Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Redux? (Or, will we ever learn?)

It's reassuring to discover that I'm not the only serial plant killer. A few former black thumbs even agreed to reveal themselves, and how they overcame their killer tendencies, in a recent Washington Post article on indoor care for your leafy green friends.

Granted, there are issues in container gardening that don't present themselves as intensely with regular outdoor gardening. This is the situation even with herbs, which are supposed to be hardy and easy to grow, indoors or out. As I found out the hard way, t'aint' necessarily so.

Foolishly, I once purchased a lush baby Mediterranean bay laurel (because the flavor of the California variety is disgusting) and set it on the deck, figuring that such a plant would be perfect for the hot weather, in that it wouldn't require water. Wrong! The leafy guy began to droop, yet I was afraid to water it, for fear of overwatering (although the plant was burning up in the summer sun). Quel horreur!

I later (much too later, however) asked knowledgeable gardening folk at the National Cathedral's greenhouse about the plant's fall from grace, and they told me that greenery in a pot needs to be watered lightly on a regular basis. When in the ground, the slow-growing beauty's roots are able to tap deep on resources in the soil, in search of water and nutrients. But in a container, people need to provide water for their plants. Oops!

* * *

True horror...hard on the heels of the first "anniversary" of Hurricane Katrina come a solemn pronouncement from Max Mayfield, director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center:

"I think the day is coming. I think eventually we're going to have a very powerful hurricane in a major metropolitan area worse than what we saw in Katrina and it's going to be a mega-disaster. With lots of lost lives...

"I don't know whether that's going to be this year or five years from now or a hundred years from now. But as long as we continue to develop the coastline like we are, we're setting up for a disaster."

Uh-oh, time to reconsider purchasing that cute bungalow by the beach. Seriously Mayfield is not the first to predict major coastal flooding (others have been saying that more frequent and serious coastal flooding is an effect of global warming), but he's a person whose prognostications should make us sit up and take note.

* * *

Last night, the second installment of Spike Lee's documentary, When the Levees Broke (Acts 3 and 4) aired on HBO. It focused almost as much on the rich cultural roots of New Orleans, such as the black Indians of Mardi Gras, Mardi Gras itself, and jazz funerals, as on Katrina's socio-political, psychological, and physical after-effects.

In fact, trumpeter Terence Blanchard held a one-man jazz funeral lamenting the almost-demise of his neighborhood. His mother Wilhemina, on breaking down upon seeing her home for the first time since the storm, said what epitomizes the entire post-Katrina situation, that rebuilding is "easier said than done." (The mountains of debris in the area made the "Not as Seen on TV" sign posted in the neighborhood a perfect, unfortunate fit.)

A full neighborhood jazz funeral was shown in Act 4, interspersed with commentary from a young man who spoke of coming back and getting lost in his own neighborhood, the devastation is still so extensive.

The Army Corps of Engineers is in charge of cleaning up the debris in New Orleans? Talk about the fox guarding the henhouse--the agency that didn't build a levee that would protect the city is now in charge of that city's cleanup--no wonder the rebuilding process has been so slow!

* * *

Perhaps the best anti-Republican screed this year is Alan Wolfe's recent article in the Washington Monthly (a publication which is one of the best political magazines around), "Why Conservatives Can't Govern," an in-depth examination of conservative governing philosophy, which explains, in great part, the Bush administration's general incompetence (FEMA, the war in Iraq, the budget deficit, losing ground in Afghanistan, ad nauseum.)

* * *

A disaster of a completely unnatural kind is scoped in Malcolm Gladwell's eye-catching article in The New Yorker, "The Risk Pool," which delves into labor history to show how General Motors and other companies got into the pension mess that they're in, and what this means for America.

To wit:

"Under the circumstances, one of the greatest mysteries of contemporary American politics is why Wagoner [General Motors' C.E.O.] isn't the nation's leading proponent of universal health care and expanded social care. That's the only way out of G.M.'s dilemma."

The unwillingness of the captains of industry to even consider broad-based pension and universal health care is depressing to contemplate. Is this what the b-schools hath wrought, with their emphasis on teaching their charges, the executives of America's companies, how to maximize (not merely create) profits? (There is a world of difference.)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Up, up, and away...

This year, as events have conspired to keep petroleum prices (and, thus, prices in general) on the upswing--the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict (though, thankfully, at a temporary ceasefire), the BP gas pipeline mess in Alaska's Prudhoe Bay--it's an opportune moment to explore conservation measures, as well as petroleum alternatives.

I recently stumbled across a petroleum alternative in the realm of fabric. That's right, while lolligagging around the Takoma Park Farmer's Market, I strolled around the nearby storefronts, which were having sidewalk sales. One such place, the store Now and Then, was having a special on yarns. Hip-looking feathered yarn is a product I always assumed was completely synthetic--you know, all petrol. Was I wrong! (OK, the yarn is partly petrol, at 12% nylon.) The material is however, mostly bamboo, 88% in fact. More to the point, this yarn is soft and shimmery, and I got the notion to crochet a scarf after purchasing a couple of skeins. It only took two days (three hours spread over the two days, in reality), looks and feels fabulous, and cost less than $12 to make! However, I wouldn't advise that crochet newbies attempt to use a feather-type yarn, as it's tricky to handle.

Bamboo is the up-and-coming environmentally friendly darling of the moment, because the grass (who knew?) grows extremely quickly, making it a renewable resource, potentially. Of course, if you're a gardener, you've heard about the difficulty (in fact, the near-impossibility) of eradicating bamboo once it's established, so much that it's considered an invasive plant. Its tenaciousness and proto-weediness gives credence to the old saw that a weed is merely a plant that's out of place.

However, a dilemma presents itself with the use of bamboo products, as almost all of them hail from China, land of institutionalized prison and otherwise non-unionized labor. While some commercial bamboo is grown in other countries, much of the industry is sino-centric. (Unfortunately, so many other items are manufactured there, including many petroleum-based products, it makes the head spin as to when to try to choose an alternative to the old polluting order.)

Decisions, decisions!