Selling my Soccer Allegiance

23 Apr

As most people know, Soccer (Futebol) is religion down here in Brazil, only slightly less violent.  As someone who moved to Brazil 3.5 years ago without a real team allegiance, I thought I would briefly recap my wandering eye for the right team up to the present.  While you might think this will not interest you, you know that everything I write is entertaining and educational, so read on.  What else do you have to do?  Read Hillary Clinton’s campaign platform?  Mike Huckabee’s weekly menu?

As mentioned above, I came without a team.  However, I had read this amazing book about Mané Garrincha, who is arguably the second best footballer in the history of Brazil behind Pelé, and who played at Botafogo, a team from Rio de Janeiro.

Garrincha was basically a simple, kind man, who suffered from being an almost illiterate alcoholic, yet who was a genius on the pitch.  When Pelé was injured during the 1962 World Cup (bet you did not know that), it was Garrincha who was credited with bringing Brazil’s second World Cup home.

I believe I read a stat that when Pelé and Garrincha played together, on the national team, they were like 100 – 0.  Not a typo.

So while most Brazilians liked to make fun of the Gringo rooting for a team from Rio, and at that, a team that had not sniffed success in decades, well, it was for literary and cultural reasons.

Plus, while I rooted for Botafogo, they qualified for the Libertadores (South American Champions League) for the first time in 16 years.  So there!

However, then they went all Miami Marlins and started to disband the team.  With that, I decided it was time for a new team.  Having already rooted for a Rio team, there was no point in a Flamengo, Vasco or Fluminense — the other teams from the Carioca state.

So my choices were from the state of São Paulo.  Here is a brief on the 4 main teams:

Palmeiras (Palms): A team that 20 years ago was essentially the national team.  Many titles, but albeit most recently had fallen on hard times, even being relegated to the second division (imagine for instance, if the last place team in a baseball division had to play the following season the Triple A), and almost suffering the same fate in 2014.  This also happens to be the team of my brother-in-law, his son, and my son, the famous RPG I.  As I want RPG I to be happy, I will always root for them as a father.  If I were to compare them to an NFL franchise, I guess they would be like the Dolphins.  Had some major success in the past.  Some recent minimal success and some major disappointments.  Always a threat to rise up (if you forget about the Patriots for the time being)
São Paulo: This is the team that my wife supports, and for marital bliss so should I.  They were dominant as recently as 2006-2008 with three consecutive titles, but have recently been up and down.  They mostly compare with the 49ers as their fan base is considered effete (the white wine and cheese crowd) and less fanatical.
Santos: Pelé’s team.  These are the Green Bay Packers.  They won EVERYTHING in the 60s/70s with Pelé and admittedly a bunch of other stars.  Then they fell on hard times for two decades.  However, since the early 2000s they have had some good success and even gave the world, and Barçelona, Neymar.  Like the Packers, no one hates Santos.
Corinthians: Simplest way to represent this team is to say that it is the Dallas Cowboys of the 70s, 80s and 90s, the Lakers of the 80s and early 2000s, and the Yankees of eternity in one team.  Either you love them to the point that you tattoo their name on your arm, or you hate them to the point that you wish Biblical plagues on their supporters.

Anyway, with open recruitment, I will admit that it was only a soft sell from Palmeiras and São Paulo, a no sell from Santos, and the hard sell from Corinthians.  Even though I had not truly aligned to a team in the past 3 years, I had learned to NOT support Corinthians, as does everyone who does not support them.

So a couple of weeks ago I was invited by a group of Corinthianos to attend a Libertadores match against Danubio from Uruguay.  The match was played in their new stadium, Itaquerão, which I had been to twice during the World Cup.  This time it was full of Black and White clad supporters.

I will admit that the energy was intense and fun.  Always helps when there are no fans from the away team to generate ”confusion.”

The match is a mismatch.  Corinthians dominates to the point that even I could do a better job coaching Danubio.  With the lead stretching from 0-0 to a final of 4-0, I start to view the end zone section where the ”Organized Fan Clubs” are.  These are the groups that raise those enormous flags and banners that cover entire sections.  They are also the groups that arrange to fight other organized groups, are accused of murders, drug dealing, etc.  But from a distance, their choreography, uniforms and chants are enjoyable.

The most famous group, Loyal Falcons, I had heard of.  I hardly want to be a member of such a well established fan group.  Since I was for sale,  I wanted more radical.

Fortunately, there were three more groups.  So I asked my sponsor, Garrido about them.

a) Camisa (Jersey) 12: Essentially like Seattle’s 12th Man, but without the majorly annoying chip on their shoulder about how ”nobody believes in us.” In fact, Corinthians fans are the most confident in the world and act as if they have won every title in the past 20 years, regardless.  I find this preferable to Seattle’s obnoxious and insufferable 12th Man.  Nevertheless, the name is off-putting.

b) Pavilhão Nove (Pavilion 9): Garrido says that there was this “altercation between the police and prisoners at….”  I interrupt and ask if he is referring to ”Carandiru prison riot 20 years ago when 100+ prisoners were massacred?” He says ”Yes.”  Turns out many of the victims were Corinthians, so this group was formed to honor them.  I feel like joining this group would be equivalent to having a group called Jonestown, or Waco.  Nope, not gonna do it.

c) Estopim: My portuguese is fluent, but occasionally there is a word I do not know.  Estopim was one.  So Garrido points out that this is the ”thing you light to ignite, for example, a stick of dynamite.” Hardly a passive device to support your team, but taking poetic license and realizing that a ”Fuse” can be used for a candle, or a firework, or…..” I figure this is the Fan Club for me.

