Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Monday, December 30, 2013

Re-Reunited

Pulling himself up and steadying his arm on the low wall against which he had been sleeping, he looked across and narrowed his eyes in the direction of the car’s passenger seat.

“I had a dream last night,” he said, “that this would happen.”

For some time I had been asking W if he wanted (and was prepared) to see his father on the street and the opportunity finally arose this week. Earlier in the day, I had shown W a recent picture of Enildo so that the shock would not be an impairment to the reunion. The last time father saw son and vice versa was two years ago when I took the brothers from the rescue house to visit Enildo in rehab (before the relapse and his return to crack).

He stared at the image - sunken cheeks, rotten teeth - and closed his eyes.

But he was ready, he said, and Enildo too had been anxious to see W but (as always) was unable to leave the degradation of which he is now sadly accustomed. Nonetheless (and, perhaps, needless to say), they were thrilled to see each other.




I left them alone to catch up, and W told me later that he shared the sad news that his mum and step-dad (together with the six children) had been evicted from their apartment. News which - if I was to be honest - had made me angry when I first heard it, simply out of frustration in knowing that Enildo is in the same place as he was three years’ ago and that he is the father to five of those children.

Nonetheless, my love for this family remains unabated and notwithstanding the pain I feel when I look at pictures from two years ago, my hope is that the reunion with his eldest son will in some small way speak to Enildo about opportunity and loss.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A place called Home

When I begin to miss home I become strangely patriotic - snapping angrily at those who make a joke about the Queen or about our chances in the World Cup next year and I find myself defending things English that I’d ridicule under normal circumstances. 

I love and respect our Queen (“She’s not my Queen!” - Wesley), but there must surely be some kind of chemical imbalance in my brain for emotion to be registered when it comes to football.

And I don't know if all this technology helps. Two interesting articles recently raised the question as to whether technology – mobile phones, Facebook, Skype – lessened nostalgia or increased it. Does it give the illusion of closeness, or does it sadden the caller by reminding them sharply of what they have left behind (which is why parents were discouraged from phoning their children too often at English boarding schools)?
Apparently, certain kinds of modern personality find it better to suppress or eliminate the backward glance. Explicit discussions of homesickness are now rare...because the emotion was typically seen “as an embarrassing impediment to individual progress and prosperity.”

The immediacy that phone calls and the Internet provide means that those away from home can know exactly what they are missing and when it is happening. They give the illusion that one can be in two places at once but also highlight the impossibility of that proposition. 

The persistence of homesickness points to the limitations of the cosmopolitan philosophy that under girds so much of our market and society. The idea that we can and should feel at home any place on the globe is based on a world view that celebrates the solitary, mobile individual and envisions men and women as easily separated from family, from home and from the past. But this vision doesn’t square with our emotions, for our ties to home, although often underestimated, are strong and enduring.
And this longing, it is provoked and prolonged by the recurring leitmotiv of my time here: the faithfulness of my own family. 
 
Doctors are trained not to react to horrific injuries or conditions. It is called ‘clinical distance.’ But when confronted (day-in, day-out) by busted-up families, self-destructing individuals and children old before their time, and as I visit prisoners (literal and metaphorical) and am exposed to behaviours that are so outside what I have grown up around, I choose not to distance myself from these people's suffering (for fear that sympathy might trump empathy), but instead my own family become a sustaining reference.

I recall a Skype call with my sister a year or so ago, at the height of a particularly difficult episode at the rescue house, when she said to me “Just come home.” And that is the precious truth. And although it reminds me of how painfully inadequate and unequipped I am (what does it actually mean not to be able to go home?), no matter how difficult it may be from time to time, there is an ever-present safety net.

A security in the haven.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Lost in the post

And the award for World’s Blandest Stamp goes to...

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Predictions for 2014

A recent article by Reuters and a colourful Brazilian Calendar 2014 that has been floating around the interwebs has struck fear into the hearts of some economists due to speculation that a late Carnival combined with the World Cup and elections will mean that we’ll only be working for three months of next year (and thus sprinkle salt on an already sluggish economy). 

As if we’d do anything of the sort.

Carnival (x3), Infinite Holidays, World Cup Preparation, World Cup, World Cup Celebration/Mourning, Useful Month, Useful Month, Elections, Useful Month, Holidays

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Great São Paulo Bake Off™


A huge THANK YOU to all who recently came together in England for the annual pop-up cake shop!

