One Second After by William Forstchen

I finished this one a few days ago.   It’s about an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack on the United States and its’ effect on one small town in North Carolina.

I came into this book with some very high expectations.   I had heard that the book was very personal for the author and often just writing the material forced him into tears.   I also heard that it had that effect on most of the people who read it, just because it was so uncomfortable and gut-wrenching.    The inside cover flap of the book starts the description of the story with something about the US losing a war, which is a shocking scenario, but completely plausible under the circumstances of the story.

I’m not a fan of Newt Gingrich, but I have to admit that the foreword by him does lend the book some credibility, making me believe that Forstchen is a well-connected guy and privy to a lot of information and viewpoints on the subject of EMP warfare.   The afterword is done by Captain Bill Sanders, USN that discusses the real threat of an EMP attack.   I believe that this subject is something the author has some authority on and has definitely put some thought into.  

 He peppers the book with laments about how we as a society never took the right steps to put measures in place to deal with an EMP attack when it would’ve been easy.   I think Forstchen really set out to sound the alarm to raise awareness of our vulnerability over just wanting to write a book about a doomsday scenario.   In some of these kinds of books it seems like the author just wants to write about a SHTF scenario (and there’s nothing wrong with that) and the “how” part of it gets lost in the story.   Although there’s more to it than just the EMP attack, the idea of the EMP sticks with the reader throughout the story.

After writing that book about Red Dawn, my mind was definitely in that zone when I read this and I picked up on a handful of subtle and maybe unconscious references to the film in the book.   I think the two are similar in the sense that they both put the idea of American invincibility to the test and show the reader a world where we’re on the losing end.   Between the Soviet invasion of Red Dawn and the EMP attack in One Second After, guess which one is actually 100% feasible?  

I think one major strength of this book is that he covers in-depth two aspects of TEOTWAWKI scenarios that often get glossed over:  pets and our health system.   Coincidentially, the fate of the pets of the town and the scenes involving our fragile health care system are some of the most harrowing scenes I’ve read, especially the nursing home scene.    The character of Jennifer (the youngest daughter) was a 12-year-old type I diabetic and modeled after Forstchen’s own diabetic daughter.   He dwells on medical issues such as the shortage of medicines, lack of staff, lack of power to run machines and poor sanitation quite a bit in the book and I suspect that’s his way of addressing his own family’s vulnerability.   I guess insulin has to be kept refrigerated, which is another problem when you have no electricity.   At any rate, I would say that this book is the best book of it’s kind I’ve read in the way of addressing what kinds of danger lurks in a post-SHTF medical system.

Another strength of the book is that I think most of the characters are more or less believable.   I know there’s a tendency in this genre to make the protagonist a bad-ass karate master with a heart of gold, but in this case the protagonist (John Matherson) is fairly reasonable.   He’s a former Colonel in the Army and a college professor.  He describes his time in service as being mostly academic and he’s not gifted with the ability to construct explosives out of household materials, kill people with his bare hands, etc.  

I also don’t think that anything in the book (off hand) was particularly sugar coated and the author’s assessment on how things would look is very pragmatic.    I think that’s a plus.

The book had some weaknesses.   I think a lot of the teary-eyed “my country ’tis of thee” moments were a little goofy, but after thinking about it a little more, maybe that really would be how people would react?   People do get sentimental for the past in hard times, that’s for sure.

 I also thought that some of the historical references thrown in there had the aura of “hey, look what I know!”, but then again the author is a military historian and the main character was something similar.

I would have liked a little more about the day-to-day lives of the post-EMP people, like what they ate and did but then again I understand that this book is more about raising the threat of an EMP than writing about a dystopian world.

The ending is also pretty damn typical of these kinds of books.  I’m not even sure if there’s a good way around this anymore.   At any rate, I thought it was worthwhile to read based on the fact it brings up some very uncomfortable ideas that don’t get a lot of talk in the world of preparedness and survival.    I’m going to stock up on some more dog food and try to keep myself out of the hospital.

