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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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Honduras: .hn NIC attacked/intervened by the de-facto government authorities

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 09/25/2009 - 12:55

I was requested to forward this information to as wide an audience as possible.

Possibly two months ago the legality/legitimacy of the actions carried out by the Hondurean armed forces, which captured a democratically elected president and without a judicial order or trial process forced him out of the country, starting a de-facto government, was something questionable. Each day, however, it becomes clearer and clearer the Hondureans are suffering a represive military-backed system which cannot be expected to fulfill as a trustable entity to conduct fair, credible elections.

I got this message from a Hondurean friend (of course, whose identity I am not divulging) denouncing the government's invasion of the .hn domain name registry, which is handled by the Sustainable Development Network (Red de Desarrollo Sustentable — RDS-HN). The National Telecomunications Comission (Comisión Nacional de Telecomunicaciones, CONATEL) demands all domain name registration under the .hn top-level domain (TLD) to be suspende, and all the lists and databases regarding said TLDs to be handed over, detailing the IP ranges and the responsibles. They did this under the argument that RDS-HN is an Internet Service Provider (which it is not — Being a registrar means they are responsible for the well-keeping of public information and of handling a public good, the .hn TLD, not that they provide any kind of regulated service to individuals or organizations), with military personnel disguised as civilians (and who refused to identify themselves).

If you are interested, please read further on the text I received straight from my Hondurean contacts (Spanish) (or its unaccurate but often helpful automated translation to English, done through Google Translate)

Even though this information is normally accessible via WHOIS and similar services (this only states clearly nobody in CONATEL was able to do what I just did legally and anonymously from my personal workstation), they did it in such a fashion in order to scare the operators and the society.

Honduras is going through a very hard process. Whatever happens there will likely impact on the future reactions to the most retrograd and powerful sectors of society in the rest of Latin America. We do our best (even if as non-Hondureans living outside Honduras it only means raising our voices) to avoid the risk of our region going back to the sad, cruel and bloody 1970s history.

[update] My friend Mave, who works at NIC Chile, sent as a comment to this post LACTLD's official stand on this regard (Spanish. English version also available). LACTLD (Latin American and the Caribbean ccTLD's Organization) clearly backs RDS-HN and condemns the illegal government's actions.

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El CLIC — First Latin American Encounter on Free Knowledge and Licensing

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 08/06/2009 - 12:47

I stumbled across El CLIC

Of course, I submitted a work for participation (if you are curious, a more evolved version of the Free Software for the Construction of a Democratic Society work I have been working on with Alejandro Miranda sincle last year as part of our Seminar on the Collective Construction of Knowledge — But that's a different advertiseme^Wstory). I will translate here a couple of paragraphs of the CLIC presentation:

During the weeks between September 14 and 30 this year, the First Latin American Encounter on Free Knowledge and Licensing will be held.

The encounter aims at sharing experiences and widen knowledge in regard to these two general, current interest topic lines. The initiative comes from the Knowledge as a Public Good Defense Allies Network (RADECON, Red de Aliados para la Defensa del Conocimiento como Bien Público) who, together with a group of close collaborators, seek to define a common path towards knowledge emancipation and towards Latin American integration from the perspective of a change born inside the legal protection towards liberation.


Topic lines:

  • Licensing vs. Patenting
  • Open educative resources
  • Free Software and licensing
  • Free knowledge and education
  • Techno-politic considerations towards knowledge freedom
  • The needed sensibilization process leading towards knowledge liberation
  • Licensing: A vision from an ethical standpoint

I understand CLIC is Spanish-based — Anyway, I expect many of you to be interested in being part of this effort, led by the Venezuelan RADECON community!

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My strongest rejection to the de-facto government in Honduras

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 06/29/2009 - 21:39

I will here translate the text of a petition a friend is starting, which will be delivered to the Hondurean embassy in Mexico.

Original text in Spanish

In the early hours of Sunday, June 28 2009, the legal Hondurean president Manuel Zelaya was forcibly removed from his position. A coup de etat, perpetrated by the Hondurean army, air force and navy, and with the consent of the Supreme Court. In his place, they imposed Roberto Micheleti, until then the Senate president, a conservative politician (although he is formally part of the Liberal party).

The coup took place because many areas of the government oppose the presidential initiative to start a referendum geared towards starting a Constitutive Congress, among whose ideas were to implement reforms allowing for the immediate presidential reelection for a second term.

Forcibly ousting a democratically elected government is nothing other than anti-democratic. The coup has made the world's eyes to be set on Honduras, unanimously condemning this incident in a strong and immediate way. The people has been left blind and deaf; the communication media -both traditional and Internet-based- has been blocked. Not only freedom of press and freedom of speech have been blocked. People are crying for the reestablishment of the legally elected government. There is a national strike, the unions have protested massively. This coup has been received by a generalized popular rejection; as the only answer to the protestors, Micheletti has set a curfew, and the army is dissolving the demonstrations with tear gas and long weapons; in some hours we might see them using heavy vehicles against the civilians.

Latin American brothers, we must condemn, if at least symbolically, our rejection to the imposed Honduras government, our rejection to the human rights and individual warranties obstruction.

This humble text was written to collect digital signatures from all those who oppose the violence that this Central American country is suffering. Those that passively just want to express the collective feeling, those that feel a social, civil and human empathy towards what is happening beyond our territorial borders.

Every symbolic act, such as this one, does not weigh much by itself. But by making ourselves present by thousands, through different callings, we can generate enough pressure to incede in those sad actions.

Sign the petition

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Liliana Castillo, in memoriam

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 06/08/2009 - 20:01

Three weeks ago, 23 year old Liliana Castillo, student of the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas at UNAM was killed while driving her bycicle, at the Avenida Universidad and Real de Mayorazgo corner, in Mexico City, less than 3Km north from my house (and from the University). I have crossed that spot several times, also driving my bike. It is not a corner where you would expect a careless, speeding driver coming out of nowhere and killing a girl, a student, an artist.

I am reproducing this letter, that is being passed around in the University. I will surely be there, as many other cyclists. We need to make ourselves visible, to make drivers aware they are not the sole owners of the streets. There is enough place for all of us. We all deserve freedom of movement.

Estimados miembros de la comunidad universitaria,

Con gran tristeza les informo que nuestra compañera estudiante Liliana Castillo, de la Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas y de la Facultad de Filosofía murió arrollada mientras circulaba en su bicicleta el día 15 de mayo, en Avenida Universidad esquina con Mayorazgo de la Higuera en la colonia Xoco, delegación Benito Juárez.

