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(506) 2223-1327         Published Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 251           E-mail us
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The accent can carry lots of weight in conversation
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A rose by any other name may still smell as sweet, but if the name is said with an accent, there are unexpected complexities that are being unraveled now by scientists. And understanding these complexities may be of value to foreigners living in a country where the principal language is not their own.

Expats may notice that as they talk to Costa Ricans their body language and accent changes.

That is not unusual, according to a recent article in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. It said that imitating someone who speaks with a regional or foreign accent may actually improve understanding.

“If people are talking to each other, they tend to sort of move their speech toward each other,” said Patti Adank, of the University of Manchester, who cowrote the study. People don’t only do this with speech, she says. “People have a tendency to imitate each other in body posture, for instance in the way they cross their arms.” She and her colleagues devised an experiment to test the effect of imitating and accent on subsequent comprehension of sentences spoken in that accent.

The experiment used Dutch students who were challenged with an unfamiliar Dutch dialect. People who had imitated the accent did much better at understanding the sentences than others, according to the results.

“When listening to someone who has a really strong accent, if you talked to them in their accent, you would understand better,” Ms. Adank said.

If someone puts on, say, a fake Southern accent when talking to a resident of the U.S. State of Georgia, the southerner might not think the
intention is friendly. But when a speaker's brain  subtly and unconsciously shifts the voice to sound more like the listener's, it appears to be deploying a useful strategy, said the summary from the Association for Psychological Science.

In a more complex report, researchers at the University of Haifa in Israel said that more empathy one has for another, the lighter the accent
will be when speaking in a second language. That study was published in the International Journal of Bilingualism.

The research said that both personal and sociopolitical aspects have an influence on accent in speaking a second language, and that teachers giving instruction in languages as second languages, especially among minority groups, must relate to the social and political connection when teaching.

A study in Scotland using magnetic resonance imaging showed that the brain of Scots responded differently when they listened to speakers with Scottish accents than to speakers with American or British accents.

"The initial results suggest that such vocal samples somehow reflect group membership or social identity, so that 'in-group' voices are processed differently from the 'out-group,'" said researcher Patricia Bestelmeyer, based on research at the University of Glasgow. The results suggests that people process words spoken with their own accent more quickly and effortlessly than other accents.

A University of Chicago study found that a foreign accent undermines a person's credibility in ways that the speaker and the listener don't consciously realize. Because an accent makes a person harder to understand, listeners are less likely to find what the person says as truthful, researchers found. The problem of credibility increases with the severity of the accent, the study determined.

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Illegal phone system evaded
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By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three lawyers and four electronic experts are being investigated for using technology to bypass the national telephone system and run up millions of dollars in overseas calls.

The Judicial Investigating Organization conducted two raids Monday, including one in the shadow of the court complex downtown. Four persons were detained. Agents said they were investigating three more persons, all lawyers, who are suspected of creating false documents as part of the scam.

The Poder Judicial said that low-income and homeless persons were used to obtain fixed telephone service from the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the phone company. Using electronic devices, the illegal system was able to bypass the normal telephone net and the system for calculating charges.

Fake documents were created to assist individuals in getting telephone service from the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. The scamsters then took over the fixed lines and installed their electronic devices.

The Poder Judicial did not say so but the suspicion is that the illegal network was being marketed to individuals and firms that make a lot of overseas calls.

The four persons detained Monday were identified by the last names of Alemán, Soto, Vargas and Mejía. They all were identified as information technology specialists.

The case is in the hands of the Unidad Especializada en Fraudes of the judicial police. The potential charges include creation and use of false documents as well as telecom fraud.

Agents were accompanied by a technician from the phone company during the raids.

Our readers' opinions
Tico's 'thoughtful letter'
draws praise from reader

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Three cheers for Joaquin Aguilar taking Mr. Sulenski to task for his failure to observe the old adage, “When in Rome, do as the Roman’s do.” All too frequently I read letters in A.M. Costa Rica where the writer expects everything here to be done the way the Gringos do it.

While I’ll always be a U.S. citizen, I’m delighted to be living in a country with no military. Settling things in the OAS or the World Court may be slower, but it’s a whole lot better than going to war and all the tragedies that entails. Thanks again, Mr. Aguilar, for your thoughtful letter.

Warren Kinsman
Barrio Escalante
San José

More agreement for letter
written by Costa Rican

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am writing in support of and in agreement with Mr. Joaquin Aguilar.

