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September 30, 2011

What Can 100,000 Smart Kids Accomplish?

US Capitol Mall in rain 

I chaired my first Fulbright Commission meeting. This is a great honor & I won’t deny that I take some joy in bragging about it here, even if I didn’t do anything in particular to earn the honor. I take the responsibly seriously and I took the Fulbright course from FSI distance learning so I understand the history and the process. Ours is a binational commission, which means that the Brazilian side shares in the decision making and funding. It is a great asset to our two countries and to the world, since such encouragement of scholarship is good for everybody. 

Besides the usual business, we talked about Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s aspiration to send 100,000 Brazilians overseas to study in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Math & Engineering). We all have been thinking about that and the all the world’s universities have been beating a path to Brazil to try to get a piece of this action, especially since the Brazilians will fund the studies. Fortunately for us, President Dilma has said, and repeated on many occasions, that she wants at least half of the students to go to the U.S.  Today there are only around 9000 Brazilians studying in the U.S. Multiplying that by five will be a challenge.  

Our interests and those of our Brazilian friends correspond almost perfectly, but so do some of the challenges. Brazil is a big country like the United States and Brazilians, like Americans, are not among the most polyglot people of the world. Americans are lucky; our English, is the international language of business, science, education & entertainment. Brazilian leaders recognize that more Brazilians will need to know English at a higher level if the country is to continue to thrive in the wider world. Weak English will be one of the challenges in sending 100,000 Brazilians to studies overseas. It is not only in the U.S., the UK or Australia that English is necessary. Many Brazilians bound for places like China, India, Germany and even France will study mostly in English.   

English and Education are priorities of ours too. One of my goals is to make it easier for Brazilians to study in the U.S. I understand that just pushing harder to get more young people interested in the U.S. is not the answer. We need to smooth the path and remove obstacles. A problem with English proficiency, and the knowledge that goes with it, is the biggest hurdle, or at least the one we can most readily address. 

Fortunately, we have some solutions. I have written on several occasions about our BNCs. They already reach thousands of Brazilians and often exactly young people who might want to study in the U.S. So we are working with the union of BNCs to develop a course that would include intensive English plus acculturation to U.S. university culture. We would do this in cooperation with our EducationUSA colleagues. The courses would help in general with English and specifically with the TOEFL test of English proficiency. 

I don’t fool myself into believing that our efforts will determine the future of 190 million Brazilians, but I am certain that we will positively affect the lives of thousands of young Brazilian, enrich the lives of thousands of Americans who will become their friends & help American universities. This is no small thing.

The Brazilian aspiration is beautiful. As an American I feel proud that so many choose the U.S and American universities as their destination.  

As I have written before, we have been working in Brazil for generations (Fulbright has been here since 1957). We have structures in place that facilitate educational exchanges. Beyond that, the American nation is greater than the American government, and American universities, NGO and others have also been active. But our network has been carrying a relatively small number of mostly high level student and professors. What our Brazilian friends imagine now is a much bigger number with participants from all parts of Brazilian society. I think of this like the streets of São Paulo. The network is designed for a much lower level of traffic.  We need to figure out ways to make it work better.

My picture is left over from my recent visit home. It shows the book fair on the Mall in Washington.  

September 29, 2011

Things Fall Apart

Washington Monument 

The Recent earthquake did little damage to the general community, but it did crack the Washington Monument. If you look at it, you can see how this structure is very susceptible to damage. It is essentially a giant masonry pillar.

Reporters at Washington Monument 

They closed the monument.  I noticed lots of news crews hanging around and when I looked up to see what they were looking at, I saw men at work. They were rappelling down the monument, checking for cracks, as I learned. 

Workers on Washington Monument 

The Washington Monument is one of the favorites. Some people like to go up to the top. You have to get a reserved ticket. They are free, but you need to get a time. But mostly people just like to stand around near the bottom, among the flags. That is what I do. You can do neither now. You have to keep your distance, lest a piece of masonry fall from on high and crush you like a bug. 

Arthur Treachers 

Monkey Mental flossThe other pictures are from the Atlanta airport. I used to like Arthur Treachers, so I was happy to see one. It wasn't really Treachers, except in name.  It was a TINO - Treachers in name only.  It was part of the Nathan's hotdog chain and it shared characteristics. The "chips" for example, were just fries and the fish was just like you would get anywhere out of the frozen foods aisle.

