Associate Professor of English, University of Michigan-Flint. I research and teach rhetoric and writing.
4073 stories
·
42 followers

The water crisis American cities don't see coming

1 Share

Aging water treatment systems, failing pipes and a slew of unregulated contaminants threaten to undermine water quality in U.S. cities of all sizes.

Why it matters: There's arguably nothing more important to human survival than access to clean drinking water.


  • Still, with only a handful of exceptions, "water systems aren't designed to focus on health, they're focused on cost-containment," says Seth Siegel, whose book "Troubled Water," released this month, examines the precarious state of water infrastructure in the U.S.

The big picture: Whatever goes down the sink, shower, washing machine and toilet is transferred to one of about 14,000 U.S. wastewater treatment plants. While those plants are good at neutralizing sewage microorganisms that can make people sick or pollute waterways, they can miss chemicals that are linked with our changing lifestyles.

  • The biggest change since most treatment plants were designed? The explosion of pharmaceutical use by Americans, Siegel told me during an interview in Axios' office.
  • About 60% of American adults take at least one prescription pill every day, per the National Center for Health Statistics. Residue from those pills travels to treatment plants and waterways.
  • Water testing often doesn't accurately reflect the risks of tap water, and testing processes can be manipulated to show passing results.
"There is evidence that we are being exposed to lots of pharmaceutical products at low levels — sub-therapeutic levels. ... We don't know who is drinking it or in what combinations or amounts."
Luke Iwanowicz, U.S. Geological Survey research biologist, in "Troubled Water"

Meanwhile: City leaders are typically reluctant to raise water rates to pay for plant and pipe upgrades out of fear that residents will see it as an increased tax.

  • At the same time, though, bottled water sales are at record highs, and 90% of bottled-water consumers cite safety or quality for the reason. That suggests people are willing to pay more for clean water, Siegel writes.

What's next: Siegel argues for consolidation of the number of water utilities — there are currently 51,535 drinking water utilities in the U.S., translating to 16 for every county. Los Angeles County alone has 200.

  • Such a large number of utilities impedes the adoption of new technologies, the replacement of failing pipes and the retention of trained engineers, he says.
  • Utility management should be decoupled from municipal politics, he argues. With mayors valuing cost control over water quality control, they will continue to defer maintenance and needed infrastructure upgrades.
  • Those upgrades will soon be unavoidable. There are 1.1 million miles of old water mains carry drinking water across the country, and at least 240,000 of them break every year.

The bottom line: The high levels of public trust local leaders enjoy will likely evaporate when residents become more aware of the health risks in their tap water, Siegel says.

Go deeper: The lead pipe danger lurking underground



Read the whole story
betajames
22 hours ago
reply
Michigan
Share this story
Delete

Rebecca Solnit: Life Under the First Thousand Days of Donald Trump

2 Shares

Today is the thousandth day of the Trump Era, and sometimes it feels like the thousandth year. It’s the thousandth day since that drizzly inauguration made most memorable by the lies about the crowd size and Melania Trump’s face collapsing in undisguised misery. A thousand days is forever, and not even three years, and too long and maybe far enough up this mountain of filth to see beyond it. On this day as on every day since the summer of 2016, I will have informational hypervigilance, which means scrolling through all my main news sites and the journalists I follow on Twitter, maybe while listening to the radio or a podcast, sometimes to see what exploded since I last looked a few minutes or an hour before, and maybe chatting a bit with the smartest observers of all this I know.

Early in the Trump Era journalists would tweet: “I went out to lunch; WHAT HAPPENED?!?” Stuff exploded fast and out of the blue in what seemed like all day every day. If I have nostalgia for the Obama era, it’s in no small part for unsurprising news you could catch up on easily if you’d been off the grid for a week or two. In the current state of things, I’ve had that experience in which just an afternoon away from the Internet means coming home to a cascade of news about corruptions that lead to personnel changes, investigations, outcries, basically the country or the world a different shape than when I went out for errands. Journalists have been a great bulwark of defense against this administration, and often the legal consequences follow the journalists, when there are legal consequences; the judicial branch of government has been another, overruling and suspending and declaring illegal or unconstitutional measure after measure the administration has put forth. But the Republican majority in the senate has thus far stood like a Praetorian Guard, to keep the law from reaching their emperor.

