November 28, 2013

Driving around Rio

Sugar Loaf Rio 

You always pay more for taxis in Rio. They are used to tourists and they know that there is a kind of differential tourists are willing to pay, or maybe don’t know they are paying.  But this time I got by w/o too much trouble.  I suspect the driver that took us from the airport to the hotel was taking us for a ride.  When I noticed we seemed to be going the wrong way and commented to him, he told me that there was a big music festival and we could not take the usual shorter route.  Maybe that was true.  I ended up paying more for an extra-long ride and when he gave me change, he did so with small bills, pausing each time until I just told him to keep the rest.   But on the way back from Sugar Loaf, we got a driver who actually used the meter and it told the right amount.  We went with the notorious “flat rate” to the statue of Christ.  I didn’t mind paying, since the guy waited for us and took us back down.  When I came with Espen a few months ago it was hard to find a taxi back.  The convenience was worth the price and the taxi driver was interesting.

Jesus statueHe told me that he had been driving cab for about seven years.  He was a cop before that, but police work was too dangerous.   He said that in his police academy class of seventy, twenty-four had been killed in the line of duty four years later when he decided to seek a more tranquil profession.  Of course, he was a cop in the middle of all that trouble with drug dealers in the favelas.  Things are calmer now.

Taxi drivers in Rio own and maintain their own cabs, although licensed and regulated by the city.  He can have up to two other people drive the car.    His car is completely flex-fuel.  It can run on gasoline, ethanol or natural gas.   These days by far the best fuel is natural gas.  It costs the least and gets the most mileage per unit, more than twice as much as ethanol.  Ethanol is the worst.  Mileage is poor for the price.  Gasoline is in the middle.   Natural gas also has the advantage of better engine wear and less pollution.   He asked if we use much natural gas in the U.S.   We don’t.  Busses often run on natural gas and some delivery fleets are turning over to gas, but we don’t currently have the infrastructure.  I suppose that might change with the fracking boom.   Changing to natural gas makes the cities cleaner and quieter than they would otherwise be, in addition to saving money.

Rio really is a pretty city.  Mariza is visiting and I wanted her to see it.  We went to Acre last time she was here.  That was an interesting experience, but not the pleasant one you get in Rio.   Rio is really one of the world's most beautiful cities.

Red sky 

We saw a double rainbow over Copacabana.  It was gone before we got our cameras.  Would not have done it justice anyway.   But the red sky was still interesting.  Red sky at night, sailors delight. The picture doesn't do that justice either.  

November 23, 2013

A language is just a dialect with an army and a navy

Language difference is the obvious but vaguely surprising thing I noticed in Columbia. Portuguese to Spanish is a one-way street.  Portuguese speakers can understand most Spanish, but Spanish speakers do not understand much spoken Portuguese.  My Brazilian colleagues told me about this and I found it was true in Bogotá. People spoke to me in a language I more or less understood, but my responses were met with puzzlement. Portuguese, especially the Brazilian variety, uses vowels in a more exuberant way. 

The boundaries of language are interesting.  Some dialects should qualify as languages and some languages are really just dialects. There is an old saying that a language is just a dialect that has an army and a navy.   When I spoke Norwegian, I found I could also understand Swedish w/o too much difficulty. Written Danish is almost identical to written Norwegian, but the spoken language is different.   

Of course, some things called dialects probably should have their own language.  I read that Chinese “dialects” are mutually unintelligible.  Like Danish and Norwegian, the written languages are the same or similar, but the spoken languages are not.  I have had some problems with English.  There were people I could not understand when travelling in the UK.

My first language shock came when I was nineteen.  I hitchhiked from Wisconsin to South Alabama.  It was a dumb idea.  I was not prepared and I had only about $15.  I was trying to go to Florida, but I didn’t have a map or much of a plan.  I ended up on State Highway 10 and got a ride from a guy in a truck.  I understood nothing the man said.  He didn’t take me very far and when I got off a farmer was standing near the road.  He started to talk to me (People of rural Alabama very friendly).  He had one of those Civil War accents, but I understood him well.  He was a little put off when I told him that I was glad I understood.  He laughed when I explained that I had understood nothing from the man who had just dropped me off.  “Oh, that’s old Butch.  He’s the town drunk.   Ain’t nobody understands old Butch.”

Accents and languages can be fun.  I am not very good at accents, but I did find an interesting performance by a woman who does 21 accents in a few minutes.  She is at this link.

November 21, 2013

Know the place for the first time


Many people would like to be farmers at five in the afternoon, but few want to be farmers at five in the morning.  Farming is hard work and it was even harder work years ago. It is still hard work for many of the small farmers in the Amazon.

These guys, or their parents, came up the new Brasília to Belém highway thirty of forty years ago.  They sometimes walked from places like Goiás of the Northeast looking for a new life in the new lands. Some made it big and there are a lot of productive large and modern farms on this Brazilian agricultural frontier. I talked to some of the smaller farmers.


Paragominas has a program that tries to help small farmers.  The municipality guarantees that they will buy their produce for use in the schools, i.e. provides a certain market.  But it is hard to keep them down on the farm and easy to understand why.  It is hard work.  The couple I talked to, the one you see in the picture above, were originally from the NE, I think they said from Ceará. They worked their whole lives on the farm, but their kids were college educated and unenthusiastic about keeping up the tradition of farming. Birth rates in Brazil are dropping and it seems likely that fewer and fewer farmers will be on the land as time goes on. This is probably good. More will be produced on fewer hectares.

Rubber trees 

I keep seeing parallels between American environmental history and what is happening today in Brazil.  We are pioneer nations, taming the wilderness. It is out of style these days to tame the wilderness, but we have the luxury of it being out of style because we have tamed the wilderness.  We cannot go back.  Our challenge now is to adapt what we did to make it sustainable. Forests are growing back in the U.S.  There are now more trees growing in Eastern North America than there were in 1776. Marginal lands have returned to forests and our agriculture is becoming sustainable. Brazil is on this path.  We passed through the time of maximum destruction and we now it will begin to reverse.  In the U.S., the nadir of forests was around 1920.  Then things got better.  I don’t know if Brazil has turned the corner yet, but it will soon.


Sustainability sits on three pillars: environment, social and economic development.  We often forget the last two when talking about sustainably, but in the long and medium run, w/o development in the social and economic spheres, the environment cannot be sustained. We humans do not properly understand the complexity of the environment and we never will.  But sometimes we come close enough to truth to know some of the things we should do.  We come around in circles.  I recall the lines from TS Eliot, "We never stop exploring, and at the end of all our explorations we come back to where we started, and we will know that place for the first time".

My pictures show some of the farmers. The pigs are an Amazon variety. You can see rubber trees tapped int he picture below and the supper picture is a great meal I had at one of the family farms, all with products growing locally and organically. 

November 18, 2013

Family businesses in for the long run

me and timber 

Many of the businesses around Paragominas are family owned, with generations of family members working there. The small sawmill in the picture above is family owned and so is the multimillion dollar wood processing and forestry operation farther down.  I think this has to do with the pioneer nature of the society.   The founders - or more likely today grandfathers - came to this place and set up shop.  They have often gone through several cycles of business.  There were shortages of people they could trust, with the proper skills to run the businesses, so they made their own.

The saw mill has been here for many years.  The logs come up the river and are processed at this and other nearby mills in the town of São Miguel.  All the logs processed here are certified.  You can see the markings on each one.   It is a specific number so the wood can be traced.

Factory floor 

The Floraplac MDF  plant is in a different business. They make fiberboard and wood products and require smaller trees that can be chipped and/or pulped. Originally, the factory used naturally occurring timber. But in the early 1990s, the owners saw that this would not be sustainable and started to plant their own. This created the need for different machines.  Logs from the forest primeval tended to be big and differentiated. Those from plantations are smaller and uniform. The latter are easier to process, which is another benefit of plantation tree farming.

Parica plantation 

Some of the trees are a native Amazon species called paricá.  This tree grows to harvest in around nine years.  You can see the picture above.  The wood is good and worth more per pound that eucalyptus, but eucalyptus produces more pounds per acre and has a shorter rotation of only seven years.  There is need for both but the eucalyptus is often more useful, if less popular because of its non-native status.


There are hundreds of species of eucalyptus, so the variations are almost endless.  Eucalyptus is native of Australia, but there are probably more types of the trees and more trees in Brazil than anyplace else in the world.   Vitorio is constantly seeking to improve the genetic stock and silviculture of his trees.  For example, some suffer from rot when there is too much humidity and they are now planting crossbred trees that are resistant.   They are in a perpetual arms race with bugs and diseases.  This is the way of nature, especially when you have large areas of very similar trees. 

As I have written before, I am a little sad that eucalyptus has replaced pine over the warmer parts of Brazil.  Pine is also an invasive species here, but it is familiar to me.  I like the eucalyptus trees, but pine are more the woods of home.   But where eucalyptus can grow well, pine cannot compete in the pulp & chip market.  The eucalyptus has a nice scent, kind of a fresh mint.  I still, however, prefer the pine. 

Floraplac is a vertically integrated operation of a type we see increasingly rarely in the U.S.  They own the land and grow the trees they use to supply their operation. During the 1990s anon most American pulp, paper and timber firms sold their land to smaller holders and timber investment management organizations (TIMOs). This is how I got my forest land.  Companies figured that they did not have to bear the carrying costs and risks involved in growing the trees and owning the land.  They could rely on private owners. The additional transaction costs were low compared to the carrying costs.

Brazil is not ready for this just yet.  There are probably not enough private owners for all the land around here needed to supply the plant.  I asked Vitorio about this model.  He said that they are trying to source some timber from smaller holdings, but these were not people engaged in forestry, as they might be in the U.S.   Rather they were doing a kind of silvopasture or woodland agriculture, where they would raise stock and/or crops among and between the trees.  The forestry would provide a supplement to their income but not in itself be a viable investment.

