Archive for July, 2014

Saving Face


The Americans are finding out the hard way that a fact-free zone is not a comfortable place to inhabit. The initial knee-jerk allegations, voiced by Obama, by the screechy UN representative Samantha Power, by John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and any number of talking heads, were that the downing of flight MH17 was all Putin\’s fault. These were swiftly followed by a complete and utter lack of official evidence of any Russian involvement but lots of strange, unexplained coincidences pointing to Ukrainian and American involvement. These were, in turn, followed by an uncharacteristically frank admission from US intelligence that there is no proof of Russian involvement. The newly installed Ukrainian oligarch-turned-president Poroshenko (code-name “Piglet”) switched from claiming that he had proof of Russian complicity to being very very quiet. Incompetently concocted fake “evidence” of this and that continues to appear on social media sites, only to be swiftly disproved. Once disproved, the fake evidence vanishes, only to be replaced by more of the same. The latest fake is of Russian artillery bombardment from across the border. All of this has added up to quite an awkward situation for the Americans. Barefaced lying may be fun and profitable, but it does not provide a solid foundation for foreign policy. Nobody wants to go down in history for blowing up the world over some fake Youtube videos.

The list of questions that demand answers is quite extensive. Why did the Ukrainians suddenly choose to activate their Buk M1 air defense system, with several rocket batteries and a radar, in Donetsk region, on the day of the crash? What was the Ukrainian Sukhoi-25 fighter jet (attested by numerous eye-witnesses) doing trailing after the Boeing? Why did Ukrainian air traffic control in Dnepropetrovsk redirect the flight to fly at a lower altitude and over the war zone? What were all those foreigners doing in the air traffic control center in Dnepropetrovsk right after the crash, and what happened to the flight control records they confiscated? What was the experimental US spy satellite doing flying over that exact spot at that exact moment? By the way, was anything interesting happening that day at the American drone base in Kanatov, in Dnepropetrovsk region, which, incidentally, is right on the flight path of MH17? (We know that it\’s active; two of their drones have already been shot down by the rebels, one of which landed more or less intact, and the Russians are probably having fun tinkering with it.)

Some people are surmising that the crash was a failed false flag attack orchestrated by the Ukrainians with, at a minimum, American complicity. The idea, this version goes, was to pin the blame on the rebels and, by extension, on Russia, in order to escalate the conflict. This version of events may sound plausible to some people, because false flag operations are part of the standard American playbook. After all, there was that chemical attack in Syria which almost led to a US bombing campaign. The chemical attack was blamed on the Assad regime, but then it turned out to have been a false flag: it was made by the Syrian rebels, on Syrian rebels, with help from Saudi Arabia, in order to smear Assad and escalate the conflict. Russia was able to deescalate the conflict by persuading Assad to give up his chemical weapons stockpile. (It didn\’t take much convincing, because Assad no doubt realized that this stockpile was more of a liability than an asset.) The Americans were livid; they had been itching to bomb Syria. Had they done so, the too-evil-for-al Qaeda “Caliphate” known as ISIS, which recently spilled out of Syria and rolled right across northern Iraq, would probably be enthroned in Damascus by now as well.

But in the case of flight MH17, the false flag theory rests on an untenable assumption: that the Ukrainians, if tasked with shooting it down, would in fact succeed in shooting it down. All previous evidence illustrates that when Ukrainians want to shoot down a plane, they may succeed in shooting down  a nursery school, a maternity ward, an apartment building full of elderly Ukrainians, but never a plane. Conversely, if Ukrainians set out to destroy a maternity ward or a kindergarten (as they are known to sometimes do) odds are that they will hit a Boeing. They inherited a now rather obsolete Buk M1 air defense system from the USSR, which, in skilled hands, is quite capable of shooting down a Boeing flying at cruising altitude, but you\’d be wrong to think that they have figured out how it works. They held exactly one training exercise using this system, in 2001, and succeeded in… shooting down a Russian civilian airliner! There were no training exercises in using this system until… it was used to shoot down MH17! It was used in Georgia during the war of 2008 over South Ossetia, where it did shoot down four Russian military aircraft, but there it was commanded by American mercenaries of Polish descent. Ukrainians excell at robbing, selling out, dismantling and destroying their own country; but achieving a specific, precise result as part of a highly coordinated mission? Not so much. Case in point: some Australian and Dutch troops wanted to go and maintain security at the crash site, but couldn\’t, because the Ukrainians chose the occasion of their arrival to attack some neighboring towns and villages. You\’d think that they would treat the opportunity to get some NATO boots on the ground as a Godsend, and act accordingly, but such rational behavior would be, you know, un-Ukrainian. The proper thing for them to do is to go and strafe some nearby village, and get themselves ambushed and slaughtered to a man by an angry babushka with a Kalashnikov.

Once you discount the theory that the downing of MH17 was a highly orchestrated false flag operation, everything falls into place. Why did the Ukrainians deploy their Buk M1 batteries and radar in Donetsk region, even though there was no enemy for them to shoot at? Because they are idiots. Why was there a Ukrainian Sukhoi 25 jet fighter in the air there? Trailing behind passenger jets and using them as human shields is standard Ukrainian practice. Why did that fighter zoom up into the Boeing\’s flight corridor and pop up on air traffic control radar at the exact time the Boeing was shot down? That\’s a standard evasive maneuver: the pilot saw a missile being launched, and tried to get out of its way by aiming up. If he hadn\’t done that, then the story would have been that Ukrainians shot down their own jet fighter as part of a successful (by Ukrainian standards) exercise, held in the vicinity of an international passenger flight just to spice things up. Why did Dnepropetrovsk APC redirect the flight over the war zone and the Buk M1 batteries? Because the Ukrainians had recently issued an order that closed the airspace over Donetsk, well below the plane\’s cruising altitude and away from its flight path, but perhaps something was lost in translation to Ukraine\’s wonderfully precise official language, and so the APC redirected the flight right over the closed airspace and told it to fly right above the minimum altitude. Why did the Ukrainians launch the rocket? Well, that was probably something like what happened in the movie The Three Stooges in Outer Space. The stooges find themselves inside a rocket. Moe gets hungry and pushes a button that he thinks says “LUNCH” except that it says “LAUNCH.” Hilarity ensues.

If that is what happened, then that\’s really embarrassing, not just for the Ukrainians, for whom embarrassment has become something of a national sport, but for their self-appointed American minders. What\’s making this situation even more difficult is that western news teams, following in the wake of the investigative teams visiting the crash site, got a chance to look at, and report on, the carnage and devastation perpetrated by the Ukrainians against their own people. Worse yet, the Ukrainian government, so carefully slapped together out of US State Department-approved dregs of Ukrainian society, has in the meantime come unstuck. The coalition goverment failed after a spectacular fistfight on the floor of the Supreme Rada, with the two rabidly nationalist parties walking out (OK, I won\’t call them Nazi, but only today). Prime minister Yatsenyuk (who had been hand-picked for the job and nicknamed “Yats” by Victoria Nuland of the US State Department) has resigned. [Update: he changed his mind and decided to stay: or did his American handlers change his mind for him?] President Piglet is still there, but it\’s unclear what it is he is doing. In fact, it is becoming unclear whether there even is a Ukrainian government; of late, the officials in Donetsk have been receiving very strange, barely coherent missives from Kiev, obviously written in American English and clumsily translated, then signed and stamped by some Ukrainian monkey to make them look slightly more legit. If the Ukrainian translators run away too, then the American minders will be forced to resort to using Google Translate, making it the world\’s first experiment in governance through word salad.

The MH17 disaster and Eastern Ukraine are now front page news across the entire world. The circumstances of the crash are anything but clear, but it is clear that they are not what the Americans initially alleged. This they have already admitted. The Ukrainian government is in disarray bordering on nonexistence. The Ukrainian military is either kettled in traps of their own devising and suffering horrific losses, or blasting away at densely populated districts with heavy artillery and rocket fire. The Ukrainian economy is in freefall, with trade links to Russia severed and industry nearing standstill. The country is bankrupt and at the mercy of the IMF. If you feel that the several hundred lives lost aboard MH17 are a tragedy, then you should consider a larger number: 42 million. That\’s the population of Ukraine minus Crimea (which will be fine) and that\’s the number of lives at risk from civil war and economic collapse.

