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Some notes on world building

Last Sunday I gave a brief talk discussing world-building in SF/F at the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

I've been quiet since then because of a combination of work and a stomach bug. Meanwhile, here's the outline for my talk. (Yes, it's fully collapsible/expandable.)

257 Comments

1:

Feel better!

2:

Thanks for that - it's pretty concentrated, but gives a lot to think about.

Parenthetically, I do wonder how much the "small farming planet" cliché is a result of mapping from US states to whole worlds. When a state can be 'the Dairy State', or when cattle are herded all the way to Chicago abattoirs rather than be slaughtered closer to their origin (when did that stop, anyway?), I can see how the cliché might arise.

3:

Thanks for this one, Charlie.

Any chance the talk itself was filmed and could perhaps uploaded to the tube of you?

Furthermore, how much (if any) of this could be transferable to other genres?

There's an Ian Rankin novel, one of his Rebus series, in which the said gumshoe pays a visit by helicopter to a North Sea oil rig.

The way that rig is introduced and described by Rankin was very much in the spirit of how "Big Dumb Objects" are described in science-fiction. Which is what makes me think that perhaps some (or all?) of your points and tips in that set of notes might be valid for genres other than sci-fi.

4:

I second this question; as I've not had the opportunity to meet you face to face, I'd love to see your delivery of this subject.

. . . Karl Marx (well-known MacLeodist): :) LOL (well, chuckling, anyway)

5:

Interesting. As you know, the historically most important use was that building worlds allows you to say things that would otherwise lead you to a short, sticky end. This went into abeyance, but my reading of the tea-leaves is that it may be returning, even in WEIRD societies.

6:

when cattle are herded all the way to Chicago abattoirs rather than be slaughtered closer to their origin (when did that stop, anyway?)

When cheap/efficient refrigerated warehouses and boxcars came in, I suspect?

7:

Nope, it wasn't recorded.

Transfer to other genres -- yes, up to a point, but it depends what those genres are for. If SF is about inducing a sense of alienation to force the reader to decode the puzzle of the narrative world, horror is about inducing an entirely different emotional response: ditto romance. Crime isn't about decoding the puzzle of the world so much as it's about decoding what broke the world -- an injustice (typically rape/murder) -- and setting the world to rights. While "men's adventure"/thrillers can possibly use some of the SF/F world-building but is principally about emotional response, again: excitement.

8:

One of the things seemingly missing from that outline is the importance of feedback loops. If there's no negative feedback loop making society stable, then it wouldn't be there, or would be in a state of unstable transition. Your typical feudal lord persists for a reason, not just because he's a nice plot device.

Oh and why is it always seemingly an arable world in stories? Where are the single industry mining worlds digging for gems? Sure there's "Crystal Singer" of McCaffrey, but there's probably an affinity in there somewhere for farms, wide open spaces and isolation as @2 says.

Maybe there should be a single product planet that produces nothing but films?

Planet Hollywood ....

9:

It seems to me that Star Trek had a few of both of those. There was the mining colony in the Horta episode, for example, and the recreational planets that appeared in TOS and TNG, though they were more like Augmented Reality games than movies.

Star Wars had the cloud mining facility in Empire Strikes Back, of course.

10:

Great stuff.

Some aspects of the human condition are changeable: voluntary control over fertility leads to changes in family size, for example, which has huge impact on storytelling (how many siblings does your protagonist have?).

Now there's an interesting idea there. If human beings have the power to control their fertility from the beginning, do we ever get beyond being hunter-gatherers? If we do become farmers and form cities and civilizations, how does that affect birth rates? Having more children in an agrarian society is very much a mixed blessing - you get more farm hands and more people who can take care of you in your old age, but you're also more likely to subdivide your land and make your children poorer (or do primogeniture and create a bunch of people with no means of supporting themselves unless the eldest sibling is generous).

@Ian S

If there's no negative feedback loop making society stable, then it wouldn't be there, or would be in a state of unstable transition.

That kind of "churn" feels real to me. Societies in the past usually were in a state of constant transition (even if it was slow by modern standards). I also remember reading one of those Oxford or Cambridge books on the eastern Roman Empire and wondering how they ever got anything done - it seemed like Emperors were just perpetually dealing with coup attempts and rebellions.

11:

When cheap/efficient refrigerated warehouses and boxcars came in, I suspect?

It was before that. It happened due to a large enough population to support the infrastructure to slaughter ans ship on a large scale. Before refrigeration you needed rail and a place to store winter ice to make it work. Small operators need not apply.

Refrigeration actually removed some of the need for Chicago as you didn't need the facilities to store winter ice. But by then Chicago was already in place with all the other larger operations.

12:

Now there's an interesting idea there. If human beings have the power to control their fertility from the beginning, do we ever get beyond being hunter-gatherers?

That will depend a lot on the child mortality rates... we only get WEIRD when those are low as well.

13:

That's a problem with steampunk and all the other punks. They tend to be based on taking a transitional period and imagining it being much more stable than it ever was. In fact, maybe that's part of the joy of reading about an invented world: they're almost always unusually stable in some way. We are learning about a world, which is the frame, and all events in it are on the painting, within the frame. The history of a made world might include a great deal of change, empires rising and falling, but all these events were human-scle and political struggles, not the mere inevitable march of technological (broadly interpreted, including the evolution of useful ideas) progress. Reality is the other way around, the frame is an ever progressing history, and settings--worlds to learn--are transient objects within the frame. What makes us unhappy about our own world is that we CANNOT learn it because it is changing so fast.


14:

It's worth pointing out we don't only get WEIRD with low fertility and low child mortality. China for quite a long time and some states in India for a decade or two have had both (some states in India definitely don't have either though).

In India it's questionable whether W applies, E does, I may, R does for local values but not global ones in the relevant states, D does.

For China, W really doesn't, E and I do (although lots of China is still rural it's an industrialised culture) R does really to the culture and D really doesn't despite the trappings of it.

So E and probably R of WEIRD have to apply, the rest really don't.

15:

Thinking about it, and the cattle drives, I think it had to do with more and more rail lines getting closer to where the cattle were raised.

Consider: a cattle drive of hundreds of miles a) requires unfenced lands (viz, the traditional cattleman vs. farmer issues), and there has to be enough feed for them, and they're probably going to lose weight (yeah, sure, more muscle), because they have to keep moving, and don't spend the time to eat.

So, as railroads expanded, it was drive 'em to the railhead, and load them into stock cars. Then, Chicago, which was, and still is, a massive railroad hub, made economic sense. I think reefers (refrigerator cars) came in, as well - ice & sawdust, which would keep the contents cold longer than you think, and re-ice stops, meant you could ship more meat, and less waste, around the country (that is, heavily to the heavily-populated east of the US).

mark "also a train fan, steam, please...."

16:

Didn't Marx have Napoleon III in mind with his crack about farcical history.

17:

Kim Stanley Robinson gave an impassioned defence of the infodump as art in his GoH speech at a Worldcon some years ago. Which he would, I suppose.

18:

That's a problem with steampunk and all .....
As "the doctor" once said at a con ...
After the failed Marian invasion, the British Empire would OF COURSE have appropriated the Martian technology they had acquired, of course they would ... over a model of a Marl IV "Gladstone" War-Machine IIRC.
Now there's a whole series of novels, straight off ....

19:

India is in danger of disintegrating due to deliberately fixed ( Infanticide ) skewed-sex-ratios buggering u p their society.
Apart from anything else ....

20:

Yes.
Napoleon le petit

21:

Considering in which direction the sex ratio is skewed, your choice of verb has multiple meanings

22:

In my COPIOUS SPARE TIME there is a steampunk novel I need to write, in which "The War of the Worlds" is the back story. Four years later, the plagues the Martians bought along (Red Weed, if nothing else) have caused something of a human die-off, but the survivors are building their own mecha war machines, have blood in their eyes, and are planning to invade and conquer Mars. Meanwhile something utterly unlike world war one has broken out and fizzled and a whole bunch of the political pressure that built up in the immediate post-Victorian era has been discharged -- the central powers won't be duking it out with the dominant empires if they've been eaten by the alien invaders, and of course Britain would have gotten off lightly because the Martians would have aimed most of their shots for where the harvest of human flesh was most bountiful.

All rather S. M. Stirling and nasty, in some respects, but if you think it terms of Rudyard Kipling or Teddy Roosevelt in powered battle armour putting down the second Sepoy mutiny before heading for Mars ... that'll do it.

(To sell to the steampunk reader demographic, the viewpoint protagonist should be a spunky young female, possibly with suffragette leanings who looks up to Rosa Luxemburg or Emma Goldman, but has sufficient upper class connections to have some independent agency.)

23:

a spunky young female, possibly with suffragette leanings

Depending on the timing, and how alt-history you want it, Constance Markievicz might do.

24:

it seems that the first revenge sequel to The War of the Worlds was written in 1898.

25:

Red Weed was itself dying at the end of the book, just like the animate Martians. It didn't survive.

The whole point about the Martians dying of earthly diseases wasn't that our diseases were different from Martian ones, it's that there weren't any Martian diseases. Martian technology had eliminated them all, completely, so long ago that none of the higher organisms had any kind of immune system any more (including Red Weed). (Wells seemed to assume that any sufficiently advanced society would do this - it crops up in his other writings. WotW showed how it wasn't necessarily always as good a thing as it appears at first sight.) The question of how an ecosystem without microbes could work at all maybe wasn't such a glaring problem in those days. But in any case the Martians quite definitely had no plagues to bring with them.

Apart from that, have a bucket of COPIOUS SPARE TIME, because it sounds ace.

26:

"Where are the single industry mining worlds digging for gems?"

Lonabar, in the Second Galaxy.

27:

Not all bacteria are pathogens; I'd retcon it easily by having the Martians eliminate all organisms that they considered pathogenic. Which leaves the other 99.999% of Martian bugs they brought to Earth (along with themselves and the Red Weed and so on) as opportunistic zoonoses ...

28:

It is hard to believe that the Martians eliminated all organisms that they considered pathogenic, and then forgot about the existence of pathogenic organisms altogether.

29:

"Lonabar, in the Second Galaxy."

Close, but they also exported exotic dancing, if I recall correctly.

30:

There has to be some sort of "Worldwar: In the balance" variant here...

WWII, 1940: Plucky Britain stands alone. But strange alien interference takes out Chain Home Low. The Spitfires are wiped out on the ground.
The Martians land in Horsell Common! At the height of the Blitz! But a stray Luftwaffe raid unfortunately targets the first cylinder. Those intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic find they can get annoyed too.
The Martian death rays turn back the Luftwaffe and their tripods head toward the coast to engage the Sealion landing craft.
When unfortunately a sudden rash of illness disables the Martians. However, Dad's Army cannot use the tripods, which are coded to Martian neural patterns. The German forces continue their advance toward London.
Meanwhile, spunky young suffragette bacteriologist Alexendra Fleming approaches the War Office. Could her radical new antibacterial substances be used to deal with the remaining Martians? The ones that haven't become addicted to Ginger Biscuits, that is...

How is that for a pitch? I have some promo pictures of Alexendra Fleming in a sexy white lab coat, if that would help.

31:

Not to say the ones that wouldn't be zoonoses, but would trigger fatal allergies. Sky Farmer's Lung, or something.

32:

You don't have to retcon it at all. Wells could as easily have taken that idea from "The White Man's Grave" of Africa.

The point is that deserts have different pathogens than do jungles, and from the Martian perspective, Earth is a jungle. As with the white conquerors in Africa, one might expect Martians adapted to a cold, radiation drenched desert to die like flies in a heavy, dense swamp world like Earth (as they did). On the other hand, taking post-Victorian mecha wearing Brits and sending them to Mars means they're going to die of all the issues that British explorers suffered playing the Great Game out on the steppes, cranked up to 11 or 12 and with added radiation and frost-bite.

Actually thinking about it, the Great Game might be a good model for that kind of post Wellsian Martian invasion. It would play well with the British politics of the time.

33:

A wee bit of nitpickery - John Varley's Steel Beach didn't win the Nebula in 1991. It was published in 92. At the 93 Nebulas it didn't make the short list. It was shortlisted for the Hugo but was up against a really tough field.

It probably should have won pretty much all the awards, in my opinion (or at least tied with A Fire Upon The Deep) for it sheer over the top inventiveness and fun (duh, it's a Varley!) but alas, my opinion counted for exactly one vote.

34:

Bah, that's my middle-aged memory again.

35:

Actually thinking about it, the Great Game might be a good model for that kind of post Wellsian Martian invasion. It would play well with the British politics of the time.

Very good point. Worth emphasizing, as the original WoTW was in any case a thinly-veiled metaphor for what it's like to be on the receiving end of a visit from the British Empire circa 1895 if you're, say, natives of Africa or New Zealand or some other target of empire.

There was a thriving sub-genre, pre-1914, of UK invasion novels -- see, for example, the work of William Le Queux. (For some background on it's significance, this magazine article provides some context.)

36:

Chaz Brenchley has been writing about British Empire on Mars for a few years now. His short story "The Astrakhan, the Hombug and the Red Red Coal" appears in a bunch of "Best of" anthologies, and on his Patreon, he's writing a variant of the classic Chalet School series, but set on Mars.

37:

WEIRDing in progress... Certainly the EIR, probably the D, and a mildly adjusted W.

38:

Re: '(To sell to the steampunk ... spunky young female, ... some independent agency.)'

