June 12, 2012

Learning a Little More about how Brazil Works

 Brazilian Congress 

I spoke to a senior analyst at the Camara dos Deputados Office of Legislative Counsel. He is a former IVLP and subsequently did graduate work at the University of California at Berkeley, so he knows something both about Brazil and the U.S. His organization is much like a CRS, but maybe a bit more hand on in helping with the drafting of legislation. It does general studies of important subjects, as well as supports the legislators with specific research. We talked about the Brazilian government and how it is similar and different from ours.

The many similarities to the U.S. system is not an accident. The new Brazilian republic used the U.S. as a model. Rui Barbosa, the chief architect of the Constitution of 1891 (Brazil’s first republican constitution), looked toward the U.S., specifically rejecting French style constitutional thinking then lingering in South America. Brazil was once called the United States of Brazil. We see many familiar forms. Brazil has a President elected to a four year term by popular vote. There is nothing like our Electoral College. There is a Senate (Brazilian senators are elected to eight year terms with three from each of the 26 states and three from the Federal District for a total of 81), a House of Representatives (513 deputies, who are elected by proportional representation to serve four-year terms) and a Supreme Court (eleven members appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate). Like the U.S., Brazil is a federation of states, although the states do not have all the same sovereign rights as those in the U.S. An important difference in origin is that in the U.S. the states created the Federal government while in Brazil the Federal government created the states.

Ministries in Brasilia 

The Brazilian system gives more power to the president than ours does. The executive originates the budget. The congress authorizes spending, but in practice does not resist presidential initiatives. The president also has significant power to issue what we would call executive orders. These have the power of law unless the congress negates them within two months. More and more laws are being promulgated in this way. The president also has significant power to move resources. This makes congress more dependent on presidential favor.

Fire near Lake Paranoa in Brasilia 

You can tell where power concentrates by the number of deputies and senators who leave the congress to run for local office. Rather than working up toward the Federal level, many politicians look at the job in congress as a stepping stone to becoming a mayor or governor in their home states. I don’t recall this happening often in the U.S.

Osmar also told me that the courts are moving in the unexpected direction of essentially making law by means of their decisions. This happens in the U.S., but it is more surprising in Brazil, which is a primarily a code law country w/o our strong common law traditions of precedents.

Window view of Brasilia 

Of course, Brazil and the U.S. are different in many ways, given the differences in our history and cultures, but having in common being very large countries with lots of diversity tends to pull us in many of the same directions. Both the U.S. and Brazil are countries of aspiration, i.e. people can a long way away and still remain in the same country. This means that they can aspire to better their lives by moving to follow opportunities. We talked about changes in the last twenty-five years with migration of people from Rio Grande do Sul and Parana as a kind of case study. These people followed the agricultural frontier, trading relatively small holdings in their home states for much bigger places in states like Mato Grosso, Rondonia or Pará. Cities such as Santarém in Pará are heavily Gaucho and the prospering farms in western Bahia are often owned by former residents of the South. They brought their skills and habits with them, but also quickly blended in with Brazilians already there. In our country you might see this kind of pattern with Californians moving to other states of the west. I remember people in eastern Washington State complaining that they were being “Californicated.” I would not want to take the parallel too far, but it does exist.

Anyway, I despair of really getting to know Brazil.  It is way too big and complex and by the time I learn something, it is likely to have changed.  When I talk to Brazilians about comparisons of my country with theirs, I often realize how much about my own country I just don’t know. I suppose I should just enjoy the quest of trying to find out.

April 10, 2012

Consulate will Reopen in Porto Alegre

Brazilian silk trees bloom in Porto Alegre Park 

I got to go to Porto Alegre to tell the Gauchos that we were going to reopen the consulate in Porto Alegre. Well, not really inform, confirm. Everybody who might care already knew. It had leaked in Washington and was becoming general knowledge. Nevertheless, confirmation was appreciated. I got to do print, radio and TV.They appreciated my enthusiasm and previous connections to Porto Alegre. Mariza being born there was a big hit.

This is the link to my video interview

I did the usual public affairs work besides this.  The Federal university did its first CONX program.   They gathered about a dozen students to talk about U.S. elections with an American expert.  Universities in Santa Catarina, São Paulo, Pernambuco and Roraima also participated, presumably with similar gatherings.  

Beer market in Porto Alegre 

I spoke with deans at the Federal University about connections with American universities.  We agreed that so much is happening that it is hard to keep track.  It is an embarrassment of riches. But we have to get a handle on it.  It is great when professors set up cooperation or exchanges, but the key to happiness is sustainability.  We need champions to get things rolling but we need institutional relationship to keep it moving.

Rua Santo Ignacio in Porto Alegre 

My last stop was the law school. They are working on investment laws. I didn’t know, but they told me, that Brazil has no bilateral investment treaties. This obviously is not a crippling impediment to investment, since there is a lot of it here and American firms have been investing in Brazil for hundreds of years.  But it does add to uncertainty and creates unnecessary risk. Until recently, the Brazilians were not very interested in the idea of investment agreements, but now that Brazilian firms are making big investments elsewhere, interest is growing. We (in this case the Consulate in São Paulo) will probably participate in a program on investment law in September.

Law school at URGS 

In the evening I had churrasco with Elio Lee, a friend from my first time in Porto Alegre. We have both grown older, but after a little while we found that we had not changed all that much. 

Porto Alegre has really improved. I was not bad before, but today it has become a truly pleasant town.  The neighborhood where we once lived, moinhos de vento, was a nice place back then. Today it is positively great, with lots of nice little shops and restaurants within minutes of our old apartment. You can see our old street, Rua Santo Ignacio, and a nice beer restaurant in the pictures. We could have bought the condominium apartment for around $60,000 back then. Today it would cost millions. We missed that boat. Of course, back then we didn’t have money to invest anyway.

March 27, 2012

Stuck in São Paulo … And Enjoying it

Ibis Hotel from Congonas Airport parking in Sao Paulo 

It is not so bad to be stuck with little to do. I find it is among the best times to think. I planned a longer day in São Paulo than I had, i.e. I didn’t leave until 8pm, but my program for the day ended at 4:30. My last appointment of the day was at a meeting at the Coligação of binational centers, where we formally launched English3. It was at the Ibis hotel, right across from the Congonhas airport. My picture up top is taken from the roof of the parking garage at the airport, where I enjoyed the cool shades of evening spreading across the plaza. There is a foot bridge connecting the Ibis neighborhood to the airport, which is otherwise separated by a busy highway, below. I didn’t know it was so close and was going to take a taxi, until the guy at the hotel said it would take more time to ride than it would to walk; it was only a five minute walk. A taxi would have to have driven a mile out in a big circle to get across the road.

Road in Sao Paulo near Congonhas Airport 

There was no line at check in, so time I had and I saw a few things I never would have. For example, there is a good churrascaria just across the street. I got a good meal there for $R12, which is less than 1/3 of what I would pay in near my house in Brasília. I also noticed the heroes of Brazilian aviation, pictured below.

Pilot memorials at Congonhas Airport, Sao Paulo 

Generally, however, it was just nice to have a couple hours of enforced lethargy. IMO, lack of such moments is harmful to people. We are always connected and so rarely reflect. Not that I came up with any great thoughts in the past couple of hours, but I did get that peaceful, easy feeling that comes from being well balanced. This is a feeling I get too infrequently in our connections rich environment. Much of my best work and almost all my best ideas come after some time like this, although usually not immediately. There is a lag time, maybe a gestation period.

Sao Paulo scene 

Coincidentally, I was listening to an interview with an author of a book on how creative ideas are made.  He talked about research that indicated what most of us know intuitively but often do not act on. Many good ideas come from the relaxed spirit. Running too fast and too long can result in you getting nowhere. Glad I got “stuck” and glad I didn’t bother to turn on the Blackberry.

Savana Churascaria in Sao Paulo near Congonhas Airport 

Much of São Paulo is unattractive, but I like “my” parts. And I like to walk around town. Now I have a new restaurant (pictured above. I recommend it) to visit at the airport on the way home.

March 13, 2012

My Food Crops


I don’t put enough time into gardening to be really good at it and my harvests result more from luck and the inherent characteristics of the plants themselves. I would starve if I had to depend on the produce from my soil. But I will be better next time. This year was a learning time. There are seasons in Brasília, even if it is a place of eternal springtime. After spending a year here, I hope I will have a better understanding of the subtlety of my garden. The obvious seasonal difference is the rainy versus the dry season.


As I explained in earlier posts, Brasília is a very strange place with regards to water. It is like a desert during the dry season, but unlike a place like Arizona there is no shortage of water on the Brazilian high plains. More rain falls in a couple days during the rainy season here than falls in Phoenix all year long. You could water your gardens and lawns every day w/o running afoul of water restrictions or even feeling bad about wasting a scarce resource. 

Most of my neighbors are profligate water users and they can be because of the unique nature of the water cycles here. I did not and do not plan to soak my grass during the dry season. It is less because I want to conserve water, which around here really doesn’t make a difference, and more because I prefer not to have to mow the lawn so often. I did and will water my flower and vegetable garden, but it is not as easy as that.

It doesn’t seem like you can dump enough water on the garden during the dry season, at least I didn’t. I planted tomatoes, watermelons and lots of flowers.  They grew fitfully until the rainy season, when they went through a phase change. I suppose it is a matter of how much irrigation you use. Brazilians successfully grow all sorts of fruit and vegetable around here, so it must be possible

Wax beans

I also need to analyze my soil. The gardener told me that the local soil is poor and sour/acid. I have been adding organic material, i.e. grass clippings, peels etc. but that doesn’t much change the Ph. I hope that Espen will be here during this U.S. Summer. I will have to feed him a higher quality diet than I eat, which means I will be grilling more and producing wood/charcoal ash that I can use as potash to sweeten the soil.  I will get my soil in shape just about the time I leave. The Embassy will probably plant grass on my erstwhile garden and future tenants in my house will notice that the grass grows faster on that spot, but they won’t know why.


You can see in my pictures that my crops are almost ready to eat. I didn’t have much luck with lettuce.  It is just starting to come up now.  I think that birds ate the seeds.  Well … I did a poor job of planting. Lettuce seeds are very small.  I had trouble with them as they stuck to my fingers and got lost in the dirt.  I should have started them in pots and then moved them. Instead I put them directly into the Brazilian clay with poor results. I planted the tomatoes seeds directly into the soil and it worked out okay. Tomatoes are forgiving, however. I only need to get one or two plants to work in order to produce more tomatoes than I could eat.  The big surprise is the watermelons. I grew them from seeds of a particularly good watermelon.  The vines grew slowly, with lots of flowers but only one fruit, which was damaged by some animal and rotted inside.  I gave up, but didn’t bother to pull out the vines.  I was surprised how they grew and then only a couple weeks ago I got a profusion of melons. I counted eleven, a few of which are getting pretty big. I read that you pick them when the stem entering the melon turns yellow. I consume one watermelon every two weeks, so if even a few of these come to sweet maturity I will be set for months.

Banana Plant 

I didn’t include a picture of my sweet corn because it is depressing. It just has not grown up to its promising start. I will leave it alone, however. Maybe it will work out as the watermelon did. My banana tree is growing robustly, but I am told that it will not produce bananas for about a year and half.

It is a lot of work to dig up all plants and create a garden and I don't always have time to do it. I will work on this a little at time, incorporate my compost etc. and have it ready for the next rainy season. Next year will be better, with my improved soil and enhanced experience. The wonderful thing about gardening is that you get many chances for iterative learning and improvement.

March 10, 2012

ACCESS to a Better Life in Taguatinga

English Access students in Taguatinga Brazil 

It is always an honor to meet kids that are so hard-working and a pleasure to share in their aspirations.  This is what I got to do yesterday at the Casa Thomas Jefferson branch in Taguatinga, a satellite city near Brasília, when I met this year’s English ACCESS students and presented them with their scholarship certificates. 

Fifty-four new students got ACCESS scholarships, which gives them two years of English study at our BNC (We cover the cost of fifty; CTJ adds in four more.) The kids are all low income and from disadvantaged backgrounds. English will give them a big boost and will help boost their communities.  Being involved is also good public diplomacy for us.  It helps build and maintain the web of relationships on which our good relations ultimately depend.

English student and me  

Relationships are why I think it is so important for us – for me – to be part of these things.  I was talking to my colleague Marcia about that on the way to Taguatinga. Since I just got back to Brazil the morning before, I had a lot of work to catch up, lots of paper to push.  I was really “too busy” to take the time out for this ceremony. But we work through Brazilian people. My job is relationships. Paper pushing is only a means to that goal. Our program CAN go by itself.  We can pay the money and forget about it. But that is like planting a garden and not taking advantage of the fruits and flowers.

Taguatinga Brazil street 

An American diplomat is sufficiently rare in the lives of these students that I believe that they will long remember that I shook their hands, called them by their names and gave them their certificates.  It gives their program an American face – literally.  Of course, I also had the chance to renew my acquaintance with school leaders from Brasília and our friend at the BNC. This is what public diplomacy is about.

Marcia wrote my comments, which I have included below for reference. I still don’t trust my Portuguese to completely.  Besides, at official events it is important to hit the main points but not to talk too long. W/o prepared remarks, I tend to ramble on too long.  I ad-libbed a few comments at the end. I thought it was important to tell them a little about their own importance for the future of their country. Talented people have the privilege and a duty to develop their skills for the good of their country and the world in general.  We need to remind ourselves and others of that. I find that most young people are receptive to that message.  They want to be part of something bigger than their daily lives. I also wanted to remind everybody about the Science w/o Borders initiative and the opportunities and responsibilities that it brings.

The CTJ in branch in Taguatinga teaches around 1,250 students. Among them are 250 who get their instruction at a local High School – Leonardo Da Vinci – after school. CTJ pays the school 10% of what they get in tuition. It is easier for students just to stay a little longer at school than it is to fight traffic to get to the CTJ facilities. This is a good partnership that benefits all around.

CTJ people tell me that there can be significant differences among the students they attract in different locations.  The Lago Sul campus gets mostly upper and middle class students.  They often spend a long time at CTJ and learn to speak English almost flawlessly. Taguatinga is not much like Lago Sul. Most of the students there are poor and many come from single parent households. It is harder for them to continue their English educations, but it is a tribute to them and their parents that they continue to show up. 

The ACCESS program in Taguatinga has an excellent retention record, despite the challenges of its students.  Of the 54 students who entered the two-year program in March of last year, 52 have returned for the second. CTJ staff is active in creating this happy result. The CTJ teachers and administrators take it personally. I heard one story about a young woman from last year’s class who was going to drop out. She was getting married and her prospective husband thought that she had better uses for her time than to study English. The CTJ director called the future husband and explained what a rare opportunity this was and that he should not take it away from her.  The young man relented and the young woman returned to class to finish what she had begun.   I wonder what changes this intervention will make in her life and the life of her community.

In all there are 1,147 students in the ACCESS program in Brazil, in Recife, Sao Paulo, Salvador, Porto Alegre, Manaus, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte and here in Brasilia.

My picture up top is the class picture. You may notice that most people seem not to be looking at the camera.  This is because there were multiple cameras. The picture taking can take a long time; everybody wants a photo.  The middle picture is a student from last year's class and me. She had the scary task of giving a speech in English to the new students. She did very well. The bottom picture is the street outside the BNC.

Remarks below, FYI:

- Muito obrigado, Ana Maria!  

-  Muito obrigado à Casa Thomas Jefferson, à Secretaria de Educação do Distrito Federal e à Diretoria Regional de Ensino do Recanto das Emas pela importante parceria na implementação do Programa ACCESS.

- Bom dia, alunos do programa ACCESS e PARABÉNS pela bolsa de estudos!  

- Vocês agora são alunos ACCESS da Casa Thomas Jefferson e participantes nesse importante programa de ensino de inglês, cultura americana e responsabilidade social.

- Sintam-se orgulhosos!  Vocês fazem parte de um grupo de aproximadamente 1,150 (mil, cento e cinquenta) bolsistas Access espalhados pelo Brasil em cidades como Brasília, Manaus, Recife, Salvador, São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro e Porto Alegre. 

-  À medida em que o Brasil cresce no cenário internacional, surgem muitas oportunidades e é muito bom ver que vocês já estão começando a se preparar aprendendo inglês.

- Além de abrir portas no mundo profissional, o inglês também permitirá que vocês busquem interessantes oportunidades de estudo no exterior, com programas como o Jovens Embaixadores, o Ciência sem Fronteiras e muitos outros que existem.

- Sejam curiosos, perguntem, participem e aprendam bastante.  Da próxima vez que eu me encontrar com vocês, conversaremos em inglês,

- Novamente, parabéns e muito sucesso para vocês!

-  Muito obrigado!

February 27, 2012

There is a Tide

Hermes at Rockefeller Center 

Our group of Brazilian education leaders has been getting a great reception everywhere we go and I understand that our partner groups on the West Coast and in the Midwest are enjoying similar results. No surprise really.  The Brazilians are spending $3 billion to send 100,000 of their best and brightest students overseas to enrich the educational environment.   


There is more, however.  This is the perfect time to be working with Brazil. The country is emerging as a cultural and economic power and is striving to have its STEM education match its new wealth and position.  American instructions, independent of the Science w/o Borders initiative, have decided that it is time to expand in Brazil. They want a bigger network of connections and alumni in the vast country that makes up half of Latin America.

New_York Rockefeller_Center_front 

There is also the matter of diversification.  Most STEM programs have lots of foreign students, but there is a great preponderance of Chinese and Indian students.  There is nothing wrong with this, but you lose the advantages of diversity if you have less of it.  

Having a larger number of students from a place like Brazil will bring in their unique experiences and talents, adding another ingredient to the powerful mix & besides those countries already sending large numbers of students (i.e. East Asia, India & some rich Arab countries), there are not as many sources as you might think.  Europeans are largely being absorbed into their own international system, i.e. a German student can very easily study in Italy or Spain, where the systems are more compatible and they have ERASMUS program that helps pay for their study and lets them work. Many other parts of the world do not have either large numbers of qualified students or cannot afford to send them. 


Brazil, in fact, was a more difficult case until the Science w/o Borders initiative and a good case study for how it can be difficult. The older generation of Brazilian scholars (i.e. people like me and older) was actually MORE likely to have international experience than those a bit younger. This was the ironic result of improvements in Brazilian universities coupled with challenging economic times. Until the 1970s, many of the best and brightest Brazilians studied overseas because there were few alternatives at home. One of Brazil’s educational successes of the last generations was to create an excellent university system.  But this kept Brazilians at home.  Of course, they were also kept at home by the hard economic times of the 1970s and 1980s, the hyperinflation and the decline of their purchasing power. This situation has completely turned around.

Brazil is a country of continental proportions. Like the U.S., it could and did absorb the energy of most of its people.  So instead of an international experience, a Brazilian who wanted to go far from home could simply go to a different state, like a New Yorker might go to Wisconsin to study. Unfortunately, the system did not develop much capacity to attract foreign students.  Even in large universities in Brazil, you can often count the number of foreign students on your hands. Only PUC in Rio has a large contingent of foreign students.  This is also something that needs to change. 

A second theme of our education mission, something that may become even more important than the actual Science w/o Borders program, is to create connections among Brazilian and American institutions, so that we get a two-way flow. Not only do Brazilians come to America, but Americans go to Brazil. We have a lot to learn from each other. 

I have been encouraged by the interest in Brazil among Americans but dismayed by the lack of practical knowledge.  Brazil seems a far off land of which we know little. Few Americans study Portuguese and an annoying number think that Brazilians speak Spanish. We should know more about the biggest country is South America. Relations between our two great democracies will continue to improve, but we need to know each other better. 

Science w/o Borders should jump-start this rediscovery. This is really something big and we are certainly not starting from scratch. Brazil is a fellow Western democracy, a partner in the Americas. We are old friends, who have just not kept up. The U.S. was the first country in the world to recognize Brazilian independence.  We have worked closely over the years. We were allies in World War II. Our scientist, leaders and people collaborate well. An American in Brazil recognizes familiar brands and American firms are present and making products in Brazil.  On the other side, Brazilian firms are present in the U.S. Budweiser beer is owned by a Brazilian multinational as are Burger King Restaurants, among others. It is just time to get to know each other better again and renew our wonderful friendship. The opportunity is now.

Maybe time for the Shakespeare quote:

"There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures." 

I cannot add anything more, except to write that my pictures are all from Rockefeller Plaza in New York. They are related to the text only in that I wrote this the same day I took the pictures. 

February 16, 2012

Making Science w/o Borders a Reality

We are taking some of our Brazilian friends on the road, or maybe they are taking us. The bottom line is that twenty-eight leaders of Brazilian universities are going to the U.S. and I get to go with them along with the executive director of Fulbright in Brazil and one of my Brazilian Embassy colleagues. We will break into three groups going to the east, west and middle of the U.S.  The first goal is to sell leaders of American institutions on Brazil and sell Brazilians on American institutions. 

That will be the easy part. Enthusiasm for exchange is through the roof. The second goal is harder: we need to channel that enthusiasm into practical results with real-live students and scholars moving between our two countries.  

This is a Brazilian program; we are helping them and helping ourselves by making sure they get a good reception in the U.S.  Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff set in motion her plan, Ciência sem fronteiras or Science w/o Borders, to send 100,000 Brazilians to study overseas in the STEM fields (Science, technology, engineering & math).  Half should go to the United States.  President Obama’s 100,000 Strong for the Americas aspires to send students from the U.S. in the other direction.  

Currently around 9000 Brazilians are studying in the U.S.; not many considering there are more than 192 million Brazilians.  The Brazilians hope to get four or five times that number within the next few years.  We got the first couple hundred Brazilian on planes for the U.S. last month.  Now we have to do the same for a few thousand more.  Our presidents have given us the direction, but if it is really going to happen it is up to us.  Ringing in my mind is “If not us, who? If not now, when?”  Maybe I am given to a littler hyperbole, but only a little. 

We have the opportunity of a lifetime and what happens in the next couple of months will be crucial to the relations between the U.S. and Brazil for the next decades. This is not just hyperbole.  In the next couple of years, we will exchange tens of thousands some of the best and brightest of our countries.  If it works as I believe it will, this will create pathways and connections that become self-sustaining with a positive feedback loop. People and ideas will flow between the two biggest democracies in the hemisphere; friendships will flower.  

My group will be on the east coast. I chose the east coast because it is the part of the country I know best, where I can add the most value.  (I also am happy to have the opportunity to go home and will save the USG a little money on the days I can stay at my own house.) We will be in New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.  There are many more places we should go and we have not forgotten about them, but we had to go where we could in the short time we have.   Our inability to reach a wider group is one reason I will write on this blog at every stop.  

This will be a journey of discovery for me.  I want to come back knowing more about the landscape of American higher education as pertains to exchanges. I want to understand the practical details of Science w/o Borders and the role that we can play to make it a greater success.  And I want to make a record of all this so that I can share what I think will be an important learning experience.  

So I invite you all to come along.

February 15, 2012


Dock on Amazon 

It is often not the person who you touch but the person touched by that person who really makes the difference.  This I noticed when we talked to a guy at a reception at our political counselor’s house last night.  He had not been on one of our programs but had a close friend who had been.  This friend visited reconciliation meetings in Manhattan as part of a Voluntary Visitor tour. 

He told us that he did not get the idea from us - reconciliation meetings are an old idea after all - but knowing that such a model was working so well in the U.S. inspired him to go ahead with his push for an expansion of the reconciliation system in Brazil.  

As background he told us that the general idea of a meeting of reconciliation had been around during the time of the Empire in Brazil, but had largely been abandoned with the advent of the republic, when many were animated by Positivist ideas of clear regulation applied everywhere the same.  Results of a reconciliation meeting are more like common law. They are agreements among parties and specifically do not require the close exercise of specific rules. 

Brazilians like to make laws, he commented tangentially, but sometimes don’t think enough of how these laws will be implemented.  For example, he joked that he would not be surprised if there was a law against floods.  This sometimes overweening love of rules, even if they won’t be followed, impedes sometimes messy but effective institutions such as reconciliation meetings. 

These bodies are specifically NOT courts; a judge is not involved in the actual sessions.  A judge can legally sign (and enforce) an agreement that comes out of the reconciliation session, but does not intervene in the formation of the agreement itself.

He admits that the meetings are not uniform throughout Brazil and that there is significant resistance by lawyers and judges.  Some of this is principled – they don’t think justice is properly served, but some is probably just that they see the meetings as eroding their privileged position. Many people prefer the alternative to the court system, which is very slow and can be very expensive to use. 

When somebody used the term arbitration, our friend pointed out that this was specifically not what the reconciliation meetings were doing. Arbitration, he thought, would not fit in well with Brazilian cultural norms.  They either decide by themselves or go to the judge. Judges are involved in the reconciliation meetings, however. They record the agreement which becomes legally enforceable as a contract.

We have been sending IVLP and VV groups of Brazilian lawyers and jurist to the U.S. for some time and it seems to have a positive effect. Brazil’s legal system is based mostly in code law and so resembles continental Europe much more than a country like the U.S. which leans on common law. However many commercial and regulatory rules are based on similar principles in our countries. We can learn from each other.

Another guest at the party gave me the two minute version of Brazilian legal history. Brazil started off as a code law country, with Continental European style laws with roots in the Napoleonic or even the Justinian codes. But in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, Brazilian elites were fascinated by the U.S. experience. They thought that they could learn from the other large republic in the Americas. So some Brazilian legal practice acquired an American accent.  He mentioned specifically Ruy Barbosa. This is a name I knew from streets named after him, but I learned that he was a great figure in Brazilian political, legal and literary circles. I was a little embarrassed not to know more. He is certainly someone I should get to know better.

My picture is unrelated to the story.  It is left over from my recent trip and shows a dock on the Amazon.  

February 11, 2012

Manaus (Again)

Manaus from Rio Negro 

This is my second visit to Manaus and the place doesn’t get any prettier.  The nice area is near the opera house, as you can see in the pictures nearby. The rest is just a fairly crowded city that could be anywhere in the world that is hot and humid.  We did save a lot of money, however, by staying in a downtown hotel called the Go-Inn rather than the more expensive Blue Tree. I like Go-Inn better anyway.  You can walk to some of the appointments.

Opera House in Manaus 

We have two overlapping streams of connection in places like Manaus or Belém.   Those are the alumni of our programs and our BNCs. I visited both during my trip.  One of the big relatively new sources of connections and friends is our Youth Ambassador Program.   We choose some of the smartest kids in Brazil, so they are already on the road to success.   The YA program helps them get even farther ahead.  We don’t have a massive number of YA, but after ten years there are hundreds and they are proving to be excellent contacts.  Even in an out-of-the way place like Macapá, we found young people eager to talk with us.

Unfortunately, we don’t have BNCs in every city.   We cannot easily found new ones because of the logistical challenges and the competition from other English teaching organizations.   We can nurture the ones we have and encourage them to establish branches in other cities. The BNC in Belém has a branch in Santarém, for example, and maybe the BNC in Manaus could sponsor something in Boa Vista in Roraima.  

The BNC in Manaus is our most remote.  It teaches about 5000 students and their building is fully booked during the peak times, i.e. Saturdays and evenings.  To get more students and to help alleviate the crowding, the BNC is working with UNINORTE, a local Laureate affiliate.  The BNC will have access to UNINORTE.  

We were able to give the BNC that good new that they could host an English immersion program for our runner up youth ambassadors this year.  BNCs really don’t make any money on these things, because they always offer scholarships to the students, but getting to host some of Brazil’s best and brightest young people is worth the effort.    

The BNC in Manaus is doing well.  There are no serious problems; in fact they have been able to expand operations.  Their only complaint was that the area around Manaus does not produce enough quality applications for programs like Science w/o Borders.  In the last group of more than 650 students, the whole of Amazonas sent only five.  By comparison the city of Londrina, which is a little smaller than Manaus, had seventy students go on the scholarships.  One problem, they told me, is the TOFEL.  Many people cannot get the scores and it is even a problem to take the tests.  Last year there were not enough slots for all the applicants.  This problem was compounded by a power failure that affected all of Manaus on the day of the test last semester.

Below is a lonely preacher. He talked about the Bible for as long as we were in the square. He was talking when we came and when we left, so I assume he was there a really long time. He got no takers that we saw.

preacher in Manaus near Opera House 


We noticed lots of Haitians around Manaus.  The BNC folks told us that there were now around 5000 in Manaus.  There were around 1000 school aged children who are in the public schools, w/o Portuguese.  The BNC is trying to help the local schools teach Portuguese, but this is not their primary area of expertise.

We also went over to Instituto Tecnologico Alternativo de Petrópolis where we met the director and his staff. He gets international volunteers. In the group were two Peruvians and a German volunteer.

/Manaus/alternative a local NGO that provides training to the poor neigbhorhood 

This organization aims to provide practical education to the people of the neighboring poor area. It is a challenge, but Jonas has managed to organize community resources enough to become a local institution for thousands of people.   They primarily learn English, computers and business related skills.  The Mission has donated books for their library.  While most people in the area appreciate the education, we were told that robberies are a problem.  Much of their computer equipment was stolen not long ago and now they have a security system.  It is too bad that an organization trying to help has to do something like that.

February 05, 2012

A Foot in Both North & South

Equator monument in Macapa 

Macapá sits on the equator and they have a modest monument marking it.They say that the sun shines right through the hole in the tower during the spring and autumn equinoxes. I don’t know what time it would be.  At high noon the sun should be directly overhead.

This monument is on my list of things that are worth seeing but not worth going to see, but since it was on the way to the boat it was worth stopping and officially putting one foot in each hemisphere.There are lots of myths about the equator. Some people think that an egg can stand up straight on the end on the equator. This is not true. 

Kids playing soccer 

A more persistent myth is that water drains in different directions in different hemispheres. This is also is not true.  The idea is based on the Coriolis force, which deflects the air to the right in the Northern Hemisphere and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere. This only affect phenomenon that are spread over very large areas, like hurricanes. In physics weak forces make large extensive things and strong ones make small compact ones. There is no Coriolis affect exactly at the equator, which is why hurricanes can't cross the equator, probably a good thing. Water going down the drain is too small to be affected or more correctly it is much more affected by other factors such as how the water hits the drain or the shape of the vessel holding the water.

Downtowm Macapa 

I walked down the rail marking the equator. That was my ritual to the place.

Pink flowers in Macapa 

The pictures are all from Macapá. Up top is the equator monument. Below are kids playing soccer in the Amazon. This part is tidal; the river withdraws from the dock at low tide exposing the soccer field. Next is downtown. Not very exciting. And just above shows how little red peddles fall from the trees. It is kind of like the pink snow in the "Cat in the Hat" or maybe like candy. It is pretty in any case.

February 04, 2012

When Worlds Collide

Bridge over Rio Negro from Manaus harbor 

It is as if one world lassoed another and pulled it closer. That is what this bridge across the Rio Negro did.  It is the first bridge you encounter as you come up the Amazon system. The river is just too wide everywhere else and besides there is nothing much to connect.

Bridge over Rio Negro from Iranduba side 

There is nothing much to connect here either – yet. The long high bridge now ties the unremarkable village of Iranduba with Manaus might seem like a waste of money. But it is changing things. You used to have to take a ferry for a couple hours to get to Iranduba & there were few reasons to make the trip; you can now drive in fifteen minutes.  This has the practical effect of creating new land in Manaus and you can already see what will happen in the next few years. As you cross the bridge into this formerly distant peninsula between the Solimões and Rio Negro, the first thing you notice is all the real estate signs. It reminded me of Northern Virginia in the boom times. This will soon be suburbs and exurbs, probably mostly high end from the looks of the pictures advertising the new developments.

Bridge over Rio Negro Manaus Brazil 

From my public affairs angle, I thought this would be the ideal time to connect local leaders with Americans who have experienced similar growth in the not very distant past. Development is inevitable, but it can be done well or poorly. There is a lot of wetland and nature that should be properly protected. If done well, they can avoid the damage caused by rising water and erosion.  I say avoid the damage, because they cannot avoid the water and can avoid damage by not building in some places. People like to build on low areas near water. They shouldn’t do it. Beyond that, I hope that there is better planning. Manaus is not an attractive city. Just spreading it across the river would be a bad idea. Maybe some of these guys should visit Curitiba. They plan right down there (although this week's "Veja" indicates that not all is well in Curitiba's suburbs.)

Iranduba road enterane 

The village of Iranduba evidently has only two claims to fame, or did before the recent Anschluß with Manaus. It was a place that produced bricks and natural rubber condoms. The brick making is the one that the town fathers choose to emphasize but the monument they chose to erect could be appropriate to both, as you can see from the picture above. Below is the other factory Lam-Latex.

Latex factoru 

Besides these industries, there seemed to be a lot of fishing and cattle ranching. I don’t know what will happen to the former ferry port on the Solimões. My first thought was that it would atrophy and fade away, but if the town grows I could envision it becoming a kind of tourist attraction.

Fish market in Iranduba near Manaus Brazil 

We visited a big marketplace where the locals could buy all they needed.The fish were very fresh, many were still alive. I could not identify them, but they said some were piranhas. Besides fish, there were butcher shops, produce stands, stands selling clothes etc.

Fruit and vegatable stands in Iranduba near Manaus, Brazil 

Farther down the road are more tourist attractions in transition. You can see in the pictures. It reminds me of those little resorts on small lakes in Wisconsin. Most of them have now become bigger, moved high-end or faded away. I think the days of the little lakes lodges are fleeting. 

