Friday, December 27, 2013

More slow collapse cheeriness

Continuing the slow collapse

Did Someone Say “Crash”?
Mike Whitney, Counterpoint, 17 December 2013 (hat tip: NC)
Bottom line: Net investment is down because there’s no demand. And there’s no demand because unemployment is high, wages are flat, incomes are falling, and households are still digging out from the Crash of ’08. At the same time, the US Congress and Team Obama continue to slash public spending wherever possible which is further dampening activity and perpetuating the low-growth, weak demand, perma-slump.
So,  tell me: Why would a businessman invest in an economy where people are too broke to buy his products?  He’d be better off issuing dividends to his shareholders or buying back shares in his own company to push stock prices higher.
And, guess what? That’s exactly what CEOs are doing.
Note this is an argument from the left.  But only someone more interested in polemics would argue that lots of broke people are a natural part of a healthy economy.
My argument would be that since 1974, the weakening economy has given the advantage to the business owners, so that what profit that is available is kept by them. Unfortunately that profit was usually generated by deficit spending at some level: usually the household level. If borrowed money becomes dearer, there is not going to a be a margin to distribute to anyone.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Italy 2014

Well, at least the Italian President thinks Italy is in for some problems this coming year.
Italy’s president fears violent insurrection in 2014 but offers no remedy Ambrose Evans Pritchard, The Telegraph (U.K.), 17 November 2014 (hat tip: NC)
Events in Italy are turning serious. President Giorgio Napolitano has warned of “widespread social tension and unrest” in 2014 as the Long Slump drags on.
Those living on the margins are being drawn into “indiscriminate and violent protest, a sterile lurch towards total opposition”.
I assume it is not this relatively sweet looking group that will be the cause of problems (thumbnail)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Yellowstone is bigger

Well, I always thought that it was big, in an ill-defined sort of way.  But apparently it is even larger than that.

Yellowstone supervolcano 'even more colossal'
Rebecca Morrella, BBC News, 10 December 2013 (hat tip: NC)
The supervolcano that lies beneath Yellowstone National Park in the US is far larger than was previously thought, scientists report.
A study shows that the magma chamber is about 2.5 times bigger than earlier estimates suggested.
A team found the cavern stretches for more than 90km (55 miles) and contains 200-600 cubic km of molten rock.
I live somewhat downwind of a nuclear power plant, so I am not immune to locality based impending doom.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Argentian localized apocalypsis

Argentina is not exactly a law and order type of place, but it got interesting, almost we dare say apocalyptic, in the city of Córdoba when the police went on strike.

What the Hell Just Happened in Córdoba?
Adrian Bono, Testosterone Pit, 5 December 2013 (hat tip: NC)
In the last 24 hours, the province of Córdoba spiraled out of control, with the very fabric of society being torn apart after a sudden absence of law and order sent a portion of the population into a looting frenzy and residents and store owners boarded up windows and doors, grabbed their shotguns and climbed to their roofs, waiting for the inevitable encounter with the enemy.
Note that the Provincial Governor is a Peronist, and thus something of a left-leaning street warrior type himself.  He just happens to be at odds with the National Government, so he gets to play embattled hero here.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Pre-apocalyptic survival? Don't go here.

Well, in order to survive the apocalypse, it makes a certain amount of sense that you would have to survive until the appicalypse.  After all a lot of the cool survivalists of the 1970s are no longer with us, and we don't want that happening to you.
So as a service to our readers, we offer this list of avoidance areas. I have quoted the introduction, follow the link for the list.

