Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Total Fertility Rate Vs GDP per capita

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Violent Video Games banned in Venezuela

I have been silent for a long time, busy with lots of stuff. Finally I finished my thesis, doing much more than anybody expected, my start up got some funding and developed a prototype device (more about that on another post). Life has been hectic, but despite that, I have found the time to write about the terrible situation that is going on here in Venezuela. Fortunately, Xeni Jardin, from BoingBoing, agreed to publish the following piece there, and it got a very good feedback.

Here it is the latest attack on our freedoms, an attack that to me is extremely painful and personal. I vow to never, ever obey this law.

Last Thursday in Venezuela, a new law criminalizing "violent" video games and toys was approved by the National Assembly.

The law scapegoats gamers for the obscene levels of violence in our country (see below), and goes to extraordinary lengths to criminalize gaming, to the point of holding out long jail terms to people who buy the wrong kinds of games.

It's no joke. Last year, on a trip to the US, I was able to buy a Nintendo DS for my brother, and a puzzle game that deals with using weapons to defend the fish stock of penguins in Antarctica, Defendin' de Penguin. Early next year, when the law kicks in, bring such a game could land me in jail for 3 to 5 years, for importing forbidden violent games, as the penguins use snowball guns to ward off walruses, foxes (in Antarctica? OMG think of Biogeography!), polar bears and the Yeti.

The law is just the latest nail in the coffin of Venezuelans' right of dissent and broader civil liberties. A pitiful attempt to blame video games and toys for the widespread lethal violence in our country, instead of a defective judicial structure, systemic corruption and governmental (purposeful?) ineptitude to deal with the problem.

I am 26 years old. Ever since I can remember Venezuela has been a very dangerous place. Every year the body count seemed to climb higher than the previous year. Being on the streets after dark, especially in the big cities, became a little bit more dangerous with each passing year, no matter who was in power or how high prices for our oil rose.

I believed it was just a fact of life. Then, ten years ago, Hugo Chávez came to power promising change at every level, promising a new, less corrupt, wealthier, safer society. Most of my friends and family voted for him, to register their contempt for our traditional politicians, because they wanted justice and a decent country.

Ten years later, we are indeed wealthier, thanks to a feverish oil boom, but the country's also falling deeper into debt, issuing bonds and getting loans even from the despised Capitalist tool that is the IMF, and printing money like there's no tomorrow, while our electric system collapses, many staples are hard to find on store shelves, our hospitals are rotting and corruption and crime are still getting worse.

The official position is that crime is a byproduct of poverty and inequality. The official numbers say that poverty and inequality have decreased dramatically so, how is it possible that today we have one of the worst crime rates in the entire world? Our murder rates are among the top five in the world. Barinas, the rural State where Chávez is from and where his brother is governor, has the highest kidnapping rate in the world. (The governor's reply? People are kidnapping themselves to make the government look bad.) And if you live in Caracas today, you are at substantially higher risk of meeting a violent death than if you live in Iraq these days.

One thing is clear: either crime is not caused merely by poverty and inequality, as the murder rates in Bangladesh seem to confirm, or the government has not reduced poverty and inequality as much as it claims (as a glance to the barrios of Caracas seems to confirm). Or perhaps both.

Either way, the government has proven grossly incompetent at protecting its citizens. The pseudo-socialist clique that governs us plainly cares much more about protecting its own members. Recent press reports show that more cops in Caracas are devoted to protecting politicians and their families as body guards than to roaming the streets, and let's not even talk about crimes carried out by the police. Amid all this, the authorities seem to spend what limited resources are at the justice system's disposal on criminalizing dissent.

Venezuelan chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega has repeatedly argued that having the wrong opinion (a.k.a. "publishing information that may destabilize the government" or "causing a perception of impunity through the press") should be made a crime punishable with 10 years in jail. After recent protests, she has put student protesters in our worse jails because they spray-painted walls, and detained dozens labor movement protestors without trial for months on end for what amount to political crimes.

While Venezuela burns, our authorities are busy criminalizing those who protest, rather than those setting the fires.

