Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Peak Oil and the Pentagon

In Le Monde, the classic French publication, there is an extended article on the Pentagon concerns about peak oil, and the fact that they are one of the more pessimistic part of (any) government about the problem.   Presumably they take the requirement to keep their ships and tanks moving seriously.
In the Joint Operating Environment 2008 report [p. 17 ] and JOE2010 [pp. 28, 29 ], one can read:
“By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 MBD.”

10 million barrels per day is approximately the equivalent daily production of Saudi Arabia.

“A severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity. While it is difficult to predict precisely what economic, political, and strategic effects such a shortfall might produce, it surely would reduce the prospects for growth in both the developing and developed worlds. Such an economic slowdown would exacerbate other unresolved tensions, push fragile and failing states further down the path toward collapse, and perhaps have serious economic impact on both China and India.

At best, it would lead to periods of harsh economic adjustment. To what extent conservation measures, investments in alternative energy production, and efforts to expand petroleum production from tar sands and shale would mitigate such a period of adjustment is difficult to predict. One should not forget that the Great Depression spawned a number of totalitarian regimes that sought economic prosperity for their nations by ruthless conquest.“
The amount of fuel that the military uses on a daily basis is astonishing:

It takes approximately 565,000 gallons per day to fuel a ground armor division and 350,000 gallons per day to fuel an air assault division. Two improvements identified to reduce fuel consumption are the development of better, fuel-efficient propulsion engines and lighter platform, or structure, designs. (from: Fueling the Force in the Army After Next—Revolution or Evolution? )

The U.S. Strategic Reserve is holding about 726 million barrels of oil.  However, it can only be drawn down at 4.4 million barrels per day.  This is a useful amount of fuel to deal with peaks and valleys caused by external shocks to our oil supply (Gulf War, Katrina, etc.) it cannot supply the 18,770,000 barrels of petroleum that we use every day:  4.4 versus almost 19 simply does not work. 

There are something like 40 active U.S. combat brigades, and Army National Guard has 37 (?) brigades.  With 4 maneuver elements per division (plus an aviation brigade, engineer brigade, and division artillery) the U.S. has ten active divisions.  So in very rough parlance the deployed U.S. Army would be using up almost the entire output of 4.4 million of Strategic Reserve fuel, if they were required to act in an emergency capacity within the United States.  So now we can see why they are so concerned with peak oil.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Does Your Medicine do Anything?

To go along with the earlier post on medical experimentation, and its somewhat dubious reliability:  The Crumbly Edifice of Modern Medicine , we are going to present some more interesting information from one of my favorite prognosticators of existential finality: Robert Hanson.  Mr. Hanson has a blog of his own, Overcoming Bias, and you will find a variety of rather unique ideas there in addition to a like to the paper quoted below.

Fear of Death and Muddled Thinking – It Is So Much Worse Than You Think

Robin Hanson, Department of Economics, George Mason University†, August 2005

In another study
Correlations-in-the-world studies see many apparently large influences on health, including age, gender, exercise, social status, urban location, smoking, sleep, and even church attendance. Gender, exercise and social status, for example, can change lifespans by ten to fifteen years or more (Lantz, House, Lepkowski, Williams, Mero, & Chen, 1998). When one looks at medical spending, however, the usual finding in such studies is no effect. When comparing nations or counties or individuals, people who get more medicine have no significant difference in health when compared to people who get less medicine.
For example, Jonathan Skinner and John Wennberg looked at five million Medicare patients in about 3500 hospital service areas in 1990. They looked to see if people died less in areas where, during the last six months of life, Medicare spent more on treatment. After controlling for age, sex, race, median income, poverty, education, urbanization, and initial health limitations, Skinner and Wennberg found that the average effect of spending $1000 more was somewhere between increasing lifespan by about five days and decreasing it by about fifteen days.  Areas that kept patients in the intensive care unit one more day on average
In the late 1970s, most of 5816 non-elderly adults6 from six U.S. cities were randomly assigned for three to five years to one of two situations. Either they had free health care, or they had to pay a substantial fraction (ranging from 25 to 95 percent) of their health care costs. People with free health care had more doctor and hospital visits, and those with free care spent about 75% more than those who paid nearly full price. While this sample was too small to see effects on death rates, the plan was to look at a general health index based on over twenty health indicators (Newhouse & Group, 1993).
What did they find? The bottom line: no significant difference in general health was seen between those with more health care and those with less. And since this was a randomized, but not blind, clinical trial, this no-effect result includes any health benefits that people get from feeling that they are being cared more for via free care. This suggests that free care would look even worse without such placebo effects.
If medicine for treating individuals is not quite the miracle we have heard, does public health make up the difference? Have not we all heard how the introduction of modern water and sewer systems greatly improved our ancestors’ health? Well, a century ago the U.S. cities with the most advanced water and sewer systems had higher death rates than the other cities. Also, we can look today at how the death rates of individual households correlates with the water sources and sewer mechanisms used by those households. Even in poor countries with high death rates, once we control for a few other variables like social status we usually find that water and sewer parameters are unrelated to death rates (Lee, Rosenzweig, & Pitt, 1997)…
Well we must live longer now for some reason, right? Yes, and in fact in the developed nations it seems that age specific death rates have fallen at a relatively  steady exponential
But the fact is that we just do not know why we now live so much longer.
Most of the obvious theories have serious problems, you see. For example, exercise, smoking, social status, and urban living appear to have large effects on individuals. But the time trends for exercise, urban living, and smoking have been in the wrong direction – those trends would predict decreasing lifespan. And since social status is usually thought to be relative to contemporaries, it is hard to see how average social status can increase with time.
Finally, while the biggest advances in nutrition, medicine, and public health seem to have occurred during the first two thirds of the twentieth century, death rates have fallen just as fast during the last third of the twentieth century. Perhaps some new influence rose in importance just as those other influences became less important, but if so it seems a remarkable coincidence that the total rate of improvement has remained pretty steady.
Another problem would be various “free-loader” issues.  If you have a population of 1,000 people and all of them take the polio vaccine.  If one person joins this population, are there health benefits increased or decreased by taking the vaccine.  It is very similar to the issue of avoiding conflagration type urban fires (Ms. O’Leary’s Cow and Chicago) where the cost benefits to fire protective measures can be negative when the other buildings in the neighborhood are built to modern fire code standards.
The net effect would be to make it more important to live within a relatively healthy society, than to live a healthy life style.
There are probably a number of factors that help increase the life span of individuals today, but their uneven distribution along with the uneven distribution of various negative factors makes separation difficult.    The wide spread use of antibiotics, the knowledge of bacterial/viral infection and more effective avoidance strategies,  a greater overall calorie intake, and decreased physical stress (physical labor) on the work force would all be likely factors that would come into play. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Story

