Today’s ChatGPT question: General Tso’s chicken

Is General Tso’s chicken “real” Chinese food?

General Tso’s chicken is a popular dish in Chinese-American cuisine, but it is not a traditional Chinese dish. It was most likely created by Chinese-American chefs and is not commonly found in China. The dish is named after General Tso Tsung-t’ang, a Qing dynasty military leader, but there is no historical record of him having any connection to the dish.

Chinese-American cuisine is a style of cooking that has developed in the United States by Chinese immigrants and their descendants. It often combines elements of traditional Chinese cooking with ingredients and cooking techniques that are more familiar to Western palates. As a result, many dishes found in Chinese-American restaurants are adapted versions of traditional Chinese dishes or are completely unique to Chinese-American cuisine.

When I lived in Chicago I had a friend, first-generation Chinese-American, who would take me to Chinese restaurants in that city where you had to know Chinese to order off the menu because none of the waitstaff spoke enough English to translate for you.

The food was familiar in the sense that it contained ingredients which most American customers of a good Chinese supermarket might recognize, but they weren’t Americanized in the sense that the dishes contained fish heads and other animal parts you’d never find in the kind of fast-food Chinese place with which so many Americans are familiar.

The food was delicious, even when what it contained was a mystery to me much of the time because my friend Hao would say, “You don’t want to know” to many of my questions about ingredients.

I should point out that I’m talking about domestic livestock or fresh fish animal parts, not cat or dog or any of the other meats that bigoted Americans joke about when it comes to Chinese food.

So “real” Chinese food is quite delicious, but it’s not General Tso’s Chicken.

Although I did ask about ChatGPT about that dish because, more often than not, that is what I will order when I get fast-food Chinese takeout.

General Tso’s chicken in one of its infinite varieties.

“This is what it looks like when Twitter falls apart”

Caroline Mimbs Nyce, writer at The Atlantic, has an interesting Q&A up with David Karpf, a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University and a notable Twitter user.

The article is titled, “This Is What It Looks Like When Twitter Falls Apart (Elon Musk hasn’t finished his drama yet)”:

Caroline Mimbs Nyce: If Twitter becomes a parable of the modern internet, what do you think the moral takeaway will be? “Don’t let billionaires buy up giant social-media websites”?

David Karpf: There is a deeply baked ideology of the internet going back to the ’90s, a sort of West Coast ideal that engineers and entrepreneurs, particularly around Silicon Valley, are the modern heroes of society. They are innovating and building a better world. They’re the good guys. The bad guys are the old industries and the regulators who get in the way.

And these innovator-inventor heroes are the ones who are paving the way to a new and better world, because they’re such incredible geniuses. But the hero has to overcome resistance, and what we should do is cheer for him because of his genius and his brilliance. And 10 years ago, Elon Musk was the archetype of that story. He was really treated as the guy who is going to kind of save the world, between his electric cars and his rockets.

There’s a lot of problems with that story. But the most basic problem is that it’s utter horseshit. And what I hope comes out of this episode is that this becomes a cautionary tale that these people aren’t genius heroes. Turns out that Elon Musk is really bad at running Twitter, because he isn’t that special.

I hope that the cautionary tale of Twitter is to stop putting your faith in the mythology of the founder geniuses, because they ain’t that special. That’s not what’s going to save the world.

Nyce: What do you think the future of Twitter is right now?

Karpf: One of the things to keep in mind is just how fast Twitter’s devolution is happening. This is, what, maybe week seven of Elon owning Twitter?

I thought that one to three months in, very little would have changed. And then he went in and trashed the place immediately in a way that has seemed surprisingly sloppy.

If this had been spread out over the course of a year, then people would have had time to migrate to competitors and figure out what’s what. And I still think that’s going to happen. But right now, we’re kind of in this moment of, like, My God, how has Twitter not fallen completely apart, both technically and also on the community level? I’m pretty sure this is actually what falling apart looks like; it’s just happening so fast that people don’t really have a place to migrate to.

