Monday, February 28, 2011

The Noah Countdown: The Review

The Noah Countdown by B.T. (Brooks) Post

Is an unusual pre-apocalyptic countdown book.  Much of it has certain affinities with the famous novel One Flew Over the Cookoos Nest by counter culture 'hero'  Ken Kessey.  Unlike Kessey, the author does not believe that the inmates are sane, but she does make a strong point the psychiatric institute for profit leads to a setting where the inmates are not much worse then the caretakers.  Our current society leads us to behave in ways are not necessarily crazy, are simplistic and wrongheaded, and abusive of power.

Bud is a writer who gains information that is dangerous to various powers that be.  Through a various odd set of circumstances he winds up unconscious and taken to the hospital.  This lands him through various medical mechanisms in observation (to see if he is crazy) at a psychiatric hospital.    So there is a bit of irony, in that you have  a non-crazy person stuck in a mental hospital, and cannot get out while the world is ending.

The mechanisms for the end of the world are done through explanatory dialog (really monologue) in the middle section of the book.  Then for unclear reasons are restated at the back of the book.

Without giving away too much of the book, it is suffice to say that there are good guys anticipating an end to the world ,and bad guys.  The bad guys may not be the primary cause of the world ending, but they are not doing much to stop it either.

The book appears to be primarily a call to action for people to begin preparing their little arks to see themselves through the coming disaster.  The lead up to the coming disaster is better thought out, and with deeper historical depth than many such offerings.  Unfortunately, as I will note, some failings and unevenness from the plotting keep it from being as strong of a vehicle for its message then it might have been.

The sections within the psychiatric hospital are well done, and the theme of societal psychosis is reasonably well done.  The language and development are certainly better then the standard post-apocalyptic book, and somewhat in line with some of the more literary offering in the area.  link  link2  The world itself seems a bit cartoony.  Given some of her comments on sports, one suspects that she feels that our cultures view of reality is  a bit of cartoonish.  So possibly the cartoonish aspect of her novels reality is intentional.  But it is a little hard to feel much empathy for the coming suffering of such cartoonish masses.

The book holds together to the midpoint where the first monologue explanation of our coming doom takes place.  This monologue breaks the two main threads of action. After the first monologue,the novel becomes overtired with the repetitive dialog, and a plot device dealing with bad-guy skulduggery that tends to reduce the impact of the message.   The action scenes themselves seem to more unwind like a big roller coaster ride; lots of ups and downs but with the main character staying in their seats, and outside of some 'hand-waving' remaining rather passive. The final resolution with the main bad actor is almost bizarrely abrupt.

The book does not bring any particularly strong historical examples of what a better society will look like.  It notes that Cuba went through an oil crises when it was cut off from supplies with the end of Soviet Communism:  but notes that the Cubans are a rather mixed bag  as a model to follow.  It notes that many ancient societies, and the native Americans lived in harmony with their surrounds.  But as we have noted here, that is a bit of a white wash itself.  As with most stone age cultures, the Indians seemed to have civilization cycles of longer duration then modern ones, but they were not in a stasis.

I would say it is about half of a good book with a post apocalyptic theme, if not exactly post apocalyptic action.   For myself, I would put it's value leaning toward the positive. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Apocolyptic Artist: Lori Nix

Lori Nix, originally from western rural Kansas and now in Brooklyn, NY, has a pretty strong online presence (Google Image her and you will see). 
Here is her website,

and here is a video of her discussing her work.

                                Laundromat at Night, 2008

from her website bio:
I am interested in depicting danger and disaster, but I temper this with a touch of humor. My childhood was spent in a rural part of the United States that is known more for it's natural disasters than anything else. I was born in a small town in western Kansas, and each passing season brought it's own drama, from winter snow storms, spring floods and tornadoes to summer insect infestations and drought. Whereas most adults viewed these seasonal disruptions with angst, for a child it was considered euphoric. Downed trees, mud, even grass fires brought excitement to daily, mundane life. As a photographer, I have recreated some of these experiences in the series "Accidentally Kansas".

In my newest body of work "The City" I have imagined a city of our future, where something either natural or as the result of mankind, has emptied the city of it's human inhabitants. Art museums, Broadway theaters, laundromats and bars no longer function. The walls are deteriorating, the ceilings are falling in, the structures barely stand, yet Mother Nature is slowly taking them over. These spaces are filled with flora, fauna and insects, reclaiming what was theirs before man's encroachment. I am afraid of what the future holds if we do not change our ways regarding the climate, but at the same time I am fascinated by what a changing world can bring.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Churches: the economic squeeze

It is not only businesses and individuals who are being squeezed by the difficult economy, but churches as well.  Generally the lending market to churches is a good one.  They have a steady cash flow from tithing members, and feel a moral obligation to pay off their debts.  But Churches are run by people.  The people running the churches get caught up in expansionary bubbles as much as any one else.
Residential and commercial real-estate owners aren't the only ones losing their properties to foreclosure. The past few years have seen a rapid acceleration in the number of churches losing their sanctuaries because they can't pay the mortgage.
Just as homeowners borrowed too much or built too big during boom times, many churches did the same and now are struggling as their congregations shrink and collections fall owing to rising unemployment and a weak economy.
Since 2008, nearly 200 religious facilities have been foreclosed on by banks, up from eight during the previous two years and virtually none in the decade before that, according to real-estate services firm CoStar Group, Inc. Analysts and bankers say hundreds of additional churches face financial struggles so severe they could face foreclosure or bankruptcy in the near future.

