Bus rides, from a Blackberry…

I’m in a bus, traveling from Galicia to Madrid, in Spain, a 6 hour road trip (about 500km). Now is 2 in the morning, and everything is great although I’m not very sleepy. Connected to the “world” via my smart phone, I’m taking the opportunity to test this WordPress application for Blackberry that I never used due to my constant lack of time.

The trip itself reminds me about the countless bus trips I took during my youth, including some unforgettable ones throughout Brazil, Morocco and India. When you remember those trips after so many years, it looks like they were much more pleasant than they actually were, a phenomenon certainly caused by this weird “aging” effect I’m suffering at the age of 35 (in the recent past, I still could list every single new year’s eve I had in my life, now they are starting to get all mixed in my mind).

Well, still, I have very good memories about those trips. I like bus trips, I can almost feel the tires touching the road, and this makes me feel more connected to our apparently vast planet Earth.

In Brazil, I remember a 500km bus trip I did from Corumba to Bonito, all within a single Brazilian State called “Mato Grosso do Sul” (and this was just like a third of the State!). That was “pure” nature… During the trip you could feel the Pantanal’s warm and humid air while seeing al sorts of animals around the empty bus.

In Morocco, I remember two increadible trips: one from Madrid to Marakesh (!), a 30 hour “non-stop” bus trip that would make anyone sick (curiously, the “border” between Spain and Morocco was inside the ferry boat our bus embarked). And another 10 hour bus trip to the Sahara desert directly followed by a 6h camel ride at night simply unforgettable, with one of the clearest sky I think anyone can see in the world.

In India, the experiences were not that “easy”. I couldn’t skip the city buses of Kolkata, were chickens, passengers and inconvenient stops for refuel inside the buses (with people smoking just steps away from the gasoline) would make anyone feel like being inside a surreal Spanish movie. More shocking indeed was a 30 hour trip from Kolkata to Siliguri (in Sikkim) in a bus with rows of 5 seats packed with people and luggage enough to make the place almost airless. I swear I felt I could die that day. In fact, me and some colleagues got really sick for 2 days after that trip.

This Spanish ride is so calm and comfortable that in 10 years from now I won’t probably remember this bus trip, but I will certainly remember the peaceful period I lived in this wonderful country.

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Fool’s Gold

In my last day of vacations I took a moment to update the songs I am collecting in my Spotify account. If you have an account there too, take a look later at this never-ending but enjoyable work: http://open.spotify.com/user/newtonmcampos.

During this process, I found a Brazilian artist I liked a lot during my adolescence: Raul Seixas, an old pop icon in Brazil. For those of you who have heard of Paulo Coelho (the famous Brazilian writer), bear in mind that the they worked together creating some of the most amazing songs of that time. Just as a curiosity, I found a video of them during a trip to the US in the 70’s (that is interesting only if you’ve heard of Paulo Coelho before):

Well, the song I found more interesting to hear again and explore was this one, “Ouro de Tolo” (Fool’s Gold), one of the first musics composed by Raul Seixas, inspired by Bob Dylan, that talks about the “perfect job” promised by the Brazilian government under the dictatorship installed to assure the development of capitalism in the country during the cold war. I suggest you to listen to the song and read the lirics and its free Google translation. It is very interesting and made me think about this interesting moment of my life:

Eu devia estar contente porque eu tenho um emprego
I should be happy I have a job
Sou o dito cidadão respeitável
I’m the so called respectable citizen
E ganho quatro mil cruzeiros por mês
and I earn 4 thousand cruzeiros a month

E devia agradecer ao Senhor
And I should thank the Lord
Por ter tido sucesso na vida como artista
for having achieved success as an artist
Eu devia estar feliz porque
I should be happy because
Eu consegui comprar um corcel 73
I managed to buy a ’73 Ford

E devia estar alegre, satisfeito
And I should be happy, pleased
Por morar em Ipanema depois de ter passado fome
for living in Ipanema after having starved
Por dois anos, aqui, na cidade maravilhosa
for 2 years, here, in this marvelous city (Rio de Janeiro)

Eu devia estar sorrindo e orgulhoso
I should be smiling, proud
Por ter finalmente vencido na vida
for having finnaly succeeded
Mas eu acho isso uma grande piada
But I find it all a great joke
E um tanto quanto perigosa
a rather dangerous one

Eu devia estar contente por ter conseguido
I should be happy I got
Tudo o que eu quis, mas confesso
everything I always wanted, but I reckon
Abestalhado que eu estou decepcionado
stunned that I’m disappointed

