Culture war "dialogue" invades backyard!

japbeetles5.jpgWhile I hope the pornographic picture on the left will not get me in trouble with the net nannies or the blog rating system, I nonetheless felt obligated to upload it in the interest of science. It is an undeniable fact that my yard is being invaded by Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica), and the little buggers are rapidly reducing leaves to skeletons. So far, weeds and roses seem the most affected.

Actually, the whole thing makes me a little nostalgic, because when I was a small boy growing up in this area, Japanese beetles (which began their U.S. invasion right here in Philadelphia in the teens) were a huge problem, and a lot of effort was devoted to eradicating them. This was in the pre-Rachel Carson era, when DDT and other pesticides were believed to be a godsend. I don't know whether they were wiped out by chemical pesticides, the fact is that I have not seen a Japanese beetle since childhood, so seeing these little guys procreating brought back very fond memories. I remember thinking they were beautful and filling jars with them, and while I still think they are beautiful, I'm afraid I've gotten too old and stodgy and conservative to get turned on by bug-filled jars.

Now I just content myself looking at the pictures!

OTOH, I'm not sure whether it's a good thing to watch the leaves reduced to skeletons. Should I spray? Or should I pray?

I have no moral problem with using pesticides -- any more than I have with using herbicides. What I'd really like would be to have the Japanese beetles eat the poison ivy that grows in unwanted places, but they don't seem to touch the stuff. Nor do I, but Coco does, and I hate getting poison ivy, so I've been carefully spraying only the poison ivy with herbicides which I'm sure the environmentalists want banned.

bbgone2.jpg The picture to the left was taken one day after spraying, and it shows that the product (Brush-B-Gon) works, but slowly. To really eradicate poison ivy takes a lot of work, and it keeps coming back because in the fall the birds eat the poison ivy fruit, then redeposit seeds enveloped in natural plant fertilizer.

I absolutely hate poison ivy, OK? And I'm allowed to hate it, because, like the Japanese beetle, it's an invasive alien species.

While I'd love it if laws could be passed that would make poison ivy and Japanese beetles illegal, I think the laws would be ineffective, as I doubt the laws would make them vanish -- any more than they'd make guns or drugs vanish.

Using chemicals might be the only way to kill some of these backyard pests, but chemicals are becoming more and more controversial. Even if you're a conscienceless bastard like me, you never know when some busybody neighbor is going to claim you're poisoning them, and psychogenic illnesses abound. The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating piece on the subject, and the title pretty much says it all:

Grass Warfare

Is what you put on your lawn your own business? Growing local movements say using pesticides is a choice that affects the whole neighborhood. The battle over how 'green' your grass should be.

I love it! The battle against the bugs and the brush turns into a battle with the nosy neighbors.

Japanese beetles and poison ivy, while you might not be the usual filthy buggers and weeds-with-roots-in-hell suspects, welcome to the latest skirmish in middle America's Culture War!

In Wisconsin, the village of Whitefish Bay has become a microcosm of the new turf wars. Intent on switching the community over to an organic approach, a citizens' group is hanging tags on residents' doors urging them to lay off pesticides and posting "All Living Creatures Welcome" signs in their own yards.

"It's really dicey, and some people are receptive and some are hostile," says Sandy Hellman, age 37, a member of the Healthy Communities Project. "I look at it as the secondhand-smoke issue. Kids run back and forth between the yards and windows are open all the time."

The whole thing is a whiner's dream come true. Opportunities abound to pit neighbor against neighbor:
"I don't want those weeds -- that's the bottom line," says Gloria Tylicki, who has written Whitefish Bay town officials complaining about the organic results near her home. She hires a service to spray her lawn with herbicides three times a year, and doesn't like the trend of neighbors telling her what to do on her own property. "Can I not plant a certain flower because someone blocks away doesn't care for that?"
No, lady, you can't! Because, like, we're all in this together, and just as in the old days no bird fell to the ground without God noticing it, now evry living thing -- whether loved, hated, planted or eradicated -- is a proper subject for community involvement!

