Happy Thanksgiving!

© pam lazos

As many of you know, I am crazy for clean, safe water for all and work toward that end both in my J.O.B. and in my volunteer life. So I am sharing the post I made for the Global Water Alliance today with some water facts for you to ponder as you carve your turkey and relax with family and friends today. If you are one of the people that enjoys unfettered access to clean water, say a little prayer of thanks for your luxury and another one that all people will one day share your bounty. I hope you have a blessed Thanksgiving filled with family and friends, good food, a solid roof over your head, plenty of laughter, and clean water for all. pl — 11.25.21

Happy Thanksgiving! Here at GWA we have much to be thankful for, but most of all we are grateful for the gift of clean water!  GWA envisions a world where all people have access to safe drinking water and sanitation.  The UN and WHO estimate that around the world, over 785 million people don’t have access to basic water services while more than 884 million people don’t have safe drinking water. 

The good news is that since 2000, drinking water services improved from 61% to 71%, and sanitation services increased from 28% to 45%

Arsenic removal project in West Bengal, India

But there is still much work to be done.  The WHO estimates that during Covid, three out of every ten people couldn’t wash their hands in their own homes due to lack of access to clean water.

Connecting the pipes — Panyebar Water Project, Guatemala

We’re not on the straightaway yet, but we are making progress with projects like Panyebar in Guatemala and our arsenic removal work in West Bengal, India.

While most of us in developed countries have access to clean water, there is this little problem of a crumbling infrastructure that needs a great deal of attention here in the U.S., a problem that has been called “a ticking time bomb” by the former EPA Administrator, Carol Browner.  Without a much needed investment in infrastructure, parts of the U.S. could find itself looking much like a developing country when it comes to water access.  President Biden’s Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act will pump approximately 82 billion into the water sector, improving infrastructure and sustainability.  What a great way to start a massively daunting project!

This year, Global Water Alliance is expanding its reach, funding additional projects both in the U.S. and abroad, supporting students in our affiliated universities at the World Water Forum in Dakar, and committing to more education via conferences and webinars while expanding our networking capabilities to increase our reach. 

President, Christiaan Morssink and students from Temple’s EWB chapter at World Toilet Day

Become a member of Global Water Alliance today where you will collaborate with our partners in the field, such as Engineers Without Borders, in bringing the gift of clean water to a family or community, help us to educate the up-and-coming groups of students and future water leaders who will ultimately take the baton on behalf of clean, safe water, and to finally eradicate the lack of access to WASH, water, sanitation and hygiene, for all people across the globe, all of which cannot be done without a united, consolidated effort. 

Clean water is a right, not a privilege.  Let’s all exercise our rights.

I’ll leave you with this final word from from GWA President, Christiaan Morssink.

Why not join us today?

Pam Lazos is an environmental lawyer with a passion for assuring access to clean water for all, a blogger, author of the novel Oil and Water, about oil spills and green technology, and the VP for Communications at Global Water Alliance. She practices laughter daily.

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What is This Man Thinking?

Rodin’s “The Thinker”

He’s probably thinking about the lack of access to improved sanitation for about 1/3 of the planet’s inhabitants.

Today is World Toilet Day. Let’s review a few facts:

How does a species evolve? For centuries, people lived side-by-side with their waste, throwing it into the streets, into the rivers, over the back fence, out of sight, out of mind.

But that’s never been the best solution since waste by definition is full of pathogens that can seriously impact human health and with almost 8 billion of us on the planet, the waste stream is rising.

Children are an especially vulnerable population.

As are those living in rural communities where access to water is expensive and often prohibitive due to difficult terrain and distance from the wastewater treatment plant.

In developing countries, women and girls bear the extra burden of a lack of access to clean, safe water, missing school because of starting their menses, or being removed from school to walk long distances to get water for the family.

Technologies such as the compostable toilet can ease the burden of deaths related to lack of sanitation.

Today, skip the coffee and instead, make a donation in favor of WASH — water, sanitation and hygiene.  Your donation to GWA will support programs and projects dedicated to bringing water to those who need it most.  Thank you in advance for your support.

pam lazos 11.18.21

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The Crapper

World Toilet Day — November 19, 2021

by Tom McKeon

My friend and colleague, Tom McKeon has written this lovely post about a composting toilet known as “The Crapper.” If you live in a tiny house, have an RV, or just want to learn more about composting toilets, read on.

