Thursday, January 22, 2015

Book Review: Twilight's Last Gleaming


Twilight's Last Gleaming by John Michael Greer
Let's take a short detour today, pulling our attention away from the civil war in Ukraine, the disintegration of the fever-dream fictions of Sykes-Picot that are Syria and Iraq, and the colossal tower of fraud and bezzle the West calls a financial system these days.

I want to discuss a recent book by John Michael Greer, telling the tale of the disintegration of the United States in the wake of a military defeat in Africa. I have found over time that good fiction can give us a snapshot of a culture's mood as well as get us thinking about the consequences of our decisions as a people and a country. This is one of those novels.

The Book

Twilight's Last Gleaming is set in the mid-2020s. It opens to news of the discovery of a giant oil field off the coast of Tanzania. At the time of this very important find, Tanzania is aligned with China via trade agreements and as a recipient of Chinese investment in infrastructure.

The United States moves to shift Tanzania into its orbit and the result is a very unexpected military defeat orchestrated by China. The shock to the political culture, the economy, and the social structure of the U.S. results in the various states calling a Constitutional Convention. The Convention begins with intentions of solving the problem of overreach by the federal government, but leads to the dissolution of the Union.

The story is told through the eyes of various players in the events, from soldiers, to politicians, to journalists. We watch as they handle (and mishandle) a chaotic financial and political landscape far removed from the country and the lifestyle they had known before the crisis.

My Review

This isn't your standard doomer fiction, where the world immediately collapses into a scene straight out of Mad Max, but a fairly nuanced view of one way the combined pressures of poor fiscal choices and military setbacks could fracture the United States, and what that might look like.

This book is based on a series of five blog posts at Mr. Greer's Archdruid Report in October of 2012 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5) in which he used fiction to outline a rather optimistic version of how the United States might stumble into devolution. I say optimistic in the sense that in this fictional scenario, the political process plays itself out with minimal internal violence. The fractured remains of the country work themselves into new political arrangements and find themselves on many different paths to the future.

If you only know the basics of Mr. Greer's background and have not read his weekly blog, you would expect this to be a heavy-handed diatribe, a combination of the angry but plodding prose of Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here mixed with tiresome Hippie rants and apocalyptic Gaia-hates-humans whinging. Happily for us, Mr. Greer is an excellent wordsmith, is well-read in history and politics, and apparently has had to make a living writing long enough to know the story must come first. The novel is long on story and action, leavened with just enough dash of Peak Oil and Global Warming to add a more sinister context to events without spoiling the book.

Twilight's Last Gleaming plays on several levels:
  • It is an above-average military thriller that will appeal to fans of Tom Clancy's early works. His focus on how a new era in air power and naval strategy might arise comes straight from current war games and military analyses on how the U.S. is handling the build-out of the next generation of fighter jets and carriers.
  • On another level, this is a political thriller, where the machinations of various politicians, foreign and domestic, play out across the globe.
  • It describes the financial crash in terms anyone who has read The Great Reckoning, Bankruptcy 1995, and various financial thrillers would find familiar. We walk the road from debt collapse, to hyperinflation and currency collapse, to political fragmentation with various characters, watching how they do their best to survive the circumstances.
  • The background is informed by the concept of Peak Oil and how a world system attuned to the constant supply of cheap petroleum is going to suffer problems when the supply is less reliable and harder to sustain.
I found it well worth the read.  It is also the kind of book that is worth reading more than once. Mr. Greer is well-read and there are many little nuggets sprinkled throughout the novel that are worth pondering, not to mention the double-meanings in many of the names chosen for key political characters.

The novel tells a story of one way in which we in the U.S. might find ourselves navigating this swamp of negative mood, and what we might find when we finally stumble from that swamp into the new era which awaits us on the other side.

You can get a preview via Google Reader here.

Two thumbs up.