It is the height of disrespect and cultural ignorance for a North American to declare that "It is seeming like Costa Rica isn’t the land of Pura Vida but a land of cowards with no backbone at all."

One of the reasons that I, as a North American, became a permanent resident of Costa Rica was that this country does not resort to armed conflict as its first, second, or even third option.  The U.S.A. has the unfortunate history of having been in a constant state of war with someone or another for all of my life. This is not the kind of place I wish to live or raise my family.

So I am glad that Costa Rica has the maturity and restraint not to go to war over, as Don Joaquin says: "that patch of God-forsaken land" that the "Mini-Me of Hugo Chavez" Daniel Ortega has sought to grab.

There is a saying:  "What you resist, persists."  By engaging in any armed resistance to the Nicaraguan invasion, Costa Rica would simply play into the hands of Ortega and thereby guarantee that he would increase his dictatorial powers and his longevity in office.  That would serve neither the interests of Costa Rica nor of Nicaragua and many innocent people would die for nothing.

I applaud the civilized, restrained actions of the Costa Rican government.  It is the right thing to do.

David Martin
San Rafael de Heredia

You're not in America,
Canadian resident says

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have to agree with that comments made in today's paper. I have lived here for 6 1/2 years and never once have I seen or heard so much bull dung. Never once have I been robbed or mugged. 80 percent of the Ticos I meet are very considerate and also very proud people. But most of the North American living here fail to understand that you're not in America anymore.

The first piece of advice I got when I came here was from another Canadian. He told me was "what ever you learnt at home forget it doesn't apply here."

As someone that has traveled most of Asia and western countries and most of Central America  I am placing my 2 cents in: Go Home and stay there. It is better that way. You can carry your guns and start wars and shoot anyone that comes near you. And not to mention kill your young in wars that should have never been started in the first place.
Costa Rica is a country that does have faults and, yes, the people are laid back but tell me this: Why do you come here. We all know why.  Yeah, well, Ugly Americans, or better put uneducated American put a bad name for the rest of the good one out there.  Grow up. The problem is that Costa Rica lets people like you in the country.
So Happy holidays,  Everyone, and Feliz Navidad
Roberto Matija
San José and Vancouver, British Columbia

He's not overly worried
about crime in Costa Rica

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have read both Art Sulenski's and Mr. Aguilar's letters to the editor. Art focused primarily on crime in Costa Rica, and mentioned the invasion by Nicaragua only peripherally. While Mr. Aguilar focused on the latter, his main point, contesting Art's characterization of Ticos, was entirely appropriate, in my opinion. True, Ticos are proud of their heritage of half a century without an army, and true that they believe in negotiation rather than military might. False that they are cowards and spineless.

Meanwhile, Costa Rica is a Third World country, and has crime problems in common with every Third World country in the world. I don't know that Costa Rica's problems are any greater or less than those of Panamá, but the State Department's cautions do sound very similar. In fact, the State Department advisory for Canada starts off as, "Although Canada generally has a lower crime rate than the U.S., violent crimes do occur throughout the country, especially in urban areas . . . . " Come on, folks.

If Art's friends don't want to come to Costa Rica, that is their business. I am looking forward to my daughter visiting here in a couple of months for the third time.  And having been raised in New York and other high crime urban areas, and having spent a career researching crime and addiction, I am not overly worried about Costa Rica.

John French

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, Dec. 21, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 251
Latigo K-9

7,000 new jobs seen as a result of 2010 investments
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

An investment of more than $434 million and the eventual creation of more than 7,000 new jobs will result from foreign direct investment in high-tech industries announced in 2010, according to the Ministerio de Ccomercio Exterior.

The new jobs are roughly split amongst three categories, services (call centers), tech manufacturing, and life sciences.

The latter is usually referred to as medical instruments because that’s what has been the bulk of investment in Costa Rica, but the export promotion agencies are hopeful of attracting biomedical research as well.

Call centers provide more than 30,000 jobs to mostly
young people with English skills, though much Spanish- language support for large telecom companies in the United States is moving here. About 100 call center operators are now in the country, mostly in tax exempt free zones in Heredia. New companies include Teleperformance and National Instruments.

Medical instruments like heart stents and catheters are the main products associated with new entrants. Abbott Vascular recently announced a large investment. General Microcircuits is joining giant Intel in moving production here.

