Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Choking to death

At one time pollution was viewed as one of the likely causes of man-made self destruction.  There were a number of eco-warning collapse novels written (for a review of one).  The cleanup within the United States helped put pollution on the back burner.  To the frustration of some, the closely related topic of global warming has gobbled up much of the attention.

But the increasingly globalized economy has in many cases pushed the polluters overseas.  There is still a lot of pollution, but we aren't in its immediate neighborhood.  And it won't do much good to slow up global warming, if we choke ourselves to death.

Earth’s Acidity Rising -- Major Causes and Shifting Trends Examined to Guide Future Mitigation Efforts, (full report), Karin C. Rice, Janet S. Herman, USGS, January 2012 (hat tip: The Daily Impact)

This comprehensive review, the first on this topic to date, found the mining and burning of coal, the mining and smelting of metal ores, and the use of nitrogen fertilizer are the major causes of chemical oxidation processes that generate acid in the Earth-surface environment. 

These widespread activities have increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, increasing the acidity of oceans; produced acid rain that has increased the acidity of freshwater bodies and soils; produced drainage from mines that has increased the acidity of freshwater streams and groundwater; and added nitrogen to crop lands that has increased the acidity of soils.

Previous studies have linked increased acidity in oceans to damage to ocean food webs, while increased acidity in soils has the potential to affect their ability to sustain crop growth.
“We believe that this study is the first attempt to assess all of the major human activities that are making Earth more acidic,” said USGS scientist Karen Rice, who led the study. “We hope others will use this as a starting point for making scientific and management progress to preserve the atmosphere, waters, and soils that support human life.”

While there has been some progress in reducing the effects of some of these activities through modifications in how the minerals are mined and used in some parts of the world, and increased regulations, other regions are expanding their use of these resources and increasing the effects of acidification....

To examine the global impact of acidification, the researchers developed a series of world maps to show current coal use, nutrient consumption, and copper production and smelting by country. By combining this information with the anticipated population growth through 2050 and the impact of changing technology, regulations and other factors, the researchers address shifting trends in acidification....

The populations of some countries in Africa are projected to increase in the near future. To support the growing populations, these countries likely will be forced to apply more nitrogen fertilizer to their crops than they currently use, increasing the acidification of soils and freshwater resources in a region that had not previously been affected.
The initial report did get some interest.  You can find a number of people who commented on it, but it seems to have faded quickly.

I, as typical for me, tend to view the problem as being another secondary spin-off of global over population.

Acid Rain (from here)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Global warming denial champion - changes sides

A major critic of the hockey-stick model and global warming theory in general has reversed course.  What makes it even more ironic is that his study was funded by the Koch brothers.

The maneuvering room for climate change denial is getting to be pretty tiny.

Neela Banerjee, Los Angelos Times, 29 July 2012

The verdict is in: Global warming is occurring and emissions of greenhouse gases caused by human activity are the main cause.

This, according to Richard A. Muller, professor of physics at UC Berkeley, MacArthur Fellow and co-founder of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project. Never mind that the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and hundreds of other climatologists around the world came to such conclusions years ago. The difference now is the source: Muller is a long-standing, colorful critic of prevailing climate science, and the Berkeley project was heavily funded by the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation, which, along with its libertarian petrochemical billionaire founder Charles G. Koch, has a considerable history of backing groups that deny climate change.
In an opinion piece in Saturday’s New York Times titled “The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic,” Muller writes: “Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.”

Personally I have been convinced for a while now, but generally found the idea of siding with odd characters like Al Gore to be a little uncomfortable.  As this was funded by a Libertarian-Republican group, may be we can start approaching the problem in some fashion other than as a political talking points.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Taxes and the Zombie Apocalypse

You read the headline and thought I was kidding?

Death and Taxes and Zombies
Adam Chodorow, 5 July 2012

The U.S. stands on the precipice of a financial disaster, and Congress has done nothing but bicker. Of course, I refer to the coming day when the undead walk the earth, feasting on the living. A zombie apocalypse will create an urgent need for significant government revenues to protect the living, while at the same time rendering a large portion of the taxpaying public dead or undead. The government’s failure to anticipate or plan for this eventuality could cripple its ability to respond effectively, putting us all at risk.

This article fills a glaring gap in the academic literature by examining how the estate and income tax laws apply to the undead. Beginning with the critical question of whether the undead should be considered dead for estate tax purposes, the article continues on to address income tax issues the undead are likely to face. In addition to zombies, the article also considers how estate and income tax laws should apply to vampires and ghosts. Given the difficulties identified herein of applying existing tax law to the undead, new legislation may be warranted. However, any new legislation is certain to raise its own set of problems. The point here is not to identify the appropriate approach. Rather, it is to goad Congress and the IRS into action before it is too late.

It is a 25 page long paper.

