Splendor in the Grass

Report from the front. The oceanfront. Our associate editor Lynn writes from Cape Cod on the epic battle to repair bare spots in the lawn, as Nature intended. (NOTE: the word “grass” here refers to the East Coast, not the West Coast presumption of definition)

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For weeks I’ve been annoyed by our landscaper ignoring my repeated requests to patch some bare spots in our lawn, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. After all, my dad taught me how to handle that…

It wasn’t all that easy, though.

First I needed to get some topsoil, grass seed and mulch. The grass seed, no problem. But wouldn’t you know the smallest bag of topsoil was 25 lbs. and mulch was 30 lbs. Undaunted, I drove them home and headed for the wheelbarrow.

Uh oh, the tire was flat. I went to the office and announced to Tim that I needed his truck so I could buy a new wheelbarrow. He told me not to be ridiculous and pumped up the tire for me. I didn’t know we had a pump.

(Ed. Note: Lynn’s dad once bought a new electric lawnmower rather than go through all the fuss of getting the blade sharpened on his old one.)

Once I had wheeled the 55 lbs of soil and mulch (plus grass seed and garden claw) down to the lawn, I earned bonus aches and pains over the weekend clawing, adding soil, seeding, mulching and watering. Afterwards, I wheeled the remaining 40 lbs of soil, mulch, seed and claw back to the garage, where it will sit until Tim does his autumn garage cleaning and throws it out (that’s how we roll).

It was worth it, though… this morning I saw tiny little grass shoots peeping through the mulch like a green five o’clock shadow!

Soon the grass will flourish. Then the landscapers will finally arrive, look at each other, and say – “It looks okay. What is she bitching about?)

Little Things That Count

We have a line on an exquisite scale model 1/12 the size of a 1934 Daimler Benz roadster, progenitor of today’s Mercedes C-Class coupe but more flamboyant, which some antique car fanciers regard as the most beautiful car ever made.

The model is offered in a mail order catalogue forwarded to our discriminating tastes by Dr. Steve, who occasionally writes here about the Jew and the two liberals in Oklahoma. The catalogue is called Lilliput, which fittingly specializes in miniatures – and of course harmonicas, which are miniature church organs.

The Daimler Benz model costs $2599.50. We were tempted, but that last fifty cents put us over budget. As a mental arithmeticker, I quickly calculated that this 18-inch model costs about the same as the full-size edition did in 1934, and the original had an engine. That comparison ignores inflation, a fun thing to do, and in any event I couldn’t quite pin down the value of a deutschemark in 1934 (shortly after a hyperinflation, during a great depression, and just as Hitler was rising to power, partly by debasing the deutschemark).

We do know, however, that $2599.50 was enough to buy ten Model T Fords during the 1920s and nearly that many Model A’s in the early 30’s, again sluffing off inflation’s effects and the fact that you could buy coffee back then for 12 cents a pound. In good condition, those ten Model T’s would now be worth close to a million dollars if auctioned to antique car aficionados, so let’s turn to harmonicas.

Lilliput offers a Hohner Marine Band – a small, ten-hole harmonica – for $136. I bought one for myself at age 12 for $2.50. The definition of an unexamined life is one devoted to ignoring inflation and playing a small harmonica.

Gib vs. Godzilla

A story from long ago, written by Al (an eye witness) for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, which published it this past Saturday.

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My younger brother Wayne – who until recently was a regular on KDKA News — just sold the house in the country where five of us grew up. He had bought it when Mom died at 94 because he couldn’t bear to see it go and has since spent 16 years fixing it up, pruning the trees, mowing the lawn and a field that once served as a 1-1/2 acre “victory garden” during the rationing of World War II.

So the old homestead has served as the venue of choice for family reunions and other get-togethers ever since. But Wayne and his wife Rose live 80 miles away, and eventually the maintenance work would become too much. Sale of the property evoked a flood of memories by e-mail back and forth from the then-kids and their kids, and even their kids, culminating in some stories from my older brother Gib, who had just returned from a trip out west.

