HUNTING WHITE ELEPHANTS / CAÇANDO ELEFANTES BRANCOS

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26 August 2011

Rio de Janeiro, August 2011


This city is absolutely bonkers. The flow of information and the rate of change and exchange are overwhelming. This is counterbalanced by the mind-boggling geology and the historical trajectory of Brazil. Nothing new, I suppose, just saying.

Real-estate markets are booming. Since October 2009, when the Olympics were announced, prices have more than doubled across the city. Where UPPs have been installed, rates of accretion are much higher. There is a migration of foreign dollars and foreigners into the Olympic City and a migration of locals to the periphery. The currency is overvalued, we appear to be living in some kind of bubble but in a country mired in centuries of bureauctaric inefficiency the structural changes are slow in coming which may, ironically, save Brazil from the depredations being suffered in certain European and North American countries.

Three new transportation lines are getting crammed through the city of Rio without any democratic process or access to information, tens of thousands of people will be forcibly displaced with tens of billions of public funds while the metropolitan transportation plan continues to not exist. BRT é crime.

Last week, someone realized that he had taken the wrong bus but ended up on the Rio-Niteroi bridge. His attempt to get to the other side was woefully unsuccessful and his premature death caused a 12km traffic jam. People desperate to get to work flooded onto the ferry, which has recently reduced service. There are no plans to create more effective links across the bay. The Metrô doesn’t go to either airport and there are no plans to link the two.

It frequently takes more than an hour to leave the campus of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, which also has no Metrô service. Two weeks ago, my excellent though crazy bus driver solved the puzzle by jumping a median, doing a u-turn and going the wrong way on a two lane road for about 3km, altering the bus’ normal route to go through the airport and then taking another u-turn to head south again. A brilliant move, but really? Those not as fortunate literally waited three hours. There is an entire traffic jam industry with people walking between lines of stopped cars selling snacks and drinks. There are massive stretches of highway that people avoid for fear of assault or the predictable insanity of Rio’s notorious traffic. Some days, the advertising section for cars in OGlobo is larger than the news section. Did I mention that there is no map of Rio's bus system, no way to tell when a certain bus is going to pass a certain point or where it will take you from there?

On Wednesday morning a group of foreign and Brazilian workers were followed from their hotel by two cars. At a certain point on the elevated highway their vans were stopped by 8 machine-gun wielding men who mistakenly robbed the Brazilians and not the gringos. The police are going to come to work a few minutes earlier now, as the assault happened before the shift started. The week before last, a bus was hijacked in front of City Hall. After the bus driver jumped out the calmest dude in the bus was forced to drive on until the Military Police shot out the tires. In the standoff, there was some shooting in which six people were wounded. All of the bullets found in the bus and in the people came from the Military Police. But don’t worry, these very same police are training to rappel down from stadium roofs in the case that someone gets the bright idea to attack a stadium full of people (which to my knowledge has never happened in the history of sport).

I took the following picture this week, there was no one around. This city is also incredibly calm and beautiful.

Yesterday, the Movement of Homeless Workers occupied the Ministry of Sport building in Brasilia demanding an end to the forced removal of people from their homes in preparation for the World Cup and Olympics. Their estimate is that at least 70 thousand people have been forcibly removed already.

In Niterói, a judge who had taken a very hard line against police corruption was shot 21 times as she parked her car in front of her house. She had received multiple death threats, had asked for police protection that was refused, and was about to sentence a high-ranking member of Niterói’s PM. All of the bullets found in the car and in her body belonged to the PM of Niterói. The news was published above the fold in Oglobo, but below were smaller articles detailing her past and present amorous relationships with police, as if these relationships were somehow complicit in her death. Common sense in Rio has is that “she was asking to be killed” as she had perhaps forgotten her place or did not understand that there are certain social and structural conventions (such as milicias being taken on by uppity female judges) that should not be messed with. Despite Carnaval and some progressive social policies, Brazil is a very conservative country.

