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Living Freedom by Claire Wolfe. Musings about personal freedom and finding it within ourselves.

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.

Archive for March, 2011

Claire Wolfe

Cheap vs frugal

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

I’m going to be busy the next couple of days and might not have much for you. So I thought I’d throw out a question — or rather, repeat a question thrown out some time ago at the Balancing Beauty and Bedlam blog (love that name): Cheap vs frugal? Which is which?

It’s an old question, but ever-relevant — and not just because so many freedomistas are also frugalistas, bent on getting value for their FRNs and avoiding messy money entanglements.

It’s relevant to me in part because I grew up around somebody who believed himself to be frugal but who was in fact not just cheap but the classic “penny wise and pound foolish” — a person obsessed with price who never developed the slightest concept of value. The financial and emotional repercussions of that mindset can still make my head spin.

I would almost make a general rule: Being frugal helps you be free; being cheap makes you a slave to your own small mind.

Anyhow, Beauty and Bedlam takes a look at some actions: frugal or cheap — and how do you tell the difference?

Claire Wolfe

Emergency water purification:
Which would YOU take?

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Okay, preparedness pals. Another question for you.

Digging through my emergency supplies for just the right water filtration/purification gear for my revamped bug-out bag, I discover I’ve been excessively paranoid about clean water over the years. I have on hand six different tools for water treatment. Some will stay here among my bug-in supplies, but two will go with the grab-n-go kit.

Six portable water treatment/filtration options

I’ve tested all these on tap water (including the undrinkable tap water down at the Desert Hermitage). I’ve been too paranoid to risk my health for the sake of experiment by applying any of these to mountain streams, mud puddles or stagnant ponds. Still, I know which ones I’m most inclined to put in the emergency kit.

But just asking: which of the six would you take if these six were your only choices? Pick one or two and tell the world why.

From left to right:

1. Coughlan’s Water Tablets. Cheap, small, ultra-portable. Not tasty.

2. Potable Aqua Plus two-step system. Does what the Coughlan’s does, then neutralizes the icky taste.

3. Seychelle Pure Water Straw with advanced filter. Technically, this probably does the best filtration job — capable of handling not only giardia and cryptosporidium but viruses. Light. Portable. But has only one filter, no backup. Amazon link.

4. Aquamira Frontier Pro. Functions as a water straw so you can drink from any source. Also screws onto various standard water bottles. Light. Portable. Has multiple filters. But the filters aren’t as good as on the two Seychelle products. Amazon link.

5. Seychelle stainless steel filtering sports bottle. Has carry strap and lanyard. Lets me start off with a supply of water. Has only the regular filter (no virus protection). Amazon sells one with the advanced filter, but polypropylene, not stainless steel.

6. SteriPen Classic. The one I trust the most. Also has the greatest capacity. Uses ultraviolet light to sterilize. (Requires water to be reasonably clear, but I’ll carry coffee filters in any case.) Requires batteries. Pricy lithium batteries, to boot. But inspires confidence. Amazon carries the whole line of SteriPens and accessories.

So which would YOU put into the bug-out bag? And guys … no fair suggesting some super-whiz-whacker water filter that’s not listed above. I ain’t buyin’ another filtering/purification doodad, and that’s that!

Claire Wolfe

Lessons from fury

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

The other day I mentioned in passing that “official” maps of the danger zones around Mt. St. Helens were so misleading that they probably got people killed.

Indeed, I’ve learned since that they did. In fact, almost everybody killed in the 1980 eruption was in an area that government agencies had officially designated as “safe” — despite evidence to the contrary.

My comment came in a post about tsunami preparedness and “official” maps that I’ve chosen not to trust. First off, I want to say that I think “official” map makers usually do their honest best. But at best there’s a lot of guesswork involved. And before the map makers ever get their hands on the information, there can be a hell of a lot of politics in the decision-making about what’s safe and unsafe.

St. Helens, though it blew 31 years ago, offers an object lesson.

I went looking for the map I remembered. It showed a “red zone” immediately around the mountain — evacuation of residents, no admittance except by special permit) and a “blue zone” that stretched farther out (no admittance for tourists, hunters, etc. but residents could remain). The boundaries were moved several times, but they were fixed on April 25, more than three weeks before the fatal blast, and were made official by Governor Dixy Lee Ray on April 30.

I had seen that map only once before — years ago — in a Time-Life book. Expecting to find 100 copies of it online, I was surprised to find not one after half an hour’s search. I finally found it in another book. I’ve scanned and reproduced it below.