Right now people are looking around, saying, “I guess I’ll start with a Mastodon account?” Competitors need more time than they’re being given, because nobody really expected him to set the place on fire as fast as he has.

Karpf (whom I follow on Twitter) always has a lot to say in ways that makes sense to me. He has been especially on-target and eloquent on why Elon Musk is not a genius now and never has been, and why it’s taken so long for everyone else to catch up that reality.

Incidentally, the New Yorker also has an interesting piece up about Musk. You can read it here.

White House sticks it to that right-wing congresswoman who cried about the Respect for Marriage Act

It is a sad fact that progressive presidents will almost never get the respect they deserve because progressive reporters — most journalists in the MSM, I believe — are too worried about being accused of favoritism toward the home team.

So they will nearly always, unless forced to do so by circumstances, prop up bad right-wing arguments while downplaying progressive accomplishments. It’s how reporters prove their “I’m balanced” bona fides.

One of the things that Biden and his crew are better at than Clinton and Obama’s people ever were — and don’t get enough credit for — is in winning the war of perceptions. Biden and his people are not afraid of making the GOP look as foolish as it tends to be.

Or, as Brian Tyler Cohen notes on Twitter:

This is amazing: President Biden invited the gay nephew of the Republican Congresswoman who cried over marriage equality to the White House to watch him sign marriage equality into law.

Indeed, it is amazing.

Gay Republican who won NY congressional seat appears to be a giant fake

The 2022 congressional mid-terms race in New York’s 3rd Congressional District was billed as the first U.S. House general election to feature two gay men — one a Republican, one a Democrat.

The Republican, George Santos, won in a bit of an upset that saw Republicans in NY state make notable gains that helped the GOP take control of the lower chamber of Congress.

The problem is that much of Santos’ biography now appears to be fake:

George Santos, whose election to Congress on Long Island last month helped Republicans clinch a narrow majority in the House of Representatives, built his candidacy on the notion that he was the “full embodiment of the American dream” and was running to safeguard it for others.

His campaign biography amplified his storybook journey: He is the son of Brazilian immigrants, and the first openly gay Republican to win a House seat as a non-incumbent. By his account, he catapulted himself from a New York City public college to become a “seasoned Wall Street financier and investor” with a family-owned real estate portfolio of 13 properties and an animal rescue charity that saved more than 2,500 dogs and cats.

But a New York Times review of public documents and court filings from the United States and Brazil, as well as various attempts to verify claims that Mr. Santos, 34, made on the campaign trail, calls into question key parts of the résumé that he sold to voters.

Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, the marquee Wall Street firms on Mr. Santos’s campaign biography, told The Times they had no record of his ever working there. Officials at Baruch College, which Mr. Santos has said he graduated from in 2010, could find no record of anyone matching his name and date of birth graduating that year.

There was also little evidence that his animal rescue group, Friends of Pets United, was, as Mr. Santos claimed, a tax-exempt organization: The Internal Revenue Service could locate no record of a registered charity with that name.

His financial disclosure forms suggest a life of some wealth. He lent his campaign more than $700,000 during the midterm election, has donated thousands of dollars to other candidates in the last two years and reported a $750,000 salary and over $1 million in dividends from his company, the Devolder Organization.

Yet the firm, which has no public website or LinkedIn page, is something of a mystery. On a campaign website, Mr. Santos once described Devolder as his “family’s firm” that managed $80 million in assets. On his congressional financial disclosure, he described it as a capital introduction consulting company, a type of boutique firm that serves as a liaison between investment funds and deep-pocketed investors. But Mr. Santos’s disclosures did not reveal any clients, an omission three election law experts said could be problematic if such clients exist.

And while Mr. Santos has described a family fortune in real estate, he has not disclosed, nor could The Times find, records of his properties.

