Friday, March 30, 2012

New Hampshire armored attack runs out of gas

An amazing thing happened, the people of Keene NH forgot that they were subject people and rebelled against their government.

In this case what they rebelled against is their town purchasing a "tank"-probably an armored personnel carrier - gratis of the Fed's War-On-Drugs/Terror program.

Standing Up for Common Sense
Jim Hightower, Other Words, 19 March 2012 (Hat tip:  truthout via NC)

Thanks to such richly funded boondoggles as the "war on drugs" and the "war on terrorism," the federal government is throwing money at cities and states to militarize their various police forces. Thus, Keene was granted $285,000 by the Department of Homeland Security to buy its very own "Bearcat," an eight-ton combat vehicle.

Of course, corporations that peddle such pricey hardware testily insist that Keene needs a tank. A sales executive for Lenco Industries, which makes the Bearcat, snapped to an inquiring reporter: "I don't think there's any place in the country where you can say, 'That isn't a likely terrorist target.' Wouldn't you rather be prepared?"

The sensible people of Keene, however, aren't swallowing the fearmonger pill, and they've forced the town council to reconsider. Local businesswomen Dorrie O'Meara says she hasn't met a single person who's in favor of having "this militaristic thing in Keene." She calls the tank "completely unnecessary. But it's more than that," she adds. "It's just not who we are. It's about what kind of town we want to be."
While not devoid of crime, there has not been a murder in Keene reported since 2003.  Obviously they are not a terribly violent bunch.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

More Panic in the Cities

We discussed the countryside bound panicked hoards  that are expected by all the most exciting apocalypse-in-progress (aip) novels.  We have already commented on One Second After earlier, but the modern version of the genre goes back at least to the movie Panic in the Year Zero, which itself is said to have  been (without attribution) based on Ward Moore's Lot and Lot's Daughter.

A love fest? Yes indeed!

O.K. let's play a scenario game.  We live in the world of Lucifer's Hammer, No Blade of Grassthe prequel to Starvation Ridge, Nova's second book in the American Apocalypse before the Norse Goddess shows up, or Crawford's Lights Out.  We are the heroes of the story, we have noodled around for a while, had a little drama, and now we are waiting for the bad guys - the city hordes - to show up. 

However, we are going to change the rules a little.  We will insist on at least a modicum of reality.

So what happens?

If they are driving normal passenger vehicles, the hordes can make it about 300 miles.  That is somewhat the standard range for an off the shelf passenger vehicle.  However, as Busted Knuckles noted in our earlier post, most of us are running around town with about a quarter of a tank of gas.  Considering a quarter tank is good for maybe 60  miles of city traffic, that is not all that surprising.  day-to-day, it gets us where we need to go. 

So the reality is, at some point they are going to have to get out and walk at some point.  I mean it is possible that they could raid a Dick's Sporting Goods and show up as the second coming of a Wehrmacht bicycle company, but it just doesn't happen that way in fiction.  Given how hard it would be to round up more than a hundred adult sized bikes, it also does not make for much of a horde.  Kids bikes of course are more common, so it would remain a viable option for the four foot-and-under crowd.  If they teamed up with the rampaging mice hoards it would certainly make a unique threat mix.

Now we will pause a moment to look at some numbers.  To be exact, the load that a U.S. infantryman carries on foot:

  • Average fighting load:   62.43 pounds
  • Average full load % body weight: 34.90%
  • Average Approach March Load (AML): 94.98 pounds
  • Average AML % body weight: 52.59%
  • Average Emgergency March Load (EAML): 128.35 pounds
  • Average EAML % body weight: 73.62%.
  • The average mission duration: 48 -72 hours.

So when these heavily loaded troops (we are not back to our urban hordes yet) get to the area of engagement, if they really open up and blaze away, how long will their ammo last?
  • About 5-10 minutes.
from Modern Warriors Combat Load (pdf), Spring 2003 p13,

That's right, if they really open up and let someone have it, they will run out of ammo in 5 minutes. This is actually something of a military truism. The "Five minutes of rooty-tooty" in World War 2(John D. Salt, The Nugget, Feb 2008) becoming the 10 minutes of rooty-tooty with lighter modern ammunition  so to speak.  It is not just U.S. troops.   It is one of the reasons that the ever astute Germans made a point of making an immediate counterattack after loosing a position.  They wanted to catch their opponant before they were settled in and were still low on ammunition.  You simply canot carry enough ammunition to keep you in a long fight with semi- or full-auto weapons.