As set up to our Thanksgiving Story we will first recount Nassim Taleb's now famous story of the fat and happy Turkey  (link):
Current trends and recent history can also be dangerously misleading. Taleb uses the example of the Thanksgiving turkey that is being fattened up for slaughter. As the turkey sees it, daily experience reinforces the image of the butcher as a benefactor who can be counted on to provide delightful delicacies on a daily basis — a good friend — right up until the day when the butcher reveals his true intentions. For the turkey the final day of reckoning is a personal black swan event. Leading up to the finale, the turkey clearly misinterprets what is happening around it.

“It is not a good idea to be a turkey,” Taleb said, but he adds that statistics and numbers often turn us into our own version of the proverbial turkey. “When you have numbers, you tend to take greater risks, even when the numbers are totally random.”

Our story is similar, but notes that sometimes the alert and quick thinking can avoid their fate.  But not if you are a chicken:

For those who cannot see the scan:
It was Thanksgiving Day.  The turkey was so excited until the farmer came to get him.  “Uh-oh!” he said and he…
Lookt at the ax in the farmers hand and ran away.  He ran in to the woods  the farmr was rite behinde him.  Wate the farmr side you can come to Thanksgiving dinr with us and weer having chicin not turkey.
Looked at the axe in the farmers hand and ran away.  He ran into the woods.  The farmer was right behind him.  “Wait!” Said the farmer, “ You can come to Thanksgiving dinner with us, we are having chicken, not Turkey!
Or if you take out the 1st grade learning to read-write-spell phonetics- I already took out the accidentally flipped letters:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Story of First Survivalist's In-laws

IMO, pilgrims, if you replace the biker gangs with Indians, we are pretty much in the same situation that many survivalists see themselves in.  Of course the Indians eventually become much more dangerous than the typical portrayal of a biker gang: but more on that later.

Many survivalist fiction tales  have the heros hoed up in their little retreat finding supplies, fending off biker gangs,etc. What really happens?   The In-laws show up!
So we have here the actural true story of:
The Story of The First Survivalists In-laws

In June, to the great annoyance of the Pilgrims, two vessels came into the harbor of Plymouth, bringing sixty wild and rude adventurers, who, neither fearing God nor regarding man, had come to the New World to seek their fortunes. They were an idle and dissolute set, greedy for gain, and ripe for any deeds of dishonesty or violence. They had made but poor provision for their voyage, and were almost starved. The Pilgrims received them kindly, and gave them shelter and food; and yet the ungrateful wretches stole their corn, wasted their substance, and secretly reviled their habits of sobriety and devotion.
Nearly all the summer these unprincipled adventurers intruded upon the hospitality of the Pilgrims. In the autumn, these men, sixty in number, went to a place which they had selected in Massachusetts Bay, then called Wessagusset, now the town of Weymouth, which they had selected for their residence. They left their sick behind them, to be nursed by those Christian Pilgrims whose piety had excited their ribald abuse.
First interlude:  They run out of food. Captain MilesvStandis, a rather brave, wild, and un-pilgrim-like figure  manages after some difficulties to deliver supplies to them.
But these lawless adventurers were as improvident as they were vicious and idle. By the month of February they were again destitute and starving. They had borrowed all they could, and had stolen all they could, and were now in a state of extreme misery, many of them having already perished from exposure and want. The Indians hated them and despised them. Conspiracies were formed to kill them all, and many Indians, scattered here and there, were in favor of destroying all the white men. They foresaw that civilized and savage life could not abide side by side. The latter part of February the Weymouth people send [another] letter to Plymouth…They had become so helpless and degraded that the Indians seem actually to have made slaves of them, compelling them to perform the most menial services.
The letter contained the following dolorous complaints:
"The boldness of the Indians increases abundantly, insomuch that the victuals we get they will take out of our pots and eat it before our faces. If we try to prevent them, they will hold a knife at our breasts. To satisfy them, we have been compelled to hang one of our company. We have sold our clothes for corn, and are ready to starve, both with cold and hunger also, because we can not endure to get victuals by reason of our nakedness."
Captain Standish is not someone to mess with.  He shows up, and when an Indian get carelessly impudent, her runs the Indian through with his sword.  The Indians, not taking undue umbrage over a straight up fair fight, decide that everything is still all right between them and the pilgrims.
The Weymouth men, thus extricated from peril, were afraid to remain there any longer, though Captain Standish told them that he should not hesitate to stay with one half their number. Still they persisted in leaving…to go to Monhegan, an island near the mouth of the Kennebec River, where many English ships came annually to fish…. He then returned to Plymouth, and all were rejoiced that the country was delivered from such a set of vagabonds.
Excerpts from King Philip by John S. C. Abbott, 1857 (1901 printing).
You know, truth really is stranger than fiction.  And our hero:
A very tough dude.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The End of the House of Saud