Friday, November 19th is World Toilet Day and what better way to celebrate than with a visit to The Crapper!  If you live in the Philly area, we hope to see you there. Details on the event are as follows: 

photo courtesy of Temple Tiny House

Friday, November 19th 3 to 5 p.m.
Where: Tiny House, Temple University Campus at Diamond & Carlisle Streets, Philadelphia, PA
What: The Global Water Alliance  (GWA) in partnership with Temple University’s Office of Sustainability, the Fox Entrepreneurship Academy and Engineers Without Borders plan to display a compostable toilet at Temple University’s Tiny House, Diamond and Carlisle Streets, in observation of World Toilet Day.  The U.N. estimates that 3.6 billion people don’t have access to a working toilet and proper, improved sanitation. That’s almost half the world!  To celebrate this global holiday and raise awareness by engaging the community around water access, sanitation and hygiene, or WASH, issues The Crapper will be on display.  GWA hopes the event will also serve as a networking opportunity, connecting students and the community to upcoming GWA events, conferences, and research opportunities. 

 The Compostable Toilet is designed by Toilets for People: https://www.toiletsforpeople.com/ 

Although we will display The Crapper for demonstration purposes only, it is functional. It uses urine diversion and the natural processes of decomposition and evaporation to breakdown and reduce the volume of human waste, transforming it into a soil-like compost material.

It starts with a horizontally mounted rotating drum, much like a garden composter, that sits inside a box. This proven technology has been the industry standard since the 1970s in the USA and Canada.

To use, start by filling the drum with 1 gallon of damp and loose compost material — coconut coir is popular. Then you pee and poop as you do. No need to cover it with saw dust, dry leaves, or ash afterwards, you just spin it once after every use. The urine diversion system routes the urine (which is generally sterile) either into a container for later disposal or is discharged directly into a soak pit.

There is no need to clean the drum and the bin – it is actually better if some material carries over to start the composting process with the next batch. You would clean the seat as you would a seat on a flush toilet, and the same goes for the interior interface under the seat. The exterior can also be wiped down. Any cleaning product can be used. 

The toilet only needs to be cleaned once every two months. The waste entering the toilets is over 90% water, which is evaporated and carried back to the atmosphere through the vent system. The urine diversion system carries sterile urine to storage containers to be diluted and used as fertilizer or discharged directly into the ground via a shallow soak pit.

The natural decomposition process, which is essentially the same as in your standard backyard garden composter, is enhanced in waterless composting toilets by manipulating the environment in the composting chamber.

The correct balance between oxygen, moisture, heat and organic material is needed to ensure a rich environment for the aerobic bacteria that decomposes the waste. This ensures odor-free operation and complete decomposition of waste.

Natural aerobic decomposition eliminates dangerous pathogens and foul odors. It also reduces the volume of the waste by 80% so the user only needs to empty the drum into the secondary storage container once every 2 weeks.

After you empty it into the secondary container, the composting solid waste will continue to break down underneath the drum. After emptying the drum a few times over 2 months you can take out the composting bin to bury.

To do so, you dig a hole a foot deep, put the compost in the hole, cover it with wood ash, charcoal ash or agricultural lime (this is to dry it out & raise the pH which kills the pathogens thereby disinfecting the waste) and finally cover it all over with dirt and you’re done!

The compost from the toilet is safe to be used as a fertilizer. When human waste is properly composted, levels of pathogens or viruses in the waste are dramatically reduced. The pathogens and viruses are further destroyed by desiccation (drying out).

It is recommended that the soil-like compost material coming out of a composting toilet be buried nearby with an ash/lime cover as a final disinfectant. This will raise the pH of the waste – further destroying any remaining pathogens and viruses that thrive in an acidic environment and die in a basic one. 

Under certain circumstances, it can be used as a nutrient-rich fertilizer for growing trees. However it is not recommended for surface crops since there is the possibility that some pathogens remain in the waste, which can be harmful if exposed to. As long as the compost is in the ground, then the exposure route is not present.

Tom McKeon holds a master’s in public health from the University of Pennsylvania and is currently a Ph.D. student at Temple University studying geography where he uses statistics, GIS, and epidemiological concepts to analyze place-based interventions to improve community health by maintaining and improving water quality through community education, biological sampling, chemical sampling, and designing restoration proposals. 

