March 16, 2013

Usually you just get one

Like cats, we must have nine lives because Brazil keeps giving us “once in a lifetime” opportunities. 

The latest came at lunch yesterday with education leaders in São Paulo. To my growing amazement & delight, a representative of the state education laid out his aspirations to create a network of community colleges inspired by American models. He asked how we could help. What he wants is exactly what we are eager to give him: connections with appropriate Americans and the chance for institutional linkages. I would not have aspired to this in my more grandiose imaginings. 

The Brazilian side has the determination, the resources and the desire to work with us. Having all those things at one time and in one place is rare. All we need do is say yes and I will not let this pass.

This is the opportunity to develop in São Paulo the kind of phenomenally successful working relationship that we have with CAPES and MEC in in Brasília. We have the opportunity to be present at the creation, when the institutions are forming that will influence the lives of millions of Brazilians and – again – create and enhance relationship among Americans and Brazilians that will affect our relations for a generation. 

Louis Brandeis famously said that the states are the laboratories of democracy. Brazilian states are not exactly like ours, but the laboratory of democracy can work here too. A success in São Paulo can be adapted and emulated by others. São Paulo has the resources to be the leader. We will help.

There is the old saying about limited vision, that a person cannot see the forest because of all the trees. This is so big that we almost cannot see it for what it is. It requires that we deploy our “new” paradigm of leveraging our influence by imaginatively helping our Brazilian friends. It is a win all around. We join in their dreams. They achieve their aspiration while satisfying those of Americans eager to get more involved in Brazil’s growing opportunities. I have no doubt that we will find lots of Americans and American institutions who want to work with this.  

I wonder how many more "opportunities of a lifetime" Brazil will give me before I am done here. Usually you just get one. It is scary. I always say that it is better to be lucky than smart. But how long can luck hold?

January 15, 2013

Brasília Days

Floss silk trees 

It rained for four days w/o stop. Sometimes it rained little less and sometimes it poured really hard. I walked to the grocery store on Sunday while it rained only enough to make you feel a little damp, but I don’t think it stopped raining completely for a full hour during those four days.  Today it rained too, but it didn’t rain all day.   In fact, the sun came out strongly.  While I was eating lunch, outside but under a roof I saw it rain a little, rain a lot, become very sunny and then rain again.  In other words, today was more like the “usual” summer weather here.  This time of the year in Brasília, it usually rains every day but not all day. “Todos os dias, mas não o dia todo,” is the phrase I learned in Portuguese.

The four days before today were rainier than usual, but the weeks before were dryer.  It rained only a couple times a week, which is strange.   It was sunny and it got a little hot during the middle of the day.  But the temperatures in Brasília are nearly perfect.  It gets down to around 65 at the coldest and never more than 90, w/o much humidity.

Street in Brasilia 

Brasília is pleasant, although the original design is not conducive to things like walking, biking or generally being a human not sitting in a car.   It improves as you get away from the original plan, but the parts of the city are disconnected.  Riding my bike to work, even during the dry season, takes significant commitment.  The city represents what some intellectuals of the 1950s and 1960s thought the future would look like.  It is purposely car dependent and unfriendly to pedestrians and bikes.  There have been some improvements, but it is hard to fix the core of the city because of various protective rules.  Lago Sul where I live is better than the planned city and there is a nice bike lane along the main road, but it tends to end where cars merge and it is dangerous at these points.   In general the places where you can more or less ride safely are separated by nearly impassible stretches.  

When I ride to work, I use some sidewalks, where there are sidewalks.  After that, I have to cross a bridge on a “sidewalk” about three feet wide, then ride on the grass, pass as quickly as I can under an overpass, then get off the bike and run up a grassy bank.  I finally get to the end of a road that leads to the Embassy.   The way home is a little easier.  I take the back road to one of the main highways at a point that features one of Brasília’s few stop lights.  When the light turns red, I run across the street – RUN across the street before the traffic catches up with me.  If you are not quick you will be dead.  On the other side of the big road, I ride through a series of parking lots until I come again to my bridge and the way home.

The sad thing is that it could have been such a great city.  With this marvelous climate and mostly flat topography, Brasília would be the perfect place for sidewalk cafes, bike trails and tree lined boulevards. Brasília is still a nice place in spite of the plan.  It could be fairly easily improved with a few pedestrian crossings and sidewalks and trails.  

My pictures show some of the pleasant little places on my walk to the grocery store.  As I wrote, Lago Sul is nicer than the center city, but it is still designed such that there are lots of dead end streets.   I think the trees with the spikes on the trunk are floss silk trees.

My pictures show some of the pleasant little places on my walk to the grocery store.As I wrote, Lago Sul is nicer than the center city, but it is still designed such that there are lots of dead end streets.I think the trees with the spikes on the trunk are floss silk trees.

December 15, 2012

For a few dollars more or less

Fernand Braudel Institute 

My travel budget is cut. Luckily, I had already been taking steps to save money. We try hard to get the least expensive tickets, sometimes saving hundreds of dollars by going earlier or later and/or avoiding peak periods. On my last trip to São Paulo, I used Marriott points to pay for the hotel and I how have enough points on TAM to get a free trip next time I travel. But these can only count for so much. You have to stay about five times before you can get a free night, for example. Nobody can live off of this. We have to make serious cuts, consolidating trips and sometimes just not going.  It will impact our staffs around Brazil and I expect to sometimes be less popular than I otherwise would be when I have to say no. But I will still say yes most of the time, maybe with modifications.

I consider being places, boots on the ground, to be the essence of our work. Diplomats have to see and be seen. It has always been thus. Sometimes this is the whole task. When I was in Iraq, one of my most important jobs was to walk around in the villages and be seen. I worried a little when a police chief I had not yet met told me that he already knew who I was because my Anbar village walks were locally famous. I figured that if he knew it, so did the bad guys and it could be dangerous, but I trusted the Marines to keep me safe and they did. I think my walks did some good to calm the situation.  And they did help me develop and use my banana index.


Of course, you can learn a lot from secondary sources, i.e. books, internet, TV. Most of what anybody knows if from secondary sources, but I learned the hard way that you learn things by being places that you cannot easily measure and may discount. The mistake has to do with a persistent bias.  Once we learn something and integrate it into our knowledge base, we often think we knew it already.  That is why it is sometimes so hard to convince people that an idea is good but just as hard a short time later to convince them that they didn’t always believe this.

I was putting it in this context with my recent visit to São Paulo. I went there because I thought it was important for me personally to meet a delegation from NEA-F, get their perspective and give them ours.  Could I have done this at a distance?  Maybe.  But I think I have a much better feel for their perspective and they understand ours.  When I made related decisions later, I will be better informed. But there is more.

Besides the NEA-F meetings, I got a chance to have a long talk with some of my São Paulo Brazilian and American colleagues. They told me about some of their problems and aspirations. I am in daily contact with them via email etc. but I still learned some things AND showed my own personal commitment. They can tell when I am serious and what I might just let go and I get the same back.

Beyond that, I had some good meetings with people and institutions I would not have known.  For example, at Fernand Braudel Institute I learned about reading circles, which use the classics to bring marginalized kids into the mainstream.  I am not sure what I will do with that information and of course I could have read about it, but it is not the same. I also went to an environmental organization called Instituto Socio-Ambiental.  We used to have good relations with them, but we kind of drifted away.  My visit was a good pretext to come back.  And this visit shows the usefulness of connections.

I listened to them talk about their projects with indigenous people, quilombos and environmental restoration.  (A quilombo is a settlement originally of escaped slaves.  The 1988 Brazilian constitution granted such communities communal property rights similar to those of indigenous people.)  I thought of connections they might make with the U.S. Smithsonian came to mind, maybe because Smithsonian was so recently down in Brazil to set up connections. They saw what a great place Brazil really was.  People hear about this, but when they actually see it, it makes a big difference.  And I knew just who to call. I got an answer the same day.  It might be the start of a sustained institutional linkage that happened only because of boots on the ground.

Finally, I had a chance to meet with alumni of our youth programs and our youth council. They like to talk to us and it gives me a chance to hear what young Brazilians have to say.  Not surprisingly, they are interested in their future careers, but they also gave me something concrete to think about.  We talked a little about social media. They said that they and their friends were getting sick of Facebook because it was too uncontrolled. They use twitter more to communicate more precisely.  Facebook is a central part of our social media strategy; if it is going into decline we need to move to other platforms.  But that is another story. 

I have to figure out how to do more with less.  I think the way to do that is to go after the little things and the big ones, i.e. work those discounts I mentioned above but also identify the bigger money sinks.  I have found a few already.  It is the old 80/20 Pareto principle rule of thumb.  It is good to try to save the taxpayer money.  I have always tried to do that.  But I do also believe in the mission I am sent to accomplish and I don’t want to save my way into ineffectiveness.

I truly believe that this is a time of great leverage in U.S.-Brazil relationships, a golden opportunity, when Brazilian development has taken off to the extent that we really have a great field for cooperation but before conditions have stabilized. The connections I help foster today will link our great nations for a generation.  It is good work and it is important that I do it well. Brazil is an important country.  We have a lot of common interests, lots of areas of big win-win for everybody. I won’t lose sight of this in an effort to save a few dollars … but I will save a few dollars.  

My top picture is Ferdand Braudel Insitute. Below is ISA. They are both in nice areas of São Paulo called Higienopolis, the old Jewish section of the city. 

December 01, 2012

Progessive & conservative Acre

Bridge in Rio Brano 

I like Rio Branco.  It is not a big city, as are most Brazilian capitals.  Rather, it is a pleasant middle-sized city, kind of like Madison. And I have to admire the way Acre is run.  They are progressive in the sense of the word I remember in the Wisconsin of my childhood.  It is a kind of progressive conservatism. They are trying hard to make life better for the common people, while conserving their environment & making it worthwhile to work hard, all the while affirming the traditions and the values of the people of Acre. You can see picture of Rio Branco above. The statues are based on ordinary people walking the city's streets. Below are the Nelore cattle now so common in Brazil.  They can thrive on low quality food and are adapted to hot weather. Being white is good for reflecting the tropical sun.

Nelore cattle in Acre, Brazil

The Economist ran an article in its recent issue.  I suggest that read at this link.


Acre is still underdeveloped. We stopped at a store, one of the few places you could stop along the only road between Rio Branco and Taraucuá.  The "bathroom" literally consisted of a pot to p*ss in.  Above is the store and a few other pictures I took from Mariza's Facebook.

There is a joke in the other parts of Brazil asking if Acre really exists. Acre does and its development is breaking new ground.  They are trying to find ways to make it as profitable or more profitable to keep the forests intact than to cut them.  I think this is possible, although I think there needs to be some modifications.  For example,  a strong conservation ethic requires/requires hunting and timber harvesting.   I think that in the longer run some of the preservation will need to give way to conservation, although it is understandable that preservation will seem more urgent right after so much was threatened or destroyed. Below you can see the pasture and erosion. The tree on the little hump of land is presumably the former level.  Most of the clearing took place in the 1970s. The grass is growing well.

Pasture land

So Acre is my kind of place … almost.I love the forest protection & I really like the way they celebrate and help common people.But Acres is a little too hot for me.I miss the season and the cold, or at least the cool that I grew up with. I guess I am getting homesick.I love Brazil, but America is where my soul will always abide.

November 28, 2012



I took Mariza and Greg to No Extinction, a place where they rescue and rehabilitate big cats.  The jaguars are very beautiful, as you can see above. I was surprised that they have pumas/mountain lions in Brazil. I thought that they were North American animals. 

mountain lion 

There was a funny story about the mountain lions.  They has a male lion and wanted to find a mate.  One became available, but the two didn't get along. When they examined the new lion more closely, they found that it too was a male.  Its testicles had not descended and nobody, I suppose with the exception the the frustrated other lion, had gotten close enough to see clearly. The road to the Jaguar place takes you through the beautiful hills of Goias. It is a pretty drive, but I don't trust the dirt roads.  Rain makes them difficult.

Road to Jaguar farm 


November 24, 2012

Challenges of true people

Indian dancers 

The indigenous people Huni Kui live in Peru and the Brazilian state of Acre. About ten thousand of them are today spread over twelve indigenous lands in Acre. They are the largest indigenous group in Acre.

