Thursday, May 31, 2012

Disadvantaged defense

There is a lot of anecdotal and incomplete information on how military combat actually works.  It is not entirely helpful that some of the worst espousers of myths are the militarise themselves.  It is also not helpful that a lot of the information is buried away in very expensive, or restricted circulation volumes: sources which are often ignored by the military themselves.

One example:

Likely based on the heavy city fighting that occurred in World War 2, their is a general "truism" that the defender has an advantage in urban areas.  That the attacker will have disproportionate casualties when trying to take these types of objectives.

Hakan Yazilitas, Naval Post Graduate School,  June 2004
It is concluded that the attacker’s daily casualty rate is, on average, lower in urban operations.
The defenders disadvantage extends not only to urban areas, but to "close country" in general.

David Rowland, "The Effect of Combat Degradation on the Urban Battlefield" Journal of Operational Research Society, 42.7 1991, pp. 543-553 via Defense and Freedom
"Furthermore, in 1987 OA demonstrated that the defender is at a systematic disadvantage in close country (be it woods or built-up areas). It seems that, amongst other things, in close country the defender is generally unable to mass the fire of his weapons, due to very short ranges available in relation to unit frontages. Given their relative protection, if only from view, the attackers can mass forces more safely than is normal. They can therefore isolate and attack small bodies of enemy relatively easily. The overall effect was described as 'counterintuitive'. (...) Attacking infantry generally have an advantage of 3.57:1 in terms of attackers' to defender's casualties in FIBUA. (...)
Note that David Rowland, is a British officer with 25 years experience including the Falklands, and Northern Irland.  So when he is doing his number crunching, he is not doing so in a vacuum.

Close country allows you to hide.  It does not particularly allow you to fight more effectively.  If you look at a close reading of Rommel's actions at Caporetto in the Italian-Austrian mountains  during World War 1, you can see that he is using the broken up terrain to screen his advances, allowing him to either get very close to the defensive positions of the defending Italians, or to come at them from an unexpected direction.  But to see what is happening, you have to look at a more detailed account of what is going on than his very brief descriptions in his memoirs.

A lot of the complaints about the terrain that the Western Allies fought over in World War 2 is likely more of a problem with superior German training, doctrine, and motivation.  The broken terrain likely helped the German's hide from the Allies superior air power, but did not directly cause them to inflict disproportionate casualties.  Records indicate that the Western Front had heavier day-to-day casualties relative to the troops deployed (more firepower in a smaller area) but do not indicate that the Germans anything more than their usual advantages.

To bring this back down to the low level skirmishing affairs we are often discussing, the net effect of rough terrain is to slow up movement, and make initial concealment easier.  But in a pitched battle, where the defenders have chosen to stand their ground,  it also means that an aggressive opponent cannot be stopped from getting in close.  And as we have discussed before, the closer the combatants are, the deadlier the fighting gets.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Weed Whac-A-Mole

The problem is called a money wasting nuisance. But as margins between world crop yield and continuing population growth have thinned, the margin is shrinking to the size of the nuisance. Should the nuisance grow just a little bit- goodbye margin.

We have tackled this subject before. It is the Roundup Ready seeds produced by Monsanto that are the issue in question. As Roundup (Glyphosate) use has gone from 4 million pounds in the year 2000 to 65 million pounds in 2011, Roundup resistant crops have multiplied.

The answer, according to Monsanto is to use a second type of weed killer along with the Roundup. They concede that the continued use of Gylcophate will lead to resistant weeds, it is unlikely that weeds will be able to develop resistance to two herbicides simultaneously.

While true in so far as it goes, this hope has proven to be optimistic.

Amy Coombs, The Scientist 20 May 2012 (Hat tip: NC)
The chance that a single mutation will confer herbicide resistance is 1 in 100,000, making the likelihood of a double resistant mutant less than 1 in a trillion. Early industry-sponsored research suggested resistance to glyphosate was particularly unlikely because large mutations in the herbicide’s target, the EPSPS enzyme, would render it dysfunctional, killing the plant before it could reproduce.
“The claims made were naïve, and resistant weeds have indeed developed,” says David Mortensen, a weed scientist at Pennsylvania State University. “When a chemical is applied to such a wide area—to nearly all soybean and cotton, and a big percentage of corn—the selection pressure is too intense.” …
[C]ombining chemicals doesn’t always work out as planned, says Patrick Tranel, a weed scientist at the University of Illinois. While doubling up on chemicals makes it unlikely that anything will survive, he says, it also “potentially increases the chance of selecting for a general mechanism that confers resistance to both herbicides.
…Weeds in nine different countries have independently developed resistance to multiple modes of action. Some stubborn survivors can now survive most of the chemicals used by farmers, and the infestations are spreading.
Despite the seemingly small odds of a plant evolving resistance to multiple herbicides, the dramatic increase in glyphosate-resistant weeds, which now infest more than 17 million acres nationwide, has made this possibility exponentially more likely. “We don’t need a single plant to undergo two unlikely adaptations—we just need one event to happen in a biotype that already has glyphosate resistance,” says Mortensen.

The hope is to come out with seeds that will be resistant to two herbicides, Monsanto introducing Glyphosate and Dicamba resistant seeds, and Dow Gyphosate and Herbicide 2,4-D.

It is hoped that the simultaneous application of herbicides will get around the problem of resistant weeds. This of course will mean a greater variety of chemicals will be sprayed on our food crops. It also begs the question: If there are already so many weeds out there that are resistant to Gyphosate, are they trying to close the stable doors after the horses have already escaped.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Little economies collapsing

I have had a few posts about China’s difficulties, and Europe’s problems are so well reported, I haven’t much bothered. It is natural to focus on the problems of the larger countries, but they are not the only ones having problems.

Smaller countries often have a very difficult path weaving their way through the world economy. Their markets are not large enough to even think about being self contained, and they often don’t have enough clout to insure reasonable trade agreements for their products. Any advantage they may have in a particular market sector can quickly be swamped by a policy change by one of their trade partners.

Vietnam is not usually held up as a poster child for good governance. Much of their industry is government controlled. But the following article goes a long way toward illustrating the attraction of government run companies, as well as showing how wide the current economic malaise appears to be spreading.

Bloomberg News, 21 May 2012
With almost 18,000 companies idled in four months and the government stepping in to prevent a banking collapse, Vietnam is trying to find a sustainable path to growth after years of easy credit funded makers of cheap goods and triggered Asia’s highest inflation….
Shuttered Plants
In the first four months of 2012, 17,735 companies halted production -- including more than 400 with overseas investors -- about 10 percent more than a year earlier, according to a report from the Ministry of Planning and Investment. Pledged foreign direct investment fell 32 percent.
Vietnamese companies are caught between slowing export orders and high borrowing costs after the government passed a resolution last year to restrain credit growth and tame what was then Asia’s highest inflation. While commercial lending rates have since fallen from the peak of 27 percent last summer, they are still as high as 20 percent. Vietnam’s annual inflation, now Asia’s highest after Pakistan, slowed to an 18-month low of 10.5 percent in April, from 14.2 percent in March, according to the statistics office.
Of 700 companies on the country’s two stock exchanges, 11 percent posted losses last year and 62 percent saw profit fall, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Among 473 that have reported results in the first quarter, 14 percent lost money.
The private companies are collapsing. Of course the government run companies, I am sure are not doing real well either, but they can fudge their payroll problems for awhile, and add some stability to the economy. To some extent they act as a halfway house between welfare and productive jobs.

