When the Bowel Movement Product Hits the Electrically-Powered Rotating Air Machine

August 13, 2011

Machines are gonna fail…” James Dickey, Deliverance

I have never considered myself to be a “survivalist.” I don’t even like that word, with its connotations of ultra right-wing militant groups or left-wing commune types scraping a living in a post-apocalyptic world. The word just has too much baggage attached to it for me to take it too seriously as a noun describing normal folks such as myself. I’m just a middle of the road American guy, political label appliques not necessary!

But the truth is, I am a survivalist, of sorts. That is to say, I have given thought to what might happen if the big Collapse were to occur. And more importantly, how I would prepare for it. I wrote a novel once on the subject, half-finished for now, but it describes life forty years following a massive collapse of all systems as we know it. So, two years ago, I began researching this topic.

I think the first thinking I did on the matter came from reading Stephen King’s brilliant novel, The Stand. Not too long after that my grandmother gave me a Reader’s Digest book, Back to Basics. I just picked it up at her house one day, and she noticed how I was absorbed in it, and she said, “Take it home. You might find some good information in there.”

She was right. The book is an excellent resource for living a self-sustaining lifestyle, “off the grid,” so to speak. Everything from building a cabin to farming using hand tools to making a small generator to create electricity is included in the pages. Great tips on how to can vegetables, cook over a fire, and other great tips for surviving. It is not a survivalist treatise, but rather aimed at those who wish to be more self-sufficient. And of course, should disaster strike, we will be self-sufficient, with only ourselves and our prior preparedness to get us through.

There are a lot of scenarios in which society and indeed, civilization itself, might be wiped out, at least as we know it. A complete, worldwide financial meltdown. Plague or disease. An electromagnetic pulse (EMP), or perhaps a natural occurrence such as a super-volcano eruption or an asteroid strike.

Financial meltdown seems to be the most likely presently, followed closely by the possibility of a super-volcano eruption. (Pretty much all of Yellowstone National Park is one huge lava dome, and geological evidence suggests it erupted 1.2 million years ago, and again 600,000 years ago. You do the math. Studies have indicated Yellowstone is beginning to rise upwards, the top of a massive magma dome.) A volcanic eruption of that magnitude or an asteroid strike would destroy life as we know it completely, producing giant clouds of dust and ash that would obliterate the sun for as long as two years.

Financial meltdown of the type I’m talking about would mean all infrastructure would be halted for non-payment, and then remain frozen as businesses were unable to restart deliveries and other crucial means of maintaining the business structure. It doesn’t take a lot to imagine what would happen. One hundred percent inflation would mean deliveries would cost thousands instead of hundreds of dollars, and things like bread and milk would hit ten, twenty or thirty dollars for a loaf or gallon. And if you think it through, you see the ramifications that would have. Electricity would be shut off, and then everything begins to fail.

No need to go into detail about all the possibilities, it is enough to know that if things got that bad, the world we know would cease to exist. And that’s scary.

I, for one, would want to try to live through it as best I can. But how can I do that when the stores all close and the food runs out?

I’m not meaning this to be a “we’re doomed” treatise of any kind. I am only saying the possibility exists that things may one day get that bad. And if it does, how do we survive? That’s the core issue.

The plain fact is that many won’t. The diabetics (especially Type 1 diabetics) will die without insulin. Cancer patients will die without radiation or chemo or other therapies. Heart patients will go into arrest or arrhythmias and die. And then starvation, infection, accident and disease will take their toll. Two books I highly recommend, both very entertaining reads, are King’s The Stand and Bill Forstchen’s One Second After. The Stand describes life following a deadly plague. One Second After exposes what happens if an EMP weapon is set off against us. Both accounts are harrowing and gripping, well worth reading.

But those who do survive, well, how do they pull that off? And then keep surviving afterward?

It’s all theory, of course. But the truth is that in such a case, preparation is everything.