Pinuyá was founded in 1972 when three families arrived from other parts of the state.  They were not recognized until 1991 when they were granted 105 contiguous hectares (about 260 acres). The governor of Acre gave them another 200 hectares. With only 305 hectares, this is the smallest reserved area in the state. Today there are forty-three households and 162 people living on the reserve, which is 1.8 inhabitants per hectare. This is not enough for a hunting-gathering society.  The economy of the area is based on family agriculture, fish farming and crafts.


The reserve is surrounded by cattle operations and 70% of the reserved land is still covered in cow pasture.The forest was mostly removed in the 1970s when the government made a concerted push into the “empty” lands of the west.The band is trying to reforest the land with native species.Mariza and I planted one tree, as I discussed in a previous post.

Band leaders told me that they need more land. It is true that 305 hectares are not much to support 162 people. It is impossible with hunting and extensive agriculture. They told us about some intensive agriculture. They do fish farming and raise pigs, ducks & chickens, all of which produce significant amounts of protein with relatively small inputs.

Mariza with bow 

When I was in college, living an organic self-sufficient life appealed to me. I never did it, but my research indicated that you needed at least five acres (a little more than two hectares) of fertile farmland to support yourself. This was a minimum using intensive methods and it still required part-time work off the land. If you have 305 hectares, it is likely that much or most of it is not fertile farmland. Beyond that, the Huni Kui want to reestablish native forests. This is something close to my heart, but it implies hunting & gathering. You need a lot more acreage for this kind of lifestyle. 

Story telling 

The rain forest ecosystem is not as rich as we might think if you look at the luxuriant growth, at least not for hunting and gathering.  Its organisms have evolved over millennia to deny their energy to others. Lots of the activity takes place high in the trees where it is difficult for humans to access. That is why populations of rain forest hunter-gatherers remained so small for all those millennia. The land simply does not support large human populations. Densities can be only around two or three people per square kilometer (although they are obviously not spread evenly over this land). There are 100 hectares in a square kilometer (metric is easy) so a band like the one we visited would need about 8000 hectares instead of the 305 they have.

Women making textiles 

The forest here is a tough environment and we should not idealize the life of the past in a paradise full of serpents and dangers. There is no going back to the old lifestyle and the people clearly do not want to go back.  The band’s leader wants preserve the best of his traditions and combine them with good things from the wider world.   (We noticed the popularity of mobile phones and this implies mobile phone towers close by.) This is a balance very difficult to manage or even envision how it could work.


I sure don’t know what to do. It occurs to me that the problem of combining the old with the new is not a problem only for people like the Huni Kui. Although it seems much more urgent among them, creating sustainable futures for ourselves and our children  is what all we face every day, a condition of being human. In their language, Huni Kui means “true people”. Their challenges are the challenges of true people everywhere.


Planting Trees


I planted my first tree when I was ten years old, back in 1965.  I grew a bunch of horse chestnuts from the nuts we used to collect as kids.  When the trees came up, I put them on the hill in front of my house.  One is still there, now Foresterforty-seven years old.  I know because my old house is up for sale and the tree is the picture.  Today, with my forestry operations I plant trees on a semi-industrial scale, but I still like to touch the dirt with my own hands. 

The Huni Kui gave me an opportunity when we visited their village.  One of the nicer parts of the welcome was a tree planting.  I got to touch the dirt and put the tree in.  Mariza got to help, so she was also part. They said we should visit our tree for time to time. 

The picture up top shows Mariza and I planting a tree. Notice the guy taking a picture of us using his mobile phone. I thought it was very interesting when the people wearing native costumes would pull a mobile phone from their pockets. The picture on the left is the band's forester. He does not have formal training, but learned his business from tradition and experience. In front of him are the trees to be planted.

November 23, 2012

WWW beats muddy roads

Muddy road 

There is a strange mixture of connection and isolation among the  Huni Kui in Acre. On the one hand, they are physically isolated. The dirt road would effectively cut them off from the rest of the world many rainy days of the year. On the other hand, they are connected.

When you drive the road from Rio Branco to Taraucuá you can easily mistake progress for problem.   The road is not good.  There is long stretch that is about the width of an American driveway that runs between two broad clay shoulders. The driver told me that this part has only been in service for about two years. Before that, the trip that took us five hours would have taken at least two days because the road would have been impassible when wet. The driver said that you just had to wait until the sun came out to dry the mud.

We got a taste of this on the road to the indigenous village of Pinuyá.  We got to the village easily. That was before the rain.  After the rain, the four-wheel drive vehicles dared not come back all the way to pick us up. We had to walk about a mile through the mud to meet our vehicles, as you can see in the picture.  It was an especially clinging mud that clung to our shoes a couple inches thick.  The grass along the road was not better in most places.  This has vegetation, but it is still a quagmire. You sink deeper into that than you do in the mud of the road.  So we took the road. This is what the road recently asphalted that I mentioned above was like a few years ago.  The narrow ribbon of asphalt makes it passable in all weather.

The people we visited in Pinuyá are isolated in many ways. As we learned by bitter experience, there are times when you cannot use the dirt road to access the asphalt road that leads to the wider world. The founders of this band came to this place in 1972, in fact, the get away from the wider world. The chief told us that at that time the town was far away. I can imagine and the whole town was farther from the wider world until they paved that part of the world.  Of course Rio Branco was more isolated.  The band didn’t move to the town, but the down moved to them. Today their land in encroached upon on all sides and the town is within the distance of a long walk.

When the elders were telling the story of the tribe, a couple guys were recording their comments on their mobile phones. They are clearly within the net of world communications, but not able always to get there physically. You see an interesting anomaly below. The guy talking is telling about traditions and singing traditional songs. The two guys on the side are using their mobile phones to preserve the tradition.

I noticed people in traditional costume checking email.  When the elders were telling the story of the tribe, a couple guys were recording their comments on their mobile phones.  They are clearly within the net of world communications, but not able always to get there physically. You see an interesting anomaly below. The guy talking is telling about traditions and singing traditional songs. The two guys on the side are using their mobile phones to preserve the tradition.  

Taking a tangent, I think this is why Brazilians are so interested in distance education.They can reach these villages more easily with Internet than any other way. I spoke to the Acre State Secretary of Education, who told me that they were considering changing the school year to take advantage of the dry season. Acre has distinctive wet and dry seasons.It would make sense to work within the seasonal imperative than to try to ignore them or overcome them.

November 07, 2012

Election night in Brasília

The thing that made the Brasília election night 2012 celebration different from previous ones was the large number of youth participants and their use of social media to reach beyond the physical limits of our event.  We made a special effort to reach out to young people, including bringing thirty-six members of our newly formed Ambassador’s Youth Council to Brasília to participate actively in the event.  The Youth Council includes representatives from all Brazil’s twenty-six states plus the Federal District. Their tasks included thing like updating the electoral map and mixing with other guests, but they also reached back to their home states all over Brazil via social media. Through them, the election excitement reached every state in this vast country, larger than the continental United States.

More than 300 guests confirmed and more than 400 actually showed up for the event hosted at Casa Thomas Jefferson, Brasília’s BNC.  Ambassador Thomas Shannon kicked off the event, talking about the stability of our Democracy and expressing the pleasure of being able to celebrate our democracy with people in a thriving democracy like Brazil.   Guests included local leaders, academics and business people, leavened by the large youth component mentioned above.  Our event featured the usual buttons, quizzes about the U.S. at the IRC, big screen TVs and the perennially popular opportunities for guests to get their pictures taken with cutouts of the candidate.  An exciting new feature was the green screen photos, where we photoshopped pictures of guests into action scenes of related to the election.  Lines to have pictures taken and photoshopped persisted throughout the event.  These pictures are uploaded onto our social media sites for participants to download by becoming electronic friends.

The peak time for the celebration was around 11pm Brasília time (8pm EST), when the place was so crowded it was difficult to move.  We were very fortunate that it did not rain (this is the rainy season here in Brasília) and guests were able to spill out into the open patio areas.  A few people stayed until Ohio was called for President Obama.

Media coverage of the election is massive.  Of course, little of that was generated by our event.   However, major local media reported on our celebration and the local TV Globo affiliate kept a TV crew on site throughout, doing live interviews with the Ambassador and guests.  Members of the Youth Council reported live on their social media platforms, uploading commentary and video interviews with guests.

November 02, 2012

Brazil's changing demography

Fifty years ago Brazil’s fertility rate (the average number of children a woman can expect to have during her lifetime) was 6.2 amid dire predictions of the imminent local explosion of the population bomb.  The rate fell precipitously to 2.5 by 1996; today at 1.8 it has plunged below replacement level, i.e. absent immigration, Brazil’s population will begin to drop if growth depends on this year’s cohort of women for natural increase. Brazil experienced one of the sharpest fertility drops in world history.  For Brazil it took only nineteen years to drop from an average fertility rate of three children per woman to a rate of two.  Only South Korea experienced a faster decline. In the general demographic transition, the transition from the high fertility rate of more than six to replacement level, the trend that required more than a century to play out in much of Europe, has happened in decades in Brazil.

It should be noted that Brazil’s population will continue to grow for several decades because of demographic inertia, probable international immigration and increased life expectancy. Because of recently higher fertility rates, Brazil still has a young population compared with many other countries.  The median age in Brazil was 28.3 in 2011 (the U.S. median age is 36.9 and it reaches around 44 in places like Japan, Italy and Germany.)  As larger numbers of Brazilian women enter childbearing age, their children will continue to contribute to population growth even if the rate per woman drops and remains below replacement level.  However, as the cohorts of larger generations pass through and beyond their child bearing ages and as the older generations pass into the next world, population will stabilize and then decline.  If current trends continue, this will happen sometime around 2035.  Of course, “current trends” almost never continue unchanged, so making projections this far out more art than science. Nevertheless, we can say with absolute certainty that no additional Brazilians will have been born in the past and most of the Brazilians who will be alive in 2035 are already alive today.  Once birthrates have dropped below replacement level for more than a short period of time, there have been no cases where they have subsequently jumped substantially and sustainably.  (Even in the famous case of the U.S. “baby boom”, fertility rates went from a low of 2.0 during the depths of the Great Depression to 3.7 during the peak of the boom, from which they subsequently declined to below replacement level.  At their highest point, however, fertility rates of the baby boom never reached normal rates of the previous century.)  

Brazilian media has recently carried stories about Brazilian middle and upper class Brazilians women aspiring to have three or more children, but this has not turned up in actual statistics.

Summing up, Brazil’s population is current experiencing an accelerated demographic transition from a high population growth rate to a stable and perhaps even declining population within the lifetimes of many people already in the workforce. There is no reason to expect any radical changes from this trajectory.  What are some of the causes and consequences?

Why the sudden drop?

Explanations for Brazil’s drop in fertility are many and disputed. None account for the whole story.  Government planning had little to do with the decline.  The Brazilian government did not have a formal national program to advocate birth control and devoted almost no resources to family planning.  In fact, for much of the period when fertility rates were dropping the most, foreign NGOs and population control experts criticized Brazil for doing little or nothing to encourage birth control.  Some even identified what policy Brazil did have as pronatalist. On the other side, however, although abortion remains illegal, sterilization and contraception are freely available in Brazil's public health facilities.

General increases in prosperity, as Brazil has experienced in recent decades could be seen as both a cause and effect of lowered fertility rates, but fertility rates declined both in good economic times and bad.  Rates have also dropped among both poor and rich women. One of the unexpected aspects of recent statistics was the drop of fertility rates among the dwellers of the poorest shantytowns (favelas). 

Many Brazilians with whom we spoke credit the “Bolsa Familia” under which a family earns less than 140 reais ($70) per person per month gets a monthly stipend of 22 reais (about $12 USD) per child , to a maximum of three children, on the condition that the children attend school.  The causality goes beyond the incentive involved with limiting benefits to three children.  The theory goes that as poor women see greater opportunities for their children gained through the payments and the growing economy, they want to give each child an even a better chance for a good life. Limiting total numbers of children allows more resources and more time to be devoted to each one.  In the longer run, the Brazilian government hopes that education will help break the cycle of poverty, among the traits of which are large numbers of often improperly tended children.
An unusual but plausible explanation for this is the persistent widespread popularity of tele-novellas, evening soap operas watched by large percentages of the Brazilian population. Television sets have been ubiquitous in even the poorest Brazilian homes for more than a generation.  A content analysis of twenty-five years of Globo (Brazil’s television network) novellas found that 72% of the leading women featured in the stories were childless and an additional 21% had only one child.  This was in significant contrast to the norms of Brazilian society at the time.

