Oct 242014
 
The eleven different sub-nations within the US.  Click image for a larger image.

The eleven different sub-nations within the US. Click image for a larger image.

One of the fictions foisted on us in the name of greater federal government is that the US is a collection of 50 similar states, and that national/federal laws of a ‘one size fits all’ are both appropriate and necessary.

The reality is very different.  Indeed, there are massive social discontinuities within single states, let alone across all 48 lower states, plus Alaska and Hawaii (which still seems to half regret having joined the rest of us).

I travel some around the western part of our great nation, and it always strikes me that not only are there huge differences between, for example, CA and its neighbors, OR, NV and AZ, but also with each state.  In California we have the Mexican dominated south, the formerly hippy and now high-tech Bay area, but also, if you go inland, there are some conservative counties with gun friendly policies, including some where the county sheriff is happy to issue concealed carry permits to anyone who asks.

In WA, the state is fractured by the Cascades – a very liberal western group of counties, and a much more conservative eastern group of counties, who feel terribly disenfranchised.  Political matters are decided in the left-wing metroplex stretching from Bellingham down to Olympia, leaving the greater part of the state – geographically but not economically or demographically – out in the cold (quite literally so in the winters!).

These disruptions within our nation and within individual states come as no surprise to us.  We see it every presidential election, for example, and we consider it painstakingly if we are choosing where to locate a retreat.  It is reflected in the repeated and unlikely to ever succeed moves to split states into two, or to blend parts of two states and make them into three or more new states.  Most recently, in late 2014, a petition for a ballot measure in California to split the state into six separate states narrowly failed to gain enough signatures.

A recent article in the Tufts University Alumni magazine suggests that the US as a whole can be segmented into 11 different clustered subgroups, with each subgroup sharing generally similar values and views.  The article includes a fascinating map showing, county-by-county, where the groupings are.  We could point out that even some counties are far from uniform in nature, but for the purposes of a general vague mapping of these different value groupings, that is probably as close as one can get – leastways, without a multi-million dollar federal grant to research it further!

The most interesting point, for me, was that the increased mobility of our population was actually making these groupings more extreme, rather than mixing everyone up more.  Because it is easier to relocate these days than it was in the past, people are choosing to relocate to areas with like-minded folk, and when you think about it, that’s one of the core concepts in choosing a retreat location.

The area of greatest interest to us is essentially an extension of the region sometimes referred to as the American Redoubt, and in this article, termed ‘The Far West’.  Of course, the article did not adjust its regions for considerations of how best to survive TEOTWAWKI, so for us, their Far West region is a starting point to then refine and narrow down.

The author’s point is not so much to show and map these different regions, but to consider the implications of their existence.  He says that as long as there is such a pronounced lack of homogeneity in our country, it is difficult for consensus driven federal government to effectively address the often opposite wishes of different parts of the country.

Think for example about abortion.  That’s something most people have an opinion on, and it is pretty much an either/or issue – you’re either for or against ‘a woman’s right to choose’/’the rights of an unborn child’.  There’s not really a compromise that could be created that works for everyone in the nation.

The same for gun control, and for all manner of other moral and value related issues.

Unfortunately, the author uses his findings as a base for a long discourse on violence and, by implication, how it should be controlled, but for our purposes, simply look at the map, read the descriptions of the eleven different regions, and then follow the national trend – relocate to the region that feels most like ‘home’ to you.

Chances are, when you do, you’ll find us already there!

Aug 262014
 
You need good lines of sight all around your retreat property.

You need good lines of sight all around your retreat property.

So you’re about to buy yourself a rural retreat?  Congratulations.  We hope you’ll never need it, but how wonderful it is to know it is there and available if things should go severely wrong.

In among all the other things you need to consider when choosing a retreat is its lot size.  There are a number of different factors affecting how large a lot you need, including the soil type, what sorts of crops you plan to cultivate, the animals you might also raise, and, oh yes, some defensive considerations too.

Some of these considerations vary enormously (ie, the number of people each acre of farmed land can support), but the defensive factors are fairly constant.  So let’s make this an easy read for you, and an easy write for us, and talk about them.

We’ve written at length, in past articles, about the need to design your retreat to be sturdy and able to withstand rifle fire, that’s not actually the risk that keeps us awake at night worrying the most about.  Ideally you want everywhere you’re likely to be on your retreat to be safe and not at risk of enemy attack.  Most notably, you not only want to be safe inside the strong walls of your retreat, but also while outside, exposed, and vulnerable, working in your fields, too.

The Biggest Risk of Violent Takeover/Takeout You’ll Face

We see the greatest risk as being picked off, one or two at a time, while we’re working in the fields.  It is conceivable that we might be some distance from our retreat, and we could be bent over, planting or picking some crop, when all of a sudden, a sniper’s bullet slams into our back, even before the sound of the shot reached us.  Talk about literally no warning – it doesn’t get any more sudden than that.

By the time the people around us heard the shot and started to react, a second round might already be meeting the second target.  And then, all of a sudden, nothing.  Well, nothing except a thoroughly panicked remainder of the people we were out in the fields with, all exposed in the middle of the crop, and one or two dead or nearly-dead bodies.

Even if everyone always carried weapons with them – and even if they were rifles rather than short-range pistols which would be useless at these sorts of ranges – by the time anyone had responded, grabbed their rifle (try doing some type of ongoing manual labor with a rifle slung over your shoulders – chances are everyone in the group will have their rifles set to one side rather than slung over their shoulders), chambered a round, and hunched over their sights, where would they look and what would they see?  Possibly nothing at all.  The sniper would retreat, as stealthily as he arrived, his job well done for the day.

Rinse and repeat.  Have the same event occur again a day or two later, and you’re not only now down four people (and any sniper worthy of the name will be carefully choosing the most valuable of the people in the field each time), but you’ve got a panicked group of fellow community members demanding ‘protection’.  Except that – what sort of protection can you give against a faceless guerilla enemy – someone who picks and chooses the time and location of their attacks?  Furthermore, you’re now four people down, and you have to choose what to do with your able-bodied group members – are they to be tasked for defensive patrolling duties or working your crops.  You don’t have enough people to do both!

No smart adversary will attack your retreat in a full frontal assault.  That would be a crazy thing to do.  Instead, they’ll act as we just described, picking you off, one or two at a time, taking as long as is necessary to do so.  Your retreat is no longer your refuge.  It has become the bulls-eye on the attacker’s target map, and all they have to do is observe and bide their time, taking advantage of the opportunities and situations they prepare for and select, rather than being taken advantage of by you and your tactical preparations.

Don’t think that defensive patrols will do you a great deal of good, either.  How many men would you have on each patrol?  One?  Two?  Five?  Ten?  Whatever the number, you’d need to be willing to accept casualties in any contact with the adversary, and unless your people are uniquely skilled and able to use some aspect of tactical advantage, all your enemy needs to do is observe your front and rear doors and wait/watch for patrols to sally forth from your retreat.