I would have been better off just getting a Nathan hot dog. They are very good and no doubt authentic there. 

The other picture is from a book shop. There are two things I liked, both dumb, I admit. I think the title "Mental Floss" is funny and monkeys are inherently funny, so the two combined deserved a photo.

 

 

 

 

September 25, 2011

Wildlife Management

Dominion Power right of way 

We (Alex, Espen & I) went down to the farms. I needed to discuss wildlife plots with the hunt club. I signed an agreement with Dominion Power about the eight acres on our Freeman property that run under their power lines. Dominion will cost share with us, i.e. they will pay for part of the seed, fertilizers, lime and labor that goes into making the land under the wires into a productive non-forest habitat.  

Wildlife plot 

Trees fill in very quickly in Virginia and power companies spend fortunes keeping them down under the power lines & they tend to do it in ways that annoy people with herbicides. It is much better for them to partner with landowners and hunt clubs who can provide local knowledge and a love of the land. It is a win all around.  Dominion pays less to us than it would have to pay spraying or mowing crews AND it can brag about the ecological correctness of the results. We have a total plan for the tract too, BTW

Rabbit hunting dogs 

The hunt club guys, many of whom are farmers who own equipment, have agreed to plant and maintain the wildlife areas, according to a plan made for me by a wildlife biologist. I cut & pasted the basic plan at the end of this post.

I  wanted to see what kind of damage the recent hurricane had done. We are far inland but Hurricane Irene still dumped a lot of rain and engendered high winds. My newly thinned pines were vulnerable to this sort of thing.  We suffered little damage, however. A few trees were knocked down, but not so much that you would comment if you didn’t know already.

Fallen tree after Hurricane Irene 

Finally, I wanted to see the place where we will plant longleaf pine. The picture below shows the clear cut we did last January. Things grew back really quick. The yellow poplars were already about six feet high. To make sure the longleaf get a good start, we sprayed from a helicopter.

Clearcut for longleaf pine 

My pictures - up top shows the right of way where we will install wildlife plots. Below that is an existing wildlife plot on the CP acreage for reference. The next picture shows rabbit dogs. These little dogs chase the rabbits out of the brush for the hunters. Some of the local guys train their dogs on our land every week. There is an art to this. The owners know all the dogs by name (they look the same to me) and they know their lineage. When the dogs chase the rabbits, the younger, faster dogs go first. Older ones follow. They are slower but have more experience to pace themselves. Who knew it was so complex?  

------------------

Dominion Virginia Power Wildlife Habitat Enhancement Program

John Matel Property (T-5727, N36.74 W77.74)

Brunswick, VA

 

Area: 8 acre Dominion Virginia Power right-of-way to be planted into a mix of native warm season grass, forbs and wildflowers

                -10ft wide firebreak will be established along one side of right-of-way (not under cost share program), will be used for understory burning of planted pines

Species Mix:

Species Rate (lbs of pure live seed/acre)

Big Bluestem      2lbs/acre

Virginia Wild Rye              2 lbs/acre

Partridge Pea     1 lb/acre

Black-eyed Susan             0.05lb/acre

Butterflyweed  0.5lb/acre

 

Seeding Date: March 1st to April 15th (May 1st at latest)

 

Site Preparation:

             See attached NRCS fescue spray chart

o             Mow existing vegetation in late summer (late August/early September)

o             Spray existing mix of fescue vegetation in fall 2011 (September/October) with glyphosate (follow all label instructions)

o             May need a second spray in spring 2012

o             Sow seed mix between March 1st and April 15th (May 1st at the latest) with a no-till drill (1/4 inch depth)

OR

o             Lightly disk planting area, follow with cultipacker or drag a cedar limb to create a smooth, firm seedbed, sow seed with broadcast spreader (use carrier of pelletized lime to help disseminate seed) and follow with cultipacking or dragging to lightly place seed in soil (sow at ¼ inch depth)

o             Leave at least a 15ft buffer on all drainage areas (2 low areas), do not spray or plant in these areas

Maintenance:

             Starting in year 3 or 4 after establishment being a rotational burning or disking regime

o             Burning: Burn 1/3 of the area each year between January and early April (not recommended due to transmission line)

o             Disking: Disk 1/3 of the area each year between November and mid-March

             Spot spray as needed if competing vegetation becomes a problem

September 23, 2011

Washington Dreaming

Capitol in DC from Arlington 

I had not seen rain for three months, but it has rained every day since I have been back.   It has made the grass emerald green. It is strange to be home, maybe stranger because I took the night flight. I left Brazil at night and arrived in the U.S. was the sun was coming up. It is like a waking from a dream. I find myself back home and it seems as though I never left.  

