May 28, 2012

I Guess I'm Officially A Teacher

Obi Wan Kenobi No Profile Picture
Earlier today, I was looking for a Star Wars quote on IMDB for a post on Costa Rica Outsider, and I came across this one:

Obi-Wan Kenobi: There was nothing you could have done, Luke, had you been there. You'd have been killed too, and the droids would now be in the hands of the Empire.

But the first thing I thought of was, "Wow! That's a great example of the use of the third conditional!"

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May 25, 2012

Beautiful Airplaney Nerdiness

Just the other day I came across a newspaper... is it a newspaper? Or a magazine? Or an online something or other? Anyhow, it's called "The Atlantic Cities," a division of The Atlantic. I've really been digging it, since I'm a fan of cities, urban planning, transportation, skyscrapers, and other such things. It's got good articles, too. The other day they put up this video by Aaron Koblin showing all the flights from American airports over a day, and it's really beautiful, actually:

Pretty incredible. The post mentions that it looks like "fireworks," and that's exactly what I thought as I saw the country light up in the morning, starting at around 7:00 am on the east coast and moving gradually west.

Thanks for reading, and have a nice weekend --and if you're flying or traveling, have a nice, safe trip!

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May 24, 2012

How Taxing...

I guess it could be worse: we could have to do taxes in German. (Image)

I've read a few articles lately about Eduardo Saverin, one of the original founders of Facebook. You may have heard that he renounced his US citizenship. Although he claims it was to allow himself to settle permanently in Singapore, others suggest that it was to avoid American taxes. Two senators have even introduced a bill that would basically ban Saverin from ever re-entering the US.

But that's not what this post is about. I don't really care about Saverin. But I do care about taxes. Did you know, for example, that even though I live in Costa Rica, I still have to report my earnings here to the IRS every year? I also have to do Costa Rican tax crap, of course, but think about that: For the last 6 years, I've not worked a day in the US, but I still needed to report my earnings to the IRS there. And this isn't necessarily about American bank accounts, stocks, or investments, either. I do have some of those, but I actually have to report the money I earned in Costa Rica, working for Costa Rican companies, as a Costa Rican permanent resident, to American tax authorities.

Fortunately, I don't earn much. In fact, my salary is pretty laughable. If you have a job --any job, really-- you probably make more than I do. As a result, I've always been below any tax obligation thresholds, fortunately...or maybe unfortunately... I suppose it depends on how you look at it. But I still need to report it every year.

Luckily, my mom is a wonderful woman, and she helps me do that every year. I can't even begin to imagine the logistical nightmare that would crop up if I tried to do tax stuff from Costa Rica, especially if we involved the Costa Rican postal system (here are three hints: the streets here don't have names, we've had DVDs stolen from packages that were subsequently re-sealed and put in our P.O. Box, and in my 4 years in Berlín de San Ramón, I've gotten exactly 1 letter delivered to my house).

I'm getting off track. This isn't supposed to be a rant against Correos de Costa Rica, it's supposed to be a rant against the IRS!

Anyhow, if you live outside the US but are a citizen, you still need to report your foreign earnings. Check here and see for yourself. Apparently, this isn't common, globally-speaking. At all. Here in Costa Rica, the mere act of collecting taxes seems almost unbelievable, so no one really believes me when I tell them I also have to deal with taxes in the US. But according to this article, the only other country that does this is Eritrea. The site doesn't seem terribly unbiased, though, as it's named "," but I saw similar factoids mentioned on other sites. I've also heard anecdotally that North Korea does this, but if that's true, then it still hardly seems like a good club of countries to be in.

And apparently this is becoming a problem for a lot of expats. This article and this article point out that record numbers of American citizens are renouncing their citizenship, and many suspect that these tax reporting obligations may have something to do with it. This one explains how the tax system works for Americans abroad.

Of course, I'm not going to renounce my citizenship. However, I wish that I didn't have to report my Costa Rican earnings to the US. First of all, because it's embarrassing. Second, something tells me that these years I'm reporting my earnings won't count towards my Social Security work years in the US --not that I was expecting a huge payout, but still, it's the principle that matters. And finally, it's an annoying hassle that doesn't make sense at all. I'd rather not do it.

OK, rant out. Thanks for reading, and have a great rest of the week!

Shit, I don't even really know what bonds ARE, but I hope the IRS doesn't make me report them, too! (Image)

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May 18, 2012

Sitzbook: Two Books

I was going to title this post "Two Books That Were Good But I Just Don't Have Too Many Comments About Them," but that would have been a bit much, don't you think?

