Education, the Hard Way

This is a topic I’ve been meaning to come back to for a while; it seems that I’ve been playing “tag” with the news cycle for a bit, and I really want to step away from that hot mess. (We’re debating the Confederate Battle Flag?  Really?…  Let’s not get me started.)

So, education–the “hard” way.  What do I mean by this?  In a phrase, it’s hard-won experience. It’s the education you get from not settling for “I have no idea how to do this,” and switching instead over to “This probably isn’t as hard as all that–let me give it a go.”

Now, I’m certainly not advocating that you try this with anything truly dangerous–if a tree falls on the power line to your house, I very much recommend calling the professionals- -but the number of things that aren’t really all that hard might surprise you.  Your “do-it-yourselfishness” can stem from any number of things: You don’t want to pay for a “professional” to come out.  You really want to learn what makes a certain thing tick.  Anything, really.

How do you go about this, in a safe and sane manner?  Depends on the thing, I’d say. If it’s something small and fairly simple, grab a screwdriver and go.  As things get bigger, I’d recommend learning a bit about it, first–Youtube is a phenomenal resource, as is your local library. Ask around, see if you’ve got a friend who knows how to do your particular whatever, and see if they’ll talk you through it, or show you how–offer them dinner in exchange (or a beer, depending on the friend–just wait until after the job is done).

One additional recommendation for the first time through: go slowly and methodically. Really get anal-retentive about doing things the “right” way (to the extent that there is one): carefully set aside each screw, nut, and bolt, and once you’ve got more than about five of them, label them with the order they came out.  Set the parts aside on a clear, clean, flat surface, that you’re not likely to knock over.  Keep distractions to a minimum.

With this simple set of guidelines, I’ve been able to pull off some remarkable “emergency” repairs: replacing the well pump, then replacing the well “foot”; re-wiring several lights and switches; getting recalcitrant lawnmowers running.  All sorts of things–there’s really no end to it.

Then, once you’ve got a bit of confidence built up, move on to bigger things–start looking for local classes on whatever topics your whims take you.  I recently discovered that a friend-of-a-friend is a blacksmith; he was kind enough to give the friend and I a 5-hour personal “intro” class.  I couldn’t shoe a horse now, but I could probably make nails to build something–and if I practiced, and asked around some more, I could probably get good at it.

Where to go to find classes like this?  Try your local state university extension.  Look online for any clubs or associations relating to your interest.  Look for internet forums on the topic–I promise you, they’re out there.  Approach with an open mind, and profess your ignorance on a topic, and your desire to learn; I’ve seldom found a group that wouldn’t take you under their wing.  (And when I have, there was generally another group nearby, of folks who left the first one…)

Hopefully, by the time my next post rolls around, we’ll be done talking about flags at statehouses, and we’ll be conversing quite a bit more about race.  The Supreme Court will have passed its rulings on the ACA and on same-sex marriage, as well; given all of this, I expect that the next post will be “current events” related.  Hope you’ll stick around!

Posted in Community, Critical Thought, Frugality, Planning, Skills and Practice | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

More On Groups

Continuing the thread from my last post, this week I’ve got a few more (hopefully, more coherent) thoughts on small groups. A lot of the wording here is from various Wikipedia articles; I think I’ve got enough commentary to make it “mine”.

When we talk about small groups, particularly for our (survivalist) purposes, we’re talking about small-ish “social units”. Social psychologists define these as “a number of individuals interacting with each other,” with five characteristics:

  1. Common motives and goals. For us, this would be survival–making it past the next trial or tribulation to come down the line, ideally in as good a shape as possible.
  2. An accepted division of labor/roles. Let’s face it: some folks are better at some things than others. My wife is far better with the emergency medical–she’s got the training. I’m a fair hand at construction/manufacturing. Some people are born leaders. Everybody should know their purpose in the group, and (ideally) everybody should have a backup, or two.
  3. Established status relationships/rank/dominance. I talked about this last week. A hierarchy is a must, otherwise you end up as a squabbling mob. It doesn’t have to be permanent–in fact, I recommend determining a method of changing the hierarchy as the need arises–but you do need one.
  4. Accepted norms and values, with regard to matters relevant to the group. In essence, you’ve got to have a coherent “reason to be a group.” You also need a goal, or a set of them–and a list (even a largely unwritten one) of things you are and aren’t willing to do to accomplish them.
  5. Development of accepted sanctions (punishment–or praise) if and when the norms are violated (or respected). You’ve got your “moral code;” what do you do if one of the group breaks it? How do you react if someone goes off the reservation, so to speak?