This scenario is similar to how the Allies ringed the German U-boat bases with anti-submarine planes and ships (and how we and our adversaries monitor each other’s subs these days too).  While a U-boat might be very hard to find and detect in the middle of the North Atlantic, they all had to leave and return to their bases through obvious unavoidable routes.  Why hunt for a U-boat in thousands of square miles of ocean when you know to within a few hundred feet where they’ll be departing from.

If you do deploy a patrol, they are at the disadvantage.  The enemy will be in a prepared position while your team will now be exposed on open ground.  The enemy will have set an ambush, and your team will find themselves in it.  Depending on the size of the enemy team, and on the respective skill levels, you just know you’re going to lose some team members (and, more likely, all of them) when the ambush slams shut around them.

One more sobering thought.  Call us cynical if you like, but we suspect an attacking force will be both more willing to risk/accept casualties among its members than you are, and will also find it easier to recruit replacement manpower.  The leader of the attackers probably has no close personal relationship with his men, whereas you’re with your friends and family.  The attackers can promise new recruits a chance at plundering stores and supplies and ensuring their own comfortable survival, and if recruits don’t join, they are probably facing extreme hardship or starvation as an alternative.

From their point of view, if things go well for them, they get something they didn’t have before, and if things go badly, they suffer the same fate they are likely to suffer anyway.  But from your point of view, the best that can happen is that you keep what you currently have (at least until the next such encounter) and the worst that can happen doesn’t bear thinking about.

Or, to put it another way, for the attackers, heads they win and tails they don’t lose.  For you, heads you don’t win and tails you do lose.

So, what does this all have to do with the size of your retreat lot?

The most effective tool you have to defend against attack is open space.  If you have a quarter-mile of open space in all directions around you, wherever you are on your lot, then it will be difficult for a sniper to sneak up on you, while being easy for you to keep a watch on the open space all about.  If the sniper does open fire from a quarter-mile away, you’re facing better odds that he might miss on the all important first shot, and much better odds that the subsequent shots will also be off-target.

Compare that to working in, say, a forest, where the bad guys might be lurking behind the tree immediately ahead of you.  At that range, they couldn’t miss and could quickly take over your entire group before you had a chance to respond.

You need to consider two things when deciding how much land you need for your retreat lot.

Topographic Challenges

The first issue is specific to the land you’re looking at.  What is the topography of the land?  Is it all flat, or are their rises and falls, a hill or valley or something else?

If there are natural sight barriers, you need to decide how to respond to them.  Some might be alterable (such as moving a barn, cutting down some trees), and others you’re stuck with (the hill rising up and cresting, not far from your retreat).  Depending on the types of sight barriers you have, you can determine how close adversaries can come to your property boundaries – and, indeed, some types of sight barriers will allow them to get into your property and potentially close to you, while probably remaining entirely undetected.

Don’t go all fanciful here and start fantasizing about patrols and observation posts and electronic monitoring.  The chances are you don’t have sufficient manpower to create an efficient effective system of patrols and OPs, and if you don’t have sufficient manpower to create a secure network of patrolling and OPs, you have to sort of wonder what value there is in a partial network.  Won’t the bad guys be clever enough to plan their movements and actions to exploit your weaknesses?

As for the electronic stuff, this is typically overrated, and provides a less comprehensive set of information than can be gathered by ‘boots on the ground’, and of course, only works until it stops working, at which point it is useless.

Our first point therefore is that some lots are just not well laid out for defending, and while everything else about them might be appealing, if you feel that you’ll need to be able to defend not just your retreat building itself, but the land around it – the land on which your crops are farmed and your animals raised – then you should walk away from the deal and not buy the lot.

What is the point of buying an ‘insurance policy’ to protect you against worst case scenarios, if your policy (your retreat and lot) only works with moderately bad rather than truly worst case scenarios?  That’s an exercise in futility and wishful thinking, and as a prepper, you’re not keen on either of these indulgences!

Lines of Sight – How Much is Enough?

Okay, so you’ve found a lot with no obvious topographic challenges, and unobstructed lines of sight out a long way in every direction.

Let’s now try to pin a value on the phrase ‘a long way’.  How far do you need to be able to see, in order to maintain a safe and secure environment all around you?

Some people might say ‘100 yards’.  Others might say ‘1000 yards’.  And so on, through pretty much any imaginable range of distances.  There’s probably no right answer, but there are some obviously wrong answers.

Let’s look at the minimum safe range first.

Is 100 yards a good safe distance?  We say no, for two reasons.  The first reason is obvious – a bullet round can travel those 100 yards in almost exactly 0.1 seconds, and even a person with limited skills can place a carefully aimed shot onto a slow-moving man-sized target at that range.  You are a sitting duck at 100 yards.

But wait – there’s more.  A bad guy can probably sprint over that 100 yards in 10 seconds.  Even if he has nothing more than a machete, he can be on top of you in ten seconds.  Consider also that he’ll wait until you’re not looking in his direction before he starts his run, and add 0.75 seconds reaction time and maybe another second of ‘what is that?’ and ‘oh no, what should I do!’ time, and by the time you’ve identified him as a threat, reached your rifle, and got it ready to fire, he is probably now at arm’s length, with his machete slashing viciously down toward you.

A 200 yard range is very much nicer.  You’ve become a smaller target, and the bullet aimed at you takes over twice as long to reach you; more important than the extra tenth of a second or so in travel time however is that it is now more like three times as affected by wind, temperature, humidity, manufacturing imperfections, and so on.  A skilled adversary can still have a high chance of first shot bulls-eyes, but regular shooters will not do so well.  The bad guy with the machete will take closer to 25 seconds to reach you, and will be out of breath when he gets there.

We’re not saying you’re completely safe if you maintain a 200 yard security zone around yourself.  But we are saying you’re very much safer than if you had ‘only’ a 100 yard security zone.

So, if 200 yards is good, 300 yards is obviously better, right?  Yes, no disagreement with that.  But at what distance does the cost of buying more land outweigh the increase in security?  Most of us will be forced to accept a smaller buffer zone than we’d ideally like, and perhaps the main point in this case is for you to be aware of how unsafe a small buffer zone truly is, and to maintain some type of sustainably increased defensive posture whenever you’re outdoors.

In the real world, you’ll be compromising between lot size/cost and security right from the get-go, and few of us can afford to add a 200 yard buffer around our lot, let alone a 300 or 400 yard buffer.  To demonstrate the amount of land required, here are two tables.  Both assume an impractically ‘efficient’ use of land – we are making these calculations on the basis of perfect circles, with the inner circle being your protected area and the outer circle being the total area with the added buffer zone space.  But you can never buy circular lots, so the actual real world lot sizes would be bigger than we have calculated here.

