Notes from HJL:

April 24th, today, is the birthday of Carolyn Cole(born 1961), a well-known staff photographer for the Los Angeles Times. For a few years in the late 1960s, the Cole family lived next door to JWR’s parents’ house in Livermore, California. That little girl with whom I played hide-and-seek would grow up to earn a Pulitzer Prize, two World Press Photo awards, and be named Photojournalist Of The Year. Congrats and Happy Birthday, Carolyn!

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SurvivalBlog Mobile Readers: Do not despair; you are not forgotten! I am working the issue as a top priority.

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Today we present another entry for Round 52 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The $11,000+ worth of prizes for this round include:

First Prize:

  1. A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate, good for any one, two, or three course (a $1,195 value),
  2. A course certificate from onPoint Tactical. This certificate will be for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses. (Excluding those restricted for military or government teams.) Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
  3. Two cases of Mountain House freeze dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
  4. A $300 gift certificate from CJL Enterprize, for any of their military surplus gear,
  5. A 9-Tray Excalibur Food Dehydrator from Safecastle.com (a $300 value),
  6. A $300 gift certificate from Freeze Dry Guy,
  7. A $250 gift certificate from Sunflower Ammo,
  8. A roll of $10 face value in pre-1965 U.S. 90% silver quarters, courtesy of GoldAndSilverOnline.com, (currently valued at around $180 postpaid),
  9. Both VPN tunnel and DigitalSafe annual subscriptions from Privacy Abroad (a combined value of $195),
  10. KellyKettleUSA.com is donating both an AquaBrick water filtration kit and a Stainless Medium Scout Kelly Kettle Complete Kit with a combined retail value of $304,
  11. APEX Gun Parts is donating a $250 purchase credit, and
  12. TexasgiBrass.com is providing a $300 gift certificate.

Second Prize:

  1. A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
  2. A FloJak EarthStraw “Code Red” 100-foot well pump system (a $500 value), courtesy of FloJak.com,
  3. Acorn Supplies is donating a Deluxe Food Storage Survival Kit with a retail value of $350,
  4. The Ark Instituteis donating a non-GMO, non-hybrid vegetable seed package–enough for two families of four, seed storage materials, a CD-ROM of Geri Guidetti’s book “Build Your Ark! How to Prepare for Self Reliance in Uncertain Times”, and two bottles of Potassium Iodate– a $325 retail value,
  5. $300 worth of ammo from Patriot Firearms and Munitions. (They also offer a 10% discount for all SurvivalBlog readers with coupon code SVB10P),
  6. A $250 gift card from Emergency Essentials,
  7. A full set of all 26 books published by PrepperPress.com (a $270 value),
  8. Two cases of meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of CampingSurvival.com (a $180 value),
  9. Autrey’s Armory – specialists in AR-15, M4s, parts, and accessories is donating a $250 gift certificate,
  10. Dri-Harvestfoods.com in Bozeman, Montana is providing a prize bundle with Beans, Buttermilk Powder, Montana Hard Red Wheat, Drink Mixes, and White Rice, valued at $333,
  11. TexasgiBrass.com is providing a $150 gift certificate, and
  12. Organized Prepper is providing a $500 gift certificate.

Third Prize:

  1. A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
  2. A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
  3. Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
  4. Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security,
  5. A MURS Dakota Alert Base Station Kit with a retail value of $240 from JRH Enterprises,
  6. Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances, and
  7. Ambra Le Roy Medical Products in North Carolina is donating a bundle of their traditional wound care and first aid supplies, with a value of $208.
  8. SurvivalBased.com is donating a $500 gift certificate to their store.

Round 52 ends on May 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.

The “Smart” Prepper: Purchasing With A Purpose, by L.D.M.

I was turned onto the idea of prepping about two years ago, and thankfully, shortly thereafter, found SurvivalBlog.com. This website has been one of many important and cherished resources to a “rookie prepper,” and I count it a true blessing to have so much shared knowledge at our fingertips.

One of the many important resources that I have found in SurvivalBlog.com are the advertisers on the site. In a digital world full of endless choices when it comes to preparedness supplies, it can be very daunting to not only decide WHAT you need and in what quantity you need it but where you can find the best quality for the best price. When I first began my journey into the world of prepping, I threw caution to the wind. Like so many, I spent a ton of money on things I would find online, without truly understanding its applicability to my own situation or the cost/value benefit. To be certain, I came into a lot of quality product from some great companies. Many of those companies, which I found right here on SurvivalBlog.com, have been a regular and important part of my access to important resources. I feel a real sense of trust in the quality of company that JWR and his team allow to advertise on the site. I’m confident that I can deal with any one of these advertisers with complete peace of mind in knowing I’m buying quality product from a quality vendor that has been vetted by the SurvivalBlog staff. That alone eliminates a lot of guesswork and shooting blind when it comes to deciding where and with whom to do business.