Now note, I would actually never join any of these fan clubs.  For in the words of my sponsor, they are all basically groups of ”criminals.” And to be honest, just hanging in the parking lot with them after a game can reduce your life expectancy.  But as part of the decision-process, I found this to be key.

So this is where we are: I am still for sale.  Why you might ask?  Well, I have developed some rules (one previously mentioned):

I root for my son’s team.
I root for Brazilian teams in all international competitions (Libertadores)
I refuse to choose a team based on the State Leagues, which is all we have had up until now. [What is the State League?  It is a stupid competition.  To parallel, it would be like a shorter California league of baseball in which all teams from Single A to the Majors would compete and even have a championship.  While there would be the occasional upset, the final would undoubtedly be Giants – Angels, or A’s – Dodgers and no one would care.]
I will have to wait until the National League of Futebol starts to see where, as my Corinthian friend Jordi says, my heart lies.  There are strong pulls from immediate and extended family, and from friends.

Two final notes, one interesting impact of being courted by Corinthians is that they are by far the most passionate.  When I mention how my family is ostracizing me and how my son is disappointed, and how I suspect that my wife has started clandestine divorce proceedings, they all tell me to stand firm as it is worth it. 🙂

On the flip side, Palmeiras and São Paulo don’t make a big effort to sell you, but when they hear that you are considering Corinthians, they are passionately AGAINST this decision and try to talk you OUT OF IT.  My brother in law threatens to charge me for doing my taxes.  The doorman in my building intimated that he would never open the garage for me again.  And the look of disappointment from the Wine and Cheese São Paulo crowd cannot be emphasized enough.

I must admit, I like the attention of being notorious, hence, no hurry to choose!

Still for sale boys!!!!!!!!!!


If I Could Vote

25 Oct

For my non-Brazilian friends, tomorrow, Sunday the 26th of October, is election day in Brazil.  It has, like most other things here, exceeded my expectations, in both good and bad ways.  I will try to summarize here the situation and how I would vote if I were a Brazilian citizen.

First of all, I obviously have a bias.  As an American, my lens is far to the ”right” of many Brazilians, and that is as an admitted Democrat (although I think they just suck less than the Republicans) in the USA.  Also, I have been accused of, and it is true, relating only to ”rich” people.  Not because I am a snob, but because the divide between the rich and the poor is so extreme that you have much less interaction among the classes than you do in the USA.  Imagine if the USA was mainly Beverly Hills or Compton.  An exaggeration, but it is representative.

There are two candidates:

The Challenger – Aecio (Ay-see-oh) Neves from the Partida Socialista Democratica do Brasil (PSDB).  [The political parties here remind me of those in the film the Life of Brian.\: PSDB, PT, PMDB, PSD, PSOL, etc.]  He is a well-born grandson of an ex-President who had every advantage in life.  Kind of like Bush Junior, but apparently with a brain.

The incumbent — Dilma (Jill-muh) Rouseff from the Partida Trabalhista (PT) [Workers’ Party in English.]  She has been in power for four years, and that was on top of 8 years from her predecessor, Lula da Silva, who is worthy of his own blog post.  [Imagine your curmudgeonly 80+ year old uncle as your de facto president.]

I naturally swayed toward Aecio, as I am surrounded by entrepreneurs and business people who support him and feel that Brazil would do better under his rule (and the markets agree).  But in the interests of fairness, I found a group of Petistas who helped me understand the appeal of this party.

Brazil has always been a country of Haves and Have-NOTHINGS.  As mentioned above, the distribution of wealth was once rated the worst in the world except for Sierra Leone.  So the PT did implement or expand (or take credit for) many programs that helped the poor get credit, buy a home, care for their kids, etc.  Hearing about the beyond humble beginnings of these people, and how these programs helped them climb the socio-economic ladder is impossible to ignore.

You also understand how many PT voters are hardly going to be concerned with things like GDP Growth, export policy, etc.  The very things that more business-oriented people consider.

While I appreciated the insight into the Workers’ Party, I found it hard to justify voting for a party with such socialist tendencies.  Perhaps if I lived in Sweden, I would feel differently, but in no other country do these long term economic and political policies work (to my knowledge).  I do think that a government has to level the playing field and create opportunities for the less well-off, I just did not think that the ”transfer of wealth” would have the desired effect. Why?

First of all, in the Scandinavian countries, there seems to be a quid pro quo where the average citizen is perfectly willing to help his fellow citizen (via higher taxes and social programs), but in return receives a good return on their investment from the government.  Conversely, while the average Brazilian is exceedingly kind, their overall concern for their fellow man is low.  The culture is one of getting ”yours” without concern for others getting theirs.  It is called ”jeito (xhay-toh) Brasileiro,” and while it has its charms, it has its dark side, where you can basically attempt to do anything for your benefit with impunity. [Again, worthy of its own post.]

