Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.

—  W H Auden

Water Woes

March 31, 2013


H2WOes over Blue Gold

Whisky is for drinking; water is for fighting over. — (most often attributed to) Mark Twain

Water, like almost everything else of value, isn’t evenly distributed.  That’s where the trouble begins.  It isn’t that there’s not enough water, it’s that it’s often in the wrong places — and getting it relocated to where it’s needed can be a prohibitively costly endeavour.

Proportion of the Various Forms of Water on Earth

Igor Shiklomanov, “World Fresh Water Resources” from Water in Crisis, edited by Peter H Gleick, 1993.

Oceans are relatively shallow compared to the earth’s radius.  All water, fresh or salt, on or near the surface of the earth can, if aggregated, form a ball about 1,400 kilometres (860 miles) across.  How much of that water is fresh?  A sphere only about 272.8 kilometres (169.5 miles) across, of which 99% is groundwater, mostly inaccessible.  All accessible fresh water would make a sphere only 56.2 kilometres (34.9 miles) across.  And just about every living multi-celled creature on earth depends on that sphere.  (Jupiter’s moon Europa, on the other hand, contains more water than all of Earth — but so what?  We have no access.)

What are the problems with fresh water today?


The quantity of water demanded is predicted to be half again as much as the quantity of water able to be sustainably supplied by 2030.  According to the World Health Organisation, 1 of every 3 people today is affected by water scarcity (in fact, Wellington is currently prohibiting certain outdoor water use).  One in 6 people over the next 15 years will probably experience protracted insufficient access to safe drinking water.  By 2030 almost 1 in 2 people will experience water stress.  You may not be immune, so listen up.

How much water does a person need in a year?

Though the average African family can get by on only 5 gallons of water per day, each individual living in the US uses on average 100-200 gallons of water per day in the home.  Its 2,000 cubic metre (70,000 ft3) per person per year average causes the US to lead the world in per capita water consumption.  (Nevertheless, the US has decreased overall usage almost 20% when compared to 1980.)  Even Canadians use twice the amount of water per person as the French, three times as much as Germans, eight times the Danes.  Mexico City, on the other hand, wastes an estimated 40% of its water through ageing leaky pipes.  In water-poor Jordan, it’s estimated that leaking systems waste up to half the clean water transported through them.

When availability of water falls below 1,000 cubic metres, it’s considered a state of scarcity; anything below 500 cubic metres is considered serious.

Comparison of Per Capita Water Use by Region 1998-2002

GEO Data Panel, compiled from FAO Aquastat 2007

GEO Data Panel, compiled from FAO Aquastat 2007


Ideally, every person in the world should be guaranteed water for personal and domestic needs.  But fresh water use has tripled over the last 50 years.  A family of 4 four in a developed country has need of a daily amount of water equivalent to an Olympic-sized swimming pool just to produce their daily food.

  • Economic scarcity refers to the fact that finding a reliable source of safe water is time-consuming and expensive.  (A 2002 UNICEF study of rural household in 23 sub-Saharan African countries found that ¼ of women spend 30 minutes to an hour each day collecting and carrying water; 19% spend an hour or more.  The walk for water averages 6 kilometres per day, half of which is spent carrying 18-20 kilograms of water back home.)
  • Physical scarcity means there simply isn’t enough water to go around.

With the world population expected to grow from a little over 7 billion today to 8 billion by 2025, obviously more potable water will be needed.

Shepherds rest with their livestock as they wait to get water from a well in El-Halaba,
on the rural desert outskirts of the White Nile.  Unpredictable rains, late harvests,
and severe crop losses make life difficult for agricultural communities.

With a complete lack of water, humans can live 3-5 days.  People out of water are soon so desperate that they turn to unsafe sources.  This contributes to the spread of waterborne diseases (malaria, typhoid, cholera, dysentery, diarrhoea, schistosomiasis, trachoma, and infestations of ascaris, guinea worm, and hookworm).  People with water scarcity hoard water in their homes, increasing contamination risk.  (Unclean enclosed containers of water grow bacteria quite easily — especially if it’s warm.)   In sub-Saharan Africa, treatment of diarrhoea due to water contamination uses 12% of the area’s health budget, leaving less to be spent on nutritious food that would produce a healthier workforce.  Insufficient water means wastewater is often used on crops.  Local food frequently contains chemicals and/or disease-causing organisms.

