Thursday, December 27, 2012

Free Book Sampler: The Western Front

Just a heads up.  At Amazon (for the kindle) the first portion (8 chapters) of Archer Garrett's The Western Front.    is free ( a pdf at Smashwords is here).  Granted parts 1 and 2 are only $2.99 at the moment, and part 3 is here (also $2.99), but it is nice to have a more extended sampler [corrected per Author's note in comments].

The book blurb:
Darkness has descended upon the world; the fabric of society has been torn asunder, sovereign nations collapse under their own burdens, once stable governments are ushered into revolution and allies of old are thrust into war. The tentacles of darkness have inevitably traveled across the Atlantic and are now tightening their grip on the American republic.
Now, faced with a collapsing economy, a failing currency and a society that is swiftly casting its humanity aside, the United States stands at the precipice of a bedlam and malevolence not witnessed since the fall of Rome.  (from here).

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Nova Scotia - land of the unfree?

Canada, and in this case the territory of Nova Scotia: land of libel tourism in which the criminals can sue anyone for just about anything they say and get a court judgement.  Nova Scotia, one of the few countries that ever voluntarily gave up its independence, and is now part of Canada, is not normally thought of as a mechanism for tyranny.
But when my friend Doug Handshoe, in his corruption fighting blog Slabbed,  began reporting about corruption on the Gulf Coast of the United States that linked back to a property scam in Nova Scotia, he found out otherwise.  He was sued in a foreign (foreign from where the statements were made) court, and had real fines and penalties leveled against him.

A number of bloggers have commented on his recent victory.

Slabbed gets the Canadian lawsuit against him tossed in good ole US Federal Court
Y'all Politics, 22 December 2012
After the default judgment was issued in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia by Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Susan Hood, she entered a judgment in which she awarded Trout Point Lodge general damages in the amount of $75,000, and Perret and Leary each $100,000 in general damages, $50,000 in aggravated damages, and $25,000 in punitive damages. None of those damages were upheld by the U. S. District Court
Judge Guirola also took strong issue with an injunction against Handshoe by the Nova Scotia court, which would effectively put him out of business. He said that an order issued in the area of First Amendment rights must “be precise and narrowly tailored to achieve a pin-pointed objective.”
“This broadly worded injunction…” said the judge, “would not be issued in a domestic court.”

The United States is not exactly the pillar of freedom that we like to portray ourselves as, but it is important to remember that we are not alone in our problems.  And while this is a victory for Doug Handshoe, he isn't going to be able to vacation in Canada, and may need to be careful if he goes to a different country that might enforce Canada's ruling.

Friday, December 21, 2012

We can keep doing this Maya thing!

You see the actual correct date for the ending of the Maya cycle is not all that clear.

We can go over to Discovery and see that one person says it may sixty days latter, and I recall reading a rather thoughtful person saying that the exact calibration is unclear, but that it could be something like 50 years ahead of us.

So just as most apocalyptic practitioners who are proven wrong simply double down on the bet, we have that same option....

Unless of course we don't make it to tomorrow.  Since over 200,000 people can be expected to die each day on our planet as a matter of simple math, certainly the end will come for some.
Our you can be proactive like me, and make your own Maya Calendar.

Original from here

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Stagnation of the middle

I saw this prior to the election.  To be honest, I am not sure where I was going to go with this.  The New York Times is supposed to be a "liberal" paper, but is extremely status quo (a supposedly conservative attribute) much of the time.  However, they do seem to be taking a stab at the notion that all is not well, and that there may not be a simple political fix.

David Leonhardt, New York Times, 23 October 2012 (not ht)

Many of the bedrock assumptions of American culture — about work, progress, fairness and optimism — are being shaken as successive generations worry about the prospect of declining living standards. No question, perhaps, is more central to the country’s global standing than whether the economy will perform better on that score in the future than it has in the recent past.

The causes of income stagnation are varied and lack the political simplicity of calls to bring down the deficit or avert another Wall Street meltdown. They cannot be quickly remedied through legislation from Washington. The biggest causes, according to interviews with economists over the last several months, are not the issues that dominate the political debate.

At the top of the list are the digital revolution, which has allowed machines to replace many forms of human labor, and the modern wave of globalization, which has allowed millions of low-wage workers around the world to begin competing with Americans.

Not much further down the list is education, probably the country’s most diffuse, localized area of government policy. As skill levels have become even more important for prosperity, the United States has lost its once-large global lead in educational attainment.

They give immigration a white wash.  Ignoring its effect in specific areas –construction in particular – buy lumping in the data with larger aggregate totals that dilute rather large effects into mere percentage points.  In construction immigrants tended to dominate in fast growing markets, markets that would have seen worker shortages, and would boost wages in those areas and causing a ripple effect to more outlying areas.

They note the increased income gap based on education levels, but ignore that not all low-education jobs can be easily outsourced.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Social risks of homicide

I keep saying, and generally get ignored, that your greatest risks are the people you know.  The only time that there is a consistent risk from strangers is during open and organized warfare.  Acts of terror, and rampage killings are certainly terrifying, but aren't particularly large in numbers.

