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First Gay Kiss On Popular Brazilian Prime Time Soap Opera is a Milestone in a Country of Mixed Messages

February 1, 2014 Leave a comment

On April 30th 1997, I was 16 and very much in the closet. This must be why I still recall how strongly my heart pounded on that night as I sneaked down to the basement of my parent´s house to turn on the television to channel ABC 6. I sat on the floor a few feet from the screen so I could turn the volume down as low as possible; the television was right under a heating vent and the sound sometimes traveled up to the living room where my mom and dad were.  You see, on this night it was imperative that my parents did not know what I was up to. This was the night that Ellen DeGeneres´ character was going to come out of the closet on her show.

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Ellen Morgan comes out over the microphone the famous 1997 episode of the sit-com “Ellen”

I watched anxiously while listening for anyone opening the basement door in case I had to quickly change the channel.  I had never seen one episode of Ellen´s show, nor did I even know who she was exactly, yet I genuinely laughed at all the toaster jokes and “will she do it now moments” as if I had been a fan my whole life.

Why did I go through all this trouble? Because I wanted to see someone on television I could identify with – yes she was a woman and a lesbian, but she was open about it and free. As teenagers we want nothing more than someone to look up to, someone that resembles not only how we wish to look and talk, but how we wish to feel – Ellen´s courage spoke to me on a deep level which shaped my capacity to be myself then and which I still feel today.

Flash forward to 2009 and I find myself in Brazil. Since that “Ellen” episode there have been many other milestones for gays and lesbians both in fiction and real life – the recent Grammy marriages being one of the most audacious. But down here it felt as if I had stepped back in time.

It was a difficult to explain exactly why I felt like this, for Brazil is a country that markets itself as being open and accepting to gays.  But after some time it was impossible not to see how it was also a country that maintained some rather strict, if not puritanical, notions on sexuality. For example, the words “faggot” or “little fairy” are comical fodder, when not used in virulent hatred, and are bantered around as freely as a transvestite during Carnival season.

It´s also very often I come across people who claim to be unprejudiced but lovingly utter phrases like, “they´re a great person even though they are … you know … ´that way’“.  This is said so nonchalantly that I am always caught off guard.  By the time I come to terms with how ignorant it is the conversation has already shifted to something else.

Eventually I began to understand.  This is Brazilian culture: a mixed bag of opposing emotions and positions about every conceivable topic.  Sometimes these elements contradict one another at important junctures and most of the time I have to learn to take the good with the bad without digging too deep.

The one place where this conundrum felt more visceral to me was on television, especially soap operas. TV Globo, which is the most viewed broadcast television channel in Brazil is famous for it´s 9 o´clock soap (which, in step with Brazilian wishy- washyness, almost never begins at 9).  These Globo soap operas resonate deeply with a large number of Brazilian and have at times amassed more than 50 percent of all television viewership in the country – they are so much an institution that weekly soccer games have to wait until they are over to begin!

Even if one doesn´t watch regularly, the best characters become well known and turn part of every day conversation.  So it didn´t take much for me to notice that each year these melodramas had a greater influx of gay characters – albeit the stereotypically flamboyant “Will and Grace” sort, but I figured one has to begin somewhere. As these gay characters began to take more of a central role in the story lines and grew more popular, the question began to be asked, “When will we have a gay kiss.”

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First gay male kiss in a Brazilian institution – the nightly soap opera.

Perhaps because I had already had my personal revolution 17 years back, I wasn´t as keyed into the whole issue as I could have been, but it was nevertheless impossible not to hear about.  And every year, Globo disappointed by finding some plot angle which would keep its gay characters from sharing this kiss – that is until the night of January 30th on the last episode of their latest mega production, “Amor a Vida” (Love for Life)

I don´t usually follow these soap operas, therefore I had no clue that it was building up to this.  I assumed Globo would just pass over the opportunity again and didn´t even watch.  However, when one´s Facebook page becomes flooded with commentary about the kiss, it´s hard not to take notice.

