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October 31, 2011

Youth Ambassadors 2012

Youth Ambassador ceremony 

We announced this year’s winners for Youth Ambassadors in São Paulo on Friday last.  This program keeps getting bigger and better. It attracts an ever larger pool of highly-qualified candidates (this year 7500); pulls in more cooperating institutions (now 64 partners in the recruitment and screening process}; and is acting like a magnet pulling in resources from the private sector. 

This year firms like IBM, DOW and Bradesco promised tens of thousands of dollars more in support. In fact, we are quickly approaching the legal ceiling of PA Brazil’s authorized fundraising for a single project, which is $75,000.  In addition, outside the actual project firms are providing things like mentoring programs, free software, internship and/or job opportunities, and scholarships to the winners and alumni.  This is a program that has captured the imagination of aspiring students all over Brazil and all those who support them.

Ambassador cutting the cake at YA event in Sao Paulo

Some people say that success is achieved through resources and they are right, but theirs is not a dynamic perspective. It is clearly true that good ideas and well managed programs attract resources.

The ceremony of the announcement filled the auditorium at the Alumni BNC in São Paulo. But the crowd gathered to hear Ambassador Thomas Shannon announcing the forty-five winners from among around 150 finalists was only the tip of the iceberg.  We live streamed the event to around 500 viewers, but even this doesn’t tell the whole story.  We know that many BNCs were hosting events with the streaming featured.   The State Secretary of Education in São Luís do Maranhão hosted an event in his auditorium which included eighty teachers, students and parents.  But even this is not all.  For weeks leading up to the big event, events were being held in all the states of Brazil to bring together students and talk about the program.  This is a really big show for a really big project, the culmination of a great process but just the start of another.

After the announcement came the media in proud hometowns all over Brazil. Headlines like “Londrina terá representante no Jovens Embaixadores de 2012” (a Londrina girl will represent the Youth Ambassadors) “Estudante cuiabano representa MT” (A student from Cuiaba will represent Mato Grosso.) or  “Estudante de Araguaina é a nova Jovem Embaixadora 2012” (A student from Araguaina is the new Youth Ambassador 2012) set the tone.

Initial press reports are available at this link


October 30, 2011

Yesterday's Newspaper is Old Tomorrow; Homer is New Forever

Brasilia big sky 

A good measurement must be appropriate to the things being measured, stable and easy to understand. Public Diplomacy really doesn’t have such a measure.  Even in much more concrete marketing of goods or services, there is significant disagreement about the extent that advertising drives sales.  There are often rises or drops in sales that have nothing to do with the promotion.  For example, many firms did very well in the late 1990s when the economy was strong.  Many have seen sales drop after the economy went south in 2008.  Is advertising to blame?

They tell us that we need to have a culture of measurement & that should measure all our programs against objective criteria.  I agree.  My problem is with the proxies we must use in PD and the time periods we assess.   By proxies, I mean things we can measure that we think reflect the real thing we want to measure, that is changes in attitudes that lead to changes in behaviors.  At best, we can do opinion research, but such surveys are often poorly designed (what real use is the question about whether or not you approve of the U.S., for example?). Besides, people often do not tell the truth to pollsters or even know themselves what they really think.

But the bigger challenge is time-frame.  We want to know within days if our exchange program or outreach effort was successful.  That is a little worse than planting an acorn and asking a day later about the size of the tree.

I talked to a lot of people during my recent trip to São Paulo.  I did not have a representative sample, since I talking only to those who had been affected by our PD programs.  I also am unable to factor out my own bias.  I asked the questions based not only on what people were telling me but also on my own ideas about what was important.  Nevertheless, I believe that my visit provided insights that, added to my extensive experience in diplomacy, produce a useful narrative.

Donna Hrinak giving interview 

My narrative starts not with a contact but with a creator.  I went to São Paulo a day early so that I could meet Ambassador Donna Hrinak and watch the taping of her telling the story of Youth Ambassadors.  You can follow this link for more information about the program in general.  I was impressed by how well the program had grown and progressed since it originated in Brazil ten years ago.  This primed me to look for other signs of achievement.

I didn’t have to look far. I didn’t have to look at all.  The experience found me in the person of one of the former Youth Ambassadors, now an intern at DOW Chemical in São Paulo. Wesley told me how the Youth Ambassador program had changed his life and that he viewed his life history divided into before and after the program.  Wesley came from a slum in São Paulo so nasty that taxi drivers refused to enter.  He was poor in the existential sense but he lived hopefully in a hopeless place. 

The Youth Ambassador program was his way out.  But he didn’t leave physically.  He still goes back home to work on helping others improve and volunteers at an orphanage there.  His presence alone is a continual example that challenges can be met and overcome.  Our public diplomacy helped achieve this, but it is not mere social work and not limited to Wesley.  I have heard similar stories over and over from people who will be future leaders of Brazil.  They say they will never forget the generosity of the United States and I don’t think they will.  But Wesley told me something else more poignant. 

He said that before being chosen as a youth ambassador, he thought he was a limited person.  He now understands that he has no limits.  America is like that, he said, and it helps create this in others.  Can we have a better advocate carrying a better message?  You can see Wesley alongside this article, speaking at our youth ambassador event.  And there are scores of others like him.   Thanks Donna.

Pool at SESC 

Then I went over to SESC.  We don’t have anything exactly like SESC in the U.S.  It is a corporatist institution created by Getúlio Vargas that receives mandatory contributions from commercial firms. In return it runs social centers that feature gyms, arts exhibits, plays, swimming pools and even a dental clinic.  I was impressed but with somewhat mixed feelings.  It was a lot like things I had seen built by the communists in Poland or by authoritarians in other parts of Europe, a paternalist network.  But nice; undeniably something that worked.

I met the directors, who were honest, earnest and dedicated.  I started to praise their operation, mentioning that we don’t have similar networks in the U.S.  This they knew, because many of their number had been to the U.S. on our voluntary visitor program.  The VV program is, IMO, a highly leveraged PD tool.  The visitors pay their own way and so are highly motivated – at least they have some skin in the game.   My colleagues in the U.S. help set up a program of study.  In the case of SESC, they studied how charitable organizations and NGOs work in the U.S.


What the SESC people explained to me, I could not have said better myself, although I have on many occasions tried to explain it.  They saw that in the U.S. we indeed did not have public funded organizations like SESC.  Our public-funded institutions were often more literally public funded – and staff. The U.S., they understood, was exceptional in the way that voluntary contributions of time and money ran many of the things that governments need to do in other places.   This goes back at least to the time of Alexis de Tocqueville, I added.  They approved of the way things were done in the U.S.  They understood the subtlety that the U.S. Federal government does not much sponsor culture, but that the America nation does in spades.  Again, imparting this understanding of the U.S. is an important PD objective.  I could have brought down an expert on NGOs or maybe given a lecture on Tocqueville.  As a matter of fact, I have done both those things more than once.  How much better is it for intelligence and involved Brazilians to do the explaining for us?

In the cases I mentioned above, how would we measure?  I suppose the people involved would have expressed satisfaction when they were debriefed.  But the understanding and appreciation developed over time.   I understood from the SESC people that they had shared their experience all around their organization, even published a book about it.  As the experience in America mixed with experiences of their own in running their operation in São Paulo, it became something different, something their own, something sui generis the offspring of Brazil and America shaped by its own environment.  They also have maintained contact with Americans they met on the trip, forming with them an engaged and interactive community.   This is the kind of thing that public diplomacy can foster but not create.  We can create only the conditions for others to prosper.  We did.

I had supper with a couple of people from the arts community. As a talent-free individual myself, I don’t really do art, but I understand that others do and the value it has for the community.  One of my meal-mates we the culture director at a local TV station.  When I mentioned that I had been in Brazil in the 1980s, she explained how an IVLP grant they received during that time had changed her career path and not incidentally her views of the U.S.  Back in her youth, she recounted, she had been influenced by European artists and intellectuals in ways not generally favorable to the U.S.  The master narrative was that Americans were a materialistic bunch who didn’t really have much use for the higher things in life.  Her visit to the U.S. showed her that this was not true. 

