Monday, March 30, 2015

Spain, Jews, and a Glimpse of the Future?

Return Home, Varmagari
We've discussed the expulsion of Jews from Spain on a couple of occasions. Once in the context of the Marranos and building up resilient communities within the nation-state, and more recently when briefly pondering the potential for mass transfers of ethnic and religious groups in the coming years, should we continue down this path of polarization and negative mood.

With that context I found the following headline very intriguing:
This Country is About to Offer Citizenship to 2.2 Million Jews
(TIME Alistair Dawber/Madrid)

Spain wants to make amends for expelling Jews from the country in 1492


Exactly 523 years ago on Tuesday, the Edict of Expulsion, which forced Spain’s Jewish community to convert to Catholicism or leave the country, was issued by monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. It may have taken more than half a millennia, but Madrid is finally about to make amends for kicking out the Jews by offering citizenship to the estimated 2.2 million descendants of those expelled...
 The spin on the story is an attempt by Spain to "make amends" for "wrongs" committed over five centuries ago.

What if there is more to the story? Or what if a significant number of people of Jewish descent take Spain up on this offer and Spain decides they like this sort of targeted citizenship program?

What do I mean?  Well Spain, like many European countries has a problem with a stagnant economy, high debt load, and shrinking demographic base. Let's say at a minimum they pull in 90,000 new citizens from this effort. What is the marginal cost of adding a new citizen in Spain? People taking advantage of this program would already hold a passport in another country, such as Israel. If they are forward-thinking enough to get this second passport and citizenship, this new influx of citizens might also be skewed towards high incomes. They probably would consider an apartment in Spain, doing some banking there, etc. In other words, what's not to like?

And to answer the question that probably jumped out at you upon reading the story, where a "number of Muslim groups and academics have pointed out, both the Jews and Muslims were victims of Isabella and Ferdinand’s Spanish Inquisition, and so why are only the descendants of the Jewish victims now being offered reparation?"

Easy. The extremists in the Jewish population are focused on Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Creating a haven for Jewish communities in Spain would, at least for the foreseeable future, not pose the challenges faced by other European countries and their Muslim minorities. To hell with fair, this is geopolitics.

I find this fascinating. In the coming years I wonder if we'll see more of these kinds of programs where countries attempt to poach "good" citizens from other other countries the way football teams try and improve their team via free agency? 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Nuclear FUD

Panic by Vin Zzep
I drop off the grid for a few days for some quality time and come back to find the crazy piling high and fast in the areas we here at FutureJacked like to comment upon.

Ukraine

I am cooking up a larger post regarding Ukraine, but for now I'll just provide you with the link to the U.S. House Resolution on arming Ukraine against Russian-backed militias and let you ponder for yourself the assumptions buried in each of those "Whereas" clauses - especially that first one.  I just can't get past my mental block on this one - imagine if the Chinese helped orchestrate the overthrow of what they regarded as a corrupt regime in Ottawa and replaced it with a fervently anti-U.S. governing junta. Then follow that with the Chinese Politburo publicly debating supplying advanced arms to that government after some Canadians out in the Western Provinces rebelled against what they saw as an unlawful government. It really just seems like a tremendous amount of downside for the West for very little gain. But then again, I am not exactly a member of the Deep State nor one of their political minions and those types have motivating factors far different from us little people out in Flyover Country.

Miscellaneous

There is plenty else out there, from the Shi'a vs. Sunni tussling in Yemen, to the ongoing Zimbabwe-ization of Japan, to the still-there-and-still fighting Islamic State (wasn't Tikrit supposed to have fallen to the Iranians Iraqis by now?). But don't worry - stock prices are still high!

Political theater and the continuing unraveling of the Middle East aside, I want to take a page from Nuclear Emergencies and analyze a couple of stories which came my way via Zero Hedge, using the tools described in the chapters on how to evaluate media stories on nuclear events.

Zero Hedge Does Nuke, Consume Carefully

The first step is to know your source. I like Zero Hedge as a platform for stories that won't make the cut in more mainstream media outlets, but I also never forget they have their own set of blinders and biases. They loves playing the fear merchant. This is especially true in terms of nuclear power, nuclear accidents, and radiation effects. They know nuclear stories draw eyeballs and that when the facts are used selectively and without context, you can scare the living daylights out of readers and keep them hooked on coming back.