From the body of the paper:
The first question that must be answered is whether the person who became a zombie died in the first place. The answer depends in large part on the type of zombie involved, as can be seen by considering a virus-caused zombie outbreak. In many cases zombie plagues clearly cause death under either the heart or brain function standard... It seems a stretch to conclude that those who transform seamlessly into zombies should be considered dead. They never lose heart or brain function, though they now function quite differently from before. While it might be tempting to declare them dead, significant line-drawing problems would arise as one tried to distinguish between zombies and those who have suffered some mental or physical breakdown. Put differently, were such zombies to be considered dead because they suffered a personality change, physical disability, or decreased brain function, the door would be open to declaring dead a wide range of people currently considered to be alive (p. 8).
That's right, if we get to premature with our calls on zombiedom, a lot of people could be in trouble.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The doom of ice and water - list

A nice young lady, Sunhi Mistwalker,  has a short chilling post apocalyptic story-series out After the Darkness, and  After the Darkness 2 .  Although you wouldn't know it from the first installment's cover, it is set in an ice-world, and thus she was asking me about my list of sympathetically themed list of ice and water novels that I had on hand.

As some of you know - I think I was mumbling about it in the comments - I am working on a international review series of novels at the moment..  But another grouping I had planned was the anti-fire list - wet and cold - if you will.  Sort of like from Frost's Poem

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I've tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

-Robert Frost

Here is the list of what I have on hand- in hard copy:

John Boland - White August, 1955

John Christopher – The World in Winter, 1962
J.G. Ballard – The Drowned World, 1962
J.G. Ballard – Terminal Beach, 1964

Stephen Minot - Chill of Dusk (not sure if it is cold, but it is set in the State of Main) 1964

Anna Kavan – Ice, 1967

René Barjavel - The Ice People 1970

Arnold Federbush – Ice!, 1978
P.C. Jersild – After the Flood, 1982
Crawford Kilian – Ice Quake (same event as his Tsunami below), no date?
Crawford Kilian – Tsunami, 1983
Charles Whitmore – Winter’s Daughter, 1984.

George Turner - Drowning Towers, 1987

Jonathan Lerner – Caught in a Still Place (cover has small boat washed up on a beach) 1989

Michael Armstrong – Agviq, 1990

J.D. Cameron – Omega Sub (part of a series) 1991

Philip McCutchan – Flood, 1991

David Hood – Fatal Climate, (Sea level rising) 2000
Adam Roberts – The Snow, 2004.
I have already reviewed: 

Robert Edric's Salvage which would have made the list based on its flooding theme,

Julie Myerson's Then which would add a fair amount of ice cubes into the mix, and finally

Cynthia Kraack's Minnesota Cold which by title alone makes the list.

I am sure I have some on my Kindle, but I have already told you about most of that list  earlier.

Friday, July 27, 2012

What is a conscript army like?

In your post-apocalyptic settings, we do from time-to-time see ad hoc military units thrown into action.  They also show up as dragooned units taking part in an invasion of the United States.

How good are these units?  Against regular troops, not very good at all.  You here a fare amount of laughter at the expense of some countries as to the "bravery" of their troops in battle.  In World War 2 the Italians tend to take it on the chin.  Why did these units fight so badly?

Typically these armies come from very hierarchical backgrounds, or at least a very hierarchical military culture.  Punishments are severe and there is no talking back to the officers.  There is a great distance between the officers and the men that they are in charge of.  

We have already discussed and his experience at the blowpipe rocket launcher demonstration,  we will again go to Armand and his experience in the Falklands.  Note that when he mentions the Ghurkas, they  are a traditional elite mercenary unit from Nepal that have a long standing history of survviing with the British Army.  They are one of the "elite" units included in some of our earlier discussions, and were famous for using a curved short sword, and for preferring not to take prisoners.  They have been described as the best light infantry in the world.

