The Brazil Report

 this time Iíll talk a little politics.  So Iíll write as I watch the last night of Wís convention on CNN International (which is really CNN Southeast Asia/Europe/USA Ė the rest of us donít merit much attention, although Africa gets an hour a week all to themselves).

 Brazilians, regardless of their political leanings, hold Bill Clinton in great respect.  They donít know much about American domestic politics, but they are unanimous in their opinion that his presidency was good for the world as a whole.  Brazilians, and probably the people of all countries other than the US (and maybe Canada), donít think about American domestic policy.  They do, even now, value the presence of the United States on the international scene.   In a sense, W is more of a disappointment for them than he is for us, because we already knew how bad presidents can be (Reagan, George I), and because we knew what Wís goals were.  They are confused and hurt by these new, different American ambitions of unprovoked war and imperial dominance.  These are the fairly well-educated Brazilians.  The ones without much, or any, formal education, just ask me, during and after soccer games, at the bus stop, and in lines at the grocery store, what do I think about the war in Iraq?  They all want me to explain it, but how can I, without condescending or being trite?  Itís a complicated situation, and it takes a long time to explain how he could find his way into the White House without being elected, and why he wanted to conquer Iraq.  I tell them that I didnít support the war and donít support W, and every one of them agrees with me.

Speaking of soccer games, I find myself in soccer heaven here.  Everyone knows how much Brazilians love soccer, but very few of them know just how much.  There is professional soccer in Brazil from March to December.  Starting in June, there are games six days a week (Monday is the only day off).  The state championships run from March until May, and the national championship goes from June to December.  There is also a Copa do Brasil (Brazilian Cup) which features teams from all three divisions of the national championship.  And there is talk about bringing back the regional cups (Brazil has five official regions), which would presumably also run during the national championship.  And if the regional cups come back, the Copa dos Campeões do Brasil (Cup of Brazilian Champions), pitting the top teams from each regional cup, will probably return as well.  I hope some of those games will be on Monday, because Monday nights are so boring here.

People from other cities tell me that nobody in Brazil plays as much soccer as the people in Recife.  There is no grassy area large enough for a small soccer game in Recife, because if one were to exist, the Recifenses would play so much soccer on that patch of grass that within twenty-four hours the grass would cease to exist.  When the tides leave enough space on the beach for a soccer game, there is a soccer game.  There are ďsocietiesĒ around the city where people can rent an Astroturf field.  Coworkers, old high school friends, and other groups pool their money to reserve the field for a one and a half hour block once a week.  Maybe not most, but a lot of people participate in several such groups.  A soccer game without uniforms is a naked game, so a pickup game is called a ďpeladaĒ (naked).  And the peladas can be grand social occasions, where husbands abandon wives to play soccer from 7:30-9, and then to drink from 9-10:30 with the other players.  The amount of beer that the players consume after a pelada sometimes threatens to cancel out salutary effect of the exercise.

As I write this, That Bastard Bush just took the stage.  Iím so glad we have a president who can throw a baseball sixty feet, six inches.  Bill Clinton, internationally respected though he might have been, took mulligans when he played golf.  Thatís not the kind of president the world respects.  Now, a president who can throw a baseball, well, thatís a president who can reshape the world.  If more than a few Brazilians understood baseball, they might feel differently about Bush.  (There are more ethnic Japanese people in Brazil than in anywhere else outside of Japan.  In the states of São Paulo and Paraná, where most of the Japanese population lives, baseball is somewhat popular.)

One of the interesting things about Brazilian politics is the civility of it all.  Brazilians on the right and left respect each otherís thinking.  The people on the left believe that the right (or most of it) sincerely wants to help all Brazilians, but doesnít go about it the right way.  The people on the right calmly discuss the issues and their differences with the people on the left and donít call them names or insult them.

(CNN just had a great shot of delegates looking confused as W promised community health centers in all poor and rural counties.  They looked as if they were all trying to process the fact that they have to support ďsocialized medicineĒ now.)

Brazilians are required to vote.  If a Brazilian doesnít vote, he canít get a passport, and faces various other legal problems (but not jail) if he canít give a very good excuse for not voting.  On the whole, this seems like a great system to me.  Some Brazilians have their doubts, because they think that too many people donít think about politics, donít understand democracy, but still vote on the basis of something trivial.  (Leaving the ballot blank is an option, but Brazilians MUST go to the polls every election day.)  One of my students knows a woman who said that she will vote against the incumbent mayor this coming election because she voted for him last time, and never repeats her vote.  Other candidates throw parties and hold concerts in the hope of convincing non-thinking voters that if elected, there will continue to be parties every Sunday.  And then there was the Viagra scandal.  Iím sure you all heard about that.

This has gone on long enough, so Iíll end it with this: If there is Dr. Pepper in the southern hemisphere, I havenít found it yet.  Those of you in the US should be grateful for what youíve got.  Thereís no root beer, either.  CNN International can wait until next time.

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