Archive for August, 2013

Doomsday Preppers: Cheree

The episode concludes with a literally ten-minute look at Cheree of California’s Sierra mountains.
Since they live in Cali, it’s only understandable that their preparations focus on a ‘mega earthquake’.
With such a ridiculously short segment, there’s really not much material here to discuss. But don’t worry, I’ll find something!

With her parents, Cheree runs some kind of religiously-minded camp. While they seem pretty strongly ‘Christian’, I also caught the slightest hint of a New Age-y vibe off their descriptions.
In the event of the Big Quake (or, conceivably any other disaster), Chree’s main objective will be “to follow Christ.” Ohboy.

I generally try to stay away from conspicuously ragging on hot-button issues; they say you’re not supposed to bring up religion or politics, but without those, everything else is superficial small-talk (and I don’t mess around with that stuff)!

Okay, I can understand how the historical figure Jesus of Nazareth could be a good person to seek to emulate in your relations to others: stand up for the meek, champion gender equality, fight the powers that be, all that (Jesus was a lot like the John Lennon of Imperial Roman times).
So, why do I cringe when I hear that someone’s chief post-disaster strategy is to “follow Christ”? For starters, Christianity is—like the Judaism it grew out of—fundamentally a Younger Culture religion of civilization: at its core is the message that Humanity is flawed and unable to be fixed. The founders of these religions believed this because they looked around and saw only cities and miserable people living in them; having abandoned (or destroyed) their tribal histories, leaving their earliest records to date from post-city-dwelling times, they incorrectly assumed that humanity was born to build and reside (and be miserable) in cities, and if that was the case, and humanity had never been any other way, then human nature is simply to be depressed, violent, selfish, abusive, ignorant, and generally wicked.
Of course, anthropology has proved all that to be completely wrong, and so we should, for the good of Everyone, abandon such fallacious thinking as soon as possible.
Secondly, Christianity’s focus on post-death reunion with their creator in ‘heaven’ has been simply disastrous for the planet (and the rest of we heathens who have to share it with them). Y’see, when Being With God In Heaven is your life’s main goal, you tend to not put much priority on the actual being-alive-here-on-Earth part of life. As a result, you’re not going to care about keeping the place nice for the rest of us, because you’re ‘just passing through’ (those ‘be fruitful and multiply’ and ‘have dominion over the earth’ clauses didn’t help matters either), so you’d best ‘get what you can while the gettin’s good’.
In conclusion, anytime I meet an otherwise rational and intelligent person who self-identifies as a follower of one of the Humanity-is-Flawed religions (Christianity especially), I have to ask myself if they don’t have a loose wire somewhere upstairs.
Really, just be a decent person and leave the labels out of it.

Anyway, in order to practice living through a disaster, Cheree gets together a few like-minded folks to do a weekend full-immersion scenario. Kudos to them for that! They turn off the Juice and spend a few days living without all the modern conveniences we’ve become reliant upon and/or take for granted. Some of the guys install a few 250-watt pv-solar panels on the roof, while others build and install a DIY PVC hand pump for drawing water. And I think I saw someone do a tiny bit of gardening??
However, that’s about all the good stuff, because the remaining five minutes are concerned with a contentious debate among the group over whether or not to allow a member, Garry, to remain in the group, since he advocates armed self-defense. After some waste-of-time scenes, they agree to remain unarmed and excommunicate him from their little network. I guess when a disaster goes down, they’ll defend against hungry marauders with harsh language, man!

Experts give them 58 points for 8 months. They tell them to learn food-canning; Cheree admits that she has already has all the stuff to do it, she just hasn’t gotten around to it yet. She concludes by reiterating her strategy for surviving—to maintain her mantra that “God is on our side!” Okay, kid, keep telling yourself that.

And just for fun:

Harhar.

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Doomsday Preppers: Tony C.

Next up we have a look at Tony C., of somewhere-in-Indiana:

Tony is, as far as I can tell, the first person to appear on DP with a fear of asteroids:

Just joking. He’s actually worried about any number of astronomical events that have the potential to end life as we know it. He seems to think that asteroids, comets, rogue black holes, and interdimensional breaches or whatever “all happen on a cycle, and that cycle is due now!” Nah, man, it’s only comets that are cyclical. Which means it’s the unforeseen asteroids you really want to worry about. (Chelyabinsk, anyone?)

To get some insider information about his fear, Tony goes to visit a Dr. Murphy at Butler University’s Holcomb observatory.
Doc tells him that there’s a one-in-five-million chance of a major ‘space-borne disaster’ occurring in his lifetime. Hmm, those are pretty safe odds. But tell me what’s worse—a one-in-five-million chance of an Extinction-Level Event (which no one can really do anything to avoid), or the fact that our relentless cannibalistic ‘civilization’ is causing 200 species to go extinct every day (which we definitely could do something about)?

