Freedom of Speech

Today I watched over the lunch with my co-workers the terrific video by June Arunga and produced by the BBC, "The Devils foothpath" which recounts the adventures of this Kenyan law student trying to travel from Egypt to South Africa through several countries of the continent. The video is excelent and my friend Brad saw it first and made an interesting review of it here where among other things recounts her stay here at Atlas. As I watched the video I realize how akward things are in Africa and how freedom of speech will bring them some sort of relief. Speaking with a fellow co-worker, he pointed me out to this article that appeared in MSNBC The Lifeline Radio Project by the Free Play foundation.

The idea of the project is basically that you can do a lot of good in Africa, specially in war thorn countries were communications are inexistant and infraestructure like electricity is years away. The idea as explained by the MSNBC article came:

In 1994, just as South Africa was emerging from the years of apartheid and forming its first democratically elected government, a colleague of Rory Stear saw a TV special featuring a wind–up radio.
In the spirit of the great hope and optimism at that time, Stear, a South African entrepreneur, and his colleague, Chris Staines, immediately saw the potential of a manually operated radio to spread information and education in sub-Saharan Africa and bought the rights to develop the technology.

The radio which gets the energy it needs from a hand cranked generator built into the radio can be also powered by solar cells. It also features 4 bands (FM, MW, SW1, SW2) and is built to resist a fall from a second floor. It's colors are bright and I guess they are choosen to appeal the kids, that according to the foundation, are the beneficiaries of the equipment.

I find the idea appealing and I will add my contribution here. If the idea is that freedom of speech to get news is behind all this project, why don't add also a simple feature to allow those radios to communicate with each other like walkie talkies do, to nearby ones. This will add another dimension to the radio that will not only allow people to be passive recipients of the broadcast but also to empower them to communicate with other fellow listeners and make their comments. In that way the radio will not only play a role in spreading information and news but allow other people to communicate easily and although is not a phone or a CB radio at least will allow them to use on a personal level to broadcast their own information and news. I guess that adding that functionality is not difficult or expensive and will have an impact like CB communication made on its time, and then later on, the internet and it's sub-products in particular like e-mail, Instant messaging and BLOGS like this.

I will really love this idea to be added to the radio, and since the organization that promote it is a non-profit one, I am not claiming any sort of intellectual property right on the idea, just recognition to the origin of it in case no one else came up with the idea before and it is found worth it by the makers of the radio.

Lazy Congressmen in Mexico

Thanks Eneas for this funny piece of news. A Mexican congressman affiliated with the Green party applied to participate in the newest edition of Big Brother Mexico.

The incredible and outrageous part of the story is not only that he is going to be absent from his duties for 3 months, but when asked about things that he will do or not do, he said that he will not get naked or have sex with other players for respect of his post dignity but he will probably get drunk because he is human. Just the idea of being there tells you that he is not doing much for his constituents besides circus for the people. I also find revealing of his moral character, the fact that he justifies not having sex on the basis of respect of his position as congressman and not out of respect for his wife (yes he is married!!).

On the other hand I have to admit that given the law creating fever in Latin America, congressmen (as well as executive members) should be severely limited in their functions and maybe even gather not round year but rather for shorts periods of time for absolutely essential matters. In other words the problem of Latin American governments is not the lack of laws but the excess of them and the sheer irrelevance that they bring because law is not simple.

A simple example will tell you the whole story. The US constitution has 7 articles and 27 ammendments. Some latin countries like mine, Ecuador has had 20 constitutions on a period of 174 years of life as an independant Republic. The number of ammendments is incredible if we count all of them together for each constitution. The current constitution has 284 articles that fill out a small book and was signed in 1998. The constitution norms out every possible aspect of life in Ecuador. You have to add to this numbers the incredible amount of laws out there that make impossible for the non-trained citizen to respect it or even know about it. No wonder constitutions are not regarded as important and besides the lawyers nobody knows what they have. The story goes on and on with every other Latin American country. You were asking yourself why Rule of Law does not work in Latin America, go to the laws and see for yourself?

Hernando de Soto did in the early 80's and interesting analysis "The Other Path" of why informality occurs in Peru. He found out that the problem was the excessive regulations that made virtually impossible to be a law abbiding citizen and bussinessmen in Peru. The same applies to every other country that is underdeveloped, see their number of laws and regulations, see their constitutions and you will be able to tell which ones are rich an which ones are poor or on way to become one (That is happening to some rich countries that are becoming increasingly regulated).


Problems closer to Home

In the last few days people in Metropolitan DC, especially in northern Virginia, have been worried about the news of gang violence preying the area. Altough the problem is not new it was always thought by people living in the suburbs (like me) that if we avoided the troublesome area (SE and NE DC) we were actually fairly safe from that violence.

It turns out by the last events, that the problem of gang violence is not new, has always been there, and police have been avoiding to mention it so the most wanted reason for this groups to engage in violence, fame, is not awarded to them.

