Thursday, September 29, 2005

Jedi Kids!

It's starting to become rather cliché for me to say that it's been a long week... but it does seem like last weekend was a long time ago! I can't seem keep up with real life virtually; I still have pictures ready for the gallery from weeks ago, because I still haven't got around to writing a blog post for them!

In my last post (on Saturday), I mentioned that preparations were underway for James' 10th birthday party. He had invited a small group of close friends from school for "Star Wars"-themed festivities. Not that there was any particular structure to the activities-- the "concept" was basically this: minimal decorations, snacks, and cheap plastic swords for all with which to entertain themselves. The swimming pool (although absolutely gelid!), along with the Playstation 2 and computer games, rounded out the day's recreation.

We have a certain amount of experience with this kind of event and I can affirm with authority that kids (at least, boys!) in this age group know how to entertain themselves if you allow them some space. Of course, the "space" in our case was the area in and around the construction site, with the specification of a couple of "restricted areas". Luckily there were no major injuries!

The pictures of Saturday's diversions can be seen in the gallery: click here.


Sunday evening was the celebration with the family (at least, the portion of the family that was present!): The idea was to hold an "intimate" dinner with just family members: Ana and her kids, Ana's boyfriend Sergio, Celinho (Cristina's brother), and their cousin Luciano ("Lu") with his girlfriend Renata. Unfortunately, you can't really call anything "intimate" when Kevin is present: his antics manages to draw attention to us wherever we go!

James was allowed to choose the restaurant, in honor of his birthday: "Joe & Leo's" just barely edged out Outback Steakhouse; mostly because "Joe & Leo's", styled as a genuine American sports bar and grill, specializes in classic hamburgers, which is what James likes most. But also because of its location: with a view from the mezzanine of Rio's elite "Fashion Mall", it looks out on "Pedra da Gavea" and the green slopes of Tijuca Forest. Christian approved James' choice because Joe & Leo's also has the "smiley fries"!

By their choices in restaurants, you can see how strong the gringo influence is in the family!

Unfortunately it was raining torrentially and dark, so you couldn't see much of the view; but the dinner, in spite of Kevin's difficulty in remaining seated, was enjoyable for all. To top it all off, James and Christian were allowed to spend the night with cousins Bruno and Mariana afterwards, and skip school on the following day. All in all, a great birthday weekend for James!

The pictures from dinner at Joe & Leo's are here.



Today, September 29, is Celio & Cléa's 43rd wedding anniversary! One frustrated attempt was made to contact them today ... and now it's really late ... but our congratulations and best wishes to the both of them on this special date!


Oh yeah ... (referring to the picture above) ... I figured out how to do a cool light saber effect in photoshop! (it's pretty easy!). You can click on the picture above to see a larger version.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

I ate raw fish...

I really did... on Thursday night, at a little japanese restaurant nearby with Cristina and my brother-in-law Celinho. And although it wasn't my first time, it was the first time that I went beyond the "Hot Philadelphia" ( a "makimono" which is mostly rice and cream cheese, and doesn't really look like fish at all), and tried some different sushi and even sashimi... slimy-feeling strips of raw salmon and tuna.

I know this isn't a big deal for many people, but for me it was a significant event: it means that, after nearly 15 years of stalwart resistance to the tremendous social pressure that has accompanied the explosion of japanese restaurants and sushi bars here in Brazil (and the US also, from what I can tell), I finally caved in. To be sure, it was a gradual collapse of will; I've been accompanying others to japanese restaurants for years, but in general I always stuck with the yakisoba, or maybe the fried shrimp. After awhile, I started risking the hashi (chopsticks), instead of demanding a fork and knife like any civilized westerner should do. Then there was the saki (rice wine), which isn't too bad... (but I don't know what the deal is with the square cups. It seems like the japanese go out of their way to make everything difficult!).

Raw fish, though, was a big step for me. For most of my life, I had always prided myself on being pretty open minded about food; back in my home state of Kansas, I had been willing to at least try about anything you can grow or kill, cook, and put on a plate. Frog legs ... snapping turtle ... I even ate rattlesnake once (it all tastes like chicken anyway!). But raw fish??? The idea of eating any dead animal completely raw runs against some deeply ingrained tabu that I apparently hold. It rated down there with live bugs and human flesh on the list of stuff that I normally wouldn't even consider putting in my mouth ... unless maybe I were stranded in a lifeboat, in the middle of the sea, and a fish happened to jump into my boat. I'm sure after a couple of days without food, I would tear into the fish with abandon-- bones, scales, and all-- and I would probably love every savory bite of it!

