Archive for February 20th, 2004

The Great Experiment – Phase One Revealed


The Great Experiment is in the final stage of preparation.
The countdown has begun. During the past few days we have become aware
that some of our regular readers are worried that their erratic correspondent
to disappear into South America.

In order to allay the growing concern and avoid alarmist speculation,
let us take this opportunity to unveil the first phase of the three-part
Experiment.  Phase One, which starts when we bid a fond adieu to
our last batch of students after lunch next Friday, features the Dowbrigade
disappearing into South America. This is not a surprising departure for
the Dowbrigade; rather it is a return to form.

Our career as a wandering Jew began when the 17-year-old Dowbrigade,
recently and prematurely ejected from East High School (although with
a diploma), took off from La Guardia Airport in NYC on his first solo
adventure, headed for Tel Aviv. The Dowbrigade’s family, alarmed
at his precocious propensity for getting into trouble, was hoping that
a stint of hard manual labor on an agricultural kibbutz in the land of
his ancestors would straighten him out. Little did they know.

For that maiden flight we were seated next to an exotic older woman
of maybe 19 who soon into the flight and in casual conversation claimed
to have one breast several sizes larger than the
hard to
tell through her bulky cable knit sweater, but the claim would later
be proven in a cheap Tel Aviv hotel room. Is it any wonder we were immediately
hooked on the traveling life?

Thus began a dizzying
career of globe-spanning escapades and narrow escapes, serious research
and a concerted search for alternate realities. Over the ensuing 33 years,
the Dowbrigade spent roughly half his time outside of the United States,
chiefly in Latin America but also Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

almost ten years we were the lone Gringo on the faculty of the National
University of Peru, until being advised by close friends and colleagues
with connections in the Revolutionary Underground that the Maoist Sendero
Luminoso suspected the Dowbrigade was in the employ of the dastardly
CIA! Omagine! As anyone with a more than passing acquaintance of the
Dowbrigade knows that is as ridiculous as speculating that Dick Cheney
is a deep cover sleeper agent
for Al Queda.  However, Sendero Luminoso is not a bunch of chicos
and chicas you want to mess around with, or try to convince of your revolutionary
credentials, so deciding discretion was the better part of valor, we

Two years later, at that point on the Harvard faculty, we returned with
some colleagues for a conference of our own invention, and were robbed
of a bank, kidnapped by ANOTHER guerilla group, the Movimeinto Revolucionario
Tupak Amaru, and left standing in our underwear in the desert dawn off
the Pan-American Highway in northern Peru.

Despite these setbacks the Dowbrigade continued to travel and work abroad.  Why?
Quite simply, we believe that a healthy outlook requires a variety of
viewpoints.  In a way impossible to imagine until one has lived
outside the US for an extended period, everyone in this country, despite
the incredible variety of lives, ages, sexual orientations, political
views and family backgrounds, shares a certain version of reality. To
a high degree, the American version of reality is painted on a backdrop
of constant advertising, corporate realityscaping, major media news and
entertainment, and intense cultural chauvinism. This isn’t the only version
of reality available.

Fortunately, by heading for the airport, any citizen of the world with
a credit card and a passport can immerse themselves in any one of
thousands of alternate realities still existing around the globe today.
Since we carry around an encapsulating bubble
our own culture
in our clothes, books, gadgets and minds, one needs to spend a bit of
time in one of these alternate cultural realities before really "getting"
it.  Unfortunately, the supply of these alternate
realities is dwindling fast
, so get out there an experience one before it disappears.

This time the Dowbrigade is heading for Ecuador, one of our favorite
Latin American locales, and the native land of the Sra. Dowbrigade, the
lovely Ecuadorian economist Norma Yvonne. We have been a big fan and
regular visitor to this Andean wonderland since a stint  of undergraduate
research into Shamanism, long before we knew Norma.

Known primarily as an Andean nation, the true magic of Ecuador is that
it includes all three of the major ecosystems of South America – the
dry desert coastline, the amazing profusion of human, animal and plant
life in the Andes, and the stygian darkness of the planet’s lungs, the
Amazon rain forest, all within a friendly, accessible, democratic country
slightly smaller than the state of Nevada. In half a day, one can go
from an Andean glacier (no lifts but you can cross-country ski) west
to a tropical beach, or east to an Amazonian tributary.

For the first part of his Great Experiment, the Dowbrigade has rented
an apartment in Manta, a medium-sized city on the beach in the northern
Ecuadorian province of Manabi. It is a popular tourist destination for
both Ecuadorians and foreigners and has all the accoutrements of a modern
third-world city with few of the problems.  Of crucial imp[ortance
to the Dowbrigade, there is a good University and a good tennis club.

Manta also has a considerable American presence. Although not widely
known outside the area, an important part of the US Southern Command
displaced from Panama has relocated to an old airforce base in Manta.
Two years ago the 12th Division of the US Air Force, under General Mark
Randall, set up shop and are using the base for drug interdiction flights
and electronic surveillance, supposedly of Colombian cartels and terrorists.
Whether having a US military base next door is an advantage or disadvantage
remains to be seen, but it is an interesting development and a sign of
how hard it is to completely escape the power of the American empire.

