Archive for January, 2013

Doomsday Preppers: Jim D

Up next we have ‘Jim D.’, a ‘security consultant’ from SoCal.
© NatGeo/Sharp EntertainmentHis well-worded concern is for the “destruction of the power grid by a terrorist attack, and social unrest that will follow.” Specifically, he’s worried about some kind of cyber attack that could cripple the grid from the inside, not about Jihadists blowing up high-wire lines.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this segment. I totally agree that our culture’s thirst for power (both the electrical and nature-controlling varieties) is one of the shatterpoints that will play out and determine the course of the next half-century. Making the situation worse is the fact that ‘developing’ nations will look to the trendsetting, ‘developed’ (read:industrialized) nations for the standard of living they ‘should’ be achieving. This means that in the years to come, all those upwardly-mobile Indians and Chinese will be trying their best to live unsustainable, industrialized, Western-style lives—necessitating even more power generation, which will likely be achieved by burning fossil fuels, which will just make things worse (and they’re already pretty bad). However, when faced with such daunting industrial-sized forces, I don’t respond in kind; I downscale to a level that is actually comprehensible to the human mind. I’m just saying: if the latest empire that’s headed for collapse is founded on a thirst for fossil fuels and infernal combustion engines (“first they built the road/then they built the town/that’s why we’re still driving around and around…”), maybe you should consider if you want to include those in your idea of ‘prepared’.

Jim D.’s approach, however, is to go mobile….(go on, I’m listening)…in a supposedly-$300,000 armored truck-thing he calls The Behemoth. Oh. Nevermind then.
© NatGeo/Sharp Entertainment
This monster of a vehicle is 28 (did I hear that right?) feet long, eleven feet tall, and eight feet wide; is somehow able to run on propane, bristles with security cameras, and has a pretty comfortable-looking sleeping cabin. Honestly, all the ingredients are there for Jim and his family to become professional rubber tramps; he just needs to make The Behemoth look approachable and not so…miliscary.

To support his plan of bugging out in the truck, he and his team have apparently buried sealed caches of survival goods all around Orange County and the surrounding region. That’s cool, but he relies on GPS to record their locations, so what will he do when the grid goes down?
So, because driving around in a wannabe tank isn’t dramatic enough, they go out to the desert where Jim takes position on the top of The Behemoth and does some target shooting, while the thing is moving. Believe it or not, it’s harder than it looks on Call of Duty!

The experts rightly tell Jim to consider his means of replenishing his food stores on the road; they give him 65 points for ten months’ survival time.

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Doomsday Preppers: Lindsay & Ray

Our next episode, ‘Prepper’s Paradise’, begins with some excellent footage of amber waves of monoculture grain. This is appropriate, as the first profile looks at Lindsay and her husband Ray, of Boise, Idaho.
© NatGeo/Sharp EntertainmentThese ‘urban homesteaders’ run the North End Organic Nursery, ‘Idaho’s only all-organic nursery and garden center’. Lindsay also has a local radio show (called ‘Talk Dirt to Me’, haha!) that deals with organic gardening, self-reliance, sustainability and all that goes along with it.

With all this talk about food, it’s only natural that their concern is for a “collapse of the world’s agricultural system”, which is a fairly reasonable fear; one only needs to take a big-picture view to see the tenuousness of our present situation. Of course, speaking of a ‘collapse’ implies a certain abruptness which I don’t think is very likely. Personally, I’d articulate it as a ‘degradation of our culture’s system of totalitarian agriculture’, but that’s just me.

As Lindsay explains, “back in the day, everybody was prepared, because they weren’t so reliant on other people to make sure their lives worked.” She goes on to say that the vast majority of folks today are “severely detached from their food supply” (in other words, they have no connection to how or where their food is grown); this means that our largely-urban population is left to rely on a tiny number of farms to keep them alive. And those farms—though tiny in number—are quite large in size, because the crops they are growing are massive tracts of vulnerable monoculture grains—mostly maize, soya, and wheat—with the backing of multinationals like Monsanto, Syngenta, &c. Like the rest of our culture, these industrial farms operate under a paradigm which places human lives above all others, and views farmland as useful only for producing food for people, or none at all; any non-human lifeforms (or any that do not directly benefit humans) who occupy the land are viewed as vermin and generally systematically exterminated.
Factor in the just-in-time nature of our food-distribution system (witness the oft-repeated mantra of “three days of food on the supermarket shelf”), the fact that—as our helpful caption reminds us—food often travels 1,000 miles or more to reach the supermarket, and the fact that 2012 was declared the hottest year on record in the contiguous United States, and it’s easy to see how the degradation (via loss of productivity, interruption of distribution, &c.) of this system would leave a lot of people hungry. That’s not to mention the economic side of things, in which rising ‘unemployment’ would leave people with no green paper to exchange for supermarket groceries in the first place.
As I’ve said before, our culture’s civilizational experiment has formed itself into any number of shatterpoints, and should any of them break down, the consequences would be wide-reaching: nothing happens in a vacuum.