For those of you who have read all of JWR’s books, you know that How To Survive the End of the World As We Know It (HTSTEOTAWKI) is the prepper’s bible. I have read and re-read that book many times. I often turn to it in reference for things, like battery information and how to use dry ice in packaging long-term bulk storage. One of the biggest “take aways” from the book for me has been the importance of creating a real balance in not just WHAT you store but how you come about those storage items. JWR makes many an excellent recommendation in the book about websites and vendors to call on for certain product. He also gives some great lessons on how to do it yourself when it comes to sourcing and procuring preps. For those few who are reading this who have limitless financial resources when it comes to your preps, you can count yourself blessed but not immune to the dangers of avoiding this balance I speak of.

Take the guy who has an endless supply of cash to spend, who we’ll call Prepper #1. He orders the pre-packaged one-year food supply for $5000 from a great, reputable dealer. It’s delivered right to his garage, packaged nice and neat on a pallet, and he doesn’t have to lift a finger until disaster strikes. He is the same guy who buys the $1500 pre-made BOB from another online vendor, who has taken all of the guesswork out of “what” to include in a quality BOB. He receives it from UPS, throws it in his car, and fearlessly awaits the day it’s called into action. The disadvantage that Prepper #1 finds himself in is that he has not truly prepared for anything. He has ordered product that he didn’t have any hand in sourcing, that will sit quietly and await disaster. His BOB contains a great tool for sawing branches and cutting trees, but much to his dismay, it won’t do him any good. He lives in the middle of a large urban neighborhood with no trees for 20 miles. His “bug out” scenario would be very different than someone who lives in the Texas hill country.

His neighbor, Prepper #2, who must budget what and when he spends on prepping carefully, amasses the same year supply of food, except he doesn’t order it pre-packaged in one lot. He makes several smaller orders each paycheck, carefully selecting what food he is going to store. He knows his children won’t eat peas and his wife is averse to nuts. He knows that the family loves to gather around the kitchen together every Sunday and bake bread for the week ahead. They eat mashed potatoes with every meal, but one of the kids won’t drink milk. He would be doing his family’s comfort and safety a disservice to order product and food that wouldn’t get eaten in times of disaster. He has discovered that not only can he not afford to buy larger, pre-packaged food stores, he SHOULDN’T buy that way. He makes use of both Internet and local brick-and-mortar businesses, as well as DIY projects to prepare for his family. He spends time researching not only the best products but the “best bang for his buck”. After all, he has to budget carefully every dollar he spends on his preps.

Both of these men are preparing for disaster, and both are legitimate ways in which to do so. I would argue that Prepper #2 will be far more prepared and comfortable in a SHTF scenario. Not only will he have on hand what his family needs and wants, he will have gone through the process of putting it all together piece mill. He will be familiar with the do’s and don’ts of long-term food storage. He will understand that a case of hard red wheat does you no good without a quality mill and that powdered milk and drink mixes will be just powder without a supply of drinking water. He is less likely to lose to waste and expiration and will likely have a more holistic approach to all of his preps.

For many of us, the Internet has become an important, if not primary, resource for acquiring our preps, but that doesn’t mean that all of your purchasing should be had from online vendors. Take this personal example. (As a disclaimer, I am not a member of the Mormon church, but they welcome non-members with open arms, as their church doctrine includes a lot on preparing for the hard times.) In an Internet search recently for dealers of bulk grains, I found countless resources online. However, I just couldn’t understand why a 5-pound bucket of hard red wheat costs so much. After reading JWR’s HTSTEOTAWKI, I knew that bulk storage of grains, oats, and beans was by far the cheapest route for these types of foods. I searched further, refusing to resign to the fact that $75 was my only option for one bucket of wheat. I stumbled upon the LDS Cannery in Carrollton, Texas. The LDS church has home storage centers located all over the country, but this is one of twelve home storage centers operated by the Mormon church in the United States that also allow you the opportunity to package bulk products that you purchase there. Lo and behold, one of them was a 15-minute drive from my home. (You can find information about these centers at www.providentliving.org.) All of these centers have packaged and bulk products as well as very friendly volunteers, who will show you around and help you decide exactly what you need. I left there with 100 pounds of hard red wheat and 100 pounds of sugar for $76. I went straight home, and using the method described in HTSTEOTAWKI (Mylar bags, oxygen absorbers, and dry ice), stored them in food grade, 5-gallon buckets with gamma seal lids. These are absolutely good for the next 30+ years. The buckets I purchased from Amazon using my Prime membership (a must if you order online; $99 gets you a year’s worth of free 2-day shipping on everything you order). The gamma seal lids, Mylar bags, and oxygen absorbers I purchased from one of the SurvivalBlog.com advertisers, and the dry ice I picked up from the grocery store up the street. The total cost per bucket (including the bucket, bags, lids, and food) of wheat was about $25 and $30 for the sugar. That gives me 100 pounds of food at a fraction of the cost of a pre-packaged solution for 30 years. Now, THAT is piece of mind!

