« August 2012 | Main | October 2012 »

September 24, 2012

The city that Pedro built

Countryside on road to Petropolis 

Dom PedroDom Pedro didn’t really found Petrópolis as much as just built his summer palace up in the hills outside Rio and the city formed around it.  There are nearly 400,000 people in the town today.  It has a kind of European flavor. Some people say it is like Germany.  I suppose it is like Germany if you discount the palm trees.  It is not as tidy as Germany.  The Brazilian city that really looks like Germany is Blumenau, but that is another story.  Petrópolis is more reminiscent of Sintra near Lisbon, which makes more sense as a parallel.  

You drive through some sublimely beautiful country to get to Petrópolis and it would be worth the trip if all you did was drive up and back.  You have to go up one road and down another, which is really a good thing since it means there is no oncoming traffic on the twisted roads.   Mixing Brazilian driving habits with this kind of road often would be fatal with oncoming traffic.   I recall driving the old BR 101 in Santa Catarina. It was also a beautiful road but not safe.  It has improved. 

As I mentioned in an earlier post, our ostensible reason for going to Petrópolis was to pick up papers that Dom Pedro II produced while visiting the U.S. in 1876.  We got a lot more.   Mauricio met us at the Imperial Museum and gave us a tour of the summer place.  It is not a really big place as some I have seen.  It is much more manageable.  You can imagine that people actually liked to live here and like to visit here.  There was obviously a ceremonial element, but this was also a place to live.  

Music room 

Petrópolis today lives mostly by tourism; it depended on Dom Pedro when he was living there and it does still.  But I also met a guy from GE aviation.  He told me that they employ 1600 people in Petrópolis and make airplane parts and turbines.  We talked about workforce.   It is hard to find qualified people, so GE works with a local technical school to train workers.  Airplane manufacture is a strange industry.  Airplanes are made internationally.  Parts are made by specialist all over the world. Sometimes engines actually move between countries in a kind of external assembly line.  I really cannot understand how this can be economically viable, but evidently it is.

Throne Room  

September 23, 2012

Public diplomacy in the 19th Century & today

 Dom Pedro papers

The basics haven’t changed.  You have to get out and meet people. When Emperor of Brazil Dom Pedro II went to the U.S. in 1876, he was doing public diplomacy.  Of course, he was a bigger deal than we are when we travel Brazil, but much was the same.  We were up in Petrópolis, where Dom Pedro had his summer place, to pick up notes and pictures from Dom Pedro’s trip to the U.S. 136 years ago.  It is still paying public diplomacy benefits.

Music programDom Pedro went for the great Philadelphia Exposition of 1876, celebrating the centennial of the United States.   It was the first world’s fair to be held in the U.S. and Dom Pedro was the only head of state to attend.  He also went all the way across the U.S. and back, in those days more of an adventure than it is today.  He made a good impression on American and you can see why.

BTW - Library of Congress has a really cool system and you can read old books on line. There is a contemporary book about Dom Pedro's visit.  Check out this link

He was nearly a perfect diplomat in temperament, looks and behavior, a patrol of the arts and science.   Brazil has a constitutional monarchy, so Dom Pedro reined but didn’t really rule.  He was on the throne for 58 years and is credited to some extent with keeping Brazil a unified country.  It did not have to work out that way.  Spanish America broke up into many often hostile states.  Portuguese America, i.e. Brazil, could have done the same.  You can think of several possible separate nations and some like Rio Grande do Sul managed to declare and maintain independence for a while.

The Dom Pedro reined until overthrown by a coup d'état on 15 November 1889. It was strange.  Dom Pedro didn’t try to put it down and just left the country, commenting, "If it is so, it will be my retirement. I have worked too hard and I am tired. I will go rest then."  I suppose after 58 years on the job he was ready for a change.

The picture at top shows the CG and Smithsonian receiving the Dom Pedro papers.  Among them was this concert program in the next picture.  The Emperor sponsored a concert of Brazilian music for American audiences.  Below is something going the other way.  It is a Chickering piano, made in Massachusetts. These were evidently among the best pianos made at the time. This one still works. Chickering was founded in 1823.  It was acquired by the American piano company in 1908 and the name was eventually used by Baldwin piano company which became a subsidiary of Gibson Guitars.  They stopped making pianos in the U.S. in 2008. It is sad when an old craft tradition ends.

