Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Daime,

Caetano Veloso

& Gilberto Gil

caetan e gil 69



An Amazing Story

Translated from the Portuguese by Jose Murilo and Lou Gold

Go to Portuguese Version


by Juarez Duarte Bomfim

The journalist Carlos Marques , who is today an adviser at UNESCO living in Paris, was 20 years old when the managers of Manchete magazine decided to send him, accompanied by a photographer, to do an article about the distant city of Rio Branco, capital of Acre state, in the year of 1969. [1] Among the many interviews, Marques talked with the Italian bishop Giocondo Maria Grotti, who two years later (1971) would die in an airplane accident in the region of Sena Madureira.

When asked about the problems he was facing in the region, the bishop complained about the Santo Daime Doctrine, which was founded by a black man from Maranhão state, Raimundo Irineu Serra.

Marques decided to meet Master Irineu Serra, who was working in the cut field on his property when the journalist arrived.

- That meeting was the most extraordinary experience in my whole life. Master Raimundo said he knew I would come, and that he was waiting. He said my name, that I had recently been released from prison, and that I had a scar on my leg.

Marques also said that he spent 3 days at Alto Santo and drank Daime, but he did not reveal details of his experience.

- He told me I would some day come back to Acre, but I never believed in this possibility.

During his farewell to Master Irineu Serra, surprisingly he was offered a bottle of Daime with the recommendation to drink its contents along with his sensitive friends. [2]

Back in Rio de Janeiro, Carlos Marques handed the bottle and its contents to the tropicalismo musician and composer Gilberto Gil, describing it as "a sacred indigenous beverage that produces gorgeous visions and the highest states of soul". [3]

On that same day Gilberto Gil took a dose of the drink, and soon afterwards he went to Santo Dumont airport, in Rio de Janeiro, to take a flight to São Paulo.

Once he was in São Paulo's Congonhas airport lobby, where a military exposition from the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) was being launched, the effect of the Daime fully came on, and Gil "caught indescribable contents from the presence of the military". [4]

It was during the time of the military dictatorship and the Brazilian artistic and intellectual class was being brutally persecuted, and these very artists -- Gil and Caetano from Bahia state -- would soon be arrested and "invited" to leave Brazil.

Under the influence of the Daime, Gilberto Gil in the fashion of Glauber Rocha [a famous exiled Brazilian film maker also from Bahia] felt "as if he had understood the ultimate meaning of our people's historical moment as a nation under authoritarian oppression"... and even influenced by the fear that the military evoked then... he felt that he could "love -- beyond the terror and his convictions or political leanings -- the whole world in all its manifestations, including the oppressive military". [5]

There was the Christian message arriving in the heart of the artist, despite all the persecution and fear: "Love your enemies". [6] That was the Daime operating...

After this solitary experience during a Rio-São Paulo flight, Gilberto Gil gathered a group of friends in the apartment of the musician and composer Caetano Veloso and he proposed that they all should make a collective trip. Following Carlos Marques' recommendation, Gil serves to each one a little more than a half glass. [7]

Caetano narrates: "the thick and yellowish beverage had a taste like vomiting, but it did not cause any nausea". [8] From now on, the poet's inspired prose transmits a compelling report of the visions and perceptions of what he saw and felt, from the life he could perceive from inanimate objects, "the story of each grain of matter" from a prosaic nylon carpet in his apartment, for example...

Listening to the sounds of Pink Floyd's progressive rock, in the tiny limits of the twentieth floor of a São Paulo building, the experiment unfolds:

"Sandra (Gil's wife) was coming in and out of the bedroom with hard eyes and serious face. She was scared. I thought she looked like an Indian. Gil had his eyes full of tears and was saying something about dying, having died, I don't know. Dedé (Caetano's wife) was circulating around the living room saying that she was seeing herself elsewhere. I was very happy to observe that the people were so clearly themselves... Some colored points of light surged in the infinite space of darkness... Circular forms were composed by beautiful dancing points of light. Little by little I knew who each of these illuminated points was. And soon they were showing themselves as human beings. There were many of them, from both sexes, all of them naked and resembling Indians. These people were dancing in complex circle designs, but I could not only understand all the subtleties of this complexity but also had a calm concentrated awareness to know about each person the same amount I know about myself and my close and loved ones". [9]

It is said that it is from experiences such as with the Daime, particularly the peak experiences like this one -- from Gilberto Gil ("Gil... was saying something about dying, having died"...) -- that there came about beautiful songs from his repertoire, such as "If I would speak with God".

Here it is being sung by Elis Regina

If I would speak with God
I have to be alone
I have to turn off the lights
I have to shut the voice
I have to find the peace
I have to unfold the knots
From the shoes, from the necklace
From the desires, from the fears
I have to forget the date
I have to miss the count
I have to have empty hands
To the soul and the body naked

If I would speak with God
I have to accept the pain
I have to eat the bread
That the devil stretched
I have to turn myself into a dog
I have to lick the floor
From the palaces, from the castles
Magnificences of my dream
I have to see myself sad
I have to see myself as scary
And despite an evil so big
Rejoice my heart

If I would speak with God
I have to adventure myself
I have to climb to the skies
With no ropes to hold
I have to say farewell
Turn my back, walk
Decided, along the road
Which in the end reaches nothing
Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing
Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing
Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing
From what I thought I would find.

And, in ecstasy, Caetano would watch his "Indian angels" in this "celestial experience".

"I would alternate -- while opening and closing my eyes -- the observation of the external world and the experience of this [internal] world of images that would become each time more dense... soon I started to recognize that the beings I watched with closed eyes were undoubtedly more real than my friends who were in the room, the sound, the room's walls and the carpets".[11]

With awareness expanded by the miração [vision], Caetano acknowledges a new conception of space, different from the standard and precarious "conventionality" -- the "time was equally criticized by this higher stance in my lucid consciousness: Benevolently and with no anguish, I knew that the fact of being experienced in that moment was irrelevant in front of the evidence I already had -- or would have -- of being born, alive and dead -- and also never being -- even though the perception of my 'self' in that situation was an inevitable illusion". [12]

[Caetano] the artist from Santo Amaro [a city in Bahia state] continues this inspired narrative of his experience -- which we recommend to be read with care, because it is not possible to transcribe all of it here. And remember the one who speaks is also the philosophy student from the University of Bahia: facing the representation of the "idea of God" declares not knowing that he had the "sudden retraction of one who had learned that the face of the Creator cannot be viewed...." There comes the doubt in the heart of someone who was experiencing an extraordinary ecstatic moment, and while being taken by Dedé to look at himself in the bathroom mirror, to see his 'everyday' face after the whole experience... he then was certain that "he was mad". But "this 'self' who was certain was indestructible -- this one does not get mad, does not sleep, does not die, does not get distracted...."

What a beautiful experience... We see that the light of the Daime was revealed to this sensitive poet and composer from Bahia with the merit to see himself as spirit, discerning his own essence -- which is Divine -- as it happens with all of us.

Inebriated by the divine and marvelous which is God, playing with the philosophical doubts in a Rogério Duarte style, the future Hare Krishna devotee says, "I don't believe in God, but I saw it!" or "It's obvious that God doesn't exist, but the inexistence of God is only one of the many aspects of its [God's] existence" ... Parodying Nietzsche, Caetano will cry out to all Brazil, "God is released!" under the boos in the festival presentation of his "It is prohibited to prohibit".

