Letters From Exile

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

Wed, Aug 31 2005

Attack Of The Armadillos

The gorgeous weather of the August veranilla (little summer) here in Arenal continues. Dawn to dusk sunny weather. We had a few minutes of rain this morning, but not enough to really wet the soil, and some of the plants in my garden, especially the impatiens, are starting to wilt. What kind of a rainy season is this? I don't expect this to last, though, because the conditions are right for some tropical convection, which means ripsnorting thunderstorms in the heat of the afternoon. We'll probably have some increasing afternoon rains beginning tomorrow.

The bougainvilleas and some other flowering shrubs are really enjoying the sunny weather, and have broken out in bloom, much like in the middle of the dry season. The heat is a contributing factor, too, and it is as warm as it ever gets in the dry. I am running fans day and night, and it is still a bit much.

After getting up rather late, I spent some time watching the gripping images coming out of Louisiana on CNN and finding it hard to walk away from that. Finally, after a very late breakfast, I read my email and then went outside for a look around the yard.

I was horrified. It seems that the armadillos have been busy, digging small but numerous holes in my lawn looking for earthworms. I first saw them a couple of days ago, but today they are much worse, and are everywhere in the back yard and one side yard. I'll have a word with my gardener about this, but I am not sure there is much I can do. The mess will just be something I will have to live with until they move on. I guess it is my welcome to the jungle.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The United States: Nero Fiddles While Rome Burns! Old news, you say? Hey, it is breaking news that Smirkey has been strumming his fancy new guitar with the presidential seal inlay, back stage with the talent at a military sauree yesterday while New Orleans was flooding. Here is the damning evidence of Smirkey's compassionate conservatism, and his overwhelming concern for the people of the Gulf Coast. Somehow, the whole situation is a reflection of the tone of that cretin's indifference to suffering and pain and a disaster situation that was continuing to deteriorate. A real man would be down there in Louisiana working dawn to dusk summoning resources to bear on one America's worst natural disasters ever, but the most Smirkey is going to do carouse with the troops in California, strumming his guitar while New Orleans disappears beneath the rising water. And the flooding of New Orleans is worsening because the blackhawk helicopters that were supposed to arrive to help lift sandbags into the levee breaches did not show up - the sandbags were ready to go and the helicopters had been promised. Millions more in property damage and more lives lost will be the result. Would someone please ask Smirkey about that?

Something I have known from my own personal experience is that the FBI is using the Patriot Act to spy on political dissidents and groups. Well, now we are beginning to learn just what the scope of this snooping is, and who is being targeted by declaring them to be "terrorists." And it is much broader than had been supposed - it is environmental groups such as Greenpeace, civil rights groups promoting affirmative action, etc.

And while Smirkey and the Neocons have made Iraq into the World's Wal Mart of Terrorism, terrorist attacks outside of Iraq have doubled since 2003. Like it is a surprise that was going to happen. Guess that War on Terrorism is having the intended effect.

Of course, one of the "terrorist" acts the FBI needs to watch is the reporting on how badly the trillion dollar war in Iraq is actually going. One blogger in the military over there, wrote about what a totally "fucktarded" idea that invasion was and how badly the war plan was thought out, and it turned out to be his last entry. He was killed when his vehicle was blown up and overturned on him by an Iraqi land mine. His last few entries makes for some sadly ironic reading. The blog was entitled, prophetically enough, "One Foot In The Grave."

Military morale is now being undermined by the very group that is supposed to help support it - the chaplain corps. As reported here previously, the takeover of the chaplain corps in the military academies by the hard-core evangelicals has caused problems, but now their God-or-the-devil, black-or-white, with-us-or-against-us, God-or-else attitude is becoming a problem in the chaplain corps throughout the services, undermining morale as even the evangelicals themselves are being forced to admit.

Another morale problem for the military is that the war itself is increasingly being outsourced to private, mercenary armies, as we have reported in this space previously. An Army grunt gets by on a piddling salary and his wife and family are often living on welfare checks, and he has to abide by endless rules and red tape and stick it out till his unit goes home or his enlistment is up. Next door, he sees these guys pulling down as much as $700 a day, enjoying better food and equipment, they can leave for the States any time they like, they are a law unto themselves - and there are not just a few of them there. We are now learning that there are at least 25,000 in the country - roughly one for every five GIs. And astonishingly, the policy that put them there can't be traced back to any one decision or individual. The policy seems to have just "happened." Yeah. Like the war just "happened."

As the war drags on, and the country wearies of hearing increasingly threadbare excuses for it, Smirkey has come up with a new one. We gotta keep those oil wells out of the hands of the terrorists. Which of course, begs the question of whether they would have ever fallen into the hands of terrorists if we had not gone in there in the first place, and the answer is, of course, not if Saddam had anything to say about it. It hasn't occurred to Karl Rove, who undoubtedly originated that line, that such a statement simply underlines the failure of the policy.

It seems that even Pat Buchanan, that conservative's conservative, is now calling for the president's impeachment. Not for the reasons you might suspect, though. Two stolen elections, a disastrous war based on lies, a failing economy, rampant corruption and a level of fiscal irresponsibility never before seen on the planet aren't good enough reasons to impeach Smirkey. No, it is because while Smirkey has been fixated on Iraq, the Dark-Skinned Hordes Who Talk Funny are sneaking across the border. Letting Juan Valdez in to pick cabbages instead of coffee beans... well, now that's downright criminal. Good call, Pat. We know what is important to you!

I guess if the war is unimportant to Pat, it certainly isn't to the parents whose kids are being asked to fight it. They're starting to ask their conservative Republican law makers a really good question first asked by Michael Moore in Fahrenheit 911: If you believe so passionately in the nobility of this war, why isn't your kid being signed up to fight in it? Even Smirkey has apparently heard that question. And of course, as you might expect from these conservative hypocrites, mostly all we are getting in response is angered silence. Republican family values indeed.

Since the compassionate conservatives running this country are not willing to help the poor, it is left to the Third World nations to do so. Venezuela has announced plans to offer, at wholesale prices, gas and heating oil to charities, hospitals, and nursing homes in the United States who cannot afford to pay retail prices. They recognize that someone, somewhere needs to do something about the rising poverty rate as a result of the deteriorating economic health in the U.S. Smirkey's crowd certainly isn't going to. They're too busy making America a better place for their friends at the expense of the poor.

Speaking of compassionate conservatism, they're even telling rape victims they'll have to raise the kid that may result from the rape. Hospitals serving rape victims are being prohibited from offering or dispensing emergency ememagogues to prevent pregnancy. Now that's compassionate conservatism!

Tempest in a coffee cup: Seems the Christian hate groups all have their knickers in a twist because Starbucks has included a quote from a (gasp!) gay man, Armistad Maupin, in their series of notable quotes on their coffee cups. Hey, I thought corporations were supposed to have freedom of speech in this conservative Republican world. Silly me.

Proving once again that dogma is much more important than people, the Bush administration stands accused of blocking the sale of condoms to Uganda, disrupting a key component of the Third World's most successful AIDS control program. Why? Because it wants Uganda to teach abstinence instead. Yeah, right, Smirkey. Like that's gonna do a lot of good.

We learn tonight from the If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough Maybe It Will Go Away department that the Smirkey's crowd has now taken to a McCarthy-like witch hunt against climate scientists whose research results they don't like. Fellas, I don't think that killing the messenger is gonna make the message go away. The first ever Category 5 hurricane to strike the U.S. mainland in recorded history was in 1935. The next was 34 years later in 1969. The third was 29 years after that in 1994. And the latest was only 11 years later. Notice a trend there? Try killing that messenger, Smirkey.

Speaking of hurricanes, Smirkey's one-man hurricane in the U.N., John "Two-Tone" Bolton, has managed to annoy even the British. They are openly saying they are not going to support his plans to subvert the reform plan that the members have been working on. Bolton submitted 750 amendments, at the last minute, to the plan in an effort to sink it. John, if you kick everything in sight often enough, including the dog, eventually the dog will bite back, even if it is a poodle like Tony Blair.

From the We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You desk, we learn that the conservative Republican governor of Kentucky, Ernie Fletcher, has decided to put an end his corruption scandal once and for all. It seems that Uncle Ernie is going to do it by simply blanket-pardoning everyone involved. Except himself. Oh, such admirable restraint! Governor, would you like me to nominate you for the Spiro T. Agnew Integrity-In-Government Memorial Award?

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:17:07 PM

Mon, Aug 29 2005

Katrina Brings Sunshine

While New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast endured the battering of Hurricane Katrina, Costa Rica has been enjoying some truly splendid weather. A quick check of the satellite image shows why - the storm was so vast that the counterclockwise circulation around it has suppressed the trade winds usual for this time of year, for a second day running, and has brought dry Pacific air over much of the country, leading to a cessation of rainy season thunderstorm activity. Today the weather was truly beautiful, bright and sunny all day long and with only a few brief clouds.

This meant that getting out in the garden was pleasant, and when my friend from the States came by, we went out and took some cuttings of many of the plants that he has admired. He is going back to the States tomorrow, and wanted to come by today, get some cuttings, and get them in the ground on his property so he could enjoy them when he returned in November. By then, they should be well established and be coming along nicely.

It was fairly late in the morning, when he finally came by, but in spite of the brilliant sunshine, I didn't get out in the garden as much as I had intended. Instead, I was glued to the television from when I got up, watching the absorbing images of the progression inland of hurricane Katrina. I got up and turned on the TV just as the eye of the storm was abreast New Orleans, and seeing that it was east of the city, I knew that the damage would not be as bad as feared. But it meant that Biloxi and Gulfport were right in the path of the worst part of the storm, but being smaller towns, would not have the high-rises of New Orleans, with their sheets of glass cascading down to the streets in spectacular fashion. Reports from downtown New Orleans were sparse, probably reflecting the wisdom of not reporting a hurricane from a city below sea level. Nevertheless, CNN did a creditable job, having reporters strung along the coast to report in from wherever it came ashore. The results were dramatic pictures of a motel roof being torn apart, shown as it happened. The torrential deluges looked somewhat similar to here, but with much more wind of course. Glad I am down here and out of the hurricane belt! Rain I can deal with, but that kind of wind is another story.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Not In The States: A major source of information for this blog, Wayne Madsen, a reporter whose site has always been both interesting and reliable, has received credible death threats coming from inside the Bush white house, and has been forced underground. It has been known for some time that the Bush family takes the exposure of its criminal activities quite seriously, but now they have apparently taken to hiring hit-men to take out those who say what needs to be said. It has forced yours truly to take precautions, even here thousands of miles away in Costa Rica.

Further warnings that the American economy is on the verge of a huge meltdown: this time, the warning comes, not from a bunch of right-wing, conspiracy-nut gold bugs, but from a group of very serious mainstream economists, including none other than Alan Greenspan himself. The debt situation, both domestic and foreign, has grown unsustainably large, more than $145,000 for every American, and more than $350,000 per American wage earner, and unless immediate and drastic action is taken, an enormous economic meltdown is inevitable.

Now that much of southeastern Louisiana is lying in ruins from the passage of hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana National Guard would like to get its equipment back. Seems that when it was deployed to Iraq, it took most of its equipment, but when the unit returned, the equipment was not allowed to come with it. It's still over there, being used by God-only-knows. So there you have it - billions for Halliburton corruption, but not a humvee for the hurricane relief effort here at home. They're going to have to borrow from their neighbors. But wait! One of their neighbors is Mississippi, which is as badly hit as they are! Now what does Smirkey propose they do?

Demonstrating just how far it will go to get its way, Smirkey's crowd, preparing for the upcoming U.N. summit of 174 heads of state on poverty and U.N. reform, have insisted that language be removed from the draft statement of principles, which says that heads of state must have "respect for the environment." The U.S. delegation wanted that removed, claiming that it distracts from the agenda of the summit, which is U.N. reform. Well, that just makes me proud to be an American.

The California National Guard, already under scrutiny for spying on a peace rally, has now been accused of engaging in other intelligence activities, and when its adjutant general was asked to explain, he apparently engaged in a coverup. The scandal also appears to involve some top California (you guessed it) Republican politicians involved in a (you guessed it) cover-up of the unit's creation and activities.

In the process of researching today's blog entry, I ran across an interesting little piece on what the Republican conservatives were saying when Bill Clinton took the nation to war. It highlights conservative hypocrisy on the issue of dissent and oppostion to the war. It was quite interesting, actually, to read comments like "You can support the troops but not the president." coming from Rep. Tom Delay (R-TX). Or "Explain to the mothers and fathers of American servicemen that may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life?" from Sean Hannity, Fox News, 4/6/99. What was then healthy dissent has somehow now become unpatriotic - to the point that Thomas Friedman, the New York Time's ever-loyal whore for Smirkey's policies, has equated opposition to the war to being almost as bad as being a terrorist, and demanding that the State Department keep lists of dissidents. I wonder what he was saying back then, and if he was ready to put his own name on a list.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:20:59 PM

Sat, Aug 27 2005

A Friend Comes To Visit From The States

Two days of reasonably good weather, yesterday was bright and sunny in the morning at least, and the gardener was here to take full advantage, getting the lawn cut before the afternoon storms set in. He arrived fairly early, and as the sun was bright and the sky not threatening, we took advantage of the moment to get some cuttings of a vine planted that he brought. It is supposed to be a vine similar to the petras, but with a darker blue flower, and we'll see how they take root. The petra vine cuttings we took last year from the yard and planted there simply did not do anything, none of them grew, so that was my intent on planting the petra seedlings I have been nursing along. He says his cuttings are a somewhat different variety. If they grow, I plan to plant my own seedlings along some other spots, next to the creole orange trees and mango trees along the fence line, and allow them to grow up into those trees. That should make quite a show when they grow up, as they are quite spectacular with their constant display of indigo flowers.

