November 26, 2004
This week, about 1,000 athletes from over 40 Brazilian tribes are competing in Indigenous Peoples' Games VII.
They're billed as the world's largest events for Indian tribes.
Among the sports: dart-blowing, spear-throwing, archery, canoe-rowing, and footraces in which runners carry 200-pound tree trunks on their shoulders.
The photo that leads this post shows a torch-bearer at the Games' opening ceremony.
Sports Illustrated apparently was too busy clucking about the all the fights that have been breaking out at basketball and football games to cover the Brazilian Indians.
Luckily for us, the Wall Street Journal dispatched Matt Moffett to Porto Seguro, Brazil, to report on the biggest thing in Olympic sports since Athens.
Here's his front page story from this past Tuesday's paper.
- At This Olympics, They Throw Spears And Blow Darts
Brazil's Indians Compete In Traditional Games; Winning Isn't Everything
Rony Paresi, chief of the Paresi Indians, wore his ceremonial headdress of macaw feathers.
At his side, a Paresi brave grimaced behind streaks of war paint.
The battle they both were girding for was taking place on an athletic field.
When the chief tossed a squishy ball, made of tree resin, the brave hit the dirt in a spread-eagle dive.
Then, scuttling along on all fours, the Indian butted the ball with his head toward his opponent's territory, in a practice drill for the sport known as Xikunahity.
In this game of "head soccer," touching the ball with feet or hands is prohibited.
The Indians say the game was shown to them long ago by a mystic from the heavens.
This week, about 1,000 athletes from more than 40 Brazilian tribes are competing in the Indigenous Peoples' Games VII. (Tournament organizers use Super Bowl-like Roman numerals, and Super Bowl-like promotion, such as billing the games as the world's largest sporting events for Indian tribes.)
Among the sports: archery, dart-blowing, spear-throwing, canoe-rowing and footraces in which the runners carry 200-pound tree trunks on their shoulders.
The Indians may boast cultural riches, but they don't have the budget of the Athens games.
Yesterday, on what was supposed to have been the first full day of competition, a fierce rainstorm forced athletes to evacuate the olympic village, several rows of palm-roofed huts located on a reserve of the Pataxo tribe.
The Indians were moved to a convention center and competitions were canceled. Organizers were hoping to get back on track today.
There are also special exhibition sports unlikely to be broadcast on ESPN.
In tihimore, another Paresi game, contestants bowl, using ears of corn as pins and a quince as the ball.
In apanare, a Xavante contest, bowmen loft arrows into the sky and braves try to snatch them before they hit the ground.
The crowds can be rowdy.
During the third Indian olympics, some women from the Xikrin tribe threw sand in the faces of their braves after they lost a tug of war to a rival tribe.
That's the same treatment that Xikrin hunters get when they fail to kill anything for dinner.
In the days leading up to the games, Indian athletes were busy with last-minute training.
Some Kayapo practiced ronkra, which is a kind of field hockey.
Braves use a heavy wooden stick, without the curved tip, to swat a puck carved out of a coconut.
Some of the athletes' mannerisms had a familiar look.
Outside the Karaja tribe's hut, after a burly wrestler scored a takedown, he twirled around with his arms extended like an eagle's - reminiscent of the end-zone antics of National Football League stars.
The games have flourished at a time when Brazilian Indians are enjoying a renaissance.
For most of five centuries after the arrival of Portuguese mariners, Indians had been victims of disease, poverty and violent land battles with whites.
By the 1970s, the Brazilian Indian population had declined to roughly 150,000, from at least several million before Portugal colonized the area.
But Brazil's indigenous population has recently been growing at about twice the rate of the population as a whole and now numbers about 400,000.
The Indians' comeback has been helped by the government policy of settling indigenous people on vast land reserves, covering about 12% of Brazil's national territory.
Brazil's 1988 Constitution put greater emphasis on demarcating and guaranteeing the integrity of Indian lands.
For many of the athletes, taking first place isn't the point of the games.
"We are not strong sportsmen, but we participate as a celebration of being alive," says Celso Suruí, who helped lead the Suruí tribesman on a three-day trek by truck and bus here to the host city of Porto Seguro, which was the site of the first recorded landing of Portuguese sailors, in 1500.
Long isolated from non-Indians, the Suruí made their first contact with whites in the 1960s - and were decimated by flu and the measles.
With the tribe more secure on its reservation, the Suruí population is growing again.
The games opened officially Sunday night with an extravagant ceremony in the Pataxo soccer stadium.
