously unsafe conditions like those in a Brazilian favela, there are still far too many in this rich country who live a hair’s breadth away from personal and financial disaster, a ruin which can befall them in a few unfortunate moments with the caprice of bad weather. As severe weather outbreaks become more frequent and as the population continues to increase, the possibilities for deaths, injuries, and property damage will also increase, all of which burden poor people more than others (yes, even death, because of the costs to survivors).

In the 1978 BBC television production of dramatist Dennis Potter’s Pennies from Heaven, Bob Hoskins as sheet music salesman Arthur Parker encounters a busker called The Accordion Man, played by Kenneth Colley, who in return for Arthur treating him to a meal treats Arthur to a rendition of the song “Pennies from Heaven” (lip synched to a 1937 recording by Arthur Tracy).

Insurance companies’ business model currently has them paying out after disaster strikes (contesting the payout all the way, and digging in their heels where they can), while offering little incentive for builders and developers to proof structures against disaster. Eventually, as expenses incurred by natural disasters mount to insupportable levels, insurance companies will have to come around to a more preventive strategy of offering lower premiums for stronger structures, something easier for them and builders and developers to cooperate on for wealthier homeowners. Where government can step in to protect poor people is to enforce insurance policy standards for their housing, rather than continuing to allow the corruption and slapdash oversight which currently riddles the market. Meantime, as always you’re on your own out there, particularly if you’re not rich, and you have to look out for yourself to stay safe. Good luck.
β€” Izzy


Pick the Right Tools


People who don’t do hard physical labor regularly are quite taken with tools that make it appear the person wielding them is really doing a lot, such as pickaxes and sledgehammers. Using those tools will indeed wear out even the fittest person over the course of a day, which is why the professional laborer who has to get up the next morning and work again all day uses those tools sparingly given the option, and will resort to other tools that may take longer to do a job but will save wear on tear on the user’s body.


2015-365-95 The Versatile Pickaxe (17051383985)
A pickaxe works best at breaking up hard ground. Photo by cogdogblog.

A pickaxe is good for breaking up dry, rocky ground, but not as good for working on normal soil as a mattock. A pickaxe is a better tool overall for a miner than it is for a gardener. Swinging it certainly does make it look like the laborer is going at the job full bore, however, and ultimately that may be what it takes to satisfy the homeowner who is paying the laborer to make work look chain gang hard. Sledgehammers are more directly up that same alley, since they have limited uses in everyday gardening, but are great for breaking rocks in a sweaty, back-breaking setting. Maybe that’s what some people are paying to see.

Another tool amateurs feel compelled to use themselves and are gratified to see professionals use on their behalf are powered shears. About the only shrub that can tolerate shearing long term is privet; everything else will turn into stiffly twigged shells of foliage needing frequent shearing to look presentable, and that only at a passing glance. Any closer examination will reveal a shrub with nothing going on inside but the dead, moldering pile-up of sticks and leaves from past shearing.


It’s better to cut back shrubs with hand pruners, even though a hedgerow will take longer to do than with powered shears. The time will be made up in longer intervals between cuttings, and the shrubs will be healthier. It’s fussy work and it doesn’t make a lot of noise and commotion like the powered shears do, and that upsets some people who like the roar of machinery as much as the sweat of unnecessarily hard physical labor in order to convince themselves that work is being accomplished.

Farm workers shoulder their tools at the end of the day near Ripley, in the Palo Verde Valley of the lower Colorado River in California in May 1972. Environmental Protection Agency photo by Charles O’Rear.

A few good shovels, hand pruners and saws, maybe loppers, powered or manual shears for cutting back perennials only instead of cutting back shrubs, and various rakes as well as a strong digging bar are about all a gardener needs on a daily basis. It’s nice to have the other tools, mattocks and hoes especially, but a gardener interested in saving himself or herself for another day will seldom find use for a pickaxe or a sledgehammer. There are often other ways of accomplishing the tasks those tools might do, though they won’t look as dramatically labor intensive.