But one story went unreported, and I’m here to tell it.

Gib was maybe 15 at the time, so I was 12 and Wayne was 7. Sisters Connie and Carol would have been 14 and 11 but had already matured beyond any inclination to get involved in their brothers’ quixotic misadventures.

Gib was already a prolific inventor, destined to become an electronics engineer and earn a sheaf of patents for Bell Laboratories. At age 8 or 9, he had fashioned a miniature gas stove out of a large orange juice can and a smaller soup can, weighted for stability by pouring molten lead into the bottom.

He tapped the telephone party line from our basement and installed some kind of motion detector on the front porch so that when a visitor arrived, every Christmas light, inside and out, blazed into life. When there were snowball fights, it didn’t do much good to build a snow fort because Gib would make a catapult that would throw snowballs the size of basketballs.

At the time of my story, his ingenuity was challenged by the appearance of a monstrous blacksnake in the woods at the edge of the lawn.

I saw it as a six or eight foot snake – an awesome anomaly in our world — so it was probably four or five feet, and Gib fearlessly advanced on it with a shovel. I protested because I had heard that if you have a resident blacksnake, you don’t have to worry about copperheads or rattlesnakes, and Gib finally relented.

He went into the basement and found a hand-pump weed sprayer, put some water in it, then some kerosene, came outside, pumped it a few times and lit a match to the spray.

Have you ever seen a large snake look back over its shoulder?

Well, no, of course they don’t have shoulders, but pursued by a mad scientist brandishing a flamethrower, a snake may exhibit an extra undulation or two in its accelerated slithering. Gib solemnly walked behind the blacksnake as it slalomed frantically down through the woods and across the property line. Gib returned satisfied that his younger siblings were no longer in danger of being snakebit.

So much for the theory of copperhead deterrence.

But that may have been a folktale to begin with, like the companion legend that if there’s a copperhead in the vicinity, you’ll whiff the smell of cucumbers.

I never detected that aroma back home, even though we raised cucumbers, so it’s possible that cucumbers actually smell like copperheads, and no one can detect that.

Speaking in Tongues

I’m writing this piece in Russian, a language I don’t happen to know, in order to get into the proper mood – so the English translation is unlikely to make much sense.

What triggered it is that Lynn Visson, a real-life simultaneous interpreter at the UN – who typically translates from Russian to English — this week shared some of his experiences with readers of the London Review of Books.

As you might expect, idioms present a particular problem for interpreters. The English expression ‘until hell freezes over’ in Russian comes out as ‘after it rains on Thursday.’

‘I had egg on my face’ becomes ‘I sat in a puddle.’

Especially difficult is translating fast talkers in real time, and interpreters are not immune from slips of the tongue. Visson recalls introducing Leonid Brezhnev as ‘Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Sodium.’

But my favorite story arose when a Russian delegate, apparently bored with the days’s proceedings, surprised Visson by not beginning with the customary ‘Thank you, Mr. Chairman.’ Instead, he wailed,

‘O my lost youth, my lost youth!’

Then he waxed ecstatic and at length about mosaics in the main cathedral of Sofia, finally citing one image in the cupola as reminding him of ‘Christ in a space suit.’

Well, at least he wasn’t on a crutch.

Jellied Justices

When the Supreme Court heard arguments last week about overturning California’s gay marriage ban, Proposition 8, the justices shuffled around, as one observer put it, as if they were looking for an off-ramp. For our money, Maureen Dowd said it best, in her Wednesday Op-Ed in the New York Times. Two excerpts:
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“Their questions reflected a unanimous craven impulse: How do we get out of this? This court is plenty bold imposing bad decisions on the country, like anointing W. president or allowing unlimited money to flow covertly into campaigns. But given a chance to make a bold decision putting them on the right, and popular, side of history, they squirm.”
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“While Justice Alito can’t see into the future, most of America can. If this court doesn’t reject bigotry, history will reject this court.”

Crime Wave, Interrupted

Are there many robberies in Sao Paulo? How many is a brazilian?

