Saturday, April 30, 2011

America is not a godless nation

...despite the ravings of the wild ayatollahs.

"Strange Tastes," runs the headline of an article in the religion section of this morning's Burlington Times-News.
    Since time unremembered, God is whomever animals are sacrificed to.
    I was in the kitchen when my wife gasped from the dining room.
    "What?" I said.
    "Something disgusting."
    "Donald Trump in the news again?"
    "Worse than that."
    "Muslim terrorists?"
    She read me the caption from the photo: "Chef prepares Rocky Mountain Oysters for deep-frying in advance of festival held Thursday."

Men used to sacrifice animals to God. The Jews still do. At least, in Israel. Jews here, having feasted long in a heathen nation, have given it up.
    And Arab Muslims, of course, sacrifice humans to their God.

Theologian Paul Tillich said that God was "our ultimate concern."
    Okay. In America, where the ultimate concern of most is to feed their trivial tastes, those tastes have become God.
    America remains devoutly religious.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Feeding animals to the masses

Do you think that the factory-farming of animals mentioned in my post on Friday helps to feed the additional 3.2 billion people on the planet since the first Earth Day?
    Tragically not.
Consider the environment and the food crisis: there is no ethical difference between eating meat and throwing vast quantities of food in the trash, since the animals we eat can only turn a small fraction of the food that is fed to them into meat calories—it takes six to twenty-six calories fed to an animal to produce just one calorie of animal flesh. The vast majority of what we grow in the United States is fed to animals—that is land and food that we could use to feed humans or preserve wilderness—and the same thing is happening all over the world, with devastating consequences. [Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals, pp. 210-211]
    Note that the animals in question were bred, artificially inseminated, heavily injected with antibiotics (dangerous for public health), and speedily fattened only to be slaughtered for people to eat; it's not as though we'd start feeding people plants at the animals' expense.
The UN special envoy on food called it a "crime against humanity" to funnel 100 million tons of grain and corn to ethanol while almost a billion people are starving. So what kind of crime is animal agriculture, which uses 756 million tons of grain and corn per year, much more than enough to adequately feed the 1.4 billion humans who are living in dire poverty? [emphasis mine, Foer, p. 211]
    It's unfortunate that such arguments are used to excuse an ever-growing human population; such use ignores the destructive effects of humans on the environment as their standard of living approaches that of the United States and Western Europe.

If everyone consumed like an American
The typical person in the top 5 percent of the Indian population makes the same as or less than the typical person in the bottom 5 percent of the American population. That’s right: America’s poorest are, on average, richer than India’s richest—extravagant Mumbai mansions notwithstanding. [from the January 28 New York Times Book Review, "Thy Neighbor’s Wealth," Catherine Rampell's review of The Haves and the Have-Not: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality, by Branko Milanovic]
[April 29. Because that comparison between the rich of India and the poor of American was challenged as "preposterous" by a respected follower, I've consulted Milanovic's book. Rampell was summarizing "Vignette 2.2: How Unequal Is Today's World?," from Chapter 2. P. 116 presents a comparative graph of income data:



    Milanovic explains the graph:
We take the entire population of the United States and divide it into twenty income groups ranked by their household per capita income from the poorest to the the richest. Each group is called a ventile...Each contains 5 percent of the American population. We do the same "slicing" of all countries in the world. Each ventile will therefore "enter" with its own average income expressed in local currency. This income is converted into international (PPP) dollars of equal purchasing power so that in principle, with such a dollar, a person can buy the same amount of goods and services in India as in the United States or anywhere else in the world. This enables us to compare incomes worldwide.
    ...The poorest American ventile, as shown in the figure, is at the 68th percentile of the world income distribution...This means that the poorest Americans are better off than more than two-thirds of the world population....
    India, by contrast, is fairly poor, with its poorest ventile belonging to the 4th-poorest percentile in the world and the richest ventile only to the 68th. This last value shows that the richest people in India(as a group—admittedly a large one since it contains more than 50 million people) have the same per capita income as the poorest people (as a group) in the United States. [emphasis mine]...For sure, if we were to break national distributions into smaller units, not in ventiles of 5 percent each, but in percentiles (1 percent each), we would find some overlap. But the overlap is still tiny. In the case of India and the United States, only about 3 percent of the Indian population have incomes higher than the bottom (the very poorest) U.S. percentile. [pp. 116-118]
    Rampell should perhaps have avoided the phrase "typical person"; Milanovic doesn't use it. His writing on this complex topic seems wonderfully careful and clear.]