My sister got me thinking on all this. I came recently for a visit to help take care of the kids while she was on a business trip. Before she left, she showed me a few things around her home. In one hidden place she pulled out an envelope containing well over three thousand dollars. “Emergency money,” she explained. “If it all goes south and banks fail, I will have enough to get out, and away.” Then she pulled me to a closet. I was stunned when she opened the door. Boxes upon large boxes of staple foods were piled high. Flour, rice, pasta, beans, water. Canned goods. It looked like somewhere between five hundred and a thousand pounds of food.

She’s been slowly stockpiling it. Instead of buying a box of spaghetti, for example, she buys several boxes of it, using some for consumption and others to save “in case.” She will have enough to last several months, maybe up to a year.

So, she got me thinking. She’s being neither alarmist nor running scared. She’s simply taking a pragmatic approach. And it triggered some thoughts of my own. What follows is my own checklist of what anyone must do to survive a societal collapse.

  1. Food. Obviously, we need food. Stockpile the non-perishables. Large quantities. Fifty-pound sacks of flour, rice, beans, dried potatoes, etc. Canned goods, even meats. (An old can of chicken dating from the turn of the twentieth century was found recently, unopened. Some experts decided to to test it. Though the taste had decreased somewhat, the chicken was perfectly preserved and edible.) Even out-of-date canned goods can be used for quite some time, though caution should be exercised. And in all cases, dry bulk food must be stored in airtight, moisture-free, food-grade containers. Following that, seeds, seeds, seeds! We will have to plant vegetables. Stock up on corn, cucumber, squash, beans, peppers, watermelon, any and all kinds of vegetables and fruit seeds that can be stored. Non-hybrid seed is important, because many engineered seeds don’t reproduce well, or at all. Planting will be necessary when Spring comes and there is still no infrastructure.
  2. Water. Hand in hand with food is drinkable water. One can live without food up to thirty days. Without water, a week, maximum. There needs to be access to a lake, or pond or fresh water stream, or a good well. Of all those, a well or a rapid stream are the best, as they cannot become stagnant or algae-infested. One would need means of transporting it, as well. Buying some plastic blue kerosene cans (new, never used for fuel) and labeling and using them for water is a good idea. That idea came from good friend Frank Uroda. It makes transporting and pouring water much easier. A house with an old, hand drawn well is a great, as is one with a hand pump well. (Google “driven well;” they are easy and inexpensive to build if the water table is high enough.) Lacking that, a place with a stream close by is ideal. That is the only thing my house lacks. I would have to walk a bit to the nearest stream. But access is vital. Without water, we die. It is that simple. So a water source and possibly means to purify water is critical.  Rain collection barrels are highly recommended in any area with decent rainfall totals.
  3. Protection. Yes, this means weaponry. Guns, in other words. I’m neither a gun nut nor a pacifist. I own two guns, both inherited from my maternal grandfather and my father. A rifle and a pistol. But I am not satisfied they would serve me well in a catastrophic event. So, I plan to get something with a little more firepower. Nothing really fancy, mind you. The best tip I ever heard regarding a weapons choice for survival was this: “Don’t buy a fifteen-hundred dollar gun and a couple of boxes of ammunition. Buy a four-hundred dollar gun and a ton of ammunition.” But don’t even think of trying to find one if all hell breaks loose. Get it before hand, practice with it, and keep it well-oiled and ready, just in case. And it is not just for protection. Consider we would have to hunt for food if the supplies of groceries ran out. The gun is necessary for survival, both for hunting food and fending off intruders. The assumption for owning a weapon, of course, is that law and order will have broken down. This would be expected in a post-apocalyptic world. Only the strong will survive. A good gun means even those lacking in physical strength might be stronger, at least for the short run. So a well-made, medium-to-large-caliber gun or two is critical. My guns are both .22’s, great for plinking and for small game like turkey or geese or rabbits, but for deer or bear or self-defense, not so much. Corollary to this are other weapons. A good, sharp, large knife. A bow and arrow. Ammo will only last so long, and then supplies of sulfur and magnesium and other ingredients of gunpowder will have to be found. A strong bow and good arrows are just as deadly. Quieter, too. And a knife has a million uses in the wilderness. Get a good one.