She learned that the American system was simply different.  It was much more flexible, less dependent on centralized or bureaucratic planning but as or more effective as other systems in “delivering” arts and culture to people all over the vast country.  In many ways, she said, this system was more appropriate for Brazil, which like the United States is a vast and diverse country.  Since the time of her visit, now a quarter of a century ago, the insights she got on the IVLP tour have been developing and evolving.  Of course, the way she thinks today is not based on what she “learned” in America during her first brief visit, but the visit was instrumental in setting her thoughts in a new direction. This is what she told me.

 Our other meal-mate was headed to New York the next day and from there to Washington to meet contacts at the Kennedy Center.  His ties to the U.S. were greatly enhanced by a voluntary visitor program (the one where the visitors pay for the trip and we help arrange meetings) three years ago.  Among the places he went was Julliard in New York, where he met with Americans eager for exchanges of talent and experience with Brazil.  This led to a robust series of privately funded and run exchanges.  It is not enormous.  We are talking about five people a year, but this is exactly the kind of individual networks that hold society together and help bring communities together, in this case artistic communities in São Paulo and New York.  The American nation is greater than the American government.  In this case, like in others, activities of diplomats and bureaucrats like us helped bring together Americans and Brazilians in sustainable ways that is leading to cross fertilization and enrichment on all sides.

Let me get back to my original question.  How do I - how do we - measure these things?

We have lots of friends in influential places.  They are in constant contact with Americans influential in their fields.  They actively seek contacts with us and with American counterparts; they talk to their fellow Brazilians about the U.S., sponsor programs and even publish books about their experiences or the outgrowths from them months and years later.  This didn’t happen in a few days.  We would have been able to boast about media coverage, but even the most widespread television or newspaper coverage would pale in comparison to what that slow building of friendship achieved.  

I used to think we were in the information business years ago when I was a young officer.  I measured my success mostly by media coverage and “buzz”. Now I understand that we are in the relationship business and relationships take time to grow. To illustrate, I suppose we could say that relationships are the orchards and the day-to-day information is the fruit, or maybe it is the urgent versus the important. We have to do the fast-media. Not paying attention to this can be hazardous.  But, we should go for the high value-long term results whenever possible.

Yesterday’s newspaper is old tomorrow; Homer is new forever.

My top picture shows Brasilia roads, with the green of the recent rains and the shining sky.  Below is Ambassador Donna Hrinak being interviewed about Youth Ambassadors. Down one more in Wesley, one of our most successful YA. Below that is a pool at SESC followed by a Sao Paulo business center. 

October 24, 2011

My Portuguese

This is what my Portuguese looks and sounds like when I am talking off the cuff. I think it is fluent enough but I cringe at some of the mistakes and pronouciations.  My excuse is that I was surprised and prepared what I was saying when I was saying it.  My English also suffers in interviews like this. It is from Curitiba, where it was a little chilly, as you can see by the sweater.

I invite my Portuguse teachers to comment.  BTW - I am aware that mais grande is not correct, but I was translating the phase, "the American nation is greater than the American govenment" and it seemed to me that maior made it sound "bigger" instead of "greater." Suggestions welcome.  


Windfalls and Long Narrow Orchards

mango tree in my yard in Brasilia 

I only recently discovered that the big tree in my yard was a mango.  I know the trees of the temperate zones. The tropics are more often a mystery to me. The presence of mangoes is a dead giveaway, however.

mangoes in my tree in Brasilia 

Mangoes are attractive trees and evidently well suited to the Brasilia climate, since they don't seem to provide them with any particular care. I wonder what will happen to all that fruit.They sell mangoes in the stores, but people could just as easily pick their own on the way home. I have also seen bananas, dates and other sorts of productive trees and herbs. There are also lots of fruits I don't recognize. For example, I have no idea about that tree is pictured at the bottom. It is almost like a joke, like somebody hung some footballs on the tree. I don't know whether or not they are edible. The mango tree in my yard would seem to have enough fruit to satisfy my needs plus those of a dozen other people. Of course, I don’t really like mangoes very much.  What I need is a Coke Zero tree or maybe a Hershey tree. 

Mangoes on median strip in Brasilia 

When the mangoes will be ready or how long the season will last, I don’t know. About mangoes in general, I don't know much. Maybe it is like applies, zucchini or tomatoes back home.  For a couple months you just have much more than you can possibly use and then nothing again for eight months.


The historian Arnold Toynbee used to talk about how civilizations originated at the sweet spot where there was challenge enough to make hard work necessary but not so much that it didn’t pay off. I bet you could mostly feed yourself from a garden, if you liked tropical fruit and vegetables. It would take some work, but not too much. I planted some watermelons and tomatoes and I will see how that goes. You could probably live the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, well at least the gatherer part, just by walking around. I think about that as I walk back from the store, past all the fruit that just falls on the ground.

Fruit tree 

The pictures show the mango tree in my yard and the trees on the median. Below are lizards trying to absorb the warmth of the sun through the clouds. There are lots of lizards around. I don't know what they eat or much about them at all.  Maybe they eat fruit. This is about as big as they get.

October 23, 2011

Cerrado Landscapes

Cerrado landscape at botanical gardens in Brasilia 

I get can beyond walking distance from my house now that my car is finally free of its Brazilian bureaucracy captivity, so today I went to the botanical gardens of Brasilia. It is a large area of mostly dirt roads, so I was glad to have a four-wheel drive vehicle with a high clearance. I think the name botanical garden is not really appropriate. When I think of a botanical garden, I think of a cultivated place with lot of labeled plants & trees, like they have at Whitnal Park in Milwaukee. This is more like a forest park. I like this too, but it is a different thing.   

Brasilia from the botanical garden 

It only cost $R2 to get in.  I am glad to pay such fees if it helps maintain the woods.  I had the whole place almost to myself.  Maybe the rain and mist kept people away, but I liked it.  It is like many fall days back home, although it is spring here.  It reminded me of the misty day I went to the Kettle Moraines. There was a tower to climb in both places too.  Look at my pictures at this link and I think you get the idea. 

Pine trees growing in botanical garden in Brasilia 

Notice in the top picture how the plants in the foreground are burned but recovering.  The picture below is looking in the other direction. you can see Brasilia over the ridge line. The picture just above show some pine trees. No true pine is native to Brazil, but introduced pines grow very well. Many people here object to the pines and consider them invasive. Below shows plantings of native species from the Atlantic forest under a pine plantation. They are making it into a true botanical garden that will feature specimen plants from all over Brazil. It will be a while before it is ready.

Atlantic forest trees planted under an established pine forest in Brasilia 

Below is the entry to the park.

Entrance to botenical in Brasilia 



October 22, 2011

Weird Insects, Strange Weather

Ant bag 

It was like a bag made out of leaves that made a kind of hissing sound when I kicked it. It was full of ants and evidently the sound was the ants moving around. It was not just a bunch of leaves in a pile. As I said it was like a bag made of leaves. The leaves were glued together so the bag didn’t fall apart when I turned it over. I never saw anything like it and I couldn’t find out more on the internet. I guess I was not using the right key words. The picture is above and below. They are some kind of surface dwelling ants that made a paper like nest out of leaves.

Surface dwelling ants in leaf nest 

There are lots of weird bugs around. They particularly seem to like my sunflower. I watched them for a little while. They were not eating the leaves or really doing much of anything at all, so I left them alone.

beetle on sunflower plant in garden 

I really cannot enjoy the yard as much as I could during the dry season. A few weeks ago, every weekend under the always sunny skies, I could sit in my chair and read my magazines. I would also turn on the sprinkler for the garden. The spray felt nice in the very dry, warm air. Now it is a little cool and it drizzles or rains throughout the day. I cannot expect to sit for an hour w/o my magazine getting damp.

Beetle under leaf in my garden in Brasilia 

Compensation is that it is so green and everything is so vital and growing. It is also nice to sleep in the cooler weather. The house does not have central air. You don't really need it, but it sometimes got a little warm in the afternoon sun. If I had to choose, I think I prefer the wet season, but it is less convenient. It is also darker, since it is cloudy so much. And, as I wrote before, it is surprising how everything changed so drastically in the course of just a few days.

weird bug on my sunflower in garden in Brasilia 

October 21, 2011

Rain Day Every Day


It is like somebody flipped a switch. My first three months in Brasilia, it rained not a drop.  It started to rain a couple weeks ago and now it rains every day and it has been cloudy and gray. The picture above shows the more open sky. It has not been like that very much.