Mother Abbess? Nuns are invisible in most societies, most religions have had some sort of nuns, and because they're well - female - they're not as threatening. Would work best in scenarios where eyes are more valuable than cash.

The mono-culture/product/industry world reflects the hyperconsumeristic society where goods are perceived to be so abundant that a shortage is unthinkable, i.e., the postWW2 American consumer society. Have this type of world face off against a PRC version world where every little scrap is valued, used and reused, and where hoarding is a capital offense.

39:

That is to say, modern urban dwellers in Beijing or Tokyo or Seoul and London or Paris or Berlin have much more in common with each other, culturally, than with the respective rural peasants a couple of centuries ago.

Calling that W is rather unfortunate terminology, but there it is. Maybe U for urban or C for cosmopolitan, but then the acronym doesn't work.

40:

Plucky Britain? Britain was bouncing from war to war back then. Really quite incredible that anything else got done/discovered during that era, and that massive resource depletion wasn't a concern. 'Plucky Britain' could 'stand alone' only if it could rely on massive resources, esp. food from its colonies. Completely alone, Britain would die very quickly from starvation unless it imposed the same rationing and other measures as taken in WW2 and which continued for at least 10 years post WW2. (Source: BBC doc - Wartime Farm)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wartime_Farm

Half wondering whether the Scottish Enlightenment was partially due to fewer Scots being killed off simply because only the English were being conscripted.

41:

Whitroth@#15 -
I seem to recall that the precipitous drop in lobster and oyster population happened around the same time, because it was possible to ship premier luxuries by train. Delmonicos' was big in 1827 but was a New York only thing, but there was a bidirectional surge in luxury trade when the railroad network was more or less completed and goods were moving in the 1880s. Vast fortunes were made, of course.

A bit of research says the first livestock was rail-shipped for slaughter in 1860, which coincided with the invention of gas refrigerators and the founding of the USDA in 1862.

42:

Re WoTW:
Ants.

Instead of having the martians felled by bacteria or viruses, let them be considered tasty by ants. You can't negotiate with ants; many of us have tried.

Any rational alien species would never let an explorer ship get anywhere near home because it might be bringing ants or tardigrades or other earth-evolved life.

43:

Well, maybe.

Here's the thing, though. Charlie's proposing something akin to the Kingdom of Kongo building carracks and muskets (or whatever they were using back then) and launching an invasion fleet north to invade Portugal. Or the Mughals go after the British, or Japan trying to conquer the US and Russia, or whatever.

Basically, this is the story that you're trying to sell, plucky Earthlings Conquer the Martians (this time without Santa Claus' help, which is another trope to not trip on).

If we transpose it to WotW, what we have is the British Empire launching an interplanetary invasion fleet to go to Mars, sneeze upon them in anger, wait for the Martians to all keel over, and then scoop up the riches of the "Sick Man of the Solar System." And I can see it happening. There are little conquistadors everywhere.

What would most likely happen, were this invasion to take place, is that the invaders would find that their lusty germs only work in a few places, if at all, ('cause environment matters in pandemics, yo), and then it either becomes a tit for tat reciprocal invasion slaughter-fest until everyone figures out how to trade rather than raid, or (worse), it becomes a replay of WW2, with Imperial Britain playing the role of Imperial Japan. Absent the rising threat of, um (let's see, what would play the role of the Communist threat? Ah yes, American industrialism), well, postwar Britain wouldn't be on the receiving end of any Martian reconstruction projects now, would they? And if there was a Martian Marshall Plan, it would be aimed at containing American interplanetary expansionist tendencies. Or maybe Soviet ones?

I'd suggest maybe thinking about this one a bit more...

44:

And of course "Avatar" had the unobtainium strip mining :)

45:

1. Edison's conquest of Mars was republished in the seventies, by Forry Ackerman (who kindly sent me a copy, gratis, after I sent him a letter in response to his request, in an afterword to another book). Fun stuff.

2. Another answer to Well's Martians: they can land in the US South - say, Texas, or Florida... and they stop for just too long with the foot of the war machines next to fire ant nests. That'll do it for them....

mark

46:

I'd check that - I don't believe that conscription was in place for either Scotland or England at the time. A lot of folk songs from that era deal with the problems of recruiting, not enforced service - consider "Twa Recruiting Sergeants" and "I Will Go" for the Scots (although I can't date them with confidence), "Over the Hill and Far Away" for the English.

Anyway, Adam Ferguson was Deputy Chaplain to the Black Watch (and apparently fought in the line at the Battle of Fontenoy), so military service didn't completely preclude enlightenment...

47:

Charlie,

About the steampunk: here you go: the suffragette is the daughter of a woman whose husband was a well-off merchant, who had hoped to make a big killing, and was sailing back from India when the ship went down in a storm, lost with only a few survivors, rescued by a steamship the next day.

The widow grieves after her late husband, but is quite comfortable, thanks to the insurance, and the remaining business (handled by her manager). She wasn't, therefore, into really controlling her daughter, and somewhat supported the suffragettes, and influenced by progressives like Wells.

So her daughter got a good education that a son would have, and moved strongly into the suffragette movement, as she's being kept from jobs she's well-qualified for....

How's that?

mark

48:

or Japan trying to conquer the US and Russia, or whatever.

Happened in 1905 (the latter), and was a qualified success; hence the somewhat disastrous follow-up in 1941.

49:

You need to hunt down the novelette "Night of the Cooters" by Howard Waldrop.

In which some of the Martians land in Texas in 1895. It does not go well for them ...

50:

Ayup. Don't forget WWI either. Fascism and imperial dreams did mess things up rather badly

51:

You might like the Scarlet Traces books by Edginton and D'Israeli.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scarlet_Traces

Starts out Great Game, ends as WWI/II on Mars.

52:

There was that John Wyndham short story involving the first VEnus expedition bringing back an invisible creature that caused the rocket to crash in the English countryside, setting the creature free to devour everyone it wanted to.

53:

You're right ... conscription was not universal in the UK at all times or through all of its many, many wars. Even so, the notion that all those wars ate/destroyed the lives of more of the English vs. Scots or Welsh young men is something to consider.

54:

I find it really questionable for an advanced space-faring species to be completely ignorant of all biology or to launch an attack before doing any recon, such as sampling the biology, etc. Unless the only motivation for attacking a planet is to use it as a place to hang your galactic imperium's signpost and laser carve graffiti along the lines of 'KLPSTZ was here'.

55:
An infodump interrupts the flow of narrative to drop an indigestible nugget of exposition into the story

IIRC, it seems to me that you did this on at least 2 occasions in Neptune's Brood. I can see how the dump would be difficult to show, but what was your reasoning in that case? If you were rewriting that story, would you do the same, or find a way to show that background instead?

56:

'Plucky Britain' could 'stand alone' only if it could rely on massive resources, esp. food from its colonies.

Well yes, but the people who would care about that detail aren't the target demographic for my tongue-in-cheek alt-history novel proposal.

57:

They tried again against the Soviets in 1939; look up the Battle of Khalkhin Gol, or Nomonhan Incident, where one Georgiy Zhukov gave the invading Japanese a humility lesson. He went on to give the Germans an even more severe lesson...

As a result, the Imperial Japanese Army's "Northern Expansion Doctrine" fell out of favour, and the Imperial Japanese Navy's "Southern Expansion Doctrine" was tried next. Which involved taking on the British and US simultaneously in December 1941. There's an alternate history story in there somewhere...

58:

I was horrified to discover that Britain produces only 75% of its food at the moment. I was quite shocked, on being inspired by that discovery to look at past figures, to find that at the time of WW1 it was even worse, at only 50%.

59:

SO how was it during WW2? I had a quick look around the internet, and the other important thing to note is how crop yields have at least trebled, which means that although we produce more of our own food, we rely on often (I think) imported fertilisers and pesticides to do so, which makes self sufficiency a bit harder to work on.

60:

Interesting one that.

INVISIBLE MONSTERS John Beynon Harris, Wonder Stories 1933 (legal text)

61:

Fertilizer's would be trivial to import replace. It's mostly ammonia, which is the single most produced chemical on the planet by tonnage. And the input's can be air and electricity. Starting with natural gas is cheaper.. but not all that *much* cheaper. Pesticides, same deal. The UK does have a chemicals industry.

62:

I was thinking during wartime/ massive economic upheaval it would actually be quite hard. But then awareness of the consequences of said upheaval and war should restrain most people since there aren't many countries that can fead themselves.

63:

I can see how the dump would be difficult to show, but what was your reasoning in that case?

Infodumps aren't forbidden per se, they're just inelegant unless handled with care. I can't remember the specifics (it's a book I wrote about six novels ago) but IIRC the reason was that it seemed like the sort of thing the narrator (Krina) would have done: a didactic aside addressed to her imagined reader.

64:

It's not necessarily as bad as it sounds. For instance, the UK isn't going to be providing its own bananas or coffee. Australia exports lots of food (60% of what it grows), but only produces 93% of its daily domestic food supply. In terms of self-sufficiency you are probably looking at some net figure.

It does raise the question, if you really went to town on GMO and lab grown meat/fish/etc. could you reach 100%, total self-sufficiency? You start crossing over into another of Charlie's hobby horses - generation ships.

65:

Infodumps aren't forbidden per se, they're just inelegant unless handled with care.

I did like the infodumps in Moby Dick for instance, though they are not that elegant in my opinion.

The "As you know" infodumps are perhaps the most annoying to me.

66:

It's nowhere near 75% if you remember that most animal feed is imported, and that it takes a lot of said feed.

67:

Provided the shipping itself is reasonably efficient, and local labour conditions and pesticide / fertiliser regs are also both good in themselves and well enforced (admittedly these are very big caveats), exporting and importing vegetables is just exporting and importing sunlight, which is both free and renewable.

In fact I find it difficult to imagine any trade goods with less carbon and other environmental impact than veggies! (still subject to those caveats though)

And of course, having a wide range of trade partners each capable of supplying a wide range of different foods through the course of the year makes Britain's food supply far more secure, not less. Consider Ireland, which was self-sufficient in food right up until it suddenly wasn't. Three million dead or emigrated during a famine so badly mis-managed as to amount to genocide, and still a by-word more than a hundred years later.

68:

You've made a major error there - plants are not made only of fertiliser and pesticide and sunlight, it's also a matter of water and the elements within the soil itself. Not to mention the energy that goes into planting, weeding and harvesting them.

69:

You don't need conscription. If you're looking for something that would kill more English young men than Scottish or Welsh, just look to the English Civil War.

According to this site it killed 3.6% of the population (compared with 2.6% for WWI). Ouch.

70:

That's true, but if the alternative was starving I imagine the price of meat would go way up, and we would eat the crops ourselves.

72:

If you're looking for something that would kill more English young men than Scottish or Welsh, just look to the English Civil War.

It wasn't a civil war, nor was it an English civil war: it was the war of the Three Kingdoms, and you might want to look into the Bishops' Wars (which triggered the Irish and then the first English civil wars) and then the Scottish civil war and the history of the Covenanters.

Hint: that period of British history was a mess. (One civil war is a bit of a mistake, but five or six of the things in little more than a decade begins to look like a habit.)

73:

I thought (and various websites (including your Wikipedia link) seem to agree) that there was an English Civil War, but I agree that it's very much part of the whole mess.

It's a lot harder to find country specific death tolls for the whole bunch than for the English bit (which is pretty famous for the extent of the carnage) but (and I'm leaving Ireland out since the original Q was England vs Scotland/Wales) I don't think it's unreasonable to look to it if trying to find a reason for a higher death toll in England than Scotland and/or Wales.

Better than inventing conscription, anyway.

74:

Late with this, but with all the talk of "The War of the Worlds" I'm surprised no one has linked to The Great Martian War before now.
I really ought to actually read that book one of these days.

75:

While I'm at it, here's a music video made from some of that "documentary" footage.

76:
Consider Ireland, which was self-sufficient in food right up until it suddenly wasn't.
A reminder that Ireland exported food throughout the Famine seems apposite here - Westminster refused to close the ports (the traditional reaction to crop failure in Ireland, and indeed often used across Europe). The volume of these exports and their contribution to the death toll is hotly contested, but considering that in 1847 at least 2.3 million litres of Irish butter were imported to Bristol alone, a *lot* of calories were lost to the country.

There's a question about the self-sufficiency figures across the World Wars, actually; "the UK" means different things in WW1 and WW2, and most of the impact would be agricultural. Were the actual losses or gains Great Britain-specific?

77:

There were several English Civil Wars, although those sit within the context of a whole series of wars within the Three Kingdoms of England (inc Wales), Scotland and Ireland. The Wars of the Three Kingdoms start in the mid 1630s and fizzle out in the mid-1650s, although there are a load of other campaigns in the century to follow.

The Scottish Enlightenment is mainly mid-eighteenth century, 75-100 years after the main period of the civil wars. So the enlightenment probably has more to do with the Act of Union and the prosperity that flowed into Scotland (along with the rest of the UK) in the early C18.

78:

Thanks. That seems amusing so far — and it's just as accurate as I've come to expect History Channel productions to be… :-/

79:

You also have to remember the great farming slump 1920-39, when produce from the "Dominions" was preferred, thus improving their financial states ...

And, of course the reminder that most of Europe was short of food 1847-48, not "just" Ireland.

80:

It's entirely possible to see the Scottish Enlightenment as a revulsed reaction to the all-pervading religious bigotry, from all sides, & the resulting massacres, tortures & killings.
T Aikenhead was murdered in 1697, but the agnostic/atheist philosopher David Hume lived 1711 - 1776.
What a turn-around.

