For most of us in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly forced a merger of home and office.
And surprisingly, it was reasonably successful… so much so that it’s now likely to become the new norm.
That dynamic certainly didn’t change much this summer – Google Mobility data shows navigations to US workplaces has basically flatlined at the -30 to -35% level compared to last year.
If you were also a parent of small children in 2020, though, chances are you’ve been struggling to find the balance between work and life as much as I have.
Working from home isn’t new to me – I actually worked in a remote office when I started my career.
But the type of deep-dive research and analysis that I do requires a lot of time; enough time to gather large amounts of data, enough time to process and visualize it, and enough time to write about the story it’s telling.
Once they become familiar and repetitive enough, I have just enough programming skill to automate the first two tasks.
And while I wish I could automate the third, it’s just not possible for me.
Because, while AI-driven content generators are definitely getting better – versions of which are now available to the masses – they’re meant to do repetitive or predictable tasks.
That requires some experience and some thought… two things a bot can’t do.
It also requires a lot of time, especially when the story is nuanced. And I can tell you from personal experience it is incredibly hard to do when your 6-year old wants you to make her a snack every 20 minutes.
Turns out, I can actually take that a step further. Because I am living medical proof that the byproduct of constant interruption is Attention Deficit Disorder.
Distraction, Inaction, Procrastination
Why am I writing about this?
Well, today was my daughter’s first full day back at school – and like many others, we’re doing a pod with a few of her friends.
But as I sat down to do research this morning I realized it’s the first time in 6 months that I’ve had more than 20 continuous minutes of uninterrupted thought.
It was glorious.
But weirdly, I kept interrupting myself.
I’d pull in some data. Then I’d get an alert I felt I had to read. Then I needed coffee. Then I’d go back to get more data, and I’d realize that I’d already grabbed what I needed.
By the third iteration of this ridiculous dance, I actually googled “COVID interruption attention deficit disorder,” and I was relieved to find out that it is actually kind of “a thing.”
In fact, the root cause is so commonplace, Portlandia did a sketch on it.
Moreover, it has been around for a while as workplaces of all sorts have leaned on workers harder and harder.
He further describes it in his 2015 book “Driven to Distraction at Work,” saying that a combination of “screen sucking (internet/social media addiction), multitasking, idea hopping, worrying, and playing the hero” generally lead to dropping the ball.
And he’s right about that.
That exact same mechanism that makes me a good, enthusiastic, entrepreneurial analyst… also occasionally led me to overpromise and underdeliver as I rose up through the ranks at my previous employers.
Content with the knowledge I wasn’t alone in the world after all, I got back to business… and as luck would have it, I got an urgent alert on one of my “screen suckers”.
Ask Me About My A.D.D. Or Multi-Front Conflicts. Or Soybeans and Corn.
But I haven’t yet discussed their longstanding military conflicts.
And while I’m sure most readers are familiar with the tensions between China and Taiwan, today’s alert was about a completely different country.
Apparently, Chinese and Indian troops clashed along the border near Ladakh earlier today. That’s one of several skirmishes already this year – one of which resulted in 20 casualties.
I’ve marked it on the map below.
Source: Google Maps
In addition, China has also been running new fiber and building up military positions in the Chumbi Valley near the border of Sikkim, India and Bhutan, along the so-called “Line of Actual Control”.
Here’s where these conflicts are located.
Source: Google Maps
Now, if you’re wondering why these two points are of interest, there’s a third map you need to look at.
And that’s the map of China’s “15-inch line.”
Source: Geopolitical Futures
The significance of its name comes from the fact that approximately 15 inches of rainfall are required to have a productive agricultural industry.
By now, you’ve also probably looked at the population density map and figured out that the vast majority of China’s 1.4 billion people live where the water is.
But you might not have figured out that because of that population density in the East, China has to import around 7% of its dietary needs.
In other words, it’s got a different kind of ADD…
Agricultural Deficit Disorder.
And unless you’ve read about these issues before, you certainly wouldn’t have figured out that partially because of that, about 80% of global trade moves through the South China Sea.
Or that the vast majority of that trade moves through the Strait of Malacca – a narrow strip of water between Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
Source: Eurasian Times
So if you can sit through just one more map, I can show you why China is trying to control these seemingly unrelated borders with India.
Source: Google Maps, My Terrible Art Skills
China is trying to gain access to ports in Gwadar, Pakistan and Dhaka, Bangladesh that both bypass the Strait of Malacca… and US control.
In addition, they would gain additional arable land (you can see how green it is from Bhutan to Bangladesh), and a trade route through China-friendly Shi’ite Muslim countries Pakistan and Iran… all the way to Turkey.
We should see over the next few weeks how serious China is about establishing a foothold in Ladakh, because winter is about to arrive in the Himalayas.
My guess is not that serious, as China still has to import a large amount of food for the winter – especially since the country’s pig herd was decimated by African Swine Fever last year and they were forced to rely more heavily on the seaborne market.
Source: China Customs
To make matters worse, their internal crops of soybeans and corn were decimated by an infestation of the fall armyworm last year…and it’s expected to get worse in 2020.
Now, China has managed to rely more on Brazil than the US for soybean imports as our trade war has evolved over the last couple of years.
Source: China Customs
But soybeans are moving into harvest season, and prices have been moving upward of late, breaking out over top-line resistance.
And as China seeks to rebuild their pig population this year, there’s another, slightly more familiar commodity (to this audience) that they’ll need to feed them.
And while we’re at it, let’s sell our stake in Teucrium Wheat (NYSEArca: WEAT) at a slight profit since it’s coming out of season.
Whew, that was a lot… glad I got it all in.
All the best,