Peter Turchin (who I seem to quote a bit) had a piece from a few years ago about the high likely hood of the collapse of the Saudi Arabia.  Given that many people’s post apocalyptic scenario involves peak oil, this should be a matter of some interest.

One of the hallmarks of a mature discipline is its ability to make predictions thatcan be used to test scientific theories…

The specific case study I develop is the possible state collapse in Saudi Arabia. The theoretical setting is provided by the demographic-structural theory of state collapse. The starting point is a previously developed model for political cycles in agrarian societies with nomadic elites, loosely based on the ideas of Ibn Khaldun. I modify the model to fit the characteristics of the modern Saudi Arabian state and estimate its parameters using data from published sources. The model predicts that the sovereign debt of Saudi Arabia will reach unmanageable proportions some 5- 20 years in the future; the fiscal collapse will be followed by a state collapse in short order.

The core of the theory, as it is currently formulated (Turchin 2003: Chapter 7, following Goldstone I call it the demographic-structural theory), concerns the relationship between population growth and fiscal stability of the state. Briefly, population growth in excess of the productivity gains from the land leads to persistent inflation and rising real costs, which outstrip the ability of the state to increase tax revenues. Rapid expansion of population also results in an increased number of aspirants for elite positions, putting further fiscal strains on the state, and intensifying intra-elite competition and factionalism. Increased rural misery, urban migration, and falling real wages lead to frequent food riots and wage protests; expansion of youth cohorts contributes to the population mobilization potential; and elite competition and popular discontent fuel ideological conflicts. As all these trends intensify, the end result is state bankruptcy and consequent loss of military control; elite movements of regional and national rebellion; and a combination of elite-mobilized and popular uprisings that manifest the breakdown of central authority (Goldstone 1991:25).
Peter Turchin University of Connecticut, December 11, 2003.
The primary variables appear to be:
  • Outside influences
  • Cutting budget deficits
  • Reducing population growth
  • Asset sell-off
He includes liberalization of political system: but not that it is unclear how this would change the underlying system.

What is particularly ironic is that this one scenario that exacerbates the peak oil situation, is somewhat alleviated by it as well.  Peak oil drives the higher oil prices that allow the House of Saud to stay in power. Turchin's basis for oil prices in 2003 was around $30/ barrel; a price that we have been exceeding fairly regularly since then.

Oddly enough in the same time period, and apparently independently, a Robert Baer at the Atlantic, was writing about "The Fall of the House of Saud"- go figure.

What is even odder, is that in addition to outlining lots of political cronyism on the part of American politicians, he also outlines almost exactly the same scenario (too many princes) as Turchin.

From Robert Baer’s The Fall of the House of Saud

Americans have long considered Saudi Arabia the one constant in the Arab Middle East—a source of cheap oil, political stability, and lucrative business relationships. But the country is run by an increasingly dysfunctional royal family that has been funding militant Islamic movements abroad in an attempt to protect itself from them at home. A former CIA operative argues, in an article drawn from his new book, Sleeping With the Devil, that today's Saudi Arabia can't last much longer—and the social and economic fallout of its demise could be calamitous...
The House of Saud currently has some 30,000 members. The number will be 60,000 in a generation, maybe much higher. According to reliable sources, anecdotal evidence, and the Saudi gossip machine, the royal family is obsessed with gambling, alcohol, prostitution, and parties. And the commissions and other outlays to fund their vices are constant. What would the price of oil have to be in 2025 to support even the most basic privileges—for example, free air travel anywhere in the world on Saudi, the Saudi national airline—that the Saudi royals have come to enjoy? Once the family numbers 60,000, or 100,000, will there even be a spare seat for a mere commoner who wants to fly out of Riyadh or Jidda? Reformers among the royal family talk about cutting back the perks, but that's a hard package to sell.
Saudi Arabia operates the world's most advanced welfare state, a kind of anti-Marxian non-workers' paradise. Saudis get free health care and interest-free home and business loans. College education is free within the kingdom and heavily subsidized for those who study abroad. In one of the world's driest spots water is almost free. Electricity, domestic air travel, gasoline, and telephone service are available at far below cost. Many of the kingdom's best and brightest—the most well-educated and, in theory, the best prepared for the work world—have little motivation to do any work at all...
Not all the wishing in the world will change the basic reality of the situation.
* Saudi Arabia controls the largest share of the world's oil and serves as the market regulator for the global petroleum industry.
* No country consumes more oil, and is more dependent on Saudi oil, than the United States.
* The United States and the rest of the industrialized world are therefore absolutely dependent on Saudi Arabia's oil reserves, and will be for decades to come.
* If the Saudi oil spigot is shut off, by terrorism or by political revolution, the effect on the global economy, and particularly on the economy of the United States, will be devastating.
* Saudi oil is controlled by an increasingly bankrupt, criminal, dysfunctional, and out-of-touch royal family that is hated by the people it rules and by the nations that surround its kingdom.
Signs of impending disaster are everywhere, but the House of Saud has chosen to pray that the moment of reckoning will not come soon—and the United States has chosen to look away. So nothing changes: the royal family continues to exhaust the Saudi treasury, buying more and more arms and funneling more and more "charity" money to the jihadists, all in a desperate and self-destructive effort to protect itself.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Moral Decay in Higher Education