To combat this uncertainty, Lindsay and Ray have stored four years’ worth of food, which—compared to some on this show—isn’t too impressive. However, they’ve taken food security to the next level, by making it (and education about related issues) the focus of everything they do (or pretty close to it). In addition to running an organic nursery, they have an incredible garden; although they never say it outright, their backyard is totally what the permaculture folks call an ‘edible forest’, or at least, it definitely has the makings of one. In addition, they build and sell the most solid-looking rocket stoves I think I’ve ever seen. There’s a shot or two of Ray welding one together, but the footage of him showing it off wound up on the cutting room floor (as the best material seems to do, in favor of more ‘dramatic’ scenes). Blerg.

Speaking of Ray (who kind of scares me, former Marine that he is), what’s his motivating fear in all of this?
All together now!: “rioting and looting!” Maybe if our system wasn’t designed to rob people of their self-reliance (in exchange for reliance on the fragile system), an interruption of the industrial food system wouldn’t have such dramatic consequences? So to deal with this possibility, they have built a nice little bug-out location up in the mountains of Idaho. This includes at least one cordwood cabin, as well as a greenhouse and huge root cellar (which, sadly, we also don’t get to see).

They’re always looking for new folks to join their bug-out team, so Ray and the group interviews two new candidates. It seems these potentials are active-duty in the military, which somehow means we can’t see their faces or hear their real voices. So, to test their mettle, they do a mock bug-out to the rural retreat with the new guys. This involves loading up the trailer (which apparently has solar panels to run all their radios and power tools, but we don’t get to see any of that) with everything they would possibly need, which doesn’t seem much like a bug-out to me. As I’ve said before, if you have to load up, it’s not a bug-out. Bugging-out is when you believe the time has come to go, and so you grab your bag and high-tail it outta there, either on foot or with your vehicle of choice. While they’re loading up the trailer, Ray says that he “[doesn’t] want anybody to see this.” So, do it ahead of time? I’d have no problem calling it a bug-out if your trailer is already packed, ready to go in the driveway, and all you have to do is hop in and drive off.
So their convoy reaches the gravel road that leads to their bug-out location, at which point Ray sends the two recruits on ahead to scout it out (he’s prepared a surprise for them, but of course they don’t know it). This ‘surprise’ turns out to be just a guy standing around inside the cabin. They shout some army stuff, he gets down on the ground, and they zip-tie his hands. Not terribly exciting; dude didn’t even have a weapon drawn or anything. After their stellar performance in the whole scenario, the group welcomes their two new members.
I also want to mention that throughout most of the segment, Ray and his team members (but never Lindsay) are all dressed like the Seven Trumpeters from last week’s show—clad in an assortment of coyote-brown ‘tactical’ Velcro contraptions and woodland digital camouflage, with tricked-out black guns – in other words, doing their best to look like modern imperial soldiers. It just seems like a weird juxtaposition to me, considering their public front is an organic gardening center.

After the ‘expert’ assessment, Lindsay and Ray get 78 points (I understand it was originally 84 points, which would be the highest score yet), for fifteen months’ survival time.
In the end, let’s close with Lindsay’s final words which give a good summation of the state of The Mess. As she calmly and rationally explains, “People are under the illusion that we have so much food all around us, and that we live in this wonderful modern age, and all I can say is that you’re wrong. There is so much fragility in our system, and it can collapse at any time. These things are just time-bombs waiting to happen, and they will happen.” WORD.

