It’s a hard knock life

The wrenching wails emanating from the copy editor’s direction cut through the normal bustling din of the press room like a sharp cutting implement of some sort. “WTF?” the entire editorial team thought as we surrounded his cubicle. Did his chihuahua, Marmaduke, die? Did he lose at that goddamned video game he plays when he’s supposed to be hunting down typos?

Sniveling and shaking, he pointed to a news story on his screen. “Look at this!” he screeched. “First they tell us to drink eight glasses a day! Then they tell us not to! First it’s great for our health to drink a lot of water, and then suddenly it isn’t! Then we’re supposed to drink tap water, and then they tell us its full of pharmaceuticals! Now they’re saying that tap water is as good or better than bottled water. Does that mean all that money I’ve spent on Evian was wasted? “I feel so jerked around and confused! What the hell am I supposed to do-whoo-whoo-whoooo-whoooo-whoooo?

The last word–that sounded not unlike an owl on meth–was broken up (as we helpfully indicated with hyphens), by sloppy sobs and snotty snorts accompanied by the arrhythmic heaving of his bony little shoulders.

Touched by the stripling’s total self-absorption—and making a mental note to revive our dormant employee drug testing program—we handed him a tissue and cooed comforting there-theres and now-nows. He opened his eyes, which he’d squeezed shut to block out the harsh reality of his life, and was momentarily startled at the sight of so many tissue-offering hands. He selected one, blew his nose, but continued to whimper and shake uncontrollably.

Luckily, the editor-in-chief had just been to a workshop on how to take a tough-love approach to in-house mental breakdowns. She put her cigar down and with one hand grabbed him by his black emo T-shirt with the other gave him two smart snap-out-of-it slaps. She had the tough part nailed.

She pulled his wide-eyed face close to her three-day stubble. “Listen copy editor [not his real name], there are a lot of people on this planet who can’t make the choice of whether or not to inhale gallons of water all day like a race horse training for the Preakness,” she said ever so softly. “Their choice is what dusty path to take to find a filthy little puddle of bacteria-infested brackish water to give to their emaciated child. Their dilemma is ‘Should I let my baby die of thirst now or of diarrhea later?’ They don’t have to worry about pharmaceuticals in their water because they don’t have medicine and they don’t have any water. They don’t have to agonize about which bottled water is the perfect accessory for their lifestyle, because they don’t have lifestyles and did I mention that they don’t have water?”

“So, your choice is either move to one of those countries where life won’t be so gee-williebillers complicated or stop your whimpering and get your skinny little ass back to work,” she quipped. Squeezing his shoulder firmly but not enough to bruise, she spun his chair around toward his monitor. He must have felt the love, because he immediately grabbed his AP manual and started industriously flipping through it. As the boss turned she noticed our admiring glances and humbly said, “What are you looking at? Get the hell back to work!”

Advertisements’s performance evaluation:improvement needed!

The team sat in stunned and uncharacteristic silence as our obviously exasperated editorial director went over our performance evaluation, point by point, explaining why we not only failed to get the overall Exceeds Expectations rating that we fully anticipated–leading to a raise and water-cooler bragging rights–but instead got spanked with an unexpected and embarrassing Improvement Needed–leading potentially to the door.

improvement-needed2.jpgAfter the ritual humiliation, the boss leaned back in his chair and put his fingertips together–in that condescending manner that he thinks signals authority and reason but only manages to piss us off–and said, “Look, you accepted this job. You’re the one who committed to taking on a blog about water, for god’s sake, and refused to focus on one manageable aspect of it like other focused blogs, and instead insisted on pwning water, whatever that’s supposed to mean. You’ve fallen short. You’re dropping the ball.”

“You bury the lead by starting almost every post with irrelevant fantasies, you post much too infrequently, you’re disrespectful to elected officials, religious beliefs, and other blogs, you blithely dismiss potentially life-saving innovations and take pointless potshots at journalists, you don’t live up to commitments, your posts are often way too long, you overuse italics for emphasis, your writing style is somewhat turgid, your general attitude is flip, you’re a bunch of grim, gloomy Gusses, and–he paused for what he imagined to be a dramatic effect–you don’t appear to have a value proposition.”

Oooh, so that’s where this is coming from, his constant missed opportunities to monetize the blog, we thought, stung mainly by the critique of our writing style. Turgid? Is that what we now call writing in complete sentences that are rich with clauses–dependent and independent–packed with punchy parenthetical asides, studded with adjectives and alliterations, and enhanced with erudite references to such historic luminaries as Aristotle? Turgid our collective asses.

britney-spears.jpgHow about if we just skip words and post pictures of Britney Spears wasting water by taking overly long showers? we thought defiantly, as he blathered on about blog stats. That should get us some hits!

Whatever. We didn’t demean ourselves by being defensive and pointing out the efforts we’ve made to chronicle and elaborate upon some of the biggest water-related issues of the day. And our attempts to be a repository of the best water-related resources, such as here, here, and here, and our success at writing accurate and thoughtful posts about global water problems, (and here and here) even though we have to go to a demanding day gig, thanks to the absurdly low compensation package at We know we’ve only scratched the surface, but we’ve really just gotten started. Developing a comprehensive, worthwhile site about a complex topic takes time and patience, we told ourselves supportively.

So we accepted, lying down, the performance program that the editorial director has “suggested.” We committed ourselves to at least three posts weekly, and three new “Getting Serious with” specials in the next three weeks. And we will stop gratuitously dissing other sites, being a smart-ass, and begin pruning our prose and looking for ways to grab more eyeballs. And, as Jane says, we’re gonna start tomorrow.
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Good water news for Darfur?

Who says there’s no good news about water? does here, but what do we know?

National Geographic reports that scientists at Boston University believe they’ve discovered a vast underground lake below dusty, desolate Darfur, Sudan. Tapping that water—they say—could help bring peace and prosperity to the region because competition for water is a major cause of the current conflict.

Another expert on the subject is skeptical about the lake, although the article doesn’t exactly explain why. We thought that maybe it was because he’s French, but it seems like the company he works for is under contract by the U.S. He’s mapped all of the region’s underground streams for a U.S. State Department sponsored relief project, and thinks these are a more likely source of water for the drought-stricken area. He claims that the rain-fed courses could provide enough water for 3 to 4 million people. The article states that 75 wells have been dug.

Either scenario, a huge, underground aquifer or a large system of fresh-water streams accessible with wells, seems like good news. The bad news is, of course, that there is no way there will be enough regional cooperation in the near term to effectively tap either source.