If everyone consumed like an American, continued
Emerging economies like those of China and India aspire to the living standards of the Western world as does the non-industrialized world in general. It is the combination of population increase in the developing world and unsustainable consumption levels in the developed world that poses a stark challenge to sustainability. [Wikipedia article on sustainability, section titled "Consumption—population, technology, resources"]
    China and India's combined population today is more than eight times that of the United States (2,554 million versus 311 million).
Today, animal products still account for only 16 percent of the Chinese diet, but farmed animals account for more than 50 percent of China's water consumption—and at a time when Chinese water shortages are already cause for global concern. [Foer, p. 262]
    The point is: the Chinese have only begun to eat animals. And...
Studies by the United Nations and the Pew Commission show conclusively that globally, farmed animals contribute more to climate change than transport. According to the UN, the livestock sector is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, around 40 percent more than the entire transport sector—cars, trucks, planes, trains, and ships—combined. Animal agriculture is responsible for 37 percent of anthropogenic methane, which offers twenty-three times the global warming potential (GWP) of CO2, as well as 65 percent of anthropogenic nitrous oxide, which provides a staggering 296 times the GWP of CO2. The most current data even quantifies the role of diet: omnivores contribute seven times the volume of greenhouse gases that vegans do. [Foer, p. 58]
Five planet Earths
    In the starkest general terms:
Consumption overpopulation, also known as overconsumption, is the name for the concept of unsustainability and imbalance in per capita energy consumption between different countries...The classic example of consumption overpopulation is the United States, which consumes more resources than practically any other country in the world. It emits 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide every 5.4 seconds, by far the highest in the world. For perspective, China [with over four times the population of the United States] emits the same amount of carbon dioxide every 9.2 seconds, Britain every 58 seconds, Canada every minute, Nigeria every 10.1 minutes and the Central African Republic every 31.6 hours. If every single person in the world consumed as much energy as an American, we would need five planets to be able to support all of them. India and China alone would take up one of these. [emphasis mine, Wikispaces article on consumption overpopulation]
Before someone points it out for me, I detect a problem with the final statement. China and India combined account for 37 percent of the world's current population. Wouldn't they take up 1.85 of the five planets? The author appears to have rounded the number down.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day comes 364/365ths too infrequently

Environmentalists felt so triumphant in 1970, the year of the first Earth Day. I had been with IBM for three years, and I was thrilled that the IBM Chairman had been featured in the press as lauding the designation of April 22 as Earth Day. I wrote a letter of gratitude to the Chairman, whom I remember as Frank Cary, but it couldn't have been before 1973. Must have been Thomas J. Watson, Jr.
    I may remember him as Frank Cary because I want to believe that whoever it was had already ingratiated himself to my wife by personally approving her taking a center piece floral arrangement from our table at an employee dinner in San Francisco. The ingratiation had been heightened by the fact that she had first asked a lower-level IBM manager if it would be okay to take the flowers, and he had been unwilling to say one way or the other. Mr. Cary didn't hesitate a millisecond. It was clear to my wife why he became the Chairman eventually.
    And my wife had impressed the hell out of me, marching right up to Frank Cary's table like that.
    I sort of think that we even got that first Earth Day off, but I can't remember for sure.

In 1970, the human population of the earth was "only" 3.7 billion.
    Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, still seemed to hope that mankind could achieve zero population growth.
    In 2009, however, when the human population was very near its current 6.9 billion, he said that "perhaps the most serious flaw in The Bomb was that it was much too optimistic about the future."
    Yes.
    He could had factory farming in mind, among the range of devastations that made him more pessimistic.

