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The Varsavsky Foundation
Avenida Bruselas 7, Planta 3
28100 Alcobendas
Madrid, Spain


The political blog of a social entrepreneur


Holocaust Deniers and Creationists

Here´s a Wikipedia definition of Holocaust deniers and here´s a Wikipedia definition of Creationism. What do these two have in common? That they are both movements of people who try to fight facts with ideology.

Yes, granted, as a Jew I would rather have dinner with a creationist than a holocaust denier, but the problem I have with Christian fundamentalism which rejects various aspects of evolution, geology, cosmology, and other natural sciences that address the origins of the natural world., as the Wikipedia says, is that as soon as the world begins to accept one type of theory that would not be taught say at Columbia University, where I studied, cause there is no proof for it….anything goes.

A certain brand of Christians or Orthodox Jews will insist that we do not have a common ancestor with the Chimp and another brand of Muslims will say the holocaust is Jewish propaganda. And in a world of “beliefs” there´s not much possibility for facts to arise. Once I had dinner with an orthodox Jewish woman who said she believed a literal interpretation of the Bible meaning that the world was created less than 6000 years ago. What about dinosaurs I said? They lived less than 6000 years ago she said. Now if this woman had dinner with a Holocaust denier, what arguments could she use to convince him that the Holocaust actually took place?

Posted at info on December 13, 2006 | # Permalink | Comments Off on Holocaust Deniers and Creationists | TrackBack

What Happens When a Country Gives Up Religion: as Spain Shows, Nothing Much

During Franco´s dictatorship Spain was a very Catholic country. After 3 decades of democracy, Spain is not really a Catholic country anymore. First, loss of religion became apparent with the legalization of divorce and contraceptives and the promotion of sex ed, followed by the decriminalization of abortion, the acceptance of drug possession for personal consumption (drug users are not criminals in Spain, but treated instead as medical patients) and a general acceptance of premarital sex. Also gambling in public places became commonplace, prostitution was legalized and regulated, and recently gay marriage became legal. So other than euthanasia, I can´t think of anything that the Church used to opposed that is not legal now in Spain.

In the 60s over 70% of the Spaniards said that religion played an important role in their lives. Presently it is around 20%, mostly old people. Religion in Spain is mostly becoming tradition. People marry in churches because they are beautiful and full of history, not because they go to church every Sunday. Interestingly, they still teach religion in most schools, but to most it is as if they were teaching Spanish history of a country that used to be religious and it is not anymore.

By now the only cultural group in Spain where people are mostly religious are Muslim immigrants, whose religious views on society are surprisingly similar to those of the Franco era when nudity, for example, was frowned upon. Nudity now makes part of the daily press in Spain, where nudist beaches and regular beaches are mostly mixed, and most people care very little about it.

But not only is Spain liberal in all the matters previously opposed by the Catholic Church. Spain is also liberal in other ways. For example, in Spain the use of P2P programs to download music for personal consumption is not a punishable offense. In Spain people openly use Limewire, eMule, Bittorrent without fear of being prosecuted. The record and movie companies can´t successfully prosecute people who download music for personal use and music and movie downloading is immensely popular. The only illegal activity in this area, and reasonably so, is people who download music, print CDs and sell them but few do so.

If anything, Spain proves that societies do not fall apart when they give up religion and almost everything that was illegal becomes legal. The story of Spain is not unique. Italy, another country where religion used to play a very important role in society, has also transformed most of its churches in tourist attractions. I guess –to the disappointment of people who equate religion with morality– the story of Spain and Italy also prove that people do not need religion to behave ethically, as Spain and Italy have many less policemen and people in jail per inhabitant than the United States, which happens to be the last mostly religious wealthy country on earth.

Posted at info on October 29, 2006 | # Permalink | Comments Off on What Happens When a Country Gives Up Religion: as Spain Shows, Nothing Much | TrackBack

15 Million Americans Moving to Mexico

There´s a boom in the retirement industry in Mexico. Presently, there are around half a million Americans retiring in Mexico. They do this because they get great weather, nice people, and with the same income they can live much better lives.

Today, when I was teaching at IE, a student of mine said that this number is expected to grow to 15 million in 10 years and that there are tons of new retiring communities being built. As he was saying this, I was thinking about the fence that the United States is building to protect itself from Mexican immigration and thought that, paradoxically, in 15 years the fence could be used by the Mexicans to protect themselves from US immigration, as percentage wise if the retirement home projections are true there will be a larger proportionate immigration going South than North.

