OCTOBER   2019


Saturday, October 06, 2018


I have learned that whether your story is considered a drama or a tragedy is often determined by where you chose to end it. Consider the tale of the Great Stink of 1857, which concluded with the construction of the London sewers, conquering cholera and typhus by pumping the fecal focus eastward to the Thames estuary. It was for the 19th century Londoner a glorious conclusion, the return to the Garden of Eden toilet – flushed out of sight, out of mind. But a mere 50 years (1907ish)  later there was so much human crap in the estuary, it was beginning to stink up even the North Sea.. And a nation that lived on fish and chips began to worry their story might yet turn into a Cockney Oedipus Rex. But England – and the human world - was offered salvation when the British East India Company moved their headquarters from Calcutta to the west coast of the subcontinent.
Over sixty years, beginning in 1687, the civil servants of the British Raj used native labor to transform seven islands into a new city and port, built and organized to English standards, and overwhelmingly occupied and operated by Indians. 
By 1890 Bombay was a metropolis of almost a million inhabitants. To Mr. C. Carkeet James, Chief Drainage Engineer for the Metropolitan District, there were “...few if any cities in India of greater interest or higher educational value to students of sanitation.” Along Bombay's wide boulevards and narrow winding streets, trained English soldiers and engineers rubbed shoulders with a rising Indian middle class and uneducated textile workers, and even afflicted beggars. And it was the latter who inspired the so called Lepers Acts.
By the end of the 20th century we realized the only way to contract leprosy is to be in the 5% of the population with the genetic defect that makes you vulnerable to the bacteria leprea or lepromatosis. But as late as the end of the 19th century, leprosy was still one of humanities' most feared infections. Seemingly at random, perfectly healthy individuals would suddenly display skin lesions, which gave the disease its Latin name, lepra or “scaly”. The illness progressively destroyed the nervous system. Extremities would lose feeling. Injuries went unnoticed and untreated, often leading to the loss of toes and fingers, even ears and noses. Most suffers eventually became blind. Long before then, the afflicted were expelled from their communities, unwanted and considered unclean, drawn to the cities where they could survive only by begging.
Under the various Lepers Acts all sufferers in Bombay were prohibited from handling “any article of food or drink or any drugs or clothing intended for human use, bathe, wash clothes or take water from any public well or tank...drive (or)...ride in any public carriage.” Thus ostracized, most lepers were reduced to starvation, and local police were empowered to arrest “without a warrant any person who appears...to be a pauper leper.” Noted a journal at the time, “One of the results has been to free the city of Bombay from the beggars who used to extort alms by the exhibition of their sores about the public buildings, schools, water tanks, etc.”
Mitigating its cruelty, the act also ordered the creation of leper colonies, where an infrastructure of professionals could feed and clothe the afflicted - “chiefly vagrants and beggars”. And in typical Victorian fashion, the staff also tended to their moral shortcomings by providing work that gave them a sense of dignity and helped to mitigate the expense of their care. 
In 1890, in the Matinga section of Bombay , the recently abandoned quarters of an artillery battery, were converted into leper colony dormitories (above). The barracks stood on thick concrete foundations, raising it above the mud and filth. The dormitories for the patients were outfitted with running water, a kitchen and mess rooms.
At the end of May 1891 Mr. W.M. Acworth, local Commissioner for the Metropolitan Asylums Board, informed his sponsors back in England, “With accommodation for 190, I had yesterday 226 inmates, but fortunately a new ward has just been completed, and this over crowding will temporarily cease, though only temporarily. If I had room for 500 I could fill the asylum in a week.” In not much longer than that, maximum capacity was reached, 68% male, 32% female, and about 40 children. But the corporation that governed Bombay resisted fully funding the colony. The first year's monsoon caused the colonies' cesspits to over flow, and the flood of fecal waste from the lepers alarmed the surrounding population. By May of 1892 “The Times of India” observed, “ The Matinga Asylum is seriously overcrowded with lepers... (because of a) lack of rupees...land for the extension of the asylum lie still idle... Unless something is done to remedy this state of things, our streets will again be overrun with homeless lepers, and Mr. Acworth’s labors in the cause of these afflicted people will practically be brought to naught.”
Public and political pressure forced the East India Company to open its purse. With acquisition of the additional land, and additional funding, Mr. Acworth turned to the chief drainage engineer, Mr. James (above, 2nd from left) for a solution to the colonies' cesspit problem . What Mr. C.C. James built was a chemical-mechanical stomach to re-digest the human waste, much the same way a cow's multiple stomachs re-digests their feed.