 

 

Winter Gardening

 

Over the past couple of days we were hit with a big snowstorm.  I think we got about a foot or so of snow, strong winds and single digit temps.    Today was sunny and 15 degrees so it was a great day to make a video today of some of the things I have going on in the way of winter gardening:

Last year I built an insulated cold frame in a woodworking class with an old window.  I used it to start some seeds in the late winter, which worked out pretty well.  It’s keeping some arugula, beets and spinach alive right now but I think it doesn’t get as much sunlight as it should for a few reasons.   Either way, it’s working

 

Petco had a sale on aquariums earlier in the year so I picked up a 40 gallon one for as many dollars.   Honestly, you can probably find used aquariums on Craigslist or whatever for dirt cheap but I figured the price wasn’t too bad and if I did decide to do an aquaponics system, I could use it for that during the other three seasons.    I like the idea of using an upside down aquarium for a greenhouse because it’s really simple AND effective.

 

Close up of arugula and spinach under the aquarium

The greenhouse I’m using is this one:

So far I’m into it.   It’s a little over $200 (Amazon’s free shipping really feels like a deal on this one), 8′ x 6′ and 7′ high.  It was easy to put up and it held up just fine with the heavy snow on it and the winds blowing.   I bought the stakes and put a couple of them in.    I need to put a thermometer in there, but it definitely feels a lot warmer in there than it does outside.   I have 4′ x 8′ garden beds and it fits comfortably over one of them, with enough room to move around on one side.  You can enter from the front or the back, so it’s easy to get around.

I’ve got snow peas, pac choi, turnips, beets, carrots, spinach, lettuce and radishes as well as some random dill, cilantro, onions and some kind of brassicas.

I go out and check on the plants just about every day, but I think I could get away with letting them go for a week or so between visits.   They don’t need much water because the covering keeps a lot of the moisture in.   The greenhouse is very humid and the aquarium always has condensation.

We’ve had some warm days this winter and some cold ones that probably would’ve killed these plants if they weren’t protected, but from what I read solar exposure is the key factor for winter growing over warm temps.   My plants are growing slower than they would in the spring, but that’s because the days are so short.

I read this book a month or so ago, which gave me some good insight on winter growing as well as some interesting history about market gardening and great photos:

I think it’s geared towards commercial growers over backyard growers, but there’s still a lot of good info in this one.

I’ve been using what I’m growing very sparingly, just because it’s not growing very fast.   I’ll have a small salad every now and then or a few leaves of kale with a stir-fry.  Oh yeah, I’m still using kale and collards from the garden, but that will be gone in a matter of days.   The arugula tastes really good right now, the weather makes it a bit milder.   The stuff that we had growing through the summer tasted like gunpowder.

Leafy things are doing better than roots.   I thought my radishes would do better, but they aren’t.    The spinach looks great and I’ll probably start eating it next week.   There’s quite a bit of it too, so if the sunlight picks up I might be able to make it until spring.

It will probably get consistently colder from here on out, but since today was the winter solstice we’ll get a little more daylight each day.   My original goal was to at least make it to the new year, but it looks like that shouldn’t be a problem.   Maybe I’ll check back in later in January.

So that’s what I have going on right now.    It’s nice to have something to tend to during the winter and to be able to go out and see that vibrant green in the middle of the snow.   EAD, Jack Frost.

Every Now And Then I Get Reminded Why I Think The Way I Do

I work on the night shift for a large manufacturer in a union shop.   Last week all of the employees paychecks were held up.   Some time early in the morning on Friday a few people noticed that their paycheck hadn’t been deposited, so rumors started buzzing.   Later that morning the company said that there was a problem with the bank that sends the payments and it was nothing on their end or the company that does payroll that caused it.    They said it would be fixed by Monday (and it was).  Some coworkers were freaking out and calling the union hall and screaming about how they wouldn’t be able to make Christmas happen this year, “pay the light bill”, “put food on the table”, etc, etc.

I have sympathy for some individual cases and some of the employees that are paid less, but I’m glad that I’ve built up enough security that if I get my full paycheck three days late it’s not a big deal.

My dad worked at that factory since before I was born.   I remember the strikes and lingering uncertainty around the prospects of the factory packing up and moving to China or Mexico.   One strike in 1994 lasted for over a year.  I remember my dad picking up odd jobs here and there and making some cuts in the household that we weren’t used to.