Take a “medical” bag as another example. I had amassed many medical and first aid items over the past couple of years, and I recently decided it was important to create a medical or “trauma” bag. The Internet and SurvivalBlog.com advertisers offer some EXCELLENT solutions for pre-made and loaded first aid bags and kits. Many of us are not medical professionals and really wouldn’t have the slightest clue what items we might need in event of an emergency. For those of you who are most comfortable not having to think about it, this is a great resource for you. However, believing that first aid and medical supplies will be in very short supply when SHTF, it was important to me to not only familiarize myself with what would comprise my supply but to ensure I was getting it at the best prices possible. That likely meant not ordering everything from one source. I have found that by doing some diligent searching on Amazon, it is usually the best place to acquire over-the-counter medications. (Again, don’t forget, you get free shipping with Prime). For instance, I take an allergy medication every single day and will for the rest of my life to prevent excessive itching. In a grid down scenario, going without that simple OTC allergy medicine would be unbearable for me. This particular medication is also one of the most expensive OTC allergy medications on the market, so it was important for me to avoid just stocking up at the local pharmacy. After some searching on Amazon, I found that there was a generic brand that made 365-count bottles for about the same price I pay at the local pharmacy for a 90-count bottle. Things like ibuprofen and cough medicine can also be sourced online from reputable vendors for far less than you will purchase it on your weekly grocery shopping trip. I found bulk packages of Band-Aids, burn creams, antiseptic wipes, and all of the “run of the mill” items you would want in a first aid kit at very low costs online. However, I also ordered a pre-packaged and inexpensive “trauma kit” to include as a part of my larger kit from another SurvivalBlog.com advertiser. I felt that the items they put together in this kit for gunshot wounds or severe trauma were a great value and a “must have” addition to my larger kit. When searching for latex gloves, I found that prices for the same product were all over the board. Take some time to save yourself some money when doing this shopping. The money you save here and there can only add more to your preps.

Water is one of my highest prepping priorities. I live smack dab in the middle of Dallas, Texas, and while I’m familiar with where to access water in my area when SHTF, I don’t’ have access to gravity-fed streams or underground water sources. I have no choice but to truly plan ahead and have large water stores that are both permanent and portable. When I first began prepping, I began to order cases of canned water online. They promised long storage life, were convenient with a small footprint, and seemed to make sense. This cost about $50 for 12 cans, which are 2 gallons of water. More recently, I had seen some great products on the market lately for water storage, including water bricks and large bags that can go under your bed. However, it was important for me to find a solution that would be large enough to supply my needs in a bug in scenario and also be portable in a bug out scenario. Most importantly, they needed to save me some money. After diligently searching online, I found some high quality 7-gallon contaiuners with a removable spout and strong handles for carrying. The price for this exact item ranged online from $14.95 to $29.95 each. Pay close attention to whether or not shipping is included or free, and even whether they are in stock or backordered. I elected to go with the item priced at $17.95 each with free shipping. I have ten of these particular jugs, totaling 70 gallons of drinking water. It is an important addition to my barrels and bottles that are also a part of my preps. Because of a little diligence, I now can get 21 gallons of water (three of the 7-gallon jugs) for the same price as I was getting 2 gallons (12 cans) before. Now, let me be clear, the canned water is a quality and superior product for SOME applications. This is why a one-size fits all approach to prepping is impossible. You have to decide, after careful and purposeful thought, what suits your needs best and what type of situation will you find yourself in when SHTF.