Normally I wouldn't pay them much mind - if you take stories found on ZH as the final word on nuclear topics, you deserve what you get (primarily FUD - fear, uncertainty, and doubt) - but they reach a wide audience and have a sizable influence on opinions, so let's take two recent nuke stories found there and step through them, using some of the principles found in Nuclear Emergencies.

Why take the time? I want FutureJacked readers to be able to better evaluate threats. Nuclear meltdowns and weapons have many deep and negative emotions tied to them. But just because something sounds scary, doesn't mean it necessarily is scary. Walking through a couple of write-ups will hopefully help you navigate future stories with more confidence.

Fukushima's Nuclear Reactor Fuel is "Missing"

This is a typical "Tyler Durden" post on nuclear topics. First the headline is excellent. Even for those weary of reading about Fukushima, missing fuel could mean various things. Was it stolen? Disappeared totally? Not where it is supposed to be? Other?

Then we get into the story itself:
In the same week as Japan unveils its Pacific-Rim-esque anti-tsunami wall public works project, and Japanese government auditors say the operator of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant has wasted more than a third of the 190 billion yen ($1.6 billion) in taxpayer money allocated for cleaning up the plant after it was destroyed by a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami; Science Journal reports, Fukushima won't be truly safe until engineers can remove the reactors' nuclear fuel. But first, they have to find it... And so, in February of this year two muon detectors were installed outside the Fukushima Daiichi unit-1 ruins at reactor vessel height for the purpose of finding that ‘missing’ reactor fuel.
Okay, so what about this missing fuel? Oh, wait, first let's talk about a Japanese infrastructure boon-doggle, then let's talk about "wasting" 190 billion yen, then bounce over to how things won't be "truly safe" until the reactor fuel can be moved, but "...first they have to find it..." But it is in the "ruins" of Unit-1. Whew.

In NLP they might just call this a "confusion pattern," which is used to set you up to "reframe" how you see things (hypnotize you in the sense that advertisements use changes in consciousness to sell you something, that is) but we aren't supposed to talk about such things out loud, so moving, on:
First, as AP reports, Japanese government auditors say the operator of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant has wasted more than a third of the 190 billion yen ($1.6 billion) in taxpayer money allocated for cleaning up the plant after it was destroyed by a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

A Board of Audit report describes various expensive machines and untested measures that ended in failure. It also says the cleanup work has been dominated by one group of Japanese utility, construction and electronics giants despite repeated calls for more transparency and greater access for international bidders.


Tokyo Electric Power Co. spokesman Teruaki Kobayashi said all of the equipment contributed to stabilizing the plant, even though some operated only briefly.
A reasonably straight-forward reporting of a recent audit, and it is followed by a list of items . The engineer in me cringes at the term "wasted" when I recall the chaos surrounding the situation in the days after the meltdown. They had a bad situation, they tried multiple techniques to address it. Many of those techniques failed. The engineers did their jobs. The auditors did their jobs.

And, as can often be the case in Japan, you'll notice no mention was made of the massive influence of the Yakuza (the 4th branch of the Japanese government) involvement in controlling jobs at Fukushima and siphoning off lot's of money and providing shoddy equipment in return.

No issues with the data, but what does it have to do with "missing" fuel? Oh wait, creating a negative setting, implying TEPCO is unreliable, tying negative traits to the story as a whole. Got it.

Then finally we get to the meat of the story:
So it is even more distressing that, as Science Journal reports, Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, destroyed 4 years ago in explosions and meltdowns triggered by an earthquake and tsunami, won't be truly safe until engineers can remove the reactors' nuclear fuel. But first, they have to find it...
 Okay. Cool. I love Science Journal. At least it is a credible source. Word choice is again loaded, but hey, it's Zero Hedge. This is followed by a quote describing how TEPCO is using a special detector to determine the location of the melted fuel (called "corium" in the trade). Is it all at the bottom of the pressure vessel? TEPCO and other analysts have been saying for some time that the fuel ate through the pressure vessel to some degree. How much melted through? If so, where is it?

These questions do begin to be answered. You can read it yourself, but the text isn't really inflammatory. Props to ZH for once.

Then of course, we get the patented ZH Zinger at the end:
But apart from that, it's totally safe for the looming Olympics... which will include the individual three-and-a-half-legged sprint...
 Sigh. Good old fashioned radiation humor. Never gets old.