Por tal motivo los invitamos a que nos unamos a la marcha ciclista que se llevará acabo en su memoria este miércoles 10 de junio a las 21h en el estacionamiento de la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras en Ciudad Universitaria. El contingente saldrá a las 21h en punto con ruta Avenida Universidad hasta el lugar de los hechos. Ahí dejaremos veladoras y flores en memoria a nuestra compañera en conjunto con la organización bicitekas (www.bicitekas.org) quienes saldrán a su vez a la misma hora desde el Ángel de la Independencia. El contingente universitario regresará a la Facultad de Filosofía aproximadamente a las 23.30h.

Las personas que no puedan acompañarnos en bicicleta, son mas que bienvenidas para llegar al punto de reunión que se encuentra a una calle al norte del Metro Coyoacan sobre avenida Universidad.

Para mayor información sobre lo ocurrido y lo cuestionable del manejo legal del accidente, pero sobre todo para difundir su legado artístico, visiten la página:



PD No olvides llevar una veladora y una flor para dejar en el lugar del accidente.

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Politicians time once again

Submitted by gwolf on Sat, 05/16/2009 - 23:06

It is time for stupid, empty politicians slogans once again in my dear country. And, as always, while we had lively, controversial presidential elections three years ago (and I won't rant this time on why so many Mexicans still believe the current president can only be called a de facto president), the mid-term elections... Fail to get any attention and cause only bored reactions.

I am writing today mostly because I stumbled upon Francisco's post on why the Mexican Ecologist Green Party (PVEM) campaign does not impress him.

As many, many other people with strong political opinions I know, I will go to the voting booth next July 5th, as I have done every time since I was of age - But I will most probably void my ballot, as I have found nobody worth my vote. And even if I am (and have always been) a leftist person, none of the four so-called leftist parties inspire the smallest bit of confidence. But hell, even the rightist or centrist parties fail to inspire confidence to their voters - After the 2006 electoral fiasco, we got a political system nobody believes in. And all analysts seem to concur that we moved from the most complete presidential regime to an utter partidocracy, where all of the (strong enough) parties cover each other's back not to lose the respective privileges (largely, money, but also law-making faculties and influence, which of course translates to impunity).

Worth a very special mention is the crown jewel of political clowns in Mexico - PVEM, the Mexican Ecologist Green Party. A party that gets the gold medal for the most corrupt in our country (which is no small feat). A party where the National Party Presidents to date have only been father and son. And it is alarming because it is the only party apparently gathering more voters than they had before. But also, because of its utter pragmatism and lack of respect for anything they might once have stood for. I still remember on the 1994 elections, the first time they participated in general elections, their slogan was don't vote for a politician — Vote for an ecologist... Little did the society know by then they were worse off than our oft-hated politicians. Can you imagine a so-called ecologist party that is expelled of the Global Greens as its behaviour is completely antithetical to anything a green party stands for? A party that promotes reinstating the death penalty (which was abolished from our Constitution, after decades of not being applied, less than a decade ago)? Or they say that, if a given medicine is not available at the Social Security hospitals, the government should pay the citizen so he can go and buy it at a drug store? (of course, if a needed medicine is not available at the Social Security it is most probably because the government is underfunded, not because the lazy administrators don't want to buy the medicines. And yes, with those two retrograde, stupid and -thankfully- completely unfeasible promises they have doubled their probable voters outcome in the past couple of months.

The campaigns are only officially starting now. They are all really pathetic. A voter turnout of ~30% is expected. But yes, I am a politized person and just cannot help inviting everybody who has the right to go and vote. If there is somebody worth voting for in your district, please vote for him/her. However... Together with many people I admire, together with many of my friends, together with the people who still believe it is possible to make something out of this forsaken country's politic system... I invite you to void your ballots. Hopefully they will be enough so they must be heard this time.

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The streets and the numbers of Cuernavaca

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 04/22/2009 - 10:18

I usually use this blog to post about stuff I have written or that is somehow related to my work / professional life. This time, however, I'll just use it to share with you a short text my father published in the column he writes in the La Unión de Morelos newspaper, Academia de Ciencias de Morelos: La Ciencia, desde Morelos para el mundo.

My father has lived for over 20 years in Cuernavaca, la Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera (the city of the eternal Springtime), ~80Km south of Mexico City. Cuernavaca was for long years known mostly as a weekend city for Mexico City's middle-upper class, but it has grown way beyond that. According to Wikipedia, in Cuernavaca's metropolitan area there are about 700,000 inhabitants. And the city is blatantly built with no planning, no urbanistic analysis of any kind.

I have been familiar for many years with the program to put some rational order renumber Cuernavaca's streets. Roberto Tamariz, the sociologist who built my father's house (yes, in a stroke of genius he acted as an architect for a piece of land he had bought - the results are quite decent, given his real occupation, but his lack of architectural background tends to literally come up from the floor every now and then), was involved in a municipal project to renumber Cuernavaca's streets, probably some 15 years ago.

Anyway, Roberto's work was never really finished due to the severe lackings of our political culture. In this (one-and-a-third pages long, quite easy to read) text I am attaching to this post, my father writes about Cuernavaca's strange street naming system, the mathematical solutions (and political intrincacies) about renumbering a two dimensional space (and, of course, he could not help but wander into the third- and fourth-dimentional spaces, although very briefly).

I like how this guy writes, all in all. Enjoy!

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E-voting and paper-based-voting - UNAM teaches us how to achieve the worst of all worlds

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 03/30/2009 - 22:06

As my Institute's sysadmin, I was appointed as the responsible for my Institute's certificate handling for today's voting session for the Universitary Council (Consejo Universitario).

UNAM, Mexico's largest University, is moving towards an e-voting platform. I talked about this with our (sole) candidate for the Council, and she told me this has been used a couple of times already - And, as expected, it has led to having to repeat voting sessions, due in part to e-voting's inherent lackings: It is impossible to act on any kind of impugnation. The only thing we have is an electronic vote trail, no way to recount or to make sure that all votes got in. Besides, we had a perfectly antinatural and inadequate identification system, which means voter's identity have no way to be trusted.

Besides, we still have all the traditional Universitary bureaucratic paper flow, which completely obscures any positive points this e-voting system might have had.

Before going any further, if you are interested: There is a so-called security audit certificate for this system. In Spanish, yes. Take a look at it if you understand the language and want to crack some laughs.

I will not make a detailed review of (what I could gather about) the setup. But to make things short: I had to go to the central administrative offices to get a CD-ROM with the monitoring station's SSL certificate. This certificate is tied to an IP address, so only one computer was able to be set up as a monitoring station. So far, so good.

