Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Maybe we will get our ice age afterall!

As some of the climate change skeptics (correctly) point out, it wasn't all that long ago that the big concern was that we would flip back over into an ice age.  Given really long tends, that is very likely where the earth will eventually get to.  Whether we will survive long enough to see it is another matter.
In any case, there has been one theory about global warming that actually has near term global warming putting us into an ice age, or at least a mini- 2,000 year long one.  Essentially what it argues is that the desalination of the oceans (via ice melt) will put a stop to the Atlantic Conveyor currents that are critical for distributing warmth from the equator to places further North.  The Younger Dryas, a very nasty mini-ice age, is thought by some to have occurred when a large lake of ice dammed glacier melt, suddenly broke through its icy icy dam and poured into the Atlantic Ocean.
All of which goes a long way to explaining the nervous interest in a current anomaly in North Atlantic temperatures.
Chris Mooney, Washington Post,  24 September 2015 (hat tip: NC)
And there’s not much reason to doubt the measurements — the region is very well sampled. “It’s pretty densely populated by buoys, and at least parts of that region are really active shipping lanes, so there’s quite a lot of observations in the area,” Arndt said. “So I think it’s pretty robust analysis.”
Thus, the record seems to be a meaningful one — and there is a much larger surrounding area that, although not absolutely the coldest it has been on record, is also unusually cold.
At this point, it’s time to ask what the heck is going on here. And while there may not yet be any scientific consensus on the matter, at least some scientists suspect that the cooling seen in these maps is no fluke but, rather, part of a process that has been long feared by climate researchers — the slowing of Atlantic Ocean circulation.
We are already at a low period of activity for the sun, slow down the Atlantic Conveyor currents, maybe add in a Volcano blowing, you would have some seriously existential issues.  As it is, it is further evidence that global warming isn't just about having to move a little further north to get comfy.  It also threatens to bring us back to the old (really old) normal of highly erratic weather patterns. 
Recall that agriculture didn't just start because people figured out how to plant things.  It also got started because the climate had finally calmed down enough to wear every few years would bring on some sort of crop disaster.  In other words, the planted crops had a reasonable chance of surviving to harvest.
So if the a big collapse, like the Greek Dark Ages, has a ~90% population die off, recall that they could still do agriculture while they were hiding out from their ages Mad Max types,  If people have to go back to being hunter gatherers, with the low population densities that allows, something like 99% might be closer.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Complex systems collapsing

Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism has posted on an interesting piece on the collapse of complex systems.

Here is her intro:

Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism, 21 August 2015

Lambert found a short article by Richard Cook that I’ve embedded at the end of the post. I strongly urge you to read it in full. It discusses how complex systems are prone to catastrophic failure, how that possibility is held at bay through a combination of redundancies and ongoing vigilance, but how, due to the impractical cost of keeping all possible points of failure fully (and even identifying them all) protected, complex systems “always run in degraded mode”. Think of the human body. No one is in perfect health. At a minimum, people are growing cancers all the time, virtually all of which recede for reasons not well understood.
The article contends that failures therefore are not the result of single causes. As Clive points out:
This is really a profound observation – things rarely fail in an out-the-blue, unimaginable, catastrophic way. Very often just such as in the MIT article the fault or faults in the system are tolerated. But if they get incrementally worse, then the ad-hoc fixes become the risk (i.e. the real risk isn’t the original fault condition, but the application of the fixes). [The] Windscale Fire Wikipedia Entry documents how a problem of core instability was a snag, but the disaster was caused by what was done to try to fix it. The plant operators kept applying the fix in ever more extreme does until the bloody thing blew up.

So at this point we are at the double quote level: I am quoting a quote. If you quote me, I guess that would be a triple quote.

In her comments, Yves, because of her politics, I think mistakes the issue of human agency in our current market-capitalist system.  I think her issue of tight-coupling is only true of some complex systems. In a cash based system, if the red paint for your wagon shows up, you can buy it somewhere else.  On the other hand if the critical widget burns up in your Porsche, it will come to a screeching halt.

In the end, there is some relevance to actions within complex systems having unintended causes.  That's a popular, and true, meme on the Republican side when it comes to government.  But it is also universally true in complex systems.  Although sometimes the repairs do blow up the system, I am going to go out on a limp and suggest that there are two broad categories that most commonly bring down complex systems, and I am going to reference societal collapse, because that is what we mostly like to talk about here.

The first is that the system is not sustainable in the long term, and is unable to change without becoming a different system.  Agricultural societies have been wiping themselves with soil depletion and over forestation for some time.  It is not clear that outside of a few localized geographies, if agriculture is a particularly sustainable technology, but we mostly don't know because the number one killer of complex societies usually collapses them first.  I put Cliodynamics, and other (possibly correct) cyclical theories in this category.

The number one killer is overpowering externalities, that are beyond the societies ability to adapt.  These are usually the typing point.  Although Tainter likes to say it is because the societies grew to complex, that is somewhat begging the question.  If weather change forces the less complex societies (the Celts) to pick up and move South and invade their more complex  neighbors (Greeks, Early Romans), than how was the complexity an issue?  If the later Imperial Rome weakens itself through constant infighting over who will succeed to being the next Emperor, how is that an issue of complexity?  The invading Germanic tribes did the same thing, and most of them (The Franks are the main exception) did not persevere in the long run either.

