Test Run With Silky Big Boy

I have been wanting a saw to keep in the car in case the road was blocked with fallen trees and I really wanted to get home. The main thing that has been preventing me is the thought that you can’t get a saw big enough to do any good without having something too big for a car. But I heard a lot of good things about about Silky Saws so I decide to give them a try.

Shortly after my Silky “Big Boy” was delivered to my house a chance to try it out came in the form of a top of a pine tree falling across one of my mother’s trails. Normally I would have got out the chain saw for a task like this but it was cold and I did not feel like fighting with the saw to get it started.

When I started, the tree look like this….

Blocked Path

My original goal was to the do the bare minimum of cuts so that I could easily toss everything into the brush. But when I got to cutting I was so amazed at how easy it was that I started cutting it into smaller pieces just for the fun of it. It is certainly no chain saw, but I have no doubt it could handle lot bigger trees then what I was dealing with in this picture if I needed it to. The official instructions tell you it is only recommended up to 8″ but I have heard you can go a lot bigger then that in a pinch simply by cutting from two sides instead of only working one cut.

Bigger Cut

The total time it took me to cut everything up into the neat little pile below was 26 minutes (and I did time myself with the stopwatch function on my phone). A chain saw would have been a lot faster if I already had it out and running. But I am not it all sure it would have been faster to get a cold chain saw up and running just for a small job like this.

The End Result

From my perspective, the best part about all this is that it was done with a saw that is only 16″ long folded up. That is not a big deal to stash in a car or stick in a backpack. Of course, if it could not do anything, it would just be wasted weight no matter how small. But since it evidentially can do stuff, I am pretty pleased with it. Granted, one job does not give it a long track record, but it does help confirm all the good things I have heard about it. Biggest potential downside that I have heard of is that people who are used to push pull saws tend to break them by trying to force them to cut on the push stroke. And I have also heard that you can also break them by getting them pinched in the bigger wood (odds are that is why the manufacture says only up to 8″ wood).

Based on the one job I have done with it, I suspect the people who break them by trying to get them to cut on the push stroke are not used to working with their hands. It feels so wrong to even try to cut on the push stroke that I can’t imagine anyone who is paying attention making that mistake with enough force to break the saw.

But knowing that I tend to be hard on tools and being scared by the stories of people breaking them, I sprung for the more expensive outback version of the saw which has a thicker blade. Since I have never used the regular Silky Big Boy, I have no idea if that was wasted money or not.

And below is the path after I put the last piece on the pile and stopped by stop watch.

Path Clear

The Problem With Masonry Stoves

On the The Rural Working Class FEMA Plan, Deirdre commented….

One thing I often think about is how it would be nice to have an oven. Obviously, worst case scenario, you can bake bread directly over coals, and we probably wouldn’t have the yeast for anything other than flatbread, anyway. But in my imagination, it would be nice to have a nice, woodheated oven…. Even if it was just a fairly short power outage, where running out of food wasn’t a concern, if the generator stopped working, we wouldn’t be able to bake anything. But baking things isn’t a survival necessity, it’s just nice to have. You can live without brownies.

In around about way, this brings up a topic that I did not address in my FEMA series. And that topic is there are lots of cheap things that would be nice to have if society goes all third world on us that I did not talk about or consider because they take a lot of skill to use. I tried to include only things that I imagined would still be useful even if you had little or no skill. And even though masonry stoves are not that hard to build, they do take a fair amount of skill to use. It might be just because I am incompetent at such things, but I would guess that it would take me more then a month to get half way proficient with a wood fired masonry oven. The below video demonstrates some of those issues……

Now some of the David the Good’s problems are because he is always broke and trying to do things as cheap as possible. A roof and more brick would have helped somewhat. And obviously one of his complaints is related to just his climate. But his complaints about the difficulties of cooking with it are going to be the same everywhere.

Of course, people who are more dedicated and less cash constrained can do a much better job then David the Good did. Take a look at these pictures for a oven build that uses far less wood and requires far less maintenance then David the Good’s oven. But it also required a lot more skill and knowledge to build (not to mention money, although I would guess the biggest cost was in the shelter that was built over it). Here is video of a cheap version with little thermal mass version of the stove those pictures in operation.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you can bake a lot of things with Dutch ovens with a regular fire beyond the bread the Deirdre mentioned. Below is Paul Harrell making a fairly fancy thanksgiving meal outdoors with Dutch ovens. From a disaster perspective he is cheating by using charcoal but that is because he under a time crunch and working by himself. To duplicate this with wood, you would need someone dedicated to the fire while someone else was cooking and the person tending the fire would need to get started enough in advance of the cook that the fire had a good bed of coals.

