Archive for March, 2013

Doomsday Preppers: Kevin Barber

And our last new preppers of the season are the Barber family, of Kansas.
Kevin sets the stage with a description of the typical, supposedly-ideal postwar American lifestyle. They live in the burbs, they work long hours at jobs they hate, they have bills for food/electricity/heating/airconditioning/TV/mobilephones/school/everything, “and that’s the problem.”

Kevin believes (probably correctly) that the national debt will continue to grow until “called” by our creditors, at which point he believes the “suburban dream will turn into a nightmare.” Pull the wool from over your eyes, folks, and wake up. The nightmare is already here – the System is just really good at covering it up and distracting you from it.

So, after recognizing that our society’s answer for Everything is simply ‘Make a Program and Throw Money At It’ (“Every problem we try to fix with a credit card!”), Kevin’s preparation for an oncoming economic collapse isn’t simply to turn his back on suburbia and go off-grid (like Joe from last week, which would be totally adequate). Instead, he’s pulling up stakes and moving to Costa Rica.

Though really, why Costa Rica? Do they want to be as far from the US as possible without leaving the continent? I feel like pretty much any dictator-free Central American country would have a similar environment and ethic; my third dad just got back from a two-month motorcycle trip through Mexico down to Guatemala, and it sounded just like the Costa Rica Kevin describes.

Kevin explains that they’re heading south (before the economy does) because he’s realized that living at a lower standard of living (a phrase solidly rooted in our culture’s Myth of Progress)— in other words, one somewhere a few rungs below the First-World industrial daydream he lived in the ’burbs—provides more opportunities for one to be self-reliant and therefore have a greater possibility of overall survival. As he says, “the typical Costa Rican doesn’t have as far to fall—they grow their own food, make their own power, and are used to living a simple life.” This is probably true. However, while it’s inspiring to see a suburban family from the West realize that it’s alright to live like the Rest, the bigger issue is all the folks from the ‘developing’/Third world/Global South who have been told that it’s the First World lifestyle they should be aspiring towards. It won’t do much good for all the Kevin Barbers in the world to move to the Costa Ricas of the world, if all the Costa Ricans of the world have been told for the last 50 years that they should want to be Kevin Barbers. Instead, everybody needs to realize that the Kevin Barber way of life just isn’t good for anybody.

Unfortunately, while I guess his idea is okay, I’m not a big fan of how they implement it. Instead of selling off pretty much all their possessions and arriving with suitcases and not much else (making do with the necessities, like the locals), they elect to hire a shipping container to fill up “to jump-start our new life”.
At least they take some solar panels and a generator.

Thankfully, while he still hangs onto a lot of Stuff, Kevin at least realizes that “self-sufficiency isn’t about buying a lot of gear, but having skills.” WORD. I think it’s also about having a certain attitude, but that can come later. He goes on to admit that “despite living in Kansas”, they “don’t know much about growing [their] own food or butchering animals.” Yes, Kevin, because you live in the ’burbs. Joe and Wendy live in Kansas too, and do know about those things—but only because they’re unplugged. Even if you’re not living the self-reliant lifestyle, if you live in the ’burbs or anywhere else within the matrix, you really owe it to yourself to at least become familiar with such things.
Thankfully, the Barbers do just that, and take the opportunity to take some crash-courses in areas they lack.

Joe Fox of Viking Preparedness drops by to teach the kids basic Don’t Get Lost in the Woods skills, and gives them kid-friendly bug-out-bags. They also start taking Spanish lessons. Finally, they get a visit from Marjory Wildcraft (with a name like that, she was pretty much born to teach outdoor skills). She schools them in survival entomophagy (or as non-westerners calls it, eating dinner)—chowing down on mealy worms, crickets, and scorpions. And then she breaks out a live Sister Turkey to butcher. Ms. Wildcraft has Kevin dispatch it, and they skin and butcher it together. Now, from what we’re shown (or not shown, thankfully), it seems they just hold the hen down and slit its throat, which is pretty much the least humane way possible. Yes, you want to bleed the animal, but that shouldn’t be what kills it. Thankfully, when dispatching poultry, you have several methods at your disposal. Regardless of what technique you choose, it always helps to hang the bird by its feet for four or five minutes first, which basically causes the bird to pass out. That way, when you stab/whirl/knock/chop it, there’s much less flapping and screaming.

*Books will tell you to stick an icepick through the roof of the bird’s mouth, but as small as their brains are, I wouldn’t trust myself to stick it right on the first try, and nobody likes a botched lobotomy.
*Alternately, I have a friend who uses a wire loop to hold the bird’s head tight to a board, and she just holds onto the feet and yanks up, cleanly breaking the neck.
*For what it’s worth, I’ve also found that a miniature Louisville Slugger is perfect for knocking chickens on the back of the head.
*Finally, there’s always the archetypal hatchet-and-stump method, which results in lots of flopping around like, well, a chicken with its head cut off. I’ve noticed that this method always results in “postmortem contractions of posterior neck ligaments”. In other words, your decapitated chicken will quickly stiffen up and do its best to imitate a dead therapod:

When dad dispatches the bird, Kevin’s son remarks that “This is sad.” Indeed it is. Nice to see the kid—while he may not be consciously aware of it—is still undomesticated enough to sense a kinship with his sister animal. Without an reciprocal offering or thanking of the Great Spirit, however, it just feels imbalanced.

