31 July 2006

Sisyphus is Us

All that is necessary to break the spell of inertia and frustration is this: Act as if it were impossible to fail. That is the talisman, the formula, the command of right-about-face which turns us from failure towards success. --- Dorothea Brande

Maybe, given her career and success, Ms. Brande was talking about writing, which contrary to most people's opinion, is not easy. But even if she was, her words are the absolute key to transforming one's self from whatever We are that isn't satisfying to that sought-after category called "winner."

And as is My wont, I see Puerto Rico in this quote. Join Me in this: every time an idea or proposal is set forth at the public level, notice how quickly, adamantly and pervasively that idea or proposal evokes reactions of can't. Not won't; can't. It's uncanny how often the only person in favor of the idea is the proposer, and he or she has to fight like Sisyphus to keep the idea from being crushed by the weight of negativity and apathy.

(Yes, I know those two don't go together, but they do in Puerto Rico. Trust Me. It ain't pretty.)

Now, in actuality, almost nobody in the public light is worthy of being considered a hero in the Sisyphus mold, for he was known for being the wisest and most prudent of mortals. However, out of the public light, there are thousands of Us who are Sisyphean in Our efforts and can bear up to the comparison with dignity and pride. But in the words of Albert Camus, Sisyphus is "the absurd hero." Sisyphus, condemned for eternity to the empty Underworld, neither man nor god to share with, pushes an enormous rock up the mountain, only to have it always roll back down. As Camus explains:

"...Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

It isn't a stretch to say We live on a masterless island, for if anything, The Fools are bigger idiots that even the demented Greek gods. The daily struggle for many of Us has the crushing futility of Sisyphus' eternal night. Maybe Camus is right and Sisyphus is happy; the Greeks were certainly keen observers of human nature and Puerto Rico has recently topped a few global "happiness index" studies.

But I don't agree. Or rather, I don't want this to be true, for it seems to Me that if We are modern-day versions of Sisyphus, the absurd hero, then by being happy with futility, We are absurd, not heroic.

Some might say We aren't happy, that We are, in fact, dissatisfied. In that case, where's the drive to seek satisfaction, to create the change that will create such satisfaction? Is it all going into pushing Our personal boulder up a personal mountain? Or is that Our collective boulder is just too damn big to get it rolling uphill?

What if isn't "uphill" that this collective boulder needs to roll? What if it only needs to get rolling in any direction? What if making that damn boulder roll is not impossible, that in reality, not making it roll is actaully impossible? Wouldn't that make a difference?

Would Sisyphus be a hero if he knew he couldn't fail? That damn the gods, his freaking boulder is going to stay on the freaking mountaintop because that's the way it is going to be?

Of course he would be. He would be a hero. Not an absurd hero, but a true one.

And so would We.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

28 July 2006

Being to Doing

If one desires a change, one must be that change before that change can take place.

The only way to deal with the future is to function efficiently in the NOW.

Experience is determined by yourself -- not the circumstances of your life.

Every time we say 'I must do something' it takes an incredible amount of energy. Far more than physically doing it.

The quotes above are from Gita Bellin, a former McKinsey advisor, educator, philosopher and aestheticis lecturer who leans toward New Age approaches to business and learning.

In a nutshell, these four Bellin quotes summarize what's happening--or not happening--in Puerto Rico. This won't take long:

---We are NOT the change We want to achieve. We expect OTHERS to be the change--to make the change for Us. No change will happen unless We make it happen, so We will continue to wait.

---We don't function effectively in the NOW because We can't focus on the NOW. We prefer to NOT focus. We'd rather listen to an idiot puppeteer who dresses in drag and talks about crap or to La Comay. (Those who live in and know Puerto Rico will get the joke. To the rest of you, I just cast aspersions on who knows whom and the candidates are legion.) Focus? Puh-lease. Focus takes energy, discipline, a willingness to USE OUR BRAIN for something other than instant gratification or gossip. Too hard. Forget focus. How about We play the lottery?

---The problem with NOT blaming circumstances for the crappy lives We lead is that it places the responsibility for that crappiness on Our shoulders. Well here's an (ancient) newsflash: It's always been Our responsibility. We make the world We live in. And though there are forces outside Our control, how We deal with what We CAN affect makes all the difference in the world. It's called attitude, and Ours sucks. So Our world sucks, too.

---We here talk and talk and talk and talk and talk about how bad things are. But if We invested all that talk-fuel into an engine of change, We'd be blasting out new speed records like rocket cars in the Mojave. Instead, We're contributing to global warming by releasing more methane. And I'm not just blaming the Fecal-Fillef Fools We elected: I'm blaming all of Us.

Except Me. Somebody has to stand outside and above the group and "give perspective." Somebody has to be "above the masses" and point the way. So I nominate Me.

And from this lofty vantage point, I see something funny: seems that everybody else here nominated themself and there's no one left to actually DO anything.

Back to Square One and BEING the change before MAKING the change.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

26 July 2006

Firetime Chat

---If you Google "things 'you would do' dictator," Yours Truly is the first result that pops up. Remember that come election time.

