The Twisting Flow of Water

May 28, 2014

Reviewing Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization by Steven Solomon (HarperCollins, 2010)

Solomon - WaterMy interest in issues related to water has developed during my retirement years. In part, this was because we lived for a time in the desert southwest where golf courses and lush agricultural fields luxuriated despite the aridity of the climate and where archaeological remains testified to the fragility of previous hydrological societies.

My interest in water also developed as a corollary to my activities as an open road cyclist, taking long tours through river systems drained by the Columbia, Colorado, and Rio Grande in the West and the Potomac and Ohio in the East. The writing on water that I have done has been primarily as a secondary theme within travel narratives based on cycling expeditions.

One of the reasons for giving more sustained attention to water related issues is the growing evidence that climate change has become a serious issue now rather than one that is waiting to happen in another generation. The hydrological systems of the earth are behaving in ways that are outside of our experience. Deluges, droughts, and intense fires are more common and more extreme than they used to be, and they take place simultaneously. Climatic patterns that our civilizations have relied upon are becoming undependable.

A second reason is my interest in reflecting upon the meaning of these changes from a theological and ethical point of view. Current literature tends to focus on factual descriptions: where water is found, how contemporary societies are using it, and changes that are taking place in the availability and use of water. As long as we focus on description, it is possible to reach broad agreement on water in the current global economy and political scene.

A more difficult challenge is to agree on evaluations of how well the hydrological systems are working and prospects for both the near and longer term futures. More difficult still are the challenges of agreeing on the causes of the hydrological challenges now confronting the people of the world and determining courses of action that we ought to be taking.

The first step in moving the discussion forward is to recognize the varied roles that water has played in the development of human civilization—water for drinking and cleansing, water as a means of exercising power and developing wealth, water as the enabling agent for urban society and also the source of some of the most urgent problems facing these societies, water as the substance upon which everything else seems to depend.

This is where Steven Solomon’s 500-page book Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization is the very thing we need. In a remarkably comprehensive, concise, and compelling manner, this journalist, who publishes in major American media, describes “the twisting flow of water” (quoting from a statement by Daniel Yergin on the book jacket).

In his prologue, Solomon summarizes the major themes of the book: (1) Control and manipulation of water has been a pivotal axis of power and human achievement throughout history. (2) Preeminent societies have invariably exploited their water resources in ways that were more productive and unleashed larger supplies than in slower adapting societies. (3) Water challenges on an epic scale are unfolding today. (4) The societies that find the most innovative responses to these crises will most likely come out as winners, while the others will fade behind. (5) Civilization also will be shaped by water’s inextricable and deep interdependencies with energy, food, and climate change.

The book is filled with factual information, but the facts are presented in a strong narrative manner rather than in a technical manner. Solomon depends more upon historians than geologists as the sources of information and insight. Read more. . . . Twisting Flow of Water


Straight talk about gay marriage

May 12, 2014

A review of God Believes in Love: Straight Talk about Gay Marriage, by Gene Robinson (New York: Knopf, 2012)


Paperback Edition

The thesis of this book is succinctly stated in the final paragraph: “I believe in marriage. I believe it is the crucible in which we come to know most deeply about love. It is in marriage that God’s will for me to love all humankind gets focused in one person. It is impossible to love humankind if I can’t love one person. That opportunity to love one person and to have that love sanctioned and supported by the culture in which we live is a right denied gay and lesbian people for countless centuries. It’s time to open that opportunity to all of us. Because in the end, God believes in love” (196).

In the rest of the book—all 195 pages—Gene Robinson, who at the time he wrote it was the Episcopal Church’s bishop of New Hampshire, develops the theological meaning of married love, summarizes the history of marriage in western society, explains the separation of Religion and State in the American constitutional system, and states the case for same-sex marriage as an authentic manifestation of the love in which God believes.

The author’s life experience provides the context for this book and contributes to its emotional impact: born to tobacco sharecroppers in rural Kentucky; “massively injured in childbirth” and not expected to live; nurtured as a Christian in a small congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); confessed his faith and was baptized into Christ at age twelve. His “greatest desire was to live like Christ.”

By the time he graduated from the University of the South, discerned a call to ordained ministry (in the Episcopal Church), and enrolled in seminary, he knew that he was attracted to men, didn’t like it, and loathed himself for it. After two years of therapy, he believed that he was ready to be married. From the beginning of his relationship with the woman he married, he told her of his history of attraction to men. She responded that their love was strong enough to deal with whatever might happen.

When Robinson was thirty-nine and their two daughters were still in elementary school, the marriage was dissolved before a judge and in a poignant ceremony at a church. Robinson continued his ministry, fell in love with a man, and they established a home. They established a civil union and later were married. Despite opposition from many people in world-wide Anglicanism, Robinson was elected to the office of bishop. Since the book was published, Robinson has retired and on May 4, 2014 announced that he and his husband plan to divorce.

