Monday, March 31, 2014

Where to Live V - Tornadoes

As I am sitting under a tornado watch at present,* it seemed a good time to examine another threat that the prepper should consider when selecting a location to live: tornadoes.

In some ways, tornadoes are the opposite of the nuclear power plants we discussed in Part IV.  Whereas nuclear plants are stationary, tornadoes are mobile. Nuke plants are rare while tornadoes are common. But the third difference is, at least to me, the most important: when a nuclear power plant has a serious accident, it does far more damage over a larger area and for a longer time than even the largest tornado.

That's not to say tornadoes aren't serious; they can be.  Drive through Joplin, Missouri, today and you can still see the path of the F5 that killed 158 people and injured more than 1000 in 2011. But three years later, more people are living in and around Joplin than ever. The same is not true of Chernobyl, which is today surrounded by an Exclusion Zone measuring 1000 square miles. No one lives there and maybe never will again.

This comparison gives us a two-sided grid under which the prepper can categorize threats: frequency (common/rare) versus impact (limited/massive). Nearly every conceivable threat can be measured that way. Those threats that are rare and of limited damage can often be safely ignored, for you'll have built in enough preparation already to handle them.  Those that are both common and massive (e.g. hurricanes on the Gulf Coast) will demand serious preparation and perhaps even avoidance. Those massive threats which are deemed inevitable, like a dollar collapse, can perhaps only be planned for and muddled through.

Since no prepper can be safe from all threats or even prepare for all threats,** the prepper simply must prioritize. If the danger posed by a tornadoes is judged to be greater than that of earthquakes, California looks welcoming.  If not, then the prepper will make another choice. We'll have a few more factors to throw into your threat grid over the next couple of weeks. Be safe.

* One of eight I'll see this year according to this handy-dandy map from NOAA.
** What's the plan for a planetary collision?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Where to Live IV - Nuclear Plants

Nuclear Plants in the United States

In Part IV of the Where to Live series, we're going to take a brief look at one often-overlooked threat to consider when choosing a home or a bugout location: nuclear power plants.

With the 2011 cracking of Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant and its leaking of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean, the world is once again reminded of the potential dangers of nuclear power. Nuclear power has tremendous advantages when compared to coal-powered and even natural gas powered plants.* Their prices are more stable than those that burn petroleum, they emit less atmospheric junk, and overall, they're pretty freaking safe.  When you look at all those red dots and realize that America's biggest brush with nuclear disaster took place a quarter century ago, it's obvious that nuclear accidents are not as large a threat as hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunamis.

But still, Fukushima.  The problem was not just the plant as much as it was the earthquake-generated tsunami that crippled it.  Nuclear power plants, when impacted by that kind of event, make a nasty, nasty mess. The result can be so toxic for so long that, as I mentioned before, nearly the only conceivable circumstance under which I would be forced to bug out rather than stay put in an SHTF scenario would be if the only plant within 100 miles of my home had a similar problem.  I don't foresee one, but it's possible nonetheless.  My bugout location is 300 miles from the nearest plant, and it's a different one.

So as part of your threat assessment, take a look at the nuclear power plants near your area.  Especially pay attention if those plants are near known fault lines or in areas where severe weather could have an impact (low-lying areas, coastlines, etc.).  Are you downwind from a plant? Are you downstream from one? 

The probability that a nuclear meltdown will impact you is low.**  But as the impact of an event can be so catastrophic to the area surrounding the plant, the wise prepper will be aware of the potential dangers and plan accordingly.

* I don't know that anyhing will ever be better than good old hydropower, though.
** Still, 400-lb carrots, FTW!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Where to Live III - Ethnic Demographics

This is the post no one really wants to write, the subject no one wants to address.  Even Alex Jones, in his movie Strategic Relocation, blames potential collapse-driven ethnic strife on Globalists playing otherwise peaceful people against one another.  That is, if I might be so bold, a cop-out.  All multi-cultural empires, when they come apart, do so along fairly predictable lines. As politically incorrect as it is to say so, America is not immune from this possibility, and we know where the lines are likely to be.  So let's take a nasty issue head on and let the chips fall where they may.

A poor, scared, shocked, hungry, untrusting population is one to which differences matter. Trust and cooperation is withdrawn from those considered 'outsiders,' resulting in a fracturing of society into smaller groups.  The popular word for the process is balkanization, in which Yugoslavia broke into a series of racial and ethnic enclaves (the Balkan states) hostile to one another and to minorities within each.  Balkanization is the bad side of devolution. 

A instructive current example of the process is Crimea, where two major ethnic/linguistic groups do not see eye to eye.* The ethnic Russian / Russian-speaking population, a majority in the region of Crimea but a minority in all of Ukraine, prefers the government in Moscow to that of Kiev.  Once they joined Russia, their own minorities, including Tatars and ethnic Ukranians, began to experience the same mistreatment that the Crimean Russians sought to escape.  The most peaceful solution appears to be a separation of peoples who cannot live together. The Ukranian-speakers will move back to Ukraine, Russian-speakers will move to Crimea.  Hopefully it can be done peacefully, unlike the 1944 eviction of 140,000 Tatars from the area. Crimea didn't get a Russian ethnic majority simply by having nice beaches.

Differences that might cause such a separation (whether through secession or driving out**) come in a number of flavors, not limited to language, religion, culture, nationality, race, and political ideology.  Let's address a few of them that might be an issue in a much poorer, more radicalized, balkanized America.

I believe language is going to be the biggie.  As is often the case when things go south in a hurry, conformity becomes primary.  One who speaks a different language from the majority is usually of a different culture, often of a different nationality, and occasionally of a different religion and race to boot. It's five mistrusts for the price of one, and I suspect we will see a furious backlash against "Press '1' for English."

The primary area where trouble will arise is where it always arises: in geographical areas where neither of two clashing cultures holds an overwhelming majority. This means mixed areas and borders, or areas where a mass immigration or migration is overtaking a native population. Ironically, the only Dagbanli-speaking Ghanan immigrant in Hays, Kansas, will probably be safer than he would be in Ghana because he'll be considered a curiosity rather than a threat.  But a Spanish-speaking Mexican in an area where lots of English-speakers and Spanish-speakers are fighting over shrinking water rights is going to have a tougher time.

