Water cycle: Where has that ice cube been?

 

Q. Drink a glass of water and it's likely you're imbibing at least one molecule that passed through the bladder of Plato or Aristotle. Wow! Bottoms up! –J. Cousteau

 

A. Could as well have been Cleopatra or Joan of Arc or Shakespeare or anybody you want to name going back some years, to allow time for the hydrologic cycle to spread the water around the world. As Professor Lewis Wolpert once explained it, "There are many more molecules in a glass of water than there are glasses of water in the sea," so the historic chain of mouth-to-bladder-to-mouth-etc follows.

Cherish that H2O you drink, for as noted by the U.S. Geological Survey, water is a renewable but finite resource, cycling through our Earth system via clouds, precipitation, ground water, streams and rivers, oceans, plants, and animals. Total planetary water is about 326,000,000 cubic miles, with about 317,000,000 in the oceans, 7,000,000 in icecaps and glaciers, and 2,000,000 in subsurface groundwater. These very round numbers allow for the insignificant quantities of water on which all of our lives depend: 30,000 cubic miles in freshwater lakes, 25,000 in saline lakes and inland seas, 16,000 in soil moisture, 3,000 in the atmosphere, 300 in rivers and streams. So savor that next sip– before you pass it on!

Q. The "good old days this," the "good old days that," people will say. How good really were the "good old days"? –C. Simon

 

A. Just a century ago there was no indoor plumbing, most people's education was limited, women faced restricted opportunities, children labored in mines, no social safety net existed, trivial infections by today's standards sometimes proved fatal, we generated less electricity each year than we now consume in a day, recaps David Myers in Social Psychology.

In a "time experiment" in 1999, Britain's Channel 4 network selected Joyce and Paul B. from among 450 applicants to spend three months with four of their children living the middle-class life of 1900. Yet after just a week of rising at 5:30am, preparing food as the Victorians did, wearing corsets, shampooing with a mixture of egg, lemon, borax and camphor, and playing parlor games by evening gaslight, the B.'s were close to quitting. They endured but saw the romantic appeal of Victorian novels and movies evaporate.

"On sheer material grounds, today's working class enjoy luxuries– electricity, hot running water, flush toilets, TV, transportation–unknown to royalty of centuries past." The down side of all this, says Myers, is that we are overloading the Earth's carrying capacity and must quickly find ways to curtail rampant consumption or face ecological disaster.

Q. Dumb, dumber, dumbest... you pick the winner here:

#1. A museum guard when asked the age of certain dinosaur bones said 60,000,005 years." But how can they know this so precisely?" the visitor wondered. "I don't know, but when I started working here I was told they were 60 million years old, and that was five years ago."

#2. So many fans of Star Trek's Spock confused Leonard Nimoy with his on-screen persona that the actor felt compelled to write a book, I Am Not Spock.

#3. Following the movie Forrest Gump, viewers began showing up in droves at Gump's supposed alma mater, the University of Alabama, asking to see his football trophies.

#4. Shortly after the switch to daylight savings time one spring, a Colorado woman complained to a local newspaper that the extra hour of sunlight was burning up her lawn.

#5. Terming this type of mental inertia "mindlessness," Ellen Langer had students approach users at photocopy machines with one of three requests: "Excuse me, may I use the Xerox machine?" "Excuse me, may I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies?" "Excuse me, may I use the Xerox machine, because I'm in a rush?"

Normally, people demand a good reason before letting someone cut in front of them, but here the "mindless" second reason worked as well as the legitimate-sounding third.

A. They're all winners (losers?), along with many others. The above examples were provided by Professors John D. McGervey, Carol Wade, and Carol Tavris.

Q. You're recovering from a heart attack and have been cautioned about sex. But you can't control what you do in your dreams. Could you die from action with a dream lover? –R. Nelson–

A. Dream sex is associated with physiological changes very similar to corresponding activities in the waking state, says Stanford research associate Stephen LaBerge in Lucid Dreaming. But an important exception is heart rate, which increases only slightly in the dreams compared to a doubling or tripling during actual sex.

This fact may have practical benefit. For heart patients, sex can be a dangerous and sometimes fatal form of exercise. "Dream sex, in contrast, appears to be completely safe for everyone, and for many paralyzed people, it may be the only form of sexual release available."

Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com, coauthors of Can a Guy Get


Pregnant? Scientific Answers to Everyday (and Not-So- Everyday) Questions," from Pi Press.

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