Partners in Preservation

Bertioga, São Paulo, Brazil
The preserve is in the middle of the town of Bertioga, a town with a population of around 60,000. It is a long and narrow municipality, hemmed in by the mountains (Serra do Mar) on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.  It is a place of great natural beauty, but not so much wealth. This makes it more challenging to conserve nature, since local people might want to use the forest or even occupy parts of it. This was how favelas got started in Rio with unfortunate social and ecological ramifications. The nearby picture shows the road right on one of the preserve edges and gives an idea of the possible challenge.

Partners in Preservation
SESC officials, like Juarez recognized this challenge and made it a virtue.  Their philosophy is that people should be integrated into the natural community and that natural communities should be integrated into human ones, so rather than fence off the forest, SESC invited the local people to participate. They did outreach to find out what the local people thought and what they wanted.  Most of the local people appreciated the forest and wanted to conserve it and they are a strong force for protection.  One thing that people wanted was a community garden, which SESC helped build on the fringe of the area of conservation. There are also plans for “agro-forestry” within the preserve.  This will mean that in some places there will be food for people.  All this means that the people living near the forest have become partners in preservation rather than adversaries to be excluded.  This is a model of how it can work.

Restoring the Magnificent Atlantic Forest
 Brazil’s Atlantic forests were magnificent and parts of it still are, but since the Atlantic forests were first to be exploited and now are more densely occupied, protecting what is left is important and restoring some other what can be restored imperative.
One of the features that makes Brazil’s coast so spectacular and beautiful is that the green mountains sweep down to the sea.   Among the most preciously rare in this already preciously rare ecology are the thin strips of forests between the beaches and the uplands.   This is mostly flat land. If you are going to try to grow something, this is a logical place to start.  If you want to build a beach front home or hotel, this is the place to do it – above the high tide and not subject to the shifting ground of the hills.  SESC’s forest is on precisely this ground and it is precisely why it is surrounded by human habitation.

SESC employed scientist and naturalist to study the flora and fauna of their preserve and found it rich in the diversity of both.  It is very unlikely that this forest patch was never cut, but SESC has owned it since 1947 and it has been intact at least since then.  The trees rarely grow to great height, as they do farther inland, since the sandy soil does not support the kinds of root systems that can hold them up.  As we walked through the wood, we saw wind throws that revealed just how shallow the root systems could be even for big trees. My guess is that this is a more ephemeral ecology.  This provides some advantages for restoration.  The fabled triple canopy forests take many more years to restore.

 SESC also owns a significant amount of riparian land along the Itapanhau River estuary.  Here the brackish tidal water supports mangrove thickets. Mangroves are the classic edge community. Edge ecosystems are often among the most diverse, since they combine two or more environments. They usually punch well above their weight and are crucial to the larger ecosystem they join. Mangroves are amphibious trees that grow between high and low tide. They are sensitive to frost. In the U.S., they grow only in south Florida, and a few places in Louisiana so we went to see some in the Florida Keys. The tangle of roots and branches help hold soil and protect the coast from erosion and storms. They also provide cover for fish and wildlife to breed. Mangroves are also a threatened ecosystem, since people often want to “develop” the places they occupy and the very tangle that makes them such a formidable ecology is annoying to people wanting to get around.  Removing mangrove, however is almost always a mistake, as with them go the wildlife benefits mentioned above and also protection from storms. The mangroves provide a flexible and self-repairing protection that no feat of engineering can match.

Doing the Right Things for the Right Reasons Make Sustainable
I was mighty impressed with what SESC is doing. They are integrating natural and human communities into their developments from the start, as the crucial parts of the project that they are, rather than as something to be tacked on at the end.  Juarez credits the long-view taken by SESC management and the resource they are willing to commit to the long term.  It is a model.

Making Nature Accessible to All

Making Nature Accessible to All
It was gratifying to meet Jeremy Buzzell, Chief for the Accessibility Management Program at the National Park Service, maybe more a vindication of old school people-to-people diplomacy.  Please indulge my deviation from the main narrative.