I would not be surprised to see a reprise of Operation Wetback, where Mexicans (and, unfortunately Americans of Mexican ancestry) are forcibly repatriated to the south of the Rio Grande River.  Should the Spanish-speakers win the struggle, part of the United States could conceivably secede, assuming, as is the case in Ukraine - the central government lacks to power to stop it.

There are plenty of other potential troubles as well. Recent immigrants like Somalis in Minnesota and Iraqis in Michigan could face significant persecution from surrounding white communities, as could Asian-dominated enclaves and blacks in Hispanic-controlled neighborhoods. This is already happening, and may only get more blatant and violent. In contested areas, whites associated with inner city culture, bi-racial people, or those in mixed marriages could all face troubles they might not face in another area. Loyalty to much smaller groups will be demanded yet harder to prove.

Race may be an issue, but it also may be different than it has been in the American past and in Europe. In the 20th century, European ancestry morphed into the generic 'white.'  That makes the map above, which separates out Germans from Irish from Finns, a bit misleading. The largest ethnic group over the largest area is not German Americans but white Americans. So you're not likely to have inter-ethnic white gang wars here as in Crimea. Germans from Wisconsin are not going to exterminate Slavs from Iowa, because American whites identify with America, not wherever nation their ancestors fled. There are also no significant language distinctions amongst American whites.

Because the first 'post-crash' identification will likely be hyper-patriotism, blacks, to the extent that they share a culture with white Americans, are unlikely to experience a nationwide legal backlash.  Just as whites see other whites primarily as Americans, no white denies that blacks are just as American - where they differ in skin color they make up for in shared nationality and culture. But shared culture - especially conformity in language and dress - will be critical. This will last so long as people primarily identify as American, which may be a long time, or may not. There's simply no way to know.

On the other hand, blacks who are a part of the oppositional culture most identified with the inner city may be in for a very hard time.  Crises are not times when the majority of Americans are going to continue to tolerate or underwrite this dependent, infantile, and self-destructive culture.  This will especially be the case if big cities get out of control and looting breaks out into the suburbs.  I fully expect a number of Northern cities to be locked down for that very reason. Woe to the one who does not escape before the bridges to the suburbs are blown.

In southern areas where blacks and whites struggle fairly evenly for political control and political spoils, there certainly exists real potential for race-based mistreatment, especially since in these areas segregation is only a long lifetime in the past. Even then, blatant private segregation and random violence is more likely than a legal subjugation of minorities, at least at first.

This is where I'll admit I'm most likely to be overly optimistic, however.  As a dad of black kids, I obviously don't wish to see a nationwide, forced segregation. I also see no reasonable argument for it in most places. But things may get out of control anyway, and mass migrations can change anything, anywhere, any time.

So what does it all mean?  It does not mean that one can make the possibility of a balkanization of America go away by calling it racist.  It does not mean one can make it go away by wishing fervently.

It means that if America does break apart under the strain of societal/monetary collapse, it will likely do so in some part along racial/ethnic/language/cultural lines.  If it does, minorities*** in contested areas may have a very hard time.  There may be a forced driving of language/religion/race minorities from various areas, and ethnic cleansing by forced segregation.

Joel Garreou once posited that there are Nine Nations in North America, culturally speaking.  Under any number of SHTF scenarios, that number is likely to be low.   The wise prepper is the one who understands what the divisions will likely be, forecasts where the ground will separate,**** and remains a safe distance back from the fault lines.

* This is the reason that modern leftist race politics is evil and is ultimately destructive.  If we disagree on free trade, for example, we can still reach an agreement by reason or compromise. If we disagree on matters of race, if we demean and denigrate and build mistrust over racial injustice (real or as is often the case today, imagined), we cannot peacefully co-exist because neither of us can change our skin. We can only subjugate each other or separate. Exacerbating these tensions today for short-term political gain all but guarantees they will loom larger tomorrow.
** For example, up to 100,000 people, black and white, left the newly formed United States following the Revolutionary War.  Blacks sought to escape slavery, but many whites were all but forced to leave, enduring physical and financial punishment in a new country to which they would not pledge allegiance.
*** This is the white man in the Latino areas as much as the Black man in the white ones. It might even mean the treehugger in Ohio and the Yankee in Georgia. It's not about race, it's about differences that other people think matter.
**** And quite possibly, where other people think the prepper belongs. This is not a situation where you choose sides so much as you find out which side considers you too different to be accepted into the trusted group.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Where to Live II - Population Density

United States Population Density
In Where to Live Part I we took a look at a green and red map that was almost the inverse of this one - that of annual rainfall. In this map, which shows USA population per square mile, the red areas are the most populous and the green areas the least so. What was 'high' on the other map is 'low' on this one, generally. That the maps share similarities should not be all that much a of surprise, really. Plenteous rainfall means abundant water for people and crops, and people and crops together will usually develop a larger population density over time.*

That creates something of a dichotomy for the prepper.  The existence of a lot of people in one place is evidence that it's easier to live there than in a place where almost no one lives.  More people live in Alabama than Alaska for that very reason. On the flip side, in most SHTF scenarios population density is the enemy: you can squirrel away enough for yourself and your family, raise your food, filter your water, work with your tools, but if you are surrounded by millions of people who also need to eat, who also have guns, and who are more desperate and scared than you, then you are not in a place conducive to long-term survival.** Like Joel Skousen once said of living in a nuclear blast zone: don't build a better bunker, move!

Not only is local population density an immediate threat, population movements following an event can also cause problems.  For example, when Hurricane Katrina emptied New Orleans, the folks who fled brought trouble as far away as Houston. So a realistic threat assessment will not only take account of where populations are, but where they will go and by what means.  You may live 100 miles from Chicago, but if you live a mile from the interstate, plenty of Chicago can visit you in 2 hours, at least until the roads clog. In the case of Katrina, a relatively small geographical area was impacted, that of the Gulf Coast near New Orleans. But what if the area impacted includes a dozen cities? A hundred? Are you in a position where you'll be quickly overrun by hungry, scared, desperate refugees?