The defeated gay Democrat, on the other hand, has an admirable and easily verifiable CV:

Zimmerman received a bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University and a master’s in business administration for Fordham University. In 1988, Zimmerman co-founded a marketing communications company. He served on the John F. Kennedy Center’s Presidential Commission on the Arts and the National Council on the Humanities, nominated by Presidents Bill Clinton (D) and Barack Obama (D), respectively. As of 2022, Zimmerman was a Democratic National Committee member.

Was nobody in the Zimmerman campaign doing research on his opponent?

Or, for that matter, did nobody in the mainstream press bother to do even the most cursory check of the candidates?

Weird. So, so weird.

How naming the James Webb telescope ignored important history around LGBT issues

The New York Times’ Michael Powell is described on that newspaper’s web site as “a national reporter covering issues around free speech and expression, and stories capturing intellectual and campus debate.”

But if you follow Powell’s writing closely, it’s clear through his choice of topics that his sympathies lie with those who think “wokeism” has run amuck, even as he buffers his personal biases in the anodyne language many mainstream media reporters use to seem as if they are neutral when they are not.

Powell clearly thinks that undergraduates and grad students at, say, Sarah Lawrence or Yale Law School being inflexible in their beliefs — inflexibility in personal crusades being a hallmark, for many, of being university students — are a greater threat to free speech than Elon Musk pushing a fascist agenda on Twitter. This is a hallmark of a different kind, that being the tendency of well-to-do white guys at the New York Times to see every bit of pushback against their beliefs and history as a threat to civil society.

Powell has piece up today that has great personal interest for me as a gay man who’s experience all manner of discrimination:

NASA’s decision to name its deep-space telescope after James E. Webb, who led the space agency to the cusp of the 1969 moon landing. This man, they insisted, was a homophobe who oversaw a purge of gay employees.

Hakeem Oluseyi, who is now the president of the National Society of Black Physicists, was sympathetic to these critics. Then he delved into archives and talked to historians and wrote a carefully sourced essay in Medium in 2021 that laid out his surprising findings.

“I can say conclusively,” Dr. Oluseyi wrote, “that there is zero evidence that Webb is guilty of the allegations against him.”

That, he figured, would be that. He was wrong.

The struggle over the naming of the world’s most powerful space telescope has grown yet more contentious and bitter. In November, NASA sought to douse this fire. Its chief historian, Brian Odom, issued an 89-page report that echoed Dr. Oluseyi’s research and concluded the accusations against Mr. Webb were misplaced.

NASA acknowledged that the federal government at that time “shamefully promoted” discrimination against gay employees. But Mr. Odom concluded: “No available evidence directly links Webb to any actions or follow-up related to the firing of individuals for their sexual orientation.”

Critics called the NASA report “selective historical reading.” And they reframed their argument, saying that Mr. Webb should be held responsible for any anti-gay activity at NASA and at the State Department, where he had previously been a high-ranking official.

In a blog written with three fellow scientists, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a cosmologist at the University of New Hampshire with a low six-figure Twitter following, said that it was highly likely that Mr. Webb “knew exactly what was happening with security at his own agency during the height of the Cold War,” adding, “We are deeply concerned by the implication that managers are not responsible for homophobia.”

This controversy cuts to the core of who is worthy to memorialize and how past human accomplishment should be balanced with modern standards of social justice. And it echoes a heated debate among historians over presentism, which is the tendency to use the moral lens of today to interpret past eras and people.

The entire way this is worded suggests, once again, that Powell agrees with those who think that Webb should not be judge by the standards of today for those things he did back when homosexuality was considered a mental illness.

But this is the same argument that some white racists have used to argue against the tearing down of Confederate statues, namely that we ought not judge former slaveholders by the standards of today when owning slaves was normal during a time when blacks were considered sub-human.

This is ridiculous, of course.

It does appear that there have been homophobic words and intent that were, early in this controversy, unfairly attributed to James Webb. Many of those errors have been corrected, though sometimes not refuted in as public a way as were the original accusations against him.

But Webb did at least acquiesce when the “Lavender Scare” was in full-swing, and gay and lesbian NASA employees were being forced from their jobs and careers and committing suicide.

