Alligators 'n Roadkill

Alligators 'n Roadkill
On The Road


Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Hobbit In Mirkwood Woods

I am happy to announce that today's post has a guest writer. I hereby proudly introduce my 13 year old grand daughter, Tristen, who attends school in Arlington, Texas, with a poem she has written based on her reading of J. R. R. Tolkien's famous classic, The Hobbit.

A Hobbit In Mirkwood Woods
Tristen A. Dungan
Nothing but pitch dark forest.
Above the trees were big, black butterflies.
But below in the pitch dark,
Was nothing but eyes, eyes, eyes.
Firelight in the pitch dark,
Cobwebs clinging to the bark,
Swords stinging spider after spider,
Dangers getting wider and wider.

Hobbit and dwarves searching for food, 
Wood-elves looking for truth. 
Who will win and who will lose 
Let's hope it's not the tree fungi's ooze.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Las Orquidias – Costa Rica’s Best Kept Secret

(Note: This article was originally posted on Monday, May 10, 2010, and has been edited for this update).

"If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony".
(Fernand Point – (1897–1955) was a French restaurateur and is considered to be the father of modern French cuisine).

I have mentioned my favorite restaurant in the world, on other websites. Years ago, like at least five, maybe more, I remember posting a report on the guest list for Pura Vida Hotel, in Alajuela, about this restaurant. (Which, by the way, is another very special place; check it out: ).
Now, Ticos have told me for years that the best cooks in Costa Rica are Colombians. I do believe this, based solely on our experience at this place. The owner, chef, headwaiter, and all-around very nice guy is Don Alfonso Restrepo, who has been at the same location for as long as I've been coming to Costa Rica. And, he is from Colombia.
As I hope you already know, we live between the village of Aguacate de Tilaran, Guanacaste, and the small town of Nuevo Arenal, on the highway (highway is a very overblown term for this little road, but it is designated as such – actually, Ruta 142 – by the highway department of Costa Rica) that runs around the north side of Lake Arenal, between Tilaran, county seat of the Canton by that same name, and La Fortuna, Alajuela, county seat of another Canton, in that other province. Off this highway is a side road, that goes right up the mountains, over them, and down again, to the town of San Antonio de Guatuso, Alajuela. After the first 50 meters of cement, this road is mostly rocks - big ones - and at certain times of the year, a lot of mud, as well.
About 8 or 9 kilometers up this road is the village of Cabanga, a really interesting place. At one time Cabanga was noted for leather work, with at least two different families operating little store fronts, with saddles, belts, hats, just about anything you could ask for made of leather. It also had some renown for wood work, and one of the best native cabinet makers around is still there (Danilo, the guy who did our kitchen cabinets and all of our doors, plus my bread making table, and Blanca's sewing desk). There is, of course, a small pulperia, and one bar, Napos, a real rustic, less than sanitary place, that rarely has more than one or two beers in the whole place, and maybe one general gaseosa (soda pop), besides mostly the local guaro (cheap cane sugar liquor, refined much less than rum). (Ed Note: There is now a second bar, on a side street, off to the right about 250 meters, very close to the soccer field).
There is a town salon (like a ball room/meeting place), the requisite soccer field, a small school, and a number of Tico houses scattered about. And, of course, there is Las Orquidias, a restaurant bar that is on the main road, and reached by walking through the car port of the owner's home, down to the back. The restaurant features two levels, open on the west side, and the north, to a truly panoramic view, that, on a clear day, allows you to glimpse Nicaragua, way off in the distance to the north. The north wall of the upper level is screened, with a large variety of orchids placed all over the screen. The lower level is overflowing with potted plants, now featuring a wide variety of African Violets. The bar features a beautiful wood bas relief depicting a typical Costa Rican scene, and a surprisingly extensive selection of booze.
As to the menu at Las Orquidias, usually there isn't one. I think the only times I have ever been offered a menu have been those occasions when he was not there. The routine we have followed for some years is this: As we enter, we greet any and all who might be present. This being Costa Rica, that does not usually mean very many people. If there are customers present, we usually seat ourselves. If not, then we go straight to the kitchen door, and greet Don Alfonso, his wife, Yadira, and her mother, whose name I don't remember. If he is busy, then, a bit later, as soon as he gets the chance, he will come to our table, and we will exchange abrazos, and expressions of good will, bonhomie, and generally nice things. If he has run out of my favorite beer, he immediately begins to apologize, and lets me know what is available that day. I can even drink Imperial, as long as it is very cold (poured over ice), and as long as it is served by him.
Once we have our beers, he comes back to our table, where we visit for a bit, before we get down to business. This means, it is time for him to tell us what he has available that day. Generally, he can offer beef (best would always be the Filet Mignon, with a mushroom sauce guaranteed to go right to work creating more plaque in your arteries), pollo (chicken), usually grilled, but he does one of the world's best Cordon Bleu's, with another sauce that makes my mouth water, just thinking about it, and usually either Tilapia or Corvina that he can bread and fry, or grill, with a garlic touch. I still remember a shrimp dish he prepared for me one time that had my mouth watering for weeks afterward (a sauce that I just knew had gone straight to the walls of my arteries, but what a journey). He almost always will suggest a preparation method, or an entrée that is just a bit different from the normal, and his suggestions are usually well worth listening to, and even heeding. He also makes a great ceviche, usually with tilapia, but shrimp is also available.
Beyond the simple fact that his food is always exquisite, Don Alfonso's old world manner, and his charm are guaranteed to impress you. He always makes our dining experience special, with his welcome, and his concern for our pleasure. We make it a point to take all of our visitors up there, and we try to get up there more than once a month, whether we have visitors or not. You should know that I have seen him handle a group of 14 people, with total aplomb, not allowing the sheer numbers to upset him in the least, and his skill is so great (long practice, no doubt) that he timed the preparation of all those different requests, so that everything was delivered to our table at the same time, with universal acclaim. That's not to mention that every single plate was thoroughly cleaned by all and sundry.
The reality of eating out in Costa Rica is that most places are comparable in price to eating establishments in the states (i.e., not really cheap any more), so it should be no surprise that a meal for two, with at least two beers does run about $25-30. However, what we get for that with Don Alfonso is the pleasure of his company, the opportunity to watch a master chef at work, a spectacular view, and some of the best food anywhere. More important, Alfonso and his wife, Yadira have become our friends. (I have told you about our first 'date' in another post about a live music event in December of 2009).

