Friday, October 29, 2010

How to Make Survival Friends

I was reading a very interesting article in the Harvard Magazine by Craig Lambert on the work of Amy Cuddy titled The Psyche on Automatic The Psyche On Automatic
Her work involves how people come to perceive others, and what actions they are likely to take based on those perceptions.  As times get more difficult, and margin for error can get to be very small on the personal level, I think it would do many people well to learn more about these human tendencies.
Amy Cuddy
The two traits are judged differently.  A single negative example of competence will not change someone’s overall estimation of you.  But a single example of cruelty or rudeness will very quickly strike you down in the warmth category.  In general this is because people can fake friendliness to a degree, but it is very hard to fake competence.

And of course it gets even more muddled.  People do a lot of their judging based on stereo types.    We link to cues about race, and gender, age, etc.  And oddly enough we stereotypically view competence and warmth as being inversely proportional.  So if someone is very friendly, they will often be viewed as less competent. “If he were really that good, he wouldn’t have to be so nice to people”.
As Ms. Cuddy noted, warmth will get you further than competence.  If you are viewed as warm and incompetent, you will be pitied.  But if you are cold and competent, you will be envied. 
A really dangerous group to be in is an envied group who does not have the power to protect itself.  Groups that have been targeted for genocide in the past have often been fit into this stereotype.  So in a chaotic situation were rules are breaking down, you do not want to be seen as unfriendly or the larger group will come after you.  You also may want to avoid placing yourself within a group with cold or incompetent reputations.  So you may want to tone down that overly hostile battle gear you wear around.

Though snap judgments get no respect, they are not so much a bad habit as a fact of life. Our first impressions register far too quickly for any nuanced weighing of data: “Within less than a second, using facial features, people make what are called ‘spontaneous trait inferences,’” says Amy Cuddy.
Social psychologist Cuddy, an assistant professor of business administration, investigates how people perceive and categorize others. Warmth and competence, she finds, are the two critical variables. They account for about 80 percent of our overall evaluations of people (i.e., Do you feel good or bad about this person?), and shape our emotions and behaviors toward them. Her warmth/competence analysis illuminates why we hire Kurt instead of Kyra, how students choose study partners, who gets targeted for sexual harassment, and how the “motherhood penalty” and “fatherhood bonus” exert their biases in the workplace. It even suggests why we admire, envy, or disparage certain social groups, elect politicians, or target minorities for genocide.
Warmth—does this person feel warm or cold to me?—is the first and most important interpersonal perception. It no doubt has roots in survival instincts: determining if another human, or indeed any organism, is “friend or foe” can mean life or death.
Competence is assayed next: how capable is someone of carrying out those intentions? “If it’s an enemy who’s competent,” Cuddy explains, “we probably want to be vigilant.” Surprisingly, in their self-perceptions, individuals value competence over warmth. “We want other people to be warm, but we want to be competent,” she says. “We’d rather have people respect us than like us.” (Cuddy thinks this human tendency represents a mistaken judgment: “Social connections will take you farther than respect.”)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Collapsed Empires: Zimbabwe

Great Zimbabwe was a large kingdom/empire that flourished for about 300 years from around 1100 to around 1450.  In terms of ancient kingdoms, this is not an extremely long period of time.  But the Sub-African urbanized areas had the misfortune of dealing with highly variable climate patterns.  While not always a "game killer" by themselves, timed to a peak demographic period already under stress and they could be.

The fall of Mapungubwe was followed by the build-up of a new centre, the Great Zimbabwe, situated towards the east and along the southeast escarpment, where the amount of rain generally is more favourable. At first, Great Zimbabwe developed slowly, with later rapid growth coinciding with, and possibly favoured by, better climatic conditions. It survived one period of drought and then flourished, with a rapidly growing population, between 1400 and 1420 AD, a period of wetter, warmer conditions (Figure 2). The collapse of great Zimbabwe coincides with a rapid decline in precipitation and temperature at 1450 AD. Water shortage and famines, together with political instability and decline in trade, have been suggested as the causes for the abandonment of Great Zimbabwe (Parsons, 1993).
alternate link if the above one is buggy

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Crumbly Edifice of Modern Medicine

Many sites involved with the difficulties of our modern world are focused on our current economic situation.  But there are other problem areas within the modern edifice.

