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I Would Pay For That: on Syria, the Super Bowl, and Survival

A note to my fellow revelers:  I woke up this morning thinking about a business idea I’m putting out there for the taking when current events worked their way out of my mind, where I must have been mulling them over in the past several days, and into this post.  It winds but if you bear with me, I hope you’ll agree it matters.

Business idea.

Watching the Superbowl and its just as widely watched commercials, a viewer could have no doubt the year we live in.  The build-up to 2012 as possibly the last year of the humankind has been great.  Now marketers are capitalizing on, while poking good fun at, the hype.  From Chevy’s “2012” commercial where those who survive the Apocalypse are, of course, those who were in their Silverados when it happened, to movie trailers feeding on schadenfreude and seizing the zeitgeist.  In the lineup are Marvel Comic’s The Avengers, which shows a scene whose celluloid vision is now overly familiar: a city destroyed, with cars overturned and smoke billowing from random corners of the screen, which in the next scene become firebombs roaring through a city’s narrow streets.  A voice over tells us, “The world has changed.”  Then there’s Battleship: another city street that in one moment is peaceful and calm while a family waits with bored and impatient faces to get through yet another typical big-city traffic jam, when out of the sky alien machinery comes crashing down like a giant pinball, overturning cars and sinking full highways in its path.   Ominous, machine-like heavy breathing segues into random sounds of destruction, hard rock and occasional digital bleeping to lay the soundtrack.  In the same opening tone of the Avengers trailer, we hear an official-sounding voice inform an apparently other official person, “We’re looking at an extinction-level event.”  And there you have it.  The preview to 2012.  Hollywood style.

But what’s the reality?  In two words: change hurts.  The globe has been going through growing pains, notably and obviously, beginning with last year’s Arab spring, where people in the Arab world banded together to overthrow dictators and protest human rights abuses and economic conditions.  It sparked an era where people across the globe are coming into their own as activists and change agents.  Next came the protests stateside starting in the fall and continuing as a still fledgling movement with its battle cries sounding out against inequality and injustice on an array of fronts from the economy to food production.  People everywhere, it seems, are waking up and saying, “I’m not gonna take it anymore.”  Fill in the blank, of course, for whatever your “it” may be.

While the bravado behind these movements is inspiring, and will likely provide a wealth of Hollywood fodder in the years ahead, as Syria is currently showing us, change invites resistance that, when tested, can become an all-out offensive.  NPR features an article today of the story of a former regime-backer, Younes Al-Yousef, who agreed wholeheartedly with the government that the protesters, or “terrorists,” were to blame for all the discord.  That was, until he saw the government he supported kill its own citizens to tamp out the protests, and witnessed himself, a former cameraman for a pro-government TV station, as a pawn in their unfair play.  He has since fled the country, and survives for now to tell another Syrian horror story.  I listened yesterday to a Skype interview on NPR of another citizen, Omar Shakir, a blogger and citizen journalist stuck in Syria and hiding out with no food and little electricity, hoping the killers simply will not get to him and his comrades.   The sound of gunfire is heard, as well as jokes being told between friends, for the purpose, he explains, to “encourage ourselves … so we can feel better.”  He describes rockets and Russian tanks and machine gun used against his fellow civilians.  The day before, the hospital was hit by a rocket.  He describes mass killing, and explains that every man in his town is wanted and will be killed.  He clearly understands this to include himself and his friends.

Where does this leave us — us, the viewer, the outsider, the consumers of hard-core media coverage and soft-core celluloid versions of our fears and nightmares (the former telling stories that have uncomfortably uncertain outcomes and the latter guaranteed to let us work out these anxieties and sleep easy at night).  It leaves me to do what I do best when I start to get overwhelmed with things I can’t control: reel the focus back to a micro level.  Ask myself if I am prepared for the unpredictable.  Ask myself if there is anything I can do to help my neighbor.  Which brings us back to the business idea.

If there were a service of a person who is well-versed in disaster preparation and recovery, I would pay that person for their wealth of knowledge and recommendations, and for doing some of the leg work on those preparations still unmade in this household.  We have water, for example, but no generator.  I have put off buying a generator (which, yes, I do think most households should have) because I am overwhelmed by the thought of doing the research on which is the most reasonable (economic, space-saving, reliable, and easy to use) generator to have.  This is just one example of why I would pay someone good money (and put money into our economy) to do the legwork for me.  My partner’s father does this type of work on a city-level.  There’s no reason we shouldn’t be ensuring at least a basic measure of preparedness in our own homes.