Doomsday Preppers: Snake Blocker

With the last couple of episodes, I’ve started to notice a trend of each episode only focusing on two groups (compared to the usual three per episode last season). And instead of splitting each episode cleanly down the middle, the segments have been coming out a little uneven – in fact, this segment received only about a third of the time devoted to the Seven Trumpet crowd.
This episode’s second individual is one Snake Blocker, jack-of-many trades currently operating from around Denver, Colorado.
snake-blockerHe’s of Apache descent, and seems pretty in touch with that side of himself, which is good to see. Too often modern Native Americans get lured in—and ground down—by the call of White culture. Nice to see Snake’s kept his head.
As our narrator introduces him, we hear how he always tries to emulate his ancestors’ ways of life, and uphold their traditions. Apparently this includes interpreting dreams and prophecies, which leads him to conclude that the US economy is bound for collapse. Wait, he had to interpret his dreams to deduce that? Hell, I know it’s assured, and I’ve never had an economic dream (tons of dreams about air- and spacecraft falling out of the sky, though, for what it’s worth). I’m sure his Apache forebears could’ve told him the same, based purely on observations of our culture’s counter-to-the-laws-of-ecology foundation of infinite expansion in a finite world.
Of course, when it comes to holding onto your ancestors’ lifeways, it’s pretty tough to get by on hunting-and-gathering in the impoverished ecosystem this culture has left in its wake. Then again, when your ancestral lands are stolen by a genocidal culture who believes Their way is the only right way for people to live, what do you expect?

Snake’s biggest motivator—and challenge—is his new wife Melissa. He wants to be able to provide for her in any contingency, but isn’t sure if she’ll be able to ‘rough it’ when the time comes.
And Snake has a novel strategy of survival, one this bunkers-and-guns-heavy show rarely features: when things go south, he plans on grabbing his partner, hopping on his motorcycle, and going nomad.
(While I agree with his reasons for choosing a motorcycle—primarily the ease of navigating congested roads—it’s important to remember that a bicycle has the same advantage, is only like, 1/10th the weight, and requires zero fossil fuels).
So to put themselves to the test, Snake and Melissa head for the hills, where they’ll try out some survival skills to see if they’re up to the challenge.
First up is staying hydrated. They come across some stagnant puddles, which they drink using some of those third-world-water filter straws. I like the idea of having a disposable way to suck water directly out of the source, but they have their disadvantages too. First of these is capacity—each straw is only rated to filter something like, twenty gallons. Second, they’re based off that ‘activated carbon’ stuff, which I’m pretty sure don’t handle the two big guys when it comes to dirty water—giardia and cryptosporidium. To take care of those, you’re better off boiling water, or passing it through a heavy-duty Katadyn filter or the like. Actually, the Lifestraw is probably the optimum for short-term outings (what with its’ 1,000 gallon capacity, ability to filter the important critters, and light weight).
There’s a shot of Snake trying to swish water from the puddle into the narrow neck of what I swear is a Red Stripe bottle. Ideally, you’re better off with a wide-mouth bottle, but if you don’t have one, an empty ziplock-type bag—or a condom, in a pinch—can make a handy water-scooper.

Next challenge is staying fed. Obviously not nearly as important as water (after all, you can survive for three weeks without food but only three days without the wet stuff), but nobody likes to be out in the woods on an empty stomach. Snake finds a monstrous ant mound and digs out some six-legged snacks. He eats some of the ants, but unless you’re in an area with those honey-assed ants, I wouldn’t bother. Instead, focus on something that can’t crawl away or bite you—larvae! Ray Mears demonstrates a great way to collect larvae (get the bugs to work for you!) in his Belarus bushcraft film.

After Melissa passes on the creepy-crawlies, Snake decides to try for something more meaty, and actually shoots a nice big jackrabbit, right through the eye. Better yet, he doesn’t use some big, ugly, black plastic gun, he uses a wooden bow! Finally! Man, I really mean it when I say there’s not nearly enough archery on this show!
Like I said, there was a time when you couldn’t throw a stick west of the Mississippi without hitting a buffalo or elk or something sizeable to eat, but not anymore, so they have to make do with the rabbit. Snake skips his knife and skins the rabbit with the teeth in a coyote skull (somehow), whips up a fire with a bow-drill, and roasts the whole critter, eyes and all. And major thumbs-up on thanking the Great Spirit for the nourishment the rabbit will give them. I was kind of surprised he didn’t do it when he shot it, but he made up for it at suppertime.

With water, food, and fire taken care of, I’m disappointed they didn’t have time to tackle Shelter. Especially since the couple passed a little wikiup framework when they reached their camp, I would’ve liked to see how he made it sleepable, but alas, we run out of time. Like I said at the beginning, Snake really gets the short end of the stick in the episode, which is too bad because I would’ve liked to see more of him, particularly because folks with his kind of survival approach are criminally under-represented on this show. As he says, folks with alternate methods of supporting themselves (in other words, those who don’t have to rely on the locked-up food at the supermarket) are the ones who will really be able to survive.

