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November 30, 2010

Be Happy

The Danes are the happiest people in the world. The U.S. is up near Denmark, while poor little Togo is both the unhappiest place on earth and the among the poorest, if you believe measurements of those things. China & India fall in the lower middle of both. They have some growing to do before they reach that land of sweet contentment where hardships don’t prevail.

happinessI am happy until I ask why. Then I am just perplexed. Maybe that is because identifying the components of happiness is hard and they are often ethereal. When we look at them closely, they may disappear or seem insignificant. What made me really happy on Saturday, for example, was sitting in front of a south facing wall, after my run, soaking up the warm sun on a cool day. What goes into that, however, is having energy and time to run and to doze in the sun after. It is also the earned freedom to rest after even a small accomplishment. It would not be the same if I just went out and sat in the sun.

Enough money is clearly a component in happiness, since it gives you options and helps avoid hardships. I recall the old hippie saying, “Life is a shit sandwich; the more bread you have, the less shit you have to eat.”

Some people are naturally happier than others. But almost everybody can be made less happy by circumstances, some of which can be avoided by having money. Nevertheless, it remains a sort of statistical process. A rich person has better odds, but a poor person may come out better off with better luck and wise people may be able to maintain their equanimity despite the vicissitudes of capricious fortune. We all die pretty soon no matter what, which evens out all the material possessions, so it is probably not a great idea to get too wound up in the acquisition of stuff - or the lack thereof - anyway. Sic transit gloria mundi.

This interdependence of wisdom, wealth and luck is more or less what Solon explained to Croesus. Read the story at this link. (BTW - the Greeks thought of almost everything we care about in philosophy. This shows us that our problems are nothing new and ensures that you can always quote one of them if you want to be erudite.) A quick summary is that Solon was known as a wise man. He was asked to make reforms in Athens, which was going through challenges a lot worse than we are facing in America today. They had their own sort of globalization (or at least Mediterraneanization) going on and when you said you were a debt slave back then it was literally true. Solon did his duty and after he was done he wisely got out of town before the glow of the people's gratitude and enthusiasm wore off. During his travels, he met Croesus, the King of Lydia & the richest man in the world. Croesus asked Solon who was the happiest man in the world, expecting that Solon would pick him. (The ancient Greeks rarely made a strong distinction between happy and rich, often using the same word for each w/o distinction.) To his surprise, Solon named others. Croesus thought Solon was nuts, but in the end it turned out Solon was right.

Solon & Croesus

Read the link above if you want the rest of the story and if you are apt to complain about not being happy, cut it out. If you cannot actually be happy, pretend to be happy. Acting happy is sometimes enough to actually make you happy. But even if that doesn't work, at least you won't be bothering other people.

November 26, 2010

Tropa de Elite

Thomas Street near Balston on day after Thanksgiving. Constrution workers are not there and not many people are travelling to work.  

Not many people work on the day after Thanksgiving. The Metro was mostly empty and the streets were eerily silent.  It was pleasant, actually. This morning was unseasonably warm and balmy. The overcast weather added to the feeling of relative solitude. It cleared up a bit by evening and got a lot cooler. This is the time of transition to the colder weather. It will be warm again, but less and less.

Cloudy sky at FSI on the day after Thanksgiving 

I still went to Portuguese class today, wouldn’t miss it. We aren’t supposed to take any leave during language training, except for optional days designated. The day after Thanksgiving is such a day as are days around Christmas and New Year. But these are the best times to go to work, since few people are on the roads and Metro and in language class there is a good chance to get an instructor to yourself. I had my own class in the morning; my colleague came in the afternoon.

Cranes working on buildings at Balston near sundown 

As usual, I watched the Brazilian news before class. Almost all of it was about fighting crime in Rio. They are waging what looks like a war against drug traffickers in Rio de Janeiro.  The military police and actual military units, such as armored vehicles and helicopters are involved in cleaning the bad guys out of the favelas near the city and then setting up checkpoints to structures to keep them out.  Many of the drug kingpins are already in jail, but they were evidently still running operations from inside, so they have been relocated to far away locations usually undisclosed, although some have gone out to Porto Velho, which is the capital of the state of Rondonia. You really cannot get too much farther away from anyplace than Rondonia.    

Poster for Tropa de Elite The action is broadly popular with the population.  The inhabitants of the favelas have long been terrorized by the criminals and lately they have been expanding their operations to attack traffic on roads, as a kind of retaliation for increased police presence in the favelas.  It is interesting ho different this is in this time and place than it would be in others.  Think about how this might have been in the 1960s, when the Soviets and their Cuba surrogates were spreading tyranny and murderers like Che Guevara were fomenting trouble.  (I will never understand how that guy, a sadistically mass murderer and an incompetent one at that, can still be acceptable on posters and t-shirts.) The drug traffickers would have characterized themselves, and been characterized,  by many in the press as revolutionaries.  Or consider the same sorts of events in a Middle  Eastern country, one ravaged by violent extremism.  It is a lot better if the crooks do not have some kind of unifying ideology to turn them from local menaces to worldwide terrors.

This evening Chrissy & I watched "Tropa de Elite," a Brazilian film about a special police unit (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais (BOPE)) that deals with crime in the favelas.  The film was wildly popular when it came out in Brazil in 2007.  Now they have made a "Tropa de Elite II," which has broken all records to become the most popular Brazilian film of all time, beating out perennial favorite "Dona Flor & Her Two Husbands," featuring Sonia Braga, probably the most famous Brazilian actress in the U.S.

If you click on the "Tropa de Elite II" link above and watch the trailer and then watch the actual news stories from yesterday at this link, you will see the similarities.

"Tropa de Elite II" is not yet available on video. The first one is okay. It is in the spirit of the Dirty Harry movies, maybe mixed with something like "the Shield" or "the Wire."  Gritty. When people feel affected by crime and corrupt cops, they like to watch films where the bad guys are hunted down and maybe killed.  When the danger passes, or among those who were always more or less secure, these things are less in style and people sometimes feel a little guilty about them.

There is an interesting sub-plot, almost like an American stereotype of the spoiled rich kids v the hard working guy who came up from poverty. One of the good cops is the poor kid who wants to be a lawyer and goes to school with a bunch of privileged rich kids. They all say the cops are bad and are just tools of ruling elite to oppress the poor.  Despite their evident wealth and privilege, they consider themselves part of "the people." When the character - Mathias - speaks up in class to question the prevailing wisdom, admitting that many police are corrupt but that the drug dealers are also bad, the other students shun him. 