The best that the US can do in this situation is to bug out of Ukraine while continuing to babble incoherently. This shouldn\’t be hard; bugging out and babbling incoherently are two things that the Americans are clearly still very good at; just look at Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

Fact-Free Zone


The fog of war that has been hovering over eastern Ukraine has now spread to the shores of the Potomac, and from there has inundated every pore of western body politic. The party line is that pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine have shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH-17, using a surface-to-air missile provided by Russia, with Russia\’s support and complicity. The response is to push for tougher sanctions against Russian companies and Mr. Putin\’s entourage. None of this is based on fact. To start with, it isn\’t known that MH-17 was brought down by a surface-to-air missile; it could have been an air-to-air missile, a bomb on board, a mechanical failure, or the same (or different) mysterious force that brought down MH-370 earlier this year. Mysteries abound, and yet western media knows it\’s Mr. Putin\’s fault.

Step through the looking glass over to Russia, and you hear a completely different story: the plane was shot down by the Ukrainians in order to frame the rebels and Russia in an attempt to pull NATO into the conflict. Here, we have numerous supporting “facts,” at varying levels of truthiness. But I have no way to independently verify any of them, and so instead I will organize what has been known into a pattern, and let you decide for yourself which story (if any) you should believe.

When trying to catch a criminal, a standard method is to look at means, motive and opportunity. Was the criminal physically capable of committing the act? Did the criminal have a good reason for committing it? Did the criminal get a chance to do it? One more criterion is often quite helpful: does the crime fit the perpetrator\’s known modus operandi? Let\’s give this method a try.


Did the rebels have the means to shoot down the plane? They have no military aviation and no functioning airport (the one near Donetsk is out of commission and occupied by Ukrainian troops). They have shoulder-fired missiles, which can take out helicopters and planes flying at low altitude, but are useless against airliners flying at cruising altitude. They also have a “Buk” air defense unit (one truck\’s worth of it) which they took from the Ukrainians as a trophy, but it\’s said to be non-operational. A rocket from this unit could have shot down MH-17, but only if it were integrated with a radar system, which the rebels did not have.

Did the Ukrainians have the means? They had five “Buk” units active in the area on that day, integrated with a radar system which was also active that day. (Deploying an air defense system against an enemy that does not have any aviation seems a bit strange.) According to a report from a Spanish air traffic controller who was working in Kiev (and has since been dismissed, along with other foreign ATCs) MH-17 was followed by two SU-25 jet fighters. According to a Russian expert on “Buk” systems, the damage to the fuselage visible on photographs of the crash site could not have been from a “Buk” surface-to-air missile, but could have been caused by an air-to-air missile fired by a SU-25.

Did the Russians have the means? Of course they did. Never underestimate the Russians.


The rebels had absolutely no reason to want to shoot down that plane. This leaves open the possibility that they shot it down by mistake, but that\’s not a motive, and if that is what happened, then this is not a crime but an accident, because a crime is an intentional act.

On the other hand, the Ukrainians had a really good motive for shooting it down. This part takes a little more explaining.

You see, the Ukrainians have been doing everything they can to pull Russia into the conflict, in order to then pull NATO into it as well, because their chance of victory while acting alone is nil. To this end, they have been shelling civilian targets relentlessly, causing many dead and wounded, in the hopes that Russian troops would pour across the border to defend them. This failed to happen; instead, the Ukrainians have succeeded in precipitating a refugee crisis that has produced something like half a million refugees seeking asylum in Russia. This has had an effect opposite of the intended. Whereas previously the rebels\’ recruitment activities were somewhat hampered by a wait-and-see attitude on the part of the population, now they have seen all they need to see and are ready to fight. Also, the Russian population inside Russia itself has found the stories of the refugees sufficiently compelling to open their wallets, so that now the rebels are drawing healthy salaries and have good kit and a steady stream of supplies. They are highly motivated to fight and to win, with a steady rah-rah of support coming from across the border in Russia, while the Ukrainian forces they face consist of underfed, untrained, badly armed recruits being goaded into battle by Right Sector thugs. Their recent battle plan was to directly attack the population centers in Donetsk and Lugansk while cutting the rebels off from the Russian border. One column managed to break through to the defunct Donetsk airport, where it has been kettled ever since (it is currently trying to break out in the direction of Donetsk). The troops massed along the Russian border got kettled there and decimated, with quite a few Ukrainian soldiers walking across the border sans weapons seeking food, shelter and medical treatment.

So much for Ukrainian military strategy. But the other thing to note is that time is not on the Ukrainians\’ side. First, a bit of background. Ukraine has always been a rather lopsided country. There are the Russian provinces in the east, which had coal, industry, good farmland, and lots of trade with Russia proper. They used to be Russia proper until Lenin lumped them into Ukraine, in an effort to improve it. And then there is western Ukraine, which, with the possible exception of Kiev, could never earn its keep. In terms of economic and social development, it resembles an African nation. Since its independence, Ukraine had subsisted through trade with Russia and through transfer payments from (Russian-speaking) Ukrainian citizens working in Russia. Because of fighting in the east, trade with Russia has been disrupted. Ukraine has been cut off from Russian natural gas supplies due to nonpayment; as a result, more and more Ukrainian cities no longer supply hot water, and come winter, there will be no heat. The economy is in freefall. The Ukrainian government received some funds from the IMF, but these are being squandered on the failing military campaign. The association agreement which Ukraine signed with the EU remains a dead letter because Ukraine does not make anything that the EU wants, and Ukraine has no money with which to buy anything the EU makes. So much for Ukrainian economic strategy.

And so, from the Ukrainian government\’s perspective, shooting down an airliner and blaming it on Putin (which is something that western governments and media are only too happy to do) probably seemed like a good ploy.

What about Russia? Well, the Russian government\’s chief concern is with avoiding becoming drawn into the conflict. The basic Russian strategy is, as I put it a couple of months ago, to let Ukraine stew in its own juices until the meat falls off the bone, and this strategy is working just fine.

It is important to draw a difference between the Russian state (Putin, the Kremlin, etc.) and the Russian people. According to Russian law, any Russian-speaking person born on the territory of the USSR has an automatic right to a Russian citizenship, so the people of eastern Ukraine are by default Russian citizens. It is a fine line between providing support to your fellow-Russians across the border as a people and being drawn into an international conflict as a nation, and the Russian government has been rather careful to preserve this distinction. Thus, the Russian government was very highly motivated to prevent this incident.


For the rebels, the opportunity amounted to looking up and seeing a plane. If, at that moment, they made the split-second decision to shoot it down using one of the “Buk” rockets (provided they had one ready to go) without radar support they could have only fired that rocket in “pursuit mode,” where the rocket flies to where the plane is, not to where the plane will be, and it is rather uncertain whether the rocket would have caught up with the jet before running out of fuel.

On the other hand, the Ukrainians gave themselves the opportunity by having Dnepropetrovsk ATC redirect the flight over the conflict zone, where they deployed their “Buk” systems.

I have trouble imagining a scenario in which Russian air defense forces would have been presented with an opportunity to shoot down MH-17.


Although some criminals commit just one crime (and sometimes even get away with it), typically a life of crime follows a pattern. What is the pattern behind shooting down MH-17? It is to kill civilians for political gain. What has the Ukrainian government been doing, for quite some time now, in shelling apartment buildings, schools and hospitals in the east of the country? Killing civilians, of course. And why have they been doing it? For a political reason: to attempt to draw the Russian military into the conflict, in order to then appeal to NATO for help. This is part of a larger plan on the part of the US to use Ukraine as a wedge between Russia and the EU, to deprive the EU of Russian natural gas supplies and make it even more dependent on the US.


My effort here is to present you with a better framework for analyzing these events than you might find elsewhere, but I hope that you uncover your own “facts” (to the extent that facts can be said to exist on the internet) and draw your own conclusions.

But I would like to point out a few things.

