Alligators 'n Roadkill

Alligators 'n Roadkill
On The Road


Friday, December 21, 2012

Hey! I moved and forgot to tell y'all!

Since I'm no longer fighting the battle to survive in Costa Rica, I decided a new location and name for my blogging activities would be appropriate.  So, even though I haven't been very active for a while, you can find a bit of more recent stuff here:

(I really thought I had provided a little note about this here, but obviously not).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

United Airlines really sucks

I have been a rather frequent flyer, first on Continental Airlines, and more recently on United, since their merger. I have to tell you that I will do everything that I can from this point forward to avoid ever using this airline again. We recently completed a trip from Costa Rica (Liberia) to El Paso, Tx. It was bad enough to have to pay $200.00 for being a total of about three and a half pounds overweight, but to discover that so many things were missing from our luggage upon our arrival in Texas (we simply could not believe that so many things could have been lost from our checked bags, so we checked over and over since our arrival here in Texas), is simply not acceptable.

I certainly did not contact the airline in a timely manner (note:  their rules require that you show them broken things before you leave the airport, and notify them of missing items within four hours of your arrival), nor did I make any effort to communicate with them within their short window of opportunity, first because we did not discover all the damage and missing items until hours and even days after our arrival, and because it is still so difficult to believe that things might have been taken out of our bags. And, before anyone asks, or suggests it, we found no notices from TSA regarding any search by them of our luggage.

Knowing that such things are not allowed in carryon bags or on my person, I secreted two small pocket knives inside (interior) pockets of one checked bag. They are gone. My wife had put her cuticle scissors and other cosmetic, personal care, items in a special zipped compartment of another checked bag, and they are all gone. I cannot find my Pentax waterproof digital camera. I am missing a wireless mouse (A mouse, for crying out loud; one that needs the charger/stand and a transmitter in order to work – those items made it) that was carefully packed along with those items necessary for its operation! My wife placed a recent gift (a nicely boxed cologne) inside one suitcase. It is missing.

More importantly, and more expensively, also missing is a matched set of earrings, a necklace and a bracelet that my wife had carefully packed.

To have found so many items missing is one thing, but we also had some very important ceramic/porcelain religious statues broken in handling. These items had been very carefully wrapped and placed in our bags with clothing to cushion them. One of these is irreplaceable, and I must point out that we’ve never experienced so much loss with one trip.

I estimate the combined weight of the missing items together with all the breakage their agents caused easily and greatly offsets that 3 and a ½ pound overage they charged me. So, here’s my new slogan for United Airlines: “Pay us twice when you travel with us – first, to purchase your overpriced seats, and then, when you find you have to replace your valuable personal possessions because we don’t take care of them.”

I simply cannot fully express just how badly this entire episode makes us feel. Air travel had already lost its charm for us, subsequent to 9/11, then as air fares have increased, while services have decreased, and then, as the merger took place.  I – for one – really miss Continental Airlines.  I felt a great need to add that mention of the merger, because United has changed so many policies that I felt were part of doing business with Continental
airlines.  I also believe that many of those policies served to provide real customer service.  Unfortunately, the way United operates, service has become so lacking that I no longer feel like they even want my business.

Friday, July 20, 2012

I learned yet another Tico word just before we left Costa Rica.

Prenda – a Tico word that means “Guess what?  Just when you thought we couldn’t screw you over any more, we have a way to do it one more time!”

We were anxious to sell our car before we left Costa Rica, so you can imagine how happy I was to recently receive payment from a buyer.  This buyer happened to still be in the States, and is not due to be in Costa Rica until September or October, long after our departure.  So, in order to be sure that he can have the car in his name, I went with our friend, Pete (who happens to be a realtor who sold property to my buyer, and who found this buyer for me), to visit a lawyer in Tilaran, to effect a Power of Attorney (from me to Pete) so that they can go to another attorney when the buyer gets here.
It is bad enough that the Power of Attorney cost me an additional $80.00, but the first thing the attorney told me is that the Registro Nacional shows there to be a lien against the car.  I asked him how that could be, and he said that the car dealer from whom we bought the car had placed a lien against it in June of 2009 because of the way in which we purchased it. - - We paid a total of $16,000.00 for the car, putting the first $10,000.00 on my credit card.  Then, per our agreement with the dealer, we returned to them in September of that same year, and paid the balance in full.  Actually, we ended up paying more than we had expected because they added fees and interest that we had not anticipated. - - When we paid the balance, we asked them if that was all, and were we done, and we received reassurances that we were done, and owed nothing further.
Well, just like with so many other things in this country, we have now learned – three years later – that we were not, after all, done.  The dealership never mentioned the lien to us, and more importantly, never told us that we were the only ones who could get it removed.  And, wouldn’t you know it, that removal has to cost even more money!?
The lawyer in Tilaran wanted me to give him an additional $200.00 to remove this lien, but I declined, saying that I would contact the dealership and inquire as to how this had come to pass.  I did indeed talk to their legal department only to learn that (as the lawyer in Tilaran said) this was the responsibility of the lawyer who did the paperwork when we bought the car, but no excuse or apology for this oversight was forthcoming.
There is (just as with most things in Costa Rica) considerable paperwork to be done, and hoops to jump through.  So, we went to another lawyer in Nuevo Arenal, looking to get this stupid thing resolved.  It cost me $160.00 more to remove (hopefully) all impediments to the completion of the sale of the car to this buyer.  Would you believe that I am delighted, relieved, excited, and very, very happy to have left that place behind?

Monday, July 2, 2012

¿Quien Sabe?

