Archive for December, 2012

Doomsday Preppers: Margaret Ling

Up next we have what looks the first themed episode: Escape From New York! I like the idea of having episodes with common threads, instead of the slapdash collection of folks usually on. So, this time, the show looks at three individuals who’ve all decided they don’t want to be in the Big Apple should things go south. And really, who can blame them?
We hear how should something happen to the city’s “fragile system” of bridges and tunnels, 23 million people could be trapped on the island without access to food, water, or electricity. Well, what did you expect? By their very nature, cities leave little room for self-reliance, because they’re designed for complete dependence on the system. In its most basic definition, a city is simply a place that cannot sustain itself with its own resources, and so must have those resources brought in from elsewhere. If our culture didn’t encourage such ostrich behavior in its members, you’d think we’d have seriously considered the possibility of disruptions to the system, and designed our cities to be able to sustain themselves. But alas. As the opening narration reminds us, preppers tend to prefer remote locations over cities, which they usually imagine will completely melt down in the event of a populace-panicking disaster. Yeah, that’ll probably be true.

© NatGeo 2012First up is Margaret Ling, with a worry about—in this post- Katrina and Sandy age—another megastorm, which is entirely likely when one factors in the exponential nature of climate changes.
Transparency clause: Ms. Ling isn’t just some random person off the street, but—like Aton Edwards from the next segment—an instructor from the NYC-based NGO International Preparedness Network.
There’s a funny bit where—because this is Doomsday Preppers, after all—she has to declare what she’s preparing for. Except this time, she’s not staring straight into the camera wearing a gas mask: she’s in a yoga studio, declaring her fear for a megastorm while surrounded by other women in Warrior II. I’m sure it’s supposed to be super-serious, but I couldn’t help but think of Stuart Smalley psyching himself up in the mirror.
margaretling2She drops by the krav maga studio run by Matan Gavish (who mentored Jason Charles last season), because as a woman, she knows she’s more likely to be victimized and wants to be able to defend herself.
Oh, did I mention that they make her go everywhere with this big modern hiking pack? It makes for some funny juxtaposition with her little green dress. Apparently, her bug-out plan is to escape the city and head for the mountains of upstate New York, where she will ride out whatever disaster? Hope she’s competent with off-grid strategies and wilderness skills. Knowing her real background, I have confidence in her proficiency.

Her bag is packed with lots of extraneous survival goods, which Matan tells her could easily be downsized by focusing on skills instead of gear. Gavish also identifies what he considers the most effective weapon in her arsenal:…a lollipop. Yep, seems he thinks it would make a premium eye-gouger. I really like Margaret’s humility when Mr. IDF asks her if she could stab someone in the heart: “I don’t want to say no, but I don’t want to say yes!” Which is a welcome, down-to-earth change from the steely tactical-type guys going on about ‘taking out’ adversaries usually featured on this show.

So, she and Gavish design a route to test her escape plan: fourteen miles on foot, from the tip of Manhattan through Central Park, north to the George Washington Bridge. He arranges for her to be jumped by two guys in the Park, and that’s what happens. The whole artificiality of the scenario is weird, with the camera crew following her and all, but she should’ve still at least had a weapon—lollipop or whatever—at hand, ready to use. Because that’s what you should do when walking around a shadowy area at four AM. Constant vigilance!

He essentially tells her to dump the whole pack, saying that all she really needs is her stabbing weapon and a water bottle. Which is probably true, as all a pack really does is make you a big target for less-prepared folks.

Eventually she reaches the bridge at sunrise. So, yay!, she survived and hopefully now knows what she needs to work on. I’m a big fan of practical exercises as the best way to field-test gear, skills, and strategies. Hmm, what else? How ’bout a picture of pre- and post-civilized Manhattan?

mannhatta 1609-2009




Doomsday Preppers: Ryan Croft

Up next is Ryan Croft, from Ashville, North Carolina.
ryancroftThis former Air Force airman is the father of five teenage boys and like most the show has featured, is concerned for worldwide financial collapse. But Ryan isn’t afraid to think outside the box that ‘prepping’ has become. Unlike other folks on the show who focus on mobility and bugging out, Ryan is ready to stand his ground with other members of his community. And unlike almost everyone else on the show, his food plan isn’t based around hoarding canned or freeze-dried food.