The oddness of the boundaries would immediately have struck anybody watching the pre-eruption developments on St. Helens with a critical eye. The “red zone” is strangely attenuated, hugging the mountain’s base on the northwest side. The “blue zone” is even stranger. It’s absolutely bassackwards. It stretches hugely toward the south and east and literally doesn’t exist on the northwest.

Yet where was the 400-foot bulge developing on St. Helens? The north side. And where did the famous 1978 report that first called attention to St. Helens say the worst damage from past eruptions had been? To the northwest.

And sure enough, the mountain, when it blew, aimed its worst straight into the zone “officially” defined as safe. The area of those oddly gerrymandered boundaries.

Mt. St. Helens map showing pre-eruption danger zones and actual effected areas

(Click to enlarge. Click again if you get only a thumbnail.)

The book where I re-found the map is an excellent, sometimes heartbreaking, 2005 retrospective on Mt. St. Helens by Frank Parchman. It’s called Echoes of Fury, and it traces the activities of survivors, scientists, a journalist, and a St. Helens trespasser from the days before the eruption through years afterward.

It also discloses why the map went straight from “danger!” to “safety” so abruptly on the most dangerous side.

The land there belonged to Weyerhaeuser, which lobbied hard against having its property declared off-limits. For reasons that may be in the eye of the beholder — politics, property rights, refusal to understand the danger, or sheer carelessness — government agencies obliged.

The “red zone” and “blue zone” boundaries were set by Washington state Department of Emergency Services bureaucrats and made official by Governor Ray after a series of U.S. Forest Service meetings. Both government and corporate interests participated in the discussions. We know that the north and northwest boundaries followed Weyerhaeuser property lines. We know that, in setting the boundaries, state officials ignored a threat assessment made by one of the authors of the 1978 report. But nobody will ever know exactly how the decision was made — because every record of those meetings disappeared within two days after the eruption. The Forest Service official in charge even denied records had ever been kept.

Nearly everybody who died in the St. Helens blast was on that “safe” Weyerhaeuser land.

I hesitate to fault Weyerhaeuser (though Parchman does, and vigorously) because I know the company and think pretty highly of it. In early 1980, nobody really knew how bad the danger was (a lateral blast, which ended up killing most victims, was possible and explicitly mentioned in the threat assessment, but it wasn’t predictable). And what company would want to lose millions of dollars on what might turn out to be a mere scare? And too, neither the state nor federal governments had any defined authority to shut off Weyerhaeuser lands.* Yes, in retrospect, Weyerhaeuser itself should have closed its roads to the public for the duration and posted about the dangers. The company should have been more upfront with its loggers, should have offered them the option to stay out of the area or receive hazardous-duty pay for working within it.

Still. Whether the land was open or closed, and no matter who owned it, government agencies claimed the responsibility, and had the ability, to warn that the greatest danger lay to the north and northwest. Instead, the state of Washington, with the compliance of several federal agencies, deliberately led the public to believe that area was “safe.” They left the roads open, posted no warnings, and … well, I’ll turn to Parchman for the insults that were added to the injuries.

Parchman tells a lot of sad, terrifying, and inspiring stories (and even some funny ones) in his book. But a few give a special glimpse into the cynical contempt of governments toward mere citizens:

  • Within two days of the eruption, both Washington governor Dixy Lee Ray and President Jimmy Carter had blamed the deaths on the victims: Both politicians said that’s what people could expect if they failed to heed warnings and were stupid enough to go into the danger zone. (Remember, virtually none of the victims were in the “official” danger zone. Of the three who died in the “red zone,” two were geologists, authorized to be there, and one, Harry Truman, was ironically not criticized for being foolish, but elevated to folk hero status and even got a song written about him.)
  • Long after the eruption, major publications continued to publish erroneous information, blaming the victims for being where they were. Books were published and are still on library shelves claiming that most of the dead not only disregarded vigorous government warnings but sneaked around barricades to put themselves and their children in danger. Clear into the 21st century families of the victims continued to have to fight for their loved ones’ reputations.
  • And why the persistent belief that the victims caused their own deaths? Because, both before and after the eruption, multiple government agencies repeatedly told the media that the red and blue danger zones completely encircled the mountain on all sides. “Twenty-mile red zone” encircling the mountain was the standard phrase. It was a lie. A Big Lie that officials went on telling for years.
  • Turns out the map I’ve remembered that showed the actual red and blue zones wasn’t published until after the fact. Those who could have analyzed the real boundaries (rather than the government’s deception) with skeptical or expert eyes — people who could have taken one look and sounded the warning — never got a chance to. Naturally millions went on assuming that the government had drawn a vast circle around the mountain, said, “Stay out!” and only fools rushed in.
  • The saddest fools, unfortunately, were those who trusted the government. Parchman relates one account of a family of four — parents and young children — merrily making their way on a weekend trip to St. Helens. Along the way, they chatted about how they really hoped to see the volcano erupt. When the children asked if it might be dangerous, the parents said oh no, they were only staying in the safe zone, not to worry. We know about this conversation because it was recorded on a cassette tape found in the car with their four dead bodies.
  • A filmmaking crew went into the blast zone a few days after the eruption. They got lost in the wasteland of ash. A sheriff’s deputy in a department helicopter spotted them. The chopper descended. The deputy stepped out. He gave them a citation for being in the “red zone.” Then he refused to give any help to find their way — and flew off. The filmmakers thought they were going to die. Fortunately, they were rescued two days later. And no, they were not in the “red zone” at all.