“Strange as it seems, no amount of learning can cure stupidity, and higher education positively fortifies it.” - - - Stephen Vizinczey, An Innocent Millionaire
The last place to look for correct, accurate, and totally unbiased information is an internet forum. And, the first place to find incorrect, inaccurate, and totally biased information is on an internet forum. This is because, being human, most people can't help posting things as if they are gospel, just because it happened to them, or just because they heard from a friend of a friend, or just because they think so, rather than making an effort to apply anything resembling the scientific method. Following are a couple of examples of posts containing misinformation taken from real online forums:
First Example:
"[We} travel a lot all over the world but mostly to the USA, especially Georgia as our domestic operations are located there. 3 of my family members have drivers licenses from Costa Rica. We have had so many problems with this since we are US citizens. We have been told everything from "you can't drive in Georgia with an international drivers license", "you can't have residency in another country and be a citizen of the USA", or "we do not recognize international treaties in this State" ... yes, this is true ... and a good hint why we moved....." [evidently away from Georgia]
OK, so then this person went on to relate how the laws in the U. S. have changed so that now the laws require everyone to have a valid driver's license from their country of residence, plus a valid International drivers permit (from your country of residence).
The person also reports that her daughter was arrested because the Georgia police would not recognize either her IDP or her license from Costa Rica.
Now, she fails to cite either a Georgia state law or any Federal law that supports her contention. And, she ultimately asks whether or not there is some place in Costa Rica where she can obtain an IDP..........(btw, I have to wonder; since when did such an offense become something for which one might be subject to arrest?). My point about this example is that the person is totally misinformed in the first place, and rather than double check the law right there in Georgia, she resorts to ranting on an internet forum [which forum purports to be exclusively for/about/pertaining to Costa Rica], essentially seeking validation for her choice to be misinformed, ill informed, and/or just plain ignorant.

A Second Example:
A newcomer to Costa Rica from Canada (they evidently just picked up and moved, without having done much preparation, but that's another story), wanted to know about the forty day wait period for the processing of a check from outside the country into an account in a Costa Rican bank. They essentially complained about the difficulties they encountered in simply opening a bank account, and then were looking for information about what might be the best way to get money from Canada into their Tico bank. This is what the all knowing moderator told them (in part):
"About the float on the check deposits at 40 days, that's about six weeks and not unusual for a brand new account. Here is where being a member of ARCR can help because as a member they will provide you with a letter of introduction to the nearby Banco Nacional branch with which they have an arrangement for their (ARCR's) members, which will make your application with BN there go a lot more smoothly and, as a reference, that letter might even shorten that float time a bit for your deposited checks. Check this out with ARCR. BTW, the float time will diminish after you have developed a history with the bank.
As to the VISA debit card, it depends what logo is on the reverse of your card. Star, Plus, and Cirrus are the systems that work best with the ATMs in CR. The ATH, which stands for 'A Toda Hora' and means 'At All Hours' (logo looks like OATH at first glance) seems to be the best ATMs to use and offer the least trouble. At least that has been my experience with ATH ATMS."
Now, his statement that ARCR can help avoid or shorten this 40 day delay in processing is just flat not true. I bank at BNCR, and was a member of ARCR. I still had to wait even longer than 40 days for a personal check to process, and this was after I had been banking with that bank for nearly ten years! As for opening the account, we did that some years before we moved to Costa Rica, on our own, without any letter from anyone. As for using a debit card, there are some cards that charge an international fee, and others that do not.
This same moderator is also infamous for posting rumor and second hand information with his built-in authority as if it were fact, which leads to even more people believing misinformation. As an example, recently a person came onto a forum seeking contact information for an attorney. One person provided what little they had, and, after a time, here comes our 'expert' who, incidentally only lives part time in Costa Rica, saying "I thought I heard" that so-and-so had moved away from Costa Rica! Now, first of all, how is that helpful? Secondly, if he only thought he heard, what does that say about his information? It is, at the very least, questionable, and highly suspect as to accuracy! My point is that if he doesn't have a definitive answer for the person who asked the question, then he has no business posting anything - Especially, if he is supposed to be serving as a moderator.
Speaking of misinformation, here is a glaring example found all too often on certain forums. Say a discussion begins on the subject of GMO food, or organic produce, or to be (or not to be) a vegan. The folks who support these half-baked (no pun intended) and otherwise strange concepts invariably refer their dissenters to see this or that 'documentary,' whenever they are challenged to offer any kind of scientific evidence to support their claims. Or, to go to certain web sites that support their position. Or, when asked where they obtained their information, they will admit that they did a Google search using wording something like "the harmful effects of GMO produce," or "The evils of Monsanto," thus creating a variation of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not only that, but if one was to Google simply the word/name, "Monsanto," I believe that most of the 'hits' would be negative in tone. Why? Because, there is much more discussion of that company from the haters than from any legitimate member of the scientific community.
Now, as to the creation of any video documentary, consider this: It takes money to make a decent video, no matter the subject. Who has paid for the production costs of all these 'documentaries' referred to by these folks who espouse the vegan way of life, or the elimination of Monsanto and their 'evil' GMO produce? I can tell you who did NOT pay for it. No one in their right mind, that's who. No one who has looked at this issue with anything resembling an open mind, that's who. No one, in short, who is able to maintain an objective view of the subject, that's who!
So, because emotions run so high on these subjects, newcomers are being constantly provided with only half the story, and, being human, they all too often stay ill informed simply because they are too damn lazy to do their own - objective - research!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Changes coming

Heads up!  That is, if there is really anybody still reading this thing.  Changes are coming to my Blog, effective after July 17.  We are returning to Texas on that date, with no plans to come back to Costa Rica, unless/until we sell our property here.  So, since current plans are to return to live in El Paso (Del Norte), the name of this thing will necessarily change to something more appropriate to that locale.  Keep in mind that this is still based on the ramblings, musings, complaints, whining, or rants of a dyed-in-the-wool curmudgeon, who still has a few axes to grind.

don't know what to call it, but the name will indeed have to change......any ideas?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Our Dream of Pura Vida has turned to mala vida

"There is no such thing as "fun for the whole family."  -- Jerry Seinfeld

Or, as Peggy Lee once sang, “Well, all right, OK, you win………” - - Except when she sang those words, she was talking about admitting to pretty much the opposite of what I have to admit to here and now. My admission is that we have given up on our dream of living in paradise. My admission is that what we thought was a paradise is mostly window dressing, and physical appearance, with nothing behind the curtain.