In the end, the family receives 60 points, which computes out to nine months’ survival. I’m kind of surprised they got such a relatively-high score, considering they don’t seem to be immigrating with much in the way of stored food or water (and we know what sticklers the ‘experts’ are for storing water).
And we finally get to see a post-filming update from the family, with a really funny bit where Kevin starts out all bundled up only to strip off his winter clothes as the camera zooms out to reveal they’ve arrived in the tropics! There’s a dozen different kinds of fruit just waiting to be picked off the tree, they have the chicken coop set up, and the weather is spring-like all year. I was never big on the tropics before (maybe because the last time I was there was the rainy season), but Kevin makes it look really tempting.


Doomsday Preppers: Brad and Krystal

Whoo, we finally made it to ‘Gonna Be a Big Bang’, the last episode of the season! (next week’s best-of compilation doesn’t count.)Brad&Krystal-familyOur look at this Tulsa, OK family begins with a voiceover from Brad:
“I think there’s a general misconception about what’s going on in the world, and what’s going on in America: people are somewhat naïve about the dangers that we face and the tough times ahead that we have…The signs and the signals are already there.” Well, dude, you’re on the right track, but the suburbs are just about the worst place to see what’s really going on in the world, insulating and completely artificial as they are. I don’t have time or space here to write a 12,000-word screed on that subject–that’s what this series is for.
Just remember, though, that you can’t expect to change or escape (or really survive, in the long run, for that matter) if you can’t recognize the bars of your cage.

And so, just like literally one out of every two people profiled this season, Brad is preparing for what? All together now! “Economic collapse!…which will lead to Armageddon.” Wait, what? Maybe Brad’s not up on his bible-reading, but even this practicing heathen can tell you that Armageddon (a fictional cosmic battle pitting Zombie Jeebus v. Satan and the Antichrist), would fall neatly into the category of ‘supernatural event’; the collapse of one civilized human economy would not. An economic collapse might theoretically result from Armageddon, but not the other way around.

Let me say this up front: this segment is the epitome of Type IA (Rawlesian) Prepping:
Guns? Check.
House full of hoarded, never-to-be-eaten-until-doomsday canned foods? Check.
Extraneous, expensive survivalist gear (camouflage, gasmasks, body armor, &c.)? Check. (Brad probably some two-way-radios and night-vision goggles stashed in a closet somewhere)
Overbuilt, underground steel box (bunker)? Check?
Judeo-Christian Southerners? Check.
Really, all that’s missing is a sock full of pre-1965 quarters.

So, in the year or so since Brad ‘became a prepper’, he’s spent $70,000 on gear and enough canned goods to fill his house. Literally: the house is only 2,000 square feet, yet every room seems to be full of food cans stacked to the ceiling. You know what I would do if I had a house full of food? Eat it! And then I’d buy—or maybe, just maybe, grow—some more! Huh, what a novel idea!: Food is for eating!

Sidebar: After two seasons of this show, I’ve noticed that the folks who really turn me off are the ones who seem to have, at some point in the very recent past, sat down and said, “We’re going to be preppers now!”, and then spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars catching up with the Joneses. Because that’s how we try to solve problems in this country: by throwing money at it! The folks who I really like are the ones who have just been living their life in a way that coincidentally makes them prepared, who shrug and say, “Well, I guess that makes us preppers.”

Now, all members of Brad’s family supposedly go to the gun range every month, and we get to see the six-year-old’s first time. He seems downright excited talking about their plan for the post-collapse world: “We have to shoot bad guys with our own guns, right?” he says with a grin. At the gun range, the youngling gets some pistol training with tacticool specialist Steve Aryan. After the kid takes a shot, Steve tells him, “You’re a shooter, I can tell.” Hmm, I wonder why that is? Could it be that the kid has grown up in a terminal death-culture, exposed to more violence-for-entertainment in his six years than most people should see in their entire lives?

So, apparently, Brad spends two hours every day just inspecting his ‘preps’, and a further two to four hours daily ordering new stuff? And what kind of Stuff does he buy that he thinks will help them survive? How ‘bout a ghillie suit? Krystal puts it on while Brad tells her, “If you wanted to stay concealed, that’s what you’d wear. You’d blend in well.” Sure she’d blend in well, dude, when she’s in the jungle. Not in the ’burbs!

Then there’s some reality-show, forced-tears drama BS where they explain how the “situation has become so dire”, they’ve “had to hold off on expanding our family.” *Sigh* I’m guessing if they had it their way, Brad and Krystal would have six or seven or eight kids, but let’s pretend for a second that our culture followed a different paradigm and didn’t teach us that the Earth was made for civilized man to multiply across and abuse as he sees fit. They already have three kids who have survived past age five, so it’s reasonable to assume they’ll live to adulthood, which means Brad and Krystal have already replaced themselves plus one. If you haven’t noticed, we probably hit the planet’s carrying capacity years ago – so every new discovery made (the New World, petro fuels, any number of vaccines) is really just an artificial extension of the population cliff our culture has created.