The Complexity and Power of Networks
I connected Jeremy Buzzell with Juarez Michelotti, from SESC São Paulo at the request of then former State Department colleagues, former since this was 2016 and I had just retired from FS.  For me it was a simple matter of looking up on the internet making a few calls.  USG is USG no matter the branch. I did not know the particular people at the Park Service, but I know how the system works generally.   It was harder for Brazilian friends.  Imagine how it would be to find similar Brazilian officials for someone outside the structure.  Anyway, I called Mr. Buzzell, made the connection and mostly forgot about it. I did keep in sporadic contact with Juarez, however, because of my personal interest in his work of ecological restoration of Brazil’s Atlantic forests and when I came on my sojourn to São Paulo, I got in touch to with him to meet him in person and maybe see the forests.  So my colleague Joyce Costa and I arranged to go.  With the date set Juarez gave me the good news that coincidentally Mr. Buzzell would also be there. Back to the main narrative.

Making Nature Accessible to All
Mr. Buzzell was helping SESC Bertioga make their nature preserve accessible.  The accessible trail will be a boardwalk, wheelchair friendly, with stations that allow participants to enjoy and understand using a variety of the senses. The trail will feature experience of sight, smell, touch.  We tried out some of the features to give access to people with no or low vision. I tried it out blindfolded.  They feature boxes with various natural items to be identified.  The SESC folks assured us that none of the boxes harbored spiders or snakes. They also featured 3-D (but flat) animals and plants. I managed to get correct only a fish and a bird, as I found a fin and a beak.  It is hard to identify even familiar objects by touch alone.  You need someone to guide you and someone to help with the narrative, but I imagine that you would get more adept with experience.

The trail features places to stop and to turn around, so that participants can get a little or get a lot.  It has secure rails and gentle slopes.  Besides the boardwalk, there will also be dirt trails.  A large percentage will be graded to allow for easier walking and wheelchair use.  The preserve is divided by a highway and there will be a footbridge connecting the sections.  This is also accessible, with gently sloping entrances.

It seemed to me that the SESC folks were doing everything right, but I am not an expert.  Mr. Buzzell, who is an expert, shared the opinion, so I think it must be right.

Speaking to Youth in Bertioga

I visited the São Paulo SESC resort in Bertioga.   I will write more later.

My picture shows a SESC program we (the Consulate) co-sponsored.  You might call it “English learning through sports” – in this case baseball.  The boys in the picture play baseball AND study English.  I talked to the team for about an hour.  They were a little scared to speak English at first, but a few minutes in they were asking questions.  The English in their questions sounded good.  I cannot properly judge how well they understood, but they seemed to laugh at the right times.  None of the question was hard. They asked a few questions about the USA but rather more about things that I liked or did not like in Brazil. Since I am very fond of Brazil, I think they liked the answers.  I dodged questions about my favorite Brazilian football team.  Well … I told the truth, that I did not know enough about the teams to have favorites.  They just thought it was a joke.  The only significant pushback came when I told them that I did not like açaí, a palm fruit that, IMO, tastes like dirt.  They all liked açaí, but as we talked we came to understand that we were talking about different things.  They like a kind of sherbet. It is frozen and has lots of sugar and other flavors.  That is okay.  I used to get the purer version of it when I traveled in the Amazon. It is not so good w/o the added ingredients.

I enjoy these sorts of encounters and I think kids do too.  The kids are very familiar with America through the media, but these kids, fairly underprivileged, are likely to have few contacts with living Americans.  They are surprised, and I think they are pleased that an American diplomat wants to talk to them.  I learn from the sorts of questions they ask and their reactions to what I say.  It is one of those ground truth checks.

These contacts have ripple effects, in that they talk to their friends and family about the encounter and I know that there is staying power.  I sometimes meet people who tell me about times we met a few years ago.  During my years in diplomacy, I must have spoken to thousands of young people in these sorts of engagements.  It is one of the parts of my old job I liked best.

A little background – I am not sure you could call SESC an NGO, since it has mandatory contributions by members of the service industry.  SESC along with SESI (industries) and transport SEST (Serviço Social do Transporte).  These were established by government fiat back in 1946 and the president of SESC is nominated by the president of Brazil. On the other hand, SESC is private and non-profit.  Since it is supported by contributions by the commercial industry, it is not open to all Brazilians. It is a membership organization. Only workers in the covered industries and their families are eligible to participate.

SESC, SESI & SEST work in similar fashion, so I describe one with the stipulation that the others resemble it.  Each Brazilian state and the DF have their own SESC and there is significant autonomy and diversity among them, not least because their budgets come from local industrial contributions.