Chickering piano 

September 22, 2012

Thinking about tomorrow in Rio

Museum of Tomorrow in Rio 

Today I am in Rio following the Smithsonian folks and I got to go with them to the Fundação Roberto Marinho. This organization works throughout Brazil broadly speaking on educational projects and knowledge creation and dissemination.  This includes museums, which have a strong educational component.   Its mission is similar to Smithsonian’s in these respects.  They were proud of their new Museum of the Portuguese language and Soccer Museum in São Paulo. Both this museums explore the social implications of their subjects and are both creators and disseminators of knowledge.

A ground-breaking museum to be opened soon is the Museum of Tomorrow (Museu do Amanhã).  It will be in the area of the Rio port district, which I wrote about beforeThe museum is different in that most museums preserve the past; this one will be aimed at the future, as the name implies.  It will be about  the science of a sustainable future.   Organizers know this hard to do.  It is very easy for a museum of the future to become a museum of futures past. It might just become quaint.  If you visit, “Tomorrow Land” in Disney World, for example, you can see what people of 1960 thought it would be like today. It is quaint and funny, but no longer “future”.   Actually, Brasília is a bit like that, a 1960s version of the future.  Foundation people hope to avoid this fate by commitment to constant renewal.  Let’s hope. You can see the projections of the Museu do Amanhã in my photo nearby.

Rain outside Fundacao Roberto Mariho  

I learned a few things about conservation of collections. It makes sense once you think about them, but you usually don’t think about them. First is that the big enemy of most things is humidity.  It tends to encourage the growth of fungus and mold. Heat doesn’t matter nearly as much. Heating in a cold climate also tends to dehumidify as does air conditioning in hot weather.  Our guests told us, however, that in Brazil they sometimes still turn the air conditions off at night.  It is logical. Air conditioning costs money.  Nobody is around and night and it gets fairly cool anyway, so why waste the money?  If heat were the problem, it isn’t much of a problem at night. 

Our Brazilian friends thought they could teach Americans a thing or two about surviving crisis.   When American institutions face “hard times” they might have to cut hours or slow acquisitions.   Brazilian crises have sometimes meant shutting down vital functions.  Yet they have adapted, improvised and sometimes even prospered.   There are usual lesson that can be drawn from that experience.

Brazilian institutions are different from American ones in the extent that they are almost entirely government funded and they don’t make much use of volunteers, which are a big deal in the U.S.   Smithsonian, for example, has around 6000 employees and a similar number of volunteers.  And these volunteers do substantive and important work.  Few American institutions could operate if their volunteers went away.

Smithsonian is an example of public-private partnership.  The government funds 62% of the budget and the rest is raised from corporate or private donors.  There is an important division of labor between the two sources of funding.  Government funds cover buildings and basic operations, the things that you really need to make any institution function but don’t usually see or notice as long as they are working.  Private funding is concentrated on the things that show.   Private donors want to fund things they can see and/or things they have passion about.   Nobody wants to fund search and destroy operations for fungus or bugs, but these things are crucial.  The same usually goes for hidden assets like plumbing or wiring.  You need something cool to attract private funders.

What the government funding essentially supplies is the box or the venue into which privately funded expositions go.  It is an effective model.   The U.S. has great museums and more importantly cultural instructions are spread throughout our country.  One big reason this works like this is the funding mechanism I talked about above plus the fact that we DON’T have a Ministry of Culture. 

Our system essentially decentralizes cultural decision making.  In a county like France, which prides itself on culture, decisions are made by erudite professionals in Paris and it is no surprise that Paris is full of great cultural institution.  Not so much the smaller towns.  The American system distributes money and decision making power.  It is the best system in our very large and diverse country.   I observe that Brazil is more like the U.S. than it is like France and our experience will be useful.

Brazil often tries to be centralized but doesn’t always succeed.  There are historical and cultural obstacles.  Brazil, like the U.S. is just very big and then there is the drift of history.  The U.S. was lucky (& leaders like Jefferson and Madison were foresighted) in that the financial & cultural center was not also the national capital.   This makes it more difficult and less natural to concentrate everything in the capital.   In the U.S. the most money, best brains, most important culture and political power never pools up in the same place.