First off, Ryan comes across as very earnest in this segment, probably because of his Tea Party topics, but also because he talks to the camera a lot! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, especially given that the things he talks about are things people need—but probably don’t want—to hear. (Probably my favorite is when Ryan tells us that as a former member of the USAF, “government solutions SUCK!” As someone who just finished up a gig with the US Forest Service, I’m inclined to agree.)

So, as we’ve said, Ryan is worried about an economic collapse, which will bring about a social collapse along with it.
That’s nothing we haven’t seen on the show so far (especially this season). However, why does he think this scenario might come to pass? Because, as he says, “the value of a dollar is totally artificial.” YUP. Unpleasant truth avoided by Our Culture # 1: when your whole civilizational experiment’s system of wealth is based on shiny, inedible rocks, you’re going to be working within a framework of completely arbitrary values for everything.
Ryan continues to explain that this economic collapse has already begun with the 2008 Financial Crisis/Great Recession/Depression MkII/whatever you want to call it. (On a side note, I’m sick of hearing talking heads refer to, “this current economy”, as if our global slump is just something temporary to shake off and rebound from. Sorry guys, but it’s just the way things are, and it’s simply a result. If you drink too much, you have a hangover the next day. If your economy is designed around the idea of infinite growth and expansion (in a finite world), eventually the bubble will burst. That’s all we’re dealing with. I only wonder how long people in This culture will continue to seek solutions for this inevitability we’re living through now, instead of considering a different system altogether.)  He goes on, saying that the economy is now in a “gentle glide” downwards, and that the one thing keeping it moving forwards is consumer confidence. It makes for an interesting visual, and it makes sense to me.

So, as I’ve said, Ryan isn’t planning on bugging out or hoarding food. So what is he doing? Growing algae! Apparently, Spirulina is a healthy, easy-to-grow aquacultural food supplement. Of course, while Ryan’s telling us about how awesome the stuff is, our undercutting caption pops up to inform us that a cup of dried Spirulina contains only about 325 calories. If that’s the case, I’d lean more towards gardening/ horticulture, but keep growing the algae as a valuable supplement.

Not only is Ryan growing this nutritious green stuff, he’s also organizing folks around town to grow it, creating a network of ‘microfarms’, essentially acting as a hedge against a vulnerable monoculture. His family’s no-bug-out plan stems from a great community-based ethic (as he says, “This is our home; we love these people”—major thumbs-up, dude!), and although they don’t go into any details, he also plans not just for a network in his neighborhood, but within his region. Their goal: “Everybody lives, nobody dies”. It’s a good theory, but I actually agree with the experts, that he should keep his focus small on a microtribe-sized group (20 people or so) at first, and let it grow organically so that in a few years, maybe he will have big network for support.

I also like his notion that a prepper’s “number-one resource should be people! …and that’s not on most people’s prepper list!” Believe me, I’ve noticed. Why is this the case? First off, as I’ve written about many times, the modern idea of ‘prepping’ has less to do with preparedness and more to do with consumption as a means of keeping one’s current civilized, unsustainable way of life going for just a little bit longer, should disaster occur. Secondly, we as Americans are in love with the idea of the rugged individualist/lone wolf-types. These are the men (very rarely women) who struck off into the wilderness with a belt axe and the clothes on their back and Singlehandedly Built This Great Country, By God.
Except, that was never really the case.

As part of his ‘stand your ground instead of bugging out’ strategy, Ryan does some tactical-y exercises with fellow enthusiasts, using some of his self-designed weapons. He shows off his outfit (Amendment Arms)’s new AK/AR mashup (he calls it the Joshua Mk5).
I understand the respective strengths and weaknesses of those two popular platforms, so I’ll be very interested in seeing how his new rifle works out.

Anyway, Ryan explains another reason he doesn’t hoard food is a result of his airman’s survival knowledge: “you don’t need to stockpile if you have experience with primitive techniques”. Again, we are in agreement. If you’re living off the fat of the land your people have been carefully stewarding for thousands of years, of course there’s no need to stockpile! Food is everywhere! Of course, if that land has been stolen by members of a cannibalistic death-culture who’ve done their very best to destroy the fertility and diversity of that land so that you can’t live off it…yeah, stockpiling might be a good idea.

