Sometime I will read books on a Kindle or tablet, but not today.I still prefer the paper versions. I like the feel of the paper, the sound of turning the pages and the character an individual book can achieve, i.e. the place you spilled the coffee or the scribbled note in the margin in maybe describing an idea you may no longer understand in handwriting you cannot decipher, even though you know that it is your own.
So it was great to visit the library of Guita & José Mindlin at USP in São Paulo.The Mindlins collected books for eighty years.José described his approach as undisciplined.He bought what he liked.But over those eighty years certain patterns became apparent.He liked books about Brazil, travel books especially that described Brazil in the past.
The Mindlins began their library in their home in the Brooklin neighborhood of São Paulo.They alwaysbelieved in sharing their books and scholars could come to visit.When they died, they willed most of their books to the University of São Paulo (USP) on condition that the public be invited in.They built a whole building just for the library and the collection is being digitized so that it is available to a much wider public.
With digitalization, I guess I am back to my first paragraph.Digitalization is a great thing.It will preserve knowledge by making sure it is duplicated and distributed.A single library may be destroyed; books may decay.Of course, will digitalization go on forever?After all, lots of the digital media of earlier years is inaccessible.I still like the paper books, leather binding is nice.
Interesting article related from “The Economist” here.
This year is the 100th Anniversary of the Rondon-Roosevelt expedition that explored what was then called the River of Doubt (since nobody was sure where it started or ended) and is now called the River Roosevelt.Theodore Roosevelt undertook the expedition after losing his attempt to win the presidency under the Bull Moose Party.The expedition was arduous and dangerous. Three men died and it almost killed Roosevelt too.The expedition was jointly led by Theodore Roosevelt and Cândido Rondon.Rondon was a Brazilian explorer and naturalist.The state of Rondônia is named for him.
Anyway, the expedition is not as well-known as it could be, even in the parts of Brazil where it took place.We thought that we might change that and so, working in partnership with the State of Rondônia we organized a kind of expedition of our own.Eight Brazilian students are going to the U.S. to study Roosevelt and his role in history, especially as it regards conservation and nature.They will go to New York, Washington and both Dakotas.I requested that they visit a fracking site in Dakota.I think that the Roosevelt would have appreciated the kind of ingenuity that makes fracking possible and the wise use of natural resources.
They had more than 3000 applicants for the eight spots.The winners were chosen based on essays they wrote about Roosevelt, Rondon and modern ideas of conservation and wise use of natural resources.The kids were fun to talk to.They are a smart bunch. I went to Porto Velho, the capital of Rondônia, for the official announcement and then came back to Brasília to see off the group.The Governor of Rondônia wants to make the exchange permanent. They would not study Roosevelt every year, but they would talk about conservation and natural resources.
I spent only one day in Rondônia, almost exactly.I arrived there at 1:50am on Sunday and left on the return flight at 2:30 on Monday.But I visited as much as could, meeting the governor, secretary of education, as well as having lunch with former Youth Ambassadors and supper with alumni of our principal and English teaching exchanges.It is good to stay in touch.
The governor’s office gave me security, so I had a body guard and driver.I don’t think I needed them, but it was nice to have someone pick me up and drive me around.
I indulged myself by visiting the Santo Antonio Dam on the Madeira River. It was started in 2008 and will be finished in 2016.It is an odd dam, in that it doesn’t impound much water. It is called a run of the river dam. The turbines are in the river and energy is generated from the natural river flow. Total installed capacity will be 3,150.4 MW. On the plus side, this means the river still flows and there is not much flooding upstream. The downside is that there is no flood control.Porto Velho is flooded and they still just have to let the water go through.
My picture up top shows me at the dam.The part where I am standing does not generate electricity.This is the free part of the flow.There are lots of logs and debris in the river.This is guided through here so it doesn’t damage the turbines.It is hard to tell which direction the river is flowing, since there is a lot of return turbulence.The river is running away from me, although it looks like it is coming toward.Other pictures show the floods. The last picture warns of poisonous animals in the bushes. I don’t know if there really are lots of them or if the sign is just supposed to scare people off. Anyway, it worked.