Despite the very good odds in his favor (the good doctor tells him he has a significantly higher chance of getting killed in traffic than by a celestial object), Tony maintains that “something’s going to happen, everybody knows it, and so maybe I can do something.”
Hmm, I’m not sure about that. I mean, yes, something is going to happen, statistically speaking; at some eventual point in the future the planet will shake hands with another Chicxulub-level spacerock. Personally, I’d be more worried about the threats to our survival over which we actually have power, and I think that if there’s something that “everybody knows”, it’s simply an increasing awareness among the general populace of the inherent fragility of the little civilizational experiment our culture has created for itself; what they don’t know is that they can do something about it.

But what is Tony doing to deal with this threat? Holing up and burrowing in. How about doing something to help others?
Of course, the form his burrowing takes is pretty novel—he’s built a livable underground space around his RV camper (at least he’s decorated it and made it home-y, instead of ugly contrete)! And why did he choose to build around that, instead of starting from scratch? “Because everything’s there—it’s designed to be self-contained living, with all the comforts of home!”
Blerg. Dude, you’re not getting it. Just because your living infrastructure isn’t house-shaped doesn’t mean it’s any less utterly dependent on the Grid than your average suburban McMansion.
To be truly ‘self-contained’ a home must be able to provide (at the minimum) shelter (this would includes heating and cooling), water, food, and sanitation, all without reliance on outside sources (for a great example, take a look at Cody Lundin’s consciously-designed offgrid digs).
Take away the grid, and all Tony’s buried RV accomplishes is Shelter—it keeps him out of the weather. If he has 1,000 gallons of water stored, where is it coming from?—his dirt mound doesn’t look very suited to rain catchment—I assume electric water pump? Do his ‘comforts of home’ require electricity to run? Unless he has some solar panels ingeniously hidden on top of his dirt mound (I didn’t see any), that Juice is going to have to come from somewhere—either from the coal-burning grid, or a fossil-fueled generator. Unless he’s using a humanure setup for sanitation (this is not the same as an RV ‘chemical toilet’), eventually he’s going to have to empty that sewage tank. That requires the Grid.

Anyway, like I said, he has 1,000 gallons of water stored up and three-to-four years’ worth of food (storebought in steel cans).
Because one of the big issues of an impact event would be the planet-wide cloud of atmospheric ejecta blocking out sunlight and preventing photosynthesis, Tony decides to install grow lights?? Again, where’s the Juice gonna come from to power them?
And because another potential issue is all that particulate matter floating in the atmosphere, Tony whips up a pretty sweet-looking homemade air filtration unit. Here’s where I have to give him props—I love the DIY filter, which looks like he really did some research and took his time—really well-crafted. However, the bathroom air pump that makes it work…still relies on the Juice to run. Really, I’d look into a bicycle-powered generator system, which would also prove useful in helping him keep active in the long days underground.

The experts tell him to have a way to get more fresh water. He claims there are numerous water sources nearby—yes, but what about particulates/fallout? Now Tony needs to DIY himself a gravity-fed water filter. They give him a score of 60 for 8 months.

Doomsday Preppers: ‘The Colony’

Well, it seems those television executives are hungrier than ever for ratings (and the all-powerful Dollar they represent), and so have been so generous as to give us a late-summer ‘mini-season’ of everybody’s favorite shameless freakshow! Technically, I suppose this should be Season 2.5, but I’ve rounded up and filed it as Season 3 anyway. Enjoy.

We begin watching Jeff Mann, ‘exotic animal broker’, patrolling his 25-acre ‘ranch’ in Florida (ugh). He does this patrol tooling around on a Segway, which I don’t think we ever see him step off the whole time. Man, if you’re worried about the end of the world as you know it, better hop off the electric (therefore coal-powered, therefore unsustainable) machine and get used to walking!
It seems Jeff has turned this ranch into a right-proper Prepper Compound—which he calls The Colony (hey, just like that unfortunate soft-scripted prepper reality bitchfest)—complete with three easily-hoppable electric gates and shipping-container barracks!
Oh, what a surprise. You know this was filmed as part of Season 2, because their fear is one of economic collapse!!! Someone comments that this “will happen because we don’t know how to control our spending”—but I’m not sure if he’s talking about themselves, or the capitalist system in general?

