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(506) 2223-1327         Published Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 231           E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Thanksgiving dinner is just not like it used to be
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Thanksgiving, which is Thursday, appears on the surface to be unchanged over the years. The main dish is turkey with all the trimmings. It is a holiday. Leftovers provide meals for the next week.

Yet there have been profound changes. Thanksgiving in 1936 also was a time to smoke multiple cigarettes, if one is to believe a Chesterfield advertisement in one of the first issues of Life Magazine. The ad said that smoking a cigarette between courses of a big meal helped the digestion. Now smokers feel like they have to hide even in their own homes.

Tradition has it that Indians were guests at the first New England Thanksgiving feast hosted by pilgrims. But then white man's diseases nearly wiped out the native inhabitants of what would become the United States. Back when Chesterfield was planning its Thanksgiving ad, most reservation Indians lived a miserable existence. Today a number of U.S. tribes employ armies of accountants full time as they enjoy the benefits of reservation casinos.

Chesterfield also generalized in its ad and showed women in white aprons serving up the turkey dinner. Today they do so only if they want to. The roles of men and women have been turned upside down. In fact, the traditional family has given way to multiple relationships with children from different unions and marriages so that Thanksgiving diners need a program to know who is who.

Once on crisp November mornings the menfolk would arm themselves and take to the woods for that elusive white-tailed deer. That, too, was a Thanksgiving tradition. Today neighbors might picket the home if a dead deer ended up in the trunk of the family car, and plenty of prime hunting areas are now subdivisions and condos.

Then there was the price of the turkey. Retailers would use the birds as loss leaders and lure holiday shoppers with cheap turkeys. Only last year Stateside Walmart stores were offering turkey at 40 cents a pound.  Not any more.

U.S. prices for tom turkeys are up 30 percent over last year, according to the Food Institute, an industry group in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. The main reason is a big jump in the price of feed, the institute said. And the production of turkeys is down, it added. The institute estimated the average turkey price at $1.05 per pound.
turkey too epensive

The institute experts were not talking about Costa Rica where turkey prices are, well, pricey. A check at the Automercado Monday showed that a Butterball brand bird was 3,600 colons per kilo.

That's about $7.15 at the current exchange rate. And there are no one-kilo birds. A plump offering at 8.71 kilos goes for 31,356 colons or about $62.25.

Over at PriceSmart a smoked Zar brand turkey weighing in at 7.92 kilos carried a 46,688.40-colon sticker price. That's about 5,900 colons a kilo or  $92.64 for the bird.

There were no bargains at Hipermás either.  An uncooked Butterball is 3,530 per kilo, similar to the Automercado price. A pre-cooked bird is 4,990 per kilo and a smoked bird is 4,900 per kilos. That is in the $9.80 per kilo range.

The Butterballs most certainly are imported and some of the 242 million birds being marketed this season, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Zar birds could be home-grown.

More bad news. Pumpkins have had a bad year, so they are up more than 6 percent a can in the United States, according to the Food Institute. Good luck getting a good price locally on pumpkin or elusive cranberries, canned or fresh. 

Of course a creative cook could use local squash instead, although there does not seem to be a good tropical substitute for cranberries.

With the level of the supermarket prices, dinner out seems like a good alternative, which is a big change from the home-cooked Thanksgiving meal decades earlier.

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Our reader's opinion
Just flip the channel
if you dislike Fox News