The commemoration started with a chant by a wizened shaman and a child.
Next came a procession of more than 40 Indian tribes, starting with the host Pataxo, who were decked out in grass skirts and armadillo-claw necklaces.
The parade included the Bororo, with jaguar-spot tattoos on their jaws and chests, the Irantxe, who played flutes as they marched, and the Awa Guaja, a tiny tribe discovered only about 20 years ago that sent just four athletes to the games.
After all the tribes had filed onto the field, a Kayapo leader lighted a 40-foot torch.
Then, archers unleashed a flight of flaming arrows, igniting a spectacular fireworks display.
For some native athletes, the facilities are the most exotic part of the game.
Some swimmers have never been in a man-made pool before.
A veteran of the games, Reginaldo Bakairi, the chief of the Bakairi tribe, recalls,
"We were strong when we won the tug of war on land, but in the pool we seemed weak because we could not swim fast without a current propelling us."
Brazil's first indigenous olympics took place in the central city of Goiania in 1996, and was promoted by then-Sports Minister Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known to soccer fans as Pele.
Some 400 athletes from 29 tribes participated.
Athletes were long on enthusiasm but short on experience.
During a sprinting competition, a Kanela Indian, who didn't understand the Portuguese-speaking field judge, surged ahead of the other runners - and then ducked under the tape at the finish line and kept right on running.
When the public-address announcer called on winners of track and field events to come to a podium to pick up their medals, none of the triumphant athletes answered the call at first.
They had already left the arena to enjoy the talk and singing at a tribal banquet.
"The indigenous athlete cares about sharing fellowship with his brothers - not collecting pieces of metal," says Bekwaj Kayapo, a leader of the Kayapo tribe.
Due to organizational difficulties, the second Indigenous Games wasn't held until 1999, three years later.
But the competition has been held on schedule, every year since, and in a different city.
Putting the event together is almost an Olympian feat in its own right.
Encounters between Indian groups largely cut off from the rest of the world have often produced surprising revelations.
Three years ago, the reclusive Enawene-Nawe Indians found that they played the same kind of head soccer as the Paresi, even though the two tribes live at some distance from each other.
For Severo Kanela, a leader of the isolated Kanela tribe, the payoff of the four-day trip to Porto Seguro for this year's games is economic development.
The Kanela are farmers who are using the games to try to diversify into commerce.
They have brought baskets and weavings to sell to other Indians and tourists.
'Butterfly' stool by Sori Yanagi - a puzzle of sorts
The iconic 1954 masterpiece of design is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection of modern art.
That's no surprise.
But what is surprising, at least to moi, is that a miniature version of it - 2.75" x 2" x 2.5" high - sells for $268.
The tiny version is part of Vitra's collection of modern classic miniatures.
All well and good, and I appreciate that the little one is painstakingly crafted by Vitra with as much care and precision as goes into the real thing.
But who wouldn't prefer to own the $495 original article?
People are so strange....
Microsoft to open second-largest campus in... Hyderabad, India
Now didn't we just talk about this here not two days ago?
I thought so.
Microsoft is significantly expanding it software development operations in India.
Last week the company's CEO, Steve Ballmer, formally opened the 28-acre campus in the suburbs of Hyderabad, 250 miles north of Bangalore, another technology center.
Microsoft already has almost 450 programmers at its Hyderabad center.
J T Leroy - how long does he have to live?
I'd never heard of this strange man until a week or so ago, when I read a long story about him by Warren St. John in the November 14 New York Times.
Long story short: the teen-aged LeRoy was wandering the streets of San Francisco in a drug-induced haze when he was rescued by Emily Frasier, an outreach worker who herself survived the streets.
She had him see a child psychologist, beginning three years of intensive therapy.
In an attempt to break his heroin habit, LeRoy began writing down his thoughts between sessions because "I couldn't write when I was high."
He started writing letters to authors, who often replied, then got a story published in an anthology, which led to a small advance for a novel,
"Sarah," published in 2000.
In 2001 his second book, "The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things," was published.
He also wrote the original draft of "Elephant," the Gus Van Sant film that won the Palme D'Or at Cannes in 2003, and a film version of "The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things," starring Asia Argento, which made its debut this year at Cannes.
He's picked up a whole slew of admirers, including Tom Waits, Bono, Liv Tyler, Tobias Wolff, Mary Gaitskill, Michael Chabon, Courtney Love, Winona Ryder, Deborah Harry, Tatum O'Neal, Lou Reed, Nancy Sinatra, Madonna, and Billy Corgan.