The "two books" in question are Erik Larson's Thunderstruck and Mick Wall's W.A.R.: The Unauthorized Biography of William Axl Rose. As I said, they were both good and entertaining (and non-fiction), but there weren't any passages that jumped out at me in either of them. My brother Paul gave me both of these books last Christmas, along with Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, so he's got good taste overall. 


I was a bit concerned that the Axl Rose biography wouldn't be very good, being unauthorized and all (I had a bad experience with an unauthorized biography once, let's just leave it at that), but it was actually pretty entertaining. Guns N' Roses is one of my favorite bands, and the book lets you in to their reckless life, obviously focusing on Axl. I read Slash's autobiography a year or two ago, so it was interesting to see where the stories differ. 

Compared to a book like Mötley Crüe's autobiographical The Dirt, though, this book lacks some oomph. That book had alternating chapters written by the different members of the band and although I like Guns' music a lot more than Crüe's, the Crüe's book was much more engaging. With this book, we only really get one journalist's perspective and although he did have a lot of access to the band, it's always that much more interesting when a person tells his or her own story. This could certainly be a lot more difficult due to the obvious tension between Axl and the rest of the band, but it would undeniably make for an interesting read. 

The takeaway message: Axl is really, really controlling, a "red-headed dictator." Don't get me wrong, like I said, GNR is great, and I even dressed up as Axl on at least one Halloween, so I think he's very talented. But the book does suggest that he's perhaps not the world's best role model.


After reading Uncle Tom's Cabin last year and The Catcher in the Rye this year, I thought I'd be done for a while with books that had the same title as rock songs. But then Paul gave me this book, and I had the AC/DC song of the same name in my head for a good week. That's OK, but it has nothing to do with this early-1900s-based true-crime story. 

The book alternates chapters between an accused murderer, Doctor Hawley Crippen, and Marconi, the inventor of the modern radio. I won't tell you too much more since it's actually better as a surprise; I'd not even read the back cover, since I like my books to be as spoiler-free as possible, but as a result I didn't even know it was non-fiction until a few pages in. But I can say that it's very interesting, although almost the whole half about Marconi could have been eliminated or at least relegated to a different book. But perhaps the story of Crippen wouldn't have been enough to fill out a book. Who knows.

Anyhow, there you have them. Two good books. If you've read one of them, chime in below in the comments section. Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

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May 13, 2012

Sitzbook: "The Omnivore's Dilemma," by Michael Pollan

Notice how I put the book in the refrigerator for this picture? Pretty clever, right?

If you read these Sitzbook reviews, you may have noticed that this year I've been reading more non-fiction than last year. That's actually completely coincidental, but it's a good thing, too. I like novels, but sometimes it's nice to mix things up. Some people complain that non-fiction is dry or boring, but if you think that, then I'd point you in the direction of books like this one.

My friend Brad, once again a source of great knowledge and even better book recommendations, mentioned this book when we visited him in Iowa in December. He commented about how the book looked at corn production in the US, and in particular focused on Iowa. It was a pretty eye-opening book in many regards, but the way it highlighted the sheer proliferation of corn-based products in American food --and not just high-fructose corn syrup, although that's a huge part of it-- was pretty amazing. 

The book is divided into three main parts:

1. "Industrial: Corn"
2. "Pastoral: Grass"
3. "Personal: The Forest"

All three sections are equally engaging and well-written, but I have to say that the second one most caught my interest. In it, Pollan spends a good deal of time on a farm in Virgina called "Polyface Farm." The farm owner has adopted and adapted farming practices to ensure not only efficient, healthy production, but also sustainability. Although the author doesn't seem to force any opinions or views on the reader, it's hard to read the book without coming away with thoughts along the lines of: "Wow, this is amazing, and we're all totally screwed." I won't go too much into it here, since you can just read the book if you want to find out more, but for me personally the biggest question it brought to my mind was: "How do they do things in Costa Rica?" 

The book makes a strong point that the farming and food production system in the US is destructive and self-destructive in the long term, and it just makes me wonder what similarities and difference there might be between the system there and the one in place here in Costa Rica. I imagine that one big difference would be the use of corn products and corn syrup, since Costa Rica has sugar plantations. Additionally, Costa Rica supplies a lot of its own rice and beans, and meat in the form of cows, chickens, and eggs. Although I don't really have a strong desire to visit a slaughterhouse here, I have a feeling that it wouldn't be as disheartening as one in the US, simply because the scale of such an operation must be a few orders of magnitude smaller here.