But don’t worry, “there’s safety in numbers—he’s a doctor, he’s an engineer, he’s a hunter” (ugh, specialization is for insects), and Jeff has recruited others to help him rule his tiny Type I kingdom: ‘former Marine’ (say no more!) Bill Hennessey, and ‘professional survivalist’ John Milandred. That last title sounds made-up, but it’s just fancy-talk for ‘hands-on survival instructor’. Amidst all the macho, guns-and-gear bunker-dwellers we’ve seen on this show, John (and the few others like him) stands out as an example of the type of guy you really want on your side in a disaster–he’s down-to-earth and well-versed in low-tech living and so doesn’t seem afraid to live without the comforts and conveniences we associate with our fragile civilizational experiment.

I guess that with all their security enhancements hoarded astronaut food and junk (and the eight firearms per person), Bill thinks the Colony “is the place you’d want to be” when shit goes south (erm, Florida? I don’t think so.); because “this is where we’d make our final stand’ (remember, for professional Takers like Bill, life is war!)

It seems that for joining the Colony, each family gets their own shipping container, and gets to decorate it however they want? Oh, joy! Lipstick on a pig, much? It’s still a shipping container.
Apparently Jeff has a daughter and a son, and he’s trying to decide who he should pass the mantle of Colony Leader onto. I had expected we’d get a whole lotta father-son drama, but was pleasantly surprised that they didn’t go that route.

It’s funny, if you’re planning on supporting 25+ people, you’d think we’d see a big-ass garden and people working in it or something, but no, we just see a warehouse of food boxes and buckets (Mountain House and the like)…because gardening requires time and knowledge, but foodbuckets just require $$$.
Then we get to the Task part of the segment, in which we learn if young Colten can step up and do all the duties of Colony Leader.
First test—can he feed the whole colony if all of their livestock is gone?
Okay, first off—ditch the cows, they’re inefficient for the amount of pasturage they require.
Second—nothing happens suddenly. I can think of very few likely scenarios in which you will suddenly go from a menagerie of animals to zero. If you have chickens and a rooster, then you will have chicks. Ditto for goats. That’s how husbandry works.
Third—what are all the rest of the colony folks doing during this time? Is daddy Jeff currently responsible for feeding everybody?
Four—there’s more to having food to eat than hunting and trapping. Eat lower down the energy pyramid (go veggie) and you’ll have enough for everybody.

And so, John takes Colten to teach him “the survival trades that the rest of the colony doesn’t know”—wait, what? Are they consciously keeping the others in the dark? Have they taken in people with no survival skills? What’s their angle, hoping to play the savior?
They set out into the woods to find a wild hog, but you’d think if they were serious about hunting wild boars they wouldn’t go walking around unarmed in their blue jeans? I dunno.
They set up a giant have-a-heart trap, and the whole catching and dispatching of the sow suspiciously happens entirely offscreen during a commercial break, so I’m not convinced they actually caught it.
John shows him how to butcher it, but since this is NatGeo’s Doomsday Preppers, of course it’s played for the ‘eww, guts!’ angle, instead of how someone like Ray Mears would show it and actually demonstrate how to properly butcher.

Then there’s some dumbassery (this was probably the requisite producer-enforced stunt) involving shooting a tub of that exploding-target mixture folks on this show are so fond of, except the scenario involves Jeff’s son running up to a junked car, throwing the bottle in the car, hitting the dirt and crawling uprange back to the others, while they shoot automatic weapons over his head. Eventually Jeff shoots the car with his .50 cal, and sets off the explosion. Luckily no shrapnel (or anyone’s bullet) hits the boy.
According to the narrator, the idea is somehow to use junked-cars-with-exploding-stuff as some kind of perimeter defense. I don’t buy it.
© NatGeo/Sharp Entertainment
Now we move onto the drama-with-larger-implications segment of the profile, in which we ponder post-disaster politics.
Someone suggests that in a disaster scenario, the colony will be run by a “city council that would govern…” Obviously, we’re dealing with civilized bluepills who have never questioned our culture’s mistaken belief that they need someone higher up on the pyramid to tell them what to do and give order to their lives.
Seriously, if your ‘colony’ is going to be in the 25-to-50-people range, that’s a textbook Band, so why not go with the only natural form of leadership for that size society—pure-democratic tribal law? Well, the ‘why not’ is easy—because Bill has grown up in a culture that’s been painting tribal societies as Wild Savages for the last eight thousand years!
And so, he suggests they establish a “punishment for crimes that dates back to Rome” (well, say no more!)—hanging! Yup, Bill has them build a half-assed gallows (couple of 4x4s stuck together), to symbolize the same old anti-tribal rule of Law we’ve been dealing with since ol’ Hammurabi, because as Bill intones, “We have to have a set of laws, people have to respect the law!”
Really! You can’t make this stuff up! This, from the pistol-toting, camo-clad-from-head-to-toe, former marine, colony’s ‘head of security’ guy—he couldn’t be a better posterchild for the Taker way if he tried!