Overall grade in terms of fear, uncertainty, and doubt - probably a B-. If "Tyler" hadn't tried the cute NLP trick at the beginning, I would have been impressed by the article as a whole (considering the source).

Then we have a guest post to look over:

The Best Place to Live in the United States? Here are Nine Maps to Consider.

This is a post from the End of the American Dream blog and leads off with:
If you could live anywhere in America during the tumultuous years ahead, where would it be?  This is a topic that is hotly debated, and the truth is that there is not a single right answer.  If you have a very strong family support system where you are, it might not be right to try to move 2000 miles away and start a new life from scratch.  And for many Americans, moving is out of the question in the short-term because they are completely and totally dependent on employment in their local areas.  But in recent years we have seen an increasing number of Americans strategically relocate to another region of the country.  They can see our society breaking down and they can see the storm clouds on the horizon and they want to do what they can to prepare themselves and their families for what is ahead.  So is there a “best place to live” in the United States?  Are there some areas that are preferable to others?  The following are 9 maps to consider…
 Hey. Cool. I like this kind of article as it can often contain useful nuggets of actionable information. I like maps. It even has a refreshing honesty about it with the "...there is not a single right answer..." Fast forward down to #7 on the list:
We have all seen what a single nuclear power plant disaster can do in Japan.  Well, in a future disaster scenario, we could potentially be facing multiple “Fukushimas” all at once here in the United States.  The map below shows where nuclear reactors are located throughout America.  You might want to think twice before moving in right next door to one.
It is short, sweet, and indicative of so much of the urban legends which pass for knowledge in the vast majority of the citizenry.

In what "future disaster scenario" would we be facing multiple Fukushimas?  Let's see, at Fukushima, all off-site power was lost due to the earthquake and the entire diesel generator back up system was wiped out by the tsunami due to a really, really bad decision to put the generators in the basement of a plant that sits next to the ocean.

That said, let's pretend we do have multiple Fukushimas. What has actually happened in terms of the release of radioactivity? How many people are projected to die from the radiation vs. the number dead from the earthquake?  I know we talked about it in the book but remember this - radiation isn't a magical killing spell from Voldemort or Sauron. Radiation is everywhere. Hell, if Grand Central Station at New York was a nuclear power plant, it would have to shut down due to the natural radiation release from the stones which were used to build it.

There is nothing specific here to criticize and that is the point. It is all vague and predicated on deep assumptions that radiation is always dangerous and that we should fear multiple Fukushima style accidents. This is where knowing the causes of the Fukushima meltdowns (along with the various other major nuclear accident's we've seen over the years) and understanding what gets released and what is dangerous threshold is so important.

If you do nothing else, in the future when you read articles on nuclear topics and radiation effects, always be asking questions. Think about the assumptions implicit in how the questions are written. Wonder about the sources used.

Don't let them blind you with FUD. You need to be one of the few with a clear head should the shit hit the fan in a nuclear way.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Fast Cars and Market Highs

Classic and Faster by CrazySnck
How about a short and more upbeat aspect of the current plateau of mood we find ourselves in:

The Dodge Hellcats are so hot, they got suspended

(Fox News, March 16, 2015) Apparently Hell has frozen over, because a car company has stopped selling its hottest cars.
Dodge is hitting the brakes on the “Hellcat” versions of the Challenger and Charger, suspending orders of the 707 hp muscle machines due to overwhelming demand. The two share the title of “most powerful American production car in history,” and boast top speeds of 199 mph and 204 mph, respectively.
The automaker was caught off guard by interest in the pair since they were released late last year, and has already received orders for twice as many as it planned to build for 2015. The shortage has led to 50 percent markups on the $60,000-plus by some dealers, while others have reportedly taken dozens of deposits on cars they could take years to deliver, leading Dodge to warn customers of what it called “unscrupulous” behavior.
Several years back, an analyst at the Socionomics Insitute, Mark Galasiewski, wrote a series of articles showing the tie-in between elevated social mood and fast cars.

Here at the summit of financial optimism, we have cars so fast and so popular the manufacturer is having to pull them from the market to get their manufacturing house in order. Hopefully for Chrysler, mood can hang on long enough to get another solid round of sales out of them before the inevitable occurs...