Social networks and risk of homicide victimization in an African American Community
Andrew V. Papachristos, Christopher Wildeman, Yale University, 9 September 2012 (Hat tip: MR)
Results indicate that the risk of homicide is highly concentrated within the study community: 41 percent of all gun homicides in the study community occurred within a social network containing less than 4 percent of the neighborhood’s population. Logistic regression models demonstrate that network-level indicators reduce the association between individual-level risk factors and the risk of homicide victimization, as well as improve overall prediction of individual victimization. In particular, social distance to a homicide victim is negatively and strongly associated with individual victimization: each social tie removed from a homicide victim decreases one’s odds of being a homicide victim by approximately 57 percent.
From page 5

Our hypothesis is that there is a strong association between one’s own risky behaviors and the risky behavior of one’s associates; the stronger that association—the socially closer one is to a homicide victim—the greater the influence on one’s own victimization. In this sense, homicide is socially contagious and associating with people engaged in risky behaviors—like carrying a firearm and engaging in criminal activities—increases the probability of victimization. Like needle sharing or unprotected sex in the spread of HIV, co-offending exposes an individual to situations, behaviors, and people that might elevate the probability of victimization in a way that simply being spatially close to a recent homicide may not.
Note that who you associate with is more important even than where you live.  While I think it is fair to say that living in a high crime area does expose you to more crime in general, the more extreme forms of crime still tend to be rather situational and personal in nature.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The real meltdown

There are all sorts of fun scenarios involving economic collapse, solar flares., etc - even zombies, but there is one follow on effect that I have wondered about.

There are over 400 nuclear reactors in the world.  If we all turn into zombies, what happens to them?
One book that did discuss an eventual follow on effect, though not in a particularly realistic systematic fashion was Summer of the Apocalypse which has a plague causing the collapse, but a much delayed environmental meltdown of the leftover bits causing the existential crises . Possibly McCarthy may have had this being a contributing circumstance to The Road: the novel is certainly grim enough.

Long Blackouts Pose Risk to U.S. Nuclear Reactors
, Associated Press, 29 March 2011 (hat tip:
 Long before the nuclear emergency in Japan, U.S. regulators knew that a power failure lasting for days at an American nuclear plant, whatever the cause, could lead to a radioactive leak. Even so, they have only required the nation's 104 nuclear reactors to develop plans for dealing with much shorter blackouts on the assumption that power would be restored quickly.
What this article is worrying about is that if the generator loses its own power, and the grid around it goes down, they do not have independent sources of power to keep the nuclear fuel from melting down.  So your various EMP-strike scenarios and Solar Flares could have a catastrophic.

You could make the plants small enough that natural water circulation would be sufficient to keep the pile cool, but this concept did not come into play until the 1980s and most reactors are too large to use this method.

My greater concern is that the default mode of a nuclear reactor is that they meltdown.  So if events became chaotic enough that the technicians left the site, there is no east "off" switch to safely turn out the power.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Give them their ship back!

In a moment of sanity, the UN International Tribunal told the Government of Ghana that they should give Argentina its naval training vessel back.
As we noted earlier, Ghana's courts had been persuaded by a U.S. based hedge fund to seize the vessel as a method of forcing some sort of payment from Argentina on defaulted bonds.

Ghana told to free Argentine ship Libertad by UN court
BBC News, 15 December 2012
The UN International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, based in Germany, ruled that the ARA Libertad had immunity because it was a military vessel.
Tribunal president Shunji Yanai ordered that the vessel should be resupplied if needed.
The court said that holding the ship was "a source of conflict that may endanger friendly relations among states".
Last month, sailors on board the Libertad reportedly drew guns on Ghanaian officials after they tried to board the vessel to move it to another berth.

That Ghana isn't jumping at the chance to get ride of the whole problem strikes me as rather suspicious as to what could be going on in the background.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The downsizing crunch

The baby boom retirement crunch is upon us.  The following is only highlighting the blurbs of the article.
Anne Tergesen, Wall Street Journal, 10 December 2012
With Nest eggs in fragile shape…
·         Only 43% of 401(k) participants have account balances greater than $100,000
·         54% if families ages 55 to 64 are carrying mortgage debt, up from 37% in 1989
·         $97,000 is the median mortgage debt among families ages 55 to 64, up from just $34,000 in 1989
And concerns mounting about later life…
·         47% say they aren’t confident about having enough money to live comfortably in retirement
Downsizing has its appeal…
·         43% of American ages 50 to 64 plan to move within six years, and 50% of those say they plan to move to a smaller house.
Moving to a smaller home doesn’t always work well.  A study of people who moved in the 1990s and 2000s showed that even when people chose to downsize, moving costs and fees at up a lot of money: on average only $26,000 additional moneys were freed up: and that was before the housing bust.
There has always been a concern with all the baby boomers selling of their assets (homes, stocks, bonds....) and cratering the market.  But added to this problem is the dreadful state of the finances of the young folks coming into the job market.   A trillion dollars in student loan debt doesn't leave a lot left over for people trying to sell their homes.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Koala pandemics

Koalas are having a very hard time.  At least 100 years ago they picked up a retrovirus, much like the Feline Leukemia retrovirus that has been attacking domestic cats, and it has spread throughout the population.  When the diseases get this contagious and prevalent they can insert themselves into the genetic code of their host.

PastPandemics Are in Our Genes

Carl Zimmer, 5 December 2012 (hat tip: The Browser)

To understand what it means to be human, you have to understand koalas. Or, to be more precise, you have to understand how they are dying from a bizarre viral outbreak that has been raging for the past 150 years or so. The koalas are now going through something our ancestors experienced 31 times over the past 60 million years…
Eventually, these outbreaks ended, and the viruses became trapped in their hosts. But they didn’t lose all their viral powers. They could still parasitize their host’s genome. Sometimes a cell would make an extra copy of the viral genes and then insert them back elsewhere in its genome. As a result, our 31 viral invasions gave rise to 100,000 separate chunks of virus DNA. Altogether, they make up at least 8 percent of the human genome.

