Extermoonate!

Around 1990, I worked alongside some scientists who studied methane emissions from ruminants, particularly (but not exclusively) cows. I wasn’t directly involved, I was working on probiotics for pigs, but we are talking the same scientific group.

Their aim was to reduce methane emissions from cows, in the name of global warming, because otherwise we’d all be dead by 2000. Must have worked then, eh?

Nope. Not at all. The meddling kept getting funded but the cows farted and belched unhindered. My suggestion of adding a spark plug at either end to burn off emissions and simultaneously create double-ended dragons or self-cooking steaks was scoffed at. No imagination, those scientists.

Besides, the methane and CO2 belched and farted out of cows is as nothing compared to what comes out of mud flats, wetland, bogs, marshes, swamps… and when a subsea methane clathrate collapses, the cows become utterly irrelevant for that whole year. Sometimes you even get to see swamp methane as will-o-the-wisps when a bit of naturally-produced phosphine sets it off. Worrying about cow farts was, and still is, pointless but if you throw money at scientists they will find a way to use it.

To be fair, these days they have to accept funding. Their jobs depend on it. The days of pure research are gone and I count myself lucky to have been part of them. Now, you have to have a commercially viable aim for a project. Research for pure interest, and the inventions that came as byproducts of that, are gone for good.

Well, after a few decades of failing to stop cows farting (plugging the holes just makes them inflate and float away) the only solution left is the one that was obvious all along. In the name of conservation, in the name of ending animal cruelty, the plan is… kill all the cows.

The Amazing Occasional Cortex’s ‘Green New Deal’ is neither green nor new. There have been decades of research into stopping cows farting and belching methane and nothing has worked. Even if it did, all those wild ruminants would fill the void very quickly. So we’d have to kill all of them too.

If we do, their niche will be filled by other species and since most animals produce methane to some extent, and all of them produce CO2, the only way to save life on the planet is to exterminate all life on the planet.

Including insects and microbes. They represent an enormous biomass and they all produce CO2. They all have to go if we are to truly reduce CO2 emissions because shutting a few power plants is going to make no difference at all overall.

Makes sense? Has any of the ‘progressive’ claptrap ever made any sense?

No, it makes no sense. In the 70s we were heading into a global ice age due to rising CO2, then we were heading into a planet with a runaway greenhouse effect like Venus because of rising CO2, now we have ‘climate change’ because of rising CO2 so they can claim a win either way.

And they have an army of acolytes hanging on every word. Believe! Listen to our High Preists with their white coats and hockey sticks! Live as we direct or the Green God will smite thee! The End is Nigh!

I have tried to point out to these people that this is the basis of every major religion on the planet and that they are members of the Church of Climatology. Do they listen? Of course not. Who would willingly deny their own religion?

Now, the Occasional Cortex says we have twelve years to kill all the cows and abandon all technology. All those advances, all those innovations, must be discarded. Yes, she tweets this from an iPhone while drinking Starbucks and checking the time on a posh watch. And to think, people say Americans don’t understand irony.

Is that what happened to those who built the ancient structures we don’t know how to build now? Did they fall for the same scam? Did they abandon their technology because of farting cows and destroy all records of their inventions to make the world a safer place to bang rocks together and collect berries?

There are so many ruins under the Amazon forest that it is becoming clear that it’s not an ancient forest at all. It’s a runaway weed patch. The ‘lungs of the planet’ are not a discrete organ all in one place. It includes that lawn outside your window, the weeds growing in hte cracks in the pavement, the algae around your windows after a wet season. All of it is absorbing CO2 because all of it needs CO2 to live.

We are all to become vegetarian to save the planet by eating its lungs. Isn’t that a fun image? Well it can’t work. Those grasslands the cattle graze on are not used for crops because those areas are only good enough to grow grass. You can’t plough a field when the bedrock is six inches down but grass will grow there and cows will turn that into something you can eat. Vegetarianism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

There will be climate change, there always has been and always will be, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Not a thing. You adapt to it or you die. Nature doesn’t give a damn either way. If the human race is eradicated, another species will take our place. Just like the cows.

