Sunday, April 12, 2009

Quality versus Quantity

In the shift of profits towards Capital or the struggle to be competitive not only Labor lost. Throughout the world and various industries the quality of goods and services has diminished. A culture of efficiency has been installed that wants to increase production at a lesser cost. This affects the production of yogurts, hamburgers, sausages but also medical centers, police departments and court systems as well.

Efficiency supposes measurement: How many grams of this per unit? How many seconds to accomplish this process? What’s the cost of this or that from step A to step B? The problem with this is that measurements measure only things that can be measured. What cannot be measured is killed. MBAs and engineers are taught to be objective and for them all the elements of a process should be quantified, dissected, benchmarked, or whatever: what cannot be measured does not exist.

That extra gram of this or these extra seconds used traditionally are taken away. At first sight the product is essentially the same, the price has been reduced, the consumer can’t tell it is a lesser product, he pays less and everybody is happy. Little by little over several decades they became so efficient that we started to eat garbage and never realized it. We were getting more in quantity at a lesser price and started to eat more also. No surprise we are getting fatter.

It is an interesting exercise to watch American movies of the fifties and sixties, especially the ones in color. Looking at the clothes, the houses and everything else (including the Chevys and T-birds of the 50s) one gets an amazing impression of wealth. The material of the actors suits, the quality of the cuts did not compare with anything today. Something has been lost.

By himself, man is naturally inclined to like the things he does or fabricate. Some are better than other of course but there is a little bit of his soul in his products. The artisans that makes boots or wood cabinets, jewelry or other crafts put love to it. In services it is the same thing. Men and women generally want to do the right thing and do a good job. When they are not proud of the things they make or the service they render instead of doing things with love they do them with something else: boredom, anger or contempt. At the end of the day we assimilate everything. Physically or subconsciously, we digest things. That delicious meal in a restaurant we take it in along with the love it was made with. It works the same way with the greasy pizza that was made with anger or contempt. It all gets inside us.

This thing about efficiency and cutting cost has been well translated into public service. When you start judging a court system on the basis of the number of cases processed, justice is not necessarily served. Same with cops: Judging a police officer on the number of traffic violations he writes may not be conducive to better law enforcement in general. Your friendly family doctor used to have you sit in his office, he would talk to you, look at you in the eyes and give you 15 minutes of his time. Nowadays if you get 38 seconds face time with a nurse practitioner, just say thank you to efficiency.

Another way to look at it is the way, during the Reagan years, how businesses were “cutting the fat”. In many instances they not only cut the fat of, they also took some muscle as well.

We got to go back to plain old traditional values in consuming. We must buy good quality products, maybe in lesser quantities, and get them from local sources when possible.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Ideas in disorder about corruption and “thou shall not” stuff

These are rather interesting subjects that are generally looked at with both hypocrisy and an AWOL sense of reality.

One always look at Africa and South America as the pits when it comes to corruption and no one talks about what’s going on in so called “more civilized” countries. There are official organizations that rate nations and it confirms what everybody thinks: that Brazil… but that Switzerland….

In many countries, to try to make corruption totally disappear from one day to the next is not possible. What is different in 3d world rot and western rot is a matter of common sense. Not all corrupt practices are the same. Let’s say that a buyer negotiates the best quality product or services, gets the best price and after all that squeezes something for himself. That’s one thing. It is rotten, that lady should be fired but the consequences are not that grave. The job is done and can even be done well. We could call that “intelligent” corruption. That’s the kind of things one could find in countries like Switzerland or the US.
When somebody starts by the “under the table” and uses whatever is left to buy the goods or services, there is less money to do the job and therefore quality is diminished. This can create serious problems: the plane crashes because maintenance was sloppy, the building burns because the wiring was substandard, or whatever.

It would seem more reasonable to FIRST try to educate 3d world politicians or business peoples to become more sophisticated in there rotten behavior rather than tell them :”Don’t do it”. I am not sure how it could be done since saying it condones corruption..

