Reflections on Brasil

father daughter brasilA few months ago I found out that Rotary International was going to hold their annual convention in the city of Sao Paulo, Brasil.  Because I had never been to South America I decided to take an eleven day trip to Brasil.

Brasil is a good country that merits a return trip.  The first four days were spent in Rio De Janeiro with its famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches.  The last four days were spent in South America’s largest city, Sao Paulo.  Here are some “Don Factoids” you might want to know if you consider a trip to Brasil.

  • Portuguese (not Spanish) is the language of Brasil and few people speak English, so be prepared to struggle a bit when asking directions.
  • Brasilians are friendly and helpful. Even if they can’t answer your question they will give you an apologetic and sincere smile.  Brasilians are very gracious.
  • Clean, potable water. You can drink the tap water, even from public drinking fountains and not get sick.
  • Soccer Fanatics: The recent 7-1 loss to Germany in the world cup is viewed as a national disgrace to be hauntingly remembered and regretted for decades to come.
  • Litter free: The streets have refuse containers every 500 feet and Brasilians use them.  The street department comes by every night around 8pm to collect the trash.  Unlike India, Brasil’s female trash collectors wear makeup.
  • Affordable: Dining and lodging in Brasil are very affordable.  You can get a good, white tablecloth meal consisting of various meats or other fare for around $17 per person.  Hotels are modern and less expensive than comparable accommodations in the USA.
  • The Fruit…THE FRUIT! You’ve never tasted anything like the fruit in Brasil.  It is so fresh that it attacks your taste buds.  When you go in for a mango shake they will squeeze it as you watch.  Brasil has varieties of fruit that we don’t have in the USA.
  • Comfortable in their Own Skin: Brasilians are not ashamed to walk on the beach in a skimpy swimsuit no matter how old, fat or unsightly they are!   There seems to be no vanity on the beach; Brasilians want to enjoy the beach and that’s that.
  • Brasilians might collectively be the best looking people on the planet. I don’t know why, but after a few days of looking at “average” men and women, regardless of age, Brasilians fare very well.  Think about it; when was the last time Miss Brasil didn’t finish in the top 5 of the Miss Universe pageant?
  • Young men have short haircuts and almost never have facial hair. They are handsome and “clean cut”.
  • No Jetlag: While It is 5400 miles (a Ten Hour flight) from Chicago to Rio.  There’s only two hours time difference.  You won’t get jet lagged.

If you are an international traveler it is my opinion that you should consider a trip to Brasil.  You might want to avoid the Olympic congestion in 2016 but otherwise, I think Brasil is a safe, tasty, and beautiful bet.

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Openers, Madness and the Masters

This blog is written in Minnesota, one of the northern tier of states. Up here winter lasts 5 months at a minimum. I don’t mind winter. The first snowfall is beautiful. The air is crisp and if you dress for it, put the right show tires on it, purchase the right snow blower for it, and have a positive attitude about it, winter is a great season for three months. It’s the last two months that sap your spirit.

Inevitably, by the time you’re in the 5th month of winter the best thing about it is that it finally ENDS! Those in southern climes can’t imagine how excited we are to see spring. But wait; we have no spring, at least as it is in places like Arkansas, the Carolina’s or Oklahoma. The 4th and 5th months of Winter take away our spring and we catapult almost immediately into summer. Furnace one day and air conditioning the next; that’s our Minnesota.

So, if there is no spring what are the Northerner’s harbingers of hope? Our trilogy of winter’s demise is Openers, Madness, and the Masters. This week is the culmination of collegiate basketball’s “March Madness”, the start of the Master’s Golf Tournament in Augusta, GA and the home opener of most teams in Major League Baseball. All three in one week! I’m giddy. Good riddance winter.

march madnessThere are millions of college basketball fans in this country and when 64 teams play in a single elimination tournament over three weeks, almost anything can happen and it usually does. Over 75 million people, a fifth of the US population has filled out a “bracket” for this tournament. Only 4 teams remain and we will have a national champion before the week is over.

mastersFor golfers the Masters Golf Tournament, held at the Augusta National Golf Club, in Augusta, Georgia is THE classic sporting event to usher in the professional golf season. The first of 4 major golf tournaments, this week the 79th annual Masters Tournament gets underway in a place where REAL spring exists. Go for it, golfers! On those thousands of golf courses around the land, take a deep breath, smell the grass, polish up those clubs and get ready for a great year.