A friend of mine from the States arrived in town, and I bumped into him when I went into town for groceries. We agreed to meet back at my house when I was done with grocery shopping. I was delighted on arriving in the supermarket to discover that the vegetable truck had just been there, and there was some fresh broccoli, cauliflower and string beans in the market, still cold from the truck, so I bought a kilo of each, and brought them home to blanch and freeze that night. The carniceria (butcher shop) also had a new display cabinet, and when I bought my usual kilo of ground beef, was delighted to discover that it keeps the meat much colder and fresher than the old one did. In addition, the ground beef on offer was also somewhat more lean than usual, so I bought a kilo with anticipation that it would be better than usual. Turned out it was much better, and so lean that it stuck to the pan when I fried up a patty.

I met my friend at home, just after I had put the groceries away, and we took a trip to Tilaran, so I could show him where the vivero (nursery) was located as he was interested in getting a few things planted on his property. I showed him where the major ferreterias (hardware stores) are located, as well as the Dos Pinos AV store, where he can get feed, seed, fertilizer and pesticides. We got some "Lannate," a pesticide normally used for controlling nematodes in potatoes, that is so toxic, it is also widely used off-label as a gopher poison - we had been told by my gardener, who also maintains his property, that there are some gophers at work in his landscaping. We stopped at the grocery store as well, and he got some bananas for bait (none of mine are ripe at the moment), and I got some nappa cabbage and tomatoes for dinner salads as well. I also took him over to the vivero to show him where it was, but we ended up buying a sweet lemon to plant on his property, and taking a tour of this truly enormous vivero. It is the biggest, by far, that I have ever seen in this country, and truly a gardener's paradise. Each time I visit the place, the owner shows me a different part I haven't seen before, and I am always truly amazed, and discover plants I didn't know they had. This trip, I found some really interesting aroids that I have not seen before. Once I get my water garden soil conditioned, I will be going back for some plants!

The afternoon rain was coming down hard, through the whole trip, as we were into the afternoon rain regime by now, and the potholes in the Tilaran highway made the trip over and back rather slow. My friend dropped me off at the house, and I spent the evening blanching and freezing all my veggies. With the vitamins he brought me, hopefully I will have a little less trouble with my arthritis, as I have noticed that I have less trouble with it when I am eating a lot of vegetables. Fresh salad and some steamed veggies will help a lot, along with a vitamin tablet each day.

This morning, I awoke to a bright sunny day, that fortunately, lasted all day. My friend came by at ten AM, and we went to his place to plant his new sweet lemon tree. I was ready just as he showed up, and we loaded my shovel, and one of my cashew seedlings, and we went over to his property. I was delighted to see how his new house is coming - it is a small house, intended to eventually be a guest house when his main house is completed. It is up to the gables now, and the logs have been brought in that will be the roof joists, and the 2x6 perlins are there, and being cured in the sun too. Looks like the roof will be on before long. It will be a really cute little place, with a top-story sleeping loft, a main floor kitchen and living room, and an enclosed basement which he can use as a secured bodega (storage shed). There are some interesting architectural features, including a wraparound patio and a circlehead door. All in all, it will be a very pleasant place to stay when it is finally done.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: (Warning: what follows contains foul language) Is Junior drinking again? George W. Bush's emotional outbursts and tirades, reported previously in this space, are rapidly getting ever more extreme and frequent, as his credibility with the American people continues to decline, the war continues to go badly, and the anti-war movement picks up steam. His aides are reportedly having to scramble frantically to hide his tirades during his public appearances. When aides suggested he meet with Cindy Sheehan, he responded, "Im not meeting again with that goddamned bitch, she can go to hell as far as Im concerned!" He apparently routinely refers to war protesters as "motherfucking traitors" and he routinely signals his displeasure by flashing the bird (see link above for a photo). When some members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars wore what they called "bullshit protectors" over their ears during his recent speech to their national convention in Salt Lake City, his response to aides was tell those VFW assholes that Ill never speak to them again if they cant keep their members under control. At a recent strategy meeting, when it was pointed out to him that his poll numbers are still in decline, he screamed, Who gives a flying fuck what the polls say? Im the President and Ill do whatever I goddamned please. They dont know shit.

Dr. Justin Frank, a prominent Washington psychiatrist and author of the book, "Bush On The Couch: Inside The Mind Of The President" says that his behavior is highly typical of an alcohol-abusing bully who lacks empathy and is ruled by fear, blame and denial - a very common combination among alcoholics. To see that fear and denial come out, all you have to do is confront him, however mildly, and he flies into a rage. Dr. Frank suggests that this behavior is very typical of an alcoholic bully who is actively drinking, and Dr. Frank is publicly wondering if he is. His behavior, and mysterious facial injuries in the last year (attributed to falling off the couch and to a bicycle accident), lead one to wonder, especially when he has been seen in public with a beer in his hand. No one is asking, least of all the press corps, if he is drinking again, and if not, whether he is impaired by all those years of alcohol, pot and cocaine abuse.

The pattern of blame and denial, which recovering alcoholics work so hard to break, seems to be ingrained in the alcoholic personality; it's rarely limited to his or her drinking, Dr. Frank says. The habit of placing blame and denying responsibility is so prevalent in George W. Bush's personal history that it is apparently triggered by even the mildest threat.

Dr. Frank is not the only qualified psychiatrist to seriously question the integrity of Junior's mental health. Dr. Katherine van Wormer, a professor of psychiatry, and Dr. Carol Wolman M.D., a board-certified psychiatrist with 30 years of experience, are also publicly, seriously questioning his mental fitness for office.

Scary... Really scary, when one thinks about the fact that Dick Cheney has asked the Pentagon's Strategic Command to draw up plans for a nuclear attack on Iran, as reported here previously, and just what that could lead to, with a bullying drunkard's finger on The Button. Consider especially a bullying drunkard who is known to be entertaining apocalyptic fantasies about his grandiose part in a fundamentalist vision of the second coming of Jesus.

Better get some fresh batteries for that Geiger counter, start practicing your old Civil Defense "duck and cover" maneuvers, and clean out that fallout shelter. Things could very well get a little ugly on this planet.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 04:04:38 PM

Thu, Aug 25 2005

Bad Day In Black Rock

The weather pattern of the last few days has continued. Bright sunshine for a few hours in the early morning, followed by torrential downpours and violent lightning storms in the afternoon. We are clearly on the cusp of the heavy part of the rainy season. The hurricanes in the Caribbean have been in parts of that sea that do not have much effect here, so the weather has been unaffected by their usual drying effect. And the circulation around the Pacific hurricane along the Mexican coast has only intensified the rains, by pushing the Intertropical Convergence Zone right over us. That is why the last few days' thunderstorms have been particularly violent.

Well, late yesterday morning, an idiot tourist tried turning around, unneccessarily, in my driveway. He was too far to the right, and when he backed up with his wheels turned to the left, the predictable happened - he ran over the soft spot next to the cinder block and pushed it all apart, making a complete mess of the intake to the culvert. The blocks were undamaged by being run over - which really surprised me, as the guy was driving a fairly heavy Toyota 4-Runner. But they were all pushed into the ditch, and all the dirt and rocks behind them was spilled. Another morning of digging and setting block, once again. Dammit!

What really angers me about it is that the guy saw what he did, and didn't even stop - he just high-tailed it out of there, hit and run, which is a serious offense here. Of course, if I wanted to make trouble for the guy, I could have taken his license plate number, and filed a denuncio (complaint), and that meant he would not have gotten on a plane to get out of the country without having to answer to a court first, but that would have been far more trouble than it was worth, as I would have to drive all the way to Canas to file it. Can't file denuncios at the local police station. They can't investigate crimes, either. You have to call the OIJ, a special branch of the police for that, and they don't have a representative at the local police delegation. So there is nothing left to do but just fix it myself. Harrumph!

Later in the afternoon, when the usual afternoon thunderstorms started, I shut down the computer, disconnected everything as usual, shut off the mains, and took my usual afternoon nap, waiting for it to blow over. When I woke up, the lighting and thunder was pretty much over, so I turned on the mains, but nothing. It was late enough in the afternoon that the streetlights should have been on, but they weren't. That could only mean that the lightning had taken out a power line someplace. A quick glance at the cell tower revealed that power was on in town, and that mean only my line was off. Which meant that getting it turned back on was not a major priority for ICE, and it was likely to be off for hours. So I figured that once I was hungry, I would head into town for dinner, as there was no hope of cooking anything myself. About the time it was good and dark, I was starting to get a bit hungry, and so began preparations to head into town. There are a couple of new restaurants in town I have not yet tried, and both are in the part of town that still had power. As I was walking back into the house to close it up, a truck drove past, and it was the ICE service truck. That meant that the crew had been dispatched, and so I should have power again fairly soon. I waited on the front porch, enjoying the evening firefly show, something the blazing streetlights around me usually suppress, and finally, after an hour, the power was back on.

The dengue fever season is here and this year is is apparently particularly bad, with a large epidemic sweeping the country, and so it is time to go out there and get all the bromeliads pulled down from the trees. They collect water, and the mosquitos that carry dengue apparently favor them. I need to go to the ferreteria and get a long piece of pipe to use for that - probably some one-inch plastic water pipe, with a hook on the end made from a piece of bent re-bar. With that, I can reach up in the trees and pull them down, probably getting soaked in the process. I have lots of trees that need this done, as it has not been done for several years and there are lots of large bromeliads in them, generating lots of mosquitos. The bromeliads also reduce the growth and restrain the productivity of fruit trees, so that is another reason to get rid of them. Messy job, but it has got to get done.

More Reasons I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: A reporter in Britain has managed to obtain classified version of the National Intelligence Estimate, the U.S. intelligence document on which Bush's case for going to war in Iraq was based, and the British Joint Intelligence Committee assessment, as well as the British Iraqi Survey Group report, and has placed the claims all side by side. They make for some interesting reading. The NIE makes the case that there are probably weapons there, but we really don't know, and the British documents basically state that there might be weapons there, but probably are not. In any case, there was no hard evidence for weapons of mass destruction. Even after Bush, arrogantly joking with reporters, looked under his desk and didn't find any there, either.

Of course, the mess we are in there, as a result of the non-existent WMDs, just gets worse. Now we are told that, rather than bringing troops home and turning the war over to the Iraqis, the Pentagon is sending an additional 1500 front-line troops, and an additional 300 security personnel in an effort to stamp out the increasingly effective and stubborn insurgency.

Falling in line with the media and the White House propaganda machine, the American Legion has announced that it is going to begin persecuting anti-war protestors. Yes, you got that right, they are going to "use whatever means is necessary" to ensure that there are no protests that might "weaken the morale" of the troops - as if their morale weren't already weakened enough by being required to serve three or four tours without relief, and being almost tortured to re-enlist. Didn't anyone ever tell them what Thomas Jefferson said about dissent being the highest form of patriotism? And they're going to have to persecute a lot of dissenters to make a difference, even among Junior's traditional support base - Junior's poll numbers are down to 36% in the latest polls and a song praising Cindy Sheehan is now the number one song on the Internet Country Music charts. Even the Republicans in Congress are breaking ranks, and another Republican, Jim Leach of Iowa, a red state if there ever was one, is now co-sponsoring the Democrats' Resolution of Inquiry into the Downing Street memos.

Demonstrating how reluctantly they learn from their mistakes, the Administration has roundly criticized an independent research report indicating that, consistent with what Iran has been saying, there is no hard evidence Iran is working on a nuclear weapons program. Is it just me, or does this sound like deja vu all over again?

If you think that Junior is right about the police being trustworthy with not abusing your civil rights in the United States, think again. There is a report out on the outcome of routine traffic violation stops are handled by the police, as analyzed by race, and the results aren't pretty. Blacks are three times as likely as whites to be handcuffed, four times as likely to have their vehicles searched, and almost three times as likely to be arrested. Hispanics are the most likely to be ticketed, slightly ahead of blacks, and half again as likely as whites.

From the If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away department comes word that a group of knowledgeable scientists have concluded that not only is the arctic warming up, but it is warming up far faster than had been previously thought or predicted, and it could be totally free of pack ice in the summers by the end of the century - by that time, it will be warmer than it has been in the last million years. Can you imagine? People vacationing at resorts on balmy Baffin Island in the Canadian high arctic, just to get away from the summer heat down south? Sounds like a good long-term investment to me. Buy arctic land. They ain't makin' any more of it!

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 11:26:11 AM

Tue, Aug 23 2005

Ah! Banana Betidos At Last!

