It's funny how we run through the continents. North America is almost all USA, mostly because Canada hasn't got much of note to talk about at the international level, while Mexico always felt Latin rather than North American. Europe's that distant cousin of North America, except it's made up of a bunch of countries all of whom seem to have their own tired little problems like refugees, broken welfare systems, corruption and the occasional separatist group. Africa's all about the destitute, the poor, the badly starving, and definitely the sick, despite having lots of mineral resources and ministers who slip between military uniforms and crisp Western-style suits. The Middle East is all Arab-Islamic territory and, in this age, all too closely associated with terrorism, rightly or wrongly. The Asia-Pacific's all about rising China, stagnant Japan and we-don't-know-where-it-stands-between-the-two Korea. Australia's basically an Anglo-American clone of sorts, with the strange weather and stranger accent.
Latin America, hmm, what would that be?
Like Africa, they're resource-rich, but there are plenty of poor people. Unlike Africa, the land isn't entirely deserted - although with the deforestation going on in the old Amazon basins, it could soon be. The land of the Incans and Aztecs is not exactly as backward-looking as its Zulu and Pygmy counterpart. But for some reason it is conveniently forgotten, unlike Africa where we can talk all about poverty, destitution, famine and AIDS. With Latin America the problems are not nearly so exaggerated, although plenty of people there are hungry and poor too.
Which sort of explains why Africa gets all the attention and Latin America just disappears under the radar for most of us, even me. It is arguably the one continent in the world where English isn't perceived as a major language. Indeed, the whole continent speaks Iberian - Spanish in all cases except Brazil, which is mostly Portuguese. Remnants of the very old colonial past, no doubt, but for some reason the culture there isn't known for being particularly English. Even Africa had its lines of Italian, English, French and Dutch colonies. Not so much in continental Latin America, if we overlook the Caribbean island nations and territories.
The point of all this is that the Anglophonic world knows much less of Latin America than it does of even Africa, never mind the other continents. Because of this it tends to get very badly overlooked. But Latin America holds plenty of resources and is an important cog in the international economic and industrial machinery. And it has a role in international problems too - alongside Afghanistan and the Golden Triangle of Indochina, South America in particular is one of the greatest producers of plant drugs like cocaine and poppy (heroin). It's not all about the football.
For all their economic problems, however, Latin America has always been a curious case study in politics, especially democracy. Off the top of my head I cannot quite recall how democracy was introduced to Latin America, but it has since taken a very different turn from democracy as is done in North America and Europe. In those two continents the politicians have turned democracy into a game between the major power brokers; in Latin America, much like in parts of Asia, the big deciders tend to be the people, who seem to embrace certain intangible ideals with all the fervour they can conjure despite the economy not necessarily being in the very best of shape. They may be poor, but they can live off an occasionally empty plate to chase what they believe "is right" rather than what "gets work done".
The populism which drives Latin America can be pretty amazing, and I suppose the USA would welcome it if not for the fact that it had been involved in some very dirty power plays in the past and has got issues with certain political leaders who won't listen to what it demands them to do. Case in point: Hugo Chavez. He's hugely anti-Bush, but we really never got around sitting down and judging him by what he has delivered to his people in concrete terms. If we had, I'd suppose he could turn out to be a pretty good guy in terms of getting things done.
In a way it's not too dissimilar to what happened in Thailand in the last couple of weeks. Sure, Thaksin Shinawatra was not the greatest of leaders in terms of disclosure and other such notions, but measure his tenure by what he has done to improve or hurt the common man's livelihoods. Lest it be forgotten, the Thai Rak Thai party came to power through a route that heavily involved taking care of the poor, which was how they won so many votes in constituencies all over the land outside of Bangkok and the troubled south. The south's issue isn't with Thaksin or Thai Rak Thai; it's with Bangkok. Bangkok's problem with Thaksin was ideological, not socio-economic. If we took away all that and evaluated Thaksin, he has not done too poorly, just as Chavez is not as bad as is often made out to be.
But of course none of that matters to the USA. It's more interested in being able to control the rest of the world, directly if not indirectly, by approving or disapproving other nations' leaders. Puppet governments aren't known for creating economic prosperity; they are, on the other hand, known for creating distrust in both the puppet and the puppeteer among the citizens.
So now the whole of Latin America is beginning to turn its back on Bush. One can only imagine how his successor(s) will try to woo Latin America into turning around. Or will they decide that leaving a spurned ex-lover alone and bitter isn't such a bad idea, because that could be their next target for inciting unrest?
Have you ever wanted to become a better person for someone else's sake, and I don't mean your father, mother, brother or sister?
I haven't quite, although recently I found myself further buttressed in my position on whether I should gamble.
In the past, it was a simple 'no' and only because I figured that, in the long run, gambling is a waste of money. Of course, lessons in statistics helped further strengthen that belief.
As a football writer, things are now a little more complex than that. You see, there is this thing called gambling on football results, and while players and club officials are not supposed to bet on games from their own competition, writers aren't always bound by the same set of rules. That simply means they can have a flutter on football matches if they want to.
So should they or should they not? I still believe the answer is 'no'. Firstly, betting is still a waste of money for the most part, unless you win, and you don't usually win often. That doesn't change just because your profession changes.
Ah, but some people would argue that it's fine to bet on matches you don't write about, or that you could still do it as long as you keep your work apart from your private life. But no, that doesn't quite work. When you bet on a match you are somehow watching the match from tinted glasses. That influences your ability to be objective in your writing, or at least it influences the reader's perception of your objectivity. Maybe the reader will never find out, but if he ever does, that's when your credibility takes a dent.
And it doesn't really matter whether or not you restrict your bets on matches you don't write about. Eventually that restriction can wear away, because what is imposed by human beings can be destroyed by the very same human beings too. So the simplest thing to do is just not to bet. And if you ever did, stop. Now.
Of course, if you're not in the football writing business like I am, you don't really have to care about the above. You can go ahead and play all you want. That's your business. But if you're a writer, there's a certain level of ethicality you're going to have to meet, unless you write the punting column.
But what does any of that have to do with what I said at the start of this post, about wanting to be a better person for someone's sake? Well, what sparked this position statement was actually a joking remark I made while watching a game I wasn't assigned to cover. After a certain player scored, I laughed a little and said, "I was thinking he would have scored. I should have put money on him!"
Immediately someone - no names - turned around and said in a tsk-tsk chiding tone, "Oh, you bet on football! Bad boy!" The thing is I don't, and I stated as much quickly afterwards. Turns out the admonition was equally unserious, but I'm not going to take any chances with that. And I argued my position with my interlocutor, who actually did not think football writers betting on football was such a bad idea.
I'm not sure whether my position was able to bring my audience around (there were several of us in the discussion), but the incident definitely reaffirms my desire not to fall into the gambling trap.
And I'm not sure whether I ended up looking and sounding impressive, but I certainly hope I will live up to my words and emerge a better person for it. gambitch [