The film was criticized in some circles for glorifying violence and rough measures. The interrogation techniques & other methods.  

The BOPE in the film has a general Spartan or maybe a Nietzsche feel.  Very violent and not for the faint of heart, but the movie is worth watching.

The photos - Up top shows Thomas St on the way to FSI.  The construction workers are not there today and there was little traffic anywhere.  Next is the cloudy sky at FSI. Under that are construction cranes at sundown from Ballston Gold's Gym.  The movie poster below is from "Tropa de Elite."

November 16, 2010

REDD & General Scott

Winfeild Scott at Scott Circle 

I attended a conference on REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace.  It was interesting, but not very much.  They talked about things I knew about already. But what I really didn’t like was the lack of diversity.  There were NGO people and officials, who disagreed about whether using international funds to preserve forests was just very good or great.  

Daniel Webster 

I like the spirit of saving forests very much, but I don’t think that making international payments for conservation is a long term solution, even if we overcome the problems of measurement and corruption (which is a big if).  In the long run, we need to make a sustainable forestry system that allows for change and development. I think that the panel members understood this.  A guy from the Nature Conservancy talked about the need to integrate human needs.  

Samuel Hahnemann 

But I think they should have had the diversity of someone who had different interests, i.e. loggers, farmers etc.  I bet there would be a lot of common ground, but it would make for a more interesting discussion.   I mentioned this to one of the organizers. She seemed open to the idea, but seemed to think that such a person would not be well received by the audience.  Maybe.

Ginko trees 

I walked back down to the Metro along Massachusetts Avenue.  When I first joined the FS, I stayed at a Hotel called the General Scott, near Scott Circle.  This is a nice part of town and it was a good introduction to Washington and our American heritage to live there. The General Scott hotel is gone.  I remember the name so well because I accidentally stole one of their hangers. I suppose the statute of limitations is run out.I didn't do it on purpose and didn't notice the crime until much later. Anyway, I probably left one of my own hangers, but since it was more than a quarter century ago, I don’t really recall.  I know I took one of their hangers because I still have it, stamped with the hotel name, too late now to give it back, sorry.   

 I took a couple pictuRed oakres near the circle. The top is General Scott's statue at the circle.  Next is Daniel Webster. The first contact I had with Daniel Webster was when I read "the Devil & Daniel Webster" in junior HS. I chose it because it was a short book. The real Webster was more interesting.  Speaking of interesting, the next picture is a monument to Samuel Hahnemann. I didn't know who that was, so I looked him up. He was the "father of homeopathy" and he once thought that coffee made you sick. I don't know why he gets such a nice monument in Washington.

The last two picture are trees I like.  The yellow ones are ginkgo trees; the red one is a red oak, with its beautiful fall colors. The oak, BTW, is not near the circle. I took that yesterday.

November 15, 2010

A Couple of Little Anomalies

Alongside is “Our Lady of Sunoco.”  We used to call it “Our Lady of Exxon,” but I noticed that it is now a Sunoco down there.  I used to pass this place all the time when FSI was located in Roslyn. I suppose a church can be anywhere, but it just seems odd to have the gas station with the steeple on top. There is a lot of new construction going on in Roslyn.  It doesn’t seem to have hurt the area that FSI moved away.  

Below is the bike rack at Dunn Loring with a motor scooter.  This seems to be part of a trend. I am seeing these motor scooters more and more places that used to be the domain of bikes that actually require some muscle movement to propel them.  

I am a bike snob.  I don’t consider motor scooter folks as up to being in the “bike club.”   Just having two wheels is not enough to qualify.  The scooters have the additional negative of often being loud and stinky.  The irony is that those little engines make a lot of pollution.

They don’t belong in places with bikes.

I remember how the scooters and mopeds made walking around in Rome a lot more stressful. A moped can go pretty much anywhere and the pinheads riding them feel free to ride down paths and sidewalks. Bikes shouldn't be in some of the places either, but the moped people tend to be more aggressive. Mopeds and scooters have never been very common around here. Let’s keep it that way. I put them up there with leaf blowers as marginally useful devices that we would be better off without.

the bike rack at Dunn Loring with a motor scooter.  This seems to be part of a trend. I am seeing these motor scooters more and more places that used to be the domain of bikes that actually require some muscle movement to propel them.    

November 14, 2010

Town & Country & Transport

 

I have been getting off the Metro at Ballston and walking from there to FSI. Ballston is part of the suburb of Arlington, but it is much more urban than many areas called cities, with a greater concentration of tall buildings than in a place like downtown Milwaukee, for example.   Many of the Ballston buildings are residential, with retail and offices below.  

 

Arlington has a good “transit oriented” development, with dense concentrations near the metro stops at Roslyn, Court House, Clarendon, Virginia Square and Ballston.  Ballston is the tail.  When you get into Fairfax, there is a lot less development around the stations in Falls Church or Vienna.  Our own metro stop at Dunn Loring is supposed to be among the more developed ones in Fairfax. I doubt it will ever get as dense as Ballston, but some construction has begun on our “Merrifield Town Center” or “Mosaic” project. The recent downturn slowed it down a bit.

 

Above is continuing construction near Ballston. Below is the construction near our stop at Dunn Loring. They are going to widen the road and put in a gardened median strip. The areas at the Metro, which you cannot see but is to the right of the photo, will get tall residences along with retail on the ground level. I understand they will have a bakery and a Harris Teeter, among other things. There will be a multiplex cinema down the road. All this stuff will replace the mulch shop, the dumpy buildings, the Anatolian stone yard, the storefront offering legal services to illegal aliens and the various warehouses. The neighborhood is improving.

 

Below is my new Gold's Gym near Ballston Metro. It has the usual equipment, but a younger crowd than the one near the Capitol. They seem to locate these places in old warehouses and industrial buildings.

 

I went over to see Alex in Harrisonburg and drove down I-81.  This is the route that trucks use to transport freight up the Eastern Seaboard. It passes through mostly rural areas, but is nevertheless usually crowded.  There has been some talk about building lanes especially for trucks or improving the freight rail to get the goods more effectively transported. 

truck rest stop along I-81 

Above is a rest stop along I-81. Below is Harrisonburg at a strip mall with the Wal-Mart Super Center, Home Depot AND Lowes. It seems to be the happening place. There are the usual couple dozen chain restaurants around there. All of them were crowded when Alex and I went down there at around 6:30.  We ended up at a not-so-good but not-so-crowded Mexican place. The next morning we had breakfast at Bob Evans.

