Archives for the month of: October, 2013

My comment this morning to the New York Times article ‘As Interest Fades in the Humanities, Colleges Worry’ was flagged by the paper as a NYTimes ‘Pick’. I am pretty happy about that.

You can find my comment here – http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/31/education/as-interest-fades-in-the-humanities-colleges-worry.html?comments#permid=10405096 or read it below –

“This is the 21st century and not the 18th century and people no longer attend university to become educated gentlefolk; or shouldn’t anyway.

When my daughter came to me 6 years ago for money for university I said ‘sure I’ll help but if you accept my money, we’re business partners and I won’t finance any non-science degree’. The reality is that there is not a big demand out there for people trained in the humanities.

I am an electrical engineer and worked in that profession for 25 years before giving it up to move to Mexico to make the best sandals in the world. My engineering education never stood in the way of way of travel or an appreciation for the arts. As a creative writing professor pointed out years ago ‘you don’t need a MFA to write’. And he was right. I am writing my second novel and publishing weekly to a blog about living in Mexico.

Oh, my daughter? She finished her BS in Bio-chemistry at UC Davis before going onto GW University where she obtained a MS in Systems Engineering this past spring. Now she is doing her post-grad work on the west coast.

When she leaves university with her science PhD she will have lots of career choices. The same can’t be said for those graduating with humanities degrees.

Me? I am just the Mexican sandal guy these days; by my choice.”

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I am pretty proud of these. Impeccable craftsmanship using the finest materials available for a simple but classic sandal design.

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The power in Sahuayo, Michoacan went off shortly before midnight on Saturday and was not restored until 8:30 am the following morning.

According to the Guardian this morning , my favorite newspaper [British], it was the local bad guys (responding to the vigilantes) who did it.

“The escalating conflict between self-defence groups from the western Mexican state of Michoacán and the Knights Templar drug cartel triggered a shootout in the centre of a major city and attacks on power stations leaving hundreds of thousands without electricity over the weekend.

The clashes were sparked on Saturday when self-defence groups formed in several outlying towns in the Tierra Caliente, or Hot Lands, region marched on Apatzingán, the biggest city in the area and a key bastion of the cartel…

…The response began quickly with near simultaneous attacks on power plants around the state soon after midnight. At least four petrol stations were also torched, including two in the state capital, Morelia”.

The Knights Templar are the local bad guys here in Sahuayo and the major power in the rest of the state of Michoacan. They’re presently fighting a war on 3 fronts: the Federales, the vigilantes, and the New Generation Cartel from the bordering state of Jalisco. Note: the state of Jalisco is just 30 miles north of Sahuayo, Michoacan where I live and as such Sahuayo is highly contested territory.

But the bad guys attacking power plants – who would have thought?

Read more here: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/28/mexico-drug-cartel-self-defence-groups-michoacan

PS – If you remember, it was the noble Guardian newspaper that ‘outed’ Eric Snowden.

 

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I had a fresh chili rellano for breakfast yesterday along with frijoles and tortillas straight off the grill. On my way out of the Mercado I bought a loaf of crusty bread, half a chicken, and 3 chicken livers (plus the hearts and gizzards).

I took lunch in the Mercado at 1:30 and had a nice bowl of caldo de rez (beef vegetable soup) that I doctored up with fresh salsa and squeezes of lime. My bowl of soup, flavor wise, is actually three. First, I savor the broth and enjoy it as it is in all its beefy vegetable goodness. After a few spoonfuls I add a scoop of the fresh red table salsa. The flavor of the broth changes with the addition of the roasted tomatoes, hot chilies, cilantro and onion. Then after a few spoonfuls more I add the squeezes of lime and the flavor changes again to something best described as ‘brighter’.

For dinner I cooked the half chicken with ground cumin but sauteed the livers separately in butter with a little salt and fresh basil. On the front of the cumin package it says ‘made in Mexico’; which I reckon is the physical grinding part, while on the back it says that it is a product of Iran. Hmmm. I guess that cumin either isn’t part of the crippling economic trade sanctions against Iran or that Mexico isn’t playing along.

I ate the chicken livers (pink in the center) smeared on crusty toast for dinner last night as a poor man’s foie gras with a bit of greens by way of crunchy purslane that I plucked from the terrace. I think the British nose to tails guy, Fergus Henderson would have used fresh parsley but hey, we use what we have.