As an anthropologist, it has always been pretty clear that learning to cook our food was one of the essential leaps (along with tool use) that helped distinguish homo sapiens from the other carnivores!

And yet, it seems that at least two out of every three people I know down here absolutely love sushi. Initially, I kind of figured it was just a passing fad ... or at least hoped that it would be a short-lived cultural trend. In reality, I reasoned, it must be that what people really like about it was the thrill of breaking that tabu; of eating something that a human being ought not eat. But then, it seemed to have caught wind with the "health food" craze (I guess the slight risk of salmonella isn't considered as being "unhealthy") and has done nothing but grow in popularity.

So now I have to admit; if sushi is a fad, it shows no signs of abating. In fact, what finally led to my gradual breakdown is the fact that here on the island on which I live (Ilha do Governador), one of the few decent restaurants (non-pizzarias), is a japanese restaurant. As Cristina and I have begun to retake our "life beyond kids", we have been trying to go out together every Thursday (so far it's averaged every other Thursday, but it's a start). However, since our babysitter can only stay until about 9:00 pm, leaving Ilha in search of more interesting restaurants makes our dinner rushed, and we run the risk of getting stuck in traffic.

So that's where I am now. Having tried it, I can honestly say that it's not that bad. But, I'm pretty sure that I will continue to steer clear from the sashimi, and I still have no intention of trying the octopus and squid. But I've said that before, so let's see what happens next week!



Today is James 10th birthday! In a few hours, we'll have about half-a-dozen friends from school over for an afternoon of videogames and sword fights. It's time for me to get to work, as I still have a pool to clean and preparations to make!


Our hearts go out to those who are in Rita's path, or who have loved-ones there. Our best wishes to all of you!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Kevin dethroned!

Last Wednesday (a week ago today) we made the traditional run to the airport, to say our goodbyes to Celio and Clea (my inlaws), who left to spend some time with Cleia and Mark in New Jersey. (Note to "outsiders": Cleia, generally known as Duca within the family, is Cristina's sister; she and her husband, Mark, are also Kevin's godparents.) It is usually during these trips that we perceive how much we take for granted having the grandparents around; so the farewell ritual is typically an emotionally charged moment, particularly for Cristina and her sister, Ana, who will have to make due without the company and support of their parents for what will probably amount to a couple of months out of the country.

Since we live so close (within walking distance of their house), we spend a lot of time around them; their absence is already being keenly felt by the kids.


So Celio and Clea arrived Thursday morning in Ramsey, New Jersey, where they were received by Duca and Mark with an unexpected and thrilling surprise:

Duca is four months pregnant!

Yes ... incredibly, knowing that Celio and Clea were planning a visit, they managed to keep her pregnancy secret from all of us, for all this time. By Thursday morning, the news had propagated back to us in Brazil, and it seemed like Cristina and Ana were the ones who had become grandparents with all the blubbering that was going on! The kids were equally thrilled. The only bittersweet aspect to the news is that the little Dukita or Markito will be born in Ramsey, NJ, far from everyone. However, James and Christian saw it immediately as another great excuse for us to travel to the United States again soon!

Of course, the news also means that Kevin has been dethroned! In one swell foop, he will fall from his position as youngest Prince of the Realm (of all my nephews and nieces of both sides of the family), and lose his title of preferred Prince to his Godparents! On the other hand, he will have another cousin, a little closer to his age range: someone for him to teach all about Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Dungeons & Dragons, and the like!

Below are a couple of pictures of Celio and Clea hanging out on the sailboat with Mark and Duca (sent by Duca, from this Sunday!):


It's ironic; when I met Cristina, she was the only member of her family who lived outside of Brazil. Now two of her sisters live in the US and her brother (effectively) lives in Taiwan. When her parents are in the US, that leaves only Ana and her kids as "family" here in Brazil. But that's OK; we're not complaining. It's kind of nice having family spread around the world; it means there are a lot of places that feel like "home". Certainly for James and Christian, the Kansas City area feels like home ... with two sets of grandparents, a great grandmother, 3 pairs of uncles and aunts, and a whole bunch of cousins, they have nothing but great memories from each of our visits. Our trip to the US this past Christmas was a rich and rewarding experience all around. We're looking forward to getting back to New Jersey also, to see Duca and Mark, and the new little Ramsey; and we're also really looking forward to getting to know Regina and Gustavo's new home in Weston, Florida (as long as it's not hurricane season!).

