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Jewish World Review April 22, 2002 / 11 Iyar, 5762

Michael Long

Mike Long
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Consumer Reports

Bottled And Sold

Economic Confidence Under a Screw-top | Well, the Index of Leading Economic Indicators is up 0.1 percent for March, and if you're anything like me, that means just about nothing. But since it was spoken with authority and reported widely, I'm going to buck up and smile. Things must be getting better.

But how do I really know? Any place where people spend $4 billion a year on bottled water-something they can get FOR FREE-is a country whose economic problems are, to put it charitably, pretty mild. At least Ronald Reagan's welfare queen was portrayed driving a Cadillac so she could administer her profitable if dubious schemes. Our alleged economic downturn produces soccer moms in tennis skirts drinking tap water priced higher than premium gasoline. And the experts say we've been in recession for a year? Quick, somebody save the Perrier vendor before he laughs himself into a seizure.

$4 billion is a crazy amount of money. (Though I could find you a senator or two here in Washington who considers it change for the launderette. Remember, however, they don't do their own laundry. Look how well they're dressed! You think they could pull that off on their own? No way. That takes wives or maids.)

Anyway, $4 billion dollars is, as they say where I grew up, a lot. With $4 billion, every man, woman and child in America could purchase the soundtrack to, say, "Phantom of the Opera" on CD (or get two copies on cassette). With $4 billion, everyone could eat a modest dinner at Chili's, though a group that size would need reservations.

Four billion dollars would be enough for everybody to get a copy of that new John Grisham book, especially if it's on sale at Costco. Four billion means two quarters and a shiny dime for every person on earth-with enough left for a $40 million party, though without an open bar. And $4 billion would buy Popsicles, Oreos and vaccinations for every child in the world. (I'm just guessing on that one, but it certainly sounds compassionate and just about accurate, especially if we use coupons for the cookies.)

But no. We waste $4 billion a buck at a time instead of doing some single stupid thing on a grand scale. If we Americans pulled off such a stunt, we'd have our own version of the pyramids. In a thousand years, teachers everywhere would recount the Sphinx, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Hundred Years War, and "that deal with all the Oreos back in 2002."

I have one bottled-water bottle in my life-I think somebody gave it to me-I have been refilling it under the faucet since 1995, and I use it only when I need a portable container, not the sweet taste of a naturally purified mountain spring from the gardens of Upper Hoo-Ha in Western Europe.

In fact, the only good excuse to buy water in America is for the container. Whether it's the end of a three-hour practice scrimmage or a camel ride across the desert, a sweaty guy cares little whether his water came from a delicate, frosty spring in the Polish highlands (I don't know if Poland has highlands, but the Poland Springs water bottle sure looks highland-ish) or from Uncle Earl's garden hose he "done drug in from the tater patch," (also as they say where I grew up). Water-assuming the facts in my excruciating college chemistry course hold true-is water.

In the end, people drink bottled water because they think it looks stylish. We are slaves to fashion in what we wear, what entertainment we choose, with whom we associate, and what toys we buy for our kids so they can build a fort with the boxes just after lunch on Christmas Day. Add to that list the need to impress others with our casual dispatch of disposal income on something we already have. Conspicuous consumption has gathered enough momentum to become conspicuous waste. Perhaps we should call our senators to complain, before some rising Caligula somewhere replaces them all with horses.

The great comedian Chris Rock once said that if a homeless person has a funny sign, he hasn't been homeless that long. A real homeless person is too hungry to be funny. Ditto for economically "distressed" people who drink water out of plastic containers at a per-ounce price greater than that of a healthy human liver: anyone who thinks this life is "economically distressed" needs to buy a dictionary and a newspaper.

And if he's drinking water, we know he can afford them.

JWR contributor Michael Long is a a director of the White House Writers Group. Comment by clicking here.


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03/18/02: Worlds Away: A snapshot of anti-Semitism in the Moslem world
03/08/02: The safest place in the world --- for now
03/05/02: Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others
02/22/02: And Then What?: Fear and Loathing Around the Corner
02/15/02: Al Gore and the real root cause of terrorism
02/08/02: A few thoughts on the news
02/01/02: Ready, Aim, Cloud The Issue: An irresponsible report on "terrorism" from the Brady Center
01/28/02: Discretion and Art, Part 2
01/16/02: Discretion and Art
01/08/02: Desperate Dems
12/18/01: Politics and Holidays
12/07/01: A war bigger than we know: Changing the future, slowly and surely
11/28/01: A Mid-Winter Night's Dream: A play in one fun act
11/20/01: A Lot of War Left To Fight
11/13/01: Guess who Clinton's apologizing for now: I'll bet you guessed right
11/02/01: Rules for Wartime: Rule Number One: Remember what's true
10/26/01: The Moral Case For Torture: Dirty hands don't always mean dirty souls
10/19/01: Questions for the Anti-War Crowd, Part II: What if someone took them seriously?
10/16/01: Questions for the anti-war crowd: If they question you, ask these back
10/12/01: The Jason Problem: Sometimes they only look dead
10/08/01: A little hindsight: A letter for readers in the future
09/28/01: Calling Bono: A plea to the pop culture elite to speak out
09/20/01: Encouragement from the Heartland, by mail
09/13/01: Bleeding time
09/07/01: The trailer-park taste of the public radio catalog
09/04/01: BRAVE NEW FREUD: Internet-based psychiatry may mean relief for those who have shunned treatment
08/17/01: First Amendment: Chickens home to roost
07/27/01: Dispatch From The Front: The Gun Control War
07/20/01: Summer song
07/03/01: It's a Wonderful Recount

© 2001, Michael Long