Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Is the world our oyster, or is it more concerned with our clams?

I've had a minor hormonal imbalance for years, and today I asked my doctor if there were some procedures or tests that I could undergo to finally discover the root cause. (I'm an academic with leanings towards political economy and explanation, after all.)

In more genteel language, he said that only my (inevitable) decision to get knocked up would merit an investigation into these underlying health concerns. What bothered me was that my health, in his eyes, was made significant only in relation to my female ability to reproduce and bear children. Is he of the "women are just ovaries with legs" school or, giving him the benefit of the doubt, simply a young general practitioner who does not follow current medical and biomedical research which increasingly emphasizes the complex roles that hormones play in longevity, weight loss/gain, predisposition to certain cancers, nutritional absorption, I.E. OVERALL HUMAN HEALTH? 

Let's look at it this way. General practitioners hold certain preconceived associations between hormones and gender, which stems more broadly from their ideas about what are significant health concerns depending on a patient's gender. Men tend to benefit from a more holistic, or at least amplified list of ailments and maladies that can result from some type of hormonal dysfunction. This is quite simplified, of course, but it spells out my point:

Hormones + Women = The ability to get pregnant, the inability to get pregnant, or a desire to get pregnant in the future.

Hormones + Men = Virility, but also more robust health conditions such as prostate cancer, hair loss, heart health, etc. etc.

Men too suffer from a bias towards their virility. I am not arguing along the lines that women always have it worse, but anything related to hormones and women is almost indefinitely related to their superior capacity or weaknesses in relation to getting a bun in the oven!

I love how I can be reduced to my female parts in a second, from the aspiring educator and academic that I am working hard to be, one day.

A loud, guttural WHOOPEE for womanhood!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Love for a Frankenstein

Sao Paulo, I love you, you broken, messed up thing. 

How I wish I were in the interior of you, in the middle of a cane field sitting around a bonfire and sinking my toes into your fertile red earth.

Sao Paulo, urban and rural, que saudade

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Grad School Glamor Days

The most nourishment that I got post-noon today was from a packet of Splenda that I sucked dry and the wood coffee stirrer that I chewed on after to satiate my hunger (both nabbed from the department's Tuesday lectures refreshments table). This was all ravenously consumed while I gave my usual section lecture to the MAs....I'm grad school glamorous!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"Why is there so much wretchedness, so much poverty in this fabulous land...? Ah, says one - it is the priests' fault; another blames it on the military; still others on the Indian; on the foreigner; on democracy; on dictatorship; on bookishness; on ignorance; or finally on divine punishment."

- Daniel Cosio Villegas

Friday, October 11, 2013

When slum tourism is too much - or was it always?

As I was walking home from grocery shopping one day, I literally stumbled into a now mundane sighting in Rocinha, and in many slums and favelas of the first and third worlds. On a corner near the entrance to my neighborhood loitered a very blonde group of Europeanish-looking people who were laughing and gesticulating wildly. What looked like the teenage daughter of one of the middle-aged couples was mounting the motorcycle of one of the local PMs (Military Police). The two PMs, who were usually stationed on that corner, thought it was rather funny too, and went posing next to the blonde girl on the motorcycle.

What struck me as memorable about this scene was that I found it, well, rather vulgar - vulgar in that it caused a sense of revulsion in me on the part of their apparent innocence.  The blonde Europeans had no pretensions about what they were doing. The scene could have been taken straight from Orlando, with the young girl being marveled at while sitting in the car of some ride. But instead of being surrounded by Disney characters and sand, she was framed by the bulk of the PM’s machine guns and body armor while standing near some leftover sewage from the previous night’s heavy rains.

Who knows why they were there. They could have been there to see the “real” slums that they had probably seen in the film The City of God, or maybe they had fallen into a tour promoted by their hotel. They were there to take pictures, satisfy their curiosity about a world they believed so inconceivably different from their own, and then leave. No volunteer work or missionary yearnings involved, that was certain. (I’ve become pretty accurate at this point in stereotyping the gringo foreigners here, myself included). They were definitely not there for one of the Favela Funk ragers. Those happen at night, and the transition to the presence of PM in favela life and the reorganization of social services has made them scarcer, anyways.

I have no real contributions to this ongoing debate on slum tourism. I just find it hard not to gawk at slum tourists, as they gawk and point their cameras at the environment in which they've swiped their visas to insert themselves. I like London Times columnist Alice Mill’s labeling of Slum Dog Millionaire as “poverty porn,” because it succinctly captures the voyeuristic pleasure which many people get from this form of consuming poverty. We can pay for it without getting our hands dirty, and fold it into a memory that we can later exchange with others. I was hit on in a bar once in New York by a Princeton grad who claimed that the Favela Funk party that he went to during his travels in Rio was the most “eye-opening” experience of his life, while a homeless woman begged outside of the bar…

When I’m not in Brazil I live in Harlem, New York City, and the voyeuristic industry of
poverty tourism has also reached the home of the Apollo Theater. Tourists are taken down 125th Street in those big double-decker red buses to take pictures of all the “important” landmarks of Harlem, such as the Apollo, maybe Bill Clinton’s old office building. Hit-it-and-quit-it would be an appropriate addition to Mill’s denunciating alliteration, since a commonality in these anecdotes is the ephemeral interactions with the poor that happen behind glass windows, or within the planned narrative of the tour guide, which many people really do “get off” on and later insist to friends or strangers to have had profound effects on their personal development, spirituality, etc., etc.