I am incredibly grateful to those who baked-and-bought in support of the work out here. I wouldn’t be able to do this if it wasn’t for you.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Pfff!

As we edged past the Samsung delivery van parked by the side of the road in the Rocinha favela, two men struggled with a large delivery to one of the slums residents. There was no door, there was no number.  

They haven’t got any windows,” my friend said to me in passing, “but now they have their 50 inch smart TV.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Under the bridge, across the road


This week I visited a family that lives deep within a labyrinth of human warrens underneath a bridge in the centre of the city. The mother is fighting to keep the family together and I went with George (with whom I visit the youth prisons from time to time) to help them with their documents and to try to find the older son who was just released from prison, but upon arriving home went straight to the street to live and serve his cocaine addiction.

After meeting in the family home, we went (together with her two younger sons) to an occupied park that was home to an eclectic mix of hobos, adolescents and entire families. A toddler played in the filth beside a man and woman slumped on a mattress, sucking on a plastic bottle of something. Countless men and women were passed out in their own detritus. Grim scenes difficult to witness and even more difficult to describe.

As the mum took the scene in, her face become more and more contorted with grief. He’s living here? He can’t live here. He can’t carry on like this. I want him at home - close. There is room. What kind of example is this for his younger brothers? 

But that particular burden of guilt is not to be borne by the boy, I thought. That’s a father’s role, not an older brother’s. He has to take responsibility for his own addiction before he can be responsible for others.

In one sense, I can understand a young man’s frustration on returning from prison (where you’re treated largely as filth) to a home which is itself filthy and cramped and has rules. And the drug addiction is of course ancillary to the primary addiction to the street. But what can - as a boy - seem utterly unbearable at the time (the lack of privacy, the annoying younger brothers), will be sorely missed when it is replaced by the silence of their loss.


Faulty plumbing

I thought it only right to wash my hands before we ate lunch in the small eatery my friend had chosen in the favela. As the tap trickled and then finally dried up, my eyes slowly followed the piping to its source.

Friday, December 13, 2013

See you lying there, like a lilo losing air

A visible police presence is far from rare in Rio, but I was alarmed on a recent visit by the sheer number and belligerence of the community policing in the areas more popular with tourists. There is a fine line between shows of force and outright intimidation of law-abiding citizens. Combined with the clack-clacking of the military helicopters overhead, it was a scene that would not have been out of place in Mogadishu.

Along the beaches of Zona Sul (which include Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon) groups of five or six officers at a time - usually armed - are now a permanent fixture, patrolling the sands every fifty metres or so. The reason - it was explained to me - was the spate of mass robberies (or arrastões as they are known here) that took place recently. 

They are quite a phenomenon to behold: a busload (or two) of kids and young adults will arrive from another part of town, and then work their way down the beach systematically robbing everyone until the police realise what’s going on, upon which they disperse. 

For the favela kids, it’s like taking candy from a baby. I don’t want to make light of criminality or a frightening assault, but surely tourists know by now not to take their iPads (and such like) to the beach. 



A sort of murmuration of muggers.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Strange Fruit #2

I never fail to be amazed at this crazy fruit - such a common sight even in the centre of the city.

Wikipedia says a single fruit can reach up to 36 kg and is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world. It is not wise to leave your car under a jaca (jackfruit in English) tree, unless you want one delivered through the windscreen.

True story: my friend Luiz’s aunt was once held up by a man brandishing a jaca. Hand it over, or I’ll hit you with...this! shouted the thief, fruit held threateningly aloft. Needless to say, she handed everything over.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Tutus in Rio

Who knew that fellow King’s alumn and anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu was...Brazilian?

There he is, smiling sweetly down from the big poster hanging on the wall of a social project in the middle of a slum in Rio. I had to do a triple-take.

I guess his face is not entirely out of context. Is he meant to represent social struggle? For me he represents laziness on the part of the designer. Note the painfully PC balance of male and female, caucasian and non-caucasian faces. No time to take photos of real people in your community? Don’t sweat! Just plunder a random selection of Instagram accounts or spend a few seconds on a Google Image search! 

Looking again at the falsity of all those rictus grins, the poster wouldn’t look out of place at my dentist’s surgery. No sadness here.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Beat me to death

Carioca is a first person RPG which simulates a dangerous Brazilian favela where players can choose the course of actions which suits their self-imposed goals. The game tries to generate an emergent narrative by embedding narrative cues in the environment as well as presenting a tactile gameworld. Via their interaction with the game and its characters, the players can change the meaning of life in the favela - for better or worse.