[FORCHURCH]"Churches are the next wave in this economic crisis," says Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., president and founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, a non-profit civil-rights group, who works with pastors around the country to help churches negotiate better terms with their bankers.

"Religious organizations may be subject to the laws of God but they are also subject to the laws of economics," said Chris Macke, senior real-estate strategist at CoStar. Many troubled churches, he said, are in states such as California, Florida, Georgia and Michigan, which also have some of the highest home-foreclosures rates in the country.
In many cases, churches ran into trouble after borrowing to build bigger houses of worship needed to accommodate growing congregations in once-booming housing markets.    from Shelly Banjo, Churches find End is Nigh, Wall Street Journal.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Critique of Preparedness and Practicality

I decided to look at an essay rather than a poetry.  They take more work, but there are not all that many of them out there.
 Of Apes and Men: Lenin’s Enlightenment by Slavoj Sizek.
 It has  a tight weave, and I am unfamiliar with some of the strands that are used in this pattern.  For me,  it tends to fray a bit around the edges.  I got it from MR, and I noticed that I noticed I was not the only one confused.
It perked my interest because he began talking about survivalism (preparedness).  It winds up he is talking about a close cousin of the preparers version of survivalism:  survival in extremes.  However, the critique of the cousin seems to apply somewhat  to the main root - To the point that there are many  survivalist from the 1970s who are no longer with us today:  dying of old age, never able to use their preparations.   Is this a case of practical applications that are unlikely to be used:  and can something be a practical application if it likely never to be used.
His first point brings to mind the discussion of low probability events within Nassim Nicholas Taleb's  The Black Swan : the impact of the highly improbable (starting at p.92 of 1st ed hc), of the Dino Buzzati novel, Il deserto dei tartari: trans. The Tarter Steppe. So to be clear, what we have here is a discussion of a novel within an book-essay to refer back to the original essay we were discussing (LOL):
[In this novel] Giovanni Drogo is a man of promise.  He has just graduated from the military academy with the rank of junior officer, and active life is just starting.  But things do not turn out as planned: his initial four-year assignment is a remote outpost, the Bastiani fortress, protecting the nation from the Tartars likely to invade from the border desert-not too desirable a position.  The fortress is located a few days by horseback from the town there nothing but bareness around it-none of the social buzz that a man of his age could look forward to.  Drogo thinks that his assignment in the outpost is temporary, a way for him to pay his dues before more appealing potions present themselves. Later, back in town, in his impeccably ironed uniform and with his athletic figure, few ladies will be able to resist him.
What is Drogo to do in this hole? He discovers a loophole, a way to be transferred after only four months.  He decides to use the loophole.
At the very last minute, however, Drogo takes a glance at the desert from the window of the medical office and decides to extend his stay.  The appeal of the fort and waiting for the attackers, the big battle with the ferocious Tartars, gradually become his only reason to exist. The entire atmosphere of the fort is one of anticipation.  The other men spend their time looking at the horizon and awaiting the big event of the enemy attack.  They are so focused that, on rare occasions, they can detect the most insignificant stray animal that appears at the edge of the desert and mistake it for an enemy attack.
Sure enough, Drogo spends the rest of his life extending his stay, delaying the beginning of his life in the city-thirty-five years of pure hope, spent int eh grip of the idea that one day, from the remote hills that no human has ever crossed, the attackers will eventually emerge and help him rise to the occasion.
At the end of the novel we see Drogo dying in a roadside inn as the event for which he ahas waited all his life takes place.  He has missed it.
Taleb's further discussion on the novel are not entirely relevant to our subject here.  It is important to note that there it was not the original intention of spending ones life waiting for a non-event to occur.  But outside of the frame of what happens within one life span, a rare event not necessarily a non-event. 

There is the sweet trap of anticipation, and the life is one worth living.  It has purpose, simplicity, and you are not alone in your endeavours.  Drogo was waiting for a Black Swan, and one attribute of these Black Swans is that there is an asymmetry in consequences-- either positive or negative.  The consequences can be thirty-five years of waiting for a non-event, or they can be a very bright blaze of glory.

