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These stories were published Wednesday, June 11, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 114
Jo Stuart
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Professor tests kindness in 23 places
We are listed among world's most helpful cities
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

San José is getting wide recognition as the second most helpful city in the world.

The reason is a study by a California professor that places Costa Rica’s capital city and Rio de Janeiro on top of 23 cities where experiments tested the kindness of residents.

The professor is Robert V. Levine of California State University in Fresno. He reported the results of his six-year study in the current edition of American Scientist. This is the magazine of Sigma Xi, the scientific research society.

The Christian Science Monitor newspaper has featured the study as has New York Times columnist Clive Haberman, according to the university press office. Newsweek has made an inquiry and New Scientist magazine in London plans to feature Levine next week.

The study stems from one of Levine’s earlier books, "A Geography of Time," which Levine said is the main source of this work, said the university. 

The original study shows the relative helpfulness one could expect to experience in 36 U.S. cities, the university said, adding that Levine extended that study to 22 foreign cities and found that people in some countries (and cultures) are indeed more helpful than others. 

In general, those living in richer countries appear to treat one another less kindly than their counterparts in poorer nations, Levine wrote in his article.

Originally Levine’s researchers used five tests in each city. He explained it this way: 

"Is an inadvertently dropped pen retrieved by a passing pedestrian? 

"Does a man with an injured leg receive assistance picking up a fallen magazine? 

"Will a blind person be helped across a busy intersection? 

"Will someone try to make change for a quarter (or its foreign equivalent) when asked? 

"Do people take the time to mail a stamped and addressed letter that has apparently been lost?" 

Levine noted in his article that some of these measures do not survive transfer to other cultures.

People in Tel Aviv avoided dropped envelopes for fear they were tiny bombs. In El Salvador, scamsters were running a con with allegedly lost envelopes. Said Levine:

"When a good Samaritan picked one up, a con man appeared, announcing that he had lost the letter and that it contained cash (it didn't), then demanding the money back with enough insistence to intimidate the mild-mannered. Not surprisingly, very few letters were touched in El Salvador."

In many countries, such as Costa Rica, there were no mailboxes for good Samaritans to post lost letters. In some countries small change was unavailable. Experimenters reached Argentina amid the financial collapse and some people just had no money.

So Levine reduced his measurements to three: 

1. Will people return a pen that is dropped accidentally?

2. Will people help a person with an injured leg pick up an object.

3. Will people help a blind man across an intersection.

For six summers, an associate of the professor and 20 students went around the world 

Here are the rankings:

1. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
2. San José
3. Lilongwe, Malawi
4. Calcutta, India
5. Vienna, Austria
6. Madrid, Spain
7. Copenhagen, Denmark
8. Shanghai, China
9. México City, México
10. Prague, Czech Republic
11. San Salvador, El Salvador
12. Stockholm, Sweden
13. Budapest, Hungary
14. Bucharest, Romania
15. Tel Aviv, Israel
16. Rome, Italy
17. Bangkok, Thailand
18. Taipei, Taiwan
19. Sofia, Bulgaria
20. Amsterdam, Netherlands
21. Singapore, Singapore
22. New York, U.S. A.
23. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

conducting 300 trials of helpfulness. They dropped 400 pens. They approached 500 people while they pretended to have a hurt leg or were blind.

"What we found suggests a world of difference in the willingness of urbanites to reach out to strangers," said Levine. 

"In the blind-person experiment, for example, subjects in five cities — Rio de Janeiro, San Jose (Costa Rica, not California), Lilongwe, Madrid and Prague — helped the pedestrian across the street on every occasion, whereas in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok help was offered less than half the time. 

"If you have a hurt leg in downtown San Jose, Kolkata (Calcutta) or Shanghai, our results show that you are more than three times more likely to receive help picking up a fallen magazine than if you are struggling on the streets of New York or Sofia. And if you drop your pen behind you in New York, you have less than one-third the chance that you do in Rio of ever seeing it again.

The professor found that the two highest ranking cities, San José and Rio, are in Latin America:

"Overall, we found that people in Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking cities tended to be among the most helpful: The other three such cities on our list, Madrid, San Salvador and Mexico City, each scored well above average. Considering that some of these places suffer from long-term political instability, high crime rates and a potpourri of other social, economic and environmental ills, these positive results are noteworthy."

