Cheems, the most famous Shiba Inu in Mexico

This is a post about a Shiba Inu from Hong Kong named Balltze who is a superstar in Mexico, where he is known as Cheems. KnowYourMeme traces the birth of “Cheems” to r/dogelore, an American Reddit group focusing on dog memes, in June 2019. In his original incarnation, Cheems was a floating dog head that could only mispronounce the word “cheeseburger.”

The question of why he has become so famous in Mexico was not clear initially. My first thoughts went something like this:

  • People like memes of dogs
  • Cheems is lovably overweight
  • There are some really great memes coming out of Mexico

After some cursory research, I found what might be the reason: the viral “Swole Doge vs. Cheems” meme format was born from a May 2020 post from Mexican meme page Doges artesanales. This readily adaptable format compares a muscular strong “doge” (dog) from a previous era with the weak “doge” of today. It has since spread around the world in multiple languages since it can be easily adapted to dream up new historical and political memes.

Swole doge vs. Cheems

For example, in the meme above, “Swole doge” on the left is a 20th-century musician “a little tired” after an 8-month world tour and two days to record his new album while 21st-century Cheems on the right is complaining to his mom that his music software crashed again.

We could say that this was the moment Cheems finally “made it” in Mexico, but that wouldn’t necessarily be true. Doges artesanales has memes of Shiba Inus going back years. However, until Nov-Dec 2019, the main dog on the site is Kabosu, also known as the inspiration for Dogecoin. Below is a screenshot of the facebook page and the moment the first “Swole dog vs. Cheems” meme entered the world.

The original Swole doge vs. Cheems meme is in the middle of this page

Cheems has become famous enough in Mexico to have spawned dozens, even hundreds of memes and even a handful of pandemic-era home businesses. The pun-based menus below are from a cheesecake bakery and a restaurant selling chilaquiles.

Cheems’s cake (cheesecake)
Chimlaquiles (chilaquiles)

Cheems has even inspired artwork. it’s unknown where this mural below is painted though it’s by a Spanish-speaking artist.

“Hhmm…painting”

Cheems had even been integrated with traditional Mexican holidays. Cempasúchil is the flower used during Day of the Dead celebrations.

It’s “cheemspasúchil” season, referring to the traditional Mexican flower

I’m not really sure how to close out this post, so here’s a history of Mexico told through a Cheems meme:

Haggis is not what you think

Haggis does not sound appealing. All I could recall before ordering it for the first time in Scotland was that it contained sheep’s lung and stomach. In truth, I had ordered it once on Burns Night in New York and was given what I assumed was the inoffensive American version. Now here we were in Scotland and trying the real thing.

It’s actually quite good. It looks and tastes bit a lot like the buckwheat (kasha) with mushroom sauce you’ll get at a Polish or Ukrainian restaurant. Its consistency is similar to Thanksgiving stuffing and as you might expect, it pairs well with both veggies and meat.

We had haggis in the following forms:, each as good as the next:

  • Haggis, neeps (rutabaga), and tatties (potatoes)
  • Haggis Benedict
  • Burger with haggis and cheese sauce
  • Full Scottish breakfast

If I had to choose a favorite recipe above, it would probably be the audacity of the haggis Benedict, combining haggis with poached egg in a classic brunch recipe.

Haggis, neeps, and tatties
Haggis and bacon Benedict
Burger with haggis and cheese sauce
Full Scottish breakfast

Glasgow’s tiny subway

Since we’re in the middle of a work trip to the UK, I was reminded it’s a perfect time for a quick update with one of the little stories from our visit, and this one is truly little: Glasgow has a cute and diminutive subway.

It had fifteen stations on a single loop line, like Mini Metro on easy mode. It also happens to have what appear to be eight-foot ceilings. Within the trains themselves, you’d probably be hitting your head if you’re more than 6’4” or so. To get into the cars you even have to duck! It also happens to be one of the cleanest subways we’ve ever been on.

If you happen to find yourself in Glasgow, it’s the easiest way to get from one of the two main train stations to the botanical gardens or the University of Glasgow, a beautiful campus with great views, which a local told me is the third oldest in Britain after Oxford and Cambridge.

Making hot cocoa from scratch

This past week we were out of hot cocoa mix and Chocolate Abuelita so I looked up how to make hot cocoa out of baker’s chocolate powder. Believe it or not I’d never done this before.

