Gene Logsdon and Friends

Selling A Book That Has No Name

In Gene Logsdon Blog on September 22, 2010 at 8:45 am

From GENE LOGSDON

Prairie Public Radio interviewed me recently about my latest book, Holy Shit. The interviewer was kind about my writing. He knew a lot about farming which is rarely the case but always a relief when discussing agriculture before an urban audience. The only problem was that he did not mention the title of the book during the entire interview! He said that he would get fired if he did. Regulations forbid the utterance of that awful word, shit, even when it is in the title of a book.

It happened again. The excellent website, The Chronicle of Higher Education, referred to my book with kind praise, even calling it “charming.” But never once did the reviewer give the title of the book. Policy, he said.

Several years ago, I wrote an article for The Draft Horse Journal in which I felt obliged out of sheer honesty to use the naughty word. This proved to be a problem for Maury Telleen, the editor. He didn’t have a problem actually, but his lovely wife, Jeannine, (they are two of my favorite people) ruled the roost when it came to proofreading and she did not intend for the naughty word to soil her publication. They compromised and rendered the word as “sh#!” ! By now I’ve seen “sh*t”, “sh–”, and even “s…”, none of which is quite as ingenious or resourceful as “sh#!”. But it opens up a whole new frontier. How about “czhit” or “sh?t” or “sh[]t”.

I should just have been content to call the book Holy Manure. But all this hypocrisy speaks eloquently to the main underlying point I wanted to make. We are so ashamed of our excrement and that of all the other animals on earth that we pretend the stuff doesn’t exist. It is as closely connected to us as our digestive tracts, and having been delicious food just hours earlier, it becomes in the very instant that it leaves the colon, obnoxious and poisonous. So fearful is our attitude in this regard that we have scrubbed the most common word in the American language (well maybe the second most common word) from polite language. We have even made excrement disappear in real life. Flush it and forget it.

Because flushing seems to be so handy, agriculture is making one of the biggest blunders in its history. For some thirty years now it has been trying to handle uncountable tons of livestock manure by flushing it out of animal confinement buildings with water and electric power into large ponds lugubriously called “lagoons” or into underground, fly-infested toxic pits. These “manure handling systems” have led to some of the worst cases of polluted waterways in our history.

The amount of manure we are talking about is beyond comprehension, at least mine, especially when the water to do the flushing and treating the sewage is included. Each of the 300 million plus people in the U.S. excretes about a thousand pounds of fecal material a year. Every toilet flush takes about two to three gallons. You can do the arithmetic. An expert in these matters whom I quote in the book says if the whole world flushed like we do, it would be impossible to handle all human manure this way.

It takes about ten tons of barn manure and bedding to fertilize an acre of corn adequately. The cost of commercial fertilizer is averaging a little under $100 an acre. That means that just in pet horse, dog and cat manure, (9.5 million horses, 73 million cats, 68 million dogs) there’s about two billion dollars of fertilizer much of which is being thrown away, as I pointed out in an earlier blog. There are about 100 million cattle in the U.S., each of them defecating 80 to 100 pounds a day. The latest figures show an ongoing pig population in the U.S. of about 60 million. A hog defecates at least as much as a human does. There are over a billion chickens in the U.S., each of them contributing as much manure as a cat. I don’t even want to try to do the totals.

This could be charged off as just the necessary cost of doing business. (My elders used to refer to a bowel movement as “doing your business,” another euphemism to avoid uttering any dreadful words.) But the sources of commercial fertilizers are rising in price and declining in easy availability. We need to find alternatives. Manure is the best one as centuries of farming traditions have attested. Even farm manure that is being returned to the land now (as slurry out of animal factories or as material artificially dried at great cost) has lost much of its plant nutrient value because of improper handling. The book that often has no name describes how we can turn this situation around. Shit really is holy.
~~

  1. Gene, I just read this little article on the Energy Bulletin. You are so right. People in our society are so separated from reality that they think they can get rid of all germs and references to manure by flushing, using anti-biotic sprays and etc. I mentioned the book to my wife and she was uncomfortable. Ditto when I mentioned it to some friends. Seems like everybody wants to live a comic book life, you know where bad things are not discussed, especially if they are dirty. Dirt is bad, dirt is a nasty term, no wonder we have soil problems in the U.S. Shit is used almost purely as a swear word in our society, at least among urbanites. Hopefully your little book will contribute to turning the tide. Thanks for writing it.

  2. While I hesitate in this company to show any knowledge of pop culture, I was reminded of a television show that will, apparently, soon be airing, based on a website called “Shit My Dad Says”; the television show–on network television–goes by the same but there are obvious problems for them since they can’t speak or print the title as it actually is. I’ve seen it rendered as “$#*!” and as “Bleep.” We can call a spade a spade but we can’t call a shit a shit.

