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Tossed the toilet and jumped the shark…

The heir to the Dutch throne was in the small eastern village of Rhenen on Queen’s Day, April 30, where he entered – and won – a traditional village game of toilet-bowl tossing.

Throne, geddit?

Well, I guess we have Morris dancing which is vastly more embarrassing.

But speaking at a function [not a bodily one we hope] in Rotterdam on Wednesday, the prince admitted he felt ashamed when hurling the orange-coloured ceramic potty given the lack of proper sanitary conditions in the developing world.

“Here in the Netherlands there are towns that take part in the throwing of toilet-bowls for a laugh,” he said.

“I participated with a smile, but not without shame in thinking about the some 2.6 billion people around the world that do not have this most basic infrastructure to fulfil a daily need with dignity.”

And therein lies the rub. It isn’t basic infrastructure in the sense of simple infrastructure. Here is a bit from Wikipedia on one of my Victorian heroes… You know those folks who built the modern world like George Stephenson and Nikola Tesla.

At the time, the Thames was little more than an open sewer, devoid of any fish or other wildlife, and an obvious health hazard to Londoners. Bazalgette’s solution (similar to a proposal made by painter John Martin 25 years earlier) was to construct 1,100 miles (1,800 km) of underground brick main sewers to intercept sewage outflows, and 1,100 miles (1,800 km) of street sewers, to intercept the raw sewage which up until then flowed freely through the streets and thoroughfares of London. The outflows were diverted downstream where they were dumped, untreated, into the Thames. Extensive sewage treatment facilities were built only decades later.

The scheme involved major pumping stations at Deptford (1864) and at Crossness (1865) on the Erith marshes, both on the south side of the Thames, and at Abbey Mills (in the River Lea valley, 1868) and on the Chelsea Embankment (close to Grosvenor Bridge; 1875), north of the river.

The system was opened by Edward, Prince of Wales in 1865, although the whole project was not actually completed for another ten years.

Bazalgette’s foresight may be seen in the diameter of the sewers. When planning the network he took the densest population, gave every person the most generous allowance of sewage production and came up with a diameter of pipe needed. He then said ‘Well, we’re only going to do this once and there’s always the unforeseen’ and doubled the diameter to be used. His foresight allowed for the unforeseen increase in population density with the introduction of the tower block; with the original, smaller pipe diameter the sewer would have overflowed in the 1960s [that would have brought meant the stinking '60s rather than the swinging ones - George Harrison would have been in his wellies rather than barefoot on that album cover crossing Abbey Road], rather than coping until the present day as it has.

The unintended consequence of the new sewer system was to eliminate cholera not only in places that no longer stank, but wherever water supplies ceased to be contaminated by sewage. The basic premise of this expensive project, that miasma spread cholera infection, was wrong; however, instead of this causing the project to fail, the new sewers succeeded in virtually eliminating the disease by removing the contamination.

[the good old "right for the wrong reason"].

Bazalgette’s capacity for hard work was remarkable; every connection to the sewerage system by the various Vestry Councils had to be checked and Bazalgette did this himself and the records contain thousands of linen tracings with handwritten comments in Indian ink on them “Approved JWB” “I do not like 6″ used here and 9″ should be used. JWB” and so on. It is perhaps not surprising that his health suffered as a result. The records are held by Thames Water in large blue binders gold-blocked reading “Metropolitan Board of Works” and then dated, usually two per year.

So, it isn’t simple. The richest and greatest city the World has ever seen only managed it by 1875 and then only via much kicking and screaming and even then the effective treatment of sewage took much longer to achieve. And it only started when the stink reached parliament. A jaundiced chap like me might suggest these days that is were the Dame Judiths come from. These are massive civil works and it is naive beyond belief that a toilet alone constitutes sanitation. When my parents worked in Zambia before I was born Kenneth Kaunda, one of the less murderous despots of that benighted continent (and he was up against some stiff opposition with the likes of Idi Amin – my parents had Indian friends and smuggled gold out of Uganda – the border guards were easy to bribe if you had Marlboros and Scotch and some USD anyway after a couple of swigs of The Quickening they wouldn’t give a toss if you had 10kgs of cocaine a murdered hooker and a Picasso in the boot of the car).

