30 August 2013

This Week in Water

It's that time again. Even though there's a vigorous discussion going on with mistah charley and thunder in the previous post regarding Syria, I wanted to post up some of this week's water news:

Not all bacteria in our water supply are bad.

Not all drinking water has the same chemistry.

China's demand for potable water may soon become a world security issue due to unchecked environmental degradation.

China's demand for bottled water will soon surpass that of the U.S.

The U.S. High Plains aquifer could be 69% depleted in 50 years if current irrigation trends persist.

The so-called Rim Fire in California has moved into Yosemite National Park and is threatening the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir which supplies most of San Francisco's drinking water.

Los Angeles is learning to recycle its runoff water so it can be less dependent on the Colorado River for drinking water.

The U.S. State of Florida is planning to sue the State of Georgia because upstream consumption of water has damaged the former's ecosystem and ecology in and around the Apalachicola Bay.

Water quality in Georgia is under review.

Sewage from Orlando and Orange County, Florida is polluting the Wekiva River.

Pollution in the Indian River Lagoon of Florida is turning the wetlands into a dead zone, killing off inter alia endangered manatees.

Acid rain and acidic runoff in the U.S. has caused a rise in the alkalinity of Eastern rivers.

Marine biologists believe they have discovered what has been killing so many East Coast U.S. Bottlenose Dolphins: Measles—which result from climate change and pollution depressing their immune systems.

Methane pollution in groundwater may pressure politicians to end fracking in Pennsylvania.

In fact, due to scarcity of potable groundwater, in Texas some firms are learning to frack without the use of water.

Nestlé takes 265 million liters a year of Canadian fresh groundwater for free from British Columbia.

Is America drying up? And is the world's largest battery (hint: it's in Virginia) threatened by climate-fueled drought.

Water scarcity is not the same thing as drought, and public policy needs to be cognizant of the difference.

Because of the depletion of groundwater all across the world, effective water management going forward will require private, governmental (both local and federal), academic, and community buy-in, cooperation, and participation. Good luck with that.

The crystal clear waters of East Asia oceans are filthy.

Surface cooling in the waters of the tropical Pacific Ocean has provided a hiatus in global temperature rise. However, there is also a global counter-trend: the increasing acidity of the world's oceans is exacerbating global warming.

The trend of rising sea levels due to global warning was similarly halted in 2010 and 2011 by massive rains in the Australian interior.

[A couple of older stories that are new to me] Hydrogen sulfide—the toxic gas that smells like rotten eggs—in the Black Sea can be used as a renewable source of hydrogen gas to fuel a future carbon-free energy economy.

Likewise, algae, which use energy from the sun to split water molecules and release hydrogen, may be harnessed to the same effect.

Yet another way of freeing hydrogen energy from ordinary water involves the use of powder from high-grade charcoal and micro laser pulses.

Scientists at Berkeley Lab are bringing us ever closer to perfecting artificial photosynthesis which promises to be a clean, green, renewable, sustainable source of energy thanks to funding from the U.S. Dept. of Energy.

What's old is new again: In South America they are re-inventing water wheels to provide direct local hydropower.

Scientists discovered a mega-canyon, 460 miles long and as much as 2600 feet deep, under the ice sheet of Greenland. It has been hidden longer than human history.

Other scientists have detected 'magmatic water' in a crater on the moon.

The ice shell on Saturn's moon Titan extends deeper into its underlying ocean than previously suspected.

NASA scientists believe Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, might have a vast liquid ocean under its own ice shell which, in turn, would make it the likeliest place in our solar system to support life. They would like to land a rover there in the future.

26 August 2013

The Snowden-Manning Axis: A Political, Foreign Policy Argument

Premise 1—The Snowden Axiom: The NSA (and inter alia its Israeli and British counterparts) is hoovering up all the electronic and telephonic signals in the world—or at least, it is claimed, those most relevant to U.S. interests and the war on terror. There are no more secrets.

There is no place more relevant at the present moment to U.S. interests and the war on terror than Syria—especially given its use of chemical weapons of mass destruction.

It is safe to assume the U.S. (and inter alia its Israeli and British counterparts) is hoovering up all the electronic signals emanating in and from Syria.

