The Brazilian Validation of my Ph.D.

I’m still months away from being validated. But at least 95% of the paper work is in. It was easy, really: -Sent Diploma and full academic transcript to Brazilian consulate in Houston (closest consulate to graduating institution). $10 verification. -Had documents sent to Brazil. $93 -Had said documents verified by a notary: $11 -Documents translated by an “official” translator: $217 -Paid fee to the “validating” Federal University (UFRJ) in my case: $41 -Handed-in documents to UFRJ! -Realized that they also want a...

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Moralistic Blockaders versus Subversive Altruists

Carol and I have been watching political candidates advertise their wares on TV. The Brazilian election is just around the corner and as I mentioned before, it’s not looking promising. Things are good economically, so there’s little incentive for reform. I am reluctant to venture the opinion that someone “looks” corrupt – as the adage goes: looks often deceive – but it’s hard not to infer from the slick manner and silky words of some candidates that they’re in the game for more than just helping their country get ahead...

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“Number of people using internet more than doubles in last four years (118%)” “Income goes up by 20% over the last five years” “The country now has more houses with washing machines”

These were a few of today’s not-to-be-missed headlines in Brazil’s most respected newspaper, Folha de São Paulo. With the presidential election less than one month away, this news would appear to be a thinly veiled attempt to laud Lula’s time in office and, by association, his chosen candidate, Dilma Rousseff. Yet no… and yes… it so happens that the government-run Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics has just released its 2009 household survey, nicely timed to coincide with the pre-election race. Well...

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Why Political Geography Matters

Last post I spoke about a few economic reasons why the citizen-government connection in Brazil needs strengthening. In this post I want to talk about geography. Cities that combine economic, cultural, and political centers, like Washington, London, Paris, among many others, tend to make for a charged political environment. Where this environment has remained mostly orderly, a virtuous political ecology often takes root. Cities attract active citizens who interact with their political environment in myriad ways. Politically vested citizens from...

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Economic Progress, Political Complacence, and the Tenuous Citizen-Government Connection

Most gringos don’t realize that Brazil and Latin America’s experience with democracy is relatively recent. Brazil has come a long way since it returned from dictatorship to democracy in the late 1980s. It only drafted its current constitution in 1988, just over twenty years ago. Today, politics is less polarized, the military has less influence, consumers have greater choice thanks to fewer barriers to imports, and most crucially, inflation is no longer the unslayable dragon it was in the late 1980s and early 1990s...

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The Beach and the end of Inequality

Well, perhaps not the end of inequality, but the beach certainly is something of an equalizer. Although the beach has its classes and groups, it is the closest Brazilians come to indiscriminate association. Perhaps you have a few class indicators, like a pair of sunglasses or a fancy bathing suit, but except for some very informal segmentation it’s often difficult to tell rich from poor, poor from rich. Conversations and activities among strangers intermingle. Carolina and I observed one little fat white kid playing with a frisky group...

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Rio’s Unfortunate Police Force

Carolina and I were eating our breakfast at a little joint we favor for mixto quentes com ovo (ham, cheese and egg sandwiches) and açai. Today was a busy Sunday, and late-morning there were quite a few people trying to put in their order for açai and salgados. Up walks a police officer, a short black fellow, buds in front of a few people and shouts at a kid behind the counter to put a few things in a bag. The kid looks at him with a mixture of fear and acquiescence, and does as he’s told. Carol pointed out the scene to me. Afterward...

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Jeitinho

For Gringos to write about certain words in the Brazilian vocabulary has become somewhat cliché. “Saudade” is probably the most recurringly discussed word, a term combining the idea of nostalgia and a fond recollection. A Brazilian might say s/he has “saudade” for his family when s/he is away from home. Perhaps the second most spoken about word is “jeitinho,” loosely translated as “a way” and usually used in the sense of “a way of making it work.” Very often it means, “using...

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Brazil: Culturally Self-Possessed.

I admire Brazil most for its self-possession. Its culture is uniquely distinct and, as I will write about next entry, it even follows political and economic policy that is out-of-step with the dictates of first-world orthodoxy. For the most part, the country’s self-possession is accidental– it’s the sole Portuguese-speaking country in the Americas, and its large population and young median age allows its large market and wealth of human resources allows it to be more self-contained than other countries. One of the reasons...

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