Thursday, September 30, 2010

Higher Education and Political Instability In Coming Decades

The next decade is likely to be a period of growing instability in the United States and western Europe, which could undermine the sort of scientific progress you describe in the Opinion collection of ‘2020 visions’.
Quantitative historical analysis reveals that complex human societies are affected by recurrent — and predictable — waves of political instability,
 In the United States, we have stagnating or declining real wages, a growing gap between rich and poor, overproduction of young graduates with advanced degrees, and exploding public debt. 
 This could mean that future recessions will be severe. In addition, the next decade will see a rapid growth in the number of people in their twenties, like the youth bulge that accompanied the turbulence of the 1960s and 1970s. All these cycles look set to peak in the years around 2020.
Records show that societies can avert disaster. We need to find ways to ameliorate the negative effects of globalization on people’s well-being. Economic inequality, accompanied by burgeoning public debt, can be addressed by making tax rates more progressive. And we should not expand our system of higher education beyond the ability of the economy to absorb university graduates. An excess of young  people with advanced degrees has been one of the chief causes of instability in the past.
(P. Turchin and S. A. Nefedov Secular Cycles
Princeton Univ. Press; 2009).

Demand for higher education. The number of medical (solid line) and dental (dotted line)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How quickly does the gasoline dry up at the pump?

According to the  U.S. Energy Information Administration  a 25 day supply of gasoline on hand.  What is also relevant is that we are using 88% of our overall refinery capacity.
So it does not take much to throw the system out of tune.  When 2 refineries were shut down at the approach of Hurricane Ike much of the Southeast experienced a severe gas shortage.   Gas satiations only stock for normal usage, and resupply trucks generally only deliver ½ of the stations capacity at a time.  So a shortage combined with panic purchases quickly causes shortages and long lines.  The continued topping off makes the shortage last even longer.
In the North Carolina Energy Emergency Plan, there is only one proactive measure (versus usage reduction) noted.  State Petroleum Fuel Set-Aside (p46):
 Assist petroleum product suppliers in providing product to designated priority end-users in circumvention of federal non-discriminatory marketing rules and assure that priority end-users have fuel available for vital public services.
As they go into details, they show that they are willing to get pretty heavy handed.  One open question is how cooperative the private companies will be.  In a wide scale disruption, any one State is going to be one amidst many clamoring for supplies.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How long before the power is turned off?

How long before the power is turned off
Coal is used to generate just over 50% of the United States electricity. The typical supply stockpile is around 50 days.  This equates to almost 150 million tons of coal on hand: with the specific usage sited as being 2-3/4 tons per day. This of course does not include whatever amount is in transit.
It should be noted that coal can be liquefied and turned into fuel.  This was done by the Nazis and also later by South Africa.  South Africa today gets around 30% of its liquid fuel needs from coal.  So it cannot be taken for granted that coal will be untouched in certain collapse scenarios.
There is around 35 days of petroleum (presuming the fuel oil generation plants could make use of it), so that might be stretched by not using it for transportation. 
So in your normal run-or-the-mill gloom-and-doom scenarios you could look for almost 2 months of electricity before running into problems.

Coal Power Plant

Monday, September 27, 2010


The early 19th century saw a great religious revival within the United States referred to as the Great Awakening. 
The message was a simplified one of spiritual redemption for the individual.  The primary difference of their belief system from many of today’s evangelical beliefs is that they felt that the Kingdom of God would occur before the return of Jesus.  Therefore the reform of society and politics was very much in the forefront of their agenda.
William Miller (1782–1849), preached a prophetic message based particularly on the prophetic books of Daniel and the Revelation to John. Based on an interpretation of Daniel 8:14, which speaks of 2,300 days, he concluded that Christ would return about 1843.
The movement became a multi-denomination national one.  That we speak of Millerism in the past tense is referred to as the Great Disappointment.
The movement is the fore runner to the Seven Day Adventists.  It’s geographical basis of Upstate New York also makes them close neighbors of Joseph Smith who was slightly ahead of the Millerites in the time line of developing the Church of the Latter Day Saints.
In a more modern time frame the Branch Dividians were a Adventist offshoot movement.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ghost Towns

From Wikipedia:  A ghost town is a completely abandoned town or city. A town often becomes a ghost town because the economic activity that supported it has failed, or due to natural or human-caused disasters such as a flood, government action, uncontrolled lawlessness, or war. The term is sometimes used in a deprecated sense to include cities, towns, and neighborhoods which, while still populated, are significantly less so than in years past.

