Thursday, November 28, 2013

Interesting observation on collapse journalism

There is a journalism of collapse within the mainstream media.  It is not the warnings of the survivalists waiting for the EOTWAWKI (End of the World as We know It), but the simple observations of the slowly waning prospects of the common American.  Thomas Frank has some interesting observations, in his review of The Unwinding: The Inner History of the New America, about the net results of all this writing.
Thomas Franks, Public Books, 21 November 2013 (hat tip: MR)
This is a powerful and important work, but even so, I can’t help but think that it has arrived very late in the day. Ask yourself: how many books have been published describing the destruction of the postwar middle-class economic order and the advent of the shiny, plutocratized new one? Well, since I myself started writing about the subject in the mid-1990s—and thus earned a place on every book publicist’s mailing list—there have been at least a thousand, not counting the various management texts and libertarian sermons in which the advent of that new economy is not awful but magnificent! Glorious! An ideal toward which humanity must strive with our every muscle!
[He goes on to list many examples].
Two things need to be said about this tsunami of sad. First, that the vast size of it, when compared to the effect that it has had—close to nothing—should perhaps call into question the utility of journalism and argument and maybe even prose itself. The gradual Appalachification of much of the United States has been a well-known phenomenon for 20 years now; it is not difficult to understand why and how it happened; and yet the ship of state sails serenely on in the same political direction as though nothing had changed.
I had not really thought about the extent of the not quite apocalyptic literature.
What is very telling is his paragraph in response to the optimism for trend reversals to take place at some point down the road.  Let me be blunt here: this is hollow stuff. To believe that everything will reverse itself spontaneously and yield a “new cohesion” because of some imaginary cycle of history is pure superstition. It’s a kind of middlebrow dialectic, in which the sad is eternally balanced by the happy and everything always works out in the end. Worse, it’s a species of reassurance little better than a motivational poster. Hang in there, baby—Friday’s coming!
I doubt Mr. Frank is a prepper or survivalist, He is a writer for Harper's Magazine.  But it is interesting to see such main stream denunciation of the status quo going forward.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Least survivable Star Wars figurines

Io9 has a list of 16 most useless Star War figurines ever produced.
The list is rather funny, but I decided to look at this list in a different context.  Within the hurly burly dangerous world of Star Wars, which of these action-fellows is the least survivable in a SHTF type situation.

I narrowed it down to two:

Willow Rood

This character epitomizes how insane Star Wars fans — and thus Star Wars toys — can get. Willrow Rood is a character in The Empire Strikes Back, if you can count a guy who runs across the frame after Lando Calrissian tells everyone to evacuate Cloud City to be a character. Admittedly, he did become a bit of a fan-favorite because during his triumphant scene, he's carrying what is obviously a 1979 ice cream maker, not even slightly disguised, lest it fall into the hands of the Empire. Again, what is fun for the fans would be devastatingly sad to an actual kid.
The list is full of possible failures, but the guy who grabs the ice cream maker in the bug out situation seems doomed from the start.

Or next choice is a more subtle choice:

Star Tours Officer
Another powerful example of how insane Star Wars toy collectors are — they bought figures of the cast of Star Tours, the ride from the Disney Parks. In fact, they released a complete set of the cast, including Chewbacca, alien Ree-Yees, Kaink the Ewok, Teek the macaque-looking alien, and this guy, the Star Tours Officer who manages "the tour." He looks like an insane Chinese bootleg of an actual Imperial officer figure. But at least we know why the Emperor was forbidden the rest of his officers from wearing red.
I could be wrong, but a Star Wars action figure whose sole purpose is to give exhibit tours in Florida is going to survive about ten seconds in the Star Wars world.  His one ability will be that he will always note the appropriate exit points, and the locations of the bathrooms, of any buildings he enters.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

