Social Security numbers on your arm and those Cold War memories

I’m sure that by now you have read about this little jewel of disaster planning:

A local leader in one coastal Texas community is advising residents who are not evacuating ahead of Hurricane Harvey to mark their names and Social Security numbers on their arms.

The mayor pro tem of Rockport, Texas, said that grim step is necessary to prepare for the worst in case of deaths among people who remain in the area.

“We’re suggesting if people are going to stay here, mark their arm with a Sharpie pen with their name and Social Security number,” Rockport Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Rios said at a news conference this morning.

It’s  a lovely little bit of dramatic hyperbole meant to terrify citizens into heading to the Superdome other locations. Rescuers, he implies, will discover your water-logged corpse and make the identification by the social security number you had the foresight to Sharpie onto your forearms. Which raises an interesting question: why wouldn’t you just write your damn name instead? Do they really think a grieving mom will come down to the makeshift morgue and wail “Where’s my baby? Where’s my sweet 409-52-2002?” Of course not. So, while not as famously stupid as the last southern hurricane mayor’s statement, this one is still pretty silly.

Or…is it?

Did you know that at the height of the Cold War, some school districts issued dogtags to children to make their identification easier in case of that big atomic war that we were all expecting? True story. The fine folks at the NYC Board of Edumacation spent $159,000 (in 1952 money) to tag kids like they were elk. But, apparently, dogtags weren’t the only option.

430D639800000578-4776328-image-a-98_1502309278977At some point, someone suggested tattooing as a means of providing identification for citizens (adult and child) who might get caught up in the blast zone. While dogtags were probably not an easy sell, you can imagine the howling that would have followed if a government actor suggested tattooing the population…especially since this was about ten years after a buncha people already tried that sort of thing. (Trivia: as a kid growing up in Brooklyn in the late 70’s it was not unheard of in the summer to see faded tattoos on the bare arms of older men of certain cultural/religious backgrounds. I specifically recall a barber I went to once who had what was clearly a number tattooed on his forearm.)

All the articles I found on the subject were aghast at the concept of issuing dogtags to kids for the purpose of identifying their bodies. Apparently the snowflakes at Slate and similar venues feel that a better choice is for a parent to be denied closure and the comfort of knowing the final disposition of their child.

Nowadays, people take the tattooing thing way too far. There was a point in my lifetime where only a certain kind of woman had a tattoo, and if a man had a tattoo he probably also had a military career behind it. Now kids get tattooed to the point of looking like a comic book.

Even a decade after Katrina, there were still a couple dozen bodies that were unidentified….a big improvement from the 1000 that they started with.

For me, the issue of identification is a non-starter. Even in my day-to-day life I refuse to carry ID. If I die, I’m sure there will be plenty of evidence laying around to let people know who I was (or am, i suppose). But, back in the Cold War days it was a different story, I suppose.


The Trader

When I was a kid they had such things as ‘Army-Navy Stores’ which were, ostensibly, military surplus outlets. They still have them but now most of the stuff is made in China crap rather than genuine GI stuff. The greatest of these places was a place called The Trader over on Canal St. in Manhattan. It was an old building from the ’20s that was just jam packed with all sortsa gear. Sadly, I discovered that The Trader is no longer in business.

Canal St., by the way, was an awesome collection of stores for above-board and sometimes below-board stuff. Computer geeks were especially drawn to all the electronics surplus that some stores carried. I remember buying stuff t do all sortsa computer-related chaos.

Canal Street was also pretty mucht he place to buy illegal fireworks back in the day. There was nothing subtle about it. Just don’t blow anyone up and everyone pretyy much loked the other way.

After 9/11 The Trader was kind of an everyman’s survival supply. Sure, it was ostensibly a surplus store, but savvy survivalist knew that in all those piles of old Vietnam era flight suits, German ponchos, and surplus wool socks, there were a few things that could be useful for when the end of the world came.

I’ve linked to this article in the past, but it really is worth a repost…especially now that The Trader appears* to have gone the way of other great hole-in-the-wall specialty shops that used to populate NYC.

Survivor N.Y.C.


* = It appears The Trader is no longer in business. Google Earth shows a new business at the old Trader location on Canal Street.

“Lost” fallout shelters

Short version: guys discovers a fallout shelter buried in his yard.

I am fascinated that this thing was not full of water. I’ve seen quite a few stories like this one and invariably the shelter has filled with water over the forty-plus years of being ‘lost’.

