Archive for November, 2012

Doomsday Preppers: Bryant Family

We continue with a visit to the Bryant family’s 24 acre homestead in Southern Missouri.
Wilma and Gary live with their son Tony and daughter Heather, and a grandchild, and are concerned with being able to survive EF5 (formerly just F5) tornadoes. Which is not unreasonable, seeing as how they live smack dab in the middle of Tornado Alley. Even less unreasonable is Wilma’s wise observation that “You can’t control nature…and we’re destroying it, so it’s kinda fighting back in a sense.” Correct on all counts. Personally, if I was worried about what seems like an increase in number and intensity of severe storms in recent years, my first order of business would be to hand-build an off-grid house that wasn’t all boxes and flat surfaces  (y’know, because they catch the wind like sails, which are great if you want your house to fly).

Because they seem to be into plain living and self-sufficiency (they live 30 miles from the nearest town), they have about six months of food on hand, mostly in the form of home-canned jars; their pantry is really impressive. However, for someone whose chief worry is violent tornadoes, their pantry is just waiting to be smashed by the first twister that comes through: the jars on the shelves were not protected in any way, whether by something soft to keep jars from knocking against each other, or anything to keep the jars from crashing to the floor. A simple one-by piece of lumber tacked a few inches up across the front of the shelf  would probably do fine.

So, all this talk of self-sufficiency is rather painfully ironic, because Wilma and her daughter Heather are…wait for it…diabetic. Which means that after their six-month supply of insulin runs out, they die. Yeouch. And naturally, because medical supplies are not only unnecessarily expensive but also disposable, the ladies stretch their stores by saving needles to reuse. They also hoard insulin, which leads to their next dilemma.
Insulin apparently needs to be kept cool, and in a long term grid-down situation, a refrigerator is going to be next-to-useless. What is one to do? First, remember: fossil-fueled electricity is a momentary blip on the overall timeline, and people did just fine without it for thousands of years. And how did those people keep things cold? By keeping their things in places that were always cold!—let’s call it ‘ambient temperature refrigeration’. In rural Missouri, the local spring-fed creek does just fine. But do y’know where else stays 50 degrees year-round? Underground! And because this is a prepper show, you know what that means. Bunker time!
So the family decides that they should bury a shipping container where they can keep their insulin cool, and where they (and their livestock (?!?)) can shelter during a big storm. So they get a demolition crew to come in and blow up a section of their front yard, and then they set about removing all the loose soil by hand with shovels and wheelbarrows.

The experts give them 64 points and ten months survival time, which isn’t bad considering they only have six months of insulin and no running water (they have to drive down the road to the creek to fill up their big tank). The experts also suggest getting ‘tactical training’ and building a root cellar – which I’m surprised they didn’t have already, being all homestead-y and such; I’d take a root cellar over a buried-shipping-container-bunker any day.

In the post-filming update, Wilma reveals that she and Gary have gone through a messy divorce, and that while she has been awarded “all the preps”, “they’re out there with guns.” The End.

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Doomsday Preppers: Johnny O

Season two’s second episode (“You Can’t Let Evil Win”) begins with a look at “Johnny O”, a father from Pennsylvania.
Because he lives near four nuclear power plants, he is concerned about a terrorist attack on US nuclear sites, and of course, panic that will likely result from a meltdown.

Johnny seems to imagine that people would immediately “resort back to hunter-gathering; living in small, broken packs.” Honestly, I don’t think that’s even very likely, because Our Culture’s overreliance on domesticated, heavily modified foods has meant that most people of Our Culture are inherently biased towards undomesticated foods—since we’ve spent a majority of the last six thousand years doing our best to eradicate societies who happen to live differently from us—and so the majority of the population isn’t going to know which plants are good (or even safe) to eat. After all, hunter-gathering societies themselves are built on foundations stretching back thousands of years and handed down from generation to generation; if a catastrophe happens and the three day grocery store resupply-chain is broken, most people aren’t going to suddenly start foraging, they’re going to scavenge at best, and take what they can by force at worst.

As for the bit about “small, broken packs”, I have no idea what he means by that. Sounds like family units to me, or perhaps “micro-tribe” is a better classification. Either way, it’s the way our species evolved, and it’s a far less “broken” way to organize ourselves than the way 99.9% of humanity lives now, so what’s wrong with it?