In 2011 a joint effort between the ministry and the private sector export promotion agency CINDE will take effect, with plans to seek investment from North America, Europe, and Asia.

Free zone rules mean a variety of tax and customs benefits
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Free Zone Regime is a system of tax exemptions designed to encourage the production of products and services with a high value-added component. So far, the main industries to take advantage of the incentives are near shore” service call centers and medical device manufacturing.

The law is also aimed at research and development.

The main incentive is an exemption from corporate income tax for eight years. The usual rate for a larger business is 30 percent. For an additional four years the rate is reduced by half, and this can be extended further with what the government calls significant reinvestment.

Businesses operating under the free zone rules have absolute freedom from import taxes on materials used for manufacturing, and also can’t be subject to any export duties, though those are not a factor in Costa Rica in any case. There are no restrictions on capital movements.

Smaller companies must export 75 percent of their production and have a minimum investment of $150,000. Manufacturing companies with no export requirement pay a preferential 6 percent corporate tax rate.

For full freedom, an investment of $10 million and a staff
of 100 or more is required. Land is not included in the calculation. The investment must be completed in eight years. The large companies also can take tax credits for training and infrastructure improvements after the tax exemption ends.

Most companies have set up in established free zone business parks with existing infrastructure, but with a minimum investment of $2 million the facility can be located elsewhere. 

The business parks themselves are largely located in the southernmost part of Heredia province in Barreal and Lagunilla de Heredia. This is about 15 minutes from the Juan Santamaría international airport.

There are other incentives for companies in non-strategic industries and for operations outside the central metropolitan area.

The call center industry benefits from being much closer to the United States than are the principal competitors, in this case India and the Philippines. Costa Rica also has the advantage of its location in the U.S. central time zone.

The government has recently started to emphasize English teaching, and the first crop of high school graduates with English skills are the main labor pool for the service operators. Many workers are university students studying information technology.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 251

Water pathways at subduction zones: Water penetrates through large cracks formed during the subduction process of the oceanic plates. It is partly captured and transported in the mantle. There, high pressure and temperatures squeeze it out of the subducting plate and the water ascends back to the surface.
subduction and water
Graphic by Tamara Worzewski/ IFM-GEOMAR

Costa Rican study charts path of water feeding volcanoes

By the Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Oceanic plates take up a lot of water when submerged into the Earths’ interior at continental margins. This water plays a central role in plate boundary volcanism.

A team of the Collaborative Research Centre in Kiel, Germany, has for the first time tracked the pathway of the water up to 120 kilometers depth. This is being called an important piece in the puzzle to understand the highly active volcanoes in the Pacific ring of fire of which Costa Rica is a part. The research was conducted in Costa Rica and offshore.

A researcher from Costa Rica was part of the research team.

The study has recently been published in the international journal Nature Geoscience.

Scientists know that many volcanoes need water for their eruption. In the upper mantle, water lowers the melting temperature of the rocks. As a consequence, it melts faster and can ascend in the form of magma to the Earth's surface.

In areas where an oceanic plate is pushed underneath a continent by plate tectonics processes, large quantities of water reach the interior of the Earth. Such a region, called subduction zone, can be found at the west coast of Latin and South America.

Through large cracks formed during the subduction process of the oceanic plates water penetrates, is partly captured and transported in the mantle. There, high pressure and temperatures squeeze it out of the subducting plate and the water ascends back to the surface. On the way back it supports the formation of magma.

Therefore all subduction zones are characterized by volcanoes at the continental margin.

“So far we knew that the entrainment of water into the Earth's mantle in the area of subduction zones is substantial and that it is released again by volcanic process. Nevertheless, the exact path of the water down to the mantle and back to the surface had so far not been shown in one unifying context,” explained Tamara Worzewski, geophysicist in the Collaborative Research Centre, who has investigated these processes.

Ms. Worzewski worked with Marion Jegen and Heidrun Kopp from the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences at the Christian-Albrechts-Universität in Kiel and colleagues
Heinrich Brasse from the Freie Universität Berlin and Waldo Taylor from Costa Rica. She was able to show for the first time the complete water path from the seafloor down to 120 kilometer and back to the surface using electromagnetic methods. The study, now published in Nature Geoscience, is also part of Worzewski's doctoral studies.

The Collaborative Research Centre explained that for her investigations, the scientists used the magnetotelluric method. Here, special instruments measure changes in the earths’ electromagnetic field from which the distribution of the conductivity of the ground can be derived.