Turns out it’s quicker than melting Chocolate Abuelita and tastes better. It’s one of those rare “from scratch” recipes that’s actually quicker. Here’s the recipe:

  1. Mix about 1/3 cup water, 1/4 cup cocoa, and 1/4 cup powdered sugar in a pot
  2. Heat the mixture and stir until blended
  3. Add 3-4 cups milk and blend
  4. Heat until desired drinking temperature. Take care not to boil it
  5. Pour into mugs

That’s it! Enjoy your hot chocolate, everyone.

Scoring internet points: Open source espionage in Russia and Ukraine

The internet has been scoring points against the Russian military lately. “Hacktivists” disrupted the Belorussian Railways (Wired). Viral TikTok has been tracking Russian vehicle movements (ABC News). The drama of political negotiations over the standoff between Russia and Ukraine is happening in the public eye, but what is happening in the background is really interesting, since a lot of what would normally be hidden is out in the open.

The way I see it, there are several participants in the information game, from most to least formal and decentralized:

  • The government
  • Media
  • Think tanks
  • Political risk consultants
  • Open-source intelligence
  • Social media

What’s fascinating is the role of the last two groups and the ways in which they are feeding the groups above them. The sources at the bottom are aggregating information that even governments didn’t have access to only a few years ago.

Still, it’s a bit too early to say that social media is “upending the spread of information” any more than it already has in recent conflicts and uprisings, like Crimea or Eastern Ukraine in 2014-15, but it does feel like this is the first large-scale military escalation that has been subject to this level of social media scrutiny.

I’m going to write a bit about the various players and their

Government and media

Government and media are the most institutional of those providing information. They rely on official press releases and proclamations and seem to have a symbiotic relationship where the media reports breathlessly on whatever the latest negotiation or policy shift has been.

There are bright spots here and there in the media landscape, but media coverage is often in more narrative rather than analysis of intentions. Lately though, the question “will Russia invade Ukraine?” has been prompting some really interesting coverage in mainstream outlets:

The Final Pieces: Three New Signs of Russian Invasion Plans (Sky News)

No, Russia Will Not Invade Ukraine (Opinion) (Al Jazeera)

Whatever the federal agencies like the intelligence services have behind the scenes, that doesn’t generally enter into the equation because unless there’s another Edward Snowden-type event, we’re just not on that “mailing list” and never will be.

This isn’t the first time that government has been “scooped” by social media nor even the first time it has happened to Russia and Ukraine. As the ABC News article above goes into, Russia’s parliament passed a law forbidding soldiers to post on social media in 2019, a rule previously ordered by the Defense Department.

Think tanks

The next group on our list, think tanks, are non-profit policy and research organizations that employ academics and politicians. In some cases, they can serve as a kind of “bureaucracy in waiting” for the party that doesn’t hold office, as many of them have a unstated political agenda and are headquartered in Washington, DC or some other capital. They offer big-picture analysis and bullet point guidance that elected officials may or may not read.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has their own analyses of Russia’s geopolitical motives, published over the last several years:

The Kremlin Playbook: Understanding Russian Influence in Central and Eastern Europe (2016)

The Kremlin Playbook 2: The Enablers (2019)

The Kremlin Playbook 3 (2021)

This last one describes the doctrine of “Strategic Conservatism” as a lens through which to understand Russia’s geopolitical moves. It’s the most interesting in my opinion as it explains a bit of why Russia was so popular with the Trump crowd and how that fits into a political strategy.

Here’s some additional assorted coverage by think tanks, though honestly when there’s a conflict brewing, most international relations-focused think tanks will weigh in in some way or another:

Crisis Group: Conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas: A Visual Explainer

Foreign Policy Research Institute Ukraine coverage

Political risk consultants

Political risk consultants are somewhere between a think tank and a private intelligence agency. They may openly offer policy analysis while cultivating a specialized approach behind the scenes that is tailored to political and primarily commercial clients. They answer questions like, “what will happen to my investments in X given the instability in Y”. It’s hard to tell the extent of their operations, but they hire ex-intelligence officers, so there’s that.

Eurasia Group Top Risks of 2022: Russia (#5)

Stratfor Ukraine conflict coverage

How Russia Could Respond to Western Sanctions With Cyberattacks (Stratfor)

“The Internet”: Open-source intelligence and social media

Lastly, we have social media and internet nerds more generally. What’s been really fascinating to me is the way in which social media is bringing things out into the open. Russian tanks and military equipment are going “viral” on TikTok. The Ukraine conflict is essentially what happens when you take the Russian dash cam video and give it a worldwide audience.

I suppose the assumption here is that things like troop movements and weapons deployments should be done in secret because, well, it’s the military. However, the Cold War games of compellence and deterrence could still be at play here. That is, now that everyone expects these things to show up on the internet, what’s to stop a country from using social media to its advantage.