The argument to my mind is, are we more in a situation where we are in a non-sustainable system, or are we in a situation where the potential externalities are getting to large.  I would say we worry more about the former, because it is harder to see the latter.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Rebellious precrime

At Page 99 Test there is an interesting discusion about just what sort of training manuals should be allowed.  Although the discussion in the post is about First Amendment, Free Speech, issues, it certainly seems as if there are second amendment issues here as well.
The book examines the ways the courts deal with how-to-murder manuals as a distinct form of speech. For example, is Hitmandifferent than a mystery that provides a detailed description of the crime? Complicating this question is that a Florida housewife originally wrote Hitman as fiction. The courts have usually treated fictional works as an especially protected form of speech and not to be used against criminal defendants. In criminal cases, is reading a book like Hitman a precrime?
At one point in time, the concept of a "Right to Rebellion" was a commonly sited, if not universally accepted, concept within the framework of the Constitution.  Note, the right typically didn't come from the the Constitution itself, but Jefferson's writings in the Declaration of Independence.  Although the Declaration is not part of our government structure, there is a logic that it is still applicable as a founding document.  It is one of the arguments used to justify Southern States cessation in the run up to the Civil War.  So while a "militia" is guaranteed within the Constitution, what about the right to illegal activities in rebellion against the state?

My guess is that few of the founders would have accepted the notion of rebellion except within the context of a communal agreement to rebel.  The modern terrorist methods of "revolution", I doubt would have been acceptable to them.  

Some of the militia novels do venture into the terrorist territory.  Most are set after a government collapse, but not all of them.   So they fall into the category of precrime activity?

Goodreads Link

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The big one -earthquakes

I am reading Harry Turtledove's Supervolcano series.  I am on book two.  The super eruption it describes via the Yellowstone caldera is probably single worst natural earth-based disaster that could be said to be possible, with a percentage higher than 1, in our lifetime.

This one I think is number 2.

The Really Big One
Kathryn Schulz, The New Yorker, 20 July 2015 (hat tip: NC)

 When the next very big earthquake hits, the northwest edge of the continent, from California to Canada and the continental shelf to the Cascades, will drop by as much as six feet and rebound thirty to a hundred feet to the west—losing, within minutes, all the elevation and compression it has gained over centuries. Some of that shift will take place beneath the ocean, displacing a colossal quantity of seawater. (Watch what your fingertips do when you flatten your hand.) The water will surge upward into a huge hill, then promptly collapse. One side will rush west, toward Japan. The other side will rush east, in a seven-hundred-mile liquid wall that will reach the Northwest coast, on average, fifteen minutes after the earthquake begins. By the time the shaking has ceased and the tsunami has receded, the region will be unrecognizable. Kenneth Murphy, who directs FEMA’s Region X, the division responsible for Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska, says, “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.” 
In the Pacific Northwest, the area of impact will cover some hundred and forty thousand square miles, including Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Eugene, Salem (the capital city of Oregon), Olympia (the capital of Washington), and some seven million people. When the next full-margin rupture happens, that region will suffer the worst natural disaster in the history of North America. Roughly three thousand people died in San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake. Almost two thousand died in Hurricane Katrina. Almost three hundred died in Hurricane Sandy. FEMA projects that nearly thirteen thousand people will die in the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. Another twenty-seven thousand will be injured, and the agency expects that it will need to provide shelter for a million displaced people, and food and water for another two and a half million. “This is one time that I’m hoping all the science is wrong, and it won’t happen for another thousand years,” 

The article is a very good, long piece, with a tone that is frighteningly even.

Route 5 - left of equals toast

The Pacific Northwest is, sadly for New Orleans, a much more important part of the country than the areas of the Gulf Coast that were hit by Katrina.  Although I don't think it would be a total collapse scenario, it would put us into similar, but more desperate, circumstances to what the West Germans all of the sudden had to absorb East Germany into their economy.  Our ability to play policeman to the world would likely be severely curtailed, if not extinguished, and as the run up to WW2 showed, having the world's superpower intentionally isolating itself can lead to huge problems.  Turtledove does this by having the Iranian's nuking (only one on the first round?) the Israelis; I think the potential problems could be a lot larger than that. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Environmental fiction list

I found a link, and then lost it.  I hate when that happens.

Some time ago, I found a list of environmental fiction (running to 2007) that had some different titles than the usual.  Not a list of apocalyptic fiction exactly, but a close cousin.

Environmental Novels: An Annotated Bibliography
Lauren Bordson, WMRC Library Intern and Laura L. Barnes, WMRC Librarian

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Christmas ghost of fracking past, present, and future

Peak Oil was generally supposed to mean ever escalating prices as the demand for oil pushed oil/gas/energy exploration further into the sphere of the remote and exotic: aka nuclear power plants to steam the water to melt the tar sands sufficiently to get them to poor.

The current Chinese bubble popping asset collapse has made for an interesting example of reality conflicting with expectations.  Trying to hold both ideas at the same time gets you into cognitive dissonance territory. Holding onto two incompatible beliefs at one time.

So why the fracking boom, and the cheap gas if we are going into peak oil.

Wolf Richter, Wolf Street, 15 March 2015
The boom in US oil production will continue “to defy expectations” and wreak havoc on the price of oil until the power behind the boom dries up: money borrowed from yield-chasing investors driven to near insanity by the Fed’s interest rate repression. But that money isn’t drying up yet – except at the margins.
Companies have raked in 14% more money from high-grade bond sales so far this year than over the same period in 2014, according to LCD. And in 2014 at this time, they were 27% ahead of the same period in 2013. You get the idea. 

So the lesson would be: "In the short run financial bubbles trump the normative pricing mechanisms of supply and demand."  And holding interest rates at zero percent will go a long way toward inducing a leveraged buying boom: the leverage (borrowing) is needed to make up for the insanely low rates of return. A $1 return on a $100 investment might be worth it if you only have to put $1 of your own money down and borrow the rest.  Of course if your $100 investment's value collapses to $50 before you can get sell out, Whoops! You now just lost 50x (rather than 1/2) your capital investment. So when leveraged investments get ugly, they get real ugly.  And they are getting ugly:

Wolf Richter, Wolf Street, 4 August 2015 (hat tip: NC)
Oil plunged again on Monday, with West Texas Intermediate down over 4%. At $45.17 a barrel, it’s just a hair away from this year’s oil-bust low. During 8 weeks in a row of relentless declines, WTI had plunged 26%. July’s 21% drop was the largest monthly decline since the Financial Crisis collapse in 2008.