They also list a trio of sources for “intragroup conflict”–what we laypeople would call “infighting”:

  1. Task conflict.
  2. Process conflict.
  3. Personal conflict.

In order, these are essentially: disagreement on the goals, disagreement on the means to achieve the goals, and disagreements between individuals in the group for other reasons. Unfortunately, there’s no one “magic bullet” for solving any of them. Being the liberal that I am, I prefer peaceably talking them through and coming to consensus; being the realist, I understand that now and then, problems need to be solved by fiat, as they arise.  There are books and articles on this by the boatload; a little research would certainly not be amiss.

Another thing to think about when looking at groups is the size of the group. Different people here are going to have different ideas. Look at the “mainstream” preppers out there–you’ve got everything from individualists, to the folks with the luxury underground condos for them, their families, and a hundred or so of their closest (richest?) friends.

I believe I’ve mentioned Dunbar’s Number before: the maximum number of social relationships that an individual can keep track of; it’s generally cited as “about 150,” or the size of a village. Any more than this, and we humans tend to self-segregate into smaller “villages”. It’s also been postulated that we can only maintain a cohesive group that size if we’re under a substantial threat–i.e., subsistence survival.  We’ll call that the upper limit, then, and consider it a bit extreme.

At the other end, there’s a number associated with human memory and territoriality: Seven, plus or minus three. In essence, this is the maximum number of things the average person can put into short-term memory; this is why phone numbers are the way they are (seven digits, with a three-digit area code). Seven to ten is a pretty good small group size; too much more, and you again start developing sub-groups, and the whole thing falls apart. This is also a pretty robust number of people in terms of spreading out the “load” of learning the things needed for survival… No one person will end up needing to know it all.

All of this speaks to doing your planning well before calamity strikes. Find or form yourself a group of like-minded people, and discuss how you’ll do various things. Much of the above also imagines a TEOTWAWKI-type scenario, which (in my world-view) is a bit of an exceptional case; think about what you’ll need individually/as a family/as a group-subset, in the event of something more likely (localized disaster, etc.). But in all cases, think things through, plan things out, and get yourself at least mentally prepared.

Okay, that’s my thinking on the topic for this week.  I’ll probably come back to this again in future, as more things occur to me.  This was fun, and an interesting thought problem; does anybody else have a direction they’d like to see the discussion here go?

Posted in Community, Critical Thought, Planning, Post-Collapse, Skills and Practice, Survival Questions | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Dealing with Small Groups

After my last post, one of my readers commented on something, and it’s been rolling around in my head since then…  Here’s the comment:

Thank you for all your work. I am always pleased to see one of you emails show up.

I would love to see some discussion on the social skills it will take to keeping a group functional under the condition of a long term crisis. I recently finished an week long hike where a 24 hour virus went through the group three days out. I was shocked how quickly some members became blithering idiots; hyper critical, uncooperative, and rigid in their thinking.

Had this been a long term situation I doubt the survivability of about half of the group. I especially feared for those that decided to skip out at first signs of trouble, unwilling to take the advice of the forest service and stay put. They became sick while alone on the trail. Though we knew it was not a life threatening illness and not food poisoning, it could have been.

Looking back there were so many things we all could have done beforehand and during the crisis to have created and preserved a cohesive working group for the few days we were stuck on the trail. First would have been learning better people management skills, organizing a simple temporary medical care unit for the sick, proper hygiene for camps with both sick and well residents, and just simply how be both a good care giver and a good patient.

There are so many things here, it’s probably fodder for a whole string of posts…  Let me start by advising that my small-group management skills were mostly learned by hard-won experience over 20 years in the Navy.  There are certain peculiarities in that, some of which don’t necessarily translate well into civilian life, never mind a “random” SHTF scenario.

First, any group needs a set hierarchy. Someone has to be in charge, and someone has to be the second-in-command; below that, things get dicey, depending on the size of the group. In the military, the person in charge (the Commanding Officer, or CO) sets the goals, and the second-in-command (the Executive Officer, or XO) makes sure it gets done. (In real life, there are multiple additional layers–the CO sets strategy, the XO covers tactics, the senior enlisted cover day-to-day operations and the “how,” and the junior enlisted put their backs into the work…)

In any group of, say, five or more, you need a defined chain of command, and you need people dedicated to following it. The “chain” process also provides you with a succession strategy, if someone gets sick (or worse)–everyone else in the chain just moves up one “link”.

