Tuesday, May 20, 2008

There Is Nothing At All Wrong With It, But It's Still Very Funny

There is a gay man playing soccer at the highest level in Brazil. He has represented Brazil (although many people, myself among them, believe that he isn't a good enough player for the Seleção). While I and the vast majority of Brazilians really don't care that he is gay, and don't believe he should have to suffer for it, the way he keeps getting outed (despite continually denying being gay) is really, really funny. (And, I should add, really, really sad. This guy has it pretty rough.)

A while back, rumors began circulating that there was a gay player at one of São Paulo's three big teams (Corinthians, Palmeiras, and São Paulo). On national television Milton Neves (who is a horrible person, but that's neither here nor there) asked one of the Palmeiras directors, José Cyrillo Júnior, if the gay player (whose name was still unknown) played for Palmeiras. The Palmeiras director replied, "We almost signed Richarlyson."

However much parts of this make me laugh, it IS serious. Richarlyson, who plays for São Paulo, sued the Palmeiras director for his comment. The judge, Maximiano Junqueira Filho, stated that "accepting gay players hasn't been shown to be reasonable because it would harm the uniformity of thought of the team, the coordination, the equilibrium, the ideal." Inadvertently, the judge gave tremendous aid to the cause of gay rights in Brazil. He was investigated by the Tribunal da Justiça, and his comments got more (negative) coverage than the original comments that Cyrillo Júnior made. (His decision, in Portuguese, is here. It is jaw-droppingly, laugh out loud stupid. It reads like something from Stephen Colbert's book. Brazilian judges have to pass a public exam, against serious and qualified competition. How did this man outperform thousands and thousands of other attorneys?) The judge was investigated by the Tribunal da Justiça, but I haven't yet located the results of the investigation.

So, that brings us up to last weekend, when this happened.

Last Saturday night Richarlyson was spotted in a gay club in São Paulo, wearing a hat, jewel-encrusted glasses, and short shorts. Well, that should put the question to rest, shouldn't it? Richarlyson will continue playing, he will open the minds of more than a few Brazilians, and hopefully he will just admit that he's gay and stop embarrassing himself. There is nothing at all wrong with his being gay, nor with his being a gay soccer player, but when he steps on the ball like this it sure does make me laugh.

Monday, May 19, 2008

There Is No Bias Against The Northeast

Wednesday night the semifinals of the Copa do Brasil begin. Botafogo plays Corinthians, as globoesporte.com notes in the photo above, and Vasco da Gama plays... some other team that apparently has no chance, right? Well, no. Sport should be considered the favorite. Vasco reached the semifinals without playing a single team from the Série A. Sport beat Palmeiras and Internacional (who, along with Fluminense and Cruzeiro, make up the favorites for this year's Série A title). Yet Globo, which has no anti-Northeast bias at all, forgot to mention Sport's participation. Globo had an opinion poll on the site last week, after the quarterfinals had finished, asking readers who was most likely to win the tournament. There were only three options. Any guess as to which team wasn't included?

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Brazilian Electoral System

Ultimately, there are two root causes to almost all of Brazil’s problems. The largest most complicated of these causes is poverty. Why is there so much violent crime in Brazil? Because people have no money and no job prospects, and need to survive. Why are there so many homeless people in Brazil’s cities? Because urban poverty is slightly better than rural poverty, so the rural poor migrate to the cities, where they still can’t find jobs and sustainable income, and become part of the cities’ problems. Why are so many people in Brazil undereducated? Because their families need whatever income they can generate, so the leave school and work, beg, or steal money for their families. And the lack of education makes them unemployable, and so the cycle continues. The other problem is political.

The Brazilian electoral system is simpler than its equivalent in the US, that much is true. Brazilians cannot figure out, and in fact enjoy being unable to understand, the American primary system. So, let’s give the Brazilians some points for simplicity and efficiency, and then get on with criticizing the myriad flaws of the Brazilian system (all of which were designed to benefit someone other than the voters, and work to perfection).

In Brazil, every candidate is an at-large candidate. Even worse, every voter votes for only one. So the approximately 1.1 million voting-age residents of Recife vote for one candidate (out of hundreds) for 36 city council positions. When there is a problem in the neighborhood, no one is directly responsible, no one answers directly to the voters in that neighborhood, and nobody can run specifically against an ineffective or corrupt councilman. The same is true for congressman and state representatives – all of them represent the entire state, and all of the state’s voters vote for only one candidate.