In Jonathan Franzen's April 18 reflections in The New Yorker, "Farther Away: 'Robinson Crusoe,' David Foster Wallace, and the island of solitude," Franzen describes an annual Chilean cattle-branding festival:
Of the hundred-plus cattle, at least ninety were malnourished, the majority of them so skeletal it seemed remarkable that they could even stand up. The herd had historically been a reserve source of protein, and the villagers still enjoyed the ritual of roping and branding, but couldn't they see what a sad travesty their ritual had become? [emphasis mine, p. 94]
(Note that the locals seemed to be enjoying it. The human tendency to perpetuate received sentiment, however irrational, will be the subject of a future post.)

My thought for today, as hopeless as it is, is that, if every day had been Earth Day since 1970, the human population of the earth might still be less than four billion and humans might no longer be eating the creatures with whom they share the planet and experience their brief, bittersweet life on it.
    Alas, Earth Day is just another empty gesture that people observe out of thoughtless habit, an empty sentiment.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Glorious April – Artistic Clematis

Original photo

Sponged

Sponged smudge stick

Smudge stick

Rough pastels

Poster edges

Palette knife

Paint daubs

Fresco

Film grain

Dry brush

Cutout

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Lincoln would have been ashamed

We've now talked a bit about some health and ethical issues surrounding eating animals. Jonathan Safran Foer's book, Eating Animals, touches on other issues as well, which I'll summarize in the next posts: public health (contaminating ground water with pig effluvium, for example, and creating super-bugs because of the huge amounts of antibiotics that are fed to factory animals and ingested by human carnivores), impact on global warming, and the economics of factory farming. ("The factory farm will come to an end because of its absurd economics someday. It is radically unsustainable. The earth will eventually shake off factory farming like a dog shakes off fleas; the only question is whether we will get shaken off along with it." [Foer, p. 264]

I can't swear that ethical issues won't come up again. In fact, today's thought, also from Foer, illustrates the animal ethics of Abraham Lincoln:
Historians tell a story about Abraham Lincoln, that while returning to Washington from Springfield, he forced his entire party to stop to help some small birds he saw in distress. When chided by the others, he responded, quite plainly, "I could not have slept to-night if I had left those poor creatures on the ground and not restored them to their mother." He did not make (though he might have) a case for the moral value of the birds, their worth to themselves or the ecosystem or God. Instead he observed, quite simply, that once those suffering birds came into his view, a moral burden had been assumed. He could not be himself if he walked away. Lincoln was a hugely inconsistent personality, and of course he ate birds far more often than he aided them. But presented with the suffering of a fellow creature, he responded.
    My own conscience is with Lincoln's, and his sort of appropriate shame was what I was referring to when I wrote Thursday (in an earlier draft) that "a vegetarian president would by counter-example remind most of us, when we are made to think about it, of what we are ashamed we do." [If we eat animals, it is certain that some or all of them are cruelly treated.]
    But I seem to have erred in assuming that others have a similar conscience. One reader even confessed to me, "Certainly I've been made to think about it, and I've had no feelings of shame whatsoever."