There were, of course, heroic efforts by both government and private rescuers. Helicopter pilots risked their lives. Sheriff’s deputies worked exhausting hours. Log truck drivers led lost motorists out of danger. Before and after the eruption, government scientists risked their lives (and some died) to study the volcano. But government-qua-government — government in its “official” bureaucratic and law-enforcement capacity — was a bitch. A heartless bitch with an utterly cynical attitude toward ordinary people — willing to let them die while washing its own filthy hands of any guilt. There’s no reason to expect anything better in a future disaster.

One more of the sad stories from Parchman’s book has nothing to do with government but has to do with the way preparedness plans can go fatally awry. Long after the eruption, a woman who had gone to the mountain with friends looking for the site of her brother’s death stumbled upon an extensive field of wrecked vehicles and machinery that had nothing to do with him — a truck ripped into four pieces, logging equipment mangled and tossed downhill. She connected with a logging contractor who had been searching for two of his workers. The equipment was his, the quartered truck theirs. When they all went back to the site together he ruefully told the woman they’d been aware of the danger. But they weren’t too worried because they had a plan. He pointed to one of the mangled machines and told her that if the mountain erupted, they’d planned to get “under there.”

Good book. I highly recommend it.


* “Private” forest roads are partly financed by the federal government, which requires timber companies to keep them open to the public (with certain restrictions) but also absolves the companies from legal liability for recreational use. In a freer country, all those “interests” who contributed to setting the zone boundaries might have left Weyerhaeuser lands open, but held the company responsible if it allowed the public into an area known to be dangerous; that option wasn’t available. But in any case nothing — but politics or neglect — could ever have stopped the government agencies in charge from designating those lands as a danger zone and publishing advisories.

Claire Wolfe

Monday morning data dump

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Stuff I’ve been saving up …

  • Thomas Jefferson’s bible. I used to have a copy of that. Might still be in the bookcase of my ex-Significant Sweetie.
  • Mmmmm. Pickled carrots. Another of my favorite things, but usually too expensive to buy at a store. Must try that recipe.
  • A so-far neglected discussion thread started by Rarick over at The Mental Militia forums has some definitely odd links “for the bored prepper.” Or non prepper. Definitely for gearheads. This one is supposed to repel dogs. But I think at least one of mine would think it was a dandy playtoy. And this one? Urk! But if you’re recently divorced and have money to spare, it might be for you.
  • Been meaning to blog the latest from the Gunowners’ Friend Chuckie Schumer. But Oliver beat me to it.
  • Still, it’s fun thinking how much stuff like this must upset poor, petulant little Chuckie.
  • And speaking of authoritarians … Geraldine Ferraro bites the dust. The MSM wants us to remember her for two related things: being a pioneering woman in politics and being the first woman ever to get an electoral college vote. The latter claim — even though it appears in some textbooks — ain’t so. That honor (if such it is) belongs to Libertarian Party VP candidate Tonie Nathan, a full 12 years before Ferraro’s run. My memory of Ferraro is something different. While listening to her giving her acceptance speech I realized the Dem party had moved away from its last vestiges of classic liberality. She was a plain old law-n-order control freaking authoritarian (the lawnorder part occurs in the last minute, and listen to the crowd roar in approval). Philosophical auntie to HRH Hillary. And the party ate it up — and still does.
  • Just in case you need even more news about how your cellphone might be tracking you. (NY Times free subscription link.)
  • Signs say cops keep out. Bit complicated, though.
  • The Honey Comb. Extremely cool personal grooming-and-security product. (Tip o’ hat to T.)

Claire Wolfe

Garage sales shall provide

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not exactly an optimist or a believer in positive thinking. But there is one area of my life where all I have to do is set something in my mind and I can be amazingly sure that serendipity will provide. I’m talking about garage sales.

