Alligators 'n Roadkill

Alligators 'n Roadkill
On The Road


Monday, January 31, 2011

I’m just sayin’………..

The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it always to be kept alive. - Thomas Jefferson

You know, it was pretty bad when a certain ex-president was able to lead us all down a fear-ridden garden path by lying to us. And, it was pretty bad that millions of fools chose to believe him and to follow him to the point that they re-elected the man to a second term, even after he had been proven wrong. It was actually worse that these same millions were so quick to turn on their fellow citizens whenever the existence of certain fictitious WMDs was questioned labeling the questioners as traitors. And, of course, it is really bad that we are still embroiled in a larger and (by far) worse quagmire than ever before in our history. It is downright sad that after adequate numbers were able to elect a new President, with a promise of change, that those other voices have become louder than before, and now have turned on that new President and any who support him or his efforts to bring about that promised change.

For some strange reason, hate and fear are now given a more prominent place from which to shout their terrible slogans, and hate has joined fear to provide a continual distraction, which takes the attention of the American electorate away from the real issues that face our once great and proud nation, and away from the very real threats to our freedom, and the very ideals of our democracy. The wool is firmly in place over the eyes of the majority of Americans, and we Americans now spend too much of our precious time and energy arguing among ourselves, while the tail has begun to wag the dog. Does anyone remember Dwight D. Eisenhower's very timely words of warning, from January of 1961, regarding The Military Industrial Complex?

One of the biggest distractions involves the screaming, irrational voices that clamor for the current sitting U. S. President to show them his "long-form" Birth Certificate, to prove to them that he is indeed a citizen of the U. S., and born on U. S. soil. These fools totally ignore that their candidate was born in Panama (John McCain; look it up). They ignore and shout down any attempt to ask them to stop and use logic or any kind of rational thought in seeking the answer that they want to their demand. Even those few moderate Republicans who initially hoped that this might be a real issue long ago abandoned this pursuit when they realized that it is a dry hole. No amount of reason will penetrate these people's minds, because they tune in daily to get their reinforcing 'shots' of hate and fear and lies and untruths from the likes of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and just about anyone who works on air for FOX 'News.' (Note: the word, news, when used with FOX, is italicized and in quotes because this is not a real news network. It is one of the World's largest and worst examples of a propaganda machine. It does Joseph Goebbels proud.)

Most recently, this evil man, Glenn Beck, has incited his listeners to some truly hateful threats of physical violence against one person, that person being 78 year-old Frances Fox Piven, an American Sociologist, formerly on faculty at Columbia University, and today, still on faculty at New York's City University. (see this link for a full report: Mr. Beck spent some seven minutes of his Jan. 5 'program' on FOX ranting against her for a paper she co-wrote with her now deceased husband, in 1966, a short two years after this idiot (Beck) was born! This rant, during which he said things like her 55-year-old article was a call to 'overwhelm the system and bring about the fall of capitalism' was of course swallowed hook, line, and sinker by his fanatic listeners. Reportedly, his temper had flared over a more recent article she wrote for The Nation praising the demonstrations and civil disobedience that took place in Britain and in Greece over the last few months of 2010.  'Is that not inciting violence?' he asked. He slammed her as an 'enemy of the Constitution'. She has received multiple death threats, and despite formal requests to FOX to curb Mr. Beck's enthusiasm, FOX 'News' refuses to control his rhetoric because, in their words, he has "quoted her accurately," and because Mr. Beck has never threatened her.

Let's put this in context of the also recent shooting in Tucson (Jan. 8, just a few days after this particular rant). No, no, no. I am not trying to directly link these two separate events. But I am saying that rants of this nature are bound to lead to actual physical violence because all too often these radical, right wing so-called 'conservatives' resort to threats of physical violence when they find that their arguments (which usually lack all sense of logic or reason since they are so often based on fear and hate mongering) are falling on deaf ears. That has to inevitably lead to real violence, and one wonders what can be done to curb some of this.

Granted, I have done little more than suggest something here. But, to go back to my original concern, having to do with that entity Mr. Eisenhower warned us against, all those years ago, let me ask you some questions:

Who benefits from war and other acts of aggression? (Hint, the initials are M-I-C).

Who has one of the more powerful lobbies working for them in Washington, D. C.? (M-I-C) (This may well be the single largest and most powerful lobby, if you include some areas that are normally listed as being representative of other interests, such as Misc. Business, Communications/Electronics, Transportation, Other, Construction.)

Who has very strong influence over most Representatives and Senators (as in, 'in their pocket'), maybe the strongest? (M-I-C)

Who was really behind our 'incursion' into Iraq, not only the first time, 1991, but more recently, in 2003? (M-I-C)

Who really controls the Pentagon? (that's right, M-I-C; or, 'you betcha,' as one tea party-er might say)

In what field did Dick Cheney work prior to becoming Vice-President-In-Charge-Of-Evil? (M-I-C)


I'm just sayin'………..