Note how much skill and experience goes into making things. The cost of his Dutch ovens is not all that high. But the time investment to figure out how to use them is considerable.

And for those who doubt that Paul’s example has much bearing on a “survival” setting, below is a video of someone doing the same kind of thing in a “survival” setting.

Obviously his meal is not as elaborate but as you can see he uses all the same basic methods.

The bottom line is that there are number of ways you can have an “oven” to bake brownies in (provided you have the supplies to make the brownies). The constraint is not so much monetary as it is time it takes to learn how to do it successfully.

The Rural Working Class FEMA Plan

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says that “Even though it is unlikely that an emergency would cut off your food supply for two weeks, consider maintaining a supply that will last that long.” And later on in the same document they say “Consider storing at least a two-week supply of water for each member of your family.” Obviously, if food is not available for two weeks a lot has gone wrong with the world and you are likely to want more than just food. A discussion of what it might take to meet this requirement from a “yuppie” point of view was posted here. Originally that post was going to include a rural working poor plan as a kind of contrasting way of looking at the issue. That did not happen due to excessive length of the yuppie plan so in this post we will pick up where we left off.

The Rural Plan

The rural plan is constructed to the same general rules as was laid out in the yuppie post. In other words…

1: This plan is designed to enable a theoretical working rural poor family of four to remain functional and to be part of the solution in the event of an unexpected emergency lasting two weeks in the urban areas. Comfort is not a goal. Rather, the goal is being healthy enough to function normally and having the equipped needed to do things that would make the situation better.

2: The plan is based around what is theoretically necessary to accomplish the above goal in a situation where there is no utilities, no sewer, no gas for vehicles, and no outside emergency support services for the duration of those two weeks in urban areas.

3: All the stuff listed in this plan needs to be functional and ready to use 10 to 20 years in the future even if forgotten and ignored up until it is needed.

4: All the stuff in this plan should be able to fit into a closet. This is more about defining the amount of total storage space sacrificed to disaster preparedness and it is not a requirement of the plan that everything be suitable for storing in a closet. In the abstract it would be better for me to say that total space needed by the plan should be no more than 126 cubic feet (3*6*7) but it is easier to envision a closet then that amount of space in the abstract.

5: The assumption behind this plan is that the theoretical family lives in the northeast and have to deal with weather and water resources typically for that region.

6: Budget for this plan is $800. It was figured on the grounds that seems to be roughly the amount that working class families I am familiar with spend on a “vacation” if they don’t have a lot of money but are gainfully employed.

Except for the budget, everything above is the same as the yuppie plan. But our assumptions about the nature of a theoretical rural working class family are going to be different then our assumptions about the yuppie family.

Assumptions: If you live in South Carolina and you are prepared for the impact of 4 inches of snow, you are prepared for a particular type of emergency situation that while possible will rarely happen. If you live in upstate New York and you are prepared for four inches of snow, you are simply competent to deal with everyday life. Same logic holds true for the difference between living in a rural area and a subdivision. In a rural area, a power outage that last for a few days is not out of ordinary even if it is not something that happens every year. On the other hand, if a subdivision loses power for a few days it is a big deal. It is for this reason that many rural people I know think that they are better prepared for a disaster then their yuppie counterparts. They heat with wood. They have a freezer full of food. They have guns and know how to hunt. They have been without electricity for awhile and it was no big deal. And so on and so forth.

But an emergency by definition is something that we don’t expect. Rural working poor are in general more prepared for utility interruptions because they expect them but that does not mean they are any better prepared for a true emergency. For example, we read this about the 1998 Quebec ice storm:

Many power lines broke and over 1,000 transmission towers collapsed in chain reactions under the weight of the ice, leaving more than 4 million people without electricity, most of them in southern Quebec, western New Brunswick and Eastern Ontario, some of them for an entire month.

Most of the urban areas had power back in days or at most a week. It was the rural areas that waited more than a month for power to be restored. So a disaster that means a yuppie needs a two week kit means that the rural person might be looking at a month or more of roughing it. That is why we define our two weeks in terms of urban centers being without for two weeks. It always takes longer for the rural areas to have services restored so if it is rational for suburban folks to be prepared for two weeks, the rural family should be prepared for longer.

Not only are rural areas last in line for any kind of help and relief, but disasters can have problems for rural areas that don’t even impact urban areas. For example, earthquakes can have a negative impacts on wells for weeks after the earthquake happened. You might think that earthquake related well issues can’t impact you because you don’t live in an area prone to earthquakes but consider this….