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
I have always been aware of the fact that there is a large percentage of whining liberals among the Norteamericanos there in Costa Rica.  And yesterday's letter to the editor section was a reaffirmation of that, as well as Jo Stuart's contribution.
From the very beginning of my online subscription, I learned to bypass Jo's amateurish attempt at journalism, (a Hemingway you are not, Jo), mostly because of her frequent liberal rants. Now it's a tirade of jabs at the "Dancing with the Stars" show on TV, an obvious slap at the Palins and the right in general.  Ms Stuart, lighten up and get a life. Keep your socialist opinions to yourself and go back to writing about the events in your boring life!
The hilarious letter from Dan Hill was the other leftist faux pas.  He attempts to elevate his opinion by claiming he is not alone, but among the horde of "other independent thinkers."  Another attempt to denigrate conservative thinking Republicans by smearing Fox News. "Hateful right-wing spew" ?  Hey sir, if you don't like Fox News JUST FLIP THE CHANNEL, as Mr Adams suggested Jo do. DUH !  The only "hate" I detect is yours and Jo's.  Just a "fair and balanced " opinion (smile).

Joe Furlong
Venice, Florida  

In support of Jo Stuart
and her right to opinions

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am somewhat shocked at the response to Jo’s article about Bristol Palin. For the record, I am a conservative, a fan of Sarah Palin and have been in Costa Rica on and off for four years. Though Jo is a little left of center in my opinion, I treasure her articles for her insight. I do not always agree with her, but that is my problem and not hers. She is entitled to her opinion, and I welcome her opposing views to my own.

Quite often we actually agree on observations of the local culture as well as the humor we see in the attitude of many Gringos who settle here and try to import their North American view of how the world “should” function.

The harsh words in the e-mails today disturbed me greatly as I have great respect for this wonderful lady. The letter writer cited “. . . are not always well-informed or discerning . . .” and incorrectly applied it to political thought. This was totally inaccurate as she clearly based the comment on formal training and experience in dance. Remember, no one’s opinion is ever wrong. I may, from time to time, have differences with Jo’s analysis and question “facts” that she might quote, but her opinion is her own.

What a dull world it would be if we all thought the same!

Jim Robinson
Costa Rica should get
percentage of river income

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have an opinion on what should happen with the Nicaraguan border conflict, but it is too practical and dealing with Ortega equates to dealing with my ex-wife. No matter how good an offer you make, they are going to accuse you of trying to trick them. 

Anyway,  I propose to give them the right to cut the channel with the understanding the land on both sides remained Costa Rican territory.  Arrange for a percentage of the tariff Nicaragua charges for the Caribbean boat traffic. What I predict is going to happen is the channel is going to be dug by hook or crook, and then Nicaragua is going to claim that it is the new San Juan river course and the territory north now belongs to them. And who is going to prevent them from doing it.

No way U.S., Columbia or Mexico is going to send in troops because they would have to either capture or kill the Nicaraguans and can you imagine the outcry.

I didn’t know Jo Stuart had written about Bristol Palin.  I haven’t read her column in some years once it was apparent she was using a fluff column to make political statements. I am not a regular viewer of the "Dancing With The Stars" show, but remember when Emmitt Smith won over Mario Lopez.  And I felt Mario was much better, but I didn’t see  any complains that Emmitt, a black superstar football player, was receiving a lot of black and football fans votes. How desperate does one go to write a column. This is show biz for crying out loud.

I am disappointed Amnet removed Fox news. I agree they have a conservative slant to their news, but I can live without it.  I never watched it all day, but found Bill O’Reilly and Bret Baier entertaining. The letter writer sure knew a lot about the channel not to watch it.

Bobby Ruffin
Colonia del Rio, Guadalupe

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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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 231

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Transport minister asked for patience over road woes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The public works minister is asking patience of citizens because the highways are not back in shape yet.

The minister, Francisco Jiménez Reyes, put out a newspaper column Monday in which he sought to explain why repairs to the nation's roads are taking so long. He said fixing the estimated 2,000 kilometers of damaged road is not something the ministry can do overnight.

Repeating statistics reported by the ministry last week, Jiménez noted that Tropical Storm Tomas did heavy damage to 28 percent of the nation's highways and that 8.5 percent of the national highways still were blocked or otherwise out of service.