From a recent Atlantic article by David H. Freedman  Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science
[Dr. John Ioannidis is] what’s known as a meta-researcher, and he’s become one of the world’s foremost experts on the credibility of medical research. He and his team have shown, again and again, and in many different ways, that much of what biomedical researchers conclude in published studies—conclusions that doctors keep in mind when they prescribe antibiotics or blood-pressure medication, or when they advise us to consume more fiber or less meat, or when they recommend surgery for heart disease or back pain—is misleading, exaggerated, and often flat-out wrong. He charges that as much as 90 percent of the published medical information that doctors rely on is flawed
Ioannidis laid out a detailed mathematical proof that, assuming modest levels of researcher bias, typically imperfect research techniques, and the well-known tendency to focus on exciting rather than highly plausible theories, researchers will come up with wrong findings most of the time.
Simply put, if you’re attracted to ideas that have a good chance of being wrong, and if you’re motivated to prove them right, and if you have a little wiggle room in how you assemble the evidence, you’ll probably succeed in proving wrong theories right.
His model predicted, in different fields of medical research, rates of wrongness roughly corresponding to the observed rates at which findings were later convincingly refuted: 80 percent of non-randomized studies (by far the most common type) turn out to be wrong, as do 25 percent of supposedly gold-standard randomized trials, and as much as 10 percent of the platinum-standard large randomized trials.
The article spelled out his belief that researchers were frequently manipulating data analyses, chasing career-advancing findings rather than good science, and even using the peer-review process—in which journals ask researchers to help decide which studies to publish—to suppress opposing views.
Itshould be recalled that many (most?) of the great medical discoveries where had a strong element of luck mixed with inspiration in their discovery.

In Accidental Medical Discoveries Accidental Medical Discoveries, Robert W. Winters MD lays out 30 important modern medical discoveries found through serendipity rather than directly targeted research.  Inne example a Royal Air Force doctor (RAF) eye doctor remembering that a shard of plastic lodged in the eye of a pilot evoked no reaction uses this plastic for making artificial lenses to replace cataracts an RAF eye doctor remembering that a shard of plastic lodged in the eye of a pilot evoked no reaction uses this plastic for making artificial lenses to replace cataracts.

And an example from a Morton A. Meyer’s .Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs:

So when we look to science as a the cure all for our current problems of global warming, or peak oil it is best to considers M.A. Meyers summation from Happy Accidents:
At the Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1947, two allergists gave a new antihistamine,
Dramamine, to a patient suffering from hives. Some weeks later, she was pleased to
report to her doctors that the car sickness she had suffered from all her life had disappeared.
The reality is different. Progress has resulted only after many false starts and despite widespread misconceptions held over long periods of time. A large number of significant discoveries in medicine arose, and entirely new domains of knowledge and practice were opened up, not as a result of painstaking experimentation but rather from chance and even outright error. This is true for many of the common drugs and procedures that we rely on today, notably many antibiotics, anesthetics, chemotherapy drugs, anticoagulant drugs, and antidepressants.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Dangers of False Hope

The belief that humanity makes moral progress depends upon a wilful ignorance of history. It also depends upon a wilful ignorance of oneself – a refusal to recognise the extent to which selfishness and calculation reside in the heart even of our most generous emotions, awaiting their chance. Those who invest their hopes in the moral improvement of humankind are therefore in a precarious position: at any moment the veil of illusion might be swept away, revealing the bare truth of the human condition

Either they defend themselves against this possibility with artful intellectual ploys, or they give way, in the moment of truth, to a paroxysm of disappointment and misanthropy. Both of these do violence to our nature. The first condemns us to the life of unreason; the second to the life of contempt. Human beings may not be as good as the shallow optimists pretend; but nor are they as bad as the prophets and curmudgeons have painted them.
Roger Scruton Roger Sruton

and author of The Uses of Pessimism and the Dangers of False Hope

To add further:  we overestimate the limits of what we can achieve.  As a classic case, in the book Built to Last the telling sub-title is Successful Habits of Vissionary Habits.  Ten years after book was released over half the companies had under performed: some of them badly.

We badly misplace our ability to predict into the future based on current trends.  We simply don't accept that very small changes in inputs can lead to extremely large changes in outcomes.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Karma is bullshit — the greatest lie ever told. In truth, the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards death and destruction. The universe is either utterly indifferent to your suffering or it actively seeks to destroy you and repurpose your molecules for other uses. In no way, shape or form is it your friend. In no way, shape or form is it balanced or just. If there is evil in the world then it is nature. If there is a God then he is a demon. If there is fate then ours is doom.

[N]othing ends well. In the end, the universe, like the house, always wins. Yet, we do not have to tolerate agony and pain all the way up until our inevitable demise. We live. We love. We laugh in defiance of that inevitability. If we have our heads on straight we’ll do it right up until the cold, bitter, utterly unjust and utterly unavoidable end. We are mortals — those who die. That fact should infuse our every value and animate our every action.
When my loved ones take ill they sometimes ask me — with hope in their eyes — “Am I going to die?”
Yes, I answer, I cannot change that. But not today.
Not today.
 Found at Interfluidity

Through Modeled Behavior

To Will Wilkinson now at the Economist

To Jonathan Haidt "What the Tea Parties Really Want" at the WSJ (Note if paywall up: if you google the title of a WSU Journal piece with its author you can often find an alternate non-blocked route to access).

Who reference: Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto by Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe Which I know nothing about.

If you could get a chain of twenty or so of these, and then have the first link in the series link back to the last:  well that would be about perfect!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Aftermaths: Pakistan - More Taxes.

