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These stories were published Friday, Jan. 25, 2002
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica photo
Julio Jiménez took to the streets Thursday to rally support for a march this morning at 9 a.m. along Avenida 2 to protest plans to explore for oil offshort from Limón in the Caribbean. The lad sat in the middle of the downtown pedestrian mall where he spent the afternoon getting signatures on a petition.

Americans hit with
techno-illiteracy label

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Americans live in a world where everyday life is increasingly dependent on technology, but even as consumers revel in their latest electronic gadgets, they are technologically illiterate, according to a new report from the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council.

"Americans use technology with a minimal comprehension of how or why it works or the implications of its use or even where it comes from. We drive high-tech cars but know little more than how to operate the steering wheel, gas pedal and brake pedal. We fill shopping carts with highly processed foods but are largely ignorant of their content, or how they are developed, grown, packaged or delivered," according to "Technically Speaking: Why All Americans Need to Know More about Technology." (http://www.nap.edu/catalog/

The report urges a broad educational campaign — in school systems and society at large — that will heighten technological literacy among Americans. Technological literacy, as defined in the report, encompasses not only the ability to use the latest devices, but an understanding of the risks and benefits of their use and some comprehension of the engineering processes that yield the products of technology.

Produced after a two-year series of meetings and workshops, the report suggests that many citizens harbor serious misperceptions about technology, unaware of its true scope. "They are not aware that modern technology is the fruit of a complex interplay between science, engineering, politics, ethics, law and other factors," the report says.

Lacking that full understanding, the authors of "Technically Speaking" argue that Americans — citizens and policy makers alike — are ill prepared to make decisions about technology in their own lives. Do they want to buy foods produced through biotechnology? Do they want their elected representatives to support research into human cloning? Do they approve of the investment of public funds in technological research?

"Having a literate citizenry is a cornerstone of democracy," said Karen Falkenberg, a member of the Committee on Technological Literacy from Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., speaking at a symposium on the subject held at the National Academy of Sciences. "That's what this is about."

When new technology is a source of economic and social change, as it currently is in many developed nations, technological illiteracy may threaten sound public decision-making and the public's welfare. Jonathan R. Cole, another member of the Committee on Technological Literacy, said, "As individuals, parents, citizens and leaders, we will substitute myth and ideology for facts and rational choice. We will relinquish control and power to make important decisions that affect our health and quality of life to others who may not have our best interests in mind."

The report examines several news-making controversies in which technological literacy — or the lack of it — has played a critical role. In a discussion of the international debate about genetically modified organisms, the report says the controversy over bioengineering "illustrates the current mismatch between the adoption of a new technology and society's ability to deal with it."

Besides their general conclusions, however, the authors acknowledge they need more data about the depth and breadth of technological illiteracy in the United States. 

The report says no assessment tests exist to measure what school children know about technology, so it recommends various actions to accumulate more information about what children and adults know about technology, how they define it and how best to teach them about technology.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Wedding Bells for the Two Sandys

Two of my dearest friends in Costa Rica are getting married. Sandy S. is marrying in January and Sandy P. is getting married in February. Both women have been members of my writing group over the years, and I admire them beyond expression.

Sandy S. came to Costa Rica about 12 years ago and with her then-husband. They bought some property outside of San Jose with the hopes of starting a bed and breakfast. Being in the country, the property had plenty of banana trees as well, and Sandy learned to make dozens of recipes calling for bananas, which were always threatening to overwhelm and over-ripen. Other than a charming manuscript of her experiences, the bed and breakfast venture was not a success, so the property was sold and Sandy moved to northern Costa Rica with a total and abiding aversion to bananas. 

When her marriage broke up, Sandy went through a number of years establishing herself as a person in her own right (coming here with a husband a woman is more or less an appendage with everything in his name). While doing this, she studied Spanish, really studied Spanish and while I am still speaking kitchen Spanish, Sandy speaks it well enough to teach it (which she does), to do translations — she is currently translating a book of poetry from Spanish to English. 

Then she decided to become a citizen of Costa Rica, a country she has grown to love. Becoming a citizen is not easy, it requires in-depth information about the country’s history, arcane knowledge of Spanish grammar, not to mention fluency in Spanish. Sandy passed the first try. 

For relaxation, since she loves to ride, Sandy raised a couple of horses and, as a good citizen, has become an involved member of her little community and even ridden in local parades. In the course of all of this, she met Roger, another expat and a talented and versatile craftsman. After some years of a growing friendship, and supporting each other through tough times and celebrating the good times, the two are getting married. 

Sandy P. has probably visited and lived in more countries than any secretary of state. The difference is in the way she traveled and how she lived. I don’t understand how she is not constantly jet-lagged. She has lived in a Chicago ghetto in fear for her life during the uprising in 1968. She and her husband and daughter were the only white family in a black neighborhood in the American South. 

She has kept house in a primitive apartment over a noisy bar in an African village. She has shivered in a cold water flat in Belgium, to mention a few. Sandy lived in these places because she worked for NGOs (non-government organizations), often trying to repair the damage that industrial countries wreaked unthinkingly or just trying to help with problems overlooked by governments. 