He pledged that his ministry, the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes, would come up with definitive and permanent solutions that would make highway users comfortable. He also promised to seek aesthetic solutions. To do that he said a group of engineers is taking an inventory of all the damage and proposing solutions for the blocked roads and the damaged bridges.

Jiménez said that initially the job was to take care of emergencies. Now, he promised, the roadways will be fixed so that a similar disaster does not happen again.

He noted that the tourism industry, the banana growers, the pineapple producers, coffee growers and transport workers were depending on solutions.

If the heavy rains blew out a drainage system of one meter
in diameter, workers will not install a pipe of the same size to have it blown out next year, he said. If a roadway was washed away, his ministry will build deeper gutters, and if the highway was covered by a landslide, workers will reduce the hillside as well as recarpet the stretch, he said.

Jiménez maintains that the entire Pacific coast was now open to traffic, although there are some stretches in gravel and at other points where the roadways are one lane. He noted that his ministry was spending 100 million colons a day on rented equipment. That is nearly $200,000. He also said he was grateful that the legislature had allocated a special sum of 23 billion colons or about $46 million to initiate repairs.

Meanwhile, the Interamericana Sur still is closed due to slides and undermined roadways between Palmar Norte and Paso Real. Elsewhere ministry workers and those associated with the Consejo de Vialidad are replacing washed out bridges with temporary metal bailey bridges. The ministry said Friday that it had purchased $8.5 million in bridges.

The Policía de Tránsito reported that access has been restored between Nosara and Hojancha on the Nicoya peninsula and that the Acosta-Aserrí roadway is now open and operating normally. That is south of San José. However, the Acosta-Palmichal road still is closed due to slides.

The Quepos-Manuel Antonio link is reported to still be out of service. The road fell away in a slide. But a secondary route is operating between the two communities.

The country still has more than 15 bridges that are damaged or collapsed and a handful of rural roads that remain closed due to slides.

Report urges more weapons to fight sales tax cheats
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's tax collecting agency should propose legal reforms to counter the evasion of sales tax, according to the Contraloría de la República, the fiscal watchdog.

The Contraloría came out with a summary of a report Monday in which it said sales tax evasion had dipped from an estimated 28.6 percent in 2003 to 18.2 in 2008. The agency attributed the decline, in part, to the use of credit cards and also to greater contact among other agencies, including aduana, the customs department.

The report said that Costa Rica was in the same league as México and Argentina in the amount of sale tax evasion.

The report referred to "other sources" as places where Tributación might find out about tax cheats. Among these sources are banks, and Tributación is promoting legislation now that would allow access to bank customers' accounts without probable cause and without a judicial order. The idea is meeting some resistance in the legislature.
The Contraloría did not specify what types of legal reforms the tax collectors should seek.

The evasion of sales tax on imports, mostly from Panamá is a continuing problem, mostly because the border there is wide open. Judicial agents reported Monday that they had confiscated 530 boxes of alcohol, mostly whisky, at a home in Darizara de Paso Canoas near the Panamá line. The haul was estimated at 60 million colons or about $120,000. The boxes had been assembled from small shipments carried in passenger cars, agents said.

Two men involved in the operation fled when agents arrived, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. The load was supposed to be transported to the Central Valley by heavy truck, agents said.

Such smuggling is common and said to be getting worse. Police and investigators said that more is going on because they do not have the authority to stop and search vehicles without probable cause. That was the gist of a recent Sala IV constitutional court decision.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 231

Channel at Isla Calero would be 'dramatic, irreversible'

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An environmental expert characterized the possible impact of Nicaragua's work on the Isla Calero as very dramatic and irreversible.

The expert is Allán Astorga. He was one of the environmentalists who met with René Castro, the foreign minster, Monday afternoon to consider the impact of the work Nicaraguan soldiers and others are doing on Costa Rican land they took over in the northeast section of the country.

The Nicaraguans are attempting to build a channel that would bypass the meandering final 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) of the Río San Juan. Although the ministry and others call the work a canal, those living in nearby Barra del Colorado expect the river to blast a new mouth along the guide Nicaraguans have dug.