First, I often encounter a certain attitude among Americans. They may absolutely hate the evil clowns in Washington who are ruining their lives, but when looking at the world, they suddenly decide that every other government is equally bad, that theirs is not so bad after all, and since the Ukrainians are suddenly our friends (or so says John Kerry) then they are not so bad either. Don\’t make such assumptions. Look for evidence. To me it indicates that your government is run by evil clowns; other governments—not so much.

Second, citizens of the European Union shouldn\’t think that it is only the dark-skinned people in faraway places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and so on that get killed in the various wars instigated by the US. Continue outsourcing your foreign policy to the evil clowns of Washington (and the spineless jellies in Brussels) and you too will get killed.

Lastly, we already know who the criminals are in this case: they are the western politicians and journalists. Airliners fall out of the sky with some regularity. This is tragic, but not unexpected, and is not necessarily the result of a crime. The real crime is in exploiting this tragedy in order to smear and insult an entire people. Don\’t worry, the people in question are too wise to respond to such ridiculous provocations. But the reputations of western journalists who have been covering this tragic event have already gone up in smoke. All of western media is now about as good as Pravda was back in the Soviet days—good for wiping your ass with, that is. It\’s a sad day for anyone who cares about the truth but can only understand English.

[Update: I spoke too soon. Robert Parry has come out with an excellent write-up on the situation.]

The Education Delusion

Hermann Nitsch

[Guest post by Makeda.]

Recently I have run across a number of articles in American newspapers which emphasize the importance of higher education and reassure us that there is no crisis with the way it is being financed. The fact that such articles are written by PhDs speaks to some of the unfortunate aspects of the problem. I am probably being too kind in assuming that the authors of these articles are deluded; I could just as easily accuse them of being high-ups in a massive Ponzi scheme.

The Washington Post published recently published an article by Donald Heller, an academic and a dean, who asserted that the $1.2 trillion-plus in student loans, with a 15% default rate, is no big deal. Now, even social scientists are supposed to understand that correlation does not equal causality, while some facts he mentioned, such as the fact that college grads are more often employed than high school grads or drop outs, may just indicate that they have more active personalities, not that college allowed them to learn some special skill that made them better baristas. A college degree may or may not pay off over a lifetime, but the debt will certainly come due. While $29,000 (which Heller asserted was an average debt for undergraduate training) may seem like pocket change to an overpaid college administrator, it translates into the inability to afford food or rent for many a college-educated debt slave. Not to be outdone, the New York Times published an article about the “education debate” in which David Leonhart, a journalist of some acclaim and accomplishment, offered what many commenters saw as an advertorial for the higher education industry.

It is interesting to think about how our country produces so many educated fools. Education has been democratized to some extent, and standards have fallen. Today a high school diploma is available to students who can barely read. Mediocre students tend to funnel towards the humanities or social sciences, where mediocrity has become a form of high art. Under the tutelage of professors in these fields who are at best mediocre and at worst ignorant or fraudsters, a new generation of academics is being minted right now. Professors and students alike tend to hide behind large words and awkward turns of phrase.

In science, we use precise terminology to describe specific, observable phenomena. The constant discovery of new organisms, organelles and organic compounds necessitates an ever-expanding vocabulary. Academics in certain other disciplines seem to use highly specific jargon to disguise their lack of new ideas or even the absence of any sort of logic. I do some academic editing, so I know this situation has come full circle—to the point where students of the humanities are unaware that it is only their disciplines that are engaged in the use of specious language to obscure simple concepts. When explaining to one graduate student how he could not make certain assertions about traumatic brain injury based on current science, he told me he didn’t need to understand biology or neuroscience to write about them, he only needed to “understand the discourse.” His liberal arts training, that kind so often claimed to open minds, clearly had the opposite effect: it closed his to reality.

Perhaps this has made him happier? After all, reality can be a pain, so why not just ignore it and engage in “discourse.” Here\’s a sample: “The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure. It has marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power…\” wrote Judith Butler, who happens to be one of the top philosophers of our day. Do you have any idea what she means? Does she? Exactly! But don\’t worry; nobody will ever ask her, or you, to act on it in any meaningful way. All that can be expected of you is that you drink it in, partially digest it, and regurgitate it.

When the physicist Sokal purposely published an article in a prestigious journal for the humanities, which he later revealed to be absolute nonsense, it should have been treated a polite wake up call for the humanities to get rid of the obfuscating mumbo- jumbo and post-modernist blather that clouds so much academic work in these disciplines. Unfortunately, little has changed, and increasing numbers of academics continue to publish works with tenuous connections to reality in ever-less-read journals and books. It is now not unheard of for an academic text to have a publishing run of under 100 books, but even 100 books might be generous given the complete lack of relevance to anything at all of the topics some academics choose to investigate.

When and where the subjects and methods of inquiry are of little relevance, the personalities involved in academia become even more central to their success. Much in the same way that no man would pick a trophy wife based on her ability to solve differential equations rather than on her appearance and demeanor, academia today tends to select for people of little intellectual ability, but with personality traits that are seen as most fitting for academic departments. These traits include embrace of the obligatory optimism of the privileged, which automatically translates into enthusiasm for evangelizing education in the face of pitiful realities.

The list of pitiful realities is too long to include here, but I will highlight just one: the number of people with graduate degrees who rely on food stamps is growing every year. While some might argue the financial consequences of the latest downturn for some uneducated folks have been as dire, this is not a relevant comparison. Hardly anyone who could get a graduate degree would contemplate working as a hamburger flipper instead. The relevant comparison would be with people who invested their time to train for specific trades. A union electrician or carpenter, a construction supervisor, a scrap metal dealer or a plumber usually achieves a six-figure income without incurring any significant educational debt, yet there are plenty of linguists, historians, lawyers and even medical doctors who can only dream of being so lucky.

Academic career paths conform to the same shape as many vaunted professions: it is a pyramid, with little room at the top. Anyone who tells you that upward mobility and advancement are likely outcomes of obtaining higher education is suffering for some sort of vision or logic problem, for it is easy to see that most people will be stuck somewhere near the bottom of the pyramid. The opposite argument—that one progresses through the pyramid—flies in the face of reality. Do you know of any workplaces in America that need more managers than actual workers? Most of us by definition will be humble workers trying to eke out a living in the face of ever-increasing demands and the bizarre whims of ever-richer managers who wll be at best indifferent to our fate.

In my own field the apex of the pyramid is now reaching into the stratosphere. A mere two decades ago the Boston Globe chided a doctor working as a hospital administrator over his generous salary. The doctor made about $300,000 a year while nurses at the hospital he managed made $30,000 a year. Today such numbers seem quaint. Many nurses lost to retirement and attrition have been replaced with an army of “techs” who make 9 or 10 dollars an hour without benefits, while healthcare administrators are paid salaries in the millions. Many high level administrators don’t even possess the credential of being a medical doctor, nurse or scientist; after all, why would our managers ever get their hands dirty with the actual real painful work of medicine when they can manage it from oak-paneled board rooms?

Defenders of academia claim that a similar process has taken place within American universities, and that an evil class of administrators has taken over their precious collective body. To the extent such a process has happened, it may have been due to the weaknesses of the academy and academics. Ironically the liberal arts are not intellectual enough. The average café in the Middle East often has more honest conversation about ideas and social realities going on than many graduate departments of the humanities in the US. Ask some average, practical-minded Americans how they feel about academics, and they will admit that these emperors have no clothes. At best, academia is seen as providing a refuge for people who can’t cope with the real world—a sort of collection of mental institutions and halfway houses for the intellectually differently abled, if you will. The question is, as a society with so many poor people, increasing numbers of them direct products of academia, should we continue to support these academic institutions by entrusting our children to their care? Shouldn’t the real intellectuals (should any still exist) be the first to publicly question the validity of this arrangement? Where are the great minds of the day, and why won’t they speak about this loudly and publicly? Instead, the pages of this nation’s papers which have been crowded with nonsense by half-wits claiming that more and more debt-enabled education will make this a stronger nation.

What if it all becomes obvious enough?

[An excellent submission from a reader. The topic is Ukraine, but the principle applies wherever emperors parade about naked.]