But, what is the monitoring station's real role? You will probably laugh. The voting session (at my Institute - Each dependency can specify its own opening and closing times) was from 10:00 and until 18:00. We were instructed to place this computer at a public location, from where:

  • Shortly before 10:00, we had to check the booth's status was set to closed and that zero votes were received.
  • During the votation period, the computer would continuously display the number of received votes, refreshing the page twice a minute1
  • During the day, anybody could go to the computer and check the number of total votes received. Its main function is, I think, to show that no votes are substracted precisely when a person is staring at it.
  • Shortly before 18:00, we had to check the booth's status was still set to open, and wait until 18:00 to witness the booth is now closed.
  • Get the needed data from the system and hand it over to the proper bodies. I'll get back to this point later on.

So, what is strange here? That there is a tremendous apparatus providing supposed security to... Information that is completely worthless. Just protecting a number that is, for all purposes, public. Oh, and the opening and closing of the booth - Of course, the system could have flaws during the process, or inject spurious votes along the way, or flip-flop the votes cast whichever way. But, did I mention votes? So far I have not mentioned how people are supposed to vote.

Together with our last paycheck, we got a piece of paper with all of the needed information: A randomly generated, 10-character-long-with-mixed-case-and-symbols password, and the link to a web page2. This paper was folded, yes, but it was in no way secured - So, whoever wanted to have all of our passwords could just go through the bunch of papers and get them.

Now, contrasting to the strong perception of physical security surrounding the oh-so-important monitoring stations, how can a person vote? Oh, sure, just fire up your favorite browser and go to https://www.jornadaelectoral.unam.mx/, produce your student number if you are a student or your full RFC3, select via checkboxes4, click on "submit", and voilà, you have voted. From any location, from any machine.

Yes, the University's population is largely itinerant, many people will be voting from abroad and all. It is good to give them a voice. But... At what price? Lets see... The security audit mentions the system is free from any malicious routine that can automatically alter the results and it has the minimum needed validations against spurious data injections from the most common Web browsers. However, if I am interested in modifying the results... I could put a trojan in a Faculty's laboratories, which modifies the votes sent by their users (students vote as well). Yes, I'd have to know how the system works, but lets accept security through obscurity does not work, and that this is a well-known system (as it has been used for over 3 years and is at version 3.5). PHP-based, for further points. Oh, and (if I recall correctly) a voter does not even get feedback as for which formula did he vote for, so no way of knowing if the computer really sent the information I requested. And given the low security for the password handling, I would not bet on it being worth much. Besides, this system was partly established to allow people voting from abroad - as long as they picked up their March 10 paycheck. That excludes anybody who has spent over three weeks away!

Many other things can be said. Last detail: e-voting's main selling point is that the results are known instantaneously, and (if no paper trail exists) no tedious re-counting is ever done, right?

Meet universitary bureaucracy. Technology changes, but processes don't. The Local Electoral Surveillance Commission has the responsability to enter once again the system after the vote has finished, and ask the server for the preliminary results. This consists of a tarball with the tally sheet (from the voters, who voted and who didn't), the total votes for each formula, and... one more file I don't remember. They also have to generate the signed legal documents where they testify to the received information. And then, ahem, they have to burn those files5 onto a CD-ROM, print them, and physically take them to the central administrative offices. Yes, take something from the server and get it to the server. For us it is not terrible (1.5Km can be readily done), but this same procedure must be done by people in other cities where there are University campii holding elections. How Nice!

Anyway... Worst of both worlds. The inefficacies of a paper-based ellection, together with the unaccountability of an e-voting ellection, sprinkled with fake sense of security here and there.


  • 1. Except that it didn't. I guess they didn't stress-test the server, so every couple of minutes it returned a connection error. Of course, the page would no longer self-update. And after noticing that, I (and nobody else but me) had to go and give the password and certificate for the system to continue to operate.
  • 2. which is http://www.dgae-siae.unam.mx/ - The Schooling Administration General Direction (DGAE), an universitary body which has no relation with electoral issues. DGAE made available a poster detailing how to vote... But, again, lets ignore that fact for now
  • 3. A nationwide ID number, largely derived from name and birth date data - Both numbers are often widely known, they cannot be considered private in any way.
  • 4. Oh, for goodness sake... The "ballot" has 1..n options, and each has a checkbox, not a radio button. That means, you can select multiple options, which is of course invalid. Why? Because the electoral rules indicate that selecting more than one option in a ballot makes the ballot invalid, and thus, a way for making it invalid must be provided. Isn't logic beautiful?!
  • 5. Want some more insight on what needs to be done? Take a look at the instructions. Don't forget paying attention to the lexicon used - We are still asked to count the votes, an impossible feat given the vote is 100% system-based - Quote: Los miembros de la CLVE realizarán, con base en el reporte del sistema, el cómputo de los votos depositados en la urna a favor de cada una de las fórmulas, declarando nulos los votos que procedan.
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How active are your local {Linux,Free Software} User Groups?

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 02/04/2009 - 09:15

Ted T'so wonders about the LUGs over the world, seeking to answer a conversation he recently had at the Linux Foundation. He quotes a blog posting in Lenovo, “Local User Groups - gone the way of the dinosaur?”. I think this is an interesting point to gather input from others.

In Mexico City, we did have a strong LUG several years ago, holding not-very-regular-but-good-quality-wise meetings, roughly monthly, at Instituto de Ciencias Nucleares. I was active there ~1996-2001.
By 2001, however, the group stopped acting as one - Maybe one of the main factors is that we had a very strong, unquestionable group leader and cohesion factor (Miguel), who worked at Nucleares and regularly got said auditorium. Once Miguel left to form Ximian, the group slowly disgregated.

In one of the last LUG meetings, we started working towards the National Free Software Conference (CONSOL)... Nowadays, in Mexico (as a country) we have several conferences around the year, although I'd be hard-pressed to say whether any of them really fills the needs of a LUG (and my answer would probably be negative).

Now, there are several smaller groups that have popped up in the void left by the Mexico City LUG - Mainly LUGs local to universities or faculties... And yes, a 25-million-people city is too large to have a single, functional LUG - Just the geographical size of the thing is too daunting. Besides, we are too many people, even though few of us are contributing any real work. But I also recognize that a local *users* group should care about making the users better, before focusing on making the world a better place ;-)

Anyway... My intention with this post, besides writing what I see, is to ask to other people that read me (I know this blog is syndicated at Planeta Linux Mexico, maybe even people reading in other Latin American countries through Planeta EDUSOL) to write what they see at their local communities. To make this a bit more useful, please leave a comment (in English, if possible) at this blog, so this can be used as a summary for Ted's request as well.