These actions [beat, mug, kill, buy/sell drugs, have legitimate jobs or scavenge among garbage] can be categorized into legal actions (i.e. working in legal places), violent actions (i.e. beatings, killings) or drug related actions (i.e. drug trafficking). The player himself has the possibility to perform any of these actions. These categories are used in order to formulate a visual feedback schema for the game environment. If violent events or drug related acts take place in the game then the environment changes and portrays which category’s actions are performed. If the game world is prosperous (earnings from legal spaces) and the violence/drug-dealing events are at low levels then the environment remains intact and nice looking.

An important element of the game is that NPCs rate their relationships with every other character in the game - including the player. Having good relationships with NPCs can unlock dialogue options and features for the player, while having a bad relationship can result in them not talking to the player at all. Players interact with NPCs through a dialogue system, that has consequences on the player’s and NPC’s stats. For example, the player can talk to a gangster and choose to threaten him, steal money and beat him (repeatedly till death) - all through the dialogue system. The dialogue data is retrieved from a SQLite database depending on the bot type and player stats.

The game simulation is setup in such a way that the gameworld will start spiralling into a violent state. It is left up to the player to choose whether he wants to accelerate that process by taking part in the violence and make money, or try to help the situation and save civilians by donating money to the church. The game however, does not compel the player to do either; he can decide to simply stand around and look at the favela go up in flames (metaphorically speaking).

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

Dissecting a human body

I jumped the wall and entered the deserted plot of land in search of my mechanic. After a lifetime struggling (together with most of his family) with crack and alcohol addiction, he had relapsed for the umpteenth time and was (I was confidently informed) huddling once again in the mud and living a crack-pipe-to-mouth existence.

It was early evening and the light remained good, but he was nowhere to be found. It was the third or fourth time in as many weeks that I’d taken time out from visiting Enildo and tried to locate him. Like many of the addicts here, it was said that his dad had been seen of many an evening driving the streets of the slum in search of his child. Oh, the humanity.

By all appearances he was doing well last time we met and so this new low serves to remind that recovery is indeed a day-to-day process. Always recovering, they say. I’m not sure if I necessarily sign-up to that one, since we’re all in a daily battle that doesn’t end until The End, but I can see how addiction can so ravish the mind that it seems like one will never be totally liberated. An eternal POW.

I jump the wall once more to the pavement below and a veritable motorcade pulls up, each with a sticker indicating a charitable organization of which I had never heard. There was some variation of a cross in their logo, but it was not readily discernible to me. Ten or so people got out and began anxiously looking over the decrepit wall, then jacked-open their cars - full to the roof with clothes and food - as if to show me what they had brought. I turned and left.

Later that evening I was sitting with Wesley - a street guy who keeps himself to himself - and asked him if he’d like a snack, since I was going to the 24hr market. He nodded enthusiastically. Upon my return, he cradled in his hands an immaculate foil-wrapped dinner plus bottled can of juice, together with what looked like dessert. I bit my top lip and looked down at the rather sad-looking cold slice of pizza that I had bought for my friend and said “Well, just let me know if you’re still hungry after that.”

The motorcade must have passed this way, so I decided to do a little test. “Who were those people?” I asked Wesley. “You got some clothes, too?” I added, looking at the bundle rolled-up under his arm. “I think they’re some sort of cult,” he replied.

My enthusiasm now piqued by the c-word, I walked to where Enildo and some others had gathered (who were clearly also recent recipients of the mysterious benefactors). “Who were those people?” I asked into the crowd. “Satanists!” Diego snarled back. Enildo approached and soberly explained that they were indeed from a cult. Then someone else chipped-in and said it was the Catholics.

Notwithstanding the sub-standard marketing or the kindness (or otherwise) of these particular givers, the experience served to underline for me the importance of relationship in the context of giving. Of spending time (sometimes lots of time) and even (shock!) money getting to know people who you want to serve and love. The identity of the giver is not everything, nor is it about setting out one’s stall or receiving gratitude (because you won’t get that here).

It is about going deep, starting and then continuing a personal dialogue - gradually peeling away the defensive layers of guilt and shame.  It is, I think, about caring for people so much that you know their name and they know your name and then, slowly, they begin to care about what you care about.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Don’t fight it, embrace it

Researchers from Brazil found that morning coffee consumption not only keeps you awake and alert, but also improves performance on cognitively demanding tasks. That is, if you’re already a habitual drinker.
 