Resort near Iranduba 

The beach you see in the picture is on the Rio Negro. The water is very warm and shallow. This is a high water time on the Rio Negro, as you can tell from the submerged trees and bushes. Our Brazilian friend told us that the beach had gone out another twenty meters a few weeks earlier.   

Beach on Rio Negro near Iranduba 

Below is the characteristic we environment near Iranduba. I joked with our Brazilian friends that I expected alligators. They pointed out that this was not true, since this was anaconda habitat. I expect people moving into new subdivisions won't be able to keep small dogs and cats ... at least not for long.  I thought my colleague Justen should wade into the water and see if he could scare up a couple of the big snakes, but he was unenthusiastic about the idea.

anaconda habitat near Manaus, Brazil 

February 02, 2012

Star Forts

Star fort in Macapa 

These forts really were impregnable. If you had a fort like this, you forced your adversaries to engage in some other sort of warfare.  Of course the problem with static defense is that it makes you rely too heavily on the bricks and mortar or on the technologies that were dominate when you built the structure. You don’t adapt to changing conditions both because you trust your existing protection and because you have so much invested in it that you really cannot easily change. Most of the great infrastructure of war is never conquered, but it is often bypassed or overtaken by changes. The smart opponent doesn't attack your strength but searches for weakness.

They told me that the fort in Macapá is the largest of its kind. I don’t know if that is true; it isn't that big but I have not seen many other star forts. I am also a little leery of the that term "of its kind."  Maybe it’s the largest of its kind in Macapá.  I don’t know. Star forts have walls that point out like tips of a star. This was a response to artillery. Medieval castles have straight walls, since you could repel attackers from any point and they could attack from any point. The problem is that there are blind spots that cannot be adequately protected from any of the castles towers.  This doesn't matter if your attackers are using swords, spears or pointy stick. It matters if you enemy can bring artillery to bear on your walls and if you have artillery of your own to direct against them. What the star fort does is fill the blind spot space so that anywhere that the enemy could approach is subject to interlocking fields of fire from the various points of the fort. The walls are also sloped so that projectiles will tend to glance off instead of just slamming in as they did with a medieval wall. The walls are also lower, since you can presumably put your adversaries under fire from a long way off. 

This type of fort worked well until artillery power, range & accuracy improved. It is the characteristic colonial fort of the Spanish and Portuguese. An example of a star fort in the U.S. is Fort Ticonderoga.

The fort in Macapá controls the main mouth of the Amazon. I didn’t know this, but the river that comes out at Belém do Pará is technically not the Amazon. It has the same water, of course, but in going around an island it gets a different name. The Amazon empties into the Atlantic at Macapá.  

February 01, 2012

Instituto Geográfico e Histórico do Pará

 Instituto Geográfico e Histórico do Pará

We were nominating the Instituto Geográfico e Histórico do Pará for a grant to renew & restore their document collection, so due diligence required that we go there in person to look around. Things often look different on a paper proposal than they do when you see them in person. The need and the utility are there, as is the potential to make things better. They have a large collection of paper documents describing all sorts of transactions as well miscellaneous documents such as the sorts of notices they used to post for the general public, some centuries old. They are not in a terrible condition, but also not good and threatened. This is a very humid climate. Many of the documents look good, but it would not be good to handle them too much. The Institute will file, restore and most importantly make electronic copies of the documents. Documents that you cannot access are not more useful than documents that don’t exist.


The documents are not the only things that need restoring. The Institute is housed in a building that is still very elegant but in a "seen better days" way. The location is great as you can see from the picture above.The place used to be owned by a rich and influential local citizen and the Institute used to be the go-to place for records and research in Pará. The rich guy died; universities and other institutions took up most of the research work. But it remains one of those places that good cities revere and protect. It has a board of directors of influential local citizens and will one day – probably soon – again be a very pleasant local center. Restoration is being done on the building and the furniture inside, as you can see below.


All this made me think of how buildings and institutions work. Sometimes we would just like to preserve them and there is a school of thought that we should set these sorts of places aside, museum like, protected.  I disagree. IMO historical buildings are like Stradivarius violins. They have to be used or else they decay and lose their value. This means renewing, restoring and to some extent changing rather than preserving like a fly in amber. That fly is dead. It is important that cities be full of life. Homage to the past doesn’t mean giving up the future. Things must be constantly renewed and protected against the forces of destruction. Below you can see the evidence of one of those big agents of destruction - termites.

Termite damage in Para 

Cultural place often supplement their incomes by housing restaurants and cafes. This provides not only some needed cash, but also brings people into the venue and since people appreciate and value what they know and what is familiar, it builds a constituency for culture. The institute has plans for such a project and I encouraged them to pursue it with determination and vigor. We don’t nominate those sorts of commercial projects for grants; there is a kind of prejudice against the profitable, but in the long run a successful operation like that will be worth more than the kindness of strangers as embodied in a grant.

January 31, 2012

Belém: Teatro da Paz & the BNC

Teatro da Paz BelemWe visited the Teatro da Paz in Belém to see if it would work for a visit by the Battery Dance Company, which we hope to bring to Belém in April.  It does.  This will be a great venue for the dancers.  Now my only worry is that they will really come.  I am reasonably sure that they will, but it depends on a decision by ECA.  

The Teatro is similar to the Amazonas Theater in Manaus, but it was built about twenty years earlier.  It is in the same tradition of bringing opera to the Amazon.  Both are beautiful theaters and both are a bit of a folly. They tried so hard to be part of the cultured world of the time.  Well, I suppose it was like building a stadium might be today. They figured that every important town needed one.

You can see the view from the stage of the theater in the top picture.  The others are the curtains and the rehearsal area.


We visited the BNC in Belém in time to see the investiture of the new president.  The Belém BNC is well established and prosperous.  They have six branches, including one in Santarem, which is very far away up the Amazon.  I wonder if they could open a branch in Macapá, which is actually a bit closer, although in a different state.

BNC theater 

The BNC has a really great facility with its own theater, which you see above and an exhibit space, which you see below.  BNCs face serious completion from schools that just teach English and English is the way they make their money.  But BNCs are much more.  They do the educational advising, sponsor art and give lots of free scholarships.  I am trying to support BNCs in any way we can for that reason.

Belem BNC gallerly 

January 30, 2012

Amapá & a Little Piece of America

Blimp tower in Amapa 

One of the senators from the state of Amapá has been asking us to visit the site of a World War II American airbase, so we did. According the locals, we are the first official Americans to visit the base since we vacated it after World War II. There is not much left except a rusting tower where they use to tie up blimps, some decaying buildings and the remains of the runway. But the visit was certainly worth the effort as it made the senator very happy and seemed to delight the local population. The mayor came along on this visit as did a couple dozen others.


We were also told that there was wreckage of a World War II American plane in the jungle of Amapá and that the bodies of American airmen killed in the crash were buried nearby by the people that found them many years ago. This is something we will investigate. If it is true, we will certainly want to bring those men home.  We need to know if this is just a story or the truth.

Car in the ditch 

It took us more than three hours to get from the capital city of Macapá to the municipality of Amapá. Amapá gave its name to the state, but it is no longer the capital. It is really not much more than a village, connected to the world only by a dirt road.  The airbase is nine kilometers beyond that on an even worse dirt road. Inaccessible is the word you would use to describe it. One of the vehicles in our convoy hit a slippery patch and went into the ditch. Nobody was hurt, but it made us late for our next appointments and provided a spectacular picture that you can see above. Below is the municipal building.


Nevertheless, the drive was interesting. As the senator described and as we saw, Amapá has five distinct biomes. There is dry forest, wet forest, cerrado, marsh & campo (grassland). The state is not that big, so it is surprising to see that much diversity.

Much of the cerrado near the road is given over to eucalyptus plantations; I understand there are 135,000 acres. They were once owned by international paper, but were sold to a alliance of  two Japanese firms  - Marubeni Corp. and Nippon Papers Industries. I was told that there are no eucalyptus plantations not owned by them in the state. They chip the trees and sell the chips but do not process them further. The eucalyptus are ready to harvest in six years. Amazing.

Up the River

Amazon sunset 

This entry is out of order.  I will write up my stories from Amapa and post soon.

I am going up the Amazon with the Semester at Sea, a university sponsored by the University of Virginia course aboard a boat.  About 600 students take a semester of credit courses, while the boat sails around the world. Among the places it goes in Manaus. The Amazon is navigable by ocean ship to Manaus. This is a very fast ship, but it still takes two days and nights to arrive. Gives an idea of the size of the Amazon.

The courses are like ordinary university courses, but with emphasis on the places they visit. The students all have to read the book “1493” which I read as part of my routine reading list, but now I can claim to have done as homework. Sweet. I get to go for free. Well I have to pay for my trip by giving lectures, which I like to do so it is better than free. I have a good job. 


The job is a big part of the lectures.  I am trying to get these smart kids interesting in careers in the FS or in the Federal government in general.  This is not hard to do. I just tell them what I have been doing for the last couple of days and everybody wants to sign up.  This is not entirely representative.  My job is more fun than most and the last few days have been more eventful than usual, but I think the overall picture is right.  There are a couple of my more junior colleagues who fill them in about life nearer the beginning of the careers, still very good.   I am also trying to create awareness of the Brazilian Science w/o Borders program and also President Obama’s 100,000 Strong initiatives to encourage Americans to study in South America.  All I care about is Brazil, so I try to encourage Portuguese language study and Brazilian specialization.  We need more Americans who know this place.

Boat Semester at Sea 

The ship is very comfortable. It is like a floating hotel, different from most of the U.S. Navy vessels I have visited, not gray for one thing. Food is good on the ship. It is much like that on a big Navy ship or my Anbar chow hall, which I know does sound like it should be good to those who have not had it, but actually is.  I like cafeteria type food. My cabin is very nice. They are treating me very well. The ship rocks a little, but not much and is generally very smooth.   

It is very cool to watch the Amazon forest from out of the windows or off the decks, but it gets to be a lot like a long flight.  The scenery does not change much that you can really tell from the distance.  It is an unbroken green. When you go around a bend in the river, there is more of the same.  Sometimes the river widens out and there is a marshy area.  Other times the forest comes right to the shore.  I sat on my little balcony (yes I have one) last night for a long time, looking at the moon and thinking about the vastness. If I jumped off the boat and could swim to the shore, I would be in that proverbial middle of nowhere. There is no way I could get back.  It would be like one of those episodes of “I survived” except that I wouldn’t.  I don’t recall ever being in a place like this before, so empty, vast & hostile to survival.  It would be scary, if I was not aboard a luxury boat, bringing civilization with me up the river.

January 28, 2012

Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi

Urns in AmapaWe visted the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi mostly just to keep contact.  We sometimes have short fuse offers of exchange programs and it is important to have connection before you need them.  The museum is also a place to get some background on local history and environment. 

The museum is named after Emílio Goeldi, a Swiss anthropologist who organized the collections and did a lot of anthropological studies in Pará and what became the state of Amapá.  We talked about the native people of the area.  Ancient people of Amapá produced the urns you see above.  They contained to bones of the dead.  The people who made them are now extinct and not much is known about them, but the urns and related items were used to show the continuity of cultures of Pará and Amapá. 

The region was more healthful in pre-Columbian times before the introduction of malaria & yellow fever and could support a larger population using simple agriculture, hunting, gathering and fishing.  I mentioned “1493,” the book I have been reading.  The author says that malaria had a decisive impact on the history of the Americas. Among other things, it transformed the Amazon from a relatively healthy place to live, in terms of diseases, to a very unhealthy one.  The author speculates that malaria came over from Africa with slaves.  African populations have some immunity to malaria; natives of the Americas did not.


Much of the archeological and anthropological research in Pará and Amapá was carried out by German or Swiss-German scientist and German influence in general was strong in this region. As you look at the exhibits, it is one German after another. There was a darker side to this in the 1930s. The Nazis encouraged anthropological research as an adjunct to their general race-based theories. I remembered that from my studies in anthropology so many years ago after I was reminded when one of our Brazilian friends mentioned that one of the anthropologists left Brazil to serve as an officer in the Wehrmacht.  

Tree sloth 

Also part of the museum is a zoo and botanical gardens. It is in many ways the old – and IMO good – model of an integrated scholarship. The zoo is mostly a rescue of animals, i.e. they don’t go out and capture them for the zoo. They had lots of sloths and some anteaters. Evidently these slow-moving animals are often victims of traffic accidents.

Tree base 

January 27, 2012

Beautiful Belém

Amazon River in Belem 

Belém is the kind of place I expected it should be. When I was in Manaus, I didn’t especially feel like I was in the Amazon. It was like another big city. In Belém, in contrast, you can actually  see the Amazon. 

Garden path in Belem 

I will be writing more about what we did in Belém.  We were very busy.  But I am also very busy today, so writing the history will have to wait.  In the meantime here are a few pictures.  You will notice at the top that his is just really pretty.  As usual, the picture doesn’t capture all the beauty. The reddish dust you see on the path are pedals from flowers falling from the trees. 

Ruy Barata 

Above is a local poet Ruy Guilherme Paranatinga Barata.  It is a nice memorial to get to sit for eternity in a beautiful garden.  

White birds 

January 26, 2012

Belém First Contact

Big trees in Belem 

Flying into Belém you see a kind of water world.  The Amazon splits into many rivers, with lots of islands. Streets are lined with very big mango trees, some planted a century ago.  I was told that that drivers here have to buy special mango insurance, since the heavy fruit so often fall on cars, denting the hoods. But the trees are beautiful & worth the trouble.  They make the city feel much more comfortable and lower the overall temperature.  

Since we (Justen and I) got into town late, we didn’t have time to do too much. BTW, my picture is not good because of the late hour. It was dark. But those trees were really impressive and I wanted to get a picture for today's post.  We did find time to visit the offices of one of the major media firms, that owns newspapers, webpages and RBA (Rede Brasil Amazônia de Televisão)  Rede Bandeirantes in Belém.  We spoke to the boss, who is a good contact of some of my Embassy colleagues, but who I had never met.  He was a very nice guy who spoke to us in English, explaining that he had family in Charlotte, NC and had lots of connections with the U.S.  

He explained that Pará was getting more prosperous.  The initial impetus was the vast mineral wealth.  Vale (Compania Vale do Rio Doce) has mountains of iron, enough to supply the world for decades,  and Alcoa has similar amounts of bauxite. There is also the wealth from forestry and agriculture.  But Pará has now moved beyond simple resource based economics.  At first this was because services had by necessity followed firms like Vale or Alcoa, but now the economics is self-sustaining.  

A small but important help to Belém would be regular direct flights to Miami. Belém is closer to Florida than it is to some other parts of Brazil in terms of easy of access.  This may soon happen, as firms add flights in response to growing demand.

We talked about educations, a subject always important in Brazil and making sure Pará was included in initiatives, since all the economic growth will require a more sophisticated labor force.  Not everyone is as aware of the opportunities as might be desired, nor are people aware how easy it is to study in the U.S.  We discussed doing webchats on the study in the U.S. and the Science w/o borders program. The beauty of the web format is that we can do it from Brasília or anywhere else and still tap into the network in Pará. This is something worth following and perhaps using in other places.  The Amazônia site gets about two million visitors a month.   

We had supper with five alumni YA and English immersion students.  These are all smart kids.  The older ones are completing their university studies.  We talked in about the program and about things in general. One of the participants was planning to apply to Science w/o Borders and another said that he would after we explained it to him. He had been unaware of the opportunity.  

I have never met a YA who was not wildly enthusiastic about the experience.  Their challenge is staying in touch with colleagues, which they all want to do.  This is something we should be more active in helping. These networks will prove extremely valuable to participants.   As they move up in Brazilian society, and they certainly will, they can network with participants from all over Brazil.  It is a great program and we need to make sure it keeps on paying dividends. 


January 23, 2012

Maids no more

Brazil is changing rapidly, as old habits and institution disappear or are altered beyond recognition.  One of the mainstays of Brazilian “middle class” life has been cheap domestic help. It was not only the very rich who had maids, gardeners and other sorts of helpers around the house.  People with incomes similar to those of an American family of around or just a little above our median income could afford household help.  The reason for this was abundant cheap labor resulting from a fairly deep chasm between what we would recognize as middle class and what we would see as real poverty.

Most Brazilians have become better off in the last twenty years.  Although the income distribution per se has not changed much (the rich got richer too and Brazil is still an unequal place), the general increase in wealth has disproportionately helped the poorer Brazilians.  Relative wealth matters, but absolute wealth matters more when you are trying to climb out of poverty.   A rich person whose income doubles might be able to buy a nicer car of a bigger refrigerator, but he already owns those things and the additional utility he gets from a better model may be small or even trivial.   The poor person, however, who for the first time gets into the income bracket that he can afford his first car or his first refrigerator feels a quantum leap in his lifestyle.  In the last couple decades, perhaps 50 million Brazilians have climbed past the threshold where they can afford the basic comfort level.

There are also generally better opportunities and people are better able to take advantage of them, as well as few people to do the work.  These three factors interplay.  A big source of domestic help and unskilled labor in general had been the rural areas, especially in the chronically poor regions of the Northeast. Nordestinos , often living on marginally productive small farms, took buses to the cities in the richer South or Southeast whenever life became unbearable or a drought hit the region. Both these things happened with monotonous regularity, but the high birthrates seems to ensure an unbroken supply of very poor people seeking a better return on their hard work. 

People used to talk about the two Brazils. One scholar characterized the country as “Belindia”, i.e. part was rich as Belgium and the other as poor as India, but there was no border between them and the richer cities of other parts of the country. It would be as if the poorer parts of Mexico or India were part of the United States. This was not strictly a geographic phenomenon. The rich and the poor in Brazil often live very close together, but there was a definite geographical aspect too. 

The Northeast is still poor, parts are developing rapidly, actually drawing in labor from other places .  If you bought a Ford Fiesta last year, it was probably made near Salvador, Bahia, part of what used to be an abysmally poor region.   There are lots of people ready, willing and able to work if there is a chance to do it. At the same time, population growth is slowing even among the poorest Brazilians.  Demographic inertia will carry the population higher, but the drivers have stopped.  Among those smaller numbers, illiteracy has dropped, meaning that people can take advantages of more of the available opportunities.   Domestic help doesn’t really need to read.  Most other jobs do. Illiterate or semi-literate people are stuck in the jobs that are going nowhere but the kitchen or the garden.  

It is a healthy sign that it is getting harder to get good domestic help.  Live-in maids are not very productive for the society as a whole.  But their sudden disappearance has created some problems.   A world with full-time maids does not invest much in labor saving devices.  Most American homes, even those of the “poor” have appliances such as dishwashers, microwave ovens and efficient washing machines and driers.  Americans with lawns own power lawnmowers.  People have power tools  and most Americans are accustomed to using them.  There is also something we often overlook.  

Things in the U.S. are simple to use and keep in good repair.   Our shirts don’t require ironing.  Our floors are naturally shinny and don’t need to be waxed much or at all.  Frozen food sections are full of fairly good tasting products that can be zapped in the microwave and ready in minutes. In short, an average American home comes equipped with machines and features that take the place of full-time household help.   Brazilian houses are not like this.  My house in Brasília, which is obviously built for a person richer than I am, did not come equipped with a dishwasher.  I don’t think you can even find a newer house at or above the median price that doesn’t have a dishwasher.

There is a sudden boom in household appliances.  Dishwashers, driers, microwaves etc are selling very well.  I have not actually studied this, but I bet there is also a trend toward simpler construction, more prefab and easier to maintain features.

A recent article re this subject (in Portuguese) is here.

I also noticed more ads about cleaning services.  It looks like the future here will be more like the present in the U.S., with most of the maid's work done by labor saving devices and people who can afford it hiring cleaning services once a week or for special occasions.   

A related phenomenon is illegal immigration.  As Brazil’s economy grows and Brazilians no longer want to do the dirty jobs, others are being drawn in to take them.  It is funny to see Brazilian attitudes toward illegal immigrants coming to resemble ours in the U.S.  The news has recently featured stories about Haitians.  They come on a roundabout route  through Peru.

December 27, 2011

Salto do Itiquira & the Beautiful Goiás Countryside


The water drops 168 meters, creating a constant wind and spray.  It is exhilarating to walk toward the falls, surrounded by sound and mist. You soon get soaked.


The facilities were more primitive when I visited here twenty-six years ago and there were no rules.  For example, you could swim in the pool right under the falls.  I suppose if you were dumb enough to actually swim under the falls, you would get hurt or maybe killed, which is why it is now illegal to swim I the upper pool at all.   It would be hard to get there anyway.   The current pushing out from the falls is very strong and I remember being unable to swim against it – and that was back when I was strong.

Espen at Itiquira falls

Today there is a decent restaurant at the gate to the falls and a paved road that leads all the way there.  The biggest challenge getting there is going through the town of Formosa.  It is not a bad little city, but it is no longer a little city.  The signs directing you to the falls are fairly good.  I would never have found my way through that warren of streets w/o them. 

IMO the drive from Formosa to the falls was worth the trip just by itself.   The Goiás landscape, as I have mentioned in other posts, is very pleasant, especially this time of the year.  Everything is intensely green with beautiful hills in the background.  

This is mostly ranch country with lots of those white, humped Nelore and zebu cattle. This breed came originally from India, but today breeding to adapt them to local conditions has made them essentially a Brazilian breed.  India has the world’s largest cattle herd, but Brazil has the world’s largest COMMERCIAL cattle herd, i.e. they use the cattle for meat.  It is a little ironic, IMO, given the status of these cows in their country of origin.


December 24, 2011

Surprising Goiás

Goias landscape 

The boys and I went to Caldas Novas. There are hot springs in the area and a big artificial lake nearby. The neighboring recreational areas include a water park, called Hot Park, lots of other hotels and water-based attractions and a big man-made lake.

Goias landscape 

We drove through lots of Goiás to get there.  We went down Goiás 139 and BR 010 among others.  These are fairly small roads, so you get to see a lot of countryside. I was surprised. I thought that Goiás was like an extension of Brasilia, that it would be flat and sort of savanna. But there is a lot more different types of landscape. 

Goias landscape 

Goiás is in the middle west of Brazil and it reminds me a lot of the middle west of the U.S. There is lots of variety, flat plains, rolling country and forest covered hills. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

Pine forest in Goias 

Above is a planted pine forest. They are now being replaced in Goiás by eucalyptus.  Below another pretty landscape.

Goias landscape 


December 23, 2011

Burgers w/o Borders and PD Success

Me cooking burgers with cowboy hatI would call it a public diplomacy triumph & I don’t think it is hyperbole to say so. We held “visa days” in Rio, São Paulo & Brasilia for student going to the U.S. on Science w/o Borders scholarships. There were about 600 served today.  The Brazilian government estimates that they will have sent 1500 to the U.S. by summer and more from then on thousands more.

In Brasilia, we held a big event to talk to them about the U.S. and get them ready to go to the U.S. They will be spread out all over the U.S.  

We called our event “Burgers w/o Borders.” The Ambassador and other American officers cooked and served hamburgers, American style, on a fried on a Webber grill. (I cooked too, as you can see in the picture.) Our goal was to create an American style cookout.

Always I try to learn from our successes as well as our failures and so I have been thinking about this. Getting this first wave of Brazilians to the U.S. only a few months after the Brazilian president announced the outlines of the program is a definite success. In the midst of such success, we need to determine the role of our team. How different would be the outcome if we did things differently? We don’t want to be like the rooster taking credit for the sunrise, but we also don’t want to attribute to luck what was influenced or even shaped by our efforts. You cannot learn from experience if you take credit for everything or take credit for nothing.

Results are important, but the only way to improve is to study the process that went into the results. The challenge is when we study the process already knowing how the story ended.  Knowing the outcome, we work backwards, emphasizing events that seem to have contributed to what we know happened, but may not have done so, may not be duplicable or may not be recognizable in advance. Some people say that hindsight is 20/20, but this overestimates our ability to understand the real processes and underestimates our tendencies to tell good stories and create narratives even where they don't exist. Our stories usually overestimate deliberate actions of individuals involved, undervalue the importance of interactions among actors and neglect almost entirely the role of random events. We also tend to emphasize our own contributions. This is not only because we are egocentric, but also because information about our own actions is more readily available to us.  With those caveats in mind, I am thinking through the process.

I have written earlier about the larger program, Science w/o Borders. You can read about it here.  I won’t repeat. Let me talk here specifically about our visa days/Burgers w/o Borders, the reception we gave the students that made it an event, marked a transition, and created an impression.

Students at Science w/o Borders event at US Embassy 

First let me be open about what I think I can take credit for doing (caveats above applying).  I take credit for taking this program seriously and conveying the urgency to colleagues around Brazil.  I knew where we wanted to be. Leadership is intangible in many ways. Big successes or failures often look impossible before they happen, but then inevitable after the fact. By extension the person pushing it sometimes seems nuts before and irrelevant after. That was my role (yes - to seem nuts before & irrelevant after, and I did it well.)  I didn’t let things slip, pushed for success and let everyone know that I would back them up. W/o this leadership, I am convinced we would not have achieved this result. In the bigger picture, w/o the Mission's consistent, proactive support, I do not believe the students would have gone this semester. We would have had a trickle in the fall semester and it would have seemed to be the natural outcome.    

CAPES President interviewed by Brazilian media“My” biggest contribution was putting the right people in the right places and letting them do what they were good at doing. I have been teaching my Brazilian colleagues the use of the word “honcho” both as a noun and a verb.  I use it in a particular fashion.  For me the honcho, or the person honchoing, does what is needed to make something work. He/she doesn’t always have specific power he/she is working with in other cases and has to enlist cooperation through a variety of persuasion and power methods. 

I asked my colleague Lana to honcho the logistics of the program at the Embassy. She did a great job of coordinating the work of others. I think it is important that the big boss (i.e. me in this case) back the honcho, but not be in charge of details. This gives the actual honcho the ability to refer to higher authority and strengthens his/her ability to implement. You would think that having the ability to make the final decision would be strength, but it is often weakness. IMO, we in State often make decisions at too high a level and/or with too much consensus. My father told me that I should never spend a dollar to make a nickel decision. The honcho can make decisions with the cover of the big boss using the resort to higher authority if there are problems (i.e. can say "I would like to do it, but you know how the boss is.")

(It is very important that if we delegate responsibility, we also need to delegate authority for most decisions and freedom to make them. I hate it when someone gives responsibility and then comes back to second-guess or revisit all the decisions. Good leaders, IMO, add value by asking good questions and sharing experience when appropriate. Bad leaders subtract value by "taking charge" of details or "holding people accountable" while not giving them enough freedom to be responsible.  I am aware that I also suffer those faults and try tread lightly on working systems. I think of good leadership in forestry terms: know the environment; plant the right trees; thin and trim as appropriate; protect them from pests them; give them enough but not too much fertilizer to grow and let the system develop, all the time accepting that it is more complex in its details than you can understand.)

Students at Science w/o BorderAnother important “small” success was giving the program a catchy name. A project with a good name is almost always done better than one w/o one. We chose “Burgers w/o Borders” because it was a lighthearted parallel to “Science w/o Borders”.  It also had the advantage of fitting the program and the beauty of alliteration. In other words, it is easy to say; appropriate and memorable in the sense that it evokes a concrete image.

My colleagues had lots of ideas about making the event memorable in other ways. We had T-shirts and umbrellas to make the pictures memorable. Look at the picture down of the crowd with the umbrellas.  Now imagine it with just a couple people with ordinary clothes and no umbrellas. Look at my picture with the Burgers w/o Borders apron and the cowboy hat. Image makes a difference, doesn’t it?

On the day of the event, we put all hands on deck. There was some redundancy, but you need slack.  Better to have someone standing around unneeded than have someone needed not standing by.

Media was willing to cover the event because it was an event. Our press section colleagues were able to sell the it using the hook of the cookout event. They could promise good visuals and interesting stories from the student.  Of course, it didn't hurt that Science w/o Borders had been in the news recently. A good PD rule of thumb is that you should not create your own wave when you can catch and ride higher on one that is already coming your way. People are interested in "their" events, not ours. We also encouraged the students to bring and use their cameras and cellular phones. Young people are natural creators on social media, but you need to create opportunities for them. Since Burgers w/o Borders was not in the Embassy proper, security let them keep their devices.

Of course, much of the success was created by others. Our Consular sections all over Brazil were keys to success. They were fantastically cooperative. After all, visa day required visas. As I alluded immediately above, our security folks were also very helpful and flexible. This was a case where we were lucky, lucky to have great colleagues. I really cannot “analyze” that, except to say that keeping colleagues in the loop, showing them respect and understanding their needs is essential in any cooperative endeavor, and this category includes almost all human activities. 

Of course, our Brazilian friends will see it differently. From their point of view, WE are the support activity for their program and they are right. We are supporting their success. They are right too. It is a win all around, enough to go around. 

P.S.  Students arrived on buses and had to line up to get through security.  A line is a great PR opportunity, as all politicians know. You have a captive audience eager for some diversion. I worked the line on the way in, stopping to talk to forty or fifty Brazilians on as individuals. I think this made a great impression on the students. We spoke in Portuguese outside the Embassy and then English inside to show the transition. We joked about the quality of my hamburgers and generally made the personal connection.  I think this is something they will take with them and remember for a long time.  

More pictures at the Embassy Flickr site

December 14, 2011

How far can a dog run into the woods?

English teachers  

It is like playing an old video game where new monsters and obstacles keep on jumping up.  And just when you think you are done, you find that you have moved up to a new level, where you get to encounter a higher level of more devious monsters and more diabolical obstacles. That is how I feel dealing with getting a few hundred Science w/o Borders kids to the U.S.

President Dilma’s idea was great and historians may see it as a turning point in Brazil's development. She decided to send 100,000 Brazilian students overseas to study in the STEM (Science, technology, engineering & math) and put the resources and willpower behind the effort. The idea is to train Brazilians for the needs of the successful and more technically advanced country Brazil has become. It is also to open Brazil to the world.  The connections that the 100,000 make will be only the beginning of long collaborations. This is the idea, a beautiful idea, but somebody has to make it so. That task fell to the Ministries of Education and of Science and Innovation. Dilma gave them only a few months to create facts on the ground. And since the first kids were supposed to go to the U.S., it became our task too. It is great opportunity, a once in a lifetime opportunity. But this is where our video game experience started.

Implementation is hard.  Sometimes leaders think it is enough to have a visionary idea, to point the way.  Of course, somebody has to point the way, but there are tough steps on the dim and narrow road to at that bright happy region of the visionary. Of course, it is the unexpected things that trip you up and that old cliché that we should expect the unexpected is just plain useless (you end up in a kind of verbal Zeno’s paradox if you really think about what that means).  The challenge is that the biggest problems are often trivial, the lack of a properly filled out form, not enough slots for the TOEFL tests etc.

My colleagues smoothed out most of these things. The biggest hero, IMO, was the Fulbright Commission, but lots of people’s efforts were necessary, if sometimes not sufficient to get the job done. Many people did their parts when they needed to. I know of many, and I am sure there are others about which I am just unaware, deal busting dilemmas anticipated and overcome.

Our last challenge came this morning and for a while I thought it would finish us off.  IIE told us that we would not have the necessary visa forms for our visa day (when our Brazilian students would all show up at the Embassy and Consulates for their visas and briefings).  In the video game metaphor, this would be meeting the master villain on the last level before you “win”.  I thought it was “game over”. Fortunately, our Fulbright Director prevailed on IIE to send a person with the documents on a plane on Saturday.  I am again optimistic. This is still cutting it close and we are not out of the woods yet.

There is no going back for us and I believe we are coming out.  If we get the visas and briefings out of the way, our work is done – at least until next time.   We (and I speak broadly here to include all our partners, Brazilian & American) will have done what many said couldn’t be done, found, funded, placed, credentialed and deployed the first 600+ students to be followed by thousands more.  The initial condition sets the tone and this initial echelon is good.  We can bask in our glory for a few days, understanding full well that once it is done, everybody will think it was easy and inevitable.   Assuming it gets done.  Those chicks are not yet hatched. 

How far can a dog run into the woods?  He can run in only half way. After that he is running out. 

My picture is from another of our programs. We sponsor English teachers going to the U.S. on a scholarship. Two of the teachers are going to JMU.  I included the picture because it is in the general subject area - English teaching is one of those obstacles we are addressing - but it is here mostly because of the colors. The American and Brazilian flags are beautiful together, aren't they? Surely there is a lesson there.

December 05, 2011

Habits of the Heart

We had an interesting lunch with CCBEU staff.  Among other things, we talked about the culture of responsibility. It is a common complain among Brazilians that people here expect too much from the government and that the government delivers much too little. Everybody mentions the various corruption scandals that seem to surface with monotonous regularity. I was able to give a little favorable perspective. The Brazil I found when I returned after almost twenty-five years was better in almost every way than the one I left in 1988, I told them. Problems remain, of course. But they are not uniquely Brazilian and, IMO, many can be traced to expectations mentioned above.

I mentioned the work of Alexis de Tocqueville. Any American who has seriously studied our history is familiar with Tocqueville, but his fame doesn't seem to cross our borders. I explained that Tocqueville was a French aristocrat who wrote about democracy in America in the 1830s. We Americans take lots of what he wrote as compliments; he didn't always mean it that way. In the America that Tocqueville described, hard work, enterprise and money-making are the rule. Americans, he noted, do not defer to elites, as they still did in Europe. This included, to Tocqueville's distress, not deferring even to those of "superior talent and intelligence." America was a dynamic, although maybe a rude place. But the America was more exceptional in the amount of local and personal initiative.