School anti-exercise initiatives

Somehow this just seems apocalyptic.
The father, as a pedestrian, was told he had to stand in line with the cars.
Gawker, 19 November 2013 (hat tip: NC)
A Tennessee father was arrested last week after objecting to a school policy prohibiting him from picking up his children on foot ahead of parents picking their children up by car.
Footage recorded last Thursday by Jim Howe's fiancée shows the father of two trying to reason with South Cumberland Elementary's School Resource Officer Avery Aytes by explaining to him that it makes no sense for him to wait behind a mile-long line of cars just so he can walk his kids home.
What these local police foolishness stories usually seem to add up to is authorities unwillingness to brook any arguments with their decisions. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pagan survivalism

How does a pagan cult survive?
It is not a question I had thought too much about.
Pagans, as with most groups of voluntary association have the typical issue of having a small group, the inner circle if you will, who do most of the heavy lifting, and inspirational work.  Since most pagans are not independently wealthy, the obvious question is how to fund the activities of this inner circle and keep it going.
Rob has some interesting ideas.
Rob's Magic Blog, 11 February 2009
One method is the pyramid scheme. You have a short few who do the serious work, the inner circle, and this group is funded by the much larger outer circle. Everyone only has to put in a little, and that little bit is enough to fund the smaller inner circle group and keep it operating.
The problem is the inner circle will eventually get too big. Generally the allure of these groups is spiritual progressions, particularly making it into the inner-circle where the best secrets are. Now as an example, if you figure it takes five outer-circle members to fund each inner circle member, that means every time you promote a member to the inner circle your outer circle has to grow by five members. When the group’s growth peaks there’s a lot of room to hand out inner-circle promotions, but eventually it slows down. It might seem as if one could sustain the group indefinitely by sparsely handing out inner-circle promotions, but then we get into another problem. You don’t need a gross gain of five members, you need a net gain. And if you aren’t promoting them into the inner-circle fast enough, they’ll leave and go to a different group. In the end the group falls in on itself.
The CoS (Church of Satan) was not the first group to employ this method, but it was the first to effectively combine it with product branding to circumvent its worst flaw. The word Satan draws in a lot of members. And these people don’t want to be promoted or get enlightened. They come for other reasons. They want to show off to their friends, be bad-ass, be a rebel, screw with their parents, fuck with Christianity, whatever. They pay their dues, and the Church makes them a member, even gives them a card to show off to other people. And in turn these dues fund the magickal work, and in some cases even the private income, of a select few Satanists. It’s a method that could possibly be sustained indefinitely, because the outer-circle is large whereas the inner-circle can be kept small.

Rob goes on to mention a few others.  I will bullet point them to lay them out a bit more clearly
  • You could go the route of fleecing the rich. Basically you find well-to-do types and convince them to enter into your group, and then get them to make large donations to it.
  • There is the ‘some second rate things in life are free’ types. These people hold meetings and rituals in parks and at local restaurants and bookstores. The very rarely do any real work.
  • There’s also the pay to play model employed by groups like the New Agers, but this only works if, like the New Agers, the average member of the group is upper middle class with money to burn on books, tapes, seminars, vacations, etc..
I am sure there are other methods.  The simple membership method of a typical commune setup comes to mind.  But given the survival rate of your typical commune, I am not sure if that is the best route to go.
I am sure there are many pagan folks who are not within this cynical mindset.  But just as their are Christian groups who regularly give up all their worldly possessions, in the world of here and now, if you don't follow some sort of long term funding/membership retention strategy, your group will not be the one that continues through the ages.  Of course, for the truly spiritual, that may not be an issue, but it is a relevant issue of survival bias when looking at existing religious institutions.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

It's not just the rising waters

That global warming might bring tropical diseases north is not exactly new news.  What I find most interesting about this article is that it also includes discussions of the impact of an economic downturn.

