Monthly Archives: January 2012

How Likely Are Water Wars?

I am not the only person on the planet who worries about water shortages. I have been doing some reading online and there are many reports about the worldwide shortage of fresh water resources. Scientific American reports about it and CNN, and Web of Creation (which may not sound quite as good as the other two sources). Some places never had great reserves of fresh water, places that are obvious like deserts and interior areas of Africa which only have rain for a part of the year and may have droughts that last for several years. We know the American Southwest also is a desert or near desert climate and lacks fresh water resources. If an area is unpopulated the lack of fresh water is not a problem (nature adapts), but as we have spread into areas where fresh water is scarcer, which people have done all over the world, water supplies in these areas become more problematic. Redirecting rivers will no longer do it for us.
The lack of water can mean a lack of food for obvious reason. Crops do not grow without water. When populations try to grow food in low rain or snow environments they must irrigate. To irrigate one takes groundwater and exposes it on top of the earth. It will evaporate and fall again as precipitation, but perhaps not in the same area where it evaporated. It takes 1 ton of water to grow 1 ton of wheat, which makes wheat a water-costly food, says BBC News. Many other foods do not require as much water but do not have the appeal of wheat. We may find ourselves having to get used to things like soybeans. Of course meat is also a very water-costly food.
Irrigation, farming, and raising farm animals are also activities that increase the pollution of fresh water. Manufacturing waste pollutes water, or air and therefore water. Retrieving and using fossil fuels also pollutes water in all kinds of ways. Of course, polluted water cannot be used to quench thirst without negative outcomes, including death. Children are especially susceptible to diseases borne in polluted water, especially in poorer countries without water filtration systems and in low-water environments. There are dead water zones even in salt water off many of the coastlines of developed nations worldwide.
Scientists also say that global warming is having an effect on water reserves as snow packs, glaciers and ice caps dwindle in size. The Yellow River in China never used to run dry, then it ran dry for about 15 days a year, and now it is dry for over 200 days a year. It is not the only river that dries up for part of the year when it never did before.
The 10 worst cities in America in terms of available fresh water are not at all surprising. We could almost name them without a list. However, more and more people are moving to these areas. Some populations have grown as much as 20% in the last decade which creates a larger demand for water. They are, as named in an article by Yahoo Finance:
1.       Los Angeles – Major water supply, Colorado River Basin, Pop. 3,831,868
2.       Houston – Major water supply, Jasper Acquifer, 2 Lakes, Pop. 2,257,926
3.       Phoenix – Major water supply, Colorado River Basin, Pop. 1,593,659
4.       San Antonio – Major water supply – Groundwater – Pop. 1,373,668
5.       San Francisco Bay Area – Major water supply, Various, Lake Hetch Hetchy – Pop. Over 1.5m
6.       Fort Worth – Major water supply, Multiple – Pop. 727,577
7.       Las Vegas – Major water supply, Lake Mead/Colorado River – Pop. 567,000
8.       Tucson – Major water supply, Local ground water – Pop. 543,000
9.       Atlanta – Major water supply – Lake Lanier, Ga – Pop. 540,922
10.     Orlando – Major water supply, Floridan Aquifer – Pop. 235,860
There are spots around the world with water problems similar to these problems of United States cities or some areas with even more pressing needs for fresh water. Will those of us with plentiful supplies of fresh water be expected to share? Will companies privatize our water supplies and sell them to us for big bucks? Will water resources belong to public utilities which give people with plentiful water no choice about sharing water; water might essentially be sold down the grid like electricity. Will these water resources be distributed equally or go to the highest bidder? Will some of us take luxurious showers while others die of thirst? Oh, we already do this! Will we continue to develop wetlands out of existence although we know how much they contribute to a healthy water cycle? Will we need a Global Water Management Agency? How happy would privileged people be about this? Oh, the protests! Will we learn to control the weather so it will rain where and when we need it to? We can’t even desalinate the oceans because we have nowhere to put the brine that is produced as a side product.