On the other hand, I am absolutely convinced that the opposite is also a problem: being holed up in a cabin where you are the only family for 20 miles merely presents a different set of challenges.  What do you do for a child with a burst appendix? What do you do when a gang of armed men arrives on horseback? Who do your kids marry?  The idea of bugging out into nowhere and living in a log cabin near a clear mountain pool is idyllic, but there's a reason no one really does it. At least not for long.

Obviously an individual's choice of location will be a balance of both extremes and many factors (most of which I hope to cover in time). If you're a highly-paid technical professional, you probably need to live within driving distance of a red spot, because that's where the highly-paid technical jobs are. If you live far from the city but have to commute, you'll probably live near a highway to avoid spending an extra hour or two a day driving.  If you live in the middle of nowhere, you probably are more reliant on the petroleum market than you realize, not only to get to the store, but for truckers to get the stuff you need to that store. Both near and far have tradeoffs that must be weighed.

Best places: Western US at least 100 miles from the Pacific coast, northern Maine and New York, upper Michigan.

Marginal places: Rural areas east of the Mississippi, western Oregon.

Worst places: Urban areas, both coasts, and on interstates between urban areas, especially in the NY-Washington DC corridor and the LA-San Diego corridor.

For my own part, I live about a mile from a US highway, 25 miles from work, and 100 miles from the nearest red spot.  It's both close enough and far enough for me.  For others, based on their own threat assessments and living preferences, that might be dangerously close or insufferably isolated.

*  Obviously, other factors factor into what the map shows. People congregate around ports and the East Coast is the oldest and most immigrated-to area of the country. Many immigrants simply stayed in the port through which they arrived and never planted a single ear of corn.
** Unless you can set yourself up quickly as a regional warlord.  Maybe a post on that will be in order later.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Where to Live I - Rainfall

 

After watching a youtube vid that concluded that the best place in the whole world for all of us to live is in the Florida Panhandle,* I got to thinking that what is needed is not for someone to conclude where the best possible place to be in some kind of SHTF scenario,** but rather a discussion of the factors that should play into such a choice. This will be done via an occasional series of USA maps*** that illustrate natural, political, and demographic information.

This is more useful IMO because everyone is going to consider different scenarios more likely than others, which necessitates that certain factors like rainfall or population density be treated as more important than others. The Redoubters, as I mentioned, consider military defensibility to be crucial. I don't, except to the extent that oceans and deserts are fortifications.  So we are necessarily going to draw different conclusions from the same data because we will weigh that data differently. That's fine. Not all of us can fit in Marianna, Florida, anyway.

So first up is a biggie in just about any scenario: rainfall.  Even though the US as a whole is not considered a place where fresh water is scarce, the current drought in California reminds us how much and in what ways we rely on water for food production.

Now, the thing I like best about this map is that it displays colors appropriate to my personal conclusions: green is go, red is stop.  Green denotes areas where, coincidentally, perhaps, the rainfall of 30-60" per year fits in well with a garden's demand for 1-2" per week, depending upon temperature and soil type.  Of course, water need not be all summer rainfall, as the prepper is expected to be saving rainfall all year long, even if it's in a pond.  But it becomes very difficult to provide the garden with 60 inches of water over 30 weeks if your area only gets one inch a month, and most of that as snow. It doesn't mean you can't live there: people still do.  It just means you're going to have to work harder and be more creative in providing water for gardens and livestock.****

Best places: Obviously, the eastern half of the US scores well, as does northern and central California (oops) and central Colorado. Good Redoubt areas include Idaho and small parts of Montana and Wyoming.  If you really, really love rain, western Oregon and Washington rule, as does the Mississippi Delta.

Marginal places: the High Plains to the eastern Rockies.  These areas are some of America's most productive farmland, but they are so only because of a) massive amounts of petroleum-based fertilizers, and b) heroic pumping from the Ogallala Aquifer. Personally, I don't see western Kansas remaining half as productive should one or both of those efforts fail. Minnesota has enough water lying about that even with marginal rainfall, it's probably best of the bunch.

Worst places: The West generally, the Southwest specifically.  I would really hate to be trying to farm or even garden 50 miles outside Phoenix when the government turns off the water, either because it's not available or because you're being uppity. Both happen.

Next time we'll take a look at a map that shows that all the good areas on this map are really bad, and the bad areas are all good: population density.

Multitudes, multitudes in the Valley of Decision.

* Proudly sponsored by the Marianna Florida Chamber of Commerce.
** I'm consciously trying to avoid creating another disaster pr0n site, so discussions of actual, theoretical SHTF scenarios will probably be few and far between unless someone wants me to address something specific.  There's plenty of other sites that will tell you that Rabbi Kim Obama Putin is ready to loose his alien nuclear EMP drones on the US Dollar and the Yellowstone Super Volcano right freaking now!
*** One of which will probably discuss why the USA is far and away the region of choice for Americans, no matter what happens.
**** We'll assume you're saving the well for people.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

What happened to Kondratieff's Winter?

"Idealized" K-Wave structure.  They don't really look like that.
Michael Alexander looks around and notices that the snow's not only gone, it never arrived...
The last seven decades have shown what appears to be another price revolution. The regular pattern of peaks and valleys in producer prices seen by Kondratiev has been replaced by one enormous upward trend. The long wave pattern seen by Kondratiev can no longer be detected, suggesting that it may simply have been a random fluctuation that happened to occur during the 140 years after 1790...
Anyone who has followed Long Wave economics for very long has to be wondering what happened to winter.  Not in the Global Warming Climate Change sense, but in the sense that following the year 2000 or so, we were supposed to descend into the frozen depths of economic darkness according to a whole host of long wave prognosticators. Instead we got a recession in 2001, then some bubbles followed by a nasty financial crisis in 2007-9. The world's economy has been holding together in some zombie-like stasis for the half-decade since then.