Now giving that this is the case, why build the fence at all? Mexico and USA should do what Northern Europe did with Southern Europe in the EU: open the borders. What that did, surprisingly, is that income rose everywhere and most people stay put.

Posted at info on October 25, 2006 | # Permalink | Comments Off on 15 Million Americans Moving to Mexico | TrackBack

My Ranking of Countries From Best to Worst Governed

I was thinking about the countries in the world that are the best and the worst governed and I elaborated this very personal list. I did it quickly, as a kind of a game, and I may have forgotten certain countries, but the idea was to make a personal ranking that reflected my vision of the world.

I could spend a lot of time explaining why I put certain countries in certain places. I could also change my opinion. This is the same kind of thing as when you meet someone and ask them about their favorite movies, music, books, and places. All of this information only helps you to know a person better.

So here is my ranking, from best to worst

Founding Countries of the European Union, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Norway, Japan.

The United States, South Korea.

Israel, Chile, and the new countries of the European Union.

China, Singapore.

European Countries that do not form a part of the European Union.

Costa Rica, Uruguay.

Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, South Africa, India, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Russia, Turkey.

UAE, Lebanon, Bermuda, Bahamas.

Indonesia, Vietnam, Qatar.

Morocco, Tunesia, Sri Lanka, Laos, Cambodia.

Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic.

Belarus, Kuwait, other ex-Soviet Republics, Nepal.

Paraguay, Bolivia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Kenya, the rest of the Caribbean.

Cuba, Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Libya, Pakistan, Haiti.

Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Mauritania and the rest of the Muslim African countries.

North Korea.

Sub-Saharan African countries.

And this is my European Ranking

Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Holland, Luxemburg and Finland.

The United Kingdom and Ireland.

Germany, France, Austria and Belgium.

Spain.

Italy.

Portugal.

Greece, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia.

The Czech Republic.

Poland, Hungary.

Slovakia.

Croatia.

Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, Ukraine.

Albania.

Posted at info on September 14, 2006 | # Permalink | Comments Off on My Ranking of Countries From Best to Worst Governed | TrackBack

Bill Gates and The Authoritarian Elements of Philanthropy

You could either say that Bill Gates is the most generous man in the world (now even more so that he gets others to donate through him), or you could say that he is a man who made his money as a monopolist who now gives his money away as an authoritarian. Personally, I think the truth is somewhere in between.

Still there´s a very important issue at stake in philanthropy and that is that even people with a tremendous amount of money who mean well, can cause enormous harm. For example, Bill Gates initial plan of vaccinating a huge number of children in Africa sounds perfect until you start wondering who will take care of those children later on in life. So here´s my sugestion to Bill Gates. I think that he should introduce democratic decission making methods in his foundations and he should introduce them through the internet. My basic idea here is that there are enough people on the internet around the world who care and that the Gates Foundation should run referendums before spending large amounts of money. One referendum could be “should the Gates foundation provide vaccination to all children of Africa”, Yes or No. And then there would be a period of debate on the internet in the form of a wiki and then a day to vote.

As the Wikipedia has shown, there´s value in collective knowledge so not only would the foundation be more effective this way, but it would be more democratic. Foundations and multinational corporations are becoming quasi governments. Just like in the past, I recommended in this blog that Google runs a referendum with its users in China on whether it should accomodate to the requirements of the Chinese Government or not.

I strongly believe that large foundations such as Gates should run referendums on major actions that may change the course of history.

Posted at info on July 8, 2006 | # Permalink | Comments Off on Bill Gates and The Authoritarian Elements of Philanthropy | TrackBack

Catholic Church: Creationism is Paganism

Being a non religious person myself I find many of the views of the Catholic Church difficult to deal with. Opposing the use of condoms for example is to me extremely irresponsible. But surfing the net this morning through Microsiervos I got to this comment made by a Vatican astronomer who I found summarized what I thought about creationism, mainly that creationism is a superstition. I was surprise to find myself in total agreement with the Catholic Church. I wonder though what the rest of the Catholic Church thinks about creationism.

Posted at info on May 9, 2006 | # Permalink | Comments Off on Catholic Church: Creationism is Paganism | TrackBack

Observations on China

I recently read that David Sedaris moved to Paris and started writing on France only to be sorry a few months later he had so quickly written about Paris and ended up sounding like the typical American in Paris. Nevertheless because I belong to a more rare group, that of an Argentine in China I will dare to make a series of comments on China with the caveat that I am no China expert and have only been four times to China since 1988. My last visit ended yesterday.

