Modeling Putin

(Warning: This is entirely too long for the level of insight provided. The only real value in reading this is if you are curious as how the brain of the Ape Man works when confronted by a mystery).

I have proven that I have no understanding of the human element behind the Ukraine war. In fact, my understanding is so poor it has been almost a good guide in reverse as to what was going to happen. In other words, based on my past performance you would do well to think that the people involved will act in a way that is the exact opposite of what I think they will do. So why have I been so wrong?

It is tempting to throw up my hands and say that the Russians (or at least Putin) are irrational and that is why their behavior does not conform to my expectations. But even irrational people are predictable once you get to know them. Putin has been around long enough and lead Russia in enough conflicts that I thought I knew what the pattern of his behavior looked like. If you look at the conflicts in Chechnya, Georgia, Syria, and the earlier Ukraine conflicts it seems like a clear pattern becomes apparent.

The pattern seems pretty simple. First you prepare the justification for what you are going to do all the while denying that you are going to do it. Then you use overwhelming force carefully calibrated to be as risk free as possible to accomplish limited objectives. Last, you seek to reach some kind of accommodation that will end the conflict on sustainable terms. Russianphiles would probably argue with first part of this pattern and Russianphobes would object to the last part of this pattern, but to my eyes it still does a pretty good job of describing all of the recent conflicts that Russia has had save the most recent one.

Continue reading

How War in Ukraine is Destroying Russia

Basically a Peter Zeihan argument toned down for normal people. Title is a little bit click bate as the destruction of Russia and Ukraine has been baked into the numbers for a long time now (I wrote about it at least a decade ago. To lazy to go back and look at the actual date). That said, the war in Ukraine certainly is speeding the process up for both countries.

Taiwan’s lack of seriousness

The below video makes the situation in Taiwan look really bad and I have no doubt that it is. On the other hand, it is worth remembering that most people (including myself) did not imagine that Ukraine had any fight in them either. You never know what is going to happen when the heat actually comes. It is worth remembering that when Ukraine was first invaded by “little green men” back in 2014 it was rich men funding volunteer groups that first started to really push back against the Russians. This was because the Ukrainian military was seen as inadequate and not serious about pushing back against the Russians. You can see a little bit of that dynamic going on in Taiwan in the below video.

Still, you can’t change the fact that the facts as laid out in the below video are very bad for Taiwan. They are a wealthier country on a GDP per capita basis then South Korea (on purchasing power parity basis, if you look at nominal thy are about the same) so there is no reason they can’t be as serious as South Korea is about their own defense. But it seems that Taiwan is trusting too much in water and the USA or they simply don’t really care at the national level.

Fool, it is the end of your world

I was the 9 years old when the Berlin wall fell. I was 11 when the Soviet Union ceased to exist. My generation never knew the draft and never really knew a world in which the US was at risk. The fall of the Twin Towers was traumatic for my generation because it revealed that there were people in the world who wanted to kill Americans. But except for a few brief days when nobody knew the full extent of what had happened, no one thought America as whole was in danger. On the scale of a brief national history that includes the Civil War and World War II, the Twin Towers do not even register.

Confident in our power, we destroyed nations to make sure no one would even think of attacking us again. Never in this entire process was the thought that America itself was in the balance. Instead, the debates were about dollars and cents. They were about whether the gains were worth the cost. Whether we were killing bad guys faster than were making more enemies for ourselves. It was a consumer nation at war and we made war as if it was just another product to be consumed or not as we saw fit.

That world is dying and may already be dead. Now war carries with it the devil’s choice of slavery or death. America is not longer a consumer. Now America is just a gambler trying to figure which door has the least bad surprise while trying to pretend it can reason its way to the right answer.

Not everyone has figured that out yet. But the educated fools are getting increasingly panic stricken. Now some people in the Pro-Ukraine camp are starting to openly talk about the need to make sure Ukraine gives in before Russia uses nukes. They are not in the majority for sure. But it is becoming more and more real for people the weaker and weaker that Russia appears on the battle field.

Continue reading

What have we learned about Ukraine?