Last month Mauricio Fierro made a quick stop at a pharmacy, and when he came out his car was gone. He went to the police station to report the crime, only to find the pharmacist ahead of him in line, reporting that Fierro had robbed his store.

Video cameras showed that after Fierro came out of the shop, while he was looking for his car another man made off with his bag of stolen cash. He complained bitterly to the police about the crime rate in Sao Paulo but finally had to admit that he had earlier stolen the car that he was reporting stolen. With Fierro behind bars, the crime rate has eased.

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Thanks to the investigative reporting of Chuck Shepherd’s “News of the Weird” in the Pittsburgh City Paper.

Jesus the Garlic Farmer

Donald Boone is a longtime friend of our occasional contributor Dick Dell. He lived in Japan for 20 years, working with Encyclopedia Britannica there and later in Chicago. Here he brings his deft sense of intercultural irony to explicating a Japanese article about the final resting place of Jesus – in Japan.

By Donald Boone

Known as Daitenku Taro Jurai, Jesus came to Japan some 2,000 years ago and settled down in the mountain hamlet of Shingo – which bills itself as Kirisuto no Sato – in northern Japan. He married a farmer’s daughter, raised garlic, and died at age 108.

Today, census figures show only one Christian living in Shingo, but 20,000 “pilgrims and pagans” visit the site annually to see the last resting place of the Son of God and the very first gaijin to set foot in Japan.

Since 1964, a ceremony aimed at consoling the spirit of Jesus/Taro has been staged annually by the local tourism bureau, and there’s a Legend of Christ Museum devoted to his story. There you’ll find “a trove of religious relics” and keepsakes such as coffee mugs and coasters. (Don’t know about you, but I think just the chance to pick up a Japanese Jesus coaster would be worth the trip.)

How did the Bible get the story so wrong? Because it wasn’t Jesus who died on the cross, as widely reported, but his incredibly loyal, self-sacrificing kid brother, Isukiri, who at the crucifixion passed himself off to the vision-challenged Romans as the Savior. Somehow Jesus managed to smuggle his brother’s ears out of the Holy Land and bring them to Japan (Customs officials being somewhat more lax in those days). The ears and Jesus are buried in twin graves in Shingo. The site is maintained by a nearby yogurt factory.

As luck would have it, the ancient scroll containing Christ’s last will and testament, which was authenticated by “archeologists from an international society,” went up in ashes in World War II. Dang!

Don’t you think the “real” Jesus is a more accessible persona than the one known to billions of misguided believers in the mainline narrative? I mean, a guy who raises garlic for a living, presumably up to his knees in nightsoil, and who fathers three kids is someone you can imagine having a beer with. (If he performed any miracles while in Japan, there’s been no mention of them.)

Oklahoma: Still Stupid

Dr. Steve, our mole in the deep red states, looks around after the election and sighs.

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Every county in Oklahoma went for Romney. We live in the reddest state. And the dumbest.

40% think the earth is 10000 years old. Or so. Of course Obama is a Muslim. Our dumb senator, Inhofe, went to Missouri to campaign for Mr Eakin. Our smart senator, Tom Coburn MD, did not.

The most important issue here in Oklahoma was abortion. It should have been baptism. The Mormons used to believe–or still do–that the dead they baptized as Mormons had the right to refuse. Fundamental right to be baptized–or not – dead or alive.

Sandy has nothing to do with global warming. It has everything to do with the rumblings of the holocaust souls wanting to know what the fuck do we do now that we are Mormons? And no one knows how to unbaptize.

George Bush is still lying. He is so pissed that he was nowhere to be seen at the Republican convention, and he voted for Obama on purpose.

Notes on Goats, etc.

Three Billy Goat Math

At a high school in rural Minnesota, a group of boys let three goats loose
inside the school. But before releasing them, they painted numbers on the
sides of the goats: 1, 2, and 4.

Then they got a whole day off school as the administration conducted an
exhaustive search for No. 3.

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God Help Kentucky

Speaking of clever bumpkins, Kentucky has hit on a money saving scheme to combat terrorism. The state’s homeland security law stipulates that public safety cannot be secured without God’s help.

