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(506) 2223-1327                     Published Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013,  in Vol. 13, No. 5                Email us
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Paranormal: The darling of editors and reporters
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The last resort in a slow news month is the paranormal. Such tales draw high readership and are generally harmless.

Newspaper editors love Bigfoot, UFOs, curses, Nessy, ghosts and all their cousins.

The latest case is that of the police station in Siquirres, Limón, where officers were reported to be frightened by a dwarf ghost. El Diario Extra, a publication not known for critical thought, had the story Monday. Some police officers were taking photos inside the station and one showed a shadow. This generated the recollection of all kinds of unusual events there, said the newspaper.

Costa Rica is famous the world over for the stone spheres found in the Diques region. Archeologist think they have reasonable ideas of why they were made by local crafts persons before the Spanish arrival. But tons of newsprint and large amounts of electrons have been expended to characterize the spheres as the works of space aliens, Atlanteans or others.

Stone spheres notwithstanding, Costa Rica seems to support a more traditional type of paranormal characters. There is the El Cadejo, the phantom dog that hunts drunks, the oxcart without oxen that warns against sacrilege and other colonial phantoms.
Then there is the more modern phenomenon of unidentified flying objects. One is said to have been photographed in 1971 flying into Lago Coto on the northeast side of Lake Arenal. That photo is well known in UFO circles.

Ghosts make good copy as well as television footage. The high season for spooks is around Halloween, but an active poltergeist will send camera operators scrambling at any time of the year.

Costa Rica even has an organization that investigates such events. The group has found cases to study in Cartago, Heredia, San José de la Montaña, Zapote, Guadalupe, Coronado, San Ramón and Desamparados. Usually the case involves a family that is troubled by unexplained events.

In one case, the paranormal investigators concluded that the home was constructed near an earthquake fault.

In nearly all cases, when all the facts are known, the mysterious becomes the mundane. For example, the police officer in Siquirres might have a smudge on his camera lens.

Yet, if one believes in traditional Christianity, as do many Costa Ricans, the individual also must believe in Satan and all his demonic followers. Consequently the population is well disposed to accept paranormal explanations.


Two policemen and suspect die in robbery encounter
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two Fuerza Pública officers died Monday night when apparent home burglars ran them down to make a getaway.

Celso Gamboa, the vice minister of security, identified the men as Jesús Peraza Garro and Juan Carlos Jiménez Pérez. He called them heroes.

The deaths took place in Cariari de Pococi where one of the three suspects also died, said Gamboa via
Twitter. He and other top security officials were on the scene late last night.

Gamboa said that the officers were run over by criminals who had just robbed a house.

He said that police mounted strong efforts to find the killers. Shortly after 10 p.m. he reported that one suspect was in custody. At 11:14 p.m. he said a second suspect was in custody. Then at 11:30 p.m. he reported that a home had been located where the goods taken in the theft had been found.

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Bull encounters at Zapote
resulted in 257 injuries


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bulls racked up a score of 257 in sending that many informal bull fighters and bull riders to the physician.

The Cruz Roja, which maintains a clinic at the Zapote festival rondel said it treated that many toreros improvisados and bull riders during the run of the carnival from Christmas Day until Sunday.

Of those treated and then sent to hospitals or clinics there were no critical injuries this year, said the Cruz Roja.

In anticipation in recent years those who participate in the bull baiting in the Zapote arena are required to have insurance. They also are required to be sober.

For those injured, the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, the agency that runs the hospitals, will bill the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, the state insurance agency, for care. A handful remained hospitalized Monday night.


U.S. Coast Guard captures
another go-fast drug vessel


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Crew members aboard Coast Guard Cutter "Marlin" brought home to St. Petersburg, Florida, 17 bales of cocaine worth more than $11 million, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

In one encounter, a maritime patrol aircraft crew detected a suspicious go-fast vessel in the western Caribbean Sea Dec. 29. The crew aboard the Coast Guard Cutter "Forward" was notified and began pursuit when the suspects aboard the go-fast vessel began to jettison bales of suspected contraband in an attempt to escape.

The "Forward" deployed a boat crew to recover the bales, which later tested positive for cocaine, while the cutter continued pursuit, the Coast Guard said.