The K-Wave postulates that - for as many reasons as there are analysts - capitalist society is subject to a 70-year m/l cycle of great boom and bust. The Civil War topped one, The Great War topped another - they came in like generational tsunamis, harbingers of economic and social destruction unimagined and unimaginable. The idea has always been controversial,* and whatever one thinks of cycles, one has to admit that this one should have rolled over us almost 20 years ago. That's more than a rounding error. At the very least it's a model that cannot be projected into the future with any sort of specificity.

As evidence, I present the above chart, which I've stolen from Long Wave Analyst Ian Gordon**. Created in 2004, it had already proposed an 18-year autumn, about the longest on record. Its winter started in 2000 with the denotation that the S&P 500 had fallen back to the 1000 mark and the promise of a vicious decline to come.  Two vicious declines and a decade later, that index stands some 80% higher.  The prophesied crash never came. If we had gone into a Kondratieff Winter on schedule, it would be about over, ready to begin the next bull market / Kondratieff Spring.  So what happened?

This other chart happened. The K-Wave is the same, and when showed with the US Wholesale Price Index (now Producer Price Index) you can see a pretty good correlation.  Until now.  That red line going up at the end has continued to go up, even as K-Wave theory proposed it would drop quickly to 1940s levels.  The theory is broken.

But why? I suspect that the Federal Reserve, by its ever-expanding currency operations, has broken the heretofore natural correlation between prices and the business cycle.  Price levels, and therefore K-Waves under a gold standard or some other limited money supply, represented activity and demand in a concrete way: oversupply and under-demand led to falling prices. However, under an unlimited money supply system as we have today, the threat of falling prices is always met with more money, which dilutes the value of money, driving prices relentlessly higher in relation to that money.

Since we have changed the standard by which we measure prices, they no longer tell us anything but what something costs today.*** When the Fed separated prices from supply and demand, they broke the blue line by driving the red line higher. K-waves, which relied on rising and falling prices to give them form, were dashed upon the rocks of permanent inflation.****

The question remains, of course, whether the Kondratieff Cycle still exists in any real sense.  Alexander's piece linked above (worth a read) seeks to re-discover it by making adjustments to how prices are measured, "correcting" the red line to show the blue still exists. I'm not a fan of changing measurements to find a pattern - it smacks too much of Global Warming Climate Change model manipulation.  But whether he finds it or not, no one can deny that the decade following 2000 did not conform to the winter that the Long Wave analysts expected and preached. Fixing the chart will not change that fact.

So has the Fed delivered us into a Kondratieff Nirvana, where the cycles of history no longer apply? In Paul Krugman's dreams.  While this post is mostly a reminder not to place your trust in those who sell newsletters, waves and cycles still do exist.  We will take a look at a few others in the coming weeks, months, or however long the power stays on.

* Though I suppose no one found it as troublesome as did Kondratieff himself.  He was executed in Stalin's Great Purge in 1938, right at the end of the last Kondratieff Winter. 
** for a couple of reasons, none of which are making fun of him for being wrong.
*** I mean, how far is it to Schenectady if the mile is increased by some random number up to 15% per year? How far will it be 25 years from now?
**** Or they're setting up for one big ass wave to come.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Thoughts on the American Redoubt

One does not have to hang long in prepper/survivalist circles to come across the idea of the American Redoubt, a retreat area to which Christians* can John-Galt in preparation for the collapse.  The most famous proponent of the movement is surely James Wesley Rawles of SurvivalBlog.com (from whom I stole this graphic), though a few others advance similar ideas.  It's worth it to read through Rawles' linked piece and ponder what he's saying, for 99% of it is right on.  And like Christian Exodus and the Free State Project, both of which seek similar ends by massing like-minded people in a specific place, I wish the Redoubters well.  But I shan't be joining  the American Redoubt, and not just because the lovely and gracious Rogue is deathly allergic to pine trees.

First of all, the right stuff:

The Precepts of survivalist philosophy.  You'll likely not find anything in there to disagree with, because it's old and tried wisdom.

The idea, found throughout the 'checklist,' that local action is critical and that big-city expectations ought to be left behind. Our modern huge cities are a relic of the cheap-energy industrial age, and they are passing away.  Cheap fuel was a one-time gift to humanity, but it is likely being revoked. Time to move on. Or back, as the case may be.

The list of ways to help Atlas shrug is both insightful and cunning.  I long ago decided to emphasize reducing costs rather than increasing my income to pay those costs. I have never once lost sleep over paying too few incomes taxes.

Now, the wrong stuff:

"Expect a long driving distances(sic) for work and shopping." - I've spent a bit of time in northern Idaho and never once saw an oil refinery.  So I'm not sure how, once the market for petroleum products is significantly impacted by war, economic collapse, or peak oil, people will not be driving anywhere for anything.  As peak cheap oil really bites, I fully expect a nationalization of sorts - actually a government prioritization - whereby truckers get fuel, farmers get fuel, and drivers get, well, paper coupons.  If you have to drive a long distance to get to work, you'll likely be in a new line of work before you know it.  If you move to the Redoubt, expect to be a miner, a logger, or a subsistence farmer. Those have been the default careers in the region for a reason.

"Plains and steppes are tanker country."- a major part of the argument for living in the mountains is that the area is military defensible. Knowing nothing about military strategy, I cannot really comment on that.  But I do note that it's easier to grow crops in the same places tanks can drive. There is a reason that the mountainous areas of the world have never supported a large population density - they simply cannot. The soil is poor. Travel is difficult. Winters are brutal.** You can't organize anything larger than a clan or maybe a town. So if you're fine living in a remote mountain village with a couple other families that your kids will intermarry with for generations, that's fine.  I'm not, so much.  I prefer the plains, where tanks can move, but so can people, and where you can grow a lot of food and where you can travel by bicycle or train if necessary. The future military question will not be "Can a place be subdued?" so much as "Is that place worthwhile to occupy?" In that respect, any low-density area far from 'civilization' will likely fall into the 'not worth it' category in the government's calculations.