In their assessment, the ‘experts’ suggest that Snake get familiar with snares and traps (they say hunting is too much work), and I’m inclined to agree. Of course, there’s no reason to keep everything primitive; you can throw a couple of large Victor traps in your pack, and a medium-sized Havahart trap on the back of the bike, and you can catch anything from packrats on up to cats!
However, despite the fact that he seems perfectly competent to handle himself in the wilderness, in the end the ‘experts’ give Snake just 48 points for four months’ initial survival (which is the second-lowest score yet).
This is just further proof that these so-called ‘experts’ are unable to objectively evaluate someone who operates under a paradigm completely different from theirs. I shouldn’t be surprised, though; I first started leaning towards this conclusion when I tried the ‘How Prepped Are You’  feature (what the experts supposedly use to calculate the scores) at the NatGeo site; clearly, the brains behind the show—victims of our culture’s myth of Progress—cannot imagine a world in which one’s odds of survival have nothing to do with how much one has stockpiled (whether of food, water, paramilitary guns, or high-tech gear).

In his update, Snake sounds like they are setting up the makings of a nice homestead at Melissa’s parent’s house.

Doomsday Preppers: Lucas Camerons & Kevin O’Brien

The season continues with the episode ‘In the Hurt Locker’ (a title which actually comes from a line in the episode about having no money). We start off in the Bible Belt with a look at Lucas Cameron and his group of ‘Seven Trumpet Preppers’. As our narrator tells us, Lucas, his wife, son, and parents are all “God-Fearing Christians”.
7Trumpet PreppersA few weeks ago I was explaining Doomsday Preppers to a friend, and he asked me what kind of ‘doomsday’ the folks were prepared for.
“Oh, you know,” I said, “pretty much everyone says financial collapse, with the odd earthquake or volcano thrown in.”
“What?!” he stammered, “Those aren’t doomsdays! An asteroid is doomsday!” His point being, there’s a difference between something being the end of your world, and the End of The World.
Well, on this episode, we have the first group preparing for that latter category, stemming from their particular book of faith: Lucas and the rest of the Seven Trumpets fear a “global earthquake described in Revelation”. They somehow think this will relate to the big, bad wolf of the Eastern US, the New Madrid Seismic Zone. Which…isn’t global…but whatever. Maybe they think that’ll be the first Trumpet, and the rest will follow.

Once again, like everyone else, their real fear is that in the days after a quake, “people will turn to lawlessness”. Well, probably, but let’s first recognize that—just as there is no one right way to live—there are more ways of keeping order in a society than relying on arbitrary “Don’t do _x_!” laws decided on by elite old men, which are fully expected to be broken. Given a big enough disaster, a long enough timeline, and the absence of a dominating militarized government, it’s conceivable that we might actually see a return of an organically-evolved system of tribal law. Of course, we’re dealing with a guy who wears a miniature set of Ten Commandments (the world’s most famous set of anti-tribal laws) around his neck, so I don’t really expect them to understand.

Anyway, to deal with the likelihood of lawless, hungry folks hemorrhaging from cities, the Cameron clan has spent a comparatively-meager $50,000 fortifying their farm and home; like Tom Perez, they call their fortress home The Alamo.
And to help with the defense and upkeep of the place, Lucas has recruited prepper friends with a very telling variety of skillsets. These include a soldier/‘private military contractor’-type, a guy who works night shift security, and Lucas’s father, a lifelong farmer of row crops and beef cattle. Additionally, Lucas and his buddy Spence work together to fabricate machines including a wind turbine and another one of those ‘wood gassifiers’ things (I have yet to really understand how they work) they use to power a generator. And what is this wood-burning fuel-maker made from? An old oil drum and some jumbo ammo cans! Well, that gets a thumbs-up for DIY solutions! However, when it comes to farming, I have to raise this point: like Lucas’s pa, my dad and uncle have been growing maize, soya, and beef cattle for decades. But do I think they could do it without modern synthetic fertilizers and antibiotics and inoculants? No way! If you want to be really able to survive an uncertain future, make friends with someone who has a big, productive organic garden. Y’know, a horticulturalist, instead of a totalitarian agriculturalist.
So to recap, the way the Trumpets see it, one’s essential concerns should be defense (warfare), herding, and maintaining power. For those who say our culture has continued to evolve, let me point out that those three essentials are calling cards of the patriarchal, warlike, sky-god-worshipping Indo-Europeans who rode into history to dominate Europe about the time I’m guessing the Seven Trumpets believe the Earth was created.

