One day

I got to walk through St. Louis in the morning and evening. It was different.  The morning was great weather, sunny and 70.  I noticed the sign above. I wondered if I would have to toss something on the ground in order to avoid the penalty.

The way home was less pleasant.  It poured.  But it lasted only about as long as it took me to walk home.  Chrissy & I went to Denny’s for supper and by the time we were done eating it was clear and pleasant again. Tomorrow I go back to Brasilia and Chrissy goes back to Virginia. Time together was too short. 

Indian mounds at Cahokia

Cahokia is the biggest native settlement north of Mexico.   The inhabitants built mounds for temples, burials and platforms. Nobody is really sure what they used them for, since the civilization had no discovered writing and it completely disappeared before any European exporters showed up to write anything down for them.Cahokia was the biggest of the mound building societies.  Since mostly they lived in the Mississippi drainage basin, we call them Mississippian culture.

Archeology indicates that 10-20,000 people lived at Cahokia during the height, around 900 years ago. That was a big deal for the time and available technology.  The concentration was made possible by the rich river soils that allowed surplus of corn.  It seems to have been a highly structured society with rigid castes.

Nobody can be sure why the civilization disappeared. The leading candidate is ecological degradation. Cahokians probably just outran their resource base, exhausted their soils and killed off local game. We also don’t know where the people went. Since their civilization collapsed before the introduction of the horse to the plains, they could not have suffered the fate of so many other farming tribes, i.e. being wiped out by plains Indians mounted on horses. The horse changed the balance of power on the plains, allowing previously backward tribes to kick ass. Tribes like to Comanche, Sioux and the Cheyenne more or less wiped out the farming tribes. These genocides were mostly per-historic, in that there are few historic records, but it changed the ethnic mix of middle of America.

The museum was really nice, but I did not particularly like the juxtaposition of the archeologist versus the storyteller, implying an equality of myth and science.  Oral history can inform science and real history, but it is always seriously flawed. It cannot be properly evaluated until somebody writes it down and then it stops being oral history.  In other words, oral history is a raw material for historical analysis.  It is even worse in this case, since there is no oral history.  The Cahokians are gone.  There was no oral history, so all the “wisdom” is conjecture.

Cahokia is worth seeing if you are in the St. Louis area, although I doubt I would drive very far to see it. I drove out of my way to visit Chillicothe, Ohio a couple years ago. It was similar. Cahokia is a little bigger. I visited Aztalan in Wisconsin too, but that was a long time ago and I don’t recall much.

Above is “Wood henge.” It is the ancient American answer to Stonehenge.  Looks a lot like telephone pole henge, but I suppose it was the thought that counted.

My first visit to an Indian mound was Lizard Mound in Wisconsin. I went as a child and I still remember the exhibit with a skeleton. Scared me for days and I still remember it.

The Gay ’90s feel & old trees

Tower Grove Park was founded in 1867. There are lots of nice old homes around and it has the feel that I associate with the turn of the last century.  There are bandstands and picnic areas.  The trees are big and old, some of them probably planted more than a century ago.

I wouldn’t want to go back to any period in history except as a tourist.  Even in the best of times, old times were not good, given the technology of medicine etc.  But the time around 1900 had a lot of promise.  IMO, urban living reached a plateau with the “garden city movement” that integrated living into park like settings.  People like these neighborhoods. Above is Grand Boulevard, a renewed commercial district near the park.

I loved the big trees.  There was a grove of bald cypress in one of the low lying places.  You can see in the picture above.  Bald cypress look a lot like dawn redwoods. Below is a mix.  In the front are cypress and the back are dawn redwoods or Metasequoia glyptostroboides.  None of them are very old, since they were only rediscovered in 1944 in China.  They have been planted a lot in America. They grow fast. Nobody is sure how big they will get, since none of them are more than around sixty years old.  You can tell them from bald cypress by their trunks and general shape. The dawn redwoods are more conical and their trunks are more twisted.

The gingko trees are also exotic. They are from the time of the dinosaurs and are very resistant to pests, presumably they outlived most of the threats.  They are also fairly impervious to pollution, salt and bad soil. They are also called maidenhair trees because the leaves remind of combs. 

My picture doesn’t show it, but they are not really leaves in the ordinary sense. They are actually needles like pines but meshed together into a leaf.  The gingko trees in the park were very big.  You rarely see such big gingko trees.

St. Louis Blues Week

We were lucky enough to have our hotel a short walk from the St. Louis Blues week. It was sponsored by Jack Daniels, so they were selling Jack with various combinations.  They had Jack Daniels and Diet Coke. It is very good. I just had the straight stuff followed by beer and lots of pulled pork. Lucky we could walk back the hotel. It wore off some of the food and avoided a drunk driving experience.