As we move back to Slavoj Sizek's essay,  I don’t know which is funnier, his final account of children learning wilderness survival tips by rote, or [Note 4] the comparison of the Western  practice of offering a practical solution for a problem which does not arise, versus Eastern one of offering a useless solution for a real common problem.  Even if some of his points, might be pointed at myself, it is good to have a sense of humor about such things.
We are coming in on the middle so the starting introductory sentence is clumsy.   Shove your way past it and you'll be just fine.
Is the mechanism of displacement at work in this dream ... elaborated by Fredric Jameson apropos of a science-fiction film which takes place in California in near future, after a mysterious virus has very quickly killed a great majority of the population? When the film’s heroes wander in the empty shopping malls, with all the merchandises intact at their disposal, is this libidinal gain of having access to the material goods without the alienating market machinery not the true point of the film occluded by the displacement of the official focus of the narrative on the catastrophe caused by the virus? At an even more elementary level, is not one of the commonplaces of the sci-fi theory that the true point of the novels or movies about a global catastrophe resides in the sudden reassertion of social solidarity and the spirit of collaboration among the survivors? It is as if, in our society, global catastrophe is the price one has to pay for gaining access to solidarity collaboration…
When my son was a small boy, his most cherished personal possession was a special large “survival knife” whose handle contained a compass, a sack of powder to disinfect water, a fishing hook and line, and other similar items – totally useless in our social reality, but perfectly fitting the survivalist fantasy of finding oneself alone in wild nature. It is this same fantasy which, perhaps, give the clue to the success of Joshua Piven’s and David Borgenicht’s surprise best-seller The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook. [3] Suffice it to mention two supreme examples from it: What to do if an alligator has its jaws closed on your limb? (Answer: you should tap or punch it on the snout, because alligators automatically react to it by opening their mouths.) What to do if you confront a lion which threatens to attack you? (Answer: try to make yourself appear bigger than you are by opening your coat wide.) The joke of the book thus consists in the discord between its enunciated content and its position of enunciation: the situations it describes are effectively serious and the solutions correct – the only problem is WHY IS THE AUTHOR TELLING US ALL THIS? WHO NEEDS THIS ADVICE?
The underlying irony is that, in our individualistic competitive society, the most useless advice concerns survival in extreme physical situations – what one effectively needs is the very opposite, the Dale Carnegie type of books which tell us how to win over (manipulate) other people: the situations rendered in The Worst-Case Scenario lack any symbolic dimension, they reduce us to pure survival machines. In short, The Worst-Case Scenario became a best-seller for the very same reason Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm, the story (and the movie) about the struggle for survival of a fishing vessel caught in the “storm of the century” east of the Canadian coast in 1991, became one: they both stage the fantasy of the pure encounter with a natural threat in which the socio-symbolic dimension is suspended. In a way, The Perfect Storm even provides the secret utopian background of The Worst-Case Scenario: it is only in such extreme situations that an authentic intersubjective community, held together by solidarity, can emerge. Let us not forget that The Perfect Storm is ultimately the book about the solidarity of a small working class collective! The humorous appeal of The Worst-Case Scenario can thus be read as bearing witness to our utter alienation from nature, exemplified by the shortage of contact with “real life” dangers.
We all know the standard pragmatic-utilitarian criticism of the abstract humanist education: who needs philosophy, Latin quotes, classic literature – one should rather learn how to act and produce in real life… well, in The Worst-Case Scenario, we get such real life lessons, with the result that they uncannily resemble the useless classic humanist education. Recall the proverbial scenes of the drilling of young pupils, boring them to death by making them mechanically repeat some formulas (like the declination of the Latin verbs) – the Worst-Case Scenario counterpoint to it would have been the scene of forcing the small children in the elementary school to learn by heart the answers to the predicaments this book describes by repeating them mechanically after the teacher: “When the alligator bites your leg, you punch him on the nose with your hand! When the lion confronts you, you open your coat wide!” [4]
[3] Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht, The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, New York: Chronicle Books 1999.
[4] On account of its utter “realism,” The Worst-Case Scenario is a Western book par excellence; its Oriental counterpart is chindogu, arguably the finest spiritual achievement of Japan in the last decades, the art of inventing objects which are sublime in the strictest Kantian sense of the term – practically useless on account of their very excessive usefulness (say, glasses with electrically-run mini-windshields on them, so that your view will remain clear even if you have to walk in the rain without an umbrella; butter contained in a lipstick tube, so that you can carry it with you and spread it on the bread without a knife). That is to say, in order to be recognized, the chindogu objects have to meet two basic criteria: it should be possible to really construct them and they should work; simultaneously, they should not be “practical,” i.e. it should not be feasible to market them. The comparison between The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook and chindogu offers us a unique insight into the difference between the Eastern and the Western sublime, an insight far superior to the New Age pseudo-philosophical treatises. In both cases, the effect of the Sublime resides in the way the uselessness of the product is the outcome of the extreme “realistic” and pragmatic approach itself. However, in the case of the West, we get simple, realistic advises for problems (situations) most of us will never encounter (who of us will really have to face alone a hungry lion?), while in the case of the East, we get unpractically complicated solutions for the problems all of us effectively encounter (who of us was not caught in the rain?). The Western sublime offers a practical solution for a problem which does not arise, while the Eastern sublime offers a useless solution for a real common problem. The underlying motto of the Eastern Sublime is “Why do it simply, when you can complicate it?” – is the principle of chindogu not discernible already in what appears to our Western eyes as the “impractical” clumsy form of the Japanese spoons? The underlying motto of the Western Sublime is, on the contrary, “If the problems do not fit our preferred way of solving them, let’s change problems, not the way we are used to solve them!” – is this principle not discernible in the sacred principle of Bureaucracy which has to invent problems in order to justify its existence which serves to solve them?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Headed our way? $220 per barrel = $6.16 at the pump.

