Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Bugging Out to Nowhere: A Review

Paylee Robert's Bugging Out to Nowhere, surprising given its name, a rather gradualist apocalypse-in-progress set "somewhere" in the United States.  The book is printed in Kentucky, and the little town of "Nowhere" (adult population circa ) is at 3,300 feet of elevation, so it seems likely that it is sitting somewhere on the Western slopes of the Appalachian Mountains.

Paylee Roberts (most likely a pseudonym) is an Ann Rand-style libertarian who became a homesteader in 2007.  She states that the basis for much of the novel is her own experiences, and her perception of what is wrong with many peoples "bug-out" strategies.
The novel has the Randyian (Atlas Shrugged) paranoia with big government and  lays the blame for the slow economic collapse at the doorstep of a slowly creeping overreach by the Federal Government.  It thus shares some of the same style of background as some of the militia style collapse novels, but without the heroic resistance fighters battling rogue military units, or U.N. forces with Molotov cocktails.  Similar to some of the militia-style novels, there is very little mention of children, other than their being turned away from the approaches of the town, and presumably sent off to starve.  The authoress is obviously rather suspicious of organized religion, and makes no personal references to divinity. So it also differs from the many of the militia style novels in that aspect as well.  So it is sort of an atheists militia-style collapse, without the children....or the militia.
The story is told through the eyes of a middle aged woman who works for the federal government in a low level administrative function, but sees the trouble coming.  The economic collapse is relatively slow, but government restrictions on travel create the need for a "bugout" to their secret home in the mountains, and this is where the story begins. This early portion of the adventure is the only first person action we see.  They get to talk about their body armor, and weapons, and while it is all very interesting, the action is left somewhat hanging, and is never clearly resolved.  Through various plot mechanisms that don't make a lot of sense (other than possibly the "sense" of personal persecution that Ann Rand fans seem to feel is their lot) our bug-out heroine is forced to stay hidden from view when they reach their hide away in nowhere, so most of the remaining activities are relayed to her by people who are under no compulsion to stay hidden.  She doesn't go to the little town meeting, she is told about it, she doesn't post guard duty, she is told what happens, and so on. It is sort of Ann Rand meets Anne Frank at the apocalypse.
All of this makes the actual story line somewhat moot.  It is not a story, it is all intended as a teaching moment.  In the limited communications by her on her book she even notes the intent to correct peoples mistaken notions of survivalism/prepping.  The story is a very very loose fabric used to hang detailed dissertations about roughing it techniques, with occasional bursts of Gestapo-style government activities thrown in.
So is it an enjoyable read?  Well if you like to read prepping manuals disguised as fictional stories, and a lot of people do, than you may very well like this story.  A storyline, even a thin one, does give some more immediacy to the activities.  It is the same reason I did some posts a long time ago where I updated western skirmishes to a modern setting.  The storyline is thin, but it hopefully might put some information in a different context.
But as a story, the plot line is just too thin.  You are in a non-place, in an unknown State, with relatively thinly developed characters.  Maybe I missed it in all the survival lessons, but much of the activities of the various government types never made a whole lot of sense to me.  Most of the people problems resolved themselves by the annoying people going away in some fashion.  It is an amazingly self centered book.  That most of the town would actually starve out long before the end of the story is never realistically dealt with.  A cattle rancher plays the part of the great unifying benefactor who eventually brings the town together- something that the couple are very reluctant to do themselves.  The wrap up was somewhat quick and perfunctory, and by that point in the novel, I was happy to be done with it.  So, no, it was not a particularly enjoyable read.
For our two descriptive ratings: Realism and Readability: 1 to 7; 4 is our mid-point and 7 is high.
Realism, we have somewhat discussed above.  It is an odd book, because it has all these teaching moments, that are in theory about "real things", but the plotting is so driven toward making all of her pet little survivalist points that you feel you are following a connect the dots drawing.  Probably the biggest problem, is the one already noted, that all the bad guys just somehow wander off on their own.  I can't even get annoying coworkers to wander off in a relatively peaceful workplace.  In a pressure cooker survival setting, I suspect people aren't going to be less in your face.  There are a few magical chip reading satellite type technologies, which of course the government will roll out to no expense, when they can't even keep the highways open.  The lessons, and the concern with food supplies is a positive, so we will put it above our mid-point: a 5.
Readability is not its literary merit, this novel has little of that in any case, but how easy/painless is the effort.  Well if a comic book, or a page turning thriller is a 7, than a textbook has to be somewhere closer to the bottom.  Maybe not as close to the bottom as an intentionally difficult novel with lots of esoteric symbolism, and magical realism, but toward the bottom none-the-less.  It is a two.

Monday, April 29, 2013

No Country for Old Men: A Review

Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men, (Amazon, Amazon U.K.) is a dystopian, somewhat apocalyptic novel of the contemporary American Southwest.  In simplified terms, it is what happens when the violence of the modern drug cartels intersects with the life of a small town, and its local sheriff.  The novel was made into a critically well received movie produced by the Cohen brothers featuring Tommy Lee Jones playing the sheriff and Javier Bardem as the main bad guy.  I have never seen the movie, but if you tell people you are reading this book they will tell you all about it.

The Movie tie-in cover - which I rather like
Cormac McCarthy is most famous within our apocalyptic genre for The Road a similarly bleak, introspective, novel that features enough tension and terror to keep the "viewers" interest.  Without going into the overly lengthy details, McCarthy is one of the most influential and successful writers of our day.  His various novels frequently make various "best" lists.  It is interesting that someone who does not necessarily write toward a literary audience, receives so many literary acclamations.

The New York Times review gives a wonderful backhanded blurb of the book:
The compulsory drug deal gone wrong that drops the flag on this race with the devil takes place in the desert, in the West Texas jurisdiction of Sheriff Bell, an unreconstructed patriarchal geezer for whom aggressively enforcing the law is less important than passively keeping the peace. He's a watchdog, not an attack dog, content to doze until wrongdoers give him no option but to bite, which he does without breaking the skin, if possible. His drawling, cracker-barrel soliloquies overflow with crusty red-state sentiments that may or may not represent the author's feelings but probably don't violate them terribly. Bell, no public radio moral relativist, has walked over too much cactus in his lifetime to care about the tender sensibilities of those who've stayed safely in their flower gardens. Satan exists, the world is getting worse, and God is too busy with other matters to care. He's written us off and moved on to fresh creations.
Even the New York times snarky reviewer catches the whiff of the Apocalypse.
The main villain is equipped with a strapped  pneumatic captive bolt gun.  Used to kill cattle for slaughter, this device  gives him an excellent method of silently killing people at short range - and incidentally knocking out lock cylinders.  Along the way, he picks up a silenced shotgun. As with much of the plot line, he is a little bit over the top, and it doesn't pay to look too closely at the likelihood of some of what is going on.  There is just a tiny flavor of well disguised magical realism used to keep the story moving along a certain frenetic pace.