The idea that Iran's oil production will be legit on the global market, isn't helping.  But Mr. Richter goes on to tell a story of various investment folks throwing good money after bad.  Not really seeing the scale of the Chinese collapse for what it is, they were banking on a return to the previous pricing levels. There doubling-down on their bets kept the money flooding into the supply side of the market. So far that plan hasn't looked so good.

So what does this really mean visa vi "Peak Oil."  It means that a bunch of people have blown a lot of money, and that in the process they have developed a bunch of techniques that should not have been economically feasible at current "normative" demands for oil.  For folks sitting on the sidelines, this is not always a bad deal. It's how fiber optic networks, the airlines, and railroads all were able to expand as rapidly as they did.  The problem is that catastrophic investment collapses (bubbles popping) tend to be highly deflationary.  Market transactions become unprofitable to those holding the assets, so they tend to hold onto them as long as possible.  If it all gets cleared out, eventually normal economic activity starts at a lower, more realistic level.  It's why holding cash during a collapse has often worked very well.  Your cash is now worth more.

So the real question is: If we are going to have to pay a more realistic proportion of our wealth toward energy consumption, what level does all of this "reset" at?

Friday, August 7, 2015

Greece - Coal - Global Warming

Greece, is going apparently going ahead with building a new coal-fueled power plant.  This post is somewhat dubious of the idea:

Crises-Watch, 2 August 2015 (hat tip: NC)
In the current dismal economic setting, the construction of the new lignite power plant by Greece's Public Power Corporation constitutes a completely irrational move: the public energy utility will need to disburse 400 million euros for a project that has been proven to be economically non-viable. By insisting stubbornly on the construction of Ptolemaida V, the PPC threatens to entrap Greece in an outdated energy model, at a time when technological progress renders clean energy a cost-competitive basis for the reconstruction of the country’s production model.

The link about Greek Coal burning power plant does ignore one very important point.  Greece has indigenous sources of goal, but has to import oil, gas, and presumably the "alternative" sources the post champions. 

Accounting in 2012 for over 30 % of the country’s total primary energy supply of 37.1 Mtce, lignite is Greece’s most important indigenous energy resource, although the country does have modest oil and gas reserves. Oil accounted for approximately 45 % of the country’s primary energy supply and Greece has a large refining industry which exports oil products. Consumption of imported natural gas increased significantly until the global economic crisis hit in 2008; gas had a 15 % share in 2012. At 0.4 Mtce, hard coal imports accounted for 1.2 % of total primary energy supply in 2012. Security of supply, low extraction costs and stable prices are important reasons why lignite will maintain a strong position in the energy market. 

Not saying that makes it smart, but it presumably goes a long way toward improving their balance of payments.  If they go the route of the economic pariah, they could go all-in like the Germans did prior to WW2 and liquefy coal to make  "synthetic" fuel.

This situation exemplifies one key problem with the idea that we are going to curtail our use of carbon-based fuels.  Curtailment is for the wealthy, or possibly, if we want to pat ourselves on the back, the prepared.  But having closely read international news (mostly through the pink sheet hard copy, Financial Times) for a number of years, I can assure you, if you think the politicians of the United States are stupendously inept, you can make yourself feel a little bit better about it by a close reading of the local politics of the rest of the world.  Every last bit of economically viable carbon-based fuel is going to get burned eventually.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Shooting down drones

A Kentucky man shot down a drone with a video camera that was hovering in his back yard.  He was arrested.  There is an interesting discussion into the legalities of the issue here:  Shooting Down Drones. It is well worth the read.

I might add that in a lot of areas it would matter a lot where you are at.  In almost every municipality in North Carolina, it is illegal to discharge firearms within town limits.  The argument would have to be that the drone "threatened" the home owner, but that is a little hard to argue if it is just hovering.  Yves at Naked Capitalism I think was onto one method: "they need a magnetic pulse to fry these buggers."

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Remnant: Into the Collission: A Review

P.A. Douglas' The Remnant: Into the Collision is an apocalyptic novel set during and slightly after a (anticipated) meteor shower makes the earth borderline uninhabitable.  The action follows a couple of small groups in the area of Little Rock, Arkansas.

P.A. Douglas is self described as an author of several horror novels living in Southeast Texas.  He appears to focus on apocalyptic scenarios of the somewhat fantastical variety, with this one being pitched in a more "realistic" tone.  This novel was published through Permuted Press, which specializes in fanatically themed (zombies being typical) horror-apocalypse novels.

Byron Russo is hanging out, watching the end of the world on television, when a biker type crashes through his front window and forcefully forces himself into action.  Byron will wander around town a bit and be picked up by a mixed group of folks who are looking to survive in peace.

The other story line follows a group of low level Arkansas National Guardsman who see the chaos as an excellent way to become feudal overlords specializing in rape and murder.  They are evil in the most comic bookish sort of way.

Obviously the two groups will meet up.  The different twist with this novel is that the huge burn off of vegetation has also burned off much of the worlds oxygen.  This process is sufficient to where, survivors who don't find a way to supplement the natural oxygen levels, slowly turn imbecilic.  Which sounds like a great way to get a zombie story, but that doesn't happen here.  Needless to say our two groups are the local ones who find a way to keep breathing.

And, I think that is enough of the story line.  Much of the story is the interactions of the small group of good-guy survivors, and them working out their living conditions, and (remaining) aspirations.  Because they are such an odd collection of folks, I am not sure many people will be able to relate to their personal situations, but at least it is an effort to flesh out the characters.  This is offset though by the completely over the top evil of the National Guardsmen.  They are so one-dimensional as to be boring.  They are somewhat reminiscent of pre-70s pulp novels, having that element of soft core murder-porn - lots of discussion of sex, but no graphic description, and lots of graphic violence.

For myself, I found the process to be tedious.  You are essentially waiting for the two groups to collide and to see how it all shakes out.  Who will survive?  Well you get your collision, and while it does get stretched out a little, the resolution is a lot more straightforward than one would have thought for all the buildup.  The whole process lacks a buy-in.  It all just seems too set up.

