Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Ultimate Suburban Survivalist Guide

(My review/critique is over 12 pages long so I'm breaking it up into two parts. Here is the first part:)

I'll have to begin by apologizing for this "book review" because I frequently found that I couldn't resist the urge to chime in with trivia of my own rather than just fault Mr. Brodrick for leaving something out. Hopefully you'll be able to discern the difference between my paraphrases of his work and my own interruptions of myself.

Don't let my carping dissuade you from buying his book or checking it out from the library. The book really is packed with useful information and worth reading.

I like that each chapter closes with a boxed sidebar entitled "The Least You Can Do" which outlines steps to take with regards to that chapter's subject.

Sean Brodrick, the author of The Ultimate Suburban Survivalist Guide The Smartest Money moves to Prepare for Any Crisis and I got off on the wrong foot when while cataloging major disaster scenarios he listed (thereby giving credence to) the Department of Homeland Security's straw man/bugaboo "right-wing domestic anti-government groups" as something to worry about.

Everybody outside Hollywood* and DNC headquarters knows these right-wing groups, allegedly based primarily in the Pacific Northwest, are basically incompetent in any meaningful political sense and so busy squabbling for power amongst themselves as to preclude them from having any meaningful affect in a crisis beyond their local neighborhood. They shouldn't even be mentioned in any serious discussion of either TEOTWAWKI or WTSHIF which are two of the definitions Sean gets right by the way.

* In Tom Clancy's book The Sum of All Fears (book) the terrorists are Muslim extremists. When Hollywood got control of the movie rights they ignored the fact that the most successful attacks against the USA were carried out by Muslim extremists and the book's Arab nationalists were changed to neo-fascistsThe Sum of All Fear (film)s in the film.

Forgiving Sean for his conspiracy Faux pas I agreed with most of the rest of his proposed major disasters: Economic Depressions, Natural Disasters, Oil Crisis, Food Crisis, Climate Change, Shutdown of Large Portions of the U.S. Energy Grid, Civil Unrest (where he went astray), Pandemic and Terrorism.

Sean believes we're going to see "waves of chaos" building to a crescendo just short of TEOTWAWKI and then receding to some sort of recovery. I tend to agree with him on that point.

Sean spends too much time proving his point at the beginning of each chapter. He also covers personal disasters (your house burning down or flooding) and citing statistics to prove various disasters are likely to happen. Yeah, I know having a fire extinguisher might come in handy in a house fire, but there's a chrome coated adaptor you can buy at the hardware store that'll let you attach a garden hose to your kitchen or bathroom sink. A dry chemical fire extinguisher's discharge time is measured in seconds. A water hose stays on as long as the water is turned on and a nozzle gives you control at the business end of the hose.

Yet I guess I can't fault him too much for feeling he needs to prove his points to people just becoming aware of the self-made precarious financial positions of the world's banks or hyper indebted governments crushing us with debt or crises approaching the boiling point like the oil crisis and continuing terrorism.

These events are real and are affecting all of our lives. He also feels he needs to show WTSHTF (When The $#!t Hits The Fan) disasters like hurricane Katrina [or the San Francisco earthquake] will happen again.

[Speaking of Katrina, I keep running across differing descriptions of what happened in the immediate aftermath of the storm. Some stories like John's (linked to from this blog before) found destruction and hardship generally countered by neighbors coming together for mutual aid while Sean quotes a Mr. Michael Homan who claims to have been held a virtual prisoner in the equivalent of a government concentration camp.

I guess the lesson I've learned from studying people's reactions to Katrina is that when it's a reasonable number of survivors people rush to help, however when they see the line of survivors needing help stretching to the horizon the barriers begin going up as they realize there just isn't enough to go around. We saw this with the Gretna police setting up a roadblock on the Crescent City Connection Bridge two days after the storm passed.]

I recently completed a federally sponsored CERT class which trained volunteers in light rescue, light first aid and triage. One of the messages of the class was it may take the government three days to get to you. As Sean puts it:

"That's because a real disaster knocks the government for a loop, and it's busy trying to find its feet in the first few days; saving you becomes secondary."

Speaking of threes, Sean's "Survival Rule of Threes" reads as follows
• It takes about three minutes to die without air.
• It takes about three days to die without water.
• It takes about three weeks to die without food.
• It takes about three months to die without hope.

I would add "or become seriously incapacitated" behind the word "die" in each of his first three, I don't know about the fourth.