One key point is that it requires at least one other point, of disruption.  The article mentions Algeria, but any number of other countries are possible. Ht nc
In any case, the basis for our price per gallon is thus:  There are 42 gallons in a barrel of oil.  Although not important for our calculations up to 20 of those gallons can be made into gasoline, and the reaming 22 gallons are made into other items. 
About 69% of the pricing of gasoline is in the oil.  The rest of it is in taxes (13%) and marketing/point of sales costs (12%).  However these are relatively fixed costs.  So we will use $3.00 as our basis for fixed costs:  $3.00 x .31% (which is 100-69) = $ .93 fixed costs.  $220/42 = $5.23 + .93 = $6.16.  Note that the calculation makes the assumption that all 42 gallons of product from the barrel of oil are of equal value and that the price of the barrel is equally apportioned.  This is not likely true, but I am making the guess that gasoline sits somewhere in the mid-point between jet fuel (4 gallons) and other products (8 gallons).  There are some numbers, numbers2 that say this is in the ballpark; possibly a little low.  It is probably a good bench mark for the lower cost areas of the U.S., but you would need to add considerably more for such areas as California and the West Coast which have been running about 16% higher.
Experts at Japanese bank Nomura raise specter of doubling in oil price if unrest in Libya continues.
Up to half of Libya's oil production is now estimated to have been shut down as a result of the crisis engulfing the country – creating supply concerns that pushed the price of Brent crude above $110 a barrel, now experiencing its biggest three-day gain in a year.
Commodity analysts at Japanese bank Nomura raised the possibility that prices could perhaps hit $220 a barrel. In a note to clients the bank warned: "The closest comparison to the current unrest in the Middle East and north Africa is the 1990-1991 Gulf war. If Libya and Algeria were to halt oil production together, prices could peak above $220 a barrel and Opec spare capacity will be reduced to levels seen during the Gulf war and when prices hit $147 in 2008." Simon Goodley and Terry Macalister at the U.K. Guardian.

A New Addiction: Cheap Natural Gas

I am trying to clean up some of the shorter items I have laying about.  This is another sidebar type issue.  It address, in part, the issue of why some of our energy pricing has been able -pre-Libya- to maintain its relatively low pricing.  Below is an excerpt from the pink sheets of the London Financial Times:
By John Dizard, Financial Times, February 13 2011
 “How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.
“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”
 “What brought it on?”
“Friends,” said Mike. “I had a lot of friends. False friends. Then I had creditors, too . . . ”
The Sun Also RisesErnest Hemingway
Cheap gas is good for Americans now, but it is enabling a growing dependency on gas-generated power that will only get more expensive. In a few years the country could find itself forced to bid hard in international markets for essential supplies.
That’s good news for the world’s producers of liquefied natural gas (LNG). They’ve been waiting for the US to develop as a large importer, and may not have to wait much longer…
The initial production (IP) from shale wells is high, compared with conventional gas wells, but declines rapidly. That puts the shale developers on a wobbly bicycle of high IP, and the continuing high levels of drilling, and high-tech pressure fracturing of the dense shale, necessary to maintain that production. Consequently, the shale producers’ hedging activities have depressed the spot and futures price of gas below the total costs of production for many wells.
The producers will argue that they can break even on many of their wells with prices between $4 and $5 per million British Thermal Units (mmbtu). To which the sceptics reply, possibly, if “break even” excludes costs such as land, taxes, royalties, operating expenses or seismic surveys.
Even more significant is the possibility, or probability in my view, that the gas from shale wells could run down even faster than the companies’ investors or lenders think. Or than the policy tribe assumes when committing to dependence on gas-fired electricity.
The good news from shale gas is front-end-loaded. The bad news is at the back end, which has been pushed out by investor, lender, and joint venture cash. Now, though, activity in previously hot shale plays is levelling off or declining….

U.S. Military: the new drugs and guns dealer on your block (idea)

For the U.S. citizen, or any citizen for that matter, it can be very difficult to know what our government is up to.

Argentina's government is not the most reliable source, but even this is a little too over the top for them.  Also there is the fact that it was not denied, but redirected by official U.S. sources.