The Author

John Michael Greer maintains a blog called The Archdruid Report and has been a unique figure among key figures who have been discussing and describing Peak Oil over the years. His blog uses the concept of Peak Oil to discuss the rise and fall of civilizations (ours included), dissect the notion of Progress inherent in the Western mindset for several centuries now, and talks about practical ways of handling a more chaotic and energy-limited future.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Clown Show

Clowns Play by Amanda Ryan, hosted at Society6.com

A quick post to draw your attention to an alarm bell being rung by John Robb over at Global Guerrillas. In a recent blog post, he notes two days before the Charlie Hedbo attacks, a Saudi General was killed in an attack on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's border with the convenient fiction known as Iraq.

As Mr. Robb puts it:
Here is why this attack is significant.  
  • It tells us that ISIS is starting to focus on Saudi Arabia --> with good reason.  The reason is that there's simply no other way to unite the various groups under the ISIS banner.  ISIS, like all open source movements, needs to keep moving in order to stay alive (like a shark).  Right now, ISIS has stalled.  A jihad to retake the holy sites from the corrupt regime in Riyadh can serve as a simple plausible promise that can reignite the open source war ISIS started, on a global scale.
  • The Saudis are vulnerable.  The attackers knew exactly when the general was going to be at the outpost.  This tells us that the Saudi military is rife with ISIS sympathisers and/or active members.  If so, the Saudi military may melt away when facing jihadis (or switch sides) in the same way 30,000 Iraqi troops did early last year a couple of hundred miles to the north.
  • It explains the timing of Charlie Hebdo.  Not only was it an attack that has gained ISIS favor with millions of Saudis (given how racist and anti-islamic the magazine's cartoons were), it was also (and more importantly) a distraction.  It has successfully distracted the collective west, by pulling them into another "war on terrorism."  This attack is something I call a Red Queen's trap, since it results in damage to both the contestants in the struggle.
I want to harp on the third item Mr. Robb regards as significant - the relationship of the timing this attack and the attack in France. The Hedbo attack was perfectly designed to draw the attention of the chattering classes of the West away from the situation in the KSA.

The Clown Show

This is part of the Clown Show. Distract your opponents with bright shiny objects or actions guaranteed to push their buttons, while you execute your real strategy away from the lights and music of the circus tent.

Saudi Arabia is the key to the Middle East and the linchpin of the current way we've structured how petroleum supplies are managed on this planet. Much of the Western world is focused on the emotional satisfaction of feeling righteous in their anger over the killings of the Charlie Hedbo journalists and local authorities are garnering headlines in their attempts to root out "extremists" in their midst. All the while, the Islamic State continues to keep its foothold in Mesopotamia and the Levant, and is gearing up for a run at the great prize - the fight for control over Mecca and Medina.

The Socionomic Lens
Saudi Stock Exchange (Source:www.asmainfo.com)
Applying the socionomic model to the KSA, it looks like we will get to find out just how robust the Kingdom's governing structures are. I don't have EWI's formal wave structure available to share and have enough years of missing wave counts to hold off on providing you my amateur input, but if this is just the beginning of a much larger decline, look for some extreme outcomes on the Arabian peninsula.

No matter what follows, the decline from the September highs has been significant, and as Vadim Pokhlebkin puts it in this short video from EWI, a terrorist attack hitting right at, or near the bounce, of a significant low, fits right in with other high-profile terrorist attacks (note also the focus on the Charlie Hedbo attack and zero mention of the killing of the Saudi General):


One reason socionomics is so powerful is it keeps us from getting caught up in the headlines of the moment. Keep that same distance when pondering world events and make sure you are not letting yourself be distracted with shiny emotionally charged events while they work to other purposes in the shadows.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Emotional Resilience

The video above from Chris Martenson's Peak Prosperity site is a nice fit for many of the topics we cover here. This interview is with Dr. John Arden and provides a lot of good feedback on how you can improve your emotional resilience, a key skill in my opinion for those of us who attempt to be more aware of the emotional sea in which we swim. Enjoy.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Nuclear Weapons and Social Mood

Nuclear Family by Dayle Kornely hosted at society6.com

The lead article in the November 2014 Socionomist, "Putin's Dark Side" by Alan Hall, discusses the rising tensions between the U.S./NATO and Russia.  It also contains a lengthy overview of how nuclear weapons may factor into the next round of negative mood on the world stage.