While this explanation might seem glib or superficial, we generally accept that thirty second television advertisements can sell people products, political candidates and habits.  Why is it so farfetched that hour-long television programs can sell a lifestyle?   Correlating with this, a 1996 study found that the “wanted” fertility, i.e. the number of children Brazilian women ideally would have, in Brazil was 1.8, which is the rate of today.  At the time of the survey, the rate was 2.5.  Perhaps in the intervening seventeen years reality caught up with aspiration.

Effects of slower population growth

The effects of the drop in fertility rates are many and at least for the next couple of decades mostly positive.  After that, the tradeoff of benefits and costs are only speculation.  Japan and Germany have recently become “net mortality nations,” where deaths exceed births, but there is insufficient experience to estimate the outcomes at this time. 

The most obvious benefit to the drop in fertility is a corresponding drop in the dependency ratio—the number of children and old people dependent on each working-age adult.  As recently as the 1990s, that ratio was 90 to 100 (i.e., there were 90 dependents, mostly children, for every 100 Brazilians of working age).  It is now 48 to 100.  Brazil is entering what demographers sometimes call the demographic dividend or demographic sweet spot, as the number of dependent children decreases before the number of dependent old people rises enough to increase the numbers of dependents relative to workers, lowering the total percentage of dependents in the society. Brazil’s senior population is relatively small, reflecting smaller generations born sixty plus years ago and lower life expectancies of the past, i.e. fewer were born and fewer of those survived to old age.  In the past ten years, life expectancy has risen from 68.9 years to 72.4 years.  

Every country going through a demographic transition from high to low total fertility rates gets this demographic sweet spot opportunity only once.  For countries of Europe, who took more than a century to make the transition, the benefits and the stresses were spread over decades punctuated by wars and mass emigrations that masked some of the factors. Brazil’s much shaper drop in fertility means that the country will experience a quicker onset, with more intensity in less time. Depending on the vagaries of labor force participation (see below), Brazil will be collecting on the peak of demographic dividend roughly around 2020. 

During the time of a demographic dividend, it is important that the country grows rich before its population grows old enough to require very extensive resources devoted to care for the aged.  This supposes that the country in question is not already spending much on the care of the aged population.  Generous retirement benefits may prevent Brazil from successfully navigating the transitions.  Even as a young country, Brazil spends 13% of GDP on pensions. This is more than any developed older country except Italy, where the percentage of old people is three times higher than currently in Brazil.  Brazil lets more workers retire earlier, on relatively bigger pensions, than anywhere else in the world.  Workers need only contribute for 15 years to win the right to retire at full pension at age 65 for men and age 60 for women, while after 35 years paying into the pension system, a man of any age can retire; a woman must pay in for just 30 years to get the same benefit.  As a result, Brazilians retire early: 54 on average for a man in the private sector, and 52 for a woman. A tenth of all 45-year-olds are already receiving their pensions. Although many are still working at other jobs, they are also getting their government checks. All this means that Brazil has essentially taken an advance payment on its demographic dividend. This will create trouble even after recent pension system reforms, which affect only new hires.   There are 35 years of people already in the system. The political danger is that the large number of pensioners can organize to resist any reforms that cut their slice of the pie; they may even be able to demand more.  There are some indications that this is happening.

Less need for new hospitals and schools may increase quality

Because of the favorable demographic trends, Brazil no longer has to race as fast to build schools, hospitals, universities and other social institutions to keep pace with burgeoning population and, presumably, can devote those resources saved to increase the quality of these things.  In education, for example, stable or shrinking numbers of children can mean that resources are freed to be concentrated on fewer students to prepare them better for the jobs of the future.  Whether and how this will be done is currently being debated energetically among Brazilian opinion leaders and it will be a challenge to get resources allocated effectively.  Education advocates are less powerful than pension advocates.  This is clear in the spending priorities, if not always in rhetoric.  Adjusted for GDP, Brazil spends twice the OECD average on each pensioner, but only two-thirds as much on the education of each child.

Less crime because of smaller criminal cohorts

Crime is another area impacted by demographics.  Although the causes of criminal activity are also multifaceted, it certainly will not hurt that favela populations are no longer growing through natural increase. Crime is correlated with the number of young men in a population and in Brazil children in poorer areas are also significant contributors to crime rates.  As the numbers of potential new criminal “recruits” declines, crime rates may follow and in fact they have.  Brazil remains one of the most dangerous places on earth but the rates of violent crime have been declining over the past ten years, albeit coming down from very high levels. How much of this can be attribute to demographic factors as opposed to general improvements in prosperity or better policing cannot be known.  We can never accurately measure a counterfactual. But police officials we have spoken to around Brazil have noticed and mentioned the relatively smaller number of dangerous children and adolescents. Shrinking cohorts of new workers in a growing economy also means more opportunities spread among fewer people, making each worker relatively more valuable.
Labor force changes

Changes in demography obviously impact the size and composition of the labor force.  Brazilian political and business leaders clearly recognize that their country is suffering a deficit of educated and skilled labor necessary to run a successful modern economy.   This is less the result of the overall size of incoming generations than of the training and education they have received and has been a chronic problem for Brazil for centuries.  There are still plenty of young people to fill the available training and educational slots and an expansion of training and educational opportunity would do much to fill the skill gap. But the relatively smaller cohorts of the current generations are beginning to show up in the unskilled and semi-skilled labor forces where there it was never seen before. 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 and high fertility rates differentially high among the poorer segments of society fed the system.  Today, with fewer workers and more opportunities, the cost of domestic help has risen and the quality has declined. 

Demographic inertia will carry the population higher, but the drivers have slowed or stopped.  Within 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 sign of both a stronger labor economy and lower population growth that it is getting harder to get good domestic help.  The sudden shortage of live-in maids has created problems for some.  A world with full-time maids does not invest much in labor saving devices.  Most American homes have appliances such as dishwashers, microwave ovens and efficient washing machines and driers. Brazilian homes are not like this.  They didn’t need to be because of the help. Now there is a sudden boom in household appliances.  Dishwashers, driers, microwaves etc. are being advertised heavily and selling very well. 

Most Brazilians have become better off in the last twenty years.  Although the income distribution per se has not changed much (The most common measure of inequality is the Gini coefficient. A score of zero means perfect equality: everyone earns the same. A score of one means that one person gets everything. America’s Gini coefficient is 0.38.  In Brazil the coefficient fell from 0.59 to 0.55 over the last decade, but inequality remains high), the general increase in wealth has disproportionately helped the poorer Brazilians.  Relative wealth matters, but absolute wealth matters more when for those climbing out of poverty.  The poor person, who for the first time gets into the income bracket that allows him/her to afford a first car or a first refrigerator, feels a quantum leap in lifestyle.  Getting a better model refrigerator or car is not life changing or usually as satisfying.  The roughly sixty million Brazilians who have climbed out of poverty still recall life before these conveniences.  This is working well for now.

Regional changes

There are also generally better opportunities and people are better able to take advantage of them, as well as fewer people to do the work.  These three factors interplay.  A big source of 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 ensured an unbroken supply of very poor people seeking a better return on their hard work.

The Northeast is still poor, but parts are developing rapidly, actually drawing in labor from other places.  Some of these are Nordestinos returning to their roots, but others are newcomers. At the same time, population growth is slowing even among the poorest Brazilians. The Northeast is no longer a net source of immigrants to other parts of the country.

One of the biggest changes in Brazil’s regions, however, has been the growth of the Central-West.

A related phenomenon is international immigration.  Brazil is already actively seeking educated and skilled workers for its new industries, since its school system is not producing them in sufficient numbers.  This is also starting to affect unskilled work. As Brazil’s economy grows and Brazilians no longer want to do the dirty jobs or are not present in great enough numbers, others are being drawn in to take them. 

A Great Diversity of People

Brazil’s population was shaped by immigration.  People from the Iberian Peninsula and enslaved Africans largely displaced and to some extent absorbed much of the indigenous population.  Places within around 100 miles of coast were and remain even today the most densely populated part of the country.  The ethnic and cultural composition of Brazil was transformed by massive immigration from Europe, the Middle East and Japan during the 19th and early 20th Century.  As a result, Brazil has a very diverse population, ethnically and racially.  In the most recent census, 91 million (47.7%) Brazilians self-identified themselves as white; 15 million (7.6%) called themselves black. Two million Brazilians said they were of Asian ancestry, and 817,000 identified themselves as indigenous.  The remaining 82 million (43.1%) identified themselves as some mixture of the above groups.  It is important to note that racial identification in Brazil is not clear cut.  The Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE)--the entity responsible for the census-- received 134 different answers when they asked people what color they were.

Mixing and Tipping to the Central West

Brazil’s regions are still distinct, but are becoming less so as migration within Brazil has also been changing the face of Brazil in recent decades.  During most of the 20th century people moved from the poor regions of Northeast Brazil to the richer and more economically advanced regions of the Southeast in a migration analogous to the great migration of American blacks from the rural south the industrial north.  And like the case of the great migration in the U.S., it is now reversed with net migration to the newly developing regions of the Northeast. 

Shifts of population to the North or the Amazon region has been going on for a long time, mostly people following one sort of resource boom or another.  The pattern is illustrated in the Brazilian state of Acre.  It was settled disproportionately by people from the State of Ceará seeking to tap rubber.   At that time, the region belonged to Bolivia.  The Brazilians became so numerous that the Bolivian government felt threatened.  When it tried to establish its authority, the Brazilian population fought back.  Acre became part of Brazil.

Another strong stream of migration has been to the central-west.  This is partly the continuing effect of moving the capital from Rio de Janeiro to Brasília in 1960.  One of the goals of moving the capital was to draw people and economic activity into the Brazil’s interior and it worked.  But a greater draw has been the expansion of agricultural frontier into the savanna and the grasslands of the central west.  This large area remained largely empty for centuries because the soil and generally harsh conditions were unsuitable to large scale agriculture.  Advances in agricultural technologies and especially in genetic composition of crops and animals have completely changed the equation over the last decades. Opportunities created by these changes have drawn large numbers of famers from the South of Brazil and large numbers of farm laborers from the Northeast.

The Central-West is a true Brazilian melting pot, with immigrants from all over Brazil looking for opportunity.  A visitor to cities such as Campo Grande in Mato Grosso do Sul or Goiania in Goiás is struck by the newness of the cities, relatively good highway connections and their “sunbelt” feel.  They are a long ways away from Rio and São Paulo.

The relative shift to the interior has changed Brazilian society in many ways, some unexpected.  For example, Brazil is still known for samba and the music of carnival.  While this remains very important, a look at the top-ten Brazilian songs reveals that most are sertaneja, a kind of music that resembles American country music and originated in the country’s interior.

The Rise of the Middle Class

Millions of Brazilians have moved to something like a real middle class lifestyle in the last decade. Research shows around 30 million. There has been a great reduction of absolute misery. Many of these people are no longer poor, but that they are still not very secure. Most of the mobility has been from the very low to the not so low. We are not yet looking at a middle class society as we have in the U.S. or Western Europe, but in some ways this initial movement is more satisfying to the people involved.  In fact, as aspirations come to outrun results, richer people might feel that progress has been less advantageous.

Some progress came from better return/profitability of work, i.e. people were paid better. But a key factor was the economic reforms and currency stabilization gave people the ability to save. Stable currency gave security that allowed people to save and plan. The big inflation Brazil experienced before created a cash, fast-turnover society. Families couldn’t buy on credit, because nobody wanted to sell on credit without charging fantastically high risk premiums.  This has now changed.

The difference between types of consumption of the upper, middle and lower classes has diminished.  Much of this has to do with generalized technological and economic progress. The rich person might have better quality clothes, mobile phones or refrigerators, but now most people have those things. This was not true in the past. There is a kind of threshold.  There is a huge difference between those who have and those who don’t. After that threshold has been cross, the relative differences in quality matter much less.

Brazilian sociologists divide their society into classes A, B, C, D & E based on income. Classes AB make up around 10% of the population, make most of the big decisions and pay most of the taxes. When Brazilians in earlier times called themselves “middle class” they really meant the lower rungs of this AB group. The new middle class in actually the one in the middle, class C. Class C makes up around 50% of the Brazilian population and account for around 68% of the total jobs. 

