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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Potty Humor

Air Date: Week of

A green bathroom reader helps you do more than just generate compost while on the toilet.

Gordon Javna, better known as Uncle John, has edited more than 75 books on many topics but all his books have one thing in common: they’re meant to be read in the bathroom. Javna talks with host Jeff Young about his latest book, “Uncle John’s Certified Organic Bathroom Reader.” It is full of short stories and information about the environmental, ‘er, movement.


YOUNG: June is coming--the month for brides and the summer solstice and National Bathroom Reading Week. Which might well be Gordon Javna’s favorite week of the year. Javna’s better known as Uncle John, editor of the series of Uncle John’s Bathroom Readers. They’re chockful of trivia like, for example, the fact that we have a week dedicated to bathroom reading—who knew?

His latest is Uncle John’s Certified Organic Bathroom Reader, in which Javna plumbs the depths of environmental issues. Javna says he heard all sorts of conflicting claims about our environment and he wanted to, well, get to the bottom of things.

Gordon Javna is better known as Uncle John to his fans.(Courtesy of Gordon Javna)

JAVNA: We found ourselves confused as to what is fact and what is fiction. And so we started doing what we always do, that is, we started researching. And by the time we had found the answers to the questions that had set us on this mission, we found we had enough material to write a book.

YOUNG: This seems especially rich in puns. For example, you’ve got a chapter here on converting human waste into energy. And its called…

JAVNA: Its called “The Power of Poo”

YOUNG: Uh-huh.


YOUNG: Did you find that this content matter that you’re dealing with here, the environmental issues, have more opportunity for potty humor than say other subjects that you’ve written about?

JAVNA: Short answer to your question is yes. And even on the front page it says and entertaining look at the green movement and as I said, we love anything that says movement. I can’t use the word pooh in most article so.

YOUNG: Now you also have a section here on Human Litter Box which is about composting toilets.

JAVNA: Yeah. Every American flushes about twenty gallons of water a day, fresh water. That adds up to hundreds of dollars worth of water a year. And one alternative is a composting toilet. Interestingly, the composting toilets was invented in the 1860s when there was a cholera epidemic in England and a priest named Henry Mule invented what he called – not a water closet – but a dry earth closet, which was basically a wooden box with a bucket [laughing] underneath and you pull a lever and it dispensed a layer of fine dirt or ashes. And composting toilets haven’t changed much since then.

YOUNG: Well, you know when you get into covering serious environmental stuff, you run into this problem of – it gets pretty darn gloomy. But I think you’ve done a nice job of countering that with some kind of good examples of people who are trying to find solutions. And I found a great example of that on your section on new forms of renewable energy, this thing called the wind belt… Can you tell me about that one?

JAVNA: Yes. The wind belt is an alternative to turbines. It was invented by a Californian named Shawn Frayne, a young man who was visiting Haiti in 2004 when he realized that a lot of people didn’t have access to power, they were using kerosene lamps to light their homes. And so what he did was he took a piece of taffeta coated in mylar and he strung it between two trees. And when a wind blows this little strap, the strap goes back and forth and it moves between the copper coils and it creates an electric current that is strong enough to power a light or a radio.

YOUNG: Well you know one of my favorite bits – at the bottom of each page, you have some little trivia tidbit, for example Chevron has an oil tanker named the Condoleezza Rice. And my personal favorite here on page 149 – on a 1982 special episode of “Different Strokes” acid rain turns Kimberly’s hair green. I just love that for some reason.


JAVNA: How about the fact that at Harvard, Al Gore got a D in natural sciences.


YOUNG: You can’t make up stuff like this. But, where do you find all of this stuff?

JAVNA: The Bathroom Readers Institute is a team of writers and researchers, and we’re constantly collecting information, fun facts, interesting facts, things that make you go “hmm,” such as 1908 Ford Model T got better gas mileage than the 2008 Ford Explorer.

YOUNG: How about that. But did you know that Britain’s government buildings emit more greenhouse gases than the entire nation of Kenya?

JAVNA: Yes I did know that.


JAVNA: And did you know that there are more than 9000 man made objects floating in space?

YOUNG: I did.


YOUNG: Thanks to your book. So are you like a champion at trivia nights at the pub or what?

JAVNA: Nobody let’s me play. So sad.


JAVNA: That’s just as well because if I lose, I’d be in deep … you know.

YOUNG: Oh, don’t say it!


YOUNG: Now another thing your research turned up here – help me out, on page 58. Do you mind reading this short letter. This was a letter to the editor apparently to the “Arkansas Democrat” from 2007. And it has to do with moving the start time for daylight savings.

JAVNA: Yes. And this goes back to – you can’t make this stuff up. Here we go: As you know daylight savings time started a month earlier this year. You’d think that members of Congress would have considered the warming effect that an extra hour of daylight would have on our climate – or did they?


YOUNG: The power of Congress to make the sun shine an extra hour.

Gordon Javna is better known as Uncle John, editor of “Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader” books and he is flush with success from publication of his new book “Certified Organic Bathroom Reader: An entertaining look at the green movement.” Thanks very much for your time.

JAVNA: Thanks Jeff. It’s great to be with you.

[MUSIC: Various Artists “Uncle John’s Band” from Pickin On The Grateful Dead Vol. 2 (CMH Records 2000)]



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