Brazil has changed.What was once a coastal country of Samba has become more of an interior country of Sertaneja, a type of Country-Western music that regularly tops the charts here.But our resourced remain deployed mostly in the old Brazil. This is certainly not to underestimate the importance of Rio and São Paulo, but it is good to get outside the Brasília, Rio, and São Paulo triangle. That is what we have been trying to do.Keep old friends in Rio and São Paulo but make new ones in the North and the West.To that end, I have been to states like Acre, Rondônia, Amapá and Roraima, as well as the interior of other states.And that is why we want to open corners in places like Boa Vista.
For the first time last year, there was more retail outside the big capitals than inside. The news magazine “Veja” recently ran a series of articles about where the best paying new jobs were.Opportunities have also moved.There is some logic to this.It is a process that we have seen in our own country.Sometimes it is resource based, but there is a simple matter of too much size. Traffic in a city like São Paulo is so bad that it interferes with doing business.You just cannot predict how long it will take to get anywhere.When I go to the airport in São Paulo, it might take just over a half hour, or I could be stuck for a couple of hours.I know that interferes with the work of my colleagues.In Brasília, I can do five or six appointment in a day.In São Paulo it can be hard to do two or three.It just takes too long to get from one to another.As this affects us, it affects all business.There are lots of advantages to being in a big city, but at some point the advantages are tipped by the physical difficulty of doing business.
I digress (and my digression is bigger than the rest of the post) to explain why I think it is so important to do a Brazil-wide strategy.Put another way; imagine concentrating your efforts predominantly in New York, Washington and Los Angeles, with an occasional foray into Boston, Chicago and San Francisco.Would you know the United States?I don’t think it is possible for anybody to know comprehensively great countries like the U.S. or Brazil, but the effort is worth it.There is also the relative impact argument.In places like Boa Vista, we get lots of contact interest precisely because we are rare.I am confident that our forays into Roraima or Acre will be long remembered and remarked. Of course, we cannot spend a majority of our time there, but some time is well worth it. Brazil’s burgeoning middle class and population shifts have created new opportunities.I want us to be there for them.
Here is my reporting paragraph. We opened an American Corner cum EducationUSA center in Boa Vista in the distant Amazon state of Roraima as part of our strategy of meeting the new and dynamic Brazilian demography. It is called the Abraham Lincoln Center because Old Abe won decisively in an online contest, we speculate due to name recognition from the success of the Steven Spielberg movie “Lincoln.” Hosted in the Language Center of SENAC, the American Corner is the first public diplomacy outpost west of Manaus. The Corner is now the centerpiece of a bustling foreign language facility that enrolls over 800 students and hundreds more through SENAC’s workforce development program. The opening ceremony attracted over 250 young people and local media covered the event widely. Embassy´s Facebook page got 323 likes, and comments asking for American Corners. In addition our PAO, EducationUSA Director and IRO did the “Aula Magna” lecture to a packed auditorium at the Federal University of Roraima and generally hobnobbed with local swells and bona-fide dignitaries.
The audience sat through all the speeches and still took the time to come in for the tours.You have to respect this kind of endurance. Having a presence helps and is already helping.For example, our agricultural attaché is planning a trip to Roraima.He now has a kind of base of people who can help him information about the city that would be harder to get otherwise and general contacts far away from out home-base.
Maybe the most important part is the partnerships.I like that concept of partnership.The basis of partnership is simply a matter of finding shared aspirations. We used to have a patronage paradigm, where we would give resources to sponsor programs. It was akin to advertising. Partnership is better. Our Brazilian friends in Boa Vista are partners, actually lead partners.They furnish most of the resources needed to run the center and make the decisions. We help with materials, training and advice. We all give and all get. That is how it should be. That is sustainable.
My picture up top is the audience at the opening. They closed off the street to make room. Below is the cake for the opening. The people at SENAC made it. They have a school for bakeries and restaurants. It was a very good cake. I ate a couple slices.
I got to visit Embrapa in Boa Vista.This was a treat for me. Embrapa is the Brazilian version of USDA. I enjoy visits at science labs and among them the agricultural ones are my favorites.Some people think that agriculture is something from the past.In fact, it is one of the most future oriented industries there is.IMO, someday soon when people use the term high-tech, they will more often be referring to biological systems rather than computers, i.e. mostly agricultural based.