My first reaction was a cynical one. I said to myself, “What a backwards culture!  These people are worried about a damn kiss when they should be working to further education, health care and other matters”. Then I stopped and thought back to that 16 year old me – of how important that moment in that dark basement, hidden from my parents, was.  The moment where for the first time I could see me reflected back at me and then transmitted to a mass audience, and how there are young people now that much in the same way wish to see themselves reflected in the culture, how there are as many adults as there are these young people who have never had a chance to say, “Look everyone, what I feel is that simple!  I know you saw it!”  When I reflected on this it made me smile, for they finally had their moment.

I then thought about the cultural impact.  How having a gay kiss on Globo is important in a county where the head of The Commission on Human Rights and Minorities, Marco Feliciano, is an openly homophobic and racist preacher from the Christian Social party who believes homosexuality can still be cured.  A man who has asked to have two young girls arrested for kissing in public.  It´s important in a country where 100s of gays are murdered each year and countless other harassed.  And important in a country which purports itself to be gay friendly but at it´s roots has a long way to go still.

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One of the many controversial remarks made by Pastor Marcio Feliciano the Head of the Commission on Human Rights and Minorities

Maybe this little kiss will rock the system for the better, maybe it will make things worse.  Most Brazilians are emotionally driven and the intensity in which they can express both love and hate can be either inspiring, frightening or simply mind boggling. I wish I knew the outcome, but I don´t. What I am more certain of is that a lot of people had to look at something on the night these two men kissed that may have made them smile or made them squirm – either way it caused a reaction.  Perhaps it made others question what love was, and what their relationship with their gay neighbor, relative, sibling or child truly represented.  Perhaps it changed nothing, but at the very least gave a group of people the opportunity to open a dialogue.

In a country with a moral and social code as complex as Brazil´s one can do nothing but wonder, and instead of thinking in mass look to individual groups.  I hope that the day after this kiss is one where plenty of gays in Brazil can wake up feeling glad about having themselves represented in a true light (or as true as light as a soap opera can offer) and that those who, like me, had to watch hidden in some dark corner, can begin to view a future where they can move out of the shadows. This is my sincerest wish, for I´ve been in those shadows and it is a lonely place.

Five Good Reasons I Would Live in the Doctor Who Fantasy Universe

November 23, 2013 Leave a comment

As far as science fiction royalty goes, the fan-boy arguments for which franchise takes the throne is usually between Star Trek and its character driven morality tales, and Star Wars and its epic space battles.  But there has always been a third option, which has married the best of both worlds for 50 years now, and that is Doctor Who. Image

When I went to the United States from Brazil I was about 8 years old and somehow I got wind of Doctor Who on some PBS station. Its fantastic monsters and strange sets were an immediate hit with me. And of course Tom Baker´s Fourth Doctor was loony, outrageous, fearless and smart all at one time. It was a perfect mix of suspense and adventure and I was soon running around the house in big scarfs and trench coats, using my two nephews as my companions as we saved the universe from inside my big sister´s house.

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Through the years I was an off and on viewer, as PBS seemed to always be changing the schedule around for the series, but I never let go of my love of the traveling time lord. I remember that in the summers my father would take me with him to work in the little town of Haddonfield, NJ so I wouldn´t be left home alone. I would always make time to walk down to the public library and read the huge Doctor Who almanac and novels. And imagine my amazement when I learned that there was more than one Doctor after borrowing the movie The Five Doctors for the very first time. My only disappointment was that Tom Baker was not prominently featured in it.

The epitome of my Who craze came when I was about 12 and my best friend Dan invited me to go to a Star Trek convention with him. And though I had become a formal Trekkie, I was really there to see if there were any Doctor Who memorabilia – maybe a miniature TARDIS to stick in my back yard! I did by a t-shirt that had a TARDIS which would appear when the sun hit it. I loved Star Trek, but Doctor Who was my passion – more fun, more adventure and much more bizarre.

So with the 50th Anniversary episode looming just hours away I bring you five good reasons for why I would choose to live in a Doctor Who universe as opposed to any other sci-fi world.