The professor said that one factor is productivity: "People in communities where social obligations take priority over individual achievement tend to be less economically productive, but they show more willingness to assist others."

In a listing of the cities from the most kind to the least, New York is second to last. Even when people are helpful in New York, they do so grudgingly. Levine said that in the experiment to see if someone would return a lost letter, one New Yorker did in a very uncivil fashion: 

"Only from New York did I receive an envelope which had its entire side ripped and left open.," said Levine. "On the back of the letter the helper had scribbled, in Spanish: "Hijo de puta iresposable"—which I discovered when it was translated for me, makes a very nasty accusation about my mother. Below that was added a straightforward English-language expletive, which I could readily understand."

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It’s not just 
the pigeons

Workers are cleaning off the Plaza de la Cultura in downtown San José to prepare for waterproofing sprays later this week. The idea is to prevent leakage into the Museos del Banco Central below the plaza.

Among others, the famous gold museum, the Museo del Oro, is below.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Costa Rican jurist named to human rights court
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Manuel Ventura Robles, a Costa Rican jurist, has been elected a judge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for a six-year term. He got 20 of 23 votes cast at the 23rd General Assembly of the Organization of American States.

The court is based in San José. Ventura is the third Costa Rican to be named to this international bench. He will take his position in January. Ventura praised President Abel Pacheco and Chancellor Roberto Tovar for the diplomatic effort that preceded the voting.

Others elected to the court are Delicia Medina Quiroga of Chile, Sergio García Ramírez of Mexico, and Diego García Sayín of Peru.

In another diplomatic triumph for Costa Rica, the Organization of American States approved a resolution to make the Americas a zone free of biological and chemical weapons. The resolution was put forth by Costa Rica. 

Tovar also used the international meeting that was held in Chile as a time to lobby William Grahan, the Canadian representative, for the extradiction of Jorge Martínez, a Costa Rican living in Canada who is wanted here to face embezzlement charges.

Martínez, a former employee of Programa Nacional de Compensación Social, fled to Canada in December 1999. He is a suspect in stealing $2 million of public money. The man has avoided extradiction through various legal maneuvers since.

Britain stalls on adopting the euro as its currency
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

LONDON, England — The British government has outlined a course of action aimed at eventually adopting the European single currency, the euro. As Prime Minister Tony Blair puts it, Britain cannot afford to cut itself adrift from Europe by remaining outside the single currency. 

But the British leader maintains that, at the moment, conditions are not right to shed the pound-sterling currency in favor of the euro.

Four of the five economic tests that the government has set out have not been met, but Blair's administration insists that clear progress has been noted and says a review of the situation is expected in a year.

Speaking at a news conference, the British prime minister acknowledged that the decision to wait was partly political, as has been pointed out by his critics. But he also said economic considerations carry with them important weight as well.

"Of course there are political considerations," said Blair. "There are constitutional considerations. But in the end, the economics has got to be right. It is 

an economic union. You cannot say it does not matter." 

Closer monitoring of what is being described as, the narrowing convergency gap from sterling to the euro, is promised during the next 12 months.

But public opinion polls continue to show that a sizable majority of British voters are opposed to giving up the pound. Mr. Blair says the coming year also will be a time in which his government will try to persuade average Britons that joining the common currency will make the most sense.

"The benefits are now clearly spelled out. The path is clear," he said. "This is something we want to do. We have got a process in place to remove the obstacles. But in the end, you cannot judge this on anything other than the national economic interest. And that is the position that I think, in the end, the country understands, and it is the only basis, incidentally, in my view that you will ever persuade the country to be part of the euro."

The British government has promised a referendum on joining the single currency, but it is unclear when that might take place. Blair said that could happen before or after the next election. 

Jafek corrects error
in Tuesday story

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tom Jafek, the operator of the Costa Rica Green Fund, points out that we made an error in a story published Tuesday.

We incorrectly stated that his firm lost $100,000 in the collapse of Savings Unlimited. What Jafek actually told us in May was that he had $100,000 with Savings Unlimited but managed to get the money back before the high-interest operation collapsed last November.

We reported what Jafek told us correctly May 30, but reversed the meaning by mistake in the Tuesday story.