A helicopter crew aboard the Coast Guard Cutter "Confidence," compelled the vessel to stop through the use of warning shots and disabling fire.

After the go-fast vessel was disabled, the crew aboard the "Forward" boarded and detained the crew. The cocaine was later transferred from the "Forward" to the "Marlin."

The interdiction was carried out as part of Operation Martillo, which seeks to deny smugglers the use of Central American coastal areas as transshipment routes for illicit drugs, weapons, and cash.


Our reader's opinion
A different cliff scene

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In response to resident liberal Jo Stuart's comment about picturing John Boehner wearing a George Washington hat, the picture I get when hearing of the country going over a cliff, is that of Barack Obama sitting on a throne wearing a gold crown, his foot on the Constitution, and watching Anne Boleyn, draped in the American flag with her head on the guillotine waiting for the blade to fall. 

Frank Kaiser
San José 
 
 
Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him
 HERE!
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32 percent of 2012 traffic fatalities were on motorcycles
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 32 percent of persons killed in traffic mishaps in 2012 were on motorcycles, said the Policía de Tránsito Monday.

The final death toll for 2012 was 330, said the agency, part of the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes. Some 105 motorcyclists died, 33 more than in 2011, said police.

Germán Marín Sandí, director of the traffic police, said that officials hope that the new traffic law will reduce the toll this year. The law went into effect in October and requires motorcycle riders to wear reflective clothing. The law also prohibits more than two persons on a motorcycle. However, most motorcyclists were following those rules long before the revised law won approval.

Marín said the fact was obvious that motorcyclists died because they and their vehicles are hard to see.
Total traffic deaths in the year were 41 greater than in 2011, despite crackdowns on alcohol and efforts to control speed.

Marín blamed legal decisions that voided a number of traffic fines as disproportionate for the increase in highway deaths. The revised traffic law was the product of the 2006 to 2010 Asamblea Legislativa. But as soon as the measure went into effect, lawmakers had second thoughts and tried to make revisions. But time ran out on that legislature, so shortly after May 1, 2010, the current legislature began from scratch.

Of those who died, 53 were pedestrians, a reflection on the condition of the nation's roadways where persons are forced to walk in a traffic lane. Police also blamed pedestrians for not using bridges over major highways and other routes designed for them.

Just 27 of the deaths were in December, where there were 5,117 accidents with 697 injured, officials said.


'Tis the season to complain about failure to respect guarantees
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's consumer agency is the last resort for those who think they have been treated badly by merchants. The  Plataforma de Atención al Consumidor started getting steady business Monday as 12 consumers showed up to present various complaints. The biggest problem involved guarantees, said the Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio, which supervises the consumer agency.

Officials expect many more. Last year there were 219 complaints about Christmas sales. The majority of the complaints are settled with negotiations with the merchant, the consumer agency said.

Consumers have two months to register an official complaint. The law provides a minimum guarantee of 30 days, but individual merchants can offer longer ones, said the agency.

Any expat who wants to register a complaint has two options. The first is to appear personally at the Sabana Sur ministry building. the second is to make the complaint online at the ministry's Web site. The consumer agency said that those making complaints should carry all the paperwork related to the purchase, including the invoice or factura and any reports of repair work on the item in question.
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The route north of San José was restricted Monday for vehicles trying to enter or leave the city. That is because workers are tearing up the concrete of Ruta 32, the main highway north and to the Caribbean coast. Alternate routes
were choked although traffic was moving on two lanes of Ruta 32 in the 1.3 kilometers (2,000 feet) that is in the first stage of the project. Alternate routes are through Tibás and Heredia. The aging concrete is being replaced with asphalt.


Chief prosecutor seeks independence for agency from courts
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The fiscal general, the nation's chief prosecutor, proposed Monday that his agency, the Ministerio Público, be inserted in the Costa Rican Constitution as an independent agency. The fiscal general, Jorge Chavarría, made the proposal to the Corte Suprema de Justicia, which now appoints the chief prosecutor and maintains supervision and budget control over the agency.
The proposal would effectively establish a fifth branch of government in addition to the executive, judiciary, legislative and the Tribunal Supremo de Eleciones.

The Poder Judicial said that Chavarría wanted to protect the prosecutorial agency from ordinary legislation. It appeared that the proposal would continue the process of selection of the fiscal general by the courts.


