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On enjoying history, opposed to what happens around me

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 09/15/2010 - 18:24
Portadas de los discos de Diana Uribe I have always liked learning and understanding history. Since I discovered him, for a couple of years already I always try to catch Javier Garciadiego's program Conversaciones sobre historia, Saturday 9AM in the Horizonte 108 radio station (can be listened to online). This program started by going over the events just before the beginning of the 1910 revolution in Mexico - and along slightly over five years, one hour per week and following different threads, the program has reached the end of the Cristiada, in the early 1930s. Garciadiego has a very nice, followable, amenable way of telling history, and I have recommended his program to many friends.

This last June, I spent some days in Guatemala City, for DrupalCamp Centroamérica. I stayed with my good Colombian friend, Dilson, and at his house he had framed a poster of the History of the Civilizations. Of course, I got my nose close to it, guessing as many faces as possible in the lot. And he showed me his last Christmas present: Two books, each of them with 6 CDs. One is Historia de las Civilizaciones, the second one is Historia de las independencias. They are made by Colombia's very well known and well regarded historian Diana Uribe.

I copied the CDs in order to listen to them later – And wow, was I impressed! Diana Uribe makes a great narrative about topics that to some people would seem boring and dry. As I said, I have always found passion in understanding the human processes that have shaped civilization and brought us all the way to where we stand now. Well, Diana Uribe manages to bring more "normal" people to this passion. While looking for information on her to share in this blog post, I found so many places offering download of her disks, with apparently young people talking about how she has got them all so excited and interested in history... That's, I think, the best "thank you" any academician can get: having non-specialists say how her work has opened up the passion of one of the world's least sexy professions to them. And yes – there are so many "thank you" and "I want" commentaries, so much of what I would call "fan mail", that it took me a bit to find an online library carrying both works. And yes, at ~US$50 each, I do intend to buy them.

Now, why am I writing this today? Well, yes, because I finished listening to the series today, but besides – During this year, most of Latin American countries conmemorate their 200 years of existence. Most of the independentist struggles in the continent started in 1809-1810. And today is the "partying" day in Mexico – Says the legend that in the night between September 15 and 16, 1810, a priest who is always painted as old and charismatic called on his small town urging the people to rise and fight for independence, and as a result of that, only 11 years later Mexico was a fully independent country, spanning from Costa Rica to California, and... well, a nice and very idealized myth.

A century later, in 1910, after a very long stability and growth period (attained mostly through repression, the same abstract thing named as "the people" rose against the dictator Porfirio Díaz, who had been Mexico's president for 30 years. The revolution deeply changed the social face of the country, but politically... After ~15 years of fighting, the result was that a 30 year long dictatorship was replaced by a 70 year long one... And our political system still has not evolved beyond that model.

Now, comparing what has not improved nor even stayed the same but went backwards... A century ago, the festivities of the hundred years of independence were a time for showing pride, for showing to the guests from more "civilized" countries how ours was by then a modern, thriving country worth believing in, worth investing in: Besides the important, majestic and well built monuments that were erected and still stand today (i.e. the Column of the Independence or Hemiciclo a Juárez, many institutions that would socially shape the next century –even after Díaz's death, even after he had been declared not the role model we wanted after all– were born: The National University (nowadays the most important university in Latin America), the National School for Professors, the Railroad Technical School and many others (see Javier Aranda's note for some more details)... The celebration was well-thought and planned. Of course, it didn't go into some darker corners, the country was as uneven and unfair as it can be for the poorer indigenous population (which back then was a majority), and what not.

But this year? Well, we are expecting an impressive show tonight (which I won't see, even though I'd like to, as I no longer have a TV and even if I had wanted to go downtown for the celebration, different government branches are insisting we should just sit and watch it by TV at home as it can be too crowded... so not even that was well thought out – Of course not every Mexican can go to the same square and see the same de-facto president do the ritual, but some more redundancy could be thought, spreading acts through all of the city instead of concentrating the festivities all along Reforma.

