Venice Underwater

Venice is sinking and the surrounding sea level is rising.  In the last 100 years, Venice has sunk 11 inches.  It doesn’t sound like much, but 11 inches is a lot when every building and square is bordered by canals or open water.  If you visit Venice, you quickly realize that water is everywhere.  You cannot escape the sound of water lapping against a bulkhead, the smell of water in the canals, or the sight of water as you walk across one of the countless bridges spanning the canals.

The situation has become intolerable.  Venice now experiences 100 floods a year.  The Venetians and the Italian government have finally taken action.  Their plan involves construction of massive inflatable gates that will lie flat on the sea floor under normal circumstances, only to be inflated so as to block sea water from entering the lagoon when water levels rise.  The project is, as you would expect, controversial.  People have raised questions about its cost, its effectiveness and its environmental impact.  Amazingly, due to political wrangling it took four decades for construction on the project to get started — even though the situation is growing increasingly desperate.

Venice is a beautiful city, filled with fabulous architecture, art, and history.  Equally important, it is one of those cities that is a testament to the human spirit, human ingenuity, and human perseverance.  Imagine building a city on marshland and seeing that city grow and develop to the point where Venice was a major sea power and center of commerce!  Everyone should be interested in seeing Venice, in all its glory, preserved — and that means hoping that the project works.  Mankind would be poorer indeed if Venice, like fabled Atlantis, were to disappear beneath the waves.

Big Yellow Diamond

The BBC has a story about an exceptionally large, and therefore exceptionally rare, yellow diamond.  The tear drop-cut stone weighs more than 110 carats and is called the Sun Drop.  The BBC story explains that its yellow color is caused by traces of nitrogen in the carbon for the stone.  (Other colored stones are caused by the presence of other substances — boron creates a blue stone, for example, and radiation creates a green cast to a diamond.)

Why do some people lust for gems?  A diamond is a glittering object — but so is a well-cut piece of crystal.  How many people have the skill and knowledge to distinguish an actual diamond from cubic zirconium, or some other skillful knock-off?  Why is wearing a big diamond, or some other gemstone, so important to some people?  And how inflated are the prices charged by the jewelry store at the mall for their rings and pendants with diamond chips?  How much is the mark-up on the rings featured in those sappy romantic TV ads?

Diamond mining is an industry with lots of issues.  In some African diamond mines, child labor is common, working conditions are poor, and workers are terribly exploited.  Mining can ruin otherwise arable land, cause serious erosion problems, and contaminate drinking water with heavy metals and chemicals in the run-off from mining operations.  The physical dangers of diamond mining include collapsing walls, flooding, and explosions — to say nothing of potential visits from rival factions in war-torn African regions, looking to use diamonds to fund their purchase of weapons and other rebellious activities.

The Sun Drop is a pretty thing — but are diamonds really worth it?