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These stories were published Friday, Dec. 17, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 250
Jo Stuart
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Upset at low marks on national exams, some students blocked busy Avenida 3 Thursday to call attention to their situation.

Story BELOW!

A.M. Costa Rica/Joe Medici

Brief rememberances of the year past
About once a year I step through the looking glass and find myself in  Wonderland.  So, this year, after a short conversation with the Walrus (of "The time has come…" fame), I have decided to talk of some of the things that have happened this past year. 

The Scott Peterson trial is finally over.  Laci’s smiling face will no longer haunt us, and lots of people feel better because they have gotten a life for a life — or in this case, two lives. 

I wonder now if the jury thought about whether life without parole would actually be a more severe punishment at less cost.  There are going to be endless appeals. I was also wondering if Scott could write a book, confessing his crime, revealing what happened and have the proceeds go to his parents who have, I think, mortgaged their life to defend him.  And will we, after 90 days, be inundated with various reprises of this whole sad affair.

The violence gets worse in Iraq.  Our soldiers and the Iraqi people continue to die in ever greater numbers every day, yet the end of January is still the target date for the people of Iraq to vote.  How I wonder, are the 200 candidates lining up to get on the ballot, going to campaign?  Who is going to protect them as they try to crisscross the country?  How are the Iraqi people going to learn about so many in such a short time? 

Just who are these 200 people, or are they just members of a new party?  Nobody tells us.  And I wonder if in the future some military historians will ask if the now famous "shock and awe" attack on Baghdad was so brilliant after all.  Destroying a city’s infrastructure to get one man has complicated the aftermath of trying to win the hearts and minds of a people without homes, electricity, water or jobs. 

In the United States past presidents spend their time creating libraries, building houses, fighting AIDS or playing golf and giving speeches. Here in Costa Rica, it is a bit different.  Some recent past presidents, it is alleged, have spent their time making money illegally and now may be spending some time

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

together in a home not built by Habitat for Humanity.  I wonder if they wish they had followed in the footsteps of former President Oscar Arias, who so far at least, is free of allegations of criminality.

I missed the Festival of Lights Parade downtown, partly because I didn’t want to be in a big crush of people at night.  I was there when it was over, and there were still crowds of people looking for rides. Buses were rerouted to streets they never normally drive on. I was astounded at what I saw. 

What came to mind were two words I was sure I would never use in writing: myriad and detritus. There was indeed a countless amount of accumulated disintegrated material.  I have never seen such a mess of paper and garbage in a city street — much of it flying about in the wind that comes with December. I trust it was all cleaned up by the next day. 

Osteoporosis seems very rare here. I continue to be impressed with the posture of Ticos in general, even though I see more who are overweight.  I automatically straighten up when I walk with them downtown.  I am also impressed by the fact that so many old people continue to walk tall.  I think someone should do a study of why this is. Could it really be the gallo pinto?

There are still a couple of weeks left in the year so I probably will continue my wondering.  Meanwhile I will end this column by quoting the companions of the walrus.  It seems appropriate at this time of year and life.

"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried, "Before we have our chat; for some of us are out of breath, and all of us are fat!"

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NBA basketball camp here
fizzles for several reasons

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

International Sports Academy had to cancel its basketball camp, and now workers there are wondering how to take the next step. 

The camp was scheduled to take place this week in the Gimnasio Nacional in Parque la Sabana, but due to complications with the National Basketball Association in the United States and with the staff of the camp, the event was cancelled at the last minute.

Maritxu Chastellier works with the International Sports Academy and has spent the last week working around the clock. "Everything was going well until the end of last week," she said by telephone Thursday.

Late last week, the academy was informed that one of their celebrity NBA coaches, Craig Hodges, would not be able to attend the camp due to family obligations. "We couldn’t very well have held the camp without the coaches we promised," Mrs. Chastellier said. "It was a difficult situation, however, because we were only a few days from the opening of the camp."

The situation worsened early the next week when the National Basketball Association contacted the academy. Ayala Deutsch, vice president and senior intellectual property counsel of NBA Properties, Inc. sent a message stating that the academy did not have the right to use the association's logo. 

