Thursday, July 31, 2008

Great Lakes waters are NOT FOR SALE!

to remind Congress that Great Lakes waters are NOT FOR SALE!

Stop the privatization of Great Lakes waters!

In the coming days, Congress is considering a historic resolution on the Great Lakes Compact, an agreement entered into by the states and provinces of the Great Lakes Basin. This lays out guidelines for diversions from the Great Lakes, lakes and streams and groundwater in the Basin to protect the waters from large scale diversion projects and private expropriation. Generally, the Compact bans all diversions unless covered by an exception. While the Compact could be a great step forward to protect the Great Lakes, there are serious concerns with the exceptions laid out in the compact - such as that allowing the packaging and sale of Great Lakes water as a "product" for private gain and explicitly exempting bottled water from the ban. Further, the Compact fails to incorporate the Public Trust doctrine that protects Great Lakes basin waters from private export and sale and protects these waters from claims to the water as a product under international trade laws.

The Compact cannot become law without the approval of Congress, who will consider this very soon. Congress has broad constitutional powers to add conditions to make sure the Compact conforms to principles like public trust, so it is uniformly respected by the states in managing the Compact and Great Lakes waters.

Take action NOW to ensure conditions to the Compact protect the waters against being defined as a product, which could allow bottled-water companies to exploit the waters and sets a dangerous precedent for exporting water, and protect the largest body of freshwater in the U.S. as a public trust.


Sam Finkelstein
Great Lakes Organizer

Food & Water Watch

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I <3 Tap Water

From the folks at food & water watch comes their video contest winner:

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Ghandi in Austin

Monday, July 14, 2008

RETURN of the Banished

You return on currents and tides
after years in the wilds of the East

How many are the sorrows of exile?
More than pearls in the the seas.

--Li Po

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The History of the English Word Water: Part Three

The History of the English Word Water
Daniel Sanford


One other thing that we know about the Indo-Europeans: we know that they didn’t stay in the Ukraine. Horses, wheels, and agriculture is a pretty potent cultural combination in the world of 4,000 BC (it’s still the Neolithic throughout Europe, and far off in the most civilized part of the world, Sumeria and Egypt are just getting started at this time- the world is not a technologically sophisticated place). The Indo-Europeans took their culture, technology, religion, and language, and they moved. All over. And everywhere they went, their language became the dominant language of the region, replacing languages and language families which had previously existed in the region (unless, of course, there are places that they moved to in which PIE died out- if this happened, we of course wouldn’t know about it). PIE language splits off into dialects, and eventually languages, as groups lost contact with one another.

As a result, the English word water has relatives all over. We looked last time at a few of the Germanic ones, but there are many, many more. A few of these have stumbled over into English, some in amusing ways, despite our already having a word with the same origin. Among the Indo-Europeans who headed down to Greece, wodor developed into hudor, which English speakers borrowed back as hydro-, as in hydrodynamics or hydroponics. In the Slavic group, we see many words along the lines of woda and voda, all related (or, really, all the same word). In Russian, a diminutive ending was added to make a word that English speakers promptly borrowed: vodka, or ‘little water.’ Something similar happened with Gaelic uisge, from the same root (the Celts being the West-most of the Indo-Europeans). Uisge beatha, or ‘water of life’, was shorted to uisge and then borrowed into English as whiskey.

Another group of Indo-Europeans headed South, then split: one group headed into the Middle East, becoming the Persians (where their name for themselves- aran, or ‘noble’- is recognizable in Iran). Another, which headed into Northern India, were known as the Aryan invaders whose religious practices merged with those of the older, Dravidic population (still present, and speaking Dravidic languages, in Southern India) to form Hinduism. The words for water in these languages look a bit different. It’s been suggested that there were two roots corresponding to water in Indo-European, one which stressed water as a living, animate, thing (or, perhaps, deity), and one which labeled water as an everyday, inanimate substance. The former was ap-, the latter wod-. While languages like Hindi and Farsi are a part of the same language family, Indo-European, the words for water in these languages are descended from ap-, not wod-.

The Indo-Europeans who headed to Italy became speakers of Italic, out of which developed Latin. Latin kept wod-, as unda, but its meaning shifted over to mean ‘wave’ (another water cousin that we borrowed in English, as undulate). For ‘water’, they used what was apparently yet another word referring to water (or, it’s been suggested, a related concept, such as ‘drink’): akwa. It’s this word that became the word for ‘water’ in languages like Italian, Spanish, and French that developed out of Latin (acqua, agua, and eau, respectively). But, English has vestiges of this root as well: for example, our word island is from an older form ag-land, or ‘water-land’, which uses a root descended from akwa.

Language, on the surface, can seem like a barrier between cultures. A deeper look, however, illustrates the connections that language can evidence even as it conceals them. Even among groups with no memory of their common cultural origins, the shared use of words such as water, the same across related languages despite variations in form, belie a unity and sameness far deeper than language differences might suggest.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Etymology of Water

History of the English Word Water
by Daniel Sanford


‘West Germanic’ labels one group of the Germanic language family: all of the languages that descend from Germanic (called Proto-Germanic, because while we know that the language existed, and we know a great deal about it based on the properties of its daughter languages, we have no direct access to the language itself). By the time the Anglo Saxons got on ships for Britain, Germanic had spread to much of its current distribution, with speakers ranging over what is today Southern Norway and Finland, Denmark, Northern Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. In the language of the original Germanic people, focused around the very northern edge of Denmark and across the way on the southern rim of the Scandinavian Peninsula the word for water would have looked something along the lines of wadar. Every Germanic language has a related word. A couple of examples: in Old High German wadar become wazzar, eventually becoming today’s German wasser. Further North, in Old Norse, the word became vater, and eventually Norwegian vann, while old Swedish watar became today’s vatten. In Old Frankish the word became weder, which in Denmark is now vand. These are all, essentially, the same word as English water, arising from the single Germanic word wadar.