For one, good journalistic practice suggests you cross-reference your sources. Open-source intelligence group Bellingcat did just that, using a pair of cute puppies to verify that soldiers in Ukraine came from Russia’s Far East. Lately, Bellingcat has been using license plate tracking, a nerdy hobby in Russia, and social media posts to figure out who and what is arriving to the border with Ukraine. Conflict Intelligence Team (Twitter) has been doing the same, with their dispatches picked up widely by the mainstream media.

It’s hard to know the impact of what might amount to some creative internet sleuthing. It does seem to have removed some of the element of surprise. Whether it can alter the calculus of military buildup or stop military conflict remains to be seen. It’s a high stakes game with a lot of bluster on both sides.

Irish Brown Bread and the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Hotline

King Arthur Flour send out a regular catalogue with their products and to encourage you to read to the end they intersperse it with recipes. I saved this Irish Brown Bread recipe from there before recycling it. The recipes often use the specialty ingredients that they’re featuring at the moment, in this case Irish-style flour.

Given that I only had normal flour, I made use of KAF’s most ingenious idea for brand loyalty: the Baker’s Hotline. Have a problem with a bread recipe? You can call, chat or email them at any time.

Tess, Baker Support Specialist from KAF, advised me by email that substituting one cup whole wheat flour with two teaspoons of buttermilk will give the same consistency as the Irish-style flour.

So I made the bread, additionally subbing in 50g of cooked Irish oats for some of the flour and using a Pullman loaf pan instead of a baking tray, and it turned out great.

Ikea as turntable furniture

Last month we did some rearranging and I ended up with Paola’s Ikea Eket bookcase in the living room as my new record storage and turntable solution. It’s been great for background music while we work from home, even if I have to get up and flip the record every 20 minutes.

The Eket bookcase ($55) snaps together in maybe ten minutes with no tools needed other than my hand, which I used as a mallet, which in retrospect wasn’t the best idea. The only other special setup I did was to use a bullseye level to center the turntable. It now seems easier to set the needle on the record without skipping.

The extra space for my records makes it way easier to browse albums and put away the discs without the plastic covers getting all bunched up. On top of that, I now have a homemade dust cover for my mixer, which was a Christmas gift.

The Villages, Florida: Disneyland for retirees

My parents bought a home for their retirement a few years ago in Central Florida in what used to be “cow country” and citrus groves, but is now a city called The Villages. It’s a senior living community where you must be over 55 years old to be a resident. It’s also one of the fastest growing communities in the country. We visited over Christmas again and every time we visit I feel like the place needs an explainer because the concept is so unique.

That same uniqueness seems to land The Villages in the news constantly. Stories about it effortlessly combine several popular recurring news topics, particularly: Seniors or Baby Boomers, Florida [man], and Republicans. It’s about as demographically diverse as you’d expect from an upscale suburban development in Central Florida, but that may be expected since it represents the era from which its residents are drawn.

Other than that, visit there and it’s much more normal than it sounds in the news. People are friendly and community-oriented and are always curious where you’re from, particularly if you appear to be a younger visitor like us. At its core it’s a nicely manicured Disney-esque suburban development with some New Urbanist elements central to its design philosophy, particularly mixed use paths, roundabouts, and town centers.

The mixed use paths are used by bicyclists, joggers, but more often than not by The Village’s cutest ambassadors, its golf carts. Homes in The Villages are often even built with a golf cart garage door, as nearly every home has one. Many add custom decals of sports team logos. The more adventurous “pimp” their carts to look like hot rods, pickup trucks, sports cars, or even a helicopter.

The Villages’ roundabouts are both a traffic control device and an aesthetic choice. With no stoplights, its main roads are free-flowing, green, and unspoiled by hanging wires or bright lights. Most first-time visitors have some trouble adjusting to the roundabouts, as they require drivers to slow down and yield, yet they are placed on otherwise wide and obstruction-free parkways that appear made for fast driving.

The town centers are the center of the community’s cultural life. Each cluster of neighborhoods has one, they are small mini-downtowns with supermarkets, stores, restaurants, and other amenities placed closely together to resemble a Main Street. Each night, amphitheaters host live music and events and the residents arrive, mostly in golf carts, to dance, drink, and socialize. These clusters make The Villages mostly self-sufficient, with all your typical daily needs located within a short jaunt in the golf cart.