Judicial agents break up a found money con game in Siguirres
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents were on the lookout Monday when three persons played what appears to be a variation of the pigeon drop fraud.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the ploy involved the alleged recovery of money. The victim was a man spotted leaving a bank in Siquirres.

Agents detained a 54-year-old woman, a 52-year-old Costa Rican woman and a Colombian man, 34.
One woman encountered the victim when he left the bank and said that she had lost a purse with a large sum of money. She left. Shortly a second woman arrived and said she found the purse but wanted a reward.

The victim gave her $220 and 8,000 colons, said the judicial agency. After the woman left, the victim found that there was no money in the purse, agents said.

Agents said they had been forewarned that the trio were going to play the con game.

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U.S. banks accept deal
for abusing borrowers


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Some of the largest U.S. banks have agreed to an $8.5 billion settlement to resolve claims that they abused financially troubled homeowners as they sought to foreclose on their home purchase loans at the height of the country's financial downturn.

As millions of U.S. homeowners lost their jobs in 2009 and 2010, they often fell behind on their monthly loan payments, prompting their lenders to take ownership of their properties.  But as they moved to foreclose, banks often took shortcuts, automatically signing off on documents, even as they falsely claimed they had individually reviewed each homeowner's loan.

Ten banks agreed to the settlement Monday with the country's central bank, the Federal Reserve, and U.S. financial regulators at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.  Among them are such well-known institutions as Bank of America, Citibank, JPMorgan, Chase, PNC and Wells Fargo.  Regulators are still negotiating a settlement with four other financial institutions.

The regulators have said they found critical deficiencies and shortcomings in the way the banks handled the foreclosures.

For the first time, homeowners affected by the abuse will be compensated, with more than 3.8 million homeowners facing foreclosure in 2009 and 2010 getting payments ranging from hundreds of dollars up to $125,000.

Bank analyst Bert Ely said the affected homeowners fall into several groups of people, including those who still could keep their homes.

“There’s some people, a number of people that were forced into foreclosure that perhaps should not have been. At least there should have been more of an effort made to try and modify their mortgage to make it more affordable for the homeowner," Ely said. "In some cases, the house has been resold and occupied by someone else, in which case there would be some type of financial compensation. In other circumstances, particularly if the bank still owns the house, then the homeowner might be able to get it back. But we also have a number of people, where the foreclosure has not yet taken place, and this settlement provides money to provide for reduction of mortgages to make them more affordable for the people that are still in their homes."

Ely said the banks' foreclosure practices ultimately do not speak well of their ethics. He said U.S. lending practices at the time stemmed from pressure by Wall Street on banks to approve as many loans as possible, so mortgage securities could then be sold to investors.

"I think, to some extent, they were, at least in some cases, meeting the supposed demand from Wall Street for mortgages to securitize," Ely said. "I think this is all part of the widespread belief at the time that homeownership was good for all, and that the homeownership rate in the United States should be increased.  And things went to excess, there’s no question about it. That’s on the origination side, or creation of mortgages. And then, of course, where a lot of problems arose was on mortgages that went bad, as many of them inevitably were, and then we got into the foreclosure mess. This settlement, and some other settlements, are dealing with the foreclosure problems that developed, where, again, a lot of shortcuts were taken.”

Ely said that as a result of excessive home loan lending, banks have changed their practices.


Smart search engine can
handle video databases


By the Fraunhofer Institute
for Digital Media Technology news staff

Anyone who has visited one of the big online video portals or TV broadcasters’ media libraries to search for a video clip is already familiar with the search engines that seek out and flag video footage. However, these engines have their weaknesses. Their results are based on automatic search algorithms that often go by text-based information alone. Although they can be used to locate and identify videos, a comparison of individual sequences is still very difficult.

To make search engines even smarter, the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology in Ilmenau, Germany, has developed a piece of software called “NewsHistory” that will now make full use of user knowledge as well. Researchers will be presenting an initial demonstration version of the smart video search engine at a trade fair in Hannover March 5 to 9.
.
“NewsHistory provides users with search algorithms, a data model and a Web-based user interface so that they can locate identical sequences within various news videos,” explained Patrick Aichroth from Fraunhofer. He is responsible for coordinating the institute’s research and development work. Here, researchers are harnessing user knowledge to optimize and extend the capabilities of automated analysis techniques.