We don’t have anything like SESC in the U.S. and I think that this system is unique to Brazil.  They are sort of like a YMCA on steroids.  They provide social services, health, education, leisure and cultural activities as well as programs to promote good citizenship.  They have swimming pools, gyms & theaters.


The praise was a bit embarrassing, and I am not sure I liked how it was tactically deployed, but the masters of ceremony held up the USA as the paragon of volunteerism.  They gently disparaged the Brazilian audience, pointing out that only around 4% of Brazilians were involved in volunteer activities.

The Importance of Volunteerism
“Do you know what that number is in the USA?” the MC asked the audience.  A few hands went up with guesses ranging from 10-40%.  Then she dropped the brick.  “84%,” she said.  I would not vouch for the accuracy of that number.  I think we are dealing with various definitions of volunteerism and different durations of the activities.   There is no doubt, however, that Americans are remarkable in the amount of their time and money that they voluntarily donate, and this is a consistent thread that runs through our history. But all his is a narrative for a different place.

My colleague Wesley Oliveira and I were at the kickoff of “Transforma Brasil,” an interactive web platform that connects volunteers with opportunities and aims to register 5 million volunteers and 20k non-profit organizations by 2022.

A Big Launch for a Big Idea
And what an event it was.  The auditorium at Civi-co São Paulo was packed.  Talk show host Fátima Bernardes (who Wesley tells me is the “Oprah of Brazil,” absent the car giveaways) introduced the program, emphasizing that she and all the other people present were volunteers.  The obligatory reading of honored guests included mayors and high officials, the Governor of São Paulo and three presidential candidates, although we actually saw only one of these.

Transforma Brasil is the creation of Fábio Silva, who is a 2014 IVLP alumni from Recife. It was this connection and the specific request from our colleagues in Recife that moved us to attend this event. I am sure glad that we did.  This had most of the important aspects of public diplomacy. We saw and were seen (we were among the honored guests mentioned), made and renewed contacts and gained insights into a developing trend in Brazil.  Volunteerism, at least the idea of it, is trending in Brazil, as evidenced by the high-level of interest in this event. Some of this result from a need to fill in gaps left by government services, but much of the real power comes from a realization that citizenship in a democracy means involvement beyond voting and demanding that others do something.
Fábio Silva was aware of volunteerism statistics and seeing advantage to Brazilians society to improve them, as a social entrepreneur he decided to create organizations that could be platforms to help connect would-be volunteers with appropriate NGOs.  The idea was not only to raise awareness and encourage volunteers, but provide those encouraged with practical ways to get involved, i.e. turn aspirations into useful actions.  I like to think that this was at least partly an insight he got from his IVLP visit, that specifically addressed volunteerism and how to move people from indifference, to aspiration to action.  If people do not know how to do something, they usually will do nothing.  It is a primarily tenet of marketing, both of products and ideas (although I stipulate that some object to the use of marketing in this context, I find it apt) that the initial inspiration and call to action must be closely followed by a simple answer to the question, “So wadda we do next?”

In Recife it Began
Fábio Created his first version of a platform in his native city of Recife in 2015, and in cooperation with others, similar platforms have been installed in Campinas (São Paulo), Petrópolis (RJ), Cuiabá (MT) and Campina Grande (PB). “Transforma Recife” has already registered 120,000 volunteers and 400 NGO, registering more than a million hours of volunteer work in Recife. Recife features a Voluntariômetro, an outdoor tabulator that counts the volunteer hours in the state of Pernambuco in something like real time.
Fábio Silva was already an active social entrepreneur before he was nominated for IVLP.  That is how we found him and why we wanted to help.  We cannot claim that the program turned his life around, but we can say, as he does, that the program greatly accelerated and facilitated his progress and gave him ideas.  In other words, our program was part of a web of factors responsible for success. A logician might say that the program was necessary although not sufficient to these great results we are seeing.  Even if it sounds like faint praise to some, I consider this one of the greatest compliments. All great things are accomplished in cooperation with others, which means that many are necessary, but none are sufficient, even if some like Fábio play the lead role. Fábio expressed this sentiment well in his own remarks.