While you were worrying about rising sea levels…
David Noriega, Remapping Debate, 25 September 2013
Milder winters may also affect the territorial range of vectors — how far north different kinds of mosquitoes are able to survive.
Currently in southern Florida, “we have about a dozen species of mosquitoes that are not found farther north than the Everglades,” said Burkett-Cadena. “Many of these species are vectors of human pathogens.”
As winters grow milder further north, more of the Florida peninsula will become hospitable to these disease-carrying mosquitoes, Burkett-Cadena added.
So far so good, but then we get into the interesting parts:
A real estate nightmare
Increased health problems are serious enough. But those problems have typically gone hand in glove with depressed real estate markets.
In 1997, the population of Churchill County in Nevada began to see an abnormal rate of pediatric leukemia. Lucas Davis, now an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley studied the county and found that the health risk led to a significant decline in housing prices.
There is no explanation for the problems noted.  It could be a statistical blip.  But as the article notes, public perception can be as important as reality. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Death of the handmade

You see, the problem with the handmade item is that you just can't make them fast enough to supply the demand out their at a reasonable price.
As an illustration of this, Etsy, the website known as a go to marketplace for handmade items, is know allowing people to have their items manufactured and shipped by third parties.

Etsy’s Industrial Revolution
Elizabeth Wayland Barber, New York Times, 11 November 2013 (hat tip: Freakonomics)
[L]ast month, Etsy announced new policies that would allow sellers to apply to peddle items they produced with manufacturing partners, as well as to hire staff and use outside companies to ship their goods — all provided that the sellers demonstrated the “authorship, responsibility and transparency” intrinsic to handmade items.
By easing the definition of “handmade,” Etsy is trying to accommodate individual vendors who are having more and more trouble keeping up with their growing volume of customers. But many Etsy users are outraged by what they see as Etsy’s abandonment of its commitment to human handicraft, with some jumping ship for purer artisan sites like Zibbet.
Yet Etsy’s latest move is entirely in line with the history of handmade goods, a history that is more complicated than the simple term “handmade” implies. The artisans have run head-on into the problem that led to the Industrial Revolution: Making things by hand is slow. Really slow.
The author of the article, an archeologist and linguist,   goes on to note that machinery (like spinning wheels and pottery wheels) are also machines, and thus machinery has had a hand in making craft items for a longtime.  This is of course splitting hairs.  I think most people understand the distinction between individually crafted items using machine assistance, and the modern assembly line manufacturing process using interchangeable parts and process broken down into specific units of production.
The very self limiting nature of individually crafted items is very much a part of their appeal.  That there is a rarity associated with them is why today they are the province of the middle and upper class consumers.  Pricing pressures would simply make this even more so the case.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Old deathly ills invited back

The pandemic plague is a favorite apocalyptic scenario for authors to spin.  It is almost always some sort of new variant of an existing disease.  It is not generally the some desease that we have already conquered.
As a secondary note, in the modern culture that we live in the general meme is that it is the tea party folks who are the anti-scientific crowd.  As one researcher found out, this is not an idea that holds up well against the data.

A lot depends on which anti-scientific set of beliefs you partake of.  Here a really pissed off Julia Ioffe of the New Republic is ranting at the folks on her own side.

I've Got Whooping Cough. Thanks a Lot, Jenny McCarthy.
Julia Ioffe, New Republic, 11 November 2013 (hat tip: Gene Expression)
It would be an understatement to say that pertussis and other formerly conquered childhood diseases like measles and mumps are making a resurgence. Pertussis, specifically, has come roaring back. From 2011 to 2012, reported pertussis incidences rose more than threefold in 21 states. (And that’s just reported cases. Since we’re not primed to be on the look-out for it, many people may simply not realize they have it.) In 2012, the CDC said that the number of pertussis cases was higher than at any point in 50 years. That year, Washington state declared an epidemic; this year, Texas did, too. Washington, D.C. has also seen a dramatic increase. This fall, Cincinnati reported a 283 percent increase in pertussis. It’s even gotten to the point that pertussis has become a minor celebrity cause: NASCAR hero Jeff Gordon and Sarah Michelle Gellar are now encouraging people to get vaccinated.
How responsible are these non-vaccinating parents for my pertussis? Very. A study recently published in the journal Pediatrics indicated that outbreaks of these antediluvian diseases clustered where parents filed non-medical exemptions—that is, where parents decided not to vaccinate their kids because of their personal beliefs. The study found that areas with high concentrations of conscientious objectors were 2.5 times more likely to have an outbreak of pertussis. (To clarify: I was vaccinated against pertussis as a child, but the vaccine wears off by adulthood, which, until recently, was rarely a problem because the disease wasn't running rampant because of people not vaccinating their kids.)
So thanks a lot, anti-vaccine parents. You took an ethical stand against big pharma and the autism your baby was not going to get anyway, and, by doing so, killed some babies and gave me, an otherwise healthy 31-year-old woman, the whooping cough in the year 2013. I understand your wanting to raise your own children as you see fit, science be damned, but you're selfishly jeopardizing more than your own children. Carry your baby around in a sling, feed her organic banana mash while you drink your ethical coffee, fine, but what gives you denialists the right to put my health at risk—to cause me to catch a debilitating, humiliating, and frightening cough that, two months after I finished my last course of antibiotics (how’s that for supporting big pharma?), still makes me convulse several times a day like some kind of tragic nineteenth-century heroine?
I should note that I have run into a fair number of folks on the right who are suspicious of immunization.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Collapse of Empires: Nordic Bronze Age

