Posts Tagged ‘pandemic’

Doomsday Preppers: Brenda McSwigan

The episode continues with a visit to the Appalachian home of Brenda McSwigan.

© NatGeo/Sharp EntertainmentShe’s preparing for an Avian Flu Pandemic—wow, seems like we haven’t heard about one of those since Season 1!

The question now becomes What’s She Selling? As soon as I see a person on the show agreeing to air their full name, I assume they’re not really worried about ‘OpSec’ and having their location revealed, so they must have something to sell. In Brenda’s case, it’s her how-to-survive-a-pandemic book.

So with that fact established, Brenda sits on ten acres of woodland, which she shares with horses and at least one squirrel. There’s a shot of installing some 400-watt pv solar panels, and she gets nineteen food points from the experts at the end (must have one helluva garden we didn’t see, or something), so I’m guessing she’s at least aiming for self-reliant homestead.

To help her survive her predicted pandemic, she’s recruited a “task force”—read: a group of friends—that includes a hunter, nurse, and farmer. Hey, at least it’s way better than the usual Kevlar-clad, gung-ho wannabe soldiers-of-fortune this show usually fixates on, but I still strongly dislike this kind of specialized pigeonholing, distilling all the various facets of an individual into a single label. As a certified jack-of-all-trades, I’m scared to think what simplistic occupation someone would stick me with if I got roped into someone’s survival group—educator, craftsman, musician, writer, gardener…? Hmm, probably best to stick with ‘freedom enthusiast’.

On the plus side, at least Brenda has an altruistic angle to her ‘prepping’ and actively wants to help people, so she and her crew whip up a horse barn hotel for potential bird-flu ’fugees. There’s some roleplaying with inspecting new arrivals, and some drama when a couple have to get ‘quarantined’ for a few weeks in a camper, but nothing comes of it.
Then there’s a segment where Brenda gets a lesson on checking chickens for the birdflu. It goes on way longer than necessary, especially since it revolves around repeated use of the word ‘cloaca’.

And finally there’s a rare glimpse of level-headed realism, sorely missing from most preppers’ post-disaster visions, when Brenda ponders a pressing issue if a pandemic should occur—what to do with bodies? Answer: have your farmhand start digging a mass grave.

The experts give her 73 points for thirteen months. Given what we’re shown, that seems a little high, but as we all know, the points don’t matter.

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On ‘Children of Men’


I often describe this film to the unfortunate folks who haven’t heard of or seen it as “2007 turned up to 11” (actually, I think I did read an interview with the art director (or someone?) who explained that the future of the film had to be “like the present, but more so”). In that way, it’s like the cinematic equivalent of James McMurtry’s 2005 We Can’t Make It Here Anymore, a song that similarly captures the turned-up-to-11 bleakness of the Bush years:

Basically, it’s all the worst parts of the Oughts, where if you watched the news it looked like a possible war with Iran, climate change data was coming in and being disregarded, bird flu was on the horizon, Somalia was imploding (again), and it was gray and rainy for like, a month straight. Well, add a pandemic of infertility and throw it all into a blender with some beautiful cinematography and a very interesting soundtrack and Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men is what you get. In other words, because its roots are solidly in the actual present, it’s an entirely plausible (and thereby cautionary) future.

Together, this film and Max Brooks’ World War Z have probably had the biggest impact on my outlook of a postapocalyptic world; since both futures draw inspiration from histories past and present, both reinforce the fact that almost nothing happens in a vacuum: waves of refugees can result from distant wars (“Africa devastated by nuclear fallout” a background newspaper reads), rising sea levels (Maldives, anyone?), crop failures (don’t even get me started on totalitarian monocrop agriculture), &c.  It’s a good exercise—I can look at a scenario in one of these works and see how it might have come to be, and then pull back farther to see how it relates to what’s happening now.
By extension, these two properties have also played a huge role in influencing my philosophy on our idea of ‘survival’ in its current form, doomsday-ism, &c. As both are essentially topical, applicable, and political (as opposed to the apolitical, purely-entertainment ‘Zombie 2.0’ media wave), I don’t worry about The End of the World; I’ve always found it more important to focus on The End Of The World As We Know It (aka The End of Our Culture’s Unsustainable Way of Life), I educate myself on the key shatterpoints in play (and their root causes), and then imagine (or find in history) sustainable alternatives to embrace.

On a superficial level, this is also one of the few films where I see or pick up on something new each time I watch it (ditto for reading WWZ). I would love to see an annotated version of the film that takes time to point out all the little shout-outs (everything from Banksy’s art, Pink Floyd, and T.S. Elliot to next-gen military hardware and the use of oranges as foreshadowing a la The Godfather, &c.).
Actually, that might be a fun future post

Finally—and people always look at me like I’m batshit insane when I say this—this is my Christmas movie. Why? Best let me deconstruct it:

Our story takes place in December.
A man and an expecting woman travel together, going through many obstacles.
The woman is with child, but not by the man.
The woman’s child is the result of a miraculous conception.
The child will apparently redeem humanity.
The protagonist goes through his journey wearing sandals.

Now, did I just outline Cuaron’s Children of Men, or the story of the Nativity?

shanti shanti shanti!