“Because of their higher conductivity aqueous rocks can be detected quite well”, explained Ms. Worzewski. On land, this method has already been successfully used for some time. But at the seafloor, its application is rather new, she added.

“Measurements at greater depths are simply much more difficult”, explained Jegen. He also headed a working group on magnetotelluric and established the method for marine applications in Germany. In 2007 and 2008, a continuous chain of instruments was distributed across the subduction zone off the coast of Costa Rica. It extended from 200 kilometers off the coast to 160 kilometers on land beyond the volcanic chain in Costa Rica.

“The instruments on land were supplied by the Freie Universität Berlin, while at the seafloor the new instruments developed in Kiel were used,“ Jegen reported. With the new data Ms. Worzewski and her co-authors were able to visualize the water cycle in subduction zones for the first time.

"We have indications that the water enrichment process of the crust that we detected locally can be found in subduction zones globally.“, Ms. Worzewski said. Nevertheless more research is required to explain the process in more detail, she added.

In the Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) 574 “Fluids and Volatiles in Subduction Zones – Climate Feedback and Trigger Mechanisms for Natural Hazards" geologists, volcanologists, geophysicists, geochemists but also meteorologists and biologists of Christian-Albrechts-Universität and the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences (IFM-GEOMAR) in Kiel are working on a better understanding of the processes during the subduction of oceanic plates under a continent.

Main research areas are the Pacific coast in Latin America from Costa Rica to Guatemala and the subduction zone in southern Chile.

Eclipse comes off without a hitch to wow those braving chilly weather here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Eclipse watchers had clear skies early today when the earth's shadow blocked the sun from the moon.

The moon turned red on cue from the reflected light from the earth and dusts in the atmosphere.

Others were not as lucky as viewers in Costa Rica. The Internet link established by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration was rained out. The camera was
at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Instead of the moon cam, the space center was showing a video of meteor showers.

The moon was high in the sky in Costa Rica, and the weather was chilly. The Weather Underground reported 18 degrees C at 2 a.m., about 64 degrees F.

The eclipse got good play on all three major television channels Monday night, so there probably were a number of persons who stayed up to see the sky show.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 251

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

U.S. says veto by Chávez
will have consequences

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The State Department said Monday that Venezuela's rejection of the Obama administration's choice for U.S. ambassador to Caracas will have consequences for the bilateral relationship. Venezuela confirmed that it will not allow veteran U.S. diplomat Larry Palmer to take up the ambassadorial post.

The State Department says Venezuela's rejection of ambassadorial nominee Palmer will have a tangible impact on already-strained U.S.-Venezuela relations. It is not revealing, however, what the consequences might be, saying that any decision will await further evaluation by the Obama administration.

Venezuela climaxed a months-long dispute over Palmer by summoning the U.S. charge d'affaires to the foreign ministry on Monday and giving her a note announcing that it is withdrawing its original acceptance of Palmer's posting to Caracas.

The government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez initially granted approval for Palmer, who was nominated for the post by President Barack Obama in June.

But officials in Caracas later said Palmer could not take up his post because of comments he made at his Senate confirmation hearing that morale in the Venezuelan military is low and that members of the Chávez government had ties to leftist Colombian rebels.

Earlier this week, President Chávez said Palmer had disqualified himself with the remarks and that he could not function as ambassador.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said Venezuela is within its rights to reject Palmer, but that the action has consequences for the bilateral relationship. He said Palmer, a former U.S. ambassador to Honduras, was chosen for the Caracas post because of personal qualities that could help repair the troubled U.S.-Venezuela ties.

"We regret this action taken by the Venezuelan government and it will bear responsibility for that action," said Crowley. "We believe that precisely because there are tensions in the relationship, it was important to maintain diplomatic communications at the highest level. President Obama nominated Larry Palmer to serve as ambassador to Venezuela because he has a unique combination of experience, skill and wisdom to successfully represent our nation in Caracas. And we have never wavered in that view."

Crowley would not be specific about what the consequences of the Venezuelan decision might be.

Asked whether that country's ambassador in Washington might be expelled, a senior official here would say only that there is a variety of things the Obama administration might do.

The United States and the populist Venezuelan leader have had a difficult relationship dating back to early in the previous Bush administration.