Monday, March 16, 2015

Banging on the War Drums All Day

War by Zulema Revilla, hosted at Society6.com

Not that we need yet another media or blogging outlet hell-bent on keeping your amygdalae locked into the "fear" setting day and night, but I do want to draw your attention to the ongoing school-yard shoving match in Ukraine between the U.S./NATO/EU coalition and Russia and the ethnic Russian militias in the Donbas. This is not meant to play into the Clown Show rhetoric being sprayed across every media platform each side's propaganda teams can access, but to ask you to parse through actions and words and see how close we might be to an actual clash between NATO forces and Russian troops, or whether this will remain a proxy war.

The Sounds of the Drums

Aside from the constant chatter about "Putin's Army" or "Putin's forces" and other simplistic narratives, let's see what we can find in the open media about what is happening on the ground over the last few weeks with both the forces aligned with the West (meaning here U.S./NATO/EU) and the forces aligned with Russia.

First, we have Sweden, which has a history of being "non-aligned" and doing a dance to keep both the Russians and NATO at bay, drawing closer to NATO, especially after recent incursions and near-incursions by Russian bombers and subs:

Swedish government says plans to boost defence spending
(Reuters) - The Swedish government will propose a 6.2 billion crown ($720 million) boost to defence spending over the next five years, its Defence Minister said on Thursday, citing increased instability in the region.

Peter Hultqvist said a worsening security situation, particularly Russian activity in and around the Baltic Sea, is forcing Sweden's armed forces to concentrate on the defence of its borders instead of international operations.

"We are making it very clear that we are shifting towards a focus of the national operations," he told a news conference.

The additional funds will be spent mainly on submarine operations and a permanent armed force on Gotland, a strategically important island in the Baltic, Hultqvist said.
Some take-aways: increase in war spending, re-establishing a military presence on a key Baltic Sea island, and in general, shifting more towards the NATO alliance.

As part of a trend by Russia to rattle the saber right under the noses of Western States, a month back we saw an incursion by Russian bombers near the UK.

RAF scrambles jets after Russian bombers spotted near Cornwall coast

(Guardian, Haroon Siddique, 19 February 2015) Anglo-Russian relations have taken another battering after the RAF escorted two Russian Bear bombers off the coast of Cornwall, as Moscow reacted angrily over a warning by Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, about the threat it may pose to Nato’s Baltic states.

RAF Typhoons were scrambled from their base in Coningsby, Lincolnshire, on Wednesday in response to the latest in a series of incursions by Russian warplanes. On Thursday David Cameron accused Moscow of trying to make a point, while the Kremlin furiously denounced Fallon’s warning that Vladimir Putin could repeat the tactics used to destabilise Ukraine in Baltic members of the Nato alliance.

During an event at Felixstowe, Suffolk, Cameron said: “I think what this demonstrates is that we do have the fast jets, the pilots, the systems in place to protect the United Kingdom. I suspect what’s happening here is that the Russians are trying to make some sort of a point and I don’t think we should dignify it with too much of a response."
Here is a more measured response by the Brits, past masters at Great Power saber-rattling, but another example of Russia not exactly going out of the way to de-escalate. As in the Cold War days, the big worry here is that one of these incursion missions will go too far and someone gets shot down, or a malfunction of some sort occurs, leading to a dogfight. What is more worrisome is that unlike the Cold War, there are no agreed-upon rules of behavior. A miscommunication could easily happen.

And then there has been yet another reference to the use of nuclear weapons by the Russians:

Putin says Russia was ready for nuclear confrontation over Crimea
(Reuters) - Moscow was ready to put its nuclear forces on alert to ensure Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last year, President Vladimir Putin said in a pre-recorded documentary aired on Sunday...

"...it wasn't immediately understandable (what the reaction would be to Crimea's annexation). Therefore, in the first stages, I had to orient our armed forces. Not just orient, but give direct orders," he said.

When asked if he had been ready to put Russia's nuclear forces on alert, he said: "We were ready to do it."
That last comment is telling, in my opinion (emphasis mine). One oddity about the article is the headline about the potential for Russia to put its nukes on alert, while the bulk of the story was about Russia helping get its guy out of Ukraine after the recent coup. It's like the editor knows nuclear war draws eyeballs and brings clicks to the story links, but thinks the important stuff is the Clown Show drama over the former Ukrainian president. Or maybe the author doesn't know, or isn't allowed to speculate about, what a nuclear forces alert means.

