Thursday, April 14, 2005

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (4/14/05)


A modest proposal. Many Westchester communities are facing a double-digit leap in taxes, but Croton may be sitting on a veritable gold mine. The village has an untapped natural resource: its sweet-tasting water. Drawn from deep wells in aquifers within the bed of the glacial river that carved the Croton Gorge, Croton's water is naturally filtered in these ancient sands and gravels. A former Croton resident visiting from California recently dismissed the village's charms with the statement, "The only thing I miss is Croton's water."

More than half of all Americans drink bottled water today. Sales have exploded and profit margins are astronomical. Bottled water now ranks second among beverages, surpassing milk, coffee and beer. Thanks to heavy advertising, the conventional wisdom is that it's cleaner, safer and better regulated than tap water. It isn't. After testing more than a hundred brands of bottled water, the Natural Resources Defense Council found that a third contained "bacterial contaminants." Several brands contained synthetic organic chemicals or inorganic contaminants.

Deceptive labeling is common, often featuring stylized drawings of mountains, springs and lakes. One bottled water labeled "spring water" actually came from an industrial parking lot next to a hazardous waste site. Other empty terms commonly used on labels include pure, pristine, glacial, natural, purified, premium and mountain water. Three companies account for more than half of bottled water sales in the United States: Pepsico (Aquafina), Coca-Cola (Dasani) and Nestlé (Arrowhead). Surprisingly, many bottled waters are drawn from the municipal system serving the bottler's area. They are then filtered or disinfected before being bottled. In Memphis, Tenn., Pepsico's bottler of Aquafina uses municipal water; in Little Rock, Ark., Coca-Cola's bottler of Dasani uses municipal water. But no municipal water system can equal the quality of Croton water.

Croton should consider the potential of its valuable liquid resource to lighten the tax burden on residents. In Briarcliff in the early days of the last century, Walter Law's Briarcliff Farms bottled and sold its Briarcliff Table Water Company water in New York City. This could never happen today. Many Briarcliff residents assert that the village's water is not even fit to shower in.

First should come a study of the feasibility of a village-owned plant to bottle, label and sell Croton Water. Such a facility could be set up anywhere in the village zoned for such use. Alternatively, Croton could invite one of the major beverage giants to construct and operate such a plant to bottle and sell Croton Water under a licensing arrangement.

Croton water's reputation for purity is widely known, largely spread by Crotonites who have settled in other parts of the country. Anyone who now drinks bottled water could become a customer. Sales might be even larger than anticipated. Just ask residents of neighboring communities about the taste and quality of their water.

Blood bath on the ice. It's the time of terror once again. As you read this, hundreds of heartless men with clubs and skinning knives are fanning out over the ice off eastern Canada. There they beat to death and skin terrified newborn seal cubs only weeks old. They also kill mothers who try to protect their unweaned pups. By the time the killing spree is over in May, more than 300,000 baby seals will have been clubbed to death. The skins go to the inexcusable women's fur trade, which has coined the term "fun furs."]

Some fun! An international team of veterinarians found that over 40 percent of the seal pups are skinned while still alive and conscious. Yet the Canadian government does nothing to suppress this annual atrocity. You can send a message of your disgust over Canadian indifference by boycotting Canada's fish products, widely sold in the U.S. And let them know you are canceling planned tourism in Canada. The Humane Society of the United States ( is spearheading the fight against such brutal slaughter.

Our neighbor to the north justifies the devastating baby seal massacre with the unctuous lie that seals eat too many cod, a species long in decline. Studies show that the overfishing is the reason for cod depletion. Nevertheless, the rest of the so-called civilized world has no reason to be smug. Roadside zoos are little more than shabby animal slums. Rodeos are animal cruelty packaged and sold as Americana. Callous bullfights are not a sport but a branch of the butcher business conducted in stadiums. And the needless animal experimentation of the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries is inhumanity blessed by science. As the Bible warns, "O ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?"

Animals have been largely at the disposal of humans ever since Homo sapiens evolved into a cunning, predatory overlord of the creatures of the earth. The only vertebrate able to torture and kill all forms of sentient life, mankind freely chooses to do so. Over the millennia we have looked at animals as gods, servants, subjects for art, moral examples, a source of food and clothing, and sometimes as companion and friend. These attitudes have evolved without our ever really understanding the wonderful, mysterious creatures who are, as entomologist William Morton Wheeler once put it, "our only companions in an infinite and unsympathetic waste of electrons, planets, nebulae and stars," and a source, therefore, of "perennial joy and consolation."
Self-interest should add its decisive weight to the ethical obligation of stewardship that calls on us to treat other creatures mercifully. We have yet to appreciate animals for what they are--instinctive creatures of marvelous complexity, beauty and mystery. And insofar as rights are concerned, they have as good a title to this planet as we have, if not a better one. After all, they were here first.

A fan's notes. Average salaries for baseball players this season reached $2.63 million. Among the top earners are three New York Yankees: Alex Rodriguez, in the No. 1 spot for the fifth straight year, at $25.7 million. Derek Jeter is fourth at 19.6 million and Mike Mussina fifth at $19 million. San Francisco's Barry Bonds, still on the disabled list after knee surgery, is second at $22 million, and Boston's Manny Ramirez at $19.8 million.

Awesome is the only word to describe the Yankee's payroll. At $199 million, it is well over the combined payrolls of five other major league teams: Cleveland ($41.8 million), Milwaukee ($40.2 million), Pittsburgh ($38.1 million), Kansas City ($36.9 million), Kansas City ($36.9 million) and Tampa Bay ($29.9 million).

Old soldiers. Faced with shortfalls in recruiting volunteers and retaining current enlistees in the Army National Guard and Reserve, the Pentagon has quietly raised the maximum age for new enlistments from 35 to 39 years. Described as a "three-year test," the move comes as recruiters are finding it increasingly difficult to convince prospects to join. And unit commanders find it equally hard to convince troops to remain in uniform beyond their initial contracts.

The Pentagon can only blame itself for the mess. Hundreds of thousands of part-time soldiers have found themselves faced with multiple tours of duty in combat zones, under two-year mobilization orders. Of the 412,000 Guard and Reserve troops activated since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 63,000 have been mobilized twice, increasing the hardships and discontent. Nearly half the forces now serving in the Middle East and Central Asia are from the two reserve components.

Tooting my horn. Having taught nonfiction writing by mail for the past 17 years, my pro bono lessons have been gradually displaced by the Internet. Students are no loner willing to suffer the wait for what has come to be called “snail mail”--and I have found no way to make old-fashioned proofreaders' marks on a computer. One of the blessings of the drop-off in students is that I can now devote more time to my own writing. My first emancipated effort appears in the May issue of Writer's Digest now on newsstands and in bookstores--a playful article entitled, "The Work Habits of Highly Successful Writers."


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