---Caguas Mayor "Willie" Miranda suggests that Our fecal-filled legislature should work only part-time. Fool! He's asking them to actually work! To be functional! To be responsible! To make a difference! That's like asking a toadstool to sing "Il Pagliacci" while flying a stealth fighter.

Sillie Willie, your gubernatorial campaign is off to a bad start. (He's running, folks. He's just not admitting it.) Instead of focusing on what you have some say over, like your city's plans and achievements, you go populist on Us and try to curry favor by slamming the eminently slammable. (Yeah, The Jenius slams the same offal, but I ain't running for office: I'm just calling crap crap.) Suggestion, Willie Nillie: If you want to stay populist, slam the economy. It can't hit you back (yet), everyone hates it (except for The Fools who keep taxing Our asses, although if they really taxed asses, only The Fools would have to pay) and any theory you toss out is just as valid as what any economist blows in the wind.

--- For weeks, I've been saying that the sales tax was not in place of the import tax, but in addition to the import tax. Earlier this week, the press finally picked up on that point, because for some reason, the Fecal-Filled Fools didn't--uh--get around to--writing that leeeetle bit of legislation. You know, what with the crisis and everything...And now, economists are predicting a "serious, even dire impact" of the sales tax on the local economy.

Duh. And while I'm here, DUH.

On a local radio show, senate president Kenneth "Any Idea is Good Because I Don't Have Any of My Own" McClintock said that the sales tax would reduce overall prices. He described the impact of the import tax as coming at the beginning of the import-wholesale-retail chain, using a 50% markup from one step to another, as follows:

1) Product arrives in Puerto Rico, priced at 30 cents.
2) Import tax adds 6.6%, or roughly 2 cents.
3) Importer "buys" at 32 cents, sells at 48 cents (50% markup.)
4) Wholeseller buys at 48 cents, sells at 72 cents.
5) Retailer buys at 72 cents, sells at $1.08.
6) Tax "impact" equals 15 cents (additional monies to cover initial taxing.)

Under the sales tax, set at 7% and now going UP (sneaky point there, Kenny-boy), the "chain of logic" goes:

1) Product arrives in Puerto Rico, priced at 30 cents.
2) Importer sells at 45 cents.
3) Wholeseller sells at 68 cents.
4) Retailer adds 50% markup, sells at $1.02.
5) Tax "impact" equals 7 cents.


At $1.08, yes, the price is higher, but the original tax is 2 cents and the rest is negotiable "cost". Think I'm wrong? Ask Wal-Mart how much they pay in import taxes a year (actual transfers of money, not "accounting reports.") Better yet, ask the pharmaceuticals, who are supposed to pay, but are given pretty much carte blanche.

Once the sales tax is imposed, prices go UP. They have to: the cost of doing business is no longer negotiable. (That was one of the arguments FOR the sales tax: to get the money that was "slipping away.") Think I'm wrong? Prices for many "optional" products have already started rising because "optional" is harder to buy and selling them costs more. It doesn't take a fifth-grade education to see that, which means The Fools don't get it because they can barely think above nursery school level ("Me want!! Me want!!")

And another thing: Where the hell is the logic that a 6.6% import tax on some goods is less expensive to the consumer than a 7% sales tax on most goods? The bottom line here is that the import tax was applied willy-nilly (I read that somewhere...), had so many holes in its application that a sizeable minority of local companies paid little or no money ever and The Fools dropped a sales tax on Our heads because they have screwed Us badly and baldly for years with their mismanagement, fake crises, politicking and greed.

Now We have to pay for electing these vermin.

I say We flambé 7% of them for every month they are incompetent and stupid--which means, of course, e-v-e-r-y month. Rounding up, We can get rid of all of them in 42 months.


If We add 6.6% to the flambé rate, like they want to do to Us, We can barbecue the whole lot in only 24 months. Just in time for the elections!!

The Jenius Has Spoken.

24 July 2006

Civil Unrest

I heartily accept the motto, "That government is best which governs least"; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe— "That government is best which governs not at all"; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient.

…I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.

Those who, while they disapprove of the character and measures of a government, yield to it their allegiance and support are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters, and so frequently the most serious obstacles to reform.

Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? …But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do better than it would have them?

Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience?— in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislation? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.

The authority of government, even such as I am willing to submit to…is still an impure one: to be strictly just, it must have the sanction and consent of the governed. It can have no pure right over my person and property but what I concede to it.

I saw that the State was half-witted, that it was timid as a lone woman with her silver spoons, and that it did not know its friends from its foes, and I lost all my remaining respect for it, and pitied it… Statesmen and legislators, standing so completely within the institution, never distinctly and nakedly behold it… They are wont to forget that the world is not governed by policy and expediency… If the tax-gatherer, or any other public officer, asks me…"But what shall I do?" my answer is, "If you really wish to do anything, resign your office."

They hesitate, and they regret, and sometimes they petition; but they do nothing in earnest and with effect. They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have it to regret. At most, they give only a cheap vote…There are nine hundred and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to one virtuous man. But it is easier to deal with the real possessor of a thing than with the temporary guardian of it.

