Monday, January 31, 2011

Revolution and the disposesed elites

As I have noted previously, a system under stress can maintain some form of cohesion almost indefinitely provided its elite groups maintain ranks.  When one of the previously "inside" groups feels that it is no longer receiving its due share, trouble begins.

Thus it is in Tunisia:
Ben Ali's fate may have been sealed when military officers -- who had been marginalized by the regime as it lavished money on family members and corrupt business elites -- demonstrated a willingness to stand down and protect protesters from the police and internal security services.  from Michael Koplow, Why Tunisia's Revolution is Islamist Free. Foreign Policy.  Hat tip Naked Capitalism
And as to the underlying causes.

Providing cheap food to the masses is part of an unwritten pact between Arab dictators and their people. Since the 1950s, authoritarian Arab regimes have committed to distributing subsidized food staples such as bread, milk and eggs to their populations in exchange for political quiescence…

Antiquated and inefficient subsidy systems from Rabat to Riyadh are now buckling under the pressure of record-high global food (and fuel) prices. Arab governments face the dilemma: absorb the extra costs of food inflation into national subsidy programmers at the risk of deepening budget deficits, or permit domestic food prices to rise at the risk of social unrest.

Tunisia appears to have chosen unwisely.

Of course, food inflation is not a problem on its own. It is the combustible mixture of poverty, high unemployment, economic disparity, and rising living costs that has turned the region into a powder keg.

Arab Labor Organization (ALO) figures show that Arab countries have among the highest unemployment rates in the world – an average of 14.5 percent in fiscal year 2007/08 compared with the international average of 5.7 percent. The rates may even be higher if one accepts unofficial estimates.
According to national figures, more than 20 percent of Egyptians live on less than two dollars per day, the UN-recognized poverty threshold. In Algeria, about 23 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, while in Morocco it is 14.3 percent, in Tunisia it is 12.8 percent, and in Yemen the rate exceeds 45 percent. from Cam McGrath, Arib Regimes Fear Bread Intifadah, IPS.
If you replace statements like "cheap food to the masses" with Wal-mart, and "authoritarian regime" with Wall Street financed Oligarchy, you might begin to see a continuum from where the Arabs are and where we are.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Link Post: Apparently we should be rioting as well

A quick link post.  ht naked capitalism

From Washington's Bog

Inequality in the United States is Worse than in Egypt, Tunisia, or Yemen
Egyptian, Tunisian and Yemeni protesters all say that inequality is one of the main reasons they're protesting.

However, the U.S. actually has much greater inequality than in any of those countries.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Apocalyptic Poets -Al Gore

Title Unknown
by Al Gore

One thin September soon
A floating continent disappears
In midnight sun
Vapors rise as
Fever settles on an acid sea
Neptune's bones dissolve

Snow glides from the mountain
Ice fathers floods for a season
A hard rain comes quickly

Then dirt is parched
Kindling is placed in the forest
For the lightning's celebration

Unknown creatures
Take their leave, unmourned
Horsemen ready their stirrups

Passion seeks heroes and friends
The bell of the city
On the hill is rung

The shepherd cries
The hour of choosing has arrived
Here are your tools

Apparently found on page 28 of his book Our Choice.  I am not aware of it having a title.  I have not read the book.  I would in general agree that is our choice. 

I am not a big fan of Al Gore, finding him to be a bit odd (for a presidential candidate) at times.  I  recall an NPR discussion with a weather scientist who was working in the  extreme north at the time that An Inconvenient Truth came out.  He was clearly concerned about global climate change, but was a bit worried that many of the findings in the movie could not be backed up by the current research.  My guess was that the scientist was worried that the issue would become even more of political affiliation rather than scientific research:  IMO he was correct.

When you look at a collection of your typical survivalist-preparer (or as I like to say extender) sites, all sorts of potential catastrophes are discussed without the blink of an eye: asteroids, EMP, nuclear war, pandemic flu, peak oil.  But one subject is very sparsely discussed:  global warming.

The problem isn't so much that global warming has become politicized.  But that it has been politicized by the wrong side.  It has become the issue of the Democrats!  And the Democrats are the party of gun control!  It is somewhat the same problem that African Americans often have.  They are easily the most socially conservative group within the Democratic Party, but the Republicans staunch opposition to civil rights (less so affirmative action) has kept them solidly in place.  It is also true that their are a fair number of Democrats (see Heath Shuler) are not in the gun control camp.  But if gun confiscation were to take place through the political process: that is likely where it would come from.