And while Krystal already has the waterworks running, she uses the opportunity to go on about how one of her motivations in prepping is to ensure that her daughter won’t get raped and ravaged by the hordes of rioting unprepared folks when TSHTF. Apparently she’s unaware that she lives in an institutionalized Rape Culture, and one of her children will, statistically-speaking, be sexually assaulted at some point in their life, with or without the excuse of economic collapse or other disaster, as it seems our culture has been one of Men Who Hate Women for the last 6,000 years.

Anyway, like all Type I preppers, Brad has a serious Bunker Boner, so he contracts Clyde Scott of ‘Rising S Bunkers’ to build one for him, which turns into a ten-minute detour into Texan Prepper culture. I feel it’s appropriate to point out that Clyde has eight children and builds overkill bunkers that look like trash compactors, so he’s pretty much living the Taker dream.

Our introduction to Clyde consists of him talking into the camera, I guess trying to overcome the stereotype of ‘preppers’ as 1990s-militia-survivalists: “…tell folks you’re a prepper and you get mistaken for someone with a lot of guns and ammo and weapons. Well, that’s not what we try to do.”  That’s right – they also have bunkers and bugout bags!

Apparently, Clyde’s policy is to only employ identical male self-identified preppers. Seriously: every one of his workers is a good ol’ boy with a Mossy Oak hat and a goatee. We then take a further detour when Clyde watches his son try to ride a horse. I guess even though young Jagger claims ‘rodeoing’ is a hobby, he can’t tell if a horse is good for riding or not; he gets bucked off and hurts his hand. Well, that was pointless.

Next up we get all the Rising S crew discussing their prepping philosophy. They’re convinced “something’s gonna happen that’ll be the restart button for America.” Their plan is to “go underground, be the rabbit in the hole, and eat good, because [they’re] preppers!” I dunno, I’ve talked about the inherent shortsightedness of bunker-based preparations before, and I really don’t feel like going over it again. In my opinion, bunker-dwellers are just about as bad as the head-in-the-sand optimist ‘ostriches’ who’ve been lulled to sleep by our Mother Culture and refuse to believe that anything bad could ever happen. While opposites on the spectrum, both groups essentially refuse to own up and really take responsibility for their own survival.

When the family pays a visit to Clyde’s outfit, they check out their new digs before it gets buried. Hailey, ordinary modern teenager, asks if she’ll get cell service. Funny! Then the six-year-old asks “Where’s the TV, and X-Box and stuff?” Ohboy. Parents, better start weaning them off that attention-span-destroying electronic teat before TSHTF, or you’re going to be dealing with some serious junkie-children-in-cold-turkey-withdrawal when they go underground. It also bugs me that their plan while they’re down below is just to play cards and board games. Like, do they just expect to pass the time and keep themselves entertained until they can come up for air, at which point everything will be back to normal, and they can go back to their jobs and keep going to the grocery store? Hypothetically, if I were a bunker prepper, I’d have that thing stocked with musical instruments and a big gorram library. Also, I really hope they plan on doing some decorating or something, because the plain white walls and fluorescent lights would drive me absolutely crazy in about a day.

So, because Clyde builds—like a good little Taker—using the only shape he knows (the box), instead of one actually suited to distributing weight (like a circle or parabola), Brad’s bunker weighs 19,000 pounds—enough to snap the industrial chain they use to lift it onto the truck, which whips back and hits Clyde and breaks his arm. He has a schedule to keep and he’s not going to let a little thing like a broken arm stop him, so they press on to Oklahoma, set up the crane, pick up the bunkerbox, put it in the backyard hole, and cover it in concrete! Is that really necessary? Is there a prepper rule somewhere that says it’s not enough to pay $70,000 for an overgrown tin can, it’s not a bunker unless it’s dipped in Portland cement?

While the nine-and-a-half-ton bunker is hanging 30 feet over their heads, Brad and Krystal suddenly notice all the people gawking at the scene as they drive past: “Pretty sure we’ll be the talk of the block for a while,” she says. Erm yeah, and you’ll become the talk of the block again real soon should disaster strike, now that all your neighbors know you have a bunker.

The experts tell them, as usual, to store water. And then, for some reason—despite these guys being the epitome of Type I prepping—only give the family 49 points, for four months’ survival! Wait, what?!? Why so low??? Could Practical Preppers finally have opened their eyes to see that the bunker model isn’t a real answer, but is at best a misguided stop-gap solution to bigger problems?

Doomsday Preppers: Joe and Wendy

This season’s next-to-last episode finishes up with a look at the Kansas homestead of Joe & Wendy.
© NatGeo/Sharp EntertainmentUnlike the rest of the one-name-only folks on the show (whose full names can be dug up in about five seconds), these guys have a minimal web footprint, and so while I only know their last name through personal correspondence, I’ll be maintaining their privacy in this post. If you really want to get ahold of them, the contact form at their website should get you a pretty quick reply.

I have to admit, when I found the barebones description of this profile a few weeks ago—“Joe is a nonconformist living in the backwoods of Kansas who has given up on modern life”—I was ridiculously excited. Personally, as a similar Kantuckee-backwoods-nonconformist who struggles daily with notions of integrating postpostmodern digital life and Luddite-primitivism, this down-to-earth guy is right up my alley.

Before we even see the family, our ever-dramatic narrator poses a number of very important questions with larger implications, but if I focus on those I’d never get to Joe! Best save them for a later essay in the off-season.

