kottke.org posts about Mexico
The Sinaloa drug cartel is headed by a man who goes by El Chapo. That Chapo is 55 years old and still around tells you something about well he runs his business.
The drug war in Mexico has claimed more than 50,000 lives since 2006. But what tends to get lost amid coverage of this epic bloodletting is just how effective the drug business has become. A close study of the Sinaloa cartel, based on thousands of pages of trial records and dozens of interviews with convicted drug traffickers and current and former officials in Mexico and the United States, reveals an operation that is global (it is active in more than a dozen countries) yet also very nimble and, above all, staggeringly complex. Sinaloa didn't merely survive the recession -- it has thrived in recent years. And after prevailing in some recent mass-casualty clashes, it now controls more territory along the border than ever.
"Chapo always talks about the drug business, wherever he is," one erstwhile confidant told a jury several years ago, describing a driven, even obsessive entrepreneur with a proclivity for micromanagement. From the remote mountain redoubt where he is believed to be hiding, surrounded at all times by a battery of gunmen, Chapo oversees a logistical network that is as sophisticated, in some ways, as that of Amazon or U.P.S. -- doubly sophisticated, when you think about it, because traffickers must move both their product and their profits in secret, and constantly maneuver to avoid death or arrest. As a mirror image of a legal commodities business, the Sinaloa cartel brings to mind that old line about Ginger Rogers doing all the same moves as Fred Astaire, only backward and in heels. In its longevity, profitability and scope, it might be the most successful criminal enterprise in history.
Last year, Vice travelled to Matehuala, Mexico in search of dance crews who wear extremely pointy cowboy boots called botas vaqueras exóticas.
In Matehuala, guarachero has become an unlikely style of music where a bunch of people who in theory should not get along come together and get along. It's also the music preferred by the men and boys in the long and pointed boots.
Participants in these dance contests spend the days and weeks prior choreographing intricate footwork routines and fabricating their own outfits with cheap paint and fabric. The grand prize, beyond the enthusiastic crowd's affection, is either a bottle of whiskey or a few bucks.
Huitlacoche (pronounced weet-la-KOH-chay) is a fungus, called corn smut in the US, that has recently become something of a delicacy. "Before, it was seen as a food of the poor. Now it's the food of the rich," following the same track as lobster. The cultivation of huitlacoche is growing dramatically, as an infected stock sells for more than a normal corn cob. The flavor is described as earthy and unique, perhaps most similar to a mushroom.
In recent decades -- before huitlacoche really took off -- the fungus largely was sauteed with garlic, onions and poblano chile strips and served by street vendors in quesadillas, folded-over corn tortillas. Then cooks realized its flavor would make nearly any dish sensational. Restaurants sometimes offer it with beef, fish, in crepes with chipotle sauce, with eggs, in cream soups or with shrimp.
I would like to eat corn smut.
(Via Balloon Juice)
Edible Geography pays a visit to La Central de Abasto in Mexico, a contender for the world's largest wholesale food market.
La Central de Abasto de la Ciudad de MÃ©xico is enormous. It sprawls across a 327 hectare site on the eastern edge of the D.F., dwarfing fellow wholesale food markets such as Hunt's Point (24 hectares), Tsukiji (23 hectares), or even the massive Rungis, outside Paris (232 hectares).
La Central has its own postcode, its own 700-member police force, and its own border-style entry gates, but during my visit, its enormity truly hit home only when we had to take a taxi to get from flowers to fish. It was a solid fifteen minute ride from one section of the market to another!
The manner in which tortillas and other bread are made in Mexico has had far-reaching societal effects.
Of course, there are trade-offs. Bimbo is not as good as a bolillo. A machine-made tortilla is not anything like a homemade tortilla -- it's not even in the same universe.
Mexican women that I have talked to are very explicit about this trade-off. They know it doesn't taste as good; they don't care. Because if they want to have time, if they want to work, if they want to send their kids to school, then taste is less important than having that bit of extra money, and moving into the middle class. They have very self-consciously made this decision. In the last ten years, the number of women working in Mexico has gone up from about thirty-three percent to nearly fifty percent. One reason for that-it's not the only reason, but it is a very important reason-is that we've had a revolution in the processing of maize for tortillas.
A team of archeologists used aircraft-mounted LIDAR (a laser-based distance measuring system) to map the Mayan ruins of Caracol. The imaging revealed more of the ruins in four days than on-the-ground teams have been able to do in the past 25 years.
The Chases, who are professors of anthropology at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, had determined from earlier surveys that Caracol extended over a wide area in its heyday, between A.D. 550 and 900. From a ceremonial center of palaces and broad plazas, it stretched out to industrial zones and poor neighborhoods and beyond to suburbs of substantial houses, markets and terraced fields and reservoirs. This picture of urban sprawl led the Chases to estimate the city's population at its peak at more than 115,000. But some archaeologists doubted the evidence warranted such expansive interpretations.
"Now we have a totality of data and see the entire landscape," Dr. Arlen Chase said of the laser findings. "We know the size of the site, its boundaries, and this confirms our population estimates, and we see all this terracing and begin to know how the people fed themselves."
A mass grave found during the excavation of a pyramid in Mexico City may contain the remains of the last Aztec warriors who fought Cortes and the Spanish.
Guilliem said many burials have been found at the site with the remains of Indians who died during epidemics that swept the Aztec capital in the years after the conquest and killed off much of the Indian population.
But those burials were mostly hurried, haphazard affairs in which remains were jumbled together in pits regardless of age or gender.
The burial reported Tuesday is different. The dead had many of the characteristics of warriors: All were young men, most were tall and several showed broken bones that had mended.
