Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Turkey and Syria

For those who haven't been paying attention, Syria shot down a Turkish RF-4E Phantom the other day. The RF-4E is a two-seat fighter that has been converted to be an unarmed photo-recon plane, used for basically taking pictures of enemy positions and whatnot. While overflights of Syrian territory and reconnaissance has probably been happening for some time, this is the first time that Syria took action, or was able to take action against Turkey's reconaissance efforts.

While I don't know what Turkey's policy with regard to keeping an eye on the Syrians has been to this point, I would guess that they have been proactive, relying both on satellite survillence from other NATO members, as well as ground, air, and electronic surveillance. Turkey shares a lengthy border with Syria, so the events occurring there are going to be of concern to them. If nothing else, the possibility of waves of refugees spilling over into Turkey from a potential all-out civil war would create a serious headache for the Turkish government.

There is also the ongoing Kurdish question. Occupying parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, the Kurdish people have a strong nationalist streak and feel that they deserve a specific Kurdish homeland. While Iraq has granted a semi-autonomous region to the Kurds, the other three nations still essentially do not recognize a separate Kurdish identity. Turkey, in particular, has been involved with an ongoing low-intensity conflict with ethnic Kurds that doesn't show signs of abating. A collapse of the Syrian government could lead to the Syrian Kurdish minority essentially declaring regional autonomy and potentially giving support to the Kurds in Turkey, which would be an unacceptable situation to the Turkish government.

Last, Turkey is a member of NATO, and NATO has been gradually more involved in the various events related to the "Arab Spring." There have probably been behind-the-scenes talks about using Turkey as a staging area for intervention in Syria if it is decided that armed intervention is necessary and in the interests of NATO. Recon flights and other reconaissance would certainly be a prelude to that.

On paper, and in reality, military intervention in Syria by Turkey would probably be a fairly one-sided affair if it happened. Syrian's military basically a time capsule of dating to the fall of the Soviet Union, while Turkey has continually upgraded their armed forces. In addition, Turkey constantly participates in exercises with other NATO members and has experience deploying for various peacekeeping exercises and in support of other interventions. There would likely be air support from NATO nations, as well. Given that Syria is already politically divided, and the military probably is loyal to Assad for the reason of patronage (similar to Libya), there would probably be less chance of a long-term insurgency developing like with Iraq.

However, the long-term and larger effects of an intervention in Syria aren't clear. Russia has warned NATO about intervention in Syria, considering it to still be in their sphere of influence. While opinions vary on Russian willingness to respond to an intervention in Syria, or what the true Russian ability to do so is, Russia still maintains roughly a corps-sized airborne force, as well as an an air force potentially capable of projecting power into Syria, or striking targets in Turkey. Whether or not Russia would intervene in this case is an open question, but consider that Russian recently renewed arms contracts worth several billion with Syria, maintains strong ties with Syria, and is upgrading a port for Russian naval use. Remember that no one really thought that the Chinese would intervene in Korea as UN forces approached the Chinese border.

At a minimum, it could be reasonably expected that even a limited war in Syria would destabilize an already-shaky world market. Spillover into a broader conflict would probably reverse whatever progress toward a "recovery" has been made over the last few years and send Europe into a crisis. Quite a lot of trade flows through the region, including through the Suez Canal (only a few hundred miles south of Syria). While memories of the "Yellow Fleet," for example, have faded, shipping and insurance companies have been feeling financial pressure due to piracy and may decide to avoid an increasingly unstable region, between Egypt, Syria, and Libya.

While Turkey intervening in Syria isn't likely, and the outcome of an intervention, if it happened, is open to question, the point still lingers that we can't readily predict what the long-term effects will be. Things can get out of hand very easily, or there may be long-lasting effects and emergent properties that no one accounted for before things got rolling. We can only watch and wait and see if this is a flash in the pan or another crack in the wall of modern industrial civilization.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Rifleman

People who have read this blog over the last couple of years know that I don't spend a lot of time talking about one of the more popular collapse-related topics -- firearms and self-defense. This is not because I don't believe that there is a need for or right to self-defense, and not because I don't see a utility use for firearms, but I because I think that access to and use of firearms is going to be less common in a post-collapse world than people expect it to be. People sometimes seem to hoard weapons like there actually will be some sort of zombie apocalypse, or they will be the first line of defense against an invading foreign army, or... This costs a lot of money at times, makes a nice attractive target for thieves, may cause you to run into legal trouble, and generally misses the point of global collapse. A new Dark Age isn't going to be resolved in a generation or so, and ammo on average only lasts 40-50 years before primer and powders begin to go bad.