As one movie viewer told me- slightly, but only slightly, inaccurately -everyone in the movie dies.  And if there is a major theme to the novel, other than the general theme of things changing for the worse, it is just that.  We all die, and the world that we know and expect to come dies with us. Nothing is permanent, everything changes.

Here we have Sheriff Bell thinking back to his Uncle Harold, who never came back from World War One.
Aunt Carolyn's letters to Harold.  The reason she had them letters was that he had saved em.  She was the one raised him and she was the same as his mother...But the thing about them letters was you could tell that the world she was plannin on him comin back to was not ever goin to be here.  Easy to see now. Sixty years on.  But they just had no notion at all. You can say you like it or you don't like it but it don't change nothin (Kindle location 3352 of 3704).
The book notes that there is a certain amount of good luck and bad luck out there.  There is a randomness to our fate.  But at the same time, there are paths that you can go down, and once you go down a path,  there may not be a door back.  As the assassin tells one victim:
What's done cannot be undone.  I think you understand that.  Your husband, you may be distressed to learn, had the opportunity to remove you from harm's way and he chose not to do so.  He was given that option and his answer was no...[after some further conversation, he continues] I had no say in the matter. Every moment in your life is a turning and every one a choosing.  Somewhere you made a choice.  All followed to this.  The accounting is scrupulous.  The shape is drawn. No line can be erased...A person's path through the world seldom changes and even more seldom will it change abruptly.  And the shape of your path was visible from the beginning (~ Kindle location 3070).
Well, obviously I liked it.  To be honest, at points, I would probably say it is as apocalyptic, in the revelatory sense, as The Road.  It may not have cannibals, but it leaves no doubt that there has been a change, and that with society becoming unmoored from its foundations, it is not going to be getting any better.

We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.
Realism: it is in the here and now.  As I noted above, a little over the top at times, but nothing beyond reason.  It is a 7.
Readability: it is mostly a page turner, occasional pauses for rumination slow up the action, but there is a lot of action to pack in between these moments of thoughtfulness.   Page turners are by definition easy reads.  It is a 6, and I will say that in an unconventional way, it is a literary 6.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The death of Bulgaria

A little while on, we will get to a review of Albert Brooks, 2030: The Real Story of What Happened to America.  One of his major themes is the growing tension and difficulties between an aging population and the increasingly put upon youth.
So while I was looking for a Friday post to fill the gaps between reviews, I thought this one was appropriate.

The Shortage of Bulgarians Inside Bulgaria
Edward Hugh, A fistful of Euro, 24 February 2013 (hat tip:  NC)
Young people are moving from the weak economies on the periphery to the comparatively stronger ones in the core, or out of an ever older EU altogether. This has the simple consequence that the deficit issues in the core are reduced, while those on the periphery only get worse as health and pension systems become ever less affordable. Meanwhile, more and more young people follow the lead of Gerard Depardieu and look for somewhere where there isn’t such a high fiscal burden, preferably where the elderly dependency ratio isn’t shooting up so fast...
According to the 2011 census, Bulgaria has lost no less than 582,000 people over the last ten years. In a country of 7.3 million inhabitants this is a big deal. Further, it has lost a total of 1.5 million of its population since 1985, a record in depopulation not just for the EU, but also by global standards. The country, which had a population of almost nine million in 1985, now has almost the same number of inhabitants as in 1945 after World war II. And, of course, the decline continues.

This shifting of populations has gone on a lot in the United States, but the problems in the "left behind" zones is somewhat toned down by Federal Government transfer payments.  The author of the piece above noted that this is also what happened when West and East Germany reunited after the cold war.
For myself, I don't see the Europeans being all excited about cross government transfer payments (versus "loans") that don't bring back some sort of direct benefit to themselves.
Back in the bad old pre-industrial days, this is how countries, if they didn't go into a bloody revolution,  recovered from overpopulation.  They went through an aging bulge until the situation got better.  We are not that patient.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

In The Country of Last Things: A Review

Paul Auster's In The Country of Last Things (Amazon, Amazon U.K.) is the story of a slow economic collapse set in an unnamed (possibly New York) city.  The collapse is severe, but somewhat localized.

Paul Auster (1947) is a very famous author.  His better known works include The New York Trilogy (1987), Moon Palace (1989), The Music of Chance (1990), The Book of Illusions (2002), and The Brooklyn Follies (2005). Both of his wives have been well known authoresses in their own right.  He has won numerous awards.  To my knowledge this is his only apocalyptic/dystopian story.

Our story here is told through the letter of Anna,  a young lady of 19,  to an unnamed friend.  She has left for an unnamed city to find her brother who went there as a reporter and never came back.  The same fate awaits her, and quickly after her arrival, she losses the means to escape the beleaguered city.
Just because you are able to get in, that does not mean you will be able to get out. Entrances do not become exits, and there is nothing to guarantee that the door you walked through a moment ago will still be there when you turn around to look for it again.
At the point that she has arrived, the city is already in collapse. Many people are homeless.  If you find a place to stay, you are always at risk of gangs breaking in and throwing you out, after taking all your valuables first.  There is very little in the way of policing.  While there is a licensing scheme that is enforced on garbage pickers, they need to watch their cart closely or they will have it stolen.  The only acceptable way out is through various methods of legalized suicide.

The story as a whole is of a society that is living off its remnants, but which is slowly running out of things to pawn off.  Nothing productive is done, and what organization is left, does not seem to be to much purpose other than holding some distant, mostly unseen, elites in a slightly better position than the rest of the folks.