Now, for the bad news: The ongoing, and now, long-standing, financial crisis has begun to take its toll on this fine establishment. In years past, despite the truly awful road up to Cabanga, some few people did manage to trek on up this way. Now, however, Don Alfonzo tells us that people just are not coming up the mountain. Business has fallen off so much that he has found it necessary to take a job in a restaurant in nearby Guatuso, meaning that he is no longer able to be present in his own place most of the week. The food is still great, but there is now a very real danger that he may have to close his doors, and/or move his operation to Guatuso. This would be a very serious loss to those of us who like good food. So, if you are within driving distance of Cabanga, please go see these nice people, and enjoy a great meal in their presence – before it is too late!

Friday, September 24, 2010

What’s News?

Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world doesn't mean you are wiser than when it reached only to the end of the bar. - Edward R. Murrow


Journalism, as it is known today, should be a four-letter word. (But, wait. The word I have in mind has five letters [or, ten, depending on whether you want to use a word considered more acceptable in mixed company], so that sort of nullifies my opening statement, there, doesn't it?) Why would I say such a horrible thing? Well, let's face it. journalism is no longer (hasn't been for a long, long time) about reporting current events. It has become all about directing and controlling public opinion, based on whatever political axe the publisher has to grind. As long as the publisher has aligned himself with sorry excuses for human beings, liars, thieves, crooked politicians, big money greed, and so on, then journalism will most definitely be about covering the truth, as opposed to reporting it. Some of what we read today tries to make us believe that print journalism is dead because of electronic media, but that is not the truth, either. Print media is taking a back seat to electronic media simply because people have become too lazy to learn how to research for themselves, or for that matter, too lazy to worry about verifying anything.

    It is not like I don't blame electronic media for the eminent demise of print journalism, because we could see the writing on the wall (to coin a phrase) as far back as the 1950's, when folks began to turn to Ed's boys, on CBS, and followed up with Walter Cronkite, when he stepped up. Once people were willing to accept the TV talking heads as experts, they and their ilk slowly, but inexorably began to take the news out of the news, and now, they not only manipulate the news itself, but the ever-forgetful-suffering-from-terminal-short-term-memory-loss public in general, through that manipulation.

    Think about it. If my TV watching is interrupted throughout my TV watching day by commercials that tell me what is going to be on the 'news' tonight, with teasers designed to make me curious enough to tune in, then what has TV journalism become? If you told me 18 times during the day what I'm going to see tonight, then by the time I see it, it is no longer news, right?! And, maybe that is part of how they want it to be. We've become so jaded to the horrors of real life (think CBS Evening News & Viet Nam), that we no longer react the way we, as human beings, should react.