Monday, January 24, 2011

Does this make me a reactionary?

Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish.   - Euripides

I remember when I was young, and some of you do, too (remember when YOU were young, that is), that just about every liquid that one wanted to buy came in a glass container, upon which a deposit was paid. With this simple ploy, people easily learned to take care of glass containers, and they were recycled in a manner much simpler than any recycle program of today. The same containers were taken back by the bottler (whether that might be of soda pop, beer, milk, juice, or whatever), washed, and used over and over. Even motor oil was more economically dispensed (in bulk, actually) at the local service station in glass containers that were kept on the premises, so that they could be used and re-used over and over. For greater quantity, depending on the liquid, one gallon glass 'jugs' were common, as well. Granted, not all glass containers were in fact recycled, but we all know today that glass is easily recycled, right?
A glass milk bottle looked much like this, but I don't remember foil closure.  What I remember was a paper, or card stock lid.

Also, paper and cardboard were much more widely used for packaging and for transport, from the manufacturer, to the wholesaler, to the retailer, even to the consumer carrying his grocery purchases home in the cardboard boxes that the store had accumulated during the shelf stocking process. Some of you remember that when buying groceries, the 'box boy' put our purchases into boxes (the same boxes that the merchandise was in when it was delivered to the store; what a concept), and this made it easy to carry the stuff to the car, or even all the way home by whatever means we had at our disposal (the basket over the front wheel of a bike?). There were also paper sacks, of different sizes and material, depending on whether you were bagging groceries or hot nuts (yes, you could also buy cashews, peanuts, just about any variety of salted nuts, that were kept warm, under a heat lamp in a display case (most commonly in the drug store, but some other places offered them as well), or bulk candy, or a loaf of bread, or whatever. And, of course, the 'box boy' did become a 'bag boy' for a time, before the use of plastic bags become more widely spread.

And, of course container manufacturers also discovered that heavy paper, or light card-stock could be coated, first with wax, and then, later on, some kind of plastic. This coating then allowed containers of paper to be used to hold at least non-carbonated beverages. So, we had milk cartons (I guess we still have them, in smaller sizes), and juice cartons. But, the world – not just the U. S. – has gotten lazy, and has found it more convenient to ignore the possible cost savings that are available with just a bit of effort.

So, we are overwhelmed with crappy plastic bags that won't last through very many re-uses, we cannot find cardboard boxes at the supermarket because they have cut a deal with somebody to recycle them. Milk and juice and soda pop, and even beer is now being put into plastic containers that just take up room in landfills, with little chance that they will ever contribute anything else to the environment. And, as if aluminum cans aren't bad enough, have you noticed that some brewers are now trying to force aluminum bottles on their suckers, er, um…..customers?! Coors & Bud, I believe……..

For those of you who live in the U. S., maybe you are not aware that much of Latin America still uses glass bottles for Coca Cola, and other soft drinks, and for beer. When you want to buy these products, you must first pay (yes, this is an initial added cost) a deposit on however many full containers you want to buy. But, once that deposit has been paid, from then on, all that has to be done is to take the empties to whatever store you choose, and exchange the empties for full, paying only the cost of the actual product. Over time, this should reduce production costs since the manufacturer should not have to pay for an ongoing demand for new containers. At worst, a portion of the containers will obviously be lost to breakage or other loss, but at best, this will be a fraction of the current replacement cost for all new containers. This does – in a manner of speaking – force people to recycle, but it also saves so much money, while helping preserve our environment. This obviously means less litter along the sides of the roads, and less trash to be picked up with the rest of the garbage. Isn't that a good thing?

And, speaking of packaging in general, does anybody remember how things like Lincoln Logs, or Tinker Toys were packaged? The package in which these toys were sold was a cardboard tube, with a metal bottom and a screw-on metal top (made of tin, I believe), right? Now, what is wrong with that kind of packaging? If it got damaged, or worn out, or in some other way became trash, it would degrade naturally, a lot quicker than any plastic container/package you can think of. Anybody remember Cellophane? Cellulose? Celluloid? These were plastic like materials, made from wood, or cotton, or (little irony here, no?) Hemp. No oil! What a concept!

So, here's my contribution to a new world order, a cleaner environment, prevention of global warming, less trash in the oceans and landfills, lower packaging costs, more bang for the buck, and that warm, fuzzy feeling we all want so bad: Let's take a step back, instead of all the time thinking we have to go forward. Instead of more oil demand, let's decrease that demand, and find ways to meet at least one need the old fashioned way, by using organic materials for packaging!

Monday, January 17, 2011

You say wasted time; I say grist for the mill….