Premise 2—The Manning Axiom: All-powerful President Obama has authorized and is using drones and drone strikes as the primary means to execute his foreign policy objectives around the world.

He has the (near-tyrannical) ability to use them anywhere, any time, and against anybody he chooses—possibly even against U.S. citizens—and has used them in the past against innocent civilians for little or no apparent reason.

It follows, then, from the Snowden Axiom that: President Obama knows who, up and down the Syrian chain of command, authorized, ordered, and executed the recent chemical weapons strike against Syrian citizens. (The U.N. "investigation" is a sham and merely for show.)

Therefore: President Obama can (and probably should) use targeted, surgical drone strikes against each and every Syrian in the chain of command who authorized, ordered, and executed the chemical weapons strike instead, say, of initiating a boots-on-the-ground war or the sort of air and missile strikes that would draw us into a Middle East civil war.


Where's the fallacy in that argument? Is it in the axiomatic assumptions? You tell me.

Furthermore, if Obama doesn't do this, he's weak and ineffectual as a leader and a commander-in-chief.

Or, he's in the thrall of his military-industrial complex overlords who have too much of a surplus inventory of unused war machines that need to be expended (so they can update their stores and build some more on a cost-plus basis) and too few military personnel in actual combat to keep the top-heavy general staff officers from getting bored.

Or else, he's a cynical war-monger who wants to take this country even further rightward using a boots-on-the-ground war to cement his grasp on power as a Bushian 'war time President'.

Or, all of the above.

[Or, alternatively, the Snowden and Manning axioms are, well, shall we say, over-stated.]

However, if Obama does authorize the use of targeted drone strikes against the perpetrators up and down the Syrian chain of command, it's a tacit confirmation that:

  • he's a tyrant and an outlaw on the world stage;
  • that he does use the NSA to hoover up all the sigint in the world; 
  • that he can and will authorize and order drone strikes anywhere, any time, and against anyone in the world; and last but not least
  • all our worst, most paranoid fantasies are indeed true.
Extra Credit: Agent Mike: Since, pursuant to the U.S. PATRIOT Act, each of the intelligence agencies is supposed to coordinate its efforts with all the others, and even though this is meant to be a piece of satire, you should actually use this as a suggestion to your friends at CIA—you know, run it up the flag pole and see who salutes (or has an itchy drone trigger finger)—instead of, I don't know, adding yet another ridiculous entry to some useless bureaucratic file somewhere on some idiot blogger who doesn't know what he's talking about.

25 August 2013


Apologies everyone. I've been AWOL the last couple weeks. Lots going on IRL: visiting my father, who's halfway through his 90th year, in NC; youngest son enrolling in college for his Freshman year; favorite aunt in hospice in another part of NC; and it goes on. Please don't feel neglected. Things will be settling down soon—after the dog days of August pass—and I shall return.

Thanks for your patience.

15 August 2013

What Is Old Is New

As I'm sure you're aware I'm a lover of great power pop/alt-rock songs. Popular music is a relatively new phenomenon in history and is something that has pretty much set the soundtracks of the lives of those of us growing up in the latter half of the 20th century. New songs are being created every day by bands of young musicians, and it's always a thrill to discover a new track from a great new combo. But—and this pretty much defines my philosophy of music—sometimes I discover a terrific song that's been around for a long time I've never heard before and wonder how I missed it. A great song can be timeless. Here're a couple I've only come across recently that are new to me and completely blew me away—and both by bands I've heard many songs from before:

(1984) (2557 views on YouTube)

(1990) (1372 views)

13 August 2013

This Week in Water

First, thanks for the birthday wishes. To me, it's just another day. I only pay attention to years ending in '5' or '0' now. We enjoyed a rollicking family dinner here at Casa H. wherein I once again demonstrated my masterful technique for charring meat. (btw: This was not me. Though it reminds me of one time when I was a kid my father, brother, some friends, and I drove down to ATL from NC to see a weekend series between the Cubs and Braves. I saw a so-called 'bleacher bum' from the visiting Cubbies walking along the railing demonstrating after his team scored a run and and watched as he fell from the stadium railing down into the bullpen at old Fulton County Stadium.)

NOW, this week in water:

Pakistan is running out of water. It threatens to further destabilize the region.