The State Department last week strongly criticized Chávez for seeking rule-by-decree powers from the country's outgoing national congress, preempting possible rejection of the move by the newly elected legislature, which will have many more opposition members.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 251

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Online ads exceeding print,
says marking research firm

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

This year, for the first time, U.S. advertisers are spending more on Internet ads than on ads in newspapers.

The market research firm eMarketer says U.S. spending for online ads will total nearly $26 billion this year, compared to total spending of less than $23 billion on print advertising in newspapers.

Revenue for on-line ads has been rising for years as audiences leave traditional media and flock to web sources for news and entertainment.  The research firm predicts the gap between Internet and newspaper advertising revenue will increase sharply next year.

Since advertising fees are pegged to audience size, declining readership figures for newspapers tend to accelerate the decline in their advertising income.

Newspapers also earn revenue from on-line advertising.  That portion of their income grew by 7.8 percent this year, but was more than offset by a bigger decline in print advertising.  The eMarketer firm estimated newspapers will finish 2010 with an overall decline in advertising income of 6.6 percent.

The industry monitor Advertising Age said the shifting trend in ad placements marks a new epoch in the advertising business, putting the Internet ahead of newspapers as the second-largest ad medium.  Television advertising revenue still tops all other sectors.

Ex-candidate set free
after seven months

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Kidnappers have freed former Mexican presidential candidate Diego Fernández de Cevallos, who had been held hostage for seven months.

Officials and a family spokesman Monday said Fernández de Cevallos was released, but did not say when he was set free.  Details surrounding the release were not known and there was no immediate comment from the government of President Felipe Calderón.

Fernández de Cevallos disappeared in mid-May as he headed to his ranch in the central Mexican state of Queretaro.  Officials had said his abandoned car was found near the property and there were unspecified signs of violence inside the vehicle.

Fernandez de Cevallos was the 1994 presidential candidate for the Partido Acción Nacional, which now governs Mexico.

Kidnappings and killings have become commonplace in Mexico as authorities have struggled to control drug traffickers and organized crime gangs.

At least 30,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since President Calderón took office in late 2006 and began a crackdown on drug cartels.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 251

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
At some point there must be a reason to discard pacifism

By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Rica does not seem to be having much success finding international support to counter Nicaragua's invasion of a small patch of national soil.

A Costa Rican letter writer Monday said this:

"I am certain that if you asked civilized, average Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans if they believe that that patch of God-forsaken land is worth the life of one single person on either side, they would respond with a resounding NO! Costa Ricans don’t go to war at the drop of a hat, not because we are 'cowards with no backbone,' but because we are smart and educated."

Much has been made of this country's tradition of existing without an army. Also highly valued is the tradition of neutrality.

Both are pragmatic positions what have morphed into myth.  José Figueres Ferrer abolished the army after he won the country's civil war. He had good, pragmatic reasons. The army in many countries is the likely source of rebellion. Later in life he said that his decision had a sound philosophical basis, too.

Costa Rican school children are encouraged to believe that Costa Rica is special because it does not have an army. The money they would have spent on military has been spent on education, social services and infrastructure, so the theory goes.

Clearly it has not been spent on roads and bridges.
President Luis Alberto Monge declared the country to be neutral when it appeared that Costa Rica would be swept into the Nicaraguan civil war. There was a recent ceremony praising that pragmatic decision.

Can Costa Rica be neutral in all things? We know it is neutral with regard to the Taliban suppression of women in Afghanistan. Other nations and the United Nations have taken up that fight.

But where does Costa Rica draw the line? Perhaps the letter writer is correct and that a small chunk of national territory is not worth fighting for.  After all, the Isla Calero appears to be mostly a home for large mosquitoes.

But if Nicaraguan forces move down the Río Colorado deep into Costa Rica, is that worth fighting for? How about Guanacaste? If Nicaraguan Daniel Ortega wants that land back after 186 years, is that worth fighting for?

President Laura Chinchilla seems to think that there should be a line drawn. She has beefed up the northern border with heavily armed police.

Myths of neutrality and the effectiveness of international law often clash with realities. Clearly no one can be neutral in the face of Nazi aggression and concentration camps. Nor can one  be neutral when one country calls for the elimination of another country.

