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(506) 2223-1327        Published Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 256           E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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familar flower
Pennsylvania State University/Mark Guiltinan
Sweet puzzle
for botanists

Others can Snicker, but some will want to guess the name of this flower.

It grows on a tree. It is a Central American native and one of the first domesticated tree crops.

Scientists have just  sequenced its genome. The tree is vital for Kisses. But liquor is quicker.

See story HERE!

Cold front delays advance of dry season in valley
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The high season is shaping up to be rainy and cold in the Central Valley. A cold front is slowly leaving the national territory, but the effects remain, said the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional.

Rivers on the Caribbean coast were reported rising Tuesday night due to rain in the mountains. Some 6 cms. of rain were reported in some areas.  That is about 2.4 inches.

The rivers are the Pejibaye, Parismina, Colorado and Reventazón.

The weather institute still is predicting strong winds between 30 and 70 kph (18.6 to 43.5 mph) and Central Valley temperatures between 12 and 16 C, about 54 to 61 F.

The institute issued warnings for small boats and light aircraft.
The Weather Underground service that provides data for readers said that there is a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms in the Central Valley for the next five days.

Thursday the daytime temperatures are supposed to warm up to 28 C, (82.5 F) but overnight lows will continue in the 17 to 18 C range. 

There was a light rain or pelo de gato, as it is called in Spanish late Tuesday in parts of the metro area. The amount was just enough to make roads slippery.

Usually Christmas is distinguished by blue skies and warm temperatures as the Central Valley moves into the dry season. That change appears to have been delayed about two weeks by the cold fronts from the north.

Beach dwellers still are experiencing gusts, but daytime temperatures have been in the low 30s C. or low to mid-80s F.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 256

Costa Rica Expertise
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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.

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Our firm specializes in the following areas: Real estate law, closings, due diligence, title search, banking, corporations, residency, immigration, civil law,
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The registration of Burke Fiduciary S.A., corporate ID 3-101-501917 with the  General Superintendence of Financial Entities (SUGEF) is not an authorization  to operate. The supervision of SUGEF refers to compliance with the capital legitimization requirements of Law No. 8204. SUGEF does not supervise the
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Attorneys & Notaries
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 Phone: (506) 2232-1014
restricted bus lane
Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes photo 
For those who do not speak Spanish, the sign means:
'Gringo! Stay out of the bus lane or get a really big fine!'

Using restricted bus lanes
can be a pricey mistake

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Motorists continue to fall victim to the new restricted bus lanes on the Autopista General Cañas. The rule went into effect Sunday.

The fine for using the bus lane is 286,065 colons, including tax on the fine. That is $568 at the current rate of exchange. Traffic police say they have nabbed more than 100 motorists so far. They started handing out tickets Monday.

The restricted areas are the two outside or right hand lanes on the six-lane highway. The rule has been put in place to keep buses moving during the anticipated traffic jams as the highway's bridge over the Río Virilla is repaired and resurfaced.

Signs have been erected and the lanes are marked in paint with a triangle.

For San José-bound traffic, the restrictions begin at Real Cariaria. Traffic from the central city to Juan Santamaría airport or Alajuela will see the restriction begin in the vicinity of Adoc de Costa Rica S.A.  Each direction has three lanes in the vicinity of the bridge.

No paper New Year's Eve

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica will not be published Friday, New Year's Eve. The newspaper publishes 257 issues a year. When Christmas or New Year's falls on a Saturday or Sunday, as they do this year, no paper is published on the eve.

Calls continue to be monitored at the newspapers office, 2223-1327.

Our readers' opinions
Tourists treated badly here
return home with grim tales

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Being a business owner who caters to tourists, one that tries to provide a safe and clean place to rest and sleep and to assist them in planning their tours to the many attractions in La Fortuna and Lake Arenal, I am sad at the country's lack of respect for them and the issues that cause the decline in tourism here. I don't care what report you are citing or reading that says that tourism is increasing here in Costa Rica. Business in the area of Lake Arenal and La Fortuna is down significantly.

Some say, and I happen to believe it also from first hand experience, that the best advertisement is word of mouth. If this is true, we here in the business are in trouble. Having had recent clients over the holidays, I was able to converse with them as is normal, and the stories I have been hearing are troubling at best. A lot of my clients fly into Liberia and sample one of the beach areas before coming to discover Lake Arenal and Volcano Arenal and the many hot springs.