Rumor has it, they have also recently acquired a new addition to the family ... of the canine variety. However, they preferred to risk their luck with a Boston Terrier rather than heed my advice and my ... er... whole-hearted endorsement of the Labrador race!

Monday, September 19, 2005

On a lighter note ...

A rainy saturday at home.

After a couple of somewhat indigestible posts, today I'm moving back to the vegetarian menu.

This weekend was cool and rainy ... and everyone seemed to be nursing a hangover from a long week (I mean that figuratively; it's a common brazilian expression!). Luckily, cousins Bruno and Mariana dropped by on Saturday to provide much needed distraction from a situation that might have degraded into general bad moods all around. Not that anyone really wanted to do anything, which of course wouldn't stop the kids from complaining that there was "nothing to do".

In the picture above, the kids all are watching "Men in Black II". When I say "all" I mean all of them; Kevin included. There is very little that goes on in our sometimes inconveniently cramped dwelling-space that Kevin is not exposed to or doesn't participate in (or at least thinks he participates in); even watching movies (he can sit through a feature length film) or playing Playstation games. Although they get a kick out of his antics, James and Christian do have to put up with a lot from their terrible-two-year-old brother!

At one point as they were watching MIB II, a scene caught my attention where an "alien" disguised as a lingerie-clad supermodel grows tentacles from her fingertips and sticks them through a two-headed Johnny Knoxville-alien's nose and ears. It didn't even fase Kevin. it'll be "interesting" to see what the long-term effects on his "delicate psyche" will be from growing up in our peculiar environment, saturated as it is with his older brothers' fantasy universe of sword and sorcery, warriors and monsters, aliens and space battles.

I can't imagine what raising "normal kids" must be like. Just to give you an example: whenever Kevin sees the moon, he will narrow his eyes and, pursing his lips, say, in an ominous tone of voice, "Daaaaarth Vaaaaader!". He will often follow it up humming part of Darth Vader's Imperial March.

Imagine how much fun we would be missing out on if we had decided to stick with just two kids!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Big Picture: A View from Above

At the end of my last post ("Katrina, Leviathan"), I finished with the following phrase:

"How many other lessons must we learn the hard way before we take off our blinders and start trying to see the big picture? "

My question was purely rhetorical, but in the comments, Rick (my brother, provocative as always!) called me out, and followed up with a question:

"I have to admit though at the end I am left wondering: what is the big picture? Am i just one of the ones who has lost sight of it or is it missing on all of us?"

Perhaps his question was also rhetorical; most likely he was just baiting me (as he is wont to do!). But in trying to respond to him, I was forced to think a little more about my words (which is usually a good thing). Last Thursday night, after following the link and reading the essay he provided, I attempted to answer his question. But it was late, and I was tired, and I failed to achieve the synthesis I desired.

Last night I tackled it again, but as my response grew into something of a rambling essay, I realized that I had no simple answer. Rather than deleting my message and giving up, or just responding with some flippant remark, I decided to adapt the text and post it today as a blog entry.

So at the risk of letting my "family blog" degenerate into a "political blog", I will venture some additional comments. Rick: I don't know if I will manage to answer your question, but, whether you agree with anything I say or not, just take this as something of a "window" into my way of thinking.


Rick ...

I wasn't trying to make any profound political statement in my post; other than showing off my knowledge of philosophy (lol!), my only objective was to express the way I felt ... and still feel ... outraged, and dismayed, not that a disaster of this magnitude could happen in the US, but that the consequences of such a disaster could be so terrifying. That people can literally be dying in the streets while the whole world watches, several days after the hurricane hit. And that most of their putrifying bodies are still there, two weeks later.

Of course, this is my "premise": I consider this to be an unacceptable situation.

Obviously, by now it is clear that a number of factors contributed to making the response to this disaster so ... well, disastrous.

We had a major coastal city, much of which is situated at an altitude that is below sea level. We had a system of levees which was widely known to have been built to withstand hurricanes of up to Cat 3. We have had increasingly powerful and dangerous hurricanes forming over the carribean and gulf of mexico over the last few years. We have had decades of local and federal governments who have opted to roll the dice with this city, believing that the chances of hitting all sixes is once in 100 years.

We had hundreds of thousands of people living in this city below sea level. Tens of thousands of these people lived both below the poverty level, AND below sea level.