In the Old World, citizens petitioned their government to do things for them. After that they waited for it to happen and complained when it wasn't done right. Tocqueville observed that in America many of these "government" tasks were taken up by individuals in voluntary, often temporary, association. We formed task forces and committees to address local problems, bringing in government as last resort and even then resorting to government at the lowest level possible. In France at the time, power to make decisions about local roads or building codes would migrate to Paris and the choices made there. In America, they were often not made by government at all and when government was necessary, it was usually the local officials who called the shots.

American tradition of working through voluntary associations has persisted to this day. One of our colleagues said that this is what surprised him when he was on an exchange in the U.S. He gave the example of his host family and all the neighbors getting together to do the dirty work, literally shoveling manure, in the barns at the Indiana State Fair. In most other countries, this just doesn't happen. At best, people might give money to hire somebody to do it.

I pointed out that government in the U.S. has plenty of problems and petty corruption, but one reason why it has historically been more responsive to the people is that we, the people, ask it to do less. Tocqueville warned of a "soft despotism" in democracies, where citizens vote for politicians who promise to give them things. When people have the habit (Tocqueville called them "habits of the heart") to do things for themselves in voluntary association with their fellow citizens, it preempts the necessity of government intervention and also preempts the creation of a network of petty rules and regulations that are the bane of existence in the more bureaucratic states. Soft despotism is ameliorated if those voting benefits have to pay for them and even more so if they have to work in their creations.

My life in other countries has, IMO, helped me see America in a more objective way and I think there has been a convergence in the last quarter century. People in many other countries have become somewhat more active in doing things in voluntary association rather than waiting or demanding government action.  I am certainly seeing that in Brazil. On the other hand, America has become more bureaucratized. Government has reached into voluntary associations in ways it did not before, establishing rules and standards that seem to make sense but end up crippling the voluntary impulse.

I read about a recent (Thanksgiving) example where the authorities in New Jersey have imposed various regulations on church-run soup kitchens. People can no longer bring food from home to donate and there are stricter rules on facilities and reporting requirements that will cost more than $150,000.00 a year. You can argue that such regulations are good, but they will have two effects. They will take it out of the hands of people and make another activity the responsibility of the government. In short order, costs will rise. The people who used to get satisfaction from carry out their responsibly as good citizens will resent the taxes and the recipients will get less and lower quality food.

Lawyers are also getting involved. People engaged in voluntary activities are now advised to get liability insurance. We are managing to make good citizenship costly and hazardous to your financial future. When you make things harder or more expensive, you get less of them.

America really was exceptional in the number of things we did voluntarily. Authorities are/were not always welcoming. I recall reading a biography of Ben Franklin, who was the godfather of many good citizenship practices. The local representatives of the king did not always welcome his self-help plans. They considered them subversive and they were right. When people can do things for themselves they become less dependent on the beneficence and largess of the state.

I am glad to see that people in many places around the world are seeing the benefit of acting outside both governmental and the strictly private spheres. People working together in voluntary association is the essence of community. We don't make friends face-to-face; we make them shoulder-to-shoulder working on common goals. I think it is healthy that they are becoming more like us, even if that means American is less "exceptional". But I am not healthy that we are becoming less like we were.

December 04, 2011

A City of Aspiration


Goiania is what demographer Joel Kotkin would call a city of aspiration, a place where people go to enjoy upward mobility and live the kind of life they dreamed about. I have written about this subject before. It is a heartland city that grew from the soil of Goiás. Most of the people who live there are from the city itself or from the area of Goiás, there has not been large scale immigration to Goiania from other regions of BrazilGoiania is only around seventy-five years old. It was a planned city, but it grew well beyond the projection. The plan was for 80,000 people; there are now a million and a half.

Vaca Brava Park with Goiania in background 

The picture up top is a good representation of the way the city has grown out of the cerrado. There is not much around and suddenly the city. I took the picture from the Federal University. They told me that the university was built outside town and it is still outside, but the city is creeping up.

You can see the growing city behind me in the second picture. The guy from the BNC told me that this area was mostly undeveloped when he was a young man about twenty years ago. Now there are lots of restaurants and shops. The park in the foreground, called Vaca Brava or angry cow, was just a field and that lake was just a stream with some wetlands around it. The actual name is O Parque Sulivan Silvestre. Vaca Brava comes from the name of one of the ranches that used to occupy the place. Who knows whether or not the eponymous angry cow really existed?  

BNC (CCBEU) in Goiania 

The BNC is across the street from the Vaca Brava Park.  That was our first stop of the day. They have around 3500 students. They also do educational advising and cultural programs.  The Ciência sem Fronteiras program has significantly increased the workload for the advising center. Not only are more people coming in for advice but they are doing a booming business in translating school transcripts.  The demand for TOEFL (English as a foreign language) tests is exceeding supply. 

Most Brazilian students have not taken the TOEFL; it was a much slower business before Dilma’s program came on.  They are trying to increase the number of TOEFL tests available, but there are challenges.  ETS doesn’t compensate test centers very much, so it is hard to get space. Some students have to make long trips just to take the test and it is not cheap. It costs about $R300, which is big money to some people.  At the BNC and at both the Federal University and PUC they complained about the TOEFL, so I figure it must be a valid problem.  Unfortunately, the test is an unavoidable step on the way to U.S. schools. 

I later spoke with people from CAPES and Fulbright who told me that many students who would have gone to the U.S. to study in January were postponed for want to TOEFL. 

English teaching in Brazil as changed, first of all because demand has spiked. Ciência sem Fronteiras has accelerated the trend, but it existed before.  But another reason is that there has also been an inversion in ability, probably because of TV and Internet. It used to be that the older students were the more advanced.  It made sense, since they were in longer. Now, however, the younger kids are the ones leading the way. The teachers mentioned that they sometimes feel sorry for older students, who have a harder time and seem to have just missed the boat on the enhanced English exposure. 

We saw a couple of pilots who were learning English. They need English for their jobs and there is evidently a small but important job market for pilots to fly down private planes purchased in the U.S. by Brazilians.   The BNC, however, does not teach specialized English for pilots or other professionals. The demand is not sufficient and they lack teachers with the specialized skills.

December 03, 2011

Hard to Get Around Walking on Steep Ground

Street in Ouro Preto 

Ouro Preto is not really a walkable city.  It is small and compact enough, but the hills are dauntingly steep.  Many of the hills are steeper than an average staircase and they are a lot longer. There are also uneven pavements and big steps up & down.  I don’t think of myself as lazy and I am in pretty good condition, but this is just not a place for a nice stroll.


On the plus side, you get a good workout just going from the hotel to a restaurant.

Tiradentes monument in Ouro Preto 

It is not an easier place for cars.  The streets are narrow with lots of sharp turns and the steep hills are also difficult for cars, as you can see in the pictures.  Above is the monument to Tiradentes, who rebelled against the Portuguese, was killed in a nasty way and became a hero-martyr. 

December 02, 2011

Art in a Hard to Reach Place

Inhotim art 

I wrote about the road in the last post.  Inhotim is where the road was taking us.  It is a vast outdoor art park.  I enjoyed the art because it was in the beautiful natural settings.

Collidescope at Inhotim, Near Belo Horizonte Brazil 

You have to give thanks to crazy rich guys.  This park is the work of one such man who collected art and wanted to share it with others. It would have been difficult for any but a private individual to justify a place like this.  You pay $R20 to get in, but the revenues from that don’t cover the costs of current operations, much less the costs of obtaining the land, building the buildings & buying the works of art.  It has never broken even and never will.  

Inhotim panorama 

People would be unwilling to pay enough to cover the costs. This is also why it probably would never be created by government. If the individuals enjoying the place would be unwilling to pay, why would it be a better deal to force taxpayers to foot the bill?  Eventually I suppose it will be run by a kind of ongoing foundation.  Some people will become “members” and they will have fund raising drives. The rich guy will have footed the bill for the big capital expense of building the place, so they will just have to fill the gap between the amount of money they can make in revenue and the amount they need to keep it going.

Man using hand tools to clip bushes in Inhotim 

Chrissy and I had a buffet lunch at a restaurant in the middle of the park. It has the most beautiful buffet, in terms of setup, that we had ever seen. We ate under palm trees in a heavenly setting. I recommend that. Another think I liked was the quiet. They still did things with hand tools (see above). I didn't see any leaf blowers.


Sculpture in Inhotim 

I think we have similar model with San Simeon, built on the California coast by ridiculously rich William Randolph Hearst, or the Biltmore place in the mountains of North CarolinaThese were built in out-of-the-way places of significant beauty by rich guys and are now open to the public.

Chinese turtle sculpture

I suppose revenues will increase for Inhotim if they build a better road to the place.  BTW - this is the map on how to get there.   My advice is don't even try that yellow road. You just cannot get there from anywhere.


I have more pictures than I wanted to post of process.  They are included here. 

Blue_water.jpg * Brumindinho.jpg * Chrissy_chair.jpg *  Flowers.jpg * Inhotim1.jpg * Inhotim1kids.jpg * Inhotim2.jpg *  Inhotimbeam_drop.jpg * Inhotimbeam_drop1.jpg Inhotimbigtree.jpg *  Inhotimbirdofparadise.jpg * Inhotimblue.jpg * Inhotimcolide.jpg *    Inhotimcolide2.jpg *  Inhotimcollide1.jpg * Inhotimduck.jpg *  Inhotimfanplants.jpg *    Inhotimhandtools.jpg * Inhotiminstallation.jpg * Inhotimlagoon.jpg * Inhotimlandscape.jpg *    Inhotimpanorama.jpg * Inhotimpath.jpg * Inhotimreversetree.jpg * Inhotimsculp.jpg *    Inhotimtower.jpg * Inhotimturtule1.jpg * Kids_and_tree.jpg * Landscape.jpg *  Sao_Francisco_church.jpg * Three_sculpture.jpg Walls.jpg * fan_plant.jpg * little_gallery.jpg *   me_and_log.jpg * me_collide.jpg * purple_flowers.jpg

November 30, 2011

Not Just a Road; an Adventure

I don’t regret our adventure but I will avoid repeating it.  You really cannot say it is hard to find Brumodinho but it is really hard to get there from almost anyplace else.  It looks just off the highway on the maps and it is close for birds or somebody with a helicopter, but not so much for those stuck to the ground.

Good road in Minas 

Getting there took us down a crappy road. We didn’t know how bad it was because it was after dark.  We gave ourselves time to get there while it was still light, but we got lost.   Once we got to Brumodinho, we had to find the posada, also a challenge in a place that doesn’t seem to believe in marking most streets.  We finally found the place with the directions of a gas station attendant and the grace of God.  The posada was very nice, BTW, and I recommend it, if you can find it and if you are visiting Inhotim which I also recommend.  But don’t expect it to be easy to get to.

Cows of Minas 

Anyway, the posada owner told us that there was a short cut that would take us to Ouro Preto w/o having to go all the way back to Belo Horizonte.  He was right and he explained it well but facts on the ground were harder than the theory.

Over the mountain in Minas 

For one thing, there were lots of trucks and lots of hills.  This means that you get in back of trucks moving slower than you could walk.  Beyond that, the roads are not well marked. We took a wrong turn and ended up on a dirt road which ended in a construction project.  Our going down this dirt road is not as dumb as it sounds. Some dirt roads are pretty busy and this one was too.  It probably could have taken us to the main highway, BR 040, as some people told us, but rain and construction made in impossible. Anyway, we backtracked and took a narrow, winding, but asphalt surfaced road to BR 040. But this in Minas and there are mountains. At times it seemed like we were going straight up. The pictures do not accurately convey the climb.  The road was good at times, at least as good as a country road in Western Virginia, i.e. not the best road but okay. But at other times it was narrower than some of my bike trails in Virginia and not as well maintained.  Not just a road, an adventure.  

In the U.S. we don’t appreciate the infrastructure that helps make us prosperous.  It is in the secondary roads you really see it. Brazil has some first-class primary roads. What it lacks are the County Truck and country roads.  These were often build way back in the 1930s. They still serve us well.  They get our stuff to market and bring our markets to the countryside.  We take them for granted, but they are not granted to all places.

The country road you see in my pictures are the best stretches on offer. We hit dirt roads and sometimes dirt we couldn't even identify as roads.  

We were very happy to finally get to the main highway and on the road to Ouro Preto, but that is another story. 


Ouro Preto City of the Baroque

Ouro Preto church 

Ouro Preto means black gold in Portuguese. The black gold is an ore of gold mixed with iron ore.  It looks like dirt and I don’t believe I would pay attention to it if I stepping in a pile. But this black gold financed the prosperity of the city of Ouro Preto and of the whole region around it. The people of Ouro Preto, at least the ones running the show, poured their wealth into ornate baroque churches that dot the city. These and the general rich architectural tradition made Ouro Preto a UNESCO World Heritage place.

Sao Francisco Church in Ouro PretoI have included pictures of the outsides of churches. The Church of Saõ Francisco de Assis is considered to be a masterpiece of Brazilian architecture, but they are all interesting Cameras are not allowed inside, so I don’t have pictures. Take a look at my posting from the São Francisco church in Salvador to get an idea, although the Ouro Preto churches are less well maintained/restored. There are very ornate carvings and sculptures.  In fact, Baroque when used as an adjective means describes something that is ornate, maybe too ornate.  

Baroque was on the way out as a style by the time the people in Ouro Preto got the word.  The most famous Brazilian artist of this period was Aleijadinho, the little cripple. Although he suffered serious physical problems, he still produced a prodigious amount of work, which you can see all around central Minas Gerais. You can see the decline of Baroque in the works in the churches, both because the style was waning but also because the gold deposits were being used up, so there was less cash to support the projects.

I am not a big fan of the baroque. They dazzle the eye with detail. There are many of those round faced angels and elaborate filigrees.  But there is a darker side. As you look closely, you see a significant cult of death, lots of skulls and suffering.  The Church promulgated the Baroque style, among other things, as a way to attract believers back to the Church and away from the Protestants.  In the baroque churches, you see both the carrots and the sticks. The art is elaborate, sensual, and even voluptuous.  But then included are the very graphic depictions of suffering, deprivation and death.  So the baroque appeals to both desire and fear.  Yes, there is the feast for the senses, but we all are alive for a short time and dead forever after, so better prepare for that.  According to the Church, there is but one way to do that and they control the tollgate.


You have to understand the art and practices of the past in human terms, as you would something today.  Human nature doesn’t change and the people of the past reacted in ways that we would recognize.  If we put these great works of art in modern context, we are not talking the New York Museum of Fine Arts.  The better analogy is Disneyland.  After things have been around a long time, they acquire the patina of respectably.  On the other hand, we tend to disrespect the work of our contemporaries, especially if they are popular.  But recall the context the niche each is filling.  I have always been impressed by the innovations in arts, entertainment, crowd control and transport employed at places like Disneyland. 

I have visited “classy places” like the Vatican or Venice.  The same processes and purposes are present.  This is not to denigrate or trivialize the great accomplishments of artists past, but it is to recognize the human spirit in each generations.   The true heirs of Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael (besides mutant turtles) are the engineers at amusement parks, or maybe video game designers. It is not those self-important guys who posture as professional artists, producing work that few people want and even fewer really understand.  

Ouro Preto panorama 

The churches are very pretty, but there was more pressing business in a frontier region like Minas. Things like roads, canals & universities should come first.  But I realize that mine is a very secular point of view and and not very artistic. I suppose that a thing of beauty is a joy forever and forever makes the difference.

November 29, 2011

Torrential Rains

Fog in Ouro Preto 

We had a good and sunny day in Inhotim and in Ouro Preto, but then is started to rain – hard. Ouro Preto is very steep.  It is exhausting to walk around the city, much more like a mountain hike. It poured rain for about a half hour making the cobble-stone streets into fast flowing rivers.

Heavy rain in Ouro Preto 

These cobble-stone streets have been here for centuries and they are evidently resistant to the water flow.  I think it might be hard to drive up a smoother road, especially when the water flows.  Chrissy and I agreed that a city like this would be impossible in Wisconsin. Not only do we not have hills as long and steep as these, but we have snow.  Even a dusting of snow or a little ice would make streets with this pitch impassible.

BTW - it started to rain on Friday PM in Ouro Preto. It kept raining until we left AM on Sunday. Since we left in the rain, we don't know for sure if it ever stopped. The rain and fog seemed very un-Brazil and almost Central European.  As we drove up the foggy roads, it reminded me of the old days in Silesia.

November 28, 2011

On The Road Again

Cerrado landscape 

You get a better idea of a place when your drive. I have flown across Mina Gerais many times, but driving gives you a better feel for the place and for its size. Western Minas is not very different from neighboring areas of Goiás. There is a lot of space w/o very many people. We drove through the cerrado biome most of the way.  As you get near Belo, it becomes lusher and hillier. This is mountain vegetation, with overtones of the Mata Atlântica

Minas landscape 

BR 040 is easy to find out of Brasilia and is basically a good road, although it is only two lane most of the way and it encumbered with slow-moving trucks; the only thing worse than a slow moving truck is a fast-moving truck, BTW, especially when they are coming around a bend going barreling on in the opposite direction.  BR 040 does not have shoulders and/or not ones that are that you could rely on. They tend to be a half a foot lower than the adjacent road, not good when you are nervous about the oncoming truck and squeezing as far away as you can. On two occasions, on coming trucks in our lane just flashed their lights on us and we chose to move onto the low shoulder as the better part of valour.

Trucks on BR 040 in Goias 

The cerrado landscape is fairly uniform most of the way. Everything is bright green during the rainy season.  But it is a long drive. It is worth doing, but maybe not more than once until they get a divided highway.

Gas station in Ouro Preto 

November 27, 2011

Speed Traps

Trucks & speed bumps on BR 040 

The Brazilian authorities love electronic speed traps and speed bumps, often deployed together.  IMO, both of them produce results at odds with the ostensible purpose of making the roads safer.  What drivers do is speed between the speed cameras or bumps and then slam on their breaks as they pass the controls. 

Speed can be dangerous on the road, but more dangerous are changes in speed and that is what these things provoke. Beyond that, the speed limits in the speed traps are often significantly slower than the ordinary posted speeds.  So you are cruising along at 110 kilometers per hour (about 65 MPH) and then suddenly it goes down to 80 or even 60.  Brazilians I have asked about this think the real reason for the speed traps is to raise revenue.  It seems that way to me too.  If driver who tried hard to follow all the applicable laws could easily still fall afoul of these things just for trying to slow to the abnormally slow speed in a safe way.

Speed Bumps on BR 040 

Nobody can claim that the speed bumps are revenue generators, except maybe for manufacturers of breaks or shocks, but they are literally a pain in the ass … and the teeth and certainly the psyche. You cannot cross most of them going any faster than 10 MPH without suffering physical discomfort and perhaps damaging your care.  And they put them in highways – yes highways. You usually get a warning sign, but it is rarely possible to slow in a reasonable way before bouncing into them. So you are rolling down the highway at the legal speed of 90 KMH, when suddenly you have to slow to 15.  Officially, it is usually 40, but you really cannot do that.  They fail in their ostensible purpose to calm traffic. Most drivers speed between the bumps and then break violently just as they get to them.  It creates more hazard than doing nothing, IMO.  The cure is worse than the illness.

November 12, 2011

Odds & Ends for November 12

Youth Ambassadors in Recife

Youth Ambassador in Recife 

Recife had two kids chosen as youth ambassadors from the same school, ABA – the BNC there. We invited them to breakfast, along with their teachers, who after all helped create success. We are making it policy to meet with current and former YA in the towns we visit. Make new friends & keep the old. 

Planting Trees

Planting CAPES trees at EMBRAPA 

CAPES celebrated 60 years of existence by planting some Ipê trees at the headquarters of ENBRAPA. Ipê is a very pretty tree with yellow flowers that thrives in Brasilia.  I attended the ceremony, so I had dinner with Jorge Guimarães, the head of CAPES and then just a few hours later met him again at the tree planting. Tree planting is a good way to mark transitions. The tree will usually still be alive long after the people at the ceremonies are compost, me included. A tree is a living thing that links the past with the future. BTW, They gave me a blue shirt like that too.

EMBRAPA in Brasilia 

EMBRAPA, BTW, is a great organization.  Someday EMBRAPA will help feed the world. Already is. 

Strange Fruit

Jabuticaba tree with fruit in Brasilia 

I have a little tree in my yard called a Jabuticaba. I thought it was just the usual round topped tree, but it bears fruit in the strangest way. The fruit grows right on the branches, instead of in bunches hanging down.  It tastes like a grape and supposedly has anti-oxidant properties. IMO, the berries look a little better than they taste. The tree is above. Below is my watermelon plant. I had a very good watermelon a few weeks ago, so I planted some seeds. They came up. I have no idea how to grow watermelons.  I figure they need lots of water, which they will surely get around here. The plants have flowers. Maybe I will get melons.

Watermelon plant 

Getting to Work

It is only around four miles from home to work, but there are a few choke points along the way that make it less pleasant to ride my bike. I have to cross a narrow bridge, for example, climb a grassy bank and ride across a field at different points.  It takes about 25 minutes to ride to work.  The choke points and the necessity to walk just about double the time needed.  I have my car here, finally, and the drive is very easy.  It takes less than ten minutes to drive. My system is that if I don’t have something especially heavy to carry and if it is not raining when I leave, I take the bike.  Since it can rain after work too, my system is not perfect. If I take the bike in the morning, I have to take it back in the evening, rain or shine.

November 08, 2011

Principals Come Home More Experienced

Principals with Brazilian flag 

The principals from each of the Brazilian states returning from their three-week programs in the U.S. come to one city on their ways home. They meet to share and report on their experiences and elect the Brazilian principal of the year. This year they went to Recife, so that is where I went too.

The principal of the year program is unbelievably good from my public diplomacy point of view. It is a Brazilian program that originated in part from a voluntary visitor tour in 1997. The principal of the year award for each Brazilian state and for Brazil as a whole was initiated in 1999. The Embassy sponsored exchanges with the U.S. in 2000 and the first group traveled in that year. It became a two-way exchange in 2004, when top American principals made return visits to Brazilian states. It is really a nation-to-nation (the American nation is greater than the American government) exchange. Principals from both sides see places that few ever visit.

The truly great PD aspect is that I – the PAO at the U.S. Embassy – get to moderate the debriefing and speak prominently at the award ceremony.  It is a big Brazilian program. CONSED, the national Association of Secretaries of Education, owns it. Yet we are a big part of it. Also present at the events are state secretaries of education from around Brazil. So we are talking to the best principals plus the leaders who make educational policy around the country. 

It doesn’t get any better than this in the Public Diplomacy world. And it has been going on for more than ten years.

Pictures taking at Principals ceremony 

The Brazilian principals divided into nine groups, clustered by where they went in the U.S. Each group reported on what they saw and their impressions. They went all over the place, from rural South Carolina or Virginia to urban Chicago and Brooklyn. American is a very diverse place and the challenges in Anoka, Minnesota or Poulsbo, Washington are not the same as in Chicago or Cleveland. But America, despite its size and diversity, shares many similarities, at least as seen by our Brazilian friends.

Award ceremony at Principal conference in Recife 

One of the things that impressed the Brazilians was the same thing Tocqueville saw. Americans are involved in ways beyond their government. Our Brazilian friends were impressed by the amount of parental involvement as well as how much community organizations contributed to schools. 

Long skinny building in RecifeThere are other differences. The Brazilians commented that American school days are “integral.”  This could be a confusing concept unless you knew that Brazilian schools tend to run in shifts, with different grades rotating in and out from early morning to evening.  Brazilian educators tend to believe that a whole day school is better.  It makes sense to me too. The Brazilian school shifts seem a bit rushed. Nobody really has a home. The same goes for teachers. Our Brazilian principals expressed surprise that most American teachers have their own classrooms and the kids move.  In Brazil the teachers are the ones who move. This leads to a kind of transience that hurts discipline. 

There are lots of criticisms of American public schools, but to hear the Brazilian principals’ report, we are doing just fine.  The schools the Brazilians visited are not chosen because they are “the best” and we do not try to sanitize their experience. But the schools are self-selecting – they have to apply - and have to possess conditions to host guests.  I think this de-facto selects the best, or at least eliminates the worst. It is also likely that the better parts of the schools are those that interact the most with foreign guests.

Some American public schools are excellent; others are very good.  Of course, some are bad and others are horrid.  Often these diverse & contradictory conditions exist in the same district or even in the same school.  Perhaps it is like the old story about the blind men and the elephant.  Reality will vary. 

I got to moderate the discussion by the principals, as I mentioned. I tried to say as little as possible, so as not to overtax my Portuguese but also to hear more of what they had to say. I was proud to hear report after report praising our American public schools, but a little conflicted, as mentioned above. Were the Brazilians just being nice or did they see something in American public schools that we missed? 

Let’s think about it from the point of view of someone trying to improve. You certainly should try to avoid mistakes, but you can probably improve faster if you concentrate on the positives. So if I was a Brazilian principal, I would be looking for the good things that I could copy or adapt to my own conditions.  The same goes for the American principals who will be paying a visit to Brazil in a couple of months. You don’t need to concentrate too much on the negatives, except to avoid them. And if you don’t have them in your own country anyway, what does it matter?  

We had an evening program where the principals got their award certificates and recognize the Brazil-wide principal of the year. Principal Adriana Aguiar from Gurupi in Tocantins won. It was a real show of solidarity, with the Secretaries of Education giving the award  (certificates of excellence in leadership and management) to those from their states. Some states had big cheering sections. I noticed particularly Amazonas, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul brought big teams. I got to give out the plaque that will go on the school. It was great seeing the excitement and enthusiasm and getting to be a big part of it.

Of course, I understand that I am just a symbol of the United States, but I can accept that.  The real rock star is our Brazilian colleague Marcia, who is known and loved by the principals and the people at CONSED.  She was doing this before I arrived and will (Ihope) continue after. Our local colleagues are the real source of public diplomacy success. They are a resource we often take for granted and sometimes fail to sufficiently appreciate. All public diplomacy, like all politics, is local and they are our local connection.

The pictures show the ceremonies and awards. The building is one of many tall skinny buildings I have seen around Recife. I guess the land is expensive. The area near the ocean is narrow. Sorry re the quality. I took them with my cellphone.

You can read more about this program at the Consulate's webpage here.

November 03, 2011

More on Youth Ambassadors

We got more good coverage from our Youth Ambassador program at this link.  My colleagues in Sao Paulo did a really good job.

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

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 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. 

September 30, 2011

What Can 100,000 Smart Kids Accomplish?

US Capitol Mall in rain 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 12, 2011

September 11 Ten Years Later in Ceilândia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


September 11, 2011

Odds & Ends of Chapada dos Veadeiros

Wasp nests in Chapada dos Veadeiros 

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

Grpund nests of wasps in Chapada dos Veadeiros 

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

Guide at Chapas dos Veadeiros 

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

Pousada Bambu in Sao Jorge, Goias Brasil 

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

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

Below is Goias Hwy 118. Not a bad road.

Goias Hwy 118 

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


September 10, 2011

A Dry Smokey Season

Monkeys in the tree outside my house in Brasilia 

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


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

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


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

Me swimming at Chapada dos Veadeiros 

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

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

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

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

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

September 09, 2011

Chapada dos Veadeiros

Chrissy & me at the bridge in chapada dos veadeiros 

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

Falls at Chapadas do Veadeiros 

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

Landscape with palms in Chapadas dos Veadieros 

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

Palm landscape  

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


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


Below shows Chrissy and me in the park.

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


September 08, 2011

Northern Goiás

Eucalyptus forest plantations in Goias 

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

Gas station in Goias 

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

Pine plantation near Brasilia, planted a little too tight 

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

Sao Jorge Street 

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

Road past Sao Jorge 

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

September 07, 2011

Where There’s Fire, There’s Smoke

Backfire in Goias 

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

Field fire in northern Goias 

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

Black rocks 

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

Plants after fire 

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

Typical Goias landscape 

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

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

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

September 06, 2011

Changing Brazil, New Comparisons

Pontao resturant 

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

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

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

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

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


September 05, 2011

Wandering Goiás

Churrascaria do Gaucho 

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

Churrascaria do Gaucho interior 

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

Eucalyptus plantation 

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

Pousada in Pirenopolis, Goias 

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

Pony at the Pousada 

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

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

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

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

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

August 30, 2011

The New Bahia

Sunset in Salvador 

Bahia is a big and diverse state and there is a lot more than the well-known images of carnival, capoeira or the images from Jorge Amato novels.  A place like Bahia, which was less developed than many other places, has the advantage in that it can jump ahead, taking advantage of advances w/o having to go through all the mistakes that other suffered along the way. It is the advantage that the sun-belt had over the rust-belt and the U.S. analogy works on several levels. 

Salvador street 

We bought a Ford Fiesta for Mariza. I noticed it was made in Brazil; now I know it was made in Bahia.  The plant opened in 2001 and started to make cars for the U.S. market a couple years ago.  It is a new plant and one of the most productive in the world.  It doesn't have the so-called legacy costs of older-plants. The equipment is new and up-to-date and so are the workers, who are trained and accustomed to the up-to-date equipment.  BTW - I didn't know that all the Mercedes-Benz "M Class" vehicles are made in Alabama. So the American car (Ford) comes from Brazil and the German car (Mercedes) comes from America. Who can keep track?

Students at the Federal University in Bahia 

There are lots of new things in the old state of Bahia. Money is pouring in because of good business opportunities in general but also because of the pre-salt petroleum discoveries off the coast.  Some of this oil will come ashore in Bahia and the petroleum industry will require billions of dollars of support activities.   Bahia also is set to become a leader in the biofuels industry.  Sugar cane is one of the most efficient crops for producing ethanol and sugar cane in a prime crop in Bahia. They are also experimenting with other crops to be used to make oils and biodiesel.

Western Bahia has become some of the most productive farmland in the world, thanks to better ways to manage soils and new crop varieties.  The remaining problem is infrastructure.  Roads are bad and railroads almost non-existent, but the Brazilians are building a railroad across Bahia, from Tocantins to the sea to carry the grains of the inland farms to the ports of the world.   

I knew that corn and soy could be successfully grown, but I was surprised to learn that they are growing grapes for wine in Bahia. The season never really ends and with the help of irrigation they get two and a half harvests a year from their vineyards.  I thought that wine grapes could not be successfully grown too far into the tropics.  I recall that there was some doubt that a successful wine industry could be established even in Rio Grande do Sul.  But it worked there and now it is moving even farther toward the equator. I also heard that EMBRAPA is developing pears that grow well in the valley of the Sao Francisco, in Bahia. Pears are/were also a cool climate crop. The wonder of modern agriculture is how we keep on developing new varieties of crops that grow in places where nobody thought they could.  Actually, it is the wonder of human imagination.  Somebody always figures out ways to overcome those who tell us things cannot be done. 

One of the complications of development for a place like Bahia is that a lot of the work is done by newcomers and many of the benefits are gained by them. The farmers in the western part of the state, for example, are often immigrants from states like Rio Grande do Sul & Paraná. They brought their know-how with them and developed it to a higher level in the new land of Bahia. Sometimes transplanted ideas and methods work better. 

My first trip to Bahia only gave me a start. Salvador is only a small part of the state.  I have not been to western Bahia, but I plan to go and see those productive farms in places where a few decades ago everybody said could grow nothing but poverty.

My pictures show Salvador from the ocean view, a new area of town (notice the new buildings under construction) and the last picture shows students at the Federal University of Bahia. 

August 29, 2011

Afro-Brazilians in Old Salvador

Kids on Salvador Street playing drums 

Old Salvador is an interesting place because of the interesting architecture and charming streets, but much more because of the interesting life on the streets, the people, in other words. Old Salvador comes with a soundtrack.  There is the constant sound of drums and singing, as well as the usual human activity sounds you would expect on streets where the pedestrian still trumps the car.  You get a feeling of community.

Hair dressing on Salvador streets 

We were in this part of town to visit an African Brazilian organization called Olodum. Olodum is known mostly for its music, with strong percussion. In fact, Olodum members were responsible for some of the drumming and singing I heard. Some of these people were featured in a Paul Simon Album and Michael Jackson came to Salvador & Rio to record a music video “They Don’t Care About Us”. I understand that he did not to the moon walk. I suppose even for the King of Pop it would have been hard to do a smooth moon walk on the rough cobbled streets.

Street scene in Salvador 

We are interested in Olodum more for its community outreach than for its music. We are hoping to broker a partnership between the BNC ACBEU and Olodum to teach English in the local Afro-Brazilian community.  The community is interested in this because of the general utility of English, but also because of the specific demands of the World Cup, which will feature games in Salvador in 2014. With English, community members could more easily find good jobs related to foreign visitors.  We see this as a good opportunity to help a group that has often been excluded and to make new friends, in the networking way I have written about on so many occasions. 

Coca-Cola delivery in old Salvador

We went to the other side of town to Senzala do Barro Preto with a similar aim. This is another Afro-Brazilian organization. They told me that they were inspired by the civil rights movement and you could see that in the pictures of leaders like Martin Luther King and Barack Obama. Leaders at the Centro are more interested in a partnership than in English teaching per se and it makes sense. They don’t want to just have a one-time infusion, but rather want to develop community members who can sustain the effort. It makes sense to “train the trainers”. It complicates logistics a bit, but we can probably figure it out. Things just work better when the community gets what it wants and is committed to working for the results.