I cannot believe the number of times I’ve fixed some item in my brain only to have it turn up at a garage sale within a few weeks — even if it’s an item I’ve never seen at a garage sale before. Really tough items might take six months or more. But If I need something and need to get it inexpensively … there it’ll be.

Case in point. This week I was working on my grab-n-go kit, and several people had made suggestions I wouldn’t otherwise have considered. Friday I spotted a SALE! sign, followed it and got:

Bug-out bag items from a garage sale

  • Wool blanket — $0.25
  • Rain suit — $0.50
  • Six bicycle hooks — $0.50 (for hanging the kit for earthquake stability)
  • Bag of candles — $0.50 (mostly for home prep, but some for the kit)
  • Rolling cart — $2.00 (not as good as the golf push-cart that was suggested; but hey, two bucks, and it’ll do to strap all my stuff together and make it mobile until some fabulous yuppie backpack turns up)
  • 14 assorted bungee cords — $1.00
  • Knee pads — $1.00 (not for the Bug-out bag, but I’ve wanted a set for household construction work)

I also scored this old sewing machine for $10, complete with all original accessories and case.

Vintage Pfaff sewing machine from garage sale

If you hunt garage sales you know that old sewing machines are plentiful and hard to move. Nobody’s much interested in them these days unless they’re really new, full-featured and dirt cheap. Or maybe antique, beautifully decorated Singers or something else with collector value. Even those often go for shamefully low prices. (I passed up a mint-condition beauty, complete with cabinet, for $75 a few months ago; had it been a treadle type I’d have bought it.)

But this is a Pfaff. And in my NSHO (that is, the opinion of somebody who rarely sews these days but who used to design and make all her own clothes), old metal Pfaffs and Whites (yes, made by the same people who built the big trucks, later made by Huskvarna) are the best electric sewing machines ever. (Here’s an eBay seller trying to get $300 for one, not in as good a condition or as complete as mine. Not likely to get anywhere near that.)

I brought it home, gave it a drink of oil, plugged it in, hit the foot control, and it purred like a satisfied tiger. Take a look inside. Is that a beautiful machine, or what? I think you can safely say, “They don’t make ’em like that any more.”

Old Pfaff sewing machine with top off -- 2

Old Pfaff sewing machine with top off

Claire Wolfe

A different view on pink guns

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Though I groused about pink guns yesterday, Joel — who disagrees — has a point.

In fact, his view of guns as (gasp) fashion accessories in some less hoplophobic and less legislated future evoked an image of the cheerfully armed denizens of L. Neil Smith’s North American Confederacy. Now, I can easily see the ladies of The Probability Broach wearing sidearms in pink or purple or paisley or anything else they wanted. Very large, very scary-looking girly guns, but nevertheless, girly. (WolfSong makes a point about the virtue of girly guns, too.)

Still, in this world I’m not yet ready to change my mind. It’s not the pink guns I object to. Or glittery guns. Or guns with Hello Kitty emblems on them. As commentors pointed out, in a sense “girly guns” are no different than guy guns with fancy engraving or staghorn grips. And they’re definitely not as gross as these. Or these. Of course, people ought to be able to decorate their guns to their tastes, however good or bad anybody else might judge them.

It’s the marketing to women as if we were all brainless bimbos that bothers me. In that sense, pushing pink guns at us is a definite step up from the days when marketers expected us to believe our friends would sneer at us because our dishwashers left spots on our stemware. Or that only the right toothpaste could give us sex appeal. And a woman without either “sex appeal” or a good shirtwaist dress, pearl necklace, and high-heeled shoes to do her vacuuming and cooking in was a woman whose existence had no point.

Yes, it’s a step up from all that. But not big step. Not really.

Claire Wolfe

An actually useful use for “Color”

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

The ‘Net’s been abuzz the last few days over a new iPhone and Android app named Color. Mostly, people have been asking why some of the nation’s hottest venture capitalists would already have dropped $41 million into an app whose only purpose is the random sharing of photos with people who also have the app and happen to be taking pictures nearby. (This article says within 100 feet; I think it’s actually 150.) The thing is reportedly a bit clunky to use, too.

It works like this (from what I’ve read and seen so far; correct me if I’m wrong). If you’re within the specified distance of another photographer — anybody — complete stranger — and you both have Color and take pictures, they’re shared. (I’m not clear on whether photos are shared only among those who are actively taking photos, or whether anybody who has Color will receive the photos of others, whether taking his own pix or not.) My first thought was that the major investment in such a pointless (and potentially dangerous) app is a sure sign that the 2011 version of the bubble is about to pop. And maybe it is.

