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(506) 223-1327          Published Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 217        E-mail us    
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Bilingual humans use more of their brain, study says
By the Dartmouth News Service

Dartmouth University researchers have found areas in the brain that indicate bilingualism. The finding sheds new light on decades of debate about how the human brain's language centers may actually be enhanced when faced with two or more languages as opposed to only one.

The researchers used an optical imaging technology called near infrared spectroscopy as a window into the human brain's higher cognitive capacities, and they are among the first to take advantage of this technology in this way. Infrared spectroscopy has been used in the detection of, for example, breast tumors and heart blood flow. The Dartmouth team used the technique to measure changes in the brain's oxygen levels while people performed specific language and cognitive tasks.

Near infrared spectroscopy provides much the same information as functional magnetic resonance imaging but has several advantages, said Mark Shalinsky, the study's electro-neurophysiologist who created the analysis programs to use the technology in this new way. The device he uses is quiet, small and portable, only about the size of a desktop computer, he said. "It's child friendly, and it tolerates a participant's body movements, which makes it ideal for studying language where participants move their mouths to speak,"  he added.

The spectroscopy showed similar increased brain activity across all people —monolinguals and bilinguals — in the brain's classic left-hemisphere language regions when they were speaking in only one language, that is, in monolingual mode. The left Broca's area and left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex are brain areas key to language and verbal working memory, respectively.

When bilinguals were simultaneously processing each of their two languages and rapidly switching between them (that is, in bilingual mode), they showed an increase in brain activity in both the left and the right hemisphere Broca's area, with greater activation in the right equivalent of Broca's area and the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This finding emerged as the key indicator of the brain's bilingual signature.

The researchers examined 20 people ranging from 18 to 30 years old (average age was 21.1 years). Ten participants were monolingual (who spoke only English), and 10 were bilingual (who spoke both English and Spanish from around birth). Language processing tasks were given to monolingual people speaking their one language while undergoing spectroscopic brain recordings.

The monolingual speakers' behavioral and brain activity were then compared to the bilingual speakers' behavioral and brain activity while

Dartmouth University photo by Joseph Mehling
Seeing inside the brain with new technique

performing identical language processing tasks in monolingual mode (that is, in Spanish, and in English) or in bilingual mode (that is, when simultaneously processing and rapidly switching between their two languages).

"For decades, people have wondered whether the brains of bilingual people are different from monolinguals. People also worry that the brains of bilingual children are somehow negatively impacted by early experience with two languages," explained aura-Ann Petitto, the study's senior scientific director, and professor and chairwoman of the Department of Education at the Hanover, New Hampshire university.

"The present findings are significant because they show that the brains of bilinguals and monolinguals are similar, and both process their individual languages in fundamentally similar ways," she said. "The one fascinating exception is that bilinguals appear to engage more of the neural landscape available for language processing than monolinguals, which is a very good thing."

The team proposes that bilingual language processing provides a new window into the extent of what nature's neural architecture for language processing could be, if only we used it. Professor Petitto added. "The irony is that we may find it is the monolingual that is not taking full advantage of the neural landscape for language and cognitive processing than nature could have potentially made available."

She says that this research advances the path for using brain imaging technology both to understand the neural underpinnings of all human language and especially to discover the secrets of the bilingual brain.

The study was presented at the Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting last month in Atlanta, Georgia.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 217

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Weekend will be drier,
weather bureau promises

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Good news for the weekend. The forecast is for the rainy weather to change abruptly Friday with the arrival of winds from the north.

The northerly winds will be bringing more warmth and drier air to the Pacific and certain areas of the Central Valley, according to the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional.

In the Caribbean and in the northern zone, cloudy skies with rain will predominate.

The low pressure system that brought rainy weather over the last few days is being pushed to the northwest, but that means rains will continue in the central and south Pacific and the northern section of the Caribbean.

Today the weather experts are expecting rain of variable intensity over the northern Caribbean coast, and they say there is a risk of flooding in the Cantón de Pococí and Tortuguero on the coast.