America’s financial capital was in Philadelphia and then New York, never in Washington.   The United States has never had a cultural center the way France does.  New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and lots of others can claim to have the best of one thing or another, but none predominates, and you can find world class cultural offerings all over the place, in Milwaukee, Kansas City or Minneapolis as well as New York or Washington.  Even when there are troubles, the system is strong.

Things are not so dispersed in Brazil but the principle holds. Brasília is certainly not the financial or cultural capital of Brazil.  Even when the capital was in Rio de Janeiro, there was a strong rival in São Paulo and there were alternative centers in Rio Grande do Sul, Minas Gerais and Bahia.  Much political power could be officially centralized in Brasília, but Brasília, like Washington but unlike Paris, Rome or even London did not have the force of its own cultural and economic gravity.  This works to the benefit of a big country because it includes many more people in decisions and takes better advantage of diverse conditions and the imagination and intelligence of people all over the country.  

Anyway, I believe that the contacts fostered between Smithsonian and various Brazilian friends will pay dividends for everybody involved.  Knowledge is a wonderful thing.  It actually increases when shared and the more of it you “consume” the more you have.  We took steps in the creation of more knowledge and understanding.

My picture up top shows the model of the Museum of Tomorrow; below is rain outside the Foundation.

September 21, 2012

Smithsonian goes south

Garden in Petropolis 

Smithsonian signed an agreement with Ibram, which is the closest Brazilian counterpart.  They will exchange scholars, cooperate on collections and generally build joint capacity.  This is a good example of a sustainable exchange, a win-win where everyone gives, everyone gets and the total good increases.  There is a link to a story about it here.  My boss Ambassador Shannon had a good statement, which I will steal and use myself.

He said it originally in Portuguese - “Essa parceria firmada entre Smithsonian e Ibram é um ato de respeito mútuo que abre espaço para todos os nossos povos entenderem melhor a importância da cultura e das democracias e começarem a construir uma rede de acordos conectando os museus em todas as Américas para realizar nossa capacidade de sermos americanos no sentido original da palavra”

My quick translation – This partnership signed between Smithsonian and Ibram is an act of mutual respect which opens a space for all our people to better understand the importance of culture and of democracies; we are constructing a web of agreements connecting museums in all of the Americas in order to achieve our capacity to be Americans in the broad sense of the word.

My picture is only tangentially related to the text.  I took it in Petrópolis, where we went, among other places, as part of the Smithsonian project.

September 17, 2012

Dry Season

Dry season 

It has not rained for more than ninety days and that was an unusual rain. I remember because it rained on the day Espen arrived in Brasília, June 16.  I told him that it would not rain while he was in Brasília. I was wrong but  rain in June is a rare occurrence. We have had not much rain for four months and none at all for three. Within a two or three week, however, the rain will start and then is will rain every day until next April.

It is springtime in Brazil or will be in a few days, but it has the feeling of fall, since many of the trees are now dropping their leaves.  There is not a long time of bareness. In this tropical climate, they just drop them and replace, but having the leaves underfoot seems like fall.  Of course, the anomaly are the flowering trees. This gives us a springtime feel. Very confusing for a child of the temperate forests like me. 

This is the hottest part of the year. The sun is strong and there are few clouds. When the rain comes, it gets cooler. It is also smoky this time of year, enough to make your eyes hurt, as there are lots of grass and brush fires. Generally, I will be happy to see the rain, although the dry season has the advantage of certainty. You can go somewhere secure in the knowledge that it will not rain nor will the temperature vary much.

The picture is my backyard. I don't water the lawn, as you see, so the grass doesn't grow. The yellow trees are ipé. They are very pretty. Mine are not very big. A few days of rain will make all that brown grass turn vibrantly green. It is a spectacular & very rapid change.

September 16, 2012

Shared immigration heritage

Shared heritage festival 

The “Shared Heritage” seminars in São Paulo held at SESC Bom Retiro concerned recent immigration and labor force development in Brazil and the U.S.  The Bom Retiro area has traditionally been a place where immigrants landing when they came to Brazil, so holding the event here made sense.

Both our countries have been nations of immigration. Both experience big waves of immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, sometimes from the same places and there are cases when Americans and Brazilians can trace their families to the same places at the same times. One group went south and the other north.  The same wave of Italian immigrants, for example, hit Brazil and the U.S. about the same time.

