On Survivalism

NOTE: This blog post was originally published at The Scholar’s Stage on 2 January 2011. Its contents are relevant to the discussion started by Jay Manifold’s recent posts on national catastrophes and societal resilience. Now seems like a good time to resurrect the original post in its entirety.



I recently read a book by survivalist blogger James Wesley Rawles called How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It. This reading has prompted a few thoughts on the aims and validity of the survivalist movement that may be of interest to readers of the Stage.

The raison d’etre of survivalism is a subject much discussed on this blog: the proper balance between between resilience and efficiency. Robustness and facility are two virtues fundamentally at odds, and all complex systems, be they organisms, economies, or militaries, are subject to the trade off between them. While the relation between specialization and efficiency was noted by both Xenophon and Ibn Khaldun centuries earlier, widespread acceptance of the “drag” redundancy places on a system’s productivity did not come until publication of Adam Smith‘s The Wealth of Nations. Mr. Smith uses the example of a pin factory to teach the general principle:

…the trade of the pin-maker; a workman not educated to this business (which the division of labour has rendered a distinct trade), nor acquainted with the use of the machinery employed in it (to the invention of which the same division of labour has probably given occasion), could scarce, perhaps, with his utmost industry, make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty. But in the way in which this business is now carried on, not only the whole work is a peculiar trade, but it is divided into a number of branches, of which the greater part are likewise peculiar trades. One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on, is a peculiar business, to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some manufactories, are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometimes perform two or three of them. I have seen a small manufactory of this kind where ten men only were employed, and where some of them consequently performed two or three distinct operations. But though they were very poor, and therefore but indifferently accommodated with the necessary machinery, they could, when they exerted themselves, make among them about twelve pounds of pins in a day. There are in a pound upwards of four thousand pins of a middling size. Those ten persons, therefore, could make among them upwards of forty-eight thousand pins in a day. Each person, therefore, making a tenth part of forty-eight thousand pins, might be considered as making four thousand eight hundred pins in a day. But if they had all wrought separately and independently, and without any of them having been educated to this peculiar business, they certainly could not each of them have made twenty, perhaps not one pin in a day; that is, certainly, not the two hundred and fortieth, perhaps not the four thousand eight hundredth part of what they are at present capable of performing, in consequence of a proper division and combination of their different operations….. The division of labour, however, so far as it can be introduced, occasions, in every art, a proportionable increase of the productive powers of labour.

Book I, Chapter 1, “Of the Division of Labour” 

Mr. Smith does not present the primary drawback of this arrangement. With efficiency comes fragility. Ten men working by their lonesome produce a paltry number of pins, but the faults of one man do not destroy the efforts of another.  In contrast, if something happens to one of the ten factory men and; his equipment, no pins get made and the factory must shut down. One bad cog puts a stop to the entire machine.

For the survivalist this is a problem pervading not only the pin factories, but all of modern society. Over the last century two trends have decidedly shifted society’s balance away from robustness and towards efficiency. Modern dependence on technology and the specialized knowledge needed to maintain it is the first of these trends; the second is the fusion of local communities with the global economy and larger political units. The day is past where a man is expected to know how to repair all that is on his property, grow his own food, or make and use his own fuel. In some cases this is simply the fruits of geographic isolation and economic specialization – the knowledge needed to raise livestock and plant crops is quite useless to the city dweller. Other cases reflect the ‘division of knowledge’ that inevitably comes with man’s growing understanding of and ability to manipulate the universe in which he dwells (e.g. few Americans know how to build a hard drive, much less a nuclear power plant). The rise of multinational conglomerates and global supply networks ensure that most of what we need is made far away; the eclipse of local civic and political institutions by national agencies erodes our communities’ capacity to solve problems without outside help. What we are left with is a culture of dependency, so ingrained as to be seen in our aesthetics. Explains Matthew Crawford in his excellent essay, “Shop Class as Soulcraft“:

At the same time, an engineering culture has developed in recent years in which the object is to “hide the works,” rendering the artifacts we use unintelligible to direct inspection. Lift the hood on some cars now (especially German ones), and the engine appears a bit like the shimmering, featureless obelisk that so enthralled the cavemen in the opening scene of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Essentially, there is another hood under the hood. This creeping concealedness takes various forms. The fasteners holding small appliances together now often require esoteric screwdrivers not commonly available, apparently to prevent the curious or the angry from interrogating the innards. By way of contrast, older readers will recall that until recent decades, Sears catalogues included blown-up parts diagrams and conceptual schematics for all appliances and many other mechanical goods. It was simply taken for granted that such information would be demanded by the consumer. 