The final predictor of winter’s demise is imbedded in the home openers of all teams in Major League Baseball. The rejuvenated Chicago Cubs open at historic Wrigley Fieldernest banks against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday night, April 5th where they will honor recently departed “Mr. Cub”, Ernie Banks. The next day the Yanks open against the Blue Jays in the Bronx, while the Brewers open at Miller Park against the Rockies. Our Minnesota Twins open April 13th at Target Field against the Royals. On the first of 182 games, all games are sellouts and every team is in first place. What a blast! I can’t wait to buy my first bag of peanuts from Paul White on the corner of Addison and Clark streets.

My friends, it is now time to put aside all of your trials and troubles and enjoy the end of winter. The joy of boating, golfing, swimming, gardening, and sipping basil lemonade under the outdoor canopy beckons us all.

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First World Problems

About 3 billion of the world’s 7 billion people struggle to survive, living on less than $1 per day. When these Third World people have problems their very lives are at stake, but we in the “First World” have difficulties also. Here are some of our first world problems.

  • My shower head is leaking
  • My bus is late
  • The Wi-Fi in this café isn’t working
  • I can’t figure out how to transfer my photos from my I-Phone 4S to my I-Phone 6
  • My hair stylist colored my hair too dark
  • I don’t have time to schedule my manicure and pedicure appointments
  • The battery on the garage door opener is dead
  • My Lexus needs another oil change
  • Connecting flights are a pain; I hate it when I can’t fly non-stop
  • Can’t this restaurant serve a warm egg?
  • It’s inhumane to raise turkeys in a building; they should be free range.
  • I need more time to shop!

And perhaps the most important “First World” problem may be the following:

I’ve got all of this stuff so why am I unhappy?

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A few weeks ago I was at the Brazilian Consulate in Chicago obtaining a VISA for travel to that country. The Consulate is on the 18th floor of one of Chicago’s many tall buildings. When I walked into the Consulate there was a big room with about 50 folding chairs. The employees of the Consulate sat in booths along one wall; one for visas, one for passports, and one for notary services, etc. The wall consisted of wooden desks, above which was solid glass all the way to the ceiling. With the exception of a small area to slide documents back and forth the employees of the consulate were completely separated from their “customers.” There was not a single Consulate employee in the customer area to give assistance or answer questions from the customers.over_pic1.png

As people approached the window with their requests, many did not have appropriate documentation or were otherwise ill prepared. While moderately courteous, the Consulate staff didn’t display much empathy. The unwritten message from the Consulate employees to their customers was “You either obey my commands by giving me the exact paperwork I want or get the heck out of here and come another day.”

Of course, there are some cases where “floor to ceiling” barriers might be justified like 24-hour pump & pay gas outlets, police stations, and cash facilities in high crime neighborhoods. I’m not convinced that a VISA office needs full barriers.

The Consulate experience got me thinking about the places where I encounter people barriers. The local Social Security Office has floor to ceiling barriers. Bank tellers and DMV employees have “half” barriers, but if I make an appointment with a banker or investment advisor there is no barrier. The jeweler comes out and meets his customer on the floor of his shop, as do almost all retail employees.

Generally speaking I think that people barriers are a harbinger of poor service. When there is a physical barrier between people this tells me that the service agency distrusts the customer and is likely to be less courteous than would otherwise be the case. That’s why you find more people barriers in the government sector than in the private sector. After all, a shop owner can’t afford to alienate his customers, but the DMV employee doesn’t need to give a rip. As far as I am concerned, the fewer the barriers the better.




