American Elephants

We’ve Come A Long Way Baby! London – 1854 by The Elephant's Child


The Night-Soil Men

         It is August 1854, and London is a city of scavengers. Just the names alone read now like some kind of exotic zoological catalogue; bone-pickers, rag-gatherers, pure-finders, dredgermen, mud-larks, sewer-hunters, dustmen, night-soil men, bunters, toshes, shoremen. These were the London underclasses, at least a hundred thousand strong. So immense were their numbers that had the scavengers broken off and formed their own city, it would have been  the fifth-largest in all of England. But the diversity and precision of their routines were more remarkable than their sheer number. Early risers strolling along the Thames would see the toshers wading through the muck of low tide, dressed almost comically in flowing velveteen coats, their oversized pockets filled with stray bits of copper recovered from the water’s edge. The toshers walked with a lantern strapped to their chest to help them see in the predawn gloom, and carried an eight-foot-long pole to test the ground in front of them, and to pull themselves out when they stumbled into a quagmire. The pole and the eerie glow of the lantern through the robes gave them the look of ragged wizards, scouring the foul river’s edge for magic coins. Beside them fluttered the mud-larks, often children, dressed in tatters and content to scavenge all the waste that the toshers rejected as below their standard: lumps of coal, old wood, scraps of rope.
………Above the river, in the streets of the city, the pure-finders eked out a living by collecting dog shit (colloquially called “pure”) while the bone-pickers foraged for carcasses of any stripe. Below ground, in the cramped but growing network of tunnels beneath London’s streets, the sewer-hunters slogged through the flowing waste of the metropolis. Every few months, an unusually dense pocket of methane gas would be ignited by one of their kerosene lamps and the hapless soul would be incinerated twenty feet below ground, in a river of raw sewage. …
………It usually takes the bone-picker from seven to nine hours to go over his rounds, during which time he travels from 20 to 30 miles with a quarter to a half hundredweight on his back. In the summer he usually reaches home about eleven of the day, and in the winter about one or two. On his return home he proceeds to sort the contents of his bag. He separates the rags from the bones, and these again from the old metal (if he is lucky enough to have found any). He divides the rags into various lots, according as they are white or coloured; and if he have picked up any pieces of canvas or sacking, he makes these also into a separate parcel. When has finished the sorting he takes his several lots to the ragshop or the marine-store dealer, and realizes upon them whatever they may be worth. For the white rags he gets from 2d. to 3d per pound, according as they are clean or soiled. The white rags are very difficult to be found; they are mostly very dirty therefore sold with the coloured ones at the rate of about 5 lbs. for 2d.


London in 1854 was a Victorian metropolis trying to make do with an Elizabethan public infrastructure. The city was vast even by today’s standards, with two and a half million people crammed inside a thirty-mile circumference. Most of the  techniques for managing that kind of population density that we now take for granted—recycling centers, public-health departments, garbage collection, safe sewage removal — hadn’t yet been invented. These people were actually performing an essential service for their community. Removing the refuse of a large city is one of the most important social functions. The scavengers of Victorian London weren’t just getting rid of all that refuse, they were recycling it.

The above excerpt comes from a fascinating  and thought-provoking book called The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson. In that summer of 1854, London was seized with a violent outbreak of cholera that no one knew how to stop. As the epidemic spread a maverick physician and a local curate try to solve the most pressing medical riddle of their time.

There is so much there, the intertwined histories of the spread of disease, the rise of cities, and the nature of scientific inquiry. If we don’t have an understanding of history and from whence we have come, we can’t really understand today.

Again, It’s Not His Fault. He is Unusually, Epically Incompetent. by The Elephant's Child

“If these allegations prove to be true it is dishonorable,
it is disgraceful and I will not tolerate it. Period.”

President Obama’s statements about his outrage over the latest scandal are always emphasized with a “Period.” He is frequently outraged and angered over events that are completely within his control. He was warned even before he was inaugurated that there were huge problems at the Veterans Administration health care system.

It would have been bad politics to expose the lousy care that is delivered (or not) to our military veterans at a time when Democrats were intent on putting American health care under government control. People might notice that the VA provided a devastating example of the federal government’s ability to run a health care organization. It might even prompt enterprising reporters to take a serious look at the Indian Health Care Service and what kind of health care that government run organization provided.

President Obama takes executive action all the time. When he doesn’t like something Congress is refusing to do, well,  he has a phone and he has a pen, and he’ll just go around them. (And get things done?) Well, no, he will have an investigation, and they will look into the allegations, and then they will investigate that, and perhaps appoint a committee, who will report back, and once enough time has passed it will be a “phony scandal.”

He was outraged about Benghazi, and the perpetrators were going to be brought to justice, and there was probably a “period.” there too, and he was outraged about  the IRS targeting conservative non-profit applicants, or at least the news reports. Obama said “It’s inexcusable, and Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it.” A few weeks later, according to Ben Shapiro, Obama would call the IRS scandal “phony.”

So far the talking points deem the Benghazi scandal “phony,” and according to my congressman Adam Smith, “Benghazi is a political witch-hunt.” We are wasting our time reaching for scandal instead of spending our time “on important issues like soaring rates of sexual assault in the military.” Give it a week or two and you will find the Veterans Administration scandal “phony” and a political witch-hunt

President Obama’s constant effort to escape blame for anything whatsoever suggests that this has been a pattern all his life. One of the most characteristic expressions you see in photos—at least before all photographs except those taken by White House photographer Pete Sousa were banned—is a pout. Just like a little kid, lower lip out—It’s not my fault!

The death count in Benghazi was only 4 people, even if one was an Ambassador of the United States of America on government business—for which he had justifiably requested additional security. The death count for veterans on the VA wait list tops 40 and is still climbing, as more are revealed. In Georgia, 5 veterans committed suicide in the VA hospital.

What would happen in the private sector? I would assume that the Secretary in charge would be out the door yesterday. An investigative staff would move in. Veterans waiting for urgent tests would be given vouchers good at the hospital of their choice for the tests and necessary follow-up treatment. Veterans so despairing of their treatment that they commit suicide in the hospital is beyond sorrow. Veterans with urgent symptoms need urgent tests, and urgent treatment. The object is good care for veterans, not good resumes for administrators.

Peter Wehner, who is familiar with White House operations, says:

The last eight months have battered the Obama administration. From the botched rollout of the health-care website to the VA scandal, events are now cementing certain impressions about Mr. Obama. Among the most damaging is this: He is unusually, even epically incompetent.

The emerging narrative of Barack Obama, the one that actually comports to reality that he is a rare political talent but a disaster when it comes to actually governing. The list of his failures is nothing short of staggering, from shovel-ready jobs that weren’t shovel ready to the failures of to the VA debacle. …

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