From this transcendental experience, Caetano reflects: "...for more than a month I felt like living one palm [floating] above every existing thing. And for more than a year some remnants were maintained. In fact, something of an essential kind changed inside of me from that night on".

Miracles From the People - Caetano Veloso

"The one who is an atheist,
and has seen miracles like I did
Knows that the gods without God
Don't cease to blossom,
and don't get tired of waiting
And the heart that is sovereign and is the lord
Doesn't fit in the darkness,
doesn't fit in his 'no'
Doesn't fit in itself of so much 'yes'
It's pure dance and sex and glory,
and floats beyond history
Ojuobá would go there and watch
Xangô ordered to call
Obatalá the guide
Mother Oxum cries tears
Tears of happiness
Petals of Iemanjá
Iansã-Oiá would go
Ojuobá would go there and watch

The one who is an atheist..."

(Miracles from the People - Caetano Veloso) [13]

Going back to the start of our story... can you believe that journalist Carlos Marques returned to Acre after 40 years? At the end of an audience with then Governor Jorge Viana, he was asked if he already knew Acre. Marques reported what we have just narrated, and to his surprise the Governor showed him the invitation he had received to participate in the celebrations of the 50 year marriage anniversary of Master Raimundo Irineu Serra with Madrinha Peregrina Gomes Serra, the leader of the Center of Christian Illumination Universal Light - CICLU Alto Santo, on the next day, September 15th, 2006. And [thus] he convinced the journalist to stay in Acre one day more.

Marques again met with Madrinha Peregrina Serra, Irineu Serra's widow, to whom he apologized for the offensive content that his report carried in the edition of Manchete magazine, because many pages were published with the prevailing version of the bishop that we were speaking about a diabolical sect. "That was the first among many other [reports] to annoy Irineu Serra and his followers". [14]

- "I could not reveal that I had found God" - said Carlos Marques.

On the night of April 30th, 2008, in the headquarters of CICLU Alto Santo, there was an official event where the Elias Mansour Foundation from Acre state, the Garibaldi Brasil Foundation from the city of Rio Branco, and representatives from the centers that integrate the three branches of the Ayahuasca doctrines (Santo Daime, Barquinha and União do Vegetal), made a request to the Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil, that the National Artistic and Historic Heritage Institute (IPHAN) begin the process of recognizing the use of Ayahuasca in religious rituals as a Brazilian Non-material Cultural Heritage.

The event was a full success and a milestone in the Brazilian Ayahuasca universe. In the closing speech of this religious work of the April 30th, 2008, when the authorities (Minister, Governor, State Secretaries and politicians in general) had already left, the official speaker of CICLU - Alto Santo recalled the unique story of the journalist Carlos Marques, concluding that (in my words from my memory's account): Master Irineu, knowing about the past, present and future of the journalist Carlos Marques, gifted him exceptionally with a bottle of Daime so that he could make it reach the singer Gilberto Gil, in a way that he could take it and get acquainted with it, so that, 40 years later, he could come to Alto Santo as a Minister of State to mediate the request of recognizing ayahuasca as a non-material heritage of Brazilian culture.

Mestre Irineu (cropped)



[1] The information was extracted from Altino Machado's blog: "40 Years Later"
Viewed in September 15th, 2006.

[2] Speech from journalist Antonio Alves in the CICLU Alto Santo headquarters on May 30th, 2008.

[3] VELEOS, Caetano. "Tropical Truth". São Paulo, Cia das Letras, 1997, p. 308.

[4] Ibid, p.308.

[5] Ibid, p. 308.

[6] Luke 6:27.

[7] The old ones say that this was a recommendation of Master Irineu.

[8] VELOSO,, 1997, p. 322.

[9] VELOSO, 1997, p. 324.

[10] Listen to "If I Would Speak With God" - Elis Regina -
Viewed on May 26th

[11] VELOSO, 1997, p. 324.

[12] Ibid, p. 324.

[13] Listen to the videoclip Milagres do Povo - Daniela Mercury, at
[note: a different version is presented above because of the youtube code allowing it to be embedded in this post]

[14] MACHADO, Altino. "40 Years Later" http://altino. Viewed on September 15th, 2006.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


It's incredibly interesting to see how differently the same event can be reported. That was certainly the case last week when the Indians gathered to protest the building of dams along the Xingu River in the Amazon basin.

First, here is the video report from Brazil's GLOBO:

Here is how the altercation was reported to the world via the Associated Press:

Indians attack Brazil official over proposed dam


By ALAN CLENDENNING – May 20, 2008

ALTAMIRA, Brazil (AP) — Painted and feathered Indians waving machetes and clubs slashed an official of Brazil's national electric company Tuesday during a protest over a proposed hydroelectric dam.

Mobs of Indians from different tribes surrounded Eletrobras engineer Paulo Fernando Rezende minutes after he gave a presentation to a gathering debating the impact of the Belo Monte dam on traditional communities living near this small, remote city in the Amazon region.

Rezende emerged shirtless, with a deep, bloody gash on his shoulder, but said "I'm OK, I'm OK," as colleagues rushed him to a car.

It was not immediately clear whether Rezende was intentionally slashed or received the cut inadvertently when he was surrounded and pushed to the floor. Police said they were still investigating and no one was in custody.

Tensions were running high at the meeting, where about 1,000 Amazon Indians met with activists to protest the proposed dam on the Xingu River. Environmentalists warn it could destroy the traditional fishing grounds of Indians living nearby and displace as many as 15,000 people.

"He's lucky he's still alive," said Partyk Kayapo, whose uses his tribe's name as his last. "They want to make a dam and now they know they shouldn't."

Following the attack, Kayapo and dozens more members of his tribe danced in celebration with their machetes raised in the air, their faces painted red and wearing little more than shorts and shell necklaces.


From another viewpoint, here is how it was reported by The Independent UK writer PATRICK CUNNINGHAM, whose blog "Encontro Xingu ‘08" was established to cover the event:


Encontro Xingu - Day 2

Indians continued to arrive throughout the day. There are now over 600 people from 35 ethnic groups, including old friends from the Xingu Indigenous Park.

The morning saw a review of the 1989 gathering, and an emotional speech from Marcelo Kamaiura, who talked about proposals for six so-called ’small’ dams on the headwaters of the river in Mato Grosso State. His impassioned call for unity of all the people, Indian and non-Indian alike, the length of the river, drew huge applause. Riverside dwellers and small-scale family farmers reinforced this call.

The afternoon began with the arrival of a few new communities, each of which made a stirring entry, singing and Indians dancing in the hall of the gymnasium. dancing their way into the hall. Professor Oswaldo Sevá, who lectures in engineering at Campinas University and has a long and detailed understanding about the history of the several previous attempts to dam the Xingu explained the extent of flooding local people could expect. He highlighted many shortcomings, from the engineering, economic, social and environmental perspectives. In plain language he detailed which areas would be flooded and explained the reasons why it is highly likely that Eletrobras will not stop at a single dam, which on its own would not be viable.

Next it was the turn of the Eletrobras representative, Paulo Fernando Vieira Souto Rezende. He used a bewildering series of charts, lists, statistics and maps in what appeared to be an attempt to confuse everybody in the room. In a haranguing presentation, he seemed intent on talking over the heads of his entire audience.