I have generally been suspicious of much of the rhetoric of global warming.  But I have seen enough evidence outside of the political sphere to make it one of my top concerns going forward.  The likely end result is that we will burn up every bit of carbon fuel we can get our hands on, and then see if we run out before we melt ourselves.  So I am skeptical about positive solutions going forward.

I would like to see more prepares take the issue seriously.  I am not sure I would put it at the top of the list, but I would certainly put it in the top five and review its status closely.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Demographics Decline Americana

An interesting piece from the Washington Post notes that there is now a broad decline across the broad spectrum of the lower to lower-middle class of America. The article notes correctly that this downturn preceded the current recession/depression.  While the article correctly notes our previous propensity for borrowing our way out of problems, it ignores the wage leveling effects of global competition, immigration, and the lump that is the the baby boom cohort.
It also does not address that to some extent, the prevalence of higher degrees is not a sign of more education per se, but an outgrowth of a credentialing crises.  As upper end positions within the normal hierarchy become hard to get, there is a race toward increased credentials by those who want to grab up these positions.  Jack Goldstone noted that under similar demographics, this occurred in late 17th century England: so it is not a new phenomena.

The social pathologies long associated with the inner-city poor - single-parent households, births out of wedlock, drug and alcohol abuse - now stalk the white working class in rural and post-industrial regions far removed from big cities. The middle is falling. Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative National Review, has noted that as wages and employment levels have fallen for the Americans who have graduated high school but not college, their level of out-of-wedlock births (44 percent) has approached that of Americans who haven't completed high school (54 percent). Americans with college diplomas or more, by contrast, have a rate of just 6 percent.
The great sociologist William Julius Wilson has long argued that the key to the unraveling of the lives of the African American poor was the decline in the number of "marriageable males" as work disappeared from the inner city. Much the same could now be said of working-class whites in neighborhoods that may not look like the ghettos of Cleveland or Detroit but in which productive economic activity is increasingly hard to find.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

End of the world internet: The Survivalist Blog

The Survivalist Blog has put out an offer to trade links at the small cost of a review of his blog.  As he is one of the more popular blogs for the true preparer-survivalists it is a pretty generous offer.

Well the first question you would ask if is:  Why is it so popular? 

·         He posts on a regular basis.

·         It is a very inclusive website.  Comments are encouraged and the author makes frequent appearance within the comments himself. Comments are posted quickly.

·         Many of the postings such as “What was your most embarrassing-awkward moment”, or “what did you do to prepare this week” are designed to set up a sense of community

·         The author is very personal and forthright about his personal experiences, and occasional problems. 

·         Unlike some, the author is reasonably modest and relaxed. 

·         He meshes the commercial aspects of his site well with the content.  The product and book reviews are frequent and good source for ideas.  The advertisements and commercial content are not a huge distraction.  They are relevant to his site content.

·         He is accepting of a broad variety of secular end-of-days scenarios.

·         He does not constantly rant about his personal political peeves.

·         Did I mention, he posts on a regular basis?

Of course good points often have their flip-side.

His acceptance of so many possible scenarios, that it does occasionally make it a little difficult to prioritize the relative value of the preparation measures.  Should you really give an EMP scenario the same weighting as Peak Oil issues or general nuclear war?

He is of the relatively standard libertarian-survivalist mindset, as opposed to the cooperative community brand of survivalism.   Both approaches have their blind spots and seem to be almost completely ignorant of the other.  Some of this is likely because of the accidental political history that caused the enviro-friendly meme to be adopted by the same political groups that have been historically opposed to Second Amendment gun rights.  There is no real interconnection between the ideas,  but in American politics that is the way it is.

His current personal experience is as an all-in, isolated rural living.  As such, it tends toward the guns and camping mindset. I like guns and camping content, so that is fine with me.  However, rural U.S.A. is quickly becoming the rural low density version of the inner city.  The negative impact of locating yourself in an area with low potentials for employment or cash flow is not always addressed well.

He puts more thought and research into his posts then most.  He will link to definitions and products but he does not always link or reference his sources in a thorough fashion.  Since even my never ending multi-part posts, are relatively short, this limits the amount of further research that can be done by the reader.

