I Thought You Said We Were Climbing Aboard The Peace Train

I don’t know if this is a metaphor, a call to action, or just a series of unconnected events, but… When I picked Spike The Accord up from his previous home in Birmingham, I thought I smelled something odd. More than odd. Just plain bad. It was a relief to fire Spike up and get a whiff of that 103-octane unleaded. Although it was seventy-two perfect degrees outside, I didn’t roll my windows down until I was fifty miles north of the city.

At the time, I put it down to being tired/irritable/oversensitive. Turns out that I wasn’t the only person to think that there is something rotten in Birmingham.

My feelings regarding New York are fairly comprehensively expressed by Daniel “Sultan Knish” Greenfield in his Urban Tyranny piece. I would be remiss if I did not credit Derek Kreindler with finding that article and sending it to me a few years ago. In much the same way that Rome had five good Emperors, TTAC had three good leaders, and Derek was one of them. He is a voracious and omnivorous reader. I benefit greatly from this. Left to myself, I would probably read nothing but Lapham’s Quarterly and Delicious Tacos.

Greenfield notes that “Unlike the country, the city is its own frontier. Its great adventure is not exploration, but existence. The city is always changing, mutating, falling apart and coming together under assault from waves of new immigrants and social challenges. Its spaces are inner spaces…” Late last year, when I took my son to Manhattan, I was surprised at how readily he identified the major logistical problems of putting eleven million people on a piece of stubborn rock. “How does all the food get here? And where…” Where does the poop go was his unspoken continuation.

For much of its history, Manhattan just poured its human waste into the surrounding bodies of water. Starting in 1924, it was carried by ferries to a site twelve miles away in the Atlantic Ocean. In 1986, a new dumping spot was chosen, some 102 miles off the coast. Millions of tons’ worth of “sludge” were dumped there in a very short time.

Eventually the EPA decreed that the deep-sea dumping had to come to an end. So the city began an interesting experiment: the Poop Train To Colorado. Insert Gladys Knight vocals here, of course. The Poop Train was remarkably successful; the city got rid of its waste, and the farmers got a better grade of fertilizer. (The reason I led off with the cover of The Dispossessed is because of a quote from that book which sticks in my mind some twenty-five years later: “Grain grows best in shit.”) Assuming, of course, that the Poop Train didn’t run on the tracks next to my subdivision — or, more crucially, run off those tracks — I think it’s a brilliant idea. It solves a major problem faced by the city: How do we dispose of the waste we create in these close quarters? A more cynical observer might wonder how New York managed to fill a train, since everybody knows there is no place to use the bathroom in Manhattan.

I say that the Poop Train was successful because it’s no longer running. The cost was too high. So now New York sends its waste via trains and trucks to various landfills in the South, where it does nobody any good whatsoever. It will biodegrade, of course, the same way that the deer scat in your backyard or the dogshit on the street does. It may even decompose more quickly under the pressure and resulting heat. But it doesn’t happen immediately, and the trucks are always running.

Birmingham and its surrounding areas are burying New York’s sewage and smelling the results.

“I guess we are not even as good as the fish, down here in Alabama,” said (the mayor of a nearby town). “Every state should be responsible for its own waste. We don’t want it dumped here.”

That’s a tough quote to read, because isn’t it true to some degree? Last week, in the online psuedo-pages of Road&Track, I referred to the unpleasant fact that the unelected mandarins of the European Union had weighed the known carcinogenic aspects of diesel particulates against the feel-good virtue-signaling of reducing vehicle-generated carbon dioxide — and promptly chosen the latter. Now there are a few thousand people getting cancer every year, many of them in low-cost housing near major roadways. Fuuuuuuuuuuck them, am I right? Who cares about the poors? We have to save the planet!