For example, where we show, below, the five acre lot with a 200 yard buffer zone as requiring a total of 54 acres if in perfect circles, if the five acre lot was rectangular, and the buffer zone also rectangular but with rounded corners, the total lot would grow to 57 acres, and when we allow for the impossibility of rounded corners, the total lot size then grows to 64 acres.

So keep in mind these are best case numbers shown primarily to simply illustrate the implications of adding a buffer zone to a base lot size, and showing how quickly any sort of buffer zone causes the total land area to balloon in size to ridiculous numbers.

If you had a one acre area in the middle of your lot, and wanted to keep a buffer zone around it, the absolute minimum lot size would be

Buffer zone in yards   Minimum total lot size in acres   Minimum perimeter in yards
100 yards   13 acres 875
150 yards   24 acres 1190
200 yards   37 acres 1505
250 yards   55 acres 1820 (1 mile)
300 yards   75 acres 2135 (1.2 miles)
350 yards    99 acres 2445 (1.4 miles)
400 yards   126 acres 2760 (1.6 miles)

 

If you have a core area of 5 acres, the numbers become

Buffer zone in yards   Minimum total lot size in acres   Minimum perimeter in yards
100 yards    23 acres 1180
150 yards    37 acres 1495
200 yards    54 acres 1810 (1 mile)
250 yards    74 acres 2120 (1.2 miles)
300 yards    98 acres 2435 (1.4 miles)
350 yards  125 acres 2750 (1.55 miles)
400 yards  155 acres 3065 (1.7 miles)

 

Clearly, it quickly becomes wildly impractical to establish the type of clear zone that you’d ideally like.

On the other hand, there’s one possible interpretation of these figures that would be wrong.  You can see that with a 1 acre core lot, you need a minimum of 37 acres in total to establish a 200 yard zone around your one acre.  If you grow your lot to 5 acres, your total lot size grows by a great deal more than five acres.  It goes from 37 acres up to 54 acres.

But – here’s the thing you should not misunderstand.  The bigger your core lot, the more efficient the ratio between protected space and total space becomes.  In the example just looked at, you had ratios of 1:37 and 5:54, with 5:54 being the same as 1:11.  This is a much better overall efficiency, even though adding the extra four acres required you to add 17 extra acres in total.

If you had ten acres of core land, then your 200 yard safety zone would require 68 acres in total, and your ratio now becomes 10:68 or 1:7.  Still extremely wasteful, but 1:7 is massively better than 1:37!

This improving efficiency for larger lot sizes hints at two strategies to improve your land utilization.

Two Strategies to Manage Your Clear Zone Risk and Requirement

Our two tables showing the amount of space you need as a safety/buffer/clear zone around your land embody a subtle assumption that perhaps can be reviewed and revised.

We are assuming that if you don’t own the land, it will be uncontrolled and uncontrollable, and will be exploited by adversaries to mount surprise attacks on you from positions of concealment and/or cover.

That is a possibility, yes.  But there’s another possibility, too.  If the land contiguous with your land is owned by friendly like-minded folk, and if they have cleared their land for cultivation too, plus have at least some awareness of risk issues and keep some degree of access restrictions to their land, then you probably don’t need as much buffer zone on the property line between you and them.

If you and your neighbor had five acre blocks adjacent to each other, then (depending on lot sizes and shapes), you would each require about 57 acres in total to have a 200 yard safety zone, but with your lots next to each other, the two of you together need only 73 acres instead of 114 acres.  You each now have a 37 acre lot instead of a 57 acre lot, and that’s a much better value.

On the other hand, call us paranoid, if you like, but we would always want some controlled space around our main retreat structure, no matter who is currently living next to us.  Neighbors can sell up or in other ways change.

This concern – that today’s ‘good’ neighbors might become tomorrow’s bad neighbors, points to the second strategy.  Why not rent out some of your land to other people.  That way you have more control over the people around you.

You could either do this by extending your core protected land and maintaining a buffer zone around both the land you farm directly and the land you rent out, or by renting out some of the buffer zone land to tenant farmers.

If you had five acres of your own core land, and if you then added another five acres to it, and also rented out the first 50 yards of your 200 yard buffer zone, then that would mean of the total 68 acre holding, there would be ten acres with 200 yards of buffer zone, and up to another 9.6 acres around it that still had a 150 yard buffer zone.  In round figures, you could use 20 of the 68 acres, with 10 offering prime security and another 10 almost as good security.  You’re now getting a reasonably efficient land utilization (20:68 or 1:3.5) and you’ve also added some adjacent friendly tenant farmers, giving your own retreat community a boost by having some like-minded folks around you.

Lines of Sight vs Crops – a Problem and a Solution

We’ve been making much about the benefit of having lines of sight stretching out a relatively safe distance so that adversaries can’t creep up on you, unawares.  The importance of this is obvious.

But, how practical is it to have unobscured lines of sight when you’re growing crops?  As an extreme example, think of a field of corn or wheat, and to a lesser extent, think of many other crops which of course have an above ground presence.  These types of crops will reduce or completely negate your line of sight visibility.

The solution is that you need to have an observation post that can look down onto the crops from a sufficient height so as to see if people are passing through them.  The higher this is, the better the visibility and ability to see down into the fields from above.

Depending on the layout of your land, the most convenient place for this would be to build it into your retreat.  You already have a (hopefully) multi-level retreat structure, why not simply add an observation post at the top of the retreat.

If that isn’t possible, another approach might be to have a tower structure somewhere that has a wind turbine generator or at least a windmill mounted on the top, giving you two benefits from the structure.

Summary

Your biggest vulnerability, in a future Level 3 type situation where you are living at your retreat and need to grow your own crops and manage your own livestock so as to maintain a viable lifestyle for some years, will be when you are out in the fields and focused on your farming duties.

Maintaining any type of effective security of your retreat would require more manpower than you could afford to spare, and even then, would remain vulnerable to a skilled and determined adversary.  A better strategy is to create a buffer zone between the land you work and the uncontrolled land adjacent to you.  This buffer zone reduces the lethality of any surprise assault and gives you time to shelter, regroup and defend.

Because a sufficient sized buffer zone requires an enormous amount of additional land, we suggest you either rent out some of your buffer zone or settle next to other like-minded folk, giving you relatively safe and more secure boundaries on at least some sides of your retreat lot.

Jul 222014
 
The Tsar Bomba's 35 mile high mushroom cloud, as seen from 100 miles away.

The Tsar Bomba’s 35 mile high mushroom cloud, as seen from 100 miles away.

An interesting new study predicts that a limited nuclear exchange between warring powers would result in a ‘nuclear winter’ scenario.

The study says this would create global famine, cooling, drought and massive increases in UV radiation (due to damage to the ozone layer), lasting some 20 years, and with between hundreds of millions and billions of people dying (the total population on the planet is about 7 billion).

