A trip to the Middle East. Impressions from Qatar and its underwhelming capital Doha.

Here more about Doha and Qatar. Some background first: Qatar is an emirate on the Arabian Peninsula. Saudi Arabia is the next door neighbor, with Qatar itself sticking out into the Persian Gulf like a thumb, bordered by the sea on three sides.

First impressions

it was VERY hot and unexpectedly humid. Qatar is a desert country and I thought it would be hot and dry. Not so: the humid air sweeps in from the Persian Gulf and is unbearable on most days.

Qatar is very tidy and modern. The people ate industrious and friendly, yet a bit aloof. There’s a reason for this: if you talk with a Qatari, you are in many cases chatting with a multi-millionaire.

Some Qatar facts

2.5 million people live in Qatar, of which 10% call themselves Qatari and have the hard-to-get passport. An Emir rules the country. Large natural gas reserves drive the economy. The vast majority of people come from other countries: they want to find work with better pay than in their home country. Taxi drivers and technologists, you meet people from all kinds of backgrounds and places. Most seem to enjoy living there: one taxi driver that I met came from India and had been in Qatar for 15 years, his wife and family lived in Delhi.

A hot and humid view from the hotel.

Above: An early morning view from the hotel. Persia / Iran is on the opposite side of this body of water.  Kuwait is on the left, and the Emirates are on the right.

Below: The high-rise opposite of the hotel. None of these buildings are older than 10-15 years. Qatar is booming, and constant renewal is underway.

View from the Hilton

Experience the heat

Below: All buildings are air-conditioned. I entered my hotel room, and it was stunningly cold. I put the air-conditioner up to the 27C (it was on 18C originally), and after a few hours the temperature was halfway OK. On the other hand, as I walked out of the hotel lobby, the heat and humidity hit me like a hammer, it felt like 50C. That was only on the first day, the following day was a bit better. Or did I get used to it? In any case, I wondered what the high of summer would be like. Locals said that depending on the time of year, a hot and very dusty wind blows from Africa, the Khamsin, which can cause a sense of nausia.

Leaving the hotel. The heat was excruciating.

Taken  together: an intriguing country. I was glad that I visited for work, as I am not sure what sites a tourist would want to visit. Qatar is a desert country, with not much to see. A newly built island of high rises and businesses in the middle of nowhere. Anything old is replaced.

Like to read more about travel? See my novel TWO JOURNEYS at Apple.

Originally posted 2017-09-23 21:50:16.

Is Doha the Amazingly Deadliest Boring Capital in the World? A Journey to Qatar. Dull, drab, disappointing, Doha.

During my many stays in the Middle East, I also visited Doha, capital of Qatar.

Some background: Qatar is tremendously rich from the abundance of natural gas. As a result, it’s capital Doha has developed into a business and conferencing hub. It is a very strict islamic state, leaving little space for fun and games. To everybody’s surprise they will host the 2022 World Cup (I always wonder about the things money can buy). Soccer fans best bring a book.

The movie below I made on my way from the airport to the hotel. The links direct to photos I took and more details about country and capital.

Doha has been hailed as one of the most boring towns in the world, and there is considerable truth to this rumor.  The town has very little history left, it is new and fully focused on business. There is no extensive historic center. The town is very car-centric (many, many SUVs) and as a pedestrian you quickly feel very lonely on the broad boulevards; you do not meet many other people on foot, and windowshopping is severely hampered by the absence of, yes, shopwindows (there are many malls, if you go for that sort of thing). The Souk is a tiny market, completely new and unwelcoming, with stores that sell tortured exotic animals and mini-dogs. The climate is hot and humid: a stroll is only possible after sunset. As an Islamic country, there is no (or little) alcohol for sale – but even I as a teetotaler can only say that the town is absolutely underwhelming; I can’t blame the absence of alcohol for that deep feeling of loneliness and despair. I was visiting on business with a calendar full of appointments and I was preoccupied enough, yet during my quick tours through the city I was, well: disappointed. Perhaps some of you readers have different experiences to share. Perhaps an interesting museum or cinema that I missed? Pole dancing? A hidden bar? Table tennis tournaments?