If you want to make great things happen, play your role and help others play theirs and let something bigger than the sum of the parts emerge.   This seems to have happened here.
Media attention to the event
FOLHA DE SÃO PAULO: ‘Tinder do voluntariado’ conecta doadores e organizações
DIÁRIO DE PERNAMBUCO: Recife exporta modelo de voluntariado
UOL, Blog de Jamildo (colunista de politica e economia de Pernambuco: Ciro, Marina e Amoedo participam de lançamento de plataforma nacional de voluntariado
SUPER INTERESSANTE: Conheça o “Linkedin” para quem quer fazer trabalho voluntário

Young Entrepreneurs in Brazil (YLAI)

Innovation is hard to measure and nearly impossible to anticipate.  After all, innovation means something new or at least different.  If it is not discontinuous to previous developments, it is not much of an innovation, after all.

All of the returning Young Leaders of the Americas (YLAI) alumni were practicing entrepreneurs in Brazil and all of those about to embark on their exchange program hoped to be.  I will not explain the YLAI program here, since you can get information more directly from the YLAI Link.  For our purposes here, it is enough to know that we were attending a reception for alumni and those just going out.

This was a network opportunity, in keeping with the YLAI goals of creating and maintaining networks.  I talked to both returnees and outgoing YLAI, rather more returnees, since I was interested in their experiences in the USA and since their return.  The returnees were very enthusiastic about talking. They took their networking seriously.  People I talked with had been to Kansas City, Atlanta, Palo Alto & Charlottesville, among other places.

They were interested in talking about their projects, but sometimes not as hopeful as I had hoped.  One woman averred that America had spoiled her a bit. It was harder in Brazil, she said. Not only was there less access to capital for true start-ups, but the Brazilian society was less tolerant of failure.  Still, everybody had some sort of working business.  I suppose it might be an example of selection bias, since successful entrepreneurs would be more likely to show up for the reception.

The American appetite for risk is something I have heard about during my entire FS career.  Everybody seems to notice it and many returnees comment.  This was as true in my other posts as in Brazil.  It is not always portrayed as a positive.  There is an undertone that Americans are a little too insouciant.

But America tends to be the land of many chances. If you think you only have one shot, you tend to be much more cautious.  I am not sure if this can be easily duplicated elsewhere.  It comes not from programs that can be copied, but maybe from a more mobile society.  We have a tradition, or at least a national myth, that we can pick up and move farther west or down the road.  Form the time of the pioneers to Route 66, we are movers. I read that Americans are moving less than we did in the past.  I wonder how this will affect our tolerance for failure.

I thought about my networking in the USA as compared to Brazil. Since I am here only a short time, I think I get only the one touch.  I followed up with emails, but it is not the same as long term.  In the USA, I have developed the “book gift” system.   When I talk to someone, I often bring up a book I read about whatever we are discussing and in that age of Amazon, I can easily send them the book (providing a get an address).  I am not sure if they really read the book, and I suspect most do not, but it is a powerful reminder and a commitment tailored to the needs of the person.

One of the most flattering things you can say to someone is, “I have been thinking about what you said, and you are right.”  This says that in double.  If I was going to be a full-time diplomat again, I would think of the equivalent.

have been enjoying my time in Brazil immensely, but I am getting a little tired. The daily (many times a day often) are rewarding but intense. I love it here. Brazilians are wonderful people, but will be ready to go home when my time is done.

My picture shows the new CG getting ready to address the YLAI meeting and me with one of the participants. I took a lot more pictures, at least I thought I did, but they seem not to be on my camera. Sorry.

Interesting subplot to the CG picture. Later in the evening I was speaking to the woman in the picture. We were speaking in Portuguese. She mentioned how hard it was for her to speak in English, which she was doing in the picture. I thought her English was fine. I had not noticed, which is the ultimate compliment (I told her) to someone speaking a foreign language. I guess we never feel comfortable, no matter how good we get.

Maker Space at Case Thomas Jefferson

I cannot claim credit, but I was present at the creation and I am deeply gratified by the small part I played – I signed the original seed grant and helped facilitate contacts between Casa Thomas Jefferson and Smithsonian. What I can claim is a useful perspective. I saw the start of this idea and how it grew with the help and active participation of so many people, in Brazil and in the USA. Coincidentally, I was Senior International Adviser at Smithsonian when CTJ people visited to follow up on plans. And now I get to see the program in glorious fruition

The choice to build an updated American space to include a maker space seems like a natural one now, prosaic and mundane. Back when CTJ made the decision, the future was not as clear. Lucia Santos, then fairly new as director of CTJ, had to make a courageous decision to commit a large amount of money and staff resources to a project that lots of people could not understand. CTJ was already in a great position, the most prestigious English teaching cultural institution in Brazil. It would be easy to rest on the laurels. But they did it.