According to Cesar Acavedo of the National Basketball Association, "the group misunderstood their relationship with the league." "Things have been straightened out with the academy," he said. "The league does have plans to work in Central America. . . ."

The International Sports Academy still plans to host a basketball clinic in Costa Rica, but workers are just beginning to plan the event. "We have found a few sponsors and we might be able to host a camp in January," Mrs. Chastellier said. "If not in January, however, we will probably have the camp in March."

Top Christian singer
to perform at Unity

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Unity-Costa Rica will he holding an open-air bilingual service Sunday beginning at 10 a.m. The service will be followed by a lunch at 11:30 a.m. 

At 12:30 p.m. the Salvation Army Angels party will be opened by the Emmy award-winning singer Faith Rivera.  Faith Rivera is from Hawaii and her Wonder album has been nominated as the Christian album of 2004. 

Juan Enrique Toro, Unity minister, said that Faith Rivera is a member of Unity in Hawaii. She offered to sing at the service when she chose to come to Costa Rica for a vacation. 

More information is available at 203-4411. Unity is located 350 meters south of the Shang Hai restaurant in Piedades, Santa Ana. 

Embassies, government
plan holiday closings

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Public and governmental offices will be closed during the Christmas holiday. Below is a list of the hours of those offices.

The British Embassy will close on Friday, Dec. 24, and will reopen for three days on Wednesday, Dec. 29.  The embassy will then close again after normal hours Friday, Dec. 31, until Tuesday, Jan. 4.

The Canadian Embassy will be closed on Monday, Dec. 27, Tuesday, Dec. 28, and on Monday, Jan. 3.

The U.S. Embassy will close on Friday, Dec. 24, and will reopen on Monday, Dec. 27. The Embassy will then remain open through Wednesday, Dec. 29, and will reopen Monday, Jan. 3.

All executive branch government employees in Costa Rica have their last day of work today. Offices will reopen Jan. 3. 

The courts will close midday Friday, Dec. 24, and will not reopen until Monday, Jan. 17. A skeleton crew will handle criminal cases that come up during the break, and employees will be available to take complaints at the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Those who need to leave the country with a car, the Registro Nacional will be filing exit certifications from Tuesday, Dec. 21, through Wednesday, Dec. 23, and again from Monday, Dec. 27, through Thursday, Dec. 30, from 7:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. at the main location in Zapote. 

Hospitals and other emergency facilities will remain open.

Pair held in thefts
at shopping centers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two suspects were arrested Thursday in connection with thefts from cars in the downtown area of San José.

The two, Iris Trejos Mora, 38, and her daughter Ivannia Carvajal Trejos, 23, were arrested at their home in Los Filtros, Alajuelita. 

The thefts were carried out in commercial centers in and around San José by persons using a vehicle to cruise parking lots. Cars which had valuables in them were targeted. 

The thieves parked close to the car and then broke into it, stealing items that were left by the owner. 

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Heart concern and good finger foods with flare
‘Tis the season for trays of hors d’ouvres, rich sweets and lots of alcohol. Small offerings of finger food art with large flavors are among my passions.

Hanging out in the second row from the tray bearer brings me in earshot of the guests and fellow gluttons. It’s fun to hear others do as I do and guess ingredients. When the majority agrees that the undertaste is salty walnut puree and I think it is anchovy paste, I go to the kitchen and ask. My palate is fairly sensitive, but, not rarely, others’ are better. It becomes an opportunity to learn more about flavor and relearn a necessary quarter cup of humility. 

What I find most entertaining is the way people decide to eat a second chocolate dessert or another glass of red wine because "my doctor says it is good for my heart." 

Another oft repeated phrase, "I only drink wine. The alcohol in it is better for you than whisky or beer." My favorite was uttered by a man twice my substantial girth who had a huge hunk of fruit and nut cake covered with chocolate sauce : "I have to keep up my flavenoid and lycopene intake. Can’t have those dangerous free radicals swimming around my bloodstream." 

