Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Record Year

From snowstorms in the Northeastern part of the U.S to massive flooding in Colombia and Venezuela, 2010 has turned out to be a record year of extreme weather conditions and natural disasters. As of December 21st of this year, Puerto Rico received 88.6 inches of rain. This surpasses the 87.55 inches registered in 1931, making 2010 the year in which the island received the most amount of rainfall. Recently, there has also been a lot of seismic activity registered on the island, which lies on both the North American and Caribbean plates. Although they're small movements, ranging from 2.5 to 3 on the Richter scale, a 5.4 earthquake did hit the island on Christmas Eve. Fortunately, there were no injuries or serious damages reported.

Puerto Rico also emerged relatively unscathed this past hurricane season. However, as in many parts of the world, we've definitely been feeling the effects of climate change. In the San Juan metro area, we've had quite a few days where the high temperature has reached only into the low to mid-70 degrees Fahrenheit (about 22 degrees Celsius). The normal high for this time of the year is the low-80 degrees Fahrenheit. As it turns out, this cooling trend is taking place in many parts of of the world, most notably in the Eastern U.S and Europe this winter. I urge you to read the New York Times Op-Ed piece, "Bundle Up, It's Global Warming," to get a better understanding of the causes attributing to this worldwide phenomenon. Meanwhile, I'll be keeping my rain jacket and umbrella handy.

(Photo credit: Mariel Mejía Ortiz/El Nuevo Día)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Wishing all of you a wonderful holiday season, and a very happy and healthy 2011! The image on the left is a collage of photos I took during the past few weeks. Starting with the top two are scenes from the most frightening place to be, especially as Christmas approaches, in the San Juan metro area: Plaza Las Américas. It's the largest shopping mall in the Caribbean, need I say more? In the middle row, the building with the wreaths is the Department of State in Old San Juan. Next, the photo with the two dolls is part of a series of Christmas window displays in Ciudadela, a condominium in Santurce. Finally, on the bottom left-hand corner is the San Juan City Hall located in Old San Juan. Last but not least, lechón (pork, thus the pig's head) is something which nearly all Boricuas eat during the holiday season. It's delicious. Muchas felicidades a todos!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Perceptions on Corruption

In a report recently published by Transparency International, it was found that one in four people in this world paid a bribe this year. Most were paid to police officers, followed by permit registries and those in the judiciary system. The majority of those surveyed say corruption in their country has increased over the past few years, and most have very little trust in their government. This sentiment is widely shared by most people living in Puerto Rico. This past year, the FBI conducted its largest police corruption investigation and made 129 arrests on the island. Politicians who take bribes and kickbacks are also a dime a dozen. One of the most egregious examples would be Jorge de Castro Font, who is now claiming insanity. The latest corrupt politician to emerge on the scene is Iván Rodríguez Traverzo, a former House Representative who was expelled after he was found blackmailing a group of small-inn owners, who had refused to bribe him.

Corruption, considered in some parts of the world as a necessary evil, is not generally tolerated on the island. After Chile, Puerto Rico is ranked second (and 33rd overall) as the least corrupt country in Latin America by Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index in 2010. The island has been slowly moving up the index, ranking 36th in 2008 and 35th in 2009, out of the 178 countries being listed. Keep in mind the word "perceptions," as this index is by and large the view of business people who participated in this report. If those living on the island were to be surveyed, Puerto Rico would either remain in a state of inertia, or perhaps move in the opposite direction of the index. One of the most likely reasons why the island is moving up this ranking is not because it has made tremendous strides in transparency, but because in some parts of the world government skulduggery and malfeasance is even worse.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Man's Best Friends

"100,000" is a documentary focusing on a confounding problem in Puerto Rico: stray dogs. The title indicates the number of estimated stray dogs on the island, notice it doesn't even include the population of stray cats. As I recently decided to adopt a dog, I've been calling and gathering information on animal shelters. Unbeknownst to me, the island has such an overwhelming amount of stray animals, several organizations have sprung up to help them find a home in the U.S. Island Dogs and Save a Sato are two such organizations on the island which provide adoption assistance. Amigos de los Animales even helps tourists bring a pet back home should they encounter one while vacationing on the island.