 

1.The Doctor:

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Never has there been a more complex hero to lead a series. He is someone you can´t really trust to take you home; the first Doctor lied his way into persuading his companions to step onto a radiation filled planet inhabited by Daleks and this after kidnapping them into their first adventure to begin. But as terrible as this is, you sort of stop minding that he takes you around the touristic route before dropping you off on your front step – if I were hitchhiking and some weirdo did this to me I´d want to jump out of the car! The Doctor seems to have the magic touch that makes one feel at ease in the same circumstance. Perhaps it´s his little regard for order and authority that sways his companions, or maybe just his simple thirst for adventure. Though it´s true, some of his companions have died – I would take my chances just to have some killer stories to tell at dinner parties or maybe a lunatic asylum.

2. The TARDIS:

ImageYes, traveling off into the uncharted corners of space may be enticing but it´s also dangerous; there are Sith Lords and Borg out there. While the Doctor does have some formidable foes – with an operational TARDIS you can pretty much hop around time and space and check out history as it happens on your off time. The TARDIS is also small and unassuming – you can plop in, observe, and then be off without anyone even noticing you dropped by. Of course there are occasional run-ins with the likes of The Master and the Cybermen, and those pesky little hiccups in the space time continuum that land the Doctor somewhere far from where he was planning to go aren´t always pleasant, but it´s par for the course and better then being assimilate into the Borg or chopped in half by a light saber.  Given the options, the TARDIS would be my home for life.

3. The Enemies:

While on the topic of problems and bad guys, it´s clear to note that Doctor Who´s foes are classic for sure, but no match for the aforementioned Borg or Darth Vader or even the Super Soldiers from the X-Files. I wouldn´t want to run into any of those guys on my best day.  On the other hand, if I saw some Daleks sliding down the street I know I would have to look for some steps quickly, and if there were none in sight I´d have to run around the back of them really low to the ground so as to take away their firing angle. Image

Now the Cyberman do have appendages (so the steps won´t work) but they´re not the fastest moving things either.  In fact, most Who villains can be avoided with a quick jog around a corner. The Master can be a burden, but I would just let the Doctor and him dialogue it out – they always seemed to have some backwards bromance thing going on. Best part is: if all else fails we can jump in the TARDIS and get the hell out of Dodge – can´t do that with a star ship without being followed even at warp speed. Yes, the Who villains are iconic and I wouldn´t want to meet up with any of them, but they´re deadliness is eclipsed by other fantasy baddies who weren´t created just to scare the kiddies before bedtime.

4. The Companions:

ImageThe Doctor has had a revolving door of some of the most diverse bunch of people one could ever want to meet who end up traveling around aimlessly with him.  Willing to drop what they´re doing at the drop of a hat – or quick to forget about it after an extraordinary adventure or two – these are the types of people I would get along with immediately. Like Guinan on Star Trek TNG, they are mostly just there enjoying the ride (although very helpful to the Doctor) and ready for some drinks and a good chat as soon as the danger is over. Doctor Who companions are mostly nomadic types, some not happy with their current lives and others just in search of a good time.  None are boring and all have something of themselves to contribute to a greater good. Who wouldn´t want to travel around with people like that – better than having to take orders from rank and file.

5. The Adventures:

Though Doctor Who was a show I loved from early on, I could never really keep up with it due to how much it changed around on the television schedule. So I became a a bona fide science fiction fan through the Star Trek movies. After that, Star Trek TNG was the first science fiction show that I really got into on a week to week basis. Nonetheless it took me a while to take to TNG as I was used to the Kirk and Spock fly by the seat of your pants style. It was only after seeing episodes featuring the holodeck and Q that my imagination was sparked. I love my science-fiction based on some “reality” but with a good mix of otherworldliness.

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After finding Doctor Who again on T.V. I realized that the show was the perfect mix of what I loved. There were morality tales of prejudice and injustice – mixed in with sinister mummies, five eyed monsters, and Yeti. There was no limit to what the Doctor would run into – no rules to follow. Instead of having to either find new ways to destroy the Empire´s new combat ships, or convince a gaseous formation to not engulf my star ship by reasoning ethically with it, I could have a little of both. Helping President Nixon ward off space monsters and solving the mystery of fire to a tribe of cavemen who are ready to kill me is difficult to do one week from the next but it´s what Doctor Who is all about. There is never a dull moment (okay maybe one or two – the series was on for 26 seasons before it got canceled so not every adventure is a gem)!  The point is Dr. Who adventures expand the bounds of what is real while staying firmly grounded in its meager London junkyard beginnings.  This is the ride I want to take.