I always find it more difficult to say the things I mean than the things I don't. - - W. Somerset Maugham

I just realized (and, I know what you're saying: What took me so long?) that no one bothers to read what others post on any of these forums! Someone asked a really stupid question over on CRL on a Sunday morning not too long ago, along the lines of "what do you all think of 'our' bull fights?"

First, of course, I was confused as to just who the poster considers 'us' to be, because her post was also advertising for a bilingual receptionist for some place I never heard of, likely in the Central Valley. So, I first thought that maybe this place that needs a bilingual receptionist also puts on bull fights, and she's looking for some feedback from wannabe receptionist type persons.

But, then it occurred to me that maybe she was referring to the National Sport of Costa Rica (which is nothing more than simple Bull Riding, where some drunks are allowed to get into the ring where the 'rides' take place, before, during, and immediately after each ride). For some reason that I have yet to fathom, a number of misinformed gringos seem to think that this sport is equivalent to Bull Fighting, which is, of course, a 'bull' of another color, or maybe just so much Bull Puckey.

So, I posted pretty much that. I mean, I asked if her business was putting on bull fights, and then asked if she might not mean instead of bull fights, bull riding. I attempted to explain that the sport is properly bull riding (maybe because the main attraction appears to be that young men get up on the backs of the bulls in question), and not fighting (likely because there are no gloves, no swords, no knives, or guns involved), and that for me, personally, it is not very interesting. The next time I looked, there must have been a half dozen other posts (OK, maybe three – but that's half of half a dozen, and by today's standards, that's pretty close, isn't it?), all referring to Bull Fighting, and ignoring reality. So, they're off and running, all reinforcing one another's misinformation, compounding the error of the Original Poster (incidentally, this is shortened to simply 'OP' when posting to a forum, which is an insider term, for frequent users of online forums).

Eventually, though, somebody did notice my post, and then a couple of the other members decided that I was wrong, with one guy even going so far as to say that what takes place in Costa Rica is a corrida de toros, when what happens here (where I live) is called competicion de monte, which is competition of mounting (riding? Hello?), not bull fighting. He also said that he had found a lot of pictures online by googling corrida de toros that depict bulls with "swords sticking out of their withers." What he didn't say was that the pictures that pop up all link to Spanish bull fighting, not Costa Rican bull fighting. He then corrected my Spanish, saying that it has be competencia, because competicion is a gringoized (spanglish) word, and that his google of corrido de toros resulted in tons of hits, and implied that those hits all had to do with Costa Rica.

Now, the correct word may well be competencia, I don't know. I just remember the other, and that is the one that I use when talking with local Ticos. Another member of that forum, female this time, criticized me for not getting out enough, because she has personally seen 'clips' of all kinds of bull fighting, and never once did anyone intentionally try to get on top of a bull.

I really don't know how I am going to break this news to Tulio (our builder and friend). You see, he is the one who has educated me about bull riding, and he himself is a former champion bull rider. He has showed me the televised competitions, and even taken me to more than one redondel (that I could have sworn he called a rondel) to see a local level competition. I mean, what do I tell him? "Tulio, I don't know how to tell you this, but you see……..well, it's that…….I mean……oh, hell! You don't exist! That's because there is no such thing as bull riding competition here in Costa Rica. It's all about a bunch of idiots who tease a bull right up to the point of total frustration." Yeah, I can see that working very well. Actually, the events that I have attended, with Tulio, began with the introduction of the young men who are competing. Then, just like in an American Rodeo, they take turns riding bulls against the clock. When their individual rides are ended (usually with the young man being thrown), the idiots (who are already in the ring) then distract the bull by teasing it mercilessly. From my perspective, these idiots take the place of the Rodeo Clown, common to the American Style Rodeo. So, I figure the Tico event organizers save money this way.
Not a very clear image, but this is from a competition of bull riding, taken in 2002, at Playa Puerta Soley.

Well, another day has come, and the moderator of said forum has closed the thread, and admonished yours truly, saying that the event as witnessed by her, and all the others does NOT involve bull riding, only what I would call bull-baiting. She also took umbrage at my characterization of the Central Valley as the center of the known universe (I suppose I did get a bit sarcastic in my references to the CV), reminding me that she doesn't "believe it is fair to blame people for living in the CV for your error," whatever that means. My point was, and still is, that just because they have seen one event does not make it whatever they call it. You see, they persist in saying that the sport they are talking about is bull fighting, but I have never heard the term corrida de toros used here by any Ticos, and I have never seen any matador, or picador, or capes in use.

So, it has been brought home to me once again that I really HAVE been wasting my time on these forums. I know that I always referred to having wasted my time, but I'm finally realizing that I really was wasting my time. Really! A lot! Big waste! I mean, who cares, right? But, then, wait a minute. Think of it this way…… all serves as grist for the mill of my Blog, now doesn't it? So, I guess I'm not going to give up the time-wasting forums, just yet, after all. Stay tuned.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Isn’t it about time to bring the issue of gun ownership to the forefront?