The ever lovable James  Kunstler (last entry I looked at:  Puke Town) believes that as our oil runs out we will be forced back into small towns and communities much like the United States in the 19th Century.  Or possibly more accurately 16th century England.

In my opinion, a more likely eventuality for the greatly spread out United States is that much like the rest of the third world, there will be a pouring of population into the major economically active cities.  It is more likely that the U.S. has some Mega-Cities in its future.

A rise in oil prices will make many currently (at least marginally) economic activities in the small towns too expensive to maintain.  In Argentina, with the recent economic collapse, the railroads dropped service too many outlying towns(Argentinian Ghost Towns  translated by Google)(translated by Google); Argentinian Ghost Towns (Spanish)   ; Hat Tip FerFal )
The strong migration in the villages which are designed to disappear in different regions of the country is due to multiple causes, including the following: Closed railway stations, lack of investment in improving roads, lack of comprehensive studies of regions enable land use planning, isolation caused by the route of paved roads away from the old dirt roads, loss of the principal economic activity that gave life to the people and lack of service infrastructure following the downsizing of the people, lack of transport public to allow the relocation of the existing population, lack of public investment in formal and informal education, lack of jobs and lack of access to information and opportunities in general.
As the article notes, a few people do hang on to these ghost towns, but they live an early version of the post apocalyptic life.  Most prefer at least a possibility of services, if not opportunity in the big cities.

At the moment, there is a little bit of a spreading out trend within the United States.  Some of my neighbors (around 4% of households) telecommute to work.  That may still be possible, but only from areas that have other reasons to sustain a population density.

What has already happened, or is currently happening may not be what will happen in the future:  but at least we know that it is possible for it to happen.

The Homestead Solution

One response to various global energy/global warming crises is homesteading and/or local food production.
There are a number of efficiency issues with this solution.  However, on a basic numbers level it looks fairly reasonable: at least at the level of the individual.   A family of four can easily feed itself on an acre of land: an acre being originally determined by  the amount of land that one ox can plow in a day using intensive farming/gardening methods.
But simply tallying the expected annual calorie output per acre versus the calorie input per person is not going to get you the whole story.  The last time period that the United States worked at non-mechanical intensive farming methods was during the late 19th to early 20th century. It can be instructive to look at the historical record.
The homesteads were small grants of free land from the public domain for people willing to bring them under cultivation, was developed by 19th-century reformers as a cure for social problems and corrupt land speculation.
The five year success rate from 1900 to 1915 was just below 40% (344,444/893,111=38.6%).  link
Three problem areas:
·         Issues of sociology/group dynamics
·         Issues of Scale combined with
·         Issues of variable output

You don’t think of group dynamics as being an issue with farming, but it is important to realize that farming communities develop over time and in a specific geography, and that instanting farming communities are not always going to be viable.
[In Canada ] Jewish settlers established agricultural settlements in the Canadian Prairie Provinces from the early 1880s through the first decade of the 20th century. Without exception these settlements were eventually abandoned by their founders. Today there are no Jewish rural agricultural communities in western Canada. ..Jewish pioneers abandoned their farms when they were unable to reconcile the demands of religious observance with the dispersed pattern of settlement mandated by the Dominion Lands Act of 1872. Poor coordination of aid by Jewish philanthropic institutions and their failure to strive for the concentration of Jewish colonization in a single geographic area exacerbated the social and religious problems faced by rural Jewish settlers. For many, relocation to a Jewish urban community was the only way to remain observant to Jewish religious law.
[By comparison, Mormon groups were in general successful]… characterized by its great stability. .. A comparative analysis of the two groups suggests that this difference in agricultural stability may not have been a reflection of prior experience, nor was it necessarily attributable to vagaries of the physical environment. Social structures, religious demands, and institutional backing, along with the geographical concentration and inter connectivity of settlements were critical elements in determining success or failure in agriculture colonization.