The new middle class family has family incomes from around 1200 – 4800 Brazilian Real (about $650-2600).  This doesn’t sound like much money but it allows much greater consumptions.  The Commercial Federation of Sao Paulo estimates that from 2003-2010 the increase in consumption among classes CDE double that of AB.

Brazil has significant social mobility, but it remains a country of great inequality. Much of the mobility has been in the lower part of the pyramid. The problem has been what we would call human capital and it will probably get worse. People achieve mobility by hard work, cleverness and gumption, but such things will take most people only so far.  Someone can open and operate a small shop he/she has the above characteristics plus some common sense. But as the business grows, owners need things like accounting skills, for example. To make the jump to AB, poorer people need education and specific skills, increasingly technical skills.  The educational system and their life experience tend not to give them these skills.

Historical Parallels

The experience of history provides only limited guidance.  Many countries have passed though similar demographic transitions, but none so quickly until today.  Beyond that, Brazil is a country of continental dimension, which makes a difference.  The closest parallel is the U.S., which is big and diverse like Brazil and passed through a quick, although relatively less steep, transition after 1962, when the postwar baby boom abruptly ended.  Declines in fertility rates were masked and mitigated not only by demographic inertia but also by a surge in immigration, which began about the same time.  This could be the Brazilian scenario, but there are a couple of reasons why it might be different.

The first factor is lack of large and fast growing populations in potential donor countries on Brazil’s border. There is no equivalent of Mexico.  Second has to do more with Brazil’s internal dynamics.  Despite recent growth, Brazil’s economy is only around 1/7 the size of that of the U.S. Brazil will not be the immigration magnet that the U.S. was during the last fifty years.  Another factor is that while overall labor costs in Brazil are relatively high, the cash actually received by unskilled workers is not. Beyond that, Brazil has a much larger pool of underemployed or inefficiently employed labor.  The challenge for Brazil will not be the size of the labor force in general, but the size of the skilled and educated labor force specifically. This challenge is unlikely to be addressed by mass immigration of skilled workers but rather by upgrading the skills of the new generation of native Brazilians.  This does not invalidate the parallel with the U.S. but it may take it back to an earlier parallel, during the time of the Great Migration of the first half of the 20th Century when massive numbers of African American moved from the South to Northern cities.

While historical parallels are instructive, Brazil will develop in its own way.

October 31, 2012

Chrissy & I visit Rio


Chrissy and I are in Rio.  We went here from São Paulo.  It was Chrissy’s first time in São Paulo and her first time in Rio for more than twenty-five years. We got to stay at Marriott.  The above picture is taken from the roof. The first time we came here in 1985, we stayed at the Debret Hotel. To my surprise, it is still here, as you can see below.

Debret Hotel in Rio 

Rio is looking good. Chrissy and I went to the botanical gardens. The pictures below are from there.

Palm row at botanical gardens 

Above is the palm arcade and below is the interesting root system.  Tropical plants in moist soils produce these buttressed roots to prop themselves up.

Tree roots 

botanical garden in Rio 

September 24, 2012

The city that Pedro built

Countryside on road to Petropolis 

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

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

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

Music room 

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

Throne Room  

September 23, 2012

Public diplomacy in the 19th Century & today

 Dom Pedro papers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chickering piano 

September 22, 2012

Thinking about tomorrow in Rio

Museum of Tomorrow in Rio 

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

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

Rain outside Fundacao Roberto Mariho  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 21, 2012

Smithsonian goes south

Garden in Petropolis 

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

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

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

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

September 17, 2012

Dry Season

Dry season 

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

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

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

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

September 16, 2012

Shared immigration heritage

Shared heritage festival 

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 13, 2012

Bonds Lasting and Abiding

Julliard piano playing 

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

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

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

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

September 11, 2012

New Exchanges


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

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

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

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

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

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

September 04, 2012

Casa Thomas Jefferson Again


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

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

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

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

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

September 02, 2012

Brasilia Education Fair

Tables at Education USA in Brasilia 

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

Casa Thomas Jefferson table 

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

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

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

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

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

Brasilia Street 

August 29, 2012

São Paulo: Trees and Training (SESC &SENAC)

SESC pool 

I am back from my time in São Paulo.  I am not telling anything new when I say the city is big, but I think that it is easy to overlook how green it is in many places.  Most of the streets in the old part of the city are shaded by big trees.  There really is not enough room for them, or would not be enough room in an American city.  This is something good and bad about Brazil.  The good part is that there are lots of trees. The negative is that the tree roots pull up sidewalks. Some of the sidewalks are like an obstacle course.  Overall, however, it is worth it to have the trees.

Solar water heaters at SESC in Sao Paulo 

We visited another SESC, this time SESC Belenzinho.  It is housed in a building that used to be a textile factory in a neighborhood that used to be a little degraded. The SESC anchors that area and has improved the neighborhood.   I wrote about SESC here & here. These are like workers clubs. As you can see from the picture up top, there are lots of nice amenities. The picture just above shows the solar water heaters that produce all the hot water used in the facility.  Below shows some of the old neighborhood around SESC.  This was a neighborhood of Italian immigrants, many of whom moved away, some back to Italy. The ownership of the land under the buildings shown is in doubt. SESC wants to buy the land to expand, but it is taking time. This is complicated by squatters.  The people living in the houses are not owners, but once they sit there it is hard to move them out.

old buildings 

We also went to SENAC, which is the training part of the SESC partnership.  It works a lot like a technical school or university.  Tuition is low.  This branch of SENAC is also built in an old factory. This actually makes a very good campus, as you can see below.

Senac Sao Paulo 

They have lots of computer labs and work with businesses. Reminds me in many ways of community colleges int the U.S.  But there really is no exact equivalent, since SENAC is funded by mandatory contributions from businesses but is not government run.   Below one of the computer areas.

SENAC computer 

Below is the campus water tower painted to show the old São Paulo neighborhood.

Old water tower

August 24, 2012

São Paulo Traffic

Sao Paulo river 

It would be possible, in theory at least, to attend four or five outside appointments a day in Brasília.  This would never be possible in São Paulo because of the traffic. During the workday, it is impossible to get from the Consulate to almost anywhere in less than an hour. Worse yet, travel is unreliable. You cannot be sure how much time it will take, so you have to allocate lots more time for every movement. 

Perpetually jammed traffic is a serious impediment to doing business in São Paulo. I have read that it affects businesses and I can see how it affects our operations. I don’t have a solution; nobody does. I think we can mitigate the pernicious effects by planning to concentrate appointments in particular parts of town. This is not always an option, of course. 

Sao Paulo  

I can see how the traffic patterns could create biases.  If I were here, I think I would favor places and people who were easier to access, simply because the cost of serving them is so much lower. I am not sure how bad this would be. After all, we have lots more opportunities for contact than we can satisfy.  Why spend two hours in traffic to accomplish the same things you could do by spending a half hour. It is frightfully expensive to be tied up in traffic.  If you just figure the price of the car and driver at about what it would cost to sit in a taxi, you are looking at around $75 in this alone. Of course, our cars and drivers may cost more.  And we need to use the cars and drivers sometimes to guarantee connections.  I also suppose if we only took taxis it would eventually become a kind of security risk.  But the bigger cost is our time. When you figure in all the direct labor and indirect upkeep costs, I bet an hour in traffic costs the government a lot more than $1000 an hour, significantly more if there are a few people in the car.  

Of course, we have to be in São Paulo and we have to work in São Paulo, but we have to consider the constraints. Because of the traffic, I would guess that it would take five people to do the same work that four might be able to do elsewhere, assuming equal ability and effort.  Of course, São Paulo has the advantage of proximity to lots of university, firms etc.  I am not sure who the advantages and the disadvantage balance out. There are lots of new buildings going up, so evidently many think the balance is on the side of staying.

In São Paulo, you certainly need to plan your logistical day more precisely. I thought about staggered work hours, but there seems to be no time during a reasonable workday that the traffic is significantly lighter.  Of course, that might help with commutes, but would not address the central problem of fighting traffic to get to appointments during the work day.

Speaking of my own temporary São Paulo commute, I did find a better way to get from the hotel to the consulate; it saved me at least twenty minutes and usually around R$15 too. Taxis are allowed drive in the bus lanes along some of the major streets. If you travel along Av Nove de Julho (July 9 Avenue, named for the day in 1932 when the Paulistas rose the “Constitutionalist Revolution” in revolt against Getúlio Vargas) from the hotel, you bypass traffic and get to the consulate faster.  In theory it is a big longer and at slower speed, but in fact it is much better. One of the taxi drivers explained it to me and I explained it other taxi drivers less familiar with the route.  It is good to know a little about where you are going.  

One more taxi story.  You learn a lot talking to taxi drivers.  I was talking to a driver who, even though I explained São Paulo roads to him, recognized that I was a foreigner, tipped off by my outrageous accent.  After he found out that I was American, we went through the usual small talk about roads in America and Brazil and how Brazil has become a much better place.  But he also asked about education.  He was unaware of the Science w/o Borders program and when I explained, he asked if I could help his son, who was in his second year in engineering.  I could not help. I told him that SwB was something Brazilians could be proud about, since it was entirely a Brazilian initiative.  We were trying to help as best we could, I told him, but he could go to his own government.  They were accepting just about everybody who was qualified. He promised to tell his son. He was only a little concerned that his son might be sent to a country not the U.S.  He had great confidence in the U.S.; in others, not so much.  I assured him that our friends in UK, Canada, Australia and others offer excellent opportunities too, but, of course, if you can go to the U.S. that should always be the first choice.  It is good to know that the cab driver has a son in university. I am not sure we would have found that twenty years ago.  He wasn’t sure his son’s English was good enough, but that is another longs & sad story. 

My pictures are just of SP, not the traffic. 

August 18, 2012

Empowerment through Hip-Hope

Hip-Hope dancers 

I didn’t understand the program when it was offered by our colleagues at ECA in Washington but I think I am becoming a believer.  Our goal is to connect the American nation with the Brazilian nation, to have confidence that people will do the right thing when they are connected and that they understand things that government official like us do not.  This was certainly the case with hip-hop.  Everything I knew about hip-hop came from what I saw on TV.

We found seven young hip-hop dancers to participate in an exchange in the U.S.  They will meet American hip-hop dancers to exchange experience and styles. They came in for their visas and pre-departure meeting, so I had a chance to have lunch with them.


They were from Rio, Brasília & Belém. They professed their admiration of American hip-hop and told me that their interest in the music and dancing had made them interested in American society in general.  Although their dancing styles are based on American models, they explained that each hip-hop dancer develops his/her own particular styles and that they have regional “accents.”  Those who really know can tell the difference. Dancers who come from Belém have difference dance accents from those who come from Rio, for example. One reason they thought it would be so useful to travel to the U.S. was to pick up on the varieties of hip-hop in the U.S.  There is a kind of evolutionary synergy, which means that not only do the accents vary over geography, but also over time. Hip-hop is in a perpetual state of development.

Dance is a language I don’t know.  In fact it is a language that I don’t usually even know is speaking.  That is why we need to make the connections with those who know.

I asked the dancers if she could show me what they did and the pictures are from that.  They are a bit blurry, wince they were moving fast.  Somebody asking if I could do something like that. I am sure I could fall to the floor, but I would not quickly be able to jump back up.

August 14, 2012

Land-Grant Universities

Balloons at shopping center in Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul 

I had a long talk with the head of public schools in Mato Grosso about universities in the U.S.   He was unaware of the history of land-grant institutions, but impressed when I told him that the Morrill Act was passed as long ago as 1862.  It established the land-grant universities.  The first was Iowa.  All the states have one.  In 1890 the act was extended to create what have become historically black colleges.  IMO the Morrill act was one of most important acts of Congress in American history, although generally unknown.  I attended the land-grant University of Wisconsin but I don’t recall ever really being aware of its history.  

Our great research universities that have contributed so much to our strength in science and innovation are almost all based on land-grants.  Our agriculture was immensely helped.   One reason we can help feed the world is the foresight of this act in 1862.  America would be a very different place w/o this and not as good a place.  I think it is important to recall these important steps in history.  They are too often forgotten and real achievements are taken for granted. 