What if Putin, being a strategic thinker that he is in addition to being a master in judo, has an intention to make not just eastern Ukraine but the whole Ukraine a failed-state-showcase of what happens when the US, Nato, EU, and the IMF causes havoc in eastern Europe. Maybe he is giving a lesson to Germany, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, etc. and especially his fellow Russians what happens when the US supports the rabid fascists in their region.
He realizes that the neo-cons and the Atlanticists, being the mindless psychopathic and sociopathic killers that they are, are incapable of grasping the lessons and consequences of their actions and will press ahead uninterruptedly and fail to see the trap that is being laid in front of them. Remember that psychopaths always think that they’ll never get caught, that they’re invincible and they, until the very last moment, will always deny their doom (just ask Napoleon and Hitler). So what if Putin’s strategic advisors egged on the Kiev regime to bomb unimportant civilian locations making them think that there was concentrated partisan militia and now scattering the militia in various areas where they can take down invididual KJ troops. Could it be Putin’s motive to get the KJ bogged down in eastern Ukraine and at the same time causing increasing revulsion of the people in Russia proper.

It’s one thing for the patriotic Russian media to educate on how the US caused mayhem and failed states in Libya and Iraq. It’s quite another to show that the US is causing this same mayhem and failed state right on their border and in the process killing innocent Russians. Indeed by demonstrating the barbarity of the US and its KJ puppets, Putin may in fact be delivering a blow to the fifth columnist pro American forces in Russia. “See what your American friends are doing to our people”. To the sixth columnists that Joaquin mentioned, Putin can call their bluff and tell them “If you’re so upset at what’s happening in Donetsk, don’t get angry at me. Why don’t you start mobilizing and organizing your own people and the public to volunteer to help out the resistance. Either put up or shut up.”

The US and Nato have nothing positive and constructive to offer. All they can do is create mayhem, death and failed states. That’s all they know how to do. All they can do is blackmail, sanction and threaten states like Bulgaria into not letting a gas pipeline through their territory. Now I’m absolutely certain that the whole of eastern Europe and Germany will eventually come on the side of Russia. I have no doubt now. The truth is so obvious. If Putin had intervened right away in eastern Ukraine then this process of Europe and Russia learning about the US and Nato would have been pre-empted. Putin wants this process to continue to its conclusion. Unfortunately innocent people will die but sometimes a few have to be sacrificed so the world can learn the truth. I’m sorry but that’s how the world and politics work.

Village Medicine

[By popular demand, I am running this entire essay in its entirety.]

I am a family physician in Canada with an interest in what the future of medicine in Western societies might look like. I don’t subscribe to the mainstream narrative of ever more technically exotic and complex medicine, such as nanosurgery, individualized genetic medicine and growing replacement body parts in the lab. I think it is more likely that as we move past peak energy production to a world in which energy and resources are scarcer, society will de-complexify and medicine will follow the same overall trajectory.

I chose the title of this essay with some care. Initially I was going to call it “post-collapse medicine” but that brings to mind images of biker gangs roaming a post-nuclear wasteland and that wasn’t really the tone I wanted to set. Then I thought about “kitchen table medicine,” but this essay goes into the subject in rather more depth than that. So finally I settled on “village medicine” because I wanted to describe how a village healer in a post-collapse community of a few hundred people, with some basic knowledge and simple tools, might make a positive difference to health, illness and suffering in that community.

Health warning: you should seek the best available medical care at all times. This means that, generally speaking, where allopathic (conventional) medicine is available, you should use it. The tools and techniques described in this essay are only to be used in scenarios where conventional Western medicine is unavailable.

I can’t cover the whole of village medicine in this short chapter, so I’m going to refer to a some texts which are freely available for download from the Internet, and comment on the following areas which are likely to be particularly important or useful:

  • Keeping healthy
  • Stockpiling medications
  • Insulin-dependent diabetics
  • Immunization
  • Psychological medicine
  • Herbal medicines (legal and illegal)
  • Surgery
  • Making difficult choices  

Keeping healthy

The way many Westerners believe they can keep healthy is by visiting their physician once a year for an annual physical, during which the physician examines them from head to toe, orders for bloodwork and other tests, prescribes medication to keep them healthy and generally tunes them up like a car engine. This model of healthcare is promoted by medical boards and colleges, medical associations, guideline writers, medical advocacy groups such as diabetes associations and pharmaceutical companies. But it is very expensive and inefficient, and of questionable value in keeping people healthy. From my personal observations as a family physician, the patients who show up at my office regularly tend to be the least healthy, while the patients who remain healthy well into their 80s and 90s are seen rarely, if at all, and are usually on minimal or no medication.

The main problem with the “doctor knows best” narrative is that it places the responsibility for staying healthy on the physician rather than the patient. This type of health care is a luxury we can barely afford even in today’s affluent, technologically advanced society, and it will not be available in a post-peak village community. Maintaining your health in the future will probably come down to just this:

Look in the mirror. Are you obese? Are you undernourished? Do you smoke? Do you drink to excess? Do you engage in risky behavior?

People know these things for themselves without needing a physician or expensive tests to tell them. Nor should they need expert help in providing themselves with clean drinking water, sanitary human waste disposal, adequate shelter and warmth, and in avoiding preventable accidents (for example, gun, fire/stove and horse/animal safety). These are probably all the preventive health care arrangements which are will be needed and, coincidentally, the only ones likely to be available.

There are numerous books available on keeping healthy—so many that it is impossible to list them all—but most of what they have to say is common sense. Eat fresh food, not too much, mostly vegetables, take regular physical exercise and don\’t spend too much time worrying about your health.

Stockpiling medications

Like beans, rice and ammunition, it makes sense to stockpile important medications during good times for use during bad times. This section is intended to give you some guidance on shelf lives of medications and on what you can stockpile and what you can\’t.

Most medications have an expiration date stamped on them. The first and most important thing to understand is that this expiration date bears little if any relationship to the length of the medication\’s effectiveness. It has more to do with limiting the manufacturer\’s liability and with maintaining stock turnover and profits by unnecessarily replacing older medications with newer ones. I am going to explain expiration dates in more detail below, but here are some important general principles:
Dry solid medications in pill, capsule or powder form have a very long life if stored in a cool, dark, dry place (like rice and beans). Many of them will outlive you.
Wet medications (solutions or suspensions) decay much more rapidly, and in this case the manufacturer\’s expiration date really is a useful guide.
If you need to store children\’s medications which are usually in syrup or suspension form, ask the pharmacist to give you the dry powder and say that you will add the water yourself (normally, the pharmacist adds the water just before dispensing).
Old medications do not decay into something dangerous: they just decay into something less effective.
For several reasons, there is little point in diabetics trying to store insulin.

These are the basics. Here are the details:

The Shelf Life Extension Program (SLEP) is a secretive US Government program which was set up to conduct research into whether pharmaceuticals which have passed their expiration date are safe and/or effective to use. Conspiracy theories aside, here is an example of an actual, non-theoretical conspiracy by certain self-interested parties to keep important information from the general public. The secrecy surrounding this program is illustrated by the following notice about SLEP which is posted on the US Army Medical Department website:

As a reminder, all testing and extension data provided to the Shelf Life Extension Program (SLEP) by the Food and Drug Administration is considered For Official Use Only and cannot be shared with anyone outside the user\’s organization. SLEP Administrators have fielded several calls recently from individuals wanting to share this information with local, civilian counterparts. That is not permissible, as it is not only a violation of the terms agreed to by the FDA but also a violation of the Memorandum of Agreement each participant organization signs prior to entering the SLEP program. SLEP website accounts of violators will immediately be terminated and inventories may be eliminated from the program, pending notification of the parent organization. Additionally, non-SLEP organizations that use SLEP information are in violation of Federal law that governs misbranded pharmaceuticals. Questions on this topic may be addressed to SLEP Administrators through the website.
SLEP Admin

When I discovered this I became curious about it. Why would the government apply such draconian penalties to disseminating what appears to be harmless information? After all, national defence and security are not threatened, government revenue is not affected, and if the research shows that certain pharmaceuticals are safe past their official expiration dates, why should this information not be allowed to enter the public domain? So I did a little reading around it and came up with the following explanation, which is part evidence and part hypothesis.