I started working at this plant in 2004, right before going to Iraq.   Although I take my job seriously and all of that while I’m there, I’ve never really thought of it as something that’s guaranteed to be there long enough for me to work until I’m 60-ish, get my gold watch, collect my pension and then live a life of leisure until I die.    I’ve always had the mentality that it’s good to have savings and a “plan B” in the way of retirement and other job skills.   I know that if I lost my job today I wouldn’t be able to find anything that paid anywhere near what I make now,  so I’m better off living a lifestyle below my means just in case something happens.    Honestly, I don’t know if my job will be around long enough for me to retire.   There’s good reasons to think it will, good reasons to think it won’t.

When I was just starting out in life a guy I worked with loaned me Millionaire Next Door and Rich Dad, Poor Dad.   That same guy also tried to get me in on his Amway deal, attempting to entice me with the photographs of the beachfront properties owned by successful Amway salesmen he kept by his desk.  This guy’s Amway pitch didn’t go anywhere, but those two books certainly did by opening up my eyes to what “wealth” actually means.   I worked at a place that had me dealing with all different kinds of homeowners around the city and I started to see that people who appear rich aren’t always and people who appear poor/middle class might actually be pretty well off.   I had just gotten into some bad debt at that time trying to acquire some of the things that I thought defined success, so it was good to get that kind of financial direction at that time.

After listening to a lot of people complain about being broke by payday and certain experiencing it myself, I think the first financial/preparedness goal I set for myself was being in a position where what day of the week it was didn’t matter.   If I needed something Thursday night, it would be just the same as if I spent the money the previous Friday night.   The next step from that was making it so it didn’t really matter what day of the month it was.   If I had to pay all of my bills on the 1st, 15th, 17th or whatever, it wouldn’t matter.   I would hear people talk about how they didn’t have any bills to pay with that week’s paycheck so they would go out and blow it, planning on living on a tight budget next week.  I didn’t want to be that guy.

Anyways, when I started working at the place I do now I really started thinking about having all of my ducks in a row just in case I had to go on strike or lost my job.  I remember one rumor in 2007 about a plant in China that would shut us down that really put a fire under my ass.   I thought about what kinds of employment I would pursue if I lost this job.   I decided I would finish school just to give me a slightly better chance of getting meaningful employment and I did that last year.   I planned on getting the most out of my job and getting myself into the best situation possible to deal with the prospect of having to find a lower-paying job someday.

Thinking this way did lead me towards the world of preparedness.  I think most people get into it by thinking about things like zombies, EMP’s, TEOTWAWKI, etc and going down from there.  I guess I came to it from the other way around and started with the mundane things.

I still don’t have all the answers on what a post-current job world would look like, but I think I’m in a spot where at least I would have better options than I would’ve had I not tried to come up with a plan.   It’s not an issue of being smarter than anyone, but I accept that things can change and when they do, it’s best to move on instead of trying to kick a dead horse.   Instead of grinding my wheels about getting paid late, it wasn’t a big deal for me because I had given the issue some forethought.   I would hate to have that kind of dependency and live under that kind of stress.   I would like to think that if the plant ever closed, I would just be able to move on instead of dwelling on it and demanding the return of something that isn’t there.

 

 

The Red Dawn Book Is Now Finished

Wolverines:  Reflections on Red Dawn

Just in time for Christmas!    I’ve been working on this over the past few months.  It’s a series of essays about themes in the film, characters and events as well as some historical context and speculation on some of the vague parts of the film.   There’s two essays that directly deal with preparedness.   One is about the Morris Market supply run and the other is about The Masons and how they were able to live better than the rest of the civilians due to their knowledge of basic skills.

It’s a little less than 120 pages and about 3000 lines in a Kindle.

 

 

13 Skills in 2013 Launched

My 13 in 13 Profile

 

Ok, so the 13 skils in 2013 page has been launched and I made my page.   The main website is www.13skills.com.   A general overview of the site is that people are pledging to learn 13 new basic skills or improve existing ones in some way in 2013. 