The novel was published in 1987, which is around the time period that I lived in New York City for a few years.  The Bernhard Goetz subway shooting trial had recently finished, and  1987 is the year of the Tawana Brawley fiasco that brought Al Sharpton to prominence. The place, at least news-wise, was a zoo.  Given his focus on New York City in his earlier writing, I think this story, which apparently had an earlier genesis, was a natural outgrowth of the problems that were occurring in the city at the time.  One frequently quoted passage seems to sum up his thinking:
Our lives are no more than the sum of manifold contingencies, and no matter how diverse they might be in their details, they all share an essential randomness in their design: this then that, and because of that, this.
There is some question as to who is the person that is reading Anna's letter.  On at least a technical level, this has been noted in a latter novel by the author.
Interviewed by Michael Wood, Paris Review, Fall 2003, No. 167
David Zimmer is the central character [of Book of Illusions] and when the novel begins, his wife and two boys have just been killed in a plane crash. It turns out that we already know David Zimmer from one of your earlier works. He’s Marco Fogg’s friend in Moon Palace. We also learn in that book that he was the person who received Anna Blume’s letter, which, in effect, formed the entire contents of other of your early novels, In the Country of Last Things
I’ve known Zimmer for a long time. But he’s older now, and a lot has taken place since we last saw him.
The fictional David Zimmer is, or at least becomes, a professor in Vermont.  I am not sure what exactly that tells us about our story here, other than making the commonly presumed  location of New York City even more likely.
I did like the novel.  It was  a little hard to figure out exactly where the author was going with it at times.  I have not delved into them, but there are some rather sudden plot twists.  The novel is both very stark and brutal, and yet rather dreamlike at times as well.  As an homage, of sorts, to the New York of the day, the introductory quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne suits it well
Not a great while ago, passing through the gate of dreams, I visited that region of the earth in which lies the famous City of Destruction.
We will move along to our descriptive ratings: Readability and Realism: 1 to 7; 4 is at the mid-point, 7 is high.
Realism:  There are some clearly fanciful elements, such as the way that people begin to forget about once common place technologies.  But the novel is still probably more realistic in its assessment of the everyday realities of an urban collapse than some that are actually trying for a literal interpretation:  a 5.
Readability: Auster, I gather is at times a bit puzzling to fathom, with this novel being much more straightforward than many of his other works. There are some allusions, and some symbolism, but a lot of it is relatively straightforward, or at least partially explained latter. There is the ambiguity of not really knowing all of the narrator's background, and some key portions we do know, not until well into the story.  But as a whole, it is not too hard to figure out what is going on, and being 188 pages, the novel is barely out of novella territory:  a literary 5.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Raiju: A Review

K. H. Koehler's Raiju (Goodreads, Amazon UK) is a different sort of apocalyptic (as in revelatory) novel, and is explained by its full title:  Raiju: a Kaiju Hunter Novel.  Kaiju are the oversized Japanese monsters, best represented by the infamous Godzilla, that first came out as a response to the threat of nuclear.   The threat today is more supernatural in nature, and the storyline is taking place in the United States.

K. H. Koehler (as self described)  is a freelance editor, a cover designer, an associate editor at KHP Publishers, and owner of K. H. Koehler Books. She has written numerous published short stories, and is a prolific novelist. She lives in the beautiful wilds of Northeast Pennsylvania with two very large and opinionated Rottweilers.

The storyline is a Hollywood version of  angst.  The cool teens are far too talented, the geeky teens are far to bright, and the teenage hero eventually becomes something of a mystic warrior without even requiring minimal levels of training.  It is billed as a teen novel, but has a significant amount of gratuitous (not required by the plot) swearing.

Kevin is a Japanese American teen whose original home, San Francisco was devastated by a giant shark-like monster.  His Irish mother, along with his best friend and many classmates died in the disaster.  His father decides to go to safety on the other side of the continent: New York City.  But the monster mayhem follows them.

Fortunately, Kevin, as is alluded to very early on, has special talents/powers that allow him to fend off these creatures before all of Brooklyn (versus numerous city blocks) can be destroyed.

The original Godzilla was, at least in part, made what he was by nuclear testing.  As with the big "G", so also here,  the gigantic monsters make a pretty good stand in for a small to mid-sized nuclear strike.  There is no radiation, but plenty of fire, and there is enough thought behind it to show relevant people dying, and extra hospital beds being pressed into service to deal with the situation.

By the end, I found that I had enjoyed the story.  It feels a bit rushed at times; a little bit of a written word comic book.   I found the pointless foul language to be an odd choice for a YA novel, but otherwise it would be a reasonable choice for politically correct parents of older teens. 
We have our two descriptive ratings: Realism and Readability; 1 to 7; 4 is the mid-point; 7 is high.
The novel is more realistic than you would think of a monster movie mashup of sorts.  The causal agents of destruction (giant monsters) are not "real" but the effects of the damage and devastation are.  People die, and people are traumatised, and everything doesn't become magically better.  The kids seem to have a little bit too much time and money on their hands, but not all of their plans work.  So for a fantastically natured book, I will give it a relatively high 3.
Readability is not a measure of literary merit, but literally, how quick and easy of a read is it.  As a verbal comic book, it at times reads as a page turner.  A little too much time is spent on school age angst to be a true cyclone-speed adventure, so we will call it a non-literary 6.

Original hardcover:  obviously the focus audience changed.  Which may put off some people who are expecting a little more monster action.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sun Bleached Winter: A Review

D. Robert Grixti's Sun Bleached Winter (Amazon U.S., Amazon U.K.) is post-apocalyptic novel set two-years after the onset of nuclear winter from some sort of unexplained event.  It looks a lot like a post nuclear war scenario to me, but the cryptic nature of the authors blurb leaves it somewhat up in the air.  The geographic setting is left intentionally unclear, but the lack of firepower from even the bad guys, and a little guessing (the place name Haversham comes up) it might be in Northern England.

There is a planned sequence that will involve a different primary character called Crusaders of Ice.

D. Robert Grixti is an independent video game developer, magazine editor, and horror writer.  He is currently living in Melbourne Australia.

Authors stated purposes (interview here):
What initially led to me writing Sun Bleached Winter was a discussion with a friend about the movie version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. We’d both been amazed by how emotional it was (most of the post-apocalyptic stuff we were familiar with being mainly fast paced action/adventure stuff, like Mad Max for example), and made me think of another spin on post-apocalyptic fiction that I’d never seen done before – horror.
I didn’t just want to write a scary, post-apocalyptic tale, I also wanted to explore the psychological condition of the characters and touch on what humanity means in a world where there are no laws
Which is a little ironic as Honey Brown, a fellow Australian, won an Australian prize (Aurealis) for best Horror Novel with her apocalypse-in-progress: The Red Queen. Poor Honey just can't get any respect!  There actually is a pretty long list of apocalyptic horror set within a realistic setting, it just doesn't always cross reference in searches.  Arguably, apocalyptic-horror, was what H.P. Lovecraft was all about.