It is these radical swings in the fortune of the private enterprise side of the economy that brought the impetus of the 19th century progressive movement. In the United States the luxury of ever expanding borders, and untapped territory probably exacerbated some of the short term swings, but meant that in the long term there was always the recovery expansion. The destruction of World War 2 may have acted as a substitute, for the no longer existent untapped West.
For a world with 7 billion people there is not a lot of virgin territory, and what there is is dwarfed by the size of the economy.

And this brings us back to the small economies. The wild swings of market based economies were not accepted back when the world was in growth mode, they are going to be even less popular in a hyper connected world were a few big players can take through the simple math of the situation collect large portions of the markets to themselves, and there is very little expansion for the smaller nimbler players to exploit.

Monday, May 28, 2012

SMG? Submachinegun where art thou?

The submachine gun was the most common handheld automatic weapon of World War 2.  They are a fully automatic weapon (will continue firing as long as there is ammunition and the tigger is depressed) that fires ammunition normally intended for pistols.  There are also machine pistols, and where they start and submachine guns begin is a bit blurry.  To my mind the submachine differs from its smaller cousine by having  a two handed grip, and an extended barrel length that classifies it as a carbine.

The submachine gun, likely because of its general handiness, inexpensive ammunition and relatively light penetration through obstructions has remained more in use with police forces than with militaries.

Militaries instead now the automatic carbine - which for various political infighting reasons the Germans came to call the assualt gun or assualt rifle.  Rather than firing pistol ammunition, they fire light rifle (varment ) rounds or scaled down (short bullet) rifle caliber rounds.  This tends to, not very surprisingly give them a ballistic performance somewhere between the pistol round and the full sized bolt action rounds.  To the extent that most combat occurs within 330 yards distance, and at least some of the earlier bolt action rounds were larger than needed so the infantry could use the armies standard medium machine gun round, the trade off of lighter weapon and ease of carrying ammuntion was felt to be a fare trade off for the greater hitting power of the bolt action round.

So in net, you don't see the submachine gun around as much as you used to.  Within a military context that is perfectly understandable.

But civilians use their weapons to different purposes than the military.  Even when civilians have become involved in skirmishes and firefights in what some might think of open warfare, they are going to have different needs.

I will let Gabe Suarez at Warrior Talk make the case for the submachine.  Note that he sells a variety of SMGs so he does have a vested interest in highlighting their advantages.  But a vested interest does not mean the points he is making are wrong.  No doubt he could, and does sell other weapons, but he is choosing to sell SMGs.  You will also note that he does not claim that it is a super weapon, best in all catagories.

The Submachine Gun For EDC and HD
Gabe Suarez, Warrior Talk, 29 March 2012
Every so often we have this discussion, and well - its time again. This usually coincides with a family shooting session. I have a very good collection of weapons and can produce just about anything one can bring up in conversation as an EDC PDW [every day carry - personal defense weapon].

I have Suchkas in 5.45 and in 7.62x39, so the issue of availability is not an issue. I can run anything you put in my hands well. But when I see the junior staff and the XO shoot an SMG faster, more controllably and with greater accuracy than either AK [-74 assualt rifle] or M4 [short barrel successor to M-16 assualt rifle], it makes me reconsider the SMG.

I will say that the SMG has a niche. In the realm of the pistol, the SMG is king. But in the realm of the rifle, it is a janitor. The SMG beats the shotgun for anything except a very narrow spectrum where collateral damage is not an issue and you have to move at speeds that would not be possible with any requirement to use sights. But outside of that, the SMG defeats the shotgun. Don't believe me? Shoot a shotgun qual with the SMG and then report back. But before you do, try to shoot an SMG qual with the shotgun.

Compared to the pistol used in the proactive application, the SMG wins again. Go find the most difficult pistol qual you can find, and then shoot it with the SMG. It will be very simple to meet the times and accuracy standards. It is easier to hit, and hit fast and repeatedly with a weapon like the SMG with multiple points of contact and a cheekweld. That someone can use a pistol well is not the issue. That same person would do better with an SMG. You can prove it to yourself at will if you are honest.

When distances begin exceeding pistol ranges, penetration of barriers becomes an asset rather than a liability, and the issue of muzzle blast is not a concern, then the Short Barreled Assault Rifle outdistances the SMG. And don't dismiss these points an inconsequential because they are that on a shooting range. The shooting range is not the world.

Shooting an adversary at 200 meters is easier with a weapon firing a rifle cartridge rather than a pistol cartridge. But that is irrelevant inside a structure or if distances do not exceed 50 meters.

Being able to penetrate a car door is not an issue, unless you need to do so...or would rather not do so. And if a shot is missed, which often happens in real gunfights - how far will that round travel is a concern (the notion that every bullet must be accounted for is a myth - even the police miss most times they press the trigger).

And while muzzle blast may not be an issue at the local Three Gun meet, try touching off a handful of shots in rapid succession inside your living room at 2 AM one night and report back on how the muzzle blast is not that big of a deal.

The SMG is usually more compact than an SBR Rifle. My UZI for example is far more compact than either of my AKSU-74 rifles. The UZI can fit in a Swiss Army backpack - the SBR cannot. Compactness of storage and carry will mean it will be probably go with you rather than be left at HQ.

The SMG is just as accurate as any rifle inside its niche, just as fast to use and as easy to manipulate. What it does not do, and it was its main drawback, is that, being a pistol caliber, it cannot defeat body armor. That itself is what deselected it for law enforcement in the 1990s after the North Hollywood debacle knee-jerked the police world toward the rifle as the answer to everything.

Recently on WT, an industry professional and former soldier pointed out that with the modern body armor that protects well against rifle threats, that is not as much an issue as it was a decade ago. And that a weapon that can be fired repeatedly into the exposed unprotected area has some advantage over a weapon where that is not as easily done. With his MP5 semi auto clone he can dump 1/3 magazine into a coffee cup sized target at room distances much faster and accurately than he can with an SBR M4. Interesting point.

Now I am not too sure about the last point.  In Afghanistan a lot of the combat takes place at extended ranges because the guerilla fighters are opening up beyond M-4 (or SMG for that matter0 range.  In closer combat, I am not sure I would be to thrilled about taking either a .308 (NATO 7.62x51) or 30-06 round in the ceramic plates of my vest.   Especially when so much of the .308 ammuntion is military surplus full metal jacket.

Note that there is another competitor out there though.  The assualt rifle with a bullpup layout.

Why Bullpups
Anthony G. Williams, 15 July 2010

To sum up, there need no longer be any practical objections to the bullpup layout: those raised by supporters of traditional rifles can either be overcome, or on examination are not significant and usually boil down to personal preference. Conversely, the major advantage of a saving of around 20cm (8 inches) in overall length for the same length barrel is very significant in modern combat, in which troops may be fighting at short range in a village at one moment (requiring a compact gun) then need to respond to long-range fire as they leave (requiring a long barrel). The other major bullpup advantage is the much superior weight balance when UGLs and other increasingly common accessories are added to the gun.