The Nordic Bronze age was a time (1730-760 BC) was a time of prosperity in the far north.  It is yet another example of a group of people who were very successful in their day, being almost vanishing after their collapse.   Although some of their religion likely made it into the proto-German cultures of Jastorf and Pomerania, most of what we know of them is from archeological and linguistic investigations.

Proto Germanic
from Jean Manco, Ancestral Journeys, Thames & Hudson LTD, London , 2013, pps. 210-211.
...[T]he Nordic Bronze Age [was] the cradle of Proto-Germanic [language and colure]. It was a comfortable cradle for many a year. The Nordic Bronze Age began in a welcoming warmth. An earlier climate shift made southern Scandinavia as warm as present-day central Germany. Groups of people from the wide spread Corded Ware and Bell Beaker [pottery] cultures had moved north into Jutland and the coasts of what are now Norway and Sweden. There they melded with descendants of the Funnel Beaker and Ertebolle people into a rich Bronze Age culture. The wealth and technical excellence of its bronze objects is impressive. Trade was important to this society. So was seafaring. Voyages linked Jutland and Scandia into one communication web.
However, the climate gradually deteriorated, bringing increasingly wetter and colder times to Jutland, culminating in so steep a decline in the decades around 700BC that much agricultural land was abandoned and bog built up . Pollen history reveals a similar picture in southern Sweden. Around 500 BC forest encroached on areas that had long been farmland.  Meanwhile an influence from eastern Sweden reached the southern Baltic shores in the Late Bronze Age, providing a clue to where some of the Scandinavian farmers were going.
The advancing cold left most of their homeland lightly populated with Sami reindeer herders pushing into some of the abandoned areas.   In Scandinavia, this period is often called the Findless Age due to the lack of archeological finds (source). The cold spell, no doubt caused a lot of tensions with the iron age Celts on their southern border.  In events unrecorded in history, the two groups appear to have merged in an area just south of the previous Nordic territories and formed the group that was to give rise to the Germanic folk.  The Nordic Germans and Swedes apparently moved back into Scandinavia at some later point when the climate warmed up again.
from wikipedia

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Collapse of Empires: Early Bronze Age Europe

We have already discussed the earlier collapse of the farming communities in (what is now) Eastern Europe.  There was a second collapse that effected Europe a couple thousand years later.
What is most important about this collapse is that it was in the vacuum of this collapse that the Indo-European groups moved into Europe.  These groups would latter bring us every major European group with only the Basques, Finish, and Hungarians coming from a different language group.  Starting in an area roughly analogous to the Ukraine-Crimean these groups moved west, and also Southeast into Asia.  Earlier it was thought that they came in as conquering tribes; but it is likely that at least some of their effectiveness was due to the depleted conditions of the existing