Tonight I have company coming so I am making coconut rice made from fresh coconut which I’ll serve with the cumin chicken from last night. Very easy to make and very delicious. Sarah and I got hooked on coconut rice on our visit to Cartagena a couple of years ago. It is one of those light, flavorful and cheap Caribbean staples that once you try you keep coming back to.

It’s 8:30 am here which means it’s breakfast time. I wonder what Gaby’s got for us this morning. She does a pretty fabulous pork rib stew done in a mole sauce. Sunday’s gastronomical breakfast celebration is reserved for Maria’s (one stall over from Gaby’s) most excellent menudo.

So to you – cheers – eat healthy, eat good.

I was thinking back to the post ‘The curse of technology’ where I recollected shooting the kid across the street with an arrow at the age of five and it got me thinking for the first time in years about my earliest crimes.

This photo is personally important for two reasons. First, viewed retrospectively it was highly prescient and second, it is the earliest known record of me getting punished for something. Judging by the pudginess, I must have been somewhere around two years old. Looking back I suppose that the entirety of my childhood and adolescence  could be viewed as one long chain of events comprised of playful experimentation, willful disobedience, and punishment.

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So, anyway here is a partial list of my earliest crimes:

  • Oh yeah, a note on the arrow. It actually stuck for a brief moment and drew blood.
  • I was five or six when a little buddy and I trashed the inside of Becky Swinky’s house (and I have no remembrance of why).
  • I smoked my first cigarette at five.
  • I participated in numerous fistfights between the ages of six and fourteen.
  • When I was eight or nine I hit a kid with a rock square between the eyes. The fact that he started the rock throwing didn’t abate the punishment. I was pleased that the rock knocked him to his knees but immensely relieved that I didn’t put out one of his eyes.
  • At the age of ten I began to plot out a long and successful career of talking girls out of their clothes.
  • Started smoking pot at eleven or twelve.
  • In the spring of ’69 I dropped acid at the age of thirteen.

And that’s just the stuff I remember. The list of crimes is long. I was still adding to it in my twenties, thirties, and (heaven forbid) forties.

But I never looked at myself as bad. Even as a kid there were just things that I needed to try. The problem to me was one of authority inasmuch as I never accepted anyone’s right to rule over me (and still don’t).

But I understood consequences – as in the consequences of one’s own actions. And it was this understanding that kept me from spending too much time on the wrong side of the yellow line; but not enough to keep me from habitually straying.

For example in ’93, long after I should have known better, I was sleeping in my usual unprotected way with the company’s twenty-eight year old receptionist in Sao Paolo, Brazil.

I penned this prose poem ‘Is She Pregnant?’ as a way of trying to wrap my head around my feelings and my knowledge of the situation. The last line presents the conclusion: I might find a way to extricate myself from this particular situation but there was no fooling myself; future crimes would follow.

 

I cannot look beyond Brazil.

Beyond this time and place

there is a foreignness where

I might not recognize myself.

I should isolate myself to this

island in time, for today at

this table I can see myself

as I truly am.

Perhaps nothing but the folly of

my earlier choices have led me

here, to her, now.

Still, there is a magic here

if I could only find it.

At this table still cluttered with breakfast

dishes I sit with my hands

folded and head bowed –

not knowing whether to weep for my loss

or for the frightening thought of

crimes yet to be committed.

                                              5-16-93 pnc

                                              Valinhos, Brazil

Little Carol is 15 months old and wonderfully cute. She lives across the street with her mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa. Their house – if you could call it such – has neither windows or doors; just a couple of curtains that separate them from the long, skinny grass-topped parking area that they adjoin. The family for all practical purposes lives outdoors so I see this tiny tot often.

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I wave hello every time I see her and tickle her tummy every chance I get. Yesterday for the first time she let out a squeal of happiness when she saw me. Or more correctly said, she let out a squeal of happiness when she saw me see her. So here she is finally learning how to walk which is surprising given the fact that her feet never seem to be touching the ground long enough at any one given time to learn. For instance, I watch through my window as neighbors and friends heading up or down the street always stop long enough for chat and the chance to pick her up and hold her. And because everyone wants to hold her she invariably gets passed around like a football.