The novel involves a grown brother and sister, Lionel and Claire, wandering around the devastated landscape.  It is obviously playing off of McCarthy's The Road except that presumably the sister is the stand in for the innocent youth.  They wander around and have episodic adventures, much like The Road.  Eventually they stumble upon someone who is a little more helpful, and they make their way toward a small enclave that is in some fashion trying to forge ahead.  Somewhere along the way, ghost-like visages show up to pester the brother.

It just doesn't hold together.  Almost from the very beginning you get odd events that don't make a lot of sense.

At the very opening, the part that is in the free sample, you have the hero risking himself to get hold of a notebook.  Yet latter on we have them traipsing around through a small downtown area and noting that there are office supplies for the taking. (?).

We get detailed combat scenes, but the author seems to have learned his combat knowledge from the video game genre: weapons are misnamed, revolver  ammunition is universally acceptable by all of that general type, people dodge bullets...that kind of thing.  There are the obligatory super-dogs,  that don't seem to have had the same problem finding non-poisoned water.  There is no discussion as to why Newtown can grow crops in the open under the darkened sky.

Apocalyptic novels are often a little short on logic.  That wouldn't be the end of the world, if the characters and activities can keep up the story line.  The author is trying to make Lionel into the brooding, thoughtful sort.  Unfortunately, he tilts past brooding into whiny in a serious way.  Granted, the poor guy has ghosts of some sort hectoring, him, but he cannot even be bothered to check out the fact that  the ranger's station they stumble on has power to supply a radio, and he ignores the message about Newton. Lionel is the most grating main character I can recall since the professor in The Fall of Eden.

Which brings up another odd point.  In looking around the web at a number of different reviews, the reviewer notes some items from the opening chapter, and then verbatim tells the plot line from the provided book blurb.  The problem is that the book's blurb, doesn't actually describe the plot line very well.  When Lionel hears the radio broadcast about Newtown, he ignores it.  When they head to Newtown latter, they aren't searching for it because they are with someone who has just come from there.  Having seen the occasional blog-reviewer get caught out for cribbing their reviews, I guess it shouldn't be surprising that one way to pad your review totals is to read the first chapter and then comment on the blurb.  I don't pretend to understand the logic, but it's out there.  None of this is the fault of our book author, but it is a sad indicator of our current mode of pump-and-dump blog spot marketing techniques.

I appreciate what Mr. Grixti is trying to do.  Creating a  "The Road" with an interesting twist seems like a good enough idea.  But the road is written by one of the most successful American author's of the late 20th century.  You can't simply pull apart some of his themes and then throw in a little blender produced other-genre ingredients and expect good results.   It doesn't work.
We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.
Realism is a tough call.  The novel has a very similar of a setting to The Road.  It actually avoids that novels problem of having too many successful cannibals around so late after a disaster by only being two years after the catastrophe.  It has the occasionally seen mantra that it is hopeless to stay in one place, that you must keep moving to survive.  The storyline, in its own odd way, I suppose does demonstrate that concept.  But there are ghosts, or spooky things.  And some pretty mediocre detailed combat scenes.  Tactics used to take a fortified house involve running up to the house and shooting at the people. (?).   There are no elves, and people are hungry.  It's a three.
Readability is a little more straightforward.  There is a lot of brooding, which keeps it from being a page turner.  The logical flaws, at least for those who notice them, lead to some confusion as to what exactly is going on.  The ghosts and the mysterious nature of the cause of the destruction leave some unanswered questions hanging out there.  But it still moves along.  There is action,  There is adventure. There is trying to save poor Sis'.  It is a four.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Ice Diaries: A Review

Lexi Revellian's  Ice Diaries (U.S. Amazon, and  U.K. Amazon) is post apocalyptic novel set in a London that first depopulated by a pandemic, and then frozen under 20 meters of snow.  It starts with a small huddling of middle class, over-educated survivors living in the upper floors (those still above the ice) muddling their way through.  Then an injured stranger shows up. An excerpt may be found here and reference web page here. 

Lexi Revellian (a pseudonym for Lexi Dick) is jeweler and silversmith who lives in London (behind a giant Ipad sign next to an abandoned courthouse) making pieces for people such as Margaret Thatcher, 10 Downing Street (residence and HQ of the  Prime Minister)  and Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth.  Her hobbies include rocking horses.  In an interview, she notes that she has a daughter who is old enough to attend a University, and that self publishing was natural for her because she was used to being in business for herself. She has sold an impressive 60,000 copies to date, this being her first apocalyptic novel.

On the genesis of this novel, she noted:
Long ago in 1981, Fred Hoyle wrote a book called Ice - How the next ice age will come - and how we can prevent it. I remember the cover of a colour supplement featuring the book; the Houses of Parliament emerging from a snowy wasteland, with a solitary figure skiing. This image stayed with me until I wrote Ice Diaries about a London in the near future buried beneath twenty metres of snow. Back in 1981, few buildings would have been tall enough to emerge from snow that deep. How London has changed.

Note that Hoyle will eventually be correct. No matter if we manage to melt all the ice caps first, cyclical variations in earth's orbit will eventually get us back to the frosty tundra.  In the case of this particular story, the author uses the much discussed shortcut of the Gulf Stream shutdown (caused by ocean desalination due to glacial melt) as a cheat to get us there quicker.
The novel's general premise is rather similar to Earth Abides.  In the year prior to the novel's start,  a really big plague wipes almost everyone out. The difference is that after that, they all get buried under 20 meters (66 feet) of snow.  The little bit of government that is left, grabs up as many people as it can, and heads south, hoping that the (also) depopulated Southerners won't mind the company.  Some people are left behind by accident, others by choice. 

The depopulation allows for less chaos and mayhem, but the ice age keeps it from being completely easy pickings.  There is a lot of loot to be had, but much of it is buried under a lot of snow, and the logistical problems with all that digging are discussed.

The otherwise non-apocalyptic author does a fairly good idea of thinking through the survival issues of her small group.  They are not particularly well trained for the task, but they are cooperative, and by putting their heads together, figure out many of the basics.   They can see the smoke from a handful of other fires in the distance, but it is not easy to get around on foot, and a mile is a long way without skis: apparently Londoners aren't familiar with the concept of snowshoes.  Since it is London, what they can do is find a tall building and take the steps down to the lobby level, and then burrow horizontally to nearby shops.  As the snow keeps accumulating, they keep moving their living quarters up.

