Archives for the month of: March, 2014

another Super Menudo Sunday my friends. And rather than talk about it this time here it is in all of its pictorial goodness:Image

Here’s a photo of my friend, Ramon starting up his boiler of fresh rendered lard. He’s been cooking pig guts, onions, and peppers for a long, long time. Seven days a week. 360 days per year. I rarely see him without his smile. And while I’ve only eaten his food once, he still greets me warmly every morning, calling me by my demunitive ‘Filipito’. He walks around his counter to give me a hug from time to time, patting me on the back like I am kid. He is the epitome of Mexican grace and warmth.



Freshly cut flowers delivered to the Mercado this morning:






Sunset closeup:


Viva Mexico!




First, I need to get something off my chest – [I say] screw writing reviews about poorly written books that piss me off – I binned ‘Average is Over’. The corrected title should read ‘This Book is Average’.

On to the good news. I think I just found be a new bag maker. And a new clothing maker. This woman faithfully reproduced my 17 year old REI micro-fleece vest (for 1/3 the price) and now I’ve got her building me a slightly different one. She is going to ‘stitch’ (or whatever that’s called) the Sarah Sandals logo in the same place where the old REI logo was. I am awesomely pleased.

Her amigo built be a prototype leather bag from a synthetic sample that I provided. The results of which I am mostly pleased. I gave him a new one (as in different) to make with better leather this time and we’ll see what happens. But I am very optimistic.

Returning home I was stopped by 2 very handsome old women who asked me if I was still walking a lot; everybody sees this guero hiking around town dressed in t-shirt, shorts, and sandals. I said, ‘Yes’ and ‘so, you’re out for a walk too’? They nodded happily and the older one of the two smiled radiantly and told me rather shyly that she was 85 years old. I told her that she was beautiful (she stood straight as an arrow, unbent by age) and that the walking was keeping her young. I introduced myself and the older one took my hand in hers and said that she was equally pleased to meet me too. She reminded me of my grandmother in that I felt immediately surrounded by an unconditional love. How can someone live so long and still radiate such joy? People like her bring tears of happiness to my eyes. Her smile and joy expunged the anger that was still lingering in my soul (from reading that dreadful book) and just her momentary presence made me feel once again at peace. And it is by these simple things that I am reminded evermore of the tiny blessings of God.

To be quite frank, I am not enjoying Tyler Cowen’s new book one tiny little bit. I have yet to see him express any originality. Sadly, the title appears to be its most provocative bit. I sense the title was meant to compete with the likes of Friedman’s ‘The World is Flat’ and Kevin Kelly’s ‘What Technology Wants’ (another sorry ass read).  ‘Average is Over’ is an excruciatingly painful book to read because it fails at so many different levels: it fails [so far] to deliver on its major premise, it is intellectually sloppy, and it regurgitates old economic theories in boringly long-winded detail. This is not to mention the eye-gouging, mostly irrelevant analogies and countless filler pages concerning the game of chess.

I don’t know the page number (I am reading the book from a 1st generation Kindle) but at the 45% mile-marker the author states, “On one hand, many smart people will learn how to think like smart machines, or at least enough to understand their operation, in order to become wealthy, high status earners.” I find all of this highly unlikely; a person thinking like a machine is just plain absurd or that operating a machine (no matter how smart or how skilled the operator) is going to make a person a high status earner.

And this statement more or less directly contradicts what he said a few pages earlier when he said “In any case rather than converging, man and machine are likely to become more different in some ways, including cognitively. Most of this book is about the evolution of the machines, but people will change too. I am not talking about longer-run changes in the genetic code, but rather more simple changes in how we live our lives and which skills we decide to acquire or not. To put it bluntly, we are outsourcing some parts of our brains to mechanical devices and indeed we have been doing that for millennia…we have focused more on the skills that the machines can’t bring us.”

This statement gibes more or less with his previous arguments which he sums up at the 39% mile-marker when he says “The Freestyle model seems a lot more economical, and to most people a lot more palatable, than Kurzweil’s utopian project of brain uploads.”

What he refers to as the Freestyle model is the modern worker augmenting his skills using intelligent machines whereby they both become greater than the sum of their separate parts. This idea is by no means original or revolutionary.

I am now halfway through the book and so far the author is still a very long way from delivering on the major premises of the book which were stated early on as:

“In today’s global economy here is what is scarce:

  1. Quality land and natural resources
  2. Intellectual property, or good ideas about what should be produced
  3. Quality labor with unique skills

Here is what is not scarce these days:

  1. Unskilled labor, as more countries join the global economy
  2. Money in the bank or held in government securities, which you can think of as simple capital, not attached to any special ownership rights (we know there is a lot of it because it has been earning zero or negative real rates of return)”

I really wanted to like this book. So if average is truly over (which I believe it is) then what I really wanted from this supposedly brilliant economist, however naive, was some answers. In like how does the immediate generation avoid the trap of being average?