In one of labs they were studying plant pests and diseases.The showed me a leaf that was clearly unhealthy.Only under the microscope could you see really small red spiders that were creating the problem.The scientists were testing another kind of bug that eats the spiders. The “good” bugs were native to Brazil, but usually not present in sufficient numbers to control outbreaks.You could introduce them in numbers to kill off the spiders. When the spider population dropped, so would the predators.They would never wipe out all the spiders, but there would be equilibrium. If spider population went up, the predator population would follow.The key to joy is NOT totally defeating the spider menace.
People worry about climate change, but maybe a more immediate threat is invasive species. You really cannot keep them out, but science can try to stay a step ahead.The spiders were invasive.Interestingly the predators were native that just needed a little help to fight back.
In another lab they were studying nitrogen fixing plants.Everybody knows that legumes can fix create their own nitrogen, but they don’t do it on their own.The nitrogen is fixed from the air by bacteria that form in nodes on the roots.I knew that, but didn’t think much about it.I thought that the bacteria just kind of came along.They don’t.The bacteria are present in the soils, but not always in numbers needed.This is a problem in Brazil more than in North America because the soils in tropical Brazil tend to have less organic material.It decays fast in the tropics and w/o the organic materials the bacteria dies off.So they can vastly increase the productivity of things like soybeans by spraying by applying the bacteria that fix nitrogen.It is cheaper than fertilizer.There can be a residual affect and the next crop planted, often corn, can take up the left over nitrogen. The challenge is that sometimes there is nitrogen enough but not other necessary elements such at phosphorus.This is didn’t know. Phosphorus can also be fixed by bacteria.In this case it doesn’t take it from the air, as in the case of nitrogen.Aluminum is present in many Brazilian soils and it binds with phosphorous, making the phosphorus unavailable for plants.Some bacteria can break the bonds and convert the phosphorus into a form usable by plants.
There are other very interesting advances involving fungus that helps plants extract water and nutrients from the soil.They had them in petri dishes in a refrigerator.I jokes that I am growing stuff like that at home too.Anyway, it is all very cool.I could have stayed much longer, but I had my next appointment.
Each location is unique and it is important to localize knowledge too.Roraima is a new location and a new frontier and there are lots of things to learn.
The picture up top shows various roots with nitrogen nodes on them.
My first day’s schedule was disrupted by a drastic change in government.They got a new governor on Friday and he fired almost everybody on Monday, at least those appointed politically.Well, not fired strictly speaking.They had to come in and find out if they still had jobs.At my first meeting at one of the planning offices, the guy told me that he could talk to me but that I might not be talking to a person actually employed there. It was a good talk and I learned a lot about Roraima, but the situation was not normal.I was supposed to have lunch with the governor, but he was gone.The new governor found a few minutes to talk to me.I was grateful for that, since he had a lot of other things to do.But not much was said.
I had a better time at the Museum of Roraima. It is actually closed, closed for renovations.People were still working there, however, and they were nice enough to show me around.
I met a woman there studies the indigenous people of Roraima and around.She lived three years among the Yanomami. These people were made famous in the 1960s when an anthropologist wrote a book about them called “The Fierce People.”I read it in college and I still recall the cover.It was controversial among anthropologist because it painted the Yanomami is a negative way. (It remains controversial today, BTW. Anthropology steps on a lot of assumptions and one generation debunks the other, often with extreme prejudice. I think that is because anthropology is the study of human societies and practitioners sometimes find what they are looking to find and then try to bring it back as a critique of their own societies. The best example is Margaret Mead’s study of Samoa, which indicates another permutation, i.e. being wrong doesn’t always seriously harm your reputation. Sometimes this is availability bias, i.e. they find what is easy to find, but often it is just ordinary unconscious bias of choosing what you think is important. Anthropology has a kind of god-like view too. How can one person judge a society or even hope to understand it. But this digresses.) According to the book, as I recall, they were vicious, primitive and cruel.The book was controversial because it went against the neo-Rousseau idea of the noble, or at least the not bad, savage.
One of the assumptions among many modern anthropologists is that less developed cultures are relatively benign until polluted by contact with modern Western man.Here was a story of wonderfully violent people who just got that way by themselves.(BTW – there is another good book I read on a similar subject was “The Better Angels of Nature” by Steven Pinker.He says that, contrary to our assumptions, violence in human societies has been declining for centuries and the death rates from violence we see in modern wars were normal in pre-literate societies.)