In China, 4-5% of all deaths are through diseases caused by water pollution.  Surface water and groundwater are both contaminated.  Almost no household waste and very little industrial waste is treated before entering the environment.  Most rivers flowing through Chinese cities are unsuitable for drinking or fishing and almost half of these are so polluted they aren’t suitable for agriculture or industry either.  Water scarcity means industrial wastewater often irrigates farmland.  In urban areas, most drinking water comes from groundwater, much of it contaminated.  However, China recognises the severity of this problem and has made notable progress in the past decade.

In the last 10 years, diarrhoea related to unsanitary water has killed more children than all people lost to armed conflict since WWII.  At any given time, half the world’s hospital beds are occupied with patients suffering waterborne diseases.

Will water soon be used as a weapon of war and potential tool for terrorism?  There have been threats, but no actions thus far.  Nevertheless, the World Economic Forum’s 2011 Global Risk Report includes water as one of the world’s top 5 risks.

Today’s leaky pipes were new in 1889 when the streets of Kearney, Nebraska,
were ripped open so workers could install sewer pipes.
In many US cities, pipes this old are still in use.


Shared water problems cover such a broad spectrum, they’re difficult to address as a group.  Locale, local and international law, commercial interests, environmental concerns, and human rights questions make the disputes complicated — combine this with the number of potential parties and a single dispute can leave a large list of demands to be met by courts and lawmakers.  This costs everyone.

Are there water rights that should universally apply?  What are they?  On what humanitarian standard are they based?  Can you equate, say, 23 humans dying of thirst with 100 humans dying of starvation because crops failed from lack of that water hydrating those 23 people?  The issue of availability/affordability of medical care is in some ways akin to the availability of water — although dying of no medical care is on average slower than dying of thirst, both are concerned with the allocation of scarce resources.

Despite the rapidly growing importance of trans-boundary water in the world, international law regarding water management is quite weak — poorly developed, contradictory and unenforceable (most agreements contain no enforcement mechanism whatsoever).  Several principles of international law are applied to international river negotiations by riparian states in the absence of agreed-upon norms.

  • Absolute Sovereignty (the Harmon Doctrine) argues that a state has absolute rights to water flowing through its territory.  This is invoked most often by upstream riparians.
  • In contrast, the doctrine of Absolute Riverine Integrity states that every riparian is entitled to the natural flow of the river system that crosses its borders.  This is most often invoked by downstream riparians.
  • A third doctrine seeks to strike a balance between those two: the doctrine of Limited Territorial Sovereignty.  This gives each riparian state the right to use waters within its own borders according to the terms of “reasonable and equitable use,” with the obligation to not cause “significant harm”.  Unfortunately, these terms remain undefined.
  • The Restricted Sovereignty doctrine refers to the idea that each riparian state should be entitled to specific allocations of the total flow of river water each year, tied to such criteria as historical use, total population, or total arable land.
  • Finally, the doctrine of Optimal Development (the “shared benefits” model) calls for development of the whole river basin without regard to national boundaries, such that maximum river flow is captured and redistributed to all riparian parties.   (Alternatively one party may compensate others for disproportionate use.)

UNESCO has mapped all known trans-boundary aquifers.


People gather to get water from a huge well in the village of Natwarghad in the western Indian state of Gujarat, June 2003.
In the midst of severe drought, dams, wells and ponds went dry across the western and northern parts of the state.
This forced people to wait for water as temperature soared to over 43.3°C (110°F).
Meanwhile, engineers on a pilot project in Gujarat covered a ½-mile irrigation canal with solar panels.
This prevented nearly a quarter-million gallons annually from evaporating.


Rivers may flow through several countries, often serving as boundaries or demarcations between them.  Use of these rivers are of great consequence to survival, quality of life, and economic success.  Competition, especially if the resource is particularly limited, boosts conflict.  The fact that wars are seldom or never directly fought over water indicates a widespread willingness to compromise.

Sub-surface groundwater, though stored in the pore space of soil and rock, is best utilised as water flowing within aquifers below the water table.  (Artesian wells tap into this.)  Groundwater is renewable if it has a close association with surface water, or (effectively) non-renewable if it’s in an aquifer (a separate, usually deep, sub-surface water system which can be thought of as “fossil water”).  Shared aquifers are difficult to allocate in a way considered fair by all parties.  For example, the Guaraní Aquifer, located under the countries of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, is an important source of fresh potable water for all 4 countries.  As the aquifer depletes, these 4 countries will (hopefully) jointly agree to ration.