As you know by now, we came here three years ago with the firm belief that our last years on this earth would be tranquil, peaceful, smooth, totally happy, and without problems. Boy, were we wrong!

At first, as you may recall, things did actually go swimmingly. We received our personal belongings in good shape, and in a very timely manner (albeit nearly 50% higher in cost for shipping than the shipper had quoted prior to the move*). We were able to obtain a construction loan for our little house, and it was completed in only ten weeks time (although the interest rate on the loan is nothing short of usurious).

We were able to purchase a decent car with little trouble, and it has indeed proven to be well worth the (exorbitant) cost. [We paid $16,000.00 for a 2005 model Suzuki Grand Vitara XL7, in June of 2009]. We made many new friends and found ourselves with the busiest social lives we’d seen in many years. We obtained our legal resident status with only a few glitches along the way, and never had to hire an attorney during the process. We were able to have our entire front porch screened, so as to enjoy the view without being bothered by too many bugs. We were able to add both a garage/workshop and a carport to our house.

Yes, things were looking good. We received and entertained a number of visitors, both friends and family over the first year or so that we were here. We were aware that the increasing cost of air travel was having a negative impact on the family members we had anticipated entertaining down here, and that was certainly disquieting. We thought we were adjusting to the difficulties always encountered when trying to purchase just about everything in a small, backwater country. Just about anything manufactured has to be imported, so that logically means higher cost. In this particular little country, not only are manufactured items more costly due to shipping costs, but the truly ridiculous import duties make many things just out of the question. Worse, the quality is very poor because just about everything is imported from China.

What really rang our alarm bells, however, was what occurred on and around the First of March, 2011 (see my Blog entry for April 4, 2011, titled “I Fear That The Blush Is Off The Rose……..”). At about that same time, we also found out that there had been some serious overcharges on our electricity billing (that I did not Blog about until August 4 & 7, titled “Didn’t see this coming…..” – Parts I & II).

Those two events, occurring so closely together, coupled with so many other negative things that had been happening to us, pretty much led to our decision that maybe Costa Rica is not for us, after all. I mean, look at us. We first thought that this would be a place where our small pensions would go farther, and then, when the economy took such a dive, the cost of living here dumped as badly, or worse. When you consider that too many things were already too expensive here (gasoline, manufactured items of every kind, decent food), the rest pretty much took that blush right on off the rose of our dream.

We do not regret this decision, only the delay in reaching it, and its actual implementation. We cannot sell our property, but we cannot let it go, either. We cannot afford to pay anyone to be a caretaker for the property, nor can we pay the electricity, or water, or phone for someone else’s use. So, we have hopes that a young Tico couple will live here rent free, in exchange for which they will maintain the place and pay their own electric.

We will leave here – gladly – on July 17, bound for El Paso, Texas. We do not have high hopes of anything once we get there. We won’t have anything because we cannot afford to pay to ship anything back to the states, which means we quite literally may well lack the proverbial pot to piss in. But, that is OK, because we will lack the window to throw it out of, as well. We expect to rent, most likely a small apartment, if we can find one that we can afford. Our income will have to cover our mortgage payments down here in addition to whatever living arrangements we can manage in Texas.

So, even though we are leaving here, and even though the name of the Blog may no longer be appropriate, I do intend to continue to write the occasional musings of an old grouch (or, those of an habitual bitcher, as my father was wont to say) from wherever we land. We currently have no plans to return to this place, until/unless it finally sells. However, to be honest, if or when it becomes obvious that it will never sell at any price, I think we’ll be happy to just let it go………..

P. S. – I should mention that the electricity went out only once while I was writing this piece. Yeah, even after three years here, we still have power outages 3-4 times per week, lasting from seconds to hours. And, no, they are not usually associated with a lightning strike, or storm event, but just happen randomly.

*this reference is from an email I sent to Charlie Zeller, with a moving company called shiptocostarica, on 3/9/2009, his quote had been $10,465.00, and I emailed him assuring him that I would have that much money ready. His bill (prior to the actual delivery) was over $16,000.00.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

ICE Wins Again!

"No tyranny is so irksome as petty tyranny: the officious demands of policemen, government clerks, and electromechanical gadgets."  -- Edward Abbey
You may recall that we suffered considerable damage to some of our electrical and electronic devices in April, and that we (foolishly) submitted a claim against ICE for the power surge that caused it.
Well, the local administrator did finally respond to our claim in May, but I have held off on commenting on this further until now. According to his letter, which must have taken him all of five minutes time, after an “exhaustive analysis” of our home’s electrical, ICE cannot find what caused our problems. We were given three whole days in which we could appeal this decision, but we lack the funds to seek legal recourse (not to mention the patience to wait these bastards out), so they win again.
On the one hand they acknowledge that we are their clients, and every time you interact with these assholes, they always say “para sirvele,” but the last thing on their mind is obviously NOT service.
We already knew we want out of here, but now I know that I want out much more than I did before. It is simply unconscionable for any entity to be so uncaring, so lazy, so blind, so useless as is ICE. They charge more for electricity here than private or public utilities charge in the states. They remain top heavy with administrative personnel who do nothing. They own too many vehicles to cart their important administrative types around. They will do nothing without money up front. They have a large number of employees in general, who do nothing (the two cretins who performed the ‘exhaustive analysis’ at our home did nothing more than measure the incoming voltage (252 volts!), sniff the burned out capacitors of the dead power surge protector, and look at the items we showed them.
That’s right. A power surge protector! What could have burned out such an item, if not a power surge? How could anything in the house (on the receiving end) that belongs to us possibly cause a power surge?!
Now, even fifty years ago, I believe that whatever technology was extant at that time was capable of showing exactly where and when spikes or power surges occurred. Picture a big room somewhere, with a wall of meters and lights, all indicating the current conditions across the power grid. That would have been fifty years ago. Skip forward to today, and even if ICE is still that primitive, all the jerk in the local office had to do was call over to Tilaran (the county seat, and the location of the ICE HQ for power generated in this general area), and ask them to check their records for the day and time we provided to him. Any reasonable and responsible admin type in the world would have done this for a customer, upon whose continued business his company should depend. But not Mario whatever the hell his name is, the Jefe in the local ICE office. I have never in my life encountered a more unmitigated bastard than this two-faced bureaucrat.
At the end of the day, ICE, in the person of this jerk, denies responsibility, and we are still stuck with the repair costs. God save us from these people. This extremely high cost, not just for the electricity itself, but for all of the devices that have failed in the three years we have been here, has more to do with our decision to get the hell outta here than any other single event or series of events.
For those keeping score, the final is like this:
ICE – millions
Me – Nada, Zero, Zilch, double goose eggs, and 0

