Tuesday, 11 April 2017

10:32 – It was 50.8F (10.5C) when I took Colin out at 0700 this morning, sunny and bright. By the time Lori showed up with our mail around 0915, it was 68F (20C). Ray of Ray’s Weather said yesterday he’d put away his snow meter for the year because we’re unlikely to see any more snow. But we’re still likely to see one or more freezes/frosts between now and mid- to late-May.

Lori had only two packages for us, both from Amazon, one the ARRL General Class license manual and the other a pack of five 7-gallon planting bags. Our lettuce is already sprouting gangbusters in the small starting pots, so we’ll probably use at least one of the bags for lettuce. I think we planted too much lettuce, especially since we don’t have any rabbits to feed it to.

We’re near finishing up several series we’ve been watching on Netflix and Amazon streaming, including a British series called Escape to the Country. In each episode, the presenter meets a couple who want to relocate to a rural area. The presenter shows them three houses.

I said to Barbara last night that nearly all of the couples are likable and remind me of us. They’re looking for the same thing we were looking for: to get away from big city rat race (or “rat run” as the Brits apparently call it) and live in a rural area. Most of them want to have a big garden. (Again, what Americans call having a green thumb in Britain is apparently called having green fingers. I think they do it just to annoy us…)

Another thing that struck us is the high prices of homes and particularly land in Britain. I suppose that makes sense, given their much higher population density. A nice home that might cost $200,000 in a rural area in the US often costs two, three, or even four times that in the UK, depending on how close it is to London or another large city. The buyers often say they want quite a bit of land with the home, but the homes they’re shown often include half an acre or less, what in the US would be considered a typical suburban residential plot. In the 20 or so episodes we’ve watched, only a handful of the properties they’ve shown have included even one full acre.

And detached homes are apparently pretty rare. A high percentage of the homes they show are semi-detached, which in the US would be called duplexes, and are pretty rare even in cities, let alone rural areas. And the Brits apparently have a lot more words and arrangements for sanitary facilities than we Americans do. In the US, a half-bath includes a toilet and sink, and a full bath includes those plus a shower and/or bathtub. In Britain, there are many different arrangements, including shower rooms that include only a shower, shower  rooms that include a shower and sink, bathrooms that include only a bathtub, and toilets that include only a toilet and no sink, which strikes Americans as bizarre. Where do you wash your hands after using the toilet?

At any rate, we’ve enjoyed the series. There are only 25 episodes on Netflix, out of (IIRC) something like 750 episodes that the BBC has broadcast over the last several years.


I read a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction. Most of it uses any of several recurring memes, all of which make for a good (and easy-to-write) story, but none of which are particularly realistic. Here, in no particular order, are several of those memes:


There is no such thing as a zombie. Enough said. Serious preppers may tell you they’re preparing for a Zombie Apocalypse, but they aren’t serious. That’s just shorthand for preparing for any eventuality.

Walking Home

The protagonist of these stories is often stranded hundreds or even thousands of miles from home and loved ones, and proceeds to walk home. He or they have many violent encounters, but always come through pretty much unscathed. Using just what they have in their (usually outrageously heavy) backpacks, they make it home after weeks or even months of walking, conveniently finding everything they need to make the trip.

Some of these treks are more realistic than others, notably Franklin Horton’s Borrowed World series and Angery American’s Home series, but ultimately all of them are fantasies. The reality is that if the S really HTF and you find yourself more than two or three days’ walk away from home, you’re not going to make it unless you start that trek before the majority of people realize what’s happened.

For example, if I were writing such a scenario and had Barbara stranded down in Winston-Salem, 60 miles or so from home, I’m not going to have her walk home. She’s in excellent shape for a woman her age, but even so it’s just not practical. Instead, I’d have her walk some and hitch rides when possible. Her trip back home won’t take weeks, let alone months. Instead, she’ll leave the moment the Event occurs and arrive back home in a day, if not later the same day. Better yet, she’d just drive home, making the normal 1.5 hour trip in, oh, 1.5 hours.

