30 July 2007

Learning Life

Just recently, My special friend María did something very few students ever do: She paid to learn.

Instead of having mommy and daddy, or Uncle Sam, pay for the dubious privilege of sitting in a classroom filled with buffoons (and students), María took money from her savings and paid for a 5-week stay in the mountains and rain forests of Ecuador, performing health-related clinical and research duties.

This was not a vacation in some Third World resort: This was staying in a sponsor's home, with cross-country travel amidst heavy mudslides, slogging through a rainy jungle to reach distant villages and spending time in the most powerful educational activity there is: doing.

The program is sponsored by Child Family Health International, who's been recruiting pre-med and medical students to support eastern Ecuadorian communities since 1998. CFHI does the same in other countries spanning three continents, focusing on hands-on, direct contact with the people in order to seek major improvement in their health.

When María told Me what she was going to do, I was all for it. But I asked her how many people thought she was nuts for doing it and her reply was the expected "Almost all of them." You're going to Ecuador? To do work on your vacation? And you're going to pay for it? Most of these same people are either stuck in a rut or looking for the limo lane to Easy Street...and thus they are closer to death than the village dwellers of Puya and Mumbai.

María understands that becoming a doctor is much more than theory: It takes the practice of human interaction to truly have a chance at becoming a great doctor. To achieve greatness in any field means taking risks, whether that risk is as physical as fighting hypothermia in a rain-swept jungle or as emotional as seeing "how the other half lives"--and living with them. When both can be done to further your growth and goals, added to the deep satisfaction of helping others, you are going to the ultimate limit of learning: You are living.

What María acquired during her experiences in Ecuador will serve her for life. For the many who complain that what they learn in the classroom they'll never use again, think about this: María's investment will serve her every day of her life. Would you rather have someone pay for you to waste your time--now and in the future--or would you rather pay to learn something of lifelong value?

Your answer will eventually define you, your life and your level of success. María is already on her way.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

27 July 2007

Writing Whys

There are times, like today, when I can't seem to find something to write about. It isn't that I lack an idea: it's that I have an abundance of them. But instead of latching on to one of them and firing away (or doing some additional research and cogitating), I flit and skip between one idea and another, rejecting all for immediate and instinctive reasons that add up to Not interested.

For that, ultimately, is the bottom line: Am I interested enough to write about it? Fellow bloggers know how hard it is to come up with content on a regular basis. And even though I'm a Jenius, there are times--like today--when clacking out the words seems more like an exhausting trek through a barren wasteland than the usual romp in a meadow.

I have written on a fairly wide variety of topics, from economics, politics and sociology to productivity, business and technology and even beyond. I have hundreds of bookmarks, text snippets and launch points (phrases or angles I'd like to use) in several files, ready to go. And yet, for once, I don't want to use any of it. I simply want to write about not writing.

Maybe I feel less passionate today about...everything. Or maybe I'm too rested, or too comfortable or even too uninformed to generate a spark for blogging flame. I would say it doesn't matter--but it does. For without that spark, there is no point in writing.

Unless I feel compelled to write, nothing else matters. You can agree or disagree with Me, but there has to be something to agree or disagree with. If I break down My blog posts into functions, I am either trying to enlighten, educate, excoriate or entertain; hopefully, I can hit two or more of those functions every time. In any case, I can't carry out those functuions to the standard I hold Myself unless I do it with some measure of passion and take pride in the end result.

And that is where this post is leading...or where it ended up. Passion, the energizing need or motivation to do something and pride, the standard of effort one is willing to make to achieve the result one is willing to feel satisfaction for. Unless there's a strong motivation there can be no true pride in the process and result, at least for Me. Pride could be the motivator, but in My case--in this case--it isn't. I simply used today's lassitude to explore why I write and ended up uncovering obvious, but not necessarily, self-evident factors for why I want to write. And like many explorations, it's funny how what you find leads to other explorations.

I don't have an ending for this post, for it is, in fact, a beginning.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

25 July 2007

Our Delusion of Being Rich

Thanks to The Information Soldier, Aníbal Freytes, who sent me this link to a 2006 Reason article that We both felt had implications for Puerto Rico.

Of the entire fascinating article, two snippets caught My attention. The first:

Red tape discourages new businesses... Poor countries have the worst examples of such regulations, and that is one of the major reasons they are poor. Officials in rich countries perform these basic bureaucratic tasks relatively quickly and cheaply, whereas officials in poor countries draw out the process in hopes of pocketing some extra cash themselves.