Anyway, where were we? Food? Speaking of food, about the only time we see the ladies is when they’re showing off a bit of their massive food stockpile, including a lot of rice in two-liter soda bottles. For dry goods, I think those are hard to beat: bugs can’t get in (I guess mice might be able to chew through), they don’t shatter when dropped, and they stack up pretty neat; win-win-win. Apparently, they also have multiple food caches spread around the farm, which is always a good idea—Nature doesn’t put all her eggs in one basket, and we shouldn’t either.
We also hear that the family has a fair amount of food on-the-hoof: five goats, a score of chickens, and two-score cattle. That’s not bad, but again, can they keep them fed through a winter without relying on maize? And furthermore, would they really want to?—remember that ruminants like cattle evolved as grazers, not grain-eaters; grass-fed beef is way better.

Like most long-term thinking folks, the Seven Trumpets plan on reloading a lot of ammo when things head south. We get to see grandpa (who owns a firearms business) and Lucas teach his son how to reload shotshells, which they use as an opportunity to quiz him on his gun-ethics.
“What are guns for?” “Killing people trying to kill you.”
“That’s right,” says grandpa. “Guns are just weapons, like a carpenter’s saw.” Wait, what?

Always interested in swelling the ranks of the ’Trumpets, Lucas has been in contact with a new arrival to the area, who just happens to be a familiar face from season one…Kevin O’Brien! This means we get to see an update on his ultimate prepper homestead, right? Unfortunately, no. While the O’Briens bought 130 acres of lovely countryside, they still have no home, so they rent a house nearby and take frequent camping trips to get familiarized with the land. There’s a bit where the kids make it abundantly clear they have no intention of ever living without indoor plumbing, haha.
So, to try out for the ’Trumpets, the O’Briens head over to the Cameron compound and do some target shooting with that crew. They seem pretty pleased with his performance, but have a more rigorous test in mind for him, one for which they’ve called in the big guns, literally. Because who shows up next but the ‘experts’ themselves, Practical Preppers! Hot damn, this is turning out to be an all-star episode!
Kobler and Hunt roll up with black guns, night-vision, and more tactical crap than I’ve ever seen before, to play to role of ‘raiders’ that O’Brien and the Seven Trumpets will hopefully detect and defend against. Which begs the question—exactly what kind of raiders do these guys expect to deal with? Are they planning on facing hungry hordes of unprepared city-folk, or the local band of Navy SEALs?  Seriously; boys and their toys, *eyeroll*.

Luckily (unlike some of the other invasion drills we’ve seen), at least these guys’ guns are loaded with blanks (Kevin is armed with a spotlight in hopes of blinding the night-vision). Anyway, the experts manage to sneak up right under the others’ noses, and during the shooting, Lucas’s AR jams! Haha! I think I’ll stick with my EastBloc dunk-‘em-in-mud rifles, thank you very much. Despite all this, I guess everybody considers it a successful learning experience, and Lucas offers to bring Kevin into his group.

In the experts’ assessment,
O’Brien gets 62 points—keeping chickens (his daughter names her chick Nugget. Right-on, that’s the way to do it!) gets him extra kudos for food resupply—for 9 months’ survival.
Lucas—who the experts say needs to buy some two-way radios—gets 74 points for 14 months.

In their update, the O’Briens have moved to a new location with a stocked fish pond, wood-burning stove, a bigger chicken coop, and lots of stonework, which looks really good in the woods. Thumbs-up for architectural camouflage. Meanwhile, Lucas reports that they’ve taken the experts advice and bought walkie-talkies, as well as installed a hand pump for their well. Yay for the best kind of sustainable energy, people power!

Doomday Preppers: Derek Price

The second group featured in the ‘superbunker’ episode is Derek Price of Bear Grass, North Carolina.
Daniel, Haven, and Derek PriceDerek and his family run Deadwood, a Wild West-themed park that they use as a profitable cover for their prepping activities.

Price is worried about a solar flare and/or EMP that will “end civilization and send us back to the wild west!” A bit later on he says something about how he fears a disaster that would be responsible for “sending our way of life at least back to the wild west.”
There are a couple of things that need to be dealt with in those statements. First off, our conception of the so-called ‘Wild’ West is largely a result of Hollywood Westerns and dime-store novels.
Second, as long as people keep thinking like this, the only result of something like a massive solar flare or EMP would be a regression in our level of technology; Derek’s statements reveal Our Culture’s assumption that civilized people in our past somehow lived differently than we do today. The fact of the matter is—technological inflation aside—our ‘way of life’ is the same as that of the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, English, and just about every other Empire of the last 6,000 years or so. The Old West, even in its non-Hollywood reality, was still Civilized.