According to the communitarian view, you're either part of the problem, or part of the solution:

Elsewhere, similar battle lines are being drawn. This spring, 7-foot billboards were erected on the platforms of New York area railroads depicting a young father standing on the lawn of his home, cradling his young daughter. The caption: "I've got one great reason not to use chemicals on my lawn." The ad campaign was part of a larger pesticide reduction program being pushed by the Grassroots Environmental Education organization, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based nonprofit.

Fundamentally, "going organic" simply means getting grass and soil healthy enough to crowd out weeds without pesticides, the umbrella term for chemical substances that destroy unwanted pests or weeds. (A herbicide is a pesticide targeting plants; an insecticide kills insects.) Pesticide opponents say homeowners unwittingly bring the toxics into homes via shoe soles and pet feet, tracking it into carpets where kids play. They also worry about runoff into streams, rivers and groundwater -- and into their own yards.

I'm more worried about poison ivy being tracked in and spread to me, but then, I'm a documented sociopath.

Increasingly, the righteous communitarians are turning to the government -- especially on behalf of "the children":

Just last month, Connecticut extended a ban on lawn pesticides through the eighth grade. Currently at least 20 U.S. towns have pesticide-free parks and several hundred school districts have laws or policies designed to minimize kids' exposure to pesticides.

Such actions unnerve homeowners such as John Schmaltz in Cromwell, Conn., who fears private property could be next. He sees a hypocritical undercurrent to organic lawn enthusiasts' pleas. "People put on deodorant, perfume and cosmetics, and who's to say about those?"

I'm glad you asked that question, Mr. Schmaltz!

Just this week, a woman filed a lawsuit demanding that the federal government order the City of Detriot to ban perfumes and other cosmetics in the workplace:

An employee in the Detroit planning department filed a federal lawsuit against the city Tuesday, alleging her co-worker's strong perfume has made it impossible for her to do her job.

City planner Susan McBride filed her complaint under the Americans with Disabilities Act, saying she is severely sensitive to perfumes and other cosmetics.

McBride alleges the city should accommodate her disability by prohibiting people from wearing perfume in the workplace.

City spokesman Matt Allen declined to comment, saying the city does not normally comment on litigation or personnel issues.

McBride, who joined the planning department in 2000, alleges problems started in July 2006 when an unnamed co-worker transferred into her department.

"This employee not only wore a strong scent, but also plugged in a scented room deodorizer," the complaint alleges. "Ms. McBride was overcome by the smell almost instantly, causing her to go home sick."

The co-worker later agreed to do without her room deodorizer, but not without her perfume, the complaint alleges.

McBride alleges she has since missed significant time from work, has required medical treatment, and has had to suspend fertility treatments because of other medications she has to take. She is seeking unspecified damages and a court order forcing Detroit to accommodate her disability.

I'd wager that if she got her way, the next thing that would happen is that she'd develop a psychogenic reaction to ordinary underarm deodorant, and demand that she be surrounded only by sweaty, smelly coworkers. With any luck, some other employee could claim to be allergic to underarm odor, and the Culture War could turn into a battle of competing allergies!

Similarly, I guess a neighbor could be sued for having poison ivy (which is invasive, and spreads), or in the alternative for using pesticides to get rid of it.

Truly, this is a job for The Social People.

Back to the backyard Culture War. People are being encouraged to be scolds -- especially "playing the kid card":

Given homeowners' passions, things can get tense. Philip Dickey runs the Washington Toxics Coalition, a Seattle-based environmental health organization, and estimates his group has distributed nearly 5,000 Pesticide Free Zone signs with ladybugs on them. To get a sign, homeowners must promise to speak with at least three people about organic care. On the coalition's Web site are talking tips, including playing the kid card (they often run barefoot on grass) and avoiding a "holier-than-thou attitude."
But at least one individualist sociopath has struck back:
Still, not-in-my-backyard brawls do surface, Mr. Dickey says. "I got a photograph back from a guy who put up a pesticide-free sign and his neighbor then put up a sign that said Hazardous Material Storage. There is no dialogue going on there." Nor in Harvard, Ill., where Andrew Cook showed his neighbor a note from his wife's doctor explaining she was highly sensitive to pesticides. No dice, his neighbor refused to change her lawn-care regimen. Mr. Cook then aimed one of the ladybug signs squarely at her house. "You can only lead a horse to water," he says.
No dialogue? Wait a second!