That fact might be mitigated with the argument that Webb was a product of his time. But not by much. They were still being forced out of jobs by accusations that had nothing to do with their abilities as scientists and administrators. And just as with slaveholders vs. abolitionists, there were many people in the time of the Lavender Scare who were able to come to the fully rational conclusion that firing gay people because they were gay was immoral and unnecessary.

Some of those people were likely uncomfortable with the subject of homosexuality. But they also knew that what someone did in their private romantic life had no bearing on their ability to do physics. Yet James Webb, an educated man, went along with the mob.

Which begs the question: Why choose Webb at all? There are so many other deserving people for whom that telescope could have been named, some of them women and people of color. And none of those people have Webb’s baggage, all of which was brought to the attention of NASA administrators at a time when changing the name of the project would have been easier.

The reason it wasn’t changed is because the Old Boy network had decided to honor one of its own, and they were not going to let some inconvenient history, nor noisy activists, alter their decision.

Because that is the way the Old Boys Network operates. And trying to dress that up in arguments about free speech tells us all we need to know about Michael Powell and the people who argue that we should stick with the name James Webb.

The ABCs of SBF and FTX

If you’re like most people, trying to understand cryptocurrencies, blockchains, bitcoins, and the like is likely to give you a headache.

One of the basic tenets of the entire crypto scam is to make the entire thing as opaque as possible, thereby ensuring that you can snare as many marks — excuse me, “investors” — as you can with important and wise-sounding gobbledygook.

This has been the modus operandi of Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF), the self-styled king of crypto who was so good at dishing important-sounding bullshit that he managed to snare “Smartest Guys In The Room” venture capitalists — Ivy League grads, many of them — into investing gladly and knowingly in his scams.

Fortunately, Professor Jennifer Taub, Esq., has one of the best bullet-pointed explanations I’ve seen of what’s happening with SBF, FTX, Alameda Research, etc. — and what will likely happen to SBFin the future:

  • A Hedge Fund Is Born: In October 2017, SBF, then a 25-year-old MIT grad, and his friend Gary Wang founded a hedge fund called Alameda Research LLC, with SBF owning 90 percent and Wang the remainder. Organized under Delaware law, it operated in the U.S., the Bahamas, and Hong Kong.
  • Hedge Fund Control and Funding: SBF was the CEO of Alameda from its founding until October 2021, when his friends Caroline Ellison and Sam Trabucco became co-CEOs. Then in August 2022, Ellison became Alameda’s sole CEO. Despite the title change, even after October 2021, SBF “remained the ultimate decision maker in Alameda” and “directed investment and operational decisions, frequently communicated with Alameda employees, and had full access to Alameda’s records and databases.”
  • Borrowed Money, Volatile Assets at Alameda: Alameda borrowed to invest in crypto assets. Don’t worry about what the hell a crypto asset is. Just pretend it’s some highly volatile asset you’ve read about before, like Dutch tulips in the 1630s or ostrich feathers in the early 20th century, or toxic mortgage-linked securities in the early 21st century.
  • A Sibling Corporation Is Born: In May 2019, SBF, Wang, and Nishad Singh started a new business with SBF as the majority owner. This business let customers trade crypto assets with each other. Organized in Antigua and Barbuda as a limited corporation, it did business as FTX.com or FTX.
  • FTX Control and Investors: From the time of FTX’s birth until SBF resigned as its head in November of 2022, SBF was the “ultimate decision-maker” at FTX. To fund this trading platform, SBF raised more than $1.8 billion from investors who purchased an equity stake in the corporation.
  • Risky Business at FTX: Customers of FTX could trade crypto assets (think tulips, ostrich plumes, and crappy investments) for fiat currency (meaning legal tender, such as dollars). They could also engage in still riskier transactions involving lots of borrowed money.
  • Allegations by SEC: The SEC alleges that between 2019 and 2022, SBF defrauded the FTX investors (at the same time, he was defrauding the customers). Specifically, for years, he had been diverting FTX customer funds for his use and to support Alameda. The SEC detailed that SBF used customer assets to purchase luxury real estate, make venture investments, and to fund significant political donations. The SEC said he lied to prospective investors in FTX when he claimed that sophisticated systems protected customer assets and that Alameda was not given any special treatment. The SEC said he “provided Alameda with significant special treatment on the FTX platform, including virtually unlimited ‘line of credit’ funded by the platform’s customers.”
  • More Investor Fraud After the Crypto Crash: In May 2022, when crypto assets began to plummet, Alameda faced repayment demands from lenders. So, on top of the money SBF siphoned from FTX customer accounts, he allegedly “directed FTX to divert billions more in customer assets to Alameda to ensure that Alameda maintained its lending relationships and that money could continue to flow in from lenders and other investors.” It was only in November 2022 that this “brazen, multi-year scheme finally came to an end when FTX, Alameda, and their tangled web of affiliated entities filed for bankruptcy.”