I compared our land-grant institutions to what Brazil is doing with its Institutes of Science and Technology and with its Science w/o Borders.  We are lucky to be here at this time.  

I suppose that important legislation like the Morrill Act and even the Homestead Act got lost in the horror of the Civil War.  We remember Lincoln for saving the Union, but his legislative achievements beyond that were enough to make him a success.

My picture is a hot air balloon near the shopping center in Campo Grande. 

August 11, 2012

Mato Grosso do Sul & Campo Grande

View of Campo Grando from Hotel 

Mato Grosso do Sul shares a frontier with Paraguay and Bolivia and the population reflects the kinds of influences that shaped the demography before the borders were firmly set, but there has also been lots of immigration, internationally and from other parts of Brazil.  The Youth Ambassadors that I met for pizza talked about their varied descent.  Besides the semi-indigenous mix of the base population, they had ancestors from Japan, Germany, Italy, France and the Arab world. 

CIty View Campo GrandeThe football/soccer teams in Mato Grosso are not very good, so the Mato Grosso fans tend to support better teams from other places and the fan loyalties tell a little about the cultural influences in the state.  The São Paulo team, Corinthians, from just across the border, is one of the most popular.  This is not surprising given the proximity, but also held is high esteem is Grêmio, a team from Porto Alegre.  Grêmio’s popularity reflects the large scale immigration from Rio Grande do Sul.  The Gauchos could trade a small farm in Rio Grande do Sul for a very large one in Mato Grosso do Sul.  It was people who considered themselves frontier people moving to a new frontier.  According to what people told me, some interior cities such as São Gabriel do Oeste are essentially Gaucho cities.

The geography of Mato Grosso do Sul around Campo Grande is reminiscent of the plains of Texas.  It is flat or with long hills and grassy with isolated groves of trees.  As the plane landed, I noticed that the farm fields were enormous and in the geometrical shapes that indicate topography without many natural obstacles.  The climate is like Brasília, cerrado with distinct wet and dry seasons.  It was hot during the day, but got chilly at night.  I opened the window in my hotel room and did not need air conditioning.

Campo Grande is a middle sized city of around 800,000.  It is clean with wide well-maintained streets, mostly arranged in a grid pattern, which spreads out the traffic and makes it easy to get around.  Near my hotel, the streets were named after Brazilian states, which made it easy to remember.  I walked up Alagoas Street to Mato Grosso Avenue.  It was only a couple kilometers from the Park Hotel, where I stayed, to the pizza place where I met the local Youth Ambassadors.  The streets are straight with sidewalks all the way. 

Pizza place in Campo Grande 

I took a taxi back because it was a little late. When I asked the taxi drivers to tell me about the best things in Mato Grosso, the first factor he mentioned were the roads and highways. I suppose that reflected his particular line of work; a guy who drives for a living notices roads, but he seemed to be right concerning the roads in the city.  He assured me that this was also the case for highways in the countryside. He admitted that highways in the state of São Paulo were better, but pointed out that the good highways in São Paulo were toll roads, while those in Mato Grosso were free.  My driver credited the leadership of Campo Grande mayor, now Mato Grosso governor, André Puccinelli.  He also said that Puccinelli was generally a "mestre-de-obras" who built parks and cleared out the favelas, and indeed I didn’t see any favelas in Campo Grande. 

The economy in Mato Grosso and Campo Grande is mostly based on agriculture and the processing businesses associated with that.  Twenty-five years ago, it was almost all cattle, but the state has now diversified into row crops such as soy and corn. There is also a strong forestry sector, mostly based on quick rotation genetically superior eucalyptus used for fiber.  Fibria, one of the world’s largest producers of cellulose, has lots of operations in Mato Grosso do Sul as does JBS Friboi, the world’s largest beef producer. Campo Grande has a big military installation that you see right as you leave the airport.  The bases lie on both sides of the road.  One of our Youth Ambassadors told me that he attended the military school, which he said was an excellent school.  It was good enough to produce a YA in any case.

My pictures show Campo Grande up top.  The bottom picture is the pizza place pizzaria l'aqua in boca where I met the Youth Ambassadors.  The pizza was good  but I didn't like its signature stuffed crust with cheddar cheese.

August 08, 2012

The Marvelous City

Christ statue in RioEspen and I are in Rio de Janeiro. This is the first time for him. I have been here a few times, but never really as a tourist.  So this time we went up to the Corcovada to see Christ the Redeemer, the iconic symbol of Rio. It seems very peaceful and serene in the pictures.  In real life it is teaming with people. 

You have two options. You can take the train or take a car to a parking lot and then take a van to the top.  We took the car-van option.  I think the train might have been a better option.  There was a big line at the place where you get the van too.  I suppose that there is no way to avoid the crowds if you come on a weekend.

It is worth seeing at least once. The statue is as massive as it seems in the photos and the view from the top is spectacular. The day was a little hazy, but it was still good to look out over Rio. Espen commented that the city below us looked like the kind of thing you see in a game like Sim-City.

Sugar Loaf

Rio Scene 

I never yet visited Sugar Loaf, Rio’s iconic hill, so we decided to take the cable to the top.  It costs R$53 per person, worth the trip. The lines were not long. The view from the top was very nice as you can see from the picture above. 

Rain in Rio 

The weather held while we were up on Sugar Loaf but it rained hard soon after we got back to town. The outdoor cafe where we were eating was less pleasant with the rain spraying in. 

Taxi drivers in my experience in Brazil have been honest, but when we wanted to go to tourist places like Sugar Loaf, Corcovada or even the airport, the drivers quoted a "fixed price." I don't know what advice to give. I understood that the prices were too high. I complained, but I cannot help looking like a tourist at the tourist locations. It is important to reiterate that I have not had this problem throughout other parts of Brazil. In fact, I have been pleasantly surprised when cab drivers almost always round the fare down and not tried to get tips. In fact, even in Rio I have had good experience when in town on business. It is evidently just around the tourist places.  

August 07, 2012

Library of the Forest

Library of the Forest 

The guy who runs the library of the forest was an IVLP; we made a good choice. He is clearly a local leader.  The library is more than a collection of books; it is a community center. Kids come to learn about their history and the local environment.  Researchers come to study sciences and history.  They have a theater where they show movies and have presentations.  The library is home to a variety of discussion groups.

Rainforest products 

Rio Branco is a small city where people know each other and Macros is even more connected than most.  It slowed us down when we went to a local restaurant, as he stopped to talk to patrons and people on the street.  This is the kind of place where one person can make a difference. 

I got to thinking about outreach and engagement.  We make an effort to reach out to young audiences on the theory that we can have influence because they have not yet made up their minds about a lot of things.  Does the analogy work for communities?  A place like Acre is young. Lots of things are new, still inchoate, like the school in Nova Eperança I mentioned earlier. The initial condition sets the pattern for the future.  Inputs have bigger influences here than any time.  

August 06, 2012

New Hope

Bus on the road to Nova Esperance 

We stopped off at a school called Nova Eperança or “New Hope” located in the town of the same name.  The school building is only a few months old and it houses kids of all ages.  You can see the village below. It is cute. The picture takes in most of the village, BTW.  The school serves the surrounding rural area. The teachers were enthusiastic to meet us.  I made a few comments referring to Science w/o Borders and the Youth Ambassador program. 

Nova Esperanca 

We had along with us Philippe Storch, one of the 2011 Youth Ambassadors. You see him in the picture below helping perhaps a future Youth Ambassador move a bench, The students were interested in him, since he was a local boy made good.  He told them that any one of them could also become a Youth Ambassador if they studied hard.  This is technically true, but long odds. I suppose that the odds are better in Acre than most other states. We choose at least one Youth Ambassador from each state, so in sparsely populated Acre you have a better chance than in crowded São Paulo with more than 40 million.

Kids helping move benches 

The enthusiasm in the school was palpable. The principal told me that he made a special and public gesture by enrolling his own daughter to show his confidence in the public schools. I didn’t ask and he didn’t say, but I am not sure there are many options nearby anyway.  If you look at the picture of the bus and the bridge, you notice that road is not exactly suitable for lots of traffic.  This is the place at the end of the world.  The kids recited a poem about their school.  It was something we might have seen back in the U.S. in a century ago, a little corny and old fashioned but nice.  The kids and their parents of this little town have seen improvements in their lives and they have learned to expect better. I think they will get it.

August 05, 2012

Better Cows = More Meat with Less Environmental Impact

Cows in field in Acre 

As it turns out, much deforestation is unnecessary and not even profitable in the long run. Just letting your cows wander around with the inferior forage is not the best strategy. Years ago in Acre, there was only one head of cattle for every three hectares of pasture and it took three years to raise a cow for slaughter.  Today there are about two cows for every hectare and cows become steaks and hamburgers after only around eighteen months. If you do the math, you figure out that today ranchers could raise around 12 times the number of cows on the same acreage because of better techniques and better genetic stock. Beyond that, the better genetics of today’s cows means that they are bigger and better than their predecessors.   

The favorite type of cattle in Acre is the  The Nelore or Zebu. This is an off white animal with a hump and a big waddle, with most of its genetic stock originally from India. They generally do not eat them in India; in Brazil they do.  his provided incentives to the Brazilian breeders that don’t exist in India. In fact the Nelore in Brazil is almost a different variety of cow from its Indian forebears. It grows faster and produces better meat faster.  This is a good thing if your goal is to produce meat for sale and it is also easier on the environment, because there is less need for land and other inputs per pound of beef. The Nelore are well adapted to the tropics. They do well in converting poor quality food into good quality beef and require little care. Currently, of the roughly 160 million cows in Brazil, 100 million are Nelore.  Their major vulnerability is that they are almost completely unadapted to cold temperatures. When it gets down around freezing, they literally drop dead where they are standing. I recall seeing that on television in Mato Grosso do Sul when they had a rare cold snap.

When I was in Brazil a quarter century ago the Nelore cattle (which were almost always call Zebu) were just becoming widespread.  People I knew in Rio Grande do Sul said that they were not very good and didn’t produce good meat. (BTW - they still cannot raise them in RGS because of the cold.) Maybe they weren’t and didn’t back then, but they do today. Churrascaria now regularly feature a fatty but tasty cut of meat that comes from that hump. I have to assume that if they are selling the hump at least some of the picante and contra-fillet they are serving also is from the Nelore animals and it at least what I have been eating is good.

August 04, 2012

Silent Witness

Road on the way to Esperance in Acre 

The areas nearest the roads are the most deforested, not surprisingly.  The bucolic pasture landscape is actually fairly attractive but a few lonely trees stand as silent witness to the forest that was lost.  You can see in the pictures what I mean.  The trees are beautiful against the sky, but they are doomed. 

Spaced trees along the road in Acre 

You can tell that they grew in thick forests by their lack of lower branches. They grew in an environment where they had to race to the light way overhead.  This is not where they live today. These are impressive specimens. The trees are around 150 feet high with massive trunks.  Most of them are Brazil nut trees.  You recognize that that Christmas-time favorite that is nearly impossible to crack w/o crushing the nut inside too. There is a law against cutting them, so they remain after everything around them flattened.  The owners of the land are not allowed to cut them even when they are dead and cannot use the wood even if the tree falls down on its own. It is not a very useful law.

The trees often do not survive long without the sheltering forest and they stop producing seeds, since they require a specific type of pollinating bee. It gets to be a complex story.  The bee depends on a type of orchid Coryanthes vasquezii. The orchids produce a scent that attracts small male long-tongued orchid bees. The male bees need that scent to attract females. Without the orchid, the bees do not mate. So no forest means no orchids, which means no bees, which means no seeds, which means no new trees.  It is an example of the complex ecological web.  But the simple ides is that these are not seed trees that could be expected to spawn a future forest. Beyond that, by making these trees economically not valuable, you shut down any economically motivated endeavors to grow and preserve them.

Big old tree in Acre 

It gets even more complex.  Even if there were seeds, there might not be reproduction. The Brazil nuts are housed in a very thick and heavy shell. It would hurt a lot to get hit with one falling from that distance at the top. The shell does not break easily, but rather requires a type of squirrel to bit it open.  These relationships have been building a long time.  It is co-evolution.  Pull out one thing and they others don't work anymore. But let me add even one more permutation.  The baby trees do not grow well in full sunlight. They germinate in the shade and then wait years for an opening, all the while establishing roots systems. A seedling in full sunlight will die.