I don't remember it being so gray. I remember it rained almost every day, but that the sun came out between. Maybe later. We are getting warning about dengue, spread my mosquitoes. The interesting thing about dengue is that it was wiped out in Brazil a generation ago, but it came back. Progress.

Rainy day in Brasilia 

The rain has made everything a bright, blinding green. It is a remarkable climate. Bone dry followed by soaking wet. It creates an interesting water management challenge.  Part of the year you have none; the other part you have much more than you need. But there really isn't a drought, since it is so predictable.

In "the Big Thirst" the author describes water management problems. Water is not like any other resource. It is completely renewable. You really cannot save or destroy water. It is really everywhere a local problem. If I "save" a gallon of water in Brasilia, it does nothing to help some poor guy in Africa who is suffering prolonged drought.  It might not mean anything even locally.

Water problems are really problems of location and/or energy.  I could "waste" water forever in Brasilia w/o creating any problems at all, except that it requires energy and effort to transport the water and purify it. Those are the real costs.  Consider the example of water in the lake or a pool. I can cool off and swim in the lake and "consume" the water w/o actually using any of it.  Even if I decide to drink it, I can only keep it for a couple hours. When water evaporates, it just purifies itself and moves somewhere else.

I have been listening to the audio-book version of "The Big Thirst" but not doing it very diligently. In fact, I have mostly been listening to it while walking to the grocery store, which gives me about an hour worth of listening each week.  During my lethargic march through the book, the season changed. I started when it was dry and brown. When the book talked about a long drought in Australia, I could relate. Now it is more like Scotland, with daily mists and rain. It is even cool enough for me to wear a sweatshirt, which you wouldn't guess in the tropics. Moving between such vastly different water regimes gives me a really different perspective on the book.

It is natural to think of your reality as THE reality. Living in a desert, and Brasilia is essentially a desert in the dry season, makes you of water shortages. Moving to a soaking environment makes you think of water diversion. Having both in the same place in the course of a few days is odd. 

Things are growing again. I have a mango tree in the yard and a banana. I planted some watermelon. If you have lots of water, do watermelon.    

October 20, 2011

Coligação of the BNCs

Brazil’s BNCs held their big meeting, their Coligação, at the Casa Thomas Jefferson in Brasilia.  Ambassador Shannon gave his speech at the evening opening program. I got to give mine the next day at the opening of the working sessions.  The evening program included the round of speeches plus a chorus that sang the American & Brazilian national anthems and some selections from Andrew Lloyd Weber hits.  

Chorus at BNC

We stayed for the morning of the working sessions.  My colleagues and I presented the types of programs that could help BNCs.  I announced our new program to help the BNCs develop a program of intensive English training plus cultural aspects for U.S. universities in support of the Ciência sem Fronteiras program and during a brainstorming session we talked about how this might work. Coligação members took into account our ideas and will develop a working plan.  

Opening of BNC Coligicao

We took the occasion of the Coligação to bring together our PAOs and some leading local employees to talk about our own plans and aspirations.  Such face-to-face meetings are important to build common visions and align our own understanding of the situations we face. 

Our biggest problem is that we have too many opportunities. This really is a problem.  It is hard to prioritize among the many excellent opportunities. You always regret the road not travelled, the choice not taken.  But it is a better problem to have than the opposite. 

Of course, we have too much office work to do too. I am trying to cut that and streamline processes, so that there are fewer places where thing get stuck and fewer approvals, so that we can get away from our desks.  Our people are smart and well trained to make decisions and we need to trust their judgement and commitment.  I don't want work, in the sense of the stuff we do in the office, to get in the way of accomplishments we can make only when we are out of the office with our Brazilian partners and contacts.

Office work, like all bureaucratic tasks, accretes.  A little at a time, the rules designed to address particular problems build, like sediment at the bottom of a lake. We can always think of extra steps and necessary precautions.  One of my jobs is to keep on digging away at the accretions.  It is a job that never ends and if you ever stop working the accumulated accretions can paralyze real effort, all the while making everybody work harder.  When you see a really busy office, with everybody constantly doing the urgent tasks, this is what you are often really seeing.

I, the boss, can be among the biggest sources of needless work and I take seriously my duty to be careful.  I like to have more reports, so I know exactly what is going on.   It makes me feel secure to have control over what my colleagues are doing.  In general, however, I can trade control for innovation, but I really cannot have lots of both at the same time.

Our job is to interact with, engage and influence Brazilians.  This is what is important. All the other things we do just support these goals and are not ends in themselves.  I try to keep this foremost in my thoughts and actions, but it is not easy to resist the gravity of the office.

October 17, 2011

Innovation in Rio Grande do Sul

TecnoPuc campus with Dell Computer 

I have visited technology parks north and south of Brazil.  There is a difference that I would liken to newly transplanted trees and ones that have been growing in the same place for a long time.  I was very impressed with what I saw in Recife & Salvador.  They are developing. 

TecnoPucWhat I saw in Porto Alegre at is TecnoPuc like a developed mature and productive forest with all the complex interrelationship that implies.   TecnoPuc is (PUC - Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre's Science and Technology Park, with 5.4 hectares area located on PUCRS' main campus in Porto Alegre, an area of more than 70 ha, 30,000 students, 1,600 faculty and 4,800 staff. You can read the details at the link.

TecnoPuc is housed on the grounds of what used to be a military base. This turns out to have lots of the things you need for a technology park, since the buildings are set up to allow both concentration and dispersal.  The tall building on the side is rental and incubation space for smaller and start-up firms. More established ones rent whole floors or buildings.

TecnoPuc TB studies 

Students & professors from PUC in Rio Grande do Sul play an active role with the firms at TecnoPuc, providing the essential cross fertilization we find in successful technology areas such as Silicon Valley, Massachusetts Route 128 or the Research Triangle in North Carolina.  Lots of people have studied the innovation hotbed idea and the exact ingredients are unknown, but they always include a strong university and a concentration of talent.   The Internet has not yet substituted for the magic of geographical proximity.  There is something about just being close to other innovators that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

I think this interactive ingredient is the hardest to duplicate in a new area.  Authorities try to implant such innovation centers in poor areas; most fail because they don’t attract enough of the right people and ideas, despite wonderful buildings and various tax breaks and incentives.  Sometimes they succeed in attracting the big names of the past decade rather than developing the talent of the next.

TecnoPuc HP 

I return to my forestry metaphor I started with.  (I know that I go back to the ecology analogies very often, but those are the ones I understand best and I think they apply best.)  I can try to plant the best trees, but there are all sorts of other things at work that I don’t control or even understand.  A forest can fail for reasons I just don’t know exist, or they can succeed also for reasons I don’t understand.  Nevertheless, people will take credit and or try to learn and copy.  

Of course, there is the element of leadership.  This is often obscured in the case of innovation areas, where we often tend to think success just happens “spontaneously.” There is often someone with vision present at the creation, usually a group of them making good and forward looking decision. Let me take my forestry example again.  Initial decisions create problems or benefits for dozens or even hundreds of years long after the decision and decision makers are forgotten. 

Every successful innovation center I have ever seen is in pleasant natural surroundings. Who can say if this is the cause or effect or an interaction of both.  Successful firms can afford to create nice surroundings, which attracts good people and maybe makes them more productive. But it is the success that is the most important in creating more success, not the surrounding. Otherwise the prettiest places would also be the most productive and they are not. 

We are taken in by a form of “survivor bias”. We find the successful places and then project backwards to the reasons, ignoring those with similar characteristics that did not succeed, often not even knowing of their existence. 

The TecnoPuc success provides a good example. When we look back, we can see all the reasons why success was inevitable.  But if you were looking forward from a quarter century ago, it would not look so certain. 

The people I met at TecnoPuc talked about visiting similar innovation centers in the U.S. as a voluntary visitor group.  IMO, this would help both them and those they visited in the U.S.  I encouraged them to be in touch with their Brazilian colleagues at places like CETENE & CESAR, among others.  We would have a much easier time organizing a great program for a more diverse group.  They already know each other and I hope we can broker a good connection between my new Brazilian friends and my fellow innovative Americans.  In my small part in my forestry metaphor maybe I am the squirrel who carries an acorn.  