Buying from small holders is not the most profitable business possible. Floraplac does it as part of its commitment to the community and corporate social responsibility.  It is smart business in the long run.  At some point in the future, there might be calls to move the plant or criticism of its use of forest resources.  At the time, it will be good to have a significant group of people who better understand sustainable forestry and are connected by their own interests to the continued viability of the enterprise. 

They were down to earth, friendly people.  The multigenerational nature of the business ensures that they look to the future.   It seems to me a really great business and an admirable business model, so far removed from the caricature of people showing up in the forest to make a quick buck and a quicker exit.  People here are in it for the long run.

November 17, 2013

Belém to Brasília highway

Belem to Brasilia Hwy 

They started work more than fifty years ago. Today many people consider it a kind of mistake, maybe even a ecological disaster.  After travelling along the road, I don’t agree.  This is Brazil's Route 66, a highway of dreams. The Brazilians at that time, led by President Juscelino Kubitschek, wanted to open up the empty land in the interior of Brazil. That is why he built Brasília and why he built the road to connect the new city of Brasília with the older city of Belém and with all the places in between.You can see a stretch of the road above

It was heroic work, cutting through what people at the time called jungle. Today we have a more politically correct term – rain forest.  The people who did the work were pioneers, like those of the American west.  They came to settle their country and seek a new life.  It was hard and dangerous.  Many people died in the process.  Others are still there and they and their descendants are still there.

I learned that once the Amazon forest was cut, the soil would soon turn to rock and sand, unproductive.  My observation is that this is not true. The soils are fertile and things grow wonderfully. 

The land next to the Belém to Brasília highway has had three main and overlapping cycles. The first involved clearing the land and using the forest resources. This is very much like what happened in Wisconsin and Michigan in the 1850s and 1860s.   It was disruptive, with forests being destroyed.  Immigrants cleared the land and tried to establish farming. As with Wisconsin or Michigan, the success of the farmers was mixed.  In some places, the soils and topography supported farming; other not so much.

The second stage consisted mostly of unsustainable cattle ranching. Ranchers put large numbers of cattle on the newly established pastures.  There were not many animals per hectare. It was profitable for some, but very inefficient.  This was the nadir stage. Things had been destroyed and degraded but not yet begun to renew.  his was like Wisconsin in 1871, during the great Peshtigo fire that may have killed as many as 2500 people or the big blowout fire of 1910 that destroyed three million acres in Idaho, Montana and Washington and helped establish the need for the U.S Forest Service.  

oil palm 

Cattle raising in the way they were doing was indeed unsustainable and that which is unsustainable will not be sustained.  The region is now entering a third stage.  This is the stage of readjustment and sustainability.   As I have written elsewhere, sustainable does not mean natural.   The ancient forests are gone, as are the ancient forests of Wisconsin.  They will never return as they were, but that does not mean that the new systems are not sustainable. Above you can see an oil palm plantation newly established on a degraded pasture.

Cattle ranching remains an important part of the local economy, but it is becoming more efficient, with fewer hectares required to grow beef.   Some of the degraded pasture is now available for crops and re-afforestation.  This is exactly what happened in the U.S. a century ago.  Paper and wood products mills are now mostly using fiber from planted trees, which I will talk about in subsequent posts.  In the area around Paragominas, they grow soy.  This is a triumph of the Brazilian USDA equivalent, EMBRAPA, which developed soy that growing in this tropical environment.  A little farther north, where it rains more, they grow oil palm.  You can see in my picture that oil palm is being planted in degraded pasture.

It is interesting what they have learned about micro-climates.  The area around Paragominas has less rain than a hundred miles north.  It still rains a lot, but less. Agriculture is sophisticated here, because they can plan for the rain. They have a regular rainy and dry season, like Brasília, but the dry season is not as dry and the wet season is even wetter.

Having my feet on this Amazonia ground gave me a different perception.  It was also useful to come back thirty years later and see what had been done. I understand that there could be wildly different lesson learned.   The natural forest is gone over much of the land. We can mourn the loss.  On the other hand, it looks like it was been replaced with a sustainable system that supports human aspirations and endeavor.

I cannot help thinking back to my own home-place, with all its myths and realities. I grew to full adulthood in the forests of northern Wisconsin and that shaped my outlook. There are no “virgin” forests in Wisconsin. It was all cut over in the middle of the 19th Century and usually cut over and burned a few times after. Yet the forest is magnificent and sustainable.  In many places you find stone walls and other evidence of old farms in the middle of old growth forests.  Obviously, the people who tried to farm these thin soils gave up and moved away. But there is a human presence throughout in forestry, farming and cities. People live in and with nature. It is good.  

This is what I see and wish for my Brazilian friends. They will look back at the extractive period in the same way we did. They will lament the loss, but appreciate the sacrifices and heroism of those who went before. This is the lesson good people will teach their children. They do already.  I felt at home in the “tamed” Amazon in ways I never have in the “natural” parts. Human endeavor need not be destructive but it will lead to change, sometimes for the better.

One more thing about sustainable. Nothing lasts forever, not anything natural or man-made. We can strive for predictable and favorable change. 

October 28, 2013

An opportunity postponed

Bike trail 

Brasília is not the kind of place with many surprises. It is a pleasant city, and I like to live here most of the time, but planners designed it to be uniform and boring and they succeeded.  The same pattern repeats with monotonous regularity. Brasília is the vision of the future projected by leftish planners from 1960. That future never arrived, but time froze here.

Bike trail and bushes 

That is why I was happy to find something a little different. They are building bike lanes. You can see on the pictures that it is pleasant.  It really doesn’t go anywhere.  Like most things around here, it is not an organic development. They probably expect that you will drive to this place and then ride. The second picture shows the trail along one of the usual streets, green canyons.

River in Lago Sul 

Brasília is a postponed opportunity.  The location is superb.  It is mostly gently uphill from the lake and the man-made lake is pleasant.  Brasília sits in big-sky country.  And lots of things grow here with a little coaxing and a little care. The weather is pleasant all year around.  You could have been the perfect walking and biking city. A city for people.  But it was built for cars.

Brazilians have made this a pleasant place despite the design. Imagine how nice it could be if the start had been better.  It can be improved, retrofitted.  It is already better than it was and I am confident it will get still better. That is why I don't think it is an opportunity lost, just postponed.

October 27, 2013

A dry wet season

Yard View 

The rainy season has been unusually dry so far this year. This is good in that I can ride my bike to work for a longer season. But you can tell that the grass is dry, green mostly, but not that vibrant green common during the wet season. I suppose the rains will come. 

In the absence of rain, it gets pretty hot. The rainy season and the clouds usually keep the temperatures down.  I don’t use air-conditioning. Don’t have to in Brasília’s year-round pleasant weather. But I am thinking it might not be a bad idea.

September 29, 2013

End of the trail

I thought about keeping this in my private journal, but I think it is a problem common enough that maybe I should write something more public. It might be of interest to the FS community.  IMO, this is a subject extremely interesting to many people, but one we talk about obliquely or not at all.  Lots of my colleagues are in similar positions and more generally this applies to CS and all old guys. I also feel confident in writing since I feel generally successful and not aggrieved and I am looking at the development it with surprising indifference.

I didn’t get promoted this year. I figured my chances were 40-60 against and I lost the toss. At my rank, promotions don’t mean much more money and there are very few practical advantages other than the honor of it all. There are good things, as I will explain, but first a little background.

Our FS system gives us time limits within our grades.  A “normal” career will last about 27 years and the person will honorably retire at the FS-01 level, a rank equivalent to an army colonel. To survive longer, you have to jump to the senior FS, which I did in 2007.  After that, you get six years to make it to the next grade.  I got a little extra time, since they gave me credit for the year I spent in Iraq and Congress didn’t get around to ratifying my promotion until 2008.  Anyway, I can keep my job until January, 2016, when it is “hit the road Jack” and I have to retire.

This is not a bad thing. I will be sixty.  I have been eligible to retire since 2005 and I have been “kinda meaning” to retire and do something else, but I hung on because the FS was fun and I felt like I was contributing.  My finest hours were my service in Iraq and now doing extraordinary things in Brazil.  These came after I could have retired and leaving those songs unsung would have been a shame. Of course, I would not have known what I didn’t achieve.  Now, however, I don’t think there is much left for me.  I think that the job I am doing in Brazil is the best I can do. Future assignments would be coming down from the peaks. 

So how is the lack of promotion good news?

This was probably my last chance for promotion.  As I said above, I did the best I could in Brazil and the reports that my Ambassador and DCM wrote reflected that. Ambassador Shannon wrote something so good for for me that I would certainly be too embarrassed to write for myself.  It won’t get better. If that is not enough, I am out of luck. I don’t want to be a DCM or a DAS, so PAO Brazil is as good as it gets for me, but evidently not good enough. It is still a little ways off, but I now can see clearly the end of my FS road.  

If I was not forced out, I would think of excellent reasons to hang around like a fart in a phone box.  I would not leave, but my usefulness would have peaked.  We have people like that at State.  They are ghosts of their former glory.  It is sad and not for me.  You should always leave when they still want you to stay.

When I talk of retiring, I don’t mean to do nothing. I still feel energetic and will find a good job where I can still do something good. I will have the luxury of taking a job that means something to me w/o having to worry too much about the salary & benefits. My forestry enterprise could use some attention and I have lots of personal things to do before I take that final road to glory.

So life is good.  I still feel little pangs of pain for not being on the promotion list.  At this point in my career a promotion is a “positional good,” i.e. you want it because not everyone can have it and you have the “why not me?” question when you see people you think are less worthy.  Having served on promotion panels myself, I can answer that question truthfully in ways that need not make me angry or sad.  Some is just the luck of the draw.  Promotions are statistically valid in that the better people tend to do better, but there are lots of anomalies in both directions, as well as more people who could be promoted than can be.  I also admit that I have certain personality traits not immediately appreciated by the bureaucracy.  I consider them mostly good and if I have not changed them up until now, I sure won’t be doing any major renovations at this late point.