All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it… A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men…

Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight… For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever. But we love better to talk about it: that we say is our mission. Reform keeps many scores of newspapers in its service, but not one man.

Confucius said: "If a state is governed by the principles of reason, poverty and misery are subjects of shame; if a state is not governed by the principles of reason, riches and honors are the subjects of shame."… How does it become a man to behave toward this American government today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.

Even with the final paragraph, I am referring to Our pathetic wasteland of a government. The text is taken from Henry David Thoreau’s seminal essay “Resistance to Civil Government,” also known as “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.” The essay is in the public domain here.

And seeing how utterly and viciously stupid the murderous moron in the current White House is, here’s another appropriate quote that somebody has to explain to Bushie the Cowflop:

Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.— William Pitt, House of Commons, November 18, 1783.

The Jenius Has Quoted.

21 July 2006

Topics The Jenius Passed Up

How can You write so often?

I've been asked that fairly often about The Jenius and the answer is quite simple: I have a lot to say. For some reason, that answer tends to evoke almost no response. It's as if the person is (a) Mulling it over for accuracy, (b) Waiting for the punchline or (c) Unimpressed.

In My Opera bookmark files (I use Opera, which is what Firefox wants to be when it grows up), I have a "Gil The Jenius" folder. It contains a sub-folder called "Post Launches" and that virtual Fort Knox contains six separate folders with 347 bookmarks that I thought I should write about.

Let's look at one of these sub-folders and a handful of the topics I have not written about. Under "Entrepreneur" The Jenius has these unremarked finds:

--- 100 Ways to Be a Better Entrepreneur: A long, chunky article that has some keen insights, some "duh-level" advice and some stuff I don't agree with. Why didn't The Jenius write about it? It felt too long for one post and not-important-enough for two. But it's been in My files for several months now and it still has meaning. So go read it if you're into building your own business or career.

--- Outspend or Out-teach: Working with start-ups in Puerto Rico has taught Me--and anyone else who's done it for more than a year--that "shoestring" is the only budget you really have. Because I never took a business or marketing course, I didn't have to unlearn crap to get to the point of successful marketing: give needed information simply. This article summarizes the key difference with laudable brevity and expanded links. If you wonder why your marketing budget swells but your sales don't, take a look at this. Why didn't The Jenius write about it? I think it's because I wanted to stay ahead of the pack by not "revealing" My method/point of view. Either that or I forgot this was in the files.

--- 9 Must-Reads Before You Launch a Start-Up: This kind of "list post" is extremely popular in the blogsphere, but unlike most of their ilk, this one is very good. It balances theory with experience, practicality with visionary and even throws in a voice that argues against being an entrepreneur. Why didn't The Jenius write about it? Several of the links were commented on individually and that stopped Me from writing about the whole list as I felt it would have been redundant.

--- The Personal MBA: As a self-educated consultant, business developer, entrepreneur, etc., I've always been keen on reading the best and the brightest. In fact, I put more stock in Best Seller-dom than it actually warrants. So when I found Josh Kaufman's Personal MBA list, I was thrilled. Of his 42 resources, I had read 19 (now up to 22) and though I disagreed with a few of them, you could do far worse than follow Kaufman's suggestions. (Like, for example, actually getting an MBA.) Why didn't The Jenius write about it? Because I felt I'd have to provide My own list of "Personal MBA" sources and as time blew by Me, I barely got a list together of 14. Not enough, so here's Kaufman's list and you can get to work on it.

--- Cash Flow: To your business, cash flow is like oxygen to your brain: when it's missing, nothing else matters. Here's a simple, powerful primer on cash flow. Why didn't The Jenius write about it? I tried to once, but there really is no way to improve on this piece and simply saying "Here, go read this" seemed lame. So I drop it in here and say "Go read this." Lameness bypassed.

--- Here's To The Crazy Ones: Why didn't The Jenius write about it? Because all I could say was "Amen."

The Jenius Has Spoken.

19 July 2006

A Few Things Off My Chest

Item One:
Hoist. On My own petard.

After taking to task the ridiculously-pretentious and insanely-stupid book "Restoring Growth in Puerto Rico" as the vapid incubator for tubercular cyanosis, someone whose intellect I respect greatly handed Me a copy of that same piece of garbage...to read...because "This is the hot thing with The Fools right now." Seems My near-future projects involve trying to think down to their level and reading this lamebrain "minifesto" is part of the process. I can feel the brain cells revolting already... Two things: First of all, I thought I was the hot thing amongst The Fools. And second, there are those of you who will smile prettily at My discomfiture here. (I'm talking to you, Carol...)

Item Two:
I am fucking sick and tired about hearing and seeing news reports about barely-walking dog food. I'm referring to Barbaro, winner of the Kentucky Derby, who broke a leg in the Preakness and since May, has received hours of news coverage and gallons of ink, not to mention more medical attention than any canned food ingredient ever deserves.

Now, I'm a huge sports fan and one of the biggest thrills I've ever had enjoying sports was watching Secretariat win the 1973 Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown with a performance that still gives Me goose bumps when I think about it. But back then, I wasn't aware of the business side of horse racing, a facet thrust into Our faces now with nauseating regularity because of Barbaro's condition.