A decline in tool use would seem to betoken a shift in our mode of inhabiting the world: more passive and more dependent. And indeed, there are fewer occasions for the kind of spiritedness that is called forth when we take things in hand for ourselves, whether to fix them or to make them. What ordinary people once made, they buy; and what they once fixed for themselves, they replace entirely or hire an expert to repair, whose expert fix often involves installing a pre-made replacement part.

Those concerned with the passivity of the American citizenry in the face of curtailed liberties and constant government encroachment ought to give this matter a moment’s thought. A people well accustomed to dependency lose little sleep over lost independence.

 Survivalists, however, are less concerned with the cause of servility as they are with its consequence. What happens to society when we can no longer can rely on the institutions, services, and technologies upon which our survival is so utterly dependent? Survivalists have imagined up a great many scenarios where just such a thing may happen. These scenarios can be grouped into three broad categories:
  1. A major but unpredictable disaster of short duration and limited geographic range (ex: large scale terrorist attack, earthquakes, hurricanes, blizzards, icy storms, or another natural disaster)
  2. An extreme (but not sudden) and long term economic depression (ex: extreme hyperinflation, an extreme deflationary depression, peak oil, food crisis, possibly political collapse)
  3. A disaster which is national in scale and whose effects will be felt for decades (ex: nuclear or civil war, EMP attack, political collapse, an epidemic reminiscent of the black plague)

Of the three, the only scenario we can be sure will occur is the first. This type of disaster should be accepted as an unalterable facet of life. No generation has lived without suffering them; no place on Earth has been left unscathed by them. We know such disasters will strike sometime in the future, but beyond simplistic probabilities we can not accurately predict when or where they will occur. Given the nature of these events, the prudent course for all Americans is to be prepared for whatever type-1 disasters are incident to their location.

I am certain that a disaster of a second type will occur in America sometime over the next thirty years. This is a political judgement on my part; those who do not share my politics may come to a different conclusion. Each reader will have to decide whose predictions are worth the trusting. In any case, I do not fancy being caught unprepared in the event my prediction becomes a reality.

Of course, that can be said for most disaster scenarios, no matter how outlandish they may be. That is the difficulty with type-3 disasters: the probability of their occurrence does not square with the measures that must be taken to truly prepare for them. The cost of these preparatory measures (such as relocating one’s family far away from urban centers, as Mr. Rawl’s advises) is very high – too high to recommend their adoption. If moving to a backwoods Idaho cabin is the only sure-fire way to survive a nuclear war, I would rather live my life as I will and meet, if it comes, my fiery death with a grin. I assume that I am not the only person who holds this view. Moreover, if preparations are made for type-1 and type-2 disasters, those of the third type will be much easier to survive. The extreme measures advocated by many survivalists are simply not necessary.

I say this not because I find fault with the preparation ethic of the survivalists, but because I find fault with what the survivalists prepare for. Survivalist literature is dominated by images of chaos and disorder, social disintegration à la Mad Max, full of riots, robbers, bandits, and desperate men willing to do anything – and kill anyone – to survive. This vision of bellum omnium contra omnes in the suburbs of America betrays a profound unfamiliarity with disaster psychology and sociology. The literature on this topic is extensive (this, this, and this are a few good introductory articles; this and this are popular books on the subject) and it lends no support to the notion that disasters produce panic stricken mobs or roving bandits prone to avarice and violence. It is the opposite that occurs: those who survive sudden disasters respond to their plight not with riots and terror, but with spontaneous acts of altruism and amazing feats of self-organization. Remember the 11th of September, when more than 500,000 denizens of Manhattan Island were evacuated by boat, bridge, and ferry without any centralized planning or direction. Consider the state of New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina raged,  levies broke, and hundreds of thousands of  people fled the region for safer climes. The Hurricane and its aftermath are widely seen as an unparalleled disaster. The centralized response to the Hurricane was just that; everything from the army-built levees to FEMA’s delayed relief efforts were marked by failure and mismanagement. The same cannot be of the said of the main populace’s uncoordinated response to the disaster. Though millions of people were evacuating the region and police forces temporarily lost control of New Orleans and its immediate environs, crime levels in New Orleans were no higher than normal. Reports of looting and violence were creations of an easily excited media machine, bearing no resemblance to reality.