    I found an online definition for journalism, at this URL:


: the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media

: the public press

: an academic study concerned with the collection and editing of news or the management of a news medium


: writing designed for publication in a newspaper or magazine

: writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation

: writing designed to appeal to current popular taste or public interest

I really don't see anything in there that indicates that journalism is supposed to represent any particular special interest, or political party, or rich publisher's agenda, do you? Nor, do I see anything in there that indicates any need for a journalist ever think about injecting him/herself into any news report, less any call to blackmail the subjects of a news story (more about this later).

Then, I found some formal principles of journalism, at


A Statement of Purpose

After extended examination by journalists themselves of the character of journalism at the end of the twentieth century, we offer this common understanding of what defines our work. The central purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with accurate and reliable information they need to function in a free society.

This encompasses myriad roles--helping define community, creating common language and common knowledge, identifying a community's goals, heros and villains, and pushing people beyond complacency. This purpose also involves other requirements, such as being entertaining, serving as watchdog and offering voice to the voiceless.

Over time journalists have developed nine core principles to meet the task. They comprise what might be described as the theory of journalism:

1. Journalism's first obligation is to the truth

2. Its first loyalty is to citizens

3. Its essence is a discipline of verification

4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover

5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power

6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise

7. It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant

8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional

9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience


This information was also found at that same web site, to offer an explanation of the above declaration:

In 1997, an organization then administered by PEJ, the Committee of Concerned Journalists, began a national conversation among citizens and news people to identify and clarify the principles that underlie journalism. After four years of research, including 20 public forums around the country, a reading of journalism history, a national survey of journalists, and more, the group released a Statement of Shared Purpose that identified nine principles. These became the basis for The Elements of Journalism, the book by PEJ Director Tom Rosenstiel and CCJ Chairman and PEJ Senior Counselor Bill Kovach. Here are those principles, as outlined in the original Statement of Shared Purpose.

    So, taking their points in order, I'd have to say this about these people and their idea of what journalism is and does:

  1. Journalism's first obligation is to the truth

    I have to agree, and only wish that this were carried out in their activities.

2. Its first loyalty is to citizens

Wow. Can't argue with that, with the caveat that those citizens means others outside the news reporting organization.

3. Its essence is a discipline of verification

Yes…..they certainly should not print something that they have not verified. But, why must this be the 'essence' of journalism? Shouldn't the essence be simpler than that, like maybe one word: truth?

4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover

OK, but also (and, more important), independent from those who pay them to do that covering!

5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power

Yeah, separate from ALL outside influence.

6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise

As in (just a thought, here), maybe letters to the editor should be carried separately from the Editorial page (in newsprint), and since there has never really been such a forum for the public to respond, I think there should actually be some kind of forum for the general public's input on broadcast programs.

7. It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant

Ah, but who is to determine what is significant? Surely not only the so-called journalists?

8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional

    Yeah, and that means striving for objectivity, better than they currently do.

9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience

Up to a point. If we're talking about protecting sources for truly relevant reporting. And, then, only as far as not allowing their personal conscience to dictate what they report, and what they leave out (in other words, not if they have put anybody's personal slant on the story).

Now, you know what? I took a couple years of journalism in high school (granted, that may have been back when type was set by hand), and we were taught some very simple principles that can pretty much be summed up like this:

There is no 'you' in any news story, and 'I' ain't there, either.

Tell the reader these things: who, what, where, when, and that's it!

I was taught that you, the reporter/writer do not interpret the words of the people involved. (Actually, I still have trouble writing anything using that pronoun - you). If they said, "xyz," then you may quote them, but you, as the reporter/writer, do not make any effort to explain what they might have meant, or intended to say. Again, keep yourself out of the story!

As for reflecting the opinions of those who pay you, forget it. You answer only to your Editor, and let him answer to the publisher. The fact is that as long as truth is told, freely, it cannot hurt anyone, including the publisher.

Think about this (and, I know I'm going off on a tangent here): if all the nasty little secrets of any given individual were no longer secrets, then who or what could hurt them? Obviously, if we didn't harbor any dirty little secrets at all, the same sentiment would apply (nothing could harm us). Giving into blackmail such as fear of exposure via a news report is akin to the kind of misguided thinking (thanks, Hollywood) that goes like this: Let's say a gunman has a gun pointed at a hostage's head, and the gunman says he'll kill the hostage if he doesn't get what he wants. In the movies this always leads to acquiescence on the part of the cop, or other good guy, right? But, what Hollywood always ignores is the simple fact that if the good guy shrugs, and says, "Hey, go for it." Then, the gunman (being stupid to begin with) shoots his hostage. Now, what has he got left? NOTHING! Not a single damn thing! Likewise, if I have a secret, and I expose that secret myself, what harm can any blackmail do to me?