    

November 13, 2010

Lichens

I didn’t see many lichens growing up in Milwaukee. There was too much air pollution. Within sight of our house were Nordburg and Pelton Steel Mills. About a mile away way a coke coal plant with an eternal flame burning off the gas by-product. You could see the glow at night. I didn't know what non-polluted air smelled like (or not) until I went away to school in northern Wisconsin.This was the experience of people all over the country and the world, some later than others. I know that air is still polluted to even greater levels today in places like China. I recall the familiar smells when we moved to Krakow in the 1990s. I actually like a little touch of coal smell in the air. It fills me with feelings of nostalgia. Of course, I know it is not good. Things have really improved since then.

Back then, the high ambient air pollution of the industrial city  killed most of the lichens in Milwaukee and in big cities around the world. This was something that scientists noticed in the middle of the 1800s.  In fact, there was the famous case of a moth in England that actually evolved from a speckled whitish color that blended in with lichens on trees, into a charcoal black creature that could hide on coal blackened tree trucks and buildings. With the significant improvements in air quality over the last generation, the moths are starting to look more like lichens again and lichens are again growing in major cities in Europe and America. 

Lichens are an interesting federation of separate symbiotic organisms. Algae provide photosynthesis, but could not grow well on rocks and trees if not for a fungus that provides a kind of rooted stability and nutrients. Besides their sensitivity to air pollution, lichens are among the toughest organisms on earth and are present all over the place even in the harshest climates, often on places where nothing else can grow.   

 

You can see in my photo lichens growing on a tree in the moderate climate of Virginia. But these lichens probably would not have grown on this type spot during the 1960s, since it is near HWY 50 and the pollution from cars and trucks in those days would have killed them.

 

Above are trees in their fall colors at FSI. The middle picture is the gazebo at the entry to our complex with the maples in their fall glory. The gazebo is not much use for anything, but I suppose the circle would look odd with nothing on it at all. Housing complexes in northern Virginia often feature these sorts of ersatz tradition. We have come to expect and even demand such things.

November 12, 2010

Sugar Cane & Ethanol

Ethanol has lots of advantages, according to what I heard during a program on biofuels at the Brazil Institute at the Wilson Center. One of the biggest advantages is that it is dispersed, both nationally and internationally. Within a country, ethanol production tends to be in rural areas. It is difficult to over centralize, since moving the feed stocks is much more expensive than moving the ethanol.  (This is a very old advantage, BTW.  In our own history, the whiskey rebellion was fueled by exactly the same consideration. It was much more effective to move whiskey made from grains than move the bulky raw materials.)  It is also dispersed internationally, unlike petroleum, which is heavily concentrated in the Middle East. Feed stocks for ethanol can be grown almost anywhere in the world, which is why people can make booze all over the world. Of course, not all feed stocks are equally good, but sugar cane, one of the best feed stocks, can be grown all over the tropics.

Sugar cane is especially well suited to Brazil. The climate is nearly perfect in many regions. Sugar cane requires lots of water during some seasons and not much later on. The sugar doesn’t form well unless the plant is stressed by drought.  This is why sugar cane does not grow well in the Amazon, where it rains throughout the year, but other areas of Brazil have very distinct wet and dry seasons. 

The sugar cane wet/dry rotation also works well in Brazil’s energy equation in another way.  Brazil is heavily dependent on hydro-power and hydro is heavily influenced by rain.  During the wet seasons, there is a lot of river flow, but not so much in the dry season.  Dry season shortfalls are filled with thermal plants, usually burning fossil fuels.  This is where sugar cane comes in again.  Besides the ethanol produced by the cane, there is also the biomass (i.e. canes).  Refiners have long used the biomass as an energy source, but this co-generation potentially produces much more energy than is needed in the refineries. Sugar cane is harvested in the dry season, which means that the fuel is available exactly when it is most needed.

Sugar cane is a six year crop, i.e. it must be replanted every six years.  They use a kind of six field rotation in Brazil.  A grower divides his land into seven sections for each of the growing seasons for the cane, plus a non-cane rotation.  So each year, one section gets the final harvest. This one is then planted with a alternate crop, usually a legume such as beans or soy.  These crops fix nitrogen and restore the soil fertility.  The non-cane rotation also serves to allow diseases of cane to die out on those fields.  After the year, cane is again planted, but a different variety in order to avoid blight.  There are more than 400 varieties of sugar cane.  

The Brazilian biofuels endeavor has meant an increase in land devoted to cane, but not really very much.  Less than 1% of Brazilian land is devoted to cane for ethanol or crops for biodiesel.   Better plant varieties and methods of growing have allowed more production.  Of course, there has been expansion onto other land.  Most of this land was degraded pasture land.  Brazil is a high intensity cane producer, but beef production has been extensive, i.e. requiring a lot of land per unit of production.  Brazil has only 1.1 head of cattle per hectare of pasture.  This could be greatly improved and since Brazil has a lot of pasture land (more than 20% of Brazil is pasture) there is significant scope for cane production w/o contributing to deforestation.

Sugar cane production in Brazil is almost entirely rain fed and Brazil has a lot of water in general.  Brazil accounts for 19% of the world’s total river discharge.  Of this, 13% of the rain actually lands on Brazil itself.  The rest comes from water flowing into the country from neighboring countries.

Sugar cane culture is being mechanized. All new plantations must be harvested mechanically and by 2014 it will no longer be legal to burn stalks, which means that all plantations will need to be harvested mechanically. Why?  It is actually very practical Sugar cane has sharp leaves, so sharp and still that they cut people working among the plants. For centuries, growers have used surface fires to singe the leaves off, which allow workers to go into the cane and harvest it. W/o fire, it is practically impossible to harvest cane by hand. Mechanical harvesting eliminates the need for surface fire. Even with the singeing fires, work in the cane fields is dirty & brutally hard. While it is always difficult to throw lots of this kind of semi-skilled labor out of work, these are not the kinds of jobs you want to preserve going into the next century.

A Veteran's Day Walk Around

Arlington Cemetery on Veteran's Day 

I went down to Arlington Cemetery for Veteran's Day, as has become my custom. It is a good day to think about the ones who have sacrificed and died to protect our liberty. I remember in particular a young man named Aaron Ward, who was killed by a sniper in Hit, Iraq on May 6, 2008. I wrote about him previously. He was only nineteen when he came to Iraq. His story made a particular impression on me because it was close and he reminded me of Alex. I can never again think of young soldiers, marines, sailors or airmen in the same way as I did before. It brings the pity of war closer whenever I think of him.  I understand that my determination to remember Aaron Ward's sacrifice does nothing to help him. A couple years later, I understand that I have to thank him not only for his service and sacrifice, but also for helping make me a more thoughtful and, I hope, a better man.