Well, unless if he started genocide-ing the local tribal folks…

However, John steps up as the sensible dissenting voice, suggesting that instead of executing them, post-collapse lawbreakers should get kicked out of the colony—y’know, expelled into the wild without the support net of the tribe. There’s some pissy drama—justified when Bill brings out the Taker’s ultimate insult and calls John a tree-hugger—that eventually plays out when Jeff’s son manages to broker a kind of peace between the two, though I think John really has disassociated himself from the Colony.

Anyway, this confrontation is an absolutely perfect example of the clash that has occurred at the frontiers of Our culture for the last eight thousand years. For another look at Taker-versus-Leaver philosophies played-for-drama in a survivalist television setting, see Dual Survival: Cody Lundin exemplifies the primitive, harmonious, and ultimately sustainable viewpoint, set against Dave Canterbury’s stubborn embrace of a civilized, military-industrial approach that sees Nature as an opponent to be eliminated, and which can only result in the extinction of the human species (while probably taking the rest of the planet down with it).

In the end, the group gets a new high score of 89 ‘points’ for 19 months ‘initial survival time’. Woo, Type I prepping.

‘Doomsday Castle’ Episode 1

Well, they did it. They really did it. Throwing money and camera crews at deluded wannabe survivalists for one show wasn’t enough, so the ratings-hungry vultures at NatGeo (who really ought to be disowned by their parent entity, the eminently respectable National Geographic Society) have given Doomsday PreppersBrent Bruns his very own spin-off miniseries…‘Doomsday Castle’. Ohboy.

© NatGeo/Sharp Entertainment
For starters, it’s really quite funny how the producers have taken the family we last saw in a 20-minute segment of DP, and totally remade them into easily-consumable, airbrushed, up-to-Eleven, caricature-personalities properly befitting the ‘reality tv’ genre. Pappy Brent still makes self-important-sounding declarations to the camera, Dawn-Marie is still fairly levelheaded, DM’s twin brother is still young and cocky, the Spray-Tan Sisters are still ‘more primpers than preppers’, and Brent Jr is still…whatever he’s supposed to be (Gary Busey-in-training??), but whereas with their DP appearance, one could assume that we were just seeing a single facet of each person’s personality on-screen, here the idea seems to be that what we see is all there is to each. Ohwell, such is the nature of this repugnant genre.

And right off the bat, we have daddy dragging a pickaxe up the red-clay hill, narrating some macho dreck about The End Of Days, to the mellifluous tune of…Inception horns?!?! C’mon, you’ve got to be kidding!
In general, if you saw the family’s profile on ’Preppers, you’ve seen ’Castle. Brent I fears some sudden and unknown disaster (he’s gunning for—as he keeps saying—‘an EMPelectromagneticpulse’) which will befall the world, and instead of just spending a few thousand dollars on an underground prefab bunkertube like everyone else, he’s sunk nearly a million dollars into an ugly cinderblock structure on top of a North Carolina hilltop.
Note: Brent and everybody on the show will continue to refer to this structure as a ‘castle’, but don’t worry, it’s not. Honestly, I’d be totally fine with the whole undertaking if Brent just announced that he really wanted to own a Medieval Times franchise.

At one point Brent refers to the need for a “massive fortress that very few people could ever storm or tear down.” Well, massive it may be, but a fortress…it ain’t. A million dollars of cinderblocks and Portland cement in the form of a half-assed, lopsided design clearly built without defense in mind (unlike, something likesay a star fort) do not equal a fortress. At another point daddy-o predicts that “someday this castle is going to be under siege”. Yeah, from a strong wind. Really, I’m surprised that all those spindly, unbuttressed, one-brick-thick walls combined with the site’s hilltop location haven’t resulted in the whole thing getting blown down in a stiff breeze. To sum up: I’m really not a fan of people forgoing research into proper designs and methods, only to whip up something half-assed and calling it the real thing.

Anyway, in describing the effects of The End of Days brought on by an EMPelectromagneticpulse, papa smurf remarks that, “There’ll be no government that could help you, no neighbors that could help you, you’d be on your own!”, and so “the whole idea is to make us self-sufficient.”
Clearly, one of the negative effects of our American myth of rugged individualism is the mistaken-but-widespread belief in the solitary, self-sufficient mountain man, a myth which Brent clearly puts much stock in, as he foolishly picked a site in the middle of the North Carolina forest, far away from other potential survival-community-network members.