Pakistan Flooding 2010
If you are a underwater (deeply in debt) country, or person for that matter.  The coming of disaster is not necessarily going to help you much.  Reneging on loans (bankruptcy) is really only a helpful alternative if you have a cash flow that will meet your needs going forward.  If you are short on cash flow before the disaster, you are not likely to much better off afterward.

Pakistan has limited options because in a country where the typical person earns about $1/day, it's budget deficit runs in excess of 5% of GDP and have 13% inflation even in "normal" times.   So they cannot afford to spurn creditors, and countries are cautious about lending money.
Traders oppose imposition of any new tax

By Moonis Ahmed

KARACHI: The business community has strongly opposed the government’s move to impose new taxes in the country in the wake of floods.

The businessmen said that this imposition of new flood tax would ultimately increase the inflation and would double the prices of commodities… criticizing the government for taking unwise and anti-nation decisions said that the nation was already heavily burdened due to various taxes, massive price hike, joblessness, frequent power tariff increases and dwindling exports. No further tax would be accepted by the people and the trade and industry, they added.
They said that the best and most practical option for the government is to seek writing off foreign loans to the tune of $46 billion as the country is not at all in any position of debt servicing due to massive catastrophe in which over 25 million people have been displaced after losing all their assets.

They further said that a loan of $450 million by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is a total failure of the government as it was a general loan and IMF gives it without any effort to any country in any circumstances (and neither] have given Pakistan any kind of favor or assistance at this hour of need and the government should dimly convey its position to both the institutions as well as Paris Club to write off loans immediately.
However, sources told Daily Times that the government has finalized its policy to impose some five percent flood surcharge to widen the tax net to provide relief to the flood affectees.  The government is facing a scarcity of funds in relief work, as international aid is also less than expected, they added.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Aftermaths: Haiti

The aftermath is often forgotten.  People who contemplate final endings often look to the esoteric.  But the normal disaster can do a very good job on its own.
The Associated Press via NPR
Haiti's brittle housing supply was shattered by the Jan. 12 earthquake, which destroyed an estimated 110,000 homes and apartment buildings...
Nine months after the schoolteacher's concrete home collapsed in front of his wife and 4-year-old son, the family and three in-laws are stuck under a plastic tarp that pours down water when it rains. All he wants is to move up, to a working man's apartment in the tree-lined suburb of Petionville. But every place he can even consider costs double or triple the $43 a month he used to pay in rent, even though he and everyone he knows has less money than ever.
"The type of house most people rented before was not built well. Those houses were destroyed, and the ones that are left are too expensive," Tombeau explained with the patience of a man used to walking teenagers through French grammar. "When they find a decent camp to live in, they decide they'd rather stay."
The prices on those that survived defy belief. One senator put up his three-bedroom with panoramic views for $15,000 a month. (Its nine Rottweiler guard dogs are free.) Finding anything similar for less than $5,000 is a steal. Want to buy? A three-bedroom with guest apartment lists for $900,000.
Fer Fal has often commented on the fact that items he could have bought for very little money became very expensive after a crises.
There seems to be a common assumption that power and privilege will go away – or at least change – with a real change scenario.  But we keep seeing that that is often not the case.
What seems to happen is that everyone shifts a category down.  The poor become impoverished, the middle class becomes poor, and the wealthy can still pull of the at least a middle class life style.  The really really wealthy go to one of their other houses.
Because the political powers will generally be in control of most of the long term aid, connections with political power count for a lot: particularly if it is within the executive branch.
So if you cannot accumulate much in the way of great wealth, or much in the way of power, I think it is safe to say your family needs to be prepared to be on its own.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Resources Depletion and Demographics

A very common concern going forward is resource depletion .  However there is another ongoing concern that will act in synergy with this problem, and at other points will work against it.

That problem is global demographic shifts.  As Europe and Japan grow older, the “developing” world is relatively young and continuing to grow.  Even China, with its one child policy, is so young that its population will probably continue to grow for another 20 years.  It is estimated that that will add another 160 million people over the next 20 years (roughly half the US population today) and the much more quickly growing India would gain 170 million people within that time frame.
To continue the discussion I will quote Jack Goldstone in   Flash Points and Tipping Points: Security Implications of Global Changes
[F]our major trends that are likely to pose significant security challenges to Europe, Japan, and
most other developed nations in the next two decades:
1.    Disproportionate population growth in large and Muslim countries;
2.    Shrinking population in the European Union and European former Soviet countries;
3.    Sharply opposing age shifts between aging developed countries and youthful developing countries; and
4.    Increased immigration from developing to developed countries.
The security and conflict problems caused by population growth are not mainly due to shortages of resources. Rather, population distortions— in which populations grow too young, or too fast, or too urbanized—make it difficult for prevailing economic and administrative institutions to maintain stable socialization and labor force absorption (Goldstone, 2002; Cincotta et al., 2003; Leahy et al., 2007).

