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A scene from dystopia

I read a fair bit of apocalyptic and dystopian fiction (we won’t discuss the misuse of the word “apocalypse” or how so much apocalyptic fiction is dystopian). Some of it is pretty good. A fair bit of it is pretty bad. Some folks I know only from online, suggested I write something about surviving a SHTF scenario.

Observation, a lot of the stuff I read seems to paint one of two pictures. Either everyone dies and there’s no hope or the hero/heroine overcomes all obstacles with both psychological and physical health intact. I guess that’s okay. They are, after all, often larger than life characters. My objection is that they seem so unfazed by all the horror they face. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be around people like that.

Anyway, I wrote this. I’d appreciate feedback.

***

The coffee is good this morning as I sit here, putting pen to paper. It feels good to write, even when I am wearing road leathers and festooned with more weapons than I care to mention. Maybe some day I’ll never need them again. I have time for just a few thoughts today, then I have to get moving.

We had started our preparedness team as a “just in case” measure. Originally, we had three couples. Somewhere, we picked up a couple of “+1s.” That’s okay because one of them had a really good pickup and was tolerable, if not truly likable. Being prepared, having a real SHTF team, was sort of like belonging to a secret club. We spent a lot of time together, built our plans for both bugging in and bugging out, grew vegetables, raised rabbits and chickens, learned all we could about preserving food, bought guns and ammunition and took some tactical courses together. The plan, of course, was to do all this stuff and then, decades later, die at the end of long lives, never having used any of it.

We kept abreast of what was going on, but nothing seemed that bad. Still, we said “better safe than sorry” and used some of the concrete and rebar we had been storing to build the walls as high as the city would allow.

Three years later, everything fell apart.

“Screw the city!” we said, and built the walls higher and thicker and then buttressed them.

We bugged in at first, just like we planned. Our house seemed like the perfect place to “ride it out.” Strong stone walls, a well that never went dry, with room for raising our rabbits and chickens and for growing crops. I put up the greenhouse that first winter and grew other food in cold boxes. The water and power stayed on constantly, right up through early spring. People in town would talk about how fortunate we were to live in our small West Texas city. We heard about the food and water riots in Houston and the Dallas Metroplex, and the earlier ones on both coasts, but that didn’t happen here. We were rugged, just like the Texans of history, and we had what we needed because we worked together to stay fed and free. Those screaming liberals in the big cities were just paying the price for what they had built. We felt sorry for them…and a little smug, too.

My sons, all three of them, arrived just as things were going bad in Texas. They won’t talk about what happened to their mom, aunts, uncles and cousins in Arizona – or what they went through to get out. I feel so bad for them. There’s no joy in knowing something bad has happened to your ex, especially when it so obviously hurts your kids. It’s sad and just another part of life in our glorious dystopia. My oldest son brought his team with him, increasing out total number from 9 to 22 souls. Our food needs went up, but by putting every spare inch of ground into production, we still managed to grow more than we needed. Our now not so little team’s smugness was tempered with sadness, but it continued.

As it turned out, even that smugness was premature. While many of us had, indeed, been growing and preserving just as much food as we possibly could, others in town had been depending on the still functioning grocery stores for most of their food. In early February of that third year, fuel deliveries stopped nationwide. By the first of March, there were no grocery stores being resupplied. Our food riots started the next week. Our little team, like those we’ve heard about elsewhere, spent that late winter and early spring fighting off one group of thieves after another. At least two people were always on watch. It wasn’t unusual to have to get up two or three times in the night to fight off groups of bandits. It was soul numbing to watch our group of typical peace loving Americans become hard and calloused from killing their fellow citizens. It seems like every time we ventured out to trade with other teams, we’d hear about another group of supposedly prepared survivors who had died at the hands of another group of the desperate and unprepared. We resolved to not be among those who were prepared but dead. We offered no mercy to those we fought, killing them without hesitation to save ourselves. We all cried a lot that year.