This caught my attention for a number of reasons.  First, my day job is in the nuclear sector (reactors/isotope production, not weapons) and second, part of the reason FutureJacked has been on Pause for so long was I've been writing a book on Nuclear War and other Nuclear Emergencies (I'm a few weeks out from publication, more details to come). The article was serendipitous, to say the least.

Unfortunately, now seems as good a time as any to look at the potential for nuclear warfare in the coming years.  I fully expect to see many of the structures put in place during this long era of Good Feelings to be trashed, such as free trade agreements, civil liberties, and most importantly peace between Great Powers.  During the Cold War, which occurred in the context of a Supercycle upswing in mood, there was much talk of nuclear weapons and nuclear war.  During this Supercycle downturn, we can expect to see talk turn to action.

Yes, I anticipate we will see the use of nuclear weapons in war before this era plays itself out.  It won't come out of nowhere, though, so let's wargame some of the things we might expect to see.

The Complacency of Positive Mood


Alan Hall generated a very interesting graphic in Putin's Dark Side which I have recreated here (my graphics and a slightly different date range, full credit to Mr. Hall for the original as Figure 5 in the November 2014 edition of The Socionomist).

Google Ngram Viewer Results of "nuclear weapon" for 1940 - 2014
A second Ngram graphic, using the term "nuclear war" between 1940 and 2014 gives an even better view of the complacency which has set in over the past two decades (remember, this is a relative scale from the percentage of books published):

Google Ngram Viewer Results of "nuclear war" for 1940 - 2014
After the fall of the Soviet Union and the final ascent of U.S. hegemony, worries over nuclear war collapsed.  Stockpiles of nuclear warheads decreased, though disarmament by no means was achieved.  Other results of this reduction in tensions led to problems with the U.S. nuclear missile force, at least in the Air Force.  Nuclear missile force readiness experienced a stagnation, leading to a deterioration in the culture and a perception that for officers, nuclear weapons work was a dead-end for their career. It reached the point where it was accepted as "the way we've always done it" to have only one of the toolkits necessary to install a nuclear warhead on a Minuteman Missile available between three bases and 450 missiles.

The Air Force is now revamping its nuclear missile force structure.  When negative mood reasserts itself, it may do so quickly and violently.  We shall see if the changes will have taken root when the prospect of nuclear war rears its head.

A war scenario is not the only thing impacted by U.S. nuclear force readiness.  There have been multiple occasions in the past where nuclear weapons came close to detonating by accident. A socionomic link between markets, mood, and aircraft accidents is apparent.  Were this same negative-mood dynamic to play out in a nuclear missile force with poor morale, we in the United States could be on the receiving end of a massively damaging self-inflicted wound.  Were such an accident happen at the wrong place or the wrong time, it might even set off an accidental nuclear exchange.

This is another case where positive mood eras help create the dysfunctions which can make negative mood eras so damaging.

The Rehabilitation of Nuclear Weapons and De-escalation via Nuclear Strike

Nuclear weapons might one day soon return the arsenal of Great Power saber rattling and I believe one of those saber rattling events could turn hot, with nuclear weapons being used once again in anger. The interplay between Russia and the U.S. is a critical dynamic to watch as the bulk of nuclear weapons are held by these two states.

As the late, great positive mood era wheezed to a close 15 years ago, the U.S. stood as a lone "hyperpower." This continued in the post 9/11 world, which found the U.S. fighting wars in the Middle East, and continuing to project its forces and influence deeply into what had historically been Russian areas of influence (the Balkans, Georgia, the Baltic states, and most recently, Ukraine).  Time after time, it appeared there was little Russia could do to restore her primacy in the region.