    With the population of humans we have and the population of animals we have to maintain the former, we have to find a way to make peace with our manure, whatever we call it. Thank you for being the voice of sanity on this issue, Gene!

  3. When I have my hands in 10 inches of cow sh-t and p-ss in December trying to rehook the chain on my barn cleaner, I spew a lot stronger language then sh-t and p-ss! Plus the smell stays on my hands for days afterward no matter what I wash with. I have found a way to get the crud out of the cuticles and fingernails though, I make a batch of baking powder biscuits! The hand kneading cleans the fingers spotless and I love biscuits. My son won’t eat them anymore now that he’s older. His loss.

  4. Where do you suppose this reluctance to use “vulgar” terms come from? And who makes the call that “fornication”, for example, is better than the favorite euphemism (although I must admit I personally am not too fond of the word)which also begins with an F? Is it because it’s multi-syllabic?I think part of it may be overuse; when one’s vocabulary is so sparse that you only know one word for a particular bodily function, it wears on the listeners. Swearing like a muleskinner is supposed to be a bad thing, but I have heard a few muleskinners and teamsters (and mechanics and farmers) use language that would blister paint at thirty yards without ever using one of the “naughty” words. In reading these posts, I am reminded of what were called desensitization classes that were required, in my youth, for many health care professionals. The idea was that a patient might call the nurse something vulgar, and if the nurse reacted in a personalized fashion, the necessary “therapeutic relationship” was harder to establish. So lists of every bad word imaginable were handed out to the class and everyone chanted them repeatedly until they lost their power to shock or offend. One instructor mentioned that it was very interesting to watch the nuns who were nursing sisters go through this exercise!

  5. I bought your book a few weeks ago and am really looking forward to reading it. I’m trying hard to save it for vacation (since I like to bring non-library books along when traveling), but am having a hard time waiting!

    Your post, though reminded me of a somewhat similar experience I had just yesterday. My husband and I make a living by selling chicken waterers that we euphemistically call “Poop-free” since the water is inside a sealed reservoir and can’t be fowled. We tried to put an ad in a newspaper to sell our waterer with the headline “Poop-free chicken waterer!” but the editor called me on the phone yesterday and told me that his readers just couldn’t deal with such a racy word. Yes, even poop is offensive now…

  6. Gene,

    Please be careful about how you fling around the charge of hypocrisy. I don’t have any problem with the word “shit”, but I’m not so enamored of it either that I’m going to throw it into the faces of unknown customers, some of whom might be quite offended.

    You’re entitled to your crusade, but please don’t try to shame PPR and the Chronicle and the rest of us into signing on. I sell the rest of your books in my bookstore, and I will probably buy my own copy of this one and enjoy it thoroughly. But I won’t be selling it.

    Rick Saenz
    Cumberland Books

  7. Read your book and loved it! Again, you give us common sense in a country that doesn’t want it. My fall spinach and kale are thriving thanks to lots of chicken sh#!, thank you. The fact that we are unable to utter or publish a term for something more valuable to our existence than gold is very telling of what we really value as a society. For my part, the chicken shit is every bit as valuable as the eggs they give me. Kind of appropriate in that both gems come from the same plumbing on these amazing birds.

    As an aside, I wonder how many people noticed a small article in the newspaper that noted that the EPA is set to regulate the amount of dust farmers generate when working their fields. I guess they have determined that the soil that grows our food is a pollutant and must be regulated. ‘Dirt’ may suffer the same fate as ‘shit’ in our hyper-germaphobic, squeaky clean society.

  8. I do love how composting toilets are by and large the form of poop composting best smiled upon by officialdom, and it’s also the form of poop composting most guaranteed to never get hot enough to kill bacteria/Giardia/worm eggs/viruses/etc. It’s amazing what putting a normal-looking bowl and lid on a bad composting system will do for its popularity.

    …and when the dust blowing off a farm is dried-up lagoon slurry, yeah, that’s a real live problem. E. coli with wings. (See Joel Salatin’s copious commentary on the aerosolized manure phenomenon. For problems caused by non-manure-laden wind erosion, see also “The Dust Bowl.”)

  9. For what it’s worth, though, I’ve always thought a “Humanure Drive” would be a great addition to any farm festival. While you’ve got all these people at the farm, hey… why overload your septic tank when you could be saving the world and your fertilizer bill all at the same time?

    Forget veggies– you could grow cut flowers with it and hit a specialty niche for break-up gifts. I know there are some folks I woulda loved to send some Sh!t Daisies….