However, yet again, the real fear isn’t having to live without juice, but the “lawless days that might ensue if society breaks down due to loss of electricity.” I wonder if learning to live with less electricity would be a good start? Y’know, wean ourselves off?, so that when the effects of peak oil (which already happened, by the way) dramatically rear their heads, we’ll be used to it? I’m a big fan of the Transition Town movement.
So, while his driving concern is the same as everyone else’s, in a departure from others on the show, Derek is at least able to admit and possibly embrace his paranoia and obsession. It’s a nice change of pace from the suburban folks who look at the camera and say, “I’m not crazy!” as they stack cases of astronaut food; Derek just shrugs and says, “Eh, maybe I am.”

Derek gets together with his brother Daniel (ex-military type) to review possible sniper positions around Deadwood. To patrol their property, they use their miniature train powered by biodiesel. That’s pretty shiny. Then they cut some bamboo punji sticks. Some folks will say, “Bamboo in North Carolina?” It’s not native (though related to native river-cane, which once choked the banks of all the big rivers in the Ohio valley) but I say it’s a sustainable, sturdy material; go for it.
They stick the punjis in the ground, test ‘em out with some kind of dummy, and determine that the intruder would be lethally wounded. Daniel seems pleased, and remarks, “…that person’s dead, and that’s what we want!” WOW. I don’t think we’ve yet heard such blatant death-mongering on this show. Along the same lines, earlier one of the Prices remarks that “If an EMP were to hit, this is where I’d want to make my final stand.” Right, because like everyone else in this terminal death-culture, you’re at war with the world.

And then they wheel out the CANNON. Yes, you read that right. Cannon. I guess they have several around the park for demonstrations and ‘atmosphere’, and they want to see about using them for defense. So, to test the shot spread (to find out if it’s an effective defensive weapon?) they load it with plastic BBs and Pydrodex-type ‘gunpowder’, and then take about five tries to get it to fire. No wonder! Swap the modern powder for some good old-fashioned Black Powder, none of that needs-open-flame-to-ignite junk.
The whole cannon Charlie Foxtrot leads Derek to conclude that “vintage weapons are unreliable.” Hmm, do I detect the voice of Our Mother Culture and her myth of Progress (newer is always better)? If you think vintage weapons are unreliable, I suggest you visit your nearest frontier rendezvous shooting-match, and watch some of the old-timers use their handmade flintlocks to reach out and touch small targets at ridiculous distances.
Also, I understood the cannon was supposed to be part of their wild west show? If so, why do they act like they’ve never used it before?

As part of their anti-intruder techniques, Derek is teaching his son to “patrol in the dead of night”, which is funny…because it looks like the middle of the day the way they seem to have every light in the place switched on. What I don’t get is this: if they’re supposedly preparing for a scenario where the grid doesn’t exist, you’d think they would practice in a situation that approximated what they expect to deal with. Y’know, like with the lights off?

So, they want to do an invaded-by-marauders drill. They divide up into two teams and make their battle plans. Our narrator informs us that they’re wielding “real weapons…but the safeties are on.” Doesn’t matter; firearms should always be assumed to be loaded, and if they are (I swear I heard someone chamber a round), relying on a manmade mechanical device still doesn’t mean they’re safe.
Then there’s the bit when Derek’s eleven-year-old says he’s going to “get his assault rifle”. Ohboy. That’s exactly the sort of thing—especially in this post-Newtown environment—that will give the anti-gun lobby some very potent ammunition (pun…intended?)

In their analysis of his preparations, the experts tell him to beef up his water storage; Derek counters that he can filter (what’s already naturally-occurring on his property?). In the end, he gets 68 points, which now somehow works out to twelve months (funny, the last guy got eleven months for the same amount)?

In the post-filming update, Derek and his dad demonstrate the hand-pumped well they’ve put in. Nice to see a slightly more Appropriate level of technology to get their necessary liquids (compare to Bryan Smith who insisted on hooking his aquifer up to electric pumps and fossil fuel-dependent generators).

Doomsday Preppers: Brent

The series’ next episode (‘No such thing as a fair fight’) is the so-called ‘superbunker’ episode we’ve been hearing about, and I have to say it was certainly underwhelming. Like the last episode, this one also focuses on just two groups, which means I get a little bit more material to chew on!