The city finally took down the fences that surrounded the Praça Tiradentes in the center of town. It looks great. Fences around public space area sign that the government fears the public. Let’s hope they continue to make improvements like this to all of Rio’s plazas and not just those that come under the gaze of foreign architecture firms (and/or graduate programs in Architecture).

The Olympic Park Project is going to be very, very interesting and a big challenge. The project is handicapped by the location which doesn’t lend itself to integrated urbanism, but will certainly provide an opportunity for longitudinal studies into the ways in which discursive Olympism meets up with the actual needs of the cities in which the Games occur. The technical production of the project is amazing, though in the official release we are given a very limited geographic perspective (south-east to north-west) of the project as a whole. However, from the looks of it, the majority of the Vila Autódromo will be saved. El Principe did not want to comment about that.

This weekend, all of the torcidas organizadas in the entire country – with the exception of those in Rio de Janeiro (who are not integrated into the national federation of torcidas organizadas because they have a somewhat cozier relationship with the existing power structures) – will protest against Ricardo Teixeira’s reign at the CBF. The movement Fora Ricardo Teixeira has gained tens of thousands of supporters throughout Brazil. The ANT-RJ will be brining the fight to the mean streets of the Fechadão prior to Vasco x Framengo this Sunday and ANT-SP will be doing the same. There is significant attention being drawn to the endemic corruption at the CBF and FIFA. No less a figure than Romário, Brazil’s great striker of the 1990s and now a federal deputy, has launched criticisms in the direction of the 2014 World Cup saying that completing promises made to FIFA without respecting human rights and national laws simply will not be tolerated.  This is an important figure saying important things that are going against the prevailing tide. It’s not too late to do things right. 

21 August 2011

A bright, beautiful, and naturalized future ©

Lordy. When will the city government come to terms with the reality of how cities function? It’s a rhetorical question, the answer to which continues to shock and awe. Every day there is a new and more ridiculous edict intended to impose control on the uncontrollable. This week their Lordships launched the brave idea that all of the weekly ferias livres (open air markets) need to close promptly at 1pm. This un-loving squeeze (or the annihilation of space by time), which has also occurred  in São Paulo, was met with an entertaining, effective, and important protest, photos and video of which are below. In the short movie, well worth watching, the crowd is chanting “Epa, Epa, Epa, Quero minha xépa! Epa, Epa, Epa, Quero minha Xépa!”


Xépa is the discount price given by merchants at the tail end of the feira. The forced closing of the market at 13hrs will change market logics and eliminate long-standing custom. This is exactly against the principals of a free-market economy. The easiest thing to do to preserve the Xépa and the discursive integrity of their Lordships would just be to back the f©k off and let the feiras be.

Informality will not be tolerated in the Olympic City of Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics Jogos de Verão 2016 Host City Olimpíada 2016, 2016, 2016, ©,™,℠,℗,ⅎ,∩. According to the ill-logic of the current regime that governs this city, Rio de Janeiro functions Best and Only when all of its elements are formalized, social practices regularized, and social formations crystallized. In order to accomplish this Sisyphean and Kafkaesque task, to contravene the very nature of the city, their Lordships are applying an extensive series of Shocks. Some of these shocks are, perhaps, welcome – at first. I like a swept street and sanitary restaurants as much as the next flaneur.  Shocks like the one being applied to the feiras are not only unnecessary, autocratic, and downright annoying, but contrary to principals upon which their Lordships depend for the continued accumulation of wealth and power. There is no Shock of Education, Shock of Health, Shock of Clean Air, Shock of Corruption – just the Schlock of Order.

The Saga of the Maracanã continues. This week, workers struck to protest the poverty of their wages and working conditions. The greve by the STRAICP union (Heavy Industry Construction) workers will continue into next week. After one of the workers was seriously injured by an on-site explosion, the workers walked out with a series of demands including an increase in the lunch allowance, safety inspections, and a health plan that is “equivalent to the directors’”. As the projects for the mega-events accelerate, the indices of accidents are bound to increase and workers' rights will be eroded. What is the highest blood/concrete ratio that Brazils’ major construction firms are willing to tolerate?