If you want to worry about humanity getting wiped out, you’d do better to worry about what’s currently happening between India and Pakistan than worry about half a degree of temperature change or a millimetre rise in sea levels. But hey, if that’s what floats your boat…

This planet has gone through changes that have put cities under the sea and the sea bed at the tops of mountains and humans have never, and will never, have any control over any of it. If the planet decides to have an earthquake or a tsunami or a volcano, the best you can hope for is getting enough warning to get out of the way. You cannot control this.

That is the part that the control freaks really cannot stand. We have absolutely no control over nature. None at all. So they have to pretend we do. They pretend we are ‘causing an ice age’ or ‘causing global warming’ or ‘causing climate change’ because they cannot stand not being in control. I’m surprised they haven’t blamed dinosaur farts for deflecting an asteroid so it crashed into Earth and killed them all.

We really don’t have hat much effect on the planet. Sure, we had cities with smog and some places still do but that’s a local effect. Not a global one. Cleaning up our cities to get rid of the smog is a Good Thing but really, only for ourselves. The planet does not care.

If we managed to get this planet to a state where we cannot live on it any more, nature will not care. It will replace us with species that can live on it in its new state and carry on going around the sun as usual.

Taxation will not affect that one jot. What does the rock we stand on care about our money? What does any other species on the planet care about it? Hell, there are whole populations of humans who don’t care about it.

Going back to living in huts made of dung and working dawn to dusk on subsistence farming is not going to make the slightest difference to climate change. It will only affect our ability to cope with it.

We really are not Gods. We do not control the weather and we have absolutely no control whatsoever over the planet. We are hairless monkeys with fancy toys and smugness and that is it.

The planet doesn’t care if we wipe out our species with our own self-importance. The loss of a species is nothing to Nature.

It can simply make another one.

Endgame

The Amazing Occasional Cortex is the best thing to happen to American politics. Her entertainment value trumps even Trump. I hear the senior Democrats plan to get rid of her ASAP because she’s too dim even for a career in politics. And she’s giving away the game.

She’s also quite pretty when she’s not doing the bulging eyes and catfish mouth thing. Dimmer than a five watt light bulb, even so.

I once bought a five watt (tungsten filament) light bulb when I was a student. I put it in the central light in the room I occupied. I swear the place got darker when I turned it on. The gloom level it gave was most delightful.

Occasional Cortex has rediscovered something science was bilking money for back in the 1990s. An impossible project with just enough hints of vague promise to keep the funds flowing. I wasn’t working on it but I was there.

I’ll try to keep to layman’s terms and not don the lecturer cap here. At that time I had just switched from working with ruminants to working with pigs. It was the time I developed the artificial pig gut so I could experiment without messy animals getting in the way. I still have its final incarnation, it’s in pieces in the garage. I doubt I’ll ever run it again though.

Anyway. A ruminant (cows, sheep, goats etc) has four stomachs. The last of these is a proper stomach like we non-ruminants have. Number 3 is for the lecture hall, I won’t bore you with it here. The first two are usually pretty much combined into one big fermenting bag. It doesn’t digest anything from the animal’s point of view but it digests things animals can’t digest. Namely, grass and other plant materials that would pass straight through us undigested.

They do this because the rumen, that big bag, is loaded with a massive population of bacteria and protozoa. My PhD was on the rumen protozoa, mainly Dasytricha and Isotricha, incidentally. Also, while I was doing my PhD, someone else discovered that the rumen was home to the only anaerobic filamentous fungi known at that time.

Back to the point. The thing about that rumen is that it is almost, (but not quite) totally lacking in oxygen. It is the perfect place for methane-producing bacteria to thrive and they do. Big time. You think you fart a bit of methane? Pfft. If dragons were ever real, they were cows with spark plugs in their noses.

So, in the 1990s, there was much funding available for reducing methane production by cattle. It can’t be done, of course. Mess with that microflora and you’ll show a result but when you stop meddling, it just goes back to its natural balance. Keep meddling and the cow gets sick.

The thing about ruminants is that they don’t have a single essential amino acid requirement in their diet. The bacteria and protozoa in the rumen make them all from grass and the cow digests the bacteria and protozoa later. You can, it is true, feed a cow urine-soaked newspaper and it will survive. Carbon source, nitrogen source, its rumen microbes will produce all it needs. However, it needs that microbial population in balance. If it goes out of kilter the animal can get lactic acidosis or bloat, both of which can be terminal.