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About the recent events and possible outcomes in Israel and Palestine

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 01/19/2009 - 15:06

Several friends, from different groups and backgrounds and with different points of view regarding the current war in Israel (and regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict in general) have asked me for an explanation on what is happening there, what is (my view of) the real conflict, its causes... and any possible answers. And yet I am quite far from being an authority, I do want to write something about it. Be prepared, as this post is quite long.
And yet, after writing frankly a lot more than what I expected... It is by far not enough. I have still much more to add, but I have to say "stop" at some point. So, here you have it: My points of view, as well as some explanation on why are we standing where we currently are.
I am writing this based just on my personal experiencie and, of course, my personal point of view. Furthermore, I wrote a good part of this text while riding a bus, with no network access, so I am offering very few references - In any case, it will allow me to make much more progress. References always take as much time as the text itself!

About me

Why am I writing this? Why do people ask for my opinion? I must start by explaining who I am, so the rest of this makes sense. I am a Mexican Jew. That means, I was born in a Jewish (albeit secular) family, and grew up in an environment with general Jewish culture. My direct family (say, my parents and brother, and to a lesser degree my closest cousins) are not at all religious, I'd even venture to say most of us are complete atheists. Yet, besides the cultural belonging (which is a mixture of a Eastern European culture with lots of Idish words and dishes and general humor), my family has a strong national identification - In other words, I grew up in a fully Zionist environment, which traces back to Poland.
My grandmother was member of Hashomer Hatzair in Poland, since the early years of its existence, late 1910s and early 1920s. What is it? To make it short, a Zionist Socialist, Kibbutzian youth movement. It has many similarities (and somewhat stems indirectly from) the Scouts many of you will be familiar with, but -obviously- has a way lengthier agenda. And, yes, nowadays I feel it is somewhat out of reach with the current state of the world - It was founded in 1913, and only slightly adjusted its principles since then.
I will talk more about Hashomer later on.
My grandmother arrived in the late 1920s to Mexico, for familiar and economic reasons, but still dreamt about living in Israel for a long time. As they grew up, first my uncle joined Hashomer in Mexico in the late 1940s, when it still pursued a very much Soviet-style ideals for Israel (one of the core points that changed during the 1950s); both my father and my mother joined in the late 1950s (in fact, that's where they met). My cousins and myself were very active in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Iszaevich family has something very unusual, I'd say, engraved in our genes. We live very deeply our ideologies. That's the only explanation I can find to the way we all have led our lives. I won't go into the other family members' details, but just into mine: I was fully convinced of all we taught to our younger members and what we discussed among ourselves. I am among the very few people who really learnt Hebrew at my school, and that was only because I really cared - I know some people that just after 12 years of pseudo-learning could maybe utter a few phrases.
After finishing high school I went with my Hashomer group, together with people my age from other similar-minded Mexican Zionist youth groups, to live and learn for a year in Israel, on what is usually known as shnat hajshará - A year to get ready. To get ready to what? But of course, to come and give back go the younger groups of the movement, and finally go back to Israel and settle there definitively. I came back to Mexico, and after one year I did the only thing that was logical: I became an Israeli and went to live to a kibutz - Zikim, a beautiful place just between Ashkelon and Gaza, very near the sea shore. It was a beautiful period in my life, and I really enjoyed it - But it didn't last for very long - I quickly grew to hate the Israeli society at large. A society full of rage, of hatred. Not just between Arabs and Israelis, as many would think from the outside, but between religious and seculars. And between immigrants and locals. And between leftists and rightists (in several dimensions, as it is one of the countries where you can most easily be a economic leftist while being a political rightist - a complex society it is). A society full of disrespect and intolerance. A very hypocritical society. And one of the things that most shocked me: I wanted to live in a society of proud of its existence, that's what I had learnt Israel was - But Israelis aspire and dream of being anything else (and mostly US-Americans) in a way that made me sick, more than anything I had previously seen in Mexico.
I loved the life at the Kibutz, and I loved being an agricultor, doing hard work every day and literally getting the fruit of it. However, I cannot live isolated to a 300-people universe - At least once a week you have to go to the city if you don't want to become insane. And I could not stand the sick Israeli society.
Anyway, to make things short: After six months as an Israeli, I came back to Mexico. I went through a long period of finding myself, as I could not uphold anymore my Hashomer ideology (if I am not going to live by it, how can I continue teaching it?). Many people do anyway, but for the first months, where my Hashomer work was basically all of my life, I felt really uncomfortable. So, in short, I severed all of my relations to the Jewish community, and even denied for a long time my Jewishness until I found a (I think) better balance.
Today I am at peace. But anyway, I wanted to talk about myself in the critical period that marked me in this regard: The 1990s. Enough, lets get down to business.

Zionism 1870-1920

Many people argue that the Jews invaded the Palestinians homeland - And yes, nowadays I cannot counter this. But we cannot judge what happened then based on what we see now.
Modern Zionism started around the 1870s. The Jewish history is full of pogroms and persecution, in different countries all over Europe - And a group of young people decided the only solution was to build a place to call their own. And yes, this was full of idealism and in no small part the foolishness of youth. For several centuries and up to 1920, all of current Middle East were provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Before Zionism began, the population of today-Israel was very sparse, not more than 400,000 people - up to 5% of them Jewish, around 10% Christian Arabs, and the remainder, Muslim Arabs. Of course, the low population was mostly because the country was mostly hostile - A desert in the South, mostly swamps in the North, and some minor towns mostly in the hills. It was a mostly forgotten province, away from the central Turkish rule, and there had been no frictions with the local population. It was a nice place to go, thinking -again- as a fool youngster, or as an idealist. They said, lets take a folk without a land to a land without a folk.
The number of accomplishing Zionists (this is, people who actually went to Israel instead of just talking about doing so) was not high during the first decades. But towards the 1890s, it gained critical mass. The political Zionist movement was born, with Theodor Herzl as a leader, and they started pushing -politically- for different governments to concede a territory to Jews. They went to the Turks, and didn't really get much echo. Went to other colonial powers of the time, and got unfeasible promises with no real backing (i.e. Birobidjan in Eastern Russia, Uganda in Africa)... And, as it happens in strongly ideologized movements, the movement started splitting into different groups with slightly different positions.
And no, I am not talking about the People Front for the Liberation of Judea and the People Judean Liberation Front, but I very well could. Sometimes the differences are as ridiculous as that. But hey, I take that most of my readers are acquinted with the Free Software issues, right? Think BSD vs. GPL vs. OpenSource. To give a broad idea - Only in Mexico City, with a very small Jewish community (~30,000 people), in the mid-1990s we had over 10 such movements, with 50-150 youngsters attending each. And even though some were local, and even though some very important ideologies are not represented in this country, they are all different enough to exist as separate entities.

