Truth & Contexts

Public affairs professionals rightly advise people in crisis to be open, honest and transparent.   While honesty is the best policy most of the time, it seems that the dishonesty and dissembling works too. 

I read a couple of articles recently that made me think about that.   The first one was about a German police officer who shot a student protestor in the 1960s.   The protestor was called the left wing’s first martyr and the story and famous photo that went with it was one of the sparks that set off the massive student protests and  the terror movement that swept Europe during the late 1960s and 1970s.   It turns out the cop was working for the East German communists.   His action may have been provocation.  Okay, it comes out, but it doesn’t change forty years of history.  The bad guys got what they wanted.  Another article talked about the Russians sanitizing the communist era.  It may become a crime to equate Stalin with Hitler.   I wrote my own article about Katyn a couple days ago.  What is truth?We like to think the truth comes out, but sometimes it doesn’t or when it does it has lost its context or just doesn’t matter anymore.   Once a story line is set, subsequent revelations might have little effect.  The world has always been full of all sorts of horrible regimes and people.   Many have diligently stonewalled on the historic record or manipulated it.   Think of that horrible murder Che Guevara.   People still wear his image on T-shirts.  Historians know about his sadistic ways, but his image was protected long enough that now the general public no longer cares.   The Soviet and the Chinese communists killed tens of millions of their own citizens.   They denied it and made investigations difficult.   Much of the detail is lost forever.  Once again, historians know about mass terrors, but it often ignored in the general consciousness.    

We in the West take the opposite tact.   We sometimes seem to reveal in the revelation of our faults.  Sure, we should hold ourselves to the very highest standard and you cannot learn from mistakes if you don’t identify them, but doing this w/o context can lead to the wrong conclusions and let some real bad guys off the hook.   In geometry it takes two points to define a line.  You need context.   

Most of life’s achievements are graded on the curve because nothing can be properly defined except in relation to other things.   We do not serve the cause of truth when we loudly confess and even exaggerate our own mistakes, while implicitly or sometimes explicitly allowing others to downplay or obscure theirs. Turn that around and consider what it would be like if we only bragged about our own achievements while denying the opportunity to others.  We suffer from a massive availability bias, in that we overemphasize information that is nearby or easily obtained and overlook that which is hard to find or actively hidden.   The commitment to truth requires that we seek it in ourselves and also demand truth from others.  We should always ask the “compared to what?” question.    In our personal life it is bad manners to put others on the spot or catch them in a lie, but in the public sphere the pursuit of truth requires occasional truculence.

Roman Restoration

When one of my computers crashed a couple years ago, I thought I lost a whole set of pictures from trips to Istanbul and Rome, as well as a good many Warsaw photos.    Well … I did back them up on a disk, which I came across today.   I have been having a good time looking through the slide show. 

When I thought I lost the pictures, I tried to write up the lost memory.   The text is below, but now I have included some of the formerly lost pictures.

Roman Forum

We lost the computer memory that included my pictures of the trip Alex and I took to Rome in February 2002.  I enjoyed looking at them from time to time.  I had a really good time with Alex that time.  He was interested in learning and enthusiastic about Rome. 

Maybe a picture is worth a thousand words and I can write that much about it.

The flight down was not bad except that we sat next to a woman who seemed to have a cold.  We did not get sick, but it was unpleasant to sit next to her.  Coming down into the airport, the thing you notice is umbrella pines.  I was hoping to see a little of Rome, but the airport is far away.

It was hard to find our way around from the Rome airport.  We finally got our bearing and took the train to Rome.  I remember the train was very comfortable.  We went past a lot of rural slums.  Lots of gypsies lived along the tracks.   They had little trailer villages surrounded by garbage.   I was surprised how warm and kind of desert like it was.  It was a little like S. California or maybe even some of the less arid parts of Arizona.

German barbarian on Arch of Constantine

Our hotel was out of town.  We took the train and then a taxi.  It was a Holiday Inn Express and it had a free shuttle to the subway.  Next door was a big supermarket, which was good to have for coke and snacks. 