But anyway – Leaving aside our current de-facto ruler's inabilities to do anything worthy, which are already well known and documented... I took this opportunity to listen to a great work, and am most happy to do it, and to be able to share it with you.

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Cycling, cycling everywhere!

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 09/01/2010 - 17:52

I have been wanting to post for several days already, at least since this last Sunday. I have repeatedly bragged about taking part in the Ciclotón: The last Sunday every month, the city's government closes to automotive transit a ~33Km circuit, for cyclists to enjoy. And by cyclists, I mean people from all expertise ranges — Well, the very elite bikers will not take part of such a massive thing, but there are people pedalling a couple of blocks, people taking their small kids to drive a bit, and I recognized an amazingly large proportion of people doing the whole route.

Well, this last Sunday one lap was not enough for me — I did two laps, ~65Km.

(oh, and just for keeping the complaint current: After all, SportsTracker did release a version of thier software for the N95... But it requires Flash for using the webpage at all. I have several pointers at other applications... but am time-starved right now to start reviewing :-/ )

Anyway, I decided to do this double ciclotón in order to train for next week. If you are anywhere near Mexico City, you are invited - this is meant to be a large group ride, and looks very fun!

Doble Maratón Ciclista Urbano del Bicentenario

We are two weeks away from the 200 year conmemoration of the beginning of the Independence War in Mexico. A group of cyclists came up with the idea to organize a Double Marathon to celebrate! 84Km of biking in Mexico City:

For some reason, the distance numbers in that map were made... in miles :-P Anyway, the planned route will be:

  1. Jardin de los periodistas ilustres (Delegación Venustiano Carranza)
  2. Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México
  3. Circuito Bicentenario ( antes circuito interior )
  4. Monumento a La Raza - Hospital La Raza
  5. Río San Joaquin
  6. Viaducto Bicentenario ( carril confinado sin interrumpir la circulacion )
  7. Torres de Satélite 50 aniversario
  8. Presidencia municipal de Tlalnepantla
  9. Presidencia municipal de Naucalpan
  10. Anillo Periferico Sur
  11. Secretaría de la Defensa
  12. Bosque de Chapultepec 1ª y 2ª sección
  13. Segundo Piso del Distrito Federal
  14. Ciudad Universitaria patrimonio cultural de la humanidad
  15. Insurgentes Sur
  16. Miguel Ángel de Quevedo
  17. Calzada de Tlapan
  18. Zócalo centro historico del distrito federal
  19. Calle 16 de septiembre fin del recorrido

It looks very fun. Besides, although it is not that flat, it is one of the flattest long distance routes you will ever have. The toughest part will be IMO the Northern part of Circuito Bicentenario and possibly some bits of Periférico towards Naucalpan. Then, a long flat stretch, with one long but not steep way up in Segundo Piso (near Las Flores), and a little stretch towards Ciudad Universitaria. Other than that, it looks very doable if you are in a moderately decent condition. And taking part in such a thing is very very worthy!

As a final note... This same Sunday, it has been somewhat publicized the first Día Nacional de la Bicicleta (Bycicling National Day) will be held all over the country, kickstarting the National Cycling Crusade. Sounds nice, right? Even impressive? Yeah, but... If you look at the published information (in the page I just linked), you will see several cities are opening cyclist circuits. For one day only, which means, it does not build awareness among the population on how easy, how convenient and how fun it is to use the bicycle as means of transportation. And not only that — The cyclist routes clearly make a point that cycling is a good way, at most, to have fun... But not a general habit we should all embrace. Lets see, as an example, the distances offered (only for the cities quoting route length):