Traditionally the magazine is place below the bolt of a gun to ease operation of the weapon with bolt-action rifles.  With fully automatic weapons, there is not need to operate the bolt after the first round is chambered.  So the magazine can be placed behind the trigger as part of the shoulder stock assembly - this makes for a multi-purpose shoulder stock, and shortens the weapon length.

When the U.S. Army turned the M-16 into the M-4, essentially turning it into a personal defense weapon for specialists much like the light handy M-1 Carbine of World War 2, it is entirely unclear to me why they did not go with a bullpup design.  At this point nobody can claim we are trying to train another generation of Seargent Yorks.  The M-4 is an oversized sidearm. or alternatively an oversized submachinegun.

It should be noted that they make bullpup SMGs.  They are nasty looking critters, that bring the SMG down to machine pistol size, while retaining the carbine power of the longer barrel.

So why don't you see more submachine gun style weapons (semi-automatic) in the hands fo the general public?  Two in particular tend to dominate:

The submachine gun has become relatively expensive for what it was originally intended to be.  The reason that the submachinegun was used with such frequency early on was that its blowback design, using intertia and a spring was very simple to produce.  Using pressed metal, you could produce them in the thousands without any problem.  As you go to the larger carbine cartridges, you have to bleed off some of the power of the recoil, which complicates the design.  But while modern carbines are expensive, submachine guns are not much of a deal themselves.
Second, they are not -generally- legal in full automatic fire mode.  Since the full automatic fire cabablity of handheld weapons (IMO) is most useful in tight quarters, the loss of that advantage is more consequential to a short range weapon.  Even where Suarez is making a fine case as to why an SMG might be more effective than a shotgun in many instances, he is noting that you wouldn't expect it to be engaging beyond 50 meteres.  A semi-automatic SMG is coming awfully close to just being a bulky pistol with a lot of ammunition.  It was the pray and spray house, trench, or country lane clearing cababilty that made the SMG an effective weapon.  The automatic fire, brought people to ground, it stopped the charge.  It really isn't clear that the one shot per trigger pull gets you there at 20 meteres.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Illinois Swan Song

A man in Illinois was killed by some Swans. There is the usual handwringing. There is no mention if one of the swans happened to be carrying a trumpet.

However, it should be noted that the man actually worked around the Swans, and the very existence of these swans is why he was employed. He was cleaning up after them. Swans are actually known to be temperamental brutes, and a mother swan guarding her nest (with her husbands help) is not to be trifled with.
Illinois Man Dies in Attack by Swans
David Ferguson, The Raw Story, 18 April 2012 (hat tip: NC)

Anthony Hensley, 37, paddled his kayak too close to the nest of a mother swan, who knocked the man from the boat and pursued him as he tried to swim for shore. Witnesses reported seeing two of the birds circling where Hensley went down for the last time.

People (humans) are relatively large animals, and we along with other primates have various situational advantages in leverage, and also the ability to throw things. But on a brute strength level, even moderately small animals are stronger than we are. Locally a couple of years ago a couple of big guys were trying to get a fawn (baby deer) out of a small shop that it had run into a store out of the shop. They wrestled with it, two against one, and lost. It was too strong. The deer eventually ran out on its own. Grown chimpanzees are said to be 3-times stronger than an adult male human. Given that geese use their wings to lift (lift via pressure differential) a large bird off the ground, one would imagine that their wings are likelier stronger than our arms, and possibly also our legs.

Obviously the goose-keeper was somewhat complacent about his work. It appears that the geese beat him up until he was exhausted and drown.
People just don’t take animals seriously anymore. You have the governor of Vermont trying to chase of a mother bear, and her cubs because they were eating up the bird food at a feeder.  He was chased back.  That was taking a risk on a high probability of a bad event.  But taking many small risks (like being in a kayak around nesting swans) adds up to the same level of risk eventually as the singular acts of stupidity.
Attacking Swan (from here)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The future is uphill

Well if life at times seems like an uphill battle, for the Yupno, an isolated group that lives in the very rugged terrain of Papua New Guinea, it really is.

Study finds twist to the story of the number line
Inga Kidera, UC San Diego, 25 April 2012 (hat tip: NC)

When talking about past, present and future, people all over the world show a tendency to conceive of these notions spatially, Nunez said. The most common spatial pattern is the one found in the English-speaking world, in which people talk about the future as being in front of them and the past behind, encapsulated, for example, in expressions such as the "week ahead" and "way back when." (In earlier research, Nunez found that the Aymara of the Andes seem to do the reverse, placing the past in front and the future behind.)
In their time study with the Yupno, now in press at the journal Cognition, Nunez and colleagues find that the Yupno don't use their bodies as reference points for time – but rather their valley's slope and terrain. Analysis of their gestures suggests they co-locate the present with themselves, as do all previously studied groups. (Picture for a moment how you probably point down at the ground when you talk about "now.") But, regardless of which way they are facing at the moment, the Yupno point uphill when talking about the future and downhill when talking about the past.
Interestingly and also very unusually, Nunez said, the Yupno seem to think of past and future not as being arranged on a line, such as the familiar "time line" we have in many Western cultures, but as having a three-dimensional bent shape that reflects the valley's terrain.
 Given the variable speed at which events seem to pass by, the slope and valley aspect to time makes some sense to me.  In the case of the Yupno the other study that popped up real quick was one involving hookworm infection, so life might not be so easy.

Yupno farming in Papua New Guinea (from here)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Book Review Tab

Rather than post a new Book Review Roundup -we would be up to Number 5- I posted it as a separate tab at the top.  Hopefully that will make it easier for people wandering in to find.  I have always just used the google toolbar, but I am sure others find it cumbersome.

In any case it has the books that were done during the recent  EMP/Solar Flare special,

I have enough books reviewed and with at least a rough draft review completed to do another review grouping.  With so much going on in the world, I wonder if I should start publishing them before we receive the definitive answer as to how and why or society, economy, etcetera will collapse.

But I am still working on a few novels I would like to include, so I will live dangerously and hold off for a moment. 

Russian apocalyptic

It is not only the English language writers that have had a huge surge in the dystopian and apocalyptic.  The Russians are at it as well
Phoebe Taplin, Russia Beyond the Headlines, 3 May 2012

In the first twelve years of the 21stcentury, Russian writers have created a bewildering number of futuristic and post-apocalyptic novels. Settings range from feudal barbarism to hi-tech nightmare with everything in between. Books are banned and mutant humans live in primitive huts, eating mice. The secret police rape and burn all day and relax with drug-fuelled orgies. People are continually reincarnated, wear mirror masks, and copulate or die en masse at festivals. Warring factions survive in the tunnels of the disused subway.

These are just a few of the many dystopian scenarios that contemporary Russian writers [in this case, Tatyana Tolstaya, Vladimir Sorokin, Anna Starobinets and Dmitry Glukhovsky, respectively] have envisaged in the last decade. Ever since Evgeny Zamyatin wrote “We” in 1921 (providing the model for George Orwell’s “1984”) novelists have been producing satirical visions of the future, but recently the genre, like a horror-film alien, has spawned countless offspring. Lisa Hayden, who writes the blog Lizok’s Bookshelf focusing on contemporary Russian fiction, says: “I find a lot of dystopias, apocalypses, and parallel worlds in the books I read, and many others include mystical or fantastical twists, wrinkles, and tears in the cloth of what might be considered objective reality.”