Destruction of Electronics

The two best-known books based on this meme are David Crawford’s Lights Out and William R. Forstchen’s One Second After. Both are better-written than average for this genre. The problem is, their scenario is very unlikely. There are two mechanisms for such an event:

o a Carrington-class solar storm (coronal mass ejection), which would damage long transmission lines, transformers, and any AC equipment that was connected, but not unconnected electronics, such as automobiles, cell phones, pacemakers, etc. etc. The aftermath would be hideously bad, but would not destroy all electronics, let alone electric motors and so on. Note that a CME is predictable, and that the world would have probably several days’ warning to take measures to minimize damage.

o a high-altitude nuclear electromagnetic pulse (HEMP or just EMP) event would have extremely severe consequences, but the extent and level of severity are unknowable, simply because it’s never happened. There are simply so many variables that making even a rough prediction is impossible. It’s safe to bet that a major EMP event would do incredible damage to our electric power grid and any electric/electronic devices connected to it, as well as many unconnected devices such as cell phones and other portable electronics. As to vehicles, the common meme is that all of them would be damaged beyond usability with the exception of diesels and elderly gasoline vehicles, those made in 1980 or before, which use carburetors and distributors rather than fuel-injection. In reality, modern diesels would actually be as much (or as little) affected as modern gasoline engines. My guess is that a significant percentage of EFI gasoline engines would be unaffected, other than perhaps requiring the battery to be disconnected and then reconnected to cause the vehicle computer(s) to reboot. Those vehicle computers are generally very well protected, in what amounts to Faraday cages.

Rawles’ Golden Hordes

In his books, Rawles was one of the first authors other than Pournelle and Niven to predict ravening hordes of refugees flowing out of the cities and into rural areas, where they’d overwhelm the locals. That’s possible, of course, depending on the type of disaster that occurs. In a financial collapse or similar widespread disaster, we’d probably see the converse: people migrating from rural areas to the large cities, because that’s where government disaster relief efforts would be concentrated. Rural areas would be the last to get any such relief efforts, if indeed they received any help at all.

Even in a worst-case scenario, such as terrorists setting off dirty bombs in large cities, mass migrations to rural areas are unlikely. Most ordinary people in the cities will wait too long before deciding to evacuate, by which time it will be impossible to do so. Look what less than an inch of snow did to Atlanta in 2014. Interstates literally turned into parking lots, even though the event had been forecast well in advance. A dirty bomb attack or similar event that occurred with no notice would clog highways even faster. Accidents, disabled vehicles, and all of the other things that happen in such circumstances would make roads impassable, starting with the interstates and other main highways, but quickly clogging even 2-lane roads.

What Rawles and others ignore is what I call the tenth-value distance. How many miles of road is sufficient to cut the number of people down to 10% of the original number? That TVD obviously varies with the specifics for an area. For the Triad and Charlotte populations trying to evacuate towards Sparta, I estimated the TVD at 10 miles. In other words, if 100,000 people set out from the Triad heading towards Sparta, after 10 miles that’d be down to 10,000, after 20 miles down to 1,000, and so on. After the 60 miles to Sparta, that original number of people would be down to (0.1)e6, or one one-millionth of the original number. Call it one tenth of a person would reach Sparta.

That’s the good news, at least for Sparta residents if not Triad residents. The bad news is that the TVD applies to average people. The TVD for really bad people–one percenter motorcycle gangs, inner-city gangs, and so on–is much higher. Yeah, we’d see groups of them up here, but there are plenty of Good Old Boys here, most of whom grew up hunting and shooting. Gang members who decide to come up here to rob, rape, and pillage would find themselves dead pretty quickly.

Bugging Out

The concept of bugging out is hugely popular in PA fiction, but the reality is that it almost never makes sense to bug out except in a disaster that’s very localized. If a train wreck dumps toxic chemicals near your home or a huge wildfire is approaching, yes it makes sense to bug out, but the idea of a very localized disaster with everywhere outside the immediate area unaffected is, by definition, not an apocalyptic scenario. In a widespread catastrophe, leaving your home and going out on the road is simply stupid. At home, you have all of your supplies and you are surrounded by people you’ve known for years. Hunkering down preserves those advantages; bugging out gives up all of them in exchange for the uncertainties of the road. Even if you have a well-stocked bugout location, getting there is by no means certain. And even if you do get there, there’s a good chance you’ll find it looted and perhaps occupied by squatters. Hunkering down is far safer, even if you’re in a suburb of a larger city. Making a run for it is not far from suicidal.