Johnny is all about redundancy. He’s big on the “two is one, one is none”-type stuff, which means he has about four of everything. As for food, at least he’s thinking longterm and keeps a flock of a dozen chickens, and has an insufficient-looking garden. When one of the chicks dies, he uses it as an example to teach redundancy to his maybe-Special four year old.

Pro: he calls the dead chicken ‘one of our friends’. I would prefer something like ‘sister chicken’, but it’s a start.
Con: he puts the dead chicken in the trash can. First off, it’s gonna start smelling really bad in a day or two. Second, show the dead critter some respect and at least toss it into the woods where someone can scavenge it, instead of consigning it to the landfill.
They do some target practice both with firearms and archery, which is always a good mix. Then they do a ‘mock bugout’, and I’ve never understood the way pretty much every group on this show does it. I’ve always thought that the idea behind ‘bugging out’ was a quick, grab-the-bag-and-get-out-the-door type of situation. But it seems that every mock bugout we’ve seen on the show has consisted of someone shouting “We’re bugging out!” and then proceeding to spend the next hour or two to pack up all their gear into their ‘bugout vehicle’ of choice. I’m sorry, I thought the point was to have everything all ready to go when the time comes?
So, he loads up the 4-wheeler and the trailer with the johnboat on top, and waits up in his tree stand for his wife and her twin sister to come along. He passes out hunting-camo suits for them all to wear (y’know, because they’re trying to keep a low profile), and they all pile into the boat.
For future reference, it’s hard to keep a low profile when you’re bugging out with two camo-clad platinum blondes with bright red backpacks.

He says, “preppers are very intelligent, creative people. They think outside the box.” We’ll see about that. Furthermore, he says that in an emergency, people will be “going to go to the person who is prepared.” Absolutely true, as our culture seems to have lost its drive for self-reliance; in which case, maybe he should plan on stocking up food for more than four people?

Experts give him 68 meaningless points, which somehow works out to 12 months survival time.

Doomsday Preppers: Braxton Southwick

The episode finishes up with Braxton Southwick, a family man from SLC with six kids. Based on that alone, I’ll assume they’re Mormon.

His fear is of a biological terror attack, specifically using smallpox. As with others, the wife just kind of goes along with it to humor her hubby, like it’s just a “phase” he’ll grow out of in a year or two.

So they show off their “huge amount of food” stockpile which they claim will last them one year—again, because that’s one of their religion’s tenets: want your made-up church’s people to repopulate the earth after the End Times? Make it a commandment that Thou Shalt Hoard a Year’s Worth of Food.

It’s good to see that their food isn’t just shelf-stable/freezedried/dehydrated stuff, but that they also keep chickens in the backyard coop. That’s cool. Now, go Barrelhaven and start using eggs as currency with your neighbors.
Because he’s worried about a smallpox outbreak, he thinks that the neighborhood would get evacuated if there was a case nearby. Sooo, they do another practice bugout, and yet again they forget the meaning of the term. YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE TO PACK! The whole point of bugging out is to be able to grab your bag and go, not to form a bucket brigade to empty out your larder and gun room, uproot the chicken coop, have everybody grab all their clothes and then jump in the truck; have your rural retreat already stocked with those things!

Anyway, once they finally get loaded up and out of town, they come across a roadblock set up by the local national guard or something, who are also part of the drill (wouldn’t that be something if they were stopped by a real quarantine roadblock during a practice bug out? Haha.). They get scanned by some ineffective bomb-sniffing gizmo, and then put into the decontamination shower. One of the daughters gets strapped to a gurney for some reason. And then that’s it. I guess the wife starts to come around to her husband’s way of thinking after going through all that.
B.S. scores a 71, computed out to 13 months initial survival time. Experts say he needs a water resupply plan, especially considering the fact that he chose to live next to the world’s least-drinkable lake. Honestly, for a religion with prepping at its core, why didn’t Brigham Young and those guys set down somewhere more livable? I dunno, but it would be worthwhile for Braxton to learn to make a solar desalination still.

Doomsday Preppers: Jason Beacham

Up next is young Jason Beacham from Missouri:
I was curious to see how this kid comes across on the show, because he’s…well, a kid; at age fifteen, Jason is the youngest subject thus far profiled on the show. I’m willing to try and go easy on him, and cut him a certain amount of slack on account of being fifteen. I would definitely not have wanted a film crew following me and my friends around when we were that age (though it would’ve been way more exciting what with the blackpowder mortar and all), so I guess there’s a certain amount of courage—or foolhardiness—at work there. While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with youngsters getting into disaster preparedness, the way this kid goes about it is a little disconcerting.

