Friday, August 29, 2014

Israeli Bullshit

Here's a true story about Israeli bullshit and why it's blogworthy. I've been hearing rumors of it for months, and not long ago its essential facts even appeared in a local newspaper (Hebrew, no online linkable version), at which point I enquired with a fellow I know who is closely enough involved to be able to confirm the news item and embellish on it.

Like all stories you've got to decide where, actually, is the beginning. One place to start might be in the Talmudic assertion that Israel, unlike Egypt, depends on the immediate good will of God since it has no reliable river, and all its water comes from the heavens, a fact which has been true since the Six Days of Creation - until a few years ago, 10 or 15 of them, when the Israelis decided they didn't like being dependant on the whims of the weather for their water. (This was a policy decision, and so far as I know it had nothing to do with theology). The policy-makers of the day may also have been dimly aware of the 1930s research of Walter Laudermilk, a British scientist who wrote about our environment, was deeply impressed by the early efforts of Zionist pioneers to drain marshes and create modern agriculture, but was also of the opinion the maximal population of Mandatory Palestine couldn't rise above 10 million, a number we passed a while ago. One way or the other, the decision was made to reach water independence through two strategic programs. One, to build as many desalination plants as needed, and the second, to purify as much of the potable water and to pot it again.

Both programs have already succeeded, and they're both still progressing. We're well on the way to the point where all of the urban-use water comes from desalination plants and not natural sources; and while I don't have the exact number, much of the sewage water goes through purification plants and is then re-used, tho often not as drinking water but for industry or types of agriculture where this is safe (cotton being an obvious example. You don't eat cotton, you wear it, so the quality of the water used to irrigate it is less important than with watermelons. In both fields - desalination and re-use of water - Israel is the world leader.

The past winter was unusually dry, and yet this summer there's no shortage of water. I cannot begin to tell you how momentous this is, but am reasonably certain that a century from now this summer will be remembered for that, not for the events in Gaza.

As usually happens with technological progress, once you arrive at a new place you see new needs and challenges. No-one understood why an iPad needed improvement until they'd used the iPad 1.

It turns out that water used in cattle farming can't be purified. The bullshit is too potent. So long as no-one was systematically purifying all their water, this may not have been known and certainly wasn't interesting. Once the water is all directed to purification, however, it did become important; once some government agency took it into their mind to regulate the quality of water before its purification, that little fact became a matter of economic life-and-death for the cattle industry.

Enter the Sidon family brothers, one with a PhD in chemistry, one with a background in the feverish world of the hi-tech Startup Nation, and one an engineer, who spotted the opportunity to make gold out of bullshit. Together they invented a contraption which separates reasonably clean water from the rest of the bullshit, so that farmers can meet the requirements of that regulator, and apparently also sell the hard-core part of the bullshit for other purposes.  They have just implemented the first industrial-size model of their contraption, and now expecct to sell it to cattle farmers all over Israel.

It has also crossed their mind that there are cattle farmers in other countries, too. Who said Israeli technological innovation can't be bullshit.

1 comment:

Barry Meislin said...

Heh, given her penchant and inclinations, Hi-I'm-freakin-Jodi_Rudoren-and-I-work-for-the-freakin-NYT-and-you-can't-believe-a-freakin-word-I-say should be all over this new technology.

Then again, since it's actually the truth, maybe not.