Pregnant Times

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)
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Read Also:
* Albert’s Pie
* In a Relative Way
* American Pi

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Middle Brother

Thanks to Him, I Got My
First Yellow Plastic Bus

Norris Coll would’ve been 68 today. Eighteen years since he’s gone, I still struggle to place his life in a coherent timeline, one that would make him justice, and ease my heartfelt emotions.
Fact is, I could never draw a decent portrait of my brother, whose sharp wit I still hear at times. Like a blade sliding through soft butter, even in the most casual of the moments, there was always a chance for bleedings.
And there were quite a few of them, along with flareups, recriminations, little betrayals, and several years squeezed between our times together and apart.
Fortunately, there were laughter too, and joy, and discoveries shared and explored. And much of what I am today, I thank to Dois, who at least once, played the big brother to my advantage, and chased some bullies away from me.
In the perforated fabric of my memories, none forms a complete picture, but many have an underlying narrative of challenge, of daring to be bold and get away with it, or almost. He certainly would’ve never looked back, like I’m doing now.
***
I was there the morning he got married by a judge. And we were together in the afternoon too, when he decided not to show up for his own wedding. Once he made up his mind, I couldn’t change it back.
Somehow, he made me his emissary to the puzzled guests crowding the sidewalk in front of the church. Even though I managed to face them all, I never had the guts to ask his wife why she stood by him as she did. Till the end.
There must be some measure of irony and good karma in the fact that their baby girl is now an accomplished trapezist, an aerial performer, and the only certified artist of the whole family.
***
In the early 1980s, we would often walk down a busy São Paulo avenue, smoking joints and watching thundering planes passing overhead on their way to land at his neighborhood airport.
That’s when his volatility would run the gamut, reaching its highest point even before a single airliner would touch down. But our sibling fights never lasted too long, and we’d wake up the next day with no hangovers.
Because we were so different, they could never be as vicious as the ones he battled with our old man, who was truly his double in candor
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* Son & Sister

and determination. I’ll never know who broke the other one first, but neither quite recovered from their clashes.
In hindsight, he must’ve treasured our times together, as I did, since he always knew he could trust me like no one else. Things I’m telling you now I’ve told no soul for all these years. It was a thought I had the day I became ‘older’ than him, too.
***
We both also knew when the last of those times finally got behind us. We’ve cried our goodbyes in a cool hospital corner, a few months before he left us. He was gone before the first dawn of the 21th century.
It was the year my first born came to this world, and a decade from Dad’s own passing. Numbers can never make up for missing words, though. And about this great guy, there are so many. In all his youthful eloquence, when the end came, he didn’t care to say much.
***
We were with father once when I got one of the toys that defined my childhood, a bus. We used to make constant short trips to the countryside, where Dad would tend to small missions, as a pastor.

So I loved buses back then, and immediately got attracted to one at the children’s section. It was yellow and plastic and, gosh so simple, and so beautiful. Naturally, I had to have it. Not so, said Father Heitor.
That’s when Norris, still a teenager, stepped up and pleaded my case, saying something like, come on, Dad. I think that was my puppy eyes moment, because the pastor looked at me and actually asked me, do you really want this?
And how? I’ve kept it, and played with it even when it’d lost its wheels, was always covered in mud, and its once bright yellow had all but faded. I don’t think I ever got to thank my brother for such a gesture.
***
So, if you don’t mind, let me take this moment to say, thank you for that bus, Norris. Thank you for your life, for giving me this moment to share with the world, for having been such a loving and caring partner.
You’ll always be missed. Happy Birthday, my ‘little’ brother.

(*) Originally published on Oct. 4, 2012.

The Crying Games

Five Rings Above Misery (Telegraph/Getty)

A Bruised Rio Hosts Its
Low-Expectations Olympics

What a difference 10 years make. A decade ago, when Rio begun its cavalcade to host the Summer Olympics, Brazil was swimming in optimism. Unprecedented economic growth and a hard-earned period of political and social stability suddenly gave Brazilians much-sought global respect and the drive to dream that yes, they could.
In a country suffused with body culture, nothing would’ve marked that spirit as winning the bid for both the games and also the 2014 World Cup. From that point in history, only those two mega-sport events could represent a fitting coronation to what turned out to be an exceptional but miserably elusive moment.
The Olympics and Paralympics competitions that start officially Friday, however, are taking place in a radically different country. Long gone are the joy and effusiveness that fueled the celebrations for being chosen, in October 2009, by the International Olympic Committee, in Copenhagen.
It seems as if Brazil run out of the luck it never really had. Or that was too disappointingly brief. In one moment, it was a model of sustainable growth and the text book for social promotion policies, only to become, in the next, a continental-size pool of resentment and regret.
Not unlike voters for Brexit, Brazilians woke up suddenly and realized they may have thrown away the baby along the dirty bathwater. Two whole years of street protests against corruption, and all they got was a group of lousy politicians with police records who now occupies the government.
Competitors Will Jump in the Guanabara Bay, no Matter What. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)
WAIT, WE MAY STILL WIN THIS
Deeply divided, Brazil is already suffering another global-scale public humiliation, just as it did two years ago, when the then celebrated national soccer team got thrashed by Germany in the World Cup. A look at global headlines about these games has been source of even deeper embarrassment.
Every media outlet, including the country’s own, has reported a corollary of staggering woes brought to light by the magnifying glare of the games. From raw sewage in Guanabara Bay, site of most water competitions, to fears of disease-carrier mosquitoes, it all looks pretty bleak now.
We will return to foes that everyone is hoping against hope won’t tarnish the innate Olympics beauty, but first, as if almost duty-driven, the focus must be on a few good, or fine, or at least, interesting and even inspiration things about the games, even before they start.