For those who are not interested in adopting a pet, you can still help. According to its Website, Save a Sato is currently looking for people who are flying from San Juan to New York, Boston, Fort Lauderdale, amongst other U.S cities, to help them escort dogs. In addition, most of these organizations also accept donations. If you are on the island and are looking for the nearest animal shelter, click here. When I decided that I wanted a dog, I was debating on whether to buy one from a breeder or adopt one. After searching for information on adoption, and found out about Dead Dog Beach, I immediately decided on the latter option. Sadly, of the estimated 500 million dogs in the world, 75% are strays.

(The image above was obtained from www.100000movie.com).

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Unfinished Business

"No a la injusticia," ("No to injustice") read the sign of one student, referring to the $800 fee in which University of Puerto Rico (UPR) students are expected to pay in January. Back in April, I had blogged about the student strike, which finally ended in June after a two month shutdown of the university. The students proclaimed victory at the end of the strike, as canceled tuition waivers were reinstated and tuition hikes were temporarily withheld. However, the university administration never ruled out the $800 fee. This latest round of protests, as well as talk of yet another shutdown, is anything but surprising. "La lucha sigue," ("the fight continues") expressed those who attended, an estimated 2,094 people, the student national assembly held in Ponce at the end of June. The University of Puerto Rico, which is comprised of 11 campuses around the island, has over 60,000 students.

While the fight continues for less than 5% of the entire student body, at least those who have the audacity to do so, perhaps the rest are cognizant of the potential dangers lying ahead. As a result of the two month student strike, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) has placed the UPR's accreditation on probation. The leadership and governance of UPR was also cited as another reason for MSCHE's decision. This does not bode well for an overwhelming majority of students, most of whom depend on federal assistance such as Pell Grants, to pay their tuition. Many will stand to lose such financial assistance should the MSCHE decide to terminate the university's accreditation. Looking at the situation from a financial perspective, students can either pay the $800 fee or risk losing thousands in federal funding. Life involves knowing how to pick and choose your battles. Perhaps it's time for Jon Stewart to pay a visit to the island and organize a "Rally to Restore Sanity."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

You Are How You Drive

Boom! I thought I heard someone hit an electric post outside my house as I raced to the balcony to see what was going on. Turns out it was a lot worse than what I had suspected. Lying on the ground, in the middle of the street, was a homeless man. The driver did not appear to be drunk as he explained to the police officers what had happened. We had heard him simply say, "no lo ví" (translation: "I didn't see him"). It's hard to imagine how he couldn't have not seen him though. My street is not lighted up like a Christmas tree, but it is not pitch dark either. I began to suspect that perhaps the man was using his cellphone while driving when he hit this homeless person, who looked like he had a broken leg.

After nearly 20 minutes or so, which felt like an eternity, an ambulance arrived to take the homeless man away. I was relieved that he was alive, and couldn't help but think what had happened to the driver. In the U.S, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 due to distracted driving. An estimated half a million were injured during the same year. There are 30 states, including DC and Guam, which have banned text-messaging while behind the wheel. Furthermore, there are 8 states, including DC and the Virgin Islands, that have banned the usage of cellphones while driving.

While Puerto Ricans are said to be the world's most heavy cellphone users, legislation to ban the usage of them while driving has gone nowhere. Instead, more attention has been focused on drunk driving, which accounted for nearly 40% of auto accident deaths on the island over the past 10 years. Meanwhile, a study found more than half of the drivers on the island use their cellphones while behind the wheel, which is just as harmful (if not worse) as driving under the influence of alcohol. The only drivers on the island prohibited from sending text messages while driving are federal employees and truck drivers. Until the government deems that enough accidents have occurred as a result of distracted driving, and decides to pass laws to ban the usage of cellphones while behind the wheel, I suppose we'll just have to do a countless number of Hail Marys before hitting the road.

(The image above was obtained from Mashable.com, and is part of an AT&T campaign to encourage people not to send text messages while driving).