The EPA’s decision that New York sewage is too toxic for fish 102 miles off shore but perfectly fine for the hicks in Alabama feels a little bit too on-the-nose. When you consider the fact that it’s a matter of cost, not necessity, the insult becomes even more unpleasant. The Colorado Poop Train was good for all parties — but it’s cheaper for Manhattan to make Alabama take their shit. Literally.

There’s more than a little bit of synecdoche to this story. (Synecdoche: when a small part stands in for the whole.) How much “shit” does New York ship to the rest of America? What does it produce? How much of said production is anything other than sewage? Are we enriched, as a nation, by the work of the urban intelligentsia? Do we benefit from New York laws, New York values, New York media, New York culture? How many decisions are in made in New York, or Washington, or Boston, that must be redeemed on foreign soil with the blood of young Midwestern and Southern men?

During our trip to NYC, I explained to my son that the city has about three days’ worth of food on hand at any given time. If some enterprising soul was inspired by the Koran, the Little Red Book, or Pepe The Frog to dynamite the bridges and tunnels, it would have massive and unpredictable effects. The only thing you could pretty much guarantee would be that there would be some significant loss of life. Manhattan was doing “just in time” logistics long before it became fashionable in the world of automotive assembly.

I don’t think I will live to see it, but something like that will eventually happen. We’ve become a lopsided nation, too many city mice and not enough country mice. It’s not sustainable. Robert Silverberg covered most of the potential issues more than forty years ago, in his underrated The World Inside. The book is a series of short stories set in a 75-billion-person world of “urbmon” hives. What he didn’t consider is how we could get to that point in the first place.

Not everybody is cut out to live in 250 square feet. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, and that something doesn’t love a cage either. Not everybody will go peacefully into the cities. Ask the Chinese about that. The question then becomes: What happens when the country mice get tired of having everything from their gun-and-car laws to their soda-pop dictated to them by an intolerant, self-righteous, almost infinitely powerful urban elite? In other words, what happens when Birmingham decides it’s tired of taking New York’s shit?

63 Replies to “I Thought You Said We Were Climbing Aboard The Peace Train”

  1. Dirty Dingus McGee

    Them hicks down south, and in fly over country, deserve to get taught a lesson by their betters in NYC. (insert “eyes rolling” emoji here)

    In all truth, I would certainly prefer to have the shit than the people from any of the major Northeast cities. Actually any city for that matter. They are about as well suited for country living, as I am for city living.

    Proud hick.

    Play Hank Jr’s Country Boy can Survive, for inspiration.

    • Doug

      Being in the Cary area of North Carolina (colorfully named the Congregating Area for Relocated Yankees) I can definitely add a +1 to taking the shit rather than the people. We have been a main dumping ground for the relocating New Yorkers for decades with primarily detrimental effects. North Carolina is quickly becoming a battleground for those rural/urban issues and it is playing out poorly.

  2. Mental

    No we won’t. Because we (GA hick here) won’t come for them. Why would we? We can get along just fine (insert Charlie Daniels tune)
    We’ll just ignore them (remember prohibition?)
    They won’t come for us, because they will be to self righteous to see they are doomed until it’s too late.

  3. Mental

    Dang it Dingus! We were replying at the same time and you still beat me to the Charlie Daniels quote.

    Us hicks are nothing if not predictable.


  4. Pat

    Based upon your source materials, seems like this is more on Big Sky Environmental and the government of Alabama who approved their application than them there big city folk or the EPA.

    • Jack Baruth Post author

      It was the EPA that canceled the ocean dumping.

      It was NYC that killed the Colorado train in favor of a cheaper alternative.

      Big Sky took the money, but even Christ had his Judas.

    • Mopar4wd

      Have to agree with Pat. It takes two to Tango. Certain states have been guilty of whoring themselves out cheaply a bit to much for their own good.
      Seems like it was 200 bucks a ton to Colorado and 100 bucks a ton to AL. Also looks like NY just shut off the AL site and moved to TX due to public concerns.

