spacebawl (the blog)

We thought about it. Now you have to read it.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sixty-six percent: a water story.

[This post is part of Blog Action Day's "Blog for the Environment" campaign.]

Earlier this week, a construction crew working on a main thoroughfare in Daytona Beach broke open a water main, resulting in the city issuing the standard "boil water" notice. Luckily I live one town south, so my home water wasn't affected. I do, however, work in the greater Daytona area, and we couldn't use our water fountains, get some fountain drinks or coffee, and were generally advised to avoid ingesting any tap water without boiling it for at least three minutes beforehand. It wasn't a big deal for me since I usually only use tap water to make hot tea and I rarely drink sodas, fountain or otherwise.

The boil water alert was active for nearly two days, a bit longer than usual. I was better prepared the next day and brought a container of water from home. When I entered our little "dining" area, where the microwave, coffee maker, etc. are located, I encountered another employee fumbling with the coffee maker and seeming rather more agitated than usual; he's normally quite calm and low-key. Turns out, he was desperately trying to figure out how to work the coffee maker (using bottled water), because he couldn't buy his usual cup of coffee (made with tap water) anywhere on campus.

At first I was surprised that this man, an adult with a family and clearly a coffee drinker, didn't seem to have a clue how to operate a relatively simple household appliance. I then pondered why he didn't just bring coffee from home or from a coffee shop near where he lived, as his city wasn't subject to the boil water alert either.

And then I had another thought, one somewhat more troubling: if the guy was this helpless at the threat of facing a day without his morning coffee due to a temporary, barely inconvenient water restriction, how would he be able to handle the long-term water shortages of the future?

It's been said that future wars will be fought not over oil, or land, or religion, or race, but over water. And in fact, military uses and abuses of water supplies are hardly new phenomenons; they go back millennia. The human body can survive about a month - possibly more - without food, but only about a week without water, so it makes sense from a military perspective to cut off or poison an enemy's water supply to encourage a quicker surrender. But what can civilization expect to face when we're fighting not so much for control of an abundant, safe supply of water, but rather over the last few drops of drinkable water that remain at all?

Tragedies have occurred when water is forced to do something outside the scope of its natural design. Consider the Johnstown flood, the Teton Dam collapse, and the New Orleans levee failures. It also seems frighteningly clear that our ever-advancing technology doesn't seem to hold water, as it were, such as in the case of the cryptosporidium outbreak in Milwaukee in 1993. Water is an incredibly powerful force that does not always react as desired when humans challenge its authority.

Residents of the developed world tend to view water as a "free" resource. True, most of us pay a monthly water bill, but we generally feel that grants us access to as much or as little water as we need or want. And seriously, when something flows as freely as water (no pun intended), we're far more likely to use more than less. Imagine, instead, if we were sent a bill every single time we turned on a faucet in our homes. Just the thought of tracking and paying all those bills might give us pause to reflect on the fact that fresh, clean water is a vital resource and a limited one at that.

Water is, without a doubt, one of the most useful and essential resources to which we are lucky enough to have access. It's a refreshment, a cleaning component, an energy generator, a food provider, a hobby, an employer, a focus of meditation. The sound of rushing, flowing, trickling water is a music all its own and soothes the souls of animal and man. Perhaps this is because our own bodies are 66% water, roughly the same percentage as water is to the surface of the Earth. Is it any wonder, then, that water is so essential to our very existence, and is it any wonder that the more the Earth's water becomes undrinkable and inaccessible, the more we suffer? It's often easy for thoughtless people to suggest that if someone doesn't want to drown, they should move away from flood-prone areas. But when you consider all that water does for our bodies, minds, and spirits, not to mention that throughout history, it has usually been advantageous for wandering peoples to settle near water bodies and for civilizations to prosper near them, "just moving away" isn't exactly a viable option.

The amount of water we waste is incredible. We leave our water running when we wash our hands, shave, brush our teeth. We take long soothing showers. We think nothing of throwing old ice cubes down the drain instead of onto our lawns or plants. We drink from water fountains which are so poorly designed that most of the water doesn't even enter our mouths. I've seen people throw nearly full bottles of water into a trash can because they thought the water "went bad" after sitting in a hot car for a few days, and I've seen people who let their automatic sprinklers run in a rainstorm. Should we really be shocked, then, when we learn that Atlanta has a three-month supply of water, and Lake Okeechobee's water level reached record lows earlier this year?

Our industrialized, production-oriented society, coupled with consumer demand, is just as guilty. For example, it takes 39,090 gallons of water to build a car, 1,851 gallons to process a barrel of crude oil, and 28,100 gallons to process one ton of cane sugar into white, refined sugar. So many of our modern conveniences simply could not be produced without water. And so far, no one has been able to manufacture water.

In essence, while we haven't yet achieved man-made water, we certainly aren't lacking in man-made water crises.