The stranger who shows up is very different.  He is on the run from a group of thuggish types.  Granted I have worked for people meaner, and crazier, than the "psychotic" leader of this small pack, but they are still meaner than our little group of middle class folk with their once a month Scottish dance parties, and book club.  Let's say they are mean, but not cannibal mean.  Because this is England, there aren't any firearms.  When one semi-automatic pistol shows up, they act as if it is some sort of hand cannon.  There are a variety of "showdowns" and  in one of them, out on the snowy ice scape, (I swear I am not lying) the bad guy is convinced not to shoot his weapon, because it will hurt his ears and give him tinnitus.  As I said, the bad guys are mean, but not cannibal mean.

Well eventually the some ear protection is found, and some of the action occurs in enclosed space where arguably the earplugs have some usefulness.  We get our proper fight scene-climax.

I did enjoy the book.  It started off particularly well with the various survival accommodations made by the relatively well off group.  It started getting a little surreal and spun a little out of control as another neighboring group came into play, but ended on a reasonable, if not a little uncertain note.  It is not of  a must have, don't die before you read this book caliber, but it is fun.

We have our two descriptive categories: Realism and Readability: rated 1 to 7: 4 is the mid-point; 7 is high.

Realism:  The author specifically noted in an interview, that she set a near future date for her apocalypse so that the reader could place themselves within the situation.  While the apocalypse itself is a little convenient for getting rid of so many people with so little bloodshed, it does address issues of supply and survival.  The gasoline retains its functionality a bit too long, but that is such a common mistake as to almost not be worth mentioning.  It is not clear one-year in to our crises, as the snow has finally stopped, that the long term survival prospects are very good.  If it doesn't exactly have the gritty cutting edge that is typical in post-collapse fiction, it doesn't ignore the basic issues.  It a five.

Readability:  I wouldn't exactly call it a page turner.  There is a fare amount of time spent in scene setting, and also somewhat off point chatter.  It is not unpleasant reading, it's just not comic book easy.  And remember our readability description here is all about how easy of a read is it.  It is pretty easy:  a six.
The authoress in her non-snowbound jewelry/silversmithing studio.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

April 2013 Round of reviews

I say April 2013, but it with eleven titles having at least a rough draft review in existence, a twelfth that I am 75%+ finished reading, and a few others I have started, it may stretch some ways into May. 
The current book review tab is overloaded, so I am going to have to start a second review tab.  The only logic to how the books are placed within the tabs, is the order which I reviewed them in.
There is no overarching theme to this series.  Because we finished a "foreign" (non-British, non-United States) review series last, these wind up all being by British or American authors.  There is a less dystopia in this series and more crash-style apocalypses.  The one obvious exception (McCarthy's) is on some levels grimmer and more apocalyptic than the collapse, or post-collapse stories.
The list is the currently planned order of appearance.  The "blurb" is in most cases cribbed from the front end of the review.

Lexi Revellian's Ice Diaries is post-apocalyptic novel set in a London that has been both depopulated by a pandemic, and frozen under 20 meters of snow.

D. Robert Grixti's Sun Bleached Winter is post-apocalyptic novel set in two-years after the onset of nuclear winter from some sort of unexplained event.

K. H. Koehler's Raiju is a different sort of apocalyptic novel, and is explained by its full title: Raiju: a Kaiju Hunter Novel. Kaiju are the oversized Japanese monsters

Paul Auster's In The Country of Last Things is the story of a slow economic collapse set in an unnamed (possibly New York) city. The collapse is severe, but somewhat localized.

Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men, is a dystopian, apocalyptic themed novel of the contemporary American Southwest

Paylee Robert's Bugging Out to Nowhere, surprising given its name, a rather gradualist apocalypse-in-progress set "somewhere" in the United States. My guess is the Western slope of the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky.

Stephen Graff's River Dawn a post-apocalyptic novel set a few generations after a generalized collapse caused by global warming.

Thomas Koloniar's Cannibal Reign takes us back to one of the great original doomsday devices: the meteor strike. It's big, it's fast, and it is headed right at us. A couple people find out early, and can plan ahead, but when word leaks out it's just mayhem.

John Varley's Slow Apocalypse is an apocalypse-in-progress featuring an extreme version of peak oil: an oil eating bacteria.

Ryan Henry's Omega Zero is a pandemic apocalypse-in-progress that takes place in the vicinity of Waynesboro, Virginia at the edge of the Appalachian Mountains.

Simon Morden's They Kingdom Come is a series of linked twenty short stories that involve simultaneous apocalypse in progress: nuclear terrorism and fundamentalist dystopian government takeover.

Al Brook's 2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America I am still working on.  There is a general collapse due to our country's over extended debt, and an intergenerational dispute simmering between the younger folks, and the retired (and supported) older folks.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Chipping away volcano days

Super Volcanoes have been a popular apocalyptic scenario.  In my main review tab section I list 5 books were volcanic activity is a major culprit, and I certainly haven't read, or even seen, all of them.

This is one is billed as a science project, but one guesses that somewhere in all this is a potential energy source.

It should be noted that the Supervolcano label is not hyperbola.  Campi Flegrei is thought to be one of the big badies.  It is noteworthy for being one of the bid ones with a lot of people living around it, and it has been a little restless lately.

Edwin Cartridge, Science Magazin, 18 May 2012 (hat tip: NC)
Among the critics was Benedetto De Vivo, a geochemist at the University of Naples, who told Science in 2010 that the drilling might cause seismic activity or generate an explosion if it allowed the high-pressure supercritical fluids expected to exist at depths of about 3 kilometers or more to come into contact with magma inside the caldera. “Nobody can say how bad this explosion would be, but it could put at risk some of the surrounding population,” he said. De Vivo added that he didn’t understand why the well was to be located on the grounds of the former Bagnoli steel mill, on the western outskirts of Naples, and not farther west. (De Vivo did not state that the study might trigger an eruption of the supervolcano.)
Collaboration member Ulrich Harms of the German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam said at the time that if the drilling is done in a controlled way, “there is no risk to the public.” He pointed out that many multikilometer wells have been drilled around the world in order to extract geothermal energy, and that these have not caused explosions. He believes the project makes scientific sense: “It’s not clear if there is a volcanic risk, but it cannot be excluded, and this is why it is better to get more of an idea.”