Let's put this in perspective. Last year, we had almost 14,000 deaths due to crime, out of a population of about 27 million people. Let's round it up to 28 million, and make some calculations: If Bangladesh had our murder rate, there would be 125,000 murder victims there every year, if the US had our murder rate, we would be talking about 150,000 deaths due to crime, if Japan had our problem, there would be 60000 Japanese dead due to crime every time our pretty planet goes around the sun. If China and India had our levels of violence, we would get rid of 1,100,000 people every year.

The numbers of death due to violence do not seem so big in Venezuela due to our smallish population, but this a serious problem that is only getting worse after almost 11 years of Bolivarian rule. The number of people mugged, assaulted and robbed are much greater than that. Some relatives of mine have been shot and stabbed, most of my friends have been robbed at least once, and I had to jump from a bus in motion to avoid being robbed a month ago, in Mérida, where I live, a university town that not so long ago used to be relatively safe. In Valera, where my parents live, it is unwise to go out after 9 in the streets, and after 8:30, it gets really difficult to find public transportation.

So, will the government correct its strategy, accept that we have a huge problem that has to be solved ASAP and will follow its rhetoric and work along the communities to tackle crime (Death penalty and traditional top-down approaches won't work)?

No. Instead, it will blame the gamers for the problem.

Yes, we are to blame, because we cannot tell fantasy from reality and because video games make us violent, morons who will throw people out of cars just like in Grand Theft Auto and kill them, because even though games come with ratings, just like movies, I, an adult citizen, cannot be trusted to use them wisely.

This law makes selling video games to anybody actually worse than giving real guns or cigarettes to a minor, or even forcing him or her to work, as you get less jail time and lower fines if you do any of those things.

I have to be protected from them, so I don't go into a killing spree. (If I were so impressionable, I would not be writing this, I would have swallowed completely the huge amount of propaganda they feed to us). Our Parliament, instead of addressing our real needs, behaves like the bunch of escapist, authoritarian demagogues they are, imposing their decrees on us, because they are know they are right, and those of us who dissent, surely are rich elitist bastards who hate the poor, traitors who hate Venezuela and work for sinister, evil and shady foreign powers (If you follow American politics, this attitude should ring some alarms to you).

Surely a government that calls itself Socialist would have corrected a gross mistake by previous administrations: our marginal tax rate for the richest citizens is 34%, which is less than what the American marginal tax rate was when Bush gave tax cuts to Donald Trump and Warren Buffet. One would think that after ten years of Socialist government focused on the poor and against the evil rich, the fiercely egalitarian Venezuelan MPs would have found the time to increase the taxes of the hated rich to the same level of such boring, bland, flavorless, countries as Finland, New Zealand, Sweden or Canada.

Instead, they have been too busy forbidding video games, porn (2 to 6 years in jail for filming porn, as it goes against "good customs" and family) and human genetic engineering (The law is written in such an imprecise language than creating Human Recombinant Insulin could lead me to jail), while our president befriends murderers, genocides, golpistas (coup makers, like Gambia's president Yahya Jammeh), and tyrants and giving them replicas of the sword of Bolívar, The Liberator.

Our president also claims that despite shutting down 34 opposition radio stations based on administrative technicalities, despite the constant harassment of dissident cable stations, and criminalizing of protests, this is the country with most Freedom of Speech in the whole world, the same thing that Silvio Scumbag Berlusconi said about Italy and pretty much what American jingoists, immune to facts love to say, "America is the Freest Country in The World", despite America's sickening incarceration rates and its aversion to cognitive liberty.

Venezuelan authorities' record on cognitive freedom is also laughable, with our authorities making wild claims about super marijuana (provided by the evil Colombians) that causes Alzheimer, and banning Family Guy from the air because it promotes the evil liberal American attitudes to drugs.

Most likely, not that many people will end up in jail due to the anti-gaming law. But it could easily be used to coerce, to extort and to pressure people who find themselves on the revolution's shit list, to make you feel powerless, like a criminal, to make you ashamed and scared.

Laws here get enforced selectively, but when the government issues so many laws criminalizing so many behaviours, sooner or later you are going to break one, so you better be well behaved and, above all, you better not criticize the powerful. If you do, they'll go through your hobbies... and when they do, they're bound to find something they can use against you.

Another possibilities is that they may be trying to target cybercafés and Internet services for those who lack net connection at home, as Counter Strike and other on-line games are a big source of revenues for cybercafés. In any case, even if individuals don't go to jail, stores won't sell games anymore.