His approach did not go down well with the Indians, who became increasingly preoccupied as he continued. It went down no better with the small farmers and riverside dwellers, who broke into a fit of spontaneous booing and chanting in opposition to the proposals. The Indians continued to listen in silence until he had finished.

A few minutes later, the Indians suddenly rose up in unison, chanting and dancing across the room. A mixed group of warriors and women, some with babies and small children, approached the table where Rezende was sitting, chanting and brandishing their war clubs and machetes. Rezende was pushed to the floor and the Indians, their anger patent, poked at him with their weapons. His shirt was torn from his back, and he received a deep cut in his upper arm.

The police and security guards failed to respond, and it was left to the bravery of some of the organisers, who put themselves between the Indians and Rezende to protect him, receiving symbolic threats themselves.

The episode was over quickly, and order was rapidly restored.

This was not an attempt to inflict serious harm, and it is much more likely that Rezende’s injury was the result of an unlucky or over-excited jab. The Indians accused the unfortunate Eletrobras representative of lying. They were carrying war clubs and long machetes, and Rezende could easily have suffered far worse. The Indians were trying to make their point and felt they had no other option, feeling powerless in the face of this serious threat to their culture, their way of life and their homes.


Since the gathering in Altamira, the Brazilian media have focused mostly on the issue of violence. GLOBO included a special report in its extremely popular weekend TV magazine FANTASTICO and here's the text (computer) translated into rough English. As you can see, the focus is on the engineer and the Indians associated with the confrontation and there is very little about the many consequences of building the dam.

While the Brazilian mainstream media are preoccupied with the "hot" story, various blogs and NGOs have been struggling to deliver the deeper messages.

Encontro Xingu ‘08 provides great coverage of the whole event with in-depth analysis by David Cunningham and lots of wonderful photos by Sue Cunningham.

The Xingu Encounter was also reported by International Rivers along with English translations of the declarations of the Xingu Peoples.

And here's the (computer) translated final statement of the broad coalition of Brazilian grassroots organizations that are opposing building of the Belo Monte dam.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008



It is really unfortunate that WIRED saw fit to pass on so much superficiality (and some down right errors) in its special section on global warming. This will sell magazines the same way that climate change skepticism does -- by toying with ignorance. But in this vital area -- that will being affecting all of us -- we really need deep education rather than puff and flame. WIRED has stooped toward the lower and more ignorant poles of the discourse. It's sad to see such an important topic reduced to tabloid treatment.

Here are some brief comments on the various sections (with links to the WIRED text).


High density metropolitan area centers are definitely much more efficient than suburbs. But there are cities and cities. A lot of it is about car use. Manhattan is probably one of the best in the world because driving is so impossible and it has a great subway. On the other hand, modernist Brasilia is heading toward being one of the worst because it is completely auto-dependent. But cities are efficient, for example, it is much more efficient to heat/cool people in buildings than in single family homes. The critical questions really don't focus on cities but should deal with out-of-control suburban sprawl.


True, cooling takes less energy than heating. Of course, it's all relative to base temperatures and how comfortable people want to be. If heating and cooling become adopted as comfort symbols in tropical zones where it can also turn pretty cool, it will have a tremendous impact. In Brazil, for example, people generally have no heating or cooling or expensive insulation in their homes. They simply dress for the weather which is much more efficient than trying to heat and cool all of those boxes. And, the writer seems to reveal his urban intellectual bias with his bucolic image of the country dweller chopping wood and siting around the pot-bellied stove. When I lived in the Oregon backcountry most people had already shifted to more efficient oil heaters precisely because of their awareness of the environmental consequences.


Food questions are real tricky. In general I like the lines of thinking presented by Michael Polan here and here. I think the bottom line conclusion is correct that both eating less meat and eating foods grown locally are extremely important. In Brazil, for example, it is the expansion of range for cattle that is the first line of cutting and burning the forest. Feed lot production would be much more efficient and reduce deforestation.


This one is simply off-the-wall crazy. Yes, forests are carbon neutral and not carbon negative, recycling rather that sequestering carbon across the very long term. The Canadian study is correct -- standing forests do not capture and sequester MORE carbon if they have reached maturity and equilibrium. So Canada can't get carbon offset funds to meet its Kyoto obligations by claiming its mature forests are removing and storing carbon (especially since climate change is already producing drought and more forest fires). But the issue is totally different -- it is about DEFORESTATION. Suddenly enormous amounts of stored CO2 are released from disturbed soil, from burning, from processing much of wood fiber into many short-term products like paper. Thus, 1000s of years of carbon stored stored in tree trunks and soil can be propelled into the atmosphere in a single logging season. It is all even much more problematic in the tropics where the soils degrade so quickly that forests may never return. This is why Brazil is hoping for REDD funds (carbon credits for avoided deforestation). In the temperate zones, (contrary to the interpretation given) it absolutely essential to protect places like the pictured Redwoods and the Headwaters Forest precisely because they don't burn.


I agree. China is the main experimental location of the interface between population, development and environment. Technological innovation will emerge in China out of necessity. One caution though is the dynamic of global trade -- it might be cheaper for China to get commodities and resources from Brazil than to become more efficient at home in some areas. It's the old story of where you put the waste and destruction. The rich generally "outsource" it to poorer areas within their own countries or abroad. So, the truth is that we are globally connected and technological innovations in places like Brazil will be very important in determining the ultimate viability of the Chinese experiment.


Genetically engineered crops are here to stay. They will produce many new advantages. The problem (mostly) will be that some crops will be so successful that they will come to dominate everywhere and natural biodiversity and variation will be lost. A simplified gene pool and less-varied agriculture will also be a weakened and more vulnerable agriculture. Nature's insurance policy is biodiversity which increases the chances that when abrupt or unforeseen changes occur there will be something available with good adaptive qualities. Nature shifts around all the time. The labs are going to be challenged to keep up with it all. Don't toss out the results of eons of natural evolution.


This one really suffers from shallowness. The issue is very complicated and responses will probably involve a mixture of markets and taxes.
Fortune magazine predicts that a 3 trillion dollar carbon market is coming. The problem is working out the details and the devil is always in the details. It will take many years and much trial and error to reach a stable institutional platform for dealing with carbon but it's coming for sure and its architecture will include both trading and taxes.


[UPDATE: May 30, 2008 WorldChanging ran an interesting article by Amory Lovins that says, "The punch line: nuclear expansion buys two to 10 times less climate protection per dollar, far slower than its winning competitors."]

I think this one has the correct drift but there are still big problems of waste disposal, relative costs, political will and weapons proliferation. Nuclear is coming but not for all. For example Google, facing the uncomfortable fact that the Internet will soon be the single largest draw-down of electrical energy, is now betting on solar technology.


Right now used cars are the better deal. Mass transportation often is even better, especially in metropolitan areas. Currently excessive car ownership is concentrated in the developed world but autos are quickly becoming a status symbol for rising middle classes worldwide -- even in street-clogged cities of India. We need to find something better than used cars.


Yes, the greenhouse gas load already traveling into the atmosphere is going to push the tipping points. Adaptation is going to be more and more important. But like personal health it's got to be a mixture of prevention, cure and acceptance.

Monday, May 26, 2008

MAC — mutually assured connectivity — has replaced the MAD — mutually assured destruction — of cold-war days.

These are the words of Roger Cohen writing in today's NY Times.