Of the books noted in the article, I have Vladimir Sorokin's  Day of the Oprichnik which per the article "resurrects Ivan the Terrible’s murderous Oprichniki and sends them lusting and looting across Russia in 2028." and Dmitry Bykov's Living Souls featuring a "never-ending civil war in Russia between nationalists and liberals".  I also notice Olga Slavnikova's 2017 is also available in English and went ahead and ordered that one. They mention Victor Pelevin  The Hall of Singing Caryatids, but I did not see it in an English language edition, and it truthfully sounds more dystopian than apocalyptic.

One of the big factors in the rise of Russian post-apocalyptic genre is game tie ins. As noted by Irene W. Galaktionova, who authors the blog Read Russian in English:

Irene W. Galaktionova, Megaton, 26 April 2012
In the early 2000s, the post-apocalyptic genre has blossomed in Russia, mainly due to the success of numerous game tie-ins. Today, new books are written after recent PA games, and new PA games are created after recent PA novels. Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky, published in 2007, was the first of the new wave of Russian PA novels, although not the first one to be turned into a video game. Set in the deadly world of Moscow's vast underground system inhabited by mutants and the dregs of post-nuclear society, it was later turned into a video game of the same name and followed by the sequel, Metro 2034.
But the most popular Russian post-apocalyptic setting is, of course, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game series started in 2007.The game (and the following tie-in novels), based loosely on the Strugatskys' novella Roadside Picnic and their short story The Forgotten Experiment, is set in an alternative Earth where the Chernobyl catastrophe took place in 2006. The heroes' militaristic adventures in the Zone rife with mutated enemies were immediately developed into S.T.A.L.K.E.R.-based books.
In total, eighty-three S.T.A.L.K.E.R. novels and short story anthologies have been published in Russia since 2007, but none of them have been translated into English as yet....
The noted Metro 2033, which first became popular as an online journal and is now also a video game, I am guessing is the best known of all these works here within the U.S.  Buy, when she is saying "of course" with regards to S.T.A.L.K.E.R., apparently one of its many volumes made it into the Guinness Book of Records for largest single print run of a novel.
Alex Bobl, writes within the S.T.A.L.K.E.R setting, and also has an interesting blog where he discusses (in English) Russian post-apocalyptia and feature artwork and interviews.  He is due to release a new novel,  Memoria as his first that has been translated to English.  Oddly enough, it sounds like its setting is at least in part in New York City.  So we will get a Russian view of a dystopian-apocalyptic America.  That should be interesting.

English language version coming in the Summer of 2012

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Progressions of hatred

There is a high residue of anti-Jewish sentiment in Germany today.  There is a fairly consistent geographic  distribution in these sentiments  over time.  Some areas started out as being more anti-Jewish and stayed that way. In general, older Germans are also more likely to have negative ideas with regards to Jews.

But there are a couple of outliers.

Hatred transformed: How Germans changed their minds about Jews, 1890-2006

Nico Voigtländer,  Hans-Joachim Voth, VOX, 1 May 2012 (hat tip: NC)

One group, however, stands out from this general pattern – those born in the period 1925-34. In Appendix 2, we plot anti-Semitism and xenophobia by birth cohort. Those who were aged between 11 and 20 when the war ended are much more anti-Semitic than one would expect given their age and general hatred of foreigners (left panel); they also have a higher share of committed anti-Semites than any other group (right panel). We argue that this is a direct result of Nazi policies to indoctrinate the population in racial hatred and a belief in the superiority of the Aryan master race. Interestingly, additional results show that teaching to hate was easiest in areas where the “bourgeois” parties of the centre and right did best in the period before 1933. In principalities controlled by the left (Social Democrats and Communists), the Nazis had no success in boosting Jew-hatred among the young.
If Germans could be influenced strongly in their beliefs during the Nazi period, is there any evidence of the opposite once racial hatred became an official taboo after 1945? We compare the level of anti-Semitism in the different zones of occupation. The former British zone today has by far the least anti-Semitic beliefs, even after controlling for pre-1945 differences. The American zone, on the other hand, has strong levels of support for anti-Jewish views.
Based on a detailed examination of occupation policies, we argue that these differences probably reflect different approaches to de-Nazification. The American authorities ran a highly ambitious and punitive programme which resulted in many incarcerations and convictions, with numerous, low-ranking officials banned and punished. Citizens were confronted with German crimes, forced to visit concentration camps, and attend education films about the Holocaust. There was a considerable backlash, and perceived fairness was low. The Jewish Advisor to the American Military Government concluded in 1948 that “... if the United States Army were to withdraw tomorrow, there would be pogroms on the following day.” In contrast, the British authorities pursued a limited and pragmatic approach that focused on major perpetrators. Public support was substantial, perceived fairness was higher, and intelligence reports concluded that the population even wanted more done to pursue and punish Nazi officials.
It is not surprising that the German populace resisted being vilified.  The tone that the Americans took likely was a tone that may have made themselves happier, but was not very effective in persuading their  intended audience.  Which of course is not at all unlike our politics today:  our methodology of vilification does a good job of locking in your own base, but very little to persuade those who are sitting in the middle.  The Nazis, who were of course wonderful vilifiers, eventual solved the problem by throwing the base of the opposition in camps.  As my (likely partial) understanding of the process, these camps were the latter starting point when they came to the final solution.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Run to the cities

There is an interesting post at New Geography.  It explores the just releases Demographia World Urban Areas and goes over the various changes in a variety of urban areas.  By its count,  48% of the world population live within the 850 cities identified as having over 1/2 of a million people.  Since a lot of people live in cities of less than 1/2 a  million, the overall urban population is even larger still.  But at a global scale it is hard to keep up with all the College Station, Texases out there.

The report did have one particular item of interest to us.  The continuing depopulation of the rural areas.  Note that this not just a relative (percentage) loss, but a reduction in absolute numbers.  A reduction that is very close in numbers to the entire population of the United States.

World Urban Areas Population and Density: A 2012 Update
Wendell Cox, New Geography, 3 May 2012

The Continuing Exodus from Rural Areas: Around the world, people continue to seek the promise of better economic outcomes in urban areas. United Nations forecasts indicate that another 2.5 billion people will be added to urban areas by 2050, while rural areas (which contain all population not urban) will be reduced in population by 300 million. The world's urban population is expected to rise from today's nearly 53 percent to 67 percent. More than 90 percent of the urban growth is expected to be in less developed nations.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Wallstreet's dentists

Private equity firms are those wonderful people who like to load up private firms with debt so that they can make a big cash payment to the owners.  This debt of course hobbles the business and has sent more than a few of them into bankruptcy when times got tough.  If you wonder why a bank would lend out this money, remember that the wall street bank’s people got paid on up front bonuses, and often would make additional bonuses on emergency loans in bankruptcy, and most of the money being lent was other peoples’ money in any case.

Well the private equity people have found a new business to be involved in: dentistry. With changes in the way that doctors are reimbursed by HMOs and the Government, and much Dental work being elective (out of pocket), dentists have actually been making more money than doctors.  Of course, just like many students today, dental students come out of school owing a lot of money.  It may not be quite as bad as how much the new doctors owe, but it can easily get into six-digit numbers.  And recall, these are the loans that never go away – even to the extent of garnishing the debtors social security ~50 years later when they retire.