Local officials had no plan to get out the hundred thousand or so people who did't even have a car, let alone anywhere else to go. Or to get the people out of the nursing homes. Instead, they told people to go to the Superdome and Convention Center: locations with no generators, minimal stockpiles of food and water, no sanitation, and practically no security force to protect them.

On the surface, the blame for most of these failures falls on the local state and city governments, which should have had a plan for a crisis that was not only inevitable, it was more like a ticking bomb waiting to explode. These governments should be held accountable for any avoidable mistakes that could have saved human lives. People who shirked their own responsibilities: the owners of nursing homes or other facilities who decided to save their own lives and leave behind the weak and helpless to ride out the storm, are criminals and should be treated as such.

But on a deeper level, like 9/11, Katrina exposed how unprepared America still is for events that defy our capacity to imagine them. At a time in which every hour that passed meant more lives lost, the Federal government failed to follow the guidelines of its own Homeland Security National Response Plan. This plan, elaborated in response to 9/11, details the responsability of each federal agency, as well as those of the local government in the event of a crisis. The guidelines are clear and comprehensive, but of little use if they are ignored, or not enforced.

Federal authorities should be held accountable for not acting swiftly once it was clear that the local government authorities could not handle the situation; but who should be held accountable for the decades of neglect that left the city so vulnerable in the first place?


As to the "big picture": for me, to try and see the big picture is to attempt to look at the issues and problems from the perspective of an outsider, without the colored-glass filters of ideology and "conventional wisdom" through which we normally tend to view them; to strip away the artificial limitations on our own creativity that we ourselves impose when we choose to label ourselves "right" or "left", "conservative" or "liberal", "Republican" or "Democrat"; or when we embrace the labels imposed by others.

Natural disasters happen, and in general, they are a part of life, especially for people who knowingly reside in regions prone to them. But what is significant about New Orleans is not just the body count that's sure to skyrocket; I think it's clear that, had New Orleans been more prepared, much needless death, suffering, and terror could have been avoided. Even if you believe that the role of the federal government should be minimal, you cannot deny that the cost of Katrina to US taxpayers will be staggering ($100 billion +), not to mention the indirect costs (higher priced gasoline, charitable donations, etc.). Common sense should dictate that it would have been cheaper to "prevent" (prepare for adequately) the disaster than recover from it.

The other thing that Katrina revealed is that, in a very real sense, the vast pockets of abject poverty that reside within our major urban centers are disasters waiting to happen. The tragedy of New Orleans started long before the levees broke and the city was inundated; long before Katrina formed over the Atlantic, even. A long chain of events stretching back into history brought us to this point: a city vulnerable to a catastrophe of almost biblical proportions. The housing projects of New Orleans, like any other American city, are breeding grounds for generations of people without hope, without initiative, without the basic values our society covets and seeks to foster. Whether justifiably or not, many of these people feel left out, rejected by our "tribe"; it seems only natural that they form their own "tribes", their own culture even, where the family unit is often based on a welfare-dependent single mother. Out of this cauldron springs an angry faction with nothing to lose, without value even for human life, and without any limitations on their basest instincts.

You have the wolves, together with the sheep. New Orleans was far from being the largest, or even the most impoverished of American cities; and yet, there we saw how thin the dividing line between civilization and anarchy can be. This wasn't Haiti: we are talking about the continental United States of America. How long before the wolves realize they can overrun the sheepdogs again? How many troops would have to be deployed in Miami to get it back under control? Or Los Angeles? Or New York?

And don't try and compare 9/11 to New Orleans: although the impact and the scale of the tragedy may be comparable (in terms of human life, no one knows yet), we are still talking about just a single building! (well, two buildings). Try and imagine a major natural (or un-natural) catastrophe that provokes widespread destruction throughout Manhattan and the Bronx, or the entire north-eastern seaboard. Does anyone doubt we would we see anarchy on a scale never before imagined? Stop just for a second, and imagine the unimagineable!

Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating paranoia. I'm talking about something far more subtle. I'm talking about having the honesty to look at a problem and admit it's a problem; and the self-confidence to say: "That's unacceptable. I don't know how to fix it, but, by God, I'm gonna fix it before it's too late." And the willpower to make hard and costly decisions now, even knowing that the payback may only benefit future generations.

Which is exactly what I am most worried about: the world my kids will inherit, and that their kids will grow up in. We can wage war on our enemies, build walls around our borders, maybe even protect ourselves from the external forces that threaten us; but what good will it all do if we have our own enemy within ?


