Arquivo da tag: Memória

This Year Will End Eventually. Document It While You Can (New York Times)

Lesley M. M. Blume

Museums are working overtime to collect artifacts and ephemera from the pandemic and the racial justice movement — and they need your help.

A journal submitted to the Autry Museum by Tanya Gibb, who came down with Covid-19 symptoms on March 5. The donor thought the canceled plans were also representative of the pandemic.
Credit…The Autry Museum of the American West

July 14, 2020, 5:00 a.m. ET

A few weeks ago, a nerdy joke went viral on Twitter: Future historians will be asked which quarter of 2020 they specialize in.

As museum curators and archivists stare down one of the most daunting challenges of their careers — telling the story of the pandemic; followed by severe economic collapse and a nationwide social justice movement — they are imploring individuals across the country to preserve personal materials for posterity, and for possible inclusion in museum archives. It’s an all-hands-on-deck effort, they say.

“Our cultural seismology is being revealed,” said Anthea M. Hartig, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History of the events. Of these three earth-shaking events, she said, “The confluence is unlike mostanything we’ve seen.”

Museums, she said, are grappling “with the need to comprehend multiple pandemics at once.”

Last August, Dr. Erik Blutinger joined the staff of Mt. Sinai Queens as an emergency medicine physician. He knew that his first year after residency would be intense, but nothing could have prepared him for the trial-by-fire that was Covid-19.

Aware that he was at the epicenter not only of a global pandemic, but of history, Dr. Blutinger, 34, began to take iPhone videos of the scenes in his hospital, which was one of New York City’s hardest hit during the early days of the crisis.

“Everyone is Covid positive in these hallways,” he told the camera in one April 9 recording which has since been posted on the Mount Sinai YouTube channel, showing the emergency room hallways filled with hissing oxygen tanks, and the surge tents set up outside the building. “All you hear is oxygen. I’m seeing young patients, old patients, people of all age ranges, who are just incredibly sick.”

He estimated that he has recorded over 50 video diaries in total.

In Louisville, Ky., during the protests and unrest that followed the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, a Louisville resident, filmmaker named Milas Norris rushed to the streets to shoot footage using a Sony camera and a drone.

“It was pretty chaotic,” said Mr. Norris, 24, describing police in riot gear, explosions, and gas and pepper bullets. He said thatat first he didn’t know what he would do with the footage; he has since edited and posted some of it on his Instagram and Facebook accounts. “I just knew that I had to document and see what exactly was happening on the front lines.”

NPR producer Nina Gregory collects "personal ambi," or ambient noise from her home in Hollywood, Calif. "It's another form of diary," she said.
Credit…Kemper Bates

About 2,000 miles west, in Los Angeles, NPR producer Nina Gregory, 45, had set up recording equipment on the front patio of her Hollywood home. In March and April, she recorded the absence of city noise. “The sound of birds was so loud it was pinging red on my levels,” she said.

Soon the sounds of nature were replaced by the sounds of helicopters from the Los Angeles Police Department hovering overhead, and the sounds of protesters and police convoys moving through her neighborhood. She recorded all this for her personal records.

“It’s another form of diary,” she said.

Museums have indicated that these kinds of private recordings have critical value as public historical materials. All of us, curators say, are field collectors now.

In the spirit of preservation, Ms. Hartig from the National Museum of American History — along with museum collectors across the country — have begun avid campaigns to “collect the moment.”

“I do think it’s a national reckoning project,” she said. There are “a multitude of ways in which we need to document and understand — and make history a service. This is one of our highest callings.”

Some museums have assembled rapid response field collecting teams to identify and secure storytelling objects and materials. Perhaps the most widely-publicized task force, assembled by three Smithsonian museums working in a coalition, dispatched curators to Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., to identify protest signs for eventual possible collection.

A demonstrator who was photographed by Jason Spear of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Lafayette Square in June. Mr. Spear is part of the rapid response team working to identify protest signs for possible future collection.
Credit…Jason Spear/NMAAHC Public Affairs Specialist

The collecting task force went into action after June 1, when President Trump ordered Lafayette Square cleared of protesters so he could pose for photos in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, clutching a bible. Shield-bearing officers and mounted police assailed peaceful protesters there with smoke canisters, pepper bullets, flash grenades and chemical spray. The White House subsequently ordered the construction of an 8-foot-high chain link fence around the perimeter, which protesters covered in art and artifacts.

Taking immediate moves to preserve these materials — much of which was made of paper and was vulnerable to the elements — amounted to a curatorial emergency for the Smithsonian’s archivists.

Yet with many museums still closed, or in the earliest stages of reopening, curatorial teams largely cannot yet bring most objects into their facilities. It isfalling to individuals to become their own interim museums and archives.

