Not Just a Road; an Adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ouro Preto City of the Baroque

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Torrential Rains

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

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

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

On The Road Again

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

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

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

Speed Traps

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

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

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


I am home today for a Brazilian holiday. If it stops raining, I will go run.  In the meantime I am thinking about how ideas get developed.

Simply having good ideas is easy.  Developing them into integrating them into meaningful systems is hard and making them operationally useful is even harder than that.  And then there is the problem of communicating to others.  Idea creators are rarely the ones who can make them work.  Of course, everything takes time and there are lots of distractions along the way.  

We have a marketplace of ideas.  I understand that term is a little cliché, but I think it fits.  But I think we need to think of the marketplace is broader terms and include the element of time.  In the short term, both products and ideas compete in something almost like a zero sum game.  I buy more Coke and less Pepsi. But the longer term is much more dynamic.  New products are introduced; old ones change. Some products disappear, but something very much like them fills their market niche and you could see how the new one is related to the old one.  In the long run, it is very much NOT a zero sum game.  It is a vast interaction with everything and everyone reacting and changing to the others.  Products in markets tend to improve over time, or at least they better serve current needs and the best markets have lots of diverse participants.   

Like products in a dynamic market, ideas do not merely compete. Instead they develop and change in response to conditions and each other. Unlike physical products, ideas can merge in create whole new combinations. Historians of ideas like to trace the ancestry.  They make categories to differentiate the “species”. Sometimes trace the way back to ancient Greece or Ancient China; the more PC include supposed contributions by pre-literate cultures.  The lineages make sense and they are compelling, but they are wrong if taken too literally.  The historian not only tells the story, but also creates it.  In fact, the lives of ideas are much more chaotic than any story can capture, since everybody has a different hybrid of even the simplest concept.  

I understand that there is no such thing as linear causality in any even reasonably complex in system.  Everything is subject to complex feedback loops with the cause affected by the effect.  It rarely makes any practical sense to trace an idea to its origin.  At best it is like tracing a river to its source.  They say, for example, that Lake Itasca in Minnesota is the source of the Mississippi, but only a few drops of water that reach the Gulf of Mexico actually came from Lake Itasca and w/o water from additional sources, the river would never make it even as far as Bemidji.  Ideas are like that.  Even the best idea cannot get past Bemidji unless they are carried along by others.

So John Maynard Keynes was correct in principle when he wrote that “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist,”   but he was exhibiting more than a bit of intellectual arrogance when he assumed that the “practical men” are simply vessels for the ideas or that the ideas came down to them in a clear line; he also overestimated the role of individual ideas and thinkers.  

We are used to thinking of ideas as coming from one wise person (or maybe a wise guy). Whole branches of ideology traced back to a single individual sometimes even named after them. We have Platonism, Marxism or Confucianism.  But how much are they really the product of their eponymous creator?   Not really very much.  How can we know? Think about how many varieties there are of any long-established “ism” and how they change over time.  Plato has been dead for more than two millennia. Presumably he is no longer editing his work, so they changes in interpretation cannot be his.  

Good philosophies are group projects, produced by interactions among individuals often over time, sometimes generations.  This allows the accumulated wisdom of people from different places and times to be put into the balance.   They evolve.  And the best do it while accomplishing the ostensibly contradictory task of maintaining and changing traditions.

Nothing new here, I guess. Just some thoughts on a rainy morning.

The Joy of Setting Fires (and the Joy of life in General)

If you want to grow longleaf pine, you need fire. Longleaf is a fire-dependent species. And we want to grow longleaf pine.  That is why we clear cut five acres when we did the thinning last winter.  A few weeks ago we sprayed to get at the poplars, which had grown from roots and now we are burning.  This procedure is called “brown and burn” BTW. My friend Eric Goodman got some longleaf seedlings free. which will go in next spring.  Our friends at the Department of Forestry made fire lanes with their tractor. My friends Larry Walker and Frank Meyer did the burning. I am the luckiest man in the world. People always help.  Together we are creating a demonstration forest in Brunswick County. It will showcase the best forestry practices for our part of Virginia.   It includes already a wonderful stand of loblolly.  We will apply different silvicultural practices (various thinning densities, fire, herbicide treatments etc) to show the different results. 

More about the forest plan is here & here.  Pictures of the thinning are here .

The longleaf are near the edge of their range in southern Virginia, so it is less certain. If the climate changes, however, the range may move north. Longleaf once grew all around the South. Today they are less common because they are harder to grow than loblolly. That is why the State of Virginia is helping us grow them.  Longleaf require fire to grow well and are hard to establish. Once established they are a great tree. The only caveat is the long needles (hence long leaf).  Ice storms can weigh down the branches and cause damage.  Individual longleaf are beautiful trees and a vigorous stand of longleaf is even more beautiful.  I won’t live long enough to see my trees mature, but I hope to enjoy their vigorous adolescence.

My experience in forestry has greatly exceeded my expectations.  My land has attracted help like a magnet. All I have to do is let people share my dreams and they contribute time and more importantly local knowledge and forestry expertise.  Sophisticated people say that people like me are naïve, maybe so.  I believe in win-win outcomes and I don’t care if it sounds cliché. The secret of joy is finding ways to give people what they want in the framework of what you want. I don’t know if I get as much as I could, but I am morally certain that I get more than I would in other ways. I find that in my forestry, I find it in my work and I find it generally in life.