What a roundabout way to make my point that journalism now has that power, and for too long too many people have given in to the blackmail that is implied in the current attitude of most so-called 'journalists' today. In short, for the average person, there should never be any possibility of being afraid to talk to journalists, nor of any "power" of the press, because if we are all open, and if reporters (journalists) only report the truth and the facts, then who can they hurt? Sure, if you are a crook (synonymous with politician?) of one kind or another, you don't want that truth to come out. But, what I think journalism has become is this evil instrument that implies a threat with each and every encounter. The threat of exposure is there, yes, but it is an exposure of innuendo, lies, or implication, rather than simple facts.

    Now that I have cried about what I believe journalism has become, I am left with the question of where do I go for current, truthful reporting of the news?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Is Democracy being wasted by/on Americans?

With most men, unbelief in one thing springs from blind belief in another.    - Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
Recent news reports are saying that the majority of Americans now disapprove of President Obama’s handling of the economy.  Worse, according to these same reports, a growing number of Americans are said to be preparing to vote for Republican candidates in upcoming elections.  Say what?  And, this is the Democrat's and Mr. Obama’s fault………how?
Where the hell have these people been?!  How could they think that electing Republican candidates could possibly be the answer to a Republican-caused problem?!  Doesn’t anyone remember the humongous quantities of BS coming out of W’s Whitehouse?  Has everyone forgotten how healthy our economy was under Bill Clinton?
Now, I stole the cartoon recently sent to me by a Republican friend, and include it here to make a point.  Y'all probably think that this is supposed to be the position taken by the Democrats, as some kind of excuse for what is happening in Washington.  From my perspective, this is simply reality.  The present ills of our nation are all directly attributable to W and his eight disastrous years in office.  So, yes, I believe that Mr. Obama is living a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy in that he cannot bring about all the change that is needed because he is not getting the help he should be getting from either his Congress or his electorate.
(Now, back to our originally scheduled rant):
Am I the only one who remembers a feeling, that gave way to actual declarations, and I thought, action that indicated that maybe the American people had finally wised up to the point that maybe, just maybe, we were going to stop reelecting the same old sorry liars, but were going for a clean sweep that would get rid of incumbents, and lead to some fresh approaches?  I mean, wasn’t that what Obama’s election was supposed to represent?  Didn’t the candidates all promise that they were going to do things differently (including Mr. Obama)?  So, what the hell has happened?
I am well aware that the current crop of office holders has made no effort to keep any of their empty promises.  I am well aware that Lobbyists continue to thrive, and spread their special brand of sickness, and that means the current office holders are no more resistant to their outright bribes than were the former office holders.  I am also well aware that the Pentagon continues to hold too much power, and to exercise too much influence over those latest idiots we elected to Congress.
What I truly do not understand is how it could be that every news source imaginable reports – over and over – that the American people are not happy with their elected officials, and that the American people want to see some real change from the old status quo, no one is happy with what is happening (or, better, NOT happening) in Washington, D. C.  Yet Congress just goes on, spending money that we don’t have, passing more and more laws that always have special interests at heart (at the same time that there remains a general failure to enforce the old, existing laws), and failing to make any effort to accede to the public will.  If we elected these bastards, and they don’t do what they said they would do, and what they said they understood we wanted them to do, why aren’t we holding some recall elections, and why would we be talking about “next time, I will vote for the other party’s candidate,” instead of maybe looking for a non-party candidate?
Maybe it is time to consider regaining the true value of our franchise, by demanding better candidates from wherever they might want to come.  Maybe it is time to simply begin massive write-in campaigns by common people, willing to declare themselves to be independent of either political party.  Maybe it is time really throw the bums out.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

What is the current state of ICE’s Kolbi, anyway?

Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk. - - - Henry David Thoreau

(It should not take you long to see that my title, up there, is perhaps a bit misleading. But, stick with it. It may get better)

Some of you are undoubtedly aware that Costa Rica's ubiquitous electric, telephone, internet end-all-be-all is known as ICE (Instituto Costariccense de Electricidad). This government monopoly blithely spreads itself quite like a cancer across the land, doing pretty much what it pleases, with its employees being among the highest paid in the nation (that's not necessarily saying a lot). Those same employees also very much display at their wont one of the world's supreme examples of an attitude that makes it very clear to you, the consumer, that your needs, wants, desires, wishes, or hopes don't mean squat to ICE.