I will go gentle into that good night with no raging.  It will be going on 32 years by the time it is done, hard to believe.  I had a good run and I think things are better at least in a small way because of things I did.   The FS treated me fairly and I was able to build a good life both in and outside work. There is no job I would rather have had.   

P.S. – One of my favorite movies is “Groundhog Day.”  I may take more lessons from simple comedy movie than it has to teach, but I see it as the story of the iterative pursuit of excellence.  The main character, played by Bill Murray, repeats the same day, February 2, over and over again.  He finally moves ahead only after he lives the day right in all its aspects.  I think the FS is like that in many ways.  We go from place to place doing similar jobs, trying to get better at doing them.  Up until this tour in Brasília, I always tried hard but didn’t really get it right.   I am not saying that my performance in Brasília is perfect, but I think it is right this time.  I am entitled to move along now.

P.S.S. I have learned to love poetry in my later life. I only wish I had been able to appreciate it sooner. Maybe you have to be ready for it.  Anyway, I am reminded of the Tennyson Poem, Ulysses, that I didn't appreciate in HS.  I don't hold with the revisionists views of the work and take it for what it is, w/o irony. The relevant part is below.

...Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

September 28, 2013

Jabuticaba & the rainy season

Jabuticaba tree flowering 

Rainy season has started.  It usually doesn't rain all day, but when it rains, it rains hard and the grass turns green overnight.  I planted some corn a while back and had to water it every day.  Now nature will take care of it. I hope to get some corn this time.  Last year I had corn, tomatoes and beans and then they were set upon by ants.  I never saw anything like it. They just killed everything.  This year I am vigilant. I don't know how well it will work, but I got some grill starter.  It is sort of like napalm, i.e. a sticky jell that burns.  If I see lots of those ant armies again, I plan to nape them. Don't you love the smell of napalm in the morning? So far no large numbers of ants have shown up.  Perhaps they fear my deterrent.

Jabutibaba flowers 

The bigger plants have ears, but I am not sure they will be good. I didn't get enough corn sprouts from the first batch and had to plant again. They have to pollinate from each other.  Each of those little hairs is a flower leading to a grain of corn. If they don't get pollinated, they don't turn into corn.The picture below is from two weeks ago when we still were in the dry season. The round topped tree is the jabuticaba.  You can see that I don't water the lawn during the dry season. I raked off the dead grass. The grass looks dead in that picture, but it is already growing back.  It comes right back, it seems within hours of the first rains.

Dry seaon cord 

I got a fair number of tomatoes a few months ago by planting smaller tomatoes that matured faster than the bugs could find them.  If I has to rely on my farming skills, I would soon starve to death. For all my watermelon growing last year, I got only one eatable melon. It was actually pretty good, although small. But it is kind of fun to try to grow things, since I know I don't depend on them.

I have not been cutting the grass since I got rid of the sheep.  I tend some parts of the yard, for example, I trim the hedges, but mostly it is "natural." I have been bringing seeds back from the various plantations around Brasilia.  Some grow. I bought some seeds and a couple bags of dirt, including some terra preta - a kind of black charcoal looking dirt - at local garden store, Leroy Merlin and made some little garden patches that you can kind of see in the picture. Little plants are coming up now.  I think I will make the front into a more tended garden for the neighbors.  The back, where only I go, can stay more natural with my flowers mixed with the grass.  I like that much better.  It is fun to see what comes up.

One of the interesting things in the yard is the jabuticaba tree.  The fruit grows right on the tree trunk. You can see a picture at this link.  Go to the bottom of the page.  It flowered after the recent rain, as you can see in my pictures. The fruit is supposed to have all kinds of special health benefits. I don't know about that. They are kind of like grapes and taste okay.  You cannot get them outside Brazil or even very far away from where they grow, since they begin to ferment in only a few days so you cannot keep them long.  I am surprised that they don't have a greater following among health nuts.  They have a funny name and are exotic. Maybe they will be discovered like açaí  That stuff tastes like dirt and the only way you can make it reasonably palatable is to dump in loads of sugar, but the alternative food & medicine folks love it.  They say it is the health secret of native Amazonian health.  I have seen native Amazonians. I am not sure theirs is a lifestyle we would want to emulate.

September 25, 2013

Gala in New York

Mercandante with SwB kids.  

I was happy to get back to Washington, which is a city I love.  It feels like home. I have been coming back since 1984, but I still recall when I first walked around the place.  It was exciting to be in the capital of the United States.

Drummers at IIE gala 

But my main event was in New York.  I took the train.  It is better, IMO, than the plane.  It takes about the same amount of time in total, when you count in all the time in airports, taking off your shoes and passing thorough security checks.  Beyond that, the train deposits you at Penn Station, which is already in Manhattan.

Wall Street 

Manhattan is a wonderful place.  It feels very familiar because we all have seen it so often in movies.  I think I could be happy living there, but I could not afford it. 

It is a very walkable place and easy to find your way around.  One reason NYC was so successful is its good planning.  It is mostly a grid pattern and as the city grew, developers could anticipate where the city would go.  This was very important.  Crime is down now.  It is hard to imagine the way it was not long ago.  There are also lots of bikes, including those rental bikes.  I was lucky to have a nearly perfect day.  It got up to about seventy degrees with warm, but not hot sun.

New YorkI came for the gala at IIE.  It was supposed to honor Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, but she didn’t make it.   Education Minister Aloízio Mercadante accepted the Kaufmann Prize for her.  He is a very charming guy and he gave a perfect speech about the importance of education and Brazil’s commitment to moving forward through education.

It was good to hobnob with the classy folks, but these are not my favorite things.  I need a role to play and at these sort of events, I really don't have one. I bought a tuxedo for the event.  I figured I rented one too often and it was time to own.  They never go out of style, so when I take the road to glory Espen or Alex can use it. They are about the same size as I am, or will be. 

Tuxedos cost a lot to rent and the rental firms set it up so that you really cannot get it back in time, so you always have to pay a fine.  

Who knew that tuxedos don’t have belt loops?  I bought the 43 long from Joseph A Banks.  That is my coat size and it fits nearly perfectly.  I used to wear 42 long, but to my amazement I became much more muscular as a got older. I developed especially massive muscles around my middle.  But even with that body change, the pants are way too loose.  This has not been a problem with my suits.  I don’t believe in spending the big bucks to have my pants tailored, so I rely on a belt to hold my pants up. That is why they invented belts.  In the absence of that important piece of fashion tech,  I felt a little loose all night. Fortunately, I didn’t lose it.  That is the kind of thing that goes viral.  There is always someone with a video to catch all your embarrassing moments and share them with a world inexplicably eager to revel in the embarrassment of strangers. 

I have a really nice belt with a big Texan buckle. I got it a couple of years back and use it will all my clothes. It gives me a mark of distinction. I had intended to wear it with the tux, but no. 

I walked back from 55 Wall Street to my hotel on near the start of the Holland Tunnel, about two miles. They say that New York is the city that never sleeps, but it does at least in the financial district.  I thought about how safe the city has become and hoped my information was right.  I made it back w/o incident, so I am here to tell you that a tuxedo clad guy can safely walk the “mean” streets of New York at 10pm, even as he has to often pull up his gradually falling pants. Potential assailants probably thought it a too much trouble to mess with a crazy guy.  If you can't be tough, be crazy.

My picture up top is Mercadante with some SwB kids. Below is a drum band. They banged on those things to announce the call to go to tables. The others are street scenes.  I took them with my BB, so the resolution is not as good as usual. 

September 10, 2013

Changing leadership

 Ambassador Shannon Farewell

Ambassador Shannon is the best ambassador I worked with in my entire career since 1984.  I know that is a bold statement, but I think he is that good.  I have worked with some good ones before.  Ambassador Dan Fried in Poland was the right man at the right time.  I also thought that Ambassador Robert Stuart in Norway was great. I have been lucky to never have had any really bad ambassadors.  This makes my career unusually blessed.  I have had a few near misses. When they are good, they are very, very good but when they are bad they can be horrid.

Not all my bosses have been equally good.  I have developed a system to take advantage of the variation.  I have heroes, people I try to emulate.  Of course, my ideal is a composite, since no one person can do it all. But I do have individuals I admire.  Besides great ones like Ambassador Shannon, I have had some great bosses.  Brian Carlson, my boss in Norway had an early influence on my career.  When I see someone doing something well, I try to see how I can adapt it to my reality and capacities.  There are some good things that I just cannot do and some that I can do only with some changes, but the idea is good.

But you need to have anti-heroes too.  If you look at the requirements for FSO promotion, nobody in the world is worthy; certainly I am not.  The real world is different, however.  You don't really need to achieve the level of excellence talked about in theory.  In fact, it is dangerous to be too much a perfectionist.  If you don't act until you are perfect you will never act.  This has the really negative effect of letting the lesser folks take you job. You have  a DUTY to get ahead if you are qualified to get ahead. Don't leave it to the dogs.  

So what about the anti-heroes.  I will not name names here, but there are successful FSOs who I think are horrible ; not many, but a not insignificant number have reached the highest levels w/o deserving.  You have to pick one of these guys as your anti-hero.  The idea is that "If that clown can make it, so can I." 

You need both kinds of role models: the first one gives you and idea of what you should be and the second one gives you encouragement that it is possible for you to make it.   

Anyway, we have some really great role models.  One of them is leaving.