One interesting difference is the Japanese.  São Paulo has the largest Japanese population outside Japan and much of it results from U.S. policy. In 1907, the Japanese Government voluntarily limited Japanese immigration to the U.S. in the “Gentlemen's Agreement.”  Japanese immigration was redirected toward Brazil.  In general, Brazil received many immigrants who would have gone to the U.S. after the 1924 Immigration Act in the U.S., which limited immigration by establishing quotas based on the composition of the U.S. population in 1890.  This limited immigration for people from southern and eastern Europe, some of whom ended up in Brazil.

The U.S. went through a period of low immigration from the 1920s until the 1965 Immigration Act changed that.  In 1940, only 4.7% of the American population was foreign born.  Today it is nearly 12%.  President Johnson said and experts agreed that 1965 Act would not significantly change the demographic makeup of the U.S.; they were massively mistaken.  This gave us the immigration experience we have today and which we were sharing with Brazil.

Brazil’s experience mirrors ours.  Their immigration was greater when ours was smaller and smaller in recent years when ours was higher, although for different reasons.  Brazil in recent decades was a country of emigration, with more people leaving than coming.   There was a lot of internal migration from the poor Northeast to the richer Southeast, but immigration to Brazil was small. This is changing.  As Brazil has enjoyed sustained economic growth, it is beginning to draw in immigrants again.  This trend will be reinforced by the rapidly dropping fertility rate among the native Brazilian population.  Already there are reports of labor shortages.

The interesting thing about immigration is that it is changing so much that we may not recognize it.  Birth rates are dropping all over the world.  Places like Brazil and Mexico are now below replacement rate.  The time when we had floods of immigrants may be over and we may be looking at shortages of talent and workers.  It will be an interesting turn-around.  We and our Brazilian friends are in very much the same boat.

September 13, 2012

Bonds Lasting and Abiding

Julliard piano playing 

Success in public affairs is not easy to measure. The paths of influence are indirect and effect may remain unknown for a long time and obvious never.  That is why I am faith-based.  I have faith that building contacts between the American people and the Brazilian people will result in sustainable understanding and cooperation. We do this with our support of educational exchanges, especially Science w/o Borders.  But man does not live by science alone.  Cultural ties can be long lasting and enriching to the lives of those touched.   But supporting culture seems a luxury and it is harder to justify.  IMO, the relationships count, whether we make them via science or music or anything else.   

Julliard, with the support of Consulate in São Paulo, has been working with Brazilians for several years through exchanges and contacts.  Now Julliard is considering opening a permanent presence in São Paulo, specifically working with a local instruction, Santa Marcelina Cultura that helps underprivileged youth.  It is indeed doing good, changing lives for the better, but that is not why we should support this kind of thing with our time and taxpayer money.  We are interested in the sustained connections and relationships it creates. 

I attended a party last night to support the Julliard connection.  The Consulate’s time and seed money is now bearing fruit.  This party was designed to create relationships of a different but related kind.  This was a fundraising to build support among the business community.  Our part is mostly done. Our job now is to provide what I would call diplomatic cover.  We show up at events which lends our prestige and imprimatur. This still makes a difference. It is very beneficial to us, since we can meet important people, see and be seen. But now the American and Brazilian nations will take up the activities and support. This kind of non-governmental support for the arts is relatively new in Brazil. Certainly there have long been patrons of the arts and other charities, but the spontaneous organization of what amounts to task forces to raise money and commit time is relatively new. 

A couple did the party in their home.  Two Julliard students dis a short performance.  The piano was more than 100 years old.  They played beautifully and obviously their love of music had enriched their lives.  Also obvious was the strength of the connection between the Americans and Brazilians created by the love of music.  This is a lasting and abiding bond.  

September 11, 2012

New Exchanges

hawk 

U.S. Embassy/Fulbright Commission agreement with the Brazilian Ministry of Education’s Coordination for the Improvement of Education Personnel (CAPES) expands from 50 to 540 the number of scholarships in the U.S. for public school English language teachers

September 10 marked the signing ceremony and official launch of the expanded program to send 540 Brazilian public school English language teachers to the United States in January 2013.  Ministry of Education sees this program as a big step in Minister Mercadante’s “Schools without Borders” initiative. The concept is similar to “Science without Borders”. “Schools without Borders” will provide opportunities for primary/secondary educators to learn about national and international best practices in education, share experiences, globalize their classrooms and, thus improve the quality of public education in Brazil. 