Take the Money and Run, a 1969 film directed by Woody Allen and in which he plays a hapless criminal, who in this scene has been sentenced to work on a chain gang.

The last thing a professional or amateur gardener might want to consider is rain gear, and that too ends up being a personal choice outside of what bossy people might think best for others. Ponchos are cooler to wear in summer than raincoats and permit greater freedom of movement, while raincoats are more effective at keeping the gardener dry. A raincoat would be the best choice in cool weather, and might even suit in summer if the gardener parts with several more dollars for a raincoat made with breathable fabric. Otherwise, a cheap raincoat will repel rain on the outside at the cost of getting wet on the inside from the wearer’s sweat, particularly in the case of someone who is active, like a gardener. Perhaps the most welcome option on a rainy day is a third one, which is the opportunity it affords to drop tools and go indoors to relax and muse about working some other day.
β€” Izzy


Saving Up for a Rainy Day


Battery storage has long presented a conundrum to renewable energy enthusiasts who tout the relatively benign environmental footprints of wind and solar power. The batteries can contain toxic metals and chemicals which cause environmental damage in mining and formulation, and then again when they have exhausted their usefulness and users need to somehow safely recycle or dispose of them.

Partial Eclipse of the Sun - Montericco, Albinea, Reggio Emilia, Italy - May 1994 03
Partial eclipse of the sun – Montericco, Albinea, Reggio Emilia, Italy – May 1994. Photo by Giorgio Galeotti.


For a time, it seemed the answer for homeowners using a solar array was to sell excess power produced during the day to the power company and then draw on grid power at night and on cloudy days. These grid-tied systems effectively used the power company as storage, mostly dispensing with the need for a bank of batteries at home. Unfortunately for homeowners with grid-tied systems, it appears power companies are backing away from those setups in order to protect their equipment and to maintain tighter control over power generation.

Power companies have been investing in their own renewable energy production as costs go down. Since there is no external backup for the electricity generated by the power company, the power companies need to employ huge amounts of batteries. Batteries have improved in the past generation both in toxicity and length of usable life from the days of lead acid batteries. Improvement does not mean they are exactly environmentally friendly. The problem comes down to relative harm, such as whether it is less harmful to the environment to drive an electric car when the source for its electricity is a coal burning power plant.

20170313 xl 1911-Karikatur-Gerhard-Mester--Energiespeicher
An illustration of the relationship of renewable energy to energy storage from the German cartoonist Gerhard Mester (1956-). Panel 1: “More solar energy!!” Panel 2: “More wind energy!” And in the last panel: “More energy storage!” Incidentally, Germany is a world leader in solar energy production despite receiving less sunlight than many other industrialized nations.

Nothing people do technologically has zero impact on the environment, and arguments from the extremes of both sides of the tug of war between those in favor of continued use of fossil fuels and those who want greater reliance on renewable energy are neither accurate nor helpful. Continuing the status quo of burning fossil fuels for most energy production is clearly a path to environmental catastrophe, while renewable energy production does not have quite as low an impact on the environment as some enthusiasts suggest. It is in the batteries especially that renewable energy has an unfavorable impact.

Nevertheless, in countries with higher renewable energy production than the global average the air is cleaner and greenhouse gas emissions are lower. Because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow, the key to minimizing reliance on batteries, the most toxic element in renewable energy use, is diversification of power sources supplying the grid, from geothermal to hydroelectric. None of these methods of supplying the power necessary for humanity’s modern lifestyle are perfect, but they are all better than the alternative of continuing down the path of polluting the air and warming the planet. The two biggest obstacles to switching the United States to 100 percent renewable energy are the fossil fuel industry interests entrenched in national politics, and battery technology. Of the two, the latter will be more easily overcome by a concerted effort, and with time the new technology will push out the former technology and its moneyed adherents as obsolete and destructive. But will it be soon enough?
β€” Techly


Not All That Clear-Cut


An owner of a new house on a lot where the builder saved one or more mature trees, rather than clear-cutting the property prior to construction, may be dismayed after a few years to see some or all of those trees dying back from the tops of their crowns. The homeowner may never make the connection to soil compaction caused by heavy construction equipment running over the root zone of the trees and how that adversely affects them all the way to their tops. Typically soil compaction damage to roots of large trees takes several years to show up, and by then the realtor, the developer, and the builder have moved on, taking with them the extra money engendered by the higher value sale of a house lot with mature trees. Sometimes those parties are themselves ignorant of the horticultural damage, though they really should educate themselves.