Back in January we looked at not just nuclear weapons and social mood, but also at how Russia has revised its stance on the use of nuclear weapons as a deterrent and the concept of "tailored damage" - basically the use of nuclear weapons on a small scale to (hopefully) prevent a wider war.

I think part of this continuing reference to nuclear weapons and its nuclear arsenal is a reflection, in part, of Russia's limited ability to handle a major ground war right now. It is interesting how much of how Russia is sending messages on the use of nuclear force here is like the U.S. and then NATO back in the late 1940's and through the 1950's. Western forces were absolutely outmanned and outgunned by the Red Army in Europe. This was part of the reason for NATO to push for the development of tactical nukes and to never make a "No First Use" promise for nuclear weapons. They felt too weak to ever make such a statement.

Russia is probably feeling similar today. She has substantial forces, but her options to project that force into Ukraine, and certainly into Europe are limited.

What Kind of War Would We See?

No one can know for sure just how out of hand a war might get, should we actually NATO-on-Russian fighting in Ukraine. Knowing we can't have perfect knowledge, let's turn to the Socionomic Model and see what it tells us about past conflicts.

War and Socionomic Patterns, the Socionomist, February 2012
This graph from 2012 gives you the basic model on war and mood. This model would tell us that if you assume a top in mood in 2000, the leg down through 2008-2009 as the (a) wave, and call the run-up since then as the rally, a major collapse in mood and markets could mean we are facing the potential for a major conflict.

If instead we regard the recent highs as the top, any decline that might follow would hopefully lead us to either a negotiated armistice or at least a regional conflict. That doesn't mean we might not see a nuclear weapon detonated - but hopefully it would be more of a "signal" or detonated to create "tailored damage" (blow up a remote base or maybe detonate very high in the atmosphere over a target - blasting out windows and scaring a lot of people, but creating a low death toll and relatively low damage).

I don't bring you answers here, but I do want you to think about this model. One way or the other, we are likely facing a major conflict, whether in the immediate future or within a decade or so. All I can say is, don't dwell on the fear, but do plan accordingly...

Friday, March 13, 2015

Garden 2015

Victory Garden Poster courtesy wikimedia
Spring is coming here in the Northern Hemisphere, so here is my yearly reminder: if you do nothing else as part of your efforts to prepare for the big changes roiling the world, plant a garden. Whether it is a small container garden on an apartment balcony, a few herbs in a small box by a window, or a victory garden which can provide you with fresh produce much of the year, learning and practicing the art and science of growing a garden will be increasingly important in the years to come.

This isn't about seeking maximum efficiency or always defaulting to low price or any other of the concepts which most regard as natural economic laws. This is about doing something productive for yourself, something which produces tangible value for you and your family, and which allows you to practice a skill which has nothing but upside should the world experience oil price shocks, transportation interruptions, labor unrest, or rolling bankruptcies - any of which might make good food hard to get.

Remember, food is freedom. If you are looking for high-quality old school gardening and truck farm tools, I highly recommend you check out Easy Digging and then get to planning that garden.

Monday, March 9, 2015

EU Army Madness


Madness is the Emergency Exit, Vincent Vernacatola, hosted at Society6.com
UPDATE 1 below.

We all know the dangers of appeasement. It is almost always best to face down an aggressor before the peril become too great to handle. But I want to also remind you to be wary of self-interested elites stampeding the populations they lord over into wars of choice in which they think they can profit and expand the reach of their power - assuming success, of course. And when those short, victorious little wars go awry, the knock-on effects can spin out of control.

So when I read this weekend that the mandarins of the EU have decided now is the time to float the idea of building an EU army, it set off all sorts of alarm bells:
A European Union army should be created to help defend the continent from Russian aggression, the European Commission president has suggested.
Jean-Claude Juncker said pooling the defence resources of the 28 EU nations could help send a message to Vladimir Putin that its borders would be protected.
In a strictly military sense, this proposal seems redundant, if not silly. NATO stands ready (hell, eager, if one were to take the statements of General Breedlove at face value) to throw troops and nuclear weapons at any major Russian incursion into the European heartland. Russia, while quite bellicose when it comes to dealing with the situation in Ukraine, hasn't exactly been a proponent of exporting revolution into Europe since the fall of the USSR. It makes one wonder what the real message is behind the Clown Show type rhetoric.