The typhoid and cholera epidemics that we had heard about in other places began early in the summer. Apparently, our rugged small Texas city included a lot of people who didn’t understand the truth about not taking a dump where you live. We observed Independence Day that year by building enormous funeral pyres to get rid of the dead bodies. Those of us who had been distilling alcohol to run converted generators provided the accelerant. We pulled down old houses and used the framing as fuel. The fires had to be maintained to burn the bodies completely. They burned for days.

This is what our nation has come to, burning our dead and killing each other over bread.

We are in year four, now, and things show no signs of improving. We’ve heard rumors of some would-be warlord moving his forces this way from the west.

Two months ago we made a decision. I got on the shortwave and contacted our friend who bugged out to his cabin in the national forest. His invitation is still good, he said. “Glad to have you and your people, here.” We are bugging out. There’s been too much death and sadness here.

We’ve been running the stills around the clock. Bob has converted every vehicle to run on alcohol. With so many dead, the vehicles aren’t hard to find, but he won’t talk about what he had to do to get the parts he needed for the conversion.

We set out yesterday morning with our little convoy of jeeps, pickups with trailers and outriders on motorcycles, headed off into what we hope will be better circumstances. We had helped keep the roads near town clear, pushing a lot of wrecked or just abandoned cars off the roadway. Two hours outside town, though, the road was impassable because of all the cars. A lot of them were riddled with bullet holes. One of them, right at the edge of the mass of cars, and on our side, was burned and still smoking, the bodies of a man, woman and two kids still strapped in with their seatbelts. The bullet holes in that one were fresh, with no rust or corrosion. We swung off the road and found the railroad tracks. Now, we are following the railroad right of way on our journey east. My sons, strong and resilient in spite of their pain, have started singing railroad songs.

The sun came up in the east this morning, like always. It was beautiful. I have not enjoyed a sunrise in forever. We are far outside any town of significant size. The air is so clean, with no smell of death or decay. The promise of a better life ahead, maybe? I can hear my son playing “The City of New Orleans” on his guitar. Everyone is singing. He has changed the words a bit, but intellectual property lawsuits seem unlikely, these days.

Gotta go, for now. We are moving again, and I am an outrider, today. One more cup of coffee and I will be on the bike.

Good morning, America
Where are you?
Say don’t you miss me? I’m your native son
I’m the train they call the city of New Orleans
I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done

The unfriending

I know a man who spends a fair bit of time debating and discussing current social issues. Recently, this morning in fact, he was “unfriended” by someone during a discussion of UBI (“universal basic income). Apparently, the unfriending, with appears to have not affected the man at all beyond leading to some laughter on his part, was brought about not simply because he disagrees with the concept of UBI. No. Rather, it was because he dared to include in his comments on the subject, a section of poetry. It produced, he said, unthinking rage in the other half of the discussion.

“Poetry,” you exclaim. “What poetry could trigger an explosion of unthinking rage?”

I am glad you asked.

Since I lately seem to be unable to get away from my “culture war” schtick, I present to you the offending poem, in all its early 20th century glory. I await your overwhelming rage.

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

~Rudyard Kipling

“AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!”

Culture wars, 2

A couple of days ago, Sarah Hoyt posted “Lighting a Candle on the Road to Damascus” on her blog. I read it once. Then I read it again. It got me thinking (“got me tuh thinkin’,” in the parlance of my hometown). I’ve written about the culture wars, by name, only a few times on this blog. Hoyt’s blog post, though, lead me to think about it some more. I’ll warn you, up front, this is far closer to a flight of ideas than a well thought out posting, so read at your own risk.