For you see, Barbaro has round-the-clock care by a battery of specialists. He has been operated on several times. His casts are changed frequently, sometimes every few hours, to ensure proper healing. Barbaro's been pumped with a series of antibiotics and other medications and has a team of attendants to make sure his every other need is fulfilled immediately.

In a country where over 44 million people lack proper health care, and maybe 2-3 times more can't get major medical coverage, the spectacle of a (non)fucking horse being treated better than a whole country full of people is repulsive. Hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent to save Alpo fodder so it can live to fuck mares. The message here is that money can buy you the best health care, even if you're a horse. But does that mean that Barbaro deserves to die? Yes it does: Better it than any human being.

Item Three:
Another Saturday, another period of boredom and this time, a single question without any real forethought: What is your dream?

I don't know how many people I asked. I moved from a mall (the location of choice, as you can see) to a coffee shop (NOT one of those latte-venti-overpriced pukeholes, I assure you) to another mall. The answers ranged from "Winning the lottery," (the most popular response; I've got to frequent better malls, I guess...) to "Dancing at my granddaughter's wedding" with a few violent answers thrown in. (Not at Me, but at The Fools.)

The only conclusion I could come to was: Nobody had big dreams. Nobody dreamt of changing their city or creating a better future for Puerto Rico. No one came out to tell Me a dream that would galvanize a group, a generation or a nation. If anything, the dreams were prosaic, passive, more "It will fall in my hands" than "I will make it happen."

Passive. That's the word. Maybe the active people, the visionaries, weren't in the malls or coffee shop. Maybe they don't go there. Maybe they don't have time to waste in those places. I hope that's the answer and not that We lack visionaries and dreamers. I can live with the thought that I wasted My time in the wrong places. I can't live with the thought that I'm wasting My time in the wrong place...just by living here.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

17 July 2006

Carbonell Hell

It's called Carbonell Street, named after somebody named Carbonell. (Research is My life!) The section I will refer to here is 0.7 miles long, winding slightly up from Road 100 and ending at the curve just before entering "downtown" Cabo Rojo.

Carbonell Street is about 65 feet wide at its widest point, between the baseball park and the high school, there where it makes a slight bend left and a neighborhood road serving 6 houses merges into the street along a nearly-blind "Y" junction. The rest of its length is basically three lanes wide, framed by sidewalks. It rises from Road 100 some 25 feet in a slight grade, leveling off before the ballpark then dipping about 6 feet as it enters the town proper.

That section of Carbonell Street, main entrance to the town of Cabo Rojo, lifeline to homes and businesses, has been under construction since February, 2003.

At it isn't close to being finished.

Now this is not some hyper-engineering, concrete-and-steel marvel like building airports in the middle of bays or thousand-feet towers on shifting sands. This is a street, two lanes plus, slightly winding, with a dip or two along the way. And it's still "in process," rutted, with concrete barriers separating the minimally-paved from the dirt.

When My son, Kaleb, entered pre-school at the age of 3, Carbonell Street was already a shambles. The entrance to Happy Friends sits just above the Carbonell-Road 100 junction. Every school day for the next two years was plagued by dirt, dust, mud, barriers, obstacles, heavy equipment, traffice jams and spewing sewage from the time the so-called construction company dug too deep and massively ruptured the aqueduct system. In two places.


I visited City Hall to ask what the current cost of shredding Carbonell Street had amounted to. The first response The Jenius got was: "You're not authorized for that information."

My response was "Your pitiful $45,000 salary doesn't give you the authority to deny Me My right to public information."

The parasite answered "I don't make that much!"

Easy putaway: "Then you're worse than pitiful." Ten minutes later, I got "the numbers." Tabulated until November 2004.

Look at that date again. November. 2004. At that time the estimated total amount of money wasted--yes, wasted--on Carbonell Street was $631,457.

Do tell.

Twenty months later, there's no "official" tally of how much has been spent. Even the November 2004 amount is suspect because it only includes work billed, not actual money spent. Let's be nice and almost double it to $1.3 million. Sound fair to you?

Zero point seven miles is 3,696 feet. That stretch of Carbonell Street has been under construction since 2003, a grand total of about 1,250 days. If the feckless morons working on the road were capable enough of building only 3 feet of road a day, they could have finished by now.

As it is, Carbonell Street sits quietly under the brilliant sun and slashing rain of summer, not a hard hat or safety vest or studded tire anywhere in sight. Same vista for the past four months.

Until the day school opens and traffic quadruples. Then the maggots crawl back to their gaping wound, plug the Cabo Rojo artery like gooey lumps of fat and create a stench of incompetence for the next year or so in what seems to be the most enormous engineering project since the Great Pyramid.

I asked a handyman how much roadway he and his two assistants put down for a neighbor of Mine. He told Me they built a driveway that was 396 feet long by 12 feet wide in 9 days. By hand. Using shovels, wheelbarrows and a handroller to smooth out the surface and working only 5 hours a day because We get frequent afternoon showers around 2 P.M.

And yet, the City of Cabo Rojo can't find people to build a street using 37 employees (no, I am not exaggerating: the project lists 37 employees on the site), some 14 pieces of heavy equipment and over about $590,000 in raw materials.