Friday, April 15, 2011

Yoineh Meir had more compassion than God

Isaac Bashevis Singer said that he was a vegetarian for the health of the chickens. In his short story "The Slaughterer" (published in The New Yorker on November, 25, 1967 and collected in one of The Library of America's volumes of Singer's short stories, 2004), the man passed over for the post of Kolomir's rabbi was, "so that he wouldn't be left without a source of earnings," appointed its ritual slaughterer.
When Yoineh Meir heard of this, he turned even paler than usual. He protested that slaughtering was not for him...The Trisk rabbi...wrote a letter to Yoineh Meir saying that man may not be more compassionate than the Almighty, the Source of all compassion....
    After the rabbi's letter, Yoineh Meir gave in....
    Barely three months had passed...but the time seemed to stretch endlessly. He felt as though he were immersed in blood and lymph. His ears were beset by the squawking of hens, the crowing of roosters, the gobbling of geese, the lowing of oxen, the mooing and bleating of calves and goats; wings fluttered, claws tapped on the floor. The bodies refused to know any justification or excuse—every body resisted in its own fashion, and seemed to argue with the Creator to its last breath.
    And Yoineh Meir's own mind raged with questions. Verily, in order to create the world, the Infinite One had had to shrink His light; there could be no free choice without pain. But since the beasts were not endowed with free choice, why should they have to suffer? Yoineh Meir watched, trembling, as the butchers chopped the cows with their axes and skinned them before they had heaved their last breath. The women plucked the feathers from the chickens while they were still alive....
    Yoineh Meir wanted to escape from the material world, but the material world pursued him. The smell of the slaughterhouse would not leave his nostrils....
    Yoineh Meir returned to his bed. All his life he had slept on a feather bed, under a feather quilt, resting his head on a pillow; now he was suddenly aware that he was lying on feathers and down plucked from fowl....
    Elul is the month of repentence...when man takes an accounting of his soul.
    But to a slaughterer Elul is quite another matter. A great many beasts are slaughtered for the New Year...everybody offers a sacrificial fowl...Each holiday brings its own slaughter. Millions of fowl and cattle now alive were doomed to be killed.
    Yoineh Meir no longer slept at night. If he dozed off, he was immediately beset by nightmares. Cows assumed human shape...Yoineh Meir would be slaughtering a calf, but it would turn into a girl. Her neck throbbed, and she pleaded to be saved. She ran to the study house and spattered the courtyard with her blood....
    In one of the nightmares, he heard a human voice come from a slaughtered goat....
    Since Yoineh Meir had begun to slaughter, his thoughts were obsessed with living creatures....    An unfamiliar love welled up in Yoineh Meir for all that crawls and flies, breeds and swarms....
    Yoineh Meir rocked back and forth in the dark. The rabbi may be right. Man cannot and must not have more compassion than the Master of the universe. Yet he, Yoineh Meir, was sick with pity. How could one pray for life for the coming year, or for a favorable writ in Heaven, when one was robbing others of the breath of life?....
    A week before the New Year, there was a rush of slaughtering. All day long, Yoineh Meir stood near the pit, slaughtering hens, rooster, geese, ducks. Women pushed, argued, tried to get to the slaughterer first. Others joked, laughed, bantered. Feathers flew, the yard was full of quacking, gabbling, the screaming of roosters. Now and then a fowl cried out like a human being....
    He stood there until sundown, and the pit became filled with blood....
    Yoineh Meir thought that he would be unable to sleep that night....
    Yoineh Meir shuddered and woke up...He put on his robe and went out....
    ..."Well, and what if the rabbi said so?" he spoke to himself. "And even if God Almighty had commanded, what of that? I'll do without rewards in the world to come!...." Yoineh Meir cried. "I have more compassion than God Almighty—more, more! He is a cruel God...." Yoineh Meir laughed, but tears ran down his cheeks in scalding drops....
    He...began to walk toward the river....
    He had opened a door to his brain, and madness flowed in, flooding everything....

For two days the butchers searched for him, but they did not find him. Then Zeinvel, who owned the watermill, arrived in town with the news that Yoineh Meir's body had turned up in the river by the dam....
    Because it was the holiday season and there was danger that Kolomir might remain without meat, the community hastily dispatched two messengers to bring a new slaughterer.[pp. 546-557]
For the health of the chickens, Yoineh Meir gave up more than Isaac Bashevis Singer did. But, with a new slaughterer quickly appointed, the chickens didn't derive any benefit, any more than factory-farmed animals do when you or I or the next individual becomes a vegan for ethical or health reasons. There'll still be KFC's, there'll still be McDonalds, there'll still be Chik-fil-A's.
    Could this be God's punishment for the few Yoineh Meirs of the world?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