She is adorable in that same soft squirmy kinda of way like the white Chihuahua puppy that lives a couple more doors down. Estrella (Star) finally let me pet her a couple of days ago. Her master was sweeping up in the car port when I was walking by and not seeing the dog about I asked about her. She whistled and Estrella came racing out of the house. She saw me, panicked and went into a butt-sliding skid across the tiled floor. She quickly righted herself and retreated under the car. After some coaxing she finally wiggled her way over and let me pet her walnut-sized head.

I am working my Spanish more every day. Daily encounters like these give me reasons to try a little harder.

I don’t care for the CIA’s far-flung drone operations any more than I like the NSA’s hometown spying via their domestic data gathering programs. But in the case of the latter, if I had an unlimited budget, I’d have me a big sexy data center too.

I’m certainly not coming to their defense when I say that the only rational justification for their behavior is the curse of technology; if you got something cool, you want to use it. And a new technology screams to be used.

It’s one thing to build a pilotless plane but way cooler when you attach cameras, bombs and rockets to it and then fly it from your laptop using a game console joystick; watching the screen in sick fascination as you’re blowing up shit on the other side of the planet. And you don’t build a hi-tech drone just to park it in the hanger.

And I understand that temptation. When I was five years old I shot the kid across the street in the stomach with an arrow. He dared me and I let him have it. It was so many years ago that I can’t remember if he was aware – prior to impact – that I had done a major system’s upgrade when I replaced the rubber tip with a penknife sharpened point.

Give a boy a well-meaning educational present like a chemistry set and the first thing he’s going to try and do with it is build something that explodes. Give him a telescope and it won’t be long before he’s training it on some girl’s bedroom window.

It’s the curse of technology.

According to CBS News today there was a violent battle between the local Jalisco bad guys and the police in the city of Guadalajara that involved – get this – hand grenades. Worse, one of the hand grenades was linked to a man that was well known to the United States Department of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.

3 cops and 4 bad guys were killed. The shootout was captured by locals on video. The 5 bad guys involved used at least 9 firearms and 10 grenades in the exchange.

I want to point out a couple of things that most American’s don’t seem to understand. This problem is much more ours than Mexico’s; it’s just that most of the carnage happens here which makes it seem like it’s all about Mexico.

But that’s wrong.

First, if the US didn’t have such a strong appetite for drugs then the supply-side related problems would cease to exist. Second, same for the weapons. If the US didn’t provide them then the bad guys wouldn’t be using things like automatic weapons and grenades. They’d be using single-shot .22 cal. rifles which is about the only thing you can buy down here.

Third, Money-laundering. If banking institutions in the rest of the world didn’t launder the cash money the whole business would come to a screeching halt. To the best of my knowledge you can’t do dope deals with a Visa card.

So, let’s recap. The Mexican drug problem and the resulting violence here has four components: Supply, Demand, Weapons, and Money-laundering. And three of those four parts just happen to lie somewhere north of the Rio Grande.

So it’s probably more fair to call it the American drug problem isn’t it?

Read the whole story here – http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505263_162-57607918/deadly-drug-cartel-shootout-with-mexico-police-linked-to-grenade-walking-scandal/

I have been living in central Mexico for a little over a year. And like anywhere else, there’s the good and the bad. But one thing that is inarguable is the weather. Imagine 75° – 85° F every single day of the year. 300+ days of sunshine. The weather is so perfect that the people here spend the better part of their day outdoors. And the architecture reflects that lifestyle.

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Most everything in Mexico seems to be in some state of benign neglect which imparts (in my humble opinion) the character that the Japanese call wabi-sabi: incompleteness, imperfection, asymetry, and transience. Traits that certain cognoscenti rever as an antithesis to sameness, conformity, predictability, mass-produced, and disposable. Those same cognoscenti preferring instead to confer beauty on those certain things seemingly worn out, irregular and/or idiosyncratic. The enlightened Japanese, both ancient and modern, see transience in all such things that express wabi-sabi. I think I need to re-read that classic  by Inazo Nitobe entitled ‘Bushido, the Soul of Japan’ as to better compare the Japanese death/dying mythos with those of the Mexican; which were so dispassionately dissected in Octavio Paz’s immortal work ‘The Labyrinth of Solitude’. (And how apropos with The Day of the Dead Fiesta just 2 weeks away.)

Another observation is how Mexican homes are not constrained by conventional floor plans. And I find that to be both refreshing and wisely practical. Concrete, bricks, and adobe are highly adaptive building materials. If you can imagine it, you can build it.