Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Modest Proposal

First off, I don't pretend to be a world-class economist, political thinker or environmental expert, as often people on the web seem to think themselves after reading an article or two by their favorite talking head on this website or that. I am simply a woman with an idea that I think could potentially benefit the US economically, politically, and environmentally. Many would or will probably disagree with this for a variety of reasons, and that's all well and good, but I would love for someone to see this, someone of both means and power, and for them to consider it.

But, let's get the definition of the problem out of the way. For the past few years, the southern half of the United States has been sweltering in some sort of drought or another. This year, the problem has been exacerbated ten-fold, owing to the 5th most 100*+ F days that Texas has experienced since record keeping began. Farmers are counting their fields at a total loss and plowing under their crops that are dying, ranchers are selling off cattle, simply because they will dehydrate from the lack of natural pools from rainwater, foundations are cracking and splitting, and 95% of the state of Texas is amidst "Exceptional" drought conditions or worse.

This isn't isolated to Texas, but has been prevalent in all of the Southwest and is once again spreading to the Southeast and Midwest. There is no rain in sight, and it's only the last third of July. The lake nearest to my home, Lavon, is down 5+ feet at the moment, and is being further depleted as we speak. There are cracks in my yard that spread over 2" wide. I imagine there are people around the US that share my level of concern when they look at the shrinking waters of their own lakes, see the yellowed rows of crops that remain, and watch as nothing but dust seems to be the only crop available to us.

It could not come at a worse time. The United States is once again in financial crisis, this time over the debt ceiling, and jobs are dwindling once more. More farmers might find ruin over this drought and heat, more ranchers might have to borrow huge sums, fire hands, and scramble to try to save themselves amidst the crises. Budgets are drained even in states that have not gone through the drought due to outstanding debts and the drying up of government aid. Whereas Minnesota, my home state, once boasted a great surplus, the past few governors have left the budget in such ruin that state parks, rest stops, and even the lovely Minnesota Zoo have had to close their gates.

I'll not voice my politics or who I think is responsible for the last point, but, you'll get my drift if you're a resident of that particular state.

While thinking of this, I've had a notion that may help alleviate, maybe not solve, both of those issues. Flooding has been drowning yards and fields this summer in Minnesota. It's not uncommon, since the Mississippi seems to be one of the most deluge-prone rivers, along with the Red River of the North that runs the border between North Dakota and Minnesota. It's not rare to hear of cities along the flood banks buckling down and putting up sandbags, prepping their homes and readying or the worst in those scenarios. But, what if this type of disaster, and one that often costs the states that it afflicts as much as a Texas drought, might be a partway solution to said drought? The water that invades these homes often becomes contaminated and is wasted after the clean-up efforts begin, but what if it could be collected, kept sanitary and then put to a use that it would so desperately serve?

What I'm speaking of is a method to harness nature, in a sense, to use a surplus in one area to fight a dearth in another. Texas, and its surrounding states, need the water. Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa, and others in the northern Midwest are often innundated at this time of year, and have to drain their fields and let that water go unused. Minnesota, and many other states, need income to assist their budgets to pay state workers, keep up infrastructure, and make necessary additions to their state budget.

The answer could be in constructing a system of collectors, akin to channel locks, throughout the river systems that annually flood. Studies would be done to determine which rivers in the nation are most likely to flood within a given season. Within each state, construction along the banks of these rivers, in areas that aren't designated as wildlife refuges or for other sanctuary purposes, to install collection chambers that would only unlock in the event that the river flooded over a certain level. Then, the locks could open, allowing the uncontaminated, still useable, rain and river water to be obtained, and once the river resumed its normal flow, then they would close again, allowing the regular course to continue.

The initial issue of start-up funding would be the greatest, I would think, but once the proper funds could be obtained, it could be a true revenue producer. I also believe that the general guideline for how it could proceed should be fairly simple. Each state would be responsible for funding its own system, with construction, repair, and usual maintainance, as well as deciding how much the collection areas would hold. Additional water towers for storage, most likely, would have to be constructed and maintained, as well as treatment facilities, should any contaminants make it into the supply. The states would handle this individually as well, adhering, of course, to any federal standards that are already in place.

Once the facilities are up and running, states that collect the water would ultimately decide what to do with it. Should they themselves face a drought, naturally, their own concerns would be priority. But, if states, wanting to obtain additional revenue and add to their budgets, sold the water to states that needed it, then you'd have a ready source, at least in years like this. Texas and it fellow drought-sufferers might find some temporary relief, and states like Minnesota would get a boost to their budgets that would allow facilties that might be in jeopardy to continue functioning as normal.