We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.

Realism? On some levels there is a concern for food, water, and air, but not at a really detailed enough level where you think the author actually has a clue as to what would be involved.  It's a pretty common problem within the catastrophe genre.  Since you cannot have the audience just use their built in assumptions about how the world works to fill in the missing details, you have to provide a lot more information about the environment.  But most folks really aren't all that well experienced, or read, about how society works.  An author taking their television-learned life experiences and translating them into the written word is bound to get you a pretty shallow experience.  And that is what I think is happening here.  You have fuzzy television level of realism, interspersed with "character-developing" dialog.  So how 'real' is 'fuzzy real'?  I am going to call it 4.

Readability is tough. Supposedly this is an action filled adventure.  But boy is there a lot of musing and dialog breaking up the action.  I kept loosing steam and putting the book down.  It took me a long time to get this one read (a month?).  Still it is a fairly straightforward story.  Call it a 4.

Friday, July 24, 2015

An interesting "effect" of an economic-banking crash

If your typical prepper-novelist was writing the real life story of Greece, they probably would have had them raping in pillaging in the streets a year ago.  Or certainly the first time someone went to an ATM machine and couldn't get their money out!
I knew some of the fallout from reading Ferfal's accounts of what happened in Argentina when they had a debt non-payment collapse.  But still, this is a wrinkle, that while obvious when you think about it, hadn't really occurred to me.
ekathimerini.com, 20 July 2015 (hat tip: NC)
Capital controls imposed by the Greek government are taking a heavy toll on the country's businesses, a survey showed Monday, with nearly a quarter saying they are seeking to move their headquarters abroad.
Endeavour Greece, a non-profit group that supports entrepreneurs, found that 58 percent of the 300 companies it surveyed between July 13 and July 17 reported a "significant impact on their operations caused by the limitations imposed to cross-border transactions."
"Many of these companies cannot import raw material or have access to foreign services and infrastructure," the group said in a statement, adding that 23 percent "plan to transfer their headquarters abroad for security, cash flow and stability reasons."
Of course they have to get out of the country, at least to some extent, so that they can avoid the hard cash controls.  Greece can't afford to have cash leave the country, and business can't survive without paying cash for imports.  Greek business, with Greece being geographically much closer to so many neighbors than Argentina, can probably manage to operate at least some of their business as a parallel enterprise just over the border.  Still tough, but at least you can keep some of the cash exchange outside of Greece.
On a grimmer note, one of the reasons the Germans started keeping the Jews from emigrating prior to WW2 was because they were taking too much money with them, and they were worried about a flight of capital.  The Jews often knew very well that they should go, but the Germans set the price of exit too high for most to afford.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

I guess the end is coming sooner for some folks

Well, I am going to let your imagination run wild as to the personal-apocalypse scenarios possible here.
BBC, 20 July 2015 (hat tip: NC)
Customer data has been stolen from Ashley Madison, a dating website for married people who wish to cheat on their spouse.
The hackers said they had obtained information including "all the customers' secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions".
The site's operator confirmed there had been an "intrusion" but not its extent.
One security expert said a small percentage of the site's user account data had been published online...
Ashley Madison says it operates in more than 50 countries and has 37 million users, more than a million of whom live in the UK.
It promotes its service with the tagline, "Life is short, have an affair."
The only apocalyptic novel I can recall that involved computer dating was Will McIntosh's Soft Apocalypse.  As I recall the author had done some research on these services.  But I also seem to recall that the scenario they were involved in didn't add much to the book.  This sounds like a much a scenario that could involve a lot more firepower.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The pin is near the fracking bubble?

Not everyone is aware of the huge lending support that the various fracking folks have used to push their business model.  When this type of behavior continues, even when the participants show little signs of profit...you might be in a speculative bubble.
Well now that the bubble which is China's economy has crashed, dropping the bubble driven demand for basic economic inputs (and gold too recently) we will get to see just how much of a bubble fracking is.
Asjylyn Loder, Bradley Olson, Dawn Kopecki, Bloomberg Business, 20 July 2015 (hat tip: NC)
Bank regulators have issued warnings on the risks involved in lending to U.S. drillers, threatening a cash crunch in an industry that’s more dependent than ever on other people’s money. Wall Street has been one of the biggest allies of the shale revolution, bankrolling thousands of wells from Texas to North Dakota. The question is how that will change with oil prices down by half since last year to $50.36 a barrel.
“Lenders in general are increasing pressure on oil companies either to raise more equity or do some sort of transaction to pay down their credit lines and free up extra cash,” said Jimmy Vallee, a partner in the energy mergers and acquisitions practice at law firm Paul Hastings LLP in Houston.
 This isn't really new news, but it is a data point along the continuum.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The coming chillout

The last 200 years have been had some of the most stable known periods of weather. And the reason it took so long for farming to be introduced by the hunter gatherers who inhabited the world is that the weather prior to that was too unstable allow for an agriculture-only lifestyle.
So I don't take the potential for global cooling to necessarily mean that it will mix with global warming to allow us all to live a Mediterranean lifestyle.  Likely it just means an oscillating hell.  Sort of like where our recent weather has been going.
VanWinkle's, Huff Post Science, 1 July 2015 (Hat tip: NC)
Modern technology has made us able to predict solar cycles with much greater accuracy, and Zharkova’s model predicts that solar activity will drop by more than half between 2030 and 2040. 
"In cycle 26, the two waves exactly mirror each other -- peaking at the same time but in opposite hemispheres of the Sun. Their interaction will be disruptive, or they will nearly cancel each other. We predict that this will lead to the properties of a ‘Maunder minimum’,” said Zharkova. 
The Maunder Minimum is the title given to periods of time when sunspots are rare. It last occurred between 1645 and 1715, when roughly 50 sunspots were recorded, as opposed to the standard 40,000. That time was marked by brutal, river-freezing temperatures in Europe and North America.
I should note that the little ice age they note was also accompanied by an increase in volcanic activity.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Exon's tabacoo company strategy

The strategy I don't think is all that old.  I think it requires both an acceptance of the scientific mindset, a market place in which you can buy scientific opinion, and a broad non-fact-checked mass media in which to broadcast your desired outcome.  Could you even do it before World War 1?