Suspiciously the event that prompted all this news reports came out in the middle of crisis that most americans depict as one of grossest example of violence by terrorist activities in the middle east, the beheading of Nick Berg (I am not going to put any links here, I assume that everybody that reads knows about him. I find the whole Berg incident too grosse even mention it). The choppin off hands with a machete by Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) in Northern Virginia of a rival gang member has been in a sense a well calculated incident by gang leaders to attract national attention, and thus increase their wicked sense of pride for the fear caused.

The gang problem I think has 3 elements to consider. The first one and most obvious is the war on drugs and how the prohibition on drugs has created a huge delinquent market for this groups. Until a solution is reached on that issue the money to support those activities is going to be there.

The second aspect, perhaps the most widely cited by newspapers is the lack of values. While I think that this is an important issue I see this among other reason as a consequence of a lack of alternatives to the state education options. It is true that gang problems are not limited to public schools, but certainly those problems are more common among those. The benevolence of the school system toward the involvement of their students into gang related activities is another angle of the values problem as well as the parents involvement into their kids education. The value side of the problem can only be addressed by some sort of campaign, by the parents alone. That will include being able to choose and pay the best school available through a system of vouchers or any other free market alternative.

The final element into this issue of gang activity gives more room for policy makers analysis. It seems to me from what I have read, that laws are not strong enough with minors, and this is something that organized criminals have noticed. In other words laws whose main intentions were to protect minors have had the unintended consecuence of creating incentives for criminals to use kids and for instance cause more harm than good to the protected minors. Few years ago children in Colombia, Brazil and other Latin countries were used by criminals to act on their behalf and sometimes to kill people, all this with the understanding that children will be more trusted by average people and even worst, the kid will receive no major punishment. I think that here is where news commentators and policy analysts are not putting too much attention. Public policy institutes should focus on how the law should be structured to act as a deterrant of criminal activity in minors. The law should protect minors, but without giving them license to commit crimes. I believe that many troubled children get away with crimes because the system is too lenient on them. For instance the Annandele machete attack author should get the regular treatment by the judicial system and face charges for that crime even if he turns out to be a minor.

As a father I agree that there is not the same level or responsability when a minor commits a crime than when and adult does, but only when we are willing to analyse honestly and sincerely our law system, and carefully weight in the consecuences of its provisions, we are going to be able to effectively start getting rid of this social problem of gang violence / children criminal activities.


Beware of Eating Cicadas

I have to admit that my direst predictions on Cicadas, were not true, besides the continous sound of them that makes you feel like some sort of UFO is flying around.  They have turn out to be completely harmless and not annoying as crickets.  The story below is a funny one, on somebody that tried to eat Cicadas.  I guess that the same common sense should apply here, if you are allergic to food stuff don't even try them.
Man Becomes Ill After Gorging on Cicadas (AP)

AP - A man who cooked and ate nearly 30 cicadas sought medical treatment after suffering a strong allergic reaction to the sauteed insects.

For those of you still brave enough wishing to try them, check this link


Alive here

Well it seems that throughout April I have been lazy to write in this BLOG. Part of the problem why I am not blogging is that most of the time I did that while I was forced to used the computer for my final work in my MBA.

After working for 2 or 3 hours I will usually be a little hiperactive, after all the coffee I drank and to get use of that extra energy I will usually continue blogging until exausted.

After I finished that work I promised myself not to use again my home computer (win98 with dial up) for blogging. Since I have been really busy at work that meant that I did not had time to Blog at all. If you add to the equation that my mother in law was on a visit to my home I did not sat down to read and Blog on April.

No more excuses on sunday a I brought one of those Wi fi Antennas. A Microsoft MN-710. So far everything perfect. I have been able to find 2 or 3 neighboors willing to share their connection. My wife was worried that somebody will complain about it, because I am in a way "stealing" access. Since I have not forced anybody to give me access, I consider the access a gift, a sign of neighborly good will and not theft. Since I don't pay the bill I try not to use the access for intensive downloading. I don't want to loose access or anger my good neighbor that allows me to share his connection. Thanks again to the good Samaritan.

I think that technologies like Wi-FI will push internet companies sooner or later to lower the price of access I think is outrageous that in order to get a hi-speed connection I have to pay 40 dollars monthly to my local cable provider. For a while I had dial up with Microsoft until one day I discovered Net zero that slashed half of the payment I did to Microsoft. Hello guys (Microsoft) knock, knock 20 dollars for dial up!!! is too expensive still (much worse than 9.99). So far my only complain with Netzero has been their propietary software for dialing that forces me to see an add and not always shut's down cleanly. Besides that, the service has been reliable. If the wi - fi proves to cover me up all day long I will be shortly cutting off Netzero.

Well I feel relieved for Bloggin again. Hopefully dear reader you will be seeing me more often in the blogsphere.