Making good barbeque is a real art.  People work on it. They have special recipes and techniques. I am not a connoisseur of pulled pork but I do like to try the different types.  I ate too much and went back the next day. I can admire the artists of pork.

I love the variety of America.  Above are perhaps not “typical” but they are picturesque.

I was vaguely aware of St. Louis, but didn’t really think much or know much about it. It is a really nice city.  It is much like Milwaukee, probably because of the German influence on civic pride, but (excuse my hometown) a little nicer in many ways.  If it had Lake Michigan it would beat Milwaukee.  Speaking of German heritage in St Louis, above is a statue of the great German poet & philosopher Frederich Schiller.  Below is the great German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt.  Germans made great contributions to America and our country. Our universities are based on German models; much of our civic culture was cultured by German immigrants; of course we eat hamburgers and frankfurters (hot dogs) and drive on highways inspired by the autobahns.  The experience of two terrible wars has made us forget how much our country was affected positively by Germans. It is useful to recall, even in this, that our American armies and navies in those wars had lots of German Americans, including leaders such as Eisenhower, Chester Nimitz and John J Pershing. On the 2000 census 58 million Americans claimed to be primarily of German ancestry.  It is still our largest ethnic heritage.

St. Louis Arch and Market Street

St. Louis is a pleasant city and I was lucky to get a nice day. I walked down Market Street down to the St. Louis Arch. It is a pleasant walk.  There was evidently some urban renewal done here to make all the green space. There are lots of offices and government buildings but I don’t think many people actually live down here. Above is the Courthouse against the Arch. This is the courthouse where the Dred Scott case was first decided. That decision helped lead to the Civil War. The man most responsible for ending it is below.

Below is the St Louis Arch. It is much bigger than it seems in pictures and pictures don’t do it justice.

You can see some people near the arch that shows the scale. 

I have some other pictures that are interesting but you can click on them separately. 


Sense of smell is a very persistent and emotional sense.   It can evoke feelings and memories like no other sense.

St. Louis is a Midwestern city and so is familiar to me on a visceral level. Some of the familiarity has to do with the sights; some is sound.  St. Louis has my familiar robins and red wing blackbirds, with their pretty calls and the grackles without.  But a big deal are the smells. I am here at the right time of the year.  The hawthorns are blooming.  This brings back memories at least back to sixth grade when we took a field trip to Hawthorn Glen.   That was back in 1966.   I also remember the smells from Grant Park. It is a distinctive smell. At the hotel, I am near the pool. I like the smell of chlorine, reminds me of my swim team days.

Another memorable smell is from the linden trees.   They are just coming out here.  I have written about this before.  There are not many lindens in Milwaukee. Although their American cousins, the basswoods, are very common, they don’t have the same sweet smell.   I remember the lindens from my first trip to Germany.  They are a common tree in central Europe.   Poland also has lots of them, so many than their word for the month of July is Lipiec from the Polish word for linden, which is lipa.   In North America the lindens flower in late May or June.  In Poland they are out late June or July, hence the name.   

There is also lots of lavender.  Lavender is an interesting memory.  I became familiar with lavender smells because of air fresheners.  When I first encountered lavender in real life, I was surprised how much it smelled like air fresheners.  I guess Glade does a good job of mimicking it.

A few blocks later was the tannery. That was probably the worst stink.Just past the river, we got into the yeast smell from Schlitz & Pabst breweries.When the wind was right, you got the sweet chocolate smell from Ambrosia Chocolate factory.            

Today the air is much cleaner.  When it has any smell at all, it tends to be perfumed with flowers and trees and not the old familiar industrial smells.  It is better, but it was kind of interesting to be able to tell where you were in the city by the taste of the air.

My pictures show lindens, hawthorns, a nice fountain and an urban farm. St. Louis is looking good. 

Focusing on students returning from the U.S.

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.

Common origins

DNA studies are turning out some interesting findings and solving some of the mysteries of history and sometimes creating some interesting paradoxes. For example, African-Americans who trace their genetic ancestry through the male line are often finding that their ancestors came from the British Isles. Deeper in history, recent DNA investigations show that the “native” populations of Europe were all but obliterated by migrations into the continent in the Neolithic age from around 4000-6000 years ago.

The invaders brought with them new skills and farming cultures that likely simply overwhelmed the local hunters and gatherers. This would be similar to what happened in North America with European contact. Only a very small percentage of the North American population is genetically related to the population that lived on the continent in 1492, although in the ancient case the process took 2000 years and not only a couple hundred. 