The 1998 M5.2 Pymatuning earthquake in northwestern Pennsylvania caused about 120 local household-supply wells to go dry within 3 months after the earthquake (Fleeger and others, 1999). The 2002 M7.9 Denali Fault earthquake in Alaska caused a 2-foot water-level rise in a well in Wisconsin, more than a thousand miles from the epicenter.

Now imagine a another New Madrid style earthquake that devastates America’s heartland and leads to all kinds of supply shortages as pipelines and highways critical to bringing supplies to the northeast are disrupted. Your house is standing and you are well outside the areas impacted by major shaking but somehow your well was still impacted. How fast is someone going to fix your well when the rest of the world is having trouble getting gasoline because the pipelines that transport it are out of commission?

These types of scenarios are not very likely. But the entire point of an emergency kit is to prepare for the unlikely but possible. If something is truly likely, you should spend a lot more time an effort preparing for it than is envisioned by this kit.

So for this list, our assumptions are going to be a little different than they were for the Yuppie list. We are going to assume that our rural working class family of four is prepared for normal run of the mill power outages. We will assume they are used to working with their hands and solving problems. We will also assume that they have all the normal tools to solve normal rural problems such as chainsaws and firearms. We will take it for granted that they heat with wood and have clothing appropriate for their climate. In short, we will assume they all ready for likely problems that come along in a rural environment.

Since we assume that the rural family is already equipped for likely rural problems, we are going to set up the kit augment what a rural household typically already has. We will build this kit with the assumption that anything that causes urban areas to go two weeks without resupply will be that much worse in the rural areas. Since this is a shelter in place kit, we will assume that that the house remains standing and the wood stoves is still working but other then that, we are not going to assume that any of the modern appliances found in a rural home will actual work.

The Question: What can you get for $800 dollars that will expand a rural working class family of four’s ability to deal with serious systematic disasters not normal to rural life? My list is as follows…..

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World War II, Food Insecurity, And the Modern Situation.

The lack of sufficient food and outright famine was widespread problem in World War II although it is not something most Americans are aware of. Typically, the urban areas had it worst. This was partially because those in the countryside were growing their own food and partially because of German policy. Take the “Hunger Plan” for example……

The German “Hunger Plan” called for “the annihilation of what the German régime perceived as a superfluous population (Jews, and the population of Ukrainian large cities such as Kiev, which received no supplies at all); extreme reduction of rations for Ukrainians in the remaining cities; and reduction in foodstuffs consumed by the farming population.”

Now this plan was not fully implemented, but there were massive famines in the Ukraine. And from everything I have read, those in the countryside faired far better than those in urban areas in part because it was impossible for the Germans to get farmers to grow food for them and at the same time prevent the farmers from feeding themselves. Also, disruptions in supply lines from the fighting impacted the urban areas that needed to import their food a lot more then it impacted the rural areas that grew the food. We can see this same dynamic (urban famine, rural areas doing comparatively better) all over Europe.

One example would the be the “Great Famine” in Greece. As Wikipedia puts it (emphasis mine)…..

The nutritional situation became critical in the summer of 1941 and in the autumn turned into a full-blown famine. Especially in the first winter of occupation (1941–42) food shortage was acute and famine struck especially in the urban centers of the country. Food shortage reached a climax and a famine was unavoidable. During that winter the mortality rate reached a peak, while according to British historian, Mark Mazower, this was the worst famine the Greeks experienced from ancient times. Bodies of dead persons were secretly abandoned in cemeteries or at the streets (possibly so their ration cards could continue to be used by surviving relatives). In other cases, bodies were found days after the death had taken place. The sight of emaciated dead bodies was commonplace in the streets of Athens.

The situation in Athens and the wider area with its port, Piraeus, was out of control, the hyperinflation was in full swing and the price of bread was increased 89-fold from April 1941 to June 1942. According to the records of the German army the mortality rate in Athens alone reached 300 deaths per day during December 1941, while the estimates of the Red Cross were much higher, at 400 deaths while in some days the death toll reached 1,000. Apart from the urban areas the population of the islands was also affected by the famine, especially those living in Mykonos, Syros and Chios.

There are no accurate numbers of the famine deaths because civil registration records did not function during the occupation. In general, it is estimated that Greece suffered approximately 300,000 deaths during the Axis occupation as a result of famine and malnutrition. However, not all parts of Greece experienced equal levels of food scarcity. Although comprehensive data on regional famine severity does not exist, the available evidence indicates that the severe movement restrictions, the proximity to agricultural production and the level of urbanization were crucial factors of famine mortality.

We can read similar things about the Dutch famine during World War II. Again, going by Wikipedia (emphasis mine) …..