Second subject:

Christian education makes people want to take absolute stands that have never worked. Prostitution is a “nono” but only in the books. It has existed for thousands of years and will still exist in the future. Alcool was a “nono” in the US and mostly because of that, the Mafias came into existence in the US. When it became legal to drink it was too late and the Mafia had already been created. Same with drugs: The fact of making Marihuana and Cocaine illegal has created Columbian and Mexican drug cartels who have now unbelievable cash resources. At the end of the day there are more drug consumers now than ever. The system does not work. Prisons are overcrowded with drug offenders at a cost of 25K$ per head per year. If there are 2 millions people in jail in the US, at least 80% are there for drug offenses. The cost of jailing these folks is then in the neighborhood of 40 billions USD per year! Let’s compare this cost with the meager 3’000USD per head spent by some States like Arizona on children’s education…
We must add to this the cost of the various law enforcement agencies and their losing battles: City polices, County Sheriffs, State polices and various federal agencies. A few more billions dollars. Why can’t we legalize all this, control it and tax the hell out of it. Besides that, there is absolutely no control on the quality of the products bought from the friendly local pushers. Kids (and adults) buy things in total darkness. There is no quality control department here. A few years back a journalist from the French magazine Actuel made purchases of cocaine in various parts of Paris and had them tested by a laboratory. The results showed that none of the sample had more than 19% of cocaine and that in most cases no “high” could really be obtained because there was not enough of the drug. From a parent or medical point of view that would be good. However the fillers that constituted the 80 % of the purchase were as varied as dangerous in some cases. There was: flour, rice powder, talcum powder, sugar but also ground glass, detergent and other nasty things. The results would probably be the same in any big city in the US.

Back to forbidding things. The pope telling Catholics that they are not allowed to use condoms is in the same vein: telling people not to do things that they will do anyway is not realistic. The worst is still the fact of pastors or congressmen that are violently opposed to homosexuality in their speech but are in fact gay themselves: Pastor Ted Haggard, Pastor Paul Barnes, Congressman Mark Foley and others, not caught yet.

I think the reason folks like forbidding things is that they first want to forbid what they are afraid of. The most frightening being “temptation” .

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ce que j'aime en France.

D’abord la bouffe, au hasard :

Tête de veau sauce gribiche
Bœuf en daube
Les tripes à la lyonnaise ou à la mode de Caen
La choucroute
La bouillabaisse
Le cassoulet
Le confit de canard
Le foie gras
Le cantal
Le Reblochon
Le Coulommier
Le beurre salé (Oops, le cholestérol)
La baguette de pain

C’est bizarre d’écrire tout ça avant le dîner, sur un estomac vide… C’est peut être même dangereux..

Les vins c’est moins facile. Là encore, il y a les choses typiques qui ne montrent pas des extrêmes de bonne et mauvaise qualité et ou je suis toujours assuré d’avoir une bonne qualité moyenne. Dans un supermarché, je n’ai pas peur d’acheter un Cahors, Madiran, Sylvaner, Gewurtztraminer ( c’est comme ca que c’est écrit ?) un vin du Jura, blanc, rosé ou rouge.
Quand on arrive au rayon des Bordeaux qui fait 30 mètres de long je prend la fuite. Il y en a à partir de 2€ jusqu’à 40€ et plus et le prix n’est pas une garantie de quoi que soi. On ne sait pas quoi acheter. Graves, Médoc, Haut Médoc, etc.. ? Parfois pour 5€ on a quelque chose de très honnête et parfois pour 20€ on a quelque chose de très moyen.
Le vin il faut s’y connaître. Pour cela il faut avoir une bonne combinaison de :

1- les moyens
2- le palais
3- le temps

Personnellement je n’ai aucun des 3. Je ne pense pas être capable d’apprécier la différence entre un produit à 200€ et un autre à 20€. J’ai aussi le sentiment que la plupart des gens sont plus ou moins comme moi. Si même on a le palais il y a un aspect encyclopédique à la chose. Il faut avoir goûté des milliers de crus de dizaines d’années différentes. Mon père avait un ami qui les yeux fermés pouvait tracer un cercle de 50kms de rayon sur une carte de France et donner l’année du vin qu’il goûtait. So fucking what ? La plupart des gens font les malins et des grimaces en goûtant leur vins mais ne s’y connaissent pas tant que ca.
Tristement je crois que le futur du vin c’est les cons comme moi qui veulent une qualité permanente à des produits de prix moyens et ne veulent pas se compliquer la vie. : le Chardonnex vieilli en fut de chêne qu’il fut du Sud Ouest, d’Australie ou de la Californie ainsi que le Cabernet des mêmes endroits.