On the first night, we walked to this commercial area where there were shops and restaurants.  It was very lively and the weather was warm, very different from February in Poland. Restaurants were not open in the early evening.  Italians don’t eat until late.  As I recall, we had to eat at a Chinese place, since that was all that was open.

We got up early the next day and caught the subway into town.  It was dreary and gray. The subway was depressing and crowded.  It seems like the start of a bad day.  It wasn’t.  As we came out of the subway station, the sun came out with that fresh look after a rain and we saw the Coliseum, behind was the Forum. It was a magic moment.  Alex was excited.  I had pictures of him at the Coliseum and in various places in the Forum.   He is skinny and wearing my red coat. It is too big for him.

That day we also went to the Circus Maximus and the Palatine and Capitoline Hill.  The Palatine is where the emperors had their homes.  Now it is park like around ruins.  We walked a lot that day. 

The next day we went along the Adrian wall and downtown.  The most interesting was the Pantheon.  I had a picture of the sunlight coming in though the hole in the top of the roof.  We also saw Hadrian’s column.  There was a nice picture of Alex in front of it.   The Tiber is a small river, but it is nice nearby.  Lots of sycamore trees.

We walked all along and came to the Vatican.  It is very clean and neat.  There are lots of things to see.  The Vatican museum has many of those famous works of art that you always see in books.  We also saw the Sistine Chapel.  There were big crowds.  We went to St. Peters.  I had various pictures.  It is an impressive place.   It rained hard that day.  My Goretex did okay.  Poor Alex was soaked worse, but he didn’t complain. 

The next day we went to outskirts of town.  Very nice gardens.  We also went to the Via Appia.  It is very pretty with interesting ruins all along.  This was the major highway to and from Rome and the the road where Jesus met St Peter as he was fleeing Rome during Nero’s pogrom.  Peter asks Jesus Quo Vadis (where are you going).  Jesus said he was going to Rome to be with his people. Peter went back to Rome where he was martyred by being crucified upside down.  A large part of the Roman road is a park available only to foot traffic.  Unfortunately, it is truly scary getting there on foot. The road is narrow and cars zoom along.  It scared the crap out of us.  Never again should we do something like that.  But once you get out of town, it is quiet and quaint.  One thing I like about Euro cities is that they end.  In the U.S. you would have endless suburbs.

We caught a bus back to town.  That was our last day in Rome.  I really don’t recall much about catching the train back to the airport.  I remember passing the Gypsy village again.

I am sad to lose the pictures of Alex in Rome.  It was one of the happy times of my life and I hope of his.  

Oh yeah.  We shared a room.  That boy can snore.  I had to stuff rags into my ears to be able to sleep.


About 10% of the Polish population was murdered by Nazis or Communists during the war.  The Soviet’s massacred at least 22,436 Polish prisoners at Katyn forest in 1940.  It was not a random selection.  The Soviets were trying to wipe out Polish leadership.  They chose the best and the brightest they could find.   They turned others over others to the Nazis, with whom Stalin still had friendly relations.  The Nazis themselves were working hard to wipe out the vestiges of Polish national feeling by wiping out the people most likely to be able to carry it on – teachers, professors, officers and civic leaders.

The Katyn massacre was particularly noteworthy to the extent that it was premeditated and personal. The Soviet questioned the Poles for months to determine who to kill.  After Hitler attacked Stalin and the Nazis took over Katyn and discovered the crime, they publicized it.  This put the allies in a tough position.  Churchill suspected that Nazis were mostly telling the truth in this particular rare case, but chose plausible deniability.   When you have to work with one horrible tyrant (Stalin) to defeat another horrible tyrant (Hitler) it inevitably entails some moral compromises.  