The boycott by Saudi Arabia was in full swing, but it didn’t seem to have affected the Qatari much. They even imported 4000 Friesian cows from Australia and put them in an air-conditioned hall, to make sure enough milk could be produced, which they got from Arabia up to that point.

Women stay mostly at home (probably playing with the mini dogs), and the men tend to take their SUVs out for a spin at night; driving endless circles through the town. I got bored just watching them occupied with this non-activity.

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Citizens (men only) giving the four wheels a lackluster spin. At least the weather is in their favor.

Read more about travel in my books.

Originally posted 2017-09-23 17:45:18.

More photos from our trip to south England

Below the study of Charles Darwin, perhaps the greatest scientist of all time. We visited his family home Downe House, located south of London.

Vacation in England is incomplete without the occasional shower. You can see some of the raindrops on the window of our small caravan. Beautiful sunset though.

We visited Brighton – I have chosen an atypical motif. Or is it? Not so sure as Brighton is a surprising city.

Cream tea is a traditional!

Originally posted 2017-08-28 11:40:48.

About the EU. Inspired by a taxi ride through Kansas City.

I have been struggling with the memory of an unpleasant experience. It went like this: I visited Kansas City on business, and on the last day I had to go back to the airport by taxi. The driver was a young man, probably in his early thirties, intelligent and engaged. I always chat with the taxi and Uber drivers. The conversation was pleasant enough, until at some point the driver noticed that I was from Europe and brought the discussion to Brexit. Today, Brexit is practically over and done with, but at that time the initial discussions between the UK and the EU were in full swing; Teresa May was still Prime Minister. I indicated that these negotiations weren’t easy, as both parties naturally had wishes, at which point, this young man said (watch my lips!): “The UK has the very right to leave the EU. The EU is fascist that they want to define the rules for Brexit. The EU is a fascist state.”

I must admit that I was speechless for several seconds. I then tried to explain to him, that from my viewpoint, the EU was founded as a reaction to the terrible wars and fascism of the twentieth century. I explained that the EU is a union that focuses on economic, political and societal unification, all with the sole purpose of defending democracy and human rights – to never let fascism happen again. And the EU has been quite successful at that too, as no war within the EU territory has occurred since 1945  (note: wars have happened outside of the EU boundary over the years, but luckily many of those countries later joined the EU).

He still wasn’t please with my answer, and pointed out that it was fascist to dictate the UK the rules by which they would leave. This shocked me too, as this is the same naivety that many pro-Brexit Brits suffered from. I told him that the EU is one of the largest markets in the world, with approximately 450 million people (living in 27 countries). To get access to that market has big benefits for any third party, and the UK would need to comply to certain rules and restrictions to be rewarded that access. He still didn’t agree. I provided an example, a thought play. Let’s suppose, I said, that New Jersey would decide to leave the USA, what would happen? First of all, there is no clause in the constitution of the USA that would allow this, so the US president would send the army to force New Jersey to stay within the USA (similar as what happened during the US civil war between the north and south). In the EU, the constitution actually has such a clause. However, let’s presume that New Jersey would be allowed to leave: at that moment it would lose all its privileges. No free travel across the border to the neighboring states, no protection by the US army. Sure: no payment towards the central government, but in return also no subsidies or financial benefits from that government, so no access to other US universities, nor to healthcare services or using US insurance. Most importantly: no free trade with the remaining 49 states of the USA. New Jersey would need to negotiate this. Naturally, the USA (as it is much bigger market than New Jersey) would set the agenda in their interest, and dictate many of the rules. The UK may have 67 million citizens and a higher GPO than New Jersey, but still: the EU won’t simply give the UK access to their market for free.

Obviously, the driver rejected this idea immediately. His argumentation was simple: New Jersey was part of a country, my suggestion that it would leave the USA was ridiculous. Whereas the UK was an independent country. And independent countries are allowed to leave with all benefits, hence the EU was fascist. Well, I said, that is what many people in the UK believe, but they will have a brutal awaking.

To be honest, he did have a point, as perception drives reality. The EU (more in wikipedia) is a federation in development, the final step towards a United States of Europe has not been completed. This is illustrated by the paragraph mentioned above, which allows nations to leave the Union. In a real country such a clause is unthinkable.