The lack of cost-effective water desalination techniques puts pressure on all water users, whether corporates, governments, or individuals.  Recent humanitarian catastrophes, such as the Rwandan Genocide or the war in Sudanese Darfur, were influenced by conflicts caused by insufficient water.  In the Middle East, 1% of the world’s fresh water suffices for 5% of the world’s population.  By 2025, it’s predicted that countries of the Arabian Peninsula will use more than double the water that’s naturally available to them.  Today, of Arab countries have available < 1,000 cubic metres (35,000 ft3) of water per person per year.

  • It worsened relationships among Iraq, Syria and Turkey when Turkey commenced the Southeastern Anatolia Project (also known as GAP) to dam sections of the Euphrates and Tigris north of the Syrian/Turkey border.  On losing control of their waterways, Syria and Iraq (ignoring their previous disputes) formed an alliance to protest the construction of the Atatürk Dam in Turkey and a further 22 Turkish dams projected for the Tigris and Euphrates.
  • There’s a perennial Jordan River conflict among Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestine Territories.
  • In Central Asia there’s an Aral Sea conflict among Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

The UN indicates that, in the next 20 years, the quantity of water available to everyone could decrease by as much as 30%.  The UN Development Programme says, “One part of the world sustains a designer bottled-water market while another suffers acute public health risks from having to drink water of poor quality from drains, lakes, and rivers.”  (Nothing new here.)


 Flow state

Flow State


The causes of water scarcity can be explained by global problems that defy national borders and even international institutions. These include:

  • population growth
  • climate change
  • pollution
  • industrial expansion
  • urbanisation
  • ageing infrastructure, and even
  • changing diets due to economic growth (it takes 2,000 litres of water to grow one kilo of vegetables, but 15,000 litres to produce a kilo of beef).

Each year of industrial wastewater and of household sewage return to water resources untreated.  Aquifers are drying up.  Leaks (most often from ageing pipes) need repair.  One home with one leak dripping 20 drops per minute wastes 694 gallons per year.  One leaking toilet can waste 25,000 gallons per month or more.)  Imagine how much leakage occurs when a buried water main cracks.  In many parts of the world, sinkholes result.

In China’s karst region, water quality is particularly bad.  The region is rain-rich — during the wet season water falls in sheets.  But monsoon rains there do more than fill rooftop cisterns: they unfortunately also scrub soil from rock, draining fertilisers and farm chemicals from fields, drawing up human and animal waste.  This filth pours into innumerable crevices and holes in the earth, where it all vanishes.  It is this groundwater from whence area drinking water comes.  Natural filtration doesn’t apply to this underground polluted water and it’s difficult to impossible to clean.  The karst belt stretches through 8 provinces, encompassing nearly 200,000 square miles (larger than California) and is home to 80-100 million people.

In fact, karst covers 15% of the earth’s land mass and is home to as many as 1.5 billion people.  [Try Google Maps to view the sinkholes in Avon Park, Florida (+27° 35’ 52.48”, -81° 29’ 48.78”).  Just paste in those co-ordinates and zoom out a little.]


US Drought Monitor – 26 March 2013

The US Drought Monitor is produced in partnership among the National Drought Mitigation Center
at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the US Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


Examples — USA

The US has 1.6 million kilometres (1 million miles) of water mains.  The financial crisis and recession cut revenues for many utilities, resulting in delayed maintenance.  It’s estimated that 240,000 water main breaks occur each year and nearly 14,000 dams — or one out of every 7 — is rated as “high hazard.”  Last year the American Water Works Association estimated that $US 1 trillion is needed over the next 25 years to replace just the pipes in the system.  This doesn’t include money for treatment plants or reservoirs.

Phoenix, 13th-largest metropolitan area in the US, is home to 4.3 million people.  Located in a low bowl in a hot desert, it is also home to heat waves and windstorms.  Water comes from the distant (and dwindling) Colorado River.  The 336-mile-long Central Arizona Project (CAP) delivers water from the Colorado River through a canal system into central Arizona, through Phoenix, and then south of Tucson — to about 80% of Arizona’s population (Maricopa, Pinal, and Pima counties).  Central Arizona agriculture uses about half the CAP water.  One estimate suggests that 30% of the farms in central Arizona would be forced out of business by increased water costs.