I did have some fun back in those days. I had found methane-oxidising bacteria in pig guts. Yes, I was pressured in a most unfriendly way into handing those results to the cow meddlers and I put up just enough resistance to let them think I cared. Pig guts (like human guts) have way more oxygen than a rumen, relatively, but it’s still not much. Those methane oxidisers, which require oxygen, were growing incredibly slowly and having no discernible effect on the pig’s methane production. They had no chance in the rumen but it was fun to watch them try.

Later I ‘leaked’ ammonia oxidising bacteria to the same group. They are real, but again, they aren’t doing much in a low oxygen environment.

The only way to reduce the global production of methane by cows is to… kill all the cows. This is obvious and has been from the beginning. It will make no difference unless you kill all the wildebeest and deer and rhinos and antelopes and moose and reindeer and every other herbivorous animal on the planet. Oh, and you have to drain all swamps and estuarine sediment areas too. But reducing methane was never the point.

It’s incredibly silly anyway. Cows can live on grass, we cannot. Huge areas of land won’t grow anything but grass. Turn them into croplands and without many, many tons of artificial fertlisers they will grow… only grass. You grow meat animals or nothing at all on those lands.

The point was, as Occasional Cortex makes clear to even the dimmest of voters now, to stop you lot eating meat. It was to make you drain away your energies on tofu and beans. That’s going to reduce methane production? Really?

Man made climate change is a load of cobblers. We all know it, even those who promote it know it. If Al Gore really believed it he wouldn’t live in a mansion that lights up like a planetary Christmas tree. None of them really believe it. It’s just part of the plan.

The sun is entering a Maunder minimum and real science has known this was coming all along. They were scared to say anything because denying the ‘man made’ part is a career ender. Even those who tried to warn everyone always qualified it with ‘but man made global warming will continue afterwards’.

No it won’t. Most of you will be dead afterwards. Why do you think they are so keen to move people out of the future nature reserve called Africa and send them North? A Maunder minimum will kill them even faster than it will kill us. People adapted to tropical climates are not going to last long when the glaciers start to roll again.

It’s happening faster than real science expected. Sunspot activity is dropping sooner than expected. You don’t have 20 years before it hits, it’s already started. That polar vortex is just a taste. Hence the panic to move the Plan forward faster now.

So if you have been preparing for a meatless warm future, well good luck to you. I have many years of fishing skills and know how to set a rabbit snare, and how to prepare a rabbit and cure the skin for later use. Oh I haven’t done that for decades but it’s really not hard once you know. I’ve been getting ready for cold, no electricity, no mains water or sewage, and a meat based diet based on what’s likely to be left around here.

The Plan has been no secret for a very long time. This particular ‘conspiracy theory’ has been, quite literally, set in stone and put on on public display. Still, many deny it.

Many poo-poo it even now. However, most of those who scoff are avid fans of Bernie Stalinders and the Occasional Cortex and all the free stuff they promise that will be paid for by someone else. They are listening, not to the voices of reason, but to the voices of madness and disaster.

One of those voices is now telling them the links in the Plan.

I think the Democrats will get rid of her sooner rather than later. But I hope she stays for a long while.

She’s the best laugh I’ve had since the Benny Hill show.


Retirement is official

Well, the lab is empty. It was the last bits today. All the big stuff was out so the car is full of plastic bags stuffed with random bits for the final clearing-up. I am no longer paying rent on a lab I rarely used for the last few years and I won’t be doing any more 60-sample marathons. Ever.

See, with microbial samples you can’t do half one day and half the next. The half you do the next day will have changed. If you freeze them, you kill some species faster than others. If you don’t freeze them, the population will change overnight, even in the fridge. So if you get 60 samples you have to do them all that day.

This often meant working past midnight. In a remote lab, alone. Stuff that. I’ve done it many times and I don’t want to do it anymore.

I’ll still take on consultancy work if any appears but no more late-shift lab work.

With the demise of the lab, I can make my retirement from science official and concentate all my efforts on Leg Iron Books. No more distractions that lead to blunders.

Science is wrecked anyway. When I started it was all about getting new knowledge. Now it’s all about getting new money, and to hell with principles or diligent research. I can’t do that because I’ve never cared about money. I was always a blue-sky researcher and often, those wild experimentations came up with good results.