Doomsday Preppers: Bradford Frank

And our last fellow for this episode is Bradford Frank, a Yale-educated psychiatrist living in San Diego, California. Worried about a pandemic, has spent $15,000 on preps.
Again, this one’s pretty light on actual content, unless you like ‘reality’ show family drama.
His Cambodian wife says ‘nothing will happen!’ I’d like to say she’s being an optimist, but I think ostrich is more correct.
The guy from Tennessee stockpiles corn, this guy stores tons and tons of RICE! It’s funny, because they’re Asian.
Apparently, his wife survived the Khmer Rouge by hiding in a cave. Real survival. She also doesn’t care about stocking rice, she’ll eat the robin, snake, and cricket in the backyard! As you should (I’m really looking forward to grasshopper season this summer, so I can chow down on some toasty shish-kabob’d locusts). The first things to go out the window in a survival situation should be your food preferences.
Like others on the show have tried, they do a practice bug-out…to an abandoned mine/cave; as previously mentioned, wife has had bad past experiences in caves. Does not like.

I don’t know what would be worse—trying to bug out with a cat, or a teenage daughter.

Doomsday Preppers: Donna Nash

Next up is Donna Nash from Utah, owner of a vaguely religiously-themed prepping business called ArkReady.
She’s prepping for obsessed with a worldwide pandemic, probably of some kind of flu. In between scenes of her trying to convince the neighbors of this contingency (and to take one of her pre-made pandemic buckets) are shots of her wiping down doorknobs and countertops, spraying aerosol chemicals in the house, and dusting the floors. She has one of those houses that looks like it’s straight out of a magazine—the kind that looks like it isn’t lived in. She reminds me of a magnet my mom used to have stuck on the refrigerator that said, “Boring women have immaculate homes.”

I also think it’s kind of ironic, that she’s afraid of some killer super-resistant strain of the flu, when she’s practically hosing down her house with hand sanitizer. I’d be really curious to know how often her kids get sick—because growing up in an antiseptic, sanitized environment, I would bet they have all sorts of asthma and stuff. The only thing her OCD cleaning is doing is creating stronger germs and weaker kids. Hell, I grew up practically licking dirt off the floor, and aside from the odd reaction (being barefoot most of the time, I step on a lot of bees; turns out I’ve developed an allergy over the years—it happens.), I go to the doctor about once every five years. Of course, eating dumpster food is always good for the ol’ immune system, too.

I have the feeling that the producers try to push the folks on this show to do at least one thing to make them look completely crazy. In this case, it’s to get Ms. Nash to have her family do a ‘pandemic drill’!—putting on masks, goggles, hairnets, plastic gowns, foot covers, the whole deal—and then go outside. Well, wouldn’t you know there’s a neighbor watching them?

The Practical Prepper ‘experts’ determine that she needs an alternate location, in case her house becomes compromised, or something. Like, somewhere to make a fresh start that will need brand-new equipment to survive, and they know just the folks to get her outfitted…themselves! She knows what’s up (probably thinking, “I came on this show to get free publicity for myself, not for you guys!”) and says that she doesn’t need a bunker, thank you very much. Which is fine, but if you’re going to have to stay sealed up in your quarantine house for weeks or months, you’d better have some food stored up, and I didn’t see anything edible, just shelves and shelves of medical supplies.

Surprisingly, the show suggests that according to the World Health Organization, a devastating flu pandemic is inevitable. It’s surprising, because every other event these people are supposedly prepping for has been denied by the producers (“Scientists put the likelihood of a Yellowstone eruption at less than .0001 percent!”, etc)—most likely as a way to make the subjects look paranoid, or something like that. Saying that a global flu is inevitable is the closest thing to an endorsement this show has made yet.

For future reference, I am not Donna Nash. Please stop leaving comments asking for pandemic kits. If you’re really interested, I link to her business in the very first sentence of this post.

The Green Man Says: Life As We Knew It

part of an ongoing series of columns I’ve written, reprinted from the TU Rambler.

May, 2009.

(This conclusion to “The Green Man Says”, Vol I comes hot on the heels of The Swine Flu and associated Chicken Little-esque pandemic paranoia.)

When I went home for Mayterm break last month, my librarian mom was reading a book called Life As We Knew It, which deals with the chaos that ensues when the moon’s orbit changes; narrated by a 16-year old girl, it’s basically Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging meets “The Day After Tomorrow”.  As someone interested in end-of-the-world scenarios, survival, and the estranged relationship between modern civilization and the natural world, this book seemed right up my alley, and I flew through it in about four long sittings.
While I’m sure it’s fine reading for the target audience of middle school girls, readers looking for an insight on survival strategies or the future of the human race would be sorely disappointed.  Up until the lunar cataclysm, the main character’s family makes absolutely no preparations; they spend the book living off a supply of canned goods bought in a panic after the disaster; and while the mother does try to grow a food garden, she only starts after the proverbial shit has hit the fan.
However, the author—whether or not she meant to—does show the reader the extent to which most people are painfully dependent on the infrastructure of our ‘civilization’ and disconnected from the natural world.  As a species, we Homo sapiens lived in kinship with nature for 100,000 years; now, as a consequence of shortsightedness and poor decisions stemming from our separation from nature (which only really began in the last 200 years or so) we might not survive another hundred years.
My main complaint with Life As We Knew It is this: the character and her family spend most of their time huddled inside their house waiting to be saved, believing that their world will eventually be getting back to normal, and they are completely unable to imagine a different, better world; they are content to live by the rules and norms of the ‘old’ one.  The late Michael Crichton once wrote that the only difference between a bear and a human is imagination; at this critical point in our species’ history, it is imperative now that we work to imagine a new future for ourselves, one that is actually sustainable*, because the present system—rooted in petroleum, consumption, and convenience—certainly isn’t.
“Get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand, the times they are a-changing”.

*(For the inquisitive reader, looking for specifics, I point to the concept of Permaculture, which is probably the best middle ground between the two extremes of Primitivism (the Project Mayhem-style, all-out destruction of civilization) and the dead-end that, unless we make some big changes, is where we’re headed now).