The pictures show some of the firms at TecnoPuc. You can see HP and Dell. The other picture shows a place where they are studying cures from Tuberculosis that require fewer doses and less time. One of the biggest challenges in public health related to TB is that the course of medicine must be followed to the end. But people feel better after half the course and they sometimes wander off. This not only makes the person sick again, but helps develop "super bugs", strains of TB that can resist the medicines used against them. This is a nightmare scenario.  The medicines have to get all the germs, so that some cannot escape and adapt. A shorter series would make this more achievable for more people.  

October 16, 2011

Teach a Man to Fish & Increase the Fish Supply

Port at Porto Alegre 

The difference between philanthropy and charity is in that old saying about teaching a man to fish versus just giving him a fish. But you can apply even more leverage if you can increase the capacity of the trainers or augment the general effectiveness of sustainable fishing. Doing lasting good requires a systemic approach to problems.

Green roof in Porto Alegre 

When I talked to people at  Parceiros Voluntários, I recognized that they were thinking systemically and I was not really surprised when the organization’s president, Maria Elena Pereira Johannpeter brought up Peter Senge.  We had a common connection.

I read Senge’s book, The Fifth Discipline, back in the 1990s. It was a book that changed my outlook on work; it was one of those books that tells you things you think your already knew, but in a better form. The idea I took from the book was that organizations work as a set of interconnected sub-systems, so decisions made in one place have implications for the other parts. It sounds simple and ecological; a forestry guy like me likes these kinds of ideas, but it is hard to apply in practice, hard to consider the whole system. I still use often a formulation from the book, “sometimes thing go wrong not in spite of but because of our best efforts.” Working harder can be ineffective and sometimes make you lose ground. It is usually better to remove or smooth obstacles than to just push harder against them and it is best to figure out the path that avoids most obstacles in the first place. Simple wisdom that is hard to implement and it is impossible even to attempt w/o looking at the whole system and understanding its complex interactions. I used to think a lot about these things.

Parceiros Voluntários works on a systemic basis. Their goal to apply their effort at the points of maximum leverage, to work bottom up to encourage citizens to volunteer (something not common until recently in Brazil’s often top-down society) & then to help train and deploy those volunteers so that they can be effective – creating capacities and then enhancing them.

Part of their philosophy would be familiar to Alexis de Tocqueville. They favor individuals and groups acting voluntarily within their own communities, solving problems with their own means in their own sphere of action, managing their own development w/o regard to bureaucracies or higher authorities except where absolutely necessary.

I don’t believe it is mere coincidence that an organization like this took root first in Rio Grande do Sul. This state has a tradition of self-reliance and the inhabitants – the Gauchos – emphasize their independence.  But Parceiros Voluntários is expanding beyond RGS and setting up cooperative operations in the states of Amazonas, Mato Grosso, Bahia and Rio de Janeiro.   

Decentralized, voluntary organizations are a more flexible response to complex challenges we face. They can adapt much more readily and w/o the power of coercion, they can disappear when their time is past w/o a great disruption. America has lots of experience with such organizations.  It is one of the things that has made our society great.  It is great that Brazil develops them too. 

BTW - that teach a man to fish has a different ending.  Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will sit on the lake and drink beer all day. 

The top picture shows some port facilities on the Guaíba River from the offices of Parceiros Voluntários. The name Porto Alegre implies a port and there is one, but not a seaport. Porto Alegre is far from the sea, but ships can reach the sea via Lagoa dos Patos, a vast, shallow flowage. The port used to be a bigger deal in the old days than it is today. The port of Rio Grande, which is actually one the ocean, makes a better outlet for agricultural products of the region. The picture below is a green roof on the restaurant at the Theatro Sao Pedro.

October 15, 2011

Urban Landscapes


Above and below are jacaranda trees along a street near the hospital Moinhos de Vento in Porto Alegre where Mariza was born. Trees really make the place. In a short time, the flowers will come out. I got here with the nearly bare branches. The long little leaves are from other plants that grow along with the trees.  It is still early spring in POA.


Below is the Hospital Moihnos de Vento where Mariza was born. I took a picture of the old part. There is now a really big complex. Porto Alegre has become a health care center.  This hospital started out as the deutsche krankenhaus, when POA was still a German center.

Hospital Moinhos de Vento 

Below is the farmer market and below that is a church. I liked the view but don't know more about it. 

Organic Market in Porto Alegre


October 14, 2011

Quality of Life in Porto Alegre

Old post office in Porto Alegre 

City life peaked in the late 19th & early 20th Century.  It was before cars took over cities, but after lots of important things like clean water, electricity and trams were available. It was also before planning and architecture fell under the sway of  modernists, who forgot how to build attractive things. People still felt proud of their accomplishments and built to reflect civic pride.

Cathedral in POA 

Above and below are churches

Church in Porto Alegre

They Don't Build 'em Like that Anymore

Brahma Brewery 

I took a little more time to look at Porto Alegre. The city has improved a lot. I was familiar with some of the buildings before, but they had often been a a poor state of repair or in bad neighborhoods. Both conditions have improved.  The first group of pictures is from an old Brahma Brewery.  When I lived in POA, they actually made beer there and you couldn't see much because it was behind a wall.  It is now up-scale condos and shops, but you can see the original buildings and the details that they rarely include in buildings anymore.

Detail from Brahma Brewery in POA

Above and below details from Brahma

Old Germans at Brahma 

Below is King Gambrinus, the legendary inventor of hopped-malt beer we all know and love.

King Gambrinus at Brahma Brewery in Porto Alegre 

Below is the Caixa da Aqua - the water works - build about the same time as the Brahma Brewery. It must have been a heady time for Porto Alegre. Pure water has done more for public health than almost anything else. 

Caixa de Aqua in Porto Alegre 

Caixa de Agua tower 

October 13, 2011

BNCs in Porto Alegre & Curitiba

BNC library in Curitiba 

Visiting the Porto Alegre BNC was a lot like visiting home. It was the first BNC I worked with and it set the pattern for what I think of them.  Since I have indeed written about BNCs on several occasions, I refer you to those entries for some of the general details about BNCs. Suffice to say that I am very fond of BNCs and consider them one of the best ways for us to reach youth in Brazil.

FGV in Curitiba 

Porto Alegre presents a bit of a challenge, since they have subcontracted their English teaching to a private firm.  They still run to operation; they do cultural programs, youth ambassador selections & the other things we value in BNCs.  Beyond that, they have the tradition of being a BNC and a board of directors well connected with the local community.  I wonder if this kind of hybrid organization will become more common and there could be a time when the definition of BNC is lost.  If you look to goals, does the exact method matter?

Army HQ in POAOne of the women at the BNC remembered when I used to do lectures at there. We did a lot of things with the BNC in those days.  I remember our old friend and first consul George Lannon when they showed me the auditorium.   We did a cowboy film festival there.  It was low budget but very popular.  All we did was show a different cowboy movie every week.  George would tell something about the film and the director.  This was something he knew and had a passion about.  We started with “Stage Coach” directed by John Ford.  This is the film that made John Wayne a star.  We featured several John Wayne films, as befits a Western series.  The one I appreciated the most was “the Searchers.”  I think we ended with “Cheyenne Autumn,” also directed by John Ford, but not featuring John Wayne.  You don’t need a lot of money to do a good program.  Usually, 90% of success is just showing up.

Curitiba BNC called “Inter” is doing better now after going through hard times ten years ago.  They now have around 3,500 students at any one time. They had more in the past, but the good news is that the numbers are growing.  Inter has six satellite campuses, including a fast growing operation at one of the local shopping centers.  

In addition to teaching English to Brazilians, Inter teaches Portuguese to foreigners, mostly MBA students working on doing business in Brazil programs at ISAE/Fundação Getúlio Vargas in Curitiba.  FGV currently has nineteen students learning Portuguese at the BNC.

I wrote about FGV in São Paulo in other posts.   The one in Curitiba is also impressive.  They have partnerships with Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina, George Washington University and the University of Cincinnati.  I have been extremely impressed with the people at FGV whenever I have met them.  I am glad that we can work with them on many occasions.