I don't have the answers; all I really have is a lot of questions. I apologize if it sounds like I'm preaching, because that's not my intent. I don't believe in telling people what to think, which is why it sometimes makes me angry when I feel that people are trying to tell me how I should think. I do feel very strongly about certain issues that I believe transcend ideology; problems that will require modern, creative solutions that may not fit neatly within a vision of the world as viewed from the Right or the Left. But maybe if we could lighten up, be a little less radical, a little more open-minded, but a little less tolerant with injustice and the things that we know are wrong, than we might be able to rise above the walls that divide us and take in the view from above:

The "Big Picture".

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Katrina, Leviathan

Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man. For war consisteth not in battle only, or the act of fighting, but in a tract of time, wherein the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known: and therefore the notion of time is to be considered in the nature of war, as it is in the nature of weather. For as the nature of foul weather lieth not in a shower or two of rain, but in an inclination thereto of many days together: so the nature of war consisteth not in actual fighting, but in the known disposition thereto during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is peace.

Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

-- Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan - 1660

I've been thinking a lot lately about the aftermath of Katrina; not only about its consequences for the residents of New Orleans, but about its implications for American society as a whole. Not since 9/11 have I seen more disturbing images than the scenes of catastrophe that unfolded live on television and over the internet; the despair, terror, and misery of thousands of people and families as they gradually realized that there was no one coming to their aid. Part of what made the event so dramatic for me was this: the fact that the technology of communications has advanced to the point that even here in Brazil, literally halfway around the world, I could follow an up to the minute account of what was going on within the zone of destruction. The end result was a profound sense of impotence and despair as I watched a tragedy in progress without being able to help; and an overwhelming sense of outrage that those who should be helping were nowhere to be seen. The ironic part is that, apparently, even here in Brazil, it seemed as if I were more aware of what was going on than many officials charged with making decisions within the very region affected.

I'm not joking. Even as the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast, an ad-hoc network of bloggers and websites formed to fill the vacuum left by the traditional media and official authority. Many of the bloggers are local journalists who didn't have any other way to get their stories out; but a large number of others are just common citizens who rose to the occasion. Bloggers within New Orleans were reporting extensive flooding and levees broken on Monday night; by Tuesday morning, there was no excuse for the whole world not to have known that Worse Case Scenario #1 was in progress: New Orleans would not survive.

Of all the blogs and other web resources that I have been watching since early last week, by far the most interesting is Michael Barnett's blog. Mike is "Crisis Manager" for a major New Orleans data center located on the 10th floor of an office building in downtown New Orleans (DirectNic). An ex-military (6 years in Special Forces Group), together with his girlfriend, the CEO of the company, and a group of 4 or 5 others, he was charged with keeping the datacenter online through Katrina and its aftermath. Starting from before Katrina hit, his blog reads like a novel, as he narrates one crisis after another as they struggled to keep the generators running, links up, and still report to the outside world what was happening as everything fell apart in New Orleans. They kept live webcams up throughout the calamity, and were one of the prime sources of information for the media when no other reliable information was available.

Even now they are online, blogging updates throughout the day. If you haven't been following it, it's worth reading from early on: on Sunday, the day before the hurricane, is a good place to start: The Interdictor, Sunday Aug. 28, 2005

Just click [Next Day] at the bottom of the page to read through the following days. Or click on [Calendar View] to navigate by date.


At 8:54 am on Tuesday, Aug. 30, Michael posted the following prophetic blog entry:

I do not want to be an alarmist, but people who have the means to leave the greater New Orleans area need to do so. The infrastructure required to maintain a city is down. It could be a long time before it's back up. There will be too many people fighting for exceptionally scarce resources. It's one of those situations where you need A in order to fix B, but you can't do A until C happens and C can't happen until B is finished. Right now, it's a matter of survival. There are 3 important aspects to surviving this: you need food/water/medicine, you need personal protection, and you need the means to conduct personal hygiene in such a way that you're not creating more of a problem than you're solving. For any media out there reading this, it would be very helpful for you to post guidelines for survivalist hygiene. This aspect is often the most overlooked. The possibility for disease is very high, especially in an area already infested with mosquitoes, roaches, flies, and rodents. Throw in dead bodies and unsatisfactory hygiene capabilities, overflowing sewage, etc. and you've got a recipe for an absolute disaster. And then, there are looters, drug addicts who can't get their fix, and opportunists.Things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. We are already instituting our own rules and guidelines for hygiene, personal behavior, etc. Effective use of time NOW is critical. Problems need to be dealt with before they exist, because they will exist and you don't want to have critical situations occur when you're dealing with something else.