I used to know a guy who had a shelter similar to this kind buried in his yard under his patio. He wasn’t really expecting a nuclear exchange (or maybe he was and just didnt tell me) but he did say that it was where he would keep all his valuable guns and stuff in case a forest fire came roaring through his little patch of nowhere.

I’ve no doubt there are plenty of these forgotten shelters out there. One of special interest is a  ‘demo model’ of an underground house built for the worlds fair back in the 60’s. Some folks think it’s still there and want to go digging for it.

And although techincally they arent as dramatic, every so often impromptu public fallout shelters are discovered stacked with mountains of ancient Civil Defense gear.

Like those pesky WW2 leftovers that keep getting dug up everytime someone digs a new subway tunnel in Berlin, these sorts of things will keep cropping up from time to time. I , for one, find them utterly fascinating.

Patriot(s, s’,’s) Day.. or is it?

There’s only a handful of holidays I get worked up over…Independence Day, my birthday, Valentine’s Day, Paratus, and one or two others. And then there’s Patriot’s Day…the moveable feast of the political right.


Maybe someone really said this. Maybe not. But the sentiment certainly seems apropos.

First, there’s a bit of ambiguity about the it Patriot’s Day, Patriots Day, or Patriots’ Day? I go with Patriot’s Day. You can figure out which punctuation rings your (liberty) bell. It most certainly is notPatriot Day‘ which is, I think, a holiday in poor taste since  we already have a holiday with that name and ‘re-using’ it is patently disrespectful to the original holiday.

Then there’s the date. To me, Patriot’s Day is April 19. Why? Because that’s when the shooting started. The notion of making it the third Monday of April, regardless of date, for the purpose of creating a three day weekend is abhorrent to me. You make a holiday to remember and act upon a historical event. You don’t make it for the sake of getting a three-day weekend. *

Folks are calling today Patriot’s Day but I’m going to be a stickler….orthodox, if you will…and say that Patriot’s Day is April 19. Period.

* = Having said that, yes, Paratus is a moveable holiday. BUT..Paratus was designed from the get-go to be held on a Friday so you could have a weekend to play with your Paratus gifts. I do not find this inconsistent with my attitude about re-arranging historical holidays to fit modern demands for three-day weekends.


Patriots Day

To be fair, there is some confusion over whether it is Patriots Day, Patriot’s Day, or Patriots’ Day.

51862212Succinctly, its the anniversary of the opening salvos of what we call the Revolutionary War. (Remember – if  you strike at the .gov and win, it’s a revolution; if you lose it’s a civil war.)

The history is available at the usual sources.

In a sad commentary on the cynical nature of .gov, this day is also a ‘heightened alert’ day for many .gov, .mil, and LE agencies. Apparently those of us who remember days like this are considered a suspect group.

So what’s the great purpose of Patriots Day? Well, I think it’s one of those holidays open to personal interpretation. I think its an excellent excuse to head to the range and practice with a firearm. I also think it’s an excellent day to contemplate what patriotism is to  you, how it is manifested, what it’s qualities are, and what you’re willing to do and not do in the name of it. In short, it’s an excellent occasion to mull over your ideals and beliefs vis-a-vis government and individuality.

In olden day, there used to be Liberty Trees or Liberty Poles…these were features that served as rallying points on days like this.

liberty-poleNowadays rallys tend to be held at places like the federal courthouse or other building, which seems a little counter-intuitive to me. It’s using ‘the other guys’ features as your own rallying point. However, I was in Kalispell last weekend and saw a bunch of armed, Gadsen-waving folks with signs at the war memorial up there…so perhaps that has become the new de facto ‘liberty pole’. Although, really, I like the notion of a huge sprawling liberty tree that people can gather under and around…have rallies or simple picnics on Independence Day..that sort of thing.

Regardless…it’s a holiday today, and it’s not a bad idea to head to the range and punctuate the day with gunfire.

Pearl Harbor Day

It’s Pearl Harbor Day.  A day that should remind everyone that the sneak attacks that mess up your life can happen anytime…and from any source.

The day after Pearl Harbor was attacked, this nation set itself onto a war footing. This would lead to rationing, scrap drives, concentration camps for certain ethnic/racial groups, Victory gardens, shortages of staples like rubber, butter, meat, fuel, etc. In short, you went to bed on December 6 in a world that you were familiar with and one week later you were knee-deep in one of the 20th century’s most defining events.

