catastrophe jackassery

bug-out bag: A portable bag that contains essential items to help you survive the first 72 hours of a disaster, whether you shelter in place or head for the hills. Typical items include water, dehydrated food, energy bars, fire-starting tools, first aid kit, hand-crank radio (ideally with a cellphone charger built in), duct tape, hatchet, poncho, etc.

Living in hurricane country most of my life, I usually had a small stockpile of bottled water, canned food, candles, crackers and granola bars. The only time I ever tapped into it (other than raiding supplies when there was no other food in the house) was during Hurricane Ike when we were without power for a week. Compared to the people who were flooded out of their homes and lost everything, our week without power was a slight inconvenience. A technology vacation that saw us getting together with neighbors each night to grill what was left of frozen steaks while we drank wine by candlelight and listened to night noises usually obscured by air conditioners and other comfort machinery. You don’t realize how much a city buzzes until it stops making noise.

Here in earthquake country, we have a shelf full of Mountain House dehydrated food, a propane stove and propane, water, candles, batteries and a few other items. Where the San Andreas fault runs right by San Francisco, it goes inland when it passes the central coast, and our house is a couple of blocks up the hill from the tsunami inundation zone. If we lived closer to the forest and had to worry about fires that drive you from your bed in the middle of the night barefoot and running to your car, I’d probably keep photos and other irreplaceables in an easy-access container near the door. But for now, I’m comfortable with the minor level of preparedness we have.

I think bug-out bags are an interesting concept, but I haven’t felt the need to actually put one together. In Houston, there’s no place to bug out to–the mass (and needless) evacuation for Hurricane Rita showed there’s no escape from the fourth largest city when everyone’s trying to leave at the same time. And here, there are a lot more wilderness options, but unless we also have a tent and other supplies too large to fit into a big backpack, I don’t think a bug-out bag’s going to do it. If we have to shelter in place, we’ll grab the stuff from the cabinet as we need it. Having it in one bag wouldn’t make a difference.

Which brings me around to this: the Prepster, a “luxury 3 day survival bag.” It comes with the usual bug-out bag items, only in “luxury” form. Like grapefruit face cleanser and cilantro hair conditioner. I don’t know about you, but when I’ve been driven from my home due to some horrible disaster, I’m not fucking around with split ends. And who wouldn’t want their hair to smell like cilantro, am I right?

You can even get the bag monogrammed, bringing your grand total to $420. I’d love to know who their target demographic is. All I can picture is a tanned woman with a yoga body and long fingernails crying as she tries to rip open the packaging around her dehydrated “astronaut” ice cream while her boyfriend is cranking the radio in hopes of charging his cellphone as they sit on the small spot of grass in front of their townhouse. Their manicured dog keeps inching further and further away, unnoticed, and their neighbors are watching through the curtains to take a break from their own drama. What are they going to do on day four when their bag is empty? Smell their cilantro hair and hope someone saves them?

A bug-out bag wouldn’t have helped clear our driveway of tree limbs, post Hurricane Ike. Beer and whiskey did that trick.

El Carmelo Cemetery

There are lots of ghost stories about the Monterey Peninsula, which is made up of Monterey, Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach and Carmel-by-the-Sea. Whether it’s the eerie feeling that comes in with the dense nighttime fog, the oddly shaped Monterey cypress trees that reach out to you from the sea or the many old shipwrecks at the bottom of Monterey Bay, it’s easy to find a creepy tale and an unabashed believer.

One evening when checking out at Trader Joe’s, the girl ringing us up mentioned her other job at a restaurant with a reputation for being haunted. I asked if she’d seen any ghosts there, and, while she hadn’t seen anything at the restaurant, she had experienced all sorts of things at Trader Joe’s. Most notably items flying off shelves at night when they were closing up. Whether those activities could be blamed on a pranky coworker or not, it was interesting to hear a stranger talk so openly about ghosts. And she’s not the only local I’ve run into with a story to tell. Ghosts and ghostly activity are just considered part of life around here.

There’s a cemetery not far from the path I walk on along the ocean. It’s called El Carmelo, and it’s been here since the late 1800s. I’ve heard stories about the cemetery–of course, since ghosts and cemeteries are like PB&J–so I decided to take a detour to check it out. It’s a peaceful place with a constant breeze off the Pacific. And there’s a lot of activity alright. But not ghosts. At least, not so far.

