Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Dictatorship with a smile!

National Theater from the outside
Last night, Reva and her husband took me to a free symphony at Cláudio Santoro National Theater.  The building is another one of Oscar Niemeyer's beautiful creations.  The show itself was a treat (although it would have been nice to experience some Brazilian music)- two of Mozart's pieces.  The soloist was supposedly the best living pianist in Brazil and the audience was enthusiastic, they ended up playing two extra songs.  

This is just one of many examples of the services the government provides for "free" (supposedly the taxes are absurdly high... it has to come from somewhere).  All the tourist attractions downtown were free of charge, the government bought the area around the TV tower and charges no rent to the people selling their goods, they maintain all the trees all over the city.  Mr. Garg you know you are in a third world country when all of these services are provided for free- it doesn't provide incentive for competition between private businesses and it doesn't bring in an income.  This has huge implications when it comes to education- a college education is provided to all citizens.  Many teachers complain of unmotivated and lazy students.  Since they get their education paid for, they literally aren't invested in getting educated and they'll get this service no matter what grades they earn.  Furthermore, Brazilians don't have many of the rights and liberties we may take for granted in America.  I had mentioned that it's very difficult to own firearms, which is related to Brazilian's inability to really own and protect private property.  All the trees are owned by the government, even if you plant one.  They can take your land anytime and there's nothing you can do about it.  This came up when talking to someone and he described it as "dictatorship with a smile" because the government will take your land, claiming it is for a good purpose but that doesn't do anything to protect your human rights.  Supposedly, freedom of speech is limited.  Government is still somewhat nepotistic- people are elected based on their reputation and who they know.  I was surprised to hear that one of Brazil's presidents in the not-so-distant past was illiterate.

Some graffiti that I love near the art school at UnB
Disclaimer: these are just things I've heard and noticed- I haven't studied Brazilian politics in details but it does inspire renewed appreciation for what it means to be American.  Several of the Brazilians said they want to move to the US but the Visa process is too difficult (one even asked me to marry him, move to California so we could go surfing and skateboarding every day).  I don't really feel like I'm in a third world country besides the lack of a well-developed tourism industry.  I've only seen a couple beggars, although there is a ton of graffiti, much of which protests the unequal distribution of resources and rights between rich and poor.  I know there are slums in Rio so Brazilia may be a nicer city than most...

Not much else to report here- I visited the American School of Brasilia this morning to meet with the headmaster and the physics teacher.  The physics class looked like a mini-SCALE-UP classroom- students were working on whiteboards while others were collecting real-time data using Vernier probes.  I'd rather teach at the college level but I could see myself working at a place like that.  They sent around the abstract of my talk and supposedly, at least 20 teachers are interested in coming!  

This afternoon I'm meeting with the physics education research group at UnB and probably should start transcribing my interviews.  Tonight, hopefully I'll go to a "Tribal Fusion" dance performance (supposedly a mix of bellydancing, flamenco and some other Ocidental styles such as hip-hop) with another couchsurfing friend.  This guy is a UnB grad who is interviewing for a teaching position there tomorrow- he sounds like a smarty pants!  And this performance sounds like a unique experience!  Tchau!