There were underlying issues of variable output due to periodic adverse weather, and the misunderstanding of the appropriate measures needed to farm in the Upper Great Plains (Great American Desert).
As American settlements pushed further west past the 100th meridian, dry farming techniques were promoted that were designed to deal with the dryer climate found in the area.
Unfortunately the lack of accurate information led the Great Plains to be settled too densely in farms that were later found to be too small, undercapitalized and insufficiently diversified to be sustainable.  The initial problems were found to occur in Western Kansas when droughts in the 1890s reduced homesteads from a peak of 3,083 to a low point of 907 with only very slow growth into the 20th century.  But at the same time farm sizes doubled from 221 acres to 461 by 1900.  link4
Eventually these issues were worked out, but they worked out into the form of our modern agriculture system:  the result that todays homesteaders/local farm producers are trying to get away from.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Nuclear Terrorism in the Global Village

At Global Guerrillas the Author spoke at a conference at Pitt University about Violent Armed Groups: A Global Village

I picked up a long paper (via search engining) from this conference about the capabilities of non-indigenous terrorists within the United States and Western Europe in general by Michael Kenney  titled  Organizational Learning and Islamic Militancy (2009)

from page 116:

What explains the sloppiness? Why do terrorists—including both experienced veterans that received the most sophisticated instruction Al Qaeda had to offer, and inexperienced novices with no formal training whatsoever—keep making basic errors in operational tradecraft? Distinguishing between the local, contextual “know-how” of mētis and the general, abstract “know-what” of techne can help us answer these questions. While both types of knowledge are necessary for terrorism, this research suggests that mētis is often critical for carrying out specific attacks and that terrorists often lack the practical knowledge needed to execute their attacks more effectively.

What both veteran and novice terrorists in Britain and Spain often lack is a knack for clandestine tradecraft, and by extension urban terrorism. In many cases, militants possess a limited amount of terrorist techne, which they may have acquired through training “camps,” where the quality of instruction varies considerably, or from knowledge-based artifacts, including the frequently flawed instructional manuals that are found online.

Less frequently, militants may have acquired some of their own hard-earned mētis in political violence, typically by fighting in one or more “jihads” raging in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Chechnya, or Iraq. But this fighting knowledge is generally limited to guerrilla warfare. Unfortunately for terrorists, and fortunately for the rest of us, mētis in guerrilla warfare does not necessarily translate into effective urban terrorism in Western countries, which involves appropriate local knowledge, street smarts, and a knack for clandestine operations.

Of course what applies to IEDs and self immolation attacks, applies even more so to the nuclear terrorist scenarios often worried about.  The difficult logistics in pulling off such attack almost assure that some sort of professional assistance would be required.  But many foreign armed forces are themselves lacking in the logistical knowledge that we generally presume to be present.  I have heard enough stories about small client navy’s submarines that spend all their time in port, to know that there is a big difference between some tactical level training by the unit seller, and actually being able to run a navy at any sort of operational level.  If the Germans wanted to send a diesel electric submarine – mother ship combination armed with a couple of nuclear tipped torpedoes I would be very worried.  The North Koreans? Worried, but not as much.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Paul Virilio