  • Guerrero: Chilpancingo, 2Km; Chilapa de Álvarez, 4.5Km
  • Sinaloa: Culiacán, 4.7Km
  • Nuevo León:Monterrey, 1.9Km
  • Querétaro: Querétaro, 3.2Km
  • Sonora: Nacozari, 1.5Km; Naco, 1.5Km; Huasbas, 1Km; Granados, 1Km; Imuris, 1.5Km; Huatabampo, 1.5Km; Yecora, 1.5Km; Sahuaripa, 1Km; Caborca, 2Km; Navojoa, 3Km; Santa Ana: 2Km; San Luis Río Colorado: 2Km; Cd. Obregón: 3Km; Hermosillo: 3Km; Nogales: 4Km; Magdalena: 3Km; Guaymas: 4Km; Empalme: 2Km
  • Morelos: Cuernavaca: 2Km

...And so it goes. As you can see, several very important cities (i.e. Monterrey, Chilpancingo, Cuernavaca) put only a 2km route. 2Km by bike is... Nothing. 2Km is done at a leisurely pace in less than 15 minutes (I often sustain 20Km/h, which would mean 2Km in 6 minutes). And, in this short sample (the linked page has the information for several other states, but the pattern holds), most states are only making this in the largest city or two, completely forgetting the bulk of their territories. In my opinion, this "effort" was done backwardsly, and ends up delivering the exact opposite message to what should be done.

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e-voting seminar, Mexico City, tomorrow

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 05/11/2010 - 14:00

If anybody is interested or can attend: Tomorrow and the day after (Wednesday and Thursday 12-13/05/2010) FLACSO (a leading Social Sciences faculty spanning countries all over Latin America) and IFE (Mexico's federal electoral authority) are presenting a seminar on e-voting: Electronic vote experiences in Mexico and around the world.

Sadly, I will be unable to attend, as I will be on the road once again (Ecuador!). However, I hope those among my readers who are interested in the topic can attend — or at least follow the audio and video transmission from the IFE website.

The seminar will be held at IFE's auditorium — Viaducto Tlalpan No. 100, Col. Arenal Tepepan, Delegación Tlalpan, c.p. 14610, México, DF.

[update] If you don't know what is my stand on this topic (and can read Spanish), please read this short article. In short: I am against e-voting, and hope we are still in time (and can push at the right places) to avoid it becoming the rule in our country.

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Winter in the tropics

Submitted by gwolf on Sun, 01/10/2010 - 01:21

Five out of six experts agree:

Five out of six cats cannot be mistaken
It. Is. Cold.

No, we are far from this very impressive picture of a fully-snowed UK seen from the sky that everybody and their dog must have seen by now. Still, in Mexico City we are experiencing the traditional one-or-two-weeks-a-year where it is genuinely cold. And, very strange being this Winter (the rainy season is Summer around here, January should be dry!) we have rain all day long.

The Ajusco mountain is around 15Km south from my home, and it is the closest of the giants that surround our valley. Yesterday I managed to get some peeks at it behind the very thick layer of clouds we have. Ajusco looks really gorgeous all snowed, maybe down to the 3400m line (while the city's main area is at 2300m). This picture was not taken this year, we have snow in Ajusco almost every year (although very seldom as much as this time):

(last photo is not current, we have not yet had a clear day to take a picture of our Ajusco yet this year)

How does it feel? Well, I live in Coyoacán, in the flat area of the valley. Remember that houses here are not built to endure extreme temperatures (and this week is what we call extreme, of course ;-) ). According to Yahoo! Weather:

And while the difference appears to be small, what about Magdalena Contreras, ~200m higher, where many people dear to me live (and have even a window pending to be installed)?

People say this cold wave is the strongest in 120 years, since records are being taken. Every year people get excited, expecting that this time we will get snow. This has only happened once in at least a century, in 1966 AFAIR. I do not think this year to be atypical.

Still, I have a reputation for being insensible to cold weather. Everybody wears heavy jackets while I still go to work with my usual long-sleeved shirt and that's it. But the last two days, I have been using jacket and scarf...

But, of course, I don't look as gratious or cute as my cats :-}

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