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Better Living through Good Plumbing

The modern flush toilet (or 'John') stutters into existence this year. Sir John Harington invents the flush toilet and has one installed in his home. He writes about it in, A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, Called the Metamorphosis of Ajax. Ajax is the name of his new invention... a play on the current word for pit toilets... 'jakes'. Sir John has a sharp wit but like a sword, it is a weapon that can cut both ways. They call the toilets "Johns". Queen Elizabeth will have a toilet installed for the benefit of the royal backside but the production version of a flush toilet will wait for the invention of the S-trap to keep out the pipe smells and Thomas Crapper who will set up a plumbing showroom, thus making the flush toilet a proper subject for discussion in the 1880s. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
I will avoid any bathroom jokes by discussing common plumbing mistakes.

1. Defeating the S-Trap: The toilet's S-trap uses water to block sewer gasses from coming into the house. When the toilet bowl water evaporates, the S-trap is defeated. Solution: flush the guest bathroom once a month. If you remove the toilet bowl, block the sewer pipe with a rag.

2. Dishwasher Drain Mistake: The dishwasher drain pipe usually taps into your sink plumbing between the sink drain and the sink trap... not after the sink trap. Otherwise sewer gases will vent into your dishwasher.

3. Garbage Disposal LOWER than the Sink Trap: If the garbage disposal drain pipe is lower than the sink trap, the water will back up into the disposal and a smell will develop after a week. This mistake usually occurs when the home owner installs a multilevel sink and locates the disposal in the deeper sink rather than the shallower one.

4. Slow Draining Sink: This usually occurs with an island sink without a proper vent for the drain pipe within 5 feet after the sink trap. This is a basic design flaw. Call your builder. I suggest calling him an idiot.

'Necessity Has No Law'... The Food Riots of Great Britain *

This is the second year of bad weather and bad harvests in England. The local town councils have been calling for Christian charity for the poor but it is not enough. The peasants say that 'necessity has no law.' They need food and they are going to take it. Along the way they strip away everything that isn't nailed down. They even behead farmers, manor managers and behead the wives and daughters of these men. The food riots are bad but a harvest yields what it can and no more. Queen Elizabeth the 1st writes an open letter to the Lord Mayor of London saying that there are too many Africans in London and suggests strongly that the Lord Mayor deport them back to Africa. A Queen's suggestion is not exactly an order to a Lord Mayor but it's close. And (as if I had to say it) this wild weather is due to the Little Ice Age. If they had believed that burning carbon-based fuels would bring about warmer weather, they would have done it. Global Cooling is killing millions right now. [6] [7]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
During the Elizabethan era, freewill charity was the preferred way to handle the problems of the poor but it didn't work well since the government closed the monasteries. In modern times we pass a law "for the children" that forces us to give charity but we call it "Food Stamps" or we pay for school food programs. (There are some people who need these programs but my sense is that the majority do not.) I don't see enough churches and synagogues stepping up to take the place of inefficient government programs. Instead, their membership votes for government to help the poor. There is no merit for me when I vote to force my neighbor to help the poor. Heaven's Choir must be crying its eyes out... and Hell's Army must be laughing its backside off.

The Second Plague Pandemic: A Major Outbreak in Spain

From the current century and well into the next, a series of outbreaks of the Black Death will constitute the Second Plague Pandemic. This year begins a major outbreak in Spain that will last until 1599. Half a million people will die. Other than efficient quarantine, there is nothing else they can do. [8]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Last weekend our family friend took a video of herself feeding the ground squirrels. My wife laughed but I was horrified. Prairie dogs and ground squirrels are major vectors for the Black Death in the United States. One of the critters scratched our friend. I'm afraid I was a little severe with her. My son called on Father's Day. He is working in New Mexico right now. I mentioned this incident and my caution about the Plague. He was well aware of it. New Mexico has a lot of plague-infested animals and before he started work he was given a stringent safety lecture on the dangers of the wildlife of New Mexico. Even though there is a cure (sort of) for the Black Death today, you don't want this. You just don't want this.

This Year on Wikipedia

Year 1596, Wikipedia.

See Also


* The asterisk in the section header indicates that it was read on the podcast.
  1. Flush toilet - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 9 June 2015. “In 1596, Sir John Harington (1561-1612) published A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, Called the Metamorphosis of Ajax, describing a forerunner to the modern flush toilet installed at his house at Kelston.”
  2. A New Discourse of a Stale Subject; Called the Metamorphosis of Ajax. Sewer History (2010). Retrieved on 22 June 2015. “Next make a vessel of an oval form, as broad at the bottom as at the top; two feet deep, one foot broad, sixteen inches long; place this very close to your seat, like the pot of a close-stool, let the oval incline to the right hand. This vessel may be of brick, stone or lead; but whatsoever it is, it should have a current of three inches to the back part of it (where a sluice of brass must stand); the bottom and sides all smooth, and dressed with pitch, rosin and wax: which will keep it from tainting with the urine.”
  3. John Harington (writer) - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 22 June 2015. “Sir John Harington (also spelled Harrington) (4 August 1561 - 20 November 1612), of Kelston, was an English courtier, author and master of art, popularly known as the inventor of the flush toilet. He became a prominent member of Queen Elizabeth I's court, and was known as her 'saucy Godson'. But because of his poetry and other writings, he fell in and out of favour with the Queen.”
  4. Why the Toilet is Sometimes Called a 'John'. Today I Found Out (August 9, 2010). Retrieved on 22 June 2015. “There are a few references of the toilet being called 'Cousin John', as well as many references to it being called 'Jake' and other such generic names, before Harrington was born; but it is generally agreed that why we now call it 'John' is because of Harrington and not from the old 'Cousin John'.”
  5. Why is a Toilet Called a John?. Why Guides (2015). Retrieved on 22 June 2015. “The book was about his invention simply called Ajax taken from the word 'jakes’ or 'a jakes’ which is another word they have for a toilet.”
  6. John Walter (May 1985). A "Rising of the People"? The Oxfordshire Rising of 1596. Past & Present. Oxford University Press on behalf of The Past and Present Society. pp. 90-143. http://www.jstor.org/stable/650707. "At Norwich in 1595 the magistrates were the recipients of an anonymous letter which warned that 'some barbarous and unmerciful soldier shall lay open your hedges, reap your fields, rifle your coffers and level your houses to the ground'. The letter began by toasting the queen, but ended with that ominous observation, 'Necessity hath no law'.". 
  7. Emily C. Bartels (April 2006). Too Many Blackamoors: Deportation, Discrimination, and Elizabeth I. Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900. 46. Rice University. pp. 305-322. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3844644. "In 1596, Queen Elizabeth issued an 'open letter' to the Lord Mayor of London, announcing that 'there are of late divers black-moores brought into this realme, of which kinde of people there aire allready here to manie,' and ordering that they be deported from the country.". 
  8. Bray, R. S. (2004-04-29). Armies of Pestilence: The Impact of Disease on History. James Clarke & Co.. ISBN 978-0-227-17240-7. 

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