Exxon knew of climate change in 1981, email says – but it funded deniers for 27 more years
The Guardian (U.K.), 8 July 2015 (hat tip: NC)
A newly unearthed missive from Lenny Bernstein, a climate expert with the oil firm for 30 years, shows concerns over high presence of carbon dioxide in enormous gas field in south-east Asia factored into decision not to tap it
...ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest oil company, knew as early as 1981 of climate change – seven years before it became a public issue, according to a newly discovered email from one of the firm’s own scientists. Despite this the firm spent millions over the next 27 years to promote climate denial.
 If the cigarette companies were willing to kill their customers, than Exon comes pretty close to being willing to kill, or at least injure, everyone.

My personal opinion, is that if the rather odd person, Al Gore, had not become a polarizing champion for the global warming crowd, the results might have been different.  But maybe not.  I recall William Buckley trying to get natural conservation back into the conservative ideology without a lot of success.  He had a lot more success marrying Catholicism to the conservative cause.  As I recall , the original ideas of carbon taxes came from that time period of the National Review.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The final generation

I have been reading Edward J. Watts' The Final Pagan Generation. In it tells of the lives of the last Roman pagans born before Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity (312 A.D.).  He examines why this last generation, born to the traditional ways, and dominant in most positions of power, proved both unable to anticipate the imperially sponsored changes and unwilling to resist them.
At the point we are discussing here, the book has arrived at the time of Constantine's older son, Constantius's, reign (337 - 361 A.D).  He has cracked down harder on the temples, at least officially closing the urban temples so that they may not be used for 'superstitious' sacrificial acts.  So why don't the upper elite, still a majority of whom would be pagan, not object?
There was little direct criticism and no violent protests [led by pagan elites].  They had too much to lose and little sense that resistance was necessary. Constantius's political retribution touched only a few unlucky or stupid members of the elite, and his religious policies were largely ineffectual. Sacrifice continued despite Constantius's ban, temples remained open despite his injunction to the contrary, and the emperor himself even toured the (still open) temples in the city of Rome when he visited [from the new Capitol of Constantinople]  in 357. The gods remained present everywhere in forms that could be seen, heard, smelled , and touched in every city across the empire. Constantius's policies may have been disagreeable, but they hardly seemed to be a pressing or universal threat (p.89).
Note, that there is the other side of the story, why it is that Christian's actively overcame the opposition, but the question is why the Pagan's didn't do anything when they still had a chance.  Note, that it wasn't required that they wipe out the Christians.  That would have been difficult.  Simply that enough be done to keep the Emperors from feeling safe about pushing religious restrictions.  Or better yet, simply deposing Christian Emperors.
You can say it is because the Emperor had the army behind him, but that just begs the question of why an almost certainly pagan army would go along with anti-pagan policies.  The author doesn't go into the attitudes of the folks serving in the legions, but likely it is very similar to why the elites didn't do anything.
The problem is that the effective elites, and the military saw themselves as being on the winning side.  Through luck or cunning they had chosen the winning Emperor (there were usually more than one contender during any reign) and they were compensated appropriately.  Look how quickly the elected Egyptian President lasted when the military felt it's position threatened.  The Christian Emperors would not have stayed in power without support from many pagans.
So in effect, the early Christian Emperor's policies accelerated the growth of Christianity, but the Pagan majority (likely 80% of the population at the start of the period) where not sufficiently alarmed enough to take action when they could.  Constantine converted in 312, by 392 a mob of Christians are able to storm the great pagan temple, The Serapeum in Alexandria, and destroy it. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Slow decline

When discussing the slow decline of the United States, there are two inflection points that seem to come up a lot.  One is the era around 1973 with the oil crises, and the Vietnam War debt Bretten Wood gold standard crises.  These are rather obvious flashpoints.  But the 1980s also come up in a variety of economic figures, and that is what we have here.

Another Look at U.S. GDP Growth (pdf p. 6)
Jeremy Grantham, GMO Quarterly Letter, February 2014

U.S. GDP growth had a wonderfully long run on a remarkably steady 3.3% trend line, from about 1880 to 1980 (see Exhibit 2). Although admittedly nowhere near recent Chinese growth, the duration and consistency was remarkable. Annual growth of 3.3% for a hundred years will multiply your income by 26 times! But 1880 to 1980 appears, with hindsight, to have been the Golden Century. In the 20 years from 1980 to 2000 that followed the Golden Century, the growth of GDP slowed materially (and was skewed to the top 10% and 1% in a way that had not been seen for 70 years), but still the country was compounding at a solid enough 2.8% a year, a rate that in a century would still compound to 16 times. For the last 13 years, in contrast, the growth has really slowed – to only 1.4% a year, and this despite a considerable bounce-back in capacity utilization since the bottom of the financial crash in 2009. To put it into perspective, 1.4% a year turns a dollar of income in 100 years not into $26 or $16, but into $4! 

And the referenced chart:

Note that even this "slow" 1.5% growth was done during a period of increased government (at the front and back end), business, and private debt.  It is not clear how long the inflation-free version of that type of spending will be available to us.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Water Knife: A Review

Paolo Bacigalupi's The Water Knife is a near future apocalyptic novel set in the drought ridden American Southwest, with the mostly out of water Phoenix getting most of the attention.