Germanic is itself, however, just one branch of a bigger family. The people who would become speakers of Germanic arrived in Sweden and Denmark sometime around, or a bit before, 2500 BC (about the same time that the first pyramids were being built in Egypt). When they showed up, they were speakers of a dialect of Indo-European (or, more accurately, Proto-Indo-European).

There’s a lot that we don’t know about the Indo-Europeans, but there is a surprising amount that we do know, given the fact that they didn’t leave much in terms of archaeological remains (or at least, not remains that can be positively attributed to them). It’s a reasonable guess that the Indo-Europeans started out somewhere around the area of the Ukraine in 4000 BC. We know, based on words of theirs that survived into Indo-European’s daughter languages, that they had domesticated dogs and horses, some sort of wheeled vehicle, cereal agriculture, a paternalistic culture, and a pantheon of gods headed up by a “Sky Father” (something like Dyaus Phatr, they called him- from which the Greeks got Zeus Pater, and the Romans got Jupiter).

The root of their word for water (or at least, one of them- we’ll look next time at the possibility that there was more than one) looked something like wod-, or perhaps wed-. The root by itself just meant ‘something wet’, but adding a suffix— -n or –r— made it into ‘water’.

What came before Indo-European? Tough to say. Language leaves rotten fossils, and 6,500 years is pushing it as far as our ability to figure out language histories goes. One thing that’s important to note, though, is that Proto-Indo-European (PIE) was just one small language in a very big, very linguistically diverse world.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The History of the English Word Water: Part One

The History of the English Word Water

by Daniel Sanford


The word that we know in English as water has a long, rich history, far predating the English language. Tracing it backwards, we can follow it as far back as the earliest ancestor of English of which we’re shakily (if that) aware. Following the history of the word forward from that point, we can see its dissemination into the many languages and languages families that English is related to. Patterns of connections between the English word water and related words in other languages reflect the history of a language family that stretches back 6000 years.

It’s not surprising for water to have such a long history, because it’s so basic to life (and therefore, of course, to humans). Words that persist in a language tend to be those that correspond to phenomena that are basic to a people’s experience. For such concepts, we don’t see as much ‘borrowing’ between languages as we do for more culture-specific things like foods, ideas, and specific ways of thinking about the world (the persistence, in languages, of the ‘basic vocabulary’ that labels these ideas is so dependable that we often use the number of shared basic vocabulary items as a diagnostic of how closely related two languages are). Water is a word that the speakers of all the languages ancestral to English never stopped using, that was never replaced with a word borrowed from another language or a word from within English with a similar meaning. Nor is it especially likely to be, for as far forward as English, and whatever languages English gives rise to, is spoken.

English began its career as the language of the Anglo-Saxons, the name that’s come to be applied to Germanic people who arrived in Britain around 450 AD (as the Roman Empire was in the process of falling apart) and ruled the island until the Battle of Hastings, in 1066. In 450, there was no English language: the Germanic peoples that showed up in the British isles around that time would have been speakers of West Germanic. With time, however, their complete linguistic isolation from the mainland would have created a new dialect of West Germanic, and finally a new language, unintelligible to West Germanic people on the mainland: English. This language came to largely replace the languages previously spoken in the British Isles: today the few remaining speakers of Irish, Welsh, and Scottish Gaelic (as well as Breton, on the mainland) are the last holdouts of the Celtic language family, which once covered all of the British Isles and large portions of western Europe.

The oldest surviving occurrence, in writing, of the English word water dates from about 450 years after the Anglo-Saxons arrived, as wættrewæter, if we change it to the nominative case (that symbol is called an ash, and the vowel’s sound matches that of the vowel in ash).

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008


“While working on various studio lots where image is of the utmost importance he noticed that you could tell a lot about a person by the bottled water they carried…Our product is strategically positioned to target the expanding super-luxury consumer market. It’s couture water that makes an announcement like a Rolls Royce Phantom…the “Cristal” of bottled water.”

from Bling H2O

its water, folks

speaking of the magnificent things man has made

a found poem

Everything here
seems bound
for someplace else

The grain goes down
the river
the trains speed through
the little towns
the interstate highway
is full of long-haulers
and out-of-state
license plates

I can hear
the soft chatter
of a kingfisher

I can hear
the bushes rustle
where a marmot roots
near the water's edge

I can hear
the cars plying
the bridge between
Engineer's Town
and the reservation

But except
for the slightest swish
coming from a thin
strand of water
that emerges from
halfway down
the dam's
dry spillway

The night is devoid
of the sound of water


What's Colorless and Tasteless And Smells Like . . . Money?

The push to turn water into the new wine is a marketing phenomenon: The bottled-water industry is engaged in an intense effort to convince Americans that the stuff in bottles is substantially different from the stuff out of the tap.
But empirical tests have repeatedly shown that they are generally the same. In blind taste tests, many people who swear they can differentiate between bottled-water brands and tap water fail to spot the differences, and studies have shown that both are fine to drink, and both occasionally can have quality problems.

Experts who study bottled water as a cultural phenomenon say differences between the two are largely marketing inventions.

"Taste for water is as much an effort of imagination as it is an objective fact," said Richard Wilk, a professor of anthropology and gender studies at
Indiana University who studies the phenomenon. "The labels have springs and waterfalls and mountains. The latest waters are from Antarctica and Iceland; there is glacier water and iceberg water and water that is a million years old and water from 3,000 feet down off Hawaii. All of these things promise an untouched nature far from human beings."

from the Washington Post