P. S. - His name is Mario Murillo Castro, and his title is 'Coordinador,' whatever the hell that means.  I suspect it means that he coordinates ways in which to screw customers, while deflecting their complaints, so that ICE takes in more and more, while delivering less and less.  Lou Cristie sang his theme song, many years ago:  "Two Faces Have I."

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Color me Independent.

"Elections are won by men and women chiefly because most people vote against somebody rather than for somebody."  - - Franklin P. Adams

I identified myself for many years as a Democrat. When I created my Facebook profile, I even put Democrat. But, that was before Washington went totally bonkers. I now have very strong feelings that neither political party can be trusted, because neither appears capable of making a serious effort to do what is best for the nation. As a matter of fact I think the term politician should be a four-letter word, and anyone who wants to be a politician should be banned for running for any public office. Ever.

There are so many words that seem to escape these jerks in Washington. Words like compromise, deal, agree, progress, or work, just to name a few. They were all elected to do the right thing, no matter what their political affiliation. Evidently, none of them have a clue as to what the right thing might be, however. What is the right thing? Basically, it would seem to logically be to get to work and find some way to try to repair the damage done by a totally clueless Republican Administration during the eight years that followed a very successful Democratic Administration.

Unfortunately, from where I sit, the last two years plus of (in)activity in Washington, D. C., have shown us (and the world) some of the most childish partisan politics that have ever disgraced that once beautiful city. Both parties are to blame for this, and it is truly unfortunate that this had to happen at a time when we so desperately needed to show the world a united front. It was bad enough for the world to see us as a clumsy, unfeeling bully, and to have the world grow to hate us so actively (and rightfully so, in the wake of the bumbling Bush/Cheney/Rove ‘Axis’). But, for the world to now see us as this quibbling, back-biting bunch of spoiled brats fighting over scraps is heartbreaking and truly shameful.

Now, it is true that the GOP has been laboring under the stigma of trying to defend those actions that got us into this mess since after all it was their guys who did this to us. So, in any effort to come up with solutions they start with a serious handicap. While trying to defend an indefensible position, they are clinging to their antiquated GOP methods to fix the mess. The Democrats really have no excuse, other than the fact that they are currently outnumbered in the Congress. Meanwhile, if ever there was a time in the history of this once proud nation for all parties to put aside their differences and do what is best for the nation, this is it (and, has been since 2008). But, what is still happening?

No, I most definitely am not leaning toward becoming a Republican, because I haven’t accepted much of anything from the GOP since Teddy Roosevelt, but even he was a progressive, and I doubt that he would be at all acceptable to today’s crop. As for the Democrats, I just happened to agree with more of what has come from their side of the aisle, and that goes back to FDR, through Truman, to JFK, LBJ, even Carter, then Clinton, and now, it is ending, not with or due to Obama, but because I no longer believe that there is such a thing as a politician who can be trusted, or worse, a politician upon whom anyone can depend for anything (unless you depend on them to lie through their teeth).

So, who can any right thinking person support today? Damned if I know…….I do not see a single individual out there who gives the impression that he or she cares enough to put party aside, and bring the nation back together to clean up the mess.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Last one out, please turn out the lights!

“Turn out the lights, the party’s over.” (Willie Nelson [song: The Party’s Over] via Dandy Don Meredith, MNF)

The Thursday before last, early in the morning around 7:30, we had one of our common ICE moments, where the power abruptly surged up and down a few times, burning out several electrical devices, and leaving us with only about half power. I say half power because after this event, if we turned on one light, and then a second light, both lights then failed. We were unable to turn on anything that might draw current, like the fridge, or the TV, or even the gas stove.

There are about three different phone numbers that we are supposed to be able to use to report electrical problems, so we began trying them. The first one, which is to an ICE office in Cañas (no, I do not know why we would be calling so far, but this is one of the numbers we’ve been given), did reach a live person. This guy would not even let Blanca explain what had happened before he cut her off, saying over and over that whatever problem we had was internal to the house, and thus not ICE’s worry. I then became very discouraged, but later on tried the other two numbers. One was not working, and the other was to our local ICE office in Arenal.

I spoke with a clerk at the local office who knows me, and he said that he would send some people out. If they came, we never saw them. We ended up waiting all day long for the only local electrician of any worth. Jose Alfredo did show up late in the afternoon, after 5:00PM. He explained that the connections to our neutral bar, within the circuit breaker box were all corroded, especially the main neutral line, due to cumulative affects of too many power surges. He cleaned up the main connector, and recommended that I replace the entire bar.

So, at the end of the day, we did have electricity again, so that the fridge did begin to run once more, we could turn on lights, and use the stove, and so forth. Meanwhile, our outside security light (a dusk to dawn affair) was no longer working, our coffee maker was dead, the microwave oven was dead, the fridge no longer makes ice, and the freezer is not as cold as it should be (ice cream is like mush, and the temp, according to my special thermometer, is only around 20° F; - - just how cold does it have to be for ice cream to stay solid, anyway?). It was not until a few days later that I discovered that my all-in-one (multi-function printer/scanner/copier/fax) machine is also dead.

Now, this is not a small thing, and with this latest event I would point out that in the two years and several months that we have lived here, I have had to buy (as replacements), or pay for repairs to, more electrical and electronic devices than I have had to pay for in the previous twenty years! And, that is most definitely NOT good.