 There was a recent  interview of the French Philosopher of Disaster, Paul Virilio, at Vice Magazine (hat tip  Naked Capitalism).
The interview discusses his believe that the our reality is driven by the speed of technology, and technology advance, and that with this speed we invent the seeds of our own distruction.
I went hunting for some more information and found another interview2  that took place just after the Kosovo campaign and found some parts of it to be rather prophtic.  He comments on both the logistics of media, and the elesivesness and speed of the individual activities of war (terrorists if they are on the other side).
Paul Virilio: Now, if we consider my latest book, Strategie de la deception, what we need to focus on are the other aspects of the same phenomenon. For the strategies of deception are concerned with deceiving an opponent through the logistics of perception. But these strategies are not merely aimed at the Serbs or the Iraqis but also at all those who might support Milosevic or Saddam Hussein. Moreover, such strategies are also aimed at deceiving the general public through radio, television and so on.
In this way, it seems to me that, since 1984, my book on the logistics of perception has been proved totally correct. For instance, almost every conflict since then has involved the logistics of perception, including the war in Lebanon, where Israel made use of cheap drones in order to track Yasser Arafat with the aim of killing him. If we look at the Gulf War, the same is also true. Indeed, my work on the logistics of perception and the Gulf War was so accurate that I was even asked to discuss it with high-ranking French military officers. They asked me: 'how is it that you wrote that book in 1984 and now it's happening for real?' My answer was: 'the problem is not mine but yours: you have not been doing your job properly!'
John Armitage: Let us turn to vision machines of a different variety. To what extent do you think that watching the Kosovo War on TV reduced us all to a state of Polar Inertia (1999 [1990]), to the status of Howard Hughes, the imprisoned and impotent state of what you call 'technological monks'?
Paul Virilio: There can be no doubt about this. It even held true for the soldiers involved in the Kosovo War. For the soldiers stayed mostly in their barracks! In this way, polar inertia has truly become a mass phenomenon. And not only for the TV audiences watching the war at home but also for the army that watches the battle from the barracks. Today, the army only occupies the territory once the war is over. Clearly, there is a kind of inertia here. Moreover, I would like to say that the sort of polar inertia we witnessed in the Kosovo War, the polar inertia involving 'automated war' and 'war-at-a-distance' is also terribly weak in the face of terrorism. For instance, in such situations, any individual who decides to place or throw a bomb can simply walk away. He or she has the freedom to move. This also applies to militant political groups and their actions. Look at the Intifadah in Jerusalem. One cannot understand that phenomenon, a phenomenon where people, often very young boys, are successfully harassing one of the best armies in the world, without appreciating their freedom to move!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Path Dependence


Path dependence describes a situation in which initial conditions establish a trajectory, making changes or reversal increasingly difficult.  The concept was developed, and has been studied, primarily in contemporary contexts and in the fields of economics, political science, and science and technology studies.
Michelle Hegmon (Arizona State University)
Increasing Returns and Path Dependence
Traditionally, economists have focused on the search for unique equilibria. The goal is attractive, because it suggested a world of potential predictability and efficiency.  Given knowledge of existing factor endowments and preferences, equilibrium analysis might point to a single optimal outcome.  Moreover, because economists assumed a context of decreasing marginal returns, this analytical goal was potentially achievable.  With decreasing returns, economic actions sill rise in oil prices prompts increased conservation, exploration, and exploitation of other sources of energy, leading to a fall in oil prices.  Each step away from equilibrium is more difficult than the one before.  As Arthur (1994. P1.) summarizes, negative :feedback tends to stabilize the economy because any major changes will be offset by the very reactions they generate…The equilibrium marks the best outcome possible under the circumstances: the most efficient use and allocation of resources.
Politics in Time:
History, Institutions, and Social Analysis,
Paul Pierson.
And the first step, as you know, is always what matters most, particularly when we are dealing with those who are young and tender.  That is the time when they are taking shape and when any imprssion we choose to make leaves a permanent mark –  Plato, The Republic
Nations stumble upon establishments, which are indeed the result of human action, but not the execution of any human deign…If Cromwell said, that a man never mounts higher, than when he knows not whither he is going; it may with more reason be affirmed of communities that they admit of the greatest revolutions where no change is intended –  Adam Ferguson, “An Essay on the History of Civil Society” 1767.
(Both above quotes  found in Pierson)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Survival Scenerios

What make for a good survivialist scenerio?