Joe’s purported single-issue in the segment is the “loss of the electrical grid, which will cause the breakdown of society, and change modern life as we know it”; and so we’re supposed to believe that Joe dragged his family out to the country because of a “fear of solar flares” which is some major BS. As Joe told me, “There’s any number of scenarios that could result in disaster – read the handwriting on the wall.”

The truth is, Joe had been ‘living the life’ our culture tells us we’re supposed to aspire to—house on a lake, working six days a week, with lots of ‘fancy toys’ but no time to enjoy oneself. At the same time, Joe began to take an interest in health and “what you put in your body”. This led him to learn about growing his own food and, having been inspired by the late Carla Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living (a book which he credits with “making [an off-grid lifestyle] seem possible”), Joe used the fair chunk of change he’d made from almost seventeen years of laying fine wood floors to buy their rural property.

In order to keep their only debt their monthly land payment, they built their 1,000-square-foot strawbale home themselves for $10,000, (something which—even though it’s the first one we’ve seen on this show—NatGeo disappointedly neglected to point out).
Their home has no TV, so I’m sure most of the viewing audience is wondering what the family uses to switch off their brains and medicate themselves with mindless infotoxin every evening? Instead, they have lots of musical instruments, and spend a lot of time jamming!

In general, Joe and his family seek a happy medium between primitive and modern.
Despite their home being super-insulated, the summers in Kansas can still be pretty unbearable, so the house utilizes the ambient ground temperature for cooling, with a neat system I’d never seen before, in which pipes are buried several feet underground, running at a slight angle up to the house. This allows air to cool before small fans pull it inside the house. These fans—and their other handful of small appliances—are all powered by a 480-watt photovoltaic solar array.

Joe and the girls take a bath outdoors, which, if you haven’t tried it, is just about the only way. I’ve never done a cast-iron-tub-with-fire-underneath bath like they do—mostly because of the fine line between taking a bath, and being simmered. However, in the summer I do bathe almost exclusively outdoors. I lay a large piece of plexiglass or a whole windowpane over a tin tub in the north yard, and in a sunny hour or two the water is hot! Laying a full, coiled garden hose in the sun is perfect for rinsing. A 50-gallon plastic drum (what folks normally use for rain barrels) painted flat black on a raised platform makes a dandy shower-tower.

While their bathtub fire is burning, a caption reminds us that wood ash can be also be used as a soil additive, which is true. Also, if you pour water through hardwood ashes, you can make some very potent homemade lye! This comes in handy for making oldtime soap (as Joe and Wendy do), leather, lutefisk, hominy, &c.

As proper homesteaders, the family does its’ best to grow as much of their food as possible—in fact, Joe expects they will be able to produce 100% of their grains this year with their two-acre garden plot of rich, black riverbottom soil. In addition to growing most of their vegetables, they also have an orchard of young trees and berry bushes that will ensure a harvest of fresh fruits. All of this can be stored in the awesome rootcellar (unseen on the broadcast, of course; as he put it, “All the footage they actually used was the worst stuff!”).
In fact, about the only foodstuffs they still buy are things they can’t grow in their climate: bananas, sugar, and coffee. They also keep a nice variety of livestock, including a Jersey cow for milk, fourteen dairy goats (the ultimate survival animal), plus a number of chickens. Between all those critters and meat donations from hunting relatives, the family hasn’t had to buy meat in years (“and we probably wouldn’t eat what’s in the supermarket, anyway,” Joe said).

What the show tries to spin as a ‘bugout drill with no supplies’ is just a nature walk; as Joe explained it, “We’re already bugged out!” If they ever had to ‘bug out’, you can bet things were really bad everywhere. In other words, “It’s beyond prepping once you’re actually living it.”

The idea of a lifestyle that ensures that should a disaster go down, you wouldn’t notice much of a change is one with which I’m fully on-board. Of course, as we see, it requires a radical amount of lifestyle change, more than most fully-domesticated folks are probably willing to try. However, the rewards are infinite; physical and mental health are only the beginning. For what it’s worth, Joe and Wendy’s decision to home-school their girls in their environment is only natural, and probably comes pretty close to the way humans evolved to learn.
Personally, I’d suggest first cultivating ‘off-grid’ as a mindset first, and then as a lifestyle. But for any folks interested in shifting towards this kind of life, Joe suggests the best thing to do (besides taking a workshop with him, of course!) is to jump right in and “just start Doing.”

In their assessment, Practical Preppers point out that Joe has apparently made no preparations for security/defense, which—instead of meaning something like, ‘think about growing a living fence around your land’—as always, really means ‘think about acquiring the skills and tools to facilitate the easy elimination of life’. Although he doesn’t brag and show them off (like all the Type I preppers do), as a self-respecting homesteader Joes does have firearms. However, he explains that they “don’t want to make killing people our life’s focus; we want to be different.”
Right-on/Word./Fucking A, man.

The experts give them 70 points for twelve months’ survival—although Joe told me they were told their score was 78 points during filming. Furthermore, while they did submit a post-filming update, for some reason NatGeo didn’t air it, either. Hey guys, what gives?

Doomsday Preppers: Mike Adams

Up next we have Mike and Jessica Adams from Salem, Oregon, whose family runs a barbecue restaurant, Adams’ Rib (I’m not sure if that’s intended to be a biblical pun?, but if so, ha!).
jessica-mike-adamsAdam’s doomsday scenario is a “terrorist occupation”, which he seems to think will be a good excuse to smear ketchup on his face, Rambo-mascara-style. Why not yell Wolverines! while you’re at it?