Food stocks in the cities in the western Netherlands rapidly ran out. The adult rations in cities such as Amsterdam dropped to below 1000 calories (4,200 kilojoules) a day by the end of November 1944 and to 580 calories in the west by the end of February 1945. Over this Hongerwinter (“Hunger winter”), a number of factors combined to cause starvation in especially the large cities in the West of the Netherlands. The winter in the month of January 1945 itself was unusually harsh prohibiting transport by boat for roughly a month between early January 1945 and early February 1945. Also, the German army destroyed docks and bridges to flood the country and impede the Allied advance. Thirdly, Allied bombing made it extremely difficult to transport food in bulk, since Allied bombers could not distinguish German military and civilian shipments. As the south-eastern (the Maas valley) and the south-western part of the Netherlands (Walcheren and Beveland) became one of the main western battlefields, these conditions combined to make the transport of existing food stocks in large enough quantities nearly impossible.

The areas affected were home to 4.5 million people. Butter disappeared after October 1944, shortly after railway transport to the western parts of the Netherlands had stopped in September due to the railway strike. The supply of vegetable fats dwindled to a minuscule seven-month supply of 1.3 liters per person. At first 100 grams of cheese were allotted every two weeks; the meat coupons became worthless. The bread ration had already dropped from 2,200 to 1,800 and then to 1,400 grams per week. Then it fell to 1,000 grams in October, and by April 1945 to 400 grams a week. Together with one kilogram of potatoes, this then formed the entire weekly ration. The black market increasingly ran out of food as well, and with the gas and electricity and heat turned off, everyone was very cold and very hungry. In search of food, young strong people would walk for tens of kilometers to trade valuables for food at farms. Tulip bulbs and sugar beets were commonly consumed. Furniture and houses were dismantled to provide fuel for heating.

In the last months of 1944, in anticipation of the coming famine, tens of thousands of children were brought from the cities to rural areas where many remained until the end of the war. Deaths in the three big cities of the Western Netherlands (The Hague, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam) started in earnest in December 1944, reaching a peak in March 1945, but remained very high in April and May 1945. In early summer 1945 the famine was brought quickly under control. From September 1944 until May 1945 the deaths of 18,000 Dutch people were attributed to malnutrition as the primary cause and in many more as a contributing factor.

There are a lot of other similar stories that could be told about World War II but the bottom line is that food scarcity was an issue in many areas during World War II and it always seemed to hit hardest in the urban areas. Now I think to a lot of people this is sort of like announcing that water is wet. Who would expect anything differently?

But the fact that the experience of World War II accords with people’s natural expectations is precisely the problem. The things that enabled rural areas to do better during times of food shortages at the time of World War II no longer hold true and yet I don’t think people have updated their thinking to account for the changes.

As Chelsea Green’s “A Short History of the Agricultural Seed” says (emphasis mine)……

These changes didn’t “take” with farmers overnight. First of all, many of these inputs were expensive, and most farmers were not operating on a cash-intensive system—they produced all or most of their own fertility, feed, and seed for their farms. Pesticides, nitrogen fertilizer, and even tractors wouldn’t become commonplace on North American or European farms until after World War II, and even later in other parts of the world. The main source of fuel on the farm was the grain and hay produced on-farm for horses. It’s hard to believe now that only 100 years ago, even in countries that were rapidly industrializing, most of the population lived on farms that were largely self-sufficient, breeding their own animals and growing their crops from seed they had grown.

I don’t think many people have fully internalized how unprecedented modern times are compared to most of recorded history. Urban areas have always been vulnerable to the collapse of complicated supply lines since the time of the Bronze Age collapse. Rome famously lived in fear of its grain supplies being cut off just as much as Great Britain feared submarines. But at the time of World War II a farmer in Great Britain could feed himself even if there were not enough famers in Great Britain to feed the largely urban population of what was one of the most urbanized countries in the world at the time. But now a farmer cannot feed himself without the aid of a long and complicated supply line anymore then a city dweller can.

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Some Thoughts on Preparedness

I know a good man who has some serious health problems that were sadly predictable. He worked for a long time in a very dusty environment. He knew that was a health risk and whenever his son helped him he made him wear a respirator. He had the equipment to protect himself and he had the knowledge that it was dangerous. But for whatever reason, he did not make use of those things.
You see that a lot. There are people who know that smoking is dangerous but only get serious about quitting after they get lung cancer. There are people who know that that tree work is dangerous but only become serious about safety after their brother is killed by a falling limb. It is human to know something, to have no real doubt that what you know is true, and yet to still fail to act on it.