Porque foi tão fácil conseguir
because it was so easy to get
E agora eu me pergunto, e daí?
And I ask; so what?
Eu tenho uma porção de coisas grandes pra conquistar
I have many great things to achieve
E eu não posso ficar aí parado
And I can’t stay stand

Eu devia estar feliz pelo Senhor ter me concedido
I should be happy the Lord gave me
Um domingo pra ir com a família no jardim zoológico
a Sunday to go to the zoo with my family
Dar pipoca aos macacos
give popcorn to the monkeys

Ah, mas que sujeito chato sou eu
oh, but what a bore guy I am
Que não acha nada engraçado
I can’t find fun
Macaco, praia, carro, jornal, tobogan
Monkeys, beaches, cars, newspapers, tobogan,
Eu acho tudo isso um saco
to me they just suck

É você olhar no espelho
You look at yourself on the mirror
Se sentir um grandessíssimo idiota
You feel like a great idiot
Saber que é humano, ridículo, limitado
Knowing you are human, limited
Que só usa dez por cento de sua cabeça animal
and you use just ten per cent of your animal head

E você ainda acredita que é um doutor
And you still believe you are a doctor
Padre ou policial que está contribuindo com sua parte
A priest or a policeman doing your part to contribute
Para o nosso belo quadro social
to our beatiful society

Eu é que não me sento no trono de um apartamento
I don’t sit on a couch in an apartment
Com a boca escancarada, cheia de dentes
with my mouth open, full of teeth,
Esperando a morte chegar
waiting for death to arrive

Porque longe das cercas embandeiradas
because far away form the decorated fences
Que separam os quintais
that separate yards
No cume calmo do meu olho que vê
at the calm peak of my seeing eye
Assenta a sombra sonora de um disco voador
there rests the shadow of a flying saucer.

Just for curiosity, I attach Raul’s own translation of “Ouro de Tolo”, in a version of the song in English:

And also the history of the song told – in Portuguese – by journalist Ana Maria Bahiana: http://soundcloud.com/factoide/historia-de-ouro-de-tolo-do-raul-seixas

We all want to be young!

The first video exposed by this post was published in the end of 2010 by the Brazilian born research/consulting group BOX1824. It shows how new generations – including those in emerging economies – are being heavily influenced by new technologies, and how they theoretically influence older and younger generations. Although a bit Americanized in its first parts, I think most of its arguments are valid and pretty updated, specially for middle and upper social classes.

The lighter but somehow interesting Chinese version came out just few days ago. It is interesting to see how researchers leaded by firms from two large “emerging” markets like Brazil and China observe the parts of the same phenomenon.

The ignorance that divides people

Everything is ready for my first vacation trip to Iran next week, August 2010. I go with my wife for an apparently exotic trip, which people tend to label at least as adventurous. That is what has most impressed me from the moment that my wife and I decided to make this trip: the enormous social pressure to change our idea and completely abandon an itinerary that is already planned and partially paid.

In Brazil, over the past years, the name Iran leads to a direct connotation of danger, radicalism, development of weapons of mass destruction, unfounded stoning, and violations of women’s rights. This connotation was apparently constructed by the international press in general and then followed by the stupid national press (which curiously does not question facts), a press composed by journalists who normally do not have time to do their jobs with dignity (they are always in a hurry, writing articles like sausages in a production line).

As the result of this lack of information, some of our relatives, near friends and acquaintances have come almost begging for the cancellation of our trip, asking us to change our destiny for something softer like Turkey or Jordan, if it is to stay in the Islamic world.

This social upheaval that has prompted with unexpected frequency our curiosity about Persia and its historical and cultural path have scared us more, despite all the research done so far to ensure that there is no danger in a tourist trip to the country in recent years. That is, it is simply another case of prejudice and racism that the Western world itself says to combat in extreme hypocrisy.

Stop! Enough hypocrisy! Who are we, Westerners, to question what should be the role of religion or of women in Iranian society? In the United States the death penalty still exists in conjunction with a mass of millions of fat and ignorant compulsive consumerists that make up this country “model” (model for whom?). In Brazil, a few weeks ago a woman who seduced a famous footballer and got pregnant to get money from him was quartered and thrown to hungry dogs by former police officers who are constantly hired to “disappear” with people, for money also. It is somewhat ironic that a woman becomes pregnant in exchange for money and an ex-cop too kill for money. Basically, the same money initially conceived by the beautiful victim as her direct access to wealth and fame was the money that made her to be cut into pieces to feed hungry rottweilers.

The Western world and our democracy (a concept totally unrealistic) is not as exemplary as people around here are led to believe. It is important to learn more about the Islamic world and Iran before creating harmless stereotypes that do not contribute to the development of the world as a whole. And if we criticize, we should do it directly, considering the weight of the local religion and culture and finding ways to modernize the social and theological debate on the issue.