The Olympic governing structure is nearly erectus. It took awhile for their Lordships to figure out just where and how to pull and push and prod to get the juices flowing, but now that they’ve got it just about where they want it, the pistons of progress can lead us smoothly forward into a blissful, naturalized, and fully actuated future.  Just check out how easily the BRT lines are going to slice through the urban fabric, leaving a silky trail of effervescent efficiency. It's hard to see the tens of thousands of disappropriations happening in this video, but if you listen closely, you can hear the screams. 


The struggles to mount on Mount Olympus are the stuff of boring, though important tabloids. Henrique Mirelles has jumped out of the lower reaches of APO and moved to the Conselho Olímpico, a perch from which he will lend a certain sober credibility to the Herculean and Pharonic projects happening down below. The APO top spot belongs to Márcio Fortes de Almeida. The recent revelation was that he is willing to work with one third of the public functionaries that have been designated to work for him is a good indication of how much work the agency is going to do. Since Mirelles figured out where the real power lay and moved out, the APO has been stripped of nearly all significance. Remember, a few months ago the APO was going to have 484 positions. A senate committee hacked it down to 181 and now Fortes now only wants around 60. The APO will organize the  spending of R$29 public billions. I don’t think everyone working at the APO will be an accountant, especially as the organization is charged with determining what is to actually be built. How many urban planners will the APO employ? My guess is ZERO. This year, the paper tells me, just putting the APO together is going to cost the tax-payer R$22 million.  This is going to be a very expensive rubber stamp.

The other Olympic news of note was the announcement of the winner of the Olympic Park competition. AECOM of London (responsible for the London 2012 Olympic Park),  in conjunction with Daniel Gusmão (DG)of Rio, carried home the R$100 thousand prize and the right to deliver on their proposal. Interesting, the proposal intends to preserve at least a part of the Vila Autódromo, urbanizing and integrating it into the larger urban context of the Olympic peninsula. Whether this will actually happen or if the Vila Autódromo will be used as a Potemkin Village is yet to be seen. Here’s the video of that incredibly bright and interesting and naturalized future:


16 August 2011

Futebol Explanatório 102



In Europe generally and Spain more specifically, the previous season’s winners of the national cup competition (Real Madrid and the King’s Cup in this case) play the winners of the national league (Barcelona) in a one off game, in the Spanish case, home and away. This is the SuperCupa, good for filling the trophy case and for rubbing it in the face of the Madristas.

Messi playing for Barcelona is the best player in the world. Messi playing for Argentina is not Maradona. Club teams are forced to release players who are called up for national team duty. Botafogo’s porteiro, Jefferson, is the third string keeper for Brazil. He’ll never see the field, yet he gets called up for every friendly and qualifying match and Botafogo have some mão de alface (lettuce hands, one of my favorite Brazilian football expressions) minding the net.

The clubs are not compensated for giving away their best players for days, weeks, or months at a time, nor are they compensated if the player returns injured, crippled, or drunk (as has recently been the case with Fred at Fluminense, not to mention Adriano, coitado). FIFA determines the days set aside for international matches (friendlies or qualifiers) and tournaments. The clubs are told by national federations which players they “have” to release and the players trundle off to do their duty. The players get paid by the national federation for international appearances and there are likely some tidy bonuses thrown about when medals get hung around sweaty necks.

FIFA controls this from their buzzard’s perch in Switzerland. If you’re reading this blog I’m going to assume that you know about FIFA. National Football Federations or Associations are given membership in FIFA based on a two year affiliation with a regional confederation (FIFA divides the world into six regions, Europe - UEFA, Asia - AFA , Oceania - BOTO, Africa - CAF, South America- CONMEBOL, North and Central America + Caribbean - CONCACAF). Then they have to write a letter to the Secretary General of FIFA who decides, alone, if a country’s association is worthy of FIFA membership. There are 207 current members, with one vote each, organized and orchestrated through FIFA’s regional divisions. This very structure is a machine that generates corruption.