I walked from Roslyn to Arlington Cemetery, going past the Marine Memorial, with the Iwo Jima statue. I have posted pictures before. Above is a closer detail.  

I walked from Roslyn to Arlington Cemetery, going past the Marine Memorial, with the Iwo Jima statue. I have posted pictures before. Above is a closer detail.  The complete picture is here. Below is Memorial Bridge that connects Washington, near the Lincoln Memorial, with Arlington Cemetery.

Memorial Bridge that connects Washington, near the Lincoln Memorial, with Arlington Cemetery.  

Below is one of the statues near Memorial Bridge. They were a gift from the people of Italy to the people of the United States. 

one of the statues near Memorial Bridge. They were a gift from the people of Italy to the people of the United States. 

Below is the memorial to the 101 Airborne, the "Screaming Eagles."  Maybe appropriately, I saw a bald eagle flying over the Potomac.  I got a good look at it, so I am sure it was an eagle. Unfortunately, by the time I got my camera out and ready, it was too far out of sight to get a picture.  Eagles are becoming fairly common again. They are primarily fish eaters, so you see them along rivers like the Potomac or Mississippi.

memorial to the 101 Airborne, the "Screaming Eagles."  Maybe appropriately, I saw a bald eagle flying over the Potomac.  I got a good look at it, so I am sure it was an eagle. Unfortunately, by the time I got my camera out and ready, it was too far out of sight to get a picture.  Eagles are becoming fairly common again. They are primarily fish eaters, so you see them along rivers like the Potomac or Mississippi.  

Farther up the river is Theodore Roosevelt Island. It is literally an island of nature in the largely urban area. It used to be cultivated, but went back to nature  around 100 years ago. They claim that it is an "island of tranquility" but that is not really true. You may be able to pretend that the persistent traffic noise is the sound of the ocean, but the airplanes going over every couple of minutes from Reagan National Airport are harder to rationalize. The only time I really found tranquility there was when I was stranded in Washington after 9/11/2001. They stopped the flights and there was not so much traffic, so it was quiet, but in a sort of eerie way. Below is the Roosevelt Memorial, with old Teddy talking to the trees. I have a couple more detailed pictures here and here.

Farther up the river is Theodore Roosevelt Island. It is literally an island of nature in the largely urban area. It used to be cultivated, but went back to nature  around 100 years ago. They claim that it is an "island of tranquility" but that is not really true. You may be able to pretend that the persistent traffic noise is the sound of the ocean, but the airplanes going over every couple of minutes from Reagan National Airport are harder to rationalize. The only time I really found tranquility there was when I was stranded in Washington after 9/11/2001. They stopped the flights and there was no so much traffic, so it was really quiet, but in a sort of eerie way. Below is the Roosevelt Memorial, with old Teddy talking to the trees.  

Below is the George Washington Parkway, which follows the Potomac from Mount Vernon, one of the sources of traffic noise on Theodore Roosevelt Island. It is a bit classier than some other highways, with its beautiful natural stone walls separating the lanes of traffic. They just just don't build things like that anymore.

George Washington Parkway, which follows the Potomac from Mt Vernon, one of the sources of traffic noise. It is a bit classier than some other highways with its beautiful natural stone walls separating the lanes of traffic. They just just don't build things like that anymore.    

November 11, 2010

The Limit of Tolerance

Those weirdos whose false god wants dead soldiers were out again in front of Arlington Cemetery. Only a handful were there and although they were loud and persistent, they were well obscured by a group of patriotic bikers, who blocked the view by walking in front. One of the bikers told me that the police wouldn’t let them stand, but it was okay if they were “pedestrians.” A cop I talked with told me that he wasn’t serving the weirdos, but rather protecting the good people who might otherwise pummel them. Last year a young Marine got in trouble for rescuing an American flag that a protester was dragging in the dirt.

counter protesters in Arlington

We just have to take it. These clowns have a right to speech & assembly. They were joyful as they predicted that America was doomed & we were all going to hell. I recognized a women I met last year when I challenged her false god to strike me dead. He couldn't, but she assured me that I would go to hell. Only one comment seemed to fluster her. When she told a guy standing near me that, “god hates fags”, he quickly retorted that her god obviously didn’t hate incest, implying she enjoyed a closer than healthy relationship with her father. Maybe he hit too close to home.

I think it worked out as well as it could have. The bikers effectively prevented the weirdos from getting the attention that they craved. Their impact was limited to the couple dozen people took pride in forming a human barrier; they were immune to the protesters. It also provided an environment where people could get close enough to ridicule the protesters w/o shouting, which energizes protesters.

On a day when thousands of us gather to honor the brave people who sacrificed and sometimes died to defend our country, we tolerate the few disrespectful weirdos whose behavior any honorable person cannot but hate. It shows the kind of people we are.These protesters managed to unite liberal and conservative in dislike of them. We agree that we have to tolerate them, but nobody says that we have to like them. We have to respect their right to protest, but we don’t have to respect the protesters.

You can see on the picture up top taken from across the street that the protesters were effectively and peacefully neutered.  The picture below shows the people who were spontaneously taking turns to block the view. I made a special point in not to show the protesters.  You can see a little part of one of their signs, which were very offensive, believe me.

November 09, 2010

Brazil's Successful Takeoff

Gnarled bradford pear 

Economic miracles come and go. Today China is the miracle. It was the “Asian Tigers” in the 1990s and Japan was going to take over the world in the 1980s. But if you go back to the 1970s, Brazil was the miracle country, with economic growth rates equaling or exceeding those of China today. The problem was that it proved unsustainable. The easy explanation is that the price of oil spiked in the 1970s and that killed the boom. But there was more. The Brazilian boom of the 1970s turned out to be narrowly based and fueled by debt. How is it different today?

Maple tree in fall colors 

The first difference is a broader-based political stability. Brazil of the 1970s was ruled by a military government, with a few people making the decisions and setting the priorities. Today Brazil is a full democracy and has been for a quarter century. The rule of thumb is that the test of a democracy is not the first election, but the first election where the opposition takes power peacefully. Brazil has been there and done that.

In fact, they went through extraordinary tests. The first openly elected Fernando Collor de Mello was not only replaced, but actually successfully impeached and yet the institutions of democracy endured. After that, the Brazil government enacted the extraordinary reforms and liberalization of Plano Real that quelled inflation and got the economy moving. The opposition of that time, led by future president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (leader of the PT), promised to reverse many of the reforms and privatizations. 