May 26, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
The Obama Connection

It’s the networks, stupid.

More than any other factor, it has been Barack Obama’s grasp of the central place of Internet-driven social networking that has propelled his campaign for the Democratic nomination into a seemingly unassailable lead over Hillary Clinton. Her campaign has been so 20th-century. His has been of the century we’re in.

That’s not surprising. Obama spent only 10 years of his adult life in the split world of the cold war, double that in a post-Berlin Wall world of growing interconnectedness. MAC — mutually assured connectivity — has replaced the MAD — mutually assured destruction — of cold-war days.

For Clinton, born in 1947, that ratio is different. Her mental paradigm is division. When her husband last ran for president in 1996, the Internet was marginal. The thinking and people from that campaign have proved unable to fast-forward a dozen years. They’ve been left like deer blinded by the Webcam lights of the Obama juggernaut.

This cultural failure has been devastating for Clinton. As Joshua Green chronicles in an important piece in The Atlantic, Obama has used social networking and his user-friendly Web site to develop the money machine, and the youthful engagement, that has swept him forward.

Green notes, “Obama’s claim of 1,276,000 donors is so large that Clinton doesn’t bother to compete.” He gives some other Obama campaign numbers: 750,000 active volunteers and 8,000 affinity groups. In February, a month in which he raised $55 million ($45 million over the Internet), 94 percent of donations were of $200 or less, a number dwarfing small contributions to Clinton and John McCain.

Obama has been a classic Internet-start up, a movement spreading with viral intensity and propelled by some of Silicon Valley’s most creative minds. As with any online phenomenon, he has jumped national borders, stirring as much buzz in Berlin as he does back home.

He could not have achieved this without a sense of history, a conviction that the nature of the post-post-9/11 world — the one beyond war without end — is going to be determined by sociability and connectivity. In the globalized world of MySpace, LinkedIn and the rest, sociability is a force as strong as sovereignty.

I’ve searched in vain for a sense of this pivotal historical moment in Clinton. Her threat to “totally obliterate” Iran, her stomach-turning reference to the June 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy as a reason to stay in the race, her Bosnian fabrications, all reflect a view of history as something that’s there for political ends rather than as a source of inspiration or reflection.

It’s history as “Me, me, me.” That tends to be blinding.

Her most crippling blindness has been to networks, national and global, the threads that bind and have changed society. As David Singh Grewal writes in his excellent new book, “Network Power,” a core tension in the world is that: “Everything is being globalized except politics.”

Grewal continues: “We live in a world in which our relations of sociability — our commerce, culture, ideas, manners — are increasingly shared, coordinated by newly global conversations in these domains, but in which our politics remains inescapably national, centered in the nation states that are the only loci of sovereign decision making.”

The Bush administration has accentuated global awareness of this disjuncture. Connected people around the world were appalled by Bush policies — from the trashing of habeas corpus to renditions — but felt powerless to influence them.

The overwhelming global interest in the current U.S. election is tied in part to a spreading belief that America’s leader may be as important to French lives, for example, as the incumbent in the Élysée Palace.

Obama’s people get that. Connectivity means going it alone is a fool’s errand: that’s a basic lesson of Iraq. If Obama has promised to appoint a chief technology officer, to open up government via the Web, and to make dialogue rather than war a centerpiece of policy, it’s because he knows he must speak to a 21st-century world.

Grewal writes: “Politics is the only effective countervailing power that we have with which to refashion the structures that emerge through sociability.” Accumulated personal choices expressed through networks fashion sociability. Short of global governance, only sovereignty can channel that will.

In concrete terms, you won’t make globalization more equable in its distribution of income without politics. But first you must see sociability for what it is: a form of 21st-century personal sovereignty that rivals national sovereignty.

Clinton never saw this. McCain, whose Internet fund-raising has been negligible, also shows little grasp of MAC.

Of course, connection is no panacea, or guarantee against violent threats: Al Qaeda uses the Web effectively. But without understanding connectivity, you can no more beat terrorism than win an election.

It’s the networks, stupid, and the generations that go with them.

Roger has an interesting blog called PASSAGES

Harvard (and now Indiana) neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor traveled the long road from a stroke to enlightenment and returned to tell the story. She was written up in Sunday's NY Times. You can listen to her tell her own story here...

Jill has been selected for TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential.
There's more little more background material at Wikipedia.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Hey, Henry is in New York

Henry Moore in NY
Librado Romero/The New York Times

The New York Botanical Garden’s “Moore in America” exhibition, which opens today with 18 of Henry Moore’s big, beloved bronzes (and two more in fiberglass), is the largest outdoor collection of his work in a single location ever presented in New York, or anywhere else in the country. (Full story here.)

Of course, it's not the first time that this greatest master of 20th Century form has had a large number of his pieces residing for several months in "America" (as people of the Central and Southern zones also name their continents). Indeed, there was a great exhibition in Brazil during 2005 that had a tremendous effect on me. Since the report that I made at that time has somehow become the most popular single VISIONSHARE post, it seems appropriate to re-blog it now.



In 2005 I was very fortunate to see the Henry Moore Retrospective Exhibition which traveled from England to Brazil for showings in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Brasília. This was the first time that Moore’s works had been shown in Latin America. I visited the exhibition only briefly in Rio which whetted my appetite. When it arrived in Brasília I was drawn to it as a child is drawn to a candy store. I think that I went to it four times but even that was hardly enough.


For me Moore was the greatest sculptor of the 20th Century, presenting a totally radical re-vision, a deeper re-cognition between matter and awareness. I'll try to explain why I feel that way.

Immersing my awareness in the works of a great artist like Moore was a powerful experience. Almost immediately, the way that I perceived the world began to change. It’s not easy to express exactly how it changed but my attention shifted. I began to see objects not as isolated entities but as embedded in larger environments – the inside and outside and surroundings of the subject became more apparent and as important as the piece of art.


I understood that the final perceived vision is an interaction, a dynamic and participatory dance of form and space. Moore demolished the hierarchical, elitist and monumental vision of art as somehow above, beyond and separate from the viewer. He re-visioned the sculpture, the viewer and environment as part of a participatory world.


In one of the statements by Moore which was displayed on the exhibit walls he says that he learned that sculpture was not simply a manipulation of the material form but also a shaping of the space around it. He wanted his large pieces to be displayed in nature where they could interact with the surrounding space – as a form, as a window, as a reflection, as occupied and unoccupied space.


I thought of the profound Buddhist insight that is the opening of the Heart Sutra: Form is Emptiness. Emptiness is none other than Form. Moore’s sculptures are, of course, solid objects but the presentation of the work is a performance, an interaction with the environment and a living testament to the truth of this Buddhist insight about impermanence. Each location, each perspective, each eye presents something new. Form, emptiness and constant change. Somehow, sculpture now seems to me to be more like a conversation than a permanence.


Moore said that he considered art to be his spirituality which I take to mean that the work and the practice of the artist are to discover truth, reveal vision and create beauty.

There is a very poignant moment in the documentary film about his life where Moore recalls the series paintings that he was commissioned to do about the WWII bombing of London. He said that when air raid sirens would start that he would feel a “strange exhilaration.” In the Tubes which served as the bomb shelters he joined the masses of people huddled and stretched out for the night. Moore -- who is arguably the master of the reclining figure -- said, “I had never seen nor imagined so many reclining figures.” Those paintings -- primarily scenes from the bomb shelters -- are hauntingly beautiful portrayals of people nested safely underground.