When I was a kid, atheists fascinated me. Partly, of course, that was because I was raised in a home with Christian parents. So I was fascinated to learn there were people who simply did not believe in the existence of any supreme being, let alone the Jehovah of the Bible. As I grew older, two things happened. One is that I would eventually decide, consciously, to embrace Christianity. The other was that very early on I developed an interest in science and became enamored of the scientific method. Over the years, I also became interested in philosophy, especially Western philosophy (I’m a modernist, okay?). Anyway, back to the fascination part…

What fascinated me about the atheists of my youth, and what lead me to respect many of them, was what they were willing to say and what they were unwilling to say. So, the atheists I talked to would say they did not believe because of either

  • a lack of evidence, or
  • a lack of compelling evidence

They were quite willing to say science (most of the atheists I knew years ago were scientists) did not provide all answers to all questions. It certainly, many of them told me, provide any answers to the search for meaning.

As for what they were unwilling to say, most of them would not say a person who disagreed with them about the existence of God was, by definition, stupid/ignorant/deceived. They might disagree with his/her reasoning. They might reject the logic by which one came to belief. They stopped short of questioning a believer’s intellect or character and would not tolerate those who did those things. Many of them echoed Voltaire’s words, just like me. They were tough to debate, but they tended to be both honest and fair.

Because of my interest in science, along with my interest in classical rhetoric, I respected those folks a lot.

That has changed. The change, though, has not been limited to or caused by atheists. The willingness to impugn not just the arguments of others (an absolute requisite for reasoned discourse or debate) but their character and motivation is more far-reaching than to include simply a segment of society that has a particular view as to whether God exists. It has seemingly become the norm.

Certainly, we see this in the ongoing political debate(s) surrounding Donald Trump and those who voted for him. Allegation is neither proof nor evidence. Multiple allegations don’t change that. They don’t constitute proof regarding alleged illegal activity and they don’t constitute proof regarding any alleged mental state. All of this, even though his behavior is arguably that of what my mom would have called “a supercilious jackass.”

To be honest, I encountered some of this during the previous administration, too. I remember telling some “friends” (on the book of face, of course) that, no,

  • Barack Obama’s actions did not reach to the level of treason
  • he probably had not committed an impeachable offense, and
  • no, he absolutely should not be hanged or shot

I lost some of those FB friends as a result.

The current stuff, though, seems worse. It is just as frenzied. Just as lacking in anything resembling proof. It is also far more widespread. More than that, it seems to be embraced with a sort of manic enthusiasm, with each person seemingly trying to come up with more outrageous statements. A sort of hyper aggressive virtue signalling, if you will.

I understand why, I think. To have believed the culture war was over and you had won, only to have the party most closely associated with your world view lose over 1000 political offices, including not having control of the House, the Senate or the Oval Office, had to be an unbelievable shock.

To arguably have had the plan, having successfully had a black man win the Oval Office (twice), of next electing a woman as president, only to have your candidate lose, had to be hard.

To have believed your view was the overwhelmingly majority world view, only to have it repudiated in such large numbers, had to hurt.

As it turns out, the culture war was not over. The Left declared victory too soon. People who had been enduring years, even decades, of being told their beliefs were not only invalid, but proof of their misogyny/racism/fascism/homophobia/intolerance/ignorance/stupidity had, as it turns out, simply been waiting, only occasionally venturing to voice an objection to the absurdity being presented as truth.

It may be hard to believe, but a significant number of Americans do not want the US to become increasingly like Europe. They don’t want the country to continue its move to the left, differences between the US definitions of left and right and the definitions used in the rest of the world notwithstanding. A significant number of Americans actually do still believe natural rights are a real thing and that they are negative rights.

I guess the point of all this rambling, is that there are really 2 points.

First, as much as I don’t want to sound like my father, I think our society is becoming increasingly intolerant of those who dare disagree with us. That’s too bad. It’s hard to learn and hard to objectively evaluate what we think or believe if we are not willing to seriously consider other points of view. As bad as it was during the Obama years, it seems the Trump years, however many of those there may turn out to be, will be worse. My expectation, which I’d love to see fail to materialize, is that the next administration will be even worse.

The second point is related to the first. I believe at least part of the current unreasonable behavior as regards anything dealing with politics, is a response to the perceived unfairness with which some people treated Barack Obama (and some of it was, most assuredly, unfair). Unfortunately, “you were rude to our guy so we are going to be 10 times worse with your guy” is not how we achieve anything approaching real discussion. If it is, indeed, worse next time around, I can’t imagine how that is going to play out.