Il y a beaucoup de choses et de gens marrants en France.

Même s’ils sont morts ils y a ceux qui sont et seront toujours vivants : pour moi, Michel Serault avant tout le monde, Coluche, Le Luron, Sacha Guitry, Louis Jouvet ( je sais, je montre mon âge..) C’est dommage que Dieudonné soit devenu "bizzare". Je le trouvais fantastique. Il aurait pu devenir un des plus grands.
Les Guignols de l’info je les regardais à Phoénix avec Internet. C’est tout de même une institution nationale.

Autant je trouve Belmondo exceptionnel, autant Alain Delon me laisse totalement froid. Un acteur qui n’a pas été suffisamment reconnu ou récompensé pour moi c’est Jean Pierre Marielle. Jean Reno peut faire et la finesse et le macho. Il est très bien. On pourrait même lui faire jouer des choses beaucoup plus intérieures. Ses plus grandes « œuvres » sont à venir.

Dans le domaine des vieilles pierres. la France est vraiment gâtée. Entre le château de Carcassonne et Versailles, il y a le choix. Carcassonne est pour moi une des plus belles choses qui existe. Versailles me touche moins dans la mesure ou c’est un lieu associé à la société de cour qui a eu une telle influence sur la société Française, en bien comme en mal. Mais que c’est beau. De même une promenade sur la Seine, à Paris, à regarder les vieilles pierres nettoyées c’est aussi un plaisir.

J’aime le côté « demmerde » ou débrouillard des Français, bien qu’il soit en train de disparaître. Il n’ont pas autant besoin de l’être qu’il y a 50 ans. Les gens qui ont encore besoin de l’être de nos jours ce sont les Brésiliens.

C’est un peu con de ramener à 2 pages les impressions et connaissances de 69 années mais je n’ai pas envie d’écrire un livre non plus

Bernie Baby

Quote of the Week
'I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.'
Thomas Jefferson 1802

Thinking about Bernard Madoff...

Everybody says it's about greed. I don't agree at all. It has to do with pride and cowardice more than anything else. A few years back BM was the smartest, foremost expert on anything financial. He was managing funds which were outperforming others. At one point his funds started to show some losses so he borrowed from the principal of new investors to continue giving the high returns that he had promissed, thinking that within a short time he would have covered his shortcomings. The profit did not return. Years back, he probably could have said:

"Sorry folks, I am not the most intelligent man around after all and we are showing some losses, if you want to pull back your marbles, go ahead."

He did not want to look like a fool so he shut his mouth and took money from new investors to cover his hidden losses. I can understand greed but to fuck peoples just to keep his image is really the pits.

One more time it shows that it takes great intelligence to be a real asshole.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Geneva auto show 2009

I went to the Geneva auto show yesterday. You'd never know there is a crisis. I stopped counting the cars above the 200'000$ altitude. There were more than last year.

Here is a picture of the old Morgan 195x vintage. That's a real sport car. You don't go that fast but what a ride..

Here is a pretty interesting 3 wheel scooter. I did not ask the price. Probably more than a full size truck.

Check out this really COOL Mazda prototype. I WANT ONE !!!

How do you like them space ships. 300kms per hour, 5 miles per gallon and nowhere on earth where you can get out of first gear. Besides there is not enough room for both a passenger and the grocery bags. But damn it, they are pretty

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


As long as we are in arrogant country talking about the big subjects of this world, why not tackle this one. I probably would not pass economics 101 anymore but, again, PHDs in economics have been using advanced mathematical formulas to tell us that all is well for the last 30 years. In times of crisis, everyone is an economist.