Suffice it to say that the woman I spoke with did not agree with the “Fierce People” book and thought many of the ideas were wrong. She explained that there was a lot of variation among the peoples of the region and among individuals.This culture, like all cultures, was in a state of constant change.
The lack of a strong material culture and absence of writing meant that this particular culture was more protean than many others, as virtually every bit of the culture is stored in mutable human memories and all those memories die with the individual.If he fails to pass something along, it is gone forever.There is no digging up the old manuscript and rediscovering the ancient texts.This, coupled with very low populations, means observations are applicable only for short times and in specific places.Maybe the author of the Fierce People didn’t quite understand what he was observing and even if he did, maybe he just caught them at a bad time.I suppose it might be like an anthropologist showing up in California in the 1960s, finding the Manson family and extrapolating that to the general population.
I have thought about this regarding history in general, especially ancient history.We find some artifacts and project it onto the larger society.Maybe the community we found was just strange, unloved and rejected by the larger society?Of course, even this assumes a high level of understanding.We need a working theory of what the artifacts mean.They showed me a long sock-like thing made of wicker.It was flexible and could be pulled thinner and thicker.I could have looked at the thing of 1000 years w/o figuring out its purpose.It was used to make a kind of mush with manioc and other roots, some of which have harmful toxins.Liquids, and evidently the toxics, are pushed through the slots and after a while only the good mush is left.
At another part of the museum, I met a guy who collected bees.There are lots of different kinds of bees in Brazil and people who study these things not infrequently find new species.The new species are usually specialists, i.e. they use one sort of plant or have a particular lifestyle.I suppose it is not really all that different from the anthropology above, with the key difference that biological evolution takes longer than cultural evolution.
In my experience, bees are yellow stripped.I was surprised to find lots of brightly colored bees.This explains a puzzle.In my yard, I never see many bees, despite having lots of wild stuff and flowers.I know understand that I have been seeing bees, but I thought they were just odd flies.
One more thing about the museum, it reminded me that I am getting old. They had “artifacts” like the old phonograph pictured nearby that I recall from my childhood as being modern. Unfortunate people of the past needed to contend with such things.
Boa Vista is a nice city and the airport actually had walkways, not something you always get at major airports in these days of pre-world cup preparations.The city is laid out in a circle and spokes pattern, consciously imitating Paris, with its edge on the Rio Branco. (The Rio Branco (white river) feeds the Rio Negro (black river) which unites with the Rio Solimões to form the Amazon near Manaus.) Streets are wide and buildings mostly new, not surprising since the city is new.It is reminiscent in some ways of Brasília, since it is a planned city, but better thought out and, of course, much smaller.Streets have sidewalks and people can get around on foot if they want.It is also more compact than Brasília for the simple geometric reason that a circle in more compact than the long wings of Brasília.
It is also like Brasília in that it lives mostly from remittances from the central government.Brazil made a conscious effort to settle the territory that became the State of Roraima and connect it to the rest of the country, or at least to Manaus, so they invested in roads and buildings. This made the state a land of opportunity and today about 80% of the population comes from someplace else in Brazil.Like Brasília, however, there is growing up a generation born in Roraima w/o connections elsewhere.Brasília had a couple decades head start on this, however.
The road that leads to Manaus is one of the best in Brazil; at least that is what I was told.I saw some of the highways and they look good, as you can see in the nearby picture.I understand that there is a bottleneck when the road passes through an indigenous reserve.Drivers are not supposed to stop along the way and there is not travel at night.This is a serious impediment.River traffic is seasonal.During the wet season, which is opposite of Brasília’s and goes from April to September, the Rio Branco can handle barge traffic, but there are no good ports so such traffic is underdeveloped.
Problems of infrastructure make things relatively expensive in Roraima.This problem is both mitigated and exacerbated by the neighboring Venezuela and Guiana.Gasoline is so cheap in Venezuela that it is almost free.Brazilians can fill up there tanks there, which creates a kind of unfair competition.Some types of food, especially flour, come from Guiana at lower than Brazilian market rates.All this mitigates the high prices but maybe exacerbates the long-term situation by making it unprofitable for Brazilian merchants to enter stay in some markets.