This slowdown in population growth has major implications for overall economic growth (Eberstadt, 2001). The economies of aging nations will not be stimulated by growing numbers of consumers and demand for housing. The capital growth generated by larger generations of young people approaching their peak earning years and saving for retirement will cease as well. Even if the growth of Europe’s income per capita remained constant, its overall economic growth rate would be cut in half as the population declines over the next 30-50 years.

An overall growth rate this small allows few margins for accumulation to invest for the future. As Benjamin Friedman (2005) has argued, substantial growth rates allow more groups to share to some degree in growth, and provide social resources for a variety of services and investments. Overall growth rates below 2 percent per year, by contrast, allow for little redistribution or investment, and tend to heighten social conflicts over such issues as pensions, migration, and labor/employer relations— situations we might see as the global economic downturn progresses.
The declining advanced economic countries are going to have very low growth already because of declining demand (population), but a decline in population is how countries, empires, etc. got broke out of the Malthusian squeeze prior to the industrial revolution.  Even if the size of the pie stayed the same, their was less people to share it.  So the slices got bigger.

But the developing countries are going to be in an extreme bind,  their increasing population would normally increase demand and drive production.  But the energy/resource costs will be increasing.  This is very much a Malthusian scenario in its negative phase.  Countries, empires, etc. prior to the industrial revolution would see people at the individual level get poorer.  Unfortunately, simply because there was less money per person, did not mean there was less money overall.  The surplus was very likely to be fought over by the elites, and in very early empires (Rome) it was often a driving force for expansion.  You made the pie bigger by taking away the surplus from some other group of elites.

The threat of nuclear warfare will probably limit some scenarios.  But access to resources/energy is going to become even more important.  The New York Times had a recent article stating that our military was upset that the Chinese military saw us in adversarial terms: not potentially cooperative.  Do you think the Chinese military is possibly looking a little more clearly into the future?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Collapsed Empires: That which is Sustainable until

 To continue with our Andean Empire collapses.  Not all empires collapsed due to over expansion.  In some cases they appear to be fairly sustainable.  Until they were not...

The City of Caral in the Supe Valley is the Americas first known city.  To give a frame of reference, it lasted an equivalent time period to the death of Christ until today.
The Supe seemed to thrive in the valley for about 2,000 years. But around 3,600 years ago, an enormous earthquake -- Moseley estimates its magnitude at 8 or higher -- or series of earthquakes struck Caral and a nearby coastal settlement, Aspero, the archaeologist found…

News Release, Science Dailey January 9, 2009
The full pdf above has some excellent photographs and illustrations of the geo-architectural evidence and is very much recommended.  My excerpts are from the press release and thus are somewhat of a teaser.

I first hear of this empire in:

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
First came the earthquakes, then the torrential rains. But the relentless march of sand across once fertile fields and bays, a process set in motion by the quakes and flooding, is probably what did in America's earliest civilization.

So concludes a group of anthropologists in a new assessment of the demise of the coastal Peruvian people who built the earliest, largest structures in North or South America before disappearing in the space of a few generations more than 3,600 years ago.

From Earthquakes, El Ninos Fatal To Earliest Civilization In Americas ScienceDaily (Jan. 20, 2009)

The City of Caral,…confirmed as the oldest city in the Americas, Caral has shattered the myth that civilization got a late start in the New World. Nearly 5,000 years ago, around the time that Sumerians developed writing and before Egyptians built the Great Pyramid at Giza, people… in the Supe River Valley began building a city. 

They knew nothing about writing and had no knowledge of ceramics. But they planned and built huge public works, evolved a specialized and stratified society, and developed a sophisticated and diversified economy…They fished with nets, irrigated fruit orchards, and grew cotton and a variety of vegetables.

Most impressively, the Supe built extremely large, elaborate, stone pyramid temples -- thousands of years before the better-known pyramids crafted by the Maya. The largest so far excavated, the Pirámide Mayor at inland settlement Caral, measured more than 550 feet long, nearly 500 feet wide and rose in a series of steps nearly 100 feet high. Walled courts, rooms and corridors covered the flat summit.

A civilization arises because it controls something important. Mesopotamia prospered once it irrigated the desert and produced an abundance of food. Caral diverted water from the Supe River to irrigate fields, growing staples such as squash and beans. But its secret weapon may have been cotton. By growing cotton, used to make fishing nets, the people of Caral could trade for fish with the communities on the Pacific coast 12 miles away. Archaeologists have unearthed thousands of fish bones.

The community also traded with communities in the jungle farther inland and, apparently, with people from the mountains…. The Supe Valley hosts other communities, some of them much older and some within view of the city itself, but none of them approaches the scale and sophistication of this city.

