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Free Software must migrate to become Free Culture

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 00:45

Cineast and Free Culture activist Nina Paley wrote some days ago a rantifesto on why the FSF has a double standard: Why are the Freedoms guaranteed for Free Software not guaranteed for Free Culture?, by not following its own very strict rules on software when it comes to culture as a whole. Her post was widely circulated, and got (at least) one reply by fellow Debian Developer Wouter Verhelst, largely agreeing with her, and an anti-rantifesto by Joe Brockmeier — Which was promptly answered again by Wouter with a very fun and inspired post, written from the right angle: From the viewpoint of a person who is both a programmer and a musician, and understands the concepts at hand.

I'd love to write a longer, better thought post — But I'm tired and frankly stressed by many things, so I am just echoing their very interesting discussion to other people who might want to read it.

I have been thinking and writing bits on that subject over the last couple of months. An example of that was the talk I gave at the Senate ~6 weeks ago. Following that talk, I wrote a short article for Revista Zócalo (a widely circulated magazine mainly dealing with Mexican politics and social issues) called simply Software libre, cultura libre (full text available, but in Spanish only — You can try reading an automated translation if it suits you). I wrote the article, mind you, with very limited time, and I'll be the first to recognize the prose was quite poor this time :(

Anyway — My point is that our nature is to share culture, to build it in a collaborative fashion, and having the Internet as a practically zero-cost, zero loss medium with which we can interchange our creativity with other like-minded people will naturally boost creativity. Free Software emerged before other Free Culture groups just because programmers had privileged access to Internet in the 80s and early 90s; as network access –and digital creation tools– have got to more people, it's just natural for all kinds of free culture to grow.

Software is just a form of knowledge. Code is just a notation for a certain kind of ideas, just as the mathematical or musical notations. I believe (and hope) it's just unavoidable for us all to eventually switch to a mainly free cultural creation system.

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Invitation — Free Software in Mexico: Reflections and Opportunities

Submitted by admin on Tue, 05/31/2011 - 12:49

I was invited to be part of one of the panels to be present this Thursday (June 2) in a forum that promises to be interesting. The forum is organized by the Science and Technology comission of the Senate of the Republic (of Mexico ;-) ), Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana and Mozilla México. The day will be opened by Sen. Francisco Javier Castellón Fonseca and Richard Stallman; starting at 10:00, we will have thematic panels on:

  • Education
  • Government
  • Industry
  • Civil society

The full program (as well as details of interest of those that can physically attend) is attached to this post.

I am looking forward to this forum. Not only it is a good opportunity to get our work known in one of those places where it matters, but it's also being organized by several interesting people I'm sure will have something interesting to contribute. And of course, we lacked time to build a better, more complete and more coherent proposal — but there is a good probability we will have further such contacts.

You might find interesting to read on the list we have been discussing; subscription seems to be open (although access to the archives is not — Maybe it will be later on? In any case, I'm saving a mbox ;-) )

A different demonstration. What will it mean?

Submitted by gwolf on Sun, 05/08/2011 - 23:04

Today we had a very interesting demonstration. People who know me for some time know I like to be a part of demonstrations, adding my voice to the people. And even though I know most demonstrations, as massive as they might be, have no real and tangible effect... Well, I try to be there.

Today we had a large demonstration in Mexico City of people angry with the government's tactics on the war on drugs — Have you been to Mexico before 2007? You will remember we have always had our problems, but violence was basically limited to keeping an eye open, not flashing your money/jewels, and not looking too touristy. We were, all in all, a quiet country — Known even as "the country where nothing happens, even if it happens".

Five years later, a good portion of the country lives really in war-like conditions, and close to 45,000 people have been killed. At some point about a year ago (where the body count was at ~22,000), our oh-so-bright de-facto president said that "only" 10% of them were civilians. If that is still the case, and if proportions are held, we can now talk about ~4,500 people killed just because they were there — Oh, but remember the country is not at war, and death penalty has very long been abolished, so we cannot give the other 90% a different status. We have had over 45,000 killed people. That means at least ~200,000 torn lifes.

About six weeks ago, the cry from a father who lost his son started getting heard. And no, I do not want to talk about specific names or anything like that — It is just the voice-bearer of many people who are fed up. Four days ago, he and a group of people left Cuernavaca city on a caravan and walked to Mexico city. Yesterday evening they arrived to the National University (UNAM), and were greeted by an amazing open-air concert: Mozart's Requiem.

Today, our day started very early. My mother wanted to help, as many more anonymous citizens did, so we started making and packing sandwiches and apples at ~5:30AM, delivered them to the camp where they were staying and grouping with other people, and came back home for our breakfast. Later, at around 9AM, as the demonstration started going by our house (we live a block from UNAM), my girlfriend, father and me started walking with them.

Why do I say this was a different demonstration than others I have been to?