The Soviets kept an official lid on the story until the fall of the Soviet Empire around fifty years after the event.  Everybody knew about during that time, but there was no official record or confirmation.   Worldwide lefties gave the Soviets the benefit of the doubt they didn’t deserve and it was convenient to blame the Nazis, who were responsible for so many other atrocities and were the default villians of the period.   After the truth came out, there was lots of talk about it in Poland and memorials went up worldwide   But the Katyn Memorial in Baltimore was a surprise.  I just didn’t expect to find something like this here.  I guess there is a large Polish-American community in Baltimore.

LA Times has a good article re.

Getting Old

The old keep getting older and the young must do the same.  I am 54 years old today. Assuming that I live to be 108, I am middle aged.  I went running yesterday and ran my record worst time for a late spring run. I only measure the middle mile, so that it is not a sprint or a worn out finish. I used to run it in under six minutes.  Yesterday it took almost ten. Fat guys and women now sometimes pass me AND stay ahead. Running still feels the same.  Maybe my watch is defective.  Maybe all watches are defective. Maybe I will just leave the watch at home, since none of them seem to measure my running accurately. I still do ten chin-ups after each run. Since I never try to do more, I don’t know that I have become weaker in that respect.  I am pretty sure I have but since I don’t know I have plausible deniability.   

I am also not as quick as I used to be mentally. This is an interesting situation. I sense that my raw cognitive power has declined, but in compensation I have more experience so I respond better to some challenges. Emotional intelligence is higher, in other words. I am also better at judging situations so that I can do things I am better at doing and avoid the ones where I am weaker.

I read an article a long time ago about useful intelligence and how it develops over a lifetime.   Young people have more raw brainpower, but they lack the perspective and experience to make it useful in all fields.  The raw brain v experience makes the most difference in pure reasoning such as math.   If a person has not achieved something extraordinary in math by the time he is twenty-five, he never will. Achievements in physics come just a bit later and on it goes. In fields where experience and perspective make the most difference, older people do better.   Historians, statesmen and diplomats continue to get better.  They do their best work when they are fifty or more. That gives me a little comfort as I hobble down the the winding path.  The picture, BTW, is me cutting a path through the prickly brush on the tree farm.  The machine ran out of gas long before I ran out of brush to cut.  I suppose that is a metaphor for life.

The Bubble All Over Again?

It is starting to look like the bubble.   Nobody has really figured out how to monetize Web 2.0 and most of the current value of Web 2.0 companies comes from expectation of future value.  There is great excitement about building online communities, but it is hard to get these communities to do very much except be communities.   There is no doubt Web 2.0 has already changed how people communicate and how they do business.  But how can we really use it?

There was a South Park episode last year where one of the kids became an internet sensation in hopes of making a pile of money.   When he went to collect, he was told that his great fame had indeed earned him millions of internet bucks, but that they were not exchangeable into real money.    In PD 2.0 we are not trying to earn money, but we are trying to achieve sustained changes in attitudes and behavior in fields important to U.S. policies.   What if we reach millions of people only to find that our internet influence is not exchangeable into anything that matters to us?

What about the holy grail of Web 2.0, going viral?  Some top viral videos are at this link. Many of the things that go viral are just silly, like a cat flushing a toilet.   But I question the effectiveness even of the serious contenders.   It is great to get exposure, but what is it good for?   I remember a study of the “Clio Awards.”   Those were the academy awards of commercials, where the funniest and most artistic commercials were chosen by the cognoscenti of commercials.    The problem was that the winners were not particularly good at selling the products they represented.   In fact, they were below average.    People often loved the commercial, but didn’t care about the product and sometimes they couldn’t even tell what product was being advertised.   Many of the viral videos are like the Clio award winners that get lots of attention and even critical acclaim, but don’t do the job.

There is also no reliable way to predict if something will go viral. Studying successful viral videos is not much use.    We can identify – in retrospect – what they did right, but when we compare this to the millions of others that didn’t make it, we find that they also did many of the same things.   It is a type of survivor bias, like attributing special skills to the winner of a very long and multi-round game of Russian roulette.   The guy would probably write a book.  He and all of us would think that his astonishing success must be due to something other than random chance, but we would all be wrong and we should not be enticed into the playing the game with his “proven” method.