This is the type of activity that is very susceptible to fat tail events.  I saw this one a while ago, so I am guessing that the hole-poking should be getting started soon.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lost Empires: Funan

We are back to our lost empires.  We still have a couple Pacific Island Empires left, but we are going to switch to a new area.  In this case there is a little bit better of an historical record of them because Chinese observations of them have been preserved.  But as with the other Empires/Cultures/Civilizations we have noted, the extreme extent of the loss is amazing.

The Funan Empire (~100 AD to ~500 AD) is the first in a series of large organized states that existed in Cambodia.
The cyclical quality of ancient states is abundantly evident in mainland Southeast Asia, where multiple and overlapping histories of collapse and regeneration characterized the region from the first millennium AD onward (Miriam T. Stark, From Funan to Angkor: Collapse and Regeneration in Ancient Cambodia, p144, pdf)
Speaking on the Funan:
One of the earliest and most important polities in this process emerged in the rich alluvial lowlands of the Mekong delta of southern Cambodia and Vietnam. Described in detail by visiting Chinese emissaries and linked intimately to the international maritime trade network that circulated good from China to Rome, the Mekong delta formed an economic and administrative hub in the region from the early to the mid first millennium AD. This was the time of international maritime trade, with overland and ocean routes that linked Han China with the Roman empire through South and Southeast Asia...
(next two citations reverse order)
Chinese emissaries described multiple and competing capitals that housed elites in their wooden palaces, and libraries that were filled with documents...
The indigenous documentary record for this period is thin; only three of four inscriptions, all in Sanskrit, predate the seventh century in southern Cambodia and Southern Vietnam (ibid p 149).
Without going into too many details, the Funan were somewhat like their areas Phoenicians, but a little harder to get at, and much richer hinterland to support it, they were able to maintain their own society and culture much more readily.

Much like the Phoenicians, they were highly literate, with large libraries.

Also, like the Phoenicians, we know almost nothing of their writing.  If they had a Plato, Socrates, or Shakespeare, it is all lost.

No barbarians came storming over the border, so much of the agricultural-farming system remained in place, or at least recovered quickly.  But after the Funan, their was very little trade with outside areas, and Cambodia started turning inward.  What exactly happened is obscure enough that it is difficult for the amateur interloper (myself) to even hazard an educated guess.  Some suggest Brahman forces from the south moved in, some Khmer  (Chenia) from the north.  That it is that much in contention further indicates how obscure this once highly literate group have become.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Dystopia today - drive by elephant shootings

I keep forgetting about this one.  I saw it first in my hard copy of the Wall Street Journal.
As we know from our reading, wandering elephants are potential post-apocalyptic scenery, so I felt this little bit of news was on point.

Ringling Bros. Elephant Hit By Bullet in Drive-By Shooting
Authorities say a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus elephant was hit by a bullet in a drive-by shooting in Tupelo, Miss.

Fortunately the poor gal was not hurt badly. In all the discussions as to work which better, a 9mm pistol, or .45 ACP pistol round, none of them take elephants into account.
There has been no follow up stories, so I am not sure if the perpetrators have been caught.
Which we review here

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

War Coming

I am still in the middle of cleaning up book reviews.  So a bit of fluff.

Barry Rithholtz has a post where he notes that a number of economic advisers are warning about a variety of warlike conditions.  And by warlike, they mean the of the potentially Roman (presumably IIII) type.

Top Economic Advisers Forecast War and Unrest
Barry Rithholtz, Big Picture, 13 April 2013

I am not impressed.  A lot of hand waving.  Roubini saying that the Great Depression lead to World War 2 is a little bit like saying that anything that occurs after something else is caused by it.  Mother's milk (or formulu) is to blame for everything.
The "Chart of War" is stunning.  It lists an oversized backwater war (Vietnam) and ignores a war with direct fighting between today's super powers (Korean War) which happens to be at an up-peak, or the major round of wars in 1905 (Beor War, and Russo-Japanese) that are at a mid-peak.
The really big wars as often as not seem start in some back corner world and seem inevitable only in retrospect.  The Seven Years War ,which in total was 9 year long, and is often stated as the first global war, started in the outback of the U.S. Colonies in what we call the French and Indian War
Note, the name The Nine Years War, was already taken, and the Central European part, with Frederick the Great, was seven years.  It is odd to think of Frederick the Great, and George Washington fighting on allied sides during a "World War": but they did.  George Washington helped get it started, and I guess you could say, Frederick finished it.

Monday, April 15, 2013

If death rates return to "normal"

 Normal in this case means the greater human history that does not include that tiny fraction that is the 200 to 300 time span known as the modern era.

In reading The Field and the Forge, Population, Production, and Power in the Pre-Industrial West, John Landers sets the table by describing expected life expectancies during the time period as compared to now.
The century after 1870 saw unprecedented changes  in the mortality as well as fertility of western populations. The average expectation of life at birth, which had rarely been much above forty years and often was much less, almost doubled, and the structure of mortality rates by age and cause of death was transformed. Previously some 20 to 30 per cent of live-born babies in most populations had died before their first birthday, and the proportion surviving to age 15 was rarely outside the range of 35 to 50 percent.  By the 1970s mortality risks had all but disappeared from infancy and childhood, and younger adult levels had declined dramatically...
Pre-transitional mortality regimes were all dominated by early death from infectious disease but they were far from uniform in other respects. Overall mortality levels fluctuated considerably,  in both the long and short term, and there was a great deal of spatial variation.  English life expectancy stood at a little over forty years on the eve of the transition, having apparently fluctuated between the ages of roughly thirty and forty over the preceding three centuries...English communities on the whole enjoyed mortality advantages over their early modern continental neighbours, most of whose life expectancies are likely to ranged from the high twenties to the mid-thirties [notations deleted, page 28].
He goes on to notes that the peaks and troughs in the demographic cycle (in simple terms the Malthusian boom and bust cycle) of as much as 20 to 30 percent.  Severe disease episodes, such as the Black Death would cause very sudden severe drops: as much as fifty percent being likely.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Pandemic planning

I got an email advertising an audio conference on the subject of business planning for influenza pandemic:

Pandemic Planning for Financial Institutions, 20 February, 2013
Host: Edward J. DeMarco, Director Operational Risk
Every organization needs a comprehensive crisis management plan as a component of its business continuity plan (BCP). Learn the distinctive characteristics associated with crisis management planning and organizational responses to an influenza pandemic.
Influenza pandemic planning poses unique challenges to the financial industry, requiring a critical need to include a pandemic-specific focus in business continuity planning efforts. This audio conference discusses the particular issues faced by the financial industry, and provides insights and elements that will support better planning and scenario building.
In an influenza pandemic, it will be people rather than infrastructure that will become unavailable, and it is the financial firms, with multiple offices and highly centralized support functions, which will be the most at risk.
The audio conference will walk you though possible scenarios, and will provide you with a crisis management response-planning framework. Prior to the audio conference you will receive a Crisis Management Operational Risk Control Self-Assessment, which will permit you to assess your organization's ability to respond to an influenza pandemic.
You will:
  • Gain an overview of crisis management and potential impact.
  • Learn the phases of an Influenza pandemic.
  • Establish communication plans and infrastructure dependency plans.
  • Understand the benefits of cross-training employees.
  • Establish telecommuting plans.
Of course at the time of year of the conference, it probably was a good idea that it is an audio conference, since we don't want to be passing around to many viruses.