  5. John C.

    All those suddenly huge cities in the third world like Kinshasa and Islamabad must be really digging out from under. I had heard that the island of plastic in the Pacific was mainly from them but I never considered the waste.

    • Ronnie Schreiber

      While most plastic waste in the ocean comes from the third world, the notion that there’s a floating island of plastic in the Pacific is sort of a hoax. Plastic indeed breaks down. The important question is whether or not microscopic plastic particles are hazardous to the health of oceans and the creatures that live in them.

      • John C.

        Agreed. the local marine center is big into studying the plastic fibers that are present now in all life. It needs more study and the center is bigly after grants to do so, but the omnipresence might be a sign that it is not so bad. If it were going to kill us all, it would have by now. The human waste will of course biodegrade but not before causing so much grief with its parasites and disease.

      • Mopar4wd

        It’s not quite a hoax. I know a number of world cruisers (people who live aboard sailboats and cruise the world) Several i have talked to have randomly come across huge floating plots of plastic debris in the ocean (mostly Pacific but one in the Atlantic) Also some of the islands in the south pacific have collected large amounts. But Yeah the big one in the news is mostly tiny flakes of plastic.

    • Athos

      He linked an article above.

      Do yourself a favour, do not ever believe everything or anything the government tells you. That goes by extension to the MSM.

      In this case it may be a case of a website not keeping track with changing realities. Or the contractors in charge of transporting the matter simply found a cheaper place/way to do their job.

      I thought, very naively, that recycling locally was handled by local companies and that sorting the recyclables would soak up some unqualified labour and that the materials were recycled here. It was 98% a fairy tale happening only in my mind as this is the reality, and part of it at that: https://tinyurl.com/y7rzmgk9. We are not going to get to know they full extent of the crisis, how much rubbish is being sent to QLD tips…

  6. jers

    On a vaguely related note – I’d like to bring this to your / the readership’s attention:
    Article is a summary with limited references, but this is becoming a real problem in medical practice. The shortages mentioned in the article are national. For example, not only are my medium-sized hospital and private surgical practice essentially out of 0.9% ‘normal’ saline, most of the the local anesthetics (lidocaine, etc) are on backorder as well. ETA several months. A couple of years ago it was Propofol. This is not exotic stuff, these are core tools of modern medicine.
    These supply chain issues are getting worse, and as opportunities arise, I will direct our purchasing toward US-based manufacturers. I hope production comes back onshore enough to make that intention functionally relevant.

    • Duong Ngyuen

      I had a minor in-office “surgery” and they were out of something that quickly stops bleeding due to a shortage.

      They just had to apply pressure to the bandage for a few minutes, but that could be a problem during a large scale event.

      Haven’t heard anything about this in the news….

    • baconator

      Those saline bags are made in Puerto Rico, which is in fact part of the U.S. They’re in short supply because the US government couldn’t get its shit together to get power and shipping back up quickly afer the hurricanes. Not even the hordes of manufacturing engineers at Baxter, J&J, etc. can conjure up large amounts of power and roads without a bit of civil infrastructure to start with.

      • Jack Baruth Post author

        That’s the problem in a nutshell with low-cost manufacturing. If those bags were made in Michigan or Iowa, they wouldn’t have had that problem.

      • JMcG

        I’ve been involved in the restoration of power after hurricanes many, many times. Not a single one of those restorations required or received any US Government assistance. FEMA may supply money, but if you think money is the problem in Puerto Rico, you are mistaken.
        My buddies down there now started out getting power to folks who lost it four months prior to the hurricane.

  7. Hogie roll

    “ How many decisions are in made in New York, or Washington, or Boston, that must be redeemed on foreign soil with the blood of young Midwestern and Southern men”

    This is something that really grinds my gears. Not only for the obvious reasons that they are sent to the Middle East regularly to die for Israel.

    But also because it allows assholes in Canada, the eu and Germany specifically to operate socialists governments while underspending on their own defense. Then they have the nerve to criticize Americans, and the types most likely to serve specifically.

