I really wanted to title this “How to pack for Armageddon” but that is not right, and not something I can do anyway. There are tons of sites on that. What to pack in the scaredy bag, what to have for “shelter in place.”
I’m not saying those won’t be needed. As I said before, I don’t think anyone has taken into account – well, maybe someone has, but that’s not a comforting thought – that while this crew in power is playing at being “more sensitive than you” they’re giving signals to a lot of very bad actors. The crew in power might be ill-intentioned (mostly I think they’re power-greedy and trying to cover it up by doing the things they’ve been told are “good”) but I suspect they honestly believe that if we unilaterally disarm we’ll be safe. Don’t laugh. A lot of my colleagues believed that all through the eighties. It has nothing to do with intelligence, but with having lived quiet, sheltered prosperous lives where the wildest environment they knew was their kindergarten class.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen other sides of life, and I’ve studied history.
If we can do things like let all the sequester cuts fall on defense, and eventually start reducing our nuclear arsenal (more flexibility, remember?) and NOT get hit, we should just assume the USA is the Almighty’s favorite child and my made up USAians were right. If we don’t lose a city or more to enemy attack in the next five/six years, I’ll assume this country is G-d’s personal project and that He’s zealously guarding us.
But alas, I think we’re human like other humans and our project of liberty and individual freedom is ours.
So, some regions of the country almost for sure will have to deal with Armageddon conditions to an extent or another. Which depends who hits us and whether it’s a missile or a backpack nuke.
Yes, I feel crazy just typing that – it’s like ebooks, you know. We expected ebooks to hit any minute now, and they didn’t, for almost twenty years. I attended conferences in ninety four where they were talking about how ebooks were the coming thing. But most people don’t like reading on the computer, and therefore it didn’t happen. And then suddenly there was the second model of kindle (the first was too green and computer-like) and by that time anyone who’d been immersed in the business was SO convinced ebooks would amount to nothing, that they never, really, got their heads around the reverse. They still haven’t.
To an extent we have the same relationship with nuclear attacks. We expected them all through the cold war, which means most of our lives. It never happened. Now we tend to roll our eyes as we think of them.
But they are a heavy possibility. There is a huge difference between attacking the US when you’re the USSR and you know you’ll get hit back, and attacking the US when you know it’s weakened and infighting, and you’re a small back water country and know if the US retaliates the world community will complain they’re picking on you. (My brother after the Axis of Evil speech “Why is Bush picking on tiny, mad North Korea?” is what I expect to see.)
So, if you live in or near one of our major cities (unless it goes completely astray, which is possible since this is mostly “Russian Technology”, I expect it will be in one of the cities that everyone hears about on TV and shows: DC, NYC, Chicago, LA, San Francisco – with an outside chance of cities that have had TV shows set in them – Cincinnati, Dallas. While it’s possible there will be one in Denver, for instance, that is an extremely outside chance unless there’s a sudden upswell of documentaries about “Denver, the power of the west” that makes it abroad.) have a get away bag, just in case, and DO for the love of G-d know some funky, back-road route out of the city. Make it a weekend project to scout those. If you live in NYC and don’t have a car – Yes, you DO know who you are – make sure a friend-with-car includes you in his evacuation plans.
For what to put in the bag, and what to put in your basement/crawl space/armoire if you have to sit tight, there are survival blogs all over the net, and if you don’t know any, someone in this blog will link it on request.
My post – taking this long to get to the point is the hallmark of the fact I have had only one cup of tea – is about not the apocalypse, but the gentle slide into chaos and a (much) lower but still civilized lifestyle.
I’ve never been convinced by the “apocalypse” stories simply because American authors, never having experienced it, seem to think of something like a nuclear hit, or even several, crippling all our major cities and making our daily life a negotiated mess (and I want to stress that last one is – I think – highly unlikely in the situation right now. We’re more likely to get the equivalent to “terrorism with nukes” than to get a planned, carefully carried out attack. OTOH the attack might well unleash our own tensions and release Civil Unrest with a capital Mess – in which case, it won’t be much different from most cities taken out.) will immediately send us back to some past age, ranging from the stone age to the nineteenth century.
Of course, most of those stories were written to convince us to unilaterally disarm, which, of course, meant exaggerating the awfulness.
Here is what is not going to happen:
Most people are not going to become looters overnight. Yes, it will happen in some places, but let me remind you of when the lights went out in NYC for most of a day, and people just quietly walked home. Whether you’ll have to shoot looters and keep vandals away depends on what region of the country you live in and how dangerous it is now.