September 02, 2013

Londrina and the BNC


Londrina, a city of about a half a million with two million in the metro area, was founded by British settlers in 1934, so the city is not very old.  The region was settled primary by German, Italian and Japanese immigrants Japanese monumentand this is reflected in the look of the city’s population today.  Brazil is a very diverse country.  This part of it could be Europe with some Japan.  There were lots of Japanese restaurants and the monument pictured along side commemorating the colonization. It was once the center of a near mono-culture coffee producing region.  This changed in 1975 when a devastating frost wiped out around 70% of the crop.  They have since diversified.

I got to experience a wider variety of weather here than I get to see in Brasília.   I arrived to a hot and dry day.  I was told that weather this year was variable and that it had been near zero degrees only a few days ago.  But this was a dry season.  It had not rained for more than a month and it was uncomfortably warm the next morning, but around noon the wind shifted.   A cooler wind blew and it rained by the end of the day.  Now it is a little cold and rainy. The impression of the city is very different.

Parana Tech 

I visited the Federal Institute of Technology and then spent most of the day at the BNC, talking to several classes of students.  It was interesting.  Talking to small groups used to be a big part of my work, but I don’t do them very much anymore and I miss them.  

BNC in Londrina 

In the evening, I made brief remarks at the opening of a new addition at the BNC and did an interview for local TV.  They had a jazz band you can see below. The BNC is above. A good time was had by all.

Jazz band at BNC 

On Tuesday, I met with Dean of  the Universidade Estadual de Londrina (UEL - pronounced well) the Paraná state university in Londrina, along with the person in charge of Science w/o Borders and a local journalist who interviewed me for the university newsletter. They were happy that we came to visit them in Londrina and that we were trying to get out of the Rio, São Paulo, Brasília triangle.

Science w/o Borders is working well for UEL. The students who came back from the U.S. were universally delighted with their experience. They came back changed for the better, the director said, and their impact on the university will be positive.

We talked about our visions for the future and they were very much shared. We all understand that SwB is a great thing, but that it will not last forever and that the sustainable future lies in connecting American with Brazilian institutions. The Dean said she was interesting in contact with all sorts of American universities, but thought that something with a public research land-grant institution would be the best fit for UEL, which is very much like a land-grant institution. She talked about an umbrella agreement that would cover lots of areas. UEL already has  many MOUs with universities on specific issues. She understood that the role of the Embassy and the USG is to facilitate relationships, not to create them, but also understood that because of our work and contacts with Brazilian and American institutions we could be very helpful in making that happen.

I was thinking about innovation.  What is innovation and where does it come from? It is far to complicated to discuss it well here, but an important part of innovation is the process of connecting, connecting people and ideas in novel ways that produce results better than the sum of the parts.  I don’t think you can create innovation, but you can create conditions that permit and courage innovation.  One of the ways this can be done is by getting around, meeting and connecting people.  That is a big part of our diplomacy, especially related to education.

BNC in Londrina

Londrina skyline 

I am down in Londrina in the State of Paraná to take part in the opening of a new addition to one of the Binational Centers here.  I like to take advantage of American holidays (in this case Labor Day) to travel. Brazilians are still at work, so I can make appointments, but Washington and the Embassy are closed so I don’t miss much of the office work.  

The BNCs are happy to see us.  One of their selling points is the connections with the U.S. Embassy and the occasional public presence of a diplomat reinforces that.  Beyond that, their new addition is made possible by a grant that they got through the Embassy and I have a fiduciary responsibility to check to see how it was done.   The director of the BNC told me that he is very careful to use all these assets strategically and attributes a 20% increase in students to improvements.

BNCs are living in the best of times and the worst of times.  English teaching is a real growth industry in Brazil and the BNCs provide the highest quality.  But they also face lots of competition from private firms that have bigger ad budgets and can promise (although not always deliver) faster results.  The reason we (USG) support BNCs is that they maintain connections with the U.S.  

We used to do a lot more with them in terms of cultural programs and outreach, but our capacity has declined with steady budget cuts and changing emphasis.   This is not the result of the current sequester.  Cultural programming has been declining since the end of the United States Information Agency (USIA) in 1999 and even before. We used to have a much bigger staff, many of whom were involved with these sorts of programs but sponsoring culture was always controversial.  During the Cold War, we justified it on policy reasons.   Beyond that, in times past there was less available in terms of cultural programs.  Those conditions have all changed. 

Anyway, the bottom line is that we have less to offer BNCs in terms of cultural programs and I doubt that it will ever come back.  So we need to develop other sorts of relationships.  Nobody wants the BNCs to become mere English teaching institutions.  That would eliminate their unique contribution to their communities.  But English teaching pays the bills.  Other programs are cost centers.  One of the very valuable services BNCs provide right now is education advising.  As I mentioned in earlier posts, students going to the U.S. bring a lot of benefits to the U.S.   I don’t have an easy answer to how to continue to support the good things that don’t provide direct benefits to the providers.  This is a problem bigger than only our BNCs.  

Besides talking to the BNC director yesterday, I hosted some of our youth alumni for a pizza dinner.  We have sent lots of young people on programs like Youth Ambassadors and it is important, IMO, to maintain contact.  A network is only as useful as it is current.   One of my policies is to invite young alumni to pizza whenever I visit a Brazilian city.  I usually only get five or six actually show up (although in towns less visited I get bigger crowds), but many more are contacted, which helped keep the connection.   I learned a few interesting things at the pizza event yesterday.  The students complained that some of their professors just don’t show up to give classes regularly.  I was surprised, but they told me it was not uncommon.   Today I will visit some of the universities and see if I can get more information re.

My picture is Londrina skyline from my hotel room. 

September 01, 2013


Patriot week in Brasilia 

I spoke at the opening of the EducationUSA fair on Saturday. I try to keep my remarks short, but I did take advantage of the captive audience of more than fifty recruiters from the U.S. to emphasize the fantastic opportunities Brazil offers.  Of course, I was preaching to the choir.  They came because they expect Brazil to give them great opportunities. But while you need not preach to the choir, you do sometimes need to lead and encourage them. I did that.

EducationUSA fairs are self supporting, i.e. the schools and others who take part pay the full cost. Presumably participants think that the return is worth it.  Each Brazilian student brings in around $55,000 in direct benefits into the American economy for each year they are there  (not counting all the intangibles and long term), so if a school attracts only one or two it more than pays for the effort. The USG outlay is only for some incidentals and my time, which is free to the USG in this case, since the event was on Saturday when I am not paid. 

Marine band at City Park Brasilia 

My pictures are not from the EducationUSA fair.  Pictures of a crowd of people gathered around booths in a big hotel space are not remarkable.  But across the road from the   fair building was an exhibition for patriotic week.  Those were interesting pictures, so I include them. The top picture shows the gate to the park. Next is the Brazilian Marine band.  The picture below is the convention center where the EducationUSA event was held.

Convention center in Brasilia 


August 31, 2013

HBCUs in Brazil and the U.S.

HBCU delegation 

The exciting news that came with the HBCU visit is that the Brazilian Ministry of Education is going to fund scholarships for prospective Brazilian secondary school teachers to go to HBCUs.  The plan is for them to start their university studies in Brazil for the first year.  After that, they spend two years in HBCUs, and then return to Brazil for their fourth year to graduate in Brazil.

We have to work out details. This program will be complicated because it is specifically designed to send only to HBCUs and the Brazilian target audience will be Brazilians of African descent. This kind of affirmative action is controversial in Brazil and difficult for practical reasons.  

Brazilians don’t recognize the same racial categories as we traditionally have. In America, race was identified as any African descent, no matter how small a percentage or physical appearance. Brazil is not so black and white. Most Brazilians have some kind of mixed heritage and it has always been appearance rather than heritage that counts. Brazilians are not surprised to find that a “black” man and a “white” one are brothers, or that parents might have children of what we would call different races.  That is, if they even bothered to think about it at all. In the U.S., we would probably try to resolve this dilemma; in Brazil the dilemma just doesn’t exist.  You are what you look like and the definition might vary.  An individual, who might be called mostly black in primary European southern Brazil, might be identified as mostly white in heavily African heritage Bahia. There is a famous case at the University of Brasília where identical twin brothers were classified into different racial categories.  

The use of racial categories for affirmative action purposes is creating the need to more closely and permanently define racial identity. Blacks make up less than 8% of the Brazilian population, but mixed race people are more than 43% and even among the 48% that now identify as white, there is room for interpretation. If there is advantage, more people will emphasize their African heritage and the African-Brazilian population will likely grow despite falling birthrates. 

One thing that may be useful in casting a wider net is additional emphasis on English. Students from poorer backgrounds, which often include more African-Brazilians, tend not to have English up to the level required for university study. English is the single biggest barrier to a more inclusive education policy.  The Brazilian government is working to improve English competence in general and specifically they will fund additional English study for those selected to go to HBCUs.

August 30, 2013

Getting U.S. students to Brazil

Loyola Center at PUC Rio 

I was in Rio for a seminar on how Brazilian Universities can attract more Americans students. I asked PUC Rio to organize and sponsor the program, since they are the most successful Brazilian university in attracting American students and they did a wonderful job.  The event was held at the Loyola Center, just up the hill from the main PUC campus.  This was a private home, and a really nice one.  The owners left it to the school for seminars and meetings.  The neighborhood is very nice, but in some decline as the local favela is bleeding into the nearby forests.   I was told that property values have declined as fear of marauding bands of toughs has grown.  I walked around a little and  didn’t see any, but I was not there at night.  Thinks look different in the dark.

Rio Street scene near PUC 

We got a good deal on the meeting. The only USG expense was my travel and paying for a coffee break.  That the universities are paid their own way shows their commitment.  Brazilians sharing experience with Brazilians is a better idea than us trying to tell them what to do, but I did have a role.    

Eucalyptus trees in Rio 

Along with Luiz, the executive director of Fulbright, I gave a presentation on the American university system.  I made my presentation in Portuguese.  I am feeling better about the language these days.  It is hard to judge your own language ability, but people seem to respond.  They ask questions based on what I think I said and laugh at my jokes. Maybe they are just being polite, but at least the language is good enough that they know they are supposed to laugh.  