“The search engine learns from each individual user, allowing it to keep improving search results. Not only does this improve the quality of results, but the resources needed to undertake the analysis are also cut down,” Aichroth said.

NewsHistory allows each user to add additional information to the results generated by the search engine, including production and broadcast date, sources and keywords for videos. It is also possible to rate the results. Finally, the user’s search itself is a source of information, providing data that is incorporated into the search engine.

“Comparing digital video data online or within video databases is very complex,” explained Christian Weigel from the audio-visual systems research group at the institute. “Videos that share the same content have for the most part been edited, meaning that they are scaled and encoded in a variety of formats. Also, search engines are often unable to distinguish images cropped from a larger picture, lower thirds or the zoom shots so popular with U.S. news channels.”

The demonstration version being presented at the trade fair will investigate how a selection of TV channels have made use of film footage, changed its form and broadcast it. The user interface displays commonalities and appraises them in graphic form.

The search itself is conducted either by typing text or by directly uploading individual video sequences. The researchers’ aim is to make the software sufficiently robust that it could also be used in the future to compare the multimedia content found on big online media portals. The scientists do not imagine archivists or journalists will be the only users.
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Lios work
One of the works in the show opening Saturday.

Former ad designer now
directs his art to women

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Óscar Lios turned his back on the advertising business in San José to return to his native Guanacaste and play music. But soon he moved into art.

Lios has formal training and degrees in the field of graphic arts and has worked on hundreds of advertising campaigns for large and small companies throughout Costa Rica. Though fulfilling, Lios said he felt something lacking in his life.

He has transformed this background to his current successes with sophisticated oil paintings and portraits. His show "In the Garden of the Night," opens Saturday at the Hidden Garden Art Gallery west of Liberia.

Lios' first love always was his music, and since the age of 15 he has played guitar, bass, keyboard, flute and percussion. In 2005, weary of the bureaucracy and formalities of working in the ad agencies, Lios said he realized that he was the one responsible for his happiness, and was the sole owner of his life and decisions. He left San José and returned to Guanacaste, to play his music, and was soon asked by a friend to try to paint their portrait. Having had basic courses in oil painting and etching, but never formal art training, Lios decided to accept the challenge.

This filled a void that had been missing so long in his life. His subject matter came easily: women.

"Women have been important in my life," said Lios, "strong women. And thanks to these women of great strength, I am now what I am. I paint women because I feel good about it. I feel comfortable with them. I enjoy watching and painting them. No other reason. I like the beauty and strength that is so demonstrative in a woman."

Says fellow artist Rebeca Alvarado Soto, "Oscar Lios cultivates the art of the female figure in his paintings. His work flourishes, especially in the detail of each of the elements represented with great precision by his strokes, and captures the viewer's attention with this wonderful technique shown in his palette."

Lios will be at the gallery Saturday from 10 a.m., and he also will be playing some of his music. The gallery is five kilometers west of the Daniel Oduber Airport on the road to Playas del Coco.

For more information, those interested can contact the gallery at 2667-0592 or 8386-6872 or email hiddengarden@thevanstonegroup.com.











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A.M. Costa Rica
Seventh Newspage

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, Vol. 13, No. 5
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violence
Voice of America graphic
Locations of multiple killings in United States.

Guns and video games are targets

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The rampage that killed 26 children and teachers at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School last month has triggered a backlash against the prevalence of guns and violent video games in America – a reaction that experts say is natural in times of distress.
 
Connecticut police say 20-year old Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifle to kill the children and teachers Dec. 14. Before the attack, Lanza reportedly spent hours playing violent online games on his computer.
 
A week after the shootings, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association rejected any suggestions that the widespread prevalence of guns in American society was to blame for the Connecticut shootings and others before it. Instead, said the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, the culprit was the video game industry, which “sells, and sows, violence against its own people.”
 
Now, a Connecticut group has begun collecting and disposing of violent video games to save kids from what it said is their unhealthy influence.
 
Not everyone is convinced this will be effective.
 
“Before it was books, it was comic books. It was television. It was radio. It was any number of things in our culture where they reflect violence,” said Kamy Akhavan, president of ProCon.org, a California-based non-profit educational research group.
 
