Sleeping Giant


Happy 196th Birthday, Brazil.
Tired of Breaking Hearts Yet?

It’s Independency Day for Latin America’s biggest country. So let’s blow some candles and sing sad songs of disappointment. Just like an unruly teenager, so young and yet so troubled already. The so-called growing pains are here to stay, it seems, but little of growing up.
Few are feeling that independent lately. Or big for that matter. Brazil acts as if it’s all new, and keeps repeating itself over and over. Fatigue and heartbreak is how most Brazilians have been living for so long. We swim and swim and still risk drowning by the shore.
The heart of this country is a centrifuge; try to embrace it and hold on to it, and it’ll toss you like a soccer ball. And yet, we come back for more. Our memory burns to the ground in neglected museums and roach-ridden historical districts. And yet, we keep on rising.
Our idealized future rots in jail, our dreams are ineligible to be elected. We’re bound to pick the wrong thief to run us. But it’s September 7, and but for a special favor of a Portuguese prince, we’ve been given an autonomy that we still don’t know what to do with it.
From north to south, the National Anthem will be sung about us, people who never ‘run away from a fight,’ but live on a land ‘eternally lying on splendid cradle.’ A napping giant, that is. Where up is actually down, that is, the bottom rules the top.

Like most things Brazilian, contradiction is our middle name. We’re big but can’t speak the language of the majority that surrounds us. Our race is mixed, tainted, blackish, but no one identifies as such. White is ‘beautiful,’ rich; black is just poor.
Oh, Brazil, you treat us like orphans, children from a broken home, thrown into the world to fend for ourselves. Meanwhile, a cast of stealers rides the wild mount of our rare soul, without success or grace. They will too be tossed, crash and burn. And we will laugh.
Here’s to you, República Federativa do Brasil. Have some cake and get drunk. We’ll cry a little for that spoiled vision of a glorious future that never comes. Don’t worry, we’re not quitting you, but boy, haven’t you have better things to do than to bust our balls?

Papa Was a Soccer Star

Transgender Model
Breaks New Grounds

How do you tell your world famous father that you’re about to change genders? And that you’re famous too, as a high-fashion model? What if he, despite fame and fortune as a soccer player, remains private and very much in touch with his poor, deeply devout upbringing?
Meet Lea T, who had to go through all of that to become the world’s possible first transgender supermodel. While her father, Brazilian great Toninho Cerezo, reportedly wishes it all would just go away, that’s not an option. Not now that Lea is well on her way to a high-profile, full-fledged fashion career, on international runaways and magazine covers.
And absolutely Toninho Cerezo (Eugenio Savio) Now & Playing for Brazil's National Team (CBF)not now that she’s become a symbol for transsexuals the world over. To counter the pull of her family’s Catholic roots, it helped she grew up in Italy. But never doubt for a minute the hardships she may’ve had to endure before her sexual identity, and a body to go with, were finally in synch with her own sense of purpose in life.
It also helps that her face is worlds away from being merely pretty. Tall and thin and wearing the signature aloofness that seems to be required to be a supermodel, Lea‘s already attracting the attention of high-fashion publications such as Vogue and Vanity Fair. And the fat checks that come with it. Deservedly so, say transgender organizations, fashionistas of all stripes and her friends in Belo Horizonte, her city of birth.
So what if there’s a certain level of exploitation of her by the fashion industry, always on the lookout for shock value and maximum impact from its high-paid laborers? Critics are already rehashing 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.

INGRAINED UNACCOUNTABILITY
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.

A WORN OUT LEGEND
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.

SOUL SEARCHING TIME
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.

THE DREAM ANOTHER DAY
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.

Finger-Crossed Nation

With Due Respect to Germany,
If Brazil Loses It’s All Our Fault

Just about now, some 200 million Brazilians are deep into their strategic planning for Brazil vs. Germany, the game in Belo Horizonte that will define the World Cup’s first semifinalist. They are not, however, concerned about partying or commiserating afterwards.
They’ll instead be carefully deciding exactly what outfit to wear and just about every other detail related to the viewing experience, down to repeating everything they did during Brazil’s past wins. Make no mistake about it: whatever happens, they’ll feel responsible for it.
World Cup 2014 LogoThat’s how viscerally Brazilians try to take ownership of sorts over fate, when it comes to their national football team, even though for everyone else, it’s just a purely human, vain attempt to feel in charge over something that’s essentially out of anyone’s control. Good luck telling them that, though.
For that’s entirely in line with a nation that, until a few years back, used to be know for the biggest concentration of Catholics in the world, outside Italy. Such assumption sounds now as hollow as long ago demoted definitions of Brazil as a ‘racial democracy,’ or the ‘country of the future.’
The hidden truth about that old cliche was that, even as most still call themselves Christians, Afro-Brazilian cults and their deities, brought to the land by slaves, has always exerted a stronger pull over the faithful and whenever Jesus wouldn’t hear them, the Orixás would come to rescue. In doubt, most would worship both.
On top of that, since the 1970s, there’s been a dramatic increase in Messianic Evangelical faiths, that’s slowly taken hold of Brazil and now has enormous consolidated power over all aspects of society, from media ownership to political representation, which translates in massive wealth to its preachers.