OK, so what is the real skinny?

Red wine contains a substance from the skins of grapes that is a mild blood thinner. Red table grapes, grape leather or grape jelly work as well.

Another substance, an anti-oxidant flavenoid, scavenges some of those destructive free radicals and improves the ability of vessels to stretch, both good properties, but the substances are very common in nearly all fruits and vegetables and particularly in a small handful of nuts or a helping of berries. The best way to get cancer protection from lycopene is to eat processed tomato products like ketchup, spaghetti sauce and gazpacho along with other vegetables. 

Comparable numbers of ounces of alcohol from cans of beer, glasses of wine and hard stuff over rocks are identical in your body. 

Flavenoids are anti-oxidants and do have a beneficial effect on coronary artery health, but sickness and death secondary to the regular ingestion of highly addictive alcohol and calorie rich and saturated fat rich chocolate treats create much more harm than good. Wine offers less clot protection than a baby aspirin a day.

If everyone adhered to the two-glasses-of-red-wine-a-day advice, the number of premature deaths would increase exponentially from liver failure, cancer, cardiomyopathy (flabby heart muscle), automobile accidents and domestic violence. 

Chocolate cakes and candy are particularly harmful for people with tendencies toward abnormal lipids, obesity and diabetes. And to repeat an earlier column, beware the toxic trans fats in nearly all commercially baked pastries, creams, pie crusts and whipped toppings. 

My message is not "Thou shalt not!" but don’t make bad choices predicated on misinformation. Here are three unusual, easy to prepare, cocktail party finger foods from my kitchen to yours: 

Dr. Lenny Karpman

we eat


1.) Clams in the shell. 

Ingredients: Live clams in the shell (you can also use frozen mussels), cilantro leaves, Hoisin sauce (dark brown sauce sold in jars in Chinese markets and upscale supermarkets). 

Procedure: Rinse the sand off the clams, steam them open in a little water and discard any that don’t open. After they cool, lift clams out of their shells, separate shell halves, rinse prettier half of the shell and line it with two cilantro leaves — shiny side up. Set a clam body back in the shell and top with a dot of Hoisin sauce out of the jar, no bigger than a small pea (use twice the amount for frozen mussels). Serve at room temperature. People will pick up the shell and eat without utensils. Have a dish for the shells. 

2.) Potatoes and caviar. 

Ingredients: For 40 bocas, 20 thin-skinned, yellow flesh, small potatoes about ping pong ball size, a small container of sour cream and a small jar of black, yellow or red caviar. 

Procedure: Cut the potatoes in half. Slice a thin strip from the underside of each half so they can stand without falling over, make a shallow well in each larger surface with a melon scoop. Boil just until cooked but still firm. When they cool, pat dry, put dollops of sour cream into wells and top with enough caviar to nearly cover the sour cream. Eat at room temperature with fingers. 

3.) Scallops, Bacon and Optional Wasabi Cream 

Ingredients for 24: A dozen frozen sea scallops, a dozen thin strips of bacon, two dozen toothpicks, a half teaspoon of Wasabi paste (Japanese green horseradish) and a half cup of sour cream. 

Procedure: Pat scallops dry and cut in equal halves. Wrap each half in half strip of bacon and skewer through and through with a toothpick. Broil them in a single layer until the bacon is barely browned. If you broil too long, the scallops will be dry and lose flavor. 

Drain on paper towels and arrange on their sides. They are fine as is, but for extra pizzazz, mix Wasabi paste and sour cream and spoon a small dollop on each bacon wrapped scallop. Eat as finger food with existing toothpicks. Have a cup for the toothpicks. 

Low pass rate on final exams have students protesting
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country’s public high schools are weathering a controversy over the national exams where only half the students passed.

Passing the exam is a requirement for graduation, and just 11,000 students will be graduated Monday. 22,000 took the exams, a medley of nine academic subjects.

The killer test was math where just 59 percent of the students got a passing grade. The passing rate in the other subjects were 83 to 92 percent.

Students are staging demonstrations because they want the exams to be curved so that the passing grade is lowered.  The outcome this year is consistent with previous years.