My picture at top show part of the library at the BNC in Curitiba. Below that is FGV. The last picture is the old army HQ in PAO, recently restored. It has nothing to do with the article, but I thought it was a nice picture. The colors were good. 

October 12, 2011

Happy Port

Park Faropilia in Porto Alegre 

I didn’t appreciate Porto Alegre when I was here a quarter century ago.  Your feelings about people and places often reflect your feelings about yourself. Times were hard, for me and for Brazil. Chrissy and I were abysmally poor. I didn’t make much as a junior officer and more than half of my take home pay went to paying off student loans. Beyond that, starting off in a new career, I had to buy suites and other work-related stuff.  Because of my particular position, we also had to buy all sorts of reasonably high-quality dishes and plates for at home entertaining. To top it all off, Mariza was born in Porto Alegre.  Babies bring great joy, but they are hard work and they cost a lot of money. 

Big tree in Porto Alergre 

Now add in professional problems. This was my first independent post. My boss was thousands of miles away and they really neglected me. I liked being left alone, as I mentioned in the previous post, but I realize now that I really needed a little more direction or “mentoring” than I got.  I worked too hard. Well, I worked too hard in the wrong way. I didn’t understand the old saying that you have to first seek to understand before being understood. I would have been better off “working” to get to know the society better rather than working on the ostensible work in the office.  It would have been more fun too. Sometimes you can go farther faster by running slower.

Rua Santo Ignacio in Porto Alegre 

Finally, it was a hard time for Brazil.  The Brazilians were not happy with themselves so it was harder for them to be happy with us.  I was there during the “Cruzado Plan”.  They changed the currency and put on all sorts of price controls. This created shortages and black markets.  I remember it was even hard to get Coca-Cola.

Playground in Moinhos de Vento Park 

It is better now for me, for them and better in general.

Porto Alegre seems like home and is familiar even with the big changes.  It is funny. The place is full of Mariza. I keep on “seeing” my baby girl in all the places we took her and even in the places we didn’t because she was always on my mind.  That was another thing I didn’t appreciate at the time.  I get a similar feeling in SE Washington, BTW, near the old Oakwood. It is filled with Alex from when he was a baby. Sometimes I just used to sit on the bench there and absorb that.  I have never really understood those feelings.  They are bitter-sweet, as it is with remembering intense things past.

Zaffri in Porto Alegre 

So there were lots of reason I didn’t appreciate the place or the time.  I am better now and so the beauty of the place is easier to see.

The pictures show the beauty of the place. The first two are Parque Farroupilha where I used to run. Below is the street we lived on in a neighborhood called Moinhos de Vento.  The streets are lined with jacaranda trees. I got to POA a few days to early.  Soon they would be in beautiful purple flowers. It was a nice neighborhood then; it is fantastic now, with lots of shops and restaurants within walking distance down pleasant streets.  The swings are in Parque Moinhos de Vento, where we used to take Mariza to play. It looks like it is the same equipment.  The bottom picture is Zaffari, the grocery store where we used to shop. It is within walking distance from our old house. Zaffari is a chain of supermarkets. They are really nice, maybe like Wegmans in the U.S. 

Here are a few more pictures relevant to the story that I didn't post.

Walking path from my old house to Zaffri

McDonald's near  my old house

My House in Porto Alegre

Bridge over Goethe Street in Porto Alergre  

October 11, 2011

Old Folks

Old folks in Porto Alegre 

O tempo se foi e não volta mais. 

We were reunited, my old staff in Porto Alegre.  It has been almost twenty-five years since I went boldly & over confidently to run the USIA post at the southern end of Brazil. Paulo, Ula and Cezar came to the reunion, along with Ulla's niece. Our driver, Azambuja,  died, so he didn't show up. At least nobody saw. But we told stories about him, which kept him there in spirit. Azambuja had the interesting habit of talking about himself in the third person and talking to himself generally, so maybe it was not that different. 

Paulo and Ula are in their 80s. Cezar is a little younger than I am, i.e. a very young man. Reunions are always bittersweet. Porto Alegre was my first post. I made all kinds of mistakes and my loyal staff saved me from the embarrassment of getting knocked my own overconfidence. The initial condition has a great influence on subsequent developments. My bosses were thousands of miles away in Brasilia and they generally neglected me down at the end of the road. I got to/had to make decisions that were beyond my pay grade. Being in PAO in POA helped me develop a sense of self reliance, which today makes me admirably independent or weirdly idiosyncratic, depending on who you ask or when. I wouldn't want it any other way.

The work was different back then. We were really isolated.  I don't think that you can be that isolated anywhere in the world today.  Even in the desert in Iraq, we had the latest news.  In Porto Alegre I couldn't get an English-language newspaper until a couple days later. Most days I had no contact with either Washington or Brasilia.  I didn't really miss that. We didn't have easy access to CNN.  We had a couple of horrible computers, that didn't really do anything but word processing and didn't do that well. Generally, I would write with pen and paper and Ula would type or use the telex.  Back then, I could plausibly deny that I had the chance to consult with my superiors. It is different now. I like the Internet, but I think we communicate too much now.  It is better to let the person on the spot make decisions whenever possible. Because we can, we too often ask for advice even on small matters and too often want to micro-manage the work of far-off colleagues.  My father told me that you should not spend a dollar to make a dime decision. He was right.

Talking to my old friends, I remembered the lines of an epitaph, "As you are now, so once was I; as I am now, so shall you be."  I remember back then looking at Paulo & Ulla as a little behind the times.  I was young, up-to-day & filled with best ideas a new MBA could have.  I was riding the wave of the big trends of the late 1980s. It gets harder to keep up with trends and eventually you just don't.  Some of the trends are going nowhere anyway. The things I learned from reading the Greek classics are still with me and still useful. Many of the things I learned as a sharp MBA are perniciously out of date.

Ula and Paulo have had good lives, full of accomplishments and generally good health into old age. That is all we humans really get on this earth.  The young look forward with great expectations. The view from the other end is  a little sad, but it shouldn't be if you can say "I fought the good fight, I finished my course, I kept the faith."

I recall the story of Solon & Croesus from Herodotus.

October 10, 2011

The New World

Polish House in Brazil 

Curitiba reminds me of a European city. Immigrants from Germany, Poland, Ukraine and many other places brought themselves and their ideas and it made a big difference. During my one-day visit, three people mentioned Polish roots. That might not seem like very many, but considering the size of the sample and that they brought it up, it is significant. On the other hand, I don’t doubt that I affect the conversation when talking about the places I lived. It is the thing experts caution you about when you gather information. You often find what you are looking for or at least what you expect. When all your interlocutors seem interested in the same things, it is useful to recall that the only common threat in all this is you. Nevertheless, I would not have found them if they had not been there. 

The picture above shows a “typical” Polish Brazilian house. It was a farm house someplace outside Curitiba. The city took it apart and put it back together near the urban planning center to show the history of Paraná.  I heard that there is a whole Polish village in one of the parks. Pope John Paul II visited when he was in Brazil. I didn’t have the time to go.  

Church in Curitiba, Brazil 

Poles used to use the term "Polonia" to describe the Polish diaspora and sometimes counted overseas Poles as part of the Polish nation. This made some sense, since for 123 there was no Polish political entity but there were Poles and a Polish nation (narod). But it doesn't apply much anymore. 

Germans, Ukrainians and others also had a big impact around Curitiba. Rooms in the library at Positivo University were named after important local figures. I noticed that the last names tended to sound German or Slavic, while the first names were usually Brazilian. That tells the story. As in the U.S., immigrants tend to be absorbed within two or three generations. They still may be proud of their roots, but those roots are largely sentimental, a few words of the old language, taste for traditional foods. Both foods and words are modified by local flavors.

I am sure that I could find someone in Curitiba with the same ethnic mix (German-Polish) as I have, maybe even a cousin. But after a minute of talking about our “common” heritage we would revert to our true identities: American and Brazilian. The past is a different country.  If we kept on talking about it, we would remember that our ancestors left the old country because they thought things were better in the New World & they were right.  