Topic: How Many Companies in Argentine Regts (Falklands)?
Armand, TMP Discussion Boards
Glad you had enjoy my poor experiences at war my friends.
I had a privilege to be at first line as witness of the most important combats there because I was appointed to the Communication Co of my Regiment because I know english (ha!ha! many here think otherwise)and "hear" a lot of good info.
Also, when I was pointed to the "movil Co" had to be at "Two Sister" as an advance guard, then when we literaly had to run from there I return to my original position at "Mount Longdon" and when our enemy broke our lines there, the remnats of my unit fly to "Tumbledown" were we made our last stand with our friends of the Marine Infantry.
About the "bloopers" of the Argentine Army, the list is incredible large.
Only some I remember here.
1st. When we arrived to the Islands our equipment was in large bags as the WW2 US Marines used. No backpacks for the infantry!. Do you know how it was to carried that long, heavy and uncomfortable bags 15 kmts?
And at rapid trot?
Half of my Company went sick only when we arrived to… nowhere!. In an open space without tents or tools.
Yes, there were one WW2 shield for each four platoons which of course broke before the first fox-hold was made.
You had to asked yourselves: So, how the Argentines made their defense positions?
Answer: Stealing material from Puerto Argentino (Port Stanley)of course!. But be aware if they caught you!.
Directly to be staked on the ground.
Do you imagine what was to be staked as in the XIX° Century Indian frontier on a ground so fluid with strong winds and temperature under 0°?
And of course only with your shirt (from summer weather).
My fellow officer, the medic, inform me that from each 12 men who go to be staked, only one can return to the lines and in a very bad state of health.
2nd. Ammo and practice.
You are at war and you had only fired one round (of five bullets) so you ask for more to practice.
Answer: NO.
They only give us ammo 24hrs before the combat began and not much of them. Many soldiers had to fight only with the three magazines they had when they arrived to the islands.
3rd. Food and cleaning.
Food? What was that? Some poor WW2 German kitchens for 200 men when they had to feed 800. Meat? Bread? Vegetables? NEVER. Only soup and some potage or stew if you were lucky enough with some floating things that better never know what they were!
So… you had to steal again or kill some sheep to survive.
Water? Well, a very old tractor came everyday from Port Stanley with a tank. But it was soon destroyed by the British Air force, so you had your canteen for one or two days only.
And you had to be shaved!
4th Your weapons.
Anyone knows that you had to perform the diary maintenance of your weapons, especially in a climate so inhospitable.
[Tools] for that?
Your handkerchiefs (if you had carried one from your house) and some kitchen oil.(stolen of course, or bought to the cooks)
Of course, 80% of the conscript never tried. They were more worried to eat, drink or withstand the intense cold who broke your bones.
Same for the heavy weapons. That's why half of the mortars never fire and the MAGs had some problems with the ammo (locked very often).
5th Medical care.
Only the "doctor" of the Regiment were near. I'm talking about the soldiers-doctors, those who came to made the military service and finished they career and were raw conscripts. The professional-doctors were at Puerto Argentino enjoying good food and privileges.
There were not a single male nurse. That task belongs to the most useless soldiers, administrators, gunners without gun and other light wounded.
6th. Intelligence.
We were all time inform about how the war was (big smile).
The intelligence was so good that 24hrs before the fall of the 12° Regiment at Goose Green they still said that the English never came, that they were afraid of us, that they had lost half they fleet, etc.
Suddenly!. It changes and began the tales of the devil "Gurkhas" and what would be our fate in their hands.
That day all the officer with the rank superior to lieutenant decided to retreat to Port Stanley for "instructions for the superiority". Our Captain left the place with our only jeep and never return. From four Captains only one remain with our Regiment.
Some seniors NCOs take the same path some minutes after.
Well, there is some examples to how the argentine infantry was training before and on the field at the Falklands (Malvinas), so the anecdote of the "blow pipes" not took my atention. It was a funny day.
Ah!. About the simulators that were mention, maybe had been used by "veteran" units of the Argentine Army. Half our Army was veteran and in good training as the Mountain troops, the Marines, Commandos, old units as the Grenadiers of San Martin, etc, but the units in Malvinas were mostly conscripts, so easy expendables.

Note that the Argentine brass had not thought that the British would fight for the islands, so they kept the elite units home to face off any threat from their traditional enemies on the mainland. 

Historically, ad hoc militia units frequently are about as effective these the story above describes, but when they are volunteers they can sometimes rise to the occasion and put up a spirited fight if they are not required to maneuver too much.  In our Revolutionary War, you go from the extremes of the Battle of Camden (disaster)  to The Battle of Stone Mountain (victory over regular troops), all in one campaign.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Weapons familiarity

I saw this little tale of hubris, and thought I would share.

It is from an Argentinian who served as a Second Lieutenant during the Falklands War, and is from a friendly discussion at a miniatures wargaming  board.  It started as friendly discussion, with I believe people from both sides discussing, and Armand shared some stories:

Note that the blowpipe in discussion is a handheld rocket launcher.

Topic:  How Many Companies in Argentine Regts (Falklands)?  
Armand, TMP Discussion Boards

Bazookas? I had not seen any but yes, I saw the blowpipes when they arrived at the islands.
Impossible to forget!.
The senior Seargeant took one and said that is was so easy to use that he didn't need to read any instrucctions (who were in english and of course he decided that not want any translation from one of his soldiers who had studied that idiom). He point to a ridge, fire and the projectile shoots out…backwards! destroying a pile of drawers [crates?] with supplies distant at 100 meters.
The face of fear and surprise of that ignorant fool was so comical that all the Company began to laught to tears!.
[After] that, the imbécil decided that those weapons cannot be used!.
He never would accept he was wrong. And so, we had not any to used at combat.

Blowpipe in action. Note in our story, the men would be facing the other way.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Plagues to proseperity

The black death, bubonic plague, has been sited as a cause for the temporary increase in per capita (per person) wealth in Europe during the High Middle Ages.  There may have been less wealth after the devastation, but there were also a whole let less people to divide that wealth between.  The counter intuitive notion that epidemics have a silver lining is not unique to the High Medieval Europe.  One study notes that Young (A.Young, The Gift of the Dying, 2005 (pdf)) that the AIDS epidemic in Africa did reduce the fertility rate, increase the scarcity of labor, and  therefore boosted the consumption of the remaining population.

The problem with the simple model of "plague = prosperity" is that the timing is a little off, and that not all plagues lead to an equal amount of prosperity.  What the following study is trying to show is the mechanism and circumstances that lead to the Black Death being advantageous to Europe's eventual technological breakout.

“The Three Horsemen of Riches: Plague, War and Urbanization in Early Modern Europe
N. Voigtlander & H.-J. Voth (2012) (pdf of entire document)  (hat tip Big Picture)
Malthus was, broadly, right in his description of the world before 1800. Almost all income was agricultural income, and agricultural income was dependent largely on a fixed factor of production, land. As production technology became better (which happened at a very slow rate), wages increased, lowering death rates and increasing birth rates, which led to growing population. As population increased, less fertile land was brought into production, lowering per capita income. Per capita income fell until the birth-death ratio was again in steady state, with society at a higher level of population than before the new technology, but no richer overall.

