Archive for March, 2012

Doomsday Preppers: Bruce Beach

After a week-long hiatus, the show is back with an episode titled “It’s Gonna Get Worse”, which starts out with a look at another Canadian, Bruce Beach.
After serving in the USAF during the early Cold War, Beach moved to Ontario and built a 10,000 square-foot shelter for protection from fallout from a nuclear war. This bunker is made out of 42 school buses, encased in 18 inches of concrete and 14 feet of dirt, and can apparently sustain 500 people for a significant amount of time.
But the weird thing is, the only people Beach seems to be interested in accepting into his ‘ark’…are children. He keeps talking about how his first priority is to “save the children”. And the first thing he wants these children to do when they enter the place? Strip down for a ‘decontamination shower’. Hmm… =S
So, if the bombs start falling and you and your child show up on this guy’s doorstep, he’ll take the kid into his underground compound and send you away with a Geiger counter and some kind of consolation kit  (featuring stickers that say “to re-build a better world” *eye twitch*). At this point, I really have to wonder, how are 500 children going to help survive the end of the world?
Well, that’s irrelevant, because as it turns out, he claims that the purpose of his bunker (which he calls “Ark Two”)  is “to help those who survive to rebuild society; we are not about survival, we are about reconstruction.” Wait, the guy with the massive fallout shelter is not interested in survival? I don’t follow his logic. So, is the Ark just to enable him to surround himself with young people (impressionable minds being easier to indoctrinate, I guess?) long enough for the fallout to kill the heathen disbelievers outside?

He keeps going on something about his life’s mission as “service to humanity”, whatever that means. Between the ark stuff, the children stuff, the rebuilding stuff, and the humanity stuff, I would guess he has some old-school Christian agenda. I would also guess that his ‘service to humanity’ doesn’t extend to folks like me who don’t worship his patriarchic, misogynistic, Indo-European sky-god (or follow the teachings of any organized, salvationist belief-system, for that matter). Likewise, I would guess he doesn’t give a shit about the Yanomami or the !Kung or other non-industrialized members of humanity (except maybe as targets for conversion). Well, from his autobiography, it looks like he’s sampled the religious buffet and is now a Baha’i (Bahai’ist???) Whatever; it’s still organized, civilized, monotheistic, and based on a prophet. No thanks.

Anyway, as in the case of the very first family featured in the first episode, his bunker is ugly! Just because it’s all rivets and welded steel doesn’t mean it has to be so unattractive. I have nothing against an industrial aesthetic (I’m big on Piecraftian dieselpunk and the gritty redpill Zion), but this place just has no style.

And weirdly, there’s no ‘expert analysis’ of this guy at the end of the segment.

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On ‘The Hunger Games’

HungerGames

So, I caught an opening day matinee (these days I pretty much only see current movies on opening day, or not at all—in theaters, at least) of the hottest Hollywood property, and for an adaptation, I was pretty pleased with how it came out.
I said I wasn’t going to see it until I read the book first, and I’ll admit, I cut it pretty close—resorting to piracy and acquiring a copy four days before the release. There’s really no excuse for this procrastination, as I’ve been hearing positive things about it for almost two years now (first brought to my attention by Linda Holmes in what must’ve been the first episode of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour).
(For what it’s worth, I’ve noticed something weird that happens when my first reading of a work is a pirated electronic version. The page count might be the same, I might recognize some character names I’ve heard about, but if there are a few typos, I’m always paranoid that I’ve been duped and I’m really reading a bootleg pdf of someone’s fan-fiction based on a trailer. It’d be a cruel joke to be talking to someone and saying, ‘Yeah, remember when so-and-so did such-and-such?’, only to be stared at as if you had two heads and hear, ‘Erm, that never happened’. It’d be like finding out that the folks you call Mom and Dad aren’t really your parents. Or something like that.)
But luckily, it seems that the copy I found was the real deal, and I zipped through in two sittings over about nine hours. This seems to have been the case with everyone else who’s read it. What can I say?—it sucks you in, just like a good book should.
And so: first, some general spoiler-y things I found worthy of comment, and then I’ll discuss it a bit in eco-, survival-y terms too.

I.
*Like I said, I was pleasantly surprised how faithful the film was to the source material; for the most part, departures were more omissions than outright changes, and the few additions actually helped to clear things up.