But all that said, I really count the American Redoubt to be anywhere between the Rockies and Appalacians, 50 miles from any city of 300k people or more. Yes, Idaho is politically conservative, but it's not more conservative than Arkansas.  Yes, Montana has lots of range land, but not much more than Nebraska. Wyoming has a low population density, but that of western Kansas and western Texas is just as low, albeit for different reasons.

I simply don't see the big problem in a nationwide SHTF scenario being the US government. I fully suspect that every soldier not stationed in Ukraine will be stationed on Long Island or in LA or Chicago.  The much-discussed FEMA camps will be full of former EBT recipients, not well-armed home gardeners from the outskirts of Sioux City or Tulsa. In short, the real problem outside the cities will be disorder that will be subdued by sheriffs and posses. That and a lack of finished goods, which people will just have to live without.  And I don't see those problems as being any smaller (or larger) in the Rockies than on the Great Plains.

And I'd rather be in a place where cattle can graze without starting avalanches, all things being equal.

* and Orthodox and Messianic Jews.
** This coming from a guy who grew up in northern Minnesota.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The SHTF Stockpile - Part IV

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
-- Robert A. Heinlein

In Part III we talked about tools, books, and barter. Today we're going to finish this series by covering three items: final thoughts on skills, stockpiling the future, and finally, what happens if you have to bug out.

10. Skills - In a real sense Heinlein is correct. While specialization makes us more productive, it can also make us brittle - it seems today that the only skills many people have is a) whatever they do at work, and b) changing the channel.*  For anything else we need to call - and pay - a specialist.  The backyard mechanic of yesteryear does not even change his own oil today - he pays someone who changes oil all day long.  Fruit that used to be gathered on the roadside is now flown in from 5000 miles away, picked by someone who picks all day long, packed by someone who packs, flown by one specialist, trucked by another, stocked on the shelves by yet another. This hyperspecialization does not bode well for a society entering a period of devolution, decentralization, and in many ways, simplification. We are going to have to do many more things ourselves.

On the other hand, specialization is a necessity - none of us can know everything, and there exists no final list of skills that one should have. For some, being able to build a fire without matches will be a lifesaver. Others might find that cooking sausage pizza over that same fire provides a perfect end to a joyful day. Concentrating on a few skills ensures we can learn them well.

You never know, and you won't ever know which ones you'll need. But in one sense you don't need to know, because you're not going to be in this alone. Individuals will not survive, communities will survive: those communities that are able to collectively apply enough skills to feed, clothe, and protect those within it. The most valuable skill of all may be the ability to find or build such a community and to make oneself irreplaceable to it. Or it might be dumb luck.

In a worst-case scenario, Americans will be thrown back to Plymouth Colony: a tiny, poor, hellhole of civilization clinging like a barnacle to a continent awash in cannibalism, rapine, and stone-age technology and religion.  Good thing for us that Americans did it before, even before they were Americans. It's a skill we have inherited: thought not all of us have it individually, it is a part of who we are. Or were until recently and can be again.

11. Stockpiling a future - humans change their environments to make life easier for themselves. All humans. It's almost comical to listen to some larval academic opine on how the Indians got along so well with nature.** The truth is that they impacted it as much as anyone, relative to their technology.  They burned the plains because they had fire, we pave them because we have asphalt.  Find a people that does not impact nature and I'll show you one that eats lice straight from their children's hair.

But how we impact it - how we will impact it in the future - is something we need to plan. We have stockpiled tools, we have stockpiled skills, now we have to stockpile the future. We do that by modifying our environment to the best of our ability and with an eye toward future production.  Dig a pond, plant apple trees, mulch leaves into the soil instead of trucking them away. This is not meant to appease the gods of carbon neutrality, but to help the ground produce for us - and in the case of trees, for our kids.  It's to apply the hard-learned lessons of the generations who starved before us, who through painful trial and fatal error passed to us the secrets of making the land feed us well.  We have collectively spent the last 50 years stripmining the land, pouring chemicals into the ground instead of knowledge.  If and when the end comes for trucking and shipping and flying the results of that petroleum-based process all over God's green earth, we will collectively grow a lot less food.*** That means we will individually need to grow more food. And that means that wherever we decide to bug in, we need to get to work today to make that land more productive in an authentically sustainable**** way.

12. Bugging out. Throughout this entire series, I have consciously avoided addressing the first thing most preppers address: bugging out.  And I've done this because I think bugging out is most people's excuse for not doing any real preparation.  I fully realize there are some who cannot bug in - as Huck so clearly explained, the City of Angels is never the right hill to die on.  Depending upon what kind of disaster we might face, even the dug-in prepper may have to bug out.  If Wolf Creek should do a Fukashima for some reason, old El B will have to head north. But just how far north, and by what route, he already knows.

But there are are two final thoughts to keep in mind when one is forced - absolutely forced - to bug out.  First of all, you are going to someplace specific, some place that can (and must) support you. That means you have no excuse not to prepare that place ahead of time. Everything that can be done in a bug-in location can be done in a bug-out one. In fact, it must be.  It's no better to starve on a mountaintop than on the plains.

Secondly, when you bug out, you'll be extremely limited in the physical items you can bring - in a real SHTF scenario, anyone who is seen carrying or hauling anything will be the first victim of ad hoc asset-gathering co-operatives.  If you think you're going to drive through St. Louis with a U-haul full of canned goods, you might want to revisit that assumption.  Our highways go through cities. In an SHTF situation, very little else will.

Your water takes up space. Books take up space. Tools take up space.  But your skills take up no space at all. They take no effort to carry. They cannot be stolen. They will arrive anywhere you arrive.  And if you can get to your redoubt with your skills intact and your tools waiting, you'll have as good a chance to survive as anyone.