The Sacramento Delta, an inland network of streams and rivers (many contained by dikes and levees), forms the hub of California’s water infrastructure.  Californians hate rain but love water, so ¾ of them live in the arid south, spurning the wet north where ¾ of the rain falls; they expect water to come to them by pipe, canal or aquifer (preferably courtesy of the taxpayer).  The Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and their tributaries carry rain from the north and melting snowpack from the Sierra Nevada in the east.  These meet in the delta and flow out through San Francisco’s Golden Gate.  The trick is to intercept the fresh water in the delta before it gets salty, and send it south toward the Los Angeles area and also west toward the San Francisco area.

Those in the south get their water through two networks.  The federal Central Valley Project, dating from 1937, uses 20 upstream reservoirs and two pumps to take water to the southern Central Valley largely for farmers.  The State Water Project, begun in 1960, uses another 22 upstream dams and reservoirs and its own pumping plant to send water into the other aqueduct, largely for urban use.  The delta, point of control for both systems, sits atop seismic faults.  One large earthquake could disrupt California’s water supply.

In the southwest US, the Colorado River is shared by many states before its dregs trickle into Mexico.  All along the river, water is diverted for irrigation and urban use, with Arizona and California the biggest users.  Because Mexico uses the dribble of water that reaches it for irrigation, virtually nothing gets to its once-fertile — now parched and polluted — delta on the Sea of Cortez.  Little water means little delta silt, so fertiliser application is now necessary for local farmers.  And though the Colorado River’s water is completely allocated, the population in the Southwest continues to grow.  According to one estimate, 5 of the 10 fastest-growing US states are in the river’s drainage.  The water that newcomers drink will reduce the amount that farmers receive because newcomers are willing to pay more for it than farmers are.  (Of course food prices in the region may rise.)

Due to utility pricing structures, certain urban areas such as Boston (which has high rainfall and low consumption)
pay higher water rates than cities like Phoenix (where rainfall is low and consumption high).


Examples — World

Some analysts believe Israel continues to occupy the Golan Heights, seized from Syria in 1967, to control the Jordan River, while others think the occupation is about maintaining the high ground in case water conflicts arise in the future.

Crown Prince General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan stated at last month’s International Water Summit: “For the United Arab Emirates, water is now more important than oil.”

In Africa, the main countries with water problems are Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Ghana.  Africa’s susceptibility to water-induced conflict can be separated into 4 regions: the Nile, Niger, Zambezi, and Volta basins.

  • Running through Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan, the water of the Nile often sparks conflict and unrest.
  • In the Niger region, the river basin extends from Guinea through Mali and down to Nigeria.  Especially for Mali — one of the world’s poorest countries — the river is vital for food, water and transportation.  Its overuse contributes to its increasing pollution.
  • In southern Africa, the Zambezi river basin, one of the world’s most overused systems, has Zambia and Zimbabwe competing fiercely over it.  Additionally, in 2000, Zimbabwe caused the region to experience the worst flooding in recent history when it opened the Kariba Dam gates because the reservoir was too full.  More than 700 people from Mozambique died in the flood; 500,000 were made homeless.
  • Finally, within the Volta river basin, Ghana is dependent on its hydroelectric output, but plagued by regular droughts.  This affects the production of electricity, limiting Ghana’s ability to sustain economic growth and contributing to regional instability.  (And there are no alternatives?)

China builds the most and largest dams and water transfer projects in the world.  The government is currently engaged in an astonishingly ambitious plan to transfer water from the Yangtze River in the south to the northern Yellow River through an elaborate series of canals.  (Well, it seems to have worked rather well for California.)

This is the façade of an apartment building in Shanghai, one of China’s fastest-growing urban areas.
The city has 23 million people — the equivalent of the 8 biggest cities in the US combined.



Water shortage is the most important challenge to China right now, their biggest problem for future growth.  China’s total water resource, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, has dropped since the start of the century.  More specifically, China’s water supply is 350 billion m3 (93 trillion gallons) less than it was 13 years ago.  That’s as much water lost to China each year as flows through the mouth of the Mississippi River in 9 months.  Chinese climatologists and hydrologists attribute the drop to climate change, which has disrupted patterns of snowfall and rain.