The typical load out for an infantryman with a M-4/M-16 is 7 magazines with 30 rounds, and 140 rounds in stripper clips for a total of (210+140) 350 rounds.  At the leisurely pace (even on semi-auto) of one shoot per second or two,  the ammo will be gone in 5 to 10 minutes.  For what it is worth the light machine gun crew (SAW) is carrying about 1000 rounds and will run out quicker on full auto.  Note that someone carrying heavier rounds (.308) will likely even have less ammunition: rounds-per-pound  of 19 versus 37 (from here).
No we are back to our hordes.

That infantryman is carrying a lot of weight.  It is what they carry around to accomplish 2 to 3 days of work. Granted they have more, and better equipment than your typical hordesperson (we want to be PC here), but they are also not hauling around any kindergartners, family heirloom silver sets, or other odd critical items that a four-hours of sitcom/reality shows a day educated person might think they need to survive.
Our average hordesperson  is not likely to be in as good of shape as our combat infantryman.  It is difficult to see them carry much in the way of provisions and ammunition and great distance.  Groups of people move slowly, being really generous our horde makes 10 miles a day.  If they are going to maraud further than 30 miles, they are going to have to trade of hauling ammunition for hauling food.
That trade off may not be difficult, it is my understanding that the typical gun owning U.S. household has less than one-hundred rounds of ammunition.  Much of that is likely pistol ammunition.

So what is our horde looking like?

Note that our scenario is not the same as those traffic jamb that occurs on our southern exposed coasts when a mega-hurican threatens. It is far worse.  The gas stations are not open, and the highway patrol is not keeping things orderly.  There is no expected friendly destination point for most of these people.

The front edge of the horde can make better mileage and time if it does not run into any roadblocks.  It scatters into a fairly loose gaggle of individuals that are potentially dangerous.  However, most of the horde is going to get caught up in the traffic.  Bridges will be your most severe choke points.  There are an awful lot less bridges over major rivers than people think.  Only in the cities themselves - the point of escape, are there usually multiple bridges over a river.

U.S. Geography is so variable that it is hard to predict.  But most of your hordes are not going to get very far before they have to start walking.  The quarter tank of gas gets them well into the suburbs, and not much else.  A few go further, but they of course are much more dispersed.  At this point they can walk 20 miles over the next couple of days before they run out of food.  When they show up at the place they are supposed to be marauding, without our combat infantryman's fire dicipline, they will shoot up their (less than) 100 rounds of (mostly pistol) ammunition in a matter of minutes.  If fire is returned, they will go to ground too soon and hit nothing.

It doesn't make for a lot of novelistic excitement.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

College debt peonage

Crooked Timber has an interesting piece that discusses the situation of our “debt-enslaved” youth.  I think he makes some good points, although I also think he is somewhat sideways to the issue.

Malcompharris, Out of the Crooked Timber, 23 February 2012 (Hat tip: MR)

Eeconomist and blogger Mike Konczal has parsed the data from the “We Are The 99%” tumblr that became a digital catalog of the individual motivations behind (the overwhelmingly young) Occupiers and their supporters, and concluded that “The overwhelming majority of these statements are actionable demands in the form of (i) free us from the bondage of these debts and (ii) give us a bare minimum to survive on in order to lead decent lives (or, in pre-Industrial terms, give us some land) . . . these are the demands of a peasantry, not a working class.”

As of 2009, 37 percent of American households headed by someone under 35 have more debts than total assets, which doesn’t even count over half of those under 24, who live with their parents. That’s a recipe for social instability, an organization less structurally sound with regard to popular uprising, Graeber would argue, than most slave societies.

There’s a particular affect that David identifies with “the debtor who feels he has done nothing to deserve being placed in his position: the frantic urgency of having to convert everything around oneself into money, and rage, and indignation at having been reduced to the sort of person who would do so.” It’s not just the humiliation and dispossession endemic to inequality and hierarchy, but a particular feeling of being reduced to what Evan Calder Williams has called “meat on the hoof.” The feeling of walking on rented legs that always threaten to wander back to their true honors.

The reason I believe he is sideways to the issue, is that I think he is miss-framing the problem.  It is not that we have a working system that has become unbalanced.  A system where the parent (society) hands an invoice to our children (society’s youth) at the age of 21 and says “pay us back.”  What we have is a society that cannot maintain its current economic wellbeing. 

Look at it from a highway infrastructure point of view.  We currently do not have enough money to maintain our bridges and highways in adequate condition. 

1.      We can choose to cutback on the highways and bridges that we currently have to the point where the current repair budget is adequate (asset reduction).

2.      We can borrow money to pay for repairs and shift the general spending into the future (future wealth reduction)

3.      We can take the money from some other area of spending to pay for the repairs (service reduction).

4.      We can borrow money to pay for the repairs and pay for them with toll roads that require specific end-users to pay for their upkeep.

