Thursday, August 20, 2015

Is the Water Safe to Drink?

I gave a knee-jerk reaction, "Yes," without adding "of course." But thinking about the question later, I realized the reason for the question.

Raised in the US in rural New York state, lived in South Carolina and later Texas, traveled throughout Europe, I kind of took clean drinking water for granted. Maybe the water pressure in the shower varied (especially in Argeles-sur-mer during the summer tourist invasion), and maybe the tap water tasted a bit different here and there, but never anything objectionable or unsafe.

The questioner was Syrian, only recently permitted to leave that war-ravaged country earlier this year and now living in France. He and his wife were visiting us in Switzerland. I realized that in his home nation, and perhaps some of the places he traveled as a journalist, he could not always rely on the local water being "potable."

Millions of Syrians now live in refugee camps, and in many cities still 'standing' the infrastructure of plumbing, sewage, electricity has been reduced to rubble. Lack of decent sanitation and water facilities is contributing to outbreaks of disease that sweep through the camps.

A similar situation for displaced families in the Ukraine conflict. Israeli-controlled Gaza. Many places in Africa, Haiti (remember them?) and elsewhere. According to UNICEF, "663 million people still lack access to improved drinking water."

A friend is now working for Global WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) - http://www.unicef.org/wash/index_3951.html. They're spearheading a variety of projects to try to create the type of clean water conditions most of us assume as a natural consequence of modern society. I encourage you to read up on the campaign.

Of course, the CEO of Nestle and other multinational corporations don't think human beings have any right to "free" water. While California dries up, for example, Nestle continues to suck up scarce water so they can sell it back to you in their plastic bottles - http://uk.businessinsider.com/nestle-waters-ceo-will-absolutely-not-stop-bottling-water-in-california-in-fact-if-i-could-id-increase-it-2015-5?r=US&IR=T.

I know some people don't care to hear about the problems and suffering around the world. Easier to lead a comfortable life and ignore the pain elsewhere. I'm glad I've finally been exposed to many of these issues that the global community struggles with. The US is not an island, and it needs to think more about the people of the whole world, not just itself.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

I'm Pierced

William Tell wasn't real?!?

The mountain man who embodies the spirit of Swiss independence? A myth?

I've begun studying Swiss history, culture, government, etc. in preparation for someday applying for Swiss citizenship, and early in my research stumbled across the statement that the hero who was forced to shoot an apple perched on his son's head is, many scholars conclude, a mere legend, a story around which to rally against oppressors.
You probably know the tale well. In the early 14th century, a political tyrant named Gessler perched his hat atop a pole in Altdorf and ordered the townsfolk to bow down to the symbol. When Tell refused, Gessler ordered him to shoot an apple off his son's head. A superb marksman with a crossbow (another Swiss symbol), Tell split the fruit. But he'd had a second arrow ready to kill Gessler, who sentenced him to a dungeon. On the way to the prison by boat, a storm arose on Lake Lucerne, Tell escaped and killed the evil politician. I like that ending. It would be even better if Gessler was also a banker. Except historians now doubt that Gessler was real either.

At any rate, the William Tell story helped the Swiss push for independence from the Hapsbug dynasty and form the original Swiss Confederation. And of course inspired some great music.

I still want to see the statue, or rather statues of William Tell. It's going to be fun to learn the history of a new country (to me) which is actually small enough to get around to all the various historical sites.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Why is There Still Royalty?

Which one is the true royal?

I read recently that the new King of The Netherlands gave a speech (written for him) that the Dutch people should take responsibility for themselves. No more "entitlement" society, he chided them. Slackers.

That's absolutely laughable. So-called "royal" families are the most "entitled" people on the planet, living entirely off the taxes of the common people (and getting personally rich in the process). King Wilhelm is paid over a million euros a year to do nothing of value to society, and the upkeep on his castles etc. runs over a hundred million. The tab is considerably more than that for Queen Elisabeth, Prince Charles, Princess Kate, etc.

The very concept that certain people are accorded status and privilege, originally bestowed "by divine right" and then handed down through bloodlines, is an anomalous carryover from the times of barbarian mongols. Their divine right was the sword and bludgeon they wielded to subdue their enemies and the people.

Consider the "House of Lords" in the UK. A minority of people hold power they did not derive from any vote of the majority; they are not accountable; and they get paid extreme amounts of public money. The Lords is now almost wholly a monied new aristocracy - businessmen or politicians, crass patronage (not unlike US ambassadorships granted to wealthy donors).

One argument is the royals bring in tourist dollars. Thanks, but I don't need to see a parade with a gilt carriage so I can get a glimpse of the Queen's latest pillbox hat. Better that Britain spend the money on a decent sand beach.

I've heard that there's still a law on the books that labels it treason (with life imprisonment) to call for the abolition of the monarchy. Not sure that applies to UK residents only or if former "colonists" are covered as well. Perhaps I'd best stay out of England for awhile.

Then again, I could just show the Bobbies my own proof of royalty -- after all, I am a Baron of Sealand ... a title I purchased for about 50 quid. (Wonder how much it would cost me to get into the House of Lords?)