First, Engineer James built several enclosed 19,000 gallon (settling) ponds. Here the solids sank to the bottom, where the oxygen loving (or aerobic) bacteria converted the poop into a black sludge, and pooped out their own waste, carbon dioxide. This bubbled to the surface, forming a scum which was periodically skimmed off. When the slowing production of scum indicated the aerobic bacteria had eaten themselves to death, the oxygen depleted sludge was pumped uphill into one of several air tight holding tanks, where the slow anaerobic (oxygen hating) digestion began. An American engineering journal cheerfully explained the processes, as if in a new car brochure. “The anaerobic bacteria are provided along with the sewage and practically no difficulty arises in retaining their services on the works beyond providing them with space and time in which to carry out their labors.” Their work reducing the sludge could take up to six weeks at an ambient temperature between 78 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, all the while pooping out methane gas. And this was where Mr C. Carkeet James showed his engineering skills.
At the Matinga colony the methane was captured, and feed to 3 horsepower 4-stroke methane gas motors (above) designed by German engineer Nikolaus August Otto. The Otto engines required 22 cubic feet of methane per hour to slowly raise the sludge the 8 feet between the settling pools and the anaerobic tanks. As figured by engineer James, each patient produced 3 – 4 cubic feet of methane per day, meaning that on a good day each engine needed 7 to 8 patients visiting the latrine for each hour of pumping – a goal easily met. In fact, so much methane was produced the engines could also provide electricity to light the dormitories.
After 6 – 8 weeks each anaerobic tank was left with a bottom layer of carbon heavy sludge covered by “gray water” - clean but not pure enough for human consumption. The sludge was compressed and used for land fill. 
The “gray water” was allowed to cascade down hill, during which it was aerated again, and used to irrigate and fertilize the colony's 6 acre farm. The workers were patients/inmates, who were 84% Hindu vegetarians – and 9% Muslim and 10% Christians. Besides feeding themselves, the bumper crops were sold, and, according to Mr. Acworth, “Profits from the farm wholly maintain 50 lepers located therein”. In 1904 the colony was renamed the Acworth Leper Asylum, and after World War Two, the Acworth Hospital. It still operates in modern Bombay, renamed Mumbi.
The process was not self supportive, but was publicly heralded as an example for the world. But the world did not beat a path to the lepers' back door. It was still cheaper to just dump your poop in the nearest river or bay, even when it occasionally washed right back into your front yard. It was not until the middle of the 20th century that many in the industrialized world began to realize that the Garden of Eden toilet has always been a myth.
According to the World Health Organization, exposure to human waste kills a child somewhere every 20 seconds - 1.4 million dead children each year - “more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined”. Of the world's 7 billion human beings, over 2 ½ billion are still living surrounded by their own (200 million tons of) poop. World wide, according to author and sanitation authority Rose George, 20% of girls drop out of school because they have no safe place to relieve themselves. “Providing a latrine can mean the difference between illiteracy and education.” Providing every human being with a way to treat, clean and reuse even a high percentage of their poo, would not make humanity self supporting. But it would be a step in the right direction.  And in the long run, cheaper than pretending we can clean up the mess by pretending it isn't really  there. 
It is true that shit happens. But it is not true that you just have to live with it. Because in the case of shit, you can't.
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Friday, October 05, 2018


I am told the difference between basic pottery (first developed about 20,000 years ago) and porcelain pottery (first created about 1,000 years ago) is silicate Kaolinit clay in the slurry and an additional 500 degrees Fahrenheit in the firing process. The cost of achieving that temperature is worth the effort because porcelain is impermeable to water throughout its structure and thus, with glass, the only truly hygienic human made material. That meant porcelain was ideal for making “chamber pots”, resistant to staining and easily cleaned. Every potter in England who could, made chamber pots. And the top of the blue blood bottom market was claimed by Wedgwood, chamber pot makers for royal butts since King George III. But there were dozens of porcelain potters in England, clawing and scratching for chamber pot market share, like the Twyford family - “Fathers of the British Bathrooms”

In days of Old, When knights were bold, And, toilets weren't invented. They laid their loads,
Beside the road, And, walked away contented”
Twyford's had been making pottery in Stroke-on-Trent since 1680. But when London outlawed cesspits in 1849, Thomas Twyford senior moved to London and began aggressively selling water closets for London's growing middle class. The Twyford advantage was a siphon design which came to dominate the export market. But he over expanded and by the time Thomas Twyford junior got control of the company in 1879, it was almost bankrupt. Thomas had to do something big. He did it in 1884, when he released his “Unitus”, billed as a “trap-less toilet.”