81:

Greg, that sounds plausible, my area of expertise is in the wars rather than the enlightenment.

82:

Re: '... expertise ... in ... wars rather than ... enlightenment.'

Motto of the Empire's Foreign Office?

83:

Something else that will probably need to be regularly added as an input is forecasting weather wows ... those huge temperature and precipitation swings that we're experiencing (in NA at least). Heteromeles mentioned this a few times re: flora growth cycles are becoming unpredictable. Because of this and US reliance on a large agro-biz scale (vast mono-culture), food production disruption is probably even more likely. And what happens in the US, is likely to have serious worldwide ripple effects.
Really, really hate the idea of using dirty, polluting non-renewable fuels just to move a bunch of food crops around knowing that 30% of it will end up in the dumpster. Would much prefer efforts toward self-sustainability in food because this class of goods is becoming less of a socio-economic playing piece in the one-upsmanship contest between nations.* Seeds, cuttings, etc. are more useful long term, and probably consume less fuel to ship. This might force agro and university research to pay more attention to increasing diversity of food stuffs grown locally and/or food stuffs that can grow/tolerate a wider range of weather/climate conditions.

* Don't recall food production ever being used as a deliberate, primary strategy or weapon internationally ... anyone know? (Apart from castle sieges ...)

84:
Don't recall food production ever being used as a deliberate, primary strategy or weapon internationally ... anyone know?
"In response to previous price surges, the United States, the world’s largest grain producer, was effectively able to steer the world away from potential catastrophe. From the mid-20th century until 1995, the United States had either grain surpluses or idle cropland that could be planted to rescue countries in trouble. When the Indian monsoon failed in 1965, for example, President Lyndon Johnson’s administration shipped one-fifth of the U.S. wheat crop to India, successfully staving off famine." (source)
85:

Thanks ...

BTW the link from the linked article to its reference goes to a missing page so can't tell how accurate this info is.

That said, agree: food prices have been and look to be increasing everywhere. Transportation costs, once oil prices go back up, will worsen this.

86:

More strategically, the dependency of the USSR on food imports from the West was a major reason its collapse took the form that it did. The US was an oil-importing food exporter and the USSR was a food-importing oil-exporter, so the relative power balance shifted in relation to the relative prices of food and oil. When oil prices plummeted in the late 1980s, the Soviets could no longer afford to feed their population without Western assistance, which had strings attached.

87:

I've a bee in the bonnet about the Aral Sea and more recently about the deforestation in China. (See url to business case studies below.) From what I've read, it seems that business/government policy decisions made on the basis of economics consistently screw up - often fatally - simply because the decision makers choose to remain willfully ignorant* about the systems they're purportedly trying to manage. Either economic analysts providing the analyses for these decisions need to have a second degree in the topic they're analyzing or allow content/area experts to review their analyses before any policies are submitted to gov'ts. (If commodities traders can study up on meteorology and growth forecasts to become better at hitting the most lucrative spot and futures prices, so can gov't economists.)

http://www.trucost.com/_uploads/downloads/Teeb_for_Business_Ch2_Annex_online.pdf

*Willful ignorance/blindness is synonymous with criminal negligence in some legal systems. I'm suggesting that it's time to include environmental effects as another area where ignorance cannot be used as a defense/excuse.

88:
* Don't recall food production ever being used as a deliberate, primary strategy or weapon internationally ... anyone know?

Militarily speaking, "scorched earth" tactics - burning the fields as you retreat, to deny the enemy use of the crops to feed their troops - are almost certainly older than the written word. We have attested examples back to before 500BC, and Darius the Great doesn't seem to have been surprised by the Scythians doing it then. (That is, it was a tactic the chroniclers expected their audience to be familiar with, not something new.)

From the other side, actual food production (rather than what is, after all, strictly food destruction) has certainly always been a consideration in military campaigning. Or rather, those occasions when it wasn't given consideration are universally noted as spectacular disasters. (cf Winter, invading Russia during the.)

89:

Not just food; agricultural production for non-food purposes. Germany's V2 deployment was dependent upon its potato crop for ethanol fuel. Chaim Weizmann's microbial fermentation of sugar to acetone/butanol/ethanol was essential for cordite production in WWI.

90:

The best ballpark figures I've seen for casualties in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms indicate that England got of pretty lightly by comparison. Charles Carlton's "This Seat of Mars" has some back of the envelope calculations (p 150 of the hardback edition) that puts the death rate in Scotland at 9.2% and in Ireland a truly horrific 20.6%. His figures for England are also much more pessimistic than those on the NA website at 230,441 equal to 4.6% of the English population.

91:

" Don't recall food production ever being used as a deliberate, primary strategy or weapon internationally ... anyone know? (Apart from castle sieges ...) "

19th century British politics struggled between the growth of industries needing cheap food to keep urban workers' wages low, versus landed gentry whose dependence on rent payments from farms preferred food prices high as possible. The Corn Laws permitting import of American grain around the time of the potato famine favored cities at the aristocrats' expense, causing political fights in which the House of Lords blocked progressive legislation for decades, culminating in their reduction to rubber stamp status, by an alliance of Asquith's government and Lloyd George's trade union followers right before WWI. So dwindling rents brought in by big landowners explains the slow decay of the old manor house set, and the present condition of grand estates having to be shown as tourist attractions to pay for upkeep. At least that's what I recall from scattered reading and tv shows, see any glaring errors? (An embarasment of riches, one hardly knows where to begin... )

92:

Yes, but the British Isles in general, even at the high end of that death toll, got off lightly compared to the Holy Roman Empire during the Thirty Years' War, which overlapped with the wars of the three kingdoms (broke out a bit earlier, ended a bit earlier); the German states lost about 25-40% dead, but some like Württemberg lost three-quarters of its population during the wars.

Seriously, the only things to come close were the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, some of the more brutal Nazi occupations during WW2, and the War of the Triple Alliance (which had a death toll up in "they managed to do that without nuclear weapons?!?" levels of WTF.)

93:

The War of the Triple Alliance is always the one to produce when you want to get the WTF response. Kill rates for the Black Death (and the arguments over the level of accuracy show no signs of ceasing) are the only thing I've seen come anywhere near.

Of course, even if one takes the low end estimates for the Black Death, the thought that the two agricultural systems most slapdash in their use of antibiotics sit right in the middle of rodent populations with endemic plague is guaranteed to produce wonderfully vivid world building...

94:

SFreader: Re: '... expertise ... in ... wars rather than ... enlightenment.'

Motto of the Empire's Foreign Office?

I always thought the FCO motto was Never apologise, never explain

However the Empire as a whole might have that as its motto...

95:

(This comment acknowledged to be OT)

I'm not sure how much you can claim that the D of WEIRD is truly in existence, or that it is desired and/or perceived as being how our governance works, at least in U.S.A.

Given the trend toward declining election participation levels in the U.K. and the continued popularity of the monarchy it does not seem like a great stretch to suggest that similar attitudes exist in the U.K.

http://scholar.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/mgilens/files/gilens_and_page_2014_-testing_theories_of_american_politics.doc.pdf

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/04/09/do-americans-still-believe-in-democracy/

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/01/poverty-vs-democracy-in-america/282809/

96:

Re: ' The Corn Laws permitting import of American grain around the time of the potato famine favored cities at the aristocrats' expense, causing political fights in which the House of Lords blocked progressive legislation for decades, culminating in their reduction to rubber stamp status, by an alliance of Asquith's government and Lloyd George's trade union followers right before WWI.'

Thanks for the info ... Sounds like the current US pro-corporatism vs. public good (i.e., human voters) stalemate.

97:

It has always seemed to me that political systems (of any kind) are necessary, even optimized, for dealing with social conflicts among humans, but are becoming increasingly awkward and clumsy with regard to managing problems in which a high level of technical expertise is involved. We need a new way of incorporating expert opinion within policy making that doesn't tip the balance of power toward technical experts too much.

Meanwhile, in so far as world building in space is concerned (colony ships, large habs, etc.) the level of technical expertise involved in any policy domain goes up by an order of magnitude, so one important human dimension of space colonization will be those same innovations in the governing process.

98:

I'm pretty sure that technological sophistication and political sophistication don't scale equivalently, nor are they correlated very highly. It's entirely possible to have a stupid leader with a sophisticated technological situation (cf: if Trump becomes President), just as one can have a relatively sophisticated political system with primitive technology (the Iroquois alliance, Greek democracy). Note that I'm not putting on a mean time to failure on any of these systems, because all of them fail eventually. Having stupid leaders just means they fail faster, no matter what technology is supporting them. The point here is that there's not a high correlation between technical competence and political competence, much as we would wish it to be otherwise.

I agree that that dealing with complex scientific problems in politics is a huge problem, but it's not quite the problem you think it is. If you want to get a better handle on it, I'd suggest reading Scott's Seeing Like A State for an apparently more useful take on the problem.

99:

Cattle drives essentially ended with the end of the open range, which happened circa 1886, following overgrazing, culminating in a very severe winter and a huge drought. Then the barbed wire came in and even -- well particularly -- the biggest, wealthiest stockmen fenced in their baronies.

But even before that, in the 1860's,not coincidentally once the Civil War was over, with the expansion of the railroads, meat packers built their plants close to end points of cattle drives, such as Kansas City and other cities in the northern cattle country like Montana.

Driving to Chicago was a very short period, i.e. see the railroad and resulting meat packing plant in Kansas City. Kansas City for actual sale of cattle was the end point for most of the Texas cattle drives very. The really big drives were up to the northwest in 1866 - 1886, because that was the last great prairie region to be fenced in.

100:

I guess you're American? Because the idea that having a monarchy somehow makes the UK not a "proper" democracy seems to me to be a pretty standard American misconception. It'd be about as sensible to say we're not a "proper" democracy because we have hedgehogs.

Because we were pretty much the first to begin to address the problem of what to do about shit kings, we followed a different approach from the later standard. We tried...

1) Chopping their heads off
2) Booting them out and importing replacements who we like better
3) Agreeing that we'll allow them to be kings as long as they don't actually try to king us.

You may note a similarity between item 3 and the relations between the Patrician and Unseen University. This probably isn't a coincidence...

The monarchy have fuck all to do with how "democratic" we are or aren't, because they don't do anything. They have to exist because "the Crown" is written into so much British law and custom that it would be next to impossible to write it out without screwing everything up, but as to having any involvement in the running of the country, you could have an orang-utan or a rubber fried egg on the throne and everything would carry on exactly the same.

We like them basically because of tradition, and part of that tradition is that they don't interfere with the running of the country. The Queen has to validate new Acts of Parliament, and in theory she could refuse, but in practice there would be the mother and father of all ructions if she ever did.

The UK is undemocratic for the same reasons as the US is undemocratic - the sheer size of the population makes a nonsense of the idea of "representation", the electoral system makes it worse, corporate interests have too much influence, that sort of thing. The precise mix may be different but the ingredients are the same.

The main value of the system is not what it's touted as, but simply that it provides churn without violence. An unpopular government is bound to be out of office sooner or later so people are generally content to wait for that to happen instead of shooting them. For sure the replacement government may not be any better but that would still be the case if the previous one had been shot, and at least they're different.

101:

Err.. only about 60 years out of synch...
The Corn Laws were repealed in 1846, by a left-wing tory, Robert Peel ( yes of police force fame )
Which makes your "ordering" of cause-&-effect/events a little skewed....

102:

Though Tim Martin (the boss of the Wetherspoon pub-chain ) has made a direct link between Domocracy & Propserity ...
And also used that argument to support getting "OUT" of the EU, especially given the Panama Papers, the government of the EU being the Commission, not the Parliament & who is in charge - J C Juncker of Luxembourg ... um, err ...

103:

Nos 2 & 3 being virtually simultaneous, of course.
in 1688/89.
The last monarch who refused to sign a bill was Anne [ r. 1702 - 1714 ] Not that there might not be some, err ... "negotiation" beforehand ....
The monarch has a duty to advise & to warn, & our current one takes that very seriously, as did her grandfather - Geo V avoided revolution once & maybe twice, by heading off loony politicians, as we now know.

104:

As mentioned above, the US heavily used subsidised food exports - particularly wheat - as soft power from the 40s until the 90s as it expanded its influence into the regions abandoned by the colonial powers. Afghanistan, India, the Middle East, Central America and Southeast Asia were the primary targets. The USSR did much the same with oil exports, particularly around the Caribbean, southern Africa and Asia.

Between the 50s and 70s the bulk food exports declined in favour of technology and expertise exports - particularly engineering, along with export of seed crops like Borlaug's dwarf wheat.

Ironically the reverse is happening today - Russia is widely exporting wheat and other dry goods, while the US is having major production issues in the traditional grain regions...

105:

Relevant story: in the late 70s the USSR brought off a coup where they used Wall Street-based front companies to buy up a big chunk of the US wheat harvest, and ship it off to the workers' motherland.

There's a limit to how often you can do that before the class enemy gets wise to your game, though.

106:

And as I tell republicans - having a figurehead queenie means we can treat politicians with the proper level of utter contempt.

Poor old yanks have to pretend to think "Mr President" isn't a complete doofus because unlike queenie - he actually has a little bit of power AND takes the figurehead role.

Keep your figureheads as decorative and useless as a lump of wood - safer that way.

107:

And, as I say, we should abandon this failed attempt at representative democracy and go back to the Sovereign in Council. It would be at least as democratic, probably more effective, far cheaper to run, far more amusing, and it would piss off the politically correct.