The weather institute also reported there would be a risk of flooding in Turrubares, Parrita, the Cantón de Osa and Golfito.

In the Central Valley, the flooding risk is minimal, but most Costa Ricans are complaining about a dip in temperatures. Some areas have seen the mercury dip to 17 degrees C. or about 63 degrees F.

The rains throughout the country were minimal Tuesday with only about 4 mms. (.15 inch) falling in San José. The weather also gives indications that the dry season might be arriving a little early this year, thanks in part to the presence of El Niño conditions in the Pacific.

Our readers’ opinions

Concerns about privacy
are 40 years too late

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I, too, have read the articles which Steve Friedman cites in his letter about the protection of his privacy which you published Oct. 31, and I share all his sentiments unreservedly. That said, I’m afraid this ship has already sailed, and there’s no turning it back.

For at least 40 years that I am aware of, private companies in the United States and elsewhere have been gathering, storing and disseminating information about individuals without their knowledge or consent and with no regulatory oversight or constraint. We are all familiar with credit bureaus, but the insurance industry, the health care industry, large real estate interests and the government in its many guises have all maintained data bases on citizens, too. As with credit information, the quality of the information held by the others is uncertain, and citizens have no ready means of auditing it.

There are only three strategic approaches to the problem. First, don’t do anything that you would not want the public to know about. Second, reduce your relationships with large institutions to the minimum necessary. If you have multiple credit or bank accounts and don’t need them all, close as many as possible. Consider consolidating retirement accounts into a single one. Neither of these will resolve the matter, but they may limit your exposure. And finally, stay off the Internet or use the most up-to-date privacy protection software.

David C. Murray
Grecia, Alajuela

Gun control like communism:
sounds good but unworkable

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The stories on gun control Tuesday caught my eye. My understanding of the U.N. proposal is that it is primarily designed to stop the illegal world trade in heavy machine guns, light fully automatic assault weapons, rocked propelled grenades, hand grenades, land mines and portable missiles that can bring down aircraft. This trade fosters the growth of the extremist militias we are seeing so much of in the news worldwide. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.

The U.N. proposal is being interpreted by some as anti-gun folks who want to deprive average citizens of a means to defend themselves from bandits and kidnappers who may approach their door in the night.  Many of the anti’s have the goal of total elimination of all firearms over time. Their goal is admirable but probably fruitless.

The allure of gun control is much like that of communism. It sounds great in theory but just doesn’t work very well in reality. Human nature being what it is, the system is always somehow circumvented.  Today we find that cocaine, heroin and other narcotic drugs are illegal almost everywhere. And it seems they are readily available most everywhere. Similarly, firearms are no different.

As the prohibition era in the USA showed us years ago and the drug trade today, if the public want’s something that is banned, there will always be a criminal who is willing to supply it in quantity.  And become wealthy in the process.

I don’t pretend to know what the answer to armed violence is. Anyone who points a loaded gun or a knife at another human being without just cause, should be very severely punished. Preventing the average non-violent citizen from firearm ownership is not the answer. To be sure, ownership should not be taken lightly and some training and personal moral evaluation could be done. But a government that uses that process to deprive peaceful citizens of a means to self defense is encouraging that citizen to break the law to provide for his own family’s safety.

The average policeman arrives at the scene of a violent crime in time to take pictures of the body and collect evidence in most cases.  There are just not enough policemen to be everywhere and to protect everyone. Today Costa Rica is attracting more and more wealthy individuals from all over the world. And that in turn is attracting more and more criminals, like sharks to the reef.

Repeatedly we see career politicians using the gun scare tactic, as a means to insure re-election in the United States. I believe that President Arias is well meaning in his proposals and hope that he doesn’t fall into the same trap that the North Americans have.

Costa Rica is a very different place and in large part the people are also a very peaceful and different kind. We can all learn from them.

Now if we can just do something to curb the traffic accidents, potholes and inept or corrupt politicians and officials.