The partnership with Smithsonian was crucial. Despite my subsequent sojourn at Smithsonian, I have no special knowledge of how they came up with that idea, so I will refer you to the great article in this link, “Side by Side by the Smithsonian.” I became aware of the program when the Smithsonian contacted the Embassy about CTJ. They were looking for some of the best spaces in the world, to serve as models for others, and CTJ rose to the top. We facilitated the visits. Well … it worked.

The idea is to go beyond CTJ, although CTJ with all its branches is pretty big just by itself. (They just opened a branch in Uberlândia, first time outside the Federal District.) CTJ is reaching out and working with other BNCs in Brazil and in Latin America.

Lucia Santos told me that they are aware of the competition among English teaching operations. Binational Centers have history on their side. Binational Centers, as the name implies, are Brazilian-American joint ventures. The first ones were founded just before and during World War II, when Brazilians and Americans alike feared the active and aggressive “cultural” influence of the Nazis in Latin America. They were not initially strongly associated with the United States government, but rather with U.S. NGOs, semi-government and philanthropic organization. We just had not yet developed those mechanisms. USIA was founded only in 1953. But American diplomacy was soon involved. I learned to love BNCs during my first posting in Porto Alegre. They are wonder venues for cultural events and learning, much better, IMO, to those commercial schools who may do a competent job of teaching English, but do not feature the broader commitment to culture, the arts and development of Brazilian society. This commitment, however valuable, is not w/o costs, so the BNCs need to stay a step ahead of the competition.

This American space/maker space is more than a step ahead. There is currently no equal in Brazil. CTJ uses the space to teach its own students, but shares with public schools, scholars and entrepreneurs. In this sense, it is almost like a business incubator.
A couple of projects that you can see in the pictures were designed by students to help teach blind kids about science concepts. They can feel the 3D river system, for example. The student task is to identify challenges and then figure ways to address them. This has the double advantage of exercising the minds of the students and providing useful tools to those who need them.

BNCs are one of “our” best program. I put our in quotation marks, because they have grown so far beyond our initial vision. CTJ, for example, supports itself and in fact supports us. We could not run programs like Youth Ambassador or much of our outreach w/o BNCs. They do the educational advising and they provide library services. BNCs operate our Access Program that reached the less fortunate. We always know where to find friends in Brazil. They are at the BNCs.

CTJ celebrated its 50th Anniversary while I was serving in Brazil. I wrote the linked note. In Salvador, I attended the 70th Anniversary in 2011. Yeah, got history.

São Paulo Symphony Orchestra played a tribute to Leonard Bernstein

The São Paulo Symphony Orchestra played a tribute to Leonard Bernstein, including selections from Candide, West Side Story, Slava & On the Town. Good to see American culture showcased in Brazil. The concert was at the beautiful São Paulo Municipal Theater.
I went with the new Consul General in São Paulo, Adam Shub – seems a good guy, very interested in cultural events. We went to a Peruvian restaurant before the show. My choice. The food was good, but the immediate neighborhood was not good. I walked to the restaurant, got there a bit early and reconnoitered. There were lots of odd people hanging or as often laying around even during the day, graffiti and boarded up building. I did not feel comfortable even in broad daylight. After dark, I thought it best to take a taxi rather than walk the five-seven minutes to the theater. Those who know my predilections about walking will appreciate that this is not usual for me. Not good.

There were signs of improvement, I suppose what we would call gentrification, and there was a clear dividing line. Actually, it was more like a couple of blocks of bad surrounded by good or okay. Unfortunately, it got a little too grungy between where we were and where we wanted to be. When we picked up the taxi, I apologized for the short trip, but the driver said that we made a good choice not venturing through that gauntlet and said that a lot of his business is just driving customers around that couple of blocks. We gave him a good tip.
The area around the theater was nice. It is an attractive 19th Century building, beautiful inside and out, as you can see in the pictures. They are very enthusiastic that you not check your phone. There are guys deployed in the top balcony that shine laser pointers on anybody who takes out a phone. They to this to the end, when everybody takes out the phone to get pictures of the players and selfies, I suppose. They parked a classic Ford Fairlane outside, I guess because or West Side Story. Lots of people were taking pictures with it, so we did too.

