Construction Moving Along Next Door
The weather was fairly decent yesterday afternoon, and was actually conducive to getting some work done around the place, mostly yard cleanup. It has been overcast, but warm and not raining, so the weather made yard work actually fairly pleasant. The area above the water garden, that I have been using as an improvised greenhouse, needed some cleanup of the leftovers from some previous potting operations, so that has been tidied a bit, and I have gotten some begonias planted along the path I spent so much effort building last year. The ginger that was ruined during the building has grown back in, and once the begonias start blooming, the water garden will start to look like something. Already, it is a very inviting area of the yard, worth the effort of cleaning up the garbage that had accumulated there over the years, and a pleasant place to be.
The neighbor's house is back under construction, and after getting the foundations and slab poured earlier in the week, the block layers have been busy and have the west end of the house all the way up to the square. My neighbor is doing it right - block all the way up. Glad to see that. This morning, I am enjoying the sounds of a chain-saw lumber cutter, who is cutting up the neighbor's felled trees into lumber, to be used in the house construction. No one here seems to bother to let the trees dry out before cutting them up into lumber, and of course, that means that flat boards and straight studs are essentially unknown here. But that doesn't seem to bother the house framers who will use what is at hand and just force it into line. Much of the wood is soft enough that they can do that - at least while it is still green. Once it is dry, much of it is as hard as teak.
Still no evidence of germination on my petra vine seeds. Checked them this morning, and no evidence anything is happening yet. I did notice, however, on my morning tour of the garden, that the rhizomes of the variegated ginger are starting to sprout - two tiny new sprouts have appeared, and it is evidence that the gardener's theory was correct - leaving the diseased rhizomes in place offered them a chance to recover, sprout and regrow. I am hoping now that they will do that, as it is one of my favorite plants - beautiful variegated leaves with exotic flowers and fruit. A spectacular addition to the garden.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Left The States: If you are one of those naive souls who still believe that the War On Drugs is about drugs, and the Plan Columbia is about fighting narcotrafficking in Columbia, well, this will come as news to you. Neither has anything to do with drugs, which of course, is the cover story, and they have everything to do with fighting left-wing dissidents and politicians, as everyone who lives in Latin America is already well aware. And we finally have the proof. Makes me so proud to be an American. Especially when I read how America is working so hard to bring the vicious, brutal right-wing paramilitary death squads in Columbia to justice. Not that all this fighting of egalitarian politics is coming cheap, either. Even members of Congress are beginning to wonder if the $600 million a year price tag is worth it - especially when the price and availability of cocaine in the U.S. has not even changed. Of course, the centerpiece of the drug effort is spraying coca fields with glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup). Well, of course, so much spraying has been done that now glyphosate-resistant "Roundup-ready" varieties have now appeared, and are being widely planted. So now the farmers are actually beginning to welcome the spraying, which controls the weeds without affecting the coca crop. Your tax dollars at work.
Proving once again that "compassionate conservatism" is more about drug-company profits than the quality of human lives, the Bushies have moved to cut off one of the few sources of (relatively) cheap pharmaceuticals cut off from Americans who need them. Canada is now moving to cut retail drug exports to the United States. Betcha you'll see the cheap pharmaceuticals flooding in from Mexico will get cut off, too. Just a matter of time.
From the What's Good For The Goose desk comes this bit of heartwarming news: Seems that a group of investors in Weare, New Hampshire, the home town of Supreme Court justice David Souter, have decided that the town of Weare would be better off, and would earn more tax revenue, if they built a hotel on justice Souter's property. So they have hatched a plan to have Souter's property seized under imminent domain, using the doctrine that Souter himself signed onto in the Supreme Court's decision about that this week. The town of Weare has a five-member city council and only three votes will be required for the investors to succeed in seizing Souter's property. Given the feelings in New Hampshire about the seizure of property by the government, they may well succeed. Hope it happens!
Junior can't claim that he wasn't warned by his generals that his plan (or more accurately, lack thereof) for dealing with a post-invasion Iraq, wasn't realistic. They certainly did. And they made the likely consequences very clear. But Junior continues to view hubris as being superior to realistic preparation.
From the We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You desk comes this bit of news. Well, not news, actually, but at least some numbers. Donors to the Republican presidential campaign last year have been well rewarded. In fact, rewarded beyond what would be your wildest dreams. Somehow, I had always thought that offering rewards for political contributions constituted bribery for the payer and extortion for the payee, but well, these are conservatives. They are more moral than you and I. Therefore, the law doesn't apply to them.
Of course, while these moral conservatives are richly rewarding those whom they successfully shook down, they are also turning a blind eye to Halliburton's abuses, as reported in this space last week. And the word is leaking out now, that Halliburton has become part of the problem in Iraq, rather than the solution. Halliburton management is actually deliberately blocking both oil exports and domestic fuel deliveries, and preventing their staff from helping out voluntarily. Why? No one knows, but rumors are rife. With friends like that, who needs insurgents to turn the Iraqis against you?
Turns out that what I said was true before the election last year, was, in fact, true - that the Islamic terrorists were hoping for a Bush victory. Well, they sure were - apparently, some even told their captives so. Betcha didn't read about that on Fox News!
Another thing you won't read about on Fox News is how the health care coverage for Wal Mart employees is so bad that employees can't get immunizations for their children, health care for premature babies, and most other basic health care. The situation is so bad that many states have reported that full-time Wal Mart employees have actually had to turn to the state welfare agencies for help - and are paid so little, and have such poor health care coverage that they are qualifying to get it. States and some members of congress are getting so frustrated with the situation that there is a movement to force Wal Mart to accountability on this issue. Looks like David Ricardo's "Iron Law Of Wages" is starting to kick in these days. So expect more of this from other sources.
Problems with people being hassled as a result of Homeland Security's "watch list" has not been fixed. In fact, it seems to be getting worse, as Homeland Security just doesn't seem to give a damn. Well, now they're going to get sued. A man whose name happens to be similar (but not identical) to an accused terrorist, has been hassled so much it is affecting his business, and he is being forced to sue. Good luck, fella. Hope you win, but I am not holding my breath. With all those radical conservative judges being pumped into the judiciary these days, your chances of getting justice are growing increasingly unlikely.