Whichever explanation you favor, what we have here is just another brick in the wall, another piece of a strategy to slowly but surely build a legal wall against political dissent, even as our society goes to the dogs.

This situation is painful to behold. Even if I barely game at all these days, I am a gamer at neocortex. I spent countless hours solving puzzles, riddles and fighting monsters in dungeons. I rescued Toadstool many times, only to be told that thanks, but my Princess was in another castle, later I joined Link and rescued Zelda from Agahnim and Ganon, using the Master Sword and the Silver Arrows. I got the Zantetsu sword and cut metal, I summoned Ifrit, Odeen and Behemoth. From Dragoon, I became a Paladin. I sneaked on Big Boss' fortress in Zanzibar and stopped doomsday with Solid Snake. I fought along a Double Dragon trapped on a Final Fight, using my Killer Instinct in a Mortal Kombat in which only the greatest Street Fighter would come alive. I was Linked to the Past by a Chrono Trigger, my Soul Blazing, as I lived my Final Fantasies, Wandering from Ys, arriving to a Lagoon, to learn about the Secret of Mana, and finally understood that there is Ever More to life.

These games are a cherished part of my life, they helped to shape my young mind, they gave me challenges and vastly improved my English, opening the door to a whole new world of literature, music and people from all around the world. What I have achieved, all my research, how I have been able to travel even though I'm always broke, the hard work I've done to convince people to fund a start up for cheap biotech for developing countries and regular folks, none of that would have been possible hadn't I learned English through video games.

Now, thanks to the tiny horizons of the cast of morons who govern me, thanks to the stupidity and ham-fisted authoritarianism of the local authorities, so beloved of so many liberals, my 7 year old brother's chances to do the same could be greatly impacted.

Even if my parents could afford to buy a NES or a SNES when the times were good for us, we could not afford to buy games, so I played Mario a lot. I used to go to game parlors and play, made friends there, speaking not only about swords and crystals, combo breakers and special attacks, but also about AI, the future and technology, about that mysterious thing called the Internet (I met a girl who tried Compuserve!) and about nuclear war.

Fifteen years later, my little brother lives in a world where the scarcity of games can be bypassed with the right tools, where mod chips and special cards allow him to emulate really old games on newer devices, where he needs to learn the basics about hacking if he wants to fully use his Nintendo DS.

Yesterday I was explaining to my little brother how any computer could in theory, emulate another computer, and how that made it possible to play really old games (Older than him!) on his DS. I was explaining what a terminal window and a program were and how I converted videos to a format that his DS can understand. And he was thrilled, his eyes lit with pleasure, technology was a bridge that got us closer. If we blindly follow the copyright and video game forbidding laws, we won't be able to do this anymore, and he will stop learning as much as he could gaming and hacking, finding his way to talk to machines to get them to do what he needs.

But I won't obey, I will be an outlaw gamer, and I vow to teach him as much as I can and as much as he is willing to learn, as early as possible. I refuse to give up my rights to a government that is commanded by Vuitton clad jerks asking sacrifices from us, I refuse to stop gaming because a bunch of control freaks tell me that I will become a killer and that the wonderful games that enriched my childhood are psycho factories.

If I get fined for writing this (Article 13, promoting the use of violent videogames), so be it. If I go to jail because I carry roms in my hard drive or in an R4 card for my brother, next time I return to the country, so be it. But I'd rather go to jail than betray the gamer culture, partially responsible for making me the person I am today.

Enough is enough, and I am fed with this government of morons, pretending to be socialist while living a luxurious lifestyle, paying very little taxes and plundering our oil money. This is a travesty, a pacifist government who gets loans from Russia to buy rifles, tanks and missiles, whose official motto is "Fatherland, Socialism or Death", whose leader calls other people subhuman, and constantly speaks about war. A socialist system that offers lower taxes than Bush for the rich people, that gives no-bid contracts to Chevron Texaco, a progressive govt. spreading lies about marijuana and promoting a new law that requires education on breastfeeding for our girls, but no education on reproductive freedoms, a system that promotes sovereignty and dignity micromanaging my life and telling what I have to do, what I cannot do and stepping on my rights to mind my business as long as I do not harm anybody else.

The only thing more puzzling to me than liberals being eager of supporting this, is that social conservatives hate him despite his strong family values, opposition against vice and low taxes for the rich.