Part III
Part II
Part I

* not including programming the VCR.
** He'll also bemoan how we don't, right before getting into his car and driving on paved roads back to his subdivision, built atop one of their cemeteries.
*** Sorry about that population overshoot, Africa and India.
**** have I mentioned how much I hate that euphemism for pretentious treehuggung? Our 'sustainable' campus is one where we recycle plastic bottles but use a fleet of propane-powered bobcats to move snow piles that will melt by themselves within the week.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The SHTF Stockpile – Part III

In Part II, we talked about guns and gold, and about assuming a producer mindset rather than a consumer one. We want to be people who produce what we consume, not those who consume all we’ve saved. Today we’re going to talk about how to expand that idea beyond ammunition and branch out into a broader area: hand tools, our how-to library, and barter items for SHTF.

7. Hand tools – These are wire cutters, pliers, wrenches, hammers, alan wrenches, axes, saws, and other woodworking tools, even coffee cans full of (straight) nails. Try to get your hands on as many different types in as good a condition as possible, especially tools for maintaining tools, like whetstones, files, and maybe an old jar of grease. Hand tools are available for next to nothing from the usual haunts (auctions, estate sales, ebay) and when organized properly take up relatively little space. Here are a few strategies for making the most of your hand tools:

a. Inventory all of your tools that need electricity (including batteries) to run, like band saws, electric screwdrivers, and the like. You will need to plan to replace each of these with hand tools. This need not be a 1-for-1 replacement, as losing the power drill may mean going to a hand drill, but it might also mean using nails rather than screws in large building projects. Think through the options for each tool. There is no one solution.

b. You can never have too many screwdrivers. This is not because you’ll have more and different screws in the future, but because they can be made into other tools, like leather punches, gunsmithing tools, locksmithing tools, digging or prying tools, even weapons. A plastic handle attached to a steel bar is an amazingly useful thing.

c. Squirrel away extras of parts that will wear out, like razor blades for xacto knives, hammer handles, saw blades. Even the best tools do not last forever, and the loss of the weakest part can make the whole tool all but useless. Spare parts will be worth their weight in gold.

d. Go build something. Build a bird house or a garden gate or plumb a sink using only your hand tools. Which ones work? Which ones suck? The time to make choices about tools is today while you can still get replacements or upgrades. If markets are interrupted for a significant period, what you have to work with now might be all you have to work with for years to come.

8. Books – Now is the time to develop a how-to library, including (and perhaps especially) how to do things you never thought of doing. However, don’t bother with ‘survival’ books. The idea of bugging out to live in some Idaho state forest with a K-Bar knife in one hand and a how-to book in the other is for fools. If you get shot by a French-Canadian fur trapper before you starve to death you’ll be lucky.

Instead, pick up books on gardening, bicycle repair, building a smoke house, gunsmithing, composting, or home canning – actual skills that people who live in one place might* need. Books need not be new: a 50-year-old field guide on how to identify wild plants is just as good as a new one - evolution or not, poison sumac and trumpet king mushrooms still look the same as they did in the 60s. Crop rotation works the same way today as was described in the Victory Garden Handbook of WWII.

In the near future we will not be mining the soil year after year, while covering the sin of non-rotation with petroleum-based fertilizer. The way we are going to produce is not just going to change; it’s going to change back a century. So now is the time to put the accumulated knowledge of last century’s gardeners and craftsmen where you can get your hands on it before it passes beyond our reach. Your local thrift store is likely bursting with such titles. If not, many can be had on Amazon for $4 – a penny for the book and $3.99 to ship it. Plenty can be downloaded for free and simply printed.

The truth is, no matter how much you know, you cannot remember everything, and in the future you may not be able to Google anything.  If it turns out you don't need a book, chances are someone else will, so you can always trade it away. Speaking of which...

9. Real barter items – Forget extra toilet paper. If you have done the prior steps, you will already have a veritable smorgasbord of barter items that will serve you well in any scenario. You’ll have tools, you’ll have information, you’ll be manufacturing consumables like food or ammunition or feather pillows. You might even be making other tools to trade.

One rule to ensure that you do not eat your seed corn, so to speak: never trade a tool for anything other than another tool. Manufactures and consumables can be traded or sold, but your tools, like your seed corn, are tomorrow’s harvest. They must be preserved for tomorrow, even at the cost of significant suffering today.

If you still don’t feel right going into SHTF without some good old-fashioned consumer goods to trade, I would suggest you limit them to pocket knives, small mirrors, sandpaper, led flashlights, razor blades, items that take up very little space and are hard to produce by hand. You can get used pocket knives for $1 each in bulk,** so get a box and put them away.

I promised we would find a way to make Al Gore happy, but that will just have to wait until the next (and perhaps final) segment.

Part I
Part II
Part IV

* "might" is the crucial word here.  Just because you can't imagine preserving beaver pelts using smashed brains as a preservative doesn't mean no one will want to learn to do it.  Expand your mind a little.
** TSA seems to have an unlimited supply of them for some reason, and they end up on ebay.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The SHTF Stockpile - Part II

In Part I we discussed why storing certain items in preparation for an SHTF scenario is not only useless, but can actually retard* your true readiness, either by taking up too much space or by buttressing the incorrect assumption that normal life can go on indefinitely via stored consumer goods.

That’s an interesting word, consumer. We see it in the latest survey of consumer confidence. We read Consumer Reports magazine. We are told that consumers are what make the economy run. “Consumer” is a word that’s applied to each of us, every day, in our modern consumer culture, and we assume that it’s a good thing. After all, it’s us.

But have you ever really thought about what the word means? To consume is to eat or drink, to use up, to destroy. Therefore a consumer is an eater, a user, a destroyer. When we consume, we use up what we have, and when that is gone, we are broke and hungry. Hoarding consumer goods simply delays the inevitable, but the inevitable comes nonetheless – if you store consumer goods you will eventually consume them all. That's what they are designed for. It's what they do.

We all need to consume – after all we must eat to live. But to successfully prepare, it is necessary to look at our stored goods in a whole new way. Rather than seeing things to be consumed, we need to see them as tools whereby we can produce the things we need to consume. That is the difference in mindset between a consumer and a producer.