While some curators are loath to suggest a laundry list of items that we should be saving — they say that they don’t want to manipulate the documentation of history, but take their cues from the communities they document — many are imploring us to see historical value in the everyday objects of right now.

“Whatever we’re taking to be ordinary within this abnormal moment can, in fact, serve as an extraordinary artifact to our children’s children,” said Tyree Boyd-Pates, an associate curator at the Autry Museum of the American West, which is asking the public to consider submitting materials such as journal entries, selfies and even sign-of-the times social media posts (say, a tweet about someone’s quest for toilet paper — screengrab those, he said)

Credit…Lisa Herndon/The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

To this end, curators said, don’t be so quick to edit and delete your cellphone photos right now. “Snapshots are valuable,” said Kevin Young, the director of New York City’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. “We might look back at one and say, ‘This picture tells more than we thought at the time.’”

At the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, the curatorial team will be evaluating and collecting protest materials such as placards, photos, videos and personalized masks — and the personal stories behind them.

“One activist found a tear-gas canister, and he gave it to us,” said Noelle Trent, a director at the museum. “We’re going to have to figure out how to collect items from the opposing side: We have to have theracist posters, the ‘Make America Great’ stuff. We’re going to need that at some point. The danger is that if we don’t have somebody preserving it, they will say this situation was notas bad.”

And there is perhaps no article more representative of this year than the mask, which has “become a really powerful visual symbol,” said Margaret K. Hofer, the vice president and museum director of the New-York Historical Society, which has identified around 25 masks that the museum will collect, including an N95 mask worn by a nurse in the Samaritan’s Purse emergency field hospital set up in New York’s Central Park in the spring. (The museum also collected a set of field hospital scrubs, and a cowbell that the medical team rang whenever they discharged a patient.)

A cowbell that was rung at the Samaritan’s Purse field hospital in Central Park each time a Covid patient was discharged is now in the archives of the New-York Historical Society.
Credit…New-York Historical Society

“The meaning of masks has shifted over the course of these past several months,” Ms. Hofer said. “Early on, the ones we were collecting were being sewn by people who were trying to aid medical workers, when there were all those fears about shortage of P.P.E. — last resort masks.And they’ve more recentlybecome a political statement.”

Curators say that recording the personal stories behind photos, videos and objects are just as crucial as the objects themselves — and the more personal, the better. Museums rely on objects to elicit an emotional reaction from visitors, and that sort of personal connection requires knowing the object’s back story.

“For us, really the artifact is just a metaphor, and behind that artifact are these voices, and this humanity,” said Aaron Bryant, who curates photography and visual culture at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, and who isleading the Smithsonian’s ongoing collection response in Lafayette Square.

Curatorial teams from many museums are offering to interview donors about their materials and experiences,and encourage donors to include detailed descriptions and back stories when submitting objects and records for consideration. Many are also collecting oral histories of the moment.

Many museums have put out calls for submissions on social media and are directing would-be donors to submission forms to their websites. The National Museum of African American History and Culture site has a thorough form that covers items’ significance, dimensions, condition and materials. The Civil Rights Museum is looking for “archival materials, books, photographs, clothing/textiles, audio visual materials, fine art and historic objects” that share civil rights history. The New-York Historical Society is seeking Black Lives Matter protest materials.

“We review material, we talk about it, and we respond to everyone,” said William S. Pretzer, a senior curator of history at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. “We can’t collect everything, but we’re not limiting ourselves to anything.”

Gathering materials from some communities is proving challenging, and curators are strategizing collection from individuals who may be unlikely to offer materials to historical institutions.

An anti-racism poster by 14-year-old Kyra Yip. It will be on display at New York’s Museum of Chinese in America when they reopen.
Credit…Kyra Yip

“A lot of our critical collecting and gathering of diverse stories we’ve been able to do because of directed outreach,” said Ms. Hofer of the New-York Historical Society. “We’re trying to capture the experience of all aspects of all populations in the city, including people experiencing homelessness and the incarcerated.”

“We want to make the barrier to entry on this very low,” said Nancy Yao Maasbach, the president of New York’s Museum of Chinese in America, which began collecting materials relating to pandemic-related racist attacks on Asians and Asian-Americans in late winter, and personal testimonies about experiences during the pandemic and protests. Because museums may not necessarily be obvious repositories for many immigrant communities, Ms. Maasbach said, the museum is making translators available to those who want to tell their stories.

“We’re trying to make sure we’re being accessible in creating this record,” Ms. Maasbach said.

Curators recognize that their story-of-2020 collecting will continue for years; we are in the midst of ongoing events. They are asking us to continue to document the subsequent chapters — and to be as posterity-minded as one can be when it comes to ephemera.

“We don’t know what the puzzle looks like yet,” said Ms. Hartig of the National Museum of American History. “Yet we know that each of these pieces might be an important one.”