Now, what to do about Syria?  Like most of the rest of the world, I don’t know yet.  Cash isn’t flush right now and it doesn’t seem like throwing money at a problem as out of control as this is going to do much good at the moment.  If I thought it would do some good, though, I would do it.  My own brief research hasn’t turned up any reliable channels for getting relief to the Syrian people.  If anyone else has found otherwise, though, please let us know.

At least our government (one of the good ones – and, yes, I believe that but I’m not so foolish to think that that couldn’t change) is working with other governments to take a stance.  The U.S. has imposed increasingly stringent sanctions against Syria.  This week, the U.S. closed its embassy there.  Also this week, the U.S. joined the international community in condemning the tragedy unfolding in Syria.  China and Russia, in a move described by England as “incomprehensible and inexcusable,” vetoed the U.N. resolution against Syrian president Bashar al Assad.   Just days earlier, in backroom negotiations, the U.S and allies had dropped a demand for UN sanctions and an arms embargo against Syria in exchange for Russia’s support on the resolution.  Like a squabbling child who refuses to play nice even after making up, Russia is once again on the wrong side of the room.  Back in May 2011, Amnesty International asked for global help to the growing crisis in Syria.  In this Youtube clip, Salil Shetty, Secretary General, calls for the international community to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court, an arms embargo, an asset freeze, and for accountability, with only a weak response from governments across the globe.  Many individuals, however, had even by then expressed their support in petitions to protect peaceful protests in Syria.

While I, and others, are waiting and watching for what we can do to help, I am also trying, like others, to simply keep myself informed and help others be aware because surely someone who does not yet know about the depth and extent of the atrocities (recent estimates are 6000-7500 civilians murdered) just may be the person with the answer.

13 responses to “I Would Pay For That: on Syria, the Super Bowl, and Survival

  1. great questions. i enjoyed the winding road here.
    on survival, imposing a simple lifestyle (a little bit at a time)
    on ourselves maybe does wonders. the local ma and pa hardware store sells kerosene lamps, indoor fire places with chimney and filters to not pollute. they sell silicon radios.
    and not using tv’s and computers too much in preapration for the solar panel on your roof-rations, and salting fish and learning how to enjoy cold, raw food. acoustic vaudeville.
    on syria, that’s over my head, but i do wonder how many murders-sacrifices need to happen before we get it right like how many temptations do we as individuals give in to before our boat is sealed from holes-leaks? and land is visible for the first time?

  2. Revel

    Well put. Gotta go salt some fish. Unfortunately the solution to Syria, btw, though its troubles be awfully simple, seems to be over everyone’s heads right now. Though the comparison is woefully inadequate, I can’t help that it reminds me of how hard it is to craft logical, well-reasoned legal arguments in response to irrational ones. The difficulty of forming a proper response is directly proportional to the outlandishness of the original argument (or act) being responded to. Likewise, here, the solution seems obvious: we just need to get the regime to stop killing its people. But if they are killing their own people, they aren’t likely to listen to reason to begin with. Frustrating cycle.

  3. i don’t know the demographic specifics of syria except that there’s alot of variety …way more than simply arab race and muslim religion.
    This makes it tricky to establish a unifying manifesto like the american constitution where everyone agrees in a document to hopefully one day be realized. The collective striving keeps everyone together, at least in theory and also serves as a check and balance against corruption, in theory again.

    Apparently, democracy doesn’t appeal to the senses of the Syrian people in power. But, I think the west is wrong to impose democracy as the only solution especially with so many more lives at risk. If I were some sort of ambassador to Syria, I would get on the bat phone and simply say, “is there any way we could stop the killing? What would you need in order to ensure another life is not lost?” or something like that.

    Of course, killing has to be a universal no no unless in self defense, but everything else seems very reasonable including rule by a dictator if that’s what a group of people decide on and it does happen and it might be more conducive to a better life for some people. I like to think of it, as you suggested, in a micro cosmic way….in the mirror. Sometimes, the rhythms of my life require a sort of imposed dictatorship on myself as a bridge to to a future whiskey window smashing jamboreee.

