Letters From Exile

...Scott Bidstrup's Life And Living In Costa Rica

Sun, Aug 31 2003

Procession Of The Oxcarts

The culmination of the festival of Santo Ramon, patron saint of San Ramon, happened this afternoon in the town. It was the final event - the procession of the oxcarts and the judging. If you're not aware of Tico culture, it is a peculiarly Costa Rican thing - for many years, Ticos could not afford tractors and pickups, and so farm produce was brought to market in ox-drawn carts. In the 1920's, some farmers around Sarchi, not far from here in San Ramon, began to paint their oxcarts in bright colors and designs, and it soon became a national phenomenon. Nowadays, what few oxcarts remain are mostly brightly painted and decorated, and many are built and decorated just for showing in the annual festival days such as here in San Ramon. In eighty years, it's become a treasured part of Tico culture and a symbol of Costa Rica.

We got to town at about ten o'clock, and I set up my camera near a point in the route where the oxcarts were due to take a turn around the corner, so I could get lots of great shots of them. Well, as it turned out, the carts were stopping to be judged about 50 feet away, so I simply packed up the camera and tripod and hauled over there like I owned the place. There were police everywhere, but they didn't try to stop me, and in fact, smiled and were helpful in moving the crowd back for me - that's one of the things I love about this place - the cops are friendly and helpful - not at all intimidating and rude like in the U.S. So I quickly decided that the best way to handle things was to make like the news photogs that were there, and simply move around as the need arose. Which is what I did.

I was getting some great shots when the heavens opened up. Hey, it's rainy season, so why should I be surprised? I threw my hat over the camera, closed up the tripod legs so I could get the tripod through the crowd, and hustled off to stand under the awning of a farmacia (pharmacy) to wait it out. After a half hour or so, it settled down enough that I was able to get back out on the street and start shooting again. Pretty soon, the rain ended, and I was able to get right into the judging area and shoot freely. Got some terrific photos of some incredibly intricately painted oxcarts.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:20:00 PM

Sat, Aug 30 2003

Fiesta de San Ramon

Well, today was the big festival day in San Ramon. Complete with the Procession of the Saints parade in downtown, leading from the bus depot to the entrance to the church.

We got there around ten or so, and on making my way to the parade, walked past a Mormon church - didn't know they had a branch here. Anyway, the parade had already begun, so we made our way down to the parada de taxis (taxi stand), where the crowd was a little thinner. I managed to get set up with my camera tripod and get out to take some pictures as the various statues of saints were paraded past - the crowds were thin enough that I could get out in front and get some nice pictures as they approached. Since my companions had little interest in my picture-taking, they left while I was getting as many good shots as I could for my photography project.

When the last of the "saints" were past, I made my way to the park, and found as good a spot as I could in front of the entrance to the church, where the "saints" would enter. I was late getting there, and of course, all the good spots were taken, but I managed to find a spot on top of a knoll that had a view over the heads of the crowd. I set up there and took pictures, by handheld camera, of the "saints" as they arrived and were carried into the church. First was the Virgin Mary, accompanied by the church bells. Then a figure of Jesus on the cross, and what seemed like an endless precession of various other icons of various historical figures.

Every so often, there would be a cannon discharge from a cannon in the park, right behind me, answered by two cannons behind the church right across the street. When those cannons were fired, the wad of wet newspaper could be seen flying over the church spires. Well, I've gotta say that I'm really thankful that they didn't have 21 guns for a salute - those cannons were loud!

As the procession went on and on, occasionally people in front of me would leave, and as they did so, I gradually worked my way to the front of the knoll, where I managed to find room to set up my tripod. I was glad too, because I was shooting to the maximum length of my lens, and was doing exposures as low as 1/60th, so I'm sure that most of my shots didn't come out. But finally, on the tripod, I could shoot to my heart's content without worrying about camera jitter. The last saint to enter, of course, was 'ol San Ramon himself, so I got lots of shots of him going in - to the tune of the football "ole" song. Not particularly reverential, I suppose, mixing the two state religions - Catholicism and football - but hardly surprising in this place where football has more fervent adherents than Catholicism.

The Procession of the Saints, and the entry of San Ramon into the cathedral, is the culmination of the week's festival activities, so there wasn't much left to do in town.

We walked back to the parada and took a cab back to the guesthouse. It was an eight kilometer taxi ride - five miles - and the fare came to all of $2.50.

Tomorrow, I'll download the pictures from my camera that I shot today, and have a look. Hope the better shots turned out. Not much else on the agenda - it'll be a day of relaxation in my room, mostly.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:19:12 PM

Fri, Aug 29 2003

A Car At Last!

My search for a roadworthy 4x4 SUV is finally at an end. Last night, I looked at a 1988 Dodge Raider in town. It was in remarkably good condition, and I took it for a test drive this morning, and found that the power is adequate, unlike one I'd driven earlier in the day yesterday. We took it to the mechanic this morning for a compression test, and it passed. So I'm in. It has a somewhat worn synchromesh, but the mechanic instructed me to give the gears time to slow before shifting, and it would be fine - it can go for years before I'll need to get it fixed. It also has a noisy lifter, but that comes and goes, and the mechanic says I could fix that with some Wynn's lifter additive. Even if it doesn't fix that, I'm not too worried, that's not a serious problem. In any event, it's got about 116,000 km. on it, which is remarkably little for a car of its age here, and the body is in very good condition - the air conditioning and radio both work well. The mechanic knows the vehicle - he's been taking care of it since it was new, and says he doesn't know of anything seriously wrong with it.

Monday, I'll go to the bank and get a cashier's check, and take it to the owner. I get the papers, take them to my lawyer, along with the usual $100 or so, and I'm as good as registered. I can start driving the vehicle immediately.

This weekend is the culmination of the Festival of San Ramon, the church's festival of the saint. Since Ramon is the patron saint of the town, I'll be going in to town with everybody for the festival activities tomorrow morning - provided the weather is decent. It was rainy on and off all day today, including tonight, when we went to the Farmer's market to do our weekly grocery shopping. As usual, we bought most of what we need for the week with little more than the pocket change that the local expats here refer to as "shrapnel." I bought a lot of fruit and am into it about $3, most of which was for some Chinese guavas that I wanted to try. I'm going to see if I want to plant them here.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:22:32 PM

Thu, Aug 28 2003

RTV Sticker

We went to the Revistos Technicales Vehiculos, the Costa Rican equivalent of the smog test/safety inspection. The purpose was to get a van inspected and certified. It's still got one parameter that doesn't meet spec, and he'll have to get that repaired before he can get his RTV window sticker for it. On the way back, we stopped at a number of car dealers and looked at Troopers and Monteros that are possible candidates for me to buy. None looked particularly appealing, nor did any look to be in good condition. We stopped in Palmares, right in front of one of the country's rare caballero shop, and they had Roper and Cowboy Turtle shirts in there - at lower prices than the U.S. I was really quite taken aback. Even a good selection of Justin boots - my favorite brand. A couple of quite nice shirts were my size, too. I was half tempted...

We also stopped in San Ramon, on the way back in, to check on a private party that had a Dodge Raider (Montero clone) for sale. We called on the cell phone and arranged to meet the owner in front of the court house - he's a lawyer there - and I looked it over. Not only does it run better than any others that I looked at, but it was in far better body condition. The only hangup is that it is a four-banger, and I would sure have liked a six for climbing all the hills around there. But I can at least get into it at a reasonable price. It's in such better condition than most, that I can live with the lack of power, considering what I'm getting for my money otherwise.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:53:00 PM

Tue, Aug 26 2003

Credit Union Transfer Is In

When I returned home in the afternoon, I had an email from my credit union indicating that my wire transfer had been sent. Finally! I could have simply written a check and transferred the money by ordinary check clearing in about the same time. I'll log onto my account in the morning and see if it has appeared in my account in the Costa Rican bank.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:04:01 PM

Mon, Aug 25 2003

President Of My Second Corporation

Another bright and beautiful day in paradise today, sunny until late in the afternoon, which is a bit unusual for the rainy season. I was a bit late in getting up, but when I finally did, I tagged along with Jose on a ride into town. He had to take his Volkswagen van in to get the brakes fixed, and Paul followed him in the Land Cruiser. After dropping off the van at the mechanic's garage, we went over to the lawyer's office.