Just before my daughter finished high school she came to me (her long-time divorced dad) and asked if I was going to help pay for her university. I said, ‘Yes, but if you accept my money I become your business partner’. So what started out as a mere economical tyranny led to the very expensive yet rewarding appointment as principal educational career coach.

And my advice to her from Day One had always been to get a hybrid education. In her case she got an under-grad degree in bio-chemistry, a masters degree in systems engineering, and now she is doing her post-grad in a yet to be determined aspect of systems biology. And I am more than satisfied with her choices.

I’ve argued the more diverse the education, the higher the energy potential and the more choices that person will have concerning their own future. For example, you want to live in Paris? Then you better have the skills, education and experience that is needed in the EU (and isn’t already possessed by a bunch of other people with EU citizenship) or you’ll never get the opportunity to live there.

There is no forgiveness in this fast-moving, highly competitive, quickly changing world. People of my generation had the luxury of being major screw-ups in their teens and twenties but were able to rebound at some point and become successful. That forgiveness is long gone. If people of Sarah’s generation don’t have a solid endgame in mind when they enter the university then they’re not just wasting their parents money (or heaven forbid, student loans!) and their time but worse, they’re literally gambling with their future.

Tyler Cowen is right in one respect and that is the gap between the haves and have-nots  is going to keep getting bigger. He states that “…workers more and more will come to be classified into two categories. The key questions will be: Are you good at working with intelligent machines of not?”

But that statement is incomplete in as much as it only addresses the lower end of the spectrum. Being able to operate a handful of new tools (for that is all an intelligent machine really is) is still just mostly manual labor.

I mean, think about it. The real money, the real power comes to those that have the skills to design the tools. And those skills to interpret the output of those tools. Not operate the damn things or understand how they work. Those are technician jobs.

So what if you aspire to be something other than a technician? A mere worker? To be something larger than just being a team member (a modern politically neutering phrase that resonates in much the same way as the phrase learning challenged); to be more than a mere cog in the means of production?

How many of you remember the broken promise from the late ’80s that the computer was going to set us all free? And that we’d all have more free time because the computer was going to do all of heaving lifting? The reality was that for many professionals like the engineer who once had a staff of designers, draftsmen, and whatnot; those tasks were subsumed by the PC and only then ironically to be administered by the engineer himself. That explained the huge jump in productivity in the ’90s. The engineer (like so many other professionals) were [then] thanks to the PC, all doing the work of several people.

Just slightly prior, designers and draftsmen got off the drafting tables and picked up mice and started punching keyboards when super smart AutoCad was released to run on high-powered workstations. And those workers were pretty indispensable right up to the point Microsoft made it smarter (drag and drop) with Visio till finally even a busy engineer could do his own drafting. And what did he need an admin for if he had Word loaded on his PC?

My conclusion is that one very important thing is going to continue happening in the future and that is the world is going to keep getting increasingly more narrow as basic skills in the workplace become more normalized through the use of these intelligent machines.

And for a person to escape the penal servitude that goes with average, they must differentiate themselves by becoming really damn good at something. And for most of you that begins by taking your education very seriously and choosing your curriculum wisely.

I posted a couple of weeks ago that the Municipality of Sahuayo, Michoacan had certified Sahara Sandals as being the region’s finest artisans of handmade sandals and as such we were given the distinguished honor of being culturally important. We are the only sandal company out tens of dozens to hold that honor.

I was informed today by the municipality’s chief of staff that we could expect an official visit from the State Ministry of Economy as soon as next week to validate our quality assurance, our hand-fabrication processes, and the pedigree of materials used for the purposes of certifying us at the state level. This demonstrates the local government’s unwavering commitment to get state support in a project that has all of a sudden become regionally important.

The chief of staff hasn’t been leaning on the MoE these past few weeks just to make me happy. No, Oscar is doing this because he is now firmly convinced that we have the skills, the availability of top quality leathers, and commitment to quality to compete with the best of Europe. And in the doing create new jobs and blow some life back into one of Mexico’s fundamental industries; one that has been steadily losing ground in the increasingly synthetic and mass-produced world that we live in.

Viva Mexico!


And save the animals.

I usually stay away from commenting on the absurd because they typically devolve into La Brea Tar Pit like arguments. But I have to say that the Copenhagen Zoo’s recent actions make me positively marvel over just how far we as a civilization have stretched the boundaries of what constitutes rationality.