For individuals, pandemic situations are very difficult to deal with because most of us still need to pay bills, and cannot afford the extended periods of time that these incidents can last.  You won't go broke if you keep your kids out of school for two months - though you might go crazy - but, most people will have a hard time keeping their job, unless they can telecommute, or fake a maternity leave.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

More money, more life

We have commented on this issue in the past, but it keeps coming up in slightly different permutations.

My general take on matters is that as a whole, U.S. health is stagnating if not actually declining.  As this article notes, the pain is not felt evenly across the board.

Research ties economic inequality to gap in life expectancy
Michael A. Fletcher, Washington Post, 10 March 2013 (hat tip: NC)

The healthy lifestyles pay off. Women here can expect to live to be nearly 83, four years longer than they did just two decades earlier, according to research at the University of Washington. Male life expectancy is more than 78 years, six years longer than two decades ago.
But in neighboring Putnam County, life is neither as idyllic nor as long.
Incomes and housing values are about half what they are in St. Johns. And life expectancy in Putnam has barely budged since 1989, rising less than a year for women to just over 78. Meanwhile, it has crept up by a year and a half for men, who can expect to live to be just over 71, seven years less than the men living a few miles away in St. Johns.
The widening gap in life expectancy between these two adjacent Florida counties reflects perhaps the starkest outcome of the nation’s growing economic inequality: Even as the nation’s life expectancy has marched steadily upward, reaching 78.5 years in 2009, a growing body of research shows that those gains are going mostly to those at the upper end of the income ladder.

Of course as the article points out within a few conflicted paragraphs, it's not just about money, it's about life style.  I have seen access-based arguments about some of the dietary differences between economic groups, but having been at the lower end of the spectrum myself in the past, I don't buy that as a universal phenomena.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

pre-figuring the H7N9

H7N9 is the latest flu scare.

I have been working on book reviews, so I thought I would just link to the latest source material.

The New Bird Flu, and How to Read the News About It
Maryn McKenna, Wired, 5 April 2013 (hat tip: MR)
And H7N9 might not, as well. It is far too soon to say, despite the rapidly escalating case count and the reports — which came in while I was writing this — of a possible animal reservoir in pigeons and a possible human-to-human case. I have been writing about flu and possible pandemics since 1997 — for what it’s worth, I wrote the first story in the US in 1997 about that first H5N1 case in Hong Kong — and so at this early point, what I most want to say is this: We all love scary diseases. (If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this blog.) But there is a fog of war in disease emergencies, just as there is in military ones, and it is very easy to get lost in it.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Scary chart

This was  as the scary chart as posted by the Economist Brad DeLong.  He titles it:

"Less than 100,000 Payroll Jobs, a 58.5% Employment-to-Adult-Population Ratio Exactly Where It Was a Year Ago, and Labor Force Participation Down by 0.5 Percentage Points in the Past Year"

Source (hat tip nc)

Note that Mr. DeLong believes that it was a lack of serious stimulus that has sunk the economy.  While I would agree that stimulus would not have been as bad as the seriously flawed medical program we got, I think we are pretty much where we would be in any case.  We have been kicking the can down the road to some degree, but there is a very definite possibility that if that had not been done our economy would have imploded and we would have had a militia-favorite collapse scenario.  Bubbles push economies beyond the normal corrective patterns.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

John S. Wilson has released Traveler

There is a new release from John S. Wilson out.  It is in the same world as his earlier novel Joshua, but is not directly related to that story.
It is is called Traveler (Kindle, paperback): the blurb:
America - the near future - the United States has experienced a complete economic and social collapse, clean water and abundant food, relics of a dying age. Small groups of survivors struggle to stay alive in a world rampant with starvation, disease, and violence. "Travelers" live amongst them, savage gangs that roam the countryside, always searching for fresh prey.
Joshua was a mix of Solar Flare meets the Road.  This one sounds a little different: at least the little bit of the teaser I read looks like it is survival from the bad guys point of view.  I liked Joshua, so I am interested in this one.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Bubbles keep a burstin!

The Dutch this time.

Which is only surprising if you aren't paying close attention.  The Danish citizenry are also deeply in debt, and have a robust economy masking a lot of debt.

Underwater: The Netherlands Falls Prey to Economic Crisis
Cristoph Shult and Anne Seith, Spiegel, 2 April 2013 (hat tip: NC)
Underwater" is a good description of the crisis in a country where large parts of the territory are below sea level. Ironically, the Netherlands, once a model economy, now faces the kind of real estate crisis that has only affected the United States and Spain until now. Banks in the Netherlands have also pumped billions upon billions in loans into the private and commercial real estate market since the 1990s, without ensuring that borrowers had sufficient collateral.
Private homebuyers, for example, could easily find banks to finance more than 100 percent of a property's price. "You could readily obtain a loan for five times your annual salary," says Scheepens, "and all that without a cent of equity." This was only possible because property owners were able to fully deduct mortgage interest from their taxes....
The Netherlands is still one of the most competitive countries in the European Union, but now that the real estate bubble has burst, it threatens to take down the entire economy with it. Unemployment is on the rise, consumption is down and growth has come to a standstill. Despite tough austerity measures, this year the government in The Hague will violate the EU deficit criterion, which forbid new borrowing of more than 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
... The prices of commercial and private real estate, which were absurdly high for a time, are sinking dramatically. The once-booming economy is stalling.
"A vicious cycle develops in such situations," says Jörg Rocholl, president of the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin and a member of the council of academic advisors to the German Finance Ministry. "Customers have too much debt and cannot service their loans. This causes problems for the banks, which are no longer supplying enough money to the economy. This leads to an economic downturn and high unemployment, which makes loan repayment even more difficult."
The official unemployment rate has already climbed to 7.7 percent. In reality, it is probably much higher...
Note that these little collapses are going on all over Europe.   The focus is mostly on sovereign debt, but households, compared to their payment capabilities, and banks are in equally hot water

from here

The lower green line (triangles for the color blind) is households: but it is well over 50% of GDP.  This chart is from 2008 but the situation has not gotten better.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Emoting the economic collapse?