It contains explanations for some things I did not know already.

Jennifer Taub is the author of Big Dirty Money: The Shocking Injustice and Unseen Cost of White Collar Crime (Viking), is a professor at the Western New England University School of Law and the host of the new podcast Booked Up With Jen Taub. Follow Jennifer on Twitter @jentaub

They’re coming for divorces next

One of the greatest things to happen for women in Western democracies was the ability of women to leave marriages at will. The ability to more easily divorce men who abused them gave women a power they never had before.

It’s no secret that many Republican conservatives have long felt that the ability of women to easily divorce men is one of the greatest catastrophes to befall Western civilization.

So it should come as no surprise that many high-profile Republicans are also saying that now is the time to work toward abolishing no-fault divorce laws:

Following the Supreme Court’s elimination of the federal right to abortion in June, conservatives have taken aim at other fundamental protections, such as same-sex marriage and access to contraception. But some on the right are resurfacing a different, long-simmering project: stigmatizing divorce, including, in some instances, attacking no-fault divorce laws.

No-fault divorce in the U.S. was first adopted in California in 1969, and New York was the last state in the country to pass a no-fault divorce law, which it did in 2010. Although state laws differ, in general no-fault divorce means that one party can successfully dissolve a marriage without needing to first prove wrongdoing by the other partner – including adultery, abuse, or desertion.

Ohio Republican Senate nominee J.D. Vance praised the idea of staying in violent marriages in remarks to high school students in southern California last September. Vance argued “all of us should be honest” about how “making it easier for people to shift spouses like they change their underwear” by leaving marriages that were “maybe even violent” had negative effects on the children, according to Vice, which first reported the comments.

Although Vance’s comments were made before the overturning of Roe v. Wade, they’ve taken on a new salience amid a conservative movement that sees formerly out-of-reach goals as newly attainable. And Vance has lots of company in right-wing media.

Reactionary YouTuber Tim Pool recently discussed no-fault divorce laws on his show, titling the clipped segment: “No-Fault Divorce Has DESTROYED Men’s Confidence In Marriage, Men Don’t Want To Get Married Anymore.” The discussion focused on how no-fault divorce laws were to blame for what the panel perceived to be a rise in prenuptial agreements, which segued into a meandering discussion lamenting divorce in general.

“The courts are heavily biased in favor of women to an insane degree, especially with children,” Pool said, parroting a cliche often espoused by so-called men’s rights activists, an anti-feminist movement that claims men are structurally disadvantaged in divorce proceedings and family court. (Although it is true that women are generally granted sole custody more frequently than men, the reasons for that are complicated and have to do with men historically having higher incomes and sexist ideas about mothers being natural caregivers.)

Crazy. They really do want to turn the tables back to the time when (to paraphrase Pat Schroeder) “men were men, women were children, and children were 14-hour-a-day chimney sweeps.”