Charles is a loon, but at least his heart is in the right place (well, one out of two isn't bad), and is likely to be MUCH less destructive than most of the ministers I can think of in the last few decades. You know it makes sense (or at least as much as anything else in UK politics) :-)

108:

Thanks for the correction re: quote from another poster's comment.

From Wikipedia: (Peel ... a Tory with a heart!)

'The first two years of the Irish famine of 1845–1852 forced a resolution because of the urgent need for new food supplies. Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, a Conservative, achieved repeal with the support of the Whigs in Parliament, overcoming the opposition of most of his own party.'

Another surprise is that Disraeli was against this repeal.

Quote from Peel's last speech as PM below. Good grief, this man really had a heart/conscience!

'But, Sir, there is a name which ought to be associated with the success of these measures: it is not the name of the noble Lord, the member for London, neither is it my name. Sir, the name which ought to be, and which will be associated with the success of these measures is the name of a man who, acting, I believe, from pure and disinterested motives, has advocated their cause with untiring energy, and by appeals to reason, expressed by an eloquence, the more to be admired because it was unaffected and unadorned—the name which ought to be and will be associated with the success of these measures is the name of Richard Cobden. Without scruple, Sir, I attribute the success of these measures to him.[19]'

Might pick up a bio on Cobden ... sounds very much like a character straight out of a Modesitt novel.

109:

With commodity/market trades (mostly) shielded from oversight/investigation, it's a wonder this doesn't happen more often, esp. for arms.

Am aware that very high-tech military weapons/systems (e.g., avionics) sales have some gov't oversight. But, as many military-experienced posters here have often mentioned, most current wars are still being fought with lower tech weapons.

110:

Re: '... we should abandon this failed attempt at representative democracy and go back to the Sovereign in Council.'

Found SoC only as it related to France-Canada (Quebec).

So, you think the UK should be governed outright by 5 or 6 monarch-appointed people? How would these folks know what the issues were, consequences of actions taken, etc.? What would be the priorities and goals/interests protected/served of such a council?

I'm okay with replacing the current representative voting procedure provided it's by a method demonstrated to be more effective*. This is one of the reasons why I favor polling and more comprehensive census data collection, plus real-time tie-in to health/wellness data (for countries with universal access med/health programs).

* The test for this is to run all of the competing systems in parallel for at least a decade and compare results. In-parallel because some countries still refuse to acknowledge any data/results originating outside their borders.

111:

I've always figures this is why there's the unhealthy relationship with the flag - at any given time, half the country will despise their head of state, so they funnel their desire for national unity into a passive symbol instead.

112:

Look up 'UK Sovereign in Council' - it doesn't and never has worked quite like that. You didn't read what I said carefully enough, though. Try answering your own questions for our current system - and, not with the 'official' answers, but ones that correspond to what actually goes on. Then ask yourself which is likely to be better!

113:

Referenced in Nature Newsletter (email):

http://in.reuters.com/article/usa-space-russia-idINKCN0X600U

'The Pentagon will need to buy up to 18 more Russian-built RD-180 engines to power rockets carrying US military satellites into space over the next six years or so. Congress banned use of such engines for military use after 2019, following Russia's annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine in 2014. (Reuters)'

...

'McCain said last month that two Russians placed on the U.S. sanctions list because of events in Ukraine were leaders of Russian space agency Roscosmos, which he said was the parent of the company that makes the RD-180 rocket.'

114:

And the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 was followed, the next year in Ireland, by. . .

Wait for it. . .

You'll like this one. . .

BLACK '47, the very worst year of the famine.

Which, by the way, was something rather worse than the food shortages that other European countries were experiencing at the time. That's why it's called a famine, you see.

115:

Unfortunately there's not much that I can find re: UK Sovereign Council (AKA Privy Council) apart from the definition that it's a secret/private/informal way of advising the monarch. Do recall that current and former PMs are usually part of it but not whether all those who might qualify are regularly called upon/convened. Any minutes available from such meetings?

Prefer a more transparent process. The cost effectiveness of any gov't system should include the cost of screwing up, not just the overhead.

Okay, I get that PMs get briefed on whatever the tech details might be related to a piece of legislation. But this is not the same as having sufficient expertise on that topic when called upon to discuss it with others who also lack any technical expertise (Privy Council). Unless UK PMs are briefed so thoroughly - and tested until they get an A - by content matter experts without any political bias*.

I'm not from the UK, therefore probably not seeing what's obvious to many UK residents. If so, please provide context/info.

* Cash-for-questions only happened at the Commons/House of Lords levels and never at the Privy Council level?


116:

The Privy Council is quite a large body, actually, but when it meets it is usually in "subcommittee" forma, rather than a "full" PC

117:

All this natter about fertilizer needs for agriculture... there *is* another answer: it's called the four-field system. You rotate your crops. Year 2: field 2 has what was grown in field 1 the year before, field three has what was in 2, and field four has what was in field 3; field one lies fallow (or, better, sow it with clover, which is a great nitrogen fixer).

Now you don't need fertilizer, and you're also not monoculture (which is vulnerable to single disease or pest attacks), and you have more than one food.

This was pushed, I believe, in the thirties in the US. A lot cheaper for the farmers, too.

mark "but less money for Big Oil, can't have
*that* now, don'tcha know?"

118:

Yes, learned this from some further reading: it's 600+ people of which only 4 are key/regular members.

Because the UK Privy Council is made up mostly of elected politicos nominated by the-then PM and get invited at the pleasure of the current PM, it does not look particularly representative of the governed and possibly not even of the party in power.

119:

You're still missing the point, though. Traditionally, it is a benevolent dictatorship - i.e. the monarch is constrained (by custom) to listen, but has near-absolute power to govern. The making of laws is done by Parliament.

120:

You could go to a small monocameral legislature (say 20 members) elected at large and serving for life. Probably just as democratic at the end of the day, a lot less shenanigans.

121:

Coincidentally enough, I happen to have done a lot of primary source digging into the War of the Triple Alliance!

http://noelmaurer.typepad.com/aab/war-of-the-triple-alliance/

At the link, you'll find a lot of population pyramids derived from various censuses, discussions of age cohorts, and measures of the maximal rate of net fertility in a pre-modern sanitation environment. But here is the short version of the conclusion:

“Devastation among males (55%!), but little sign of a generalized crisis. Which is actually somewhat surprising ... The irony? The War of the Triple Alliance was still devastating. It was on the same scale as the Greek War of Independence, the French conquest of Algeria, World War I in Serbia, and the Great Patriotic War. It was more destructive than the Carlist Wars, the Ten Years War, the Russian Civil War, and the two Congo Wars. It was more than twice as bad as the Napoleonic Wars were for France, inflicted over half as much time. It was a horrible event.

“What it was not was singular or unprecedented. Which says terrible things about human beings.”

Either way, the War of the Triple Alliance has outlived its usefulness as a unique indicator of human barbarity.

122:

Precisely NOT! The difference is between rulers brought up to accept that it is their duty and, Dinkan help us, privilege :-( to rule, and people appointed (or self-selected by various forms of scheme and demagoguery) to promote the interests of their in-group. You, like most people, are closing your eyes to the fundamental defects of 'representative democracy' - "Or lured by the loudest throat". No, I am not joking, nor am I ignoring the failure modes of absolute hereditary monarchy.

http://www.poetryloverspage.com/poets/kipling/macdonoughs_song.html

123:

Bell-curve phobia?

124:

Sorry, no. Even Wikipedia gets this right. Thomas Hager's Alchemy of the Air is a good history.

Along about 1900, European leaders were worried about widespread famine across Europe by 1920 (world population around 1.6 billion, about one-quarter in Europe), because they'd hit the agricultural productivity limits with four-field rotation, recycling urban sewage for fertilizer, importing guano (there were Guano Wars in the late 19th Century), even using the mouth of the Ganges as a giant nitrate farm (the secret that let the British Empire extend so far). That perceived crisis was what drove Haber to develop what became the Haber-Bosch process for artificial nitrogen fixation. His wasn't the first artificial fixation process, merely the most efficient.

I don't think anyone's sure, but today somewhere well north of three billion people get all their nitrogen through artificial fixation. If (more likely, when) we stop fixing nitrogen, billions of people will starve.

If you want to worry about something else, there's no way to fix phosphorus out of the air, and we're running short of it too.

125:

Phosphates are worth worrying about, but nobody is going to stop fixing nitrogen until there are no usable energy sources left.

It's not about the food, it's about the ammunition!

126:

The problem there is that it becomes very clear whose relatives need to get nice jobs in order for you to get that big contract.

127:

What DPB said.

Heteromeles, you've said this over and over again, but that doesn't make it true. You made it pretty clear that you didn't want constructive suggestions about your book (which I was positive on) but in case you've changed your mind about that I'll offer the following:

You often conflate the effects of global warming with the effects of running out of fossil fuels. That makes it hard at times to understand what exactly you're arguing.

The essential problem is that while it's likely that humanity will run out of economically-accessible fossil fuels by the 22nd century, it's also near-impossible that we will run out of usable energy sources. Predictions of collapse based on the latter premise therefore run into a giant wall of implausibility.

The same applies with your implicit belief in the inherent fragility of human social systems. That was the subject of the previous contretemps.

More concisely: what DPB said.

Take the advice for what you will.

128:

it's also near-impossible that we will run out of usable energy sources

Reasonable people disagree about that.

If you look at the current energy sources in the US (for example, because I happen to know where to look for them: https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/), about a sixth of the energy used is non-fossil. Roughly half of that is nuclear, about half of the rest is biofuels (mostly firewood), and about half of the rest is hydro (which is pretty fully exploited with little room to grow). About 2.5% is solar, wind, and geothermal (combined). These diagrams ignore some important factors (e.g. the energy consumed in China to produce our imports), but they're a reasonable starting point.

Optimists say that the renewable fraction is growing, and expect that it will replace fossil fuels in time. Pessimists figure that most of the renewable energy technologies subtly depend on our existing fossil fuel infrastructure in obscure ways, so even the renewable fraction may go away soon. Optometrists say it's all pretty blurry at this point and nobody really knows.

129:

I'll note this publicly, just so everyone has context on what Noel is doing here:

In the back of Hot Earth Dreams is an invitation to email me or post on my website any issues with the book. People have found plenty, and I'm currently revising the book, thanks to them. They will get credit.

Noel, uniquely, has decided to attack me here on Charlie's website, where the discussion does not belong. He is not banned from my website, but chooses to argue here, rightly or wrongly.

In the case referred to above, I'm trying to change Whitroth's misconception that we can get all the nitrogen we need through biological nitrogen fixation and recycling animal wastes. To my knowledge (and someone will correct me if I'm wrong) that hasn't been true since the 1920s, if not the 1900s. I'm not aware of evidence that the people who pushed for the invention of artificial nitrogen fixation were wrong in their concern.

130:

Ah, small press writer Scott Washburn (available at the usual outlets) has a novel entitled *Great Martian War: Invasion* from the pov of Teddy Roosevelt, who is making preparations to defend the US from same. I've read one of his other novels, *The Terran Consensus* which is pretty good (and I hope he write a sequel to).

Caveat: Scott and I are on the same fan email list, but I wouldn't mention this book if I didn't like his stuff anyway.

131:

Then there was the planet Bennett, which was R&R and larder for the Fleet (in the Lensman books).

132:

One might consider the Marshall Plan as a blow against Communism during the post-WWII era; famine made it easier for Soviets to promote their ideology. Of course, that gives rise to the slogan: "Food Will Win the War"(but how can we get the enemy to eat it?).

Then again, there is some speculation that higher levels of nutrition helped the American Rebels during that Revolution...

133:

I'd do some due diligence.

Major shifts in the landscape from Super-Market retailers in the EU regarding cutting wastage.

That 40% glowing boil is getting lanced.

And...

Fifty four large investors managing 1 trillion pounds in assets have launched a campaign to curb the use of antibiotics in the meat and poultry used by ten large U.S. and British restaurant groups.

Investor group launches campaign to curb antibiotic use in food Reuters, April 11th, 2016

And


UK and China start global fund to tackle drug resistant infections UK Gov, 23rd Oct, 2015


~


If you smack them in the balls, turns out they listen.

134:

Allotment holders do this if they are sensible, though they usually have to omit the "fallow" bit - but that's what horse-droppings & "magic" black council compost is for.
BTW, I suspect that 2 - 4 applications of the latter will get you well on the way to at least a good semi-replica of a Terra Preta soil that we were talking about some time back ....

135:

More to the point ... if there is a real, serious, desperate emergency, a "proper quorum" of the PC meets & issues an "Order in Council".
Which has the force of immediate Law.
O-in-C's can, of course, be questioned later, by Parliament, but that's after the event ....
Also, it is not just in the PM's "gift" to invite PC members to attend - he or she gets leaned on by both their own side, the opposition & sometimes the monarch ... that: "Wouldn't it be a good idea if "$_NAME" attended this one?"

136:

Utter twaddle
The volume of Nitrate produced for fertiliser & the volume of Nitrate produced for ammunition is, respectively?

As my late father could easily have told you, even whils conscripted to be an explosives chemist at Ardeer 1941-45.

137:

How to defeat N Korea in one easy lesson.
See also John Brunner: "Who steals my Purse"

138:

Agreed.
All it needs now, is for this to affect the internal US market, which is the really big problem ...
I suspect that will be along shortly, though?

139:

That line was just a bit of snark about what it takes to motivste governments. Not intended seriously.