*I breathed a sigh of relief at the minimalistic opening title. Plenty of should-have-been-epic films have been ruined by traditional, complete credits over the opening scenes (*cough*chroniclesofnarnia*cough*).

*I tired of Gary Ross’s shaky camerawork within about the first five minutes. Thankfully I think it smoothed out somewhat as the film progressed.

*The inclusion of the Truman Show-like control deck was good—I always like scenes that show spatial relationships between characters in a landscape, and they helped clarify things like the firestorm and the mutts later on.

*By the end of the film—despite her beauty and complete competence with the role—I was kind of tired of looking at Jennifer Lawrence. I know she’s in like, every single frame but I felt like she only had two or three expressions. Also, nice to see both of the leads are from Kentucky. Represent.

*Stanley Tucci continues to be an absolute chameleon.

*The requisite time compression (the Games stretch over maybe three weeks in the book, versus maybe one week in the film) meant that there wasn’t as much time for the relationship between the two leads to evolve and mature, which meant it simply didn’t have the nuance of the book. But then again, it’s a movie; what did I expect?

*I found the aesthetics of the weapons used in the Games to be fairly unattractive.

Specifics:
*Aside from the aforementioned Gamemaker scenes, the only invented scenes I noticed were a few underwhelming bits with Donald Sutherland’s president, and a few powerful minutes of a rioting District 11 following Rue’s death.

*Ross decides to close the film with some brooding shots of Sutherland looking resentful or vengeful or something unpleasant. I haven’t read the second and third books, so maybe this is foreshadowing for later, but I think first acts of film trilogies work best as standalones. Let’s focus on wrapping up our protagonists’ plot threads properly, and save the changes in political environment for the start of film number two.

*Rue’s death got me pretty emotional. As the smallest and most childlike of the Tributes, her death hit me surprisingly hard, especially given its fidelity to the book.

*Even though it snagged a PG-13 rating, the film managed to retain the brutality of the book, using a ‘less is more’ approach to the violence, especially in regards to the ‘bloodbath of hacking’ that opens the Games.

*The mutts were handled pretty well, as being able to see their creation/insertion into the arena was clearer than how the book dealt with them. In the book, the last-minute nonsense about them having the eyes of the fallen Tributes (or were they supposed to be the Tributes themselves, reanimated in dog-form? I’m still not sure what was meant) was generally weird and unnecessary.

*Picky: I had a hard time with the branch the trackerjacker nest hung from—I didn’t really believe Katniss could’ve sawed through something so thick in the time shown. From the book’s description I was picturing a branch maybe a few fingers thick, not the five-or-so inches in the film.

*Nitpicky: I didn’t like that the Arena’s ceiling was blank at night, instead of showing stars and such. If it’s supposed to approximate the real world, while still giving the Gamemakers complete control of the environment—which we are shown they have—why no stars? It just seemed kind of lazy.

In all, it was really quite well-done, and as far as adaptations of books go, this might rate just below Jurassic Park for me. And if the hype is anything to go off, this year’s ‘PG13 violent scifi movie about strong women opening at the end of March’ will do much better than last year’s Sucker Punch.

II.
So, this trilogy’s protagonist is named Katniss. In the book, the author explains that this comes from a particular aquatic plant with arrowhead-shaped leaves, and then goes on to describe with familiarity the process of gathering the edible tubers (uproot them with your toes, and collect them as they float to the surface). Well, I’d never heard of any plants named Katniss before, but I sure know a description of the genus Sagittaria when I read it. I guess it’s an inside joke to those who know their wild edibles, that the main character—whose standout trait is her mad archery skills—is named after the Arrowhead plant. I have to wonder if Collins would’ve named her protagonist Wapatoo if it had been a male.

Anyway, I had hoped that the film would showcase any kind of survival skills. Silly me, I guess I forgot that Hollywood movies can’t be educational AND entertaining, because I was sadly disappointed:
No mention or depiction of wild edibles (only fictional, toxic ‘nightlock’ berries).
No medicinal plants.
No knots.
No firestarting.
And not even any water purification (at least the book mentioned using iodine tablets).
And I’m dubious about the whole ‘cake-decorating skills translate to camouflage skills’ angle.
So, bleh.
However, I still have to hope that this movie will at least get people (and women in particular) interested in archery and other outdoorsy activities. I know it certainly inspired me to finally finish the osage selfbow I started a couple of years ago.