A new study has found that over the long course of time, we have become less emotive in our writing.  Although we seem like a pretty weepy bunch to me, and the study does confirm that Americans are more weepy than Brits, anyone who has read H.P. Lovecraft's adjective larded horror stories (pulp fare of the 1920s) will understand that we are more restrained in our language today.
But there some other interesting items.

Overwritten, Maybe, But Less Overwrought
Tom Jacobs, 20 March 2013 (ht: Freakonomics)

Researchers mining a Google books database report a decline in mood-related words in English-language books over the past 100 years.
Both of those trends are fascinating, for different reasons. Recent research has found a strong link between disgust sensitivity and social conservatism. Does the decline in references to disgust signal an increasingly liberal society, at least on issues such as gay marriage?
It’s also worth noting that the rise in fear-related terms coincides with what has been called “the great risk shift,” in which middle-class incomes have stagnated even as employment has become less secure. That insecurity seems to be reflected in our writing.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Giving it all away: Steps to success?

Cheer leading our way through dystopia.

As the corporate landscape become bleaker and bleaker with the winner take all CEOs, COOs, and CFOs grabbing up the vast majority of the retained company profits.  The corporate Napoleon Hills are having to work harder at finding ways to keep their nose to the grindstone so that they can get ahead.  With the reality that, within the corporate world, unless you are on the upward track within 2 years of corporate world arrival, you have about as much chance of getting to the top as you do finding the winning lottery ticket on the sidewalk.

Giving isn't the secret
Mathbabe, 1 April 2013 (hat tip: NC)
The latest idea, is "strategic giving."  Selflessly giving of yourself so that people will notice and appreciate you and move you along to where you want to go.
In other words, [Adam] Grant (NYT link)... is selling us a message of working really hard with the underlying promise that it will make us successful, especially if we do it because we just love working really hard.
First, it really matters what you work on and who you are helping. If you are not a strategic helper, you end up wasting your time for no good reason. How many times have we seen people who end up doing their job plus someone else’s job, without any thanks or extra money?
If you work really hard on a project which nobody cares about, nobody appreciates it. True.
And if you aren’t a political animal, able to smell out the projects and people that are worth working on extra hard and helping, then you’re pretty much out of luck.
But let’s take one step back from the terrible advice being given by Grant and Sandberg. What are their actual goals? Is it possible that they really think just by working extra hard at whatever shit corporate job we have will leave us  successful and fulfilled? Are they that blind to other people’s options? Do they really know nobody in their private lives who found fulfillment by quitting their dead-end corporate job and became a poor but happy poet?

As Yves Smith noted, it's a lot like the networking meme.  The idea of getting to know people only for what they can do for you.  What was once thought of as rather creepy, is know thought of as an ideal.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


I am surprised that you don't see more of this.  Although access to firearms is theoretically restricted in Mexico, that obviously doesn't stop the bad guys.  And since so many of the police are aligned with the bad guys, it is not clear why people would be particularly concerned about their opinion.  I am not trying to criticize, just clarifying my confusion.

Mexican Vigilantes Seize Town, Arrest Police
Borderland Beat, 27 March 2013 (Sourced from: NY Times, Maspormas, Miami Times)
Hundreds of armed vigilantes have taken control of a town on a major highway in the Pacific coast state of Guerrero, arresting local police officers and searching homes after a vigilante leader was killed. Several opened fire on a car of Mexican tourists headed to the beach for Easter week.

Members of the area's self-described "community police" say more than 1,500 members of the force were stopping traffic Wednesday at improvised checkpoints in the town of Tierra Colorado, which sits the highway connecting Mexico City to Acapulco. They arrested 12 police and the former director of public security in the town after a leader of the state's vigilante movement was slain on Monday.
As I understand it, the areas with the largest vigilanti movements, are also the areas where the citizens have a history of confrontation with the central government.  Other areas report vigilanti justice, but that seems to be of a smaller ad hoc nature, rather than community based.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Apocalypse Egypt?

Maybe I should call "Collapse Egypt"?  After, all it is an Apocalypse when it happens to you, and a collapse when it happens to someone else.  To the best of my knowledge, I have no non-ancient Egyptian connection.  But fighting over gasoline is a pretty common start to a lot of apocalyptic novels.
Egypt is running out of cash to import fuel and food.  The ongoing strife that got rid of their strong man (and U.S. allie) Mubarak, has torpedoed the tourist economy and makes for to much uncertainty for foreign investment.
Egypt's economy is so heavily socialized and subsidized, it can be difficult to know what exactly is going on.
The government is blaming black marketeers, and hording for the current shortage, and are trying various schemes to close of illegal channels of acquisition. 

Short of Money, Egypt Sees Crisis on Fuel and Food
David K. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, 31 March 2013
A fuel shortage has helped send food prices soaring. Electricity is blacking out even before the summer. And gas-line gunfights have killed at least five people and wounded dozens over the past two weeks.
Independent analysts say that the growing shortage of fuel and the fear about wheat imports now pose the gravest threats to Egypt's fragile stability. "It has the potential to make things very, very bad," said Yasser el-Shimy, an analyst for the International Crisis Group.
Egypt has held two years of unsuccessful talks with the I.M.F., and the current government is still balking at the politically painful package of overhauls - even as rising prices and unemployment make those measures more difficult with each passing day.
"They are operating on the notion that Egypt is too big to be allowed to fail, that the U.S. and the West will step in," Mr. Shimy said. "They think Egypt has a right to get the loan, and I think they will probably keep pushing all the way."
If diesel is still scarce next month when the harvest begins, "There will be a revolution of the hungry," said Adbel Moneim Abdel Hady, 40, another wheat farmer.
At the empty Mobil gas station in town, attendants said profiteers, hoarders and desperate farmers were already threatening them with knives, clubs and shotguns. At harvest time, "People are going to kill each other," said Hamdy Hassan, 37, a truck driver hanging out at the shuttered station.