Rain at Atlanta airport 

My time in America will be short.  I am here for a conference with my fellow PAOs and to consult with colleagues.  Our work in public affairs is not rocket science. Everything we do is simple.  You need energy, persistence and experience. Meeting with our colleagues inspires energy and persistence and helps exchange experience.  This meeting, IMO was better than most because it emphasized the exchange of real work experience.  I don’t need to hear any more theories about public affairs by people who used to do the work or maybe just read about it in books. Our work is not amendable to detailed plans. We are creating it every day.  It is a continuous iterative process.  I wrote about this process aspect a couple years ago at this link and I stand by it.

Street scene in Arlington VA 

One of the big differences between Brazil and the U.S. has to do with fences. In Brazil, almost all the houses are surrounded by tall security fences and ground level windows have bars. American cities are open. Our fences are often decorative. A picket fence with a gate that doesn’t lock is not designed to stop would-be burglars.

Art in Rosyln Va.

September 21, 2011

Garbage In

Electric garbage can at Atlanta Airport 

As I walked by the garbage can in the Atlanta airport, it opened its mouth.  Yes, the thing is automatic, so that you don’t have to waste energy pushing it open to throw away your coffee cup or Hershey wrapper.  Of course, it wastes lots of other energy.  I see public service messages on TV telling me to unplug my chargers.  They call such things energy vampires.  How about the electric garbage can?  And anything that has moving parts wears out.  That means that these things require maintenance.  So some pinheads have taken a simple thing like a garbage can and made it complicated and expensive. 

Solar powered garbage canBut that was not the end of the waste odyssey.  I was walking around Roslyn and noticed an even more expensive and complicated garbage can.  These garbage cans evidently compress the garbage after you toss it in. This waste is probably justified by some people, since they run on solar energy.  Each of these things has a solar panel on top.  But solar energy is not free. There is a considerable capital investment.  I cannot believe these fancy garbage cans will ever break even.  I suppose since they compress the garbage, the garbage collectors can come around less frequently, but I bet they don’t. What happens to the liquid? People throw away half full cups of soda or coffee.  They toss out organic materials and food. So can you really leave this stewing even if – maybe especially if – it is pressed together. So this machine squeezes the juice out of garbage.  It seems to me that this worsens rather than improves the garbage disposal situation.  It requires more, rather than less care and it does so at significant cost. 

IMO, these are all examples of somebody spending somebody else’s money. You couldn’t sell one of these things to an individual homeowner, at least an individual homeowner whose home isn’t the nut house.  Consider if they didn’t have these things.   What if you had to push the thing open with your own muscle power in Atlanta or if the trash was not compacted into little package in Arlington. What a hardship.  It is certainly worth the thousands of dollars and commitment to future maintenance.  Yeah. 

On a related note, garbage cans in Brazil (which you actually have to push open manually, BTW) often have the word “Obrigado” written on them. Obrigado in Portuguese means thank you, thank you for throwing away your own garbage. We have the same thing in the U.S. in some places.  I was talking to someone who told me that he had a friend who asked why Brazilians kept on saying “garbage”. Sounds absurd, but it makes sense if you recall where this guy commonly saw the word written.

September 18, 2011

No Really Green Energy

Banana tree 

All forms of energy have benefits and risks. Inexpensive fossil fuels, for example, played a part in the remarkable regrowth of forests in Europe and the United States. (I explain below.) Of course, they also produce pollution. You have to look at the whole cycle, from production, to deployment & use to final disposal. We often see only one part. That is why it was interesting to come across an article about riots at a Chinese solar panel factory. The Chinese villagers said the solar plant was poisoning the air and water.

Tree in my yard in Brasilia 

It seems to me that the most environmentally friendly "new" technology is natural gas. New methods have made massive quantities of this available in the United States. It is cheap; it is available AND it is American. In addition, gas can be used in existing technologies to replace coal fired plants. Gas produces very little pollution and only around 1/3 the CO2 of coal. There is no need to subsidize natural gas production or provide loan guarantees.

It is beyond my understanding why so few mainstream environmentalists are embracing gas production, which will create large numbers of American jobs. I am not saying that there are not challenges. We NEED regulations and we need to work on developing better techniques of extraction. But the idea should be to improve, not impede.