The first option is analogous to cutting off all student loans and having a pay-as-you-go system.  The cost of education would likely go down, but it is none-the-less true that less people would be getting themselves educated.

The second option is pretty much what a debt jubilee on education does.  Transfers the cost of education to the general public.  As we do not have enough money to pay for all this on an ongoing basis, the net result would have to be either the first (less education) or third (less something else) options eventually.

The last option is what is being done with the student loan situation.  We can no longer afford to educate our children gratis, so we have them pay a toll.

The problem is that we do not recognize the danger that the future outcomes may not be sufficient to pay for the inputs.  What if the receipts are not enough to cover the costs, and what if that toll booth is at the end of your driveway, not only on specific roads.

And there is the trap.  You get on the toll road to get to work, but the toll takes half of your income.  You get yourself educated, and the loans eat up half your income.

Now it is all very true that you can abandon your car and walk everywhere, and you can abandon your education and live in a little trailer on junk land to keep your costs close to zero.  These are choices. 

But these are all choices of people who are poorer than we believe ourselves to be.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

It has been warm

So how warm has it been?

The daily lows in some locations are hotter than previous record highs:

Summer in March, 2012, draws to a close

Jeff Masters, Doctor Jeff Master's Wonder Blog, 23 March 2012 (hat tip: NC)

Low temperatures beating previous high temperature records for the date
I've never seen a case where the low temperature for the date beat the previous record high. This happened on at least four occasions during "Summer in March, 2012":

The low temperature at Marquette, Michigan hit 52° on March 21, which was 3° warmer than the previous record high for the date.

The low at Mt. Washington, NH on March 21 (44°) beat the previous record high for the date (43°.)

The low temperature for International Falls, Minnesota on March 20 bottomed out at 60°F, tying the previous record high for the date.

The low temperature in Rochester, Minnesota on March 18 was 62°F, which beat the previous record high for the date of 60°.
The entire post is interesting.  We are in a continuing period of freakish weather .  Apparently the sitings of naked people running around their gardens in Novia Scotia in March are true.

Monday, March 26, 2012

U.S. finance: back to 1837?

Alasdair Roberts has out a new book (ht: MR) America's First Great Depression: Economic Crisis and Political Disorder After the Panic of 1837.  Since I do not have access to an advanced copy of the book, I will take an earlier Boston Globe article of his to highlight some issues.

A precipitous situation, not without precedent

Alasdair Roberts, Boston Globe 10 July 2011 (some paragraph ordering changed).

Many states were caught up in the mania of 1836-37. They borrowed in Europe and competed with each other to build infrastructure that would open their markets. Legislators spent indiscriminately. Every new canal, railroad, and turnpike was supposed to pay for itself. But when the economy collapsed, so did the projects.

There was no toll revenue to repay the loans. Foreign creditors pressed the states to raise property taxes instead. But voters resisted new taxes, and many states simply lacked the capacity to collect them…Between July 1841 and December 1842, eight of the country’s 26 states defaulted on their loans. Other states and the federal government also struggled to avoid insolvency. The entire nation quickly became a pariah in international financial markets….

The crisis was a critical point in the evolution of American government. States abandoned their infrastructure schemes and adopted constitutional restrictions on borrowing.

Voters accepted new taxes, and governments developed the capacity to collect them efficiently.

 “Self-government is no longer a theory,’’ said John Pettit, an Indiana legislator. “We must take our cool and calm moments to bind and restrict ourselves.’’

What a concept, you restrict spending and raise taxes.  Today we sometimes raise taxes a little, and sometimes cut them a little.  But mostly we just print more money.

Of course the States back then couldn’t make anyone take their printed money.  We are not yet at that point.

When we reach that point, we will begin to understand just how wealthy we actually are.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The List of 50

This is a partial list of apocalypse -n-progress or post-apocalyptic  novels that I have not read but that I have on hand. 

To get to 50, I only had to list off the unread novels in my Kindle:

Driving Toward Disaster, Ron Foster

Matthew and the Derelict Joseph Wood

Omnilingual H. Beam Piper

The Last Pilgrims Michael Bunker

Apocalypse Island, Mark Edward Hall

Seed, Rob Ziegler

The Eagle has Crashed, Ted Lacksonen

Half Past Midnight, Sam Winston

Invasion: Alaska Vaughn Heppner

Torn, Various Authors

The Bunker Book 1, E.J. Camacho

Desperate Times, Nicholas Aritinozzi

Bio-Angel, Des Michaels

Tinker’s Plague, Stephen B. Pearl

The Heirloom, Richard Davies

The Knight of the Long Knives, Fritz Leiber

Pike, Benjamin Whitmer

The Judas Syndrome, Michael Poelt

EXOS, Michael Ammann

Rhubarb Culture, David C. Waldron

Through Darkest America (Extended Version?), Neal Barret Jr.