One specific example of note is that human European population sometime in the distant past was infected by an Aids-like entity.  There are some remnants of this in some European’s genetic code, and it has been theorized that this remnant gives Europeans a slightly better possibility of immunity to the disease.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Reverse mortgage mayhem

Reverse mortgages are instruments where a homeowner can use the equity in their house to receive payments, or in some cases a lump sum from a bank.

In general, I have always thought that these were very risky investments by the banks. Apparently they don't always work well for the cash recipients either.

Reverse Mortgages Pose Big Risks for Seniors, Warn Attorneys and U.S. Officials
Jim Avila and Serena Marshall, AOL Real Estate, 6 December 2012 (hat tip: NC)
Seventy percent of the time, seniors exchange the equity in their homes for the reverse mortgage payout as a lump sum and the money is too often spent by the time it's needed for late-in-life hardships.
"This is your nest egg. This is what you use when you don't have any other resources," he said. "People are not taking this out as a last available resource, they're all too often taking it out at age 62, right when they just qualify, and so they live another 15, 20, 25 years, and when they really need the money there's nothing there."
It never really occurred to me that people would be foolish enough to take the money as a lump sum payment.  I guess if you were dying of cancer and wanted a last vacation, and didn't have family you wanted to help down the road it would make sense.  Granted, seniors are known to be vulnerable to financial pitches, but it really sounds more like it is a continuation of the behavior that has made the latest retiring generations also the generations that are most in debt.

Monday, December 10, 2012

It's not getting cooler

The latest goals in green house gas discussions is to set targets that will limit the increase in global temperatures to 2 degrees.

One problem with those goals is that current projections show a much more drastic increase.

Scientists Forecast Dramatic Temperature Increase
Christoph Siedler, Spiegel,  3 December 2012 (hat tip: NC)

Since 2010, the official goal of negotiations has been limiting the increase in the earth's temperature to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), when compared to pre-industrial values, by the year 2100. Small island nations, who want to keep the increase even lower, have been pushing for a goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius. But scientists are certain that this can hardly be achieved any longer.
And now a new study has shown just how unrealistic the 2-degree goal is. "If we keep going on as we have been, it will be 5 degrees," says co-author Glen Peters, who works at Norway's Center for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO). And scientists agree that such a dramatic warming of the earth's temperature would have devastating consequences.

Five-degrees Celsius is around 9 degrees Fahrenheit.  That is a lot hotter.  The U.S. and Europe, mostly because of the ongoing economic situation is reducing its carbon emissions, but China has been more than making up the difference.
I have always felt that the race was on between the peak oil crowd and the global warming folks.  I still lean a little toward peak oil getting us first - mostly because that is a simple math issue - but the race is 'heating up' so to speak.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Closing posts

I noticed that certain posts are gaining an unusual amount of traction from the the spamming crowd.  So I am trying an experiment.  On "Dangerous Student Loans" and "Running out of money is no fun"  I am showing existing, but closing further comment.   I actually get noticeable traffic to these posts (at least the first one), but I suspect at least a portion of it is from the guerrilla marketing people.
Real people do look at older posts.  I still get a fair amount of traffic from the Texas school kids looking for information on Karankawa Indians- particularly those trying to figure out what there homes looked like - hint: they likely were a group of Caribe Indians who settled on the coast - but term paper folk never leave comments.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Peak fertilizer

Using natural gas as your source of energy, you can synthesise nitrogen right out of the air.  But you cannot synthesis the other two ingredients in the holy plant growing triad: phosphorous and potassium.
Oil, because we have used up so much of the stuff in the safe places to get to it, is now found in a variety of sometimes scary places.  Phosphate is less easily found, and all of it is one somewhat scary place.

Tom Philpott, Mother Jones, 28 November 2012

These two elements [, phosphorous and potassium,] cannot be made, cannot be substituted, are necessary to grow all life forms, and are mined and depleted. It’s a scary set of statements. Former Soviet states and Canada have more than 70% of the potash. Morocco has 85% of all high-grade phosphates. It is the most important quasi-monopoly in economic history.
What happens when these fertilizers run out is a question I can’t get satisfactorily answered and, believe me, I have tried. There seems to be only one conclusion: their use must be drastically reduced in the next 20-40 years or we will begin to starve…

our friendly neighbor Canada sits on a vast potash stash. But phosphate rock is largely concentrated in Morocco—and not just anywhere in Morocco. It's in the country's Western Sahara region, on highly disputed land. In a superb 2011 piece in Yale Environment 360, the environmental writer Fred Pearce explained:
The Western Sahara is an occupied territory. In 1976, when Spanish colonialists left, its neighbor Morocco invaded, and has held it ever since. Most observers believe the vast phosphate deposits were the major reason that Morocco took an interest. Whatever the truth, the Polisario Front, a rebel movement the UN recognizes as the rightful representatives of the territory, would like it back.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Japanese FEMA trailers

The people of Mississippi found that rebuilding their coastline after a disaster was not at all easy.  Increased insurance coasts, building costs, and changes in U.S. income levels probably combine for most of their long term problems.  The Japanese have those issues and can add at least one more: radiation.

Even most "realistic" collapse novels tend to ignore what happens to all those nuclear facilities when half the operators become zombies and than proceed to eat the other half.  In Lucifer's Hammer, the nuclear power plant stays online, and becomes the focal point for a local recovery, but what is happening to the rest of them out there is not all that clear.  It is also not all that clear how long a completely isolated nuclear power plant could stay online without an outside supply of fuel and parts.