Then we get a glimmer of what may be the real reason behind the push from Herr Juncker, et al:
"Such an army would help us to build a common foreign and national security policy, and to collectively take on Europe's responsibilities in the world,” Mr Junker said.
Ah so. Never let a crisis go to waste, eh? With the chronic economic problems of the EU periphery states not going away anytime soon, the rise of UKIP in the UK, and ongoing disenchantment with the EU project in France, perhaps the elites who pull the strings within the EU bureaucracy have decided now is the time to double-down and push forward with the next logical phase of the EU project - a common army.

Or maybe he thinks an EU-run army would be just as efficient at generating military successes as it has been at creating a economic success across the EU zone...

That said, never forget that Russia has formalized a much more itchy trigger finger than they've expressed in the past when it comes to nuclear weapons. This may matter because of the language used in a response to this EU Army idea by first deputy chairman of the United Russia faction in the State Duma, Frants Klintsevich:
"In the nuclear age extra armies do not provide any additional security. But they surely can play a provocative role," Klintsevich said, adding it was regrettable that such ideas had already met with some support.
For those of you scoring at home, it is my opinion that government officials do not just loosely throw out the word "nuclear" when discussing a contentious topic.

Keep both eyes open. Always be looking for the story behind the story. These EU jokers may think they have the "perfect" crisis with which to move their EU project forward. Let's hope they don't light off a general war in the process.

UPDATE 1 9 March 2015

Not that we need any more tension in Eurasia or anything that might increase the potential for a miscommunication in matters related to nuclear weapons, but FYI that in the past month, Russia has lost the last of its early-warning satellite coverage. While the Russians (and Soviets before them) never relied as heavily on satellite early warning as the U.S. and NATO, it is just one more brick in the wall of unintentional escalation or worse, launch.

Friday, March 6, 2015

A Chill Wind from the North, Redux

TAPS Low Flow Study, Slide 5

Back in 2011, I wrote a blog post entitled A Chill Wind from the North. It discussed the ability of the Alyeska Pipeline to continue to transport oil from the North Slope of Alaska to Prince William Sound as throughput dropped in the pipeline. This is occurring as the North Slope continues its inexorable decline down the depletion path. The post was based on a study which indicated the pipeline would need to keep the flow at 300,000 barrels of crude per day in order to maintain operation. In order to operate below that threshold, the study authors suggested that significant mitigation steps would need to be taken.

Last week on a flight to DFW, I sat next to a young Alaskan man who happens to be in Engineering Management. We got to talking and this topic came up in conversation. He indicated this continues to be a topic of study and attention up in Alaska. I decided to take that as a sign I should revisit the issue and see what things look like four years later.

In the original post, I ended with a rather dire assessment that output could make a step-change drop once the pipeline reached a failure point and that the assumption we'd continue to see a gradual decline in output might be flawed.

A more gradual decline was argued as more probable by various environmental groups interested in keeping ANWAR rig-free as well as evaluations commissioned by the Alaskan Department of Revenue. The scenarios are not mutually exclusive as the gradual decline scenario (where pipeline failure would occur closer to 100,000 bbl/day) assumes significant investment in the infrastructure.

The Story in 2015

Here is a snapshot of the average daily throughput for the Alyeska Pipeline through 2014.

Data from TAPS Pipeline Operations
The actual performance has been reasonably in line with the TAPS assumption of 6% depletion. The pigs have been modified to increase the efficiency of keeping the wax buildup down and heat is being added to the system after modifications to the active pump stations and the re-commissioning of a previously closed pump station.

Some of the investment in the infrastructure required to keep crude flowing in the pipeline below 300,000 barrels per day is being put in place. What remains to be seen is will there be enough money available to keep investing should oil prices stay low due to a prolonged downturn in the economy.

Thoughts

This brief note is meant to keep you thinking about infrastructure. There is so much infrastructure in the U.S. and the other Western nations which was built out in a heyday of cheap energy and booming economies. This infrastructure plays a huge role in how and/or if we can continue to power our financialized economy and continue our existing methods of resource extraction indefinitely and when societies will be forced to make very hard choices on how to deploy scarce resources.

Whether the Alyeska pipeline can continue to operate theoretically for decades to come, remember that this continued operation, like so much else in the modern energy extraction business, requires far more inputs in terms of money and equipment to maintain a declining and poorer quality flow of hydrocarbons.