Over the past couple of years I’ve really started to take an interest in this kind of stuff and making a point to learn basic skills.   I’ve learned how to do quite a bit in the past few years and I know I’ve only scratched the surface.   Not everything I’ve tried has been a success, but when something does come out right, it feels good – even the small things like sprouting mung beans, picking something from the garden or making your own bread from scratch.   Since I’ve decided to make an effort to practice basic skills, I’ve incorporated several of them into my day-to-day life and I think I’m better off for it.  

Part of me wants to learn these kinds of skills “just in case”.  A bigger part of me wants to learn these skills to improve my daily life and to preserve our heritage.   If we don’t learn how to grow things, make things, do things and so-on, who will do it for us?  I’d rather not leave that up to Wonderbread, the Jolly Green Giant and whoever makes particle board furniture from China.     I think that practicing the kinds of skills that were part of our ancestors’ daily lives helps us to better understand who we are as humans, Americans or whatever group we belong to.   Plus it feels good to be able to bypass some of the systems of support that most people depend on.  

  So here’s what I picked:

 

1.  Gardening.   In my case I’m making this goal into “winter gardening”.   Right now I have a 6×8 greenhouse up, a cold frame and an aquarium I’m using as a mini-greenhouse.  I’m hoping to extend my growing season at both ends and have a salad sometime in January.  Of course I’m going to work on regular seasoning gardening stuff as well.

2.   Building Community.    I’m going to reach out a little more this year to like-minded people.   I went to a preparedness meetup last month that I’m excited about, so that’s a good start.   I know there’s a lot of people around here that do things I’m interested in, it’s just a matter of getting in touch and all of that.   I want to do a better job of talking to my neighbors and reconnecting with people I’ve kind of fallen out of the loop with.   I’ve been really, really bad about this.     I’m kicking around the idea of a Des Moines urban homesteading website/forum, but we’ll see.

3.   Beekeeping.   I’m going to get 2 or 3 hives in my backyard.   The wife says 2, I say 3.   The goal with that is to end the year with two functioning hives and a little bit of honey.   I’m still not exactly sure what kind of hives I want, but I found a guy a mile or so away from me that breeds Russian bees, so I’ll order some nucs from him after the new year.   I’m a little apprehensive about this with the dogs (they have a tendency to get into things they shouldn’t), but I think I can make it work.  I have a couple ideas to make this happen.

4.   Dairy.  I chose this one because I want to try to make a couple different kinds of cheeses and finally figure out yogurt.   I think I’m probably at somewhere less than 50% success whenever I’ve tried to make yogurt.    It would be cool to figure cheese out.   If we move out to the country in the next few years, I’d like to get a dairy goat and knowing how to use the excess milk will be a good thing.

5.   Knots.   I think this will be a good one I can do on a rainy day or something.   It would be nice to know a few functional knots.   I know I’ve been in situations where it would have been good to know the appropriate knot instead of just trying to fumble through it.  Right now I only know a couple, I’d like to know about 10.    I had some training on this in the Marine Corps, but I think most of that knowledge went by the wayside.   I think I could fumble my way through a Swiss seat, tie my shoes and do a basic square knot. 

6.  Second Language.   I’m going to improve my Spanish.   It’s hard to quantify, but I’d like to be better at it by the end of the year.   I’ll listen to podcasts, read some books, use Spanish subtitles and all of that.   I think I should set the goal to have a conversation in Spanish by the end of the year.   We were kicking around the idea of going to Spain in February, but I’m not sure that will happen.  

7.   Woodworking.   I picked up some carving knives and a few books.  I’m going to try to make some Welsh lovespoons or maybe a chess set or something.  I’ve always been terrible at drawing and other art-related things, so this one is a little daunting.   If I make some mistakes, oh well, it’s just wood.   Either way, we’ll see where that goes.

8.  Alternative Energy.   I’m going to learn more about it and maybe do some kind of small-scale project.    I have a few good books on the subject.   I have some small solar panels to play around with.   The kinds of projects I’m thinking about are making my shed solar powered, solar ovens and making my house more energy efficient.   I’d like to learn more about wind, solar, water and biomass.   Something like making alcohol for gas would be cool or maybe looking into small-scale wind, but I might be putting myself out a little too far with that at this point. 