If you thought the California energy "crisis" was something to behold, wait till you see what is in store for you. Enron and energy contract extortion and fraud that lead to that mess is about to be writ large across the American electric power grid as a direct result of a bill that looks sure to pass the Congress. Back during the New Deal, the newly-emerging electric power utilities had become cash cows for the robber barons, while little investment was being made in infrastructure and maintenance. The Roosevelt Administration, in one of its biggest political battles, forced investment in infrastructure, in return for rate guarantees and a reasonable profit. That system has made the American power grid one of the most reliable in the world, with some of the most reasonable rates. But all that will be going away soon. The New Deal's Public Utilities Holding Company Act is due to be repealed in Bush's new energy bill. And it means that no one will be maintaining the wires anymore, while they'll be using the ratepayer's money for everything else. Says a knowlegable insider, Lyn Hargis,
"it is clearly impossible for a state (or even federal) utility commission, with its limited staff, to review, much less understand and control, the books and records of a huge conglomerate ..." Once PUHCA is gone, she predicts, "there will be a white-hot fury of buying and selling utilities and utility assets -- it will be a revival of the 1920s, when three huge companies owned half of all utilities."
So get out your checkbook. And better get a backup generator for your house. You're going to need it.
Gardening And Construction Grind To A Halt
The weather has deteriorated - as I suggested yesterday, it appears another tropical wave has arrived over Costa Rica, leading to day-long overcast and showers on and off throughout the day. Had a really good downpour yesterday afternoon, combined with quite a lightning show, and the runoff from the street moved enough sand into my drainage ditches that cleaning them out will be necessary again, sooner rather than later. Sure will be glad when all that sand is finally washed away.
I got my cashew nuts planted yesterday, mixing the potting soil I have put together with a bit of sawdust from my friend's cabinet-making operation. I hope that the acid from the sawdust doesn't poison the seedlings, but the potting soil needed some loosening, as the organic matter in it has mostly rotted away, leaving nothing much but clay behind. The sawdust will decay much more slowly than the leaves, and I hope that will give the plants a chance to get well rooted before being planted permanently.
The weather this morning has been intermittent heavy rain all morning. Neighbors walking by have had to dodge the rain, seeking shelter among the trees, to avoid getting wet during the heavy, but usually brief downpours. And all the rain has pretty much caused the construction next door to grind to a screeching halt. I heard a lot of activity at seven this morning, but it didn't last much past breakfast, and it is quiet over there now, so I assume that everyone has gone home to wait for this temporal (rainy weather) to pass.
The new bougainvilleas I have been planting are really loving this rain, and taking full advantage of it to get well established. The stakes I planted a month ago now have new growth a foot high. Even the ones my gardener and I planted last Friday still have their original leaves, which have not wilted and fallen off, as they usually do. This is a good sign that they'll take root and grow. Glad for that - I had some big gaps where they are planted, and I am delighted that those gaps will likely be filled in.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Left The States: Idaho, the state I grew up in, is soon going to become famous for something other than just potatoes - seems that the Idaho National Laboratory near Idaho Falls has been picked as the development site for the production of plutonium 238 fuels for use in nuclear-powered surveillance devices. I kid you not - become a dissident, and you could end up with a nuclear-powered olive in your martini! I suspect that Idaho was chosen for the reason that folks there are so conservative, they never complain seriously about anything this administration does, no matter how egregious it is. Now, remember, it is a short stretch from powering bugs with plutonium to actually poisoning people with it. So if I die of radiation poisoning, it will be comforting to know it may well have come from my own home town, and may have been produced by people with whom I grew up. Not all that implausible, actually. I have already been bugged on two occasions that I know of - and more than one dissident has disappeared into the CIA's clutches down here.
Speaking of ranching country, it seems that the recent disclosure of a second incidence of mad cow disease in the U.S. was delayed for months. This delay has been blamed on egregious deficiencies in how mad cow disease is surveilled and reported in the United States - which would explain why Canada, with a beef industry a tiny fraction of the size of the one in the U.S. has dealt with four incidents and one outbreak, and the U.S. seems to have had only two incidents. Makes me a bit hesitant to eat U.S. beef. Sure glad I can eat Costa Rican beef instead, where the industry is closely surveilled and no incident has ever been reported.
But don't get in too big a rush to leave that brewing disaster for a good safe steak elsewhere: if you don't have your U.S. passport yet, you may have trouble getting one. Seems that Foggy Bottom is now making it as hard for anyone on their dissident watch lists to get a passport as an airline flight. The paper Berlin Wall just gets higher and higher. If you are thinking of getting out, best to do it now - while you still can.
Secrecy and opacity is more important to the Bush administration than bringing the 9-11 suspects to justice: It seems that Spanish authorities are trying a terrorist for complicity in the 9-11 planning, and would like to interview a terrorist that is being held by the CIA in its offshore gulag. But the request to interview the man, crucial to the prosecution's case, has been denied. Gee, I wonder why. Maybe Bush (or his brain, Karl Rove) would care to explain.
It seems that two counties in Florida have rejected the infamous Diebold touch-screen voting machines, that played such a prominent role in the Ohio vote rigging last year, because they produce no paper audit trail. Well, for daring to insist on electoral transparency, they are about to get sued. The "Help America Vote Act" has a provision in it that if a county does not have provision for helping disabled voters to vote on an equal footing, they are in violation of the law. I find the Republican's new-found concern for the disabled to be very touching. Not very convincing, but very touching.
Swallow the pills, soldier! That's an order! It appears that soldiers serving in Iraq who are growing depressed and despondent about being faced with starting their fourth tour of duty of having to destroy Iraq to save it, are being considered psychiatric cases. They are now apparently being ordered to take Prozac, whether they like it or not. Kinda reminds me of the way the Soviets dealt with dissent - declaring it to be a mental illness and force-treating it with psychiatric drugs. But getting a kid down on Prozac, putting a gun in his hand and telling him to go out there and shoot militants, is not my idea of a way to win hearts and minds. I know what Prozac can do - I have been on it. Reduces judgment and reasoning abilities to almost primitive levels. Just what you need from a nineteen-year-old trying to distinguish innocent civilians from militants in a split second.