This exchange program results from the close cooperation among the Embassy Public Affairs Office with support from the RELO, the Fulbright Commission, and the Brazilian Ministry of Education’s Coordination for the Improvement of Education Personnel (CAPES).  It started much smaller in 2011 with an eight-week program in the U.S.  for 20 public school English language teachers – 10 funded by the USG, 10 by the GOB.  Impressed by the success, the GOB funded 40 participants this year. USG support remained at ten.  Next year an even greater push from the Brazilian government will offer 540 slots, 20 teachers from each of the 26 Brazilian states and the Federal District.  This group will be spread across universities throughout the U.S. Participants will attend specialized, six-week professional development programs to enhance their English language teaching skills and appreciation of U.S. culture.

Brazilian government officials hope and believe that this imitative jump start efforts to quickly improve the levels of English competency and internationalization in Brazilian public schools. They express their gratitude to the U.S. for being so willing and able to help. We believe that the connections made between American institutions and the Brazilian educational system will create benefits for generations to come for our country and theirs. Everybody wins.

If you read Portuguese, you can read about it here.

My picture is a hawk from outside CAPES. They sit out there and dive on pigeons.  You can look at them through the windows, but they cannot see you, so they are not startled. 

9/11

flag at half mastWe did only a private commemoration of 9/11 this year. It has been eleven years.  The 10th anniversary was much bigger. We did some social media outreach and made announcements, but the public part of our commemoration was not large. 

We did have a sympathetic groups of Brazilian Federal Police show up to support. They had the other motivation to call attention to what they said was inadequate security preparations in Brazil for big events like the World Cup and the Olympics.

 

 

 

 

Never forget 

September 04, 2012

Casa Thomas Jefferson Again

 

It is always fun to go to the Casa Thomas Jefferson graduation.  It is the culmination of a lot of work and initiative.  It is good to see such virtue. 

There were three particularly interesting stories this time. One of the speeches was delivered by one of the oldest graduates.  He was an air traffic controller who had learned English as an adult. This is hard enough to do, but he also learned English while working full-time.  It is a heroic achievement.  The other speaker was more traditional.  His parents enrolled him in CTJ when he was a kid.  He talked about the years of study at CTJ and said it wasn’t always much fun.  He went on to say that his parents always said that English was the key to success, the international language that everyone had to learn to move ahead. He also said his parents said that he would thank them some day.  He said they were right and thanked them. It was a very nice moment.  The third person didn’t appear on stage, actually two people in this story.  The one was a guy who had been a janitor at CTJ for almost twenty-five years.  The other was his son, graduating with this year’s class.  Both evidently loved the institution, although for slightly different reasons.

These stories are illustrative of the new Brazil, people taking advantage of opportunities and rising through their merits but with the help and support of the broader community.  Ambassador Shannon gave a good speech highlighting the new Brazil. He also presented a certificate of appreciation to Ana Maria Assumpção, who retired as director this year with a total of thirty-eight years of service at CTJ.  There is a lot of tradition in CTJ.  Some of the students are now third generation, i.e. their parents and grandparents were associated with CTJ.

They will celebrate their fiftieth anniversary next year. Casa Thomas Jefferson has grown much bigger and much better in those fifty years.  Actually, they grew along with Brasília.  They now have six campuses all around the city and eight more in association with public schools.  At any one time, they have around 16,000 students. 

They are good friends and help us a lot, which is one reason I always try to take part in their events.  We will hold this year’s election night celebration at the Lago Sul branch of CTJ this year, as we did four years ago.

September 02, 2012

Brasilia Education Fair

Tables at Education USA in Brasilia 

EducationUSA held its first ever educational fair in Brasília.  Sixty-six American universities came along with Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Francisco Sánchez. This was the largest educational trade mission ever organized by Commerce.  So we have a lots of firsts.