Nobody seems to care about results any more. The conclusions are pre-written by the funder and if you don’t reach those conclusions you get no more funding. I won’t play that game.

So I am now a publisher full time. Oh, and a seller of second hand lab equipment for a while 😉 I will hang on to some things that will be useful in brewing, of course, but there’s a lot I don’t need to keep.

I appear to have a large stainless steel condenser in my collection. I think I’ll hang on to that…

So, I enter 2019 at the start of a new career that really started in 2016, but which is no longer split by a second career. I am now Leg Iron Books and I have to learn marketing, fast.

Now, at least, I have the time to do it.

Wind Power

No, no, no, I have not made another baked bean Madras. Once was enough for anyone’s lifetime. I have never felt so deflated, nor so totally empty.

This is about the Green God’s Gadgets. Again, no need to worry. I have not grown a straggly beard and had all my arm muscles replaced with lentils and string beans. I am still of the firm opinion that the entire man-made global warming rubbish is a control freak scam and believe me, smokers are currently best placed to spot those. Especially smoking scientists – which is what I am.

However. I am and always have been attracted by the notion of free energy. Okay, yes, it’s never really free. You have to buy the thing that turns sun or wind into electricity and it only works when there is actual sun or wind around. I get that. It’s not just about electricity bills though.

Living way out here, internet is best described as dire. Sometimes teeth-grindingly slow and sometimes it will die out for short random intervals. I have been looking into a 4G connection. That will work if I place the receiver at a certain point at the kitchen window (yes, it’s that bad) but it can work.

It still won’t work if there is no electricity. It doesn’t matter how many phones or tablets or laptops you have fully charged, when the power goes of and the router stops, it all stops. Unless you stand in exactly the right place with your phone. A little restrictive, I think you’ll agree.

Two issues here. Recently, someone drove a truck or tractor into the phone line pole at the end of the drive. Phone and internet were off for a day until it was patched up, and off for another few hours another day while they fixed it properly. A small issue? Yes, but it can happen again.

The phone line passes through trees and trimming back those trees would be a job for a tree surgeon. Get it wrong and you’d bring the line down right now. Ignore it and one day, one of those branches will fall on the line and bring it down. It will happen.

The other issue is the electricity supply. This is prone to random outages. The local distribution transformers are at the top of a hill – safe from flooding but not from lightning. It’s not too frequent but sometimes there is no electricity.

This is a bigger issue for us than for most. Cooking is not a problem, we have a hob powered by gas bottles outside. Heating is a small problem, we have a wood burning stove in the living room and an entire elm tree cut into small bits in the barn, so could huddle up and survive an extended blackout.

The big problem is water. Our supply comes from a well via a pump. The well head supplies the pump tank by gravity but the pump supplies the rest of the house through filtration systems. That has to have power. No power, no water.

I have considered buying a generator. There is an old huge rusty one here which could probably be put in working order but the amount of fuel and oil those things can go through in regular use is horrible. I am still considering one as an emergency backup. It would really only need to run the water pump as the most vital component of the system, so a small one would suffice.

But… could I sustain the pump with a Green God Gadget using 12V batteries and an inverter? It does of course depend on how long I’d have to do it for but it’s possible, at least for a short outage.

I looked into it. Solar is a bit of an issue this far north. When the problems are most likely to arise – winter – the sun peeks over the horizon, says ‘ screw this shit’ and ducks back down again. You can’t charge a little garden solar light in winter here.

How about wind? We get quite a bit of that, being on top of a hill. Well, okay, but it’s not really reliable. On a still cold day after a storm there’s nothing to charge the batteries to run the pump.

Both options are very expensive to install. The Green God might be here to save mankind but he ain’t doing it for free. No sir, he’s an expensive consultant indeed.

Maybe these things will pay for themselves eventually. Maybe not. There’s only one way to find out and it’s risky. What I need is a Scotland-oriented reliable power generator.

Rain. Rivers. Streams. I have never seen a hosepipe ban in Scotland. Water is not short of supply here, it drops out of the sky most days. So, if I get a windmill, put cups on the ends of the blades and dip it in the stream next to the house…. I have something far more reliable than wind power.

What if I install little waterwheels all along every downpipe from the roof? Each one only generates a little bit but if there are 20 or more per downpipe it would add up.