From the U.K. Guardian:

Argentina accuses US of trying to smuggle weapons into country
Relations between the US and Argentina have deteriorated after Buenos Aires lodged a formal complaint over a US military plane that landed late last week carrying guns, drugs and satellite phones.
The Argentinian government claimed the US was trying to sneak the weapons into the country, though it didn't offer an explanation of why Washington might want to do this.

The US state department said the consignment was intended for a police training programme in Argentina.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Post Apocalyptic Battle - Summary

O.K., Hopefully that was not too painful.
I am not an experienced writer of fictional accounts.  But this exercise would not further my experience much, as little of it was fiction.
The battle actually happened:  near Dilley, Texas in 1865.  The Guatemalans were Comanches.  I replaced the initial person attacked with a  young lady, and gave her portions of the accounts more depth to give it a more post-apocalyptic  feel.   I accidentally changed the Captain's name from Levi Ed.  Ed was Levi's younger son.  He was too young to be part of the action and latter became well known himself.  I gave the Guatemalans crossbows, which can be used from horseback, rather than bows.  Much like bows, crossbows would not require gun powder and outside supplies.  If they don't have to be strong enough to punch through mail armor, they can also reload fairly quickly.  Not important here, but when they have very sharp points they can negate the effect of kevlar type (soft)armor.   I thought about adding woman to the posse roster, but decided I was already getting a bit complicated.  
The account I used was from Texas Indian Fighters by Andrew Jackson Sowell written in 1900.  It can be found (free) at Google books.   In the online version I have it is found starting on page 268.  A cleaned up account is found within Gregory and Susan Michno, Forgotten Fights: Little-Known Raids and Skirmishes on the Frontier, 1823 to 1890, Mountain Press Publishing, 2008.  It is one of the engagements that can be found online: link.
As for Martin, Texas:
Martin Texas was a frontier settlement on Todos Santos Creek at Todos Santos Lake near the Leona River, fifteen miles northwest of Dilley in southwestern Frio County. Early accounts place the lake on the old road from Pearsall. The settlement was probably named for the Martins, who were among the earliest settlers of the community. The area was probably settled in the mid-1860s and attracted cattlemen and horse traders. Mustangs roamed the area in great numbers at that time. Todos Santos Lake, described as 1½ miles long and sixty feet wide, became a much-used watering hole for thousands of longhorn cattle and mustangs. At one time a saloon operated at the lake site.

Looking through a relatively open road side area near Dilley Texas in the general area of the action.  Based on the account, there were not a lot of trees, but it was not a completely open flat grassland either.  Riders mounted on horse would be able to see over some of the low scrub, but they would make maneuver a little chaotic.

So why did I go to the trouble?
Because you here endless discussions online about modern skirmish/survival fighting and tactics that appear to be based on either video games, modern military actions, or imagination.  I just saw a post online where the author is going to use a 1990 magazine article on special forces patrol tactics as a basis for discussion.  I know the article he is talking about and have a hard time figuring out how he is going to make most of it relevant.  More relevant are hundreds of accounts of skirmishes, between non-military civilians or military with only light arms and the native-Americans, that are much closer to the situation being discussed.

To illustrate the point:  They had rifles that back then that could easily take people out at 300 yards.  Did anyone in this fight use a rifle to take someone out at 300 yards?  Why not?  Well because they were fighting on the fly, riding horses, and the targets were moving enough to make those shots difficult.  The people involved were familiar with firearms, but were not comfortable taking those types of shots.  Should they have dismounted and shot at them from 200 yards with the their long guns, rather than dashing up to them?  It would have worked better then what they did.  Should they have spent a little more time preparing for their mission before they left to hunt indians, and brought more ammunition - obviously.  But that is the point.  These are real people, going about their real lives, not a marine squad scouting down a trail.

I don’t want to run on too much longer, so what are some of the lessons?:

·         Firing while moving  is inaccurate: even more so on horse and from range.
·         Not a huge factor here, but scouting and tracking are valuable skills.  Awareness of the possibility of being tracked is important.
·         Having a functional vehicle or healthy horse makes escape from a bad situation much more likely.
·         Avoid fighting with experienced combatants unless you have surprise or some other major tactical advantage.  Certainly avoid it if you are outnumbered.
·         Bows (and crossbows) are very dangerous.  Maybe not as dangerous as large caliber (.308+ rifles) but dangerous none-the-less.
·         Raiding parties are often going to find themselves outnumbered by their targets.  Unless they are entirely parasitic, which is hard to pull off, they must leave behind the people who get them their food supplies.  Even if they have other sources of food, they are not going to bring anyone but the most fit with them.  However, with modern firearms, anyone who can hold a gun, even a 22LR, is a deadly combatant.  So the raiding party in our story, may have equaled or exceeded the number of able bodied men/women in the area.  But they probably did not outnumber everyone who could shoot a gun.  Thus there was no effort to attack the settlers with the small force.  This was true back in 1865, and would be true today.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Post Apocalyptic Battle - Part 2