Natural gas is not perfectly clean. NO form of energy is perfectly clean, as we see from the Chinese solar plant example. Our only viable option is a diversified energy portfolio, taking into account the full life cycle of the energy source and trying to understand collateral connections. There is no one best solution and the most appropriate choices will change as society and technologies develop.

One thing for sure is that fossil fuels will remain a big, probably the biggest part of our energy portfolio for the coming decades. This is just true. We can complain about it and wish it were different, but as my father used to say, put your wish in one hand and sh*t in the other and see which weighs more. We need to recognize and work within real possibilities.

How Fossil Fuels Helped Save Forests

Forests in America and Europe reached their nadir between 1900 and 1930. Massive efforts to plant trees and the founding of the U.S. Forest Service, the discovery and promulgation of sustainable forestry methods and organization (such as the American Tree Farm System) all played crucial roles in bring back forests and avert the "timber famine" predicted by experts and leaders like Theodore Roosevelt & Giford Pinchot, among others. But equally important was a shift in demand. Horsepower provided by actual horses requires pastures and pastures preclude forests. When horses were replaced by tractors & cars, land devoted to growing feed equine transport could be converted to other uses. There was also the shift from wood. Wood was still a dominant fuel in 1900 and people cut forests for fuel. Beyond that, it is not well understood by many people, but an important collateral product of fossil fuels is fertilizer, which allows greater production on less land, leaving - again - other land free to revert to forest.

Today there are more growing trees in the U.S. than there were in 1850. Take a look at pictures from the Civil War and compare them to what you see today and you will notice the absence of forests then and their presence now. The regrowth of the forests in American and Europe is one of the biggest - and most overlooked - success stories of the latter half of the 20th Century.

One of my fears re a possible biofuels boom is that we may reverse this as land currently occupied by forests is again put into service for the intensive production of biofuel.

My pictures are not particularly related to the text. I took them today in my yard.  The top picture shows my new banana trees.  Bananas are not really trees; they are the world's largest herb. The other picture is the tree in my yard leafing out and flowering. 

September 12, 2011

September 11 Ten Years Later in Ceilândia

Right after the 9/11 attacks, the students at School #8 in Ceilândia made an American flag representing their feelings and sympathy toward Americans.  It was a beautiful and moving gesture and several generations of Foreign Service Officers have kept the flag over the last ten years and kept the memory of how it was made and presented.  

Right after the 9/11 attacks, the students at School #8 in Ceilândia made an American flag representing their feelings and sympathy toward Americans. It was a beautiful and moving gesture and several generations of Foreign Service Officers and Brazilian colleagues have kept the flag over the last ten years and kept the memory of how it was made and presented.

Newspaper report of 9/11 event in CielandiaWe reconnected today; this time we went to the school in Ceilândia where we met the new generations of school and a few of the original kids, now young adults.  I admit that it was a good media event with great visuals.  We got coverage on radio, TV & in newspapers.  But I think it was also a good way to pay back, or maybe pay forward, friendship and sympathy expressed a decade ago at a time when we really needed friends. 

The kids were very friendly and funny. They liked to hear us speaking English, even though they couldn’t understand it.  Some asked what their names would be in “American,” but names don’t really change.  One little girl very seriously promised that if we came back next year, she would speak to us in English.   It was hard to understand their questions and I have to admit that I am not really very good at talking to little kids in any language, but I tried with limited success.  When they asked me about my favorite team, I told them Corinthians, because that is the team that came quickest to mind. I found immediately out that their favorite team is Flamengo.  Who knew? Flamengo is based in Rio de Janeiro.  I also learned that the team recently signed a very good player called Ronaldinho Gaúcho & that Flamengo is not named after the birds with a similar name. You can learn a few things from little kids. Next time somebody asks me about my favorite team, I can say Flamengo and reference Ronaldinho. I will be okay as long as nobody asks any follow-up questions. I always wanted to know more about spectator sports, but I just don’t care.  I am the opposite of most guys. I watch the news every night, but my attention drifts when the sports comes on.  I think I will master a few more facts about football, however.

BTW – Ceilândia is one of Brasilia’s satellite cities. It grew up out of an informal occupation by people who worked in Brasilia but couldn’t afford homes there. Even the name of the city reflects this.  The CEI comes from Centro de Erradicação de Invasões, which means center of eradication of invasions; in this case the term “invasions” refers to irregular occupations of land near the capital.

