Life and Death and One Second After

It’s been not the best summer in my Louisville. Most people I know in this town are associated with Bellarmine, and in the summer I don’t see them as often. I don’t receive as much invigorating interaction with students. It’s lonely. The pressure of the PhD increases daily. Furthermore, I’m having trouble working because I have an ear infection this week. (That’s why there are three posts in 10 days.) Completely clogged I am, so sleeping is tough, and I can’t research in Chicago. I don’t trust my hearing to drive long distance.

Things could be much worse, nevertheless. For instance, I read a post last week that was both seriously loving and seriously painful. Here it is. It’s from the wife of the Survivalblog founder, and it begins thusly:

I am in a very unusual situation. I’m in my mid-40s, but I’m dying. My doctors have told me that I have less than two months to live. So I have been working on my “bucket list.” One of the items therein is finding a new wife for my husband, to marry after I go to be with the Lord.

What a tough choice, eh? I’ve been thinking about that post since I’ve seen it. One small response, well, isn’t envy, but I wish someone would care enough about me to write an ad for someone “sincerely seeking a life-long commitment with a loving husband”. Plus, I would need enough daily page views to get responses. has fewer visits in a year than has in a day. Despite my hosting company, the very competent Lunarpages, offering $25 in Facebook ad credits, and $25 in Google adwords credits, I think I’d need a bit more notoriety.

Fortunately, most of my thoughts have not been so narcissistic. I pray a lot for them, as I do for couples in trouble. I wish them well.

Because I’ll be flying a lot this month of August, including my first other continent, I’ve also been checking out flyer information forums. At flyertalk, travelers demand upgrades out of coach. “Friends don’t let friends fly coach,” one says. One thread is “New meaning to battlefield upgrades”. They’re wrong, of course. I’m not looking forward to so much time in a small seat, but that’s not This plane is a battlefield upgrade, part of this well written sad tale. I’m crying not just because it might help clear my Eustachian tube.

Then, I can make two clicks on the site and reach pictures of curvy Christina Hendricks. What a strange thing, this Internet.

A strange thing, indeed. Saturday morning I was walking to the bank to pick up my rand for the trip, a little annoyed because I got charged about 10%, worse than the fee at most currency exchanges. I’ll know better next time. Anyway, my path takes me by a church; people were walking out and the bells were ringing. Saturday morning meant wedding or funeral, most likely funeral. Then I saw the hearse. On the way back, the procession headed to the cemetery. I realized that I could figure out who I was silent praying for, via the Internet. William Meredith Pierce it was. 83 years old, married 58 years, a healthcare administrator he was.

And I remembered that I have to write my will before I head to South Africa.

Today’s book review sort of continues the summer theme of harsh choices (previously including World’s Most Dangerous Places, Patriots, and the Great Influenza). For once, I’m in line with Hollywood, I guess. Right now you can even Choose Your Own Apocalypse.

The book is One Second After, a novel about survival after an EMP attack. The main author is history professor Bill Forstchen. If you’re worried about the other name on the front cover, it’s not so bad. Yes, I know that Dr. Newt Gingrich is sorely misguided, a so-called champion of conservative values despite divorcing twice and carrying on an affair while attacking President Clinton. Apparently, he was this year received into my Catholic Church despite the divorces, affairs, and other nasty stuff. I’d like to believe in transformative power, but then again there are plenty other evil elements in the Church.

That said, it’s alright because Dr. Gingrich wrote just the forward, not the whole book. Main author Dr. Forstchen is a widower, I think.

As for the book, there are a lot of good points. Because the author writes about the area where he lives, including the college where he teaches, geographic detail is excellent. Black Mountain, North Carolina reads like a place I can see. The people, which I suspect are fictionalized real folk, also have interesting qualities. They might show their emotions heavily, bringing up old grudges too quickly, but they distinguish themselves easily. Things seem fun for a bit, then get nastier and nastier. The people are interesting, enough to get me to read the book in one four hour sitting. That’s rare, and makes the book well worth a 3 out of 5. It’s not for everyone, and has a couple flaws, but for horror, survival, or alternate fiction fans, I would recommend it.

Let’s discuss the issues that made me think, EMP and choices. The book assumes a very strong EMP effect. To explain, EMP stands for Electromagnetic pulse. A nuclear device detonated at the right low space height will release a very strong wave of electromagnetic radiation. High voltages passing through the atmosphere will cause electrical equipment to burn out, including power stations and transformers. Is this a real threat? YES! As part of a nuclear test in 1962 called Starfish Prime, a US bomb caused streetlights to fail and other electrical damage in Hawaii, 900 miles away. A different test damaged early communications satellite Telstar 1, and the Soviets also had internal results. Countries built simulators. There’s a government EMP Commission and there was a hearing in 2008.

The problem is knowing exactly how much damage would be dealt by an attack, and at what distance. Unclassified estimates vary widely; I suspect the good stuff is under wraps. In the book, Dr. Forstchen assumes very severe results. Basically everything with computers and electrics is broken, including almost all post-1970 cars and communications equipment. This adds to the desperation of the tale. Unfortunately, it detracts from the plausibility. For instance, there are standards for emergency buildings. The metal shells of cars and buses provide decent cage protection. Even a metal file cabinet is a potential Faraday Cage that might deflect some of the pulse. Don’t get me wrong here. Lots of damage will occur. Long distance power lines are in serious peril. Phones might survive, but the transmission towers will likely be burnt. Things will be a terrible mess. However, the book’s catastrophic mess requires a failure of all communication, including radios and military preparation. That’s a bit much, and a weakness of the text.

The positive counterweight, though, is that the author follows through on consequences. Even in a more moderate scenario, electricity remains unavailable for weeks to months as lines get replaced. People that rely on refrigeration, like those with insulin, will have issues. Phone service does not exist. While the satellites still circle the Earth, we have trouble communicating through them. Things will change. Food delivery will be spotty. Things will change. Cities will have serious trouble. New York and Chicago and Louisville do not exist at this size without transport and electricity. Lots of people would die.

As things fall apart, choices have to be made. Who can enter a community? Who gets fed? How much? It seems strange in a land where we consider taxing soda pop to fight obesity. Yet only 70 years ago, food was not secure. It wouldn’t take long. What about justice?

These are tough questions, and I appreciate how the book ponders these issues. In that way, it’s better than the classic Alas Babylon which has less struggle with government. Things just happened in the 50s; this text has much for political scientists. It’s not easy to read the Day 10 food discussion, or the riots, or the need for communication, or how things degrade. In a year, 80 percent of the town dies. And, as the last chapter points out, that’s not bad. To many people now, when drowned cats merit a big story, this is shocking. For me, it’s not, but if you do fall into the shocked category, you need this more.

It’s dealing with the sadness of life and death, starting one second after.

About Adam

My quest is a world where calling someone "virtuous like a fairy tale hero" is routine, not fantastic or ironic. My vocation is the teaching and learning of statistics. My dream is a long happy life with a wonderful wife and kids. Who knows if any will become true? More information is at my homepage on the twelvefruits network:
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One Response to Life and Death and One Second After

  1. Nick Searcy says:

    Does anybody know if they have a youtube channel? I guess it would be nice to see some videos.

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