The full study is available here, and there’s a more easily read paraphrase/summary of it here.

This scenario is based on a hypothetical possible war between India and Pakistan, and assumes each side fires 50 nuclear warheads at the other side (ie 100 total), and each of a moderate 15 kiloton yield.

On the face of it, this sounds apocalyptic.  On the other hand, we have major concerns about the underlying assumptions of this computer model, and our email to the study’s authors requesting clarification, which they quickly opened and read, has gone unanswered.  Just like the old computer adage ‘GIGO’ (Garbage In, Garbage Out), if the model’s assumptions are wrong, then its conclusions are also flawed.

It is interesting to look at the study and see where the assumptions may be invalid, and also to draw some lessons for preppers from its projections, whether valid or not.  Although we don’t believe a ‘limited’ 100 warhead exchange would have the apocalyptic results forecast, other events might bring about these effects and so it is helpful to understand what to expect and prepare for in such a case.

The study is based on what would happen if 5 Tg (Teragrams, the same as 5 million metric tons) of ‘black carbon‘ (a fancy way of saying smoke soot) was released into the atmosphere, and suggests this is a likely result from the detonation of 100 15 kiloton nuclear bombs.

We can’t comment on the validity of the model’s projections for the impact of 5 Tg of BC into the atmosphere, and will assume that the model is correct about this – although note that most climatological models are somewhat controversial as the ongoing debate over global warming indicates.  But we do have concerns about the suggestion that 100 typical nuclear explosions, such as might occur in a limited nuclear exchange between warring powers, would have this effect.  Let’s have a look at what we see to be flaws in the model’s underlying assumptions.

The Problems With This Study’s Underlying Assumptions

The first reason for doubting this is that in total 100 15 kiloton explosions would seem to total to about the same as a single 1.5 megaton explosion (there are reasons for and against suggesting that 100 15 kiloton explosions create either more or less effect than one single 1.5 megaton explosion).  Let’s put that in context, to appreciate how ‘trivial’ (on a global scale!) that actually is.

During the days of above ground nuclear testing by both Russia and the US, nuclear explosions of much greater than 1.5 megatons in magnitude were regularly detonated, with the largest ever nuclear explosion, the Russian Tsar Bomba, being estimated at between 50 – 58 megatons in destructive power.  Yes, this one single explosion was almost 40 times greater than the amount this study says would be sufficient to create a 20 year ‘nuclear winter’, but created almost no measurable impact on local, regional, or global climate at all.

So clearly there is more to consider than just the size of the explosions.  There are several other factors built-in to the study assumptions which the authors have not clarified.  Some are described in some of the supporting studies they are relying upon, others are not clear to us and regrettably the authors have chosen not to reply to our queries.

The first thing to appreciate is there is a huge difference between an air burst and a ground burst nuclear explosion.  A ground burst throws up a lot more material into the atmosphere than an airburst.  Most nuclear weapons are designed to be detonated as air burst rather than ground burst devices, because an air burst has a greater blast effect, destroying more buildings for a greater distance than a ground burst.

Ground bursts are only used to destroy ‘hardened’ targets such as missile silos.

We don’t know what the model assumes about air vs ground bursts.

There are two assumptions that are detailed, however.  The first is that all explosions occur over built up areas, meaning there is a lot of combustible material (ie buildings) within the blast radius, making for much larger fires and smoke and black carbon release.

The second assumption is that none of the explosions overlap with the locations of any of the other explosions, meaning that each explosion is assumed to have a complete fresh supply of material to destroy and set fire to.

In other words, these two assumptions create a maximum ‘worst case’ scenario to build upon.

How likely are these two assumptions?  We rate them as unlikely rather than likely.  Nuclear targets tend to first be military installations, secondarily industrial, and only as a very distant lowest priority do we see population concentrations targeted.  Of course, often the industrial and sometimes even the military targets overlap with population clusters, but equally, many times they do not.  Strategic military bases are not in the centers of large cities, they are in outlying areas, and tend to be sprawling over hundreds of acres with a low concentration of buildings and little combustible material.

Furthermore, it is standard military doctrine to have multiple warheads targeting each priority target so as to ensure that if one of the warheads is intercepted, or fails, or goes off target, the backup warheads will still destroy the target.  Alternatively, if attacking a large population concentration, it is still likely that multiple warheads would be set to have overlapping regions of destruction rather than being evenly spaced out such as happens when you use a cookie cutter to cut cookies out of a sheet of dough.  The problem with the cookie cutter model is that it leaves parts of the city unharmed entirely, and other parts with only moderate degrees of harm.  When designing an attack to create maximum harm, it is more common to have overlapping explosions.

Seven Possible Problems with the Study’s Assumptions

So, we see at least seven problems with the study’s underlying assumptions :

1.  No nuclear tests, including some up to 40 times the magnitude of this complete 100 warhead scenario, have resulted in any significant climate change at all.

2.  We suspect the model assumes the ‘worst case scenario’ for air vs ground bursts, a scenario which is unlikely to be reflected by actual ‘best practice’ military doctrine.

3.  We do not believe that all of the 100 explosions would be over high density population centers.  Many – maybe even most – would be over lower density militarily or industrially significant areas with much lower BC release as a result.

4.  We do not agree with the model assumption that there would be no overlap in blast effects and that each and every one of the 100 explosions would occur over high density buildings that had not yet been partially or even completely destroyed by preceding blasts.

5.  There might also be some significance in the study’s choice of India and Pakistan as a location.  These two countries are closer to the equator than most other potential future nuclear battlegrounds, meaning that there will likely be more efficient and rapid transportation of the BC from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere than if the nuclear explosions occurred further away from the equator.  In other words, this is another aspect of the study that might overstate the global implications of a nuclear exchange.

6.  If we are to accept the opinion that current industrial activity is causing global warming and adverse climate effects (and we’re not saying we do!), the depressed effect on the global levels of industrial activity caused by the predicted enormous famine and associated probable social and economic collapse will result in the reduction of other manmade carbon emissions and may therefore provide some counter-balancing relief from the effects of the BC release and accelerate the earth’s recovery.  There is no sign of this being factored into the study model.

7.  It appears their model assumed that all the BC was shot up into the atmosphere in a concentrated area of either 50 or 100 nautical miles in radius.  This is unlikely to be the case – India in particular is an enormous country with many different potential targets for nuclear attack, meaning a more realistic model should have a series of much more diffuse and smaller BC sources.  We also suspect that the model anticipates all 100 explosions occurring more or less simultaneously, whereas in reality, there is likely to be some spread of time during which they occur – possibly only minutes, maybe hours or days.  We don’t know what impacts this would have on the model, but we guess it may slightly soften the outcomes.

Is 5 Million Tons of Black Carbon a Lot?

One more thing.  The study is talking about the release of 5 Tg of black carbon, or 5 million tonnes.  How does that compare to current annual black carbon emissions?