British Mandate

The Ottoman empire was divided after the first World War. Its possesions in Europe became independent states, while in Asia (and Africa, if you take the semi-independent Egypt and part of Sudan into account) they were taken over as colonies or protectorates by France and the UK - Evidently, attempting to secure a long-term dominion over the area. In some aspects, they failed. In some aspects, they were (and still are) tremendously successful. The division of people by setting arbitrary boundaries has led to countries sustainable only by force and a harsh rule (such as Iraq, Lebanon and Syria), or doomed to poverty (and thus submission) due to lack of natural resources (as Jordan). Focusing on Israel/Palestine, the UK entered the area by making mutually incompatible promises to arabs and Jews - i.e. the Hussein-McMahon letters and the Balfour declaration, both ambiguous enough to lead to... Well, today. The UK rule was disastrous to the region, both in giving (and taking away) power from all sorts of puppet regimes, and swiftly going away as soon as things started looking too complicated. Yes, typical colonialism.
So, while up to the 1920s there was no real animosity between Arabs and Jews (as i.e. the Faisal-Weizmann agreement shows), during the next decades the seeds of hatred started growing, from both sides.
Many people still quote the 1947 partition plan as the direct antecedent towards Israel's real existence - That was not the first partition plan that existed. Ten years earlier, the Peel commision suggested a similar partition involving forceful population transfer. And many people see the separation of Transjordan (now Jordan) from Palestine in 1922 as a first partition. It is understandable that both partition plans (much more the 1947 than the 1937 one) were accepted by Zionists: Going from having nothing to having something (and against all odds in the environment they lived) is acceptable.
From the Zionist side, two main groups rejected the partitions: The right-wing and religious groups, insisting that the whole of the Mandate should become Israel, and the left-wing groups, which advocated for a single, bi-national state, with equal rights for all of its population. Go over and read this last link, as it was quite interesting (to me at least) to see how this solution has kept existing and regarded by (relatively) many people, and has many interesting links.

1948 onwards: Where did the refugees come from?

The November 1947 partition didn't exactly translate to a planned, smooth Israeli independence - It led to six months of revolts (basically, a civil war). By mid May, the UK government and troops abandoned the territory, and one day later, Israel declared its independence. And, of course, all neighbouring countries (and Iraq) sent their troops to invade Israel. The war lasted for over six months (cease-fire was signed in January 1949). There was an intense Arab campaign indicating the armies would enter Israel and devastate it, leaving no stone in place, indicating Arab population to temporarily leave the Jewish-destined areas. The war, they said, would not take more than a couple of months, and they would be able to go back home.
Only that... When the war ended, the results were far from what the Arab governments expected. Not only Israel continued to exist, but it conquered important territories.
Of course, the Israelis were not innocent from said exodus: During the 1947-1948 civil war, and the independence war, some of the existing so-called self-defense forces (some of them were really defensive, while some were quite aggressive, even terrorist) attacked Arab villages in strategic or predominantly Jewish areas to prompt them to leave - yes, what we today call ethnic cleansing.
I had (in my head) the number of 650,000 Arabs (from a total of slightly over a million) fleeing to neighbouring countries. Wikipedia states that it is somewhere between 367,000 and 950,000. A similar number of Jews were expelled from Arab countries, many of which arrived to settle at Israel (and many others went elsewhere - For instance, a good part of the Mexican Jewish community is from Syrian origins - Many of them fleed in those years). Israel didn't accept back the (relatively few) Arabs that requested to resettle, as they were seen as hostile population - but neither did the countries that "temporarily" accepted the Palestinians accepted them as citizens. The Palestinian refugee camps today, mainly in in Lebanon, Syria, and the occupied territories held by Israel have terrible living conditions, and its population -despite living there for over 60 years- have no civil rights at all. Note that I'm omitting Jordan here, although it has several camps as well, as their situation is way better.
The Arab population that didn't leave did receive full Israeli citizenship. No, their living standards are not up to level with the average Israeli. The country and the society do have a sensible degree of racism and segregation. But the situation is nowhere as terrible as it is in the camps.
The areas which were originally to become Palestinian and were not conquered by Israel -this is, current-day West Bank and Gaza- bacame respectively Jordan and Egyptian territory. While Jordan did fully extend its soverignty covering the West Bank, Egypt didn't - Gaza is, since 1949, occupied military territory. Gaza, among the most densely populated areas in the world, has had their inhabitants under military rule ever since. When Israel returned the Sinai after signing the peace treaty with President Sadat, Egypt didn't accept Gaza back - And that's where today's greatest problem is born.
Now, Israel conquered those territories in 1967, along with the very sparsely populated Sinai and Golan. For the first ten years, the territories were basically only administered (yes, under a military rule). In 1977, with the first right-wing Israeli government, an extensive settlement policy began (and led partly to today's seemingly unsolvable situation). In 1980-1982, Israel withdrew from the Sinai. In 1981, Israel claimed full soverignty over the whole of Jerusalem and the Golan. In 1993, the "Oslo Agreement" was signed between Israel and the PLO, and it seemed we were heading towards a bright future. I lived in Israel between 1994 and 1996 - Yes, the most hope-filled period in the country's life.
Since 1996, I have tried to keep up to date with the country's evolution. All in all, even if I won't live there again, it is a country I learnt to love, a society I have long studied (even if in the end I did include many references, I wrote most of this text just off the top of my head, with the data I remember - so it might have several big errata). And yes, I keep the political stand I had 12 years ago: The only solution is to dialogue, to treat the current enemies -and not only their governments- with respect, recognizing their dignity and right to life, to self-determination. Only then we will change the status quo.