    Foreign governments buy some cheap american political whores and they get to hollow out us industries to boot.

    Returning Vets from the ME? No jobs for you. Here’s some opioids.

    • Ronnie Schreiber

      Jews on the brain is a tragic disorder.

      Let’s see the strength of your convictions and erase from your life anything and everything that Jews have had a hand in developing. No polio vaccine for your kids, well, if there is actually a woman on the planet who would breed with you.

      • rambo furum

        Thanks for demonstrating that certain people will always be more loyal to their enthostate of Zionist Occupied Palestine that to their host nation.
        There is a reason that every nation hated Jews until they invented the holocaust myth. Kissinger called it when he said that any people that are persecuted for two thousand years must be doing something wrong.
        Name a major problem in the world today that does not have the tribe’s fingerprints all over it.

          • Jack Baruth Post author

            Well, I can see how he arrives at that.

            I personally believe in the Holocaust and I wouldn’t give a voice on this page to any writer who argued the denial case. With that said, the state of today’s mass media and scholarly textbooks is so poor, and so converged, that I can see how some people might retroactively question everything they were ever taught. This is a topic that probably deserves an article of its own. When media proves untrustworthy, it makes you think about whether it has ever been trustworthy.

      • Hogie roll

        Isn’t it funny how you get beat over the head with the holocaust but the Jewish Bolsheviks murdering 61 million Christians gets memory holed.

    • Disinterested-Observer

      Aside from subsidizing the other NATO members’ joke militaries, although almost ironically the Canadians are an exception, the US also massivley subsidizes drug companies’ research and then pay the highest prices in the world for those drugs.

      As far as Isreal I don’t think that the chaos of the past 17 years was in their interest and I think as a rule they would be saavy enough to know that. To the extent that the US throws money at them and the Egyptians I think it’s because if Isreal faced a true existential threat they would be forced to resort to nuking their neighbors, and no rational actor wants to see another nuke used in anger.

  8. Disinterested-Observer

    Jack, I have been reading you for many years, and not too proud to admit that once or twice I have had to pull out a dictionary, I think this is the first time I have read you pedantantically defined a word. I thought you trusted us.

  9. tyates

    Thanks to my wife’s industry, there are only two places in the US where she can get a decent job. One of them is NYC. The other is Los Angeles. Thank God for Beverly Hills, CA. What I’ve seen elsewhere in the country, especially back in DC (Bethesda resident,) has convinced me that the hyperexpensive urban enclave is definitely the wave of the future.

  10. ScottS

    Damn, now I know the source of the foul stench I encountered driving through Birmingham last week! Even with moderate to heavy rain, there were times it was pretty strong.

    I always wonder about the money trail in these deals and found this fascinating story on the history of the landfill in question. http://mrdunngoestomontgomery.com/lanny-young-story/

    While it’s fun to hate on New York and Washington, the good folks in Alabama were sold down the road by some of their own elected officials in a classic case of crony capitalism. It is also a classic case of Déjà vu, as I distinctly remember the big news story over 30 years ago about the infamous New York garbage barge.


    I am amazed that after more than 30 years, the liberals that run NYC and other large cities have not figured out a sustainable solution to the treatment of waste and the disposal of garbage.

  11. hank chinaski

    Apologies to ‘Megadeth’ but ‘Poop sells, but who’s buying?’
    Somewhere in AL, there’s a Boss Hogg type funneling the funds from poop purchases to his cronies and reelection campaign.

    That city is a powder keg. It would have been quite the shitshow if the power had stayed off downtown after Sandy for just another week. You could see the panic in the faces of the leadership.

    But as stated above, perhaps the poop is better than the people. 95 is a mainline for NY pension retirees polluting the SE with their politics. Kalifornistan refugees do the same wherever they go.

  12. dejal

    Not poop, but NY + NJ trash and what not.