    In conclusion, maybe the worst plan of action is to impose our way on Syria. It will only inflame the rulers even more and create a bigger distance. It seems very similar to the ways parents communicate with children. This is not to say Syrian leaders are children. Not at all. But they operate in an entirely different paradigm and here’s the crux of my biscuit…. if they refuse to sit down and negotiate and instead, keep on killing, then I’m sorry to say that it is time to launch a unified military attack and destroy the Assad family once and for all.

  4. Ralph ⋅

    Syria, and many other issues in other countries are difficult to solve. It seems in many cases our ‘solution’ to problems is to install a democratic government. I don’t know how to insert a picture on here, but there’s a poster I ran across which conveys an interesting message. I won’t pretend to have answers to these problems, but i do agree that throwing money at them probably won’t help matters, and may possibly make things worse.

    Where I can offer useful advice is on generators, a subject I have researched quite a bit. Your first step is to decide what you need to run off it, then what you want to run- two different lists! What you need to run may be lights, your refrigerator, your furnace, a sump pump, and a few small appliances. What you may want to run could be a TV with game console(s), a microwave, and your computer- not necessarily essential but nice to have items. The lists depend on your needs and requirements. This is your initial step to deciding what generator to buy. These lists will probably change as you go along, that’s OK and expected.

    As you make your list of items, for each device take a look at the device and find it’s power rating. That’s usually on the back, bottom, or on the plug in transformer that powers the device. Look for how many watts it pulls, and write that next to each device on your list. A spreadsheet is probably a good way to make your list. If you can’t get at the power rating easily (like behind your refrigerator) you can find pretty good estimates online or check your owner’s manual.

    Having done that you are in a good position to move on. Also note that your new made lists will give you a good idea of what is inflating your electric bill. Refrigerators, coffee pots, and air conditioners are usually among the ‘big hitters’. Knowing the power ratings of what you want to run is essential to buying a generator that is neither too small to run essential devices, nor oversized for your needs. You may find that some things like central air are not practical on a portable generator, but a room sized A/C may be OK. This process will show how reliant you are on electricity.

    • Ralph, thank you for providing essential scraps for a “get off the grid” dream that is very possible.
      By simply noting the power rating and watts used, as you suggest, something definitely starts stirring in the self reliant mind. A great blog topic reaps great answers.
      Thanks Revel. Thanks Ralph.

  5. Ralph ⋅

    Figuring out a generator size, even if you never actually buy one is a good exercise. Most people, myself included, slowly add to their electrical use one gadget at a time. As energy prices go up, all those gadgets start to cost more and more money. Cutting your electrical use not only helps the environment, but frees up money that can be used for other purposes. Here’s a couple easy things to check.

    Vampires- Look for what I’ve heard called ‘energy vampires’, all those transformers plugged into the wall. iPOD chargers, laptop chargers, cell phone chargers, &c. Unless the transformer NEEDS to be plugged in 7×24 (like a cordless phone), unplug it when not in use. Just plugged into the wall doing nothing they pull power. If you charge your portable devices off the USB port on your computer you may be running your computer just to use it as a charger. That’s a lot of power wasted and you’re probably better off buying a USB charger that plugs straight into the wall. If buying a charger, look for one that can charge as many of your devices as possible. Wall chargers will almost always charge much faster than a PCs USB port.

    PCs- I have a desktop PC I need to keep but rarely ever use. PCs, monitors, and possibly your printer pull power even when turned off. Plug them all into one power strip with a switch so they can be fully turned off when not being used. I keep my wireless router on the same strip as my PC. Don’t leave a laptop on charge 7×24- it wastes power and will kill the battery. Replacement laptop batteries are expensive. There’s a few ideas that are free or inexpensive to put into place. They will help the planet, and help you save some money.