As I said, the pastures are attractive and if you didn’t know the story, you would think someone had produced a grassy park with some really big and beautiful trees to provide contrast and shade.  It made me sad. We drove out two hours and never passed through an intact forest.  I know the road is not the place to look for these things and I sometimes saw trees in the distance that I think were part of intact forests, but there are lots of former forests within shooting distance of any asphalt.

August 03, 2012

Rubber World

Rubber economy 

It is also probably because it is so far from most of the rest of the country. There was a lot of violence in the forests of Acre a few years ago and there still is some. Most of the conflict was between cattle ranchers and rubber tappers.  Cattle and rubber don’t mix. 

Rubber tappers depend on the forest for survival.  Most of their job consists of walking between widely spaced robber trees, cutting slits in the bark and then collecting the latex.  The trees grow wild and must be widely spaced because of a persistent blight that spreads among trees that are close together.  Rubber in the Amazon used to be a very lucrative business and there were many millions made in the rubber trade until an English adventurer smuggled seeds of the rubber trees to England. The English grew some trees in Kew Gardens and planted them in what was then British Malaya, mostly in Borneo. The climate was similar to the Amazon, but there was a big difference – there was no blight in Malaya, so the Brits were able to plant the trees close together in easily tended rows.  The Brazilian rubber tapper needed to walk all day to tap a few trees.  In Malaya the same work could be done in minutes. There was no way that the Brazilian rubber tappers could compete with the Malayan plantations, so about thirty years after the seeds were smuggled from Brazil, the Brazilian rubber industry collapsed. 

Some people still tapped rubber, mostly because they had no other options, but life was harder. Not that life was ever easy. Even in the boom years, rubber tappers made little money.  They were part of a company system. They worked for a landowner and usually had to buy their necessities on credit in the company store.  They were extended credit there, but prices were high.  After a year of hard work tapping rubber, they usually owed money to the company.  It was impossible for most to get out from under this debt load.  Few of the rubber tappers could even read or write. They lacked to tools to figure out how to improve their conditions, even if it would have been possible.

People were still tapping rubber in the 1970s when there was a push to develop cattle ranching in the Amazon, encouraged by the development dreams of the military government.  Outsiders bought thousands of acres of land for almost nothing.  They often didn’t bother to mark the boundaries. Instead they just flew over the land looking for general features or even just counting the kilometers.  From the height, they could probably see the houses of the rubber tappers, but that was of no consequence since these guys didn’t have title to the land.

In the Amazon in Acre, it takes around 300 hectares to support one rubber tapper. This is because the trees are widely spaced and they cannot be over tapped or they die. Each tapper needs three trails and makes looks alternatively. A cattle ranching doesn’t really need any trees at all. In fact, trees get in the way of ranching. They shade out the grass that the cattle eat.  Furthermore, the new landowners had several incentives to clear the forests beyond the cattle.  For one thing, the wood was valuable. You could more than recover that price of the land by cutting trees and selling timber.  In fact, the timber was essentially free and the only costs involved were those of cutting and moving the product. Also important was land title. Land title was a question. One way you proved that you were the owner was to “improve” the land.  This usually meant clearing off the trees and producing pasture for cattle or fields from crops. So after you bought the land, it was in your best interests to get to work sawing as fast as you could. More likely, you would hire some former rubber tappers to run the chain saws. 

Rubber tappers seemed to be outclassed. Besides their lack of basic education, it was very difficult for them to organize for any kind of cooperative effort.  Their work was solitary and kept them busy and spread out over vast acreages. They were also in competition to sell their latex and often distrustful of each other because of the possibility that they could encroach on each other’s territories. This latter problem was exacerbated by the fact that some were on the payroll of landowners to keep an eye on others to prevent encroachment. They all recognized the threat that deforestation posed to their lifestyles, but didn’t know what to do. 

There is some disagreement about whether or not to call rubber tappers by the term ecologists. They wanted to save the forests, but not for any of abstract reasons. They wanted to save the forest for the practical reason that is where they lived and worked.  On the other hand, you could argue that they were so deeply ecologists that the term was made for them.  The word ecology comes from a Greek work – "οἶκος" – which means household.  Ecology really means the study of our home. For the rubber tappers, the forest was their home on the very basic level.  At first, the rubber tapper leaders rejected the connection with ecologists, but soon learned that their goals coincided with those of the environmentalists and that they could be allies. 

Perhaps the resident of Acre best known in the wider world is Chico Mendez. He was a leader of the rubber tappers.  He tried to organize them, but his initial motivation was not ecology. He was more on the order of a labor organizer trying to organize farm workers.  But in this case, the farm was the forest and the workers wanted to preserve it and thus also preserve their way of life. Chico Mendez was murdered in 1988.  His death was part of a too-common occurrence in the woods, but because of his wider-world reputation, his death was noticed more than the hundreds of others. He became a symbol and a martyr for the cause of forest preservation, so much so that many people outside Brazil - and lots of them inside too - are unaware of his connection with organizing rubber tappers.  His death had meaning that resonated and it proved a catalyst for greater forest protection in Acre and in Brazil.   

Deforestation didn’t stop, but Chico Mendez became a focus for otherwise unfocused efforts to slow it down.  This is one of his legacies, to recognize the value of traditional and overall sustainable forms of use of nature. He broadened the definition. Before Chico Mendez’s death, people like rubber tappers of traditional fishermen or hunters were often not included in the “traditional” category if they were not indigenous people. After, the category of traditional producers began to be applied to people like them too. 

This is not ancient history, although it seems a long time ago. Many of the people who knew and worked with Chico Mendez are still active today. I had breakfast with one of his associates, who wrote a book about Chico Mendez.  It was from him that I got much of the information I used above. 

Today Acre is one of Brazil’s leaders in forest preservation, natural restoration and valuing traditional lifestyles.  Kids learn about the environment as part of their school work.  The State of Acre is trying hard to portray itself as the state that most values the environment. Whether or not this would have happened anyway is an open question, but I think not or at least not as quickly.  You cannot miss the homage to Chico Mendez all around Acre. Defenders of nature have embraced him as a symbol.  It is clear to me that he did with his death help save the forests that he loved. 

There is a kind of coda to this story.  The price of latex was low, which was driving many rubber tappers out of business and encouraging forest clearance. In order to encourage the rubber industry, the Brazilian government opened a condom factory in Xapuri.  They use local latex and the Brazilian government buys all the condoms the place can produce for its public health program. In Portuguese condoms are called "preservatios".  This always causes some embarrassment in Portuguese language classes, since most English speakers think this means some kind of canned products. But it is fitting the preservativos help preserve the forest.  I guess the slogan now is safe sex saves the rainforest.  There is also a similar rubber factory near Manaus, which I wrote about before.

August 02, 2012

Acre and Rio Branco

Rio Branco palace in Acre 

Acre is as far away as you can get and still be in Brazil.  The flight takes about 3 ½ hours from Brasília and there is a one-hour time change.  You cannot get lost at the airport.  There are two gates and the flight I left on at 2:55 am left from both.  There are not many options.  The Gol flight leaves at 2:55am; Tam goes at 2:15.  If you miss that you have to wait twelve hours.  The airport has no self-check in, so you get to wait in the lines.  I was in Rio Branco to participate in visits related to the U.S.-Brazil school principal program and to meet people in general.  We don’t get to Acre very often and people are interested to see us.  I was interviewed by two television stations, the local newspaper and the major radio station.

Acre independenceAcre’s capital, Rio Branco, is medium sized city with about 400,000 inhabitants; this is half the total population of Acre.  There are no very tall buildings. It has a generally open and suburban feel.  The parallel is not perfect, but it reminded me of Montgomery, Alabama in the way it was spread out. I think the reason I thought of Montgomery, however, was the old governor’s residence.  It has that southern feeling.  Look at the picture above and tell me that it doesn’t remind you of the U.S. Deep South.  The people of Acre also have a kind of rebel heritage.  They broke free from Bolivia a little more than a century ago.  The border was finally settled by the Treaty of Petropolis. The great Brazilian diplomat, the Baron of Rio Branco negotiated the agreement, which is how the capital of Acre got its name. The city spreads out over some low hills more or less along the Acre River.  I was there during the dry season, so it is hot but not very humid.  During the wet season it is a bit cooler but more humid. It almost never gets cool.  They told me that occasionally a front moves in from Antarctica and it can get as cold as about 50 degrees F or about 10 C.  This doesn’t happen often.  

On the flight in, I looked out over the forests and fields.  The forest here is semi-deciduous tropical forest, i.e. lots of the trees lose their leaves during the dry season.  Acre is part of the Amazon forest, but it is not covered by rain forests in the true sense, since there is not much rain for much of the year.   It is not an unbroken forest as you notice when you fly over the Amazon going toward Manaus. Especially near the city, there are lots of farm fields with cattle.  They look funny from the height of the airplane as you come in for a landing.  They are mostly off white.  You cannot really make out their shapes but you see clusters of elongated white dots.

Public library 

Little girl reading in public libraryThere are water shortages during the dry season, streams run dry and rivers get low. They turn off fountains and are generally careful to conserve water.  This is different from Brasília, which has a unique relationship with water. Although Brasília has a dry season too, water shortages never develop. I think Lake Paranoá has a lot to do with that.

I stayed in the Inacio Palace Hotel.  It was simple but not bad and they had free Internet.   It is evidently owned by the same guy who owns the Pinheiro Palace Hotel across the street, because you have to go there to get breakfast.  In the same building as the Inacio Palace, however, there is a good churrascaria.

According to what I was told, most of the people living in Acre came from the Northeast of Brazil, especially Ceará, but there is a significant mixture of Arabs of Lebanese extraction and native Indians.  The place used to belong to Bolivia, but they weren’t really using it and lots of Brazilians moved in to tap rubber in the late 19th Century.  Since almost nobody else lived here at the time, even a relatively small influx of Brazilians immigrants was enough to tip the balance and soon Brazilians were the most numerous.  When the Bolivians tried to reassert their authority over Acre, the Brazilian population rose up in armed rebellion, defeated the Bolivians and declared themselves an independent state.  That didn’t last very long. But they tried it again.  This time the Brazilians asserted sovereignty and Acre became a territory of Brazil.  It was not until fifty years later that it became a state.

Election bike 

The 100th Anniversary of Acre independence declaration in August 7, 2012, so if you are reading this on that day, raise a toast.  This period of independence, no matter how brief and inchoate, seems to have shaped Acre’s attitude.  At our meeting, they placed the Acre anthem instead of the Brazilian one and they refer to things that happen “in Brazil” as if there is an important distinction. I was told that was because the people of Acre won their own independence at the cost of their own blood, sweat, toil and tears and only later did the choose to become part of Brazil.

My pictures: Up top is the Governor's palace, now a museum.  That and the picture below made me think the city had an Alabama feel. Below that is the public library. They get a good crowd.  The little girl reading at the library was iconic. The bottom picture is an election program.  They have car, motorcycles and even bikes circulating on the streets with boom boxes with political advertisements and catchy songs. 


August 01, 2012

São Paulo Old & New, plus Batman

Sao Paulo from Igatemi shopping 

Espen wanted to go the new Batman movie, so we went to the IMAX in the JK Iguatami shopping center.  This place opened only last month.  It is full of high-end shopping and places to each. Surrounding the shopping center is the new São Paulo.  Most of the buildings here are only a few years old and they are constantly building more. 

Bike day in Sao Paulo

Traffic wasn’t bad, because it was on a Sunday.  They block off part of the street for bikes. It is a nice touch in this big city that seems particularly unfriendly to bikes in the center, because of the unyielding traffic but also because of the streets with potholes and the enormous hills in the central area.  In the new area, the streets are a bit wider and the topography more bike friendly.

Construction in Sao Paulo near Igatemi Shopping 

The Batman movie was okay. They said it was 4D.  I don’t know what that means.  It was the regular IMAX experience as far as I could tell.  There was a surprising social commentary in the film, IMO.  It seemed to me to be a counter to the idea of class struggle. There were lines in there talking about how firms need to make profits before they can be generous with charity. The bad guy appealed to the resentment of the poor against the rich to help ruin the city and the mobs were like a big occupy Wall Street writ large and of course much nastier. In the end, the police were the good guys who took the city back from the mobs and the city was save, of course with the essentially assistance of the Batman.  Naturally, it is only a movie based on a comic book, but I sure wouldn't live in Gotham. Every few months a super crook shows up to try to destroy the place.