The lesson is NOT that we stop exploring new media.  Rather it is that we should not fall in love with it or with any particular aspect, platform or technology.   It is easy to be beguiled by large numbers and exponential growth rates but we should be persistent in questioning HOW we can use it in PD.   Some things will be very useful, but maybe not always or everywhere and others might just be exciting w/o payback.   It is good to think about the differences.

Remember during the bubble with that sock puppet?  Everybody loved the marketing.   They even bought a super bowl add featuring the sock puppet.  They were defunct less than a year later.  I could never figure out how most of those companies could make any money; after a while, neither could anybody else.

How Strategic Communication Helped the Surge Succeed in Iraq

Colonel Patrick Malay, my friend and colleague from Iraq, is coming to Washington and together we will make a presentation at the Strategic Communication Network (formerly known as Fusion Team) on May 29 about the importance of strategic communication in Iraq and how the Marines and the ePRT worked with the people and leaders of Anbar to help create stability and relative prosperity.  Below is more or less what I plan to say.

Every move you make conveys a message and actions often speak louder than words.   This is especially important in a disrupted and dangerous place like Anbar province was in 2007-8.   But the words and how you express them are also important.   You need a combination of talking and doing and that is what we were lucky enough to have in Western Anbar when the Marines, the State Department and other parts of the USG worked productively with the Iraqis to make the place safer and more prosperous.

I thought and wrote a lot about it at the time and I recommend you look at my webpage from the time.   The passage of time has strengthened my conviction that we achieved something special.   But I don’t think it was something unique and I do believe that the lessons of Western Anbar have meaning in other places and times. 

All Necessary; None by itself Sufficient

As with many successes and most failures, it seems easier to see the causes when you look back than it was at the time of the events.   We had a fortunate combination of factors.  None of them alone would have been sufficient to achieve success, but each of them was necessary.  

The most obvious is that the people turned against the insurgents and the Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). The insurgents and AQl, it turned out, really were bad.  When their promises were replaced by the reality of murder, mutilation, rape & destruction, the people of Anbar realized that letting them get established had been a mistake.  Unfortunately, standing up to the terrorists was dangerous and often fatal, not only for the brave individuals involved, but also for their family and friends. Early opposition ended up headless in roadside ditches.  AQI would often even go after anybody who tried to remove the bodies. This was an example of AQI’s strategic communication. A headless body makes one hell of an impression, especially if you think you might be next. 

Terrorism indeed created terror that paralyzed opposition.  So the second part of the puzzle was needed – the surge.

The surge was more than just an increase in coalition troop numbers.   It also coincided with a change in strategy.   In Anbar, it meant that Marines protected the people locally and went to live in Iraqi communities among the people they were supposed to protect.  They trained police & security forces and held the ground, but their most important strategic communication message was just being there.    For civilian populations in war zones, the perception of safety is crucial.  The perception of safety creates real safety as more people go onto the streets, interact with each other and begin to get the confidence to stand up to the bad guys or at least help others do so.

The supporting strategic communication message the Marines sent was consistency.    The people needed to know that the Marines would be there for a long time. If the population suspects that coalition forces will leave and the bad guys will be able to return to chopping heads, nobody will cooperate.  The only way you can create the perception that you are there for a long time is to be there for a long time and have the reputation for keeping your word.  Marines stayed and established a reputation for honesty and persistence.  

So we have two necessary parts of the puzzle.   The people have turned against AQI and the greater numbers of coalition forces are making it to be both openly against the terrorists and alive at the same time.  Both these things are necessary and probably in that order. But we still need something more.  

Although basic stability always precedes prosperity, stability cannot be long maintained if the people are miserable and have no meaningful economic activity. Stability and prosperity are symbiotic and mutually reinforcing.  This is where our ePRT came in.  A PRT certainly cannot create prosperity, but we could help create conditions where the Iraqis could build, or rebuild, their own prosperous community.   