Why talk of Capitalism or Socialism or Communism? Why not look at the economy like a wheel with 3 spokes: Labor, Capital and output, (the production of goods and services). If the 3 spokes of the wheel have the same length, the wheel turns correctly. If one of the spokes is too long or too short, the wheel cannot turn anymore.

The wheel of the economy could not turn during the days of communism because the spoke of labor was too long. The same way in many socialist countries the wheel turns at a slower pace because the spoke of labor is too long. Nowadays for many different reasons the US has created a world economy where the spoke of capital is too long and the wheel does not turn very well.

For many years the US had an economic wheel that turned like a Swiss watch: from the beginnings of the Ford motor company to the mid seventies.
In 1910 or so, Henri Ford decided to pay 5$ per day to his factory workers when the practice at the time was 5$ per week. He thought that with their higher pay they would buy his cars as well. Other employers thought the same way. That’s the way to create growth: To have employees earn enough money to consume. Not by giving big dividends at the expense of employees. For 50 years Americans had the best standard of living on earth.

In those days Fredrick Winslow Taylor wrote in his “Principles of scientific management”:

The principal object of management should be to secure the maximum prosperity for the employer, coupled with the maximum prosperity for each employee.
The words "maximum prosperity" are used, in their broad sense, to mean not only large dividends for the company or owner, but the development of every branch of the business to its highest state of excellence, so that the prosperity may be permanent

That was social capitalism. And there is nothing wrong with that.
What happened to America ? In my view, it’s not that complicated. In the sixties and seventies the unions became a little too powerful especially in the auto industry. They became fat cats. American cars of the seventies were not good at all and the first Japanese autos easily pierced the wall of the castle. US manufacturers had electronic parts done or assembled in the far east. This exported know how and technology. I think that in the seventies steel workers were getting 18$ per hour when the South Koreans were getting 2$. For me the Unions have been the cause of the “breach in the wall” . Even though they did a wonderful job for the American worker up to that point, they became too powerful and lacked wisdom. Here is an example of the wheel slowing down because one of the spokes is too long. Now the unions are too weak.
The nail in the coffin came with the age of Reagan. He killed the unions in general when he fired the air controllers on strike in 1981 . This was significant in the way employers dealt with employees. Imperceptibly, from this day on, American employees were not human beings anymore they were tools and they were treated as such. At the same time came the years of “trimming the fat”. Perhaps rightly so. Unfortunately many did not stop at the fat, they cut into the muscle as well. All the big companies were cutting off the non productive staffs. CEOs who fired a few hundred folks without any absolute reason were hailed as heroes and the shares went up. The words “maximizing share holder’s equity” became carved in the stones of all American corporations. 2 things were happening at the same time that destroyed the American standard of living. The first one was the shift of the profit from the employee to the stock holder and the second is the competition from the Far-East and the combination of both.
The USA have all the basic resources they need right at home. In the sixties or so, they could have say no to imports, kept the technology at home and live in a nice and safe economic world. The only reason we opened the borders was to “maximize the shareholder’s equity” of some companies.
Could we go back to protectionism? Probably not. In some industries it could perhaps be done if at the same time there were measures to help that industry start anew. In so many cases it would be very complicated. In the manufacture of a semi conductor chip the size of a finger nail, six or seven different countries can be involved. The silicon of the chip is grown in one country it is etched in another one, it is cased in plastic in the far east and the gold for the bonding of the legs comes from another place. Still I am sure that little by little some if not all industries could be repatriated with a combination of protectionism and industry/job creation incentives. Do we really need Wal-Mart 10$ plastic pairs of shoes from China that will last 3 months ? I guess yes if one working 40 hours a week earns 1200$ per month. Besides all this precedent “blablabla”, something should be said about the stock market in general. At the end of the day, it is the worst enemy of corporate America. Essentially, it dictates the way companies should be run. The shares go up or down according to the results or the forecasted results of the quarter, 6 months or year. Therefore profit and sales must always be up; at all cost. Because of that, managers are afraid of taking risks or thinking far ahead and planning for the future. They are also tempted to show profit which is not there.. Since they have too much to lose, the independent auditors increasingly roll over when told to. That’s another thing that should be changed. Why not by law force a change of auditors every 3 or 4 years at big corporations.