A current family just related to me that they were parked in front of a major chain store in one of the beach areas and shopping for groceries. The husband went into the store, and his wife and children stayed in the car to mind their possessions. They didn't think to lock the doors and in less than five seconds, someone opened one of the doors of the vehicle and grabbed the backpack with their computer and other possessions while they sat there defenseless.

Another group of six who came from the same area of the beach to Arenal were stopped by the police and were extorted for $200. An officer said that if they didn't pay him directly, they would be fined $1,000 in court and would not be able to leave the country until it was paid.

All of my clients have been challenged by the condition of the road for 22 kilometers between Tilirán and Nuevo Arenal along the lake. It is absolutely impossible to stay in one lane. It looks like a mine field decimated with deep and large potholes and is extremely dangerous to navigate for tourists, buses and the normal citizenry.

When these people return from their vacations and have related all of these stories to friends and family, I doubt if they will be planning their next vacation in Costa Rica.

Tom Ploskina
Nuevo Arenal

Prior planning is needed
for possible stroke victims

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

An older acquaintance recently had a stroke and appears to have gotten to the local clinic a bit too late to benefit from whatever drugs might have helped.  Looks like he finally got to the hospital about a day after his stroke (we will never know how long the time lag actually was) in a taxi.  Apparently the family had to hold a long conference to come up with a plan.
Those considering living in San José, never mind the beach types, need to ask themselves some uncomfortable questions about bedding down in paradise.
1.) How many hospitals in Costa Rica have a neurologist on duty at say, 3 in the morning, who can administer a CAT scan and intelligently interpret the results?  Keep in mind that about 85 percent of strokes are caused by a clot and the other 15 percent are due to hemorrhage. So the clot busting drugs of recent fame can easily kill those without the clot option!  Gotta have that CAT scan and results have to be INTELLIGENTLY read out.

2.)  Take a look inside the local Cruz Roja ambulances and make some judgments.
3.)  The person without a car needs to come up with a real serious emergency plan such as a panic button on the night stand that will ring a buzzer in the homes of a few friends who can mobilize quickly.  The clot busting wonder drugs have to be administered within a SHORT time frame to be of help.
The acquaintance is getting better, as most stroke survivors do, but his future quality of life would have been much better if he had made real plans in advance for a health emergency.
Even paradise has one or two drawbacks.
Jim Harrison
Charlottesville, Virginia

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!

From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
Click a story for the summary

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on archived pages.

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From A.M. Costa Rica

Top story feeds are disabled on archived pages.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 256
Latigo K-9

U.S. Embassy says it has speeded up visa waiting time
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy's consular section says that it has reduced the waiting time for visa interviews and no longer are Costa Ricans on line standing outside the embassy for their appointments.

The lineup for visa-seeking Costa Ricans always has been a sore point and sometimes embarrassed U.S. citizens who could enter the embassy grounds immediately by showing their passports. There also was no provision for rain outside the consulate entrance where the Costa Ricans waited.

That has changed, and the embassy says that visitors won’t see a line this holiday season on the street in front of the consular section. The embassy posted the information on its Web site.

Embassy workers have reduced the waiting time for visa interviews to just one day, and the section has designed a more efficient appointment system to assure Costa Ricans that they need not arrive hours ahead of their appointment time, the embassy said.

Costa Ricans who seek visas to the United States have to make appointments by telephone with a call center and pay a $14 fee. Sometimes the time between the call and the appointment would be weeks.

All foreigners seeking a U.S. visa have to pay at least $140 and be interviewed in person at the embassy in Pavas. That is why long lines developed.

“There's no value added in having people wait for a total
of two or three hours, either on the street or inside the consular section, when the total process can almost always be accomplished in less than one hour” said Consul General Paul Birdsall. “We’re very happy with the progress we’ve made to improve customer service in 2010, and our goal for 2011 is to further streamline the system so that the average time from your appointment to conclusion of your business will be less than one hour.”

He was quoted on the embassy Web site.

The embassy also reported that 82 percent of the visa seekers got one in 2010. The high issuance rate shows that Costa Ricans tend to come to their visa interviews well prepared and able to demonstrate their strong economic and social bonds in Costa Rica, the embassy said.

The non-immigrant visa is designed for persons who are in the United States for short periods. The consular staff tries to make sure the applicants have a reason to return to Costa Rica.

Many visitors to the United States jump their visas, obtain jobs and otherwise act contrary to the law. Not many Costa Ricans do so, but many Hondurans, Salvadorians and Guatemalans, as well as Mexicans, cross the U.S. southern border illegally.