In Cologne, a town of monks and bones, And pavements fang'd with murderous stones
And rags, and hags, and hideous wenches; I counted two and seventy stenches, All well defined, and several stinks! Ye Nymphs that reign o'er sewers and sinks, The river Rhine, it is well known,
Doth wash your city of Cologne; But tell me, Nymphs, what power divine, Shall henceforth wash the river Rhine?”
Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge - 1834
It wasn't actually trap-less of course – the trap was still there just concealed inside the porcelain. But the “Unitius” was the arrival of the modern can, the everyman and every woman's throne, the feces and forget privy, the dump and deny water closet, the my-poop-don't-stink lavatory, the head, the John, the loo, the shit can, and most recently and famously, the Crapper.
I come here to sit and think, I usually don't mind the stink, But when it gets bad, I am really glad,
That quick out of here I can slink.”
The etymological of crap begins with the Latin “crappa” meaning the chaff, or the unusable portion of wheat. In old Dutch this became “krappe”, an inedible fish or other food. And that was the origin of the family name of Thomas Crapper. The word didn't come to mean what it means today until Thomas began to express his business philosophy of slapping his name on everything that came out of his factory, from product to employee's inventions.
Draw out yere sword, thou vile South'ron! Red wat wi' blude o' my kin! That sword it crapped the bonniest flower, E'er lifted its head to the sun!
Poet Allan Cunningham 1847
At 14 years of age Thomas Crapper was apprenticed to his brother George, who was already a master plumber in the wealthy London suburb of Chelsea. By the time he was 25 the proud Thomas had been awarded nine patents for plumbing innovations. He was no longer a mere plumber. He now billed himself as a “Sanitary Engineer”.
The flush toilet, more than any single invention, has 'civilized' us in a way that religion and law could never accomplish.”
Poet Thomas Lynch - 1997
One of Thomas' nine patents was for a fully automated water closet. The pressure of the user compressed a pair of springs under the seat. When the client arose from their effort the springs lifted the seat and via rods released flush water from the reservoir tank above. Unfortunately it became known as the “Bottom Slapper”. The heavier the user the faster the springs rebounded, in a Catholic punishment for all who soiled the system Clients found them selves unable to relax during their commodious visits for contemplation of the test that was to come the instant the pressure was off.. Needless to say the auto toilet had few repeat customers..And in fact, only two of Thomas' the nine patents proved of any lasting value.
Men who consistently leave the toilet seat up secretly want women to get up to go the bathroom in the middle of the night and fall in.”
Comic Rita Rudner
In 1866, at 30, and filled with a self confidence that would never leave him, Thomas Crapper opened his own plumbing business in Chelsea (above), complete with an on the premises brass foundry. He began every business day by joining his brother George for a champagne breakfast at a pub convenient to both their shops. And this practice might explain his decision to install windows in the front of his factory on Marlborough Road (above, left & right of door) to display his product, as if his “flush down” toilets were shoes or ladies frocks. There were reports that Victorian matrons occasionally grew faint at the impropriety of all those lavatories, the function that dare not speak its name, stacked up in full public view. But it must have increased worker moral. It clearly increased Thomas'. And it also increased his sales.
What is toilet training if not the first attempt to turn a child into an acceptable member of society?”
Author Rose George 2004
A big part of Thomas' business was the installation of public lavatories. And on each shinny porcelain Crapper urinal was painted a buzzing bee. It was an inside joke among the public school boys standing to relieve themselves, which they had learned from their Latin instructions In Latin a bee is called an “apis”.  A piss. Very funny.
If you do the toilet scenes well and commit to them, they can be really, really powerful.”
Actress Sandra Bullock
By the 1880's Thomas broke the Wedgwood monopoly on royal crap, establishing a personal connection with the long suffering Prince of Wales, forced to put up with his mother's crap until Queen Victoria finally died in January of 1901. After that the aging Prince became King Edward VII, and Thomas Crapper became “Sanitary Engineer” to the royal bottom. Thomas retired in 1904, turning the business over to his nephew George Crapper (lower right) and his old business partner Robert Wharam (lower left). And in late January 1910, Thomas Crapper (below) , the man with the self confidence to market crap, and do so successfully, passed quietly into that great cistern in the sky.  The company survived, sans any actual Crappers, until it was swallowed by a competitor in 1963.