The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun. - P. G. Wodehouse

The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the so-called 'Right to Bear Arms' Amendment, was ratified on December 15, 1791. The exact wording of this amendment says: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Beginning late in the second half of the century just past, this Amendment became the center of a fierce and protracted argument between two factions. On the one hand are those who proclaim that this amendment guarantees us the right to own a gun. On the other hand, are those who say that not only have the times in which we live left this entire idea behind, but that those who claim that this amendment gives us the exclusive right to own firearms have misinterpreted the amendment.

The simple argument to counter those who believe that this amendment continues to give us the right to own guns is to point out that none of us are members of a militia, since our nation no longer (and, has not for many generations) requires the continued existence of a militia. Instead, we have a standing Army which exists to provide us with that security the Constitution also guarantees to us. Yes, I tend to agree with this second interpretation, because I do not see how we can accept part of this statement without accepting all of the statement. No militia, no arms. It is as simple as that.

Maybe if we were under threat of an imminent attack by an enemy force it would make sense to maintain a militia. But, first of all, consider this: how long has it been since any army attacked us on our shores? Secondly, what good would a standing militia have done against the idiots who hit us on September 11? The answer to the first question is nearly two hundred years, when we were attacked by the British, during the course of the War of 1812. To answer the second question, just consider how much good it did us to have the FBI, the CIA, all the Armed Forces of the United States, all the local law enforcement of an entire nation, not to mention an active U. S. Customs Service and the U. S. Immigration and Naturalization Service all in place and active up to and including that infamous day.

Beyond the lack of a militia, there are more compelling reasons for us to no longer cling to this antiquated idea. It may have made sense when we each had to put our own meat on the table, but think about it. If you have a choice between going to the supermarket, or a good meat market, where you can buy any cut of meat you want, or go out and either freeze your butt off, or sweat it off, then get filthy dirty in the process of finding an animal to kill, then you have to dress it. Have you ever dressed a fresh kill? I didn't think so. Would you really want to? Do you have any idea how much it might cost you if you add up all the costs of outfitting yourself properly, transportation to and from the site of your kill, storage of your fresh meat, and so on? Now, logically, doesn't it really make more sense to go pay six bucks for a pound of decent beef, and all you have to do is decide how to prepare it?

Those who favor gun ownership also make the claim that legitimate farmers or ranchers need firearms, maybe if one of their animals needs to be 'put down,' or also to protect the land and livestock of the farmers or ranchers from natural predators. This is not only a lame argument to present, but it is simply not true. When an animal has to be put down (cow or horse with a broken leg, for instance) one can either slit a major artery with a knife, or call a vet, or bash the animal on the skull with a hammer. As for predators, how many are left, after how many generations of being hunted and killed on sight? Or, think about this: before firearms were available to the common man, what did farmers use for these purposes?

Next, and think very hard about this, now: if no one was allowed to own any sort of firearm, against whom would any of us need protection? And, while you're at it, think about this: how many murders, per capita, occur each year in Great Britain, where not even the cops carry firearms? "Britain has a long tradition of unarmed police officers walking the beat with only a truncheon for protection." - - (source: And, in case you're wondering about per capita murder rates, here is the most recent data I can find: The U. S. ranked 24th, and the United Kingdom ranked 46th, according to Seventh United Nations Survey of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems, covering the period 1998 - 2000 (Source: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Centre for International Crime Prevention). This translated to these rates: for the U. S. - - 0.042802 murders per 1,000 people, and for the United Kindgom - - 0.0140633.

I know. I know. You are going to say that any competent statistician (or incompetent one, too, for that matter) can make any set of numbers say anything he wants them to say (at least that is pretty close to what my old professor of Statistics used to say). I agree with that, but I also know that if I hadn't included some numbers, some smart ass somewhere would for sure ask me to cite some numbers, so there you go.

My contention here remains that if guns – all guns – were truly outlawed, and if all guns were thus eventually turned in, collected, confiscated, purchased, whatever; and, if there was no such thing as a gun dealer or a weapons sales business or a purveyor of same or a seller of same or a black market dealer in weapons, then not even the criminals would have access to guns. Yes, this means that weapons manufacturers who wanted to stay in business would need to find another product to manufacture. And, would that be so bad? And, yes, I know that this doesn't mean that someone with a knife would be stopped, but it seems to me that there are a hell of a lot less mass murders being committed with a knife than with any kind of gun, now aren't there? And, doesn't that sort of suggest that a future without guns might well continue the same pattern? And, wouldn't that be a good thing?
 We really don't need more pictures like this in the world.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Part III – being the third head of our modern Tico version of Cerberus*