If you accompany his blog, you will see that up to that point they had believed that New Orleans had been spared, and that the worse was over. When they awoke to the news that the levees had been breached, they knew immediately that the perspective was grave. Although no water had yet appeared downtown, it was common knowledge that most of NO is below sea level, and that there was nothing to stop its inundation.

Michael is a specialist in crisis management with military experience; he also predicted the looting and potential chaos with drug addicts, criminals and desperate people seeking to take advantage of the situation.

What he didn't antecipate was the complete breakdown in authority and disappearance of any semblance of law and order within the city. He didn't predict it, but he chronicled it. By the second or third day, he was broadcasting desparate pleas for the deployment of Active Duty Armed Forces. He spoke with police officers who all told the same story: the hierarchy of command was gone, and all communications were out. The members of the police force were victims themselves of the disaster; almost all of them had lost everything and many were more worried about finding and helping their own family members. Michael reported that even police officers had been seen looting.

One of the things that most amazed me as I watched events unfold in New Orleans, was the surprise and shock expressed by so many people at how rapidly the city turned violent. As looters ransacked the city, and armed gangs roamed the streets unchallenged, officials seemed totally caught off guard by the violence and even the media seemed to portray New Orleans as a city of outlaws, who were shooting at their would-be rescuers.

As the power structure collapsed and shots were heard in the streets, Michael Barnett and the team at Camp Crystal (which he denominated their 10th floor office space, after his girlfriend!) knew that things were going to get really, really bad, and that they were basically on their own.

How many petty crimes were committted in New Orleans per day before Katrina? How many felonys? murders? Rapes? How many homeless lived there? So why do people find it surprising that, once local local authority completely broke down, the thugs, degenerates, gangsters, drug addicts, rapists, murderers and other lowlife that usually populate the underworld, would quickly rise to the surface to fill the power void?

It's tempting to blame the people of New Orleans for allowing their city to fall into the stone age. But, what large city anywhere in the world wouldn't degenerate into chaos if the food and water supply were removed, the police force disappeared and no other authority moved in to replace it? And yet, to read the media reports and many commentators, you get the impression that the thousands of refugees trapped in the superdome were so outraged and desperate that they attacked their own rescuers! In reality, they were the victims of the unscrupulous animals which had been given a free pass to do their worst in a city whose civilization had utterly collapsed.

Thomas Hobbes was a 17th century English philosopher who, somewhat undeservedly, has a reputation for having had a pessimistic outlook on human nature. In his seminal work "The Leviathan", he described the life of mankind without central authority as being a constant state of war, where every man is enemy to every man. Among other things, what Hobbes said was that the very reason man unites with others to form a commonwealth, or state, is to protect himself from his very neighbors.

Hobbes wouldn't have been surprised to see what happened last week in New Orleans, Louisiana.

As could be predicted, politicians are revving up their engines and preparing for the political fallout that will be inevitable in the aftermath of such a cataclismic event. Democrats will seek to take advantage of what was clearly a fiasco of mismanagement by the federal agency responsible for disaster assistence (FEMA). Republicans are mobilizing to turn the blame around, since local officials were clearly unprepared for the disaster. President Bush is being blamed for everything from being too slow in reacting to the crisis, to having practically even CAUSED the hurricane by not paying enough attention to the greenhouse effect! Like it or not, the blame game is underway: Blacks will call it racism; liberals the consequences of poverty and inadequate social policy; conservatives, corruption and incompetence at local government levels, and over-reliance on federal resources. Both sides will accuse the other for once again dividing the country along partisan lines exactly when what's most needed is unity.

Today they are reporting 30 bodies found in a nursing home that was under water. For a city that was under a mandatory evacuation order, how can you not have had a plan for evacuating or protecting the nursing homes? hospitals? prisons? Local officials will have a lot of answering to do; but federal officials were too slow to perceive the onset of catastrophe and react to it, once the signs of the local breakdown were clear for all to see. Five days to deploy troops and provide aid to the region may have been a reasonable response time a few decades ago; but in today's world of instant mass communication and advanced technology, where five days is almost enough to invade and overthrow a foreign government, it's just not acceptable.