Sun power is sod all use in north Scotland in winter. Scratch that one. Wind power is a bit better but windless days happen – and often when it’s really cold. Water though… there’s a lot of it and it’s always moving. Best of all, you get no energy from the water itself.

Water power is actually gravity power. 20 waterwheels in a downpipe or drain – how much energy does the water lose from one waterwheel to the next?

None. The energy is not coming from the water. The water is a vector. The energy is coming from the gravity pulling the water down, and that is inexhaustible. It does not matter whether you have 10, 20, 100 waterwheels in that downpipe. The last one gets the same driving force as the first one.

The same is true in rivers and streams and our ancestors knew this. They could build one or forty watermills along a river. It made no difference at all. If you were in watermill 40, you saw no difference in river speed from watermill 1. No energy is extracted from the flow of the water because that’s not where the energy is. It’s gravity. Water flowing downhill. It would work the same if it was dry sand flowing downhill. Gravity is the energy that cannot run out.

Nobody seems to care about this. It’s all ‘buy solar panels, buy little windmills’ and they will work some of the time. As I said, here in north Scotland, solar panels work when you don’t need them and wind can be capricious. But the river always flows.

I have a map of this place dated 1768. Both the main river and the stream are on the map and both are still here. Neither have any record of ever drying up. They flow and they flow and a watermill will not slow the energy in that flow by a single joule because it is not the water that is the energy in the flow. It’s gravity. That is the real free energy but the Green God’s Followers don’t want to exploit it. There’s no money in free stuff  😉

So I am wondering. I have candles for lighting, I have all sorts of backup batteries for computers (enough to keep the little ones going at least), I have alternative heating and cooking arrangements, so really I need to power the water pump and possibly a 4G router in a total outage. I don’t really need a big generator.

You know, if it came right down to it, I could bypass that pump and use the gravity-fed water from the well. Unfiltered and risky but better than nothing and boiled, it would be mostly okay.

So. If I get an old car dynamo or alternator from the scrapyard, fit it to a waterwheel with sufficient diameter to ignore the seasonal rise and fall of water level, and dip it in the river, I could have a more reliable bank of backup batteries than anything the Green God’s Gadgets have on offer.

That river is not going to stop flowing tomorrow. The wind might.

Tobacco, the wonder plant

As suggested by Smoking Scot in comments, here is Nisakiman’s elegant idea for a ‘smokers welcome here’ image:

It comes from an idea a long time ago which I seem to recall was started by either Frank Davis or Junican. I’d like to be more specific but I’m afraid I was very, very drunk at the time. I’d actually written two of the stories in the latest Underdog Anthology around that time and entirely forgotten about them… yeah, pretty drunk.

Tobacco is currently villified by the Righteous and their indoctinated dancing clowns of hate but the original inhabitants of America (is that the latest PC term? Please forgive me for not caring) knew a lot more about this plant. They used it for more than just a sly puff at the back of the wigwam sheds.

Modern science has been gradually catching up. Well, the discovery of vitamin B3, Niacin, aka nicotinic acid, and its derivation from nicotine happened a long time ago. There is much more though.

Tipped by Sam in email – Tobacco flowers have a yeast-killer in them.

I had seen this go by on Twitter along with another claim that tobacco may have anti-cancer properties (now there’s a twist, eh?) but no antismoker worth their bile would accept a cancer treatment that came from the tobacco plant, naturally.

This yeast-killing antibiotic (the term is usually used to mean an antibacterial in my world but we’ll let that slide) is vey interesting. It works on Candida albicans, a ‘mostly harmless’ yeast that can still cause thrush and other, not necessarily fatal but really annoying infections. I wonder if it works on other yeast/fungi? Athlete’s foot is really hard to permanently dispose of. Ringworm is an evil fucker and there is speculation (not proof) that seborrhaic dermatitis has a yeast as a causative agent. They are all hard or impossible to cure at  the moment. Should we rub some tobacco flowers on it and see?

The article talks about the ornamental versions of Nicotiana but you know they have to be so, so careful these days. Ornamental tobacco is no use for smoking but as with all these domesticated things it’s a toned down, weaker version of the wild one that has to survive with no watering or plant food or weeding or pest control.

I’m betting real tobacco flowers are way more effective than the domesticated, pampered ones. These plants are quite capable of looking after themselves. In many ways.