But this situation will not, and cannot last.  Propelled by perceived national interest and impelled by increasingly negative social mood, Russia has revamped its nuclear forces and rethought the use of nuclear weapons.  In 2000, at what could be considered the height of U.S. power, confidence, and social mood, Russia issued a new military doctrine which changed its stance on the use of nuclear weapons from "in case of a threat to the existence of the Russian Federation" to:
The Russian Federation reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and (or) its allies, as well as in response to large-scale aggression utilizing conventional weapons in situations critical to the national security of the Russian Federation.
As analyst Nikolai Sokov wrote, this also introduced the idea of "de-escalation" via limited nuclear war:
The doctrine introduced the notion of de-escalation—a strategy envisioning the threat of a limited nuclear strike that would force an opponent to accept a return to the status quo ante. Such a threat is envisioned as deterring the United States and its allies from involvement in conflicts in which Russia has an important stake, and in this sense is essentially defensive. Yet, to be effective, such a threat also must be credible. To that end, all large-scale military exercises that Russia conducted beginning in 2000 featured simulations of limited nuclear strikes.
De-escalation rests on a revised notion of the scale of nuclear use. During the Cold War, deterrence involved the threat of inflicting unacceptable damage on an enemy. Russia’s de-escalation strategy provides instead for infliction of “tailored damage,” defined as “damage [that is] subjectively unacceptable to the opponent [and] exceeds the benefits the aggressor expects to gain as a result of the use of military force.” The efficacy of threatening tailored damage assumes an asymmetry in a conflict’s stakes. Moscow reasoned when it adopted the policy that, for the United States, intervening on behalf of Chechen rebels (for example) might seem a desirable course of action for a variety of reasons. But it would not be worth the risk of a nuclear exchange. Russia, however, would perceive the stakes as much higher and would find the risk of a nuclear exchange more acceptable. Indeed, in the early 2000s, Russian military experts wrote that US interference in the war in Chechnya could have resulted in a threat to use nuclear weapons.
Emphasis mine.  That analysis, in my opinion, remains spot-on and could become very relevant if the conflict in Ukraine were to broaden into a more general U.S./NATO vs. Russia conflict.  Whereas the U.S. might regard the ripping of Ukraine from Russia's orbit as a good thing for its geopolitical position, Russia might regard the idea of foreign troops in a former Soviet Republic a little over 450 miles from Moscow as an existential threat.  Russia very well might be willing to turn to extreme measures in such a case.

If your conventional weapons do not get the attention or respect of your enemies, then you may decide the only way to deter them is to actually use a nuke.  That makes a statement if nothing else.

What might "tailored damage" look like?

Here we enter into the world of speculation, but I do not like discussing macro-scale topics without finding a way of relating the concept to a scenario which could unfold in the world.  We need guideposts in these soon-to-be-very-troubled times, not more fear porn.

Were Ukraine to move firmly into the Western orbit and the eastern provinces crushed (unlikely as of this writing, but were NATO to provide enough "advisors" and weaponry, you could see a shift in the balance), Russia would then be faced with a dramatically changed strategic position.  One could see a grim meeting in the Kremlin where the Russian leadership decides the West must be made aware a "red line" has been crossed. A nuclear weapon, they might agree, is now the only thing NATO will respect.

But how to escalate without sending the globe up in the fires of a nuclear holocaust?  What sort of "tailored damage" would send a strong message but hopefully not prompt an all-out nuclear response?

This would seem to rule out an attack in the heart of Europe or in North America.  If the goal is to inflict severe damage, but without the horrors of a strategic nuclear strike on a major city, what targets might suffice?

Considering the U.S. military presence spans the globe, a number of options present themselves.  These might include:
  • An airburst over a nuclear carrier group
  • A nuclear attack on Guam, a significant U.S. Navy base
  • An airburst over Diego Garcia, a U.K. territory hosting a major U.S. base
Of the choices, Diego Garcia would probably be the best bet.  Guam is a U.S. territory and Russia might assume there also remains a strong emotional tie from the memories of its involvement in World War II.  Attacking a full carrier group successfully might be "too successful" and be seen by the U.S. as a humiliation one of the key pillars of its global policing assets, a humiliation that could not remain unpunished.

It is my opinion an attack on Diego Garcia would inflict the kind of severe damage that would get the attention of the U.S., U.K., NATO, et al, but possibly not tip things over into a full nuclear exchange.  At least you can see how the case could be made and how military planners in Russia (or elsewhere) could come to that conclusion.

