Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Rachel Carson Homestead

Rachel Carson was a pioneer in the fight for the environmental movement in the United States. She was born in Pittsburgh, PA and her book Silent Spring is considered a milestone in the environmental movement in which we still are aware of today. Her house known as the Rachel Carson Homestead is still preserved in the suburbs of Pittsburgh and I had the opportunity to visit this place where time seems to stand still.
Although its exterior blends in to the surrounding houses, its interior stands out for its preservation of an early 20th Century style house. The furniture reflects the style which was prevalent in that period of time. The beds were supported by ropes and not springs, the kitchen was extended outside the house, the stairs were narrow and the ceiling was low so it would provide a warm environment for those who lived there.
Though the house brings you back in time, Rachel Carson's ideas remain applicable to our own issues concerning the environmental movement in the present time. Her book Silent Spring ushered in the basic principles in the fight for environmental protection in the United States. She focused her research on the dangers of using pesticides on crops to prevent insects from destroying the farmer's harvest. Without her work the laws against the use of certain pesticides might not have come to light.
Her groundbreaking work still heavily influences the environmental movement today. Although the issues are not the same her pioneering spirit inspires people to continue the fight for the protection of our natural resources. As the first Latin American visitor of the Rachel Carson Homestead it was a great opportunity for me to get to know the work of such an influential Pittsburgh native.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Groundhog Day

The groundhog is a member of the squirrel family that normally weights from 12 to 15 pounds and is 20 inches long. It is covered with coarse grayish hair, has short ears and short legs and it is surprisingly quick. Groundhogs are one of the few animals that truly hibernates.
According to American folklore, every year on February 2nd the groundhog in Punxsutawney, PA wakes up from hibernation and can then forecast how the rest of the winter is going to be. If it sees its own shadow that means the winter will last for six more weeks. If the sky is cloudy and the groundhog cannot see his shadow that means spring will come early and the second half of the winter will be mild.
Groundhog day is so popular that thousands of people go to Punxsutawney every year to participate in the festivities that lead to the prediction of Puxsutawney Phill (as they named the groundhog). It is even the title of a movie in which Bill Murray plays a weatherman who wakes up and lives Groundhog Day over and over again.
Today, February 2, 2010 Punxsutawney Phill saw his shadow predicting six more weeks of winter. That was frustrating for me as I was expecting better temperatures for the next two weeks here in Pittsburgh!

Monday, February 1, 2010


Cultures are different in many aspects. Some cultures are strict about punctuality while others are more relaxed about it. In some countries it is hard to develop friendship while in others people are more open to build relationships. The same happens with humour. A joke that Americans find funny might be viewed as offensive or impolite to Brazilian people and vice versa. Humour in the United States tends to be rather sarcastic. Celebrities and politicians are constant victims of an ironic and sharp sense of humour that is spread by radio and television shows. It is interesting to see how Americans are comfortable enough to make fun of congressman or even the president and yet maintain the respect necessary to their public functions. Brazilians tend to be very sarcastic as well and humour there can very often be inappropriate.
In spite of this similarity, Americans created a genre of humour that is not familiar to Brazilians. TV sitcoms portray funny daily situations that happens to a certain group of people. This kind of show was spread around the world and inspired Brazilians to produce their own sitcoms. However, the success of this genre in America was not the same in Brazil. Sitcoms were unfamiliar to the Brazilians, they viewed it as artificial and not many of them became big hits.
All things considered, it is fair to say that Brazilian humour tends to be more ironic and sarcastic than American humour, sometimes even a bit exaggerated. Americans on the other hand seem to have a better grasp on humour when portraying the daily situations that can happen to specific groups of people in a natural way. Overall, they have a similar taste when it comes to humour and the same joke can be sidesplitting to Americans and to Brazilians.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Matress Factory

Throughout the history of art new tendencies can be revealed by the methods used by artists to portray the image of a human being. Portraits can be detailed paintings, a picture, a black and white drawing, or even an image on a computer screen. The current exhibition of The Mattress Factory shows how the technology of the present time relates to portraiture and the numerous manners to depict a human being in a piece of art.
This exhibition called Likeness shows for instance multiple portraits of artist Nikki S. Lee layered upon each other to show different perceptions of her face. It also has a room with split pictures of people showing a different facial expression on each half of the picture so that the image can reveal two different emotions. Some of the art work combine creative ideas with a traditional concept of portraits, like a display of pictures of people dressed in a Statue of Liberty outfit.
There are also permanent exhibitions at The Mattress Factory. Many of these involve humans senses, particularly sight. For example, there is a dark corridor with a ramp that leads to an apparently completely dark room. However, after a moment it is possible to see a light at the end of the room which was inconspicuous at first. Another good example is a room with a big purple rectangle at the far wall that appears to be only the projection of a light. However, as you get closer to it, you realize it is actually a room with ultraviolet light inside.
All those pieces of art demonstrate that it is possible to have many perceptions on how to depict a person or on how people interact with their surroundings. It is interesting to see the creativity of the artists that did not limit their work within the boundaries of traditional concepts of art. The most interesting feature of the Mattress Factory is the diversity of ideas which makes each exhibition unique.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Volcanoes of the Deep Sea

