Archive for the ‘stuff’ Category

Marielle Franco

Marielle Franco (1979-2018), a city councilwoman in Rio de Janeiro and champion of human rights, was a rising political star in Brazil. She was, in effect, the leader of Brazil’s counterpart to Black Lives Matter. But then, two nights ago, on March 14th 2018, she was shot dead in an apparent assassination.

She was a voice for women, for Black people, for queer people, for the favelas – the slums and shantytowns of Brazil. She lived in Maré, a favela of 130,000 in Rio. She quoted Angela Davis and Audre Lorde. She belonged to PSOL, the Party of Socialism and Liberty, a small left-wing party, and was one of only five Black women elected to political office in Brazil in 2016.

Franco four days ago, speaking out on Acari, a favela in the Zona Norte part of Rio, well north of the famous beaches:

“We need to shout so that everyone knows what is happening in Acari at this moment. The 41st Battalion of the Rio de Janeiro Military Police is terrorizing and abusing the residents of Acari. This week two young men were killed and thrown into a sewage ditch. Today the police walked the streets threatening the residents. It has always happened and with the [military] intervention it has gotten even worse.”

Franco three days ago:

“Another homicide that can be credited to the Military Police. Matheus Melo was leaving church. How many more will need to die for this war to end?”

Franco two nights ago was shot dead, four bullets to the head, in the city centre of Rio. She had just left a meeting with Black activists (pictured above). The bullets were the sort used by the PF, the national police. Nothing was taken.

Rio de Janeiro, March 15th 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Mauro Pimentel. MAURO PIMENTEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Last night – it is hard to believe it was just last night – tens of thousands of people poured out into the streets of Rio, Sao Paulo, and cities across Brazil.

President Temer has cancelled his trip to Rio. He was not elected. He came to power after the impeachment of the elected president, Dilma Rousseff. Last month, just days after Carnaval, Temer sent the army into Rio. Supposedly to fight the War on Drugs – without a plan.

Rio is a violent city, but its murder rate is no worse than, say, Baltimore, St Louis or New Orleans in the US. In Brazil it does not even make the top ten.

But the police – and now the army – are out of control. In the US police kill over 1,100 people a year – a hideous number well beyond civilized standards. But in Brazil the number is over 4,200. For Rio state alone the number last year was at least 1,124 people.

And now when someone raises her voice against it, she too is killed. She was only 38. A mother.

Franco’s sister:

“Maré … cries. Rio cries. All of Brazil cries.”

Shaun King, a Black Lives Matter activist in the US:

“The assassination of human rights activist Marielle Franco was a huge loss for Brazil – and the world. …

“Marielle Franco was one of us.”

“They will not shut us up – Marielle is here”

– Abagond, 2018.

Sources: especially Google Images, Black Women of Brazil (the Franco quotes, basic facts), The Intercept (the numbers, the King quote), Midia Alternativa (the sister’s quote).

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The number pi (π)

The number pi, written as π (the Greek letter p), is roughly 3.14. Or 3.14159. Or 3.14159265358979323846264338327950. Or – it goes on forever.

π is equal to how much longer the edge of a circle (its circumference) is than the circle’s width or diameter. π is short for the Greek word περιφέρεια (periphery, circumference). The number has been called π since the 1700s.

π is also equal to double the chance that a needle three inches long will fall on a crack on a floor made of strips of wood three inches wide. That is known as Buffon’s Needle, named after the French scientist who discovered it.

π is also equal to four times:

1 – 1/3 + 1/5 – 1/7 + 1/9 – 1/11 + 1/13 ….

And there plenty of other ways to come up with the same number, from Archimedes’ polygons to the Chudnovsky brothers’ algorithm.

And that is the strange thing about π: even though it is used to work out numbers that have to do with circles, it appears in things that seem to have little  to do with them. Like Einstein’s relativity, Maxwell’s laws of electromagnetism, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, statistics, price investment risk, and number theory.

It is like it is somehow built into the universe, like it is God’s (or the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s) favourite number.

π is irrational: it cannot be expressed as a fraction made up of two whole numbers. That is why it goes on for ever and never repeats. Johann Lambert proved that in 1768.

π is transcendental: it cannot be expressed as an algebraic equation. That means it was impossible for the Ancient Greeks to “square the circle” by using a compass and a ruler (creating a square with the same area as a circle). Ferdinand Lindemann proved that in 1882.