Little river near PUC

I like to talk about the American higher education system.  I am proud of it, in all its diversity, chaos and achievement. I am not an expert, which is helpful since I usually get only a short time to talk.  I don’t exhaust my knowledge in that limited time and I can make it reasonably interesting; I cannot go into the more esoteric and boring details, since I don’t know them, and I bring a lot of enthusiasm into the endeavor. I am a well-informed layman. In the last two years I have had lots of first-hand experience with the system, visiting dozens of universities and community colleges and talking to hundreds of educational leaders. I also get to do focus groups with returning Brazilian students.  They describe the U.S. system through the prism of their cultural experience.  Anyway, I think I have something of value to share and so I do the talks whenever asked.  

We had a good crowd.  Something like seventy-five people signed up, I am told from sixty-three universities, although there was never a particular time when they all were there.  Some came late and others left early, but at the end of the day, we still had around fifty participants. They came from all over Brazil and were all in charge of recruiting and/or foreign students, so I think we got the right people.  

Anyway, I think it was worth my time, besides it is never a waste of time when you can be in Rio.  

My pictures are from around the Loyola Center. The third one down shows a couple eucalyptus. They are not native to Brazil, but the Brazilians have developed good varieties and they are all over the place.  The bottom picture is a little steam and wall in back of the Loyola Center. 


August 29, 2013

PA Significant Achievements for August 29, 2013

The HBCU delegations’ successful visit to Brazil culminated with the Minster of Education’s public announcement of a new scholarship program to fund Brazilian students going to HBCUs.   This program will go beyond SwB to also include studies in humanities and communications. The Minster ended his remarks by praising Martin Luther King and quoting from the “Dream” speech.  This program had nearly perfect public diplomacy pitch.   

Posts in Rio, São Paulo and Brasília shared the responsibly for escorting two groups of HBCU leaders. It was a big investment in time but worth it.  Besides the clear benefits for the HBCUs, this was a wonderful opportunity for us to make and renew contacts with important academic leaders inside and outside the usual big cities.

We spoke at a post initiated but Brazilian run seminar on how Brazilian universities can attract American students.  Sixty-three Brazilian universities were represented.  We asked PUC Rio to organize and sponsor the program since they are the most successful Brazilian university in attracting American students. Brazilians sharing experience with Brazilians does more to advance the 100,000 Strong initiatives than anything we ourselves could do.   The only USG expense was my travel and paying for a coffee break.  That the universities are paying their own way shows their commitment.  

U.S. Speakers Mark and Valerie Wynn continued their series of workshops and talks about domestic violence, this time in Minas and Pernambuco.

Recife PAO met with ABA (BNC) President Eduardo Carvalho who will return to Harvard next week to finish up his one-year Advanced Leadership Seminar.

PA São Paulo, in partnership with SESC and SENAC, launched the book Shared Heritage at Livraria da Vila at JK Shopping, in a cocktail attended by approximately 200 hundred key contacts from government, academic, literary and NGO sectors. As part of the event, PA organized a photo exhibit of works by American and Brazilian photographers on the African, Indigenous, European and current immigrants influence in both countries, originally displayed at the four shared heritage festivals.

Our main social media campaign of the week was the 50th anniversary of the March to Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech anniversary. Posts on Facebook had great reach and interaction with mostly positive comments regarding MLK, America, President Obama and the fight against segregation. Posts had a total of over 62K people reached, total of 278 shares on Facebook. Even the cover photo about MLK had a lot of interaction, with 30 shares, which is uncommon for a cover photo change. On Twitter, tweets had a total more than 1.2 million potential impressions.


August 28, 2013


Buildings in Goiania
We had good meetings in Goiânia.  I think that the HBCUs will be able to come to agreements on exchanges with the institute of technology here.  The institute is already working well with NOVA and it eager for more connections with the U.S.

New construction in Goiania 

I have been to Goiânia before, but not in this part of town.  I got the chance to walk around and took the pictures in this post.  It is a nice, modern city with lots of new buildings and lots of new construction.  I didn’t see much in the way of tourist attractions, but it looks like a nice place to live. I always think of these kinds of cities like Houston.  Most people who live there really like it and more people move there all the time, but it is not considered a wonderful place by those who don’t live there.  

Bent trees 

The trees above are not damaged or blown down.  They re growing that way.  How the got that way, I don't know.  I am surprised that they are still there like that. 

Monument in Goiania 

August 27, 2013

Uberlandia 2

Trucks on road in Goiania

Uberlandia sits in the middle of a plateau. It is flat mostly, but 900 meters high.  Like Brasilia, there is a strong wet and dry season and there is lots of water wet season.  This water has to go down and when it does it is captured by dams that make much of Brazil's hydropower.  Lots of the big reservoirs are near Uberlandia.

We went to the Federal University of Uberlandia (UFU).  It is a modern looking place with an energetic rector.  The place was founded thirty-five years ago.

The road from Uberlandia to Goiania was pretty good and mostly uneventful. There are lots of trucks, however.  Uberlandia is a transport hub, since it is relatively centrally located and on good roads. Almost all the goods that move in Brazil move on trucks.  Railroad and water transport is underdeveloped. This is too bad, since transport by truck is less efficient and the roads are really not very good. The picture above shows the road from a truck stop.  As usual, my camera could not pick up all the beautiful colors, but with a little imagination you might be able to appreciate it.


August 25, 2013

Uberlândia in Minas Gerais


We are in Uberlândia in Minas Gerais with a delegation of HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities).  We are hoping that they can get more students from SwB and make some sustainable connections with Brazilian institutions.

Uberlandia from hotel balcony 

Uberlândia is a Brazilian city of aspirations, i.e. a place where people go to better their lives and maybe start something new. Big countries like Brazil and the U.S. have such places in abundance. They are up and coming.  It is not a very big city.  When the airplane land, they just let you out and you walk to the terminal. Generally you can only do that in small places.  But the roads are very good and there are bike trails, although as you see below, horses use them too.

The city reminds me a lot of Goiânia or Campo Grande.  No surprise.  It is in the same general cultural and environmental zone.  And this whole area reminds me of Texas.  It has the same sort of energy and even looks similar. It even has the country music and cowboy culture.  Cities like Uberlândia Goiânia and Campo Grande are similar to Houston in that there is not much that draws lots of tourists, but people who live in them like to live there.  There are opportunities, hence the aspiration part.

Cowboy in Uberlandia 

I am in the Plaza Shopping Hotel, very conveniently located in a shopping center. It is a nice place besides. I recommend it.  There are lots of nice, new hotels in the Central West. They are not the tourist one, but obviously cater to business folks, again with that aspiration idea. Tomorrow we will go to the universities and see what is out there for the HBCUs and SwB in general. I will write more.

August 13, 2013

Kerry visit


I don't think I ever liked official visit.  This one was okay.  Kerry is easier to work with than Clinton was. My part was to set up a Science w/o Borders event for Secretary Kerry. The Minister of Education Mercadante was the official host.  We didn't have much time to make it work, but it worked wonderfully.

Science w/o Borders, called officially Science Mobility Program in the U.S., is a great program. More than 10,000 students have gone to the U.S. since June 2011, when the program was officially launched.  I wrote more about it here

Our Brazilian students brought some of their devices.  There were lots of interesting things, such as bionic limbs. map making flying robots and other measuring devices.  Secretary Kerry spent time looking at all of them and asking good questions. He did very well.

One of the best parts of the program came to us by serendipity.  In the building were about thirty English Teaching Assistants.  I opened their seminar earlier in the morning and we invited them to be part of the event.  They were very enthusiastic, and Sec Kerry seemed to have a really good time talking to them.

Here are a couple of links in Portuguese here and here; even if you cannot read them, the pictures tell the story.

June 30, 2013

Chapada dos Veadeiros

Espen at falls of Rio Preto in Chapada dos Veadeiros 

You don’t have to have a guide anymore to go into Chapada dos Veadeiros, but it is still a good idea. It supports the local economy and the guide can point out things you would otherwise miss. Our guide was very good, although he speaks only Portuguese. 

Espen and pond in Chapada dos Veadeiros 

Local people made money by crystal mining.  It was not an ecologically benign operation.  Our guide told us that he was the son of miners and had mined himself for a time.  By the late 1980s, most of the best crystals were mined out.  Miners like our guide spent a lot of time sorting through the slag heaps.  Some crystals that were considered too small in earlier times were the best they could do later on.  Employing local people as guides gave them some income and also gave them incentive to preserve the environment.   It seemed to have worked.

Chapada falls and lake 

Our guide clearly loved the land and knew a lot about it. The only problem with him was that he could walk too fast.  We took the waterfall route. We took the canyon route when I came with Chrissy a couple years ago.  Both are really nice.  Overall, I think the canyon route is a little nicer, but it is a close call.  The waterfall route has more spectacular views, but the canyon route has more interesting ones in some ways. Maybe it would be a good idea to stay for two days and do both. Each hike takes about five hours.  That includes a significant amount of time swimming or hanging around near the ponds and waterfalls. The walks are steep in places, but not very arduous.

Espen in little falls 

The climate here is pleasant.  Because of the elevation, it rarely gets very hot and because of the tropical location it never gets cold at all. Seasons are wet and dry. Both times I visited were in the dry season. The area is semi-arid, but in a strange way. As in Brasília, it almost never rains during the dry season, but rains a lot during the rainy season, so it is very wet half the year and very dry the other half. The vegetation has to adapt to the more demanding dry season, so it looks like what you might find in parts of Arizona. As I wrote in the earlier post, São Jorge reminds me of Sedona and the area around is like parts of northern Arizona.  One big difference is that there is no cold weather here. There probably has not been any frost here for millions of years, maybe never. The other big difference is water. There is lots of water during the wet season, which keep the rivers running and the lakes full during the dry season.  It seems an anomaly to have so much water running through so dry a place.