Roots encased in compacted soil have difficulty growing through it in search of nutrients, they may have been crushed or otherwise injured during the initial period of insult, and they may rot from sitting in water because compacted soil does not drain well. After a few years of this, the constricted roots can no longer push nutrients and water to the top of a large tree, and the top dies back. Sometimes the shortened tree continues living, although it may never be as vigorous as it was prior to construction. A tree with a restricted, sickly root system is also susceptible to toppling in a storm, the same as if its roots had been rudely shortened in a trenching operation. Suddenly that gloriously arching old oak tree providing shade and grandeur for the house 10 or 20 feet away is no longer an asset but a risk haunting the homeowner’s property. Removing the tree safely before it topples and causes catastrophic damage to life and limb is an expensive proposition.

A mother raccoon and her four kits eating cherries from a suburban backyard cherry tree at night in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. Raccoons have proven highly adaptable to habitats modified by humans, moving from the wilderness to the city and everything in between. Photo by AndrewBrownsword.

Unless the builder is serious about protecting the roots of trees on a house lot by cordoning off an area extending at least as far the drip lines of the trees and not running heavy equipment there, excavating there, or piling soil there, then it would be better to cut the trees down and start fresh with new plantings once construction is complete. A similar policy applies to clear-cutting trees from a woodland, though many people who are adamantly opposed to the practice may not want to hear it. As long as trees need to be cut down for timber to build houses and for pulp in the manufacture of paper products, there are only a limited number of ways of going about it. There are ways that are heedless of the surrounding environment, such as cutting trees around water bodies and on slopes without regard to controlling erosion, and there are ways which take into account the land’s recovery, such as leaving trees standing in riparian buffer zones and leaving behind some slash – material like branches and hollow logs – to help control erosion.


Logging in the Ochocos circa 1900
A logging scene in the Ochoco Mountains, Crook County, Oregon, circa 1900. Logging without heavy mechanical equipment was lighter on the land, but little consideration was given at the time to erosion control, reforestation, or lowering the impact of road construction. This photo is part of a collection at the Bowman Historical Museum, Crook County, Oregon.

Why not leave some mature trees standing here and there throughout the logged area? For the same reason of soil compaction that confronts the house builder who has to take extraordinary measures to sufficiently protect the roots of mature trees in order to preserve them, rather than just going through the motions. A clear-cut area often looks like a moonscape for a few years until new growth takes over, and its appearance would no doubt be improved by a remnant of mature trees, but ultimately a sensitivity about appearances may not prove to be in the best interest of the trees themselves. Ultimately where logging has to be done to provide the paper products and building materials nearly everyone uses, it may be best to get in and get out, employing best practices to control erosion, perhaps repairing soil compaction where possible, and then either replanting or allowing the land to regenerate new growth on its own. After that, leave the land alone for a generation or more. Hand-wringing about the removal of trees may be a satisfying demonstration of environmental sensitivity, but unless it is accompanied by an understanding of best practices in pursuit of necessary economic activity, it is best not undertaken by those living in wood houses.
β€” Izzy


Change at the Grass Roots


It may seem like hyperbole to compare growing a lawn with smoking (not combining the two, as in smoking grass), but when weighing the environmental and health effects of both rather useless activities, they may not be all that dissimilar. A lawn is purely ornamental and serves no practical purpose when it is not used as pasture for grazing animals. Deer may come out of the woods to clip parts of a suburban lawn, but for the most part keeping a lawn within the height limits deemed proper by neighbors is left up to the homeowner. Anything higher than about six inches meets with disapproval from neighbors and, in the case of a homeowners association rules, may merit a written slap on the wrist.