Unlike what most people believe, the movie Volcanoes of the Deep Sea shows that life could have stemmed not from the sun but from the earth's internal heat source: underwater volcanoes.
The first evidence that supports this is matching hexagonal fossils discovered in Spain and in the mid-ocean ridge in the Atlantic Ocean where underwater volcanoes can be found, displaying the possibility that life originated in this area.
Other types of life, like shrimp and coral, who live in the same environment show that it is possible to thrive in such harsh conditions.
It was only recently that scientists had the resources and technology to explore these previously inaccessible environments. Even after the development of this technology we have yet to find a living specimen responsible for these mysterious hexagonal shaped fossils that possibly hold the secret to the origin of life on earth.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Price and Adams Excursion

Getting to know another culture is a way to have a better understanding of your own culture. This applies on a personal level as well as a professional level. I have always been curious about the daily life of lawyers in the United States. I believed it would give me a better perspective about my job in Brazil. Last week I fulfilled this wish when met John Adams, an American lawyer and partner of Price and Adams law firm.
I expected the environment of the law firm to be unfamiliar and to learn about a different judicial system than the Brazilian one. However, I was surprised to see how the tasks of an American lawyer are similar to the duties of Brazilian lawyers. Although keeping track of lawsuits in America is easier due to an online system, the job of an American lawyer involves the same skills required from their Brazilian counterparts.
Moreover, the lawsuits in the United States follow basically the same structure as those in Brazil. The plaintiff, who feels his rights have been violated, files a complaint against the defendant that, once summoned, has twenty days to respond the plaintiff's allegations. Aside from the time given to the defendant to file an answer the system is exactly like the one in Brazil.
However, one big difference is that, if both parties agree, an American civil lawsuit can be decided by a jury and not by a judge. That is certainly odd to Brazilians who are used to having a judge decide the civil cases. Surprisingly though, the majority of the civil lawsuits in America do not even go to trial because they are settled before the jury or the judge can analyze the evidence.
Meeting an American lawyer was certainly a great experience. In addition to all of the technical similarities between the tasks of Brazilian and American lawyers, I learned that they share the same moral standards. Like Mr. Adams said, "the most important thing is to be an ethical and passionate lawyer, then you will succeed".

Monday, January 18, 2010

New Orleans and Pittsburgh

When I arrived in Pittsburgh I thought I had met the most fanatic football fans in the United States. However, after going to New Orleans to watch the New Orleans Saints play the Arizona Cardinals, I am not sure about that anymore. I was surprised to see how excited and loud the Saints fans were during their 45 -14 win over the Cardinals. I can say for sure that in spite of many differences, New Orleans and Pittsburgh share the love of football.
On the other hand, the differences between these cities are easily noticeable. First of all, the weather in New Orleans is not as cold as it is in Pittsburgh. The temperature there was around fifty degrees Fahrenheit which made it easier to walk around the city and visit the traditional tourist spots.
Moreover, New Orleans is a city that appeals more to tourists than Pittsburgh due to its unique cuisine, the excitement at Bourbon Street and its jazz music. This lure that New Orleans has over tourists certainly makes it a city with more diversity than Pittsburgh. It is possible to meet people from all over the world there.
All things considered, New Orleans felt like a place where it is possible to have a lot of fun, but it was hard to have a perspective on what life is like to its residents. Although Pittsburgh does not offer the same tourist options, it is easier to understand the lifestyle of the locals.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day

The segregation suffered by African-Americans left wounds that still have not been healed by time. Although the Civil Rights Act was signed in 1964, the fight for racial equality is not over yet. Almost fifty years later there are still traces of discrimination.
During the American Civil Rights Movement there were some crucial turning points. The Supreme Court decision in 1954 which buried the "separate but equal" precedent was a trigger in the American Civil Rights Movement. Another monumental event was the "I Have a Dream Speech" made by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington D.C., on August 28, 1963. And, of course, the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 granted African-Americans the right to vote which was a milestone in American history.
But, the fight was not over with the signing of the Civil Rights Act. The election of President Barack Obama in 2008, for instance, can be added to the list of major turning points in the effort to end segregation.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the "I Have a Dream Speech" said that the Emancipation Proclamation "came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves" but he realized that one hundred years later African-Americans were not free yet, they were "still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation." The same can be stated about the Civil Rights Act or about the election of President Obama. Those were milestones, but that does not mean that the fight for an equal society is over.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A New Reality