Second off, I had questions about the PT that were never answered to my (American) satisfaction.

The amount of corruption in Brazil is amazing.  It is regularly estimated at $60B-100B per year.  I put it at about 10x the size of the USA and for an economy 1/10th the size. And there is a scandal every day that would shock you.  Effectively, an Iran-Contra 4x a year.  And the government response is usually that they ”knew nothing.” I never believed that with Reagan, and I don’t now.  And even if I did, that would mean that I found you incompetent.  Between incompetent and corrupt, neither wins.

Now defenders of the PT will say that the other parties are equivalent or worse. That may be.  But still does not excuse what I have seen from the PT on the corruption front, and I expect more from the governing body.

The economic policies are non-existent.  I do not see any movement to a value added society.  The PT is intent on maintaining low unemployment — good — but the expansion of jobs are more vocational in nature.  You cannot have a society of locksmiths and security guards.  And Brazil makes most of its export money on commodities.  Great as long as India and China are buying but not so great if they slow down.  Value-add has to be more than a Tax for this country to grow.

Foreign relations.  The PT is friends with Venezuela, Cuba, and Argentina, and wants to have a dialogue with ISIS.  Not sure which of these (economic) pigs is going to buy an goods, while enemies like the USA can buy elsewhere.  The PT needs a lesson in RealPolitick.

The Press.  I work for a (conservative) publisher that is no friend of the government.  But we are hardly Fox News.  And last time I checked Obama had not singled out Fox for criticism on national TV; Obama has not recommended regulating the press, as the PT have; and Obama supporters never attacked Fox headquarters, defaming with graffiti and throwing garbage at the building (yes, this is true).

So while I don’t think the worse will happen, I would still vote PSDB as I don’t want to risk

  1. Zero economic growth
  2. Inflationary policies of funding many programs (as valuable as they may be) while the government is in deficit
  3. A reduction in Freedom of the Press (a real possibility)

In short, I think the opposition can and would do less harm.

Is that the best way to vote for a President? Perhaps not, but in Brazil, the choice has mainly been, and in my opinion, will for the foreseeable future, the least worst candidate.

#45 (Aecio’s number)

PS – For those that disagree, I welcome dissent and your opinion.  Monday we are still friends regardless of the outcome. 

Guaranteeing the Penta

3 Aug

For those of you not familiar with the term ”Penta,” it refers to the fifth, in this case, championship in the FIFA World Cup.  As Brazil has already achieved the Penta, it was going for the Hexa.  However, now that Germany has won its fourth, it will, along with Italy if you actually count its victories in ’34 and ’38, it will be going for the Penta in 2018 (Russia perhaps).

Now I was going to write a Brazil World Cup recap for everyone, but then James Young (@seeadarkness for you Twitter fans) wrote this article for SI, which really captures all facets of the cup, including the football, the governing bodies, the perils or attending games, and what it was really like.  So while I was fortunate enough to attend 4 matches, I suggest you read this article.

Now back to the Penta:

In the aftermath of the defeat to Germany by the score of 7-1, Brazil decided that it needed a more creative schematic, with a more forward thinking head coach.  So they stole Jose Mourinho from Chelsea.  OK, no they didn’t.  Instead they got Pep Guardiola from Bayern Munchen.  Again, no they didn’t.  Well, when ex-USA team head coach Bruce Arena was not available, they decided to hire Dunga, who had been the national team coach in 2010, when Brazil went out in the round of 8, and who was also on the 1994 winning WC team.

This was met with 70+% disapproval.  Dunga is not known as creative, but he is a disciplinarian.  Therefore, it is presumed that the ”seleção” will not cry during anthems, before penalties, at births, or deaths, or during Romantic Comedies.  Whether they will be any more creative in the midfield is to be seen.

Anyway, the rehire of Dunga has, in my opinion, guaranteed the Penta — for Germany.  Along with a few points made below, they have to be the HEAVY favourites in Russia.

  1. Brazil has had 6 coaches coach a second (or third) World Cup.  Not a single one has won, and only Zagallo in 1998 made a final. #7 will be the charm?
  2. Germany was the sixth youngest team at the World Cup. Of the five younger teams, only Belgium realistically could pose a threat in 4 years.
  3. Ten of the 23 players on the roster this year will be 25 or YOUNGER at the end of 2014.  This includes: Kroos, Muller, Goetze, Schurrle, and Reus (who was injured).
  4. Moreover, 4 defensemen only turn 26 this year.
  5. Neuer will be 32 in 2018 (for a goalie, not a big deal).
  6. The U-19 European Championships just took place; guess who won?  Die Mannschaft Junger.
  7. This fan.

Germany #1 Fan









A lot can change in four years of course.  And many teams talk of doing what Germany did in 2000 and creating a nationwide program.  But really, how many nations could actually invest and stick to it?  In my opinion, only other Northern European countries could implement the plan; a Latin or African country?  Be realistic.  An Asian country could, but they, like the USA or, for example, Sweden, lack the talent even if the program was well designed.  England should be a candidate, but see below.

The only candidate I see is the Netherlands, and considering they have finished 3rd and 2nd in the last two Cups, their program seems to be working.