The concept of purchasing with a purpose can even extend into your training and acquisition of new skills. Recently, I decided (after re-reading Patriots– a novel by JWR) that I would get my Ham radio license. I don’t have a particular interest in Ham radios as a hobby, but you bet your tail I believe in the importance of that type of communication in a grid down scenario. Not knowing the first thing about where to start that journey, I went online and found that locally a number of classes are offered to prepare you for the FCC Technician Class exam. (This is the first Ham license you will get.) In addition, I found a number of online classes for $59 and up that offered to prepare you for the same exam. After doing a little more research and e-mailing my local Ham radio club, I decided to purchase the book Technician Class online for under $20, with free shipping. This book has a unique approach to preparing you for the exam, eliminating the need for a “how to” course at a traditional brick and mortar type center. Now, truth be told, if you are interested in the nuts and bolts and “ins and outs” of the radio world and have an interest in Ham as a real hobby, you might then want to take a more in-depth course of learning, as this method is primarily meant to prepare you to pass the test and get your license, which is required to communicate on Ham radios. For my purposes in adding this “skill” and equipment to my overall prepping plan, it was perfect. I plan on taking the exam within the next week or so. (There are exams given every single week almost everywhere in the entire country. To find an exam location in your area, go to www.arrl.org.) After passing the exam, it’s time to purchase my first Ham radio. My suggestion is to talk to some Hams in your local area. (Again, go to www.arrl.org to find your local Ham radio club.) Get their suggestions on what to purchase, based on your skill level and needs. Don’t be afraid to tell them WHY you got into Ham radio. Hams live for assisting with emergency communication and being a part of disaster relief. You will be welcomed with open arms and make a lot of new friends who likely share the same ideas that you do when it comes to preparedness. Once you decide on your radio, you have two options– get back online and price shop till you drop (SurvivalBlog.com has an electronics page with links to some of these radios from Amazon, and using these links gives a little bit of financial support back to SurvivalBlog.com) or go down to your local radio shop and allow them to help you. The benefit to using a local radio shop is that once you decide on and purchase a radio, they can usually pre-program some of the popular repeater channels that are used in your area, so you can begin communicating with other Hams right away.

The Internet can and should be a very powerful and useful tool for your preps. For those of you who are more averse to using the Internet for shopping, whether it be due to inexperience or plain ole’ stubbornness, you will do yourself and your family a favor by harnessing the money-saving power the Internet has to offer you. Also, for those of you who don’t ever look beyond the Internet, you will miss incredible resources, like the LDS Cannery I found by reading through some local discussion forums online. Striking a balance in your preparedness planning is as important as balance in your marriage and family lives. SurvivalBlog offers us convenience and comfort in the advertisers they bring on board. I show my support to these companies every chance I get; after all, it is their dollars that allow this important website to function. However, I also know that you can’t put all of your eggs in one basket, and there are many different resources out there that should be included as a part of your prepping.

When you purchase, purchase with a purpose. Be comfortable knowing that you have researched, planned, and purposely bought and acquired what you need, with the smallest impact on your wallet as possible.

Letter: Cataracts

Hugh,

I was diagnosed with a cataract about ten years ago. Because it was new, I was having depth perception issues and even had a rear end car crash. An alternative newsletter by a doctor at the time recommended the following drops. I still have one cataract, but the other one never developed. My eye doctor nurse tells me I have what people pay to have. I see distance with one eye and up close with the other, which has the cataract. I use reading glasses for certain focal lengths, such as a computer screen. My vision has not changed since taking the drops. Before the drops, I was developing floaters, and while dove hunting I could not tell the difference between the doves and floaters. That problem is gone. The active ingredient is NAC, and other companies use the same ingredient and are less expensive. The doctor is aware of the drops and of course would prefer to do the surgery, but he cannot deny the positive results.

Letter: Michael Ruppert

Hello Jim and Hugh,

I have only just become aware of this awful event that occurred last week. Mike was well known in Peak Oil circles and is likely familiar to many of the readers of Survival Blog. While I certainly don’t agree with the decision he made to take his own life, it was fairly obvious to me that he was deeply troubled by the state of our civilization and the path we seem to be marching towards.

I thought the readership may want to be aware of this event, if they weren’t already. I know Jim was on his radio show last year, I believe.

Mike Ruppert is the one who “awakened” me back in 2009 to some of the predicaments and limits we face, which led me very quickly to Survival Blog. My life has changed fairly drastically since that time (for the better, despite the challenges of a self-sufficient lifestyle!), and I never had the opportunity to thank him for that.

I wanted to take the opportunity to thank both of you for the work you do as I haven’t bothered to do so as of yet, and I don’t particularly enjoy the hint of regret I am feeling now for not doing that with Mr. Ruppert. I suppose events like this put some things in perspective. I feel much more aware of how critical perceived strangers can be in your life and the importance of recognizing their positive contributions to your well being.