This suggests that, contrary to the expectations of most survivalists, the greatest danger will not come from the other disaster survivors, but from outside elites trying to reassert authority over a disaster ravaged area. These elites are susceptible to what has been called the “Myth of Panic“: being the largest beneficiaries of the traditional order, they cannot see anything but chaos, violence, and carnage in its absence. The government response to Hurricane Katrina is a testament to the perilous effects of such misperception. Fear of violence and crime led to the misallocation of relief resources, and in a few shocking cases, refusal to offer relief at all. Eager to restore “peace and order”, government officials stripped Louisianans of their rights, confiscating all weapons in the city of New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina is small fare compared to most of the scenarios survivalists prepare for; in the event that such a disaster occurs, we cannot expect the authorities’ scramble for control to pose any less of a danger to the lives and liberties of disaster survivors.

Spontaneous self-organization and elite panic are the products of sudden disaster. If America falls with whimper in place of bang then a fraying of the social fabric should be expected. This alone is not enough to give credence to the apocalyptic visions of survivalist literature. Post-war Germany, Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and hyper-inflationary Argentina provide a historical precedent for future  type-2 disasters. All horrible to live through, but none were Apocalypse.

While we do not need to prepare for “the end of the world,” some preparation is prudent. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • If the water in my pipes stops flowing, will I have access to a water supply that will fulfill the needs of myself and my family for three days? How about three weeks? Three months? A year?
  • Do I have enough to food to meet the needs of myself and my family for three days? How about three weeks? Three months? A year?
  • Could I heat my home for three days if the power grid failed? How about three weeks? Three months? A year? Without power would I be able to receive or send communications outside of the disaster zone?
  •  If emergency and medical services were unavailable, would I have the materials and equipment needed to treat a seriously injured friend, neighbor, of family member?
  • If I was forced to evacuate my home, would I know where to go? Do I have the supplies necessary to meet the needs of myself and my family until we would reach our destination? Could we leave at a moment’s notice?

It is unlikely that we will face any disaster so bad that we will be forced to eat from our larders for a year or more’s time. However, preparing for that year as if it were a certainty is quite sensible: those with supplies otherwise unavailable will undoubtedly be providing for the needs of more than just their immediate family. When friends and neighbors are sick or starving and asking you to help them survive, the wisdom in such extensive preparations will be more than evident.

This focus on supplies should not mislead us into thinking that survival is simply a matter of gear or supplies. Herein lies one of my main complaints with the survivalist movement: too many survivalists seem to think that survival comes down to equipment. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The key to survival does not lie with supplies, but people. 

I mean this in two senses. On the one hand, an individual’s skill set is incalculably more valuable than anything they might own. (E.g. if you are not trained in basic first aid then all of the medical supplies in the world will do you no good). Yet even this is not enough. As with most things, what we know is less important than who we know. The notion of a lone survivalist tramping off into the wilderness to make it through doomsday is utter nonsense. These figures are great for Hollywood, but they stand little chance of surviving in the event of a real world disaster. The well supplied lone wolf is even less resilient than the masses of modern society he so abhors. One accident is all it takes to bring the best laid plans of the single survivalist to nought. Their survival will be dependent on a margin or error that simply does not exist.

Mr. Rawls and a few other survivalists recognize this. They recommend “forting” with a small group of several families or close friends. I submit that even this will prove unsatisfactory. The most successful survivors will be those who belong to a much larger community. We’ve already discussed how networks of mutual aid spontaneously arise in the wake of disaster; those formed around existing social groups with a strong sense of collective identity, social cohesion, and a regularly exercised ability to care for their own will be by far the most successful of these communities. Being independent of national infrastructure and existing political structures  these groups will have little trouble organizing and mobilizing after a major disaster. Minority immigrant groups, Mormon congregations, military bases, rural towns, and their like will become the loci of the new commonwealths forged by disaster. The organizational capacity of these communities will far outstrip what any family commune is capable of providing.

Becoming a part of one of these communities before disaster strikes is the best way to ensure your survival in its aftermath.

40 thoughts on “On Survivalism”

  1. “Minority immigrant groups, [Christian] congregations, military bases, rural towns, and their like will become the loci of the new commonwealths forged by disaster.”