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Omaha Knights  Circa 1962

Omaha Knights
Circa 1962

My Hero Dave Gordichuk, in Omaha, 1962

My Hero Dave Gordichuk, in Omaha, 1962

When I was an eleven year old cub scout growing up in Omaha my father bought us two season tickets to the Omaha Knights hockey team.  In those days the National Hockey League had only 6 teams so many players who would have been playing in the NHL today did not make the big time.  Dad and I saw some pretty good hockey back then.

There was one player named Dave Gordichuk that I admired above all of the others.  He was handsome, clean cut, a man of few words and in my mind the most perfect human being that God ever created.  As the players entered and left the ice after each period, I was one of the kids who stood behind the rope watching him and hoping that someday I would be that guy.  If Dave had known how much I admired him he probably wouldn’t have believed it.  He was not on the Omaha roster in 1963 so I knew that he had probably returned to Alberta to live his life after hockey.

Professional hockey players have their last names printed on the shaft of their hockey sticks, as they are special orders from the factory.  One day I was walking home from school and I saw a hockey stick poking out of the top of a snow bank.  On the shaft of the stick was the name GORDICHUK.  I couldn’t believe it…one of Gordichuk’s sticks!  To my disappointment the stick was worthless because the blade of the stick had been sawed off and only the shaft remained.  I took it home anyway because it had his name on it.

The other day I started thinking about the days of my youth in Omaha and my hero Dave Gordichuk came to mind.  What happened to him when he went back to Alberta?  Did he have a happy life?  How old is he now?  These questions intrigued me. Then I went to the internet and checked out an old Omaha Knights program and looked at the player roster. The information was sketchy.

Dave Gordichuk.  Right Wing, shoots Left.
Born April 20 1935 in Vegreville, ALTA
Height 6.00, Weight 175

While I was too shy to talk to him then, after multiple internet searches I found his phone number.  Pleasant as I knew he would be, he accepted my call after 54 years.  After leaving hockey Dave returned to Alberta to own and operate a grocery store.  He also served as a Zamboni driver at the local rink!  Most important, Dave has a wife, two daughters and three grandchildren.  I told him that he was my hero when I was eleven years old.  Quiet and unassuming, he listened kindly to me, asking me what I had done in my life.

As I concluded the conversation I told him that he had made my day.  Dave inspired me when I was eleven years old and I have thought of him often during my life.  At age 79 Dave deserves his privacy and I’ll grant him that but in my mind is still that handsome young hockey player who was and will always be my hero.  For me, he will always be 25 years old and he will forever play for the Omaha Knights.  Likewise I will always be that kid standing along the rope waiting for him to walk by, hoping against hope that he will nod at me and give me a wink.

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Indians Aren’t Stupid

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

This week Obama went to Hindustan, literally the land of the Hindu’s, and talked with politicians and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The main item on Obama’s agenda was to convince the Indians to reduce their carbon footprint. On cue, Obama denigrated the US for our contribution to global pollution and apologized for all of us. He told the Indians that the South Asian continent is particularly vulnerable to rising oceans caused by global warming. Fittingly his global warming appeal got the same response from the Indians as it got from the Chinese; thanks, but no thanks!

While Barack the American job killer has done his best to regulate, legislate, or mandate policies that favor “clean energy” and punish the production and consumption of fossil fuels, the Indians aren’t going to jump on Obama’s clean energy bandwagon. They’ve got 1.2 billion people who demand economic progress. The guy riding a bicycle wants a motorbike; the guy on a motorbike wants a small car and the guy with the small car wants a Mercedes. That’s not going to change and India is going to use as many fossil fuels as it deems prudent for their economic growth. Indians can’t afford expensive (solar, wind) energy, they require low cost energy (oil, gas).