Argue if you will, but Puerto Rico is a poor country. Not only poor in comparison to the Big Money Swamp up north, but also poor in relation to what it should be achieving. We have a hollowed-out economy, brain drain, corruption and an outhouse-level education covered up by a welfare system that sucks the productivity out of Us while simultaneously diverting attention from the crumbling chaos We stupidly keep tolerating.

Because We continue to think of Ourselves as a "rich" country, We continue to miss the mark in terms of finding solutions to Our problems. (Too many idiots trying to run the circus also makes a difference.) We sustain Our delusion that We are "rich" by comparing Ourselves with countries far less propped up than We are, the equivalent of riding a bike against runners. The problem here is that We should be driving Our car, not riding a borrowed bike.

A second snippet says:

Since technology is widely available and increasingly cheap, this is what economists should expect of every developing country. In a world of diminishing returns, the poorest countries gain the most from new technology, infrastructure, and education. South Korea, for example, acquired technology by encouraging foreign companies to invest or by paying licensing fees. In addition to the fees, the investing companies sent profits back home. But the gains to Korean workers and investors, in the form of economic growth, were 50 times greater than the fees and profits that left the country.

This is not a secret. Even The Fools here have a vague grasp of this concept as a formula for economic growth. But as usual, they don't understand technology (most of them can't even spell it...and that's no joke), see infrastructure projects as personal cash machines and let's not even get started on the criminal malfeasance that is Our "educational system." While The Fools fiddled in their hallucinations of trying to be personally rich amidst Our equally-illusory dream state, formerly-poor countries became rich, or at least made major progress in changing their fortunes from "limited" to "prosperous."

The difference is obvious: Those prosperous countries discarded delusions and centered themselves on reality. And that reality revolves around laws, investments, education and planning. Laws that streamline progress, rather than impede it. Fostering investments for long-term global growth. Education to make Us global players rather than sullen benchwarmers. And planning that knows the difference between dreams and delusions--and can make the dreams a graspable reality.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

23 July 2007

Rogelio Figueroa: The PPR's Kamikaze

As an advocate for environmental causes, Rogelio Figueroa has distinguished himself as a deft pilot in stormy weather. As the leader of a political party, Figueroa is a kamikaze, flying blind to a willful death.

I've already touched on this topic, but it bears revisiting, if only to show that there's more to this political demise than mere fatalism. It is a structural problem, stemming first from ego, then from a lack of understanding of the roles needed to institutonalize long-term political success.

Setting ego aside for the moment, what Figueroa fails to understand is that he has been an advocate for well over a decade, but a political party--like any organization--is run by a decision-maker. The difference? Let Me quote Morgan Jones, author of The Thinker's Toolkit:

(A)dvocacy does work--when someone other than the advocator makes the decision... But when the advocator is also the decision-maker, advocacy can be destructive of sound, effective and profitable solutions because advocacy feeds and perpetuates our mind-sets, biases, beliefs and prejudices. It thus nurtures our tendency to focus and, in doing so, destroys our objectivity. When we defeat objectivity, we limit, even prevent, our full understanding of the problem. (Emphasis in the original.)

Hewing to the traditional fossilized view of party structure, where the gubernatorial candidate is automatically the party president, Figueroa has anointed himself the chosen one, thinking that the consolidation of power and authority in his hands is the obvious best choice because he simply knows better than anyone else. He thinks he's the brains and heart of this outfit and that there just can't be a better man for the job.

He's right: He is the heart of the party. He is the passionate advocate who steered this group into a new arena, extending their concerns from a single cause (albeit a fundamentally important one) into a political party that seeks to make changes across many causes.

And that is as far as he goes in being right. An advocate who thrusts himself/herself into the role of leader/decision-maker is headed for a thunderous crash, for where advocacy takes heart and passion can serve as overwhelming force, to play the political game takes organization and organization takes brains. And quite simply, Rogelio Figueroa doesn't have the brain to run a political party.

I'm not talking about lack of brainpower, but about a lack of experience, vision and objectivity. He may claim to have vision, but his vision is that of an advocate, not of a party leader. Whereas an advocate races to a horizon, a party leader navigates the speedbumps and obstacles right in front of him/her. Where an advocate takes stands, a party leader builds roads. And where an advocate preaches, a party leader negotiates.

Rogelio Figueroa is an advocate, not a party leader. He will race to the horizon he sees, locked into a position and refusing to make corrections while his political opponents build mountains in front of him. No one will be able to alter the course or divert the plane from its impending doom. Inevitably, Rogelio Figueroa, the PPR's kamikaze, will crash, his path to calamity but another case study of ego-driven failure.