  10. Why ruin a good swear word!?!?!?!?

  11. It seems likely to me that somewhere in the pantries or larders of the Logsdon homestead, among the stored treasures of the summer garden and orchard, that there is a shelf of canned worms. I could probably even be convinced that you enjoy opening the occasional can of worms as much as you do a can of sweet syrup peaches. Just a guess.

    Counting on the end justifying the means is always rather dicey in my opiniion. But I think your title choice was right on in its ability to draw attention to matters of importance. I don’t think “Manure Management for the New Milennium” would have generated quite the same buzz.

    Words and their usage are interesting windows to the human psyche. As a boy growing up in a conservative, King James Bible using congregation, I was aware of passages that used piss and – even better – pisseth. One of my favorites was in Numbers ch 25. “Israel abode in Shittim” – a city, but nonetheless hilarious to an adolescent boy. Put my name in for Israel and insert “deep” after abode and I could use it for the title of my memoirs. My point is not to make fun of the Bible. I revere it. But the paradox of the spiritual being conveyed in language that is now considered coarse and objectionable should give us all pause as we discern what is acceptable.

    On the other hand,I still haven’t recommended HS to my mother.

  12. Well, Mr. Logsdon, pooh pooh for you and all your unctuous correspondents who seem to think there’s no such thing as bad words. I’ve got news for you, buddy. There are bad words. Lots of them. You don’t think so? How about “poverty”. Or how about “unemployment” or “foreclosure”. OK, so maybe there are a few. Not true. There are plenty of them. Try things like “clean coal” and “collateral damage” and “uninsured”. Problem is there’s way too much of the so-called desensitization stuff going on so that none of that shit phases people any more. That’s pretty f…ed up.

  13. It seems the big 3 religions are fixated on some form of purity and intolerance of the other two; maybe it has something to do with the Old Testament? It seems like anything that feels good must lead to guilt and punishment. It would be interesting to talk with Hindus and Buddhists to see if they have swear words. If they don’t, I wonder how they deal with repressed anger.

    As George Carlin used to say, there are no bad words; there are bad thoughts. Russ, I agree with taking pause as we discern what is acceptable. I’m not concerned with words, I am concerned that someone who accepted Jesus as his Savior could start a war for no discernible reason other than the other guy was “bad”. I would have preferred that W swore like a sailor, but then the religious right wouldn’t have supported him in 2004. Go figure.

    Peace. I’ve got an 84 year old lady friend that I’m giving Holy Shit to. She has a 44 year old daughter whom she thinks “acts so old”. Trust your mom!

  14. Hindi, the common language of the Hindu religion, does have swear words. Buddhism doesn’t really have a specific language, but based on the research I’ve done on this issue, pretty much every language has its “bad” words. Bless you, Gene (and all of you, for that matter), for helping to put topics such as shit on the table for discussion!

  15. Hey, Gene, et al, take a look at this one! And Cambridge, Massachusetts has a park lamp powered by dog poop (see the AP article of two days ago).
    http://environment.about.com/od/renewableenergy/a/animalwaste.htm

  16. Dear Gene,
    I swear like a drunken sailor and don’t feel bad about it. And I love your book title. ;-)

  17. Thanks everyone for your support. Yes, I get some stern reproof. The main criticism is that children should not be exposed to the word, a real laugh to anyone who has close connections with children these days as I have. They are all inured to worse words than shit. Russ, yes there is a whole storeroom of canned worms at the Logsdon residence. Roof, as a matter of fact W had one of the foulest mouths in Washington. Gene

  18. Gene –
    I guess you really stepped in it this time :-)

    I have to admit the whole “controversy” tickles my funny bone.
    In my grandmother’s day the word “pregnant” was not used in print or in polite company.
    In my day, the 1970’s network TV taboos couldn’t handle the tampon and “feminine hygiene” spray ads.
    Some people thought those types of words and TV ads to be in questionable taste, and believed they offended public sensibilities.
    Never mind that 50% of the TV viewers were women, and in my grandma’s case, pregnancy was a fact of life – literally.

    But time changes all things.

    Now a days we the American Public have to endure TV and radio ads
    (complete with personal testimonies)
    for erectile dysfunction.
    Not to mention the so called main stream media’s ad nusaum coverage of our elected officials foibles.

    No evening network news broadcast would be complete without a video of Vice President Joe Biden’s, de die in diem foul mouth, Larry Craig’s men’s room adventures or Sen.Bunning giving the press (and the American People)the finger.
    No discussion of public taboos and decorum would be complete without a mention of homosexual “marriage”, talking on cell phones in public, or my personal favorite “tramp stamps” on the hind end of women.