Paolo Bacigalupi is a very popular science fiction writer who specializes  in apocalyptic, or post-apocalyptic settings that extrapolate current problems into future dire results.  His young adult novels  (reviewed here) have feature global warming and bioengineering, his far future adult novels (reviewed here) feature bioengineering fiascos mixed with peak oil energy problems, and now this very near future novel deals with our current drought in the Southwest. I have already written a fair amount on his biography at my other reviews, so we will move on.
The novel is set about 5 years after the continuing Southwestern United States drought has forced the cut off of water to various cities.  The collapse is recent enough that a technically underage young lady can remember anticipating her 8th grade prom. In this storyline the winners are California and Nevada, and the losers are Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.  Mexico, is in even worse shape having already collapsed into an official government by drug cartels. 
I say technically underage because in Phoenix, Arizona, there is no law enforcement unless you are one of the few folks involved in self sustaining green-eco-tower or part of the truncated enforcement/government apparatus.  It is an odd hybrid economy that intentionally mimics a third world country at the edge of a war zone, complete with lawless refugee encampments.  The suburbs lay as ruins with their interiors gutted for the remnant copper in the plumbing and electrical lines.
So, as to the political winners and losers.  The winners are those who have managed to buy up, or already hold, senior water rights. They still do fracking, but now the fracking is for left over bits of underground water supply: A rather iffy, and temporary in any case, solution.  The water knife is one of the semi-mythical folks that works for the winners in insuring that their bosses get to keep the water that is their legally theirs.  Folks who would infringe on those rights are dealt with violently. As the story progresses the level of violence is starting to escalate to a higher level.
Against this background, we have a partially collapsed United States.  The drought in the Southwest and the hurricanes, and water levels rising along the coast have created huge refugee problems and under the threat of armed insurrection the United States has allowed States to set border controls to keep out the refugees.  This dynamic sets up an us against them mentality between fellow country men.  So, although we are seeing ground zero of one of the worst hit areas, you get a sense that there are a few areas (Vancouver is noted) that are still relatively happy and tranquil places to live.  There is some intimations that this tranquility is less stable than appearances indicate, but that is more hinted at than featured.
Against this background, the story revolves around a water knife, a journalist, and a young teenage refugee who stumble across a potentially very old, old in an areas where age rules, water rights.  Water rights with the apparent potential to completely turnover the current California-Vegas winners of the table.  People start dying, and it gets very violent.  Mr. Bacigalupi has never been shy about mixing in the sex and violence in his adult stories, and he is not here.  He has a very good sense of character, and his "heroes" are very flawed people, but none-the-less, a whole lot nicer than the really bad, bad guys. 
I did like the story.  It move very quickly, a page turner in a good way at times.  The characters are sympathetic, and you do find yourself rooting for them to make it through - much of the cast of characters does not. I have liked all three of the his novels that I have read, but I think this one is the most accessible to a general audience, and the one to have the most emotional impact.
We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.
It is set in the near future and deals with extrapolations of current issues.  The issue of survivalism, and some of the problems with the current model, are noted.  How the bad guys of the future will likely operate (these aren't your stock motorcycle gangs for sure) is something that a good deal of folks should consider.  It's also noteworthy that simply being way out in the country may not be sufficient.  There are advantages (notably, charitable aid and access to the remnants of an economy) to being in the city.  Survival is helped by being able to recognize and having something to offer the winning side.  Luck helps too.  Although I didn't discuss it much, one of the main themes of the book is that being on the winning side trumps everything. Realism is a seven.
The novel is a relatively easy read.  It is thoughtful at times, and a page turner at others.  A six.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Blood of Angels: A Review

Johanna Sinsalo's The Blood of Angels (translated by: Lola Rogers) is a nea-future (~2026) story of a slow ecological collapse highlighted by the sad story of a Finish funeral director - beekeeper hobbyist - who is arranging the funeral of his only son.

Johanna Sinsalo is well known in Finland as a science fiction and fantasy writer.   She won back-to-back Atorox (Best Finish Short Story) Awards, and the Finlandia Prize for Literature twice, and the James Tiptree Jr. Award in 2006 and nominated for a Nebula (short story) Award in 2009. This novel won the English Pen Award.

I think that my stories are always quite anchored to reality and very few people have said that they are too weird – I like to write stories that give that almost real feel and play with the idea that this particular version of the universe is somewhere very near, just behind the next corner.
That idea of a universe that is just slightly around the next corner rings very true with this novel.

The novel's plot line has our funeral director- bee keeper hobbiest, Alpo, making preperations for his only son, Areo's,  funeral.  The novel takes place over a short span of time and most of the action is retrospective.  The dead son's voice show up in a series of animal rights - ecology blog posts.  In the novel's present we have guest appearances from the industrialist grandfather, and the Alpo's ex-wife, who has married wealthy and now lives in Australia.
The little bit of strangeness comes in when Alpo finds a very hidden hole to a very quiet, serene, natural place.  What this hole is, how it works, is he crazy?; are all questions he asks of himself and explores.  It is an interesting question of how to react to an odd gift.  What to do with this little pocket world?;  If a pocket world it is?
The pocket world brings in the focus of bees as spiritual creatures.  Alpo does some internet searching:
The traditional stories of many cultures agree that bees have always been associated with life, death and above all, rebirth.
In any mythology where bees appear they're almost without exception tied to the Other Side. They're sometimes even deified. And it's not just local stories - the myth is universal.
I'm no longer surprised that in almost every folk culture bees move easily between worlds.
Virgil wrote that bees possess a divine intelligence.
The shared name for the Indian gods Vishnu, Krishna and Indra is Madhava, or the one born of nectar (And the Finnish word for nectar, mesi, is one of the oldest in the language and has its roots as far back as the Sanskrit word for honey madhu, an entymological common not only in Finnic languages but also the Greek and Anglo-Saxon world, where we find the word mead to refer to an intoxicating drink prepared from honey. (from page 89).
And drinking, along with madness, as in the Greek Dionysus, is also connected with a closeness to God.  This all ties in well with the father-as-funeral-director making preparations for the burial of his son: the obvious analogy of adult society burying our children's future.
If you think I am giving a lot away, I can assure you that this is all thematic in nature.  This is not book of physical adventure, but of emotional adventure.  There is stress in this near future world, and future in our sad fathers life.  How best to navigate all this, along with the mystery of how the son died, with the odd quiet world lying in the background is the primary story.
 So I did like this sad story.  At points there was a little peachiness, but it adds more realism than anything else because it spoken plausibly by people who would feel that way.  If the industrialist, and some of the other folks come off as a little self-focused and uncaring, it is in just the way that people acting within a market driven system should come off.  After all, the idea of the market system is that the greed of the market combines for the best balance of distribution, not that the people within it are heroic.  What happens when the market becomes as big as the world, of course,may cause things to play out a little differently.