Can this be avoided? Given what I've seen so far, not a chance. There's something funny about a kamikaze who's into his 22nd mission, but about one who succeeds there's only tragedy.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

18 July 2007

Modern Education Now

From Dave Pollard’s always thoughtful How to Save the World comes this insightful overview of Our (as in “American”) educational failure and how to make it work. And if the themes look familiar to Jenius readers, it’s because they are: As a Jenius, I know whose shoulders to stand on. (All emphasis is Mine.)

What is the purpose of education? Those of liberal bent tend to assert it is to allow us to become what we were intended to become -- fully capable individuals and members of community. Conservatives are more inclined to believe it is to acquire the essential survival skills of modern society, efficiently. And there are practical souls who think its purpose is to learn how to make a living.

How would we 'score' the current formal education system of affluent nations on its ability to achieve these purposes? I would grade it rather poorly:

  • Enabling us to realize our full capability – D
  • Enabling us to acquire modern survival skills, including how to make a living -- F

Institutional education has no time, ability or flexibility to help us realize our full capability. Besides, its methods -- teaching in the abstract in classrooms disconnected from the 'real' world, to bums on chairs -- are not effective because this is not how we learn…

The survival skills we need in a modern society are not addressed by the teaching of obedience, numeracy, literacy, and 'management skills'… to survive we need to learn how to learn, we need to understand how the world works, we need to learn to think, critically, creatively and imaginatively and adapt, how to work together, and how to self-manage -- to take care of ourselves and each other. Formal school systems teach us none of these things. Because they are so artificial, inflexible, and predicated on 1-to-n knowledge transfer, and because they depend utterly on the passivity of students, they cannot possibly hope to teach us these things…You learn how to understand your strengths and passions, how to find partners for an enterprise, how to do research on what people need, how to innovate continuously, how to imagine possibilities, how to collaborate, by doing, by practicing, by discovering what works and by making mistakes.

Our formal education system has no time for practicing and allows no room for making mistakes. In this system, practicing is remedial work for those not competent enough at rote learning and not blessed enough with native skills to get it right the first time. And in this system, making mistakes is fatal, carrying the unbearable stigma of failure…It doesn't seem to have occurred to the proponents of our education system that if students aren't succeeding, it is the teachers who should be given a failing grade.

The greatest critics of the formal education system…would have us believe that the designers and proponents of this compulsory system deliberately conspired to make students helpless and dependent (incompetent to make a living for themselves, and hence frightened and compliant to the point they will put up with the drudgery of wage slavery). Whether or not this is true, the reality is that now, thanks to automation and other technology, we no longer need that fear and obedience to keep the industrial economy humming along…(because) (i)n fact, that complacency and incompetence has now become a liability.

…(W)e need to create an entirely new learning process, and let the old system crumble…I suspect this new learning process would have these attributes:

  • It would be a self-managed process, both at the individual and at the community level. We would trust people to do what they want, to learn…When I was in my last year of high school, we were exempted from classes if we attained certain test grades, and by the end of that year we had learned to learn from each other and from the real world, away from classrooms and teachers, so well that our 'de-schooled' group won almost all the scholarships.
  • It would be based on apprenticeship (which literally means 'grasping', 'understanding'), learning by observation of those acknowledged by the learner as having exceptional capability, and on practice (literally, 'becoming better').
  • It would be playful, joyful, fun.
  • Skills like literacy and numeracy would be learned in the context of apprenticeship and practice, not as separate 'subjects'.
  • The entrepreneurs and artisans from whom we learn would not be paid, but would know that they would eventually be rewarded for what they showed others…
  • The role of those who care about learning would be creating tools that make learning easier and more powerful.
  • The activities of selected mentors would be primarily listening, facilitation and, when requested, coaching.
  • A key objective of the process would be achieving autonomy, freedom from dependence, self-sufficiency.
  • Another objective would be cultural regeneration -- relearning local (connected to place) skills that have been forgotten.
  • The process would be improvisational and evolutionary, not planned or designed.
  • It would be based on growing hopefulness, not raising expectations or achieving goals.
  • It would entail renouncing those technologies and other obstacles that impede true friendship, which is essential for collaboration and learning to make a living together.

Now back to Me: It isn't a matter of if We are going to make this change, but when. The modern world is increasingly "compete or fester," and whether you like that or not, it's what's real.

The Jenius Has Quoted.