A sincere and heartfelt thanks for what you folks do! – J.M.

Odds ‘n Sods:

SurvivalBlog reader F.G. wrote in to make sure readers are aware that wood pallets can be used for firewood, but to be very careful in burning any pallet with chemical residue on them. For many years his family owned a business that rebuilt pallets for a large company that used lots of chemicals. They would burn the un-repairable pallets, until one of the dock workers told them that some of the chemicals that were spilled on the pallets were toxic when burned.

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Video: SAFE Act update 4/21/14- State Police & DHS classify prepping as “suspicious activity” – B.Y.

Why wouldn’t they use this tactic? It obviously works everywhere else. They can turn your neighbor into a busybody and a tattletale, and if it gets out of control, it wasn’t really them; it was the absurd neighbor.

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The ultimate result of police brutatlity: Furious Chinese Rioters Beat Corrupt Policemen To Death. – J.W.

Warning: Extremely graphic.

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The Hamas-tied Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and seven other terror-tied groups have announced the formation of the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), which they describe as an umbrella group that will serve as a “representative voice for Muslims as that faith community seeks to enhance its positive impact on society.” Let the strong-arming begin

Notes from HJL:

I have to confess that my personal remarks on today’s posts are somewhat limited. JWR and I are frustrated at the unreliability of our web hosts servers over the last two weeks, and I have spent much of the day importing 20,000+ posts to a new server and converting the format to a new blog format, while maintaining continuity with the original site.

You will see some minor changes as we try to bring the styling of the new software inline with the old. If you notice that something is broken, feel free to let me know. I may not be able to respond to every notice, but know that I am reading them and will direct my attention to the problems as I find them. For a short while, we will be running on the new backup server, allowing me to move the original server. You will also notice that there are two IP addresses in the left panel now. Keep an eye on those, as they may change over the next couple of days while we work out the kinks in the new system.

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Today we present another entry for Round 52 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The $11,000+ worth of prizes for this round include:

First Prize:

  1. A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate, good for any one, two, or three course (a $1,195 value),
  2. A course certificate from onPoint Tactical. This certificate will be for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses. (Excluding those restricted for military or government teams.) Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
  3. Two cases of Mountain House freeze dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
  4. A $300 gift certificate from CJL Enterprize, for any of their military surplus gear,
  5. A 9-Tray Excalibur Food Dehydrator from Safecastle.com (a $300 value),
  6. A $300 gift certificate from Freeze Dry Guy,
  7. A $250 gift certificate from Sunflower Ammo,
  8. A roll of $10 face value in pre-1965 U.S. 90% silver quarters, courtesy of GoldAndSilverOnline.com, (currently valued at around $180 postpaid),
  9. Both VPN tunnel and DigitalSafe annual subscriptions from Privacy Abroad (a combined value of $195),
  10. KellyKettleUSA.com is donating both an AquaBrick water filtration kit and a Stainless Medium Scout Kelly Kettle Complete Kit with a combined retail value of $304,
  11. APEX Gun Parts is donating a $250 purchase credit, and
  12. TexasgiBrass.com is providing a $300 gift certificate.

Second Prize:

  1. A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
  2. A FloJak EarthStraw “Code Red” 100-foot well pump system (a $500 value), courtesy of FloJak.com,
  3. Acorn Supplies is donating a Deluxe Food Storage Survival Kit with a retail value of $350,
  4. The Ark Instituteis donating a non-GMO, non-hybrid vegetable seed package–enough for two families of four, seed storage materials, a CD-ROM of Geri Guidetti’s book “Build Your Ark! How to Prepare for Self Reliance in Uncertain Times”, and two bottles of Potassium Iodate– a $325 retail value,
  5. $300 worth of ammo from Patriot Firearms and Munitions. (They also offer a 10% discount for all SurvivalBlog readers with coupon code SVB10P),
  6. A $250 gift card from Emergency Essentials,
  7. A full set of all 26 books published by PrepperPress.com (a $270 value),
  8. Two cases of meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of CampingSurvival.com (a $180 value),
  9. Autrey’s Armory – specialists in AR-15, M4s, parts, and accessories is donating a $250 gift certificate,
  10. Dri-Harvestfoods.com in Bozeman, Montana is providing a prize bundle with Beans, Buttermilk Powder, Montana Hard Red Wheat, Drink Mixes, and White Rice, valued at $333,
  11. TexasgiBrass.com is providing a $150 gift certificate, and
  12. Organized Prepper is providing a $500 gift certificate.