  6. Ralph ⋅

    A while back I bought a meter called a Kill-A-Watt meter. Among other things it tells you how much power something uses. It may not be worth the $30 or so it cost since once you measure everything of interest it has limited use. Also, everything gives you a power rating on it’s label. Here’s a few items I measured with the meter. Note that power used will vary by makes and models, but these should give you a pretty good idea.

    toaster oven 1141 watts
    coffee maker 961 watts
    dehumidifier 800 watts
    netbook charger 67 watts
    27 in flatscreen TV 41 watts
    MP3 charger 5 watts

    Because of my usage, the coffee pot is the big one even though it doesn’t pull the most power. The coffee pot runs a couple times per day. My microwave at about 1000 watts is actually not much of an issue since it only runs a couple minutes per day on average. Here’s why:

    You buy electric by the ‘kilowatt hour’. A kilowatt hour is the amount of electric used to run 1000 watts for 1 hour, or 2000 watts for 30 minutes ( 1/2 Hr ), or 500 watts for 2 hours. All these are the same amount of power used. If you multiply the watts by the number of hours in each of the above they all work out to 1000 watt hours, or 1 kilowatt hour. Your electric bill will tell you how much you are paying per kilowatt hour.

    A low powered item running 7×24 may actually cost you more than a higher power item. A 50 watt item running 24 hours will pull 50 watts x 24 hours or 1200 watt hours (1.2 kilowatt hours). That 50 watt item will cost more to run than my 1141 watt toaster running for 1 hour (1141 watts x 1 hour or 1.14 kilowatt hour). Small things can matter.

    Hopefully everyone isn’t bored to tears by now. Knowing the above can help you decide how and what to do to cut your electric bill. If you are thinking of buying a generator, you will become the electric company supplying your own power and it will become even more important to control the amount of electricity you consume. With a generator the more power you pull the more fuel you will burn (same as your utility company), and if you exceed your generator’s rating it may trip a circuit breaker, or damage the generator.

    • Revel

      You hear about how electricity is used when a machine is plugged in but not in active use but I never knew how one appliance compared to another. This is really helpful, Ralph. Thanks!! Now here’s another little tip. Next time you get your bill, take a look at how much you’re being charged per kilowatt hour (likely around $.09 per kw hr.), call the company and see if they will reduce your per kilowatt hour charge. One year I was able to bring my charge down from $.14 to close to $.08. If you watch your bill closely, you’ll see that charge creep up slowly over time. Last time I checked (which was, I think, some time last year), the company has the discretion to lower it. I believe that with deregulation and the ensuing competition, there’s even more of an incentive to lower it. I could be wrong, and I’m doing this all from memory but it’s worth the few minutes it takes to call them and find out. I also believe that making regular calls to service providers like these (these include credit card companies and phone companies) reminds them that, contrary to what they might think, people do read their bills, and do pay attention to them.

      Thanks for all the invaluable tips, Ralph. You are a treasure trove of info!!

  7. Ralph ⋅

    I just read and listen to too many podcasts 🙂
    The electric company may still provide ‘off peak’ rates. IF you know you use most of your electric, or can change your use patterns so most of your electric use is ‘off peak’, the after hour rate is less than the normal rates. Unless you keep the bulk of your use after hours, the even higher ‘prime time’ rates will make that plan more costly. The reason for the off peak discount is that even though the electric demand on the utility is way down at night, they have to keep their generators running- sort of similar to a car idling at a red light but still burning fuel. I am sure you can get the details of an off peak plan online or from Con Ed.

  8. Ralph ⋅

    Helping your neighbor- If you read enough about being prepared you will eventually come across a saying- “It is easier to feed your neighbors than shoot them”. For the most part, if you keep some extra supplies for yourself you can use any of your excess to help someone else. Many people forget to stock a few extra supplies for pets, and to keep some extra medications if needed.

    In NYC power outages and the occasional bad storm are most likely. I keep plenty of flashlights and batteries around- certainly enough to give a few away. Next I keep a few old fashioned kerosene lanterns. There is some danger with these, but if used properly they are quite safe and extremely reliable. Unlike flashlights they can also be a source of heat. You should also store some kerosene to keep them running for extended periods. A gallon or two should be more than enough since they only burn around an ounce per hour. Store kerosene outside. Candles are good to have, but fire department data on fires caused by candles should make you take extreme care with them. Both flashlights and lanterns give more light and are far safer to use.