How not to fight hatred

Since 1993, the dream of peaceful coexistence seems to have faded. What we saw during the past three weeks, along to what we saw in Lebanon in 2006, is plainly a gross mistake if the goal is to achieve good, lasting peace.
Try to imagine how could life in Gaza be, even in the total absence of Israeli attacks. Just to set some numbers first: The Gaza strip hosts almost 1.5 million people on 360 km². When I lived in Israel, I was constantly surprised at how small a country it is - Israel tops at 550Km North to South, 150Km east to West (it is amazing, almost wherever you stand, except in the middle of the Negev, you can see the country's borders. Yes, I recognize as the border the so-called Green Line); over half of the territory is a desert, and it hosts seven million inhabitants. And it is hard to imagine how that country can be economically viable.
I do not find it feasible to imagine Gaza and the West Bank integrating a single country, and not only because they are separated by ~40Km, but because they are so sociologically different. People in the West Bank, yes, live opressed under military rule and subject to a much more constant, more visible apartheid-like state (as the territory is truly sprinkled with Jewish outposts which many Israelis refuse to recognize as their own, but still, which have incredibly higher living standards). The best land has been taken away from them, yes, but they have some space between cities to have some farming, to communicate, to... Breathe. Besides, West Bank inhabitants -even those in refugee camps- have much better living standards than anybody in Gaza. It is still an overpopulated area, but not nearly as much as Gaza.
Gazan population have been driven towards extremism. And yes, there was a civil war between Palestinian factions, as the world views between both populations are completely different - However hostile a Jenin inhabitant can be towards Israel, he does not lead the life -if it can so be called- you see at Khan Yunis.
But back to Gaza... What Israel is doing (and not only during this military operation terror campaign is wrong, from any rational point of view. Israel wants Hamas to become weaker? Then don't drive the population into supporting them!
Palestinians started giving over 50% of their support to Fatah (ex-PLO), and under 20% to Hamas. That was less than 15 years ago. However, Fatah has shown to be corrupt and inefficient at building infrastructure and improving life conditions, ineffective at negotiating a permanent agreement which secures dignity and sustainability to their people. Hamas stands as a religious, righteous organization. There are no serious corruption charges against any Hamas leaders. Hamas is clearly still at war - They didn't subscribe any peace agreement so far, and their stated #1 goal is to build a Muslim State in the whole of Israel. And the Hamas movement -like Hizbollah in Lebanon- has built quite a bit of infrastructure in the areas they control - Mainly housing. Yes, housing where they mix their own offices, many will accuse, getting human shields for free. But still, they are benefactors to a dehumanized, pauperized population.
I find it obvious that, if living conditions were at a basic level in the region, support of Hamas would decrease. Even more, of course, if they improved due to Israeli support. Israel controls this territory, so it is responsible for the well-being of its population, like it or not. And Gaza is simply too small and low on resources to survive by itself.
I was a bit surprised to find mention -although very brief- of a three state solution - And yes, this is close to what I would expect as a viable outcome. It is clear that Israel will not ever grant full citizenship to the Palestinians, as they would -euphemistically speaking- challenge the Jewish character of the State. Dropping the euphemism, Israel relies on apartheid in order not to become an Arab majority country. I might have some numbers wrong, but AFAIK, there are ~7 million Israelis, 20% of which are Arab citizens (which means, 1.4 million Arabs and probably 5 million Jews, with many other minor denominations for the difference), and ~4 million Palestinians live in the territories. Today, the country is already predominantly Arab, or at least is close to being so. So, Israel should permanently, formally disengage from all of the occupied territories. And in order to ensure violence stops, start a comprehensive, unconditional, long-term aid program. Start with giving them autonomy to regain their sea, as the Gaza port has long been closed. Allow the airport to operate again. Instead of bombing tunnels in the Egypt-Gaza borders, allow Gaza to trade with Egypt - Perhaps even to integrate territorialy, if the conditions are met. Treat their people with respect, and help them ease the terrible situation they have lived for so many decades - and then, undoubtely, terror will stop.
The West Bank? Possibly it could become a Palestinian state by itself. Possibly, it could integrate back to Jordan. That would be up to Jordans and Palestinians to decide. Of course, Jordan has already a large segment of its population defining itself as Palestinians, which counts both for and against. So, I won't venture into this supposition.
But anyway - Back to what prompted me to write this text -yes, a very or maybe even too long text - I hope somebody even takes the time to read it!- is to explain what is my point of view on the current situation, and why.
Today, a cease-fire was announced, after 23 days of murder and destruction. I sadly do not hold very high hopes for it to be lasting, much the less to be enough, to lead to what they call a de-escalation of the conflict. The most I can currently do is to voice my opinion, and hope that mine is just one more voice pointing to a sane solution, to a permanent, dignifying way out, for all people involved. Every people has the right for survival and for safety. We cannot deny this to any others. And certainly, we cannot expect anybody not to fight for their right to live.

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Startups here and there

Submitted by gwolf on Sat, 12/13/2008 - 20:21

David Welgon has a nice post regarding his opinions on pros and cons on running a startup in Europe (Italy) and the USA (SF/Bay area). The first of the Italy cons got my attention:

Less of a startup culture and mentality. It's more typical to get a "job for life" and hang on to it for all you're worth. Many Italians are tremendously creative, industrious, inventive people, but are going to find it more difficult to express that in some form of business.

I know I am unlike many people, specially in this field... But anyway. I live in Mexico. Many factors in The Way Things Work are pushing people towards having an enterpeneur mentality - And what you see as a point against, I see as a very big advantage.
Some people have what it takes to run a business, and that's great. However, I think it is wrong to assume most people will benefit from running their own business - And specially in a country as mine. I cannot speak much about Europe, but from what you say, it confirms it is a good model of what I'd like Mexico to morph into.
Too many people start their companies with dreams of glory, thinking they have something to differentiate from the rest of the marketplace - and they lack it. So instead of enriching an existing company with more, and better focused, technical talent, they will end up making it poorer with yet another generic company with nothing new to offer, paying famelic wages to their employees, finding a way to skip the social security payments. And there are lots of legal ways to do so in Mexico - and a growing segment of the population has neither health care nor retirement savings, as this makes their day-to-day incomes substantially more juicy... But the future will bite them hard. Well, not only them - It will bite all of us. I still think we will inevitably, sooner or later, evolve into a more caring society, a society where the strong protects the weak, where it (via the State, the government) ensures nobody has under the minimum needed to have a decent life.
And, although I am essentialy a Socialist at heart, I do recognize there is place for people getting more money than others - After all, courage and creativity should be encouraged, and true enterpeneurs should get compensed for what they give to the society - But the ridiculous, stupid differences we get to see, specially in third world countries (remember that the world's richest man, Carlos Slim, lives on the same city I do, and around ~15 years ago even lived less than five blocks away from me... But I do have close family where having food daily on the table is far from a fact) are something that should disappear for good.
Loyalty to your employer and long-term job commitment are two values I hold very dear, and hope to be able to practice. So far, I have worked for eight years for UNAM (1999-2003 and 2005-present), and I hope to continue here for many years to come. I was just talking about this with a friend - The payment itself is far less than what I could get somewhere else, but the work conditions and long-term viability are more than enough to repay for the difference. And I am sure many of my friends and acquintances would be much better off if they stopped prioritizing getting more money now in respect to leading a better, richer life - And, of course, if we all valued more giving back to the society, as we will probably all need to ask from it sooner or later.