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Melting Greenland

Glasgow, Scotland, COP26 conference: While world leaders continue their debate over who needs to take responsibility for climate change and how much it’s going to cost, the earth keeps heating up. If your plumbing breaks and you can no longer use your sink or toilet, you fix it, right? regardless of cost?– because you need it. We all need this planet. The time for action is now — before it’s too late. pl

By Ewoma E. Okah-Avae

Frozen in Time © pam lazos

As anyone reading the newspapers knows, climate change has had a devastating effect on the planet, causing rampant and incessant flooding, irrational warming trends, droughts, wildfires, and more, all corroborating the effects of the earth’s changing weather patterns and resulting in atmospheric and climatic conditions that began slowly enough over the last two centuries, but which have drastically changed altered the earth’s evolution over the last few decades. The cause is obvious:  human activity and an unquenchable thirst for energy have contributed largely to the current imbalance.

The drilling of fossils which are then refined into petroleum products such as gas, diesel and plastic; the removal of associated gas through gas flaring; burning coal for electricity and heat; all cause an increase in the release of green house gas emissions into the atmosphere. And when these gases are trapped in the atmosphere, the earth’s surface temperatures increases, leading to warmer than the normal temperatures. The more heat that accumulates, the more we are on track to alter the planet’s climate irrevocably.

Changing weather patterns are occurring across all continents, regions and countries of the world, most especially, the Arctic regions. The acceleration of glaciers melting in Antarctica and Greenland has led to massive amounts of melted glacial (cold!) water entering warmer ocean waters and resulting in slower ocean currents and rising seal levels.  Glaciers are an essential makeup of the planet’s structure because ice acts as a protective cover for the earth and oceans, keeping the earth’s secrets. When viewed from an aerial survey, these massive white sheets on the earth’s surface help to reflect back excess heat entering into the atmosphere through solar radiation.  Fun fact:  the solar energy falling on the planet in a single week is greater than the total energy produced by all the coal, gasoline and other fuels that man has ever burned, but by the time it reaches the earth’s atmosphere, much of this radiant energy is reflected back and scattered into space — partly because of these huge glaciers — while part of it passes through the atmosphere, strikes the earth’s surface and is absorbed by the oceans, seas and land.

Frozen Waterall © pam lazos

About ten percent of land on earth is covered with glacial ice. The Arctic region remains cooler then the equator because more of the heat that strikes it is reflected back while the equatorial and tropical regions absorb more of the sun’s rays. While ninety percent of glaciers can be found in Antarctica, the remaining ten percent are in the Greenland ice cap. Yet no matter where they are found, the prognosis is the same: glaciers are melting.  Scientists believe that glacier melting in the Arctic will double by the end of the 21st century, resulting in potential sea level rise of up to twenty feet, leaving cities like New York and Miami under water.  Currently, the Greenland ice sheets are disappearing four times faster than in 2003, contributing to 20% of the current sea level rise.

When sea ice forms as a result of colder temperatures, sea levels remain the same. This can be likened to a plastic bottle of water you keep in the freezer:  when you thaw it out, the water level in the bottle remains the same. But in the case of melting glaciers, large chunks of ice are breaking off and falling into the ocean where they melt, causing sea level rise.  The life-changing effects of melting glaciers on rising sea levels cannot be overemphasized:  coastal erosion; increased intensity of flooding; more frequent and severe storm surges, hurricanes and typhoons; the collapse of fisheries; the loss of habitat for the walrus, polar bear and penguin to name a few.

Melting ice also effects weather patterns. The rapid warming of the Arctic brings about a rise in air and ocean temperatures leading to more melting ice and increased sea level rise. Normal patterns of ocean circulation are disrupted by warmer air temperatures reducing the effects that always kept the polar regions cold. In addition, the combination of warming air and ocean temperatures in both the Arctic and the tropics has caused changes to the jet stream as the polar vortex is seen more frequently to appear outside of the Arctic.

While glaciers have always melted somewhat in the warmer months, since the industrial revolution, human activity has increased this trend with reports showing that our failure to significantly curtail future emissions will result in more than a third of the world’s remaining glaciers melting before 2100.  Currently, 95% of the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic is already gone and scientists warn many of the Arctic regions could become completely free of ice by the middle of this century. 