We did this by emphasizing the structure of a civil society. These are the things that are so ubiquitous in our own society that we rarely even notice them anymore, things like a functioning court system, protections for private property, transportation, clean water, distribution of goods and a reasonable functioning financial system.

Let me say again that we did not, we could not, create this kind of thing.   We could, however, help the Iraqis do it for themselves.   We could and did make grants of money.  We sponsored training.   We (and even more the military) physically built things like schools, roads and bridges, but I content that the thing that made all these activities into a successful whole was strategic communications.   There is really not much we did for the Iraqis that they could not have done for themselves.  But the fact that we were out there encouraged them and paved the way for progress.

It is Better to Light a Single Candle than to Curse the Darkness

Let me give one example.  It is not the most important example, but it is the one I like the best.   I called it the “String or Emeralds”.  You can see more about it at the String of Emeralds Link.

Iraq is an arid country, plagued by dust storms and drought. But the dust storms and drought are not completely natural.   Some is caused by humans and livestock destroying the natural vegetation cover by bad farming methods and overgrazing.   This has been a problem for 4000 years and our PRT could not solve it.    But after 4000 years, we have learned something about soils.   Our PRT’s agricultural attaché was an expert on rehabilitating irrigated dry soils damaged by salinization (salts deposit is a big problem in dry Iraq). We also took the lessons from our own dust bowl of the 1930s.  Planting trees serves to slow the wind and catch some of the blowing dirt.   I looked for opportunities to help and I found some.  The Iraqis understood the need for this too, but the effort had been neglected under Saddam Hussein and collapsed utterly during the war. 

We went to some of the oases and raised the profile and that encouraged the Iraqis to think more about it too.    The strategic communications lesson is that when someone in authority just shows interest, things can happen. There is no real magic to it. It just takes effort. The trees will grow and the future will be better than the past.

This is my Western Anbar progress report from about the time I left. You can get a better idea if you look at the sections.

When does strategic communication work?  The short answer is when it is embedded in other things that are working. All the talking in the world could not have made Western Anbar safe if not for the Marines & our brave Iraqi friends.   But communications enhanced and spread the good news.  And by spreading it and making it believable the perception of security started to become more real.   Telling the right stories creates a reinforcing loop, a virtuous circle or just plain success.

The Fault Lies Not in our Stars, but in Ourselves

I have been talking to leaders of technology firms in Brazil and it has been very interesting.  While it is not appropriate to post details, some of the general thoughts are applicable across a wide spectrum of endeavors and I will share them here.

One of the problems I have wrestled with has to do with the nature of knowledge and how to pass it within groups and organizations.   I find that this is a common problem and nobody seems to have developed a really robust solution.   I don’t think there is one; at least we cannot create a system that will take care of it.   Knowledge cannot be separated from its human carriers.  We like to use the term “viral” and it really fits here.  Passing knowledge just takes commitment and work by smart people.  Too often, organizations try to outsource their brains by giving the job of thinking and analyzing to consultants or computers.  Well, the buck stops with the decision maker.  He/she certainly doesn’t need to be an expert on all things.  Those consultants and computers can help inform decisions, but they cannot make them.   I was thinking about these things during our discussions.

Let me start by making a distinction between information and knowledge.  The two are synonyms and often used interchangeable, but in the deeper meaning information is the raw material that becomes knowledge when it is when it is understood and integrated into thinking.

Many management challenges are common to both public and private business and one of the most persistent is the difficulty of passing reliable knowledge and experience within an organization.  One of the most confusing circumstances is when information passes w/o the knowledge to make it meaningful or put it in proper context.   It is confusing because the recipients of the information may not perceive the problem.   They may feel satisfied that they are “informed” but remain misled. 