Third Prize:

  1. A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
  2. A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
  3. Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
  4. Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security,
  5. A MURS Dakota Alert Base Station Kit with a retail value of $240 from JRH Enterprises,
  6. Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances, and
  7. Ambra Le Roy Medical Products in North Carolina is donating a bundle of their traditional wound care and first aid supplies, with a value of $208.
  8. SurvivalBased.com is donating a $500 gift certificate to their store.

Round 52 ends on May 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.

Why We Make Certain Decisions, by J

So, I wanted to chat about something a bit different. It’s been really helpful for me, and I hope it will be for you, too. It’s about why we do certain things, about why we make certain decisions.

I’m starting to get a little older now, and for many of you, you are as well. You can look back at your life and see certain things about yourself and, maybe like me, can see choices made by you or others that had big implications. I’d like to talk about something that I learned about how people work, and I hope that you’ll stay with me here. I’d like to share some stories. My hope is that this will make a positive impact on you, as it has for me. These stories are true.

So, years ago there was this woman named Hetty Green. She was massively wealthy. Regardless, she lived in a run down apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey, which at the time was a rough town of docks and warehouses on the coast of New Jersey. Hetty had so much money that when the banks needed to be bailed out, some of them went to her for loans. Regardless of her wealth, Hetty was an extreme miser. She had a son, and her son’s leg got injured while sledding. Rather than taking the child a doctor, as needed, she took him to a charity clinic where improper treatment led to gangrene. Eventually, the boy’s leg had to be amputated. Now, to be clear, and perhaps like yourself, I’m not against some careful finances, and I don’t panic at every ache and pain in the body, but this was over the top. Someone had lost focus on what was important. When a choice had to be made, that person made the wrong decision, which had profound implications for someone else (and likely the relationship between a mother and her son).

Why am I taking up your time regarding all of this? Well, you and I face decisions in life. What we do can have lasting consequences. As many of us, who read this website believe, there is coming a future time in which the world will be much more savage than it is today and the decisions we face will be much more serious for us and those we care about. Keeping that in mind, I believe that it’s important for us to understand why we make some of the choices we make and why we say some of the things that we say.

Okay. Here’s another story. So, some decades ago, there was this skinny kid in middle school (we’ll call him “J”), who started to find his self worth in exercise. This continued for him into high school. He eventually felt good about himself and thought that he was a little bit special because of his physical abilities. There’s nothing seemingly that bad about that; exercise is good, and it’s good to work hard. J eventually graduated high school and went to a college, which had tens of thousands of other students. It got harder for him to think of himself as special or uniquely good at something when there were 10,000 other kids to compare himself to. Regardless, the kid doubled down on what he did to feel special. (Let’s see where this goes.) Eventually, by his second year in college, he could do stuff like four one-armed chin-ups and bench press two 110-pound dumbbells when he only weighed about 175. J worked out 13 times a week. He worked out five days in the gym, and seven days a week he did push ups and sit-ups at night. (At this point, you may be noting that someone was going off the rails.) Okay. So here comes the relevance of this small example– the point when a decision was made. J was sitting at a table studying when a tall German friend of his from class comes by and sits at his table to do a bit of studying himself. The two got to talking about exercise. To J’s surprise, the friend didn’t know that J worked out a lot. Accordingly, and in good nature, J felt compelled to show his friend by challenging the friend to an arm wrestle. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that J’s joints, which had been in regular pain from the constant over exercise, finally had enough. J managed to lose the first arm wrestle but doubled down to arm wrestle with his left arm and left the experience still friends, but he had two torn rotator cuffs and a severe and permanent curtailment of his ability to aggressively exercise. There are things in our life about us that are not just things. They have some special place in our heart. Okay, so what’s wrong with that? I agree that some things should be in a special place, but others, perhaps without us consciously realizing it, move to a higher priority than they should have. So, if one were to agree with this, what’s the impact? Well, briefly stated, these things that we have or are, which likely may be good things, instead of serving us become something we serve. That’s a big deal. The problematic results: We overreact when these things are threatened or not respected. We may start to do things that we shouldn’t do to advance or increase the special things that we have or are. Unknown, perhaps even to the person himself or herself, the person may unbalance or misdirect their life by making many small decisions that are improperly biased in favor of this thing. To explain it in religious terms, we have an idol in our life.