David Wallis
Chicago and soon Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 217

Committee studying free trade pact gets deadline of Dec. 12
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislative commission studying the free trade treaty with the United States has until Dec. 12 to finish its work, take a vote and report the measure to the full assembly.

That was a ruling by the legislative president, Francisco Antonio Pacheco, who said that the pending trade treaty was causing anxiety and uncertainty in some sectors of society and that the work on the document should be finished in a reasonable period. The full legislature backed Pacheco 38 to 18.

The decision was disputed by those opposing the agreement. They wanted more discussion.

Pacheco said that his proposal was similar to one used in
 2004 to expedite the government's tax plan at that time. The 2004 decision was upheld by the Sala IV constitutional court, he said.

In order to join the free trade countries, Costa Rica would have to approve the agreement by Jan. 1, 2008. In addition to the United States, the other countries are El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and the Dominican Republic.  All but Costa Rica have ratified the treaty.

The Comisión de Asuntos Internacionales has already had one extension in its deliberations on the treaty. That period ends Nov. 14. So the decision by Pacheco will give committee members one month more.

Alberto Salom of the Partido Acción Ciudadana said that the deadline was antidemocratic.

Specifics of new traffic law include point system, big fines
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The executive branch will propose sweeping changes in the motor vehicle law.

Fines would be increased dramatically. A point system would be set up to keep track of repeat violators for possible license suspension. Those offering bribes will be sanctioned as well as those accepting them. And the Policía de Tránsito will get more vehicles to enforce the law.

Among other proposals by the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte, motorists would have to carry a reflective vest in case the vehicle breaks down and the driver has to effect repairs. In addition parents would be required to put children in protective seats.

Seat belts would be required for all, and a driver using a cell phone would get a fine.

The full proposals were shown Tuesday at Casa Presidencial where President Óscar Arias Sánchez said the country has lost 4,067 lives to motor vehicle accidents since the year 2000. The concept had been announced earlier, but a draft of the proposed law now has been prepared.

Some traffic fines would go from 20,000 colons ($38.50) to 280,000 ($538.50) and drivers who do so drunk or engage in drag races would lose their license for two years and up to 10 years for subsequent convictions. Drivers who pass on a curve would be similarly sanctioned.

Casa Presidencial hopes to get the measure to the Asamblea Legislativa in a week. Arias said the goal was to reduce the rate of traffic deaths from 14 to 11 per each 100,000 inhabitants by 2010.

The cost of caring for those injured in motor vehicle mishaps in 2005 alone was 3.4 billion colons or about $7 million, said Karla González, the transport minister.

The proposal would raise fines from 25 to 140 percent. There would be an additional surcharge if the action endangered a juvenile. The current fine for not using a seatbelt is 10,000 colons or about $19.25. That amount would go to 180,000 colons with a 20,000 surcharge if a minor were involved.  The amount of 200,000 colons is about $365.

The proposal also calls for setting up an internal affairs division to investigate corrupt transit policemen. This division would have the power to inspect the bank accounts of tránsito employees. Those who offer bribes would face a possible 280,000-colon fine (some $539).

Driving tests would be tightened, too, with questions on the written exam assigned by a computer to avoid possible meddling.

Each adult motorist would be awarded 60 points that would
be reduced for various infractions. When the motorist ran out of points, he or she would lose the driver's license.

First-time motorists would start out with 50 points. Those who lose their licenses for cause would have even fewer points when they recover the right to drive.

The reflective vest would be obligatory for motorcyclists, those on bikes and for motorists who have to repair their cars on the side of the road. Bikes will have to carry reflective tape, but there is no proposal to require electric lights on bikes.

If the measure is enacted, motorists would have six months to get reflective vests and child seats, which would be sold free of tax.

Those who continue to drive when their license is revoked can face a criminal action, the proposal says.

The proposal envisions purchasing 13 patrol cars and 46 motorcycles for the Policía de Tránsito and 50 motorcycles and 50 more vehicles in the coming year.

Some examples:

Driving without a valid revisón tecnica car inspection document would cost 50,000 colons ($96.15) and five points.