We start with Brent Bruns, Sr. from Florida.
BrentHe’s working on an ambitious construction project somewhere in the Carolinas, where he has fifty acres of woodland—supposedly surrounded by another 1,000 acres (not sure if he owns those too)—on which he is building a 6,000-square-foot ‘castle’. Worried about an uncertain future in a world where everybody’s out to get America with EMPs, he wants a stronghold for his family that could last 100 or maybe even 1,000 years.
And why build a ‘castle’ instead of just burying a tube-bunker like everyone else on this show? I dunno, but he says that “castles are all rock—they can’t burn!” Plus, he thinks it will be able to survive earthquakes and “most other catastrophes”. Which is funny, because it’s not like he’s Michael Guyot, building an actual medieval-style French CASTLE in Arkansas, using centuries-old materials and techniques and letting visitors come and learn. From what we see, it just looks like cinderblocks and concrete, and the design seems pretty spindly compared to an actual Castle—where are the six-foot-thick walls and the narrow arrow loops/windows? Honestly, I see it coming down at the first sign of earthquake or hurricane (all those big square walls would catch the wind like sails).
© NatGeo/Sharp EntertainmentAnd since we’re talking fireproof building materials, what’s wrong with Cob? Unlike an entire building made of Portland cement, a cob building actually could last a thousand years, as well as have a small carbon footprint.

Like I said earlier, he’s worried that Amerika’s enemies will use an air-burst Electro-Magnetic Pulse to destroy our vulnerable electrical grid. Like everybody else on the show, he’s not worried so much about the doomsday MacGuffin itself, as much as what happens afterwards: he recites the survivalist mantra about after three days the supermarkets are bare, yada yada yada, anarchy reigns supreme, and we all “go back to medieval days”. Right. Except for the crucial difference: back then, most people actually knew how to grow their own food, and/or how to forage.
Y’know, when the overwhelming majority of folks are worried about the same issue (a populace helplessly dependent on the civilized teat), you’d think we’d see folks start actively trying to solve the issue, instead of just buttoning up to deal with the consequences.
And the worst part about life without electricity? “There’d be no way to communicate with people!” Hey, medieval people got along just fine without the juice, and assuming the flashing lights of our gadgets haven’t completely robbed us of our humanity, there’s always letters, and this little thing called face-to-face conversation?

So, by the way, Brent has ten children from two marriages, aged eight to fourty-one. The personalities on display range from superficial (Ashley’s plan is to “grab my makeup, my tiny dog, and head out!”—dad says she’s “more of a primper than a prepper!”, ha!) to pretty reasonable (Dawn-Marie says she “doesn’t know if the end of the world is going to happen, but it’s better to be prepared than not.”). Brent has gathered all the clan together because he wants to set up a trust for them after he dies, and he doesn’t know who should be in charge of it; this means everybody’s spending the weekend at the unfinished ‘castle’ where he will observe them and decide who to pick. This makes for a damned-impressive cocktail of regrettable television: all the talking-to-the-camera, who-will-he-pick? drama of Bachelor Pad, with the challenges of Survivor, with a healthy dose of Fear Factor’s eating nasty things (once they break out the expired MREs). Also, lots of girls in tanktops and shorty-shorts (Buckwild?)

For their first test, Brent has the kids get together and try to assemble a framework for their solar panels. Wait, what? Solar panels? I thought this whole thing was about going medieval so you don’t rely on the vulnerable electric grid? Guess I’m expecting too much. Still, if you’re going to continue living with electricity, thumbs-up for the solar array and wind turbine.

They move on to testing the kids’ familiarity with firearms. Brent tells us that they’ve picked “police-type” and “army-type” weapons. Y’know, “something standard, that there are a lot of.” This boils down to an AK, an AR, and two Mosin-Nagants (yay, East Bloc love!). That’s fine, but if your criteria is ‘standard and widely-available’, why not get a variety of .22s? It’s by far the most common small-arms caliber; it’s cheap, plentiful, doesn’t kick, can be silent, and is perfectly deadly in the right hands.
First up is Brent’s oldest, Brent Jr., age 41. Did we mention this is his first time shooting a gun? So, we don’t see dad give him any instruction, just lets Jr. pick a rifle off the table. He grabs the AK, chambers a round, and proceeds to rapidly fire off about ten rounds. Without hearing protection. Then he tells dad to speak up, because his “ears are ringing!” What a surprise!