There was a time not long ago when most people smoked, and smoked everywhere. Movies of contemporary stories from the 1940s and 1950s showed actors portraying their characters as human chimneys. Few people thought much of it up until 1964, when the Surgeon General issued a report on the dangers of smoking. Even then, it took another generation for the momentum of social disapproval of smoking to build to a tipping point, largely because of the obstructive practices of the tobacco industry. In the matter of lawn growing, the balance is now tipped in favor of the people who dump fertilizers and broad leaf herbicides on their lawns to achieve an ideal of carpeted green perfection, and then burn up fossil fuels in order to keep that exuberant growth clipped to a manicured standard.

20101020 Sheep shepherd at Vistonida lake Glikoneri Rhodope Prefecture Thrace Greece
Sheep, goats, and a shepherd near Lake Vistonida in Thrace, Greece. Photo by Ggia.

Grass, with buttercups. Photo by Steffen Flor.

Given the information available about the toxic effects of fertilizer and herbicide runoff, and the deleterious effects on the climate of continued burning of fossil fuels, it seems insane to idealize the perfect lawn and what it can take to achieve perfection. Yet as things stand now, the people with model lawns are the ones who look down on everyone else and appoint themselves as standard bearers. Perhaps if more people understood the destructive effects to their own health and to the environment of all their fussing over lawns, then the balance would start to tip the other way toward saner practices.

When homeowners apply fertilizers and herbicides to their lawns, there is no obvious puff of smoke to notify everyone else of the activity. It is not as obvious then as smoking, and therefore general social disapproval will take a long time to build, and may never build to a tipping point the way it did with smoking. Education will probably be the main factor in changing people’s behavior. There are state laws which require commercial herbicide or pesticide applicators to post signs on lawns they have treated. Those are the 4 inch cards on sticks stuck into lawns, and to the extent that most passersby and neighbors give them any attention, they can easily mistake them as advertisements for the lawn care company.

The opening scene of Blue Velvet, a darkly satirical 1986 film directed by David Lynch. Besides demanding large amounts of fertilizers and herbicides to look their best, lawns gulp huge amounts of water in order to stay green throughout the warmest months.

Most people are away at work when lawn care companies do their treatments, and so they aren’t around to catch a whiff of the cabbage smell of the typical broad leaf herbicide as it drifts around the neighborhood. And of course, the homeowner who does his or her own applications, usually on the weekends when neighbors are also home, does not bother with any formal notifications at all. A neighbor might ask such a homeowner “What’s that smell?” To which the enterprising amateur lawn care enthusiast might reply, without apparent knowledge of or concern about the collateral damage of his or her efforts, “That’s the smell of the green, green grass of home!”
β€” Izzy


All the Time in the World


It was a little over 100 years ago when the Germans enacted the first daylight saving time as a measure to conserve energy, and the practice has been part of most of the western world in one form or another ever since. Besides the dubious argument that extending daylight at the end of the day through spring, summer, and early autumn saves energy, it’s hard to rationalize continuing the practice. Continue it will, however, for the time being, as daylight saving time ends on November 5th with the return to standard time over the winter in the United States and much of Europe.

George Pal’s The Time Machine, from 1960, explored questions of altering time and circumstance within a gripping adventure yarn.

Contrary to myth, daylight saving time was never instituted on behalf of farmers. Farmers are generally opposed to the practice. They would rather take back that hour of daylight from the end of the day in summer, when the heat of the day has built up, and return it to the beginning of the day, when the cool of the night lingers. It was office workers and the mercantile concerns that catered to them who had an interest in extending daylight past office hours, thereby opening up more time for shopping and other money-spending activities.