I needed to get a second corporation set up, the one which will be the real deal. It's going to hold the house and be the actual operating company for my business. It's going to be called Communicaciones Rancho Lobo S y CH, S.A., which translates Wolf Ranch Communications S and CH, Inc. The S and CH is simply to distinguish it from any other Wolf Ranch Communications or similar sounding name that may be incorporated out there. In a nation of four million people, there are 500,000 registered corporations. As usual, it took about 2 hours and $300 to set up. No big deal other than the expense. But it will have a real set of books, which I can take to my CPA and get certified - a necessary step for my "representante" residence visa.

After doing the lawyer, we had lunch at our favorite pizzeria and then headed back to the guesthouse.

When the sun went down, I walked up to the home of one of the other gringos who is moving here, a lady named Jamie, and her daughter, who moved here from Chicago. She's building a small but really beautiful home with a stunning view, just over the hill from the guesthouse. She's moved in, but doesn't have much in the way of furnishings yet.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:42:32 PM

Sun, Aug 24 2003

Advancing Bucoholism

Awoke today to a beautiful day dawning over the hills of Berlin, the village in the foothills east of the guesthouse. While waiting for breakfast, I couldn't help but drink in the totally bucolic scene. I never get tired of this, and in fact, enjoy it more with every day. The scenery here is very bucolic and I enjoy it more with time. I'm really starting to feel and home here and love this place.

Well, today was the first big bus trip I've attempted to undertake in this country. I had to take my rental car back, so I drove it to San Antonio de Belen, to the Dollar Rental Car return lot. Drove there and got that all taken care of, and I then asked to be taken to the Radial (bus terminal) in Alajuela. They wouldn't do that, but they did take me to a bus stop where I could hop a bus to San Ramon. They assured me that any bus leaving San Jose for Guanacaste would stop as long as it was not a "directo" (express). There were tons of buses to Alajuela that passed by me, but that was not a concern. The first out of town bus to come by was a bus to Grecia, short of my destination, but it stopped and took on a Tico who had been waiting for it. That was a good sign. The next was a bus to Tamarindo, and I had it stop. The driver indicated he would drop me off in San Ramon. Cool! I was on my way back home.

I handed the driver all I had in change. It was a 5,000 Colones note, worth about $12. Of course, he didn't have change, so when the bus arrived at the Radial in Alajuela and took on additional passengers, I was astonished when he handed by 4,500 Colones in change. That means that the bus ride back to San Ramon, about an hour's drive and about 60 km. distance, cost all of $1.20.

The ride back was actually a lot of fun. The bus stopped occasionally to pick up or drop off passengers, but made fairly good time. It was about an hour's ride. I had a seat by an open window, and I could poke my head out and take in the sights and smells. It was actually a lot of fun not having to drive. The only downside was the rather frumpy, middle-aged lady sitting next to me - clouds of perfume, and when it began to fade, she got out her perfume bottle and slathered on some more. The open window helped a lot. I don't think I could have handled it otherwise.

The weather for the ride was really fine - big, puffy cumulus clouds, rolling over the intensely green hills, and otherwise sunny and warm with no rain. It was really fine weather to poke one's head out the window like a pickup dog and really enjoy the ride.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 01:34:01 PM

Sat, Aug 23 2003

Fiestas Patronales de San Ramon

Well, I'm up early today. Not by choice, but by cannon-fire.

Today is the feast day of San Ramon in the town and here in the village above the town, the locals start the day by a blast of cannon-fire, two shots, promptly at 6 AM. But hey, if you're not up by six, you're wasting the day anyway. These are the tropics - the sun goes down between 5:30 and 6 PM year round, and so if you're not up early, you're missing the day. If you're not a morning person when you move here, you soon will become one.

We did the festival in town today. Got some local color. All week long, they've been building some thatched-roof ramadas in the local park, to accomodate vendors and displays. There will be some loud mariachi music and a parade. No drinking in this fiesta - that's reserved for the civic festival a few weeks from now. Well, it wasn't really up to much - lots of school kids beating drums and playing glocks, and not much else, marching very slowly past the church and the plaza central. And I do mean slowly. After sitting on the foundation stones of the church, watching the parade go past for an hour, we saw maybe a half dozen school drum corps, and not much else, so we headed back to the house. While there, a waiter I met from the local pizzeria came by and sat down next to me and started talking. He's learning English, and with his English and my thoroughly broken Spanish, we were able to communicate. He's inviting me up to his house near here, and I'll probably accept. He seems to be a kindred spirit - very eager to have me come visit him at his house, which is unusual for Ticos.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:26:52 AM

Fri, Aug 22 2003

A Trade Show In Costa Rica

Well, today I did something a bit different. Went to Alajuela to the ExpoCasa 2003 trade show. It was basically for manufacturers and importers of building materials, appliances, real estate developers and mortgage bankers. We felt that it would be a good way to find some possible building materials and appliances, and check out what the price of real estate here is going for, when marketed to gringos and upper-class Ticos.

It was interesting, indeed. The prices for some of the upper-crust real estate is truly breathtaking - as much as $65 per square foot in some cases. Wow, I'm glad I bought where I did for the price I did! Here are some examples: La Suisa ("Switzerland"), way up in the cedar-forested mountains above Heredia, on the slopes of the Poas volcano - at 5400 feet, up in the constant fog and bitter cold nights, and no way to get out of there except by driving through Heredia, which is traffic choked and polluted. Shopping in San Jose? Hour and a half away through almost constant heavy traffic. Drive to the beach? An all day trip. A drive to Monteverde? Same. A drive to Panama? Figure on a long day just to get to the border. The price? $14 per square meter for the land - nearly five times what I'm paying, and I've got a one hour trip to the beach, a one hour trip into San Jose, an hour and a half to Monteverde and two hours to the Nicoya Peninsula beaches. Another example - Condominiums in San Antonio de Belen, in the hotel district near the airport and well away from the autopista (freeway). Gotta drive through traffic-choked streets to get anywhere at all. Not close to San Jose - it's 16 clicks into town from there, and the roads are some of the most traffic-choked in the country - backups are constant. Price - $55 per square foot for a condominium, plus $100 per month in condominium fees. Hey, if I wanted prices like that, I'd have moved to Orange County.

Anyway, we had lunch at the show. I was amazed - after being used to eight-dollar hot dogs like I've had at trade shows in the U.S., it was really refreshing to have a decent sized cheeseburger (with lettuce, onion and tomato), fries and a coke, all for $1.50.

Coming home on the autopista (highway), we hit a good-sized thunderstorm, which slowed traffic to a crawl. This was the most intense thunderstorm I've seen since I've been in the country, and it lasted good and long, and was accompanied by a lot of lightning and thunder. Quite a show. Would have loved to have been watching it from a hammock on the porch rather than driving in it.

The topographer/surveyor is coming on Monday to survey the property boundaries for the "urbanization" project, as the Ticos call these subdivisions. He'll look over the lot I've committed to, and make recommendations on the house placement, too.