Tobacco has multiple medicinal properties. Who knew? Pretty much everyone before the white man’s Puritan horde decided they didn’t like it. Hating tobacco is racist now. There’s one to have fun with.

I look forward to the first tales of antismokers refusing niacin, the new anttfungals and the new anticancer drugs because they come from tobacco. You can watch them suffer and die while watching me not care.

They have no sympathy for me. Expect none in return.

Getting metaphysical

Maybe going as far as paraphysical here. This is not theory, not even hypothesis. It’s just speculation. I know diddly squat about astrophysics, so don’t bamboozle me with your high-faluting equations and stuff like that. Keep it to street level if you want to explain why this is nonsense.

We’ll start with the caveat that it probably is nonsense.

It all began with a (public) Twitter exchange about time.

Which set me thinking in rather more than 140 characters. I did consider calling this post ‘Stop – Twittertime!’ However I need that construction for something else later 😉

Okay. Let’s start from the premise that the universe appeared in the big bang, We can argue about who lit the fuse another time, And yes, the big bang is theory, but that word has a different meaning in science. It means it is not proved but there is evidence to suggest it might be true. I accept that we could be the product of random cosmic forces, I also accept we could be but a spark from one of God’s fireworks. It’s all open to debate. That’s how science works.

This is not about religion vs. science. This is about the nature of time.

Incidentally, if I recall correctly, the Chinese ‘see’ time as coming out of the ground and going up, whereas we in the West ‘see’ it as going forward.

But then time isn’t moving. We are. We move through time so, as I said in that short discussion, what if time is what holds the universe together? What if that is the foundation stone?

Whether Creation or Big Bang, either way, time did not exist before the start because time is an integral part of the universe. We see three dimensions of space and we ‘see’ (rather, we experience) one of time. There could well be more dimensions, hiding all that ‘dark matter’ we know is out there.

If any God exists then he/she/it (obviously not human) must exist in more than our three physical dimensions. That would allow God to be everywhere, or at least see everything, at once. A four dimensional being would look at our three dimensional world in the same way we look at a two dimensional drawing. Five dimensions and our universe is a dot. A microfiche.

I believe science currently allows eleven physical dimensions. We barely exist at all at the top of that scenario. ‘Made from dust’ could well be a literal interpretation in that case.

But I digress. As usual.

If the universe uses time as its foundation then time travel is impossible. The universe is on the skin of a balloon expanding from its point of origin. There’s nothing outside and nothing left behind. It’s easier to picture if you think in four dimensions – we’re on the three dimensional skin of a four dimensional balloon. We don’t see inside or outside the balloon, we only see along the skin. Light seems to go in a straight line in our world but look at it in four dimensions and it’s zooming around through the skin of the balloon.

A balloon inflated by time.

Time is the dimension we cannot see. We can move in the three dimensions we are confined to but we cannot move in time, we are carried along by it. We experience it but cannot see it and cannot change direction.

There is no ‘past’ because the skin of the balloon has left that behind as it inflates. There is no fixed future because the skin of the balloon has not reached that point yet. Time recognises only ‘now’. Every point in time exists only now.

Sure, you can find relics of the past embedded in, and carried along with, the passage of time through space but you can’t go back there. It’s not there any more. Similarly, you cannot visit the future because it hasn’t happened yet.

You can still make a time machine of sorts. It can put you in stasis so you wake up in the future but going back to change the past? Forget it. The past is the void inside the balloon. If you go into the future and don’t like it, tough. There’s no way back.

I mean come on. If you had the chance, wouldn’t you want to go back and kill Hitler when he was still just a crappy painter? Or wipe out the Marquis de Sade or Torquemada or Stalin or Pol Pot any other mass murdering bastards of history? It’s never happened has it? They are all still there in history. Nothing gets fixed because nothing can be fixed. Once you’ve done it, it’s done.

As for the future, my own experience suggests that some people make accurate predictions but never very far ahead (one human lifetime is not even a tick of the clock at this scale of things) but that suggests no more than a tiny bit of variation in the process of time. Barely, probably not even, detectable on a cosmic scale. A minimal hysteresis in the mechanism that any engineer would be delighted to achieve.

Nostradamus? I read his ‘predictions’ So vague they could be interpreted any old way and even he has been ignored now.

