Archive for November, 2018

Corn Chowder Oats

November 21, 2018

MJ made creamed corn chowder the other day, cooking real corn and real potatoes and real chicken broth and so forth. There was lots left over.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of chicken broth, two heaping dinner tablespoons of thick corn chowder (a quarter to a third of a cup), two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the potatoes at the end.

Results: Very good. Worth repeating. The corn flavor made up for the bland oats, the kernelskins gave something to chew on, and the creamed part added a, well…, creamy texture.

Rating: ****

The end of the world

November 21, 2018

This essay treads a fine line between death and disaster. Five years ago, I talked about what happens if technology goes away. This Thanksgiving I’d like to talk about how that might happen. The fine line we are treading is that between something that will kill off everything (say, a true dinosaur-killer impact), and something that will kill off only a lot of things (say, a much lesser rock that hits in the Atlantic and creates a mega-tsunami from Maine to Florida). In one case we are talking about re-setting evolution and recolonization of the Earth by tardigrades, while in the other we are waiting for the re-colonization of Virginia by Californians. In this essay, I’m assuming something in between.

1. The people die, but the technology remains in place.
Prime example: worldwide plague.
Secondary example: nearby supernova.
Illustrative movie: The World the Flesh and the Devil (1959). The blurb claims a nuclear holocaust, but NYC is still standing.

A nearby supernova bathing the planet in lethal levels of radiation could kill off most of the life on the planet either directly, with gamma rays, or indirectly, by destroying the ozone layer. Fortunately, the probability of such an event is vanishingly low. Survivors might be those in protected environments, such as concrete buildings or below ground facilities. Protection from gamma radiation might only be necessary for hours, while destruction of the ozone layer might take months or years to recover.

A global pandemic, on the other hand, is all too possible. It might be caused by natural mutations in existing diseases, escaped organisms from a national lab, or a terrorist or home hobbyist group.

2. The people are still there, but the technology is gone.
Prime example: Extreme solar EMP event.
Secondary example: Worldwide nuclear EMP conflict
Illustrative movie: Maybe the Mad Max series, since some pockets of tech might remain, for a while.

This is, to my thinking, an unlikely event, for three reasons. First, it requires a solar EMP superevent, one that’s likely to hit maybe once every few hundred years. Second, it requires that the event go on long enough to pound the entire planet. With the duration of events we’ve seen, the North American grid might be destroyed, but the European and Asian grids could survive. Or any one of those, or any two out of three.

Third, the primary threat is due to geomagnetically induced ground currents. However, conductivities within the geological base rock can vary by 5 orders of magnitude. Power systems in areas of igneous rock are most vulnerable. This means that even within a national or continental grid, there are lots of places that will be minimally affected, unless the superevent is really super. So, New York, on glacial granite, is toast. Northern Virginia, on what my brother calls “300 feet of sedimentary crap”, might well survive.

A nuclear EMP war is even more unlikely, because it is, by definition, a nuclear war, and we immediately jump to Scenario 3.  Regional EMP conflicts are possible, but the outside world would still exist, and help would come. Eventually.

3. Everybody and everything dies (more or less).
Prime example: not-quite-dinosaur-killer asteroid
Secondary example: nuclear winter
Illustrative movie: Not On The Beach. Maybe The Road (2009), or Brin’s The Postman (1997), only worse.

Highly unlikely. The next asteroid impact might be a thousand years from now (or maybe next Tuesday). Nuclear winter requires full engagement of major nuclear powers. A regional Indo/Pakistan war won’t do it. A NK attack on Guam, or Adak, or the Farallons won’t do it, particularly since our response may well be non-nuclear, to keep Japan and Russia out of the plume.


The first thing to realize in any of these scenarios is, if you are in a city, you are screwed. And if you are in a town, you are screwed. Urban areas only have 3-5 days worth of food for the population, so no matter how civilized and cooperative we are, at the end of the first week, there’s nothing left. Let’s go further. Suppose we institute extreme rationing, and totally cut off those who can’t contribute to the restoration of society — installing Death Panels that will keep doctors but kill the sick. And the old. How long then? A month?

Are you a prepper? Good luck with that. Most of you will die in gunfights with other preppers, out to take your stuff. Some of you, the most paranoid, will survive six months or a year on hand-ground corn and vitamin tablets. Not long enough to grow a new crop, and anyway, how are you going to defend your fields?

Are you a prepper who prepared their own mountain redoubt “at least two tanks of gas from the nearest city”? Then you end up with a spinal condition from permanently hunkering down in your bunker, or you spend your life scampering into the hills at every possible threat, or you find yourself stranded in your own neighborhood with a government that won’t let you move (Scenario 1), a car that doesn’t work (Scenario 2), or a fine rain of engine-killing, people-killing dust (Scenario 3).