About two weeks ago, I wrote a post asking “What is up in Ukraine?” in which I tried to figure out how the war in Ukraine was going to go. It was a purely an intellectual exercise in trying to see how much truth I could gather through the fog of censorship and competing ideological blind spots. It seemed like a good place to try to exercise those skills before they became relevant in some issue closer to home. My tentative bet was that Ukraine had the advantage because Russia was holding the line in Kherson with airborne units that should have been in reserves. My logic was that if Ukraine managed to break through anywhere, it would be really bad for the Russians because they would have nothing to contain the break out with.

Needles to say, a lot has changed since then. The Ukrainians did force a massive break out and the Russians had nothing to stop them with in a timely manner. I can’t claim too much credit as I never would have guessed that Ukraine had the forces to pressure Russia in two locations. I was envisioning a grinding war attrition followed by a collapse of Russian forces in the Kherson region. I envisioned Russia holding Kherson itself due the defensible nature of the large urban area as well as their ability to support it with artillery safely a crossed the river.

So what have we learned and what can we see about the future? Granting all the same caveats in the first post, these are my thoughts on what we have learned that is beyond an honest person’s ability to dispute….. Continue reading

Test Run With Silky Big Boy

I have been wanting a saw to keep in the car in case the road was blocked with fallen trees and I really wanted to get home. The main thing that has been preventing me is the thought that you can’t get a saw big enough to do any good without having something too big for a car. But I heard a lot of good things about about Silky Saws so I decide to give them a try.

Shortly after my Silky “Big Boy” was delivered to my house a chance to try it out came in the form of a top of a pine tree falling across one of my mother’s trails. Normally I would have got out the chain saw for a task like this but it was cold and I did not feel like fighting with the saw to get it started.

When I started, the tree look like this….

Blocked Path

My original goal was to the do the bare minimum of cuts so that I could easily toss everything into the brush. But when I got to cutting I was so amazed at how easy it was that I started cutting it into smaller pieces just for the fun of it. It is certainly no chain saw, but I have no doubt it could handle lot bigger trees then what I was dealing with in this picture if I needed it to. The official instructions tell you it is only recommended up to 8″ but I have heard you can go a lot bigger then that in a pinch simply by cutting from two sides instead of only working one cut.

Bigger Cut

The total time it took me to cut everything up into the neat little pile below was 26 minutes (and I did time myself with the stopwatch function on my phone). A chain saw would have been a lot faster if I already had it out and running. But I am not it all sure it would have been faster to get a cold chain saw up and running just for a small job like this.

The End Result

From my perspective, the best part about all this is that it was done with a saw that is only 16″ long folded up. That is not a big deal to stash in a car or stick in a backpack. Of course, if it could not do anything, it would just be wasted weight no matter how small. But since it evidentially can do stuff, I am pretty pleased with it. Granted, one job does not give it a long track record, but it does help confirm all the good things I have heard about it. Biggest potential downside that I have heard of is that people who are used to push pull saws tend to break them by trying to force them to cut on the push stroke. And I have also heard that you can also break them by getting them pinched in the bigger wood (odds are that is why the manufacture says only up to 8″ wood).

Based on the one job I have done with it, I suspect the people who break them by trying to get them to cut on the push stroke are not used to working with their hands. It feels so wrong to even try to cut on the push stroke that I can’t imagine anyone who is paying attention making that mistake with enough force to break the saw.

But knowing that I tend to be hard on tools and being scared by the stories of people breaking them, I sprung for the more expensive outback version of the saw which has a thicker blade. Since I have never used the regular Silky Big Boy, I have no idea if that was wasted money or not.

And below is the path after I put the last piece on the pile and stopped by stop watch.

Path Clear

The Problem With Masonry Stoves

On the The Rural Working Class FEMA Plan, Deirdre commented….

One thing I often think about is how it would be nice to have an oven. Obviously, worst case scenario, you can bake bread directly over coals, and we probably wouldn’t have the yeast for anything other than flatbread, anyway. But in my imagination, it would be nice to have a nice, woodheated oven…. Even if it was just a fairly short power outage, where running out of food wasn’t a concern, if the generator stopped working, we wouldn’t be able to bake anything. But baking things isn’t a survival necessity, it’s just nice to have. You can live without brownies.