Alberta, Canada is facing a similar issue because massive amounts of freshwater is being used by the tar sands oil development industry.

Farmers in New Mexico are draining the region's aquifers to sell water for fracking.

Seems there's more oil than fresh water in Texas, especially now that the fracking boom has sucked away precious water from beneath the ground. Wells are drying up and livestock dying.

Researchers at UT Arlington have found high levels of Arsenic in groundwater near fracking sites.

Here is an infographic from the Union of Concerned Scientists showing the conflict over scarce water resources between energy and consumption uses.

In Tennessee, complaining about water quality can be considered "an act of terrorism" according to Sherwin Smith, the deputy director of the Tennessee Dept. of Environment and Conservation's Division of Water Resources. So, take that you DFH tree-huggers.

The Colorado River basin is experiencing historic drought, and Las Vegas needs federal disaster aid.

Water level in the U.S./Canada Great Lakes is getting very low. Many suspect it has to do with increased evaporation due to climate change. Six local U.S. Senators (Levin, Durbin, Franken, Brown, Schumer, Stabenow) have written a letter to Pres. Obama complaining that his Climate Action Plan overlooked this issue.

Apparently, someone thinks it might be a good idea to use the area around the Great Lakes as a dumping ground for nuclear waste. Others not so much.

You can watch the entire 2009 documentary "Blue Gold: World Water Wars" here.

As an avid scuba diver, this saddens me: the Caribbean has lost 80% of its coral reef cover in recent years due to climate change, pollution, overfishing, and degradation. [Personal note: I'm proud to note that Wisdomie, my eldest, is beginning his training in research/science diving at UH Manoa this week! He'll be documenting these issues professionally. You go, Son!]

Warming seas off the coast of Maine and overfishing of native predators have caused a spike in the lobster population. It's gotten so bad, the lobsters have started cannibalizing each other [gruesome video at link]. Also, the price of lobster has fallen dramatically which threatens the fishermen's livelihoods.

Estuaries up and down the East Coast of the U.S. are experiencing the negative effects of human- and climate-related stressors.

In a tributary of the Potomac River, a Virginia fisherman caught a record-breaking northern snakefish, the invasive so-called 'Frankenfish' native to Russia, China, and Korea.

The Gulf of Mexico oyster industry (Apalachicola Bay Oysters are the best in the world!) has been declared a fishery disaster area—due in part to excess water use for energy and consumption upstream by, ahem, Atlanta.

Shark finning is driving that ancient predator to near-extinction.

The U.S. has declared an 'unusual mortality event' due to the high number of dead bottlenose dolphins washing up on its East Coast.

Rising sea levels may contribute to more violent storms on the U.S. east coast. That shouldn't be a problem, though, according to Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) who says no one would notice if sea levels rose 4 to 6 inches: "We don’t know where sea level is even, let alone be able to say that it’s going to come up an inch globally because some polar ice caps might melt because there’s CO2 suspended in the atmosphere." This in the face of "[a]n analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences late last month [which] found that more than 1,700 U.S. cities and towns could be partially underwater by the end of this century. And 80 of those cities could be below the high-water mark in the next decade. None of them, however, are in Iowa."

A Los Angeles restaurant has announced plans to sell a 750ml bottle of Canadian brand Berg water for $20. It has also proposed a flight of waters for $12 for comparative tasting.

Lockheed Martin believes sheets of ultra-thin graphene with regular holes about a nanometer (a billionth of a meter) in size will slash the amount of energy it takes to push seawater through the filter, and thus the costs of desalination. A competing filter technology is being developed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

This University of Texas researcher believes that a thumbnail-size chip which costs about $0.50 apiece to manufacture is the key to the cheapest method of desalinating water. It uses a charged electrode to separate salt from water and does not require filtration.

Seattle residents are coming up with creative ways to re-use rainwater and runoff.

Engineers in Peru have devised a billboard which captures the humidity from the air, condenses it, purifies it, and distributes it to local residents in the desert-surrounded capitol Lima.

An Indian man has been awarded for developing 'water ATMs' that purify and sell ground water to locals at a relatively cheap price.

Pres. Bill Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea, are in central Africa promoting programs to increase access to clean, potable water. "It is one of the simplest things we can do to save lives," he said.