A 300 kT airburst over Diego Garcia, courtesy of NUKEMAP:



Diego Garcia's remote location, combined with an airburst, would result in minimal radioactive fallout and far less harm to civilian populations than a strategic attack over a city.  The mushroom cloud and severe damage to a critical base would certainly get the attention of the Western military leadership cadres, but without having that devastation wrought on one of the great cities of Europe or America.

Would such "tailored damage" stop there?  Or would it lead to the escalation expected during the Cold War, with the U.S. hitting a remote Russian base or installation in Siberia?

What would the political ramifications in the U.S. be, suffering such a blow?  Especially with a generation of U.S. leaders who have pushed U.S. hegemony successfully throughout the world, never experiencing a significant defeat.  How would they react to a world player who was able to strike back? When all you have known is success, how will you react when your first failure is colossal, punctuated by a mushroom cloud?

The knock-on effects would depend on the time, place, and political realities of the day.  This is provided only as an example of how you might see nuclear weapons used short of all-out nuclear war.

A Trend to Look For

It is probable you will have many signposts along the road to nuclear war.  Besides the general geopolitical tensions and socionomic indicators to watch, one clear sign the taboo against nuclear weapons use is breaking down would be a resumption of underground nuclear testing.

EWI shows on occasion a striking graphic, showing the inverse relationship between nuclear tests and the DJIA.

Annual Nuclear Weapon Tests Worldwide (source: Elliott Wave Int'l)
When you read that Russia has conducted a new series of underground nuclear tests in order to "manage their stockpiles effectively" or the U.S. has resumed underground tests in Nevada in order to "confirm computer modeling of nuclear weapon designs" or "ensure effectiveness of aging fissile material stocks" and you see the numbers of those tests track the decline in the DJIA or S&P 500, then you may want to consider brushing up on your nuclear war survival skills...


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Book Review: Broken Web

Broken Web, George Ure

Why would I trust my entire financial and social life to a system which is involved in several low-level wars in the world and is fraught with "malware" and viruses, not to mention it could be in danger of burning out at some point?
- George Ure, Broken Web
Let's kick off 2015 with a look into the guts of the internet and the everyday realities of cybercrime and cyber warfare.

The Sony hack obviously springs to mind (though recent reports now point towards a disgruntled insider, rather than the North Koreans), as does the role internet communications played in the "Arab Spring," both during the uprisings as well as during the backlash by central governments.

Other famous (or infamous) hacks reveal just how lucrative and potentially devastating war and crime on the internet can be:
Which leads us to revisit "the internet" - a mechanism of data transfer and commerce barely in its infancy 25 years ago and now as ubiquitous as water and power in most industrialized countries.

Unlike a water or power utility, however, the internet as we know it today has some significant vulnerabilities.  Will this system, which was deployed during the greatest run-up in positive mood ever recorded, survive the coming downturn in mood in any form we currently recognize?  Or is this massive, world-spanning system poised to fragment, disintegrate, and balkanize into "safer" corporate run "ecologies" such as we see Amazon and Apple attempting to construct?

I bring up the socionomic concept of mass mood for a reason.  Think of the inherent assumptions built into the way we use the internet today - we place massive amounts of personal and financial information out on websites we have little to no control over and millions of times each day people around the globe plug in credit card numbers or check bank accounts using this platform, with little regard to the realities of just how vulnerable their information is.  The unspoken trust built into this system could only have flourished during a period of almost delusional optimism.

Broken Web

A run-down of the vulnerabilities can be found in Broken Web: The Coming Collapse of the Internet.  The author, George Ure, is the publisher of the Peoplenomics newsletter, and provides daily socioeconomic commentary at his Urbansurvival.com site.

The book reviews a variety of ways in which the internet as we currently use it could be compromised, rendered inefficient, or be forced to shut down temporarily or permanently.

The themes range from system complexity, to malware, to the growth in authoritarianism around the globe.  While Mr. Ure regards mood as a secondary effect, instead of a primary driver as posited by socionomic theory, the end result is the same - the internet, over which many people around the world conduct critical financial transactions, communicate, and store important data - is far more vulnerable to disruption than most imagine. 

Pros of the Book
Ure covers a lot of ground in this book and demonstrates a knowledge of the underlying systems and architecture that support internet communications.  The various factors that might play into the "collapse of the internet" range from socioeconomic factors to market oversaturation and migration to new infrastructure to malware and viruses to EMP.