The energy conservation argument for daylight saving time was more valid a century ago, when inefficient electric lighting was a big consumer of power. Air conditioning did not become a factor until the 1930s, and then only for public buildings like theaters, department stores, and office buildings. Home air conditioning did not come into widespread use until the 1960s or 1970s. The situation then by the 1980s was that in the summer people were returning home from work at five, six, or seven o’clock in the late afternoon and early evening, when evening cooling had not begun to overtake the built-up heat of the day. If standard time had been in effect in the summer, those hours would have been closer to sunset by one hour, and therefore cooler.

Big ben closeup
Big Ben in London, England, the most famous public clock in the western world, displays the time on a sunny day in September 2005. Photo by Robin Heymans.

By the late twentieth century, people no longer had to resort to public buildings to enjoy air conditioning. The argument then that people would take advantage of some extra daylight after working hours to circulate among shops and spend money was not as valid as it had been a half century earlier. The energy conservation argument similarly went out the window. People could and did go directly to their own air conditioned homes, where they cranked up the air conditioning to compensate for the day still being hot at five, six, or seven o’clock.

The original three singers of the vocal group Bananarama reunited recently, and in this performance of their 1980s hit “Cruel Summer”, they show great timing 30 years later.

What’s the rationale then for daylight saving time in the new climate, when an hour of summer sunlight at the end of the day is hotter than it used to be? Because we’ve gotten used to extended twilight in the mid-latitudes in summer? Using the extra daylight time at the end of the day can be nice for cutting grass after work, or coaching a children’s soccer game, or socializing with neighbors. People did all those things and more (substitute baseball for soccer) in the past, and life went on. Like farmers, office workers may find it more pleasant to arise a bit earlier to do some chores in the morning. Leaving daylight saving time behind will cost only a little in convenience and schedule readjustment, but the saving in energy will put dollars back in the pockets of everyone but the fossil fuel companies, and may help bring back the cool of the evening.
― Techly


Let the Recipient Beware


Online shopping increases as a percentage of overall retail buying year after year, with the current rate a little under ten percent. When people buy items online, they typically have them delivered to their home, and since regular hours for package delivery usually coincide with the hours most people are away at work, that opens an opportunity for package thieves, or “porch pirates”. As could be expected, boom times for online shopping and home delivery of packages has created an accompanying boom in porch piracy, which has victimized as many as 23 million people in the United States.


There are technological solutions available to combat the problem, though none are foolproof. One item employs a siren when a package is somehow removed from it, but on further reflection that may not be the best solution since there are a number of ways a package might get knocked off the item without the assistance of a thief, such as an inspection visit by a neighborhood pet. Having a siren going off unnecessarily like that is likely to make a homeowner unpopular in the neighborhood, and similarly to a car owner with an overly sensitive car alarm, that person’s property could be in for an egging.

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A Milkman makes his rounds in 1925. Did thieves pilfer milk from porches in the old days?

Cameras are a front porch security option, and to be effective the homeowner really does need more than one. Simply having a view of the thief is often not enough information for an eventual arrest; it is more helpful to have a view of the street as well in order to capture an image of the thief’s vehicle make and model, or even the license plate. In any event, it’s always a good idea to make thieves aware that they are under video surveillance, unfortunate as it may seem that innocent visitors are also being watched, in a kinder, gentler version of Big Brother. Little Brother?


Third party drop sites are becoming more prevalent in cities. For people in outlying suburbs or the countryside, those sites are generally not an option now because of the poor economics. As online shopping continues to grow, however, that may change to the point where it will not be unusual for people to pick up their packages at some secure location not far from their home, even in lightly populated areas. In a way, such a system would be a return to the days of picking up a package at the local general store. To be a viable option, the pickup location would have to offer more flexibility in services and hours than the local post office.

Parcel Post Truck and Carrier (3113303884)
A United States Postal Service Parcel Post carrier delivering packages in the snow around Christmas, 1950. Photo from the Smithsonian Institution.

Apartment dwellers have few options for secure delivery of packages to their door because of limited space, but since almost all apartments are in town, they have better access to third party pickup sites, or even the building of the package delivery service. A delivery option that has been in the news lately involves giving the delivery service access to the recipient’s house or apartment. That appears to open a can of worms, and it would be surprising if the nightmare of liability pitfalls were ever worked out to everyone’s satisfaction.