He is relatively young and single.  I have not seen a lot of thought given to what older people; particularly older people with limited means might do to improve their situation.  If he has had a posting on survival diapers, I missed it. LOL.

What would I change?

There is a fare amount of guest-posting.  Some of these posts are very weak. 

This guest posting appears to be fairly common with the commercially focused preparer sites.  I suspect that the very broad range of audience, with the narrow focus of the postings makes it difficult to keep from posting the same post over and over again.  It can take a lot of research to come up with completely new posting ideas, and it is particularly hard to condense new ideas into posts that will fit within the size of a standard blog posting (thus my many multi-part postings here). 

My suggestion would be to haunt the camping-fishing-outdoor blogs and news sources and pick up their relevant links.   Looking here, she was posting snow prints of different animals; that would certainly relate to both tracking and hunting scenarios. I am amazed at how many infrequent posters do mass link-posts when half of those links would make a fine post ideas.

As a final suggestion, allowing readers their input, make a list of collapse-catastrophe scenarios and their likelihood of occurrence.  And then post it somewhere for all to see. This does not mean that you have to ignore scenarios off or low on the list, but would give a little more common focus as to what the first priority for preparation will be.  It also allows another occasional audience reaction post (Does our list need updating?) along with introduction of new factors to be added onto a particular scenario.  By breaking out disasters responses by type, the subject would be less amorphous, more easily addressed, and more easily broken down into multiple posts.  As an example, a post about resources of medical care facility in a pandemic might have very different than those after an economic collapse.

Well this post is getting long, but The Survivalist Blog has a lot of material to cover.  I doubt I have even scratched the surface.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Argentinean and Soviet Collapse 2

To continue or discussion, we will turn to Argentina
Argentina gained its independence in 1824, but the country was not fully united until 1852 when the separate Buenos Aires rejoined the rest of the country.

With the reentry of Buenos Aires, the main source of revenue for the country, Argentina entered a new era of growth. As settlement of the pampas expanded, wool and cereal production replaced the old colonial commodities of hides and tallow as the nation’s principal exports.10 Good economic conditions and labor shortages led to an influx of immigrant Europeans, especially from Italy and Spain. The population grew from two million in 1869 to eight million in 1914…
Improved technology, especially the invention of refrigerated shipping in the 1870s, made Argentina a leading exporter of beef, although other commodities like corn and wheat continued to be exported on a large scale. The late 19th and early 20th centuries were the belle époque of Argentina, with the economy growing at an annual rate of 3.7 percent… Rick Lovering, An Interpretation of Argentine Economic and Political History:  Dutch Disease on the Pampas, 2007 (pdf).
Thus on paper, Argentina’s per capita income(1985 $) of $2,377 in 1913, compare well Chile’s $1,685 and Brazil’s $700, and is reasonably within the reach of  Canada’s $3,560 and the United States $4,854.  But it was all very lopsided with much of it being fueled by an export boom, along with the usual echo boom of  consumption as commodity moneys flood into the economy. 
However, the onset of World War 1, the later Great Depression, and then the trade restriction of World War 2 all led to a very choppy period for Argentina’s exports.  With very little economic basis outside of commodity export and consumption based on the trade surplus, the economy would go through continual booms and crashes.
Different leaders had various responses to inflation and to the dominance of the agricultural industry in Argentina. Gen. Juan Perón’s attempt to establish successful manufacturing industries backfired as he subsidized sectors in which Argentina did not have a comparative advantage and therefore could not compete internationally without government support. The subsidies, continued by various governments to gain support from working class unions, discouraged the movement of labor into industries associated with the commodities boom, further exacerbating the effects of Dutch Disease…
Alternating military and civilian governments proved unwilling, for reasons of nationalism, radicalism, or personal benefit, to dismantle the large state-owned apparatus of industries. Instead of long term solutions, political and military governments throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, concerned with maintaining power, tried to achieve, in the short-run, the objectives of price stability and deficit-reduction.  Rather than lower export taxes and increase agricultural exports, successive governments saw export taxes on “the products of the pampas…to be an excellent way of dealing with those two problems in the short run.  From Lovering.
Without ever having produced a balanced economy, Argentina continued to swing up and down with the vagaries of the commodities and money markets.  Commodities took off in the 1970s, and government spending increased with the revenue influx.  When the boom ended in the 1970s, rather than cut back on government spending they began to borrow money to make up the difference.
There are many twists and turns, but the Argentinean devaluation of their currency in January of 2002, and then the renegotiation of the foreign debt to 35 cents on the dollar are a direct result of an economy over-expanding during a commodity booms.  The use of borrowed money (as also seen in the case of the Soviet Union) to fund ongoing operating costs eventually becomes unsustainable.
Lessons to the United States

  • Borrowing money to fund consumption is unsustainable.