Riding a motorcycle or a bike without a reflective vest would cost 80,000 colons ($153.85) and 10 points, as would trying to fix a car without a vest.

Driving a quadracycle or motorcycle without a helmet would be 100,000 colons ($192.30) and 15 points.

Not using a seat belt, running a red light or making an illegal U turn would cost 180,000 ($346.15) and 20 points.

Driving a car without a valid registration or not having a child seat would be 200,000 colons ($384.60). In the case of the child seat the extra surcharge would be 60,000 colons ($115.38). The violation would cost 25 points.

The top fine of 280,000 colons would be levied for driving under the influence of alcohol, engaging in road races, passing on a curve, driving without a license, driving while license suspended and offering a bribe.

The fines are keyed to the base salary of an office worker in the Poder Judicial, so as the salary goes up due to routine adjustments for inflation, so would the fines.

Although there might be a rule in another law, there is no provision in the proposal to require air bags on vehicles.

Arias once again said Tuesday "We can't have peace in Costa Rica if there is war on the highways." Officials have said that their goal is to change the entire culture of the highway where laws are not enforced firmly.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 217

Venezuelan and Guatemala foreign ministers head for U.N.
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The race between Venezuela and Guatemala for a U.N. Security Council seat remains deadlocked after 47 rounds of voting in the General Assembly. The Guatemalan and Venezuelan foreign ministers are flying to New York to try to break the stalemate.

After 47 ballots, there was still no decision. The U.N. General Assembly adjourned Tuesday after holding six more inconclusive ballots.

Guatemala finished well ahead of Venezuela in every one of Tuesday's rounds. The last was 101 to 78, a 23-vote margin. But over two weeks of voting, Venezuela has maintained enough support to prevent Guatemala from reaching the two-thirds needed to win a two-year Security Council seat representing Latin America.

Chile's U.N. ambassador, Heraldo Muñoz, emerged from the voting saying it is clear neither candidate can win.

“The votes are absolutely consolidated,” he said.  “They are frozen, the shifts are minimal and they are going to continue to be that way. None of the two candidates is going to have the two-thirds majority of the General Assembly as it stands, so we have to arrive at a political alternative. A political solution can only be decided by the two countries involved and by the foreign ministers.”

The Venezuelan and Guatemalan foreign ministers were both flying to New York late Tuesday. They are expected to meet Wednesday to try to break the impasse.

The United States is backing Guatemala in the race, and U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said Tuesday he does not see the contest as an impasse. He says Guatemala is clearly in
the lead. But in comments to reporters, he acknowledged a compromise candidate may be needed. "For now we're for Guatemala and we'll see what happens,” he said.

Venezuela's leftist president, Hugo Chávez, has used his country's vast oil wealth to campaign for the Latin American seat and has vowed not to back down. He has cast the campaign as a David versus Goliath contest.

But Venezuela's U.N. Ambassador Francisco Arias Cardenas signaled Tuesday that it may be time to compromise. Speaking through a translator, he maintained that blocking the Washington-backed candidate should be seen as a victory.

“This is a lesson for small countries about their strength, that when we unite and we agree, we can then [veto] any pressure by big countries and big powers,” he said.  “Big countries have also learned you cannot pressurize small countries just because they are small or poor. Small countries have their own opinion, and they will not accept or tolerate any bullying for them to do as the big powers want them to do.”

Several countries have emerged as possible compromise choices for the seat representing Latin America and the Caribbean. Uruguay, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Costa Rica are considered the leading candidates.

However, Costa Rica's foreign minsier, Bruno Stagno, says the country is not a candidate and prefers to wait until next year to seek a seat.

But diplomats cautioned Tuesday that consensus may prove difficult to achieve. Unless the rival foreign ministers reach agreement Wednesday morning, voting is due to resume later in the afternoon.

Herbal remedy use is on upswing and so is official concern
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

St. John's Wort for depression. Garlic for a healthy heart. Chinese club moss for Alzheimer's. These herbal supplements are becoming increasingly popular.  Sales of these supplements have become a big business, with U.S. residents spending more than $20 billion on alternative therapies last year.  But a battle rages over their efficacy, and the U.S. government is investing more money into research on how well they work.