He takes his boys out in the pasture and they set up a figure-four deadfall trap to catch fieldmice. For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t bother with the bushcraft trap. I keep a couple of Victor rat traps in my survival pack for the simple fact that they’re inexpensive, efficient, easy-to-use, and lightweight. And even in a long-term disaster scenario, even when the grocery store shelves have long been empty, I’d bet these ubiquitous classic traps will still be around.

So, Ryan and his boys make a good-looking campfire and chow down on a mouse; nice to see their enculturated food preferences fall by the wayside. Speaking of which, when Ryan talks about supplementing his algae with wild protein, he eats an earthworm. Now, I’m pretty sure he’s not an animist, so I’m not going to get on his case about why he doesn’t thank the Great Spirit for the sustenance the worm will provide him. But I am going to ask the question Why Doesn’t Anyone On This Show Know How To Eat A Worm? Seriously. This is like, the second episode in a row where someone picks up a red wriggler, half-heartedly wipes some dirt off it, and just eats it. When one of Ryan’s sons eats one, he says, “Hm. Tastes like dirt.” Well, no wonder! I bet it feels like dirt, too! The trick to eating worms is simple: throw ’em in water for a few minutes first. Without that crucial step, a worm is simply an unappetizing, writhing, gritty, meat-tube full of dirt-shite. However, letting them sit in water not only gets the grit off, it also makes them purge themselves, leaving you with a tube of pure subterranean protein.

In the end, the experts give him 63 points, for ten months’ initial survival.

Doomsday Preppers: Josh Wander

Our next prepper is Josh Wander, from Pittsburg, PA. Josh fills an interesting demographic, because while it seems a majority of those featured on the show are Judeo-Christians, Josh seems to be the first one to represent the Judeo- half of that particular salvationist tradition.
joshwanderHonestly, I don’t have a whole lot to say about this segment.
This father of six (all biblical names, surprise) originally hails from Jerusalem, but they moved to the States ten years ago, and now Josh is running for city council. His big push is to make preparedness a part of his campaign. When his big fear is coordinated terrorist attacks, it’s easy to get civic-minded citizens onboard. I wonder if he got elected?
He gets together with some other Jews and organizes a terror-attack-drill with lots of fake blood in the park, I guess to get the responders used to dealing with gory injuries.

Josh finds himself in a tough position with regards to his food storage. Although it seems he’s been ‘prepping’ for three years, he only has a few months’ worth of food stockpiled, because apparently kosher shelf-stable prepper food is hard to find. Hmm, I think that’s what you call a niche market. Someone with more business-savvy than me could really make a boatload of money with that!

So, even though they’re un-kosher, the family keeps rabbits. Smartly, Josh makes sure the kids don’t name the animals, so they’re not pets. Although if you are going to name your livestock, I’m a fan of Doug Huffman’s approach—calling each animal by the dish it’s going into (“Stir-fry”, “Stew”, &c.).

Josh takes some of his kids to the range to teach them gun safety and how to shoot, which gives us an image one doesn’t often see: a Jew with an AK! Hey, it’s probably a good idea to get familiar with your enemy’s weapons. We can’t all train with IDF machineguns.

With a focus on terrorism, Josh is big on bugging out, and their practice drill looks like it should—they all pile into a van and head out, with none of that ‘let’s spend an hour packing stuff into a trailer at the last minute’ that so many of this show’s ‘bug outs’ depict. Additionally, I really love his take on that everyone’s favorite cinematic OT episode: “Exodus was a bug out.” Love it.

Experts give him 70 points—higher than I expected—for twelve months.

And in his update segment, now-bearded Josh announces that his family has decided—should it become necessary—they’re going to move back to Israel, “where Jews are protected and safe.” I wonder what brought that about? Was he a victim of an anti-Semitic hate-crime? I dunno, but I’d rather live where, while you might get the odd slur thrown at you, at least you’re not living in a regional powderkeg, surrounded by hostile nations praying for your destruction on three sides. Just sayin’.

Doomsday Preppers: Bob Kay

I’ve scheduled this to post on 22/12/12, so if you’re reading this, congratulations on surviving the ‘Mayan End of the World’!