NeighborhoodScout's Top 25 Most Dangerous Neighborhoods in America
Neighobrhood Scout, ~4 December 2013 (hat tip: MR)
Even the most dangerous cities in America can have relatively safe neighborhoods, as there is more variation in crime within most cities than between cities. But using exclusive data developed by NeighborhoodScout, and based on FBI data from all 17,000 local law enforcement agencies in America, we here report those specific neighborhoods in America that have the highest predicted rates of violent crime per 1,000 neighborhood residents of all. Violent crimes include murder, forcible rape, armed robbery, and aggravated assault. These neighborhoods are the epicenters of violence in America, where social issues are likely to ignite into violence and spread.
If they weren't of such a contained geographic area, I would probably include most urban areas with more than one gift shop, and the "Halmark-effect" has varying effects on different folks.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Apocalyptic crossbows

This almost just a link with a comment, but I thought the post on the use of crossbows in survival-fiction versus survival-reality was well done.
subtitled: Unless you're fighting zombies, skip the crossbow.
(from, 2 December 2013)
So, can a crossbow be considered a viable option as a SHTF survival weapon? It’s probably better than a rolled up newspaper, but if you’re considering the crossbow for a long-term survival situation then you should seriously look elsewhere. Under most situations during a SHTF it should be thought of as a one-shot affair, so if you choose to use it then you had better make that shot count.
The author obviously does not think much of the odds of someone with a crossbow who is dueling it out with someone who is armed with a firearm.  I would probably agree with that.
I would offer a couple of points however.
  1. Since we don't use crossbows in warfare very often, so it is likely that firearms are much more effective.
  2. You cannot compare the weight of the bolt-head with the pistol, nor is the muzzle energy particularly relevant.   The key difference between arrows/bolts and bullets, is that one is a pointed edge weapon, and the other is a blunt/trauma weapon.  Historically, the blunt/trauma firearms have won the battle when involving rather tough creatures like humans who need to be put down quickly, but the bleed out aspect of edged weapons is not to be discounted.  Since a 22LR does not have much blunt/trauma to dish out, I would be hesitant to qualify it as inherently more damaging weapon at short ranges.  A silenced weapon require a limiting speed to the projectile (`1050 fps), so they also have limitations.
  3. Crossbow projectiles, particularly practice rounds,  can often be reused as is.
  4. Finally,  the one area where crossbows are sometimes the preferred weapon over firearms is in poaching.  They are not silent, but they are cheap to use, and the noise does not carry a particularly long distance.
So while I don't agree with what the author is saying, I do feel that he has set the crossbow up as a zombie-based straw man.  Life is not about one on one dueling comparisons between different tools.  Different tools are use appropriately in different situations with availability, and experience in the use of the tool often being a critical factor in deciding what gets used.

Alternative post apocalyptic lifestyles

Back when nuclear obliteration was the survivalist meme of choice, the fictional literature had all sorts of incestuous speculations about how the last survivors would repopulate the world.

So the idea doesn't seem that far fetched that the well stocked survivalist compound might become an extended harem of sorts.

Rich Kazakhs Revive Polygamy as Women Seek Poverty Escape
Nariman Gizitdinov, Bloomberg, 3 Decmeber 2013 (hat tip: NC)
Given the choice between love and money, Samal, a tall, curly-haired 23-year-old woman from a village in southern Kazakhstan, would take the cash.
Struggling to pay rent and tuition on her salary as a waitress in Almaty, the Kazakh commercial capital, Samal says she’d drop her boyfriend in a heartbeat if a wealthy older man offered to make her his second wife.
“Becoming a tokal would be a fairy tale,” Samal says during a break at the cafe where she works, using the Kazakh word for the youngest of two wives, who traditionally gets her own apartment, car and monthly allowance.
Anyone who, in their dating years, ever lost the girl of their dreams to the nebbish with the fancy car, I suppose would sympathies with the waitresses poor boyfriend.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

British version of the big draw down

We were commenting on the Dutch a little while ago, and they recently lost their AAA bond rating.  So we thought we would take a quick moment to look at what to our cousins across the big pond are up to.
Steve Hawkes, The Telegraph (U.K.), 2 December 2013  (hat tip: NC)
They either spent the cash – which in many cases was earning little more than 1 per cent interest – or moved it to easy-access current accounts. The Bank’s figures suggest that record low interest rates have convinced many to give up on the prospect of meaningful returns on their nest eggs...
However, the withdrawals may also have helped to power Britain’s economic recovery, with much of the cash being spent on consumer goods.
This seems to fit in with the lackluster results of the recent Black Friday shopping events in the United States.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Renewable problems