We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.
Obviously little gateways to The Other Side, are not "realistic" in the traditional sense. They are so common in fiction that one would think otherwise, but I am not going down that rabbit hole.  But the rabbit hole (gateway, what ever) is very important to the story, but not the driver of the story.  The driver of the story is ecological collapse, with the honey bees being the main, but not only, point of focus, and how it plays out in the microcosm of people's personal lives.  You even have just a little bit of survival preparation thought through, and the aside that Californian drought exiles invading surrounding States makes for an interesting parallel with Paolo Bacigalupi's recent Water Knife. With the one noted exception it is of the real world.  So I'll call it a 5.
Readability is fairly straightforward.  As the quote above would indicate, there is a fair amount of introspection, as well as retrospective thoughts on a life past.  Reading of a father's very plausible regrets is does not make for a page turner.  Still, while there is symbolism, the story can be read and generally understood, without really thinking any of it through.  A literary 5.

What I gather is the original Finish cover

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Eastward Ho!

I am going to be busy for a few days, so I likely will see you after the 4th.  I still have a few more books I have read to post reviews on but they can wait.

Instead, I give you an apocalyptic short story by classic period science fiction writer William Tenn.

Eastward Ho! (pdf link)
A sample:
The New Jersey Turnpike had been hard on the horses. South of New Brunswick the potholes had been so deep, the scattered boulders so plentiful, that the two men had been forced to move at a slow trot, to avoid crippling their three precious animals. And, of course, this far south, farms werenonexistent; they had been able to eat nothing but the dried provisions in the saddlebags, and last night they had slept in a roadside service station, suspending their hammocks between the tilted, rusty gas pumps.
But it was still the best, the most direct route, Jerry Franklin knew. The Turnpike was a government road: its rubble was cleared semiannually.
Of course at one time the bit about the potholes might have been joked as being left overs from our current day.  I believe the JTP is in better shape these days.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Barbarian Spring: A Review

Jonas Lüscher's  Barbarian Spring (translation by: Peter Lewis) is the telling of events at a high flying group of young financier's Tunisian wedding escapades just as a financial bubble is popping.  The novel is short (132 pages) and satirical with intentionally apocalyptic overtone.
I am not sure what it means that there is an Asian two-hump camel, and not a single hump Dromedary on the cover. Is it a case of editorial ignorance, artistic license, or some sort of tweek at the audience?  I actually thought they were hills and didn't even really look that close at them when I was reading it.
Jonas Lüscher's (from (translated by Google Translate) German Wikipedia) grew up in Bern, Switzerland.  Graduating from the Munich School of Philosophy, he also wrote with Michael hamper a dissertation on the importance of narratives for the description of social complexity in the context of Richard Rorty's neopragmatism.  His novel, Barbarian Spring won the 2013 German Book Prize and Swiss Book Prize.
The story is of the mini-adventure of a small-time Swiss industrialist, Preising,  and his recent trip to Tunisia during what turns out to be a simultaneous economic collapse of Great Britain and some form of Arab Spring.  The narrator is a bit skeptical of the whole affair, and adds humorous asides at the expense of Preising As a number of folks have noted, it is a sort of "Where were you when 9-11 occurred,  when JFK was shot, etc. As an aside "Preise" in German can mean either a prize or a cost.
The whole story is slightly over the top farcical.  Not so ridiculous that you don't see where the author's point of view is coming from, but enough so that we are under no illusion that this is supposed to be the telling of a real occurrence.
The story was reasonable as a farce. Bits of it where pretty funny.  The foibles of not only the striving young financiers, but also their elders, who should presumably be a bit more sensible, does hit the target. 
But, even in a short novel it does get a little thin.  The over the top finally is a bit too ham fisted and trite to actually support the events of getting there.   Even with the poor behavior of the participants, I was more saddened by the ending than fulfilled.  What the final outcome of the Preise, our storyteller or the skeptical narrator, who both seem to be in some sort of sanatorium (?), is also a bit unclear.  What seems like a weak ending to me keeps me from recommending it.  Possibly those with a different sense of humor, or simply like the idea of the strivers getting their comeuppance will like it more.  Or maybe someone can explain that part of the story, and I will like it.
We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.
Comedic satire does not usually attempt to be particularly realistic.  So rather than start from the top and subtract, I'll simply note a few reasons (beyond the fact no elves show up) that it is not a one.  The story is accurate in showing how vulnerable folks are when the "ATM" breaks down and your in a foreign country.  As I write this, there are real stories of vacationers stuck in Greece with no money.  The Arabic Spring portion also has a nasty little twist to it.  So I will call it a high-for-satire 3.
Readability is fine.  There is obviously some double meanings spread throughout, and I likely didn't catch all of them, but it reads well enough as a straight up warning tale.  It is also short.  A bit chatty, not a page turner, we'll call it a literary 5.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Find Me: A Review

Laura Van Den Berg's Find Me is a pandemic apocalypse set within a malaise filled falling apart modern world. It is a the coming off age story of a young girl, who catches the usually deadly disease , and is shipped off to an odd medical research facility in Kansas.