Hopes of Home Fade Among Japans Displaced
Martin Fackler, New York Times, 26 November 2012

AIZU-WAKAMATSU, Japan - As cold northerly winds sprinkle the first snow on the mountains surrounding this medieval city, those who fled here after last year's Fukushima nuclear disaster are losing hope that they will ever return to their old homes.
The mayor of Okuma, a town near the Fukushima Daiichi plant that was hastily evacuated when a huge earthquake and tsunami crippled the reactors' cooling systems on March 11, 2011, has vowed to lead residents back home as soon as radiation levels are low enough. But the slow pace of the government's cleanup efforts, and the risk of another leak from the plant's reactors, forced local officials to admit in September that it might be at least a decade before the town could be resettled.
After living in school gymnasiums and other shelters for about a month, Okuma's town hall officials and about 4,300 of its residents relocated to temporary sites in Aizu-Wakamatsu, with most of the rest scattered as far as Tokyo, about 140 miles away. The mayor, Toshitsuna Watanabe, immediately began drawing up plans for returning to Okuma that called for a group to resettle a small corner of the town where radiation levels were relatively low. The settlers would then slowly expand the livable areas, decontaminating one street or building at a time, like colonists reclaiming a post-apocalyptic wilderness...
But the ministry said this summer that an experimental effort to decontaminate a 42-acre area in Okuma had failed to reduce radiation dosages by as much as had been hoped, leading officials to declare most of the town uninhabitable for at least another five years. That forced Okuma's officials to change the target date of their "road map" for repopulating the town to 2022, instead of 2014.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Taleb is fragile?

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has a new book, Antifragile, out.  It is about trying to thrive in an environment of disorder and uncertainty.
He has always had those who don't take his rather self referential message well.  Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution has decided he doesn't like him anymore.  Link  "I have canceled my pre-order".  Of course, since Taleb thinks that economists are a complete waste of space, it is likely that the consideration is mutual.

One way in which his new book is different, is that Taleb is focusing on a solution (anti-fragility) rather than simply pointing out problems (disguised randomness, black swans, etc.).  That is a much more difficult issue, because when you look at survival issues, there always seems to be a lot of randomness, or maybe better called unpredictable situationality, involved.  The advise "be in the right place at the right time" is not easy to follow.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Economic forecasting: stairsteps down, down, down

I don't generally do much with investment market type pieces unless they have something to say about the broader picture.  This one starts of with a chain of short term gloom (stock market is overvalued in relation to historical norms), swings into a mid-term pessimism (we are heading back into a recession even before we, or the Europeans, hit our fiscal cliffs), to long term (the Wester economy is past its growth peak even without peak oil, global warming, over population, et cetera).

Overlooking Overvaluation
John P. Hussman, Ph.D., Hussman Funds, 26 November 2012 (Hat tip: Mish)
Our estimates of prospective stock market return/risk, on a blended horizon from 2-weeks to 18-months, remains among the most negative that we’ve observed in a century of market data....
This is the short term bad news.

Here is the mid term bad news:
We continue to believe that the U.S. economy joined a global recession during the third quarter of this year. There is a fairly regular cycle of economic “surprises” in U.S. data that tends to run about 44 weeks – a figure that appears related to the tendency of economic forecasters to use standard “lookback” horizons to determine economic trends (see The Data Generating Process). As a result, the recession thesis has had to swim upstream, so to speak, during the positive portion of that cycle, which appeared to run through early November. Our expectation is that economic surprises are likely to be heavily to the downside as we move through the next 4-5 months.
While we don’t have many companions in our recession view, aside from ECRI, the coincident data has quietly become a companion of this view already. Industrial production actually peaked a few months ago, real sales have weakened, personal income has weakened, and despite some divergences among individual reports here and there, the new order, order backlog, and employment components of numerous regional and national Fed and Purchasing Managers surveys have also turned decidedly lower (see Stream of Anecdotes).
For the long term bad news the link to a column, which is based on a longer Jeremy Grantham report:
The U.S. GDP growth rate that we have become accustomed to for over a hundred years – in excess of 3% a year – is not just hiding behind temporary setbacks. It is gone forever. Yet most business people (and the Fed) assume that economic growth will recover to its old rates.
Going forward, GDP growth (conventionally measured) for the U.S. is likely to be about only 1.4% a year, and adjusted growth about 0.9%...
Here are some of the reasons he cites for low future growth:
  • Population growth peaked in the 1970s, and man-hours worked will grow at around 0.2% per year.
  • Manufacturing productivity is high, but manufacturing is falling as a share of GDP. Currently it's around 9 percent of GDP. He expects it to fall to around 5 percent by 2040.
  • Service productivity is low and declining.
  • Resource costs are rising, and are likely to accelerate. "If resources increase their costs at 9% a year, the U.S. will reach a point where all of the growth generated by the economy is used up in simply obtaining enough resources to run the system."
  • Climate change will become increasingly unfavorable. He sees more floods and more damage to crops.
Note that the Grantham paper cited is siting this paper:

Is US economic growth over? Faltering innovation confronts the six headwinds (pdf)
Robert J Gordon, Northwestern University and CEPR, September 2012

With the timing of the three revolutions in place, we can now interpret history with a graph that links together many decades of dedicated research by economic historians to provide data on real output per capita through the ages. Figure1 displays the record back to the year 1300 and traces the “frontier” of per-capita real GDP for the leading nation. The blue line represents the UK tthrough 1906 (approximately the year when the US caught up) and the red line the US from then through 2007. Heroic efforts by British economic historians have established a rough estimate that the UK grew at 0.2% per year for the four centuries through 1700. The graph shows striking absence, the lack of progress; there was almost no economic growth for four centuries and probably for the previous millennium.
Blue line is Britain, the initial leading economy, being overtaken by the red line indicated United States.
Note, he is almost certainly wrong about the lack of progress.  Setting growth as a "per capita" measure in the Malthusian era prior to the industrial revolution has some serious problems.  Lots of farmers, with growing families, weighing down real progress at the much smaller top and middle parts of the economy.