By Laurent Belsie, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 3, 2002

The earthquake collapsed walls and floors atop the Pirámide Mayor and caused part of it to crumble into a landslide of rocks, mud and construction materials. Smaller temples at Aspero were also heavily damaged, and there was also significant flooding there, an event recorded in thin layers of silt unearthed by the archaeologists…

The earthquake destabilized the barren mountain ranges surrounding the valley, sending massive amounts of debris crashing into the foothills. Subsequent El Niños brought huge rains, washing the debris into the ocean. There, a strong current flowing parallel to the shore re-deposited the sand and silt in the form of a large ridge known today as the Medio Mundo. The ridge sealed off the formerly rich coastal bays, which rapidly filled with sand.

Strong ever-present onshore winds resulted in "massive sand sheets that blew inland on the constant, strong, onshore breeze and swamped the irrigation systems and agricultural fields," the paper says. Not only that, but the windblown sand had a blasting effect that would have made daily life all but impossible, Moseley said.

The bottom line: What had for centuries been a productive, if arid, region became all but uninhabitable in the span of just a handful of generations. The Supe society withered and eventually collapsed, replaced only gradually later on -- by societies that relied on the much more modern arts of pottery and weaving, Moseley said.

With much of the world's population centers built in environmentally vulnerable areas, the Supe's demise may hold a cautionary tale for modern times, the researchers said. El Niño events, in particular, may become more common as global climate change continues.

"These are processes that continue into the present," said Dan Sandweiss, the paper's lead author and an anthropology professor and graduate dean at the University of Maine.

Affirmed Moseley, "You would like to say that people learn from their mistakes, but that's not the case."
Authors Mosley and Sandweiss
From Earthquakes, El Ninos Fatal To Earliest Civilization In Americas ScienceDaily (Jan. 20, 2009)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Collapsed Empires: The Wari

The Andean region that makes up the current country Peru is much larger than is readily apparent.  Dwarfed by the Amazonian giant Brazil, it looks rather petite.  But it is the combined size of California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and Montana.
The Wari Empire was on of a number of Empires that sprung up over time in Andean prehistory.  The Wari are often cited as precursors to the Inca, and lasted much longer than they did (AD 600 to 1000).  The Wari are credited with building the road network that the Incas later took as their own.
There is a fair amount of evidence that the Wari were a warlike people.  At the very end of their history they were met by the giant fortress edifice of Kuelap; built by the Chachapoyan  (Cloud People) as a citadel.  This fortress contains 3 times more material than the larges of Egypt’s pyramids.  Obviously the Wari were taken seriously.
As with many expansionist Empires their territory grew until they either ran into other large groups they were not able to defeat, or into barren territory that could not yield enough resources to make it pay.  The Wari are a little different than some empires in that they appeared to bypass a considerable amount of material that they did not feel worth conquering.  It is a little as if the Romans had marched through Germany (bypassing the Goths, et al) to conquer the Angles and Jutes in what is now Denmark.
At the end of the period the Wari ran into two groups, the Cajamarca and the Sican at the northern and southern edges of their territory.   These groups appeared to be large enough or fierce enough that they halted their expansion.

An overlay of Wari Empire on the Map of Modern Peru

Kathatina J. Schreiber,  from state to empire: the expansion of the Wari outside the Ayacucho Basin  from The Origins and Development of the Andean State:
It is a curious aspect of most empires, at least those of the extensive type, that once they cease to expand they do not seem able to maintain themselves.  This certainly seems true of the Wari.  Furthermore, once this point had been reached, the economic and political organization of Wari had changed to such a degree (it was so geared to an expansionist economy, if you will) that not only did the empire collapse, but the Wari [homeland] state within Ayacucho Basin also collapsed, and Wari was abandoned.  In addition those polities where tied to the Wari…also collapsed.

Friday, October 15, 2010

But Not For Long: Michelle Widgen

But Not for Long by Michelle Wildgen is a  recently release novel that takes you through the lives of three people during three days of economic collapse in Madison Wisconsin: a collapse signaled by an extended power outage.  It is written for a main stream fiction audience and has the general nuances that implies:  pretty, capable women with problems; good dialog, slow pacing , good description. Proof of this would be that they put a dog by the lake, rather than the authress with a tommy gun, on the front cover.

That the characters share neo-hippy housing on what would have been the tony lake front area in the center of the city, and are definitely of the NPR already sets the book apart from the usual ilk of world ending fiction. 
The characters are living in that odd alternate universe of college town alternative living.  They are relatively young with the oldest being about 42.  But the book has honesty in that the characters attach a lot importance to living the low footprint lifestyle, but have a strong attachment to the “regular” world with their “day jobs.” 
In fact, fairly clearly, their day jobs are some sense all require monetary inputs from the normal commercial economy to survive.  Karen, the 20-something writes for a cheese industry publication, Greta in her early 40s is a fund raiser for a small private college, and Hal in his late 30s is a scheduler/controller for a food bank-food service charity.
Although the food service is in some senses the least connected to the “real economy” it is actually in a position to see problems coming in first.
The warehouse manager being out, Hal takes a side trip to the Food Bank’s warehouse:
This is a world primarily running amok in overheating as global warming slowly takes its toll.  But there are ongoing (presumably oil induced) low intensity (nothing nuclear) wars ongoing: further draining the budget. 