Anyway, the society depicted in the book/film is especially depressing to me; it’s like my worst nightmare come true; it’s why I get nervous when people start talking about rebuilding. This is a world that has been rebuilt post-collapse, and yet is still functionally the same as ours; it’s still a Taker model of life: the 1% are still the ones holding power, the food is still under lock and key, and the 99-percenters are still—for lack of a better term—slaves to a system; in Panem it’s just more transparent.
(In my notes I had something about ‘stop watching’. This could either be a call for people to turn off the ‘reality’ tv programming that inspired the book (which would be a good start), or more likely, some kind of metaphor for enacting societal change by turning your back on what drives the society.)
To borrow from Buckminster Fuller, until we as a society can imagine a new way (which might actually look like an old—think tribalway) of organizing and governing ourselves “that makes the existing model obsolete”, our post-collapse world will likely look an awful lot like Panem.

Doomsday Preppers: Ed Peden

The episode wraps up with a look at another converted missile bunker on the plains of Kansas. But this time, it’s quite different than Larry Hall’s massive project. Because this bunkers’ inhabitants, Ed and Dianna Peden, are certified New Age-y, guitar-strumming, granola-munching, hippy dippies.

These two bought a decommissioned Atlas (the same kind of ICBM that shot John Glenn into history in the Mercury program) launch site for ~$40,000 in the early 1980s (which seems like a really good deal). They don’t mention it in the segment, but there’s a nice metaphor in there somewhere—considering the occupants—about converting a structure built for war to a house of peace.
For what it’s worth, Ed—a beaky, bespectacled longhair guy—reminds me so much of Michael Caine’s character in Children of Men.

Their plan when disaster strikes, is to “survive and thrive” underground. Once again, I have to wonder, What about light??? Maybe you have generators or whatever, but those are going to run dry eventually. How about fiberoptics or light-tubes? Where’s your food coming from? Is this just for short-term or long-term emergencies?

However, he wisely states that “Those who can make adjustments to the changes in optimal ways will thrive…” Or, like I’ve said before: adaptability!
Dianna suggests that maybe it’s time to “reframe what we think the American dream is.” Right-on. And maybe that shouldn’t go for just America, but every other member of Our culture too, East and West. Folks need to sit down and take a good, hard look at what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and who it’s helping or hurting.

So far, he’s the only one on this show who has brought up the inherent problem with actually being on the show; Ed’s worst case scenario—a gang of armed bikers who want in—would likely arise “because they heard we had food on TV”! However, I guess it’s worth it, because like most of the others on the show, Peden stands to profit from his appearance. In this case, he’s a broker for these missile sites.

They invite some friends over for a…bug-in jam session? Looks more like a drum circle. Which are weird. Like, I can totally get behind some Leaver tribe jamming and breakin’ it down in the jungle or at a pow-wow or whatever, but when it’s a bunch of white people, maybe trying to channel or emulate the tribal folks (even though I fully support that in theory), in execution it always comes off as phony. Someone please prove me wrong.

Anyway, according to the narrator, the ideal prepper occupations are supposed to be ER doctors (I guess to deal with all the GSWs you’ll be dealing with if you’re out to annihilate marauders), mechanics (because you can’t imagine a petrol-less lifestyle and have to maintain your engines), and professional soldiers (again, because the Taker lifestyle is at war with the world). Which are all fine if you’re a Type 1 prepper and all your food comes from hoarded buckets.
Personally, I’ve always said my big three would be farmer (organic and horticultural, of course), a doctor/healer (especially one with working knowledge of wild medicine), and probably a blacksmith (or at least someone otherwise trained in the metallurgic arts).
However, the Pedens’ team includes a ‘living foods chef’, a ‘spiritualist’, and an ‘intuitive healer’. So, a yoghurt-and-kombucha advocate, someone who’s into crystals, and someone to align their chakras? I dunno about those; I would bet and/or hope there are some gardeners and other more practical folks in the group, but the producers picked the most hippy ones to mention.

Drum circle aside, they seem like a cool group of like-minded friends. But…they’re all like, 60+ years old. Where are the swishy-skirted, dreadlocked, hula-hooping girls I always see at music festivals?