The book of James mocks those who profess to have faith and yet fail to act on it. The same sort of logic can be applied to knowledge. We all dam ourselves by what we say we know and being flawed as we are, we can never totally avoid it. But it is worth making an effort to avoid condemning ourselves by what we say we know.

This is a particular danger for me because I am a very judgmental man. I look at the middle class in Lebanon and wonder how they can be crying in the newspapers about how they losing all their savings. Didn’t they realize they were living in a country that is a byword for instability? How could they have money in the bank but no food in the pantry? I feel the same way about the middle class panic buying in the shops in South Africa because they are afraid that the riots might cause supply disruptions. You live in Africa and you are not prepared for the stores to be empty for a few weeks?

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A rant on the “second wave” and calls for more lock-downs.

My “somebody on the internet is wrong” personality flaw has been triggered. Or maybe it would be better to say that people are missing the obvious point. At any rate, this is going to be a little bit of departure from normal links to news.
To set the stage, let us consider the following opinions from the great and good.

1. There are “bad people” who believe that we should strive for herd immunity and who argue that we can achieve herd immunity from smaller number of infections then “good people” this is possible.

2. The current rising number of infections in places that have already been hard hit (like Spain) show that the “bad people” are wrong (was there ever any doubt?).

3. “Bad people” are trying to switch the subject to talking about how low the case fatality rate is. But this lower date rate is only because the demographics of those getting infected are currently different and have nothing to do with the seriousness of COVID.

Granted, the above is a little over simplified, but I think (despite the snark) it is a pretty fair representation of the views of a lot of people. If you want to see someone who is struggling to be fair minded address this issue, you can read this Marginal Revolution post so you can see the argument being made sans the snark.

Now I am not going to defend the work of the “bad” herd immunity people. I suspect that they are making a critical error in modeling a “herd” as being a given group of people located a geographical point and we know this model is flawed. For example, studies of anti-body samples seem to show quite clearly that there was a big COVID class divided in New York City. It seems that COVID was much more prevalent in the poor and working class in New York then it was in the middle and upper classes. In fact, the difference is so stark that they might as well been two different cities. So the lower economic classes of New York might very well have “herd immunity” were as the upper economic classes are ripe for a “second wave” as it were. And regardless of what mathematical models show, it is hard to see how lower classes having herd immunity (assuming they do) will protect the upper classes who do things like go to weddings in Brazil and vacation in Mexico. I suspect the same logic plays out in places like Spain/Madrid or other areas that were hard hit but still experiencing a “second wave”.

But this brings to me much lower death rate that is being experienced as part of this “second wave”. The great and good will tell you this is because of the younger age demographic of those getting infected and they have statistics to back that up. I also suspect that a much higher percentage of those now being infected are better off and whiter then the first wave. I have not seen statistics to that effect but given the lack of stories about “minorities hardest hit” and “meatpackers are all going to die” I would guess that a lot more of the infections are in the upper class then previously. This would also tie into the lower death rate because as a general rule the wealthier you are the better your health and the better health care you receive. The bottom line is that a younger and wealthier set of victims goes a long way to explaining the lower case fatality rate for COVID currently being observed.

So far, I don’t have a problem with the story that the great and good are spinning (except that I think that testing and other methodological problems plays a bigger role then they are acknowledging). My problem is that obvious implications about the “success” of lockdowns are being ignored and the clamor is for “more lockdown.” This to me is missing the obvious point that the case fatality rate is so low now because vulnerable and the poor were not protected during the lock down. The people getting infected now are the people who were protected during the lockdown.

The wealthy and middle class who were able to work from home and keep their kids home with them were protected by the lockdown. The poor who could not afford to stay home and had to keep going to work (often in nursing homes, hospitals, meat packing plants, and so on and so forth) and had to have their kids in daycare (often their elderly parents since all other options were closed) were heavily hit on the first wave and not suffering as bad with the “second wave”.

What bugs me is that now that upper classes see the infections are hitting them, they want another lock down because it successfully protects them. They don’t care all that much about the economic fallout because so far that has disproportionately hurt the lower classes that have never been protected by any lock down.

The bottom line: The current rise in infections is occurring in people previously protected by lockdowns. The fact that the case fatality rate is currently so low shows that the lockdowns never did a very good job a protecting the vulnerable. Current calls to re-instate the lockdowns should be looked at as privileged people trying to protect themselves from something that the poorer classes have already suffered.

Maybe there is another way of interpreting the data, but if there is, I have not seen the argument being made. Mostly, the great and good seem to prefer to ignore the implications of the fact that infections are only now impacting them and comparatively ignoring the poor and vulnerable who were so hard hit last time.