By My calculations, Mr. Handyman and his two buddies, three men with hand equipment, could have finished Carbonell Street in 1,400 hours, or roughly 35 weeks.

But instead of a finished product, We deal with the eyesore obstacle course formerly known as Carbonell Street. Sadly, there are hundreds of Carbonell Streets in Puerto Rico and dozens of "public work projects"--boondoggles of the scummiest order--littering Our landscape. The problem lies in Our lack of ethics, Our embracing of incompetence because it is allied with corruption which means money which means let it ride.

Kaleb will begin first grade in three weeks. We drove up Carbonell Street on Our way to town and he remarked that the street was "always broken." I agreed. He asked Me when it would be finished and before I could answer he said: "Maybe by when I graduate from the sixth grade."

He made Me chuckle. Because he's right.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

14 July 2006

(Un)Scientific Method

My Checklist prompted a response from The Information Soldier. Here it is:

"Oh! How abrasive. But thanks for setting the shot so I can make a goal...

Let's review the Education Department (how's that for an oxymoron?) announcement of renewed Focus On Science! (fanfares!)

I'll tell you exactly what's going down:

One. Lower achievement every year by public students in the science and math sections of general tests (the so called APRENDA tests, or whatever).

Two. Some rapacious consultants manufactured some half-baked (and half-assed most likely) study resources. For which, they will be handsomely paid!

Three. Caveat emptor. The number of ''study resources'' bought is enough for one school district... if that.

Four. Teachers will be asked (read: required) to make a new emphasis on science and math even if they the same old study materials... if that!

Five: Teachers will be obligated to record, keep and report more statistics. Hence turning teachers into mere paper pushers.

Six: The 50% (out of 90 thousand or so) administrative employees (I think the right term to describe that is ''batatal'') will cry out at the sight of even more paper to push and demand: a) higher wages, b) more employees, or, c)both.

End Result?

Consultants > +money
Government > -money
Teachers > +''work''
Paper-pushers > +raison d'etre
Students > Come again?
You and Me > The Shaft"

Well-said, Soldier. Let Me add that Our average math and science teacher is a good junior-high school student and that asking them to enact stricter standards is like asking The Fools to enforce stricter ethics.

I'm off to read a science book (The Blank Slate, by Steven Pinker.) And no, a teacher didn't teach Me how to read: My parents did. So there.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

12 July 2006


Item 1: Monday I write a post about doctors leaving Puerto Rico. Today, El Nuevo Día has the same topic plastered on the front page. Their take: droves of specialists leaving the Island. The numbers are staggering: According to the local College of Surgeons, 433 specialists left Puerto Rico in 2003, 512 in 2004 and 819 up to June 2006. (No mention of 2005.) Listed culprits: the rising cost of malpractice insurance, reduced internships and declining revenues because of the botched Health Reform. Biggest concern: only 250 or so obstetricians left, some averaging close to 50 births a week.

Item 2: Caguas mayor "Willie" Miranda and Our ungovernor Aníbal "The Jellyfish" Acevedo are sniping at each other. Jellyfish concedes he may need to go to a primary (ho-hum) while Willie Wonky claims the central government is freezing his city out of development...and yet that the freeze-out is not due to the ungovernor but to his "incompetent cabinet." Pistols at 10 paces would be much cleaner, more effective and better entertainment.

Item 3: The Fecal-Filled Fools of the legislature are in a tax-manic spasm and if they can't tax it, they want to slap fees on it. Current target: homeschooling parents. Seems some dung-brained senator whose name I won't Albita Rivera wants to charge these parents $125 because they homeschool. And that the money be paid to the president of the local General Education Council. That's it. The idea is to fork over some dough because--hell--there isn't enough to go around, I guess. Hey, Albita, why don't you tax intelligence? We know you and your criminal cronies won't pay a penny...ever.

Item 4: Mayagüez mayor José "Guillito" Rodríguez wants to form a new mayors' organization that will include all 78 mayors and work to solve issues in Puerto Rico without political partisanship. Hey, Gullet-head, We already have an organization for that: it's called Puerto Rico.

Item 5: A letter to the Editor of El Nuevo Día spoke about the fourth victim of the Guánica "massacre." The letter writer called him a "nice, respectful young man" and implied he was a tragic victim of a heinous crime. Maybe so. But he was in the car with three known hoodlums that went cruising for trouble. He may have been "nice" and "respectful," but his judgement was seriously flawed.

Item 6: The All-Star Game of 2006 featured a tepid tribute to Roberto Clemente, with some poorly-named award dropped in his widow's hands. Pathetic. But Vera Clemente handled it with class while Bud "The Screwball" Selig whiffed again.

