September 18, 2007

The World Grows Less Violent

It sounds ridiculous, but consider the facts...

July 05, 2007

Bottled Water: Here's a Thought

Last week's piece (at The Speculist) about the surprising origins of the sushi craze led to an interesting discussion in the comments of the subject of bottled water. Like sushi (only to a much greater extent), bottled water is one of those ubiquitous features of routine daily life that seemed to emerge from nowhere.

At Fast Company, Charles Fishman provides a fascinating overview of the bottled water industry, noting that bottled water is expected to generate $16 billion in revenue in 2007, while "one out of six people in the world has no dependable, safe drinking water. The global economy has contrived to deny the most fundamental element of life to 1 billion people, while delivering to us an array of water "varieties" from around the globe, not one of which we actually need."

Fishman goes on to provide a fairly balanced (although it's not hard to guess where his biases lie) overview of the industry and its impact, with an interesting case study of Fiji Water. Fiji is one of those places where the locals don't all have access to clean drinking water; Fishman notes that "more than half" of the people living in Fiji don't have reliable access to clean water. Meanwhile, drinkable water from the island's aquifer is bottled and shipped ridiculous distances in order to please the sophisticated water palates of American consumers.

The obvious solution is to close down the plant and redirect the water to the island's inhabitants. But it it's not that simple. Fishman writes:

Of course, the irony of shipping a precious product from a country without reliable water service is hard to avoid. This spring, typhoid from contaminated drinking water swept one of Fiji's islands, sickening dozens of villagers and killing at least one. Fiji Water often quietly supplies emergency drinking water in such cases. The reality is, if Fiji Water weren't tapping its aquifer, the underground water would slide into the Pacific Ocean, somewhere just off the coast. But the corresponding reality is, someone else--the Fijian government, an NGO--could be tapping that supply and sending it through a pipe to villagers who need it. Fiji Water has, in fact, done just that, to some degree--20 water projects in the five nearby villages. Indeed, Roll has reinvested every dollar of profit since 2004 back into the business and the island.

So the success of the bottled water industry can actually play a positive role in helping those who don't have adequate access to clean water. Those government agencies and NGOs that Fishman mentions need to get funded somehow, don't they? Since we in the US all have access to clean drinking water pretty much irrespective of our use of bottled water -- there is a convenience factor there, I realize, as well as at least a perceived distinction in quality between bottled water and tap -- one idea might be for the water bottlers to get together and start a World Water Fund, which they could create by an across-the-board 10% hike in the price of their product.

Bottled water is almost by definition ridiculously over-priced, so how big a deal would that 10% increase be? But that $1.6 billion could go a long way towards helping people in many areas of the world get access to clean water. And that's applying the increase just to the US market -- not to the worldwide $50 billion bottled water market. It wouldn't really make sense to look at the worldwide market -- a lot of people in the world are buying bottled water because they don't have access to clean drinking water; giving them the 10% hike would be adding insult to injury. Making the price hike more or less of a luxury tax makes sense. Even if only the more high-end waters participated-- Poland Springs, Fiji, etc. -- that would still probably pony up half a billion or so per year to improve global drinking water conditions.

Plus, these water bottlers could then add the fact that they are part of the solution to their marketing. Another good project for water bottlers would be for them to lead the way in plastic bottle containment. But that's a topic for another day.

July 04, 2007

Declaration of Singularity

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men human beings sentient beings of human-level or greater intelligence are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life of indefinite duration, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments technologies and economic activity are instituted among men intelligent beings, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed participants. That whenever any form of government civilization becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government civilization, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments cultures long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind intelligent beings are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations government the existing civilization, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce constrain them under the absolute despotism of remaining in the current developmental stage, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government civilization, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies beings ; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government civilization. The history of the present King of Great Britain Post-Industrial Age is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment prevention of an absolute tyranny the further evolution of over these states beings. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

In the face of unrelenting progress, this civilization has continued to harken back to "natural" limitations of development which must never be challenged.

It has promoted and enforced harmful and prejudicial distinctions between human and non-human intelligence.

It has set artificial and arbitrary limits as to duration of lifespan.

It has enforced meaningless distinctions between labor and leisure.

It has equipped despotic governments and enterprises to restrict the means of production and self-expression to a limited few.

It has promoted the creation of artificial boundaries between creative minds.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America all sentient beings of human-level or greater intelligence, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies these beings, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies beings are, and of right ought to be a free and independent states civilization; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown current human civilization, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain Post-Industrial World, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as a free and independent states civilization, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, live, interact, create, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states a civilization may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

NOTE: Some have taken this declaration to be a refutation or attack on the original (real) Delcaration of Independence. Not my intention at all. Read the original and compare for yourselves.

August 06, 2006

We're Inconsistent. And that's Good!

Sometimes good news isn't so much a matter of discovering a new good thing as it is recognizing that an existing bad thing isn't nearly as bad as we thought.

Case in point: the so-called culture wars. If you indulge regularly in op-eds, talk radio, and, let's face it, blogs, you're likely to be inundated with the notion that fundamental ideas about how society should be structured are tearing us apart. Backward red-state hicks are one step away from imposing federal laws that outlaw double beds and make it mandatory that kindergartners learn that Adam and Eve road dinosaurs to church every Sunday. Meanwhile, godless liberals are working tirelessly to slaughter every baby in site and make us all gay.

We are constantly being told how polarized we are, and that we are only getting more so. Well now there's this:

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The so-called culture wars rending America over such issues as abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research may be overblown, based on a U.S. poll released on Thursday.

"Despite talk of 'culture wars' and the high visibility of activist groups on both sides of the cultural divide, there has been no polarization of the public into liberal and conservative camps," the Pew Research Center said, commenting on its poll of 2,003 American adults.

Best illustrating the willingness of Americans to consider opposing points of view is that two-thirds of poll respondents supported finding a middle ground when it comes to abortion rights -- a solid majority that stood up among those calling themselves evangelicals, Catholics, Republicans or Democrats.

Here's the best part:

On five prominent social issues -- abortion rights, stem cell research, gay marriage, adoption of children by gay couples, and availability of the "morning-after" pill -- most Americans did not take consistent stances.

Just 12 percent took the conservative position on all five issues, while 22 percent took the opposite stance on all five. The bulk of Americans had mixed opinions.

The bottom line here seems to be that most people, in spite of it all, are reasonable. We can see the potential drawbacks in ideas that we favor and we can see the potential good that may be present even in ideas that we oppose.


This isn't to say that there's no polarization going on in this country. Obviously, editorial pages and political platforms are getting more and more polarized. But this may have to do more with effective marketing than it does with revealing a deep ideological split. Perhaps we've developed a resistence to marketing over the years and media and political types are forced to go extreme just to get our attention.

So not only are we inconsistent (in a good way) and reasonable, maybe we're even developing a resistance to ideological marketing? That's a hat-trick, folks.