In 1985 the US government became concerned about the cost of replacing expired pharmaceuticals which had been stockpiled for civilian emergency and/or military purposes. The replacement costs in 1986 totalled $2.5 million (a large sum of money 26 years ago). Discussions took place as to how these costs might be reduced, and one suggestion was to test the products to see if they were still safe and effective to use, and if they were, to keep them instead of replacing them. Accordingly, in 1985-1986 the SLEP program was born.

However, savings and loss of profits are opposite sides of the same coin. The government was happy to save $2.5 million, but the pharmaceutical industry was no doubt unhappy to be losing the same amount in sales. The government needed the cooperation of the pharmaceutical industry to conduct the testing on the expired pharmaceuticals, and the pharmaceutical industry needed the cooperation of the government to ensure that the resulting information was restricted to as few organizations as possible, preferably only the medical procurement part of military. The last thing the pharmaceutical industry wanted was for the information to be released to, for example, civilian hospitals and pharmacies, and for them not to replace their pharmaceutical stockpiles, because not throwing away perfectly good medications would hurt their profits.

Almost certainly, there then followed several weeks or months of backroom horse-trading and saber-rattling between the government and the pharmaceutical industry, until the following deal was hammered out. The pharmaceutical industry would cooperate with the SLEP program provided the data was restricted to pharmaceutical companies and government departments. The government would enforce the restrictions by making it an offence under Federal law to disclose SLEP data to any unauthorized organization. That is the situation as it exists today.

Currently, the SLEP data exists as a database which is continually updated as new information becomes available. Access is restricted as per above, but occasionally small amounts of it leak out in the form of research papers published in scientific journals. Overall, the available evidence suggests, as stated at the start of this chapter, that most solid pharmaceuticals (capsules and tablets) are safe and effective to use long after their official expiration date provided they have been stored in cool, dark and dry conditions. The same cannot necessarily be said of liquids or of pharmaceuticals which have been stored in sub-optimal conditions. The maximum length of time for which pharmaceuticals can be kept is uncertain, but I understand that some pharmaceuticals which have been kept from the start of the SLEP program in 1986 may still be effective.

In terms of SLEP access restrictions, I have not heard of Federal law being used to enforce them, and think that it is unlikely to be used except in case of very gross violations. The US Government doesn’t really care who has access to the SLEP data, and the pharmaceutical companies probably don’t really care either as long as it doesn’t hurt their profits.

Insulin-dependent diabetics

This brings me to the special case of insulin, which Type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetics need in order to stay alive. Without it, they will slip into a coma and die within days or weeks. Insulin, like vaccines (see below), can only be manufactured in a specialized laboratory backed by the resources of a complex technological society. If the complex technological society goes away, so will the insulin.

Should diabetics therefore stockpile insulin in the event of a societal collapse? There are several problems with this. First, the vast majority of insulin is sold in liquid form. Liquids, as explained above, decay relatively quickly even under optimal storage conditions. Second, it has to be kept refrigerated. In the refrigerator, a bottle of insulin may last for up to 18 months depending on its expiration date; at room temperature it will decay much more quickly. Third, there are practical limits to the amount of insulin that can be stockpiled. Even if it were possible to store insulin for long periods (see below) it would not be practical to accumulate and store a lifetime\’s worth of insulin. If you are a 20-year-old Type 1 diabetic you might need enough insulin to keep you alive for the next 60 years.

It is possible to get insulin in dry form, although I have never encountered it in my medical practice. It is used as a reagent in some laboratory processes and can be used by diabetics as a dry powder inhaler as an alternative to insulin injections. If you find a way to obtain it, it might be possible to store it for longer periods in dry powder form than in the more usual aqueous solution or suspension form. However, this still would not overcome the other difficulties mentioned above.

Regrettably, therefore, I have come to the conclusion that it not worthwhile for insulin dependent diabetics to attempt to prepare for a societal collapse. It is prudent to have extra insulin in stock for short term emergencies such as floods, hurricanes, fuel shortages, heavy snowfalls or localized civil disorder, when you might be cut off from your normal sources of supply for a few days or weeks. But long term, we have to accept that in a societal collapse, not everyone can be saved, and the default position for most of humanity\’s existence has been that Type 1 diabetics do not survive.


Every schoolchild knows how immunization started, but in case you’ve forgotten I’ll remind you. In the 1790s in England, Edward Jenner observed that milkmaids often caught cowpox from the cows they milked, but rarely caught smallpox. Working on the theory that catching cowpox protected against smallpox, he inoculated many patients with the cowpox virus with good results. The two viruses are similar, so once the body has come into contact with the cowpox virus, it produces antibodies which are also effective against the smallpox virus. Cowpox is a mild disease, while smallpox is a much more serious disease with a high fatality rate, so it is worth while catching cowpox in order to be protected against smallpox. Inoculation with cowpox was simple: Jenner just took pus from cowpox blisters and scraped them onto the skin of uninfected patients.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Here is how a modern vaccine like the polio vaccine is made. Three wild virulent strains of polio are grown on monkey kidney tissue culture and then inactivated with formalin. Very careful quality control has to be maintained during all the steps of this process to ensure that no unwanted viruses or bacteria are grown on the tissue culture, that all the virus particles are then inactivated to avoid accidentally spreading the real disease while vaccinating, and that the vaccines are highly purified remove all unwanted chemicals and virus components to avoid causing reactions. There must be an unbroken chain of refrigerated transport and storage every step of the way from the manufacturing facility to the end user. Sterile syringes and needles are needed to administer the vaccine.

These processes can only be undertaken in the context of an advanced technological society with access to highly specialized tools and reagents and highly trained and specialized personnel. You cannot replicate any of this in your kitchen or workshop, just like you can’t make a microchip. Jenner was lucky to stumble across a “Goldilocks” virus: cowpox is not too mild, not too virulent and closely related to the target disease. His method cannot be replicated for any other disease because there isn’t an equivalent “cow-polio” or “cow-measles” virus which would produce the desired antibodies.

The bottom line is that if advanced technological society goes away, vaccines will go away too. They are all made by similar high-tech processes. Many more people will die of preventable diseases than do at present. The reason why I’ve gone into this in some detail is not because I wish to be pessimistic or defeatist, but because I feel it is important to make a realistic assessment of what can and can’t be done, and to act accordingly. The best that can be done is to pay attention to infection control and hygiene, and to get everyone vaccinated while the stocks last.

Psychological medicine

The factors which are likely to cause the most serious and widespread illness and mortality going forward are not physical but psychological. We had a sneak preview of what to expect during the Soviet collapse of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1990 Russia, along with some other former Soviet republics, experienced a sharp spike in many causes mortality and a decline in the birth rate which, coupled with mass emigration, resulted in an overall decline of the population. It went on for several years. The reasons for it are not entirely clear, but many of the deaths appear to have been alcohol-related or suicides, pointing to the important role played by psychological stress caused by social disruption, high unemployment and the “shock therapy” of widespread and often criminal privatization.

A large proportion of the population of North America (probably around 15-25%, although precise figures are unavailable) takes antidepressants, anti-anxiety and/or sleeping medications—and this is during the supposed “good times”! We can expect to see this figure increase in the coming years as more people become subjected to acute psychological stress. What causes the psychological stress? There isn’t a simple correlation between psychological stress and living standards. For example, people in present-day “poor but happy” countries such as Costa Rica, with a much lower material standard of living than we do, enjoy happy, fulfilling, purposeful lives. It’s difficult to tell whether people today are generally happier than people in the past, but judging by our antidepressant and tranquillizer intake, this seems unlikely. The main factor seems to be the direction of change in living standards rather than the absolute level. People don’t seem to like change, especially change for the worse, and especially when they are unprepared for it. If this is the case, then if we are psychologically prepared for a fall in living standards, we may respond better if and when it comes.

Right now, we are not even remotely prepared for it. We don’t even have a dialogue about it in our political or academic institutions or in the media. The mainstream narrative is that every day, in every way, things will continue to get better and better, and economic growth will continue forever. If those things do not appear to be happening any more, we either manipulate the statistics so that we can continue to tell ourselves that they are happening, or we tell ourselves that we are experiencing a temporary setback, a mere speed bump on the road to ever greater prosperity.