Courts upheld the law on the basis that it did not promote a religion –which would violate church/state separation – but merely paid lip service to a belief.

Lucky Kentucky! God’s help is free, and nothing is cheaper than lip service.

Note to Kentuckians: If God were paying the least bit of attention, you wouldn’t be saddled with Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, and the dinosaur-riding cavemen in your creationist park would have been transformed into pillars of salt.

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Campaign Kitties Have Nine Lives

They’re not the richest people in New York state, but deceased or disgraced public officials are doing pretty well. By state law, a politician who goes to jail or dies can still keep his or her campaign fund.

Yes you can take it with you.

One-time state senator Carl Kruger, in jail for corruption, used most of his campaign fund for his legal defense but still has $400,000 left. Three deceased Republican senators still have funds ranging from $30,000 to $100,000 ten years, seven years, and two years respectively after their deaths. Some of their money has been posthumously funneled to other Republican campaigns. And Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner, who resigned after sending naughty pictures of himself on Twitter, still has a $4 million campaign fund awaiting some future comeback.

A public interest group calculated a total of at least $10 million sitting in former campaign funds, but state legislators don’t seem to want to put the money to use for worthier purposes.

Possibly they want to hang onto to their own personal war chests even if the world gets wise to what they’ve been up to.

Notes on the Marginal

Tony Dennis of Leighton Buzzard, UK (honest) wrote to the London Review of Books to comment on an article in which Californian Hope Leman was entirely too nice to the Tea Party. Says Dennis:

“Viewed from here, the Tea Party shows a remarkable similarity to various political movements in interwar Europe:

“… a right-wing populist movement which uses radical slogans to conceal profoundly conservative core values, financed by big business, cheered on by right wing media, and drawing its support from the angry, the ignorant, the bigoted, and the borderline psychotic.

“But Hope Leman assures us that many of its members are intelligent, well-read people. So that’s all right.”

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Paul Krugman, in a Friday Times Op-Ed, heaping appropriate scorn on Mitt Romney’s “five point plan.”

“If describing what you want to see happen without providing any specific policies to get us there constitutes a “plan,” I can easily come up with a one-point plan that trumps Mr. Romney …

“Every American will have a good job with good wages. Also, a blissfully happy marriage. And a pony.”

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And now a word from Tom Friedman in Sunday’s Times.

The word is pro-life. No, not the bastardized way Republicans have been using it – the way it should be used, in Friedman’s dictionary (and ours):

“In my world, you don’t get to call yourself ‘pro-life’ and be against common-sense gun control – like banning public access to the kind of semiautomatic assault rifle used recently in a Colorado theater.

“You don’t get to call yourself ‘pro-life’ and want to shut down the EPA, which ensures clean air and clean water, prevents childhood asthma, preserves biodiversity, and combats climate change that could disrupt every life on the planet.

“You don’t get to call yourself ‘pro-life’ and oppose programs like Head Start that provide basic education, health and nutrition for the most disadvantaged children.

“You can call yourself a ‘pro-conception-to-birth, indifferent-to-life conservative.’”

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Discussing Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz’s new book, The Price of Inequality, Nicholas Kristof offered a few salient facts, from Stiglitz and others:

> “Our wealth has become so skewed that the top 1 percent possesses a greater collective worth than the entire bottom 90 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

> The six heirs of Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, own as much wealth as the bottom 100 million Americans.

> In 2010, an outrageous 93 percent of the total gain in national income went to the top 1 percent.

> In the 1950s, when we were a more egalitarian country, the U.S. enjoyed strong growth even though the top income tax rate in that decade was always more than 90 percent.

> A considerable portion of wealth today comes from the fat-cat version of welfare.

Mitt Romney, for example, became rich in private equity … which exists largely because of tax advantages for corporate debt that amount to a huge subsidy.”

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To which we would add the comment that such cavernous maldistribution of a nation’s wealth is typical of a monarchy or a dictatorship, not a democracy.