Espen walking near little falls on Rio Preto 

The water from the Chapada dos Veadeiros flows into the Rio Preto, which empties into the Tocantins River. The Tocantins is often thought of as a tributary of the Amazon, but actually is its own basin and empties independently into the Atlantic Ocean through the Amazon delta.    

June 29, 2013

São Jorge

street in Sao Jorge 

São Jorge seems farther away because of the long and lonely road you have to take to get there.  If you had an Interstate type highway, it would be an easy day trip. Only the last twelve kilometers are dirt, but it has a lot of influence on the perception of the journey.  You cannot drive fast and it is very bumpy. The roads within São Jorge are also all unpaved and this has a lot of influence over the perception of São Jorge.  Notice in the picture below that they have well marked streets, even if the streets themselves are not well marked. Notice in the photo up top that they have a paved sidewalk, but the street is still just dirt.

Street in Sao Jorge
São Jorge is the gateway to the Chapada dos Veadeiros Park and mostly depends on eco-tourism.  There are lots of posadas, each of them idiosyncratic and more restaurants than you would expect for a town like this.  I suppose you could describe the accommodations at both as “alternative.”   There is kind of a hippie feel.  It reminds me of Sedona, Arizona – or like Sedona might have been years ago.   São Jorge was a center for crystal mining and people who believe in such things think that it is a focus of spiritual energy, so it draws some of the same sorts as Sedona.   People came to the area last year when the Maya predicted the end of the world.  Evidently this area would have survived had the Maya been right.  Locals seem undisturbed by these people, but there are new age type shops that cater to them.

Espen at Bambu restaruant 

We stayed at a place called Bambu.  It is a delightfully relaxing place with a very distinct personality.  Tranquil is the word I would use to describe it, if I had to pick one word.  It is near the edge of town.  Of course, in a town this size most places are near an edge.  But you can walk down the busy main street.  I say “busy” only half in jest.   There are a lot of people walking around.  On the corner down from Bambu is a little store where you can buy sandwiches for your day trips into Chapada dos Veadeiros.   And down the street is a good restaurant called Nenzinha, where you pay by the kilo.  The restaurant at Bambu is very nice with a wide selection of food, if you like variations on lasagna.  The pleasant ambiance makes up for the somewhat limited menu.  

Cabana at Bambu in Sao Jorge 

They do have a very large variety of liquor and mixed drinks.  Espen and I had the usual caipirinha, which is Brazil’s national cocktail.   It is made with cachaça, a hard liquor made with sugar cane.  Some people prefer vodka, which is then called a caipiroska.  It is a distinctly inferior drink.  Vodka has no taste of its own.  Instead of a caipirinha, you just have a kind of sweet lime drink.  Stick with cachaça.  A warning is in order, however.  Caipirinhas are much stronger than they seem.

Me sleeping 

Notes from my first trip to this area are at this link.  Look at the ones before and after too.


June 20, 2013

Brazilian eucalyptus

Eucalyptus plantation in Minas Gerais, Brazil  

Pines used to be the plantation tree of choice all over Brazil. Today it is eucalyptus, at least north of São Paulo.  Eucalyptus grows very fast and it has few pests. The eucalyptus is native of Australia, but it is developed to its genetic best in Brazil. The trees were introduced to Brazil about a century ago. They are used mostly for charcoal and pulp and grow with a five year rotation in most places. South America produces about half of all the eucalyptus products in the world.

Eucalyptus in Brazil 

It is nice to walk in eucalyptus forest. They smell good and there are not too many bugs. But this has its negative side.  The reason it smells good and there are not too many bugs is that few animals can eat the leaves or bark.  They are a pretty version of a desert.  It is exacerbated by propensity for fire. The wood has oil that can explode into fire and the trees drop bark, so that the ground is covered by tinder. In any case, not much grows under the eucalyptus. This makes them a popular crop tree.

As you see in the photo, they are planted neatly like any other crop and they are planted continuously with some harvested each year and news ones planted w/o much regard for seasons of the year. It is a different sort of forestry, maybe not really forestry at all. What is attractive about forestry is the interaction among parts of the forest community. These forests of eucalyptus are much like very tall corn fields. Too neat for my tastes.

On the plus side, they cover the naked hillsides and produce valuable cellulose rapidly.

June 16, 2013

Universities in Minas 2

Hitchhiking Students in Vicosa 

Minas Gerais has more federal universities than any other state.   There are twelve federal universities, along with two state universities and various private ones, including PUC-Minas, which is the largest PUC in the world.  They are working on forming a consortium of the twelve federals, two states and PUC.  If it works, it will be a powerful combination.  

Old main building at Federal University Vicosa 

Many of the universities are outside the big cities, which is not the common Brazilian pattern.  We visited Ouro Preto, Viçosa and São João del Rei.   None of these are big cities and the universities make a big impression on them.   

Gate at UFV 

Viçosa has a population of only a little more than 70,000; the federal university (UFV) has around 14,000 students.  Viçosa was originally founded as a school of agriculture called Escola Superior de Agricultura e Veterinária, and co-founded by an American, Peter Henry Rolfs.  Rolfs was the director of the school 1927-9.   Exchanges with the U.S. were common in the 1930s and 1940s and in the 1950s, the school developed a strong partnership with Perdue University. The place has a significant American feel and a practical mission similar to one of our land grant universities.

interesting tree with Vicosa in background 

One thing that UFV has that many other Brazilian universities do not is dorms. 

When I was reading the history of the Escola Superior de Agricultura e Veterinária, the parallels to today were apparent.  History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.  Back in the 1920s, Brazil looked to partner with the U.S. in things like agricultural sciences and Viçosa was one of the perennial fruits of this cooperation ninety years ago.  I hope our work with SwB will be as successful and sustainable.  It is good to recall that we can see farther because we stand on the shoulders of giants.  Our duty is to be worthy of those that went before.

Old fashion engine at Federal University Ouro Preto 

The Federal University at Ouro Preto grew from two practical streams: the Escola de Farmácia de Ouro Preto was founded in 1839 and the School of Mines chartered by Emperor Pedro II in 1876.  The two were united to form a federal university in 1969.   Minas Gerais means “general mines,” so a school of mines was natural in the state.

The Federal University of São João del Rei also had roots in older schools.  The Faculdade Dom Bosco de Filosofia, Ciências e Letras and a Fundação Municipal de São João del-Rei.   

We got a fantastic reception at all three university, with crowds growing at each stop.   I counted 170 at Ouro Preto.  Viçosa filled every seat in an auditorium that held 200 and had people standing.  São João del Rei met us with about 150 in the hall itself, but connected other centers via internet and we got questions from the remote locations.  In addition we did television interviews.  My colleague Vera did a really good job of answering questions and I am convinced that dozens if not hundreds of additional Brazilian students will study in the U.S. as a result of our efforts in Minas and around Brazil.  Valeu a pena ir.

My top pictures show the campus at Viçosa.  At the very top are hitchhikers.  They line up for rides.  Next is the old main building.  The engine is from Ouro Preto.  I will download pictures of São João del Rei and make a separate post tomorrow.

June 13, 2013

Road to Viçosa

Road to Viçosa 

We drove from Ouro Preto to Viçosa.  This was my first visit to this part of Brazil.  It is very hilly and it takes a long time to get a short distance. There is very little out here, which makes it pretty and empty and pretty empty.

The hillsides probably were forested but are now mostly grass covered.  You can see the signs of cattle and sometimes cattle themselves.  The signs are the grasslands themselves but also the little ridges that run along the hillsides. Cows tend to walk in paths on the sides of the hills.  In time, they form paths that you can see from a distance. 


There were few places to stop.  We stopped at a roadside churrascaria.  Food was good but not great. The entertainment consisted of two cats begging for scraps. This is strange behavior for cats.  They usually act more aloft. My top picture the road from the restaurant and the next shows those two cats. 

June 12, 2013

Minas Gerais

Ouro Preto Panorama 

I went in Ouro Preto to talk at the local university about Science w/o Border and the overwhelming advantages of the university system in the U.S.  I will write more about that later.  Right now I just want to share a few pictures and impressions.

Ouro Preto Street 

Ouro Preto is really a pretty city in a pretty location.  It looks like Portugal and is the city of the Baroque, as I wrote during my first visit here with Chrissy.  I am glad that this time Espen came with me. He will get to see a little more of the city while I am working. Tourism is not my purpose this time, but I hope he gets to take advantage.


I can repeat over and over that Brazil is a very diverse country but sometimes it is so obvious that it is overlooked.  This part of Brazil is so very different from where I live in Brasilia or areas of the NE or ...

May 20, 2013

Focusing on students returning from the U.S.

Bible Garden at PUC Rio 

The first group of roughly 600 students from Brazil’s “Science Mobility Program” aka “Science without Borders” returned from the U.S. in recent months. More than 5000 more have already gone to programs and thousands more are expected to travel in a program that is meant to send 101,000 Brazilians out of the country to study in the STEM field.   PAS Brazil is using the opportunity of so many students to learn about Brazilian experience in the U.S. with a series of focus group style meetings held in various Brazilian cities and so far have been carried out in São Paulo, Belo Horizonte and Rio, with plans for similar outreach in Porto Alegre, Fortaleza, Recife, Brasília and Manaus.  We have been achieving what we consider an ideal group size of around twenty participants, small enough to control and not intimidate any individual participants, but large enough to get some synergy and back and forth among participants.  The sessions are almost entirely in Portuguese, with a few questions about English capacity asked in English.  Response has been good. Students like it that we are taking the time to talk to them and word of our efforts is spread well beyond the initial groups.   