16 July 2007

Stillbirth of the PPR

Puerrtorriqueños por Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico (PPR) is the political party that beat the odds, The Fools and the calendar to become a legitimately registered entity for the local 2008 elections. Launched 12 years ago as a "protect the environment" group, the PPR has emerged as an alternative to the current sumphole of crooks, liars, criminals and hyenas that run this near-chaotic Island.

At present, the PPR has avoided creating the automatic "hook" so people can decide whether to support it or not, namely, proclaiming a status solution as part of their platform. Athough status is a non-issue in Our daily lives (except for The Fools who use it to batter the media with their loathsome utterings), it is an issue in deciding what party one identifies with. And even then, most of Us can't adequately define the status We support, more than that can't define the statuses they reject and nearly all of Us are unaware of the factors that truly lead Us to a non-defined status solution.

What the PPR says they support is educating Us on the status debate, clearing out the reeking political partisanship and framing the discussion in ways that help Us understand the underlying factors, the need and the potential paths opened up to Us by making a choice. Laudable goals, these. And they are never going to happen.

For you see, the PPR is a stillbirth, a neonate with a dying heartbeat. In typical fixed-focus fashion, the PPR zeroed in so hard on becoming a registered party that they totally ignored the hard work needed to actually be a party once the registration was completed. It's as if they spent all their energies in building a race car and come race day, they forgot to prepare for the race.

Continuing the analogy, they also have the wrong driver. PPR president and co-founder, Rogelio Figueroa, has placed himself in a no-win situation that, by extension, will drive the party into extinction. He has let his ego take over and begun acting like a candidate for governor, instead of thinking long-term strategy and placing himself in a Senatorial candidacy, where grass-roots support would almost certainly gain him a top ranking amongst at-large candidates.

Figueroa's problem, so typical of political rookies, is that he believes his current "popularity" actually translates into votes come election time. Figueroa is unaware and unwilling to understand that the lofty and energizing position of "outsider offering hope" will be battered over the next 16 months into "outsider who can't find his ass with a map" by his opponents, exposing him for what he truly is: A woefully weak candidate for governor, without experience, without a platform, without a well-oiled party machine, without true solutions and most importantly, without links in government, where a good 22-25% of the vote comes from.

Given My track record on politics, why do I care? Because Rogelio Figueroa doesn't. He doesn't really care about Puerto Rico, or its environment, its economy, its education or its status. He may have cared once; may still be capable of caring. But not now. Now Rogelio Figueroa is simply another bedazzled would-be Fool, confusing scattered high-fives in his walks around the Island with deeply-felt support when the chips--and the economic reality behind every vote--are on the table. He believes he alone has the solutions, the ideas, the power, to take the PPR to La Fortaleza and single-handedly--isolated amidst a sea of non-partisans--run this country.

Rogelio Figueroa is wrong. He can't win the governor's seat by himself; he can't win, period. He could, of course, swallow his over-inflated ego and elect (pun definitely intended) to run for the Senate and aim to make the PPR a viable third party where none currently exists, a third party that can develop its ideas, solutions and political muscle to make the 2012 elections a true watershed moment in Our history. He could.

He won't. Rogelio Figueroa, the outsider with a vision, has thrown away that much-needed advantage in order to become no better than any other Fool scrabbling for fame, glory and power. I'd yawn, but I have so many other better things to do with My time.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

13 July 2007

Jenius' Strengths Report

Here, for your edification and possible amusement, is My Top Five Strengths Report, from the profile service outlined in Now, Find Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton.


Top Five Strengths Report for Gil C. Schmidt

You love to solve problems. Whereas some are dismayed when they encounter yet another breakdown, you can be energized by it. You enjoy the challenge of analyzing the symptoms, identifying what is wrong, and finding the solution. You may prefer practical problems or conceptual ones or personal ones. You may seek out specific kinds of problems that you have met many times before and that you are confident you can fix. Or you may feel the greatest push when faced with complex and unfamiliar problems. Your exact preferences are determined by your other themes and experiences. But what is certain is that you enjoy bringing things back to life. It is a wonderful feeling to identify the undermining factor(s), eradicate them, and restore something to its true glory. Intuitively, you know that without your intervention, this thing--this machine, this technique, this person, this company--might have ceased to function. You fixed it, resuscitated it, rekindled its vitality. Phrasing it the way you might, you saved it.