  1. Much longer. We walked for close to 16Km, for about five hours. Most demonstrations I have been part of are 3-5Km long
  2. A different kind of support. I was surprised, even laughed at first when I saw a lady standing by us with a sign that read, «I cannot join you today, but I'm there in spirit». But then I saw more, more people that just went out of their houses to a point close to where we walked on, and just stayed there on the streets. Not walking, yes, but being part of it.
  3. The march was silent — And yes, this is the first time I see it for true. At the very beginning we heard some people chanting, cheering, but the cheerers were requested not to be noisy. People wearing political parties' logos were requested not to wear them (as political parties are at an all-time low prestige). No, we were not silent for the whole 5 hours; we were talking with each other, but it felt... just very different from any other times.
  4. Not only were people supporting, but this is the first time I saw this amount of people wanting to materially help. As I said, my mother delivered a little breakfast for 50 people, for those that slept at the camp, for those that had already walked ~70Km. But all along the road we were offered oranges, cookies, water, bread... Whatever people were able to offer, to somehow help. Very nice feeling of solidarity.
  5. Contrary to all other times, we were really spread out, it was a very low density walk, os it was quite pleasant. Of course, I have not even seen an estimation of the number of participants... And I doubt anyboy can be decently close to it

Will this change anything? I doubt it. I am happy that for the first time, the de-facto president (remember a large percentage of Mexicans still believe he lost the presidential election, and it was only due to his lack of legitimacy that he pushed the army to the streets to start this war on drugs) is recognizing that this might not be the best strategy but it is the only one he has... People are still, despite what I saw many felt, very far from organized. And, yes, no short-term concrete proposals are made on how to stop the killing — I feel the population agrees that drugs should be legalized and regulated, that would at least shift the problem, reduce the direct violence (and money) related to it... But, of course, it is plainly not feasible with our current reality.

Anyway, after a 5hr walk today (and even after a nice nap and shower), I don't want to dig into hypotheses anymore. I just wanted to share about a very interesting and different experience I had the opportunity to be part of.

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Responsible biking: We are not exempt from the traffic rules!

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 02/15/2011 - 21:03

As you know, I very often advocate using the bycicle as the main means of transportation in Mexico City. The city is very apt for biking through it, and contrary to the fears of mostly everybody, the city is neither aggressive nor as dangerous as people say.

However, I have seen cyclists which seem to be looking for the best ways to be hit by a car, or to hit a pedestrian.

Yesterday, I read this note in La Jornada: The local Environment Secretary calls cyclists to respect vial regulations.

Many cyclists assume they are a special case of pedestrians, and zig-zag as they please between the road and the walkway, or just stay in the walkway. That is dangerous, both to pedestrians and to themselves. You might find children, elderly or motion-challenged people on your way. Also, not only will pedestrians only expect other people in the walkway, moving at their pace or slightly more, but cars will also not expect somebody moving at 10-20Km/h. A car driver pulling out of his garage, or crossing a street, will not have enough warning when he sees you, and you are very likely to end up in an accident.

Since ~5 years ago, Mexico City is growing a grid of Metrobús and confined trolebús cero emisiones (trolleybus) lanes. Many cyclists use those lanes — That is VERY dangerous. Public transport vehicles are large, have a lot of inertia, and will take longer to react to finding you ahead of them. Besides, they can go way faster than a regular bike (~60Km/h for metrobús, ~40Km/h for trolebús), and have to stop every couple of blocks. So, you will be uncomfortable if trailing them, and you will be a liability to ~100 people if you go ahead of them. Besides, it is illegal to drive in the confined lanes if you are not a public, semimassive transport vehicle!

Surprisingly many people have argued they prefer riding their bicycles against the traffic — I think they prefer staring at Death into its blue, glowing eyes (or into its long, thin whiskers)... By far, most cars that hit a bicycle do so from the side, when crossing a road. And if you arrive at a crossing from the wrong way, the way a driver does not expect you, don't expect the driver to be aware of you. Also, in the much less likely event of a car running into you, would it be better to be hit at 80Km/h (60Km/h of the car plus 20Km/h of your own speed on a full frontal crash), or at 40Km/h (substracting instead of adding)? Yes, some people say that looking at the car will allow you to maneuver – How far in advance would you know a car coming from the front will hit you? One second? That's 22 meters at 80Km/h (again, if you realize the 60Km/h car is heading straight to you, at 20Km/h). Too short notice for you to do anything — Any maneuver will most likely end in an accident. And the driver would not be so much to blame, as he would not be anticipating you riding against the traffic.

Make sure you get seen. By night, always use proper lights (red on the back, white on the front, and reflective material to the sides). Day or night, wear bright, reflective clothes (or over-clothes material). Act in a predictable fashion. Remember you are riding a vehicle and are subject to the same rules any driver is — A cyclist is not exempt from driving correctly! Do not jump red lights. Never ride on the walkway. Do your best to enjoy the ride.

And ride. Yes, ride, take the streets, enjoy the streets. But don't attempt to drive the traffic out of it — The streets belong to us all, and we can all share them.