July 29, 2012

Sao Paulo July 2012

Layers of the city in Sao Paulo 

Espen and I are in São Paulo. I am here for a meeting with a delegation of school principals.  He is here to visit São Paulo.  Some of his friends told him that Brasília was not the “real Brazil”.  My belief is that no place is the real Brazil any more than any particular place is the real America.  There are lots of different realities.  However, more Brazilians live in São Paulo than in any other place and lots of other big Brazilian cities have similar characteristics, so this is as real as it gets.  There are almost twenty million people in the metro area and São Paulo state produces about a third of the Brazilian GDP.

Building with air conditioners 

Our hotel is in Jardim Paulista, one of the nicest areas of the city.  I always stay in Marriott when possible. They are usually in nice places and have consistent quality.  We are near Avenida Paulista, the main commercial street. We walked around the downtown a bit and you can see some pictures.  We even absorbed a little culture at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP).  Espen and I discussed why it is sometimes better to go in person than to look at the art in books or on increasingly high definition computer screens.  Besides seeing the real thing, there is the important social aspect of actually showing up at an art exhibit with other people.

Avenida Paulista 

I like to visit São Paulo, but I would be unenthusiastic about living here.  When I visit, I can live in Jardim and walk around in relative comfort and safety.  I would not be able to live in Jardim if I was living here and I would get stuck in that traffic every day.  In Brasília I can ride my bike to work and driving takes only about seven minutes from home to work.  So I have the perfect balance.  I can live in Brasília and frequently visit other parts of the country.


Above - that car must have hit the truck just right to flip it over like that.  I really cannot imagine how it happened and with relatively little damage to the car. 

July 22, 2012


SESI building in Salvador, Bahia 

I am not sure you could call SESI (Serviço Social da Indústria) an NGO, since it has a mandatory contribution, was established by government fiat back in 1946 and the president of SESI is nominated by the president of Brazil. On the other hand, SESI is private and non-profit.  SESI is supported by contributions by industry and not open to all Brazilians. SESIs are a membership organization. Only workers in the covered industries and their families are eligible to participate in SESI programs.  There are similar organizations for commerce SESC (Serviço Social do Comércio) and transport SEST (Serviço Social do Transporte). SESI and SESC were established in 1946; SEST came only in 1993. I was already familiar with SESC, as I have visited a couple in São Paulo. 

SESC, SESI & SEST evidently work in similar fashion, so I describe SESI with the stipulation that the others resemble it. 

Each Brazilian state and the DF have their own SESI and there is significant autonomy and diversity among them, not least because their budgets come from local industrial contributions.  

We don’t have anything exactly like SESI in the U.S.   They are sort of like a YMCA on steroids.  They provide social services, health, education, leisure and cultural activities as well as programs to promote good citizenship.  They have swimming pools, gyms & theaters.  The mandate seems fairly flexible.  Our English-coaching I mentioned in Salvador was done under the ambit of the educational mandate.

July 21, 2012

Federal institutes of science and technology

Brazilian Federal institutes of science and technology are in some ways like American community colleges, in other ways have a mission similar to American land grant colleges and in many ways are completely Brazilian.  They are already part of the Science w/o Borders program and a potentially a source of great partners in English teaching, science and community college exchanges. 

In Portuguese they are called Instituto Federal de Educação, Ciência e Tecnologia (IFECT).  The network was an initiative of former president Lula, established in 2008. At that time there were thirty-eight. There are now 354 and the goal is to add another 208 by the end of Dilma’s term. Rapid expansion was possible because most of the “new” institutions are former technical schools put into the new program.    

The network reflects the schools on which it was based and the quality of schools is inconsistent.  But they are ubiquitous and share a few characteristics. All are funded by the Federal government, they are present in all the states plus the Federal district and they are all tuition free.  The goal in creating the network of IFECTs was to make education and technical training more easily accessible to underserved populations and to help create a workforce adapted to the needs of modern Brazil.   

Like an American community college, course offering vary depending on the perceived need of the location.  In a place like rural Goiás there would be courses in plant biology or animal husbandry that you might not find in central São Paulo. Enrollment is mostly open, but particular courses might require special qualifications and/or limit enrollment to those most suited to the study or most in need.  IFECTs resemble American land grant colleges in their mission to develop useful arts and sciences and work within the needs of the community.  Ideally, the IFECTs will bridge the gap between academic research and practical applications, as with the land grant universities original mission, making the whole state their laboratory and classroom.  

A related program is O Programa Nacional de Acesso ao Ensino Técnico e Emprego (Pronatec), signed into law by President Dilma in October 2011. This will work through the IFECTs - but also in cooperation with SENAI and SENAC, to bring mostly technical education to underserved Brazilians. The goal is to enroll 8 million Brazilian by 2014. They also are implementing distance learning courses. They currently offer more than 400 courses. 

For courses not offered in public systems, qualified students can get to help to pay for private options, Fundo de Financiamento Estudantil (FIES) which gives students loans at subsidized interest rates below inflation, i.e. negative real rates.  The loans can be used to pay for studies at private institutions approved by MEC or those tied to Sistemas Nacionais de Aprendizagem (the “S” system: SENAC, SESC, SENAI, SESI, SENAT, SEST) .  There is also a scholarship program called Bolsa-Formação, with a strong emphasis on helping students who would not otherwise be able to attend training and a special program to encourage women called Mulheres Mil. 

 An inclusive and well-funded system like this may help Brazil achieve its workforce goals.  I have worked with IFECTs on several occasions but not yet visited one; they are now on my list of must see places.

July 19, 2012

U.S. - Brazil connecting people

Sesi Students  

This entry is a little out of order - We are in Salvador to meet American students from Houston Community College. They came to Brazil to work with Brazilian partners. The connection is bigger and more promising than I thought.   U.S. –Brazil Connect, which I mentioned on earlier occasions, established a working relationship with SESI in Salvador, Bahia.  The first act in this new friendship was to send 20 students from the respective community colleges to SESI in Salvador to coach English. I use the word coach instead of teach because these are not English teachers per se, but rather coaches to a small group of Brazilians. 

Each American had a group of ten Brazilians. They made contact via Facebook before coming to Brazil, so they were cyber buddies before meeting in person. IMO, this is a superb use of the electronic- human relationship.  They were able to make many of the preliminary introductions and exchange online, but then the cemented the cyber relationship with actual human contact.

The Americans spent four weeks in Salvador. I attended the closing ceremony and it was clear that the groups had bonded. Several of the kids told me that this was the best experience of their lives. We can discount a little because of youthful enthusiasm, but they were clearly moved. Other comments were about meeting Americans and changing their points of view. They all hope to remain in touch and with the wonders of Internet this may be more than an empty aspiration. This truly is the kind of people-to-people exchanges we want to make happen. 

We can facilitate these exchanges and they are getting bigger. While at the meetings at SESI Salvador, I met representatives from SESIs in Minas Gerais, Santa Catarina & Rio de Janeiro, who have agreed to expand the program to their states.  Pernambuco and Alagoas are also in. This will expand the number of participating states to six, which will mean 120 Americans will be coaching 1200 Brazilians. This is something big.  

July 18, 2012

Centro Nacional de Pesquisa em Engergia e Materiais (CNPEM)

Yellow building in National Labs in Campinas 

The Fulbright meeting was held at the Centro Nacional de Pesquisa em Engergia e Materiais (CNPEM) and one of the collateral benefits was that we got a tour of the place. The center is located in several buildings on a big campus with lots of green space. On the campus are included o Laboratório Nacional de Luz Síncrotron (LNLS), o Laboratório Nacional de Ciência e Tecnologia do Bioetanol (CTBE) e o Laboratório Nacional de Biociências. 

Laboratory in National laborator in Campinas 

Most of the budget comes from the Federal government with about 15% coming from private firms.  Academic researchers can use the facilities, but they bring their own equipment. The analogy is that the Federal government pays for the car and the users put in their own gas. I saw all kinds of research going on in biotechnology and biofuels. Foreign researchers are welcome and many come from other parts of Latin America. There are fewer visiting researchers from other parts of the world, but our Brazilian friends are hopeful.

Syncratron in Campinas 

I have to admit that I don’t really know what I am looking at. I see lots of bottles and machines. They tell me that they are crystallizing proteins. I believe that is true, although I am not sure what that means. I did see a fish that glows in the dark. That was cool. It has to do with its trans-genetic nature. At least that is what they told me.

Cutting grass in Campinas 

Another big and impressive thing is the Synchrotron.  I took a picture. This was the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.  It is a type of particle accelerator. They told me that it had a wide range of uses in research. I can appreciate that it is a good thing. There is a TV series I sometimes watch called “the Big Bang Theory”. Visiting this place and talking to the people there reminded me of that show.

July 17, 2012

Meeting Alumni in Campinas

We held our alumni event at the Dan Hotel, which was convenient and not very expensive.  Only three of the six invitees could actually make it, but it was good to talk to people who had been affected by our programs.  They almost all say the same thing.  They almost always tell me that their program was a life-changing experience and this makes them friends forever of the U.S.

I met the guy who went on a Community College Initiative exchange in 2009.  He spoke to me in fluent English, which he attributed to his time in the U.S.  The Community College Initiative is an ECA program that sends participants to study in fields like agriculture, applied engineering, business management and administration, allied health care, information technology, media, and tourism and hospitality management. Fulbright administers the program in Brazil and participants are recruited from historically underserved populations.  Ronaldo studied information science.   He said that is still maintaining friendships he made in the U.S., but also worldwide with other participants he met in the U.S.  In this world of networks, I wonder what role our program participants play.   

As I was talking to Ronaldo, I have to admit that my mind wandered to how we measure success in public affairs. It was not because he was uninteresting. On the contrary, it was exactly his enthusiasm that led me to this related related topic. Here was an articulate and promising young man who was my immediate friend because he was a friend of the United States. We helped him become successful and put him into an international network.  He told me that much of what he becomes will be thanks to us. I don’t know if all of that is true, but some is. How will we measure this? How will we measure the thousands of contacts he might make and deeply influence? We are too stuck on numbers and metrics, which usually measure superficial “reach”. Is reaching 100,000 people with a 140 character message on twitter worth more or less than this one kid?

I also thought about the Pygmalion effect.  That is the idea that you create success by your idea that the person is or will be successful.  Do we find successful people or do we help create them?  Some of both are at work in a complex interaction.  It was fortuitous that in walked another of our guests, a psychologist who had been on an exchange program in 2009.  One of Ricardo’s specialties was how to measure the interaction between training and selection.  We talked about a study of applicants to Ivy League universities that compared those who were accepted and actually attended them to those who were accepted but did not enroll.  After several years, their outcomes were very similar. To a large extend, a great university like Harvard produces great results because it is able to start with great raw material.  Returning to the Community College paradigm, perhaps the Community Colleges actually produce a greater value added. They take kids who otherwise might not be successful and make them better.  Of course, the other permutation is how hard it to add value.  The better you get, the harder it is to make each additional percentage point of improvement.  The discussion will never be resolved.   

The last guy to show up was a recent IVLP.  Luiz studied alternative power in the U.S. and is working to apply what he learned in Brazil.   Like all the others, Luiz praised the connections he made in the U.S.  This is a persistent theme.  The program might last a month or year, but the contacts are forever.  My thoughts returned to measuring results.  The measuring paradigm, IMO, is inadequate.  We are using a physical-mechanical model to measure what works more like a biological system. Let me explain.   

In a physical-mechanical system, you can measure and predict results from inputs.  It may be very complicated, but it is not very complex.   For example, a mechanical watch is complicated, but not complex.  It won’t change its mind and it won’t reach to changes around it, except maybe to break.  A watch will not grow any bigger or get any smaller if you change its environment. In contrast, a biological system is complex, with various parts changing based on changes in other parts of the system.  A little seed can grow into an enormous tree and in the course of its grow will affect everything around it.