 This replacement, however, is evidently not as common as we might think. When I learned anthropology, we were still influenced by the experience of European colonization. Even if “modern” scholars of the 1960s rejected the theories of the 19th Century, they – we – were still living in their patterns. We knew that populations could be replaced because we had seen it done and we postulated that back into the past.

Our literature seemed to support this paradigm. There were heroic stories of ancient foundations and ancient people often claimed heritage from pioneers. Aeneas brought his Trojans to Italy and they formed the core of the Roman people, according to legend. Clearly languages spread geographically. Latin spread over most of Western Europe and it makes some intuitive sense to think that people came with it. The same goes for Arabic in later times. But the spread of English in modern times shows the flaw in that argument. Of the many modern speakers of English, only a minority have predominant or even significant ancestry in the English population of 1492, for example. The English migrated, that is true; their language migrated farther.

An interesting counter example is Finland. Finnish is a language of northern Asia and the “original” Finns were Asians. Over the centuries, a steady immigration from Scandinavia changed the genetic nature of the Finnish population while keeping the language intact

DNA is providing a more nuanced picture of migrations and assimilation. I read an article today that shows that the Minoans, the mysterious ancient people of Crete, whose language we still cannot read, were similar genetically to modern Europeans and modern Cretans. This tends to disprove 19th Century postulations, some of which I learned in school, that they were largest the product of some migration, maybe from Egypt or Africa. This supports a general observation that the core population of a place remains remarkably stable, despite significant changes in language, religion, customs and government. I recall an earlier study that indicated that most of the modern population of Lebanon was descended from the ancient Phoenicians. They are Arab in language and culture, but related more closely to the ancient people of Canaan than to the invaders who swept in form the Arab peninsula. In other words, the same families were at one time or another Phoenicians, Hebrews, Greeks, Syrians, Romans or Arabs.

It is tempting to take current situations and project them backward. One of things I really hate about some modern books or TV programs is when they take a contemporary map and project it back on past times. A modern map of Europe, for example, makes little sense when superimposed on the Europe of 1000 years ago. A few of the countries had similar names back then, most did not, but none of them were exactly where they are today nor was the culture the same.

The countries that became France, Germany, Spain or Italy just did not exist 1000 years ago, despite what current nationalists might assert, i.e. they were so different that it makes no sense to call them by those names. Most of eastern France had more in common with what became western Germany. They could easily have become the modern nation. Italy was divided up among people who could not understand each other’s languages. Spain was mostly occupied by Muslims. Anybody who guessed at the future disposition of these places would certainly have been wrong. Modern nationalities simply do not project very far into the past. The people occupying the territory are fairly mutable.

Of course, migrations do happen and Vikings, Mongols and other disruptive forces spread their DNA far and wide, (something like 8% of the population of the former Mongol Empire is related to Genghis Khan, probably the result of thousands of short-term non-consensual relationships and the Mongol habit of killing all the men around) Nevertheless, established populations evidently abide for long times. They were really a nasty bunch, but part of our common history too.

I study ancient history and even more ancient anthropology because I enjoy it and most of what I know has little practical value. But I think that this information is useful. It shows the adaptability of humans and how we are very similar to each other despite our purported ethnic heritage. When someone says that his ancestry is German or French or anything else, it really is not a meaningful concept in the longer run of things. We all can become something else and we are constantly in the process of becoming.

My general view of history is that after events pass from living memory, history belongs equally to all of the current generation of mankind. I don’t have to be a Greek to appreciate Greek history and there is no reason to believe that a contemporary Greek will understand the ancient history of “his” country any better than I can. We all are descended from the good people and the bad people of the past and none of us has any particular reason to be proud or ashamed of anything that happened long before we were born. But ALL of us should learn from the experience of the past and know it. As a Western man, I am an inheritor of Greek & Roman culture. I kind of see them as “my” people, but why? My ancestors were not primarily Greek or Roman. My ancestors were mostly those barbarians that the classical world disparaged and tried to keep out of the civilized empire. My relatives would be found farting in the Roman Forum just before breaking up the local shops and setting fires. If I was transported back to ancient Rome, they would see me as a barbaric Gaul or German. I would not be welcome. Yet it is not the ancient people of Gaul or Germany that inform most of my thought today.

My genetic ancestors have not very much to teach me from ancient times. They really were barbarians. They didn’t write; they constantly warred and they tended to do silly things like rub butter on their hair. The main thing they did that I do too is that, according to the Roman historian Tacitus, they drank beer. This is interesting in two ways. First it is interesting to find out what my ancient ancestors did, but more importantly, I have to learn about it from a Roman. It goes to show who ruled and who just slopped butter on their hair.

Rio port, again.

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. 

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.

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.  

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.

Life is good

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.