How far can you drive, starting during rush hour?
Dark is one hour, light is five hours.
(BTW, the shaded areas are where most everybody dies by the end of Week 2)

If you live within one tank of gas, or four day’s walk, of a major city or town, expect to be overrun with starving refugees. If it’s Scenario 1, many will be sick, and so will you be, soon. If you’re a hard core prepper, do you have enough ammo to kill off, say 10% of a Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area when they come down your road?

This means that all of coastal America is gone. All of Europe. All of coastal Asia and  the urbanized bits of Africa and South America.

So who has a chance of survival? Mostly, it’s the currently impoverished regions with a remaining tradition of subsistence farming. Let’s see:

1. Rural America. Mostly no. Even the light areas on that graphic will have problems. Our farms and ranches are too industrialized. A Montana rancher might survive that first year, while stocks of feed are drawn down, but the second year and thereafter could depend on following Neolithic rules of animal husbandry, and killing off most of the stock in the Fall. A Nebraska farmer might survive a year, unless he’s tied to pumping out the Ogalalla Aquifer. Then he’ll find that his seeds are proprietary, and won’t breed true. The key will lie in recognizing the fact that there is a disaster, and knowing what kind of disaster it is. Maybe the rural South will do better, because of the tradition of local gardens. But we’re talking about producing enough food for your family for a year. And anyway, as the graphic shows, it might not be rural enough.

And even if you are rural, you won’t be able to depend on traditional hunting and fishing, because several million other people will have the same idea. I wouldn’t be surprised if deer all large mammals (deer, buffalo, cattle, horses ) went extinct in the eastern over most of the US, and if the waterways were all fished (or dynamited) empty.

2. Rural Europe. Western Europe, mostly no. For one thing, there isn’t much of it. Any place where you can see the glow of two major metropolises on your night skyline really isn’t rural. In Eastern Europe and the western part of the former Soviet Union, maybe. Fewer big cities, farther apart, with a poorer road net. More of a gardening tradition. Downside: getting through that first winter.

3. MENASWA. Middle East/North Africa/SouthWest Asia, extending from Morocco to Pakistan, and north into Central Asia. The problem here is that rural means desolate. There’s not a lot of land that is both rural and arable. There’s lots of people with weapons, call them semi-preppers. Survival is still possible in isolated pockets, call them refugia (after the semi-warm places where early humans sat out the ice ages).

4. AFSSA. Africa South of the Sahara. One of the better possibilities. Even though the region has made significant strides technologically, much of the population is still organized around subsistence farming. On the other hand, there’s a lot of population. And a lot of armed groups. Many people will survive the first couple of years, but many many more will not.

5. Coastal Asia. Too many people, even in the countryside. They will have the same problem that the coastal US has. Maybe some parts will do well — Hokkaido, southern Philippines, parts of Indonesia, SouthEast Asia.

6.Continental Asia. Interior China and most of India. Probably too many people, despite the local agricultural traditions. Probably still too close to the cities. As with AFSSA, there will be survivors, but not many.

7. Latin America. Like AFSSA, lots of rural, with pockets that still have an ongoing tradition of subsistence farming. Not that many really big cities. Not that good of a transportation network, needed to transport all those city mouths to the country.

8. The Far North. Alaska, Canada, and Siberia. Maybe. The trouble is, the thinly-scattered population of independent types is still dependent on an industrial base. Native Americans may live closer to nature than those of us with European ancestors, but they still go hunting caribou on snowmobiles, using rifles with factory-made bullets (or factory-made gunpowder).

And that’s pretty much it. The world will be repopulated by Brazilians, Congolese, and the inhabitants of scattered refugia like New Guinea, Nepal, Laos, Armenia, and Cuba. How much technology will be left for them to inherit, and will they be able to do anything with it? Read the prior article, then go enjoy your Thanksgiving Dinner.

Turkey Pardon

November 20, 2018

In an expansion of a long-time Thanksgiving tradition, the President plans to pardon two turkeys today.

President Trump (on right) with turkey.

Beefy Oatmeal

November 13, 2018

We had a small roast the other night. Actually, it was a large rib-eye steak, but at our time of metabolism, that’s four meals. MJ took some of my tomato sauce and made a gravy with it and some mushrooms and onions. Almost a stroganoff. Very good. Was a struggle to hold out a quarter cup for the breakfast.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup tomato gravy, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the potatoes at the end.

Results: Very good. As in, very good. Worth repeating.

Rating: ****

Potato Water Oatmeal

November 8, 2018

MJ made potato salad the other day, cooking real potatoes and eggses and things. She also soaked the onions in water, to take out some of the bite. She saved the various waters for me, about two quartsworth. The potato salad was very good. The potato water opened up interesting possibilities.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of potato water, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the potatoes at the end.

Results: Very good. Worth repeating. The raw onion bite was surprisingly strong, even after having simmered for ten minutes.


Rating: ***