Really what I was hoping for—and only occasionally found—in this endless trawling and roving was someone to make sense of the senselessness, to find the pattern and then the key that would somehow let me make order out of the chaos, with a sense that if we had the key and the map maybe we had the exit. There was a period when I drew charts, because if you looked at a kingpin like Manafort and traced all the moving parts you had something to hang onto. There was order in understanding who the low-grade mobsters in the White House were and who they served. But there are days when the federal government seems to be exploding, like a decaying body that fills with swamp gas, or like the scene where the alien rips its way out of the astronaut’s torso: a firing, an act of brutality like abandoning the Kurds, a new piece of corruption revealed, another backroom deal, another official revealed to be a crook, another attack, sometimes half a dozen or more stories in a day. And a map of an explosion is not so useful since the parts keep flying.

Take last Friday when the US joined Russia in refusing to condemn Turkey’s attack on the Kurds, who Trump had suddenly abandoned to the benefit of the authoritarian leaders of Syria, Turkey, and Russia, on the same day we heard about troops being sent to Saudi Arabia to basically guard oil, as the former ambassador to Ukraine testified she was fired abruptly for not complying with the corruption, while the New York Times editorial board ran a somber condemnation of the pending withdrawal from the Open Skies treaty that let us monitor Russian weapons (and them to monitor us), as we also learned in the exploding Ukrainegate matter that Rudy Giuliani had been in an Oval Office meeting where he lobbied for a jailed client in one of the apparently many times Trump’s friend tried to bend US foreign policy to his personal agenda, and the acting—unconfirmed—head of Homeland Security resigned, the fourth to hold that position in the past thousand days.

If we are not currently an authoritarian nation it’s thanks in part to the insubordinate spirit of a good deal of the American public.

The night before at his rally, Trump had spewed lies and hate and urged the crowd to hate on local politician Ilhan Omar in particular—claiming, among other things, that she married her brother and empathized with ISIS—and to hate Somali-Americans and refugees in general. This incitement of hate through lies was so ordinary it wasn’t news, let alone a scandal, because a scandal is a sudden interruption of the norm and this is the norm. “Don’t normalize” was a constant reminder early in the Age of Trump, but we have, because outrage is about the aberrant, and the stupidity, venality, dishonesty, and viciousness are not aberrant in this administration.

Little things like the secretive dealings of the president’s son-in-law, who should never have had security clearance, who has overt conflicts of interest in his dealings with Saudi Arabia and other regimes, who seems to have cuddled up to the Saudi prince after the latter ordered the dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and who just before these thousand days tried to set up a private hotline to Russia, only seem little because they are so many of them. Any one of the items in that last sentence’s list is worse than the worst scandals of most other administrations.

It has been a thousand days, and I will not say anything cheerful like, “We survived,” because the only “we” worth uttering includes refugee children in baby gulags and refugees turned back at the border and all the brown and black women in politics Trump has threatened directly and encouraged others to threaten and the farmers going bust in the Midwest and all the women around the world who lost access to reproductive care as part of the right’s anti-abortion agenda and the trans people under constant rhetorical and sometimes literal attack and the 22 murdered in El Paso by a Trump-inspired anti-immigration man with a gun. A we that includes the administrators and experts driven out of their jobs as the Department of the Interior, the federal science programs, the state department, and the diplomatic corps were dismantled or corrupted.

Survival is a low threshhold, and it’s not the same thing as thriving. There has been a lot of pain and grief and horror and fear and dismay even on the part of those not directly threatened, on behalf of who and what is. Which is not to suggest that being distressed deserves the lion’s share of empathy, only that it is a good sign, or rather a sign of goodness. That distress is the sign of a public spiritedness, a sense of connection, a sense that what impacts others matters to the hearts and souls of a lot of people. The opposite, which we also see, is people so oblivious or indifferent that they are unaffected by the assaults on the climate, the environment, the vulnerable, the constitution, and the functionality of crucial institutions in this country.

“Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked.”

There’s a pain in cognitive dissonance for most of us, a festering indignation about the things we know aren’t true, aren’t right, aren’t decent. For example, while Trump—in that Minneapolis rally—boasted about defeating ISIS he was laying the groundwork for their resurgence with his decision to abandon the alliance with the Kurds, a decision that only makes sense if you recognize he’s acting in the interests of Erdogan, Assad, and Assad’s backer Putin, and not yours or mine or the Kurds.