Y'know, like this?

Doomsday Preppers: Rogers Family

Up next is the Rogers family from Alberta, Canada. I get the slightest hint of a Take Shelter vibe from this family. The wife is apparently motivated and/or tormented by recurring dreams of a nonspecific environmental disaster. To which I say…meh, I’ve had multiple dreams about aircraft, satellites, and even the space station falling out of the sky. It hasn’t changed the way I live.

They spend twelve hours a week prepping, for all kinds of environmental disasters. Well, flexibility is good, and at least it’s not twelve hours a day like some of the other obsessives on the show have admitted. But why focus on just environmental issues? Don’t fixate on one kind of disaster to the point you’re vulnerable to others. It’s like giving the ZSG to a twelve-year old boy to see if he’ll pick up on the multipurpose survival advice that could see him through anything from a hurricane or earthquake to civil unrest or rise of the recently-deceased.  He won’t, because it’s The Zombie Survival Guide.

They show the husband making an improvised ‘gas mask’ that he claims will work for anything from volcanic ash to tear gas. I don’t know where tear gas comes into play in environmental emergencies, but don’t bother with homemade charcoal masks. Soaking a bandana in apple cider vinegar works fine in a pinch.

The wife is really proud of her last birthday present—500 gallons of water.  An earlier episode of the show claimed that 100 gallons per day is the average water usage for Americans (granted, these folks are Canadian), but that’s still not going to last them a year like she seems to hope. Teaching yourselves to make do with less now will make the transition easier later.

They have a ‘family prepping talk’ every night before bed? Lady, you’re going to mess the poor kid up if you keep doing that. Once a week, tops. Plus, there’s just something phony about people who set aside time for a family <blank> time.

On the plus side, they get a major thumbs-up for teaching their youngling the rules of gun safety!

Doomsday Preppers: Doug Huffman

In this latest episode we finally get to meet Doug Huffman and the ‘spider-hole’ they’ve been playing up in the promos for weeks now. From northern California, he’s a retired ‘defense contractor’, whatever that means, as Max Brooks explains: “…‘contractor’ sounds like I should be laying drywall and smearin’ plaster. ‘Private security’ sounds like some dumbass mall guard. ‘Mercenary’ is the closest, I guess” (WWZ, 105).
Semantics aside, this northern Californian seems to have his shit together—although there’s no sign of a significant other? —but it’s nice to finally see a solid example of a ‘Type 3’ survivalist.

His claim—which initially sounds fanatical—of prepping seven days a week for upwards of fourteen hours a day isn’t really that bad…because he is a survival instructor!
Likewise, his estimate of having invested $30 to 40,000 in his preparations is downright stingy, at least compared to some of the others this show has featured.

His compulsory single-issue concern is a second worldwide great depression. Based on the inherent instability of civilized life (my words, not his), he expects that “at some point, all this will collapse, and we’ll have a massive reset”. I don’t care about the collapse (it’s been all-but-inevitable for 5,000 years), but it’s the reset that worries me.

He rightly thinks that “if something should happen, you are only going to survive in a communal group.” Damn right, Doug. I’m all about the lone-wolf-thing once the dust has settled and we’re in a longterm, Mad Max/Postman/Road/Book of Eli-type PAW, but for the short term we should all be solidifying our affinity groups and getting ourselves reacquainted with tribal living—it’s how we evolved to live.

Finally, we get to see the ‘spider-hole’ we’ve been hearing about. Weeks of previews have led me to expect this is his hidden underground bunker…but nope, it’s a coffin-sized hole in the ground. It’d be nice to see how he built it; I thought I saw some wood framing in there, so I don’t think it’s just a hole in the ground.

While he’s creeping back up to his house, there’s a shot of his feet. He’s wearing heavy boots, and surprise!, his feet are striking heel-first. Doug needs to hang out with Lundin and learn some barefoot injun sneaking skills to complement his serious camo discipline.

The show describes his creation of a team “to help him rebuild from the ashes”. *eye twitch*…there’s that R-word again. Anyway, they spend some time with the ‘Junior Rangers’ group he leads of kids ages 10-to-19. After checking out his survival school’s website, it’s obvious that the kids program is just one course among many that he teaches. But the way the show depicts it, I had to ask, ‘how is this not a militia or cult?’ To me, it looks like tacticool skool—too many camo BDUs, tight t-shirts, wraparound sunglasses, and accessorized black guns on three-point slings. Where’s the guy in the linen trousers and wool shirt with the WW2 gun on a homemade sling? Once again, I’m not on this show.