These are the same employees who will tell you to your face that you have two options: 1) accept whatever $hit they want to offer you, or 2) don't. These are the same employees who held a one day, nationwide work slow down (how the hell anybody could tell that this was a slow down, I'll never know) to protest the possibility that the government of Costa Rica might allow competition to raise its ugly head. This, of course meant the frightening (to them) possibility that they might actually have to start providing some service, which means they might actually have to work for their collective and (relatively speaking) lucrative livings.

I probably should get to the point of this post, but I'm having fun (maybe I'm on a roll?)…… I'm just getting' started, so bear with me just a bit more. This entity (ICE) is notorious for blatantly wasteful spending, resulting in some of the highest electricity rates in the Western Hemisphere – especially when you consider the poor quality of service and product that they provide. I figure the lights go out – admittedly, usually for just a few seconds or minutes at a time – at least three to four times per week, and often for much longer periods of time (last Wednesday, alone, that was more like three to four times). This may or may not be accompanied by something as obvious as an electrical storm, or heavy rainfall.

This is also the same entity that must possess the largest fleet of company owned vehicles (not just per capita, but period) in the very same Western Hemisphere. (I wanted to say something clever here, like True story: with a colon, and then pass this along to you, but I guess that wouldn't fit my standards, since I have an upcoming rant/lament about the state of journalism today). A young man who works for ICE, at a lower executive level, recently told me (making this hearsay evidence, your honor) how, when the executives have to attend a meeting away from their home office, this will result in the following: say there are four guys from said office going to the meeting in San Jose. Since one of the signs of a successful, one might even say upwardly mobile, ICE exec is to have an assigned car and driver that means that four different cars, with four different drivers will all make the trip. Multiply that by however many execs are attending from different parts of the country, and you get an idea of how many wasted man hours and how much wasted energy this represents.

Take a drive along any of the country's horrible roads. I guarantee you that you will see more vehicles with an ICE logo, usually with only one or two people in them, than you will see of anything else. Now, for those who haven't observed another phenomenon of Costa Rican life, to put it mildly, you will never see a more labor intensive culture, anywhere. I think I've mentioned before how silly it is to deal with three different people to buy one lousy nail at the ferreteria.

Well, despite being top heavy with execs, and having way too many employees in general, ICE still subcontracts a lot of the actual work that they should be providing. A case in point: the guys who actually strung our phone line from the road to our pole, were employees of a subcontractor. Another example: just this week, I had a problem with my phones. For whatever reason, none of the three phones in the house rings anymore, and the caller ID on one of them shows no incoming calls. I could make calls, but I had no way of knowing when someone called me. So, I reported this, in person, to my local ICE office. That very same day a guy drove up to the house, and checked it out (great service, right?), but he was NOT an employee of ICE. He was a subcontractor!

OK, fun time is over. This is why I really started this rant, post, whine/bitch session, story, or whatever:

Over the last few months I've talked to a number of people who have said things like, "You know, the 3g was not that good to begin with, and then, when they made it necessary to either pay more money, or stay with a lower speed, I decided to just pay the same amount, and stick with the lower speed. I don't see any difference, anyway. I mean, it's the same slow speed, whether I pay more or not."

So, that got me to thinking. I had immediately gone to ICE to make sure they put me on the fastest plan, knowing that it would cost me more money, and things have just gone along as always. The signal is still very inconsistent, being mostly weak, and slow, but once in a while, jumping up to the promised 1Mbps. The problem, obviously, is that it is not consistent, one way or the other. Lately, however, with the increased rains (it is, after all, the rainy season), it is mostly a weak signal, so that means less speed.

Actually, the friendly people at my local ICE office have suggested that I go ahead and ask for the lower tier, slower speed, and have also said that there does not appear to be much difference. One young lady there actually said, "Why pay more money if you are not getting a better service? Do you want to change?" I declined on the grounds that it is a risk I just don't want to take without some more evidence.

Just the same, based on what they say at ICE itself, and being curious about all these folks who have claimed to have told ICE to leave them at the lower tier (less money per month), and then claimed that they see no difference in performance compared to their previous supposed high speed, I decided to post general inquiries about this matter on some web forums. Basically, I mentioned what I have been hearing, and asked if anyone at all could provide any hard data to show that the people now paying less are indeed still getting the same service they were getting before. So far, there have been no takers.