So, the issue he claims to be preparing for is “anarchy following economic collapse”. Jason’s first order of business should be to take off his cultural blinders and realize that Anarchy doesn’t mean moustache-twirling and bomb-throwing anymore: if you’ve ever dreamed of living in a world free of domination (whether from corporations, nation-states, arbitrary laws, patriarchy, racism, homophobia, &c., you might be an anarchist.
Unfortunately, he apparently intends to face this imagined challenge by abandoning his mom and siblings when the going gets tough, because they don’t really support his prepping activities. Now, this show has already shown families in which one party isn’t interested in the other’s prepping, but they still go along with it because, hey, they’re family. Not in this case; Jason’s mom seems to spend a lot of the segment looking like she expects him to start killing puppies or something at any moment. Granted, I think her apprehensiveness comes from the fact that he approaches preparedness the way most fifteen-year-old boys would (showy weapons and gas masks first, then food and water as an afterthought), which isn’t surprising for someone whose introduction to survival issues was the recent wave of Zombie 2.0 movies. (see my post from last year for more on this). Regardless, by not including his mom in his activities, he’s missing out on learning skills that could come in handy in a long-term situation—things like food canning, sewing, &c.
Now, while I still think his mom has her head in the sand (she asks him, “Don’t you wish you were like everybody else and didn’t worry?”), I can understand her concern with her son’s fixation with preparedness (There’s a funny bit where Jason looks into the camera and explains that he’s “not obsessed with prepping…”, as the camera pans across his four gas masks on a shelf. Hilarious editing!). Like when he shows off his arm-sword thing, straight out of the BudK ‘Display-Weapons-R-Us’ catalog. And when he brings out his ‘maceball bat’…oh boy.

Now, maybe I was spoiled by having been brought up generally old-timey, but I was taught that one should take pride in his work, and don’t do stuff half-assed. This kid’s project reminds me of this wannabe pyro guy I hung out with back in grade school who kept a stash of what he called ‘chemicals’ under his bed…that were just bottles of like, shampoo.
Witness the evolution of the interplay between makebelieve and craftsmanship. When you’re a little kid, you pick up a stick, call it a bat and fight invisible zombies. When you’re a little older, you pick up a toy baseball bat and beat on your friends when you’re playing Zombies and Survivors. When you’re a teenager, you halfassedly pound nails into a bat and call it a formidable weapon for use against speculative zombies in the future. And then there’s taking your time to cultivate useful skills (maybe you learn woodturning and make the bat on a lathe!) and gather proper materials, so you can actually make something you can show off and be proud of, and keep beside the bed to defend your family. This is a good argument for why we should bring back Shop Class in schools.
And personally, if I was in need of a homemade mace, I would’ve used like, sixteen-penny nails, drilled pilot holes, and hammered them all the way through so the heads would be flush, like so (compare with Beacham’s method on the left):

And naturally, once he brings out the bat he just has to test it, so the poor watermelon gets the Gallagher treatment. Of course, it would have been similarly liquefied just from being hit with a normal bat, and I don’t think the half-assed nails really did much. Plus, if you want to realistically test weapons on pumpkins/watermelons/coconuts/whatever, don’t put the test subject on the ground, put it at about shoulder-height. Of course the bat’s going to obliterate it with five feet of swing behind it!

Luckily, Jason isn’t totally a lone wolf, and he has a friend with whom he practices survival skills, and they decide to go on an adventure with another youngster who they might recruit into their fold. So they put on their packs and go walk around in some long grass until they find an abandoned building, and decide to camp there for the night. Well, they need a fire for cooking and heat, so they build one. Out of eight-foot-long lumber. In the corner of the room. As you might expect, it gets way out of hand, and the flames start licking the ceiling. Somehow they get it put out (there’s a hilarious shot of one of the guys splashing water from a liter bottle on the fire. I don’t think it had much effect). At the end of the night, they decide to let the third guy join their ‘group’ on account of having common sense (a rare commodity among teenagers), and give him a scrap of ratty camouflage to put on his pack. Now, I’m all in favor of making your own ceremonies and rituals and culture all diy-like, but again, make it something you can be proud of and have some style about it (back in high school, when my guy-friends and I got together and formed ourselves a group, we taught ourselves how to card-weave and made old-timey wool armbands for ourselves!).
Well, the kids use the near-disaster of their survival practice to “learn what to work on”—I would suggest perhaps learning how to build a proper fire—and assess what they feel confident in knowing—“we’re ready to make a shelter we can stay in”—no dude, you found an abandoned building and almost burned it down. Start small and learn to build debris huts.
In the assessment, the experts give him 50 out of 100 points, computed to four months’ survival time.