I was very much aware that the electric provider (my good friends at ICE) is totally responsible for this event, and for any damages that we have suffered as a result. Furthermore, I was very much aware that the laws of Costa Rica even say this. We discussed this at some length over the next few days, and shared the report of the incident with anyone with whom we came into contact. We ultimately decided to not pursue any efforts to recoup our losses, however, simply because of our firm belief that ICE would just do the same thing to us that they did the last time we had a problem with them (that would be nothing, other than belittle us).

Well, the son of our builder, who is now some sort of big shot engineer with ICE, got involved and told us we had to file a claim, and provided the written policy showing the requirements for doing so. Also, he contacted the guy who is in charge locally, and that guy had a letter formally delivered to us, informing us that we could submit a claim, and outlining what we needed to submit with the claim. – Picture this, if you will. He sent an employee, driving a large ICE truck, all the way out here to our house, so that the employee (who happens to be a lineman/tech of some sort) could have me sign for the receipt of the letter.—

Now, the requirements are nothing short of next to impossible, but I did my best. The requirements include receipts showing ownership of whatever was damaged, and of course, my full identification. It took me a few days to put it together, in Spanish, and then we went to the office in Arenal to submit our claim one week after the event. He was ready for me, and he (the local supervisor) apparently had nothing else to do but answer the phone and prepare the paperwork connected to our claim. He accepted my declaration of ownership for those things for which I no longer have receipts, and handed us a written response to our claim.

This response starts out by saying that we are accusing them (ICE) of having damaged our things, and tells us that they will conduct an “exhaustive technical analysis” of our entire house and the articles in it that were damaged. It also informed us (a week after the incident) that we must maintain the items right where they were when damaged, without repairing anything or making any effort to change anything in any way. By this time, I had already found out that the coffee maker was not repairable because the technician in nearby Tilaran could not find parts, so I had already told him to throw it away (yeah, that’s right; we bought yet another new one). The microwave had already gone for repair, and was back in place. And, of course, the electrician had already cleaned up our neutral connection to get us back up and running.

Furthermore, if we were to follow this particular requirement (that of not touching anything), this would mean that we have lost any hope of recouping any part of our losses the moment the electrician got us back on line. And this would mean that they expected us to have existed this past week without electricity, to have allowed all the food in the fridge to spoil, and so on.

I ask you, is this absurd? First, they themselves did not respond to our telephone calls. Second, and rather obviously, we have to have electricity. But (and, here’s that Catch 22), if we get the electricity working on our own, then we have essentially destroyed the evidence of their screw up! Oh, yeah………and, then there’s the timeline. Their letter informs us that the ‘exhaustive technical analysis’ may be done any time within the next ten days, and may take as long as two months!

So, what can I say? Welcome to our version of pura vida.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

I have some pet peeves (OK, lots of them).

"I'll be more enthusiastic about encouraging thinking outside the box when there's evidence of any thinking going on inside it."    Terry Pratchett

(This started out to be about a pet peeve (as in, just one). Then, as I started to write, the one became two, and then, before I knew it, I was up to three, and by now, we’ve gone beyond one or a couple, so this is just me doing my best to emulate the late Andy Rooney).

Why is it that every freaking commercial on TV, all too many TV shows, and all too many movies, feature guys who have not shaved for two or three days. It’s like they’re too wimpy to grow a real man-beard, too lazy to shave on a daily basis, or just plain stupid. Did somebody tell them that this is a cool look? When a guy has a real job to go to every day, do you suppose he really shows up looking like this? In real life?  I sure don’t recall seeing anyone that has to deal with the public looking like this. 

I seem to recall that Crockett and Tubbs, the main characters on Miami Vice way back in the 80’s, were perhaps the first ones to feature this look, and I would have thought it would go out of style along with their pushed-up Armani jacket sleeves, but obviously I was wrong. BTW, why would someone pay Armani prices and then deliberately wrinkle the garment?

I guess what troubles me about this is that the only place you see this is on the tube, and in movies. I can’t think of any time that I have ever seen a real person go around looking like this, except maybe a guy who doesn’t shave on his day off. I mean, would you really buy a car from a person who looked like this? Want to deal with someone like this in applying for a loan? Do any kind of business with a person who looks like this?

Meanwhile, while I strenuously object to all television advertising pushing prescription medications of any kind, the worst, the most offensive, the very stupidest are the ones for Cialis/Viagra. First of all, all the guys in these ads are sporting this truly dumb haven’t-shaved-for-a-couple-of-days-‘cause-somebody-told-me-it-looks-cool look, and all the couples are (at the oldest) in their early 40’s! These people don’t need this kind of drug! Whatever happened to truth in advertising?!

If they were a little bit honest, they’d show some old fart in his 80’s, drooling over a bright young 20-something who is eager to get her hot little hands on his, um, er, ah… (what else?).

You know, it is bad enough when any prescription medication’s ad starts to list all the possible side effects (you’d think that alone would deter the average person from wanting to use the damn thing), but then they go on and show you people (always paid actors, by the way) who obviously do NOT need the drug, you just gotta wonder, “Am I really as stupid as these manufacturers and advertising agencies think I am?”

And, somebody please tell me when did the word, ‘gift’ become a verb? As in, “I want to gift my husband a new toy. Is that all right?” NO, it is NOT all right! Find yourself a vocabulary, and give the poor SOB whatever the hell you want to give him, and, after you have put this word to a proper use, just leave me out of it, thank you very much!

And, when, dear Lord, will people understand the difference between I could care less, and I could NOT care less? Do I really have to spell this out? OK, look. If I could actually care less about something that implies that I actually might have positive feelings about it. On the other hand, if I could NOT care less that means my feelings are, like, non-existent towards that thing, which means what y’all are trying to say, but always seem to miss.

And, now, two of my pet peeves have been combined! During the course of an ongoing discussion involving Monsanto, on an internet forum recently, one the true haters of Monsanto actually wrote this:

“There are many profit seeking entities that could care less what they do to
humanity; Monsanto happens to be one of them. Their focus is on their bottom
line, nothing more, nothing less, even if it reaches the point of being self
destructive. I am proud that Costa Rica is sticking to it's guns. There happened
to be a documentary a few weeks ago showing how agribusiness in Mexico almost
got the shaft as a result of genetic engineering.”