There is nothing to suggest anyone from the future has visited the past and nothing to suggest the future can be predicted more than a trivial amount ahead. Travel in time is not possible for us.

However, a creature outside the limitations of our three physical dimensions might not be so constrained.

Maybe, this Halloween, we’ll meet one.

 

 

The Revenge of the Poultry from Beyond the Gravy…

Salmonella and Campylobacter. Sigh. I have grown enough of these in a single experiment to bring down a medium sized city.

Oh it’s easy, when you use growth media designed to make them grow fast. It’s how we find them quickly when there’s an outbreak. It’s also how we test food before it goes on sale. Sometimes it’s in the supermarkets before the test is complete but we can recall it pretty fast.Heavy contamination will show up in 24 hours but it takes about 4 days to be certain it’s a negative.

We test for other things too but the big names in chicken and turkey and general poultry are Salmonella and Campylobacter.

At the end of the experiment, everything goes into a big pressure cooker called an autoclave. Fifteen minutes in there and there is no life anywhere inside it. It’s not magic, it’s exactly the same principle as a home pressure cooker, just scaled up so you can fit a disobedient technician into it. In the past, we actually used home pressure cookers in the lab as benchtop sterilisers for small amounts. of stuff. Now there are custom built benchtop ones. They do the same thing but they look more sciency and they have timers so they don’t go bang if you forget.

For these two nasties, all you need is to have the centre of the meat exceed 80 decrees C and they’re dead. Cook that chicken properly, don’t handle salad with chicken grease on your fingers and you’re fine. It’s only dangerous when it’s raw, or when you let it contaminate stuff you aren’t going to cook.

I’ve never had either infection despite my cavalier cooking methods and despite working with them (and other nasties I haven’t personally caught) for almost 40 years. They aren’t hard to kill.

They are, however, very hard to get rid of at source. For Salmonella, many UK poultry farms use a vaccine introduced via drinking water. It won’t wipe them out but it will reduce their numbers. On a bird carcass, Salmonella is mostly surface contamination. Inside surfaces too – it lives in the guts and can get into some internal organs. Still, that’s easy. As long as the surface is cooked, it’s dead.

Campylobacter is a little different. This one lives in the gut too but it can get into muscle tissue. It can be inside the meat. That’s the one you need to kill by cooking the chicken all the way through. Getting the centre of the meat past 80C is enough – you don’t need 200C in the centre. If you achieve that, you have a roast chicken that will shatter like glass when you try to carve it and will probably be about the size of a quail.

Minced/ground meat is a special problem. For any meat. If you have a beef steak you can flash-fry the outside and the inside can be pretty much raw. The only contamination is on the outside. Ostrich steaks are also best quick-cooked. Even though they are birds they don’t seem to suffer Campylobacter infections.

If you make steak mince, you have mixed the outside contamination all through the final product. It’s now internally contaminated and – as with sausages and burgers – you need it cooked right through.

So with poultry mince you will now have both Salmonella and Campylobacter all through the finished product. Nasty.

Not if you cook it thoroughly. It’s mince. If there are no pink bits left then all the bits are cooked and the nasties are dead. I admit, when making any dish with mince, I cook the mince completely before starting with any added sauces. I take no chances with high risk foods.

Should the mince be a no-risk food? That’s impossible. You can never be sure the processing plant is perfectly sterile even if the starting product is clear of pathogens. The processing plant is staffed by people and if you sterilise your staff in an autoclave their productivity will suffer and you might get nasty letters from their relatives. People carry diseases. It happens. Deal with it.

How do you deal with it? Cook it thoroughly and wash your hands after handling raw meats. Disinfect kitchen surfaces (the spray stuff is good enough, you don’t need a flamethrower) and wipe down with disposable paper towels, not a cloth. A contaminated cloth is a stupid thing to have in a kitchen.

That’s it. That’s really it. Poultry, mince, any raw meat is a risk but it’s an easily managed risk. Just do what your grandparents did. It worked for them and it’ll work for you.

Each year, the article says, 830,000 Americans get sick from eating contaminated poultry. There is no excuse for this. All it takes is a few simple things – proper cooking and kitchen hygiene.

You are not going to eradicate these bacteria at source. You’re dealing with living organisms and chickens are, it must be said, among the most disgusting of living things.

But they taste so good. Just cook them properly.