At least the citizens cannot remain neutral and claim any pretensions to moral superiority.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 251

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Author sees Mickey Mantle as a boy who never grew up
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mickey Charles Mantle is one of the few major league baseball players who continues to fascinate new generations.  Starting in 1951, the then 19-year-old joined the New York Yankees and became known for his speed, power and ability as a switch-hitter able to bat both left and right-handed. Author Jane Leavy has written a new biography of Mantle, which tells of the impact he had, not only on baseball, but on the country as well.  Her book is titled "The Last Boy - Mickey Mantle And The End Of America's Childhood."

Mantle was born in Oklahoma in 1931, the son of a miner.  But his father "Mutt'"s love was baseball.  He played in a semi-pro league, and almost before young Mickey was out of diapers, his father was practicing with him every day.

Mickey was a star athlete in high school and was noticed by the New York Yankees, who signed him to a minor league contract in 1949.  After two years in the minor leagues, Mantle made the Yankees' roster in 1951.  Author Leavy says Mantle's speed on the base paths and home run power reflected the mood of the country.

"It was a time of unparalleled American optimism," she said. "We were flexing our muscles and we thought that we could pretty much do anything," she said.  "And the natural resources of the land seemed to reflect themselves in Mantle's unprecedented alloy of speed and power.  And when you looked at that smile of his, he seemed to capture the breadth of our optimism."

But from early on, it seemed like a dark cloud followed Mantle.  He was kicked in the leg during a high school game and developed a dangerous bone infection, osteomyelitis.

During his rookie season, Mantle suffered a knee injury when he caught his spikes in an outfield drain while trying to avoid a collision with Yankees' star center-fielder Joe DiMaggio.  The next day, his father, Mutt, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and died at age 40.  Ms. Leavy talks about the impact his father's death had on the young Mantle.

"Mickey grew up in a world where early death and hardship were the norm.  The fatalism that he always spoke about, the 'I'll never make it to 40, none of the Mantle men ever make it to 40,' was something that pre-dated his father's death at 40 when Mickey was just in his second year at the Yankees," said Ms. Leavy.

In spite of those setbacks, in 1952, Mantle established himself as one of the best hitters in baseball.  He batted .311 with 23 home runs and 87 RBIs, runs batted in.  That season he hit a ball completely out of Washington D.C.'s old Griffith Stadium.  It landed more than 172 meters away, and is still believed to be the longest home run ever hit. New York won the World Series during each of Mantle's first three seasons 1951 to 1953.

With Mantle leading the team, the Yankees continued their dominance into the late 1950s, capturing the American League pennant each year from 1955 to 1958 and taking the World Series in 1956 and 1958.  Mantle won the Triple Crown in 1956 with a .353 batting average, 52 home runs, and 130 RBIs.  He was also selected the American League's Most Valuable Player, an honor he won again in 1957 when he hit .365.

But despite his success, Mantle's personality was a study in contrasts.  Though loved and admired by fans across the country, he could be friendly and happy one minute, then angry and cold the next.  It seemed the only place he was ever really comfortable was in the clubhouse with his teammates.  They drank to excess together, caroused together and got into scrapes with the law together.

But in that different era, police, as well as journalists, protected "The Mick" and his cohorts, never arresting them or writing about their drunken escapades.  Mantle was on the path to becoming an alcoholic, but, Ms. Leavy says, Mantle rarely suffered the consequences of his actions.

"Jerry Coleman, his teammate and one-time roommate said, 'You know, he never grew up and it ruined him.'  I think he would have been way better off had he lived in a time and place where he was held more accountable, where he was forced to grow up. Had he been called on his more reckless behavior, he might have been forced to confront his own excesses earlier.  And that would have been better for him," added Ms. Leavy.

 baseball greats

In 2006, the U.S. Postal Service immortalized four baseball greats. In addition to Mickey Mantle (lower right), they included  Roy Campanella, Hank Greenberg and Mel Ott.

Leavy says Mickey Mantle loved his wife and family, but was distant from his children, and had dozens of extra-marital affairs, some lasting for years.  Through it all, Mantle continued his spectacular performance on the field, despite being in almost constant pain from osteomyelitis and other injuries.  In 1962, he was named the American League's MVP for the third time.  And while the Yankees continued to win the American League pennant, they lost the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1963 and to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964.

In 1965 the Yankees started to slide into mediocrity.  Mantle was in increasing pain, striking out more and more, and said the game was no longer fun.  But he played through the 1968 season. Ms. Leavy says Mickey Mantle retired with numerous records and achievements.