The theme of being safely held is powerfully presented in his sculptures


Even with his fallen warrior, the return to the ground, rather than a conquering of it, feels more like a nurturing than a defeat.


I understand Moore’s work,
above all, as a "monumental" return to humility. I don’t mean the stylized humility of manners and social forms. I mean “humility” as in the Greek root word -- humus. Moore took artistic beauty off the high pedestal, reclined it close to the ground or reduced it to the simplest of lines and materials, and in the end established beyond any doubt that the humble form is noble.


It is the nobility of the Mother, our Mother, Mother Earth. She is the very ground of our existence, the source and foundation of life, the lowliest and most powerful of all beings.


I have chosen to refer to Moore as a "re-visionary artist" because his art brings us back to a deeper vision of our relationship to the ground below us, to our Mother, to the earth. Looking once again at a slideshow of his works, I can only feel grateful... and childlike.

Here's my slideslide from the 2005 exhibition in Brasilia:

Here's is the link for the CURRENT NY TIMES SLIDESHOW

Friday, May 23, 2008



Xingo River Indians Confront
Brazil's Power Giant's Plan

[NOTE: Don't miss the videos below.]

[UPDATE: 2008-05-23 04:33:40 - ALTAMIRA, Brazil (AP) - An organizer of a week-long protest against an Amazon dam project says Indians and activists have canceled Friday's demonstration march to the Xingu River on fears of spiraling violence. Marcelo Salazar says he fears counter-demonstrators might retaliate for an attack on an engineer with Brazil's national electric company.
Link to article]

By Patrick Cunningham in Altamira, Brazil
Friday, 23 May 2008

The Amazonian city of Altamira played host to one of the more uneven contests in recent Brazilian history this week, as a colourful alliance of indigenous leaders gathered to take on the might of the state power corporation and stop the construction of an immense hydroelectric dam on a tributary of the Amazon.

At stake are plans to flood large areas of rainforest to make way for the huge Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Xingu river. The government is pushing the project as a sustainable energy solution, but critics complain the environmental and social costs are too high.

For people living beside the river, the dam will bring an end to their way of life. Thousands of homes will be submerged and changes in the local ecology will wipe out the livelihoods of many more, killing their main food sources and destroying their raw materials.

For the 10,000 tribal indians of the Xingu, whose lives have changed little since the arrival of Europeans five centuries ago, this will be a devastating blow.

"This is the second time we are fighting this battle," says Chief Bocaire, a young leader of the Kayapo, one of more than 600 Indians from 35 ethnic groups who gathered in record numbers in Altamira. The Indians had travelled hundreds of miles to get there in an area with hardly any roads. The roads that do exist are mostly dirt tracks, impassable in bad weather and difficult and dangerous at the best of times. For most it has been an odyssey of several weeks, traveling in small boats to reach the roads.

"In 1989, our parents defeated a similar proposal with the help of the international media. Now it is back. But we are ready to fight again. This time we speak their language, and we are more determined than ever," says Chief Bocaire.

With so much at stake, tensions spilled over into violence this week when an engineer from the power company Eletrobras was caught up in a melee with Indians wielding machetes. Paulo Fernando Rezende had his shirt ripped from him and was left with a deep cut to his shoulder.



(rough translation) Federal Police investigate images where one of the organizers of the event, in which an engineer of Eletrobrás was attacked, is allegedly buying facões (machetes) and appears in the company of an Indian.


Nineteen years ago, the Indians called on the support of the rock star Sting and the late Body Shop founder Anita Roddick. Pictures of the pair alongside Chief Raoni, with his lower lip distended by a traditional lip plate, sent their message to the outside world.

The reservoir will flood up to 6,140 square kilometres (2,371 square miles). Scientists say it will cause a dramatic increase in greenhouse-gas emissions. from the decomposition of organic matter in the stagnant water of the reservoir.

"Hydroelectric dams have severe social impacts," Philip Fearnside, one of the world's leading rainforest scientists explains, "including flooding the lands of indigenous peoples, displacing non-indigenous residents and destroying fisheries."

Dr Fearnside said the project helps aluminium plants looking to cash in on exports but does little for local needs, and in fact increases the health risks to local populations, including malaria.

For three months in the dry season, the flow of the Xingu reduces to a trickle and the dam's turbines will stop working, unable to maintain the supply of power and necessitating the use of inefficient fossil-fuel power stations.

Last November, Chief Bocaire delivered a letter to President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva. Signed by 78 leaders, the letter demanded that all dam be halted.

But Glenn Switkes, of International Rivers, says: "The Lula government and its political allies are closing ranks to ensure it goes ahead no matter what the cost. The construction cost could be more than £5bn, and Belo Monte will not be feasible without building other dams upstream to regulate the flow of the Xingu – and that means facing off with the Kayapo."

[FINAL UPDATE: It's too bad that the media diverted so much attention to the "violence" (which even the engineer seemed to downplay) but, fortunately, it seems to have all ended peacefully with a ritual swim in Xingu River and the world has surely heard from the Indians. Here is the report from AP.]

Another Video arrived today (25 May 2008) from Reuters:

And here's an
on efforts by Brazil to limit international organizations in Amazon.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


The Invisible War
photo of invisible war -- read more

This one hit me hard. I want to share it as it was published in the New York Times.

May 21, 2008, 7:01 pm
The Invisible War
by Timothy Egan

Landing in Seattle after a long flight from Texas, I was about to join the exit scrum when the pilot informed us there were five soldiers on board, ending a three-day odyssey home from Iraq. Could we let them pass?

What followed was prolonged applause by all, and a startling reminder to some – oh, are we still at war?

Not only still at war, but deeper than ever. It was one thing for the Iraq war to pass an inglorious five-year landmark in March, longer than any other American conflict except the Vietnam War. But the cost now looks like it will exceed all wars except World War II — with a price tag that could near $3 trillion.

The Iraq war has already cost twice as much, in inflation-adjusted dollars, as World War I, and 10 times as much as the Persian Gulf war, according to a new book by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes. This is in addition, of course, to the more than 4,000 American lives lost, 30,000 wounded and the psychic blows that will ripple through every town that sent a young person off to fight.

Yet, for its prolonged clutch on our treasury and blood, no war as been so out-of-sight, so stage-managed to be painless and invisible. We’re supposed to shop, to spend our stimulus checks, to carry on as if nothing has happened — or is happening. Every now and then we get to rise at a stadium or pause on an airplane. Some sacrifice.

It would have been more fitting for us on that plane to stand aside while a flag-draped coffin was unloaded. At least then, we would get a moment to wonder what it’s like to put a 19-year-old son in a grave, to lose a sister, a spouse, to see war as something more than a parlor game of neo-cons.

In a democracy, wars should be felt by the decision makers — all of us. It starts at the top.

So, in 1942 President Franklin Roosevelt said, “This will require, of course, the abandonment not only of luxuries but of many other creature comforts.” President Bush made a sacrifice – he gave up golf as an act of solidarity with families at war. The man who has probably taken more vacations than any other American president, who goes on showy mountain bike rides while his Veterans Administration shamefully mistreats broken warriors, who cut taxes while burdening a generation with this overseas cancer, is at ease with his conscience.

“I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf,” he said in a bizarre interview with Politico last week. “And I think playing golf during a war sends the wrong signal.”

