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The Colony TV Series
The Colony TV Series

Aired on the Discovery Channel

I was jonesing for more Walking Dead after I finished watching season 3. I couldn't wait for season 4, so in desperation, I followed the "More like..." links and stumbled upon this TV show. It's a reality series that aired before the outbreak. Each season confronted the participants with an end of the world scenario (unknown catastrophe in Season 1, disease in Season 2) and set them loose. I went in with very low expectations and was pleasantly surprised. I'm shocked that I haven't heard more about this and that it lasted only two seasons.

Before I set forth on a glowing review, let me get the negative out of the way:

  1. Too many useful people on each team.

    In season 1, the least useful person was the marine biologists and I'd still want her on my team. At least in season 2 they had a fashion model who was mostly useless. In real life, out of 10 people, you'd be doing good if 2 of them had useful skills and no more than 5 were dead weight.

  2. The show glosses over the team formation stage.

    I cannot blame the show for this, you have to have a good group to make for interesting TV. In real life, though, the team formation stage is the most critical. Many times teams fell apart or were dysfunctional. The bonding that happens (or not) on first contact is very important. I did like that they subjected the participants to sleep deprivation, hunger and other taxing situations before the show started.

  3. I wish my TEotWaWKI experience was sponsored by Harbor Freight.

    This is a Season 1 issue. It seamed like when they needed a tool, a Harbor Freight labelled crate containing the object just happened to be laying around. At least in the second season, they had to do some serious foraging to find their tools.

These are nitpicks. This show is informative, teaches many helpful skills and it was dramatic. Yes, I know this is a staged show and that the participants are truly not in danger (well maybe not, I read that season 3 has been postponed due to the death of a participant), but some of the emotional scenes ring true with me. Here's why you should watch the show:

  1. How to establish a fresh water supply

    As Mr. Grylls showed us in his Man vs. Wild series, fresh water is a key ingredient to survival. Both seasons showed the participants initially struggling with this. Where do you find it? How do you get it back to the shelter? Once there, how do you make it safe to drink? The answer to that last question alone makes this show worthwhile.

  2. How to generate electricity

    To electrify or not was a source for debate throughout TEotWaWKI. The infrastructure needed even for a minimal flow of current mitigates against mobility. It doesn't make sense if your shelter will be temporary and your mode of transportation is by foot or bike. Also, if you're able to scrounge supplies and aren't making things from scratch, your demand for juice won't be as strong. When you do find yourself in a situation requiring a regular supply, though, both seasons demonstrate how you can create your own and store it.

  3. How to work with butt-heads

    Michael from Season 1 is a classic case. He is defensive and quick to see insult in just about everything you say. It would be tempting to give him the boot. But he has an array of skills that would be most useful. Suck it up and see what you can do to put those like him at ease.

These are just a few. They also cover food gathering, security and other useful tidbits. And let me reiterate the drama. From losing team members to the stress from hunger and sleep deprivation, this is good TV.

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Ever Since the World Ended
Ever Since the World Ended

Directed by Calum Grant and Joshua Atesh Litle

This is an independent movie about the survivors rebuilding life in the San Francisco area. It is a well-written and haunting story. While it posits a plague as the agent of TEotWaWKI, the lessons and outcomes are universal.

The Generational Gap

Every time someone else's parent starts telling me about the past, they start crying. That's bullshit. I don't wanna hear your sob stories, I've been living with them. It's almost like you adults are the kids now. They want it the way it was. I think it's a bunch of fucking adults who are still strung out on the idea of what the world used to be. Personally, it's over, if you ask me.

With each passing year, the percentage of people with no memory of Before increases. This is bound to have a serious impact on society. When the last of us are gone, the end of the world will be just another story in the history books.

Justice

Who's going to give up their time to watch this guy?

Exile now seems to make sense, not like the vague concept it was Before. With so few people left, jail guard duty is a waste, a huge opportunity cost. The demand for the death penalty is stronger now.

No Leeway for Bad Luck

It seems more real than it ever did before, more vivid. Before in the world there was so much going on that you were bathed in noise and constant input. There are so few people left that when someone dies, they really die, the silence is that much more profound. But you're used to it.

In this story, someone dies of an infected gunshot wound to the leg, mention is made of a burst appendix. The little shit can get you now. With so few of us left, each is a serious loss. This is why I have such misgivings about the death penalty.

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Carriers
Carriers

directed by David Pastor and Alex Pastor.

This movie somehow slipped beneath my radar. I only just caught it on NetFlix. How can this be? It's a great example of behavior during an end of the world event; in this case, a world ravaged by disease. We join the story after the initial catastrophe and follow four characters during the aftermath. What we witness is a good reason why you should focus on the basics before the poop hits the fan.

Why survive?

When you could meet your demise each day, you stop thinking about the long term. Merely surviving becomes the goal rather than a means to achieve one. You don't want to make it to the promised land only to look around and ask, "What do I do now?" Why do you want to survive?