The route goes into the Laguna Los Portillos, which is considered to be environmentally rich.

Costa Rica has chosen not to respond with arms to the Nicaraguan invasion but to base its attack on the damage to the countryside. The country is asking the International Court of Justice in The Hague to order a stop to the work. The court has jurisdiction over the international boundary, which is the river.

The environmentalists heard Astorga say that 650 hectares was involved and that the land has protected status. That is about 1,600 acres. Part of the land is in Nicaragua, but the bulk is in Costa Rican territory.

Costa Rica also has appealed to the Organization of American States, and a meeting there is scheduled Dec. 7. Meanwhile, Costa Rica has called off the planned session between the two countries to discuss river issues. Such meetings are planned well in advance, and one was set for Friday. However, Costa Rica has said it would not meet
Nicaraguan delegates until troops from that country go home.

Another speaker Monday said that representatives from the secretariat for the Convention on Wetlands were considering visiting Costa Rica over the weekend to verify the damages claimed by the central government here. Both countries are signatories to the international treaty, and the area involved has been identified as a protected wetland.

For his part, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has rejected the international court's power to impose a freeze on the work.

Although the project has been characterized as simply dredging the river, the tenacity and bravado of invading an adjacent country suggest to some of those affected in Barra del Colorado that much higher stakes are involved. A new mouth to the river would greatly enhance the marketability of what is now an underdeveloped section of Nicaragua.

Coincidentally the Asamblea General del Secretariado Episcopal de América Central is taking place in La Garita. This is a meeting of the Roman Catholic bishops of the region.

President Laura Chinchilla Miranda spoke at the opening session and told the bishops that she is convinced that those involved can get over this difficulty by acting with a fraternal spirit and with mutual respect. She said the Catholic Church could offer an invaluable contribution.

Costa Rica has no aspirations over the Río San Juan, she told the bishops. Costa Rica has always recognized the river to be exclusively Nicaraguan as established by the 1858 Cañas Jerez treaty, she added. She said she wanted Nicaragua to respect the sovereignty of Costa Rica the way Costa Rica respects its sovereignty.

The international border is the south bank of the river for most of its course. Nicaragua controls the river.

Warehouse Dance Center plans 10th annual presentation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An estimated 130 ballet dancers from ages 3 to 30 will be in the spotlight at the auditorium of the Nacional del Museo de los Niños Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

This is the traditional show of the Warehouse Dance Center, and the students are from Escazú and San Pedro locations.

Maripili Araya, director of the dance organization, noted
this is the 10th year that the students will be demonstrating
what they learned and developed over the last year. The theme this year is "Believe," an encouragement for people to fulfill their dreams. The production includes a short video of Warehouse Dance Center alumni who have achieved their dreams. These include Daniela Navarro, a pianist who is now studying in Russia and a former student who now plays with the wellknown group Editus.

Part of the 10,000-colon admission goes to Fundación Renacer, an announcement said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 231

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World Health Organization
urges more taxes for care

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The World Health Organization says spiraling health costs push 100 million people into poverty every year. Now, a report provides practical guidelines on how governments can strengthen their health financing systems and make services available to more people.

Rich and poor governments alike are struggling to pay for health care.  Some people have good health plans that cover most of their expenses.  But, they are in the minority. 

The World Health Organization reports about one billion people in the world do not get the health services they need because they are not available or are not affordable.

David Evans, health systems financing director for the agency, says these people have a difficult choice to make.  Either they pay directly for health services they cannot afford, or delay care and run the risk of getting a more serious disease.

"Probably 100 million people make the choice to use their services each year, pay for them, and they suffer the financial consequences.  They are pushed down the poverty line simply because they pay for health services," Evans said.

He adds that although this is unacceptable, there is an alternative.