PA authors love to cast FEMA/DHS as evil jackbooted thugs. The reality is that they’re mostly ordinary people. In a catastrophe, they’ll being doing their best to do their jobs. Sure there’ll be some petty bureaucrats drunken with power who make things for refugees worse than they might have been, and yes the realities of having to care for thousands or tens of thousands of people will require them to enforce strict rules, but the idea that FEMA/DHS will end up running concentration camps, let alone death camps, is ridiculous. They won’t be trying to make people miserable, let alone enslave them.

Not that things wouldn’t be miserable despite their best efforts. Even if the country mobilized every resource available, the state and federal governments simply don’t have sufficient resources to deal with even a regional disaster, let alone one that’s nationwide. There simply isn’t enough spare food sitting around to feed everyone, or pure water, or spare electrical generation capacity, or drugs, or anything else. Everything would be in extremely short supply, and conditions in such refugee camps would soon become unspeakably bad. But don’t blame that on FEMA/DHS. Just resolve to do what it takes to take care of yourself and your family and friends, because if there is a large scale catastrophe the last place you want to be is anywhere near a refugee camp.

Breakdown of Law

Another common meme is WROL (without rule of law). The idea that the government becomes utterly incapable of enforcing even fundamental laws like those against rape, robbery, and murder. Since they can’t or won’t enforce such fundamental laws, plucky preppers have to do it themselves. These preppers have no fear of ever facing charges for shooting people out of hand and so on, because the government isn’t there any more. Don’t count on it. State and local law enforcement may be overwhelmed initially, and in fact probably would be. But they’ll still be there, and when things begin to settle down they’re likely to show up at your door and ask you some hard questions about that pile of bodies surrounding your house. The metric will be “were these the actions of a reasonable man?” Law enforcement, particularly in rural areas and small towns, will tend to sympathize with ordinary people who were forced to use lethal force to defend themselves, but that’s about as far as it will go.

Isolated Cabins

PA novelists often fantasize about a family living in their retreat, a self-sufficient homestead miles from their nearest neighbors. In reality, such a site would be about as dangerous as living in a central city. Maybe more so. Isolating yourself geographically from bad events makes sense superficially, but only for as long as it takes you to consider the implications. Being miles from your nearest neighbor doesn’t mean the bad guys won’t find you. It just means the nearest help is miles away. The bad guys, if they have the common sense of a turnip, will ambush you, snipe you, and otherwise pick at you piecemeal until they’ve eliminated your ability to defend yourself, which was pretty limited to begin with. You’re on your own. No one is coming to help you. You and your family will die alone, and the bad guys will eat everything you have stored away and then move to the next isolated cabin and do it again.

It’s far better to put yourself in a small-town/rural setting where you have friends and neighbors. Not just for a common defense, but to share skills, knowledge, and other resources. I know a lot about a lot, but I don’t know everything about everything, and some or many of the things I know nothing about may turn out to be critical. That’s why Barbara and I chose to move where we did. There are a lot of people around here who have useful/critical skills, and by becoming part of the community we are preparing to share our own skills in the expectation that others will do the same.

So I’m preparing for none of those scenarios because none of them are very likely. Which brings me to the final common meme in PA novels, but this one actually does make sense.

Doubling Up

What Rawles calls “doubling up” essentially means sharing not just your skills but your living space with others who have complementary skills and supplies. In a critical situation, when you’re surrounded by potential threats, you need trusted people above all. You and your wife aren’t enough. Even if you invite your extended family to stay with you during an emergency, that’s probably not enough people. There’ll be loads of work to do and not enough people to do it all. Finding additional trustworthy people to be part of your group should be your highest priority.

And that turns out to be the toughest preparation of all for most preppers. And that’s why I’m storing extra food, because I want to be able to offer refuge to unprepared friends. People I can trust not to shoot me in the back if the S really HTF.

I actually had this conversation with Lori quite some time ago. We’re better-prepared than Lori is, if you don’t count the fact that she has a 40-acre farm stocked with beef cattle and also has a year-round spring on the property. But if things ever got really bad, Lori knows we’d take her and her daughter in, and she volunteered to do the same for us. I hope it never comes to that, but it’s nice to have a fall-back position.

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