Sunday, December 2, 2012

Novel update note: Joshua

The author of the book Joshua has let me know that he has updated his book.  The changes were minimal, but he noted:

The book has been reformatted and edited, Also, although there are no big changes several scenes have been extended too.
I gave it a very positive review (Y+ on the summary page) when I first reviewed it, so this would only extend my earlier recommendation.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Markets in prepping

New York is asking for something like $50 Billion in aid, and last I checked New Jersey was around $30 Billion.  So there is an obvious market in disaster clean up.

Put there is another market, that the media is just starting to catch up with.  Disaster preparations by individuals.

Note, we are not just taking about people who think there will be a complete societal breakdown, the traditional bomb shelter survivalist if you will.  They obviously exist, but the market for what I would call mid-range preparations is even larger.  If society collapses, your natural gas fueled generator is only going to do you so much good.  But the folks at Generac, the best known of the residential-style standby generators, is one major component of the prepping market.  The natural gas may go off at the end of the world, but it is a lot more reliable than the electricity for the events in between.

Hurricane Sandy and the Disaster Preparedness Economy
Andrew Martin, New York Times, 10 November 2012 (hat tip: NC)

...The cold war may have been the start, when schoolchildren dove under desks and ordinary citizens dug bomb shelters out back. But economic fears, as well as worries about climate change and an unreliable electronic grid have all fed it.
Driven of late by freakish storms, this industry is growing fast, well beyond the fringe groups that first embraced it. And by some measures, it’s bigger than ever.
Businesses like Generac Power Systems, one of three companies in Wisconsin turning out generators, are just the start.
The market for gasoline cans, for example, was flat for years. No longer. "Demand for gas cans is phenomenal, to the point where we can’t keep up with demand," says Phil Monckton, vice president for sales and marketing at Scepter, a manufacturer based in Scarborough, Ontario. "There was inventory built up, but it is long gone."
But there’s little question that the market is in the multiple billions of dollars. The size of the generator market in the United States, including residential, commercial and industrial models, is roughly $3 billion...
Both Walmart and Costco now sell a year’s supply of food, much of it freeze-dried. Costco’s offering is 120 gallon-size cans of food for $1,499.99. Sears offers emergency/survival rations for dogs. And the National Geographic Channel has a reality series called "Doomsday Preppers," which "explores the lives of otherwise ordinary Americans who are preparing for the end of the world as we know it."
David Lyle, the chief executive of the National Geographic Channel, said the program was a breakout hit in its first season. The second season will begin on Tuesday.
"You start by thinking, ‘Wow, these people are odd.’ Then there is this creeping realization: Who is crazy now?" says Mr. Lyle, who notes that other shows like "The Walking Dead" and "Revolution" deal with similar themes, like living off the grid (albeit with zombies). "How interesting that some of them believe that the oil supply will run out and that will result in civil unrest. And now with Sandy, you see people having brawls in gas lines."
 It's a relatively long article, and I trimmed a lot of it.  If you have time, I would take a look.

And while Sandy is fueling would I would call disaster preparation (short to mid-term correctives), as the last paragraph noted, that is not the only issue that people worry about.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The growth fetish

At least some people are starting to see that an economy of continuous debt accumulation only works if you have continuous growth.  And continuous growth in a system with (at least some) finite constraints is not workable.  In history there has typically been a falling back, or sometimes a collapse to bring the everyone back to earth.  The advent of the industrial revolution at least for a time delayed that inevitability.  Collapses in a modern sense have usually been of a relative nature.  Not a collapse back to zero in absolute terms, but a temporary cessation of growth.

Growth: the false god
Flashman, Macrobusiness, 9 October 2012 (hat tip: NC)

From the self-development books of Oprah and Tony Robbins to the world records in the Olympic Games, the act of standing still, or of tomorrow not being better than yesterday, is the ultimate sin. From computer processing speeds, to pixels on phone cameras to waistlines queuing for the food buffet, everything must be faster, better or bigger. Achievement and victory, inculcated since school – themselves ranked against each other for parental selection – are the ultimate virtues...
Yet economics beyond growth is exactly what we need if some kind of equilibrium is to be restored in the domestic and global economy. Forgetting for the moment Malthusian arguments about resource scarcity, or indeed the science of climate change, for the insidious political economy of a highly unequal world to subside and for the backbone of democracy – a middle class where most are in the middle – to reassert, we essentially need a no-growth environment.
But how can such an agenda be pursued? If capitalism is inherently not the answer then is socialism? Probably not. Marx fetishised growth as much as the market, just with different methods. China’s Great Leap Forward and Stalin’s Five Year Plans, after all, were blatant growth-pursuing exercises that would make Wall Street blush. Is deep ecology the answer? Not if you don’t wish to wear a hairshirt. Reducing our standard of living to the level of people Bono sings about is never going to be popular. Ditto for primitivism, survivalism and fundamentalist religion as well.

What is interesting is that he notes that most modern economic philosophies on the right and left require growth to make their theories work with the possible exception of left wing anarchists, and right wing isolationists would fit in the hairshirt category.

What is unfortunate is that the only real solution he comes up with is more technological hand waving.  Nanotechnology to the rescue!