And herein lies the fundamental point about the developing world. It is poor because it is poor. It is poor because the infrastructure Dutch crown-princes take for granted is neither obvious nor simple. It is fundamental but that is not the same thing as simple. It’s just an engineering problem. “Just”? Tell that one to the shade of Kelly Johnson because you’d leave with your teeth in a paper bag. It’s like the old saw from the ’80s about the planet producing enough food to feed everyone – you “just” need to distribute it – yeah now if I could master that TESCO would be scared. It just isn’t that simple. You need distribution and that means roads and service stations and motor dealerships and that means electricity and reasonably uncorrupt courts and building storm drains and sewers and railways and airports and getting investment done without having to pay grand an hour hookers. Modernity cannot be achieved one system at a time because all systems interlink. How do you run a railway if the phone network is pants? How do you install or maintain a phone network if the roads are dreadful? How do you persuade the skilled people to stay in such countries and not take-up that offer from Japan if the lifestyle is medieval and you have to shit in a bucket and chuck it out the window?

Moreover it’s like some of the demented anti HIV/AIDS campaigns. Let’s roll-out anti-retrovirals like smarties to Africa pro-bono (and also pro the ego of Bono). Won’t work. These are powerful drugs and they need doctors to prescribe them and check things and adjust specific doses of the cocktail and some drugs need refrigeration and that means electricity and trucks and roads for the getting them about and…

I guess what I am saying is you can’t just have toilets. Or cake. You have to have the full nine yards. There is a model and it is capitalism. It’s not an especially quick fix (though alleged quick fixes do more harm than good) but, I dunno, the Republic of Korea went in much less than a lifetime from medieval poverty to being a high-tech wonderland. This is because capitalism distributes resources efficiently and widely so unlike Mao and his war on sparrows which led to the Great Leap Backwards. It’s tough but it works.

Here endeth the lesson.

15 Comments

  1. Robert the Biker says:

    The problem with Africa (to go no further) is that it’s filled with Africans; corrupt, murderous and incompetant and that’s being kind. When those horrid colonialist icky White people had an interest in the place, there were roads, fine cities (Lagos, J’oburg, Mombassa) all of which had power plants, sewage systems and loads of generally fit, healthy and well fed Africans; it was said that you could tell where the border of Rhodesia ran because all the Africans on the ‘Horrible Whiteys’ side were plump, muscular and wore clean clothes.
    Now? The native populations have made it what it is, let them sort it.
    Cue cries of ‘racism’ in 5..4..3..

  2. NickM says:

    Well, that’s just magic Robert. Yes, I will call you on racism. You have just dissed the populace of an entire continent. Fucking hellskis. Homophobia on the sidebar and outright racism in the comments! Give my regards to Mr Nick Griffin.

  3. Fred Thrung says:

    There’s no denying that many countries in Africa have mighty corruption, but they are not alone in that – you don’t have to look further than our own government institutions. The real problem seems to be that the bleeding hearts insist on throwing taxpayers’ money at the wrong folk and at the wrong parts of many economies.

  4. NickM says:

    I wouldn’t call them bleeding hearts as such. Some are just into “realpolitik”. Why is Russia backing Assad in Syria. He’s buying a shedload of weapons from ‘em. Kerching!

  5. CHK says:

    Shhh – don’t mention the African … stuff. Our Nick has been mightily sensitised as of late.

    Also, Nick, it was McCartney sans shoes on Abbey Road. This is basic knowledge, dammit.

  6. zack says:

    Fred: The real problem seems to be that the bleeding hearts insist on throwing taxpayers’ money at the wrong folk and at the wrong parts of many economies
    ———————–

    Yes, it certainly does seem that much international aid (like other forms of government welfare) is rather counter productive. Giving money to corrupt despots who have ruined their countries doesn’t work apparently.

    The country that has made the most progress over the last decade is Rwanda; they’ve finally been able to put their tribalism behind them and taken up some much needed reforms. it’s just tragic that it took a civil war and a genocide for them to wake up to it.

  7. NickM says:

    I don’t remember the ’60s. I wasn’t there. I was born in 1973. So as to basic knowledge ask me about Suede, St Etienne, The Cardigans not a bunch of over-rated Scouse hippies. OK, that is harsh but as a kid I was brutalised by “The Frog Chorus”. As I see it the Beatles had three phases musically. The first was copying American music (and fair play – up to a point) pretty much all bands start like that*. Then there is a mid-section of beauty with songs like “Drive my car” and “Paperback writer” and then it tails off into drivel and self-indulgence “Hey Jude”. I’ve always found it informative to ask “Stones or Beatles?”. On that score I have sympathy for the Devil.

    I am not sensitized. I just can’t stick racism. It is not just vile but pointless. A lad I once temped with was sound as you’d like and he was Nigerian. He was living in England because he couldn’t stand the corruption in his native land. There is no genetic determinism on the basis of race, sex or anything else. Epic corruption in much of Africa is the result of history. History makes fools of us all. It can never be ignored. It matters because it is about choices and what they make us. Our choices, not racial or sexual, or whatever fatalism though of course choosing to believe in such determinism is also a choice. See the “Who” episode “Turn Left”. Now if Donna had remained a temp then…

    But she didn’t and the Ood sang her name across the universe (better than the Beatles dirge of that name). Sorry, I get more morality from the Dr than from The Bible.