Now, that games have been outlawed, I am an outlaw, but there is hope. My brother is learning that sometimes being an outlaw is the right thing to do, that some laws are not fair and must be opposed and that breaking the law does not makes you a bad person.

That is a hard thing to explain to a seven year old, but now he understands it really well. I do not know if he will ever become a hacker, but he is already a rebel and a happy mutant.

More links about the situation in Venezuela:

Caracas Chronicles

The Devil's Excrement


El Libertario (In Spanish, Anarchist News)

Radar De Los Barrios (In Spanish, complains from the people living in the slums)

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

On the effect of patriotic propaganda

A study released recently compared the attitude of people to cultural differences before and after listening to patriotic music and found that:

"(...) preliminary findings showed that the patriotic songs had a negative effect on the participants, as shown through their responses to the survey's questions about other cultures and diversity. The patriotic songs made the participants close-minded and prejudiced.

"Once they were in a patriotic point of view, they were less empathetic," Alvarado said. "They didn't put themselves in other people's perspective."

Interesting analysis of the effects of propaganda, however, I am a bit skeptical that a single song in a controlled environment can do that much.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Princess Hijab and the complexity of cultural remixes

I think my brain melted a bit trying to understand and react in a coherent way to Princess Hijab.

She is a guerrilla artist/protester/ad buster that 'hijabizes' advertisement. She, a self defined 'insomniac punk' claims not to be a Muslim and do what she does just for the sake of artistic expression. And I am torn here, as I think that the burqa is hideous, demeaning, a symbol of male oppression. But, I can see also how it can be a part of one's identity, a definition of self, an act of provocation, rather than an imposition. I do not approve it, but in no sane society should women dress according to my or any man's thoughts.

The French government wants to forbid the burqa, and even if I would like to see that, I cannot support such measure in good conscience, it should not be state's business to tell people what they cannot wear. Why don't they actually ask to the women that wear burqas why do they do it? Coercion is not the solution here, I am afraid. Which one is it? I am not sure, but if somebody finds happiness inside a burqa, who am I (o Sarkozy or De Gaulle) to oppose to that?

Meanwhile, Princess Hijab is there, mocking us, protesting, calling our attention and making us reflect on our internal contradictions, transgressing the boundaries of cultures, mixing them, defying our preconceptions and clear-cut opinions. I am not sure whether she is beautiful, but what she does is. Go on, beautiful provocateur, épater la bourgeoisie.

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Saturday, June 6, 2009


I just finished a consultancy that paid nicely. And about to finish the Neverending Thesis, I will start paid work in July. Finally I can say I am economically independent. It took a long time and several attempts, but I am glad I did it finally, thanks to my efforts. Things might change, but I can live for a few months without fear.

Thanks, mamá. You have always believed in me, even more than I have. Thanks to all the friends that so many times supported me, bought me lunch and gave me advice. Without them, I would not be here, at the beginning of a new, unknown, but exciting path.

And yes, I am not a patriot, but the song suits my mood right now, my own mind nation of my own. Time to start the foundations of the First Distributed Republic?

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Missing Picture: Chávez and Vargas Llosa

I corrected Chávez' picture from the ISHR campaign to represent what happened yesterday.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hilarious Campaign: Powerful men afraid of (computer) mice

Satire is a powerful force, indeed:

This campaign was created for the International Society for Human Rights, a very deserved mock to such powerful rulers who are so afraid of letting other dissent. They have made another against Chávez, but I do not put it here, since I do not think that Chávez' abuses related to the Internet are in the same league (not yet? He is getting his paws on cable TV now) than the ones made by these two jerks. However, you can find them here.

However, Sarkozy and some functionaries from the Australian government besides Colom from Guatemala should be mocked like that or worse.

Hat tip to Alberto de Francisco.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Are you a dick? Musings on El Vergatario

I started to read this comment about the so called 'Penis Phone' and I decided to write a post about it, since the translation is not really good.

In Venezuela, when a person is vergatario/a it means he or she is astounding, impressive, qualified. In a different way than English, to be called un güevo or un pipe does not means you are a dick, it means you are a highly skilled person. When I was a child, playing Mario and watching others go through the most difficult levels, it came natural to say to the player !Eres un güevo¡ literally: You are a dick! So the 'penis phone' is not only a non accurate translation, it lacks the context to transmite that here, to be called a male reproductive organ is a good thing (Being called a dickhead, however, is still an insult).