The Strategic theme enables you to sort through the clutter and find the best route. It is not a skill that can be taught. It is a distinct way of thinking, a special perspective on the world at large. This perspective allows you to see patterns where others simply see complexity. Mindful of these patterns, you play out alternative scenarios, always asking, "What if this happened? Okay, well what if this happened?" This recurring question helps you see around the next corner. There you can evaluate accurately the potential obstacles. Guided by where you see each path leading, you start to make selections. You discard the paths that lead nowhere. You discard the paths that lead straight into resistance. You discard the paths that lead into a fog of confusion. You cull and make selections until you arrive at the chosen path-your strategy. Armed with
your strategy, you strike forward. This is your Strategic theme at work: "What if?" Select. Strike.

You like to explain, to describe, to host, to speak in public, and to write. This is your Communication theme at work. Ideas are a dry beginning. Events are static. You feel a need to bring them to life, to energize them, to make them exciting and vivid. And so you turn events into stories and practice telling them. You take the dry idea and enliven it with images and examples and metaphors. You believe that most people have a very short attention span. They are bombarded by information, but very little of it survives. You want your information-whether an idea, an event, a product's features and benefits, a discovery, or a lesson-to survive. You want to divert their attention toward you and then capture it, lock it in. This is what drives your hunt for the perfect phrase. This is what draws you toward dramatic words and powerful word
combinations. This is why people like to listen to you. Your word pictures pique their interest, sharpen their world, and inspire them to act.

You are fascinated by ideas. What is an idea? An idea is a concept, the best explanation of the most events. You are delighted when you discover beneath the complex surface an elegantly simple concept to explain why things are the way they are. An idea is a connection. Yours is the kind of mind that is always
looking for connections, and so you are intrigued when seemingly disparate phenomena can be linked by an obscure connection. An idea is a new perspective on familiar challenges. You revel in taking the world we all know and turning it around so we can view it from a strange but strangely enlightening angle. You love all these ideas because they are profound, because they are novel, because they are clarifying, because they are contrary, because they are bizarre. For all these reasons you derive a jolt of energy whenever a new idea occurs to you. Others may label you creative or original or conceptual or even smart. Perhaps you are all of these. Who can be sure? What you are sure of is that ideas are thrilling. And on most days this is enough.

You love to learn. The subject matter that interests you most will be determined by your other themes and experiences, but whatever the subject, you will always be drawn to the process of learning. The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you. You are energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence. The thrill of the first few facts, the early efforts to recite or practice what you have learned, the growing confidence of a skill mastered-this is the process that entices you. Your excitement leads you to engage in adult learning experiences-yoga or piano lessons or graduate classes. It enables you to thrive in dynamic work environments where you are asked to take on short project assignments and are expected to learn a lot about the new subject matter in a short period of time and then move on to the next one. This Learner theme does not necessarily mean that you seek to become the subject matter expert, or that you are striving for the respect that accompanies a professional or academic credential. The outcome of the learning is less significant than the "getting there."

The Jenius Has Been Spoken About.

11 July 2007

Heinlein's School for Life

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Those words were written by Robert Heinlein, one of the true giants of science fiction. In it, Heinlein distills the crux of modern education: The transition from specialization--knowing more and more about less and less to increase your value--versus generalization--the development of skills and abilities to meet the ever-increasing pace of change, thus increasing your value.

Reread the list above and note how many you can do. You know what you can and can't do. Now look at what the list covers and ask yourself: How many of these are taught in schools?

The obvious ones jump out at you: Design a building, program a computer and set a bone, for example. There are others that come from life experiences, such as butcher a hog, pitch manure, change a diaper, give and take orders and build a wall. But beyond all that, where do you go to learn how to comfort the dying, to cooperate, to act alone and to die gallantly?

What Heinlein did was encapsulate the obvious notion that a human being is a sum of his or her parts and that by narrowing that person's potential--what "modern" education does--the system actually reduces that human being's overall value.

But also, by extension, Heinlein is saying that no school, no single educational system, is best for preparing and actuating a human being's full potential. I learned to cook becaue My mom insisted I learn at her side. I learned to act alone because I was alone, family and friends 2,400 miles away from Me. I learned to give and take orders by painful exposure to My own drives and rules I often chose to ignore. I learned to comfort the dying out of fear of what the loss would mean to Me, so I actually learned to turn Fear into Love and give it away. None of this I ever learned in school.

On the other hand, balance accounts, analyze a problem and write a sonnet I--didn't--learn in school either. Of Heinlein's list, all I learned in school was to solve equations and start learning how to act alone. Maybe a little about cooperation and a useless surfeit of taking orders.