The village healer’s toolkit is therefore going to need some tools to relieve psychological pain, whether through counselling (perhaps working alongside a full-time counsellor) or by using herbal medicines.

Herbal medicines

My heart sinks when I open a herbal medicine textbook and read the words “Herb X was believed by aboriginal people to be a cure for illnesses A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I and J.” I know immediately that the author of the book has made no attempt to fact-check his material—he has just copied it from another source—and it is very unlikely to be true because, generally speaking, one drug (whether herbal or conventional) doesn’t cure multiple diseases. Please don’t interpret this as disrespect for aboriginal traditional knowledge. I believe we have a lot to learn from First Nations peoples. I just think that traditional knowledge, including traditional knowledge of herbal medicines, should be a starting point rather than an end point. We should certainly ask “What did aboriginal peoples use to treat this condition?” but we should then also ask “Does it actually work?”

Modern pharmaceuticals are produced using complex processes which cannot be replicated outside a specialized laboratory (see Immunization, above). If modern technological society goes away, then modern pharmaceuticals will probably also go away, and we will be forced to rely on herbal medicines as in times past. I have looked into peer reviewed research papers into the effectiveness of herbal medicines which have been published in mainstream scientific journals and have come up with the following three short lists, which are not intended to be exhaustive:

  • Herbal medicines which probably work
  • Herbal medicines which probably don’t work
  • Herbal medicines which definitely work but are illegal to produce without a government license

A few general words about herbal medicines: they are plant extracts which may contain tens to hundreds of active and inactive substances. Their potency is generally milder and more variable than pharmaceuticals because much depends on the genetic makeup of the plant, the way the plant was grown and the way the extract was obtained. In addition, there may be genetic, environmental and psychological factors in the patient which make some patients more responsive than others to some herbal medicines—but this is also the case with pharmaceuticals. Because there is less funding for research into herbal medicines than pharmaceuticals, the research tends to involve smaller numbers of patients, be less rigorously conducted and the results are less reliable. With those caveats out of the way, here are the lists:

Herbal medicines which probably work
Harpagophytum Procumbens (Devil\’s Claw) for pain relief
Salix Alba (White Willow Bark) for pain relief
Capsicum Frutescens (Cayenne) for pain relief
Berberine for Type 2 diabetes
Ipomoea batatas for Type 2 diabetes
Silybum marianum for Type 2 diabetes
Trigonella foenum-graecum for Type 2 diabetes
Kava for anxiety
St. John\’s wort for depression
Valerian for insomnia
Echinacea for common cold symptoms
Black cohosh for menopausal vasomotor symptoms
Ginseng for angina pectoris and erectile dysfunction
Garlic for hypertension
Tea tree oil for acne

Herbal medicines which probably don’t work
Colloidal silver for ulcers and wound dressings
Glucosamine for osteoarthritis
Cinnamomum cassia for Type 2 diabetes
Saw palmetto for benign prostatic hyperplasia

Herbal medicines which definitely work but are illegal to produce without a Government licence

I have devoted extra space to this category of herbal medicines because they are the most potent and effective herbal medicines and are therefore the most restricted. After all, there would be no point in restricting a placebo. Nothing in this chapter is intended to encourage people to break the law or to use herbal medicines for recreational purposes. (On the other hand, all evidence points to the fact that nothing will stop them either.) These herbal medicines which have been used for thousands of years, and have only been made illegal in the comparatively recent past—the last century or so. They include pure alcohol (ethanol), opium and marijuana.

Governments tend to be quick at making restrictive laws but not so good at repealing them once they are no longer appropriate. For example, when the Western Roman Empire collapsed in the 5th century, most of the Roman laws remained theoretically in effect even though there weren\’t any Roman officials left around to either enforce or repeal them (the Visigoths saw to that). What this means for our society is that as our energy supply contracts and our society spontaneously decomplexifies, a large number of laws will remain on the statute books but will be enforced with decreasing frequency. Some may never be formally repealed. A non-contentious example of this might be the common prohibition on drying clothes on clothes lines. People have been doing this ever since they started wearing clothes about 100,000 years ago, but in modern industrial society there are tens of thousands of local jurisdictions which have banned the use of clothes lines for esthetic reasons. If there is a widespread and prolonged electric grid outage, people will very quickly go back to using clothes lines, but the silly laws will remain on the statute books for many years, perhaps forever, because people will have more urgent matters to deal with than repealing irrelevant legislation. We can expect to see a similar situation arising with regard to some herbal medicines which are currently illegal. Practitioners of herbal medicine should therefore use their judgment to decide whether and when to use this category of herbal preparations.


Opium has been used for pain relief for millennia. The poppy plant was cultivated in ancient Persia, Egypt and Mesopotamia. The main active ingredient in opium is morphine, which was first isolated in 1804. Morphine is on the World Health Organization\’s List of Essential Medicines. It became a controlled substance in the US in 1914.

Opium is the dried latex obtained from the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). There are several varieties of poppy but only this variety produces significant amounts of opium. Seeds can be bought by mail order from specialist suppliers, from garden centres (as ornamental poppies) or shaken out of dried poppies from a craft store. Once the poppy plants have grown and flowered, the opium is harvested by making vertical cuts in the immature seed heads. A brown resin oozes out and can be scraped off after a few hours. The opium can be smoked, eaten, drunk as tea or given in suppository form.

Opioids today are widely abused by addicts and traded on the black market. They include morphine, diamorphine (heroin), oxycodone and hydromorphone (Dilaudid). All are chemically related to opium. So, in a societal collapse, what will happen to the addicts? Nobody knows for sure, but my guess is that some of them will be forced to go without for periods of time, but that the problem of opioid addiction will not disappear, since no previous societal collapse has produced such a result.

In order to survive as an opioid addict, you need a society which is willing to support you and your habit. Some opioid addicts hold down jobs and contribute to society; most don\’t, and depend on welfare payments and doctors handing out free prescriptions. If the welfare payments and free prescriptions go away, the opioid addiction will not spontaneously vanish with them, and some other way will be found to continue feeding the habit. Withdrawal symptoms from opioids can be quite uncomfortable uncomfortable but are rarely dangerous—rather like having flu for two or three weeks—but few addicts will quit voluntarily. While most addicts will not have the skill or patience to cultivate their own opium poppy crops, the vast underground economy which invariably materializes in the course of a societal collapse will no doubt provide it for them.

[Further reading: Opium for the Masses by Jim Hogshire]


In Canada, until the law was changed recently, licensed medicinal uses of marijuana included severe arthritis, HIV/AIDS, terminal cancer, spinal cord disease and multiple sclerosis. The medical licensing requirements for marijuana vary from one country to another.

Hemp fibre has been used to make ropes and clothing for thousands of years. The first recorded evidence of medical marijuana use appeared over 4,700 years ago in the pharmacopoeia of Shen Nung, one of the fathers of Chinese medicine. In the 1800s marijuana preparations were widely used in many proprietory medicines. In the early part of the 20th century, legislation was passed in many countries making the use of marijuana illegal, even for medicinal purposes. This roughly coincided with similar prohibitions on the use of alcohol in some jurisdictions, particularly the United States. The alcohol prohibition laws were lifted after a relatively short time; the marijuana prohibition laws generally remain in place.

The growing and harvesting of marijuana plants is quite simple—the plant is a hardy weed—although achieving superior potency is something of an art. The plant is thought to have originated in India. It thrives best in hot, dry climates but it can be grown in most places in the world. Contemporary books on marijuana growing tend to emphasize indoor growing under artificial light, but in a post-collapse scenario this would probably not be relevant as outdoor and greenhouse growing would be the only option, with the likelihood of prosecution growing increasingly low. The flowering tops of the female plant contain the highest concentrations of resin and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main active ingredient.

[Further reading: The Cannabis Grow Bible by Greg Green is a 429 page volume which contains all you need to know. It is available at multiple places on the Internet.]