More Reasons Why I'm Annoyed With The U.S. Administration:

~ Seems that former U.S. senator Robert Torricelli, formerly of political scandal fame, has resurfaced at the helm of Rosemont Associates, LLC, a consulting firm. Why should I care? Because he's pressuring the Costa Rican administration on behalf of none other than Harken Energy to get the Costa Rican government to allow oil drilling in some environmentally sensitive areas of the Caribbean coast where Harken obtained some exploratory concessions in the last days of the previous (Rodriguez) administration. One of the few things I like about the Pacheco government is that Pacheco stopped the oil lease activity - but whether or not it remains stopped, we'll see. Dubya and Harken go way back. So I'm not sanguine about the protection of those areas.

~ It appears that the U.S. is pressuring Costa Rica to accept a police academy to be built here. The International Law Enforcement Agency would be operated by the U.S. government in facilities to be supplied and owned by Costa Rica. Ostensibly, it is to help train local police forces in dealing with such crimes as sexual exploitation of minors, human trafficking, arms trafficking, smuggling, etc. Well, the Tico Times is reporting that the curriculum hasn't been set yet. So that means that they're asking Costa Rica to accept a pig in a poke. Additionally, I'm concerned that the founder of SOA Watch, the watchdog group that watches the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, is saying that this will simply be a Latin American version of the SOA. And that's precisely what the local activists here are determined to prevent.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:21:35 PM

Thu, Aug 21 2003

Visit From Diego

Had a pleasant surprise today. My old friend from Cartago, Diego Fernandez, the architect, came by to visit and inspect the new property I am considering and give me his ideas for a house I could build on it. I got a call from him early this morning, and he said that he was in the area. It worked out very well - we went into town around 9 AM to do my Internet Cafe thing, and when I was done, we then went to the church, where I sat on the steps waiting for Diego. He was right on time - I was only waiting a few minutes when he arrived.

We drove back to the guesthouse where I am staying. Just then, the owner of the Land Cruiser I'm considering, showed up, and suggested I take it for a test drive. So everyone piled in, and we drove it up the hill to the land.

Diego had some really fine ideas for the house and where to site it on the parcel. He also likes the land itself - it's very fertile soil, not heavily weathered nor acid like so much land around here. And he feels that the weather here would be better than just about anywhere else on the Pacific side of the divide. His only disappointment is that we'll be so far apart - about three hours. But we can still get together for weekends, and trips to the beach.

Afterwards, we drove back to the guesthouse, and Diego drew up some quick sketches of what he felt I'd like. The design was everything I'd hoped for - I'll have to change it very little But basically, it's a very suitable design as it is. I really like it. Diego can't take the commission because it's just too far from his office for him to be able to keep an eye on it, but Jose knows a local architect that can take Diego's design and run with it. I think it will work out well, and the construction costs will be about $20 per square foot, or about $22,000 - right about on budget.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 04:21:30 PM

Wed, Aug 20 2003

Adventures in San Jose

Today was the day to start with an immigration lawyer, and get the ball rolling on my permanent residence permit. I spent some time interviewing with the lawyer, and it was determined that the best visa program for me to use was the one I had anticipated - the "representante" visa. It's intended for business people to use when they're being transferred here by their company, but it is also possible to use it to come here and start a business, which is precisely what I intend to do. The bad news is that with the lawyers' fees and all the bureaucratic red tape and fees involved, plus setting up the business and getting out a CPA-blessed profit and loss statement, I will be into it the better part of two grand U.S. This isn't a cheap or easy process. If I were a bit wealthier, or had a qualifying pension, I could do it for about half that. If it sounds steep, it's because it is - I've checked around, and this is the going rate for a good immigration lawyer here.

Anyway, it was my first driving adventure in San Jose. I've been in San Jose many times before, but always with someone else at the wheel. This was the first time I was actually driving. You've probably heard horror stories about all the gawdawful traffic in third-world capitals, and I assure you, it's true. San Jose isn't as bad as some (certainly not as bad as Manila or Bangkok, but it is bad enough to be deeply unnerving. Added to that, Jose is a nervous passenger anyway, and my readily distractible driving had him going nuts. But we found our way to the Alajuela guest house where I deposited my wire transfer request with the manager to be sent today. Of course, they didn't come, so tomorrow we'll have to call them again and try to get them to come.

From there, we did the immigration lawyer. A fairly short (by Tico standards) interview, and it was determined that I would need passport photos, certified copies of my passport (including all pages), and go to the police to get fingerprinted, so they could do an Interpol search on me. Photocopies of my passport were done by a neighborhood copy shop (they're on every corner here), and then it was off to the Nicaraguan embassy for the passport photos. Yes, that's right, the Nicaraguan embassy. Turns out, it was right around the corner. The reason for the Nica embassy is that there's a "passport photo shop" operating just outside the door. You stand up against the wall, and a fellow holds a blue cloth behind you. From across the sidewalk, the guy operating this little enterprise snaps your photo with a Polaroid passport photo camera, and in thirty seconds, you have four images. They wave the pictures in the breeze to dry the chemicals, and then cut and trim the pictures. They're stuffed in a little envelope, and you pay 2,000 Colones (about $5), and you're on your way. No hassles, no worries, and no big photographers' bills.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:18:44 PM

Tue, Aug 19 2003

Internet Cafe Blues

Yesterday morning, after visiting the property I am considering, we all piled into my rental car and went to town. I got my wire transfer request notarized (there's no courier pickup service here, so I'm carrying it to Alajuela tomorrow), and then went to the Internet cafe. Their internet feed was running incredibly slowly - all I was able to accomplish was uploading the blog and sending outgoing email - I couldn't receive anything incoming, nor could I even look at a web page - including proofing the blog. So it could be embarrassingly badly formatted and I'd have no way of knowing. And in the midst of that, I left my grounding adaptor there, and so I'm having to edit this from a kludged-up wiring connection to power the computer. Back to the ferreteria this morning for another grounding adaptor or two - they're dirt cheap here, about 30 cents.

So this morning, I'm going to give it one more try. We'll see if the Internet cafe can get it right this time, and actually give me a two-way connection rather than the one-way I seemed to have yesterday. If not, I'll go over to the RACSA office and sign up for an internet account. They're getting to know me at the Internet cafe. When I walk in, they sign me in and point to the laptop desk without either of us even saying a word.

I also need to make another trip to the Banco Nacional and make another attempt to get my ATM card (tarjeta de banco). They hadn't received it as of yesterday. So come back manana. Fortunately, I've got plenty of cash and don't need to stand in the

It's raining this morning. Morning rains during the rainy season are a bit unusual, but they usually mean a bright and sunny afternoon, and I'm looking forward to that. It's been cloudy continuously for several days now, and in addition to the rain, it's as foggy as I've seen it here this morning - very unusual for the morning.

I've sent an email to my Tico architect friend to ask him if he would be willing to design and build a house for me here in San Ramon. He's extremely busy these days, and may not be able to do it, but I would love it if he could. He's a great architect, and a small house, designed by him, would have a great resale value should I decide to sell it, so in spite of the cost of having him do it, I would feel more secure about the investment value. Building costs here are dirt cheap - about $20 per square foot, and with the low cost of real estate (if you know where to look), you can live much more cheaply here than just about anywhere else that's pleasant to live.

...Well, I'm back from the Internet cafe. I had problems again, couldn't seem to connect to the internet, even though the computer showed that the LAN connection was active. I was scared to death that my computer had a virus or a corrupted driver. Well, I happened to notice, in the process of troubleshooting, that the LAN manager had sent out 700-plus packets and had received 0 - and that was my clue that I was plugged into a bad ethernet connection. I moved the cable to another socket (for a neighboring computer that I knew was working), and viola! It worked. So now I know what I need to do at that cafe to get a good connection.