"But, what the report says, it is not just acceptable, but it is not necessary.  Something could be done about it, and something can be done about it now," Evans stressed.

The report highlights three key areas of change.

It says governments can raise and allocate more money for health.  For example, the World Health Organization notes, in 2000, African heads of state committed to spend 15 percent of government funds on health.  So far, three countries, Liberia, Rwanda and Tanzania have achieved this. 

The report says governments also could raise money more fairly and spend it more efficiently.  Evans says a number of countries are adopting these options with some success.

"Gabon is a low-income country.  It has introduced a tax on financial transactions, and that is going to help.  If Gabon can do something like that, other countries can do it," Evans said.  "In terms of financial risk protection, Thailand has introduced health insurance for everyone, and that health insurance is tax-funded, particularly for the poor.  So, that what happens is, the insurance now pays the cost that the people would have paid previously out of their own pockets."

The report says smarter spending could increase global health coverage between 20 and 40 percent.  It identifies 10 areas where greater efficiencies are possible. 

One is in the purchase of medicines.

France is an example of this.  It uses generic drugs wherever possible, a policy that saved the country almost $2 billion in 2008.  The report says more efficient spending on hospitals could boost productivity by 15 percent.

The World Health Organization acknowledges impoverishment and financial catastrophe are more prevalent in low-income countries because people there rely more on out of pocket payments for health care.  Therefore, it says, poor countries will need more help from the international community.

Trespassing miners die
at open pit in Suriname

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officials in Suriname say seven men who were illegally digging for gold have died in a landslide at a mine.

Police in the former Dutch colony said two men were injured Saturday in the accident, while three men escaped the collapse.

Authorities say the dead miners were mainly from the Maroon community, descendants of African slaves brought to the South American country in the 17th and 18th centuries who escaped into the interior.

Surgold, the owner of the Suriname mine, is a joint venture between U.S.-based multinationals Alcoa and Newmont.  The company says the men were not working for the company and were in an open pit mining area without permission.
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 231

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New e-reader is based
on cheap paper device

By the University of Cincinnati news services

A breakthrough in a University of Cincinnati engineering lab that could clear the way for a low-cost, even disposable, e-reader is gaining considerable attention.

Electrical Engineering Professor Andrew Steckl’s research into an affordable, yet high-performance, paper-based display technology is being featured this week as the November cover story of ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, one of the scientific journals for the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

In the research, Steckl and doctoral student Duk Young Kim demonstrated that paper could be used as a flexible host material for an electrowetting device. Electrowetting involves applying an electric field to colored droplets within a display in order to reveal content such as type, photographs and video. Steckl’s discovery that paper could be used as the host material has far-reaching implications considering other popular e-readers on the market such as the Kindle and iPad rely on complex circuitry printed over a rigid glass substrate, said the university.

“One of the main goals of e-paper is to replicate the look and feel of actual ink on paper,” the researchers stated in the article. “We have, therefore, investigated the use of paper as the perfect substrate for EW devices to accomplish e-paper on paper.”

Importantly, they found that the performance of the electrowetting device on paper is equivalent to that of glass, which is the gold standard in the field.

“It is pretty exciting," said Steckl. “With the right paper, the right process and the right device fabrication technique, you can get results that are as good as you would get on glass, and our results are good enough for a video-style e-reader.”

Steckl imagines a future device that is rollable, feels like paper yet delivers books, news and even high-resolution color video in bright-light conditions.

Two quakes recorded

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two quakes rattled the southern part of the country Monday. The first, at 1:12 a.m. was 13 kilometers (8 miles) southwest of Jacó in the Pacific. The magnitude was estimated at 4.8 by the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica at Universidad nacional in Heredia. The quake was attributed to subduction of the Coco tectonic plate beneath the Caribbean plate.

A second quake at 8:32 a.m. was estimated at 3.8 magnitude. It was attributed to a local fault some 10 kilometers (6 miles) northeast of Pérez Zeledón.

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