Sources: 1 & 2

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lucky Number 7

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The latest figures released last week show that the number of homicides in Brazil rose steadily between 2011 and 2012, with a 7.8 percent increase in the number of murders registered last year. The Statistics Yearbook, compiled by the nonprofit Brazilian Public Safety Forum, shows that 50,108 people were killed in Brazil in 2012 of which 47,136 were murdered, the highest in five years.

Impunity and low levels of convictions for murders, experts believe, drive criminality in Brazil.

The numbers make Brazil the seventh most violent nation in the world, behind war-torn countries such as Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The data was drawn from police reports made available through the state security secretariats, but, according to Julio Jacobo Waisenfisz from the Latin American University of Social Sciences (FLACSO), the study’s conclusions are “uncertain” and the actual number of homicides may in fact be much higher.

“Registered homicides are probably 10-25 percent higher,” Waisenfisz claims, due to the fact that high numbers of deaths in several states like Rio de Janeiro and Santa Catarina remain classified as ‘unexplained’.

One of the states driving the rise in murders is São Paulo. The study shows that the country’s richest state saw a fourteen percent increase in murders between 2011 and 2012.

Source: Rio Times Online

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Good Cop / Bad Cop

On the day that justice is finally done (or, at least, seen to be done) in the conclusion of what is widely being called a “landmark” corruption trial here in Brazil, I recall an exchange not so long ago.

I smiled at the stoney-faced cop taking his breakfast propped against the counter in the corner of the diner. Largely, I admit, to provoke. I used to do the same thing in New York a while back (where smiling was most definitely optional while Protecting and Serving). He returned the gesture with an expressionless glare. I let my smile fall, but made a somewhat lame second attempt - raising the corners of my lips into an awkward rictus grin. 

Only the stoniest of hearts would not reciprocate this gesture, I thought.

I received a cursory nod and he left without paying. I was irritated at the time at how the passive giving and receiving of a bribe creates a double-bind. The owner can say something and be ignored by the police if ever he needed police assistance or he can keep quiet and then be expected to aid the police if called upon for a “favor”, thereby becoming a passive colluder in the corruption. Victim turned perpetrator.

A similar thing happened on the bus the other day. As I got on, a teenager approached and handed a cheap chocolate bar to the driver from the box he cradled in his arm. He climbed on at the back and sat down without paying.

As the bus lurched from side to side and in and out of the bowel-vibrating potholes, we made several stops and soon there were no free seats left and several older ladies were standing. I gave up my seat (of course), but as I held onto the rails my eyes remained fixed on the thief in the back row. As we passed the catholic church he made a sign of the cross and pressed his index finger to his pursed lips in reverance. Maybe he was asking for forgiveness? Pah!

Anyway, as I looked around and saw all those tired and elderly ladies hanging on for dear life, I burned with righteous anger at the thief and the bus driver and all those who think that corruption is victimless. I so want this country to succeed, to progress. It is such people who will always hold it back.

Bonus Ad: Note the near-empty São Paulo tourist bus going over the pothole at the start.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Scoring

The sound of firecrackers bursts from an alley to the right of the car.
Somebody must have scored in the game, I thought.

The drugs have arrived, my friend says. That’s how they let the small-time dealers know that it’s collection time.

A different kind of scoring, I thought.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Tolerate me

I have written before about my many (and varied) cultural faux pas.

Being indignant about something which barely ruffles a native’s feather is - I guess - in the same vein as making a big effort about something of which no one notices. Do you have any idea how much thought went into that?

Glancing across the road at the flower shop makes me wonder: will good presentation (instead of using the back of an old door balanced on a shopping trolley) increase sales? I don’t know. And does anyone really care?

Perhaps this is a culture which has more tolerance and/or grace for others. A society that doesn’t get hot under the collar about things that are just not important. If you don’t like my presentation, someone else will come who doesn’t fuss about such things.

Deal with it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Monday, November 11, 2013

Being Foreign

In the Marine Corps...our troopship carried us...onto Japanese soil...For many of us, it was our first visit to a foreign country. We were surging with excitement...Our company commander called us together...and...said...“Remember, for the first time in your lives, you’re the foreigners. This isn’t your country or your culture...you’re the minority. These aren’t your fellow citizens; they don’t speak your language. They know nothing of your homeland except what they see in you...Act in a way that the Japanese people will gain a good impression of your country.”