Sunny mornings and late afternoon thunderstorms have been the pattern yesterday and today. I am delighted that at least there has been a little sunny weather to get out and do things in the garden a bit. That has certainly been welcome. But this is our August veranilla (little summer), and it will be over in a few days, I am sure, and the rainy season will be on again for sure. There was evidence of that in this morning's satellite photo - it showed the Intertropical Convergence Zone to be moving back to the south, and that means over us. This morning, it was south of the southern Panama coast, and that means that the full-on rainy season is about here. That seems to be borne out by the increased thunderstorm activity of the last week or so. Lightning storms almost every afternoon and into the evening. I have been disconnecting the computer, unplugging the modem, pulling the mains disconnect, and taking a nap while it all blows over. Yesterday, my nap stretched on for two hours, and when I awoke, the thunder was still roaring away. It was another half hour before I could safely turn things back on again.

Well, yesterday morning, I had to go into town for some things, and I stopped in at the grocery store for a few things I was out of. I noticed that they had blenders on sale pretty cheap - 7000 colones, which works out to around $14. I have a really good one in storage, but it isn't accessible at the moment, so I figured for that kind of money, I had little to lose. I went ahead and bought it.

Banana betidos (light milkshakes) are one of my most favorite things, and since I have a surfeit of bananas these days, I figured the time had come for something I have been missing since my last trip to Nicaragua. In went the ingredients, and on went the switch. Nothing. Different buttons, nothing. I was scared I had wasted my $14 on a dud. It took some experimenting to determine that there were two speed ranges, so I had to select high or low speed range, and then the exact speed that I wanted from the remaining buttons. Well, this little cheapie $14 blender has one useful speed, it turns out, and that is flat-out full speed ahead, which is barely enough to do a useful job, if I start the machine without the bananas, but only the liquid first. Adding the bananas through the hole in the lid works fine, and I am now in banana betidos. Life is good.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The ex-reverend televangelist money-raiser for African blood diamond/gold mining business, and oh, by the way, televangelism networks, Pat Robertson, as you have no doubt heard by now is so worried about Hugo Chavez, the twice-elected president of Venezuela, that he would call for his assassination. If you are wondering why this is of such concern to Robertson, well, there is more to it than meets the eye. Robertson and the Cheney oil crowd are buddies from way back, and there is bad blood between the Cheney oil people and the Chavez camp. Seems that Chavez thinks that Venezuela should get more than just 16% of the value of the oil pumped out of its ground, and so he has upped that percentage to 30%, and that has Cheney And The Oilies just steaming mad, especially when they realize that most of that money is going be spent on pan y ladrillos para los pobres (bread and bricks for the poor), as one of the Venezuelan right-wingers put it so angrily.

Karl Rove's smear campaign against Cindy Sheehan has begun, up in my home state of Idaho, where he is continuing his hard work at breaking Ronnie Reagan's all-time record at vacationing while president. Of course, it is not hard to figure out just what is coming. Just look at Karl Rove's past smear campaigns for some clues.

But if Cindy wants the Pentagon to pay for Casey's gravestone, she may have to put up with a bit of propaganda being carved on it. Yes, in an act of supreme tastelessness, the Pentagon is putting their own slogans on the war dead's gravestones, unless the family specifically objects in advance. And if they don't know about this to object in advance, well, that's just too bad.

A little late, but at least it's happening: We are learning that the Franklin County Board of Elections in Ohio has asked the Election Science Institute, based in San Francisco, to have a look at the Election Systems and Software machines that the county had purchased for the 2004 elections. They want to see just how easy it is to hack and rig those machines without detection. They don't need to spend the taxpayers' money - there are already lots of internet sites out there where they can find out.

Turns out it is not just Halliburton that is ripping off the U.S. taxpayers in Iraq, it's their employees, too. At least one has plead guilty to taking more than $110,000 in bribes from Iraqi companies, as well as defrauding the U.S. government.

Proving that there is nothing like a free market to protect consumers, a Virginia insurance salesperson who made $250k per year selling disability insurance was herself defrauded of benefits of the very policies she had been selling. Believing in her product, she bought protection for her own family from UnumProvident, the nation's largest disability insurance provider, but when she contracted a disabling disease, the insurance company failed to pay up, and under ERISA, the conservatives' scheme for preventing people who have been defrauded by insurance carriers from suing in state courts, she had few legal options. Since her rights in federal court allowed her to collect for no more than only actual damages, and not legal fees, she was left holding the bag. Now her family is as broke as they hoped they never would be. Compassionate conservatism. Surprise, surprise.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 02:23:55 PM

Sun, Aug 21 2005

Adventures In Bean Sprouts

Today started off bright and sunny, but it didn't last. By midmorning, it had clouded over again, and the temperature dropped enough that I found myself taking off my shorts and putting on some long pants. The weather is noticeably chilly today - this weird August weather continues.

Along with the chilly temperatures has come some wind. Wind that we don't normally see this time of year. The wind has been blowing the pejibaye palms enough that a lot of the fruit has been knocked off of them. The cold, windy weather has made being in the garden rather unpleasant, so I have not been much tempted to get out there and get the diffenbachias planted that I need to plant in the water garden. That will have to wait.

My arthritis flareup seems to have died down a bit, and I am glad for that. I am able to get around without hobbling along like an old duffer, but I know that it will be back at some point. I have noticed that fresh veggies in my diet seem to reduce the severity of the arthritis, and that is useful knowledge, but, other than cabbages and onions, fresh veggies are a bit hard come-by in this town, so I have decided to try doing what I used to do when living in my van all those years ago - growing bean sprouts. A salad of sprouts and tomatoes, which are expensive but available here, are one of my favorite salads, and should offer some of the nutrition I need. I have a friend coming in from the States who has promised to bring me some vitamin tablets, and between the two, I hope to end up in decent shape. Small red beans are available in the market here, that should be suitable. I tried the ubiquitous local black beans, but their sprouts are a bit bitter, so we'll see how the red beans do. There are also some small white beans here to try. If they don't work out, I'll try sprouting some lentils, which I can also get here. What I'd give for a kilo of alfalfa sprouting seed and a sprouting jar!

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Left The States: As the Iraqis debate their new constitution, what is not getting debated is the economic structure of the country the Iraqis want. That was taken off the table, prior to "sovereignty" handover, by the Occupation Authority and Paul Bremmer. Turns out that the economy will be essentially be (and is being) restructured along free-market fundamentalist lines, skewed in a way that favors multinational corporations. Of course, many of the corporations that are benefiting from this are those aligned with Bush and Cheney. Surprise, surprise.

If you are wondering who fixed the intelligence leading up to the war, it was not the CIA in spite of the all the blame they've taken, including George Tenet's resignation. It was, instead, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), was the man who conspired to fix the data and, when the White House was caught, deflect the blame from them.

If you are a Canadian or European left-winger or activist, don't plan on flying through the U.S. anytime soon, even if you are not planning to leave the international flights terminal. Fly the other way around the world if you have to, even to avoid a simple plane change in the U.S. You could be stopped, detained indefinitely, held without access to lawyer, deprived of even food or water or other basic necessities, and have your rights abused in other ways, even be "rendered" to another country for the purpose of torture. Yes, it is now happening, and the U.S. government is attempting to defend the practice in Federal court.

Don't plan on voting in a free and fair election in the U.S. either. New research compiled by Dr. Dennis Loo with the University of Cal Poly Pomona now shows that extensive manipulation of non-paper-trail voting machines occurred in several states during the 2004 election. This is not news, of course, but the new data show just how shockingly extensive the election fraud was - broad enough that it had to have been a conspiracy - and guess who benefited from it.

The so-called "No Child Left Behind" act is now sparking a revolt among the States - some, including several solidly Republican red states, are now openly defying the Bush administration's education policies and substituting their own. This is especially true of the requirement to turn over databases to the Pentagon for their cannon-fodder recruiting efforts.

The "liberal biased media" are openly accused, in a new Vanity Fair print article (September issue), of overtly conspiring to cover up the involvement of Karl Rove in the Valerie Plame affair. They apparently not only knew of Rove's involvement, but went out of their way to protect him. Liberal bias indeed.

More news from the "liberal biased media": There is increasing evidence that during the last presidential debates, Junior was cheating through the use of a listening device. This is old news, of course, but the fact that the press has been caught red-handed spiking the story to protect him, is new.

The If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away department is reporting tonight that one of the key claims of the global warming skeptics has just evaporated: The claim that balloon-borne radiosonde data from the stratosphere shows a cooling, rather than warming trend, has been shown to have been based on a misinterpretation of the data. Older radiosondes' temperature sensors were exposed to the sun, and newer ones have been better protected, resulting in slightly lower reported temperatures in recent years. When the data is corrected for that factor, the temperature trends they are showing for stratosphere warming are exactly in line with global warming predictions.

From high altitudes to high latitudes, things are warming up. Fairbanks, Alaska, is experiencing its warmest summer ever, with temperatures as high as 90 degrees F. for days at a time. The permafrost is melting quickly enough that it is endangering buildings and infrastructure built on or in it, with serious concerns for the pipeline and other infrastructure, and Alaskans are joking about going from permafrost to perma-tans.

From the We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You desk comes word that California's well-muscled movie star "governator," who was accused during his election campaign of womanizing, was saved from some rather scandalous revelations about that, by a deal cut with a tabloid newspaper's publisher, the American Media Corporation (National Enquirer), who wanted him as their executive editor for two of their muscle publications, Flex and Muscle And Fitness. They cut a deal with Gigi Goyette of Malibu, for $20,000 and her friend, Judy Mora, also of Malibu, for $1,000 just two days before Ahhnold announced his candidacy. That's why we didn't hear much about the womanizing he has been accused of, apparently even during his marriage to Maria Shriver. Republican family values.

More Republican morality: the relatively small sums reported in this space that were misused by Tom DeLay's money-laundering PAC, are reported by the FEC to be ten times what we had reported - as much as $203,000 - and DeLay, we just learned, has failed to report another $300,000 in campaign debts.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:53:23 PM

Fri, Aug 19 2005

Clearing Out The Weeds

Today started off bright and sunny, and I figured that it was not going to last. Well, last it did. Sunny and warm all day long, with short periods of cloudiness and no rain at all, it was a remarkably pleasant day throughout much of the day, only yielding to the rainy season by nightfall. Even then, it was a remarkably clear night, with a bright full moon during the evening hours.

The gardener was fairly late in showing up, but when he finally did, I put him to work on clearing out some cane ginger that I didn't want growing in the water garden. It was planted there by the previous occupant of the house, as an erosion control measure, but since I have diverted the runoff back out into the street, it was no longer needed for that purpose. So I had him dig it all out, to make room for the plants that I really want there, mostly diffenbachias and philodendrons. I have lots of diffenbachias that I can cut and plant, and if the weather and my health cooperates, I will be doing that in the next few days.

My health has not been up to much lately, and the arthritis flareups in my ankles have been sufficiently bad that I have been kind of hobbling around the place for the last few days, and not able to get out and do much. I felt sufficiently good today that I did manage to make it to town for groceries and to check my mail, and I also stopped at the Internet cafe to ask the owner to get me an adaptor I need for my computer. His girlfriend was headed for La Fortuna anyway, so he said he would check on it, and I could come back later in the day when she was back, and I should have it.

Well, at seven in the evening, I headed back over to the cafe, and he did in fact have it, but it turns out that it was not quite the one I needed, and won't do. So I will just have to continue to get along without it.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Well, Rush Limbaugh continues with his lies and half-truths, and I am surprised that anyone even listens to him anymore. He has taken to saying that Cindy Sheehan, whose experience in being used as a propaganda piece for the White House has turned her against the war in Iraq and very much against George Bush, and Rush is now claiming that her story is based on forged documents. Hey, he needs to remember just who made her a public figure in the first place.

More bad news about Justice-To-Be John Roberts keeps coming out: It turns out that he was the presiding judge on a trial that was of considerable concern to the White House at the very time he was being interviewed by the White House for the Supreme Court position. Imagine what it would be like for you, if you were being tried by a judge that was interviewing for a job with your trial opponent - yes, the conflict of interest was just that bad. Yet Roberts did not recuse himself - and that calls into serious question his moral qualifications to be a Supreme Court justice. And even worse, no one is talking about it. Meanwhile, word is slowly leaking out about his extremism, and how he fought sex-bias legislation as being "anti-capitalist."

While the Bush administration is handing out billions in pork through its so-called energy policy instead of addressing the shortage of oil in a meaningful way through development of alternatives, the world continues to show evidence of running out of usable reserves of oil, and time to develop alternatives is running out, and fast. Ton Hoff, manager of the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands, is saying that the switch could take decades, during which the world could easily see $100 per barrel oil, with little alternative but to pay the price. Gasoline prices could go as high as $5 per gallon next year.

But while you are driving down the highway powered by your $5 gas, you can expect to be run off the road by big rigs just a bit more often. Consider that the controversial new rule, allowing long-haul truck drivers longer hours, and of course greater fatigue behind the wheel, has been retained by the Federal Motor Carrier Administration. Drivers will be able to continue to drive, legally, as much as 66 hours per week. This means that big-rig accidents, up 3% over last year alone, will go ever higher. But your freight bill won't go up as you recover from the crash.

First it was Kathy Lee's clothes at Wal Mart. Now it is Disney's books, printed in China. Yes, Disney is being accused of using cheap Chinese printing outfits who use near-slave-labor conditions to turn out books as cheaply as possible for Disney's book trade. At least Disney is moving very quickly to get to the bottom of the charges being made against them, and not equivocating as Kathy Lee did initially.