​​“We live in a violent culture,” he said. “But whether video games are the cause is absolutely subject to debate.”
 
Akhavan said technology has made video game violence more realistic, blurring the line between reality and fantasy. Even so, he said most people are able to distinguish between the two.
 
About 97 percent of 12 to 17-year old kids in America play video games and, according to Akhavan, juvenile violent crimes have declined from around 1995 to the present even as video game sales quadrupled.
 
And Chris Ferguson, chairman of the Department of Psychology and Communication at Texas A&M International University, noted that not all the killers in recent incidents were video game players.
 
Ferguson said the mass killers in recent incidents tended to be anti-social or suffer from mental health problems. He said such people tend to react to “what they perceive as a major loss in their life” – things that are tangible and practical instead of what goes on in a fictional universe.

​​“Exposure to the kind of fictional violence you see in movies or television just doesn’t have the right kind of emotional impact to trigger violence in individuals, whether they have a predisposition or not,” said Ferguson.
 
He said there are two different groups of individuals – people who like the video games and people who like guns. And he suggested that the NRA is trying to distract people by talking about video games rather than gun violence.
 
The NRA did not respond to several requests to comment on the issue.
 
But Dave Workman, communications director for the Citizen’s Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said the acts of a lone man in Connecticut should not be used in an attempt to justify taking away guns from millions of peaceful gun owners.
 
He noted that millions of video game players don’t commit crimes just as “millions of law-abiding gun owners who own the same kind of firearm and they didn’t commit any crimes with those guns.“
 
“They shouldn’t be penalized for the act of an individual,” Workman said. “And their guns shouldn’t be demonized simply because somebody picks one of them up and misuses it in a crime.”
 
Workman accused critics of gun ownership of going after firearms whenever a “high-profile but rare incident” like the Connecticut shootings takes place. And any ban on firearms, he predicted, would be ineffective.
 
“You cannot guarantee, no matter what you put in place, that a criminal or a madman is not going to be able to get his hands on a firearm,” he said.
 
Regardless of where the finger of blame is pointed, said Texas A&M’s Ferguson, it is important not to be distracted by “something that is not going to be very helpful, whether it’s video games or movies or whatever else.”
 
“During a time of emotional crisis like this, after such a tragic shooting, it’s very, very natural … to kind of grasp around and look for some sort of answer,” Ferguson concluded.


Judge rules shooting suspect is unfit

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A judge in Oakland, California, has ruled that the suspect in last year's deadly shooting rampage at a small religious college is mentally unfit to stand trial.

The judge agreed Monday with two doctors who say alleged gunman One Goh suffers from paranoid schizophrenia — an illness in which victims hear voices and lose touch with reality.

The judge scheduled another court appearance to decide which hospital should treat him.

Goh could still be tried if he is later found to be mentally competent.

Goh allegedly killed seven people and wounded three others last April at Oikos University — a small Christian college with a mainly Korean-American student body.

Goh was a former nursing student at the school. Police say that Goh targeted a school official who expelled him and other students who allegedly ridiculed his English language skills.


Obama makes two key appointments

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President Barack Obama on Monday nominated former Republican senator Chuck Hagel to be his new secretary of Defense. Obama also chose counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency.
 
Obama made his choices official in the White House East Room with Hagel and Brennan standing by his side.
 
The president noted that Hagel, a Vietnam war veteran, would be the first person of enlisted military rank to serve as secretary of defense.
 
"He understands that sending young Americans to fight, bleed in the dirt and mud, that is something that we only do when it is absolutely necessary.  My frame of reference, he has said, is geared toward the guy at the bottom who is doing the fighting and the dying," he said.

Hagel served two terms as a senator from the Midwestern state of Nebraska.  He gained a reputation as someone who is willing to break with his own party on key issues.
 
John Brennan's nomination to head the Central Intelligence Agency is expected to be less controversial, although he will face tough questions about the Obama administration's counterterrorism policy.
 
He has been the administration's key spokesman on the use of drones in targeted killings of suspected terrorists, calling them "legal, ethical, wise and highly effective." 
 
Brennan would replace Army General David Petraeus, who resigned in November because of an extramarital affair.
 

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