Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Truth About Poop

Flip through most family albums and you'll find pictures of smiling children posing on Christmas morning with new bicycles, sleds, dolls, and so on. Go through my 2006 album and you'll find a picture of my then seven year old son next to the tree and grinning as he holds up his favorite gift from Santa Claus, a book named The Truth About Poop. The novelty has not worn off yet, and I must admit that the book is fascinating.
Since I wrote about scatological humor yesterday, I figured I should write about fecal history and science today. In The Truth About Poop, author Susan E. Goodman treats her subject with humor but never resorts to outright silliness or gross out humor. One of the sections most frequently read and quoted in our house is "The World Pre-T.P." On hikes and at the lake, my kids will point out leaves, stones, moss, and mussel shells, reminding me that all of these were used for wiping. Here is some American history for you, "And soon after the Pilgrims learned to grow corn, they figured out what to do with the cobs." Think about that at your next barbecue.
Are you more of a physics buff? Perhaps you will enjoy the section called "Waste in Space." Goodman explains that astronauts in space must swing a bar across their legs to stay put when having a bowel movement. Why, you ask. She explains Newton's third law that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. A downward push would result in the astronaut shooting up off the toilet. I remember a college professor of mine demonstrating this law by wearing roller skates and shooting a fire extinguisher at the same time. As he shot the extinguisher, he rolled in the opposite direction.I was about 20 at the time. My elementary school aged children have an equally good understanding of Newton's law and it makes them giggle. But it's not just children interested in astronaut waste. Remember last year when the news was full of a female astronaut who went on a cross country drive to confront the other woman? All of the late night talk shows joked about the adult diapers she wore on the trip to cut down on bathroom breaks. Goodman mentions the efficacy of such "maximum absorption garments" on spacewalks.
She also presents many facts about poop in nature, history, even warfare. Did you know that sharks produce spiral poop? Or that beaver poop often floats because it contains so much undigested wood? There's plenty more where that came from. Maybe you'll get lucky and Santa will leave it under your tree this year, the book that is, not poop.
My apologies to any readers who may be offended.

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