I'm not the typical student, but then again, neither are you. There are no "typical" students, only students, would-be learners, candidates of potential and for realization. Humor Me by going over the list one more time and tell Me: Would you rather go to Heinlein's "school" or what We call school now?

I already gave you My answer.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

09 July 2007

Pre-Conspiracy Idiots

I have a friend who's a conspiracy buff, one of those people who believes that all of written history is wrong, that the facts have been hidden and that the real story can only be uncovered through near-superhuman efforts of reorienting and reconnecting facts.

To his surprise, he found I was well-versed in conspiracy theories: Rothschilds, Masons, Merovingian dynasty, Hoffa's Mafia ties to President Kennedy's assasination, the Trilateral Commission and several more. Of course, he had even more elaborate and recondite theories to pepper a conversation with, including one where aliens have been the dominant species on Earth since Angkor Wat. (Shades of Scientology crap.)

The problem with conspiracy theories is that they are meaningless. I illustrated this by using 100 jigsaw puzzles as an example. Scramble the 100 puzzles' pieces, turn them over so they are only shades of gray and then go wild finding two pieces that fit together. Create a section large enough to please your ego and then show it to everyone. It fits! Until you look beyond that--to the other side, so to speak--and discover that what you have is a useless mish-mash.

Conspiracy buffs take any fact, rotate it in any way they choose then plug it into another fact (or conclusion, opinion, supposition, idea, notion or wild-hair-up-the-ass dream) to create some amalgam of mush that has as much relation to Truth as Gummi Bears have to nutrition.

Why do they do this? To feel smarter. To feel smarter than "the unenlightened." To feel smarter because they have "hidden knowledge" or "the secret." It's a lame attempt at intellectual pretension, a cynic's pose fueled by too much time and not enough thinking, a lazy person's path to never achieving Truth.

But conspiracy buffs, by definition, operate their bumble-brain illogic after the fact. What do We call those who do so before the fact, in essence, distorting, lying, obfuscating, hiding and twisting facts to suit their own illogic, delusions and just plain stupidity?

We call those Bush, Cheney, Gonzales, Rice, Libby, Rumsfeld, Rove...

Those are this generation's reckless idiots, a murderous moron to lead them. Their type has been around for centuries and will continue for many more. But for now, We see the worst of them, the very nadir of the unenlightened, uninformed, unprepared, incapable and even insane relaters to Truth. All hail the murderous moron and his subnormal minions! For from them will come all too many more.

As George Orwell said, "During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act." Remember what the minions and theorists don't understand: The Truth is never--never--a conspiracy.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

06 July 2007

Indifference Squared

I've noticed that people in Puerto Rico are often indifferent to their community's problems. By extension, they are largely indifferent to national problems. For a time, I was critical of this stance. Now I defend it--partially.

Like any organism in an over-stimulating environment, We either select the stimuli We are willing to respond to or We let Ourselves end up catatonic. If one simply lives their daily routine with the attention level of pond scum, one can manage quite well. But as one's attention and perception levels increase, the tendency to become overwhelmed increases, ending either in disgust and rejection (back to pond scum level, albeit by conscious choice), catatonia or righteous-but-flaccid indignation.

And the reason one's indignation is flaccid is that the opportunity to make one's anger heard, or to put one's desired solution into effect, has been either blocked (to serve the convenience of those who benefit from keeping the crappiness flowing), subverted (ditto) or tossed under the extended mantle of indifference.

So being indifferent is an adaptation to...indifference. How quaint.

But an adaptation, by any organism, that limits said organism's chances for progress and even survival is not an adaptation--it is a dead end. What it allows is for a maladaptive evolution in which a majority heads straight into extinction, leaving a minority as survivors.

In Nature, them's the breaks. In Puerto Rico, it's an avoidable shame.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

04 July 2007

Dick Bush, I Say

From Keith Olbermann, the rational voice of a country's righteous anger and desire for respect, on the indefensible action of the murderous moron in pardoning Lewis "Scooter" Libby:

“I didn’t vote for him,” an American once said, “But he’s my president, and I hope he does a good job.”

That—on this eve of the 4th of July—is the essence of this democracy, in 17 words. And that is what President Bush threw away yesterday in commuting the sentence of Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

The man who said those 17 words—improbably enough—was the actor John Wayne. And Wayne, an ultra-conservative, said them, when he learned of the hair’s-breadth election of John F. Kennedy instead of his personal favorite, Richard Nixon in 1960.

“I didn’t vote for him but he’s my president, and I hope he does a good job.”