    So it seems to me a book about shit should maybe have that word in the title.
    Best wishes and much success….and don’t forget to wipe your boots.

  19. Granny, the most absurd example of all this occurred in the Ozarks in the 1930s according to Vance Randolph, the folklorist who spent most of his life recording the oral culture of this region. The word, penis, could not, absolutely could not be spoken in polite society, let alone any of the “vulgar” synonyms for this unfortunate appendage. Bye and bye, the “proper” way to refer to the penis was as the “hoe handle.” Gene

  20. I’m not at all clear on when this aversion to excrement begins. All you have to do is say the word “poop” in a room full of third graders and you might as well put them on the bus and send them back home for the rest of the day. My four sons(ages 20-28) have spent years collecting phrases for defecating. Here are my favorites :

    1. Dry docking the fudge barge
    2. Dropping some friends off at the pool (and all my friends really stink)
    3. Laying cable
    4. Taking the Browns to the Super Bowl
    5. Pinching a loaf
    6. Stocking the pond with brown trout

    I’m certain in your next revision of the text that if you slip the vernacular of the U.K., shite, into the title you will find the interviewers less reticent to say it. Those Brits, they make everything sound so smooth. “Shagging” and “snogging”, who would know to be offended?

    Perhaps you should offer complimentary brown paper wrappers to cover the books in too…that would actually be a great P.R. campaign. “Writer offers apologies for book’s title. Complimentary book covers (made from recycled brown paper bags of course) are available free of charge with a SASE.” If book sales increase remember my name please.

  21. Great list Keri! I vote for pond stocking.

    I’ve got a colleague who uses “dropping a deuce in the brownie bowl”.

    When my children were growing up they liked to record their “shows” on that technological marvel the cassette recorder, replete with advertisements. One of their favorites was Happy Crappers Dark Brown Toilet Paper – just buy one ’cause it will last forever.

    Gene – you may end up with every third grader in America checking out your blog.

  22. WTF Gene. Shit happens. I doubt that anyone offended by the title would read a whole book on the subject.

    Good to find you again online. I’d lost track of you for a couple years. Stop by Ellis Hollow sometime for a visit.

  23. Keri, brown wrappers. Great idea. I’ll pass it by the publisher. Russ, at book signings, children bored out of their minds at being dragged by parents from table to table, suddenly light up and smile as they pass mine. They elbow their parents and point wickedly at my book.
    Craig, sure glad to see that you are still up and running. Been awhile. Gene

  24. Gene,

    Yesterday afternoon while I was out in the woods marking some trees I was going to cut, I got a call from a neighbor who wanted to know, did I want to buy some corn? Is it Roundup corn? If it is, I don’t want it. He didn’t know, it was from a semi that rolled turning into the elevator too fast. OK so its frankencorn. But he only wanted $1 a bag and he always needs $, so I said OK bring it over. #20 for a half ton of corn in today’s market isn’t too shabby. I’ll figure out something to do with it.

    So a short time later, here we are along with his nephew shoveling the ‘corn’ into empty feed bags while his 10 year old daughter is buzzing around messing with the dogs and rescuing a couple of small ducks that got into the stock tank and couldn’t get out. Then she spotted the rooster. “Hey, look, the rooster’s humping a chicken”. “Well, yes, Danielle, that’s what roosters do. That’s why they’re here”. And then it hit me…OMG…I was so relieved. What if the rooster had been pinching a loaf instead of just screwing a chicken? However reluctantly, we’d have had to bind and gag and blindfold this compromised child to protect her from any further exposure to such obscenity and prevent her from giving voice to the filth she’d unfortunately beheld.

    I’m not a big fan of roosters, even my own, but that boy got a little extra last night for sticking to the important stuff while we had company and saving his vile personal behavior for more private moments.

  25. Very likely someone has already mentioned this but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Sounds like there’s a manure related problem between
    Ohio and Indiana… I think if Ohio wants to give away millions of dollars worth of fertilizer we (Indiana) should just take it…

    http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2010/10/16/manure-export-plan-has-indiana-fuming.html?sid=101

    Now, as for paying someone to “dispose” of it. I wouldn’t mind being on the fee collecting end of that deal, but as a tax payer I don’t like it much.
    fwiw

  26. The best selling lip balm at Tractor Supply Company for over a year has been free range Chicken Poop Lip Junk, an all-natural cosmetic moisturizer (contains no poop,though). It costs a little more than Chap Stick, but does a better job. I go through tubes of it.
    Their other best seller is a calamine/talcum powder called Anti-Monkey Butt Powder that I use daily on my heart bypass scar. I think a copy of Holy Shit should be required in every church…they just haven’t gotten the message yet.

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