You’re not going to need to grow your own wheat and mill your own flour overnight. Yes, I know “on demand” supply, etc. So, the local groceries will run out of ice-cream, Hersheys and the other stuff like that. They might also – always depending on where you live. We’re in the Khaki for vegetables out here, unless it’s summer, and even then – run out of steaks, or onions, or even (but unlikely. I think the stuff spontaneously generates) cabbage. BUT it’s unlikely to run completely out of flour or beans or rice. (Of course, if you’re low carb you should be making your own preparations.) Nor will it prevent local farmers from putting stalls by the side of the highway selling local produce ¾ of the year.
You’re not going to have to make your own clothes. Look, I’m a writer, which means our income fluctuates, which is a polite term for “sometimes it’s non-existent.” It always hits rock bottom at the most inconvenient times, too, like, when my husband is unemployed, (knock on wood, only happened twice in our entire married life.) We’ve had to cut back on food, by going to the essentials and having me cook from scratch (but I do that, anyway, by preference) BUT we’ve never really had to cut back on clothes. In fact, I think I have more than fit in my closet, and one of these days the hanging apparatus will crash. (Partly because I treat them as disposable, since I hate aprons and all confining clothing, and so I tend to stain clothes while cleaning or cooking.) — first, the clothes in your closet will not evaporate into the ether. Second, and VERY important, society as a whole probably has a larger supply of clothes than we could consume (without throwing away) in a century. I know this because we shop for our clothes at an ARC thrift store nearby. A LOT of the clothes are brand new still with tags, usually because a store donated surplus. And I have a rule never to pay more than $5 for a piece of clothing unless it’s designer. Then I’ll go up to $7. If I go to $10 I get the frown of doom from my husband…
You’re not going to have to make your own furniture – see above. We’ve gotten used to changing furniture at the drop of a hat because we stopped liking something, but if things get rough we stop throwing it away, and I bet you that what we have will last generations. (Here I do have advice on what to choose. And what to have.)
This is not saying that things will be either comfortable or wonderful.
So – what do you watch for, and how do you prepare?
This post comes from the fact I was talking to my husband and said “the first thing is usually the post office going unreliable.”
Right now you’re looking at me like I’m a lunatic. “But our post awful was always—”
No. There are differences. Yes, in most countries the post office jobs are a sinecure for a politically favored majority (Or minority. I might be wrong in this, but I have a vague idea most postal carriers in South Africa were Afrikaans speaking.) and that they are a union shop in most countries, and that jokes about mis-delivered mail exist everywhere. That’s not what I mean.
Part of this is tricky when it comes to the post office, btw – because ours is suffering from catastrophic technological change, as well as everything else. HOWEVER:
The slide goes like this – it begins with mail distribution twice a day six days a week, and the mail fairly reliable in the sense that yes, you do get human error and things delayed a bit. Then it goes to once daily. (I don’t know if the US started with twice daily. By the time I came here, it was once daily. Part of this was tech change. Used to be that before the telephone letters in-town were used to say “I’ll drop by tomorrow afternoon.” Read a mystery of the early twentieth century for that.)
Then slowly the mail becomes more unreliable. Then one day is cut out. Then delivery is every other day.
BUT the most important thing is how unreliable it gets. We’re already pretty unreliable, the reason they’re mostly used for spam. (Though their tendency to misplace stuff doesn’t help.)
But along that slide comes the time when the mail is COMPLETELY unreliable. Anything you entrust to them has a fifty/fifty chance of arriving, and anything even vaguely useful/valuable WILL get stolen, unless you’re very, very crafty.
This is a sign post on the way down. When you start seeing outright unabashed theft by postal employees, and no attempt to track down your registered package, it’s time to have your preparations for the rest of the slide made.
Because that type of theft is a “societal strictures have broken down.” It’s not “the neighbors will rape and pillage” but it is the “people will pilfer from strangers as a matter of course.” A package, entrusted to strangers to carry across the country is, of course, at high risk.
This is highly unlikely and there are already signs we’re headed in that direction. Whether and how much it will affect the private carrier companies, I don’t know. Whether there will be Amazon Delivery vans that are more reliable, I don’t know. I do know that the break down in trust needed to efficiently run mail in a continental-sized country is already well underway and getting markedly worse by the day.
The way to deal with the post office is to disguise the contents of whatever you’re sending. Put an old coat over the new dress you’re sending aunt Emily. Learn to make false bottoms on boxes. Encase you check in several pages of blather.
Or, more likely, in this country, in the 21st century, find ways to send ecash, email and different carriers (thank heavens.)
But even if we have more options – that break down in trust is a telling sign.
The other slide is what used to be called in Portugal “a zeal strike” which I understand is the opposite of what the words mean in OZ where they mean “be over-picky over everything and delay everything.” In Portugal it means “show up for work, but do whatever.”