The wonderful, marvelous, modern, new 3g Kolbi internet service is here - - NOT!  You know, I am of course used to dealing with mostly American utilities and service providers.  I also have been a customer of Skype for some years, and they are European, I believe.  I will freely admit that the ‘service’ provided to me over the years from cable providers in the states was not always all that good, and I did not find them to be particularly customer oriented, but generally, they did not offer a service that they were not prepared to deliver.  And, with the exception of the cable company, most utilities that I dealt with – all my life – have been quick to apologize for service interruptions, and even to issue a credit for extended service interruptions.  Skype, for example, just recently experienced a worldwide outage that lasted for some hours.  Personally, I was not even aware of this outage, and before I became aware of it, Skype had issued me a credit as a means of apologizing for the outage.  Not only that, but I have received three apologetic emails from them since the outage.
Now we come to my alteration of Winston Churchill’s famous quote.  ICE has a very small market, compared to just about anybody, right?  That’s the ‘few; I referenced.  Then, take the value we ‘few’ receive from ICE, especially with this Kolbi thing.  That is the ‘little’ I mentioned.  As for the “many,” I mentioned, that would be the many, oh so many, too many employees of ICE.
By the way, the name, Kolbi, it has been explained to me, is the national frog of this little country, and I gotta question the use of such a symbol for this particular purpose.  I mean, many things come to mind when I hear ‘frog,’ but none of them inspire anything resembling what I might want from a service or product – you know, the little things like, oh…say, reliability, dependability, strength, value for money; stuff like that).  OK, maybe if they were quick to “hop” to providing service?  But, we all know better than that, don’t we?
Once more, here’s the thing:  back in December of 2009, that young man I mentioned at the beginning of this epic, came home to spend his holidays with his parents.  He came to see me the day after his arrival in our area, very excited to tell me that he believed ICE (his employer) was about to offer the solution to what I had been complaining about for months.  That would be the solution to my lack of a reliable and fast internet connection (because all I had available to me, up to that time, was dial up).  You see, he knew that I really wanted to be able to watch American Football, via my Slingbox, that was already set up back in Texas.  He excitedly told me about the Kolbi data card/modem.  He mistakenly said that they were going to provide download speeds of 1Gbps (that’s Giga Bit Per Second), which certainly got my attention.
He then went all the way to Tilaran the next day to get his own data card.  He came back that afternoon and showed it off to me, with his laptop, in my little living room.  We both understood that this was new, and that ICE was saying that there was an introductory price for the present because they were acknowledging that their system was not complete, so they could not promise the top speed just yet.  The understanding that we both had was that we were going to pay a very small amount per month until the system was truly up and running, and able to provide a high speed, then we would automatically get the highest speed, and our bill would go up accordingly.
Oh, he was wrong on so many accounts!  First of all the top speed promised was and is an occasional foray up to a certain point, but by no means was it being promised to be a consistently high speed.  And, it certainly was not anywhere near 1Gbps.  It was only 1Mbps (MegaBitPerSecond)**, and the wording is something like, “capable of speeds up to,” as opposed to something like, “offering sustained download speeds of 1Mbps.”  Here we come to another area that might require a bit more explanation:  I have found a web site that does a real speed test, one that offers the user an explanation for why their (ICE’s) supposed high speed internet ain’t.  It is provided by a thing called VisualWare, and is located at this URL:,%20Texas&ver=8&map=namerica&codec=speedstd&codectext=Standard%20View&width=600&provtext=Phonoscope&provlink=
          I know, that’s a long URL, but the test provided sure serves to make me feel bad about my connection.  Yes, I said bad, and that is just what I meant to say.  What I get from their speed test is not just download and upload speeds, but also a very important little item that they label as “Quality of Service,” which is the best indicator of whether or not one really has a broadband connection.  If this percentage is low, one cannot hope to do something as simple as complete a satisfactory VOIP call, let alone ever hope to stream video or have a video conference, via VOIP.  Would it surprise you to know that my ‘Quality of Service’ is rarely up to snuff?  Just now, this morning, I ran a test, and it is actually pretty good for me, at my location.  Here is what the results look like:
 (Just click on the image to bring up a larger size).
          My download speed is rated at 974Mbps, which is pretty good for the Kolbi, and the upload speed of 291Mbps is really good for Kolbi.  Mind you, that upload speed is not as good as I would like it, but it’s better than the 150, or less that ICE usually gives me.  Now, you may have noted that the overall Quality of Service is 84%, which, according to this web sites, is not really adequate for video.  However, that being said, would you believe that 84% is better than I usually have?  And, it is raining cats and dogs right now!  Go figure.  Oh.  One more thing.  You may have noticed that the site thinks I am in the U. S. A.  That is because I use a VPN to hide my true location, since Costa Rica is noted to be a center of serious worldwide internet fraud, and many legitimate web sites, all over the world, block IP’s that are read as being in Costa Rica.
          Now, to carry on, let me sum up.  I signed up for an internet connection that I thought would give me adequate speed to do what I most wanted to do, which is watch American TV via my Slingbox/Slingcatcher combination.  My research has taught me that speed alone is not what I need for acceptable video streaming.  You see, without an adequate upload speed, whatever website you go to for downloading, doesn’t know that you want to download unless you tell them, and you can’t tell them if they can’t receive your information because your upload speed is so slow as to not be able to reach them.  Beyond that, if the connection that you achieve is not clean (jitter and other obscure technical terms apply here), you cannot hope to stream video, no matter how fast your download speed might be.
So, here I sit, more than a year into this thing.  The outages have been frequent, inexplicable, and extensive.  Never once have I heard an apology from ICE.  Even though I have gone in person to the local ICE office many times, never an explanation for outages, never an explanation for why they still are not delivering what I am paying for, never an explanation for why the service is so bad, and certainly, never any offer of credit or refund for the times when service was out.  In short, I sit here now telling you that more than one ICE employee has actually told me that I have two choices:  (1), Accept what they laughingly offer, or (2), don’t.  Can you imagine any reputable business, anywhere in the world having the audacity to offer a service that they cannot deliver, and then having the chutzpah to continue charging for the service that they do not deliver, simply because they know that their customers have no choice in the matter?!  Can you say monopoly?
To get back to that question asked in Part I of this opus, about how they can charge so much for so little:  Yes, I know a large part of the answer is obvious, and I’ve already touched on it.  That would be simply the fact that there are too many Chiefs and not enough Indians.  But, it goes beyond that:  There are too many employees, period.  There are too many folks who don’t want to work.  There are too many folks who can’t think beyond a very narrow set of parameters, as in beyond their own little job description.  There are too many folks who are either afraid to accept, or simply incapable of accepting, any responsibility for ever making a decision.  The saddest thing of all is that monopoly is a dirty word to most of us, but it is not only in Costa Rica that the concept is alive and well.  Look at the size of AT&T once again.  Look at the size of Exxon/Mobil.  Does anyone out there remember what Teddy Roosevelt did?