This is an age old problem.  As any organization grows beyond the size where frequent face-to-face contacts are common and easy, information sharing and knowledge production become an acute challenge.  It is especially true today in the fast changing and multifaceted environment created by the new media.  Information is held by specific individuals who may have very deep knowledge in a particular specialty, but not know how it fits into the bigger picture and may be unaware of the significance of what they know in other contexts.   In an information rich environment, the problem is how to arrange it to make it useful and how to tap into tacit knowledge that people may possess but be unable to properly express.  A learning organization is one where the total knowledge and expertise available to the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.   This condition is easier to aspire than achieve. 

Technology provides some help.  One way to address the challenge is through a wiki where everyone can contribute as well as see, consider and enhance what others have contributed.   In theory, a wiki can tap into the wisdom of the group.   It can be made available only to particular groups, to the entire organization or even to a more general public.   A larger group will create greater management problems, but will likely tap into a more diverse set of talent and knowledge.   Remember that no matter how good you and your colleagues are, the smartest people on any particular subject probably don’t work for you.  Your decisions will be better if you can think of a way to bring them in.

The amount of openness is a management decision.   However management cannot really decide if individuals in the organization will enthusiastically contribute.   Enthusiasm cannot be mandated, but it can be incentivized and those incentives must come from a true commitment at the top.   Good contributions must be recognized and the inevitable good-faith errors must be corrected but not punished.  

The new media allows and requires many choices.  The mix of tools changes depending on the situation and they change over time.  Yesterday’s solution is often today’s problem, but that does not necessarily imply that any mistakes were made.   Employees have to be confident that their good solutions that solve today’s problems will not be held against them when the situation changes tomorrow.  It takes a long time to build the kind of trust that lets people stick their necks out and months or years of work can be dissipated by one serious breach.  Leadership cannot indulge its emotions or look for people to blame when sound decisions are overtaken by events.  These are pernicious breaches of trust.

Another important aspect of knowledge sharing is to have the knowledge available to share in the first place.  Diverse and dispersed world-wide organizations tend to have information but it is often not translated into useful knowledge.  One tech fix is to make everything is available online in “the cloud.”  Groups working on particular tasks may not be near each other geographically or even in the same time zones, but they can be virtually side by side.  We have talked about this for many years, but technology has only recently made it practical, since real collaboration requires good connections and a lot of bandwidth.  

We have a great opportunity.  There is a lot of low hanging fruit and that we should take advantage of new technologies and interested participants right away.   Opportunities are out there.  It is there for us.  The most important obstacle is our own inability to take them and make them work.  We have to work to create learning organizations.  It is a steep hill to climb, but not beyond our ability.

Evaluate AND Take Action

They also emphasized the need to evaluate AND prune dead wood.  Sections are evaluated every six months to see what is working and what is not.   An organization in this competitive world cannot allow itself to hold on to programs and platforms that are not performing, no matter how many people work there or love them.   The less performing sections are cannibalized to support the ones that are doing better.  This creative destruction is a challenge in government.   Private firms are not really better at anticipating the future than we are, but they are a lot more effective at getting rid of things that are not performing.   They just cannot afford to keep or pour more resources into the programs that are losing money.

The title of this post is a paraphrase of a line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.   Let me end with another one that applies.   “There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads to fortune.”

Brazil the Country of the Future

I am back in the U.S. after my week in Brazil.   We took the overnight flight that left at 10pm.  The plus side of flying through the night is that the day is free, so we spent our last Saturday in Brazil looking around Sao Paulo.  It was a great day: cool and clear.  I had not been back in Brazil since 1988.  No surprise that a lot has changed.  The roads are better.  There is less air pollution.  People are interested in protecting the environment.    People are running in the parks.   I didn’t get to Porto Alegre, so I am basing my opinions only on Paraná and Sao Paulo.  I knew those places less well.   

They always said that Brazil was the country of the future.  Looks like it has arrived. Anyway, I have some short comments and pictures that together are enough for a post.  They are below.

Below is feijoada, a bean, rice and meat dish.  It is very filling.  And below is a local pharmacy, unrelated to the beans, but maybe not.