If you can help…

A little background. I have been, at various times, a preacher and deacon, newspaper owner and writer (including both news and ad copy), life coach, hypnotist and blogger, among other things. To put it another way, at different points in my life, I have earned part or all of my living with words. So what, right? Yay me, etc and “big, fat, hairy deal.” The point is, I like words. I enjoy putting them together and seeing how they affect people.

Why is it, now that I’m trying to write fiction, that I am struggling so much getting words on paper (well, computer screen)? It’s making me crazy. I’m working on two projects and some days I’m doing good to get anything written. More than one published author has said “just write.” Sounds good, great even. Until the words won’t come. Then it becomes really frustrating. Frustration turns to annoyance, annoyance to disgust and if I’m not careful I wind up walking away from the keyboard.

If you are a blogger and/or author, I’m open to any and all suggestions.

Thanks.

Because physics

There’s a tendency, common to us all, to become so enamored of what we want that we ignore the inconvenience that is reality. So it is with electric vehicles. The Silicon Graybeard takes a look (click here to see his post) at Volvo’s stated intention to focus on electric vehicles and discontinue development of internal combustion vehicles as of 2019.

The biggest inconvenience, as I see it, is simply this: batteries simply don’t have the energy density of gasoline. Silicon Graybeard puts it this way:

“battery makers are desperately trying to figure out how to reach a specific energy of 450 Wh/kg (Watt-hours per kilogram), gasoline already offers 12,000 Wh/kg. One horsepower is 750 W, so turning Watt hours to Horsepower hours, batteries give 0.6 HP*h per kg, while gasoline offers 16 HP*h/kg. Either way of looking at it, gas has over 26 times the energy density.”

That seems pretty consistent with what I remember from back when I thought I wanted to be an engineer.

One can argue that is because there hasn’t been enough incentive for research, that the market hasn’t been given a reason to push for the research and that we just need more players in the battery development field and all will be solved, but that seems at odds with reality and its ugly little face. Battery research is slow and is not, at least right now, comparable to the research and speed of development we’ve seen in some other areas. Silicon Graybeard, again:

“I don’t think the solution to the battery problems lies in competition and more players, Mr. Samuelsson; I think you need new physics or perhaps a new universe. There is no such thing as “Moore’s Law of Batteries”; this is more an exercise in physics and chemistry than clever manufacturing. While I’d never recommend betting against “clever”, there’s no methodical process at work like there was in the semiconductor industry during the heyday of Moore’s Law. To borrow a quote from that linked post on electric cars and batteries:
Battery research is slow compared to the semiconductor “internet speed” we’re used to. Think of how a battery works: two different materials give and take electrons at a voltage potential determined by the way the universe was put together. All of the simple combinations have been tried and new ones are being researched daily. The limits, though, are imposed by the universe. In semiconductor work, the same materials are always worked on, the techniques for putting down dopants and photoresistive masks is all that changes.”

I’m a big believer in the power of the free market to bring about change far faster than government mandate and interference. That said, once again this seems to be consistent with what my engineering education taught me long ago. The free market can overcome a lot of things. Physics isn’t one of those.

 

What we celebrate

I’m sitting in my kitchen in Texas with a glass of iced sweet tea. It’s really good. My family (or “family of origin”) is from the area around Wilmington, NC, so sweet tea is not new to me. When I was a kid, moving all around the country, it was the only way people “back home” drank tea. Learning it was possible to drink and enjoy tea without sugar was a revelation to me. Today, though, is definitely a sweet tea day.

I’m in the kitchen so I can keep an eye on the smoker that sits on our patio. It contains a large beef brisket that I marinated for over 24 hours. Sometime this evening, the marinade plus low heat and a prolonged cooking time (“low and slow”) will have worked together to turn an otherwise difficult to manage cut of beef into something magical.