There are 32 spots available for the Men’s World Cup, unevenly distributed. FIFA allots 13 World Cup berths for European nations. 53 teams are sorted into 9 qualifying groups, the winners of which qualify directly for the World Cup while the 8 best second place teams will play a home and away series with the aggregate winners coming to Brazil. Africa will have 5 teams for the 2014 Cup following two rounds of qualifying. The 24 lowest ranked teams will play each other in a group round robin format before being placed in five qualifying groups that the highest ranked teams will join in. South America and Asia receive 4.5 berths each. This means that the fifth placed teams in each region will play each other for the right to go to Brazil. The same hold true of North and Central America and the Caribbean which has 3.5 berths to Oceania’s .5. Since Australia defied geology by leaving Oceania and heading  to Asia, FIFA took away the automatic qualifying from that region putting the winner of qualifying in a playoff against Honduras or Costa Rica (perpetual 3rd or 4th placers in the CONCACAF region).  Boring if you already know it.

The Draw that took place in Rio on the 30th of July, which met with a very healthy protest led by the Comitê Popular da Copa and the Associação Nacional dos Torcedores, defined the qualifying groups for the World Cup. But now, the European national leagues are starting up again while the Brazilian and North American leagues (among others) are in mid-season.

This of course, is only dealing with men’s football. Women’s football is similar, though on a much smaller scale. Brazil has no functional women’s league, though many women play and there are nascent professional structures. The USA has a women’s league that appears to be healthy, though limited in geographic reach. There are no doubt fine places to read about that and I welcome any sugestõezinhas.

Right, that’s it for the football. Here’s a list of some good books:
Brilliant Orange, David Winner
The Ball is Round, David Goldblatt
Inventing the Pyramid, Jonathan Wilson
Foul!, Andrew Jennings
Would welcome additions for a reader bibliography that could be posted and shared on Zotero.com


15 August 2011

Football Explaination 101


Dále Vasco. This week the absurdly translated Bullet-Train from the Hill (A Trem Bala da Colina) beat Palmeiras 2-0 in the Copa Sudamericana and 1-0 in the Brasileirão. I make no secret about being a Vascaino and those who aren’t can’t figure out why, those that are nod their head in knowing appreciation of a shared sentiment (que não pode parar). A few people have asked me what these different tournaments are and how they all fit together. I’ll use Vasco as an example.

In 2011, Vasco da Gama will play in 4 different competitions, some simultaneously: Campeonato Carioca (divided into the Taça Rio and the Taça Guanabara), Copa do Brasil (which they won), Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A, and Copa Sudamericana.

The Campeonato Carioca is a three division competition that is restricted to professional teams in Rio de Janeiro State. All of the other Brazilian states have similar competitions. Teams move between divisions through the globally recognized and recognizable system of relegation and promotion (top teams in lower divisions move up, lowest teams in all divisions move down or out). When Vasco won the second division in 1922, América, Fluminense, Flamengo, Botafogo, and Bangu, formed a separate league so that they would not be forced to share the field with players from lower social classes who were challenging the false notions of amateurism and social exclusion. Rio had a apartheid system in football from 1923 until full professionalism was instituted in1933.

The Copa do Brasil is a playoff system between 64 teams that qualify by either winning their state leagues, being in the CBF’s (Brazilian Football Federation) top ten ranked teams, or by riding a pack of botos between Manaus and Belém. Vasco won this year’s tournament which automatically qualifies them for the Copa Libertadores next year, more on that later.

The Campeonato Brasileiro, or Brasileirão, is a four division affair that extends across the length and breadth of this great land. Vasco are playing in the Serie A for the second consecutive year (2010, 2011) after competing in the Serie B in 2009 (for having finished in 18th place in 2008). Ironically, the trauma of going to SErie B might have been one of the best possible things for Vasco as they were able to get some of the dead wood from the previous administration out of the front office and the Rio fans, whatever their faults might be, certainly come to the aid of their team when they’re struggling. Vasco had the highest attendances of any team in Brazil in 2009.
Vasco is also in the Copa Sudamericana, and were randomly pitted against Palmeiras twice in the same week. Once for the Copa, once for the Brasileirão. The Copa Sudamerica is open to almost every team in the top flight of Brasilian footy. A top 14 finish qualifies. The bottom four drop out of the league so there are only two teams in the first division that don’t qualify for extra pay days with TRAFFIC Sports (who own the transmission rights to all South American continental matches). Why have less footy when you can just make up a reason for teams to fly all over the place to play 10pm Wed night games? Similar to the newfangled Europa League and the oldfangled UEFA Cup, no one really takes this Cup seriously until the semi-finals.