Political risk analysts worried about the ostensibly very leftist PT during the 1990s, but when Lula won the elections in 2002, he quietly maintained the reforms and the economy continued to grow. The political risk from PT has now dropped to something near zero, or similar to the political risk of an opposition party victory in Western Europe or the U.S. and there is no other more radical danger on the horizon. Essentially every viable political movement has had its chance to influence or directly run the government and they all have shown practical support for the reforms.   

The most recent Brazilian election, less than two weeks ago, was fairly boring. Boring is good when it comes to politics of stability in countries like many in Latin America. Elections are exciting when one side intends to completely reverse whatever the previous guys did. That bodes well for political stability.

The Brazilian economy is also on a better footing than it was years ago. Many of the large state-owned firms have been privatized, at least partially. (I have been a stockholder in Campania Vale do Rio Doce since 2004, but I have to dump it before I go to Brazil.) Brazil remains a very unequal place, but the Brazilian middle class has grown remarkable. There are now a significant number of reasonably affluent Brazilian consumers. I wrote a little more on both these subjects at the links above. The Brazilian central bank is not as independent as the Fed, but it has behaved in a de-facto autonomous way in defending the currency.

Exports are more widely based, although Brazil still exports mainly primary products. Brazil has become a commodities power house. China is now Brazil’s biggest customer, replacing the U.S. in 2009. China takes Brazilian products such as Iron ore, soy and oil. The Chinese are helping to finance Brazilian oil exploration in the deep waters off the coast of Rio de Janeiro (called the pre-sal). Interestingly, the discovery of the potentially massive offshore oil reserves has mitigated some of the earlier enthusiasm for biofuels.

One of the paradoxes of the China trade is that it looks a lot like the old neo-colonial relationship, since Brazil supplies raw material to China and takes manufactured goods. But there is a modern twist. Raw material production today can be very high tech and high value added. This is especially true in agriculture.

In 2008, Brazil essentially paid off that terrible debt everybody worried about for a generation and became a net creditor. Brazilians now own interests in such quintessential American firms such as Burger King & Budweiser and they now have an extensive foreign aid program of their own, especially in Lusophone Africa.

Anyway, it now looks like the Brazilian takeoff has a much stronger base and that this time it may be sustained. I keep on finding out how lucky I am to be going there next year.

The pictures - again they are unrelated to the text, except that they are on my way to FSI where I have been learning some of the stuff I am writing about. Up top is a gnarled old bradford pear. It looks ancient and it is mostly dead, but it is probably not very old. My guess it is that it is significantly younger than I am. I bet it no more than thirty-five years old, probably not even that. Those things live fast and die young, but don't leave a good looking corpse. Below is a nice, colorful maple.

November 07, 2010

Historical Paradigms

Statue of JesusCathedral of St Thomas Moore in Arlington, VA overlookking US 50 

Writers lose control of their work as soon as somebody else reads it, since each reader will bring a different perspective and a different train of thought. If what was written is interesting, it will take on a life of its own. Readers may disparage the authors for claims they never made or praise them for insight they never had, but there is no use in authors trying to “correct” interpreters. Of course they can try to explain and get others to hop onto their own preferred train of thought, but the indignation some creative types feel when they find their work misinterpreted is inappropriate.

These are some of the insights I took away from a lecture by Patrick Allitt who talked about writing history during a Bradley lecture at AEI. Of course, as Allitt conceded, there are no truly new ideas and this concern with losing control of one’s ideas goes back at least as far as Plato. Plato purported to be concerned that his writings might be misused w/o him being there to explain and illustrate with examples. Of course, among ancient philosophers Plato was one of the most diligent about making sure that his works were copied and distributed widely, which is one reason we know Plato so well while many other ancient writers are known only in fragments or lost entirely. This illustrates the dilemma. Writers want to use the written word to communicate.They know, or should know, that their work may be misinterpreted, but they really still want to get it into the hands of those potentially unworthy consumers.

US Chamber of Commerce building in Washington 

BTW – What you will be reading below will provide an example of the slippage Allitt (and Plato) talked about. I take Allitt’s comments as my starting point, but I will riff off that, so unless I mention him specifically, he may not be to blame for some of the ideas.

Allitt’s was talking about historical writing and writing about conservatism specifically and he acknowledged another problem for writers of history. Where do you start? You can always go “back to the beginning” but when you arrive there you find that the beginning has its own roots in the past and this goes back endlessly.

Thomas St in Arlington, VA.  I just think this is a really pleasant neighborhood. 

Allitt thinks that a good place to start talking about conservatism in the U.S. is with the Federalist. America doesn’t really have conservatism in the sense that they might in places with ancient roots. Nobody can seriously advocate a RETURN to royalty, feudalism or the old empire, because we never had any of those things. The United States of America is a creation of human endeavor with some specific starting dates. There were no “Americans” (in the sense of people of the U.S.) before 1776 or 1787 (if you prefer the Constitution), and you could even argue for a more recent date.

American conservatism, according to Allitt, is more of an attitude than a specific set of beliefs. It is a outlook that looks for support in historical precedents and in experience, rather than sweeping theories that purport to completely explain current reality, or at least history, and are able to prescribe yet untried comprehensive solutions. To be conservative is to not believe in comprehensive changes and to understand that there is no finish line or a utopia attainable on earth. Human nature and the challenges faced by people are similar enough that we can understand and learn from the experience of people in ancient times, even though their lives were very different.

Rochambeau in Lafayette Park in Washington 

Unlike Marxists, conservatives don’t have a good explanation for everything that happens. Marx thought up all sorts of stages and rules of history. He provided a good narrative and even non-Marxists get caught up in his stages. Marx explained how we move from feudalism to capitalism and he projected how we would move out of capitalism into communism. Marx even developed a good way to smack down non-believers. They were victims of “false consciousness.” This explained content workers or peasants. They just were too dumb and misguided to understand their own plight, according to Marxists.

Although Marx was wrong in all the important details of his theory, it is attractive to have a story line. It is particularly attractive to intellectuals, because it is complex and knowable only to those who really study it. Beyond that, Marxism provides a specific role for intellectuals as the vanguard of the proletariat. What more could the mediocre PhD student with poor job prospects ask for?

Conservatism, in contrast, doesn’t have a theory with neat stages, each leading forward to the ultimate utopia where everybody is fulfilled and nobody even thinks about carrying out aggressions against their neighbors. Conservatives understand that people want different things and even the same person changes his preferences with monotonous regularity. History has no overarching goal or directions, according to conservatives. This means that conservatives cannot project progressive history onto current events the way progressives can. This puts conservatives at a steep rhetorical disadvantage. People like to have a detailed story about where things are going to go, even if they understand that the story is wrong and the goals practically unattainable with the methods proposed or by the people designated.