Below – any place that has good beer is civilized.

Below is the monuement to the Bandeirantes.  They were a mixture of explorers, pioneers and bandits, who explored and settled southern Brazil.

Below is the monument to Brazilian Airforce pilots from World War II.  Brazil was the only South American country to send fighting troops to support the allies.  They fought bravely in the Italian campaign. They also patrolled the S. Atlantic and hosted bases.

Below – runners in Sao Paulo

Below Cesar and Tim.  Cesar was my colleague back in Porto Alegre, lo those many years ago.  In the background are rips roasting at the churascaria.

Below – the last picture is not in Sao Paulo.  It is me at the falls in Parana.  Brazil has a lot of variety.

Sao Paulo

See video of the Sao Paulo vista at this link.  

Sao Paulo is the biggest city in Brazil and the third largest metropolitan area in the world.   It is a nice place to visit for short time, but I would not like to live in this mega-city.    I have to say that it has improved a lot since I was last here.  The air is less polluted and there are some attractive buildings, but it still is a paradise for lovers of concrete and cinderblock.

We are staying in the Marriott Renaissance in the Jardim section of town.    I found some pretty places including a park that features a small part of the Atlantic forest in the middle of the city.  

We had some very good meetings with technology leaders.   Brazil is an exciting place for new technologies will be or already is a leader in social community systems.   I will write some general comments about what I learned later.  Suffice to say that our Brazilian friends have done impressive things and will be major players in the new media.  

Street Scene in Sao Paulo

Churassco & Churches Along the Brazilian Highway

You get to eat several pounds of really good meat and I taking full advantage of the opportunity in Brazil.  We now have some churrascurias in the U.S.   The most famous is Fogo de Chao.   But in the U.S. these are upscale restaurants.  They have to be because of the price of good beef.   In Brazil they started off as feasts for the working man and in most places they have kept that mission.

We passed dozens of churrascurias on the road from Sao Paulo to Jaguariaivia in Parana.  Most were associated with gas stations, which fit with a kind of truck-drivin’ feeling.  We finally stopped off at one called Fontana.  We got there at the end of the rush hour and the place was still full of families having a boisterous good time.    They quickly identified us as “not from around here” and everyone was very friendly.   English was not common and my Portuguese had atrophied almost out of existence, but we easily got by.   A couple of young people stopped by to inform us that they were studying English, but did not attempt to pursue the conversation beyond that.  

Brazilian roads have improved a lot since I last drove on them and I didn’t feel in imminent danger most of the time.   Cars have improved too, so you don’t get that combination of very slow junk heaps blocking traffic and testosterone charged me in muscle cars anxious to pass them.  Slow trucks still remain a problem, but the better roads and extra lanes have turned them into more a nuisance than a menace.  

It was actually a pleasure to drive most of the time although expensive.   Brazilian cars run on alcohol, which was not too expensive, but the major roads are leased to private firms.  They maintain them but the price is high.  We probably paid around $70 in tolls.   If the choice is free, public, dangerous and bad versus good, expensive, smooth and safe, I suppose I choose second option.  But it could be a little less expensive.  My guess is that a lot of the local traffic is pushed onto secondary roads, which remain as they were.

We rented a car from Hertz and paid the extra $15 for GPS.  It was worth it.  I don’t think we could have gotten out of Sao Paulo w/o it.  It tried to mislead us a few times, but on balance was good.  It is amazing how far technology has come.  You no longer really need local knowledge.  In the old days, we didn’t even have good maps and we spent a lot of time asking locals for directions.  They often did not really know the answers, but they were polite and told good stories.

Jaguariaivia is a pleasant little town.   The thing that struck me was the number of Evangelical and Pentecostal churches.   There were dozens along the road and in the city.  Brazil has been almost an exclusively Catholic country for centuries, but I am not sure that they are any longer the majority in Parana and certainly not the majority of the enthusiastic believers.