See, there is a reason that Germany has made 13 of 20 semi-finals and has gone 4-4 in Finals.

Read that last sentence again.

Now, I know my Euro-phile friends will ask about England, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal.  In response:

  • England: they finished in 1st at home in 1966 and 4th in 1990.  Other than these illustrious finishes, they have done ”bollocks.” Why they are considered a Soccer Power I have no idea.  They invented the game I guess, but since then have hardly evolved.
  • France: Actually a much richer soccer history than England, capped by a win and a vice in 1998 and 2006, respectively.  They seem to be star driven — Platini, Zidane — so not sure they put together just a great team.  We will see.  (Calm down Antoine 🙂
  • Spain: They had a great generation of players from 2008-2012, but this is hardly re-doable and they have yet to show they can lower unemployment below 25% much less create a rigid yet creative program to leverage the talent they obviously have.  Plus, their record of under achievement is far more ample than of success.
  • Italy: They have won four Cups.  But two were in 1934 and 1938 when the tournament was hardly as competitive as today.  They won in 1982 using a player who was recently back from suspension for match fixing — Paulo Rossi — yes, that Paulo Rossi.  And then there was the abomination that was the 2006 Cup — the definition of winning ugly. I actually give Italy two Cups as nothing pre-WWII counts.  And considering 50 governments since WWII, and the inability to keep Fiat in Turin, well…..
  • Portugal: Only a miracle player — Eusebio or CR7 can lift a nation of 9M to the Cup I figure.  Actually, I give Uruguay the title of lightest weight that might actually win a cup as their Hall of Fame Players per Capita is rather amazing, even beyond Hannibal Suarez.

The last point I want to make is Talent v Tactics.  I have a bunch of Brazilian friends who know 1000x what I know about soccer and claim tactics would have made a difference.  Having a midfielder for example.  I don’t doubt this, and while we agree that no tactics changes a 7-1, I also think Brazil did not have the talent.

In my estimation, only Neymar cracks the German team, for Ozil (I am not considering playing styles).  Perhaps Thiago Silva for one of the defensemen  — Howedes, Mertesacker.  No one else gets close.

Conversely, I can make a case for 4 Americans to replace Brazilian starters.

  • Howard for Julio Caesar
  • Yedlin for Marcelo (who was awful)
  • Fabian Johnson for Dani Alves
  • Clint Dempsey for Fred (or Hulk for that matter)

I could add a fifth.  The much maligned Michael Bradley would have been an upgrade in midfield for Paulinho and/or Fernandinho in certain games.  Conversely, for Germany, no one.

I love the progression of US soccer, but when 4-5 or our players can start for your squad, you are not winning the World Cup.  At least not yet (but that is the subject of another post).

O que aconteceu? (WTF Happened?)

11 Jul

In the aftermath of the shellacking that the Brasil Futebol team took at the hands of Germany, the most popular question I received was “WTF Happened?”

I am not even sure how to organize my thoughts, but will attempt to group them:

The Suspected Reasons

  1. They threw the game.  I know this sounds preposterous, but corruption, soccer, FIFA and Brazil are four brothers.  I know people who are perfectly sane, yet are convinced that France bought the World Cup in 1998.  No one I know claims Brazil bought it in 2002, but then again, who would want to believe that.  So for some reason they are convinced that Brazil would blow a World Cup on home soil for an extra $1M per player.
  2. The coaching staff.  Everyone blamed the tactics and Felipe Scolari’s inability to change, even after Fred showed his inability to generate any threats on goal.  I am not soccer expert, so I will not attempt to define whether they should have played a 4-5-1 or  4-4-2, etc. but obviously they should have played something else.  However, even more offensive in hindsight is the arrogance of the coaching staff and the thought that they did not prepare the team well.  Also, Felipão admitted that he hid the choice of Bernard from the press as well as the team, since he did not want the Germans to find out.  Um, Felipão, you are talking about Bernard, who could sooner pass threw the legs of Mertesacker before scoring.  If you had called up Pele version 1970, then maybe I could understand the secrecy, but Bernard?  Pelo amor de Deus.
  3. The players.  They just were not a good enough squad.  While #2 probably has some truth, I believe this was the issue.  Brazil had a relatively easy group, and ended up with Chile and Colombia, good sides but not historically good sides, in the round of 16 and the quarters.  Once they went up against a big boy….7 – 1.  Now some have even claimed that the Brazil squad was individually more talented than Germany.  I differ.  Only Thiago Silva makes the German starting lineup, and perhaps Neymar over Ozil.  The rest? No way.  In fact, I could argue that Brazil would have taken 3, if not 4, Americans in place of their Brazilian counterparts.  Dempsey > Fred; Howard > Julio Caesar; Yedlin > Marcelo; and even Bradley > Paulinho or Fernandinho.  When the USA team is sporting 4 players better than yours, the World Cup Title is a distant possibility.
  4. The absence of Neymar and Thiago Silva.  This has actually been used as an excuse far less frequently than I would have expected.  Soccer is not like Football, so the rhythm of the game matters and Germany’s first goal, if blocked by Silva, could have prevented the outcome.  But at best 3-1 as Neymar was not penetrating that German defense more than once at best, and the relentless onslaught of Germany, on this day, was like their entry into France cerca 1939.  #ParisInTwoWeeks
  5. The emotion.  Some say Brazil was too emotional.  Too much pressure playing at home.  While I don’t doubt that there is a lot of pressure, the reinforcement of 60,000 fans at each game has its positive effects too.  Most logical and independent analysts basically thought that #2 (tactics) and #3 (quality of players) were the culprits and that Brazil does not make the semi final if not at home.  I adhere to this theory.  Perhaps the pressure was too great by the semi, but without the crowd, they maybe don’t get by Chile or Colombia.
  6. The CBF.  The Brazilian Football Federation is incredibly corrupt.  In case of any doubt, the last leader is in hiding in the USA accused of stealing $14M.  And it has relations with FIFA, so…..Regardless, there is no national development program, etc and there is the thought that this leaves everything to chance — discover a Pele, Zico, Ronaldo, Gaucho, Neymar.  Hey, it has worked so far, but now there is a lot of hair-shirt wearing stating that Brazil needs a coordinated program like Germany implemented in 2000.  Look, I love my adopted homeland, but the chances of Brazil implementing anything remotely teutonic (much less Colombian or Mexican in efficiency) is about 1,000,000 – 1.  They cannot pave a road without stealing a billion dollars.  True.  So I think that individual brilliance molded into a team by a more reasoned coach is a more likely outcome.  Fortunately, individual talent is rather abundant in Brazil.