Elon is not that complicated; he’s like Trump in every way

Eric Levitz, senior writer for Intelligencer feature at New York Magazine, has a well-written piece up that examines the question: Is Elon a conservative or a liberal or somewhere in-between?

Leivitz points out that this is a settled question:

Elon Musk believes that a “woke mind virus” has infected the body politic. He thinks that COVID containment policies were “fascist,” that the New York Times is a “lobbying firm for far left politicians,” that trans people asking others to use their preferred pronouns is “neither good nor kind,” and that Anthony Fauci should be prosecuted. He encouraged his followers to vote Republican in this year’s midterms and has endorsed Ron DeSantis for president in 2024.

Yet he “continues to defy easy political categorization.” Or so the New York Times reports.

The paper published this assessment in a “news analysis” (a fancy name for a tendentious opinion piece that lacks any normative content) by Jeremy Peters. Headlined “Critics Say Musk Has Revealed Himself As a Conservative. It’s Not So Simple,” the piece seems to exist primarily to defend the honor of a previous Peters dispatch; last April, the reporter declared that Musk’s politics were “elusive” and did not “fit neatly into this country’s binary, left-right political framework.” It may seem like this take has aged as poorly as Tesla’s stock over the past nine months. But in reality, Peters reports, he is actually still right.

Peters is not alone in characterizing Musk as “a bundle of contradictions and inconsistencies” whose politics are “tricky to pin down.” Several other reporters have puzzled over Musk’s apparent transformation from politically taciturn Obama donor to compulsive sharer of cringe-inducing conservative memes. Musk himself maintains that his politics are “neither conventionally right nor left.”

Nevertheless, neither Musk’s political trajectory nor his present orientation seem all that difficult to comprehend or categorize. Musk is not only an identifiable political type but a familiar one. In many respects, he is a conservative in the mold of Donald Trump.

Levitz goes on to point out that, just as with Donald Trump, Elon Musk leans politically based on what makes him money, what helps him to keep more of his money, and what stances most allow him to get back at those who dare to cross him:

But one’s politics are rarely determined by material interests alone. And Trump and Musk are not merely businessmen who desire public subsidies, low taxes, and docile workers. They are also, by all appearances, thin-skinned narcissists with insatiable appetites for attention and public adoration.

Here, I admit, I’m veering into the inherently speculative terrain of long-distance psychology. Yet it seems uncontroversial to say that both Musk and Trump harbor grandiose conceptions of their personal significance (the former openly styles himself as the human species’ would-be savior, the latter as the greatest president in American history), suffer from compulsive and often self-destructive social-media addictions, and do not take kindly to perceived slights. Now, if you are a white male billionaire with a taste for womanizing and longing for plaudits on social media, then you’re bound to experience social-justice politics as a problem. In its emphasis on the unearned advantages that accrue to individuals with Trump’s and Musk’s phenotypes and class backgrounds, and its broader insistence on the centrality of luck to success in the marketplace, contemporary liberalism is an unfavorable ideology for rich white businessmen who wish for their net worth to be read as gauges of their brilliance and social value.

It’s unclear exactly why Trump made the transition from nonpartisan reactionary libertine to conservative demagogue during the early Obama years. But there’s reason to think he was radicalized in the same way that many other graying boomers were; namely, by offsetting the heightened social isolation of old age with compulsive spectatorship of Fox News. In any event, once Trump developed an interest in joining a community of cable-news obsessives — and specifically, one in which he would be recognized as a great businessman and commentator — he could only find what he was looking for on the right. Given the mogul’s inveterate political incorrectness, and his serial business failures, he was never going to enjoy a fawning reception in blue America. The right, on the other hand, does not demand propriety from its pundits or genuine business acumen from its star entrepreneurs (since mainstream media documentation of the latter’s failures can be summarily dismissed).

In short, Trump found that he could give the conservative base what it wanted (e.g., racist conspiracy theories about Barack Obama) and that it could give him what he wanted (unqualified admiration). This led Trump to spend more and more time in the right-wing-media ecosystem. And as he did, he came to share its preoccupations, resentments, and truth claims.