Speaking of junk in the water: A giant, 15-ton 'fatberg' (a collection of grease, oil, and fat) has been found clogging up the London sewers. According to U.S. Olympic champion Michael Phelps, 'everyone pees in the pool' at the meets. (Of course, he was probably stoned when he said it.) And if you want to go swimming in the lakes in Sweden, don't skinny-dip. You need to protect your 'junk' because the testicle-nibbling fish Pacu, an invasive species from South America, a relative of the Piranha, has been found there.

And in good news for you hikers, a small company in the U.S. has developed instant beer. Just add water.

11 August 2013

It's My Fault

I feel the need to issue to formal apology to my friends, my family, my readers, the city of Atlanta, and, in fact, the nation. Last night, to celebrate my birthday, Wisdoc and I chose to have an early dinner date and go to a double feature at the movies. Saw Blackfish, a talky, but effective documentary about the politics and perils of keeping Orcas for entertainment, and Europa Report, a low-budget, futuristic sci-fi thriller that shows how good a movie can be without resorting to mega-stars and explosions and car chases and ridiculous CGI. A good, taut story told with innovative narrative technique. [btw: We paid for both movies, didn't sneak between theaters. That's not why I'm apologizing. Besides, we're not 17 anymore.]

But all that's beside the point. In selfishly choosing to have a celebratory night out, I made the conscious decision to neglect a sacred duty. To wit: the Atlanta Braves baseball club has been on a near-historic tear. The team had won 14 games in a row before last night. (The Atlanta record is 15; the pro record is, I believe, 20) And I had watched nearly every minute of every one of those games sitting in my favorite chair in the family room drinking unsweetened ice tea and eating unsalted pistachios.

So, last night, for whatever reason, I opted not to watch the game. And what happened? The Braves lost, 1-0, to the lowly Miami Marlins on a wild pitch in the ninth inning.

As Crash Davis says in Bull Durham, "you don't fuck with a streak." It doesn't matter what you're doing, but if you believe what you're doing has anything to do with keeping the streak alive, it does, and you don't change it. Whether it's parting your hair on the right instead of the left or wearing your underwear inside out or eating a tomato and mayonnaise sandwich before the game, you don't fuck with a streak. And I fucked with a streak.

By that logic, the loss was my fault. All my fault. I made a conscious choice. I did not watch a single inning of the game, and the team lost. I let the boys—and Braves nation—down. I'm sorry.

And the thing is, I could've done something about it. The first feature ended at 8:30, and we had 40 minutes before the start of the next one. I checked the score on my iPhone and saw that the game was in a rain delay and still in the 2nd inning. I could've driven home, about 15 minutes away, poured myself a glass of tea, opened a bag of nuts, settled into my chair, and watched the rest of the game. And the outcome would've been different. I'm sure of that. But, instead, I chose to catch the second flick on a lovely night with the love of my life (who, for the record, is not a baseball fan).

I was selfish. I was weak. The only possible conclusion you, dear readers, can draw from my choices and my actions is that I wanted the team to lose. I hate the team, and I want nothing more than to see them fail.

And for that, I'm truly sorry. Braves nation: please forgive me. I've been a fan since the team moved to Atlanta in the 60s. Growing up in North Carolina I listened to games late at night, under the covers of my bed, through the earphone of my staticky transistor AM radio. I put up with nearly 20 years of Yankees and Mets fans in the '90s in NY and Phillies fans in the '80s in PA, all the while remaining true. But last night's was a historic lapse. I let them—and myself—down.

My only hope is that my actions don't initiate a long, steady, incremental decline. The Braves currently have a 15+ game lead on the Phillies and a 17 game lead on the Washington Nationals, who, by the way, were the pre-season favorites to win the World Series. If that happens, I don't know what I'll do. I'll have to live with the guilt of letting EVERYONE down on this one night by my selfish choices.

But I am taking steps to try and rectify the situation: I'm going to one, possibly two games this week in penance. Monday night, against the Phils (probably alone so I can contemplate my transgressions), and Saturday, against the hated Nats, with a HS friend whom I haven't seen in like 30 years (who, unbeknownst to me until about 6 months ago, lives about 5 miles away). I can only hope my actions will be able to turn things around, as, by all indications, they have certainly taken a turn for the worse.