SOME SHINING POINTS OF LIGHT
Ok, so we found three, but worth mentioning all the same. Like the 10-people Refugee Olympic Athletes team. Plucked from millions around the world, they will compete in several categories as independents. Since there should be many more, and there aren’t, they will be our own good-for-gold team.
Speaking of athletes, youth bodies, downtime, and a party city like Rio, it all may mean one thing: they’ll get laid. A lot. That’s why nine million ‘Rainforest friendly’ condoms will come in er handy. They’re sustainably-produced, made in Xapuri, the late Chico Mendes‘ hometown, in the Amazon state of Acre, and they’re free. Help yourself.
Finally, like many top world competitors, the third point of light is a cheat. Guilty as charged. But no less meaningful: it’s the (more)
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Read Also:
* Marvelous City
* Fly me to the Alemão
* Games People Play
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Robbers Like Us

The (Bad) Cons That Men Do
& One Hell of a Clever Woman

They say what creates a thief is opportunity. But most con men would beg to differ. If you let a seasoned pro tell you what it takes to be a successful robber, soon he’ll sound like a piano virtuoso, an operatic tenor, a commanding maestro. Better keep an eye on your wallet.
In reality, for every Ronald Biggs, who, along with 14 others, stole from a train almost $70 million in today’s dollars in 1963, and spent the best of his life in Rio, there are a hundred Andrew Toothmans, who broke into a Kentucky store and came out naked, covered in peanut butter.
And for every Parachute Jumper, the unknown daredevil who jumped off a night flight over the frigid wilderness of the Pacific Northwest in 1971, with a cool $200 thousand in his pocket, there are hundreds of João Pedro dos Santos, who tried to open a banking account in Brazil using an ID on his name with a picture of actor Jack Nicholson.
But there are very few Sarah Jane Cochrane-Ramseys out there (and down under), we’re sure. The Australian woman became an instant legend, managing to turn the tables in the well-known brotherhood of Nigerian scammers, by swindling one out of $30,000.
Fact is, in all crafts, there are highly-skillful artists and ridiculously inept blunderers who’d do everybody a favor switching professions. Point taken. But if you resort at robbing people for a living, but keep failing at it so spectacularly, a simple change of trade may not be enough to get you anywhere.
It’s another story for those who succeed. Even when they’ve never heard of Victor Lustig and his 10 Commandments for Con Artists, those are the ones who show a particular streak of sociopathology as to make them both Continue reading

Scraps Before Christmas

Green-Haired Blondes, Cannibals on
Dutch TV & the Tyson From Ipanema

In Rio de Janeiro’s gang jargon, file burning has nothing to do with making CD copies. It means to execute potential crime witnesses. We agree, it’s a cheap shot to attract your attention.
But in the spirit of the season, here are three stories that are just like your favorite holiday cocktails: they’re fancy, they’re weird and, in a few weeks, you won’t remember a thing about them.
So, grab your eggnog and take a break from whatever you’re doing, which shouldn’t be much anyway. We have three countries to go and a couple of TV shows to watch, but we’re not in a hurry. Ready?
BLONDES HAVE ALL THE FUN
This one probably started with an early morning scream: “My hair!” Too bad Alfred Hitchcock is no longer here to appreciate the story and come up with an idea for a new thriller, featuring one of his icy blond heroines.
In Anderslov, Sweden, a number of residents went into a minor, Continue reading

Rubbish Wednesday

Recycling Junk as Art Form
And Tool for Social Change

They say, one man’s garbage is another’s million-dollar art show, but we say, don’t believe it for a minute. We produce so much junk already that if some artist or visionary decides to recycle it by packing and selling back to its source, more power for them.
We, for ones, are not about to enjoy the prospect of waking up submerged in a sea of plastic cups and wrapping paper and, well, you got the picture.
That’s probably one of the reasons why Brazilian artist Vik Muniz came up with Waste Land, a film about the catadores, self-appointed recyclable material pickers at the world’s largest garbage dump, Jardim Gramacho, in the outskirts of Rio.
The film is a series of visual panels, moving photographs of members of the community that lives off the landfill, sometimes enacting famous paintings, such as the Jacques-Louis David 1793, Death of Marat.
The Italian Dario Tironi, on the other hand, uses old toys, discarded Continue reading