PS — I also saw this note in the same paper: Sunday Rides in "Campo Militar Número Uno". The main military field was open as a park this weekend! I have to make sure it is regularly open — I am definitively going there!

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Subsidizing private education?

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 02/14/2011 - 17:35

Hrmh... I am listening to a local news radio station. Of course, what I am about to write lacks information and insight — but it follows a conversation I have had with several groups of friends.

Our de-facto president has decreed that the tuition for private schools will be deducted from the Impuesto sobre la renta (revenue/profit tax) up to a given tuition level (IIRC up to MX$2000 a month per child per school). The interviewed subsecretary said they expect this deduction will reach MX$13,000 million, around US$1,000 million. This is, about a third of what is assigned to the National University (UNAM).

At a first sight, this sounds good. However, I just thought about a discussion I have had with many friends. This money the government will hand back to the taxpayers has to be cut from somewhere (after all, we are not in a country with huge superavit or anything like that).

Why does this sound unfair ot me? Because it benefits the few in perjudice of the many. I did a quick search, and found this work based on numbers published by INEGI ten years ago: According to the last table, the money spent on private education was between 5% and 10% of that spent on public education — Of course, it is almost impossible to infer the number of students from this alone. I know I could find authoritative data on this regard by searching a bit more, but after all I don't want to spend all (work!) evening on a blog post unless it creates some discussion. Lets say, just for the sake of the exercise, that this means that ~3% of the country's students learn in a private school.

In Mexico, the quality of the basic public education (primary/secondary, ages 6 to 18) has fallen hugely in the last decades. Even when I was to school (but not when my parents), the first subjective sign that a family had broken the low-income barrier is that they were finally able to send their children to private schools. Because, no matter how bad they are, public schools are perceived to be worse. Of course, I was among the "lucky" ones to be in a private school. Higher education (universitary level) is still way better ranged.

Anyway... I want to get this post over with. Why do I oppose this subsidies/tax devolution? Because it will lead to widen the difference between private and public education. And because it will be benefical only for medium-high and high classes — People who are formaly employed (as I am) do not present a tax declaration, so we won't get any deductions. Between ⅓ and ½ of the country's economically active population work informally (from selling in the street to covering up huge transactions in large locals). Most of the population don't (directly) pay "impuesto sobre la renta", and will not get the benefit of this subsidy.

This money has to be taken from other sources in order to be given to private education. If the government wants to improve the education for everybody, why not assign it to the public sector? To specific areas in the public sector, if they don't want to hand it over to the (yes, very, incredibly) corrupt SNTE (National Union of Education Workers)?

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Echoing Mohammed

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 01/28/2011 - 01:16

For those of you who follow me through anything other than Planet Debian (who will surely tolerate this repetition):

Interesting but frightful things are happening in North African countries. We saw what happened in Tunisia some days ago. Now, Egypt is a way larger, way more populous... And, dare I say, way more important country. Also, it is a country which borders Israel, where I lived in for ~18 months, and to which –although I am today unaffiliated– is very important for me. And what happens in Egypt will surely shape the whole mid-East.

So, here goes a copy of Mohammed Sameer's post — Not just a link to it, as he might have to take it down. Of course, Mohammed, if you in any way think I should delete this, please please tell me, and I will comply immediately.

Egypt has been fighting for freedom already for 3 days now.

The whole country has experienced a large number of street demonstrations and protests within the last 3 days to be continued also on Friday, the 28th of January and afterwards.

The protests' main goal is to oust dictator Hosni Mubarak's regime, which has been in power for almost 30 years.

We want him out.

A massacre has happened in Suez. Police used live ammunition and tear gas. There are unconfirmed rumors that the army might interfere.

Even a bigger protest is supposed to take place a few hours from now. After the Prayer on Friday.

The internet has been shutdown completely. Egypt is no longer online since Friday, the 28th of January 00:45 AM.

Text messages to cell phones have been cut off too and all cell phones services will be following. No one knows exactly the intentions of the regime but it doesn't sound good.

Please help us.
Please blog about it in English and in all languages.
Please spread the news everywhere.
Please talk to media.
Please petition your government if that will help.

If there's anything that you can do, please do it and help us save the country and the people.

More news from twitter #jan25.

...From what I read from Israeli sources, what worries them –and many people around the world– is that, although Egypt is formally a democratic country, the ruling party has seen towards having basically no oposition — Besides the stubborn Islamic Brotherhood (very akin to Hamas). Now, the Islamic Brotherhood (as well as Hamas, and as well as most other Islamic regimes I know off, although I might be way mistaken) have got huge popular support because... They are true to their beliefs. In short, they are not corrupt — Something that cannot be said about many political organizations around the globe. They are true to their word. And although many of us shiver at thinking of their word getting more power... It is only the Egyptians who should have a say on who rules Egypt.

I honestly hope the Egyptian people get their long-owed self-determination. Of course, I hope Tunisians also get it, and not just a mirage of it. And every people, including us poor Mexicans who have neither had a chance to rule our destiny. And I hope it is a change for good, for tolerance, for peaceful coexistance with the neighbours, even if they are in many ways the rivals.