Conservatives become an easy target for the label of “do nothing.” In the field of government, conservatives often do believe in doing nothing, or at least doing less by government. There is a paradox of conservatives in government, since they are using a tool (government) that they think should be used less or not at all in many situations. It is tempting to leave it to those who want to use it, but that is impossible.

You may want to ignore politics, but politics won’t ignore you. Since there is no op-out option, conservatives have the responsibility to op-in and take the heat for being against changes that will ostensibly mitigate misery and help solve the people’s problems. It is not that conservatives are unaware of these problems or that they don’t want them addressed, it is just that they understand that government, although indispensable within its own sphere, is not the proper tool to deliver many changes that the people want. Conservatives in the American tradition are in favor of many changes, but are less confident that government is the proper tool.

Perhaps the central paradox of conservatism in the United States, and to some extent in other free market places, is the conservatives defend the free market, which it the most revolutionary system in human history. The free market means constant change, but it is change that bubbles up from below, from diverse and unexpected sources. There is no direction that can be predicted in advance. Historians often create what looks like a progress narrative by weaving ex-post-facto weaving together disparate threads, but it wasn’t like that at the time. The test of any theory is its ability to predict future events, not merely explaining the past in what seems to be a coherent way. By that measure, all the fancy theories of historical inevitability have been wrong. The free market is a process, but not a plan. That is how it works and why it delivers such radical change w/o making the promise.

Cultures can go along for decades or centuries with few significant changes, but when market forces get to work, suddenly change comes fast and furious. It is one of the things “conservatives” in from non-market cultures most dislike. **

So the liberal-conservative divide (defining both terms in the modern American sense, since liberal & conservative mean very different things in different places and times) is not about change or no change. It is a difference of whether the primary agent of change should be centralized and government or distributed and non-governmental. It is also not an argument about government or no government. It is about the size and the roles government should play.

A few odd & ends from the Q&A – One of the questions concerned leadership. Allitt pointed out that conservatives tend to believe more in leadership as the agency of change or progress. Liberals tend to believe more in wider historical forces. This is no surprise, given the more general philosophical differences.

He also pointed out the good historians try to be fair and impartial, but that they really cannot, since they choose the subjects to study based on their interests, preferences and what they think are important subjects, focusing attention on some areas by necessity means neglecting others. People also write about what they like or are passionate about. It becomes very hard not to take sides.

Allitt said that if you feel very good after reading a history, it is probably poorly done, since the historians has created, perhaps, inadvertently, a good guy-bad guy narrative. No matter how they look in retrospect, nobody thinks of himself as the villain of the story and they don’t go into conflicts expecting to lose. Historians sometimes don’t consider the motivations and aspirations of the losers, or at least the other side. History is often the story of people doing very bad things, but perhaps it would be enlightening to understand why they thought they were good or at least expedient. On the other hand the “heroes” are also always flawed. We can recognize this w/o becoming cynical about the good people have done or absolutely despairing about the evil. There are lessons to be drawn from both.

Speaking of lessons, Allitt said that we should not take more from lessons that they have to teach. For example, after World War II, historians and leaders took the broad lesson that they had countries had acted too quickly and w/o sufficient compromise. That was what contributed to the terrible war. So in the 1930s, the Democracies were more accommodating – appeasing the dictators. We now look at that as a big mistake, but at the time it seemed like a good idea – “peace for our time.” The experience of World War II gave us the need to act and prevent countries from falling to dictators. This had its own downsides. In fact, each situation is different. What works in one time or place may be just the wrong thing to do in another. Of course, it is easy to see that in retrospect and much harder when you are making decisions in a climate of uncertainty.

Anyway, if you are interested in this subject, I suggest you watch for yourself. As I said, I started with Allitt’s talk, but extrapolated. If you want what he actually said, you have to listen to him.

BTW - Fox News is featuring a series on conservatism that starts tonight (Sunday)

The pictures in this piece are unrelated to the text. I just like to put in what scenes I have noticed recently.The top shows Jesus in front of the Cathedral of St Thomas Moore in Arlington. A similar but much bigger and more famous Jesus looks out over Rio de Janiero; this one looks out over US 50, maybe as far as Glebe Road. Below that is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Building in Washington.  It is across from the White House on Lafayette Park. Next is Thomas St in Arlington VA. I just like that neighborhood, mostly because of the big trees. I walk that way to FSI.  Finally is Rochambeau, the French general who helped us win independence.  He is in Lafayette Park. 

BTW, for reasons I cannot explain, Rochambeau is also another name for the game rock-paper-scissors as well as for a stupid game some of us "played" as kids, which involves getting kicked in the groin. Actually, you didn't play voluntarily and I never understood the rules. It usually resulted in a fight or a quest for revenge. I do not think there is a relation to the general.

November 05, 2010

Justice for Poland

Below and at this link is a petition from the Kosciuszko Foundation. I understand that those unfamiliar with the controversy may think it is no big deal, but it makes a big difference to the Poles. You can see why when you read the petition.

IMO, the lack of knowledge on this issue is appalling. I had to explain to many journalists and political staffers that the Poles were invaded by the Nazis, that they never gave in to the Nazis, that many more Poles participated in the resistance & many more died than the more famous French resistance, that Poles served in allied armies, participating as pilots in the Battle of Britain and as soldiers all over Europe, that the Warsaw uprising of 1944 held back the Nazis for two months and at the same time stalled the Soviet advance, since after encouraging the uprising Stalin's troops paused and waited for the Nazis to destroy the Polish resistance in Warsaw, all the while not helping and in fact hindering relief efforts by others. Had it not been for this wait, the Red Army may have advanced significantly farther west, with fearful consequences for the future of freedom after the war. This is a largely forgotten history, with bravery and sacrifice unrecognized and unrewarded. Shamefully, at the end of the war Poland was subsumed by Stalin's evil empire. 

The communist government executed many of the brave resistance fighters, cynically labeling them "fascists". The communists were also a reason why Polish bravery in the war is so unknown outside Poland. The communists systematically denigrated the efforts of Polish resistance and the Home Army (Armia Krajowa) and surviving veterans were not given any justice until Poland regained its freedom, when they were already old men and women. You can see some of them marching in the picture at above & left.