In spite of that, I've decided that I'd rather get set up for dial-up here at the bed and breakfast. Then I can get online without having to drive to town, and compose replies online, which will give me much faster response times to my correspondents. And I can get rid of the rental car, as I won't need it to stay online. Since I can ride with Jose when he's going most of the places I need to, I can cut out that cost. And once my money is safely transferred into my Banco Nacional account, I can go buy a car. We stopped at the lawyer's today on other business, and the lawyer tells me that my corporation is registered now, though the cedula hasn't yet been issued.

Seems I've been going into BBC withdrawal lately, so I spent a bit of time today putting up a short wave antenna in the guava and mango trees out behind my room. I had poor reception with an antenna in the room, so I put up an outside antenna in the trees. That did the trick - I now get flawless reception. Much better than back in Phoenix, a lot less noise - which surprised me. I expected far more lightning static than I'm receiving. Even the 75 meter ham band is quiet, and I can hear folks all around Central America chatting with each other. This is quite a surprise - my experience in Africa taught me that the low latitudes are very noisy in the shortwave bands, due to the incessant lightning in the region.

I spent an hour or so this afternoon stringing a telephone line into the bedroom I'm staying in, so I can get online without having to tear the computer down and pack it away. But when I tried to set up a connectoid, I discovered that the modem driver is corrupted, and I don't have the install disk. So that means at least one more trip to the internet cafe to go to the manufacturer's web site and download the driver. If I had my things, the driver CDrom would be available to me in my library. Oh well, a big move like this never goes without its hitches.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:26:53 AM

Mon, Aug 18 2003

Deleted Entry (deleted entry)

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:40:22 AM

Sun, Aug 17 2003

A Lazy Sunday

Today was a very quiet Sunday here in San Ramon. Like most days, really, San Ramon is a very quiet town, much to my liking. Being a weekend, there was little going on in the village or here on Jose's farm. I got some quality time in with the book I'm reading and a hammock.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:36:00 PM

Sat, Aug 16 2003

Saturday In The Fog

Woke up and turned on the BBC - my usual habit on waking in the morning - and heard the news that Idi Amin is dead. The little toad has died of kidney failure. He never had to face justice for the 300,000 people in Uganda whose murder he was directly responsible for - and that doesn't include the countless thousands he tortured. If there's a hell, I'm sure he's occupying a special part of it.

Since today is Saturday, there isn't much on the agenda, other than going to town and getting email and uploading this blog. I didn't do that yesterday, as we were busy all day with the trip to Alajuela.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:36:20 AM

Fri, Aug 15 2003

Corporations and Thirteen Coins

Yesterday's incorporation was quite an adventure. I am now the president of a corporation for the first time in my life. And it's not the only corporation of which I will be president; there will be at least two more before it's all said and done. That's a fact of life in Costa Rica - if you have any property which can be attached by a court as the result of a liability judgment, you make it the sole asset in a corporation that exists for that purpose only. That way, if your assets are siezed, all they get is the asset of that corporation that was involved in the court case. This corporation will be for my car - if I'm sued as the result of an accident, that's all they can take.

The incorporation was a process of being interviewed by the abogado (lawyer), who then sat down at the computer and filled out a legal description of the corporation, the assets and officers, etc., and wrote up a boiler-plate charter. It was then entered into his legal log, signed, notarized, and it's off to the corporate registry office to be registered. Once a "numero de la cedula" (corporation 'citizenship' number) is issued, which will take about three days, I can then register a car in the corporation's name.

The language of the corporate charter is rather interesting. It is full of all kinds of antique Spanish words that have become legalese over the years, and are found nowhere else in the language. The lawyer had an ancient dictionary of such terms, dating from the 19th century. One such word is "arras," which archaically means a bride-price of 13 coins. What does this have to do with an incorporation? When I incorporate, I have to invest money into the corporation to fund it - in order for the stock to have a value. The money invested (ten thousand colones, or about $25) is paid as an "arras."

After our education at the lawyer's office about bride prices and 13 coins, we went to look for a suitable vehicle. Found a really nice one on a used car lot in Sarchi - a 1990 Isuzu Trooper, with 89k miles on it. It had recently been imported here from the U.S. and so was in much better condition than anything else I'd looked at. I was quite satisfied that it would be an ideal vehicle, but when we got it to the mechanic for an inspection, we found that the compression was low - 130 when the engine spec is 170. So we passed on it, much to the disappointment of the used car peddler.

We stopped for lunch on the way back, and had a fine Costa Rican lunch at a "soda" (small roadside restaurant). Great food, satisfying meal, $5. The highway from Alajuela out to the Interamerican Highway is lined with "viveros" (nurseries), and the nursery stock is in full bloom. It was quite an enjoyable ride.

By this time, it was quite late in the afternoon, and we went to the internet cafe to upload and download mail, and update the blog. Coming back, it was quite dark - about 7 PM and was already foggy.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:07:23 AM

Thu, Aug 14 2003

Corporate Liability Engineering

Today is 'set up a corporation' day. I'm going incorporate "Communicaciones Lobo Solimentaro, S.A." (Lone Wolf Communications) and it will be the name in which some of my assets will be held - principally my car. I'm then exempt from all manner of restrictions and liabilities. This is commonly done here - in fact, it's usual for Ticos to do this. It's about a $300 cost, and takes about 3 weeks to accomplish.

Like everywhere else, corporations here have limited liability, and that liability is limited to the extent of the assets. So if a car, for example, is registered in the name of a corporation, getting in an accident means that if you're found liable, the plaintiff can seize the car, but that's all. One insures oneself to defend against others doing the same thing.

The clouds have lifted a bit and there's some blue sky on the southern horizon, for the first time in a couple of days. It's created some patchwork light on the distant hillsides, and is really beautiful. What a beautiful country! Que linda es Costa Rica!

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:34:16 AM

Wed, Aug 13 2003

Just Another Day In Paradise

Well, not paradise, but darned close. I've concluded that this place has a lot to recommend it, and I'm growing increasingly pleased with my decision to move here.

I went to the Internet cafe to do my thing. I did my usual email and journal uploads/downloads.

I was there for two hours (about $2), and visited some sites it had been suggested to me that I might find interesting. Got some information saved to disk for reading offline. Afterwards, we went and looked for vehicles. I found a newly imported '89 Isuzu Trooper (from the States) with a lot of miles, but in apparent good condition - much better than anything else I looked at. A Trooper isn't exactly what I wanted, but at the price and for the condition, it's agreed by all that it's a good deal by local standards. This means I've got to hurry and get some money transferred into my local account before it is sold to someone else.

Plans for tomorrow are to get the money transfer arranged, and to get some photos of primary rainforest along the river bottom of the land I was looking at yesterday. Good opportunity for some jungle pics, besides seeing more of some of the land I'm looking at.

More reasons I'm glad I'm left:

~ President Bush is determined to sidestep congress and appoint Daniel Pipes to the U.S. Institute of Peace through a recess appointment. This is a man who is considered to be the leading Islamiphobe in the U.S., and has made some truly outrageous statements about Islam and Muslims. He claims up to 15% of Muslims are potential killers.

~ While you're spending your hundred dollar tax rebate, consider that some of the nation's highest paid CEOs will be getting tens of millions in tax rebates. Bill Gates alone will get $80 million. Enjoy your pittance.

~ A federal judge in Boston ruled yesterday that the U.S. is probably executing innocent people, and much more than previously understood. But since trials are still being conducted according to the rules, the executions are permissible. Convictions, not justice.

~ At least 15 people have died in an explosion in Afghanistan, in a bus traveling in the south of the country. The security problem there is just as bad as in Iraq. Clearly, America knows how to run an occupation.

~ An article in the New York Times indicated that the CIA had specifically warned the Defense Department that they would face security problems in Iraq after the occupation by U.S. troops. That warning was ignored in the planning of the invasion by Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz and others. Can we say "hubris" boys and girls?