On the other hand, there are situations where firearms will likely be useful and handy items, potentially even lifesavers. The ubiquitous 9mm pistol is probably the ideal sidearm, in whatever brand you pick. There are a lot of options for rifles as well, from old-style lever actions to $3000+ M-14 clones. Plenty has also been written about the AR-15 family, and it is well-represented in the "prepper" circles. However, modern semi-auto rifles are complex items with plenty of moving parts. While they are relatively reliable, there is still the issue of either stocking plenty of spare parts, or potentially having to improvise a fix. They can be more finicky about ammunition (steel cases don't always extract right in AR-15s, and bullet weight can affect functioning in other rifles). Also, they are not legal in some places, and may raise eyebrows in others. Lever-action rifles are generally restricted in available calibers, and while some people advocate them because you can have a pistol that fires the same cartridge as a rifle, this tends to limit the functionality of the rifle (i.e. nothing bigger than a .44 Magnum) and mean that a person is likely going to be forced into using a revolver as the matching pistol (.357 or .44 generally).

Bolt-action hunting rifles are another option. They are readily available, usually don't suffer from legal restrictions, are relatively inexpensive (I think a Ruger M77, for example, sells for around $650 or so, and used hunting rifles of all types can be found for much less than retail, with only a little use), have simple mechanicals, come in a wide variety of calibers, and can use various types of bullets without problem. There are some drawbacks to bolt-action hunting rifles, however. They are generally designed to exclusively be used with scopes, which means that most of them don't come with iron sights (for shooting without a scope). Scopes are also mounted in a "short eye relief" position, and are usually higher magnification (3 to 9 power, at least), meaning the shooter will have a limited field of vision through the scope at closer rangers, and will also have a shooting posture that isn't as "natural" as using a rifle without a scope would often.

To address these problems, some years ago Jeff Cooper defined a concept called the "Scout Rifle," which was meant to basically be the most practical all-around rifle, capable of both self-defense and hunting, able to bring down game at a decent range, a good caliber, light, and able to withstand various weather conditions. In other words, if you had to spend some time in the bush, the rifle which would be able to do whatever you wanted it to, and not make an unpleasant companion, due to size or weight. Commonly chambered for .308 Winchester, it has become a "niche" rifle for people looking for the most practical all-around longarm.

It's these same qualities which make it an ideal type of rifle for people concerned with post-collapse needs. People may object to having a rifle with a limited rate of fire for defense, but a bolt action can be worked relatively quickly, and I would also ask exactly what people seem themselves doing once the stores close and gas dries up. Are they trying to get by on a daily basis or are they looking for trouble they don't need to find?

As for the rifle itself, "Scout Rifle" is a generic term, but various examples have been put into production by several companies, or a person can take an existing bolt-action rifle and modify it to this type of configuration. The exact criteria is: 6.6 pounds or less, 36 inches or less in length, forward-mounted low-power telescopic sight, "ghost ring" iron sights in case the scope is damaged, "Ching Sling" (fast adjustment sling), .308 Win/7mm-08 Rem/.243 Win caliber, and able to hold a two-inch group at 100 yards. Steyr, Ruger, and Savage make rifles that meet this criteria, in a wide range of prices. It is also possible for a person to assemble a Scout Rifle using an off-the-shelf rifle in a suitable caliber and modifying it. For those on a budget, a possible conversion would be taking a Mosin-Nagant carbine as the base rifle, or an SMLE "Carbine."

Of course, the rifle is only half the equation. The person pulling the trigger is just as important. Proper instruction on operation and safety, as well as time at the range to learn how to shoot, is vital. Rifles may be easier to shoot than pistols, but people who go to the range once a year to "sight it in" with a handful of rounds, and do nothing else, aren't doing themselves any favors.