He then went on, in the same interview, to do his imitation of Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies. No wrong signal there.

In every way, this president has tried to hide the war. The press chafes because photos of flag-draped coffins are forbidden. But that’s nothing compared to how this administration is trying to turn the public’s eyes away from the pain of the people who feel it most directly, the soldiers and their families.

Suicide rates among returning veterans are soaring. And the administration’s response? Cover up the data. An e-mail titled “Shh!” surfaced earlier this month from Dr. Ira Katz, a top official at the V.A. The note indicated that far more veterans were trying to kill themselves than the administration had let on. It speaks for itself.

“Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans we see,” Katz wrote, in a note not meant for the general public. “Is this something we should address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles upon it?”

Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat of Washington, who has made veterans affairs her specialty, was furious. “They lied about these numbers,” Murray told me. “It breaks my heart. Soldiers tell us that they were taught how to go to war, but not how to come home. You hear about divorces, binge-drinking, post-traumatic stress, suicide. And the reaction from the president is part of a pattern from the very beginning to show that this war is not costly or consequential.”

Murray is the daughter of a disabled World War II veteran. During her college years, while other students were protesting, she volunteered at a veterans hospital. The odds are, she said, at least one of those five soldiers we applauded on my return plane will suffer severe mental trauma from the war. A recent Rand Corporation study said as much, noting that that 300,000 veterans who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan are plagued by major depression or stress disorder.

“Look what we do when there’s a natural disaster — we show the pictures of the victims and open our hearts,” said Murray. “President Bush should do the same thing with the war.”

But that would require bringing out in the open something that has been hidden since the start of this long war — the truth.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Santo Daime Activist Extraordinaire


On this day, seven years ago (21 May 2001) in Holland, Geraldine was acquitted of all charges stemming from her arrest for possessing and distributing the sacramental tea of Santo Daime. Her story has been an inspiration to us all. Viva Geraldine!

Lígia Kosin
Correio Braziliense Staff
World, May 23, 2001

Geraldine Fijneman, a tranquil, 56 year-old Dutch woman with a Zen face and a gentle gaze, accomplished what seemed unthinkable a few years ago. After making a mockery of a medical diagnosis that gave her just a few months to live, this grandmother of five beat the Dutch Justice department and won the right to practice, legally, the rituals of the Santo Daime religion in Dutch territory.

Leader of the Amsterdam center, Geraldine was arrested in October 1999 as she distributed the Santo Daime tea to her followers during one of the religion's rituals. The drink, a mixture of two tropical plants, also known as ayahuasca, contains the psychoactive substance DMT (dimethyltryptamine), which is prohibited in Holland. She spent two days in prison and had the 17.5 liters of the drink in her possession confiscated. She was freed after analyses demonstrated that the liquid contained just 3 grams of DMT, a quantity not considered harmful. Guided by the lawyer Adele van der Plas, she preferred to be tried. "It was a way of forcing a judicial decision about the matter that, if it were favorable, would permit the holding of Santo Daime rituals in the country," Adele explained. It worked.

After a trial lasting a year and a half, Amsterdam's Supreme Court ruled that the use of ayahuasca within the rituals of the Church of the Eclectic Center of Universal Flowing Light, the official name of the religious movement, is not a crime.

Geraldine and the lawyer, Adele, celebrated in Brazil, where they arrived some days ago. "At last I can take Santo Daime again and help other people who need support in their lives," she told the Correio yesterday, before embarking for the sect's headquarters - Ceu do Mapia - in the municipality of Pauní, in Amazonas state, for a long stay of three months. "I want to heal myself again."

There is reason for Geraldine's anxiety. She attributes to the religion and the ingestion of ayahuasca the fact that she's been alive for the last nine years. In 1992, Geraldine was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Surgery was not feasible owing to the tumor's location. Doctors gave her few months to live. Desperate, she sought alternatives. She heard of a group that utilized Amazonian plants in Pisa, Italy, and went there. "When I took the tea, I knew that it could help me a lot." Two months later she was in Amazonia, where she stayed 60 days. "Santo Daime completely changed my life. It helped me to get to know my dark side and my enlightened side." When she returned to Holland, the doctors didn't know what to say.

"The tumor had entered remission," she says.


While the trial lasted, however, Geraldine was forbidden to use ayahuasca in Holland and the rituals of the cult were done without the drink. She limited herself to taking it during sporadic trips to Brazil. "My health suffered a relapse and the tumor began to grow again," she says, attributing the fact to the tension she lived through during the last months of the trial.

During this time, the lawyer, Adele, claimed that the utilization of the drink was fundamental to the functioning of the religion and that its prohibition, therefore, violated the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties. According to the treaty, freedom of religion cannot be limited except by reason of public safety, protection of public order, health and morality, or the rights and freedoms of others. "The prosecutor had to prove that the use of ayahuasca in the church's rituals was harmful to society, and he could not," Adele explains.

In its decision, the Dutch court states that, owing to the small number of members of the religion in the country-about 100 people-and to the rigid control that the leaders exercise over the use of the drink in the rituals, the consumption of ayahuasca does not present significant risk to public health, and that the freedom of religion intended in the Convention on Human Rights, in this case, supersedes the anti-drug laws that prohibit the consumption of DMT. The decision may serve as a precedent for similar cases in other European countries that are signatories of the same convention. Currently, the Santo Daime religion has representatives in almost all European nations, including Italy, Spain, Great Britain, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, and Belgium, but it faces resistance in the majority of them.

Happy with the decision, Geraldine doesn't hesitate to reject any notion that the decision may bring publicity to the sect in Holland. "We don't go after people, they find us, of free and spontaneous volition," she says.

What she and her lawyer are thinking of doing is asking for reparations for the days spent in prison and the confiscation of the drink. That is, if there is no appeal of the decision. "The prosecutor of the case told us he has no intention of appealing, but the Dutch government may have some say in the matter," the lawyer explains.

ARTISTS TURNED FANS - The Santo Daime religion has for decades been a part of Amazonian culture, but it was the hippies from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro who took it upon themselves, in the late 70s, to take the Daime rituals to the rest of Brazil. In the 1980s, various celebrities such as Ney Matogrosso, Lucélia Santos and Maitê Proença, among other artists, tried the drink and became defenders of Santo Daime culture, helping to publicize the religious group. Some remain members to this day, like the cartoonist Glauco, leader of one of the Santo Daime communities in São Paulo, where he uses the rituals to help drug addicts to kick the habit.

DRINK SAID TO OPEN THE MIND - Santo Daime is an eclectic religion resulting from the syncretism of several cultural, folkloric and religious elements, including Catholicism, and originated in the early 20th century in Amazonia, when the grandchild of slaves, Raimundo Irineu Serra, had a "vision" upon consuming a drink used by the indigenes, ayahuasca.

The drink is a concoction of two tropical plants, the vine Jagube and the leaf Rainha, and has properties that are hallucinogenic or, as the members call it, "entheogenic" (manifesting God within each one). According to the followers, the drink is utilized during the rituals to produce an expansion of consciousness and to permit self-knowledge. Among the physical effects of the drink are nausea, intestinal discomfort and vomiting. Some feel absolutely nothing.