TILL PRAYER (& MACUMBA) DO US APART
Using an appropriately religious expression, they’re ‘all united in faith,’ or something, anything, that will make them believe that devout ardor beats the basic randomness of nature, the one that presides over polls results, pregnancies, and of course, games of football. Somehow, these two forces always collide.
That is, unless there’s corruption, traffic of influence, and downright theft playing a part too. We honestly doubt though that it has any sway over the final stages of a competition of such a magnitude as the World Cup, however hard some may try to imply that it does. Then again, who knows?
But cliches about Brazil’s mysticism and the passion of its people for the game are but a small part Continue reading

Bunga-Bunga Mogul

Prison Sentence Is Unlikely
to Set the Sun on Berlusconi

An Italian court has sentenced former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to a four-year prison term. But a long appeal process has just started and, if the flamboyant billionaire can help it, he may not spend a day in jail. After all, he’s beaten the rap a couple of times before.
The 76-year old owner of a media empire and a major soccer team, who was forced out of office last November, has been known as much for his frequent sex scandals as for his failure to prevent Italy from sinking under the weight of Europe’s debt crisis that started in 2009.
Despite being in and out of the government for 20 years, Berlusconi’s center-right political coalition has done little, once in power, to limit Italy’s economic instability, which seem to pervade it at regular intervals. But it’s clear that he’s increased enormously his personal wealth through the connections his position allowed.
Of all world leaders of the early 2000s, a particularly uninspiring bunch, Berlusconi managed to be the most visible, both for his political gaffes and for his ostentatious lifestyle. Propped up by his personal fortune, though, he’s arguably one of the few who still stands a chance for a political comeback.
That is, if he overcomes the latest tax evasion charges, which originated from a far from sensational set of circumstances. Along with seven other defendants, he’s accused of purchasing rights to broadcast U.S. movies on TV networks belonging to his Mediaset company, through shady offshore deals done to avoid paying taxes.
In the past, Berlusconi’s has shown an uncanny ability to skip convictions and prison sentences, for false bookkeeping, corruption, or sex with minors, all the while keeping a high profile as an international playboy. It’s possible that this time Italians have finally had enough with his stunts.
It’s possible but, as we said, unlikely. In the meantime, we’re republishing a post we wrote two years ago, about a particularly revealing episode made of equal parts of money, crassness, culture and cult of personality. It goes a long way to illustrate the way this short-temper buffoon goes about his business. Enjoy it.
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Members Only

A Gift to Mars, King Tut’s
Loss & Iran’s Penis Cemetery

Italian billionaire Silvio Berlusconi is not the only politician, or rich person, who believes the world’s his playground. But you gotta give it to him: he’s astonishingly oblivious to the horror that usually greets his decisions, mostly guided by the pursuit of fun, candy and more power. As for us, we just happen to be camping around, mostly annoying the hell out of him. (*)
So when the 1800-year old classical Roman statue of Venus and Mars was loaned to his office, Berlusconi immediately made plans to fix it.
As it turned out, the likeness of the ruler of war had its penis chipped off circa 175 C.E., and the goddess of love was missing a hand too. Continue reading

Best Of

12 Colltales Stories Published in 2010

Overcoming a Chockful of Prejudice:

* Papa Was a Soccer Star

Elephants May Point to End of Zoos:

* Wild Life Behind Bars

Break a Sweat and Save the Earth:

* Fair Trade

Brooklyn Bees Had Their Own Stash:

* Syrup Junkies

Your Cellphone Funds Child Slavery:

* Blood Calls

Torada Ban Brings Catalonia to 2011:

* Joy to the Bulls

When Bad Ideas Occur to Pet Friends

* My Wife Is a Dog

World to Save Water or Waste it and Die:

* Thirsty Future

Fate of Tiger Hangs on Human Folly:

* Vanishing Goddess

Space Travel May Go Back to the Imaginary:

* Last Shuttle Home

Abandoned Horses Litter Irish Countryside:

* The Saddest Ride

You Say Organic, I Say You’re Pulling my Leg:

* Rotten Eggs

Difficult Conversations – Special Edition

Earthquake, Oil Spill &
Dangerous War Secrets

____________

A Short List of What Have Kept Us Awake in 2010,

and What We May Need to Awake From in the New Year.

________

THE TOPS
1) July 26, December 19. The biggest story of the year, the two-punch WikiLeaks revelations about our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the startlingly dispirited diplomacy used to achieve them, had all the limitations of an attack led by drones: all fire, no eyesight.
What was far more revealing was the swift counter punch by the U.S. and its allies in reaction to them. Within days, a case of free speech was turned into a terrorist witch-hunt of the organization’s founder, Julian Assange, the Interpol was brought in and a personal misdeed in Sweden was quickly rolled in for good measure.
The effort to punish the messenger was enough to temporarily derail the essence of the allegations, force Assange to fight expatriation and jail term threats, and land Pvt Bradley Manning, his supposedly source, into an insalubrious location Continue reading