  1. Transportation. Some means of getting from here to there. Not every place will be suited for life following the Collapse. Especially the concrete jungles of urbania. The cities will empty out, and for good reason. The population is too dense, and supplies of food simply too low to sustain life for very long. Many will have to relocate to places where game and fish are plentiful and land is suitable for farming. Food is always the primary concern. Gas will be rationed or non-existent. If it appears Collapse is imminent, having a full tank will ensure your vehicle will get you at least away from the city. Owning a bicycle or secondary means of transportation is an excellent idea, for one reason: Following an electromagnetic pulse (either via weapon or massive solar flare) cars built after 1976 or so simply will not work. An EMP would destroy the computer circuitry and electronic ignitions necessary to run them. An older carbureted model with points and condenser would be much better in that case. I have modern car, but also a motorcycle that does not depend on the electronics to run. Another aspect bears mentioning here. A car is nice, but not necessary and once the gas runs out, it’s obsolete anyway. A large, well-constructed backpack might be necessary for a life on the move.
  2. Communication. Following something like an EMP, all telephones and radios and TVs (except old analog ones) will cease to work. Cell phones, computers and power lines may be destroyed. If communication should break down, the savvy person will have arranged a predetermined location for family to meet. In my case, I would want them to come to my house. Though it is the smallest it is also the most ideal for my immediate family. There are streams close by, a huge, empty field behind my house ideal for vegetable gardening, I have a pair of small tractors with plows, woods and forests are close for hunting, and there are tons of tools for building and construction. Communication is something that won’t be possible, in some scenarios, so having a predetermined gathering place is crucial. Otherwise, we won’t know what has become of our loved ones. And that place needs to be practical from a survival standpoint. One item would be very helpful, and it’s cheap. An old analog CB radio can be found very cheaply indeed. Get one for the home base and one for each vehicle. They can run off car batteries.
  3. Medication. This is a tough one. Many, many people have illnesses and ailments. The sad fact is many of them won’t be able to survive without their medications to keep them alive. It will be important to stockpile any and all drugs in sealed containers in freezers until the end happens. This can be done over time if one doesn’t need the prescribed dosage at all times. I can skip my prescribed dosage every once in a while. I have put aside those pills for a rainy day. But it’s critical to have them if things go south. Some people (diabetics) will die within weeks without them. Others will take much longer. And some others, just a few days or more. Other drugs: if you’re prescribed antibiotics, for example, and you wind up not using them all, freeze what is left over. They might be needed later, for two reasons, your own personal use, and other survivors’ use. In One Second After, the townspeople decide to ration the remaining stocks of drugs only to those necessary for the community. Those too old, or too young, to contribute, would not be given life-saving drugs. A sad, horrible choice to make, but necessary. One might expect this sort of thing to happen. Sadly it already happens far too often when insurance cuts people off. I once found a diabetic dead in his home, twelve hours after calling EMS earlier and then refusing to go to hospital. He was scared of a big bill. Instead, he decided not to go. He died shortly after the truck left. My ambulance was called back to the scene about twelve hours later. He had been dead at least ten hours, by my estimation. So, keep medications on hand and ready to move, if need be.
  4. Clothing. This is a big one. Bill Forstchen, a historian, writes that footwear was a deciding factor in some battles in the Civil War. That is something I’d never considered, but in a future without new shoes, the old ones will have to last a long time. Get a pair (or several!) of heavy duty, well-made boots or shoes that will last. The cheap work shoes from Wal-Mart that sell for $29.99 will not fall into that category. Also, consider cold weather gear. Even in the South we get single digit temps, and it occasionally drops below zero. But the high humidity of the South greatly increases the cold index to make it feel much colder. So, make sure you have some heavy duty jackets and sweatshirts, thermal underwear, socks and other gear. We won’t have central heat anymore. We’ll be huddled around a woodstove or a fireplace.