Sean points out that the Katrina crisis in law and order lasted about two weeks and that although many of the problems caused by hurricane Katrina lasted for years, Katrina was a short-term crisis.

Pointing to an example that is definitely not short-term he devotes the better part of four and a half pages to the problems of Argentina in general and the experiences of one Fernando Aguirre (oft cited on this blog by his nom de plume; FerFAL) in particular.

Another Argentinean Sean quotes in this section is one Willy Tovar whose account is more easily read here on Google Books.

Note that Willy saw what was coming and had the courage to act on his convictions. He exchanged his Argentinean pesos to US Dollars and moved his family out of the country.

Of course you're asking, "How the heck do I get out of US Dollars?" Well, I chose to exchange a portion of my US Dollars for Canadian dollars held in a Canadian bank in Canada. A friend chose Swiss Franks and Australian dollars (yes it's legal as long as you pay taxes on the interest). Of course gold and silver are good choices too.

"A Big-Picture Look at the U.S. Economy – We're So Screwed" (Ch. 3 pg 39) Sean says the world's financial center of gravity shifted from Europe to the United States during the Panic of 1873 and he thinks it's about to shift again from the United States to Asia. Again, I agree.

We paid off the mortgage on our home years ago and I'm sure Sean would agree having a rent free place to live would be a good thing in hard times, but he has several reasons not to pay off your mortgage:
• You might need the money for other things like preparing for TEOTWAWKI.
• The value of your house may go down some more.
• You may get bailed out by the government.
• It's much more important to pay off credit card and other high-interest debts.

Personally I'd say if you're within a few months of paying off your mortgage, go for it, but remember paying two months worth of mortgage payment one month does not relieve you of the obligation of making the next months payment.

Sean suggests paying off high-interest debt like credit cards and vehicle payments. Again, I agree.

(True, credit cards are "Unsecured debt" which means you could walk away without paying and in most cases the most the credit card company would do would be to ruin your credit rating. But consider, we're expecting the USA to be rocked by waves of WTSHTF (When The $#!t Hits The Fan) events. Wouldn't you want access to credit during such times?)

I think much of Sean's list of "New Careers for a Brave New World" will only be needed after a series of prolonged crises.

Bike Mechanic (Maybe, but I'm thinking bicycle tires & parts would be more in demand as people fixed their own Schwinns.)

Seamstress/Taylor (My wife regularly presides over rummage sales at the church selling hundreds of garments in a day. Right now three full 30 gallon trash bags sit by our door awaiting transport to such a sale – all from cleaning out her closets. I expect the nation's supply of surplus clothes to last for years.)

Cobbler (Sean claims our shoes are "…made to wear out in a matter of months." I don't know where he buys shoes, but most of mine have lasted for years and I now have ten pairs plus two pair of boots. I counted 42 pairs of my wife's shoes before giving up. Our clothes and shoes may not be the latest style in a WTSHTF event, but I doubt we'll be bare or barefoot for years into it.)

Making beer (Takes a steady flow of ingredients from somewhere. I'm guessing in a prolonged shortage most beer drinkers will go to pot.)

Acoustic musician (Yes, non-electric music & entertainments (think Vaudeville) would be popular in a scenario where electricity was intermittent or nonexistent.)

Tool maker (I'm not sure on this one; it all depends on the scenario.)

I can hear you sneering:
"Alright, smartass, which careers do you think will prosper?"

Well, people gott'a eat and I think one of the main criteria of starting a new career in a crisis environment would be small startup costs. Although these may not support you, they're likely to augment income and help stave off starvation.

• Backyard truck gardens. (Also window & roof gardens for fruits & veggies.)

• Backyard chicken ranches. (Many municipalities already allow a small number of ducks rabbits or chickens (NO roosters!) within city limits.

• Backyard aquaculture. (Maybe ya' can't afford the pool boy any more, but tilapia will keep down mosquitoes, provide food and maybe some to sell at the farmers market.)

Farmers markets (To sell all the extra fruits, veggies & eggs.)

Flea markets (To sell shoes, clothes, bike parts, tools & what-have-you.)

Backyard marijuana farms (In desperate and forlorn hopes of raising tax revenues governments may legalize the stuff. Of course they've as much chance of collecting taxes on the pot you raise in your backyard as on the carrots you raised in your backyard.)

