The Crying Games

Five Rings Above Misery (Telegraph/Getty)

A Bruised Rio Hosts Its
Low-Expectations Olympics

What a difference 10 years make. A decade ago, when Rio begun its cavalcade to host the Summer Olympics, Brazil was swimming in optimism. Unprecedented economic growth and a hard-earned period of political and social stability suddenly gave Brazilians much-sought global respect and the drive to dream that yes, they could.
In a country suffused with body culture, nothing would’ve marked that spirit as winning the bid for both the games and also the 2014 World Cup. From that point in history, only those two mega-sport events could represent a fitting coronation to what turned out to be an exceptional but miserably elusive moment.
The Olympics and Paralympics competitions that start officially Friday, however, are taking place in a radically different country. Long gone are the joy and effusiveness that fueled the celebrations for being chosen, in October 2009, by the International Olympic Committee, in Copenhagen.
It seems as if Brazil run out of the luck it never really had. Or that was too disappointingly brief. In one moment, it was a model of sustainable growth and the text book for social promotion policies, only to become, in the next, a continental-size pool of resentment and regret.
Not unlike voters for Brexit, Brazilians woke up suddenly and realized they may have thrown away the baby along the dirty bathwater. Two whole years of street protests against corruption, and all they got was a group of lousy politicians with police records who now occupies the government.
Competitors Will Jump in the Guanabara Bay, no Matter What. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)
Deeply divided, Brazil is already suffering another global-scale public humiliation, just as it did two years ago, when the then celebrated national soccer team got thrashed by Germany in the World Cup. A look at global headlines about these games has been source of even deeper embarrassment.
Every media outlet, including the country’s own, has reported a corollary of staggering woes brought to light by the magnifying glare of the games. From raw sewage in Guanabara Bay, site of most water competitions, to fears of disease-carrier mosquitoes, it all looks pretty bleak now.
We will return to foes that everyone is hoping against hope won’t tarnish the innate Olympics beauty, but first, as if almost duty-driven, the focus must be on a few good, or fine, or at least, interesting and even inspiration things about the games, even before they start.

Ok, so we found three, but worth mentioning all the same. Like the 10-people Refugee Olympic Athletes team. Plucked from millions around the world, they will compete in several categories as independents. Since there should be many more, and there aren’t, they will be our own good-for-gold team.
Speaking of athletes, youth bodies, downtime, and a party city like Rio, it all may mean one thing: they’ll get laid. A lot. That’s why nine million ‘Rainforest friendly’ condoms will come in er handy. They’re sustainably-produced, made in Xapuri, the late Chico Mendes‘ hometown, in the Amazon state of Acre, and they’re free. Help yourself.
Finally, like many top world competitors, the third point of light is a cheat. Guilty as charged. But no less meaningful: it’s the (more)
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Continue reading

Frozen in Time

A Year Since Its Biggest Lost,
Brazil’s Football Remains Stunted

It wasn’t supposed to be that way. After being thoroughly thrashed by the Germans, at the World Cup held at its home, the Brazilian national team was expected to be, at this time of the year, in full recovery mode, with a few new conquests to boot.
Nothing of sorts has happened. And judging by the once again totally undignified way it got kicked out of the recent Copa America, the beatings will continue until someone can no longer say, ‘Brazil’s the nation of football,’ without sounding deranged.
There’s a growing sense that neither we’ll have the will to fix the very structure of the sport, so it can provide the support and background to nurture a new generation of outstanding players, nor the talent needed to win another World Cup has even been born yet.
Also, there are very few voices still interested in discussing what actually happened on that saddest of all Tuesdays, a year ago today, in Belo Horizonte. Even the Brazilian press has hardly focused on its causes and possible solutions so that could never happen again.
A year ago, we managed to line up a few of just such conditions, lacking or needed, so the future would be rewritten. But there was already the sinking feeling that, despite all the pain and the crying Brazilians on the Internet, that too would be forgotten.
So we’re republishing the post, hoping it makes a bit more sense today. It may be a tad too heavy on the Seleção Brasileira and its woes, and not as fair as it should to the German squad that beat it. But it’s still on the money, as far as we could see then.
Once again, I’m still very sorry, Brazil.