This, not as a strike but as a way of life ensues.
What I mean is, you don’t realize how much we, Americans, are used to getting what we want, when we want it.
This is likely to go by the way side. People won’t be breaking their backs to get stuff done and also, sorry, but all businesses are likely to be understaffed for the foreseeable future, because it’s right now almost impossible to keep your margins up in this country unless you’re GE and the government is feeding you dough by the bucketful.
So, things to have:
Any staple you can’t do without, even if it’s not a “survival essential” thing. Say you’re mighty fond of a brand of coffee, have three or four bags put by in your freezer. Before you run through them, it will be on the shelves. Restock when it’s on the shelves and you can afford it. That way interruptions in supply don’t affect you.
In the same vein, this coming spring, can, pickle and dehydrate veggies. I don’t think they’ll vanish forever, but supply can/might/almost certainly will (depending on where you live) get mighty irregular.
Any parts you need to keep your car and house running, and which you know are likely to breakdown or need replacing – have by. And either know how to replace it yourself, or establish a relationship with someone who does. Knowing how to rewire something in the house and/or how to deal with plumbing is important. (My husband is okay with it. But getting one of those comprehensive books from the hardware stores, you know “how to fix anything in the house” is NOT a bad idea.)
Also not a bad idea: if you have to buy furniture and CAN afford it, buy real wood and the best construction you can. “Furniture you can will to your grandchildren” should be your goal. Mostly because you might have to.
Also, if you have a young family, buy the biggest house you can afford. Look, I’ll be blunt, the one slide I saw up close and personal ended up with three and four nuclear families per house. I.e. kids married and had grandkids, but they were still living with the parents/grandparents. This did not change till the economy got better. (And yes, it SORTA is cultural in Portugal, but it was not the norm since the forties, and in fact, as soon as people could afford it, they went their own way, even if children normally live NEAR parents.)
For those people with three kids in a one bedroom apartment it could get tough.
If you’re renting, try to get in a place where the rent won’t go crazy and where you can hunker down if you need to. Establish a good relationship with your landlord.
Have a deep freezer, so you can buy meat when it’s available/relatively cheap. (This is a good idea at any time, but it might be vital in a slide down.)
Acquire some knowledge of folk medicine and lay some supplies by. I’ve recently found that Manuka wound honey (available from Amazon) is the awesome, and will definitely stock it.) This is obviously part of the slide down at least for this country. Finding a doctor might become an issue. DO try to make friends with a doctor or a trained nurse. It might save your life.
Other things that are probably sort of kind of less vital but that you REALLY don’t want to do without. One thing I’ve never seen in a slide down is a country sliding into the gutter without significant, pervasive disruptions in the electrical supply. I don’t mean electricity goes bye bye and never comes back. I don’t even mean LONG black outs. For those you should have a generator/whole house battery (we can’t afford either) but I expect most of the time you won’t get that. I mean brown outs and black outs become a fact of life to the point they affect your daily life/ability to work. Not enough to get you to crisis point, not even enough to spoil food in freezer, if you keep it closed. But enough to annoy you and make things a daily slog.
First – have something you can use for light. I used to love candles when I was a kid, but of course there are better options. If you are using flashlights, keep your battery supply up. I’ve also laid by some of those solar garden lights. The light is not wonderful, but it is enough to read by.
Speaking of which, since it’s almost impossible to have extra batteries for the kindle (I don’t know about other e-readers) have a car charger, so that if your electrical crashes, you can charge the kindle enough to finish reading that novel. Also, keep the vital stuff like “how to” manuals in paper.
In the same vein, if you get your living by using the computer, have extra batteries for your laptop. Keep three of them or so by.
And have an alternate means of cooking, if you rely on electrical. A grill will do, though I have an entirely coal fired hibachi as well, but that’s because I’m a nut.
Have an alternate means of heating (IF we’re going to stay in this house, I want a soapstone stove. Sigh. Maybe Witchfinder will buy me one.)
These things will seem frivolous. They’re not “how to survive apocalypse” – but having lived through the slide-down, trust me, it makes your life immeasurably better to know that you can still finish that chapter, or write that report, or whatever, even if electricity just went down, and/or you can cook that dish even if the store is out of peppers.
One disruption or interruption is piddly stuff. An unpredictable succession of them saps the soul and kills the spirit.
Now, the thing is, in the low slide down and counterintuitively, things can do very well you’d never think about.
Look, let me put it bluntly: babies are still born, birthdays still happen, girls still want to buy something pretty for a pick me up.