Crap has always happened, crap is happening, and crap will continue to happen.”
Author Chuck Palahniuk
But with human populations expanding, it was increasingly difficult to avoid all that crap humans had flushed away.
The average human being spends three years of life going to the toilet, though the average human being with no physical toilet to go to probably does his or her best to spend less.”
Author Rose George  - 2004
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Thursday, October 04, 2018


I think the best way to describe the ceremony was a short, sad funeral. It was held Tuesday noon, 21 July, 1858, in London's park like Brompton Cemetery. There was not a cloud in the sky. The temperature was in the mid-nineties Fahrenheit, and the formalities for the dearly departed Doctor John Snow, who had died of a stroke the week before, were as brief as decorum would allow. 
Many admired the “austere and painfully shy” man who would one day be called the “greatest physician of all time”, who founded not only anesthesiology but epidemiology as well. But on this day the stench overwhelmed grief and respect.
The stench wafted from the river which snaked through the capital of the British Empire, 300 yards from Brompton Cemetery. In an average year, the river's current was dwarfed by the twice daily 23 foot tides. But in 1858 the last rain in the Thames valley had been in March - over three months ago – and Old Man Thames had become a warm stagnant open air cesspit, it's swelling twice a day merely rearranging the human and animal waste piling up across the 700 foot wide 6 foot deep tidal flats, crossed by the new London Bridge.
Twelve years before, in 1842, the city had outlawed the municipal cesspits that were overflowing into the streets and polluting the 17,000 wells used by the 2 ½ million residents of London for drinking and cooking. Civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette would report: 'Within a period of about six years, thirty thousand cesspools were abolished, and all home and street refuse was turned into the river'" Now 250,000 tons of sewage was being poured directly into the Thames every day. Then, at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851, some 827,000 curious paid a penny each to use a flush toilet for the first time. These proved so popular they were kept open for a year, earning over £1000 at a penny a flush. The public's apatite for indoor plumbing accelerated the transfer of poo from human bottoms to river bottom, which is why Dr. John Snow had opposed closing the cesspits.
Dr. Snow had identified the source of an August, 1854 Cholera outbreak that killed over 600 people, as a cesspit contaminated public pump in the poverty crippled Soho section of London. “I found that nearly all the deaths had taken place within a short distance of the pump...that the deceased persons used to drink the pump water from Broad Street, either constantly or occasionally.” But even after identifying water as the means of transmission, Dr. Snow had cautioned against the outlawing of cesspits, because he knew without a sewer, that would merely postpone the problem.  His stand had earned him the enmity of most of the socially progressive scientists of the day, such as Dr William Murdoch and the great chemist Michael Faraday, who still ascribed the source of pestilence to mal-aria, or “ bad air”, and miasmas, disease carrying odors.
In July of 1855, Faraday wrote to the London Times, describing a boat trip down the Thames. “The whole of the river was an opaque pale brown fluid....I tore up some white cards...and then dropped some of these pieces into the water...before they had sunk an inch below the surface they were indistinguishable...Near the bridges the feculence rolled up in clouds so dense that they were visible at the surface, even in water of this kind.” In June of 1858 “blackish-green” water was reported by Health Officer Dr. Murdoch. “It is quite impossible to calculate the consequences of such a moving mass of decomposition... as the river at present offers to our senses”  Dr. Snow had warned about turning the river into an open sewer, but even in sewers the waster flows. The eight weeks of June-July 1858, when the Thames stopped flowing, came to to be called “The Great Stink”
Solutions to the problem of air or water born disease had been debated for almost two decades, through five Prime Ministers, two of them Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby. Whatever solution was offered, there were always objections to paying for it. In 1848 the conservative editors of “The Economists” turned to the Old Testament:: “Suffering and evil...cannot be gotten rid of: and the impatient attempts of benevolence to banish them from the world by legislation... have always been more productive of evil than good”. No proof was offered for this contention. But the defenders of doing nothing went further. It was claimed new sewers would be an invasion of person freedom, a big government intrusion, a tax and spend liberal fraud. Filthy water was not the problem. And even the revered Dr. Snow was against big government sewer projects, claimed the opponents.