Jim Duke of the Amazon Food Farmacy is a long-time advocate of using certain foods and herbal supplements as alternative therapies. "I recommend one clove of garlic a day for those who can take it, and your partner would have to take it as well for you to get along.  But garlic is a walking pharmaceutical firm, it's got at least 12 immune-boosting compounds, it's got at least 12 antiseptic compounds."

In light of those claimed properties, Americans are turning to herbal supplements in record numbers -- using them either as substitutes for medicines prescribed by their doctors or often in addition to them.

At the first-ever Herb Day at the U.S. Botanic Gardens in Washington's Capitol Hill neighborhood, there were enthusiastic discussions about how herbal supplements can promote health.

But critics say such talk is unrealistic. Dr. Sid Wolfe of the American consumer watchdog group, Public Citizen, says people should be skeptical. "If they like their food that's seasoned properly, garlic is a good way to season food, but that's not the reason why it is sold. Claims such as cholesterol reduction, prevention of heart attack have been made, and there is no evidence to support it."

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has tripled its budget for research into alternative therapies, including herbal supplements, since it launched its first studies in 1999. It now spends more than $300 million a year probing the efficacy of what is often called "complementary medicine".

One example:  at the University of North Carolina work is underway on whether Chinese club moss can be used to treat Alzheimer's, the brain-wasting disease.

Jim Duke is convinced that research will prove herbal
supplements work.  "I am delighted to say that herbs are becoming evidence-based. We're really looking into such things. Well, you've heard of Cox-2 inhibitors, well you haven't heard much about natural Cox-2 inhibitors."

Cox-2 inhibitors are very expensive prescription drugs to treat arthritis, and some believe the spices turmeric and ginger can have similar effects. But Wolfe of Public Citizen argues that scientific studies into herbal treatments are often flawed, making their conclusions unreliable.

"The government is beginning to test more and more of these against a placebo. The only way you can really test is to have half the people take a sugar pill and half the other, and, as they test these, one after another turns out to have zero benefit.  However, a number have some risk so there's an economic fraud, and no evidence of any benefit and some serious dangers."

But proponents of herbal supplements dispute this.   Dr. Robin DiPasquale is with Bastyr University, a Seattle, Washington-based institute that specializes in natural health sciences. She argues that scientific research will find that some herbal supplements do work if experiments are carried out effectively.

She is currently investigating claims about echinacea, a purple cone-flower often credited with boosting the human immune system and fighting the common cold. "The first level of research could be pharmalogical research where you could just test extracts of the plant to find components that you might want to be measuring.

"The true research is clinical research when you actually apply it to patients.  And the problem with echinacea is there have been too many studies that haven't been designed appropriately, such as people not giving the proper dosing or dosing frequently enough or not using the correct part of the plant or the correct species of the plant.  So we're looking to do research that corrects those problems so the outcomes really reflect what's going on in clinical care."

While the debate over herbal therapies continues, experts say the first step before taking any medication or supplements is to consult a doctor. Not doing so can be dangerous. Certain supplements and medicines interact badly with one another, leading one-and-a-half million Americans being hospitalized each year for related problems.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 217

Saprissa's new coach will be former player Jeaustin Campos
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The management of Deportivo Saprissa has named Jeaustin Campos Madriz as the new head coach to replace Hernán Medford.

Medford was named Monday as the head coach of the national team, the Sele.

Jorge Alarcon, general manager of Saprissa, said that the decision to appoint Campos was consistent with the
philosophy of the team in creating an institution that was totally Costa Rican. Campos played for Saprissa in the 1990s.

Campos was accompanied at a press conference at Estadio Ricardo Saprissa by his new assistant coaches:  Randall Row and Ronald González.

Pierluigui Morera was designated trainer.

The changeover will take effect Monday.  Medford will direct the team in a match Sunday.

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