Moral Decay is a frequently sited contributing cause of societal collapse.  What is Rome without Nero fiddling.  The 666 noted in Revelations is likely Nero-whose name numorologically adds up to (you guessed it) 666.

The falseness of the diplomacy mills that our higher education facilities have become is rather obvious.  Granted, you get out of school what you put into it, but at some point their should be a little more substance than this.

From the Ed Dante, The Shadow Scholar , Chronicle of Higher Education

A big hat tip to Marginal Revolution.

And to think I felt a little guilty, in pre-destop pc days, about having someone typ up the papers I had written myself.
to What Purpose?

I do a lot of work for seminary students. I like seminary students. They seem so blissfully unaware of the inherent contradiction in paying somebody to help them cheat in courses that are largely about walking in the light of God and providing an ethical model for others to follow. I have been commissioned to write many a passionate condemnation of America's moral decay as exemplified by abortion, gay marriage, or the teaching of evolution. All in all, we may presume that clerical authorities see these as a greater threat than the plagiarism committed by the future frocked.

With respect to America's nurses, fear not. Our lives are in capable hands­—just hands that can't write a lick. Nursing students account for one of my company's biggest customer bases. I've written case-management plans, reports on nursing ethics, and essays on why nurse practitioners are lighting the way to the future of medicine. I've even written pharmaceutical-treatment courses, for patients who I hope were hypothetical.

I, who have no name, no opinions, and no style, have written so many papers at this point, including legal briefs, military-strategy assessments, poems, lab reports, and, yes, even papers on academic integrity, that it's hard to determine which course of study is most infested with cheating. But I'd say education is the worst. I've written papers for students in elementary-education programs, special-education majors, and ESL-training courses. I've written lesson plans for aspiring high-school teachers, and I've synthesized reports from notes that customers have taken during classroom observations. I've written essays for those studying to become school administrators, and I've completed theses for those on course to become principals. In the enormous conspiracy that is student cheating, the frontline intelligence community is infiltrated by double agents. (Future educators of America, I know who you are.)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The UFO Menace

In Richard G. Mitchell Jr.’s Dancing at Armageddon (2002):  Survivalism and Chaos in Modern Times, he took a survey of as many survivalist as possible and asked them what Future Crises were most on their mind- participants could answer with more than one item. After nuclear war (50.4%), and economic collapse, came alien Invasion (14.1%).  This fear even coming ahead of the dreaded take over by world forces.

To get some ideas of what some people might you might try this link to a home crown periodical: The Phoenix Project.  Granted their current concerns seem a little more open ended than mine, but they do share my interest in historical research. 

So while the alien’s in our midst was not the dominant concern of most, it certainly had its adherents.  Although many associate the rise in UFO-ology to Molder and Scully of X-files fame, it has a much longer and deeper history than that.


Everyone's trying to see past the boundaries. They want to see past the edges of mortality; or past the frontiers of perception; they want to see past the barriers of time and space, which really means past the barriers between themselves and people around them. They try to see into the future; they try to peer into the dust-trailed past. They don't spend much time in the present. They crowd along the fences of the fringes of the consensus reality. They're motivated by fear and hope and sometimes by something profounder than those and deeper than curiosity. Step into the fringes, and you see a suggestive chaos. If you don't erect a skeptical filter, the Rorschach effect will take hold; the chaos wills Rorschach-twitch itself into whatever you came there hoping to see...

The impulse to explore the fringe of consensus reality is, in many people, and unknown to them, something more: an underlying spiritual hunger. In those people, it is something sacred. This sacred impulse for seeking has been desecrated and violated by cults and cult leaders and false prophets and false gurus. The most recent manifestation of this violation of the sacred impulse to seek comes from the new crop of FLYING SAUCER CULTS.

The UFO field, if field it can be called, is an exemplar of a thesis beloved to me; that many things are true and untrue at once; that yes and no can be said in answer to the same question, accurately, for many, if not most, situations…

It's true that the UFO field is bogus and largely inflated with credulity and deception and that this makes flying saucers improbable; it's simultaneously true that it's founded in a reality, and that there is good reason to believe that flying saucers are real.