How many years of fresh water remain on our beleaguered little planet? What things can we do now to tip the fresh water resources in our favor? Humans are the only species on earth which can manage our water resources. Will we actually do any of those things unless laws are passed to force greater respect for fresh water resources, which for economic reasons, seems unlikely? Perhaps we could all go live in low water areas and leave the great water zones pristine. Then we can all have our water piped in. Humans, for all our capacity to evaluate and recognize problems before they become crises, seem unable to react quickly to take steps to lessen the impact of these problems. It could be a fatal flaw.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett – Book

The effect of the story told in State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (who wrote Bel Canto) relies on the bizarre philosophies of the brilliant Dr. Annick Swenson who is truly “a piece of work”. If you read this book you will not believe this woman and you will not believe the affect she has on the people around her. She belongs in the jungle and that is where we find her (just go past Manaus, Brazil on the Negro River). Her arrogance and egoism are unparalleled and yet her brilliance buys her deference (or fear).  She is a “science diva” of the first water. In fact, we make our first acquaintance with her at the opera in Brazil, the perfect place to meet a diva.
Dr. Swenson has been working for Vogel Pharmaceuticals for a number of years all expenses paid, but has made few reports on her progress and has not communicated with the company manager, Mr. Fox in a very long time. Mr. Fox must answer to people and they want to know what their money is buying them.
First Mr. Fox sends Anders Eckman, one of the Vogel researchers, to get data on a new fertility drug that Dr. Swenson is supposedly developing. Then there are reports from South America that Anders is dead of a fever. He has a wife and three sons in Minnesota. There is no body for the grieving wife as proof of Anders’ death. She refuses to believe that he is dead.
Next Mr. Fox sends Marina Singh, another researcher at Vogel who he has been having a long and secret relationship with. Marina, our narrator, doesn’t really want to go. She agrees to go at the request of Anders’ wife, Karen and for Anders, her colleague, who she liked and misses. Marina was in a surgery program in OB-GYN under Dr. Swenson before she left surgery to work for Vogel. A C-section that went terribly wrong haunts Marina even after all these years. She doesn’t really want to see Dr. Swenson, but she goes.
Dr. Swenson, in spite of her diva-ness has the best people working for her. You will love them all. Marina gets to the bottom of Swenson’s reasons for not “phoning home”. She also gets to the bottom of a number of other things. One of the things I still want to get to the bottom of is whether great genius excuses bad behavior. If Annick Swenson was not such a egomaniac would the world be better off or worse off? Will she provide the world with anything of lasting value? What will Marina do? Is Marina pregnant? Would women choose to stay fertile into their senior years if they could? Does the drug Dr. Swenson really hopes to find justify everything? Great story, Ann Patchett, you are a jungle woman at heart.

Baseball Movies


Although in my Moneyball blog I
made it sound like I am not a
fan of baseball movies, when
I thought about it I realized that
there are a number of great
baseball movies that I enjoy
enough to watch more than
once. Bull Durham is one of
my favorites.

Who doesn’t love Field of Dreams? Well there is probably someone, but not me. I believe.

A League of Their Own is another baseball movie I enjoy and have watched more than once.

While I admit that I may have watched The Natural because Robert Redford was in it and I used to watch anything with Robert Redford, it still qualifies as one of the great baseball movies.
And, although I have seen the most memorable scene from the Lou Gehrig (Pride of the Yankees) movie many times I am not sure that I have ever watched the whole movie, but it is a great baseball movie and as a classic it must be mentioned in any list of baseball movies. There are other baseball movies, but I have never watched them. I do apologize for making it sound as if baseball movies are boring. In fact, when I was younger, I used to feel that watching a baseball game was like watching paint dry, but now, I enjoy sitting at the local baseball stadium on a warm summer night watching our home team (even though they often lose), engaging in a little patter, and waiting for the fireworks at the end of the game. It is a very pleasant way to spend a summer evening. I must have spring fever. I just realized that this is my third article about spectator sports this week. Yikes!