My colleagues did a very good job. The visit to School #8 in Ceilândia was the last event in our 9/11 campaign themed on resilience “Superação”. The webpage is here. Our social media got around 170,000 comments and probably around a million visitors.  We also got good coverage on TV and in newspapers. My colleagues also made a good video to go with the visit in Ceilândia. We sponsored graffiti artists to paint a couple of walls at the school. You can see it being done on the video.  

The pictures show the kids at the celebration. Below is a newspaper article reporting on the event. The last picture is an interesting juxtaposition of the Brazilian symbol of Christ that stands above Rio with the Statue of Liberty. We didn't make it. It is a little corny, but the thought is nice.

Please look at our videos here & here.  IMO, they are very good.  The one shows how art overcomes the gang markings. The other shows the story of the Brazilian kids and the flag.


 

September 11, 2011

Odds & Ends of Chapada dos Veadeiros

Wasp nests in Chapada dos Veadeiros 

Above and below are wasp nests. They look just like rocks, mabye the kinds of rocks they would have on a moive set. I couldn't find information about them on Internet, so I only have what the guide told me.  I did tap on the surface and it was light weight and hollow. The guide said that they were sting-less. I didn't actually see any bees or wasps.

Grpund nests of wasps in Chapada dos Veadeiros 

Below is our guide. He said he was a native of the area and did this every day.

Guide at Chapas dos Veadeiros 

Below is the pousada where we stayed. It is called "Bambu" and there is lots of bamboo used around it.The place is clearly the dream of the owner. It contains lots of personalized touches and I suppose could be called either full or personality or funky. We liked it.

Pousada Bambu in Sao Jorge, Goias Brasil 

Below is a Coca-Cola truck on Sao Jorge street. I don't want to go where there's not Coca-Cola, but I doubt such a place exists anymore. 

Coca-Cola truck on dirt street in Sao Jorge, Goias Brasil 

Below is Goias Hwy 118. Not a bad road.

Goias Hwy 118 

Below is just a cool looking plant. I have no idea what it is. 

 

September 10, 2011

A Dry Smokey Season

Monkeys in the tree outside my house in Brasilia 

You rarely think about the air you breathe. We talk vaguely about air quality, but very rarely anymore is our air bad enough that most people change their behaviors. Even when we get those warnings about air quality, it is not that bad. It wasn’t always like that. I remember in the early 1970s in Milwaukee when I could tell where I was in the city by the particular sorts of pollution: yeasty smells near the breweries, a sweet smell near the Ambrosia chocolate factory and a horrible stink that would knock a buzzard off a sh*t wagon near the tanneries. You didn’t need to hear a report on the radio that air was bad and that you should limit your activities. The air itself told you and forced you to change.

Parrots 

The air has gotten a lot cleaner, at least in most of the places I have lived. I have not seen much of anything you could really call serious widespread air pollution, in the old style, in the U.S. in many years. Poland was very bad when we got to Krakow.  As they closed down the communist era pollution factories, things improved rapidly, but you still had to consider the air quality in your running or biking plans.  

I have been noticing the air again here in Brasilia. I wrote a little about the fires during the dry season a few posts ago. It is bad.  The smoke hurts your eyes, throat and lungs and it just smells bad.  Last night I used the air conditioner for the first time, not to cool the house – you don’t really need to do that in Brasilia – but rather to try to filter the air a little. It didn’t work.

monkeys 

The smoke problem follows the clock. It is not so bad during the day when the smoke rises easily and disperses, but the cooler and calmer conditions of the evening seem to hold it closer to the ground. This is only my observation and I do not vouch for the scientific veracity. It could also be that people are setting fires in the evening or maybe the cooler temperatures make the fires less intense and less intense fires smolder more.  I don’t know. All that I know is that the smell and smoke at night are bad, but it clears up fairly well during the day. The rains will come in a few weeks. Until then, the expectation is that it will not improve and will get worse.

Me swimming at Chapada dos Veadeiros 

Brasilia in general is a great place to live. I suppose we can tolerate a smoke season and I think it could reasonably be called a season, since it evidently happens every year with monotonous regularity. There is lots of speculation about how the smoke moves. Some people say that during the night the smoke hangs in the basin of the lake, which would help explain the problem in my particular area. 

I will be happy to see the rain and not only to stop the fires. I look forward to the green and the rainbows.  I prefer the rainy season.