Roots are good, even if they are often mostly mythical or folkloric. Immigrants change societies. The very fact of leaving creates changes people. They see some of their old culture is good, but lots just don’t apply. The new society also takes the best and leaves the rest. This makes everybody better off. I don’t know if a hot dog is better than its German ancestor, but it is more popular and I admit that I usually like the American version of ethnic food better than the “real thing.”

The modified-alloyed culture is almost always more robust, at least in the sense of providing more options. After all, both the U.S. and Brazil are the New World.

October 09, 2011

The Eye of the Beholder

Museum Oscar Niemeyer in Curitiba 

I am not a big admirer of modern art, although I am learning to like it better. We usually appreciate things as we learn more about them and get more accustomed to them. It is like exposing your kids to vegetables. Eventually they get to like them at least some. I also understand that this art is popular among many of our friends and I can see the potential for exchanges and cooperation between our Brazilian friends and American counterparts.  In our work, the relationships are what count. Art, music & information are the shared interests that make the human connections work and make our work interesting. That is why we scheduled meetings with leaders at the Oscar Niemeyer Museum in Curitiba and a couple days later at the Fundação Iberé Camargo in Porto Alegre.

Inside the eye at the Oscar Niemyer Museum 

The Oscar Niemeyer Museum includes lots of his work as permanent exhibits and the works of other artists rotate through. During my visit, they were showing Polish poster art. The Fundação Iberé Camargo has a similar policy, with one floor devoted to the work of their eponymous artist and the others featuring temporary collections. (FYI - Most people are familiar with Oscar Niemeyer. Iberé Camargo was a Brazilian expressionist  from Rio Grande do Sul.) In both cases, the most remarkable part of the installations for me was not the art itself, but rather the cultural communities built around the museums and the buildings that housed them, which were also works of art.  

Theatro Sao Pedro in Porto Alegre 

(Among the people I was supposed to meet in Porto Alegre was Eva Sopher, the woman responsible for the Theatro São Pedro.  You can see the Theatro just above. Notice that it is spelled in the old fashioned way, with an h. It was from her that I first learned to appreciate the importance of the total community that clusters around any cultural center. I wrote a post about this a couple years ago and if you read this post I suggest you read that one too at this link. I added the picture, BTW, so it is the same in both, but I took it on this most recent trip. Unfortunately, Eva couldn’t make it to our meeting.  I wanted to tell her the story. I did talk to her on the phone, but I don’t think I made the point well.)

Porto Alegre, RS Brazil 

You can see in the picture of the Oscar Niemeyer Museum why they informally call it “the eye.” Fundação Iberé Camargo also has a great architecture with “floating” corridors (i.e. the hang outside the building) to get from floor to floor. The building is made from white concrete and the “floating” aspect must have been a significant engineering challenge.  Nevertheless, the most striking aspect, IMO, is the beautiful location.  You can see on the picture the fantastic view of Porto Alegre you get from the Fundação building.

October 08, 2011

A Positive Way to Give Them What They Need

Positivo University 

I get to see a lot of universities and schools in my job. Many are poor with facilities that need work. But this doesn't need to be how it is. The goal of education is to disseminate and create knowledge. I say create for the obvious reason that you cannot and should not try merely to pass information, but understand that the exchange of information changes the people and the situations involved.

The Universidade Positivo in Curitiba is as unabashedly upbeat as its name implies. It is a private university whose leaders understand that profit is the price of prosperity but also understand and cherish values of humanity.  The school teaches practical things like business, where demand is high. But it also features a great theater and places for the development of the human spirit.

PositivoUniversity Library 

I was impressed first by the attitude of the leadership and then by the beautiful campus, which is only around a dozen years old.  What they wanted from us was only recognition and cooperation in programs, i.e. a partnership among equals with similar goals.

Theater at Positivo University

If you can read Portuguese, you can see their mission statement here. 

Visiting the university was encouraging. These guys know how to do good and do well at the same time. They are free market proponents and made a point of showing one of their reading rooms honors Roberto Campos, who was present at the creation of the IMF and generally admired the United States of America. 


I learned something I didn't know from the tour. Brazilian private schools, like the Universidade Postitivo, must offer scholarships to 10% of their students, in order to maintain their tax-free status. These students must be from public schools and be from poor families. The university has no control over intake. Everything is based on scores from the Enem, the big that decides placement. All that matters is the scores. The university accepts students in rank order. The only caveat is that they meet the requirements of low family income and be graduate of the public school system.

The guys at Universidade Positivo told me that they were a little afraid that the quality would be low, but they were pleasantly surprised. They are getting a very select group that is doing well in the academic environment.

Theatre at EpidarusIt is also interesting to see the general difference in selection. In the U.S. there are lots of possible criteria. Brazil is not like that. Grades and activities don't matter. It is sort of like selecting purely on SAT scores.  It is probably a fairer system then ours and it is certainly a much simpler selection process.  The drawback, IMO, is that it is one dimensional. I just don't like the idea of having a list where everybody is ranked. I think this is an okay way to select admissions, but it might leak into other aspects of life.

My pictures show the campus and the library. Classes are not in session, so you don't see students. There are 13.000 students. Below that is the theater, based on the Greek theater at Epidaurus, which has nearly perfect acoustics.  We tested it. If someone stands just in front of where Mariza is standing and talks in a normal voice, you can hear clearly all the way to the top. It is the pattern for lots of theaters, but usually uncredited. I visited with Mariza & Espen. Read about it here.  The picture is along side. The interesting thing was that there was a diagram and explanation at the university telling about Epidaurus. It is part of the classical education to pay tribute to these achievements of the past.  As an admirer of the achievements of the ancient Greeks and Romans, I appreciate that. It is the show and tell, followed by the experience that makes knowledge stick. 

October 07, 2011

Curitiba & the Usefulness of Thinking Ahead

Pond in Curitiba Park 

Curitiba, the capital of Paraná, is the best planned city in Brazil and one of the best in the world.

They have been following a master plan since the 1940s. The city has a wonderful mass transit system. You can see the mass transit buses on my pictures. They have a system where you only pay once and then you can ride on the various types of buses. You do not pay on the bus itself. Rather you do into one of those tubes in the picture. Curitiba buses are specially designed and built in a local Volvo factory. Several doors open at one time, greatly facilitating loading and unloading. It is more like a Metro system in that respect. They are going to get an actual Metro. The Federal government will finance part and it will run under an old highway, which now bypasses the city with a ring road. The Curitiba authorities want to convert that road into a long & narrow park, with bike trails, something like the W&OD. The road currently features dedicated bus lanes. The goal is NOT to encourage automobile traffic by keeping the road open to cars.

Curitiba bus tubes 

Nobody is exactly sure why city planning is so ingrained in Curitiba. The city was lucky to have a series of good mayors and the many people in the city support an d take seriously the need for a sustainable community, but that just postpones the question as to why those things.

Curitiba skyline 

No matter the reason, Curitiba is a city the mostly works.  Traffic is tolerable. Buildings are attractive with a good mix of old and new. The city is clean and there is a lot of green space. The green space is more than just attractive and the ponds in every park are not just for decoration. The authorities in Curitiba long ago figured out the drainage patterns of their city. The parks are in the spots where water would naturally accumulate or can be easily made to accumulate after storms. It rains a lot in Curitiba. Most cities in Curitiba’s situation suffer significant flooding and mudslide. Curitiba does not. The rains drain into the parks and ponds. The ponds overflow, but it doesn’t matter because the temporarily rising water doesn’t hurt the grass and trees along the banks. The parks are like giant rain gardens. The picture up top shows one.

Curitiba skyline 

When they are not flooded, which is most of the time BTW, they provide ample recreational activities.

I wasn’t sure which city Curitiba reminded me of. The obvious choice would be Portland, but I don’t think so.  It is a very European city in its architecture and general feel. Many of its inhabitants have roots in Central and Eastern Europe, so much of the city itself is has the feel of Northern Germany or Poland. But the park system, with its many ponds and water features made me think of Minneapolis. As I wrote many times, places really are their own places, but I still like to search for analogies.

Tree imune to cutting  

I have to add a little bit of a disclaimer. We spoke to an environmentalist in Porto Alegre, one who knew about urban and regional planning. He said that Curitiba is indeed a great city, but that the greater skill is in marketing. According to what he told us, Porto Alegre also has the rain garden/park idea, but they are more out of sight. He also said that Curitiba has an easier time than most cities because it is mostly a middle class place. People are well behaved (something I alluded to above) and have the culture that supports sustainable cities. It has not had the big growth of poor populations who tend to ignore zoning rules. 

