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.