You are provided with a checklist of steps you can take to mitigate the damage a prolonged internet outage might have on you, your finances, and records.

There are a number of links to solid supporting documentation, so you can dig more deeply into some of the topics if you so choose.

Cons of the Book
The book was born of a series of articles Mr. Ure wrote for his subscriber site in 2012.  Some of the information and concerns mention show a little age, though nothing that damages the overall thesis.

There is one gap in the thesis that caught my attention.  One of the parallels he uses early in the work is studying the "S-curve" created by the build-out of earlier infrastructure like rail and roads.  What is left unsaid, though, is this infrastructure still exists and contributes mightily to transportation and economic activity.  One could see a scenario where the internet does not "collapse" but instead becomes a steady background utility - assuming the other challenges he identifies can be mitigated.

Evaluation
At $9.99, the price is a bit steep for an e-book.  That said, that is what you might spend for a sandwich and drink in many restaurants at lunch.  Instead of empty carbs and heartburn, however, Broken Web at least leaves you in more informed place when you finish.

NOTE: I have not received any compensation for this review, neither will I get any "kickback" from Amazon via the link (the Amazon Affiliate program doesn't cover Missouri due to the structure of our tax laws). 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Catastrophic Abundance


Scenario planning using socionomics, peak oil, and megapolitics
Catastrophic Abundance, Kindle ebook


Let's end 2014 with a blast from the past.  About seven years ago I wrote and published an ebook entitled "Catastrophic Abundance."  I self-published it as a .pdf and sold a fair number of copies.  I let the site go dormant several years back, but believe now is a good time to dust it off and return it to publication.  You can check out old blog posts related to this theme here if you want a feel for the concept.

The book began as a way for me to flesh out the three key aspects of the model I use to make sense of the world and world events.  Those three aspects are socionomics, megapolitics, and peak oil

While I've come to rely a bit more heavily on socionomics these days, I continue to regard megapolitics as relevant (in short, it is a way of describing how violence and the ability to use violence shapes our world), and yes, in spite of the many claims that it has been "debunked" or disproven, I continue to believe peak oil (the engineering definition of peak oil, not the mass market version, which means the easy and cheap oil is dwindling) will remain relevant and the oil markets subject to wild swings (such as we are seeing today) as expensive oil is very vulnerable to the price crashes inherent in oversupply situations that develop during recessions and depressions (due to the capital costs associated with this kind of advanced extraction work).

The model is described in some detail and I've provided scenarios to help you war game how you might handle situations in the areas of Shelter, Energy, Transportation, and Community/Government.

I have made only a few edits to the text from the 2007 edition, updating the oil production graphic for the U.S. and cleaning up a few things, but otherwise I have left the description of the model and the scenarios intact, for better or worse.

If you are an Amazon Prime customer, I've made it available for free on Kindle Unlimited.  For the rest of you, I do plan to run a promotion and offer it as a free book for a few days in the near future, so if you don't want to spend the $2.99 to purchase it, keep an eye on the blog, I'll keep you in the loop.

Here's wishing you a happy, successful, and lucky 2015. I think we are going to need our fair share of luck in the coming years.

Monday, December 29, 2014

FutureJacked Reboot

reboot by Art-joy-living via Society6.com

After a few years of dormancy, I have things in my professional and personal life squared away to the point where I can return to blogging. This comes at what I believe to be a key juncture in the markets, mood, and politics of the West.

While I had expected to abandon the FutureJacked platform for something new, upon review, I decided to keep it, warts and all. I may polish up the format a bit, but the content will remain.

The plan is to resume with the coming of the New Year. I expect to publish once or twice per week, looking to provide a deeper dive into events, using the lens of socionomics as the primary model through which we'll view events.

I also plan to provide more book and ebook reviews going forward.  There is quite a bit of solid thinking going on out there as we stumble forward into what waits for us. I hope to pick out various gems to polish up for your consideration.

We will continue to review the events of the day as well as conduct a little futurecasting.

Thanks to those of you who still check in on the blog. Interesting times await us.