Me too

 An Active and Effective Woman

Juliana de Faria created a #metoo type movement in Brazil a couple years before it took hold in the USA. She was moved by the same sorts of actions that affected Americans.  I will let you see her explain it herself at her TED Talk linked. She is speaking in Portuguese, but the talk has English subtitles. She is founder of the feminist blog Think OLGA and the campaign Chega de Fiu Fiu (Enough with the Catcalling) that challenges sexual harassment in public places. She was recently named one of “8 Incredible Women Who Will Inspire You to Break the Rules” by Cosmopolitan magazine and the Clinton Foundation’s No Ceilings Project.  Ms. de Faria partnered with the Public Defender of the State of São Paulo to create and disseminate informational material about sexual assault. Her e-book Meu Corpo Não É Seu (My Body Is Not Yours) was published 2014.

She was one of our IVLPs who traveled in 2016 on IVLP regional project “Women Leaders – Promoting Peace and Security,” so I was interested in learning more about her experiences on our exchange and if it affected here activities.  We had coffee and discussed her program. BTW – I asked her permission to write this up and share it, since I otherwise take out the names and some details.

Juliana was already active and effective before she went on her IVLP visit, which is how she came to the attention of our Consulate colleagues.  We talked about added value.  She talked about the power of networking and that the visit gave her a greater appreciation of how that works.  It is not enough, she said, to get lots of attention of lots of people interacting on social media, although those things are important.  Affecting lasting positive change requires lasting commitment, and that requires organization, and creation or influencing institutions.  She also came to appreciate more the need for partnerships.  Partners need not agree with everything you are trying to do. They may even be opponents of some of the things you consider important, but it is better to find points of agreement and work on those.

Networking and the Art of Working with Partners

As we talked, I realized that what she was describing was essentially the theory of networking and idea transmission that we had long studied and tried to implement in public diplomacy efforts.  I was concerned that I was hearing what I wanted to hear and feared confirmation bias. I rephrased what I thought I heard her saying, admitting the possibility of confirmation bias. She thought that the rephrasing was consistent with what she was saying, so we were reading from the same page.  We agreed that it was less an example of confirmation bias as simple confirmation.  We both believed that this was a useful and effective way to pass information and help promulgate ideas.

The Joy and Challenge of Multi-Regional Projects

Speaking specifically about the IVLP experience, Juliana said that it has facilitated her networking with Americans and with others from Latin America who had been with her on the tour. One drawback was that most of the other participants were from Spanish speaking Latin America.  Spanish and Portuguese are similar but not interchangeable and it tends to be a one-way transmission in that Portuguese speakers can understand more Spanish than Spanish speakers can understand Portuguese.  Juliana and other Brazilian participant were okay with English, but Spanish translation was provided and that tended to make positive group dynamics a little harder.

After her return she had a visit with President Obama.  Juliana praised his intelligence and his commitment to improving the situation for women.  She mentioned that she was pregnant during the visit and President Obama joked that Barack is a good name for a baby.  This was in October of last year when she participated in a dinner for former President Obama when he visited Brazil.  That seems some very high-level networking.

Biomath – if your model says it is raining, it is still a good idea to look out the window

I was not sure what “biomathematicians” did, but when I looked it up I learned that I was familiar with the work, if not the more complex current techniques. You can trace the field at least as far back as John Snow (the London man who traces a cholera epidemic to a polluted well and helped create the whole science of public health, not the King of the North in “Game of Thrones”) Biomathematicians essentially map and model biological phenomenon, such as disease spread or dynamics of wildlife populations.

This I needed to know because the Mission sponsored a lecture visit by two biomathematicians – Dr Lora Billings from Montclair University and Dr Shweta Bansal of Georgetown. They were collaborating with colleague around Brazil, for us more specifically at the State University of São Paulo (UNESP). I got to have lunch and attend some lectures and a media event.

Connecting people and ideas
For the Mission, this visit satisfied a couple of our goals. First was the simple connections principle. One of the most important functions of diplomats is that we act as connectors, putting Americans in touch with counterparts in other places. Connectors play a key role in the information ecosystem but they (we) are easily overlooked or dismissed.