    That seems to be how it worked after the legions left Britain. Unfortunately the minority immigrant groups were largely Germans, which was tough luck on the Romano-Britons.

  2. One small example of the dependence on technology that may not be reliable after an event is in medicine.Young physicians have tended to ignore traditional forms of diagnosis and treatment, instead relying on technology. This has added considerable cost but it also makes them very dependent on electrical power and machinery that none of them could hope to fix. A simple example is appendicitis, a common disorder that can be fatal. I learned, 50 years ago, how to diagnosis it with physical examination, a thermometer and a white blood count. Most cases these days are diagnosed with a CT scan, an ultrasound and often more complex versions of each. The operation is correct it (remove the appendix) is also quite simple but the low tech versions of such surgery are being lost as trainees have little exposure to them. In the event of an EMP attack, for example, we would be back to 1940 medicine and for quite a while.

    I was a student at the Mass General hospital in 1965 when all the electric power in the northeast US was lost for about 8 hours. It was an interesting experience. The entire grid went down. Hospitals had dismantled their backup generators because of assurances from the authorities that nothing like the blackout could happen.

  3. An excellent critique!

    I agree with your analysis of applying some probabilistic reasoning to preparation and for the social networking of skills.

    As to your thoughts on Type 3 events, it reminds me of Herman Kahn’s line “Will the living envy the dead?” in “On Thermonuclear War.” While wholesale nuclear war is unlikely, political collapse might have an upside, especially if you lived in rural or small towns with high trust cultures. Certainly the standard of living would decline but trading networks would soon develop.

    The largest single factor in long-term survival would be access to energy. Imagine no electricity or gasoline. Large cities are most vulnerable.

  4. This was a good read.

    I am quite positive that since I moved into a rural area that I am better off if the fecal matter hits the rotating blade. And I agree, it isn’t because of having a well stocked farm full of protein bearing animals (although that helps) but having a group of people that will bond together.

    We have already paid this forward by helping other farmers when they have been injured, or need help when hay/harvest time comes. Just from doing this, jobs on my place have been done like the hand of god dropped out of the sky (just yesterday my manure pile disappeared without asking).

    There are two key factors to my families’ survival in a major event (i.e. no more utilities). Getting that water up from my well (electric well pump) and the weather. If a major disaster happens in the dead of winter, like this last one, dying is only a matter of time if we can’t get far enough south to mitigate the climate. We have relatives in the St. Louis area, but as the article also points out, in a roundabout way, visitors won’t exactly be welcome. Alternately, we could bunker down and burn firewood as long as possible in our fireplace to keep the place up to habitable temp, but I know a guy who actually had to do that for a week after an ice storm and the firewood doesn’t last as long as you would like.

    As far as the water situation, I have heard that this is the key outside of bad weather conditions – having clean water to use and keep yourself clean in. I have no clue what I would do with the well pumps down. We have a nat gas back up generator for electricity, but if that is down, well…we have a lot of bottled water on hand…but I don’t like to think about it.

  5. Dan: just yesterday my manure pile disappeared without asking

    Theft! If someone took mine without asking I’d be rather ticked off!

    BTW: I mostly agree. We have storms etc. around here from time to time… and the sudden appearance of everyone around with chainsaws, tractors, generators, even bulldozers… is something to see. When a tornado hit the local ball field last summer we got an example of one kind of those pre-existing networks as a whole baseball league of kids and parents descended on the place with their “gear” and their “hard skills”.

  6. “Minority immigrant groups, [Christian] congregations, military bases, rural towns, and their like will become the loci of the new commonwealths forged by disaster.”

    Have you read The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson? This is what happens in the backstory of the novel.

  7. Dan: sounds like a little hand pump for the well, a fireplace insert, and a shed with a couple cords of wood in it would solve most of your concerns.

  8. “Dan: just yesterday my manure pile disappeared without asking” – good point John, but we have no use for ours – we give it to the local farmers to spread on their fields. They are happy to have it. It is just a pain for us to take it to them and they know this so come pick it up as a favor. It really isn’t enough to realistically help them out too much, they are just taking it because they know we don’t want it.

  9. John Balog – thought about the hand pump but haven’t asked the right people how to hook it up as of yet. As for the wood, I mentioned that earlier – we have quite a bit stored up and a pretty good fireplace. In fact, wood isn’t really too scarce in our parts – thinking again out loud, that if there were serious issues I could fell a few trees and be set for a while.

