Archive for April, 2012

Doomsday Preppers: Jason Day

The episode (and the season, I guess) finishes with Jason Day of Miamisburg, Ohio. He and his wife have four kids, and is worried about the economy collapsing (hey, that makes three in a row!).
He says, “If the dollar does drop, you’re gonna need some way to buy food and stuff.” Yeah, or you could, y’know, learn to grow it yourself?
He has a furniture repair shop on Main Street, and has spent everything he’s earned from the business ($100,000 or so) on his preps.
Unexpectedly wise, he observes that “every great nation comes to an end…America’s just the same way”. And so logically, like the past couple, he’s preoccupied with trading gold and silver; reckons he’s spent one or two thousand dollars on those shiny rocks.
He estimates that he spends fifteen hours a day engaged in prepping activities. I have to wonder, how does that work? He’s not teaching survival skills, he’s repairing furniture. Oh, turns out that includes time spent shopping for gear on the internet.
Then it gets really silly, because he takes his kids out into the woods—not to teach them some actually useful survival skills—to pan for gold. In Ohio.
At this point, an encouraging caption pops up to remind us that the Staffordshire hoard of Saxon gold (estimated worth: ₤5.3 million) was found by a hobbyist with a metal detector, just like him! Like, untold riches lay under the surface just waiting to be dug up by peasants like you! Unfortunately, it’s completely deluding—finding thousand-year-old Saxon gold in England is one thing, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find Miami Indian gold, seeing as how they weren’t big on the whole gold-smelting thing.

Because it is becoming increasingly clear (and troubling) that Mr. Day’s vision of survival is nearly identical to that of the previous couple—one based on maintaining one’s current civilized standard of living through capitalism (even if what you’re worried about is the collapse of said economy)—his dream purchase is apparently a $75,000 bunker.
Wife: “That’s the price of a house.”
Jason: “A house isn’t going to save us”. Oh, but a bunker is?

He shows off his stash of fairly high-end medical supplies:
“Here’s a tourniquet. If your arm gets blown off, you can clamp this down to stop the bleeding.” I guess he imagines people will start throwing grenades when the dollar becomes worthless?
“If someone has blood loss, here’s an IV.” Erm, well, that’s kind of worthless unless you have some blood in the freezer. And more importantly, do you know how to use that stuff? The wife works in a med lab or something, so why is the woodworker husband sticking the IV in her (incorrectly, some have observed)?

This is another one of those examples where the family isn’t totally supportive of what they probably see as Dad’s irrational hobby, so they just kind of go along with him.
Like a lot of folks on this show, they have a practice bug-in. And where does he think is the ultimate place to hunker down? In the basement of his furniture shop.
Jason explains how he thinks the best part of his hideout is the basement’s single entry point. Well, dude, choke points work both ways—it’s good that it’s the only way in, so you only have to worry about things coming from one place, but it’s also the only way out for you.
Personally, if I was him, I’d be in the attic or highest level I could get to. Larger field of view, no worry about flooding (from water as well as sewage), and if you’re anticipating taking fire (as he seems to), having the high ground is always most advantageous. He also says that down in the basement, “no one will know we’re there”. Well, if you enforce some sound and light discipline, your presence in the attic could go unnoticed too, but that would require changes in behavior, which seems to be the worst-case scenario for most people.

So, on their basement bug-in, one of the kids remarks that there are crickets and mice down in the basement. So? Set some traps and eat ‘em. But of course they don’t, so they eat some freeze-dried astronaut crap, which needs hot water to cook. So logically—since they’re trying to practice survival, remember?—instead of bringing some cold water and heating it up with a backpacking stove or whatever (y’know, like you might have to do in a real emergency), dad just packs in some preheated water. Really? Earlier in the segment, he said something about it being his responsibility to help his kids survive. Well maybe he should actually let them practice things they’ll need to survive (like how to heat water without a microwave, or whatever). Bringing hot water along for your little indoor camping trip is simply lazy and irresponsible.
But hey, what do I know? Maybe they don’t light a fire because they’re worried about carbon monoxide poisoning down in the basement? If that’s the case, maybe they need to pick a better place for their bug-in. What about sanitation? This guy seems to think they’ll be down in the basement for like, four months, so he’d better teach the kids how to shit in a plastic bag and dig slit trenches while they’re down there.

In the end, it’s too bad they end the season with this guy. Personally, I would’ve saved someone like Doug Huffman for the finale, to leave viewers with a pretty sustainable vision of survival. Because these folks—and their philosophy of survival through consumption—leave me worried more than anything.