But aside from the possibilities for drunken partiers, industrial spies, and performance artists, I just realized there’s a brilliant possibility for Color, albeit probably not one that will make its backers the money they’re aiming for.

Where are dozens of people likely to be taking photos at the same time? Yeah, you got it. Someplace where police have decided to kick the cr*p out of some poor sucker or do something else violent and/or illegal. If Color catches on, their old trick of confiscating cameras and erasing the images won’t do them as much good. Because somebody at the edge of the crowd will have photos from the confiscated devices and will dash away with the evidence.

Now … if Color could do video instead of mere stills … OTOH, the effect of multiple people snapping stills at once could be as effective as video in showing what happened. Velly intellesting …

Claire Wolfe

Bug-out backpack recommendations, vacuum sealers

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

In the comments section on bug-out bag contents, several posters insisted that a backpack — not a suitcase or a rolling cart or a plastic tub — was absolutely essential equipment. While I’m not 1000 percent persuaded that absolutely everybody must have a backpack (and I don’t think anybody should allow lack of a backpack to stop them from assembling a kit), I can definitely see the point.

Commenter Adam Selene posed a question: “For those of you who advocate for backpacks, can you suggest any actual brands and models?”

I think it’s worth bringing that question up more visibly. And if you have a recommendation I’ll add: WHY would you choose that particular backpack? Price? Features? Capacity? Suitability for particular weather or terrain conditions? Suitability for use by people of different abilities or physiques? Make your best case for the backpack of your choice.


In that same comment section, Woody noted, “My first aid kit, clothing, blanket and other items that I’d like to remain dry are vacuum packed in food storage bags, using my kitchen vacuum packer. This keeps them dry and also compresses them to save space.”

I thought that was a brilliant solution both for dryness and compression. But those vacuum sealers are expensive! I was beginning to wonder whose I might be able to borrow when a local friend who read that comment emailed to say that her husband was so taken with the idea that he was headed out to buy a sealer — and I was welcome to use it. Is that cool, or what?

My friend and her family plan to use theirs to create “homemade MREs,” also. They live seriously in the local tsunami zone — in a spot considerably more troubling than mine — and like a lot of others after the quake in Japan, they’re taking a renewed and more serious look at their preps.

Claire Wolfe

The trouble with advice, pink guns, thank you, and other stuff

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

The trouble with advice

… is that when you ask for it, people give it! I mean, that’s the good thing about advice, too. But it goes both ways. On Tuesday when I asked for tips on what to add to my reconstituted grab-and-go kit (which sounds so much more respectable than a bug-out bag), you were your usual generous and informative selves.

You helped me and potentially helped hundreds or thousands of strangers who might google upon that blog entry one day.

Of course, you also twisted my brain into a pretzel and will probably scare the heck out of some newbie looking for simple ideas for an emergency kit. And that’s the tougher part of getting advice. Everybody has ideas, some of which conflict, some of which are great for thee but not for me (because of circumstances, budget, skills, etc.), and some of which might be just plain nutz.

I think most people here have enough experience and savvy to glom onto the most workable suggestions and filter out those that would work less well for them — and enough savvy to know the most important thing: YOU BEGIN WITH WHAT YOU HAVE.

As with every other form of preparedness, it would be easy to become daunted by the project of putting together an absolutely ideal emergency kit. A person could easily spend hundreds — maybe thousands — of dollars and who knows how much time putting together the Super-Duper Killer Guaranteed-Perfect Escape-and-Evasion Tsunami Hurricane Forest Fire Etc. Etc. Kit. A person could just as easily panic at the prospect of not being able to achieve perfection — and end up with no kit at all.

If all you’ve got is your daughter’s Hello Kitty backpack from the first grade, a couple bottles of water, and a box of granola bars … start there.

One of my favorite snippets of advice (among the many)

… came from naturegirl who wrote:

Above all, anyone who has to bug out of their comfort zone: accept that you will be miserable, uncomfortable, and will undoubtedly forget to bring something very important…as soon as you decide not to whine, then have a good cry-scared as hell session & get all that over with, the determination and survival (and sometimes even finding humor) modes can kick in…..The main thing everyone needs in their bug out bag is the right attitude (and knowledge)….

Yeah. Even you guys with the Super-Whiz-Whacker Bug-Out Kits. But naturegirl’s remark was a good reality check for me, too. Made me realize that I’m too focused on providing a level of comfort that isn’t in the cards no matter what I do.

I also appreciated Ellendra’s comment, “And, in the aftermath, remember that there will be those of us hoping and praying for your safety and well-being the entire time!”