Socionomics Podcasting


Heads up for those of you who enjoy playing with the Socionomics model. Robert Folsom with EWI has a new podcast series.

Pop Trends, Price Culture is the podcast about the intersection of psychology and markets. You can download or listen online (it’s free). Robert Folsom presents real people and real stories as they meet in the crossroads of mood and markets. Caution: As Robert’s disclaimer puts it, “This podcast contains strong opinions and strong language.”

Check it out here.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Nuclear Strike of the Month (March 2015): Target Houston Ship Channel


NUKEMAP Simulation of 15kT Ground Burst in the Houston Ship Channel
Note on the Nuclear Strike of the Month Series: In this series I want to illustrate various ways attacks using nuclear weapons can play out.  I will be using Dr. Alex Wellerstein's online NUKEMAP tool to generate the estimates of the blast and follow-on effects.

My rationale is to show a wide range of nuclear attack scenarios short of all-out thermonuclear war. The idea is to give readers a feel for the destructive power of nuclear weapons, provide scenarios as thought experiments for your own planning, and to discuss what nuclear weapons can and (sometimes more importantly) what nuclear weapons can't do.

For a variety of reasons, it is my opinion we will see nuclear weapons used in warfare sometime between now and 2030. We might as well brush up on the basics. 


Nuclear Strike of the Month: Houston Ship Channel

The Nuclear Strike of the Month for March 2015 takes us to sunny Houston, Texas. We will red team a nuclear strike by a terrorist group (or by a nation-state wanting the U.S. to think it was attacked by a a terrorist group) using a weapon similar in yield to that which struck Hiroshima.

The Scenario
In the days and weeks preceding the attack on Houston the news was more of the "new normal" in the United States. Official unemployment remained close to 8%, but even the major media outlets were channeling their inner Zero Hedge and bringing on guests who openly mocked the figures as being extremely divorced from reality.

The Big Dip of 2015 seemed to have settled out. Markets appeared to have finally found a floor a bit south of Dow 10,000. The Congressional fight over TARP 2.0 continued to be in the headlines. It looked like the banks would get it passed, but with much tighter margins than Version 1.0 in 2008. If nothing else, watching Tea Party Republicans and far-left Democrats standing shoulder to shoulder in denouncing the bill provided fantastic political theater, even if in the end, their angry pronouncements against the bailout were in utter vain. The rolling bank failures which had kicked off with the Greek bond default and the failure of two mid-major trading houses seemed to be settling out as well.

The employed went about their business hoping they could ride things out as in 2008, but more and more families were being sheared off from the formal economy. In Houston, the whip-sawing of energy prices between $35 and $85 kept anyone from becoming too relaxed. With crude oil hovering at $60 a barrel for the last month or so, most could talk themselves into believing another run-up past $100 was in the cards. Especially with the gains the Islamic State was making in Saudi Arabia.

The fashionistas at the New York Fashion Week had made it clear hemlines were dropping. Death Metal was actively competing with the angry anti-cop themes of Heavy Hip-Hop and moody folk reboots for dollars and downloads.

In other words, as far as most of the residents of Houston, Texas were concerned, the world was ticking along more or less as it had been since 2003, just with worse music.

Radiation, Fireball, and Blast Effects Overlaid on a Satellite Map
The Attack
The container ship slowly making its way up the channel towards Buffalo Bayou looked like any of the thousands of other ships hauling intermodal containers which paid call in Houston every year. On that hot afternoon in Texas, not one of the drivers on I-10 or the workers at the big ExxonMobil Baytown facility or the tourists at the Battleship Texas knew what lurked in a slightly rusty standard container loaded in the heart of the ship.

Investigators later determined the nuclear warhead had an effective yield of 15 kilotons. Their reconstruction seemed to indicate the warhead had been encased in a large tank and surrounded by soft plastic forms. The assumption is the detonator was linked to a wireless repeater and probably linked to instructions sent by a basic web bot linked to either a time stamp or activated manually. The investigators suspected something had not gone as planned since the ship was far enough into the channel that direct blast damage to the ExxonMobil facility was minimal, but this was conjecture.

Looking out from the observation deck of the San Jacinto Monument, the last thing a construction worker from Killeen ever saw was what looked like lightning crackling up from a ship in the channel. Then his retinas burned out. Before he could register the pain, the blast sent him hurtling to the ground, his body bathed in gamma rays and fast neutrons.