Monday, March 2, 2009

North Korea

I have tried to understand what it is that Kim Jong Il wants. and I really don’t have much of an intuition. Besides the strategic/tactical moves and positioning there is a psychological dimension. I imagine a man overly dominated by his father Kim Il Sung. He never had a chance to accomplish any thing on his own before taking over the North Korea business. So he is there like some other folks inherit a few billions from their daddy. He has to keep the store alive, no matter what, but does not seem to have anything new to ad or create.
I think he is craving for some type of recognition. Nobody wants to talk to him directly and the perpetual fight about his darling bombs reinforces his paranoia. Actually all he wants is for his daddy to tell him: “ Son, you are doing a good job” .
Short of that, direct contact with heads of states would probably soften his stand. He would finally be able to look at himself in the mirror. As a matter of fact, if I recall correctly, when Clinton’s secretary of state visited with him we got further that we ever did. To tell that he belonged to the ax of evil certainly was not a clever thing to do.

Will somebody take the poor bastard to lunch ?

Friday, February 27, 2009


From watching CNN, reading Newsweek, Le Monde, Le Temps and other papers, I get the impression that America, Israel and Europeans view Iran as a terrorist state, which “owns” Syria, part of Lebanon through Hezbollah, and somehow helps Hamas in Palestine. Given the opportunity President Amadinijad would gladly make Israel disappear, therefore we must prevent Iran to acquire the A bomb.

OK. I don’t have any problem with this. Not that it should change the way we should deal with the Persians, but I would like to propose slightly different optics.

The same way Christians have Protestants and Catholics, Moslems have Shiites and Sunnis. Everybody is proselytizing the same way. The dominating Protestant Christian movements are in the US and it is from there than missionaries of all denominations are sent: Lutherans, Baptist, Mormons, etc..
The base for the Catholics is Rome and even though priests are sent from Spain, France or anywhere I believe the central “marketing” effort is there.
For Moslems the Sunni movement has clearly a directing base in Saudi Arabia.
The Mosque in Geneva and those in Paris for instance get funding from there. Management is sent and directed from Riyad as well.

For the Shiites it is Iran

How much of a conflict is there between Shiites and Sunnis is not something discussed on CNN. We know that some Shiites are persecuted in Pakistan the same way we know that Sunnis in Iraq are not getting many “signs of affection” from Iraqi Shiites. It has been written in Le Temps newspaper in Geneva that Saudi Arabia jointly with the US pushed for the invasion of Lebanon to kick Hezbollah’s ass and in consequence diminish Iran’s influence.
I imagine that since Ayatollah Khomeini came to power, Iran has been expansion minded. Never mind the fact that Iraqi Shiites don’t like Iranians. Iran would have conquered Iraq if Saddam had not stopped it. Iraq started the war but some say that some aggressions from Iran had started it. Even though he was a bad ass he brought a certain balance into the region. Now Iraq is waiting patiently for the US to leave. We’ll see how they will move next.
To expend as it wants Iran need a power of dissuasion. A Sunni country already has an atomic weapon. That’s Pakistan. The Islamists are already infiltrated in parts of the government and it is not totally impossible that one day they will take power. (Frightening thought, much more than Iran having the bomb).
The religious leaders of Iran are probably much smarter than “Amadibaby”, they think for the long term and they think expansion.
Amadinijad has apparently the same IQ or even lower than George W. He picked up where Saddam left:” I am the biggest kid on the block, I say and do anything that I want”. He has the blessing of his bosses when he says he wants to destroy Israel but I think it’s a fig leave. The bomb they want is not for Israel. Not primarily anyway. They don’t want the Sunnis to mess with them. Saudi Arabia is not going to let Iran massacre its Sunni brothers. If Iran had an atomic weapon the “rapport de force” would be different.
In Geneva, when Francois Heisbourg ( check him out on Google) presented his new book about Iran, I asked him what he thought of my idea. He did not say anything really. He did not criticize it but did not endorse it either. Some of the Iranians who were in the audience came to me and shook my hand like if I had nailed something. Who knows?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Question everything