 Traditionally owned by the dentist, or small group of dentists, they have worked around state laws to set up management companies that run and operate dental offices.  Many of these offices do work for the government.

I wonder how that is working?

Sydney P. Freeberg, Bloomberg, 17 May 2012 (hat tip: NC)

Isaac Gagnon stepped off the school bus sobbing last October and opened his mouth to show his mother where it hurt.
She saw steel crowns on two of the 4-year-old’s back teeth. A dentist’s statement in his backpack showed he had received pulpotomies, or baby root canals, along with the crowns and 10 X-rays -- all while he was at school. Isaac, who suffers from seizures from a brain injury in infancy, didn’t need the work, according to his mother, Stacey Gagnon.“I was absolutely horrified,” said Gagnon, of Camp Verde, Arizona. “I never gave them permission to drill into my son’s mouth. They did it for profit.”
Isaac’s case and others like it are under scrutiny by federal lawmakers and state regulators trying to determine whether a popular business model fueled by Wall Street money is soaking taxpayers and having a malign influence on dentistry.

The article continues on with a whole variety of abuses that make your teeth tingle in anticipatory pain.

This is of course another example of our finance’s “value added” to our current business model.  That tax payer money is being used here, is not a big surprise.  When private equity uses their usual strategy to strip a company of its value through debt, they are not the ones paying for the social services, food stamps, etcetera, that the formerly gainfully employed workers will receive when they are out of work.  In this case the payments are just a little more direct.
Footnote: I realize that private security firms are not "Wall Street" but they are pretty much of the same crowd, and mindset.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dangerous student loans

Survivalists worry about nuclear wars, pandemic plagues, etcetera.

One serious danger that doesn't seem to make many peoples list, but maybe should:  student loans.

Seniors Social Security Garnished for Student Debts
Ellen Brown, Truth Out, 11 May 2012 (hat tip: NC)
Congress has removed nearly every consumer protection from student loans, including not only standard bankruptcy protections, statutes of limitations and truth in lending requirements, but protection from usury (excessive interest). Lenders can vary the interest rates and some borrowers are reporting rates as high as 18-20 percent. At 20 percent, debt doubles in just three and a half years; and in seven years, it quadruples. Congress has also given lenders draconian collection powers to extort not just the original principal and interest on student loans, but huge sums in penalties, fees and collection costs.
 The lead in this story is an elderly lady who had a small student debt of $3,500 that she asked for forbearance on and then let it slide.  What she did not realize is that that debt would total out to over $17,000 in the next ten years.  When Clinton was president (1996) congress voted to allow the garnishing of Social Security to pay government debt.  And the rest is history.

Student loans are just a bad deal.  The future is too unpredictable to take on the type of risk they involve.  People do get sick.  Sometimes they cannot find work that pays as well as they anticipated.  If the elderly can have their social security garnish, think what happens to the young people who have a really long time to let the bill run up.

I wonder how long before the government starts lending people money to buy lottery tickets?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Survivalist social exclusion

There is a psychological theory that has been tested out well enough that you can probably put it down as being factual: at least in its general sense.

The simplified version of the theory is that we all have certain reserves of willpower: some of us more than others.  This reserve of willpower is not static.  It varies with circumstances.  One of these circumstances is that the very usage of this willpower tends to deplete it - at least for a given amount of time.

So, the very act of resisting some chocolate chip cookies, will make it harder for you to keep on working on a difficult problem that you face just a few minutes later.  It is an odd phenomena, but tested out true multiples of times.

One tangential aspect of this theory that also has been tested out, is that sociability is part of this willpower pool. 

Ego Depletion
David McRaney, You Are Not So Smart, 17 April 2012

[M]uch of what we call prosocial behavior involves the sort of things that deplete the ego. The results of the social exclusion study suggest that when you’ve been rejected by society it’s as if somewhere deep inside you ask, “Why keep regulating my behavior if no one cares what I do?”
You may have felt the urge to shut down your computer, shed your clothes, and walk naked into the woods, but you don’t do it. With differing motivations, many people have famously exited society to be alone: Ted Kaczynski, Henry David Thoreau, Christopher McCandless to name a few. As with these three, most don’t go so far as to shed all remnants of the tools and trappings of modern living. You may decide one day to throw middle fingers at the material world and head into the wild, but you’ll probably keep your shoes on and take a pocket knife at the very least. Just in case of, you know, bears. It’s a compelling idea nonetheless – leaving society with no company. You enjoy watching shows like Survivorman and Man vs. Wild. You revisit tales like Castaway and Robinson Crusoe and Life of Pi. It’s in our shared experience, a curiosity and a fear, the idea of total expulsion from the rest of your kin.
Ostracism is a potent and painful experience. The word comes from a form of serious punishment in ancient Athens and other large cities
Getting along with others requires effort, and thus much of what we call prosocial behavior involves the sort of things that deplete the ego. The results of the social exclusion study suggest that when you’ve been rejected by society it’s as if somewhere deep inside you ask, “Why keep regulating my behavior if no one cares what I do?”
You may have felt the urge to shut down your computer, shed your clothes, and walk naked into the woods, but you don’t do it. With differing motivations, many people have famously exited society to be alone: Ted Kaczynski, Henry David Thoreau, Christopher McCandless to name a few. As with these three, most don’t go so far as to shed all remnants of the tools and trappings of modern living. You may decide one day to throw middle fingers at the material world and head into the wild, but you’ll probably keep your shoes on and take a pocket knife at the very least. Just in case of, you know, bears. It’s a compelling idea nonetheless – leaving society with no company. You enjoy watching shows like Survivorman and Man vs. Wild. You revisit tales like Castaway and Robinson Crusoe and Life of Pi. It’s in our shared experience, a curiosity and a fear, the idea of total expulsion from the rest of your kin.
Ostracism is a potent and painful experience. The word comes from a form of serious punishment in ancient Athens and other large cities. The Greeks often expelled those who broke the trust of their society. Shards of pottery, ostracon, were used as voting tokens when a person’s fate was on the ballot. Primates like you survive and thrive because they stick together and form groups, keeping up with those prickly social variables like status and alliance, temperament and skill, political affiliation and sexual disposition prevent ostracism. For a primate, banishment is death. Even among your cousins the chimps, banishment is rare. The only lone chimps are usually ex-alpha males defeated in power takeovers. Chimpanzees will stop hanging out, stop grooming, but they rarely banish. It is likely this has been true of your kind going back for many millennia. A person on their own usually doesn’t make it very long. Your ancestors probably survived not only by keeping away from spiders, snakes, and lions, but also by making friends and not rocking the boat too much back at the village. It makes sense then that you feel an intense, deep pain when rejected socially. You have an innate system for considering that which might get you ostracized. When you get down to it, most of what you know others will consider socially unacceptable are behaviors that would demonstrate selfishness. People who are unreliable, who don’t pitch in, or share, or consider the feelings of others get pushed to the fringe. In the big picture, stealing, raping, murdering, fraud and so on harm others while sating some selfish desire of an individual or a splinter group. Baumeister and his group wrote in the social exclusion paper that being part of society means accepting a bargain between you and others. If you will self-regulate and not be selfish then you get to stay and enjoy the rewards of having a circle of friends and society as a whole, but if you break that bargain society will break its promise and reject you. Your friend groups will stop inviting you to parties, unfollow you on Twitter. If you are too selfish in your larger social group, it might reject you by sending you to jail or worse...
The researchers in the “no one chose you” study proposed that since self-regulation is required to be prosocial, you expect some sort of reward for regulating your behavior. People in the unwanted group felt the sting of ostracism, and that reframed their self-regulation as being wasteful. It was as if they thought, “Why play by the rules if no one cares?”
So this brings up the obvious question.

