31 de outubro de 2012

Como tem cara-de-pau no mundo…

“Deixem o Deus Mercado cuidar das áreas afetadas por desastres naturais”. Sem brincadeira, é essa a ideia do cidadão.

Mas não só dele. Sabe quem defendeu a mesma coisa, há uns meses atrás?

Mitt Romney.

26 de outubro de 2012

Família do premiê chinês se locupleta espetacularmente

Baixe aqui a versão completa (para quem já estourou o limite de visualizações) da matéria do New York Times, veiculada ontem, sobre o enriquecimento meteórico da família do premiê chinês, Wen Jiabao.

A longa, excelente matéria de David Barboza traz “an unusually detailed look at how politically connected people have profited from being at the intersection of government and business as state influence and private wealth converge in China’s fast-growing economy.”

Vale a pena, a leitura.

Atualização: a China bloqueou o acesso ao artigo do NYT, diz o jornal.

25 de outubro de 2012

United States of Ohio

As campanhas não triscam perto da Califórnia, Texas, Nova York, Illinois, Georgia…

Todos os presidentes eleitos desde 1964 levaram Ohio.

Quem levar Ohio, em novembro, estará na Casa Branca em 2013.

Segundo Nate Silver, Obama tem 74% de chances de levar Ohio, hoje. Aparece 5 pontos à frente, no estado.

O Colégio Eleitoral, que favoreceu Bush em 2000, pode dar uma vitória aos democratas mesmo com estes sendo derrotados no voto popular. Romney pode até levar a Flórida (como parece que vai), ser o mais votado nacionalmente (como é bem possível que ocorra) e sair derrotado.

Ainda bem. Mas é uma piada, não é?

22 de outubro de 2012

Como não sentir o terror?

Gostaria de ser racional como o sujeito que escreveu isso, mas não consigo. Não faz sentido, eu sei, mas e daí?

[…] Suppose you're at a party. It's great, and you wish you could stay, but this is taking place in high school, and your mother is going to call and tell you it's time to go home. Now, there's nothing bad about being at home; it's intrinsically neutral. You just wish you could stay at the party.

Suppose you know that the call is going to come at midnight, guaranteed. Then, I think, there isn't anything to be afraid of. But if all you know is that your mother is going to call some time between 11 pm and 1 am, the conditions for appropriate fear have been met. There is something bad, there is a non-negligible chance of it happening, and yet there is also a lack of certainty that it will happen. Now some degree of fear makes sense. Perhaps we have something similar with regard to death. Perhaps it makes sense to be afraid given the unpredictability of death.

Further distinctions might be helpful. Am I afraid that I will die soon, in the sense that, given the range of years I might reasonably hope for, death may come sooner rather than later? Or am I afraid that I will die young, with death coming sooner for me than it does for others? These ways of specifying the object of my potential fear differ in important ways, including how much fear is appropriate, and when.

Take the fear of dying young. Clearly, if you have reached middle age any fear of dying young is irrational. But even among the young, the chance of this actually happening is extremely small.

As one grows older, the chance of dying within a given period increases. But even here, fear that one will die soon can easily be out of proportion. Even an 80-year-old has a more than 90 per cent chance of living at least another year.

Obviously, fear that death may come soon can make sense among the very sick or the very aged. But for the rest of us, I think, it is typically misplaced. If you are reasonably healthy and yet you say to me, "I am terrified of death", then all I can say in response is that I believe you, but terror is not appropriate. It doesn't make sense, given the facts.

16 de outubro de 2012

Oh, Canadá…

Se tucanarem e não condenarem o governo conservador canadense depois dessa, os acadêmicos libertários relativistas podem ir para o espaço – embora não dê pra ir pro espaço sem ciência.

O artigo abaixo é Governando no escuro: a perigosa revolução anticientífica de Ottawa, de C. Scott Findlay. Vai na íntegra. Não dá pra ficar pondo reparos epistemológicos quando a guerra é aberta e suja.


Governing in the dark: Ottawa’s dangerous unscientific revolution

Most Canadians understand that our well-being depends on science. But Canadian science is under assault. And scientists, like Peter Finch in the film Network, are mad as hell. In July, more than 2,000 of them staged a mock funeral for scientific evidence on Parliament Hill to protest the Harper government’s dismantling of Canadian institutions that collect scientific evidence, the muzzling of government scientists, and the erosion of the role of scientific evidence in public debate and regulatory decisions.

The rally was covered by news media across Canada and around the world. Nature, perhaps the world’s premier science journal, ran a lead editorial on the event, concluding: “If the Harper government has valid strategic reasons to undermine vital sectors of Canadian science, then it should say so . . .”

Predictably, the next day Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear issued a hasty press release pointing out that the last budget included a $1.1 billion investment in science. Even the lay public saw through this embarrassingly transparent attempt to dodge the issue, which was about the gathering, unfiltered dissemination and use of scientific evidence, not about the funding of science writ large.