The Old Man and the Wasteland, Nick Cole

Terminator Gene, Ian Irvine,

Life Lottery, Ian Irvine

The Last Albatross, Ian Irvine

The Great Collapse, Jeff W. Horton

Surviving Passion (The Shattered World), Maia Underwood

The Breach, Patrick Lee

Ranchero, Rick Gavin

Shut Down, W.R. lynn

Grants Pass, Various Authors

After the Apocalypse, Maureen McHugh

The A-men, John Trevillian

Outside- A post Apocalyptic Novel, Shalini Boland

As Wind in Dry Grass- H. Grant Llewellyn

Race Against the Machine, Erik Brynjolfsson

Eyes of God, Philip Babcock

Scourge of an Agnostic God, Michael Juge

The Oblivian Society, Marcus Alexander Hart

Renewal, JF Perkins

The Purple Cloud, M.P. Shields

Ashes of the Earth- A Mystery of Post Apocalyptic  America, Elizabeth Bear

Hammered, Elizabeth Bear

Catastrophia, Various Authors

Earth Hour, Ken MacLeod

Noise: A Novel, Darin Bradley

Welcome to the Greenhouse, Gordon Van Gelder

Julian Comstock:  A Story of 22nd Century…, Robert Charles Wilson

A Land of Ash, Various Author

The Bayour Trilogy, Daniel Woodrell

A Winter’s Bone:  A Novel

Savage Night, Jim Thompson

2003: The Real Story of What Happens to America, Albert Brooks

2084: An Oral History of the Great Warming, James Powell

Deep Winter, Thomas Sherry

Love in the Time of the Apocalypse, Gregory Blecha

That is more than 50.  I did it in a hurry.   There a couple of titles that may not be within genre, but I have not even touched the physical books on hand. Since I have an interest in the “history” of the genre, I have more pre-Kindle titles on hand than Kindle ones.

I could easily get through these titles in a year if I avoid too many long boring slogs (aka – Directive 51), and stopped reading non-fiction.   Mind you long books that are good (Earth Abides, and so far Warday) are perfectly fine, even if they slow up the mad frenzy of reviews.  It is easier to keep notes in the pre-kindle books (kindle note keeping gets cumbersome if you note to many items), and a little easier to do the reviews, so I do have a tendency to grab the non-Kindle titles first.

Training for disaster

The N. C. Baptist Men Disaster Relief teams are in training.

Training prepares for worst (front page link)
Martha Quillin, New Observer (Raleigh, NC), 16 March 2012]

It will look like a tornado came through the parking lot at New Hope Baptist Church this afternoon and Saturday, not because there was a natural disaster but so that when there is another one, the N.C. Baptist Men’s volunteers will be ready to feed people, cut fallen trees off their houses and keep the rain from coming in.

At least 725 people signed up to go through the tow-day disaster relief training which will prepare them to help out after the next hurricane, tornado, flood or other calamity.

The article goes on to note that this is a group effort with people from all denominations welcome to help out.  They have 12,000 volunteers in North Carolina alone.

Even within fictional literature, when you read between the lines, it is the isolation and despair that sets  people off.  Twelve-thousand helpful people would go at least some way toward alleviating that fear.  People can put up with, and even deal with a lot of setbacks if they feel that someone is with them.  As one person noted:

As they note at their website:
Virtually 100% of NCBM Disaster Relief is funded by donations. If you would like to support this ministry please mail a check, designated for Disaster Relief Fund, to:

North Carolina Baptist Me
P. O. Box 1107
Cary, NC 27512-1107

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Bike thiefs

Casey Neistat, New York Times Op Ed, 12 March 2012 (Hat tip:  BB via NC)
I was 20 years old when I moved to New York City on a Friday in June 2001. I brought all the clothes I could fit in a big duffel bag, along with my bicycle. Monday morning I was to report to my new job as a bike messenger. Saturday, my first full day in Manhattan, my bike was stolen. 
In the nearly 11 years since that day, I have had countless bikes and parts stolen. I’ve used the most secure locks, registered my bike with the N.Y.P.D., and parked in only the most conspicuous locations. But I’ve found only one sure way of keeping my bike secure: keeping it indoors. During business hours I keep my bike in my office and when I get home I carry it up four flights of stairs.
He then goes on to explain how he tried out an experiment.  I presume he was interested in how it was that his bike was being stolen in broad daylight with nobody ever being caught.  So he would lock up his bike in a public place, and then come back latter and act like a bike their- or more exactly an inept bike thief - he made it obvious that he was stealing a bike.
He made a video of it (from his first experiment a few years ago) and pretty much showed that his likelyhood of being stopped/aprehended was small.
Now his theory is that people don't care, and won't stop people from stealing a bike.  While I would agree that there is some of this problem, I think there is a larger issue.
In an open transit city, nobody knows what is going on.   To be exact, so much is going on, that most people only concentrate on the immediate items of concern to them:  is my walking path open, lighting their cigarette, etcetera.   While it is true that busy people are less likely to get involved in helping other people.  You can also get cases of bystander apathy- too many people being around will inhibit (diffusion of responsibility) the helping response .
I brought this up because I think it does a good job of illustrating the problems of mixed use development that we discussed earlier.  It brings the anonymity and cross traffic of the commercial zone, into our home communities.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Next planned book reviews

I have accumulated some book reviews.

For those who are relatively new here,  a list of my reviews that includes all but the latest is here.

I have read a number of EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) related apocalypse-in-progress  novels.  The one nice think about EMP related novels is that you can actually read them all. There are not nearly as many of them as there are pandemic-apocalypse novels.

I am not sure I have all of the EMPs, but…

 I have read:

Des Michael’s Terrawatt

Ray Gorham’s 77 Days in September

Larry Burkett’s Solar Flare

Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story

William Forstein’s One Second After

Ron Foster’s Preppers Road March

Whitley Strieber and James Kunetkas’ Warday (one-third way through)

Next up in my Kindle in the EMP Category:

David Alexander’s Death Pulse

EMP-novel I have already reviewed:
David Crawford (aka Halffast) Lights Out
Terry DeHart’s The Unit

EMP-novel that   I would really like to get to, but may not have time for this round of reviews:

Bruce Hemming and Sara Freeman’s Grid Down Reality Bites (It looks interesting but is very long)

Other apocalypse or post-apocalyptic novels I have read and can review, but don’t fit the EMP category:

Newton Thornburg’s Valhalla

Jane Gallion’s Biker

Russell Hill’s The Edge of the Earth (originally known  as Cold Creek Cash Store)

A list of 50 books that I have not read (for the disbelieving Kymber) will have to follow latter.

Empires and the Red Queens Race

John Michael Greer had an interesting post about the trajectory of Empires and this post is based around my agreeing comment (modified).

My response is noted around contributing problems to maintaining empires:

The cost of defense was a major factor in the demise of many empires.

In a vacuum empires would take over what ever wealthy targets were available to them, Rome- the Mediterranean Bases, The Mongols – the lands bordering the Asian Steppes, The Dutch and Portuguese – the areas that there ships could safely sale. The last group you could call Trade Empires - although piracy was often as important as trade in establishing them.

But the vacuum that creates these empires does not last because of the “Red Queen's Race.” A phenomenon often discussed in biology, it also works with Empires. In Lewis Carol’s Through the Looking Glass  the Red Queens Race had everyone running harder and harder just to stay in the same place.

When countries rely on some form of superior organization (Napoleonic Empire) or technology (Britain), at least some rivals will be able to copy the methods. And copying is easier than creating.

So to use Britain as an example, even though its fleet of 1914 was in an absolute sense, far more powerful than it’s 1904 fleet. The various lesser powers (U.S., Germany, Japan primarily) had caught up with it in the technical race. Britain ran hard, but still lost the race.  In the end Britain was forced to pull its Pacific fleet to face off against the improved German forces.  This ceded the Western Pacific to Britain's then ally, Japan.  As we know, even close allies don't always stay friendly.

When countries lose the Red Queens race, they are usually (nuclear war possibly excepted) most vulnerable at the margins. The areas where there previously was a power vacuum can no longer be defended inexpensively, and there is a required pull back. Trade Empires seem to be particularly vulnerable to this extreme pull back.

So even if the United States manages to repair its current problems, and even prosper in some sense, that may not sufficient for it to maintain its empire.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Missing women found

The missing women in this case are women who based on the overall sex at birth ratios, are not present in the population.  Although selective abortion is often thought to be the primary culprit, that is not always as much the case as assumed.  In a number of cases, the “missing women” are as much within the adult cohorts as within the infants.

Missing Women by Age

Siwan Anderson, Debraj Tay,  Review of Economic Studies (2010) 77, 1262–1300 (Hat tip: MR)

Our study of excess female deaths by age and disease yields the following findings. For developing countries today, the epidemiological transition—the changing composition of disease— explains very little of excess female mortality. At young ages, the Group 1 diseases are largely responsible for missing women. The opposite is true at older ages; Group 2 diseases are responsible.