It starts raining so they try some kind of coordinated firing exercise in front of one of the big window spaces. I guess they were supposed to step up in pairs and shoot at unseen targets below? Well, it seems this is the first time shooting for just about everybody, because there’s lots of bad form and I kept waiting for somebody to get shot in the foot (thankfully, nothing happens). Again, I would’ve started everybody out with .22s and a basic gun-handling lesson; you can hand a slender girl a double-barreled shotgun for the first time, just don’t be surprised when it knocks her off her feet.
Remember, folks,:
4rules
The rain keeps on coming, so they decide to practice bugging-in down in the basement bunker, only to find when the power goes out, the whole place is improperly insulated, and now there’s raw electricity arcing all over the place. Fun! Dad realizes that “we still need a lot of training.” Yup.

The experts tell Brent to get some new food because eating twelve-year-old MREs aren’t the best idea (unless, of course, you’re going for the real medieval experience, and want your castle to be ankle-deep in shit). I would agree, although earlier Brent bragged that he’s bought 40,000 heirloom seeds. That’s great, but how many has he planted? That said, take a minute to understand the differences between Sell By, Best By, and Use By dates on food (hint: except for baby formula, they don’t really mean anything).
The experts also give him extra ‘x-factor’ points for the “unique defensive structure” of his ‘castle’. Huh. Did I miss the star fort he was secretly building?, because it just looked like a concrete box to me.
He gets 68 points for eleven months’ initial survival.
And in the update, Brent informs us that he has built up the pillars to the final height and is now ready to pour a concrete roof? Wow. So, just waiting for an earthquake, then?

ADDENDUM:
Looks like NatGeo has picked up Brent and his ten offspring for a late-summer spinoff series, “Doomsday Castle“. *eyeroll*…ohboy.

Doomsday Preppers: Christine Hobson

This episode only looked at two individuals, and Christine Hobson of Virginia Beach, VA is the second; I don’t have much to say about this segment.
christinehobsonShe’s seemingly obsessed with the eruption of the Canary Islands’ Cumbre Vieja volcano, because such an eruption would likely cause a mega-tsunami that could overtake the East Coast in like, eight hours.
Personally, I never put much stock in folks with these types of super-specific worries, and I suspect she’s probably ‘general prepping’ for many contingencies. That said, if you’re interested in seismic events with the potential for seriously disrupting our way of life, I just saw a great program on Icelandic volcanoes on PBS (you can watch it in full at the link).

Her big focus is on what she calls ‘portable preps’, although I don’t see a whole lot of them. It mostly looks like a very well-organized stockpile of canned food and camping gear in the old garage—to which she intends to “back the van up” and then load everything in. And I mean well-organized: she claims to spend two to four hours a day ‘prepping’, which means her stash is meticulously categorized and generally immaculate. I’m sure people who watch these kinds of shows for the ‘look at freaks’ angle would probably enjoy Christine’s segment, because she generally seems like a high-strung, nearly-frazzled housewife.

She invites over some female relatives to show off her ‘meal-in-a-jar’. Take a quart ball jar, and commence to pour in layers of various dehydrated ingredients—tomatoes, peas, freezedried chicken, &c—that you can just pour your hot water into and set aside to cook. It’s not actually a bad idea, but I hope it’s not one of her portable preps—while they’d be pretty much pest-proof and shelf-stable, glass jars are heavy! Plus, I like to keep my dehydrated ingredients separate so I can make custom dishes instead of being locked into premade jar-meals. But like I said, I like the idea.

In order to put her plan to the test, she and the family do a mock bug-out. Once again, they spend like, half an hour running around packing all their consumables into the van and trailer. In order to show her flexibility, for the sake of their drill they pretend the thoroughfares are blocked, so they opt for one of humanity’s original highways (aka a river), which is convenient because they just happened to pack several inflatable rafts! They get help from Chuck Connolly, a local  rafting guide. His advice on their practice bug-out? Chuck says, “Do it ahead of time!”
This is apparently their very first time running through this drill, because it takes them two hours to inflate, load up, and get into their rafts. They could do with some serious streamlining, because honestly, it looks like when my parents go civilized camping and wind up bringing everything but the kitchen sink.

The experts tell her the obvious—when it comes to bugging out, it’s all about downsizing and practice, practice, practice—and that she ought to think about learning hunting and trapping skills, “so she’ll  have food wherever she goes.” I dunno, I find that idea kind of funny; I don’t see suburban folks like her doing much silent stalking of game through the woods, and trapping isn’t going to be very practical if you’re bugging out on the move. Honestly, it’d probably be easier to learn a handful of wild edible plants to forage for while bugging out. In her present state, the experts give Christine 51 points for five months’ initial survival.