I have always contended that the Internet was in its golden age, and that free-wheeling, uncensored discussion and debate would not be tolerated for long. Well, turns out I was right. By using election laws governing campaign contributions, it seems that the conservatives are going to stifle debate by small fish like me, by declaring our commentaries to be contributions to political campaigns should we openly endorse a candidate, send out bulk email, advertise on our blog pages, etc., whether we intend them to be endorsements or not. By doing so, and forcing us under the complex, 47-page reporting rules, blogs like this one may become a thing of the past. Of course, the big commercial operations, like Salon.com, Drudge Report, Slate.com etc., will be exempted. Wouldn't want to stifle big business, now, would we?
Bush has appointed a new head for the Environmental Protection Agency. He is a lawyer best known for his defense of W.R. Grace and Co. in its efforts to evade responsibility to the residents of Libby, Montana, who were poisoned by effluent from that company's vermiculite mine. Sounds like just the perfect individual to protect the rest of the country from corporations seeking to externalize their pollution costs. I am so glad we have a man like George W. Bush at the helm, watching out ever so vigilantly for the people's interests!
Construction Next Door Continues
The weather this morning has been cloudy and threatening, with only brief periods of sun. Looks like another tropical wave may be moving through the region, and that means afternoon showers are quite likely. We had a brief bit of rain overnight, just enough to freshen things up a bit, and optimize the soil moisture. Weather continues to be perfect for gardening here, as it usually is, and I really enjoy that. The giant spotted bromeliad on the hilltop overlooking the pond has come into bloom - overnight, a flower stalk a foot high has appeared, and white blossoms are emerging from the sides of it. It will be interesting to see what kind of flowers it produces. Most of the unspotted giant bromeliads that grow so abundantly here among the epiphites, produce flowers that are pretty unspectacular. But this one looks rather promising.
I am also going to get the cashew nuts planted today, that I was given on Sunday, as they have had their sun exposure now, and should be ready to plant. It will be interesting to see how the trees compare to the cashew trees I knew in Africa. The fruits here are much smaller than those were, though the nuts appear to be about the same size. The tree from which the fruit came, which may be just a young tree, is a small one with relatively small leaves, but in Africa, the cashew trees can be enormous, with larger leaves. Don't know if they're a different species or just a different variety of the same species.
My neighbor's house construction seems to be coming along. Yesterday, two large trucks drove by, carrying enormous loads of sand - each truck carries nine meters, so that would be eighteen yards of sand - an awful lot, unless my neighbor is planning to do a driveway along with the floor slab. An increasingly popular construction technique here is to do a floor slab, then cinder block up to about four feet, and a stud wall on top of that. The cinder block offers protection against termites, and the stud walls are cheaper to do, though I would prefer to do it the old fashioned way - steel reinforced cinder block up to the square (for earthquake protection), then steel perlins and metal roof sheets on top of that. That results in a house, that if kept painted, will last for centuries - I've never seen a termite get in there and eat up a cinder block or steel perlin. But I have no idea which way he is going to go. He works at the bank and makes what he calls a "good salary," and so I expect he'll do it right, rather than doing it on the cheap. We'll see.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Left The States: Two reporters for the Washington Post, embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, are reporting that the insurgency, far from being "in its last throes" as Dick Cheney so famously claimed last week, is actually gaining ground, becoming better organized, more violent and effective, while the efforts at what could be called the "Iraqization" of the war are leading nowhere (remember "Vietnamization?"). Disenchantment with the effort is deep and growing on both sides - American and Iraqi. This may very well lead to the complete collapse of the new Iraqi army, and as a consequence, of U.S. efforts to secure the peace there. Of the 160,000 Iraqi troops, fewer than 3,000 are actually capable of competent performance in combat. Desertions are rampant on the Iraqi side and are a growing problem on the American side. When the collapse finally happens, Iraq is likely to become the scene of an out-and-out civil war, which will only end in a brutal, highly repressive dictatorship - and likely a very anti-American one at that. And what would all those lies and all that blood finally have bought the Iraqis and us?
The U.S. Army's procurement personnel are describing Halliburton's contracts in Iraq as abuse in their "every aspect." Kinda hard for Donald Rumsfeld to avoid responsibility on this one, since every single aspect of these contracts are under the direct control and supervision of the Secretary of Defense. Are you going to hear about this in the "liberal biased" press? Somehow, I don't think so.
Proving once again that conservative policies "trickle on" rather than trickling down, we are now informed that average salaries and other compensation for CEO's in the Washington DC area grew by 18% in the last two years, while at the same time, compensation for workers, adjusted for inflation, remained in decline. Yep, that's the way to build an economy, no doubt. Trickle on, not trickle down. That'll get all those consumers out into the stores!
To the congressional leadership, the health of Halliburton is apparently more important than the health of people, and that the corporations and the rich are more worthy of welfare than the poor. The administration's congressional rotweilers have passed a social spending bill that includes cuts for such things as public health measures, the Center For Disease Control (down, 5%), outright elimination of the Healthy Communities Access Program, which makes basic health care available to the indigent, and another program which trains doctors and nurses, in return for which they practice in under-served rural areas. All of this is going to make these guys look really good when the coming bird flu pandemic finally hits. And the "Education President" (remember that one?) has targeted his very own No Child Left Behind Act. But I assure you, there will nevertheless be plenty of money for corporate welfare once this bill has passed.
Remember Kathleen Harris? She is the former Secretary of State of Florida (now U.S. congresswoman) who, in 2000, fraudulently disenfranchised more than a hundred thousand Florida voters, the vast majority of whom were registered Democrats, so as to swing the election in favor of George Bush, for whom she was also serving as the state campaign co-chair at the time (conflict of interest, anyone?). Well, her name has become so infamous as a result, that she is being abandoned by her own party. They're going to run someone against her because she has become such an embarrassment. This proves the power of the Internet press - the mainstream "liberal biased media" in the U.S. totally ignored the election fraud she engineered on Junior's behalf (with the exception of a single, small article each in the L.A. Times and the Washington Post), even though it was the lead story in Europe for a week when it happened, and she has been sued (successfully) as a result of it. I can't help but believe that the real reason she is being abandoned is that her Democratic opponent could use the scandal against her - and that would force the "liberal biased media" to actually do its job and cover that scandal for a change, which would, of course, cast further doubt on the legitimacy of the Bush presidency and the trustworthiness of the conservative Republicans.