While some people are not comfortable with firearms, they do serve a legitimate purpose and need at times. Even if not necessary for self-defense or hunting, livestock protection is a valid use. Realistically, most people are probably not going to need a battery of military-grade semi-auto rifles with night vision and hundred round drum magazines. If you want that, tt's fine, but I would guess it would be money that could be going to something else. On the other hand, a good working rifle, designed to be a jack-of-all-trades, might be far more useful in daily life and be there "when you need it."

Monday, June 18, 2012

Drachma Drama

Summer has always been the slow news time, as everyone vacates the various capitols and boardrooms, and heads for the Hamptons or the Riviera for a little R&R. Unfortunately, the global financial overreach (driven on by MBAs and financial hustlers who liked to talk about the "velocity of money," while pursuing One More Deal like it was the Great White Whale) isn't taking a vacation, and its unsavory cousin, Peak Oil, is threatening to show up on the doorstep at any day.

The idea of elections is a curious thing. Each person casts a vote for who and what they want to be ruled by. Often, it's a little like children being given a choice between brussel sprouts or cooked cabbage for dinner. Neither is all that appetizing, but the crucial point that is missed is that the child has their own mind, and would prefer ice cream over either vegetable. In their mind, if they're being given the authority to make a choice, they should also be given the authority to determine what choices they can make.

Likewise with voting. Greece was grappling with the ideas of voting, democracy, and civics in an age when most of the rest of Europe had yet to form any kind of national identity. These are not people who are giddy with the idea of electoral participation, but inevitably see it as either an obstacle or vehicle to where their vision of society needs to be, depending on which side of the vote they're on. People tend to forget that if fifty-one percent of the people vote a certain way on an issue, forty-nine percent are voting the other way and are not going to be happy about "losing." (witness the hard feelings over the 2000 American election for president, which is still brought up now and then by Democrats)

The forty-nine percent isn't going to go away in Greece any time soon. While it's all but gone from American memories, Greece was the scene of a nasty civil war between the left and the right in the wake of World War 2. Given that the hard left was busy reasserting itself during the electoral process, it's not all that hard to imagine that they're not going to quietly fade back into the woodwork, given that their recent rise was due in part to what was seen as unfavorable conditions being placed on Greece in the first place.

In truth, reading over the various post-election reports seems almost like talking to a person who has decided against divorce "for the sake of the children," or some other abstract reason. The antagonism is still there, Greeks are not happy, and it's going to be a matter of time before things get shaken up again and divorcing the rest of Europe begins to once more look like a good move. The only difference is that the next time around, the discussion probably isn't going to be as civilized, since the opinion of Europe is going to be that Greece has tacitly agreed to maintaining its position as part of Europe and will be expected to fulfill that agreement.

The elections still really don't address the looming problem, however, of financial overshoot by most governments. We seem to be moving from the idea that a government is sound if it takes in more than it spends to the idea that a government is sound if it can find someone to let it run up a tab. In America, the discussion is no longer about "reducing the debt," but "reducing the deficit," as if running up only 1.1 trillion a year of new debt is somehow vastly better than running up 1.3 trillion a year. There is only so much wealth to go around in the world, so much land to be developed and resources to be exploited.

At the end of the day, there's all kinds of financial structures which have been built up on the idea of unlimited growth, and a whole percentage of the population that has been carried forth on that idea, and now the limits are being felt. The decision to have Greece stay in the Eurozone is occurring in the context of a new global recession which is being darkly hinted at, but people are not noticing yet, still surrounded by their gadgets and illusions. Having Greece remain in Europe with another downturn may eventually become a moot point when another wave of financial disaster hits, like what housing did in 2008. What's next? Global currencies themselves? They may be pegged to each other for the most part, but if people quit accepting them in favor of hard goods, for example, then all bets are off.