Casa Thomas Jefferson table 

A few more facts - Casa Thomas Jefferson organized the fair.  Each of the schools pays around $1200.00 for their table and it costs about $35,000.00 to stage the event, so organizers make some money on the fairs that they plow back into educational advising.  About 1000 prospective students preregistered the fair and more than 2500 showed up.  I don’t know how many students universities actually recruit, but they evidently think it is worth the price of admission and the expense of sending their representatives.

Sanchez at Education FairThe day started with Denise from CAPES explaining Science w/o Borders to the assembled representatives. Science w/o Borders is starting to resolve itself into a recognizable form.  Denise explained that it wasn’t always like this.  Last year there was nothing. All the structures were created on the fly. The university reps were very interested in SwB.  In fact, that interest goes some way in explaining why such a big group showed up.

Ambassador Shannon and U/S Sanchez officially opened the fair, after which the reps dispersed to their tables where they pretty much stay for the next six or seven hours.  You can see what the place looks like in the pictures.  It is a profession that requires a strong bladder.  The setup here looks the same anywhere in the world.  I walked around for a while and talked to dozens of the reps.  I tried to hang around only when no potentially paying customers were nearby and left before the biggest crowds converged on the place.

I had a good talk with Jose Santiago, representative of ETS.  They have expanded their offer of TOEFL tests to meet the vastly increased demand provoked by SwB.

My pictures show the tables at the fair, Case Thomas Jefferson registration table, U/S Sanchez opening the fair and below is the street outside.  I arrived way early.  Nobody was there yet and the city was very peaceful.

Brasilia Street 

September 01, 2012

We Did it Again (Take that you pessimists)

Wood is an excellent building material. It is easy to manipulate, a good insulator and wood is completely renewable as well as biodegradable. It is more environmentally benign than competing materials like concrete or steel in its full lifecycle and wood is always at least carbon neutral & actually removes CO2 from the air. But wood has suffered from a big weakness; it was not strong enough to build tall structures. Until now.   

Cross-laminated timber (CLT) can transform the way in which wood is used. CLT can be used to replace pre-fabricated concrete panels or even steel in building. The Australians are currently building a ten story wood apartment building in Melbourne using CLT and experts believe that building as high as fifteen stories should be possible in the near future. This makes wood a suitable building material in all but the tallest buildings and goes a long way toward a sustainable future. But there is more.

A really exciting new development is nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC). You may not have heard of this before because technologies needed to understand it, like electron scanning microscopes, were unavailable until recently. Experts quoted in the link above think that NCC will replace metal and plastic in many applications and could make nonorganic plastics obsolete in the not-too-distant future and the U.S. National Science Foundation predicts will become a $600 billion industry by 2020.

NCC has mechanical properties comparable to stainless steel or Kevlar and has a strength to weight ratio eight times better than steel. "It is the natural, renewable version of a carbon nanotube at a fraction of the price," according to Jeff Youngblood of Purdue University's NanoForestry Institute in West Lafayette, Indiana.

So the future for wood is bright, which has wonderful consequences for the environment and for America. The U.S. can produce all the wood fiber it needs in completely sustainable and often environmentally positive ways.

The world develops in unexpected ways. We often fear the future because it is unknown. We project our current problems forward and they seem unsolvable. They usually ARE unsolvable given the current state of technolgoy and development. The variables we too often leave out of the equation are human innovation, imagination and intelligence. Our resources are not fixed. They grow larger based on our abilities to use them. I wrote not long ago about the boom in shale oil that has vaulted the U.S. into world leadership in reduction of CO2.

This was predicted by nobody even five or ten years ago. In fact, had you mentioned such a possibility back in 2002 you would have been called all sorts of names, none of them synonyms for honest or intelligence. We are looking at a better than expected future. A related development is the shift of the energy center of gravity from those unstable regions of the Middle East to the Americas and maybe the Atlantic parts of Africa.

Those pessimists who project our problems forward and fear we will never solve them are right. Generally speaking, history shows that we almost never SOLVE problems; we transcend them.

As we replace non-renewable or environmentally unfriendly materials with those sourced in something as abundant and renewable as wood, we are fulfilling the impossible dreams of a previous generation of environmentalists and we are doing while increasing our country's wealth and prosperity. I am fond of the future since I plan to live there for the rest of my life. It looks like it will be much better than the places I used to live.


Hosting by Yahoo!