How do you distinguish the typical worries of the many from the concerns of the specialist worriers often referred to as survivlists?

I came across an excellent starting point in the foot notes of

"Survival scenerios exhibit four essential criteria: they posit conditions that are global, caused, amenable to techniquue , and susceptible to individual solutions.  It is the combination of these elemetns that characterizes survivalism and it from nonsurvivalist world views.

Survival scenarious build on plights that are global, not individuated. They entail events and conditions, such as nuclear war or alien invastion, that are expected to affect many if not most persons rather than more selective hazards such as automobile accidents or street crime.  Survival problems are not merely circumstantial or random.  There are logical, secular reasons for these problems.   Survivalism is not action toward manifestations of inscrutable divine will or inexorable historical process.  The problems confronted are caused by agents, agencies, and processes survivalists may discover and understand with appropriate effort and acess to relevant information.  Once understood, survival problems are amenable to technique-combinations of resources, rational procedures, and standardized practices potentially at hand.  Finally the solution to survival problems lies with individuals and small groups, not collectives.  Survivalism is the exercise of individual skill and will, the expedniture of peronal effort and possessions, not political acivism, community organization, or a social movement".  (note 8, page 249: itlaics in original).

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hitting the Wall

I found a study online a while back (wish I could remember where) that outlines the last 100 Year of U.S. Consumer Spending put out by the U.S, Department of Labor. in May of 2006.

I am going to pull out one little detail that is noted in the charts provided, but oddly not at all commented on in the text.

When you look at consumer spending on essential items (food, clothing, shelter) it decreases throughout the period in a very dramatic way, until you get to the early 1980s, than it just goes flat.  By itself it could be explained away, but this is a very good indication of what I have said in my very first post End of Oil and 1974 .

Since the mid 1970s (or here indicated by the very early 1980s) there has been very little real gain in the lot of the the typical American.  Real wages did not decline, but their growth greatly slowed.  Granted that the housing bubble would not have helped matters, but that primarily comes after this data series.

The numbers of the the last four data points
1996-97  50.1%
1984-85  51.0%
1972-73  57.4%
1960-61  64.4%

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Apocalyptic Poets

Well obviously, even within the context of the last century, there have been a few of these.   Yeats and his “The Second Coming” with its “center cannot hold” comes immediately to mind.  And since H.P. Lovecraft and his friends also liked poetry in addition to Horrific Science Fiction, I knew he was not alone.
But I had no idea that there were so many of them.  Whole movements of them.  In fact it can be confusing where one group starts, and the other begins.  The group I am highlighting at the moment is Henry Treece and the Poets of the Apocalypse that did their writing primarily in the 1940s.
Treece wrote with a lot of Freudian imagery mixed in with Kafka imagery which can be a bit jarring to the modern hearer.
These stories often portrayed personalized, unconscious, visions of death and annihilation.
This one is particularly amusing (from Salmon, Arthur Edward, Poets of the Apocalypse, Northwestern University 1983):
At sundown Jane led the brindle cow over the hill…As they passed between the hedges, honey-suckle called out to them in a soft sweet voice…A circling peewit…called down. And a mouse in the furze at the edge of the wood called across.
Only Jane noticed these invitations…
But suddenly the black cloud above the spire opened its mouth, and from between its cankered yellow teeth shot row upon row of dazzling lightnings.  Thunder rolled with a Miltonic clatter…Brouhaha! Brouhauhaha!  Jane smelt singed hide, and heard the hot blood gushing into the ditch… A black cat burst through the hedge and shot screaming through the furze that carpeted the woods…
Jane, by this time, felt no doubt that she was becoming a copy of the cheaper Daily Press….
Her mind grew contented, and fainter…Her hands grew into a Comic Strip, and her feet into a Sports Page, and her eyes into the Society Column…And she blanched, and bent double, and fell flat in the dust.
Or more conventionally:
The shapes of Truth are no man’s history
Or hope; born in the horny womb of Time,
They die with the daylight, ere the Surgeon’s hand
Can grasp the knife to solve the mystery
Of feeling and the half-formed word. Sand
Trickles slyly through the palm like this,
Playing the hour-glass with the living bone,
Wife to midnight sigh, the foetal wish.

