Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Daisy Ownership

Among the victims of this year's freeze were our bush daisies (Euryops pectinatus), which were about 2 years old and not exactly what you'd call robust anymore. They did fine in their first summer, with yellow flowers popping out non-stop, and living in dry part of the yard that had proven deadly to other plants. But then something happened--I'm sure it was my fault. Maybe I trimmed them when I shouldn't have (maybe they shouldn't be trimmed at all?).

Anyway, the frost did them in and this weekend I planted several new bush daisies in the yard. The big ones were about $10 each, so I have some incentive to capture some daisy seeds this year and grow some on my own. It's easy to do, and fun, and coincidentally is one of the oldest human activities--the gathering of seed. If I had done this before, I could have saved over $100 and would be planting my own bush daisies this year.

The plant nursery could care less if I gather the seeds, but suppose they wanted to find a way to make sure that I bought my daisies whenever I needed them. Thanks to the US Supreme Court, the nursery could just genetically modify the bush daisy seed, apply for a patent, and then they could sue me if I collected their seeds from the daisies that I bought. This is exactly what Monsanto has done with soybeans and other seeds. They now own most of the soybean seeds used in the world, and they aggressively sue farmers who attempt to gather and clean seeds from their own plants.

We also planted some clarendendrons (Clerodendrum quadriloculare), also known as shooting star, by the front door steps. These also were about $10 each and were in the process of blooming, though I'm not sure if they will have enough sun to continue blooming in that spot. These can be propogated more easily from the soft wood cuttings (instead of from seed).

I could tell Cheryl about the daisy seeds and she would roll her eyes, sure that I would never actually grow my own daisies, even to make a point about the evil corporations that are attempting (in their master plan) to own all lifeforms on earth. Well, I'll show them who they are messing with. I'm growing some daisies--BIG TIME...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Irish Republican

I was really surprised how many people speak the Irish language in Ireland. It's now a mandatory subject in the schools. You hear it on television, on the streets, and it's apparently growing in use.

To be Irish is to wear your cultural identity in full view, bigger than life (like a Kennedy), and after a week there we got a better sense of it--of people just wanting to have a laugh and a little fun. Part of the identity is wrapped up in centuries of tradition, of Gaelic roots and pre-Christian roots and thousands of years in a place that can be a very isolated, cold and rainy place to live.

But who knows what will happen there, politically? (Or here, for that matter...) Our cab driver in Dublin didn't mince words. He said that he and his sons were "all Republicans, if you know what I mean", then winked at me in the mirror. "No," he went on, "not like Republicans in the states. No. Far from that, I can assure ya." I think I know what he meant.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

O'Coileain Pub

Cheryl and I got back to Florida last night after a very long day, starting at 4:30 am in Adare, Ireland, driving through the night rain and into a crazy set of detours through Limerick, signs and blinking light pointing left and right, clockwise twisting roundabouts filled with early morning beer trucks, until the driving seemed very much like some surreal and twisted video game, playing at the highest level of difficulty now, heading toward the ultimate goal: the rental car return at the airport, which I fully expected to be surrounded by fire-belching leprechauns, cow-tossing catapults and rocket-propelled grenades.

And then we made it, though of course the rental car guy hadn't made it to work yet. So we waited in darkness as the clock ticked and Cheryl got a little animated. Finally we made inside the airport only to go through no fewer than 5 security checkpoints, bags x-rayed twice, then we were both body frisked, tickled, cavity-probed, dog-sniffed and all the rest. I was so glad to be out from behind the wheel that they could have stripped me naked and stuffed me with cheese and I wouldn't have complained.

And now, after a few days, I have mellowed out and am purging the less pleasant memeories of the trip from my memory. Here's our favorite pub, O'Coileain (translates to Collin's). It was a fun time.

Monday, March 22, 2010


We've reached the last leg of our trip: in Adare for 2 days, then back home. Tonight we had a nice dinner of fish and chips at a neighborhood pub here, my first meal in a couple days because of a stomach flu, which also has kept me in bed half the time, less of a concern now that we're here in Adare, a perfect place to just take it easy.

Our pub has a nice dining area on one side. The bar portion was filled with a collection of local old dudes telling stories and laughing, one of whom was celebrating his birthday, and another who noticed that I needed the waiter and who made sure I got some attention. Outside tonight the wind is incredibly cold, and this collection of pubs up and down the street now makes more sense--if you're walking home, you need a few warm stops along the ways just to keep from freezing, and it helps if each place makes you feel welcome, as tonight, when the waitress brought Cheryl and me some birthday cake.

So it was a little discouraging when an American burst into the pub and demanded, in a loud voice, to know if the table for 10 that he'd reserved was ready. Probably I wouldn't have noticed his attitude back in the states, but after a week here his voice cut like a knife. There's really no such thing as a typical American, but I'm guessing that the loud-mouth a-holes are more memorable than the rest of us.

Here's a video of our drive yesterday.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ring of Kerry

Our trip has taken us down around the southern coast of Ireland, through Wichlow, Enniscorthy, Waterford, Cork, Kinsale, Macroom and finally to Killarney, where the frigid rain, which is of so little consequence to the Irish that we now simply walk along in it as if it were natural to do so, fell Thursday until 5:45 pm, when we were to enter O'Connell's pub, order a Guinness, and wait for the red-bearded man to appear, though of course he never did, so we had a nice chowder and some fish-and-chips, and another Guinness.