National Tragedy

Germany Humiliates
Brazil at Home: 7X1

To say that this was a loss would be an insult to all teams that have lost during this and previous World Cups, despite fighting their hearts out and carrying their nations’ hopes. To say that it was about Brazil is also unfair to the great German squad. It was their win to celebrate.
But what did happen on this sad afternoon in Brazil was that reality has finally caught up with the Seleção Brasileira. Not just for what it’s shown during the tournament but for past decades of completely lack of preparation from the ground up, to protect its soccer traditions.
World Cup 2014 LogoFor since it has won the World Cup only 12 years ago, not a single Brazilian club has climbed the rankings among the world’s best, despite a few wins in the Intercontinental Cup, and the state of organized sports in Brazil has only got even more appalling, from the foundations of its business model to the very own field of games.
In fact, to watch a regular Brazilian league soccer game has become one of the most unpleasant and dangerous experiences for the fans, as well as a pathetic display of incivility, with so many illegal tackles and ugly bumps, to disgust even the most fervent supporter. And the state of the stadiums only enhances such perception.
So guess what team had the record number of faults in the World Cup? Even though it isn’t alone in allowing its players to fake injury to gain benefits from the referee, Brazil has been a shameful adept of the brutality on the field, and arguably the serious injury Neymar suffered was an involuntary payback by the Colombians.
The league is also one of the unfairest, forcing well supported teams to compete, and play, in under par fields all over the enormous country, for great part of the year. Many a time, a club simply refuses to be downgraded to a lower division, using political influence and the courts in lieu of the lack of quality of its soccer.

Brazilian clubs also fester with mismanagement, corruption, traffic of influence, and behind-the-scenes deals with empresarios, who treat promising players like commodities and reap considerable, and mostly unreported, wealth out of trading them to foreign leagues.
Finally, for a sport that mobilizes obscene amounts of money, club management in Brazil is mostly a cash and carry structure, with no accountability even as it’s supported by taxpayer money. Fans have little saying on the financial decisions of the clubs they support.
So, no wonder that when Brazil was chosen to host the World Cup, the first thing that was done by the Brazilian federation, CBF, was to map where the games would be played, not on the basis of infrastructure or tradition, but according to political favors owned and paid back to local bosses.
No wonder either that some of these extra multimillion dollar stadiums (at least three) that were built for the competition went over budget and will probably slowly decay as they were erected in cities without a single team competing in the country’s main soccer league. Most blatant example: Brasilia, site of the government.

Still, for a while, the Seleção has managed to support the archaic idea that Brazil still plays the best soccer in the world, an idea easy to market, and custom made for Fifa to promote, and profit, from the sport. While most Brazilian clubs wilted under continental and global tournaments, the national team kept scoring.
Last year’s Confederation Cup, a shorter tournament which Brazil won with honors, showed that at times such disconnect between the national squad and the quality level of soccer played within the country is not always as flagrant. It was foolish, however, to believe that the miracle would keep happening over and over again.
And no wonder too that the biggest and most massive rallies since the final days of the military dictatorship irrupted in Brazil’s major cities, driven by the sinking feeling that all the wealth the cup would eventually bring to the country was not about to find its way to its lower classes, or even stay within its borders.
Even though to rally against the World Cup, once it’d been established that it’d take place in Brazil, was misguided, Brazilians on the streets were absolutely right: the great majority was going to be left out of the great party as research has showed that some 60% of the average stadium attendance is white and middle class.