Laura Van Den Berg fits in that mold of up and coming young writer.  She was raised in Florida and lives in Boston:  two areas that do feature in the story.  Her previous books had been short story collections.
Joy is an ironically named young lady who grew up in the foster care system in Massachusetts.  She is struggling with dead end jobs, loneliness, etc. when a plague sweeps through the country.  The first signs of the plague include memory loss, which is used as a literary device set against the difficult memories of our heroine.
It is a difficult story to review without giving away too many important plot moments.  There is a little bit of a medical thriller going on, along with some episodic short-story-like tales interspersed throughout the stories main theme of the young lady trying to find herself.  The plague, the weird medical story, and the depiction of a country slowly falling apart, is very well done.
All of which sounds great, except that the author has a less than straightforward delivery, and their is a fair amount of poorly explained oddness.  It has an odd disjointed, trippy sort of feel that diffuses the storyline into more a muddle of confusion, than a heartfelt story of discovery.
So I while I liked certain parts of the story very much, in the end I was disappointed.  A lot of modern readers seem to like overly confused story telling, and a coming of age stories are also wildly popular.  So combining those two elements guarantees that it will get some positive review.  But I don't think the payoff of the novel justifies the effort.  I would call it a near miss.
We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.
You have strange trippy-ness, intermingled with a fairly realistic portrayal of surviving in a collapsed economy with a very realistic portrayal of how a deadly pandemic might actually play out.  I think the trippy-ness does effect some of the realism, but mostly effects our next category - readability - so I will say its realism is a six.
Readability is mixed.  There is a plot line, and some elements of the plotline do move forward, and have a fair amount of resolution. But there is a lot of odd sub-stories along the way, and not all the storylines are resolved cleanly.  The symbolism is a little heavy handed at times.  So I will call it a literary 3. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Under A Graveyard Sky: A Review

John Ringo's Under a Graveyard Sky is his entry into the "realistic" zombie-apocalypse.  By realistic, it uses about the only sensible way you might get a real zombie-apocalypse, through bioterrorism. The book is the first of the four books in the Black Tide Rising series.
John Ringo is famous in what I would call the modern version of the men's action novel.  These seem to have adopted their tenor from Tom Clancy's well researched near future, military-clandestine based stories.  In the case of Mr. Ringo, much of his work fits within the Military Science Fiction genre.  It is not a genre I have read much, but for the reading male populace, I would call it a welcome change from the earlier pulp fiction violent-sleaze-soft porn that dominated up into the early 1990s.
So what you get is a lot of detailed research on what is mostly a bunch of either utter nonsense, or over analyzed drivel used as a way to make the rock-em-sock-em shoot up combat story seem plausible.  Improbable in this case refers to the fact that two of the main combatant-protagonists, even though their parents are healthy and still around, are teenage girls.
So the quick run down.  Prepper, Australian special services father lives in United States with wife and two teenage daughters.  He gets special advance notice of coming z-apocalypse from secretive sources, goes and buys a boat with money conveniently given to him, and then, after a very strange trip to the least safe environ you can imagine, New York City, starts on a nautical, apocalyptic journey off the East Coast of the United States.
The tone of the novel is that of, in this case mostly unearned,  self-righteous heroics, sprinkled lightly some anti-Obama/Democrat Party digs,  counter poised with an insanely pro-military, libertarian-right version of reality.  A world view that I suspect is very popular with the military folks that a lot of these books are no doubt sold to.  While it is not a viewpoint I see that often in my readings, I find preachy self-righteousness annoying in general, even when it is closer to my own version of reality than most.
I did find the heroics of the teenage girls highly annoying.  I happen to know a fair number of athletic, very educated young ladies in their age range and none of them could even come close to pulling of the heroics they are capable of.  The author greatly underestimates the learning curve in trying to pull off sophisticated maneuverings of boarding actions, and small combat units at sea.  The odd sexual overtones used when describing the younger tom-boy daughter is particularly creepy to my mind. 
So I was not thrilled with the novel.  But I am ambivalent.  The heavy research involved does mean you get to learn some interesting factoids along the way, and for some reason, I have a particular fondness for novelistic  high-seas escapes from the apocalypse.  I think a lot of folks who like the action adventure type of prepper-porn, will really like it.  By the standards of that genre, much of the goings on are very realistic.
We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.
It is set in the near future (a plus), it is zombie-novel (a minus because the zombie issue doesn't go away), the hero-family has access to all sorts of ridiculous intel and money (a minus), they do worry about ammo and such ( a plus), there are issues of intergroup bickering (a plus) .   So I will call it a six on the basis of the extensive research, even as I noted that the overall tone of the story is not always plausible.
Readability is tough.  There is a lot of action, but there is also a lot of talking, and arguing, and the story line takes some extended detours before we get to our boat bound excitement phase.  So it's not a page turner, but not a complete boar either.  Unless you think mild jabs at Democrats count for literary symbolism, it is pretty much an on-the-surface story.  Call it a six. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Machiavelli on cycles

The concept of a cyclical nature of rise and fall of political entities goes back a long way.  Here is Machiavelli's thoughts on it.
It may be observed, that provinces amid the vicissitudes to which they are subject, pass from order into confusion, and afterward recur to a state of order again; for the nature of mundane affairs not allowing them to continue in an even course, when they have arrived at their greatest perfection, they soon begin to decline. In the same manner, having been reduced by disorder, and sunk to their utmost state of depression, unable to descend lower, they, of necessity, reascend; and thus from good they gradually decline to evil, and from evil again return to good.  
The reason is, that valor produces peace; peace, repose; repose, disorder; disorder, ruin; so from disorder order springs; from order virtue, and from this, glory and good fortune. Hence, wise men have observed, that the age of literary excellence is subsequent to that of distinction in arms; and that in cities and provinces, great warriors are produced before philosophers. Arms having secured victory, and victory peace, the buoyant vigor of the martial mind cannot be enfeebled by a more excusable indulgence than that of letters; nor can indolence, with any greater or more dangerous deceit, enter a well regulated community.
Although I don't completely ascribe to his theory, it is notable that our move to a large standing professional army (a national mercenary force) somewhat mirrors Rome turning away from its citizen's armies toward a professional standing force.  This of course leaves the folks back home with more time to chatter and talk about things.