Street repairs in Old Salvador 

My pictures show various scenes from Old Salvador. They are fairly self explanatory. I took the Coca-Cola truck, since I don't want to go anywhere where they don't have Coca-Cola. I don't think there really are many places like that in the world these days. The bottom pictures show a street in the other part of town and the other part of town. It is less charming but it is the place where lots more people live.

Crowded streets in Salvador

Below is a the neighborhood.

Poor neighborhood in Salvador 

August 28, 2011

Old Salvador, 500 years on.

Sao Franciso Church in Salvador, Bahia Brazil 

The old part of Salvador reminds me of Lisbon, which come as no surprise given the direction of colonization.  The Portuguese landed here at the height of their empire. The Pope divided the world between the Portuguese and the Spanish in 1794, the Treaty of Tordesillas. It was interesting that they thought that the Pope had the right to broker such a treaty and give millions of people and undiscovered lands to two Iberian nations, but they took it seriously. The dividing line gave most of the Americas to Spain. Brazil was yet undiscovered, but the tip of what is now Brazil - now Salvador - juts out into the Portuguese zone. This technicality is one reason why Brazil speaks Portuguese today. 


The Portuguese empire has always fascinated me. It seems like an oxymoron. Yet little Portugal used to be a big deal, as you can still see from the spread of their language and cultural traits from East Timor to the Azores.  Portugal didn’t have the population or national heft to maintain an empire, but that didn’t stop them from doing it for more than 500 years.

Courtyard in Sao Franciso Church in Salvador, Bahia 

They hugged the coasts in most places. Brazil was an exception to some extent. The Portuguese still hugged the coast, but their descendants & others pushed way into South America, which is why Brazil is so big today.

Interior of Sao Franciso Church, Salvador, Bahia 

Salvador is an example of the old coastal empire. It was a rich place, as you can tell from the existing architecture, especially the opulent baroque church of São Francisco. We went to visit it just before one of our appointments and it was worth the trip. A little old guy called Paulo met us on the way in and gave us the fast tour.  I forgot most of what he said, but it was worth having him at the time. He didn’t ask for any money, but we gave him some anyway and he didn’t even make a pretense of turning it down.

Mary & Jesus at Sao Francisco Church in Salvador, Bahia 

Most of what I remember is that the tiles are from Portugal and a great example of that sort of art.  You can see in the pictures that Paulo was telling the truth. That gold encrusted vision you see in the picture is wood.  He said it was pau-Brasil, for which the country was named. Pau-Brasil was the country’s first big export item, before the sugar cane plantations got started.

Celing in Sao Francisco Church, Salvador 

Salvador was Brazil’s first capital. It has a kind of charming decadence today and I think it probably s had a charming decadence from the day it was founded. There was not really anything like a new big building until relatively recently in history.  Monumental buildings took generations to build and people used and occupied them as they were in the process of being competed.  I know this is a small point, but I think it is important to explain some attitude differences in the past. We expect to start and finish things in a way they did not.


The economy came to depend on sugar cane, which the Portuguese introduced. Sugar was an extremely profitable crop, but growing it was labor intensive and the labor was hard and dangerous. The Portuguese grew it with slave labor imported from Africa. Portuguese colonization was different from the English colonization in North America. The English came in large numbers and often as families and most intended to stay in America.  Fewer Portuguese came to Brazil and they often came as single men often with the intent of making money and going home.   This had predictable demographic and economic consequences that you can still see today. Bahia is demographically very much like Africa and the people of Bahia have retained many cultural aspects of their African heritage. Please see the next post to find out more about that.

My pictures are all from the São Francisco Church in Salvador.  

August 27, 2011

Seventy Years in Salvador

Associação Comercial Bahia  

Our BNC in Salvador, ACBEU, celebrated its seventieth anniversary. It was founded when much of the world was already at war and only months before the United States would be dragged too.  The context is not coincidental.  The founders understood the need for the two greatest nations of the Western Hemisphere to come together in the face of all of this rising sea of trouble.  They wanted to make their contribution. 


I say “our” BNC.  The accuracy of the usage depends on what you mean by the word “our.”  It is certainly “our” in the sense of U.S.-Brazil and it is our in the sense of the U.S. government representing the U.S. nation. We helped.  But it is mostly theirs.  It belongs to the people of Salvador, who over generations have built ACBEU to the institution it has become.  The thing that impressed me most about ACBEU, what has impressed me about all the BNCs I have visited, is the depth of community involvement.  There are people who have been involved with this BNC for two generations.  The son of one of the founders spoke at the anniversary celebration and around the room were leading members of the Salvador community.

AcBEWU mural 

I talked to a guy about my age who runs a charity that helps a thousand poor kids with education, medical care and general direction. He proudly told me that he had been a student at ACBEU many years before and that it has helped shape his life.  This is an example of a long term impact. The Chairman of ACBEU Board estimated that they have around 420,000 alumni, many like the man I mentioned above doing important work in Salvador.


ACBEU has around 6000 students this year.  It is the usual BNC mix, with mostly young people but also adults and professional students.   ACBEU supports an EducationUSA advising center; they have strong partnerships with local businesses and governments and the reach out to the community, giving poor kids scholarships and holding some classes in the poor neighborhoods.  These are all great things that most BNCs do.  An unusual aspect of ACBEU was its American student contingent. 

ACBEU hosts around three-hundred Americans each year who come to learn or perfect their Portuguese.  We talk a lot about two-way exchange, but it more often is Brazilians going to the U.S. Brazil is a great country and getting more important all the time.  We need to develop a bigger group of Americans who understand this country, its language and customs.  These students mostly come through linkages with American universities.  American students want to come to Bahia and the cultural experience is great. 

We also met one of our ELFs – English Language Fellows.  This particular ELF, Jennifer, is housed at ACBEU.  Among the things she does train high school English teachers, obviously another high-leverage activity since they will in turn train thousands of kids.  We are trying to expand this program in Brazil to help satisfy the seemingly inexhaustible demand for English language.  We currently have only two in the country: one in Recife and the one in Salvador that we met.  But next year we should get four more funded by ECA and another one funded by the public affairs.   In addition, the Secretary of Education in the state of Pernambuco wants five more ELFs and he says that he will pay for with his own funds.  ELFs have always been hosted by local partners, but I don’t think this type of full cost-share has ever happened before and it is certainly the first time in Brazil that we have had that kind of partnership.  Our English Language Officer in São Paulo is figuring out the details.  You always know when somebody really wants want something when they put their time and/or money up.  

ELFs are is a great way to reach young Brazilians, a high leverage activity, since we are helping them get what they want and we get a self-selecting group of highly motivated people, who are likely to be influential in the future. 

I have marveled at how easy it is to work in Brazil. It is because of these programs implemented over many years that we can so easily do our business in this country.  The polling data give us their ephemeral numbers of how many like us and how many don’t. Currently we are well-liked in Brazil, according to the polls.  I read polls and I pay attention to them, but I understand their limits.  People have opinions that they report and they have things that they do; these are often not closely related. I know that through good times and bad times, we have friends. 

The top picture shows  Associação Comercial Bahia. Below that is me at the commemoration trying to look good. The next two pictures show murals at ACBEU. They have an art gallery space. New artists can show their work there.  There is no money charged, but the artists have to leave a work of art at ACBEU.

August 24, 2011

The Goal of the Process is the Process

Sao Paulo View

I watched “Remember the Titans” today. The story is a common one, retold since the time of Homer or Gilgamesh.  Different people, maybe even enemies, come together to achieve a common goal and in the process of working toward the goal they become a team.  They learn to respect each other by working together. Winning the championship is not the story; becoming a team is the real theme and long-lasting mutual respect is the long-term outcome.  

State Department of Education in Sao Paulo 

A successful public diplomacy program is like that. We don’t win friends in the long run by always being right or by convincing people of the righteousness of our cause; we win friends by working together on a common cause.  And the process of doing the task is often more useful than the final outcome. Creating a process IS the goal if your purpose is to make friends for the long run. The key to finding joy in this endeavor is to find a worthy common purpose that will absorb the energies of the participants and capture their imaginations.   I mentioned our school principal exchange before. I didn’t know a thing about it a few months ago, but I love this program.  It takes top-performing Brazilian public school principals and sends them to the U.S. where they work with American counterparts for three weeks. Then they come back to Brazil to report on their experiences to their Departments of Education and their colleagues.  They hold their big conference in a different city each year.  It will be in Recife this time on November 5.

This year we will have representatives of twenty-four of the twenty-six Brazilian states. They usually do not come from the biggest cities in Brazil and they do not go to the biggest cities in the U.S.  It is a heartland –to-heartland exchange as well as a heart-to-heart emotion.  Next summer, after keeping in contact over the intervening months, the American principals will come to Brazil. I wrote a little about the principal exchange in an earlier post. This is a great process in  and of itself and if we achieved the goal of bringing the principals together I would consider it a grand success. It puts Americans and Brazilians in a common quest to improve public education in our two countries.  But it is even deeper than that.  The Brazilians and the American institutions involved take the selection process very seriously. Dozens of Brazilian principals vie for each opening. Thousands of people are involved and I believe they are improved by it.  

Our youth ambassador exchange is celebrating its tenth anniversary next year and it keeps on getting better.  It started out when then U.S. Ambassador Donna Hrinak wanted to do something to reach a youth audience in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.  Our PA section came up with the idea of sending twelve ordinary young people from public high schools to the U.S.  It was a modest start and it is still not a program that reaches masses of people, but it has grown.  Now we send thirty-five and work with 7500 students. And again the process is what touches most people.

This year we got around 7500 applicants, as I mentioned above. All speak English and are good students. They apply through sixty-four of our partner organizations throughout Brazil, all of Brazil including little towns in places like Acre or Rondonia, where we can rarely tread.  This partnership is valuable. They are BNCs, education departments and schools, all of which are willing to devote many hours of their people’s time to the service of what they consider a worthy cause.  Everybody is a volunteer and they do it for the love of learning and the future of their country.  In the process we build friendships.

The applicants write essays about American topics – in English, which are judged by boards that include university professors, teachers and BNC officials. They narrow the field to 180 finalists. After that a board in Brasilia made up of our CAO, our lead Brazilian employee plus some other people from consulates in Brazil. Thirty-five get a scholarship to visit the U.S.  This year, since it is the tenth anniversary, we want to send “plus ten” or forty-five. We are looking for corporate sponsors for this addition, which is another opportunity for partnership.

All the finalists get something. Those not chosen as youth ambassadors get a week of English immersion at one of Brazil’s great BNCs.  I wrote about the last time  here and here.

The lucky winners go to the U.S.   During their first visit in 2002, Secretary of State Colin Powell took the time to meet with the group. He spent more than a half hour with them, which is a lot of time for a busy guy like him at that time.  Subsequently, they have met other Secretaries of State plus people like Laura Bush and Michelle Obama.  It is a class act.

We always get a lot of great press in Brazil, which magnifies the reach of an already great program.  This year we believe we will get the winners announced on one of Brazil’s most popular TV variety programs.  It will reach millions of Brazilians with the kind of excitement generated by American Idol. I am not at liberty to reveal details now, since we are still in negotiations, but I am reasonably certain that we will make a big noise o/a October 22.  

So this is a great program in terms of tangible PR results, as is the principal exchange. We get press and we get noticed.  By I return to what I consider more important, the lasting relationships. We have friends all over Brazil who have worked with us on these programs and recall our common success.  Long after the newspapers have composted and the television glamor has faded, these relationships abide.

My pictures show the city of Sao Paulo from the offices of the Lemann Foundation and the SP State Ministry of Education. 

August 21, 2011

Places of Aspiration

Wild landscape in Goias  

Brazil is a big and diverse country that has changed remarkably in recent years. That fact is so obvious that it can be overlooked; it can hide in plain sight.  History and tradition conspires against seeing the big picture.  Rio is so attractive and São Paulo so dynamic that it is easy to think that Brazil revolves around this axis.  Add Brasilia, and you could spend a lifetime in this Brazil w/o paying much attention to the rest. It is not only Brazil.  I know another big and diverse country where some people don’t really notice much beyond the East Coast (i.e. New York and maybe DC) and the West Coast (i.e. LA and maybe a little around SF). But in both countries, much of the energy is outside these formerly central places. 

My admittedly still limited experience with Brazil leads me to believe there is a strong parallel with the U.S. in what we can expect in future development. Demographer Joel Kotkin identifies such “cities of aspiration” in the American heartland as engines of growth and cultural expression in the next decades. I think the same thing goes for Brazil. Cities like Manaus, Cuiabá, Campo Grande or Tres Lagoas are Brazilian cities of aspiration, places where people go to get their piece of the country’s success. It is musica sertaneja replacing samba. It is new infrastructure opening up new places and new people enjoying social mobility. We cannot forget the old places, which are and will remain important, but we should also be in the new places. 

I can think of lots of reasons to stay in the office. Office work creates its own gravity. It is hard to get out and if you are out of the office a lot some people think you are not working, but we are not really doing our jobs if we DON’T get out … a lot. If we didn’t need to get out among Brazilians we could just stay in the U.S.  Most Brazilians are far away from us, since it is such a big country, it takes time to get to them but we can get to them. Some are close enough to drive, although that takes time too. Some of the areas and satellite cities around Brasilia are places of aspiration, so are some places in Rio and Sao Paulo.  They are not all away from everything. They are not all far off in the countryside. My car will come soon, I hope. I can drive from Brasilia to Goiania in about three hours and from Goiania I can get to Uberlandia etc. 

Anyway, I think that most of us agree about the need to get out. We can all identify the problem. We just have to do it, and not just me.  It is an exciting time to be in Brazil, as I have said on many occasions. There is enough Brazil for everybody.

The picture is a landscape in Goias.  There is lots of room. 

August 20, 2011

Beautiful JK Bridge

JK Bridge in Brasilia 

Among the many things in Brasilia named for Juscelino Kubitschek is the bridge in the pictures. It is a real work of art and looks good, as you can see in the pictures.

JK Bridge in Brasilia 

You notice from the grass that we are getting into the peak of the dry season.  The air is as dry as Death Valley. and it won't rain again until September. After that it will rain every day for the next couple of months. You can read more about the bridge at this link.

JK Bridge in Brasilia

August 19, 2011

Born Knowing Algebra

Case Thomas Jefferson graduation ceremony 

I recently had the honor of speaking and giving out some diplomas at a Casa Thomas Jefferson graduation ceremony.  536 students of various ages and programs got diplomas. The diplomas are symbols hard work, but do note confer any special privileges. Yet the students came for them and so did their families.  Everybody was proud. It was the affirmation of a community that made the difference.

Rituals have a place in our lives that we often forget or neglect. My speech was not very interesting and nobody expected it to be. You don't come to a ceremony like this for stirring oratory. I was playing my role, as were the others. The fact that we were doing it mattered, not the ostensible content. We marked the achievement and the transition of the students.  

IMO, we have abandoned too many of our traditions and rituals. We like to think that we are too sophisticated and that we see through these “empty” gestures. There are indeed empty gestures, but many of the traditions that mark transitions or recognize achievement are not empty. They are full of meaning as structures that define our lives and hold our society together.  When people neglect their roles, society starts to fray.

The Casa Thomas Jefferson students were admirable and they deserved the recognition that the ceremony gave them.  Many of the adults work all day and study at night. They know that English is an important asset for their success. We Americans don’t appreciate how lucky we are that we learn the world language as our first. One author said that it is almost like being born already knowing algebra. Others understand the power of our native language and are willing to sacrifice to learn it. 

I have a lot of respect for those who learn my language & I am glad that they do.  I have had a lot of fun learning my Portuguese, Polish and Norwegian, but since I can’t learn all the languages of the world, I am delighted that so much of the world has decided to learn mine. And if I can celebrate their achievement and take part in their traditions, it sure makes me happy.

August 17, 2011

Fishy Food


People in Manaus eat a lot of freshwater fish and various restaurants offer varieties of fish I have never heard of before.  They had names like tambaqui & pirarucu; I cannot recall which were which.  All that I know for sure is that I had at least five and maybe as many as eight different kinds of fish.  They all had a kind of whitish meat and a mild taste.  A lot depended on the way they were cooked and nothing had the kind of strong taste of cold water fish like salmon or trout.  

toothy fish 

You can see from my pictures what servings look like. Everything tasted better than it looked.  I think it was the tambaqui that I liked the best.  I don’t know for sure, but in the models you see of the two fish, I think it is the bigger one.  It is not served whole, like the others in the pictures.


I just took the advice of the people I was with about what to eat and I was glad that I did.  The food was very good and different than I usually eat.  I eat salmon and trout, but otherwise my fish comes in squares with breading on it and they don't stare back at me. Below is the airport & the turtle pond pond in front.  Notice also the pickup trucks. Manaus has lots of pickup trucks.



August 16, 2011

Another (Little) Favela Conversion

Little favela in Manaus

The picture you see above shows a successful outreach to a favela. It was not a big favela, but it was troublesome.  I took the picture from the garage of our BNC in Manaus. The BNC folks told me that it used to be very dangerous being near the favela. People would climb up the wall, steal things or just vandalize property.

The BNC  was happy when the city government decided to do some renewal. The street you see in the picture used to be an open stream, more of an open sewer. The water now passes under the road, which follows the old water course.  The people get to stay in the simple but comfortable houses on condition of decent behavior and keeping their kids in school. There is evidently some provision for secure property rights, but the people I talked to didn't know the details. Improving physical conditions followed by provisions that establish discipline and some kind of property rights or at least responsibility are the essential ingredients of stability. As we learned in the 1970s, just building houses for the poor does no good and may actually cause harm if it breaks down social bonds. Buildings are important components of communities but it is the human relationships that really count.

Speaking of relationships, the BNC also did its own outreach. They went down into the community, offering some scholarships but mostly just getting to know the people better.  Today, they tell me that peace and harmony are more or less established in this particular corner of Brazil.  It looks orderly and clean. Somebody is picking up the trash. That is a good sign.  

In general, BTW, Manaus is a fairly clean city with significant numbers of trees along the streets.  This complex doesn't have many trees, but they seem to have made provision for parking.

August 15, 2011

Youth Audiences: Simple, not Always Easy

Choir at assembly 

Reaching youth audiences in a meaningful way is a perennial challenge for public diplomacy. We sometimes pander to them, trying to supply vacuous messages in a pathetic attempt to be cool. I don't like this. We (USG) are not cool in the adolescent way and I don't want us to be. But I think we already have nearly perfect vehicles for sustained contact with youth. We may not appreciate them because we have been using them for a long time but we have not been using them in the same old ways.

I wrote a note about our BNCs earlier here & here.  So far, I have visited BNCs in Rio, Recife, São Paulo and Manaus and that has made me more certain than before that this is a great vehicle. We reach thousands of young people with almost no direct cost to the U.S. taxpayers.  BNCs have also played parts in a couple other great programs, that I will describe below. It is the synergy that we are always seeking. 

HS marching band in Manaus 

For example, one reason I went to Recife and Manaus last week was to follow up on participants in our youth ambassador program.  Young Brazilians went to the U.S. a few months ago.  Most of the winners were chosen with the help of the BNCs. The BNCs also did follow up programs with runners-up, as I described in an earlier post here & hereNow they are hosting Americans coming to Brazil as the counterpart of the program. It is a great experience for the young Americans, but it is even more important to the young Brazilians they meet.  The program lets us reach all parts of Brazil.  Each of the youth Ambassadors personally interacts with hundreds of Brazilians. Through social media and traditional media (they are interviewed in newspapers, radio and TV) they reach even more.  One reason this is so effective is that they are in smaller centers too. An official American is a bigger deal in Manaus than in São Paulo and an even bigger deal in Rio Branco or Boa Vista.

In Manaus, I had planned to meet the four American youth Ambassadors who went there. So I invited them to a meeting.  I had not counted on all their new Brazilian friends and former Brazilian youth Ambassadors. I ended up with twenty kids at Pizza Hut, excitedly talking about America with me and with each other. They want to know about ... everything.  They commented that they couldn't believe that American diplomats could be so open and eat so much pizza. They had a image of us with three-piece suits. The Pizza Hut encounter changed their minds. I am not saying that twenty kids will change the world, or our image here, but, as I wrote above, they talk.  It was touching that they worried about spending my money and wanted to chip in for the check.  It cost about $R20 a person. We can afford that and it was money well spend. I think I will try to regularize these kinds of meetings with young people. I used to do it a lot in Poland and it worked well.  Kids everywhere like pizza. Me too.

The other program I have been following around is the Brazil-U.S. Principal Exchange Program. This one takes the best principal from Brazil and sends them to work with schools in the U.S.  It is followed by some of the best American principals who come to Brazil.  Each group studies the work of the others and suggests exchanges of best practices. These educators go to places where Americans are less common, like Acre, Tocantins, Mato Grosso or Rondonia. They reach thousands personally and maybe millions through the media.

I spent the morning in Manaus with the principal that went to Amazonas & Acre.  Her name was Sandra Boyles and she was a principal in the State of Georgia.  She made her report to the State Secretary of Education in Amazonas at a big assembly of school leaders from throughout the state. They met us - literally - with a band and a choir. 

I talked to the Secretary of Education Gedeão Timóteo Amorim during lunch that followed the program.  I have rarely found anybody so satisfied with one of our programs. He said that he had spoken with the principals that went from Amazonas and that his staff had lots of ideas for following up.  In fact, our current good situation is a partial follow up to an even to an earlier program. This guy was an IVP. He told me that he got many ideas about distance educations during his official visit to the United States.  Amazonas is mostly rain forests and it has few roads.  People have to travel hours by boat along the rivers or they have to fly. Amazonas today has one of the best organized distance learning systems in the world. And we helped; our program made a big difference. And the authorities in Amazonas recognize and appreciate it.

Our principal was treated like a rock star by the HS students and she told me that this had been her experience during his whole time in Acre and Amazonas.  Students, teachers and administrators flocked around to have their picture taken with us or to offer their words of English.  With the social media, they are sharing these pictures and sharing their experience.  She told me that it had been like this during her whole trip. The other principals confirmed this with their own stories.  I lost track of the number of times I heard some variation of “Americans are so much better than we thought from the news or movies” I heard from the kids. 

I am certain that we will have had a lasting positive effect on Brazilian education and I think the exchanges of ideas will have a lasting positive impact on U.S. education. But strictly from the public diplomacy point of view, I don’t think we could have made a greater impact on youth audiences in any other way. These programs work.

As much as we want direct contact with the youth audiences - future decision-makers- which these programs give us, I still believe in the imperative of reaching current decision makers.  This exchange program got us in close personal contact with decision-makers like principals, politicians and state secretaries of eduction who will decide what to do now.  The principal I was working directly with in Amazonas has impact in the states of Amazonas and Acre.  This program also sent principals to Alagoas, Ceará, Espirito Santo, Goiás, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Paraná, Pernambuco, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Norte, Rondonia, Roraima, São Paulo, & Tocantins.  Suffice to say that the got to places were our public diplomacy would not otherwise reach.  They talked to people we would not otherwise meet and had experiences we will never have.  Beyond that, there is a network that has been created. This year's principals are benefiting from those that went before and so shall it be in the future. I repeat because it bears repeating that the American nation is greater than the American government.  A program like this lets our public diplomacy leverage the power of the American nation.

I also repeat again – just about everything we do in public diplomacy is simple. Success depends on energy and persistence in the application of things almost all of us know to do. We have to get out of the offices and among the audiences, fewer meetings with each other and more meetings with audiences. And we have to leverage the efforts of others. We all know that. It is simple, but maybe not easy to do. My first weeks have included lots of travel and literally hundreds of meetings with Brazilians. This “boots on the ground” approach is also something that works.  I hope I have the energy to keep it up and to keep up with the Brazilians.

Vice Consul interview on TV Globo Amazonas 

One more thing to add about our youth outreach. We are using the interaction of old and new media very well. During my stop at the TV Globo in Manaus, I ran into two of our vice-consuls, Dustin Salveson & David Fogelson doing TV and then online interviews about visas.  Nothing is we do really more interesting to Brazilian audiences than visas.  There are lots of myths and misconceptions.  Almost all Brazilians now who seek visas get them.  This is a change from years ago, but many people still believe the old system is still in place.

TV GLobo Manaus interview 

Beyond that, there is essentially no wait for student visas. I asked our vice-consuls to repeat that early and often.  You have to repeat the same message over and over. It gets boring for you to do it, but we have to remember that most people are hearing it for the first time and even if they heard it before, they probably did not pay attention. Our vice-consuls did a great job. You can see the pictures of the "event". This is a trifecta. We get television, live-online interview and a written record. 

I believe that you have to understand before you can try to be understood, which is why I am doing so much contact work and travel in Brazil.  I am learning a lot and my Portuguese is improving too. The more I see of what we are doing in Brazil, the more encouraged I become. Our colleagues of the past laid a great foundation and our colleagues now of doing a great job. Beyond that and most important, the Brazilians like and appreciate what we are doing.  I have always been lucky with my posts, but this one seems to be beyond great fortune.

August 14, 2011


Fortaleza beach in Brazil 

CENTENE (see link) has the challenge of getting science into common use.  Centro de Estudos e Sistemas Avançados do Recife (C.E.S.A.R.) does that as its primary task.  Its job is innovation or more correctly translating innovation into profitable and sustainable enterprises. I talked to Claudia Cunha and asked her what she meant when she used the term innovation. This is not a simple question. Innovation is one of those terms that everybody loves but sometimes defines in different ways and often when people say innovation, they mean totally new products, but don’t include the actual application. I was pleased to see that we agreed on the more inclusive definition. Innovation, of course, includes new technologies or processes, but it also includes different ways of using old things or organizational changes that increase productivity. And it always means actually bringing improvements outside the think tank or the laboratory.

Fortaleza in Brazil 

As a sidebar we talked a little about the challenges of productivity in the recent economic downturn.  All wealth creation is ultimately based on productivity, but productivity means that you can produce more of the things you want with fewer inputs of time, materials or labor. In other words, productivity – in the short run – costs jobs.  More precisely, productivity improvements  costs jobs in existing enterprises and in existing clusters, while creating them in other places where they might not be seen as the result of productivity, not a good argument for politicians. This is a problem as old as innovation, but it is worth thinking about it all the time when arguing for more productivity.


CESAR is an incubator and a consultant. It works with existing firms (such as Motorola, Samsung, Vivo, Oi, Positivo, Dell, Visanet, Bematech, Bradesco, Unibanco, Banco Central do Brasil, Siemens, Philips, CHESF e Agência Nacional de Águato and others) to  improve their products and processes. It also provides financing, incubates and then sells off startups. We couldn’t talk about all the aspects of the work. They maintain strict separation of lines of endeavor, since they are working with proprietary information. 

Suffice to say that this is another non-profit that makes a good living. They want to have “profit” in order to do more.  Profit, after all, is the price of survival. The CESAR method has been successful in Pernambuco and now has been established also in CESAR Sul, in Curitiba, Paraná. I don’t know why they still call is CESAR.  Maybe it should be CESAPR (for Paraná). 

My pictures are not from CESAR. They didn't want me to take pictures, lest I inadvertently reveal some proprietary information.  The pictures are Fortaleza, where I made a stop on the way to Manaus. I got them from the plane just before they made us turn off electrical devices, which I learned includes cameras. This is still in the Northeast (CESAR's district) so I figured it was appropriate enough. Up top is a low rent district that still has a nice sea access.  Below is the city itself and finally are some windmills taking advantage of the steady winds. 

August 13, 2011

High Tech in a Less Advanced Place

View of Recife in Brazil 

Recife and the state of Pernambuco are some of the places in Brazil that have changed the most in recent years.  In fact, the whole of the Northeast has been changing. It is still the poor part of the country, but it is catching up.  Recife is now a center of high technology and a magnet for high tech businesses. Centro de Tecnologias Estratégicas do Nordeste (CETENE) is a part of this.

CETENE was founded in 2005 by the Ministry of Science and Technology.  Its mission is to develop and disseminate technology in the area of the Northeast. This includes nanotechnology and biotechnology. One of the main thrusts is the development of energy using the resources of the Northeast, which include lots of sunshine (for solar energy) and long growing seasons. They are working on plant varieties and biotechnology that will produce fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel more efficiently. They are also cooperating with EMBRAPA to produce blight resistant varieties of plants for the Northeast. 

I hit it off well with Giovanna Machado, who specializes in nanotechnology and her colleague Andréa Baltar Barros, who does biotechnology. Biotech and nanotech are truly the industries of the future since they deal with basic materials we use to construct our lives and with life itself.  Giovanna is interested with working with us on a mentor program for women and girls in science. Our role would be to facilitate the sharing of American experience, maybe do some CONX programs or even a speaker tour. Our Consulate is working on this program.

Electric microscope

The facilities at CETENE are modern and well equipped.  Most interesting for me was the electronic microscopes that can see down past the molecular level (see nanotech).  These devices are so sensitive that vibrations caused by far away traffic or even the waves on the sea can cause them to malfunction.  Giovanna told me that the ground in Recife is a little unstable. The city is not build on bedrock. To address this, CETENE has an elaborate system of balances. We talked about the strength and versatility of carbon nanotubes and the strange properties of elements at the nano-level. Gold, for example, is a superb conductor and catalyst, but very expensive.  At the nano-level a less expensive metal such as copper can be made to have the same properties as gold.  It has to do with surface areas. The surface area is the only part of a material that really interacts with others. Nanotech can alter this interaction.  Nanotechnology has the capacity to essentially eliminate shortages of crucial products, such as rare earth elements, since manipulating substances at the molecular level make other things do the same job.  Manipulated copper might be ersatz gold, but if it behaves like gold in the way you need it to, does it really matter?  The dreams of the alchemists may yet be realized in ways they could never have imagined. 

Just to add a little background - A nanometer is a one billionth of a meter. How small is that?  It is so small that a human hair is 100,000 nanometers thick, an average man is 1.7 billion nanometers tall, a strand of DNA is 2-3 nanometers & an atom is 1/10 of a nanometer. You can’t see a nanometer with your naked eye or even with the most powerful optical microscopes.  But we can see them with our electronic microscopes mentioned above and nanotechnology means we can now manipulate matter at the atomic level. This is nanotechnology, one of the most exciting industries of the future. 

For most of the activities of our daily lives, the things we can see with our eyes, Newtonian physics works just fine.  But when things get very small, on the nano level, elements behave in different ways. A nano-particle is not the same as a molecule.  Molecules are stable. Nano-particles are not because they behave according to the rules of quantum physics.  Don’t ask me to explain that.

Nanotech is an enabling technology. For example, nanotechnology is already being used in medicine. A nano-particle can deliver medicine directly to cancer cells and kill them w/o affecting neighboring cells. Some nano-particles can be activated by infrared or magnetism. In that case, a nano-particle could be directed to a cancer cell and then activated to get hot and kill the cancers. These advances have developed only in the last five years. 

We are now familiar with the stain repelling, wrinkle free fabrics, even sox that won't stink. These were developed using nanotechnology. We also have self-healing paints. For example, paint on a car that can cover its own scratches. The closest thing to a mass produced commodity product today are carbon nano tubes. They can be stronger than steel but at almost no weight.


Biotechnology is similar to nanotechnology in that scientists are changing the properties of things, in this case living things and their DNA codes.  (This has often created reactions among those who fear the new science and there have been bans of biotech products and crops.) It is also similar to nanotechnology in that the things they are working with are very small.  I didn’t learn much about the specific biotechnology experiments.  I have to admit that I would have had trouble understanding some of it even if we were speaking English instead of Portuguese.  But I can give you some of the simple-man conclusions. 

Among the things they are working on are yeasts and algae that secrete biofuels (see biofuels). For example, they have some kind of fermentation that produces biodiesel instead of alcohol.  They also had some kind of algae that is supposed to break the bonds in water, releasing oxygen and hydrogen.  This is what is pictured above. Photosynthesis normally separates oxygen from carbon in CO2. This also separates oxygen from hydrogen, don't know how.  I do know that hydrogen is a superb fuel, but it doesn’t have much mass.  In its natural (gas) form, hydrogen has only 1/24 the weight of gasoline and takes up lots more space per unit of energy. That is why it will never be used directly to drive vehicles.  A pound of hydrogen has more energy than a pound of gasoline, but a pound of gasoline is much denser.  A gallon of gasoline contains four times the energy of a gallon of LIQUID hydrogen, which would require high pressure tanks to maintain. But hydrogen can be used to generate energy using fuel cells at fixed locations and since energy is fungible to some extent this will address the liquid energy problem.

We talked a little about cellulosic ethanol.  I used to have great hopes for that, but I don’t anymore.  They told me that the science would eventually make it possible to make ethanol from cellulose at an acceptable cost, but the real market for it might not be there.

For a little background - Cellulose is common in farm and forestry wastes and is “available” as a feed stock, but it also has other characteristics. Most notably, cellulose waste is bulking, heavy and it tends to burn well. It will never make practical sense to move all this stuff to factories to be turned into ethanol, a process which will produce relatively little energy in return for the massive input. The most useful alternative is what the Brazilians already do with bagasse (the mostly cellulous remains of sugar cane after the sugar is extracted) and what many pulp, paper and wood mills do with their sawdust and scraps: burn them on site to produce electricity. This is a good use if we remember the more inclusive word bioenergy instead of the narrower biofuel. This woody biomass is a vastly underutilized bioenergy source. If we use electric cars, it would be good if the electricity is produced from a carbon neutral source such as woody biomass.