It was a ground burst on a river. The mushroom cloud looked bottom-heavy as shown from the pictures and video shot from witnesses in the towers of downtown Houston. The mix of steam, vaporized metal, ejected riverbed, smoke, and ash rose and drifted northeast.  The explosion rattled windows for miles and set off car alarms across the city, but direct damage from the blast was relatively limited.

Interstate 10 turned into a demolition derby as tractor trailer rigs and pickup trucks were blown from the road or their drivers left holding the wheel at over sixty miles per hour, flash-blinded.

The blast wiped out the Lynchburg Ferry, reduced the obelisk of the San Jacinto Monument to a cracked stub half its original size, and did what no Imperial German, Nazi, or, Japanese warship had ever managed to do, and sent the Battleship Texas to the bottom of the channel, leaving it keeled over, its mast and two of its big guns above the water, like a few fingers of drowned man, locked in rigor mortis.

The Aftermath
One of the reasons the death toll remained relatively low was the blast and path of the fallout left the major hospitals and fire stations mostly unscathed. The EMTs, firefighters, and emergency room doctors and nurses had thousands of hours of experience in handling refinery fires, explosions, and trauma response.

Close by at Texas A&M, Texas Task Force One was activated and on the scene within a few hours, bringing hundreds of trained Urban Search and Rescue personnel to the scene, plotting radiation fields, establishing decontamination areas, and coordinating with local firefighters and law enforcement to get as much understood and in-hand before every federal agency with an acronym descended upon Houston.

The fallout was intense and sickened thousands, killing hundreds. One of the worst parts though was the mix of vaporized salt water and radioactive particles. It stuck like glue to rooftops, roads, automobiles and any other exposed surface, leaving a residue of radioactivity which was incredibly difficult to clean. The Lynchburg canal became a key drainage point for the fallout, and eventually tanker ships, left idle by the recession which accompanied the Big Dip in stock prices around the world, served as floating wastewater repositories.

The nuclear forensics work conducted by experts from the U.S. Department of Energy was slow in getting off the ground. Whatever remnants of the warhead left behind after the blast were under the waters of the Houston Ship Channel, in a twisted mass of radioactive metal and river mud. But nuclear forensics doesn't require much material and the PhDs at DOE could be pretty clever when spurred to action by something more important than dodging budget cuts to their research projects. And when the results matched up extraordinarily well with samples of enriched uranium spirited out of Fordow, Iran a few years earlier, a series of hard choices filtered up to the Oval Office. Either Iran had been framed, or the Revolutionary Guards had overplayed their hand in dramatic fashion. Either option meant a drastic response was coming. Who would be on the receiving end remained to be seen...

Thoughts and Plans
This blast is on the high end of what is typically expected from a terrorist nuke. A few of the things I'd like you to take away from this nuclear blast include:

  • Ground bursts generate significant fallout. Look over the radiation fields generated by the fallout from this hypothetical attack and think over scenarios. In this case, you have a mall on the fringes of the fallout path (think of all those contaminated cars) and a high school under a 10 R/hour field. Would the administrators be able to keep everyone in doors, at least until first responders could arrange either an evacuation, or to keep them supplied in place for a day or two until the radiation levels were down enough to allow a quick evacuation?
  • Zoom out. This is a 15 kT explosion, on par with Hiroshima. Is the result as big as you expected?
  • What sort of knock-on effects from an attack like this could you expect? How much shipping traffic goes through the Houston Ship Channel each year? What sorts of petrochemicals leave the area? What would have to be abandoned temporarily? How do you evaluate and repair a shipping channel after a nuclear explosion?
  • How would you respond to such an event? Does your ready kit have the kinds of tools or equipment to monitor radiation fields?

Clown Show Disclaimer

Due to the subject matter of this post, it will be necessary to provide the following disclaimer. Blog posts like this tend to bring out comment trolls ready to gin up the Clown Show of name-calling, knee-jerk willful misinterpretation, and angry discourse generating much sound and fury, but which in the end, signifies nothing. Such comments will be deleted. 

I am not promoting nuclear war. I am not attempting to wish such an attack upon any population anywhere.  I am attempting to provide a plausible scenario which might lead to the use of nuclear weapons. My expectation is that you will use this scenario to war game whatever plans you may be putting into place to deal with this new era we find ourselves in and see if you are as ready as you hope.