    *One of the most awkward moments of my life – I was in bed with a beautiful woman, the tape was playing and it was a kinda ’90s mix tape and God knows how I got the tape but I had taped over (but not completely) so after REM (she was from Georgia so approved) there is a back bedroom recording of “Warpigs” done by some of my mates. She thought it was me. It was every teenage nonsense even up to the Casio keyboard that must have cost 20 quid at Argos if that. I am, to quote a Bond-line, “Attempting re-entry” and fucking Jonesy starts-up with, “Just like witches at Black Masses” with one of those pre-programmed baselines. To say it ruined the mood would be an understatement. It was like a reading from Mein Kampf at a bar-mitvah. But heh she believed it wasn’t me. It really wasn’t me. And we laughed about it. She’d had mates in dreadful garage bands too and mixtapes (recall those?). All of them (Georgia of course) thought they’d be the next REM. All were sadly mistaken. But they had fun. An in the end that matters a lot.

  8. Expat Abroad says:

    About Africa…I don’t have any experience in Africa save for what I have in Nigeria, which after 18 months living and working here is a fair bit. I am led to believe – by both Africans and expats – that Nigeria is not representative of Africa, and that Nigeria is the worst of all the African countries which is not experiencing a war.

    Being here, it’s easy to see how racism kicks its way into things. I don’t believe I am submitting to prejudice when I say most Nigerians are indeed thieving, corrupt, selfish, lazy c*nts. I say most, meaning more than half. Maybe more, I don’t know, but it is a majority. Of course, exceptions abound and you will find any number of decent Nigerians, but if you take the approach of day-to-day experience, or of anecdotal evidence, or of looking at the aggregate state of the country on any given metric, the conclusion is unavoidable: Nigerians shit on each other at every opportunity they get, day after day. From the politicians who embezzle mind-boggling amounts of money whilst demanding $2m per year salaries, to the union leaders who blackmail the companies which they are supposed to be running (i.e. indirectly help themselves to the company coffers), to the gangs of transport union thugs who beat the shit out of any okada driver not paying protection money, to the police who demand to see your papers and attempt to abduct you to a distant police station where they can make up infringements at their leisure, almost all of them are trying to fuck over the next man. Cooperation and trust is literally non-existent. There are construction projects lying all over Lagos half-finished because one party or another fucked off with all the money. Nigeria is one of the most classless societies I have ever come across. Sure, there are people who are stupidly wealthy and there are those with nothing at all, but wealth and class are not the same. In terms of behaviour, those at the top are of exactly the same mentality of those at the bottom, i.e. steal as much as I can whilst putting in minimum effort. When a scam is revealed, the reaction from peers and society is not revulsion but almost admiration at the cleverness of it all. In fact, I have seen no societal punishment for dishonesty, theft, violence, extortion, or any other sin whatsoever. The only – and I mean the only – thing I have seen society look down upon is a failure to attend church like a good Christian.

    This is not about race, it’s about culture, one whereby paying patronage to men in power is expected, gaining power is an end in itself (that end being receiving somebody else’s money for no effort on your part), and power is to be admired and obtained at all costs. Trust, honesty, common decency, and anything else which makes a civilisation is not necessary beyond immediate family members, and often only then it is offered to shore up your own position. Compromise is frowned upon, and a tribal winner-takes-all, “I must have 100% of everything” attitude is the norm. Having witnessed first hand staggering displays of greed, incompetence, dishonesty, laziness, and inflated sense of entitlements day after day after day, it is tempting – and indeed almost impossible to avoid – attaching this to the most obvious feature of those acting in such a manner: their skin colour. If somebody tries to hussle you in the street for the umpteenth time when merely on your way to lunch, you immediately look at the person’s physical appearance, and the most obvious aspect of it. Quickly you start to associate the skin colour with the behaviour.

    It’s an easy trap to fall into, but understandable. The behaviour is cultural – one which predates whitey ever showing up in Africa, although I’m sure they did little to help – and has nothing whatsoever to do with skin colour, as people with the same colour skin elsewhere behave quite differently. But you don’t look at somebody and see their culture, you see their physical appearance (or what they’re wearing, in the case of the UK scumbags). As a Norwegian mate of mine once put it:

    “You find yourself asking: Is this guy being a complete fucking c*nt because he’s black, or is he being a complete fucking c*nt because he’s a complete fucking c*nt?”