PS - I took Chrissy to the airport for her flight back. The air was not too bad until I got back near the lake at my house. I think that I indeed to have an unlucky smokey spot. In additon, I bought a local paper that talked about the fires. The national park is burning.  Chrissy and I noticed four engine prop planes flying over the house. I found out from the paper that it was a fire fighting plane.

The pictures have nothing to do with smoke. They are just some of the neighbors in my back yard. The monkeys are about the size of cats and seem to move like squirrels. I don't see them too often. The parrots seem to have just arrived. They don't talk; they just make unpleasant squawking sounds. They seem to be threatening each other or other birds. 

The last picture is just me swimming in the pool at Chapada dos Veadeiros.  I didn't have any other place for it and it was nice to feature cool water in the dry season post. Those pools are deep. I could not hit bottom there.

September 09, 2011

Chapada dos Veadeiros

Chrissy & me at the bridge in chapada dos veadeiros 

Chrissy & I went for a hike in Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park.  You are required to have a guide, which is used to keep the numbers in the park low and keep them on the straight and narrow trails.  The park is at an ecological intersection cerrado grassland a savannah and tropical forest.  It is not the tropical rain forest, however.  This forest is semi-deciduous. Many of the trees drop their leaves during the dry season.  

Falls at Chapadas do Veadeiros 

Chapada dos Veadeiros encompasses many of the headwaters of the Tocantins River, which is reason enough to protect the area. It also contains, according to the signs, a great deal of biodiversity. I don’t recognize the tree of plant species. I found a good webpage at this link and hope to learn more.  I am also still trying to get a feel for the cerrado.  

Landscape with palms in Chapadas dos Veadieros 

Above & below show Chapada dos Veadeiros landscapes.  Palm trees follow water courses, above or below ground.

Palm landscape  

Below shows the fish that are common in pools among the rocks.

 

Below - people swim in the clear pools. I did too. The guy in the photo jumped from the cliff. I did not. 

 

Below shows Chrissy and me in the park.

Below is one of the canyons and streams in Chapada dos Veadieros.

 

September 08, 2011

Northern Goiás

Eucalyptus forest plantations in Goias 

We drove up Goiás 118 to Chapada dos Veadeiros national park. It took about four hours and it was interesting to see the changes in landscapes.  Leaving Brasilia you see the typical planalto landscapes. There are plantations of eucalyptus and pine. The pine is on the way out. I saw lots of young eucalyptus plantations, but the pines are all older, usually past prime. This makes me a little sad; I like the pines, but I understand that eucalyptus is just a superb producer of fiber in this climate. Nothing can compete with it, economically or biologically. Eucalyptus plantations are so neat because the eucalyptus tannins inhibit the growth of anything else.

Gas station in Goias 

As you get farther in to Goiás, you come up on forty miles of bad road and almost no people. It is surprising how empty this land is still. I drove through Kansas, Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle  a years back. This reminds me of some of those places.  Imperfectly, of course, since Goiás features palm trees and other vegetation not typical of the American plains. American roads are also better and there are more signs of human habitation. I think this has to do as much with settlement patterns as actual population. Brazilians tend to live in concentrations, while Americans spread out on their own farms or in suburbs.

Pine plantation near Brasilia, planted a little too tight 

The land changed abruptly and became hillier and greener as we got closer to the chapada. Maybe I should stop making the analogies, since it doesn’t really look like any of my familiar landscapes. The cerrado is its own sort of landscape.

Sao Jorge Street 

Our destination for the day was São Jorge. It is literally the end of the road, actually PAST the end of the road. You drive down a decent paved road, which end abruptly. Twelve kilometers down the dirt road is São Jorge. I found this really fascinating.  It is an active village. People are walking around and there are several pousadas and restaurants of sorts, but no paved streets. I have been here before.  I mean, it is like many of the towns at the gates of national parks. In America they have paved streets, but the feeling is the same. People work in the hospitality industry or in outdoor occupations such as guides, forestry workers or rangers.  These places also attract alternative lifestyle types.  In São Jorge there are shops that sell crystals etc. that are supposed to have some kinds of special powers, kind of like you might find in Sadona. People respond in similar fashion to similar environments.