Taken this morning from –

“Earlier this year, a Greenpeace report sent ripples throughout the footwear industry when it released findings of an investigation that showed children’s clothes and shoes made by major brands — including Disney, Burberry, American Apparel, GAP, and Primark — contained residues of toxic chemicals. In some cases, the levels were higher than just residue.

            While there is no evidence that the levels of chemicals found would cause harm to children coming into contact with them, the news was such that it raised concerns among consumers, parents, and retailers. This is because, in certain quantities or exposures, some of the chemicals used by the industry, such as Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), can accumulate in the body and disrupt hormones. Phthalates, commonly used to soften plastics, and other chemicals found in the Greenpeace survey can cause a range of adverse health conditions, including disrupting immune systems, triggering dermatitis, and causing breathing problems.

            The industry’s response was quick, with Primark saying it was working to remove chemicals from its production process. Burberry said it was already working with Greenpeace to tackle the issue and stressed that, “Burberry products do not pose a danger to customers.” The British Retail Consortium issued a statement in which it said, “Current chemical test methods are very sophisticated and can detect chemicals at extremely low levels so, although detected, this does not mean that the chemicals would cause health problems to children and may only be present as very low level contaminants.”

            The Greenpeace report came out at the same time that the Hong Kong Consumer Council issued a warning after it found that more than half of the 28 models of children’s casual footwear, slippers, and rain boots it tested contained high levels of harmful chemicals. According to its January 14 press release, “The levels of phthalates detected in the test were a cause for concern. For example, the highest amount of a particular phthalate in 12 models reached 15.2% to 43.3% – way over and above the stipulated 0.1% level.”

            The release also warned that, while phthalates are not easily absorbed by the skin, they can be released into the air and inhaled. Exposure increases the risk of asthma and allergies and can disrupt hormonal balance, which impairs reproduction and early development, it said.

            Such reports and warnings, however, are not new, and they join a long list of product recalls by major retailers. Nordstrom Department store, for example, had to recall 31,000 units of girls’ shoes a few years ago because the surface paint on the outer sole contained excessive levels of lead, in violation of US federal paint standards. Nordstrom offered consumers a full refund or exchange, at considerable cost.

But as the Greenpeace report and the history of product recalls show, even if retailers meet the standards set by regulatory bodies, the public relations fallout from selling children’s products with even tiny residues of hazardous chemicals can be costly and force companies to go on the defensive.

Some in the industry have gotten the message. A growing group of major retailers has decided to wean themselves completely off hazardous chemicals. Some twenty global fashion leaders have committed to Greenpeace’s Detox international campaign: Nike, Adidas, Puma, H&M, M&S, C&A, Li-Ning, Zara, Mango, Esprit, Levi’s, Uniqlo, Benetton, Victoria’s Secret, G-Star Raw, Valentino, Coop, Canepa, Burberry, and Primark.

In today’s market, eco-friendly corporate decisions, such as detoxifying your supply chain, can boost consumer confidence in your product, increase transparency, and build a brand image that is more in tune with changing market demands and buyer preferences. The key to doing that, as in other supply chain decisions, is to source with only trusted suppliers and be willing and able to test and certify that your products are safe.”

 Another argument against buying mass-produced shoes made from synthetic materials can be found in a recent MIT study which I referenced in a earlier post

As a general rule I don’t wear synthetics. I wear only the basics made from 100% cotton, wool, cashmere, and leather. Which reminds me of an Adam’s family story.  Gomez said, ‘While a man might own 14 suits of clothes, I guarantee out of all those he’s got one favorite suit of clothes.’ He smiled, ‘As for me, I own 14 copies of my favorite suit of clothes.’

Over the years, I’ve kind of become like that. I wear only pocket t-shirts: white or navy blue. My cashmere sweaters are all navy blue. I wear cargo shorts of the khaki variety, the occasional pair of blue jeans when it’s cold, and sandals (my leather handmade sandals). It’s that nontoxically simple.

I’ve made mention that rainy season is approaching and that in the mean time the sunsets will rival the drama of the sunrises for the next few weeks.

Here is last night’s sunset:


And here is this morning’s sunrise:


Glorious. Simply Glorious.

And today is the day that we observe The Feast of Super Menudo Sunday. A big bowl of floating stomach bits pillowed on a steaming broth of red chili infused goodness sweetened with finely chopped white onion before being tarted up with generous squeezes of fresh lime then finely dusted with the merest hint of oregano.

PS – My daughter asked me last week how I could eat something like menudo for breakfast and my reply was that it was not about the stomach bits. Rather, it was the sublime combination of chewy, citrus, and spicy that makes Mexican menudo such a splendid morning repast. Oh, and tortillas fresh off the grill and homemade salsa make wonderful accompaniments.