Now, I understand that in the real world, you’re going to have people turn into the above-mentioned blithering idiots at the first sign of trouble. Frankly–and here’s where some of my “radical” nature rears its head–the best thing you can do for some of them is cut ’em loose, and don’t think twice about them. Ideally, the group will have discussed this beforehand–coming to an understanding, say, that “anybody who wants out is free to go–but will need to earn their way back in,” or something of the sort.

(Of course, also ideally, the group will have discussed emergency situations and plans beforehand, too–things like, “in the event of one person’s illness, we do X; if everybody gets sick, we do Y.” And backup plans. And communication with others, if any. You get the picture…)

Hm…  That seems like a whole lot of words covering a really broad swath very thinly; it’s a good start, though. I’ll certainly ponder this a bit more, and will try to drill down into various bits over the coming weeks. Any questions/comments are, of course, welcome–the more discussion, the better!

Posted in Community, Critical Thought, Planning, Politics, Skills and Practice | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Still Out There

Warning: I’m ranting.  I caught sight of a few newspaper articles today that lowered my (already low) opinion of right-wing opinion pundits. Straw men? Check. Ad hominem arguments? Check. Unrelated issues conflated? Check.

The first was in the Washington Post, and trots out a version of the “War on Christians” trope.  “Oh, woe is us,” it all but cries; the ‘lefties, academics, and proud atheists’ treat us badly, especially in election years.  It lauds the Supreme Court decisions for the Little Sisters of the Poor, and for Hobby Lobby.  The part–actually, the first part–that I found particularly offensive is when the author hand-waves any issues with the outcomes, claiming that “the state should always go to extra lengths to protect religious liberty whenever possible.”

Sorry, I’ve got to draw a line here.  Religious liberty extends only so far as it doesn’t trod on the next guy’s religious liberty. You can practice your religion right up until it interferes with me, or with my decisions. This penchant for people to claim “religious freedom” when persecuting others I find utterly despicable, repugnant, and–to borrow a term–evil.

The next part that bothered me was in discussion of a speech by Hillary Clinton. She was addressing the “Women in the World Summit,” and made the following statement: “Deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed” so that women can have free access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth.  It then supposed that she would reframe her comments had she been speaking to a Christian audience.

Um.  Who’s to say she wasn’t?  Why is it so un-Christian to want people to have access to reproductive health care?  To safe childbirth?  To (gasp) contraception–or (double gasp) abortion, even?  I understand the moral arguments (“It’s murder!”), but disagree with them on an intellectual, non-emotional level–which is where these decisions (and, indeed, most decisions, IMO) ought to be made. (Note: I’m not advocating abortion–I’m advocating for the choice to be available…)

I won’t even get into the fawning lavished on Jeb Bush or Mike Huckabee, for their “elevated” discussion of Christianity.

The second article that raised my hackles was in the Wall Street Journal, already a bastion of conservatism. It presents itself as an open letter to the graduating class of 2015, and paints a horrible picture of the world–mostly undeserved, I believe.

Apparently, everything is the fault of bad schoolteachers, backed by unions.

Your education was poor, you see, because the teachers were poorly qualified. And since they “can’t be fired,” they’re taking jobs you might otherwise fill. If only we could fire the bottom 5% of public-school teachers, things would be much better (citing a Harvard economist, claiming a $9k increase in lifetime earnings per student, per teacher fired, giving the class of 2015 about $31 billion over their lifetime). Granted, that would put over 160,000 teachers out of a job, which would negate a large chunk of that gain…

Oh, and your student loans will be with you for years.

And Gods forbid that the states establish licensing requirements for some jobs–and that they don’t coordinate across state lines.  And that unpaid internships are all but banned. And then, when you do find a job, you’ll have to start paying taxes, mostly to support benefits for older Americans, who have jobs and assets. And let’s not forget your “higher premiums” under the ACA.

Grrr.  Yep, you’ll be paying into Social Security.  Which, particularly if Congress would get its hands out of that cookie jar, would be doing just fine and able to support you back. And while some individual premiums might be higher, overall I believe the record is showing that they’re significantly lower… And as a young person, they’ll be lower than that old guy who’s a significantly higher risk.

I know, arguing with them won’t help–they’ve got their worldview, and their preferred version of things, and if your reality doesn’t fit their version, they’re happy to dismiss it and use their own.  I just get tired of it.

More survival stuff next time–let’s talk unconventional education, and learning new skills.  Sound good?

Posted in Critical Thought, Government, Make it Stop, News, Politics | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Commentary, and a List

This week was going to “just” be a list, as I mentioned in my last post…  Then reality intervened.  I’ll get to the list in a moment, but first these thoughts.