People see the EU as an assembly of individual countries, but at the same time as a single unit. the view depends on what the situation is, and this is confusing as hell. Examples? The EU is seen as a single unit considering one of the best personal data protection laws in the world (GDPR) that forces all companies (such as Facebook, Google or Alibaba) to comply to if they want to do business with the EU. The EU also aggressively prosecutes monopolies by businesses. The EU has also established very strong human rights, across all nations, but this is already less tangible for the average citizen. Sure, the EU is best known for their unifying laws, such as the curve of bananas – which actually was a request from the banana producers themselves, and would have been implemented in affected countries anyway. In the USA or China, such laws exist too.

On the other extreme, sports is still the responsibility of the member states, rather than of the EU. So Olympic gold medals are counted by country. I didn’t do the math, but I suspect that the EU would blow most other countries out of the water if it comes to the number of Olympic gold medals. The EU has the best skiers through Germany, Austria and the Nordics; the best ice skaters through the Netherlands and the Nordics, the best sailors from French, Belgium, Greece, Italy, Portugal (to name a few) – and the best soccer players from practically all countries. But does anyone in the world count Olympic medals this way? Naturally not, many will say. after all, the EU isn’t a country.

What are the causes for these views within the EU itself? Even within the EU, many people do not feel like Europeans, but feel like Belgians, Italians or Austrians. Europeans still feel very national. Whereas Russians, Americans or Chinese are constantly and efficiently infused (yes: indoctrinated) with patriotism, this is largely absent on an EU level. The EU is a very fact-based organization, with little room for emotion. In addition, Europe does a poor job advertising its merits to the ordinary people.

Interestingly, many Europeans project their anti-government sentiments on the EU. This is what happened during the Brexit referendum in the UK: research has shown that the pro-Brexit voters in reality didn’t know or feel much about the EU, but they did want to punish their own (British) government. So, the more the UK government argued that the EU was the best choice in the referendum, the more the population rejected that idea, and wanted to punish them for past and present sins. This led to the 51% majority (17M of the entire population) that voted for Brexit. Not an overwhelming majority (of which, due to advanced age, apparently 6M have in the meantime died). In the USA, this mistrust of the central government is also well established (most US Americans probably do not realize that their state government plays a big legislative role too – and if not the governor, than the local mayor – somebody has to set up the playing rules).

The EU is still on its path towards full federation, and (to me) this is the best way forward. The EU lives from solidarity among the member states, and this has lead to peace, prosperity, human rights. But until the EU arrives at that point, the perception of the EU will have its ups and downs. During dramatic events such Brexit, the refugee crisis or the Corona pandemic, many people immediately ask: “will the EU survive this?” Probably if somebody sneezes in Zimbabwe, somebody, somewhere will ask “Oh, is this the end of the EU?” Nobody would ask that about the USA, China or Russia (although we actually know from history that no nation can survive forever).

The reality is that EU is going strong. Admittedly, the refugee crisis has not been resolved satisfactorily, this is where the solidarity breaks to pieces (also think: Trump’s wall).  Still, I wager that the EU exited Brexit towards a stronger position. The Corona Pandemic led to more solidarity among the member states, and daring decisions for more federalization.

To the taxi driver in Kansas City: No, the EU is definitely not fascist. On the contrary.

On the ferry between France and the UK

Find my eBooks here.

Originally posted 2020-06-07 22:10:58.

France. Photos from our trip to France and The Provence

We spent a few days in the south of France – the weather was in our favor, and we could make several  leisurely walks, drink coffee and have some excellent food. Especially beautiful is that time of day when the sun starts to go down (and the tourists are at dinner) to wander the small streets of the old villages.

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Venasque – one of the many beautiful villages in the Vaucluse valley

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Crossing the Rhone by ferry

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Buddy’s new girlfriend

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A Jules Verne inspired merry-go-round

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Sunset on our last evening

Originally posted 2017-06-13 04:58:59.

Five reasons to get the complete series of TWO JOURNEYS today.

Here are the reasons why you should order the entire book series today: get 1000 pages of awesome adventure! Ideal for a holiday break or a rainy day. Highly rated at Goodreads, Apple Books, and Amazon. A loveable hero and great friendships. Intelligent, compassionate stories. And…attractively priced!