We can hope.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The collapse of the redoubts

Fer Fal has a discussion about how the survivalist redoubts, as promoted by John Rawls, are not necessarily the best places to ride out a collapse.  There is not a lot of love lost between Fer Fal and Rawls so a bit of sniping has always gone on between them.  Rawles has the fan base.  But Fer Fal has the advantage that he has lived through (at least on type of) a collapse. 

Fer Fal makes his case this way:

Retreat Areas May Be Hit By Automatic Budget Cuts

People that live in the inner Argentine provinces have a saying, “God is everywhere, but his office is in Buenos Aires”. That is why half the population lives there. Finding work, getting more complicated paperwork done or going to a good university, you have to go to the big city. Argentina may be an extreme case of that, but there’s still a lesson there.

With thousands of acres of beautiful and affordable land, why do people still choose to bunch up in nasty Buenos Aires? Because it’s the only place in a 3rdf world country where you can get anything done, its where all the money ends up. The rest of the country is always in a far 2nd place in terms of priority. The power grid needs fixing, water supply, roads, Buenos Aires gets the money first. Its not surprise that you find some of the worse poverty in the more distant provinces.

I’ve explained this behavior before, comparing it to a living organism. When there’s not enough food, a living organism will keep its core alive while sacrificing other non-vital parts. Same thing happens with a country and its government, it will keep its core alive, and same thing will happen in a state level, the capital getting most of the attention so as to keep it going while the smaller the community, the less help it will get.

 He is less extreme here than he has been in the past.
Note that part of the discussion is from a map that shows that it is rural counties in the United States that are getting the most Federal Funds that are threatened by the looming budget cuts.
I have posted a number of times (one example) about the slow economic collapse of the U.S. rural areas, and that to some extent theis collapse mirrors that of the much earlier collapse in the inner cities.  The rural collapse is happening far away from the media centers, and there are not the racial undertones to also highlight the issues, so it is still a surprise to most Americans when they find out that rural America is not that Norman Rockwell-imagined existance.  This is the land of the Meth epidemic. 
In general, jobs have left the rural areas.  This leaves behind the desperate who cannot move, those who find a source of handouts, and the elderly - who unfortunately can overlap with the first two catagories.  These are all high input citizens with regards to Federal spending.  In some States, these areas have tended to vote Blue, and in other areas, they have tended to vote Red.  There is a bit of history attached to those voting patterns, but likely also the relative economic health is an issue.  Slow collapses don't particularly have to be even collapses.

(Thumbnail) Fed Funds per Capita (Diver via CNBC of pdf)

One area of collapse-fiction, that has often assumed just this sort of collapse is Cyberpunk.  The genre being most famously represented by the movie Blade Runner, and the novel Neuromancer.  Although they aren't usually thought of as collapse novels, that is because most of the stories center around the dangerous folks with the cool high tech gadgets.
I have been reading K.W. Jeter's Noir.  It is written relatively late in the history of the genre, so some of its thoughts are a little more filled out than some of the earlier action-adventure style novels. The hero here is talking to the noir-equivelant of a playboy bunny type reduced to sex work.
K.W. Jeter, Bantam Books, 1998
"There ain't shit in Kansas." A little cloud of unsunned memory passed across [her] face.
"That's where you're from? I was just guessing." McNihil felt sorry for her... She... had all the pretty genetics, a child's face grafted by survival-orientated evolutiononto an adult's body, one that hadn't needed to be surgically pumped up to achieve its Blakean lineaments of desire.  Born than way, thought McNihil.  The came out of the rusting wastelands at the center of the continent, boys and girls together , walking the dead roadsof Kansas and Ohio all the way to the Pacific Rimcities (p50).

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cold, hungry and dark

Maybe some of the suspicion about the shale gas boom comes from the fact that many of its main architects act more like real estate speculators than energy providers.

Of course the eco-opponents of the whole idea will grasp and imagined straw in their opposition, but there is a certain general problem with the new fossil fuel prosperity.

U.S. Energy Insecurity: Why Fracking for Oil and Natural Gas Is a False Solution
Food and Water Watch,  14 November 2012 (hat tip NC)

Briefly, Food & Water Watch finds that (hat tip):
  • The popular claim that the United States has 100 years worth of natural gas presumes not only that no place would be off-limits to drilling and fracking, but also that highly uncertain estimates of domestic natural gas resources are accurate;
  • Even assuming that the industry’s dreams of unrestricted drilling and fracking for natural gas come true and that resource estimates prove accurate, plans to increase the rate of consumption of U.S. natural gas easily cut the claim to 50 years, well within the lifetime of college students today;
  • Among these plans are 19 proposals, as of October 26, 2012, to sell U.S. natural gas on foreign markets to maximize oil and gas profits. Combined, these proposals alone mean that annual natural gas exports could reach the equivalent of over 40 percent of total U.S. consumption of natural gas in 2011; and
  • Even if the highly uncertain estimates of “tight oil” reserves prove accurate, and even if the oil and gas industry wins unrestricted access to drill and frack for oil, the estimated reserves would amount to a supply of less than seven years.
Along similar lines, there is a new book coming out:  Cold, Hungry and in the Dark