Two (2) and Three (3) with a dash of (5) are the culprits, much like you would expect in any athletic endeavor.  the other items are either not believable (1), more punctual than endemic (4) or representative of a larger issues (6) to be the reason Brazil went out when it did.

The Aftermath

  1. You can read my previous post to understand the average Brazilian’s outlook on the Cup prior to its start.  People were pretty disgusted with the preparations.  But once the ball was kicked, people started to think about the Hexa (6th Championship) and forget about the, for example, poor infrastructure.  Case in point — around the time Neymar was knocked out of action, an overpass in Belo Horizonte (site of the 7-1 massacre) collapsed and two people were killed.  Needless to say, the press, public, government and President spoke glowingly of Neymar, but no one took reponsibility for the tragic deaths.  Neymar will be back in 6 weeks. #Priorities
  2. Now with the humiliating defeat, everyone is again considering the loss.  Some from a soccer standpoint, as mentioned in the section above, and others as some sort of metaphor for Brazil in general.  You know, Germany hosted a World Cup, makes semis and finals with regularity (13 and 8 out of 20 respectively), and has good hospitals and schools.  Again, Brazil can seek these things, but if it got to even the level of Italy, Spain or Portugal, it would be a miracle.  Greece might be its European doppleganger (sorry for the German word).  Plus, I heard this refrain in 2002 about how the Seleção (was an ideal to be followed), yet Brazilian society did not change.  Tigers to not change their spots, unless they are Asian Tigers (South Korea, Taiwan, etc.)
  3. And of course, there are the elections in October.  The current socialist party seems to be cratering the economy and creating a class war.  Somehow these leaders, who fly private planes, go to the best hospitals, educate their kids in the best schools, have proven to be incredibly corrupt (Google Mensalao, Petrobras – Pasadena) and have undermined democracy (again Mensalao) and the judiciary, claiming it makes its decisions based on ideology and not on the law, has the support of the poor — a large majority who actually have no future based on this government of handouts.  And the thought was that if the Brazilian team did well, they would benefit at the polls.  The governing PT (Workers’ Party) said this would be the World Cup of World Cups (Copa das Copas), which could still be true.  But this will be based on what happened inside the stadiums — lots of action, great goalkeeping performances (Ousab, Ochoa, Howard, Navas, Enyeama, Neuer), amazing and/or exciting matches (Switzerland-Ecuador; USA-Portugal;  Holland-Spain; Mexico-Brazil).  Not anything that has to do with outside the stadiums — remember the lack of infrastructure, delayed airports and road, trains tracks that were never laid, and at least 4 stadiums that are already white elephants — Manaus, Cuiabá, Natal, Brasilia. How the parties attempt to take credit will be interesting.
  4. I imagine that the protests will start again, but not on the scale of last year.  Now they get protests, but often with a few thousand people, if not in actuality a few hundred.  The issue is that things are overblown as the few can cause an inordinate amount of damage.  Burning buses, car dealerships and breaking windows at  banks will get you (inter) national headlines, even if this destruction has no cause or purpose that I can tell.  I don’t think the loss will cause the rioting, but the return to the status quo, with nothing to celebrate, could cause a return to the Brazil of May 2014.
  5. So, once the introspection, blame, agony and disappointment are dispersed, Brazilians will, perhaps, get back to the real World Cup, which has a true impact on the lives of 200M: Elections in October.  In my view, if this party can be reelected after showing its incompetence in so many ways, well, instead of Greece being the goal for Brazil, not being Argentina (except on the soccer pitch) or Venezuela will be the stretch goal.  At least in this Gringo’s view.

Stay Tuned! It will be an interesting ride.  Keeping my passport at the ready!


Where is the Love World Cup 2014?

12 Jun

[Click here to read the recap on my experience last year, and the hope that it is not the same this year.]