The people who did well in my brother’s generation (the most affected in Portugal by the slide-down) learned to do something crafty to sell. Usually bead jewelry, which they sold (literally) on street corners, but also stuffed animals which you could sell to friends of friends of friends. Paintings, if you were good. That sort of thing.
Yes, we have walmart and jewelry for a song. How long it will be cheap is something else, with the dollar plummeting, BUT
But people will pay the same/a little more for something that’s unique/looks better. And people will still buy toys, baby clothes, (giving stuff to babies is a deeply-rooted tradition.) pretty things that make them smile, unique bits of apparel/accessories that make a tired outfit look new.
Cultivate some crafty skill – first it will keep you from going nuts while you’re worrying about jobs or what not. Second, it might bring in enough money to survive between jobs/if permanently sidelined by this atrocious economy
Crafts to pick, if you don’t have a favorite should be things that are useful/don’t need proprietary materials. Scrapbooking would be right out on the first count, and stamped cross-stitch on the second.
But say learning to make clothes out of scraps of material might be in, ditto with braiding rugs. (Clue zero, but I know people in the village did it. They bought/got rags off other people and made these gorgeous rugs.) In a cold climate quilting is a good one. Altering clothes is too. Even with the surplus we have, people will grow up, grow wider, or lose weight. If you know how to alter clothes to make them look GOOD you have something you can trade on/get money for.
I’m decent at refinishing furniture, and I’ve picked up on fillet crochet again. I used to do this obsessively, then I hit my head and lost the ability to keep track of where I was on the pattern (wonder if that affected writing too?) which is slowly coming back. Right now – by way of warm up – I’m working on a massive (bedspread size) curtain for our outsized front window. But I’ve recently come across normal sized patterns for pillows and hangings (and maybe clothes inserts) from the turn of the century, which I think fall under “beautiful and unique” and would probably sell well at SF cons. And the little ones I can do in an evening, the bigger ones in a week of evenings.
Though I expect ebooks will continue to sell and I even expect Baen to survive. (The other houses… They’re houses of the living dead right now. They look alive, but…) It’s just that you might have to time your publishing/buying for the times the net is up. And yep, I expect those will actually sell better, because if the net is down there’s less gaming, etc. available.
In that vein, don’t get rid of ALL your obsolete stuff. Keep DVDs by, even if you have Amazon streaming. Keep CDs by, even if you buy a lot of music electronic. I’m clueless about game systems because I don’t use them, but if there’s a way to keep games by, and have power for the systems, do so.
CDs, DVDs and other forms of entertainment not depending on connectivity (if the electricity goes down in your area, so will the net service, most of the time) might make good trade-goods, as well. So if you see them at the thrift store, buy and store, just in case. Don’t spend an enormous amount and don’t fill your house with them, but having a few around to trade for others you want is not a bad idea. Burn you MP3 to CD as backup and keep one of the old stereos around.
Also, because in the long slide down things like the over-restrictive “must cook this in a sterilized kitchen with no one else in the house” health laws tend to slide, even baking and cooking might not be a bad thing, particularly because I suspect a lot of people can’t cook beyond pre-prepared and will be looking for alternatives. Having the house where the working couple can pick up the pot of pot roast and give you something in return because they’re that kind, might not be a bad idea if the stores are having trouble stocking tv dinners. (In Portugal it was bread. Very few people knew how to make bread, but the bakers’ union got bumptious and started not delivering when expected. Suddenly the people who could bake bread were very popular.)
These are not survival skills, but they’re “keep the world spinning” skills and “make people feel they’re not living in the end times” skills. They will stand you in good stead.
Most of them are a matter of degree from the Armagedon skills. So if you believe Armageddon is more likely, by all means, learn to make soap. BUT learn to make scented, interestingly shaped soap, and you have a skill in case it’s a slide-down. Learn to make beer, but if you make it micro-brewery specialty beer you can also do well in the slide-down. Learn to make clothes – but also learn to fix/alter clothes. That way you’re okay either way.
The only difference is stuff like laptop batteries which are vital in a slide-down and useless in the end of the world. BUT having them won’t cost you too much.
And it might save your sanity… and allow you to make money off ebooks or whatever it is you do. If it’s just a slide down.
We’re already in a slide-down, even if not critical yet. There’s a good chance of a crash, but there’s a chance, also, the slide-down will continue.
In your packing for the crash, don’t neglect preparation for the tumble down the stairs. It’s usually just a little more effort/expense. But it can make all the difference.
UPDATE: Welcome instapundit readers and thank you to Glenn for the link! I was ironing, a masochistic ritual I engage in for a few hours once a month (because it makes a difference on how husband and sons look!) and came back to a ‘lanche. Very nice. Those thinking I’m overly pessimistic might want to read today’s post!