In Brazil, not only does the bagasse fuel most of the ethanol plants that use sugar as a raw material, they also produce electricity for the Brazilian grid.  It is especially useful because the cane harvest season coincides with the dry season in Brazil, when the hydroelectric plants have less water.  Why would you give up the real benefits of bagasse as a fuel to chase the chimera of cellulosic ethanol?

The most promising bioenergy that might replace petroleum is not really bioenergy at all, but rather is a byproduct. Much of our modern industrial society is petroleum based and much of that is not the stuff we burn.  Plastics, drugs, fertilizers and many composites even the paving on our streets is petroleum based.  We could replace liquid petroleum fuel a lot easier than we could do without many of these petroleum based products.  But when we recall that petroleum is a biofuel, we can see that we could use bioenergy production to replace petroleum in many of these uses. In fact, Middle Eastern potentates feel more acutely threatened by developments in alternative materials than they do the development of alternative fuels. As long as we need the “byproducts” production of oil etc is assured.   

The problem for CETENE, they told us, was the difficulty they have in translating science into practical applications. We talked about other research parks in the U.S. and I mentioned Research Triangle in North Carolina. I was surprised that they did not know about it, but we will follow up with information and maybe a CONEX program or speaker tour. We will be in touch.  

Talking Taxis

Taxi stand w/o taxis in Manaus

It is hard to get a taxi driver’s opinion about things, unless you ask. They aren't a statistically valid representative sample of the population, but they know the city better than average and they get to meet lots of different people, so it is worth asking. I rode in eight taxis in Manaus and decided to get something more from the exchange than transportation. I started with similar questions. (1) How long have you lived in Manaus and (2) How do you feel about the changes in the last ten years? That kept the conversation going for the rest of the trip, no matter how long and one trip took an hour.

Museum square in Manaus

All but one of the drivers had grown up in Manaus and the one who didn’t had lived there more than forty years.  This was a bit surprising, because they all told me that most of the people in Manaus are newcomers. Maybe taxis drivers are uniquely recruited from native populations. But besides the guy who had immigrated to Manaus, nobody had ever gone anywhere else, not even other parts of Brazil. They explained that Manaus was like an island.  It was not connected to the rest of Brazil by any road that you could use. To get to Manaus you had to fly or take the boat up the river. A couple grumbled that this was a kind of conspiracy by the elites in the rest of the country, who wanted to prevent competition from the new frontier regions. One guy told me that there used to be a road that went west across Amazonas and connected with Rondonia and from there to Brazil in general, but the road had fallen into disrepair and was now been reclaimed by the jungle. They blamed foreign NGOs and environmentalists for preventing repairs and improvements.

Church in Manaus 

Manaus has grown fantastically in the last ten years. Although it is far from everywhere else, it has a port on the Amazon that can handle ocean going trips.  Once you get a container on the boat, shipping costs to any other seaport of the world become much less important.  It can cost less to ship bulky cargo thousands of miles around the world than it does to ship a hundred miles on some of Brazil’s roads.  Manaus has a free trade zone, which has attracted all sorts of assembly industries.  They assemble computers here, no surprise, but they also make heavy things like cars and Harley-Davidson motorcycles, thanks to the capacity for cheap shipment by water.

All this growth is a mixed blessing. The city’s infrastructure is not up to the population growth.  A couple of the taxi drivers told me that they used to play football on the streets that are now so chocked with traffic that it is hard to run across them to the other side to safety even when the light in in your favor.  One of the drivers told me that there are 3000 more cars on the streets every month.  This might be apocryphal, but it gets on the perception of the problem.

Traffic jams in Manaus 

Many of the buildings and whole neighborhoods are new in Manaus. There is a feeling of growth and vitality. It is becoming a high-rise city, although there are some nice green and low places in the old city, as you can see in the pictures.  It would be nicer if the transportation network could keep up.  Mass transit is not good. They have plans for a monorail that is supposed to help with all the traffic associated with the World Cup.  Of course, having it ready by the time the World Cup rolls around in 2014 is a low probably event.  It is expected to go only thirteen kilometers anyway.  It would not address the problems of the large and growing city. 

A couple of travel & taxi-tips – there are not enough taxis to meet the demand during most of the day, but especially during rush hours.  It is not like São Paulo or Rio.  Taxi stands tend not to have taxis waiting. You have to call.  Traffic is increasing daily. You need more time between appointments than you think. Distances also tend to be a little greater than you would think if you were thinking about a more densely packed cities like Rio or São Paulo.  

Evangelical Religions

Besides the new buildings, the thing you notice driving around Manaus are the many protestant churches and meeting houses.  They are mostly store front affairs, but some are really big. I didn’t ask the taxi drivers about their religions, but one volunteered that Jesus had changed his life. And they all talked about the growing religion.  

I don’t know the figures, and I am not sure figures would be accurate anyway, but it seems that Manaus has more evangelicals than other places in Brazil. This would seem to track with the idea of migration. People willing to make big changes in their lives in one way, for example moving to a new city, are also often more willing to change their lives in other ways, like converting to a new religion. 

The protestant religions are mostly native Brazilian, i.e. they are not the result of recent foreign proselytizing or foreign immigration.  I say recent, because clearly the Baptists and Pentecostals so widely present in Brazil did not originate here, but they have been fully Brazilianized so that now the people seeking new converts are Brazilians.  Brazil is evidently even sending missionaries to other places like Africa and even the United States.

In any case, the many new churches are self-sustaining with local support. I heard about, but did not actually see that a new Mormon Church was being constructed.  I also heard that a mosque was being built, but this is not a native development.  According to what I heard, it is being implanted with Arab money, maybe Saudis, but that is all the information I have.  There is a significant Arab community in Manaus, but many are Christian Arabs, whose families have lived in Brazil since the time of the Ottoman Empire, and many with no particularly strong religious affiliation. Brazilians generally seem tolerant of religious differences in an easy-going way.

I learned a lot from my taxi experience, but I followed the trust but verify rule, i.e. I asked others too at my other meetings and there was significant concurrence. For example, I asked a few educators about the idea that Manaus was being disadvantaged by elites in other parts of the country. They said that they personally did not believe that to be true, but that lots of people did believe it and they could find examples. I suspect my taxi research is as useful as any focus group. Way back in MBA School I was officially trained as a researcher.  After all, it was only a quarter century ago.

 Speaking of taxi knowledge, I have a story from São Paulo too, this one a little less serious. In the morning, one of the drivers told me about a football game to be played between Corinthians and Americana MG. He told me that Corinthians were the team of the people and that all good people in São Paulo liked them.  That evening in another cab I heard the game on the radio. I figured it must be that game, so I said that to the drivers.  It was and Corinthians were ahead 1-0. I commented on the game and the driver was surprised and delighted.  When Corinthians scored a second goal, he said I was good luck. And when it came time to pay, he rounded the fare down $R 5, which is not common for taxi drivers to do. Of course, the truth was that I had deployed every bit of knowledge I had on the subject. Good he didn’t ask any more questions about football.

August 12, 2011

Heart of the Amazon

Me and the big leafI had never been to the Amazon rain forest before and I am not sure that I have been there now.  Manaus is indeed the heart of the Amazon rain forest, the place where the Rio Negro (Black River) meets the Rio Solimões to form the Amazon.  But Manaus is a very big city.  It has more than 2 million inhabitants and you can easily forget that you are in the Amazon when you are stuck in traffic and surrounded by tall buildings. 

My appointments included the usual meetings with journalists, academics and a stop at the local BNC. These are things I would do in any other city.  I did, however, get to make a stop in the remnant of the forest.  As the city was growing rapidly, a few farsighted people figured that it would be good to have a big green and natural place in the middle of what would become the greater city.  They set aside – and really defended – a large area of natural forest.   It is called the Bosque da Ciência and now features native forests and animals such as manatees and otters that were injured and brought to the place.  

I was a little surprised by the forest.  The trees were not a big as I thought and there was a lot more brush on the ground. I read that rainforests were so dark because of the shade of big trees that there was not so much growing on ground level.  This was not a completely natural place, so maybe it is like our own temperate forests, i.e. thicker when they are reestablishing. 

Amazon forest close up of the understory 

Ancient tree in Bosque da Ciencia in Manaus, BrazilMaybe it sounds strange, but the Amazon forest I saw just reminds me of being around a lot of really big house plants. Many of the species are the ones or like the ones that decorate our windowsills and offices. Look at that picture of me with the giant leaf.  It gives a the thought of falling leaves a menacing aspect. The tree on the side is thought to be the oldest in the park, at least 600 years old. It is mostly hollow and provides a home for all sorts of animals. 

My ostensible reason for visiting the forest was to accompany a group of U.S. youth ambassadors and their Brazilian counterparts, as well as their escorts from the BNC.  I got there before they did, so I had a chance to look around in the company of one of the young Brazilian guides.   It was hot and humid, but I just love being in the woods, no matter where.  I understand, of course, that I couldn’t survive long if I were actually in this wild.  The first thing I noticed was a kind of howling sound.  Big cicadas were responsible. You can see what they look like in the picture nearby. The sound was more musical and a lot less annoying than the kind of mechanical sound similar bugs make in North America. 

I went into a little museum, were I encountered a group of Brazilian school kids.  I was evidently more exotic than the animals.  They literally flocked around and followed me, bashfully saying words in English. It was funny.  I guess Americans are rarer around here than the cool animals. 

Alligator in Amazonia 

Brazilian OtterI got a very interesting fact talking to one of the scientists. She said that they are studying the ecology of the forest in a very broad sense, including studying the habits and culture of the people who live in the woods.  She said that they had to persuade forest dwellers to change their long-held habits. One of the cultural habits that needs to change is the slash and burn agriculture practiced by the natives for generations.   Of course, I knew about slash and burn agriculture.  I learned about it in anthropology classes many years ago.  But I guess I didn’t focus on it in the modern context. 

The natives have been using slash and burn for thousands of years.  It was a sustainable kind of agriculture because native populations were very small.  The burned fields remain productive for only three to five years using the ashes as fertilizer.  After that, the farmers have to move on and clear new land.  Obviously, this destroys lots of forest, but with low population densities the forests grew back before the stone-age farmers came back.  Think about what this means.  It means that the tropical forests are not very old, although a few very old ones would survive in limited areas, especially around rivers or ravines. Even with low densities, it is likely that forests would be slashed and burned every fifty to 100 years.  This seems like a long time and it is a long time in human terms.  But in a forest terms, it is not.  My pine forests go from inception to final harvest in around 35 years.  The rain forest is essentially a kind of extensive farm.  It also means that the trees can grow back rapidly.  It is a hopeful thing.

Cicada in Manuaus 

I bought an interesting book at the airport in Brasilia, “Guia Politicamente Incorrecto da História do Brasil” (A Politically Incorrect Guide to Brazilian History) and read it on the plane to Recife & Manaus. It was the #1 non-fiction best seller on Veja Magazine and featured lots of debunking of popularly held misconceptions.  Among other things, it talked about the treatment of the forests by native Brazilians.  They burned them regularly and it was actually the Jesuits who taught them that the forest should sometimes be left standing.  This is very similar to the case in North America, as I have often written in my forestry blogs. Fire is the favorite tool of stone-age man. It is really the only way they can clear and manage forests.  Stone axes just don’t do the job.  Anyway, my airplane reading fit exactly into my on the ground information.  Sweet. Feeding Mantees 

I want to get a much more in depth study of the rain forests and get to know them in the ways I know my North American woods of home.  It will take a lot of study as well as contact with somebody who really knows the biomes.

My trip to Manaus taught me a couple of things. First, Manaus is a big city that only happens to be in the Amazon. I worry about the urban advance. Second that the Amazon forests were regularly disrupted and burned long before the European arrived.  On the plus side, it means that renewal is possible.

The pictures are explained in the text or need little explanation. The otters are very cute, but  they are aggressive. If the put two of the same gender in the same place, they will kill each other.  They eat mostly fish and breed rapidly. The Amazon manatee you see being bottle fed does not breed very fast. They are at greater risk. The local river dwellers and natives eat them given the chance. The popular local name for them is river cow and some people think of them exactly as that. Come to think of it, we used to call them sea cows before they picked up the less pejorative name of manatee. Manatees are harmless herbivores. Other things inhabit the water, like the alligator or Jacaré.  You can not easily see it laying there in the plants. They have brains the size of a peanut, but they don't need to be very smart to bite down. I am not really very fond of them.

August 11, 2011

Tenative Peace in the Complexo de Alemão

 This is another of my out of order posts.  It is from my trip to Rio a while back.

Compexo de Alemao

National Basketball Association (NBA) players came to work with kids in the Complexo de Alemão, which just a few months ago was one of the worse and most violent favelas in Brazil. It requires the sustained intervention of the Brazilian army and police to push out the drug dealings and retake control of the neighborhood. They are employing a kind of counterinsurgency strategy that I recognize from Iraq. It is the “seize, hold, build” strategy at work.  General Petraeus would understand.


The back story is interesting, as one of the top-cops explained it to me. There was a political reaction against the police and the military after the end of military rule in the middle of the 1980s. One of the dominant modes of thinking explained and to an extent excused crime among poor people as a reaction to the violence and disrespect of the authorities. There were obvious problems with the police at the time and there was merit to the idea that the police should act less as an occupying force and more like members of the community, but what amounted to a partial withdrawal of the forces of order had a negative result. Of course, this is a simplified explanation and nothing ever happens for one simple reason, but this is part of the explanation.

In any case, the favelas were effectively out of control. Movies like “Tropa de Elite” show the situation, no doubt with some cinematic exaggeration, but the fact is that nobody would enter the favelas in safety and the crime spilled out into all regions of the city.


Crime was oppressing not only favela dwellers but spilled into other parts of the city. Some commentators almost seemed satisfied that the quality of life for “the rich” was declining because of the fear of violence, but a storm that wets the feet of the rich often drowns the poor. The rich retreated to walled compounds and hired guards. The poor just got robbed and killed. 

The Rio authorities decided to pacify the favelas. They started cautiously, trying to bring services into the favelas, building sport complexes. We had our NBA event in one of those complexes. It was/is a nice facility, but until the police established order, it was a used as drug emporium.  


Anyway, even the limited pacification efforts annoyed the drug lords of the favelas, who wanted to keep things the way they were. Evidently to show their displeasure and get the government to back off, the drug gangs started to attack and burn cars and buses outside the favelas, but instead of backing down, the government doubled down. It was a heroic moment. State, local and Federal authorities cooperated to retake the territory from the drug gangs. The Brazilian army literally invaded the favelas, taking them back from the traficantes. Following the forces came services. It was the “seize, hold & build” strategy.

Today police presence remains strong and obvious, but the big story is the return of life and vitality to the favela.  I was able to walk freely in places were heavily armed police could not tread just last year. 

The authorities have no illusions about wiping out the drug trade. There will always be criminals. But there is a big difference between crime that goes on in the world and actual control of territory by criminal gangs.  It was important to secure the authority of the government. When they raised the Brazilian flag on the high point of the favela de Alemão at the end of November last year it was a proud day for the Cariocas and all Brazilians. 

So far, so good. The streets of the favela are now crowded with people and the shops have products in them.  There is a chance now. The security has been established, the essential first step. Now the government is making investments in infrastructure. You can see all the workers in the pictures. It is also an auspicious time because the Brazilian economy is growing and providing jobs. But perhaps the most surprising development, one unpredicted by experts, is the dropping birthrate within the favelas. This will give Brazilian authorities and people of Brazil a breathing space to make the changes they need to make in the culture and nature of the favelas.

The pictures are from the favela. You can see the closeup of what it looks like. The favela is a kind of vertical city. It crawls up the hill. It reminds me of those Pueblo Indian dwellings, only much bigger. One guys roof is another's front yard and walking the streets near the top means climbing stairs and even ladders. 

August 10, 2011

Recife: Another Great Binational Center

ABA Recife 

ABA is one of the newest BNCs in Brazil, only twenty-three years old. Executive Director Eduardo Carvalho told me that when the BNC was founded, they looked to their older cousins for advice and modeled their program on ALUMNI in São Paulo. ALUMNI at that time was aimed mostly at adult students, so that is what ABA did too. They soon found, however, that most of the demand was among younger people, teenagers and children. ABA now enrolls around 3500 students; 800 of them are adults. Preteens and teenagers make up the biggest group.

 Four American Youth Ambassadors were visiting ABA for their orientation while I was there.  This is only the second group of Americans.  The Embassy has been sending Brazilian Youth Ambassadors to the U.S. for more than ten years.  The program was so successful that everyone agreed that Americans should make the return trip.  The Americans arrived last week and have been spread across the country.  I will be meeting with some of those who went to Manaus tomorrow.  Their goal is to learn about Brazil, learn a little Portuguese and interact with Brazilians. 

Eduardo is enamored with technology and wants to use it throughout his program and you can see his interest all over the building.  There are well equipped computer rooms and the library has digital access to publications.  I noticed notices without much text taped to walls around the building.  Eduardo showed me what they were with his I-Phone. They were I-Phone patches that could be read with the device and each of the patches had a clue, in English, for a kind of scavenger hunt. The students were supposed to learn (and play with) the technology while learning English and solving a puzzle.  You can see what the posters look like and the ABA library in the top picture. I will put Eduardo in touch with IIP’s office of innovative engagement. They make I-Phone apps that I am sure will be a big hit in Recife. 

Business is good at ABA, both their own and that of others. A big source of income and connections for ABA comes from the business seminars they sponsor or host at their headquarters. Recife has grown into a business capital.  Firms are flocking here for the high tech industrial base, including informatics, nanotech and biotech, as well as because of the growth of the port facilities and heavy construction. The port is expanding to handle bigger shipments of agricultural materials from the interior, expected when a new rail line is completed next year.  Petrobras is using Recife as one of its staging areas for the exploitation of oil in the big new discoveries in the Pre-Sal formations off the coast. All this business creates business for ABA. People need to learn English and businesses need places to train their staffs. ABA is ideally positioned for both these things. 

ABA is an impressive operation.  It is not-for-profit, which means that it is not allowed to distribute money to owners or shareholders, but it is – or would be – a profitable enterprise. It produces enough revenue to cover all its costs and do valuable social services, such as provide scholarships and cultural events.  ABA also houses one of our EducationUSA advisers. It is a great and growing partner in a great and growing part of Brazil.

I would be remiss not to mention to efforts of our neighbors to the North. Brazilians often refer to us as North Americans and I suppose that can include Canada. The Canadians have claimed some of the space in ABA with their early childhood program called “Maple Bear.” I saw classes of little kids learning English by playing games.  Some people joked about “the competition” but I don’t see it that way. The kids are learning English, which means that they will come to the American BNC at a higher level. Beyond that, it is great if more people have exposure to better English at an early age. We don’t offer anything like Maple Bear, so we should be thankful that our farther north-North Americans have stepped in. I don’t think most of the customers care.

August 08, 2011

Think Tanks

Boardroom from Banespa 

Brazil doesn’t have think tanks in the sense that we have them in the U.S. Brazilian scholars of politics and society are generally linked to universities, the media or political parties. But there are some that do what think tanks do. During my recent visits to São Paulo & Rio, I visited a few of the organizations that perform the think tank function.

Before going on, it might be a good idea to admit that the concept of a think tank is not well defined and in the U.S. as in Brazil they overlap & share personnel with universities and the media. Think tanks in the U.S. would include institutions such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Brookings or RAND. RAND was set up to advise the military. Maybe the reason Brazil doesn’t have such a defined network of think tanks is because it doesn’t have a big military establishment that can consume and pay for expert advice. A second generation of think tanks emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, occupied chiefly by conservatives who felt that their ideas were viewed with little enthusiasm in traditional universities. Probably the most famous of these is the Heritage Foundation. In reaction to this, think tanks developed on the more liberal side. 

Think tanks develop and elaborate ideas that are often adopted by government, firms and in society generally. They provide options an intellectual framework for policy. They also provide a home for thinkers and former officials when they are out of favor or power. Most successful think tanks have few actual employees but lots of associates and contributors.

Fundação Getulio Vargas (often just called FGV) comes close to being a think tank, although it remains primarily a school that grants degrees.  The headquarters is in Rio and there is a branch in Brasilia. The FGV business school in São Paulo (Escola de Administração de Empresas de São Paulo -FGV - EAESP) was established in 1954 in cooperation with Michigan State University. The business school is responsible for a lot of the think tank sort of research that is published in Brazil.  

25% of Brazil’s top business leaders are graduates of FGV-EAESP. And FGV-EAESP is extremely well connected with Brazil’s most successful businesses. Businesses sponsor programs, chairs and wings of their building. In return they get their names and often their products in front of Brazil’s future leading executives and some of the current ones, since in addition to traditional student FGV-EAESP is extensively involved in short term training and courses of executive MBAs. 

FGV welcomes cooperation with American institutions and they have been seeing a lot more of their representatives in recent years.  Universities and firms from Europe & the U.S. are starting to understand that they need a “Brazil strategy” and they are rushing to make up for lost time. What FGV wants are real partnerships, where both sides give and get.  What they don’t want is the kind of one way street where an American or European institution sends down its professors and students for a semester of “Brazilian experience” w/o much contact with Brazilians. This, unfortunately, has been a pattern for many semester abroad programs. FGV doesn’t need this kind of thing. But they are interested in true partnerships and very interested in visits by notable U.S. experts who want to share their knowledge while learning about Brazil. 

We talked a little about the lack of Brazil experts among Americans. Brazil is the biggest and most important country in South America, culturally, economically and temperamentally very different from its neighbors, yet it is too often treated as a sub-set of Spanish speaking Latin America. It is not sufficient to be an expert in Latin America.  Speaking Spanish helps understanding Portuguese, but they are obviously not the same language and the overlap is more limited than many people think.  

Another think tank experience visit was at CEBRI in Rio. This is a smaller operation. We talked about Brazil’s new place in the world and referred to the Council of Foreign Relations report about Brazil.  Everybody agreed that the U.S. and Brazil should develop a more mature relationship of mutual respect and partnership. They liked the word partnership. They also pointed to the problem that Americans have of thinking of Brazil as a subset of Spanish America. Although most Brazilians can understand Spanish quite well, they don’t like to hear it from Americans. It is probably better to speak in English in many cases. The U.S. needs to develop a bigger body of experts that know Brazil, know Portuguese and know better the difference between Brazil and its neighbors. 

I finished off my almost-think-tank tour with the Institute of International Relations at PUC. This is housed in the university (PUC) but participants have aspirations to be more. They have developed a “nucleus” to study the BRICS.  I asked what “BRICS” really meant, since I could think of nothing that they BRICS had in common except a cool name thought up by an analyst at Goldman-Sachs a few years ago.  They laughed and told me that Walter Russell Mead had asked similar questions. It seems to be an American thing. Nevertheless, there are few commonalities except that they were all developing countries and not Western Europe or the U.S. Being BRICS, if nothing else, provide a forum for the various countries to get together and being in the convenient group amplifies their voices. In the longer term, however, cooperation depends on common interests or at least common aspirations.

I am not sure that Brazil NEEDS think tanks along American lines, but I am reasonably certain that the country will develop them sooner rather than later. Think tanks fill a niche in the American, and increasingly the world.  As I alluded above, in the U.S they provide independent, if often ideologically tinged, analysis.  Their analysis is demanded in the marketplace of ideas. It will be useful to politicians and business people who can pay for or at least support the infrastructure needed to create the ideas.

My picture is from the board room at Banespa. It was not a think tank, but it was the symbol of consolidated and deliberate power.

August 07, 2011

African-Brazilians & Others

Afro-Brazilian Museum in Sao Paulo 

Race is a complicated issue. There is nothing genetically true about race and categorizations based on appearance are always going to be wrong.   Racial classifications are an entirely cultural construction.  In Brazil, estimations of race were long made on appearance alone.  It is possible for brothers to be members of different races and one family might have people called black, white and various colors between.

There is currently a big debate here about quotas based on race for university admissions. We had (and still have) conflicts about this in the U.S., where we have more clearly defined groups. I don’t really know how they determine group membership in Brazil, but I expect that self-identification as a person of African descent will increase among those who could claim multiple ancestries.  As I said, there is no biological basis for race; it is a strictly cultural choice.


For many years Brazilians often emphasized their own and their country’s European heritage. There are areas of the country inhabited by decedents Germans, Italians or Poles that look like Europe in almost every way, except for the palm trees. Brazil also has the biggest community of Japanese outside Japan and lots of people from the Levant. But African heritage is a big part of Brazil’s cultural and physical makeup and in recent years there has been more emphasis on this.

States such as Bahia are especially known for their African heritage, but you can find contributions of Africa all over Brazil. In São Paulo I went to visit Afro-Brazilian museum and talk to its founding spirit and artistic director Emanoel de Araújo.

Emanoel is a truly interesting guy. We invited him to the U.S. back in 1975 as part of our international visitor program and he told me that the visit changed his life. He came to understand much better that the African diaspora was similar all over the Atlantic-America and that the African cultures of their origins were worthy of admiration and study.

The museum is built around this concept. You start with African art and artifacts that show the excellence & sophistication of great African civilizations. The exhibits next show Africans in the new world. Of course, the subject of slavery cannot be ignored, but the exhibits are more about overcoming the effects of oppression than about the oppression itself. They show the slaves as competent individuals with important skills that built Brazil.  Among the slaves were skilled carpenters, masons, blacksmiths and artists. Their work is celebrated. In addition, Deputy Artistic Director Ana Lucia Lopes told me that Africans had brought important skills and products with them. For example, the strains of rice grown in colonial Brazil came principally from Africa, not Asia.  Africans knew how to cultivate these crops and essentially brought this sort of agriculture to Brazil. 

The contributions of Africans might seem obvious, but are often submerged in a dominant narrative that Africans supplied mostly unskilled hard labor and that the finer things were planned and managed by Portuguese colonialists. This is just not right.  The colonists came in small numbers and they relied on first Native American and later Africa labor AND skills. Brazil, like the U.S., is the result of these multiple influences.

The rest of the museum is filled with interesting things from Brazil’s current or recent culture or current events.  The picture second from the top shows “promessas”. These are relics given as homage to a saint in return for helping alleviate a problem.  The carving indicted the part of the body or the thing that was affected. So if somebody has a headache, he would carve a head. Some people have broken bones. You see lots of hands and legs.  A lot of times, the person is generally sick, so you get the whole person. These were made of wood. Ana Lucia told me that many are also made of wax, which is easier to mold, but they don't last as long. I took a picture because I just couldn’t tell what it was until I heard explanations. Among the other current events exhibits is one on our President. President Obama is popular in Brazil and the Afro-Brazilian museum featured an exhibit called “From King to Obama.” 

I spent a couple hours at the museum and could have spent a lot more talking to Ana Lucia & Emanoel but I had a dinner with the President of the University of Nebraska and had to run. Whoever nominated Emanoel for the IVP program was prescient. It has paid dividends over and over again. Besides the obvious, physical evidence of the museum, Emanoel still loves the United States. Despite our own persistent problems with race, Emanoel sees our country as an example for others to follow.

I constantly bore people by repeating that public diplomacy is a lot less about information and a lot more about relationships. But I repeat it because it is true and I don’t want to let us fall into the trap of thinking we have done our jobs when we pass along some information. We need to work through people. The example of Emanoel shows how effective, sustainable and long-lasting this can be.

The Grand Majesty of the Law

Court room in Sao Paulo State Appeal Court 

One of the challenges we have when talking about law with experts in most other countries is that the American system is fundamentally different. A big part of our system is common law. Among our 50 states, only Louisiana has a code law heritage, based on the Napoleonic Code, in force in Louisiana when Thomas Jefferson bought the place from France in 1803. 

Justice in Sao PauloCommon law has the disadvantage of being unclear, since it relies on experience. This flexibility is also its strength. Common law can be pragmatic; it relies on experience and judgment of generations working with real world problems. Most other countries, including Brazil, base their law on codes. There is convergence, as our system comes to rely more on legislation.

But we still value precedents in deciding cases, judges usually have discretion in applying the law and juries can and do bring their own interpretation of the cases to bear. As some of the judges at the São Paulo State Appeals Court explained to me, this is not how it works in Brazil. In Brazil, as in other code law countries, the law is supposed to anticipate all eventualities and the job of the judges is to apply the law.  Of course, this is not as easy as looking in the books, but the big difference is application versus interpretation.  

Another big differences is juries. Brazil uses Juries only in homicide cases. In other cases, lawyers represent clients, but they argue before trained judges & are considered more as servants of the state or the law than of individual clients.

Although Brazil has states, like the U.S., the states do not have the independence in law as they do in the U.S.  In Brazil, laws apply across the country and lawyers are regulated on the federal, not the state level. One of my interlocutors explained the difference. In the United States, the states preceded the federal government and they created the Union. The Union, in its inception at least, was a servant of the states and American states retain much of their autonomy. Brazil was an empire. Provinces existed, but not states. With the establishment of the Republic, states were created and they have characters of their own, but the Brazilian government preceded the Brazilian states and the central government created them.

It is often hard for Americans to understand what the centralization means in Brazil as it is hard for Brazilians to understand what our greater decentralization means in the U.S.

We often use the same terms and symbols (look at the courtroom and the depiction of Justice and you see the same things as you would in the U.S.); we don't perceive that they mean different things. As I wrote in a previous post, our Brazilian friends sometimes misunderstand the fact that our states and their universities are not managed by the federal government, so they cannot make an agreement with the federal authorities that will hold true in all the states.

In the case of an appeals court, where I visited, however, the differences are not as significant, since an American appeals court also has the duty of applying the relevant law. Still, there is not a court that corresponds to a state supreme court in the U.S. 

I understand, BTW, that I am in over my head on this, since I have no legal background. I am giving an interpretation of what they told me. I welcome any comments that might clarify or correct my work. 

I also visited the school for prosecutors at the Tribunal de Justiça do Estado de São Paulo. This was a fairly big operation. Speaking of applicable law, the school is working on a conference to study American law concerning fraud and asked our support to bring American experts. The result of this conference is supposed to be a proposal for a law to be put before the Brazilian Congress to make frauds in securities more difficult to perpetrate and easier to prosecute, a worthy goal. 

Law is complicated and we have to let the experts do the thinking about the details, but is important to a free people that law is simple enough for the average guy to know whether he is doing right or wrong. The thing I always liked about having a strong dose of common law included in our rules was that it is a check on the otherwise uncontrolled rule of experts. When law becomes too complicated for the people to understand, at least in a general way, it has just become too complicated. I think we can all share that experience.

I mentioned the impact of the various permutations of the "Law & Order" franchise. Whether or not they always get everything exactly right, it is a good educational show for Americans and many Americans ... and Brazilians understand law through this simplified prism. There is a "Law & Order UK" which highlights some of the differences between U.S. and UK procedures, even thought UK is also a common law country.  "Law & Order" as well as the LA and Special Victims are available on Brazilian TV and my lawyer friends said they liked the shows. I need a "Law & Order - Brazil". 

August 06, 2011

Sports Diplomacy

Basketball w/o borders in Complexo do Alemao Rio 

I wrote about music in public diplomacy a few posts back.  This one is about sports diplomacy. I am belatedly getting around to writing this; it actually happened in Rio before the music program in São Paulo.

This one was also depended on the generosity of individual Americans, this time NBA basketball players. This program was also a great deal for us; it cost us absolutely nothing except our time to support the activities and publicize them.

band at Complexo do Alemao Rio 

Our part consisted mostly of attending a basketball clinic at a community center in the Complexo do Alemão.  This was one of the most violent and dangerous places in the world until a few months ago. It was controlled by drug gangs. Honest people were in constant danger and the police could not enter many of the areas; they were outgunned by the traffickers. As the City of Rio tried to establish order, the traffickers lashed out.  They attack and burned buses and cars to show that they were serious about their violence and get the authorities to back down. Instead, the Brazilian authorities went all in, using the military and special police units to pacify the favela.


What we see now is a variation of the “seize, hold, build” counterinsurgency strategy. In fact, walking on the streets reminded me of my time in Iraq. These former violent places were bouncing back.  There was still a heavy police presence to maintain order, but the emphasis now was on building and providing services.


The basketball (Called basketball without borders) was helping with the reconstruction of civil society.  NBA players came at their own expense and the NBA paid to set up a basketball court, which they inaugurated with the clinic that you see in some of the pictures.

Dancers at Complexo do Alemao 

Our post in Rio did a good job of publicizing the event. I use a variation of the old saying that it is like the rooster taking credit for the sunrise.  This event could have happened w/o us.  IMO, it would not have been as successful, but who knows?  But we (the post) helped call attention what was happening and explain its significance. So it is not like the rooster taking credit for the sunrise. It is rather like the rooster calling attention to the rising sun; he spreads the good news so that others can understand the significance and benefit from the light and the warmth. It is a very important task.  

NBA interview in Rio 

Sports, like music, engage people that we often cannot engage with our programs. Also like the music, we could not possible afford to pay the participants what their talent is worth, so we are grateful that they give it freely. Above and below you can see the public diplomacy tasks. The bottom show our Rio colleague explaining to one of the kids how things work. Other pictures show the NBA athletes teaching kids; the local community showing its talents with dance and capoeira.

showing the kid in Rio how the little camera works 

São Paulo: the City That Never Ends

Sao Paulo, Brazil skyline 

If New York is the city that never sleeps, São Paulo might be the city that never ends. I got to the top of the Banespa Building and looked over city almost as far as the eye can see. Because it was a windy day and the air was clearer than usual, you can see the hills in the far background. Most days, the horizon just shades off into the mist. The Banespa Building started in 1939 and completed almost eight years later. It was the tallest building in São Paulo for twenty years and at the time of its inauguration the tallest building outside the United States. It is modeled after the Empire State Building. The pictures were taken from the top. Above & below is the São Paulo skyline.