Between Facebook, Twitter, Email, Texts and Whatsapp, I have had a lot of question regarding whether everyone was pumped for the World Cup.  Having spent 1998 here in Brazil (Final: Brazil 0, France 3, and everyone saying France had bought the Cup), and 2002 here in Brazil (Final: Brazil 2, Germany 0, and no one contending that the Cup was bought), I have to say that despite, or perhaps because Brazil is the host city, the run up to the Cup has been almost devoid of joy.

You may wonder why.

I have a theory that has been vetted by some of my more erudite and experienced friends.

Brazil has the friendliest people in the world.  And they do not want to sell you a rug.  However, the Flip Side of this is that they are less inclined to complain, protest or demand what should be theirs.  Until this Cup that is.

The joke always was that Brazilians would be satisfied with ”Bread and Circus,” along the lines of the famous (to me) line from Gladiator: ”If you control the Mob you control Rome.” Give the people a simple program that pays them $50 per month for each kid they have, and perhaps a good showing in the World Cup, and you can steal them blind.  (Estimates of Brazilian corruption range from $60-100 BILLION PER YEAR.  I believe it.)

However, when the World Cup is in France, Japan+Korea, Germany, South Africa, the public tends to focus on the Cup and not the problems at home.  Think of it as a month long Super Bowl.  But with the Cup in Brazil, the disparities became too apparent.  I equate the Stadiums to the Palaces of Saddam Hussein.  The average Brazilian (who is poor not middle class), looks at the opulence, financed with his tax dollars, but frequented by the rich and well connected, to watch millionaire soccer players kick a ball around, and, well, they may have woken up.

This in sharp juxtaposition to the terrible roads, poor school, non existent public healthcare, and the lack of personal security, and the people think, ”gee, maybe we could have used this $11B elsewhere.”’

Combine this with a government that thinks that proper socialism has never been tried, that Venezuela and Argentina and Cuba are good neighbors (despite the cumulative buying power of Pacific Palisades), and that despite being accused and convicted of mega-corruption each day yet feels no compunction to ever explain itself to the public, and you have a recipe for revolution.

Now some of the revolution has been co-opted by morons that just want to break things, and now every group of twenty that demands free gum at work can block a highway, so this revolution could go sideways easily.  We will have to see.  It depends on two things and their inter-relation:

1) How well Brazil does in the World Cup.  If they go far and even win, will it benefit the government? The PT (ruling party) will certainly try to co-opt the success.  And the average Brazilian, with their 8th grade education, may buy it. But the real Brazil Cup happens in October, at the polls.

[Brazil did beat Croatia today 3-1, so we will have to see what impact that has, if any, on the country’s mood.]

2) If the current ruling party wins re-election despite all the mis-steps and genuine venality and lack of concern for the average citizen, then you can expect a lost generation and a Brain-Flight out of Brazil to any country that is looking for smart, dedicated and capable professionals who will have, in great sadness, lost whatever hope they had to improve their own country.

Kind of somber but you asked.

Now back to our regular programming. Which is Holland-Spain tomorrow (Friday the 13th) at 3pm EST.  I am going to watch, after all, I cannot even vote here! 






Some Thoughts on Mandela

7 Dec

Interestingly, I was first introduced to Apartheid when I was at Cal Berkeley in the 80s and there were protests against the ruling regime.  As your typically uninformed college freshman, with a good friend who was from South Africa (white), I regarded the protests as silly and paid no real attention.  Fortunately, higher education, and Berkeley in particular, leads one to gain knowledge, whether you want to or not.  I began to learn more.

As a kid who grew up middle class in California, and in an area that had much more anti-Asian racism, if any, than, for instance, the South where anti-African-American racism was more prominent, I was rather flabbergasted to learn about the rules in South Africa.  Now I won’t sit and claim that I made any changes in my life, or joined a protest group, just that I was awakened to the existence of South Africa and its system.  I will also not claim that Nelson Mandela changed my life, like many who are so UNDESERVING of any relation to him, are so quick to do for political gain.  But I will share some thoughts over time that I remember having.

  1. When he was let out of Robben Island, I was struck by the Worldwide impact of his release.  How important it was in South Africa and just about everywhere else.
  2. I was amazed at how non-bitter he was.  I know people who react more negatively when Starbucks puts in whole milk instead of nonfat.  This guy spent 27 years in a cell, and gets out practically smiling.  Incredible and that will NEVER happen again.
  3. He is elected President and does not seek retribution, revenge, or retaliation; he instead seeks reconciliation.  This (probably) never happened before, and I will bet will never happen again.
  4. He maintains the Springbok name and its association to the minority white community, prior to the Rugby World Cup in 1995 (no, I did not just see the film).  Again, seeking to Unite.
  5. While Winnie had her issues, he was never accused of any wrongdoing, corruption, etc.  He was revered by all.  Again, Sui Generis, for a politician.

With his death, I had a few other thoughts:

  1. Wow, his death is as impactful as his release from prison.
  2. He really was quite an extraordinary human being.
  3. He is unlike any politician that I have ever seen, or even heard about (the ”legend” of Kennedy does not even come close.  JFK cheated on his wife, was involved in the Mob and his dad made all his money as a criminal).  Ironically, the Onion summed it up best pointing out that he is the first politician in history  to be missed.