Climate shift helped destroy China’s Tang dynasty in the past.  Prolonged droughts and poor summer rains caused crop failures and stoked peasant uprisings.  Eventually, rebellions led to the collapse of the dynasty in 907.  This shift in precipitation happened on both sides of the tropical Pacific, not just in coastal East Asia.  The same migration of the rain band occurred in Central America, dooming the classic period of Mayan civilisation at almost exactly the same time.  Comparison of records from a lake in Guangdong province and from a basin in Venezuela show striking similarities — suggesting a general shift towards a drier climate at around 750.

What will global climate fluctuations do to the supply of fresh water?  If oceans warm, sea levels rise, bringing more evaporation, precipitation, and storms.  While local effects can’t be predicted, warming will affect the hydrology of every major river basin in the world, especially in Asia.  The Ganges, Indus, and Yellow are all dependent on mountain snowpack for flow.  (Snowpack is a natural reservoir that melts in spring and summer, just when water is needed downstream.)  As temperatures warm, more precipitation falls as rain; snow melts sooner; peak runoff occurs earlier.  The Ganges, Indus and Yellow already tap out in the dry season.  This problem will likely affect rivers fed by the Andes, Rockies, and Alps.  Rather than damming still another river, a better plan may be to improve efficiency in water catchment and to find ways to encourage using less.



Solutions include (but are not limited to):

  • well-digging
  • devising better rain catchment systems
  • distributing de-worming pills, hand pumps, and cost-effective, relatively maintenance-free toilets
  • conserving (in part by ensuring that all participants understand the long-term problems)
  • recycling more wastewater
  • improving irrigation methods
  • implementing user-pay schemes
  • regulating
  • managing the ecosystem better
  • distributing water more equitably
  • reducing corporate use
  • cooperating with others
  • reducing pollution
  • mitigating climate fluctuation, and
  • controlling population growth.

Innovations such as separate lines for potable and non-potable water in new construction may help reduce treatment cost in developing areas.  But rationing and technology alone are insufficient.

THE key step in moving toward rational water management is to charge the end-user a price reflecting water’s value and scarcity (like gasoline).  Although pricing water reasonably can generate a multitude of problems in the short run, it should lead to critically-needed efficiencies in the longer run, easing drains on government budgets.  Higher prices cause everyone to use water more efficiently.  Free (subsidised) water is often wasted, according to most experts.  Why bother fixing a leaky faucet if it’ll cost you more to repair it than it will save you overall?  Why buy better irrigation technology if it won’t save you money?  No reason.  And that’s why many suggest that water users must pay the price.  But this is easier said than done.  Most water in developing countries, especially for agriculture, isn’t metered.  Rationing, or better technology, may be required to encourage efficient use in those cases.

Subsidies are most dramatic in irrigation, which accounts for about 70% of worldwide fresh water use.  Farmers may pay 10-15% of the real cost of their water, or they may get the water for free.  Water subsidies are a fact of life in the western US, amounting to about $500 per acre.  Charging for water has dramatic effects, causing usage to decline by a third or more.

Water where I live in Wellington isn’t metered.  If our record-breaking drought continues much longer, we may be asked to go from restrictions outdoors to restrictions indoors — on the honour system, of course.  The very idea of metering water causes many Kiwis to become angry.  But New Zealand generally has plenty of water — why not have the idea that free unlimited water is everyone’s god-given right?  Because there may not always be enough unless there’s a motivation to conserve.

Water Ways

Artificial Lakes of Treated Waste Water

Artificial Lakes of Treated Waste Water

Center for the Restoration of Waters

Center for the Restoration of Waters

NY Water Tunnel #3

NY Water Tunnel #3

  • Arrowhead Ranch lakeside development in Phoenix, Arizona: Throughout Phoenix, treated effluent is used to help meet non-drinking water needs.  The use of effluent is gaining popularity in central Arizona as it decreases dependence on groundwater.
  • Scott Sargert checks water samples, Ocean Arks International research facility in Providence, Rhode Island.  This experimental greenhouse is designed to filter 14-16 thousand gallons of raw sewage a day.  Plants, bacteria, snails and fish feed on sewage, helping to purify the water.  In this image, he analyses before and after water samples.  The purified water is nearly drinkable.
  • This finished 24-feet-in-diameter section is located under Shaft 13B, near the Central Park Reservoir in New York City.  Residents use almost 2 billion gallons of water per day — brought to them via 3 tunnels, 2 of which were built during the great depression.  The activated portion of the newest tunnel runs 13 miles from the Hillview Reservoir in Yonkers, across Central Park, under the East River and Roosevelt Island, and into Astoria, Queens.  The tunnel will eventually span more than 60 miles, bringing water from the Catskills.  It’s the largest capital construction project in the history of New York City.