Another young man recently died, under somewhat mysterious circumstances, while in police custody. Had he done something to warrant some rough handling? Possibly, but the degree of ‘rough’ was pretty extreme. Was it, whatever it was, something worth his paying the ultimate capital punishment? Probably not. Regardless, the police force should be up front, transparent, and forthcoming with as much information as possible about the event; they’re not, and yet another city in our Empire burned.  Even so far as to close a major league baseball game to the public, for the first time in ever. It makes one ashamed, in a number of ways…

Thought the second:  Washington, D.C., just activated a dozen or two new speed-cameras and red light cameras. They already earn a healthy chunk of money from the ones they have. In a news report announcing the new cameras, they spoke with a representative from the AAA. His response? “I’m all for it. Anything we can do to maybe get folks to slow down or stop, to maybe save the life of a pedestrian or bicyclist or two is a good thing.” Picture anything of a similar vein coming from a representative of the NRA…

Now, from the good folks at Survival Life, a list of “6 Things You’re Not Doing That Will Bite You In The Ass.” Without further ado:

  1. You’re not incorporating solar electricity in your daily life.  I like this one, just on general principle.  Anything we can do to lessen reliance on the grid–ours, a neighbor’s, our parents’–lessens the strain on the grid overall, and diminishes the amount of pollution emitted by the big factories that are out there.  The original author mentions using small, portable panels to power electronics and such; this is also a good idea.  Overall, I like this one.
  2. You’re not cooking one meal a week with your bug out kit.  Again, generally not a bad idea. It gets you practice with your kit, enforces some supply rotation, and helps you identify the “bug-out meal” items that you do & don’t like. I’m not sure I’d necessarily go with one-a-week, but every other is probably good enough. (Once a month, at minimum, I’d say–and, in full disclosure, this is something my family and I need to start doing more often, as well…) Good idea, number two.
  3. You’re not incorporating your prepping food into your routine meals.  This guy is starting to sound like me… This rolls right along with #2, above: you need to know how to use your stored supplies. You need to know whether you like what you’ve got stored. You need to know what you’ve got. You need to rotate your supplies. Using the stuff on a regular basis helps with all of this. So far, 3 for 3.
  4. You’re not taking one day a week to be free from all electronics.  Can you say, Electricity-Free Fridays, anyone? A practice which, again, we have (sadly) let slide over the winter. (We’ll have to see about that, this spring and summer…) In addition to the basic personal physiological and psychological benefits, just unplugging now and again helps you re-connect with lots of things, like nature. Or your neighbors. Or your family…
  5. You’re not buying knowledge preps, you’re buying gear preps.  Still a winning list! Having all the stuff in the world doesn’t help, if you don’t know how to use it. Not having the stuff, if you can’t make it or fake it–which requires a bit of knowledge, in and of itself–you’re up the proverbial creek. A quick survey of my skills, and I could probably go from absolutely unprepared (just my clothes, away from civilization) up through at least the early Bronze Age without horrible difficulty, within several days…
  6. You’re not embracing the suck.  Yep. You have to practice doing things the hard way. Chop a cord of firewood by hand, with a maul. (Or, if you’re adventurous, try it without a splitting maul…) Do your “normal” daily jog–but make it a cross-country run. Take the occasional cold shower. Practice doing “outside chores” when it’s pouring down rain. In an emergency situation, things won’t always be laboratory clean, or as straightforward as in a learning environment–and this is part of learning.

I’ve got to say, this list was really quite nice.  I’m almost sad that it was so short…  So what things do *you* think folks are doing, prep-wise, that just isn’t right?  I’d love to hear!

Posted in Collapse, Critical Thought, Gear, Lists, News | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

From another planet

There were a couple of articles last week in the Washington Post that, in my opinion, perfectly summed up much of what I think is going on in the minds of the far right.  They are, as my title suggests, “not from around here.”  Not by a long shot.

The articles in particular, here and here, discuss the continuing influence of Arthur Laffer, the creator of the Laffer Curve–and (alongside Grover Norquist) architect of much of the Republicans’ fiscal strategy.  (Put simply, he believes–among other things–that cutting tax rates will increase tax revenue, since fewer people would be so unwilling to pay.  Then there’s the whole supply-side economics…)

Now, he’s claiming that minimum wage laws are “a crime against black men,” and that liberal economists have consistently been wrong about the economy, and he’s been right.  He describes the current economy as “almost exactly like 1978.”  Furthermore, in his view, Kansas (under Governor Brownback–who cut taxes steeply, on Laffer’s advice) is “doing fine.”  Now, I’m not certain where, exactly, he’s looking.  Kansas seems to be barely able to continue–and certainly not to make ends meet.