We did some research and found wildly varying figures – for example, on this page almost next to each other are two contradictory claims, one suggesting about 7.5 million tonnes a year are released from all sources at present, and the other claim saying that forest fires alone release between 40 – 250 million tonnes a year.

According to this page, forest fires represent about 40% of total black carbon emissions, so if forest fires contribute 40 – 250 million tons a year, that would suggest in total between 100 and 625 million tonnes are released each year.

The significant part of the 5 million ton release from the nuclear war is that most of it is propelled up very high into the atmosphere and stays there for some time, whereas much of the ‘normal’ black carbon doesn’t go so high and more quickly falls back to earth.

But, at the same time, we have to note that if total black carbon emissions each year are as much as 100 times more than the amount released by this hypothetical nuclear war, is 5 million tons actually a significant amount to consider?  The study also does not put this size release into any sort of contextual perspective.

Prepper Implications of the Study’s Projected Outcomes

So, we think we can confidently state that this hypothetical 100 nuclear bomb scenario is unlikely to release 5 Tg of black carbon, and therefore, a nuclear winter scenario is unlikely from this.

But, maybe a larger scale conflict between major nuclear powers could indeed cause the 5 Tg release, and even a more limited black carbon release will still cause some modification to the global climate.  We also asked the study authors if the effects were linearly proportional – ie a 2.5 Tg release having half the impact of their modelled 5 Tg release, but, yet again, they didn’t reply.

So, while we are dismissive of the study’s basis and assumptions, there are still some valid lessons to be learned for preppers if we simply ask ourselves ‘what if some type of event caused a massive climate change?’.

1.  We often think about the impacts of a nuclear exchange as being one that is an attack on American soil.  It is easy to understand how nuclear explosions close to us would have some direct effects, but harder to realize that nuclear weapons going off on the other side of the world can still impact on us here.  Clearly, the risk is more global than we might first think.  A war between two far away countries can still upset the climate, globally.  From this perspective, the studied model provides more cause for concern than relief, and should encourage us to realize why it is such a bad thing, for, eg, Iran to be allowed to continue down its steady path to becoming a nuclear power.

2.  A probable outcome will be less solar energy for our solar cells.  Although UV levels will rise, these are not efficiently used by solar cells (which are most sensitive to red light, ie the part of white light that is red).  So we should allow for this loss of solar energy and increase our solar arrays accordingly.

3.  The cooling effect and shortened growing season means that we should consider locations that currently have sufficient growing season as to still remain productive with a 10 – 40 day reduction in season length.

4.  Substantial increases in UV radiation levels mean preference should be given to growing UV-resistant crops.

5.  While temperature changes don’t directly threaten our society or its industrial base, the loss of food production does and will threaten much/most of society, particularly when famine starts to cause the death of substantial percentages of the population.  In addition to slower acting famine, there is reason to fear that as the black carbon falls from the sky, there will be a fast and massive rise in respiratory diseases and deaths.

6.  The effects of famine will likely be of greatest impact in third world countries.  Hopefully, in the US, urgent attempts at creating hothouses, hydroponics, and other ‘high tech’ solutions, and simply changing our food habits to waste less and eat less, and buying in more food from other countries (assuming it is still for sale) will cushion the impacts on US society.  If we reduced our food intact to a more appropriate level and if we cut down on waste, we’d instantly halve our food requirements, and if we shifted our food production to most effective yielding crops, we’d probably bring about a doubling in net food production.

7.  It seems we should plan for less rain and – in areas currently short of water – more drought.  Ensure your location has sufficient water access, even in adverse conditions that – worst case scenario – may see rivers dwindle in size and creeks dry up entirely.  Rainwater collection systems will become less effective, and underground water table levels will drop due to reduced rates of replenishment (and possibly accelerated rates of offtake due to increased reliance on wells).

8.  This scenario shows an immediate impact on crop production (depending of course on what time of year the nuclear exchange occurs) and lasting effects extending 25 years or more.  On the other hand, if there are massive population losses in the first few years, it might be possible that the smaller sized population could more quickly balance the reduced agricultural capabilities and allow for a faster return to an industrialized self-sustaining society.

9.  The model shows that global temperatures drop over a five-year period.  This means that maybe the result is less a sudden apocalyptic transition and more a gradual deterioration in weather.

10.  The  climate change effects seem generally more extreme, the further away from the equator you go, and less extreme closer to the equator.  Perhaps this argues in favor of establishing a retreat in a southern rather than northern part of the US.

11.  Damage to crop DNA from increased UV levels will be passed from generation to generation, probably getting worse each time.  It is prudent to have sufficient stocks of seed to enable you to used undamaged seed to restart your crops several times during the period of increased UV.

12.  Air-borne fine particulate black carbon is harmful to health.  It will be beneficial to have filtration systems in your retreats to filter out the particulate matter before air is circulated within the retreat.  HEPA type filters will address this need, and if you get washable ones, that will extend their life (which will probably be much shorter than anticipated due to the much greater concentration of black carbon in the air).  If you’re going outside, you might want to use a respirator to give you protection while outdoors too.

13.  Although also impacted, the southern hemisphere seems to not be as severely affected as the northern hemisphere.  Because this type of climate based calamity would take some days/weeks/months/years to fully develop, it would give you time to fly to your choice of southern locations and set up your retreat there.

Summary

Although this study suggests an apocalyptic outcome of a relatively minor nuclear war, we disagree.  We think that the study may possibly overstate the direct results of a 100 warhead nuclear exchange, and we further feel that the western world – and in particular the United States – may be able to adapt its food sourcing and consumption fast enough to minimize the widespread famine and death projected in the study.

On the other hand, the increase in harmful particulate matter in the air is something that you do need to be able to respond to.

Depending on the importance you attach to this type of sudden climate change risk, you may want to factor it in to your choice of retreat location (ie issues such as water sufficiency, growing season length, and perhaps more generally, closer to the south than the north of the country).

Jul 192014
 
The revised earthquake risk map published by the USGS.  Full size version here.

The revised earthquake risk map published by the USGS. Full size version here.

The US Geological Survey organization – a government department that few of us think about, but which employs over 10,000 people in over 400 locations – has now revised its earlier 2008 earthquake risk projections.

The new projection shows heightened risk in some of the American Redoubt states, but some parts of the country have their risk downgraded, so overall, there is probably no significant change in national overall earthquake risk.

The areas of changed risk do not necessarily mean there have been changes in the underlying geological structures that cause earthquakes in those regions.  More commonly, it means that in the six years since the 2008 risk projections were published, there have been improvements in the data obtained and the understanding of earthquake causes, allowing for an improved projection of likely future earthquakes.