*Cerberus – according to Greek Mythology, this was the three headed dog that guarded the gates of Hell.  I know that ICE has more than three heads, but in my case there are only three that apply – electric, phone, and Kolbi.  And, I don’t think you can argue that once in (a paying customer of ICE) there ain’t no place else around here that so closely approximates most accepted descriptions of Hell as the inner workings of ICE.

** Clarification of those measurements:  mega means million, and giga means billion, so giga is 1000 times mega.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Part II: Skating On Thin _ _ _.

A continuation of a little something about our mutual friends at ICE started yesterday……….

I, for one, have no choice but to go to them (ICE) for telephone service (landline), cell phone (if I wanted one bad enough to deal with them for this, too, but fortunately I don't need one), and the current bane of my existence, their marvelous, up to date, dependable, reliable, clean and sharp 3g service, known as Kolbi. But, first, let me tell you about how we got a landline connected at our house.

We knew, while construction was going on, and while we were waiting for our cedulas, that we could not even think of asking for a phone until that pesky little residency thing was finalized. So, we didn't. Once we got our cedulas, however, and even before we took our first trip back to Texas (for an event that we knew was coming, our oldest son's wedding in October of 2009), I went to ICE to request a phone. I carefully explained that I already had undertaken to have the line run from our neighbor's property to ours totally underground. What I asked of them was to provide the line from the road down to that pole, and make the connection. There was no need for any digging or for any additional poles to be placed. Just run the line, right? I also explained that we had a document prepared by our attorney, with all necessary signatures, that gave us – and ICE – permission to run any lines needed over the neighbor's property.

They said there should be no problem, and upon accepting my deposit, they printed out a document that they said should be posted in a prominent location for their representatives to see when they got to the property to assess what was going to be needed for our connection. We then posted that notice on our house, explained everything to the caretaker, and took our trip. This notice was essentially to their (ICE's) representative/engineer, to see upon his arrival at our property, explaining to him that all fees had been paid, and even listing our eventual phone number. His job, as I understood it, was to simply look over the situation, walk the property as needed, and give the go ahead to the folks in the office to go ahead and run the additional line (on existing poles, from the road, over the neighbor's property, to the pole on her property where they were to connect to our line) required.

Upon our return from our trip, we were of course disappointed to pick up the phone, and to see that it still did not work. Timeline to this point, by the way, looks about like this: request to ICE, in their office, was made by me, and a deposit paid, on or about September 15. We left for Texas on Sept. 20, and returned from Texas on Oct. 10. So, we're only talking about three weeks and a couple of days at this point.

We naturally asked our caretaker what had happened, and found that he really didn't have a clue. He thought that someone had come from ICE, but wasn't really sure (you should be aware that this is as much due to his being a few fries shy of a happy meal, as to any actions on the part of any ICE representative). He just couldn't tell us anything.