I had the extraordinary privilege of meeting heroes like Jan Nowak Jezioranski and Jan Karski. These brave men risked their lives repeatedly moving in and out of Nazi occupied territory and even into concentration camps themselves, finding evidence and trying to warn the allies about the Holocaust and the fate of civilians populations in Poland. They and the millions of Poles (civilians as well as soldiers) who fought the Nazis and died at the hands of the Nazis deserve better than to be identified with their enemies and murderers.  The constant, ignorant use of the term "Polish camps" disrespects their memories.  Please read and sign the petition below.

Petition on German Concentration Camps
WHEREAS the media uses the historically erroneous terms "Polish concentration camp" and "Polish death camp" to describe Auschwitz and other Nazi extermination camps built by the Germans during World War II, which confuses impressionable and undereducated readers, leading them to believe that the Holocaust was executed by Poland, rather than Nazi Germany,
WHEREAS these phrases are Holocaust revisionism that desecrate the memories of six million Jews from 27 countries who were murdered by Nazi Germany,
WHEREAS Poland was the first country invaded by Germany, and the only country whose citizens suffered the death penalty for rescuing Jews, yet never surrendered during six years of German occupation, even though one-sixth of its population was killed in the war, approximately half of which was Christian,
WHEREAS educated journalists must know these facts and not cross the libel threshold of malice by using phrases such as "Polish concentration camps."
BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED that the undersigned request that The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press, include entries in their stylebooks requiring news stories to be historically accurate, using the official name of all "German concentration camps in Nazi-occupied Poland," as UNESCO did in 2007 when it named the camp in Auschwitz, "The Auschwitz-Birkenau German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945)."
 
12133 Signatures
Alex Storozynski, President, Kosciuszko Foundation
Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, Consul General of Poland in New York
President Lech Walesa, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
Piotr Cywinski, Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum Site
Robert Kupiecki, Ambassador of Poland to The United States
Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland
Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Former U.S. National Security Advisor
Rabbi Moshe Birnbaum, Flushing, NY
Rev. Msgr. Peter Walter Zendzian, Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church
Lt. General Edward Rowny, U.S. Army (Retired)
Joseph E. Gore, Chairman of the Board, Kosciuszko Foundation
Prof. Norman Davies, Historian, Oxford, England
Ryszard Horowitz, Photographer, Auschwitz survivor
Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, Oscar-winning composer
Add your name to the list using the form at right.

Link to petition to sign.

Lisa Lewenhaupt, Individual
Gothenburgh, Sweden

Katarzyna Ramotowska, Individual
Goniądz, Poland
Juliusz Klosinski, Individual
Warsaw, Poland
Margaret Niznikiewicz, Individual
Easton, MA
Leszek Szymanski, Individual
New York, NY
Barbara Nowak, Individual
Highland Mills, NY
Janusz Nowak, Individual
Highland Mills, NY
Joanna Pietruszewski, Individual
Princeton, NJ
Karol Ostrowski, Individual
Elbląg
Robert Hryniewicz, President, Polish-American Students & Young Professionals (PASYP) Association
Cleveland, OH
Joanna Pietruszewski, Aegis Restauro, LLC
Princeton, NJ
Jewls Rogowska Teneva, Law Offices of Jewls Rogowska
Philadlephia, PA
katherine storch, Individual
plymouth, mi
Reginald S. Stapczynski, Individual
Andover, Mass.
Chester Szarejko, Individual
Little Neck, NY USA
ann bostelmann, Individual
connecticut, USA
Tekla Simon, Individual
Elkins Park, PA
Walter J. Bayer II, Individual
Long Bay, Anguilla,
Hubert Waniewski-Raglan, Individual
Washington DC
Agnieszka Simon, Individual
Elkins Park, PA
Kathleen Nowicki Schwartz, Individual
Birmingham MI
Breann L. Szmurlo, Individual
USA
Marion Szarejko, Individual
Little Neck, NY USA
Karol Sulimirski, Individual
Murphy NC 28906
Jagoda Minkowicz, President of Polish American Travel Agents
Brooklyn, NY 11222
Barbara Wierzbianski, Individual
New York, N Y
Pete Bartoszak, Individual
Washington DC
Yvonne Kowalczewski, Individual
Boston, MA USA
Malgorzata Pasanowic, Individual
New York, NY
Janina Poskrobko-Strzeciwilk, Individual
Staten Island, NY
Joanna Lis, Individual
New York, NY
Chris Snyder, Individual
New York City
Edward Palumbo Ph.D., Individual
New York, NY
Mariusz Smolij, Individual
Sugar Land, TX
Pete Bartoszak, Individual
Washington DC
Pauline Modzelewski, Individual
Maspeth, NY
Anna Barycka, baryckanada.com
Ottawa, Canada
Pawel Kotowski, Embassy of Poland
Washington, DC
Waclaw Kolodziejek, Individual
Forest Hills, NY
Edward Shevlin III, President, Lehman College Irish American Society
Bronx, NY
Sophie Kolodziejek, Individual
Woodside, NY
Marion Schmieder Szarejko, Individual
Little Neck NY
Barbara Wierzbianski, Individual
New York, N Y
Marcin Żmudzki, Individual
Falls Church, Virginia
Matthew Stefanski, Individual
Bayonne, NJ
Paula Broniak, Individual
Washington DC
Adam Niklewicz, Individual
North Haven, CT
Pawel Podolec, Individual
Washington DC
Gala Siarheichyk, Ph.D., Individual
Boulder, CO
John Morrison, Individual
Washington DC
Sylwia Nasiadko, Individual
Brooklyn, NY
george s bobinski, Individual
vestal, new york
Dorothy Porc, Individual
Burbank, CA
Jacek Olszewski, Individual
New York
Stanislaw Porc, Individual
Pottsville, PA
Marta Rudzki, Architect
New York, NY 11375
Bozena Massey, Individual
New York
Dominik Stecula, Individual
Montreal, QC, Canada
Christopher Moscinski, Individual
Piscataway, NJ
Jagoda Minkowicz, President of Polish American Travel Agents
Brooklyn, NY 11222
Urszula Kalawaj, Individual
Cleveland
Marianne Dombroski Bailey, Individual
New Caney, TX
William J Siok, Individual
Westminster, CO
Susan L. Udinsky, Individual
Ambler, PA 19002
Jakub Glodek, Individual
Walnut Creek, CA
Dorothy Kowalczewski Nydam, Individual
San Diego, California
Elzbieta Szyszkowska Smith, Individual
Vero Beach Florida 32960
Lucas Mazur, Individual
Worcester, MA
Monika Wojcik, Individual
Indiana, USA
Casimir Rogacki, Individual
Unadilla,NY 13849
Barbara Lemecha, Individual
Dearborn Heights, Michigan
BRUNO F SZYMANSKI, Individual
STUART, FLORIDA
Eleanor Lange, Individual
Manhasset, NY
Wojciech Kicinski, Individual
Washington DC
Phillip Revolinski, Individual
Lakeland Florida USA
ula lozowska, Individual
new york, usa
Beata hrynkiewicz, Individual
Wethersfield, Connecticut
Matthew Szczepanowski, Owner Conservation Studio for Art
1818 Callowhill Street, Philadelphia, PA 19130
Piotr Brakoniecki, Chairman Lay Advisory Council at Holy Name Of Jesus Church
Stamford,Ct
joseph malley, Retired Police Chief
Harrison, New Jersey
Wanda Splisgardt, Individual
Saint Louis, MO USA
ALAN E. PISARSKI, Individual
FALLS CHURCH VA
Richard M. Ubowski, Individual
Harleysville, PA
Karen J Ubowski, Individual
Harleysville, PA
Michael C. Ubowski, Individual
Harleysville, PA
Wanda Splisgardt, WJS Business Consulting International
Saint Louis, MO USA
Agnieszka Tachkov, Individual
White Plains NY 10606
jaroslawa braun, Individual
Sverige
Jenufa Gleich, Individual
Italy
Jennifer R. Ubowski, Individual
Haleysville, PA
Msgr. Thomas E. Crane, Individual
Tonawanda NY USA
Richard J Ubowski, Individual
Harleysville, PA
Caroline Ubowski, Individual
W. Roxbury, MA
Robert Stefanski, Individual
Cleveland, OH
Tito Rahman, PEACE Foundation
NY, USA
Krol, george, Individual
Mew York City
Marian Ubowski, Individual
W. Roxbury, MA
Joanna Bochenek, Individual
Chicago, Illinois
TITO RAHMAN, Individual
NY-USA
Agnieszka Tracz, Polonia.net
New York, USA
Frances X. Gates, Individual
Brooklyn Heights, NY
Aleksandra Sobkowicz, Individual
Middle Village, NY
Frank C. Sharp, Individual
New York, NY
Gregory Sroka, Individual
Los Angeles CA
Dr. Seth A. Waldman, Physician
New York, USA
Dr. Richard M. Dubiel, Individual
Stevens Point, WI
Dr. Joseph R. Setter, Individual
Bloomington, IL USA
wieslawa Znaniecka, Individual
4 Martin Ave White Plains,NY 10606
Krystyna BORKOWSKA, Individual
New York
Eric Bednarski, Individual
Warsaw, Poland
Lauren Baker, Individual
Lafayette, LA USA
Mariusz Gawlik, Portal NY.PL
Larchmont, NY
patrick hagan, Individual
Staten Island, NY
Natalie Siemaszko, Individual
Montclair, NJ
Elzbieta Gawlik, Individual
Larchmont, NY
Douglas L. Olexy, Individual
West Reading, PA
Marygrace Hajec, Individual
Marygrace Hajec, Individual
Bethesda, MD
Artur Orkisz, President, Americ