9.   Carpentry.   I’m going to build a chicken coop.    I’m also going to build something to enclose the bee hives.   I might even try my hand at some furniture.   I’m hoping to learn a little more about building stuff and using hand tools throughout the year.   I think this skill is a good one because it will tie in to several of the other skills I’m planning on pursuing this year.   I like knocking out a couple birds with one stone.

10.  Plant Identification.    I will identify and use at least five new wild edibles.   I’ll also brush up on tree identification.  I used to be really good at that, now occasionally I get stumped by things a little out of the ordinary.   I picked up a book about this and will probably start this once plants start growing again.  

11.  Teaching.   I will speak in front of an audience and teach about something.   I’d like to do some interviews and in-depth blog posts on how to do some of this stuff.  I think this could be another multiple-birds-with-one-stone thing.   The best way to learn something is to teach someone else how to do it. 

12.  Animal Husbandry.   I’m going to get a few hens, keep them alive and maybe get some eggs out of them.   A co-worker will most likely start raising goats this year and I think I’ll also have the opportunity to get my feet wet with them as well.   If he does, I’ll volunteer some of my time to help out with the goats.   

13.   Science.  This option was originally “meteorology”, which I picked on a whim after looking at the list.   I’d like to learn more about identifying weather patterns and being able to look at a website like wunderground.com and really understand all the data they’re giving me.   I’ll broaden this out to observable astronomy, like really grasping the phases of the moon, movement of the sun, location of constellations, stellar navigation and so-on.  I already know some of this stuff, but I’d like to have it down cold.   I think this is something that I would use every day, so I’m excited and diving into this one.  

So that’s what I’m thinking right now.   There’s always the chance that other opportunities will come up and the list might change a little, but at the very least I promise not to cheese-dick out of things (i.e. picking origami or something over beekeeping).   I might be able to take a blacksmithing class or something like welding.   Either way, this should be a productive year.  

In addition to these 13, I hope to improve my blogging/web presence skills as I go.   Very few people know that I do this site and I don’t peddle it too hard.   At this point it’s more of an outlet for me to talk about some of the things on my mind instead of just reacting to what’s on other people’s minds.   I think I’ll be “public” about my site amongst people I know very soon.

I will be posting about some of the 13 skills related things along the way.   I will make a category and a tag on it to keep tabs on my progress.    I really think this is something that everyone should consider, even if they can only manage a few skills this year and I’m interested in hearing about other people’s plans.

Dollar-less Iranians Discover Virtual Currency

Dollar-less Iranians Discover Virtual Currency

I’ve seen quite a few articles over the past year or so about countries looking to ditch the dollar and making transactions in gold or other currencies.     According to this article, some Iranians are making transactions in virtual bitcoins (www.bitcoin.org) to get around the economic sanctions imposed on their nation.     It’s a virtual currency that isn’t exactly widely accepted on the scale of the overall world economy, but there are still a lot of people worldwide willing to make transactions in this currency.   There’s enough goods and services you can get with bitcoins to make these points have value.

In Discussing Alternative Currencies, I posted a video of Rob Grey of the American Open Currency Standard testifying in front of Congress on the issue of alternative currencies.   To paraphrase a bit, instead of calling for an end to the Federal Reserve, he suggested that people should just start ignoring them (by using alternative currency/barter) and the government should stay out of the way.     Looks like that’s pretty much what some of these people are doing in Iran by turning away from fiat currencies (theirs and foreign) and turning toward a private currency that can’t easily be touched by governments (theirs or ours).  

I don’t think that the entire Iranian economy is going to shift toward these virtual bitcoins or anything, but it is an interesting story for those of us who follow these kinds of things.   People will always find a way to trade with each other, even if it means switching up the medium of trade from time to time.  