A mixed capital company, Chinese-Venezuelan, designed and built the thing, supposedly the cheapest cellphone in the world, even if I do not believe it, such thing would be in China, not here, but it has MP3 and WAP. I have bought cheaper stuff in the US (no MP3 or WAP, however).

That is one of the amazing things going on these days here, sadly, at the same time with all the crap. For a futurist, these are exciting times, the interaction of developing societies and technology is fascinating to witness, like street peddlers selling 8 Gigabytes flash drives in Cúcuta, the Colombian town across the border.

But, be warned, John Varley already made a prophecy:

'In five years the penis will become obsolete'

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Exchange rate

I messed my numbers in a flame war about Venezuela this morning at BoingBoing. I claimed my grad salary would be less than a dollar daily, at black market rate (which shall remain unnamed here). Is much more than that, closer to 4 dollars daily. I counted only what would have left after paying the rent and picked up a wrong number for the rate.

I apologize for messing the numbers, and since the post was closed, I write it here. However, it does not change the nature of my argument.

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Monday, May 11, 2009


Chávez dixit:
"Wealthy people are not humans, they are animals, animals with human shape."

I am not rich, not at all.
But I have never seen in all human history, a situation where the government or authority claim that some people are not human ending without a blood bath.

I feel sick, sad, broken in the inside.

Because being rich is evil.
To be rich, er, go on accumulating wealth
And land, look
"I am the Lord of the prairie"(dramatizing)
duh, you are a poor imbecile (jerk?)
Even more so, you are not a man
You are not human!
The rich is not human
I say so
And I respond for it
The rich is not human at all!
He is an animal with human shape
He is an animal with human shape!
Now, if a rich now stands up and says
"Chávez is offending me"
well, OK (shrugs)
feel offended
Now, you want to be human?
That's why Christ said what he said (pointing finger to man's chest)
because Christ went to talk to him

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Remixing My Past

A month ago, I had to return to my father's house due to shaky personal finances. Even if I had enough money to pay the rent, I could not pay anything else in Mérida, so, I returned to Valera for a bit.

My father got an offer to set Internet service, even if we live in a semi rural area, so I could do stuff online while way from Mérida. I taught him how to use the computer, set an e mail account and use Google, look for stuff in MercadoLibre, our local e-bay clone, Facebook, and use Youtube. It was a long and difficult process, dad is from another time and it seems that concepts about UI that are second nature to me and instantly obvious, are much more abstract and difficult to grasp for him. Even the existence of search bars independent of Firefox's address bar seems to be confusing for him. Even more confusing was the fact that the same query in different websites gave different results.

Even if I complain bitterly about not being able to use a computer until I was 15 or so, and not having one of my own until I was 21, so, I could not learn to code while I was a teenager, I am very lucky to have learnt the basic while I still had plenty of neural plasticity, as the process is not easy to learn if you are not used to.

Classes were getting difficult, as the Internet seemed to be too abstract and alien to him. However, once he realized that he could look for pretty much anything in Youtube, he started to get better, and be browsing because he wanted to, rather than because he had to. He cried watching old videos, of the music that my grandmother used to listen to.

He was mesmerized, enjoying music he thought lost forever, astounded by its immediate availability (and annoyed by the slowness of the connection, thank you CANTV!). And the, suddenly, it was like living my childhood again, disordered, as he was going through scores of songs that I listened when I was a kid, over the years, music that now I do not like, but also music that has been with me since then. Salsa, Venezuelan rock, llanera music, bolero, Cat Stevens, Pink Floyd, The Eagles, Cazador Novato, everything was there, and we kept leaping from video to video, commenting the years in which we listened to it, saying things like “it was before 1990, because your brother hadn't born yet” or “no way it is from from 1989, I remember that song when I was 4, so it's at least 87” or “I remember that song when I was 7/ I danced it when I was younger than you are” . Music made us closer, as we hadn't been in years. And thanks not only to a corporation, but to thousands of users uploading their content, their precious jewels stored in tapes during the years, until the time came for that information to be free.