I don’t have much to say on this segment itself—there’s just not enough ‘material’ there for me. The fact that he openly admits his concern originates from a jingoistic artifact of 1980s Hollywood should give you a good indication of what to expect. Really, a lot of this segment is flavored with the kind of naïve adolescent speculation I remember from similar ‘what-if?’ discussions, back in high school or whatever. Y’know, we’d be hanging out down at the river and my friend would say, ‘If a zodiac boat full of Bad Guys came around the bend right now, how would you defend this position?’ And I’d make up something about holding the high ground with a belt-fed machinegun with help from my camouflaged sniper buddies.

In his imaginary scenario, Mike imagines that the terrorists will coordinate a series of dirty-bomb attacks across the country…and then close all the grocery stores so nobody can eat. Of course, because his family owns a restaurant, he thinks they’ll get special treatment…because you know how much terrorists love barbecue! ???
However, I would guess that unless his restaurant uses all fresh, local ingredients, that wouldn’t last long because they’d be just as subject to the just-in-time, three-day supply chain as everybody else.

And besides, I think Mike is fundamentally confused regarding how terrorism works:

To the US&A occupiers in Afghanistan today (or the Soviet occupiers 30 years ago), the Taliban, Mujahideen, and their lot are terrorists.


To the German war machine 70 years ago, the partizaners of occupied eastern Europe were terrorists.


To the white expansionist settlers in pre-1890 America, the indigs playing erratic retaliator were terrorists.


To the English lobsterback officers 230-odd years ago, those pesky colonial squirrel hunters shooting them from behind trees were terrorists.


Really, I could do this all day.

In other words, sudden out-of-the-blue attacks (often directed against the empire du jour) fall nicely under the umbrella of terrorism… …Occupation, however, does not. That’s definitely an actual standing army-type deal. The whole point of hit-and-fade attacking is ‘if you stick around, you’ll be a target’. Had the Cuban/Nicaraguan/Soviets of Red Dawn parachuted in, assassinated a bunch of government officials, and then had gone to ground, they’d be terrorists. But as soon as they started rounding up citizens for reeducation and patrolling the streets, they became occupiers, and thereby easy targets for a gang of high school terrorists.

Remember: one’s definition of terrorist depends entirely on which ‘side’ one is on.

Mike shows his brother how to install filters on their home’s rain barrels—hey, it’s Oregon, makes sense. This gives us yet another scene of preppers clinking glasses and drinking something.

Apparently Mike’s stockpile of doomsday food is skimmed off the top from the restaurant? So it’s all smoked and jar-canned meat? That’s fine, I guess. Personally, I’ll stick with my homemade jerky (ham, venison, beef, take your choice). Aside from pemmican or a properly-cured country ham, it’s about the only long-term survival meat I’ll stick with. And why not?: no mess (I’ve worked my fair share of barbecue festivals; smoked meat is greasy and has no part in a discussion of long-term survival); no glass jars; keeps forever.

About this point, we come to the standard “not everyone takes prepping seriously” part of the segment. And oh, what a surprise, enter the girly sister. Jennifer even gets her own bugoutbag from Mike…and it’s even pink! And so is the duct tape inside! Her rationale for not thinking about issues of survival is apparently, “If something happened I don’t see us surviving, so what’s the point?” Ohboy.

Thankfully, Mike’s wife is on-board with his prepping…but she has the serious kind of epilepsy. That’s all I’m gonna say on that topic, because the association of certain movements with certain 20th century political movements effectively make it impossible to ever talk about improving genetic health without being branded a monster by most folks.

While Mike grows St. John’s Wort in the garden as a maybe-backup to her month’s supply of medications, in Mike’s ‘occupying terrorists’ scenario the terrorists have also occupied the pharmacies! Mike and Jessica then go exploring Salem’s storm sewers with map in hand, hopefully coming up near one of these ‘occupied’ pharmacies (they don’t). I mean, it’s fun to explore sewers and such, but in this case because it’s as part of such a weird hypothetical situation…I dunno. Meh.

The experts give them 52 points for five month’s initial survival time.

Doomsday Preppers: Freda

The series’ next episode (‘Let ‘Er Rip!’) opens with a visit to the Virginia homestead of Freda Stemick.
fredasHer producer-enforced single issue is “Chaos, caused by an EMP attack due to World War III.” The way she sees it, “we are setting the stages worldwide” for a nuclear shootin’ match, involving “somebody shooting a warhead in our direction”. To which I have to congratulate NatGeo on their perfect timing, seeing as how this episode comes a few days after Pyongyang decided to ratchet up their saber-rattling, abandon their armistice, and cut all ties with South Korea.

Freda is apparently descended from some of the Hatfield clan, so because she happens to still live in the woods of Virginia (instead of say, downtown Chicago), the producers rely heavily on that angle to play up the ‘backwoods’/‘folksy’ nature of the segment; if I were just a little bit more rhetorically-minded, I could probably say something about how the show’s constructed image serves to reinforce Appalachian stereotypes. Or something.