As the Environmental Protection Agency turns itself into the Polluters' Protection Agency, states are being left to pick up the environmental pieces. The results are becoming as spotty as you would assume they would become under the circumstances. Some states are protecting polluters, mostly large employers, and others are attempting to do the right thing and hold them to account, mostly out-of-state companies that are considered as much a nuisance as a benefit.

Iraq continues its descent into chaos and civil war. We learn today that the Iraqi security chief is warning that if federalism is not enshrined in the constitution, there will be civil war. Some are saying that it has already developed into that - there is increasing evidence that the insurgency is devolving into sectarian violence.

The If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away department tells us that the evidence for global warming, from anthropogenic sources, is becoming so strong that even Bush's own Republicans are deserting him and urging action. On a tour of Alaska, where he saw the evidence first hand, Sen. John McCain said anyone doubting the effects of climate change should talk to the people affected by it in Alaska and the Yukon.

From the Proud To Be An American department, we hear that the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, a long-time pal of Junior's who got the job through his high-society connections rather than his qualifications as a diplomat, has publicly stated that he closed the U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo to "punish" Mexico for not stopping a drug war there. Needless to say, this has the Mexican government seriously angry at the arrogance of the remark, latest in a long series of less-than-diplomatic comments by the erstwhile diplomat that has left him being viewed by Mexicans as an arrogant bully.

The We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You desk has been working overtime lately. We are informed Tim Moore, a Michigan Republican state representative, has been using his franking privilege for the purpose of openly soliciting contributions and party information, a violation of Michigan state law. The state's Attorney General, also a Republican, has been asked to prosecute. We'll see just how far that one gets.

These conservative Republicans seem to regard their campaign funds to be their legal defense funds, too. Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham made the mistake of selling his D.C. home for $700,000 more than it was worth to MZM, a defense contractor to whom he could steer appropriations from his perch on the Defense Appropriations Committee. That was outrageous enough that it sparked a grand jury probe, so now he has decided not to run for re-election, and is using his campaign contributions, including those from MZM, for his legal defense. Why shouldn't he? That was one of Tom DeLay's little indiscretions, too.

Continuing the theme of conservative Republicans setting fine moral examples, we are learning that a failed Kansas Republican candidate for congress has been accused of using some his campaign money for a down payment his little modest $1.2 million house on the prairie. Turns out he even conspired with an employee of the mortgage company to defraud the mortgage company of the money. Fine moral example, these conservative Republicans.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 05:07:20 PM

Tue, Aug 16 2005

Good Price For Major Work

Today has been gloomy and overcast, without much rain, though this afternoon, the sun has been peeking through the clouds just a bit. It poured buckets of rain through most of the night - so much so that I figured it was likely to silt up the culvert under the driveway again, but when I went out and looked this morning, everything was fine. No real accumulation in the culvert at all, though the water in the pond is quite muddy this morning. Hopefully, in the future when I get some money to do it, I can put a culvert under the road to divert that into the jungle across the street, and it won't make a mess of the pond water every time it rains.

My arthritis has been kicking up again, and it has left me hobbling around, so in spite of the nice weather, there hasn't been much I could do in the garden, much as I would like to. The pleasant temperatures and lack of direct sun make for a real invitation to get some gardening done, but it doesn't look like that is going to happen, not today anyway.

It has been bothering me a bit for a couple of days, and so yesterday was a watch-TV day as well. Yet another movie on HBO Latin America. This one was yet another one of those Christian hack pieces, another laughably badly done movie called "Tribulation Force," about a GNN correspondent (sorta like CNN, but I guess it is God's News Network or something), and how the guy helped expose and stop the Anti-Christ, another inept young Dictator Of The World wannabe with the predictable Russian accent. Just like the anti-hero in the last one I described here, who also had a Russian name and a Russian accent. I guess some stereotypes are just too good to let go of. This was another movie that was so badly done it had me laughing all the way through it. I can't help but wonder what America's growing Russian emigre population thinks of that kind of stereotyping.

One of my Tico friends in town, a general contractor, has come by. He was here last week to measure things up for doing a new driveway, and replacing the gravel that is out there now, as well as pouring a concrete pad in the carport. I also had him measure for new sidewalks in front of the house, which badly need to be replaced as well. They were poorly done when the house was built, were installed crooked, and have cracked and broken to the point where they need to be replaced, and I had him include a price on pouring me a patio out back, to replace the Macadamia shells that are out there now. He came by to give me a price on all that. A three-inch pour everywhere, including welded mesh, will come to $1500 for all that. Money I don't have at the moment, but which I will have to cough up sooner or later. I certainly need to do that if I ever want to sell the place. I also asked him to give me a price on reinstalling the window grates properly, so they are more secure, and that I really need to get done so I can change the windows out, which badly need to be replaced. He will have to get with a welder on that before he can give me a price. I can't wait for that - I really need to get the windows replaced in this house.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I'm Out Of The States: The word is leaking out out that the madness of the king. That's right, there is information floating around now about the madness of King George II. I am not talking about the movie of a few years ago, I am talking about the current occupant of the White House, and how his ranking aides, when you get them sufficiently drunk to loosen their tongues a bit, are starting to talk about how Junior is slowly losing it. A decade-plus-sober, but still untreated alcoholic, Junior's mental state apparently slowly became manic-depressive last year, leading his physicians to prescribe mood-altering anti-depressants, but they have not helped, and his behavior is now bordering on the seriously irrational at times, leading to wild and violent temper tantrums in which he swears up a blue streak and throws people out of the Oval Office with screams of "get out of here!". His mood swings have apparently gotten so bad that staffers have started sending "weather report" emails to colleagues prior to meetings with him, to warn each other of his moods - "calm weather" means that he is pleasant and "tornado" means that he is throwing another tantrum, and the reader of the email had best be prepared - and careful.

Just the sort of thing you want to hear about, when there is increasing evidence that something very serious, most likely a "false-flag" operation or a major terrorist operation which is being allowed to proceed, is likely to happen in the first half of September. While I am not prone to conspiracy theories, and certainly don't want to promote them on my web site, I keep hearing so many rumors about this, and from usually reliable and credible sources, and enough of it has been confirmed, that I cannot ignore this one any longer and feel obliged to report it:

All U.S. base military leave has been canceled subsequent to September 7 through December 15, after which leave only within 10 miles of the base will be allowed, for an indefinite period (confirmed fact), and Homeland Security has been quietly installing bullet-proof and smash-proof glass in the windows of local draft board offices around the country (confirmed fact). A military nuclear terrorism "drill," planned and even announced on a military web site (confirmed fact), is persistently rumored to be going "live" in a false-flag operation, designed to be blamed on Iran, and scare the American people into accepting a draft and a military attack on or invasion of Iran, as well as the imposition of martial law.

Apparently, the base commander where this "exercise" is supposed to occur, has been leading an effort among senior military officials to stop this event and the subsequent retaliatory nuclear strike on Iran currently being planned (planning for a nuking of Iran, ordered by Dick Cheney, is confirmed fact and has been reported previously in this space). The commander, four-star general Kevin P. Byrnes, commander of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) at Fort Monroe, has been arrested for his trouble (another confirmed fact), with "sexual improprieties" (an affair) being given as the public reason. An article in the Washington Post, and discussed here previously, talks about how the next terrorist incident is intended to become the pretext to implement martial law, which is currently being planned and readied (confirmed fact). All this comes amidst increasing disinformation and propaganda about Iran's role in the Iraq insurgency - some of it undoubtedly true, but stretched far out of proportion to the known facts, including well-publicized lies about the "shaped charge" land mines as reported here previously. Since the nuclear strike portion of this has been planned by Cheney, and not the president, I can't help but wonder in the back of my mind if Cheney is planning a coup, based on Junior's mental instability and therefore presumed unfitness to govern.

So what would the Iran "retaliation" nuke operation look like? Apparently, the Israelis have been brought in to do some or all of the air strikes through their only Islamic ally, Turkey, while IDF commandos simultaneously do their part on the ground. What role the U.S. military would play at this point, beyond supplying the nukes and some of the logistics, is unclear, but may involve sea support from the U.S. Navy, which has lately felt rather left out in the Iraq war, and whose military capabilities are not being significantly taxed by involvement in Iraq. How much coordination is being done between the Israelis and the Americans at this point is also unclear. Fasten your seat belts, boys and girls, we could be in for a bumpy ride.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 11:40:38 AM

Sun, Aug 14 2005

Good Look At My Neighbor's New House

The weather was overcast and gloomy, as I got up this morning, again a bit late, and it has remained overcast and gloomy all day. There has been no rain, as the cloud layer is high and thin, and not prone to produce rain, but by late in the day that will probably change as it usually does, and we'll have some rain in the evening.

I decided to take a walk up the hill, above my North Forty and have a close look at the house my neighbor is building on his lot next to my property. It has come along to the point where I can readily see what it is going to be like inside and out, and get a feel for what it would be like to live there.

Turns out that the ceiling is now in place, though the roof sheets are not yet on - they'll be laid directly on top of the ceiling boards, using them for the nailers. The ceiling is a rustic style, and consists of the log perlins as discussed earlier. To make the ceiling flat, a slab cut has been made along the top of each perlin, and the ceiling wood, consisting of 1/2 x 6 ceiling boards has been laid down, each overlapping, in a one-above-one-below sort of arrangement, to create an overlap that will hide the roof sheets above. The peeled perlin logs, with the ceiling boards above them, make for a very attractive, rustic ceiling that I quite like. It is tempting to do something similar in my own house when I replace the roof in a few years. The whole feel of the place will be warm and welcoming, and with the large tropical overhangs around the front and sides of the house, will make it a very comfortable place, even in rainy weather. A tile floor with a big rustic woven throw rug in the middle of the living room would make for a very pleasant and attractive living room space.

The floor plan is typically current Tico for a small home - two bedrooms in back, with a bathroom in between, along the rear wall. The combination living room/dining room/kitchen (to be separated by a breakfast bar) is in the front half of the house. The master bedroom has a walk-in closet or a master bath, I am not sure which. That is because there is no plumbing or electrical rough-ins in the place at present, and that is the one mistake I can see that has been made in the construction. This means that both the plumbing and electrical will necessitate cuts in the cinderblock walls into which to install the wiring and plumbing pipes (commonly done here), and that is going to seriously compromise the structural integrity of the house in an earthquake. A better solution, structurally, would be to run the plumbing and electrical on the outside walls of the house, a solution I would prefer, since it also means easier access for maintenance and repairs, though it is certainly going to not look as nice. Since romex is not used here for residential electrical wiring - everything is always run in PVC thinwall conduit - the costs will be about the same as they would have been, and less than cutting grooves in the cinderblock walls.

All and all, however, I quite like what he has done with the place, and think that he will enjoy living there. Or whoever ends up buying the place, if he sells it, will enjoy it. It's a very pleasant and welcoming little house.

On the way up the hill to take a look, I noticed gray water running down the hill in the roadside desagua (drainage ditch), leading to my pond. I hope it is not another repeat of the septic tank issue I noticed sometime back (which seems to have been fixed), but it is waste water going into my pond, and from there, eventually into Lake Arenal, nevertheless. I followed it up the hill and found it coming from the third house up from my pond. It is running right onto the manhole for the water cooperative's water pipes, and even though it is apparently just gray water, they are not going to like that. The problem appears to be erosion from the elevated yard, and there is no retaining wall where there needs to be one - the erosion has apparently eaten back to expose the gray water drain field.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Left The States: Would someone please tell the president that the war is over, and he lost? That the Iraqis don't want the Americans there anymore? That the post-war Iraq that was promised the world is simply not going to happen? Like rats deserting a sinking ship, even the president's cable-TV pseudo-pundits are abandoning him. Bill O'Reilly on that ever-faithful Fox News has openly called for Rumsfeld's resignation (though Ann Coulter is still foolishly saying he's a "defeatist"). Robert Novak, that ever-faithful one-man White House Press Office, actually walked off the set of CNN, forfeiting his job, rather than having to face embarrassing questions about his whoring for this administration. The unpopularity of the war means that the Army is so desperate for bodies that they've done the inevitable and have thrown "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" out the window, and they're even happily taking openly-flaunting queers (gasp!)! Yep, fudged high-school diplomas, big enlistment bonuses, lowered standards, phony promises of college scholarships and post-enlistment health care, and even slick ad campaigns targeting parents, aren't working well enough anymore to keep the military staffed. Junior's poll numbers have fallen to the same point where LBJ, the last Texas president, found he could no longer command the respect and influence he needed to govern effectively. Why, I have even noticed that he doesn't smirk as much as he used to - maybe he is getting serious because he's discovered that being president is more than golf-games at Camp David and five-week vacations filled with pony rides and barbecues for his rich buddies and yes-men on his Texas ranch, and he might actually be called to account for what he is doing. He might even have to curtail his fiftieth vacation (yeah, that's right, this is the fiftieth - already more than any other president, with three more years to go) since taking office and go back to Washington to start paying attention to the country's needs. Heaven forbid!

Of course, the administration, doing what big business always does when it finds itself short of cash or bodies and backed into a corner, has taken to outsourcing the war, even to clearly unqualified suppliers. Bypassing the whole problem of army recruitment, they have started hiring half-priced mercenaries from Columbia to do their dirty work for them. Those guys ought to give them good value - Columbia's military has forty years of experience in dirty work, trained, by, of course, the U.S. Army's infamous School Of The Americas, and Columbia has an even higher unemployment rate than American ghettos. If we can't kill their sonsabitches fast enough by ourselves, we'll just outsource the job to someone else's sonsabitches.