As an electrician, I am involved in the Photovoltaic (PV) portion of the renewable enegergy industry. But the idea that we are going to be able to seamlessly change over to renewable energy sources without making large changes to the economic patterns of our economy, and general lifestyle, are highly problematic.
An example:
Lewellyne King, Oil Price, 2 December 2013 (hat tip: NC)
Good intentions have also had their impact. The European Commission has pushed renewable energy and subsidized these at the cost of others. The result is imperfect markets and, more important, imperfectly engineered systems.
Germany and other countries are dealing with what is called “loop flow” – when the renewables aren't performing, either because the wind has dropped or the sun has set, fossil fuels plants have to be activated. This means that renewable systems are often shadowed by old-fashioned gas and coal generation that has to be built, but which isn't counted toward the cost of the renewable generation.
With increasing use of wind, which is the most advanced renewable, the problem of loop flow is increased, pushing up the price of electricity. Germany is badly affected and the problem is getting worse because it heavily committed to wind after abandoning nuclear, following the Fukusima-Daiichi accident in Japan.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Symphonic collapse

The rot within popular culture has been complained about since at least the 1960s.  If the Roling Stones (who I like) are exemplars at the lower end of the spectrum, the upper end of the spectrum, the concert symphony is also under attack.

The Last Symphony
Johne Halle, Jacobin 27 November 2013 (hat tip: NC)

Doug Henwood is not the first to observe  that the American empire has entered a decadent phase.  He is, however, among the few to focus his attention on how the “social rot produced by market-regulated societies, from the macro level of investment down to the socially shaped psychology (has begun to dictate) how we think and feel.” Henwood is right to wonder “how the imperium can long survive this sort of pervasive rot” as the ideological and cultural foundations on which the bourgeoisie rest, and through which it, at least in part, claims its legitimacy begin to founder.
As if on cue, at about the same time a piece appeared in the house organ of neo-liberalism the New Republic taking aim at an admittedly tiny but nonetheless significant bourgeois institution, classical music instruction, which  middle-class parents, and those striving to move up the class ladder, have imposed on their children as a kind of secular catechism for generations...
It should be obvious that the leisure complement to this now dominant managerial class philosophy could not possibly consist of the sedate, repressed rituals of the classical concert hall. Nor is it a surprise to find the New Republic‘s meritocratic class contributors opining in favor of jettisoning instruction in Mozart sonatas in favor of the three-minute rock tune, campfire singing and ukelele strumming.
As I see the point of the piece, the author is complaining about the idea that there is no point to any discipline in behavior unless it is related to some sort of business interest.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Gotham brought down: turkey day style

Well this is a new one to me. I suppose I should have posted this last Thanks Giving, but I was a bit busy.

So you aren't convinced that our modern world is reaching a point of uncontrollable complexity.

Try this one on for size.  Areas of New York City are under siege of wild animals:  turkeys to be exact.
Flock of feral turkeys causing chaos in New York
AP Press via Dailey Mail (U.K.), 21 November 2013 (hat tip: NC)
'We don't want to kill them. We just want them to leave us alone,' says Barbara Laing, who watched as at least 50 turkeys converged outside her house around sundown one recent evening with a chorus of honks — of the turkeys and of drivers who were futilely trying to shoo them out of traffic.
The turkeys milled on the grass, flew up like cartoon ghosts into a large maple tree, and settled in for the night.
It's a sight that charms onlookers and sometimes residents, when the turkeys aren't fouling yards with droppings, devouring gardens, waking up residents with raucous pre-dawn mating sessions, and utterly disregarding dogs and other supposed deterrents.
I should come up with some sort of clever apocalyptic incite, but I am at a loss for the moment.