This story is only broadly true, however. We do see regions diverge slightly: Europe becomes twice as rich as China by the 1700s, for instance. In a Malthusian world, how is this possible? Voigtlander and Voth propose an interesting new mechanism – their model is much more complicated than what I present here, but the spirit is the same.

Take as given that increased wages led to greater urbanization (people above subsistence have a taste for goods that can only be produced in cities), and that the Malthusian mechanism above holds, returning us to the subsistence steady state after shocks. Europe is rather unique in the following way: higher levels of urbanization there were quite deadly by world standards. Voigtlander and Voth mention three particular reasons why. First, European cities tended to both be filthy and high density. Human waste was often just tossed onto the street in Europe, whereas in China it was much more common to carry the waste to the countryside for use as fertilizer; partly for this reason, China had relatively high rural mortality, and Europe relatively high urban mortality. Second, geography and political circumstances in the early modern era meant that warfare was much more common in Europe than in other parts of the world. Wars of this era generally just meant increased death by disease rather than mass destruction of capital. Third, urban centers traded more, and common disease resistance across regions in Europe was not as prevalent as in China.
So what you have is a variety of equilibrium.  Europe, through the agency of the Black Death, resets its population at a lower level and started an equilibrium that lead to greater demand for manufactured goods, and an increase in warfare.  Since both the increased urbanization needed for the manufacturing, and the increased warfare lead to even further disease derived casualties, this new equilibrium was self reinforcing.  Europe became leaner and meaner.

Within this new equilibrium the Europeans had a greater incentive to go abroad for wealth.  Since they were blocked by powerful enemies on the land routes, ao they went by sea.  Which lead the particularly highly diseases Europeans to come into contact with the particularly isolated immune-deficient Americans.  As had happened before, the early increases in technology lead to a higher equilibrium population overall.  With the introduction of the steam engine (if not earlier) and the practical use of fossil fuels for kinetic energy, the Malthusian lock was broken.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cracking virus code

As we march our way toward the land of diminishing marginal returns in medicine, crop science, etc., not all the news is bad.  The system is dynamic, which is what makes absolute predictions fail so miserably.

Research led by a team at Harvard are starting to crack the code to the resistant bacteria, and find out what exactly it it that is making them so resistant.

Harvard team cracks the code for new drug resistant superbugs
Mary Leach, Massachusetts Eye and Ear via Earthsky, 22 May 2012 (hat tip: NC)

The genome sequence gave us unprecedented insight into what makes these highly resistant bacteria tick. Several things were remarkable,” says Gilmore. “Vancomycin resistance repeatedly went into just one tribe of MRSA, so the question became ‘what makes that group special — why did they start getting vancomycin resistance?”’
“What we found was that this group of MRSA has properties that appear to make it more social, so they can live with other bacteria like Enterococcus. This would allow those MRSA to more easily pick up new resistances,” adds Kos. “The good news is that some of these properties weaken the strain’s ability to colonize, and may be limiting their spread.”

Prof. Mike Gilmore with Dr. Veronica Koh

Monday, July 23, 2012

Viral composites: "something not seen before"

Some vaccines use a weakened live virus as their agent to immunize the host. The Australians have managed the unique feat of (accidentally) getting two of these live-virus from vaccines to recombine into a newer deadlier form of virus: oh joy.

The original virus was killing about 5% of their chicken population. The new virus is killing about 17%. Note, either number would be considered absolutely devastating if similarly deadly disease were unleashed on the world’s human population. The most comparable modern pandemic, the 1918 Spanish Influenza, is thought to have killed about 5% of the world population.

Brett Smith, RedOrbit, 13 July 2012 (hat tip: NC)

Australian scientists looking to vaccinate chicken populations against a respiratory disease may have accidentally unleashed a disease far more deadly than the one they hoped to prevent.

According to a report published this week in Science, the genomes from two different strains of the herpesvirus infectious laryngotracheitis (ILT) virus that were used in vaccines have recombined to produce more virulent ILT viruses near Sydney and Melbourne.“These new strains were formed by recombination from the different vaccine strains and that they were actually more virulent than the vaccine strains that gave rise to them,” said lead author Joanne Devlin from The University of Melbourne, Parkville.

“This is something we’ve never before seen before in the field.”

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Now its rice

If the news about the U.S. corn season was not bad enough, now India is having issues with its Rice crop.  Fortunately they had a bumper crop last year, so at least as far as India goes, if they refuse to export any rice, with stocks on hand, they may be o.k. for the  time being.

Pratik Parija, Bloomburg, 20 July 2012
A 22 percent shortfall in monsoon rains delayed sowing of crops from rice to cotton, stoking a rally in commodity prices and threatening to accelerate India’s inflation that exceeded 7 percent for a fifth straight month in June. Dry weather from the U.S. to Australia has parched fields, pushing up corn, wheat and soybean prices on concern global supplies will be curbed. Costly rice, staple for half the world, may increase global food prices forecast by the United Nations to advance this month.
“The whole grains complex of wheat, corns, soybeans are forcing rice prices higher as well,” said Jonathan Barratt, the chief executive officer of Barratt’s Bulletin, a commodity-markets newsletter in Sydney. “Indian production is very important for the market.”