The sentiment was doubtlessly expressed earlier, but there is something especially appropriate about hearing it, now, in Wayne’s voice: The crisp matter-of-fact acknowledgement that we have survived, even though for nearly two centuries now, our Commander-in-Chief has also served, simultaneously, as the head of one political party and often the scourge of all others.

We as citizens must, at some point, ignore a president’s partisanship. Not that we may prosper as a nation, not that we may achieve, not that we may lead the world—but merely that we may function.

But just as essential to the seventeen words of John Wayne, is an implicit trust—a sacred trust: That the president for whom so many did not vote, can in turn suspend his political self long enough, and for matters imperative enough, to conduct himself solely for the benefit of the entire Republic.

Our generation’s willingness to state “we didn’t vote for him, but he’s our president, and we hope he does a good job,” was tested in the crucible of history, and earlier than most.

And in circumstances more tragic and threatening. And we did that with which history tasked us.

We enveloped our President in 2001.And those who did not believe he should have been elected—indeed those who did not believe he had been elected—willingly lowered their voices and assented to the sacred oath of non-partisanship.

And George W. Bush took our assent, and re-configured it, and honed it, and shaped it to a razor-sharp point and stabbed this nation in the back with it.

Were there any remaining lingering doubt otherwise, or any remaining lingering hope, it ended yesterday when Mr. Bush commuted the prison sentence of one of his own staffers.

Did so even before the appeals process was complete; did so without as much as a courtesy consultation with the Department of Justice; did so despite what James Madison—at the Constitutional Convention—said about impeaching any president who pardoned or sheltered those who had committed crimes “advised by” that president; did so without the slightest concern that even the most detached of citizens must look at the chain of events and wonder: To what degree was Mr. Libby told: break the law however you wish—the President will keep you out of prison?

In that moment, Mr. Bush, you broke that fundamental com-pact between yourself and the majority of this nation’s citizens—the ones who did not cast votes for you. In that moment, Mr. Bush, you ceased to be the President of the United States. In that moment, Mr. Bush, you became merely the President of a rabid and irresponsible corner of the Republican Party. And this is too important a time, Sir, to have a commander-in-chief who puts party over nation.

This has been, of course, the gathering legacy of this Administration. Few of its decisions have escaped the stain of politics. The extraordinary Karl Rove has spoken of “a permanent Republican majority,” as if such a thing—or a permanent Democratic majority—is not antithetical to that upon which rests: our country, our history, our revolution, our freedoms.

Yet our Democracy has survived shrewder men than Karl Rove. And it has survived the frequent stain of politics upon the fabric of government. But this administration, with ever-increasing insistence and almost theocratic zealotry, has turned that stain into a massive oil spill.

The protection of the environment is turned over to those of one political party, who will financially benefit from the rape of the environment. The protections of the Constitution are turned over to those of one political party, who believe those protections unnecessary and extravagant and quaint.

The enforcement of the laws is turned over to those of one political party, who will swear beforehand that they will not enforce those laws. The choice between war and peace is turned over to those of one political party, who stand to gain vast wealth by ensuring that there is never peace, but only war.

And now, when just one cooked book gets corrected by an honest auditor, when just one trampling of the inherent and inviolable fairness of government is rejected by an impartial judge, when just one wild-eyed partisan is stopped by the figure of blind justice, this President decides that he, and not the law, must prevail.

I accuse you, Mr. Bush, of lying this country into war.

I accuse you of fabricating in the minds of your own people, a false implied link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11.

I accuse you of firing the generals who told you that the plans for Iraq were disastrously insufficient.

I accuse you of causing in Iraq the needless deaths of 3,586 of our brothers and sons, and sisters and daughters, and friends and neighbors.

I accuse you of subverting the Constitution, not in some misguided but sincerely-motivated struggle to combat terrorists, but to stifle dissent.

I accuse you of fomenting fear among your own people, of creating the very terror you claim to have fought.

I accuse you of exploiting that unreasoning fear, the natural fear of your own people who just want to live their lives in peace, as a political tool to slander your critics and libel your opponents.

I accuse you of handing part of this Republic over to a Vice President who is without conscience, and letting him run roughshod over it.

And I accuse you now, Mr. Bush, of giving, through that Vice President, carte blanche to Mr. Libby, to help defame Ambassador Joseph Wilson by any means necessary, to lie to Grand Juries and Special Counsel and before a court, in order to protect the mechanisms and particulars of that defamation, with your guarantee that Libby would never see prison, and, in so doing, as Ambassador Wilson himself phrased it here last night, of becoming an accessory to the obstruction of justice.