Anyhow, I'd highly recommend this book. It took me a while to write the review even though I finished the book back in February. It did have a strong impact on my thoughts, and I find my self thinking of it even now when I buy food in the grocery store or sit down to eat. Maybe it just took me a bit longer to "digest" it, lame pun entirely intended.

As usual, here are some of my favorite or most illustrative passages from the book:

From p. 3:

“Nor would such a culture be shocked to discover that there are other countries, such as Italy and France, that decide their dinner questions on the basis of such quaint and unscientific criteria as pleasure and tradition, eat all manner of “unhealthy” foods, and, lo and behold, wind up actually healthier and happier in their eating than we are. We show our surprise at this by speaking of the “French paradox,” for how could a people who eat such demonstrably toxic substances as foie gras and triple crème cheese actually be slimmer and healthier than we are? Yet I wonder if it doesn’t make more sense to speak in terms of an American paradox—that is, a notably unhealthy people obsessed by the idea of eating healthily.”

Also from p. 3, a passage that briefly explains the book's title:

“To one degree or another, the question of what to have for dinner assails every omnivore, and always has. When you can eat just about anything nature has to offer, deciding what you should eat will inevitably stir anxiety, especially when some of the potential foods on offer are liable to sicken or kill you. This is the omnivore’s dilemma, noted long ago by writers like Rousseau and Brillat-Savarin and first given that name thirty years ago by a University of Pennsylvania research psychologist named Paul Rozin.”

From p. 5, one of Pollan's ideas of why it's harder to "eat well" in the US:

“Certainly the extraordinary abundance of food in America complicates the whole problem of choice. At the same time, many of the tools with which people historically managed the omnivore’s dilemma have lost their sharpness here—or simply failed. As a relatively new nation drawn from many different immigrant populations, each with its own culture of food, Americans have never had a single, strong culinary tradition to guide us.”

This passage from p. 124/5 describes Joel Salatin, one of the farmers mentioned in the book:

“Two centuries and a one-hour drive over the Blue Ridge from Monticello, Joel Salatin, a self-described “Christian-conservative-libertarian-environmentalist-lunatic farmer” is attempting again and against all odds to put real-live grass under the old agrarian-pastoral ideal, to try to make it new long after the triumph of the industrial system Jefferson fretted over has been completed.”

This quote from p. 280/1 is actually along the lines of something I've thought myself, but never really had the opportunity, time, or gumption to follow through on:

“My wager in undertaking this experiment is that hunting and gathering (and growing) a meal would perforce teach me things about the ecology and ethics of eating that I could not get in a supermarket or fast-food chain or even on a farm. Some very basic things: about the ties between us and the species (and natural systems) we depend upon; about how we decide what in nature is good to eat and what is not; and about how the human body fits into the food chain, not only as an eater but as a hunter and, yes, a killer of other creatures. For one of the things I was hoping to accomplish by rejoining, however briefly, this shortest and oldest of food chains was to take some more direct, conscious responsibility for the killing of the animals I eat. Otherwise, I felt, I really shouldn’t be eating them.”

Finally, a longer passage from p. 332/3 to tie it all together:

“Sometimes I think that all it would take to clarify our feelings about eating meat, and in the process begin to redeem animal agriculture, would be to simply pass a law requiring all the sheet-metal walls of all the CAFOs, and even the concrete walls of the slaughterhouses, to be replaced with glass. If there’s any new right we need to establish, maybe this is the one: the right, I mean, to look. No doubt the sight of some of these places would turn many people into vegetarians. Many others would look elsewhere for their meat, to farmers willing to raise and kill their animals transparently. Such farms exist; so do a handful of small processing plants willing to let customers onto the kill floor […].
The industrialization—and brutalization—of animals in America is a relatively new, evitable, and local phenomenon: No other country raises and slaughters its food animals quite as intensively or as brutally as we do. No other people in history has lived at quite so great a remove from the animals they eat. Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to raise, kill, and eat animals the way we do. […] Yes, meat would get more expensive. We’d probably eat a lot less of it, too, but maybe when we did eat animals we’d eat them with the consciousness, ceremony, and respect they deserve.”

Well, thanks for reading if you made it this far! If you have any comments or if you've read this book, I'd love to hear from you in the comments section. Have a nice day!