El Carmelo Cemetery
El Carmelo Cemetery, founded 1891
though my first visit occurred on a bright, beautiful day, the cemetery was cast in shadows and hard to photograph with my phone's camera
though my first visit occurred on a bright, beautiful day, my phone’s camera had a tough time with shadows
I saw the first deer out of the corner of my eye, sensing there was something alive on a plot to my left - soon I noticed half a dozen deer nearby, either grazing or lazing on top of someone's grave
I saw the first deer out of the corner of my eye, sensing there was something alive on a plot to my left – soon I noticed half a dozen nearby, either grazing or lazing on top of someone’s grave like this brave fellow who looks like he’s part of the cemetery, not an interloper like I am
the next time I visited El Carmelo, the fog was thick
the next time I visited El Carmelo, the fog was thick (this is looking back toward PG as I made my way south to Asilomar Beach)
it was hard to see the water  - looked like the world just faded into a gray mist
closer to Asilomar and the cemetery, it was hard to see the water – looked like the world just faded into a gray mist
dense fog + cemetery = atmosphere (my phone's camera did what it could, but you can't see how thick this stuff was - it felt like a light rain)
dense fog + cemetery = atmosphere (my phone’s camera did what it could, but you can’t see how thick this stuff was – it felt like a constant light rain)
all cemeteries should have so many trees - they add a sense of protection
all cemeteries should have so many trees – they add a nice sense of protection
the deer are fearless - they checked me out for a bit and then ignored me - at one point, two of them walked toward me and came within a few feet
the deer are fearless – they checked me out for a bit and then ignored me
this one walked within a few feet of me, then ambled over to this spot to take a load off
uh, thanks?
uh, thanks?
Daughter (the person buried between this stone and the next had his full name and military info)
Grandma (guessing she was also a mother, daughter and person with a name)
couldn't make out what this used to say - maybe it was an image? it looked like the outline of an animal
couldn’t make out what this used to say – maybe it was an image?
as I stood there on that first visit feeling the ocean breeze and listening to the white noise it brought, I thought about how remarkably peaceful and at ease I was in that space - then I looked down and saw I was next to some Jacksons
as I stood there on that first visit feeling the ocean breeze and listening to the white noise it brought, I thought about how remarkably peaceful and at ease I was in that space – then I looked down and saw I was next to some Jacksons (and, yes, that was kind of creepy)

it’s all about context

I was out running Christmas-related errands Saturday morning when I saw a sign on the highway about the High Caliber Gun Show that was in Houston last weekend.  Evidently high-caliber gun shows go on whether or not there was a mass murder of 20 elementary school students and six adults the day before. Hey man, that’s cool. Capitalism. I get it.

Guns are fairly ubiquitous in this state. In fact, this long-haired liberal lives in a house that has guns in it. Multiple guns. (They aren’t mine, but they are in my house.) So let me get this out of the way before we go any further: I don’t think all guns should be banned. I think the majority of gun owners are responsible, law-abiding citizens who would only fire their weapons at another human being as an absolute last resort.

But after last week’s massacre (and each and every one before that), we all realize that we have a major problem in this country. A problem that stems from three things: easy access to high-powered weapons, a lack of mental health care for people who need it and a culture that promotes violence as a way to settle differences, express one’s manhood or escape a life that just didn’t work out the way it was supposed to. This post will talk about the first of that list.

As I read the Facebook comments from my friends on “both sides” of the gun debate (are complex issues really so easy to boil down to just two opinions?), it became clear that one of the problems we’re having with the gun issue is the extremism of opinion on either end. The “I’m an American and it’s my God-given right to own as many weapons as I want” versus the “Won’t someone think of the children and remove all guns from all homes.”

The people in the first group wrap themselves in the flag and tout their patriotism, as if those of us who don’t want to walk around wearing a shoulder holster are somehow less American or care less for our loved ones. The second group wraps themselves in a soft baby blanket of denial about the world we’re living in, acting as if the people who own guns are just one step removed from blowing us all away. Neither is “right,” but the first camp is way more politically active and well-funded. So the first camp is the one who’s been setting the tone for the country.