From the We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You desk comes the word of how lobbyists, working hand in hand with that paragon of virtue and ethical circumspection, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R - Texas) along with a Tennesee-based Christian group, scalped the Coushatta Indian Nation for more than $3 million, as part of a largely-wasted $30 million lobbying effort, directed mostly at Republicans in Congress. These conservative Christians are such fine, upstanding, moral people. They've gotta be a real, true inspiration to Christian scamsters and fraud artists everywhere.
Cashews For Planting
The weather has been delightful, and typical early rainy-season for the last couple of days. After a week of almost no rain, we finally got some good downpours yesterday and the day before. Good thing, too, as the newly planted shrubs along the driveway were needing it, as were the petra vine seeds I planted in the vivero (greenhouse) and the bougainvillea stakes I planted last week. A quick tour of the garden this morning revealed that the cacao tree has a dramatic new growth flush going - looks like the heavy dose of fertilizer it got a month back was what was needed to do the trick. Similarly, there is a new growth flush on one of the avocado trees, the one I planted last year, and several of my citrus trees are responding to the fertilizer and light rainy weather. The lemon has so much new growth, it has attracted black aphids, and I had to spray the flushes for them.
Yesterday, I had no more than gotten breakfast underway, and was sitting in my rocking chair on the front porch, when the local chain-saw guy passed by in front of the place. He stopped to inform me that he had been hired by my neighbor to clean up the mess that the tree clearance on his property had made on my north forty. I was very delighted to hear that. So I hurried and finished cooking breakfast and wolfed it down, got some old clothes on, and went over to the north forty for a look-see and help out. By the time I got there, they had already cleaned up about a third of it, a tree that had been felled onto my property quite some time ago, and were at work cutting up the remaining trees that were felled onto my property just a few weeks back when the backhoe was cutting the plantel (building site) for his new house. I pitched in and helped them haul branches and stack them on my neighbor's side of the fence. The fence was pretty much destroyed in the tree felling, and so my neighbor and I have agreed on a plan for rebuilding it. I'll buy half the fenceposts, he'll buy the other half and any wire that is needed, and do the work. The stakes were pretty well rotted away anyway, so I don't mind pitching in on the cost. I think the settlement is fair. To compensate me for the inconvenience of the mess on my property, the chain saw man cut down a large stump that has been in my way, and also a dead orange tree that has been an annoyance. Glad to see that part of the north forty getting cleaned up!
Once back at the house, re-showered and cleaned up, I was sitting on my front porch when another Tico neighbor came by and invited me over to his house for coffee in afternoon. So when two o'clock rolled around, I wandered over for the visit. The odor of cooking chocolate wafted through the house, and I figured I was going to be offered some hot brownies or something of that nature along with the coffee, but it turns out that it was stewed cashew fruit. Cashews, if you don't know, produce a yellowish-red fruit from which the nut hangs like a large comma at the bottom, and the fruit is as edible as the nut. Eaten raw (as is normally done in Africa), they are a bit astringent, but sweetened and stewed into a dessert fruit, they are quite delicious, with a flavor faintly reminiscent of chocolate, but more closely akin to dried dates. They were absolutely delicious. I commented on what a wonderful flavor they had, and she asked me if I had any cashew trees. Well, I hadn't, and had been interested in planting some, as I dearly love the nuts (and now, the stewed fruits). So she gave me a bag full of the nuts removed from the bottom of the fruit she had just cooked, and told me to dry them in the sun for a day and then plant them in the nursery, and they'll come up soon and grow very rapidly. So as I write this, they are out there drying in the morning sun. I'll then plant them in nursery bags, and once they are established, plant them in the north forty, in the area where the trees were just removed. I am hoping to have some cashew fruit in a couple of years. Looking forward to that.
More Reasons Why I Left The States: Turns out that as right-wing conservative Christians are wont to do, they have brought more than just their guns to Baghdad. It seems that now they're bringing bibles too. Of course, in their hopelessly provincial ignorance, these bible-banger conservatives don't understand the Islamic sensitivity (for historical reasons) about conversions to Christianity, perceived rightly or wrongly as happening at the point of a gun, and how Islam perceives this as a direct threat to its authority and challenge to its legitimacy. So of course, not only is this going to increase the insurgency, it is going to serve as yet another recruiting poster for Islamic militancy, and increase the terrorism against the west and the militancy of Islam in the east. Geez, these blithering idiots just don't get it!
It is not enough to try to evangelize Iraqis while they're staring at the gun in your holster, but to be a true Crusader, you gotta rob 'em blind while you're at it. The word comes out that there has been a meeting of British and American oil companies, along with America's Iraqi "government" quislings, on just how to carve up Iraqi oil resources. Is it any wonder that the Islamic militants claim this is a new Crusade? After all, the Christians are behaving just like the last Crusaders did, and it shouldn't surprise anyone that Muslims take exception to it as it all looks so familiar to them. Unlike Americans who can't remember what happened last week, Muslims have crystal clear memories of what happened nine centuries ago. A reality that these myopic evangelists and greedy oil executives need to wrap their minds around.
Seems that Zbigniew Brzezinski is demanding an explanation of how the U.S. ended up in Iraq, and charges that it is being conducted with "tactical and strategic incompetence." Well, he should know something about strategic incompetence. It was his own personal betrayal of Osama bin Laden that led to the creation of Al Qaeda and the terrorist war against the United States, culminating in 9-11 in the first place. So if he truly wants an explanation tracing the causes all the way back to their roots, he can begin by looking in the mirror.
It's not just the grey-haired among the Republicans who have embraced hypocrisy and compartmentalized thinking as a way of life, seems it is the young Republicans, doing so too. They are supporting the war, of course, but they don't want to have anything to do with actually going to fight in it. That, apparently, is something to be left to the lesser, impoverished mortals who have little choice.
And this from the We Conservatives Believe In Free Speech department: The Federal Election Commission is actually voting on rules that would allow trade associations to force corporations to deduct compulsory political campaign contributions from workers' paychecks. That's right, even if you don't agree with your employer's politics, you may end up not having any choice but to support his candidates, on pain of being forced to resign. Sound like the old Soviet style of electioneering? Sure, you can vote for anyone you like, as long as we approve of your choice. Republicans may call that "democracy," but I call it what it is - fascism.