It’s probably a good sign that one of the first things out of Freda’s mouth is a declaration that her family has lived in the “mountains and valleys” of Virginia for hundreds of years. Could’ve fooled me – that doesn’t sound very Virginian. Here in Kan-tuck-kee, we call ‘em “hills an’ hollers”.
She goes on to talk about her great frontiersy forebears who “hacked their way through the wilderness” (which, remember, was only a wilderness because the indigs who’d been tending the place like a garden for thousands of years had been wiped out).

Because she’s aware of the unsustainable nature of our just-in-time distribution system, Freda’s put a big focus on making her homestead as self-sufficient as possible, starting with food. She and boyfriend Mike Davis keep a nice garden to produce fresh veg, most of which it seems they home-can. However, I noticed that their jars are—as we’ve too often seen—just out on shelves, unprotected with no shock buffers or anything to keep them from smashing to the floor. Remember, just because you’re preparing for one possible contingency doesn’t mean a different one can’t sneak up on you: a tornado or earthquake or inland hurricane could always come along and turn your larder into a pile of un-canned food and broken glass.
They also keep a number of chickens, with the intention of using eggs as a compact, versatile form of true wealth. In other words, Freda is the first person on the show to advocate a Barrelhaven-style, eggs-based barter economy! Finally!

Because she fears that having an arsenal of firearms would make her a target for a gun-grabbing government in the event of martial law, she has a bare minimum of traditional armament—twelve gauge shotgun, nine millimeter pistol, compound bow. However, her ever-crafty boyfriend has made a set of ‘throwing stars’ with which he is apparently a pretty good shot. Despite being a fan of improvised and handmade equipment, I’m always wary of single-use (weapon-only) items. Like I’ve said before, I find hatchet-throwing to be a useful skill.

While they’re supposedly in a pretty isolated area (though I saw big trucks passing through the trees several times) they’re concerned about smoke from their cooking fires attracting attention, so they decide to test out their solar oven!
Now, this is a subject with which I actually have experience, and so, some thoughts on the subject.
It should come as no surprise that I’m a big fan of solar cooking; over the years I’ve cooked or dehydrated bushels of apples, bananas, peaches, tomatoes, daylilies (even mini pizzas!), using nothing more than the free and abundant energy radiating from the nearest star.
I’m not really a fan of the design of the oven we see them use (it’s basically a wooden cold-frame with foil lining the bottom). Personally, I’ve used a folding, all-foil-covered reflector-based ‘Cook-It‘ to good effect in summer, but simplest is often better: some of my best dried peaches and daylilies were done simply with a cheesecloth-covered wooden frame, placed on a concrete slab, with a large pane of window glass over it. In fact, bugs don’t bother the food, because it’s actually too hot under the glass for them to stand it!

Now, for actual cooking like, a pot of maize and beans, I’ve never tried going solar. For that kind of meal, it’s usually recommended to use a dark-colored pot, inside a sealed, heavy-duty clear plastic bag, all placed on or in the oven for several hours.
However, for simply dehydrating food, this is hard to beat:

I don’t have a car, but I do have a solar oven that I occasionally drive.

The dashboard of a car with windows just slightly opened (to let the hot air circulate) can be an effective dehydrator from March on through October (in the northern hemisphere); hell, in high Summer it’ll get hot enough that you can do two batches per day!
Attentive viewers will note that while we see Freda put a small pig in the cooker, we never see the results of the experiment. As she explains, “we originally planned to put the pig on the campfire and bake bread in the oven but time got short for filming and the crew said “just throw the pig in the solar oven”… I took it out of there within an hour and threw it on the stove.”
However, as our caption reminds us—solar cooking really only works in areas with abundant sun: much of Africa comes to mind; the forested mountains of Appalachia—where the sun comes up about ten in the morning, and goes down about three in the day—do not.

With the food situation well under control, we learn that Freda’s homestead has not one, not two, but three sources of fresh water (a flowing creek, artesian well and pump well?). Mike puts on his diy hat again, and comes up with a turbine wheel to put in the stream to make some free hydroelectricity. I don’t know if it actually charged their batteries, but if so, it’s pretty sweet.

Then they show off their ultimate “perimeter defense weapon”, which as it turns out, is Mike’s homemade catapult…of sorts.
It’s counterweighted like a trebuchet, but the counterweight isn’t articulated, which gives it an arc of swing more like a mangonel. Either of those designs can be solid when they’re followed (back in high school, I built an eleven-foot oak treb that could throw big rocks about 200 feet), but unfortunately this design borrows from both types and doesn’t perform particularly well. Or maybe it would, if they’d thrown something with some weight (like one of the many pumpkins we see lying around?), instead of the negligible-mass ‘throwing stars’.
Actually, I think the best solution in this case might be for Mike to trade his “catapult” to Brent (to go with his “castle”!) in exchange for some long guns to properly defend their wooded homestead.

The experts say her food plan is great, now she should stock up on medical supplies. They give her 56 points, for seven months’ initial survival. I don’t know why, but that seems low to me. Anyway, it’s always nice to see self-reliant country folks instead of the gung-ho beans-n-bunkers types.