~ It appears that the Diebold touch-screen voting machines that have been manufactured to replace the punch card systems and others that caused such problems in Florida, are themselves riddled with security flaws. It has been demonstrated that the 'smart cards' that are used to authorize a voter to vote could be faked - and a voter could fake some smart cards and use them to vote early and often. As often as he could without arousing suspicion. Additionally, the system records the votes in exactly the order in which they are cast, which means that someone listening in on the modem lines could figure out who voted for whom. This shouldn't surprise anyone, considering that Diebold is a Texas company with a close association with the Republican Party. Not that I would suggest...

~ The U.S. Department of Justice, under authority granted it by the Patriot Act, has begun to sieze bank accounts in Israel, Oman, Taiwan, India, Belize and other nations. It has been doing so not just in terrorism cases, but in fraud, money laundering and drug cases as well. Ashcroft is promising not to abuse his authority, but if you judge by his record, we all have a lot to be afraid of. What he's not telling you, of course, is that siezing other peoples' assets without a court order is already an abuse of his authority.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:28:45 PM

Tue, Aug 12 2003

Deleted Entry

(deleted entry)

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 04:51:07 PM

Fun And Games At The Internet Cafe

I am really getting attached to San Ramon. This place is well suited to my likes and dislikes, and it's quiet and laid-back, just what I'm looking for. Climate is decent, too - cool evenings, but not bone-chillingly cold like the highlands. Here at about 3,000 feet, the highs are in the low 80's, with about 60-80% humidity, and lows are in the upper 60's generally. So the climate is just about right for my taste.

Saw my first leafcutter ant colony yesterday - it was starting to develop near where my car is parked, and it was rather interesting looking at them carrying bits of leaves and seeds back to the nest. But they're very destructive (they can denude a tree in a single day), so Jose got right on it and poisoned the nest with some Mirex - a pesticide banned in the U.S. but available here. It's apparently the only thing that will kill the little blighters.

The first trip into San Ramon yesterday was quite fun. We stopped at a pizzeria for lunch and it was great. Huge 14" pizza that was more than the three of us could handle, and tres leches ("three milks") for desert. It's one of my favorite Tico treats - a cake with a whipped cream icing, sprinkled with chocolate, and soaked in sweetened cream. Incredibly fattening, but really delicious.

The internet cafe was an interesting experience, too. Most of the people in it were speaking English or other European languages, and were clearly expats.

The sign out front indicated that they spoke English, but it turned out that no one actually did. So putting on my best Spanish, I asked for a connection "Se vende ustedes conneciones para laptop?" and that did the trick - I was hustled over to an empty desk with a power outlet and an Ethernet jack. Plugged in and booted up - and everything I needed to do worked on the first try. I was able to upload and download email without a problem, and FTP'ed my blog to the web site. I didn't run a speed test, but it was rather slower than I expected - updating my journal took about a minute, where in Phoenix, on a cable modem, it took about ten seconds. So I'm guessing that the facility has a cable modem connection to the internet - which here is limited to 128k top speed. With all the other users in the place (probably a dozen or so) all sharing it, it wasn't really speedy. But I'm delighted that at least I can get in, get in reliably, and do what I need from my own computer. Now if I can just figure out how to get such a connection out here in the countryside and I'd be set. I know I can do it with WiFi if I have an intermediate site or two to deal with the topography.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:08:39 AM

Mon, Aug 11 2003

A Hurried Blog Entry

I'm in a small internet cafe in a town about 50 km. west of the city of San Jose in Costa Rica. This is my first attempt to update my blog since I've been in the country, and I'm hoping it works out well.

Anyway, my purpose in coming to town was to get a bank account set up. There is some bureaucracy associated with this, as there is with just about every business transaction here, and so I can't get it set up until tomorrow. But I should then be good to go, and I'll be able to wire some money here, and get a vehicle bought, which will stop the payments on a rental car. I badly need to do that after my hassle with the rental car company yesterday and the extra cost for a car I don't want.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 02:40:58 PM

Sun, Aug 10 2003

First Day In My New Life

Well, it's Sunday afternoon, and it's pouring down rain - no surprise, it's the rainy season. Feels kinda good after Phoenix, with it's stifling heat and promise of rain but with no action.

Anyway, got up after a fairly restless night, and had a good breakfast this morning, chatting with the other folks staying at the bed and breakfast. There were some interesting folks there, a couple with their two kids down here to check the country out as a place to live. They had their two daughters, and the daughters' boyfriends, all teens, were along. Another couple were on their way back to the states from buying a home in Boquete, Panama, one of the places I had been considering. It was quite helpful to learn from them what made their decision

Needless to say, they were a bit rowdy, but not unreasonably so. At least they went to bed at a reasonable hour. Another fellow proved to be well-connected in various ways, with lots of interesting background information on the country and its land registry laws, and so he was quite interesting to talk to and learn from. I now have a much better idea of what to look for in doing title searches on land I am considering purchasing. Meeting him was a very fortunate stroke of luck.

Had one heck of a time with the rental car situation. The Suzuki Samauri that I had reserved was not turned in on time and so wasn't available, and the rental car company had only one other vehicle which had a bad carburetor, so rather than do that, I had to look around and rent what I could - which turned out to be a two-year old Nissan Sentra. I ended up paying a bit more, and no 4WD, but it's wheels. For some reason, everything in town seems to be rented out, even though this is the off season. Anyway, I checked out the car thoroughly, as is needed here, got all the dents and dings (of which there were a lot) recorded on the contract, and I was off to my temporary residence in San Ramon, an hour's drive to the west on the Interamerican highway. I'll be here until I can either get a property bought or get into the apartment I have reserved at San Ignacio de Acosta.

Tomorrow, I'm planning to try to get a bank account arranged and get some funds transferred into it so I can buy a car and get rid of this Sentra that's costing me an arm and a leg. The state-owned Banco Nacional would appear to be the choice for now - I can access my account from any branch in the country (and nearly all towns of any size have one), and I can pay my bills on the Internet. That sure beats standing in line at the bank to do it - the only other option as this is pretty much a check-less society. Muy Bueno!

Well, just got done watching The Pelican Brief on TV here tonight. Nothing like a spy thriller involving presidential corruption and espionage to get me in the mood for what I'm doing here.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 03:03:53 PM

Sat, Aug 09 2003

Finally In-Country

I've finally arrived in Costa Rica. Very late - the plane arrived at 9:30 PM. As promised, the B&B where I was to spend the first night did have a cab arranged to pick me up. Whisked off to the B&B and got settled in for the night.

The trip down was only moderately adventurous. I arrived at the airport in Phoenix in plenty of time for the flight, even though I had to help the shuttle driver find his other pickups. He was brand new, and didn't know his way around so I had to help explain how to find two of his three addresses. Obviously a low-dollar guy.

The flight was normal for what is becoming normal in U.S. domestic air travel these days, just the usual hour's delay. In this case, it was caused by rain on the tarmac at Dallas-Ft. Worth, where I changed planes. All the flights at DFW were delayed by about the same amount, including the flight to San Jose, so I was delayed by an hour getting out of there. That put me into San Jose an hour late. So my journey began at 5 in the morning and ended at 9 last night. Needless to say, I was a very tired boy.

Well, there won't be any outrages du jour for the next little while until I can get an internet account arranged, and can spend some time at my usual haunts doing research. For now, this will be limited to personal adventures. I've got access to the Internet on a borrowed account, so I'm good to go for just email and journal uploads and not much more.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 02:44:28 PM

Fri, Aug 08 2003

Last Day In The States

This will be the last journal entry I write in the United States.

The movers are coming this morning to remove my goods. I'll call an auto broker and have him come and buy the car, and my affairs will be settled here, and I'll be getting on the plane tomorrow. Twenty four hours from now, as I write this, I'll be getting on the big silver bird and heading south. I can't believe that D-day is finally here.