[Update] I just found out that, as expected, the news have reached Slashdot: Egypt shuts off all Internet access. I'm sure you will find lots of more information there.

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Mandate for what?

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 01/19/2011 - 12:15

I lived in Israel between 1994 and 1996 — This was just after the signature of the Oslo agreements, the Rabin-Arafat signature. 1994-95 was a beautiful time to be in Israel; there was the excitement of a prospect of real peace with the Palestinians, something that had been just seen as unattainable for the past 50 years.

But we also saw the buildup of a huge tension, of real hatred. And the dream of the end of the conflict, of two people living in peace side by side was heavily shattered on November 4 1995, when prime minister Rabin was assassinated. But for the sake of where I'm trying to get to (this post is meant to be about current Mexico, not of Israel 15 years ago), lets go a couple of months back.

The Israeli society is a deeply democratic one (although I understand many people feel it is losing that trait). Lots of political propaganda of all sorts, many of it very creative, are posted on the streets — And not by the government or by political parties, but by citizen movements. I tried to follow it... I remember a particular sticker that I started seeing very often: «Rabin has no mandate over the Golan». At first, I understod that the Golan residents rejected Rabin's authority (but, why was it posted all over the country? And what specifically was it about?), until a friend explained to me that it meant that it rather meant that the right wing all over the country felt that Rabin had no right to push for negotiations involving in any way the Golan heights return to Syria because that was not his electoral platform.

So, fast-forward in time, and 12500Km to the west.

If you have followed my ramblings for the past ~five years, you are aware of what I think about Mexico's government — It is an illegitimate government, which got the power thanks to a dirty and illegal (as per Mexico's legal system) campaign and to voting fraud. And, according to what I have read, around 30% of the population still believe firmly the elections were stolen.

But even if they were legal, valid and legitimate — What has happened since 2006 should not be seen as valid.

In Mexico, we don't have such a democratic culture. The society is not used to demanding anything from the politicians. We often see, as an example, that when talking about political organs, there is a divide everybody understands although makes no sense: We talk about citizens as people unaffiliated to political parties (v.gr. the 1996 Federal Electoral Institute was very well regarded as it was "el IFE ciudadano", and has since then been overtaken by the parties). Why are the parties' members not seen as citizens? Well, maybe because of the same distortion field that makes us believe our de-facto president when he stated that, from the (then) over 28000 people killed in the war campaign against crime (he oficially declared he never used the term war... Of course, he was proved wrong), only ~10% were civilians. In my book, that would mean that ~25000 soldiers have been killed — But no, he means mostly drug trafficants. So, as they are not innocent bystanders, they somehow stopped being civilians?

But again, I'm straying off the topic. Let us assume for a minute that the 2006 elections were clean legal, and that the campaigns were not diffamatory, and all that. And tha we had a modern government, with the stated separation between the three powers and all that. By today, the Legislative power would have surely called for the government's disolution. Why? Again, we Mexicans are not used to what a democratic system means. We can see over and over examples of people who have been voted to power and forgot/betrayed everything they campaigned for. And we are used to that being... Normal. But, who did we vote for? Given the suposition of this last paragraphs (clean elections led to our current government), did the majority of the population vote for Felipe Calderón, the person? Or did it vote for Partido Acción Nacional, the abstract entity organized as a party? No. The vote was (should have been) for the political campaign, for the things he promised he would work for, the priorities in the direction he would give the nation.

Not too long ago, we took pride of living in a peaceful country. Yes, everybody feared the crime rate in the streets, everybody knew big cities such as the one I live in (and love living in) have deep problems. But the country had good relations and good respect from the international players, and it was mostly safe. And, I don't think any of the few readers that have read this far (regardless of where they live or how much they know me) has that opinion of Mexico anymore. What is now heard inside and outside is that we have a huge organized crime (mostly due to drug traffic), and that it's taking over the country. Why did this happen?

The fact is, Calderón lacked legitimacy when he reached the presidency in December 2006. And although his campaign was centered on pushing work generation (his slogan was El presidente del empleo, The president of the jobs), lifting restrictions to entreprises, opening borders, getting more money in our economy... He knew he had to please the people that would protect him from any (then, probable) insurrection: Military and police. Our army has always been more a joke than an army... But they still have their guns.

So, contrary to everything he promised, the first things he signed was a salary increase to all order-keeping forces in the country, and an all-out attack against drug traffic cartels. He had to make the order-keeping forces protagonist, useful — and loyal.

Now, fast-forward again to 2011. The country is living the worst violence since the end of the 1910-1920 revolution. Over 30,000 people have been killed. Economy has fallen as it had not for many years (this was the worst-performing country in America in 2009). Work generation was said to be high, but then corrected to indicate it was mediocre (just about the baseline of population growth).

So, the balance so far of four years of... Government? Economic disaster. Social disaster. Promises unachieved. Starting actions he had no mandate to do.