Women in STEM
When connecting works as it should, it grows way beyond our capacity and it is tempting to believe that it “would have happened anyway.” I am aware of this attitude because I used to share it. It was only with a fair amount of experience and some focused study that I came to appreciate the connector niche. The second of our goals, more a “meta-goal,” was to highlight women in science, in the STEM fields. Both goals were achieved.
Lots of the math was beyond me, but I did finally learn what an eigenvalue did, at least in a general sense. It is a measure of stability. The reason I bring up this piece of esoterica is that since I was in college one of my jokes (of limited use) was that in my statistics studies I learned about eigenvalues but in all my years after never saw them in action.

Modeling Disease Spread
Dr Banal talked about modelling the spread of influenza. It is not as easy as running time series, since there are many factors in complex relationship. The flu itself mutates every year and this interacts with weather, behaviors that change in relation to other factors, random chance … lots of things. She mentioned that complex is not the same as complicated and talked about how that affects ability to predict, i.e. prediction in complex systems is not possible in detail but you can model and get some ideas that can inform decisions and action.

Dynamics of Ecological Systems
Dr Billings talked about the dynamics of ecological systems, modeling what happens when you add in an invasive species or take out existing ones and/or change the dynamic as in climate change. The good news is that the impact of invasive species may be limited, in that they invade into disturbances and then may moderate. The bad news is that there are lots of disturbances these days.

Malaria Transmission
One of the Brazilian colleagues, Dr Roberto Kraenkel,  talked about modeling malaria outbreaks. He had some kind of graph that could show relationships among variables that were not clearly correlated or were both correlated to other factors. Experts understand these things. For guys like me he gave a simple example. Water in a lake is correlated with rainfall in the watershed. If you know something about the watershed, rainfall may be predictive of lake levels. However, lake levels are not predictive of rainfall, but you can tie both to other factors. Even the simple example soon moved beyond my full understanding. What I got was more rain makes the lake rise – sometimes, not always.

Reality Checks
All the participants mentioned the need for boots on the ground study and they listened to local information. They were concerned that models could get ahead of reality and so built in realty checks. I thought this was great wisdom. Big data and computer power can find lots of relationships and correlations, sometimes even when they really are not there.
That is why even if your model says it is raining, it is still a good idea to look out the window.

Paulo Agustoni

Paulo Agustoni had been working for the USG for more forty years by the time I started in the FS and he was waiting from me when I took up my post in Porto Alegre. All counted, Paulo would spend more than fifty (50) years in the service of the United States of America. He showed me his service pins from ten, twenty, thirty and forty years of service. They evidently do not have one for fifty. It so rarely comes up.

I went to visit Paulo during my visit to Porto Alegre. He is now ninety-one years old. People often say that old people still “sharp.” In Paulo’s case, they are telling the truth.

Paulo has a big book of pictures, letter and personnel actions. I was happy that I wrote his EER competently back in 1987, because he still has it.

He was a typical Gaucho when he was born in Passo Fundo, RS back ninety-one years ago, i.e. he was the son of immigrants. His father came from nearby Uruguay. His mother came from farther away in Naples.

Paulo’s daughter pointed out that her grandmother immigrated directly to Porto Alegre. I learned that this was unusual for the time. Most Italian immigrants headed for “the colony,” which was the land of the Italians in the RGS mountains where they came to predominate in cities like Caixias do Sul or Bento Gonçalves, and in the countryside around where they established vineyards and small farms. There is town called Antonio Prato much loved by Romance language linguists, since that is where they go to study Italian dialects no longer extant in the old country.

This area of Rio Grande do Sul and neighboring state of Santa Catarina is one of the most pleasant landscapes on earth. The climate is moderate, since it has higher altitudes and lower latitudes. It gets enough rain to keep it green all year around and immigrants from Italy and Germany constructed neat communities among the majestic araucaria trees (sometimes called Parana pine).

In 1944, Paulo started to work for the USG at the predecessor of the USIA. His job was to show films in the interior of the state. From there he worked his way up and made a good life for himself and his family.

Paulo helped me when I was a green young officer and it was great to see him again.
My first picture shows Paulo and me. Next three are from the Cathedral Square in POA. Picture # 4 shows Theatro Sao Pedro. Back when I first came to POA, it was a ruin. Some people wanted to tear it down and build one of those steel and concrete monstrosities that passed for modern architecture – like the the thing you see at the edge of the picture. It was saved largely though the efforts of Eva Sopher. Her family fled Hitler and found refuge in RGS. She paid pack the kindness by saving this landmark. I met her a couple times. Remarkable woman, the kind of person who is the epitome of culture and kindness. Her work lives on.