When Nina and I got married in 2009, the most thoughtful present we received was that of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales (I wrote about it in my Spanish blog). After I told Jimmy about the difficulties my foundation educ.ar (whose mission is to improve education through the use of technology) was encountering in securing internet access for the many computers we had distributed to schools, Jimmy had a very special surprise for us at our wedding: an offline version of the Spanish Wikipedia.
Rather than being a present for Nina and me, it’s really a gift to all those kids in Argentina and other Spanish-speaking countries who have no means of connecting to the internet, or only have very limited access. And now, more than one year later, educ.ar is finally ready to deliver those DVDs to schools in Argentina.
At first glance this might not seem like a big achievement, but it is. As Jimmy explains in his blog, the difficulty is not getting the content on a DVD (it fits easily), but rather developing a simple offline reader that provides basic search and display functionality, using only free/open source software. Just think of the millions of cross-links that make discovering new information so easy and enjoyable on Wikipedia.
The DVD educ.ar will begin distributing this year consists of three parts. First, the offline Wikipedia itself, called “CDpedia”. Creating the CDpedia itself was only possible thanks to the efforts of the Python Argentina team. In addition, there’s a theoretical framework where experts comment on the value of using Wikipedia in the classroom and explain Wikipedia’s value in an educational and social context that is increasingly being influenced by information technology and is undergoing a permanent transformation. Lastly, the DVD contains general tutorials and a guideline showing how to effectively use Wikipedia in a classroom setting. Here is the online version of this project.
And so, what started out as a wedding gift from a single (and very special) person will now bring a world of knowledge to thousands of school kids all over Argentina, and later to even more people in every Spanish-speaking country. I couldn’t think of a better present.
In this video, Al Jazeera’s correpondent in Argentina, Teresa Bo, describes one aspect of the political corruption in Argentina, in which “punteros” bought votes from people in exchange for food and money for the presidential election that took place on October 28th.
I was just reading in La Nación an interview with Cristina Krichner, the newly elected Argentine president, and when asked which country she’d like Argentina to emulate, she answered Germany. This is both a good and a bad answer.
What’s good is that she didn’t say that Argentina should be like Venezuela where a neo-militarist uses the country’s wealth to empower himself in the region while his people live in poverty (the average Venezuelan has half the income of the average Argentine). But the bad part of her answer is that it reflects a grave misunderstanding of international politics. After having been in Germany more than 50 times and having built companies there with mixed results, I can simply say one thing about Germany: Germany is successful in its own way, but Germany is so incredibly different from Argentina and Germans are so very different from Argentines that it would be almost impossible to even begin comparing the two.
Cristina Kirchner would have shown a greater sense of understanding having said that Argentina should follow Spain’s model, an objective that could perhaps be met after a 20 year investment in civic education. Plus, being like Spain with all of Argentina’s natural resources wouldn’t be a bad thing at all. Presently, the problem with trying to copy Spain’s model is that Spain, as we know it, may cease to exist in 20 years. The paradox is that Argentina is a country that went from being rich to poor and yet Argentines are all proud of being Argentine. On the other hand, Spain has lived the undeniable success of transforming itself from a third to a first world nation, and yet many Spanish people dream of being citizens of a separate nation.
Santiago Montoya, the controversial Undersecretary of Tax Collection of the Province of Buenos Aires best known for his Tax raids on Sex Hotels has now effectively started using Google Earth to collect taxes in Argentina. With Google Earth he can see the size of buildings and collect fines if they exceed the floor to area ratios (200 buildings did), he can identified undeclared properties, in short he can do better from his office collecting taxes that he can do in the field. While many accuse Santiago Montoya of being a self promoter American style DA a la Giuliani, the thing is that sometimes these ruthless and creative characters are needed to catch criminals and tax evaders.
Kirchner is doing something that no one has done in the history of Argentina in the last 50 years. He’s created a surplus. While all of his predecessors poorly managed, issued worthless money, and got themselves even deeper into debt, Kirchner has taxed the country to a point where he now sits on the biggest fiscal surplus in the world. The fiscal prudence of Kirchner, combined with a generous social policy, is one of the greatest achievements during his presidency. However, it’s a strategy that represents an enormous danger for him and the country.