But back to the story that started these musings. The water restriction was lifted after two days, my co-worker got his coffee, and all was once again right with the world, at least for the time being. But someday, it may take longer for a water restriction to be lifted. And there may even come a day when the restriction is permanent, when there is so little water available that it's reserved for the highest bidder, or it's so badly tainted as to be unusable. What will soothe, support, sustain us then?

Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Metro Atlanta's need for water: three months from a mudhole Milwaukee learned its water lesson, but many other cities haven't
Environmental Protection Agency. Water trivia facts
National Geographic News. New Orleans flooded in wake of Hurricane Katrina
Pacific Institute. Water conflict chronology
South Florida Sun-Sentinel. New federal plan would keep Lake O's water levels lower than normal
Teton Dam Project

[Crossposted to Daily Kos.]

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Stupidest email yet from Tom Feeney (R-FL-Abramoff)

While I certainly don't enjoy hearing from Tom Feeney in any medium, the sad fact is, he's my Congressman and I need to keep track of what he's up to. I've been subscribed to his email list for a couple years, and when I see his name in my inbox, can always count on being amused, annoyed, disgusted, angered, confused, or some combination of those emotions. Not to mention, he's been known to make factual errors and misrepresentations in these emails (shocking, I know), and I've even been compelled to write back to him with corrections on a couple of occasions. The most recent one was earlier this year when ol' Tom perpetuated the childish misnomer "Democrat Party." I gently informed him that the correct phrase is "Democratic Party" and suggested he have his staff more carefully proofread these emails before they get sent, because otherwise his constituents just might think he's ignorant.

Tom regularly rails against teh ileegul imagrintsOHN0EZ!@@!! and is proud of his anti-SCHIP vote. But this week's email really took the cake. My first reaction on seeing the subject line was, "The hell?" as it made no sense to me whatsoever. Anyway, here it is in all its glory, for your own WTF?ing pleasure:

Member of Congress
24th District, Florida

Financial Services Committee
Judiciary Committee
Science Committee

Congress of the United States
House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

October 11, 2007

Contact: Pepper Pennington

Capitol Architect No Longer Censors Architect of the Universe

(Oviedo, FL) - U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Oviedo) was pleased that the Architect of the Capitol, Mr. Stephen T. Ayers is now allowing "God" on flag certificates. Earlier this week, Rep. Feeney expressed his frustration with reports that flag certificates using the word "God" were being censored by the Architect of the Capitol. Mr. Ayers had reportedly informed several congressional offices that the use of the word “God” violates the Architect’s rules prohibiting religious references on flag certificates.

"I'm pleased that the Architect of the Capitol is no longer censoring the Architect of the Universe. Fortunately, he responded to congressional pressure and public outcry and decided that 'God' may now be used in flag certificates.

"I was outraged earlier this week to learn that Americans are censored because they want to fly a flag over the Capitol and express their faith or even say something as simple as 'for the love of God, family, and Country.'

"I want to thank my colleagues for joining me to sign a letter to Speaker Pelosi that reminds the Architect of his authority and the scope of his office. The Capitol contains many religious symbols and now Speaker Pelosi needs to condemn the censorship," said Feeney.

Rep. Feeney's office offers a flag service to constituents. This is a very popular service where Central Floridians can purchase flags to be flown over the United States Capitol. The flags are also accompanied by certificates from the office of the Architect of the Capitol that details the date and the occasion that the flag was flown.

Rep. Feeney signed a letter to Speaker Pelosi asking for an immediate review of the authority under which the Architect is making these rules, as well as the reversal of this policy which censors our citizens’ right to expressions of their faith.

When I first read that subject line prior to opening his email, all that came to mind was Masters of the Universe. Now, I freely confess to never being a particular fan of the MOTU franchise, but I do at least know He-Man, She-Ra, and Skeletor. But which one was the Architect, and what powers did he possess? Could he speed-read blueprints? Mix thousands of tons of concrete with his bare hands? Keep the nation's infrastructure from collapsing? (That last one certainly would come in handy these days!)

Then I realized, of course, that Tom was talking about God. What a buzzkill, especially after momentarily thinking our crumbling infrastructure would be mysteriously repaired overnight, with the only clue as to whom accomplished this monumental task being "AotU" scrawled into the cement before it dried. (He couldn't have used just "AU," of course, lest the credit mistakenly be ascribed to Americans United.)

It never hurts to remind everyone that Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has listed Feeney among its most corrupt Congressmen since practically the day he took office. I'm still supporting Clint Curtis for FL-24, and there's now a DCCC-recruited challenger, former FL state Representative Suzanne Kosmas.

I look forward to one of these candidates winning FL-24 in 2008 and thus relieving me of further WTF? email moments, as least as far as Tom Feeney is concerned. I get too many of those moments without his help.

Race tracker wiki: FL-24

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