From the We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You desk comes the news that we have a juicy little two-for-one scandal brewing involving a Republican senator and a Republican representative, for illegal campaign contributions, coming from a political action committee founded by none other than that paragon of conservative ethics, the Speaker of the House, Tom DeLay, who has been the object of several ethics investigations himself. Sen. John Sununu (yeah, that Sununu - the one implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal while serving in the Reagan administration) and Rep. Jeb Bradley may have received "soft" money legal only for a "get out the vote" drives, rather than for individual candidates' campaigns. By the way... Ever notice how many of those Reagan administration felons seem to have gotten their careers recycled by this conservative, highly moral Republican party?

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 01:23:57 PM

Sat, Aug 13 2005

Fishing Day Today

The August gloom continues, and there has been no sun to speak of since two days ago. The rain has continued on and off during the day, and through much of the night, particularly from about midnight on to sunrise. The daytime temperatures have continued to be just about ideal. The kind of temperatures that make this place the ideal place to live in spite of the rain.

I was slow getting up this morning, after a somewhat restless night that had me up for a couple of hours in the middle of the night. When I finally hauled my butt out of the sack, got showered and shaved, and had not much more than gotten breakfast underway than there was a knock at the door.

It was a couple of youngsters, no more than about eight or nine, who wanted to go fishing in the pond. Since it is badly infested with tilapia, I told them that they could have all the tilapia they could catch, and let them go to it. As they were quite young, and were fishing in a rather deep part of the pond, I decided I would best be checking on them periodically, and did so, between the last of my eggs, getting my face shaved, and getting my teeth brushed. I figured that if they didn't have much luck, they would lose patience rather quickly, and sure enough, they did so after about an hour. They had managed to catch only one small tilapia, not worth keeping.

So as the day wore on, I spent a good deal of it on the computer, as the weather was unpleasant to be in the garden much. I had a phone call from one of my friends in San Jose, and got caught up on what has been happening among our mutual friends and acquaintances here in town. I was discouraged to learn that one of my close friends went in for surgery for a colon problem, and what should have been a routine operation has gone bad, and he is still in intensive care a week and a half later, after three emergency trips to the surgical suite. I don't know what I can do for him but just wait for news.

While I was on the phone, a neighbor came by and asked for permission for himself and his buddy to go fishing themselves. They didn't have much luck either, and eventually gave up and went for some fruit from one of my trees in the garden. I gave them a hard time about resorting to Plan B.

I can't help but wonder if the reason for all this sudden interest in fishing in my pond is related to the footprints I have noticed in the mud along the edge of the pond two weeks ago. If, perhaps, someone has pulled a real lunker out of there, and the word has gotten around town.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Left The States: One of Junior's most steadfast friends in Europe, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, has decided that being Junior's buddy might make Italy a terrorism target, and has begun pulling his troops out of Iraq, ahead of schedule. Looks like the Coalition of the Billing is not getting paid quite enough, so they're leaving.

To add to all their misery, the Iraqis now face shortages of food, as the result of a shortage of seeds. Apparently, the Occupation Amateur Hour decided that a (gasp!) socialized (choke, gasp!) public seed supply system was worse than no seeds at all, and set about destroying the public seed supply system and its inventory, under Order 81, intended to destroy the system and those awful socialist seeds. The result is that there are no seeds left for Iraqis with which to plant next year's crops, and now the specter of famine looms in Iraq. Good work, fellas. Well fed libertarians everywhere salute you. At least the Kurds have gotten something out of the deal; they have made off with the wreckage of one of the Pentagon's expensive high-tech spy drones.

As reported here a few days ago, the story about the Iranian "shaped charge" land mines that were supposedly captured at the Iranian border, was apparently exaggerated as part of a larger disinformation campaign, designed to drum up support for an attack or invasion that the neo-con crazies in the Bush administration are planning. I apologize to my readers for having been sucked in to reporting it. The reality is that what was found was actually some ordinary sticks of dynamite with fuses. Apparently there is some unhappiness in the Pentagon, too, about these neo-con crazies as there are persistent rumors, from several sources, that a four-star general there has been reportedly fired for trying to organize a coup against the neo-con crazies to stop them from dragging the country into creating more international instability by asserting uprovoked aggression. Don't know how much credibility to put on that one, but it sounds serious enough, and the report has come from at least three independent sources now. Enough smoke that there might have been some fire to it.

Once the invasion of Iraq was over, much was made of the discovery of the anthrax that had once been a part of Saddam's WMD programs. It now turns out that the DNA from that anthrax has proven unequivocally that the U.S. gave it to Saddam back when he was our sonofabitch. We know, because it is the same strain the Americans got from the British, who took the original sample from the ear of a cow that died in Oxford, England in 1937, and has been a part of the American WMD campaign since World War II.

As reported here a few weeks ago, the same "Swift Boat Veterans" crowd that smeared John Kerry last year, are now leading the disinformation and propaganda effort to push the nation into Junior's third war in the Middle East. Yep, that same Michael Ledeen/Richard Perle/Dick Cheney crowd that were somehow experts on Vietnam heroism, are now experts on Iran's nuclear ambitions, and with about the same amount of accuracy and credibility. But this time, even the American conservatives are having second thoughts, as the casual use of nuclear weapons in a first strike against a nation not at war with the U.S. has even them worried.

Of course all this is a classic diversion for the fact that things at home aren't going all that well, either. The trade deficit figures are up, leading to yet another plunge in the value of the American dollar, and continued dependence on oil which hitting new price highs almost daily, is the reason why. And no one seems to be concerned about America's growing dependence on still-Communist China. Maybe this might be palatable if the average middle-class American were benefiting, but he is clearly not. His income is continuing to decline - way to build an economy, Junior. Speaking of building a "supply side" economy, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the choke-point in the economy, is demand, not supply, causing even the banking community pause. But that runs contrary to Free-Market doctrine, so it will be totally and completely ignored. The result is that the American economy is increasingly resembling a third-world economy, with population growth considerably outstripping job growth for the last five years running, and this is putting considerable downward pressure on incomes. Great way to build crime, guys. Take away jobs, reduce incomes from the jobs that are left, take away poverty amelioration programs and leave them nowhere else to turn but your home when you're away - and if and when they're arrested, send them to crime school for years of careful education.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 01:44:45 PM

Fri, Aug 12 2005

A Taste Of Plant-Ripened Bananas

The weather has closed back in after yesterday's bright, sunny and warm weather, and the August gloom has resumed. The temperatures have been fine, no problem with the alarmingly cold weather of earlier this week, and so the temperatures are pleasant, but there have been periods of rain through the morning, mostly serving to send the gardener running for his raincoat.

He arrived early today and got to work raking the lawn before I was even up. I had a quick breakfast and got the dishes out of the way and went out to talk with him, and find out what was up. He suggested that the North Forty really needed to have the weeds cut, and I agreed with him - I could see from my side of the pond that the weeds were knee-high over there already. So as soon as he was done raking, he went to work on that, and spent most of the morning on the project.

While he was eating his lunch, we got to talking about things, and he told me about a freeway accident his aunt was involved in yesterday. Going up the Esparza Grade on the Interamerican Highway west of San Ramon, the woman encountered a small truck coming down the grade. It was being driven by a teenager sitting on the lap of his father, who was teaching him how to drive (a common practice here), and the young man lost control, going around blind curves at too high a speed and in the wrong lane. The inevitable happened, and my gardener's aunt happened to be the one he ran into. The truck was carrying a load of tilapia, and the violence of the crash killed the teenager, severely injured the father and my gardener's aunt. The truck was sheared in half, and the contents of fresh tilapia were spilled out onto the highway for a distance of about thirty feet - the wet, slimy fish meant that oncoming traffic also lost control, and before long, a major accident had happened, which made the national news last night (though I didn't see it). I also did not see an article about it in the paper this morning, either, and I suspect it may have happened after their deadline last night.

Back in the garden, my gardener pointed out a bunch of bananas over in the North Forty that were not only ready, but had started to turn yellow. So after cleaning up the leaves, he headed over there and cut it down and brought it back, with another bunch on a plant that had fallen over, and was on the ground and starting to being eaten by gophers. So I gave him that bunch, as it was far more than I would be able to eat, and we cleaned out the bananas of the other bunch that had ripened and split open.

When bananas ripen on the plant, the peels split open along the ridges, and all manner of insects, spiders, bugs, bats and birds go after the sweet, juicy flesh, as well as the critters going after it - within a day there is a whole fauna and flora growing there. So the bananas that were split open had to be removed and discarded, and the bugs picked out of the rest of the bunch so it could be hung up in the kitchen. Once it was hosed down well and truly, there were still the odd bugs, including copper cockroaches, coming out of it, so I got a can of bug spray and sprayed it lightly. The fauna were soon deserting ship, and after a while, I deemed it clean enough to bring in and hang up.

Some of the bananas were ripe, but not split open, so I got to learn about something I have wondered about all my life, but never had a satisfactory answer to: Do plant-ripened bananas taste any different than the artificially ripened bananas that we normally eat? Even bananas here are artificially ripened, so they don't split open. And so even here, I have not known. Well...

They do taste a bit different, not much, but not really any better. Certainly no more flavorful, and I would have to say a bit drier and a tiny bit more mealy, with just a tiny bit of difference in the flavor and none in the sweetness. The skin is certainly thicker. So if you have never been to the tropics and think you're missing out on bananas that have been ripened right on the plant instead of being shipped half-way around the world in the green state, well, you're not really missing out on anything worthwhile. There is certainly plenty of tropical fruit that we enjoy here that you'll never get a good taste of unless you come here - such things as breadfruit, anonas, water apples, plant-ripened pineapples (an order of magnitude better than those horribly green things you pay $3 a piece for in the States), and tree-ripened mangos that are God's special gift to the tropics. Lots to come here for. But, sorry, plant ripened bananas are not one of them.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Left The States: Voters in Ohio, after witnessing the second election stolen from them (including the presidency) by their crassly and blatantly corrupt Republican machine, have gotten so disgusted by what they are witnessing that they have sparked a series of ballot initiatives designed to reign in some of the more serious abuses, such as voting fraud organized by elected officials, district gerrymandering, and imposing lower limits on campaign contributions. Of course the GOP machine is not taking this lying down, and is fighting back in the courts - and so far is losing.

More evidence that the people are beginning to rebel against an unjust and disastrously run war: the U.S. Army has quietly stated that it will miss its third monthly recruiting goal in a row this year for the first time since 1999. And it just gets worse - it will fall behind its manpower recruitment needs by no less than 11% this year, leaving it more than 7,000 heads below its requirements.

Maybe some of the folks who are running that show should be shipped off to that Caribbean "resort," to hear Donnie Rumsfeld tell it, known as Guantanamo Bay. The military is putting on a full-court press, trying to make it appear that things are not as bad there as the persistent rumors and testimony from released prisoners keep saying it is. So they are making some improvements, mostly for show. But the abuse and torture will still continue.

From the If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away department, we are hearing the ominous news of a frightening new sign of just how deep a problem we have created for ourselves: For the first time since the last ice age, a huge frozen peat bog in the Siberian arctic, by far the largest on the planet and as large as France and Germany combined, is now melting, and outgassing vast quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas 15 times as potent as carbon dioxide. As this vast amount of methane heats the atmosphere, it will accelerate the melting of the peat, creating a vicious cycle all its own, independent of other vicious cycles that have already been identified. The results could be truly catastrophic - a rapid heating of the atmosphere, much more rapid than has been predicted. And the amount of carbon stored in this bog is so huge, that if it is released into the atmosphere, it will double the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere all by itself. Climatologists examining this situation say that we have clearly arrived at the "tipping point" - beyond which even if we were to stop all emissions of carbon dioxide by ourselves, it will be too late to stop a positive feedback cycle that will warm the planet dramatically. Looks like the Inuit of the high arctic may end up with some of the most desirable real estate on the planet.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 02:07:48 PM

Wed, Aug 10 2005

A Tiny Bit Of Summer

The weather yesterday was amazingly cold. Downright winter-like, in fact. It would have been hard to guess that I am close enough to the equator that if a road existed, I could drive there in less than a day, and am not even two thousand feet above sea level, and it is the height of summer in the Northern hemisphere. Yet it was cold enough throughout the day that I closed up the house, put on a long sleeved shirt and pants, and kept warm with soup, hot chocolate and coffee all day. I am giving some serious thought to putting in a wood stove to keep warm on such days, which are common enough in the winter months, but certainly rare this time of year.

Today, the weather has turned around to become a bit more summer-like without the chilly breeze and cold rain. It has been bright and sunny much of the day - the first such day in a couple of weeks, and the door and windows have been open to the somewhat more tropical breezes. Glad that cold snap was short and sweet, but it is surprising that it even happened. Strange weather - and I can't help but wonder if it is a global warming-related phenomenon. My theory is that as the specific heat of the atmosphere is being increased by the addition of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, the well-known warming of the polar regions might be accompanied by a slight cooling of the tropics, as the same amount of solar insolation cannot heat the atmosphere to as high a temperature. In other words, the global heat supply would be more evenly distributed, because a parcel of air heated in the tropics has a better chance of making it to the polar region before losing its heat, and a cold parcel of air in the polar regions has a better chance of making it to the tropics before it is fully warmed up. That would explain why the last three weeks in the Central Valley have seen temperatures cooler than anyone can remember. I wonder if the global warming models have made any such predictions. I'll have to look into that.