140:

I can think of too many interpretations of that! Please clarify, if it wasn't just a quick joke.

141:

The point is that the original artificial nitrogen fixation process ran on electricity. And come hell, high water and 6 degrees warmer climate, *electricity will stick around*.
Because fission is a thing. If the coal runs out, and climate chaos makes renewables unfeasibly unreliable, still, there will be reactors and uranium. Thus, there will be nitrogen fixation.

142:

A family friend back in NZ is involved in a significant government research bid towards using ozone as an antimicrobial and oxidising steriliser for dairy farms as it allows them to substantially reduce the use of pharmaceuticals in the farming environment. It's a process that was widely used in places like Cuba and Estonia, who didn't have access to cheap western antibiotics, so had to find cheap effective workarounds.

143:

My mind went blank on this until I realised (after doing a wiki-check) that where I come from 'order in council' refers almost solely to what might be called 'statutory instruments' or 'regulations' - something which gives shape or force to actual legislation, or appoints a person to a role - and that the other uses of the phrase are not used here (speaking as someone who has spent stints in the NZ public service)

144:

That depends on how feasible fission power is without enough oil to mine and transport the ores, coal to smelt all the metals needed to build the reactor and the electrical systems, oil for plastics for electrical insulation, etc. AFAIK, it could go either way.

145:

No, it really cannot. The numbers on this has been gone through, and the inputs are just too small to matter compared to just how much power a reactor produces per tonne of fuel. It gets simply ridiculous when you rerun the numbers considering breeders - which are a workable technology.

All-Electric mining is a solved problem. So is all-electric bulk transport. The energy cost of both is far to low to matter, compared to the energetic yield.

The energetic cost of building a reactor and all associated subsystems is utterly insignificant in comparison to the output. We aren't currently using fission because if the psycological specter of atomic annihilation, not because of practical barriers.

146:

You're a strange one, sir.

147:

If you want to worry about something else, there's no way to fix phosphorus out of the air, and we're running short of it too.

I know of some computational genomics guys who already noticed this as a business opportunity and began looking into what it will take to fix. Phosphorus isn't exactly an atmospheric gas, but to the extent it's present in seawater and in insoluble form in minerals the real issue isn't total abundance but bioavailability.

148:

Note: Scotland hit 53% renewable energy in 2015, on target for 100% by 2024[*], and shut down the last coal-fired power plant for good (i.e. decommissioning) about a month ago. While the North Sea oil and gas fields are nearly played out, Scotland is likely to remain an energy exporting economy for the foreseeable long-term future (although replacing a million or so natural gas burning central heating systems is going to be a bit of an upheaval in due course).

[*] Currently about 20% is nuclear, and the Torness AGRs were due to shut down circa 2020. However, they recently got an option on lifetime extension which may keep them running somewhat longer, although whether for single-digit years or single-digit decades is unclear (they commenced operation in the late 80s).

149:

A couple of meanings implied by 'bell curve phobia':

Tyranny of the masses ... because there are more folk below the 'best' whatever cut-off point than above and democratic voting systems allow these less-than-perfect folk to make decisions that will affect their betters. Therefore, rationally speaking, decisions will be less than ideal. Based on the belief that less-than-stellar-on-one-idealogic-metric also (always) means less-than-stellar on government policy. (E.g., IQ.)

Since Nature always equals a bell curve distribution, do not mess with the natural order of things and/or because this is a 'natural law', there is an unstoppable tendency for things to go back to their natural shape (bell curve). So this means that it's pointless to fix a problem of the 'masses'. Implied in this is that the whatever attribute you're arranging your population on is a fixed amount/size, therefore improving/changing things for the folks in the middle will always screw up things for folks at the end points of your distribution.

IMO, at present we've got a bell-curve fixation/phobia because we're so used to seeing/being told that virtually everything 'naturally' looks this shape. And mostly we believe this because we're so used to looking at things from the perspective of only one variable at a time without taking into account how variables might interact. Funny thing though is that if you look at marketing activity, the whole premise and point is the ability to change the shape of the 'normal' bell curve for your commodity so that it skews in your favor (increased market share). Marketers/corps often do this by coming out with line extensions specifically targeting adjacent population groups. After a while, if the campaign is successful, the bell curve changes shape to something a lot different. So ... amazing how for-profit corps have absolutely no qualms with messing up/deviating from a normal distribution/bell curve but get upset if gov't/non-profits suggest this strategy in social program delivery.

If you're pro-democratic bottom-up government, you'd probably cite the 'wisdom of the crowd' phenomenon.

Personally, I think we need to test our beliefs re: government models as assiduously as we test other natural dynamic models. First off, I'd like to see a comparison done on the UK, The Netherlands and Denmark. All have monarchs as head of state, PMs as heads of gov't in democratically elected parliaments, but policy decision-making seems to be most granular and at a more grass roots level (therefore most widely distributed) in Denmark.

150:

"A couple of meanings implied by 'bell curve phobia':"

Then, no, not even remotely, as I thought that I had made clear. I am referring to the way in which the current dogmas of 'representative democracy' necessarily lead to domination by persistent cliques, demagogues, power addicts and even sociopaths.

"Since Nature always equals a bell curve distribution,"

And, no, it doesn't - but that's a completely different topic.

151:

Why 'necessarily lead'?

"Since Nature always equals a bell curve distribution," ... this is a common perception and widely applied.

152:

"In the case referred to above, I'm trying to change Whitroth's misconception that we can get all the nitrogen we need through biological nitrogen fixation and recycling animal wastes."

Are you excluding human waste from the last?

153:

Yes, I remember being taught about crop rotation in history lessons. It was presented as a magical innovation that revolutionised agriculture and made it work again when it was about to start not doing. They also implied that it still was that and was an essential component of agriculture today. (Living in the country didn't provide any conflicting observations, since all the fields round our way were used for growing cows.) There was never a hint of any kind that we've now gone back to the old dumb system plus chemicals; of course we knew that chemicals were used now, but we were just left to assume that they were used as an adjunct to crop rotation to make things work even better.

Consequently there is always a blast of cognitive dissonance when I read anything about trying to introduce it in modern times. "But surely they've been doing that for hundreds of years? It's not new..."

154:

Well, Bennett was a special case. The Lensmen found this technologically-advanced but non-space-faring planet, took it over, and turned it into a giant arsenal and naval base where they built a massive fleet without either Boskone or anyone on Earth knowing anything about it. This then meant that they were not massively outnumbered in the subsequent battle in which it turned out that Boskone had done the same thing with the planet Petrine. After the Lensmen won the battle Petrine came over to the side of Civilization, and that was the last we got to hear of either Petrine or Bennett.

155:

"Why 'necessarily lead'?"

I have posted some of the reasons before (look up "The Winner Effect"), and there are others that have been described by serious political commentators for centuries (in the context of mass media and propaganda) and millennia (in the context of cliques etc.) It's not my blog, and a proper description would be a derailment. I am aware that so-called "representative democracy" is the political dogma de jour, but I am an independent thinker (a.k.a. heretic).

156:

No personal reference intended, but I can't help being reminded of the irregular verb thing - "I have an independent mind, you are eccentric, he is round the twist" :)

157:

"No personal reference intended,"

Great Ghu, why not? That's almost polite :-) I have given up worrying about being called eccentric or even a nutter, which may have something to do with a at least a couple of dozen opinions that have been through all of the Northrop Frye stages: what-nonsense, brilliant-but-unsound, many-fine-insights-but, and of-course-we-knew-it-all-along.

158:

Okay, I'll buy that* ... independent thinker!

How about some ideas re: work-arounds to enable getting a government for all? Unless you've tossed in the towel on this and resolved to be cynical about the human race's prospects.

*Haven't read the book but have watched several of his YT videos and am generally familiar with this idea.

159:

There was never a hint of any kind that we've now gone back to the old dumb system plus chemicals

The old system isn't "dumb" in the context of highly intensive agriculture. The problem is that a crop rotation system inevitably means that some of your fields are non-productive (they're fallow, or growing legumes), and others are not growing the highest-value, most in-demand crop. So if you are a heavily populated country trying to be as food self-sufficient as possible (e.g. GB during WW2), it's not going to work. For the same reason, it would be very difficult to go back to it on a large scale, at least in Europe; it would probably work much better in less densely populated countries.

I remember watching a documentary, some years ago, about post-oil agriculture, presented by someone who was eminently qualified and motivated (IIRC, she was a trained ecologist, or at least life scientist of some flavour, who was also in line to inherit the family farm). The conclusion she came to was that the entire structure of agriculture based on annual crops is not appropriate for a post-oil culture, and we should be trying to move to more perennial crops grown in a much less monoculture fashion—something along the lines of the maize+beans+squash system mentioned a few threads ago, but with perennial crops and trees. I'm afraid I've completely forgotten the details.

160:

"How about some ideas re: work-arounds to enable getting a government for all?"

I am afraid that I draw a blank, there - not as far as mechanisms are concerned, but how to get there from here, especially in England (and, yes, I mean that, not the UK).

161:

I'm not sure it's as bad as all that. If you grow clover or something as your nitrogen fixer on the fallow field you haven't lost that field - you can use its crop to feed cows, which in turn means you can redesignate an equivalent area of cow fields to growing crops. (There is plenty of land which could equally well be used for either.) So you come out even on the amount of available crop land.

Then you choose three different crops with similarly high ratios of food value (not money value!) to crop area for the other three fields. (Note: I don't know anything about what sort of range such ratios cover. I am assuming that such a set can be found with similar values to current crops, and probably current crops would be part of the set.) This might well require a shift from "farming to produce money, with food as a byproduct" to "farming to produce food", but the same sort of shift in regard to every kind of producing stuff is long overdue, and would solve or at least massively mitigate all current environmental problems in one fell swoop.

I don't get the perennials thing. Surely it'd still require rotation and/or chemicals to stop the land wearing out, just on a longer timescale, and it'd also be harder to find crops with a high ratio of food value to crop area.

162:

I've been watching Canada lately. Their metrics seem on the upturn re: new PM/gov't approval ratings, economy, etc. Interesting Cabinet too.

163:

You're also advising specialists - and arable, tillage, and vegetable farming are completely different specialisms - to become generalists. Which involves a lot of cross-training and mistakes, a reduction in output (industrial-scale tillage farmers are absolute masters at turning sunshine, ground, and money into grain. Replacing 8 1/2 tons per hectare per year will be hard), and, probably, more staff. I suppose farm labour is one of the traditional migrant occupations, and we'll be seeing a lot more migration...

164:

The numbers on this has been gone through, and the inputs are just too small to matter compared to just how much power a reactor produces per tonne of fuel.

Do you have a link on that? I'm curious to see what sorts of assumptions they're using.

165:

The world is run by and for people within a standard deviation or two of average. The economies of scale are much too big to make anything else practical.

Since I personally happen to be about 205 cm tall, about 200 kg in mass, and my IQ as measured is too embarrassing to mention, I personally find this to be rather inconvenient. Nevertheless, it is so.

And Elderly Cynic, all complex social organizations tend to oligarchy. Can't be helped.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_law_of_oligarchy

166:

The AGRs have an intrinsic lifespan problem involving cracks developing in the carbon moderator blocks in the core. Too many cracks too close together and the reactor will not pass licencing inspections. The cracks are cumulative and the blocks can't be repaired or replaced at an economic cost. The AGRs around the country will make it to the forty year mark but I'm not sure any of them will make it to fifty.

In contrast the US nuclear regulators, the NRC are issuing operating licence extensions for another twenty years to most of the PWR and BWR reactors built in the 1970s, extending their operating lifespan to a possible sixty years and they are starting to look at further extensions to eighty years down the line depending on inpsections and refurbishments. The Russians have produced a PWR reactor vessel for their VVER1200 series designs which they claim could be part of an operational reactor for a hundred years.

167:

Fair enough, but Scotland has a slightly smaller population than the greater Miami area. If we're trying to extrapolate the fate of the industrialized world from a single data point, the U.S. is probably much more representative.

168:

I've been watching Canada lately. Their metrics seem on the upturn re: new PM/gov't approval ratings, economy, etc. Interesting Cabinet too.

I was in Vancouver a few weeks ago with a car. I didn't see ALL of the city but there seemed to be a LOT of people housing and not much business space. I suspect a lot of Canada would have issues if they had to cut back on exporting "natural resources". Especially hydrocarbons in all its forms.

But again I'm no where near an expert on Canada. My previous experience being a total of 3 or 4 months spent in Toronto over a 2 year period in the 80s.

169:

Yes. I was thinking that the costs (and profits) to run a 100 acre wheat farm on 2 or 3 crops per year vs. 10-20 acre plots of various plants and animals each with unique equipment to handle the life cycle of each are not exactly similar.

And most people who have "left" the farm or never there to begin with have no interest in returning. And most of those who try and pick it up tend have the romance wear off after dealing with the north end of a south facing pig/sheep/cow when it's raining and just above freezing.

170:

Add Norway & Sweden to that list, too ....

171:

Except that, in some areas, rotation is still used.
One field that I regularly notice, because it has no border hedge, & the road is twisty, & it's just before I stop at a country pub ....
Currently growing oilseed rape, last year was wheat, the year before was field-beans ... err I think it was trunips or swedes the year before?

172:

Because, for all of its faults, "representative democracy" is the least-worst system we have found, most of the time for governing countries.
However, there are problems, science is not a democracy, but politicians don't seem to understand that.
As in "we'll vote that the science is wrong & ignore it"
The USSR made this mistake, in its' leadership & the USSA is now doing the same thing with some of its political "leaders", because a large number of their voters don't like the science.