They note that the United States, at the beginning of the 20th century similarly had a large group of missing adult women.  In the case of the United States it may have been changes in the death rate from tuberculosis that caused the demographic deficit (p.1287).

Although there were certain constants across regions, there were also a number of regional peculiarities

In India, communicable, preventable diseases explain missing girls in childhood. Maternal mortality and injuries are important at the reproductive ages. Cardiovascular deaths are an overwhelmingly strong source of missing women at older ages in India and dominate all other sources of excess female mortality. Finally, congenital deaths at infancy, as well as Injuries, account for a suspiciously large total of excess female deaths in India. These excess deaths easily outnumber maternal mortality.

In sub-Saharan Africa, missing girls also die prematurely from preventable diseases: malaria is a primary killer. As to India, maternal deaths are also important. But the dominant source of missing women in sub-Saharan Africa is HIV/AIDS. It accounts for well over a third of excess female deaths in the region. (That said, sub-Saharan African percentages of missing women are still comparable to those in India and China even if the excess female deaths from HIV/AIDS is entirely ignored.)

In China, by contrast, the dominant source of missing females is prenatal. That said, there are excess female deaths in childhood which are due to respiratory and perinatal causes. To us, these are warning signs that active female discrimination in China possibly stretches beyond the prenatal. Indeed, a large chunk of missing women in China, as well as in India, are found after the age of 45. In China, these excess deaths from Group 2 diseases account for close to 40% of the flow of all missing women. The corresponding figure for India is also 40%. These numbers point to the importance of studying the conditions of elderly women in India and

China. As a final note, we observe some similarities between age-specific percentages of missing women in the historical United States (ca. 1900) and India or sub-Saharan Africa today.

What I tend to take from this is that while cultural patterns are important, it can also be said in general that life in a non-modern setting can be very difficult on women.  Deaths during childbirth are of course a unique danger to woman, but there appears to other areas, often region specific, which uniquely affect the mortality women.  Although they don't mention it in the quotation above, they do discuss the differing rates of suicide between men and women in China as being indicative of a problem.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Collapse of Empires: the Harappan

The Harappan are within certain circles a relatively famous Empire-Civilization.  Like many of the early empires, it grew up around a river valley: in this case the Indus River Basin ,and thus its other name the Indus Valley Civilization.  It existed at roughly the same time as the Ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian Kingdoms.  Its formal period began around 2600 B.C. and their civilization had a major collapse around 18000 B.C.

With an associated video link here

They are often sited as being one of a relatively small group of civilizations that kick started itself from small groups of hunter gatherers into a large well organized agricultural system.  They were capable of advanced urban and agricultural planning.  Earlier periods of drought were the impetus for sophisticated systems of irrigation.  They were involved in extensive trade with their Mesopotamian (Sumerian) neighbors.

Rediscovered starting in the 19th century, it joins a long lines of ones very powerful civilizations which were almost forgotten after their collapse.  The name Harappan is derived from the village of Harappa in India, where some of the first discoveries were made.

The exact mechanism of their collapse is a little unclear.  In a review of a general text on their culture it is discussed:

Rise and fall of the Indus Civilization
The Indus civilization began with some major developments like the introduction of writing and a surprisingly uniform culture over the whole of the greater Indus valley. According to Parpola this development was due to increased maritime trade and closer cultural contacts with Mesopotamia and the Gulf region. There is now general agreement that Meluhha mentioned in the cuneiform inscriptions refers to the land of the Indus. Parpola lays stress on the importance of Harappan contacts with West Asia, which provide relevant parallels and potential sources of information on the Harappan culture.

The Indus Civilization flourished between about 2600 and 1800 BC when it collapsed into regional cultures at the Late Harappan stage. According to Parpola the collapse was due to a combination of several factors like over-exploitation of the environment, drastic changes in the river-courses, series of floods, water-logging and increased salinity of the irrigated lands. Finally the weakened cities would have become easy victims of the raiders from Central Asia, whose arrival heralded a major cultural discontinuity in South Asia
Earlier theorists had suggested that they were wiped out by invasion.  A theory that is generally not popular with archaeologists.

On the basis of extensive explorations carried out in Northern Mesopotamia, a joint French-American team led by H. Weiss of Yale University has determined that most of the old world civilization were severely affected by a prolonged drought that began about 2200 B.C. and persisted for about 300 years. The most drastically hit region seems to have been the Akkadian civilization neighbouring India. The drought may have been triggered by massive volcanic eruptions. According to the findings of this historic study concluded only recently

"At approximately 2,200 B.C., occupations of Tell Leilan and Tell Brak (in Northern Mesopotamia) were suddenly abandoned...a marked increase in aridity and wind circulation, subsequent to a volcanic eruption, induced considerable degradation in land use conditions.... this abrupt climatic change caused abandonement of Tell Leilan, regional desertion, and collapse of the Akkadian empire based in southern Mesopotamia. Synchronous collapse in adjacent regions suggests the impact of abrupt climatic change was excessive."