The latter argument was not quite true, but Snow's position was nuanced enough to be obscure  In fact he suggested it would be a good idea to end "that form of liberty to which some communities cling, the sacred power to poison to death not only themselves but their neighbors” Still the opponents confused enough of the public as to muddy the already filthy waters.  In 1855 Charles Dickens had satirized the opponents by describing a mythical pro-stink campaign rally. “Ratepayers... Health is enormously expensive. Be filthy and be fat. Cesspools and Constitutional Government! Gases and Glory! No insipid water!!” Dickens was kidding, but even to him the stench was no joke. He wrote a friend, “I can certify that the offensive smells...have been of a most head-and-stomach-distending nature” And still the opponents cautioned delay after delay, spreading confusion and misinformation much like modern day climate change deniers do – proving again that we have not changed since leaving our Garden of Eden toilet.
Few would ever see the wiggling predators in a drop of Thames water under a microscope. But in the summer of 1858 everyone could smell the stench. It was, in the words of author David Barnes, “catastrophic...a devastating and even incapacitating onslaught. The stench was intolerable.” Wrote a reporter for the Illustrated London News, “The intense heat had driven our legislators from those portions of their buildings (Westminster) which overlook the river. A few members...ventured into the library, but they were instantaneously driven to retreat, each man with a handkerchief to his nose.”
The absentee tenant representing Leitrim, Ireland, John Brady, asked Lord John Manners, the Commissioner of Works and Public Buildings in Derby's second government, if anything could be done. Lord Manners replied the Thames was not under his “jurisdiction.” . Four days later another minister returned to the topic, and Lord Manners again avoided it, insisting, “Her Majesty's Government have nothing whatever to do with the state of the Thames".
Although Smith-Stanley was the Prime Minister in 1858, he sat in the House of Lords. The leader of the House of Commons was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Benjamin Disraeli, the most capable politician of his generation. And Disraeli realized the stench was growing stronger than the opposition. The desperate politicians were spending £1,500 per week to shovel 250 tons of lime across the mud flats at low tide. Under the direction of engineer Goldsworthy Gurney, curtains soaked in chloride were draped over the windows of Westminster to block the stench.  Nothing seemed to help. In mid-June Gurney had to warn the Commons, he could “no longer be responsible for the health of the house.” On 11 June, 1858 even the official diarist of the House of Commons was forced to note, “Gentlemen sitting in the Committee Rooms and in the Library were utterly unable to remain there in consequence of the stench which arose from the river.”
Finally, on 15 June, Disraeli brought the latest version of the “do something about the stench” bill up for debate, recalling the ancient river Styx, the river of death, and referring to the Thames as a “ a Stygian pool, reeking with ineffable and intolerable horrors".  The cost would be a special 3 pence tax on all London households for the next 40 years - £3 million to rebuild the sewers of London.  Noted The Times of London, “Parliament was all but compelled to legislate upon the great London nuisance by the force of sheer stench” .
Wrote the London Globe, “Disgust, alarm, and reasonable precautions induced members” to finally take action. The Times wrote, “Gentility of speech is at an end – it stinks; and who so once inhales the stink can never forget it and can count himself lucky if he lives to remember it.”
The sewer plan, after almost two decades of design and redesign, was simple, as explained by Joseph Bazalgette, the man who would be responsible for building it. “The existing streams and drains all ran down to the river on both sides”, he wrote.   
First, the Thames -  that “pestiferous and typhus breeding abomination” -  was to be walled off by massive embankment, built atop new intersecting sewers (above, right center)  on either shore  “...so as to intercept those streams:”  Atop the embankments new roads could be built, and parks and open spaces. It promised a better world, a world of light and fresh air and ease of commute. But most of all it promised and end to the stench. 
The waste was not to be treated. It was merely to be dumped somewhere else, farther away, down stream, out to sea.  English humans were still searching for the Garden of Eden, where their poop would remain out of sight, sight of mind, out from under their noses and out of their drinking water.
The massive tax increase passed in just 18 days,  from creation, consideration, amendments, debate and passage. Usually only declarations of war received such quick treatment. It would have been cheaper to have fixed the problem earlier, and Lord knows most people wanted to fix it sooner. Uncounted lives would have been saved. The economy would have been improved, along with the health of the citizens, by following the simple rule of never shitting where you eat.  But it did not pass until the richest who refused to pay for the improvements, could no longer say no while holding their noses. It would take another twenty years to complete the work, but at last it was begun in August of 1858, just before the rains came back..
The London sewers did not return English men and women to the Garden of Eden. None of us ain't ever going to get back there. And yet, we never seem to stop trying.
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