Rice planting in India dropped 19 percent to 9.68 million hectares (24 million acres) this year from 12.04 million hectares a year earlier, the farm ministry said July 13. The country is estimated to export 8 million tons of rice in 2011-2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, accounting for about 25 percent of the global trade.

Monsoon, which accounts for more than 70 percent of India’s annual rainfall, is the worst since 2009 when showers were 22 percent less than a 50-year average. Rainfall in July, the wettest month in the June-September rainy season, may miss a June forecast for a normal rain, L.S. Rathore, director general of the India Meteorological Department, said July 16.
Food-grain production reached a record 257.44 million tons in the year ended June 30 after a second year of normal rains boosted harvests, the farm ministry said July 17. That prompted the government to lift curbs on exports of the grains last year. Non-basmati shipments totaled 5.25 million tons since September, according to the food ministry.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Drought: Texas sized

Texas is running out of water.  Some people are getting upset.

How They Do Drought in Texas
The Daily Impact, 9 July 2012 (hat tip: NC)

Like the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia, the Ogallala contains fossil water, deposited by glaciers tens of thousands of years ago. That means there’s only so much of it. In a wet year — and there aren’t going to be many more wet years in North Texas — the Ogallala water levels might gain a fraction of an inch in replenishment. Prior to the onset of this drought, Texas Panhandle farmers were habitually drawing it down by about a foot a year.
Then it got really dry and the farmers more than doubled down on irrigation, dropping the surface of the aquifer under the Panhandle by 2.5 – 3 feet. One well recorded a 25-foot drop.

But wait, it gets worse. According to the Texas Tribune, last year, in the worst of the drought so far, West Texas farmers continued to irrigate crops that were already dead with precious Ogallala water. They didn’t do it because they wanted to; they did it because they had to irrigate through the entire growing season in order to collect federally subsidized (and regulated) crop insurance.

The High Plains Underground Water Conservation District understands the First Law of Consumption (as propounded in Brace for Impact): if you only have so much stuff in a container, and you’re taking it out as fast as you can, pretty soon you won’t have any stuff left. So it has proposed placing a cap on water withdrawals from the Ogallala, putting meters on wells, that sort of thing. Doing, in other words, one of the main things we invented government to do — protecting the Commons for the common good.
They note that the Texas Supreme Court has sided with the land owner in a case involving regulating the amount of well water draw down from private property:  Edwards Aquifer v. Day & McDaniel

The authors of the article are getting upset. They seem to be under the perception that centralized control will alleviate the problem.

My problem with the reasoning of the problem, is that they are not addressing the real problem. The real problem is likely not the individual farmers, but the large urban metro areas that pipe in enormous amounts of water to sustain their economy. Even when the farmers activities do draw down the water supply, it is this enormous growing world urban population that they are feeding. Preventing the "taking" is simply a way to keep the government from shoving all the costs of  "common" solution onto one group - mainly the landowners.  If it is worth the time of the greater common people to come up with a solution, the costs of the solution should not be buried under regulatory restrictions.

Texas drought (see here for source)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Apocalyptically dressed to kill

Cosmetic companies make out like bandits during economic downturns. Their sales either remain steady (thus increasing as a percentage of total economic output), or increase.

The trend to dress up during a downturn, does leave some interesting questions. In the majority of our fictional downturns (see my book review tab), people are walking around disheveled and generally all worn out looking. Should they be portrayed as being dressed to kill instead? Of course the vampires are already dressed to kill, but I mean this in the more figurative sense.

And why exactly is it that women send more on cosmetics during a downturn. One theory was that they want to cheer themselves up, but it looks like it comes down to deeper biological programing then that.

Lipstick, the Recession and Evolutionary Psychology
Sara Hill, Scientific American, 27 June 2012 (hat tip: Big Picture

While economic recessions are a recent development in human history, fluctuations in prosperity and resource availability are not. Human ancestors regularly went through cycles of abundance and famine, each of which favors different reproductive strategies. While periods of abundance favor strategies associated with postponing reproduction in favor of one’s own development (e.g., by pursuing an education), periods of scarcity favor more immediate reproduction. The latter strategy is more successful during times of resource scarcity because it decreases the likelihood that one will perish before having the chance to reproduce.

For women, periods of scarcity also decrease the availability of quality mates, as women’s mate preferences reliably prioritize resource access. This preference stems from the important role that mates’ resources have played in women’s reproductive success. Because economic recessions are associated with higher unemployment and minimal or negative returns on investments, news of a recession may therefore signal to women that financially secure men—those able to invest resources in rearing offspring—are becoming scarce...

Furthermore, we discovered that the lipstick effect and a woman’s desire to attract a mate with resources are unrelated to her independent resource access. Women of both higher and lower socioeconomic status expressed an increased desire to buy luxury beauty products when primed with recession cues. This suggests that an uncertain economic climate leads women to heighten mate attraction effort irrespective of their own resource need.

Sarah Hill, Texas Christian University (from here)

Since virtual girlfriends will wear the best lipstick that software can provide them with, does this mean that they will be relatively more attractive in times of plenty?  Note that Ms. Hill's paper on the subject is here (pdf).

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

EOW skirmish combat 7: Shock

We have been taking the part of various characters, not all of them nice, in post-apocalyptic novels.  Now a lot of the supernatural creatures in these novels could certainly cause shock.  But that is too easy.  If your are some summoned being of the Elder Gods, and the very site of you drives people insane, I am not sure there is much of a tactical lesson there.  So instead, we are going to take a more off beat group. 