"He hit 536 home runs when 536 home runs really meant something, prior to the Juiced Era.' When he retired at the end of 1968, that put him third on the major league list," she said.  He was undoubtedly the greatest switch-hitter that ever lived.  He was the epitome of post-war American power."

Mickey Mantle played 2,401 games for the Yankees.  In addition to his home runs, three MVP awards and Triple Crown Award, he led the American League in home runs four times.  He played on 12 pennant-winning and seven World Series-winning teams.  He still holds the all-time record with 18 home runs in World Series play, as well as numerous other World Series records.  Mickey Mantle was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1974.

After retiring from baseball, Mantle pursued a number of businesses, most of them unsuccessful.  To make money, he made appearances to sign autographs and play in golf tournaments.  He also did public relations work for a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, — a move that got him temporarily banned from baseball.

Mantle lived in denial of his alcoholism until 1994, when he went into rehabilitation at the Betty Ford Clinic and stopped drinking.  But after his release, Mantle learned that his years of heavy drinking had left him with cirrhosis of the liver, hepatitis-C and liver cancer.

Although he received a liver transplant in June 1995, the cancer had spread to other organs, and Mantle died two months later.  Despite the controversies surrounding his personal life, his outstanding abilities on the baseball field and courage in the face of pain made him a hero to a generation of baseball fans.


Scene  from the movie looks like the real thing.

'Secretariat' is not just another movie about a great horse
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Only a few horses have won the Triple Crown, three grueling thoroughbred races held every spring. Some four decades ago, one horse who did achieve that pinnacle of American racing became a national hero, along with the woman who owned and believed in him, against all odds. Their inspiring story gets the Hollywood treatment in a new film from Walt Disney.  Here's a look at Secretariat.

Penny Chenery was a housewife and mother in Denver, Colorado, in the 1960's; but when her father's ailing health threatened the future of her family's Virginia horse breeding farm, she took it over, stubbornly determined to put the business back on its feet. All she needed was one winning horse — and she got that in a chestnut red colt born on the farm in 1969.

By the time he was three years old, the thoroughbred nicknamed Big Red, but formally called Secretariat, would earn a place in American horse racing history. So too did Penny Chenery, as one of the few women among the owners of horse racing stables. Diane Lane plays her in the film and says she learned about the character first-hand.

"First of all, it was very surreal to spend time with the real Penny Chenery because, invariably, it is unusual to spend time with somebody that you are going to be bringing to the screen," noted Ms. Lane. "It raises the stakes. I really personally wanted to make it a gratifying experience for her.

"I don't think that Penny ever took on or saw herself in a vainglorious manner at all representing any gender or any generation. It was, rather, a timeless story from her point of view of her family business and what needed to be done to save it," added Ms. Lane. "So I take a page from her book and salute her for not letting this become an issue, but more one for the history books for people to, with the patina of time, say 'Well, there is a hero.' "

John Malkovich plays Lucien Laurin, the horse trainer who, at Penny's urging — and guided by her unflagging faith in him — pushes Secretariat on to victory.

Movies about horse racing have been done before. For instance, in 2003, the Depression-era hero Seabiscuit was the subject of a hit film. So "Secretariat" director Randall Wallace says he set out to show the grueling and sometimes dangerous sport from a different perspective.

"I understood about this movie from the beginning that we had to experience these races as participants, not as observers," Wallace explained. "That required that we shoot the movie in a way no horseracing movie had ever been shot with an approach of filming where you are subjectively in the race. You are not seeing what it is like to have watched Secretariat run. You experience what was it like to run like Secretariat. There is a world of difference in that. and we had to understand what it was like for the characters when they were alone. Some of the most evocative moments in this movie, for me, are when the characters are by themselves."

Wallace put the viewer in the races by shooting them with lightweight video cameras mounted right on the horses. Of course, horse racing fans know the results of the 1973 season when Secretariat won the Triple Crown, but director Wallace contends there is still suspense and a sense of religious exultation about the outcome of the film.

"In all of my other films, "Braveheart," "We Were Soldiers," "Man In The Iron Mask," along with courage and honor there is a sense of tragedy," Wallace said. "This was a movie in which it is unalloyed joy that glories in love and courage."

"Secretariat" reinforces that religious tone with lines from the biblical book of Job at the beginning and the 1969 hit version of the Christian hymn "Oh Happy Day" at its climax. The book "Secretariat: The Making of A Champion" by journalist Bill Nack is among the sources for the script by Mike Rich.

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