In 1974, a follower of Mestre Irineu, Padrinho Sebastião, registered the religious movement with the name Raimundo Irineu Serra Eclectic Center of the Universal Flowing Light [Centro Eclético da Fluente Luz Universal Raimundo Irineu Serra] (CEFLURIS) and developed the idea of communities around the churches. After years of suspicion owing to the psychoactive properties of ayahuasca, and several commissions that evaluated the effects of the drink and the religion's rituals, the Federal Council on Narcotics [Conselho Federal de Entorpecentes] (CONFEN) authorized the utilization of the tea in the Santo Daime rituals in 1991.

There is an excellent updated history of the Santo Daime's long march toward worldwide legitimacy here.


This week began with the second full moon of Wesak, the Buddhist festival that celebrates the enlightenment of the Buddha under the Bodhi tree.


And today is the birthday of a friend who is a Buddhist and who likes green a lot. It seems to be a good time for a story.

There is a marvelous one told in the autobiography of Nikos Kazantzakis -- Report to Greco -- in which he tells of the conditions surrounding the writings of each of his outstanding novels about the great ones: Alexander the Great, Christ, Francis of Assisi, Siddartha, and Zorba.

Here's the story:

During the 1930's Kanzantzakis received a telegram from the real-life Zorba the Greek who was an adventuresome businessman for whom he had once worked as personal aide. The message simply said, "Dear Boss. Have found most beautiful green stone in Tanzania. Come immediately. Zorba."

Kazantzakis became very agitated because he felt that World War Two was about to explode in Europe and that he could not leave his homeland at this critical moment. He wrote a very long message scolding Zorba, saying that he was offended that he would suggest something frivolous like a trip to see a green stone at such a critical moment in world history.

Zorba wrote back saying, "Dear Boss. I never thought much about heaven or hell but your message has convinced me that hell exists, at least for certain pencil-pushers. You have missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a beautiful green stone."

Kazantzakis, reflecting on his long and distinguished career in letters and politics says, "I wrote about the great ones -- Alexander, Buddha, Christ, Francis -- and Zorba was best."

So here is a small birthday gift from both worlds to you and to all of us with the hope that we can remember the message of the beautiful green stone.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008



To me, one of the most interesting aspects of the Santo Daime religion is its delight in celebrating the teachers and teachings of other religions. Céu da Lua Cheia, one of the several Santo Daime churches in the São Paulo area, makes an annual festival day or "Wesak" to celebrate the life and teachings of the Buddha.

People came from near and far to sing the "Lua Cheia" (Full Moon) collection of hymns received by Padrinho Lêo Artése




and to learn from the wisdom passed on to us from the Buddha via the spiritual lineage of Padrinho Sebastião


and Mestre Irineu


and the force of the Santo Daime

This force this force
This force has the power
To show all mysteries
Of the universe to you

Viva Mestre Irineu!

Viva Padrinho Sebastião!

Viva Buddha!

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Roberto Mangabeira Unger coordinates Amazon planning in Brasilia.

To use a phrase from my younger days,
"This is the $64,000 question."

Here is what Unger says:

Go to Original

Development crucial to saving the Brazilian Amazon
By Todd Benson

SAO PAULO, May 16 (Reuters) - The best way to preserve the Amazon rain forest is to develop the region and bring viable economic alternatives to the millions of people who live there, a Brazilian cabinet member said on Friday.

Roberto Mangabeira Unger, a former Harvard law professor picked by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to coordinate an Amazon sustainable development plan, also said Brazil would not be lectured to by foreign countries about conservation.

"We are taken aback by those who scold us, who warn us, since we see countries around the world that are talking from a high chair after having devastated their own forests," Unger, minister for strategic affairs, said in an interview.

"The Amazon is not just a collection of trees. It is also, and above all, a group of people," he added, noting that the vast region is home to 27 million people out of Brazil's total population of 185 million.

"If these people lack economic opportunities, the practical result will be disorganized economic activity, and disorganized economic activity will lead relentlessly to deforestation. The only way to preserve the Amazon is to develop it."

Unger was thrown into an unwanted spotlight this week when Marina Silva, a former rubber tapper who was hailed globally as a champion of the green movement, resigned her post as environment minister after losing a slew of battles in her efforts to protect the Amazon.

According to aides, the last straw came last week when Lula overlooked Silva and instead chose Unger to oversee the implementation of a government initiative to develop the Amazon in a sustainable way.


Unger, who three years ago denounced the Lula administration as the "most corrupt in Brazil's history," defended the president's decision to put him in charge of the Amazon initiative.

"The people who think it's natural for development of the Amazon to be undertaken by an environment ministry just don't understand that the Amazon is more than a forest," he said.

"An environment ministry lacks the instruments to deal with all the many problems of transport, energy, education, and of industry that are required to formulate and to implement a comprehensive development program."

Unger, who was born in Brazil but has lived most of his life in the United States, has long been politically active in Latin America. He is best known for his efforts to push for an alternative to neoliberalism, the label often given to the view that free-market economics and development go hand-in-hand.

But he is a newcomer to the environmental debate in Brazil, raising doubts about whether he is the right person to oversee the Amazon plan.

Jorge Viana, a Lula ally and former governor of the Amazon state of Acre, said in a radio interview on Thursday: "I respect Professor Mangabeira Unger, he's a Harvard professor, the professor of the professors. But when it comes to the Amazon, I think he's a student."

Silva's successor in the Environment Ministry, Carlos Minc, has suggested that Viana might be better equipped for the job.

Unfazed, Unger is already moving forward with the plan and is about to embark on a tour of the Amazon to hammer out development strategies with state governors.

"The Amazon is the frontier, not just of geography but of the imagination. It is our great national laboratory," he said. "It is the space in which we can best rethink and reorganize the whole country, and define this new model of development."

The International Media are starting to explode with stories on recent events in Brasilia and the Amazon. Here's a pretty critical view from SPIEGEL Online and a special in-depth series from BBC on seeking an Amazon solution . Mongabay maintains an on-going aggregator of Amazon conservation news where you can find a lot of in-depth scientific analysis that is not reported in the general media.

Friday, May 16, 2008



Former Harvard law professor, philosopher and present minister for strategic affairs Roberto Mangabeira Unger has been designated by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as the coordinator of a sustainable development initiative for the Brazilian Amazon. He has recently written about his views of people, nature and democracy.

[UPDATE: Today's New York Times has an interesting article on the resignation of Marina Silva, the appointment of her successor Carlos Minc and the new role of Unger.]

by Roberto Mangabeira Unger

At first, we needed nature so much that we worshipped it. Now we need it less and less. We cannot undo the consequences of this liberation; we can go only forward, further and further away from the need that once obsessed us toward the freedom that now disorients us.

Civilization is the antidote to our dependence on nature. However, for much of human history we remained so vulnerable to the natural forces outside and within us that we continued to picture the divine in the image of the natural forces that held us in their grip. This sense of weakness, fear, and reverence was terrifying, but it was not tragic. We found respite in our powers of invention. Inventing institutions and machines, we began to overcome our helplessness. Recognizing that our minds could outreach our frail bodies and our demeaning circumstance, we came to imagine a God who, like us, rises above nature.

As a result of this growth in power, our experience of nature has fallen apart into four pieces, each marked by a distinctive attitude toward the natural world and a characteristic contest of aspirations. Only one of these four parts of our contemporary dealings with nature bears the marks of our early neediness and terror. Only another one of the four is tragic.