A producer still consumes, but when he has consumed, he is neither broke nor hungry. In fact, if he produces enough, he can feed others and grow rich at the same time. So for the remainder of this series, rather than looking to store things we’ll consume, we are going to look at methods of capital accumulation, which is the basis of production.

With that in mind, let’s move on to the next group of items to add to our SHTF stockpile: gold and guns.

4. Shooting-related tools. It’s a fine idea to store ammunition for your guns. It’s a better mindset to gather the tools that will allow you to produce ammunition for them. Those tools might be as simple as an aluminum bullet mold or as complex as a progressive reloading press. Spent brass, a swage press, top punches, reloading and swage dies, cast iron pots, and high-temperature utensils are all capital that can be accumulated with the goal of producing ammunition rather than consuming it. It cannot be done completely, perhaps: unless you have a way to produce primers you’ll still need to buy them with an eye toward consumption. But every item you have the tools and knowledge to produce is one less item you'll need to store.  Again, learning to use your tools is critical – unless you are buying them simply for trade (not a bad idea, either) you should be growing more comfortable and competent with them by using them regularly.

5. Trapping-related tools. Unless you expect to use your guns to hold off zombies, you’ll probably be using them to supplement your garden’s bounty. But there are other ways to harvest small game than using up your valuable ammunition, like by trapping and fishing. Fishing tools are almost too simple to enumerate, but for the sake of completeness, we’ll add fishing rods, line, hooks in various sizes, jig heads. Plastic lures are fine in the short term, but do not expect to be able to replace your Hula Popper in a grid-down scenario. Stock up on hooks and learn to dig worms. Small game like squirrels, rabbits, and possums can be captured using live traps and steel leg/foot traps ($4 each on ebay), or snared using good old picture wire. Grab a few rolls (plain wire, not vinyl covered) at Wal Mart while you can. Just be careful with traps where pets are present.

 6. Gold. At last, the prepper’s dream metal. “God, guns, and gold” – these are what we are told the prepper needs. I agree, and place them in that order, but while gold will excel as financial capital under certain scenarios (e.g. hyperinflation in a producing economy) there are others where it is all but useless. The problem is not that gold will have no value – it will in fact have so much value that you are trapped with it: there may simply be nothing available to trade it for. So in addition to gold, accumulate some capital metals in the following forms as well:

a. Silver – Old coins, mostly, though “rounds” and bars are fine. The idea is to have a small-value currency that you can trade for small items.

b. Lead – an incredibly useful metal for making bullets, sinkers, and weights of all sorts. Old wheel weights are probably the easiest way to accumulate some. A 5 gallon bucket will cost $40 and will last your whole life most likely, unless you produce bullets and sinkers for others.

c. Copper (including brass and bronze) – probably too demanding for the home foundry, but these metals are useful enough that they will always have a trade value. The best source is pre-1982 pennies, followed by copper pipes and plumbing-related fixtures, electrical wiring, and the like. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, while bronze is an alloy of copper and tin. Learn to distinguish them.

d. Nickel – a useful metal that you will definitely not be working at home. But like copper, it will always be valuable because someone will figure out a way to work it. Best source – nickel coins, which are actually a 25/75 nickel/copper alloy. The best part is that you can always spend the coin if you don’t need it.

e. Tin – one metal you’ll need if you decide to produce rifle bullets. Mixed with lead it produces a harder, lighter alloy. Best source – soldering wire or bars. Though oddly enough, old organ pipes can be 50-100% tin. It can be easily melted into bars for convenient storage.

f. Zinc - Generally used for industrial applications like galvanizing, it is also used for making brass. Best source – post-1982 pennies, which have a pure a zinc core. A number of states have banned lead in wheel weights, so a few of the wheel weights in your bucket will probably be zinc as well. With a melt temperature of ~800f, zinc can be melted into bars, but be sure to keep them separate from your lead - a mixture of the two will ruin both.

In Part III we will cover hand tools and barter items, and how you can make Al Gore happy. Here’s to hoping it all holds together until tomorrow…

Part I
Part III
Part IV

* h/t Huck

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The SHTF Stockpile – Part I

The internets are full of lists detailing what the prepper ought to stockpile in order to survive and even thrive in a SHTF scenario. However, most of them fundamentally misrepresent the nature of SHTF and can cause you to waste precious money (and more importantly, limited space) stockpiling items that you don’t really need.

One example is toilet paper, which finds a lofty position on many lists, both as a stock item and a trade item. There is quite possibly not a worse item to stock in terms of storage space consumed. No one wants to live without toilet paper, but then again no one wants to live without electricity, internet, Wal Mart, or Wrestlemania, either. That's not really going to be a choice we'll make as individuals.

Stocking toilet paper gives the impression that things can go on as they always have – a mindset the prepper has to consciously shuck. It will run out at some point and then you’ll have to switch to a backup plan. Best to devise and implement a backup plan early – whether square-cut rags or Sears catalogs – and save a closet full of space today. Yes, stock a little toilet paper, a few boxes of tampons, some batteries. But realize these are transition items, not survival items.

The same can be said for long-term storage food. It is simply not enough to buy a collection of #10 cans full of freeze-dried green beans and call it a day. Not because they won’t last, but because you can’t eat it. “Of course I can,” you say. Then why aren’t you eating them now? There are many reasons, but two of them are that they taste like crap and that they stop you up. Guess what? In an SHTF scenario they are still going to taste like that and they are still going to constipate you, except then your body will be stressed so you’ll probably get sick as well. So if you’re not going to work them into your diet today – which you should if you have them, but probably won’t – then don’t rely on them for the future. Like TP, stored food is a transition item.

Instead of perishables and items that will be quickly consumed, the areas where the prepper ought to concentrate are simple: tools and skills. The former because an SHTF scenario is one in which tools will be unavailable via trade for some time, the latter because life is going to change, so best to get a jump on things.