Felipe Calderón has no mandate to get us in this war.

Even if he had been democratically elected, he would have to step down.

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What Mexico feels like

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 06/14/2010 - 08:38

I have been recently approached by several friends, from different countries. Mexico and the violence seems to be a frequent news topic all over the world.

I live in Mexico City, as ~25% of the country's population does. This is not an easy city, of course, and I won't deny it has tons of problems of its own. However, Mexico City (and even more so the approximately ⅓ of it that is politically located in Distrito Federal, the formal country capital) is very lucky in this regard. Still, in most of the country, the violence is mostly in the news, mostly a worrying perception that is every day more insistent.

My parents live in Cuernavaca, Morelos, ~80Km south from us. Morelos has been known for decades for being the druglords' getaway and safe haven, so it remained a mostly peaceful state for most of this time. This has changed, and at some points during this year, militarization feels quite creepy... Fortunately, just for a couple of weeks, and then back to what seems like normal. The real problems in Morelos is the undeniable corruption of its successive governments, the lack of regard for the population, the inexistent urban planning...

However, I know from several friends living in the North of the country (and all along the very long border - The most drug-related violent states nowadays are Chihuahua, Durango, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas and Nuevo León, with only two states in the South — Michoacán and Guerrero) that violence is really felt by local population on the streets. Some friends say they have grown used to hearing shootings (Durango), others say that it is now usual that the cartels openly strangle the city's vial system with the express purpose of showing off their strength (Monterrey, Nuevo León, one of Mexico's most important cities and taken in the past as a token of industrialization and first-world-like life conditions... Just don't look towards the poor areas). About Chihuahua, I'd rather not even talk, as by all accounts (official even) it rivals Iraq in the lack of control the government has of its territory.

Still, with all that as background... I am afraid of what I read today in the news. I know a single declaration is not enough to worry about (as said in El Quijote, «una golondrina sola no hace verano», a single swallow does not mean it's summer), but those things always start small... Until they explode. La Jornada reports that The retired general Luis Garfias Magaña recommends suspending constitutional guarantees in the country to be able to properly fight violence.

The last century we had a sad and long history of cases where the military took over civilian power and suspended the constitutional rights in basically every nation in Latin America — Except for Mexico. Not one of those cases was overall successful. Not one of them went by without raging abuses, without terrible consequences. I don't see imminent we will go over to a military rule nor anything close to it, but the environment is getting each time closer to how it was like before said rights suspension. We should learn that it is just not the way, it leads nowhere.

I am convinced, and will keep insisting on it at every ocassion, that the only possible way to fight violence is by reducing the social distance, and that should be achieved most importantly by reducing poverty, but also by making it harder to become incredibly rich. Mexico's percentage of poor people has grown over the last decades, but at the same time, the amount of wealth concentrated in very few hands has grown much faster. A society with terribly rich and terribly poor people leads to hatred, leads to desperation, leads to violence. A flatter society, even if the overall standard was to be somewhat lower, tends to a better equilibrium. And yes, I know the original problem with drugs is that Mexico is a great transit area for drugs to reach the USA (and I could also rant about drug legalization — I won't, it's late and I must go to work), but the main fuel for young people to leave everything behind and take the risk of starting a life of open ilegality is the lack of future they face all life long. That leads many to risk their lives attempting to cross the border to the USA (Mexico "exports" 500,000 people every year), but also lures them to jobs where they will have easy money... In exchange for their lifes, ultimately.

Anyway... Just to repeat and round off: The answer to this problem is not repression, is not policial or military strength. Our only way out is through social justice.

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World Naked Bike Ride 2010 — Mexico

Submitted by gwolf on Sun, 06/13/2010 - 15:15

For the second time (First time was in 2008; I didn't join in 2009 as I travelled to Nicaragua on that date), I took part of the World Naked Bike Ride. The WNBR is a global effort, where people in ~150 cities all over the world go cycling nude on the streets of our towns, with varied demands, including:

  • Safe conditions for cyclists (mainly aimed at car drivers, at the society at large, but also requesting proper infrastructure measures from our respective governments)
  • Raising the consciousness that every individual has a bit of power to free us all from oil-produced pollution
  • Tolerance, acceptance of people who are not exactly like us
  • Lower the ecologic impact of humans against the world

I love my bike!

One of the things I most like about WNBR is its diversity. Not everybody goes for the same reasons. As people who read me often will know, I took part because I believe (and act accordingly!) that the bicycle is the best, most efficient vehicle in –by far– most of the situations we face day to day, but we need to raise awareness in everybody that the bicycle is just one more vehicle: On one side, we have the right to safely ride on the streets, like any other vehicle. On the other side, we must be responsible, safe drivers, just as we want car drivers to be.

Ok, and I will recognize it before anybody complains that I sound too idealistic: I took part of the WNBR because it is _tons_ of fun. This year, we were between 300 and 500 people (depending on whom you ask). Compared to 2008, I felt less tension, more integration, more respect within the group. Of course, it is only natural in the society I live in that most of the participants were men, but the proportion of women really tends to even out. Also, many more people joined fully or partially in the nude (as nudity is not required, it is just an invitation). There was a great display of creativity, people painted with all kinds of interesting phrases and designs, some really beautiful.