If you have a group of people, who have voluntarily disassociated themselves from society in the sense that they have made efforts to live beyond that societies' life span,  would you expect them to be less sociable people?

Now in the title of this post I used the word "survivalist" because it brings up the image of people waiting out nuclear Armageddon in their cave bunker in Oregon.  The term that preceded "survivalist", was  "retreater",  and does not bring up any better images.

But the new preferred self-describing term is "prepper."  One of the obvious advantages to the term is that it is less absolute, and less exclusionary.  Lots of people make preparations for all sorts of things.  And given the less absolute -at least compared to a full Soviet versu U.S.A nuclear exchange- nature of the catastrophes prepared for allow for less isolationist possibilities.

On top of that the survivalist - prepper crowd, since the 1970s seems to consistently have been an older crowd.  When you check the demographics of the more popular "prep" sites, their audience is tends toward males (even for female bloggers) and tends to be 50+.  The typical viewer "has some college."

This is of course a recipe for a disaffected group within our current economic/social paradigm which would indicate that some aspects of these preparations are motivated by a feeling of exclusion.

None of which really proves a point.  But it is always a good idea to know where some of your motivation, and some of the motivation of others is coming from.  Truth is often inconvenient.  If your truths are becoming too convenient, too comfortable, than you might want to look at some of your assumptions and see which ones are driven by reality, and which ones are driven by desire.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Hail hail to the lucky ones

What people call lucky is rather situational.   In some cases when people say people are lucky, what they really say is that they are envious of some people situation.

But it is obvious that there is an element of luck, an element of the random, in life.  If it is impossible to determine an outcome in advance, than from your own perspective, the outcome is random.

But just as we know that their is often an element of unseen effort involved in luck, there may also be other elements at work.

What Lucky People Do Different
Eric Calonius, jonathanfields, 11 April 2012 (Hat tip: The Browser)
Wiseman surveyed a number of people and, through a series of questionnaires and interviews, determined which of them considered themselves lucky—or unlucky. He then performed an intriguing experiment: He gave both the “lucky” and the “unlucky” people a newspaper and asked them to look through it and tell him how many photographs were inside. He found that on average the unlucky people took two minutes to count all the photographs, whereas the lucky ones determined the number in a few seconds.
How could the “lucky” people do this? Because they found a message on the second page that read, “Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” So why didn’t the unlucky people see it? Because they were so intent on counting all the photographs that they missed the message. Wiseman noted,
“Unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else. They go to parties intent on finding their perfect partner, and so miss opportunities to make good friends. They look through the newspaper determined to find certain job advertisements and, as a result, miss other types of jobs. Lucky people are more relaxed and open, and therefore see what is there, rather than just what they are looking for.”

This is rather similar to Nasssim Taleb's advise in The Black Swan to go to cocktail parties to meet random people.  Don't look for specific opportunities, just interact and see what comes up.

Note that all of this is not saying that dogged single focused determination does not work.  It's just saying that that is not the way to get lucky.  And almost any close look at the extremely successful indicates a fair amount of good fortune: right time at right place, and all that sort of thing.

And the title of this post is in reference to title of this song:  the lyrics have nothing to do with the post, I just like the title of the song.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Chinese cash invasions

It is pretty common for fictional collapse scenarios that involve an economic collapse to have one of the elements be that the "world" finally wakes up and pulls all of its money from the United States, and then looks on while we collapse.

Usually somewhere after all this there is some sort of Chines, UN, Norwegian, etcetera intervention that takes over some prime spot of our wonderful country.  It is one of those rare places where the conventional conservative mind view (typical of these scenarios) has a positive view of California - since the Chinese are invading/occupying it all the time.

There is very simple problem to this scenario.

We are all here in the United States aware at the ineptitude of the our government.  What we don't see is how badly other countries run their economies.  And its not just Greece.

Here is an experiment you could try.  Get a short term subscription to the hard copy (they will mail it to you) of the Financial Times of London.  Introductory subscriptions are usually heavily discounted.  And then force yourself to read every issues headlines and skim the stories.

I promise you, you will be stunned.  Idiocies that we think of as exceptional here, are often the norm overseas.  Our threatened budget shutdowns pale in comparison.

So while we may deserve to have everyone wake up and pull their money out of the dollar.  The people who see what is going on in their own country are not in a real big hurry to put it into their own.

Money is fleeing China
Zarathustra, Macrobusiness, 17 May 2012 (hat tip: NC)

The detailed statistics from China’s April monetary statistics show that the change in the position of forex purchases has turned negative again in April.
With a relatively large trade surplus in April, this indicates that capital flow turned hugely negative. I estimate that excluding the trade surplus, capital outflow would be RMB177 billion (I don’t distinguish the type of flow). As explained in the past, under the current arrangements, a capital outflow will contribute to a tightening of monetary conditions within China. Thus we now know, more or less, the reason for last weekend’s decision to reduce Reserve Requirement Ratio. Indeed, while the 50bps cut of RRR would have made RMB421.14 billion available for banks to lend, almost half of that would have been offset by the April’s capital outflow:

Note that the red line is the trade being shown in surplus, while at the same time the blue line is cash leaving the country.
And while I had originally intended this to be Chinese focused, the news kept piling on:

Russian Data Shows Postelection Woes
IRA IOSEBASHVILI  Ira Iosebashvili, Wall Street Journal, 16 May 2012

Russia's top central banker warned on Wednesday that capital flight is a "serious problem," as newly released figures showed $42 billion has left the country in the first four months of the year.

"Capital outflow continues to be a serious problem for the Russian economy," the central bank's chairman, Sergei Ignatyev, told Russia's lower house of Parliament.

I don't think we are going to see the Chinese in California (or the Russians) any time soon, but we may be seeing some of their cash their.

As amazing as it may seem to some, the Chinese may be heading toward a much worse situation than our own.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Book bomb for Etiquette for an Apocalypse May 18th

Book bomb for Anne Mendel's Etiquette for an Apocalypse May 18th.  The point of a book bomb is to boost the Amazon metrics to help a book get a little bit wider of an audience.

I have read the book, and will post a (measured but positive) review at some point down the road.

The book is adult fiction with an odd mix of serious, silly, and is a little naughty at times.  The one point worth noting is that the first third to half of the book is one of the view reasonable accounts of how someone might manage an apocalypse-in-progress in an urban setting (Portland, OR).

Borrow, borrow, toil and trouble

They thought us U.S. of A. consumers were going to borrow about $10 billion this last March.
Boy did we surprise them!

We actually borrowed a tad bit over $21 billion. Which is the largest increase since the Fall of 2001. This bring our total consumer debt to a little over $2 -1/2 trillion dollars.

Although most of the increase was in student loans, you have the usual suspects saying that it shows that in spite of the sluggish economic growth, they see it as a good sign that the U.S. consumer is confident enough to take on more credit card debt.