Timeline: The best value of π at the start of each century:

-2000: 3.16 (Egypt)
-200: 3.143 = 22/7 (Italy, Archimedes)
+200: 3.1416 = 377/120 (Egypt, Ptolemy)
+300: 3.14159 = 3927/1250 (China, Liu Hui)
+500: 3.1415926 = 355/113 (China, Zu Chongzhi)
+1400: 10 places (India, Madhava of Sangamagrama)
+1500: 16 places (Uzbekistan, Ghiyath al-Kashi)
+1600: 20 places (Netherlands, Ludolph van Ceulen)
+1700: 71 places (Britain, Abraham Sharp)
+1800: 136 places (Austria, Jurij Vega)
+1900: 527 places (Britain, William Shanks)
+2000: 206,158,430,000 places (Japan, Yasumasa Kanada)

The computer that calculated π to 12.1 trillion places in 2013 using the Chudnovsky Formula, currently the fastest way to do it. It took 94 days. It could have gone longer but did not have enough disk space.

Computers were the huge breakthrough in the 1900s. What took Shanks 15 years in the 1800s took a computer less than 15 minutes in 1954. Computers reached:

  • a thousand places by 1949,
  • a million by 1973,
  • a billion by 1989, and
  • a trillion by 2002.

π so far has been calculated to 22,459,157,718,361 places. It is not even on the Internet because it would take several months just to upload it.

π so far has been memorized to 70,000 places according to Guinness World Records. The record is held by Rajveer Meena. In 2015 at VIT University in Vellore, India he said the whole thing, blindfolded (pictured above). It took him nearly ten hours.

Pi Day – March 14th is Pi Day in the US. That is because the US regularly writes Gregorian dates backwards: 3/14. Because “π” sounds just like “pie” in English, the day is observed by eating pie.

Einstein was born on Pi Day 1879 and Stephen Hawking died on Pi Day 2018.

– Abagond, 2018.

Sources: mainly Google Images, numberworld.org (that awesome computer), Guinness World Records, Wikipedia (timeline), SINA.com (stray facts), dictionary.com (how it got its name); “Beyond Numeracy” (1991) by John Allen Paulos (Buffon, Maxwell, etc); “Isaac Asimov’s Biographical Encyclopedia of Science & Technology” (1972) by Isaac Asimov (some of the history). 

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Samuel George Morton

Samuel George Morton (1799-1851), a Caucasian professor of anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania, then the top medical school in the US, was the founder of the science of measuring skulls – craniometry. He used it to rank the races of man by skull volume, producing lists like this (here put into metric units):

  • 1427 Caucasian
  • 1361 Mongolian
  • 1345 American
  • 1328 Malay
  • 1279 Ethiopian

The numbers are the average volume of their skulls in cubic centimetres. Since skull size and intelligence were assumed to be pretty much the same thing, it became the IQ of its time.

In 1851, upon his death, the Charleston Medical Journal noted:

“We can only say that we [Caucasians] of the South should consider him as our benefactor, for adding most materially in giving to the negro his true position as an inferior race.”

In 1854 Frederick Douglass, a full-time negro, had a somewhat different take:

“His very able work ‘Crania Americana,’ published in Philadelphia in 1839, is widely read in this country. – In this great work his contempt for Negroes, is ever conspicuous.”

1% of Morton’s skull collection.

American Golgotha: when Morton died he had 918 human skulls with 51 more still on the way. It was called the American Golgotha. Morton had skulls from all over the world, more than a hundred from the tombs of Ancient Egypt.

Morton divided his skulls by race and measured their volume to within a cubic inch (16.4 cc). A 2011 study “almost” always got the same numbers when measuring his skulls the same way.

But then Morton pulled the same old tricks that people still pull with African IQs:

  • selective sampling: he left out Inuits and Asian Indians, which kept Mongolian and Caucasian skulls from ending in a tie.
  • correlation is cause: assuming that intelligence was being measured and not something else, like knowledge of English in the case of African IQs, or sex and height in his case:

In 1978 Stephen Jay Gould reran his numbers and found that if you take into account height or sex, where known, the differences by race in skull size all but disappear. In fact, among Morton’s skulls from Ancient Egypt, Negroid males had a slightly higher average (1435) than Caucasian males (1419).

Of the times: Gould used Morton to showcase how science is unwittingly shaped by racism. Others, in turn, have used Gould’s 1978 study to showcase how science is unwittingly shaped by left-wing beliefs. But either way, science is being shaped by the reigning beliefs of the time. Science as a glorified Clever Hans trick.

Polygeny: Morton was a leading defender of polygeny, later disproved by Darwin. Polygeny is the idea that the Christian god created the races separate and unequal. Adam and Eve were just for White people. Since the Earth was assumed to be about 6,000 years old, and since Blacks and Whites have changed little since the days of Ancient Egypt, there has not been enough time for the forces of nature to account for the differences between the races, like, say, skull size. The Christian god, in other words, made it that way.

– Abagond, 2018. 

Sources: mainly  “The Mismeasure of Man” (1996) by Stephen Jay Gould; “Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings” (1999) edited by Philip S. Foner; “The History of White People” (2010) by Nell Irvin Painter; “Race in North America” (2012) by Audrey and Brian D. Smedley; “A Troublesome Inheritance” (2014) by Nicholas Wade; Google Images (2018). 