When you’re planning your retreat location, earthquake risk is of course a small factor to consider – both in general terms from the perspective of ‘might there be an earthquake here’ and in specific terms – are there potential risk factors immediately around your retreat location if a large earthquake were to occur.  It would be useful to check local records to see the potential risk for liquefaction in your area, and also to consider things such as if you’re downstream from a major dam that might break, if there is a bridge or other vital connection that could be destroyed and cutting you off from ‘the rest of the world’, etc.

The risk is also from smaller dams and structures failing – what say you have a small dam yourself as part of a micro-hydro power station.  Or a water tower.  And so on.

Also, of course, you should be sure to ensure that your retreat is built to fully comply with best earthquake resistant building practices, and that everything stored within it be reasonably secured so as not to be at risk in the event of a foreseeably strong earthquake (ie, don’t have glass jars of produce unsecured on an open top shelf of racking!).

Here’s a map showing which areas have had their risk increased and which areas have had their risk decreased (for one of several different earthquake measurement factors).

earthquakechangec

The sixteen states deemed at highest risk of a significant earthquake are (alphabetically) Alaska, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

The full study covers nearly 250 pages and is a 113MB download from the USGS website.  The key summary information can also be found on the USGS site.

Jul 062014
 
The darker colored the state, the greater the feeling of overall wellbeing in the state.  Just one of almost 30 different factors measured in Gallup's latest 'State of the State' survey.

The darker colored the state, the greater the feeling of overall wellbeing in the state. Just one of almost 30 different factors measured in Gallup’s latest ‘State of the State’ survey.

The latest set of results from Gallup’s annual survey of the states are  now available on their website.  Almost 30 different factors are reported on, ranging from political persuasion to religious belief, from employment to medical insurance, from general wellbeing to optimism about your city’s future.

As is common with all such surveys that only look at data on a state level rather than on a county or zip code level, the information is very averaged and obscures potentially significant variations within a single state, so this data should always be treated warily.

Furthermore, while it will rank states from top to bottom on any of the different elements it is measuring, note that in some cases, there’s not a huge amount of difference between the score of the ‘best’ and the ‘worst’ states, making the relevance of some measures somewhat questionable and dubious.

So, as always, it is sensible to look at this sort of data to get an understanding of the prevailing situation in a state you might move to, but you need to supplement it with more localized research too.

In addition to the information in this annual survey, Gallup has also released an interesting survey of how people feel about living in their home state.

It isn’t clear exactly how this translates into a meaningful measure for preppers looking to relocate, but we do note that MT comes top, and RI at the bottom.  There is also a huge gap between the 77% who rate MT as one of the best states to live in, and the only 18% who feel that way about RI, so this is an example of a meaningful spread of values.

We’d definitely prefer to be in a state where most of our fellow residents were happy to be there – that suggests a more representative and connected state government.

Jun 202014
 
The lighter the shading, the less corrupt the state.

The lighter the shading, the less corrupt the state.

Here’s a dry-as-dust academic article that basically says that the ten most corrupt states in the US spent about $1300 per state resident more in government monies each year, perhaps as a result of that corruption.

It is unsurprising that corrupt states overspend public money.  And, of course, we’d all probably prefer to live in an ‘honest’ state.

There’s one reason in particular why we feel that honest states are important for us as preppers – if/when we have a major Level 2/3 situation occur, we suggest that the more honest the state, the (slightly) less likely there will be an orchestrated public taking of private property (ie of our supplies) and the greater the respect for pre-existing rules of law and private property rights.

A huge problem is how do you measure corruption?  Endemic corruption usually occurs in regions where laws are poorly enforced, and where courts are unlikely to impose severe punishments.

This report measures a wide array of convicted crimes by officials : accepting bribes, awarding government contracts to vendors without competitive bidding, accepting kickbacks from private entities engaged in or pursuing business with the government, overstating travel expenses or hours worked, selling information on criminal histories and law enforcement information to private companies, mail fraud, using government credit cards for personal purchases, sexual misconduct, falsifying official documents, theft of government computer equipment for an international computer piracy group, extortion, robbery, and soliciting bribes by police officers, possession with intent to distribute narcotics, and smuggling illegal aliens.

We can only guess if the levels of convictions matches the underlying level of actual active corruption.  But, if we assume there is at least some weak correlation between the two, it is interesting to see how the states match up.  Unfortunately, although the article ranks the states from least to most corrupt, it provides no data as to how much difference in perceived corruption levels there is between the most and least corrupt states.

It also makes no attempt to get more finely focused than state-wide data.  If you think of some states, there may be some corrupt big cities and also some stalwartly honest smaller towns and rural counties.

Data has been obtained from convictions between 1976 – 2008.

So, use this data with a grain of salt.  But, as always, it provides another small hint as to better and worse places to choose to base your future retreat.

States Ranked from Least to Most Corrupt

1 Oregon 26 Hawaii
2 Washington 27 Rhode Island
3 Minnesota 28 Maryland
4 Nebraska 29 Delaware
5 Iowa 30 New Jersey
6 Vermont 31 Georgia
7 Utah 32 West Virginia
8 New Hampshire 33 Montana
9 Colorado 34 Virginia
10 Kansas 35 Missouri
11 Wisconsin 36 South Carolina
12 Wyoming 37 North Dakota
13 Idaho 38 Ohio
14 Michigan 39 New York
15 North Carolina 40 Oklahoma
16 Indiana 41 Florida
17 Arizona 42 Kentucky
18 Maine 43 South Dakota
19 Texas 44 Alaska
20 Nevada 45 Alabama
21 Arkansas 46 Pennsylvania
22 California 47 Illinois
23 New Mexico 48 Tennessee
24 Connecticut 49 Louisiana
25 Massachusetts 50 Mississippi

 

It is interesting to see the major difference in rating between Idaho (a good rating of 13th) and adjoining Montana, with a disappointing placing of 33rd.

But, and as we said before, these numbers are dubious rather than definite.

Jun 172014
 
Another tool in your retreat site selection process.

Another tool in your retreat site selection process.

Most of us have a preconceived view that some states are ‘better’ than others and more suitable for people wishing to experience a prepared lifestyle.  The American Redoubt region in particular seems to be considered by many as an ideal region, but that contains a handful of states and many counties and regions.

Here’s a rather simplistic webpage that allows you to answer seven questions with yes/no/not applicable as answers, and to select a possible state you are considering living within.  From that limited data, it then reports the five towns which have their population believed to most closely match your own opinions.

The information comes from, ironically enough, a company that specializes in helping Democratic causes and campaigns.

Needless to say, there’s a great deal more to consider than the seven yes/no/don’t care questions asked by this program, but it is interesting to see where the resulting clusters of people ‘most like you’ end up being located within your preferred states.

For example, we’d have expected our answers to suggest moving to northern Idaho but the townships returned were all in southern Idaho.  In Montana, there was a preference for eastern Montana whereas we’d otherwise look to north/western Montana.