Keep hope alive!

05 August 2013

This Week in Water

I'm hoping this will turn out to be a regular series of aggregative posts on issues concerning what may be humanity's greatest resource and its most serious and pressing need:

Turns out August is National Water Quality Month in the U.S. Do you think anybody notices? Do you think anyone cares?

Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act requires the government to list "impaired" water bodies in the U.S. Currently there are 41,496.

The Human Resources needed to provide universal access to clean water and sanitation are immense and, for the most part, currently woefully unmet.

Where is all our water going? Apparently, in drought-riddled Texas, mostly to power plants.

Some believe corporations and wealthy individuals are trying to buy up water rights for some of the largest aquifers in the U.S. and the world. The situation is become direr as scarcity of potable water increases. For example, "[T. Boone] Pickens has purchased 68,000 acres, as well as the right to drain up to 50% of the Ogallala aquifer [which stretches from Texas to S. Dakota] to sell for his own personal profit." Who'd'a thunk Enron! would be at the heart of this trend. Or Nestle?

Canadians, our polite northern neighbors, take a stand against profiteering by big banks and corporations from thirst and growing water shortages. [Tons of good resources in this article for future research!] The outcome looks gloomy:
Unfortunately, the global water and infrastructure-privatization fever is unstoppable: many local and state governments are suffering from revenue shortfalls and are under financial and budgetary strains. These local and state governments can longer shoulder the responsibilities of maintaining and upgrading their own utilities. Facing offers of millions of cash from Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, UBS, and other elite banks for their utilities and other infrastructure and municipal services, cities and states will find it extremely difficult to refuse these privatization offers.
The elite multinational and Wall Street banks and investment banks have been preparing and waiting for this golden moment for years. Over the past few years, they have amassed war chests of infrastructure funds to privatize water, municipal services, and utilities all over the world. It will be extremely difficult to reverse this privatization trend in water.
There seems to be a battle brewing in North Carolina between State government and corporate giant Pittsburgh, PA-based Alcoa over who controls the water and electric power that comes from the state's second-largest river system. Does a state government have the right to regulate water quality within its borders? Alcoa seem to think not.

Greeks don't want to see their water resources privatized as a result of the [shock-doctrine] austerity measures imposed upon their country.

Is it really illegal in parts of Oregon to collect rainwater that falls on your own land?

Large-scale, rapid privatization of water resources is affecting global food security.

But how does privatization [not just of water] hurt me?

Here's the big story writ small, the headline out of India: "Water Mafia Cashing in on Water Scarcity."

In politics, the Water Bill is yet another piece of legislation stalled in the House of Representatives while the Republicans in Congress spend their time (and millions of our tax dollars) attempting to take away Americans' right to access to affordable health care. The bipartisan, earmark-free bill which sailed through the Senate must get in line behind appropriations bills which might normally pass except for the so-called Hastert rule which requires Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to obtain a majority of his own party's support before bringing any bill to the floor of the House.

The mining industry believes its members should be able to conduct mining activities close to streams and is urging the U.S. Dept. of the Interior not to issue or enforce rules preventing them from dumping their coal mining waste within established, traditional stream buffers.

Not everyone believes methane and other runoff from hydraulic fracking contaminates nearby aquifers, however. Including high-level EPA staff.

We might never find out though if fracking companies continue to impose gag orders when they reach legal settlements—even with 7 year olds.

Radioactive water continues to seep into the ocean from Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear reactor. Who will emerge first—Godzilla or Mothra?

In other matters, warming ocean temperature are rearranging the biological geography of the oceans, pushing species toward the poles by upwards of 7 kilometers every year.

Japanese biotechnologists have developed high-yield, drought resistant rice strains.

02 August 2013

Diver Down: The Forbidden Isle, Pt. 5

[Sorry about the break in the blogging action—that happens to me sometimes when I try to do serial posts. My train of thought gets derailed (for whatever reason), and I have trouble getting it back on track. Then, I want to post on some pressing matter and don't because I fear I'll interfere with the series' continuity but can't seem to get back into the essayistic mindset. And then I become paralyzed. Arrrgh. I'll try to wrap this tale up soon. Thanks for your patience.]