During the 20th Century, the United States became the world's strongest economy as well as a political and cultural influence to other countries. America's economic growth labeled it as the land of opportunity. This reputation seemed indestructible.
America is still seen as a land where hard word and dedication leads to prosperity but the current economic crisis weakened this notion. The crisis lead to a new perspective towards the social reality of American people.
Certainly, this is not the first hit the American economy has suffered, but its amplitude brought up the question of whether this could be the end of the American dream. The middle class is suffering like never before and this has demanded an effort to restructure the economy. Also it brought up the need to set new priorities to the American government regarding delicate social issues.
Although it might be tempting to bury the concept of the American dream in a time of crisis, what needs to be realized is that throughout history the chain of economic and social events is constantly changing perspectives and creating new challenges. The crisis weakened the notion of America as the land of opportunity but also created a chance to build a new goal towards adjusting social differences that were overlooked during a period of great economic growth. This chance cannot be overlooked.

An Overwhelming Passion

Soccer is by far the most popular sport in Brazil and almost everyone since childhood loves to play it. It is more than a sport to Brazilians but a way to stregthen patriotism. It makes people forget their differences and creates a shared desire between the rich and the poor.
Brazil is a country with a tremendous gap between the rich and the poor and although it is celebrated for its cultural diversity it is not rare to see a slum next to a mansion. However, in spite of these social differences, soccer is a common passion to Brazilians which can unite the country.
Soccer is seen by many as a resort to escape poverty. Kids in Brazil dream about becoming a soccer player to provide a decent life for their families. It is a passion that goes beyond the field and represents the hope for a new life.
Whereas this passion for soccer is so enthusiastic, it can also obstruct the development of other sports. Many talents go to waste because Brazilians are not stimulated to play volleyball (despite its national team's recent success) basketball or any other Olympic sport.
As a whole, soccer is a beautiful yet potentially jeopardous passion in Brazil. While many believe it is an escape out of poverty, in reality it is an area in which very few can achieve greatness. All things considered, if Brazilian people had the same commitment towards more sensitive issues such as politics or daily social problems, the country would certainly develop at a faster pace.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Heinz History Center Excursion

This Week's Question: Compose a blog entry of four to five paragraphs in lenght about your experience at the Heinz History Center. Please include a general overview of the museum as well as information about the settlers in Pittsburgh, the main industires of the area, and products that originated in Western Pennsylvania. Next, move into a description of a specific exhibit you found interesting. Your blog entry should provide basic information that one can gather from the Heinz History Center along with your personal interaction with anything specific that you encountered there.


When one arrives in an unknown city it is normal to make assumptions based on first impressions. Thus when I arrived in Pittsburgh I made my assumptions about the city based on what caught my atention at first: its astonishing passion towards football (specially towards the Pittsbugh Steelers) and its very cold winter. However, a visit to the Heinz History Center revealed interesting facts about Pittsburgh that can not be discovered through a superficial interaction with its daily life.
The Heinz History Center features exhibitions covering remarkable events that occurred in Pittsburgh, such as a crucial battle during the French and Indian War, up to the history of sports in the city. The museum has six floors and the exhibitions are usually followed by videos that explain what is being exposed to the public.
The second floor of the museum displays an exhibition about the French and Indian War that reaveals very interesting facts about George Washington. In 1953 a young George Washington came to the area of the present day Pittsburgh to lead the colony's troops in a battle against the french. He eventually surrendered by signing a controversial document written in french that admitted the assassination of a french officer, claiming afterwards that this statment was not changed due to an error in the translation of the document. This shows an unusual side of Washington, closer to a soldier than to a statesman.
Another amusing section of the museum portrays the history of sports in Pittsburgh. It is amazing to realize that the passion for the Pittsburgh Steelers is as intense as the one felt by brazilians towards their soccer national team. It seems like each Super Bowl won by the Steelers contributed to create a legacy of pride to live in Pittsburgh.
All things considered, while first impressions can be confirmed (like Pittsburgh's love for football) they can also be only a superficial understanding of a place. The visit to the Heinz History Center made me realize that there is a lot to unveil about Pittsburgh's history and its way of life.