Friday, April 6, 2018

More Rio | Lefsetz Letter

It’s all about income inequality.

So I’m talking to Shep Gordon and he tells me not to leave the hotel without security. My sister says to bring no watch, to be wary of cellphone theft. And then the “New York Times” writes about yellow fever. WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?

I’m not the paranoid type, but if you plant a kernel in my brain…

I went for a typhoid shot, because of my pemphigus I could not be immunized against yellow fever, I’m traveling with Cipro…but none of them are a match for a gun.

Which are illegal to own in Brazil.

But that does not keep the criminals from holding you up, shooting you if you protest.

But the cops won’t go up into the favelas to pursue the offenders. They’re not paid enough. And are they paid by the criminals? And the convicted don’t get euthanized, there’s no death penalty. And because they’re so impoverished, the government lets them out early, there’s no life in prison so…

At least that’s what my driver told me.

Brazilians are like Canadians, they’ve got the gift of gab. Put a dime in the jukebox and you’ll hear amazing stories. From the left and the right. There’s agreement on the problems, but not on the solutions.

But underneath this all is corruption.

So we’re driving up to the concrete Christ and I see a billboard for “The Mechanism.” Has the driver seen it?


And it’s on Netflix to boot. All these companies have international penetration, except for Apple Music, which required credit cards and American money in a country where most people don’t have them. So Spotify took off. Deezer is #2. We’re so U.S. focused, but it’s a great big world out there.

Where most people don’t speak English.

Back in the seventies, you traveled internationally and there was a language barrier. But go to France now and you have no need to speak French. And many people love the U.K. because we share the same language. But I like places a little more exotic, and despite so many speaking English, most in Rio don’t. And it gets very basic, it’s not so easy to buy a hamburger, it’s hard to order at all. And sure, one can get by, but it’s humbling, I wish more could experience it, it gives you perspective.

So there’s a brouhaha about “The Mechanism.” It’s fiction, but thinly-veiled, and if you’re on the wrong side of it you’re complaining, but everyone agrees there’s corruption.

But despite being aware of Trump, they don’t know that we’re freaking out now too. Sure, we can walk after dark in so many neighborhoods in the U.S., but if you don’t have a college degree, you can’t even get a job as a receptionist. There’s no upward mobility for the underclass, and that results in…


America is sliding into third world territory.

So we drove up the mountain into the park, where the vegetation was so thick if there wasn’t a road, you’d have no way to get out. And as we’re jetting around the corners in the Corolla I’m getting nervous. One false move and we’ll fall thousands of feet, it’s just that steep. Meanwhile, my driver is turning to talk to me, checking WAZE…should I just shut up?

That’s another thing, they’ve got 4G, all the tech comforts we do. We’re not that far ahead.

And then I took the train up to the concrete Christ. Had to scale a series of steps to get there, but when I was up….

You don’t want to have agoraphobia. It’s amazing what a steep drop it is. And you can see so much. And nobody is speaking English.

After that we went to the BBQ restaurant, Fogo de Chao. Where I stuffed myself. When they slice the meat off the skewer, it’s juicy, it’s succulent, you cannot stop.

And the traffic back to Baja…

It’s kind of like L.A. There are so many famous places. Like Copacabana. And Ipanema. WHERE’S THE GIRL? Records come alive.

And it’s getting dark and I wonder if they have daylight savings time.


That’s right, we’re upside down!

And then it started to pour…

You try to get ahead. My driver dropped out of college and then was a musician and then bought a car, which he immediately switched to natural gas, to save money. His father lost his job at the bank, bought a taxi license and within two years, Uber was everywhere. My driver said his dad “had a hard life.”

And his girlfriend, who he met on Tinder, after spending two years kissing twenty-odd frogs, is studying psychology but lives next to a favela.


Meanwhile, the big sound here is country music. Not ours, but from the Brazilian hills.

Like I said, it’s the same, but different. I’m doing my presentation today and some of my laugh lines are not registering, because audience members are listening to simultaneous translation, into Portuguese. Really twists your head.

And everybody’s young and excited. They’re optimistic.

With a base layer of pessimism.

You want to climb above, you want to work. And the dream?

My driver wants to go to America. But he’s got no angle.

Most people want to stay. After all, Brazil is a huge market, about the size of the continental United States, with hundreds of millions of people here. High rises, beaches, EVERYTHING!

They don’t need us to survive.

Then again, the conference organizer told me he was a Trojan, and one of his gigs was in business development for Live Nation in Brazil.

You see globalization already happened, that ship already sailed. And those who own it are going to prosper in the future.

As for Brazil, Marcelo told me it comes and goes in waves. Everything was looking up, especially before the Olympics, but there were government lies and lack of execution on social initiatives and then things got bad.

But he’s convinced they’ll get good again.

But according to the Petrobras guy I spoke with, “PetroBrasil” in “The Mechanism,” it’s only best if you’re privileged. He got his job via a government test. 90% of the public couldn’t take it, they were uneducated, but maybe smart.

And there you’ve got America, where the educated class perpetuates, marries each other and uses its connections to get ahead. Eddie Lampert didn’t come from money, he went to Yale and his roommate’s dad got him a gig at Goldman Sachs. Did you have these opportunities?

Probably not.

Which might be why you voted for Trump. While the privileged classes, both Democratic and Republican, don’t want to sacrifice, don’t want to lose anything they have, they want to keep the door shut.

It’s all anybody wants to talk about, it doesn’t take long for conversation here to stumble on to politics, corruption, government.

Just like the U.S.

So when you say you’re sick of talking Trump, of D.C., the joke is on you. Our future is at risk.

And you could influence it, just like Jose Padilha did with “The Mechanism.”

That’s the potential of art, it can change the discussion.

Don’t relinquish your truth in pursuit of faux dollars.

Happiness comes from pushing the envelope.

And so does power.


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