Reflecting the typical gung-ho, macho Type 1 prepper, Brent informs his offspring that “if we’re to survive a cataclysmic event, we need training!” Unfortunately, aside from astronomical or geological events, most human-caused disaster-producing events (which I would almost consider more likely) are almost never isolated! Long Emergency, much?

And so, to give them some of that needed training and in order to “show how vulnerable this family and this castle really are!”, Senior hires a small army of friends to ambush the newly-arrived kiddies. He really needn’t have bothered, because they don’t need an army of airsofters and paintballers, just a pack of firecrackers and a strong wind. Meh, there’s drama-stuff as everybody runs around; Brent’s friends get a chance to posture as tacticool Survivalist Men and assault them some women. So everybody ‘fails’ his little test, disappointing Brent, who brags how he “was an infantry training officer…I know the way a person needs to be trained.” Okay, mister One Right Way. If you say so.

Eventually, Brent reveals his plans to upgrade the castle with a drawbridge…and a moat!? Dude, you’re on the top of a mountain, ain’t no water gonna stay in a moat! He and Younger Son head out into the woods to shoot at steel plates to decide with which thickness they should clad their ‘drawbridge’. They shoot a .22 (pistol only, for some reason), as well as a .308 rifle, and a shotgun (at an unrealistic distance). What about a .22 rifle? Or a pistol in the 9mm/.40/.45 range? Or a 5.56 or an intermediate .30 rifle? If you really want to test these things, at least be thorough!

While they’re doing that, Jr and the girls are sent into the 2,000-square foot underground bunker basement (c’mon, let’s call it what it is) to get things organized. More concrete; how attractive; ugh.

Brent2 gets impatient and believes his potential is being wasted, and so he exasperatedly exclaims, ‘Let’s go find some supplies. I’m gonna fortify this bunker!” Dude, are you trying to sound like a video game character?

We take a pointless detour into Great Recession reality tv with a American Pickers-type segment in which B2 (with DM in tow) haggle over a local’s hoarded junkyard-yard.

Meanwhile, the Spray Tan Sisters eventually get the foodbuckets organized and beds assembled, and find time to put together some kind of improvised rat trap (utilizing bleach to drown the critter for some reason…bah, save it for disinfecting water).

Daddy and Younger Son get to work adding ‘drawbridge’ ‘hinges’ to a building probably not designed from the start with them in mind; they assemble their ‘drawbridge’ (thick, heavy-ass oak planks bolted to a couple of pipes) and it’s visibly wobbly and bending. I can’t say I’m surprised given the whole idea of Brent’s ‘castle’, but just ugh…the word craftsmanship has no place in a discussion of any part of this project.

With the thing installed, there’s some edited-for-drama b.s. as they’re raising the drawbridge right before the commercial break that amounts to nothing. (By the way, isn’t it kinda gauche to show ads for a show during that show’s timeslot? Maybe it’s just me.) Anyway it’s only once the thing is installed and raised in place do they decide to see how the steel plating does against an AR-15. What a surprise, it goes right through the steel (and very nearly splinters out the wood behind). What was the point of waiting until it was assembled and installed to test that???
And the stupidity gets even worse, when we pick up our b-plot (Brent Jr just wants daddy to love him!), in which Junior attaches junk to a lawn tractor and drives it into a half-assed-propped-up door. This apparently doesn’t please him, and so he then cuts down some trees, ratchet-straps them to a slightly larger vintage tractor, and proceeds to run it into the raised drawbridge—standing the tractor up onto its back wheels and tipping him out of the seat onto the ground. I honestly expected we’d see our first casualty, but damn, no Darwin Award for B2.

The rest of the series (thankfully they only got picked up for like, a 10-episode run)—which I will be neither watching nor covering here—looks just as bad as you’d expect.
However…If you enjoy the reprehensible entity that is ‘reality tv’…
Number one: such stuff is the fast-food of entertainment (entirely artificial, addicting, and ultimately harmful); get a life, read a book (might I suggest one of these?).
Number two: you should love this show. Everything I hate about the genre (which is to say, everything) is here in spades:


With all the ramping and frame-skipping – no wonder cognitive dissonance is on the rise!
Number three (and most encouragingly): you might be outnumbered on this one. I’m really pleased to see that a much larger number of people on the interwebz seem to have come out against NatGeo for promoting this kind of stuff.

ADDENDUM: for you curious folks out there, the ‘castle’ is located at 34°58’41.23″ N  82°43’37.96″ W (plug into GoogleEarth).