Item 7: The secretary of miseducation Rafael Aragunde has suggested that school cafeteria employees double-up as handicapped student attendees. Hey, Rafey-baby, why stop there? Let's make janitors Guidance Counselors! But here's the killer: Let's turn teachers into educators! Huh?! HUH?! Is THAT a winner or what? The only thing better would be turn you from secretary to ex-secretary. Rafey-baby, take a hint: take a hike.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

10 July 2006

Science For The Future

From the fertile mind of Dave Pollard, in his How to Save the World blog:

"Advocates of change, be they conservative war-mongers or progressives trying to redress atrocities at home or abroad, are usually quick to jump to conclusions about why the 'needed' change hasn't occurred. And because they assume wrongly, about the cause of the problem, the appropriate solution, and the best process to implement it, such changes usually fail to get implemented, fail to stick, or get undone by the next well-intentioned change agent to come along.

Things are the way they are for a reason, and failure to understand what this reason is, is perilous. Our world is a complex adaptive system, and the reasons for the status quo are usually more subtle and multifarious than we expect...

...There is a way of reducing this massive 'cost of not knowing'. It's called 'cultural anthropology', and it's a form of primary (face-to-face) research. Anthropologists try to understand why different human cultures do what they do. The cultural anthropology approach is one of suspending judgement and observing what is happening objectively and factually until the observer has a deep understanding of the behaviours and the reasons for them...

...Before we can bring about any meaningful and enduring change, in society, in a business, in a smaller community or even in our own personal behaviour, we need to take the time and make the effort to learn and understand thoroughly and objectively how and why things got to the present state, and have a profound appreciation of the validity of those reasons. If the answer is simple and obvious, it's probably wrong." (Emphasis added.)

Last week a young lady, discussing the news of the day and Puerto Rico's general condition, asked Me "Why are We so screwed up?" I answered, as I usually do, with quick soundbites. But given what Pollard writes, I'll save you the trouble of reading them. I'm pretty sure I was wrong.

However, her question is on the lips of most of Us, from the average guy/gal on the street to business people, clergy, civic leaders and even The Fools, who are often blamed for everything bad, but are more likely a symptom rather than a cause. It's a topic of discussion that ranks up there with the weather in popularity and with "The Da Vinci Code" in spawning personal theories. But despite the enormous value--the almost life-or-death stake--of figuring out the answers to this question, I know I neither want to immerse Myself in seeking answers nor do I feel I'm capable of doing it alone. And that, folks, is exactly the root of the problem: We simply don't care enough to try.

I'm talking about "caring" in a dual sense: both in taking the time to engage in the endeavor and engaging in the endeavor in the proper way. To pursue answers in Pollard's manner requires more commitment than I am willing to give, maybe even more than I am capable of giving. And for those who (pretend) to try, their failure is in not maintaining objectivity: they fail to keep rationality at the fore, succumbing almost immediately to emotionality along the lines of "screw the facts, this is what I believe."

Neither position is based on caring enough. Is the future of Puerto Rico valuable? Certainly. Is it valuable enough to Me to dedicate My time and energy to digging deep into its chaos for root causes that can lead to a solution? No. Is it valuable enough to others so that they set aside prejudices and partisanship in their feeble and often superficial searches? No. And that's where We stand right now, with a massive majority who don't want to make the effort or can't make it and a minority who try, but can't do it well at all.

There is a flaw in My argument, though: I don't have to do it alone. (That I actually think I can is why I'm a Jenius.) Properly placing one or two pieces of the puzzle is valuable, for as far as We know, they could be the first pieces so placed. Within the chaotic mäelstrom We call "daily life in Puerto Rico," there must be some partial answers, some glimmer of Truth about Our condition that We can use as starting points. But given the chaos, maybe it's easier if We just start from scratch and try to place whatever pieces We can confirm.

It doesn't have to be a one-person effort; it can't be. It will take several dozen eyes, ears and brains to make it happen. Maybe We're close to the answers and all We need is an aggregator, a consilience in the word of Edward O. Wilson, a unity of knowledge that cuts through the tangled jungle We have spawned to a clearing We can take Our new bearings from.

Cultural anthropology. Consilience. The scientific method in service to Our Future. In a country where science is practically a bad word and teaching its fundamental postulates is barely adequate, the tools to right this foundering ship are rusty and untempered, if not ignored completely. Those of Us who can use them are thus weighed down by added responsibility. And if We don't make it happen, nobody will.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

07 July 2006

Forty Percent (Dis)Solution

I read the following statement about a month ago:

"About 40% of the medical school graduates in Puerto Rico leave the island."

Forty. Percent.

Four out of every ten would-be doctors decide that staying in Puerto Rico is not a viable option. The culprit, according to majority opinion, is the fact that doctors can make more money in the U.S. than here. But let's take a closer look.

About 28% of the local (Puerto Rico-based) doctors are graduates from medical schools that are not in Puerto Rico or the U.S. (Mexico, Spain and the Dominican Republic, mostly.) Although statistics are very hard to find, the general observation is that these doctors have substantially less student-related debt when they finish than Puerto Rican-based med students do. It makes sense, since almost all of them have to pay their way to complete their studies, unlike local students, who rely on Federal grants and loans.

Is the difference substantial? In a brief survey of 23 foreign-educated doctors versus 27 locally (Puerto Rico or U.S.) educated doctors, the average debt of the foreign-educated group was $62,000, mostly in the form of personal loans and/or second mortgage's, usually on their parent's home. For the locally-educated, the average debt was $171,000, almost all of it in government loans.