The benefits of such a project would be innumberable. You have economic stimulus via the need for a workforce to construct all sides of the projects, from the water collections at the river banks, to the water towers, to the administrators delegating the use of the water. The stimulus also flows to the towns closest to the construction projects. Workers need to be fed, housed, be provided equipment, etc. Mandate that all companies involved must be US-based, and you have thousands upon thousands of jobs and domestic product handed in a neat package to the government. Benefits would also extend to the towns along the river banks due to few floods destroying property and putting people out of their businesses. People in those towns can also get a ration of the water, so that they have a first priority status if the river doesn't undergo its usual flow in the spring and summer.

Environmentally, the spread of contaminants is limited as well. Flooding gets into trash disposal locations, nuclear waste, chemical storage facilities and other locations where the damage can wreak havoc with both people and the natural surroundings. The plan also employs water that is already available, and not drained from a reservoir or natural aquifer. The natural flora and fauna is left undisturbed by flooding. While the construction would provide a temporary issue, once the project is complete, the benefits would outweigh the temporary problem. Also, as I said earlier, no wildlife refuges would be allowed to be bothered in the project.

So...that's my idea. I can hardly believe that I'd be the only one to think of such a plan, and far greater minds than mine could probably run circles around that solution, but I think, if people were to get talking about it, it might at least be a start.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Book Review: Thirteen Years Later by Jasper Kent

Well, it's been a little while since my last review, and it seems equally apropos that it's also of another novel by Jasper Kent, a continuation of his original Twelve, titled simply as Thirteen Years Later. I like Kent's style, his grasp of unadulterated, dark periods of the past that most of us in the good old US of A have a tendency to brush aside, and the moving, harsh prose that he chooses to construct his tale of terror. I hope we see more of his work in the future, as I think it would be something the dark fantasy world desperately needs and from which it would benefit.

Well, enough pontificating, on with the review! Once again, the reader comes upon our hero, Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov, thirteen years after his brutal encounter with the voordlak in their mercenary guise. Alexei's had a chance to settle into something of a normal life, as normal as one could have it while involved still in espionage, as he's still in the employ of the government, this time directly to Tsar Aleksandr I. He is balancing two sets of domestic requirements, the first to his wife, who has taken on a lover, (but which seems inconsequential at first to the consideration that Aleksei gives the discovery) and his son, Dmitry, while he maintains his connection to his longtime lover, Domnikiia, with whom he has a daughter.

As his son, resentful of his father's absences, is about to accept his commission into the army and dedicate himself in Moskow, Aleksei follows him to visit with his mistress and daughter, unbeknownst to his wife, Marfa, or Dmitry. Here, we see the strains and demons of emotion and regret that exist in Aleksei's otherwise happy life. There is a tension between father and son that strikes a chord with many a reader, I'd wager. Given that Kent uses both of their points of view, anyone can empathize with either man in the situation, giving the story a very human element and depth to both Aleksei and Dmitry. We see a father's hopes for his son to do what he feels will be best for his future, while the son merely wants to both assert his individuality and express himself in the world as he sees fit.

The pedestrian realm of father-son conflict is soon left behind, however. While in Moscow, Aleksei is made aware of two threats, one to his own safety, and the other to that of the tsar. As the story progresses, it is made clear that he has underestimated the nature of the threats and their connections to each other, embroiling him further in the political intrigues of the Romanovs and resurrecting the dangers of the past that he thought long dead. The voordlaki resurface, though not as Aleksei suspects and also in a position to cause him to doubt who the clear enemy might be. The noose tightens around Aleksei's life, and he is forced to uncover dark secrets within the Russian royal family itself that might be the key to the empire's survival.

As with before, Kent uses startling, jarring imagery to depict both the animal nature of the voordlak and the physical confrontations. Body parts are severed, mutilation and disease are given no quarter in their descriptions. It is an extravaganza, once again, for those who enjoy the old nature of horror epics and harkens back to a time when vampires were among the creatures in the dark to fear, as I've mentioned in my other review. Once again, I feel that something could be expanded, given our sometimes villain in this volume, Kyesha, I would have liked a little more of a backstory, but that is just my desire. I like to know the reasons for a villain's transformation, what in their humanity, beyond just becoming a supernatural creature, made them change.

There is a surprise ending, considering what I think many readers of the first novel, myself included, may have expected from Kent. I was amused by it, if not totally enthralled with it. Overall, I enjoyed this follow up, and once again, hope that Kent makes quite a few contributions to the genre in the future. Given that some people now shy away from dark/urban fantasy entirely because of the stigma attached by certain shows and movies, this particular subgenre would be all the better for it.