    I have received a couple of personal emails, neither of which quite came up to what I was seeking. One talked about his experience with a setup much like my own, and reported that he is also still paying for and receiving the higher speed. The other said all his Tico friends have dumped the Kolbi data card, and it is just so much crap, and a cell phone internet experience is better. And, obviously, neither of these two guys had any data to meet my inquiry. So, I guess I'm stuck with what I've got, at least until something better comes along.

OK, let's wrap this up. It has now, by the way, been more than a week since I posted my inquiries on at least three different forums. I have received no response whatsoever to the actual request. Not one person, of all those who have claimed to have stayed with the lower speed, has responded. I have spoken to a couple of people who were able to tell me that they only do email, and a small amount of internet surfing, so I must conclude that no one who is serious about the 'net has made this deliberate change to the lower cost/lower speed connection. And, to repeat what I said up above, it looks like I am stuck with this set up.

Ah, but wait! What's this I see up on the road? Amnet has strung cable all the way from Tilaran to Nuevo Arenal! That means that cable might actually be available right here within the next decade! I think I'll give them a call…………pura vida, mae……..tranquilo……

Monday, September 6, 2010

Lions ‘n Tigers, and………Warships?! redux

The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible. - Bertrand Russell

Americans are benevolently ignorant about Canada, while Canadians are malevolently well informed about the United States.
- J. Bartlett Brebner - Canadian born scholar, who fought in WWI, later studied at Oxford, then at Columbia University, New York, where he taught for many years.

Why is there so much speculation about a U. S. Military presence in Costa Rica? Worse, why is there so much misinformation about this issue? I know that part of it is that Costa Rica is a nation that thrives on rumor, gossip, and innuendo, and the expats who have moved here are not immune to this aspect of life here.

Not too long ago (see the entry Lions 'n Tigers, and.........Warships?! from July 18) there was a big stink here in Costa Rica about a U. S. invasion. For some reason, it seems that certain people here, in Costa Rica, just cannot let this idea go away. Every once in a while someone will start a new thread on one discussion forum or another reporting the latest sighting of a U. S. Military presence. There was a rash of sightings of Chinooks and/or CH-47's a few weeks ago, and one forum has a recent thread titled something like: "What, the Navy has landed, but no one is running?" Also,
someone posted about "meeting the humanitarians," in the bar of a Liberia Hotel, someone else (Canadian, interestingly enough) says they have seen – on more than one occasion - "groups of them at the airport in Liberia," and more recently, "8 'servicemen' standing outside wearing their 'V-Neck Olive Drab Commando style sweaters'." As a matter of fact, a good friend of mine (internet friend, since we've never actually met face to face) got himself banned from a forum for his perceived attack on the original poster who reported (second hand) the humanitarian presence just the other day. So, obviously, this is an issue that gets folks fired up.

    I don't know about anyone else, but there is something else about all this that bothers me. I don't know why, but here it is: When I was in the Army – lo, those many, many years ago – we never spoke of any U. S. Military presence, like this was something sinister. Guys were either in the Army or the Navy, the Marines, or the Air Force. When on active duty, on a military establishment, we wore uniforms (and, they looked a whole lot better than these crummy camos the GI's wear today)! Oh, that's another thing: we were GI's (Government Issue), and so were our brethren. When I was sent on TDY (Temporary Duty) from my permanent post of Ft. Bliss, Texas, to Panama, in 1968, we wore 'civies' (civilian clothes, and you could still tell who was a GI, partly because of our hair cuts, but mostly because our idea of civilian clothing was less than fashionable. Think flash, cheap, whatever might be available close to the gates of any military post) on the flight down, and then wore Fatigues on duty. When we were off duty, we changed back into 'civies,' mostly because none of us wanted to be seen in any kind of uniform - - Remember, this was the day of the Draft, and Viet Nam, when GI's were spit upon on the streets of America. I know that individual GI's traveling on orders usually wear a uniform – and, always did – but that is because GI's used to get a reduced airfare.

    But, to get back to my point here today, I wanted to touch on why this constant reporting of U. S. Military in a place where anyone with a modicum of knowledge, or even sense, should know that there really is NO U. S. Military presence. Actually, there is not all that much U. S. Military presence anywhere in Central America, since we gave the Canal back to Panama. Now, I know there're some of you who want to jump all over me, and say that just isn't so. But, I defy any and all of you to cite for me one fact (do I have to define that word for you?) that says different! Now, I don't want he-said, she-said, or my-friend-saw, or any other form of hearsay. I am asking for simple fact.