Trader (Buy cheap here, sells dear there. Avoid selling at wholesale (rag picker, aluminum can collector, etc.) because the real money's to be made in selling at retail IF you buy at a low enough price.)

Farmer/Rancher (If your backyard plot is large enough to produce a surplus you'll want to avoid selling veggies, eggs or fish to wholesalers or stores because, again, there's a bigger profit margin selling directly to consumers.)

Ahem! Getting back to Mr. Brodrick's book…

Sean devotes an entire chapter to a long and impassioned justification of owning and possessing gold & silver (mainly as coins because they're more fungible) and alternative currencies particularly the Australian, New Zealand and Canadian Dollars (in that order) particularly if you plan to flee to one of those countries in a crisis. (I'd emphasize having the money in an account in one of that country's banks in that country.)

He reprints one of the better "First 100 Things to Disappear in a National Emergency/Crisis/Power Outage" lists from the Internet. Here's one of them, but I notice that despite the large number of items on the list that require a flame to get started matches aren't listed. If things deteriorated to the point that y'all needed even half of that stuff I'm willing to bet matches and cigarette lighters would be at the top of that list of first things disappearing.

Matches would be a great thing to stock up on because they're free for the taking – now. Yet with the success of the anti-smoking campaign sources of free matchbooks are drying up. Bowls and boxes of free matchbooks used to sit beside cash registers at nearly every restaurant and bar, now not so much.

I'm leaving the rest of Sean's financial advice out of this review because it's much to complicated to get into here and I don't feel qualified to critique his choices. Suffice to say he thinks your investments should be diversified and probably include Exchange Traded Funds (which I eschew), gold & silver coins.

In case you're interested my own investment preferences include the above mentioned gold & silver coins, dividend paying US utilities (politicians won't let thirsty/unwashed constituents freeze in the dark), Canadian oil, gas & pipeline companies plus a few others like 3M and Clorox. Hormel (makers of Spam) should do well in the coming hard times too.

(In the Notes section at the back of the book Sean lists many of the web sites from which he got his information. That list alone is worth the price of the book.)

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6th Texas Cavalry writes:

"Thanks Dave for your comments on "The Ultimate Suburban Survivalist Guide"...of particular interest was the "New Careers" section....and BTW it sounds like your closets resemble ours....plenty of clothes/plenty of shoes, not to mention hats/coats/scarves/gloves ect

Several "Careers for a Brave New World" come to mind for me:

Small engine mechanic...as gas becomes expensive or scarce folks will switch to motorcycles/ATVs for transport....a mechanic that can keep small engines running should have lots of work.

12 Volt electrician....a person that can hook a solar panel to a 12 volt car battery then use that battery to run a LED lighting system will be in demand...not to mention hooking a car alternator to a water wheel to charge a 12 volt jump pack...or charge up a tray of rechargable flashlight batteries....in a SHTF scenerio you don't want to run out of batteries....your life may depend on being able to shine a light on an intruder at night.

Diesel tractor owner/operator...it's much more efficient to plow up a garden with a tractor than with a spade...and unless you have draft animals, a tractor w/plow and disk harrow is necessary for small grain production...you can't till a 3 acre community wheat field with a shovel....most diesel tractors will run on home heating oil and there should be some of that around in people's furnace tanks.

Manure salesman....after the bags of commercial fertilizer run out down at the home improvement center who you gonna call?...me, I'm heading down to the local riding stable and buying a load rotted horse manure...or maybe over to the neighbor's pasture for some cow pies...any natural fertilizer that can boost food production will be in demand.

Woodcutter....since the beginning of time, woodcutters have always had work....whether for heat or cooking, people are eventually going to need wood...lots of people switched back to wood during the Depression...and it's already happening again in America... Google 'wood stoves' and you'll see what I mean.

Good luck to everybody,
6th Texas Cavalry
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Agent P writes:
My experience is this is very much an innate survival instinct in all of us.

I recall standing in an orderly line waiting to purchase bleacher seat tickets to the World Series back in 1968. Most of us has been sitting in line in a neat and orderly fashion all night long. The line stretched for blocks around the stadium parking lot.

Early in the morning the line broke and there was mad rush to the ticket window. Now it was just a crowd, but when tickets went on sale, people at the front of the mass got tickets. Those who were slow to respond lost out.

Its a dog eat dog competitive world out there. Chaos is very possible when law and order breaks down. And many of us need reminders that the law is nearby and ready to restore order if necessary. Without that, anything goes.
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