In Conclusion

As new technological innovations reduce the capital cost of desalination, more countries are building plants as a way to begin addressing their water crises.  Israel and Singapore have already begun desalination; China and India aren’t far behind.  Neither are Pakistan and Bermuda.  All Australian capital cities except Darwin and Hobart are either in the process of building desalination plants, or are already using them.  The largest desalination plant in the US is in Tampa Bay, Florida, pumping 25 million gallons (95,000 m³) of water per day.  California, Arizona, and Texas use desalination for a small part of their water supply.  After being desalinised at Jubail, Saudi Arabia, water is pumped 200 miles (320 kilometres) inland though a pipeline to the capital city of Riyadh.  Worldwide, 13,080 desalination plants produce more than 12 billion gallons of water a day.  The world’s largest plant is the United Arab Emirates — a dual-purpose facility using multi-stage flash distillation capable of producing 300 million m³ per year.  A typical aircraft carrier in the US military uses nuclear power to desalinate 400,000 US gallons (1,500,000 litres) of water per day.  But given the energy-intensive nature of desalination and its associated economic and environmental costs, it’s still generally considered a last resort after conservation.  (As well as after instituting equitable pricing?)  Nevertheless, its use is expected to triple in the near future.

“You don’t miss your water,” an old blues sage wisely said, “'til your well runs dry.”  Price water fairly.  That should make that old well last a bit longer.

Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. — Nelson Mandela

Patterns: Inside, then Outside

Palace of Venaria, Turin, Italy

Palace of Venaria, Turin, Italy

Shell Grotto, Margate, Kent

Shell Grotto, Margate, Kent

Cathédrale Sainte Cécile, Albi, France

Cathédrale Sainte Cécile, Albi, France
Snowy American Orchard

Snowy American Orchard

Aspen Grove near Aspen, Colorado

Aspen Grove near Aspen, Colorado

Dry Rivers, Baja California, Mexico

Dry Rivers, Baja California, Mexico

  • The Royal Palace was designed and built from 1659-1675 by Amedeo di Castellamonte, commissioned by Duke Charles Emmanuel II, who needed a base for his hunting expeditions in the heathy hill country north of Turin.  The name itself derives from Latin, Venatio Regia meaning “Royal Hunt”.
  • In 1835 Mr James Newlove lowered his young son Joshua into a hole in the ground that had appeared during the digging of a duck pond.  Joshua emerged describing tunnels covered with shells.  He had discovered the Shell Grotto, 70 feet of winding underground passages leading to an oblong chamber, its walls decorated with strange symbols comprised of a mosaic of millions of shells.  Is it an ancient pagan temple?  A meeting place for some secret cult?  The purpose of the structure is unknown, and various theories have dated its construction to any time within the past 3,000 years.  Some speculate that the builders may have been the Knights Templar.  The shells are all local, but some of the designs suggest associations with Phoenicia.  These associations have recently gained more credibility from the fact that the name of the Isle of Thanet, where Margate lies, is now thought to derive from the Phoenician goddess, Tanit.  The official guide suggests a subject for many of the mosaic panels, such as a skeleton, crocodile, owl, or turtle, but the abstract nature of the designs make these suggestions rather subjective.
  • In the Midi-Pyrénées, installed on one of the heights of the city overlooking the Tarn, the Sainte-Cécile d’Albi is a perfect affirmation of Southern Gothic.  Built as a fortress, it was part of the defensive system and could then accommodate 6,000 Albigensians in case of danger.  The bricks to build what is the largest brick cathedral in the world were extracted and manufactured from Tarn clay over a period of more than 200 years.