173:

AH, you too?

Welcome to the club!

And, of course, no-one ever, but EVER admits that you (or I) TOLD THEM SO &/or admit that they were wrong .....

174:

You CAN rotate on a small scale - that of an allotment or two.
Possibly at a "Smallholding" scale, but for mass production for large populations it can be a problem.
However, see my remarks on one Essex field that I regularly pass, back at # 171?

175:

And, as I said, (a) the assertion that what we have is democracy (vide Saki) and (b) the claim that it is the "least worst" system are both dogmas of your favoured religion. There is essentially no evidence for either.

176:

I have, too, with utter horror. What used to be a civilising influence on the countries to its south has overtaken them going the other way. And, relating to this matter:

https://www.rt.com/usa/339363-democracy-spring-protest-elders-arrests/
http://edition.cnn.com/2016/04/11/politics/democracy-spring-arrests-protests-washington/
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-capitol-demonstration-idUSKCN0X82M1

Russia Today's claim that "The mainstream media has not covered the event" seems to be at least partially correct, and wholly so as far as the UK is concerned. I don't know if the USA coverage uses the UK trick of 'reporting' politically unpalatable news by writing an article but immediately archiving it, often not even indexing it as news. Can any transpondian comment as to how this was reported (on CNN, nationally or locally)?

177:

Fair enough, but Scotland has a slightly smaller population than the greater Miami area.

The key point I didn't bother making, is that Scotland is utterly shit for photovoltaic power; this is all hydroelectric and wind-based (and some tidal), and HEP topped off at around 10-15% nearly fifty years ago -- Scotland got big on hydroelectric power quite early.

Miami, to pick your target, has a much better supply of sunlight than Scotland. Also? Despite being an underpopulated part of the UK, Scotland's population density is reasonably high by US standards ...

You folks should be able to do this, too.

178:

Actually, the utility of democracy is that it provides for a peaceful transfer of power.

If your criterion for "best" is "avoids civil wars and heads on spikes every generation or three", then it passes the test -- at least, so far and when implemented correctly (i.e. not as a fig-leaf covering a de-facto dictatorship).

179:

"Scotland is utterly shit for photovoltaic power"

If I may interrupt and explain the details. Dividing the year into quarters:

Adequate sunlight, most days
At least some usable sunlight, most days
Don't bother
What's sunlight?

And there is a strong association of the demand with the least sunlight. All of that is true even in the south of England. What transpondians often forget that the UK lies to the north of the inhabited parts of Canada, Scotland corresponds to the southern strip of Alaska, and we have a lot of often heavy cloud cover.

180:

And my point is that is as true (and it's debatable) for several forms of autocracy, including the one I described. England and the UK (I know less about the Scottish franchise) weren't representative democracies in any real sense before 1832 and arguably later.

181:

And do you want to guess how many insurgencies happened in the UK in the 19th century?

182:

To which, I may add, that the body-count, all round is lower, which has got to be a good thing.

183:

With the possible exception of the USA, the UK was the "most democratic" country in the world, even before 1832 ...
Not that it wasn't in desperate need of reform by then.
Howver, see my answer to the next poster

184:

I am undecided about you. But, just in case you are seriously asking, I suggest that you DO try comparing the relevant periods in the British Isles, and don't forget the 20th century, either - there have been two in Ireland (as part of the UK) alone, plus a lot of attempts at political change that have been repressed by force. And then start allowing for the well-known problem that insurgencies are (largely) caused by economic, social and political discrimination. You don't make a dogma into a truth just by howling heretics down, or even by burning us at the stake. The evidence for the mantra that 'representative democracy' allows for non-violent political change any better than several other systems is at best weak.

185:

Quite a few.
HOWEVER
&
BUT
Compare & contrast with other states during the same period.
Between 1801 & 1900, then ...
How many insurgencies in:
USA? ( Major Civil War + "Indian Wars" + "commercial" suppression of insurgency - Pinkerton et al, etc )
France? Coup d'etat, 4 major revolutions at least, before any minor stuff.
"Germany"? which didn't actually exist until 1870/1 - um.
Italy? "Unification", banditry, other struggles.
Russia? Just don't ask.
Austria-Hungary - as bad as Russia.
And so on.

186:

In mid Norfolk where I live the crops are all rotated. Pick one from oilseed rape, sugar beet, barley, maize, wheat, field beans. Oilseed rape is the worst because the smell is overpowering when you're close.

187:

And, yes, you have a point.
Would Women have got the vote, even partially, in 1919, if it hadn't been for the Suffragettes?
( And maybe the non-violent Suffragists, as well .....

188:

I'd suggest that there is evidence to support "democracy as least worst", although I suspect you'll disagree with it - because it's market-driven. Namely, compare attempted migration in each direction between nearby nations of differing political systems.

Compare the numbers attempting to cross the Anti-Fascist Wall between the two Germanys during the 60s/70s/80s. The numbers trying to drive a boat from Miami to Cuba, rather than the other way around. The number of illegals trying to cross between Mexico and the USA, or between Hong Kong and the People's Republic of China, or South Korea and the DPRK. The number of Brits trying to join Da'esh, compared to the number of Syrians trying to get away from them.

Perhaps it's "better PR", but having lived for three years as a youth in the People's Republic of Bulgaria, I have my doubts - it had a great Gini coefficient (if you ignored the fact that it very definitely had a Nomenklatura), but it was a fairly rubbish place to live (not to mention one-party state, economically incompetent, forced assimilation of minorities, assassination of political opponents, etc, etc).

I'll stick with representative democracy, for all its failure modes - and work for its evolution, rather than dream of a revolution...

189:

VERY interesting.
However, with the interwebs, how long before this actually does make the mainstream media?
I note NOTHING on Brit news-sources at present, though.

190:

USA? ( Major Civil War + "Indian Wars" + "commercial" suppression of insurgency - Pinkerton et al, etc )

I'd class many of the Indian Wars as wars of conquest.

191:

Does Scotland have much in the way of energy-intensive industry (steel mills, aluminum, silicon wafers, etc)? The answer to that question makes a big difference in how impressed I am with Scottish achievements in sustainability; the more you're importing the products of energy used elsewhere, the more vulnerable you are to global shortages.

Aside: in Florida (where I live), occasional hurricanes make rooftop solar a dicey proposition and wind turbines look suspiciously like unguided kamikaze helicopters. This is not to downplay the difficulties of our political process, which spans the full spectrum from Trump to Cruz. In better news, tidal power may soon be coming to our area, mostly in the form of flooding. If I seem pessimistic, there are reasons.

192:

Does Scotland have much in the way of energy-intensive industry (steel mills, aluminum, silicon wafers, etc)?

Less than it did, because of vandalism by successive UK governments with no interest in (a) manufacturing or (b) anything north of Watford, but yes: all of the above.

I spent several holidays as a kid in Fort William: big aluminium smelting plant there, run by hydroelectricity.

193:

I was unaware there was something to decide about me.
For the whole of the 19th Century, the UK was the British Isles (minus the Isle Of Mann, of course).

The political systems labelled Representative Democracy have been no great guarantors of stability (see: the Protestant Ascendancy, the 19th Century UK [Ireland, Wales, the Radical rebellions], the Troubles, ETA, etc, etc.) Popular belief in the legitimacy of the governing system seems to be the best insulation from revolt: these days that legitimacy is derived from assertions about representing "the people." Making an effort to actually do so is often the easiest way to make that assertion, and democracy is the "least worst" route to that representation. So not "Representative Democracy" but representative democracy - a description, not a label.

Democracy also gives ambitious dickheads routes to power that don't go via the graveyard, which cuts down on the coups. Which I think may be Charlie's point?

194:

Isle of Man of course, 'scuse me.

195:

Sweden most emphatically does have lots of heavy industry, and has run a non-fossil grid since the seventies on the back of a fifty/fifty mix of fission and hydro.

Again, when doing future predicting, the options are that renewables turn out to be quite up to the task of sustaining industrial society, or they aren't and the world goes nuclear instead. There is no branch on the plausible futures where energy shortages are a cause of apocalypse. They can be a *consequence* of it - 99% of use die to genetically engineered plagues, there is going to be a dire shortage of manpower to keep things running, but a primary cause? No. Not happening.

196:

You have considerably more faith in the fundamental sanity of humanity than I do. Living in Florida has had that effect on me.

197:

It's always appeared to me to be a strong meme within the USA, almost an article of faith, that the natural reaction to a "loss of order" is instant dystopia; Brin's "Postman", any number of disaster movies, etc, etc. By contrast, the.UK meme seems to be at the other end of the spectrum; "Keep Calm and Carry On". In reality (I.e. when things really get crappy) the short-term reaction is cooperation.

Perhaps it's the US media's reverence for individual self-interest (I mean the whole "be a winner" stuff). Perhaps it's pushed by Fox News because it taps into the whole "law and order" thing. I rather suspect that the parts of the US that actually require self-reliance (say, Alaska, or the wilder parts of Flyover Country), are far more cooperative than Fox would suggest.

The irony is that the insistence that everyone else is going to ruthlessly look out for themselves, reinforced by fiction and breathless news coverage, is more likely to actually bring it about... But then, your Fox commentator would probably look at the UK response and mutter words like "compliant" and "sheeple"...

198:

Perhaps it's pushed by Fox News because it taps into the whole "law and order" thing.

This concept is much older than Fox News. Not everything is the fault of Fox News. Or MSNBC. Or CNN. Or ...

199:

For total collapses, I think more along the lines of post-Soviet Russia or post-Saddam Iraq. The immediate reaction is cooperation, but defectors are successful enough to attract imitators. In a year or so, society is pretty far gone.

In the case of an energy crisis or similar, I expect that available resources will be diverted to urgent needs, making them unavailable for the sort of large-scale investment that could affect the core problem. Starving people tend to eat their seed corn; we usually prefer to all die together tomorrow than choose to sacrifice someone today.

200:

Uhm.. Both the French and the Swedish atomic dashes were in the context of their primary source of power (oil fired grids!) getting very expensive extremely suddenly. So this is an experiment that has already been run. - No resource crunch is likely to be significantly more of a shock than OPEC.

Or the world wars.
Industrial Society isn't all that fragile. It can be broken, sure. But it's not going to keel over at the first mild adversity to come it's way.

201:

Just how many fab plants make Intel microprocessors? And I'm sure there's a long list of similar things. Look at what happened to the disk drive market a few years ago when Thailand was flooded.

There are a LOT of steel mills in the world. Ditto concrete plants. Not so much with some of the high tech bits we all use every day.

202:

PROVIDED, of course that some of the so-called "greens are taken out & shot err .. sent to live on isolated islands with plenty of resources, but no electrical power ...
And proper nuclear power stations built.
How Britain backed itself into a blind corner of its own making over nuclear power is a story of unbelievable stupidity, cowardice & incompetence.

203:

That's not market-driven evidence - it's just repeating discredited cold war propaganda. Eastern Germany was a brutal and incompetent tyranny, and I could give plenty of examples where the migration has gone AND GOES the other way.

204:

Starving people tend to eat their seed corn

Not always, though. Classic example being Leningrad seedbank.

205:

So, what are your counter-examples where the balance of migration is from a more democratic country towards a nearby less democratic one?

Because it wasn't West Germans tearing down the Wall and heading East. There aren't queues of Israelis trying to emigrate to Russia on the basis of a Soviet granny. Hong Kong hasn't emptied in the direction of the People's Republic of China, nor South Korea towards the DPRK. Syria doesn't have refugee camps for the hundreds of thousands of Jordanians, Lebanese, and Turks clamouring to be ruled by the Ba'ath or Da'esh. And there aren't Australians cramming themselves into rickety boats and sailing to Vietnam or Ethiopia.

Calling it "discredited cold war propaganda" is all very well, but which ones of my examples are "discredited" and why?

Note smilies! :) :) Leaving it as a blind assertion smacks of sticking your fingers in your ears and going "la-la-la-workers'-paradise-la-la-la"... :) :)

206:

Is the migration really just to do with the political system though, or rather for economic reasons and the democratic system has produced more wealthy destinations in the last 50 years?

A lot of refugees are leaving Syria and stopping in Jordan and Turkey, because they are relatively similar environments to where they left. The educated elites are moving further, to more developed countries where they hope their education will be of benefit. Most of the poorest refugees can't afford to make the journey.

Taking Cuba as an example, most of the vocal exiles were wealthy prior to the revolution. The average Cuban today is actually fairly content with their society because it is very egalitarian, if rather limited thanks to the embargoes. Once the US trade embargo finally drops, there will be a net migration back again despite the political system.

207:

While Cuba before Castro was bad for a LOT (majority) of Cubans things are not all that wonderful now. And many Cubans are not happy with the current setup. But I'll admin that it is likely that a much larger percentage of the population now is happy compared to before Castro. But determining if that's an increase of 5% to 30% or 40% to 90% is hard due to the closed nature of the system there.

Racism is still a big issue that the government there is in denial about.

208:

But the point re. climate change and a badly set up global economy is that it isn't the first mild adversity that causes problems, but the 50th, the never ending stream of them causing stress.

209:

Right. I am glad that someone is thinking. There are many reasons for such movements, and dislike of the form of government is somewhere between a very minor one and totally insignificant. In any case, one can reasonably argue that Russia (for example) is at least as democratic as (say) the UK - i.e. not very.