My neighbor's house is coming along again. Looks like the roof is finally being constructed, but instead of using steel perlins as I would have, he is using wooden poles and a large log along the center. He'll then have to put down clavadores (nailers) on the perlin logs and then screw the roof sheets down to the clavadores. Not how I would have done it - the roof will end up being a tiny bit uneven, as the clavadores will have to follow the uneveness of the perlins, but it will get the job done. Don't know what kind of logs he used for the perlins, either, but since termites here can attack many different kinds, I sure hope he used something resistant to them. Don't know if he is planning to do a ceiling (many houses here don't have them), but if not, he'll have to seal up around the perlins to keep the birds and bats out.

The news on the BBC today is that oil has hit $65 a barrel, and that is bad news for this country, and worse for Nicaragua and Panama, whose privatized electric utilities have taken to building oil-fired power plants. Here, the power is entirely hydro and some wind, so we won't see a huge increase in electric rates, but the gasoline price is another matter. We import all our oil, mostly from Venezuela, and the resulting gasoline price is a hair over $3 a gallon at the moment - and the taxes on it are going up significantly to discourage consumption. That money is supposed to be spent on road repair and construction by law, but that doesn't mean that will happen - a lot of it gets diverted to other government budgets. Maybe the cash flow will help get some roads repaired around here.

The government's keep-cars-out-of-the-capital campaign has had limited success in cutting down on traffic and fuel consumption in San Jose. It is supposed to work by banning cars whose plate numbers end in certain digits from entering the capital on the corresponding day of the week. When it went into effect last week, the police issued 5,000 tickets the first day, but no one could seem to discern any real reduction in traffic levels. I suspect that the increase in gasoline taxes will have more effect than anything.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Left The States: Alternet has been running a series of interviews with former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter. His current installment talks about the neo-cons in the Administration, who he refers to as "parasites" who have no real ideology of their own other than to seek power and use it for their own enrichment and the advancement of their dreams of world power. Apparently both Ronald Reagan and Junior's daddy, when they were president in their turns, referred to these people as the "crazies in the basement," and now Junior has brought them out of the basement, gave them a shower and a haircut and made them his senior officials. No wonder that country is in such trouble. Ritter thinks it will take the country more than a decade to recover from their idiocy - I don't think it ever will.

It is not just that one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter, it is also that last week's terrorist is this week's freedom fighter. Yes, your morally consistent leadership in Washington, which just a year ago, was seeking to put Viktor Bout, a notorious international arms trafficker, in jail for his involvement in fomenting war and rebellion in Africa, is now using this same fine gentleman's services in Iraq. That's right, if you can't jail 'em, hire 'em. That shouldn't surprise you, though, given all the Watergate felons that now have senior positions in Junior's government.

Get out your check book, your house mortgage payments may be going up. If you have an adjustable rate mortgage or are paying rent, expect your payment to increase, because the Saudis, which own about $260 billion in U.S. debt, are calling that money home. That means there will be less capital in the U.S. economy to go around, and that means higher interest rates, just at the moment when the housing market, which leads the U.S. economy, is showing signs of softening.

The Dutch are telling us that when they were holding the accused Pakistani nuclear scientist Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan for stealing nuclear secrets, the CIA asked them to let him go. This was the man who was trading nuclear engineering information and materials to rogue states. And that begs the question of just why the CIA wanted the man to walk.

One of the three "enemy combatants" who wasn't much of an enemy until Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and President George W. Bush made him one, has filed a lawsuit against Rumsfeld for depriving him of the basic human rights due him under international and U.S. law. He complains that for three years, he has been deprived of toilet paper, a mattress, shoes and socks in cold weather, access to exercise, food and water, and he has been held for years without being charged with a crime, as is required by U.S. and International law.

Speaking of making enemies, there is fresh evidence that the insurgency in Iraq that is famously in its "last throes" is actually gaining strength. The numbers tell the story: in the last year, the number of insurgents killed or captured has nearly doubled, and those jailed has increased by more than 50%, as have the number of incidents involving U.S. troops.

From the We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You desk comes news that the conservative Republican mayor of Spokane, Washington, Jim West, has been raided at home by the FBI on investigation for federal corruption charges. Seems the upstanding gentleman has been accused of offering jobs, internships and other political favors in exchange for, you guessed it, sex. Running sort of a political casting couch for government jobs. When the outraged citizens of Spokane began a recall campaign, he went to court to try to stop it, filing a petition with the Washington State Supreme Court. He's been denying it, so maybe we should remind him that it's not just about the sex, it's about the lies, too.

The bald-faced defiance of any reasonable restraint on campaign financing goes on, too, among the Republicans on capital hill. They apparently inserted, very quietly, a provision in the Transportation Appropriations bill, that removes all caps on how much money a "leadership PAC" can donate to a political party. This means that corporate interests can form a Political Action Committee and "donate" all the cash it likes to get its way with Congress and the president. Can we say "legalized bribery" and "money laundering," boys and girls?

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 01:25:28 PM

Mon, Aug 08 2005

Left Behind

The weather has continued its early rainy season pattern of overcast skies, cool temperatures and light breezes. The temperatures here have been about perfect, but the Central Valley is about as cold as anyone can remember for August. Somewhat strange, and yesterday was cool, but not really cold by any stretch of the imagination. Today started out to be nice, but clouded over and it has begun to rain periodically. That meant no gardening today.

Yesterday was just too rainy to get out and do anything, so I spent a good deal of the day in front of the tube, channel surfing in a desperate effort to stave off boredom. I caught a couple of semi-interesting movies, one about a family caught up in the results of a secret CIA mind control experiment. Well, the experiment was certainly real enough - the movie plot bore an ominously strong resemblance to the MK-Ultra program that the CIA ran back in the '50's and '60's as I recall. But the family was "saved" by an "internal affairs" officer who swooped in to save the victims from a "rogue" CIA operations. Well, howdy do, folks, that whole CIA covert operations thing is degrading into one big rogue operation, and based on my own personal experiences with them, I can say that if they actually do have an "internal affairs" department, it isn't up to doing too much.

But that wasn't the movie I wanted to tell you about. The real humdinger of the day was a let's-extract-money-from-the-Christians piece, called "Left Behind," based presumably on the Timothy LeHay potboiler series of the same name. This so-called "movie" was so bad, I found myself laughing all the way through it. Sorta like those silhouette figures on that Sci-Fi Channel program, where they sit there laughing as they make fun of those 1950's sci-fi "B" movies all the way through. That's what I found myself doing. At times, I just broke out laughing, when it got sufficiently ludicrous.

The movie was premised on the "rapture" thing that is so popular with the fundamentalists these days. You know, the "one was taken, the other left" bit. Airplanes falling out of the skies because the Christian flight crew was suddenly poofed into heaven and there was no one to fly the plane, that sort of thing. Yeah, even that was in there, too. After the "rapture" scenes, the "wreckage" of the world that was "left behind" was so ludicrous it was downright comical. On one street scene, impassibly littered with crashed cars of course (none of which seemed to have caught on fire after being crashed, or apparently had been driven by the non-Christian dead who couldn't get out of the way), we even saw a garbage truck wrapped around a tree! Hey, if that Christian driver was going down a suburban lane at a high enough rate of speed to wrap a garbage truck around a tree, he was obviously going too fast for conditions - something God should have taken into consideration at rapture time.

But the most laughable part of this accidental comedy was the plot. The rebellious teenage daughter, the one with the diamond stud in her nose piercing, somehow lost the stud and found Jesus as did the guy with the earring who managed to lose his earring, too. Of course, they found each other and went to church together, blissfully repentant. And somehow, it took world leaders (the ones that were left behind, of course), two whole days to make the connection that everyone who was poofed out of sight was a Christian. Hey, folks, us non-Christians are not that dumb. If that actually happened, I think we could make the connection in a few minutes, half hour, tops. And the few folks in the movie who were so impressed by the divine kidnapping campaign to be converted in to loving Jesus for taking their loved ones away from them, but who repented too late for the "rapture" themselves of course, are going to be saved from the torment of God's Very Own Shock And Awe Campaign which will be visited on those evil, unrepentant non-believers - in the sequel, of course.

So, am I converted into believing in the rapture? Heck, no. Of course not. But in a way, that deeply saddens me. Frankly, the thought of somehow getting rid of every single one of those sanctimonious, meddling fundamentalist Christians in one single instant is a thought I find truly appealing. If there is gonna be a rapture, I sure wish God would get on with it, because it can't come soon enough for me!

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Left The States: Back here in the real world that the fine Christian gentleman, George W. Bush is building for us, it appears that he is getting ready to do away with (or simply ignore) the Posse Comitatus Act. We learn today that the Pentagon is drafting plans for how to deal with policing the United States. I reported some time ago in this space how they are seeking authority to gain access to your bank account records, but now we learn they are doing a lot more - this is the actual plan to be implemented when there is a sufficient emergency to warrant it.

But while they are figuring out how to police the United States, they haven't yet figured out how to police Iraq. We learn today from the Australian press that Iraqi army recruits are afraid to even leave their training base, much less go out on patrol. Looks like that plan to turn things over to the Iraqis is really coming together, Dick. Just like you said, that insurgency is sure in its last throes, and we're now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

This hasn't stopped the Pentagon to coming to a realistic assessment, finally, about the actual prospects for a successful outcome to this adventure. Sources within the Pentagon indicate that Bush has been told that there is little chance of a successful outcome for this war, and the least painful and most likely outcome will be a Vietnam-style withdrawal, leaving Iraq vulnerable to forces far more dangerous than Saddam ever was.

Junior's continued mismanagement of the war, combined with the scandalous revelations about torture and detainee mistreatment continue to plague the Bush administration, and is leading to a showdown when congress resumes its session in the fall. The three senators who fought to put the mildest of restraints on the president's handling of detainees, have vowed they'll be back to reintroduce the legislation - and they're gaining support from other senators. This could lead to a showdown, because it could lead to Junior's first-ever veto - and of a bill authored by his own party, yet.

Evidence about how the 9/11 attack and subsequent events may well have been what the CIA calls a "false-flag job" is starting to leak into the mainstream press. We now learn that Newsweek is reporting how the CIA let Osama Bin Laden escape, when he was cornered in the Tora Bora operation at the end of the Afghanistan invasion, and they knew they had him cornered.

As the rich get richer, while the poor get poorer, the rich are growing ever more confident. Why not? With Junior looking out for them, they have little to worry about - unlike most Americans.

The Scandal Du Jour department is reporting that Patrick Fitzgerald's new boss is going to be a Skull-And-Bones protoge of Junior's. Who is Fitzgerald? He is the federal prosecutor who is investigating the Valerie Plame affair. So I repeat what I have said before: the jury will be locked up longer than Karl Rove or "Scooter" Libby will. If there even is a jury. Which is looking ever more doubtful.

Seems that the DEA can't stick to its knitting. It just got busted in Venezuela for spying on the Venezuelan government instead of spying on drug lords, and thrown out of the country because it has happened one time too many. Really? I'm just shocked!

Another intelligence operation that just shocks me is the CIA's efforts at influencing public opinion by planting their operatives at major American newspapers. Oh, didn't you know about that? Some of the names you know and trust are being paid by your government to influence you. It is called Operation Mockingbird, and it has been around for a really long time. Only now, however, is it really gaining influence.

They've tried that overseas, but it hasn't worked out as well as they would have liked. Seems that Junior's actions scream so loudly in everyone's ears that nobody can hear what he is saying. And a New Zealand pizzeria has turned that to their advantage.

Think that hell no, Florida won't glow? Think again. Turns out that a Florida nuclear plant has been routinely dumping radioactive waste in the trash and sending it to the regular local landfill along with the office wastepaper and banana peels. Hey, why not? It's cheaper than proper radioactive waste disposal, isn't it? Gotta keep them costs down.

Another reason to move to Florida is the respect that the St. Petersburg police seem to show for the first-amendment rights of 14-year old war protesters. Yep, they get rounded up and hauled off to crime school just like the rest of those terrorist war protesters.

We're hearing from out there in Good For The Goose Is Good For The Gander-land that one of Google's founders and CEO, Eric Schmit, who has long suggested that peoples' privacy rights on the Internet are essentially zilch, has been targeted by C/NET, and using only Google searches, all of his personal details were found on web sites indexed by Google and in Google caches, and C/NET published them. As a result, C/NET's reporters have been banned from Google's property and sponsored events for a year.

From the We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You desk comes news of Tom DeLay's continued ethical lapses. We reported in this space some time ago that a mysterious pork barrel allocation showed up in the recently-passed energy bill, and it magically appeared there after the conference committee had completed the reconciliation. We now know who put it in there, in violation of the law and all of the congressional rules - it was Tom DeLay. Apparently, his problems with the ethics committee have meant nothing to him - he's still at it.