Because I'll be on the plane tomorrow, and will arrive in Costa Rica too late to generate and arrange to upload a blog entry, this will be my last blog entry for a few days.

Why I'm Leaving America:

~ Al Gore said in a speech at New York University yesterday that "something basic has gone wrong in our country." Well, good morning, Al! He talked about some serious degradation of human rights, lack of respect for due process, and lack of accountability in the administration. Well, finally the Democrats are talking about something that matters, rather than just 'me too-ing' Dubya, thinking that will somehow get them elected.

~ Bechtel Group has said publicly that it won't even bid on Iraqi construction and reconstruction projects. It said that the bidding specs are so heavily stacked in Haliburton's favor that it is the only company that can possibly comply with the bid specs. Dick Cheney? Stack things in the favor of his company? Well, I'm shocked!

~ It has leaked out of the Justice Department that John Ashcroft is asking prosecutors to denounce judges who impose lenient sentences. Sources say that it is so egregious, that the judges are, in effect, being told that they'll be watched and if they don't impose sentences as harsh as he'd like, they're out the door. The rule of law and the independence of the judiciary under the Bush administration

~ Wall Street Journal has reported that newly revealed documents indicate that one of the 9/11 hijackers was on the payroll of a Saudi company during the time he was living in San Diego. The company tried to dismiss him, because he wasn't showing up for work, but the Saudi government intervened to keep him on the payroll.

~ A group of bankers has halted financing of a gas pipeline in Peru, being built in part by Haliburton. The pipeline, 70% complete, is being built through an environmentally sensitive portion of the Amazon Basin and is doing massive environmental damage, destabilizing the environment, invading indigenous lands and displacing occupants of that land. The problems are so egregious that the bankers have concluded that the pipeline will likely be tied up in litigation for years, and represents a bad investment for that reason. Way to go, Haliburton!

~ A government report leaked yesterday by a Democratic congressman, titled "Science In The Bush Administration," says that the administration has often altered and distorted scientific facts to promote its political agenda. Of course, the Bushies must think that it doesn't matter that they do this, because scientific principles will, of course, promptly alter themselves to suit the Bush agenda.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 05:41:43 AM

Thu, Aug 07 2003

Bigtime Packing Day

Today I've got to sell my car, get my computer and stereo torn down and ready for the movers to pack, get the utilities shut off, send out some change of address cards, and take some pictures of my goods for the insurance people.

More Reasons I'm Leaving:

~ A massive database being developed in Florida, called "Matrix" (no, I'm not kidding!) is about to go national. They're going to help the various states coordinate their non-criminal databases so they can be interconnected and searched by anyone on the system. The system is similar to systems already in place that are being used already to track known criminals (as well as war dissenters). But what's new is that this is a collection of private databases, mostly from commercial sources, that will be "data mined" for information to "predict" criminal behavior and interdict it. Nice to know they're thinking about what you're thinking about. Warrantless searches. Thought police. Ain't technology grand? George Orwell, where are you when we need you?

~ Hank Asher is back. He was the guy that built ChoicePoint which became Database Technologies, the company that was knowingly responsible for 94,000-name list of Democrats that the State of Florida used to rig the election there for the Republicans in 2000 and 2002. He was thrown off the board of Database Technologies as a result of his connections with Bahamian drug runners. Now he's the Database Technologies subcontractor, called Sisent, Inc., that is giving out the software to law enforcement agencies that they need to take advantage of Matrix. Yeah, he's giving it out free, to get the law enforcement agencies hooked. Just like the drug runners he's been running around with. Such nice folks. Why, I'm sure you'd want your sister to marry one, not to mention having him protect your privacy rights.

~ The meeting at Offutt Air Force Base is going ahead as planned. The nuclear arm of the Military-Industrial Complex is there, rewriting nuclear strategy to make first use of nukes fun and easy, as reported in this space earlier. Some protestors have showed up to protest, but as you'd expect, they're not having much effect. Of course, in the interests of open government, the Bush administration has ensured that congressional observers are banned from attendance.

~ House raids by the Occupation Amateur Hour in Iraq are being curtailed because they're turning the Iraqis against the occupation. Well, like Duh!! Glad they figured that out before they triggered a guerilla insurgency.

~ Conan The Barbarian (you know, that ancient barbarian guy in the movies that happens to have a modern German accent) is running for governor of California on the Republican ticket, in the Gray Davis recall election. Hey, that's just what we need. Big muscles and slogans like "Hasta la vista, baby!" will certainly help turn around that $30 billion dollar deficit, solve the crime and governance problems that state is faced with. Good move, Republicans! Can't think of a more qualified candidate.

~ John Ashcroft is going on a campaign to expand his power. It's a 31-state tour that is going to be called the "Victory tour." If you liked the PATRIOT Act, you'll love what he's promoting on this tour. It's to promote something he's calling the "VICTORY Act," the successor to the "PATRIOT Act." It would enable the Justice Department to obtain, without warrants, private business records and records of wireless communications among other things. He can't find the needle in the haystack with the powers he's got, so he's gotta gut the Bill of Rights even more so he can build an ever bigger haystack. Makes sense to me.

~ Colin Powell is recommending that the U.S. resume its role in shooting down drug planes in Columbia. The shootdowns were halted a couple of years ago, when a small plane carrying a pair of missionaries was shot down and the passengers were killed. That controversy wasn't enough, apparently. So we're going to take potshots at missionaries and everyone else who might try flying a light plane in Columbia. Of course, when cocaine was made illegal in 1920 in the U.S., the addiction rate was 2%. It's now 3.4%, so as you can see, the deaths of those missionaries is really getting us somewhere.

~ South Dakota has announced that it won't celebrate "G. Gordon Liddy Day" after all. Yeah, the Watergate plumber who didn't exactly work with pipes, got a proclamation signed that celebrated a day in his honor in South Dakota. Liddy, after being released from 4 years in prison, became a right-wing talk show host who advocated shooting BATF agents who came to serve a warrant. When the governor found out this had been signed, he retracted what he claimed was an erroneous signing. Way to go, gov. Don't you read what you sign?

~ As reported previously, the Taliban is coming back in Afghanistan. As it turns out, the Karzai government, whose writ runs no further than the Kabul city limits, can't stop what the U.S. is now acceding to in secret talks with the Taliban and Pakistan. The drug running, the suppression of women's rights, the enforced poverty, all that and more is making a comeback, because the U.S. believes that Pakistan can control the Taliban, and their presence will keep the Russians and Iranians out. Maybe, while we're about it, we can get Mullah Omar to slap Osama's wrist for that nasty little 9/11 thing.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:02:56 AM

Wed, Aug 06 2003

Done! No Longer A Homeowner!

Well, its finally a done deal. I took a trip over to the title company today, and signed out. I'm no longer a homeowner. The money is being wired to my account, and I should see it in my account balance tomorrow. Wonderful! Excellent! YES!!

I can't begin to say how relieved and pleased I am that this has finally happened. This means that in just four days, I'll be in Costa Rica building a new life down there.

Tomorrow, I'll do my packing for the trip, cancel my utilities, and tear down the computer network and have it ready for the movers to pack. I'll also find some used car broker to come and buy my car. Like with the van, I'll probably get raped, but I don't have much choice but to sell it for what I can get. Friday, the movers will come and get my stuff - just got off the phone with them and confirmed that this will happen and that everything is on track. Saturday, bright and early, I get out to the airport and get on the big silver bird, hopefully to never see the U.S. again.

Outrages Du Jour:

~ Today is the 58th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. Truman announced it was an "important Japanese army base." It wasn't. And the result, over the years, has been 200,000 have died, the majority of them have been the result of slow, lingering deaths. To celebrate, the Pentagon is continuing with its secret meetings in Nebraska mentioned yesterday, in which they're going to discuss how to "promote" the first-use doctrine they're changing.