  • Snow covers an orchard somewhere in the United States.  “No orchard’s the worse for the wintriest storm; but one thing about it, it mustn’t get warm,” wrote Robert Frost in his poem “Good-bye, and Keep Cold.”
  • Ranks of aspen trees crowd a dense grove outside Aspen, Colorado.  Aspens typically grow in large clonal colonies, derived from a single seedling, and spread by means of root suckers.  Each individual tree can live for 40–150 years above ground, but the root system of the colony is long-lived — in some cases, for thousands of years, sending up new trunks as the older trunks die off above ground.  It’is considered to be an indicator of ancient woodlands.  One colony in Utah, named “Pando”, is estimated to be 80,000 years old.
  • Currently-dry rivers forming tree-like fractal patterns on the desert of Baja California, Mexico.



Why is New Zealand better than Australia? (I can hear you asking yourself that.)

  • Kiwis are friendlier (everyone says so).
  • Australia is as beautiful as New Zealand but you have to travel thousands of kilometres between sights.  NZ is more compact.
  • Kiwi houses are cheaper (especially cheaper than ones in Sydney).
  • Big-city Australians are wound as tight as watch springs.  Kiwis are more laid-back.
  • Kiwis are more entrepreneurial — a small, educated, enthusiastic population of early adopters.  And because there’s only 4.5 million people, it’s easier to get your voice heard.
  • Fewer things can hurt or kill you in NZ.  Australia is home to 10 species of poisonous snakes, spiders the size of your hand and scorpions.
  • NZ has better weather.  Australia’s either too hot, too cold, or too wet.  Thanks to climate change, Sydney alternates between floods and bush fires.  Queensland suffers increasingly volatile storms.  The Outback and Western Australia fry.  NZ has a temperate climate with plenty of sunshine and rain.

(Thinking of moving here?)

NZ is almost perfect.  Could it be made even better?  Here are some suggestions put forth by Peter Sefton.

  • Re-name New Zealand “Aotearoa”.  This will be listed immediately ahead of Australia in every international travel guide plus the name recognises a unique cultural heritage.
  • Have a nationwide competition for a new national flag design to be instituted without delay.  It would be the only official New Zealand flag allowed to be flown.
  • Legislate that everyone born in New Zealand or adopting New Zealand nationality is equal in law; abolish all laws and regulations which differentiate by race.
  • End all treaty settlements (as currently promised) by 2014.
  • Introduce a new policy that everyone who is able and desires to work, can register to have a job in their local area working for their local council maintaining and beautifying the surroundings; wages to be paid by central government at the legislated minimum hourly rate.

  • Halve social payments to those able to work who refuse a job offer, but use council social services to identify and assist affected children who may be at risk.
  • Redefine New Zealand’s railways as a national service, just as roads are, to be maintained as a social necessity.
  • Introduce a property tax on all residential properties sold within 3 years of purchase, equivalent to the Australian stamp duty.  This duty would progressively reduce from 5% to 1% of the registered valuation over the following 4 years.
  • Ensure all children have a basic education in math and English plus one other language of their parents’ choice.
  • All persons convicted of a crime, if they are deemed not harmful to others or dangerous to society, are to be sentenced to home detention instead of prison.  Remove victimless crimes from statutes.


The artwork of Cédric Le Borgne



Le Désir et la Menace

Le Désir et la Menace

Fearless Grazer

Fearless Grazer

These objects are all made from wire and wire mesh.
  •   Pont Neuf Toulouse 2000-2003 National Theatre (the artist lives and works in Toulouse)
  •   Festival Arbres en Lumière of Genève, Switzerland, Rue de la Fontaine, 2012
  •   La Biche sculpture pérenne, Centre Hospitalier Psychiatrique Le Vinatier, Lyon, 2009



True to type?  One doesn’t usually think of font as being wildly interesting, though Helvetica type was considered interesting enough to be the subject of a movie by the same name.  (The movie discusses the way type affects our lives.  I have not seen it.)  And In 2011, one of Google’s April Fool’s Day jokes centred around the use of Helvetica — if a user attempted to search for the term “Helvetica” using its search engine, the results were displayed in the font Comic Sans.

