It's so simple to be wise.  Just think of something stupid to say, and then don't say it.     Sam Levenson (1911-1980)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Absurdity in Equal Measures

By now it's common knowledge.  When a newer oleh (immigrant to Israel) has had an especially trying experience in some government office, or been yelled at on the street for some previously-unremarkable social infraction, or suffering from sweaty hair and overheated body syndrome, we all know what happens next.  The new oleh comes home fuming and ranting.
In [insert name of Old Country here] we know better; or 

No one ever treated me like that in [the Old Country]; or

I can't believe this country!  They are so [fill in the blank: old fashioned /stupid / obnoxious / rude].
After being here for awhile, we become so much smarter.  We learn to accept that:
a.)  Hey, a lot of things are different here.  They just are.  (We even learn to like it).

b.)  There exists Absurdity in Equal Measures, all over the world.  Even in the Old Country.
Let's begin by directing our attention to a local dilemma.  Apparently, the Minhal MiKarka'ay Yisrael (Israel Land Administration) is on the brink of bringing a "deviant usage charge" upon those living in kibbutzim and moshavim, who are so bold as to have installed a solar energy collector on the roof (I'm still searching for an English-language reference;  meanwhile, check here for a Hebrew one).  That, by the way, includes almost everyone in Israel who lives in a house. Never mind that solar power is the new black, and that the government will soon offer financial incentives to those who sell their solar-acquired electricity back to the grid. Never mind that there is a government initiative in the works, to cover local bodies of water with solar panels.  Hey, Minhal, you gonna charge us for that, too?

So here we sit, facing a energy crisis of unknown proportions while immersed in the muck of our own bureaucratic wackiness.  Yet we in Israel would be wise to follow the tragi-comedy playing itself out in Southern California over the issue of artificial lawns. According to the L.A. Times, it seems that Jean Orban of Garden Grove, CA, thought she was doing the smart and responsible thing by replacing her thirsty lawn with artificial turf.

Alas, Garden Grove doesn’t share Orban’s affection for her fake lawn. As she soon discovered, the city bans artificial turf. Although the city has yet to take any action against her, others who installed the lawns said they were warned that they will be fined.

And that regulation puts the city at odds with the Orange County Municipal Water District, which offers rebates to those who install faux grass.

So instead of receiving her expected rebate, Ms. Orban was refused the money and found herself at odds with a 1992 city law "banning simulated greenery."  At first glance, this looks like a no-brainer:  

Less grass = less water usage = benefits for the individual and the world.  

Apparently it's not so cut-and-dry (no pun intended).  The LA Times article was followed by a myriad of letters, op-ed pieces and, of course, blog posts, expounding the many reasons why artificial turf is no instant ecological freebie.  Patt Morrison's column, excerpted below, is among my favorites:
Cities are already miserable hot spots. Every inch that we pave over, even with plastic grass, creates a patch of unnatural heat. The virtue of a grass lawn -- however thirsty -- is that it is a living system that helps the land keep its cool. It also allows what rain we do get to make its way into the soil, and the water table, not into the storm drains... when the air temperature hits 80 degrees, it can be 160 or 170 degrees on the turf. Even when it's only 50 degrees out, direct sun can heat fake grass to 150 degrees. Sounds like you might as well tell your kids to go outside and play on a griddle.
This heat trap effect, she goes on to explain, might end up costing you more energy and money in increased A/C demands on your now-overheating house.  And then there's that awkward question of what to do in ten or twenty years when the lawn needs replacing and becomes just another (exceptionally large) piece of plastic weighing down the landfill.

Balancing out this opinion is that of a home-improvement blog by Kathy Price-Robinson, who writes,
...on the plus side, the material is made from recycled plastic and held in place by recycled tire "crumbs." A two-stroke engine, the kind in lawn mowers, creates significantly more pollution than a car (since there is no catalytic converter), so with synthetic turf, that carbon load is eliminated.
You're not alone if you now have no idea which side to take in the artificial turf wars.  In the same light, I would like to remain open-minded and assume that our Minhal is not just in it for the money... but sometimes, I fear, an absurdity is just an absurdity.

Keep the balance,


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