Moneyball – A Movie

Moneyball, directed by Bennett Miller, a movie about baseball, would not usually be up there on the list of movies I want to see, but everyone was saying good things about it, it only cost $1.20 from the Red Box, and it was Sunday afternoon again – kismet.
Not only is the movie about baseball, but it is about statistics and baseball, so my mind is thinking that this would be a very dry movie indeed. Yet it wasn’t at all dry. It wasn’t Hoosiers, but it was “outside the box” interesting. Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) was drafted before he had a chance to go to college and he played ball for a number of years, but he never lived up to the promise he showed in high school. He became a scout, drafting potential baseball “stars” for increasingly larger sums of money and he began to feel disillusioned about the game, believing it was becoming moneyball.
Beane becomes the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics (A’s) which is not a top level team. They have one of the lowest budgets in the league. When they lose to the Yankee’s in 2001 and then lose three key players who are wooed away by larger money offers, he knows he will never attract “star” players with the club’s operating budget. So Billy Beane has to find a new way for his team to succeed. He listens to the ideas of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a statistical whiz from Yale, who has a system based on the ideas of Bill James (a man who worked in a bean factory). Together they change the composition of the team, hiring improbable, but statistically appropriate players against the wishes of everyone else in the organization. When the team manager won’t play the newly hired players as needed, Billy Beane trades away some players that the team manager feels are the strongest on his team, but who statistically are not contributing to the win column. Once he is able to neutralize all the naysayers the team begins to win, eventually winning 20 games in a row, and setting a new record.
His faith in Peter Brand’s system challenged the way that teams hire players. It challenged the “star” mentality which did not always lead to the most wins. It also challenged the wisdom of the notion that paying huge salaries get “stars”, which gets wins. The Red Sox tried to hire Billy Beane and when he decided he could not leave the Oakland A’s they hired Bill James from the bean factory and used the statistical system to win a longed-for victory.
It’s a lesson that could apply to many fields of endeavor, the lesson that turning conventional wisdom on its head and getting your brain to accept a new perspective can set you free from stagnation and even failure. Not all situations provide the wealth of statistics we find in baseball. And, of course, there are many people who do not approve of throwing out the old scouting system and choosing ball players using statistical analysis. It seems to them that it takes the “game” out of baseball.
I was wishing such a system would work in politics, but complexity might make this difficult. It might be possible to pick Congress people based on statistics, but we would end up having opposing groups of people using statistics to get their way in Washington, which could be equally effective for electing people who did or did not support our viewpoints, and would eventually skew government in some of the same ways as money and special interests are doing now.

Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga – Book

Aravind Adiga is positively “sick” in the newest sense of the word (which is not at all a bad thing. Actually I don’t know if he is at all twisted in real life, but he sees the evil in us and he describes it with loving tenderness and precious little judgment.
Last Man in Tower is the second Adiga book I have read. I also read The White Tiger. Both manage to be stunning even though they basically explore the same ground. Aravind Adiga loves India. It is obvious in all his descriptions. He is especially partial to Mumbai (Bombay).
He takes us to a Mumbai that is full of Indians who have travelled to Mumbai to find their fortunes, with varying degrees of success. These pilgrims, who come to worship work and money, who come to wage a slow and steady war on failure, or who come and find an angle or a talent that rockets them to success, are the stuff of modern Mumbai that Mr. Adiga finds fascinating and even loveable. The author does not come out of any particular religious tradition as does Salman Rushdie, or any particular Indian social class as does Vikram Seth. He loves all Indians in a wonderfully democratic way.
But Adiga’s people are flawed, one might say fatally, although not in the usual self-destructive sense. Indian people are not afraid to work, they have a love-hate relationship with their parents, and they love their families. But sometimes, in a hardscrabble and teeming city like Mumbai, people do not put too fine a point on ethics. They know right from wrong. They experience anxiety when they do a “necessary” evil, but they get the job done and they don’t let guilt spoil any success they win as a result of their transgressions; in fact, they know how to turn their guilt into a virtue.
However much we might moralize about, and feel horrified by, such behavior we will find Aravind Adiga’s books shocking and enlightening and in weird ways, entertaining. After all, if we can turn our Robber Barons into heroes, future progeny of the residents of Vishram Society, Tower A can certainly do the same.
In this story we have a fat cat who has a dream of building three glass and steel luxury apartment buildings in what was once a marginal neighborhood in Mumbai. The apartment buildings which houses the Vishram Society (a tenant organization) in Tower A and a newer group of apartment owners in Tower B stand on the land where Mr. Shah wants to build his new Shanghai style towers. Shah is an experienced land developer. He has done this many times. He offers the tenants a generous buyout and then uses whatever means are necessary to get them to sell. We meet all the members of the Vishram Society. We learn their personalities and their memories and their current burdens. We learn as much as Mr. Shah wants to tell us about his life and his son, his past and his roots. Shah has never encountered a tenant with the tenacity of the old schoolteacher known as Masterji. When we are first introduced to Masterji he is a respected figure within the Society. As Masterji clings to his ownership of his apartment in the face of opposition from other members of the Society, we start to hear a more negative view of Masterji’s character. When all is said and done we are left with questions. Was Masterji stupid or principled? Was he selfish; was he right; was he a hero? There are many more questions that you will ask yourself.  Your answers will probably depends on how pragmatic you are, but your brain will enjoy the spiritual exercise.
I do mean it though; this book is wicked good and it is not just about India; it is about human behavior.