You see, the entire debate involving the incessant whining from these folks who stand firmly against GMO foods is ridiculous enough by itself. But, these people compound the ‘ridiculosity’ (if you will) by the use of that phrase I hate to see! - - ‘could care less.’ - - That’s the one! I ask them to please refute that one question for me, and this is the response I get. I ask them to suppose that they are indeed correct in their belief that Monsanto is out to dominate the world to the point of poisoning us all (including themselves), thus killing off the entire population of the world. What would that do to that precious ‘bottom line’ this person has referred to? Do you really believe that they would kill themselves just to make a profit? Obviously, he does, because he says so!

Ultimately, I think if it was left up to these people, we’d all – if we were ever born in the first place – be squeezed into the British Isles, or the European continent, because you know Columbus would never have been able to launch the Nina, the Pinta, or the Santa Maria! (That’s because they are the sort who would persist in believing that the world is flat, the sun revolves around the earth, and so on, get it?)

And, somebody please tell me when did it become allowable to apply the verb, grow, to inanimate objects, as in, “If you want to grow your business,” or, “In order to grow the economy”???? Think about it. Here are some synonyms for the word: crop, cultivate, culture, dress, promote, raise, rear, tend. Would you try to promote the economy? Or, rear the economy? Granted, you might want to promote your business, but promoting a business is not really the same as making it grow. Isn’t promoting a product or business really about just getting the word out in an effort to help it to grow? Yes, your business can grow, but I do not believe that one actually grows it.

Oh, here’s another thing that puzzles me, if it doesn’t piss me off.  Why is it, when you watch a movie, or a TV show, and the scenes show a family, or a couple, in their home, the windows never have curtains, or blinds, or shutters (unless a storm is coming and they have to close these in a hurry), or any window treatment?  I mean, here these people are, going about their private lives, and the whole world can see whatever they are doing?!  Whenever we have moved into a place, the first thing we have always done was to put up some sort of window covering temporarily, and then get either blinds or curtains, wherever we have lived.  I mean, it’s one thing to demand privacy in your life, but quite another to go showing the whole damn world what you’re doing behind those closed doors, because you don’t care enough to cover the frickin’ windows!

OK, that’s it……’nuff for now……..catch ya on the rebound…..

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

An Update of sorts.........

Well, it has been a while, and now that we are back in Costa Rica, maybe it is time for an update.  Blanca was in Texas from last August, until our return here on April 3 (I had gone up in November).  My eyes are relatively stable, but I will need a cataract surgery some day.  I am using the eye drops that have no preservatives added to them (they come in little plastic throw-away ampules, and naturally cost more).

We anticipate staying here no longer than about three months.  We hope to be able to sell the place, but don't really expect that to happen so quickly.  So, we need to try to sort through our personal belongings, so as to try to take back with us those things most important, and protect those things that will have to wait until we can afford the cost of shipping (btw, if anyone knows of any shippers who will pack and move stuff from Costa Rica back to the states, please let me know).

Internet service is - if anything - worse than it used to be.  Curiously, even though there are new providers, they apparently are no better able to provide service in this remote area, so we are still stuck with whatever ICE wants to give us.  The plan I have now is a pre-pay that costs a lot less than what I paid before, but the bandwidth is very bad.  I have gotten it to work with the new router I brought back, but find that I can barely stream audio and a television feed from  Skype calls are not at all good, even just voice.  If I try to download a video, then the internet is no good for anything else.  And, I know that it is not just me (my neighbor, who pays more per the month, with the same old system, has no better connectivity than do I).

We found the microwave to be DOA, and the coffee maker as well.  Some of our kitchen items are MIA, and others totally useless..........the yard work that I had left money to pay for never got of the two batteries for my drill is DOA (at least our guy did call me to tell me to bring another charger, while I was still in Texas)......

So, onward and upward..........we are here, for now.........

Friday, March 9, 2012

Changes in latitude; changes in attitude, or, Time wounds all heels………….

The world has changed. A lot. We like to repeat old adages like, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” but it has indeed changed. Granted, our reactions to those changes may make it seem that things are really the same, but that is due to human nature, and only serves to sometimes mask some of the truly dramatic changes that we have wrought.

One area that comes to mind when thinking of radical changes has to do with certain medical/life conditions that did not even exist just a few generations ago. We now commonly see diagnoses of conditions called ADHD or Autism, and we see a whole new crop of kids with problems that did not exist just a few short years ago. (Note: Personally, I do not accept either of these as true medical diagnoses, as there are so many underlying things going on at the same time, not the least of which involve a weaker family structure today, families where both parents work, a passing along to others of our responsibilities as parents in terms of discipline, role models, etc).

But, the point is, there are indeed a number of things going on today that weren’t going on just fifty years ago. These might be some (possibly) little things that have had some kind of impact on everything and everyone. For example, very generally speaking, our physical activity levels are significantly lower today than they were for previous generations. Food portions are way too big, not only in relation to our activity levels, but in relation to basic human needs. The common use of many additives and preservatives with our food, along with artificial flavorings and coloring (so-called processed foods) are also thought – by some - to have had some sort of effect.

In terms of physical activity levels, when I was a boy I remember summer days were spent away from the vicinity of the house and yard. In fact, we spread out all over town. We played baseball down in the nearby cow pasture, we played Cowboys ‘n Indians, or War, all over the neighborhood, and all up and down the little crick that ran at the edge of town. We were on the go from the moment we finished our morning chores and were released for the day, until the sun came down. When we had to go anywhere as kids, we walked. It didn’t matter if it was across town. We walked. Later on, in Junior High and High School, in a city (Tacoma) the same thing applied. I walked, or, after I finally got one of my own, I rode a bike.