East Germany was as dysfunctional as I said, and the same exodus didn't happen in Czechoslovakia, Poland etc. - indeed, Poles leaving in large numbers STARTED when they got democracy! Cuba was little different from the Chinese who left the (more democratic) communists for Chiang Kai-shek's autocracy, and Cuba's economy was (and is) hammered by the USA's semi-cold war against it. I remember when those examples were being used as official anti-communist propaganda, and THAT was when they were discredited by the serious analysts. Bringing up Isis and Russian Jews is extreme, even by his usual standards! What about the people who left newly democratic Iraq for Iran, Saudi Arabia and Assad's Syria? Or those who left (democratic!) Israel for Jordan, the Gulf states, Syria etc. - and, unlike the Russian Jews, they didn't get financial support for it. I could also raise the people who leave democratic Asian and African countries for the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia today, and those who left the United States for the British colonies in the 18th century.

210:

This point was raised by Tim Martin, boss of Wetherspoons:
Democracy usually/always means greater prosperity - & he quoted the "two Germanys" amongst others.
He was using this, incidentally, as a lead-up to a "Get OUT of the EU" statement, as he believes the EU to be fundamentally anti-democratic & a total bureaucracy, where the parliament is merely a powerless front.

211:

And that mantra is totally wrong, too, and you can use many of the same counter-straw-men to show it up. Or England versus France in the 18th century! Yes, ALL of the examples given, on both sides, are complete nonsense.

212:

Another point to remember is that for most of our recorded history, the vast majority of people were born, grew old and died within a few miles of home. Individual travellers were rare, and bulk deliberate migration was usually due to famine or practiced by nomadic groups to avoid overgrazing. Even during many of the wars in Europe, the peasants mostly just carried on as they were while the rest bickered over who owned them.

Mass migration as we know it really is a factor of the boom in food production post renaissance and the development of proper oceangoing ships, which let people live long enough to reach their destinations. And the world has really shrunk in the last 50 years with the development of affordable air travel. My grandmother went to London from Australia for the Coronation in '53 and she spent near a month each way travelling by liner. Today that's a 20 hour flight.

213:

He's clearly wrong, as a good look at history would show. E.g. China, not a democracy, a bit looser now than it was, and growing nicely. Or Stalinist Russia, or suchlike. Growth and trading and technological innovation are not intrinsically tied into 'democracy', if you define democracy as free elections and the ability for people in general to have a say in how the country is run. Or medieval Europe, full of non-democracies, yet trade and such still went on. All capitalist market based trade needs is a set of rules and people with sufficient freedom to buy and sell, even if they are chained to their workstation all day long and cannot decide what food to buy themselves.

214:

Er, no. Sorry. That was true for some countries, but not all. The UK's network of long-distance routes was created for (and by?) neolithic packmen, followed by the Romans, and was in continual use by such packmen, pilgrims etc. from then on. Droving and packing to and from fairs, festivals etc. was shorter distance, but was often tens of miles.

Cornish/Breton (and other UK Celtic) people emigrated in quite large numbers from well before the renaissance - they may have been soldiers, sailors or miners following work, but they often settled down where they ended up. And the reason for emigration was (then, as now) very often unemployment, poverty and famine at home.

215:

I deleted my paragraph on slavery, pilgrims and trading by mistake, so accept your point. My argument was I don't count them as migrations because most traders and pilgrims return to where they started from. Individual slaves might travel a long distance, but the slave traders tended to only operate short distances on land, or out of trading hubs along a coast.

I don't doubt that small groups might move around for better opportunities, especially within Europe, but I do argue that the free movement we've seen in the last ~200yrs is a very different phenomenon. After all, look at history - Alexander might have conquered his way to India, but the Greeks didn't settle there. Africa and the Americas were largely independent kingdoms with little genetic mixing, much of Asia and India the same. Trade routes criss-crossed the globe, but most traders tended to be quite regional, trading with each other instead of travelling very long distances. The Norman Conquest was significant for Britain, but basically bickering neighbours on a scale of Europe.

At least up until 1200, when the Mongols broke the mould and conquered everyone, but then they mostly superimposed a ruling class on existing power structures, importing small numbers of scholars from China to assist. Unlike the Greeks and Romans, the Mongols never had the population density or time to properly settle their empire, which is why so many successor states rapidly dissolved after the plague.
The reason I use the Renaissance is that that is the time immediately following the Black Death, when lots of very long settled areas were suddenly up for grabs again, food was plentiful because the population density had dropped, and lots of people wanted to change their environment.

216:

I think you missed some big mixing events in there:
--The Roman Empire
--The Age of Migration (aka Late Antiquity and the dark ages)
--The Byzantine Empire
--The first Caliphate
--trading across the Indian Ocean (which saw colonies of traders spread all the way to Korea by the 10th Century)
--the spread, contract, and fragmentation of the various Chinese dynasties
--The Ottoman Empire (and likely its predecessors, and the Mughal and Mauryan Empires as well)
--the Inkan (and likely the Wari) empires
--movement of nomads across the Eurasian steppes starting around 3000 BCE and ending around 1900 CE.
--Zomia

There are a couple of fundamentals here.

One is that empires routinely move and resettle populations. It's a good strategy, because it gets troublemakers away from their home turf and establishes them as invaders on someone else's home turf, and thus makes them dependent on imperial favor. Everyone from the Ottomans to the Inkans are known to have done this. Even Americans did this, when we put Indian tribes on reservations outside their homelands. Much of the current mess in Syria and Iraq is the result of Ottoman, Byzantine, even Roman mixing of populations, both passively (as people moved to cities to take advantage of commerce, or away from cities to avoid religious persecution) and actively (to spread out troublemakers, as in the fate of the lost tribes of Israel). If you look at the Romans in Britain, they were from all over, not just Romanized Celts and Gauls.

The other fundamental is that you forgot about the nomads and the people (like those of Zomia) who actively moved away from expanding kingdoms and empires because they didn't want to deal. If you look at people like those blue-eyed Berbers, they aren't indigenes to North Africa. This pattern is less common in the New World than the Old, at least before 1492.

217:

Ok, I'll concede defeat. I did think about mentioning the resettling within empires but thought my post was getting too long. The nomads I overlooked though, same with the Hordes.

So apart from the Traders, the Pilgrims, the Nomads, the Hordes, the forced resettlers, those looking for work and those who ran out of food ...
the majority of people didn't move much.

218:

That's about right. Most people didn't move, except when they (or their kids) did. Humans are annoying that way.

219:

If you look at people like those blue-eyed Berbers, they aren't indigenes to North Africa.
EXACTLY the wrong way around, actually.
The Berbers were there before the arabs/muslims arrived ...
That's why they're blue-eyed, like the "Celts", who also are an Atlantic-edge grouping, oops, or something.

220:

Sure about that?
It might have been truer then, is it true now?
Also some measure of democracy usually means a greater freedom to do - stuff ....
Which usually means better economic circumstances.
Look at Putin's Russia going backwards under the control of an oligarchic elite who are all gangster-pals with the president ...

221:

Yes. It always has been very society- and circumstance-dependent. Even in the UK, before cheap air flights, many people found it difficult to understand my family background - mostly empire-builders for several generations (and, no, I don't mean the people with poncey hats, but the engineers etc.) Most of them had never lived outside the UK and usually couldn't imagine doing it; many had never even BEEN outside it!

The mistake many people make is not to scale for the modes of transport. If people of all ages have to walk, carrying everything, AND forage or work for food on the way, two hundred miles is a long way. If it is healthy adults, with a light load, and easy access to food, or using horse-drawn vehicles, make that a thousand. Even (ocean capable) sailing ships remove the distance limit entirely, and it becomes a matter of resources and obstacles (physical, political etc.)

222:

Greg, you seem to think history began in, what, 800 CE?

Yes, the Arabs and Muslims conquered the region between 661 and 750 CE.

Before that, the people who are now the Berbers were there. Carthage was one of their cities.

In any case, the geneticists now say they have mitochondrial similarities with the Sami people of Scandinavia going back 9000-odd years. Feel free to figure out how their women migrated, but as I noted above, people move, and 9000 years is a fairly long time, about 10 percent of the history of our species.

223:

I think the most astonishing thing for me was the person I met at university in Auckland back in NZ, who had grown up in New Zealand and never seen the sea.
Bear in mind, Auckland is a port city ... he'd been asleep when they drove in and it was only the first month of the semester.

Still, if you drive for two hours in any direction in NZ you're pretty much guaranteed to hit the sea, so it was rather extraordinary.

I regularly meet thirtysomethings in London who have never left the UK, they still consider France a long way away.

On the other hand when my grandmother died some 15 years ago she had travelled through every country in the world bar two, including North Korea and Antarctica. The missing two were warzones at the time and to be honest haven't improved much since.

224:

I think you are talking across me ....
Your reference to the Berbers is in agreement with what I said, actually .....
The Berbers were "indegenous" compared to the arab/muslims ... & no-one, except a few african tribes are non-indegenous, if you want to take that line, anyway.

226:

I'd be VERY cautious when dealing with prehistoric migrations in Northern Africa; for starters, Berber languages belong to the Afroasiatic family, e.g. they are akin to Old Egyptian, the Semitic languages and a host of African languages hardly a non-linguist heard about. A look at theories about Proto-Afroasiatic shows you the mess prehistory is quite often in.

Furthermore, light eyes but somewhat dark hairs and skin might have been quite common with Paleolithic and Mesolithic European hunter-gatherers,

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24463515

so "blue eyes" might just be a left-over from early hunter-gatherers in Europe and Northern Africa that later on got swamped by farmers from the Fertile Crescent and like, not a sign of any direct connection between Berbers and e.g. British (except both were somewhat at the extreme end of the demic diffusion of agriculture from the Fertile Crescent/Egypt).

I don't have that much data on hair colors in Ancient DMA, or at least, most of the studies I remember concluded the subjects were dark haired, though hair color is somewhat subject to age and environment. As quite a few brunettes or dark blondes learn when they return from a holiday in the sun.

To summarize somewhat, I think part of the stories of "blonde berbers" might be hyperbole; also, there are quite some local variations. If you google for pictures of e.g. Tuaregs in the desert or Kabyles you'll know what I mean, so it might not be so much a "blonde berber" but more of a "blonde berber from Marocco and the Canarian Islands", which opens up quite some other questions.

As for how Ancient Berbers looked like, take a look at this:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Gates

On another note, "Celtic" cultures like Hallstadt derive from Austria and like, which is quite far from the Atlantic. From there, they spread to the British Islands later on:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26712024

I guess I know what you meant (British population before the Romans and Saxons[1]) showed up, still...

[1] No, not those Saxons...

227:

That's impressive. My grandfather (who died in the 1930s) didn't quite do that, but that was before affordable air travel, of course. Reporter: "I hear that you are the most travelled man in the world". Him: "No, X is more travelled, but I think I am second". But, even in those days, there were a fair number of people who clocked up hundreds of thousands of miles - at average speeds of tens of miles an hour!

And, as Heteromeles implies, the first great out-of-Africa migration (c. 70K years BP) reached the Australia, and the second (35K-10K years BP) reached every significant location except for New Zealand and Antarctica. And there was a lot of migration after that, including most of the current NW European stock from west Asia.

228:

I've never forgotten the statistic I read years ago about the settlement of the Americas. In roughly a thousand years, we covered from Alaska to Patagonia, but assuming a small tribe start point of 100 individuals - that only actually involved a growth rate of ~1% per year, and an expansion rate of ~8 miles per year. Which is actually pretty slow by any standards.

It turns out when we decide to settle unoccupied lands, we can do so pretty quickly. But once those lands are settled, we tend not to move as much - though our leaders might want us to.

As for travellers ... look what Ibn Battuta got up to in only 30 years ... in 1340!

229:

Yes, but the figures are not quite right. Ignoring the population ones[*], 8 miles in a consistent direction is likely to map to a LOT more as actually travelled. And moving a whole community is a major undertaking, unless it is already nomadic - even then, it's a quite a big deal if the most advanced vehicle is a travois. The food issues alone militate against travelling far or fast. Groups of solely active adults can move a lot faster, but still have to spend a lot of time gathering food.

[*] http://hmg.oxfordjournals.org/content/6/1/41.full

230:

" The food issues alone militate against travelling far or fast. Groups of solely active adults can move a lot faster, but still have to spend a lot of time gathering food."
Eight miles a year is only 120 feet daily, the meerkat nature series showed them foraging for available grubs, millipedes and scorpions around their den entrance and then moving on as the day progressed to clear out nearby areas, settling in new dens only when the return trip got too long for safe passage. Hunter gatherer human tribes could probably clean out what amounts to a suburban backyard area one day and then meander over to the neighboring patch the next day. Depending on replenishment time for their favorite foods they might just find it easier to keep going than to circle back.

231:

Homo sapiens is dependent on fairly solid camps, at least minimal tanning, fire etc. anywhere outside the most benign parts of the tropics. Also, the foraging area for even a family group is MUCH larger than that for meerkats - though I accept that walking a couple of miles to forage is not a big deal. It's moving the camps etc. that is the issue.

232:

North American tribes moved further than 8 miles between summer and winter hunting grounds. Pastoralists moved further than that — hundreds of km are not unknown.

The Blackfoot (for example) seem to have originated in Maine and ended up by the Rocky Mountains, moving on foot and with dog-pulled travois. Before they got horses they still moved more than 8 miles a year following the buffalo. (Ref: displays at Head Smashed In interpretive centre.)