A similar process seems to have sped Musk’s path to conservatism. Granted, the billionaire’s rightward turn can be partly ascribed to contingent events. The pandemic heightened the contradictions between Musk’s business interests and liberal governance. Tesla’s CEO was an adamant opponent of COVID containment policies, who predicted in March 2020 that there would be “close to zero new cases in US too by end of April.” He therefore did not take kindly to California’s relatively heavy-handed approach to the pandemic, which involved shutting down production at Tesla’s factory in Fremont. Musk derided these policies as “fascist” and threatened to relocate his company to Texas to escape them.

Of course, any compulsive Twitter user who took this point of view in 2020 was liable to earn applause from the right and jeers from the left. And over the ensuing two years, Musk found himself attracting slights from liberals on several other fronts.

In August 2021, the Biden administration convened a summit on electric vehicles and declined to send Tesla an invitation. At a tech conference the following month, Musk complained that Biden “didn’t mention Tesla once and praised GM and Ford for leading the EV revolution. Does that sound maybe a little biased?” before adding, “Not the friendliest administration, seems to be controlled by unions.” Shortly thereafter, Warren published her call for hiking Musk’s income taxes, so that he would stop “freeloading off everyone else.”

It’s an enjoyable, informative piece.

Elon Musk with a bad hair day
There is never not a good reason to run this Bad Hair Day photo of Elon Musk.

One neighborhood dispute about a lawn changed state laws about natural plantings in yards

Fascinating story in the New York Times about a Maryland couple, the Crouches, who decided to stop using pesticides on their yard, and start planting and nurturing naturally occurring plants that encourage a thriving bird and insect ecosystem.

This pissed off a nosy neighbor, who decided to start a campaign against them because he wanted them to plant a turf lawn instead. He even got the neighborhood association involved, and that association started threatening the Crouches with court action if they did not remove the indigenous plants and replace them with a conventional turf grass lawn:

For the Crouches, giving in was not an option. They hired a lawyer and contacted every wildlife and environmental group they could think of, along with local legislators. After a year and a half, still at an impasse with the homeowner association and fearful that one day they’d come home to find their garden mowed down, they filed a complaint in Howard County Circuit Court. A chief claim was that in 2011 they’d been told there was no issue with their gardens, and also that before 2017, they’d received no violations for their yard despite regular inspections.

“The overall principles are bigger than us,” Mrs. Crouch said. “We had an opportunity and even an obligation to see it through as best we could.”

Two months after the Crouches filed their complaint, a Maryland state representative asked if they would allow their case to form the basis of a new environmental law.

Maryland has contended with devastating floods — among them the 2018 submersion of Ellicott City — and mounting concerns about pesticide runoff to Chesapeake Bay. A bill was drafted that forbade homeowner associations from banning pollinator plants or rain gardens, or from requiring property owners to plant turf grass.

Dozens of states have passed legislation to promote the health of pollinators, which include bees, wasps, bats and butterflies, while some have curbed the authority of homeowner association edicts during droughts.

But the Maryland law was the first in the country to limit homeowner association control over eco-friendly yards, said Mary Catherine Cochran, former legislative director for Maryland State Delegate Terri L. Hill, a Democrat who co-sponsored the legislation. The measure gained bipartisan support, passed with near unanimity, and became law in October 2021.

“It’s a really small effort in the face of the international work that needs to be done,” said Dr. Hill, a physician. “But it’s nice that individuals in the community are able to feel that they are empowered to make a difference.”

I live on a creek, and I do not use any chemicals on my lawn, nor do I plant anything on my property that requires insecticides or any extra water beyond what plants get as rainfall.

But I watch people on my street — whose property also abuts this creek and its adjoining woods — as they dump tons of chemicals on their manicured lawns.

I don’t say anything because, well, it’s not my job to antagonize neighbors about what they do with private property. But I do wish more of them would stop with the lawns and ornamental bushes and go natural.