Road past Sao Jorge 

The top picture is another of those eucalyptus plantations. Farther down is a pine plantation. The pines are way too close and should be thinned, but I don't think this forest is being used for forestry. It is decorative. Still, it should be thinned. The picture between is at a gas station on GO118. Below that is a main street in Sao Jorge. The bottom picture is the dirt road that leads to and past Sao Jorge. What looks like smoke is dust. A car was coming but I didn't get a good picture.  

September 07, 2011

Where There’s Fire, There’s Smoke

Backfire in Goias 

I don’t mind the dry air, but the smoke is starting to get difficult.  The rains will come in a few weeks.  Until then, this is not the best time to be in Brasilia.

Field fire in northern Goias 

I am not unsympathetic to using fire as a management tool. I understand that it is crucial to the cerrado ecosystem. But most of the fires set around here are not good management. They are either too hot and destroy too much or not well done so as to be ineffective. Most of the fires, in fact, seem to be garbage fires that got out of hand and/or much of the smoke comes from actual garbage fires, which do nobody any good. Using fire as a tool is not the same as using it as a convenience.

Black rocks 

We saw lots of fires on our way up to Chapada dos Veadeiros and you can see the effects of fire in the national park.  The rocks are black. The guide said that they get a natural black patina and that it is not the result of fires.  I don’t believe that.  I know that the guide has been there all his life and I don’t want to oppose his local knowledge, but it is probably true that this place has been burned over all that time. I remember the black “cream city brick” in Milwaukee. Cream city brick is a kind of yellowish white color in its natural form, but the porous nature of the brick surface turned it black when exposed to the constant coal smoke. Not all brick was equally blackened.  When the air was cleaned up in the 1970s, the cream city brick again looked creamy.  I think the same thing happens to these black rocks. They soak up the carbon black and never get clean. Different sorts of rocks absorb more than others, as in the rocks above.  

Plants after fire 

“Natural” fires would have been rare, since lightning to start those fires would tend to come with thunderstorms during the wet season, which would limit their extent. But with the arrival of man many thousands of years ago, fires during the dry season changed the landscapes. Native Brazilians set fires, just as native North Americans and there has not been a “natural” landscape here since.

Typical Goias landscape 

I learned in my fire class (I am certified as a fire manager by the State of Virginia) that fires that are too hot or too frequent destroy natural diversity, since only a few species can take the stress.  On the other hand, places where fire never comes also lose diversity, since a few species come to dominate. I wrote a post about how fires work at this link. A proper fire regime produces greater variety and a robust ecosystem. The problem is knowing how much is enough and how much is too much.  It also requires setting priorities.  Land managers must make choices, which some a loath to do.  They want to default to the “natural” option. Unfortunately, there is no natural option, only a variety of different choices for human management. Do we take it back to 1500?  The landscape at that time was already altered by the native populations. Do we guess at what it must have been before humans? Of course, we cannot restore all the species.  Or do we manage for diversity, productivity and robustness?  This would be my option.  

Anyway, fire can be used well or poorly. All fire will produce smoke, but there are better ways of smoke management. A well designed fire will consume much of its own smoke and will not smolder for a very long time.

The picture at top is a fire by the side of Goias 118. I don't think it was a "managed" fire, but you can see by the direction of the flames that it is a backing fire, i.e. it is burning in the direction away from the wind. This produces a cooler fire, not as destructive to the plant life. I wrote a post about this when I was taking the fire class. It is at this link.  You can see the burned over area in the side mirror. Next picture shows some fields on fire. The blackish rocks are below. The plants in the next picture are burned but not killed. Last is a typical Goias landscape as you get near the hills.

September 06, 2011

Changing Brazil, New Comparisons

Pontao resturant 

Chrissy & I have been going to various restaurants. My diet has improved a bit, or at least I have gotten more than just bread, cheese and peanut butter. There are good restaurants within walking distance.  The picture above is from a place called “Pontão”. It is a cluster of restaurants and clubs near the lake. We went around 7pm, which is way early for Brazil, so there was not a big crowd. 

Brasilia has improved, but there are still aspects of the former Brasilia. It is still hard to cross the roads on foot. The city was designed for cars, not people. But the thing that reminds me most of the old days is the smoke. It is very dry and grass is burning. The smoke has been wafting in. It will start raining in a few weeks and that will put an end to it, but the next few weeks will be less pleasant. 

The “Economist” magazine has an interesting graphic at this link that compares Brazilian states with countries in terms of population, GDP & GDP per person. The interesting thing for me given my personal history is the comparison of the state of São Paulo with Poland. São Paulo has a population and GDP about the same size as Poland. It is funny to think about that. Poland is so different. But the perspective is also important. Poland is a relatively poor European state made poorer by its history of fascist and communist oppression. São Paulo is one of Brazil’s richest states. 

