Friday, December 12, 2008

Things We Never Knew About ... Poo

From a review by Dwight Garner in Friday’s New York Times of British journalist Rose George’s The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters:
Ms. George’s book brims with strange, telling details: The average human spends three years of his or her life going to the toilet; the poet W. H. Auden reportedly allowed his guests one sheet of toilet paper because he thought more was wasteful (the average American uses 57 sheets a day); feces in the street is thought to be the reason for the sudden popularity, in the 17th century, of high heels; one recent survey indicated that 850,000 cellphones a year are inadvertently flushed down British toilets. The stinkiest compound in feces (skatole) has been isolated and weaponized by a retired Navy commander.
George’s book is “lively in other ways,” Garner writes (We love the following, as in l-u-v LUV):
It is hard not to warm to a writer who can toss off an observation like this one: “I like engineers. They build things that are useful and sometimes beautiful — a brick sewer, a suspension bridge — and take little credit. They do not wear black and designer glasses like architects. They do not crow.”
According to Garner, The Big Necessity also offers important practical advice:
For anyone who is desperate and unable to find a toilet, Ms. George includes an unusual bit of advice, a therapy devised by Park Jae Woo, a Korean scientist. “It served me well,” she writes, “during ensuing months of research in toilet-deficient places.” I have not tried this, but here goes: “Should the urge to defecate strike, take a pen, pencil, or blunt object and trace a line, deeply and with pressure, in a clockwise direction on the left palm or counterclockwise on the right. The urge, assures Dr. Park, ‘will immediately cease.’ ”
And there’s the suggestion that Americans’ longtime love affair with asswipe is just another example of our Bush-ian hubris:
Compared with those in most of the rest of the world, sanitary conditions in America are exemplary. We are, most of us, among the lucky few. But there is one other aspect of Ms. George’s book that might make Americans rethink their toilet habits. It arrives during her blunt discussion of what best might be called the “paper versus water” debate.

In Japan, where toilets are amazingly advanced — most of even the most basic have heated seats and built-in bidet systems for front and rear — the American idea of cleaning one’s backside with dry paper is seen as quaint at best and disgusting at worst. As Ms. George observes: “Using paper to cleanse the anus makes as much sense, hygienically, as rubbing your body with dry tissue and imagining it removes dirt.”
Garner concludes:
It’s a busy, filthy, complicated world to which Ms. George has turned her estimable attentions. She is convincing when she writes, “to be uninterested in the public toilet” — or the private one, for that matter — “is to be uninterested in life.”
Right-o. This indeed is an important and endlessly fascinating topic, and anyone who says otherwise is a lyin’ sack of merde!

Also: An interesting interview with George wherein she discusses the superiority of the Japanese toilet, cites some disquieting figures on the dumping of raw sewage into our rivers, deplores the disappearance of the public toilet in major U.S. cities and offers the apparently educated opinion that “squatting” is much more efficient than “sitting” for thorough evacuation.

And: George’s blog

And: The Times is offering the first chapter of George’s book, in case Garner missed any of the juicy bits.

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