A survival goal is intensely personal. It could be a desire to make the world a better place for all or just for your children, or even to find a peaceful home where you can indulge in your love for books. Only you can pass judgement on your goal. Is it something for which you're willing to struggle mightily over a potentially lengthy period of time?

What are you willing do or not do?

This is the end of the world. You're going to be in situations completely unlike those you faced before. You're not going to resolve issues by email or scheduling a meeting. Violence may very well be on the agenda. What are you going to do?

As with goals, what means you find acceptable is a personal decision. I'm not going to tell you that you should be able to kill another human being or abandon people that could negatively impact your chances of survival. What I'm telling you is to decide what's on the table ahead of time.

You don't want to make these decisions in a critical situation. If killing another human being is off the table, that's OK. The ability to act immediately in a critical situation based on this prior understanding could be enough to save your life.

Find like-minded companions

These are personal decisions, but they should be discussed openly among your party. Everyone should be roughly on the same page. Radically divergent goals and acceptable means will lead either to the break up of the party or disaster in an encounter with hostiles.

How not to do it.

SPOILER ALERT!

The party we follow in Carriers got it all wrong:

  • They had their rules about interacting with the infected, but one would not abide by them. The rules were so strict that when she herself became infected, she hid that fact.
  • Their rules dictated that they kick out infected members. Seems logical, but not so easy to implement when it gets down to it.
  • The party had a goal, but in the end it seemed hardly worth the price the remaining members had paid.

This is a must see. The heartrending decisions are just the kind of thing you need to consider while you're not under pressure to do so.

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From the Smithsonian: The Scariest Zombies in Nature

It's unclear whether or not this is related to Solanum; however, at the moment, we are not in danger. This fungus, while 100% fatal once it has infested an organism, does not appear to cause its victim to get violent. Also, for the moment, it does not affect humans.

We'll keep an eye on this, though.

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The Amerian Plague by Molly Caldwell Crosby
The Amerian Plague by Molly Caldwell Crosby

by Molly Caldwell Crosby

When most people think of the end of the world, images of the recent zombie wars flood the mind. Understandably so since we lost nearly 90% of the world's population. What people seem to forget, though, is that TEotWaWKI is a regular, albeit infrequent occurrence, from world-wide cataclysms to local events. The American Plague is a good example of the latter end of this spectrum as it delves into the Yellow Fever epidemic that swept through Memphis in 1878.

Consider the following from page 64*:

A number of nurses, doctors, ministers or nuns later wrote of the fear that accompanied them the first time they entered an infected home. They had nursed hundreds from the halls of sick wards, but it was something else all together to climb the steps of a porch and open a door with a yellow card swinging from a nail. The first thing to strike was the smell. It floated in the streets, a scent like rotting hay. The smell grew stronger and overpowering once the front door was opened, where it mingled with the soiled sheets, sweat and vomit. Inside, one never knew what to expect. Moans, cries, delirious screams, or worse, no sound at all. There was darkness, as windows were boarded shut, and there was the stagnant heat of imprisoned air. Then, as their eyes focused, they saw the bodies. At first, it was hard to tell which ones were living and where were not. If deceased, one could never know how long they had been that way or in what condition they would be.

Sound familiar? It gave me the chills. (Is that a headache I feel?) The similarities don't end there:

  • Effective quarantine procedures had been in place, but they were rescinded several years before because it would, as the author wrote on page 48, "create panic, stifling river traffic and delaying cotton shipments." Money always wins out over safety.
  • There were gangs roving through the city, robbing the homes of the defenseless infected.
  • Many did not die as a direct result of the disease, but rather of other causes exacerbated by the outbreak such as starvation and dehydration.

This happened before the dead rose and it will happen again. Be prepared!

* This and other quotes are from the September 2007 Berkley trade paperback edition of the book which is available from Amazon.com.

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After Armageddon on the History Channel
After Armageddon on the History Channel

Aired on The History Channel

I DVR'd a bunch of stuff that aired during "Apocalypse Week" on the History Channel back in January. I was reluctant to watch this one since it's a talking-head-SMEs-with-reenactors show typical of the History and Discover channels. I was pleasantly surprised, however, that it was both informative and entertaining.

The show posits an outbreak of a virulent disease that wipes out the vast majority of humankind. We follow the experiences of a family during and after the pandemic, through multiple cycles of delay, deliberation and action stretching over years. Their experiences clearly demonstrate fundamental aspects of a survival mentality as well as practical advice.

The show reinforced some basic skills that we should all be familiar with now:

  • Don't be a picky eater
  • Look for water where ever it may be
  • Beware of strangers

I was bemused to learn a new way to gather fuel that would have saved me many a foul mouthful of gas: Puncture the tank and drain it. Why didn't I think of that? I feel like a n00b. If you don't need the vehicle containing the gas, this is much easier than siphoning. I would imagine, though, that you'd need to be careful not to create a spark.