Powell sees Kirchner
for brief pow-wow

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived here Tuesday for his first meeting with Argentina's new president, Nestor Kirchner. Powell said he would convey Washington's intention "to have good relations with Argentina." 

Kirchner of Argentina's popular Peronist Party invited Cuba's Communist President Fidel Castro to his inauguration two weeks ago and declared an end to what he said was Argentina's policy of automatic alignment with the United States.

But Secretary of State Powell has stressed the Bush administration's hopes for a good relationship with the new Argentine government, and said he would discuss plans for an early visit to Washington by Kirchner.

The new Argentine foreign minister, Rafael Bielsa, joined Powell on his flight to Buenos Aires from Santiago, where both had attended the annual general assembly of the Organization of American States. 

A key issue there was how to strengthen the democratic institution of hemisphere countries, like Argentina, grappling with severe recessions and high unemployment.

Kidnappers threaten
to kill their hostages

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru — Police say a group of gunmen who kidnapped some 60 people from a natural gas pipeline camp in the Andes have threatened to kill their hostages if there is a rescue attempt. 

Authorities disclosed the threat in a statement broadcast on national television Tuesday.  The Peruvian government has deployed army troops to the area to try and rescue the abductees. 

Officials say many of those taken captive were foreigners, including two Argentines, four Colombians and one Chilean. They say the kidnapping took place early Monday when more than 100 men raided the camp operated by the Argentine petroleum company Techint. The camp is located in the Tocate area, 600 kilometers southeast of Lima, in the Ayacucho region. 

Police believe the Maoist Shining Path rebels were behind the kidnapping. 

Shining Path was one of Latin America's most feared rebel groups throughout the 1980s. The group was considerably weaker after Peruvian police captured its founder, Abimael Guzman, in 1992. 

Agents crack down
on free trade in pot

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

You won’t find it in the free trade treaties, but Costa Rica still is importing marijuana because the local variety, Talamanca’s finest, just does not compete with that grown in Colombia. Or at least that’s what the experts say.

To address that sentiment among consumers, a lot of smuggling takes place. One 64-year-old resident of El Tajo de La Cuesta near the Panamá border is facing allegations that he was a key source of the weed.

Investigators from the Ciudad Neilly office of the Judicial Investigating Organization apprehended the man with the last names of Solís Calderón Monday afternoon at his home.

Agents said they found 1,349 kilos of marijuana, including 21 sacks of 47 kilos each ready for distribution. In a marketing touch, the marijuana in the sacks was packaged in two-kilo baggies bearing the images of Santa Claus and Bambi.

The marijuana is believed to have entered the country from Pajama after a trip from Colombia, said agents.

Missing children center coming

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rosalía Gil, minister of Niñez y Adolescencia, reported Tuesday that the International Center for Missing and Mistreated Children will open an office in San José. The office here will have reponsibility for much of Central America.

Police find charred body

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers in Santo Tomas de Heredia found a burned out pickup containing the charred body of a coffee grower Tuesday.  The man, Bernardo Ocampo, 62, was the presumed victim of a holdup-murder by bandits who then torched his truck to cover their tracks.

Two men arrested
in rape of girl, 14

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators arrested two 18-year-old men as suspects in the forcible rape of a 14-year-old girl in Limón early Tuesday. One of the arrested men is the son of a national deputy.

The Judicial Investigating Organization identified the men as Julian Watson and Jermaine Harris. Deputy Harris has the same name as his son. He represents Limón in the Asamblea Nacional and is a member of the Partido Liberación Nacional.

The crime took place about 1 a.m. in Barrio Limoncito where the girl was at a party. She left and returned to look for a friend, and a man offered to help her look. Instead, he forced her into a place where they were joined by two other men, investigators said. A third man still is being sought.

The girl is believed to be a runaway from a children’s shelter in Moín where she and two friends staged an escape.
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They used Internet to fleece victims
Six Nigerian scamsters sentenced in Netherlands
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A bunch of Internet crooks got jail terms Tuesday in The Netherlands for running what has been called the Nigeria advanced fee scam.

Reports from Europe say the six Amsterdam residents got between 10 months and four and a half years in prison. The men originally are from Nigeria and Benin.