Here are the previous posts in this series. Read from the bottom up; it's a blog.
While Wisdomie (voluntarily) and two of the other Dive Masters (our paid guides) were down 100' and more searching the deepest nooks of the dive site for the missing diver, Doug, most of the rest of us in the boat kept up our search on the surface. The boat made ever further forays downstream with the current, which was flowing in a northerly direction. We went out and back. Out and back in ever wider circles. More and more folks came up to the bridge to look out.

It felt crowded up top, and I began to feel superfluous—despite my vanity about my eyesight prowess. Also, after standing in the glare of sun and sea for about an hour, I was beginning to feel dehydrated, something you have to pay attention to in the tropical sun. I went down to the main deck and got a bottle of water from one of the coolers and half a sandwich.

I sat with Wisdoc and Wisdaughter, making sure they were staying properly hydrated, and filled them in on how the search was going. While we were talking, I noticed a woman sitting by herself in a beach chair one of the crew had set out near the rear of the boat. Shaked, one of my favorite Dive Masters ever, told me it was the wife of the missing diver. No one was near her. No one was speaking to her. No one, it seemed, was even looking at her.

I took it upon myself to bring her a bottle of water. She thanked me. She hadn't thought to drink even though she was sitting in the sun. It was approaching mid-day. I asked her if she'd eaten anything. She said she hadn't and that she wasn't hungry. I fetched her a half muffin anyway. Turns out she was gluten-sensitive. I went back and found a pack of potato chips. Salt would be good for the electrolytes she'd lost. I gave them to her, and she immediately tore into them. Turns out she was really hungry despite what she said.

I sat beside her and talked for a few minutes. Told her my name was Jim. Told her I was here with my family and had a son who lived on Oahu who was down now helping to search for her husband. She told me she was from Arizona and that though she was a novice diver, Doug was very experienced. I felt like she was trying to convince herself of something. That's when it sort of hit me: we'd been searching for Doug for well over an hour and hadn't seen any sign of him or his equipment. The longer we searched, I realized, the greater the chance we weren't going to find him. I looked at her and could tell she knew it too. She was bravely silent, barely holding back sad, desperate tears. I sat with her some more in silence just to be a physical presence, to be someone who at least acted like he understood what she was obviously going through—though nothing was said.

Because the back of the boat was mostly in the now-overhead sun, I felt my initial application of sunscreen wearing off. I excused myself from her presence and went forward to regrease. Wisdaughter sat down beside me and, in a chiding sort of way, asked why I was talking to this woman. "She looks like she just wants to be left alone," she said. I found myself disagreeing—and because Wisdaughter usually has a pretty good read of others' emotions this took some effort. I struggled to find the right words. I told her that what I felt was called for in this situation was "simple human kindness." Just being human—a nosh, a drink, an acknowledgement of her predicament. I couldn't relieve the despair or dread she must've been feeling about possibly losing her new husband, but I could just sort of be present for this woman, I told Wisdaughter as I sprayed us both down. And as I was spraying my leg, another person's foot asserted itself. It was Doug's wife. She said nothing. She had walked back to where Wisdaughter and I were connecting at a profound and meaningful parent/child level about what it means to be human together, and, without words, had asked me to spray her feet as well. Which, of course, I did.

It was a moving moment for so many reasons. Not the least because this woman felt comfortable enough with me and my simple human gesture to venture out of her own grief and ask me to anoint her with sunscreen. A little thing normally: people on dive boats often share sunscreen. But in this context, it was a statement of a deeper need.

Wisdaughter and I went back with her to her seat and one of us was with her pretty much the rest of the morning and on into the afternoon as the search for her husband continued.

[to be continued]

Pics (as always, click to embiggen slide show; mouse over for extras):
Jim H. hiking
Crossing the creek with rope assist
Into the mists with Wisdoc
Under the spreading Banyan Tree
Korean Studies Center at Univ. Hawaii @ Manoa
Wesdom cavorting in the falls
Bird of Paradise (fuzzy)
The unofficial county bird of Kaua'i. No wild chickens on the other islands 
Lights, camera, motion: This is a high school group at a Polynesian Heritage Festival
From a boat in a cave on Na Pali coast