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In closing I have to say, both as a lover of Sci-Fi and a proud geek, that celebrating 50 years of Doctor Who and seeing how much the series has come back to public consciousness – especially States-side and abroad (the tickets for the showing of “The Day of the Doctor” here in Brazil sold old before you can spell out what TARDIS stands for) – touches me a lot.

For a show that is so admittedly British it´s great to see it have the same longevity and world-wide acceptance as the American franchises. I admit I have some catching up to do with the new Doctors as at first I was a bit put off by the new glossy style of the show – but these last two weeks of Doctor Who overdose have made me much more interested in seeing the new series for it seems I´ve been missing out on some great science fiction fun.

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I guess the Doctor will never be for just anybody – even some of the newbies find it hard to watch the old shows with the slower pace and cheesy special effects. I recommend they do though, there are many great stories and adventures there which really help bring new light to what the show is doing today. One thing is for sure, though never receiving the full blown out media attention that Star Trek and Star Wars have had through their franchise history (and this may be a good thing, i.e. J.J. Abrams stay far away)  – Doctor Who is probably still the most influential of the the three. It did come first, after all!

Doctor Who also manages to do in one show what divides fan-boys from the two other franchises – it marries fantasy with serious story telling while keeping a light comical touch. Laser battles are as welcome in the Whovian universe as is the theme of the moral capacity of one man to eradicate an entire race – even if they are as evil as the Daleks.

Doctor Who was a solid part of my past childhood and early teen years.  He was off the air with the exception of the Fox TV movie for most of my early adult years. He´s back now full force in my adult life. I´ll be in my 80s in another 50 years, and it would be amazing to sit and see if the Time Lord has continued on until then and found himself a whole new legion of fans. Since I don´t have a TARDIS to jump into the future to see, I´ll enjoy what I have in the present while I wait – over 30 years of episodes to rummage through and what looks to be many more years of continuing adventures do go. I´ll get through them all eventually I swear.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Dog Days

August 6, 2013 Leave a comment

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Fritz in the park

When Paulo, my live in boyfriend of two years, decided that he wanted to study English for 6 months in Ireland (leaving the possibility of a longer stay very much in the air), I realized that I had to re-accustom myself to living on my own. This was odd for me since I had always been a bit of a loner and certainly never minded living on my own, but fact is that after two years with someone a house does feel a bit empty.  So slowly the notion started to pop into my head of having a pet, more specifically, a dog.  When I told a couple of friends their immediate response was, “don’t do it to the dog.”

I can’t blame these people for what they said.  Those that know me well enough are aware of the fact that I spend most of my time in La La Land. I am messy and disorganized.  But what they don’t know is how having the responsibility of taking care of somebody or something completely changes these things in me.  I become more focused and careful. So though a little offended, I took their words as a challenge to myself that I could take care of an animal in Paulo’s absence.

I moved into my new place in February and let the notion swirl around my head for a while: studying my schedule – seeing how much free time and money I would have available to truly give the animal the attention that it would deserve.  I signed up for a site on Facebook which deals with dog adoption and just waited for the right picture of the right dog to show up at the right time.  Then last week it did!

"Smiling" dog

“Smiling” dog

His name was Toulouse, a 3-year-old Bernese mix. His picture, where he seemed to be almost smiling said, “Adopt me! I’m the one youwant!”  I sent an e-mail to the kennel and set up a meeting with the little guy.  Once I got there he was waiting with one of the caretakers. She immediately invited me to take him for a walk to see if we got along well.

We went around the grounds of the kennel to get to know each other, but I knew a walk wouldn’t be enough.  I kept remembering those old phrases about a dog choosing you and not the other way around, so I sat down and waited to see if he would trust me enough to come to my lap.  Once he did, I signed the paper work and we took a taxi home.

Adopting a dog is not always easy for the dog.  There is a definite adjustment period.  After all, most of these dogs have probably been moved around to various places and God knows what experiences they’ve had in that interim.  How are they to know that the moving had ended and the person who takes them in means them well?  This dog was no different.  He was curious and scared at the same time.  Yet, I liked his attitude.  He didn’t bark (still doesn’t) nor did he run around like crazy.

Of course there were signs of apprehension.  Even though I made him a nice little bed, his first his instinct was to sit by the gate and whine a little to get back outside.  I had read up on this and new that it was normal.  I let him take everything in on his own time.  I opened the door to the house and to my bedroom and let him sneak in as he pleased.  Of course each time I looked up as he stuck his nose through my bedroom door he would prance out as if I hadn’t even seen him.  In only two days that’s changed though – as I write this he is lying down comfortably next to me.

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Gettin to know one another

One can read up or listen to advice as much as they want, but every dog is different, so I am learning as I go.   Walking was a challenge the first time out.  He was scared to go down some streets if they were too dark or on too much of an incline.  What took an hour to get to was cut down to half the time on the way back though, as he was clearly familiar with the surroundings. In walking we have the best opportunity to learn from one another.  He now knows not to come to a complete halt when we have to cross a street, and I am learning when to let him stop to sniff around a bit, rest and do his business.  And most importantly we are both not afraid to put on the brakes if we feel the other’s walking pace is too fast.

Like I said, he doesn’t bark but had a tendency to cry a bit by the gate.  This has stopped a bit as appears to understand that we can and will go out, but that his home is here and that is the biggest step.  Little by little we are assimilating to one another’s styles and wants, and building trust. Today I even let him off of his leash at a park on top of a big hill to see how far he would stray, and most importantly, if he would come back.  He had some fun rolling in the grass and even sliding on his back down a few of the hills, but didn’t run off.  I was really  pleased with that, although I can’t say the same about the smell he brought back after rolling in a dirt pile – but as I said, “live and learn”.  Next step: bath       .

It’s only been two days but I can safely say that I couldn’t ask for a better dog.  His tranquility goes along well with my laid back attitude.  And he is learning quickly to obey me and come at my call – which leads back to another issue.  I was on the fence about whether I should have changed his name or not, but in the end I felt it was best.  I wanted him to start a new chapter in his life, so I thought back to my old Kabbala beliefs of changing names to either change attitudes or better fit the ones already existent.  Toulouse was a colourful enough name, but didn’t express his personality well enough for me.  I changed his name to Fritz, a German name which mean “peaceful ruler”.  He certainly does rule my decisions and time now – but as I said, with a calm spirit.

I am sure to learn a lot from this experience.   His presence will certainly make me a better person, and I hope I can give him the happiness any of God’s creatures deserves.  I am ready to take this leap and Fritz appears to also be more than willing to lead a new charge in life. I hope we can remain together for a long time going forward.  Now the days don’t seem as bad, as I await my friend, sitting beside my new-found one.

Hanging out at home. He wouldn't go in my room now he wants to take over my bed!

Hanging out at home. He wouldn’t go in my room now he wants to take over my bed!

Categories: Uncategorized

Uruguay Passes the Dutchie or at Least Takes the First Puff

August 5, 2013 Leave a comment

ÍndiceUruguay’s lower house has voted on a bill which would allow the legalization of marijuana. The government would have control of production, distribution and sale of the product. The bill still has to pass the Senate and be approved by President Mujica – who is in favour of the bill.

Those are the facts but the question is: Will Uruguay (or any nation that makes such a decision) suffer from it, or is it a logical step forward to combating the ever long War on Drugs?

I can only look to Uruguay and think back to America and Brazil – two countries in which I have resided and that have huge problems with drugs. Since in Brazil the real problem is with harder drugs, namely crack, (the police usually turn a blind eye to marijuana if they feel it’s only for recreational use) I will focus first on the United States where legalization of marijuana is always a hot button issue. Should they be looking at Uruguay as a possible blueprint for future drug policies?

On one side we have the hard-nosed anti-drug supporters who think that legalizing is the most surefire way of creating a nation of pot heads. Those that had never even thought of smoking weed would suddenly awaken an inner urge to go to the nearest vendor on a Monday, and blaze themselves into the weekend. And of course it wouldn’t stop there, as their druggie ways would eventually lead them to want to experiment other harder drugs, and the nation would eventually become a lot like a scene from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”.

On the other side we have the equally hard-nosed drug supporters who believe that the legalizing of marijuana will actually be the best step to ending drug trafficking and– or at least put a considerable dent in it. They think it’s silly to suppose that those who don’t smoke marijuana today would suddenly feel the urge to go to a vendor tomorrow just because they can. Furthermore they champion the notion that keeping illegal marijuana off of the street is the best way to protect people from eventually experimenting harder drugs which are a lot of times sold right along with it. The nation won’t look like a scene from Michael Jackson’s Thriller, although it could slightly resemble a Grateful Dead concert – but everyone always enjoyed themselves at those – so what’s the big deal.

So who’s right? Is marijuana really to be thrown in with crack, cocaine and other blatantly dangerous drugs and kept illegal? Or should we consider that though marijuana certainly does have a mind altering affect, and can be an unhealthy habit if overused, that both legal alcohol and cigarettes have these same negative aspects. Where is the line to be drawn between a hard and soft drug?

Fact is there is no easier answer and instead a lot of things to consider before such drastic changes are made to drug policies, even if the nation’s compass seems to be pointing in another direction in respect to the issue. Some polls show that for the first time since

How bad is it really and can the government do anything to help?

How bad is it really and can the government do anything to help?

the question has been asked, more Americans are in favour of the Federal government staying out of pot smoker’s lives. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-250_162-57578048/majority-of-americans-favor-legalizing-pot-poll-shows/

Still, drugs are a big problem in America. The war that was started long ago by President Nixon has done little to make things better – some argue that the battle is over and drugs won. Latest figures show that there are 330,000 people incarcerated at the moment for drug crimes. http://consciouslifenews.com/330000-drug-offenders-prison-spends-drug-war-cost-world-hunger/1147052/ Is the country ready to open the doors to a big number of these people, and even if the War on Drugs has not been a good enough answer, is legalizing marijuana one?

Of course when it comes to legalization and criminalization of a controlled substance American had its big experiment already, and learned the hard way from the errors of the prohibition era. There were not only scores of gangs that were created to transport and deal alcohol, but it’s pretty much consensus that alcohol consumption went up. http://druglibrary.org/prohibitionresults1.htm Now with marijuana being treated the same way, we can see an identical trend – more people smoke http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/776456 and gangs are formed to facilitate in the sale and distribution of the product.

One could argue that this sort of criminality and consumption is the trend for any illegal substance. I would agree; therefore, the real argument comes down to how dangerous of a substance marijuana is in comparison to the other legal and illegal substances out there for consumption. And if marijuana is considered to be less of a danger than its other illegal counterparts, then of course we move on to the question of whether the government’s decision to “butt out” while “butting in” with regulations will really help anything?

As to the last question I can only offer my sincere thoughts. I’ve always felt that criminalization of any controlled substance tends to leave much to be desired as far as a solution. I had mentioned Brazil at the beginning of the article. It’s a place where I have seen face to face the horrors of drugs. Here crack has become gold. Nearly every major city has a district it calls Cracolãndia (literally Crackland). But the story of one of these “Cracklands” in the mega city of São Paulo of over 20 million inhabitants, is the perfect example of strict police action in place of public health actions working against a resolution to a serious problem.

In São Paulo “there was” a “Crackland” in its historic Luz borough downtown, but I say “there was” because the city government’s solution for cleaning up and revitalizing this historic part of the city was arresting the traffickers and forcing (either directly or indirectly) the addicts out. Public health officials were outraged as they insisted that this was not supposed to be solely a police operation, but at the very least a joint measure with a strong medical force. These addicts began exodus by first moving to a neighboring high end borough. They were quickly ushered out and subsequently made their way to various other points of the city even down to its south side (remembering SP is a mega city so this was a journey that by foot would have taken at least a day or two – I can’t imagine the worst case crack addicts using the metro system but one never knows). The result is that on the surface the operation may have looked like a success, but in truth the problem only moved from one region to another. The truth is evident in reports of people in boroughs that area almost an hour away from downtown by car, who had never run into a addict before, who now have had to share in their first, less than enjoyable, first experiences. Crime rose across the city and areas that used to be family friendly have become occupied by zombie crack addicts.

Clearly I think that the iron fist of the law is not the only way to deal with drug problems, but I have to concede that legalizing marijuana in a country as big as America or Brazil may have unpredictable results. Nevertheless, if it means less people on street corners buying a product that may be laced with something else, or keeping a teenager from being talked into buying some other drug they should really stay away from, it can’t hurt. After all, can we securely say that what we have in place now is really working?
But I also think of the other side. If marijuana is taken out of the game what will drug dealers turn to instead to make their money? Will the ones that were just in the marijuana business be forced to move to the harder drugs? Will the harder drugs become more expensive and fuel more violence for its control. These are also things to consider before any decision is made.

So now it’s up to Uruguay to lead the charge. Nothing is certain, but from the looks of things we may have a historical moment afoot come October. If approved, it will probably take about a year or two for the numbers to come back that can really gauge the efficiency of the new drug policy, but I pray for the best. I feel that this movement by Uruguay’s government is being done with good intention and with sound reasoning. In life, of course, we can’t always count on positive thinking alone to result in positive results, but if it works, I hope that countries like America and Brazil (and others) follow suit, and we can take a cancer out of our society – that cancer being the crimes that normally go along with drug trafficking and the addicts which are created when an unregulated product like marijuana is in the hands of people who don’t know how to utilize it properly.

Categories: Society, Uncategorized

Etta James: A Personal Retrospective

January 21, 2012 Leave a comment

 

I first encountered Etta James when I was about 16 or 17.  I was at a small café near my home town in NJ to play at an open mic, and there on the stage was a beautiful woman singing acapella with a low mellifluous voice … a song I thought I knew but couldn’t place – it was “At Last”.  At that time I still hadn’t understood the power of Soul – to me it was unsophisticated compared to my heavy rotation of Rock and Roll and Alternative music – even Jazz and Blues I could appreciate but Soul just never made a very strong impression on me until that night: when I felt what that song felt like inside that woman singing.  This woman wasn’t Etta, but someone else who after that night became a close friend of mine, notwithstanding it was through her that I met Etta.

That song (undoubtedly Ms. James’ most recognized) stayed in my head, and as things usually go with me, I later came upon a cassette tape on the street: it was a collection of music from artist like Luther Vandross, Billie Holiday, Tony Bennett and of course Etta James.  On this compilation I was introduced to her version of “The Very Thought of You” – I still regard it to this day as the definitive version.  I felt a mixture of strength and pain in her voice that let me know that love is not about the beauty of love but the pain of its overpowering magnitude.  Etta knew how to change a meaning, how to expose the light in the dark places and then make you shield your eyes from its burning brightness. This of course was a product of sheer talent and of her upbringing which transformed her singing personality – but she was also gifted with a voice few will ever match.  It was as gritty as it was enveloping as cutting as it was soothing.

From then on I began to respect the woman – her life, her importance to the history of music.  I always thought she was a bit of a forgotten hero in a sense – even amidst her many accolades and awards.  Unlike Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner who managed to re-catapult themselves into the limelight in the 80s– remember, before The Blues Brothers,  Ms Franklin was on her road to becoming one of the nostalgic greats of a by-gone era along with Tina Turner who had to struggle many years in London clubs to regain an audience.  They were fortunate to not only have been rediscovered  but to have managed to find a more modern pop sound which has kept them in the public eye.  Etta James on the other hand, also had a resurgence after long years of drug abuse, but instead of going pop stayed deeply connected to  her blues and soul roots and therefore away from popular radio stations.  This only helped to build up the myth of the woman – the “Soul Survivor” but perhaps deny her the mainstream acceptance she rightfully deserves as one the queens of her genre that is dominated by many other more radio friendly greats.

Later I would only speak with Ms James again on a few occasions when she would sing on Late Night Shows or when she was played on some jazz station.  But every time I knew for certain that her voice was deeper than anything I had heard before, fuller than all the emotion I could salvage from my being, and sadly that her body sicker than it should have been.  It was obvious even ten years ago that we would soon lose our great matriarch of Blues and Soul – but even as she had to sit to perform, with her hands blown up like two balloons she brought her pain up from deep inside herself and gave everything she had as if that was all she had.  And perhaps that’s how it works with talent like hers – her art is what drives her and is all she does know to give: like breathing.

Etta James was never squeaky clean and perhaps this is what endeared me most to her.  Her past was not glamorous and at times her present was questionable, but one thing is undeniable – in a world of manufactured singers and pop stars, we lost one more link (if not one of the roots) to real, unabashed artistry and with it our popular music has a little less soul.  Rest in peace Etta James your voice will live on for as long as men will cry and women cheer for life’s long journey.

apt

Categories: Uncategorized

Kobe Bryant, Is He The Best Ever or Just the Best We Have?

June 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Two Greats ... But Who Is The Greatest?

In winning it all this year, the Lakers did what looked improbable given their lackluster performance in the time leading up to the NBA Finals and the beating they received from the Boston Celtics before returning back to LA.  Leading the charge was Mr. Kobe Bryant who for many year has been in the in the conversation of who is the greatest player of all time.   What has kept Kobe from the top spot, it seems, was his lack of NBA Finals hardware to prove him muster and moreover the shadow of Shaquille O’niel: the Finals MVP for Kobe’s first three title conquests.

Mr. Bryant has now won two titles on his own and two MVP awards to go with it – one against a clearly weaker and inexperienced opponent: the Orlando Magic, and another in a series against the Boston Celtics where statistically he did not give his best performance, 29.2 PPG.  This being said, he is currently the proud owner of literally a handful of rings (one for each finger) – and as he so noted, “one more than Shaq”.  Still, as immense as Mr. Oniel’s shadow is, there is a larger player’s shadow which lurks in basketball – it overspreads all that came before, during and after he played – that is Michael Jordan.

One for each Finger!

The hurdle that Kobe has to jump to surpass Mr. Jordan is a monumental one, because his predecessor defined greatness not simply in terms of winning but in terms of the raw passion that he had for the game, that one could feel pouring from his heart every night he touched the ball.  Michael Jordan didn’t just play basketball – he bled it and wanted us all to bleed along with him regardless of our team affiliation through every difficult game, improbable end or unbelievable shot.

Kobe, sadly, never has been able to convey this universal charm and most non-Laker fans do not like him.  This could be for a few reasons.  Some think he is arrogant, other think he is cocky: as if he is self-aware of his greatness and doesn’t do much to hide it.  Only Muhammad Ali was creative enough to know how to turn such hubris into a positive for himself.

Sports fans love a great athlete, but not as much as they love a humble one who looks just as surprised and enthralled when he makes a clutch shot, as the people at home and in the stands.  In order for Kobe to be considered the greatest he must somehow relay this in his play.  People need to care about him and love him.  Greatness is funny in that for it to be achieved it doesn’t just require statistical prowess, but an ability to show that you are sweating out there to make it all happen.  Greatness is built by the record books as well as in the psyche of the spectators.  Look at tennis great Roger Federer, an athlete who only truly solidified his, “Greatest Of All Time” status over Pete Sampras in most tennis fans’ minds, not after breaking his predecessors’ records, but when he got his own personal Andre Agassi in Rafael Nadal, who came along and gave him a challenge – made him look human.

For Mr. Bryant, being the greatest ever may not be the main objective- he would probably much rather be the best that Kobe Bryant can be.  Yet, I doubt that anyone who goes into a sport, or really any sort of competitive activity, doesn’t have that desire to better their predecessors.

Going For the Top

Michael Jordan left a large legacy, but is it impossible to overcome?  Federer did so with Sampras as we see, Tiger Woods most likely will do so with Nicklaus (if he hasn’t already).  But it will take more than just winning to solidify this notion with the fans and Kobe unfortunately may not ever achieve it based solely on his perceived arrogance.  Still, as he gets older and the shots get harder, and the competition stiffens, and he is perhaps more humbled by this but still able to perform miracles on the court, his journey to the top might become a reality.  It may or may not happen.  Who truly knows?  I can only imagine that it will be probably be a great ride.

ende

Categories: Sports, Uncategorized

Hello world!

June 12, 2010 Leave a comment

This is your world … ready to be criticized and loved … hated and bettered … yours and yours, and mine all the same.  Let me hear you talk.

Categories: Uncategorized