    We know what the answer is, but it can be all too easy to decide otherwise, especially when you’ve just had something stolen (as we all have here).

    I wouldn’t even say the exceptions to this restore my faith in Nigeria, because there are simply not enough of them. The lads who work for me are a good bunch, but that’s because they are engineers and if you’re a lazy-arsed lying prick then you’ll find something easier to do than engineering. But the decent ones I have met are so vastly outnumbered by the rest that I’m not going to think the slightest positive thing about Nigeria, its culture, or its people. The individuals yes, but the collective no. The place is going to hell in a handbasket, and it couldn’t happen to a more deserving people, who after 50 something years of independence have only themselves to blame for the shithole which is their country.

    The problem is not blacks, nor is it Africans, it is a set of cultures which reward dishonesty and theft over hard work and honesty, and societies which put no value on trust, cooperation, or even common decency.

    Apologies for the anonymous comment, you know who I am, but last time I wrote honestly about the state of Nigeria’s infrastructure I had irate Nigerians – almost all of them diaspora, the likely offspring of corrupt officials – hounding me for “disrespecting” the country that they themselves left.

  9. Expat Abroad says:

    Fellas, can you check your spam filter. Wrote a monster comment and it’s not appeared.

  10. CHK says:

    Racism? That word was gangbanged to death years and years ago. I take it you somehow want it to mean “the view that there are no sound Africans”. Which, obviously, there are. Probably a few million of them sharper than I’ll ever be, says my best estimate.

    “There is no genetic determinism on the basis of race, sex or anything else”

    Sorry, I had forgotten that. The workings of evolution break down in the special case of Homo Sapiens above the neck, below the skin.

  11. NickM says:

    CHK,
    I don’t know what you mean. But then I’ve never believed in the concept of “intelligence” as a unitary thing and certainly not a measurable thing.

  12. CHK says:

    Okay, you don’ believe in gentic determinism, you don’t believe in measurable intelligence.

    So, your cat might run this site? And mine might read it?

  13. NickM says:

    Christ knows what “gentic determinism” is. My cat has been known to “contribute” by walking over the keyboard. Hence the failure of posts such as “Eu bailouts g7 ibbiybgxibgcidsbshaxbgskbdjlns”. The tinker! Look there are things that can be determined genetically. There is a form of bowel cancer that wil almost certainly get you by 30-ish that is genetically determined, sickle-cell anemia is. AIDS was discovered largely because a certaim form of skin-cancer which almost entirely related to middle-aged Armenian Jews showed-up in non-Armenian, non-middle-aged SF gay men who were much younger and a few doctors wondered what was going on.

    But intelligence? Pish. It is all skill-sets. There is no meaningful concept such as intelligence which is a sort of multi-tool. I’ve always been good with math and science stuff and my wife has always been good with languages (she knows what a gerund* is!). I know what bra and ket vectors. She knows Russian grammar but can’t hack basic trig. You seriously telling me “intelligence” is a meaningful measure of anything?

    *I met a Gerund once. He was an ultra-posh kid at Nottingham University who attended lectures wearing a waistcoat (and this was in Brit-Pop days). He might have been a Gerald. Probably interbreeding gave him his impediment to speech. He had no chin whatsoever. He’s probably lined-up for the cabinet now.

  14. zack says:

    CHK, you appears to me that you hold the idea that some races have a genetic preponderance to be more intelligent then others, as told in the book “The Bell Curve”; am I correct in assuming that? If not, please let me know. Anyway here ( http://econ161.berkeley.edu/movable_type/2003_archives/000792.html ) is Thomas Sowell on that book. I suggest you read it, it’s very interesting and utterly destroys Hernstien’ss and Murray’s conclusions.

    That said, I think that Expat Abroad get’s it alot closer to the truth – it’s culture, not race, that matters. I have some black friends who did well in high school and got crap from other black students for ‘acting white’. Blacks (going back to the time of Frederick Douglass) have historically considered education the key to improving their lot in life, but a large number of their descendants now view being educated as being a ‘race traitor’; I find that change to be especially sad.

  15. NickM says:

    Expat abroad* is bang-on. What he said chime essentially with what a Nigerian colleague of mine once said. We were having a couple of beers and he was waxing lyrical about Nigerian, food and music and such. So I said (we were mates) “So what the fuck are you doing living in Sunderland?” And then he talked about the endemic corruption. I got it. It is such a shame. Until then I didn’t really understand how stultifying corruption can be.

    *And soz for the delay but any “new” commentator get’s spam-trapped.

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