Costa Ricans usually find some way to mask their intentions. Financing Costa Ricans to go to the United States to work is a cottage industry in some sections of the country. In two cases, entire soccer teams of young men went to the States purportedly to play in friendship tournaments. Their real intentions were to work.

Air passenger detained after police find cocaine in bottles
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another departing air passenger ended up in jail after anti-drug police discovered what appeared to be cocaine hidden in two liquor bottles in his luggage.

The 22-year-old man, a Romanian, was identified as Razvan Costin.  The Policía de Control de Drogas said that they found 2.96 kilos of cocaine in the two bottles.

They said the man entered the country Dec. 14 after traveling to great Britain and Spain.

Not counting this case, police reported that they had detained 33 persons carrying drugs at the airport. Some 27 were foreigners.

Before Christmas police made another arrest of a man who was carrying seemingly innocent containers filled with a cocaine mixture.
Christmas bottle
Minsterio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
Both bottles were labeled as top-shelf scotch

Police disarm man who threatened with homemade gun
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man with a homemade shotgun was threatening and trying to rob passersby in the Guararí section of Heredia Tuesday.

When police arrived, the man tried to fire on the officers, but the weapon did not work. The device was a pipe installed with the grip of a pellet gun.

Police detained a suspect identified by the last names of Cortés Grajales.

When officers grabbed the weapon and tried to detain the man, they said he hit one officer in the face and tried to grab the sidearm of the second officer.

Homemade weapons are easy to construct, and
homemade gun
Minsterio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
Homemade weapon with police cap to show scale.

low-budget crooks are likely to carry one. However, many of the weapons in use by criminals in Costa Rica are those that have been stolen from registered owners, such as security guards.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 256

Inside look at cocoa variety promises better chocolate

By the Pennsylvania State University news staff

The production of high quality chocolate, and the farmers who grow it, will benefit from the recent sequencing and assembly of the chocolate tree genome, according to an international team from 20 institutions.

The team sequenced the DNA of a variety of Theobroma cacao considered to produce the world's finest chocolate. The Maya domesticated this variety of Theobroma cacao, criollo, about 3,000 years ago in Central America, and it is one of the oldest domesticated tree crops. Today, many growers prefer to grow hybrid cacao trees that produce chocolate of lower quality but are more resistant to disease.

"Fine cocoa production is estimated to be less than 5 percent of the world cocoa production because of low productivity and disease susceptibility," said Mark Guiltinan, professor of plant molecular biology at Pennsylvania State University.

The researchers report in the current issue of Nature Genetics "consumers have shown an increased interest for high-quality chocolate made with cocoa of good quality and for dark chocolate, containing a higher percentage of cocoa, while also taking into account environmental and ethical criteria for cocoa production."

Currently, most cacao farmers earn about $2 per day, but producers of fine cacao earn more. Increasing the productivity and ease of growing cacao can help to develop a sustainable cacao economy. The trees are now also seen as an environmentally beneficial crop because they grow best under forest shade, allowing for land rehabilitation and enriched biodiversity.

The team's work identified a variety of gene families that may have future impact on improving cacao trees and fruit either by enhancing their attributes or providing protection from fungal diseases and insects that affect cacao trees.

"Our analysis of the criollo genome has uncovered the genetic basis of pathways leading to the most important quality traits of chocolate — oil, flavonoid and terpene biosynthesis," said Siela Maximova, associate professor of horticulture, Penn State, and a member of the research team. "It has also led to the discovery of hundreds of genes potentially involved in pathogen resistance, all of which can be used to accelerate the development of elite varieties of cacao in the future."

Because the criollo trees are self-pollinating, they possess two identical forms of each gene, making this particular variety a good choice for accurate genome assembly.

The researchers assembled 84 percent of the genome identifying 28,798 genes that code for proteins. They assigned 88 percent or 23,529 of these protein-coding genes to one of the 10 chromosomes in the criollo cacao tree.

"Interestingly, only 20 percent of the genome was made up of transposable elements, one of the natural pathways through which genetic sequences change," said Guiltinan "They do this by moving around the chromosomes, changing the order of the genetic material. Smaller amounts of transposons than found in other plant species

cocoa pods on trees
Pennsylvania State University/Mark Guiltinan
Maturing cocoa pods on a tree

could lead to slower evolution of the chocolate plant, which was shown to have a relatively simple evolutionary history in terms of genome structure."