Good advice and good hopes and prayers. Couldn’t ask for more. (Except, of course, for a complete lack of disasters. But …)

I know this will offend a certain blog lurker who considers every generality to be an Evil Stereotype, but I couldn’t help but notice that guy advice for a bug-out focuses on gear, while several of the women who spoke up addressed more abstract, emotional aspects of a run-for-the-hills emergency.

Hello Kitty backpacks and female stereotypes brings me to an unrelated topic:

Pink guns

Pink Freaking Guns. Now, I have an acquaintance who has a hot pink rifle, but everybody involved in the project knew it was a joke. And I’ve seen discreetly lavender handguns, which were actually somewhat attractive — though nobody I know would buy one.

But apparently, as more women buy firearms (yay!) there’s really, truly a marketing push for pink guns (boo!).

Well, I say boo, but at the very moment P.T. was sending me the link to that pink guns article, I was online reading another article about a pink gun in the right hands blowing a bad guy to smithereens. Though I feel compelled to add that the pink-gun owning couple appear to be a pair of ostentatious morons, they did rid the world of one criminal nuisance.

Still. I Do. Not. Get. The whole women-and-pink thing — in guns or anything else. I am of the “I am woman, hear me roar” vintage. Tough. Independent. You know, with shoulder pads and Attitude. And while I’m glad to see that feminism has softened and we can all strive for equality without pretending we’re the same, I still remember when women … well, outgrew being all pink and lacy and perpetually babylike. Twenty years or so ago, some tool company got the bright idea of marketing a pink toolkit “just for us girls,” and the product rapidly disappeared in a cloud of insult.

The pink-ribbon breast cancer orgy that recently seems to last half the year (and mark half the products in stores) grosses me out. A friend talked me into going to one of those “pink” events, where I got a pink bag and a pink pen and a pink notepad and blushed pink from the embarrassment of participating in such pink-bubblegum goo. (And I wonder how men would feel if half the world was covered in nursery-blue ribbons for prostate cancer. Hey, equal time, baby.)

Now. Pink FIREARMS. No. I Do. Not. Get. It.

But then, I like things to look like what they are, and guns are machines. The more they look like machines, the better.

If women are looking for the right guns for their needs, I’d rather they took advice from that tough cookie Miss Fitz rather than Cosmopolitan

Thank you

Finally, thank you to the Mystery Somebody who arranged for a copy of Larken Rose’s book The Most Dangerous Superstition to show up in my mailbox yesterday. Larken Rose is a good writer, an incisive and insightful thinker, and a man with guts. I’ve just started the book and will probably have more to say about it later.

You can read more about The Most Dangerous Superstition or buy the book via my Amazon link or the author’s website. (Actually, Rose also sells the book via Amazon, so if you use the Amazon link then choose him as your seller, you do us both a good deed. But the price is lower on his site.)

I like one Amazon customer’s headline for his/her review: “‘Government’ is a secular faith-based religious belief based upon fraud, misrepresentation and concealment.” Pretty much describes Rose’s thesis right there.

Claire Wolfe

Rethinking a bug-out bag

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Yesterday I wrote about why I’m re-creating my bug-out bag. it needs to be renewed for a scenario I’ve never faced before.

Today I promised I’d list the “ingredients” in the bag and welcome your suggestions. You’ve already made some good ones in the comments to yesterday’s blog.

While putting together the new kit, I poked around online to refine my ideas. One thing that struck me immediately is that there is no “right” bug-out bag or grab-and-go kit. Some are geared toward hardcore outdoor survival. Others seem more geared to getting you adjusted to conditions in a shelter. Yet other recommendations focus on food, special medical needs, or car kits.

I even visited a couple of government sites where (mind-bogglingly) the only items recommended for a grab-and-go kit were … government papers secured in plastic. You might starve or die of thirst or exposure, but by golly, when somebody finally happens upon your moldering carcass, they’ll know your birthdate, your social security number, and what property you owned. (Granted, some of those sites did offer useful thoughts.)

Anyway, the bottom line is that every kit should be designed for local conditions and individual needs. Mine is for a quick escape, short distance, in wet weather, with the focus on an earthquake and locally generated tsunami. So here goes. Tell me what’s missing and where you think I’ve gone wrong. (I’m still trying to decide how much “official paperwork” I need to tote.)


By catetory:


* One gallon in an insulated container with shoulder strap
* Water purifier + extra batteries
I’m not bringing extra water for the dogs because there’s always water in the woods for them to drink, and in any case, I can’t carry more than this.


