The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The essential stuff of civilization

As I mentioned once before, I am currently re-reading "Lucifer's Hammer" (an excellent post-Apocalypse novel) and a mind-worm started tunneling through my meager brain. You know what a "mind-worm" is, don't you?

A mind-worm is  a concept or idea tangentially related to something going on outside your head. It burrows into your mind, just below the surface of your consciousness... leaving little tracks of mental sand to mark its passage. Much like an earthworm, or a mole, does to your well manicured front lawn. It disrupts the calm beauty of a serene mind.

And what is that mind-worm turning up? Let me digress a bit for background purposes...

Lucifer's Hammer is a science fiction story of a comet induced Apocalypse. It begins with the discovery of the comet, follows the scientific curiosity and the religious fringe interest, the slowly awakening realization that it could hit the Earth (the odds drop from the millions to one to hundreds to one in the first few chapters), to the collisions themselves and the chaos and havoc they create, to the destruction of civilization, and then to the aftermath and the attempts to rebuild.

It's a well told journey of some of the pre-comet characters impacted (no pun intended) by the event.

And that mind-worm? Toilet paper.

A number of years ago, Johnny Carson (Tonight show host before Jay Leno) triggered a toilet paper shortage in 1973 with a joke in his opening monologue. That immediately came to mind as I read about attempts by the characters to gather items that would not be manufactured anymore but would be needed. Guns, ammunition, books, etc. as well as those things needed to survive the immediate devastation... vehicles, gasoline, and such... as they seek high ground and some semblance of safety.

Once one mind-worm appears, you find others. They keep popping up, gnawing their way into your consciousness, to distract you as you read. One of the obvious losses would be electricity and power distribution. Without electricity, civilization would quickly fold up its tent and disappear into the very dark night. Electricity is what makes it possible to have modern cities, to have normal lives, to live day to day. A gas powered generator would be worth its weight in today's gold and gold would be worth next to nothing. Barter would become the new economy of honest folk. And honest folk would be at the mercy of the thugs.

The story (to get back to it) mentions the obvious coming scarcities: coffee, tea, gasoline, food, leisure time, personal safety, etc. But it omitted toilet paper. It omitted sanitation. It glossed over the lack of water and sewer service which would cease the day the electricity stopped. Think about it. Without electricity, the pumps which push the water into your homes would cease to operate. Water would stop flowing to your toilet, to your sink within hours if not minutes. If you were fortunate to have a water supply at a higher elevation than your home, it's likely that it flooded you out when the dam broke from the earthquakes (oh yes, there'd be lots of earthquakes as a result of the impacts) or the pressure from the constant heavy rainfall that would result from the effects of comet hits in the oceans. Not to mention that the first "rain" would be displaced ocean water (what goes up must come down, Mr. Newton explained) which would add a lot of salt to any any intact reservoir... possibly making it non potable. Add in the silt and bacteria from the thousands of bodies decaying in the runoff and you have life giving water turned into deadly poison (a poison that would be both fast and slow acting). And I haven't even mentioned what that salt water would do to the soil you would need for farming in the future (nor do the authors)

How many of us would think of looting a pool supply store to gather chlorine tablets? Nobody in the novel does... until someone thinks of making mustard gas to fight off an army of cannibalistic thugs.

Paper can be made. With water (even polluted water) and pulp. But it would be course, rough, and nothing like that aloe and baby oil infused Charmin I use.

Dinosaurs were tough beasts and had no machines, cities, or civilizations and a space rock of some size (theoretically) crashing into the planet eventually caused their total extinction.

Man isn't so tough. Take away his clean water and he doesn't stand a chance.

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