All the men who were already there, or could be got together on fairly quickly notice, set off.  There was Levi English, L.A. Franks, G.W. Dougherty, W.C. Bell, Frank Williams, Dean Oden, Bud English, Dan Williams, John Berry, Bob Aikens, and Ed Burleson.  I went along as guide and to help with scouting and tracking.   Levi English, the oldest in the party, had had some experience in previous fights with bandits, so he was chosen as Captain of our group.
Part 2
The account of Sarah Burleson (age 12) on the recent tragic encounter at Martin’s Texas excerpted  from a letter to her uncle.
It only took a moment to pick up the bikes trail out of town.  It was still early enough that the sun’s rays angled to make the shadows of their tracks stand out. 
When the main trail was struck the Gwats were found to be in a large force and going down toward the Leona River.  They crossed this stream near the burnt out Bennett’s Ranch, four miles below Burleson’s.  They went out into the open prairie in front of Martin’s ranch, ten miles further on.   There was no need for tracking with this large a number, and with my slow mare I wound up well behind everyone else.  Fortunately a breeze picked up that the dust from rising up to high, but it also blew it into my face, so I was not always able to see what happened all that well.  Some of what I got, I got second hand.
Our group came in sight of them two miles off, but they went down into a valley and were lost to sight for some time.  Suddenly, however, they came in view again, not more than 200 yards away. 
They were thirty-six in number, mounted two to each horse; they had a few bikes on a trailer pulled by a two horse team.  It looked like it had been the back-half of either an International Harvester Scout or Ford Bronco.  It had the top cut off, but it still had the drive train slung underneath:  good ground clearance.  They were armed with a combination of banana carbines, long magazine auto-pistols, and box-style crossbows.
The Gwats had seen us for the first time, and at once picked up their pace. 
Well the people who live in Texas these days get accuse of an awful lot.   But cowardice is not one of them.  We were a reckless bunch and immediately set to wild and impetuous charge.    Rifles and pistols, as they were had, were out and blazing.
Captain English shouted and yelled, trying to hold the men back.  Being already well back and with my slow horse reckless-charging was not a problem for me.  As I came up, he gave me a stern look and told me to stay back pointing to where I had just come up from.  He then spurred on to try and catch up.  I followed at a dusty, safe distance.
The Gwats ran for about a mile.  At which this point, having decided it likely they had drawn our fire, they stopped at a lone tree on a signal from their captain.  The team of horses continued on.   
Each Gwat who was mounted behind another jumped to the ground and came back at a charge.   For the first time they started shooting. 
The mounted ones circled to the right and left and sent a shower of bolts and bullets.   Some of them went entirely around our men and a desperate battle at close quarters ensued.  We had fired off our shots at long and had no time to reload in such a fight.   They had the advantage in both numbers and shots.  With me being back a bit, they either did not see or choose not to bother me.
Dan Williams was the first man killed and when he fell from his horse was at once surrounded by the enemy.  Captain English managed to collect up the men, and they charged to the body of Williams.  After a hot fight they drove them back, but in so doing fired their last loads.
The Gwats were quick to see this, and came back at them again.  A retreat was ordered. 
Frank Williams, brother to Dan, had dismounted by the side of his dying brother and asked if there was anything he could do for him and said that he would stay with him.  “No” said Dan, handing Frank his pistol; “take this and do the best you can.  I am killed and can’t live ten minutes.  Save yourself.”  The men were even now wheeling their horses and leaving the ground, and Frank only mounted and left when the Guatemalans   were close upon him. 
They  came after them, yelling furiously, and a panic ensued.  Dean Oden was the next one to fall.  His horse was wounded and began to pitch, and they were soon upon him.  He was dismounted and was wounded in the leg.  He attempted to remount again, but was wounded six times more in the chest and back, as they were still on all sides of him.  L.A. Franks was near him trying to force his way out, and the last he saw of Oden he was  down to his knees and his horse gone.
The next and last man killed was Bud English, the Captain’s son.  He was shot in the chest  with a bullet. His father stayed by his body until all hope was gone and all the men scattered away.
The Indians pursued with a fierce vengeance, getting all mixed up with us, and many personal combats took place.    The men were striking with the Indians with their unloaded guns and pistols.  In this wild flight all the rest of the men were wounded except Franks, Berry, and Frank Williams.  Captain English was badly wounded in the side with a bolt; Ed Burleson in the leg, Aikens in the breast, and W.C. Bell in the side:  all with crossbow bolts.
In this wounded and scattered condition  we went back to the house and told the news of their sad defeat.  The sad wail of the families was heard well out into the plains.
Other men were collected, and led by the unhurt men, returned to the battleground to bring away the dead.  The three bodies lay within 100 yards of each other.  The Guatemalans carried away what dead that they had had:   probably few on account of the reckless firing at the start of the battle.