It might not be pleasant dialogue, but dialogue it is. The neighbor communicated how he feels with a sarcastic sign, and in a manner quite calculated to make his views abundantly clear. Why is that not dialogue? What is he supposed to do? Knock on the neighbor's door and explain patiently that he does not believe that his pesticide use does any harm, and that he intends to exercise his right to use it? Outline the legal doctrine that a man's home is his castle? I don't know how the word "dialogue" is being defined here, but I was always taught that disagreement is not only a form of dialogue, but that being allowed to disagree is essential to having any dialogue at all.

I'm wondering whether "dialogue" is increasingly being confused with being browbeaten into agreement and doing what you're told.

I think the man's willingness to speak his mind is admirable, and the country needs more of it. Most neighbors in his position would never have put up a sign. Instead, they'd have said absolutely nothing, and furtively applied the pesticides when no one was watching.

I probably shouldn't have called the man a "sociopath," even jokingly, because what a real sociopath would do would be to simply put up the organic signs while spraying the hell out of his yards for pesticides anyway, then laugh at the clueless idiots he'd conned into believing he had engaged in "meaningful dialogue."

For now, I'm such a wimp that I'm allowing the Japanese beetles to screw in my yard without any interference from me. Hell, I might even find some appropriate music to play for them the next time I see them in the act lovemaking.

It may sound anthropomorphic, but I'll bet my Japanese beetles would love to hear "The Ballad of John and Yoko"!

Clearly, there's no escape from the Culture War.

posted by Eric on 07.08.07 at 12:41 PM


-Nice beetle pic.

-I don't think they have poison ivy in Wisconsin. Easy for them to be sanctimonious about not killing weeds.

-...I was always taught that disagreement is not only a form of dialogue, but that being allowed to disagree is essential to having any dialogue at all. Yes, this is the point that so many people miss. Indeed many people treat disagreements as personal attacks. It's easy to avoid such people in your personal life but not so easy to avoid them if they're your neighbors.

Jonathan   ·  July 8, 2007 1:55 PM

I am a 69 year hyper-sensitive to poison ivey. As a child spent much time bed-ridden with the stuff. Can walk near it and get infected without contact. About 20 years ago a nurse introduced me to a product: Technu. No uncontrolled out break since. Use after exposure even after out break. Theses folks also make a green version that does nothing. Get the original and follow label directions.

Dudley Williams   ·  July 8, 2007 4:28 PM

Wasn't it Dot Parker who said "You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think"?

For Poison Oak and Ivy, I've been using RoundUp on the foam setting. If you get decent cover on the leaves, you can actually see it dying over a relatively rapid period. Give it a couple of days, then put on long sleeves, gloves and duct tape around the wrists. When you are done with the pulling and bagging, hop right in the shower and use a hard soap like Lava.

Truly, I preferred it when I just drank unpasteurized goat milk, for the goat's immunities seemed to transfer very well. Unfortunately goat-keeping does not go over so well in suburbia.

Uncle Pinky   ·  July 8, 2007 10:27 PM

You can lead a horticulture, but you can't lead an animal husbandry.

Anyway, one thing to remember when dealing with poison ivy. Don't burn any of it. The irritant is a volatile oil, and it carries in the smoke.

triticale   ·  July 9, 2007 10:45 AM

You are correct regarding the use of the term "dialogue" in this context: When used in this manner ("There's no dialogue here!") it means "They aren't complying with our beliefs!"

You will note similar usage wherever self-righteous folk take up a crusade against...well, pretty much anything.

Mat Larson   ·  July 10, 2007 7:58 PM

meds pet odo >pet meds to

pet i meds   ·  July 12, 2007 3:26 AM

meds pet odo >pet meds to

pet i meds   ·  July 12, 2007 3:26 AM

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