Season two’s next episode (‘You’ve Got Chaos!’) opens with a very interesting look at Johnny-come-lately bandwagon prepper Bob Kay from southern California wine country:
Bob KayAs a nutritionist, he has apparently made a boatload of money with some wonder-vitamins or some such whatsit.
Living in SoCal, it’s only reasonable to be prepared for a massive earthquake that, as he says, “will change society as we know it”. I think that might be giving mother nature a bit more credit than she deserves. Change how the affected people live for a while, yes. But change Society?, I dunno.

So, it seems that just last year, Bob was watching what I’m guessing was the pilot episode of Doomsday Preppers (the one that looked at the guys who are now the unseen ‘experts’ on these episodes), when he said to himself, “Look at these guys, building a self-sustaining greenhouse in the backyard pool, and their homemade wood-fired pickup truck, and their deer hunting for food! Surely I can do better than them, and use my discretionary income to buy my way to preparedness!” And so, in twelve months, he’s spent damn near close to a million dollars on his ‘preps’.
Our narrator explains to us that “Many preppers dream about the elaborate things they would buy if money were not an object”, which, combined with the profile of Mr. Kay, proves my hunch that the current model of preparedness isn’t really about preparedness, but conspicuous consumption.
So how does all this spending break down? Bob has two-and-a-half acres of land and a probably-6,000-square-foot-plus McMansion, and he’s spent $35,000 on exotic edible plants to landscape the place. Their 35,000-gallon swimming pool cost another $100,000 (they purify and drink some of the water, giving us yet another preppers-toasting-with-glasses-of-something-uncommon scene).

Then Bob gets to show off his $110,000 convoy of dream ‘bug-out vehicles’. Now, if you told me you’d spent that much money on six ultimate BOV’s, I’d expect you to unveil some, like, NASA-designed, Swiss-made, carbon-fiber collapsible bicycles with tubeless Kevlar tires. But not Bob Kay. He just has six motorcycles, because y’know, “Nothing impedes a motorcycle! You can get pretty much anywhere on it!” Sure, assuming you have enough petrol to feed it and you don’t come across any large downed trees on your travels. But once your fuel runs out, what then?
Okay, for a long-term, civilization-ending catastrophe, foot or hoof travel is the only sustainable way to get around. But for all other scenarios, bicycles are best. Why?
Zero emissions: bikes require—and burn—nothing but calories. Remember, RULE #1: CARDIO.
User friendly: no motor = way less moving parts to break and potentially ruin your day.
Nearly-silent: stealth might become a big factor when bands of marauders run amok?
Lightweight: try carrying that motorcycle over your head while crossing the ’quake-buckled 105:
So yeah, motorcycles might be fine for the man with the mid-life crisis, but in terms of preparedness, they’re not that great. And why Bob feels he needs six (he only has a wife and two daughters), I don’t know.

Anyway, at least Bob has his older daughter on-board with his prepping, which makes for some quality father/daughter bonding. From the way it sounds, she thinks up what they need, and he buys it.
Then they go to what I swear is the same bulk-food-store everyone on this show goes to. Our narrator reminds us that an average family’s annual grocery bill is about $3,700, and “Bob just spent over ten times that in one day!” When he gets home, he tells his wife he made a very “reasonable” purchase. His wife asks him what he’s going to do with $45,000 worth of freezedried chicken and such. Bob should say, “Eat it!” but I’m guessing it goes into a basement hoard to be sealed until disaster strikes. You know what I do with my stockpile of dehydrated fruits, vegetables, and meats (all free and courtesy of our wasteful food distribution system)? I eat it, and then I replenish it! It’s food, that’s what you do with it!

So, Bob and his older daughter want to get some weapons training. She starts out with throwing knives, which is like throwing your baby into the deep end of a pool; she says, “But my videogames make it look so much easier!” Knife-throwing has a ridiculously high learning curve, and even once you get the hang of it, I don’t think it’s a terribly useful skill. However, I am a big fan of hatchet throwing—which is more intuitive to learn, harder to miss, and should you hit your opponent, more mass = more damage.
Well, she wants to learn to shoot guns too, so daddy goes out and buys her a personal coach, a $4,000 tricked-out black rifle and a few hundred dollars’ worth of those 3-D plastic ‘bleeding’ zombie targets (for the record, single-use products such as those are inherently Evil). I just saw a program on the gun channel that showed how to make a cheap, easy, and effective human-sized target with a couple of cardboard boxes, some duct tape, and an old t-shirt. It was more realistic (the shirt means you can’t always immediately see where your shots are hitting), and more importantly, reusable! What’s wrong with that?