  • The efficiencies of comparative advantage import/export between countries will lead to greater wealth much of the time.  However, these systems are not sustainable.  They are vulnerable to both internal and external forces.  After a long run up of success, world trade broke down three times in 30 years in the first part of the 20th century (1914, 1932, 1939).  The current world trade system started after World War 2, but got went into overtime when the former Soviet Bloc and China joined.

  • The production efficiency allowed by modern technology, where a very few number of people can produce a very large output, has some characteristics in common with the classic commodity producing economy.   It is very likely they will crowd out development in the less leveraged portions of the economy.  The net result is not clear.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Argentinean and Soviet Collapse 1

This is going to be long enough that I will split it into two parts.
Fer Fal had an interesting, but I believe incomplete, discussion of what caused the decline of Argentina.  I also came across an interesting discussion of the collapse of the Soviet Union at Marginal Revolution. This is conveniant because it will allow me to cover the genesis to two popular post economic collapse non-fiction books:  Surviving the Economic Collapse and Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects
Both countries collapses hinged on an overabundance of commodity production relative to an underdeveloped general economy.   A lack of self sufficiency or at the very least a more rounded export trade caused a trap where fluctuations in export values caused a collapse.
Argentina  suffered from the Dutch disease.  The name comes from what happened to the Dutch economy after the discovery of natural gas in 1959.  To simplify,   when a company is able to export a lot of natural resources, often using a relatively small portion of its labor or capital, it begins increases its spending to match this income.  Other parts of the economy are crowded (through the high exchange values)by the boom in commodities and consumption.  Too much money comes in and it drives up the cost of local goods, while reducing the prices of imports.  Local producers and manufactures cannot compete with the influx of imports.  This is not generally a problem except that the supply of the commodity often begins to run short, or in the case of both the Soviet Union and Argentina, prices drop from the boom periods.
Let us start with the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union destroyed its agricultural base starting in the1920s to force their economy to industrialize.  They succeeded in industrializing, but at the expense of needing to import large amounts of food. 
For a time period, the Soviets were able to ignore the inefficiencies of communism because as a follow-on industrializer they were able adopt efficient methods by simply copying what the West had done:  innovation was not required.  The policies of terror also kept everyone moving.  However, once the gains from this industrialization had been gained (and they rebuilt from WW2), inertia set in.  They needed foreign exchange (money) to pay for their food imports, but their industrial base had nothing to sell that the food producing countries wanted:  except oil.
So long as the Soviet Union was able to sell oil, they were able to cover over the problems with the rest of their economy.   Although the command economy with default rationing was able to keep some of the difficulties in check, they tended to stymie development in the non-oil portions of the economy even further.
The timeline of the collapse of the Soviet Union can be traced to September 13, 1985. On this date, Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, the minister of oil of Saudi Arabia, declared that the monarchy had decided to alter its oil policy radically. The Saudis stopped protecting oil prices, and Saudi Arabia quickly regained its share in the world market. During the next six months, oil production in Saudi Arabia increased fourfold, while oil prices collapsed by approximately the same amount in real terms.
As a result, the Soviet Union lost approximately $20 billion per year, money without which the country simply could not survive. The Soviet leadership was confronted with a difficult decision on how to adjust. There were three options--or a combination of three options--available to the Soviet leadership… dissolve the Eastern European empire and effectively stop barter trade in oil and gas ,…drastically reduce Soviet food imports by $20 billion, the amount the Soviet Union lost when oil prices collapsed,…implement radical cuts in the military-industrial complex.
Unable to realize any of the above solutions, the Soviet leadership decided to adopt a policy of effectively disregarding the problem in hopes that it would somehow wither away.  Instead of implementing actual reforms, the Soviet Union started to borrow money from abroad while its international credit rating was still strong.  It borrowed heavily from 1985 to 1988, but in 1989 the Soviet economy stalled completely...
The money was suddenly gone. The Soviet Union tried to create a consortium of 300 banks to provide a large loan for the Soviet Union in 1989, but was informed that only five of them would participate and, as a result, the loan would be twenty times smaller than needed.  The Soviet Union then received a final warning from the Deutsche Bank and from its international partners that the funds would never come from commercial sources.  Instead, if the Soviet Union urgently needed the money, it would have to start negotiations directly with Western governments about so-called politically motivated credits.
In 1985 the idea that the Soviet Union would begin bargaining for money in exchange for political concessions would have sounded absolutely preposterous to the Soviet leadership.  In 1989 it became a reality, and Gorbachev understood the need for at least $100 billion from the West to prop up the oil-dependent Soviet economy.  From The Soviet Collapse: Grain and Oil by Yegor Gaidar
The oil crisis highlights the essential fault in the Russian economy. The real Russia that had for many years been hidden from public view was deficient in manufacture and stuck with an aging capital stock. It was primarily a supplier of natural resources such as oil, gas and metals. Most of their manufactured products largely failed to sell on the world market because of their poor quality and lagging technology.
Oil is Russia's largest and most important natural resource but there's a long list of others, including reserves of nickel, copper and cobalt, and iron. The demand for these commodities is tied to the growth and stability of the world economy and subject to volatile price changes, big swings up and down and back again, following the same path as oil prices.
The importance of commodities to Russia is made clear by the simple fact that they comprise 70 percent of her exports and provide 30 percent of the national budget. From the Dick Wilson’s review of Yegor Gaidar’s Collapse of an Empire, Brookings Institute.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Yellowstone Rumbling