Though the important thing for those who are grieved is to do something about it, and millions have. We have not survived, all of us, but so many of us have resisted. My greatest fear after the election was that we who opposed and objected might be few and easily picked off; that opposition would be intimidated, that the coup would be enforced as it would have been in truly authoritarian nations. Timothy Snyder had warned us early in the Trump Era, “Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked.”

If we are not currently an authoritarian nation it’s thanks in part to the insubordinate spirit of a good deal of the American public and the underlying confidence behind this relative fearlessness. Those who attack the president directly on Twitter know that it probably won’t mean that they will be disappeared in the middle of the night as they might in other regimes (though they might get beat up at Trump rallies, or driven off social media).

The active resistance that produced the blue wave of 2018’s extraordinary election victories, that’s stood strong against the fossil-fuel industry, protested corruption, demanded accountability. There should have been more, because these thousand days have been the worst domestic emergency in this country since the Civil War, but there was a lot. It began with two remarkable events, the well-planned women’s marches in cities, towns, and villages all over the country on day two of the Trump regime and the utterly spontaneous reaction at airports all over the country the following weekend to the Muslim Ban.

My fear now is that people are getting tired and worn out. I am a person who often feels like giving up or asks for directions assuming I’m lost at the very moment I’m on the threshold of arrival, and I worry that people are fading out or growing defeatist as redemptive possibilities draw near. I had expected Trump to have an incapacitating medical episode—obese, enraged, stressed men in their seventies often do—much sooner than this or the whole thing to collapse of its own rot sooner. But impeachment proceedings are underway at last, and the betrayal of the Kurds seems to have peeled away some of the support of Republicans like Lindsey Graham (who into the fall of 2016 was attacking both Trump and the legitimacy of an election process so contaminated by Russian interference).

My fear now is that people are getting tired and worn out. I am a person who the very moment I’m on the threshold of arrival often feels like giving up or assumes I’m lost and checks the directions. I worry that people are fading out or growing defeatist as redemptive possibilities draw near. It is, after these thousand days that felt like a thousand years, sometimes hard to imagine a return to a moderately ethical administration headed by an intelligent, informed head of state who can read a multipage briefing statement and who won’t spew playground insults on social media. But impeachment proceedings are underway at last, and the betrayal of the Kurds seems to have peeled away some of the support of Republicans and even if the base is tripling down, a majority of Americans want the president impeached and removed, according to the latest Gallup poll. Whether the Trump era ends because we elect someone else in 2020 or because of impeachment or resignation to avoid impeachment a la Richard Nixon, the end is in sight. If we stick with it. We have 384 days to go until the next election, and what happens in those days us both utterly unpredictable and partly up to us.

Read the whole story
rocketo
20 hours ago
reply
seattle, wa
betajames
22 hours ago
reply
Michigan
Share this story
Delete

I picked up running at the beginning of 2017

1 Share

When I was studying abroad in Malaysia at the beginning of 2017, I decided to pick up a hobby that was good for me physically and mentally, and running seemed to be the easiest and cheapest option. It didn’t require a subscription or much equipment. When I started off, I could only manage to walk, never quite run.

I began researching different ways to improve my running, and that’s how I stumbled on Eliud Kipchoge. Eliud was the top marathoner in the world, representing Kenya, my native country; he had won the Olympic Marathon in 2016, the Hamburg Marathon and the Chicago marathon.

He was then training for the first Nike Breaking2 project at Monza, Italy, running alongside two fellow African long-distance runners, the Eritrean Zersenay Tadese and the Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa. This was the first assisted marathon attempt to see if it was possible to run the full marathon in under two hours.

I sat down and did the calculations, and found that in order to do this, a runner would have to run every kilometre (KM) in 2 minutes, 50 seconds, and maintain that speed for the entire 42KM/26.2 miles. In those days, it took me an embarrassingly long time to just run a lap of 200 metres. I could not fathom how anyone thought they could run a full marathon in less than two hours. Kipchoge went on to run the race and missed the goal by 26 seconds. Observers realized during the run that he wouldn’t be able to make the time, but one of them commented, “No matter what happens, this man is amazing.”

I started reading up on Kipchoge, and found a man who seemed completely incapable of allowing failures to hold him back. In his debut marathon, he ran a half marathon in 59:25 minutes, making it one of the fastest debuts in history. Kipchoge has won 12 marathons out of the 13 he has run. After the Breaking2 project, he went on to win the London Marathon in 2017 and in 2018, and then won the Berlin Marathon and set the world record. Eliud was asked if he would attempt to run a marathon under two hours again, and he replied that it was simply a matter of when, rather than if.