So with all that intro, let's begin the big list of items for your SHTF stockpile:

1. Food preparation tools. These are the cheapest and most plentiful (today) of all the tools you'll need. Used can openers, spatulas, and cutlery are available for almost nothing at garage sales and estate auctions. Think about what items you use in food preparation, and most importantly, which ones break. Also ponder how many you can store in the space demanded by one case of toilet paper.  Don't forget a few nut crackers and maybe a cleaver as well. Choose metal over plastic and cast iron over teflon-coated aluminum. Your mindset should be, whenever possible, to buy tools that will outlive you.

2. Food storage tools. Rather than storing a bunch of canned goods, accumulate tools that will allow you to can those goods yourself. These include pressure canners and canning jars in various sizes, rings and lids, and even dried canning mixes (pickling spices, salsa mix). Then practice with them. Instead of throwing away the turkey remains, turn them into turkey soup and can it like your grandmother did. Make jellies and chutneys where possible. Not only will you eat better, you can reduce your food costs significantly by buying when items are cheap and preserving them yourself. A dehydrator, grain mill, and meat grinder will also prove invaluable. Again, use your tools - it's the only way you will become competent and comfortable with them.

3. Food production tools. Plant a small garden, even if it's in your kitchen window.  Plant some herbs, plant some perennials, plant some berry bushes and tomatoes and maybe some peppers along the side of your house. The point of planting a garden at first is not for food - that's just a side benefit while cantaloupe is still being flown in from Chile every day. The objective is to learn how to plant one, to learn what tools you'll need, to discover what you like and what works for you. Whether SHTF comes in the form of peak cheap oil or an EMP, a financial collapse or a pandemic, the future is going to demand much more human labor in the production of food, and it will be produced much closer to where it is consumed.  Learn to do it while mistakes are cost-free.  Then stockpile extras of whatever tools you use.

In Part II we’ll take a look at gold and guns, with related tool and skill preps.

Part II
Part III
Part IV

Monday, March 10, 2014

Film Review: Strategic Relocation

Strategic relocation is the process of selecting a place to live that is as free as possible of the problems that can arise from societal disruption. In the documentary film Strategic Relocation, Alex Jones and Joel Skousen discuss the threats to our modern American way of life, as well as actions the viewer can take to mitigate, if not eliminate, those threats. 

With the aid of a lot of maps and slides, Skousen and Jones evaluate a number of threats that could endanger Americans: hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, nuclear attacks, economic collapse, wars, EMPs, political risks.* Within some example states (and in different areas of those states) they give a 1-5 rating of each of these risks and discuss what can be done to mitigate them. They take a very wise view that there is simply no single threat that must be prepped for at the expense of all others.

Let's hit the negatives first: I'm not a big fan of Skousen's theory that "globalists" - the Anglo and American banking establishment families - are trying to bait Russia and China into nuking the US off the map so they can establish a world government based in Europe. On one hand, it's an easy argument to make, especially when you watch the feckless US government repeatedly poking the bear, most recently in Crimea. On the other hand, my expectation of the immediate future is one of devolution and dissolution, relentless driven by the miniaturization of technology, debt deflation, and the end of cheap energy.  Doubless there are some who still dream of a world government run by bureaucrats in Brussels. With every Greek bailout, those dreams slide further beyond their reach.

That conspiracy aside, Skousen provides a wealth of excellent advice for those who see trouble coming and want to provide a little safety for their families:

The best place for Americans is America.  The web, he notes, is full of ads and sites that will convince you that Chile or Costa Rica or some other ex-pat community is the best place to ride out the storm.  These sites are run by a) expats living the high life in peaceful times, or b) real estate agents.  If the US government does come apart, these people will quickly** realize how much they presently live beneath the umbrella of its strength. On the other hand, should a gargantuan US government come looking for them, is the government of Costa Rica going to stand up to it?***  America, especially America west of the Mississippi, has the highest percentage of liberty-aware, self-sufficient people you'll find anywhere in the world.  And they have lots of guns.  Both of these facts make America the best of a lot of bad choices for English-speaking Americans.

But most importantly, there are always tradeoffs no matter what and no matter where.  The safest places are those with a low population density, but to make a living, most people must work where there is a high population density (i.e. in a city). Maine is a great retreat, except that it offers no retreat should it be cut off. Southwestern California can be very safe, but there's only one highway out, and it goes through Las Vegas.  Thinking and relocating strategically is the process of understanding those tradeoffs and making them consciously in the best interests of your family.

The 2 1/2 hour full version of the film is 50% a walk through Skousen's book of the same name, 50% a signature Alex Jones conspiracy rant, and 100% entertaining. It's available for free on Youtube, or for $20 on DVD at InfoWars.com.

* They missed Zombie Apocalypse for some reason.
** as in, "5 seconds after narco gangs tear down the gates of their communities."
*** Ask those with 'secret' Swiss bank accounts that have been turned over to the IRS.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

How to make Lyman #2 Alloy

Proper bullet hardness is critical to ensuring success with your cast bullets.  Shooting bullets that are too soft or too hard will eventually leave you with a mess in your barrel. They can also affect power and accuracy. Not fun.

There are a number of different ways to regulate bullet hardness, but one of the best ways is to use a consistent alloy.  One of the most popular alloys for those who need a bullet harder than wheel weights provide is Lyman Alloy #2.

Lyman Alloy #2 is an alloy of 90% lead, 5% tin, and 5% antimony. It can be purchased in bar form from a number of places (like Rotometals), but that gets a bit expensive. So here are two recipes for mixing up 10 pounds of Lyman #2 equivalent on a budget:

Recipe 1:
  • 9 lbs of wheel weight lead (clip-ons, not the stick-on ones)
  • 1 lb of 50/50 lead/tin bar solder.*
Recipe 2:
  • 4 lbs of linotype
  • 1 lb of 50/50 lead/tin bar solder.
  • 5 lbs pure lead (here's where you can use those stick-ons)
Either recipe will give you a #2 alloy equivalent with a hardness (BHN ~16) sufficient for most rifles.

So what's your favorite recipe?

* I buy mine on ebay. No, really. Watch carefully and you can occasionally get mangled bars for below melt value.

Source: Lyman Casting FAQ.