The city of Boa Vista is built on a savanna.It is like the cerrado, but with a few more trees and shallower soils. It stays in this grass state because of fairly severe dry seasons.This kind of biome makes up around 17% of the state. Most of the rest is thick tropical forest. There dry seasons are less dry and shorter.I didn’t see this myself, since we flew in and out during the night and never drove outside the city. Boa Vista’s biome is another reason the city reminds of Brasília.It has a similar mix of grass and trees.
I came to Boa Vista for the inauguration of an American Corner cum Education USA center in the Boa Vista SENAC.This is part of our long term strategy to reach more into the “new” Brazil.This is why I have visited places like Acre and Rondônia and why we have opened corners in places like Boa Vista and Campo Grande in Mato Grosso do Sul.Brazil has changed and our public diplomacy outreach has to change with it.It is no longer just a coastal country, no longer the country of samba.Today it is more the country of sertaneja, a kind of country music born in the interior.
I had a busy schedule.If you are going to travel to the end of Brazil, it is wise to do something when you are there.I arrived on the 2 am Gol flight on Monday morning and left on the 2:40am Gol flight (same plane going back) on Wednesday, which gave me two full days in Roraima at the cost of two full nights of sleep.Roraima is far away and it takes about five hours to get there, counting a short stop in Manaus.
Will right more later.
My pictures show me in front of the Rio Branco. You have to wear hats in the tropical sun, especially if you are folliclely challenged as I am. I am getting to like various hats. My other picture show a colorful building near the river. I found that I didn’t take many pictures of the city itself.
I walked from the Renaissance Hotel to the Fulbright venue.It was a little more than three miles, which is a fair distance but not too far if you are doing it in the morning before it gets too hot and when it is not raining.Like all big cities, São Paulo is really a patchwork of smaller ones.Some are unattractive and dangerous, but the area around the original center, Jardims where the hotel is located, is green and pleasant.This part is pedestrian friendly.Well, maybe robust pedestrian friendly.There are lots of obstacles on the sidewalks, sometimes missing pavement or steep steps.You get used to the constant traffic that flows by as you walk.The sounds merge into a kind of constant rush and it gets to be like walking on the banks of a river.I prefer to walk whenever I practical.It makes the journey more like an adventure.If you sit in a taxi, you notice only the starts and stops of the traffic.I can only imagine how stressful it must be to drive.I have never driven in São Paulo and hope never to have that dubious pleasure.
I usually listen to my I-pod when I walk.I have finished lots of audio-books that way and I like the Great Courses series.These are perfect for walking, since they consist of lectures 30-45 minutes long, a good span for a walk or commute.This time I was listening to a one about “Heroes of Literature.” There were no profound new insights, but I thought a little.The lecture “hero” was Winston Smith from “1984.”He is not much of a hero in the sense that he is frightened all the time, ends up betraying his ideals and in the end is just hopeless.Maybe the better term would be protagonist, but the author says he is a hero because he wants to seek and know the truth.Even if he ends badly, it is a tribute to the human spirit.
“1984” was and remains a depressing book.We don’t think as much about it since communism collapsed, but maybe we should.Tyranny did not end with the fall of the Berlin Wall.North Korea must be about as oppressive as the Orwellian world.The key about “1984” is that they control not only behavior but thought.
The author mentions a part of the book where the authorities are raising hate against one of the State’s enemies.In the middle of the oration, word comes that the State has made a treaty with the former enemy and now a former ally is the enemy.W/o stopping to think, the people just change the object of their hate.This is called “Doublethink” by the state.Essentially it means that you believe what the state says w/o thinking about the contradictions.
If this seems unbelievable, the author says that Orwell had witnessed it in real life.British communists opposed the Nazis until Hitler made a deal with Stalin.After that, they stopped opposing Hitler even though “their” country was at war with him.When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, they quickly again became enemies of Hitler.Orwell was evidently surprised at how people who otherwise seemed intelligent could just ignore their own memories and experience.
Anyway, nice walk in a nice day in São Paulo listening to an interesting lecture about a book that I don’t think I actually ever read.I know all about it and I bet I could pass a test on it, but I cannot actually recall reading it.I think that is true of many “classics.”They become classics precisely because everybody can refer to them and is influenced by them, even those w/o personal experience.Maybe that is Orwellian.I do recall reading “Animal Farm” and a short story about shooting an Elephant, so I have read some of Orwell’s stuff.