Look at those numbers again. Assign a 20% margin of error and you still have the potential for a $74,000-$127,000 debt-ratio. My "survey" was certainly far from methodical, but it quickly showed a huge gap between the two groups.

And there was another: Of the 27 locally-educated doctors, 21 said they were either planning on going to the States (11) or were already making that transition (10; about 40% of the group.) Of the foreign-educated group, only 7 said they were thinking of moving (5) or already moving to the States (2). (One said she was moving to Guatemala to work in an isolated clinic; I didn't count her as a Stateside-transitioner.)

Is it money that makes doctors leave the island? Yes, partially. If you have about $170,000 of debt that you must pay back to keep your license valid, you will seek better pay. It's natural. That Puerto Rico doesn't offer that "higher pay standard" is sad, but then again, there's something even sadder: That these doctors run up such huge debts in the first place.

Foreign-educated students have no government largesse in their favor. Most of the ones I spoke to never received a penny from Uncle Sam. On the other hand, of the locally-educated group, some bragged about how they "cheated" to get their studies paid for up to 100% by Uncle Sam. The ones that cheated were, invariably, children of doctors or licensed professionals (lawyers, engineer and pharmacists. Often both parents were licensed professionals.)

So it isn't necessarily that Puerto Rico is "devoid of opportunities" for these doctors, but rather, that they "price" themselves out of the opportunities that naturally exist here...if they were actually pursuing knowledge instead of cash.

There are other factors, such as social class (children of professionals have a much better chance of securing a spot in a local medical college); work loads (most of the foreign-educated students started medical school at an older age because they had to work while completing their undergraduate degrees); educational costs (can be lower in other countries, including living expenses) and language (most of the foreign-educated group indicated that their English was weak, even though to become doctors, they had to pass the Boards, which are in English.) To the locally-educated, many of whom come from privileged backgrounds, private schools and intensive English exposure, moving to the States is easy, or at least easier than to the foreign-eductated.

But We--or rather, I--still come back to the original point: money. If My informal survey is close-to-reality (and many of the doctors feel it is), then what We have is not an economic "crisis" but a moral one.

Here's why: I shot the breeze with these doctors, especially about their college years. And I quickly noticed an enormous difference in the kinds of experiences each group had. The foreign-educated spoke about immersing themselves in another culture, making new friends, tackling new ways of seeing Life and spending time in service to poor or marginalized communities. They certainly had their fun, but they focused more on what they shared with others.

The locally-educated group spoke more often about the new SUV or sport car that they bought with the loan money as their graduation gift (and entrance to medical school.) Some spoke about their apartment or house, filled with the latest and the greatest. Many of them spoke about trips to Europe, skiing trips during Spring Break and the fabulous wedding they had, most of this financed by Uncle Sam. Only two mentioned providing service to poor or marginalized communities and both complained that they had been grossly underpaid. One of them actually became bitter at the memory of his one week in "poverty hell."

One week. Though he spent 11 weeks in Europe in a four-year period.

Yes, 40% of our medical school graduates leave the island. Yes, there are major differences between types of medical students. But I feel that the doctors that leave are not better than those that stay. More "successful" at tracking money, yes. But if that were the criteria for better doctors, politicians would be miraculous faith healers.

Doctors leaving isn't because of a new pursuit of money: it's simply a continuation. Hounded by debt they eagerly chased, now they are chased by it. And that's another difference I noticed: the foreign-educated doctors seemed more satisfied, more content with their lives than those educated locally. They shared practically the same lifestyle in terms of house, cars, education for their children, etc., but whereas those who earned their way were "happier," those who "bought" their way seemed stressed.

I could be wrong. But I'm pretty damn sure I'm not.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

05 July 2006

Cycle of Violence

Jenius reader Gabriel sent a link about the July 3rd shooting of four young men in the coastal town of Guánica. The four young men were between 19 and 25 years of age. Each was shot at least four times. Three of them died instantly; the fourth died shortly after the shooting.

The alleged--now confessed--killer of these four young men is a business owner from a nearby town, a 41-year old furniture craftsman and the father of a 17-year old daughter.

What do We have so far? Four young men, a young lady and the young lady's father. And bullets. Let's look closer.

The four young men all had rap sheets for drug possession. Three of the four had beaten up the business owner for "defending his daughter." Though no details were offered, one can assume that the young men stepped beyond the boundaries of propriety and the father did what a father should: defend his own. The beating prompted the father to press charges and a hearing was pending at the time of the shooting.

It's worth noting that the young men and the business owner live(d) in neighboring towns and that it was in the young men's town that the shooting occurred. Father and daughter were spending the long holiday weekend camping...in Guánica. Tragedy was certainly not expected. For you see, there were two volleys fired that Monday afternoon.

The first was fired from the car which the young men used to drive onto the seaside campground. They fired at the business owner's daughter. She threw herself to the ground. Her father, returning from buying ice, heard the shots, saw his daughter on the ground and thought she had been shot, maybe killed. Pulling his own gun, he raced to the car and blazed away.