Most of the book consists of Robinson’s answers to ten questions most often asked him over the years: Why gay marriage now? Why should you care about gay marriage if you’re straight? What’s wrong with civil unions? Doesn’t the Bible condemn homosexuality? What would Jesus do? Doesn’t gay marriage change the definition of marriage that’s been in place for thousands of years? Doesn’t gay marriage undermine marriage? What if my religion doesn’t believe in gay marriage? Don’t children need a mother and a father? Is this about civil rights or getting approval for questionable behavior?

Robinson’s answers are written in clear, straightforward, serious but non-technical language. Some of the contributions he makes are these:

  1. He provides a theologically coherent support for same-sex marriage despite the long tradition of vigorous opposition by culture and religious communities.
  2. He outlines the radically varied patterns of marriage in western society, thus undercutting the assumption that current discussions are contrary to ages-old systems.
  3. He explains the fact that in the United States marriage has always been a civil institution that is clearly distinct from the religious blessing of the union of two persons in a relationship of love.
  4. He positions the recognition of gay marriage with other movements to overcome discrimination and grant full civil rights to minorities whom majoritarian systems oppress.
  5. He draws upon a substantial body of factual data to answer questions such as the effect upon children when they grow up in homes with same-sex parents. Read more. . . . Straight talk about gay marriage


Riding around the fire mountains (all covered with snow)

May 6, 2014
Pahto—Mt. Adams

One of the Fire Mountains

People keep asking me about the bike trips I intend to take this summer. I’ve come up with an answer and actually hope that I can take the rides described below. I’m following the example of the Perimeter Bicycling Association of American (PBAA), a Tucson-based bike club that encourages people to ride around things.

The fire mountains are three volcanic peaks that are part of the skyline of my home in the Portland-Vancouver community. Two of them are frequently seen from almost anywhere in this metropolitan area. The third rarely appears at this distance, but belongs to the mythic story of this part of the Pacific Northwest.

These three circumnavigations are arranged in ascending order, starting with the shortest. My intention is to take my time for each trip rather than rushing to cover the distance in the shortest time possible. The itineraries will be the shortest routes that can be done on paved roads with motel accommodations at reasonable intervals.

These three peaks belong togtether. According to Native American stories, the Great Spirit had two sons, Wy’east and Pahto, who fought over a beautiful maiden named Loowit. Because their battle scorched the earth, their infuriated father turned all three into volcanic peaks: Loowit is Mount Saint Helens, Pahto is Mount Adams, and Wy’east is Mount Hood. Each of these peaks will be the center of a ride.

The Wy’east (Mt. Hood) perimeter ride will begin and end in Troutdale, Oregon. On day 1, I will ride south to U.S. 26 at Sandy, Oregon, and then continue up the mountain’s slope to Welches or Government Camp. On day 2, I will continue to Barlow Pass and then turn north on SR 35, to Hood River. On day 3, I will continue through the Columbia River Gorge—using the historic highway for most of the way—back to Troutdale. I hope to do this ride no later than early June.

The Loowit (Mt. St. Helens) perimeter ride will begin and end in Woodland, Washington. Although it is longer than the Wy’east ride, I hope to do it in three days, too. On day I, I’ll travel north on old roads that parallel I-5 to Castlerock. On day 2, I’ll take the Jackson Highway to its junction with U.S. 12 and continue on to Randle. My plan for day 3 is to travel south on Forest Service Road 25 and SR 503 back to Woodland. By traveling in early July, I’ll be able to rendezvous with a research team supervised by a grandson that will be stationing earthquake monitoring devises along the eastern edges of the mountain.

The Pahto (Mt. Adams) perimeter ride will begin and end in Stevenson, Washington. On day 1, I’ll travel eastward on SR 14 and SR 142 to Goldendale on US 97. On day 2, I’ll ride north into the Yakama Indian Reservation, stopping for the night either in Toppenish or Yakima. On day 3, I’ll take US 12 over White Pass (elevation 4,500 ft.) to Packwood or Randle. On day 4, I’ll go south on Forest Service 25, 51, and 30 back to Stevenson. The timing of this trip may be determined by an event in Packwood in mid September or an event in Yakima in early October.

Although PBAA has established guidelines for designating perimeter routes and recording record time, I do not plan to do so. The mountains are there. The routes are challenging and exciting. Riding around the fire mountains will be a great way to make the summer memorable.

If I feel unusually adventuresome, one more circumnavigation could bring them all together in one grand trip: Troutdale to Hood River to Goldendale and Yakima; then on to Randle and Castlerock, Woodland and Troutdale. How many miles? I have no idea, but it would really be a grand trip.

Anyone interested in doing it with me?