* 2 pounds raw, unsalted nuts (almonds and sunflower seeds)
* 1 pound mixed dried fruits
* 14 MRE entrees
* Utensils
* 1 box of peanut brittle
* Tea bags
* Stevia packets for sweetening tea
* Small metal pan/cup for drinking tea
* Emergency stove
The stove is only for heating water. I’m not bringing any foods that require cooking

Shelter/warmth/weather protection

* 8×10 white poly tarp (the most waterproof I could find)
* 50-feet of nylon cord (for rigging tarp into a tent and misc. purposes)
* Ground pad
* Sleeping bag (though after reading some comments I may swap this for a wool blanket)
* Reflective mylar emergency blanket
* Plastic rain poncho
* Four large plastic bags
* 3 18-hour handwarmers

* Hooded waterproof rain jacket
* Mittens
* Earmuffs
* Sweat pants
* Turtleneck
* Tee shirt
* Underwear
* Long underwear
* Baseball cap
* 2 pairs of wool sox
* 1 pair of spandex sox (to wear under wool for reflecting warmth)

Dog items

* Several days worth of regular dog food for the younger dogs
* Several days worth of “mature” dog food for my oldest
* Leashes


* LED headlamp
* 2 cellphones (these are actually in my everyday fannypack, which I’ll also grab)
* Cellphone charger
* Super-duper floating emergency radio/light/flasher/siren with multiple radio bands and multiple power options
* Extra batteries for radio
* 2 “snaplight” light sticks

Comfort items

* Paper towels
* Toilet paper
* Baby wipes
* Small bottle of alcohol hand sanitizer
* Travel toothbrush and toothpaste
* Bag of airline-sized toiletries
* Spare eyeglasses

First aid

* Band-aids
* Gauze and tape
* Triple antibiotic ointment
* Insect repellant
* Anti-itch cream
* Pain meds
* Muscle relaxants
* Anti-diarrhea med
* Pink bismuth
* Tissues


*USB flash drive with 1) data backup, 2) scans of vital documents
I’ll take my computer if I think I can, but in a “head for hills on foot” scenario, it might be too much.

Misc. items

* Whistle with lanyard
* Compass
* Map
* Matches in waterproof case
* Firestarters
* Rubber gloves
* Work gloves
* Three-bladed survival knife
* Multi-bladed pocket knife
* Firearm
* Extra ammo
* $20

And that’s it so far for my kit. I’m not done yet. A few of the above items must still be gathered or purchased. And I seem to get a new idea for something to add several times a day.

Oh yeah, and although I realize that most people like to pack their kits into backpacks (though some prefer large plastic tubs for the going-to-the-shelter scenario), mine is all going into — or being strapped onto — a large wheeled suitcase with a handle. My rationale for this is 1) the only backpacks I own are too small, 2) I don’t expect to go too far, and 3) the suitcase holds a lot and can be wheeled, dragged through the woods, or carried, as need be. Not ideal perhaps — but then neither would it be ideal to invest serious money in a backpack that would end up being too large and heavy for me.

Here’s more on BOBs and general preparedness courtesy of EN and courtesy of DrillSgtK.

Claire Wolfe

Monday miscellany

Monday, March 21st, 2011
Claire Wolfe

Rethinking a bug-out

Monday, March 21st, 2011

I spent most of this weekend updating my emergency preparations, with an eye especially to earthquake and tsunami preparedness.

Like most of you, I’ve always had a bug-out bag — a grab-and-go kit — around the house. But I realized as I worked yesterday that I never took those kits completely seriously. Thing is, I didn’t believe I’d need to bug out. Until now, I’ve mostly lived in the sort of places other people would bug out to.

Cabin Sweet Cabin was high on a hill outside of a small town (and was probably the most earthquake-safe structure in the whole county). The Desert Hermitage was a mile up and way to hell and gone away from everything. Sure there were conceivable scenarios in which I’d have to grab that kit and go (a forest fire near the cabin, for instance). But the vast majority of possibilities involved “bugging in.” The few scenarios that had me leaving home usually involved such a localized danger that there would be shelter and help readily available nearby.

Now … different story. And the more I explore both the geology and the topography of this new place I’m living, the greater the dangers appear.

The quake-generating possibilities of the Cascadia subduction zone, which stretches from northern California into British Columbia, were mostly unexplored until the last few decades. The scientific consensus was that quakes in this region would never exceed about 7.5 on the Richter scale — fearsome and dangerous, but not true geological monsters. Only in the 1980s did scientists begin to grasp what the collision of the Juan de Fuca and North American plates could generate. Now they realize that while Cascadia’s big quakes are few and far between, they’re behemoths when they hit — sinking coastal lands by up to six feet and generating unimaginable tsunamis. When scientists began to piece together the geological record, they found that the last monster was in 1700.