As Christians...our citizenship is in heaven...We belong to the kingdom of God...We need to be on our best behaviour, otherwise people will get a distorted perception of what our homeland is like...God left us here for a purpose...to demonstrate what it’s like to be a member of another country, to have a citizenship in another land, that we might create a desire for others to emigrate.

Chuck Swindoll, Hope Again

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

In Rehab #2

From the fizzy drinks regimentally lining the table in front of me, I guessed it was to be a dry birthday party and - as the afternoon wore on - I could tell that most of the assembled relatives were gasping for a drink.

To tell the truth, so was I. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

To be a distraction

So I took the afternoon off and went with him to the hospital. By the description he gave over the telephone, the injury to his foot had (for all intents and purposes) caused it to swell to elephantine proportions. Needless to say, it hadn’t, but I went with him to the hospital anyway, since the car at rehab had no driver.

Wesley calls every couple of days. I always answer - day or night. Sometimes he is crying, sometimes he just wants to chew the fat, but sometimes I sense that he is not calling merely to talk. It’s a bit like João and the pool all over again (swimming - no matter how cold the weather - whenever he felt the urge to use crack). A distraction from the feelings of sadness/loneliness/addiction/regret.

I sometimes think about the kind of people that would take me in if I were ill. It happened recently, and although they were kind, I knew I was imposing. I would like to be the kind of person of whom someone thinks in times of need and perhaps (even) of whom it is said “yes, I can go to him. He’s welcoming, won’t have conditions — won’t have judgement.”  Alas, I fear I still remain far from that.

But for how long?

And if I am - at the very least - merely a distraction, then I am more than happy to be just that. To show attention to the details and love, better.

I read James 1:27, but it’s not just that. Wesley knows me better than most. He knows when I get upset or angry (he’s an expert at that!) and I am equally frank with him with regard to my own struggles. Through sharing our respective weaknesses, there is no illusion of superiority or judgmentalism. And it seems often that I am just as far back on the road as him. But the important thing was always to be moving onward.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Notice Me

There is something very distasteful about a church noticeboard that is so rammed full of adverts for products and services that the dates and times of the services are indistinguishable from the tat.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Saturday, October 26, 2013

“You’ll be given cushy jobs!”

And so the monorail is finally coming to town. Mass transit has never been on such a high. 

Although many things in this chaotic city tend to resemble a theme park (the long lines, a sense of the illusory), this new structure - rising defiantly on monstrously high legs of concrete and steel and demolishing slums in its relentless stride across the Eastern Zone - looks impressively permanent.

I was privileged to be in Rio last weekend and am reminded of the huge infrastructure works which the state government is hurriedly undertaking there in a desperate last flush to ready the city for the World Cup next year. Driving from the international airport (the plane was diverted because of violent storms near the domestic airport), colossal scaffolded works rise ominously from the putrid waters of the bay. Giant WIPs, lit-up like Christmas trees for no apparent reason (nobody’s working tonight), except perhaps to show that attempts are being made. We have a show to put on darnit!

Meanwhile, the favelas remain “pacified” (whatever that’s supposed to mean) and the poor remain harder and harder to find among the chicer areas. I always thought that was a bad sign from my New York days. Like butane - colourless and odourless - just because you can’t see it or smell it doesn’t mean it ain’t there.

São Paulo tries its hardest to disguise the filth too. Tall eucalyptus trees and super-sized advertising hoardings line the road to our own international airport, but they barely disguise one of the worst slums the city has.

Slum - Samsung - Slum - Samsung.

Bonus:

Friday, October 25, 2013

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Are we rich or poor? Does it matter anymore?

The bedraggled man loitered in the street near the entrance to the diner where I had just ordered. Fingering two small notes in his hand, he looked longingly at the menu posted on the wall above my head. 

Perhaps he was playing to the audience, but after the evaluatory  prevarication (which, sadly, still plagues me after all this time) I went out to ask him if he wanted anything to eat, by which time he had become distracted by the illegal lottery game taking place on the pavement. 

Er, want to eat something, sir? (me, gesturing him to enter)

Er, yes (him)

I went back inside and waited. I then watched him spend his money on the game and wander off.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Invasion


We just don’t really talk about or think about Brazil very much or in a very careful fashion in this country.