No country for old men

And what might Harris's "cows being led to slaughter" be trying to escape from if they saw an opportunity?
Virtually all cows come to the same end: the final trip to the kill floor....
    One way or another, they are herded onto trucks or trains...A number of animals will die from the conditions or arrive at the slaughterhouse too sick to be considered fit for human consumption....
    At a typical slaughter facility, cattle are led through a chute into a knocking box—usually a large cylindrical hold through which the head pokes. The stun operator, or "knocker," presses a large pneumatic gun between the cow's eyes [like the Javier Bardem character did to his human victims in Ethan & Joel Coen's 2007 film]. A steel bolt shoots into the cow's skull and then retracts back into the gun, usually rendering the animal unconscious or causing death. Sometimes the bolt only grazes the animal, which either remains conscious or later wakes up as it is being "processed." The effectiveness of the knocking gun depends on its manufacture and maintenance [Anton Chigurh kept his in tip-top condition], and the skill of its application—a small hose leak or firing the gun before pressure sufficiently builds up again can reduce the force with which the bolt is released and leave animals grotesquely punctured but painfully conscious.
    The effectiveness of knocking is also reduced because some plant managers believe that animals can become "too dead" and therefore, because their hearts are not pumping, bleed out too slowly or insufficiently. (It's "important" for plants to have a quick bleed-out time for basic efficiency and because blood left in the meat promotes bacterial growth and reduces shelf life.)....
    No jokes here, and no turning away. Let's say what we mean: animals are bled, skinned, and dismembered while conscious. It happens all the time, and the industry and the government know it....
    In twelve seconds or less, the knocked cow—unconscious, semiconscious, fully conscious, or dead—moves down the line to arrive at the "shackler," who attaches a chain around one of the hind legs and hoists the animal into the air.
    From the shackler, the animal, now dangling from a leg, is mechanically moved to a "sticker," who cuts the carotid arteries and a jugular vein in the neck. The animal is again mechanically moved to a "bleed rail" and drained of blood for several minutes...If the animal is partially conscious or improperly cut, this can restrict the flow of blood, prolonging consciousness further. "They'd be blinking and stretching their necks from side to side, looking around, really frantic," explained one line worker.
    The cow should now be a carcass, which will move along the line to a "head skinner," which is exactly what it sounds like—a stop where the skin is peeled off the head of the animal. The percentage of cattle still conscious at this stage is low but not zero...Explains a worker familiar with such practices, "A lot of times the skinner finds out an animal is still conscious when he slices the side of its head and it starts kicking wildly. If that happens, or if a cow is already kicking when it arrives at their station, the skinners shove a knife into the back of its head to cut the spinal cord."
    This practice, it turns out, immobilizes the animal but does not render it insensible....[Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer, pp. 226-227, 229-230, 232-233]
I suspect that a vegetarian presidential candidate would have a harder time being elected than a homosexual. A gay president would positively remind many people of what they're relieved they are not. But a vegetarian would by counter-example remind almost all of us that we are not vegetarians, but participate by proxy in the cruel treatment of the animals we eat.
    I might not have been able to sleep last night if I'd realized when I turned out the light that this would be the post I'd write today. I awoke before four with the topic firmly in place and the unsettling sense that further sleep would be impossible.1
_______________
  1. I'm reminded of one English translation of Jean Paul Sartre's novel, La mort dans l'âme: Troubled Sleep. The literal translation of the French title is "death in the heart."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Who has the power to tell the story?

In his talk last night at Duke University (according to this morning's article in the Durham Herald-Sun), Salman Rushdie asked,
Who has power over the narrative? Who has the power to tell the story of our world and our lives?
    [Tyrants] will come after you and try to kill you [if you try to tell it another way than theirs].1
    I was powerfully reminded of a brief passage in Harris that I almost included in yesterday's excerpt:
...would it be ethical for cows being led to slaughter to defend themselves if they saw an opportunity—perhaps by stampeding their captors and breaking free? Would it be ethical for a fish to fight against the hook in light of the fisherman's justified desire to eat it? Having judged some consumption of animals to be ethically desirable (or at least ethically acceptable), we appear to rule out the possibility of warranted resistance on their parts.... [p. 211 of The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values]
Jonathan Safran Foer's graphic story2 of the miserable life and death of factory-farmed (and other) animals unable either to defend or speak for themselves makes Harris's hypothetical questions so real for me, I despair anew at our tyranny over the animals we eat.
_______________
  1. Rushdie's 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses, drew protests from Muslims in several countries. The "Supreme Leader" of Iran, Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini, issued a fatwā (death sentence) against him in February 1989.
  2. Eating Animals, 2009.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