About noon, I’ll put the baked beans on the heat, along with some sautéed onions, slightly crispy bacon, and some other goodies. These, too, will combine to make something wonderful.

My wife will make her potato salad, for which grown, stolid men have been known to contemplate violence as the supply dwindles.

Friends, many of whom are part of our preparedness team, will come to our house, later today. We’ll eat too much, drink a lot of sweet tea (and some things that will necessitate not driving for a while).  We’ll talk and laugh. Like close friends do, we’ll draw closer and strengthen the bonds of our friendship.

With the exception of the time spent with friends, none of that is important.

Allow me to suggest the men who in July, 1776 (and later) signed a rather short document did not do so simply so you and I could enjoy a smoky, well-cooked beef brisket. It was not for the sake of parties, barbecues and cookouts that they signed their names to the Declaration of Independence. It was not for the purpose of watching fireworks Jefferson wrote

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

Surely, it was not so we could watch a parade that he would continue

“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

And it was most certainly not simply for the purpose of listening to politicians whose devotion to the cause of liberty seems at times dubious at best that he would write (with modification by others) and the signers would endorse

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

The cause of liberty is far greater than the things we do today. Sadly, many Americans, heirs to a liberty that, though often sadly unrealized, denied to some and obstructed by the very representatives elected to protect it, are unaware this liberty has from its inception to the present day has been unparalleled in its intended scope. That the people, the “common man” if you will, should be free to determine and conduct their own affairs as they will, without any external constraint beyond not infringing upon the right of others to do the same, is as alien a concept today as it was in the 18th century. That this liberty is often infringed with the best of intentions makes it no less onerous. C.S. Lewis put it this way:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”

Americans, I submit, did not inherit a freedom and liberty intended to save us from ourselves or one by which we attempt to do the same to others. Rather, we have inherited, at least in theory if not always in practice, one in which we are free to exercise our liberty in whatever way we will (absent infringing upon the same liberty of others), even if it is to our own less than desirable end. Anything less is a lesser freedom and a lesser liberty.

Today, it is this liberty we celebrate, not some artificially sweetened substitute offered to us by many on both the left and the right.

Three things

Since retiring from the Navy, I’ve had a number of management jobs. When you’re the “new boss,” employees want to know what to expect from you. They want to know what your expectations are of them. When I was on active duty, I had the good fortune to have a number of good department heads and commanding officers. One gave me the formula I still use when I have that first “Hi, I’m the new guy and here’s what I expect” meeting with staff. I like it because it’s simple, easy for me to remember, and it’s true. Here’s what I expect of people who work for me. I expect only three things.

  1. Show up on time, ready to work
  2. Do your job
  3. At the end of the day/shift, go home

That’s it. Sure, each of those can be explained in greater detail (and often should be), but those three things cover everything I expect.

What I’ve noticed lately is that this “three things” approach is applicable to a lot of areas of life. Remember, each of the things on these lists often encapsulate a myriad of concepts, ideas and skills.

I’m not a pilot. My Air Force pilot friend told me flying a plane is easy. He, too, had three rules to remember.

  1. Pushing the stick forward makes the ground bigger
  2. Pulling the stick back makes the ground smaller
  3. Everything else is airspeed

As a life coach, I’m often asked “why don’t I have everything I want socially/financially/professionally/insert area of life? A life coaching colleague gave me this little gem. He said, “In every area of your life, there are three, and only three, reasons you don’t have/achieve what you want.”

  1. You aren’t doing the right things
  2. You aren’t doing the right things long enough, consistently enough
  3. You suck as a person

(It’s important to note each of the three things above can be corrected)

I knew a personal fitness trainer who shared his three rules for how to get in shape. You must regularly

  1. Eat things you may not currently like
  2. Move until you sweat
  3. Push something heavy

A self-defense instructor told me his three rules for avoiding conflict and violence.

  1. Don’t go stupid places
  2. Don’t do stupid things
  3. Don’t hang out with stupid people

So, what “three rules” lists do you have?