    Interesting how the seasons play a part in all of this. In winter up here, we have unlimited water in the form of snow, if we could get it melted.

  10. ” if something happens to one of the ten factory men and; his equipment, no pins get made and the factory must shut down. One bad cog puts a stop to the entire machine.”

    Not in the real world. SOMEBODY (owner, foreman, new hire off the street) steps in to fill the gap. Possibly the worker whose part in the process takes just a bit less time than average shuttles between two tasks. Certainly the factory doesn’t “shut down”.

    These folks spend 8 or 10 hours a day together, they take an interest in each other and each others work. So while there is specialized skill there is also a general working knowledge that the individual has of his mates craft.

  11. Back in the Jimmy Carter era, I lived at the beach here in Orange County. I got tired of gas lines so I bought a 550 gallon tank and buried it in my side yard (Illegal, of course) and filled it with diesel oil. I got rid of my gas cars and had all diesel cars, five in all. I had a contract with a fuel wholesaler to come and fill my tank when I called, every couple of weeks. Aside from the sight of an oil truck in my driveway every couple of weeks for an hour, nothing showed. We had unreliable electrical service and overhead wires, unusual in Orange County. I was giving serious thought to a diesel generator for a while. I did use an electric pump to fill the cars.

    That was at the beach in southern California. It shouldn’t be that hard in Wisconsin. Diesel is pretty safe compared to gasoline or even propane. We did have gas heat but the climate here is pretty mild. When I lived in New Hampshire I had oil heat.

    Fine Homebuilding had an article that I wish I had saved on building a super energy efficient home in Vermont. The builder was from Alberta. They framed the house with extra deep door and window frames. They put on a layer of siding, then added another set of frames shaped like I beams out of 3/4 inch ply in one foot widths the length of the walls. Then they made the “I” section from 1x 8 or so and covered the house with that spaced about 2 feet apart. Then they applied another layer of siding and filled the space between the two layers with glass wool. The window and door frames were deep enough (over a foot) to allow deep alcove-like spaces. The house was so tight, the article said the body heat of the occupants and appliances would keep it warm. Obviously venting was important as it was very tight. Simple cube shape but very energy efficient. Great cold weather design.

  12. @Tyouth-

    For a pin factory this is true, because the costs of specialization are quite low. The more specialized an individual’s role becomes-think of corporate finance lawyer or a nautical engineer-the more difficult it is for others’ to fill his shoes. In a modern economy a new guy can usually be found, but the costs of finding him are often quite high.

  13. “In a modern economy a new guy can usually be found, but the costs of finding him are often quite high.”

    Nice article. I completely sympathize with the guy and am baffled by the guy who comments that he wouldn’t move to a small town, although I know who he voted for.

    One nice thing about being a doctor is the ability to work as long as you are on the green side of the sod. I do physicals on military recruits. One of the guys I work with is 88. He started medical school in 1944. Not everybody wants to be working at age 88 but it does keep the mind busy. I know doctors who don;t like medicine but most will do what I do and the growing shortage is kind of sad.

  14. make sure you read up about starting a coal fire. also the coal is delivered in different sizes. i don’t know what would be compatible with a fire place.
    surely in times of danger a source of nearly pure carbon is handy. storage? keep it dry or not.

  15. >coal is the fuel of the future.<

    with fracking all that coal could become gasoline because – engineering

  16. Occupants of high rise apartment buildings will have problems during any extended power or water outage. Many high rise buildings rely on electricity to pump water to the higher floors, and of course for elevators. Many high rises have backup generators but these typically aren’t equipped with fuel for more than a few days.

  17. there is a reason baracky and co. like to take out coal: control. asshats in “control” see epa ig

  18. “Occupants of high rise apartment buildings will have problems during any extended power or water outage”

    dead people

  19. dead people

    Most high rise residents will probably leave within a few days of any power outage. So being in high rises will not necessarily doom them but it will greatly complicate their situations.

  20. MikeK,

    Our discussion petered out in the other thread before I got my most interesting question answered: what in particular was illegal about your fuel tank? In this part of the country, oil heat was formerly common, and in some parts of the country it still is, though I think your tank size was larger than ordinary.

  21. T Greer,

    Interesting article, but the first highlighted comment floored me:

    This dude built his factory in the wrong place.