From the same desk, we hear of a national GOP bigwig who has been criticised for taking large sums of money in consulting fees for "consulting" for the Carlyle Group, an investment company that does most of its business with the Federal government contractors and on whose board once sat George W. Bush. Robert Kjellander, who on Friday was named treasurer of the Republican National Committee, is a longtime friend of President Bush's political strategist Karl Rove, and has taken $3.1 million in fees from a consulting firm that is doing business with a state teachers' pension fund. Ok, folks, let's start following the money. I'll betcha figures like that won't lead to sunday school.

That desk has had a really busy day. They're telling us that in Phoenix, the Catholic Church, which is too busy to keep its priests out of trouble by watching what its priests are doing with little boys down there in the confessional, is worried instead about politicians who are not sufficiently concerned about the rights of clumps of cells in petri dishes, and who might someday support the rights of gays to get abortions.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 04:27:36 PM

Sat, Aug 06 2005

Bait And Switch

Well, the gloomy weather continues today, but without much rain. There have been a few brief periods of rain today, but short, sweet and not getting things very wet. There just hasn't been much sun, either, at least not for more than a few minutes at a time. Typical early rainy season. The weather hasn't been excessively damp, as it often is this time of year, but I have adjusted so well to tropical humidity now that I am not sure I would notice it if it were.

Yesterday, I got the call from the owner of the Internet cafe that I had been waiting for. He told me that his girlfriend was at the computer shop in San Jose that had quoted me 75,000 colones for a 15" flat-panel monitor, and they had not honored their price. It was now 138,000 colones, take it or leave it. I left it. Just didn't feel like I could justify that kind of extra money to get a flat-panel display, as much as I would have preferred one. Instead, the cafe owner offered me an "LG" brand 17" conventional monitor (with audio) from his inventory for 50,000 colones, which works out to about $104, about 2000 colones more than he paid for it. An outstanding deal by local standards, so I went ahead, and bought it, and brought it home. I had no difficulty installing and using it, and it works beautifully - and now I can finally see what I am typing. The image is crisp and sharp, and when I use the monitor for watching television, I can see so much more and with less eyestrain. Wish I had done this a long time ago.

All evening, I enjoyed watching television, with decent image quality for a change. I am not going to bother fixing the Dell laptop - it isn't worth it, and with the monitor working so beautifully, there is no immediate need to change the computer. I think I will at some point, as the disk is full, but I can put it off for a while.

The new petra vine sprout in the nursery bag is doing well, and a couple of the other, older petra sprouts have put out a second set of leaves. So they are at least growing for now. I am going to try moving some of them to a sunnier spot, to see if that will move them along a bit. They don't seem to be growing as fast as I think they should be. The cashew seedlings are doing swimmingly, and are now a foot high. There is some evidence that they are starting to harden, and that is good news - they'll soon be ready to plant.

The recent runoff does not seem to have carried much new sand into my culvert, and I am certainly glad I don't have to clean that out anymore - at least not for now. It looks like I can probably get by for most of the rainy season if it doesn't accumulate any faster than it has. But then we haven't had a really serious thunderstorm lately, either, just light rains that have brought a fair amount of clay but no sand from the street above me.

Speaking of the street above me, that junk car that was parked in front of my house for so long is now parked in front of the "speed shop" place up the hill from me. There are rocks chocked under each wheel, so I take it that the hand brake or the "parking" gear on the transmission doesn't work anymore. But at least it isn't decorating the front of my house anymore.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Left The States: The rumors that the Bush administration is preparing to go to war in Iran are increasing. The steady drumbeat about how awful a threat that Iran's nuclear program represents, just continues and, of course, goes unchallenged in the "liberal biased" press, even though Iran is at least ten years away from becoming a nuclear power. Which, of course, begs the question of why the beating of the drums of war goes on, if there is no credible threat from Iran? Could Iran's oil fields be the reason? Isn't Halliburton getting rich enough in Iraq just yet?

It seems that the so-called "reverend" Fred Phelps of the "Westboro Baptist Church" (whose membership consists mostly of his family members) has given up his famous protest appearances at the funerals of victims of gay bashing, and has taken up a new cause - the military. Yes, that's right, America's most notorious professional homophobe has taken up the cause of American troops killed in action. Not sure exactly what his beef is, but he seems to be saying that the military folks shouldn't be "defending the nation because the nation has ignored the Word of God" [whatever that is]. Hmmm.... I have to wonder. Is this change of tactics the result of the fact that his homophobia campaign doesn't seem to be getting him any traction anymore? Phelps' crowd displaying their Christian love and charity at a gay man's funeral is so common it isn't news any longer. Too bad Freddie. I don't think this one is going to get you any traction either.

If you think that the Israelis are using all that American aid money wisely and investing it carefully and well (they more get aid money than all the rest of the world combined), and their relatively low standard of living is a result of the Palestinian problem, think again. According to the World Bank (an organization headed by one of Bush's more notorious appointees, Paul Wolfowitz, himself a Jew) "Israel is considered one of the riskiest places to invest in the Western world, with an "unstable, inefficient regime, low accountability, a relatively high rate of state corruption and poor law enforcement." It ranks as the second most corrupt nation in the developed world, with only Italy ranking lower, and in terms of ineffective banking regulation and faulty government policy blocking economic growth, it is the most ineffectively governed country in the developed world, ranking dead last. Yet we still send it so much aid money that if not a single Israeli ever did a stitch of work, but just sucked on the American teat all day, that country would still rank ahead of most Latin American nations in terms of per-capita income. Hope you think it is money well spent.

The Bush Administration's failures in Iraq, resulting in only a trickle of oil from that nation, combined with saber-rattling in Iran, and high-handed and ineffective diplomacy in Venezuela, has put at risk America's principal supplies of oil. Now Saudi Arabia, knowing full well it is in the driver's seat of the American economy, is in the position of being able to take full advantage of that fact to ensure that the U.S. administration does not annoy it or inconvenience its foreign policy. With a new king in power, you can expect a few changes in Saudi Arabia's foreign policy - and those changes may not be all that friendly to U.S. interests.

The war in Iraq is not going well. That is no secret. But what is a well-kept secret is the growing involvement of the Iranians, as the result of their keen desire to see the back of the Americans.. Even though the insurgency is led by the Sunnis, their arch-enemies, they have now apparently begun to supply sophisticated anti-vehicular bombs for use against American troops, and this is a very worrying development, because the "shaped-charge" explosives they contain have the ability to easily penetrate American vehicular armor. The "great Satan" trumps even religious and tribal rivalries.And speaking of Iran, it seems that the Cheney/Halliburton taxpayer-ripoff operation is apparently nowtrading with our new enemy through a wholly-owned subsidiary set up in Tehran for the purpose. Could someone have a look and see just what all Halliburton is supplying to the Iranians, besides nuclear centrifuges and other nuclear weapons manufacturing components? If it happens to be anything related to conventional weapons in general land-mine manufacture in particular, wouldn't that fall under the Trading With The Enemy Act? And where is Mr. Cheney in all of this? Of course this wouldn't bother Junior. Trading with the enemy in World War I (and laundering money for them in World War II) was the original source of his family's wealth.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:58:22 AM

Thu, Aug 04 2005

Shopping For A Computer Monitor

Periods of intermittent rain, with moments of sunshine were the order of the day during the afternoon yesterday, and have been so today as well. Partly cloudy when I awoke, it appeared it would be a beautiful day, but the rainy season weather has set in, and periods of rain have broken out today as well. At least the temperatures have been a delight - just about perfect, in fact, and it makes the rainy weather more bearable.

On my morning inspection of the garden this morning, I have noted that yet another petra vine has germinated and is growing in its nursery bag. This means that only two of the ten bags I planted have not come up. So if they all survive, I'll have lots to get planted around the place. I really like them, as they bloom all year, regardless of rain or dry, and the indigo blue flowers are a nice change from the usual reds, whites and pinks of most of the flowers in my garden.

My little variegated ginger sprouts are still struggling along, not growing much, and I am not sure it is going to make it. Another has come up alongside it, so that makes a total of three, but none are really thriving, in spite of my cautious addition of a small amount of fertilizer. I hope they grow back in - I sure do enjoy that spectacular plant.

Yesterday afternoon, I drove into town to visit the man at the internet cafe. He had promised to get me a price on a computer monitor, and so I went to talk to him and see if he did. Turns out he didn't, of course, but was embarassed enough about it to get on the phone right then and call his suppliers. He also offered to sell me a monitor similar to the ones he is using in his business, and the price was a very good one. But I really want a flat-panel monitor so I can avoid all the radio interference that a conventional monitor makes. Well, he called around, and got me a price - the equivalent of $158, for a 15" monitor. Not bad at all, better than I had expected. I am still waiting for a price from someone else, and I called that source this afternoon. I was told that the price would be much higher, so I went straight back over to the Internet cafe and ordered the monitor. If I am lucky, it may be here tomorrow night, if not, probably Saturday. I really hope! Can't wait to be able to be able to see what I am typing again!

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Left The States: We hear this morning what is in some of the documents that the Bush administration is refusing to release to Senate Democrats investigating Supreme Court nominee, John G. Roberts. Turns out the man has to have been involved in King George I's infamous pardons of most of the significant figures of the Iran-Contra scandal

More evidence if any were needed that the American economy is poised on the brink of disaster: The American savings rate has reached zero. That's right, zilch, nada, vaciado. Americans are hoping that the rise in the value of their homes will provide the savings they need, but the reality is that the housing market itself is unstable, and when the inevitable downturn in housing prices occurs, most Americans will find themselves exposed with nowhere to turn - not even the bankrupcty laws. There is a day of reckoning coming, and it won't be pretty when it happens.

If you thought that tax and spend is a bad policy, check out the borrow and spend behavior of this administration and the congress that rubber stamps for it: Just before going into recess, it passed a $300 billion (that's billion with a "B") in pork barrel projects, and then the GOP gave their members of congress "12 ideas" for how to exploit the political results back in their districts.

Those of us who predicted that the Patriot Act and the "enemy combatants" designation would soon be turned against political opponents of the Bush regime have been proven right. The ACLU has just released some documents it has received under the Freedom of Information Act that show that the "Joint Terrorism Task Forces" have been targeting dissidents and peace rallies in Colorado. Welcome to the club, fellows. I've been snooped upon and harassed since 2002.

Going abroad won't help either. Americans are discovering that since the 2004 election, what I predicted would happen is coming true. Americans traveling or living abroad are themselves being blamed for their government's behavior, because, as it is perceived, they voted for it, after having had a preview. They can't say, as the reasoning goes, that they didn't know.

Not surprisingly, the nation's science educators are stunned by the comments, reported in this space, that Junior has endorsed the teaching of "Intelligent Design," which, of course, is just religious Creationism doctrine dressed up as science.

The long-term global strategic planners in the Pentagon have plenty to worry about these days: it seems that the Russians and the Chinese are forging ever-closer military ties. And such an alliance makes compelling good sense for both parties - China's rapidly developing economy means it desperately needs access to Russia's resources, and Russia desperately needs access to the cash that China now has to spend.

And as the Japanese continue to debate repeal of Article 9 (pacifist clause) of their constitution, while contemplating the meaning of the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, it appears that their government is quietly stockpiling plutonium - the artificial element whose principal use is nuclear weapons. Seems that they are concerned that they can't rely on the U.S. to defend their sovereignty anymore against a potentially hostile China-Russia alliance.

Well, I'll be! CNN International has actually covered (8/4/05, 16:37 UTC) some of the activities of the CIA death squads, called the Scorpions, in Iraq. Possibly that was because it is a story everyone else is covering, and they could no longer credibly ignore it. They did, however, stop short of calling them what they are - death squads - although they DID refer to some of their activities, and that is torture so brutal that everyone in Iraq has grown to fear them.

Continuing this theme of self.censorship, it seems that the "liberal biased" ABC News has changed a headline that did not reflect favorably enough on the Administration. The old headline: "Ohio Families Fed Up With Loss of Marines" and the new headline reads, "Ohio Families Feel Loss of Marines in Iraq." The old headline more accurately reflected the content of the article. ABC news has given no reason for the change.

Speaking of "liberal bias" in the news media, Newsweek last week was caught red-handed parroting the Administration's line about John Robert's membership, or lack thereof, in the extremist right-wing Federalist Society. They reported, falsely, that he was not a member, as the White House has insisted, when in reality, he has actually appeared on the membership rolls as a member of the steering committee!

If you have wondered about some of the things about the London bombings that just don't add up, here's something else that doesn't add up. Turns out that the mastermind of the July 7 bombings was an asset of MI6, Britain's CIA. And he has been repeatedly protected by them. This is even being reported by Fox News, apparently!

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:07:30 AM

Wed, Aug 03 2005

No Water, Big Spider

The start of the day was promising, but it didn't last. A quick but intense shower this morning and in minutes it was over and was clearing off. Maybe we will get some sun today after all. Yesterday was fairly gloomy all day, and with periods of rain - typical rainy season weather. Today promises to be a bit more pleasant.

Monday afternoon, a sound truck came around. It was driven by one of the local cab drivers, and it was a pickup belonging to the water cooperative. When I saw it, I knew what it was going to be all about - they're cleaning the tanks and needed to shut off the water today. When the truck arrived in front of the house, the driver blared out at me, with his huge loudspeakers, that I should expect the water to be shut off. He didn't say when, so I went out and asked, and he indicated it would be today, beginning at seven AM. Well, that's pretty much the standard routine, what I had expected, and so this morning, I was up a bit early, got showered and got breakfast out of the way, and got the dishes washed before the scheduled shutoff. It wasn't till well after eight, the usual shutoff time, that the pressure actually went away. When it did, it was sudden - and I found out why, when I noticed some fellows at the end of the pond, and I went down for a look. It was the water co-op employees, draining the town's pipes into my pond. So it looks like I'll be out of water for the usual eight hours, till about four.