The lesson? “It” can happen anytime. It can be Japanese torpedo bombers, a pink slip from your boss, a spot on your chest x-ray, a process server on your doorstep, that little stick turning blue, or a sudden sharp pain in your chest. The Pearl Harbor that catches you off guard and forever changes your life can look like a lot of different things. Might be a good idea to have some of your ducks in a row so that when it does happen (And it will, be assured) you’re not down for the count with just one punch.

Of course, if you are prepared, you can sometimes give back as good as you got…and then some.



Article – Almost Everything in “Dr. Strangelove” Was True

Half a century after Kubrick’s mad general, Jack D. Ripper, launched a nuclear strike on the Soviets to defend the purity of “our precious bodily fluids” from Communist subversion, we now know that American officers did indeed have the ability to start a Third World War on their own. And despite the introduction of rigorous safeguards in the years since then, the risk of an accidental or unauthorized nuclear detonation hasn’t been completely eliminated.

If you havent read it, Stephen Hunter (of “Point Of Impact” fame) wrote a terrific book, The Day Before Midnight, about some guys busting into a launch facility to do a little DIY WW3. It was a really great book and would make an awesome movie. It’s my favorite book of his, narrowly edging out POI. And, yeah, it’s a little derivative of “Twilight’s Last Gleaming.

Anyway, the gist of the article is that despite the protestations of the military and the government, there have been times when the ability to launch nukes on one’s own has been possible. I suppose in Cold War planning that made sense – if command-n-control is knocked out there has to be a way for weapons to be used without authorization from the smoldering radioactive ruins of DC.

I mention this because it’s a fascinating little bit of history that sort of segues into preparedness. For those of us who grew up in the world of first strike, second strike, MADD, and Minuteman missiles its rather interesting.

The article is also  interesting because it details how the .gov tried to balance a very complicated equation – nukes had to be tightly controlled so no one could go off-kilter and start WW3 on their own, BUT there had to be mechanisms in place to allow an individual command to launch independently if higher authorities were disabled/destroyed. The solution (if you want to call it that) was two-man rules, no-lone-zones, layers of verification, split codes, and a few other ‘team’ requirements. Basically, it was a lot like having two names on a checking account…without both people signing off, nothing happens. (At least, thats the plan anyway.)

And, to segue to a slightly less on-topic matter, it’s interesting to note that while it supposedly takes more than one person to launch a nuclear attack, it has historically taken only one to prevent it.

Although there is the premise of the rogue individual starting WW3,  most folks are unaware of the rogue individual who prevented WW3. There are at least two Soviet officers (here and here) who, when given the opportunity to allow a some fissionable matter to do its thing, said nyet and prevented what might have been the start of WW3.

Interestingly, once you start looking into these sorts of matters you discover there have been quite a few times that we’ve been just a phone call and a button press away from having a nuclear exchange. Nowdays I suspect the incidence of nuclear war is fairly low but the risk of nuclear attack is unchanged or perhaps a bit higher. Somewhere there is a cargo container with a couple nuclear artillery shells in it just waiting to go through the Port of Seattle or somewhere similar. I mean, you look at the numbers and you realize there is a huge amount of smaller, less dramatic nuclear devices out there…man-portable stuff that some zealot can stuff in the back of a Cessna 182 and detonate over pretty much anywhere. There’s a lot of those little nukes out there..artillery shells, torpedoes, ‘special weapons’, demolition packages, etc, etc….stuff that fits into a 55-gallon drum or smaller.

Anyway, an interesting article for those of us who have an interest in control (or lack thereof) of these sorts of things.



Links – Cold War History sites

Two websites about Cold War facilities and fallout shelters.

Massachusetts Cold War History Site

Both sites feature pictures and small histories of various fallout shelters and other ‘doomsday’ real estate. One thing I found interesting and that I was unaware of was that the .gov had, in some cases, built small shelters for radio stations to allow them to continue to broadcast in a crisis. I never knew that.

The pictures of the hardened communication facilities is interesting as well. Having gotten to explore a couple of those microwave relay outposts, I can tell you that for the era they were built in they were very serious about survivability.

Anyway, entertaining links with some fascinating pictures…I especially enjoyed this series. Every now and then these facilities come up for sale. You’d have to spend some serious coin on your own to come up with an equal level of protection.