  5. Home. It may seem this would be the most important, but it isn’t. Someone living in an apartment in New York City doesn’t really have a home. It will be too dangerous to stay there. Many modern homes are simply not built for living without electricity. If you live in a modern home with a vent-free gas fireplace without a chimney, on a tiny lot with little land, don’t plan on staying there very long. You won’t be able to light a wood fire and gas will likely be unavailable. You simply will not be able to be self-sufficient. I would anticipate a highly mobile, nomadic society for awhile, if order isn’t restored within a few months. People will travel in search of places where there is food and water and heat. It’s that simple. Homes built with functional fireplaces, though, or even a decent flue chimney, are going to be much preferable for the long haul. Hence my belief my own home is ideally suited. I have a hole in the wall where a wood or kerosene stove once sat, and a nice, brick flue chimney to vent smoke and gases. The home itself needs heat, and it is not hard to construct a decent heater out of a 55-gallon drum, so long as it vents properly. More preferable still is to find an old, cast iron unit with at least a cooktop or two on it. But let’s face it. The Native Americans who owned this land (of whom I am a descendant) lived here many thousands of years without truly permanent homes. Lean-to’s, tee-pees, wigwams, and other forms of protection from the elements were all they needed to survive. The home need not be fancy, just well-equipped. Consider also a smaller home is much easier to heat, another reason I think my own is a good choice. It boils down to the kind of lifestyle we have then. We may have to move frequently to find food. It’s hard to say. If a horde of gunmen come and steal what we have, it is definite we will have to. So the actual home is a bit further down on my list, knowing full well it isn’t the most important element of survival. Food, water, medicine, and clothing to me actually come first. One can live in a tent with no problem, if one is protected from the cold. That said, I do believe an effort should be made to keep a home stocked and ready, even if it becomes only a way-station. The hunkering down portion of the Collapse will last an undetermined time. It might be over in weeks, or months. Or it might stretch out years. It really will become a matter of survival of the fittest, and strongest. One thing is certain. Most people keep about one to two weeks of food in their pantries. That will run out very quickly indeed. And then what? The mother with a young child could likely become a cold-blooded murderer if it meant more provisions for her baby. Starvation is an ugly thing. Another thing needs pointing out. We do not live with stores vastly stocked with groceries anymore. A new concept introduced in the 1970’s has meant micro-managed supply chains. You buy a jar of grape jelly at the store, a computer sends a message to the distribution center to send a jar to the store on the next trip. According to James Westley Rawles, survivor blogger and author of How to Survive the End of the World As We Know It, this means on store shelves, for the most part, what you see is what you get. No vast quantities stored in back rooms like in the old days. The back room is merely for unloading the pallets. The store shelves will be emptied in a matter of hours or days following a catastrophic event. So, food scarcity makes staying in one spot very uncertain. But the more food one has, the less necessary it is to move. So, pick out a home and stock-and guard it-it well!
  1. Other items. The home, or way-station, should be stocked with extra medications (aspirin, Ibuprofen, Tylenol, cough remedies, vitamins and extra personal meds), blankets, pillows, some entertainment items (games, books, puzzles, etc.). There should be a lot of lanterns and candles. The plain, basic kerosene lantern is a good choice, and can be run off off a variety of fuels. Kerosene, lantern oil, degraded diesel, even certain kinds of cooking oil might even work. I do not know, but I would not use anything but kerosene or lamp oil unless you have a SAFE way to test it. Fishing equipment is a must, as well as sharp filet knives and skinning equipment. Chainsaws, regular wood saws, cross-cut saws, and other types of saws are needed. Remember, heat requires burning wood, so some means must be present to cut the wood. Hammers, saws, wrenches and other basic tools will likely be needed as well. Be on the lookout for a big, cast iron kettle, one that can cook gallons of stew at once. They can also be used for washing clothes. A big tin tub has many uses, especially for bathing and storing freshly caught fish. Matches and lighters will be very important. A Bic lighter can last for months, but a good Zippo lighter is windproof and reusable, and can also be used with different fuels. They require a good stock of flints to work, though. Dishes, pots, pans, cups and eating utensils are needed. A percolating coffee pot will really help the cold mornings.
  2. Hope. The single biggest thing one needs to survive the collapse of the world as we know it is hope. Depression kills, and those consumed by the woe-is-me approach to life following catastrophe won’t last long. One with hope brings life to those around him or her. So stock up on it, accordingly. It isn’t found in a store, or a warehouse or in a hideout bunker. It’s found in the folds of the heart.