More important than the tactics of survival are the approaches they recommend:

  1. If you have a valuable post-SHTF skill, it's probably best that you hide that fact until you'r certain of your position. You wouldn't want to be held against your will just because the town you passed through doesn't have a doctor.
  2. Don't be stingy with your help, but remember your priorities. Lending aid when it would cost you little may pay you back many times over later.
  3. Understand that the old way of life is over. We were nice back then because we were well off. We could rely on people's good behavior because there was a long term cost to screwing someone over. But when your event horizon is no more than a day or two into the future, those long term concerns evaporate. This makes bad behavior easier.

Those who fail to grok all of these points tend not last long when TEotWaWKI hits.

Finally, the show ably addresses the issue of scale. Knowledge of the extent of the problem — the area affected and how long it will last — greatly increases the chances of survival. However, most people do not have access to this information or reject it when they do. It is hard to part with the world as you knew it. Most people were strongly invested in it: a nice house, a good job and kids in school. I've heard many comments criticizing the family's failure to act in a timely manner. But I understand, it's hard to let go.

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Earth Abides by George R. Stewart
Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

by George R. Stewart

I have a stack of old school TEotWaWKI books written long before SHTF. If this book is any indicator of quality, I'm in for a long haul if I follow through on my intention to read them all. My problems with this book lie not just in the advice offered, but primarily in the fact that the characters are extremely boring.

The author posits a world brought to its knees by a virus. The main character, Isherwood Williams, was laid low by a snake bite when the pandemic swept away most of mankind, so he was not around to witness the unfolding catastrophe. Upon recovery, he stumbles through the world like a drunk waking up from an epic bender. The book follows him as he embarks on an odyssey from California to New York and then back to the west coast, where he settles and lives out the remaining decades of his life. The only reason I did not toss this book unfinished, is that I found the window into 1950s America to be fascinating, if somewhat repugnant.

First of all, do NOT look to this book for advice. You will find nothing here worthwhile. Some of the lessons taught:

  • Canned food lasts forever, so don't bother with farming or hunting/gathering.
  • Do not look to the library for reference material should you actually set out to improve your life. A real man can figure it out on his own.
  • Whatever you do, do not accept the mentally defective into your group. If you are stuck with one, you should kill or run the person off.

Ish would frequently give impassioned speeches about something that they must do, but there would be no follow up. As long as folks' immediate needs were being met, nobody did anything to improve their future prospects. For example, the water flowed freely from everyone's faucets: fine, dandy, what do we need to worry about? Water mains start breaking: no problems, some people still get water. Slowly but surely, their options dwindled until they were forced to gather water from streams. This process was repeated time and again with food, shelter and other necessities. No wonder their civilization ceased to exist.

To call this anti-intellectualism would be to imply an active opposition to thought. It is true the they discouraged their children from reading too much because it might make them think too much. For the most part, though, it was just laziness. Combine this with their opposition to anything sensual and you have a recipe for death by ennui. In addition to the above mentioned lack of desire for good food, sex was only for procreation. Anyone who seemed to exhibit desire, was castigated, labelled a bad person.

It's a wonder, given this window into life half a century before the true end of the world, that we didn't experience it much soon.

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It is becoming clear that World War Z could have been prevented. Between ludicrous positioning of medical research labs and the less than stellar performance of the authorities, it's a wonder that humanity is not extinct.

We now learn that scientists had developed a model of a potential zombie outbreak before SHTF. This is documented in When Zombies Attack!: Mathematical Modeling of an Outbreak of Zombie Infection (pdf). The conclusion of this is quite prescient:

In summary, a zombie outbreak is likely to lead to the collapse of civilisation, unless it is dealt with quickly. While aggressive quarantine may contain the epidemic, or a cure may lead to coexistence of humans and zombies, the most effective way to contain the rise of the undead is to hit hard and hit often.

The inference in the paper is that the collapse of civilization is equivalent to extinction. It did not seem to occur to the authors that a new civilization would arise from the ashes, albeit one largely based on the world as we knew it. Truly, that which did not kill us, made us stronger.

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The Washington Post reports Town in China Closed Off After 3 Die of Pneumonic Plague. You know the drill:

  • Clean your house from top to bottom and clear out any brush in the immediate area.
  • Be leery rodents. Ideally, since you've cleaned up, you'll have none around. If you encounter one, make sure you're protected from fleas before you move in for the kill.
  • Bug bombs, lots of them.
  • Report any symptoms to the local health authorities. Just as with Solanum infection, think of the greater need.

Stay healthy!

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The consensus is that so many random factors played out to our disadvantage that preventing the outbreak that led to TEotWaWKI was impossible. We should be thankful that humanity survived, even in its much reduced state.

I'm thinking, perhaps not. Here's a story from a 2009 edition of the Washington Post: Infectious Diseases Study Site Questioned . That's smart, "locate a ... research facility for highly infectious pathogens in a tornado-prone section of Kansas."

I'm hoping that the catastrophe culled out those with such flawed thought processes. As for the present, I would rather we didn't engage in such research, though I suppose we could learn valuable lessons. We must assume, though, that the worst will happen. Not only should we not locate these facility in dangerous regions, they should be isolated from the population, too.