Can Obama Accomplish His Goals for America

President Obama addressed every issue that needs our attention in his State of the Union Address. His solutions always sound too moderate to me and that would seem to make them excellent compromises between the Conservative and the Liberal positions. He talked about tempting corporations to come back to America with incentives and tax breaks and taking away tax breaks from companies that go abroad. I don’t think corporations can afford to come back to America in many cases and I bet that he will get no Republican support on this but it sure wouldn’t hurt to try it.
He also talked about making some complex regulations go away and stimulating business in this way. He talked about his ideas for streamlining the business processes for small businesses. This stuff is right out of the Republican playbook and should not be difficult to do. But you can bet it will be. The hostility is still here, it was palpable to me and was the entire basis of the Republican rebuttal to the State of the Union address given by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels who, in spite of delivering the party line attack on Obama and everything Obama-ish, showed no emotion and earned a place in my Zombie army.
Obama spoke about using every source of energy available to secure freedom from foreign oil. He spoke about renewed offshore drilling. The Republicans imply that he caused the hiatus in offshore drilling, but of course they did not mention the BP oil spill, which made all of us want to take a step back from more offshore drilling while the industry contemplated new safety procedures to prevent a reoccurrence. I knew Republicans would attack Obama for slowing approval for the Keystone Pipeline, but no one ever mentioned the need to assess the route of the pipeline through Nebraska over an important Midwestern fresh water reservoir. The Republicans will continue to paint Obama as an enemy of oil and natural gas companies, even though America needs the protection of someone who is willing to provide strong oversight of these industries which have the potential to do so much harm to the American environment. Obama did assume that we would extract oil and natural gas from shale which I shudder to think about and would not recommend to anyone. However, this is an example of an area where Republicans and Democrats, if they could cooperate, could accomplish something many Americans favor. But I bet it will not happen.
Mitch Daniels spoke of Obama as a divider and he did so in the sense that Obama keeps harping on raising taxes on the rich. He was speaking of the fake specter of Class Warfare, as raised by the Republican Party. Class warfare already pre-existed the Obama administration and has caused the real and great divide between wealthy Americans and the rest of us. I do think people deserve what they earn through their own hard work. I also believe, however, that the deck has been stacked in favor of the rich in America for quite some time, so that the rich found it quite easy to get richer and the laws insured that the gains of the rich would be made at the expense of the rest of us. It is time for reparations to be made. Give some back. You can’t spend it all in your lifetime and some of it should not really be yours. Don’t you feel any guilt? I do not hate rich people, I hate unfairness and our regulations have unfairly favored the wealthy for a long time.
The Republicans keep throwing us this economic divide in order to cover up the real divide which falls on their doorstep. They are dividing America through their rabid campaign to unseat President Obama and make him a one term President. It is all they care about, it is all they talk about, and their every effort is focused on this end. Perhaps it is very easy to accomplish what you want if you pick just one inconsequential goal and spend billions to reach it. This is called “scapegoating”. There is nothing brave or heroic or even productive about this and I say shame on the Republican Party who could be helping America recover from our current financial setbacks and buoying the American economy against the downward pull of the economy in Europe. It is sad to watch a beleaguered President try to put a brave face on things and he did a great job of facing down a political party that is acting more and more like a bunch of “mean girls”.