The general look of the area.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Post Apocalyptic Battle - Part 1

Well I said I would get back to skirmishing.  This is part one.  There will be a sesond part, and then a sumation.

The account of Sarah Burleson (age 12) on the recent tragic encounter at Martin’s Texas excerpted  from a letter to her uncle.
I had gone out on our old mare to the edge of the old town to try and round up a couple of horses.   Being at it was the fourth of July it was pretty hot.   I was in a little bit of a hurry.  Some folks were coming over to our place to celebrate that evening and I didn’t want to be too late getting back.
The old town of Martin’s I guess was never particularly large by the standards of earlier times:  less than 1000 households.  It sat near Interstate 35, but never quite had the energy to reach it, falling a few hundred yards shy.
The land is pretty flat, and scrub is pretty high. I was on the old mare, headed out to the Interstate to round up some ponies.  You can see the highway overpass over Market Street from well into town.   But then the Castle of the Burger King does not seem very king-like either.  In any case, there are a lot of weeds and the road surface is weathered to gravel, but the brush doesn’t grow well on the road bed.

The Barbeque Café is on the right.  The first side street would be to the viewers immediate left.
I was about 500 yards from the highway, almost to the last building at the edge of town, the old “Barbeque Café.”  It is really just an old steel frame building with some of the barn red paint still holding onto its north side.  Why they hadn’t called it the Barbeque Barn I couldn’t tell you.  Well as I was just starting to come along side of it, and I heard a high pitched whine.  I recognized the sound right way.  It was a moonshine-trike or booze-bike.  Someone had popped out of the opposite side of the café and was coming right at me on a booze-bike.  They were just a little too determined to be friendly.
I got the mare moving forward as quickly as possible.  Not exactly a plunging leap, but maybe a trot.  The scooter went zipping by on my backside.  The guy on it was not a real big guy height wise but he looked stocky and strong.  He had dark skin like an Indian or a Mexican, and was wearing some sort of heavy plastic clothing:  maybe armor.  He had a banana clip carbine slung to his back. 
He had a hard time coming to a quick stop on the sandy roadbed and gut hung up a little as he slid into some of the sage brush.  I had managed to get the mare turned around back in the direction of town and thought I might have a chance at getting away.  But with a shiver of dread I saw another one had come running out of the café angling so as to meet me on the road back.   Somewhere in this commotion I saw what looked like a dark red blazing sword on a patch on his shoulder.  This confirmed my suspicion that they were Gwats. 
Gwats are Guatemalans that work with the Mexican Zetas.  From the warning leaflets we had received they belong to a group known as Kaibiles, but everyone calls them Gwats.  This was the first time they had been seen in town, but it was not a real shock them being here.  When they are being nice they work as traders and scavengers for the South Americans.  Otherwise they operate as slavers, bandits and murderers.
There was a side street I could have taken, but I thought the bike could catch me there.  I doubt they knew I was a girl.  They probably wanted the horse, possibly for food on the hoof.  But some point the rider was bound to unsling his banana rifle if he thought I might get away.  So instead I took a narrow gap in the scrub between the remains of two ranch homes.
This section of town is the edge of a very loose street grid.  The guy on the scooter was not too hard to avoid, because he was reluctant to get too far off the road bed.  As I could hear him, I could always double back away from him.  The guy on foot was a much more difficult proposition.  I had my small .32 pocket pistol, but he had some sort of automatic pistol with a long magazine.  I did not want him to get to where he was in a position to use it, and he was just about as fast as my mare.  Faster on the turn.
Well we bounced around from block to block.  With me being up a little higher, I could see where I was going a little better and eventually got through a series of overgrown hedges and came out in the back garden of our house.  The one on foot very nearly got me at the end, but he could probably heard voices and commotion and let up.  Already a lot of people had showed up at our house for the celebration.  I of course dashed in and gave the alarm.
The route home

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Baumol Effect

The Baumol Effect (or disease)
. It involves a rise of salaries in jobs that have experienced no increase of labor productivity in response to rising salaries in other jobs which did experience such labor productivity growth. This goes against the theory in classical economics that wages are always closely tied to labor productivity changes
Something I had not thought of in relation to a continual increase in the size of government, education, and health care.   Matthew Ylesias comments on it relative to education.
The Baumel Disease would probably not be a huge problem when these sectors are relatively small.    The productivity growth from the dynamic sectors would pay for the increases in the other sectors.  But when sectors that are known to be low in productivity growth become a larger portion of the economy, even when there is productivity growth in the dynamic portions of the economy, there may not be enough growth to pay for increased wages in non-growth areas. 
It was first noted in the 1960s which is interesting as this just prior to the time period when you would think that the problem would start becoming acute: the 1970s.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Hitting the (Mirrored) Wall 3