From the We Conservatives Are More Moral Than The Rest Of You desk comes the word that the corruption in the program for the reconstruction of Iraq, as detailed in the report here last week, is totalling not just $2.4 billion, as I originally reported, but more like $12 billion, and could go as high as $20 billion - vastly more than the corruption in the Oil For Food program run by the "corrupt" United Nations, that the conservatives had such a snit-fit about recently. The conservatives can't complain about U.N. corruption here - the Bush administration is directly responsible and accountable for this one. There has been so little accountability for this money that even house Democrats have been shamed into holding hearings on the matter (and the "liberally biased" CNN International was shamed into giving the hearings a few seconds of coverage last night, just before it went into its usual twenty minutes of whining about the corruption in Oil For Food). Even the Iraqi "government" quislings have chimed in, complaining to their overlords about what is being done to them. They're complaining about sweetheart deals on leases, exorbitant contracts for things like garbage collection, and payments for construction that was never done. The two billion dollars plus payed out in the 28 tons of $100 greenbacks last year passed out in duffel bags and dispensed from the back of pickup trucks, has left Baghdad "awash" in $100 bills, and apparently has caused inflation in the street markets. And I'll bet you won't hear a word about this on Rush Limbaugh or Fox News. Probably won't even read about it in your "liberal biased" local paper, either.
Speaking of Fox News, it appears that they're starting to develop an itty-bitty teeny-weeny embryonic stem-cell of a spine! The lies coming out of this administration have been so blatant and propagandistic lately that even they can't abide it. So they have actually started to complain, though in typical Fox apologetic style, though, they're not "lies," they're merely "myths." But at least they're starting to tell the whole truth for a change. Maybe there is a god in heaven after all, and I should seriously look at repentance! Nah... I'll wait and see if Hannity and Colmes do an hour on it. If they do, then I'll look at repentance...
Seeds In The Mail - Received
Weather today was beautiful - perfect weather for gardening, overcast but no rain. And when the gardener got here this morning, he went right to it, and got not only some more bougainvilleas planted, but some shrubs planted along the driveway as well. I was really pleased to see that, and I am hoping that these bougainvillea cuttings will do better than the ones they replaced. Those were planted during the dry season, and didn't get quite enough rain to do well. This afternoon, it has clouded over and begun to sprinkle a bit, promising to water the new cuttings and shrubs.
I went to town while the gardener was at work in the garden as is usual for my Fridays, to get groceries, mail and some cash to pay the gardener, and discovered that the smaller of the two grocery stores in town is now being run by a fellow who speaks perfect English with only a bit of an accent. I suspect he is going to try to appeal to the gringo market, as he speaks better English than any of the clerks in the other, bigger supermarket. Anyway, as I bought my papers and counted out the pocket change to pay for them, he welcomed me to his store and encouraged me to shop there often. If he offers a good selection at similar prices to the other store, I think I will.
A friend of mine promised to send me some Petra vine seeds in the mail some time back, and I finally got them today. Took the mail three days to get from Escaz˙ to my Arenal post office box. Guess that's not too bad. In Africa, when I lived there, it would have taken three weeks. Petra vines produce a profusion of indigo flowers that are the size of and similar in shape to daffodils, and the vines bloom prolifically all year long. I have not succeeded in getting the two I have to reproduce, either by cuttings or planting seeds, but he claims his keep coming up everywhere from seeds. So I am going to try planting his seeds in some nursery bags and see if they grow for me. If they do, I plan on planting them among the trees at the west end of the pond, where they can grow up into the trees, and provide quite a show of their blossoms in a spot with rather little color.
More Reasons I'm Glad I Left The States: The news comes from Italy today that prosecutors there have lost patience with the CIA just picking up people off the streets and engaging in their infamous "extraordinary rendition" to send them off to countries where they will be tortured, in total disregard of Italian sovereignty and the law, both Italian and international. An Italian prosecutor has issued a warrant for 13 of the CIA's kidnap agents. Seems that the last fellow they "rendered" was someone that Italian investigators were surveilling closely as part of a terrorism investigation of their own. Have a nice time in Rome on your next visit, fellas! Hope you yourselves get "rendered" right into an Italian jail!
It seems that the Agent Orange spraying done a few decades back, which has left such horrible, lasting scars on the land and vast human suffering in the countryside in Indochina (not to mention among the G.I.s that handled it) during the Vietnam War, wasn't limited to Indochina. Turns out that the U.S. Defense Dept. sprayed it all over a Canadian military base in New Brunswick to test its effects, and, as happened in Indochina, innocent people were poisoned and are now living ruined lives because of it. They're now suing the Canadian government for allowing it. Of course, on the issue of liability, the U.S. Defense Department is somehow strangely silent. Why am I not surprised?
Yes, I am embarrassed to call myself an American these days - the continued scandal at Guantanamo just gets worse, and that has been getting a lot of play in the media down here. That anti-Statue-of-Liberty that has become a poster-child for terrorist recruitment, it now turns out, was the site for a number of doctors violating their Hypocratic oaths by assisting the torturers in refining their techniques. All this, of course, has a lot of resonance with Latin Americans, who have a lot of experience with just that sort of thing, done at the hands of U.S.-installed dictators, particularly in Chile and Argentina. Every time I show my passport nowadays, I have to precede it by saying, "Pero soy innocente! No voto para Bush!" ("but I'm innocent! I didn't vote for Bush!").
Tricky Dick Cheney seems to have made a fool of himself yesterday by claiming that the Iraqi insurgency is in "its last throes," a statement reminiscent of Tricky Dick Nixon's famous claims about a "light at the end of the tunnel." Of course, as Tricky Dick Cheney was saying what he did, no less than four car bombs went off in Iraq, sending yet more G.I.s home to their parents in pine boxes, and making a mockery of his ridiculous comments. Americans may be seriously misled and thoroughly asleep, Tricky Dick, but they're not stupid, and the poll numbers - and the D.O.D. recruitment figures - are starting to show that they're finally waking up.