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April 2012 Pictures of the Day

I somehow got really behind on uploading Pictures of the Day from April, but here they are, finally. As usual, if you want to see bigger versions or the notes for the pictures, you can click on the individual images or go check them out on my flickr page. Thanks for reading, and enjoy the rest of your weekend!

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May 11, 2012


I put up a post on my Sitzman ABC blog with a song by the 80s band Berlin today. It included the song "No More Words," and it's pretty great (the song; the post... well, you can be the judge). Their song "Like Flames" is also pretty excellent, too. It's too bad that "Take My Breath Away" was their "big" song, since it's not that great compared to these two, and a few others they had. I'll include them both in this post just so you can check them out, but it occurred to me while watching them that no matter where their videos are set, the band always seems very out of place. Oh well.

Anyhow, greetings from Berlín de San Ramón, and enjoy this Berlin:

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May 10, 2012

Wait, What's Homeopathy?

At least they spelled my name right. Eventually.

A few days ago I was moving desks in my classroom and I bent over in a way that is apparently not how a body is supposed to bend over to move a desk. As a result, my thigh sent a nice, excruciating, stabbing pain to my brain. Fortunately, it was only for a few seconds, but it hurt like the pura madre. 

Then it was fine for a few days, until it came back yesterday, when I'd get the stabbing pain in the side of my left hip/thigh (where the tuxedo pant stripe would be, if I ever wore tuxedo pants). The weird thing was it was the left hip, but it only came up when I bent to the right.

I'm sure this is fascinating, listening to me kvetch about my stupid hip, but I'm kind of getting to the point.

I went to Atenas (the town with "the best climate in the world," according to their buses) because my sister-in-law's husband was also going to the doctor, so I tagged along. The doctor was a "normal" doctor, but also a homeopatho..ic..olo..gician?? Anyhow, I talked to the doctor, then he moved my leg, diagnosed some moderate cartilage wonkiness, and asked if I'd prefer traditional or homeopathic medicine, or if I wanted him to decide. I said I'd prefer he decide, since it was at that moment I realized I had no idea what in the world homeopathy was.

He decided on a mix of treatments, which included 5 pills from a pharmacy to help the cartilage (traditional), and some medicine (homeopathic). Sounded good to me. So I went to the waiting room while he prepared the medicine. While I was waiting, his brother (yeah, weird, I know), who had been hanging out and "assisting" with patients, gave me a cup of water and a pill. I took the pill, but now I realize I have no idea what it was. (Note to readers: please don't give me any roofies; you're on the honor system here.) Then the doctor's wife, the secretary, gave me two little bottles of medicine. 

"Take 15 drops of this, mixed with 15 drops of that, two times a day," she said. I must have looked confused, because she asked, "Do you understand?"
"Oh, sure," I said, "But what are these bottles?" 
"Medicine," she replied.
"Oh, yeah, of course, but what kind of medicine?"
"It's homeopathic. Why do you want to know what kind of medicine it is?"
"Hmm. I'm not sure. Curiosity, I guess."
"It's medicine. It's good medicine. Really good. It'll help you."

Well, how can you argue with that? 

I still don't really know what homeopathy is, but oh well. I also mentioned the story to a few people, and they all assured me that they'd had very similar experiences with homeopathic doctors, and that it must be a kind of secret club, like a Skull and Bones and Stethoscope. Anyhow, the medicine was pretty cheap (I think it may have even been free with the consultation), so we'll see how it works.

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May 1, 2012

More About Speaker Cars

I just put up a post on my Costa Rica Outsider page about Speaker Cars. If you don't know what they are, then read on.

In any case, on that page I included a great video of a speaker car that my buddy Dustin shot in 2009 (he shot the video, not the speaker car... unfortunately). I've been trying for the last few weeks to get a video of my own, but with little luck.

Yes, that's right, I've been lurking around Palmares and San Ramón intentionally trying to find advertising cars blaring their messages, but I've not been able to come across them or, when I did find one, I was up inside an office, driving in my car, or otherwise unable to record them. This is the best I got:

Mind you, this video is after a previous attempt where I waited for about 45 minutes at a street corner in hopes that a speaker car that had just passed by would return. In that time, I actually saw my father-in-law three different times, so I decided to go back in to the office. I didn't want him to think his son-in-law was the kind of creep who hangs out on street corners for 45 minutes. You don't know what a person like that is up to, but you do know he's up to no good.

Anyhow, check out the post. Enjoy. Hate. But at least check it out.

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