In the end, while it’s good to see young people getting involved in preparing for uncertainties in their future, I wish Jason would take a more balanced, productive, and sustainable approach (I know that’s asking a lot for most people, teenagers especially). Joining a Venturing crew would be a great first step, providing all the benefits of Boy Scouts (older male role models, practical skills, comradeship &c.) but co-ed!, as would be taking some survival courses, or maybe going to an Appleseed shoot to improve his marksmanship, and developing a skillset or two that would be applicable to longterm disasters—gardening, woodworking, blacksmithing, candlemaking, anything!

Doomsday Preppers: Big Al

They’re back! NatGeo has renewed Doomsday Preppers for a second season, and the interweb seems to enjoy my commentaries, so let’s get started.The season premieres with a look at a fellow called ‘Big Al’ from Nashville. The show says he’s a musician (who in Nashville isn’t?), but I’m going to guess that’s code for producer or maybe songwriter. We get to hear a little bit of some modern-country guy singing a novelty song about preppin’ (you can hear the whole thing here), and then Big Al starts on about how in all his studies of Russia, he’s terrified of nuclear war. It’s a valid concern; I certainly don’t want my gross body to be intraconverted into light and energy anytime soon, but I’m not sure we should be looking at Russia in this case. Sure, Putin has the makings of a Mark II Stalin, but if you’re worried about stray nukes, be worried about semi-rogue states with something to prove (Iran, N.Korea, etc.).
Mr. Al says that in his worst-case scenario, the missiles will start a-flying right after a “run on the dollar, closing banks, and the fall of the stock market”. Apparently, he thinks that Russia will only push the button once they’re absolutely sure our economy has fatally weakened. In the event that these red flags appear, Al’s plan is to hop in his van and bug out 1,800 miles to his mountain hideout, which actually looks nice, sitting on 40 acres up in the mountains somewhere. But his “underground house without windows” is a different story. Like most of this show’s homemade underground retreats, it’s pretty ugly and Hoarders-y. Al says he “prefers not to use” the word ‘bunker’, but apparently has no problem going on and singing songs about his ‘bunker stew’. He claims to have 1,500 cans of food, 1,000 gallons of local spring water (I’m wondering how he gets it into the bunker?), and five tons of firewood stored up, because—get this—he spends three full months out of each year ‘practice living’ underground.
Right after that fascinating development, the narrator informs us that isolation can lead to “acute anxiety, hallucinations, paranoia, and uncontrollable rage or fear”. Well, that’s definitely going to color our impression of Big Al for the rest of the segment. Well-played, producers.

Now, what does Big Al do while he’s shut himself away underground for a season? Chops firewood and watches movies about the Motherland. I guess at some point in all this obsessive Russophilia, he learns about Ivan’s fifty-year-old hydrogen bomb, the Tsar Bomba. Well, that gets him all worried that there’s another one out there just waiting to be dropped on us, and so something something gamma radiation. Now, if you’re somehow lacking, Our Culture’s answer is almost surely going to be, ‘buy stuff to feel better!’ And sure enough, Big Al buys himself a big steel tube to be an “annex” for his bunker. Well, that apparently alleviates his worry, and he gets so excited he spraypaints the name of the bomb he’s afraid of on the side. For some reason. Of course, the producers never tell us the name of the bomb, so it just looks like he’s writing nonsense on the tank.
Anyway, this season the show has added a degree of superfluous quantitative-ness to the ‘expert’ analysis. Five categories (water, food, shelter, security, and ‘x-factor’ which I guess is just miscellaneous attributes), 0-20 in each one for a total possible score of 100. He gets a score of 69, which the experts say computes to equal one year initial survival time. What this really means is, The Points Don’t Matter.

In Al’s submitted post-filming update segment, he seems to have had an epiphany and decides that  he needs to really work on his health, and learning some skills to work with his hands to “be able to build things…instead of focusing on things that can be purchased”, which is a good lesson to be learned. Of course, if all these preppers learned that it’s mostly what’s between yer ears and not what you’ve spent on Stuff, the ‘experts’ would be out of a job.