On China and Cars:

China invested a lot in car plants. Chinese have bought cars like crazy during the last 5 years. In 1988 it was all bikes. Now it´s all cars. Madrid has one avenue, Castellana which is extremely wide and cuts the city in two. In Beijing a Castellana is a normal avenue. Most avenues have 6 to 8 lanes. This policy is not sustainable because China does not have the resources that it takes to make and use cars, namely iron, oil, oxygen… It is also dangerous. Since so many people in China just got a car for the first time it is probably the nation with most drivers in the world but also with the least experienced drivers. Moreover the conversion of bicycle nation to car nation seems to be the opposite of what the world needs. In Europe bicycle riding is on the rise, in China cyclists are a dying breed….literally.

On China and Pollution:

Mostly as a result of oversupply of cars and taxis and lack of a subway system, Beijing has an incredible level of pollution. Horrible. The worst I have ever experienced. Indeed when I was there last week even the Chinese newspaper in English that is put out by the government was saying that Beijing was experiencing the worst pollution crisis ever. The paradox of China is that government seems to intervene heavily in controlling unnecessary things, such as what people Google, and not in controlling necessary things, such as what people drive. Government intervenes in environmental policy much more in Europe than in China even though government in China is supposed to be more interventionist. I think that China has an amazing opportunity to lead the world in hybrid cars for example. In the perennial traffic jams of Beijing hybrid cars would do wonders for the environment. Why doesn´t the government act?

On Health Care:

China seems to have a very unusual Communist health care system in which all health services are provided by the government (very Communist) but they cost a fortune to the average Chinese (very capitalist) and the average Chinese lives in fear of getting sick (very American).

On Monopolies:

How come the most populous nation on earth remains the most competitive nation on earth without government intervention in the form of anti trust? As we saw in the West capitalism tends to lead to quasi monopolies or oligopolies as the best companies simply win over everyone else (Microsoft and Google are examples) and sooner or later they end up being regulated as they accumulate enormous market share. But in China this does not seem to happen. Without government intervention capitalism so far seems to work. Indeed where capitalism does not work in China is in the businesses in which government gave itself the monopoly (the election outcome business for example). Other than that there are no killer category businesses in China. America is the country of the killer category retailers, Walmart, Starbucks, Mc Donalds, u name it. But in China fragmentation rules. Even in the computer sector tons of brands compete selling their products through extremely competitive TINY outlets. I could not find one big computer shop in China. China´s brand of capitalism actually works very well.

On Soy Sauce:

Where´s the soy sauce? Isn´t Chinese food suppose to come with soy sauce? On all my meals there soy sauce was never part of the equation. Is soy sauce like the spoon for Italian pasta that nobody uses in Italy but outside Italy everyone thinks it´s very Italian to eat pasta with a spoon?

On Piracy:

I went to a fake market. These are the prices. Adidas Shoes: $6. DVDs: $1 to $2, Games: $2, Hermes wallets: $10, Bulgari, Cartier, Rolex, Watches, $7. Diesel Jeans: $8. Guess T Shirts, $6. In short things at the fake market cost around 90% less than the real stuff. Now as I was in the fake market I wondered about what is fake and what is real. Most of the goods we buy in Europe and USA are made in China and seeing how much it really cost to make them in China and realizing that European companies say Adidas are paying $5 for shoes they sell us for $80 you wonder who´s really faking what here. Is intellectual property worth 90% of the value of things?

On Spitting:

When I was at the Avellaneda High School in Buenos Aires, my class mates an I used to have spitting contests. Distance spitting, precision spitting were some of the common competitions. While most of my class mates and I have given up on the sport, spitting is alive and kicking all over Beijing. Olympic sport? Not sure. Yet, spitting in public is as common in Beijing as say, coughing in public in Europe. Other than the fact that to most foreigners spitting is disgusting I think that the moment the avian flu is transmitted from human to human, the Chinese practice of spitting will become akin of that of having unprotected sex. Simply deadly. Now again, can´t the Communist Party do something about spitting? As I said before there are instances in which strong government helps. If the NYC government, another quasi Communist institution (the tax burden of well off people in NYC is higher than that of well off people in China), was able to fine pet owners $200 for not cleaning after their dogs, what about huge fines in China for…spitting!!