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Apt-get and gems: Different planets, right. But it must not be the war of the worlds!

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 12/08/2008 - 23:57

Thanks to some unexplained comments on some oldish entries on my blog, I found -with a couple of days of delay- Rubigem is from Mars, Apt-get is from Venus, in Pelle's weblog. And no, I have not yet read the huge amount of comments generated from it... Still, I replied with the following text - And I am leaving this blog post in place to remind me to further extend my opinions later on.
Wow... Quite a bit of comments. And yes, given that the author wrote a (very well phrased and balanced) post, I feel obliged to reply. But given that he refered to me first, I'll just skip the chatter for later - I'm tired this time of day ;-)
Pelle, I agree with you - This problem is because we are from two very different mindsets. I have already said so - http://www.gwolf.org/soft/debian+rails is a witness to that point.
But I do not think the divide is between sysadmins and developers. I am a developer that grew from the sysadmin stance, but that's not AFAICT that much the fact in Debian.
Thing is, in a distribution, we try to cater for common users. I have a couple of Rails apps under development that I expect to be able to package for Debian, and I think can be very useful for the general public.
Now, how is the user experience when you install a desktop application, in whatever language/framework it is written? You don't care what the platform is - you care that it integrates nicely with your environment. Yes, the webapp arena is a bit more difficult - but we have achieved quite a bit of advance in that way. Feel like using a PHP webapp? Just install it, and it's there. A Python webapp? Same thing. A Perl webapp? As long as you don't do some black magic (and that's one of the main factors that motivated me away from mod_perl), the same: Just ask apt-get to install it and you are set.
But... What about installing a Rails application? From a package manager? For a user who does not really care about what design philosophy you followed, who might not even know what a MVC pattern is?
Thing is, distributions aim at _users_. And yes, I have gradually adopted a user's point of view. I very seldom install anything not available as a .deb - and if I do, I try to keep it clean enough so I can package it for my personal use later on.
Anyway... I will post a copy of this message in my blog (http://gwolf.org/), partly as a reminder to come back here and read the rest of the buzz. And to go to the other post referenced here. And, of course, I invite other people involved in Ruby and Debian to continue sharing this - I am sure I am not the only person (or, in more fairness, that Debian's pkg-ruby-extras team is not the only team) interested in bridging this huge divide and get to a point we can interact better - And I am sure that among the Rubyists many people will also value having their code usable by non-developers as well.

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Remember, remember, the 20th of November...

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 11/20/2008 - 22:35

This might be a good message to write in Spanish... But then again, a long time ago I decided this is an English-posting site. So be it, I'll only have to give more background information.
This day marks the date when, 98 years ago, Francisco I. Madero started the Mexican Revolution - About a decade of unrest, civil war and ideologies. The revolution is what created the violent, uncivil image of the Mexican, which accompanied us for long years in many foreigners' minds. The revolution brought to an end 30 years of a single-man rule, the Porfiriato. But that's only the major symptom - The Revolution had many, many other consequences. About one million (out of a 10 million population) people died. There was a very significative rearrangement of the society, a rearrangement that took about half a century to settle. But I won't write more background - You can always ask the wikipedia about our Revolution.
The reason I am posting this is that, as it usually happens in this time of year, several so-called analysts in the media have started asking, was the Revolution really worth it? Did it change anything at all? Did the Revolution in the end win, or was it defeated from within? Should we still celebrate it?
And there are, yes, reasons to doubt it. Renato Leduc, at the same time a great journalist and a delicious poet, says it as many - while at the same time, as nobody else: Tiempos en que era Dios omnipotente / y el señor Don Porfirio presidente / Tiempos, ¡ay! tan iguales al presente, or ya se están muriendo todos / ¡Jesús qué desilusión...! / se está volviendo gobierno / ¡Ay dios...! La revolución.
Anyway... Our media overlords insist on us forgetting the struggles and the real changes that came from them, on rewriting the history... Probably they will push us later on to have the cristeros as the real fathers of the Nation?
Even if so many bits of reality didn't change after Porfirio Diaz's regime fell in 1910, I find it insulting to think that even 70 years of PRI -with very sharp differences between periods, with huge differences between the PRI-born governments- are comparable to 30 years of a one-man rule; even with brutal repressions such as the dirty war against so many subversive movements in the 50s-80s (as officially There Was No Armed Struggle Anymore, just some pesky communist subversives), it cannot be compared to the Porfirian Peace (ask Cananea and Río Blanco). Today we might have a shameful concentration of money and power in very few hands (including the world's richest man), but it certainly does not reach the point of 1910 where most of the Mexican soil was owned by less than 30 families, with latifundios as big as many states...
Anyway - So far, nothing new - just bits I heard here and there, and my reactions to them. But this morning, around 8:25, I tuned in to Noticias IMER, the news program of one of the few public, non-gubernamental, independent radio stations. An interview was under way, but I could not get the interviewed person's name (I guess, a historian - will write to ask for his data). His comments were very interesting, and very worth echoing. I'll try not to distort him.
The Revolution started off very organized, and with a very simple goal: Get Porfirio Diaz out, and call for real federal elections. Sufragio efectivo, no reelección. Of course, the fight was very short, and Madero became the president, with an overwhelming majority. Of course, also, the reactionary sectors set up a coup and killed Madero. Victoriano Huerta seized the power - and that's where the real revolution really began. Groups all over the country (some of which were at unrest since Madero, as they were not seeing the changes they needed - changes that would bring an end to the huge class differences and disrespect to the native Mexican population) rose in arms, and forced Huerta into exile. Then, they battled each other for many more years. It became known as la bola - When somebody joined the revolutionary forces, people said he went to fight with the crowd. But, inside the crowd, there were very different points of view. No, Carranza, Villa and Zapata (the foremost leaders in the hardest part of the fight) were not power-hungry barbarians - much to the contrary. They had very full, very complex views of the problem and possible solutions. I won't delve much into them, also, as I'm not an expert...
Villa and Zapata had the most compatible approaches, seeking an aggresive land redistribution, a communal property system (closest to most of the indigenous population's roots, what we would now call usos y costumbres). For the government, both favored going towards a Europe-like parliamentary system, where the parliament were the real force, and the president (or prime minister or whatever) would only be the designated person to implement the parliament's decision. Both Villa and Zapata feared the evil stemming from the unlimited power that the Presidential Chair symbolized (Fui soldado de Francisco Villa / de aquel hombre de fama mundial, / que aunque estuvo sentado en la silla / no envidiaba la presidencial). They met at the Aguascalientes convention, and were quite close to each other - but were defeated by the superior Venustiano Carranza (Constitucionalista) army.
Carranza, although vilified for his corruption (nowadays, carrancear is still a synonim for stealing), had an opposite view - also originating from a very deep analysis. Carranza saw that what brought down Madero was, in the end, the lack of power of the President to rule the country without support from the legislative power. So, he pushed a political program making the President the strongest man in Mexico. He and his people wrote and passed the 1917 Constitution, valid today. This constitution goes to great lengths pushing revolutionary ideals - Land and wealth redistribution, universal and free education, keeps a complete separation between state and church, ensures state control over strategic areas... The 1917 constitution is one of our history's greatest achievements.
But, of course, it is not perfect - it paved the way for a hegemonic party controlling the real power behind it all. PRI started as a very heterogeneous mixture of the whole revolutionary family, but slowly became a bureaucratic, stagnated monolith.
And in a somehow ironic twist of destiny, the forces that today push for deepest changes, and precisely in the same direction that Villa and Zapata wished, are... Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) and Frente Popular Francisco Villa (FPFV). EZLN is far more successful and advanced in its social experiment. Again, I won't comment further in what I don't really understand.
As a last point, the commenter I'm quoting (and whose name I must get, to update this post!), said that practically in every country that has transited from any sort of dictatorship towards a more-or-less believable democracy (say, everywhere in South America, or Spain, or Eastern Europe, or...), one of the first steps has been to update or replace the constitution with a new one, preventing the mistakes overlooked by the previous one from being reinstated. In our country, we have long heard about the "Reforma del Estado", a very nice-sounding-term which nobody believes in. After the 2006 electoral mess (no matter who won in the end, everybody will agree it was a mess that should be prevented from happening again, we had high hopes of real changes being introduced. A parliamentary, or at least semi-presidentialist regime was strongly suggested as a way forward. Changing the electoral system towards having second-rounds if needed. _anything!_ But no, we were stuck with... The same as always.
So, did the Revolution win or lose? It is clear to me. It won, and it really shaped -for better- what would happen in the next 100 years. However, in a century, we have been able to twist the law to make it turn against itself. I have to agree with my EZLN-minded friends (I sympathize with EZLN's general goals, but don't think its way forward is the right way to go): Pushing the change from within the government is just wishful thinking, but a strong delusion. However, is there a way to push our country forward without repeating a violent cycle? I really hope so. Our current situation is simply pathetic.
I lack a good closing for this post... So I'll let good old Jefe Pluma Blanca, Renato Leduc, do it for me.
Tiempos de Pancho Villa
y de la guerra de mentadas y tiros en la sierra.
Tiempos de fe
no en Dios sino en la tierra