As Arthur Edward notes: 
“The emphasis on terror and violence in the art of Treece… is also a response to the terrifying objective condition of world history in the late 1930s and 19402…. Conventional Gothic dread of the undead becomes Existential and Neo-Romantic dread of impending doom or nothingness…"
On a political level the self describe Apocalyptics were Anarchists with an interest in the natural wholeness of the individual: what might today somewhat translate as holistic well being.  As neo-romantics, they differed from the earlier romantics, by  their emphasis in matters of the human psychology.

Uranium Plant has a “Loud Noise”

Fog Horns

Honeywell’s Metropolis Work Plant in Granite City Illinois has been having a labor dispute and brought in replacement workers.

One day after the replacement workers were brought in something happened:

The Union said it was "an explosion" and that replacement workers "blew up" part of the plant.

Honeywell said it was "a loud noise" and not unexpected.

Inspectors for the Nuclear Regulatory Agency were on hand and they referred to it as a “small explosion”.


The company and regulators said that their were no injuries, no damage, and no release of activity.

Don’t you just hate it when you have one of those loud noises and everyone else thinks it’s an explosion?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wage Slavery

Wage slavery is generally means someone who is so beholden on his day-to-day earnings as someone's employee, that he is in little better condition than a slave.  The was a term originally used by Southerner's in the United States to justify their practice of slavery.

In general it implies a wage set at a point were there is no surplus beyond your day-to-day needs.  With the United States having had a negative savings rate for some time now there is an argument to be made that we have been in this position for some time.

Of course the counter argument is that we did not to buy all those new houses, SUVs, and wide screen TVs either.

One would like to look back to a better past when people lived in their rural communities on their parcel of land and did not have these worries.  They ate what they produced, and only needed a tiny surplus for taxes and a few items they needed.

Unfortunately, this picture of blissful agricultural communities would probably only apply to farming communities with excess land at hand.  After the collapse of Rome with the Barbarian invasions, there was a lot of excess land  for the medieval system to slowly grow into.  After the Black Death in Europe there was plenty of land for a while.  The American Colonists pushing across the west also had potentially plentiful land: though not always without a fight.

But these were not always the case.  As  Dominic Crossan points out in his books about the time of Jesus in the Holly Land, many laborers did work on other peoples land.  In fact the word that is translated as "Carpenter" in the bible, could just as well be translated as "Laborer."   And even if Joseph had been a skilled Craftsman, he still would have ranked below the people who held their own land and could live of its fruits.  It is likely this reality that Jesus was referring to the fact that we would always have the poor among us.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The American Relgious (FAR) Right's Apocolyptic and Survivalist beginnings

William Pelley was an author, religious tract writer, and the organizer of a combative 1930s religious group “The Silver Shirts”. The Silver Shirts being modeled off Adolf Hitlers "Brown Shirts".  *

Pelley had earlier been a reporter in Russia during WW1 and had claimed to have first witnessed the threat of the Jewish-Communist conspiracy there. In 1930 he moved to Asheville, NC where he started publishing a newspaper, and opened a bible college that taught through correspondence courses. With the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany he became obsessed with these kindred spirits.

Only a few scholars such as John Werly and Michael Barkun have noted that Pelley’s movement was more about evangelical Christianity, namely apocalyptic ideas and millennial beliefs, than any legitimate political quest for power. Pelley concerned himself mostly with the coming of the Last Days and the battle of Armegedeaon and what role he and his organization would have in ushering it in. In his newspaper, Pelley’s Weekly, an article titled “What you Should Do to Prepare for the Christ Commonwealth” echoed this concern. The article urged readers to store food and ammunition and drill in a military fashion, foreshadowing the emergence of surviavlism and apocalyptic ideology which has become central to the culture of the post war right.

from Fascist Apocalypse: William Pelley and Millennial Extremism by David Lobb. link

The wiki article oddly seems to underplay his religious enthusiasm, but they do have a nice picture:

I am aware that the Fascist movements had much in common with our Left Wing organizations, but have decided to go with the common usage. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Rioting and Looting

Since I got wrapped in revolutionary fervor last time, let’s talk about something a little fun: rioting and looting.