This series consists of three independent books. In TWO JOURNEYS, Alan finds himself to be the only survivor of a global pandemic. During his travels from Japan to Berlin, he soon finds out that danger lurks around every corner. In FIELDS OF FIRE, Alan crosses the Atlantic Ocean and the continent of America to rescue his family and to find more clues about the cause of the pandemic. And finally, in the novel REBOUND, Alan and his friends strike back to save the future of humankind.

Thrilling stories, full of inquisitiveness, compassion, bravery, and comradery.

Get your copies in any Internet store, simply search for “Clemens P. Suter”. Or find more purchasing details here: www.clemenssuter.com/books. Or get them directly at Apple Books or at amazon.com.

Apple Books Reviews for TWO JOURNEYS. Another reason to get the complete series!

Here’s more info about the last book in the series: REBOUND.

Images and Photos – check out my Pinterest channel for some beautiful pics

If you are a Pinterest user, and if you regularly browse imagery (for relaxation or work, or both ;), I invite you to follow me on Pinterest! Here are my categories and boards:

  1. I am very interested in Orientalist Art. These are paintings that provide a western-world view of what the orient should look like, and they have thus very little to do with the reality of the Orient, past or present. Having said that, this artform does remind me of the books that I used to read as a small boy, and has a great personal sentimental value for me. I collect related imagery here: https://www.pinterest.com/clemenssuter/clemens-orientalist-pics/
  2. If you are interested in my paintings, you can find all my original work at this link below. Perhaps, if you are the owner of one of my paintings, you may find a photo in that location, feel free to leave a comment! https://www.pinterest.com/clemenssuter/clemens-orignal-paintings/
  3. During my travels across the globe, I occasionally take a shot of a graffiti. I collect these pictures on the board below. I am on the look-out for graffiti that is either mind-blowing, simply beautiful, or… a bit absurd.   https://www.pinterest.com/clemenssuter/clemens-photos-of-graffiti/  
  4. All the images from my blogposts are automatically collected in this board: https://www.pinterest.com/clemenssuter/pics-from-clemens-blogposts-wwwclemenssutercom  This is all original work by me; I do not use stills from other sources  – I hope :-( warn me should you be the owner of one of these pictures, mistakes happen.
  5. I also collect some of my travel pics on this board https://www.pinterest.com/clemenssuter/clemens-travel/ and some pics of our dog Buddy here: https://www.pinterest.com/clemenssuter/our-dog-buddy/ 

Find my books here at amazon.com.

Find more of my art-related blogposts: https://clemenssuter.com/tag/art/ 

 

 

 

Originally posted 2019-09-07 20:20:00.

Amazing iPhone functionality: more about iTunes and Apple Books. Are you already reading books on your iPhone?

Many years back I became addicted to my iPhone, mostly for its marvelous music player. iTunes has great capabilities to store all your music and to easily view music as albums, artists, and songs. The search capabilities are great – with around 10,000 tracks in my library, this is essential. The way albums open into color-matched track listings is cool. And I use “playlists” extensively, e.g. I have playlists like “play all the music that I love and didn’t skip in the last three years, and leave out all the classical music”. These are Smart Playlists, with a breathtaking number of options available for user-created playlists: it is incredibly powerful and fun to use. It is easy to add entire albums or individual tracks and reorder them. With thousands of songs, it is a fantastic way to listen to music that you haven’t listened to for a long time. Features like that make the iPhone a real smart phone. iTunes on a Mac or PC doesn’t offer the greatest user experience, even after all these years, I find it complex to use, but OK…

Although I buy some music directly from Apple, I still have most of my library as hard copies: CDs. For two reasons. I like extraordinary music; I buy “local” music during my travels, or vintage jazz, or non-mainstream classical music. In short, the type of music not offered by streaming services like Spotify, or iTunes. I rip these CDs and store the music in the Apple Cloud, so that it is readily available in iTunes. The second reason I like CDs lies in the fact that any cloud could break, or that at some point I might like to switch clouds.

In the public mind, the iPhone is still undervalued as an eBook store and reader

Apple Books has, and this may be a surprise to some of you, turned into a market-leading eBook store. A few years back I started to notice that more and more purchases of my eBooks took place through Apple Books / iPhone or iPad. At the moment it is by far my main sales channel. The functionality of Apple Books as a bookstore is however rather rudimentary when compared to the functionality of iTunes. Still, the biggest advantage is that if you read eBooks on your iPhone or iPad, you need only one device to enjoy music, social, productivity apps… and reading.