After our third meeting, this one at PUC Rio, a pattern is becoming clear. The program is a spectacular success from the students’ point of view and the consistency and the unanimity of the responses in widely separated places are interesting. The caveat is that we have a self-selected group of people who want to talk to us. But the more statistically valid studies done by IIE seem to bear out much of what we are observing.  The following are major points.  

All of our groups recognized that they were pioneers and were not surprised that it was a challenge to get to universities in the U.S. in such short time and adapt.  We discussed the necessity of moving quickly fast and students seemed to accept that had we not moved quickly to get the program running, we could have lost the initiative and maybe not achieved the success that is clearly coming now.   

Two of the women who had gone to Parsons School of Design in New York, illustrated the evolution. They said that they were welcomed at Parsons, but nobody knew exactly what to do with them.  This problem was exacerbated by their arrival in January instead of the usual fall semester.   When the second wave of Brazilians showed up for fall semester, it was easier for them and by extension for those already there. One of the women recounted that she had become inured to having to explain to her unique status and was surprised when she made one of her usual calls, prepared to explain, the person on the other side of the conversation blandly said, “Oh, you are with Science w/o Borders.”

Medical care was a concern. The SwB participants have insurance, but they are uncertain what to do and how to use it.  One participant said that he hurt his knee and had trouble figuring out where to go or who would pay the bills. Another was bit by a stray dog and needed a series of shots.  That was painful both physically and logistically.  There is also the challenge of multiple bills.  In many U.S. clinics, each of various care-givers bills separately and some of the bills come much later.  We explained that this is also a problem for Americans, but it is little solace.  

Most of the students managed to get summer internships and one woman’s summer internship in environmental management matured into a full-time job with CH2MHill in Brazil.  But participants in the first wave of students found it more difficult than the next because they arrived in January.  Many positions were filled already by that time and everybody had to scramble.  Universities were helpful in this regard.  All but a few actually got internships.

We heard some complaints that coursework in the U.S. did not easily translate into Brazilian credits.  Some were bureaucratic tribulations that should be easily solved. For example, American courses have less class time but more homework than most in Brazil. A Brazilian course might have ten class hours where the U.S. would have only three and so the schools think it is ten hours versus three in the U.S. for credits too.

Brazilian schools were required to accept credits as part of their agreement with the Brazilian government made when they sent students to the U.S., but they expected that courses would be more general and less core. The idea would be to take courses in the U.S. that were not available or not available in the same way in Brazil. There is no reason to take calculus II in the U.S., for example, when the same thing is taught much the same way in Brazil. The very fact that classes are different – a good thing – means that they will not easily translate into the standard courses in Brazil. One participant commented that she saw her time in the U.S. as a special benefit and did not expect a direct translation of course. Not everyone could be so insouciant about it this was one of the things that seems most to upset participants.  One participant complained that some participants were just taking fun classes like football or archery.  He thought this was not in the spirit of the program.  Other participants did not think this was happening often, or at least not happening often enough to be a serious problem.  

We got the usual observations that American schools demand less time in class, but require more homework and professors in the U.S. are more open to working with students and discussing projects with them. There is less social distance in the U.S. between professors and students. This is something many Americans find right and natural, but we are beginning to see that this is one of the fundamental strengths of American education, a source of much innovation and immensely attractive to foreign students.  Our Brazilian students observed that American students are not expected to master material as much as they are encouraged to discover it for themselves. American universities also encourage students to study in teams and do projects with other student, with professors acting as coaches or guides. Our Brazilian students like this.

They also mentioned, as the others have before, that American classes start on time and people show up when they are supposed to be there.  What is becoming a meme is the idea that American professors have office hours and they are usually really in their offices at these times and available to students.   

We close our meetings with a set of ideas that we find appropriate and that seem to resonate with groups of young people and academics.  We thanked them for their interest in our country and tell them that their participation in this program will help bring our two countries into even better partnership.  We compliment the Brazilian initiative. This is important, since we don’t want to give the impression that we are trying to steal Brazil’s glory.  We tell them that we hope that they might return to get their PhDs in America or do other sorts of advanced study (America is indeed the best place for this) but that we want them to return to Brazil and do their real work here in their own place.  They are more valuable to Brazil and to us in their own country and in the long run to us too. We are not looking for a brain drain to the U.S. but rather a brain circulation and idea exchange that helps all of us.  We are looking for the win-win.  They like it when we say that, and it has the virtue of being objectively true – all good things.

May 16, 2013

Rio port, again.

Rio Port 

I have been trying to get to know Rio better by talking to people around here.  There are lots of good contacts here and lots to do.  In Brasília, we talk mostly to government officials and work to leverage big projects.  I am very proud of our work in this area.  We are doing great things.  Our operations in Rio and São Paulo are different.  They do more programming, i.e. speakers outreach etc.  I have to balance the needs of the leverage with those of the outreach.  The choices are not easy, which is why we get the big bucks, I suppose. 

New buildings at Rio Port 

Today I went over to see the Rio port project, again, called Operação urbana Porto Maravilha It is a really big deal, which will include lots of housing, shops and hotels, including docks for cruise ships and a new Trump Tower.  They have a really interesting exhibit showing how this will work.  We are involved in this with our international visitor program.  We sent one of the leaders of the project to the U.S. to meet and exchange ideas with Americans who were involved in similar big projects.  This came from a visit a couple years ago. The picture below is an old slave market. They found it when they were digging for the project and made a monument.

Slave market 

You can see the video of what the project will – is supposed to do at this link 

On the video, you see that they plan to demolish an elevated freeway, as they did in Boston and other places.  The irony is that these highways were thought to be the sign of progress, the solution of the past.  You can see the old highway in the top picture. There was a lot of dust in the air from the construction. It gives the picture a kind of old fashioned looking patina.

We are working with Brazilian partners on this project, but it is hard to measure success in public affairs.   The guy we sent on the visit to the U.S. says that he has made dozens of sustainable contacts with Americans.  This has already led to exchanges of ideas and may lead to exchange of goods and services.  We hope American firms and individuals will benefit.   We can put some numbers to the analysis, but I don’t know exactly how to interpret them.   The port project webpage went from ten visitors the month before the tour to 9,500 visitors the next month.  This is a big change, certainly unlikely to be the result of random chance.  But I have been unable to find a good way to measure the practical value of internet connections.  

Hole in Rio which will be a parking garage 

Anyway, look at the pictures and use your imagination to picture the future.  The picture above shows the digging  a tunnel that will replace the elevated highway.  This actual hole on top of the tunnel will be an underground parking garage.

May 15, 2013

Life is good

Beer in Brazil 

I am in Rio holding down the post.  All three of our American PA officers are out.  Our Brazilian colleagues can well handle most things, but we need to do the representation and sign things, so I am here this week.  It is also a good way to get to know the posts.  I have responsibly for all of Brazil, which implies I need to know about all of Brazil. In any case, I can’t complain. My big work of the week was finishing EER and getting ready for the Biden visit, both things can be done just as well from Rio as Brasilia.

Rio is truly a marvelous city.  I take the shuttle from my hotel to the consulate and today I got off about a mile early and walked along the ocean.  On the way are lots of little places where you can get a tap beer and look out over the beach and the ocean.  I stopped today.  It was nice.  This is Copacabana after all. 

My reverie was broken a few times by people selling things.  I was offered a selection of hats, blankets, bags and little statues of Christ the Redeemer that flashed alternatively in yellow, red and blue.  I bought a hat I didn’t want from a guy who told me his kids needed the money.  I didn’t really believe him, but I figured I could afford it.  A few minutes later, a different guy showed up selling the same sorts hats.  I told him that I already had a hat but didn’t really want it so I gave it to him to sell to some other sucker.  

The waitress laughed at me and told me that if I wanted to waste my money it would be used to better purpose by giving her a bigger tip.  These kinds of “transactions” used to bother me, but they don’t anymore.  Brazilian beach salesmen are usually light-hearted.  I told the guy with the plastic Jesus that nobody in his right mind would buy such a thing.  He laughed and pointed out that his little statues would light the way to heaven, but admitted that he didn’t own one himself that he wasn’t trying to sell.

My picture is the view from my seat.  Brahma is really good on tap, and tastes even better in situations like this.

Reverie - that is my word for the day.  I am usually not an Emily Dickinson fan, but her short poem is kind of nice here.

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,—
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.

May 05, 2013

Unseen São Paulo

Sao Paulo Uraguai Street 

It is a São Paulo few people see, quiet and pleasant. To get to a conference at the Meliá Hotel at 9 am on Sunday morning I walked the three miles from Renaissance Marriott (my favorite hotel in São Paulo) and left a little before 8 am. São Paulo is quiet early on Sunday morning. 

Haddock Lobo Street Sao Paulo 

The streets were mostly free of cars. There was some pedestrian traffic and the quiet whoosh of gardeners sweeping or washing down walkways with water. It was very peaceful. I brought my I-Pad but didn't use it. Sometimes you just want to be in the moment.


The walk took me through some very pleasant neighborhoods. On the negative side, sidewalks are uneven and hard to navigate, but on the plus side there are lots of trees.  São Paulo gets a bum rap.  It is known as a concrete jungle, but much of São Paulo is a green and pleasant place. Of course, I tend to see the best parts. I would not walk in the less pleasant and more dangerous places.

German house 

I will let the pictures illustrate. I would be happy to live in neighborhoods like this; I couldn't afford it.

Our Lady of Brazil 

April 24, 2013

Biking challenges

Bridge panel 

I like to commute on bike and have been doing it my entire adult life.  It is harder in Brasília than in any other place I have lived.  It shouldn’t be.  I am only four miles from the Embassy and there is lots of open space.  But the city is poorly designed for bikes or people and not even very good for cars.  But I persist in riding.