Some museums are exhibiting submitted and accepted items right away on websites or on social media; others are planning virtual and physical exhibits for as early as this autumn. The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, for example, is collecting masks and oral history testimonies from Native American communities and is considering the creation of a “rapid response gallery,” said the museum’s vice president and chief curator Elisa G. Phelps.

“If art is being sparked by something very timely, we want to have a place where we can showcase works and photos,” she said, adding that this process differed from “the elaborate, formal exhibit development process.”

Some donors, however, may not be among those to view their materials once they become part of institutionalized history — at least not right away. Even though Dr. Blutinger said that he sees the historical value of his emergency room video diaries,he has yet to revisit the peak-crisis videos himself.

“I’m almost scared to look back at them,” he said. “I’m worried that they’ll reignite a set of emotions that I’ve managed to tuck away. I’m sure one day I’ll look back and perhaps open up one or two clips, but I have never watched any of them all the way through.”

Lesley M.M. Blume is a journalist, historian andthe author of “Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-Up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World,” which will be published on August 4.

London’s statues from ‘bygone’ imperial past to be reviewed, mayor says (Reuters)

Reuters Editorial – June 9, 2020 / 5:16 AM

A police officer stands next to the statue of Winston Churchill at Parliament Square which was damaged by protesters with graffiti, in the aftermath of protests against the death of George Floyd who died in police custody in Minneapolis, London, Britain, June 8, 2020. REUTERS/John Sibley

LONDON (Reuters) – London mayor Sadiq Khan has ordered a review of the capital’s statues and street names after the toppling of the statue of an English slave trader by anti-racism protesters triggered a debate about the demons of Britain’s imperial past.

A statue of Edward Colston, who made a fortune in the 17th century from trading West African slaves, was torn down and thrown into Bristol harbour on Sunday by a group of demonstrators taking part in a wave of protests following the death of George Floyd in the United States.

Khan said a commission would review statues, plaques and street names which largely reflect the rapid expansion of London’s wealth and power at the height of Britain’s empire in the reign of Queen Victoria.

“Our capital’s diversity is our greatest strength, yet our statues, road names and public spaces reflect a bygone era,” Khan said. He said some statues would be removed.

“It is an uncomfortable truth that our nation and city owes a large part of its wealth to its role in the slave trade and while this is reflected in our public realm, the contribution of many of our communities to life in our capital has been wilfully ignored.”

In the biggest deportation in known history, weapons and gunpowder from Europe were swapped for millions of African slaves who were then shipped across the Atlantic to the Americas. Ships returned to Europe with sugar, cotton and tobacco.

As many as 17 million African men, women and children were torn from their homes and shackled into one of the world’s most brutal globalized trades between the 15th and 19th centuries. Many died in merciless conditions.

Those who survived endured a life of subjugation on sugar, tobacco and cotton plantations. Britain abolished the trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1807 although the full abolition of slavery did not follow for another generation.


Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Nick Macfie

El indio inoportuno: un aporte sobre las trayectorias indígenas en el Uruguay (Hemisferio Izquierdo)

Artículo original

May 21, 2019

Francesca Repetto

Imagen: EL País

El pasado 11 de abril se celebraron los 188 años de la Masacre de Salsipuedes. Evento ápice en nuestra historia nacional, este hecho marcó el ansiado “fin” de la presencia indígena charrúa en 1831, cuando éstos fueron emboscados por el ejército de Fructuoso Rivera a orillas del Arroyo Salsipuedes. Allí, murieron cerca de 50 hombres y más de 200, -principalmente mujeres, niñas, niños y ancianos-, fueron trasladados a Montevideo y repartidos en casas de familias blancas con el fin de ser “domesticados” e “integrados” a la vida nacional: un eufemismo para referirse a la esclavización de las cautivas, niñas y niños.

Libros escolares y de cuño histórico nacionalistas, así como académicos contemporáneos, argumentan que los pocos sobrevivientes de la masacre se asimilaron a la sociedad montevideana perdiendo todo rasgo cultural distintivo. En los años 1980, sin embargo, y acompañando la tendencia de toda América Latina, en Uruguay comenzaron a resurgir numerosos colectivos que se identifican a sí mismos como descendientes de charrúas o como charrúas propiamente dicho. Este es el caso del CONACHA, de ADENCH, de UMPCHA, CHONIK, AQUECHA Pirí, Atala, entre otros, distribuidos a lo largo y ancho del país. También, en el último censo nacional de 2011, los datos arrojaron que un 2,3% de la población total declaró tener como principal ascendencia étnica a la indígena, lo cual suma más de 76.000 personas[i]. Un dato para nada menor.