Even so, close examination of the $1.1 billion investment shows that much has been allocated to industry and commercial science partnerships. Meanwhile, the proportion of funding allocated to basic research, such as the budget of the Discovery Grants program of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, has been dropping steadily since 2006.

The science enterprise is like a pyramid. At the base are scientists engaged in the importunate probing of nature’s corpus — say, characterizing the molecular signalling pathways whose activation predisposes cells to become cancerous. Balancing on their shoulders are scientists who apply this knowledge to existing problems — say, developing a cancer drug that will block some of these signalling pathways. And teetering at the apex are scientists engaged in the industrialization of applied research — say, finding efficient ways of producing cancer drugs in large quantities at a reasonable price.

As children, we learned that the larger the base, the taller the pyramid that can be supported: the more basic research, the more opportunities for commercialization and industrialization. Moreover, an uneven base — areas of science where there is comparatively little basic research — not only means no corresponding opportunities for application or industrialization but, worse still, increases the chances of the whole structure toppling over. So too does overloading the top levels: after all, even the most robust basic scientist can support only so many of her applied and industrialization colleagues on her shoulders.

There are at least four reasons why all Canadians should repudiate Prime Minister Harper’s systematic erosion of science capacity in some areas, and more generally, his repudiation of scientific evidence.

First, true democracy is possible only with a well-informed and skeptical populace. And it is scientific evidence that informs, and the spirit of scientific inquiry that motivates, this essential constructive skepticism.

Second, the repudiation of scientific evidence is a de facto rejection of one of humanity’s greatest intellectual pursuits. It is a slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of science students in high schools, colleges and universities — and the spirit of intellectual curiosity and imagination that motivates them. In short, it undermines the intellectual capacity on which the future progress of Canadian society depends.

Third, there are areas of basic and applied research which are enormously important for the welfare of Canadians yet for which there is little potential for industrialization or commercialization — for example, the science that informs how best to protect both ourselves and our environment from the unsalutary consequences of the industrialization and commercialization of scientific knowledge.

Fourth, our tax dollars go to support programs and policies that are designed, we are told, to achieve certain goals. The more scientific evidence that is considered in taking decisions, the more likely we are to achieve desired goals and avoid undesired consequences.

Evidence-free decisions are merely uneducated guesswork. Scientific evidence is a form of insurance, a comparatively inexpensive yet effective way to ensure that much larger investments in government programs are not wasted, that opportunities are not squandered, and that others will not have to shoulder the burden of (whoops!) undesired and unanticipated consequences. In other words, scientific evidence forms the basis for true public accountability. And isn’t accountability the horse on which Harper rode into Parliament?

C. Scott Findlay is an associate professor in the biology department at the University of Ottawa and a visiting research scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

15 de outubro de 2012

A sonata mulattica

A história é deliciosa e a música, melhor ainda.

Ranulfus, do PQP Bach, conta a história da sonata para violino número 9, conhecida injustamente como Sonata a Kreutzer (até Tolstói escreveu inspirado por ela e deu ao seu livro o mesmo injusto, mas popular, nome). A peça é resultado do encontro musical e etílico entre um Beethoven ainda mais ou menos jovem e a improvável figura do violinista virtuose George Bridgetower, um mestiço com um pé nas cortes européias e outro na escravidão negra do Caribe:

Aos 25 anos, em licença, George chega a Viena, onde Beethoven, com 33, já pontificava. A amizade parece ter sido imediata, informal e entusiástica: Beethoven retoma alguns esboços, e em uma semana conclui a nona e mais importante das suas sonatas para violino e piano. Vão estreá-la juntos em 25/05/1803, com Bridgetower – acreditem ou não – tocando boa parte à primeira vista, e ainda lendo por sobre o ombro do compositor, pois nem tinha havido tempo para copiar a parte do violino.

Mas o melhor da história vem no segundo movimento, quando o piano reapresentava sozinho uma idéia exposta antes pelo violino – e Bridgetower ousou improvisar comentários uma oitava acima em vez de aguardar. Beethoven teria saltado do piano e… ao contrário do que se poderia esperar do seu gênio, teria abraçado o violinista com palavras que se traduzem perfeitamente por “Mais, camaradinha, mais!” – o que me faz perguntar: terá sido essa a primeira jam session da história?

Que o clima era de divertimento, atesta-o também o título que aparece no manuscrito original: nada menos que “Sonata mulattica, composta per il mulatto Brischdauer [grafia jocosa do nome], gran pazzo [grande maluco] e conpositore mulattico” – havendo referência ainda à anotação “Sonata per un mulattico lunatico”.