I have never really been a sports person. I am neither athletic nor a fan of watching athletes, so it surprised me how deeply attached I grew to this particular marathoner. I think it was because of the man he was. He believed in doing your personal best. He did not think you should aim for breaking records; he believed simply in working hard and showing up to do your very best. Eliud is man who believes the truly powerful, the truly free are those who are disciplined over themselves, over their desires and passions.

I struggled with anxiety for years and when I started running, it was something like a last-ditch attempt to reclaim some of my sanity. As I mentioned, when I started I could only walk, and I reminded myself every day to walk 5KMs: no matter how long it took me, I would complete those 5KMs. You would think having a hero like Eliud would somehow make me ashamed of how mediocre my “running” time was but I soon realized that trying my best, not his or anyone else’s best, was the best way to emulate him.

courtesy of the author

Over time I improved, and I took on his ethos of consistency and discipline. I also realized that I had to keep changing what my personal best was, and just as Kipchoge regularly set challenges for himself, I started setting challenges for myself too. My current one is to complete a 5KM run in 30 minutes.

My best time is 34:53 minutes. I had recently figured out that getting a good pace and maintaining it for the whole run with slow increases would get me further than rapid surges. That day was a normal run, I was going to do my best, but I really didn’t think it would be my best yet. I completed my first kilometer in 7:03 minutes. I remember being surprised at that speed, and the fact I wasn’t yet winded; I completed the next kilometer in 6:49 minutes. At this point, I laughed. I was better than before, and getting better. I couldn’t believe I was this person. The 3rd, 4th and 5th kilometers were completed in 6:43mins, 6:57mins and 6:50mins respectively. I had grown from a person who used to walk 5KM to a person who ran the entire way. I was better than I’d ever been, and I’d done it just by showing up to each run, and aiming for my best. It was an empty track field, but I cheered for myself on that day, I was proud of myself. 

On the 12th of October 2019 Eliud Kipchoge hit the headlines once more when he kept to his word of “when not if” and ran a marathon in less than 2 hours.

As a young Kenyan, having Kenyan heroes is especially difficult in this current time. To have someone you admire that is achieving all their goals through self discipline and consistency is very rare. As Kenyans, we know that the fastest way to be rich and successful is to misuse public funds, be born into the right family or ingratiate yourself into the right crowd. We have men and women using up tenders and funds that are dedicated to hospitals and schools. Looking around at the people in government, it is hard and maybe even impossible to pick out a single person who has achieved what they have achieved through genuine hard work and consistency. There are few to admire and hope to one day emulate for who they are, rather than what they have.

I think that is why a lot of Kenyans feel so protective and warmed by all that Kipchoge is. He reminds us that not only are we not limited, but we are all capable of doing our very best. Each and every one of us. He has filled Kenyans with pride at a time when we so lack that feeling. I made a joke recently, that I had forgotten this feeling of holding my head up high when someone asks, “Are you Kenyan?” and being able to answer positively, because people like Kipchoge exist and remind the world and Kenyans themselves of the very best of Kenya.

courtesy of the author
Read the whole story
betajames
1 day ago
reply
Michigan
Share this story
Delete

As The Climate Warms, Companies Scramble To Calculate The Risk To Their Profits

1 Share
Companies are increasingly concerned about how Earth

Companies are trying to figure out the risks to their profits from a warming planet. Some of them are turning to high-tech tools of climate science.

(Image credit: Julian Stratenschulte/picture alliance via Getty Image)

Read the whole story
betajames
1 day ago
reply
Michigan
Share this story
Delete

Trees That Survived California Drought May Hold Clue To Climate Resilience

1 Share
Forest biologist Patricia Maloney is raising 10,000 sugar pine seedlings descended from trees that survived California

When it comes to surviving the warming climate, scientists are finding that some plants and animals have an edge. The hope is that these "super adapters" can help preserve their species.

(Image credit: Lauren Sommer/KQED)

Read the whole story
betajames
1 day ago
reply
Michigan
Share this story
Delete

The importance of enhancing the relevance of the liberal arts to students today (opinion)

1 Share

It’s not enough to passively continue with the same curriculum and hope that students, their families, politicians and the public at large re-recognize the value in what we do, argues Laura L. Behling.

Read the whole story
betajames
1 day ago
reply
Michigan
Share this story
Delete
Next Page of Stories