Yes, we have certain treaties with certain countries in Latin America, and I think one or more of them allow for a certain U. S. presence, but not in Panama, or Costa Rica, or Nicaragua. Check my facts. The recent agreement that allows some U. S. Naval Vessels to come into port here does not allow for active U. S. Military activities, not even in regards to so-called drug interdiction programs. That is mostly the purview of the U. S. Coast Guard and DEA. Oh, before I forget, I should point out that even though the Coast Guard is considered to be one of the U. S. Armed Forces, I personally do not consider them when talking about the U. S. Military. Didn't then. Don't now. Here's why:

By law, the Coast Guard has 11 missions:

I don't see anything military in there, do you? (source:

    Now, I have searched all over the internet for something that might establish for me that there are indeed some feet-on-the-ground GI's somewhere in this area, and I can't find anything other than some far Left wing and communist rants (from Cuba, even) claiming such to be the facts, but none of them have any facts to present, just claims. I did find an article called "U.S. military programmes with Latin America and their impact on human security" by a Joy Olson, and I suspect there may be a tie to Britain there, based on the spelling of the word, 'programmes.' But, I have no idea if such is the case. At any rate, based on her bona fides, and the groups with which she was and is associated, I will readily accept her as an expert in this field. You know, her article doesn't say anything about any active duty U. S. Military being stationed in this part of the world at all. I did learn that Ms. Olson was the director of the Latin America Working Group, a coalition of sixty non-governmental organizations working together to promote a more peaceful, just and humane U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America, and now is the director of something called the Washington Office on Latin America – *see footnote at end of this post* - (

As for the guys in the "'V-Neck Olive Drab Commando style sweaters'," remember that claim comes from a lady from Canada. I must ask, with all due respect, what, exactly, has given her the ability to identify a uniform or a group of identically dressed individuals as 'servicemen?' (Actually, today, a serviceman is nearly extinct, isn't he? You know what I'm talking about: the guys who come and fix your washing machine, right?) Do you know whose military uses "V-Neck Olive Drab Commando style sweaters," or, for that matter, where the word commando comes from? Here's a clue: It was most definitely NOT the U. S. Actually, I believe it was the Brits. Meanwhile, not even the U. S. Army is so stupid as to require the wearing of any kind of sweater in Liberia, Guanacaste, Costa Rica, at any time of the year!

*Joy Olson, Executive Director, is a Latin America human rights expert who has directed non-governmental human rights organizations for more than a decade. A policy strategist and a partner in dialogue with U.S. policy and opinion makers in both Washington DC and Latin America, Ms. Olson has a long-standing commitment to promoting greater transparency in U.S. military programs in Latin America.  She co-founded the "Just the Facts" project and co-authored its three books on US military programs with Latin America. Her many achievements include campaign leadership to end U.S. government efforts to deport refugees who fled from civil war in El Salvador to the U.S.  She led NGO efforts to increase U.S. funding for Central American peace accords implementation and a successful advocacy effort to lift the ban on food and medicine sales to Cuba. Prior to joining WOLA as Executive Director, Ms. Olson served as Director of the Latin America Work Group (LAWG), a coalition of 60 non-governmental organizations working together to promote peaceful and just U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America. A published author in the Latin American human rights field, Ms. Olson did her graduate studies at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, following two years' work in community development in Honduras.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

PC be damned!

There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832)


So, help me figure this out (don't get excited; that's a rhetorical request for assistance, there; I do not expect a bunch of opinions). I consider myself to be possessed of reasonable intelligence, and am actually proud of my ability to read, speak, and understand the English language. I also take pride in my various life experiences, and believe that I am relatively well acquainted with my computer, the internet, and even web forums. Maybe my problem is that I first experienced the internet back in the early 90's when both computers and the internet itself were necessarily slow. This, of course meant that there was no such thing as 'surfing' the web, because all that was out there was text-only. It did not take long at all before there was a veritable proliferation of active bulletin boards (BB's) dealing with every subject under the sun. Because of the – by today's standards – severe limitations on space and time, there were some very stringent rules of etiquette that were generally adhered to, as in, required if one wished to participate in a given BB's activities.

One of the first things that one found upon first arriving at a particular BB was the rules, prominent among which was a serious admonition that one must first familiarize oneself with all of the rules of that particular BB, and must actually read a number of descriptive entries providing background information, including what we still refer to as FAQ's. A newbie was not usually allowed to actually post any inquiries, or respond to someone else's inquiries until he or she had demonstrated that he or she had a basic grasp of the subject matter, and the basic rules of etiquette. This usually meant that the newbie was under total review by a moderator until that moderator was satisfied that the newbie could comply with the rules. Failure to comply with the rules usually meant expulsion.