Doomsday Preppers: Captain Bill Simpson

We next move on to the prepping strategy of Bill Simpson, aka Captain William E. Simpson the Second.
As his NatGeo profile proclaims, he is “a U.S. Merchant Marine Officer with decades of boating and expedition sailing experience, who has successfully survived long-term off the grid at remote uninhabited desert islands.” He is also apparently the author of the forthcoming book The Nautical Prepper, which I’m guessing was his reason for agreeing to appear on the show (we’ve yet to see a true ‘Joann and Cletus’ off-the-street prepper; everybody always has something they’re pimping).

Like Doug the Rock Man, whose prepping revolved around his livelihood (in his case, selling Really Big Rocks), Bill’s approach is reflected in his maritime lifestyle.
And for what specific contingency is he preparing? A “geomagnetic storm”, (translates to Big Solar Flare), which he believes would have the effect of a planet-wide EMP, knocking out the electrical grid and sending our modern technocivilization into ruin. To counter that threat, he has spent several years (and half a million dollars) designing and building a 70-foot-long, 90-ton steel boat (at what point does a Boat become a Ship?) he calls the Iron Maiden.

In his estimation, such a big-ass boat—made of 3/8” steel—will function as a giant floating Farraday cage, protecting his radar and such delicate instruments from the effects of the solar flare-up. Now, I am by no means an electrical engineer, but something about that seems kinda…off…to me. Maybe because I’m picturing a solar-storm-EMP like a bolt of lightning?, and I’m pretty confident a metal watercraft is just about the least-safe place to be in a lightning storm. I dunno.

Anyway, Captain Bill’s basic premise with his nautical prepping is that a boat is the anti-bunker. In other words, instead of being holed up underground in a concrete box, breathing stale air and eating canned peaches, his boat allows him complete…freedom of the seas, as it were. Assuming one likes seafood, it’s not a bad notion.
To give this a test, Bill has invited a group of family members and family friends for a 70-mile, multi-day trip down the Columbia River to the sea. While they’re on this voyage, they’ll live off some of the 2,000 pounds of staples which Bill has stored on the Iron Maiden. Alright, pretty impressive. It’s good to have stuff to fall back on if the fishing is bad. Of course, he hasn’t stored any citrus-y fruit or anything rich in vitamin C (t’ fight off th’ scurrrrrrvy, yarr!), but that’s okay because he plans on gathering seaweed, which is apparently rich in it. At this point a caption pops up to remind us that a daily requirement of vitamin C would require eating five pounds of seaweed!

 Eventually they go ashore to practice using all of Bill’s improvised defensive weaponry: spearguns, harpoons, &c. Then they break out the real goodies—Bill’s flare gun! They waste some shells shooting at logs, and then use one to start a petrol fire! Somehow I guess the idea was to deliver the gas onto an enemy boat via Molotov cocktail, shoot the flare at it, and then speed away while they burned up. Or something. Not the best use of resources, if you ask me.

At least then we get to see some actual practical skills—Bill demonstrates wound-suturing on a chicken breast (which they hilariously set up to look like Grandson Billy’s arm)…GREAT sight gag!:
© NatGeo/Sharp EntertainmentThumbs-up on that, because knowing how to stitch up wounds is one of those skills that could definitely come in handy in a long-term disaster scenario. Best learn how and practice such skills now, before the time comes when you might need it.

And then there’s the format-enforced Big Dramatic Stunt, involving ramming the boat into a dinghy of ‘pirates’. Meh.

However, it does remind me of the joke where the bosun goes below deck and announces that all the oarsmen are to get a double measure of grog! Everybody starts to celebrate, until he announces…“But the Captain wants to waterski!” *rimshot*

In the experts’ assessment, they tell Bill not to rely on deepwater fishing; something to do with poor yields? I dunno, but I don’t think they’re worried about it for the same reason I would be. Witness the fact that the world’s oceans are rapidly becoming acidified and deoxygenated, leading to massive die-offs of phytoplankton (the foundation of all ocean food-chains).
The experts also tell Bill to store water, just in case his onboard desalination plant should fail. Like I’ve said before, ‘Practical Preppers’ job on this show is really just to reinforce the misguided belief that the consumption-and-hoarding-based Type I/Bunker model of prepping is the One Right Way. Bah. The Captain dismisses their criticisms on the basis that they apparently have no experience with life at sea, which is probably true. He then makes a quip about how their idea of being prepared is just “a piece of flat land with some chickens”. Ha ha ha.
Strangely enough, however, even though his nomadic, nautical approach is just about the furthest thing from the mode the so-called ‘experts’ advocate, they still give Bill 83 points (a new high!), for eighteen months’ initial survival.

With regards to making saltwater drinkable, I’m a big fan of solar stills, which can be improvised with any number of readily-found materials. Here’s a link to build a simple one of your own!

Doomsday Preppers: The Coy Family

After a week off, Doomsday Preppers is back with a Pacific Northwest-centered episode entitled “Fortress at Sea”, which is really only relevant to the second profile.
However, we start out in eastern Washington for a look at the homestead of Kevin & Annissa Coy.
kevincoySince they live in an area with at least four active volcanoes, it’s only reasonable that they’d be at least a little concerned about one of them blowing its top.

With four kids, everybody has their designated role—their daughter runs the weather station (for predicting approaching volcanic ash speeds and such); son is in charge of food; son-in-law (former Army, of course) is in charge of defense, &c.