It is pretty good in Lago Sul.  Lago Sul is more like an ordinary city.  The trouble starts when you get to the lake.  You can see the picture of the bridge above.  The pedestrian part of the bridge is around three feet above the road and only about three feet wide.  It is constructed of concrete panels.  I was afraid to ride on it at first, since falling in either direction would be very bad.  On the one side you would fall into traffic, on the other into the lake.  But I got used to it, avoiding the big cracks.  Recently, however, one of the panels fell in, as you see in the picture.  I have to get off the bike and walk carefully at that part.

Road in Brasilia

Brasilia has a lot of potential and could easily be retrofitted to make it much more user friendly.  There are some nice roads for biking, but they often don't connect to anything or connect into big roads that as designed only for cars.     

Until we reach that bright happy situation where hardships don’t prevail, however, I would be content if they fixed the bridge.

April 23, 2013

Universities in Minas

PUC Minas
Minas Gerais is full of good universities.  We visited three: PUC-Minas, UNA and UFMG.

PUC-Minas is the largest PUC in the world with more than 56,000 students.  The campus is beautiful as you can see from the pictures.  We visited with some of the university leadership and then did a talk about the U.S. education system.   I was surprised by the crowd.  It filled the lecture hall and they said that they had to move to a bigger room.  This turned out to be the general rule in Belo Horizonte.  I think it is because they don’t see diplomats as often as people in Rio or São Paulo. We are always delivering our talks in Portuguese, which I also think is important.

PUC Minas 

UNA is a private for profit university.  It has ten campuses around Minas.  There was real professionalism around the place and they are obviously prospering.  For-profit institutions present a bit of a dilemma for us.  Of course, we can cooperate with them, but making grants etc. is a problem.  Some of these schools, like UNA, are very well run and they attract ambitious, upwardly mobile people and they can be very flexible and innovative. 
We did a lecture there too, to another very full room.  I was particularly impressed that they got this big crowd at 8pm on a Friday night.  I had underestimated the ambition of the students.  Some came to see us, but it was not uncommon for them to be at school at night.  In fact, after our hour-long talk, many of them went on to even later classes.  You have to respect their discipline.

Dinosaur at PUC Minas 

Finally, we went to the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), another great university.  This visit was the ostensible reason for coming to Belo Horizonte.  We were meeting returned Science w/o Borders students.   We did a focus group with about sixteen of them.  Their experience in the U.S. was good.  Like others we have met, they talked about the greater flexibility and hands-on approach in the U.S.  They were impressed with simple things, such as professors being on time and keeping office hours.  Their principle problems related to coming back home.  Some said they were having trouble getting their credits properly recognized. 

UFMG admin building 

Our focus groups are very useful not only because we learn a few things but also because it is good general contact work.  Students are pleased that we come out to talk to them.  I am really interested in their impressions.  As I wrote in other places, focus groups are not statistically valid, but as I am getting more and more of similar comments I am getting more confident that the picture is accurate.  SwB is working and it is benefitting both our countries.

April 22, 2013

Farming and youth in Minas Gerais

Farm in Minas 

We had to get up early to go to the experimental farm at the FUCAM project in Esmeraldas. We left at 7am but got stuck in traffic.  There was evidently an accident on the main highway, so we had to take the back roads.

Minas breakfast 

The farm is a place for poor kids from rural Minas.  There are classes on singing and art, but also and most importantly on agriculture.  We had a great coffee break, with the snack foods of Minas, including pao de queijo and queijo de Minas.  Pao de queijo is a type of cheese bread, sometimes in little balls and sometimes in slices.   It is very good.  Queijo de Minas is a white cheese, sort of a firm version of cottage cheese.

Farm field in Minas  

The farm grows its own vegetables and has some left over for market.  Everything is organic.  Part of the education process is their environmental responsibility. Notice the dirt is brown/black. Most of the dirt around here is red or orange. This shows how much organic matter is in this farm soil. The pond below catches the runoff. There are talapia in it.  Talapia is one of the quickest ways to grow usable protein.  They can thrive in dirty water, in fact they prefer it.

Fish pond 

On the way out they told us that there was one more demonstration.   We went to a small barnyard with various animals.  I thought maybe they would show us some tricks.   Instead, they showed us how they castrate a bull.  I got to stand very close.  I am glad that they didn’t hand me the knife.  They tie a string around the sack first and then cut.  There is not much blood, but I don’t think it is pleasant for the bull to become a steer.  This is the first time I saw this close up. I had a closer up picture, but it really was less interesting than you might suppose.  Google if you want to see it.  I did take a picture of the unfortunate animal before the procedure.  See below.

Bull about to be castrated 

April 21, 2013

PLUG in Belo Horizonte

Plug Minas 

Belo Horizonte is a very pleasant city. The airport is way out of town, so you get a good look at the Minas Gerais countryside during the hour of so you are coming into the city. It is hilly and green. 


The city itself is developed and prosperous.  “The Economist” ran articles this week about Minas Gerais. You can read them here and here. There are great universities and an ambitious population.  It seems a nice place to live.

My first appointment was at PLUG Minas. This is a kind of training center and after school program for what I suppose we might call at-risk youth.  The youth seemed pretty happy and they were very polite.  They have music and arts programs, financed by the state government plus an English language program, which is what interests me the most.

Green street in Belo 

Demand is high.  They have only sixty places and they get forty-four applicants for each place.  Classes are big, with thirty students in each, but they get good results.   The teachers told me that this is surprising to them and goes against much of what they thought about class size.  We speculated about why this might be.  Perhaps the technology is helping.  Lots of computer and online programs are available.   These can take the place of drilling that used to require the active participation of teachers. But I also think it is partly due to the selection process. 

Belo at a distance 

When you have lots of applicants for a few positions, you can get the people who are smart and motivated.  It also helps that they know about the selectivity.  It makes them value the experience more and creates confidence.   We few, we happy few – it is encouraging to be part of a select group.  Of course, it does highlight the trade-offs that we have to make between excellence and inclusion and makes me wonder about scalability.

I have seen some very successful programs and some with retention rates so low that they are not worth supporting.   Our English Access program is a good example of something that works and so is what they have at PLUG. There are lots of factors, but to paraphrase Tolstoy, every good program is the same but every bad one is bad in its own way.  What is true about every good program is that the participants want to be there and they have the appropriate skills to do the work.  This is perhaps not sufficient for success but it is necessary. This is a simple truth, but unpleasant.  It sets limits.  If you spread any program far enough to include too many of the less motivated and the less apt, you fail. 

My pictures are from around Belo.  You can see it is a green and nice place. 

Busy week

Chorus at Casa Thomas Jefferson 

It has been a busy week.  I got back from the U.S. on the overnight flight at around 6:30am on Tuesday and went right to work, since we had a visit from UN Ambassador Susan Rice.  The visit went well.  I didn’t have very much to do with it.  My main contribution was to do a short briefing in a special country team meeting.  But I did have to attend a reception at the Ambassador’s house.  I had a good time there and met lots of interesting people, but it did keep me out late.

Anna-Marie at CTJ meeting 

The next day was work as usual, but with another evening event, this one for the 50th Anniversary of Case Thomas Jefferson.  I had a good time there too.  The people at the Casa are some of our best friends and I got to meet leaders from BNCs all over Brazil.  But it was another late night, made later by the taxi situation.  The event was held at the JK Memorial, which is evidently far from any taxi stands.  I didn’t get home until midnight.

Ironically, I need the “time off” to work.I am writing EERs and I really need to write notes about all the important things that we are doing.  W/o notes, I will forget to follow up and much of this work will be lost. I am sitting in the Belo airport now.I like airports.I always get to the airport way early so I never miss a flight but I have lots of time.It is very valuable time, time to stop and think.I have written before about the gift of boredom.I sometimes cannot stop myself so it is good to be stopped by events.

Social events are important in Brazil, maybe more so than in some other places.   This is where we meet people, firm up relationships and get the ideas.  Being there is essential but it is the follow up that is key to happiness in our work.  If you push forward too fast and furious, you outrun your intellectual and organizational supply lines.   This next week I want to devote to the infrastructure of my job.  I need to write to write those EERs, prepare for the inspection and in general order my priorities.

I remember imperfectly something from the Book of the Tao - “Movement overcomes cold but stillness counters heat” and the other one, “Muddy waters left still will clear.”  I need some stillness to prepare for the next jump.

My pictures are from the CTJ 50th Anniversary celebration.  I took them with my mobile phone so they are a little blurry. 

March 24, 2013

Rondonia: closed on Sunday


I am in Porto Velho, capital of Rondônia.  I will wait until tomorrow to judge better.  Almost everything is closed on Sunday.  I walked from the Oscar Hotel, where I am staying, to the Madeira River.  The only places I could find open were outdoor restaurants that had probably recently evolved from guys pushing carts.  There were plastic chairs and a kind of buffet.  It is always hot here and humid, so I stayed away from the mayonnaise potato salad.  Other things were okay.  I would not get fat if I lived around here. 

Near the Madeira River is a museum of the railroad. The Madeira-Mamoré Railroad was built 1907 – 1912 as part of a deal the Brazilians made with the Bolivians when they took over what in now the State of Acre. One of the purposes of the railroad was to link Bolivia with the wider world. The railroad was abandoned in 1972, when roads and waterways made it uncompetitive.  

Train in Porto Velho 

One of my colleagues told me that the Oscar was really nice.  I have to wonder about his points of reference.  Suffice to say, it is no Marriott.  It is clean and functional, but not as nice as a medium priced hotel such as a Days Inn or Comfort Inn.  I think there must be a great potential market here for hotels.  Even small U.S. cities have a several decent hotels.  And they have chains, so that you can know what sort of standard to expect.  There is a dearth of good, medium priced hotels in Brazil and a dearth of good hotels in general outside big capitals.  We have the usual suspects (Marriott, Sheraton etc.) in big cities and Choice Hotels in a few secondary cities, but you are soon down to Ibis, and in many places not even that.  I wonder if there is something that discourages hotels in medium markets.
Road to Madeira River