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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