A better idea that goes halfway is for the package recipient to install a lock box outside the home, sharing the pass code with the delivery service. For apartment dwellers, a lock box would probably have to be no bigger than breadbox. Homeowners could have a box as large as practicable for them, or could even use a shed, though again for liability reasons it would be a good idea not to store anything else in the shed.

Milk home delivery truck
A milk delivery truck in Auburn, Washington in 2017. More uncommon these days than 60 or 70 years ago, home delivery of milk is nevertheless increasing, gaining in popularity along with other home deliveries. Photo by Ron Clausen.

Ultimately in order to put the skids on the current halcyon days for porch pirates, the onus for package security once delivered is going to fall to the recipient. Online shopping is only going to continue growing, and the consequent increase in home delivery will continue to present growing opportunities for thieves. Up until now, online stores and package delivery services have been accommodating toward customers who have reported stolen packages, offering replacements or refunds. That is likely to change if the trend in porch piracy continues upward unchecked, increasingly eating into firms’ bottom lines. The firms involved in online selling and the delivery of those goods have a vested interest in developing better safeguards than what is currently the widespread practice of relying on watchful neighbors. That was the old days, if it ever really was. More likely the problem now is nobody’s around during the day but the thieves, who are tempted by more and more easy pickings showing up on porches.
― Techly


Strange Bedfellows


Legg’d like a man! and his fins like arms! Warm, o’ my troth! I do now let loose my opinion, hold it no longer: this is no fish, but an islander, that hath lately suffered by a thunderbolt. [Thunder.] Alas, the storm is come again! My best way is to creep under his gaberdine; there is no other shelter hereabout. Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows. I will here shroud till the dregs of the storm be past.

― William Shakespeare, The Tempest (Act II, Scene ii).

After Hurricane Irma tore through Florida earlier this month, some stories surfaced about Florida homeowners with solar panels being unable to use their power in the power grid outages that followed. Like many stories, there was some truth to them, but not the entire truth. Due to intensive lobbying from utility companies, Florida has enacted more obstacles to solar energy than most states, despite the fact that its weather and latitude make it better suited than most to take advantage of solar power. Homeowners with grid-tied solar panel arrays without batteries or transfer switches were legally barred from using their solar power while the grid in their area was off line.

That in itself is not unusual compared to arrangements in other states, and should not have been the source of stories making it sound as if Big Brother was interfering in individual initiative. The problem was the stories focused on that part while at the same time ignoring the real story of how Florida legislators have systematically made business difficult for the solar power industry. It is usual practice to ensure grid-tied systems have safety measures in place such as transfer switches to prevent power from back-feeding on the grid lines and endangering utility workers as they try to restore electrical service. In Florida, however, it appears legislation has been enacted at the behest of the major utilities to go beyond this to ensure that grid-tied solar power systems could not be legally used at any time during a general power outage.

The MGM Tower in Century City, Los Angeles, with solar array atop the adjoining parking garage. Photo by SolarWriter.

So there you are sitting in the dark after Hurricane Irma came through, just like all your neighbors, despite the array of solar panels on your roof. If you had disassociated your solar array from the grid entirely, you might have had better luck, though that would depend on local building codes or homeowners’ association rules. But since you tied into the grid with your solar array out of economic necessity and convenience, you may find out belatedly you signed a bargain with the devil. It’s like that natural gas powered fireplace which turns out to be useless when severe winter weather has cut off all services. Lighting candles won’t do enough to keep you warm.

The invidious corruption of the Florida utility laws, pervaded as they are by money from the Koch Brothers and entrenched fossil fuel interests, has had the unusual effect of forging an unlikely coalition of Tea Party conservatives and environmentalists, known as the “Green Tea” movement. The Tea Partiers are motivated by their distaste for government telling them how they can power their own homes, and tilting the playing field against them should they decide to sell surplus power on the open market, all because of the undue influence of utilities on the government. Environmentalists decry the same government corruption, but see it as unfairly limiting options for homeowners to leave a greener footprint, besides getting in the way of individual exercise of freedom.