Then I had some other more depressing thoughts:

  1. Despite his greatness, South Africa is still a place that in 20 years appears to have evolved somewhat, but is still a long way from being developed.  Perhaps I am being too critical, but there is still a great difference in wealth, violence is all too prevalent, there is corruption, and it appears that Mandiba’s successors are not exactly the most pious of all politicians.  In fact, they appear to be of the more standard — let me get mine variety.
  2. Brazil has made a big deal of his death, and how he was an idol to our leaders.

* Really?

  • You mean that Mandela would have condoned a scheme where one political party undermines democracy by paying another party to vote with them?
  • You mean that Mandela would have strongarmed the Supreme Court to not pursue the case, resulting in a 7 year wait for a verdict?
  • You mean that Mandela would have defended, once convicted, the members of his party over the tri-partite system by attempting to make all Supreme Court decisions subject to congressional approval?  (Read the Constitution Dilma)
  • You mean that Mandela would have allowed convicted members of his party to retain their seats in Congress and even stated that ”we are all in this together” from his multimillion dollar mansion?
  • You mean that Mandela would have supported his convicted colleagues, allowing them to develop sudden heart ailments to attempt to avoid going to prison? (I will believe Genoino, who is a complete wussy without honor, has a heart problem when he drops dead from a heart attack – preferably in the shower of his prison)
  • You mean that Mandela would allow one of his convicted ex-colleagues to accept a job as a hotel manager from some corrupt acquaintance for 10x the normal salary, thus not only taking a job away from the exact type of person his party is supposed to represent, the working class, but also at a salary that theoretically takes away 10 jobs (Dirceu e um saco de merda)
  • You mean that President Mandela, President of ALL South Africans, would remain quiet during the whole episode, not once talking to the Brazilian people about how disgraced he felt, and reminding them that he wants the best for ALL Brazilians and not just his party’s elite (as it certainly does not trickle down to the masses, who are ignorant enough to appreciate a R$0,20 reduction in Bus Fare in exchange for R$60B in annual corruption)
  • You mean that Mandela would rely on the slogan “Rich country; Country without Poverty” (Pais rico; pais sem pobreza) as the one consistent effort?  Go ahead Dilma, perhaps you can wish away poverty.  Doida!

So in the end, I am glad he existed, and I hope, beyond all logic, that his life and death will have some long lasting impact.  I just, in my cynical take, think that no one is going to change and lead their life by WWMD (What would Mandela do?), which is perhaps the saddest part of his passing.

[Just to not be accused of Pro-Americanism, I would trade Obama’s disappointing presidency for Mandela’s corpse tomorrow.]

The Myth of Help at Home

27 Oct
Bar Refaeli (Marketing)

This is not my maid.  Now onto other myths.

So since I moved to Brazil over two years ago, I have tried to give a reasonable interpretation of myth versus reality.  I have taken on the subjects of protests, bikinis, Samba, football.  Now here is another key take on having help at home.

While yes it is true that you often have a cleaning woman and a nanny, these are often if not always hires of necessity.  Without them, and considering the work level, traffic and inefficiency of the quotidian like in Brazil, well, one could not survive.  That being said, the amount of work demanded to ‘’manage’’ your staff often exceeds the amount of work they accomplish in your stead.  Think of it like your job: you used to be an analyst and DID a lot of work.  Now you are a manager, and work more but do less.  You spend your time assigning and evaluating tasks, following up, dealing with HR, bureaucracy, etc.  Very similar experience.  However, you have NO alternative.  In short, we had almost no help in the USA, but felt we were more in control than we are here.  How can that be?  Let’s go to the videotape!

Note that what I am about to write is objective and without emotion.  In other words, I am not considering that the people who take these jobs grew up under circumstances that I cannot imagine.  That the jobs we provide are essential to their survival – they almost more $10 to $10 than paycheck to paycheck – and they are most often the nicest and most well intentioned persons on the planet.  Far more so than the ‘’born on third base and think they hit a triple’’ people we often deal with. 

Speaking of the Born on Third Base crowd: this post will also not apply to them.  These are the occasional parents here who effectively outsource not only all tasks — including child care (especially diaper changing), school conferences, and all ”real” parenting (they do go to the cool kids’ parties though) — to the extent that they even outsource the management of their outsourced staff.  That is a whole other “we take the helicopter to the beach for the weekend” crowd.  I have no experience with them so if that is you, I can only refer you to some acquaintances.