 

an Polish Forum
Washington, D.C.
Barbara, Individual
San Francisco, CA
 

November 01, 2010

Learning Portuguese

FSI campus 

I started Portuguese again. Well, actually, I started filling out forms, attending orientation and taking those “learning styles” test.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to take the Meyer-Briggs test again. I am an INTP, which means something to people who know about such things. I have Brazil area studies tomorrow morning and finally tomorrow afternoon I get to study some Portuguese. Then I have to get out early to vote and get Chrissy a birthday cake.

Segways on the National Mall - You see the Segway tour on the Mall. I dislike Segways. It is kind of a lazy man way to get around and they tend to come up quick behind.  Segways are supposed to be foolproof, but just before I took the picture, one of those guys fell off.  The inventor of Segways recently died by driving one of his creations off a cliff.  Doesn't sound so safe or foolproof to me.   

Studying at FSI will be fun. One of the best things about the FS is being able to get this kind of training.  My goal is to speak Portuguese well enough that Portuguese speakers don’t feel the need to compliment me on my speaking.  I have noticed that the worse you speak a language, the faster people feel the need to tell you how well you are doing. When you really speak it well, nobody thinks much about it.

American elms on Pennsylvania Ave across from the Whithouse. These are the new Princeton elms, which are resistant to the deadly Dutch elm disease 

My strategy this time is to learn other things through Portuguese rather than the other way around.  What I mean is that I will read or listen to things in Portuguese that I want to learn anyway. This is especially true of information about tropical forests, energy and Brazil itself.  Of course this seems obvious, but it is not the way we usually do it. We usually choose texts and speeches specifically to teach language. These things are sometimes old or not topical. 

The White House 

I have been watching Brazilians news and reading about the country in Portuguese.  I bought a history of Brazil in Portuguese, a nice Brazilian atlas & a compendium of Brazilian literature. It would be easier to learn  “substantive facts” in English, but I think it is useful to make the connections in Portuguese. I read “The Prince” by Machiavelli in Portuguese. I wanted to reread this for other reasons, so I figured that I may as well do it in Portuguese. Frankly, I don’t think I would have been able to understand it in Portuguese if I had not already been familiar with it in English, but with that qualification it worked out okay. I am also reading a novel, “Caravans” in Portuguese. This is an old book by James Michener, which I read in English more than twenty years ago. It is a bit of a chore to read it in Portuguese, but I think it is good practice, since it features dialogue, conversations and first person discourses.  The news tends not to have this and neither do most textbooks or non-fiction articles.  

It is hard to find books in Portuguese locally. But I got a web-based bookseller in Brazil called Livraria Cultura.  With the Internet and a credit card, you can get whatever you need. The only problem is that they send it registered mail.  Nobody is home during the day and/or Espen won’t answer the door, so I have to pick it up at the post office.

The pictures - On top is FSI. It is a nice place to be.  The other pictures are not much related, but I took them today after work. You see the Segway tour on the Mall. I dislike Segways. It is kind of a lazy man way to get around and they tend to come up quick behind.  Segways are supposed to be foolproof, but just before I took the picture, one of those guys fell off. The company owner of Segways recently died by driving one of those things off a cliff.  Doesn't sound so safe or foolproof to me. The next picture shows American elms on Pennsylvania Avenue across from the White House. These trees are "Princeton elms", supposedly resistant to the deadly Dutch elm disease. The picture below that is the White House. 


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