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Doomsday Preppers: Christine and John Sellers

Up next we have John and Christine Sellers, from Pennsylvania. They’re right-wing ‘newbie preppers’ in that they only jumped on the bandwagon a year and a half ago, and now their basement is full of 15,000 pounds of canned food, napkins, and toothbrushes.
Since they’re worried about the ‘collapse of the dollar’, instead of riding their Harleys around they’ve apparently decided to “forego luxuries” in the present to increase their chances of survival in the future. I like the sound of that, but the execution of their plan is horrible.
Because unfortunately, unlike Mr. Wayne or Chris Nyegres, who saw wine and stone arrowpoints as having real value post-disaster, this couple’s idea of “alternative” currencies don’t sound very alternative…“gold, silver, guns, and ammo.” Oh, come on. You’re Homo sapiens, you’re supposed to be creative and inventive, but that’s the best you can come up with? Technological inflation aside, those are the exact same things that Our Culture has been valuing for the last six thousand years—the same culture, I might remind you, that’s led to the collapse of your dollar. You’re not accomplishing anything productive by hoarding the things that your collapsed dollar represented.
And so, they go to the pawn shop and drop several thousand dollars on old silver coins which they bury behind their barn, so that they “can get to the silver stash without being seen from the house”, which they seem to think will somehow ensure their survival. Lady, (since it seems like you wears the pants in this relationship), maybe you should focus on how—should your home be “commandeered”(which is properly a nautical term)—to get to your food hoard instead? You’re selling your Harleys (because “you can’t eat your bike”), but you’ve sunk thirty grand of green paper into just another form of inedible ‘value’? I don’t get it.

Hey, there’s a different food bucket ad.

The husband drops a few more thousand dollars behind his wife’s back so they can have their very own shipping container—which they apparently think will instantly promote them from novice preppers to veterans, or something? This might be further proof that people who self-identify as preppers don’t really understand how they’re still fitting into the whole Machine. Folks, as long as you continue to compare yourselves to others and what they have (and desire to have what they have for yourself) instead of making do with what you already have, you’re still buying into capitalism and keeping up with the Joneses. As long as ‘preparedness’ (which let’s loosely define as the desire to be able to weather any kind of storm—natural or human-caused) is dependent on how much money one has spent or what one has stockpiled, it’s doomed to result in a bunch of deluded folks with dreams of rebuilding…*eye twitch*

And once again, the experts say get a garden, and learn to hunt.

Doomsday Preppers: Mister Wayne

I’ve noticed that these episodes seem to start with the most interesting people and end with the least interesting. This one is no exception.
Here we meet another smart, first-name-only prepper, this time known only as “Mr. Wayne”. He and his wife own three acres of land in central Texas that they have turned into a small vineyard. He claims he’s spent $160,000 dollars on his preps, but as he explains his strategy, I have a feeling a large part of that amount went into their wine-making enterprise.
He sees the big crisis looming on the horizon as “China’s domination of the world’s economy…and time’s running out.”
Mr. Wayne is concerned that when China calls the USA’s trillion-dollar debt, the US dollar will go worthless, leading to panic and then widespread pillaging. He’s afraid that we’re “not going to see it coming!” Actually, I think we do see it coming, but nobody’s doing anything about it (and if it’s going to be fixed, I think we’re gonna need really drastic measures).

Because he wisely sees that gold really has no value (now or post-disaster), he’s banking on using his wine as an alternative currency. He says that it’ll be useful as trade (people will still want to drink!), and he’s probably right, but…you can’t eat wine.
He produces about 600 gallons per year (he calls it Wayne’s World, harhar), and buries an ever-versatile shipping container to serve as his wine cellar (this costs $13,000.) Which is a great idea because, what with the whole year-round 55 degree nature of underground stuff, he can use it as a root cellar too. It was also nice to see his photos of the process of burying the container; it’s clear he’s done more than simply than bury a box in the dirt.
While he’s showing off his cellar, he opens a can of dog food and samples some pieces of duck or mutton or horse or whatever grade-D meat product folks feed to their pets. I have no problem with eating dog food. Go for it.

To defend his acreage, he has at least 25 guns. This is fine, having enough guns and ammo to fight a small war is great, but once you shoot it all, what then? Mr Wayne is somehow the first person on the show to make use of the awesomeness that is RELOADING. Finally! And not just reloading with factory-made bricks of lead, but casting bullets from old wheel weights! Which is even better, because they’re free (pick them off the streets while you’re urban backpacking, or ask around at your local tire repair shop)! A man after my own heart—I’ve been picking lead tire weights off the streets wherever I’ve lived for years now.