From its Amazon description:
Conventional wisdom has North America entering a new era of energy abundance thanks to shale gas. But has industry been honest? Cold, Hungry and in the Dark argues that declining productivity combined with increasing demand will trigger a crisis that will cause prices to skyrocket, damage the economy, and have a profound impact on the lives of nearly every North American.
Relying on faulty science, bought-and-paid-for-white papers masquerading as independent research and "industry consultants," the "shale promoters" have vastly overstated the viable supply of shale gas resources for their own financial gain. This startling exposé, written by an industry insider, suggests that the stakes involved in the Enron scandal might seem like lunch money in comparison to the bursting of the natural gas bubble. Exhaustively researched and rigorously documented, Cold, Hungry and in the Dark:
  • Puts supply-and-demand trends under a microscope
  • Provides overwhelming evidence of the absurdity of the one hundred-year supply myth
  • Suggests numerous ways to mitigate the upcoming natural gas price spike

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hunter Gatherer Collapse: California

We have done a variety of posts on the collapse of large settled communities, Empires, and the like.  We have tried to expand beyond the typical Maya, Rome, discussions and bring up some the lesser known settled cultures that collapsed.
I have noticed a sub-theme within some sustainable style literature, often appearing to come with a communist anarchist style mindset that hunter gatherers do not have the same problems as agricultural communities.
That appears to be a gross overstatement.  While it is true that hunter gatherer population does not grow as large on any given plot of land as do agricultural communities, the best evidence is that they also go through cyclical ups and downs, it is just that it is usually at a more localized level, so that unless you get some sort of weather extremes, it will not likely be over as large of an area, and the collapse will not involve as many people.  In other words, if you have a situation comes where the holding capacity of the land, through a drought, becomes equal to 10 people per hectare, the hunter gather community with a density of 15 people have less distance to drop than the agriculturalists with 125 people per hectare.  In the overcompensating downward thrust, one will lose about half its people, while the other will loss 95%.

As an example of a decentralized community collapsing:

Beginning at 10,000 B.C. California was occupied by foragers.  Human densities were low and the people did not seem to be having much effect on the environment.  For example, fur seals were breeding on the beaches a bit south of San Francisco and the pups would have been very susceptible to being taken by foragers.  No boats were needed, just clubs.  Yet for thousands of years the seals and the early Californians coexisted.  It would appear that foragers were so few that they did not kill enough pups to reduce the herds to the point that the seals needed to abandon the mainland and breed only on offshore islands, as they do today.  Since the pups were seasonal, this may have been an annual bottleneck in food supply that kept the human population down.  However, as some point the bottleneck was overcome by finding a food that was available or storable at the time of year of the former bottleneck - probably acorns - and the people became sedentary collectors. Group sizes increased and more people began to take the fur seal pups.  Around 2,000 B.C., the seals stopped rearing their pups on the mainland.  Then the now much more numerous people began to exploit shellfish more intensely, allowing less time for them to mature between harvests.  The average size of shells in the shell mounds declined over time.  The human population along the California coast become more sedentary and began to act more like farmers, seriously impacting their environment.  As I discuss later, it was about this time that there was an increase in warfare after this transformation.
His comment about being like farmers is a little unfortunate, because it is allowing the record keeping drive the story.  There is considerable evidence of mass killings, with large amounts of game being wasted by less settled groups.  But because they are less settled it is difficult to get a chronological record of their activities.  We don't know what happened to the large game hunters numbers when all the easy prey in North America was killed.  At the local level, there was likely a very rough transition, although a transition that would have been smoothed out a little as the climate was moderating and for the first time agriculture would have been possible.
When you look closely at what we can see of the prehistoric record, there appears to be much more of a continuom of behaviours between the two groups with the agriculturalists generally being able to build up larger populations, and thus suffering  more dramtic swings in populatin.  Swings that are also easier to record because of their sedentary life style.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Fallout coming your way

Do you want to see what happens if some nearby point of interest is nuked.  Go here Ground Zero II
First put in the zip code or name and hit search.  Than select you weapon - all the way up to asteroid, although the very common B61 (USA) is dead in the middle of the slide bar. Than hit the Nuke It button.
The fallout can be adjusted to the wind by clicking carefully on the compass rose points.
One disconcerting item for those who live near the major military bases - they are very large.  Which means that if the somebody with sufficient bombs wanted to knock them out, they would almost be forced to use multiple warheads.  So those of us within a possible upwind pattern could see a lot of glowing dust coming our way.  Of course if you are stationed at one of those bases, disconcerting probably is not a strong enough word.

My nearest (somewhat) downwind military base: Fort Bragg, NC

When you turn to the fallout gauge, the damage starts spreading.  You have to pull back and slide to the northeast to see the results.  In this case the fallout with a constant gentle breeze is almost at the southern bedroom communities of Raleigh, our state capital in 6 hours.

Same ordinance, this time showing fallout.

Raleigh is not perfectly downwind from Fort Bragg.  But it is almost perfectly downwind from the Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant in New Hill, NC.  So it has a more than one way to find itself glowing.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Karankawa Thanks Giving: Pirates and Indians

The Karankawa are a lost tribe of Native Americans that lived along the Texas coast at the time that a variety of European explorers came wandering through.  They rescued some of the earliest Spanish explorers, are connected to the destruction of the early French settlement in the area, and we have featured them in a number of battles with the early Texas settlers.
However, they one item does make them stand out from your typical native tribal folk.
They are said to have battled with pirates.  And not just any pirates, but pirates associated with Jean Lafitte, the pirate who is famous for helping the Americans fight off the British at the Battle of New Orleans rather late (to say the least) in the War of 1812.
All of this is going on after the war.  Lafitte had taken over a camp on an island where eventually Galvaston, Texas, came to be.  He actually left, and took at least some of his men with him, prior to the Pirate-Indian battle.
Most stories, as noted below, have the fight occuring over a woman.  Just as likely the Karankawa were tired of unruley pirates/adventurers trapsing around through their hunting areas and started harasing the Americans.