That is getting to be a hard sell.
Shannon Bond, Financial Times, 7 May 2012 (Hat tip: NC)

Consumers added $16.2bn in non-revolving debt, which includes student and auto loans but excludes mortgages and other real estate debt. Credit card and other revolving debt rose $5.1bn.
Americans are still facing income growth that lags behind inflation, and renewed worries over a job market that has weakened in recent months.
Pressure to stretch money a little farther to deal with rising fuel and food prices could also be behind the rise in borrowing, Mr Edelstein warned.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Different survival strategies

Different survival strategies being used by different people.

Homeless Families Found Living in Storage Units
Pat Reavy, KSL.COM, 28 April 2012 (hat tip NC)

Last month, South Salt Lake police, the city fire marshal and the Salt Lake County Health Department found people living in at least five units at A-1 Storage, 3202 S. Davis Drive (460 West).
In one unit, officials found "a makeshift bedroom with food, clothing and other living accessories," according to a search warrant released Thursday. In another there were televisions, microwaves and lamps. "We also saw recliners, work stations, heaters and air conditioning units," police wrote.
Health officials also found human waste being stored in bottles and "presumably disposed of in an unknown manner," court records state. Multiple extension cords were also found running from a single outlet. At least one tenant had cut holes between the units to allow for movement.

I remember when I was in my early twenties, and I was telling some friends about some people I knew who used to live in a chicken coop converted to living quarters.  One of the group, piped up and said, yes we lived in one for a while when I was growing up.

The vandalism noted here makes me wonder about the quality of the people involved, but people are not always in a position to decide what type of roof they put over their heads.

Granted, these may not have been real sympathetic people, but I am a little bit at a loss for why it is better that people be sleeping under a bridge or in a culvert, than in a storage unit.  When I worked down in Peurto Rico (where granted it does not get real cold) people where quite happy to buy little storage units (the kind you buy at a big box hardware store), run an extension cord over from their neighbor (usually family) and use it for their living quarters.  They seemed happy.  It is not like they would do much but sleep there, and they had family around.

It looks like at some of the people were trying to pay for their units.  I understand the storage company not being thrilled with it, but from a larger societal point of view, is it better that they go beg for a place at a shelter.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Food security fade

The food issue has not gone away.  Food prices are rising, and food aid has been slowly declining.  Arguments about whether you need more open global trade, or more local protected production are being slung back and forth.

Of course, local production is not seem like a bad idea if you could realistically produce enough food to feed you populace.  But as we get closer to the (supposed) peak of 10 billion people on our planet, I suspect that is a moot point for many countries.

Carey L. Byron, IPS News, 20 April 2012, (hat tip NC)
According to information released by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation in early April, food prices have continued to rise during the first three months of this year, and currently remain higher than during the crisis period of 2007-09. According to many observers, high food costs have become the "new norm".
The social implications of fluctuations in food costs have been clear. The high cost of staple foods was a major driver behind the Arab Spring protests, for instance. Today, continued high food prices are fuelling inflation worries across the globe, notably in India and China.
Well at least gasonline prices are down a little for the moment.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Peak oil passé: crystal meth(ane) gas

Well there has been some recent "developments' in the area of extracting methane hydrates from the frozen arctic sea bottom to keep our high energy economic system powered up.  There is enough of this stuff to bring out the usual 1,0000 year supply.  As is typical of these claims, the amount of fuel started off to be enormous, but has declined as decades of further research limited its area of distribution.

Going by a variety of names, it is methane gas that has been trapped within the crystalline structure of frozen water.  One of the primary fears within the global warming community, is that warming in the arctic region will cause this methane to be released into the atmosphere.  Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than the Carbon Dioxide (CO2) that we have spent so much time worrying about. 

US claims 'unprecedented' success in test for new fuel source
Migel Llanos,,  5 May 2012 (hat tip: The American Energy Crises)

The drilling has its environmental critics, but there’s also a climate bonus: The technique requires injecting carbon dioxide into the ground, thereby creating a new way to remove the warming gas from the atmosphere.

"You're storing the CO2, and also liberating the natural gas," Christopher Smith, the Energy Department's oil and natural gas deputy assistant secretary, told "It's kind of a two-for-one."

 The Energy Department, in a statement last week, trumpeted it as "a successful, unprecedented test" and vowed to pump at least $6 million more into future testing.
The process in questions appears to be an advance in extracting the methane from the associated hydrates in a practical manner.  Previous tests had only produced natural gas for a few days, whereas this test was productive for 30 days straight.

It has been pointed out that this methane is not a "contained" product, and that it scattered around in small pockets.

Methane Hydrates: What are they thinking?
Richard Embleton, Energy Bulletin, 17 December 2012

There are many projects underway, funded by governments throughout the world (Japan, India, China, South Korea, Russia, Norway, Canada, the U.S.), aimed at developing commercially viable technologies for exploiting the planet's vast methane hydrate deposits. The selection of sites for these projects are, themselves, a clear indication of one of the primary roadblocks to using methane hydrates as a societal-supporting energy source. They have sought out test sites with high methane hydrate concentrations.
Most hydrate deposits are too small or too dispersed to be commercially exploited. Also, unlike oil and natural gas, those deposits are generally not capped in such a way that the geology can be used to contain releases. Most of those deposits on the sea floor, in fact, exist in unconsolidated, sandy or silt sediment. The geology surrounding them is inherently unstable, difficult to contain. Once the deposit, or any large portion of it, is destabilized it is very difficult to prevent unintended, uncontrolled methane releases into the atmosphere.
 Within the original article, they put the extraction process at decades away with an optimistic forecast as being ten years from now.

What is interesting is that the energy squeeze, has people like the Obama Administration's Eric Holder sounding a lot like Rush Limbaugh: tooting of the wonders of all those fossil fuels that are out there waiting to be extracted.  I guess that whole solar deal didn't work out so well for them.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Turn Wheels Turn

The wheel in the sky keeps on turning. It keeps going around and around and around. It goes around and around, many times. Because of course it is turning – continuously - As in - not stopping - Ever. Or in a sense – never –as in it never stops – ever: never ever, ever never. It is not entirely clear if the wheel is progressing forward, or simply spinning in a stationary fashion on its axis. But we know, with certainty, that it is going around and around. It, the wheel, keeps on turning…
Which is a slightly non-literal translation of what you get when your eight year old puts Journey’s "Wheel in the Sky" (video) on “repeat one” in his CD player.

To him of course this is new music, having heard it on the radio for the first time just the other day.  He is happy as a clam.

Wheels Turning (from here)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Half Past Midnight: A Review

Jeff Brackett's Half Past Midnight is an action filled apocalypse-in-progress novel set in the general area of Houston, Texas after a nuclear war that begins with an EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) strike.  There is a planned companion novella (Road to Rejas) that details other characters within the novel.

Jeff Brackett lives near Houston Texas with his wife. The youngest of his three kids has left for college, and there is at least one grandchildin the mix.  He is interested in the martial arts, and crafting handmade knives.  Both of these interests are shared with our novel's hero.