Por el cerro de la Pila
fueron entrando a Torreón
mi general Pancho Villa
y atrás la revolución...
¡Ay jijos...! ya se nos hizo
cuánto diablo bigotón...

Ya viene Toribio Ortega
subiendo y bajando cerros
y no te enredes ni engañes
que ahí anda Pablito Seáñez
haciendo ladrar los perros.

¡Cuánto usurero barbón...!
¡Ay jijos... cómo les vuela
de la levita el faldón...!
¡Ay jijos... ya se nos hizo:
triunfó la revolución...!

Tenemos camino andado...
No hay que juntarse con rotos
siempre te juegan traición
ya Madero está vengado
ya murió la usurpación.

En su caballo retinto
llegó Emiliano Zapata
bonita su silla charra
y sus botones de plata
pero mucho más bonito
su famoso Plan de Ayala...

Este gallo es de navaja
y no es gallo de espolón
si quieres tierra trabaja
trabaja no seas huevón...

Ya llegó don Venustiano
con sus anteojos oscuros
y Villa y Zapata gritan:
No sé que tengo en los ojos...
porque ya en Pablo González
se vislumbra la traición
¡Ay reata no te revientes
que es el último jalón...!

ya se están muriendo todos
¡Jesús qué desilusión...!
se está volviendo gobierno
¡Ay dios...! La revolución.

( categories: )

Free Software and the Democratic Construction of the Society

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 10/24/2008 - 23:52

Last Wednesday I went for the first time in many years to FES Iztacala, the UNAM faculty where I worked for four years (1999-2003) and where I have most learnt and advanced in my career so far. I have a very special spot in my heart for Iztacala :-)
But it was not just a nostalgy drive - In no small part, I had not visited Iztacala -despite several invitations- because... It is really far away, in Tlalnepantla, Northern Mexico City (while I live in the South, just by UNAM). It takes me approximately 1.5 hours to get there via public transportation, and I would not venture less than 1 hour travel time by car. So... Having nothing to lose, I decided to go by bike - you can look at my route to get there (OpenStreetMap, SportsTracker) and safely back home (OpenStreetMap, SportsTracker). Some people I have talked with think it was a crazy thing to do - No, I don't feel that, by a long shot. A 26Km ride in slightly under two hours, and back. People insist on thinking that biking in such a large and chaotic city as Mexico is unsafe, dangerous, suicidal... I deeply disagree. Cycling is fun and got me to my destination in almost the same time I would have made by bus. And no, I would not buy four liters of gasoline just to cross my city.
Anyway, I am also happy about the reason that actually got me to go to Iztacala - I submitted a talk+paper I prepared together with Alejandro Miranda to Congreso Internacional Software Libre y Democratización del Conocimiento organized by Universidad Politécnica Salesiana in Quito, Ecuador. This conference is quite different to those I am used to, as it is quite more formal and academic; it is mainly targetted at social scientists working on understanding our movement. We prepared a talk called Software Libre y la Construcción Democrática de la Sociedad - which was accepted, to my amazement.
Neither Alejandro nor I were unable to travel to Ecuador to give the talk, so we arranged to present it via a videoconference call - Which was based on Iztacala. A nice session, although quite different to what I am used to. Our presentation was on a panel setting, under the global Ethical and political dimensions in the Free Software culture, with 20 minutes to present the topic (I am used to preparing one- or two-hour talks), and it was frankly rushed... We "met" with some friends (or were able at least to greet them shortly after the talk) who attended live to the conference, and... Well, all in all, it was one of those good, interesting experiences I would surely repeat. And besides, I have several things pending to show off about my current work to my Iztacalan fellows ;-)

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