That pleased him.  He was whistling as he flung open the door to the main cooler, the huge cold room where all their food was housed on tall metal shelves, and his whistle had echoed off the walls. Two of the warehouse workers, in sweatshirts and puffy jackets were standing before a pallet of packaged rolls and loaves of bread.  There was a shelf of frozen vegetables, and a few stacked pallets of canned soup.  But the rest of the room, the great expanse of which was usually filled with food, was emptied.  There were some bins of produce and a few gallons of milk that only looked paltrier against such emptiness.
Throughout, the usual interpersonal bickering and politicking found within groups of people goes on.  Greta is in (unsuccessful) hiding from her drunk (non-violent fortunately) husband.  Although he nearly non-functional with his ongoing drunkenness, as a lawyer he has been the source of her relative wealth.
There is a fair amount going on at a secondary level of symbolism.  A abandoned out on the lake, is helped to swim ashore has very much more the tone of Cerberus, the crossing of the River Styx, and the entrance to the end time: Hades.
The drunken Husband is very much in line with a drunken society,  living of accumulated successes, and anticipating the final collapse.  At the end it is somewhat in the air whether, in AA terms, society had hit the rock bottom.  In the one rare instance we see the world from Will, the drunk husbands, point of view:
The fact was, you’d never know you were done till your feet touched the silt. He thought he hit that point once before, but that was different.  This sensation had turned out to be a relief. All the machinations and rationalizations he’d pent year trying to work out-it was actually very demanding not just to drink the way he did but to try and justify it, too-had fallen away it was all so simple.
Deep down, Will just felt it was unlikely that this was really it for them, for a culture that adored its structures and complexity, adored being moved and transported.  Then again, it was also such a half-assed culture in so many ways-he could imagine them having created a vast flimsy infrastructure that was only good for fifty or sixty years,, forever assuming someone else would renew and replace it.
Although the ending has some scope for optimism, the overall tone of the book would probably argue it is too little, too late.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

On Top for Now

“Change is caused by lazy, greedy, frightened people looking for easier, more profitable and safer ways of doing things. And they rarely know what they are doing.”
Why the West Rules—For Now: The Patterns of History and What They Reveal About the Future. By Ian Morris. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 750 pages; $35.  Amazon

From the Economist's Review:

What Mr Morris shows is that over a period of 10,000 years one civilisation after another hit a “hard ceiling” of social development before falling apart, unable to control the forces its success had unleashed. For every two or three steps forward, there was at least one step back. During those periods of advance the West tended to pull ahead of the East, and during the steps back the gap narrowed again.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Unemployement and Crises

Menzie Chin at Econobrowser had an interesting post post last week:

It showed a chart of unemployment rates at various income levels.   At the bottom income bracket (less than $20k) per year, you have about 45% of the population under- or unemployed.   At the next bracket ($20k to $40k) you are at 25%.  Those are some huge numbers.

With numbers like this, why are we not at the EOTWAWKI already?

IMO one of the largest reason is that no "elite" group has left the game.  When the truly poor and low status revolt on their own, you generally get a sort of peasant revolt.  Peasant revolts are pretty scary, but they rarely come to much.  It is the breaking away of a group of the inner elite that generally get the real revolutionary movements going. 

Although the Tea Party movement is upset, they are simply trying to reestablish the old status quo.  They are also at cross purposes with the African American and Hispanic workers who are some of the groups that are most badly effected.  But since these groups have never done particularly well within the satus quo, they are not as likely to be attached to it. 

But if unemployment hits more of the upper income groups you could have some very quick radical changes to the current situation.

Here is the chart:
Note that the blocks (up to about $60K) on the left each make up about 20% of the population.  So Up through $60k is about 60% of the population.

Figure 2: Unemployment (blue), underemployment (red), and labor force reserve (green) as ratio to sum of labor force and labor force reserve, for January-August 2010, based on household income over the previous twelve months [corrected 10/6/10]. Blue dashed line is average unemployment ratio for entire sample; purple dashed line is average unemployment plus underemployment ratio for entire sample; teal dashed line is average unemployment plus underemployment plus reserve ratio for entire sample. Source: Calculations based on estimates provided by Andrew Sum and Joseph McLaughlin.

It is an update of information found here:  Study.