We will start where we have been before, but are going to wind our way toward other subjects.  We may ramble a bit.  Eventually we will try and close the loop on diminishing returns on the industrial revolution, and our current narcissism.  It could be said in two sentences (to paraphrase Freya) but there would be no supporting information and links.
Tyler Cowen has had out an e-book, The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better.  I have mentioned on an earlier  post.  In it he discusses U.S. income stagnation since the 1970s and attributes it to a deceleration of scientific and technical advances within the U.S. economy.
He commented on Alexander J. Fields work on Total Factor Productivity (TFP) which is total output not caused by inputs.  So if you put 1 in, and get 2 out, you have TFP.  Technology growth and efficiency are two of the biggest factors in TFP.
Fields in his study History of U.S. Productivity in a Nutshell   (ht to MR) noted the following:
TFP growth virtually disappeared in the US between 1973 and 1995. TFP growth was in fact quite robust between the end of the Civil War and 1906.
In a study I found, also by Fields,  The Most Technologically Progressive Decade of the Century he commented further:
Because of the Depression’s place in both the popular and academic imagination, and the repeated and justifiable emphasis on output that was not produced, income that was not earned, and expenditure that did not take place, it will seem startling to propose the following hypothesis: the years 1929–1941 were, in the aggregate, the most technologically progressive of any comparable period in U.S. economic history.

[D]uring this period businesses and government  contractors implemented or adopted on a more widespread basis a wide range of new technologies and practices, resulting in the highest rate of measured peacetime peak-to-peak multifactor productivity growth in the century, and secondly, that the Depression years produced advances that replenished and expanded the larder of unexploited or only partially exploited techniques, thus providing the basis for much of the labor and multifactor productivity improvement of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

All of this is very interesting.  Of course most people are familiar with Ford and his assembly lines,  Edison (really Tesla and Westinghouse) and his electricity, and the Wright Brothers.  It is just not obvious when all of this inventiveness came to its peak fruition.
There is now an emerging consensus that, looking back over the course of U.S. history, the period between roughly 1905 and 1966 experienced exceptionally high rates of multifactor productivity growth, substantially higher than those evidenced in the decades preceding and following, when a much higher fraction of labor productivity growth is to be attributed simply to capital deepening (Abramovitz and David, 1999, 2000; Gordon, 1999, 2000a, b, c).

If I am understanding him correctly, what he is saying is that the low hanging fruit of the industrial economy was captured in the 1930s and 40s.  But there was still a lot of applications to apply after that period.  So there was growth, just not as extreme.    Also many of the improvement put in place in the 1920s (a lot of it being automobile related) began to bear fruit in later.

Although not as extreme of a drop off as with the productivity numbers, they do indicate a tailing off period.

One side note we should make,  extreme advances in manufacturing productivity have been discussed as one of the reasons that the United States was so slow to come out ot the Great Depression.  Even when demand would pick up, you needed less workers to perform the same amount of work.  But this is not popular with Economists who seem to like money measure and output measure explanations.
Earlier we were discussing the narcissism of the Greatest Generation 2.   Here is one of the key seeds in the process. 

The United States through the 19602 in its own estimation had been the ever-optimistic, ever-expanding, ever-growing forever.  We were proud of our country.  We had conquered Jim Crow, spawned The Great Society, and The Go Go yearsThere had been  a lot of new technology and growth that paid back dividends for this optimism and self-pride.
Well along comes the 1970s, you have the Kent State massacres, Nixon resigning, and the Arab Oil Embargo.  All of these events point to a variety of problems.   But every age has its problems.  In my opinion it was the slowdown in output, timed extremely poorly with the post war demographic bubble that really caused the problems.
But we are an optimistic crowd.  In the past, when you went in debt it paid itself off (we will pretend that the 1920s consumer finance bubble occurred), and our government will go on a huge spending binge and continually devalue the dollar.  The long-serving,  conqueror of inflation, Greenspan, will leave the dollar at half its value as when he started his term.  Eventually we will begin using our homes as piggy banks.
Business drives forward on this spending.  It has its usual cycles, but it keeps churning along.  But while the children are doing well, most of them will notice that it is not as easy as it was for their post war parents.  You went to school, but the automatic 30 year career track was a lot harder to achieve.  Companies became much quicker to layoff, and if you were laid off you had a very hard time ever recovering those wages.  If you were union labor, a lot of your work went to the non-union, low wage south, or eventually, overseas.
But you are within a very optimistic society.  If you are not an optimist, you are bad.  One of  Reagan’s (and Rush Limbaugh’s) most effective attacks against the Liberals was that they were a bunch of whiny losers.  That the Democrats presided over much of the growth period (and in fairness some of the downturns as well)  was beside the point.  You needed to think positively.
So in a society where success is difficult, you begin to value the feelings of success, the self esteem, more highly then the success.  If you cannot be successful, at least you can feel good about yourself.
And thus we train ourselves a wonderful group of high self esteem narcissists.
I suppose you could view it as a blessing.  If the whole edifice comes crashing down, they may not do much about it, but they will feel good about themselves.