The 2012 Copa Libertadores beckons, and this is a much more serious matter. Like the UEFA Champions League this features the top teams from all the domestic leagues in CONMEBOL who play two round robin rounds before moving to a home and away knock out round where away goals count more than goals scored at home. That is to say that if Vasco were to play LDU to a 2-2 draw in Quito and also drew 1-1 at the São Januário, they would progress to the next round by virtue of more away goals scored. If they lost 3-1 away and won 2-0 at home, they would also go through. Got it?

The winner of the Copa Libertadores in 2010, Santos F.C., will dispute the World Club Championship with the other winners of the confederation tournaments. Usually this is a showdown between the European champion (Barcelona) and the South American. However, much to the delight of Gremistas, in 2010 Inter Milan won after beating Congo’s TP Mazembe who had shocked Internacional of Porto Alegre in the semi-final.

That more or less takes care of the club competitions. This scenario repeats itself around the world with variations here and there. In the USA, for instance, there is no system of promotion and relegation. This, in part, owes itself to an antiquated exception in the anit-trust laws that gives monopoly power to the “Major Leagues”, who are able to set significant barriers to entry in to their relatively closed circuits of capital circulation. In Argentina, when a major team gets relegated, they change the entire league structure. As the bosteros of San Lorenzo put it to River: cambiaran a las reglas cuando ibas a la B, la platea te regaló un teniente-coronel, vos sos asi, vos sos gallina, junto com Boca sos la mierda de Argentina!

13 August 2011

Planning Ahead

Since we now have the 2014 World Cup qualifying groups to ponder, we can begin to project what the tournament will look like. The only thing we know for sure is that Brazil and the USA will qualify. The former because they are hosting, the latter because they have to beat Jamaica, Haiti and Guatemala – and because World Cup tourism would fall by 20% if the Yanks don’t come. The USA sent the largest contingent of fans to South Africa and will likely send even more to Brazil in 2014.  

At South Africa 2010, 6 of the 8 groups played their 6 games in 6 cities. Two of the groups (B and G, with Argentina and Brazil, respectively) played in 5 cities. (For those who don’t know, the WC is divided into 8 groups of 4 teams each, with the top two progressing to the next round). Let’s suppose that FIFA is going to repeat this scenario in Brazil. By using the USA’s group from 2010 as an example (USA, England, Algeria Slovenia), let’s look at what could happen in 2014.



date
City
***Hotel/day
USA
England
14.6.14
Manaus
US$90
Algeria
Slovenia
14.6.14
Cuiabá
US$100
USA
Slovenia
19.6.14
Fortaleza
US$85
England
Algeria
20.6.14
Salvador
US$75
Algeria
USA
24.6.14
Brasilia
US$140
Slovenia
England
24.6.14
Natal
US$65

Let’s suppose that your average Yank wants to get to Manaus a couple of days early to do some poking about the Amazon and also wants to catch a weekend in Rio de Janeiro at the end of the trip. The flight from the USA to Manaus for September 2010 (cheaper than the high season of the 2014 World Cup) is around US$1000. The in-country flights, MAO-FOR-BSB-GIG-MAO, run US$815 on TAM (allowing for a few days in each place for games and tourism). We can figure tickets will be around US$150-200 each, although for Algeria-Slovenia in Cuiabá they’ll be giving them away. Add hotel prices (US$100/day) and a US$100 allowance for food, drink, taxi, diversions.