 

Patrick Buchanan on Secession

Stirrings of Secession

“The West is decomposing”

There’s not really anything new here that wasn’t brought up in States Filing Petitions For Secession or sentiments that haven’t ever been expressed by Patrick Buchanan before, but I wanted to share it.   In a nutshell,  Buchanan writes about how fragmented American society has become and brings up the historical precedent for secession in this article.   He even mentions the situation in Catalonia and other places around Europe flirting with the idea of secession.     I got a chuckle out of the tongue-in-cheek line about how Super Bowl Sunday has become the one holy day that everyone can agree upon in America.

Anyways, it’s an article worth reading for those of you who have been following the secession thing.    Even though I think most of the coverage of it is based around generating some shocking headlines, I’m still surprised that this idea is getting bounced around in mainstream circles and PJB is getting a little more explicit about it.

I’m Keeping All My Leaves This Year

I decided that this year I was going to try to keep all of the leaves that fall off my tree this year instead of putting them on the curb to send them off to the city’s composting program.    For $7.50 you get five large paper bags to fill with yard wastes and they’ll haul it off.    That’s really not too bad of a deal, all things considered, but I think I could make them useful and spend $0.00 instead of $20-$30, what I’d usually spend over the course of a year.  

I have a large maple and an ash tree in my front yard.   There are no trees in my backyard, besides some young mini-dwarfs I’ve planted.    The ash drops its leaves early in the fall and the maple seems to finish right before snowfall.  The front yard gets covered, the backyard gets virtually nothing.

I think my backyard has taken a beating over the past couple years due to dogs running around in it, the lack of snowfall last year (snow protects it during the cold) and the drought this year.   I raked everything up about a month ago and spread it out all over the backyard and mowed it over.   I figured this would be good in order to get some new organic material back there and put something over the thin spots.   The maple finally dropped everything, so I raked the last of the leaves up this weekend and used them to mulch my garden beds and containers, as well as putting a small pile near my compost bins to work in over the winter and putting a ton in an area that has been torn up by the dogs.   Usually in the spring I’ll buy a bale of straw to put down in some areas that get muddy to reduce the amount of mud the dogs track back in.   This year the leaves will do the trick, at least for part of the yard.

I figured I’d still end up with way more leaves then I could use.  Turns out I was wrong.   I could use a lot more.   In fact, I might swipe a few bags of leaves off the curb on my way home from work Wednesday morning to fill in a few more spots.    I always scoffed at the idea of being able to absorb all of my leaves into my property one way or another, turns out it’s completely do-able.    It’s nice to turn something that was considered a waste product into something useful.

So I saved $20-$30, improved the health of my lawn, improved my garden beds, got more carbons to compost, I might not have to buy straw in the spring and I probably won’t get as much mud tracked into my house in the spring.   Score.

Ron Paul Talks About Secession

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhQ31b_dbnM

 

Well, this is interesting.   Looks like the media went to Dr. Paul to get his response on the subject of secession and he responds with a brief video, where he brings up a few good points.    He brings up the fact that Wilson took us into World War I in part for other nations’ right to self-determination (remember the difference between “nation” and “state”) and that we high-fived each other when the former Soviet republics seceeded, thinking that self-determination was good for the people in those places.    Then there’s the fact that we were founded by secessionists – the early colonialists saw themselves as English subjects right up until the point when they decided to secede.

Dr. Paul also brings up the idea that there’s going to be a lot more talk like this as the Federal government gets worse off financially.   Are things like social security, government payouts, etc, keeping everything together?   I think these objections are the ones that come up more often than “No, we’re really one big happy country and we can work everything out!”

Either way, it’s kind of interesting.   I figured this issue would be a one or two day story (for now), but it seems to keep going…

70,000 Signatures For Texas Secession

http://rt.com/usa/news/white-house-texas-secede-612/

So I just saw RT post an article stating that the petition for Texas to leave the union has received enough signatures to merit an official response from Obama.   I still don’t think there’s anything tangible to this at the moment, but I think it’s kind of cool that he has to address it (if that is the case).   Obama’s response will be something along the lines of “yeah, we’re a divided nation but we need to start healing and coming together as Americans” and that’s about it, which is about all it merits at this point.

Either way, I just thought it was an interesting update to some of the things I’ve been posting about lately in The 2012 Election and the Elephant Outside The Room and last night’s posting about the petitions.

 

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