In around about way, this brings up a topic that I did not address in my FEMA series. And that topic is there are lots of cheap things that would be nice to have if society goes all third world on us that I did not talk about or consider because they take a lot of skill to use. I tried to include only things that I imagined would still be useful even if you had little or no skill. And even though masonry stoves are not that hard to build, they do take a fair amount of skill to use. It might be just because I am incompetent at such things, but I would guess that it would take me more then a month to get half way proficient with a wood fired masonry oven. The below video demonstrates some of those issues……

Now some of the David the Good’s problems are because he is always broke and trying to do things as cheap as possible. A roof and more brick would have helped somewhat. And obviously one of his complaints is related to just his climate. But his complaints about the difficulties of cooking with it are going to be the same everywhere.

Of course, people who are more dedicated and less cash constrained can do a much better job then David the Good did. Take a look at these pictures for a oven build that uses far less wood and requires far less maintenance then David the Good’s oven. But it also required a lot more skill and knowledge to build (not to mention money, although I would guess the biggest cost was in the shelter that was built over it). Here is video of a cheap version with little thermal mass version of the stove those pictures in operation.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you can bake a lot of things with Dutch ovens with a regular fire beyond the bread the Deirdre mentioned. Below is Paul Harrell making a fairly fancy thanksgiving meal outdoors with Dutch ovens. From a disaster perspective he is cheating by using charcoal but that is because he under a time crunch and working by himself. To duplicate this with wood, you would need someone dedicated to the fire while someone else was cooking and the person tending the fire would need to get started enough in advance of the cook that the fire had a good bed of coals.

Note how much skill and experience goes into making things. The cost of his Dutch ovens is not all that high. But the time investment to figure out how to use them is considerable.

And for those who doubt that Paul’s example has much bearing on a “survival” setting, below is a video of someone doing the same kind of thing in a “survival” setting.

Obviously his meal is not as elaborate but as you can see he uses all the same basic methods.

The bottom line is that there are number of ways you can have an “oven” to bake brownies in (provided you have the supplies to make the brownies). The constraint is not so much monetary as it is time it takes to learn how to do it successfully.

The Rural Working Class FEMA Plan

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says that “Even though it is unlikely that an emergency would cut off your food supply for two weeks, consider maintaining a supply that will last that long.” And later on in the same document they say “Consider storing at least a two-week supply of water for each member of your family.” Obviously, if food is not available for two weeks a lot has gone wrong with the world and you are likely to want more than just food. A discussion of what it might take to meet this requirement from a “yuppie” point of view was posted here. Originally that post was going to include a rural working poor plan as a kind of contrasting way of looking at the issue. That did not happen due to excessive length of the yuppie plan so in this post we will pick up where we left off.

The Rural Plan

The rural plan is constructed to the same general rules as was laid out in the yuppie post. In other words…

1: This plan is designed to enable a theoretical working rural poor family of four to remain functional and to be part of the solution in the event of an unexpected emergency lasting two weeks in the urban areas. Comfort is not a goal. Rather, the goal is being healthy enough to function normally and having the equipped needed to do things that would make the situation better.

2: The plan is based around what is theoretically necessary to accomplish the above goal in a situation where there is no utilities, no sewer, no gas for vehicles, and no outside emergency support services for the duration of those two weeks in urban areas.

3: All the stuff listed in this plan needs to be functional and ready to use 10 to 20 years in the future even if forgotten and ignored up until it is needed.

4: All the stuff in this plan should be able to fit into a closet. This is more about defining the amount of total storage space sacrificed to disaster preparedness and it is not a requirement of the plan that everything be suitable for storing in a closet. In the abstract it would be better for me to say that total space needed by the plan should be no more than 126 cubic feet (3*6*7) but it is easier to envision a closet then that amount of space in the abstract.

5: The assumption behind this plan is that the theoretical family lives in the northeast and have to deal with weather and water resources typically for that region.