As ML said in a recent comments section: the best way to avoid the danger is by not living here. But here I am. And here are a lot of other people, too, for a lot of reasons. (If you could name one utterly safe spot in the world — which you can’t — it would probably be an aesthetic hellhole without rivers, lakes, forests, or any of the other things that make life enjoyable.) No doubt about it, though. Moving here wasn’t a safe choice.

“Official” maps say my house is close to (very close to), but not actually in a tsunami zone. I ask myself: “What the heck do ‘official’ map makers know about it?”

I remember the “official” maps of the expected danger zone published before the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. Those maps probably got people killed; the real path of destruction didn’t resemble the ‘official’ projections. And tsunamis? Heck, those maps are made by bureaucrats sitting safely uphill and inland. The makers appear to be considering only elevation. Are they accounting for potential land subsidence which would abruptly change elevations? Are they accounting for the peculiar hydraulics of tsunamis — the way one wave piles on another in narrow valleys or at the end of channels far from the sea? I think not. I think emergency management officials are doing the best they can. I’m glad I don’t have their job. I’m glad I don’t have to try to prepare other people for disasters or be an official first responder. But those map makers are purely guessing based on one 300-years-ago experience, and they’re not betting their lives on those maps.

So yesterday I took my old kit completely apart and began rebuilding it with a particular scenario in mind: It’s the middle of a rainy winter night. The world starts shaking in a way that only a nearby subduction-zone earthquake can produce. When the shaking stops (assuming the house hasn’t fallen down on me and the dogs, which knock wood it won’t have), I’ve got less than 20 minutes — if that — to get the dogs and me into the nearby hills before a tsunami rampages up the channel from the coast.

There’s no time to dress. I put on the socks and shoes waiting beside the bed (hoping I don’t have to hunt for them if they’ve slid around the room), strap my fanny pack on over my nightgown, throw on a coat, and grab the kit (which is next to the bedroom door, assuming it, too, hasn’t gone sliding; maybe I should strap it down). I throw the door open and let the dogs out off leash.

I dash for the hills on foot, hoping the dogs stay with me. They may not. But in any case, leaving them off leash gives them the best chance of getting into the hills quickly, no matter what happens to me.

I’m not sure what the neighbors will be doing at this point. Some may stunned into inaction. Some may be gathering supplies and trying to calm children. Some may be injured. Some may not be aware there’s tsunami danger this far inland. But because I have to assume that some will be headed for their vehicles to drive to high ground and the streets will be clogged with craziness, we stay on foot and go up an alley and through unfenced yards. Within a block, we’re climbing a muddy, forested slope. I’m wearing the headlamp that hung from the outside of the kit. We scramble up the slope until we’re about 25-feet above my street level. From there, we cross another yard and continue upwards by a paved dead-end road.

Should any part of this route be impassible, I have a Plan B that adds about two blocks to the trek. Fortunately, there are hills in several directions. I am definitely not heading for any of the officially mapped “assembly areas.” That way lies madness, too much traffic, and too many unprepared people.

Of course a thousand things could go wrong with this plan. I could be dead or too seriously injured to use the kit. I could be freaked out by the magnitude of the earthquake. We could be trapped in the house. The streets could be impassible because of subsidence, liquifaction, broken sewer or water lines, downed power lines, or rubble. I could get preoccupied trying to help an injured dog or neighbor. Who knows? That’s why they call these things disasters. Plan C, if I can’t get out of the house, is to get me and the dogs upstairs, where there are ample “bug-in” supplies.

But anyhow, that’s the scenario for which I rebuilt (or rather, am rebuilding) my grab-and-go kit. It’s a situation where, in addition to the standard water-food-shelter triad, I’ll need supplies for keeping warm and dry and for taking care of the dogs, assuming we all end up on a hill together. I’ll never need to get terribly far from civilization — just get above it.

Here’s the chaos of my living room as I worked on the updated kit:

Tomorrow I’ll list the “ingredients” of the kit (so far) and tell why I made some of the choices. I’ll be glad to have reality checks and advice on items to add.

The one big concern that looms after I’ve done all I can is this: Every large local building that could otherwise function as a shelter (schools, churches, lodge halls) is in the tsunami zone and on really bad soil that’s likely to liquify in a monster quake.

The roads into this area are are also prone to landslides, which would slow down any rescue efforts — as would the fact that the population is so low here that basically nobody from the outside is going to give a damn about us if people in more populated areas get hit, too.

Assuming we make it into the hills okay, we’re likely to be up there a while if there was major destruction at home. We might be able to stay in or around some hilltop home or garage once things settle down, but we’ll have to provide our own supplies.

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