Seems that Dubya's brain and power behind the throne, Karl Rove, has pissed off every liberal and or Democrat out there by claiming that in response to the 9-11 attacks, we wanted to "prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers." Well, I have got news for you, Karl. We were as outraged as you were, and I don't think that "therapy and understanding" was quite what we had in mind. But prepare indictments? Yes, we, unlike you, Karl, actually believe in the rule of law - even Adolf Eichmann got a trial, as every criminally accused person on the planet is entitled to, no matter what he did. As for therapy and understanding, I think that a fate far worse than execution - making big ones into little ones for the rest of their lives - is all the therapy and understanding they need. Readers, if you are as offended about Karl's outrageous smear as I was, I would suggest give Karl a call at home. According to americablog, his home phone in Washington is (202) 456-2369. Let him know that you don't have to be a self-serving fascist demagogue to hate terrorism and want to punish terrorists - and that what he is doing in Gitmo and Iraq is only creating more of the terrorism he claims to be hating.
Summer Solstice - And An Old Feature Returns
Weather here in Arenal has continued to be a bit on the dry side for this time of year. We had no rain overnight at all, and yesterday, had a brief rain during the morning and afternoon. But the weather cleared off by sunset - very unusual, and there was a thin haze through the night. The full moon high in the sky here, was a dramatic postlude to the summer solstice. The sun is in the northern sky here this time of the year, and as I write this, is streaming in through my north-facing office window. It seems a bit strange to me to see the sun in the northern sky, but then I was raised in the northern temperate zone, where it never appears in the north. So it is hardly surprising my instincts would react that way. My flower boxes on the front porch, which faces south, are getting no sun at all this time of year, though they do seem to be getting adequate indirect light.
The plants that were given me by my gardener for the flower boxes seem to be doing well, though somewhat slowly, and will make a nice addition once they begin to flourish and fill in. The bougainvillea stakes that were planted several weeks ago along the fence line are now sprouting and appear to be doing quite nicely. Some are even in bloom, and so I can now see what color I have - seems to be a bit darker than the ones I have now, with a bit more blue, but not significantly so. I have some watershoots on my existing plants that are now hardened enough to be suitable for cutting and planting, so I think I am going to have the gardener cut them tomorrow and start replacing some of the failed stakes that were planted during the dry season. Only about half of those did well, and most of the rest are no longer viable. Clearly, this is a better time of year to plant bougainvilleas around here than the dry season proved to be. So I am going to try to concentrate on getting the plantings filled in, and getting the growth as consistent and continuous along the fence line as possible. If I am successful in getting the planting filled in, by this time next year, they should be grown up and in bloom, and should be quite a sight during the dry season when they are almost entirely covered by flowers. Their long, sharp thorns will also discourage people from climbing through the fence and poaching my fish and bananas.
I have decided that there is so much going on in the States these days that I just can't ignore any longer, that I am going to revive my feature in this blog of two years ago, which I called "More reasons I am glad I left the States." So here goes the first installment on the new edition - and this is just today's news:
More Reasons I Am Glad I Left The States: Proving once again that they're more moral and honest than the rest of us, the conservatives that are running the show in Washington these days, basically... well, how can I put this politely?... looted the Iraqi treasury for their rich buddies' benefit. Turns out that in the last few days before "sovereignty" was returned to Iraq last year, they looted at least $2.4 billion (yes, that's billion, with a "b") from the Iraqi account at the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank. The Fed has reported that they withdrew that much money in cash, the largest transfer of paper money the Fed has ever arranged. Shrink-wrapped stacks of bundles of $100 bills were loaded on pallets, forklifted off by the U.S. military and flown to Iraq, where they were handed out to consultants and contractors, who literally hauled them away in duffel bags. No invoices, no receipts. Those honest, moral conservatives are really getting bold...
The BBC and CNN International are reporting this morning that the Chinese state-owned oil company (yeah, they're still a communist country, remember?), Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation, known as CNOOC ("SEE-nook"), is bidding more than $18 billion cash to buy one of the largest of the American oil companies, Unocal, along with its petroleum reserves, right out from under Texaco's Chevron unit, which has been bidding on it. That means that them gol-derned Commies would control a significant portion of the American petroleum reserves and gasoline retailing business, just at a time when Americans are starting to worry about $3 a gallon gasoline and $60 a barrel crude. The Chinese already own big stakes in other rogue states - they're major players in the Sudan and Iran already. And it's the free market at work - the Chinese can certainly pay cash, no problem. They own $700 billion in U.S. debt - that's more than one and a half percent of the entire net worth of The United States of America, and given the vast U.S. trade deficit with China, that percentage is growing fast. Which brings to mind Karl Marx's famous comment about the capitalists happily supplying the rope with which they are to be hung, as long as there is a profit to be made on it. Looks like the "Commies" are winning the Cold War the same way the Japanese won the Second World War...
More evidence that he can't be, when Dubya said he could be "trusted" not to abuse civil liberties after, in effect, he suspended the Bill of Rights. Seems that even though he promised not to collect information on air passenger travel habits, and being instructed by Congress not to do so, well, he's gone ahead and done it anyway. I love how these conservatives just mean what they say and do what they promise. And yes, I sure do feel more safe from terrorism, knowing that the right-wing goons who chased me into exile know all about my movements...
Just when you thought that Dubya had everyone around the world on board with his impunity-for-the-CIA's-death-squad-organizers program, comes the news that the president of Ecuador, Alfredo Palacio, has told Dubya that Ecuadorians believe that no one, not even the President of the United States, is above the rule of law (which will surely come as news to Dubya). Anyone in Ecuador, even if they are American, can find themselves hauled before the International Criminal Court if they commit human rights atrocities. Imagine, the gall of that man! Maintaining Ecuadorian sovereignty and accountability! Insisting on the rule of law! Well, he'll be out before long, just as soon as Washington is finally done getting rid of the democratically elected - and re-elected - president of Venezuela. Dubya has told Palacio that American aid is in jeopardy. Really? Well, maybe Palacio has figured out that American "aid" usually comes with an unacceptable amount of baggage anyway. "Absolutely no one is going to frighten me," Palacio told the press. "Neither the government, nor Alfredo Palacio, nor the Ecuadoran people should be afraid." Good for him! Ecuador is sounding better and better as an expatriation venue all the time...
CNN reports this morning that Gallup, working for The Pew Research Center, has just completed a poll indicating that Communist China, with all its well-known human rights abuses, now rates higher in international esteem than does the United States in 21 countries polled around the world. Gee, I wonder why...