Ecuador is actually one of the countries in the whole world most friendly
to the United States. A veritable island of peace and tranquility poised
between its problematic neighbors Colombia and Peru, Ecuador has a reputation
for adventure tourism, friendly natives and incompetent government. At
one point recently they had six Presidents in three months. But prices
are low, the economy is wide open, elections are regular and lively,
are welcome.  The Ecuadorians went so far as to adopt the US dollar
as their official currency, so there is no complicated exchange rates
to deal with.  Your US Bank card will work just fine at the ubiquitous

Which is not to say that the whole country is some kind of discount
Latin American amusement park. It IS still a third world country, and
some of the rough edges, unfinished construction, crude capitalism and
exposed hypocrisies will grate on American sensibilities, but that is
as it should be. And of course, there is corruption everywhere. It is
a friendly, smiling, open-faced and open-palmed Latin corruption, almost
refreshing in its overtness, but confusing to outsiders used to more
indirect and
subliminal corruption.

The key to Latin American corruption is figuring out who to pay off.
This can be extremely difficult for an outsider, and mistakes can lead
to wasted money, or worse, hurt feelings on the part of someone who can
severely mess you up. The solution is simple.  You need a "fixer",
someone who knows the ins and outs of local graft.  Properly directed,
the payoffs are quite low by US standards and usually product instant
solution to problems that can drag on for years in the states.

There are two kinds of fixers, those motivated exclusively by greed
and those who sincerely want to help dumb Gringos for non-financial reasons
of their own.  Obviously, fixers of the second type are preferable,
as their commissions are lower.

But we are wandering again, planning for problems which have yet to
rear their ugly heads. Summing up, these are the main reasons that the
Dowbrigade has decided to take his show on the road:

  • We have to get out of here or we’ll go crazy.  After 7 years
    back in the states, the Dowbrigade is drowning in household debt, niggling
    nuisances and the spiritual wasteland which is everyday American working
    class existence. Average per family CREDIT CARD debt in this country
    is around $16,000 and while we are below average it is not by enough
    save our sorry ass from constant worry and guilt. As
    an educator
    our full-time salary would be funny if it weren’t such sad testimony
    to our societies misplaced priorities, and after 25 years of teaching
    we are still living from check to check.
    We are deathly tired of running out of money a few days after paying
    bills each month. Like millions of Americans we are trapped in
    a maze of overextended personal finances and incessant work (Americans
    work more on average than even the Japanese), and presented with an
    honorable escape hatch to that mad merry-go-round, we are grabbing

  • As outlined above, the planet offers many world-views, and after
    an extended period in the belly of the beast, we feel the need for
    From outside we hope to achieve insights and observations beyond
    what our befuddled sensibilities are capable of here.

  • After another horrible New England winter the prospect of spending
    time in a perfectly temperate climate, sunshine and seafood, and outdoor
    day, sounds pretty good completely apart from the cultural and lifestyle

  • We do, in addition, have a 22-year-old son living in the Andes, in
    neighboring Peru, building and operating an adventure tourism hostel
    on some land
    we bought before he was born. At some point we hope to visit #1 son.

  • At the same time, #2 son seems to be under house arrest. He
    rarely leaves his room, although tonight he has gone off to a Monster
    Rally and Tractor Pull. Are you sure? Yes, he definitely said a tractor
    pull. Who knew such things even existed in Massachusetts?

    After graduating
    from high school a year ago he has done as little as humanly possible.
    He did one semester at a local community college and
    then dropped out. He enrolled in the Marines, and then dropped
    out of that before reporting. Despite constant admonishments and
    about a thousand applications, he seems to be terminally unemployable.
    Being constitutionally incapable of kicking said son out of the Dowbrigade
    household, we are left with but one option – flee the country and
    abandon him to fend for himself.

    We are
    sure he will figure out something. He is young, healthy, smart and
    sufficiently self-centered to find a way to survive, even if it involves
    moving in
    with his mother in Atlanta. Tough love Uber Alles.

  • The part we are most excited about is the "Experiment" part of this
    adventure.  Will
    it be possible to continue daily publication of the Dowbrigade News
    from South America? We have purchased an iBook to that end, and lined
    up Ecuadorian internet access
    (modem only, unlimited nights and weekends, $10 a month). Will it be
    reliable enough to maintain the Blog? We will certainly have plenty
    of time, and in the past have done some of our best work in similar
    Will we be able to keep up our internet consultancies and webmastery
    A big
    part of
    the Great Experiment is answering those questions.

Any regular readers who have made it this far will be relieved to note
that the Dowbrigade will definitely be back in the Boston area to teach
our foreign lawyers at the Boston University Law School in July and August,
and to Blog the Democratic National Convention, which we wouldn’t miss
for the world. So stay tuned….

Hopefully, in the next few days we will Blog Phases II and III of the
Great Experiment, which involve experiencing the life
a homeless blogger and a big decision about the next stage of the Dowbrigade
Saga, respectively .

Even in Brazil, There Are Limits



Workers paint a float that represents Adam and Eve making love at the Rio Grande samba school in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Feb. 15, 2004. The float raised formal complaints by the Brazilian Catholic Church, which threaten to persue legal actions to stop the school from parading with the float. The carnival parade begins Feb. 21. Carnival has always been a celebration of flesh and abandon, but as celebrations get under way a prominent samba group is reminding revelers not to forget their condoms. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

from Ananova