The saucer cults push us toward incredulity.

he saucer cults go back a ways, even before the saucers (which entered public awareness chiefly in 1947 with Kenneth Arnold's sighting and his coining of the term) to the pseudo-Theosophical I AM cult of the 1930s, which had regular psychic congress with Venusians. According to Peter Jordan in UFO Magazine, the sect was founded by Guy and Edna Ballard who were the Earthbound intermediaries of a Venusian named Sananda, also known, on our world, as Jesus Christ.

Among the thousands of I AM followers were those "absorbed from American fascist William Dudley Peley's Silver Shirts -- the influence was conveyed strongly by I AM's staunch paramilitary character." The fascist, and racist strain in UFO cults crops up frequently.

Steeped in the literature of the I AM cult was Marion Keech, a 1950s housewife who "contacted" aliens from the planet Clarion. Keech passed on warnings and advice from her alien chums; a group of her followers gathered at her home on a fateful night when the Western USA was ET-predicted to be engulfed in a sort of re-enactment of Noah's deluge; there the saucers were to come, Marion calmly explained, to carry the faithful to safety. Of course, neither flood nor saucers came, but followers who need to believe despite the obvious contradictions will concoct outrageous rationales for failures of proofs. As psychologist Leon Festinger had it, in studying this group, "...new cognitions or rationalizations are created in order that the belief system can be preserved..." in the mind of the devotee. (Hence Scientology too survives every damning accusation against Hubbard and his "org").
Christmas UFO
Obviously part of Santa's logistical team

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

When Prophecy Fails

When Prophecy Fails is the 1956 book, written by Leon Festinger,  that popularized the notion of cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions.[2] Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming, and denying. It is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology.
In this book he studies in real-time the Prophet Marian Keech, real name Dorothy Matin and later known as Sister Thedra.  Mrs. Keech  brought together a group of believers who gave away their worldly possessions and waited for the arrival of a space craft on December 20 at Midnight to rescue them from the coming Apocalypse.
At 5:00am in the morning, Mrs. Keech receives automatic writing to the effect that the groups efforts have persuaded the Earth God to spare the planet from destruction.
These are people who gave up all their possession, and their livelihood for this event.  When neither the space ship, nor the apocalypse arrive the group does not denounce Mrs. Keech.  Rather, they proceed  to publicize the event, and begin a campaign to publicize the groups message.
Festinger notes that cognitive dissonance is possible when:
·         A belief is held with deep conviction
·         There is a necessary commitment to the belief
·         The belief must be sufficiently specific and material enough to the real world that disproving evidence is possible
·         The disconfirming evidence occurs and is known
·         The individual has social support
The sublimation of real world experience  to common beliefs is a common issue within the discourse of collapse and end times.  The people within the common culture are accused of ignoring the warnings and/or portents, and are going to suffer the consequences of their (in-) actions.  This is almost a universal message.
An example would be the many, many warnings that were made about the housing bubble and the financial collapse.  Yet many of the major participants in the event felt that the end result was unforeseen.  The view that our current economic system is simply going through some liquidity issues is obvious in the way that the political and business leaders discuss the current crises.
On the flip side, there are numerous examples of doom prophesiers who over-stretch their prognosticating abilities and wind up with egg on their face when the space ships don’t appear.  That these people and groups are often not discredited after the event is very much an interesting phenomena.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Economic Collapse: Heating Your Home

Will you have a warm house to come home to this winter?  If so, you should consider yourself to be very fortunate. With the United States experiencing the highest levels of long-term unemployment that it has seen since the Great Depression, millions of Americans families are simply out of money.  All across America this winter, families are going to be forced to make some heart breaking decisions.  For many, the choice will come down to either heating their home or putting food on the table.  According to the National Energy Assistance Directors' Association, more than 10 million U.S. households will not be able to afford to heat their homes this winter without assistance, which would be a new all-time record.  So, if you are in a position to easily heat your home this winter, be very, very thankful.  The number of American families that cannot even afford the basics of life is growing by the day.

As I have written about previously, millions of formerly middle class families have been absolutely ripped apart by this economy.  There simply is not nearly enough jobs for everyone, and those who have been left on the outside looking in are becoming increasingly desperate.
from Will You Be Able to Heat Your Home this Winter?  from The Economic Collapse

The post continues on to explain that Federal and State subsidies are far from adequate to cover the costs of aid.

Many homes up north use diesel fuel (although the company that sells it to you won't call it that).  In cases of fuel disruption, if the fuel is stored below grade (or below 20 degrees Celsius = 68 degrees Fahrenheit) its life can be extended well beyond a year with proper care.  Estimates vary, but most seem to say that with annual treatments a ten year life span for diesel fuel is possible.

Whole Home Ambient Heating

Monday, November 15, 2010

A.D. 1000 At the Edge of the Apocalypse

10th Century Style Castle
The people in the year 999 were greatly concerned about the world coming to an end at the start of the new year.  Although Roman Empire in the East (which historian, but not contemporaries, referred to as the Byzantine Empire) was still around, the West had fallen low indeed.   If you use the tradition date of 476 A. D. for the fall or Rome, they had had 523 years to recover, and appear to have made little progress.