Adventures In Tax Preparation
The weather has been truly fine in Arenal this last week or so. If this is the rainy season, you'd be hard pressed to tell, as the weather has been sunny, warm, and unusually dry. Occasional late afternoon thunderstorms, every couple of days or so, but not as much as one would expect for the rainy season. Means I have not been needing to water the garden, but a couple of times it came close to that. I took advantage of the fine weather to get the driveway culvert dug out, once again, from the last big ripsnorter we had about a month ago at the beginning of the rainy season. I'll sure be glad when all the sand from the construction up the hill is finally washed down and is no longer an issue I'll have to deal with every few weeks.
This unusually hot and dry weather has everyone talking about climate change, and its effects on the tropics. Well, a recent special I saw about that on the BBC indicates that one of the principal effects will be that certain tropical regions will see a drying trend, even if the temperatures don't change much. They indicated that the middle east, south Asia and Central America will all get dryer, and Central America will be the worst affected, with drying by as much as 40 percent. That will be bad news for Nicaragua and Honduras that are chronically short of water, and it will mean conservation efforts for Costa Rica, which is beginning to run out. Well, that prediction is consonant with the weather this year - the Indian monsoon is late, and so far, this is one of the dryer rainy seasons we have had in recent years, at least that were not El Nino years. So it could be that the drying trend has already kicked in.
Still trying to get my window grates re-installed so that I can change out the windows and get the house sealed up against bugs a bit better than it is. The old window frames are wood, and are in rather poor shape, and I would love to get them replaced. I visited with a friend of mine in town a few days ago, and he said he would be happy to get someone over here for me, but so far, no results. I guess I am going to have to start bugging him about it. Hate to do that, but I really need to get this done. If I have to, I'll get a welding outfit and do it myself. I could use it for other projects anyway.
Well, this last week was tax week. June 15 is the deadline for filing taxes for American tax filers who live outside the U.S., and I needed to get that done. Not that I really needed to - my income is below the minimum filing requirement, but these days, the best thing to do is not to antagonize the Boys of Foggy Bottom, especially someone who is in my predicament. So I decided to go ahead and do the deed, distasteful as it is.
I started by trying to download a popular tax package. Got the software paid for, got to the download page, clicked on the link and started the download. Well, it got about a fifth of the way through and the download bombed. Tried it again, and got only half as far the second time.
So I waited till nightfall. I figured that after all the businesses using the internet here had closed up shop for the day, the servers would be less busy, so there would be a better chance of getting the download finished up successfully. So I waited till about seven o'clock in the evening, and retried. Sure enough, the download worked like a charm on the first try.
I tried installing the downloaded package, and lo and behold, seems they insisted that I have Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher installed before I can finish installing their package. Last year, the same software package wanted it but would install and would run without I.E. 6, but just not show some fancy talking-head files, which I really didn't care about anyway. But not so this year - I had to have I.E. 6 to use the software I had just paid for, in order for the program to even complete the installation. I looked over my tight disk space, and decided that I would have to clear out a few things to make room and did that, and then went online and downloaded the I.E. 6 install package. It was only a half megabite, and I hoped that would be simple enough, but no - when I ran it, it proved just to be the installer - I had to go back online, and wait for the installer to download not less than 12 megabytes of Microsoft's bloatware and proceed to install it.
Not enough disk space. I had started this whole project with 350 megabytes of disk space left, figuring that ought to be plenty, and the tax software and Internet Explorer installer chewed right through that, and informed me I would need not less than 139 megabytes more to boot. Egads! 489 megabytes of disk space, just to do my taxes! This is taking bloatware to extremes! Of course, Microsoft didn't give me a choice about installing the latest Microsoft Media Player and Outlook Express (neither of which I wanted), but I had no choice. Yeah, I am sure going to let the software vendor know of my unhappiness about having to install Outlook Express and Windows Media Player on a computer where I don't need or want it, and can't afford the disk space, just so I can do my taxes!
Well, I madly scrambled to make room on my hard disk, and after deleting some files I really didn't want to delete, and I had enough room, tried the install once again. Yeah, this time the install went just fine. And finally, I went ahead and ran the program, and did my taxes. Didn't take much time. I was done in a couple of hours. Then I went to print the results so I could mail them in.
It has been some time since I had last used my printer. Probably three or four months, in fact. So I was not surprised when the ink cartridge was dried up. Just a few streaks, and that was it. I took out the jet module and cleaned the jets, and got more streaks but not much printing. Nothing to do but get in the car, drive to Tilaran, get a new cartridge, bring it back and try again.
I put on my going-to-town clothes, closed up the house and drove to Tilaran. I was quite amazed at the good condition of the road - the potholes, at least the big ones, had all been patched, all the way to Tilaran. They left the little ones unfilled - presumably so they could grow up into something worthy of their attention. I am told, too, that they're fixed the other direction, towards La Fortuna, and that it has cut a half-hour off the drive time to the volcano. A little late for this tourist season, but at least it is good for us locals - it is the first time this road has been fully paved, and it gives us an alternative to Tilaran for local shopping, as it is the same distance.
The computer shop in Tilaran had the cartridges I needed - both the color and black ones. $18 later, I was out of there. The annual festival of St. Anthony, patron saint of the Tilaran municipality was on, so I stopped at the park to see what the local vendors had on offer. Found some really nice locally made furniture, including bar stools which I need for my breakfast bar, but the stools were not very well made, even though they were cheap enough at about $8 each. Rather poor wood with a lot of knots. So I passed on them.
Back home, I plugged in the new black ink cartridge, and tried printing. And to my great relief, the pages printed out beautifully. The jet module did not need replacement. Whew! By now, it was late in the day, and the post office was closed, so I waited till the morning to go there and mail the returns. Wednesday morning, the 15th, I went to the post office and mailed the return and the Treasury Dept. form on which I am required to disclose the details of my a foreign bank account. Both letters together, came to the huge sum of 240 colones - less than fifty cents. That was the cheapest and easiest part of this whole exercise. And I am done again for another year. Thank goodness!
Construction - And Destruction - Begins
The weather has been downright summer-like lately. Well, it's summer, you say, as it should be this time of year. But here in Costa Rica, the rainy season is cooler than the rest of the year, and it is the rainy season now, so the locals refer to this as invierno (winter). But the weather seems to have other ideas. The trade winds seem to be poorly established, so we occasionally get several days in a row here in Arenal, when the weather is sunny and bright, as opposed to gloomy and rainy in much of the Central Valley. So the situation is reversed from its usual.