~ Pentagon officials have admitted they dropped firebombs on Baghdad during the invasion. One Pentagon official called them "remarkably similar" to the napalm bombs used in Vietnam, which caused such controversy and terrible suffering in that war.

~ The New Republic is reporting that an official who has seen the entire, unredacted 9/11 investigation committee report said the redactions detail Al Qaeda links that extend from the terrorist organization directly to several officials at the highest levels of the Saudi Arabian government - which can, in turn, be linked to the Bush administration through their joint ownership in the Carlyle Group, one of the biggest defense contractors you've never heard of.

~ Today is the scheduled execution date for Jose Rivera in Texas. It turns out that the state's chief witness now claims that Rivera is innocent, and in addition, the state won't allow the admission of the DNA evidence that could prove his innocence. America doesn't have a justice system, it has a convictions system. The State of Texas has its conviction and doesn't want to give it up. Guilt or innocence is irrelevant in Texas. Especially if you're a Latino.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:48:19 AM

Tue, Aug 05 2003

Going to Mexico To Get Some Freedom

Today, I'm going to Mexico. Like thousands of other Americans, I have to get medicines from outside the United States because the prices in the U.S. are ten to twenty times as high as in Mexico, and I can get what I need without having to get a totally ineffectual and pointless five-minute exam from an American doctor. So it's off to Algodones, Mexico. It's a three-hour trip to a border town of two thousand just over the river from Yuma, Arizona. The town has three churches, fifteen bars and thirty-seven pharmacies, nearly all of the latter being within a two-block walk of the border crossing....

...It's 5 PM and I'm back from Algodones. I wasn't hassled coming back across the border as I half-expected. Like on the last trip, they didn't bother to swipe my driver's license as they used to do back in the post-9/11 days. They just asked my citizenship, looked in my bag and sent me on my way. If they had, I'd almost guarantee I'd have been hassled. There's something to be said for anonymity and/or loose border controls.

I noticed that the border Nazis have moved their Yuma - I-8 roadblock. It used to be just east of Yuma, as one approached Telegraph Pass. But that site's been abandoned, and they're now doing border checks in a barren, shadeless spot a couple of miles east of Mohawk Pass, roughly 20 miles to the east, but as before, only in the east-bound lanes. Looking at the map, I can see why they put it where they did. Circumventing it would require a trip of about 100 miles on dirt roads. They've only got one guy stopping motorists (and truckers as well), so of course it doesn't take long for the traffic to back up. It was backed up for about a mile when I arrived. The line was so long that one of the border Nazis was patrolling it in the median with a four-wheeler, running up and down to make sure nobody crossed the median to turn around or no illegals jumped out of a truck and ran away.

There were three at the checkpoint, each with a shaved head, in fresh, starched uniforms, mirrored sunglasses and no hat in the 115 degree, brutally sunny heat. Two of them were sitting around a picnic table under a canopy, having a good time ratchet-jawing. When I finally got to the checkpoint, after 20 minutes of wait and crawl, the lone border Nazi dealing with the crowd simply said brusquely, "have a very good day, sir," and sent me on my way. He didn't even look at the interior of the car, so far as I could see. In that hatchback, with its capacious trunk, I could have easily hidden one or two illegals and he'd have never known. Same thing with the trucks - none were being opened and inspected. Any could have been hauling dozens of illegals. In other words, those border Nazis are wasting their time and the taxpayers' money - the inspections were pretty ineffectual as far as I could see. Getting illegals past that checkpoint would have been a piece of cake. It's obvious to me that the whole thing was really for show and for giving black-haired, dark skinned folks with wide faces a good hassle just for the show of it.

Outrages Du Jour:

~ 58 years after Hiroshima, a "secret" meeting at the STRATCOM (Strategic Air Command) headquarters in Nebraska will take place Thursday among senior defense officials as well as nuclear defense contractors in the U.S. seeking to expand America's nuclear arsenal with a range of new kinds of nuclear weapons, and seeking to change the first use policy. The Pentagon is seeking to develop a special class of "small" nuclear weapons to be used for a variety of purposes. Of course, we already have enough nukes to kill everyone on the planet several times over, but apparently that's not enough. Particularly when we're trying to stop nations like Iran and North Korea from building their own.

~ The 9/11 investigation cover-up continues. The Treasury Department is refusing to release names to congress of Saudi organizations they have been investigating, in spite of a promise to do so just last week. According to news reports, some senior level Treasury Department officials intervened to keep names of terrorist organizations in Saudi Arabia, traceable to Saudi officials, off the terrorism watch list. Yeah, we're real serious about this war on terrorism, all right. Just like we're serious about border control.

~ A car bomb went off at a Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia yesterday. It's not an accident that this hotel is American-owned. Not a surprise to readers of this web site - given America's involvement in Indonesian politics over the years, it's only surprising that it hasn't happened before. At least three quarters of a million Indonesians have died as the result of short-sighted American meddling in their politics. And we wonder why our interests there are targets?

~ Citing Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean's opposition to the war, candidate Joe Lieberman has said that Dean's candidacy represents a "ticket to nowhere." Well, if it's a ticket to nowhere, how come he's ahead of Lieberman in the polls? Joe, maybe you ought to join the Republicans. That's where your politics are at.

~ The City of New York is going to begin criminal prosecutions based on DNA evidence even when the DNA has not yet been linked to a suspect. In other words, they're going to prosecute a heck of a lot of John Does. Why? To skirt the statute of limitations. This might actually be a good thing. Prosecuting a John Doe is a more even-handed judicial process than prosecuting blacks more often than whites, Latinos more often than Asians, even considering the rates of commission of crimes, and sending people to the gallows that are known to be innocent, on the theory that they've had their fair trial and lost - too bad. Yes, that really happens! We don't really have a justice system in this country, we have a convictions system.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:01:33 AM

Mon, Aug 04 2003

Waiting For Word

I'm supposed to hear today whether or not the title company has received all the paperwork it needs from the buyer's lender. I doubt that it will happen. There were some additional papers that the lender asked the buyer to supply, and that's supposed to be done today. So hopefully the underwriter will submit tomorrow and I can close on Wednesday.

I've got to get some groceries today - I'm almost totally out, and I hadn't planned on still being here this week. At least I still have a car in which to get them. I'm planning on disposing of the car only when the house has closed. I'm about out of sleep meds, too, and may make a run to Algodones, Mexico tomorrow.

Outrages Du Jour:

~ Operation Oily Immunity: Dubya has signed an executive order # 1333 that gives oil companies involved in Iraq total immunity all the way from the well to the gas pump.

~ 46 Democratic senators have called on the President to release the 28 pages redacted from the 9/11 investigation committee report. The New York Times is reporting that one of the reasons is that two Saudi citizens fingered by the report were probably Saudi intelligence officers. The Saudi had befriended two of the hijackers and got them their San Diego apartment, paying them their first two month's rent. The Saudi was not even questioned by the U.S. until just recently.

~ Policeman to the world? Only where there's oil: Nigerians are landing in Liberia, but still no U.S. troops. They're still offshore. And Liberia is still pleading for American intervention. Dubya's still equivocating about whether or not to intervene.

~ Rumors on capital hill are that Colin Powell plans to step down in 2005, regardless of election results. Paul Wolfowitz and Condoleezza Rice are the top two candidates to replace him. The reason given is the usual one, of course, that he wants to spend more time with his family. I suspect that the real reason is he's being pressured to resign - he's not enough of a warmonger to satisfy the hawks in the administration.

~ A Lebanese daily is reporting that over 800 Occupation soldiers have been reported injured, and the informal, unreported could be four times as many.