The 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia, directed by David Lean and edited by Anne V. Coates, had many great moments, and this match cut from flame to sun is one of the most renowned.

Florida is an excellent test case for how we will cope with a warming climate, much as some people don’t want to look at it that way. Florida is hot and humid. Before the invention and widespread use of air conditioning in the twentieth century, Florida was lightly settled precisely because of its challenging climate. Since the middle of the twentieth century, Florida’s population has boomed. Florida’s energy use is 40% higher than the national average, largely because of the extensive use of air conditioning. Look at Puerto Rico now in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. That could be Florida in a worst case scenario, which the state dodged as Hurricane Irma played out, as opposed to how an earlier forecast showed it might work out. Considering all that, it seems making solar power easier for all homeowners to implement rather than more difficult is the sensible option, no matter the arrangement of strange bedfellows.
― Izzy

Moles and Voles and Shrews – Oh, My!


It can be upsetting for a gardener or homeowner to see mounds of turned soil and sinuously trailing lumps in a lawn that has taken a lot of human care and maintenance over a long, hot summer. Tunneling moles! It can be hard to realize that the little critters, which in the eastern United States most likely go by the name Scalopus aquaticus, are in fact paying you a compliment by visiting your yard to partake of your tasty vittles. You apparently have grubs and earthworms in abundance, signs of a healthy lawn ecosystem, and the moles have appeared to take advantage of the situation.


When moles eat earthworms, they may not be doing you such a great favor since earthworms enhance soil fertility, but they definitely help out by eating the grubs which would otherwise be munching on the roots of your carefully tended grass. There is collateral damage certainly, such as some brown patches in the lawn where the moles have damaged grass roots in their zealous search for grubs, and also the unsightliness to human eyes of the lumps they raise in the lawn because of their tunneling. Rest easy, because the tunnels aerate the soil and will settle back in time.

Wind in the Willows pg 65
In Chapter 3 of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, called “The Wild Wood”, timid Mole ventures out on his own into the woods and has a scary time. Illustration from the 1913 edition by Paul Bransom.

Lawn aerator attachment on a garden tiller
Lawn aerator attachment on a garden tiller. Photo by Lovesgreenlawn. Moles happily do the same work at no charge.

People attribute a lot of the damage they see in their plants and bulbs to moles, but really the damage is mostly the work of voles and shrews. Most moles are mostly insectivorous: they usually don’t eat plants. Voles and shrews, on the other hand, will eat just about anything given the chance, though they largely stick to a vegetarian diet. Voles and shrews will also take advantage of the tunnels that moles industriously create. This can make little difference to a gardener who notices a tunnel leading to a freshly planted tulip bed. Arguing before the court of that gardener’s censorious gaze that a mole excavated the tunnel in innocent pursuit of grubs, but it was the voles and shrews who exploited its proximity to the tulip beds to pad their own provisions, often makes no headway with the gardener, who declares war on the oblivious mole.

Traps, poisons, and medieval implements of execution are all pointless and expensive wastes of time and money. You have what moles want, and if after much effort and expense you manage to remove your nemesis from the premises, another will come along shortly to take his or her place. Taking away what the moles want, which means negating the naturally derived soil fertility that earthworms and grubs dig, would involve essentially turning your lawn into the soulless desert waste of a golf course. Green above by virtue of chemicals, but below, in the soil, the home of practically no creatures.

Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale, Jack Haley as The Tin Man, Ray Bolger as The Scarecrow, Bert Lahr as The Cowardly Lion, and Terry the dog, as Toto, in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.