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Are you a citizen or a consumer?

I was watching the main TV News some weeks ago in Brazil when a famous local economic analyst happily announced that the poorest people were starting to have economic power to buy goods like flat TVs and cars and therefore were finally able to become citizens. What an odd affirmation, I thought. If a person born in this country is not a citizen until they have money to buy a TV or a car what the hell they were before? Animals? Native Indians? He didn’t say.

It is so strange to have to hear stupid things like this more and more often that I start to doubt whether I am getting crazy or capitalism is getting so intrinsically connected to our lives that we are forgetting that yes we can live without iPods and iPhones (we cannot live without water by the way, if anybody has forgotten). Ok, I am maybe too old to understand that a current teenager without an iPod can be almost considered a dead teenager (at least socially), but how can’t we be able to generate a more conscious teenager and society with all the information tools that we have available?

It seems to me that people are all anesthetized by the material development that is undergoing in Brazil. Richer people are just thinking on how to make more money out of the “bottom of the pyramid”, medium-class people just thinking on how to become rich people and lower-class people just wanting to get their “basic” needs like owning flat TVs covered.

I have the sensation that everybody is so busy figuring out ways to get money that nobody have time to think anymore over here. If we remember that under the classic unrefined definition of capitalism by Benjamin Franklin “time is money”, thinking may have become a stupid thing to do currently in Brazil. I wonder if that is also the case of other emerging markets nowadays.

Is it ethical to be rational?

Some months ago, here in Brazil, a friend of mine went to visit a poultry farm of a friend of him, an entrepreneur. He enjoyed a lot the visit and told me that he was really happy to see that his entrepreneur friend was making good money after he implemented the new rationalized way of growing chicken. According to him, he was able to grow a chicken in 45 days, while most of the Brazilian traditional poultry farms spend at least 60 days to grow a chicken. That was possible, among other things, by not letting chicken sleep naturally. Lights are controlled to make they think that days are shorter. Because of all of those “innovations”, he is getting a lot of new customers and was about to increase his production either by building or acquiring new farms.

This logic is behind most of the entrepreneurial ventures that find innovative ways to compete with others in the market and grow rapidly. The logic of rationality works because it motivates people to make more with less and this make things cheaper or better. However, what is the line between morality and rationality in this kind of actions? Many times, it is hard to determine whether you are being unethical or rational, especially if you are doing something innovative.

I suffered with this kind of dilemma in one the businesses I had a couple of years ago and with one I still have. In the former one, we found out that the whole sector we were entering utilized bribery as the common way to make deals. We knew that this was present in the industry but we never thought that it was so institutionalized as we found out later. It was frustrating. In the current business I am still running was even worse. Depending on the decision I had to take, someone could die (or be killed, to be more specific). In emerging markets is not rare the cases where your decision may put your life or the life of other people at risk.

Although academic business literature on entrepreneurship teaches us that innovation and rationalized ways of doing things may take us to the ultimate goal of becoming a successful entrepreneur as it would happen in the US or in Europe, when this literature encounters the dark side of a developing market some other apparently non-rational variables take place, putting you face to face with hard ethical decisions.

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Lack of Space on Earth

After seeing this picture of the Sao Paulo central metro station last week, I remembered those classic readings in the beginning of the PhD program (I think it was Foucault, I am not sure) reflecting about the development of the sense of property of space and natural resources. In some distant past, for example, people did not care very much about space (physical land) because if you were not satisfied with your community you and your fellows could leave and find a place somewhere else to start a life. That was how probably the Earth got populated by humans in all continents (we must be a quite irritating species to provoke such exodus).

Today, the problem is bit different. People are everywhere! It is probably very difficult to find places on Earth where human had not stepped over. I had this sensation when I did a 14-day trekking trip in the supposedly empty Himalayas in Sikkim (in the extreme north of India) in 2001. You could reach absolutely wonderful places after walking for 5 days in the middle of the jungle or over the mountains where theoretically very people could dare to live but there was always a kid saying “money, money, money” around you. Money and Chocolate were the only words they knew in English. Today, 10 years later, I suppose they already learnt how to say derivative, entrepreneurship or venture capital.

What is the limit for our expansion as specie on Earth? I always found I was a lucky person to be able to live on the surface of the Earth during this moment in which we are going to occupy the whole planet with our stuff: cars, houses, pipelines, asphalt and electricity. The UN says we are going to stabilize in about 9 to 12 billion people living together over the planet. But some people say we can get to 20 billion. Isn’t that amazing? We are about 6 billion today. I feel like I am a plague or something. It reminds me the environmental collapse of the Easter Island and current Haiti.

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