The tenth century has been called the Century of Lead and iron.  The barbarian invasions were not yet finished; Europe was still besieged with horde after horde continuing to fling themselves against its walls.  Western Europe was beset on all sides by fanatic Saracens, Spanish Moors, Thor-worshipping Vikings, pagan Bulgars, and fierce Magyar horsemen-proverbial Scourges of God.  Christian barons slaughtered each other with a vengeance over a piece of land, killing their enemies’ serfs –men, women, and children to weaken them economically, burning villages and crops, and cutting down fruit trees for good measure.
In Rome rival popes imprisoned, starved, mutilated, castrated, blinded, and assassinated each other.  Sons murdered fathers, husbands killed wives, sisters fought brothers for possession of a castle or manor.   As early as 909  Archbishop of Rheims, lamented, ”The cities lie in ruins, the monasteries are burned or destroyed, the country far and wide reduced to a lifeless desert. Like first people of earth, men live without law and fear of punishment, abandoning themselves to their passions.  Were everyone does as he pleases, defying the laws divine and human, as well as the orders of their bishops.  The strong oppress the weak.  Everywhere  there is violence against the poor who are helpless to resist-and equally helpless the churches and cloisters who cannot defend what is theirs…
Violence, however, was not the only source of fear.  Recurrent famines added to the general misery. The result of the new invasions-as well as of feudal wars-was a terrible decline of agriculture…In certain years famine became general; it happened  at least five or six times during the century.  Starvation wandered ceaselessly from one region to another …
The famines…resulted in widespread cannibalism.  Parents ate their children.  Robbers not only waylaid hapless travelers, but also devoured them.  Glaber relates tales of hosts murdering their guests for their flesh.  He mentions parts of human bodies sold on markets and buried corpses being dug up and rousted.   He tells of starving people easting unclean beasts and creeping things.  A man who sold human flesh on the market of Tournus was strangled and burned.  Another wretch who dug up the man’s corpse and cooked it was burned at the stake.  A charcoal burner installed himself inside an abandoned church and murdered and ate persons who went there to pray.  A husband and wife who stopped there to ask for shelter surprised the cannibal, who was surrounded by forty-eight human heads while gnawing on the forty-ninth.  The pair managed to escape and report their grisly discovery.  The culprit was caught, smeared with pitch, and set aflame.  People found themselves reduced to eating earth.
Wars and famines were followed by epidemics. “At this time a horrible plague raged among men, namely a hidden fire which consumed and sloughed off all the limbs of the body it attacked.  A single night sufficed for this frightful evil to entirely devour its victims.”  This might very well have been the dreaded St. Anthony’s fire which, all during the Middle Ages, killed thousands of people. It was caused by Ergot, a fungus of the rye plant not easily detected by the naked eye. People eating bread made frome diseased ryw first experienced a tingling sensation, as if thousands of ants were crawling over their bare skin.  In severe cases, affected gingers and toes gangrened, turned black, and fell off. This was sometimes accompanied by respiratory failure, hallucinations, madness, and death.  For this and other diseases of the Middle Ages there were no remedies and not even a way of diagnosing the cause.  Medicine was still mainly a matter of magic, and treatments were determined by grotesque superstitions. Illness was usually looked upon as divine punishment or the effect of malevolent forces.
While some saw the approaching doom in signs and portents, others were convinced by Scripture, quoting Revelations:  “And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out and deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sands of the sea.”
Many trembled at the prospect,, but others rejoiced in the knowledge that the Second Coming was near. The Empress Adelaide told Odilo, Abot of Cluny, ”As the thousandth year of our Lord’s becoming flesh approached, I yearn to behold this day, which knows no evening, in the forecourt of our Lord, I want to be dissolved in Christ.”

Tombs of Plague Victims from the Middle Ages

Friday, November 12, 2010

Population growth

When you speak about a world population of 6+ billion people, it can all get rather fuzzy.  It is a big world after all.

So it may be helpful to take one illustrative example:  Shanghai in China is very quickly approaching the 20 million mark.  And understand, this is a vibrant booming metropolis.  Not  city core with enormous shanty town, periphery.

So how may people is 20 million?

A quick look at  wiki notes that the United States has two States (California and Texas) that are larger than 20 million, and one (New York) that comes close.  So Shanghai by itself would be our third largest state.

Shanghai at Night

For a very good sociological discussion of this I recommend:  Super High Density Shanghai from Understanding Society.

They note that there is a very good arguments to be made for this type of mega-city, and that it is not necessarily dysfunctional at all.

Being a blog, to some extent, of limits rather than possibilities, it goes without saying that if you maximize for efficiency, you may have some problems down the road if inefficiency are imposed on the system.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Updated Earth Impact

ht to naked capitalism Links 11/5/10

from the BBC BBC
Want to know what would happen if a 10km-wide asteroid came out of the sky and slammed down on your city?
Scientists at Purdue University and Imperial College London have updated their popular impact effects calculator first produced in 2004.
Users dial in details about the hypothetical impactor, like its diameter and density.
The web program then estimates the scale of the ensuing disaster, such as the size of the crater left behind.
It will also tell you how far away you need to be to avoid being buried by all the material thrown out by the blast, or set on fire.
Pulled from text above:  impact effects calculator .