Steven Tyler and the National Anthem

I just don’t get it. First of all I don’t get why Roseanne Barr or Steven Tyler would be invited to sing the national anthem at a game. Roseanne is a comedienne, not known to be a great singer. Steven Tyler is one of our rock heroes, and we are enjoying him on American Idol, but he is not a crooner, he is a wailer. His raspy scream-y delivery is his trademark.
Second of all, once you do invite someone like Roseanne or Steven to sing, I can’t understand how you will be surprised at what you get. It is easier to understand how those who hire national anthem singers would be disappointed when a singer with a more lyrical bent forgets the words to the national anthem, as has occurred recently, or has some other kind of melt down. These singers were forgiven, but people still go on and on discussing Roseanne and I assume they will continue to debate Steven Tyler’s performance for decades to come. I just do not get why someone could choose these two to sing and not understand what they would be hearing.

Third of all, The Star Spangled Banner is hard to sing. There are notes many of us cannot hit. If you are going to pick someone to sing for us then pick someoone who has enough range to hit all of the notes beautifully.

Actually, I think our reactions have more to do with how we view the national anthem. Is it a “sacred” song that needs to be delivered with a certain reverence and melodic consistency? Can we treat the national anthem as a theme to be interpreted artistically as it was by Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock? Apparently, as with everything else in America, we are about equally divided between these two approaches to our national song. I suppose those who hire these singers feel that they are conferring an honor on those chosen, while at the same time they are hiring someone famous who will attract attendees to their event. However, I suggest that if you are of the persuasion that the national anthem should be delivered with a certain “gravitas” then you need to choose singers who offer that kind of delivery. I don’t believe either Roseanne or Steven was mocking the national anthem. They each delivered a performance that was in line with their public persona. It looks like we please more Americans by treating the national anthem as a straightforward anthem than by treating it as an art form.

Shaking in My Boots

Evangelical Christians seem to have an effect on our national dialogue that is out of proportion with their actual numbers. These days we are told almost every day about the agenda the Evangelicals have in store for Americans when their candidate is elected. The odds are greater than ever that this will eventually happen because, it seems, in order to be a Republican these days, you must pass muster with the Evangelical Christians. I am a Christian, although with a sort of “universalist” bent, but I have difficulty with the issues the Evangelicals have on their agenda. They want to use Congress to impose morality through the rule of law. They have a certain arrogance that is at odds with the humility that Christians usually embrace. Their dialogue suggests that they are the self-appointed quintessential American Patriots and that all of the rest of us are not. They imply or declare outright that non-Evangelicals are ruining America. They speak as if they have a direct line to the forefathers and to God, that they are the moral high ground, and that they intend to pull America “up” to their level of Fundamentalist behavior as dictated in the Bible.
Yet our forefathers did not choose to found a Theocracy, in fact, they deliberately argued for the separation of the church and the state. Many had been persecuted for their religious beliefs in the countries they fled. We object to Muslim Fundamentalists because many of the ways they interpret their religion are incompatible with the human rights that Democracy believes in and protects. Christian Fundamentalism, if it has its way with our laws, will interfere with human rights in many of the same ways as Muslim Fundamentalism. Government that is moderate allows for the greatest respect for human rights and the greatest freedom for human endeavor. Government should always strive to stay away from extremes.
In fact, this very insistence on an Evangelical Christian “takeover” of America is one of my greatest problems with the most recent incarnation of the Republican Party (although, as you probably already know, it is not my only problem with the GOP). I also reject their assessment of how to stimulate the economy and I reject their insistence that laziness and poverty are caused by reliance on social programs. Republicans cannot really speak to these matters because their current position as the party of the affluent represents a conflict of interest when it comes to decisions about the economy.
I do tend to “shake in my boots” whenever I contemplate an Evangelical Christian takeover of our American government. I hope there are lots of other Americans who feel the same way.