That conflicts with racial percentages of the general population, reflecting also the under-representation of blacks within the top circles of power and political elites of Brazil. The straight reason was, they simply couldn’t afford the price of the tickets.
So, what was defeated today at Mineirão stadium, we surely hope, was not an idea of how soccer should be played – for Brazil hasn’t really been close at proposing one at this time around anyway – but the business of ‘futebol brasileiro’ that has got to change, if we have any hope for such disaster not to be repeated.
You may hear talk about lack of endeavor, exertion, faith from the part of the Brazilian players, and how they ‘didn’t show heart’ on the field. Don’t believe it. Even if some of them weren’t as intensely religious as they are, they gave it as good as they possibly could. Beware of anyone who says otherwise, for they may have ulterior motives.
On the strict account of what went on the field, Brazil was totally outplayed by a superior team that has managed to inflict the worst defeat in its history, even if doesn’t go on to win a fourth World Cup (it did). It’s also poised to seriously challenged other records, even if it won’t break the World Cup one just yet.

This will hurt Brazilian national pride perhaps, and unfortunately, even more than its slums, the poverty of its shantytowns, the indifference of the wealthy and the politically connected, all on plain display for the world to see during the tournament. Maybe now more people will care.
A defeat of such a magnitude will also affect the way poor children see the game as a ticket out of the social miseries, as some of them were out on the field today, wearing the famed yellow jerseys and being thoroughly humiliated in front of billions. At the very least, it’ll give the country pause to think why the World Cup is so important like that?
It may force us, those millions around the world who have been parading the past glories of this team as a tattoo of our own personal achievements, to consider giving it a rest, since this day too shall pass. But in the meantime, it has given the rest of us an excuse, an urge, a compulsion even: to find quickly a place to hide.
We’re really sorry, Brazil.

Freud Bacon

Bacon’s Rare Portrait of Lucien

Freud May Top Art Market Sales

For art lovers and wealthy buyers the world over, the Sotheby’s latest offering, a Francis Bacon‘s portrait of his friend, the also painter Lucien Freud, has all the right reasons for celebration. After all, the small triptych “Three Studies for a Portrait of Lucian Freud,” has been kept hidden from prying eyes for 45 years. Also, it has the potential to be sold at a record price, according to connoisseurs, some $18 million and change. It’s definitely worthy, if you navigate in that kind of cash.
Irish-born Bacon, whose history’s namesake was also an important character of the British Empire during the Enlightenment Era, became friends with the grandson of the famous Sigmund during the 1940s, the heyday of Continue reading

Better Late…

The World Prepares to
Celebrate End of WWI

Ok, you can breathe freely now.
After 92 years, and almost 40 million lives lost, World War I will be officially over Sunday. Once Germany pays up the last $94 million installment of war reparations imposed by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, champagne and cake will be served and thank you notes sent to all involved. Or rather, to their surviving kin.
It could’ve happened much earlier, of course, if it hadn’t been for that nagging Adolf’s objections over the merit of the Allies’ monetary demands. His successful bid to Germany’s Chancellery four years later was built in great part on Continue reading

Paul Is Dead

New Evidence May Point to
Coverup in Octopus Demise

The German news agency DAPD said that Paul, the octopus who successfully predicted the outcome of the World Cup of soccer last July, was found dead Monday evening by what’s is being considered natural causes. According to reports, the cephalopod extraordinaire was in good spirits early on. He had his usual dish of boiled squid and watched his favorite show on Continue reading

Merry Juana

Cops Seize German Pot Plant
Decorated as Christmas Tree

The holiday cheers, which had an earlier start this year at a household in Montabaur near Koblenz, Germany, are already over. And the place’s main resident, an “old 68er,” which is how Germans call former activists of the long ago peace protests of 1968, is under arrest for drug possession.
It all started when the police got to the house and found about 150g of marijuana, which in most nights, would be enough to cheer up any peace activist, let alone law enforcers with a mandate to book you.
But before they left, they noticed an odd-looking tree in the living room. Under closer scrutiny, the centerpiece of the holiday decoration turned out to be a six-feet tall pot plant on a tree stand, with cute twinkling string lights.
As the now not-so-cheery fellow explained while being led away by the buzzkill squad, the tree was not quite ready for “Silent Night” just yet, and the plan was to add gifts under it. Just like it’s done everywhere else.
And you thought the business of holiday folly is alive and well in Germany. Or buzzkill squads were a thing of the past.