After her marriage broke up, Sandy moved to Costa Rica and became a consultant to NGOs as well as other organizations that seem to have lost their vision. The lessons Sandy has taken during her life’s work have made her one of the wisest women I know. She is one of the few people I know who can say "Do as I do" (not "As I say"). 

Her wisdom, like all good wisdom, is laced with love. Like another friend of mine, Sandy knows how to nurture friendships, and takes the trouble to do it. She has single-handedly established "traditions" here in Costa Rica with some of these friends. A Christmas celebration dinner at her apartment every year with our writing group, and an annual "Gourmet Hot Dog Dinner" with another group of friends are two that I am involved in, and I am sure she has others with other friends. Sandy’s writing tends to essays about her experiences, especially with the people she met in the villages in Africa. There is a spiritual dimension to all she writes.

After living for years in a difficult marriage in impoverished conditions (partly as a result of her choice of work), Sandy now lives very comfortably in Costa Rica and, not to sound corny, has found romance with Harry (they met at a dance, which I think is romantic). Although coming to it from a different route, Harry shares her desire to help others help themselves. They are getting married on Valentine’s Day. 

As much as I have always loved other people’s weddings, I can’t attend either, but I will be thinking of them both with love on their days.
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Bush will curb U.S. illegal drug demand, aide says
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

BOGOTA, Colombia — To help curb the problem of illegal drugs, President Bush has decided to "make an unprecedented investment in demand reduction" in the United States, says John Walters.

He is director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Walters, speaking at a press roundtable here, told reporters that the United States intends to "begin to radically reduce the demand for drugs in our nation" as part of a comprehensive policy that addresses issues of domestic drug consumption as well as predominantly foreign sources of supply.

To that end, the president will pledge $1.6 billion over a five-year period to fund treatment programs for drug addicts, Walters said. He noted that "we are also going to expand our prevention efforts" in the United States, and President Bush "wants to be personally involved in leading some of those efforts."

Moreover, Walters added, the United States will work closely with its partners and allies around the world to coordinate counter-drug strategies on all levels, including law enforcement and alternative-development initiatives. He pointed out that drug trafficking — inevitably accompanied by bribery, corruption and violence — seriously undermines the ability of democratic institutions to function properly. In response, the United States will strongly support measures to bolster democracy "where we have partners and opportunities," he said.

Increased cooperation on counter-drug policy throughout the Western Hemisphere will help 

regional governments to confront and dismantle illegal drug syndicates, Walters said.

"I think our own president and leaders now are interested in attacking the demand-and-supply problem in a way that has not been possible before, [which] gives us an historic opportunity to reduce this threat to both the well-being of our peoples and the democratic institutions" of the hemisphere, he said. "I also think the bottom line is if you are in the drug business, it's time to get out."

In a related development, the White House reported Wednesday that illicit drug use drained $143 billion from the U.S. economy in 1998. As further data is calculated, losses for the year 2000 could mount to more than $160 billion.

"Drug use results in lower productivity, more workplace accidents and higher health care costs — all of which constrain America's economic output," the report said.

Lost productivity accounted for the greatest economic drain of any single category, according to the report. In 1998, the report cites $98.5 billion in economic losses due to incarceration of otherwise productive individuals, premature death, drug abuse-related illness, hospitalization and other factors.

The study only examined the estimated costs stemming from the abuse of illicit drugs. Economic losses that may be accrued through the abuse of alcohol or legal pharmaceutical drugs are not included in this analysis.

The study is available in full at http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/

Special U.S. visa
to help exploited

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United States will set up a special visa designed for white slavery victims who cooperate with law enforcement against those responsible for their enslavement.

In a prepared statement Thursday, Attorney General John Ashcroft said the so-called T visa, created by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, allows victims who would suffer "unusual and severe harm" if returned to their home countries to remain in the United States.

"After three years in T status, these victims of human trafficking may apply for permanent residency," Ashcroft said. In addition, subject to some limitations, the regulation allows victims to apply for non-immigrant status for their spouses and children.

The attorney general said the latest action sends a powerful signal that human freedom will be protected in the United States, where it's estimated that 50,000 people, overwhelmingly women and children, are brought illegally from other countries each year.

Anti-money laundering
task force meets soon

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Financial Action Task Force, an international group of countries devoted to fighting money laundering, will meet next Wednesday through Friday in Hong Kong to assess members' progress towards denying terrorists and their supporters access to the international banking system, the group announced.

Members include 29 governments plus the European Commission and the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Prompted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the United States, the group held an emergency session in Washington in late October and adopted eight recommendations designed to break up terrorist funding networks. These include criminalizing the financing of terrorist organizations; freezing and confiscating terrorist assets; reporting suspicious transactions linked to terrorism; strengthening customer identification measures for wire transfers, and ensuring that non-profit organizations cannot be misused to finance terrorism.

In addition to reviewing their anti-terrorism provisions, members will discuss and update the list of countries and territories that are deficient in their anti-money laundering systems or are unwilling to co-operate in anti-money laundering efforts.