Rose in Ice © pam lazos

There has been much debate about cutting our carbon emissions and transitioning to an active dependence on greener energy alternatives like solar and wind energy, but there is really nothing to argue about.  We need decisive and immediate action to stop our over dependence on fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions if we are to reverse course and save our current ecosystem.  Failure to act makes it quite possible that in the not too distant future, man himself might be and endangered species!  Let’s hope that the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland going on now achieves the hoped for results.

Ewoma is a Geographer, environmental advocate and blogger for environmental issues.  She writes a monthly newsletter and hosts a podcast titled, Your Environment Matters.  For more news about the environment, you can check out her blog: https://enviromentalline.blogspot.com.  Her podcast can be heard on Spotify, Anchor, Copy RSS, Apple, Google, Breaker, Radio Public & a host of others. https://www.anchor.fm/ewoma-okah-avaeYou can follow on Twitter: @ewomao; LinkedIn: Ewoma Okah-Avae; Pinterest: eokahavae

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We Still Alive

When we talk about WASH — water, sanitation and hygiene — it’s not just access to water that we are discussing but access to clean, safe, usable water.  The reality is that more children die each year from lack of clean water — about 85,000 under the age of 15 — than from gun violence.  The following piece was written by Michele Ganz, currently a PreMed Student at Thomas Jefferson University.  Ganz will be starting Medical School in December 2021 in Italy, his country of origin.  His post details the wonders of his experiences in Nairobi, Kenya and the beauty of people he met — many of which were affected by the scarcity of drinkable water and the diseases caused by it — and how he sees the world now as a result of that experience. pl

by Michele Ganz

It is November of the year 2019. I am a university student from Italy, studying in the USA, and now working in Kawanguware, Nairobi, Kenya, a place that I have never visited before. I have not even the most superficial knowledge of the language spoken in this area.

Kawangware is located close to Kikuyu, where I will live for the next few months until I depart to the American continent for the upcoming academic year. The decision to undergo such a trip came without deep pre-established reasoning and thought. I wanted to expand my understanding of the reality of practicing science (and medicine in this specific case), both clinical and research-based, in a developing world. In Kenya, there are mechanisms of applied science that are not merely comparable with those seen in modern societies. Even the most basic requirements for managing healthcare, such as water, are at stake for positive outcomes in this region of the world.

My trip to Kikuyu was supported by Marafiki Community International, through which I found the perfect opportunity to join an incredible group of young people and professionals who dedicated their time to the local community. The volunteer group I joined helped to provide healthcare treatments for this population, particularly for children under eight years old.

Kikuyu was not like my home. In Italy, home was a warm shower, a plate of flavorful pasta just served, and the purple foliage of the trees in front of the balcony. In Kikuyu, a tiny village located on Nairobi’s northwestern side from the Kenyan state’s city capital, the mountains’ colors and shapes get gray and neat, respectively, as soon as the sun comes out from the east. Heavy rains make the air thick, and the wind finds ways to run through the doors kept open to clear up the humidity.

In Kikuyu, it was hard to see the light outside coming into the room in the morning. The sun here rose slower, I thought, and seemed never to reach the center of the sky at midday. To my eyes, still impressed by the sandy, dry and brown streets, the buildings surrounding seemed all the same as the one I was living in, impressively square and lonely. When it rained, and it rained often, the streets were filled with water.

I learned a lot from living among the people of Kikuyu. They gave me opportunities to learn and expand my beliefs. They challenged me to sit down and understand how they could be so open to accepting this unpredictable and damaging weather. Rain destroys roads and places where people live every day in Kikuyu, and still, I am shocked and scared today rethinking of that Land so carelessly changing every day. I learned from them about the strength of character and the ability to shift to a positive mindset at any time. I learned the power of finding gratitude in times of pain and sorrow, in times where home is no longer a safe place to be, but still offers the chance to restart from something.

In addition, my experiences in Kikuyu caused me to undergo personal growth, developing my personality and career plans both as a student and a simple human being. There, I found new ways to help by learning and applying science and medicine and by sharing and reflecting on what is needed and still missing in this small region on earth. For the first time in my life, I could see science as an impactful tool of nature and nurture that could affect individuals of any age’s chances to start one’s life again. Moreover, I could see the health care system facing problems I have never seen before. I would never forget the love shared in each corner of the smallest little villages. From the little kids running to see the sunrise at six in the morning to the elderly looking over the place where they had grown up, I witnessed an ecosystem that works on its own, full of strengths but weakened by a socio-economic system of greed and personal benefits.