My Coffee Table Books

I did an inventory of my coffee table books. I am still not sure that they have all been unpacked. I gave a few of them away and sold a few to a secondhand book store, so maybe I’m just missing some of the books I sold. I am supposed to be downsizing but I’m finding that I don’t really like to part with my stuff. Here’s what I found so far:

Chic Simple – Home, Kim Johnson Gross and Jeff Stone, 1993
Vineyard Summer, Allison Shaw, 1994
The Secret Gardens of the Vieux Carre: The Historic French Quarter of New Orleans, Roy F Guste Jr., 1993, (I wonder how these gardens look in 2011 and if some were ruined by Katrina?)
The Backyard Book: Ideas and Resources for Outdoor Living, Tricia Foley, Wm. P. Steele, Rachel Carley, Matthias G.-F. Mattiello, 1988
American Design: The Desert Southwest, Nora Burba, Paula Panich, Terrence Moore, 1987
Martha’s Vineyard: Gardens and Houses, Taylor Lewis, Catherine Fallin and Elizabeth Talbot, (I own two Vineyard books by accident, but both are lovely.)
Slipcover Chic: Designing and Sewing Elegant Slipcovers at Home, Michelle Bell, Catherine Revland and Carol Cooper Garey, (You actually could produce beautiful slipcovers by following the directions in this book.), 1992
The Living Planet: A Portrait of the Earth, David Attenborough, 1984
Life Magazine Special Edition, Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.: 40 Years Later, His Life and Crusade in Pictures, 2008
Our Green and Living World: The Wisdom to Save It, Ayensu, Heywood, Lucas, Defilipps, Smithsonian Institute, 1984
Paris, John Russell, 1983
Sister Wendy’s 1000 Masterpieces: Sister Wendy Beckett’s Selection of the Greatest Paintings in Western Art, (I asked my sister for this book for Christmas. I did not realize it was out of print. Somehow she found me a copy but I think she paid much more for it than we usually spend on gifts. It is a beautiful book and I treasure it.), 1999
A Day in the Life of America: photographed by 200 of the world’s leading photojournalists on one day (May 2, 1986), 1986
Small Treasures, Raymond Waites (I think this was a gift), 1992
The Art and Life of Georgia O’Keefe, Jan Garden Castro, 1985
Frame It!, the Vanessa-Ann Collection, (Crafts), 1993
Tassels: The Fanciful Embellishment, Nancy Welch, (Historical views and How-to’s), 1992
New House Book: The Complete Guide to Home Design, Terence Conran, 1985
Underground Interiors, Skurka and Gili, 1972
Decorative Printing for the Home: Creating Exciting Effects with Water-Based Paints, Lee Andre and David Lipe, 1966
Mon Tricot Knitting Dictionary: Stitches Patterns Knitting and Crochet, Aran Jacquard, open work and lace, stitiches, patchwork, shawl patterns, furs, woven crochet borders and edgings, fringe, fork, not dated, printed in France
The Art of Flower Arranging, Jan Hall, Sarah Waterkeyn, (gift), 1991
Life in Camelot: The Kennedy Years, Edited by Philip B Kunhardt, Jr., 1988
The Stencil Book: with over 30 stencils to cut out or trace, Amelia Saint George, 1988
Living in Morocco, Barbara & Rene Stoeltie, Angelika Taschen, 2003

We The Animals: a novel by Justin Torres – Book

You rarely read a book like this. First of all it is a lickety-split slice of life. Second of all it not a slice of life anyone normally writes about. It isn’t pretty, although it has moments of its own stark beauty. Most of all it is so real. Justin Torres wrote this little literary gem called We The Animals which stars three brothers who probably have more in common with my family than yours. He gives us three brothers of mixed race with a Puerto Rican father and a white mother. There is love and betrayal, gentleness and brutality, closeness and alienation. There are three boys buffering each other from the world, torturing each other, playing and fantasizing and misbehaving together; growing up almost wild.
In the end this impoverished family teetering on the brink of dissolution is unable to encompass the unique traits which are unveiled in one of the brothers as he grows up to embrace differences the family cannot accept. I have never read a book that explored this particular reality in this particular way and with such a stunning sort of naturalistic poetry. Of course I have the activities of my own brothers to inform me, but in other ways our life was nothing like the life Mr. Torres describes in this excellent little book.