Thursday, November 15, 2007

Plumb Lucky. W. Hodding Carter, Flushed.

Days ago I wrote a lovely piece here entitled The Beauty of Sewers. I wrote also A Paean to Household Cleaning Products, and I even have somewhere in the bowels of this blog a piece entitled Crapper's Bida: Tres Moderne . I write sometimes claiming Leftists are caprophagists. I don't, however, think I have much interest in scatology, only in common cleanliness, in the life-giving benefits of pure water and ordinary sanitation. Yeah, shit happens, and that;s life; but it doesn't have to happen on my carpet. It happens better in bathrooms, thanks to modern plumbing, for which I am thankful, having been to too many places for too many years where such is not the case for the average person. Toilets and plumbing are things one only misses when there aren't any. Outside Modernity there aren't any. SAo maybe I get excited by what others take for granted. so, that thumping you might have heard across the land yesterday would be the pounding of my black heart when I found a book on Plumbing. Yahoo!

Here's one review. I'll be in the bathroom checking out the book itself. Muslims? They have a lot to learn .

The Art and Mystery of plumbing,
June 29, 2006
By wiredweird "wiredweird" (Earth, or somewhere nearby) - See all my reviews
Carter, a "great sanitation scholar," gives us an outstanding tour of the world of plumbing; several tours, actually. One is the historical tour, from classical times to the present day and beyond. Carter goes back to the Romans, whose pipes made of lead ("plumbum" in Latin) gave us the word for plumber. The trip through time make brief stops in the dark ages, where monks railed against pagan rituals of water and washing, while quietly enjoying the highest levels of sanitation around. Carter's next historical high points come in the 18th and especially 19th century, when Europe finally recovered and surpassed the Romans' level of engineering sophistication. The story continues into today, with recent innovations like the 1.6 gallon flush, and into some truly exciting possibilities for the future of human waste processing.

Another kind of tour lets us visit the technologies of waste removal. Up until the 1800s, that largely consisted of an open window, a shouted warning to anyone passing below, and a mighty heave of the "thunder mug," which left the streets in a condition that beggars modern imagination. From there, Carter works up to the high-tech digesters that biologically decontaminate Boston's sewage stream, and to practical demonstrations of recovering energy from methane given off, or even bacterial fuels cells that generate electricity directly.

It's also a story of social progress. People live longer and fewer children die of disease spread by fecal contamination, to be sure. Carter also describes low-tech innovations in India that promise to improve the lives of the untouchable undercaste, once they are freed from the necessary but "unclean" duty of clearing away the human waste of India's hundreds of millions.

Not least, it's a story of Carter's own adventures and misadventures with the maze of pipes behind his own walls. That's part of what makes this book so enjoyable: the enthusiastic and highly personal tone of his writing. It's a summary of his wide-ranging studies in what we do with the poo, but always light and readable. I fault his research for only one small point, his neglect of the New World before the European arrival. The Aztecs built some of the world's most populous pre-technological cities and dealt with their excreta much more effectively than European cities of the same size and period. Still, it's an informative and enjoyable look at what we'd usually rather not look at.

//wiredweird, reviewing a complimentary copy

Modernity rules!

The graphic? I've had it stored for a long time for no reason other than that I thought I might use it someday for something. Plumb Lucky!

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