Rioting (per Martin Luther King) is the language of the unheard. In general it does seem to be the case that riots start when a large group of people congregate, and at some point there is a spark of dissatisfaction that they do not feel is being addressed by the authorities. Rioting of course, can than often turn to looting:

Social Scientists distinguish different types of looting, including:
• Looting of goods needed for survival

• Opportunistic theft of good such as TV sets

• Collective action, conditioned by the political environment

An exceptional video showing the first two activities can be found here:

Chili Looter Video

You will also note that organized neighbors were the first effective early response.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

When does it get dangerous?

Ok there are many many gloom and doom scenarios. Some of them are so obviously instantaneous in their effect that there is no question of when their impact will be felt. Nuclear bombs: instantaneous. Really large asteroid: instantaneous.

In the case of revolutionary upheavals, simple peasant revolts can be very dangerous, and will on occassion take a few years to run their course.  But in general your garden variety peasent/workers rebellions tend not to succeed in the long run. The closest that comes to mind is the revolt of Spartacus in Rome.

There needs to be some part of the existing power structure that feels that the current situation is no longer to its advantage, and that a change in the rules is in order. Often this group does not even intend to allie itself with the larger mass of the mobs, but comes to do so as less severe paths of dispute become closed off.  In many countries the military is always a good candidate for a change agent elite group. In the case of the former Soviet Union it was the political leadership that accidentally got the ball rolling.

Revolutionary changes therefore often build up over time, but the actual action can be lightning fast.

So let’s pick a popular protest movement: that may be the modern equivelant of our peasents uprising:  how about the Tea Party?

It is of itself a rather defuse group. At the current public protests it tends to comprise many older white folks. The combination of association with the Republican and/or Libertarian crowd,  promotion by FOX News, and the ability to get off of work (or be retired) so as to allow attendance at  rallies probably combine to create this demographic.

Since I don’t think your typical Tea Partier is influential enough to be part of the initiating agent, we need an elite change agnet group.  An obvious group (almost too obvious) group is the  Oath Keepers.

As a dedicated military/law enforcement group ready to uphold (or at least not contravene) the US Constitution, it is not at all difficult to see this group causing some problems: particularly if stationed within the United States.

So is a scenario needed?

The Governor of North Carolina, in her infinite wisdom, has declared through executive order that in a state of emergency it is illegal to transport weapons. Since our state likes to declare emergencies for all sorts of real and potential crises (last winter a town declared an emergency because of the potential of snow), it is not hard to see that in combination with our many military bases and our many weather related crises, that at some point military assistance could get itself involved in a “Constitutional Crises”.

Of course I am being a little flippant, but anyone who has been around ground zero shortly after a punishing hurricane knows, these can be tense times. Arresting some people for carrying guns that they are pulling out of the wreckage of their home or vehicle could get ugly pretty fast. Pile in a bunch of local tea partiers into the lit spark to bulk up the breadth and numbers, and it could get pretty exciting.

So when does it get dangerous: possibly quicker than you might expect.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

End of Oil and 1974

Came across the following in book that focuses on Argentina:

Since 1975 when formal employment lost its dynamism, there has been a steady decrease in real income (together with growing inequality in earnings),  there has been a  37% reduction in real income between 1974 and 1990 (from  Ayero, Javier,  Poor People's Politics, p35.

and this

On "the other side" [from sumptuous wealth]  ...a new regime of urban marginality.  Although having having certain common traits with the "new poverty"  of advanced societies this "new marginality" has its distinctive features: the structural character of joblessness (the massive loss of blue-collar) jobs, the concentration of unemployment among the least skilled  and least educated, and the persistence of long-term unemployment) the growth of underemployment, and the increasing insecurity of labor force attachment, and the disconnection of employment from macroeconomic change... (as above p31).