6: Budget for this plan is $800. It was figured on the grounds that seems to be roughly the amount that working class families I am familiar with spend on a “vacation” if they don’t have a lot of money but are gainfully employed.

Except for the budget, everything above is the same as the yuppie plan. But our assumptions about the nature of a theoretical rural working class family are going to be different then our assumptions about the yuppie family.

Assumptions: If you live in South Carolina and you are prepared for the impact of 4 inches of snow, you are prepared for a particular type of emergency situation that while possible will rarely happen. If you live in upstate New York and you are prepared for four inches of snow, you are simply competent to deal with everyday life. Same logic holds true for the difference between living in a rural area and a subdivision. In a rural area, a power outage that last for a few days is not out of ordinary even if it is not something that happens every year. On the other hand, if a subdivision loses power for a few days it is a big deal. It is for this reason that many rural people I know think that they are better prepared for a disaster then their yuppie counterparts. They heat with wood. They have a freezer full of food. They have guns and know how to hunt. They have been without electricity for awhile and it was no big deal. And so on and so forth.

But an emergency by definition is something that we don’t expect. Rural working poor are in general more prepared for utility interruptions because they expect them but that does not mean they are any better prepared for a true emergency. For example, we read this about the 1998 Quebec ice storm:

Many power lines broke and over 1,000 transmission towers collapsed in chain reactions under the weight of the ice, leaving more than 4 million people without electricity, most of them in southern Quebec, western New Brunswick and Eastern Ontario, some of them for an entire month.

Most of the urban areas had power back in days or at most a week. It was the rural areas that waited more than a month for power to be restored. So a disaster that means a yuppie needs a two week kit means that the rural person might be looking at a month or more of roughing it. That is why we define our two weeks in terms of urban centers being without for two weeks. It always takes longer for the rural areas to have services restored so if it is rational for suburban folks to be prepared for two weeks, the rural family should be prepared for longer.

Not only are rural areas last in line for any kind of help and relief, but disasters can have problems for rural areas that don’t even impact urban areas. For example, earthquakes can have a negative impacts on wells for weeks after the earthquake happened. You might think that earthquake related well issues can’t impact you because you don’t live in an area prone to earthquakes but consider this….

The 1998 M5.2 Pymatuning earthquake in northwestern Pennsylvania caused about 120 local household-supply wells to go dry within 3 months after the earthquake (Fleeger and others, 1999). The 2002 M7.9 Denali Fault earthquake in Alaska caused a 2-foot water-level rise in a well in Wisconsin, more than a thousand miles from the epicenter.

Now imagine a another New Madrid style earthquake that devastates America’s heartland and leads to all kinds of supply shortages as pipelines and highways critical to bringing supplies to the northeast are disrupted. Your house is standing and you are well outside the areas impacted by major shaking but somehow your well was still impacted. How fast is someone going to fix your well when the rest of the world is having trouble getting gasoline because the pipelines that transport it are out of commission?

These types of scenarios are not very likely. But the entire point of an emergency kit is to prepare for the unlikely but possible. If something is truly likely, you should spend a lot more time an effort preparing for it than is envisioned by this kit.

So for this list, our assumptions are going to be a little different than they were for the Yuppie list. We are going to assume that our rural working class family of four is prepared for normal run of the mill power outages. We will assume they are used to working with their hands and solving problems. We will also assume that they have all the normal tools to solve normal rural problems such as chainsaws and firearms. We will take it for granted that they heat with wood and have clothing appropriate for their climate. In short, we will assume they all ready for likely problems that come along in a rural environment.

Since we assume that the rural family is already equipped for likely rural problems, we are going to set up the kit augment what a rural household typically already has. We will build this kit with the assumption that anything that causes urban areas to go two weeks without resupply will be that much worse in the rural areas. Since this is a shelter in place kit, we will assume that that the house remains standing and the wood stoves is still working but other then that, we are not going to assume that any of the modern appliances found in a rural home will actual work.

The Question: What can you get for $800 dollars that will expand a rural working class family of four’s ability to deal with serious systematic disasters not normal to rural life? My list is as follows…..

Continue reading