When President Nixon ordered the firing of the Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox during the infamous “Saturday Night Massacre” on October 20th, 1973, Cox initially responded tersely, and ominously.

“Whether ours shall be a government of laws and not of men, is now for Congress, and ultimately, the American people.”

President Nixon did not understand how he had crystallized the issue of Watergate for the American people.

It had been about the obscure meaning behind an attempt to break in to a rival party’s headquarters; and the labyrinthine effort to cover-up that break-in and the related crimes.

And in one night, Nixon transformed it.

Watergate—instantaneously—became a simpler issue: a President overruling the inexorable march of the law of insisting—in a way that resonated viscerally with millions who had not previously understood - that he was the law.

Not the Constitution. Not the Congress. Not the Courts. Just him.

Just - Mr. Bush - as you did, yesterday.

The twists and turns of Plame-Gate, of your precise and intricate lies that sent us into this bottomless pit of Iraq; your lies upon the lies to discredit Joe Wilson; your lies upon the lies upon the lies to throw the sand at the “referee” of Prosecutor Fitzgerald’s analogy. These are complex and often painful to follow, and too much, perhaps, for the average citizen.

But when other citizens render a verdict against your man, Mr. Bush—and then you spit in the faces of those jurors and that judge and the judges who were yet to hear the appeal—the average citizen understands that, Sir.

It’s the fixed ballgame and the rigged casino and the pre-arranged lottery all rolled into one—and it stinks. And they know it.

Nixon’s mistake, the last and most fatal of them, the firing of Archibald Cox, was enough to cost him the presidency. And in the end, even Richard Nixon could say he could not put this nation through an impeachment.

It was far too late for it to matter then, but as the decades unfold, that single final gesture of non-partisanship, of acknowledged responsibility not to self, not to party, not to “base,” but to country, echoes loudly into history. Even Richard Nixon knew it was time to resign

Would that you could say that, Mr. Bush. And that you could say it for Mr. Cheney. You both crossed the Rubicon yesterday. Which one of you chose the route, no longer matters. Which is the ventriloquist, and which the dummy, is irrelevant.

But that you have twisted the machinery of government into nothing more than a tawdry machine of politics, is the only fact that remains relevant.

It is nearly July 4th, Mr. Bush, the commemoration of the moment we Americans decided that rather than live under a King who made up the laws, or erased them, or ignored them—or commuted the sentences of those rightly convicted under them—we would force our independence, and regain our sacred freedoms.

We of this time—and our leaders in Congress, of both parties—must now live up to those standards which echo through our history: Pressure, negotiate, impeach—get you, Mr. Bush, and Mr. Cheney, two men who are now perilous to our Democracy, away from its helm.

For you, Mr. Bush, and for Mr. Cheney, there is a lesser task. You need merely achieve a very low threshold indeed. Display just that iota of patriotism which Richard Nixon showed, on August 9th, 1974.


And give us someone—anyone—about whom all of us might yet be able to quote John Wayne, and say, “I didn’t vote for him, but he’s my president, and I hope he does a good job.”

The Jenius Has Quoted.

02 July 2007

Who's to Say

Who's to say Puerto Rico's future is mortgaged to a present filled with incompetence, corruption and near-total indifference to anything other than "what I want"?

Who's to say Puerto Rico lacks the guts, drive and discipline to make things right and salvage the future?

Who's to say Puerto Rico has been throwing away its sweat, talent and potential in pursuit of a ravaged "American dream," so badly distorted it qualifies as a carnival funhouse mirror freak show?

Who's to say?

I'm one. There are others, but far fewer than the self-proclaimed "independent thinkers," who can barely articulate a coherent thought and thus are far from independent. How to tell the difference? The unqualified play the blame game of pointing fingers, at another party, or demographic group or country.

The true critics--the ones who are right--know the blame is shared, by myriad "them" and plenty of "Us." It has to be that way, for "they" aren't omnipotent and "We" aren't totally näive. But because the blame is shared, because the problems arise in multiple areas and because it is Our Future that is at personal stake, it is up to Us to make the changes We need to achieve the Future We deserve.

Not a party.

Not the U.S. (a laughable option, at best; a humiliating rape, at worst.)

Not the United Nations (a laughable option. Period.)


And yet most of Us would rather ignore or lambaste anyone with the guts and rationality to answer "Who's to say?" by declaring: Me.

The Jenius Has Spoken.