Then things start getting legally weird. In addition to all of his guns and ammo, Mr. Wayne plans on using more serious firepower to defend his farmstead from the yellow menace of invading Chinamen. Like pipe bombs. Which I’m 99% sure counts as BATF ‘destructive devices’. So like Pat Brabble and his 151-proof ‘Molotov cocktails’, Mr. Wayne and Cousin Jesse waste something expensive (six years ago, blackpowder was about $20 a pound; I’m sure it’s gone up since then) for entertainment value.
During this section, a caption pops up to inform us that pipebombs date back to 1886 Chicago. This refers to the infamous Haymarket Riot, which is the source of the stereotypical mustachioed, bomb-throwing Anarchist. And it’s a negative stereotype that continues to this day.

The experts say, “start a garden”. Because like I said, you can’t eat wine.

Doomsday Preppers: Laura Kunzie

Last week’s episode finishes with Laura Kunzie. After serving eight years in the coast guard, she’s settled down in Fort Mills, South Carolina with a fear of a bird flu pandemic. Luckily, she doesn’t seem to be quite as completely germophobic as Donna Nash was (her home looks pretty lived in, and she’s not afraid of getting her hands dirty). Still, unless you’re into watching people drinking filtered water or showering in the backyard, there’s not much to say about this segment.
Throughout the profile, she makes it very clear that she seems to be only concerned with bird flu. I have to ask, what about other flus, not to mention other diseases? It’s not very productive to concentrate on one contingency to the point of exclusion of others.
Unlike most of the other folks hoping to make a buck off this show’s free publicity, Laura owns an actual brick-and-mortar ‘prepper store’, for lack of a better term. Near as I can tell, the address is 375 Star Light Drive/Fort Mill, SC 29715. If you want to get ahold of Ms. Kunzie, contact her at askzeb@zebgear.com. There it is. Stop posting comments asking for how to reach her.

We don’t really get much of a look around inside, but I’d say it looks pretty nice; reminds me of my local bicycle shop.
Some older folks come in looking for a way to clean their water. She shows off a gravity water filter, and they drink some water from a pond where all the neighborhood waterfowl hang out.

A caption informs us that “sunlight can be used to decontaminate water.”  This is actually true. In Global South countries with too much sunlight and not enough clean water, it’s a pretty sharp idea. Called the SODIS system, anyone can do it. Take a clear water bottle with a tight cap, fill it with unsafe water, set it—on a sheet of metal for extra strength—in the direct sun for eight hours or so, and most of the nasties should be done for. Essentially, the UV rays give a deadly dose of cancer to all the little cryptos and giardias and such (it’d be like making a person stand in the sun for ten years straight, equivalently). Although some studies have contested the success rate of the system, taking your chances with some clean water is going to be better than always drinking unclean water. It’s a good example of DIY-type appropriate technology—the kind we ought to be embracing in the First World.

Doomsday Preppers: Steve Pace

Next we come to Steve Pace, a retired Army sergeant living in Campbell, MO.
Like everybody else it seems, he thinks “the biggest threat to our civilization is the loss of our electrical grid”…so, yet another EMP-er?
He claims to demonstrate that a metal garbage can works as yet another homemade Faraday Cage.  He tests it out with a couple of walkie-talkies inside, because he hopes to broadcast survival info to neighbors post-disaster. I have to ask, what if their stuff is fried too?

Nice to see him doing some target practice with the SKS.

He tools around on his candy-apple red ‘quadracycle’, with a cop friend to check his speed. I’d be fine with it if his motivation was as fairly-reliable post-collapse transportation, but he hooks up a motor to it, so he can hopefully escape a horde of raiders (it doesn’t go as fast as he’d like).
Then, he and his wife drink some piss. No, really, they run some urine through a filter to demonstrate the lengths they’ll go to in a survival situation. Hmm…my producer-enforced-stunt sense is tingling.
Pace states that his motivations for survival are “family, community, freedom, and justice”.
Well, ‘family’ and ‘community’ are fine by me (variations on a tribe), but ‘justice’ makes me nervous—like he has an axe to grind. And ‘freedom’? Not until you can imagine a way of life different from the one that collapsed.

Also, I saw another one of those clientele-tailored food-bucket ad running during this segment.