To tell the truth, I read all my newspapers and books on my iPhone, while streaming music at the same time. I am, for instance, also using the WordPress app on my iPhone to interact with readers and I am now writing this blogpost on my iPhone.

Apple Books

My novels on Apple Books.

Originally posted 2019-09-04 10:32:10.

Life can be over in the blink of an eye. An adventurous trip from Aswan to Abu Simbel, Egypt.

We met in the lobby of the Aswan hotel at three in the morning. Outside it was dark, and not much cooler than during the day. “Hurry up, hurry up,” shouted the hotel manager. I think he had gotten out of bed especially for us, and wanted to go back to sleep. My wife (at that time my girlfriend) and I, together with three French tourists, piled into a taxi. The taxi driver gave gas, and off we went: to the temple of Abu Simbel. This was a five-hour drive through an unwelcoming, hot desert; and that was the reason why we had to leave so early. We would arrive at Abu Simbel at around seven, visit the famous UNESCO-protected Egyptian temple for two hours, and arrive back at the hotel before the hottest time of the day.

And Aswan was hot. We visited Egypt in late winter/early spring and had both brought a flu along, which quickly developed into bronchitis. In Luxor, famous for its many temples, we had to organize a home visit by an MD, who gave us a large array of drugs to get us walking again. I experienced the temples of Karnak and Luxor through a fever- and codeine-induced haze. We had arrived in Aswan by train from Luxor a few days before and had spent the afternoons in the Old Cataract Hotel, drinking tea and eating sandwiches, convalescing, and escaping from the oppressive heat.

Nevertheless, now we were reasonably fit and ready for adventure. The taxi driver drove like a madman, overtaking other taxis and tourist buses along the way. We had a short stop halfway, just after the sun had come up, which afterwards hung like a burning metal plate above an endless and completely flat desert. I found some dung and saw a few flies, and was surprised that anything could live in this place. Another taxi hiccupped towards us, and over the next half hour several taxi drivers tried to repair its accelerator, but if I recall correctly, they didn’t manage to fix it. I don’t think those tourists ever arrived in Abu Simbel.

We did arrive at the temple, which is both an impressive architectural feat by the pharaoh as well as modern man, since the temple was moved five hundred meters so that it wouldn’t be covered by the  waters rising in the gigantic Aswan reservoir. I can’t remember the temple well, except that its back is covered by an ugly dome of modern concrete, and the presence of a large airfield for the richer tourists. We were poor students at the time, traveling with backpacks and staying at three dollar hotels in obscure sidestreets, cheap because they usually were located close to neighborhood mosques. This was Ramadan time, so we didn’t need to set an alarm; the recorded singing of the muazzin and 500 Watt loudspeakers took care of that.

After visiting the temple, we arrived back at the taxi, the driver already impatiently pacing about. We waited and waited for the three other tourists. “Let’s sit in the front,” suggested my wife, “that will be bit cooler.” Finally, the three arrived and climbed into the back. The taxidriver cursed and cursed, but as they didn’t speak English, I don’t think they realized what was happening. He didn’t pay them much respect anyway, as the women wore skimpy dresses, showing a lot of leg and chest, which doesn’t resonate well in Muslim countries. Off we went, burning rubber! This time we had a few more stops as the heat began to take its toll on all of us. First, we paused for tea at a military post (at that time there was considerable tension with Sudan), where we had a chance to chat with the drivers.

A hundred miles north, we passed by an overturned taxi. It looked as if it had careened off the highway, hit the soft desert sand, and had gone topsy-turvy. There were many tracks and footsteps in the sand, but no humans. “Probably helicopter, bring to hospital,” shouted the driver over the hot wind, shaking his head. “Only for good driver. Desert danger!”

The three Frenchmen in the back had conked out from the heat; these taxis didn’t have any air conditioning, and we survived by the hot air that blew in through the the windows.
We arrived at a burnt-out ruin, and the driver let the taxi roll next to a few other parked cars. Tea time apparently. He got out, men hurried towards him. They spoke, and our driver started shouting and cursing. No tea this time, he immediately got back into the cab and we set off again. We continued to race north. “What happened?” I shouted at the driver, the wind blowing away my words.