All that stated, the most distressing thing one can think of when talking about survival is fact that a lot of folks simply won’t make it. Disease, murder, starvation, infection, injury, accidents and so on will claim many. I am likely one, for the reasons of my health. I can make it awhile, but a seizure disorder (of the worst kind) means death is inevitable for me, unless there is a natural sedative that works like my medications do. Barring that, I might have to consider an exit plan. Repeated seizures cause brain damage, increasingly significant ones. Rather than face remaining life as a drooling idiot, I’d rather go out on my own terms. So yes, if it came to that, I have a plan. But only if I have no hope left at all. And no, I won’t discuss what I would do. But if, God forbid, it should come to that, I will notify my loved ones and talk it over with them. And even prepare my own resting place so they are spared the labor required to do it. And I would let them know when, so my body isn’t a bloated, stinking mess when they do find it. In other words, I would not be inconsiderate even in death. That’s not my style. I say all that only to say this: for some people, a dignified exit might be the better option, rather than facing death in excruciating pain, drawn out for days or weeks with no medications to help.

The will to live might be an issue for many, as well. Some of us are simply better equipped mentally than others. There is a toughness there in these people. You can see it in their eyes. I was visiting my sister not long ago. She lives in a very nice, high-security building. You have to have an electronic key fob to get anywhere in the building. I got in the elevator one day and forgot to touch the key fob to the pad, and the elevator still worked. I realized the system must have been placed on override for some reason, or had shut down and defaulted to non-secure status. Another resident got on the elevator with me a day later. I nodded hello. She started to reach with her key fob to activate the button and I said, “I don’t think you need it. I’ve haven’t needed to use mine since yesterday. Must be off.” She gave me look of pure terror, and skittishly exited the elevator when she got to her floor. She’s a perfect example of someone who is likely not to survive a catastrophe. Just the thought of her precious “secure entry” system not working nearly sent her into a panic. Can you imagine what throngs of rioters and looters would do to someone like that? She would likely hole up in the apartment, eating dwindling supplies of food, and when finally venturing out, finding all was gone. People like that have placed too much faith in the system.

As I mentioned, I’m not a doomsayer. I think the odds are we will be fine. I do hope so. But I am also highly aware of current events and trends in markets, and one such trend that has me very scared is the fact we are living in a bubble economy. The solid underpinnings of market security (gold standard, mutual funds, bonds, real estate, and other stable, blue chip investments) are long gone in favor of high-risk, high yield instruments of hedge betting, creating gigantic inflations of credit dependence while at the same time driving interest rates to all time lows and derailing the underpinnings of overall economy. In short, the rich make large, quick, easy profits while devaluing the dollar for the rest of us. When multi-million dollar bonuses are given out to executives in the same year in the same banks Congress had to bail out because of faulty investing practices, you know the crap is headed for the fan. And we’re all going to get sprayed. Add to this the threat of terrorism, natural disaster, or other catastrophe, and it simply makes good sense to be a Boy Scout in these times.

Be prepared.


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