Note that for those in the United States, the distance from Los Angelos to New York City is about 3000 miles or 5000km.  I also found it interesting that the distance across the United States is very slightly larger than the diameter of the moon.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Credentialling Crises Continue

I have made reference at times to the credentialing crises.  A term popularized by  Jack Goldstone This crises has been a recurring one at times of economic stress when the upper and middle portions of society are finding fewer opportunities and thus begin fighting for the societal positions available.  These battles are a recurring part of price cycle caused by population expansion, and were particularly notable in pre-industrial societies.
However, these credentialing crises are still occurring today.
The following quotes are from:
American Sociological Review 1971, Vol. 36 (December):1002-1019
IMO the teaching of status, culture, etc. within schools is one of the overt goals of our education system.  However, one of the other primary goals is as a signaling tool.  It signals a certain competency level, but it also signals a willingness to participate within the system: to become part of the club.   Much as hazing rituals are part of the socializing process of fraternities and sororities.  Business and Law schools become part of the hazing process for entry within those societies.
Educational requirements for employment have become increasingly widespread, not only in elite occupations but also at the bottom of the occupational hierarchy…. In a 1967 survey of the San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose areas (Collins, 1969), 17% of the employers surveyed required at least a high school diploma for employment in even unskilled positions; a national survey (Bell, 1940) in 1937-1938 found a comparable figure of 1%.
At the same time, educational requirements appear to have become more specialized, with 38% of the organizations in the 1967 survey which required college degrees of managers preferring business administration training, and an additional 15% preferring engineering training; such requirements appear to have been virtually unknown in the 1920s (Pierson, 1959:34-54).
The main activity of schools is to teach particular status cultures, both in and outside the classroom.  In this light, any failure of schools to impart technical knowledge (although it may also be successful in this) is not important; schools primarily teach vocabulary and inflection, styles of dress, aesthetic tastes, values and manners.
People who go to these go to Law or Business schools are well reminded that their primary importance is as networking tools.  It is often very difficult to show that there much relevance of what they teach to the actual practice of their profession.  There is a whole blog  that discusses  the  "Law School Scam".   So getting a law degree is no longer even a sufficient (necessary- yes, sufficient- no) condition for starting a law career.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Lost Neanderthal Empire

OK , the evidence that the Neanderthal’s organized themselves into complex social groups of any sort is rather  sparse: really sparse.  My primary point here is to show the fragility of small groups within limited geographical areas to large external events.
Even the gravity of weather events within the confines of a specific area are underestimated.  You do not need a Hurricane Katrina to cause a disaster within a limited area:  particularly if no aid is arriving from outside the area, and there is no possibility of fleeing to a safe haven area.
If modern means of transport are not available the ability to move large amounts of food stuff is very limited.  It should be recalled that even with the very well organized Romans, it was easier to ship something across the entire breadth of the Mediterranean Sea than to ship it by land 75 miles.  And yet at the same times, bodies of water and rivers are some of the primary culprits for localized weather disasters.
There seems to be a notion that if you got away from modern agriculture with its fuel dependence, and high population densities, that our problems would go away.   But it was weather related problems (the Younger Dryas to be more specific) that seem to be closely linked to the beginnings of the early farming economies.  Neanderthals would have been relatively unspecialized hunter-gatherers with a very low population density.   Yet, they were not immune to vagaries of nature.
For the first time, we have identified evidence that the disappearance of Neanderthals in the Caucasus coincides with a volcanic eruption at about 40,000 BP.

Our data support the hypothesis that the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition in western Eurasia correlates with a global volcanogenic catastrophe. The coeval volcanic eruptions (from a large Campanian Ignimbrite eruption to a smaller eruption in the Central Caucasus) had an unusually sudden and devastating effect on the ecology and forced the fast and extreme climate deterioration (“volcanic winter”) of the Northern Hemisphere in the beginning of Heinrich Event 4. Given the data from Mezmaiskaya Cave and supporting evidence from other sites across the Europe, we guess that the Neanderthal lineage truncated abruptly after this catastrophe in most of its range.

We also propose that the most significant advantage of early modern humans over contemporary Neanderthals was geographic localization in the more southern parts of western Eurasia and Africa. Thus, modern humans avoided much of the direct impact of the European volcanic crisis. They may have further benefited from the Neanderthal population vacuum in Europe and major technological and social innovations, whose revolutionary appearance shortly after 40,000 BP documents the beginning of Upper Paleolithic.
Current Anthropology, 51:655–691, October 2010
Liubov Vitaliena Golovanova, Vladimir Borisovich Doronichev, Naomi Elansia Cleghorn, Marianna Alekseevna Koulkova, Tatiana Valentinovna Sapelko, and M. Steven Shackley
Post Conquest Celebrations!

Monday, November 8, 2010

How Bad Was the Roman Collapse

Ian Morris in  Why the West Rules  notes that the Roman Empires per capita energy usage in the First Century was ~31,000 calories…it is very clear that Romans ate more meat, built  more cities, used more and bigger trading ships (and so on and so on) than Europeans would do again until the eighteenth century. P 157.
That is all very nice, but what exactly did this entail.
Ward-Perkins, Author of  The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization   continues:from

…the mass of archaeological evidence now available, which shows a startling decline in the western standards of living during the fifth to seventh centuries. This was a change that affected everyone, from peasants to kings, even the bodies of the saints resting in their churches. It was no mere transformation — it was decline on a scale that can reasonably be described as ‘the end of a civilization’….