Sao Paulo skyline from Banespa Building 

Below is the Sao Paulo cathedral from the roof.

Sao Paulo Cathedral 

Below is a rooftop garden and heliport. It is interesting the parallel worlds that exist in a three dimensional big city. From the street, you would never know that there was a forest park overhead. 

Rooftop garden in Sao Paulo  

Below is one more view of Sao Paulo. If you look right in the middle you will see a rooftop mansion.

rooftop mansion 


August 05, 2011

All That Jazz

Delfeayo Marsalis in Sao Paulo 

We helped bring some music to the favela, as I mentioned in the earlier post. The leader of the group was Delfeayo Marsalis. His whole family is talented and most people have heard of his brothers, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and saxophonist Branford Marsalis. Branford was the leader of the band on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno before Kevin Eubanks.  

Orchestra in favela de Heliopolis in Sao Paulo 

They played New Orleans style music, but they were not there just to perform. They were there to work with the kids from the favela and they did a wonderful job, inviting kids to perform with them and encouraging everyone to develop their own style based on their own heritage. Above you can see the student orchestra that played for our jazz musicians, showing them Brazilian style.

Jazz players 

I am not in the entertainment business. What we want to do is to increase understanding between Americans and Brazilians. This program worked. I could see it on the faces of the kids in the audience and hear it in the words of their parents and teachers. The community will remember this for a long time. The good feelings will linger as everybody remembers the talented Americans who shared their talents and appreciated the talents of Brazilians. The good coverage we got in the media will help spread the word. It was good all around.

Interview with Delfeayo Marsalis in Sao Paulo 

Jazz bass playerThe American nation is greater than the American government. This was a good example. We (USG) helped bring the jazz players, but we helped defray only a part of their expenses. The musicians contributed their time and talent. They were paid in the joy they shared with young Brazilians, but theirs was an act of charity and good will. 

This is true of most of the participants in our programs. We could not afford to pay these talented people what their time is worth, but they give it freely. It always makes me proud to be in the company of such people. I tell them, but I am not sure they believe me. It sounds a bit schmaltzy, as it does when I write it, but it is the truth. The only true wealth of a nation is contained in its people. We are blessed with great people and it is good just to stop sometimes and be thankful.

Look at the joy on the base player's face. That joy comes from losing yourself in the flow of an activity. Music is one of the most common, but it also happens in sports or any task that is a challenge that can be mastered but remains a challenge. It is important to remember that nobody can give this joy to anybody else, since it comes from the accomplishment based on hard work,  but they can inspire it in others.

My pictures are self explanatory. I took them all during the workshop. Sorry about some of the focus problems. The light was hard for me to work with.  I don't really know how to work the camera and rely on the automatic settings.


The Other Side of Sao Paulo

Favela of Heliopolis in Sao Paulo 

Like all big cities, São Paulo is a city of neighborhoods with characters of their own. The city has some beautiful areas of big homes and beautiful gardens.  It also has some less beautiful sides. The pictures are from a favela are called Heliopolis. You can see what it looks like from the pictures, but the pictures don’t tell the whole story.

Favela street 

The favela is very lively.  You can see the shops. They do some nice graffiti as advertising signs.  The picture up top say “potato point.”

Favela de Heliopolis 

We helped sponsor a jazz workshop in a local music school. I am not a big fan of jazz, but this was a great program. The jazz musicians worked with local music students.  All of them came from the favela and all of them were committed to learning music and by extension other things. For them, music was a live changing experience. I learned from talking to some of them that they did not depend on the “big score”, which is often a curse of the aspirational poor. They weren’t counting on being big rock stars. Instead, they were working hard to perfect their craft.  Most understood that they would not be able to make a career in music, but they knew also that music would enrich their lives and improve it in other ways. The discipline of music was what they wanted and what they were getting. I will add more details in the next post.

appliance store in Favela de Heliopolis 

People take the opportunity, even in the poorest and ostensibly most hopeless places.  It is a tribute to the human spirit and to the power of arts and music to let it soar.  This is not THE solution to the problems of the favelas, but it is a step in right direction.

Shoe shop in the Favela de Heliopolis 

Below shows one of the many signs of advancing evangelicalism in Brazil, especially among the poor. 

Jesus poster in the favela Heliopolis, Sao Paulo 

August 04, 2011

São Paulo (1)

Me at Globo Sao Paulo 

The dominant activity during my four-day visit to São Paulo was sitting in traffic between the many wonderful visits that my colleagues at the Consulate in São Paulo arranged for me.  After a while, I started to notice the landmarks and the geography. We really were not going very far, but it was taking a long time because of the traffic, a very long time.

Sao Paulo 

People in São Paulo have adapted to this traffic and the uncertainty it creates about arrivals. Nobody is upset when you arrive late … or early. We don’t often associate traffic challenges with early arrival, but that happens too. You build in time with the “expected traffic”. It can be worse, but it can also be better. Traffic was lighter than expected on a couple of occasions. My colleagues called ahead, apologized for coming early and asked if we could move our appointment forward. Of course, we also called ahead to explain that we would be late when conditions were different. 

The key to success seems to be the mobile phone. It doesn’t eliminate uncertainty, but allows all participants a range of estimates. My colleagues call ahead and tell the person on the other end of the line what landmarks we are currently passing. Evidently everybody is so familiar with the landmarks and the expected traffic patterns that they can make an estimate themselves. 

Sao Paulo Traffic 

We were lucky to have a Consulate driver, who knew the roads and more importantly the characteristics of the places we were going. A lot of time can be spent getting in and out of building complexes. There are lots of gates and lots of guards. Going down the wrong way can cost time and tension. Our driver was highly skilled at fitting into and through spaces I thought were way too small.  Many of the government buildings have parking and garages inside, but they are not obvious parking garages like you might find in the U.S. Instead, you have what looks like a pedestrian entrance with a gate. I would never have thought to turn into a place like this. 

I don’t know how I could have done business w/o my colleagues and the driver. Actually, I do know. It would not have been nearly as easy. I would have spent even more time in traffic, in taxis and been lost most of the time.  I think I might have walked more. Some of the places were not far apart if you went on foot.  I prefer to walk, whenever possible, but walking is not always a safe activity. Although the crime rate in São Paulo has dropped, it is still high. More urgently is the difficulty of crossing some of the streets, because of all that traffic we talked about earlier.   

When the traffic slows or stops, people literally run between the cars to cross street.  One of my colleagues advised me NOT to cross at the walk signal, which he said was more dangerous than waiting for the cars to stop and dashing between them.  It reminds me of that old video game “frogger”. The cars are a hazard, but at least you can get a fair idea about their movements. The more immediate menace, IMO, comes from motorcycles.  These things race between and among the cars as they wait in traffic. When I say “race” that is what I mean. They are not edging down the road.  They are going at high speed, creating a danger to themselves, cars and pedestrians. Some of the motorcycles have altered handlebars to make them narrower. This allows them to fit through even narrower spaces, but also reduces leverage & makes them harder to steer. Neither thing is good. Brazilians authorities have moved to make such alterations illegal, w/o significant results, in my observation.

I don’t see a way out for São Paulo. It is just too big. At some point any system becomes too big to properly manage. People have adapted in many ways, as I mentioned above with things like flexible schedules.  São Paulo offers many benefits that – so far – outweigh the costs for most residents.  I talked to many people who cannot imagine living anywhere except São Paulo.  They are a lot like inveterate New Yorkers in that respect. The things you can do in São Paulo are almost limitless – IF you can get to them.  You might be better off locating elsewhere and dipping into São Paulo when you need something.  A commute via air from Brasilia is shorter than a drive from one end of São Paulo to the other. I am not the only one to figure this out. I hear that businesses are locating outside the city if they can. The problem is that they have to go a long way before they are out of the city. I have decided that São Paulo is a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live here. Having a hotel near restaurants and meeting is great.  I could walk to some places.  Most people don’t have that luxury and I would not have it if I lived in São Paulo permanently. I can stand being entombed in traffic sometimes, but every day would be more than I could tolerate. 

My pictures are from the TV Globo affiliate in Sao Paulo. The bridge is one of the landmarks of the local area. It is a nice bridge that doesn't carry much traffic. If you live on the road serviced by it, you are lucky. The river you see has a very distinct smell. You are lucky to have only the photo.  

August 02, 2011


Rio beaches at night 

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff wants to send 100,000 Brazilian students to study science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in other countries by the end of her term and we want to help. It is the classic win/win. American universities are coming to Brazil to get their share of the new students. We have an opportunity rich environment. Great.

Grafitti artists at Complexo Alemao 

Americans and Brazilians have been working together on this for a long time. We have the venerable Fulbright program, which was established in Brazil in 1957. U.S. universities have been active in Brazil and Brazilians have looked to the U.S. for more than a hundred years. American universities are acknowledged to be the best in the world.  It is an embarrassment of riches. We have all the networks in place and they have been working well for a long time, but now we are going to push more through the network than ever before.

Kennedy Wing at PUC 

Among our best assets is a regional educational advising center (REAC), headquartered in Rio at PUC University. I visited there during my recent visit to Rio. PUC, our Brazilian partner institution, gives us the space, which is at a premium on their crowded campus. Their students also provide volunteer support in marketing and advertising the services. In addition, we have advisers at twenty-three other centers, such as BNCs, around Brazil and three offices at private universities. State Department’s Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) office trains the advisers, but they are paid and otherwise supported by their local Brazilian institutions. Such is the demand for this service that our partners are happy to cooperate. The centers can defray some of their expenses by offering translation services and consultation on writing in English, but they do not charge prospective students for educational advising.  

One of their big activities is sponsoring Education USA fairs. American universities come to Brazil to recruit students.  The advising centers can and do charge U.S. institution to defray costs.  Interest in Brazil is growing and the fair in Rio scheduled for this fall is already booked up with fifty U.S. universities. Other centers also hold fairs.  The BNC Casa Thomas Jefferson will hold a fair later this month in Brasilia, for example. 

Nobody really knows how many Brazilian students there are currently in the U.S.  Our deceptively precise number is 8786, but we get this figure by a survey of answers supplied voluntarily by U.S. universities. Our educational advisers think this number is lower than the real one. They mentioned anecdotal evidence of universities where they know there are Brazilian students that reported none, but the real number in not much more. If Dilma’s aspiration becomes a reality, there would be more than four times as many coming to the U.S. in the next four years. This is a big bump and you get an idea of the challenge. 

One thing we have to explain to Brazilians is that America’s higher education system is extremely decentralized. The Federal government cannot order state or private universities to admit Brazilian students or offer them tuition discounts. This must be done on a individual basis. The good news is that we have hundreds of excellent universities in the U.S. and many want to get Brazilian students to diversity their student body and build a future alumni network in what will be a much more important country in the future. One of our (Embassy & REAC) goals is to spread the students out over the U.S. Brazilians tend to know only a few American universities.  Everybody wants to go to Harvard, MIT or University of California and who can blame them. But dropping thousands of Brazilians into a few institutions would not be desirable, even if it were possible. Our task is to explain the diversity of American education. We have many excellent choices and sometimes the best programs for a particular student might be at an American university that few in Brazil (maybe few Americans too) know exists.

Our centers are reaching out to Brazilians to explain things like that and to help with applications.  Their motto is that studying in America is “mais fácil do que você pensa” easier than you think. We have to remind students that there is essentially no waiting line for a student visa to the U.S. and that it is indeed, easier than they think. 

This is a great opportunity to shape the future of Brazilian-American relations through education.  It is truly a win-win. We just have to do it.

My pictures - at top is Rio from my hotel window. You see the symmetry of the reflection in the glass. I didn't get perfect symmetry because I could hang only so far out the window w/o falling 21 floors. Might have been a cool picture on the way down, however. Below that you see graffiti artists at the Complexo de Alemao, a favela that the Rio authorities recently took back from gangs and drug dealers. Third down is the Kennedy Wing at PUC. It is dedicated to the U.S. and JFK. Bobby Kennedy came down for the commemoration of the bust in the picture. 

August 01, 2011

Future High End Real Estate: Rio's Port Redevelopment

Rio Port 

The general idea is that the long neglected and now nearly derelict part of the port would be turned into an exciting area with shops, condos and office space.  Cruise ships and pleasure boats would dock at a Y shaped pier that will go out from where you see the first row of cranes in the picture above. I nice dream.

Rio Port Project 

Rio’s port experienced the same changes that affected ports all over the world.  Containerized cargo rendered most of the existing warehouses unnecessary (containerized cargo is just stacked up) while the larger size of the ships & the big equipment needed to load and unload them made it necessary to have more open space, both on the land and in the water.  Inland, wider roads are needed. The old infrastructure is no longer appropriate.  Finally, the once busy docks are now largely abandoned; a machine run by one operator does the work of hundreds of longshoremen, so all the houses and apartments once occupied by dock workers, their families and associated workers are now empty. Put in a more positive light, there are lots of opportunities for redevelopment.

Construction at Rio Port 

Someday, if things are done right, this area will be high end real estate, as we have now in Baltimore, Boston or Charleston. It is an aspiration that makes sense, but it takes a imagination to picture it now.  Below is a kid sliding down a rock that obviously many kids have used before.  But the rock has a darker history. It was the place where slaves were unloaded and sold in Rio's first days as a Portuguese colony.

Slave rock 

July 30, 2011

Rio de Janeiro

View of Rio de Janeiro from one of the hill top favelas.  

I went down to Rio last week, the first time I have been there in twenty-five years. It is still a beautiful place and I will write up notes about my  very busy schedule there later. For now I am posting a few of the pretty pictures. The one up top is a very big picture. I didn't shrink it down, so you can look at the source ( and see it in more detail.

Rio de Janeiro beech 

I took the picture from one of the favelas, or slums.  This one had recently been the scene of terrible violence and literally wars between the authorities and drug dealers. Now it is pacified.  Below is a mural drawn of the favela - or maybe the community they would like it to be. If you look at the bottom you see a gray spot. That is where a bullet hit during the late unpleasantness.

Mural of favela. 


July 24, 2011

High Cost of Labor

Churascaria in my back yard 

You can see the changes in the news, in advertisements and in the behavior of people. Labor, even semi-skilled labor, has become more and more expensive. As a result, individuals and firms are quickly adapting, substituting machines for people or changing processes in order to avoid hand labor altogether.

Reading chair 

The TV news a couple days ago featured an article about the quickly rising wages of “empregadas” or maids. Let me explain that household help in Brazil was not something only for the rich, as it tends to be in the U.S.   In Brazil, when labor was cheap, middle class people had maids, gardeners etc.  Anyway, I saw stories about this on the news and read about it in the papers. Some empregadas were happily reporting that they had five or six offers for their services and could decide among them, a good news story for empregadas, but maybe not sustainable. 

Brazilian houses tended not to have the labor saving devices found in American homes. For example, the USG has put me in a very nice home. It has a built in grill and many other luxury features (you can see in the picture up top). But it doesn’t have a dishwasher. Nobody invests in labor saving devices when labor doesn’t need to be saved. Or more to the point, there are two types of dishwashers; one is mechanical.

Things have changed.  There are lots of advertisements for dishwashers of the mechanical variety. On the farm show “Globo Rural” there are more and more stories about agricultural equipment, even on small holdings.  This morning featured a story about a small holder in a poor region of the Northeast who found it cheaper to rent a combine than to hire his usual team of farm workers.  

This is what happened in America generations ago. Brazil is following the pattern.

I had a pleasant Sunday w/o any labor. I went running down near the lake before the sun got high enough in the sky to burn my pale skin, came home and planted my garden and then spent the afternoon sitting in the yard in the shade and reading my “Veja” Magazine. I have a kind of history. When I was nineteen and knew nothing about the world, I was impressed by one of my co-workers at the cement plant who seemed to know lots of things. He said he just read "Time" every week. So I started to do that, sitting in my backyard in Milwaukee in the cool of the early mornings. Eventually, I learned enough to pass the Foreign Service exam.

You can see my reading spot in the second photo. If you have shade, Coke-zero and something to read, you are set. About the garden, you can see it behind the chair. I am not sure what to do. I planted my flower seeds, but who knows what the seasons do around here? There is no winter in the sense of getting cold and it is certainly warm enough for the seeds to grow, but we are in the dry season. I figure if I keep the dirt moist, I will get something.  Of course, how long will a normally annual plant keep on growing if there is no frost to kill it off?


Above is a tree in my yard. I don't know enough about tropical trees to identify it. Before I moved in the yard was overgrown. The gardeners cut back all the bushes and trees, including this one. It looked like it was dead when I moved in a couple weeks ago. Now it is growing back from the stumps. The gardener says that it will be completely grown out again in a short time. It looks like it is starting. Things grow really fast around here.

July 23, 2011

Saturday in the Park

Wind surfers on Lake Paranoa in Brasilia with Brazilian flag in background 

One of the surfers told me that the windy season is just starting now. The surfers would be out when the wind was blowing. The wind follows the lake and the peninsula near my house seems to be the one of the focal points.  In any case, as you can see in the pictures it attracts surfers.

Wind surfers watching others in Brasilia on Lake Paranoa 

Above  shows the sails close up. They pump some air into them and so they are not only like kites. The air gives makes them a little easier to sail and - a key characteristic - it makes them float.  This is a key to happiness when you fly kits above water.

Wind surfer in Brasilia sorting out his equipment 

Another guy told me that it was not very hard to para-surf. The only thing you needed to do, he said, was understand the wind. I am sure there are other things you need to do, but understanding the wind would be hard enough even if it was the only challenge. The surfers looked to in good condition. Look at the three photos below. No matter how well I understood the wind, I don't think I could leap out of the water like that and come down again w/o sinking.

Wind surfer jumping 

Wind surfer jumping 

Wind surfer jump 

The whole operation has a picnic atmosphere. 

picnic at Lake Paranoa 

July 18, 2011

Pirenópolis & its Countryside

Pirenopolis church 

It was a new experience for me both in the natural and human geography (I wrote about Goias in the post below.) Brasilia has a lot of space. It still has some of the characteristics of the city built in the middle of nowhere. Most of this open space is maintained by law.  Big cities have grown up around the original city.  I knew that, but I didn’t know how much until my friend Gary and I drove through the periphery on the way to Pirenópolis, which is around two and a half hours outside Brasilia. The satellite cities are vibrant, but not very pretty. We didn’t stop. The picture below is Taguatinga. I took it out of the car window at a stop sign. Workers building Brasilia were its first inhabitants.  It is certainly not as charming as Pirenópolis, pictured above, but it is lively.

Taguatinga, Federal District Brazil 

Brazilians are city dwellers. They tend to live close together even in the countryside. After you drive through the canyons of tall buildings ringing the capital, you find yourself almost immediately in open country. When you come to a town, there are again houses, but between urban areas there are few single houses, as you would find in a “rural” area in the U.S. One of the reasons must be that people did not have cars.  If you rely on busses or your feet to get around, you don’t want to be too far away from other people and services.  America was like that before the car, but never quite like this, at least in the East. If you visit Civil War or Early American sites, as I do, you realize that rural regions in 19th Century America were fairly densely populated. People often lived on their own farms, which tended to be less than 160 acres, which is a quarter mile square. Brazilian settlement included lots of big farms and ranches.  I wrote about this when I visited Parana a couple years ago. Laws such as the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the Homestead Act were designed to avoid this sort of settlement pattern on the plains, and they had their intended effects. Settlement patterns are still affected by the presence of these laws in the U.S. and the lack of similar rules in most of South America. But let me return to my travel notes.

River of Souls in Pirenopolis 

Pirenópolis seems like a nice place to live. You can see above and below kids playing in the Rio Das Almas (River of Souls). I am sure there is an interesting back story to the name, but I was unable to find out. I suppose in the U.S. the fear of lawsuits would close down a swimming hole like the one pictured. Pirenópolis has the feeling of a kind of off-beat tourist town, a place maybe like Sedona in Arizona, but with a younger population, i.e. more kids. Like Sedona, it has a kind of residual "western" look. I saw several cowboys riding their horses down the streets. I bet the place gets crowded. They were setting up tables for the outdoor cafes as we had to head back to Brasilia. It is not a great idea to drive around on these roads after sundown.

Kids playing in the River of Souls in Pirenopolis in Goias Brazil 

Below is a street in Pirenópolis. As we walked around this very pleasant city, I realized the difference between ordinary tourism and diplomatic tourism. I enjoy both, but when I am doing my job I get to talk to people about their town, work, aspirations and opinions. This is better than just seeing buildings, no matter how pleasant. I get a feeling of having actually done something useful. Towns are made of people, not bricks. I also missed Chrissy. I would have enjoyed seeing this with her. It will be good when she comes down. This place will be a lot nicer.

Street in Pirenopolis  

July 17, 2011

Goiás Waterfalls & Colonial Towns


I am not sure what Goiás reminds me of.  Maybe it is just Goiás.  Every place is like others and unique in its own way.  I was surprised.  I thought it would be flatter and more prairie-like. But much of the land was hilly and dotted with little ponds and lakes.  They are man-made, but they fit in well with the landscape. And there are beautiful waterfalls, as you can see above at the fall of the Corumbá above. Below shows the river as it goes on its way in the other direction and you can see the landscape.

 Corumbá River in Goias below the falls shows the river as it goes on its way in the other direction and you can see the landscape.

This is the dry season and it will get dryer before it rains. Then for a few months it will rain every day.  That is one of the unique things about central Brazil.  It is both very dry and very wet, so you get big waterfalls running through dry country side.  The spray from the waterfalls creates evaporation in the dry air and makes a very pleasant, fresh and cool feeling. You can get an idea about the countryside from the pictures below. It is an open landscape with some trees, I suppose a type of savanna.  Unlike the African savanna, however, there where no vast herds of grazing animals until European settlers introduced cows and horses. Where there is water under the ground, you often find palm trees.

Goias landscape 

More landscape below. I understand that clouds, as you see in the picture, are uncommon this time of the year.  The winds were blowing in from the east, bringing in some clouds, but still no rain.

Goias Landscape 

Below is another pretty picture of the Corumbá. It also shows the mixture of vegetation near the river, where it is nourished by the water and the spray. It stays green here. As you get away from the river, the trees get sparser and the vegetation browner.

Falls of Corumba River showing riverside vegetation 

Below is the path to the falls. Notice that it is steep with a railing secured by a few nails and bolts. I was a little afraid to lean on it too hard. I am heavier than the average visitor and I thought I might break the rail and tumble down the hill, an unpleasant prospect.

Steep rail and fragile railings at trail to Falls of Columba 

July 11, 2011


Casa Thomas Jefferson in Lago SUl 

Many BNCs were created around Latin America during the years around World War II.  They were supposed to foster understand and create connections among Americans and the people of Brazil and not incidentally counter Nazi propaganda, which was virulent and effective in the region.

Casa Thomas Jefferson, Main 

BNCs have gone in and out of style with the U.S. government.  At times we have given them significant support; other times we benignly neglected them.  Even during the time of relative official neglect, however, we always kept the ties intact because most American FSOs (USIA and State) - working in the countries - like BNCs.   They are easy to like.  They are locally managed and usually self-sufficient.  Their boards of directors often include important local people, the kinds of people we want to get to know and they provide a continuity that us diplomats, who come and go like migratory birds, really cannot.  We always have friends at BNCs and this is important in hard times and good ones too. 

Students as Casa Thomas Jefferson 

Most of the money needed to support BNCs comes from English teaching and English has become a big business in recent years. This is both a threat and an opportunity for BNCs.  The BNCs now must compete with for-profit organizations that are often well-financed and springing up like mushrooms after a soaking rain. I have no problem whatsoever with profit-making enterprises, but as an American I prefer that English be taught in the context of our culture and values. And the BNCs provide much more than nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs.  Besides providing scholarships for language study, BNCs sponsor cultural events, hold lectures and help us with our exchange and educational programs. To the extent that we really reach youthful audiences in depth, the BNCs are a big part of the equation.


Last time I was in Brazil, I made it my business to visit the BNCs in my region (Rio Grande do Sul & Santa Catarina) on a regular basis. At that time, there were BNCs in Porto Alegre, Florianopolis and Joinville. I understand that the ones in Porto Alegre and Joinville are still prospering. Washington was in one of its less supportive phases back then,  but I could still contribute books, programs and time. Attention by American diplomats was and is still important to BNCs. It adds to their cachet. 


Today BNCs are back in style in official Washington because of their proven abilities to reach young audience and because of their expertise in English teaching. The English teaching is especially important in Brazil at this moment. The Brazilians themselves recognize the need. Their economy has gone global, but they do not have enough people with English skills needed to participate effectively. English is the world language of business, science and even tourism. With the flood of visitors expected for the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in Rio two years later, the Brazilians know that they need to start now to meet the demand for English.

We are in the enviable position of having what people want and wanting to give it to them.

There are around 40 BNCs in Brazil today. I say “around” because it depends on how you count. Some BNCs have a for-profit affiliation that some of the BNC purists think is not good. My opinion is that we should judge them by what they do.  If the organization does all the things that BNCs should do, i.e. it provides scholarships, holds seminars & exhibits, cooperates with outreach and integrates energetically into its local community, I think that it looks and acts like a BNC and we can call it one if that is what it wants to be called.  I think we should be as inclusive as possible. BNCs are a great legacy left to us by good and farsighted people – Brazilians and Americans – going back to the 1930s.  We can benefit from their years of work and we have a duty to steward it for the next generations.  I look forward to visiting our BNCs and hope to get to all of them over the next three years.  I am glad that they are back in style. 

Let me tell you a little about our BNC here in Brasilia. It is called the Casa Thomas Jefferson. I remember it from the 1980s, when it was run by my friend and USIS colleagues Maureen Taylor. Back in those days, an American FSO directed the CTJ. In fact, we still sent directors until 1997, a time of budget cuts and a general downplaying of the need for public diplomacy. But our departure did not spell the end of the CTJ. On the contrary, it has grown and prospered beyond the dreams of the earlier generation. 

The Casa Thomas Jefferson today is run by Brazilians with a local board made up of mostly Brazilians and some expat Americans.  It is completely self-supporting and has grown to include six significant campuses around Brasilia (look at the pictures I have included to see what I mean) and eight min—operations embedded in local schools.   

CTJ affiliates teach around 15,000 students each year.  Some start as young as four years old. I have included a photo of the little kid classroom. They are on break now, so the teacher is preparing materials for them. But the biggest groups of students are middle school of high school age, although a significant number of college students are still involved and there are some adults. 

Brazilian government entities contract with CTJ for English teaching and cultural training for their officials who are going overseas or who will have to work with English in their jobs here. CTJ recently trained Brazilian air traffic controllers, who need to use English in their daily work, and also engineers from EMBRAPA (the Brazilian agricultural research agency) who have to travel and interact with scientists worldwide. 

We still work closely with CTJ, providing mostly moral but also some material support. Our Information Resource Center (FKA library) is collocated with the Lago Sul branch of the CTJ, as is the Fulbright office. We are probably most useful to them when we provide connections and training opportunities for their staff and management.   CTJ wants to keep in the forefront of developments and we, with our worldwide reach (State is a unique organization in that respect) help with that.  We also have stationed in Brazil officers devoted specifically to education, English teaching and information resource management, who provide extremely valuable support.  So I think we do our part. 

As I have been writing, we during the last week we have been cooperating with CTJ on our English immersion program (see earlier posts). This has been a wonderful thing. CTJ will hold its own EducationUSA fair later in August. We can cooperate again in something that we all benefit from doing and benefits Brazilian young people. 

All things considered, it is a pretty sweet deal for everybody involved. I like an agricultural metaphor. It is like an orchard. We are harvesting the fruit of trees planted and nurtured by those who went before us. Our job is to keep it growing, all the while enjoying the fruit. 

Public diplomacy is hard to measure. If I tally up all the people who have gone through BNC programs all over Brazil this year alone, I am sure we have reached thousands. Over the years, we are in the millions. But Brazil is a country of 190 million. How can we hope to have an impact? Might it not be better to “reach” millions through things traditional or social media?

First I have to respond that doing one thing does not preclude others. Our BNC efforts include face-to-face meetings, which are labor intensive, but they also have enormous social media and traditional media components. You saw the full-page newspaper report on our English immersion, for example. We also got a good piece of time on the evening television news. There is a definitive synergy. But let me put that aside for now. 

The BNC experience is deep, intensive and rich in favorable outcomes. Many of the people who use the BNCs develop lasting connections with American. Some of the students at CTJ, for example, are second or third generation, as former student parents sent their kids. Significant numbers want to study in the U.S. or work at U.S. firms. They are strongly committed and this has an effect through social networks, electronic and otherwise.  Recent studies have shown that people get many of their attitudes through social interactions several steps removed from themselves. The attitudes of friends of friends of friends can affect your attitudes and even physical characteristics such as body fat. Academics have studies this for a long time and we know it is true, although those who tell you that they really understand the transition mechanism are lying to you. I believe that getting 100,000 people really interested and talking to others is better than “reaching” millions in a shallow and short term transaction. I cannot prove that to you, but I think even a casual perusal of the history of ideas shows that it happens. 

The BNC is a high leverage activity.  I can devote relatively small amounts of time and money and DEEPLY reach lots of people, who will in turn reach many more. Take the example of our recent intensive English group.  Around 1600 students applied from public schools around Brazil. These are ordinary Brazilian kids, w/o much contact with America. They are doing an extraordinary thing just by applying. Around 100 were chosen. They are already a special group chosen from a special group and the experience improved their skills making them even more special. Now consider when they go home to places that are hard to find on the map. People will ask them about their experience. They will be the source of opinion. Who knows how many they will reach personally and how long they will continue to do it, but it will be a big number. And their experiences will pass through friend to friend for a long time.

July 10, 2011

Brazilian Kids Getting to Know Brasilia

Brazilian English immersion students in front of the national assemby 

Our English immersion students got their tour of Brasilia.  Fewer than half of them had visited their nation’s capital before, so we had an opportunity to introduce young Brazilians to Brasilia, which was fun.  The weather, as usual, was brilliant as you can see from the photos.

Model of Brasilia 

The central government area, the “Plano Piloto” has remained much as it was designed.  It is supposed to be modern with clean lines.  Because the high plains (planalto) were flat and empty, this place provided a blank slate for the architects and planners.  You can see the model in the picture above.

Brazilian Supreme Court in Brasilia 

Building a new capital in the interior of the country was a dream of Brazilian leaders for centuries. They understood that moving the capital would draw development into the country.  They identified places, like Brasilia, with near perfect climates, but they were just too far away from existing infrastructure.  Beyond that, many officials and politicians were unenthusiastic about leaving their pleasant coastal cities and there was significant bureaucratic foot dragging.

Juscelino Kubischek memorial at the Plaza tres poderes in Brasilia 

President Juscelino Kubitschek decided to just do it – finally.  You can see the man at his memorial above.  He was the son of Czech immigrants and he always reminds me of Victor Laszlo. Building Brasilia was a truly audacious move. Juscelino or JK* pushed it through by force of will.  He was criticized because of the expense and the inefficiency related to the urgency of the endeavor.  There were no good roads to Brasilia and no infrastructure to build a city. They had to bring in everything: materials, workers, even water. They had to make a lake.  Bulky and heavy materials, such as concrete, were sometimes flow in by airplane at great expense.  JK understood that if it were not done fast and the construction pushed beyond the point of no return, it would never be done at all, so he accepted the cost and absorbed the criticism (Critics called him Pharaoh Juscelino).

Plaza dos tres poderes in Brasilia 

President Eisenhower made an official visit to the city in 1960 and he and JK inaugurated the city, showing American support for the project.   Eisenhower’s visit was a high point of U.S.-Brazil relations. Read a contemporary account of the event and the building of Brasilia here & the joint statement by Eisenhower and Kubitschek from Brasilia here.

 Brazilian students post in front of Supreme Court in Brasilia

It has now been more than fifty years since this spot of the high plains was turned into a city and we can see that it was an idea that worked.  Much of Brazil’s growth in recent years has been in the central region.  Having the capital in Brasilia helped pull interest, people, resources and development into the region, just as JK thought it would.  JK’s slogan was “fifty years of development in five years.”  It didn’t work out like that. But in the fifty plus years since his time, the region has achieved his dream.  I think he would be content.

Brazilian English students in front of a picture from the founding of Brasilia 

The picture above shows a couple of the English immersion kids becoming part of the celebration of Brasilia long before they were born, standing in front of a picture of a crowd of the time.  You can read more about this here and here

Let me just add a few more pictures.  Brasilia was very beautiful. Below is a bust of Tiradentes, a national hero who fought and died for Brazilian independence.

Tiradentes at the Plaza dos Tres Poderes 

Both pictures below are of the National Assembly. In behind you can see the building that house the various ministries. 

Brazilians National Assemby 

Brazilian National Assemby and Ministry buildings 


July 09, 2011

Looking Around Brasilia

Brasilia Cathedral 

I think that the Brasilia cathedral looks like a standing rib roast or maybe one of those things Fred Flintstone used to eat.  Ostensibly it is reminiscent of Jesus’ crown of thorns.  No matter what you think it looks like, the building is attractive within its landscape.  You go down through an underground entrance, which is supposed to remind you of the catacombs presuming you had memories of catacombs to recall, but the effect does work well as you come out of the darkness into the light.  The glass roof gives the whole place an open sky, maybe heavenly, aspect as you see in the photos. With all due modesty, I like my photo more than many others I have seen because I took them near midday on a sunny day.  You can see the intensity of light that you might not get on a cloudier day or a time of the day when the sun was not as intense.   The photos in the guides I have make it look a little dull.  It really is very bright or at least it can be.