Hard Times Followed Booms for Europe's Ancient Farmers
Dan Vergano, National Geographic, 1 October 2013
A later, smaller boom happened around 2800 B.C. Neither the busts nor the booms appear tied to climate conditions, which surprised the researchers. A March study in the journal Science, for example, had pointed to drought playing a large role in the collapse of the classic Maya civilization around 800 A.D.
"I believe their results will be the origin of numerous new studies," says population modeling expert Neus Isern of Spain's Universitat de Girona."Why did the Neolithic economy crash if there was no natural disaster behind it? Was the Neolithic economy not as sustainable as we assume?"
Downey speculates that early farmers may have hastened soil degradation through deforestation and overuse of soils, while also raising the possibility of disease triggering population declines. Another possibility is that migration may have played a role in booms and busts, says archaeologist Ron Pinhasi of University College Dublin.Link to paper (pdf)
As with many of the other societal collapses we have discussed previously, the remnants of these groups were noted, but little has been puzzled out about the details of their civilization.  They were the builders of the large monuments (Stonehenge), and did not have large cities, or possibly not even large political organizations, but there was some consistency to their lifestyle.  Until the introduction of genetic research, it was not even clear who heavily replaced this native stock was by the incoming groups.  Genetically, traces remain, but it is obvious that their culture was submerged by the newcomers.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Guns and revolutionary violence

I am suspicious of folks who think that an armed populous is not a check on government actions.  I would agree that it is not in of itself sufficient, but might very well be a necessary condition in such a large spread out country.
Note that the following comes from the left, the group (within the United States) that at one time was the most likely to be providers of revolutionary violence.

Modern Violence, Resistance and the Calculus of Revolution
Ian Welsh, 6 November 2013 (hat tip: NC)
Guns alone mean little.
America’s founding fathers wanted Americans to have guns and be in well regulated militias.  In this, as in many things, they were wise.  A militia, properly oriented towards the community it serves, is an organized body of citizens who have military training and are used to fighting as a group.  They have ties to the community, and there is not more than one militia per community, they also have ties to whatever local government exists.  If enough of these militias decide, as groups, to resist the government, they can do so.
The Arab Spring events indicate that you don't need violence to have a successful revolution.  The only problem with this thinking is that everywhere that the military decided to put down the revolution, they either put it down, or it collapsed into a bloody civil war.   Weapons in the hands of the revolutionaries didn't create victory, but they did allow them to stave off immediate defeat.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

New Mexico offers free medical services

Presumably as part of an effort to get on board with the new medical regime, New Mexico is offering free medical services.  And like the federal program, you get it whether you like it or not.

Man Seeks Millions After N.M. Police Force Colonoscopy in Drug Search 
Steven Nelson, U.S. News, 5 November 2013 (hat tip: NC)
Police forced New Mexico scrap metal tradesman David Eckert to undergo two digital anal probes, three enema insertions and ultimately a colonoscopy after officers incorrectly assumed he was concealing drugs, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on his behalf.
No drugs were found by police or doctors at the Gila Regional Medical Center in Silver City, N.M. The exhaustive search began when Eckert allegedly rolled through a stop sign in Deming, N.M., on Jan. 2, 2013.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Libyan collapse

Arab Spring is starting to look even more like Arab collapse.

The autocratic governments that were overthrown were not exactly brilliantly run organizations, but they likely could have kept kicking the can of problems down the road a little longer if they hadn't been forced out of office.

Libya Is So Chaotic That It's Struggling To Buy Bread
Ulf Laessing, Reuters, 6 November 2013 (hat tip: NC)
TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Payments problems, chaos and corruption are hampering Libyan importers from making big deals to buy wheat, another setback as the country spins out of control two years after dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled by rebels and NATO warplanes.
In the latest disruption, the biggest wheat importer Mahatan Tripoli, which supplies most of the capital's bread, says it may have to put off its next major wheat purchase unless the state starts paying it nearly $100 million owed for previous imports.
For months, rogue militia members have disrupted Libya's oil exports, the main source of funding for a state that feeds its six million people with subsidized bread handed out for as little as 2 U.S. cents a loaf.
To my mind, this is the threat that the recent near-implosion of the U.S. government was leaning toward.