Within a minute, four dead men in a town with only one murder in the past two years. Another "massacre" in a long series. Such is Our hideous violence that even civil wars can't match it.

Let's list some facts and conclusions:

1) The young men were not Boy Scouts. That doesn't mean they deserved killing, but that they were more likely to die as they did. Too many of Our young men are in the same probability range.

2) The business owner followed moral and legal duty: he defended his daughter and he pressed charges after being assaulted. Doing his duty, it can be argued, didn't matter.

3) The young men went looking to kill a girl. They tried to kill her. The only apparent "reason" was to intimidate/punish her father. This is the mentality of the ravenous savage: kill for killing's sake.

4) The father reacted with either courage, savagery or insanity at the thought that his girl was wounded or dead. Personally, I don't blame or praise him at all for reacting as he did. Unless you've been there, you have no idea what it's like and saying "I would do this" or "I wouldn't do that" is fatuous at best and sheer stupidity otherwise. But that won't stop people and so-called "analysts" from spending hours doing what's stupid.

5) The business owner had a license to carry his gun. Any bets as to whether the young men had a license for theirs? Guns are not the issue here, but legality is: an illegal gun is equally as likely to kill you as a legal one. The ultimate difference is always who's holding it.

6) Gun-right and gun-control advocates will use this tragedy for their own purposes. But while they play "gotcha!" with their insipid arguments, the key point of this horror is ignored: Our society accepts this level of violence. Until We change that, arguing about guns is like arguing about "corn or wheat?" while a third of the world starves.

7) A father and daughter, knowing what the situation is, decide to spend the weekend in the same town as their aggressors. Folly? Trust? Näivety? I tend to think it was misplaced trust. They trusted that the young men were somewhat honorable or at least cowed by the charges and pending hearing. They trusted that the crowds would be a safety factor, and that police protection, given the large number of people, would be constant. They trusted that sanity would prevail. But how were they to know? They based their trust on themselves, thinking the world was a lot like them. They were wrong.

8) Three young men committed assault and were to face charges. Four died. Why the fourth one was there is obvious: cowardice. Three had failed to successfully take on both a girl and an "old" man, so a little more "power" was needed. And the fourth young man had to have known what was going to happen and not only lacked the moral fiber to reject doing it, he also lacked the courage to stop it. Cowards roam in packs. Just check out Our legislature.

The news of these deaths was, of course, on the radio, television and every major daily. While eating breakfast with My son at a local (Cabo Rojo) fast-food place, over 20 people came and went. They saw the papers. Many of them were listening to the radio in their cars as they drove up. They interacted with employees, some with familiarity. In almost an hour's worth of early-morning chat, when the news of the day can be bandied freely with the sheen of "novelty," only one person remarked on the story. Only one. The young lady said "I camped last year where those guys were killed." From campground to killing ground and back again. The cycle of violence moves relentlessly on.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

03 July 2006


Okay, I admit it. I'm guilty. Guilty of allowing Myself to be sucked away from My original intent to have The Jenius discuss technology, knowledge management, education, entrepreneurship, progress and other such topics that prompted the launch of this blog.

I allowed The Jenius to be sucked into the fetid swamp known as "Aníbal's Asinine Administration," "Pedro's Pathetic Posing," "Loco Legislator Larceny," "Grotesque Government Gluttony" and "Mooing Moronic Media."

Mea culpa.

Back when The Jenius was launching His vision, I wrote columns for a section of PuertoRican.org, a now-defunct website. (I had nothing to do with its closing down, I assure you.) Over the course of 50 columns, I went from asking "Why?" to simply stepping away from the whole thing because I was tired--disgusted--at being so critical so often.

For those of you expecting Me to do the same now, keep hoping.

Unlike the first go-around, The Jenius this time has a solid base of positivism, a wide range of topics, themes and ideas that in some small way help to point Us towards progress. That the tone has moved from cheerleading optimism to venomous attack is simply a personal reaction to the situation We live every day. I'm sure My reaction is neither unique nor extreme: sad to say, this time The Jenius may be in a majority.

Will the tone ever return to rah-rah boosting? No. It would seem incongruent. Will the optimist Jenius reappear? Of course He will. I believe in Puerto Rico. But I simply have no reason or evidence to believe that those trying to run Our show have either the intelligence, the moral values, the dedication or vision to make Our potential come true.

That includes private industry as well, for they have fed off the public teat for so long that the thought of scaling up in talent, processes and capital to compete at the global level makes them sick. It unmans them. So they don't do it.

The solution lies in a massive wave of replacements in government, big business, business groups and media, a change led by those of Us for whom the world is here and now, not in some unnoticed fog somewhere. For those of Us for whom Puerto Rico is launch pad and not universe. For those of Us who feel that dealing with different cultures and different mindsets is adventure, not terror. For those of Us who know that any one of Us can make a difference--without waiting for permission.

We can make this happen. There's enough of Us to try now, to start replacing the fungi with brainpower, the cowardice with courage and the local for the global. We can do this. We have to. And where once The Jenius would have said "And We will," now what He says is: We shall see.

For The Jenius has made His choice and all He wonders, and needs, is: Have you?

The Jenius Has Spoken.