The Early History of Galveston (PDF)
Doctor J.O. Dyer, Galveston, TX 1916
The year 1821 brought Long trouble with his men. They were impatient' and had a difficulty with the Carancahuas. Long was forced by his men to attack them on February 20, 1821, at the Three Trees, on the high shell ridge, near the bay shore on Galveston Island.
Many accounts have been written of this battle, mostly fictitious. The battle has been erroneously attributed to Lafitte, who with two cannons and two hundred men attacked the Indians. The locality where the battle took place was surrounded by swamps and cannons could not have been used.
Long's account, given in an early issue of DeBow, states that the fight lasted fifteen minutes; that many Indians were killed; that Long lost on killed and seven wounded, two of whom died; that Long had but thirty nien. It is hardly probable that Long gave out this account. Colonel Hall's account said that Long had one hundred men, surprised the Indians, killing thirty and taking one woman and child prisoner. Long had seven wounded.
Mrs. Long's account said the battle lasted a few minutes, the men firing three volleys. Ten Indians were killed and many wounded. One woman and her children were captured. Several were bitten by rattlesnakes in the swamps. Long had but three wounded. George Early received an arrow which pierced his thigh; Dr. Long removed it, and Mrs. Long nursed the wounded. (The arrow head that wounded George Early was presented by Mrs. Long to the author's family, and is in the Texas exhibit at the Rosenberg Library.) General Long returned the wounded and captives to the Indians and made peace with them. They never bothered his wife when left alone at the fort in Bolivar during the winter of 1821-1822. Yoakum says that Lafitte fought the tribe the year before. John Henry Brown gave the old story of the Indians capturing a vessel loaded with wine, were drunk and dancing, that Long attacked them with thirty men, killed thirty two Indians and captured two boys, one of whom was accidentally killed. Long lost three killed and a number wounded (page 9-10).

I say pirate-adventurers, because James Long of Tennessee, was as much of a capitalist-revolutionary-brigand, known as filibusters, as he was a privateer.  If you read the (confusing) details of the back and forth between Long and Lafitte and Lafitte's men, you will see that it is likely that there was some intermixing of the two groups manpower.  The opportunistic pirates joining whomever they thought could bring them the most prize money.
Long continued on with his adventures, and eventually was captured by the Mexicans and executed in 1822.  The Karankawa as a group did not make it much further as fighting broke out with Texas settlers.  Within a decade,  most of them would be gone.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wrong catastrophe assumptions

In one of my normal reads I came across some interesting thoughts from someone who is involved in (for lack of a better phrase) the emergency management industry.  Note that I paraphrased his two key points.

Wrong Catastrophic Disaster Assumptions
Eric Holdeman, Emergency Management Blog, 18 September 2012

  • [The assumption that elected or appointed officials will take the appropriate course of action]. 
  • [The assumption that all emergency workers will be available to allocate to various missions. The workers themselves will often be caught up in the disaster].

He makes some other points, but to my mind they are not particularly on topic.

What I find slightly amusing is that both of his points are almost the normal assumption in most apocalypse-in-progress type stories.  Maybe he should read  a little fiction and get some ideas.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Collapse of Empires: The Maya

There is more evidence in as to what caused the collapse of the Classical Mayan Empire.
Tainter would say that they became to complex and were no longer able to adapt to increased challenges.  Diamond would say that they slowly degraded their environment until a modest reversal caused the whole house of cards to collapse.
Both of their theories are loose enough that they can claim that the evidence that a period of extended drought coincided with their collapse.  But the problem with such loose theories is that they have little real predictive value. How complex is too complex, and how much degradation is needed?
Bruce Bower, Science News, 8 November 2012 (hat tip: Big Picture)
His team analyzed a stalagmite that grew in Yok Balum Cave from 40 B.C. to 2006 A.D. Rainfall estimates for each year of rock formation were derived from measurements of oxygen that accumulated in the stalagmite as runoff from rains entered the cave.
Yok Balum lies near a half-dozen major Classic Maya sites. The scientists compared the climate data with historical records, carved on stone monuments at these sites, of Maya warfare and political events.
Researchers have argued for decades about whether the Classic Maya collapse stemmed more from droughts or from warfare and weakened political systems. Kennett says the new evidence is consistent with climate changes interacting with social forces to pull Classic Maya civilization in different directions.
Douglas J. Kennett, et al, Science, Vol. 338, November 9, 2012, p. 788

Population increases and the expansion of Classic Maya polities were favored by anomalously high rainfall and increased agricultural productivity between 440 and 660 C.E. High-density Maya populations were increasingly susceptible to the agricultural consequences of climate drying. We propose that a two-stage collapse commenced with the 660 C.E. drying trend. It triggered the balkanization of polities, increased warfare, and abetted overall sociopolitical destabilization. Political disintegration in the Petexbatun region foreshadows two multi-decadal dry intervals that further reduced agricultural yields and caused more widespread political disintegration between 800 and 900 C.E. This was followed by a second stage of more gradual population decline and then punctuated population reductions during the most extreme dry interval in the YOK-I record between 1020 and 1100 C.E.

It seems to my mind that the biggest problem is that people expand to the limit of the calorie supply.  It doesn't really matter how advanced, or complex the society is, be it the Homeric Greeks, the Romans, or the when the weather turns against them, they die off.  Even hunter gatherers had these problems.  They are just not particularly well recorded because most non-agriculturalists did not leave enough permanent remains to make their collapse very clear cut. 
What makes the big collapse impressive, is the height from which the fall takes place. In the case o the Maya, all the way from the top of a very tall Pyramid.