Inside Brasilia cathedral

workers at Brasilia Cathedral fixing glass 

The photo above shows workers fixing the stained glass.  The cathedral was being repaired when I visited.  I have noticed that monuments all over the world are almost always being restored when I visit.  It is rare to get to see anyplace w/o some kind of scaffolding or work barriers.  I have been riding my bike past the Jefferson Memorial for more than twenty-five years and I don’t think I have ever seen it entirely w/o some work being done. This creates a minor dilemma when I take pictures.  Do I put in the renovation, which is omnipresent, or do I take pictures around the repairs and show the “spirit” of the place. I usually opt for the prettier picture.  I justify philosophically that I am getting the essence of thing, the true nature, instead of its ephemeral & corrupted temporal state.   

Whispering wall at Brasilia Cathedral 

This picture shows some of our students as a “whispering wall”.  The shape and the smooth hard surface create an acoustical anomaly.  Sound follows the wall, so that a person whispering dozens of meters away can be heard clearly at other points along the wall.  


Above is the presidential residence.  It is a long way off in the distance behind the emu.  They had a few of these birds grazing in the grass.  A different angle below shows the Brasilia landscape and the sprinklers that keep everything green during the dry season.  There is plenty of water in Brasilia, enough to keep everything lush and green the whole year, but it actually falls only during half of the year.  There is no reason to “conserve” water, as you might need to do in a desert. In fact, for half of the year there is too much water.  Half of the year it rains every day and the other half it doesn’t rain at all, so they have to manage water to make it available all year around.  This land in its natural or semi-natural state is a very difficult place for to live.  That is why it remained sparsely settled for so long.  But with infrastructure and improvements, it is be very pleasant.  I suppose it is like southern California or parts of the Mediterranean in that water way, except that here the water doesn’t need to be moved from a long way away, but rather has to be moved in time of availability.

Imus in Brasilia 

Below is an arm of the man-made lake, Lake Paranoá.  W/o this lake, life in Brasilia would be a lot harder.  The lake supplies water for the city and electricity through its hydropower at the dam.  So much standing water also changes the local climate, adding a little much needed humidity during the dry season.  It still gets very dry, but near the lake it is less so.  The lake also provides wildlife habitat in otherwise desolate seasons and it looks good, as you can see from the picture.

View of bridge over Lago Paranoa in Brasilia from Pier 21 

July 07, 2011

The Kids are All Right

 Brazilian English students and July 4 Sack race

Twenty-five English language students from Minas Gerais, Espírito Santo, Rio de Janeiro, Tocantins, and the Federal District came to Brasilia for a week of full time English immersion sponsored by the Casa Thomas Jefferson and the American Embassy in Brazil.  Their kick-off event was an American style picnic at the home of the U.S. Marines.  Here they ate typical American foods, like hamburgers and hot dogs, played basketball and volleyball, participated in contests such as sack races and generally got to know each other.Ambassador Thomas Shannon opened the program along with long-time Case Thomas Jefferson Director Anna Maria Assumpçaõ.

Brazilian English students playing volleyball at U.S. Independence Party 

The American Embassy in Brazil has sponsored immersion courses like this since 2006 and hundreds of young Brazilians have enjoyed the benefits.  This year five binational centers will participate, drawing participants from all the regions in Brazil.  Besides the Casa Thomas Jefferson, ICBEU in Londrina, ALUMNI in Saõ Paulo, CCBEU in Belém and ABA in Recife will participate. The immersion programs are part of the now ten-year old youth Ambassadors program, which brings young Brazilians to the United States.  On previous visits, they have toured the U.S. and met many Americans including First-Lady Michelle Obama.   This year, for the first time, American students will come to Brazil on return visits.


In the pictures you can see the types of activities this year’s students experienced in Brasilia. We cannot take pictures of the learning taking place, the understanding being shared or the friends being made, but we are sure that these will be the best parts of the program.

Newspaper report of Brazilian English Students in Brasilia

The event was covered by a reporter from the Correio Braziliense and the local TV Globo affiliate.

The English immersion and the youth ambassadors programs are very competitive and require a high level of English-language ability going in.  But they are all kids from Brazilian public schools and most are from interior small cities.  It make you optimistic about the future to meet and talk to kids like this. 

July 04, 2011

Brazilia Has Grown Better Than Planned


Lago Sul, where I live, is much nicer than the city of Brasilia.  They say that the plan for Brasilia was a tribute to modernism.  I think that says it all.  The guy who is responsible for lots of the design is still alive. I think he is more than 100 years old.  He defends his concept with vigor to this day, but he lives in Rio.  In any case, the city is turning out better than he planned. Brazilian people are smarter than a few old planners.


But Lago Sul grew up more organically.  It has sidewalks, trees, private houses & streets with corners.   People prefer to live in places like this.  Modernism is just not a human system.  It reminds me of science fiction written in the 1950s and 1960s.  They thought the future would be something like modernism, with a clear break from the past and a kind of rational collectivism.  Fortunately, it didn’t happen.  Of course, Lago Sul is not the inexpensive part of town, so there is no surprise it is pleasant.


The weather around here is perfect every day.  I can well understand why it is easy to put things off.  The old saying that “you have to make hay while the sun is shining” has no real meaning here.*   In Virginia, I sometimes pushed myself out for a run on a nice day, anticipating a worsening of the weather later.  In Brasilia I can be reasonably sure that tomorrow morning will be just like today.  In a few months the rainy season will start.  That means that we will get precipitation every day, but still very much predictable and while it will rain almost every day, it will not rain all day.


One of the great things about having a pleasant climate is the way people can mix outdoor and indoor space.  Indoor space can extend out into the yard and if you have it covered against the rain and sun it can be essentially the same room, with what we might characterize as indoor furniture and activities.  You cannot do this in Wisconsin because of the cold much of the years and the unpleasant humidity and/or legions of mosquitoes the rest.  In Florida, they have the so-called “Florida rooms,” but they need to be screened in against the bugs and do not provide the real seamless interface.   I saw some of the outdoor room concept in Arizona. It works there about half of the year, when it is not too hot.  In Brasilia it is essentially a year-round option.

The picture that shows the straw roof is of a restaurant we went to for the going away party for one of the staff.  It was a nice place with ostensibly indigenous food.  It was good, but much of the charm came from the indoor, outdoor interface.  If you ate “inside” you felt the influence of the outside and vice-versa.

I have to add a disclaimer, lest I annoy some colleagues.  I like the Brasilia climate.  I liked it last time I was here and I like it even more now.  But my discussions with others indicate my opinion may not be universal.  I am easy to please. I like most places. I even liked Iraq in many ways.  You just had to get up early in the morning to enjoy it.  People say, and I suppose they are right, that Brasilia suffers from an overly dry climate in the winter and an overly wet one in the summer.  Some people can’t take it.  They get asthma, nosebleeds & other respiratory troubles.   I know that is true, but I cannot say I actually understand it at a personal level.   It seems to me that you just have to adapt your activities to do most things in the early morning or evening, drink a lot of water and eat things like watermelon.  It is not different from Arizona in that way, but I suppose the green surrounding create a deception.  The dust and smoke can be annoying during the very dry-burning season.  I don’t look forward to that, but it only lasts a few weeks.  After that, we get rainbow season.  Wait to see the pictures.

BTW -the picture of the beer cans just shows my task ahead of trying all Brazilian beers. It is a hard job, but somebody has to do it. 

*It occurs to me that I have to explain that old saying to some readers.  Making hay, means putting the hay up in bales. It is a job that must be done in sunny and dry weather because if the hay is wet it decays and the decaying process makes heat.  Packed together closely enough in a barn, the heat can be enough to start a fire, spontaneous combustion.  I don’t really know much about hay making.  Chrissy used to do it on the farm, so most of my knowledge comes second hand from her, but I have seen piles of wet grass smolder.  When you dig inside, the inner layers are black and hot.  Hay is very tightly packed.  I can well imagine that if you had enough of this packed together the inner core could get hot enough to burn.  Anyway, the saying means that you have to do things when you have the opportunity and the time is right, not when you feel like it.

July 01, 2011

A 4th with a Bang in Brasilia

USMC color guard at July 4 celebration in Brasilia 

We hold the July 4th Celebration on various days because the Ambassador and others must attend various celebrations around the country.   We held ours in Brasilia yesterday.  I had nothing to do with the planning or implementation, so I think that I can say with some credibly that the planning and implementation were superb. Fireworks at Brasilia July 4 celebration

My future colleagues also prepared a poster exhibit showing photos from all the visits by American presidents to Brazil.  Almost all the presidents of the twentieth century visited Brazil.  The first was Theodore Roosevelt.  He was no longer president at the time.  He visited the Amazon rainforest (then called jungles) along with the Brazilian explorer and anthropologist Cândido Rondon, for whom the Brazilian state of Rondônia is named.  Together the explored the “River of Doubt” now named the Rio Roosevelt, so both men contributed their names to the wild land. 

I didn’t know many people at the party. Next year I will. The most interesting discussion I had was with an old guy who had been an engineer in the construction of Brasilia, more than fifty years ago. It was really barren then and the big lake was just a marshy river.  The old guy told me about the time when Eisenhower came to help inaugurate the new city and the U.S. Embassy here.  That was also recorded on our poster show, but it was interesting to get the story from someone who could speak of it from living memory.

Band at July 4 celebration

We had all sorts of interesting food, including little hamburgers, about the size of a silver dollar, and fries and little pepperoni pizzas. I stayed away from the booze (we are working at these things) and drank a lot of Guarana. For those unfamiliar with it, it is a sweet drink available mostly in Brazil. It is a precursor to some of the energy drinks. It is supposed to give you more vigor and I suppose it does, but no more than a Coca-Cola or a cup of coffee. It tastes good and kind of looks like beer in the twilight.   

Brazilian Marine Band

We had two bands playing. The first was a kind of rock band. The lead singer seemed to think he should channel  Jethro Tull except with a harmonica; it was interesting, but not really my sort of music. We also had the Brazilian Marine Band. They played patriotic music, including the American & Brazilian national anthems as well as a lot of Sousa music. I liked this much better.

Amb watching President Obama

Firworks at July 4 celebration in BrasiliaThe Ambassador gave a good speech in Portuguese and English followed by recorded remarks by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton.  After that came the fireworks, while the Marine Band played the “Stars and Stripes Forever,”  “The Thunderer” & “Semper Fideles”.

You can see the various pictures.  They are very high resolution, since I didn’t shrink them because of the darker exposures.  Click on them to look at the whole picture at a bigger size. I think they are very good and all taken with my little camera. Ain’t technology wonderful?

It was a great celebration. I am looking forward to the weekend when I can explore Brasilia a little more. Unfortunately, I have to wait for the technician to come and install my cable and Internet. I have a "window
 of 12pm - 6pm on Saturday. It is a bit of a problem, but I will be really happy to have internet access at home.

June 28, 2011

Here in Brasilia


I arrived in Brasilia after the overnight flight on American. I got to go through that new scanning machine. It really is not a good thing.  I don’t mind if they see me in my natural form, but the machine is even more sensitive to stuff in your pockets. They gave me a hard time because I forgot to take my little notebook out of my back pocket. Maybe they should just install showers at the airport and make everybody do through them, as they used to do as municipal pools when I was a kid. I also found a note in my gear that they had opened my luggage and inspected it. I pity those guys. Everything in my luggage was reasonably clean, but it might have been a different story on a return trip.

JK Bridge in Brasilia 

The flight itself was not that uncomfortable because I got into the exit row, with a little more leg room, but discomfort is a matter of degrees when you are flying. The flight left Miami at 11:05 pm and arrived in Brasilia the next morning at 7:15 (losing one hour, since Brasilia in an hour ahead), so it almost exactly overlapped normal sleep time. I slept some, but not too much. But since today was a travel day, I didn’t have to go into work and had a chance to get some rest.


My house is nice with a big back yard.  There are a few little good details. For example, some of the outlets are wired for 110, which means I could safely run American appliance. This is less crucial, since I currently to not have any American appliances, but it is nice to know it is there. The place comes with a microwave, but no dishwasher, which will be a bit of a problem. I am not fond of doing dishes and, besides, they are never as clean as the dishwasher makes them.


The neighborhood is very pleasant, as you can see from the pictures. All the things you see are within easy walking distance. It is also a safe area, since lots of important politicians live here about. We are protected by a guard both at the entrance to our area, which is also bounded in by Paranoá Lake, usually just called Lago Sul.  I took most of the pictures as I walked along a running trail that literally goes right past my house down to the lake and back up the other side. It seems to be around two and a half kilometers round trip. This is less than I usually do, so I figure I can run to one end then turn around and do it backwards, this will get me to five kilometers, about three miles, which is good enough for the routine runs.  I am not far from some larger parks, so there is ample room for longer runs.


The city is much as I remember it, although there are some very impressive new buildings and lots more cars.  The cars are also much better. When we were here twenty-six years ago, there were lots of Volkswagen beetles, locally produced and called Fuscas. They seemed to have a propensity for flip over, much like a real-life beetle, and start on fire. It is good that they are gone. Biking may be a problem. Although there is not much traffic, the roads are narrow and built specifically to facilitate non-stop driving, so there are lots of ramps and turn around, and almost no left turns. These things make it hard for a bike.  I saw some people riding and you can see there is a bike trail on the picture below. It doesn’t go everywhere and also notice the drive casually violating it. I will figure something out.


Brasilia was created for the car and still has not compromised very much with the fact that many people around here still do not have cars and others might prefer to walk sometimes. If you are on foot and want to cross the road, you have to wait by the roadside and then run across when there is a break in traffic. The city was designed in the 1950s, when architects and planners were still infected with that socialist planning paradox of flattening and specialization. Each area of the city was designed for a particular activity. There are residential areas, shopping areas, recreation areas, business areas, government areas etc.  You are supposed to drive from one specialty areas to the other. 

Ostensible Bike_lane_in_Brasilia_Lago_sul.jpg 

This kind of zoning was popular in the middle of the last century. We suffered from it in the U.S. too.  It is the logic that gave us all those housing projects that became such problems.  It makes some logical sense to concentrate activities, but it goes against human nature. Most of us do not compartmentalize our lives that way. As I wrote above, it as part of that early-middle 2oth Century belief in planning and perfecting human beings, even if they didn’t like it. Most people really don’t want to be “perfected” & fortunately, human nature has modified the plans, hence my running trail pushing through the residential area and restaurant/shopping that I can walk to, even if I have to make a run for it across the road.  


Cities require some planning, otherwise chaos reigns. There are also many things that must be done in a city for the common good. If such things are not planned, they probably won’t get done.  But a city is really a living human organism. Planners can and should set initial plans and condition, but after that a city will grow and develop in ways that no planner or group of planners can anticipate. The combined intelligence and information of the people living in the city will always be greater than that of the planners and administrators. I love history. I revere the past and seek to preserve much of its good. But the past is dead. We, the living, must decide which parts to keep and which to shed. We can revere the past w/o being in thrall to ideas and plans that were conceived when people, by necessity, didn’t know as much about what they called the future than what we know as the past. The best planners can do is help create conditions that allow people to make good decisions for themselves. Planners should do their work and then leave, maybe revel in the fact that the people have so much improved on the original design.


Well, I am finally here in Brazil, the country that some called the perpetual country of the future, but now seems to have created a good present. I look forward to exploring it.


The pictures are all from a walk I took this afternoon. This is my neighborhood, not bad.  Everything is still green.  As the dry season sets in, most of the natural places will dry out and turn brown. The weather will be monotonously pleasant, sunny with cool nights, warm days, lots of sunshine and no rain for the next couple of months. The cool, dry conditions are deceptive. We are still in the tropics and the sun is powerful. I was reminded of that today. Despite my floppy hat and a low dose sunscreen, I got a little burned walking about two and a half hours in the noon-day sun.  I spend a lot of time outside in Virginia and I am moving from Virginia summer to what they call winter down here, but the sun is still stronger.


Above is what the place looks like absent improvements. This part of the country was mostly grass and scrub. The rainforests are farther north and the Atlantic forests were farther east. Those are termite mounds in the picture. I like the improved version better, the one you saw in the other pictures and below. I am not sure what kind of pines those are, but all true pines are introduced here from somewhere else. The lake, BTW, is also man made.


May 07, 2011

High-Tech Countryside

Global Rural picture of harvesting 

Brazil is becoming is an agricultural superpower and it is growing bigger all the time. I look forward to seeing the changes but until I get there I studying through the Brazilian media. I have been reading a lot about mechanization of Brazilian agriculture and the expansion of the agricultural frontier.

Some crops still need to be picked by hand and there is plenty of nasty, dirty work in the fields, but a lot less.   For example, sugar cultivation & harvesting used to be one of the most difficult and sometime brutal parts of agriculture. The cane has sharp leaves that need to be burned off. There are snakes and lots of chances to get hurt or killed. (I read that plantation owners in the old South used to sometimes hire “free” labor, especially Irish immigrants, to do the dangerous work rather than risk slaves.) Those days are gone. Today most of cane is harvested mechanically. I saw the machines at work. They are like those big corn harvesters. The machines harvest and process the product, virtually eliminating the need for unskilled labor. On the other hand, it creates places for skilled labor and Brazil doesn’t have enough of it, according to press reports.

Brazilian government training programs, in cooperation with firms that make the new machines and chemicals such as Syngenta, John Deere e Case IH. The chemicals and seeds are complicated. The machines run with GPS and other electronics. The new techniques require more than just the ability to read and write.  

An article read today about technologies in the farm field talked about all these things and pointed out the machines are getting bigger and bigger as farms in places like Mato Grosso are getting bigger and bigger. The new machines require much more sophisticated operators. Some even drive themselves using GPS. What the modern farm needs are workers who can plant the plantings & harvests and keep the machines running. These guys are a lot more likely to be or resemble technicians & scientists than they are like peasants of field workers of old.

Brazilian media reflects the ambiguous relationship that much of the world feels with China. China is now Brazil’s biggest trading partner. This has made a many Brazilians rich and the country as a whole richer. But China is after Brazil’s raw materials. The products it exports to Brazil are finished products, making the relationship look neocolonial.  Chinese products are displacing Brazilian industrial products both at home and abroad.  I wrote about the situation with shoes. Of course, agricultural products are raw material, but has that changed in the modern age?

An industrial product is intrinsically no better than primary product. The difference between industrial and primary production was really about value added and productivity. Countries wanted to move up value add & the productivity food chain to improve the quality of jobs. Farm labor was on the bottom in terms of skills and value.  It was hard and dirty but easily learned, easily replaced and low paid. This was also the case with early industrial jobs. What changed was the introduction of technology, knowledge and capital, exactly what is now happening down on the farms.  Modern farming is moving in that direction. Furthermore, it is riding on the MOST advanced technologies, including biotechnology and nanotechnologies.

There is an excellent chance that agriculture will be the high-tech industry of the next decades. The soybeans, other grain and fruit may be raw products, but the technologies that allow them to be produced in such quantities are hardly simple. Beyond that, the biotechnology aspects may soon mean the manufacture of chemicals, fuels and medicines by biological/agricultural ways. Now that is value added. Maybe the Chinese emphasize on essentially 19th Century machine manufacturing is the less intelligent bet.

April 24, 2011

Brazilian Public Schools

Brazilian public schools are challenged. Denise Aguiar, director of the Bradesco Foundation, said that Brazil is essentially decades behind the United States, and who is happy with American schools?  Finding qualified worker is one of the biggest challenges facing the country that has one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

The Brazilian media is full of stories about weaknesses in education and Brazilians are aware of the situation.  Brazil is a big, diverse continental sized country, like the U.S.  It cannot just copy the lessons of homogeneous boutique countries such as Finland, Singapore or South Korea.   Like the U.S., Brazil has some excellent schools and many horrible ones.  And as in the U.S., non-public schools seem to be one of the roads to improvement.

The Washington Post ran an article today about how Brazilian private firms and foundations are sponsoring schools.   The article opens with a scene like one from the documentary "Waiting for Superman" with the parents of poor kids waiting in line to get into one of the private-charter style schools in an attempt to escape the ruined public system and get a better chance in life.

Education is important to a modern economy. Most people recognize this, but making it happen is a bigger problem.  It clearly is not something government can handle alone.  A response by the nation is required.

April 15, 2011

Challenge of Biofuels

Brazil is the world leader in biofuels. The country started switching its cars from gasoline to ethanol nearly forty years ago. Most of the cars sold in Brazil today are “flex fuel” and when they say flex, they mean it, none of this E-85 stuff. Many Brazilian cars can run ENTIRELY on ethanol. Beyond that, Brazilian ethanol production is the most efficient in the world. They use sugar cane as a feedstock, with is several times more efficient than corn. Brazil has been hailed as the first large country with a sustainable biofuel system more or less in place. So what’s the problem?

Cheap oil, or shall we say more expensive sugar, is the challenge. A gallon of ethanol is only worth about 80% of a gallon of gas in terms of energy delivered. Put another way, you will only go about 80% as far on a tank of ethanol as you would on a tank of gasoline, so if/when the price of ethanol creeps up beyond 80% that of gasoline, a person with a flex-fuel car flex fuels over to gasoline, providing he/she can do simple math. This is happening in Brazil now.

In most Brazilian cities, a liter of ethanol currently costs around 85% as much as a liter of gasoline. People can do the math, and the consumption of gasoline has risen by 23% since February. link.

Brazil has everything it needs for a successful biofuel program. Most of its electricity comes from renewable hydro-power. It has the ideal biofuel crop in its sugar cane. The government favored and subsidized the biofuels industry. Brazil has a complete network of stations equipped to sell ethanol, along with a fleet of cars that run on ethanol and consumers with the habit of using it. It even has a uniformly warm climate, which makes a difference, since ethanol can gum up an engine when temperatures go down near freezing. But price still matters.

Analysts worry that it will get worse for the biofuel industry. The price of sugar is high on world markets and so it makes a lot more sense for Brazilian farmers to sell sugar for Frosted Flakes, Hershey bars or sweet tea than it does to turn it into fuel for cars. Beyond that, with the price of other agricultural products rising, maybe it makes more sense to plant soy or corn instead of cane. And if that was not enough, Brazil has recently discovered vast new oil reserves. Experts predict that there could be 80-110 billion barrels of oil in the so-called “pre-sal” deposits. This would give Brazil oil reserves about the size of Kuwait’s or Iraq’s. That’s a lot of oil. The Brazilians initially developed the ethanol program because they didn’t have enough oil of their own. How does this bonanza of the bubbling crude (black gold, Texas tea) affect the equation?

This demonstrates the fundamental weakness of all alternative fuels. Just when we think we reached "peak oil" we find we were just going up one of the foothills. We keep on finding new sources of oil and gas and fossil fuels stay cheap. I know it doesn’t seem like it just now, with gasoline prices hitting record levels (at least in nominal dollars) but the world is awash with fossil fuels. In the medium run (10-20 years), prices for gas and oil fuels will be relatively low (i.e. lower than alternatives) and alternative fuels will have a tough time competing.

The world should watch what happens in Brazil and take notes. For the past thirty years, we have had a laboratory for biofuels. The Brazilians have done everything advocates say should be done to encourage biofuels, as I mentioned above. And when the price of oil was high & the country did not have access to domestic oil supplies, we can called the program a success. What do we say if those conditions change?

February 01, 2011

Charismatic Religions

My area studies today featured religion in Brazil. These are some notes and impressions.  


Max Weber, one of the fathers of sociology, thought that religion would disappear and that Protestants would lead the way, since they embraced rationalism that would come to make religion redundant and expendable. Students of sociology and political science still study his ideas those they spawned & there are lots of good ideas. But embedded in the classic sociological system is the assumption, common in intellectual circles in at the turn of the last century, that religion was old-fashioned and in the future would atrophy. Max Weber died in 1920 from complications from the Spanish flu. Religion has shown no signs of dying out and among most dynamic and expanding types of religion are the charismatic protestant denominations.  Maybe the reports of the death of religion have been exaggerated. 

One of the most interesting places to watch the religious dynamic is Brazil.  Brazil remains the world’s most populous Catholic country.  This doesn’t surprise most people for a mostly Catholic country with a population of 190+ million.  More surprising, perhaps, is that Brazil is also home to the world’s largest community of Pentecostal Christians.  The numbers of protestants in Brazil is has been growing rapidly. A couple generations ago, there were almost no Protestants outside immigrant communities in the south. Today some surveys indicate that Protestants make up as much as 30% of the population and their numbers are growing rapidly.

The Protestants are also among the most active.  As I mentioned above, Brazil has the world’s largest population of Pentecostals.  They currently make up between 15-21% of the population, but they are very much involved in their religion. They attend church services in very large numbers and account for around 40% of all contributions to churches in Brazil.

Many of the new Protestants come from the poorer parts of society. The church gives them not only spiritual guidance, but also social benefits. The church provides social networks and encourages members to stop drinking, gambling and cheating on their spouses.  All these things translate into generally better life outcomes on earth as, presumably, in heaven. Compared with others in similar social-economic circumstances, Brazilian evangelicals have higher incomes. Americans would recognize some of the methods Brazilian evangelicals use to reach potential converts and keep in touch with the flock. There are what we would recognize as mega-churches, but more often the secret of success is to be local and close to the customers, as illustrated above.  The new churches know their communities and satisfy both their spiritual and social needs.  Brazilian evangelicals were among the first to take advantage of television.  One of the biggest denominations,  the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus)  owns a television network, Rede Record. Brazilian evangelicals are having significant effects overseas, especially in Africa.

What marketers might call closeness to the customers is a big advantage that evangelicals have over the Catholic Church, which tends to be a little more distant. Catholic priests are also thin on the ground.  There is only one priest for every 8600 Brazilians. With that kind of ratio, it is hard to get close and personal.  This is exacerbated by the fact that many priests in Brazil are foreign born. Brazil doesn’t produce enough of its own.  The Catholic Church is trying to counter the loss to the charismatic Protestant churches with its own version. The leader of this movement is a priest called Marcelo Rossi. Despite these efforts, the Protestant numbers continue to grow.

For now, it is the Protestant charismatics who are reaching the poor. They preach a personalized salvation, as opposed to the “liberation theology,” which was the largely unsuccessful attempt to reach the poor a generation ago.  That does not mean that the Protestants stay out of politics, however.  Leaders have learned to deploy their numbers as swing voters.  In recent elections, they have supported the left leaning PT (Lula’s party) but not reliably (hence the swing vote status).

Those of us who graduated from secular-based programs in secular universities have a little trouble understanding the power of religion in motivating people. Our world view just doesn’t include the power of faith. We tend to look beyond the religion and seek secular explanation based in sociology or psychology. These factors probably have some validity, but maybe religion is a big part of some people’s lives because they really believe it is true.  IMO, we need to respect that a little more than we do and treat beliefs as a goal in themselves, not merely a means to achieve some material goal. 

BTW – I have sometimes used the term evangelicals. This does not mean exactly the same thing to Brazilians as it does to us. In its Portuguese version, it is more inclusive of all Protestants, but it is true that the fastest growing portions are those that might fit in well with our connotations.

You can find more about Brazilian statistics at

January 31, 2011

Food TOO

They seemed to be going in opposite directions. The report I watched on “Globo Rural” talked about transgenetic crops. Much of the soy produced in Brazil (in the U.S. too, BTY) is genetically modified. The reasons are clear. It is easier to grow. One farmer in the State of Parana explained why he went completely over to genetically modified soy. He could use a lot less fertilizer, almost no herbicides or pesticides and he did not have to run his machines in his fields nearly as much.   

Transgenetic foods are labeled with a “T” in a triangle, so that consumers can recognize them. Evidently some people don’t like them as much and so are willing to pay more for non-T-modified products. Non-T foods are also sold to the EU. People there, no doubt egged on by strong domestic interest groups, want non-T products and are rich enough to pay the higher prices. I am not really sure about that term non-modified, since all the field crops we grow are significantly modified by plant breeding. I chose to use that instead of “natural” since they are also very far from whatever ancestor they had in nature. This leads me to the second article.

The second report on “Jornal Nacional” talked about organically grown food and labels proving that the food on the shelves is organic. 

To some people this means natural, but all that it really means is that the farmer did not use synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides.AND for the time being “organic” does not include foods genetically modified by specific biotechnological means. This distinction is also important, since almost all the foods we eat are genetically modified.All the apples you eat, for example are from clones.Apples do not breed predictably.The only way to guarantee a red delicious apple is to clone it.Every one of the red delicious apples (or other varieties as well) are the identical tree, genetically). But people who care about labels consider plant breeding a different category.

Transgenetic foods are labeled with a “T” in a triangle, so that consumers can recognize them. Evidently some people don’t like them as much and so are willing to pay more for non-modified products. I am not really sure about that term non-modified, since all the field crops we grow are significantly modified by plant breeding.  I chose to use that instead of “natural” since they are also very far from whatever ancestor they had in nature.  This leads me to the second article.

The second report on “Jornal Nacional” talked about organically grown food and labels proving that the food on the shelves is organic. To some people this means natural, but all that it really means is that the farmer did not use synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides.  AND for the time being “organic” does not include foods genetically modified by specific biotechnological means. This distinction is also important, since almost all the foods we eat are genetically modified.  All the apples you eat, for example are from clones.  Apples do not breed predictably. The only way to guarantee a red delicious apple is to clone it. Every one of the red delicious apples (or other varieties as well) are actually the identical tree, genetically). But people who care about labels consider plant breeding a different category.  

People favor organics for a variety of reason. Some people think the organic products are better for them.  Others say the organic products taste better. (This could be true, although probably more because organics often are grown by smaller, local operators who can cater to tastes.)  But a big part of the choice is that organics are perceived to be better for the environment. This last is not true. 

Organic farmers tend to be less productive (per unit of labor and land) than those who use a wider variety of techniques. I don’t want to make too big a distinction between organic and non-organic. Much of “non-organic” production, BTW, is very organic.  Dairy farmers, for example, produce and use tons of organic manure and most farmers follow rotations, planting nitrogen fixing legumes, for example, which add nutrients and organic materials to the soils. No farmer uses only synthetic methods. The difference is the organic farmer will not use any synthetic products in addition to organic ones. This makes them less productive, which is why organic products cost more.  But the environmental cost is harder to understand.  Less productivity means that more labor and land must be used to produce the same amounts of food, which means more land must be cultivated, leaving less land in a “wild” state. 

It seems to me that one of the best ways around this dilemma would be transgenetic crops.  As the farmer in Parana said, he chose to plant transgenetic soya because he could use less fertilizer, less herbicide, less pesticide and he needed to use his machines less in the field, i.e. burned less fossil fuel in the cultivation of his crops.   It seems like a win-win to me. 

Transgenetic crops can be very good for the environment since they require less of all the inputs that currently cause concern. Properly deployed, transgenetic crops could solve, or at least address the problem of lower yields for so-called organic crops. Something that produces more, on less land, with fewer inputs of fertilizer, herbicides & pesticides and lets farmers use less fossil fuel should be welcomed, don’t you think? Maybe we should come up with a new category that is environmentally friendly. It could include organic products and transgenetic ones that use fewer of those inputs above.

We can call it trans-genetically- organic. How about this? We call it a Transgenetic- Organic-Operation for food production. The label can be “Food TOO.”

January 30, 2011

Making it Right

Mudslides in Brazil have killed around 900 people in the last few months. These are not natural disasters. Although the proximate cause is heavy rain, it is the deforestation and the uncontrolled building on steep hillsides that turned weather events into deadly disasters.  Brazilians understand this and have been looking around to other countries that have done better.  The most current example is Australia, which suffered the worst floods in decades with significantly less loss of life.  But Brazilian TV has also gone to New Orleans to assess the successful American response to Hurricane Katrina.

One of the hopeful aspects of the recent Brazilian disasters was the response of Brazilian society.  There were more volunteers to NGOs than could be used and people were lined up to donate blood for the victims. This may seem unremarkable from the American point of view, but this is an evolution in Brazil.

Until recently, Brazilian civil society was relatively weak with a centralizing government taking the predominant lead in most situations. The fact that the government by itself was often not up to the job did not discourage the belief that it should do it all. Like most developing countries, Brazil was thick with laws and rules, but there was often little enthusiasm for following or enforcing many of them.  There was the tacit agreement that the network of rules could not work and finding a way around them (Jeitinho Brasileiro) became a fine art. This had the beneficial effect of keeping things working, but also contributed to lots of trouble.  The uncontrolled building and deforestation that caused the recent disasters, for example, was almost all illegal, but laws could not be enforced.  In some ways, the laws were “too good.”  Their provisions were not executable by actual people in real situations.

What impressed the Brazilian television reporters about New Orleans was not the government’s response, which remains inadequate in many ways. The success in New Orleans is Make it Right, a non-governmental organization spearheaded by actor Brad Pitt.  Make it Right is doing innovative things quicker than any government bureaucracy could manage. Rather than building cookie cutter projects or maybe not really building much of anything at all, as is often the government response, Make it Right is constructing homes that different and unique. They are adapted to the environment, so that when the next flood comes, these homes will survive.   