Not many of us, I suspect, have a carved wooden idol from some tropical country that we worship. No. However, idols (if I may use that language for convenience sake) are prevalent here, but they are invisible and usually comprised of things that many people view as good things. Idols might be our good reputation, wealth, charity, unique ability at work, or skill in sports. They could be our knowledge of information about history, science, sports, or anything else. It could be the good grades we received while in school, our current or prior great looks or popularity, or our life experiences, fame, hunting ability, the car or cars that we own, our house, our job, our beautiful spouse or stellar kids, our connection to someone else (maybe someone famous), our good memory, or intelligence (a word I had a hard time spelling and found using a spellchecker). Our idols are good things that become overly magnified. They, thereby, cause us to make poor decisions at critical moments or unbalance our life and possibly send us in the wrong direction. They can weigh us down with burdens we are not meant to carry or distract us from things that we should do. Somewhere, someplace, a line between positive “drive” and “idolatry” is crossed, and the results can have major implications.

So how is this relevant to you? I guess what I’d like you to consider, if you would, is whether there are things in your life that are unbalanced, which could impact your decision-making process now or at key points in the future. Is there something that you have or are that you would improperly protect? Is there something that you would overly resist letting go of, which would therefore place you in inappropriate risk or cause you to do something that you shouldn’t? Are your relationships or decision-making process being hurt because of something that improperly controls you? Idols put us in a prison of our own making.

Let’s take it a step deeper. Idols are actually multi-tiered. The ones identified above, including wealth, cars, sports, appearance, and so forth are considered by some to be “surface idols”, but there’s actually something underneath. Time for another story.

I knew this guy in high school. He was a rotten student, but somehow he got into college, where he remained a rotten student. He eventually struggled through. Some years later, he’s a municipal bond trader. I meet up with him with other high school friends. This guy, who wouldn’t study in school now is completely focused and dedicated to his job. He works long hours, and I was shocked to find that he doesn’t take vacations; he only gets a couple days off here and there when the stock market is closed. How did this guy go from being a slacker that partied all the time to being a guy who was overly devoted to his job, even to the extent that he wouldn’t even take vacations?

Another example to consider: I was working this job and had a boss. The guy was completely out of shape, and there was no perceivable evidence to me that the guy’s physical health or abilities were something of any substantial value to him. Of course, he would talk about cholesterol and things like that, but when it came to making decisions, health always got pushed aside. One day, after knowing him for multiple years, I found to my surprise that this guy used to play ice hockey and was good enough to play at the college level. He, at the time, was passionate about it. So, I thought to myself, “How is it that this guy, who was so passionate at sports and who devoted so much of his life to and excelled over his peers, somehow now completely ignore not only hockey but even his health to the extent that now in his early 40’s, he is challenged by climbing a flight of stairs?” I realized that the same passion and devotion in which he played hockey in his youth, he now puts into his career. When it came to what he was passionate about, everything else fell away. The hockey was just a temporary expression of something deeper.

For convenience sake, let’s call these deeper things “subsurface idols”. Maybe you know the underlying reason why you or someone you know has a surface idol. For myself, I have found that subsurface idols are easier to identify when viewing a person as they progress through different phases of life. You may see a common thread that seems to be woven in.

Some people, including a decent guy named Tim Keller who helped me realize these problems in my own life, have identified that the subsurface idols are often power, control, comfort, and approval. If we can understand these things as they apply to us, we can remove problems from our life and strength us, plus other good things may happen too.

Here’s how to explain this. Let’s take the surface idol of money. Some people hoard it, and some people flaunt it. If someone’s subsurface idol is “approval”, it may be that they will be overly inclined to buy things that advance their status among their peers. If someone’s subsurface idol is “control”, it may be that they will hoard their money or overly put in into something that maintains their control over others. I can’t tell you what is the subsurface idol, if any, of the hockey play turned boss or of my friend turned worker. It could be that more than one idol is at play or that the reason was something else entirely. Think, however, about yourself and how your passions have changed over the years. Perhaps you will find something. It’s also possible that you’re not like me, and there is nothing problematic to find.

While most of the time these tendencies we have will not have critical implications, sometimes it may be a matter of life or death for us or someone we know. Most of the time these tendencies we have will not lead us to life and death situations; however, they likely will cause our lives to be unbalanced, which is a common slow train wreck of tragedy.

Just the knowledge of a tendency can be helpful. It helps me to know that I like to be in control and that I sometimes say things or act in certain ways to do this. What if you are the same? What if, for example, you are in control of a group or are “next-in-line” to be so? If you have the subsurface idol of “control” and at some point in the future another person is proposed to enter your group who would be of substantial benefit to the group, this person might possibly threaten your position of control. Under these circumstances, is it possible that your idol will cause you to think or do things that you shouldn’t?