    Ummm, yeah, right next to the source of all those eggs. What was he thinking???

  22. “Dan, about what is the water level, below the ground, at your place?” – I have no idea. I am sure one of the local farmers will know and I will try to remember to ask next time we are working together.

  23. I also wonder how long it would take a coal fire to soot up a standard fireplace. I guess that wouldn’t really matter in a shtf situation short term, but long term could pose its own health hazard.

  24. “I also wonder how long it would take a coal fire to soot up a standard fireplace.” Hire a sweep; no doubt they’ll go back to using small boys.

  25. I also wonder how long it would take a coal fire to soot up a standard fireplace.

    I doubt it would be any worse of a problem, in fact, I suspect it would be less trouble than wood from that standpoint. When I start up my coal forge or add fresh coal to it, there are clouds of crud which cook off in the first minute or so. VERY dirty nasty stuff, but once that’s over with there is very little smoke.

    I don’t know the specifics but I do know that coal requires a different type of grate than wood, in part because the pieces are small and in part because it needs more air. I had a wood stove once which was made to handle either wood or coal and the grate was a kind of meshing teeth apparatus which could function as a clinker breaker when you turned a handle on the side.

    Now the coal dust is another thing. I know people burned coal indoors for many years, but the dust gets everywhere. I found coal dust seeping out of the walls etc. in a house which hadn’t burned coal in at least 30 years.

    Most fireplaces are pretty poor heating devices, especially if they’re less than a century old or so. I think people stopped building them for effectiveness and started just building them for appearance.

    It just occurred to me that you are the HVAC guy (or did I misremember that…) you probably know a lot more about all this than I do…

  26. I bought a bag of coal – high rank bituminous from Utah – to burn in my fireplace.

    It was hot so effective to stand in front of but drew air in from all the cracks in the house making the other rooms colder than it would normally be. Lesson is to have a separate combustion air intake from outside.

    Also, my coal fire would stink up the neighborhood. Everyone else was burning almond wood. I second the point about a special grate. Try and get the highest ranked coal you can – anthracite was the preferred home heating fuel back in the day. Leave the lignite to the mine-mouth power plants – it is just well-aged peat.

    Coal can be stored outdoors – power plants have great heaps of the stuff. Even underwater if you let it drain before using. Remember, coal is a rock.

  27. Dan from Madison: They make hand pumps that can literally pull from beyond 100 feet. Lowes and Menards in my area sell sandpoints and hand pumps with 25 feet of lift, pamphlets are available at the store regarding installation. Google search online and check your yellow pages for local expertise, the more rural well service providers are typically happy to discuss.

  28. Here’s the place for energy efficient fire places.

    However, for coal you need a coal burning stove. It won’t burn in the fireplace. If you really want it to happen, you can burn bituminous, but it’s filthy and smelly. And anthracite burns as well as granite in a fireplace.

  29. “what in particular was illegal about your fuel tank? ”

    I never asked.. It was below ground and had a simple vent. No doubt there were about $10,000 in required accessories I would have been required to install. It worked fine for about 5 years. After Reagan, it was hardly worthwhile. The house was on a 200 foot bluff overlooking the ocean and I would probably would have had to get the Coastal Commission involved. By the time they opined, Reagan would have been president.

    When I had a landslide taking away 15 feet of the bluff part of the lot, it was a horrendous ordeal to go to the Coastal Commission. I put the tank in after all of that and put a concrete patio on top of it. It is probably still there.

  30. Ah.

    Coastal Commission.

    Most definitely a Don’t Ask Don’t Tell situation. Although if I were retelling your story, I’d be included to substitute “unauthorized” for “illegal”, since you don’t *really* know if it was illegal, right? (wink wink…)

  31. What you don’t know can’t hurt you unless you get caught. I would like to have gotten a few of those commissioners at the top of my 200 foot bluff but they were too wary. At one point in the slope repair, they were talking about requiring me to provide beach access. I pointed out that the slope was about 65 degrees and would like to have demonstrated it. They are real charmers and they have metastasized in California.

  32. > It won’t burn in the fireplace. If you really want it to happen, you can burn bituminous, but it’s filthy and smelly. And anthracite burns as well as granite in a fireplace.<

    both coals will burn in a fireplace. in an emergency situation, after all the firewood has been burned, i'd rather have a few tons of coals around rather than burning the furniture or felling trees in the middle of winter.

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