International Flight
US$1000
Domestic Flights
US$815
Hotel (12 days)
US$1200
Food/Drink (12 days)
US$1200
Tickets (3 games)
US$600
Misc.
US$400
total
US$5200

The result is that for a two week trip, at 2010 off-season prices, the average fan will spend around US$5200. For two people, this cost will not quite be doubled and with research and planning many of these costs can be dropped. However, with the current inflation rate and the increasing demand for seats on planes (imagine 20,000 people trying to get on these planes and into the hotels) and the inevitable confusion that is going to define the World Cup, the financial and psychological costs are certain to increase. Start saving your shekels!

12 August 2011

FIFA comes to Rio, not all is well


FIFA descended upon Rio de Janeiro for the 2014 World Cup Qualifying Draw during the last week of July. The city government shelled out R$30 million to Geo Eventos, whose parent company is O Globo, to host the party.  FIFA demanded that the Santos Dumont airport be shut down for hours and the Very Important People arrived at Eike Batista’s (Brazil’s richest person) Marina da Gloria in limousines escorted by police motorcycles. The normal, pathetic media frenzy ensued: no answers of substance were given to questions of weight and interminable platitudes met the inevitable softballs. Pelé showed up at the behest of President Rouseff but did not cross paths or exchange knowing glances with Ricardo Teixeira. Yawn.

Out on the streets were a thousand protestors flanked by riot police. The Comitê Popular da Copa e Olimpíada spent months organizing the protest and was able to gather a sizeable and vocal group that, among other things, was demanding the head of Teixeira. This head controls the CBF and Brasil 2014 and has been under increasing media and government scrutiny, including a highly revealing article in Piauí. This was the largest, earliest anti-FIFA movement in the history of the World Cup and was a very encouraging sign that not everyone in Brazil is going to passively accept the autocratic implementation of legalized robbery.

Just before the events of July 30, the Ministério Público RJ held the first Audiência Pública (Public Hearing) to discuss the Maracanã construction process. That this was the first  public hearing about the stadium’s fate speaks volumes about how the World Cup is being carried off. That the Maracanã underwent R$320 million in reforms in 2006-2007 to prepare it to host the World Cup screams for massive judicial inquiries into the management of Rio’s public facilities. These reforms, as I have shown here on various occasions, have dis-characterized the stadium, transforming it from an iconic public space of cultural production into a sanitized space of consumption. The Audiencia Publica did nothing to discourage this view.

The discussants were Professora Sonia Rabelo, Professor Carlos Lessa, the head of EMOP (Public works for the state of Rio) Icaro Moreno Junior, the president of IPHAN Luiz Fernando de Almeida, and the procurador from the MPF Mauricio Andreiuolo Rodrigues. The debate circulated around the idea that the construction project should be stopped because what is being destroyed has been protected by IPHAN as a cultural patrimony and that the Novo Maracanã project will completely change the stadium’s character. On the side of the people were the professors, on FIFA’s side EMOP and IPHAN.

The most disturbing element of the discussion came from the IPHAN president. After asserting that the only criteria being used to evaluate the project was the preservation of the ethnographic character of the stadium, the 100+ people in the audience were treated to a spotty video of the new stadium. It showed what could have been the inside of a shopping mall or a closed condominium complex. I asked the IPHAN president whether or not he agreed that we were being shown an ethnographic film that pertained to the upper classes and if this was consistent with the character of the Maracanã. He responded by saying that for him, the preservation of the ethnographic character was “ to host the World Cup in the Maracanã” and that “if you want to have a FIFA World Cup one has to abide by what FIFA demands”. In short, IPHAN has sold out, bowed to pressure, showed no spine or integrity in relation to the Maracanã  - forever altering the character of the stadium and saying, basically, that if we don’t like what has been done to the stadium after the World Cup (especially the roof, which was the center of the debate), we can demand that it be restored. I’ll let the reader decide if this makes any damn sense at all.

Following the Audiência there was rumor that the legal system had intervened to stop the project but this was just rumor. It appears that the project, whatever it is, will continue apace and that the Maracanã in 2013 will, as the EMOP president recently stated, “be recognizable as the Maracanã by those who see it from a distance”. Great. Well done lads! 

Here are some photos of what has been lost. 




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