Monday, October 7, 2013

In Rehab #1

In church, I sense a distinct smell of dog poo. I can’t help but think it’s coming from me. Having spent a good twenty minutes in the shower earlier scrubbing clean the various dog, cat and cow licks, I still smell of the farm. One of the dogs even managed to vomit on me. I’m pretty sure God doesn’t mind, even though I feel as if I have been washed clean by dirty hands.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Still waiting

“I will say no more about it because the element of surprise is one of the constituents of fear. It is the unknown dangers that are the worst, that bear most heavily on the reserves of courage.”

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Brazil (still) ♥ USA

Source: KAL for The Economist

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Don’t forget to play


“By about 1900, the need for child labour had declined, so children had a good deal of free time. But then, beginning around 1960 or a little before, adults began chipping away at that freedom by increasing the time that children had to spend at schoolwork and, even more significantly, by reducing children’s freedom to play on their own, even when they were out of school and not doing homework. 

Adult-directed sports for children began to replace ‘pickup’ games; adult-directed classes out of school began to replace hobbies; and parents’ fears led them, ever more, to forbid children from going out to play with other kids, away from home, unsupervised. There are lots of reasons for these changes but the effect, over the decades, has been a continuous and ultimately dramatic decline in children’s opportunities to play and explore in their own chosen ways.

Over the same decades that children’s play has been declining, childhood mental disorders have been increasing.”

Monday, September 16, 2013

Road Kill


There was a dead capivara by the roadside this morning. It must have been hit in the early hours and was lying there lifeless by the curb. 

They are one of the coolest creatures I know. The largest rodent in the world (and almost exclusively Brazilian), they roam in families along the stinky river that circumnavigates the city. Brave souls, but surprisingly tame and (in the words of Wikipedia) gregarious.

It must have strayed from its family and sadly was (from its size) almost certainly a parent.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Friday, September 13, 2013

I can’t tell them I don’t want to wake up tomorrow

“It’s very much like the experience we’ve had at Child Line
Children protect their parents and older people protect their kids.”

Thursday, September 12, 2013

You can leave now


The manageress at the diner gave me such a warm welcome - with her hand on my shoulder - that I thought there was a problem and she was going to ask me to leave.

Truly I have become a regular.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Monday, September 9, 2013

Hell = Buy Now x Pay Later

The television I get to see these days is mainly via a small box in the corner of the room - usually the hairdressers, the doctor’s waiting area or a local diner. I caught a glimpse of a celebrity-fixes-your-life type programme where a well-known television star was turning one familys grim slum reality into a middle-class paradigm. Cue the tears as the lady of the house is handed the keys to her front door (wait, what?).

This particularly grating TV format will never grow old: cheap, popular and makes the D-Listers look compassionate. Everyone’s a winner, but such programmes invariably serve to reinforce the misconception that one’s dreams can be realised merely by a lick of paint in the lounge and a modern appliance in the kitchen.
An Understandable Escape: satellite dishes in the favelas

Dont get me wrong. Credit to the masses (a trend which took-off in the 70s with mass migration from rural areas in the north to the more prosperous urban south) is not of course a bad thing in itself - it just needs to be managed well if it is to stimulate wealth creation and not simply inflate a bubble of consumer debt.
“Our mothers knew all that, and even as they voted Labor they were careful to warn us against any voices who preached against prosperity. Prosperity didn’t guarantee freedom but there could be no widespread freedom without it. Knowledge like that was handed down, from the generation that had once suffered to the next generation which would not.”
Clive James, A Point of View (BBC Radio 4, 27th Dec 2009).
By way of example, you can pay for almost anything here - from your taxes to your fridge freezer - parcelado (in installments), but not all consumers realise that buying in installments is far more expensive than paying up-front. 

In other words, cheap credit combined with a widespread lack of education in financial matters among the most vulnerable risks making access to such credit akin to (at best) mis-selling and (at worst) exploitation. It has sad echoes of the Clinton Administrations misguided home-ownership drive in the Southern States (ah, the soft outer layer of credit before the crunch).

I guess Voltaire (or, more recently, Spiderman) said it best: with much power comes much responsibility. Power to the consumer, but buyer beware. An interesting - and more timely - manifestation of the adage can be seen in the behaviour of the new-monied additions to the G20: powerful economically, but unwilling (or unable) to assume the moral responsibilities that come with such status.

I am not a proponent of what Scruton calls the zero sum fallacy - the leftist illusion which holds that every winner has an equal and opposite loser, and so the rich are by definition profiting from the poverty of others. What I desperately want for this country (considering that ours is now officially one of the Fragile 5 currencies) is a fundamental improvement in the general level of education of its people.

BONUS American Beauty (1999):

it's just a couch!