A link post (ht naked capitalism), as there is current reporting on activity at Yellow Stone by the BBC: 
Yellowstone Has Bulged as Magma Pocket Swells . As one of her commenter pointed out, the Brits even made a movie about it.
I tend to view the super volcano scenario as a serious one; they have caused problems within recorded history.  Of your various “end of the world as we know it” (EOTWAWKI) scenarios, they tend to be one of the more erratic ones.   When they have caused historical collapses, to the extent that we are able to ascertain that they have, they appear to have been localized and of the “slow” variety.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Dead Apocolyptic Poets: Lord Byron

In the case of Byron, he was actually inspired by current events, in that he was writting about the year without summer caused by the Volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815.  The effects of Mount Tambora play into many doomsday scenerios, including nuclear winter, and outr own wonderful Yellowstone ParkBecause he is writing about an actual cataclismic event, I think his description is probably one of the better ones you would find for a (possible) actual ending.

by: George Gordon (Lord) Byron

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish'd, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went--and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill'd into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires--and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings--the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consum'd,
And men were gather'd round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other's face;
Happy were those who dwelt within the eye
Of the volcanos, and their mountain-torch:
A fearful hope was all the world contain'd;
Forests were set on fire--but hour by hour
They fell and faded--and the crackling trunks
Extinguish'd with a crash--and all was black.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smil'd;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and look'd up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnash'd their teeth and howl'd: the wild birds shriek'd
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl'd
And twin'd themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless--they were slain for food.
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again: a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;
All earth was but one thought--and that was death
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails--men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devour'd,
Even dogs assail'd their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish'd men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead
Lur'd their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answer'd not with a caress--he died.
The crowd was famish'd by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heap'd a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage; they rak'd up,
And shivering scrap'd with their cold skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame
Which was a mockery; then they lifted up
Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld
Each other's aspects--saw, and shriek'd, and died--
Even of their mutual hideousness they died,
Unknowing who he was upon whose brow
Famine had written Fiend. The world was void,
The populous and the powerful was a lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless--
A lump of death--a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirr'd within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp'd
They slept on the abyss without a surge--
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expir'd before;
The winds were wither'd in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish'd; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them--She was the Universe.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Survival Strategy: small business

Some time ago, Global Guerilla, noted that being a small business person was an excellent strategy for survival in coming tough times, because of the opportunity to make so many local connections, etc.  In so many words, I said he was crazy. 

Owning a small business is a great way to go broke.   Only around 20% of them survive to their fifth year.  In many cases running a small business are very similar working a regular job:   where you get paid $1.20 an hour.   If you have a regular 40 to 50 hour a week job, you probably will have more time to add to your network and connections then the small business owner who is staying up late doing the paper work, book keeping, estimating, etc. for the next day’s work.