Not only are the golf carts a conversation starter and mobility device for use into old age, they are for playing golf. One of the main selling points is the 40 nine-hole golf courses to which residents have free access. When not in use they double as beautiful landscaping.

Probably the most admirable element of The Villages is the way in which its design encourages continued physical activity in retirement. Each neighborhood has a local pool and rec center, while larger rec centers with tennis, pickleball, shuffleboard, bocce, and horseshoes are placed throughout the development. It’s like the Olympics of leisure sports!

Here are some photos from our last visit to The Villages:

The many versions of Scott Pilgrim: The Game from Limited Run

Paola got me into the classic movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) a few years back. It’s a superhero epic centered around an average 20-something from Toronto in a rock band. It has themes pulled from video games and Japanese manga and anime.

Around the same the movie was released they came out with a 16-bit style video game following the movie and the graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley that inspired it. It was available for a while digitally then it wasn’t, then it was again.

Earlier this year, Limited Run rereleased the game as a physical cartridge with a few different editions and covers. The three editions are:

  • The Game
  • The Game: Complete Edition
  • The Game: K.O. Edition
The three editions of the Scott Pilgrim game from Limited Run’s site

This game was Limited Run’s most successful release to date and like many people we missed the original order window for the special editions. Luckily for us the Complete Edition shipped last week and we were able to find a copy at a local shop.

Best Buy also has a cartridge-only version of the release above, also labeled Complete Edition and also from Limited Run, but the cover is different and its only extras are two trading cards. I believe it’s reversible to get the cover above but we never opened our copy as we were able to get one of the special editions.

One of the most confusing parts of searching online was the proliferation of versions and cover art. It turns out there aren’t that many variations, but the product itself has many elements. So to help others, here are photos of the various covers, alternate covers, and included items:

Complete Edition cardboard wrap cover
Complete Edition cardboard wrap back cover
Interior of Sega Genesis-style case holding Switch game
Side by side of Genesis case, Complete Edition Switch case, Best Buy edition Switch case (L-R)
Exterior of Sega Genesis-style case
Ephemera packaged in Genesis-style case behind Switch game
Flip side alternate label for Sega Genesis-style case
Contents of Switch case

Panam, Mexico’s most Mexican sneakers

When I first saw a pair of vintage-inspired Panam sneakers on my first trip to Mexico, I wanted a pair for myself. The only issue was I couldn’t find my size anywhere! While it’s very common for shoes in Mexico to not reach my size, it reinforced the shoe’s unattainability and local cache. So when I was given a pair in my size several years later, I was hooked.

It turns out this model, Panam’s most recognizable, is the 084 Campeón. Originally designed in the 1960s, it became the de-facto sneaker for a generation of Mexican children. From my research, its popularity came from a shift to more casual footwear around the time of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and the Campeón’s status as footwear for gym classes nationwide.

Its heavy unpadded rubber sole is combined with a flexible nylon fabric upper, leading to an odd combination of slip-on comfort and occasional foot pain when walking on pavement. Coming from a company that touts its classic designs and 100% Mexican supply chain, I would guess the odd design is a result of using the same molds, designs, and suppliers since the shoe’s inception, which, incidentally, is still made in Estado de Mexico for a fraction of the price of foreign imports like Adidas and Nike.

Despite its shortcomings, the 084 in Mexican size 29 fits my 11 US feet like a glove and its retro good looks have yet to be changed by updates as happens constantly with other brands. As a result, I’m on my sixth pair. For the price, which is between 350-550 MXN ($17-27), I don’t mind when they wear out and need to be replaced.

From what I’ve found, Panam nearly went out of business following the NAFTA-induced shakeup to the local shoe industry. In recent years, they’ve doubled down on their retro appeal while making inexpensive copies of famous models like Air Force 1 and Air Jordan. Some of these copies are quality, the Air Force 1 clones seem decent, while others are heavy with odd synthetic materials, though given that they’re 700 MXN ($35) vs. $100 or more for the real deal, they have gained significant market share.

For me, I keep going back to their 084 for its Mexican cred, and I’m not the only one. Panam famously did a collab edition of the 084 with Mexican punk band Molotov years ago and have recently done special editions for Jarritos, Cafe Cielito, Cerveza Indio, Frida Kahlo, Los Autenticos Decadentes, and a shoe commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Mexico City Metro. They’ve even done a special art installation in the Metro commemorating individual Metro stations using the colors and logos of those stations (see gallery below).

In a big commercial move compared to their Mexican street cred-inspired limited editions, they’ve launched a major collab series with Marvel, including a great Spider-Man edition. The company also recently opened its first US store, in San Diego.