Let the moles be, and thank them for their service. Watch out for the voles and shrews, however, and do what you can to mitigate the damage they cause. Get a cat, if that is suitable for you and the cat, and the neighborhood you both live in. Meanwhile, keep mulch and, if possible, snow away from tree trunks, because that denies cover to those creatures while they gnaw at the bark. Clean up leaf litter and brush piles where it seems sensible that these are nesting places and cover for runways. Most of all, let the grass grow to 3 or 4 inches, which should keep the lawn healthier overall, and make those lumps in the lawn less noticeable and not worth fretting about.
― Izzy


The Check Is in the Mail


At the end of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, which can be dated to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, there was much talk in the West of a “peace dividend” on account of the anticipated reduction in military spending. The dividend never amounted to anything as far as average Americans were concerned, particularly since the Gulf War came along a year later, and then through the 1990s the US involved itself in flash points around the globe in its self-appointed role as world police force. In the new century, the so-called War on Terror has preoccupied this country and dragged it into middle eastern quagmires ever since 2001. That peace dividend looks like it’s never going to show up.

Counting minor skirmishes and interventions, America has been in conflict with enemies foreign and domestic for most of its history. Always in the past after a major conflict, the military would draw down its personnel and weaponry and return to a reduced level that was considered the peacetime military norm, even if small conflicts were bound to flare up. Again after World War II, it appeared the armed forces would follow the pattern and draw down, and indeed they did for several years in the late 1940s. But then the Berlin Airlift happened, heightening tensions with the Soviet Union, and more or less beginning the Cold War. Shortly after that came the Korean War. The country has pretty well been on a war footing ever since, a condition President Eisenhower warned against in his 1961 farewell address when he spoke of the military-industrial complex.

The Ladies' home journal (1948) (14763515784)
From The Ladies’ Home Journal in 1948, an article in the magazine described the trials of a young family making ends meet. Here the father balances the family books while the mother irons clothes. No doubt they juggled income and expenses in the hundreds or thousands of dollars, not billions or trillions.
In a 2012 speech at the Democratic National Convention, President Obama anticipated a peace dividend from reductions in American involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, a dividend he said he would use to pay down the national debt and put Americans back to work repairing and improving infrastructure at home. Like the Cold War peace dividend, the dividend that was supposed to follow from over a decade of middle eastern wars also proved illusory. For one thing, our enormous military spending, larger than the military budgets of the next eight biggest spenders combined, has been done with borrowed money. Claiming a reduction in military spending would yield a dividend from the balance is like a homeowner taking $20 out of the household budget meant for repayment of various debts and calling it a windfall. Not only will the homeowner have to repay the $20 next month, but he or she will have to come up with an additional $20 to make up for the shortfall.


The other thing about this country’s huge military is that some interested parties in the military and in the defense industry like to keep it sky high. That is what Eisenhower was warning us about in 1961. These are people who, while they may not like war exactly – when it comes to actual military service, for instance, a good many of them seem to have other priorities – nonetheless have acquired a taste for the profits and power of the military-industrial complex. They are the friends of Halliburton and Blackwater, and they are in high places. They are the people who will see to it a peace dividend never gets beyond their own sticky fingers into the wallets of the American people who have paid for all their boondoggles.

From Mel Brooks’s 1974 film Blazing Saddles, with Harvey Korman and Robyn Hilton, and Mel Brooks himself as the Governor, this scene could just as well be depicting activities in the modern day Oval Office as in a fictional governor’s office in 1874. Warning: foul language.

There will not be enough money in the federal budget for fixing the nation’s infrastructure, moreover bringing it up to 21st century standards, until the obscene amounts spent on the military-industrial complex are drastically reduced. There will not be enough money for health care, for public education, for Social Security, for fighting climate change by ditching the fossil fuel industry in favor of renewable energy, for doing all the things we want to do to improve our society as a whole, and not merely improve the fortunes of the oligarchy, if we do not come to our senses regarding our budget for interfering around the world and in some unintended ways making it a more dangerous place. Throwing all that borrowed money into the war machine for the past 70 years has bought us a grand house, with a grand mortgage to match, and meanwhile the termites have been busy at the foundations.
― Vita