Andrew Sum,Ishwar Khatiwada, Labor Underutilization Problems of U.S. Workers Across Household Income Groups at the End of the Great Recession: A Truly Great Depression Among the Nation’s Low Income Workers Amidst Full Employment Among the Most Affluent.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Skirmishing with Small Arms 7

So what exactly is the point of all this?
We are talking about skirmishes between individuals, not larger armed militia, national guard or policing unit.  That takes out most opportunities for supporting functions (machine guns, mortars, etc.).  But it also tends to limit the some other roles:  sniping would still be useful, but urban sniping is typically used as a way to ambush larger forces.  Sniping in very small engagements tends to take more the role of an offensive strategy.   A prime example that comes to mind in the Clanton-Earp feud (think O.K. Coral) where the Clantons took out one Earp by sniping, and disastrously failed in a latter attempt.
One important item to recognize:  in a potentially dangerous situation you will have all sorts of encounters with various groups and people.  The most dangerous ones will be the ones that occur up close.  We can turn up close into a further two zone:  let’s say really close and close:   up to 7 yards, and out to 100 yards.  They will be even more dangerous if there is some element of surprise involved.
At 10 yards you can throw a spear, or axe and a dodging will be difficult.  You can close to contact in less than 2 seconds.  If you turn and run there is very good chance that you will can be tackled: of hit multiple times by someone firing 6 or more pistol rounds.
At 7 yards you have an immense advantage if you have surprise.  As you may recall from number 2, when the Shawnee used trickery to get up close, not a single settler survived the encounter.
What works within this zone?  Weapons with a high cyclical rate of fire, and shotguns.  With the very quick closure rate and minimal distances you want to be able to stop your opponent before they can in turn damage you.  So the speed of fire does balance somewhat with speed.  But if you have someone coming at you with a knife in close with a .30-06 bolt action rifle, and you don’t stop them with your first shot, you are now have a clumsy club in your hands rather than a gun.
When you get to out to 100 yards, the effectiveness of a number of weapons drops off drastically, all your hand held melee throwing weapons, and your pistols become of very limited value.  Your shotgun can still be effective with slugs, but it losses that in-close shredding effect of a tight pattern of buck shot.
At 100 yards, your various long arms do not need to adjust for wind or drop.   You are still in the zone where you are very much at risk, and rate of fire (ROF) counts.  Within this zone that you  get a lot of arguments about which long arm are the most effective.  It is still close enough that even your more inaccurate assault rifles can hit and the M-16s (Ar-15) and SKS bullets will still likely due their tumbling tricks to maximize their damage.  But your larger rounds will be able to nullify a lot of the oppositions cover advantages:  you can shoot them through a tree, or house, or block wall.  If they have some type of body armor, it is less likely to be proof against the heavier rounds.  If burst or automatic weapons are available it adds considerably to the firepower within this range band, but very little beyond.
As you go from 200 to 300 yards (the middle zone) you are getting into the area where the combat effectiveness of all weapons against alert opponents drops off considerably.  For various weapons it drops off more quickly than others.
But here is where you get into another argument of tactical effectiveness.  You are starting to get into bolt-action territory.  And here the argument is often as much one of expense as effectiveness.  The semi-automatic (particularly .308 Winchester/762 Natox51 and larger) can still hit.  But their speed in firing advantage is pretty minimal.  So as the range increases past 100 yards, the bolt action comes pretty close to being the same weapon as the semi.
Finally you get to the area beyond 300 yards.  Fighting can occur at these ranges, but it is difficult to hit.  The larger caliber and more powerful rifles have a clear advantage over the lighter weapons provided the user is skilled enough to hit what they are aiming for.   Hitting a moving target with a normal rifle gets to be very difficult.  You will usually only get one shot.  If you were in a military unit, this is where you would effectively be using your squad machine guns, light mortars, grenade launchers etc.
So what is the final point?
If you are going to get killed, it will probably be at a relatively short range.  You need appropriate volume and power to win and win quickly.
If you want to attack someone at minimal risk to yourself, you want to do it at a distance.  The further away you can attack a target from, the less likely you will be injured when they fire back.  A somewhat exception to this rule would be if you have night vision capability, and they do not.  At which point, you will be able to fire at them from 100 yards, and they probably won’t be able to see the end of their barrel.  But you are still at a sufficient distance that they cannot effectively strike back.
Where you weigh these two options says a lot about what type of weapons you will choose, and how you will act. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Skirmishing with Light Arms 5: Into the Night.

I am going to use Use of A Long-Distance Night Vision Device For Wildlife Studies because although it is a little dated (1992), they are using a 3rd generation scope with a telephoto lens attached so.  It gives its resolution findings in understandable terminology (can you tell a raccoon is a raccoon at 1200m?) rather than lp/mm which is a little hard to sink ones teeth in.

Now I am sure your first thought is the same as mine.  Boy, they sure have some big raccoons in Mississippi!  They don't comment on people, but you would suspect that they would be somewhere toward the top of the range.
In flitting about the web, the following numbers came up:

  • You could distinguish people at 75 to 100 yards

  • Infrared Laser Illuminator-Red Dot Scope was good from 100 to 500 yards.

  • Night vision cameras are good to around 400 meters.