Oh, one more point, important to me: This is one of the best ways to show that we bikers are not athletes or anything like that. We were people ranging from very thin to quite fat, from very young to quite old. And that is even more striking when we show our whole equipment. If we can all bike around... So can you!

Some links, with obvious nudity warnings in case you are offended by looking at innocent butts and similar stuff:

As for the sad, stupid note: 19 cyclists were placed under arrest in Morelia, Michoacán because of faltas a la moral (trasgressions against morality), an ill-defined and often abused concept.

Also, by far, most of the comments I have read from people on the media, as well a most questions we had by reporters before or after the ride were either why are you going nude‽ (because that's the only way I'll get your attention!) or But many people were not nude! (nudity is not a requirement but only an option.

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One more fatal accident in my usual environment

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 05/25/2010 - 00:34

I was about to close down a good day of hard work, a heavy but useful day... I had even decided to take some time off to listen to some good music, and was heading off to bed on a good mood...

Until I decided to read my contacts' latest rants. And I found very sad news - again.

A ten year old kid was killed while cycling in Calle Nezahualpilli, Colonia Ajusco.

I happen to know quite well that precise area - I lived very close to that street for some months in 2008. I eat in a small restaurant (what we call either a cocina económica, comida corrida or fondita) on that street. One of my usual bycicle workshops is also on that street - In fact, I wanted to go today, as both of my bikes' rear tires are flat, but had no time to make it.

Anyway... Colonia Ajusco and Colonia Santo Domingo ("colonia" is basically... a neighbourhood in es_MX) are two very popular, economically depressed areas, just North-East of the University. Probably hundreds or thousands of students live in rented rooms in the area, as UNAM with its 300,000 students does not have any dorms (due to political reasons leading all the way back to the 1960s).

Santo Domingo and Ajusco are also the part where Mexico City's main valley finishes. The hills begin, not too abruptly (we have a ~150m difference in the ~2Km spanned by both colonias). And... When I lived there, I was amazed at the amount of people moving by bike. The streets are too slow for motorized transit to properly flow, and it's often annoying to have to cross the region. It is mostly safe for cyclists.

Anyway, this kid was having a good time on the street, and was killed by a microbus driver fighting his fellow over more clients. The driver, yes, was caught (by his passengers and other bystanders, according to the note), and did not run away as they often do in cases such as this one. Still, the kid died almost instantly, so catching the driver serves very little consolation.

This Friday we will have BiciUNAMonos second monthly meeting. It is too soon, and I don't think we will end up going there. But I do feel this accident falls squarely inside UNAM user's territory. We cannot ignore it just because it happened outside our University's gates.

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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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Post-apocalyptic times

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 05/05/2010 - 07:50

Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death, the mythological Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Mexico's de facto president, Felipe Calderón, once again showed his involuntary aptitude for deep political analysis: On Monday, on a State visit to Germany, he declared Mexico has faced the Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse (second source, in English). I agree: One year ago, we were facing a health emergency, the AH1N1 epidemic, hence pestilence. Since he took power in December 2006, the president's main action has been the war on drugs, hence war. The country was the worst performing Latin American country in 2009, with our economy falling 6.5%, more than any other country, and prices have been really on the rise, hence famine. Finally, death... official numbers state that there have been over 22000 deaths in the "war on drugs" — And merrily he stated that only 10% of that were civilians. Whatever that meant... But... What about the fifth? Who is he?

A plausible hypothesis is offered by cartoonist El Fisgón in today's cartoon in La Jornada:

«We don't know how he got here, but he is the most effective one»

Now... However good El Fisgón's analysis might be... Lets not get distracted with silly details. Hernández, another of La Jornada's great cartoonists, shows the hidden meaning:

— We are over the apocalypse!
— Does that mean we are facing the Final Judgement?

The coming of the five horsemen of apocalypse can only mean... It is time for the Final Judgement and the end of time!

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A FLISOL critic

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 04/22/2010 - 08:28

Once again, I was invited by several different groups to be present at FLISOL, a quite interesting phenomenon: FLISOL (Latin-american Free Software Installation Festival) is s very large-scale, very loosely coordinated thing put together for five years already in over 200 cities in basically every Latin American country. Go to the FLISOL page, it is quite interesting to try to understand it!

Now, I don't like FLISOL. I managed to avoid it in 2005 and 2006; in 2007, I was present at a FLISOL, although I didn't know beforehand it was the reason for the conference I was invited to. In 2008 and 2009 I took part for reasons I should not go into right now. This year, again, I will not be part of any of its activities (regardless of rumors to the contrary – I was invited to be present at a panel on ACTA, but I have not followed the topic enough to be aware of anything besides the very basic aspects, I have no authority to speak about it; I told the organizers I would like to be there as part of the audience, but not present the topic. And I am quite work-stressed, so I doubt I'll make it). Why am I against FLISOL?