So, you were left with a group of folks who pretty much thought alike, had pretty much the same level of comprehension of whatever the subject matter might have been, and who got along. Moderation was usually pretty light, since everyone had already proven themselves. Those who really screwed up were summarily dumped, or else got the message, and left voluntarily. Granted, some BB's were actually killed off by their own members, when a particularly obnoxious flamer intruded, and virtually drove everyone else off the board.

Now, this did not in any way prevent some very good BB's from starting up (and from growing) just to provide information to folks who did not know enough about a given subject matter. As a matter of fact, newbies for this kind of BB often learned whatever it was that they felt they needed to know, just from reading the FAQ's, and looking at some of the background information provided. Based on their review of the FAQ's and general information provided, they were actually able to ask better questions, and get their own needs met much more quickly and simply than if they jumped right in.

Nowadays, however, we no longer have BB's for any purpose. Instead, we now have Forums (so, is the plural of forum, fora? If not, why not?), and this is where we encounter a phenomenon I guess I'll call the sweetness and light brigade (for lack of a better name), who represent an invasion of PC (no, I am NOT referring to Personal Computers, but rather to converts to the somewhat misguided idea of Political Correctness) fanatics, and who cannot tolerate any sort of thinking that might be termed as out of the box. Most of them are very thin-skinned, and resent just about everything written that does not conform to their platform. They need to be spoon fed every little tidbit of information, they can't be bothered to have performed any basic research, and they are totally ignorant of proper netiquette. They don't mind seeing the same old information hashed and rehashed, with the same old questions that have been asked and answered ad infinitum (or, ad nauseum), that should be well covered in the Forum's FAQ's.

Should you show yourself to be less than totally tolerant of newbies who come traipsing in to ask yet again what the forum is all about, for instance, and should you dare to let your true feelings creep into your response to these newbies, you are immediately labeled as some kind of horrible, incorrigible, mean, rude, nasty, grouchy, intolerant, anti-social curmudgeonly beast. They remind me of the person - most often, for some reason this was almost always a girl - who had to ask just one more question (leading to more, of course) of the professor before he could dismiss the class – Hell, this goes back to Junior High, and those last minute questions from 'no-clue-Lou' that delayed our dismissal, most often, last class of the day just before a holiday! Once these people have labeled you as one of those beasts referred to, above, they will not take the time to read anything further that you post because they have convinced themselves you have nothing to say, since you're such a mean, spiteful person, and of course that explains why they always had that one last question ('cause they didn't listen the first three times the prof told us). It was because and it is because they won't accept information from any source other than one that meets their criteria of being so wishy-washy as to be utterly devoid of any characteristics that might suggest that human beings are at work. In other words, as Archie Bunker might say, "Don't confuse me with facts."

It makes no difference to them what your life experience may have taught you, or whether you might simply represent the one true voice of experience, since you're not PC, you're nothin', and they're happy to sit there with their hands over their ears, going "nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah……….." as long as they think you might be talking…….

The funny (funny peculiar) thing is you may well go out of your way to make sure you have not called anyone any names (you know, avoiding any use of phrases like "you stupid shit," or "hey, dummy," or "listen up, numbnuts." But, they quickly resort to name calling, not realizing that you have long since learned to pretty much ignore such tactics. And, of course, since they turn themselves off to whatever your message might be, you just end up spinning your wheels. The worst part of this is that it is not necessarily the newbie who might react this way. No, it's the long time forum member, who has nothing to say in response to whatever inquiry a newbie has posted to set you off (in other words, they have no clue as to how to answer the newbie themselves, since they haven't learned the basics themselves). It is the established forum member who has to jump in and essentially highjack the newbie's thread into an attack on you because you dared to answer the inquiry (most likely by trying to steer the ignorant newbie to a place where they could have found the answer, and a lot more, if they'd just taken the time).

Now, there's something of a corollary to the above thoughts, and let me see if I can express this properly. Have you ever noticed (this is a rhetorical question again; ya gotta watch those things) how it seems that certain right wing fanatics, possessed of very strong views (not necessarily backed by any application of logic, or thought, or research, or - God forbid - knowledge) will not only take exception to any dissension or disagreement, but do so violently, and quickly resort to name calling, if not outright threats of violence? Of course, the worst of these are the W apologists who now want to blame the current U. S. President for all of the world's ills, without once acknowledging that the vast majority of those ills were not only created, but seriously worsened by W! And, Obama just had the bad fortune, if you will, of running for the office at what may well be the worst possible time in history. No matter what he does, he will not satisfy anyone, but that's another issue.