But the voters didn’t actually vote for a particular candidate. They voted for a party. (Voting specifically for a party rather than for a candidate is also an option in legislative races, and many voters do just that.) The proportion of the vote that each party (the sum of votes for the party itself and for each of its candidates) determines the number of councilmen, state legislators, or congressmen that the party puts in the legislative body. If a party wins 20% of the votes for congress in a particular state then the party wins 20% of that state’s congressional delegation. The most famous example of this was when Enéas Carneiro ran for congress in São Paulo in 2002. He received 1.8 million votes, far more than any other candidate. This entitled his tiny party to six congressmen in the São Paulo delegation, and among them was one who received just 300 votes. Left in the cold were candidates from other parties who had received over 100,000 votes. To whom did that congressman, who won 300 votes, owe his position? Certainly not to the voters of São Paulo.

This system makes it impossible for an activist citizen to enter politics. It is impossible to win office anywhere but in a tiny municipality without the support of a party machine. It is painful to hold Spiro Agnew up as a positive example, but he was (unfortunately) an example of the success of the American electoral system. Agnew went from PTA president to governor of Maryland to vice president of the country (Hunter S. Thompson referred to him as a sop to the voters who thought Nixon was a communist). In Brazil it is simply impossible for a community activist to hold a local politician accountable for the problems in a community – because there are no local politicians. So nothing gets done. Sidewalks are cracked and stay cracked, there is no hurry to repair any roads but major commuter arteries. Corrupt politicians are reelected year after year because there is no way to mount an effective anti-corruption campaign. Despite the entirely preventable outbreak of dengue fever in Rio, chances are that no one will suffer for it at the ballot box this October.

I wish I could end this on a positive note, offering hope for the future or at least pointing to a possible solution, but I can’t. The system protects the parties at the expense of the voters. Brazilian legislators everywhere but in the above-mentioned tiny municipalities owe their positions to the system and to their parties, and owe nothing at all to the voters. As long as this system remains in place, Brazilian society’s major problems will go unresolved and largely unconfronted.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Headlines Confuse Me

"Eight accused of robbing, torturing drug dealers," CNN tells me. So I read the article. But wait, the victims were subjected to simulated drowning. That's not torture! That's a motivational tactic! It's how we get information from high-value targets! It's fraternity hazing! It's no more than an enhanced interrogation technique! Sure, the enhanced interrogation was in the service of robbery, not protecting anybody from the terrorists, but surely simulating drowning isn't anything to get worked up about. Right? Right?

Random Photos from Sunday's Carreata

This last photo was taken at the post-carreata game. The carreata was a big party, and not everyone remembered to save energy for the game.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Sport, Champion of Pernambuco (Again)

Two weeks ago Sport won the Campeonato Pernambucano for the third straight year. Last year there wasn't much of a party (the dirty job of staying afloat during the team's first year back in the Sèrie A was on everyone's mind), but this year the fans decided to celebrate. Newspapers report that around 12,000 people went to the Avenida Boa Viagem (the street in front of the beach) on Sunday for the parade -- called a carreata in Portuguese.

This is one of the two trucks rented by the Bafo do Leão (The Lion's Bad Breath -- sounds better in Portuguese, doesn't it? And think about it, if you're close enough to the lion to smell its breath, what is going to happen to you next?) Every team in Brazil has an animal associated with it. Sport's animal is the lion, Cruzeiro's is the fox, Vasco da Gama's is the cod, and so on. I watch Sport from the Bafo's section of the stands, I travel to away games with the Bafo, and when the Bafo's second truck passed, I hopped on and partied with the Bafo do Leão. More about them later.

The truck in the photo above is known as a trio elétrico -- there's a stage on top and the speakers line the sides of the truck. This particular trio had Excesso de Bagagem playing with the singer from Marreta You Planeta (apparently that was cheaper than hiring the entire, and more popular, Excesso de Bagagem, but still had more status than hiring the extremely small-time Marreta You Planeta).

The photo above is of the singer of Marreta You Planeta. For someone who is theoretically (and probably very definitely, in his own mind) a celebrity, this guy was really anxious for me to take his photo. This was the third pose he did for me after he saw me with my camera out. My camera didn't focus quickly enough to catch the first two poses (and my amusement at his excitement to have his picture taken didn't help my concentration). He has nothing to do with the parts of the parade that I really want to show, but he was so enthusiastic about the photos that I feel I owe it to him.

Ronaldo is the titular president of the Bafo, but his wife Fabiana appears to be an equal partner in the presidency. She is also smokin' hot, but it would have been poor taste to have taken a photo of a married woman's body.

This photo gives a good idea of what the carreata looked like. The fence on the left side is because the city is repaving the sidewalk and creating a new bicycle lane. People run along side, and behind, the trios dancing to the music. Many of these people want all the way to the Ilha do Retiro, Sport's stadium, which is pretty far from the beach.

There was an exhibition game after the carreatea. Admission was R$10 and I feel like a sucker for having paid and watched a crappy reserve game, but it was a nice end to an enjoyable day. The photo above is the Bafo contingent that entered the stadium.