Does a slum tourist become a “better” person, once the tour is over? What about people living in first-world poverty? Will their experiences be of real value only when somebody can curate their poverty for them, and they can pay for it?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Left deferred.

I find it amusing and also disappointing how many American intellectuals who write about Brazil employ popular tropes used to explain the failings of the U.S. political and economic system to interpret the current unrest here. 

According to a recent AP article, Brazilians are protesting primarily because of high tax rates (and not because of habitual corruption, inequality, sexism, or flagrantly disproportional investments in World Cup and Olympic games). In a similar vein, an urban planner at the New School's Milano writes that, if the provision of public services in some slums in Rio were reduced, then there would be less migration to these places. Implying that migration, and not living one's days in sewer water or suffering from high incidences of tuberculosis engendered by these very deficits in  physical and state infrastructures, is the main problem experienced by the poorest of Brazilians.

Aren't you suppose to be the critical and erring Left, and not another wheel in the machine that reproduces mainstream discourse, reinforcing these flawed understandings?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Garbage, Favelas, and the Politics of Olympic Fitness of Nation-states

They're currently finishing an Olympic swimming pool next to the favela of Rocinha, in Rio de Janeiro, where I live. In other news from the hood, the open sewage canal that runs through Rocinha's lower parts is used for non-Olympic sport by its children.

A standard account of Brazil can be summarily narrated as follows: the country's high GINI coefficient encapsulates a reality of a very rich few, a very poor majority, and despite a growing middle class resulting from recent economic gains Brazil continues to be a generally unequal place. Beyond highlighting this now obvious social landscape of inequity and inequality, such contrasts levy a more global accusation. They take to task the shaky judgments of those who hold that the Games, and mega events moreover, can take place in some countries, such as Brazil, but not in others. Apparently there is a natural moral geography to who can be granted a bid.

Following this hypothesis, retrospectively we should have been aghast that Qatar won the seat for the 2022 World Cup, more so even than if any other country had come out on top. And many people were. The British press was particularly livid, finding an opening to jab at the inadequacies of Qatari infrastructure. Lately, state and municipal patrons have come to justify such sporting events by touting their tangible "legacies.” The Olympic Games in particular have been able to garner broad-based legitimacy based on their potential to catalyze the modernization of host country infrastructure. The recent 2012 London Olympics had been defended along these lines.

Clearly, then, there is something more to disputing the competency of Qatar’s construction industry in light of Doha’s burgeoning skyline. These assaults on the number of hotel rooms and stadiums cloaked the core of a stance that quickly became undressed: Qatar was an inconceivable choice because it was a morally unsound candidate. Terrorism, the treatment of women, and the outlawing of homosexuality in Qatar were just some of the chips picked out and thrown onto the scale that out-weighed its suitability for World Cup hosting.  

Reviving Failed States through the Categorization of Olympic Candidates

We should look askance when complex societal problems facilitated or coerced by nation-states are distilled to a select few that can be easily referenced to sort the rotten tomatoes from the ripe ones. Why are we compelled to play such sorting games, in the first place? I am not implying that we cannot have strong opinions about other parts of the world other than our own, or that these concerns are not related to any empirical value. But being critical of the policies of nation-states should not be equivalent to embracing dogmatic moral categorizations, where the problems with such taxonomies are manifold.

In the words of pedagogue Patti Lather, “to put into categories is an act of power.” In this sense, the battles for mega event bids are the products of a larger geopolitical war of selecting ethical categories that are readily propped up and then slammed down to delegitimize contenders. Human rights violations that we all generally agree to are emphasized but can simultaneously crowd out of sight other social problems. This includes many urgent infrastructural needs that have yet to be popularly recognized and branded as “rights.”

Imperative social services like sanitation are among them, and some of the most dire in the future World Cup and Olympic host city of Rio de Janeiro. In a slum like Rocinha, the lack of sanitation and waste collection continues to breed dengue and tuberculosis, especially during the warm summer months. Also of special significance, infants and young children are more likely than older children and adults to develop life-threatening forms of many of these diseases. Despite the widely acclaimed successes of UPP pacification, the city is still trying to take full account of these public services that were originally under the jurisdiction of traffickers.

Hegemonic media outlets control the tone and content of this public discussion, but the use of these manageable sets to identify deviant states or even “failed” states also simplifies our political understandings. Together, they direct and redirect our attention to what is important, where we place our moral outrage as cosmopolitan citizens. As a BRIC member, public officials and private investors would like to replace the previous outline of Brazil with a “Brazil on the rise,” the upcoming economic and political leader of Latin America. This is promoted in some measure by displacing our attention to other offenders, encouraging an amnesia to the original controversies raised following Rio’s win, which the work of favela residents, public defenders, and human rights activists in Rio and abroad urge us not to forget.

There is a large part of the country that is not rising, but rather mobilizing around key urban issues. Prominent among them are the most vulnerable of Brazilian citizens who still live in squalor at the hands of state and municipal strategic planning that favor swimming pools and the metallic gleam of cable cars to the provision of fundamental public services. Their local contestation of the institutional landscape of sanitation and trash management is unraveling this optimistic image of a Brazil transformed.

As today's June downpour falls and ruffles the Rio de Janeiro Metropolitan Area, the many steep and narrow concrete alleyways of Rocinha have turned into lethal chutes of storm water runoff. The children of my alleyway delight in the rapids of the muck. Allowing kids to grow up in nefarious brews of feces and dog shit peppered with chemicals and electronic waste is not a "small thing." It is an active abuse of human rights, whether or not the mainstream Left decides to cling to a provincial rubric.