An end uncannily like that of the Harappans. The authors of this momentous study note that the collapse of the Akkdians more or less coincided with similar climate change, land degradation and collapse noted in the Aegean, Palestine, Egypt, and India. The date of 1900 BCE given by S.R. Rao for the collapse of the Harappans should be seen as approximate. More accurate methods are now available that show this date to have been sometime before 2000 BCE, and they are well within the calibration error of radiocation and other scientific dating techniques.

The basic point is: as a result of several independent explorations conducted over a vast belt from southern Europe to India, it is now clear that civilizations over a large part of the ancient world were brought to a calamitous end by an abrupt climate change on a global scale. To attribute a global calamity of such colossal magnitude to nomadic 'Aryan' tribes is simplistic in the extreme.
The climactic connection may have been indirect.
Another recent study that looked very closely at the pollen records, etcetera, noted the following:
Marco Madella, Dorian Q. Fuller, Quaternary Science Reviews 25 (2006) 1283–1301

No climatic event can be blamed for a precipitous end of  this civilisation, although strategic local shifts in agriculture that may have begun in response to prolonged droughts at ca 2200BC may have contributed to the de-urbanisation process and the restructuring of human communities over the following 200–300 yr.

I am not sure why this would be such a mystery.  Most of the long lasting ancient civilizations were located within a relatively stable area of agricultural production.  Situation along a river valley was common, as it made it possible to survive extended drought periods by use of sophisticated irrigation techniques.

But the surrounding areas, where other groups had grown and organized, did not have this stability.  So when a drought, or cold spell hit their area, they starved.  When they starved, they looked around at who still had food, and marched on them.  Egypt was attacked by Sea People, and the people of the Indus River Valley were likely attacked (probably not by Aryans) themselves.  In the case of the Egyptians their agricultural hinterland was somewhat remote to the attacking Sea Peoples.  The Indus Valley was likely not so lucky.  An analogous situation can be seen with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.  It was finally done in permanently when the Vandals were able to reach their North African grain producing areas.  The Eastern Roman that required rediscovery. Empire's hinterland was not reached.
Regardless, you have yet another major civilization requiring rediscovery. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Guilford Mortgage Deed Mayhem

This news comes from just around the corner from me.  Guilford County is home to Greensboro, North Carolina.  North Carolina's thrd largest city.

Apparently someone within one of our countires has taken exception to the banks submitting falsified documents to the court, and attesting to their truthefullness via mass prodessed robo-signings.

Al Yoon of Dow Jones Newswire, Wall Street Journal, 13 March 2012
New York (Dow Jones)--A North Carolina county on Tuesday sued four of the nation's largest banks and a private mortgage registration system over forged and falsified loan documents state official said have hurt property values and upended their own efforts at tracking records.

The lawsuit filed in a North Carolina court for Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen, names units of Bank of America Corp. (BAC), J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (JPM), Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) and Citigroup Inc. (C), and MERSCorp., which owns the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems. It also names mortgage processing and analytics firm Lender Processing Services.

Thigpen's lawsuit alleging robo-signing, or the filing of mortgage documents signed without proper review, comes just a day after the four named banks and Ally Financial Inc. agreed with state attorneys general to a landmark $25 billion settlement of similar foreclosure abuses. The banks neither admitted or denied guilt in the attorney general settlement, which doesn't protect them from certain other litigation.

Unfortunately it is not a Distrit Attorney tryng to  press criminal charges, but rather the Registrar of Deeds

From the complaint (no link - from item 3):

Defendants systematically created the falsified, forged and/or fraudulently executed mortgage documents filed with the Register of Deeds by what infamously has become known as “robo-signing,” which is the practice of signing mortgage assignments, satisfactions and other mortgage-related documents in assembly-line fashion, often with a name other than the affiant’s own, and swearing to personal knowledge of facts of which the affiant has no knowledge. Defendants’ scheme, that failed to disclose and track ownership in mortgages accurately, was manifested in a private electronic registry manyof the Defendants created called the “Mortgage Electronic Registration System” (MERS).
Through MERS, Defendants effectively privatized the public property recording system and disrupted Guilford County’s responsibility to maintain a reliable public registry of land records, as well as citizens’ fundamental right to determine through public searches who holds interests in property.
In other words, they took over the government's record keeping function, and then fouled it all up.