And people just don’t think through the money end of it, and the volume of money required.  I thought the following was illustrative.

For each cupcake she sells, Ms. Lovely figures she spends 60 cents on ingredients, 57 cents on mortgage payments and utilities, 48 cents on labor, 18 cents on packaging and merchant fees, 16 cents on loan repayment, 24 cents for marketing, 18 cents for miscellaneous expenses and 4 cents for insurance. That totals $2.45, leaving a potential profit of 55 cents on each $3 cupcake.
So far, the per-cupcake margin is going to pay down start-up expenses. She’s been selling the 2,800 cupcakes a month she calculates she needs to sell to cover her costs — she’s taking only a small salary for now — but she says it’s too early to predict when the store will turn profitable, in part because of the economy and in part because she fears losing business to rival cupcake entrepreneurs.
Ms. Lovely is in the process of rebranding the shop to overcome what she calls “a typical rookie mistake” of underestimating “the power and importance of branding and marketing.” She said she had to do more to tell customers that her cupcakes were made from organic, local and natural ingredients.Donald Marron Cupcake Economics

As further illustration, pretty much across the board it has been estimated that to run a successful electrical contracting business you need to generate $100,000.00 a year per field employee.   I have noticed that in other businesses that have similar labor heavy requirements that this number holds up pretty well.

Be careful taking advice from succesful business people.  They are the worst example of survivor bias.  It is often the case that their unsucessful competitors actually used the same strategy, tactics, etc. as they did, and that while their maybe certain necessary requirements common to all, they are not the unique requirements to success.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Survival Strategies: Lying

Well having gone into depth on cannibalism as a survival strategy, we could hardly miss the almost universally necessary skill of lying.  Clancy Martin discusses his former techniques in jewelry sales (ht marginal revolution):

The jewelry business—like many other businesses, especially those that depend on selling—lends itself to lies. It's hard to make money selling used Rolexes as what they are, but if you clean one up and make it look new, suddenly there's a little profit in the deal. Grading diamonds is a subjective business, and the better a diamond looks to you when you're grading it, the more money it's worth—as long as you can convince your customer that it's the grade you're selling it as. Here's an easy, effective way to do that: First lie to yourself about what grade the diamond is; then you can sincerely tell your customer "the truth" about what it's worth.

As I would tell my salespeople: If you want to be an expert deceiver, master the art of self-deception. People will believe you when they see that you yourself are deeply convinced. It sounds difficult to do, but in fact it's easy—we are already experts at lying to ourselves. We believe just what we want to believe. And the customer will help in this process, because she or he wants the diamond—where else can I get such a good deal on such a high-quality stone?—to be of a certain size and quality. At the same time, he or she does not want to pay the price that the actual diamond, were it what you claimed it to be, would cost. The transaction is a collaboration of lies and self-deceptions.

Clancy Martin, Chair of Philosophy Department at University of Missouri at Kansas City

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fact Free America

We tend to get locked into a reality.  It is not always exactly a "fun" reality, but it is a reality that gives us some sense of control and self worth.  Within the preperationist camp it tends to follow the logic that all can be cured with sufficient food stores piled away in a one bug-out-bag-distance safe haven, or possibly by having picked the prefect caliber on the perfect platform of semi-automatic rifle.  For some it is a hide-out in the deserts, for others it is a quite get away along some creek in a National Forest.

I ran across a piece that I thought addressed this tendency well.  As it is from the Nation, it takes a leftword slant, but IMO it is almost universally applicable to modern American culture.
The sad truth is that even when presented with concrete and irrefutable evidence, some people still prefer the reality they want over the one they actually live in. Herein lies one of the central problems of engaging with those on the American right. Cocooned in their own mediated ecosystem, many of them are almost unreachable through debate; the air is so fetid, reasonable discussion cannot breathe. You can't win an argument without facts, and we live in a moment when whether you're talking about climate change or WMD, facts seem to matter less and less.

The examples are legion. Most of those who believe that Obama is a Muslim (roughly one in three Republicans) also loathe his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But Muslims don't have pastors. They also claim that Obama's 1981 trip to Pakistan as a student is evidence of his Islamic militancy and his dubious beginnings: he must have used a foreign passport, since the country was on a "no-travel list" at the time. It wasn't. In fact, in August that year the US consul general in Lahore encouraged Americans to visit, and before that, on June 14, the New York Times Travel section had run a 3,400-word piece explaining that Americans could get thirty-day visas at airports and border crossings.
IMO there are so many specialist preperation sites, that you could spend all day reviewing them, and never leave them to look at reality from a different perspective.  A few of the sites do put a different slant on our current problems and situations, but most of them sort take a consensious veiw, that it will all end now, it will all end quickly, and that we are all going to be living in a precious metals only economy very soon.