Tão informal, porém… que segundo um relato da época os dois teriam comemorado a estréia com uma bebedeira homérica, no meio da qual Beethoven teria se dado por ofendido por uma observação de Bridgetower sobre determinada mulher… A amizade teria terminado aí, e seria por isso que pouco tempo depois Beethoven enviou a sonata com dedicatória ao francês Rodolphe Kreutzer, violinista mais famoso da época.

Outros veem uma razão mais pragmática: com brigas ou não, Beethoven planejava uma temporada em Paris e pensou que dedicar a sonata a Kreutzer podia ajudar no projeto. O fato é que a viagem não se concretizou, e Kreutzer, por sua vez, apenas passou os olhos e disse que a obra era um nonsense inexecutável, e que de resto não lhe interessava porque ‘nem era virgem’ (a expressão é minha)… Nunca tocou a peça que imortalizou seu nome injustamente, enquanto o de Bridgetower só recentemente vem sendo recuperado.

Um bundão, enfim, o tal de Kreutzer. E gran pazzo, o Bridgetower.

Mas vamos ao que realmente interessa.

A música é simplesmente irresistível; pega o teu ouvido de primeira e não larga mais. Abaixo, ei-la completa nas mãos da grande pianista Martha Argerich e do violinista Gidon Kremer.

9 de outubro de 2012

Boa, Zizek

Certinho, Zizek. Certinho.

8 de outubro de 2012

Nós realmente precisamos da educação

Inesperadamente, uma reportagem bonitinha sobre o mundo animal torna-se uma das melhores defesas da educação e, principalmente, do papel do professor no futuro da nossa espécie. E sem chauvinismos antropocêntricos indentificáveis, como seria de se esperar.

Fiquem com a íntegra do bom texto de Jason G. Goldman, da BBC.

Pay attention… time for lessons at animal school

Welcome to Meerkat Academy. Admission is free, and lunch is provided, though the only thing on the menu is scorpions. While scorpions are tasty and nutritious, they are extremely dangerous. Just one mistake with an untrained eye or an overeager paw could mean death for an unlucky meerkat. So young meerkats have to attend eating classes.

Teaching – or, as psychologists call it, pedagogy – is defined as a kind of communication between two or more individuals that results in the transfer of knowledge or skills, according to Hungarian developmental psychologists Giorgy Gergely and Gergely Csibra. To qualify as teaching, the teacher must also modify his or her behaviour by tailoring lessons based on the performance of the student. And the knowledge transferred must be information that can be applied to new people, objects, locations, or events – what is known as generalisable information. To mutilate the oft-quoted idiom, showing a man where to find a fish is not teaching, but teaching a man how to find fish is.

Back in meerkat academy, experienced adults provide their students with dead scorpions that have already had their stingers removed. This way, the young can learn how to remove the edible parts. Once they've mastered that lesson, the adults provide dead scorpions with stingers still intact. It is much easier for the juveniles to learn to remove stingers from dead scorpions than ones that are alive and squirming. Finally, the adults provide the juveniles with living, lethal scorpions. In this way, the inexperienced pups learn to effectively interact with scorpions progressing from completely safe specimens to increasingly dangerous ones, according to their age and skills.

So, the adult meerkats adjust the curriculum – and, therefore, their own behaviour – based upon the behaviour of the juveniles. However, the adults never actually demonstrate proper scorpion-killing methods, they merely provide the materials. It would be like a culinary instructor who provided her students with pots, pans, knives, and ingredients, but no recipe. Instructors at the meerkat academy don't actually teach, at least according to the definition outlined by Gergely and Csibra.

Tap class

Tandem-running ants may come closer. Like meerkats, when one ant knows the location of food, it explicitly modifies its behaviour so that the second ant can learn it as well. After leaving the nest, the demonstrator slows down or stops periodically so that the follower can memorise the route between the nest and the food source. If the process gets interrupted, the leader will wait for the learner to return before resuming the lesson. The way this works is that the knowledgeable ant takes the front position, and requires constant tapping on his rear end in order to continue demonstrating the path. The learner uses his antennae to tap the leader as if to say, "I'm paying attention, show me the way." While both meerkats and ants adjust their lessons based upon the behaviour of their students, only for ants is the interaction explicitly communicative and bidirectional.

However, this form of interaction among ants still doesn't fit the formal criteria for teaching. This is because the information that is transferred between the two ants is highly specific, and firmly situated within the here-and-now. Rather than showing each other how to find food more generally, the information provided is simply where food can be found at a specific moment in time. Many other animals instruct using this specific form of information flow. Bees display elaborate dances to indicate the location of food and monkeys use various calls to notify others of the presence of predators. A howler monkey that screams to inform others of an aerial predator can't communicate something like "aerial predators tend to hunt during the daytime," or "aerial predators come from the north." Cheetahs show their young how to stalk prey, which is general, but like meerkats, their interaction is not explicitly communicative.