Guiltinan and his colleagues are interested in specific gene families that could link to specific cocoa qualities or disease resistance. They said they hope that mapping these gene families will lead to a source of genes directly involved in variations in the plant that are useful for acceleration of plant breeding programs.

The researchers identified two types of disease resistance genes in the criollo genome. They compared these to previously identified regions on the chromosomes that correlate with disease resistance. The team suggests that a functional genomics approach, one that looks at what the genes do, is needed to confirm potential disease resistant genes in the criollo genome.

Hidden in the genome the researchers also found genes that code for the production of cocoa butter, a substance highly prized in chocolate making, confectionary, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Most cocoa beans are already about 50 percent fat, but these 84 genes control not only the amounts but also quality of the cocoa butter.

Other genes were found that influence the production of flavonoids, natural antioxidants and terpenoids, hormones, pigments and aromas. Altering the genes for these chemicals might produce chocolate with better flavors, aromas and even healthier chocolate.

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News of Nicaragua
News of Central America
News of Cuba      News of Venezuela
News of Colombia    
News of Panamá
News of El Salvador

News of Honduras
News of the Dominican Republic
News of Bolivia     News of Ecuador
Real estate
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 256

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

U.S. drops rule for Cubans
that costs them money

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Treasury Department has authorized Western Union to pay remittances to people in Cuba in the island's convertible peso, or CUC, instead of U.S. dollars.

Treasury officials approved the change earlier this month, allowing Cubans to avoid a 10 percent exchange surcharge on the money transfers.  

Previously, the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control required money transfers to Cuba to be paid in dollars, requiring recipients to pay the surcharge that Cuba's government imposed.  Cuban authorities applied the tax in retaliation for the longstanding U.S. trade embargo against the Communist-run country. 

Cubans who rely on the remittances welcomed the decision, with one resident describing it as good news.  Many Cubans rely on remittances to supplement salaries averaging about $20 per month.

Last year, U.S. President Barack Obama eased restrictions on Cuban-Americans' travel and remittances to Cuba.

A U.S. embargo against the island remains in place.

Air France faces damages
in fatal Brazilian air crash

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A Brazilian judge has ordered Air France to pay at least $714,000 to the relatives of a Brazilian family that died when the airline's Rio-Paris flight crashed into the Atlantic last year.

The airline on Tuesday declined to comment on the ruling. 

Judge Alberto Republicano de Macedo said the French airline owes damages to the parents and grandparents of Luciana Clarkson Seba, who was killed along with her husband and in-laws.

All 228 people on board Air France's Flight 447 died in the crash, which was partially blamed on the airplane's malfunctioning speed sensors.

The plane went down in June, 2009, about 1,500 kilometers off Brazil's northeastern coast. Efforts to find the plane's "black boxes" that record flight information so far have failed.

Venezuela reports increase
in drug-related arrests

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuela says it has detained about 40 percent more people for drug-related crimes this year, compared to 2009.

The national drug enforcement agency said Monday authorities had arrested 12,376 people as of mid-December, including 371 foreigners.  It said just over 8,700 had been arrested by last December.

The AVN state news agency says achievements of the security forces in action against drug trafficking show the country's contributions in the fight against the global scourge.

The agency also says Venezuela's drug seizures increased after it ended relations with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in 2005.

U.S. officials have strongly criticized Venezuela's anti-drug efforts, saying the government of President Hugo Chávez has not done enough to stem the flow of cocaine.

Chávez has said he is doing everything possible to fight drug trafficking, and has blamed his country's drug problem on a high cocaine demand among Americans.

Drug traffickers, mainly in Colombia, have been using Venezuela as a route to smuggle cocaine into the U.S., Europe and other countries.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 256

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Japanese minister
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New Japanese ambassador talks with René Castro.

New Japanese ambassador
presents his credentials

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new ambassador has taken over representing his country of Japan just in time to be on the job when members of the royal family visit Costa Rica next month.

He is Yoshiharu Namiki, who has presented his credentials to René Castro Salazar, foreign minister.

The new ambassador was graduated from the University of Waseda with a degree in English. He entered his country's diplomatic service in 1974, said the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto, which released a brief biography.

He served in Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Venezuela, the ministry said. He also was consul general for Japan in Miami, Florida, in 2009.

He replaces the popular Hidekazu Yamaguchi, who left Costa Rica in September.

In the middle of next month, the country will have an official visit from the Prince and Princess Akishino of Japan, the ministry noted.