As a teen ager, I walked to the park to play basketball, or softball, or whatever. I walked to and from school. All that walking, before and after running myself ragged on the baseball diamond, or the basketball court, had to have been good for me. Soccer moms? Hell, we didn’t even play soccer. Nor did we have our parents organizing every spare minute of our days for us. They left that up to us, and we managed to keep busy without their direction, or their providing transportation. Mom was at home and dad was at work. That’s the way everybody lived. For that matter, and not germane to our present topic, we did not have a lot of parent involvement in our day-to-day play. That’s right. We played baseball, whenever we had a few guys who wanted to play, a place to play, and a ball and a bat.

But, some of the differences that have brought us to these ‘new’ conditions might be worth looking at. First of all, without speculating as to the possible causes of something like ADHD, let us consider one word: discipline. I know what you’re going to say, but think about this just a bit. As kids, if we misbehaved, especially by throwing “a fit” or showing signs of what today is called hyper activity, there was an adult right there ready to grab us, swat us as needed, and give us a firm talking to while sitting us down. As we got away from the family, and started school, there was no hesitation on the part of our teachers to apply the necessary discipline as and where needed. And, if the child was viewed as a problem, a note went home to mom and dad, and that child likely got a whuppin’ when dad got home that very night. And, you know what? I do not recall seeing kids misbehaving to the point of disrupting any public gathering, including a classroom, more than once or twice. Maybe it was cruel, but corporal punishment (including spanking) did work to create well-behaved kids.

We went to school with kids who had differing degrees of handicap, usually due to birth defects or childhood illnesses. Granted, these kids may have struggled, but they were a part of all of our activities, without requiring (or having their parents demanding on their behalf) any special consideration. Today, we see children in the public schools with more severe physical and mental handicaps than I recall, and it is now due to things like the ADA, and parents who become very vocal in making demands on the majority of citizens. But, I believe we have more kids with more server physical handicaps today simply because (as cruel as this may sound to some folks) medical science has progressed to the point that many babies that would have been stillborn, or simply miscarried, are today saved, but they survive with – sometimes – very severe handicaps.

For those who are paying attention, there is scientific evidence to suggest that food does play a part in ADHD, for instance (see my Blog from 04/28/2011). It has also been established that there is no connection between Autism and vaccination, for whatever that thought might be worth. Personally, and this is only my opinion, I suspect neither of these conditions is truly medical in nature, and both have to do with family, life-style, diet, and a whole long list of things that includes, but is not limited to environment.

Meanwhile, if it were not for outright ignorance, diseases that once were such a serious threat to the health and wellbeing of children everywhere, could well be totally wiped out. Outbreaks of diseases like Measles, Mumps, Chicken Pox, Smallpox, German Measles, Poliomyelitis, and others used to be very common, and it was those outbreaks that left kids with permanent, lifelong disabilities, or killed them outright. This is not to say that these were the choices (death or disability), but these were all too common outcomes, while the majority of us did survive, with no long term effects. Today, this picture has change, largely due to the immunizations that began to be universally available beginning in the 1950’s.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

“Who’s Sorry Now?”, or, How I learned to stop worrying, and tolerate the PT’s……….

"Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps, for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are and what they ought to be."  -- William Hazlitt
I may have had a small epiphany here……….I have long railed against what a lot of us here in Costa Rica call the Perpetual Tourist (often shortened to PT). I have said things – and believed them – like it was disrespectful to this nation to ignore the legal route to residency. I said that it was unwise to ignore the legalities because of the very real risk of detection and deportation, with the loss of whatever assets one might have here. And, I am sure that a good part of my feelings on this subject had to do with my own decision to do things per the legal requirements of the nation, and the need for others to validate that decision.
But, you know what? I have now lived here for more than two years, and it has slowly dawned on me that Costa Rica does not care about me, not even a little bit. Moreover, they certainly do not respect me. Sure, the local Ticos all call me Don John (but not, unfortunately, Don Juan). And, they gave me this plastic card, all gold, that looks like a credit card. This makes me officially a Ciudadano de Oro, but that is all it does. There is nowhere up here where I live where I can present this card in the expectation that it will gain anything at all for me. Not only that, but whenever I have dealings with any official agency (including that stellar group over at my favorite utilities place, ICE), I am referred to as a stranger (extranjero). Even the official numero de cedula (cedula number) differs from that issued to natural born Ticos, thus ensuring that I am instantly identified as a foreigner the moment I whip that puppy out.
The immigration folks require that we join their health system, and pay a monthly cost for the privilege, and we couldn’t wait to do so. However, I have recently blogged in regards to a problem my wife has, so if you follow that blog, you already know how that works. As for myself, I have had a problem with my left eye for nearly three years now, and have seen the Ophthalmologist who is supposedly the best in the whole province, in Liberia, first as a private patient, and later, under the Caja (I found that the cost was too much to see him as a private patient). It made no difference which way I saw him. He still has not resolved my problem. Both of us finally realized that we had to go back to the states so that we can obtain proper care for these problems.
So, ultimately, I am left with this question, the one that is always posed by those PT’s: at the end of the day, what difference does any of it make? Whether you are legal or not, whether you cross every single t and dot every single i, Costa Rica doesn’t care. They’re too busy promoting their BS line about Pura Vida, and carbon-neutral, ecologically friendly, Green tourism, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada………
To make matters worse, I have long spouted that standard Libertarian line about “I support your right to do whatever you want to do as long as it does no harm to me or mine, because that is your right.” Well, what harm does a PT do to me or mine? Their actions make no difference to the government of Costa Rica. Their actions make no difference to the manner in which we gringos are seen, treated, interacted with, or even victimized by, Ticos. So, to all those folks who may ever have felt the least bit slighted, or offended, or in any way, hurt by my written words on this subject: I apologize. Y’all do whatever the hell you want, and good luck to you!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Oh, my aching back


"There are more fools in the world than there are people."  -- Heinrich Heine

(This is an excerpt from an article that appeared on August 24, 2011, at the link found below this piece):

Is that MRI for back pain necessary?

Back surgery is one of the best documented examples of expensive medical treatments that drive up health care costs while not always helping patients, and sometimes even hurting them.