 The task force will also release its annual survey of money laundering trends and techniques.

Teachers in France
are out on strike

PARIS, France — Almost one-third of France's teachers have gone on strike demanding better working conditions and more staff.  The walkout forced a quarter of France's primary schools to close. 

Earlier, France's national health service and one union representing family doctors reached a pact aimed at ending walkouts by medical workers. However, the government stressed a final agreement had yet to be worked out that would include the union representing the largest number of French doctors. Thousands of French family doctors went on strike Wednesday demanding higher fees for office and home visits.

Six border jumpers
die in boat mishap

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

At least six people have died after their boat hit a rock and sank in the Usumacinta River dividing Guatemala and Mexico. At least five of the 23 people on the boat survived the accident. 

Mexican officials said Wednesday they had recovered six bodies along the banks of the river. A survivor of the accident said the group of Central Americans had embarked Saturday to cross the river to Mexico. Most of the passengers are still unaccounted for.  The survivor said each person had paid $300 dollars to board the boat. Authorities believe they were trying to reach the United States.  At least five of the confirmed dead are believed to be Salvadorans.

Quake was a 3.2 pointer

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A small earthquake Monday had a magnitude of 3.2 on the Richter Scale, according to the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica.

The tremor at about 10:36 p.m. was located at a depth of about 22 kms. (about 13 miles) below a point some eight kilomters (five miles) west of San Marcos de Tarrazú, the observatory staff said. The quake was blamed on a local fault there.

Professor, ESL teachers
to talk via satellite

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A spacelink will join English teachers in San José with their colleagues in the Dominican Republic and Cuba today for a roundtable with an American University professor in Washington.

The link is being sponsored here by The Costa Rican-North American Cultural Center in Los Yoses. The professor is Bock Brady, who teaches courses in Language teaching and testing, cultural issues in the English-as-a-second-language classroom and Curriculum and Materials Development. 

An announcement by the U.S. Embassy here noted that this would be the first time that teachers in Cuba participated in such a program.  The hookup and discusion will begin about 12:30 p.m., said the announcement.

The emphasis of the seminar is how teachers can be more efficient in teaching students the English-language tools they will need to be members of the global community, said the release. There is a cultural emphasis, too.

Brady’s research interests include cross-cultural discourse analysis, pronunciation, assessment, and distance learning. He is advisor of the Korean Writing Project, a faculty/student research group and the English Literacy Project, designed to provide English tutoring for custodial workers at American University.

A Fulbright Scholar and former Peace Corps volunteer, Brady has taught in Korea, Paris, and Togo, W. Africa. In the United States he has directed short-term intensive ESL programs for several universities and taught community college ESL classes for refugees. From 1993 to 1997 he managed English teaching programs for the U. S. Information Service at American cultural centers in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and Cotonou, Benin, where in addition to directing language courses, he established professional translation services, according to the university.

Menem investigated
in Iranian bribe case

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES— A published report says former Argentine President Carlos Menem is under investigation for allegedly taking bribes from the Iranian government to hide its link to a July 1994 bombing. 

Thursday's Los Angeles Times newspaper says Argentina asked Switzerland to join the probe, suspecting Iran paid Mr. Menem $10 million through a Swiss bank. 

The paper says that Iran allegedly wanted Menem to remain silent about its involvement in the July 18, 1994, bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed at least 85 people. 

The paper also says Menem, who is of Syrian descent, obstructed investigations into the attack so he could hide his government's links to Middle Eastern terrorism and organized crime. Leading members of Argentina's Jewish community have blamed Lebanese-based Hezbollah guerrillas and Iran for the attack. Iran denies involvement. 

The paper also says a Swiss judge began pursuing the case based on testimony given to Argentina by a former Iranian spy. The former president, for his part, denies taking bribes and says he does not own a Swiss bank account. 

A Geneva judge said he had blocked two bank accounts in October allegedly linked to Menem, who held office from 1989 until 1999. 

Swiss authorities say those two accounts had been frozen amid charges Menem was involved in the covert delivery of weapons to Croatia and Ecuador in the 1990s. At the time, both nations were under an international arms embargo. The former president spent five months under house arrest in connection with the arms scandal.

Child dies in fire

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A child, Marilu Irbina Reyes, 1 1/2, died in her bed about 7:30 Wednesday night when a candle fell into some plastic and ignited a blaze in the family dwelling in Precario Jasmin in Alajuelita, according to investigators. 

The mother was in a nearby home with another child when the fire broke out. Investigators have termed the death accidental.

Neighbors beat,
shoot suspect

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Neighbors thought they saw someone breaking into a home about 8 p.m. Wednesday, so they caught the burglar, beat him and then shot him in the stomach, according to investigators.

The event took place in Barrio Nazaret in Ipís de Guadalupe. The shooting victim was identified as Heiner Arias Salazar, 16.

Strangely, someone took the youngster after he was shot to San Antonio de Escazú where rescue workers located him and took him back to San José to San Juan de Dios Hospital, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

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