Today, I reason more deeply than I did before my time in Kikuyu. I wonder why some individuals should be better off by being born within one region instead of another? I wonder why there can be no equity in this distribution of goods among this place and on earth? Before landing in Nairobi, I had expectations that I could perhaps find explanations for those questions. And still, the injustice of life remains a mystery.

Back home in Italy today, with clear thoughts, I think of my experience in Kikuyu as life-changing. I learned insights about the need for medicine to provide real care that benefits individuals. I improved my critical reasoning ability to face the most unusual circumstances, from social situations to empathic critical evaluations in a system in total evolution.

Through this experience, I have grown as an educator of my mind and body. I can tell my mind sees further away in terms of opportunities given and not received, provided by nature or completely omit, just by unfairness and injustice. However, what can this reasoning tell if considered in content that may be found away from home? Perhaps if I were to be in Kawangware today, I would not use the same words to describe some content. Can it be true that a story worth telling here in Italy may obtain the same importance and respect and give out the same strength and truth even if experienced in Kawangware some time ago? Well, I believe that that it can.

I now see science as a founder and perhaps a teacher of Happiness as it creates opportunities for those who may feel they have less chance to pursue and find it on their own. In Kikuyu, I found Happiness where there could be no sign of it seen miles away even when the water pipes still kept my mouth drained for days and days out in the heavy arid ground of this Land. In the wetland that sees Kawangware as the main character of the story, I keep thinking while I walk through the trees in the mountains where I grew up, in Italy, that there are people I met there who have more Happiness than I do — without all the needs that are not, indeed, needed.

I stopped thinking that there can be right or wrong in this world; perhaps there can be a different approach. A thoughtful approach. A positive mindset. A modified mindset. A perfection through character. An intuitive perspective. An opportunity through the chance to make this Land a more suitable place to live.

Today, back home in Italy, I do not always have the chance to see the change I expect to see, both in Kawangware and Kikuyu. The health care system is still corrupted and unhealthy, and its barriers reinforce the many socio-economic disparities among the population.

And even though my time in the little corner of the world of Kikuyu, I can still see the time going by fast, and I can still see the sunset towards the hidden beautiful, nurtured reserve across the river and into the trees, my pines. 

Michele Ganz is an Undergraduate Student at Thomas Jefferson University, scheduled to matriculate in December 2021. In addition to playing soccer at the collegiate level for the Thomas Jefferson Rams, Michele did substantial work in Africa, volunteering at a local Clinic in Kawangware, Kenya, to assist patients in need. The way of life there, mainly affected by scarcity of drinkable water and the diseases caused by it, deeply resonated with Ganz who established a charity-based organization — WeStillAlive — that helps to support, via donations, the work done by the non-profit organization Marafiki Community International. He also started a blog of the same name — WeStillAlive — where he discusses the lives of the people he met throughout his journey in Kenya in response to these water issues.

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Making From the Ground Up!

Tomorrow, following GWA’s 14th Annual Conference, we will kick off the award ceremony with a showing of “From the Ground Up,” a short documentary about lack of access to clean water in Tanzania. (spoiler alert: the story has a happy ending!)

If you want to sign up for the conference, there is still time.

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Get the hell out of my head, Bo Burnham.  I’ve been singing your songs from “Inside” since our summer vacation, 11 hours in the car and most of that time listening on repeat to the entire special over and over — thank you, Spotify — a hilarious, draining, outrageous, unsettling, depressing, visionary, apathetically supercharged, and, crazily enough, charming special. 

If you haven’t watched “Inside,” then head on over to Netflix where Bo Burnham will stand you on your head.  Dozens of astute societal observations about everything, all revealing an apocalyptic, dystopian, unambiguous anxiety so spot on that you can’t help but laugh out loud as you gaze in the mirror and recognize the similarities.

Perhaps it’s because Burnham has tapped into my existential angst with these catchy pop tunes that are so damn sticky.  He admits to hating catchy pop tunes and hypocritically employing them in his work, doing what most of us do all the time without realizing it — making and breaking alliances to suit our needs in any given moment. 

Burnham is a comedian, writer, musician, actor and filmmaker who rose to fame on Youtube in 2006 at the age of 16 with a video about his whole family believing he was gay.   