Turkeys on Staten Island (thumbnail: see link above for more)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Cycles go up, and down

Peter Turchin, who I have sited in the past, has a nice piece discussing some of the elements with within his study of cyclical patterns within human society.
Peter Turchin, Bloomberg, 20 November 2013 (hat tip: NC)
Complex human societies, including our own, are fragile. They are held together by an invisible web of mutual trust and social cooperation. This web can fray easily, resulting in a wave of political instability, internal conflict and, sometimes, outright social collapse.
Analysis of past societies shows that these destabilizing historical trends develop slowly, last many decades, and are slow to subside. The Roman Empire, Imperial China and medieval and early-modern England and France suffered such cycles, to cite a few examples. In the U.S., the last long period of instability began in the 1850s and lasted through the Gilded Age and the “violent 1910s.”
We now see the same forces in the contemporary U.S. Of about 30 detailed indicators I developed for tracing these historical cycles (reflecting popular well-being, inequality, social cooperation and its inverse, polarization and conflict), almost all have been moving in the wrong direction in the last three decades.
I find some of his work to be to "modern" in its politics, with too much emphasis on the foibles of modern politics within these long term trends. In that sense, I am probably more "cyclical" than he is, because I am dubious as to most societies abilities to weather the vagarious of demographics, geo-politics, or unlucky "Black Swans" through anything other than lucky happenstance.  It is similar to the randomness of "Texas Holdout" or coaching in the NBA.  You can always ruin a good hand, but once you get to a certain threshold of competence, fate trumps skill.
And since I can see the argument coming, I don't see Obamacare as self-sabotage.  It is the expected overreach of an already overextended society. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Nuclear burnout

The people with the finger on the big trigger are having problems.
Not exactly comforting news.
Robert Burns, AP Press (via Yahoo News), 20 November 2013 (hat tip: NC)
Trouble inside the Air Force's nuclear missile force runs deeper and wider than officials have let on
An unpublished study for the Air Force, obtained by The Associated Press, cites "burnout" among launch officers with their fingers on the triggers of 450 weapons of mass destruction. Also, evidence of broader behavioral issues across the intercontinental ballistic missile force, including sexual assaults and domestic violence.
Part of the problem seems to be the surreal nature of their assignment.
"We all acknowledge their importance, but at the same time we really don't think the mission is that critical," Neal said, adding that his peers see the threat of full-scale nuclear war as "simply non-existent." So "we practice for all-out nuclear war, but we know that isn't going to happen."
To anyone who pays any attention to the concept of Black Swans (disproportionally important unanticipated outlier events) this disconnect is very worrisome.
Events that seem highly unlikely, or even impossibly remote, happen rather frequently.  That there are personal issues in such a dangerous area is not going to help matters.  Just because it doesn't seem likely to make a difference, doesn't mean it won't.  World ending outliers deserve a lot of respect.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Dying of boredom

Well there are a lot of ways for our individual world to end.  But one not often discussed is dying of boredom.
Apparently there is a lot to be learned.  For in fact, there is not just one type of boredom, but five:
Karen Kaplan, McLatchy DC, 19 November 2013 (hat tip: NC)
- Indifferent boredom, a relaxing and slightly positive type of boredom that "reflected a general indifference to, and withdrawal from, the external world";
- Calibrating boredom, the slightly unpleasant state of having wandering thoughts and "a general openness to behaviors aimed at changing the situation";
- Searching boredom, the kind that makes you feel restless and leaves you "actively seeking out specific ways of minimizing feelings of boredom"; and
- Reactant boredom, which is so bad that it prompts sufferers "to leave the boredom-inducing situation and avoid those responsible for this situation (e.g., teachers)."
add to these four the new category:
-"apathetic boredom" - was quite common among high school students, according to the study, published this week in the journal Motivation and Emotion.
Boredom is apparently an indirect killer:
Boredom isn't just boring. It can be dangerous, either for the person who is bored or for the people around him. For instance, people who are bored are more likely to smoke, drink or use drugs. Kids who are bored are more likely to drop out of school and become juvenile delinquents. Studies have also linked boredom with stress and other health problems.
This is an area that is only intermittently focused on by apocalyptic writers portraying the collapse of modern "high entertainment" society.  If anything, authors have a tendency to push the idea that we will all be happier once we are done with the distractions, and can all hang out at the square-dance together.
I have my doubts.  In traditional societies, drunken revelers seem to have been pretty common where the beverage was available.  What were they reveling about if there current circumstances were all that exciting.  If military life is described as long stretches of boredom, intermixed with moments of shear terror, my suspicion is that a lot of any future (survivable) apocalypse is going to have a lot of boredom.

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