I am pretty sure awhile back I posted this video of two guys building cabin in Alaska and starving while doing so. But for the life of me I can’t find it using the search function. Anyway, for those few (1?) people who enjoyed that video, I thought I would let you know they went back to the cabin and this time they were a little smarter about how they packed.
When I was in my early 20s and bored out of my mind, I created an essay website. The first essay that I put up on the website was called “Pondering the Battle of Bicocca” in which I noted how success lead to overspecialization and speculated a little bit on how that might apply to the US Air Force. I thought it might be interesting to revisit that essay now in light of the Ukraine war.
Lately, my source of caffeine at work has been Scho-Ka-Kola. Half a tin of this stuff gives you a little more caffeine then a cup of coffee. If taken first thing in the morning, it can make a bad day a lot better. Since I try not to get too hooked on caffeine, I limit myself to two times a week (i.e. one tin). I am a little ashamed of this given the cost but I have not got up the willpower to kick the habit yet.
I first discovered this heavily caffeinated dark barely sweetened (the description calls it bitter but I think that is over-selling it) while searching for a source of contingency caffeine. The idea was to find something that I could take when I had been dragged through 20 miles of the high peaks by people younger and in better shape then me only to leave long past bedtime with nobody in my vehicle who could stay awake enough to drive. Being a history nerd, I thought that chocolate that the Germans issued as part of their “Iron Ration” might fit the bill but who still made that?
A quick internet search indicated that the stuff was still made but at first my research indicated that it is way to expensive for anything other then a novelty. On Amazon it sells for $9.96 a can. But for some reason Varusteleka (a company in Finland of all places and the link at the start of this post takes you there) can sell it for $3 a can if you buy 10 at time. At first the goal was only to try some to see if it was worth keeping around for contingencies but I got hooked on it and so now it has become a twice weekly habit. The primary advantage for me stems around how lazy I am and the fact that I don’t like coffee.
What would happen before Scho-Ka-Kola is that I would try to make myself a cup of tea. Odds are, I would not be able to do that first thing in the morning because I would be too busy. Then I would get some time to heat up some tea in the microwave and then I would get busy again. The microwave would be forlornly beeping at me and annoying the office assistant who was closer to the microwave then I was. Eventually I would get the tea and work on it between crisis. Most of the time I would drink the bulk of my tea cold and often later then when I wanted to get my caffeine in me.
With the Scho-Ka-Kola, I can wolf down half a tin down while reading emails and in a few hours my whole day will be better (I don’t metabolize anything fast). Varusteleka will tell you that it is “Not recommended for children, pregnant women, or those with a high sensitivity to caffeine” and I normally consider myself highly sensitive to caffeine. But if you drill down into the numbers, a tin of Scho-Ka-Kola has 200mg of caffeine in it. According to my sources, an average cup of coffee has 95 mg of caffeine in it. So if you only eat half a tin per day you are barely getting more caffeine then by drinking 8 fluid ounces of coffee. In other words, Varusteleka is overselling the caffeine just like they oversell the bitterness of the chocolate. That is all right for me. I don’t need it any stronger then it is. But I suspect that people who drink a couple of cups of coffee a day would find that it is pretty lame fare.
For my purposes, Scho-Ka-Kola is pretty much perfect except for the price and the tins. At a $1.50 a day, there are much cheaper ways of getting the same amount of caffeine. As for the tins, they are awesome but it seems like a shame to throw them out. And if you use a can a week, soon you have so many cans you don’t have much choice. I would rather it come in a cardboard box and be cheaper over all then come in the tin. But these issues have not been a deal breaker for me so far and I suspect that I will keep buying it until it gets so expensive I can’t stomach it or the supply dries up. It just works so much better for my life and tastes buds then all the alternatives that I am aware of.
*Note: This is an informal note that is not directly related to my last essay. The second part of that is still to come.*
Notwithstanding the headline, I don’t really think that panic accomplishes anything useful. But I am amazed that we are looking at a catastrophe and hardly anyone is talking about it. The current situation is the opposite of the “food crisis” that I addressed last year. At the time I talked about how even though there were a lot of bad headlines when you looked into the actual numbers there was no crisis in the immediate near term (it might be different now at least in terms of rice, but I have not really dug into the numbers yet for this year). But in terms of the US deficit, very few people seem to be panicking and yet when you dig into the numbers they are really bad.
So I thought I would write a short informal piece to break down the headlines that I have been linking to and explain why they represent a catastrophe in the making that will directly impact your life. Let us start with a recent CNN story titled “Federal budget deficit expected to nearly double to around $2 trillion.”
Now, if you are a typical American redneck, you will see a head line like that and sagely tell whoever is next to you “the politicians are going to bankrupt this country” and then go on with your business without giving the headline another thought. And who can really blame the typical redneck for reacting like that? In 2020 the Federal Government ran 3.1 trillion dollar deficit and in 2021 the feds ran a 2.8 trillion dollar deficit. It is true that in 2022 the deficit was just over a trillion dollars but if the world did not come to end back in 2020 or 2021 then, why should a mere 2 trillion dollar deficit be a cause of panic today?
Life in the United States has changed dramatically every 80 years since the country’s founding. There was about 80 years from the end of the Revolutionary War to the end of the Civil War (81 years 3 months and 25 days if you want to be autistic about it). It was about 80 years from the end of the Civil War until the end of World War II (80 years 3 months and 24 days from the end of the Civil War if you want to be precise). And it has been exactly 78 years (and one day, this essay was supposed to go up yesterday for cool points but I failed) between the end of World War II until the date of this essay going on line. If the 80 year pattern holds, we are on the cusp of a profound change in America.
In the context of this pattern, the profound change is the appearance of something brand new and never experienced before by Americans. Superficially, these changes are obvious. In the case of the Revolutionary War, the brand new thing was the creation of a new country. In the case of the Civil War, there was suddenly no slavery in the United States whereas before it had been a major economic force. And after World War II, America went from being a country that had no “entangling alliances” and a small federal government to being a nation that was embedded in a worldwide network of alliances with a massive federal government. But the superficially obvious changes conceal deeper changes that lay the ground work for the next crisis and attendant profound change.
I used these today on my parents car. Posting this here so that people who know me will know what they are good for in case I am not around.
(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.
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.
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.
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.