The novel gets started with, Leland Dawcett, stumbling around in the dark of his family' owned machine shop, cursing up a storm.  He finds dear dad dead in place.  His artificial heart out of action from the EMP burst.  As our hero has hung out with some preppers, he know what has happened.  But it not the knowledge that all electrical power is down, and electronics are toast that mortify him: 
Worst of all, I knew he had died just a few minutes before, while I was stumbling around int he darkness of the shop and cursing at boxes.  The last thing my father had heard had been me cursing.  The shame and sorrow of that knowledge freed the tears I didn't know I'd been holding back.
Oh my!  It brings up that very popular quote of Oscar Wilde's in reference to a rather maudlin tale of Charles Dickens.
"One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing" see here
But it is all over with in a moment as our hero runs home to scoop up the wife and kids and they are off to safety.

They escape to the outskirts of a  fictionalized small town about 180 miles northwest of Houston.  There are an awful lot of towns in that area, including the City of College Station with 100,000 people and  home to Texas A&M University, so it is not really all that clear to me where exactly in the authors mind they are supposed to be.  A quick look through Google-Streetview shows a flat area, with semi-dense woodlands.  It reminds me a lot of the low country coastal plains in the Carolinas - sitting on top of the old shallow sea beds.

They have some adventures with a truly villainous villain type on the way, but once they are safe at their destination, they scramble, with the help of a neighbors construction equipment, to buid an impromptu bomb shelter. 
The book has a modicum of life under the new reality of 19th century standards of living interspersed with run ins with various bad guys. 
The author has done some research on the EMP-effect, and nuclear warfare.  You can variously agree or not with his conclusions. 
But we are in the last book of our EMP-Solar Flare Review Special, and I did want to touch on one item that runs throughout the post-apocalyptic survival genre: particularly the fast acting EMP-Solar clan.

It has been my generally thought, that these apocalypse-in-progress authors took a few liberties with their story lines and were hamming it up a little with the combat in their novels to make it a bit more readable.  Many of them come across like Cowboy Westerns in their gun duels, and others like Sgt. Rock blowing up panzers with an endless supply of grenades gasoline bombs.  However, I have come to realize from reading this author's posting here, and a friendly email discussion with another author, that they seemed to have no idea that their post apocalyptic combat was just a little over the top: maybe just a tad bit way too heroic.
Jeff Brackett, JL Brackett -Learning to Write Blog, 15 January 2012.
Obviously there is no way for us to really know what the world of HPM would look like – what it would be like to live through the hell of what I referred to as “D-Day”. But when I first began to think about writing HPM, it was with the idea that I wanted to tell as realistic a story as I could. Of course, since we haven’t really had a nuclear war (thank goodness), that meant I had to depend on a lot of homework.
His mistake, IMO, is that he greatly underestimates the amount of knowledge you need to write a novel like this in a "realistic" fashion.   Tolkein spent years building up Middle Earth, and he had the huge advantage that when he was done, there was relatively little that you could contradict him on.  After all Middle Earth does not exist.  But of course, the real world exists, and while we may not have had nuclear Armageddon yet, we have had a fair amount of experience in areas that are touched on these novels.  Like small unit combat, or logistics.

I am going to touch on the logistics, not because the author is unique,  but because he does what almost all the authors do:  Including some authors with military experience. 

Teaser Alert:  If you don't want to know too much about the story, you will want to skip down to the fourth from bottom paragraph: the one that starts with "Did I like the story?".

About half the book deals with an extended battle with an evil General.  The whole deadly encounter has been signaled from way back.  It is a universal truism of all apocalypse-in-progress novels that the bad guys you spare, are going to show back up again, and 98% of the time they aren't there to let bygones be bygones.  In any case this evil general comes into town with what I would roughly call a mechanized infantry brigade, with an attached oversized tank platoon (six Abrams tanks).

So is it realistic?  The bad guys have about 3,000 troops.  Active people need to eat about 2 pounds of food a day.  Modern Americans typically eat about 4.7, but we will assume that there has been an adjustment to a new reality.  There is no discussion of them having a tractor trailer with them, but lets pretend they do.

How long will that tractor trailer load of food last in feeding 3,000 people?   Well tractor trailer can hold around 50,000 pounds of material on the high end.  Which makes for 25,000  two-pound day long rations.  This happens to jibe fairly well with  a discussion I saw online where a group said that they collected 1, 0000, 0000 meals , and it was equal to 40 tractor trailer loads of food (1,000,000/40=25,000 x (4.7/2)/3=19,583 two pound meals).  25,000 days of rations/3000 equals 8-1/3 days of supply for the bad guy brigade.  So a whole tractor trailer will have a little over a weeks supply.
And then they have their motor pool which includes 6 Abrams Tanks (I forget which model).  The Abrams is ridiculously wasteful fuel hog.  It is not just that it gets just over one-half mile per gallon.  It has a turbine engine that burns up massive amounts of fuel even at the idle.  The tanks when operating will burn through about 300 gallons in 8 hours of operation.  They can use almost any type of fuel, so if you supplied each Abrams with its own tanker truck (the bad guys do have some of these), they will go through the entire tanker (9,000 gallons/300) in about 30 days.

This whole battle goes on for months -half the book.

And I am being intentionally conservative, in James F. Dunnigan's How to Make War (1993), he notes:
A single U.S. M-1A1 tank in the 1991 Gulf WAr could consume nearly 500 tons of supply (mostly fuel and water) in 24 hours of constant movement and fighting.  Worse, it takes five tons of conventional artillery shells to inflict one casualty on the enemy (p468).
500 tons of supply in a day in what was considered a cake walk.
And if the bad guys didn't run out of food and fuel, the villagers would.  So long as the villagers were farming, they would presumably be O.K.  But it doesn't take an Abrams tank to disrupt farming.  With about 6,000 villagers, they would have to forage for pretty close to 12,000 pounds of wild garlic, bunny rabbits, etcetera each day.  I am sorry, even "That Buckshot Guy" with his supernatural trapping skills couldn't pull that off.

That's post-crash populations crashed even when they were much lower than today's.  Even a  relatively simple farming economy, such as the Greece's in the Homeric Age could support far more people than foraging. 

It is also why farming cultures usually lost to the nomadic (Mongols, Turks) herdsmen whenever the nomads organized themselves enough to go on the offensive.  It was too easy to disrupt farming.  Faced with starvation, and if given the option, the farmers would usually buy off the herdsman.

Well enough on this topic. 

Did I like the story?  As an action adventure with an occasional detours into prepperisms, it was allright.  Heroes that are a little too much like their authors tend to take some of the tension away because you know that they will be nothing less than improbably heroic throughout the tale.  But while the combat sequences were not particularly likely (and no I will not detour again) they certainly had a lot of action.  If you like Western or Prepper shoot-em-ups, you will probably like this book just fine.
Now for our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings:  realism (aka: grittiness) and readability.
Realism is not too difficult to figure.  It deals with day-to-day survival issues.  The characters have very little in the way of outside information.  You are there at their level.  The middle portions of the book (before the bad guys show up) gets into extreme cozy territory, and the author-heroes heroics are so extreme, the bad guys such a bunch of strawmen, that I am going to say that it is an above average 5.

Readability is fairly straight forward.  There are some extended prepperism breaks, and enough contemplative discussion that it is not a page turner through most of its portions.  But it still moves along fairly well, and the language and characters actions are pretty straight forward.  I will say that it is above average in the ease of reading and tip it just barely up to a 6.

As the cover was originally intended (from authors website). I think that it is a cool cover, but everyone who saw it thought the novel was a YA directed at young ladies, so they went with the big bang cover above.