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MC Loma: Envolvimento


This song became the number one viral song on Spotify in early 2018 and a hit at the Carnaval in São Paulo last month. This video, and its high-budget remake, have received 140 million views so far on YouTube.

MC Loma is only 15, known for her neon make-up. She is from Prazeres in metropolitan Recife in north-eastern Brazil. As a little girl she would play with her cousins (the twins in the video) imitating singers. That led them to writing songs and making covers on YouTube as teenagers, which in turn caught the attention of music producers. They signed with KondZilla, who runs Canal KondZilla, the most viewed YouTube music channel based in Brazil. He is a driving force behind funk paulista, the funk music of São Paulo.

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Envolvimento diferente
Eu ensino a vocês, a vocês
Eu vou sentar e vou quicar
E vou descendo de uma vez, de uma vez

Esse hit é chiclete, na tua mente vai ficar
Sento, sento, sento, sento, sento e quico devagar
Sento, sento, sento, sento, sento e quico devagar
Sento, sento, sento, sento, sento e quico devagar

Tu não precisa exagerar, muito menos se empolgar
Tu vai sentar, tu vai sentar, tu vai sentar devagar
Tu vai sentar, tu vai sentar, tu vai sentar devagar
Tu vai sentar, tu vai sentar, tu vai sentar devagar

O nosso bonde é sinistro
Vem cá, que eu vou te ensinar
A descer, a subir, a quicar e rebolar
A descer, a subir, a quicar e rebolar

A descer, a subir, a quicar e rebolar
A descer, a subir, a quicar e rebolar

A descer, a subir, a quicar e rebolar
A descer, a subir, a quicar e rebolar
A quicar e rebolar
A quicar e rebolar

E aê, DJ?
Escama só de peixe

Sources: Vagalume (lyrics), Wikipedia (bio).

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The top 30 Brazilian songs of all time

Gilberto Gil.

Last weekend I discoverd Gal Costa’s “Baby” – 50 years after the song came out in Brazil! To avoid another such mishap I googled for lists of the best Brazilian songs.

In 2009 Rolling Stone Brasil listed the top 100 Brazilian songs of all time. I am not sure how good their taste is, but they put “Baby” at #30, so that is promising.

Here is their top 30 listed from oldest to newest. I did not list them in rank order since most of them are presumably classics. Click on the picture to hear the song on YouTube (subject to link rot and copyright issues).

format: artist: “title” (year), #rank – musical style. Optional remarks.

Pixinguinha: “Carinhoso” (1917), #3 – MPB or Música Popular Brasileira, a kind of a catch-all genre, like R&B or pop. Heavy on samba and later bossa nova.

Francisco Alves: “Aquarela do Brasil” (1939), #12 – samba.

Luiz Gonzaga: “Asa Branca” (1947), #4 – forró.

João Gilberto: “Desafinado” (1958), #14 – bossa nova. This song was an answer to critics who called bossa nova, then a new style of music. “desafinado”, out of tune or tuneless.

João Gilberto: “Chega de Saudade” (1959), #6 – bossa nova.

Pery Ribeiro: “Garota de Ipanema” (1961), #27 – bossa nova, jazz, MPB. A hit worldwide, known in the US as “The Girl from Ipanama”. She was a real person, Helô Pinheiro, now 72, then 17.  Written by Vinicius de Moraes and Tom Jobim, who appear later in the list.

Jorge Ben: “Mas Que Nada” (1963), #5 – MPB. This song is familiar to me.

Demônios da Garoa: “Trem das Onze” (1964), #15 – samba.

Roberto Carlos: “Quero Que Vá Tudo pro Inferno” (1965), #19 – vintage rock, iê-iê-iê.

Moacir Santos: “Nanã – Coisa Número 5” (1965), #29 – MPB, jazz.

Baden Powell & Vinicius de Moraes: “Canto de Ossanha” (1966), #9 – MPB.

Caetano Veloso: “Alegria, Alegria” (1967), #10 – tropicalismo, psychedelic rock.

Gilberto Gil & Os Mutantes: “Domingo no Parque” (1967), #11 – tropicalismo, MPB.

Chico Buarque & MPB 4: “Roda Viva” (1967), #26 – MPB.

Os Mutantes: “Panis et Circenses” (1968), #7 – tropicalismo.

Caetano Veloso: “Tropicália” (1968), #21 – tropicalismo.

Geraldo Vandré: “Pra Não Dizer que Não Falei das Flores” (1968), #28 – hymn. The military government banned this song. Vandré left the country. In the video one of the protesters holds up a sign that says in Portuguese, “Yankees kill Brazilians.” The US was making Latin America safe for right-wing military dictatorships.