On China Taiwan and Democracy:

Every large democracy has two main parties, the progressives and the conservatives. China also has two main parties the Communist party and the KMT. The only problem is that the Chinese opposition party is in…Taiwan. Now as the entrepreneur that I am I see a great opportunity here to kill two birds with one stone namely unite China and become a democracy. How? By allowing KMT to be the first legal opposition party not only in Taiwan but in China as a whole. In this way China would be united with Taiwan and become a democracy without firing a shot. How about that?

Movie Piracy is bad for Hollywood but Great for America´s image

Whatever Hollywood may say about movie piracy it is thanks to piracy that the Chinese are so exposed to American culture which otherwise they could not afford. The result is a very pro American culture view prevalent in China. Considering the disastrous foreign policy of George W Bush I would argue that if it wasn´t for piracy the average Chinese would have a much worse image of the United States.

On the Yuan:

The largest bill available in China is equivalent to a 10 euro bill. The largest bill available in Europe is a 500 euro bill. Moreover in China credit cards are not widely accepted. Most Chinese don´t have them. Personally I don´t understand this policy as it encourages Chinese with money to save in dollars or euros. Again a missed opportunity for the Chinese government, in my view if they printed at least 1000 Yuan bills they could release considerably more currency in the marketplace without causing inflation. You can´t have a serious currency whose largest bill is worth 10 euros.

On the Chinese and the Indians:

When I am in India people speak perfect English and yet I have a hard time understanding them. When I am in China people speak poor English yet I understand them very well. What I like about Chinese people in business is that they are straightforward. They are single minded about being successful and it is easy to understand what they want. You may say yes or no but you won´t leave the meeting wondering about what their objectives are.

On Mao:

Why do the Chinese continue printing bills showing Mao Zedong a man responsible for the death of an estimated 38 million people during the cultural revolution? Why isn´t Mao for the Chinese more like Franco for the Spaniards or like Stalin for the Russians? I don´t get it.

On Economic Growth and Freedom of the Press:

Economic growth in China is amazing. Since my first visit in 1988 China has been completely transformed. While China is not a democracy it is certainly much, much freer than it was in the 70s, 80s, the trend is in the right direction and in any case for a country in which people until not so long ago starved economic success is more important than democracy. Yet one of the most important elements of true democracy is transparency and I wonder if the Chinese won´t adopt more of the elements we associate with democracy not so much for a love for democracy itself but simply to be able to sustain their economic growth. The Wall Street Journal for example while being extremely conservative in politics it´s very fair in business reporting. As such The Wall Street Journal is a tool for investors. A fair an open press is necessary for investors to make choices. Will this be a loophole towards freedom of the press?

Posted at info on April 17, 2006 | # Permalink | Comments Off on Observations on China | TrackBack

Contact us

Correspondence other than grant proposals may also be sent to:

The Varsavsky Foundation

Calle Quintanavides 15, Edificio 2, Planta 1

Parque Empresarial Via Norte

28050 Madrid, Spain

 

e-mail: Claire Gerson

Posted at info on February 7, 2005 | # Permalink | Comments Off on Contact us | TrackBack

Mission

The Varsavsky Foundation was established by Martín Varsavsky in May 2000.

Using the same entrepreneurial spirit he used to build 5 companies over the past 20 years, Martín Varsavsky has approached the social, political and economic issues of his day with the same creativity.

The first large project started by the Varsavsky Foundation in the year 2000 was www.educ.ar and www.educarchile.cl. These two are the largest educational web sites in Argentina and Chile and the two largest in the Spanish speaking world.

The Educar program however is not just the web site. After donating over $11 million for these projects Martin Varsavsky was able to bring in government, private and corporate donors to connect educational institutions to the internet with a total investment in these projects now exceeding $50 million dollars. In 2004 alone the Argentine Government invested $30 million in the Educar “alfabetización digital” objectives.

The latest project of the Varsavsky Foundation is Safe Democracy.

Safe Democracy came out of an original idea by Martin Varsavsky which consists in getting together some of the most powerful figures in global politics with academics, media experts and business leaders to study over three days around March 11th in Madrid how democracies can effectively fight terrorism without losing their spirit.

Other than promoting original ideas of Martin Varsavsky the Varsavsky Foundation gives grants to NGOs around the world. A list of the Varsavsky’s foundation donations appears in this web site.

The Varsavksy Foundation is a private, independent grant making organization dedicated to using the full pedagogical potential of the Internet to engage societies’ most prevelant inadequacies.

Posted at info on February 7, 2005 | # Permalink | Comments Off on Mission | TrackBack