Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The importance of quality in Preparedness

Like many in our modern culture, I am infected with the consumerism bug. I like stuff, and I like to pay as little as I can for it. I'm trying to get a better handle on this, especially as I look around my house and see just how many things I own but never touch. This glance has saved me a few bucks recently (why buy the Xbox 360 when there's literally dust on the Wii?), but it has also made me think about the level of quality in what we buy.

First off, let me say that I am not a hard-edged "Made in the USA" sort of guy. Yes, I do try and support our country's economy where I can, but the fact is the "American Made" does not always mean "Well Made". My Toyota Tundra is one example. This truck is solid, and has a historical longevity outstripping all the competition. Granted, it was also built here, but by a Japanese company. However, we have a preponderance of cheap items available in stores like Wal-Mart that seem a great deal. Why spend a lot on a DVD player when you can toss it out and buy a new one for less than getting a top notch one now? I think that attitude can work for those items we don't need to rely on, but what about the really critical items in our lives? What if your life actually depends on it?

Growing up, my father had an assortment of tools in the basement. The fact is, he wasn't the most handy guy around, so his tools tended towards the affordable yet functional side. I know my brother killed a few of those tools as he became more and more mechanically inclined. He began to adopt our grandfather's attitude of buying a quality tool that wouldn't fail. As I later became more handy, I took this to heart. My old business partner, a very skilled blacksmith, helped to drive it home. Why buy a cheap grinder that couldn't be repaired and kept going when your livelihood depended on getting product out the door?

When it comes to survival and prepping items, this becomes my #1 concern, over cost. Yes, cost comes into it, but I would rather spend 2-3 times the cost on, say, a pocket knife that is of quality construction and steel than picking up a poor substitute at Harbor Freight. I will grab items like sand paper and grinding wheels there, just not items I know may become "mission critical" at some point. I try very hard to physically lay hands on items I worry about before a purchase, or make sure the return policy is one that allows me to return it if I am unsatisfied. Even if I have to pay to ship something back, I'd rather not keep it around if I can't rely on it.

So, what are those items we need to stress about from a preparedness standpoint? Here's a short list, please share your thoughts with me in the comments:

1) Survival kit items: Anything that might actually save your life in the field. Lighters, pocket knives, emergency blankets, etc. Learn to look for signs of poor construction, and then test the item out when you get it. If you can't rely on it, put it aside for use where it won't be critical. For instance, a cheap lighter can still light your fireplace, but shouldn't be in your Bug Out Bag.

2) Critical work tools: When we think about having to board up the house for a storm, cut up a fallen tree, or fix a busted fuel line, knowing your tools won't fail you is vital. Consider that in an emergency you may not be able to go buy a replacement. A friend of mine has a good rule on what he won't buy at Harbor Freight. If it spins, cuts, oscillates, or passes life-threatening levels of electricity, he won't buy it there. That said, you need to investigate tools you'll rely on as buying them at a big box store doesn't guarantee quality. Read reviews, do your research, and give it a good looking over. If it feels poorly made, it likely is.

3) Storage containers: This is a pretty wide category. Not only does it include the plastic totes and glass jars you might use for food storage, but also bags for vacuum sealing, backpacks for Bug Out Bags, and gas and water cans. If it holds something you might rely on, buy quality. Also learn the limits of that container. Plastic totes are fine at room temp and out of the sun, but store them below freezing and they become brittle. Store a plastic gas can in the bed of your pickup and the plastic will start to break down. That last one is the voice of experience, leading me to investigate metal "jerry cans" for that purpose.

4) Footwear: It took me a long time to understand the value of spending money to buy quality footwear. I was a fan of Payless until I realized how much longer I could walk and stand in good quality shoes and boots. Now imagine needing to walk home from work, or being stuck at a friend's place for weeks on end. Being stuck in crappy shoes could really blow. I tend to wear new shoes a few days for the first few weeks I have them till I feel they can really go the distance. I do have certain shoes, like Crocs, that only get worn for trips close to home, and I also like to keep a pair of solid, reliable shoes in the car for trips further than a few miles from home.

5) Self-defense items: Yes, you can buy cheap pepper spray canisters, but will you want to rely on it when you need it? Have you tried the specific type of ammo in your EDC firearm, or will it jam in the cheap magazine you bought? If your training is up to speed but your equipment isn't, you'll get caught in the lurch should you ever need it.

6) Vehicle needs: Bargain tires and batteries won't be a bargain when you get stuck on the side of the road in a snowstorm. Shelling out for quality is really a form of insurance payment.

There are plenty of cheap items out there with which we can get by. If your guitar controller for Rock Band dies on you, you'll survive. But the one time you need some quality rope to hold something together and the cheap poly twine you bought gives out, you'll wish you'd thought a bit more about quality.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The dying art of being decent to each other

Something has been bothering me for years now. I've commented on it in the past, but in the recent months around the election, mass shootings, and financial hooplah, I've really been annoyed by the lack of common decency. I suspect the Internet hasn't helped, with the ability to make sweeping blanket statements about people and hide behind an anonymous username. The decline of personal responsibility hasn't aided things either.