“Accident. Father.”

“Whose father? How?” I thought I had misunderstood him.

“That taxi.” He pointed toward the back with his thumb.

“Is he in the hospital?” I shouted, afraid to press the point.

The taxi driver put his right thumb underneath his left ear and pretended to slit his throat. “Dead.”

“What’s he saying?” asked my wife. I repeated the conversation to her. “Jesus.” We didn’t know what to say, and stayed silent for a while, stealing occasional glances at the driver, who looked straight ahead, seemingly unperturbed, which made the entire affair even more unbelievable. As far as we could understand from the driver, the tourists had indeed been transported to Aswan by helicopter.

The issue is that a trip to and from Abu Simbel followed an extremely straight and tedious highway. There’s nothing to see but tarmac and flat sand. To make ends meet all taxi drivers held multiple jobs; they would drive a taxi in the morning, work in a garage during the day, and sell clothing in the Souk until ten in the evening. Due to exhaustion, accidents were bound to happen.

At the next military checkpoint, my wife and I swapped places. The soldiers already knew what had happened, and shook hands with our driver. He didn’t react much. Up to that point, the driver had occasionally already started to nod off, struggling to keep his eyes open. My wife began to ask him questions to keep him awake. I was struggling with sleep myself. The three tourists, deep asleep in the back, looked like pale meat overdone in a microwave.

Finally, the driver managed to pull open his eyes and sit up straight: Aswan came into sight. Taxis stood parked on the street, the drivers waving at our cab excitedly. News had spread fast. “I am sorry,” we said to the taxi driver, as we gave him a generous tip. He shrugged, and hurried across the street to his colleagues.

“What ‘ees ‘appening?” asked one of the French tourists.

“His father died in the accident in the desert. The overturned car we passed?”

“What? What ‘appended?” Obviously, they hadn’t seen or noticed anything. We didn’t hang around to explain, why spoil their vacation?
My wife and I returned to the Old Cataract Hotel for bitters tea, which no sugar in the world could cure.

More stories here.

Originally posted 2021-05-30 22:51:00.

Famous castaways, jettisoned and marooned – stories from people that were left alone

The adventure novel TWO JOURNEYS tells the story of a man who is the sole survivor of a post-apocalyptic event.

How is it possible to survive as the last man on earth? In adventure literature, Robinson Crusoe is probably the most famous imaginary character in such a situation. But real-life people have been separated from humanity for extended periods of time – if not the remainder of their life. These include the likes of Thorgisl, Grettir Ásmundarson, Fernão Lopez, Juan de Cartagena and Pedro Sánchez Reina, Gonzalo de Vigo, Marguerite de La Rocque, Jan Pelgrom and Wouter Loos (the first westerners to set foot in Australia), Miskito Will, Alexander Selkirk, Philip Ashton, Pedro Serrano, Ada Blackjack, Jesus Vidana, Salvador Ordoñez, Lucio Rendo, Leendert Hasenbosch, Chunosuke Matsuyama and Charles Barnard – and there are many more names of people that were forced to live in isolation over extended time periods. Some lived isolated for a few months, others for years… What unites these involuntarily castaways is their tremendous drive to return to humanity.

Some also select to be alone for extended periods of time, such as Gerald Kingsland and Lucy Irvine or Tom Neale (the latter spent 16 lonely years in solitude on the Cook Islands – by his own choice).

Survival is possible, and depending on the character of the castaway, might even be seen as enjoyable … one of the reasons why I selected this theme for my novel Two Journeys: how does an individual thrown from modern society, deal with the prospect of being alone…perhaps for the rest of his or her life?

In my novels Two Journeys and Fields of Fire, this shocking situation is caused by a global epidemic. Humanity has gone a long time without a major pandemic. But recent outbreaks of viruses such as SARS, corona or influenza (e.g. H2N2 or the Asian Flu H3N2; or bird flu) have occurred again and again in the past years. Is humanity prepared? In my books, I show a different path than what some so-called “preppers” or the “prepper movement” appears to advocate. If catastrophe strikes, keeping to the higher ground morally shows that we are human.

Learn more about the adventure books by Clemens P. Suter here.

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Originally posted 2012-01-12 20:20:58.