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 ;-) )

Call centers, call recording and customer dissatisfaction → Fun anyone?

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 05/13/2011 - 13:46

While swearing at my bank's automated phone attention system, I was thinking that –taking advantage in the fact they already usually say that "the call will be recorded to improve service quality"– call center operators/programmers should record all user activity and, just for laughs, play back the grumbles angry users shout at the system. Of course, at random intervals, on loudspeakers, over the crowded call centers.

Oh, they do it already?

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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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I am going to DebConf11 — Banja Luka, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 05/05/2011 - 12:02

Yay!

I'm going to DebConf11 As others have started posting in Planet Debian, I'll do my part: Yesterday I finished booking our flights, so if everything goes as planned, Reg and me will be arriving to Zagreb (Croatia) at 21:30, Monday July 18, to take part of the 12th Debian development conference, DebConf11, in Banja Luka, Bosnia & Herzegovina!

Of course, reiterating this will never hurt: Do you want to support a global-scale, well-recognized, community-based Free Software project development? Be a sponsor for DebConf11!"

Be a sponsor for DebConf11!

Want some more DebConf11 banners and posters?

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Saving your back and hands from RSI and similar pain

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 04/05/2011 - 11:13

I took part in a occupational-health-related thread recently, and wrote a bit of my experience which might be helpful for my readers, many of them avid keyboard users, with usually ≥8hr of typing per day.

(…) I suffered not from RSI but from painful back aches. I started using standard keyboards in a different fashion, not putting so much stress on my wrists (and on the muscles connecting them to the rest of the body, of course): I exclusively use US keymaps (with some modifications to allow for proper Spanish input and ffŭₙṅý characters), but instead of making the middle row my fingers' home row, I type with the base position of my fingers in a V shape — Fingers resting on (approx.) w-e-f-v-spacebar and spacebar-m-l-;-]; the fingers doing most of the travelling are the index and middle, and with no straining for the little fingers to reach ` or backspace. On the other side, the most straining keys become Control and Shift, which requires closing the hands a bit too much, but are not that bad. My way does induce some new kind of stress, as my arms also have to move to reach 6 and 7, but it... Works for me™.

It looks weird and is somewhat strange to get used to, but I must say it has worked great for me. I work this way on regular and laptop keyboards, even on my netbook's noticeably smaller one.

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Lets go to Nicaragua, 2012!

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 03/22/2011 - 17:55

Ok, so finally it is official!

We just had the DebConf 12 decision meeting. We saw two great proposals, from the cities of Belo Horizonte, Brazil and Managua, Nicaragua.

If you are curious on the decision process: We held it over two IRC channels — The moderated #debconf-team channel, where only the five members of the decision committee (Marga Manterola, Andrew McMillan, Jeremiah Foster, Holger Levsen, Moray Allan) and two members from each of the bids (Marco Túlio Gontijo e Silva and Rafael Cunha de Almeida from Brazil; Leonardo Gómez and Eduardo Rosales from Nicaragua) had voices, and the open #dc12-discuss channel where we had an open discussion. Of course, you can get the full conversation logs in those links.

I have to thank and congratulate the Brazilian team as they did a great work... The decision was very tight. It was so tight, in fact, that towards the end of the winning all of the committee members were too shy to state the results - so I kidnapped the process by announcing the winner ;-) (I hope that does not cast a shadow of illegitimacy over it)

And, very much worth noting, both teams were also very professional: In previous years, we have seen such decisions degenerate into personal attacks and very ugly situations. That has always been painful and unfortunate. And although the Brazilians will not be able to go celebrate tonight, the decision was received with civility, knowing it was a decision among equals, and a decision well carried out.

Well, that's it — I am very much looking forward for that peculiar two weeks when the whole Debian family meets, this year to be held in Banja Luka, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and I am very eager towards meeting in 2012 in Managua, Nicaragua!

Yay!

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Writing limits blues v2

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 03/21/2011 - 20:26

Some years ago, I faced a 900 word limit for the first time. My question to the editor: Can I write the column in German?

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Writing limits blues

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 03/21/2011 - 20:24

People enjoy writing with Twitter's arbitrary 140 character limit. I suffer when I have to write a column with a 900 word limit. Limits suck.

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Starting work on KindleClip

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 03/18/2011 - 19:09
Starting work on KindleClip

Quite probably, the best thing got for myself during the last year was my Kindle. I just love it! It has changed the way I interact with knowledge, and saved me from hours of boredom.

But it has also taught me the value of scribbling along the book pages and of underlining passages. Yes, I hold a deep regard for my regular (paper) books, and I never scribble on them, not even on text books. In any case, I can scribble on a post-it or something like that.

Still, when you underline or comment on a passage in the Kindle, what can you do with your annotation? Well, not much. Annotations (called clippings in Kindlespeak) are stored on an easily accessible My Clippings.txt text file, very easy to parse and work with.

So, I devoted yesterday evening to coming up with a first prototype of an app that I think can be very useful if you use clippings extensively: It displays each clipping with its base information separately, allows you to filter on the specific book to which each clipping is related as well as on the clipping type.

So, if it interests you, clone it away from github!

git://github.com/gwolf/kindleclip.git

Written in Ruby, Gtk (Glade). No further libraries are (currently?) needed. The code is far from beautiful, but is a first stab towards functionality.

Any comments welcome!

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Finally presented that long-overdue exam!

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 02/23/2011 - 16:03
Finally presented that long-overdue exam!

What‽

Yes, I have not used this kind of outfit for over 20 years. And I hope it will be 20 more years before I do it again. But today, I was seen like this in public. Why?

Well, I won't explain the whole background yet again — I did it a bit over a month ago in this same space. Much much in short, I never attended university, so –after many years of working without any formal validation for my knowledge– I followed the CENEVAL Acuerdo 286 procedure to get a "Software Engineering" title and the corresponding cédula profesional.

Today I did the last portion of this procedure: Presenting an oral exam, defending the work I developed. Not precisely a thesis, but you can see it as an equivalent.

One of the requisites was to go on formal attire — Of course, I have some beautiful shirts I am very fond of, but I didn't want to risk it to such a detail, so I asked my friend and almost-neighbour Miguel Barajas to lend me the needed bits of clothing, and presented the exam.

Was it easy? No, not by a long shot. Did I pass? Yes!

Now, back to work!

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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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Tomatoes produced in Mexico

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 01/10/2011 - 00:08
Tomatoes produced in Mexico

So this is that misterious red type of produce known only to a certain US ex-vicepresident?

(seen at a Mexico City supermarket. Note that there was no label stating what the misterious thing was in Spanish)

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