These are some of the people who have been sending out millions of e-mails promising to split vast sums of money with whoever helps them move money from some country.

The scamsters keep asking for fees and money for other reasons.  In this case, one victim was a Swiss professor who thought he was going to share in some $500,000.  He kept sending the crooks money until he got suspicious, and then he lured the scamsters into a police trap.

The men also are believed to have been involved with Internet lottery scams in which people randomly are advised that they have won a big lottery. All they have to so is send some money for processing fees and taxes.

The scamsters also were ordered to pay some $300,000 in fines.

Hardly a day passes that a Costa Rican Internet user does not recieve some version of these scams. A flood of e-mails hit the Costa Rica mail server Tuesday from an African "princess."

Sometimes con men invoke the name of God in their initial contacts in the hopes that victims will think that anyone religious would not cheat them.

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, Nigerian advance-fee fraud has been around for decades, but now seems to have reached epidemic proportions: Some consumers have told the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) they are receiving dozens of offers a day from supposed Nigerians politely promising big profits in exchange for help moving large sums of money out of their country. 

And apparently, many compassionate consumers are continuing to fall for the convincing sob stories, the unfailingly polite language, and the unequivocal promises of money, said the FTC, the U.S. consumer protection agency. 

If you're tempted to respond to an offer, the FTC suggests you stop and ask yourself two important questions: 

Why would a perfect stranger pick you - also a perfect stranger - to share a fortune with, and why would you share your personal or business information, including your bank account numbers or your company letterhead, with someone you don't know? 

And the U.S. Department of State cautions against traveling to the destination mentioned in the letters. According to State Department reports, people who have responded to these "advance-fee" solicitations have been beaten, subjected to threats and extortion, and in some cases, murdered. 

Infomercials claimed it was cancer cure
U.S. consumer police crack down on 'coral calcium'
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Federal Trade Commission has charged the marketers of a dietary supplement called Coral Calcium Supreme with making false and unsubstantiated claims about the product's health benefits. 

This action is part of a series of initiatives the FTC and the Food and Drug Administration are taking against the purveyors of products with unsubstantiated health and medical claims. 

In a complaint filed in federal district court, the FTC alleges that Kevin Trudeau; Robert Barefoot; Shop America (USA), LLC; and Deonna Enterprises, Inc., violated the law by claiming, falsely and without substantiation, that Coral Calcium Supreme can treat or cure cancer and other diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and heart disease. The FTC charges that these and other claims go far beyond existing scientific evidence regarding the recognized health benefits of calcium. 

The defendants promote the product primarily through a nationally televised 30-minute infomercial featuring Trudeau and Barefoot, and through statements made in brochures accompanying the product. The informercial has aired on cable channels such as Women's Entertainment, Comedy Central, the Discovery Channel, and Bravo.

"The commission has voiced strong concerns about deceptive claims for dietary supplements," said Howard Beales, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "These cases demonstrate that the FTC will take aggressive enforcement action, particularly when, as alleged in this case, the products are marketed as cures for serious 

diseases like cancer and heart disease. Marketers 
who step over the line will find themselves between a rock and a hard place."

In a separate action, the FTC has charged one of the defendants, Kevin Trudeau, with violating a 1998 federal district court order that prohibits him from making unsubstantiated claims about the benefits, performance, or efficacy of any products. The FTC alleges that Trudeau violated that order by making false and unsubstantiated claims about Coral Calcium Supreme, and by making unsubstantiated claims that another product, Biotape, provides significant or permanent relief from severe pain, including debilitating back pain, and pain from arthritis, sciatica, and migraines. 

In both of these actions, the FTC has asked the court for a temporary restraining order that would prohibit the defendants from making the challenged claims and would freeze their assets.

In related law enforcement efforts, the FTC and the FDA are sending strong warning letters to Web site operators who are marketing coral calcium products claiming that coral calcium is an effective treatment or cure for cancer and/or other diseases. In dozens of warnings sent this week, the FTC states it is aware of no competent and reliable scientific evidence supporting such claims and that such unsupported claims are unlawful under the FTC Act. 

Accordingly, the FTC is instructing the Web site operators to remove any false or deceptive claims from their sites immediately. In a similar action, the FDA warned Web site operators that disease claims and unsubstantiated structure/function claims cause their products to be in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. 

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