In the end, while he might be a touch overconfident, he seems like an alright dude. With the lack of fences and motion detectors, a big greenhouse, and the homestead-y root cellar, stocked pond, and meat animals, he’s got the best of the low-tech ‘Type 2’ survivalists, plus the militarism/defense foundation of the ‘Type 1’, while advocating skills-based education, and group living over individuals. It’s a pretty solid mix.

Doomsday Preppers: Riley Cook

I don’t have much to say about this episode’s last segment, which looks at Riley Cook, also from Colorado.
He’s yet another polar shifter, which is to say he has latched onto a popular pseudoscientific notion he doesn’t really understand.
He reveals that he has spent three hundred thousand dollars on preps over the years. Between that, his family’s intermountain location high in the Rockies, and the multiple blonde, blue-eyed offspring, he has Mormon written all over him.
As a welder, he’s a pretty handy metalworking type of guy, and has designed and built a neat little aluminum rickshaw for pulling his family and supplies around in the event of a disaster. It’s supposed to be balanced so he can pull like, ten times his weight when it’s loaded. And it’s also waterproof, so that he can pole them across rivers or whatnot. But I really wouldn’t want to pull a cart loaded with family and supplies around for like, twenty miles (he claims he’s done this before); they can get out and stretch their atrophied, civilized legs. I’d like to see him make the plans for the cart available online (it’d be a friendly gesture), because in a re-localized post-collapse world, human-powered carts like that would be in demand.

They do a ‘bug-out to bug-in’ practice, loading up the kids in the SUV to brave the treacherous mountain roads to their underground bunker. Even though they probably have months worth of food already stashed, he mentions that in the event of a real long-term emergency, if they “had to resort to obtaining our food from [elk and deer]”, they could. Hey mister, furry critters shouldn’t be your food of last resort; I guarantee that wild game is healthier than the processed crap you’ve likely stocked your bunker with.

Doomsday Preppers: Preston White

This next guy is one of the more…interesting people they’ve profiled on the show.
Preston White, Colorado.  Concerned with obsessed with some sort of lingering radiation cloud from the March 2011 Japanese earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster.
Other folks have said it too, but I’ll say it too—something about this guy is Off (and unlike Ms. Hurwitt, I don’t think this is an effect of the show’s editing). He’s both eager and creepy, and he hangs around with a younger, vaguely sycophantic, commando-wannabe guy.
His whole…everything…seems to be very much conspiracy-based (he’d be great on the ‘History’ channel!) Apparently, he claims that a year after the Fukushima plant melted down, the fallout is either still hanging over North America, or is going to start raining down radiation on the oblivious population really soon. Mr. White’s response is probably the most one-dimensional example of ‘prepping’ I’ve seen so far. He hoards seeds.
Because he always needs more seeds (11,000 varieties are not enough, apparently), he heads down to the local ‘hydroponics shop’. When the lady asks him what he’s buying all these seeds for, his answer (“Fukushima.”) smacks of the first-name-familiarity fringe-y conspiracy theory types use to talk about “pole shift” or “2012” or whatever.
To avoid getting his seeds watered by killer rain, they put up some tents in the backyard. I don’t know how well plants grow in canvas tents, and I don’t know if he plans on getting some grow-lights in there, but if not, I’m pretty sure plants need sunlight to grow right.

They show off what they call a ‘H-H-O generator’ (it supposedly breaks water down into hydrogen and oxygen), which looks like a B-movie background prop with its colorful LED rope lights. And really, a device that turns water into usable fuel? Why don’t we have cars built around this thing?, especially if, as they say, the plans to make one are easily available on the internet. Probably another conspiracy theory behind this, too.
Finally, there’s a section where this guy posts on craigslist about trading seeds or something, and gets into a shooting incident with some guys in a field way outside town. I’m not sure what was going on (the newspaper article shown suggests it was a ‘botched pot deal’), but some have suggested that Mr. White is into growing something a bit more profitable than heirloom corn and tomatoes. Regardless, everything about this guy is pretty fishy.