So, I went to ICE, and learned that they didn't really know what had happened. I next asked them to please send their engineer, or whatever, back, so that I could actually talk to him. He came. I showed him my documents. I showed him where my line ran underground. I showed him where the pole is located on my neighbor's property. I showed him where the line runs, on her property, from the road. He said he understood that ICE did indeed have her permission to run my line on her property, and he said that he would give the go ahead for the connection.

A week went by. Nothing happened. So, I went again to ICE's local office. Now, I was told that the engineer, after talking to me, and after reading the documents that I had showed to him, and after being given a copy of said document, had reportedly gone to the trouble to speak directly to the neighbor, asking for her verbal OK. Again, reportedly, she had denied permission. So, I asked how could this be, and why did he feel that he had to talk to her, in the first place. In my presence the clerk placed a phone call. She told me that she was calling my neighbor personally (my neighbor happened to be in San Jose that day, so she called her on her cell). I, of course, only heard one side of the conversation. The clerk concludes her call and says the neighbor has just denied permission to her, yet again.

So, here I am, truly pissed at my neighbor, with whom I haven't spoken for a time, but who had recently, on the street in town, agreed with me that ICE could run my phone line through her property whenever they wanted to. So, next, a friend of ours, a Tica, and a truly lovely lady, went with Blanca (my wife), to talk to our neighbor. Again, she (our neighbor) couldn't be nicer, and repeated that she had no problem with ICE running my line through her property. She also repeatedly said that she had never once denied ICE any permission to go through her property. As a matter of fact, all agreed that this was the most logical way to hook us up. This was again communicated to the local ICE office, by me and by the neighbor.

What we finally figured out was that ICE wanted to run the line down the road, maybe fifty meters west of where our neighbor's line runs, and make me pay for all of the posts that this would take, so that the line would then be ready for future use for any other people who might happen along. I guess I should mention that we are on a public road (at least according to the municipalidad that has authority over our area. And, here we have yet another Costa Rican idea that is similar, yet very different from what gringos might be used to – municipality might mean a city government, but here it refers to what is more like a county-wide jurisdiction), and let's face it, it is sort of logical for a public phone line to run along a public road. However, we were very much aware that we were the only ones on said public road, and that the shortest route between us and the nearest lines, was to go across private land, and that is all we were asking for in this instance. But, evidently the fine folks at ICE had decided that by stalling my request, I would eventually agree to pony up the significantly larger amount of money that it would take to do what they wanted, as opposed to simply acceding to my original request.

It only took a few more weeks before one day two guys showed up in a little truck, with a bunch of ladders and stuff, and in less than an hour, they routed wire from the road, along our neighbors existing poles, and hooked us up right where we had asked for it all those weeks before. And, here is another twist: Those two guys? They were sub-contractors to ICE, because ICE evidently doesn't do any actual connections in our area! However, the phone is still working, albeit less than totally clear at all times, over a year later! But, here is the thing: yes, the phone is pretty much there, but not really all there, if you know what I mean. Lemme 'splain:

Not too long after the phone was finally connected, we started to run into people who asked us what was wrong with our phone because they had tried to call, but never could get through. Turns out, as improbable as this sounds, that the ringers on three separate phones all got fried at approximately the same time, so that if someone was calling us, we had no way of knowing since our phones made no sound! Not only did that happen, but the caller ID ceased to function. So, I had to buy a separate item, a ringer that I stuck on the wall, and it connects to the phone jack, and a phone then connects to it. As if this is not bad enough, we also have noticed that many times the phone rings, we answer it, and there is no one there. People trying to reach us tell us the phone rings, but then just stops. We easily confirmed this because many times when we answer no one is there, so we hang up, and then the phone rings again, and we do this over and over until we find someone on the other end who tells us that they have been trying for numerous times to reach us.

Naturally, there is nothing that ICE can do, and I can sort of see their position. You see, in order to connect us the subcontractors had to run easily over a hundred meters of line, probably more, from the road down to the pole where our line was waiting. My guys, the ones who ran our phone line underground, from the house, up to that pole, had left at least 20-30 meters of coiled line hanging on that pole. The sub-contractors didn't bother to cut off the excess, but connected to the end of that coil. So, I have at least 200, maybe more, meters of phone line running down here, without benefit of any sort of equipment to maintain a strong signal. Undoubtedly, some of the original signal strength, as found in the main line, up on the road, has been lost, so I can't ever expect to get a clean phone connection, without even more expense.

There is more to come, so stayed tuned for Part III.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Spy Who Came For Dinner (and never left), or The Men From I. C. E.

Winston Churchill said: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." I say: "Never in field of utility service was so little owed by so few to so many."

Note: This piece was written at the request of the publisher of, and has already been published at that site, prior to some further editing.