PPS – A thought just occurred to me. To truly understand Mexican food you need to know that the root of all Mexican food is the tortilla. To begin with, God gave the poorest of Mexican’s from generations past two simple things: the tortilla and the chili. This carries forward to today where a Mexican can be seen happily munching on a rolled up tortilla with no more than a smear of salsa in it.

Sorry, but I left this out. And I will try and promise that this will be my last comment on the author’s use of the word intuition.

So just a few sentences after where I’d left off in Part -1 the author goes on to say, ” It is both scary and exciting. Human intuition is becoming radically aware of it’s own limitations.”

Doesn’t Tyler Cowen have an editor? And if so why didn’t they catch the fact that he is using the word intuition in yet another way? The word he should have used was cognition.

I am not the best writer in the world and heaven only knows that my writing would benefit from having an experienced editor around but I have to say with this particular word mis-usage that I am greatly troubled by the author’s lack of precision.

And precision is damned important. Incorrect word usage is not just sloppy but worse, it is intellectually irresponsible.

PS – Are we to then infer that as an economist his calculations are suspect as well?

I am reading Tyler Cowen’s book ‘Average is Over’ because I was intrigued by a ThoughtCatalog posting entitled ‘6 Imperative Things You Need To Know About The Global Economy’ and especially one of the summations of the short global economy scarcity indices in the form of ‘Quality labor with unique skills’.

I got a copy of the ebook from my sister, who was equally interested, and I am now 31% through it according to my eReader.

I intend to write a series of posts on the subject, this being the first.

I don’t know the page number – it’s an eReader in the form of the 1st gen Kindle – but it’s at the 31% finished point where the author states” If you test your ability to calculate against the computer and continue to do so over years, you’ll get a lot better at calculation and you’ll learn to transcend some of the natural tendency to rely on intuition.” Hmmm.

On the previous page where he sums up analytic people, intelligence and decision making in the workplace he says “Be skeptical of the elegant and intuitive theory.”

Now I have some disagreement there as I happen to love elegant solutions and also believe that when we talk about intuition in a serious way what we are really talking about is leveraging pre-existing information that resides in the subconscious mind.

But he made a point earlier for which I am willing to forgive his rather blithe disregard for elegance when he said that “…we humans  – even at the highest levels of intellect and competition – like to oversimplify matters.”

But then he infuriates me where in the next sentence he says, “We boil things down to our ‘intuitions’ too much.”

[Following] Intuitions is not about shooting from the proverbial hip, going off all half-cocked and making irrationally based decisions. The author is taking the meaning of the word intuition and is applying it incorrectly. To say it again, the sub-conscious mind stores all kinds of little details that the conscious mind ignores. This might be a crude example, but someone properly hypnotized is able to remember all kinds of details, some seemingly useless, like colors and makes and models of cars that drove by their front porch on some summer morning years ago. And there are those who upon arriving home sense that something (however subtle) is amiss with their front door and rightly know that their apartment has been violated. Why/how? Because that previous information of what was still exists in the subconscious mind. Highly intuitive people have readier access to their subconscious than people who don’t.

So apart from the sloppy application of the word intuition I am willing to forgive him because the point that he is really trying to make in that paragraph is tied to the fact that “We (humans) like pat answers and we take too much care to avoid intellectual chaos.” Meaning, like he said earlier, we have a tendency to oversimplify things. And I agree with that.

But the reason why I felt an urge to make a comment at the 31% mile-marker is just how much in contrast his opinion on the relative valuelessness of intuition is with that of the great Sufi mystic, Rumi who said “Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment; cleverness is mere opinion, bewilderment is intuition.”

So I have to say early on that I disagree with the author about the future in that machine enabled analytics totally displace qualities like elegance and the importance of the mostly misunderstood notion of intuition. Even yes, in the workplace.

PS – Do you want to know why the CIA as an organization is such a failure as an implementer of American foreign policy? It is because all of the people that they hire all fit the exact same mold. No criminal records. Good grades from a good school. Good credit scores. In short, they hire people who play it safe. They don’t hire risk takers. They don’t hire people who use their intuition. Creative thought and elegance is not part of their corporate creed. Instead the institution breeds bureaucrats. Enough said.

PPS – If you want to read a very comprehensive history on the positively world-class bungling CIA, I urge you to pick up a copy of Derek Leebaert’s brilliantly researched  ‘The Fifty-Year Wound: How America’s Cold War Victory Has Shaped Our World’.

“It is silly to go on pretending that under the skin we are all brothers. The truth is more likely that under the skin we are all cannibals, assassins, traitors, liars, and hypocrites.”

Henry Miller