For the health of the chickens

Isaac Bashevis Singer
One of our major political parties recently mailed me an issues survey. Among the items whose importance I was to rank for the 2012 presidential election was "civil and human rights." Sensitized by my reading of Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals, I wrote in the margin, "What about animal rights?"
    Isaac Bashevis Singer asked about them too. According to Foer, the Nobel Laureate Singer (for Literature, 1978)
argued that animal rights was the purest form of social-justice advocacy, because animals are the most vulnerable of all the downtrodden. He felt that mistreating animals was the epitome of the "might-makes-right" moral paradigm. We trade their most basic and important interests against fleeting human ones only because we can. [emphasis mine] Humans are unique, just not in ways that make animal pain irrelevant. Think about it: Do you eat chicken because you are familiar with the scientific literature on them and have decided that their suffering doesn't matter, or do you do it because it tastes good?
    Usually, ethical decision making means choosing between unavoidable and serious conflicts of interest. In this case, the conflicting interests are these: a human being's desire for a palate pleasure, and an animal's interest in not having her throat slit open. [pp. 213-214]
    Wikipedia says that Singer
often included vegetarian themes in his works. In his short story, The Slaughterer, he described the anguish of an appointed slaughterer trying to reconcile his compassion for animals with his job of killing them. He felt that the ingestion of meat was a denial of all ideals and all religions: "How can we speak of right and justice if we take an innocent creature and shed its blood?" When asked if he had become a vegetarian for health reasons, he replied: "I did it for the health of the chickens."
Sam Harris
When I returned to Sam Harris's latest book this morning (The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values), I checked its index for "animal rights." I didn't find an entry specifically for that, but I did find "animals, suffering of" and checked its references:
There are many species of animals that can suffer...The use of apes in medical research, the exposure of whales and dolphins to military sonar—these are real ethical dilemmas, with real suffering an issue...The ethical question—if one is actually concerned about human and animal well-being—is utterly straightforward. [p. 171]
    ...Leaving aside the fact that economic inequality allows many of us to profit from the drudgery of others, most of us pay others to raise and kill animals so that we can eat them. This arrangement works out rather badly for the animals. How much do these creatures actually suffer? How different is the happiest cow, pig, or chicken from those who languish on our factory farms1? We seem to have decided, all things considered, that it is proper that the well-being of certain species be entirely sacrificed to our own. We might be right about this. Or we might not. For many people, eating meat is simply an unhealthy source of fleeting pleasure. [emphasis mine; I would guess that Harris is a vegetarian—see below] It is very difficult to believe, therefore, that all of the suffering and death we impose on our fellow creatures is ethically defensible.... [pp. 210-211]
    I googled "sam harris vegetarian" and found that he appeared on Bill Maher's program on October 21, 2009, where he said:
As well as being an atheist, I'm also a vegetarian (aspiring vegan). Why is it that the vast majority of Christians eat meat and contribute to the destruction of "Gods creation"? I've harmed nothing, and since I experienced the revelation that is vegetarianism many years ago, I've completely avoided "meat" and tried to (politely) dissuade others from doing so [sic] as well.
    Harris put "meat" in quotation marks, I trust because he recognizes it as a euphemism for the particular animal that is being eaten (something with a face, as a friend commented recently).
_______________
  1. According to Foer, 99% of the meat consumed in the United States is factory-farmed, and because of its abundance and low price Americans are eating much, much more of it than ever. Factory farmers are in business for a profit. And their bought legislators are in the business of protecting the industry.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Return to 5th Street


I went back to Mebane's 5th Street about 2:30 this afternoon, with my Nikon. What a difference two days' time makes, and how different the light with the sun four hours earlier than evening. Neither the Dogwoods nor the Red Buds seemed so numerous today, especially the Red Buds, whose buds had already burst a week ago and so their blooms were nearer their end than the Dogwoods' were.
    Last week, the stately row of Red Buds near my Chapel Hill office cooled the eye and spirits with their darker-violet blooms. What will they say to me tomorrow?

Close-up of the tree shown to the right above
The yard in the next block going north
Across the street
And more Dogwoods beyond

Saturday, April 2, 2011

My heart leaps up at the greening and blooming of Nature

Ah, Spring! I'd long thought that Autumn was my favorite season, but this year Spring is affecting me fondly. My wife and I drove to the Mebane Public Library yesterday. The early evening sun lit the front yards along Fifth Street, their stunning display of dozens and dozens of fully blooming Dogwoods and Red Buds. (The two photos aren't mine, but they were identified on the web as having been taken in in North Carolina.)
    My heart this year gladdens at the barest hint of green returning to our wintering Bermuda grass:

    And the blooms, the blooms!






    (That's Siegfried in the distance.)