I just could not do forestry the way I want to do it w/o all the help I get.  It would be simply impossible.  They get to use my land, but they use it in ways that I want it to be used. What is important to me is that my trees are growing robustly; the water that runs off the land is crystal clear; the soil is getting better; wildlife abounds. I get to watch the trees grow as long as I live and leave it to the kids after I die.  Is there anything else anybody could reasonably want? Maybe a horse when I get to old to walk around comfortably.  Mariza can teach me to ride it.

The Nature Conservancy uses fire well in its ecosystem management.  Here is a link to a good article.

A good article about fire in southern forests is here.

Also check out the Southern Fire Exchange.

I took the Virginia fire course a couple years ago, so I am officially “qualified” to set fire to the woods. Of course, I wouldn’t dare do it w/o somebody with boots on the ground experience. Information about using fire in forestry is below. 

Odds & Ends for November 12

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

Planting Trees

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

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

Strange Fruit

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

Getting to Work

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

Things We Should Not Forget

I go to Arlington on Veterans’ Day when I am in Washington, but in Brazil I have no place like that. I don’t go for the ceremonies anyway, but rather to remind myself of the debt of gratitude we owe to those who defended our freedom, some at the cost of their own lives.  That I can do anywhere.

My father and most of the men of his generation were veterans. My generation contains many fewer.  The all-volunteer military means that service is concentrated, often among families or places with tradition of military service.  Our military resembles U.S. society in general. The poorest groups in society are significantly under-represented in the military, probably because they more often lack the basic qualifications, such as HS diplomas and clean criminal records. The very rich don’t seem to enlist in great numbers, but contrary to popular conceptions, the wealthier 40% of the population is overrepresented.  So the military tends to be middle-America. It is also a little more rural and more southern (the South accounts for 40% of new recruits) than the general population.  Both blacks and non-Hispanic whites are slightly overrepresented; Asians and Hispanics are not represented as many as their numbers would imply.  Some people speculate that it is because these communities contain many immigrants who have not yet fully integrated into U.S. society. Native-Americans (i.e. Indians), although they make up a small percentage of the American population, are well-represented in the U.S. military.  

I didn’t know very much first-hand about military in combat situations until I spend my year with the Marines in Iraq. (I tried to enlist after college, but I was kept out by a diagnosis of an ulcer when I was sixteen. I don’t think it was correct, but it kept me out.)  I spent much of my time talking to senior officers (majors, colonels and generals) and I know that skewed my perceptions. These guys were very intelligent and disciplined. I was proud to be among in their company and to be more or less accepted.  I say “more or less” because Marines have a very strong circle that I don’t believe any non-Marine can enter.    

I also spent a lot of time with ordinary Marines. The thing that was most admirable about them was how they took responsibility. The twenty-year-old in charge of the vehicle commanded it. I put my life in their hands and had confidence in them. When I was their age, I had responsibility for the French fries at McDonald’s and didn’t do such a good job even at that. Young Marines are amazing.   

I heard on the radio that veterans were having trouble finding jobs back home and I have talked to Chrissy about this. The problem evidently is that military job classifications don’t translate well with civilians ones. The guy that saved lives in Iraq lacks the formal certifications to do the same thing in the back home.   

There is a general problem of translating experience. Life was intense in Iraq. We worked as a team and had a feeling of community against shared risk. When you come home, nobody understands what you did and you really cannot explain it to those who have not been there. When I look back, I think it took me a few months, maybe longer, to readjust and I was lucky to have a stable family life and a good job. The scary thing is that at the time I didn’t perceive the problem. When you are in the desert, you idealize coming home. Nothing can live up to that ideal.  Ordinary life is sometimes harder than extraordinary challenges and hardships. 

I was lucky in Iraq. I got there in September 2007, just as the war was winding down. I remember rolling into Haditha soon after I arrived. It was still smoking from the fighting. Within a few months, we could walk in the market-place among friendly people, grateful for the order we had helped establish. It was an unbelievable change. It also meant that fewer people were getting hurt and killed. But still it happened.

When we lost somebody, they would declare “River City Charlie”. Routine communications were cut until the next of kin were contacted. Just writing that phrase chokes me up. I think of the promising young men killed.  I truly dislike the feeling, but I want never to forget.  There was one young man, called Aaron, who I particularly remember. I didn’t know him personally and I didn’t see him killed, but listening to his service and talking to his friends made a deep impression. He was a military policeman working with Iraqi security forces in the town of Hit, about Alex’s age at the time. He liked to lift weights, like Alex too. I think his similarity to Alex is what made it touch me so much. He joined the Army in a time of war, knowing he might be sent in harm’s way, wanting to serve his country and hoping to acquire some skills that would be useful later in life.   

Colonel Malay and I went to Hit to talk with Aaron’s his colleagues. I remember the day, the setting sun, the concrete barriers, the smell of burning garbage, and of course the ubiquitous dust. They were young and upset about what had happened.  They said that Aaron had gotten out of his vehicle and bent down to stretch.  Everybody does that when they get out of the confined space in a HUMVEE or MRAP. Somebody shot him from a down an alley and ran off. The guy got away and we never found out who it was. It was the “odd angry shot,” a surprise. Hit was relatively safe.  It was a war zone, but there was not much war left in it. I felt safe when I walked around on the streets and I am sure Aaron did too.  

I am conflicted about this memory. In some ways, I have no right to it; I have intruded in the grief of others and the one loss has come to symbolize many things to me over a year of my life. Years later I am working to remember a person I never knew. I wrote a note to his mother, sharing my condolences explaining the situation. She told me that it was important not to forget her son and said she appreciated my remembrance. I appreciate her “permission” and I am happy if my very small contribution eases her grief. I am getting a lot more.  It helps me remember things I should not forget. 

Principals Come Home More Experienced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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