And the latest Medicare data show that doctors frequently order MRI back scans for patients who haven't tried recommended treatments such as physical therapy. An MRI often prompts surgery.

I saw this article when it first appeared, and just had to save it for the opportunity to add my commentary. I guess it has had ample opportunity to ‘age,’ so maybe it is time to add said commentary.

This is a rather strange factoid to see jump up as suddenly as it did, because the basic conclusion of the article is the exact same thing that I, and many other professionals, have been saying for many, many years! There is and has long been, a tendency to over-diagnose (as in, running too many expensive diagnostic scans and tests) and over-treat back complaints (as in, entirely too much unnecessary surgery, too soon).

The results of these two things are really frightening, if you look at the big picture. Too often, diagnostic scans are misread, misinterpreted, or outright ignored, and serious diagnoses are given to relatively benign conditions. A very wise Orthopedic Surgeon, who I knew many years ago, said that the wisest course of action with back complaints is to do nothing. When there is any need for something to be done, he said, the wisest course was to keep treatment simple and minimally invasive. Physical Therapy, along with some education in how to cope with back problems, in general, in his opinion, went farther, caused fewer problems, and cost less money. Time, he said, was the greatest healer of back problems.

And, you know what? I did not need this latest study to know that he was right. Anecdotally, I can tell you I have talked to many people over the years who reported back problems – hell, I’ve got a ‘bad’ back, myself. And, I have come to realize that they generally fall into one of two camps: those who did not receive much beyond PT, some rest, some education, maybe some muscle relaxants; and, those who underwent CT Scans, MRI’s, EMG’s (with Nerve Conduction Studies), and whose treatment all too often included surgeries.

Guess how many of those who had back surgery had bad outcomes, and guess how many of those who did not have surgery are still going strong. Worse, I remember an investigation I did some years ago into multiple complaints (not to mention multiple malpractice actions) against one particular back surgeon in Texas. Now, this was only one guy, in one city, and he was not even the worst of the bad guys. What I remember most clearly is that I obtained and studied the case histories of a good number of patients who not only had bad outcomes, but whose medical records totally lacked any objective diagnostic information to suggest any need for surgeries.

Worse, I remember a situation where a physician – who was not even an orthopedic surgeon, by the way – convinced a large number of patients, diagnosed with “Intractable Pain,” that they needed to let him place an electrical device into their spines, the purpose of which was to somehow stimulate the spine into ignoring their chronic pain. These patients were a mixed bag of “failed back surgery” and/or other types of pain patients whose reported pain could not be controlled by other, more conventional methods. Most of them happened to be individuals who had reportedly been injured at work, and had not been able to return to work due to their intractable pain.

At that time, orthopedic protocol required that patients undergo a full psychological workup prior to undergoing surgeries, or the placement of such implants, in an effort to provide some indication of whether they were suitable candidates for invasive procedures. Turned out that, while all of them were indeed referred to see a psychologist, the testing rendered, without much personal interaction between this psychologist and the patients, was mostly leaning towards identifying these people as poor candidates for this implant, because they were mostly identified as being chronic complainers of pain, regardless of what interventions were attempted (in short, very close to being outright malingerers).

The ‘Surgeon” went ahead anyway, at a cost of many thousands of dollars per patient, and none of them were ever able to return to anything resembling a normal life. Most were disabled for real, after months to years of questionable ‘care,’ that ultimately did affect their physical abilities. What can I say? The ‘Surgeon’ was a good salesman.

Ultimately, even though a good number of patients’ lives were irretrievably damaged, nothing was ever done to the physician, even though we made a great case against him. Part of the problem is that these patients allowed him to do what he did, willingly (for whatever motives), and they had to assume a portion of any blame.

My point? Obviously, never allow your doctor to go straight to MRI’s or other expensive diagnostic studies, until time has had a chance to work, along with mild therapy and treatment. Below is the link to the article that got my attention:

Monday, January 2, 2012

Price Reduced!

For Sale, Lease or Rent:  This Piece of Paradise
Sale Price Now Reduced!
This two year old 2 bed, 2 bath cement block home sits on a secluded plot (2166 sq meters, or about ½ acre) on a very quiet road that actually runs all the way down to the water’s edge of beautiful Lake Arenal.  (The water is just 500 meters from the front door).
This is the last house on the road down to the Lake.  There is a heavily wooded, deep gully on one side (the Ticos refer to this as a montaña, or a quebrada), with a little stream at the bottom.  This ensures a nearly constant, fresh breeze.  Water is paid once a year, and currently is only about $72.00 per year, with no meter.  The water is cold, and crystal clear, with nothing added.  There are two septic systems (aguas negras, for toilets, and gray water, for washer, showers, and sinks). The house is available with Kenmore washer and electric dryer, Whirlpool Gas Range,
Maytag refrigerator, and a 2005 Suzuki Grand Vitara, XL7, with current Marchamo and Riteve would be included with the sale (pictured below).  Also included will be one queen size bed, with frame and one King size bed, with frame.  Additional furnishings are negotiable, including wall-mounted Samsung Plasma TV, Sharp Surround Sound system, and small appliances, including Sharp Microwave.  
Part of the Living Area is pictured above.
Ceiling fans are installed in both bedrooms, and in the living area, plus two more are on the front porch, which is completely screened.  Also included on the front porch is a round concrete table, with three concrete benches, completely tiled.
Front of the house features a recently completed and oversized carport, and there is an enclosed (screen, metal, and wooden bars) garage cum workshop attached to the back of the house.  
This is the workshop/bodega, at the back of the house.
One dusk to dawn yard light is attached to the back garage, and motion sensors are mounted at opposite corners of the dwelling itself, plus another on the new carport.  The floors throughout the house, and also in the garage and on the front porch are ceramic tile.
Solid wood doors, and beautiful wooden kitchen cabinets are featured.  Windows are all protected with iron bars.  The ceilings throughout are high, with beautifully stained wooden beams. Reduced Price: $175,000.00. Monthly rent is negotiable, with renter being responsible for all utilities.