Greece still seems to end up being a microcosm of what most people still seem to be thinking these days all over the globe. Keep the party going a little longer, keep pretending that there's even a party going on. The problem is that the food and booze ran out a long time ago and all people are left with now is a stomach full of greasy food and a pounding headache. The prospect of waking up to a newer, uglier day still has yet to cross their minds.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Hearth and Home

The Euro panic keeps going and going. If the end of the EU was a disaster flick, it would be shown as a multi-year series, maybe studded with the usual standby roster of not-quite A-listers, all desperate to keep their face on the screen, hoping for a mid-career boost back to Cannes. It would definitely not be a two-hour feature film, a back-room, caviar-laced version of Armageddon, featuring Bruce Willis managing the global financial crisis with a steely eye, while an Aerosmith ballad played in the background.

This is how collapse seems to go, a long, slow event, better imagined as the Galaxy of Unrestrained Hope and Cornucopian Optimism, colliding with the galaxy of Physical and Financial Reality, all while accompanied by a Strauss waltz. We know what the outcome is, where we're going at the end of it, but become self-improsed refuseniks, not wanting to leave the land of Plenty for the land of Adjustment. Adjustment itself is a nuanced word and implies a lot of things, most of them not so good. It is a word of acceptance, when reality runs over our dreams, and we reassemble the pieces into something that we make ourselves live with, even though it's a long way from Optimum.

This is where we are at the beginnings of the new Dark Age. This paradigm is well-played out in the situation of the twenty-five or so percent of the population that is unable to find work that matches their skills and expectation. Maybe colleges would be better off offering the "Bachelor of Barsita-ing" instead of Film, Philosophy, and all the other things a society in decline has little need of. That doesn't address the auto and factory workers who spent half their adult life at positions which are no more likely to return than a helium balloon released by accident in a moment of overexuberant play.

Reality is slowing pushing us into making different choices and thinking in new ways. One place it still doesn't seem to have caught up is with the "prepping" movement. The notion seems to exist that everything will turn bad for a couple of years, then return to normal, and all that is needed is to have a basement full of MREs and a few guns to shoot the horde of starving people that show up to claim them. The fact is that 2001 was an "overshoot" and a warning sign that we were pushing against the limits of growth. 2008 was when the rubber band snapped and it became clear that the lights were starting to go out, for good.

How do people find their way back from a collapse, when there's nothing to find their way back to, anyway? We grow up with the expectation of always being able to run to the store to pick up something for dinner. At some point, the Wal-Mart is going to become "Home to Pigeons and Rats Mart." I've done a little urban exploration, traversing buildings that have outlived their usefulness. I think it's a good illustration for where we'll be at, after a few more years of the present upheavals. For anyone who thinks this isn't where we're headed, take a look around. How many business do you see that have closed up, or are on the verge? How many buildings stand empty now?

Prepping is, in some ways, an optimistic activity assumes we can find our way back at some point. Realism assumes that the door is closed behind us, for good. It's not enough to think anymore in terms of "a rainy day," but we need to think in terms now of a new era of human life. What happens when the palette of ramen noodles in our suburban McMansion runs out, and we have 1/4 acre of land to try farming on? Prepping can't be a matter of trying to replicate or maintain our present life, but needs to shift to the idea of trying to function in a time and place when the old ways of doing things are gone and the new ways are the same as the old old ways.

Medicine, food, transportation, entertainment, social interaction and organization, these are all things which are going to shift from the high-energy input, semi-anonymous methods of existence, and become slower, more effort-filled, and more personalized. Are we prepared for these shifts? Does the average office worker have any idea what a full day labor in the fields feels like? Or does the average modern suburbanite have any notion of what it's like to live in a house during winter that's only marginally warmer than being outside? Or when the idea of a big trip becomes walking a town or two over to catch an open-air play?

We probably don't like the idea of these kinds of adjustments, not having asked for it or considered it, but things are forced on us sometimes, like it or not. We've all benefitted from 180 or so years of massive expansion of human luxury, but never asked when, where, and how it would end. Now, like how the idea of pan-European culture died with a pair of gunshots in the Balkans, triggering the First World War, the collapse of a single nation in the Balkans is going to destroy the idea of globalism, and with it all the things built on top of it. The wise response now is to recognize reality and align our lives with what the future holds, not what the past brought.