The lower 9th Ward of New Orleans is becoming a place where homeowners can experiment in new ways of building environmentally sustainable communities, not just individual homes, but whole communities with local vegetable production, rain gardens and open space. The unique thing about all this is that it is not top-down, nor really bottom up. Rather it is a partnership with ideas moving both ways. This is a development to watch.It might seem that I am critical of government because government has “failed” to do what Make it Right is doing. On the contrary, the beauty of the system is a government that allows, enhances and encourages  the efforts of private individuals and groups. The government cannot do these sorts of things and a wise government recognizes that it does not have to. The total society response is what counts; government is only one part of total, sometimes the most important part, often not.

Government contributes in a particularly American way based the choices of the people and on our tax code. For example, I decided to contribute money to Make it Right, and because of the nature of our tax system – i.e. the tax exempt status - government essentially matched part of my contribution. After granting tax-exempt status, no bureaucrat needs decide which charity is worthy. The individual Americans decide with their preference, knowledge and with their own money. This distributed decision-making is a total society response with a role for business, government and individual Americans. Balance is important.

Government doesn't have to and should not try to do it all. We fallible human beings don't know what a perfect society would look like, so we can't empower government to create one. We can create a government that contributes to conditions that help citizens prosper. A good society doesn't solve all problems; it enables citizens to do the right things & make their own choices. 

January 28, 2011

Shoes on the Other Feet

I remember going up to the Vale dos Sinos with George Lannon, the Consul in Porto Alegre.  Our mission was to talk to Brazilian shoe makers there.  There was a trade dispute back then. Brazilian shoe makers, many located in the Vale dos Sinos near Porto Alegre in Rio Grande do Sul, were producing inexpensive, good quality shoes that were beating the domestic producers in the American market. This was more than twenty-five years ago.

I recall hearing the competition talking about the various “unfair” advantages the Brazilian shoemakers enjoyed.  They were close to inexpensive sources of quality leather, because of all the cattle raised in the region; they had the advantages of cheap labor and a low exchange rate; some people complained that labor conditions were oppressive.  (At the factories, BTW, we found working conditions were good.  It reminded me of Germany in many ways, since many of the people there were of German descent and they seem to run their businesses on that model.)  On top of all that, they made good shoes  because the firms were well managed and the workers skilled.  They studied and brought back skills from the premier leather processors in northern Italy.  I really had to respect their initiative and follow through.

Times change. I understand that. Nevertheless, I was surprised to learn that many of those thriving factories were closed or suffering mightily, not only Rio Grande do Sul, but all over the Brazilian leather industry. They could not compete with the cheap imports from China.  Brazil tried to protect its leather industry, but the Chinese figured out ways around the barriers and their price advantage was just too overwhelming. 

Nobody has a permanent advantage and the apparently monumental Brazilian advantages evaporated in the last quarter century.  The Brazilian shoe makers complain that the Chinese have unfair advantages. They have access to cheap leather, a low exchange rate and labor that works under oppressive conditions. They might be right about some of these things, especially about the exchange rate, which the Chinese keep artificially low, but it doesn’t change the outcomes.

When American firms were faced with competition from cheaper products, one of the responses was to move to higher value added products.  Some of the Brazilian firms are doing that too. A report on Brazilian TV explains how Brazilian firms are making very high quality, customized products.  

Ironically, many of their most expensive shoes are aimed at the Chinese market. They evidently found a niche there among rich Chinese, who are willing to pay high prices and are impressed by the outward signs of quality as well as the snob appeal of having something expensive and custom made. 

People who study these things call them “positional goods” and refer to things that are valued less for their qualities than for their exclusivity. A rich person can only eat so much, drink so much or wear so many sets of clothes. In our modern world, even relatively poor people can partake in the luxuries once the exclusive domain of the rich. It makes it harder for the rich to express their status. The availability of tangible goods can expand. Everybody, or almost everybody, can have a refrigerator, good shoes or clothes of decent quality, but relative status is limited.  Status seeking rich guys look for things that are limited.   Returning to the example above, everybody can have good shoes these days, but the exclusive, handmade shoes are rare and so status enhancing for those who care about those things.   Thorstein Veblen wrote about this a century ago when he coined the term conspicuous consumption in his “Theory of the Leisure Class.”

For the time being, this redounds to the benefit of the Brazilian shoe makers.  The Chinese keep their currency artificially low against the Brazilian Real (against the dollar too, but that is another story), which makes Brazilian goods more expensive in China than they would otherwise be. But in the case of conspicuous consumption goods, price doesn’t matter.  In fact, the higher price, which keeps poorer people from owning the goods of desire, may actually heighten their attractiveness.  So the shoemakers get benefits from the high price they can charge enhanced by their overvalued currency, when they collect even more money from the Chinese fat-cats. 

Nevertheless, they should not rely on this situation lasting forever.

I have been following business stories for more than twenty-five years. I read about the decline and fall, and sometimes about the rebound and success.  Today's hero may turn into tomorrow's dog, as good times are followed by bad ones. But wait, you might make a comeback. Continued success depends on continuous adaption. The game is never over; there is no finish line. This is bad news when you are on top, but encouraging if you are not.  Veblen has an insight about this too. He talked about the advantage of borrowing and the penalty of taking the lead.  When you develop something that works, others can copy what works, leave behind the mistakes & then innovate some more. The Brazilian leather workers did this a quarter of a century ago, when they learned the best techniques from places like Italy & the U.S.  The Chinese did it after that. Everybody can do it, but we need to pay attention and be open to change.

January 15, 2011

Mud Slides & Popular Politics


It takes a brave man – and one with a secure job – to tell the truth in the face of great “natural” tragedy.  I saw that today on “Bom Dia Brasil”, where commentator Alexandre Garcia talked about the recent mudslides in Brazil that killed hundreds of people and left many thousands homeless.

The cause is easy to identify. People build dense settlements on steep hillsides, destroying trees and natural cover. This results not only in their own houses being destroyed by mudslides, but also can affect those down the hill who didn’t do anything wrong.

Garcia points out that Brazilian politicians love to make rules, but are less enthusiastic about enforcing them.  (This is not limited to Brazil, BTW. We have mudslides in our country true for some of the same reasons.) It is already illegal to build houses on most of the affected hillsides. But the poor, and sometimes the not-so-poor, invade the green zones and nobody has the political will, or maybe the actual force, needed to stop them. Local politicians, and sometimes even those at the Federal level, play the victim card and pander to voters. It seems unjust to not allow the poor people to have a place to live. There is also little support to solve the problem among the more established parts of the population, who are happy to have the poor living somewhere else.

And each time the predictable “natural” disaster happens, everybody can show solidarity and stick together to overcome the trouble.  Politicians can take credit for “solving” problems everybody should have avoided.

Garcia says that the Governor of the State of Rio de Janeiro, Sérgio Cabral, knows what everybody knows:  populism helped kill people. (Sérgio Cabral sabe o que todos sabemos:o populismo ajudou a matar.) But what can you do about it?In the mountains of the Serra Gaucha in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, there are very nice towns such as Gramado & Canela. They are built in the mountains and are surrounded by steep slopes. But they rarely experience these sorts of problems because the slopes are covered with trees and vegetation that protect the soils.  As Garcia pointed out, this is also part of Brazil. Above is based on what Garcia said. Don’t blame him for the rest, which is my extrapolation.

Finding space for people to live in growing cities is always a challenge, but you have to recognize real options and constraints.  It doesn’t matter if the people and the politicians want to build houses on steep hillsides.  They cannot do it and expect not to suffer dire & deadly consequences.  

In other words, expanding in steep and unstable places is not an option and cannot be made an option by anything government can do.  Some places need to be protected, not to achieve some abstract aesthetic perfection, but because the immutable laws of physics and ecology forbid some kinds of development. It will rain. Mud will slide. If your house is in a place where the dirt moves, you will slide with it. If you remove the vegetation, even more mud will slide and destroy houses and vegetation that would not otherwise be affected. In other words, if you build houses on an unstable slope, you are responsible for significant property damage and maybe for murder.

The government’s role here is more difficult. It has to go against the manifest “will of the people” and constantly suffer criticism. Those enforcing the rules will be characterized as heartless, mean and cruel. Inevitably, a few people will occupy part of the preserved area.  How hard will it be to evict these people, who seem to have no other option?  How much can “a few” little people hurt the big hill? And how can it be fair not to allow more if you allow some?  You see the problem.

Preserving land in steep places is a never-ending challenge and not always as simple as just leaving things alone (although that can be far from simple, as I mentioned above). I read about the forests and meadows in Switzerland.  That very pretty and effective environment has been carefully managed by the human inhabitants for centuries and many lessons were learned. Sometimes they cut too many trees, but sometimes they didn’t cut enough.  In 1876 they made a law to prevent deforestation. Today forest may be becoming too thick. A dynamic balance is what we need. I wrote a little about the dilemma at this link.

An ecosystem is a living thing in the state of constant change. What works today might not work tomorrow w/o modification. The Swiss established forests on slopes where nature would not have put them, since frequent avalanches knocked them down. Once established, however, the trees helped prevent further avalanches and became mostly self-sustaining. I say mostly, because there is sometimes a disturbance that kills the trees locally. If they were not quickly reestablished and a meadow formed on the steep slope, snow would slide quickly down that area, destroying forests below, expanding the treeless area until you had again the unfavorable “natural” conditions.

The Swiss learned how to manage their mountains through centuries of hard experience and no doubt sometimes paid terrible prices for their education. The people in Gramado have evidently also come to equilibrium with their mountains. Gramado looks a lot like Switzerland, since its Italian and German immigrants brought their building styles. Maybe they also brought some of their forest management skills.  

In any case, the sooner others can learn the better. Many disasters can be avoided. Then maybe we won’t need the heroism we saw in the wake of the recent tragedies.

PS - I have some experience in mud sliding on a smaller scale. I have seen that the ground is always moving near my creeks. It doesn't hurt anything and it is interesting to watch the changing conditions. It doesn't hurt because it is just moving dirt from one natural place to another. During a big rain last year, it looks like the water rose at least five feet above the usual water surface and deposited mud many meters away from the creek. The water soaked in and the mud deposits will help fertilize the woods. If you had houses there, however, they would have been severely damaged. Even worse, they would have prevented the natural process.  There are some places that are not suitable for some uses.

January 05, 2011

Boldy Go Where No Man Has Gone Before

A green field investment is when you build a plant where none have been before. The term “green field” is exactly descriptive of the actual geography and contrasts with the “brown field” which is when you rebuilt or build on an old industrial site.   

Which is better depends on what you plan to do. Existing buildings and infrastructure can be worth a lot, but they can also be worth nothing and sometimes they even have negative value because existing structures must be demolished and the new owners have to take responsibility for perhaps years of pollution to ground water, soil etc. This can be a major liability and is a big reason why it is so hard to redevelop old industrial areas. Nobody wants to take on the liability. The green field has none of the baggage, but of course you have to build all the necessary infrastructure to support the investment. Circumstances dictate whether or not this is an advantage.

New transportation patterns, markets and changing technologies can make old locations obsolete and create opportunities for new ones. The raw geographical distance doesn’t matter. What matters is the practical distance, which depends on the quality of infrastructure and technologies of transport. A few dozen miles away on an unreliable dirt road can be farther away – practically – than a few thousand miles by sea transport.   A load of wood sitting at the Brazilian port of Santos might well be closer in the practical sense to a construction site in New York than the same wood stacked in a hollow in the hills of West Virginia. Geographical distance doesn’t change, but practical distance changes all the time, creating and destroying business opportunities.

Fortunes are made when somebody recognizes a new practical distance. For example, I have been reading about the Maggi brothers, growers of soy in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. It is worth pointing out that soy production in Mato Grosso became possible only within the last decades because of advances in agricultural techniques and plant science. They could not have done what they did fifty years ago. Nobody could, since the technologies were unavailable. But their business was almost killed by logistics. The Maggi family came from Southeastern Brazil and everybody continues to look in that direction to sell their products internationally through the Ports of Santos and Paranaguá. But the overland transport was too expensive. So they looked in the other direction and moved their product north west to the river port of Porto Vehlo in the state of Rondônia, where the products are put in barges, a very inexpensive way to transport bulky commodities, and shipped down the Madeira River, which eventually flows into the Amazon from which the products can be put onto ocean transport. Most of the soy ends up in China, a market that was unavailable twenty five years ago. 

So what we have here is a product that had not yet been developed twenty-five years ago, grown in a place that would not have supported it, sent over a transportation system that didn’t exist or was “undiscovered” and finally sold to a market that only recently came into existence. And you wonder why the world is a surprising place. 

Markets and productive capacity are created by human ingenuity. They are not "out there" waiting. 

What got me thinking about green fields was another story about Brazil; this time about a little city called Tres Lagoas, in Mato Grosso do Sul, the state next to Mato Grosso. I was surprised to learn today that Tres Lagoas is the world’s biggest producer of cellulous.  Who knew? I didn’t believe it, so I researched it and sure enough it is true. It only happened within the last couple of years because of a partnership between a big Brazilian firm called Fibria and International Paper. The reason they chose Tres Lagoas is because it was the classic greenfield investment, with a great capacity in the neighboring area to grow eucalyptus trees. Paper/pulp/fiber mills have trouble if the forests that supply the fiber are more than 60-80 miles away. This is not a problem in Tres Lagoas.   

Look at the slide show of the fiber plant at this link

Of course, once you get the wood to the mill, you still have to move the product to markets.  No problem again. Tres Lagoas is located in a region that is flat as a board. It presents no building challenges.  But the infrastructure is already there. The city sits astride rail, highway and canal infrastructure and is even on the right of way of a pipeline that brings Bolivian natural gas to Brazil. This has attracted other industries.   Petrobras is locating there to build a fertilizer operation. Natural gas is a feedstock and the growing areas (remember the Maggi brothers et al) are nearby. There are also steel mills expanding, among other things.

So how about that? People not very old can remember when there was nothing much in these places. Who knows how many other places in the world are languishing, waiting for a change in technology of a paved road. It is amazing how fast wealth can be created and how the practical landscape can change in years or months. Sometimes all it takes is a paved road and some imagination and vision. We sometimes think the heroic age of innovation is over. We are wrong … again. As long as there are humans, they will create opportunities and – to steal the phrase – boldly go where no man has gone before.  

December 25, 2010

Generations: Boomers XYZ

 It is easy to over define something as fluid as a generation. Old guys think young folks just are not quite as hard-working or tough. Younger generations always think that they are unique in world history. Stereotypes are not w/o merit. My father’s Depression-WW II generation was tougher than mine since they grew up in harder times. As for today's young people, until the recent economic downturn, nobody born after 1980 really remembered hard times and despite all the gnashing of teeth the general level of affluence remains high. They are unique.

But the most unprecedented generational changes have to do with connectedness. We thought we were connected because we grew up with television. My father’s generation thought radio was the cat’s pajamas.   And a generation before that they had the amazing possibility of getting new transmitted by cable printed in morning newspapers.  When you get farther back than that, not really very long ago in the great scheme of history, speed of communication had not really changed too much for thousands of years.  News traveled as fast as a horse could walk or the wind would push a ship.

The speed of communication really has not changed much since they laid trans-Atlantic cables during the reign of Queen Victoria.  The fastest messages have essentially traveled at the speed of light for more than a century, but the reach, breadth and the interactivity has grown with each technological advance and the astonishing spread of Internet and cellular phones represents a quantum leap that changes the rules not only of communication but also of society.

I am a member of the “baby boom” generation, born between the end of World War II and the early 1960s. We were THE youth generation, even after we got older.  After us was what they called generation X, born from the middle of the 1960s until around 1980 and then generation Y, born beginning around thirty years ago, now entering the labor force.  Some people talk about a generation Z, which would be kids around ten years old.  The borders between generations are not very distinct and a generation means  than just being born during certain years.

Generations pass through events that shape their members.  Baby boomers, for example, experienced the post-war prosperity and then the upheavals of the 1960s.  We then went through the hard times of the 1970s, which made us more conscious of the need to get and keep jobs.  It was nothing as hard as our parents Depression experience, but it made an impression.  The generation X folks in many ways had a harder time.  They are a smaller generation (birthrates dropped after the baby boom)  that grew up in our shadows.  They felt the hard times as kids, but generally did okay in the 1980s and 1990s.  Their biggest challenge was baby boomers, who hogged a lot of the good jobs. This problem is not going away, but it may be made even worse by the arrival of generation Y.

It is hard to arrive just a little behind. Others entrench themselves in the better jobs and you can be second place for most of your career. The boomers were supposed to retire, and the older ones have started to move off, but the recent downturn has kept more of them in the labor market. So generation X waits its turn.  Unfortunately for them, generation Y has arrived and is ready to go.

Generation Y has advantages.  They grew up with technology and so they are very good at computers and social networks. Their knowledge is up-to-date, which trumps the experience of many generation X folks.   Beyond that, the boomers, who are getting ready leave – finally, like generation Y. They are qualified, as I mentioned above. They are energetic and they are literally the children of the boomers. Imagine a boomer (age maybe 55) thinking about a successor.   He can choose as “steady” & “solid” person of around forty-five, who has served the firm well, but maybe never rising to the higher levels (blocked by boomers).  Or maybe he can look to the techno-savvy, innovative & energetic thirty-year-old, who reminds him of his own smart kids.  Notice the adjectives.  Do you think I am choosing the wrong words?

This is causing significant tension in many workplaces. The Generation Y folks don’t much respect hierarchy.  They feel perfectly entitled to take their new and innovative ideas to the big boss (still often a boomer), bypassing the middle-manager, who is likely to be generation X.

Some generations get the breaks.  There was a similar dynamic with the World War II generation and the boomers. Like the boomers, the World War II generation dominated the scene, until they were replaced by boomers. We forget about the “silent generation,” those just too young to go to war, but too old to be boomers, the ones born from around 1930 to 1945. Take the symbolism of the Presidency. From 1960 to 1992 all the presidents were World War II era veterans (Although Carter was not active duty, he was at the Naval Academy during WWII).  The office then passed to baby boomer Bill Clinton, completely bypassing the silent generation. George W Bush was a boomer and so is Barack Obama.  His likely Republican challengers in 2012 are boomers, so we are virtually assured of boomers in office until 2016 and maybe 2020.  By that time, the younger boomers will still be in their late fifties, still prime time for the presidency, and generation Y will be knocking at the door by 2028.  We could skip a generation again.

Of course, everything for me now has a Brazilian angle. In fact, I was moved to think about this subject after watching a series about generational change in Brazil on TV Globo. They are in Portuguese, but if you want to watch, they are here, here, here & here.

The Brazilian generations do not correspond exactly to ours, but they are close. The difference is that the differences are sharper there between generation X & Y.  Generation X grew up during the time of the dictatorship.  They were concerned with establishing their positions in society and their status, maybe more than American generation Xers. Beyond that, Brazil was economically isolated in the 1970s and 1980s.  Protectionism and import substitution were the rules. That meant that lots of the products were substandard and relatively more expensive.  Computers, for example, were always behind the curve.  Making matters worse was the poor economy, high inflation and external debt. This tended to keep Brazilians down. The 1990s saw revolutionary changes, perhaps as stark and rapid as the more famous changes in Eastern Europe. Brazil opened and its economy improved remarkably. Technology poured in, essentially allowing Brazilian to skip a technology generation. Younger Brazilians, at least the educated ones we are thinking about in firms, suddenly had communications and travel options that were unheard of for most of their immediate elders.  

So in Brazil, the X-Y divide is even sharper and the Brazilian equivalent of baby boomers is acting similar to their American cohorts. In addition, the younger Brazilian generation is more open to risk taking and innovation.  They are starting firms and hopping jobs in ways the more cautious generation X folks find frightening.

I expect this to be a factor when I am managing staff in Brazil and interacting with firms there. I do not believe that demographics is destiny. There will be many variations, but I think it is something to keep mind.

December 24, 2010

Transcontinental Railroads for Soy

Brazil is the world’s second largest producer of soybeans. The country made great advances over the last quarter century, thanks in great part to the work of EMBRAPA and the development of Brazilian agriculture. I wrote a note about the expansion of the Brazilian agricultural frontier at this link. They have learned how to make the formerly non-productive soils fertile and developed new varieties of crops, such as soybeans adapted to the tropics that have revolutionized agriculture in the country and may soon help less developed countries in places like Africa.

The intractable problem remaining is infrastructure. Infrastructure is weak all along the chain from the farm field to the ports. Infrastructure that we take for granted just does not exist in many parts of Brazil. They have no network of paved trunk roads, for example. These webs of roads bring agricultural products to markets and greatly reduce prices and waste. We don’t even think about this most of the time, but I understand their worth sometimes when I drive down one of my dirt roads after even a light rain. It is not hard to imagine how bad it would be if traffic was more and heavier just me, not hard to imagine, but it would be hard to work with it.

Freight rail is an often out-of-sight but crucial part of infrastructure in any large country. The state of Brazilian railroads is even worse than the roads, outside small areas of the Southeast.  A truck can, with difficulty, drive across an undeveloped path; a train obviously cannot go where there are no tracks and there are no tracks laid across most of the Brazilian agricultural frontier.  

As part of my quest of getting to know Brazil, I was doing a little research on infrastructure in the interior of the country and found an interesting article about the “soy railroad” or what Brazilians call Ferrovia de Integração Centro-Oeste (Fico) – the trunk railroad for the Central-West. Look at the link to see where the railroad will go. It will be part of a massive transcontinental railroad that will cover 4,400 kilometers. Work is supposed to begin April of 2011, initially with R$ 4.1 billion from the Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento (PAC) – program for the acceleration of growth. The rail project has been slowed by environmental concerns, as well as management challenges of such an ambitious project.  

The project is supposed to be completed in two phases. The first phase will go from Campinorte in the state of Goias, connect with the north-south railroad, and end up in Lucas do Rio Verde in the state of Mato Grosso.  I didn’t know where these places were either, but you can look them up with Yahoo Maps. The railroad would be a straighter line than the road and I think be better environmentally, since RR traffic is more easily controlled.  As I wrote above, the trains obviously cannot leave the tracks.

When the project is up and running, it will save R$ 1 billion in the annual cost of freight for producers in the region, according  to Glauber Silveira da Silva president of the Mato Grosso Association of Corn and Soy Producers.  He also talked about the need to complete BR-163, the highway that is supposed to connect Cuiabá in Mato Grosso with Santarém in the state of Pará. It was started in the 1960s, but  much of it is a dirt road with ruts big enough to swallow cars. The completion of this infrastructure would change the direction of the product flow from the central-west. Most of the freight currently goes south and east, toward to overloaded ports of Santos in São Paulo state or Paranaguá in Paraná. A good road/rail connection could take the products north to Itaqui, in Maranhão, or Vila do Conde, in Pará, closer to export markets.

These heroic infrastructure projects are very exciting for me. I have read a lot about building our own transcontinental railroads and I am generally fascinated by trains and roads. (One of big advantages that I noticed when I was there was the Iraq's great rail potential.) The challenge for the Brazilians is not only to build these things, but also to do so in a way that protects the environment. I believe that we can indeed have sustainable development and I look forward to seeing how/if that works in Brazil

December 05, 2010

New Music for a New Brazil

Paula Fernades 

Brazilian TV had an interesting program on the types of guitars in Brazil.  Even if you cannot read Portuguese, you can see the pictures of the various types of Brazilian guitars (viola) at this link. There are six major types.

The latest music sensation in Brazil is a variation of Musica Sertaneja, which I talked about in an earlier post.  It is not the type of music that immediately comes to mind when you think of Brazil.  It started off similar to country music; often with duos singing harmony, but it has recently developed into something more like a type of country-rock.   Although it is popular in cities, it is keeping some of its country roots.  At first, Sertaneja singers were mostly men, but now some of the most successful are women, such as Paula Fernandes, whose picture you see above (looks sort of like a younger Emmy Lou Harris.) She is proudly from the State of Minas Gerais.  You can see some of the state and hear her sing at this link. 

You can get a taste of the new Sertaneja at this Brazilian TV program.  I don’t think you really need to understand all the language. Just look at the people and listen to the music.

It is only a supposition, but I think that the growth of Musica Sertaneja is related to the growth of the lower middle classes in Brazil.  Sertaneja was/is a kind of bottom up phenomenon that comes from the aspiring interior of the country, from the new cities of aspiration such as Cuiabá or Porto Velho, rather than among the establishments of the older cities nearer the coast.  

I listen to the words in the songs.   Of course, most of them are the usual mix of lost love and longing, but they often have a meta-theme of going back to simpler life with traditional values.   This is often a theme of the upwardly mobile, people who have moved somewhere else to improve their life chances.  They know that they are better off now, but they also would like to hang on to some of what they left behind.  I think it is the same feelings expresses in the old Bobby Bare song “Detroit City.”  Bobby Bare is also known for his other hit “Dropkick me Jesus through the Goalposts of Life.”

Anyway, Samba and Carnival are not going away, but there is a lot more to Brazil than those things. The new Brazil has a new feeling in many ways and different sounds.

December 02, 2010

Learning Brazil

Round window at FSI showing late fall colors in treesLanguage learning is really a total experience, at least for me. I have not been writing as much to the blog for that reason. This is the fourth time the FS has given me language training, although only the third language, since Portuguese is a repeat. Now I watch Brazilian news and read Brazilian papers and books every day. 

I have only four hours of actual instruction, but I think that I am doing at least ten hours of Portuguese-Brazil related stuff every day. 

This even goes for my walking around IPOD.  I loaded on Brazilian music. The kind I like is “musica sertanja.” It is a lot like country or maybe more like Western music. It kind of reminds you a little of Marty Robbins. I have learned that it is very popular in Brazil, especially in the interior of the country. 

My favorites are Jad & Jefferson.  I bought one of their albums from I-Tunes. They do a great harmony.  One of my favorite songs is Não Aprendi Dizer Adeus, a song that seems to be an old standard. I bought a version by a duo called Leandro e Leonardo and also one by a guy with a famous name Julio Caesar. One of the singers who sound the most “country” is a guy called Sergio Reis.   But if you watch the Youtube, you see that he still has the Brazilian arrangements with the pretty girls backing him up.     

Much of the music has to do with traveling the country roads and being on the sertão, which is much like our home on the range. A nice calming song is Deus e Eu no Sertão, by Victor & Leo. That means God & me on the open range and it is what you might expect, extolling the simple pleasures of being out on the range. The clip linked above shows what the range in Brazil looks like. I think that the pictures are mostly from the state of Mato Grosso do Sul.  One of the singers popular with young women is Zezé di Camargo.  Watch him sing the Brazilian national anthem at this link and you will understand why.  They even made a movie about him and his brother Luciano.   It is the story of a couple poor guys from the state of Goiás who make good.  

I also bought a bunch of Brazilian movies. I mentioned “Tropa de Elite” in my earlier post, but I pretty much buy whatever I can find on Amazon that is still in Portuguese. I don’t have any particular desire to watch dubbed movies, although I am happy for the subtitles. They are sort of gritty sometimes. I will do the English titles.  One called “Man of the Year” could have been made by Quentin Tarantino. It has the feel of “Reservoir Dogs.”  A theme seems to be journey movies too, which is okay with me since I get to see Brazilian countryside. In this general theme, I have “Central Station,” “God is Brazilian” & “The Middle of the World.” Two more that I really cannot characterize, but are a bit depressing are “House of Sand” and “Behind the Sun.”

I notice some of the same actors in the movies in widely varied roles. An older woman called Fernanda Montenegro seems to have first opportunity to be in any movie made in Brazil. She also has a big part in a currently popular soap opera called Passione. I tried to watch it for a while, but I really cannot follow it. TV Globo provides only scenes, so you have to keep on clicking on them to keep the action going. Anyway, it seems like a good soap opera, but it is still a soap opera.

This has been my most holistic language learning experience. It is more fun, because I have been able to jump over a lot of the boring drills and get more into the substance of both the language and the society of the country.

November 26, 2010

Tropa de Elite

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

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

Cloudy sky at FSI on the day after Thanksgiving 

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

Cranes working on buildings at Balston near sundown 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 12, 2010

Sugar Cane & Ethanol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 09, 2010

Brazil's Successful Takeoff

Gnarled bradford pear 

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

Maple tree in fall colors 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 01, 2010

Learning Portuguese

FSI campus 

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

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

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

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

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

The White House 

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

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

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

October 14, 2010

The New Brazil

I attended a  launching of a book “The New Brazil” at the Wilson Center’s Brazil Institute yesterday.  Riordan Roett, the author, is a professor at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University & director of the Western Hemisphere Studies and Latin American Studies Programs.  He claimed that he had been studying Brazil for more than fifty years and seemed to be telling the truth. The book’s main emphasis is on the last sixteen years during the Presidencies of Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

The discussion at the meeting centered on what or who should get credit for Brazil’s remarkable success since the middle of the 1990s.  Like most success, it is the result of good decisions and good luck and it is hard to tell where one leaves off. 

The most obvious place to start is with government policy.  Many other things about Brazil remained the same, so the change in policy was probably a major factor.  The big change in direction came with the “Plano Real”.  Fernando Henrique Cardoso, as Finance Minister, led the team that created the plan and then as president brought it to maturity. I won’t go into details about the plan, since I have not yet studied the details, but in general is stabilized the currency and created economic stability. It took many of the economic decisions out of the hands of politicians and privatized many state enterprises.  And it opened the Brazilian economy to foreign investment and trade by lowing tariffs and making it generally easier to do business.

When I lived in Brazil twenty-five years ago, we talked a lot about the fact that the Brazilian people were very enterprising but that obsessive rules and government interference kept the country from achieving its potential.  Extensive parallel markets developed, which drained much of the energy out of the official enterprises.

The Plano Real seemed to work and Brazil has leapt forward.  Of course, there are also aspects of good fortune.  One of the biggest factors working in Brazil’s favor has been the rise of China.  Brazil remains primarily a producer of primary products, agricultural products, minerals etc.  The rise of China, and to a lesser extent other Asian economies, vastly increased the demand for products that Brazil could profitably produce.  

(My one good investment (which unfortunately I have to sell before going to Brazil to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest) was in the stock of a Brazilian company called Vale do Rio Doce, or just Vale (pronounced VaLay).  Vale is a mining company, mostly iron ore.  I bought the stock in 2003 and I only wish I had bought more.  The Economist just published an article about it.  It is one of those world class Brazilian firms that were quickly able to take advantage of opening markets.)

Another piece of good luck, for Brazil if not others, was the rising price of oil, which made profitable their investments in ethanol produced from sugarcane.  Now Brazil has also discovered vast reserves of oil and gas off the Atlantic coast in a formation called pre-salt. To help finance exploration and exploitation, the Brazilian oil firm, Petrobas recently floated a $67 billion stock share offer, the largest in history.  These developments will make Brazil energy independent and maybe even an oil exporter.  The Brazilians already produce most of their electricity from renewable hydropower.  They have developed ways to produce hydropower w/o the extensive ecological damage associated with previous large water projects.  Of course, no energy source is worry frees and there is still controversy, but manageable.

There is some bad news, of course.  Brazilian infrastructure is poor.  This already impacts prosperity and will do it more in the future.  The price of sugar, for example, spiked a couple weeks ago because of backlogs at the Brazilian port of Santos.   Brazil is the world’s second leading producer of soybeans (behind us).  Infrastructure is what keeps them from becoming #1. They can grow soybeans in the grasslands of the cerrado, but they often cannot ship them to market.  Many of the connecting roads and even some important highways are poorly maintained and sometimes not properly paved at all.   Brazil will need to invest heavily in improvements and it will have the incentive and money to do it, which will be a great opportunity for construction firms.

Human infrastructure is also a weakness.  Brazil has excellent public universities and produces great engineers, doctors and lawyers.  But the level down is very bad and there is a big gap.  Many people remain functionally illiterate and significant numbers are just illiterate, period.  The lack of basic education in the work force makes it difficult to devolve decision making and innovation to the workers on the shop floor, as is required by many modern processes.  

Again to interject a personal note, I remember when Mariza was born in Brazil.  The doctors were great, as good as anything we could expect in the U.S., but the quality quickly fell off and you had to be very careful with the nursing staff and especially with the aids.  I had some dental work done in Porto Alegre.   The dentist was great, but his assistant was less well trained. He was putting a cap on one of my teeth and had exposed the nerve. As he stepped away for a minute, he told his assistant to keep the area on the tooth clean.  She alternatively squirted water and compressed air onto the raw nerve until I begged her to stop and wait until he got back for the final cleaning squirt.

Brazil’s educational system is very uneven and counter intuitive to an American. The best universities are public.  They are tuition-free and open to all through a highly competitive test.  But the only way to properly prepare for that test is to go through private grade schools and HS, since the public schools at the lower level are generally bad.   In America, our top universities (Harvard, Yale, & Stanford) are often private and smart rich people want to go there.  Private universities in Brazil are not on top and poorer Brazilians are more common in them.  It is a little odd that those who could afford to pay get to take advantage of the public universities while the private ones are the ones that serve the others.

Professor Roett thinks that the educational system will soon improve, as people will demand it.  The Brazilian middle class has grown significantly during the boom times. For the time being, they are happy that they can afford new refrigerators and nicer apartments.  But there is a Maslow principle at work here.  As their material needs are better satisfied, they will start to want more intangible, such as better education for their children.  Beyond that, the more developed economy is demanding higher level skills.

Somebody asked the question about evangelicals.  Brazil has traditionally been a casually Catholic country, but you cannot help noticing the vast numbers of evangelical protestant churches, often in storefronts or other general buildings.  The evangelicals also exhibit a lot of energy and a strong work ethic. Brazil is actually exporting evangelical missionaries to Spanish speaking Amer