Part I of III

Oftentimes, when thinking about certain local institutions (OK, just one, really) I recall those evil organizations from the spy movies and from television back in the early sixties. You know; the enemies of all mankind, the ones who wanted to take over the world. Our only hope was a James Bond, or maybe Dean Martin, in his role of Matt Helm. Wait a minute! What a strange twist of fate! Matt Helm was an agent of I.C.E. (Intelligence Counter Espionage). And, they were the good guys! Now, this is ironic, to say the least. We have come full circle! We have met the new, modern enemy, and he is ICE (say it quickly, with a Texas accent, and you'll see that I have made a pun, intended), but, of course, he was the good guy! Go figure.

This is most definitely NOT about good guys, 'cause even though there may be some good guys in the current employ of Costa Rica's ICE, none of 'em are in a position that might allow them to make any changes for the better, as in save us all from this evil. No, as a matter of fact, the good guys I know at ICE suffer right along with the rest of us, shrug their shoulders, and say, "Pura Vida, mae."

Now, one young man who I actually know, and who happens to work for ICE has a degree in Electrical Engineering, and is moving rapidly upward in the hierarchy at that institution (do you suppose, btw, that they named it as an institution however many years ago that they named it, because they knew how closely it would come to resemble bedlam?). Unfortunately, this young man is involved with the electrical supply side of things, rather than the internet 'service,' which is where I have the most problems with ICE.

But, just because I have more problems with their internet that is not to say that their phone service is anything to brag about, nor is their provision of electricity lacking in problems, or spikes on a meter. Actually, here is some real irony for you. Costa Rica can rightly be proud of the fact that ICE does manage to supply an adequate quantity of electricity for the entire country, with little or no sullying of the environment. But, that statement, just like reality, completely ignores the quality (as in, dearth of it), and one has to ask, at what cost, as in "Boy, are their rates ever steep!"?

Now we all know that this is a very seriously labor-intensive nation (one has to deal with three people just to buy one lousy nail at our local hardware store! I used to say screw, but realized that is not appropriate, since the end result is that the purchaser is pretty much well screwed upon his/her egress from the building. But that's another story). And, we know that there does not appear to be any business (other than maybe a Chinese restaurant owned/operated by a family of Chinese immigrants) that ever operates efficiently. Here is just a glimpse of how ICE tops anyone else's attempts at being not only labor-intensive, but seriously wasteful of resources and – naturally – money:

This entity must possess the largest fleet of company owned vehicles (not just per capita, but period) in the entire Western Hemisphere. An example: that young man that I referred to above, who works for ICE, (currently at a lower executive level, but moving up) recently told me 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. Just 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, what has me totally discombobulated, not to mention confused is this: I do not believe that any other nation on the face of this earth can make as strong a claim to be providing mostly clean energy. But, why is it so expensive? I mean, we are all aware that we pay more per kilowatt hour than any of us paid back in Gringolandia. The hydroelectric plants are in place, and some of them are really old. Windmills have been up and running for many years now. Geothermal plants have been established for a good while. Granted, new plants – both geo- and hydro- in nature, are being constructed as I write these words, and that cannot be cheap, since all the heavy equipment required both for the construction, and for the actual production of electricity, has to be imported. But, as those idiots on ESPN's MNF like to say, "Come on, Man!" Why is your unreliable product so expensive?

In one recent day I counted eight (8) – yes, that's right ocho – power interruptions! All of very brief duration, granted, but what effect do you suppose that many stop/start cycles has on expensive appliances like refrigerators, air conditioners (at the beach), and so forth? I know what effect it had on my PC. The boot portion of the HDD was fried, and I had to spend a day, plus, doing a complete system restoration. The good news is that I am capable of performing this kind of technical feat on my own, but imagine what it costs those of us who have to rely on local expertise in these situations. And, tell me, please, what kind of electrical system is so unstable? To answer my own question, let me suggest that a poorly maintained, and poorly operated, not to mention poorly constructed system might well operate so inefficiently.

Because of all the bad reports I have heard about not only frequent power surges, but ICE's lack of involvement in restoring what their customers lose due to said power surges, and in the interest of protecting my things, I have purchased and installed a whole house surge protector device. I try to remember to unplug certain items at night, not to conserve energy, but in case of yet another surge that might fry delicate circuitry. I made my contractor show me the installed grounds, and I have gone out of my way to reinforce some of the poorly grounded items that I have found. My PC is now connected via one of those UPS devices. So, not only is the questionable service overpriced, but you have to go to extra expense in other ways just to protect your various electrical/electronic devices.

More important, however, is that no one ever asks out loud, and certainly no one ever offers any explanation, regarding the main question here: "How in God's sweet name does ICE possibly justify charging so much for so little?" I'll try to answer that, and other questions, a bit later. But, first let me remind you, just in case you forgot, that ICE is also charged with providing other services, besides electricity. However, since this thing is starting to take on a life of its own, and I now realize I have two areas to cover yet, I think I'll save that for Part II.