When the water dries out and the dust settles, I suspect that there will be enough blame to go around; and nobody that deserves blame will be spared. But for right now, the message I get from almost every blogger, every citizen "on the ground" ... every "refugee" who has lost everything and is hoping to get back on their feet, regardless of political affiliation, is that now is not the time for squabbling: what's needed now is cooperation and effective action both to respond to the overwhelming problems faced by the region, as well as to prepare more adequately for similar situations in the future. Hard questions must be asked: President Bush is now seeking over $50 billion dollars for recovery of the Gulf region. How much would it have cost to have prepared the levees for a category 5 hurricane? But the disaster in New Orleand wasn't the fruit of one administration's neglect; it's time for Americans to take a hard look at the other potential disasters, of all types, that may be looming on the horizon. On September 11, 2001, America learned the hard way the price of neglecting the threat of terrorism. In September of 2005, we learned yet another painful lesson. How many other lessons must we learn the hard way before we take off our blinders and start trying to see the big picture?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Construction up close.

As promised, here's some more pictures of the house under construction in our yard. They are slightly outdated ... from last weekend, just after the concrete "laje" (roof) had been poured. The entire structure is basically a steel-reinforced concrete box... I suspect quite hurricane proof, if it wasn't for the windows. Today, the wooden part of the roof that the ceramic shingles will be positioned upon began to be put in place.

The kids, Kevin included (especially Kevin!), enjoyed climbing onto the roof to look around at the neighborhood. I had a couple of minor heart attacks running around after Kevin; but after things calmed down, I grabbed the camera and snapped some pictures.

See the pictures here!


Happy birthday today to my aunt Karen! (thanks to the Franklin family MyFamily update emails, I do manage to catch some birthdays I would otherwise probably miss!).

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Taking the Animals to the Zoo!

After a long week, trapped indoors behind a construction barrier, with nothing but homework and video games to keep the kids entertained, the last thing we need is to spend a long Saturday under the same conditions! On Saturdays like today, getting out of the house is obligatory ... and what better place to take one's wild animals than to the zoo!

Rio de Janeiro's zoo is not exactly the most modern zoo I've been to ... nor the most politically correct. The Jardim Zoologico do Rio de Janeiro is the oldest zoo in Brazil. Founded in 1888, situated in a park surrounding what was once the Emperor's palace, the zoo itself is beautiful, with massive trees and tropical vegetation both surrounding and throughout it. Some of the enclosures leave a little to be desired: the big cats, for example, are housed in cages which are clearly less than adequate. Still, the zoo has improved somewhat over the years, and the kids know it like the back of their hands. I used to joke that whenever we arrived there, the monkeys would greet James & Christian like old friends.

Over the last couple of years, as James & Christian grew older, the frequency of our visits has waned considerably. I believe Kevin has only been there once or twice, and the last time was nearly a year ago. As such, we expected him to be overwhelmingly enthusiastic about his visit. Instead, however, we found him somewhat wary ... afraid even, in the beginning. Of course, as we progressed, he gradually warmed up to the zoo, but not until we stopped in a playground with slides did we start getting any visible excitement out of him.

Here are the pictures of our trip to the zoo, from this afternoon! click: Rio Zoo

Also, I've updated the pictures of our construction project! in Under Construction

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Nobody told me there'd be weeks like these !

Ok ... so I'm exaggerating! enough complaining already!

Here's a brief update of the "happenings" of this last week (or so ...)

-- Our building project is moving along well. The structure is completely in place ... bricks and concrete ... and electrical and hydraulic installations are underway. The wood for the roof should arrive tomorrow, and I ordered the doors and windows yesterday (that I should have done two weeks ago). I mean to post more pictures ... very soon!

-- Kevin continues going to school with very little complaint. I say "very little" because I think he has finally perceived that school is now an obligation, and not just a fun way to spend his mornings, when and if he feels like it. He is testing our mettle, but we will prevail!
-- His biological clock is still proving to be a challenge. Last week (right after my last blog entry) Kevin woke up twice in the middle of the night, and demanded to watch his "Donald Duck" DVD. (During the previous week, he had awoken afraid, and we had let him watch TV) . On the subsequent nights, he didn't show any sign of being afraid, so we sensed that a disturbing pattern was forming, and decided to nip it in the bud. He cried constantly for a couple of hours, in between screams of "I want to watch Duck!", and woke everyone in the house. But in the end, it seems to have worked... he hasn't been waking up since that night. On the other hand, he has been taking his nap from about 4 pm to 6 pm; right now it's 11 pm and he is still wide awake. This has made it really hard to get him up on time for school ...