Don't get me wrong, being a jerk to your fellow man verbally or in print is nothing new. I know too much history to ignore something like the election between Adams and Jefferson as an example. That said, our modern world allows everyone to take part in the denigration of folks just because of their personal and political beliefs. I've seen some extremes lately and realized that, according to many out there, I personally shouldn't have a right to some of my opinions. This is not something for which I think this country should stand.

First, let me point out some facts many of you may know, but not all. I am a white, middle-classed male of Protestant decent. Opinions of my "ethnic type" are what have shaped and ruled this country for centuries. But already, but making that leap, we're going down the slippery slope that leads to people making assumptions and broad statements about me based on those facts. The truth is, with the info I just provided, you know very little about my political, religious, and personal beliefs. I have found myself a minority on many issues, and while I definitely benefit from being the "norm" and avoid the abuse heaped on people for their physical characteristics, I do hear and read enough broad slanders against me I feel qualified to continue on this topic.

Most recently, I have been labeled a murderer. This is not a new slur to me. I've heard it before as I support a woman's right to choose what happens with her body, even when a fetus is involved. I, personally, would never want a child of mine aborted, but I concede that: A) I will never be pregnant, so I can't ever experience the thoughts, emotions, and physical anguish that might lead someone to make that call; B) have never experienced the brutal violation that is rape and sexual abuse, which could well lead to an unwelcome pregnancy; C) feel that overpopulation is the cause of a lot of harm on this planet, so have a hard time arguing against a procedure that might reduce that issue. For my support of this cause, I've been labelled a murderer by extremists on the opposite side, despite the fact that I would argue against an abortion and for adoption personally. No distinction is made on the side of the extremists.

Now, because I own guns and believe in the right to own them, I'm a murderer again. It does not matter that I have never plotted, considered, and get personally upset at the idea of taking another person's life. Because I do not believe that we should give up a particular right and that I have contributed money to organizations which fight for this right, I am a murderer. I know of people, personally, who have been confronted on this issue because of stickers on their cars. I read one case of a guy having to call the cops to deal with an irate gun control advocate.

Folks, this isn't healthy. It isn't helpful. And it certainly isn't decent! I will always calmly and rationally discuss any of my beliefs with you. If one of us finds ourselves getting too emotionally invested, I'll gladly table the discussion. Heck, my wife is VERY anti-gun. It is an issue we have learned to disagree on, but she would not call me a murderer for owning them. Why? She knows me. She has an understanding of where I come from on the issue and, while she disagrees, she respects my opinions as another human being. More importantly, she respects ME as a human being. That's the foundation of decency.

This, I think, is the core. Everyone who has an opinion, whether you agree or not, is a human being with experiences and thoughts different from your own. When we passionately believe something, we need to understand that others may be passionate on their side of the topic. Their experiences are different and have shaped where they are today. Can their opinions change? Certainly! I know mine have over the years on a variety of topics. But never once have I changed my thoughts because someone took an extreme opposite opinion and berated me for what I think and feel, in person or online. Each change has been a result of intelligent discussion, research, thought, and time. This is made much easier with decency.

I rail a lot on our government, but at the end of the day they are a reflection of the people they serve. They are a mirror. Don't like what you see in their behavior? Try being decent to others and, in time, the reflection may come to match. If nothing else, you're eliminating a lot of angst and hate from your life and making the world a little better place to live.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The everyday benefits of the Bug Out Bag

Over the recent holidays, we got to see a minor incident made better by the presence of a Bug Out Bag (BOB). We had given our 18 year-old her own kit for the holidays, as I mentioned here. We convinced her to take it with her for our trip over Christmas. Good thing we did, too!

We were driving back home on Christmas day. I was ill, so my wife was forced to do the bulk of the driving. There were 5 of us in the truck, 3 human and 2 dogs. We had just pulled into a gas station to change up drivers and get something to keep us going when there was an "Oh crap" from the back seat. Our niece had just spilled something on the seat. Not just something, but about 1/4 of her Strawberry coolata from Dunkin Donuts. You know the kind, basically artificial flavor, corn syrup, and Red Dye #5. Yeah, all over my truck seat. Needless to say, I was not happy! I informed her she had better find a way to clean it up as best she could before we moved on.

When we came back out of the gas station, having looked for something stain removing, I asked if she had anything in her BOB that would help. She went digging and pulled out SHOUT! wipes, which turned out to do a quick and fabulous job of getting all the staining deep red out of the seat. So, with very little to be angry about anymore, I took the opportunity to point out how preparedness had saved the day, we loaded into the truck, and went the rest of the way home.

In short, not every emergency is a major one, but a little prep can help each time!