Gal Costa: “Baby” (1968), #30 – tropicalismo. Written by Caetano Veloso, listed above twice on this list. The Roberto she mentions in the song, Roberto Carlos, is also on this list twice.

Wilson Simonal: “País Tropical” (1969), #25 – samba, soul. Written by Jorge Ben. This song is familiar.

Vinicius de Moraes: “Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar” (1970), #24 – MPB.

Chico Buarque: “Construção” (1971), #1 – MPB. The top Brazilian song of all time according to Rolling Stone Brasil!

Roberto Carlos: “Detalhes” (1971), #8 – MPB, soul.

Novos Baianos: “Preta Pretinha” (1972), #20 – MPB.

Raul Seixas: “Ouro de Tolo” (1973), #16 – folk rock.

Elis Regina & Tom Jobim: “Águas de Março” (1974), #2 – samba/MPB. This song I know.

Cartola: “As Rosas Não Falam” (1974), #13 – samba.

Cartola: “O Mundo É um Moinho” (1974), #17 – MPB, samba.

Chico Buarqu: “Sinal Fechado” (1974), #18 – MPB.

Ultraje a Rigor: “Inútil” (1985), #23 – rock.

Chico Science & Nação Zumbi: “Da Lama ao Caos” (1994), #22 – manguebeat.

Current musical styles not on this list: Brazilian funk and sertaneja. At least.

– Abagond, 2018.

Sources: Rolling Stone Brasil (see the full list), Portuguese Wikipedia (genres).

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Baron Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), namer of the pterodactyl, dissector of Sarah Baartman, was one of France’s top scientists in the early 1800s. He founded comparative anatomy and palaeontology as we know them. He was called “the dictator of biology” in the days before Darwin.

Comparative anatomy is that thing where scientists can take a few bones and recreate a long-dead creature. It comes from Cuvier. By 1799 he had discovered how to do it. It soon became clear that the distant past was a very different place, with pterodactyls flying through the air.

Catastrophism: Cuvier said that the earth has been visited with four catastrophes that wiped out most life, Noah’s Flood being the latest. After each catastrophe, God creates new species of plants and animals. Since the Earth was less than 6,000 years old according to the Bible, there was not enough time for evolution to account for the great changes seen in the fossil record. After all, the mummified cats of Ancient Egypt were more than halfway back to the beginning of time and they were just like the cats of the 1800s. Charles Lyell would later overturn catastrophism, laying the groundwork for Darwin.

Racism: Ancient Egyptians had to be Caucasian because their brains were too big to be Negroes:

“we possess so many of the ancient Egyptian embalmed bodies, it is easy to prove that, whatever may have been the hue of their skin, they belonged to the same race with ourselves; that their cranium and brain were equally voluminous; in a word, that they formed no exception to that cruel law, which seems to have doomed to eternal inferiority all the tribes of our species which are unfortunate enough to have depressed and compressed cranium.”

Notice that Negro inferiority is assumed as a given.

Sarah Baartman: She was an African woman with a huge butt who was shown in England and France in a cage like she was an animal. When she died in 1815, just five years after arriving in Europe, Cuvier studied her body, particularly her genitals and her butt – in the name of science. He made a plaster mould of her body, put her brain, vulva and anus in glass jars, and stripped the flesh from her skeleton and hung it in a Paris museum.

Cuvier reports:

“She had a way of pouting her lips exactly like what we have observed in the orang-utan. Her movements had something abrupt and fantastical about them, reminding one of those of the ape. Her lips were monstrously large. Her ear was like that of many apes, being small, the tragus weak, and the external border almost obliterated behind. These are animal characters. I have never seen a human head more like an ape than that of this woman.”

Yet she knew three languages and was learning a fourth. Cuvier himself admitted she had an excellent memory. And he knew full well that apes do not have thick lips.

Thus one of the great minds of Western science.

– Abagond, 2018.

Sources: mainly Google Images; “Negro-Mania: Being an Examination of the Falsely Assumed Equality of the Various Races of Man Demonstrated by the Investigations of Champollion, Wilkinson, Rosellini, Van-Amringe, Gliddon, Young, Morton, Knox, Lawrence, Gen. J. H. Hammond, Murray, Smith, W. Gilmore Simms, English, Conrad, Elder, Prichard, Blumenbach, Cuvier, Brown, Le Vaillant, Carlyle, Cardinal Wiseman, Burckhardt, and Jefferson” (1851) by John Campbell; “The Flamingo’s Smile” (1985) by Stephen Jay Gould; “The Mismeasure of Man (1996) by Stephen Jay Gould; “Medical Apartheid” (2006) by Harriet A. Washington. 

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Books and authors I have done posts on, listed by year:

– Abagond, 2018.

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