Of course, we agreed that a big part of making a city a place where people want to live is marketing of the city's favorable points. The rain garden/parks are indeed functional, but it is also very important for the quality of life that they be beautiful and accessible to the people. The parts in Curitiba help define the neighborhoods and are well used. Combining beauty and function is itself a value. And causality is usually complicated and there are feedback loops that empower or inhibit trends. A city that can market itself well may become a better city as a result of the marketing and the improvements it stimulates, which makes marketing easier ...

Speaking of marketing, the bottom picture show a "tree immune to cutting". Curitiba has designated some especially nice trees as protected and they have that sign. It is mostly marketing, but it calls attention to the beauty of the tree and the commitment to protect it. A less conspicuous marking could to the job but would fail on awareness.

My bottom line is that I like Curitiba. If I was a Brazilian I would certainly consider living there.   

October 06, 2011

Resurgent Atlantic Forests

Secondary growth Atlantic forestPart of my job I do for duty; this one is about the part of my job I do for joy. This joy category is much larger, BTW, and even the duty part is usually fun. I really enjoyed the seminar and I only had to pay for it with a ten minute speech – sweet.

Former coconut plantationAs I have written before, I have learned that a big part of public affairs is showing appreciation for the things your hosts value, praise the things they are proud of. It helps if you are really interested and I am passionately interested in forestry and ecology. I mentioned this and the State of Bahia came through with something they are proud of. They have a sustainable forestry initiative and I think that the person telling me about it took as much joy in the telling as I did listening. It was a true shared interest.

They took me to the Reserva Sapiranga, an area of secondary growth of the Mata Atlántica or Atlantic forest. This is the rain forest that once covered coastal Brazil. Most of the Brazilian population and the big cities are in the biome of the Atlantic forest and most of the original forest was cut long ago. This was also the case with the area now included in the Sapiranga reserve. This land was plantation and cow pasture only a fee decades ago, but like our eastern forests in U.S., it grew back.

You can still see the coconut palms, gradually succumbing to old age. Coconut palms live around fifty years. They require sunny conditions to regenerate naturally. The encroaching forest shades out potential new coconuts.  Soon there will be none.

Stream in Atlantic forestOnly 7% of the native Atlantic forest remains in Brazil.  As I mentioned, the Atlantic forest biome is the one most affected by human settlement.  The State of Bahia contains three general biomes.  Near the coast is the Atlantic forest.  It is a type of coastal rain forest, with diverse species of plants and animals. Farther inland is Caatinga. This is semi-arid, with the thick skinned and thorny plants you find in deserts. 


The Caatinga is less immediately attractive than the Atlantic forest and has attracted less attention, but it is in fact more in danger.  The Atlantic forest will grow back if given a little help or even just left alone. It is similar to the forests of the Eastern U.S. in this respect, which regrew during the 20th Century. The Caatinga runs the risk of desertification. This can happen if the climate changes to become drier, since it is already near the edge, but it can also happen with simple bad land management.  It takes a long time for the vegetation in the semi-arid soil to grow and when it is removed of even stepped on a lot it can lead to significant soil loss.  And dirt, in the final analysis, is the basis of everything. 

Farther west the Caatinga yields to the Cerrado.  This is the grassland/savannah we have also in Brasilia or Goiás. Western Bahia has become a thriving agricultural area, with the introduction of new strains of plants and new agricultural techniques.  Not too many years ago, it was generally thought that the soils of Western Bahia could not be made productive over large areas and that any attempt to do so would result in more or less permanent damage.  This was incorrect.  What was needed was a better understanding of the dynamics of the natural systems as well as better genetics and technologies. As I mentioned in other posts, the Brazilians are building railroads to link the region with ports along the coast. They are also working on massive projects along the Rio São Francisco, which flows through Bahia to Pernambuco.  This is a vast reclamation project, which may change the face of Bahia as much as Hoover Dam changed the Imperial Valley in California.  


These are things I want to see, but have not yet seen with my own eyes.  I am waiting for my car to be released onto the road.

Environmental education center 

What I saw on this trip was the resurgent rain forest in coastal Bahia. There is a local project, sponsored by Petrobras, to restore the forest while protecting the livelihood of the current inhabitants. Of of the challenges will be actually knowing what to restore. Nobody is sure what the forest primeval really looked like. Nobody has really seen it for hundreds of years and even at that early date the ecology was heavily impacted by the activities of Native-Brazilians, especially through their use of fire.  The forest restorers are seeing what old books tell and trying to ask the local inhabitants what seems to grow.  I suspect that it will be something like what the forest looked like in 1500, but certainly not the same. Too much has changed. 

They are calling the project sustainable forestry or agro-forestry. It is not exactly as I envisioned it given the terms.* What they are doing is more like restoration and preservation.  Since there are no plans to harvest timber in the newly forested places, I don’t think the term forestry applies perfectly.  The agro-forestry has similar caveats.  What they have here in more of agriculture of small clearings. It is a valid form of agriculture, but it is not an integrated agro-forestry operation.  

They also are trying to phase out hunting.  People who like animal and grew up in cities tend to dislike hunting.  I can understand that in the early stages of ecological development, but I believe in the longer term sustainable hunting must be part of any sustainable forest-agricultural community. If you really want to sustain nature, you have to cut some trees and kill some animals and humans need to be integrated into the system, not just squatting on top of it.

I don’t mean to sound critical. In fact, I am sharp precisely because I believe this project is important and valid.  It should succeed but will require some modification. I would not presume to dictate, but I do presume to have an opinion based on what I saw develop in the U.S. over my lifetime and what I studied that happened before.   

The organizers understand that humans cannot be excluded from the environment and there are lots of people living in and around the reserve.  But it still seems to me to have too much of a demarcation line, with preserved areas out of bounds.  I tried to explain (it was hard in Portuguese, since the concept is very subtle and nuanced) how we use stream management zones in Virginia. They are managed for healthy forest growth, but they are by no means off limits. I can do silvicultural practices in the SMZ.  As a result of our activities, the forests are healthier and MORE robust and the water is cleaner than it would be if we were not acting. And, of course, our lands are heavily used by hunters. Hunters are the best conservationists because they want to keep on hunting. Foresters maintain forest ecosystems with similar motivations. These are examples of man in and of nature. Some things need to be preserved; most things need to be well-managed. We all love nature.  I think it is better to be actively part of it than just looking across the fence.


* Agro-forestry is the sensible practice of mixing forest and agriculture.  It is best applied in relatively small scale, since it often precludes the use of big machinery.  It is not appropriate everywhere. In large flat fields where no-till agriculture can be used, for example, agro-forestry is not always the best environmental solution. But it is a good option where it works. 

Agro-forestry allows a more complete use of the land.  Trees complement crops or pasture.  There is some competition, especially for sunlight.  But the trees tend to draw from a different level of the soil.  The tree roots can do a kind of clean up, absorbing water and fertilizer that would pass through the first layers of vegetation.  They can also form a sort of nutrient pump, with their leaves bringing nutrients back to the surface where they are again available to surface vegetation.  Even the shade can be useful in some cases. 

Coffee, for example, is a kind of bush that evolved in the shade of larger trees.  Plants like coffee can be more productive in the filtered sunlight than they are in full sun.  The key is balance and knowledge. The challenge of agro-forestry is exactly that. The farmer-forester needs to be more involved in his land and understand the sometimes complex and changing relationships among plants.

The key to the forestry part of the equation is that you have to manage and eventually cut the trees.  Forestry has three generalized parts. (1) You plant or allow trees to regenerate;  (2) you take care of them (3) with the eventual goal of harvesting timber and forest products.  If you leave out the last step, you are not really in business and I do not believe it can be sustained over large areas for a significant time. The profit is the price of survival.  Sustainable means that you can do it again and again.  If you never cut, it really is not sustainable. It is just preserves.

The Poet

The Poet in Siparanga, Brazil 

I visited the Poet today. I guess the call him THE Poet, using the definite article and implicitly capitalizing the P because he is the only one in the area.