    For the most part, keeping a little more supplies than you think you will need for yourself will enable you to help a neighbor in need. Even better, see if you can get some neighbors to keep a little extra supplies for themselves. Some extra blankets to give to elderly neighbors in winter, a flashlight, and a couple cans of food, some pasta, or rice can literally be a life saver. Natural gas rarely ever fails so it should be possible to cook a quick pot of oat meal or make a pot of coffee. New York City is actually in the top 5 cities for being prepared for an emergency. That’s a good thing, but don’t forget about the parts of Queens and Staten Island that were without power for days.

    Be sure to have MANUAL can openers. A shelf full of canned food isn’t much good if you can’t open the cans. Keep a battery powered NOAA weather radio. If you own a house find out where the main water valve is. In case of a water heater leak or frozen pipes you may need to shut off the water in a hurry to prevent a flood. Find out where all your circuit breakers (or fuses) are. If possible label what they control in case one trips or needs to be turned off. Although probably never needed, know where the valve to turn off the gas supply to your house is- and have a tool to operate the valve! If your neighbor’s house is similar to yours, their valves and circuit breakers are probably in the same places as yours. Once again, your being prepared may help you to help someone else.

  9. Ralph ⋅

    I’ve actually thought about this post a number of times since it went up and am finally putting a few ideas out there to ponder. The title caught my attention, ‘I would pay for that’. The Super Bowl- I don’t really follow sports. Syria- I may have some opinions on this one, but really don’t have enough factual information to even pretend to have a working solution. Survival- I’ve read and listened to both theoretical and real life based information. One quote I like is “Learn from the mistakes of others, you don’t have enough time to make them all yourself”. Some of the information out there is, well, out there. Some is valid, but doesn’t apply to everyone. Then there is some that applies to everyone. The latter is a good place to start, and after reading what follows you may think twice about paying for it. There’s lots of information out there, I’ve simply mashed a lot of it together.

    The idea of survival is … to survive. Are you really prepared? Realistically think of the following and you’ll have pretty good idea if you are. You and whoever is normally in your household are all at home tonight. Without warning you are told nobody can leave the house for 3 days. No electricity, no last minute runs for groceries, or deliveries. You open the faucet and no water comes out. Can you get by for 3 days with nothing other than what is in your house right now?

    Get a pad and pencil and start thinking about that question. Do you have at least one gallon of water per person for each of the three days? Extra credit for homeowners- if not, do you know where you can get more water without going out? Water is high on the list of must have items. Food- enough to keep everyone reasonably fed for 3 days? If that food is things like rice, pasta, beans or similar items don’t forget you need extra water to cook them. Enough flashlights (lanterns and candles count) and batteries? Do they all work? Have oil for any lanterns? If it were winter are there enough blankets to keep everyone warm? No electric probably means no heat. Homeowners, how would you keep pipes from freezing and bursting? Do you have three days of supplies for any pets? Ask yourself questions like those. Take a few days to really think and compile the list. Maybe have a second person make their own list and compare both when done.

    A simple question, a lot to think about. Odds are there will be a few things on your list, maybe many. Now take some of that money you would have spent to pay someone to answer the above question, stimulate the economy by buying some or all of those missing items, and you will be more prepared.

    • Revel

      Nice! I love it, and I have a few days to do it. And I’m gonna do it. A clear, cold look at what could really happen based on what I have (or haven’t done) to prepare. Further questions: do you know right where that lantern or flashlight or batteries are? Does everyone in your household know? Now, what if a fire starts? Do you know what to do? Or if someone starts choking or has a heart attack or needs other first aid?

      This is an excellent exercise, Ralph. I’m up for the challenge and appreciate this sort of short cut to spotting areas where we’re not as ready as we should be. I would also be curious to hear about real life situations people may have found themselves in where they wish they would have done certain things to be more prepared. For me, it would have been 9/11. I walked from downtown alongside someone who had a small transistor radio and was able to give me a blow by blow account of what was happening in another parts of the States, even though a lot of what was coming from some of the biggest media was just misinformation since no one really knew at that time what was happening. But some information – even just the access to information – was far better than none at all. I swore then and there, with lower Manhattan a swarm of dust clouds behind me, that I would never not have a working radio.

      Sent from my iPhone

  10. Pingback: Are You Ready For This? « revelgardener

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