Some less survivalist tending people we know may have a subsurface idol of “comfort”. These people may have a hard time leaving certain comforts of modern life when the conditions demand it. In discussing with them whether it is necessary to prepare for risks, they may make up all sorts of reasons for their decision to take no action. It, however, may be that for them to accept a future or course of life that would require leaving modern comforts behind is more than just about their loss of certain comforts, it’s about attacking something that gives them purpose in their lives. It may be attacking something that they grasp onto to justify themselves above people they know. You will have a hard time reaching this person, unless you (and perhaps more importantly they) understand what could be a key underlying factor in their decision-making process.

What if you or someone in your group has a subsurface idol of “power”. This person may get a kick out of having power over others. In a situation where laws and societal constraints are loosened, will a person like this be more likely to do certain things or act in certain unfavorable ways? Know yourself and know others.

I hope you’ll think about what was written above and how it may impact you. Is there some tendency in your life? It may be hard to ferret it out, but think about your life over the various phases of life. You may discover additional aspects of these things, as you consider and re-consider over some longer period of time. Maybe someone you know and respect could have some helpful input for you or could benefit from your insight. Think about people around you and how these issues may influence them. Maybe you can help set them free. Also, as you interact with people, you may start finding yourself thinking of these issues as you consider them. This may help you in interacting with them, understanding them, and predicting how and what they will do in the future and why. There’s another layer of the onion. Something is below the subsurface idols. We’re getting closer to some religious content, so if this will greatly offend you, I’m sorry to hear that. I hope you will find some good in the above and it will have a positive impact on your life. I hope that you, like me, are now more able to see the prisons we made for ourselves and the things that have enslaved us. I want you to be free.

To be clear, I’m in no way saying that I’ve conquered my battle against my subsurface idols. Mine are approval, control, and power. (I think roughly in that order.) Now, I have a better understanding of the nature of the war at issue. Okay. Here comes the religious content. The question arises of why I have subsurface idols in the first place. I think the answer is partially found in what the idols do for me. They are essentially tools of self-justification. Deep inside of me, and I think others, is a competitive desire to justify myself– to prove myself worthy, of value, and possibly better than others. So why do I have this need? I think it is because deep, deep inside, I know that I need to prove myself. Why? Because I am lacking and because I have need of justification.

That’s where Christianity comes in. Christianity says that you are correct; you don’t measure up. In fact, you are infinitely far from God. Like a single blade of grass in a field of grasses turning to the blade next to it and correctly saying, “I’m closer to the Sun than you”, we also compare ourselves to our peers using yardsticks (our idols) of our own making. As each blade of grass is infinitely far from the sun, we also are infinitely far from God and God’s standard of holy perfection.

Regardless, God loves you with infinite love and wants you to be free of the sin that binds you. His infinite love is balanced with His infinite holiness. His holiness prevents Him from the complete communion with sinful people, like me. Therefore, He did what was only possible for Him to do; He sent His only Son to live a perfectly holy life and then take the death penalty to pay our debt of sins. Your justification to God can be had by accepting that you are a sinner before God and you don’t make the grade and then accepting Jesus’s death to justify you to God. By doing this, your sins will be remembered no more by God. (Heb. 8:12).

I think that to help you in your fight against your surface and subsurface idols, a key is found somewhere in (1) accepting God’s free gift of justification for us, (2) finding out what our subsurface idols are (i.e. power, control, comfort, and approval) and, (3) knowing/considering/thinking/appreciating that Jesus, as God (who’s record you now have allotted to you as though adopted by God), has ultimate power and control and has the full approval of God the Father and dwells in heaven– a place of ultimate perfection and comfort.

With love, and for your freedom.

Letter Re: Eye for Eyes

B.A. makes some very valid points. I have worn glasses all of my life for distance and now need them for small print as well. During my most recent annual exam, the doctor told me I was developing cataracts. In all my years of going for eye exams, I had never been told, until that visit, that to slow the progression of cataracts sunglasses should become my best friend. I was advised those with lenses rated at UV 400 were the best. I have found one type by a company called Cocoon, and there are others that make sunglasses to fit over glasses (not the clip-on shades). These have side panels as well to block out the maximum UV rays from any angle. I have found some el cheapo sunglasses but given I want to slow the progression of this condition, the higher bucks for maximum UV protection is worth it for me. I got fitted locally and plan to order online, which is about $15 cheaper. Sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats will definitely be a necessity, if we become more agrarian in a SHTF scenario. – M.B.