-- As I previously mentioned, after nearly three years on leave of absence, Cristina returned to the federal university she teaches at two weeks ago. Ironically, after just two weeks of classes, the teacher's union called for a general strike at almost all federal universities in Brazil, effective as of yesterday (the political situation in Brazil is getting out of control ... I should probably blog about it sometime) . University strikes in Brazil have been know to drag on for months, so there is no way to know how long this one will go on (and who, besides students, really cares if a university is on strike??? oops. Cristina will kill me for saying that! ) But anyway, at least now she will have more time to prepare for her classes!

James & Christian:
-- The homework situation seems to have stabilized a little. Or maybe it's just us that have become more patient and slightly more tolerant. At any rate, everything seems to be going well at the moment. Last week we had a nice Father's Day event at school (Father's day in Brazil is in August). More pictures for my gallery backlog!

-- Today I received two complaints related to my lack of recent posts. Over the last week I actually started 2 different, somewhat "philosophical", blog posts, and abandoned them in the middle when I reached the point where I perceived that they were getting too convoluted and unwieldy to be comprehensible. They have been saved, so maybe I will clean them up and post them some day when I am more inspired. A couple of days ago, another late night attempt to post was lost when, for some reason, Blogger's web tool choked and swallowed my text just as I went to save it. So you see, I actually have been blogging ... just not very... umm ... successfully.
-- I've watched the hits on my website dwindle away ... the few strangers who seemed to be checking in occasionally have probably given up by now. I'll try and do better!

This week I:
-- wrote a couple of proposals.
-- closed a contract to build a data replication solution for a large multinational cosmetics company (to replicate data between their factories in Rio and São Paulo, to implement a rapid disaster recovery contingency plan). It'll be about two months of work. I may have to turn down another 3 months worth of work with an old traditional customer because of having accepted this job. It's just typical: several months with absolutely no work, then suddenly two jobs come up literally simultaneously!

-- My relationship with the dog, basically, continues to be the same( see here and here). However, I did make one discovery (one of those revelations where you go "duh!"). I realized that it's a lot easier just to chain Sam up when it's impossible to allow him to roam free, than to try and carry him to his pen, and keep him in the pen. My quality of life has improved considerably since I rigged up a cable with a running chain beside the pool that keeps him securely restrained but allows him a limited amount of freedom.
-- Sam's latest: I had to buy new shoes for one of the workmen when Sam managed to transform one of his shoes into a leather chew toy.

-- I'm still stunned by the scope and scale of the humanitarian crisis that New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast is facing. I can't even fathom it. I know it's easy to criticize from the sidelines... but... where are the troops??? It just seems to me that if ever there was justification for a massive deployment of federal troops on American soil, this is it. Shouldn't there be aircraft carriers steaming toward the disaster area, and a massive airlift of troops and supplies underway since the day before yesterday, at least? I watch the videos of desperate people with children, elderly people, injured people ... with no where to go. There are bodies floating in the street (the newspapers here in Brazil show the pictures). I mean, Indonesia ... you can kind of understand it taking some time to really figure out what's going on and get mobilized. But we're talking about the United States, aren't we? How can you have people dying and bodies in the street for nearly a week within the United States of America, at the beginning of the 21st century???[/rant]

--The weather here in Rio has been (unseasonably) infernally hot. By unseasonably, I mean really unseasonably: like, 100 deg. f ... and remember, it will be winter in Rio until September 21!
-- We've been infested with mosquitoes. They eat us alive day and night. They are eating me alive right now, as I write. I hate them. Which reminds me, I've been meaning to write a multipart blog entry called "War on Nature", which will detail my continuing battles with the various vermin that we are forced to share our urban natural environment with.

Since I started blogging family birthday announcements (albeit generally belated birthday announcements), I now feel pressured to maintain the tradition, so as not leave anyone out. This is a bad thing, since I am terrible at remembering birthdays. So if you are family and I forget your birthday, let me know. Or just ignore it, because if you are like me, you don't care if people forget your birthday!
-- Yesterday was Gustavo's birthday; I managed to chat with him on Yahoo today. He lives in the Fort Lauderdale area with his family, so they are counting there blessings that Katrina was still a Kat 1 when it passed over the Florida peninsula. (How exactly does one count blessings???)
-- Today is Nanu's birthday (my grandmother). I've been trying to call her, but it turns out she's at my cousin Lisa's house for her birthday party. I'll try again one last time in a few minutes, before going to bed.
-- I think this week was Sheila's birthday also (another cousin!). So happy birthday, Sheila!

Kevin has fallen asleep! Yes! Now I can go to bed!

Oh... still have to call Grandma! Enough rambling for tonight!