~ The British newspaper, The Independent, is reporting that Dubya and his pet poodle, Tony Blair, are joining forces to create a strategy to overwhelm and silence critics of the lack of weapons of mass destruction issue in Iraq. They're calling it the "Big Impact" plan. The most recent evidence of the plan is the use of the word "program" every time the WMDs are brought up. Of course there was a program. No one disputes that. But the reality is that it was halted back in the '90s, and nothing ever came of it. David Kay, a spokesman for the Pentagon, was brought to Congress to try to provide political cover for the president. He had nothing substantive to say, but he was there to buy time for the president. Meanwhile, troops are starting to refer to Iraq as "Camp Exxon."

~ Some of the members of the Iraqi Reconstruction Council are starting to resign. One, interviewed this morning on Democracy Now, indicated that from day one it was apparent that their advice was not really welcome - they were there for purely cosmetic reasons. This is one of the reasons that the Iraqi people haven't seen any improvements in their lives since the occupation began.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:55:44 AM

Sun, Aug 03 2003

Ripping CDs

I decided Friday that I'd like to take some music along with me that I could play on my laptop. That way, I'd have some music to play while in an apartment without access to my CD collection. So I decided to rip some of my favorite CDs to MP3 format; that way I could cram a lot of music onto a single CDrom. Checked all through my software, and found I had no easy way to rip a CD. So I went to Tucows and downloaded a copy of FreeRIP, a CD ripping program that is free (though ad supported) and makes ripping a CD a snap. Since I have an extra week, now, I have a little time for such projects.

I found that I could fit anywhere from 10 to 16 CDs on a single CDrom, and so I went through my library and picked out my favorite CDs for ripping. I have ripped enough CDs to fill about four CDroms for my classical collection, one for my rock collection and one for my western swing collection. That's a total of 6 CDroms - equal to roughly 72 CDs or about 100 of the old vinyl LPs. It's amazing! I sure do enjoy listening to some of that music, too. I'm glad I decided to do this.

I just discovered that for some reason I don't understand, when I moved the blog software onto my laptop, it wiped out the links to all my archive files. Oh dear! So I looked into that, and decided that I needed to clean up the appearance of that file anyway, so I moved the style sheet onto the template, and found the problem with the archiving and fixed it. Now it at least looks somewhat consistent with the rest of the blog, and the file links are back. Whew!

Outrages Du Jour:

~ Last Thursday evening, the Senate approved the nomination of Karen Tandy to be the new head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. In written answers to the committee's questions, she has stated that she'll continue the DEA's policy of drug raids on seriously ill patients using marijuana for medical purposes. Compassionate conservatism at work.

~ Continuing its policy of giving industry whatever it wants, regardless of what is best for the nation, the Senate voted down the Cantwell Amendment to the energy bill, which would have placed serious impediments in the way of manipulations of the energy markets, Enron-style. So if you liked the California energy crisis, you'll love what the Republicans have in store for you.

~ As a result of historic levels of acrimony and distrust in both houses, Congress last week voted to adopt last year's failed energy bill, knowing it will go to conference committee and will be rewritten by Republicans who make up the conference committee. Included in the bill that was passed were measures that roll back fleet economy standards for automobiles, gives billions of dollars in corporate welfare to dirty coal and oil and dangerous nuclear energy producers.

~ Even though the Senate has rejected outright two judicial nominees, Dubya simply re-submitted both names to the Senate for confirmation. The name of Bill Pryor, the Attorney General of Alabama was one of the two names that were re-submitted. Prior had a long history of anti-environmental, pro-fundamentalist activism from the bench, and his assertion that he would not do so as a federal judge held little credibility, so the Senate roundly rejected his nomination. But that didn't sit well with the administration, so in an act of incredible arrogance, they simply re-submitted his name. And they wonder why there's so much acrimony on Capital Hill these days.

~ Why I'm not a Democrat, either - it turns out that the Democrats have nominated Robert Lenhard as a member of the Federal Election Commission, even though he is an outspoken opponent of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. If confirmed, he'll work to carve out even more loopholes in the McCain-Feingold reform law than exists in it now.

~ In the interests of promoting Islamic hostility to the United States (and thereby promoting terrorism), Dubya recently nominated Daniel Pipes, an outspoken hard-core ultra-right-wing fundamentalist Zionist to the board of directors for the United States Institute for Peace. The man is so extreme that this was more than even the Jewish lobby groups could go for, so they asked for the nomination to be tabled by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee that is hearing it, which, fortunately, they've agreed to do. Some of Pipes' writings: Muslim immigrants are "brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and not exactly maintaining Germanic standards of hygiene," and "all immigrants bring exotic customs and attitudes, but Muslim customs are more troublesome than most." Now there's a guy that can promote peace and understanding, all right. Great nomination, Dubya. Keep it up and we'll have the entire Islamic world hating us.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:14:06 AM

Fri, Aug 01 2003

Cooling My Heels

Well, I'm sitting here cooling my heels in Phoenix for the next week. I doubt very much that we'll close today or even Monday, based on what I learned yesterday. So I changed my reservations back a week, and now I've got an easy week to get a few things done. Today, I'll do some cleaning in the garden shed, since it's overcast and raining, and not severely sunny as it usually is here this time of year. It needs to be done, but it's been too hot to work out there until today.

Outrages Du Jour:

~ A Puerto Rican jury has voted to acquit two men accused of murder rather than allow John Ashcroft to over-ride Puerto Rico's constitutional ban on the death sentence. Ashcroft had threatened to try the men in Federal court, where the Puerto Rican constitution would not apply.

~ The widely touted increase in the Gross Domestic Product in the United States for the last quarter, 2.4%, promoted as evidence of a recovery, is in fact due almost entirely to the money being spent on the Occupation Amateur Hour when one looks at the statistics closely. It's military money. Isn't helping Americans at all.

~ A report in the Financial Times indicates that Haliburton's profits for the first quarter are up 11% due to it's work in Iraq, most of which was awarded without competitive bidding. Haliburton was, of course, run by Dick Cheney before he became vice president, and Dick still gets checks from them - checks based to some degree on Haliburton's performance. But I'm sure that Dick's choice of Haliburton for the work would never have been influenced by his pecuniary interest...

~ And Haliburton is just one reason why the spending on the Department of Defense is rising at the most rapid rate in the last 50 years, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Occupation Amateur Hour is spending $4 billion per month on its amateurish administration of the country, and that doesn't even include the money being spent on reconstruction.

~ Kazutaka Sato, a reporter for the Japan Times claims he was detained and beaten by troops of the Occupation Amateur Hour for the crime of taking pictures of raids by the troops that resulted in the deaths of Iraqi civilians. He said he was detained for an hour, and had his hands tied and was beaten. He said he thinks this happened because he believes the troops were trying to hide the bodies of the civilians killed in the operation.

~ In keeping with the trend for reduced accountability by the Bush administration, David Kay, a special advisor to CIA director George Tenet is saying in the Washington Times that the administration is planning to delay the release of piecemeal information about the failed search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. "I think in six months from now, we'll have a considerable amount of evidence and we'll be starting to reveal that evidence," he said.

~ Foreign visitation to the United States has dropped sharply in the last two years, with attendance at English language classes down by 30 percent and visits to the Mayo Clinic reportedly down by nearly a quarter. Meanwhile, the State Department has announced that anyone wanting a visa to visit the United States will have to attend a personal interview at a U.S. embassy.

~ Israel has announced that it will no longer allow Palestininans who marry Palestinian Israelis from becoming Israeli citizens. Meanwhile, Israel fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at protesters in Tulkarem, protesting the "security wall" which is being called the "apartheid wall" by human rights activists.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:31:48 AM
Copyright © 2003 Scott Bidstrup. All rights reserved.