He is not one of those dour poets. No, this guy is bright, cheerful and open.  He celebrates nature and nature’s bounty and lives in and of nature. 


He showed me all the plants near his house that have health or medicinal qualities.  I don’t know about that. I have never been much of a believer in natures pharmacopeia. I understand that most of our medicines have precursors in the untamed environment, but the refined forms are more useful and predictable.  He looked healthy, however and his explanations were interesting and plausible, as he showed me around his little green domain. One of the trees had a sticky sap that you could use as insect repellent. Another had leaves that were rough and could be used to clean your dishes. There were plants good for digestion and some that didn’t do anything but look pretty. The man certainly had given it a lot of thought, and it sounded really good what he said.  But I kept in mind that they call him “the poet” and the “the physician” probably for a reason. 

The Poet has a Facebook page and they made a movie about him.  I thought it was a little anomalous that he would be pecking away at a computer in the midst of nature.  After all, a guy who eats leaves when he has a headache instead of taking aspirin doesn’t seem like the computer nerd type and he isn’t. His daughter, who lives in town does the social media work.

Meeting the Poet made me a happier man. I do not want to emulate his lifestyle. I like to be in the woods, but I also like to eat stuff from the supermarket (i.e. processed foods) and have ... all the comforts of my home. I am just not that organic. But I am content that someone can still live Thoreau-like in our modern world.  The Poet lives life deliberately. He notices and celebrates the nature around him, yet he also is open to people and rejoicing of humanity. (BTW - Thoreau didn't really live in the wilderness either. He could walk to his friends' houses. It was sort of like camping out in Rock Creek Park or Central Park.) They should make a movie about him ... I guess they did.

He also has a YouTube video.

My pictures show the Poet & me. Below is the meal he provided. I understand that many people like shrimp and I was grateful for the bounty & I understand that the Poet or one of his friends actually catch the shrimp.

Back on the Bus

Curitiba airport 

Our flight from Curitiba to Porto Alegre was cancelled because of fog. The next available flight does not leave until after 4pm tomorrow.  A-F-T-E-R-FOUR-P-M. The whole day will be lost. So we are looking at taking the bus. It takes 12 hours, which is still not good, but that would get us to POA about noon tomorrow. IF the bus leaves soon.

I don't think the people at GOL airlines are being very helpful. I understand that the cannot get us on the flight. But they also are not letting the bus go until/unless they can fill it. That means we might wait much longer. I think they are being cheap when it would make more sense to be generous. The bus should cost them less than a hotel room for the at least seven people willing to take the bus. I would argue more, but my Portuguese is not up to situations like this. I don't do very well even in English. Nobody does. This is one of those rotten situations. We are just being mistreated by the overall system, but no individual is responsible. The people you might be able to yell at are not the decision-makers. They merely carry the bad news.

I have the feeling I may be sleeping on the floor at the airport. They offer hotel accommodations, but the hotel is evidently some flea-bag about an hour away from the airport. So we would get a two-hour bus ride no matter what and still arrive very late tomorrow.

It is like that movie - "Trains, Planes & Automobiles." I was looking forward to getting to POA today. It will be somewhat familiar and we were staying at the Sheraton.  In Curitiba, we stayed at the Ibis, which is not terrible, but not sort of the place I would have stayed as a student. I also had the pleasure of staying on a floor they were painting, so I got the familiar smells of fresh paint and turpentine. Beyond that, I got in late because of a rep event. I am just tired. Travel is generally hard and my days have been tightly scheduled.  Now it looks like my night will be too. No matter what happens, I will not get a good night's sleep and it is stressful, even for a calm guy like me who can embrace the suck.  The best case scenario is that I get to sit on a bus all night. I have never been on a Brazilian intercity bus, but I don't expect it to be great.  My ears hurt. This often happens in stressful situations.  I think I tighten my jaw.  I don't mean to complain, but things just don't seem very pleasant when you are sitting in the airport with no firm idea when you will get to leave or by what means of transport.

I am posting now from the airport at about midnight not knowing how this will work out. I will write an update later.    

Update: at 1230am we got a van.  Very tight and uncomfortable. We drove to Florianpolis, got there about 4am. Caught the plane to POA at 640 and got to POA just after 7am. We were tired during the day, but didn't miss any of our scheduled appointments. All is almost well. The usual many cups of coffee provided at all the appointments didn't hurt.

My picture shows the Curitiba airport. It is a little out of focus, like I was. 

October 04, 2011

Saying the Words of Others

Interview at conference on Black enterprise 

I was one of the opening speakers at conference on black entrepreneurism in Salvador that I talked about in my last post.  It is part of our program on encouraging racial equality in both Brazil and the U.S.  You can read about it at this link.

This is part of my ceremonial diplomatic duties and the part of communications that I am less good at.  I am good at the extemporaneous talks and persuasion, but I have a real problem actually reading a speech.  I always want to skip ahead and I tend to accelerate as I am reading. I could make the excuse that I have to read it in Portuguese but the concern is not valid.  If I have to read a speech and say all the words (as opposed to the free form) I think I actually prefer to do it in Portuguese. It is easier for me to read slowly in my non-native language. I worked with the language coach yesterday to get the pronunciation better.

I have been practicing this entire career and still feel like a freshman when I get in front of a crowd. Nevertheless, in the last couple of years I think I have finally gotten a bit better at this type of performance precisely because I now understand that it is indeed a performance.  They don't come to see me; they come to see a representative of the United States of America. I am expected to play a role and I do that. When giving a set speech, originality and knowledge are not virtues. I didn’t write the speech. I am there to convey the policy produced by others and it is much more important to be true to that than to add my own spin. My job is to wear a nice suit, smile at the appropriate time, read the words right and modulate the sounds so that at least some members of the audience enjoy the experience.

I have to fight the feeling that I am a fraud for not producing my own material.  This is where the recognition that it is a performance has helped a lot. The higher you get in the organization, the more you are called on to perform the ceremonial task using words prepared by others.

Speaking of others, my picture shows one of the other participants. I don't have a picture of myself, and he is better looking anyway.  

October 03, 2011

Using Big Sporting Events to Encourage Inclusion

Shirley Franklin interviewed in Salvdor

I met former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin at breakfast. She told me that she was the sewer mayor, since it was during her tenure that Atlanta's antiqued sewer and water systems were renewed and she had managed to push through rate hikes. I  liked her immediately. I have been reading a book called "The Big Thirst" about the challenges of providing clean water in the 21st Century. Actually getting water projects done is one of the biggest challenges for any elected official. The pipes are usually underground, where nobody can see them. The costs of addressing the problem are usually obvious and up-front, while the benefits come later and will be taken for granted when they come. I love any politician with the courage & persistence to tackle this problem.

Ms Franklin came to speak for us at a conference on how to leverage big sporting events to help be more inclusive of all members of society and create sustainable economic benefits.  The actual title is “Promoting Entrepreneurship and Racial Inclusion within the Context of the Mega Sports Events”

She brought experience from Atlanta's successful Olympic games. Brazil will host the World Cup of Football in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016, so this experience will be useful.

She also brought a report with her, a lessons learned from Atlanta written in 1996. The Brazilians were delighted to get their copies, but Ms. Franklin told us that nobody had asked for it before. I guess it is just hard to learn lessons.  The old saying of George Santayana comes to mind, the one about no remembering history and being doomed to repeat it.  Or maybe it is just that we want to reinvent the wheel each time have have a big event.  Maybe this time, at least, experience will be helpful. 

The idea is to use the big money and international attention brought by big sporting events to help the local society.  Too often, sports are really a money loser for the community.  Everybody loves them, but the costs of the stadiums and related infrastructure is not actually recouped, much less used for profit. Atlanta was one of the few venues that ended in positive financial territory.  That alone is an accomplishment rarely equaled and never exceeded. But there is more.

As Shirley Franklin explained, Atlanta used the  games to help the community. They made sure that people were trained to to the work that needed to be done and that these skills could be used after the closing ceremonies and the excitement of the games was just reflected on old sports archives. This is an achievement worth emulating.   I hope our Brazilian friends can take advantage of this.   I think they will.

My picture shows her being interviewed by local TV.

I will post a copy of the report when I get the PDF. 

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