His notion that “taxes discourage work,” one of the underpinnings of his entire theory (the Laffer curve), has a fundamental flaw.  In a word, it’s wrong.  Taxes are unpleasant, but nobody with more than a couple of brain cells is going to quit their job just because they have to pay taxes.  Why?  Well, primarily because they still have to earn a living somehow.  (And the truly deep thinkers out there understand that taxes are how the government earns a living, and pays for lots of things that we really like–things like roads, and firemen, and the police, and the military…)

One thing all of the folks on the right seem to forget when they tout the “Greatest Generation,” the ones who built the American middle class: they did it with a top marginal tax rate of 94%.  (Compared with today’s 39.6%.)  Yes, times were different.  Just like times are different now than they were in 1978.  (The top tax rate then was significantly higher, for one thing.)

But read the articles for yourself.  Make up your own mind.  And think–really hard–about what actually happened in the places where his policies were tried.

I’m hoping that my next post will be much more fun–maybe a list (I’ve got a couple hiding in the wings) or the like.  I’d like to do a review or two, as well, in upcoming posts.  And, of course, the weather is turning, and plants are in the ground–there’s always something to talk about there!

Posted in Critical Thought, Government, Make it Stop, News | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

What fresh hell…

What, exactly, was Governor Pence of Indiana thinking, when he signed this bill?  He certainly wasn’t listening to the scores of businesses, large and small, that told him what a problem it would be. He wasn’t listening to any of the political analysts–from all ends of the spectrum–who told him what a problem it would be. Obviously, to my eye, he was listening to a group of the bill’s backers, who told him just what he wanted to hear: that it would be a good thing for business, and not a problem at all. (See all of my previous rants about only listening to what you want to hear…)

Now, what exactly is the fuss about this law?  Well, I’m not a lawyer.  Yes, I have read it, and compared it to the Federal law that it supposedly mimics.  For in-depth analysis, let me point you to some professionals, here and here. Basically, it reaches much farther than the Federal version. One place that particularly caught my eye was in that the government doesn’t need to be a party to the proceeding–in other words, it’s not about whether the government is burdening someone’s exercise of freedom of religion.  An individual, under this law, can burden another individual’s exercise of that right.  This strikes me as patently absurd–barring some quite particular actions, most of which are covered under other laws (kidnapping? extortion? other similar ones, I’m sure), you can’t burden my freedom of religion, nor I yours.  Can I do things offensive to you/yours? Yes, and vice versa. But this isn’t impeding anyone’s free exercise of religion. There are other points, but they’re largely made in the articles linked above.

No, what I see here is, in fact, a version of what the Governor claims he was signing.  Pence said it was not about giving a “right to discriminate.”  What it really is, is about giving a right to discriminate against people not like him.

Then there are the reactions in other states.  Not Washington, or Connecticut, both of which placed a moratorium on state-funded travel to Indiana.  Not even Arkansas, whose governor saw a little of the light, and sent his state’s version back to the legislature to be reworked.

No, I’m talking Maryland, whose governor only compounded things.  A member of the Maryland state legislature–the only openly gay one, at that–sent a letter, requesting that a moratorium similar to that of Washington and Connecticut. He added a justification, explaining that since Governor Hogan’s wife was previously divorced, a restaurant owner may feel justified in not serving them. [Matthew 19:9, for the curious.]  Hogan’s response? He didn’t finish reading the letter, beyond the point where (in his words) his spouse was insulted…

Um.  What?

She’s previously divorced.  He’s her second husband.  This is fact.  Nothing insulting–and it wasn’t even said in a mean way.  Shouldn’t be a problem.  Have we really gotten this thin-skinned?  (Some have later clarified that the faux pas was bringing the spouse into it. Let’s talk about bringing Hillary Clinton into the arguments, or-gods forbid-Michelle Obama…)

No, again and still, I’m largely baffled that anybody thought they could pull this one off without any problems. The fact that it’s the far right, and the religious right at that, doesn’t particularly surprise…

How are you folks out in the dry, dry West holding up, with California’s water problems?  Pressuring your lawmakers to allow rainwater catchment, where they don’t currently?  Or planning to move somewhere a little wetter?  (Or, contrariwise, trying to take some cues from the Hopi, Zuni, and Anasazi, and learn how to do more with less water?) I don’t think the public at large is ready for the food-price shocks that are likely coming…

Posted in Critical Thought, Government, Make it Stop, News, Politics | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments