Saturday, July 27, 2013

"Chicago is totally jealous of us..."

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."


  1. The world has become professional offendees, simply scanning for their next perceived slight so they may rise up against their wicked tormentors.

    Sad, really.

  2. Agreed. If a writer in some city -- say Moscow -- were to slam Chicago, the last thing I'd do is ARGUE with him. all cities have their glories. I grew up in Cleveland. Fine place, in some regards. No Chicago, of course. But if somebody in Cleveland wanted to argue that it was a far, far superior to Chicago because it ... ummm ... has Genese Cream Ale on tap, then who would object? The truth is evident.

  3. While I completely understand why the mayor would defend the city for which he is in charge. It seems natural both from a general sense of civic pride as well as from not wanting to admit that your leadership has played any role in the fact your city is in flames. I can't help but feel his "Chicago is totally jealous of us..." remark is a tad childish.

    My parents were in Rio years ago, they said it was beautiful. I have no doubt that Rio is a city with reasons to justify pride, but I personally have never met a Chicagoan who was jealous of Rio. When Chicago was "dismissed" and Rio chosen to host the Olympics, I did not feel envy I felt bewilderment. Chicago has more than it's share of crime but every night when I walk home from work, I don't fear being take hostage and held for ransom. It seemed clear that they chose a city that was simply not up for the task. Granted, I underestimated just how far from ready they would become. In part people like Eike Batista, once the 8th richest person in the world,was spending massive money refurbishing city landmarks, but he has lost over 90% of his wealth, and the people of Rio de Janeiro have come to recognize that it cost big money to host the games.

    But sure every city has reasons for it's residents to thump-their-chest with a sense of pride. I wish Rio well and I hope the Games are a great success, both for them and for all the athletes who have worked their lives for the chance to compete.

  4. Neil, speaking as a Brazilian and as a guy who grew up, lives and works in Rio, what really pissed off me, the mayor and other cariocas (Rio de Janeiro people) was the fact that your column showed a very poor view of the protests in Brazil. Before continuing, I would like to highlight that I've been in Chicago many times and I love the city just like I love USA. But ok, let's go to the facts why Brazilians are pissed of about you:

    1) Rio was selected prior to Chicago to host the 2016 Olympic games not because its infrastructure is far better. There is a political side behind it. It was chosen because Brazil is an emerging country and the world will get used to look at it as one of the new super power in the next decades just like China, India and Russia. And yes, everybody knows that despite these emerging countries are playing a bigger role in the world, all of them still have massive political and infrastructure issues.

    2) The protests aims exactly to express the dissatisfaction of the population against these problems. And here it is important to highlight that the same happened in UK during it's 1980's crisis, France during entire 2000's and 2010's for several reasons, Spain during it's current economic crisis, etc.

    3) Remember that Brazil is current the 7th biggest economy in the world and heading to 5th place in the next couple of years ahead of UK and France. So, of course, despite its emerging economy status there are still lots and lots of social, political and infrastructure problems to solve. This means that yes, there will be more difficulties to deliver the Olympics in Rio in 2016 than if it happened in USA, UK or Germany (maybe it will be different in 50 years from now). But it doesn't mean that the games won't be great.

    4) The mayor of Rio definitely gave a childish response to your column. But you need to recognize that your article about Rio's ability to deliver the Olympics was poor in content. If you gave a less sensationalist tone (I, particularly, don't know if "The Chicago Sun" it a sensationalist newspaper and needs this approach) and provided more reason behind your arguments, I'm sure that 99% of people in Rio would agree with you.


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