There’s of course another use for this web page/mapping.  Put in the opposite answers and see the places in your preferred state you might wish to avoid!

May 082014
 
Patterns of volcano ash fallout from past mega eruptions.

Patterns of volcano ash fallout from past mega eruptions.

Although there are plenty of people who are concerned that the Feds are indeed secretly preparing for future problems (ie, not in the way we might wish and hope for), maybe we should also be pleased to learn of such things.  Is it possible the Feds have both a bug-out plan and also a distant safe retreat for us all?  Or, at least, for some lucky souls among us?

Here’s an interesting article which, on a very thin level of evidence, suggests that maybe the Feds have made – or are making – or are trying to make – plans for a mass exodus of Americans in the event of a national disaster such as an eruption of the mega-volcano in Yellowstone (and probably in the case of other major disasters too).

According to the article and its sources, in such a case, the US might send (ie, fly) an unknown number of millions of us to South Africa, or maybe Brazil, Argentina, or Australia (can I put my name down for Australia, please).

But, really and realistically, how practical is this?

First, do you remember the Iceland volcano eruption of a few years ago, and how it disrupted air traffic for weeks?  A mega-volcano eruption in the US may cause similar problems in the air.  Or the ash (and possibly lava too) may impact on runways and ground operations, making it impossible for planes to land, spend time on the ground, and take-off again.  How would the millions of people affected by the eruption get to staging points and to operating international airports?

But, let’s ignore that for now.  Let’s simply consider how long it would take to fly 10 million people to South Africa.  For the sake of argument, let’s say people fly on 500 seater Airbus A380s, the largest passenger planes currently flying.  That means we need 20,000 flights.  At the time of writing, a total of 128 A380s have been delivered by Airbus, none of which are owned/operated by US airlines.  But let’s say the US can charter half of these – 64 planes.  That means each plane has to do 312 roundtrips between the US and South Africa.  In other words, it would take over a year to evacuate all 10 million people.

Okay, so there’s no reason why the US couldn’t also use 400 seater 747s and 300 seater 777s as well.  Could it possibly cobble together a fleet of 250 planes, averaging 400 seats each?  We’re not sure about that, but let’s say it could be done.  That means each roundtrip would see 100,000 people moved out of the US – assuming perhaps 36 hour roundtrip durations, that would mean in five or six months the 10 million people had been successfully evacuated.

But, what if it is 20 million or 200 million?  That means one year, or ten years.

And, ummm, what will people do while patiently waiting weeks, months or years for their turn to be evacuated?  Where will they live?  What will they eat?

Talking about eating, how will the host country then suddenly handle a massive influx of millions of people?  South Africa has a population of 51 million, many (most?) of whom live in severe poverty.  How could it handle a sudden addition of many millions more people?  What living standard could we expect?  (Of the other countries mentioned, Argentina has 41 million people, Australia 23 million, and Brazil 199 million.)

That also begs the question – if it takes six months or six years to evacuate a person, and if there will be major infrastructure and support problems where the people are being relocated, is flying them half-way around the world the best way to handle the disruption?

The article in the South African newspaper says we would have ‘a few weeks or days’ of warning prior to an eruption.  But, with an evacuation rate of 100,000 per day – and an uncertain amount of time to spool up the evacuation process to that rate, combined with the unwillingness of people to suddenly abandon their lives and homes and leave, perhaps forever, with no more than one or two suitcases each, how many people could actually be evacuated in those few days or weeks?  A million?  That’s probably only a very small percentage of the people who would be impacted by the Yellowstone volcano coming cataclysmically to life.

So just how impactful and helpful might any such evacuation program be?  Is this the best the government can come up with – evacuating as many of us as possible to South Africa?  And, oh yes, South Africa doesn’t want us, no matter how much our government is offering to bribe them ($10 billion a year just to have the contingency open!) for fear that their country would be overrun by white people.  Hmmm – why is it only offensive outrageous racism when white people say that about blacks, but never vice versa?  There are 45 million black/colored South Africans at present – just how many white Americans are too many?

One also wonders, based on the objection of being inundated by too many white folk, whether or not such relocation is being proposed as a temporary or permanent measure.  Still it is nice to think that maybe the government is planning to fly us to some exotic location rather than intern us in a FEMA camp!

Perhaps the most interesting thing in the article is the map image at the top (we have a small size version of it at the top of our article, too).  It is interesting to see how the ash from past eruptions has spread across the country – and when you think that radioactivity would follow a similar dispersion/fallout path (assuming similar release locations, of course) it is clear that it is much better to be west rather than east of any potential events.

Oh – and as for the government being there to save us after a national disaster?  And should you keep your passport current, just in case of a sudden unexpected relocation to some far away foreign country?  Call us cynical if you must, but we think you’d be well advised not to rely on this ‘deus ex machina’ coming along to save you.  Continue to plan and prepare to be self-reliant is by far the wiser choice.

Aug 152013
 
State by state policies on underage drinking (click link for full size map),

State by state policies on underage drinking (click link for full size map),

Maybe you enjoy the occasional drink, and maybe you’re a teetotaler.  Either way, you might agree that a state’s policies towards drinking provides another insight into its general moral and interventionist approach to how the state feels it should regulate the lives of its citizens.

Perhaps the point that we are most sensitive to is whether the state feels it should reach into a person’s private house, family customs and religious practices and forbid any underage drinking, even as part of normal family life or religious ceremonies.  The assumption that the state knows better than parents about what is best for a child is an aggressive assumption at the best of times, and while there are occasionally tragic and egregious examples of how some parents show they don’t do a good job of caring for their children, there are also statutes to cover such practices.

A ‘lowest common denominator’ imposition on a total blanket ban on any type of drinking for people under the age of 21 seems regrettable, and we’re not even going to start along the lines of ‘you can vote, you can drive, you can serve in the armed services, you can marry, but you can’t have a drink at your own wedding’, although we’re very sympathetic to the comment.

Suffice it to say that blanket bans on alcohol consumption because a very small minority abuse alcohol makes no more sense than blanket bans on firearms for similar reasons.

Let’s look at what restrictions states pose on so-called ‘under age’ drinking and on alcohol related issues in general.  But first, a bit of history is in order.

The History of US Drinking Age Laws

With the repeal of prohibition in 1933, states were allowed to set their own alcohol laws.  Most states set 21 as the minimum age to drink in public.

In 1971, the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18, and at that point, 30 states lowered their minimum drinking age – perhaps to 18, or in some cases to 19 or 20.  By 1982, that number had grown to 46 states allowing a lower than 21 minimum drinking age.

But in 1984 the National Minimum Drinking Age Act gave a backdoor ability back to the federal government to regulate a national minimum drinking age.  Although not empowered to set a national drinking age, and in an attempt to avoid violating the 10th Amendment (reserving such powers to the states themselves), the federal government said ‘You are free to set any age you like, but, oh, by the way, if you don’t set the age to 21, we’ll reduce the amount of federal highway funds we give to you by 10%’.