Prior to being elected as India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was Chief Minister (similar to a governor in the US) of the state of Gujarat.   In my travels to India my “home base” is Modi’s state of Gujarat, located on the Arabian Sea in Northwest India. The son of a Chai Walla (a person that sells tea on the street) Modi’s rise to Prime Minister is a classic success story that rivals that of any world leader. As far as job creation is concerned, Modi is the exact opposite of Obama; under Modi’s leadership Gujarat exceeds all other Indian states in job creation.

Clean energy is like organic food; despite its virtues the poor can’t afford it. Obama wants to include India on his list of enlightened, progressive, clean energy nations. Indians are incredibly bright and marvelously hospitable. Knowing the Indians they smiled broadly and politely and told Obama that he is an inspirational world leader who is absolutely correct about global warming. However, even before the wheels of Air Force One lifted off from Indira Ghandi International Airport there is no doubt that the Indians had dismissed both Obama and his unaffordable schemes. The Indians aren’t stupid.  They’ve got an economy to build.

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Exemption from Criticism

Wednesday morning I awakened to news that at least two Islamic terrorists shot and killed at least 12 people at a publication office in Paris.  The offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical publication, were under “police protection”, which consisted of a few unarmed cops.  When these helpless police realized that the bad guys had shotguns and AK-47’s, they could only run and ask for support from armed special police units.  By the time armed support arrived the perpetrators had fled.  While the policing failed, French officials were spot on by referring early and often to this incident as Islamic terrorism.  Meanwhile, President Barack Hussein Obama referred to the Paris gunmen as “the few”.

I’m saddened and disappointed that in many parts of the world, with the tacit approval of governments, universities, and the media, specific groups of people are virtually exempt from criticism.  The unfortunate result of this political correctness is that members of the “exempted” groups and the society at large are missing out on tremendous opportunities for mutual communication and the establishment of peace and tranquility.  While there are many examples of damage caused by exempting a group from criticism, I’ll select just a few.

Muslims:  You can criticize and satirize Protestants and Catholics, but you’d better think twice if you insult a Muslim.  In our politically correct world Muslims are exempted from criticism.  One of Hebdo’s crimes was to publish anti-Islamic cartoons, for which Hebdo’s offices were fire-bombed several years ago.  The media and politicians are reluctant to use the term “Islamic Terrorism” to describe situations where radicals of the Islamic faith indiscriminately kill innocent people.  The media coverage of the Fort Hood massacre was a prime example of political correctness gone bad.  The fact is that there are hundreds of thousands of Muslims who have declared war on the Europe, the United States and Western Culture in general.  They have bastardized Islam and continue to kill or injure thousands of people each year (ironically most of them innocent Muslims) all over the world.  We didn’t call Hitler’s people “misguided Germans” and we shouldn’t call Islamic Terrorists “the few”.  How can we expect millions of faithful Muslims to have the courage to stand up to the terrorists in their midst when the President of the United States can’t muster the political courage to speak the truth?

African Americans:  Of all minority groups in the United States, African Americans are least likely to be openly criticized in public.  If you are not black, criticizing an African American can have serious career and personal consequences.  You can lose your job in an instant by simply uttering just one misinterpreted word or phrase, let alone a derogatory term.  Many African Americans, however, use the same despicable terms in their speech and in various music genre.  The result of African American exemption from criticism status is predictable; whites no longer want to talk to blacks at the risk of being labeled racist.  This is unfortunate because white people and African Americans would benefit greatly if we could honestly discuss what can be done to improve our culture and our country.

Jews, Israel and Women:  If you criticize a Jew (or the nation of Israel) you do so at the risk of being called anti-Semitic.  Like slavery for African Americans, the Nazi holocaust should not be forgotten and should never be repeated, but these past atrocities shouldn’t exempt Jews or African Americans from criticism going forward.  Feminists often degrade stay at home Mothers, but they can’t take what they dish out.  Universities have entire majors that emphasize the victimization of women at the hands of males.

I’ve got a New Year’s Resolution idea for 2015.  Let’s pledge to talk more honestly and stop playing the “religion” card, the “race” card, and the “gender” card.  We will probably find out that we actually like each other.

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