I guess this is how Fox pundits and Washington beltway sorts spend their entire careers, sniping at each other, squeezing off potshots and volleys, hobbyhorsing away their lives. On Wednesday morning, I wrote a piece chiding the International Olympic Committee for picking riot-ravaged Rio de Janeiro over Chicago. It was supposed to be funny, and it seemed to be, to Chicagoans. Brazilians on the other hand, who take themselves very seriously, judging from my mail, at least when it comes to uninvited observations from abroad, responded with a howl, which turned into a column Thursday. On Friday, when it was time for the whole thing to fade, in my estimation, the mayor of Rio went on the radio and stirred the pot again, which caused my bosses to invite me to write yet another column about it all in Saturday's paper. This, I hope, marks the end of the episode.
If you are a rugby fan, you’re probably familiar with the New Zealand All Blacks, a squad famous for its "Haka,” a taunting pre-game ritual they perform to intimidate opponents. It’s a Maori warrior dance, origins lost in antiquity, where they beat their chests and slap their thighs while shouting about their masculinity and fierceness.
I thought of that, reading Rio de Janeiro mayor Eduardo Paes’ remarks, spoken to Radio CBN RJ in Rio Friday, in reaction to my Wednesday column chiding the International Olympic Committee for picking strife-torn Rio over relatively placid Chicago for the 2016 Olympic Games.
“Chicago is totally jealous of us,” he said, in Portuguese, according to the genius of Google Translate. “It’s a horror, cold, full of racial conflict, ghettos, where blacks and whites do not mix.”
A bit contradictory—full of racial conflict or lack of mixing? Pick one; it can't really be both. That sent me trotting back to my original column to remind myself what it was I said that was so terrible about Rio.
"The protests rocking Brazil—hundreds of thousands of people, in 100 cities last month, the streets of Rio in flames this week—could ebb, and everything could somehow be fine in 2016."
That's about it. And all true. While I didn't get into the intense politics of the protests—the mayor blamed troublemakers—they do bear potential significance for the 2016 Olympics. I didn't make that up.
Nor, given the general Canadian-like cry of outrage wafting up from South America—from stark insults to Chicago, general condemnations of America, demands that we master the tangled nuances of Brazilian politics, and now Rio's mayor—can I say I'm very broken up about upsetting them, much as I don't like to gratuitously insult anyone. They seem kind of touchy, based on my email.
This has happened before, with Toronto's mayor, Rob Ford, who has been accused of smoking crack cocaine and looks like Chris Farley at the end of his life. He got worked up because I suggested Chicago is a more exciting city than Toronto, which is like saying that steak tastes better than hamburger. Again, an accident. I wish I were smart enough to intentionally irk distant cities, and then revel in the illusion of significance their reaction brings. But I'm not. It just happens.
The late, great Warren Zevon, in "Boom Boom Mancini," sings "The name of the game is be hit and hit back," and I suppose one could spend his career doing so. But to me, as soon as hordes of sincere, argumentative, unpleasant folk start raising their voices in sincere chorus, it's time for me to unlace my gloves and leave the ring.
I ruthlessly mocked Mayor Richard M. Daley for nearly 20 years, from my very first column, writing in this newspaper that he had lost his mind, that he had gone insane. Never a word from him. That showed a certain confidence. After reading the Rio mayor's lengthy remarks, I went and checked the city's population: 6.3 million. More than twice that of Chicago. Geez, didn't anyone ever tell them that you punch up, you don't punch down? If you're a big city, act like it. Or to return to Warren Zevon: "If you can't take the punches, it don't mean a thing."