The biggest problem wouldn't be moving people and gear, it would be learning enough about a new landscape to survive in it. Knowing good hunting grounds (which tend to be seasonal), campsites, etc is a major part of surviving. But it doesn't seem unreasonable that scouts/hunters could check out an area 8 miles further than they did last year.

233:

I have visited Florida, and I'm still not convinced it really exists; it seems more like a deranged figment of Hunter Thompson's imagination.

234:

That puts me in mind of my paternal great-grandfather (died circa 1911) who allegedly met my great-grandmother in the 1870s, on his way home to what is now Brodnica in Poland on a two year long business trip that took him all the way to Tehran and back -- on foot. (Jewish wool merchants needed serious boots in those days.)

235:

I have visited Florida, and I'm still not convinced it really exists...

*snicker* Thank you for that quip; many stories of "America's wang" go like that.

Anyone who doubts may google "Florida man" for more stupid human tricks than any one location should produce.

236:

You are right about hunter-gatherers needing a larger range, but the 'fairly solid' camps is rather vague and handwavy, given what we know about the use of caves, the evidence for temporary shelters in northern europe etc. Bear in mind you don't need to move to a different place every day, and that a group of adults can put together a usable shelter in a few hours of work, and that their standards of 'solid' were clearly lower than ours today.

See also reconstruction attempts like this:

http://www.ucd.ie/news/2013/07JUL13/250713-Replica-of-10000-year-old-house-built-by-UCD-archaeologists-on-the-campus-grounds.html

Based on a northern irish house from nearly 10k years ago.

237:

Recently I read a claim by some native Floridian that Florida attracts crazy* people from all over US, mostly because they know they will not freeze to death if they become homeless. He said "dig deeper on any 'Florida Man' story, and three times out of four it turns out to be a transplant from somewhere else."

Not sure if it is true.

* Not literally mentally ill, just social misfits

238:

They also allow someone to exempt all of the value in their home if they declare bankruptcy. So rich folks considering walking away from their creditors will "move" to Florida, buy the biggest house they can with whatever cash they can lay their hands on, THEN declare bankruptcy.

239:

I said earlier than movements were common, but I was responding to the idea that they might occur in micro-increments; that doesn't make sense. You have a good point about the time needed to scout an area, but it's part and parcel of the same cost. It's a matter of economics - most groups did not have the margin necessary to be able to lose even a day on a frequent basis.

240:

Look, I have LIVED in mud huts! Even crude ones take half a day's work, and finding dryish material for bedding isn't easy in many places, either. Caves are sufficiently localised to be an irrelevance. And, as I said, you need to be able to preserve skins for clothing, which means that you have half-cured material. Etc.

The point that you miss is that they didn't have many spare resources. Less insulating homes and clothing means that you need a LOT more food - and gathering even the minimum is taking most of the hours of the day. The further you are from the benign tropics, the more resources you need. I have lived in unheated houses in the tropics, in California and the south of the UK, and the difference between the UK's winter and the others is massive. And the south of the UK isn't only moderately hostile.

241:

Naah, can't be true. The homeless crazies might not freeze to death, but their exsanguinated mummified corpses will only come to light once the mosquitos have finished with them (assuming the alligators don't use them for toothpicks).

242:

My gut feeling on what happened was most of them migrated out of the hostile climate zones of the north down to the much more habitable temperate zones fairly quickly. They then expanded from there, eventually pushing back into the arctic zones once the temperate zones were full as it were.

Whether there were multiple migrations or just a few is very difficult to prove, though I'd expect multiple to have been the case. Nevertheless Anzick-1 links Montana remains to every other surviving population in the americas, particularly Central and South America, so at least one group did colonise everywhere, or interbred enough to effectively do so.

As for the camps debate ... general contention is they lived in an area for around a week then moved on - that comfortably gives enough time to erect decent shelters and cure hides, especially if you take the key components with you. They also had a fairly dense population of megafauna to feed off, and climate that was very different to today. It took them a few thousand years to eat all the big animals and localise their lifestyle, so it was clearly a very successful approach.

243:

"Look, I have LIVED in mud huts!"

As do many people in Britain, especially Southern England

244:

Clunch houses are something else entirely, as well as almost all of the surviving lath-and-plaster. I was and am referring to the sort of construction that is relevant to this thread.

245:

Yes, but moving once a week will have been more-or-less the most frequent; there are lots of circumstances that would have made it difficult to maintain. All that really means is that the figures for the achievable distance per year have to be scaled down, and are HIGHLY non-uniform, but even a few moves of a day's walk a year gives ample margin for wandering about.

246:

Sure, but as far as I am aware no evidence has been found for mud huts in the UK, rather shelters made of branches and greenery of various sorts, or turf supported by timber as the Irish folk are making. Of course people back then also lived much shorter lives, in greater pain and fear than now, as their skeletons attest.

Also, Britain back then was a little different, if you're talking stone age hunter gatherers. More animals, a lot of trees, etc. WHich makes me wonder if farming was adopted as much because such resources were running out, but I think we'll never have enough evidence to say.

247:

Poland on a two year long business trip that took him all the way to Tehran and back -- on foot.

I assume he had pack animals. I can't imagine carrying enough merchandise on his back to make it worth while.

In the US most people today think settlers going to the west coast in the era 1820 to 1865 road their horses or in wagons pulled by horses. Nope. They were too valuable to waste their energy on carrying people. The only people who road in wagons were those who couldn't walk the average of 20 miles per day. And the wagons were mostly pulled by oxen. Horses were ridden to scout ahead and go after game.

248:

Actually, fancy forms of UK mud huts lasted well into modern times, and there are quite a few still some in use! Wattle and daub is just a crude form of lath and plaster; clunch is essentially the equivalent of mud brick. However, I was using the term loosely, and most mud huts (even today) ARE made of loosely-woven branches; the mud is used to hold that together, block the drafts and reduce the invertebrate population. And, most importantly, my figure of half a day lost is for the CRUDEST of huts - building one solid enough for bad weather takes a lot longer.

The point is that those people were living on the edge, and spent MOST of their time trying to survive (mainly gathering and preparing food and skins). Even half a day once a week is a LOT if you have only 10% margin when things are going well. That's the class economic viability argument for development.

249:

Mud huts are intensive, but also uncommon alongside hunter gatherers for the very reasons you mention. From what I've read they tended to develop alongside a more sedentary lifestyle and the need for storage of food.

Simple hide tents on the other hand are straightforward to make, and are still in use by nomadic herding people today with remarkably few changes in design in a thousand years because the components are easy to obtain.

The Bering land bridge environment was mostly grassland steppes, similar to central Asia today. I'd expect the first travellers to be using a core of highly portable shelters based on cured animal hides and bones for structure. Some parts would be carried with them, others constructed as needed from the bodies of animals killed along the way.

They would have followed the seasonal migration paths of their prey animals so it's not exactly the barren landscape you portray.

250:

"Simple hide tents ... nomadic herding people ..."

The last I heard, the people who colonised the Americas 10K years ago were believed NOT to have pack animals - that makes one hell of a difference - those things are HEAVY. And preparing new hides (even crudely) takes time - hence my doubt of frequent moves.

251:

Is the migration really just to do with the political system though, or rather for economic reasons and the democratic system has produced more wealthy destinations in the last 50 years

And that's a far better criticism of my suggested measure, than lazily to deride it as "discredited western propaganda". You're right - separating economic drivers from the ideological is difficult. Most people will stay close to home, most people will "put up with" the system that they find themselves living in - and get on with life. The ones who risk life and limb are outliers, and possibly a teensy bit obsessive. So, how to tell? Even the example of Hungary immediately after 1956 is tricky; did the emigres leave because they were at risk of criminal charges, or because they were ideologically opposed to the regime imposed on them? ("Treason never prospers; what's the reason?" applies)

I was trying to find examples of differing ideologies with a single close border, rather than an interposed country similar to your own. Polish migrants would have to go out through the USSR or the DDR, neither of which were exactly cooperative. Religious differences might be significant - crossing the Roman Catholic / Orthodox Church boundary in Eastern Europe is tricky (consider the former Yugoslavia to see why). It would be enlightening to see the rate at which migrants crossed between Albania and Yugoslavia in the years when Tito and Hoxha ruled.

So; rather than the "how much are you willing to risk your life to cross that border" measurement, how about another measure of an ideology: "do we make it difficult to leave". Are passports difficult to gain, are exit visas necessary? Is travel within border areas restricted somehow? Is the ideology secure in its superiority, or does it need to control the risk of migration elsewhere?

While the West has historically scored much better in this (for all that Elderly Cynic dismisses it as "propaganda", it's hard to argue that COMECON nations didn't make it rather harder than the West for their citizens to travel abroad; and I and plenty of my school friends had parents who were engaged in dealing with illegal immigrants into Hong Kong from Vietnam and the PRC). This is the one where the UK is perhaps wrong, IMHO, in trying to stop people travelling to join Da'esh - I agree that there's a strong welfare argument against allowing children to be taken there by their parents, but if we haven't got the confidence to say "crack on, emigrate if you wish, see how you like it" then how can we argue that representative democracy is "better"?

252:

Surely the Britons travelling to join Daesh is just a continuation of the old British practise of travelling abroad to kill foreigners?

253:

the people who colonised the Americas 10K years ago were believed NOT to have pack animals

Dogs + travois will drag a lot, including hide tents. That's how the Blackfoot managed several moves a year covering hundreds of kilometres. I don't recall how long it took their ancestors to move from Maine to the Prairies, but that demonstrably happened.

I grew up on the Prairies. The horse enabled wider seasonal movement, but even before the horse the Prairies were settled by nomadic tribes.

254:

I am sick and tired of you misrepresenting me, and am not going to respond to your distorted statements. Since you are not a trollbot, you must be the other one.

255:

Hmm.
I look at "do we make it hard to leave" as being a factor of much of human history unless there was (comparatively) empty land to move to. Certainly the peasants couldn't go anywhere unless their lords (and debts) disappeared. Our most recent period of big migration started with the discovery of the new world, and really kicked off in the 17th and 18th centuries. Prior to that there was relatively little movement between countries except amongst the elites. Subsequent to the colonial landgrabs there there was a surprising amount of movement between the Great Powers. Russia for example had a massive net immigration up until the fall of the Tsar. It was only towards the end of the Imperial period that they tightened the borders and locked things down to being for natural citizens only, whereas prior to that they actively encouraged foreign settlement throughout their empire (for appropriate foreigners of course).

256:

Please explain how I could possibly be misrepresenting or distorting your post? Your exact words in post 203 were "That's not market-driven evidence - it's just repeating discredited cold war propaganda."

If you'd perhaps bothered to say how it was discredited, or by whom, then I might not have described it as "lazily".

So, addressing your post @209

Cuba was little different from the Chinese who left the (more democratic) communists for Chiang Kai-shek's autocracy

If you're mentioning the KMT, then the crossing to Taiwan is across a rather militarised bit of sea. However, what of those who attempted to leave the PRC for Hong Kong? Dad spent the part of the late 1960s there debriefing a steady stream of illegal immigrants. Regarding your belief in "Chinese democracy", the Cultural Revolution might have had something to do with it...

Cuba's economy was (and is) hammered by the USA's semi-cold war against it. I remember when those examples were being used as official anti-communist propaganda, and THAT was when they were discredited by the serious analysts.

Not wanting to misrepresent you, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on exactly why there are waves of Cuban emigres continuing long after the Revolution?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuban_exile

Tens of thousands in the mid-90s alone...

http://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2014/11/20-years-after-the-1994-cuban-raft-exodus/100852/

What about the people who left newly democratic Iraq for Iran, Saudi Arabia and Assad's Syria? Or those who left (democratic!) Israel for Jordan, the Gulf states, Syria etc.

I rather suspect that a large part of those migrations are mentioned within this article:

http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/jordan-refugee-haven

and I'd be hard-pushed to describe Iraq as "democratic" - "less tyrannical", yes; "more democratic", perhaps; and a war zone, certainly.

I could also raise the people who leave democratic Asian and African countries for the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia today

The question is whether these are migrants (i.e. they take their families, and gain full citizenship in their destination) or foreign labourers (keep their nationality, send home remittances, return later to their original country)

and those who left the United States for the British colonies in the 18th century.

I can answer that, being descended from one such. If you back the losing side in a Civil War, you may decide to leave on grounds of personal safety - not just ideology.

Note also that it was the British Crown who had declared emancipation during the Treasonous Rebellion of the Slaveholders against His Majesty King George (tm), and the USA who maintained that institution for another century - so there is an argument that certainly some were heading the direction of increased democratic rights. After all, which way did the Underground Railroad go?

257:


I could also raise the people who leave democratic Asian and African countries for the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia today

The question is whether these are migrants (i.e. they take their families, and gain full citizenship in their destination) or foreign labourers (keep their nationality, send home remittances, return later to their original country)

I'm not sure I agree with your definition of migrants as only being permanent settlers seeking citizenship.
Certainly the vast amount of Eastern European migration into the west was initially foreign labour taking advantage of the better conditions. Many of the earliest Polish and Lithuanians have since returned home to spend their money where it is worth more.

They can be directly compared with the western expats to Dubai and the Middle East who also frequently bring their families.
The Asian migrants to the middle east on the other hand are emphatically modern labour slaves, not migrants.

Equally we have the example of the British invasion of the Costa del Sol where they happily intend to remain for the rest of their lives, but have no intention of becoming Spanish.

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