Information hungry

In fact, every known teaching-like interaction among non-human animals involves only one specific kind of information transfer. Only human teaching fits all three criteria. And, more importantly, only humans are promiscuous teachers. Humans teach everything. Humans teach anything.

We teach differential calculus and how to tie shoes. We teach biochemistry and computer science, carpentry and pottery. When I was in middle school, I took an after-school calligraphy class. I spent two seasons trying football, one season attempting basketball, and one learning volleyball. I took drawing classes and painting classes, and spent one long afternoon learning the art of flower arrangement. In school, I enrolled in a badminton elective. I spent two years trying to learn to play the guitar.

What is it about humans that allows us to teach in a way that no other animal does? Gergely and Csibra argue that human communication itself is special. They write, "If I point at two aeroplanes and tell you that ‘aeroplanes fly’, what you learn is not restricted to the particular aeroplanes you see or to the present context, but will provide you generic knowledge about the kind of artifact these planes belong to that is generalisable to other members of the category and to variable contexts…"

What they're saying is that the generalisability of the information is manifest within the communication itself. They continue, "If I show you by manual demonstration how to open a milk carton, what you will learn is how to open that kind of container," not how to open only that particular container. The transmission of general knowledge is implicit within human communication, whether that communication is linguistic or not, it doesn't need to be deduced or inferred by the learner.

Of all the animals in the world, only humans build skyscrapers, follow recipes, play backgammon, learn statistics, receive DVDs by mail, and place laser-wielding robots on Mars. The kind of culture that humans enjoy can only exist because we are so proficient at teaching and at learning from teachers. In most ways, the differences between humans and non-human animals are ones of degree rather than of kind. But there’s one categorical difference between our species and every other. We teach, and we teach anything.

5 de outubro de 2012

4 de outubro de 2012

O real existe e a merda fede

Porque é bom dar um soco no estômago do idealismo de vez em quando.


Clique para ampliar a representação.


Terra Sagrada

Caramba, que vídeo mais lindo!

via boing boing

PS. Nos comentários do Boing Boing, alguém perguntou, com típica falsa ingenuidade, se todas essas pessoas não poderiam dividir a tal Terra Sagrada. Aí veio uma resposta brilhante:

Well, you see, it works like this. There are three major religions, totaling among them something like 1/3rd of the human race, that believe that there is about a 1 square mile area in the middle of that land that they, and they only, must control. If they have to share it with anyone else, those other people will desecrate it, and that would be worse than if the whole human race died. And so they must fight, even if it costs the life of everyone on Earth, to keep those other two groups from even temporarily sharing that single square mile of ground.

And if we're very, very lucky, maybe an Israeli-Iranian or Israeli-Pakistani nuclear war will some day mean that that one square mile will become so irradiated that nobody can have it, and maybe then we'll get a few moments' peace. Hence the happy ending: the Angel of Death will finally be able to claim it as its own, and not just as the shrine to Death that it's been for the last 4,000 years or so.

3 de outubro de 2012

É a norma

Na Atlantic, uma resenha muito boa de um livro que parece ser muito bom.

"We sank a children's transport," admits one bomber, likely referring to an English passenger ship sunk in 1940, the authors note. "Talk about keeping the race pure," says another, speaking of Jewish women this time: "... at RIGA they first slept with them and then shot them to prevent them from talking." Or consider what was revealed of the brothels set up for soldiers with Western European, "racially suitable" women brought in by force: "Every woman had 14-15 men an hour. They changed the women every two days. We buried a lot of women there."


Where are the soldiers revealing their true feelings? Where are they behaving as most humans do in group situations? Did being National Socialists make a discernible difference in the soldiers' outlooks or actions? And Neitzel and Welzer examine the soldiers' paradoxical moral frameworks at length: It was always dishonorable to shoot at an enemy airman who had ejected from his plane, but often acceptable to mow down civilians; understandable to execute prisoners of war, but horrifying to starve them to death.

The authors make it clear that acts counting as war crimes today were not the exception but the norm. They both magnify so-called "German guilt" by showing the appalling attitudes even of non-Nazi soldiers, and show how unsatisfactory German exceptionalism or our conception of a pure, alien evil is at explaining it: The disturbing truth is that, comparable to what researchers have seen in other wars, the soldiers didn't require a gradual hardening to violence to be able to engage in murder. Most humans, Neitzel and Welzer suggest, are capable of brutality: it's just a question of what the social setting they are put in encourages.


It's especially easy to see the perpetrator as alien, as an agent of pure inhuman evil, in the case of crimes particularly repulsive to contemporary sensibilities. But Soldaten argues that German soldiers were not in fact different types of humans than we are. They weren't "bad for society" because they were insufficiently human, in other words; they became bad for humanity because of the society they were living in.

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