I would have guessed that São Paulo was richer than Poland, but I understand why that is not true. There are more very rich people in São Paulo than in Poland, but there are also more very poor. This makes the per capita income similar, but the distributions are very different. 

There are other interesting comparisons. One of the poorest Brazilian states is Alagoas.  But as poor as it is, Alagoas has a GDP per capita similar to China. We think of China as almost a rich country and it is, but only because there are so many poor people adding up. 

 

September 05, 2011

Wandering Goiás

Churrascaria do Gaucho 

We had to rent a car, since mine still has not arrived. I had them pick up it up in the middle of May. It really doesn’t do any good to send it early, since they kind of save them up to send all at once.  After it gets to the country, the Brazilian bureaucracy is daunting. I suspect they just delay so that there is no way the car will be in officially in the country for three years before you leave.  That way you still cannot sell it tax free.

Churrascaria do Gaucho interior 


Anyway, rental cars are fairly expensive here and they only have stick shifts, so it is not a good thing. But we needed the car for Chrissy to travel.  For her first visit we wanted to get around Brasilia and Goiás. You cannot do that w/o a car.

Eucalyptus plantation 

It is the end of the dry season around here.  It will rain in a few weeks, but everything now is as dry as it will get.  We saw lots of fires along the roads in Goiás.  The news mentioned the extreme dryness and fire danger and the smoke irritated our eyes and throats.

Pousada in Pirenopolis, Goias 

The grassland/savannah burns naturally, but a combination of human-made fires and human fire suppression causes trouble. Many people here still see fire as an enemy to be fought or prevented rather than a natural process that needs to be used and managed.

Pony at the Pousada 

I still want to study the ecology of the cerrado more.  (FYI – the cerrado is the vast area of grass and widely spaced trees in the middle of Brazil, especially Goiás.)  It is strange to me because of the very dry season and the very wet season.  We have nothing really like it in the U.S.  The predictably of the rain is making it a good agricultural region, but I didn’t see that much crop agriculture. It seems mostly pastures and there is significant forestry, especially eucalyptus. Eucalyptus grows very rapidly here; I have heard that the rotations can be as short as five or six years. And the Brazilians have developed varieties especially adapted to the specific demands of the region. The wood is used to make charcoal and for cellulose pulp.  

Eucalyptus is unpopular with some people because not only is it an introduced species, but it also has been developed extensively both with conventional breeding and biotech.  There are indeed drawbacks to extensive eucalyptus monoculture. They do not support large populations of wildlife. The leaves are not palatable to most animals and even bugs tend to shun them.  It is no coincidence that the flavor is used for cough drops, but what is good for menthol in cough drops is usually not great for ordinary eating. The bark is loose and resinous. It tends to fall off and lay on the ground where it causes more intensive fires.  The eucalyptus themselves can usually survive these conflagrations, but other native plants often cannot. Like everything else, you have to trade benefits for costs. As a tree farmer who grows loblolly pine, I see the eucalyptus as a competitor. It produces a substitute for man of the things that my pines also produce. Putting aside my self-interest, however, I can see that eucalyptus have a place in well-managed forestry systems, but as the Greeks used to say, “nothing too much.” 

The eucalyptus plantations we saw were extremely orderly.  The rows were neat and there was almost no undergrowth of competing vegetation.  This is very much unlike pine in Virginia.  I respect the ability to transform nature, but I prefer to leave a little on my own land for the animals and natural systems. Something too orderly is probably not so good for nature. 

We followed BR 60 to Pirenópolis and BR 70 back home to Brasilia.These are good highways. There was a lot of traffic near Brasilia, but it was quiet once you got out of town. We stopped at a nice churrascaria on the road called Churrascaria Gaucho. It has gotten expensive in Brazil in all the big towns and in the tourist centers, but it is not bad in the smaller places. The total for the two of us was only $R44. They had lots of good cuts of meat and it came quickly and generously. 

My pictures show the churrascaria I mentioned above.  The middle picture is a very neat eucalyptus plantation and the two bottom pictures are the pousada where Chrissy & I stayed.  

September 02, 2011

All That Jazz Too

Our consulate in São Paulo made this video of the jazz master class I described in an earlier post.  Follow this link.


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