We are going to be the Chinese invaders of Nebraska!  I should probably tell our readers here from other countries, and U.S. citizens from either coast that indeed Nebraska is part of the United States and that according to certain varieties of apocalyptic fiction, the Chinese have a burning desire to take.  Truthfully we (remember we are the Chinese now) usually land in San Francisco, but along with our blue helmeted buddies in the U.N., we always seem to be marching into those Western States.  Apparently the Chinese are lacking in arid, cold farm and mineral lands closer to home.  In the case of the U.N. they are trying to erase the shame of not being able to bomb next door defenseless Libya without U.S. help.
Anyway as you will see, we have what it takes to create the second most deadly multiplier we will discuss in our series:  Shock.
Shock is a temporary paralysis or inability to perform. If you adversary is in shock, they are at least for a short period of time, nearly helpless.  Combatants in shock are cowering behind cover, running away, staring into space, or trying to surrender.  Of course being able to recognize and take advantage of that situation is another matter entirely.
Shock can be caused by a variety of  factors:  surprise,  sudden approach, the use of armor, and the use of certain types of weapons.  Obviously in low level infantry skirmishes, many of these are not likely to be present..  However, it is noteworthy that even relatively low level National Guard units might have access to some or all of these implements.
Surprise attacks by infantry have about a 50 percent chance of also causing shock if one of two other factors is present: poor or non-existent training of the defensive units (in the book stated as being a “weak nationality factor’), and night or poor visibility.  So if you attack even well trained units on a foggy morning, taking them by surprise, they are going to be “shocked” or temporarily paralyzed about 50% of the time.  So they will not only be unready, they may not even fire at you with what they have on hands.  Likely they are running or putting their hands in the air.  However, when one of these factors is not present, a surprise infantry attack only leads to shock about 18% of the time.
We aren’t going to go too much into artillery or armor.  That isn’t the type of fight we are talking about here.  However, in brief, short and fast works as well with artillery as slow and long.  With armor, sometime the sheer speed of the attack works, but armor combined with surprise leads to shock 95% of the time.  We can see why the Cartels like the idea of having their own armored vehicles.
The Human Face of War
Jim Storr, Birmingham War Studies, London, New York, 2009

Shock has two main battlefield effects. The first is to reduce defense effectiveness, as measured  the attackers casualties by about 40 percent.  This is in addition to the effect of surprise. Hence an attack which achieves both surprise, and shock will degrade defense performance by about 60-65 percent

The second aspect of shock effect is to disrupt the defense. Some individuals and small groups many continue to resist. Others will give up, surrender or withdraw. This effect will be variable and unpredictable. The overall effect will depend both on exploitation by the attacker and the defending commander’s ability to restore the cohesion of his forces. Thus any action that is likely to inflict shock, such as a sudden bombardment, should be followed up by rapid exploitation on multiple routes.  That exploitation should locate week points where individuals and small groups have been shocked, and exploit them p87.

Shock is ephemeral.  It does not last very long.  The quick rush of the tanks, the hurricane artillery bombardment will be recovered from.  We discussed in our Surprise discussion (Number 6) that the U.S. could use training and doctrine to mitigate a narrow range of some types of surprise.  Well in World War 1, the Germans learned to do a very similar trick with the massive allied bombardments that pummeled their trench lines.  They became so good at rushing to the defense after the cessation of a bombardment, that the allies found that they literally had to just behind a rolling wall of artillery shells in order to take positions through firepower.  The Germans had trained away the effects of artillery shock.  In World War 2, possibly with less success, the Germans worked similarly to reduce the shock caused by armor attacks. 
So what are our poor Chinese going to do against all these rifle toting patriots?  Use aggressive scouting to pin the opponent - relying on the fact that few of the defenders have much training, and that few of them have worked together previously.  While the defenders are talking about who is going where, the organized Chinese will be moving.  Once the defenders are situated, you can use rapid bursts of light mortars or automatic grenade launchers to cause them to freeze up while you rush their positions.  Since they won't have tanks, you can use your lighter armored personnel carriers to cause shock with rapid attacks on located positions.  Isolated snipers can be bypassed using smoke or terrain.  The main point to remember is that you are still mobile and in communication.   Partisan groups were effective in Russia against the Germans, but they did take very heavy casualties.  There is not the population density in many portions of the West to support a continuous drain on casualties.  With the population already starving (remember we Chinese/U.N troops are usually opportunists, not the causal agents), they are not likely to be supportive of a group that is causing even more death and destruction.  Red Dawn?  Maybe.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