FLISOL itself, as I said, is a positive and interesting phenomenon, and I have enjoyed the conference cycles which often happen together with it. What I am against is installfests – In my opinion, in the stage we are at today, instead of promoting Free Software, an install-fest just works against it.

Free Software –Linux-based distributions at least– is widely known already, as a concept, even though most people dare not come anywhere close to it. Few people outside our already consolidated groups recognize programs such as the Mozilla and OpenOffice suites as being also Free Software, and valuable, quality alternatives for their everyday needs in the environments they currently use.

If we need to show how to install and understand the GNU/Linux ecosystem to people who have not got close, it is not IMHO to end users. Installing a GNU/Linux system is easy enough for anybody interested in doing it, or at least, for him to request a one-on-one help session, handholding and understanding the basic ideas. We need, in any case, for the computer corner shop technicians to be somewhat acquinted, at least with the basics, at least with one popular distribution (and with the fact that there are many, and that they are different).

People who have not had the curiosity and courage to try to install Linux by themselves do not need to be evangelized (a verb that should be out of our vocabularies by now, as that phase in our movement should be over by now) – End users have simple needs: Things should work, and be as surprise-free as possible. They don't want to depend on a specific time-starved person (or even on a small group of people, all of which have a sanctity delirium/aura). When they go to technical support, they expect the problem to be solved – Not even understanding what was wrong. End users are willing to pay a small fee to anybody to help them solve their problems.

The key word is anybody. If we (myself, or me and my 10 friends who were there at the gathering, or any sufficiently defined small group) are the only support point for the OS, it is no good. Online support forums are not good either, in my experience, as the end user will prefer just lugging the computer to the nearest technician and get it fixed. Even if fixed means just installing one more readily-available package (not to mention, of course, when an update breaks something).

I have witnessed, after an install fest, people walk very happy with their new system as a new toy. After a week or two, they cannot install the latest virus^Wscreen saver, or a legitimate program they need for their work. As it does not work, they take the computer to the technician... Who will end up formatting his system and installing something more usual.

On the other hand, some people prefer installing a dual-boot system – That guarantees the user will feel he is carrying some kind of moral superiority on his computer, and will often remember he has something Not Evil. This will often happen, of course, at boot time – When they see GRUB at boot time, and rush to select Windows before That Strange Thing starts up.

Anyway... Go ahead, install Free Software, enjoy the day. The conference cycles are usually interesting, and are the best part of it all — I'm not saying you should stop doing it. But I'd urge you to take the focus away from the mass-installs, which become often just lost work (even detrimental to furthering Free Software). Try to see things as a non-technically-interested user would. Try to design ways to get corner shop technicians interested. Maybe that can be useful in the long run.

How can we advance without a tax increase?

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 10/22/2009 - 13:33

There has been a lot of buzz recently in Mexico after a tax increase that has been announced for next year. The two main points I have seen criticized are:

Value Added Tax (IVA) increase from 15% to 16%
There was a great improvement regarding the original proposal by our de-facto ruler (why de-facto? Because it is still unclear whether he won the popular vote. He has about the same legitimacy as George Bush during his first term: Legal but illegitimate): In Mexico, there is a category of items regarded as fundamental, which are exempt of IVA (tasa cero). This category includes food and medicines — Of course, this category makes up the bulk of the poorer people's consumptions, so they pay much less IVA than people with higher living standards. For a very long time, there has been a push to remove this exemption. This has been fortunately clearly understood and fought against.

So, the presidential initiative, as I was saying, contemplated a global 2% tax which would not be IVA, and which would be applied universally. This tax would be earmarked to be applied to social programs, and was euphemistically called Impuesto de Combate a la Pobreza (poverty combat tax). Many people applied the concept of duck typing (if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck... It is a Value Added Tax). As many analysts, I believe this tax was meant to be the foot in the doorstop, leading to point out in a couple of years that anyway nothing is IVA-exempt anymore and the world has not come to an end, and we should apply universal IVA...

So, the reduction in the increase (2% → 1%) is not the most notable thing here — The notable (and good!) thing is that they didn't succeed into killing the tasa cero.

3% tax on telecommunications
Many friends have started rallying (with the IMHO least effective way of protest you can find on Earth, just by stating their adherence in their Twitter and Facebook profiles. Wow, great deal!) that the original proposal included a 4% tax on telecommunications, and it appears that 3% will be applied. They say, quite fairly, that telephone and Internet access are no longer considerable a luxury, but a need to power the society into becoming better prepared, more competitive.

My friends state as a contrast the Finnish ruling broadband access as a citizen right. What they seem not to realize is that the proportion of taxes in Mexico (collected from the responsible taxpayers, which is not by far the way for the bulk of the money in this country) is close to 30%, taking into account the big taxes (IVA, ISR/IETU) and the host of smaller ones. In Finland, the percentage of taxes payed by every person –and remember that tax evasion is way lower than here!) is over 50%.