  • Trajan is an old style serif typeface designed in 1989.  It is based on the Roman square capitals used for the inscription at the base of Trajan’s Column from whence the typeface takes its name.  Since the inscription is in only one case, Trajan is an all-capitals typeface.  Trajan Pro (a 2001 update of the original typeface) includes a lower case of small caps.  Trajan has become very popular, as seen in its nearly constant presence on American movie posters, television shows and book covers.  For example, Trajan Bold was used for the poster for Titanic, and in posters and promotional material for Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.  Trajan Pro Bold is used in the titles and captions for The West Wing, for the credits of several films like Interview with the Vampire and Goya’s Ghosts, and on the covers of many John Grisham paperbacks.  The typeface was adopted in 2000 by Canada’s second largest political party, the Canadian Alliance, and used until the party’s dissolution in 2003.  Trajan is also used in the logo of the British accoutrement firm Toye, Kenning and Spencer.  In 2010, the font was used on Coronation Street.  It is also the official font of The University Of Texas, Columbia University, Rice University, University of Bologna, University of the District of Columbia, University of Kansas, the Pennsylvania State University, University of Rhode Island, California State University-Sacramento, and the Universiti Teknologi Petronas.  The typeface in the logos of Lawrence University, Ball State University, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, the John Paul the Great Catholic University, SUNY Albany, and the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne is Trajan.  Given its statesman-like characteristics, it’s also used on political websites, including the personal website of Australian politician Malcolm Turnbull.  Trajan was used in the campaign logo for Chris Dodd, a Democratic Senator from Connecticut, during his presidential campaign in 2008, and most recently by former Governor of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty in a 2011 ad “Courage to Stand”, regarding his presidential campaign.  The font was also used by Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts, in his logo for his presidential exploratory committee for the 2012 American presidential election.  It was also used for the Assassin’s Creed franchise wording, and in advertisements for Trojan Condoms.  It was used in the original Pixar Animation Studios logo from 1986-95.
  • Verdana is a humanist typeface (the most calligraphic of the sans-serif typefaces, with some variation in line width and more legibility than other sans-serif fonts).  The name is based on a portmanteau of verdant (something green), and Ana (the name of the eldest daughter of the person in Microsoft’s typography group who recognised the demand for such a font).  Verdana uses a square dot over the letter “i” and has a double-storey “a”.  It was designed to be readable at small sizes on a computer screen: the lack of serifs, large x-height, wide proportions, loose letter-spacing, large counters, and emphasised distinctions between similarly-shaped characters all help to increase its legibility.  Released in 1996, Verdana was bundled with subsequent versions of the Windows operating system, as well as Office and Internet Explorer on both Windows and Mac OS.  Until 2002, it was available as freeware, allowing it to be used by end users on any system supporting TrueType fonts.  (Newer versions aren’t free.)  The availability of Verdana is 99.7% on Windows, 98% on computers running Mac OS, and 68% on free operating systems like Linux.  Verdana had a bug for a while that caused diacritical marks to be displayed over the wrong letter, but that has since been fixed.  IKEA caused a furor in the graphic design world in 2009 when it changed the typeface used in its catalog from Futura to Verdana.  Why would anyone care?  People were afraid type was becoming too homogeneous.  (This is really being “true to type”.)


A Dog, a Cat, and a Cat + Dog

Adaptable Dog

Adaptable Dog

Cat Bowl

Cat Bowl

Please Come Down and Play with Me!

Please Come Down and Play with Me!

A dog who had its front paws cut off by callous members of a Mexican drug gang is able to play and run once more after being fitted with prosthetic legs.  The sweetly-named Pay de Limon — or Lemon Pie — was discovered whining and bleeding in a dumpster after his run-in with heartless criminals in Mexico City in 2011 (they were practicing the tortures they planned to use on kidnap victims).  A year on, the plucky pooch has recovered well thanks to the efforts of the Milagros Caninos — Canine Miracles — rescue centre in the Mexican capital, which raised almost £4,000 to pay for the dog’s new legs (made at OrthoPets in Denver, Colorado).

I could find nothing about the other two photos as their origins have been effectively swallowed by their popularity.


Two men were walking through the desert.  They were nearly out of water when they saw three tents in the distance.  They hurried over to see if they could get some water.  In the first tent they were told, “I’m sorry we only have trifle.”  In the second tent, again, “I’m sorry we only have trifle.”  They went into the third tent and again asked for water only to be told, “I’m sorry we only sell trifle.”  As they walked on, one man turned to the other and said, “That was a trifle bazaar.”


If H2O is the formula for water, what is the formula for ice?

H2O cubed…