No state wished to lose out on these large annual grants (back then, some states were getting up to $100 million annually and these days it is much more), and so all 50 states quickly revised their minimum drinking age back to 21.  This gives the United States the county in the ‘developed world’ with the highest minimum drinking age (next comes Iceland and Japan, both with a 20 age limit).  Interestingly (and we’ll let you ponder this without our prompting) restrictions on drinking alcohol is of course something we have in common with some of the most severely Muslim nations.

State by State Underage Policies

Five states have an outright ban on all underage drinking, no matter what the circumstances or situation.  These five states are Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, New Hampshire and West Virginia.

If you’re considering a move to the ‘American redoubt’ states, you should note Idaho’s inclusion on that list.  The other redoubt states are considerably less intrusive on your private personal lives, at least when it comes to alcohol.

The other 45 states all allow for one or more exceptions to their underage drinking laws.  These include on private, ‘non-alcohol selling’ premises and with parental consent, or even without parental consent, on alcohol selling premises with parental consent, for religious purposes, for medical purposes, and several other categories of narrow applicability as well.  You can see a complete list here.

If you’d like to see how the US compares to other countries, you can see a list of 138 different countries and their policies here.

Sunday Liquor Sales Bans

Another area where states feel they need to mandate ‘morality’ or in some other way control our lives is by restricting our ability to buy spirits on a Sunday.

Twelve states have an outright ban on Sunday sales.  These are Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Oklahoma, Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, Minnesota, Indiana, North Carolina and South Carolina.

A special mention goes to Indiana – it bans all alcohol sales – not just spirits, but wine and beer too, on Sundays.

Here’s an interesting map showing state by state Sunday spirit policies.

Other State and Local Laws About the Sale of Alcohol

Some states restrict the sale of variously beer, wine and/or spirits, requiring them only to be sold through dedicated outlets, possibly state-owned.  Others are less restrictive.

And whether liquor can be sold anywhere or only through specific outlets, some states have a department that controls perhaps the wholesaling or retailing of spirits (reasonably common) and possibly wine and beer too (less common).

This page has a good summary of the relevant laws, state by state.

In addition to state-wide laws, there can also be even more restrictive county and/or city laws.  In particular, there are a number of ‘dry’ counties that may restrict and ban the purchase and/or consumption of alcohol in that county.  There are also dry towns and cities.

This page seems to have the most complete list of counties, cities and townships that are dry.

Laws about Beermaking, Winemaking, and Distilling

There are probably going to be both federal and state laws to consider when it comes to making your own booze.  Let’s start off with the bad news first.

It is illegal to distill your own spirits without a federal license.  It is also illegal to own still apparatus.  You can’t even make vinegar without a bunch of paperwork, because vinegar goes through a stage where it is alcohol rich but not yet sour enough to presumably discourage guzzling it down!

It seems fair to say that the restrictions on distilling spirits remain as strict today as they ever have been, and while there are plenty of books out there about how to make your own spirits at home, they don’t do you a service by failing to highlight just how illegal the activities they are encouraging you to do actually are.

To quote from the relevant government department’s website (The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau division of the Dept of the Treasury) :

There are numerous requirements that must be met that make it impractical to produce spirits for personal or beverage use

It is rare to see any government department admitting that their paperwork requirements are cumbersome.  Bottom line – they really don’t want you distilling your own spirits.  If you are caught breaking these laws, the penalties can be harsh and may possibly involve imprisonment.

However, the news is more positive when it comes to wine and beer.  Federal law allows you to make 100 gallons of beer per adult, up to a maximum of 200 gallons per household, each year, but for personal use only, not for sale, and restrictions may be imposed on taking the beer off your property.  Similar provisions allow you to make the same 100 gallons/person or 200 gallons/household of wine annually.  (Note that to qualify for the 200 gallon allowance, there must be at least two adults of legal age to drink in the household).

State laws can be more restrictive than federal law, but it seems all 50 states now allow home beermaking (the last two states to allow this being Mississippi in March 2013 and Alabama in May 2013).

We believe that when Mississippi legalized home brewing it also legalized home winemaking, but we are not sure if the same happened in Alabama.  We believe all other 48 states allow home winemaking, generally in line with the federal 100/200 gallon limits.

This site has convenient access to each state’s relevant legislation.  It seems this main index page has not been updated to reflect the current situation in MS or AL, but if you drill down to the specific state legislation, you’ll of course get an accurate understanding.

Summary

We make no moral judgments about anyone’s alcohol consumption, although clearly there are people with an alcoholism problem and that is regrettable.  But we have two general comments to make.  The first is that there is absolutely no evidence at all to suggest that greater restrictions on alcohol have any positive effect on the alcohol problems in a community.  There are clear regional differences in alcohol use, as shown in the data here and this more extensive data here.  But our sense is that the regional differences are a reflection of regional lifestyles and values more than they are of varying rules and restrictions.  In other words, perhaps the less that people drink by choice, the more restrictive a set of conditions they may impose on themselves, and their lower levels of consumption reflect not the legal constraints but rather personal preferences.

Our second point is to observe that we feel it is as unwelcome a state intrusion into our private lives to mandate when and where and how we can buy and consume alcohol as it is to restrict our firearms ownership or other similar things.

It seems entirely possible to us that the more active a state and county is in controlling how its citizens can access and consume alcohol (ie the more it is a ‘nanny state’ and feels it knows best what its citizens can and can’t do, and the less it trusts its citizens to make their own choices), the more empowered the governmental authorities will feel themselves to be when it comes to doing other things ‘for our own good’ too, either during normal times or during a crisis.

One further point about this, in case you care.  We are Christian, and we understand what is required to live a Christian lifestyle.  We are happy when other people live their lives and follow similar values to our own.

But we completely fail to see any authority in the Bible that empowers us to impose our Christian values on other people, whether they wish to follow them or not.  People who claim Biblical authority to constrain the lives of other people are, in our opinion, no better than Muslim extremists who claim the Koran allows and encourages them to wage their war against ‘non-believers’.  Being a New Testament Christian is all about honoring choice and freewill, not about forcing people to do anything insincerely.

While we do indeed like to be in a Christian community, we would not want to be in one which ended up as a severe theocracy, imposing some person’s opinions about how people should lead their lives.  Let’s allow us all the freedom to do as we wish, whether it be owning firearms, storing food, making/buying/drinking alcohol, or whatever else that is and should be private and personal.

So, to summarize what has become a lengthy summary, how a state (and county) seeks to restrict and control its citizens and their access to alcoholic beverages might, for some of us, directly influence where we establish a retreat, and for others of us, might provide a weak insight into how aggressive the state/county currently is and may be in the future at generally intruding into the private lives of its citizens.