Imagine having a bazillion followers on your Youtube channel, people lining up to hear what you have to say because they know you’re going to make them laugh and think and maybe even help them work through some things.  Imagine all this while you are still in high school and still have acne.  Eventually the pressure gets to even the most seasoned hands, but a kid?  

Pressure?  What pressure?  

Burnham didn’t stop there, and in 2018, he recorded a half-hour special with Comedy Central, the youngest person to have that opportunity. Being a teen is a challenging time — all those raging hormones while you employ a new way of seeing the world results in emotional overload — but being a teen during the internet age while the world is your stage could be cataclysmic for even the most mentally prepared adults.

Paradoxically, in 2016 while touring for his comedy special, Make Happy, Burnham began suffering from “crippling anxiety” and took one giant step backward to work on improving his mental health.  It took five years, but he felt he’d corralled the monster.  As he took his first tentative steps to reenter the world of comedy, the world slapped back with the coronavirus.  He laughs about it in All Eyes on Me which is not so much a victory lap around anxiety — a tribute to moving beyond mental incapacitation — but evidence of one way one guy managed it. 

Are you feeling nervous?  Are you having fun?
It’s almost over, it’s just begun.
Don’t overthink this, look in my eye.
Don’t be scared, don’t be shy,
Come on in, the water’s fine.

You say the ocean’s rising — like I give a shit.
They say the whole world’s ending — honey, it already did.
You’re not gonna slow it, Heaven knows you tried.
Got it?  Good, now get inside.
Bo Burnham, All Eyes on Me

Lest you think Burnham wasted this time, during the period of self-imposed standup lockdown, you’d be wrong: he wrote and directed, Eighth Grade (2018), which won critical and commercial acclaim, and also starred in a Promising Young Woman (2020).  

Back inside, Burnham siloed like the rest of the world, used the time to turn his rants against “systematic oppression, income inequality, the other stuff” into a 1h 27m thesis on the effed-up state of mankind — apparently he’s only able to produce work if it’s significant to him — and produced a sparkling diatribe, cloaked in comedy, of societal ills that are much more digestible coming from him than when reading the New York Times.

“If you wake up in a house that’s full of smoke, don’t panic, call me and I’ll tell you a joke. If you see white men dressed in white cloaks, don’t panic, call me and I’ll tell you a joke. Oh shit, should I be joking at at time like this?” Bo Burnham, Comedy

Burnham wrote, directed, filmed, edited, and starred in this project, all recorded at his guest house in Los Angeles.  The special shows his arc from disillusionment to something less edgy and, if not happy, at least more hopeful, the world opening up again, the cloud of mental anxiety lifting, at least for now.  There are profound bits of wisdom, frank moments on suicide and mental health, and hilarious ones on corporate exploitation and elitism, on racism, classism, on being unhinged, and how the internet has allowed everyone to have the ability to say “everything and anything, all of the time,” all to catchy pop tunes.  

Have a watch. You’ll be tapping your toes all the way to redemption. 

pam lazos 10.3.21

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Save the World and Solve a Murder in This #Podcast: Oil and Water by @pjlazos

My wonderful friend, Jean Lee has featured Oil and Water on her newest adventure, a podcast called Story Cuppings where she takes a “sip” of each novel by reading and analyzing the first chapter. It’s a delight to hear her read it. Please enjoy and thanks for listening/reading.

Jean Lee's World

Welcome back, my fellow creatives! We’ll continue tasting the wares of fellow indie authors I have gotten to know in this beautiful community through the years.

Let’s see how oil and water will taste in our brew today. It’s time to take a sip fromOil and Water by P.J. Lazos.

What does a reader experience in those opening pages, and what lessons can a writer take away in studying just one chapter? Let’s find out!

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

If you’d like to see more about environmental issues and initiatives to make our world a better place, do check out Pam’s amazing blog!

Be on the look out for more sweet indie goodness in the autumn podcasts to come!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

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“No tree has branches so foolish as to fight among themselves.”