The memories our sessions brought were bittersweet and nonlinear. I could be listening something that reminded me of a road trip when I was 5, and then another song 10 years later and then another one that was popular when I was 8. In that noncontiguous trip to our memories we went through an emotional roller coaster, talking to each other, comparing our feelings, healing our wounds, opening old ones and realizing how futile arguments are, for even if we remained strained there is nothing we can do to erase our common past, that is going to die with us. And both of us may not die in a very long time; he is only 49, so even without surprises in healthcare, he is likely to be with us at least 25 years, and if we have surprises and I can afford them for him, he might live until the 23 years of extra experience he has are a trivial difference, so it would be a heavy burden to carry on (OK, with the murder rate in Venezuela being what is, I could die before 5 years). Many of the mysteries of my childhood were solved with our conversations, and using Facebook we saw what had become of some people we met back then, their children, their achievements, the ever writing story of people growing, reproducing, but now sharing with us all those small treasures, the smiles and first steps, their little joys and sorrows, so shallow in 2d, zeroes, ones and 16 million colors, yet so powerful.

Sadly, I realized that even if we became as close as we hadn't been since I was 8 years old, there is still a vast valley among us, and that even if I wanted, I could not go back home without turning home in something completely different. I cannot share their way of life anymore, only tolerate it for brief periods, I am different now, even if the sirens sing and call me home. Even if dad smiles and I see myself smiling in his features, and calls me home, I just can't go back.

The great voice of Cat Stevens (aka Yusuf Islam) sung this before I was born, better than I can explain with my clumsy words:

Its not time to make a change,

Just sit down, take it slowly.

You're still young, thats your fault,

Theres so much you have to go through.

Find your girl, settle down,

If you want you can marry.

Look at me, I am old, but I'm happy.


All the times that I cried, keeping all the things I knew inside,

It is hard, but it's harder to ignore it.

If they were right, I'd agree, but it's them, they know not me.

Now there's a way and I know that I have to go away.

I know, I have to go.

Cat Stevens, Father and Son, 1970

It does not matter if I can't go back. Now he is on my Gmail address book and I will be able to Skype him once he learns how to use it. We can stay in touch and I certainly will return soon. Maybe eventually I will leave this country, but now my father is also globally connected.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Hedy Lamarr and her exciting career

Today we celebrate the Ada Lovelace Day. Lovelace, Mother of Programming, she was an English aristocrat who wrote instructions for Charles Babbage's Analytical machine. Today we celebrate the women in science. so I will blog about the most recent and surprising case I came across: Hedy Lamarr.

Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, in Vienna, besides being a movie star, she had a very interesting life, she created the "Frequency Hoping" method to direct missiles during World War II, but it wasn't until much later that her concept was employed. Her adventures during the pre war time, running away from his husband, an arms dealer that worked with Hitler and Mussolini despite being half Jewish would not be out of place in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon neither. But it's sad that this part of her life is not generally acknowledged, she is more remembered by her movies and beauty.

I came across her intellectual feat reading Greg Egan's Dark Integers, where he mentions a communication technique called Hedy Lamarr. It tickled my curiosity and thanks to the advantages of this hyperlinked world of today, I grasped a bit of Lamarr's life that might not be as glamorous as the rest, but that to me is more exciting.

Even if Lamarr was an icon of classical femininity (after all, it was she who wrote: "Any girl can be glamorous, all she has to do is stand still and look stupid."), which is not the only possible choice of style and behaviour for a woman, she proves that no matter how stereotypically frivolous a person might look, what matter is what goes inside her or his head, not the silly projections we make. Fortunately, we live in times where women have increasingly the same opportunities than men, where social pressures are less overwhelming and where the expectations for women are changing, at least in some countries.

I hope that one day my sisters in Muslim countries will be able to say the same, to emulate Hedy Lamarr, in her artistic and technical achievements if they wish so.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Being a criminal, Aussie Style

The Australian Government seems to have a list of websites that will be banned as they depict child pornography, however, it seems that many of these websites are not related in any way to it:

...about half of the sites on the list are not related to child porn and include a slew of online poker sites, YouTube links, regular gay and straight porn sites, Wikipedia entries, euthanasia sites, websites of fringe religions such as satanic sites, fetish sites, Christian sites, the website of a tour operator and even a Queensland dentist.

And, as the list is secret, there are not established mechanisms to fight the decision of being included or even to know if one's website is there.