And the good weather is why my neighbor has started construction of his new house. He has a fair-sized lot (16,000 sq.ft.) on the north side of me, on a hillside which slopes steeply toward me, and has never built on it until now. I suspect that he inherited the land (as most Ticos who own property have), and he has been living in the house of his brother, who lives in the house next door to his property, just up the hill. Well, he has finally started construction, and the heavy machinery has been out there getting the site ready.
He started by cutting and setting aside the logs of laurel (a tropical hardwood that is much prized here). The logs were peeled and stacked into a neat pile on the edge of the property, covered to dry out so they can be sawn into lumber for ceilings and wall paneling. He then had a backhoe come in and begin the cutting of the plantel (building site) into the hillside. And I was overjoyed when the bulldozer operator buried a huge leafcutter ant colony under six feet of soil. But when the earthmoving got well underway is when my problems began.
There were some really large, overly mature laurel trees on his site, and as stumpage, they don't have a lot of value, so the bulldozer operator simply pushed them over. Sad, because the lumber from that species goes for $20 a board-foot in the U.S. - and it should be possible to cut some 15" boards from some of those trees. But what is done is done.
Unfortunately, being downhill from the site, the trees had a tendency to fall my direction. One of them fell onto my property, completely burying my access path along the hillside. When I discovered this, I figured I had better go out there and supervise the construction from my side, and make sure I don't get buried in debris and my fruit trees, planted just last year, don't get smashed up in the process. When my neighbor returned from work late in the afternoon, I walked over and chatted with him. He was concerned that he had cut the plantel too large, but I suggested to him that as small and steep as the lot was, he would be better off to just level the whole thing, and that way he would have lots of room for gardens, for the children to play, and to allow the optimum placement of his house on the lot. He thought it over for awhile, and decided that was a splendid idea, so he told the backhoe operator to come back today and finish leveling the lot.
Well, when I made the suggestion, I didn't think it would make much of a difference in how I can see his lot from my house. And this morning, I went back over to watch as the backhoe operator proceeded to level the lot. As he did so, he had to take down about five more big laurel trees, and I was appalled when the operator simply pushed the first one over onto my side, then dragged it back across. I signaled my displeasure, and showed him that in the process, he totally destroyed one of my mature guayabo (guava) trees, a situation I am not at all happy about. He very narrowly missed taking out two of the fruit trees that I had planted there last year. I let him know that I would no longer permit trees to be felled on my side. I watched him take out two more big trees, pushing them down onto the plantel, and when the process was done, I walked back to the house.
When I got there, I was shocked - the guayabo tree was the primary screen that was preventing me from seeing that part of the plantel. Now there is a big hole in the forest cover there, and it is not pretty. I am going to have to plant some fast-growing screen trees to hide that part of the plantel (and the house to be built on it) from my property. I'll be having a chat with my neighbor to let him know that I am not pleased about the situation. And I want the cleanup of my property done sooner, not later, so I can get the trees planted that I need for screen. As always when dealing with Ticos in this kind of situation, I'll be polite and soliciting of his help, but my annoyance will be clear - and if he is like most Ticos, the mess will be cleaned up in short order. We'll see.
A Snake In The House?
The weather has been typical early rainy season weather, on and off, for the last week. The usual pattern of early morning rain, clearing in the midday, and thunderstorms in the afternoon and evening has been playing itself out for some time. The weather office indicated that we would have intense lightning storms through the weekend, and they were spot on with that one - beginning about Thursday, and continuing through the night last night, the convection over us has been ideally arranged for lightning, and each afternoon, I have had to shut down the computer, unplug the modem and disconnect the power to the house and wait for it to pass. Yesterday was the biggest of them all, with an earsplitting strike only a third of a mile away. The power and phone lines were disconnected at the time, so there was no damage. This time.
The health has been rather poor, and I have been sleeping a lot, and rather lacking in energy, so I haven't been able to get much done in the garden, at least as much as I would like. I did get some fertilizing done yesterday, and I have noticed a minor growth flush on my cacao tree, and wanted to encourage that, so I got most of the usual needy plants, trees and shrubs fertilized.
Well, I had a rather unpleasant surprise this morning. Turned on the shower and climbed in, and no sooner did I get myself wet, than I heard a pop in the shower heater, and instantly, the water coming out was stone cold. Needless to say, I had a very quick shower and got out. Looks like the heater coil in the ducha (shower heater) is blown, and that means a trip to the ferreteria (hardware store) tomorrow. This will be my first visit to the hardware store since the new owners took over, and it will be interesting to see what the place will be like. I know there was more display space on the floor visible from the street than there has been, so I suspect that there will be fewer times I'll walk away empty handed. The bad news is that the duchas are rather expensive, and I hope I can get out of there for not too much damage.
When I was in town on Friday, I noticed that the appliance store was running a special on coffee makers, for $18, much cheaper than the usual $30 or so. I have one in storage, but it is rather poor quality and very cheaply made, and this one was a pretty good one, so I went ahead and sprang for it. Turns out it does a beautiful job, brewing a full pot in only about four minutes, and so I am glad I did. I can finally brew coffee again without having to resort to "the sock" - the method used by the poor here, which works well enough, but is a bit tedious. A sock-shaped cloth is suspended over the coffee pot on a wire frame, and the grounds are placed in the sock. One then pours boiling water slowly through the grounds, with the coffee soaking through the cloth and running out the bottom into the pot. The coffee tastes just fine, but the process is slow and you have to stand over the thing the whole time.
Well, last night, I had a rather rude surprise. About seven in the evening, I was sitting at the desk, minding my own business, when without warning, I heard a loud thump coming from the ceiling of the bedroom behind me. I do mean it was a loud thump. So loud, in fact, I was immediately concerned that something may have caused a ceiling tile to break. Well, a quick inspection of the bedroom ceiling and the rest of the house revealed nothing untoward, so the exact cause of the noise is a mystery. I suspect a snake may have crawled into the attic and crawled up a roof truss and fallen off. Why would snakes be inhabiting my attic? Well, it seems that there are occasionally bats taking to roost in there, and I have known that for some time. They get in and out under the corrugations of the roof sheets, which are about two inches high and unobstructed. I really need to get up there one of these days and get those gaps foamed up.