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, and is part of an AT&T campaign to encourage people not to send text messages while driving).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Destination: The Performing Arts Center of Santurce

Home to the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, the Luis A. Ferré Performing Arts Center, or el Centro de Bellas Artes, located in Santurce is also host to some of the island's most widely acclaimed music and dance festivals. It is perhaps Puerto Rico's most prominent venue for the performing arts. In fact, at the end of this month, the widely acclaimed Broadway musical "In the Heights," will be performing there. With the start of the holiday season, the National Ballet Theater of Puerto Rico has just began its interpretation of "The Nutcracker" at El Centro de Bellas Artes as well.

The Casals Festival, is an annual classical music event held in El Centro de Bellas Artes in honor of the late musician Pablo Casals. It is the best place to get a taste of Puerto Rico's performing arts culture. The center is under the auspices of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, or el Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña. Since it's a public corporation, it largely depends on government funding, as well as private donations and patrons. This year, the government slashed its general budget by over 50%, from $3.3 million in 2009 to $1.4 million in 2010, but was able to assign the center an additional $1.4 million from an economic stabilization fund. If you enjoy the performing arts, I urge you to support El Centro de Bellas Artes by attending one of their performances. Those who are 60 years old or over, can purchase tickets with a 50% discount at the box office. Better yet, those 75 years old or over can attend most performances for free and only have to pay a small handling fee. To find out more about upcoming performances, please click here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Saluting Our Veterans

The Veterans' Hospital in Puerto Rico is expected to receive $42 million dollars in funding to improve and expand health care services for the estimated 200,000 veterans who live on the island. Some of this money will be used to open new clinics in rural areas such as Utuado and Comerío, as well as in the islands of Vieques and Culebra. This additional funding is desperately needed, and comes at a time when many veterans have complained of inadequate medical services they've received at the Veterans' Hospital. Some of these complaints include the presence of unhygienic and inadequate medical equipment. In fact, the Office of the Inspector General of the Veterans' Affairs (VA) is currently investigating into the possible infection of veterans with venereal diseases, such as Hepatitis B and C, for those who were treated at the hospital between 2007 and 2009.

Sadly, such infection control breaches are not isolated to Puerto Rico. VA medical facilities in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee have also reported egregiously bad conditions. A friend of mine, who is a veteran of the Gulf War, has told me of his refusal to receive medical treatment at the Veterans' Hospital on the island. It's ironic when soldiers are willing to sacrifice their lives for their country but yet don't trust the quality of care offered to them once back home. Furthermore, with the thousands of soldiers who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the demand for medical attention has outpaced the availability of services available. In saluting and honoring our veterans, we need to make sure they get the treatment and care that they deserve.

(Photo credit: Jae C. Hon/AP)