Now 24, he continues to struggle daily with a sense of inadequacy, and says he reaches out to other artists because "the voices in my head are so loud that I'm bad and I'm terrible."
The positive feedback from Billy Corgan, he said, worked "as an antidote against the negative for about a week."
Keeping this kind of an equilibrium functioning is a fearsomely difficult task, and is not likely to end well.
Bert and Ernie - get a grip
These kid-sized mice
bring the Sesame Street gang, among others, to the desktop.
They work with a squeeze instead of a click.
$25.50 and up.
BehindTheMedspeak: Pain makes your brain shrink
No, this isn't the National Enquirer, Medical Edition: it's the bottom line of a study just reported in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Scientists at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago found that people with chronic back pain showed measurable shrinkage of their brains, as measured by MRI scans.
The gray matter of volunteers with back pain was 5%-11% smaller than in control patients.
The researchers wrote, "The magnitude of this decrease is equivalent to the gray matter volume lost in 10 to 20 years of normal aging."
The lead author, Dr. A. Vania Apkarian, said he had done the research hoping that it would help explain earlier findings that people with chronic back pain experienced changes in brain chemistry that affected their performance on some kinds of tests of mental functioning.
"Chronic pain patients, and specifically chronic back pain patients, seem to have impairment in emotional decision making," he told New York Times writer Eric Nagourney in a story published in this past Tuesday's New York Times Science section.
The study has huge implications.
Doctors up to now have believed that changes in brain chemistry in such pain patients were temporary, and that they would go away if the pain did.
It now appears that if back pain is untreated for too long, the changes in the brain become permanent and may therefore make it even harder to ease the pain.
A few comments and thoughts from the bookofjoe peanut gallery.
I've seen this problem from both ends, as a patient and a doctor.
As a patient, the agony I was in from a herniated disk, with pain, insomnia, and mood changes combining into a more or less steady amalgam of rage and depression, made it clear to me that decision making is the first thing that goes by the boards when the pain amps up.
I can see how one's brain could become permanently damaged and shut down as a result.
As a doctor who's worked in a pain clinic, I know just how angry and difficult to treat are patients whose pain never goes away, 24/7.
I found working in the pain clinic environment unendurable as a result: everyone's in a bad mood, all day, every day.
It's infectious, too: by the time you go home after seeing 10-20 people with chronic pain, you feel like driving your car into a wall.
So it's not just Alzheimer's,
drugs that rot your brain: endogenous things can have the same effects.
We are truly what we feel.
Not what we feel we are - what we feel.
Those who would omit emotion in their decision-making are doomed to a lifetime of bad decisions.
Oh, you've noticed?
'Touching The Void'
The title of mountain climber Joe Simpson's harrowing tale of near-death and his escape from same in the Peruvian Andes.
Wonderful book, and the movie's supposed to be awfully good as well.
Both Simpson and his real-life climbing partner Simon Yates appear in the film, which was shot in the actual mountains where they nearly died.
In an interview that appeared in the New York Times, Simpson said going back was, in retrospect, a mistake: he had opened Pandora's box, as it were, and now could not effectively close it again.
Simpson's got a website now that's as close as I ever want to get to the "big walls" of Reinhold Messner's aptly-titled memoir.
The highest I've ever been was 18,000 feet, crossing the Thorong La pass in Nepal in a trek around Annapurna.
On Annapurna itself, an assault on the peak was going on at the same time: we could see the climbers, seeming like ants on a field of white, with binoculars.
I couldn't imagine the difficulty facing the climbers, considering that I had to pause about a minute between steps as I crossed the pass, breathing as hard as if I were running a quarter mile for speed.
Donald Trump - poster boy for 'failing upwards'
No question about it, they should just retire the award.
Few people in the world could come out with a new
But that's not even close to the full, true genius of this amazing man: he told the Associated Press in a telephone interview this past Monday, after news of his Chapter 11 filing was announced, "I don't think it's a failure, I think it's a success."
He went on, "In this case, it was just something that worked better than the alternatives. It's really just a technical thing."
Yeah - so is a flat EEG. But I digress.
Trump's braggadocio reminds me of that old saw, "If you owe the bank $10,000 and you can't make your payments they'll come after you; if you owe them $10,000,000, hey, no problem: they'll loan you another couple million so you can keep making your payments.
What a crock.
To the thousands of people who are shareholders in Trump Hotels & Casinos, and have lost all their money, I guarantee you it's much, much more than "a technical thing."
Too bad they drank the Kool-Aid.
Probably made it with the Donald's signature