  • And of course, the above indicates clear species identification from 300 meters to 1700 meters.
Note though that the longer ranges are with some sort of telescoping lenses that will allow precise identification, but within a very limited arc.  You also have some exceptional military thermal imaging systems that will generally cost somewhere in the six-digit $ range.
Some of the modern scopes  ( Eotech comes to mind) will allow you to use their low to no magnification scopes with your regular monocle, rather than a dedicated piece on your scope.
The final summation:
If you have military experience with advance night fighting equipment,  the ability to obtain said equipment, sniper training, and a Barrett, you obviously are going to be the Master of the Knight. 
For those of a more normal disposition, you would have to conclude that if you Generation 3 and you are faced with Generation 1 technology, you would have a significant advantage. 
If you have any generation technology, and add in a relatively inexpensive infrared illuminator, you will have a very large advantage over those with no technology.  You will possibly be able to open up at 200 to 300 meters, and they may not even be able to see the end of their barrel well enough to aim their fire back at you.  Since this is toward the top of the range that competent people can expect to hit anything in daylight, that is perfectly adequate.  
For a thorough examination of the advantage of even early versions of night vision have over those with none, this article about the experiences of the Howell Twp. Police Department in New Jersey is very illustrative.  One example:

Meth Warrant
A subject who was stopped for a traffic violation was discovered to have a quantity of methamphetamine in his possession. He agreed to roll over on his supplier, an outlaw biker who had a string of weapon offenses on his resume.

The dealer operated out of a two-story house in a remote, “very rural” location, which presented a problem in serving a search warrant: the house sat in the middle of a “wide open” field, making it dangerously difficult to approach without being detected.
Capt. Mayfield, who headed the ESU team assigned to hit the place, describes their strategy:

“We figured that waiting until nightfall would be our best chance, but still, getting across the field, a distance of about 100 yards, could be problematic. We took a night-vision scope off of a rifle and used it as a monocular.

“Starting at about 9:30 p.m., two officers surveilled the place for about 90 minutes. They could see people coming in and out of the house, but we never felt our target left and we didn’t see anything threatening.” The scope/monocular continued to be used as the full six-officer unit moved in for the raid.

“We did a two-team entry, one in the front door and one up the rear, outside stairway to the second floor,” Mayfield says. “The operation was a total success. The suspect never knew what hit him. We also got some drugs, several other people, and a couple of guns—all with no officers hurt and no shots fired.”

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Skirmishing with Light Arms 6: Distance Counts.

All right a quick pop test, as an individual soldier in combat in battle which time period was more dangerous to you:
a)      Classical Roman Empire
b)      American Civil War
c)       World War 1
d)      World War 2
But first:  A Chart.

And the answer is:  a) Roman Empire.
By Trevor Nevitt Dupuy
Dupuy wrote a good deal about casualties in battle.  He showed that except for two little jumps  up (Napoleonic Period, and American Civil War Period) losses dropped fairly consistently through time as technology advanced.

Yes the armies were (generally) smaller, yes the later weapons are more destructive, and yes more people overall were killed on the latter battlefields.  But a combat soldier in battle during the time of the Roman Republic:  particularly if you were on the losing side,  had a much higher chance of being killed.  A soldier on the losing  side of a modern battle has less of a chance of being killed than a soldier of the winning side in any time before 1900.
The primary reason that casualties dropped, is that as weapons got deadlier, armies spread out, started hiding, and started digging in.  In fact clearly one of the blip-up periods (American Civil War) was a time period when there were advances in weaponry, but the troops did not spread out or take cover until latter in the hostilities.  As further illustration, although the trenches of World War 1 are famous for the futile assaults, the early period of open battle in 1914 was the deadliest phase of the war.  Only after the armies had blasted themselves to pieces, culminating in the Battle of the Marne, did the trench warfare start.

To continue the discussion at a more tactical level , Tests by the U.S. Army found that it was often difficult to even see your enemy.  Based on data from both WW2 and Korea, the success rate at 100 yards was only 80%, at 200 yards only 40%  At 300 yards the was only spotted 20% of the time.  By the time you get to 400 yards a very slim 5% chance of spotting your target.
Norman Hitchman, et al. Operational Requirements for an Infantry Hand Weapon, Operations Research Office, Johns Hopkins University, Chevy Chase, MD, 1952.
Gabe Suarez has done some additional research with unloaded rifles in open country with variety of moving, running, standing still, and hiding targets (people) His observation was:
Unless you are already monitoring an area for movement, you will probably not see a man further than about 300 yards.  Thus your 200/600 yard standards make good sense.  Truly we could cut the distance to 500 yards and still be real world relevant.   Gabriel Suarez - Warrior Talk News - The Guerilla Sniper Revisited.
Not that this is in open country.   If I go to the closest cross road near my house (a subsidiary feeder street), my longest sight line is about 85 yards.  With a little work I can find a slightly elevated location where I can see about 150 yards down this road.  Even when the Google Satellite view shows a clear LOS, folds and elevation changes give a lot of cover for someone attempting an approach.
So distance, along with dispersion, concealment, and cover count for a lot.