Native American proverb
totem pole by wood carving enthusiast, Scott Eberly

We are failing each other.  Not just a run-of-the-mill, oops, sorry, kind of failure, but a spectacular, gory, unprecedented, worst-in-most-every-way kind of failure.  The same way the body keeps score when you eat or drink too much, give it insufficient rest, or immerse it for too long in a toxic environment, so does democracy keep score when you ignore its needs.  We have been ignoring each other’s needs and hence, democracy’s needs for years now, and in stunning show of collateral damage, the planet is dying a tumultuous, quaky, flood, fire and brimstone kind of death — all because we’d rather be right than get along.

What now seems like lifetimes ago, I began a journey writing my way through the Twelve Virtues of the Merchant Priests from the book, Sacred Commerce, by Ayman Sawaf and Rowan Gabrielle, a book that celebrates “global citizenship and stewardship.”  I was very taken with this book and of the authors’ suggestion to practice each of the virtues for one month at a time until the reader got through all twelve.  I started on January 1, 2018 in my consideration of them.  My delay in finishing reminds me of a meme I once saw:  “Slackers give 100%, just not all at once.

So far, I’ve written on honor, loyalty, nobility, virtue, grace, trust, courage, and courtesy.  I got hung up for a very long time on gallantry, a practically extinct behavior in the modern day world, but finally pushed through.  Left are authority, service and humility, and so I begin again with Authority, something with which many of us often have trouble and which is at the heart of our democracy woes today. 

The dictionary defines authority (the first of eight definitions) as:


noun1 he had absolute authority over his subordinates | a rebellion against those in authority: power, jurisdiction, command, control, mastery, charge, dominance, dominion, rule, sovereignty, ascendancy, supremacy, domination; influence, sway, the upper hand, leverage, hold, grip; informal clout, pull, muscle, teeth.

that which reflects back to us © pam lazos

The rest of the definitions go on to describe authority in all its various iterations of power and might:  the unflappable pundit, the master, the cognoscenti, etc.  Oh how a little authority can change someone, muddling their thinking processes and often creating a creature immune from reproach — much like many individuals tasked with running our country today — resulting in a widespread diaspora of ill-intention across the nation, perhaps even the world.  

Today, ill-advised authority has reached a fever-pitch and the flip-flopping, mindless drivel that often runs from the mouths of some of the most influential people in our country — the decision to lie, cheat, and steal in an effort to hold onto power; the reinvention of oneself whenever it is politically expedient; the repetition of false or misleading information to sow hatred and confusion and undermine various levels of government — has left the citizens of the U.S. heartbroken and sick.  We are so out of touch, we don’t even realize that our own words and actions have brought this chaos to our doorsteps.  

When did mistrust get the most honored seat at the table, and how do we learn to speak to each other in civil tones again?

trees speaking with the sky © pam lazos

We are programmed to live from the top down, taking our cue from our parents, our siblings, our teachers, our friends, adopting their thoughts as our own, especially when we haven’t yet formed critical-thinking skills, and retaining them in perpetuity because they have now become a habit.  It’s no surprise that children will mimic the sentiments of their parents; spend enough time with someone and your thoughts are likely to mirror theirs.  So the authority in place when you were born has likely made a great impact on your view of the world. 

But here’s the thing:  you don’t have to keep looking out that window if you no longer like the view.  

a window at ellis island © pam lazos

A couple years ago I went to Ellis Island for the first time.  Wandering through the museum, I wasn’t surprised to see the xenophobia on display in newspaper articles, posters and other renderings that were part of the museum collection.  Immigrants of all stripes, but especially Italian and Irish were routinely referred to as lesser than riff-raff who should go back to where they came from.  With the help of museum staff, I found an entry for my Greek grandfather, showing an arrival in 1901, but ran out of time to look for my remaining grandparents arrival dates, all immigrants to America, the land of opportunity.

entrance to ellis island © pam lazos

After decades of backbreaking work and impoverished living, scads of immigrants managed to claw their way up to middle class, working two and three jobs so their kids could be better off than they were, achieving the American dream that was not available to them in the countries from which they came.  At that time, it was possible. Today, 20th years after the 9/11 attacks, it is harder than ever to achieve that dream, especially in an off-balanced America that looks at itself askew each day and asks, “can I trust that guy?”  