If linking to this list makes me a criminal in Australia, so be it. But I am not staying silent while the basic right of Freedom Speech is torn to pieces by obsessive governments. Child pornography is a very serious issue and should be fought, but this kind of crap does not help.

Instead of fighting us and upsetting us, why does not the Australian Govt. works with us?
I bet that a list of confirmed hosts of kiddie porn (not of dentists, Satan worshipers, masochists and travel agents) would attract the attention of lots of people (Including 4Chan) that would love to stop the bastards who abuse kids. Hell, I would learn myself how to contribute to a DDoS attack to stop such a thing. Despicable scum has been stopped before, and the DoS attack to Scientology was a thing to remember. It can be done, it will be done. Most of us here in this new territory are not evil people, perverted sadists who abuse children. Most of us are as disgusted and outraged as Australian politicians and we want to end the suffering. But censoring in an opaque way does not help.

It is time for governments to wake up and smell the coffee. You cannot stop us and you will fail if you try. You cannot control the Internet anymore, we are too many and our collective intelligence surpasses all your resources. If you want to stop this problem, many of us will be happy to help, use the power of crowds wisely.

Hat tip to BoingBoing.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

On taxes and growth

Tired of hearing the mantra about how good are tax cuts for the economy and people, I decided to try to find for myself with the available data if this was true or not. So, I decided to create a Gapminder graph to check possible correlations between Growth, Unemployment and the top marginal tax rate.

I cannot find definite trends, but it seems pretty obvious that high taxes do not kill the economy, neither tax cuts prevent unemployment.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Feasible nightmares

A friend sent me an ominous message, a link to a blog claiming that two of the biggest seed providers for amateur gardeners and farmers were going to be bought by Monsanto, the bête noire of the Organic movement, producer of most of the GM crops cultivated around the world.

Even if these rumors turned to be false, the acquisition of companies like this by the likes of Monsanto is not a far-fetched possibility considered only by people wearing tinfoil hats. One of our main problems is the uniformity of crops around the world. Monoculture has homogenized varieties in almost every field in the world, despite the fact that conditions are not the same. Homogeneity makes plants vulnerable to blights in many different places, and as the same variety is sold almost everywhere, it causes less than optimal yields, as the plants are not selected for the specific weather and soil where it is being cultured, rather than to the environment where the variety was developed. A merging or acquisition of a big independent seed company by Monsanto or another humongous corporation would make our current situation even more fragile, as we would be left depending of very few big providers who could fail to deliver, as opposed to depend on networks of seed developers and farmers, a resilient network that can work if some hubs fail, as opposed to monopolistic approaches. If this happens, by the time Antitrust laws can be enforced, it might already be too late.

But reality seems to be stranger and scarier than fiction. We do not need Monsanto buying any company to lose our diversity and independence concerning seeds. A new law proposed by American congresswoman Rosa DeLauro would penalize heavily all those people who sow and harvest their own food with the excuse of “food safety”. As usual, in the name of an unattainable absolute security our liberties are eroded. I say “ours” even if I am not American because the American market is the main income source for many of these companies, so whatever happens there will affect us all.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

The Dream of the Kibbutz

A short piece on the achievements of the kibbutzim, the Israeli social community that proves that Socialism can really do well, thrive and create wealth. Kibbutzim are integral part of Israel and the key for a lot of it success. Sadly, many of the so called Progressive and leftists blindly criticize Israel, without looking this real victory of communitarism, self organizing and cooperation. Israel is not perfect and should not be given a free pass just because of the kibbutzim, but criticism should be more rational that "those damn evil Zionists beating poor Arabs", which is the most usual verssion.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Islam in Science Fiction

My good friend Muhammad Ahmad, from Pakistan, living in Minneapolis now, created a very interesting website about Islam and Science Fiction, where he reviews several Science Fiction books and stories that deal one way or another with Muslims and Islam.

Muhammad is one of the smartest people I have ever met and even if our encounter was brief, it was really enlightening, one that taught me a lot about Islam, Muslims and the relationship between them and emerging technologies.

Now Muhammad has edited A Mosque Among the Stars, an anthology about Islam and Science Fiction, which is available here. I haven't had the pleasure to read it yet, but this a project that I am deeply interested in. After all, in this era, we are globally connected and the future is our collective creation, progressive Muslims like Muhammad show us a very different aspect from Islam that we are used to, from the old stereotypes.