Traveling broadens the mind … and the belly, especially if you travel for business as I do and your business is like mine. It goes beyond the obvious temptations to eat the nice big breakfasts or munch on chips at night. One of the most important job for a diplomat is to eat and drink for his country. This is harder than it seems.
Anybody can eat when he is hungry, but it takes a real man to eat when he is not. At official receptions or dinners, I have to eat things I might not like in quantities I would not usually want. I was a picky eater when I was a kid and still have somewhat pedestrian tastes, but now I eat everything. I will not share here the things I really don’t like because tomorrow I might be served a heaping helping of it and will have to eat it with eager abandon.
Well, let me share one thing at the “risk” of not getting it again. I really don’t like açaí. It tastes like dirt unless you put loads of sugar into it and then it tastes like sugary dirt. But it is supposed to be good for you and so you often get it around here. I drink it, but I have learned to “savor” it, lest I get a refill too fast.
I was not – am not – much of a coffee drinker, but I have come to enjoy the little coffees, cafezinho, that you always get when visiting offices in Brazil. If I have a busy day of meetings, I get a little shaky from the caffeine, but it is worth it for the social aspect.
When I leave Brazil, I will probably drink coffee no more than once a week and then mostly I like the cream. I get French vanilla. When I was in Poland in the early 1990s, they would sometimes break out the vodka for office calls. That was a bit of a problem. A busy day of meetings could give you a headache for more reasons than one. The practice died out as the free market took hold. Under communism, it helped to stay a little drunk at work, not so when you have free choices. My worst incident was up in the Polish mountains in Zakopane with some local mountaineers, guys that take pride in their capacity to consume hard liquor. They would drink the vodka and then hold the empty cup over their heads to show it was really empty. I am not sure how much I drank, but I held up my end.
Fortunately, it was the last appointment of the day and my driver, Bogdan, made sure I got safely home. I remember they tried to teach me a song called “Gorale.” It was a sad song about a poor guy who had to leave his native mountains to seek a better life. Dla chleba – after bread. They told me in America, but that might have just been for me to hear. It was similar in sentiment to sad old America country songs, like that old Bobby Bare hit, “Last night I went to sleep in Detroit city.”
As a diplomat, I never turn down anything I am offered to eat or drink. This sort of gastronomic diplomacy is very important. And it is true that I sometimes get to like things just from exposure. There was a kind of sour soup in Poland called żurek, or white barszcz. I hated it, but after a while I got to tolerate it, then like it and now I really miss it. I got to like the goat in Iraq too. Maybe that is how it will be someday with açaí.
Returning to the problem originally stated, I just eat too much when I travel and I don’t get enough exercise. It is hard to maintain routines. One thing that I have learned is not be proactive about getting food. I used to buy food when I had the chance, “just in case.” This is rarely necessary and usually results in eating even more than I need. The chances of going hungry are very small and it doesn’t hurt to miss a meal if you do. One thing I try to do is make sure I have Coke Zero, but that is the only thing that I provision specially.
Don’t get me wrong. I like to eat and I like discussion at dinners. Dinner parties are great, if sometimes a little draining. What I don’t like are cocktail parties and receptions. I would rather write a long report than attend a cocktail party. But that is another story.
I try to spread out my travel, but I have to respond events and so I my travel has been concentrated.I was in Rio last Sunday to address the opening of an IIE/Fulbright recruiting visit for U.S. universities.After a couple days back, it was off to São Paulo for Fulbright.We held our board meeting in São Paulo to take advantage of the presence of Tom Healy, chairman of the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. Returning to Brasília, I went right from the airport to a restaurant where Fulbright and IIE were hosting the returned university group.They had split into two groups. One went south to Porto Alegre; the other went north to Belém.Members of both groups thought they got the better deal.The trips were successful. For me still travelling.I left for Boa Vista in the state of Roraima.
You could argue whether Acre or Roraima is the most remote Brazilian state. I am putting my vote on Roraima.You can fly from Brasília to Acre’s capital Rio Branco with a direct flight.To get to Boa Vista you need to take a nearly five hour flight through Manaus in order to arrive at 2am.
I have not been contributing properly to the blog, but I will be writing up the notes and maybe unlike the travel, spreading out.