First, there is the delight of the gardener. We treat nature as a setting for escape from strife and striving into aesthetic freedom. That the object of this freedom should be something we found rather something we made only increases its charm. Why not convert whole sections of the earth into global parks for the solace of people exasperated by the disappointments of society? We worry how much we can afford to subtract from production for the sake of recreation, anxiously calculating the terms of trade of tundra for oil wells or of jungle for paper. The truth, however, is that as we increase in wealth and dexterity and as population growth levels off, we can turn more places into gardens. Is not Japan, contrary to all expectation, the country with the largest portion of its national territory covered by virgin forest?

Second, there is the responsibility of the steward. We view ourselves as managers, in trust for future generations, of a sinking fund of non-renewable resources. We balance the call of consumption against the duty of thrift. It is an anxiety founded on an illusion. Necessity, mother of invention, has never yet in modern history failed to elicit a scientific and technological response to the scarcity of a resource, leaving us richer than we were before. If the earth itself were to waste, we would find a way to flee from it into other reaches of the universe. We would later revisit our abandoned and unlovely planet to re-fertilize and re-inhabit it before its fiery end. Will the waters dry? Will the oil end? It is useful to be worried and therefore prudent. It is foolish to deny that no such event has yet proved a match for ingenuity.

Third, there is the infirmity of the mortal. Only a small fraction of the world's population is now likely ever to be threatened by the natural disasters that so bedeviled our ancestors -- a smaller number by far than the number of the victims of any of the major diseases that continue to afflict us. Even floods and draughts have begun to yield their terrors to technological precaution, commercial substitution, and rural depopulation. There is, however, one area of experience in which we continue to suffer as humanity always suffered until it used mind to gain power over nature: our dealings with disease and death. Terrified and distracted, doubting both our own powers and higher providence, we work to cure the illnesses that waste us, and dream of undying life.

Fourth, there is the ambivalence of the titan. Now that we need nature less, we face a conflict our helpless forefathers were spared. We are able to question the effects of our actions on the animate and inanimate nature surrounding us. We wonder whether we should not sacrifice our self-centered desires for the sake of a more inclusive fellow feeling. Yet we are not gods, only demigods, too strong to be indifferent, too weak to forego exercising the prerogatives of our power over the forms of life, or even of lifeless being, with which we share our world. Here, at last, is a conflict we cannot hope to settle, only to endure, to understand, and to direct.

Our experience of nature is now torn into these four shreds. Where and how, in the resulting confusion, can we find guidance? What should we do with our halting triumph over need for nature? In what direction should we push our advance? And what constraints should we honor as we do so?

Not gray abstractions, deaf to the paradoxes of experience, but a simple conception, close to the ground of the history that has brought us to our present power, is what we require. The capacity to remain open to the future -- to alternative futures -- proves decisive. Consider two sides of the same view. One side speaks to our mastery of nature outside us; the other, to our experiments with nature within us.

We are unquiet in nature because the mind concentrates and focuses a quality diffuse in nature: the mind is inexhaustible and therefore irreducible and uncontainable. No limited setting, of nature, society, or culture, can accommodate all we -- we the species, we as individuals -- can think, feel, and do. Our drivenness, including our drive to assert power over nature, follows from our inexhaustibility. We should not, and to a large extent we cannot, suppress, in the name of delight, stewardship, or reverence, the initiatives by which we strengthen our command over nature.

We nevertheless have reason to stay our hands from time to time and gradually to extend the areas of the planet and the parts of each human life that we set aside for activities free from the tyranny of the will and the dictates of society. By dividing our time between restless conquest of nature and artless reencounter with it, rather than trying to subordinate prometheanism to piety, we can guard against brutalizing ourselves.

Consider another aspect of the same view. Our societies and cultures make us who we are. However, there is always more is [sic] us -- in us, humanity, and in us, individuals -- than there is or can be in them. They are finite. We, with respect to them, are infinite. We have no greater interest than in so arranging society and culture that they leave the future open, and invite their own revision.

Under democracy, this interest becomes paramount, for democracy grants to ordinary men and women the power to re-imagine and to remake the social order. That is why under democracy prophecy speaks louder than memory. That is why democrats discover that the roots of a human being lie in the future rather in the past. In a democracy, the school should speak for the future, not for the state or for the family, giving the child the instruments with which to rescue itself from the biases of its family, the interests of its class, and the illusions of its epoch.

These ideas can inform our efforts to fix, through genetic engineering, the nature within us. Nothing should prevent us from tinkering with our natural constitution, inscribed in genetic code, to avoid disease and deformity. The place to stop is the point at which the present seeks to form human beings who will deliver a future drawn in its own image. Let the dead bury the dead is what the future must say back, through our voices, to the present. To let the future go free would show more than power. It would show wisdom.

Go to original.
Nature in its place - Download doc

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Marina Silva

Marina Silva, a longtime darling of the international environmental community, resigned yesterday in protest of Brazil's development policies.

[UPDATE 15 May 2008: More analysis from the Independent and from the BBC.]

Brazil's Environment Minister Marina Silva Resigns
Go to Original

By Adriana Brasileiro and Heloiza Canassa

May 13 (Bloomberg) -- Brazil's Environment Minister Marina Silva quit today after five years in office, citing difficulties in implementing a nationwide environmental agenda.

``During my trajectory, Your Excellency was a witness of the growing resistance found by our team in important sectors of the government and society,'' Silva wrote in a letter to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva today. A copy of the letter was e-mailed by Environment Ministry spokeswoman Gerusa Barbosa.

Silva, 50, a former rubber tapper, strengthened laws for logging and farming in the Amazon. She also made it harder for companies to obtain licenses for port, energy and transportation projects.

``She was the environment's guardian angel,'' said Frank Guggenheim, executive director for Greenpeace in Brazil. ``Now Brazil's environment is orphaned.''

Silva gave up after being forced to share some of her responsibilities for drafting policies for the sustainable development of the Amazon region, Guggenheim said.

Strategic Matters Minister Roberto Mangabeira Unger this year designed a plan for sustainable development in the Amazon and last week presented the plan to Lula and his ministers.

Lula last year also removed the responsibilities for environmental licensing from Brazil's Environmental Agency Ibama, weakening Silva's power over concessions for infrastructure projects.

Silva's Efforts

Ibama's president, Bazileu Alves Margarido Neto, also tendered his resignation today following Silva's decision, a spokeswoman with the agency said.

Carlos Minc, Rio de Janeiro state's secretary for the Environment and a Green Party founder, will replace Silva, Folha de S. Paulo's online edition reported today. Rio de Janeiro's state Secretariat didn't return messages seeking confirmation. Barbosa at the Environment Minister declined to comment.

Silva was born in the state of Acre, in the western part of Brazil's Amazon region, and worked extracting rubber from trees in the forests. She met Amazon activist Chico Mendes, and joined his efforts to organize peaceful demonstrations against deforestation. Mendes was assassinated in 1988.

She was elected to Brazil's Senate in 1994 and was appointed Environment Minister in 2003, when Lula won the election for his first four-year term in office.

Environmentalists say her years as ministers were filled with conflicts with government officials and investors, as she set more rigid rules for logging licenses and blocked infrastructure projects that didn't respect legislation.

``She relentlessly stood up to agriculture barons and developers who didn't care what they did to the environment, and she paid a high price for that,'' Guggenheim said.