A Pi for Einstein
& Marielle Franco
Three important dates are marked today: Albert Einstein’s birth, he of the theory of relativity, in 1879; the Number Pi, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, since 1988; and the murder of Rio councilwoman, and race and LGBT activist, Marielle Franco, a year ago.
Such events have little connection among them, but understanding each for its relevance help us get to know better the world we live in. Or rather, beyond champagne and cake, today could be suitable for a bit of soul searching as for why we are in the state we are in.
Number coincidences, to be sure, are mainly illusions our brains create for forming connections otherwise hard to notice by busybodies like us. Most times, the law of probabilities and statistics debunk claims of supernatural occurrences based on figures or even random events.
That being said, we’re consumed by possibilities they suggest to our overstimulated, and easily bored, existences. It’s enough to see, say, the same number appearing in a seemingly casual succession, for us to lose it, read it as a divine sign, or simply go buy a lottery ticket.
Gamblers blame their obsession to their automatic response to digits, and dare not to imply that luck, usually bad for everyone, has nothing to do with numeric values. Because, well, some of them, do strike rich every once in a while. People are just nuts for numbers.
THE POET OF LOGICAL IDEAS
Einstein, born 140 years ago in the then German Empire, had a peripatetic life. He renounced his country of birth, and spent five years as a stateless scientist. In 1933, while visiting the U.S. already as a Swiss citizen, he saw Hitler‘s ascent to power and decided to stay.
It’s also ironic that, while his research opened the door for the atomic era, which he personally urged Americans to join, later in life he co-signed the 1955 Einstein-Russell Manifesto, along philosopher Bertrand Russell, to this day, a monument to pacifism and an alert about nukes.
For science, Relativity was his biggest legacy, with implications in practically all fields of knowledge. To us, though, he is the benign-looking white-haired man with his tongue stuck out, in the famous pic by UPI photographer Arthur Sasse, taken 68 years ago today.
Millions of teenagers had that photo on their wall in the 1960s, together with Make Love, Not War signs, the Beatles, and other heroes of the era. Just like now, few could define Relativity, but most knew what Einstein stood for til the end: the dignity of the human experience.
He’s one of the 20th century’s figures that made his the world we all live in now. His sway over science and the culture seems boundless, and will certainly last. Less certain is whether his influence is still strong enough to convince mankind to opt for peace.
SO WHY SQUARING A CIRCLE?
It’s understandable that Egyptians made the first calculations about the circle’s diameter so early on in our recorded history. And that Greek mathematician Archimedes of Syracuse perfected that figure to what we now know to be 3.141592653589793238 (and counting).
After all, it was already known that heavenly bodies were round – even as the concept of nationality was still very fluid – and the circle is considered the most primitive of human inventions. ‘Don’t disturb my circles,‘ though, Archimedes‘ alleged last words, not so much.
William Jones is credited to picking the Greek letter P to name the diameter, in 1706. But only in 1988, the American scientific (more)
* Albert’s Pie
* In a Relative Way
* American Pi
community chose March 14 to celebrate the Number Pi, for the abbreviated calendar representation (in the U.S.) of its first three digits: 3.14.
It’s also for its English pronunciation that today’s called Pie Day, and let’s have a moment to imagine PhDs all over stuffing themselves as we speak. As mentioned above, it was a happy coincidence too, as it links a basic brick of human knowledge with one of its top genius.
A BRAZILIAN WORKING CLASS HERO
Poor, black, and gay. Such combination can be challenging for anyone to rise and shine, and more so in current Brazil. But when Marielle Franco was gunned down in her native Rio, a year ago, she was a rising star of Brazilian politics, and one of its most recognizable faces.
She surely knew she was risking her life by her allegiance to the people she represented. And for denouncing public executions of dispossessed Cariocas, conducted by military militias affiliated with the brutal local police. She also knew people in power wanted her silence.
Yesterday, two ex-officers (and President Bolsonaro‘s acquaintances) were arrested and charged with her murder. The authorship of the actual shooting has been Brazil’s worst kept secret from day one. But who ordered it is likely to be fiercely protected from the public eye.
For now, justice for Marielle, as she’s known by Brazilians, will have to wait. And so will thousands of killings of favela dwellers like her, assassinated before and since. At least, for as long as a cruel regime rules Brazil. For that, we shouldn’t have to wait too long.
And maybe Brazilians won’t. As Estação Primeira da Mangueira, the samba school that won Carnaval this year paying homage to her and the lower classes of Brazil, has suggested, once people become aware of their power, they usually come for their tormentors in not time.
A GOOD TIME TO BECOME AWARE
Times they’re a changing. Tomorrow, kids of all ages will be striking for climate change. All over the world, youngsters will again display their courage and determination to press political leaders to either act on the climate, or get out of everybody’s way.
To join them is the least we all can do. And more needs to be done too. So work hard and party, because to cap a particular meaningful week for global activists and science defenders, Sunday is St. Patrick’s Day and as everybody knows, the Irish will lead the way. Sláinte.