Monday night, I was sitting in my office minding my own business, when I glanced up at the window, and saw a huge spider, at least three inches across, on the outside of the window pane, casually munching on a moth that had been attracted to the light. This spider had ominous looking red bands on its legs, and was hairy all over. I got a good look at it, as it did not seem to be particularly concerned for my presence. It had two very large, downward-pointing fangs at the end of some hairy appendages.

Well, on Tuesday morning, I happened onto a National Geographic special on the Amazon, and the amazing Brazil nut trees that grow there. And one of the stories was about a huge spider that is found there, apparently a tarantula, that actually captures young chickens. An arachnid specialist was out in the jungle looking for it, and happened onto what he calls a "wandering spider," which he described as the most dangerous spider in the world, with a venom 80 times as potent as a black widow's. It was large, hairy all over, and on closeup, had those same long fangs at the end of downward pointed appendages, which they use to stab their victims.. He indicated that before antivenin was developed, those spiders killed an average of 1,000 people a year. Well, did I see a wandering spider? I don't think so - the wandering spider in the film had gray hairy legs, and mine had alternating bands of red and black with sparse black hairs, but it may have been related. The fang appendages appeared to be identical. Glad it was on the other side of the glass.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Left The States: There are persistent, but unconfirmed rumors circulating around the Internet to the effect that a whole slew of Bush administration officials, including Junior himself, have been indicted on perjury and obstruction of justice charges, stemming from the Valerie Plame affair. Personally, I doubt it, but having been forced into exile for exercising my right of free speech by that crowd, there are few people on this planet that would like to see them face justice as much as I. They certainly merit indictments, but whether the Chicago grand jury that is looking into the Plame affair actually has the cojones to do it is another matter.

Hawaiian senator Daniel Inouye, who, unlike nearly everyone serving in the Bush administration, actually fought for his country, has stated publicly that the GOP is not doing enough for the troops, either in Iraq or returning as veterans. He accused Senate Republicans of working harder to shield gun manufacturers from liability than to pass urgently needed legislation to support the troops in Iraq.

It seems that the troops in Iraq are swimming in a sea of steroids, as the military turns a blind eye to its use and possibly even covertly encourages it by supplying lavish gyms to the troops to help them bulk up, and well-ripped soldiers are now a common sight on the streets of Baghdad, in spite of the difficulties of doing proper exercise schedules and dieting in a war zone. Could it be that the military is turning a blind eye because steroids also make soldiers more aggressive? It wouldn't be the first time that happened. The Nazis did that in World War II.

Speaking of health problems among the troops, there is a drug-resistant infection that is beginning to appear among the troops in Iraq. First seen in Vietnam, it is Acinetobacter baumannii, and is not new, but the strain appearing among the Iraqi injured is particularly resistant to treatment.

And don't get the idea that things are going to get better anytime soon, either. A recently released Government Accountability Office report indicates that in spite of all the money spent on Halliburton, the reconstruction effort can only be described as failing, and Iraq is going backwards and is at or below pre-war levels in basic services in electricity, water, health, sanitation and oil exports.

Brand America is beginning to suffer mightily from the Bush Administration's nakedly self-serving foreign policy, and it is beginning to cost American corporations abroad dearly. Among perceptions of the image of 25 countries, surveyed around the world, the United States ranked 11th, barely making the top half, in terms of "cultural, political and investment potential and other criteria." In terms of "cultural heritage," a measure of a country's "wisdom, intelligence, and integrity," the poll ranked the United States dead last. Contrast that with Americans' perceptions of themselves: when asked the same questions, Americans consistently ranked the United States at the top.

It is hardly surprising, then, that even America's stauchest allies are being faced with jumping ship. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has admitted publicly that U.S.-led troops in Iraq are part of the problem and are fueling the Sunni-led insurgency in Iraq. This is the first time that such a statement has been made by such a high ranking British official in government, and it is not provoking a rebuke from Tony Blair, either. And that suggests that Tony, that ever-loyal poodle to Junior, actually agrees with it. Could it be that this is disinformation, designed to drum up support for pulling out troops early, leaving the Iraqis to their own devices?

The Republicans continue their shameless destruction of women's privacy and reproductive rights for purely political ends. We hear that Republican governor of New York, George Pataki, has vetoed legislation that would make the so-called "Morning After pill" legal for over-the-counter sale. Any sound scientific reason given? No. Just political expediency, a naked appeal to the conservative vote. And they wonder why America has no moral authority around the world anymore.

Thought that the Big Brother Is Watching You database called Total Information Awareness was killed? Think again, it's back with a vengeance, and this time, it is the military that will be running it, not the Justice Department. Fox News, of all people, is reporting that it will be as comprehensive as ever, and the military's encroachment on civilian law enforcement has a few "civil liberties advocates" concerned. That's putting it rather mildly. It has them alarmed!

Judge John G. Roberts, the current nominee for the Supreme Court, apparently was an advocate of some of the most radical reinterpretation of civil rights law in the Reagan administration, while he was an assistant to Attorney General William French Smith. He tried, for example, to justify a narrowing of the Voting Rights Act, and to limit government antidotes in housing and job discrimination. He apparently wasn't bashful about making his views known, either. And there is no evidence that his extremism has moderated over the years.

And before you get the idea that at least these people might (hopefully) at least exercise sound judgment, consider that Junior is now saying he is in favor of teaching "intelligent design" alongside evolution in the public schools. Different ideas should be taught alongside each other, he says. Well, is he ready to teach Hopi creation myths too? How about Hindu creation myths? Or the story as taught in the Koran? Somehow, I don't think so.

From the Scandal Du Jour department, we learn that there is yet another Republican scandal brewing in Ohio. Currently embroiled in the "coingate" scandal, in which a large number of high-ranking Republican state officials have been found to have been involved ripping off a pension fund, we now find that Bernadette Noe, the wife of one of those officials, now has to face a scandal of her very own. She has been accused of having disrupted the ballot counting in the 2004 general election in that state, contributing, no doubt, to Junior's fraudulent victory there and nationally. Fine bunch of folks, those Ohio Republicans. Their honesty and integrity are moral inspiration to us all.

Halliburton's war profiteering goes on unabated. They have reported a modest 284% increase in profits - while the kitchens they are running for the Iraqi Army are so badly run that they are creating food poisoning incidents on a mass scale.

It seems that new information is coming to light about the failure of United Airlines' pension plan. It seems that Wall Street killed it. In an effort to suck more money into the market from which they could tap commissions, they convinced feduciaries watching over the pension fund to switch from the tried-and-true method of purchasing bonds that would mature when the pension obligations came due, and instead invest the money in stocks. A stock-based scheme like that would work only so long as the airline industry and the stock market, which are both cyclical, didn't go south at the same time, but last year they did, with inevitable results. So the Pension Guarantee Fund got stuck for all those obligations. Good work, guys.

Don't expect much out of your president for awhile. He is on vacation for the entire month of August. His fiftieth vacation in five years. Hmm... Ten vacations a year? That's one every five weeks. I'd like to have a job like that.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:48:49 AM

Mon, Aug 01 2005

At War With The Costa Rican Army

The first of August dawned wet and gloomy, in keeping with the increasing intensity of the rainy season. The weather has been quite rainy since yesterday afternoon, so I have not gotten out in the garden much. The rains have been pretty much non-stop all night long, and the temperatures have been cool enough to avoid having to run the fan.

I was up early, mostly because I couldn't sleep for a change, and had an early shower and breakfast. Good thing, too. The garbage truck was here early, very early in fact, and I got the trash out none too soon. Since they were making good time, the crew stopped at the west end of the pond for a break as they often do, and sat on the bank to have a spot of lunch. I was all set to take them some of my surfeit of bananas as a gift, but by the time I got out there, they were gone. Of course, that is something I would not dream of doing in the States, but this is a much more egalitarian society, in which even a job as a garbage collector has the same dignity as any other work. I ended up having no one handy to give them to, so I cut them up and put some milk on them as a sort of post-breakfast treat.

Not being able to get out into the garden, I have started some laundry, which I had neglected on my usual laundry day, which is Sunday. So that got put in the washing machine quite early, and should all by on the line before mid-morning.

Yesterday afternoon, I noticed a trail of tiny ants, similar to Argentine ants, in the bathroom, headed for goodness-knows-where. I decided this would be a good time to try the ant baits made from boric acid. So I got out some of the peanut butter mixture with the boric acid in it, and put it on a small piece of tin foil by the wall. Of course, it didn't take long for them to find it. Before long, there were thousands noshing on the mixture. Well, I had also bought some powdered sugar for the same purpose, so I mixed up some powdered sugar with boric acid powder, and put that on a piece of tin foil next to the peanut butter. Turns out they like that stuff, too, and there were thousands working on it.

I left both baits out overnight, hoping the little blighters would take it back to the nest with them, and this morning, both piles are noticeably smaller, but the ants are still working on them. We'll see if it does anything to poison the nest. Watch this space.

More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Left The States: As further proof we should trust him with our civil rights when Junior says we can, it now appears that the military show trials in Guantanamo, as slanted as the procedures themselves are, have also been rigged. An email uncovered by Australian Broadcasting, shows that they are attempting to arrange the trials to pre-determine the outcome. Could it be that Rummy doesn't have good enough evidence against those he is holding to ensure a conviction? How could that be?

The third case of Mad Cow disease that Didn't Enter The Human Food Chain has been announced by the Food and Drug Administration. Of course, the Japanese, who have studied the American cattle industry as reported in this space earlier, say that there should have been at least nine cases diagnosed by now. The fact that there haven't been, tells me that the rest have likely been covered up precisely because they did enter the human food chain.

We're hearing from the Scandal Du Jour department that there is new information out about the Plame-gate scandal about what they knew and when knew it. It is becoming clear that the source of Plame's identity was not a reporter as Karl Rove claimed in his grand jury testimony, but actually a memo from the CIA to White House officials. It's not about the sex, Karl, it's about the lies. Remember that one? So when you going to do the honorable thing and resign?

Proving that what Junior wants, Junior gets out of the U.S. Senate, that body voted Friday to make permanent all of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, except for the search of library records, medical records and roving search warrants for cell phone wiretaps. That means that the permanent gutting of the Bill of Rights is all but a done deal. To make sure that individual senators don't have to be held individually accountable for their actions in taking away the peoples' rights, the measure was passed on a voice vote.

Never seeing a privatization it didn't want to help, the U.S. government has stepped in to save the scandal-ridden private corrections industry. States have largely abandoned the industry, finding that abuse scandals, escapes and costs as high as government prisons, has not offered them the promised savings and improvement in service, but has greatly increased their problems of accountability and oversight. So now the U.S. government is moving in, filling the empty beds with inmates from its own rapidly burgeoning population, mostly because it can't build prisons fast enough to accommodate all the "enemy combatants" it is arresting these days.

The If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away desk is reporting that Atlantic hurricanes are already responding to increasing sea surface temperatures, and this is leading to an increase in both frequency and severity of storms. Earlier models had not predicted much effect earlier than 2050, but it appears it is already happening.

We learn this morning that the CIA is helping win hearts and minds in Iraq, by beating people with sledge hammer handles. And when they were done, they bragged about their brutality. At least one person has died as a result, an Iraqi army colonel.

If you recall during the Reagan administration, how it tried to cram legislation through congress that would take away jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to decide cases regarding abortion, school prayer and busing, it turns out that newly released documents show that Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. was the lawyer that crafted that legislation. So if you wonder how he would rule on those questions, you now know.

From the We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You desk comes word that Dick Cheney's war profiteeering has reached new heights. Halliburton's ill-gotten gains have now reached the level of $10 billion, and to put that in perspective, Cheney's company has not gotten $33 out of the wallets of every single man, woman and child in America. Hope you think it was worth it. Of course, Halliburton has brought the same anti-competitive behavior in Iraq that has made American business so welcome around the rest of the world. They are now blocking their competitors' fuel delivery trucks, which deliver fuel for 18 cents a gallon, to force people to use their delivery services for $1.30 per gallon. They can do this because they also have the contract to run the checkpoints that all fuel trucks have to pass through.

Ohio's "Coingate" scandal has proven to have a national dimension to it. Turns out that one of the principals involved, Jim Petro, the state's GOP attorney general, says Tom Noe, "Mr. Republican" of northeast Ohio, had stolen millions from a worker's pension fund by means of a Ponzi scheme, and Noe apparently laundered some of the money through Bush's 2004 campaign fund. That isn't the end of it, either. It seems that a wide range of Ohio Republican politicians were involved, including Republican governor Bob Taft, his top aide, Brian Hicks, another aide Cherie Caroll, former Republican governor and now senator Voinovitch and several others, including Voinovitch's former chief aide, Paul Mifsud, a man with a particularly shady past, including some CIA covert operations around the globe, in collusion with the Knights of Malta. When are people finally going to realize that when they vote for conservatives, they are voting for corruption?

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:47:36 AM
Copyright © 2003 Scott Bidstrup. All rights reserved.