The men also were carefully buried Christian-style, lying on their backs with arms crossed over their chests, though many appear to have been wrapped up in large maguey cactus leaves, rather than placed in European coffins.
The mass grave contained evidence of an Aztec-like ritual in which offerings such as incense and animals were set alight in an incense burner, but Spanish elements including buttons and a bit of glass also were present.
(via history blog)
At PopTech a few weeks ago, Lester Brown, who has been a leading advocate of environmentally sustainable development for almost 30 years, spoke about the impact of the increasing production of ethanol. As more corn gets used for making automotive fuel, that reduces the amount of grain available for food production. As demand rises, so will the price...no matter what people are using the corn for, be it fuel or food. The countries that will really suffer in this scenario are those that import lots of grain for food.
When Brown said this, I immediately thought of Mexico. When you consider the food culture of Mexico, one of the first things to mind is corn. Corn (maize) was likely first domesticated in Mexico and remains the cornerstone of Mexican cuisine; in short, corn is far more Mexican than apple pie is American. In 1491, his excellent book on the pre-Columbian Americas, Charles Mann tells us that despite corn's high status, Mexico is increasingly importing corn from the United States because it's cheaper than local corn:
Modern hybrids are so productive that despite the distances involved US corporations can sell maize for less in Oaxaca than can [local farmer] Diaz Castellano. Landrace maize, he said, tastes better, but it is hard to find a way to make the quality pay off.
Those great tortillas you had at some local place while on vacation in Mexico? There's an increasing chance they're made from US corn. Mmm, globalizious! Of course, Mexican farmers are getting out of the farming business because they can't compete with the heavily subsidized US corn and Mexico is losing control over one of their strongest cultural customs. Now that ethanol is changing the rules, there's a bidding war brewing between Americans who want to fill their gas tanks and Mexicans who want to feed their children. Odds are the tanks stay fuller than the stomachs.
For reference, here's what increasing ethanol production has done to the price of corn over the past three months:
And that's despite a fantastic US corn harvest. The graph is from this article in the WSJ, which contains a quick overview of the effects that the growing ethanol industry might have.
Mexican president Vicente Fox didn't sign the bill legalizing small quantities of drugs for personal use because of US pressure due to drug tourism fears. What I don't understand is...why not just make it legal for Mexican citizens to allay US fears? Besides, anyone who goes to Mexico for drugs can get them if they want anyway, law or no.
For our honeymoon, we stayed right on the ocean near Tulum in the Yucatan, about two hours south of Cancun by car. Most of these photos are taken near Tulum, at Chichen Itza, or in Valladolid.
Luke Wroblewski wrote an article for Boxes and Arrows about using colors found in nature as inspiration for color palettes used in designing web sites.
Unfortunately, the photos showing Luke's examples don't appear to be working on the site (the images have been fixed...thx, Lars), but Dave Shea published an image that illustrates Luke's technique.
When you're on the beach in the Caribbean as I was recently, it's difficult for the color palette to escape your notice. I whipped up this collection of colors from some of my photos (coming soon) from Mexico:
From left to right, you've got the pale blue of the ocean close to shore, the light brown of the sand, the green of the lush vegetation, and the deep clear blue of the sky.
Update: A couple people asked, so here are the hex values for the above colors: 3DB8AE, FFEDD8, 396600, and 0050A2, respectively.
According to Wikipedia (which in turn references the Oxford English Dictionary on the matter), the etymology of the word honeymoon is unclear. The American Heritage Dictionary (via answers.com) suggests it's "perhaps from a comparison of the moon, which wanes as soon as it is full, to the affections of a newly married couple, which are most tender right after marriage", which doesn't sound all that positive. Returning to the Wikipedia entry, honeymoon may have been used in Babylonian times to describe the bride and groom consuming honey (in the form of mead, a beverage) before the next moon.
At any rate, I've just returned from mine, the most relaxing vacation I've ever had. For two weeks, we did without electricity, running fresh water, newpapers, showers (we substituted ocean swimming + saltwater baths), television, magazines, movies, computers, internet, email, mobile phones (except for two unavoidable calls out and periodic checking of voicemail to see if the cat was ok), and music (for the most part). It was so relaxing that we didn't even know that Daylight Saving Time was in effect until 2 full days after the fact and may not have found out until we got to the airport if Meg hadn't shown up a full hour late to her yoga class and everyone was, somewhat confusingly, just finishing up.
I read three books: one fascinating, one great, and one good. Ate lots of great Mexican food with zero instances of microbial confrontation. Found really good pizza in an odd place.
We made up names for the people we saw repeatedly on the beach at the small place we were staying. There were the Naked Hat People, Naked Yoga Guy -- you may be noticing a trend...the beach was clothing optional -- and Naked Paddleball Players, who we renamed Ketchup and Mustard because of their signature matching red and yellow ball caps (they exercised their option to wear nothing besides). Civilization kept threatening to creep into our media deprivation tank, as when we saw Ketchup and Mustard at dinner near the end of our stay, surfing the web on the wireless connection we had no idea that our hotel/resort had. They checked out the New Yorker site and then caught up on the Huffington Post. Meg turned to me and said, "if he brings up kottke.org, I'm going over there and introducing you."
"The hell you are. Are you trying to kill Vacation Jason?"
So yeah, I'm back and am eager to get back to kottke.org, even though getting my &%#$^#*%& email this morning completely killed Vacation Jason much sooner than I would have liked.
And not least, thanks to Greg Knauss, David Jacobs, and Anil Dash for keeping up with the remaindered links while I was gone. Good stuff, guys.
ps. For the curious, wedding pics here (taken by Eliot). Some pics of Mexico coming (somewhat) soon.