Useful for disinfection of skin and wounds by topical application. Historically, it has also been given orally to patients before painful procedures such as amputations. For example, during the Napoleonic wars, officers were given rum or brandy before an amputation, while enlisted men were given a piece of wood to bite down on. However, I really wouldn\’t recommend it for this purpose. It is unlikely to be effective for pain relief except in doses so high that it would endanger the patient\’s life. Vomiting and aspiration of vomit are significant side effects. A safer and more effective choice for pain relief would be opium.

The first recorded instance of distillation of alcohol was by Arabian alchemists around 700 AD, but distillation had probably been performed in Arabia and Egypt much earlier. Distillation was made subject to registration of stills and payment of taxes in the 1790s in the USA, and in most other jurisdictions at around the same time. Failure to comply with these requirements after this date constituted a criminal offence.

Construction and operation of an ethanol still is a traditional art practiced in many parts of the world. The basic principles are as follows: vegetable material such as potatoes, corn or fruit is fermented using yeast (the “mash”) and ethanol is produced as a byproduct of the fermentation process. In order to separate and purify the ethanol, the mash is heated to just above the boiling point of the ethanol, at 173.1°F or 78.37°C. The ethanol vapor rises into a tube, is cooled and turned back into a liquid by means of a condenser and drips down into a second container.

There is a widespread belief that drinking homemade liquor from illicit stills may lead to death or blindness from methanol poisoning. Examples of this can be found in the media (“Homemade liquor kills 48”, Associated Press, 8 July 2009), PubMed (“Serious methanol poisoning from home brewed alcohol”, Crit Care Resusc, March 2012) and popular fiction (“Invasion,” Foyle\’s War British TV detective drama, Series 4 Episode 1). Surprisingly, the idea that home distilled ethanol can cause widespread accidental methanol poisoning appears to be a myth. Home distilled liquor (variously called “hooch”, “moonshine” or “poteen” depending on the country) is produced using a fermentation process. In this process, traces of methanol are produced along with ethanol, but the quantity of methanol is generally too small to be harmful. Methanol also occurs naturally in trace quantities in beer and wine.

Methanol, also known as wood alcohol, is produced in industrial quantities by completely different techniques such as catalytic processes acting on coal or natural gas, or the destructive distillation of wood. It is not produced by fermentation. It is true that methanol is a potent neurotoxin and can cause death, blindness and other neurological effects. There are numerous case reports of methanol poisoning on PubMed and it is a serious public health problem in some parts of the world, particularly India and Indonesia. However, as far as I can establish, all cases of methanol poisoning have resulted from the deliberate adulteration of fermented liquor with industrial methanol. Ethanol produced for automobile fuel is often deliberately adulterated with methanol to discourage people from drinking it.

The only theoretical way in which you could get methanol poisoning from an ethanol still would be to save up and drink together the first few drops of distillate from multiple distillation batches. This contains the naturally occurring methanol mentioned above, but in a high concentration, because methanol is more volatile than ethanol and evaporates first. The first few drops from the distillation process should therefore always be discarded. A good technique is to bring the still up to the boiling point of methanol (148.5°F or 64.7°C) for a period of time, discard the distillate, then bring it up to 173.1°F or 78.37°C to distill ethanol.

There are many good books about small scale ethanol distillation available for free download on the internet, but one which I found particularly readable was Making Pure Corn Whiskey – A Professional Guide For Amateur and Micro Distillers by Ian Smiley. [For a quick and easy method, search for “Grandpa Orlov\’s Vodka Recipe.”]


There are many different types of surgery which a village healer might be expected to perform, from minor surgery such as digging out thorns and splinters to major surgery such as amputation, appendectomy or Caesarean section. The former is within most people\’s comfort zone, the latter probably not so much. I am going to talk about amputation, not because you will be doing it often, but because it illustrates some important points about post-collapse village medicine.

When might you need to perform an amputation? Most people would probably think first about crush injuries, gunshot wounds and bomb blasts, and indeed, these are all situations when an amputation might be necessary. The average person would probably not immediately think of diabetes, and yet this very common disease will probably account for the largest number of amputations going forward into the next few decades of the Long Emergency.

Diabetes is the most common reason for lower limb amputation today. One third of all foot amputations are performed on diabetics with foot wounds or ulcers. The reason why so many diabetics need amputations is because high circulating blood sugar levels over many years cause damage to the interior of blood vessels, making them them narrower and less efficient at delivering blood and oxygen to where they are needed. As the condition progresses, the flow of blood and oxygen drops below critical levels, at which point the tissue dies.

Let\’s look at a few statistics (from American Diabetes Association) and try to project them into the future.
Percentage of the population with diabetes: 10%
Size of US population: 313 million
About 65,700 nontraumatic lower-limb amputations are performed in people with diabetes annually (180/day)

Therefore, the number of diabetic amputations per head of total population per year is 0.0002. This might seem a small number. But suppose you are a village healer looking after 500 people in fairly isolated conditions for 40 years. The number of diabetic amputations likely to be needed in your community during your working lifetime is four. But then the future years are unlikely to resemble the past years. If modern pharmaceuticals become unavailable, we will have a large number of untreated diabetics developing complications much faster than they would have previously. The numbers are difficult to estimate, but let\’s say that the number of amputations needed may increase five-fold. Then, instead of looking at just four amputations in a working lifetime, you may now be looking at 20 amputations—one every couple of years. Whatever the exact numbers may turn out to be, there will be a significant number of these procedures needed.

Ideally you will be able to refer your diabetics to a surgeon at a hospital who has the necessary expertise and materials to perform these procedures. If this is not possible due to lack of funds, lack of transport fuels, lack of available personnel or some other reason, there are only two options: the patient slowly dies as the dead tissue putrefies and leaks toxins and bacteria into the bloodstream, or you perform the amputation yourself. Here is a quick guide to the general principles of performing an amputation under austere conditions.

Try to make the patient as comfortable as possible. A glass of whiskey and a piece of wood to bite on are helpful, but we should be able to do better than this. A good dose of opium will not be as good as a modern general anesthetic but will be better than the brandy or the piece of wood. Give enough to relieve pain, but not so much as to suppress respiration (an important side effect). Strap the patient down securely, because most people react badly to having their limbs sawn off.

Choose the level at which to perform the amputation. The aim is to remove both dead and compromised tissue. The latter, although not dead, has a poor blood supply and is unlikely to heal. If you try to be too kind to the patient and perform too low an amputation, the stump may not heal, necessitating a re-amputation at a higher level. You need to cut back to healthy tissue.

Tell the patient what you are going to do, why you have to do it, and the risks of either undergoing, or not undergoing, the procedure. This is called “informed consent.” Not undergoing the procedure means almost certain death; undergoing the procedure still carries about a 25% risk of death (American Civil War statistics). If they do not give consent, do not operate.

Maintain conditions as close to sterile as you reasonably can. Wash your hands, the limb to be amputated and all surgical instruments in hot soapy water, then swab them with ethanol. Use sterile gloves. Use a bone saw, but if you don\’t have one, any fine-toothed saw will do. Make sure that it is both clean and sharp. You will also need a scalpel or a very sharp knife, some suture material (sterilized fishing line), a piece of tubing to act as a drain, and lots of clean towels.

Think about what end result you are trying to achieve. You want the end of the bone to be covered by a reasonably thick layer of skin, muscle and fatty tissue. You can\’t just cut the limb off square as though it were a piece of timber: you have to cut the bone an inch or so shorter than the surrounding tissue, smooth off the end so it doesn\’t have any sharp or jagged edges, then close the soft tissues over the top of it. Tie off bleeding blood vessels as you go.

Place a tube in the operation field as you close up to drain blood and infected materials away. You don\’t want them building up in the end of the stump because this will lead to infection. The tube will be removed in a few days once the wound has stopped oozing. Suture the soft tissues together over the end of the bone to make a rounded stump.

After the operation, change dressings regularly, watch for signs of infection (fever, redness or swelling around the operation site, drainage of pus). If any of these signs occur, start antibiotics if available.