The reason the Romano-British economy collapsed so dramatically should give us pause for thought. Almost certainly the suddenness and the catastrophic scale of the crash were caused by the levels of sophistication and specialization reached by the economy in Roman times. The Romano-British population had grown used to buying their pottery, nails, and other basic goods from specialist producers, based often many miles away, and these producers in their turn relied on widespread markets to sustain their specialized production. When insecurity came in the fifth century, this impressive house of cards collapsed, leaving a population without the goods they wanted and without the skills and infrastructure needed to produce them locally. It took centuries to reconstruct networks of specialization and exchange comparable to those of the Roman period.

The more complex an economy is, the more fragile it is, and the more cataclysmic its disintegration can be. Our economy is, of course, in a different league of complexity to that of Roman Britain. Our pottery and metal goods are likely to have been made, not many miles away, but on the other side of the globe, while our main medium of exchange is electronic, and sometimes based on smoke and mirrors. If our economy ever truly collapses, the consequences will make fifth-century Britain seem like a picnic.

The economic indicators for fifth-century Britain are scanty, and derive exclusively from archeology, but they are consistent and extremely bleak. Under the Roman Empire, the province had benefited from the use of a sophisticated coinage in three metals – gold, silver and copper – lubricating the economy with a guaranteed and abundant medium of exchange. In the first decade of the fifth century new coins ceased to reach Britain from the imperial mints on the continent, and while some attempts were made to produce local substitutes, these efforts were soon abandoned. For about 300 years, from around AD 420, Britain’s economy functioned without coin.

Core manufacturing declined in a similar way. There was some continuity of production of the high-class metalwork needed by a warrior aristocracy to mark its wealth and status; but at the level of purely functional products there was startling change, all of it for the worse. Roman Britain had enjoyed an abundance of simple iron goods, documented by the many hob-nail boots and coffin-nails found in Roman cemeteries. These, like the coinage, disappeared early in the fifth century, as too did the industries that had produced abundant attractive and functional wheel-turned pottery. From the early fifth century, and for about 250 years, the potter’s wheel – that most basic tool, which enables thin-walled and smoothly finished vessels to be made in bulk – disappeared altogether from Britain. The only pots remaining were shaped by hand, and fired, not in kilns as in Roman times, but in open ‘clamps’ (a smart word for a pile of pots in a bonfire).

For two or three hundred years, beginning at the start of the fifth century, the economy of Britain reverted to levels not experienced since well before the Roman invasion of AD 43. The most startling features of the fifth-century crash are its suddenness and its scale. We might not be surprised if, on leaving the empire, Britain had reverted to an economy similar to that which it had enjoyed in the immediately pre-Roman Iron Age. But southern Britain just before the Roman invasion was a considerably more sophisticated place economically than Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries: it had a native silver coinage; pottery industries that produced wheel-turned vessels and sold them widely; and even the beginnings of settlements recognizable as towns. Nothing of the kind existed in the fifth and sixth centuries; and it was only really in the eighth century that the British economy crawled back to the levels it had already reached before Emperor Claudius’s invasion. It is impossible to say with any confidence when Britain finally returned to levels of economic complexity comparable to those of the highest point of Roman times, but it might be as late as around the year 1000 or 1100. If so, the post-Roman recession lasted for 600-700 years.
Call this a recession? At least it isn't a Dark Ages, Financial Times, Published: December 22 2009 20:36.
Switching to Chris Wickham in  The Inheritance of Rome (p151)

Britain faced economic meltdown in the early fifth century, after the withdrawal of Roman armies and the end of the Roman provincial administration around 410. ..Britain effectively fell off the Roma map…by 450 at the latest, villas were abandoned, urbanism had virtually ended, the countryside was partly abandoned around the old military focus of Hadrian’s Wall and all large-scale artisan production had ceased...

In noting that he  names this particular chapter: Kings without States: Britain and Ireland, 400-800 he states further:
Britain, at least, was divided among a set of small-scale rulers, sometimes called kings (reges), sometimes tyrants (tyranny).  A patchwork of tiny polities had replaced the Roman State.
It should be noted that Tainter, most apocalyptic favorite theoretician, is probably more wrong than right on this subject.  He notes that for many of the individuals involved, that the “collapse” may not have been such a bad thing.  In this, I believe he is misjudgingadvance of the Roman Empire.  He appears to be putting it in the same league as the many garden variety large Empires that spread over vast areas, built large armies, and great monuments.  But ice cores samples, confirmed by peat bod sampling show that airborne pollution increased sevenfold during the rise of the Roman Empire.  Europe (Rome) produced nine or ten times as much copper and silver in the firs century CE as in the thirteenth century CE, with all the energy demands that implies.  Not until 11th century china did pollution levels rise back to the Roman level. Rome was different.
 Many people who write end-of-the-world scenarios tend to paint these Swiss Family Robinson with AK-47 scenarios.  Tribulations, and hard ships, but in the end a much more satisfying and wholesome world for the survivors:  and those other guys either were too fat and lazy, or where evil cannibal zombie strawmen.
If our society has a collapse comparable to Romes, we would not collapse to a 18th century technology, but more likely a 16th century one.  The 16th century had a lot of large empires, slavery, and starvation.  There were not a lot of areas where happy little homesteaders lived heart of the earth lives in bucolic farming communities tending to their crops unmolested.

Beirut School