Our Muslim brothers and sisters are all around the world and I am happy that Muhammad and the ones like him are building all sort of weird and beautiful bridges for the dialog.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

One (more) reason to hate Condoleezza Rice

If you see the picture and you have no clue, this Wikipedia entry should do:

In 2008 American journalist Peter Maass called Obiang Africa's worst dictator, worse than Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

All but one member of the 100-seat national parliament belong to the PDGE or are aligned with it. The opposition is severely hampered by the lack of a free press as a vehicle for their views. Around 90% of all opposition politicians live in exile, 550 anti-Obiang activists have been jailed unfairly, and several killed since 1979.

In July 2003, state-operated radio declared Obiang to be a god who is "in permanent contact with the Almighty" and "can decide to kill without anyone calling him to account and without going to hell." He personally made similar comments in 1993. Despite these comments, he still states that he is a devout Catholic and was invited to the Vatican by John Paul II and again by Benedict XVI. Macías had also proclaimed himself a god.[2]

Ms. Rice said that Obiang was "a good friend". I can believe that, after she belongs to a regime of tortures, law breakers, fear mongers, bible thumpers and enemies of freedom.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Prosthetic Dialog

Usually, I avoid discussing Venezuelan politics in this blog, not only because it is not related to the subject of this blog, but also because some of the things that happen here are hard to believe and the sources in English about it are scarce.

Most of the best resources to understand the Venezuelan situation are created and kept by grassroots activists, as opposed to media machines and think tanks that either support the government (and are sponsored by it many times) or are blatantly supportive of some of the worst elements of the Venezuelan opposition. So, many of the best points of view, against this government, but also against an unfair and corrupt system that existed before it (and that somewhat, keeps existing), are lost to the eyes of the foreign observer.

As I decided to stay here in Venezuela instead of going abroad, it is necessary for my sanity to try to ignore the political hullabaloo and focus in my work and life, try to be not too grumpy. But the current environment of arbitrariness, xenophobia and fascist violence is too much to endure while being silent. So, when Chavez decided to shut stores and schools to celebrate the anniversary of his ascent to presidency, at first I felt broken, devastated for such abuse of power, for realizing how much power a damn politician has, no questions asked by his servants, and horrified for seeing how much more he intends to take. Then I decided that to get the opposition appalled and depressed, feeling powerless is exactly the aim of such displays of power.

I wrote a brief summary of the situation and sent it to BoingBoing, if I cannot do anything about this, at least I can try to be listened to. As much of the crowd that hangs there are progressive and left wingers, I tried to explain my feelings and give hard data about the situation, to wash a bit the somehow understandable affair of so many progressive people with this tyrant that is the Venezuelan president.

This time, unlike in previous years, I had a new, wonderful tool: Automated translations that do not suck that much! These translations are not perfect yet, but they are good enough for rough communication. When confronted with an apparent absence of sources, I decided to quote not only statistics that defy the official version, but also analysis from the Anarchist publication "El Libertario" and several other blogs and newspapers that not only describe what this land has become, but also reflect on the harm that Chavez does to true progressives, as right wingers in the future will use him as bogeyman to prevent any change. I could give a broader view thanks to these viewpoints, different from the aseptic news and propaganda from both sides, which are the texts that usually get translated. This grassroots efforts often lacks funds for translations, but with Google and its translations, I could overcome this, use an artificial translation to get my message across, use a neural prosthesis that lies outside my skull to deliver information to support the arguments that come from inside it.

This is another sign of this age where the ones that were oppressed now can talk. Having an Internet connection is not enough to send your message, if you do not speak the right language; A lot of people will ignore you and your voice will be silenced by the much more powerful voices of the ones with enough money to set up pretty websites and translated propaganda. But now, thanks to these rough translations, at least a bit of it can be understood and make others wonder if everything that the Big Brother says is true. Thanks to these new prostheses of the mind, a rudimentary dialog can be established and sometimes, as in my case, arguments can be enhanced and supported with local sources.

I am happy that technology keeps enabling people to be heard, sometimes in unexpected ways. The dispossessed might not remain silent for much longer, as computers drop their prices and automatic translation improves. But, will the world react to these distorted voices in pain?

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