Judicial police bust up
robbery of delivery driver

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial police happened upon a robbery Tuesday and engaged the crooks in a firefight.

One suspect suffered a bullet wound to the hip. A second suspect was detained and a third fled, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The agents were from the Sección de Capturas who were in Tibás for an unrelated reason. The robbery took place about 11 a.m. in Cinco Esquinas de Tibás. The victim was a delivery man who works for a snack company. He suffered a bullet wound to the hand, said agents.

The delivery truck was parked outside a pulpería or small food store when the robbery took place. When two of the robbers saw that agents were nearby, they tried to flee and fired on the law officers.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 256

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 2010 can be called  a year of firsts for sports around the globe
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The 2010 year in sports was an exciting one marked by a number of firsts.  Among them, Spain won its first World Cup football championship.  Serbia won its first Davis Cup title.  Caroline Wozniacki became the first Danish tennis player to be ranked No. 1 in the world.  And American golf star, Tiger Woods, failed to win a tournament for the first time in his professional career  during a turbulent year in which he admitted the rumors of his infidelities were true.

For the first time ever, football's premier event, the World Cup, was held in Africa.  No one, either in the stadiums or watching on television, will forget the blaring vuvuzelas throughout the nine host cities.

The final was played at the huge Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg, where Spain captured its first World Cup with a 1-0 victory over the Netherlands in extra time on a goal by Andres Iniesta.

In early December the world soccer federation voted surprisingly for Russia to host the 2018 World Cup and for Qatar to become the smallest and first Middle East nation to host the tournament in 2022.

Tiger Woods dominated headlines in 2010 but mostly not for his golf game.  Rumors became reality when he admitted to a string of extra-marital affairs.  His reputation ruined, he lost millions of dollars in endorsements and was divorced by his Swedish wife, Elin.  For the first time in his pro career, he did not win a tournament, and he fell from the No. 1 world ranking.  In team golf, Europe recaptured the prestigious Ryder Cup from the United States.

In tennis, Ms. Wozniacki did not win any of the major tournaments, but she won enough to become the first player from Denmark, male or female, to ascend to number one in the world.  American Serena Williams, injured for much of the year, captured  two of the four majors, the Australian Open and Wimbledon.  On the men's side, Rafael Nadal of Spain won the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, to regain the top ranking from Switzerland's Roger Federer.  

The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics might be remembered more for their tragic start rather than their athletic feats.

In a training run the day of the opening ceremonies Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia was killed when his luge sled flew off the track into a support pole.  Warmer than normal weather resulted in snow being trucked in to Cypress Mountain and

thousands of spectator tickets had to be canceled because the footing on top of the hay bales underneath was unsafe.  Still, competition went on.  Whistler Mountain events were not affected.  That's where alpine skier Lindsey Vonn became the first American woman to win the Olympic downhill gold medal.  Later in the season she was the first American — and only second woman ever — to win the overall World Cup title three straight seasons.

But despite tragedy and weather issues, the host Canadians rejoiced on the final day when their beloved men's ice hockey team captured the gold medal with a thrilling 3-2 overtime win over the United States.

In the professional hockey ranks, from which the Olympic teams were drawn, the Chicago Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup since 1961, beating the Philadelphia Flyers in six games.

The Los Angeles Lakers won their second straight National Basketball Association title, beating the Boston Celtics, four games to three, and Kobe Bryant was once again named Most Valuable Player.

Quarterback Drew Brees guided the New Orleans Saints to their first ever National Football League Super Bowl title.  Their 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts provided a big morale boost to the city five years after the ravages of Hurricane Katrina.

Baseball's San Francisco Giants won their first World Series since moving to California from New York back in 1958.  They were victorious in five games over the Texas Rangers, who appeared in their first World Series.  But sadly, the steroids issue made headlines in baseball as well.  New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez admitted he took performance-enhancing drugs while playing for the Texas Rangers six years ago.  On the other hand, retired star pitcher Roger Clemens was indicted on charges of lying to Congress two years ago, when he claimed he had never used performance-enhancing drugs.  His trial will be in 2011.

In the other bat and ball sport, Sachin Tendulkar of India became the first batsman to surpass 14,000 runs in test cricket.  And Sri Lankan bowler Muttiah Muralitharan retired with a world record 800 wickets, achieving the feat from his final ball in his final test match in July against India.

And in a thrilling Formula One season that came down to the final race, German driver Sebastian Vettel won his and the Red Bull team's first ever championship.

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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