The large economic shock from 1974 is associated with the OPEC oil embargo.

However, at least in the United States, it was also the post bubble period of Vietnam Spending so there were other economic issues going on at the time. For a longer discussion of the impact of oil  link .

The author of the book obviously realizes the global nature of the economic changes, but tends to blame structural changes in the economy versus demographic and resource driven changes.  I am not all convinced of these arguments.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Oil Well Blow Outs

With the new oil rig explosion in the gulf it seemed like a good time to try and get a handle on just how frequent these types of problems were.

An  Study based on MMS data covering 1992 to 2006 found the absence of fatalities encouraging.  The study covered drilling on the outer continental shelf.  It found that in the current study period had a blow out rate of 1/387 versus 1/246 in the earlier 1971-1991 period.

It noted that shallow gas influx were a continued hazard, and that there was an increase in cementing problems. Of the 15,077 possibles, there were only37 blow outs.  This puts the catastrophic blowout percentage somewhere around the .0006% mark.  The problem with these small numbers is that people can go for very long periods (whole careers) with no negative incidents.  So there is always the incentive to cheat.

You see this frequently in OSHA compliance in construction sites.  Safety compliance is usually strictest with large corporations who know that the laws of many small numbers will catch up to them if they operate in an unsafe manner.  They can either be the contractor themselves, or it can be the client.  There are also areas where the regulating authority is strict in its enforcement.

This increases the number of "negative incidents" to the operator for operating unsafely beyond the fraction of a percentage point, and thus makes it worth their effort to avoid negative consequences.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Don't Want to Live Like a Refugee!

I have notice in a number of books involving a societal break down within the United States, that at some point large masses of people move out of the cities into the countryside in a mass exodus. In the case of “One Second After” a large number of people walk all the way from Charlotte North Carolina up into the mountainous Asheville North Carolina with no apparent connection to the area or solid plan in mind.

This strikes me as an odd understanding of how people choose to move in migratory, and refugee situations.

In migratory patterns people move to known areas of opportunity. In traditional settings, a small group of path breakers goes first, and on scoping out the lay of the land, help follow up groups come in behind them. In North Carolina a typical pattern might be that the Grandparents retire to the relatively inexpensive (from where they live) Wake County, North Carolina. Their adult children visit them and when one of them losses their job back in the home state, they decide to move. As time goes on, more and more people make the move until the “families” critical mass is now in the new location, and if people want to maintain close contact with their family they are obligated to move as well. This pattern could just as well start with one of the adult children finding a job, and parents move to be close to grand children. It also can work with social groupings. Oddly enough these migratory patterns play out throughout history, and the Germanic Invasions actually play out at times as more of an extended migratory event than as an actual invasion. link

In the case of refugees, they are generally single mass movements that force a block of people to move as one: the impetus is generally fear and poverty. However, in most of the scenarios postulated, there is no great impetus of fear. Conditions are bad, but there is no difference between the area that people are in and some other place. If there was an increase in violent racism as an example, than certain groups might indeed pick up and move. But they are likely to be individual groups with a common purpose, not the ad hoc hordes generally described. link (hit the pdf button in middle of box)

A more realistic assessment of a collapse scenario would be that isolated individuals will seek out family members.

Once a group moves, it generally becomes more prone to making secondary moves. So at the point that there is some coalescing of the group, there may a secondary move (probably to another family or associated) group if there is thought to be a better situation.

Where there is violence directed at groups, the less well off groups are likely to move out. Since they do not have much economic wear withal to begin with, they have less incentive to stay. As the economic situation degrades (at a variable rate) the impetus to move in mass will increase.

So in summary, the large threat to the individual are far more likely to be confiscatory policies by the “authorities” under emergency powers, and scavenging theft by the locals, rather than the Golden Horde coming out of your mega metropolis.