Then today we took the Ring of Kerry road, stopping to see a few castles but mostly staring in awe at the scenery, very much like our favorite parts of Scotland, so much that it is hard to resist a comparison, especially when today turned out to be such a perfect day, with sunny skies and a chilly wind and the smell of the ocean close by. But the road are narrow and twisty, and the locals don't like to drive behind rubber-necking Americans who drift occasionally onto the wrong (or right) side of the road. (I, however, have done this only 2 or 3 times.)

We got back just with the sunset.

Coincidentally a big scandal is brewing here with the Catholic Archbishop, who apparently looked the other way years ago when a priest had molested some young boys. The pope has written a letter, and Ireland is focused on the story, which is playing out on the radio and on televisions in the pubs. I'm hoping Bingo is not in the middle of this somehow...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Assignment Ireland

A call came late Tuesday night, another secret and special assignment for Bingo, and soon we were on our way to Ireland, told only to seek out a man with a red beard and green hat and walking stick, standing near the entrance to Trinity College, and he would tell us the rest. An odd sort of disguise, we both thought, until we realized that today is St. Patrick's day--in Dublin--with about 150,000 people (it's the national holiday) crammed in to see the parade.

As it turned out, there were men in green hats and red beards in countless variations. We can only assume that Bingo saw him because he gave us a sign to let him go into the crowd. I panned the video around but he was already gone.

Cheryl and I are are on own while Bingo saves the world (or helps do it in). The plan is to meet up with him in Shannon next week.

The parade ended at 2 pm, and within minutes every pub in the city was overflowing out into the street, laughing, singing Irish songs. We walked and walked but the crowds never thinned out. Young boys in T-shirts and girls in short skirts, like you might see at any any mall in Florida, only it's about 48 degrees with a wicked wind.

At the Trinity library we saw the Book of Kells, probably the most famous illustrated manuscript in the world. No crowds there. We're back in our room by 8 pm. It's seems the party is going on without us.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Art of Compromise

I had a nice talk with President Obama on the phone last night. We've both been busy lately, so it was nice to catch up on things.

For months he begged me to step in and resolve the health-care legislation, but in the end we both just stepped back to watch it all play out--like watching a glass of milk tip off the edge of the table and smash to pieces on the floor--and predictably Congress has come up with a compromise that no one likes very much, except that it may be better than nothing at all.

Compromise is complicated. In our house, Cheryl and I sometimes cannot come to an agreement over simple things--like paint color. But we try one color after another until we find the one we both can live with. And we always look for that certain something that we both really like, however infrequently it may happen. For instance, we were in Minnesota once, eating at a restaurant by Lake Superior (way up north). As we drove away, she mentioned a painting on the wall, which surprised me because I was just then thinking about that painting. We were so amazed to be in agreement that we immediately decided to get it.

But legislation is like cooking a meal. If I want soup for dinner but Cheryl wants salad, do we put it all in a blender and mix it all up? No, we have salad.

Years ago, when I first started playing in bands, I spent hours and hours listening to John Mayall's piano recordings, and I still remember the day I realized that I, too, could play the blues. Maybe not very well, but that didn't matter--John Mayall was not very good, and he was making records. In fact, he still is making records. This one is from the old days.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Hendrix in the Sky

I found a quirky video on YouTube this morning, kids walking in the woods, coming onto a clearing where they dance and play with old guitars until nightfall and they fall asleep and dream (I've had that dream) and the sky turns into a big concert arena where Jimi Hendrix plays in bursting constellations of light.

It's present day, but Jimi is alive. Just for a moment. Cool.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Food For the Future

I just finished watching the movie Food, Inc, which is nominated for an Academy Award tomorrow night. While several movies have addressed the theme in the past, what's surprising about this movie is the ending.

Everyone knows that corporations took over the farms decades ago and turned them into factories--that's old news. We know that animals are treated very badly in this system, very badly, so badly that no one ever sees, or wants to see, or is allowed to see pictures from these places. We know that farmers are subsidized to grow corn and soybeans, so that everything is now made of corn and soybeans. We know that cattle evolved to eat grass (very few animals do this), but now they are fed corn, even though it makes them sick, because the corporate model puts the cows into little square lots of manure, where no grass will grow.

We know that the corporate model has created a culture of fast food--because people want cheap, fast food--and now people are increasingly obese and sick.

But it's a free country. And some people might be surprised to learn that the movie does not endorse some radical left-wing notions of socialism and government control. It does not paint a picture of corporate machines that need to be dismantled. No, Food Inc. makes some very sensible conclusions. The giant food corporations, for example, are not evil. These companies:
  • exist to make profits
  • will aggressively promote their products
  • will attack when threatened
  • will adapt to market changes
Sensible, especially the final point. Corporations cannot be trusted to plan for the future, but they will adapt.

Recently, organic foods are on the rise--people want them, so big corporations are getting into organics in a big way. Eventually, the optimist will say, the corporate model will change so that cattle can eat grass again and farmers can farm, really farm, with rotating crops, natural fertilizers, and with subsidies for complying with this new organic corporate model.

A good book to read is Omnivore's Dilemma, also is a sensible look at food. In fact, the book's author appears in the film.