Elizabeth Royte’s report about a water crisis in rural Kansas reflects the reality that federal regulations place a disproportionate burden on small businesses and towns [“Drinking Problems,” Letter from Pretty Prairie, May]. As a thirty-four-year veteran of the Environmental Protection Agency who spent four years as water division director in the Kansas City office, I have come to consider this an iron law. Yes, Pretty Prairie has received $2.4 million from the state for its water treatment plant. But this money is a loan that has to be repaid, not to mention that the ongoing maintenance and operating costs will be borne by the town forever. Will Pretty Prairie be able to attract and retain competent staff for the plant? What if the plant falls out of compliance?
Federal standards set a minimum for all—a reasonable requirement. But they do not always make sense for very small communities. Rather than question Pretty Prairie about its reluctance to build a treatment plant, the government should help the town protect its people in a practical way, such as providing bottled water for infants or those who fear overexposure to nitrogen, or building a pipeline to the nearest city with a reliable treatment plant. Either of these would be much cheaper than a local treatment plant.
Compliance with a standard should not be a blind obligation. We need to help small towns, not punish them.
Royte’s description of small-town dynamics was quite accurate, and as she notes, farmers have been slow to adopt practices such as cover cropping, which are expensive to implement. No one wants to add strain to small farmers’ incomes, but I hope she would agree that the people of Pretty Prairie must be capable of some change and compromise. Financial incentives for farmers, coupled with required nutrient management on a farm-by-farm basis, is the sensible compromise that will spread the costs to the broader taxpayer base.
Existing state and federal conservation agencies could handle these jobs, but they are not funded well enough. Iowa has in place a nutrient reduction strategy but so far lacks the political will and financial muscle to get the job done even within the next fifty years. The task is so large that no state can accomplish the goal alone, and at the rate that governmental cost-sharing is currently apportioned, my great-grandchildren will still be discussing the same issues.
I doubt that is what Pretty Prairie wants. And it is certainly not what our water users deserve.
Josiah C. Wearin
Den of Liars
Meghan O’Gieblyn’s insights into the religious and political outlook of Vice President Mike Pence made much of Daniel in the Old Testament [“Exiled,” Essay, May]. But it should not be ignored that the Book of Daniel is a work of historical fiction. For instance, it recounts a banquet scene in which a disembodied hand writes a mysterious text that only Daniel can interpret. It reads: “Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.” This certainly applies to Pence.
Pence may well consider himself a modern Daniel, though the analogy isn’t a good one: Daniel was a young man trying to maintain his integrity and discipline in the decadent halls of power, but this was his prison, not a place he’d sought out of self-aggrandizing ambition.
Evangelicals now herd caravans of camels with saddlebags full of gold through the eye of the needle without the slightest difficulty, and would have us believe that God cares less about his commandments or the teachings of Jesus than about abortion, gay marriage, and immigration.
World Wild Web
Rebecca Solnit’s latest essay is typical of the cyberspace-bashing we’ve heard so much of lately [“Driven to Distraction,” Easy Chair, May]. It does not remotely match my own experience of cyberspace, which puts the worlds of music, literature, and information at my fingertips, and enables me to interact with a more diverse range of people than I could meet in daily life—and my attention span is no worse than it ever was.
Felicia Nimue Ackerman
Solnit’s description of humans’ relationship with the digital landscape makes me think of the relationship between domesticated dogs and the human world. We know how to use cyberspace to achieve our own immediate ends, and are given enough positive reinforcement to become dependent on it—much like our dogs are on us. But at the same time, we are not fully aware of how the world works, what its ultimate goals are, or whether it has goals different from our own.
Most people have enough compassion for their pets to refrain from deliberate cruelty and indifference, but the creators of our technology have shown no comprehension of the impact of their work, and have built in no human-oriented goals at all. Thus, it cares not one whit whether we prosper under its control, maybe not even whether we survive at all.
Jacqueline Rose claims that the daughter she adopted “has accepted that she cannot know . . . the story of her own past” [“Mothers Superior,” Readings, May]. In my experience—I lost my only child to closed adoption—it is the rare adoptive parent indeed who encourages and enables the child to find her birth mother. Instead, many adoptive parents feel threatened by the idea of their child (even when grown) finding her original family.
Rose’s essay is drenched in the cruelty and exploitation of closed adoption, although it is presented as an essay about motherhood. Perhaps I misread Rose, since her last sentence is about the pain of mothers. How she can claim to know that pain and still be raising another mother’s child is a quandary that will vex me forever.