That may come to pass.

But, as I hope I have illustrated in previous posts, there have been so many collapses in so many permutations, that it is a good idea to see exactly what happened before.   The Collapse of Cahokia looks an awful lot like a Mad Max scenerios on the surface.  But even here, a close looks at so many permutations.  Some of the neighboring groups did not collapse, or at least not all the way for many hundreds of years.  Some of the groups broke down into smaller units, and then had a delayed reaction collapse.  Probably only the immediate urban area of Cahokia had a quick collapse.

So even with the collapse of a (advanced) stone age society there are many stories within the stories.  Some preperation for future problems would probably be helpful, but so would a lot more attention to what was going on within your society, and figuring out who was doing what .  A slow strangulation gives time for looking around and repositioning.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Collapse of Empires - Cahokia 2

Before reading the following quotation that discusses what happened after the collapse of the Cahokia, consider the following:  The Cahokia who left their collapse homeland were moving into areas were at least the people present understood the local methods of food production.  At least some of the Cahokian's themselves also understood small scale farming methods.  In a more modern setting, it is not clear where urbanites would move to find knowledgeable small scale food production.  So any flight of the urban to the less urban is more likely to be that of the unskilled toward the unskilled.This style of fighting continued until the arrival of the Spanish brought written accounts to what was happening.  There came to be an absence of massed graves, as people congregated in large enough towns to withstand assault and losses came from raids snatching isolated people.  Any individuals living in an isolated position would not have survived.
Wherever they moved, the liminal experience of resettlement once again up-ended the traditions of peoples.  The large early Mississippian polities were gone, and the agricultural peoples so liberated were simultaneously subjected to a level of violence hitherto unknown in the history of the continent.  Endemic warfare appeared across eastern North America, seen variously as an upsurge in the construction of palisades, as a disappearance of dispersed farmsteads, and as the increased rate of traumatic injury and death (Milner 1999).
Along the central Illinois River valley, violence seems to have become progressively worse through time. Consider this brief historical outline.  First, the initial Mississippian people appear as intruders… Burned houses hint at violent conflicts of a sort.  By AD 1200 creolized local Mississippian  population of that region live in a series of large towns, each with one large public building to one side, sometimes situated atop an earthen platform mound.  These towns were interspersed on the bluff crests overlooking the wide floodplain of the Illinois River.  Periodically, an entire town appears to have been burned to the ground. At fourteenth century Olrendorf…coworkers excavated a series of four superimposed villages.  Each was suspected to have been home to several hundred people.  Each in its turn had been burned to the ground.
This sort of village-based warfare spilled out into the Plains, exacerbated  by the migrations of peoples from the east whose lifestyles, language, or claims to the land apparently could not be peacefully reconciled with those of the peoples already there. ..The results include the famous Crow Creek massacre… [At the 7 ha Crow Creek Village, an earlier fortification had been allowed to deteriorate, leaving the village unprotected.] At some point the residents sensed a new threat and began work on a fortified ditch and a new bastion palisade wall.  However, before work could be completed the enemy attacked.  Most of the men, women, and children of the village were massacred.  At least 486 people were heaped into one portion of the incomplete 300m long, 3. Deep fortification ditch.  The lower incidence of young women indicates they were either captured and carried off, or managed to run away as the male defenders stood their ground…
Warfare was becoming a no-holds-barred proposition on the eastern Plains and back in the Mississippian heartland.  Whereas early Mississippians infrequently touted their arrows and falcon imagery…late Mississippian warfare was a much less of an aristocratic pursuit.  The enemy killed all people indiscriminately.  The intent was not merely prestige, but an early form of ethnic cleansing.   In one 15th century cemetery in central Illinois, 1/3 of all adults were killed by their enemies. Form blows to the head, arrow wounds, or scalping.  May of these people showed evidence of parry fractures on the arms, produced by the force of a blunt instrument across a long bone, caused when they had attempted to fend of attackers, ultimately unsuccessfully.