Argument #1 (and their rallying cry): THE SECOND AMENDMENT

When the Second Amendment was written (1791), guns looked like this:Pistol HawkenPercussion

They were simple, single-shot weapons that didn’t have the capability to kill more than one person at a time. In fact, in the time it took to reload the things, it would have been easy to just tackle the shooter and punch him in the head. The piece of shit who killed 20 children and six adults last week used a gun like this:

assault rifleBit of a difference, no? This killing machine shoots bullets that are “designed in such a fashion (that) the energy is deposited in the tissue so the bullets stay in.”  Wow. And it can shoot 30 rounds in just a few seconds. That’s a lot of killing. And that’s all it’s good for. Not hunting–if you shot a deer with something like this, you’d be left with pieces of meat, not a trophy to hang on your wall or steaks to put in your belly. Not target practice either–anything with a finger (human, monkey, those skinny potatoes) could fire something like this and hit a target. Eventually. No, this machine is made for killing. And that’s all it’s made for.


“There are already assault weapons and the related bullets/magazines out there, and there’s no way you’ll get them all back. We may as well keep selling them.” Bullshit. If we found out that 100 people have a jar of anthrax in their basement, that doesn’t mean we should make more and sell it to whoever wants it. Yeah, some people own scary big murder machines filled with extra-murderous bullets. Most of those people are probably as sane as any of us, and some of them are probably batshit crazy, just waiting to be fired or dumped before they go on a rampage. There’s not a lot we can do about that. But what we can do is make an effort to keep those machines out of more people’s hands going forward.


That might be true. Sometimes. But in the case of the most recent killer, if his mama hadn’t had those guns sitting in her house, it might have been more difficult for him to have access to them. Shit, when I was 20, I had a hard time finding beer money. And if it had been more difficult, maybe he would have found a different way to express his hatred/mental illness/whatever than by killing 26 people in a matter of minutes. Instead of fixating on all those guns in his childhood home (which, I can pretty much guarantee, were accompanied by a hearty dose of paranoia meted out by the person who purchased so many high-caliber weapons), maybe he would have found a different outlet. Dubstep. Paintball. Fucking the person of his choice. Macrame. Whatever.

Instead of taking the hypothetical to its most negative and defeatist conclusion (criminals will find a way regardless, so let’s just shrug our shoulders and make it easy on them), let’s try another approach. Let’s try making it a little harder on the bad guy or the disturbed young man and see how that works out. We’ve tried it the other way, and it’s obviously not working. I wrote a post about smoking pot with a former President last week and my blog was suddenly visited by the men in black. Hows about they visit people like the Aurora movie theater shooter who bought 6,000 rounds of ammunition and four guns in the weeks before the shooting.


This is the easiest one. If you think having a stash of assault rifles is going to protect you from military drones that will shoot you while you’re sitting on the toilet, carefully clutching your gun while your eyes dart around the room, you’re a fool. I mean, to truly be able to fight back, you’d need nuclear weapons and stealth bombers, right? Annually, the US spends more than $200 billion on defense procurement and R&D. The People don’t stand a chance, militaristically. (Not to mention, to truly be a foe, you’d need to learn some hacking skills because the first thing they’ll do is attack electronically. Make your car inoperable. Wipe out communication devices. Take away your money. And your FACEBOOK!)


Just as it’s no longer legal to “own” another person and women now have the right to vote, some laws evolve with the times as we evolve with the times. It’s time to put the Second Amendment in its current context, which includes a close review of the guns that are currently available to regular Joes. To be clear: I believe in the right to bear arms. I don’t believe in the right to bear nuclear arms. Or assault weapons. Or magazines that hold 30+ bullets. Or surface-to-air missiles. Or weaponized honey bees. Or Taylor Swift albums. You get the picture.

Guns don’t need to be completely outlawed. When the zombie apocalypse comes, I’ll be happy there are guns in my house. (Until we run out of bullets and have to resort to stabbing them with the broken off handle of our broom.) But there is absolutely no reason that regular, crazy old Americans should have access to as many military-grade high-caliber killing machines as they can afford. (ed. note: US civilians cannot purchase true military-grade guns, only modified versions of them, though they can purchase military-grade gear like body armor.) And when some asshole suddenly starts buying a shitload of ammunition and enough guns to outfit a small army, maybe it wouldn’t hurt for someone to check that shit out.

Finally, John Oliver was credited with this quote (though I haven’t been able to track down where he said it or if he said it): “One failed attempt at a shoe bomb, and now we all take off our shoes at the airport. Thirty-one (mass) shootings since Columbine, and no change in our regulation of guns.” I can’t say it any better than that.

It’s all about context.