Doomsday Preppers: Barry Knowles

This segment was kind of weird, because they had me thinking that here was another prepper (like Jeremy from a couple weeks back) who had the insight to not reveal his last name or location. For about ¾ of this segment he’s just referred to as Barry (and his girlfriend is named Pink?). Then, in the last few minutes they drop his last name and he talks about his location (near Puget Sound). So, so much for ‘operational security’.
After seven years in the military and reportedly losing his savings in the whole 2008 financial hoo-hah, he decides he needs a survival pod underneath his garage (which leads me to wonder how he financed the damn thing). So he clandestinely digs one. By hand, he claims. It turns out that the resulting “urban foxhole” is a 512-cubic foot (that’s 8x8x8, somehow) concrete sphere, reached by climbing down a ladder, hidden under a Hatch.
And why would he think this is necessary? Because “the world has never been more dangerous”, his “most likely catastrophe is a social/economic collapse that comes from an EMP device going off”—ooh, he’s getting creative and mixing up his buzzwords! He claims his pod will enable him to “survive almost any kind of disaster” by supporting five people for two months.
For some family bonding time, he decides to spend the night in the pod with two of his sons (aged 11 and 29), while Pink acts as lookout, guarding the house. Here’s one of many problems with the pod. He claims that it’s cleverly concealed under his garage. Well, maybe before they headed down, when the Hatch was under some cardboard boxes. But it’s not as if those boxes can be rearranged over the Hatch from the inside (I’m thinking of a scene in Schindler’s List where Jews hiding under the floorboards pull a rug back over the trapdoor with a string from the inside). Maybe the girlfriend re-covers the Hatch once they’re down there this time, but what if the whole family has to shelter-in-place down there? If you’re worried about the usual marauding gangs mucking about in your house looking for food and supplies, a big silver door in the garage floor is a dead giveaway (not to mention the GI Joe-scale model of the pod on display in the living room). Basically, I have about a thousand issues with the whole ‘button up, hunker down’ model of survival, and this guy is no exception.
Anyway, while they’re camped out in the bunker, they play cards and eat supper. And what do they eat? Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs (sealed up as they are, it’s probably a good thing they’re not eating beans!).  Revealing his civilized prejudices, Barry quips that they could be outside, eating bugs! Like those unfortunate, primitive Third World-ers, or something!

So, they only spend a few hours overnight. The kid says he thinks he’d go crazy long before 60 days was up; I probably would too, staring at bare concrete walls. And after 60 days, what then? Thankfully, Barry’s survival plan has a Stage 2. Which involves hiking 15 miles at night to their hopefully-still-seaworthy sailboat, and finding an uninhabited island in Puget Sound. Because, y’know, he thinks they’ll “stand a better chance of surviving at sea than…on land.”  Sure, maybe if you’re planning on channeling the Kwakiutl or Tlingit and becoming whale-hunters. But, really? Uninhabited islands? Are they really going to ‘rough it’ out there? I don’t see it happening.

Doomsday Preppers: Jack Jobe

Last week’s episode wraps up with Jack Jobe, age 65, from a suburb of Denver, CO.
Transparency/free PR clause:  although they don’t mention it on the show, Jobe runs a survival website where he sells the multipurpose hatchet-y tool he’s seen with in the episode. There’s the link. Please don’t leave comments asking where you can buy it.

Early on, there’s a clip of him doing what looks like a stand-up comedy routine…with a shotgun. Like, I’d really like to hear how that goes, because it seems like a terrible idea.

His producer-enforced issue is “a massive solar flare that could set our society back hundreds of years.” I know what he means, but I don’t think he’s looking at the big picture. Which is to say that technology aside, society hasn’t changed that much since 1800, much less since 1300, 300, or even 300 or 1300 BCE—even that far back, Our culture was still stratified (the few at the top of the pyramid lived very well while the majority at the bottom toiled on their behalf), people still had specialized ‘jobs’ for which they were ‘paid’ so that they could acquire food, and the leaders called up their standing armies every couple of years to try and wipe out their enemies. Our American Empire is simply the most recent attempt to build something different while using the same blueprints as the ones used by the English, Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians.

Anyway, as part of his approach to disaster preparedness, Mr. Jobe buckled down and lost 90 pounds in two years. This touches on a key point that hardly any of the folks on this show have mentioned: fitness is an aspect of prepping too, one just as essential (but not as interesting) as stockpiling beans, bullets, and bandages.  But once again, like true sustainability, achieving fitness requires more than simply buying things, it requires active changes in lifestyle.
Mr. Jobe’s fitness-as-preparation packs a triple whammy, because he doesn’t simply put in a few hours at the gym each week, he gets out his survival pack and hits the streets! I did this at least once a week at university, sometimes taking along a protégé or two to teach the good foraging spots, where the hobos hang out, etc. The benefits are numerous.
First: gaining familiarity with one’s gear. Too many folks put together a bag of survival gear and throw it in the closet or car and forget about it. Strap on your pack and actually wear it while you’re out and about. It might turn out that your shoulder straps are terribly uncomfortable or that your weight is distributed all wrong or something, and I’d rather find out in my backyard than out on the bug-out trail.
Second: gaining familiarity with one’s environment. Suburban hikes are a great way to explore your ‘area of operations’ (as the tactical folks say).
Third: gaining familiarity with one’s community (talking to neighbors). You don’t even have to talk prepping with them like Mr. Jobe does. But urban backpacking is totally a great conversation starter; I’ve had plenty of chats with folks while wearing my pack that I wouldn’t have had if I’d simply been out for a jog.