Naturally, if you’re worried about a giant cloud of ash and poison gases rushing down the valley to Pompeii-ify your home, you’re not going to focus on hunkering down bunker-style, so the Coys are planning to bug-out at a moment’s notice. Or at least, the moment they get word of an eruption, they’ll start loading up their caravan of bugout vehicles: an RV, a pickup truck and livestock trailer, an ex-charter bus, and a sailboat. Yeah, wow. You can imagine with an array like that, bugging out isn’t going to be as simple as grabbing bags and leaving.

Now, we’re reminded that they’ve been living in this house for a quarter-century, and so the big dramatic question becomes: can Annissa leave their home behind should the time come? Remember the Professor’s words: “One who cannot cast away a treasure at need is in fetters.” And in this case, pretty much everybody in this culture is in fetters to all the STUFF we acquire.
As Kevin says, “It’s not going to be easy to be mobile and jumping around all the time.” Complete the thought: “…after being sedentary for so long.” (In his lectures, Max Brooks has often suggested that the biggest stumbling block to long-term survival among Americans is our opposition (instilled by our ambient culture) to “going native”. After all, Our way is the One Right Way to Live, so why should we care that the indig locals’ way was totally sustainable and survivable? (As Eddie Vedder sang, “Those ignorant indians got nothin’ on me”)
In a kind of compromise for his civilized wife (unwilling as she is to live without square shelters and pictures on the walls), Kevin builds her a Tiny House they can potentially take with them on a bugout. Which is cool, because I’m a big fan of microhousing (hey, any downsizing is better than none). And what’s even better is Kevin’s solution to the sanitation solution: the microhouse features a bonafide Jenkins model HUMANURE setup! Praise Jeebus, finally! (Of course, like Permaculture, we’ll never hear the H word uttered on the show, but that’s what it is). They even let Kevin go over the basics and benefits of such a system!

Now, I said earlier their son is in charge of their food supply, much of which is “on the hoof”—they have a large menagerie of chickens, pigs, rabbits, and a goat. Kevin also reminds us that they also have a poodle and a Chihuahua, if they’re ever really hard-up for some protein. “I’m kidding”, he says, to Annissa’s if-looks-could-kill glare. He shouldn’t be kidding. While he should definitely keep the poodle around for hunting small game (my old poodle was a first-rate rabbit tracker), the shivering bighead pooch is coyote bait and should probably be eaten ASAP. Hell, that’s what they were bred for in the first place!

Because there hasn’t been nearly enough drama coming from Mrs. Coy yet, we head out to the homestead’s hog lot, where the plan is to butcher one of the not-nearly-big-enough piggies. Of course, she can’t bring herself to pop Brother Pig in the head, so apparently Kevin just dispatches it with a knife. (He is a former butcher, so I’m pretty confident it was done as humanely as possible, but still.) Yeesh.

With that fun out of the way, they proceed to attempt a practice bugout. To make it more interesting, they impose a timecrunch on themselves: the volcano has erupted, and the ash-cloud will be here in an hour. Can they make it in time??? NO. And how.

So why does it take them twice the time needed, and still not go as planned? What do you expect, trying to bugout with multiple vehicles, a bunch of meteorological junk, live animals, and a 3,500-pound microhouse?

For starters, although we’ve been told their one year’s supply of food has been dispersed throughout all their vehicles, we still see Annissa making trips to the basement to retrieve more food. For what it’s worth, if your plan is to Get Outta Dodge in a hurry, keep the stuff you plan to grab on the ground floor.
That said,—I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it—if you have to pack, it’s not a bugout.

Then they try to round up the animals into a livestock trailer and hitch it up to a truck. It looks like there’s an issue with the truck’s hitch-ball being too low for the trailer, so that’s a no-go; they wind up filling the charter bus’s luggage compartments—in which they had planned on sleeping—with some of the livestock (thumbs-up for flexibility, and adaptability at least).

Then the guys try to slide the 1.75-ton tinyhouse onto a flatbed truck. It doesn’t work; the chains and straps break, and they wind up leaving it behind.
In the end, after all that they throw up their hands after two hours and call it a day.

From what I’ve seen, here’s what I would do. The microhouse is only eight by twelve feet, so it’d be totally feasible to lighten the load and integrate a trailer into the design—hell, that’s how most of the tiny houses I’ve seen work anyway.:
tiny-house-on-trailerUse the pickup truck to pull it, freeing the flatbed to carry the livestock—modular walls are easy to come by, they could make a frame to hold everybody’s cages, and you could still hose it off every now and then. This saves the charter bus for hauling cargo, gear, and food; use the RV for hauling people. Bam, problems solved.
However, it all comes down to the importance of testing and practicing a plan before lives depend on it. You wouldn’t go camping in the wilderness without knowing how to start a fire or make shelter (at least I hope you wouldn’t), so save these pre-disaster times for getting familiar with your plans. In the Coy’s post-filming update, it sounds like they’ve done just that, and have had successful bugout drills.
The experts give them 67 points for eleven months’ initial survival time, which Kevin graciously accepts as a pretty fair assessment.

Of course, what they don’t mention (thanks to the show’s one-issue-only format) is how Kevin and Annissa’s little farmstead is—like the Taylors from a few weeks back—all about self-sufficiency and simple living without reliance on the Grid. If the volcanoes don’t erupt but the dollar goes bust, I have a feeling these guys would still be doing just fine.