This concludes the section on surgery. There are many other surgical procedures which may be needed in a post-collapse village medicine scenario. Cesarian sections and appendectomies, for example, are not too difficult to perform (not really any more difficult than an amputation) and may be equally life-saving. The description of amputation is intended to illustrate some important lessons about post-collapse community surgery including:

It is possible to do simple surgery successfully and humanely, even in the absence of a complex technologically based society If preventive medicine (e.g. drugs to control diabetes) goes away, then rescue medicine (e.g. amputation) is likely to be needed more often

Some types of surgery may be outside the comfort zone of both the person performing the surgery, and the patient, but if the patient is almost certainly going to die without it, then neither of you have much to lose by trying

Some herbal medicines (opium, ethanol) can be a great help and should be stockpiled well ahead of the time when they may be needed

Surgery: suggestions for further reading

These materials can mostly be downloaded free of charge from the Internet. I suggest you do this now, rather than waiting until later, because the Internet isn\’t going to be around forever and you need to have local copies available.
Where there is no doctor by David Werner
Where there is no dentist by Murray Dickson
Surgery for victims of war (International Committee of the Red Cross)
Surgical Care at the District Hospital (World Health Organization)
The Survival Medicine Handbook by Joseph Alton
Giving Birth In Place (American College of Nurse-Midwives)
The Occasional Vaginal Delivery by Katherine Miller

Making difficult choices

In today\’s society, most of the choices we make are fairly inconsequential. Should I buy an SUV or a Prius? Should I order chicken wings or a hamburger? Should I watch the news or the sports? None of these are life-or-death decisions.

In contrast, many of the choices we make in the future may be much more significant. I have given one example above: Should I allow an untrained person to amputate my gangrenous leg without a general anesthetic, or should I succumb to gangrene? Other possible choices may include: Should I submit to the authority of the local warlord, even though he wasn\’t elected, or should I die for my high principles? Should I encourage my children join the military in order to battle to the death for access to ever-dwindling fossil fuel resources, or should I prepare for life without fossil fuels? Should I kill other people in order to survive a bit longer, or should I sacrifice my own life so that others may live? There are no clear right or wrong answers to any of these: the answer is always “It depends.” These are the kind of choices which our ancestors had to face, and which we will no doubt have to face again. The era we are entering into has been called “the Age of Limits.” It might as well also be called “the Age of Difficult Choices.” Good luck.

People on the move

Generic Refugee Photo

As nation-states topple into the defunct bin at an ever-increasing rate (the nation-state will be extinct in just a couple of decades if the current trend continues) the world is awash in refugees, displaced persons, asylum-seekers and immigrants, illegal and otherwise. They number somewhere around 50 million, and around half of them are children.
Much of this year\’s surge in their numbers represents the continuing work-out of the developing geopolitical fiascos in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Somalia. But earlier this year, a new gusher opened up: Russia is currently playing host to over 100,000 people from Ukraine, who are fleeing artillery bombardment and death squads organized by America\’s puppet regime in Kiev. But that\’s nothing compared to the 7 million or so Mexicans and 3 million or so Central Americans who have flooded into the US. The Central Americans are mainly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Now, look at this list of countries (sorted alphabetically for your convenience):

  • Afghanistan
  • El Salvador 
  • Guatemala 
  • Honduras 
  • Iraq 
  • Mexico 
  • Somalia 
  • Syria 
  • Ukraine
Can you spot the commonality? I can: these are all countries that were invaded, sanctioned, exploited, or otherwise heavily messed with by none other than the United States. Afghanistan and Iraq are, as I discussed here previously, poster children for US foreign policy failure, closely followed by Syria, where US efforts at regime change have succeeded in wrecking Syria, and now appear to be causing a dismemberment of Iraq, care of a US-trained, US-armed group of fundamentalist troglodytes that go by the name of ISIS. Mexico fell victim to the US war on drugs. The ways in which Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have been undermined and exploited by US policies run the gamut from arming and training death squads to sending in missionaries that preach against birth control.

Americans are generally unconcerned about the plight of these people. They only start getting upset about the situation when the people their government has dispossessed and evicted from their homes show up and start demanding public services. Then their typical reaction is to demand “emigration reform,” by which they mean locking down the borders and tossing the refugees out.

Most Americans seem quite incapable of making the simple connection between destroying somebody\’s house and having that somebody then move in to share yours. For those who are struggling with processing this idea, there are some helpful sayings, such as “What comes around goes around” and “Don\’t dish it out if you can\’t take it.” The plan of locking down the border isn\’t working too well, for one simple reason: it can\’t start with locking refugees out; in order to work, it has to start with locking Americans in—not the tourists or the expats, but definitely the State Department staffers, the NGOs, the CIA spooks, the rapacious American businessmen and, last but not least, the US military. I am sure that there would be no international refugee crisis if only all these categories of people were safely stored in a cool dry place on US territory. But once these people have been let out into the world to do their thing out there, the inevitable result is a global refugee crisis. With Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria it is possible to shunt the refugee flow to other unlucky lands—Pakistan, Turkey, Iran and Jordan are now playing host to more than their fair share of them—but with it comes to the unlucky nations south of the border, resistance is futile. To date, all efforts to keep the out the Mexicans, the Guatemalans, the Salvadorans and the Hondurans have failed.

When questioned about their reasons for coming over, the Central American refugees often cite crime (Guatemala City is a gangland disaster area), lack of opportunity (all the good land has been snapped up by export farms) and poverty. After they are questioned, some of them are extradited: there are regular charter flights going from the US to these entral American countries, coming back empty. The current surge of Central Americans coming into the US is interesting: not only are their numbers way up, but a lot of the people pouring in are children! This creates many headaches for the officials charged with stemming the flow. First of all, it is deemed unseemly to horribly mistreat children, no matter what the situation; the public seems all in favor of shabby treatment of the “illegals,” but if they are children, then there is some residual sense of shame or a faint echo of human decency in the general population that has to be reckoned with. Secondly, extraditing a minor involves finding a parent or guardian in a foreign country: quite a trick, that! What that all means is that this is a very, very expensive proposition.

This influx of people, children included, is best viewed as part of a conflict—a territorial conflict, in which people whose land your government took away from them then decide that therefore your land now belongs to them. And when looking at a conflict and trying to predict how it will end, it is helpful to look for asymmetries: which side has to pay how much for what. So, for instance, in Eastern Ukraine, we have the US-installed Ukie Nazi junta, which is spending money it doesn\’t have to train, arm and equip conscripts that are utterly demoralized and surrender at the drop of a hat, while on the side of the so-called “pro-Russian separatists” (who are actually Russian, not just pro-, and not separatists but federalists) you have a highly motivated all-volunteer force armed and equipped free of charge, care of the hapless Ukies (who keep abandoning their weapons). Or look at Syria/Iraq (or, shall we now say, the Levant?) where the hapless Iraqis just had to buy a few used Russian military jets (because the American ones aren\’t any good) to try to defend Baghdad against ISIS, whereas ISIS parades around in American Humvees they outright stole from the Iraqis while brandishing American weapons which they got, you guessed it, care of the Obama administration. You see, when one side in a conflict has it much easier than the other, you need to take that into account when trying to predict the outcome.

Which is what makes the question of illegal immigrant children flooding into the US so interesting: here, the asymmetry is absolutely huge. Consider an average Guatemalan woman, living in the Mayan highlands on $1,500 a year, surviving on beans and corn. She can still pop out half a dozen children. Brought into the US, each of these children would cost at least $30,000 to repatriate. Recently, the Obama regime has budgeted $1.5 billion to repatriate the 50,000 children that have shown up during the last eight months; those are the numbers that have been published, but I am sure that the real costs, all included, are much higher. And so a Guatemalan kid that cost her mother maybe $1000 to raise costs the US government in excess of $30,000 for what amounts to a nice field trip. Brilliant!

If any of this bothers you, then there isn\’t much you can do about it. Chances are, some possibly very nice people from a country your government and business elite had conspired to destroy will come to live with you. They probably won\’t even bother to learn English because, you see, the US wasn\’t their first choice for a place to live; their country was—but they can\’t live there because you failed to keep your psychopaths in check. Losers can\’t be choosers, so just make peace with them the best way you can. Because what else are you going to do? Fly to Syria and declare yourself a “pro-American separatist”? Because if you do that, then those nice ISIS militants, whom your tax money helped arm and train, will—quite literally—crucify you.