Never content with what he has, Bob wants to up the ante on his bug-out plan (you’d think with that ten-annual-salaries’ worth of food hoarded, he’d focus more on home security and bugging-in).
He says, “Nobody’s getting out in a car or truck, so you’ve gotta take it to a new level!” Ooh, now I’m intrigued. Is he going to redeem himself after the motorcycles, take it to a new level of sustainability, and show off a family set of matching all-terrain bicycles?
Nope, he buys a helicopter. Pricetag: $500,000.

So yeah. The experts tell him to think renewably and raise some chicken or rabbits. Bob says that the freeze-dried stuff he can purchase is good enough. The experts also tell him to think about his saltwater pool, and what he will do if his desalination equipment fails.  In which case, it’s ridiculously easy to make a simple solar still.

He gets 61 points (including only 11 out of 20 points for food? I don’t know how), for nine months’ survival time. Bob doesn’t believe it, and says that doesn’t factor in “business activities, barter, and his ability to live a longer time.”; I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean.

Doomsday Preppers: Franco & Allen

And now for something completely different, it’s a double-header prep-off!
This segment looks at a pair of prepper buddies in southwest Missouri, Franco and Allen:franco-allenThese guys have similar professions (Franco is an electrician; Allen an electrical engineer), but their prepping style is really unique.
Allen, like most of the folks this season, is worried about an economic decline of the US economy. Franco fears backlash against GMOs, resulting in rising food costs, shortages, and “corruption of food supply through big business.Ever hear of Monsanto?

Franco wisely predicts that “people will riot with food shortages in this country”. Which is funny, because there’s plenty of it out there—I’d say about 80% of the food I eat is liberated from urban trash receptacles—recent studies I’ve read estimate 25 to 50% of all food grown in this country gets thrown out!

Each of these guys has an acre-and-a-half of property, and they’re not content stockpiling freeze-dried and dehydrated astronaut food—they’ve each put together an impressive greenhouse/aquaponics setup, raising tilapia, duckweed algae, &c. The big downside I can see is their reliance on electricity to run their pumps and such, but I’d guess handy guys like these could easily rig up some solar cells to power it.
Dunno if such a thing would be possible, but what I’d really like to see would be an electricity-free aqua system (gravity-fed?), floating plots of filter plants and such.

The guys have a good-natured competition to see who has the best setup; they supplement their fish-and-algae protein with Allen’s fly larvae versus Franco’s red wriggler worms (he eats one, to his daughter’s disgust).

Allen’s daughter (in a candy-apple-red convertible) doesn’t seem to get the point of dad’s preparations—exhibiting an exemplary civilized, domesticated attitude when she declares that “unless he’s making money at it, it’s kind of pointless” (I’m sure she’ll be the first one to knock on dad’s door when something bad happens).

The experts give Franco 49 points (for four months’ survival), and Allen 77 (15 months). Seems kind of lopsided, and maybe skewed: Franco’s mechanical skills only get him 7 points, but Allen’s barter-able fish net him 17 points? I dunno, I think the guys have a good thing going between them, now they just need to recruit some of their neighbors to get a network going.

Doomsday Preppers: Jeff Bushaw

Up next is another Pacific Northwester, Jeff Bushaw. His single-issue is the Yellowstone supervolcano…but he lives West by several hundred miles. I think Jason Charles (living in NYC) last season had more to worry about ash fallout than Jeff does.

So, Jeff preps on a budget. His source for survival-y goods? Storage unit auctions! I think I smell a new crossover series: Doomsday Budget Prepper Storage Unit Auction Wars? TV producers, take note!

He and his teenage son use these auctions as quality bonding time, which is good. At the auction shown, they win a unit for $500, which gets them an interesting collection of someone else’s junk. It’s not a total bust, because this haul includes a modern inline muzzleloading rifle. Springboard time!
Maybe I was spoiled by growing up with a da who makes beautiful flintlocks, but oh, inlines, what  a disgrace to the good name of muzzleloaders you are! When I teach my History of Muzzleloaders, my coverage of inlines is limited to “They exist; ask someone else.”, and that’s it.