MERS has saved larger financial firms millions of dollars while avoiding recordation and payment of fees related to mortgage transfers.
Since 2005 there were 47,553 deeds of trust that list MERS as a beneficiary filed in the Guilford County Register of Deeds office. Experts have indicated that those kinds of loans are repackaged and sold two and four times on average under the MERS system. “One repackaging of MERS documents would have generated $665,742 if documentation had been filed in our office. Two repackaged loans would have generated $1,331,484. And that’s conservative estimate.”
Thigpen maintains the lost recording fees would help local elected officials reduce budget deficits and maintain core services such as public education and public safety in this time of fiscal crisis.
Thigpen’s primary concern relates to recent court rulings in Arkansas, Kansas, Maine and Missouri questioning MERS legal standing in home foreclosures and suits challenging that MERaS filings may be fraudulent. “If MERS filings are false statements, there are laws that say if you decrease the money that you pay for a service through using those false statements then you can get damages. The legal term is “unjust enrichment”. Thigpen wants to explore unjust enrichment and other options related to recovery of lost revenue.
 He is also requesting that the banks be made to submit records that will clear up the title on these properties.  There is some suspicion that the banks may not have all these records.  In a case I know about that involved one of the early predatory lending outfits, the supenad company could not find the documentation on roughly 2% of their loans.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Boomers Dilemma

The Wall Street is interviewing Robert Arnott, a manager of two of Pimco’s mutual funds.

Demographic trends will depress portfolio returns, this researcher warns.
Karen Damato, Wall Street Journal, 4 March 2012 (Hat tip: Big Picture: somehow I missed it in the hardcopy)

If you're a baby boomer, you've got a big problem when it comes to the investment returns you can expect in retirement: It's the sheer number of other boomers who are also getting ready to leave the workplace and rely on their portfolios to help pay the bills..

The problem in a nutshell: The ratio of retirees to active workers in the U.S. will balloon. As retirees sell stocks and then bonds to support themselves, there will be fewer younger investors to buy those securities, keeping a lid on prices. Meanwhile, strong demand from boomers and a limited supply of workers will boost the prices of goods and services the boomers need.

He continues…

This very year, for the first time in U.S. history, the population of senior citizens rises faster than the working-age population. Less than 10 years ago, when the baby boomers' kids were coming into the labor force and the very skimpy roster of Depression babies was retiring, we had 10 new additions to the working-age cadre for each one new senior citizen.

It goes to 10-to-1 in the opposite direction in 10 years. There will be 10 new senior citizens for each new working-age citizen. If that's not a political, economic and capital-markets game changer, I don't know what is.

Note that Pimco is huge.  Their money managers are smart, but they unashamedly talk (up) their book (a.k.a. market positions).  His purpose here is to push investment in markets with a better demographic mix – Brazil for one – as if a surplus of Rio street kids is going to lead to happy-camper-investor-land.

But the point he is making about U.S. demographics is very valid.

I would also add that our economy to some degree came apart at the wheels under the demographic bulge that was the baby boomers.  Their entrance into the job market roughly happened to coincide with the first material shortages (1974 Oil Embargo).  You can say that innovation cured some of these shortages, but that innovation was purchased with borrowed money.   Not so much the money borrowed to find the oil and pump it, but the money to keep the spending going so that it was worthwhile to pump in the first place.

I have seen some discussions that push the baby boom peak a little latter, but most (like the chart from Wikipedia below) have the birth rate really dropping off after 1954.    Using some census data, with the whole big blob spanning from 66 to 48 fyears of age,  I am going to put the typical boomers age in 2012 at 57.  That means the about half of them will be at the 65 year retirement age in 8 years, and all of them within 17.  They will be replaced with the much smaller echo-boomers (boomer’s kids) and immigrants.  As the quote noted above, there is going to be a very small number of people keeping the economy afloat.  Although in theory the youngsters should be in high demand, it is hard not to suspect that the large grouping of retires will vote themselves a continuing paycheck.

The article notes that Japan is ahead of us in this process.  Japan is a much more homogenous society than ours is, and even they seem to be showing some cracks in their fa├žade.

This will also be the time that we are supposed to be transitioning over to more sustainable fuels.  Granted retired baby boomers may not need as much fuel, but it still seems a bit difficult to see how our poor echo boomers/immigrants are going to be productive enough to recreate our energy economy and still make payouts to all the retirees.

Even if you pretend that a dollar backed up a fraction of our current workforce will maintain its value, the going Certificate of Deposit Rate is just over 1%.  It is going to be very hard to live of the interest on your retirement savings: even if you have them.