I saw on French TV (la 2) that a woman scheduled to have an operation on one breast had actually both breasts removed. Poor lady. After an initial reaction of anger, the husband did not have hate in his words. Essentially he was saying “shit happens”. An American would have immediately lawyered up.
Any way, this got me to think about “how things happen” and about the qualification of the staff, and the surgeon, and the administrative staff, etc.. Then I went into a more general train of thought that went from doctoring to lawyering, engineering, soldiering, and human activities in general. The surgeon who screwed up maybe was excellent at his job. All the administrative and preparatory work was left to the “little people”. Even during the operation maybe all he did was a couple of gestures with his scalpel, everything else being left to assistants or nurses. He is responsible however for the whole process.
If the husband had questioned before hand how his wife was processed through the whole thing, he probably would have prevented the accident. It takes, however a strong personality to do that.

Dealing with engineers or lawyers or whoever is considered a “professional” , is a similar thing. The core knowledge of the folks to whom we pay 300 or 500$ an hour amounts is maybe 20% of their whole activity. If that much in some cases. That 20% we cannot question because we don’t have the training or knowledge. Everything else belongs to the plain world of common sense, sense of proportions, organization and this 80% we can and should question.
Professionals however do not in general accept the common of mortals to question this 80%. Don’t walk on my trap line..
There are so many examples. Read the paperwork that comes with your medicine prescriptions and try discussing it with your MD. Good chances she is going to pout or frown. My kid went into depression for a year after having been prescribed Rohaccutane for acne. We had not read the paperwork then. We always do now.
I have another good one that goes back to the 70s in Phoenix. I was an internal auditor at a “big semi conductor” factory. They were making a certain part for some IBM type client. It was to be gold plated at 40 microns. If they set up the electrolysis bath at 40 microns, a certain quantity of parts did not get any gold into the corners. So they set up the bath at 50 microns that way they were sure that all parts came up at specs. An auditor showed that if one kept the settings at 40 microns and caught the defective parts at a quality analysis station and reprocessed them, the company could save 20Millions $ per year even after the cost of this new QA station.
Of course the initial reaction from the engineers was anger, rage and hate. “Fucking bean counters trying to tell us how to do our jobs. We are engineers and you are not, therefore shut up. Discussion closed”. The auditors finally won the argument and their suggestion was adopted.
That’s when I discovered that we can always question things. There is a cost to that. Peoples hate to be questioned and one becomes easily known as a pain in the ass. When there is a lot at stake it should be done though.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Wow.. First blog. Almost like getting a driver’s license or having sex for the first time. Almost scary. There are tens of millions of eyes out there. They are not reading. But they could. Some are ten times smarter than me and some are dumber than a broom. One could be read by Americans or Brits or Japanese or Germans and for that matter a forest ranger in a strange planet in the Alpha Centauri star system. How do you know they don’t have forests over there?

What is important is who you write for. Obviously if one writes, it is to be read. But read by what kind of folks? Everybody? Surely not. Generally you cannot discuss the chord changes of “You must believe in Springs” with people who are into Country music or even Rock and Roll. The same way if you are a French socialist you will have a hard time understanding what an American Republican or a libertarian is talking about.

That’s the beauty of this thing: there are people in cyberspace that are crazy in the same manner as you. Even if there are only a couple it is worth the reach out.

I have been concerned about politics in the last few years so I’ll talk about that. This includes the economy and social programs. No, I don’t have any qualification to do so, but being given the way PHDs have screwed it up in the last 30 years, I think we have a right to talk about the basics and common sense. International politics are also quite interesting. There again, the PHDs have not helped.
I am white and my wife being from Brazil is a mixture of black, indian and white. In the US she would be black. She says she is not. I’ll talk about that subject.

Photos, friends, food, travels, music are all interesting subjects to talk about.