From a self-reliance standpoint, you start going downhill once you introduce percussion caps onto the scene—because how many people can make fulminated mercury primers in their backyard? I have a living history buddy who says that if the Almighty meant for us to shoot percussion-locks, he’d have left little copper caps scattered about. Feeding a flintlock, on the other hand, requires only five stable, naturally-occurring ingredients (flint, charcoal, sulphur, saltpeter, and lead), and three of those can be combined into blackpowder relatively easily.

Because I like to think in terms of long-term, major-social-shakeup disasters, I always have to lean towards tools with the capacity for sustainability and self-reliance, which in the case of hunting means flintlocks and traditional archery.

Back to Jeff.

Since in this scenario, he’s worried about volcanic ash from 600 miles east, he’s taking pilot lessons so he can bug out to an airport and fly south to outrun ash. Remember that unpronounceable Icelandic volcano a few years back that grounded European air traffic for like, a week?

If Ragnarok doesn't look something like this, I'll be very disappointed.

If Ragnarok doesn’t look something like this, I’ll be very disappointed.

Now, imagine something like, let’s say conservatively ten times more violent. They say not to try outrunning something as small as a tornado, so I’m going to guess that outrunning a Yellowstone supervolcano is totally out of the question.

To simulate flying through volcanic ash (which might clog the plane), they stall out and land in a field. It’s edited to be all dramatic and stuff.

The experts tell them to think outside the Food Bucket and get some seeds and start growing. I agree.

They get 57 points, for six months’ time. In the update, Jeff tells us they’ve moved out of the burbs to a three-acre plot on the outskirts, where they have a barn for food storage, and a creek.

Doomsday Preppers: John Adrian

Our next episode, “Taking from the Haves”, opens with a look at John Adrian, inventor of the BedBunker, from the Pacific Northwest.
johnadrianhouseRight off the bat, our helpful narrator informs us that “many preppers are most concerned about one specific kind of cataclysmic event.” To which I’d have to respond, those people are idiots. Putting all of one’s eggs in one basket is a good way to set yourself up for failure—something our current totalitarian model of agriculture doesn’t seem to realize, with its vast amber waves of monoculture grain just asking for a blight to come along and wipe it all out.
Mr. Adrian wisely says he’s ‘preparing for the unexpected’. That’s a pretty safe catch-all. However, the truth eventually comes out that he’s most feared of a panicked populace. So, no different from most on this show?

John apparently doesn’t understand the concept of ‘bugging out’—if all your stuff is here, why would you want to leave?—and so he “turns his home into a technological fortress from which he can keep rampaging survivors at bay.” This setup includes: fancy military-checkpoint-style gate (pricetag: $20,000); array of twelve security cameras spread around the house; front door with facial-recognition software; wall-mounted, motion-sensitive pepperspraying anti-burglar device; central computer from which he can control all these systems.
Well, that approach raises a couple of red flags for me. First, his whole setup is dependent on electrical gizmos plugged into the grid; I think a power-outage falls neatly into the category of “the unexpected”, in which case what’s his plan if that grid goes down? Second, he appears to be all alone up on his fortress bluff. Defending that place should the power go out would be a helluva lot easier with a buddy or two to help. That said, the property has some good things going for it, on top of a cliff and surrounded by forest (personally I’d cut down some of the trees closest to the house to give intruders less places to hide).
John wants to be able to stop intruders should they breach his gate, so he takes a weapons expert to the range to shoot watermelons and car doors with a 50-caliber Beowulf. It’s no challenge.

Eventually, John’s main security guy gets his helpers to run a home invasion drill to check John’s preparedness. This amounts to ‘shooting’ the first guy, while the second triggers the fog-of-pepperspray device and runs into the woods, pursued by John’s German shepherd. With these obstacles out of the way, what does he do? Hop in his SUV and drive away! I thought he was all about staying put and defending his home?

The experts tell him to think about renewable food sources (smart), and remind him that he can’t expect to protect the pace all by himself. Exactly! He gets 80 points—a new high—which works out to 16 months survival time.