The proliferation of guns, forever wars, conspiracy theories, and alternative facts has lead to a failure for us to agree on a narrative, even for the most mundane and universally accepted things things such as whether the earth is round or flat, all which would have been unheard of before 9/11.  Instead of learning from the 9/11 attacks, we are still seeking revenge. Maybe it’s because we couldn’t call out and conquer the enemy that we turned our collective gimlet eye inward and started looking around at our neighbors.  America, the melting pot, the greatest democratic experiment in history, the one that would have worked if it wasn’t for all those dang foreigners, is teetering on the weight of its own hyperbole.  What if we had worked for reconciliation after 9/11 rather than revenge?  Where would be be now? Less isolated, perhaps?

© pam lazos

Claims of voter fraud despite the lack of evidence, a pandemic that has now taken the lives of 1 out of every 500 Americans, and an ongoing false narrative have worked to erode trust in our government’s authority to all-time lows.  The headwinds on this level of distrust are fierce and sinking us farther into despair and isolation as we resort to tribalism, abandon reason and the rule of law, and choose instead to wallow in hatred and disillusionment, all to the benefit of a few in power and the detriment of the country as a whole.  And that, friends, is how totalitarianism gets a toehold. The bitch of it all is that the peddlers of disinformation aren’t even hiding it anymore.

For example, the abortion ban in Texas simultaneously strips women of their constitutional rights and encourages vigilantism.  Nice job, Authority!  The pro-life faction thinks this is a win for their side, but they are wrong:  it’s loss for us all because the bigger story is loss of a woman’s civil rights — an ultra vires exercise in authority — and once your civil rights have been eroded, they are hard to shore back up.  

Today, 122 million women around the world want access to birth control but can’t get it.   Just imagine how those women could contribute to society if they had access to family planning tools.  Perhaps we wouldn’t have to even talk much about abortion anymore.  Yet it’s not just poor women who are going to suffer by this rollback of our constitutional rights, but all of society, because, ultimately, society bears the burden and the cost of that which we ignore.  And if you think this isn’t a haves and have-nots issue, don’t delude yourself:  rich women in Texas will still figure out a way to get an abortion if they need one. 

Was Margaret Atwood right?   Is this only the beginning?  Will patriarchal society devolve to the level of the Handmaid’s Tale, taking full control of women and their bodies, all enforced by the authority of the patriarchy?  I pray it doesn’t go that far, but such an authoritative trampling of our human rights is in direct contradiction of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, itself a revolutionary concept — equal treatment for everyone — and one authoritative ruling bodies everywhere despise.  Let’s not forget where we came from, and why We the People enacted that amendment in the first place.  

We live in a world where the microcosm reflects the macrocosm back to itself.  We envisioned a better life, one with a benevolent authority to guide us — not control us, nor dictate to us, and certainly not to devour us — and to help us build for the future as we deal with life’s thornier issues, but without a rule of law that we can all agree on, society is destined to fail.

Each of us is our own authority, but we must live within the construct of certain rules, otherwise we will trample each other and the planet to death.  What do you want, not what does your congressman or senator or city councilman or PTO board member want.  Only you.  Orient yourself to your own lodestar, the one that lives in your heart, and see where it takes you. I bet it will be to a place of peace, not anger, a place of tolerance for the other guy’s views as well as for your own, a democratic place where everyone gets a say, because that’s the real American dream.

We can do this, people, but our desire to get along with each other needs to outweigh our desire to be right.

It’s a laudable goal.

pam lazos — 9.19.21

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Reflections – September 10, 2021

Thank you, Carol Hand, for the reminder that water is one of our most precious resources and something to be most grateful for.

Voices from the Margins

What I noticed this morning …

As I took my morning shower,

I had to fiddle with the faucet

to get the right water flow and temperature

gratitude struck me as the warm water

massaged an achy neck

and I wondered

“What percentage of the world population can take a warm shower in their own home?”


Curious, I googled the question and found an interesting list of responses. I think it’s worth sharing the first 9 to illustrate something important – at least it’s how goggle’s search engine assesses my interests. I added links for each entry below in case anyone is interested in some of these topics.

  1. Which Country Showers the Most – https://www.mirashowers.co.uk/blog/trends/which-country-showers-the-most/
  2. 60 percent of the world population still without toilets – https://slate.com/technology/2013/02/60-percent-of-the-world-population-still-without-toilets.html
  3. Bathing Habits of the World – Soakologyhttps://www.soakology.co.uk/blog/bathing-habits-of-the-world/
  4. How Often People in Various Countries Shower – The Atlantichttps://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/02/how-often-people-in-various-countries-shower/385470/
  5. The peculiar…

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