    Keystone Sanitary Landfill in Northeast PA.

    Let’s just say the elderly owner was (but most likely still is) connected to the mob.

    I will say this though, the owner is local, so he gets the smell and whatever everyone else does. He is the biggest benefactor for his town donating tons without attributing his name to it.

  13. Tyler

    Re: Synecdoche…. I looked up Jack’s Ohio Secretary of State filing years ago after he made a joke referencing all the LLCs he had registered. I must compliment him for what has to be the most poetic and/or pretentious Purpose Statement in state history.

    Always been more of a metonymy guy, myself.

    Re: the article and the disparity between megacities and flyover states… If you ever want to watch your left-leaning friends come off their hinges entirely, get them started on the Electoral College. I once heard an otherwise rational associate of mine lament the fact that people who had never been to NYC may vote at all, let alone that their votes might carry more weight than his. A day later he opined that voter ID laws were a segregationist poll tax. Heavy sigh.

    Of possible interest, though: cities can’t grow forever, and not only because of logistical problems. http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2018/01/dont-cities-grow-without-limit.html

  14. stingray65

    Tree hugging city planners think everyone should live in cities of the size and density of NYC – that way cities are walkable so no-one except important people will need cars. The countryside can then revert to the way it was before man contaminated the world with agriculture and development. And since no food will be grown the problems with dealing with human waste also disappears. Hard to see how anything could possibly go wrong with this vision of urban bliss.

    • dejal

      Nothing will go wrong. “Soylent Green is people!!!!”

      2 problems solved.

      You get rid of “those” people and you don’t need a lot of farming.

  15. Kevin Jaeger

    Dissing the urban elite is all well and good, and the U.S. has a constitution explicitly designed to limit the ability of an urban elite to rule over the heartland states. Demand that it be respected in all its beauty.

    But also, recognize that you’re attempting to fight an unwinnable battle. It’s pretty close to an iron rule of all human societies that wealth, power and influence form a Pareto distribution and there’s really nothing you can do about it. It’s true of primitive tribal societies, totalitarian countries and democratic countries alike. The people trade places occasionally during wars and revolutions but they just reform a different Pareto distribution.

    • silentsod

      Totally unrelated to what you’re posting but a while ago you mentioned you wrote programs to run on Tandem computers. Small world effect – my father more than likely helped design those machines as he was an engineer with Tandem until it was bought out by Compaq.

      • Jack Baruth Post author

        Actually I’m currently on a gig where there are Tandems at the end of the data chain. They’re just expected to operate without error or downtime while all the attention goes to the fancy user interface…

        • silentsod

          They were a top tier fault tolerant, non stop server; responsible for a number of stock markets over the years. It’s good to hear the products he either helped build or managed engineers for are still working. I’ll let him know, I think he’ll get a kick out of it.

          The old man ended up working for HP after they bought out Compaq and he was a higher up in their non stop server division for a little while. Similar to you, Jack, he has an eidetic memory only he didn’t lose his by getting run over…

      • Kevin Jaeger

        Not sure if silentsod was talking to me or Jack, but I did develop software on Tandem computers for many years. It was an excellent platform in its time. I haven’t touched them in years but I’m happy to hear there are some still running.

        It certainly is a small world sometimes.

        • silentsod

          It was @Kevin Jaeger, I read your comment on it a while ago and paused when I went over it. It’s good to know they had and still have a good reputation.

    • Jack Baruth Post author

      Yeah… and you figure that’s probably ONE DAY worth of “Grade A biowaste” from NYC.

      • Daniel J

        I live in North Alabama, and I’m appalled at the situation. No, it’s not in my backyard but it is in my state. This is where local and state government should step in, but they are dragging their feet.

  16. -Nate

    In the 1950’s & 1960’s China used human waste as fertilizer….

    Gah .

    I remember pig farms, the stench was enough to drive one cray .



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