EOW skirmish combat 5: aggressive reconnaissance

Alright lets see, we are on a through the looking glass trip through our favorite (somewhat) realistic apocalypse novels.  We faced off the zombies, been cannibles (!), befriended a Nigerian Princess, and played Canadian sweepstakes games, fought the angry citizens of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, and now...  Well, I noted a trend, a new player on the post-apocalyptic block. They have been around for a while, but seem to be gaining almost preternatural powers of late.  Since we are going to be short sweet here, and won't need our firearms this time, today we are going to be.... a wild dog pack.  Lets kill be sure to kill off the most annoying survivors first.
When you zoom up to the campaign level, with thousands or sometimes even millions of people involved, you can discern certain regularities about outcomes. Unfortunately, we are not interested in Armies or Corps here, we are worried about individual level actions. That close air support is not as useful as thought, or that in almost all cases combined arms techniques are more honored in the breach than in actuality is interesting, but not particularly pertinent.
However, some factors work at numerous levels. They work from the highest army units, down to the single sentry standing guard. 
The first of these factors is aggressive reconnaissance. Which in this case means more than simply sending out patrols.  It means seeking out, and moving to engage the enemy in an aggressive fashion.  You are not trying to charge them frontally, but to figure out their position and attempt to turn it, surprise it, or bypass it. Here is an example of the closest thing I can come to our fast moving dog pack - Prussian Hussars (light cavalry - but with the Prussians often their elite cavalry):
Panther War College, Subject 1
On the cold morning of December 4th, 1757, the Prussian King Frederick the Great was riding well ahead of his army and with his advance guard, the Puttmaker and Zieten Hussars. As they approached the city of Newmarkt, Frederick learnt from peasants that “the enemy had established a bakery in that town, that it was garrisoned with pandours, and that Daun’s army was expected”.1,2 It was obvious the Austrians wanted to deploy a base at Newmarkt. If the Austrians were allowed to do so, the hills east of this city would give them an enormous tactical advantage. The Prussian infantry and artillery needed to clear the Austrians from Newmarkt was more than a half a day march away.  Frederick ordered the hussars to storm the city, something very unconventional. Besides an unusual tactical victory (120 killed, 569 captured Croats) and a bounty of bread rations, the Prussian King won the initiative over the Austrians. The enemy was forced both to spend the night almost in the open and most importantly, to fight the next day in terrain of Frederick’s choosing. The battle that ensued the following day at the village of Leuthen left two thirds of the Austrian army destroyed.

If you follow the links embedded in the above, you will see where the German armor car units got their inspiration from.  Yes they did reconnaissance, but many of their objectives (seize this bridge, blow up this railroad junction, et cetera) sound an awful lot like the sneaky version of an assault mission.

Aggression gives you a number of advantages. As we have noted earlier, the combat environment is very dynamic and good information is often lacking.
The Human Face of War
Jim Storr, Birmingham War Studies, London, New York, 2009

By going and finding out, and making things happen, one can influence the battlefield. Combat is uncertain, wand will tend to reward those who can tolerate uncertainty. Tolerance of uncertainty is the hallmark of pragmatism. General David Fraser wrote of Rommel's experience that "war is so uncertain business, so dependent on a concatenation of unpredictable chances, that boldness, a touch of optimism and above all speed can and generally should do better than attempts at exact calculation" p49.

He goes on to enumerate these advantages:
  1. the seizure of opportunities.
  2. the neutralization of enemy reconnaissance
  3. the location of gaps in the defense
  4. disruption to the defense including in rear areas and HQs [undefended dependants]
  5. demoralization
  6. physically threatening rear areas and HQs [homes/shelter and supplies]
  7. creating uncertainty, through destruction or capture
  8. disguising the nature and direction of the attackers thrusts p50.
In short, you just make a mess of everything!
Aggressive reconnaissance is noted as giving a 26:1 advantage on campaign. Note that it is almost impossible to come up with a 26:1 advantage by manpower alone. If you had ten people in a house, how would you even seriously get 260 into place to fight it out with them?
Note aggressive reconnaissance is not the same thing as the "patrolling" that the U.S. military does around its bases in occupied territory in the many low intensity "small wars" that we have been involved in going back to Vietnam.   There you are trying to keep an eye on the middle ground, stir up trouble, and intend on calling in massive support fire of some form if it gets really harry.   Keeping an eye on your surroundings is certainly a good idea, but realistically, any wandering around in a post-apocalyptic world that doesn't involve scavenging is probably a luxury few small groups can afford.  Of course, since we are dog pack in today's apocalyptic adventure we will smell them coming from a mile away!
Going to go Dire Wolf on them!

EOW skirmish combat 6: Surprise, surprise, surprise

We have been working our way through all sorts of apocalyptic scenarios.  We have been cannibals, wild dogs, the maurauding hordes of Mecklenburg, North Carolina,  cannibals, and others.  So what new post-apocalyptic role should we start with?  The title of course comes from the old TV character Gomer Pyle (short youtube), and of course noone expects the Spanish Inquisition (short youtube).  But neither of those are particularly apocalyptic in tone.  I think today we are going to be those David-like (as in First Samual  17 David verus Goliath) characters that swing well above their weight.  Because women buy more books than men, a lot of them are young ladies.  I don't find this too implausible.  Men are generally stronger than women (something like 60%), but that shouldn't matter much with firearms, and even with archery, todays young women fed on a high protein diet certainly have the potential to be much more athletic than was historically the case.
In any case, one  of the key characteristics of these youngsters is that they people let them get the drop on them.  They use surprise to their advantage.  Whatever the normal outcome might have been in a battle, the "weak" win through surprise.