Caveats out of the way, here we go:

A few points to make:

  • Organization: The more organized you are the more frustrated you will be.  Forget putting toys away, the kitchen, etc.  That is a pipe dream.  Here, this story is exemplar.  We have a sofa at home.  Like most, it has 8 cushions.  Two that you sit on for the sides.  Two that you lean against for the sides.  Two that you sit on in the middle.  Two that you lean against for the middle.  The four middle ones are effectively interchangeable.  The ones for the sides, if reversed, are also interchangeable.  Yet, each night that I come home, the sofa represents a Rorschach test.  Or if that is obscure, how about Picasso’s Guernica?  You would think that by chance the cushions would occasionally be in place.  You would be wrong.
  • Matching Items: Remember the part of Sesame Street where they say that ‘one of these things is not like the other’?  You know, they show 3 apples and an orange?  Well, most maids would fail this test.  Seriously, I find knives in the fork drawer, scissors with cups, and plates with dishtowels.  And what perplexes me even more is the lack of consistency.  What do I mean?  I mean that the scissors, which were with the cups, will be with the beans the next day and with the matches the following.  Apply this rule to your bathroom, your clothes, etc. and you can see that while you may not do the dishes and laundry as often, you will spend an equal if not more time looking for items.
  • Intuition: Forget it.  Honestly, if you do not tell them, don’t expect it to be obvious.  Even with the most educated persons, I find Common Sense to be not too common.  Well, divide by 10.  Re-emphasizing the first point above, don’t try to understand your maid or nanny, as they just will not see or do things as you would.  It often gets to the point of insanity where you are the insane one if you expect them to be any different than totally illogical and random.  If you want something done right, then you will have to do it yourself, or leave explicit, step-by-step instructions (which will be useless if they cannot read).
  • Literacy: I was not, surprisingly, being sarcastic in the last sentence above.  We recently hired a new maid, absolutely delightful person.  I left her a few notes and she did not write anything back.  One day in the house she mentioned that she was illiterate and could not read and write.  Wow, not only surprising, but also affects your ability to communicate.  I have to call with instructions or ask the nanny to assist her.  And the other day we needed to have a piece of furniture picked up and brought to our apartment.  Turns out the delivery guy could not write, therefore he had to kind of remember our address, and the person at our house was unable to read.  Amazingly, the furniture arrived thanks to the God of Transport (Hertz I believe).
  • Cooking: Again, we are talking about a totally different class of nutrition.  The maid is not accustomed to purchasing fruits and vegetables, in general, and certainly not ‘obscure’ ones like broccoli.  Then you have to fairly well instruct them on some of the basics:
    • Do not use metal utensils on non-stick pans.
    • Do not absolutely drown the food in cooking oil.
    • No you really do not need to use half a stick of butter with every meal.
    • Chips and cookies for lunch is not a balanced meal.
    • Fried foods, rice and beans should be limited, not daily intakes.
    • Stop going through more oil, sugar and salt in a given three-month period than we probably did in 7 years in Seattle.
    • You will spend more time at the doctor investigating your abnormally high cholesterol than you save on cooking.
  • Modern Technology:  We have a combo washer-dryer that costs about 3 months my maid’s salary (this is not to say I am cheap as much as how white goods cost a fortune here).  It requires a PhD to operate.  The person who cleans your house often has a 6th – 8th grade education.  She has spent her life washing things (exceedingly well) by hand with laundry BAR SOAP (seriously).  Think Dove for clothes.  You think she can figure out how to operate a washer/dryer that has 12 wash programs, 5 wash settings, 5 spin cycles, 5 rinse cycles and 3 dryer settings?  I have an Engineering Degree and an MBA and I am half guessing.   You always run the risk that the machine will get broken through incorrect use, clothes will shrink, or all your underwear will be pink.
  • Bureaucracy: Brazil loves bureaucracy.  Not because it benefits society, but mainly because 1) they want to be the ‘’Uncle’’ protecting the worker; and 2) they want to earn money from every stupid rule they enact (#corruption).  So if you have persons working in your house, you need to register them as employees, pay tax (like Social Security), etc.  The issue is not having to do this, as I consider it fair, but the amount of red tape and the fact that you, again, need a PhD in international accounting to ensure you are following the rules.  That is the problem.  To give you an idea of the scale of bureaucracy in Brazil, I know the owner of an ERP company.  Huge national company.  They have 500 developers.  250, one-half, focus strictly on updates regarding tax laws in Brazil, and its 27 states.  That fact alone, explains the complications of hiring a maid.
  • Personal Life: In Brazil there is no Professional/Personal.  It is Professional-Personal, or more accurately Personal-Professional.  With this in mind, you could potentially face all of the following situations with your maid (taken from real friends with real maids). 1) Issues with her husband; 2) Issues with her money; 3) Issues with the law; 4) Dating drug dealers (and remember, she has keys to your house); 5) Her kids have run away from home; 5) She is stealing checks; 6) She got pregnant (yes, you get to pay maternity leave); 7) She quits without any notice.  And this is just for starters.

So you are not exactly outsourcing to India and just hassling the program manager.  You are more entering a perpetual training-adjusting-training program.  And as the owner-manager-and customer service operation of this enterprise, you participate in everything.  Sure, you cook, wash and clean less, but your ‘’management’’ responsibilities and legal liability increase dramatically.

Now you know what you are in for if you move to one of the (few remaining) countries that has an unequal distribution of income so striking (another post entirely) that supports an ‘’Help at Home’’ economic model.  Do not say that YesMSG has not advised you.

I know you are all saying, ‘’hey, you are at 1500 words and nothing about the nanny?’’ Well, that could be a post of its own, but in short, it is the same issues, only applied to a subject for more important than rice and beans – Your Kids!  Basically, if at the end of the day, they are fed, bathed and alive, I consider it a success.  The rest is ‘’icing on the cake.’’