Students from Castro Madriz, Monseñor Odio, and Salvador Umaña schools gathered on Avenida 3 to protest the national exam Thursday. 

About 25 students gathered behind a Costa Rican flag and a sign that read "El MEP hizo una massacre estudiantil." The students blocked the road during heavy afternoon traffic and caused delays around the area. The "student massacre" blamed on the Ministerio de Educación Pública means that only five students passed all the tests.

Allan Alanis, an 18-year-old student at Castro Madriz, stood with several of his friends protesting the exam. "The test is too difficult. Many students fail the test every year, and there is nothing for them to do afterwards," he said.

Victor Carrera, a 17-year-old at Monseñor Odio, was also in the crowd of students. "The level of education at 

our schools is not sufficient. How can we pass a test that we are not prepared for?" he said.

In fact, the ministry did not require that schools give students 200 days of instruction this year, despite a Sala IV constitutional court ruling that said that was their right.

Students who failed the exam might be able to make up subjects in classes scheduled during the school year break that starts this week. They also may be able to go to private, for-profit schools.

In Costa Rica records are kept of individual academic accomplishments, and salaries frequently are based on these facts.

High school graduation of the bachillerato is one requirement many employers seek in new hires.

Hundreds of students have appealed their exam results, and the deadline to do that was last week. Results of the appeals are expected shortly. However, ministry officials appear cold to any major revisions of the outcome. A statement is expected Monday.

Although only 58.9 percent passed the math exam, 86 percent passed either chemistry or physics, two other demanding subjects. However, not all students took those tests.

In  addition to would-be graduates in the 11th year class, students in the ninth grade also are affected by the passing rate on the national exam. Those who did not pass are denied promotions.

The ministry has not provided a breakdown of the passing rates in public and private schools, although students in private schools typically score higher.

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Five persons detained in inside credit card scam
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Crooks made contact with employees working for Credomatic, the credit card company, and obtained information that enabled them to impersonate customers.

As a result, they were able to use false credit cards to steal upwards of $100,000 in goods from merchants.

Five simultaneous operations carried out in the early hours of Thursday resulted in the arrest of five suspects in the case. 

Four persons were arrested in San Jose and one in Nicoya. The judicial Investigating Organization said that 

in the Urbanization Vizcaya Roger Mendez, 51, and Mario Pastor Gomez, 30, were detained. In Calle Blancos, Carlos Jiménez Codinez, 31, was detained, and in San Antonio de Desamparados the person held was Jimmy Chinchilla Arias, 30, they said. In Nicoya, Himer Vega Varolla, 31 was detained, agents said. Two are believed to be employees of the credit card firm.

According to investigators, conmen acquired lists of former Class A clients who had owned Platinum credit cards.  Then with false identification the crooks converted themselves into the credit card owners.

The thieves then went out and bought electrical appliances, furniture, jewelry, cellular phones and video games using the fake cards, agents said. 

Special unit will be created to guard diplomatic sites
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Security officials are setting up a special unit to guard embassies and other diplomatic locations.

The restructuring comes less than five months after an on-duty policeman killed three persons at the Embassy of Chile in Barrio Dent.

On stipulation for entry into the new special unit will be periodic psychological evaluation, according to a release from the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The man who did the killings at the embassy July 27, José Orlando Jiménez Jiménez, 54, had been assigned there from the local Fuerza Pública detachment and had worked at the location for five years.

The special unit will have 136 members to cover the 

diplomatic sites. The unit will be headed by a captain, a university graduate, with at least six years of police experience. Members will undergo special training at the Academia de la Fuerza Pública.

The killings at the embassy caused great embarrassment among Costa Rican officials. The embassy guard apparently had a long-simmering difference with some of the diplomats at the location.

The creation of the special unit is the recommendation of a commission that was set up to study the circumstances leading up to the killings last July.

The unit will be backed up with vehicles, Internet connections, telephones with international access and other tools so supervisors can keep in close contact.

Those chosen for this special duty will be screened for suitability, said officials.

Jo Stuart
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