Surprise is...well it is surprise. Nothing fancy about it. The unexpected happens to you. In the case of combat, it is unexpectedly bad. Surprise is very closely associated with, and can often lead to shock..
The most important factor in deciding battle is surprise. It is easily the largest multiplier effect to a combat unit/ combatant.
The Human Face of War
Jim Storr, Birmingham War Studies, London, New York, 2009

The achievement of initial and multiple surprise has the same effect as a force ratio of 2,000:1 on average, in terms of their impact on achieving a breakthrough at the beginning of a campaign, 2:000:1! It also has the same effect as a force ratio of 260:1 (on average) in terms of overall campaign impact. These figures are averages. But in 95 per cent of all occasions where surprise was created, the effect was at least as great as that of a force ratio of 10:1 p50.

The effect of surprise attacks on enemy's flanks and rear is considerable. HA [Historical Analysis] of a representative selection of infantry battles showed that in a company- or battalion-level attack, the attacker's casualties tend to be about twice those of the defender if the attack is frontal. Where the attacker manages to find an exposed flank...the defender typically takes slightly more than twice as many casualties as the attacker. When an attack strikes the defender’s unprotected rear, attacker tends to inflict almost four times as many casualties as he suffers p85.

Surprise occurs in about 40 percent of infantry attacks. It has three main effects. It increases the probability of success, reduces the attacker's casualties, and increases the probability of shock. The probability of success in the attack in an armored battle typically ranges from 40 to 54% when there is no surprise. Where surprise occurs, the probability of success is about 75%. This increase is independent of force ratios, whereas when surprise is not achieved, it is very dependent on force ratios. In other words, if there is no surprise, you are going to have to slowly attrition your way through the defense. In infantry attacks, casualties were 42 % lower (excluding effects of shock) with surprise. Using the same source:

Surprise will normally [95%+]  have a greater impact than a force ratio of 10:1. The creation and exploitation of surprise was central to German tactics in the Second world War. It does much to explain the difference in battlefield performance between the German and US armies described by van Creveld. As the Canadian military historian John English put it 'the German Armey was, in fact, an army saturated with surprise. Mobility and maneuver were but the respective means to effect it in time and space' p86.

What does this mean?  There are three parts.  Since attackers usually control the timing of a fight.  It is easier for attacker to surprise defenders than the other way around.  Second, you must excute to take advantage of the surpise.  There are numerous instances where one force is completely surprised, but does not lose.  A clear case of this would be the opening of the long Irag- Iran war.  The Iranians were completely surprised, but did not loose the war.  In fact the Iraqi gains were relatively limited.  Why?  Because in order to take advantage of a surprise, you must be able to execute.  Finally, there is almost distance, no expense, no cost that is not worth paying to achieve surprise.  The only other force multipliers that even come close to those for surprise are those for shock (temporary psychological incapacitation) and surprise is one of the major causes of shock.  Concurently, there is almost nothing more important than preventing your own forces from being surprised.
In our apocalyptic fiction,  lot of the surprise at the small unit skirmish level seems to be of the rather obvious nature. The roadside ambush is not only good a few weeks into the dangers, but in some cases months as well. While I sometimes wonder what these ambushers are doing in between the waits for the automobiles that either aren't running (EMP), or are out of fuel (economic crash), but that is a rather limited form of surprise. In fact, experienced troops can train so well for the trail side ambush that they can train their reactions to a point where they can turn that advantage.
In Vietnam
Lieutenant General Julian J. Ewell, Major General Ira A. Hunt, Jr. Departement of the Army, 1995
When snipers came into their own, it became apparent that aimed rifle fire was killing Viet Cong. In thinking about this, the thought occurred that the Viet Cong basically could not shoot and our men could. By that time (December 1968) the Viet Cong were beginning to fragment and we had many contacts which were essentially meeting engagements between small groups of men. By polling the commanders, it was found that the contact ranges were much closer than we had imagined in such open terrain-on the order of 10 to 25 meters.
We then decided, more on faith than conviction, that we would go for aimed shot kills rather than fire superiority. We devised a very simple training drill to teach men to shoot under these conditions:
a. Quick kill technique
b. Short range
c. Single aimed shots (quick kill)
d. No full automatic mode
e. Quick reaction (seconds)
The battalion commander...would determine what his normal opening range was and how quickly a soldier must fire to beat the enemy to the draw.  We will say that a battalion commander set 25 meters and 8 seconds as his criteria. Each company, every third or fourth day during stand-down, would have the riflemen shoot at anything (tin cans, targets, whatever) until they could get a first round hit at 25 meters in 8 seconds. By repetition, this became an automatic reflex action. This one idea in combination with good night ambushes made it possible for our small rifle units to wreak heavy damage on the enemy with low friendly casualties. One reason it worked so well was that the average Communist soldier was not trained to shoot and could not afford to expend the ammunition necessary to learn. This idea has been termed the "15-Second War." Chart 13 shows why...this idea paid off manyfold on the battlefield in the Upper Delta and III Corps area during all of 1969. From Chapter 6, page 123.
The Fifteen Second War:  Chart 13: Fire Power versus Time Conception

Note that the overall firepower level is lower, but response time is much quicker.  Although the author isn't really saying it.  The men were being trained, within a very narrow phrame of reference to mitigate against both surprise and shock.   The soldiers did not become sharpshooters.  Truthfully, I doubt many of their initial return rounds hit.  But they were close enough to supress the enemy, and given the natural advantage in training, once surprise/shock was avoided,  the American could be expected to win the battle.  It is the perfect example of the effective use of doctrine, and effective training of that doctrine.