So… What is my opinion on this? What would my ideal tax scheme be?

  • Nobody likes taxes. But the country needs far more infrastructure, far wider inverstments. We need higher taxes — But we need those taxes to be collected from people with higher income. And yes, that would mean I would most probably pay more (as I do sit relatively high on the income scale — Qualified work, even if you do not seek money for the sake of it, pays much better than non-qualified work; remember the minimal wage in Mexico is around MX$50 a day - Less than US$4 or €3).
  • The increases should be applied to the income tax (ISR). It is supposed to be around 30% for income levels over MX$5000 a month, with a very slight increase after that point. Income tax is highly deductible now, and most people with high income manage to ellude most of it. Many cases have been documented of companies as small as Walmart paying less than MX$1000 a year due to several (intentional? you bet!) holes in the legislation. That is where the bulk of the extra government income should come from!
  • For a couple of years, since I registered as a taxpayer (people receiving money exclusively as salaries under a given limit don't have to declare taxes) I have decided not to hire an accountant to make the numbers look prettier, and just do the numbers myself over the platform provided by SAT/Hacienda (the tax collecting authority). Yes, that means I am paying more than what I could — But it also means I am paying what I should! And it is an expensive point of view, but I strongly invite others to do the same. If we criticize Walmart for making numbers look prettier, shouldn't each of us do the same? Shouldn't we all care to pay what we are supposed to, so that the government has enough funds to carry out its tasks?

Yes, I am painfully aware that an important portion of what gets into the government disappears due to corruption and ineptitude. Still, the only position from where I can criticize is from being clearly legal. The same point as I do with software: I cannot ask people to comply with my Free Software licensing if I use ilegally propietary software, can I? So no, I don't use any. Even legal propietary software, free-as-in-beer (i.e. Flash player).

So, please think this over before you join the Lemmings into complaining about the tax increase. Yes, this is a bad moment to increase taxes. Yes, Mexico is the worst faring country in all of America in its response to the crisis; the GDP will probably fall between 8% and 10% this year and 2010 will not be much better. Yes, it would be better to increase competitivity. But, yes, we pay ridiculously low amounts of taxes — And those of us who can afford a little reduction in our expenditure should do it. And those who make gross money should just stop it.

Oh, and last point, regarding the #internetnecesario Twitter hashtag: Don't be Lemmings. Internet should be recognized a basic need for a free society. But right now in our country, it completely is a luxury, even if you cannot live without it. If you are Internet-addicted as myself, you most probably will not notice the 3% increase. FFS, We will pay MX$360 instead of MX$350 a month for my Infinitum connection. Will we really notice? In Mexico, middle and upper class are Internet-enabled. Lower classes are not. Things should change, no doubt. But it is not at all comparable to an universal IVA. Things should change and universal connectivity should be a given. But right now, calling Internet a basic good... is just out of touch with reality.

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The bad and the worse; Representative democracies' minimums

Submitted by gwolf on Sat, 09/26/2009 - 16:08

Martin rants about the German electoral system. From his rant, I'll pick up only two points — And I'll try to connect with Toxicore's excelent (Spanish) blog post, where he quotes political analist Denise Dresser.

Dresser has made a great point: Our probably-imposed, legitimacy-impaired president Felipe Calderón has requested the society to «talk good» about Mexico, to project a positive image of the country. Dresser says, yes, there is a lot of good to talk about the country, and we should emphasize on its richness and beauty, invite people to come and visit, to know what the country is really like. But at the same time, it is our duty to talk bad about the bad areas and decisions of our government, as that is the best (if not the only) thing many of us can do to really get things to happen — That is what we can do to push our country's good things forward, to make the country sustainable, to pull attention towards what needs (such as the very very deplorable cases of censorship, human rights violation, ecosystem predation we have seen in the last years).

Anyway... What did I want to comment about Martin's post? He criticizes Germany's law requiring a 5% quota for a party to have parliamentary representation.

In Mexico, the minimum is 2%. Most people agree, though, that it is too low, and that we should push to increase it. Why? Because the money that is spent in supporting the party system. In Mexico, when a political party fails to get 2% of the vote, it is basically disbanded and it is very hard for it to regroup, to compete again.

Many people believe we should aim to a political system with as few political parties as possible (such as the semi-democratic system they have in the USA). I strongly prefer the system found in most European (and even many South American) countries where there is a real wealth of ideological positions represented, and where governments have to be formed by agreeing to form coalitions, as it is almost impossible for them to get full majority.

I would much rather see Mexico march towards a parliamentary-based political system, away from the presidential one. Of course, that is almost impossible to expect.

With the current political system, we are bound to have forever few monolithic, meaningless political parties. We will likely converge on three blocks, following the current three major blocks (leftoid PRD, centroid PRI, rightoid PAN). They are different in some important senses, yes, but in general they are much the same. I don't hold any hopes to ever see something like the Pirate Party appearing in our system...

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