My three friends hold potential for growth much beyond the inputs and outputs that we can measure.  Their actions will affect the ideas of others in ways that we cannot predict. Maybe my belief in the efficacy of public affairs is faith based.  I have faith that good programs will produce good results in ways that I cannot explain, much as I have faith that good seeds will produce good plants and fruit in ways I also cannot explain.   My judgment tells me that we did a good job with these exchanges and I have faith that taking time to meet with them in the evening in Campinas was worth the time. 

July 16, 2012

Distance, real and imaginary

Fat person seating in Campinas airport.  

I flew Azul to Campinas.  There are lots of flights there because Campinas is the hub for Azul Airlines.  I could catch a 5:58 am flight and avoid the trouble and expense of an additional night in Campinas, while still having the whole workday on Thursday.  By the logic of travel time and maybe even expense, Campinas is often closer to Brasília than it is to São Paulo.  You can fly to the Campinas airport of Viracopos in a little over an hour at the cost of less than $100 if you plan ahead and get a promotional ticket.  Driving from São Paulo in the usual traffic will take longer and cost you more if you have to hire a car. The trip to the airport from my house in Brasília takes only fifteen minutes and the taxi cost just $15.  I think my colleague in São Paulo had to wake up earlier to meet me.  It makes you reconsider the concept of distance. The real measure of distance should be the time, money and discomfort required to arrive. 

That is why distance is something that can change, something we can change and adapt.  When a new road opens or a new airline connects, distance changes in a practical sense.  Brazil is a big country.  Measured in square miles, it is about the size of the U.S.; measured in practical distance, it is much larger.  It takes longer and costs more to move yourself of your stuff from one point to another.  Because of our great freight rail and generally good system of highways, right down to county truck roads that bring are paved with asphalt right to gates of most farms, our products move relatively efficiently.  We don’t appreciate that because it is largely unseen and we take it for granted.   We can also move around our country easily by air and road. Although we often complain about these things, we are very well served.  Brazil needs to build infrastructure, especially freight rail and improved water transport.   This is what is really holding back complete development and has been a problem since the beginning.  When you solve infrastructure problems, most other things fall into place and until you do all you have is growth in fits and starts.  The only real way to increase prosperity is to increase productivity.  Good infrastructure does that. 

In effect, Azul has moved Brasília closer to Campinas, just as the overcrowded highways around São Paulo has moved it farther from São Paulo.  Of course, you have to take into account the time you have to hang around in airports.  All the various security checks have added many hundreds of miles of virtual distance to most trips. It would be interesting to see a distance/time/trouble map with the relationships among places. 

Azul in Brazil was founded in 2008 by David Neeleman, the same guy who founded JetBlue in the U.S.  By a quirk of fortune, he was born in São Paulo and is a citizen of Brazil as well as of the United States.  Azul has a fairly efficient system with low cost flights, using Campinas as a hub.  There are two things I didn’t like.  One was that you have to leave from Terminal 2 in Brasília.  This is much less comfortable than the main terminal.  They also use planes that have very little overhead space.  I travel very light, but not everybody else does and it was hard to find space for my backpack.    

The picture above is self-explanatory. It is another step on the road to declaring everything a disability.  I am not sure I would like this if I was a fat person. Look at that symbol. It kind of resembles a fat person, but it certainly is not flattering.  This is the first time I have seen an extra-wide seat.

July 15, 2012

BNC in Campinas

English teacher in BNC Campinas 

I had fun talking to these Brazilian English teachers featured in the photo above. They were taking part in a workshop at the Campinas BNC. They said that they don’t get many opportunities to talk with real native speakers. As a poor speaker of several languages not my own, I sympathized when they said that it was easier to understand each other than a native speaker. Learners of English as a second language are more careful than native English speakers and Brazilians can appreciate the accents of their fellows. These teachers were in Campinas for training partially supported by one of our grants. One of my jobs is to evaluate grants. This one is working. 

I asked them why they wanted to learn & teach English. They all answered in similar ways, saying that it opened the world for them.  One man mentioned his trip to Istanbul, where English was his key to communicating with the Turks. They were all enthusiastic about the program. 

Actually, I think I should revise that statement about “language not my own” that I made above. My “other” languages are really more mine, since I had to buy them with a lot more hard work. I recall an old news clip of John Wayne talking to a hostile group of hippies during the 1960s.  One of the kids asked derisively if John Wayne had his own hair. Wayne, who was bald, tipped his toupee and said, “it better be mine; I paid for it.”  As a former classical scholar, I also recall the line quoted in "I Claudius" that I learned in 9th grade Latin class - The golden hair that Gala wears is hers/Who would have thought it?/She swears it's hers, and true she swears/For I know where she bought it! I wish I had such a good memory for things that were useful.


BNC in Campinas 

 The BNC in Campinas has around 1800 students. They are rebuilding from a low of 1400 a couple of years ago.  The BNC is the gold standard of English teaching. It supplies a more complete cultural experience than its rivals, but the rivals promise faster results. BNC leaders also say they lost lots of customers when former President Lula said or implied that English wasn’t very important. I don’t know much about this incident, but it seems to have been memorable to English teachers. 

I was surprised to find that English was not more common in Campinas. But I understood that it is not as much an international center as I thought it was. After all, UNICAMP is a major university and there is the research lab and PUC Campinas.  The presence of these made me expect more English. The particular thing that brought the problem to my attention was the local failure of our “English cubed” program.  

In cooperation with the Coligação of BNCs, we created a program to bring Brazilian science students up to the level needed to study in the U.S. in the Science w/o Borders program. The BNC in Campinas was one of the institutions given scholarships to execute the program. They had to give back the money (which was redeployed to other centers) because they couldn’t find ten kids with the necessary proficiency that were also qualified and interested in the Science w/o Borders program.  I am glad that the BNC leaders were honest and self aware enough to make the right decision.

If I can digress a bit, I have been coming up again and again against problems of scalability and absorption capacity. We have so many opportunities in Brazil, or at least it looks that way. But we seem to be scaling up faster than the system will bear. This includes our own staff, which has remained the same size with higher workloads, but also with our “customers.” This problem is exacerbated by our laudable (I think) desire to reach into previously under served communities. It is almost a tautology. Those who have been “under served” are generally under prepared and we (the U.S. Mission) do not have the resources to change this, at least over the short term.

Our biggest bottleneck is English capacity. Participation in our programs often requires reasonable English proficiency. It takes years to learn English and it requires a commitment of time and resources. I mistakenly presumed that there was a much larger pool of high intermediate and advanced English speakers.  

But it makes sense if you think in terms of conditional probabilities. Think about the potential Science w/o Borders applicants. Start with proficient English speakers, not including those who have already signed up for Science w/o Borders with sufficient English scores. Now subtract all those not currently enrolled in college, minus those in their first or their last years. Next subtract all those who are not studying sciences. Among those left, we now have to count only those who want study outside Brazil and then move to the even smaller group who choose to study in the U.S.  and want to do it this year. Suddenly, the massive numbers are not so massive. All this means that the potential customer base in Brazil is not very big and the customer base in any particular city might be too small to support the program. I have to think about ways to expand the market or find other avenues.

July 14, 2012

Campinas & UNICAMP

Campinas, Brazil 

Campinas is a big city that still retains some of the small town feel and traffic patterns. I got there early in the morning, having taken the Azul flight from Brasília that left at 5:56, in time to for the morning rush hour.  There was a lot of traffic on the road, but it never stalled.  Somebody told me that the traffic would often be worse, but was lighter during the school holiday month. I suppose that is true, but traffic in São Paulo or Rio is heavy even during the off months. 

We stayed at the Dan Inn. It was simple but acceptable and not very expensive.  Around the downtown you can easily walk.  There are lots of restaurants that were not yet open in the morning.  Marcos from São Paulo and I stopped at Starbucks. I don’t know if Starbucks is a sign of higher civilization or not, especially in town that made its first fortune on coffee growing and trading, but it is familiar.  It is exactly the same as Starbucks in the U.S., except most things are in Portuguese.  Not everything; they still do not have a small cup of coffee and the small coffee is called a “tall” just like it is in the U.S.  I didn’t have any small change and when I tried to pay with a “grande” $R 50 bill, the barista asked if I had anything smaller.  I told her that didn’t have any “tall” bills. She didn’t get the joke, which maybe wasn’t very good, so I paid with my credit card.  This works best in any case. 

Our first appointment was at UNICAMP, the university in Campinas.  UNICAMP is one of the best universities in Brazil and one of the premier research institutions.   It was founded in 1966 and concentrates on the sciences, with especially good results in genomics and nanotech.  It is responsible for 15% of the Brazilian research output and more than half its students are at the graduate level.  UNICAMP is rated as the second best university in Latin America. 

Brazil has a Federal university system and there are private universities.  Some Brazilian states have state universities. It is supported by the State of São Paulo, as are USP and UNESP).  The State of São Paulo earmarks 2.1958% of the sales taxes it collects for the support of its universities and there are a lot of sales in São Paulo.  UNICAMP gets about $1billion in state funds and raises around $350million from private firms.  These are mostly in the form of joint research funds.  

There is no tuition, but it is really hard to get in.  Each year they accept about 3400 students out of 600,000 applicants. The University has approximately 17000 undergraduate and 20000 graduate students. There are nearly 1,800 faculty members, 98% with a Ph.D. The university makes no distinction between in-state and out-of-state applicants, but Brazil doesn’t have the kind of tradition of kids going away to college, so most of the students are from São Paulo.  Besides the university itself, UNICAMP runs two large hospitals in Campinas, and one in each of the neighboring towns of Sumaré and Hortolândia.

UNICAMP has very few foreign students. The largest number comes from Columbia and there are only 161 of them.   Only nine (9) Americans are enrolled as full time students at UNICAMP, although there are some shorter exchange programs and the university has an increasing number of international connections.   

Romana bakery in Campinas 

The university is located in a charming area of Campinas called Barão Geraldo. It is a semi-rural place with lots of greenery.  I had breakfast at a restaurant/bakery called Romana, pictured above. The whole area reminded me of Italy. It seems to have a high quality of life and it would be a nice place to live.

July 13, 2012

Twilight Running

Brasilia in evening 

The pictures above and below are the lake from my running trail along Lake Paranoá in Brasilia. It is a very pretty scene. It gets dark in Brasília at around 6pm at this time of the year, so anytime I run on a weekday I am doing it in the dark, or at least the semi-dark. I don’t mind, no chance of sunburn. It is also a sublime experience to run through the landscape in the muted light. My system is to run a loop that takes me back about three quarters of the way. Then I walk the rest of the way, listening to my audiobooks. Right now I have the bio of Lyndon Johnson, "Passage to Power". Great book and a great way to combine exercise, relaxation and learning.

Running trail along Lake Paranoa in Brasilia 

July 03, 2012

Salvador in July

Moonlight over Atlantic Ocean in SalvadorI like Salvador more each time I visit. It looked very green this time. It has not become greener, but the dry season is beginning show in Brasília, which makes Salvador green by comparison. I stayed at the Pestana Lodge. This is better than the Pestana Hotel, which is connected to it by a bridge. The lodge also has the advantage of being a little cheaper than the hotel, so we save the G a little money. The picture alongside is taken from my room’s balcony. What is not to like?

Both the hotel and the lodge are right on the ocean, built into the hills on a rocky headland.  You can walk to shops and restaurants from there, although I don’t think many people do because of the supposed crime threat.  I walked around at night w/o feeling particularly threatened.  I think that the neighborhood is improving. 

SENAC in Salvador

One of the board members of the BNC has been active in Salvador for more than fifty years. He explained that crime was worse, so bad that people just didn’t go out at night. There are still parts of the city where you should not go, but things are better. He also told me about the growth of the city. The picture above is the SENAC building. When it was built in the 1980s, it was the tallest building, the only tall building in the area.  The picture below is taken from the window of the SENAC building. You can see all the tall buildings now filling the landscape. All of them are new. This part of Salvador is a completely new city.  

Salvador, Bahia 

The challenge is similar to any densely built city – traffic. No big city has found the perfect solution. Salvador needs a subway system, among other things. There have long been plans to build one, but the current projection is that there will be only six kilometers, a distance that most people could just walk. I am not sure if the traffic is facilitated or hindered by the interesting local driving habits. On the one hand, you could say that our taxi drivers make use of the whole road, including short distances between parked cars, bus pullouts and places between moving vehicles where you wouldn’t think another car could fit. On the other hand, it seems a bit chaotic.

Street in new city Salvador, Bahia