Pese a estos datos, aún retumban preguntas y cuestionamientos acerca de quiénes son aquellas personas y cuál es la legitimidad que podrían tener, si, al fin y al cabo, el “problema” fue “solucionado” hace ya 188 años. “Locos”, “alucinados”, “vivos”, “truchos”, son algunos de los adjetivos que parte de la sociedad acciona para referirse a ellos[ii]. Tal vez sea preciso que volvamos a la raíz de la cuestión para entender cómo el fenómeno de la re-emergencia indígena es posible en Uruguay, como constatado en –todos- los países de nuestro continente. La re-emergencia indígena, o la “reaparición”, nos lleva a indagar sobre el movimiento que lo precede, es decir, cómo la “desaparición” indígena se configuró y asentó con tanta fuerza en nuestro imaginario de nación. 

¿Una medida puntual o una lógica de gestión?

Los años siguientes a la declaración de la Independencia en 1825 fueron marcados por movimientos de hacendados y políticos que buscaban estabilidad en la incipiente industria agropecuaria. Si por un lado los hacendados reivindicaban seguridad en el campo contra los robos de ganado y la invasión de sus propiedades, por el otro, el primer gobierno constitucional buscaría tomar medidas para protegerlas, y con ello, asegurar la recaudación pública. Entre los años 1828 y 1830, las denuncias de estancieros acerca del robo de su ganado son abundantes. Mientras que en un primer momento reconocían no saber con exactitud quiénes eran los responsables, hacia el año 1830 van a sostener con firmeza que aquellos eran los charrúas. Con la misma convicción, pasaron a exigir medidas drásticas al gobierno de Rivera, quien en 1831, se encargó de llevarlas a cabo[iii].

Presentada en ese entonces como una medida aislada y puntual, sin embargo, la masacre se localiza en un modo de gestión de las alteridades –de las poblaciones nativas-, que trascendió el evento concreto y también a los charrúas. Las denuncias de estancieros y el paso a paso del gobierno y su ejército eran sistemáticamente publicados en el más importante diario de la época, El Universal. Durante algunos años, innumerables ediciones hacían alguna referencia al tema. Sobre el año 1831, prácticamente todas las ediciones abordaron las persecuciones indígenas. Ya en 1832, no existen más publicaciones al respecto. El problema realmente parecía haber culminado de una buena vez por todas. 

Tres años antes, sin embargo, en 1828, más de 8.000 indígenas misioneros[iv] –en su enorme mayoría guaraní-, habían sido asentados en puntos estratégicos de frontera, como en la actual Bella Unión y, tiempo más tarde, a orillas del Río Yaguarón, en San Servando[v]. Antes de eso, los guaraníes ya habían participado en la construcción de Colonia de Sacramento, de Montevideo y Minas, y engrosaban el cuerpo de soldados del ejército. Si bien inicialmente los guaraníes fueron representados como indios patriotas, pues habrían “seguido” a Rivera, una sublevación en 1832 cambiaría el trato dado a ellos. El hambre y las malas condiciones a la que habían sido abandonados, llevaron a que la colonia de Bella Unión se sublevara en enero de aquel año. El evento llevó a que los líderes fueran ahorcados en público, otros recibieran “más de 300 palos”[vi] también en público y que, el mismo año, la colonia fuera ya desmontada y relocalizada a orillas del Rio Yí, actual departamento de Florida, con el nombre de San Borja[vii]. Aunque la presencia guaraní haya sido ampliamente extendida en el tiempo y en el espacio, la misma se pierde en los registros nacionales hacia el año 1860, cuando ésta última colonia indígena, San Borja, es finalmente desalojada[viii].

El silencio que reinó hasta fines de los años 1980 acerca de la presencia guaraní y la exaltación de la Masacre de Salsipuedes como evento final irremediable, llaman la atención para el lugar que los indígenas han tenido a lo largo de la historia. Nuestra historiografía no hace mención a las masacres posteriores a Salsipuedes, ni menciona las políticas de asimilación –o en términos de la época: de “domesticación de los salvajes”, de esclavización, encarcelamiento y deportación que marcaron la gestión estatal sobre los cautivos[ix]. Tampoco se hace referencia alguna a la dimensión de género que tuvieron esas acciones. En cambio, el “etnocidio” charrúa es valorado en una escala masculina de guerra y muerte, donde el asesinato de los varones ha sido tomado como la muerte de todo un grupo social. De ese modo, las trayectorias de las mujeres y sus hijos que ingresaron como esclavas en las casas montevideanas, más que haber “desaparecido”, se incorporaron como espectros en las producciones historiográficas nacionalistas.

Los años siguientes a la Independencia del Uruguay fueron singularizados por este tipo de acciones. La primera Constitución, aprobada en 1830, por ejemplo, prohibía la comercialización de esclavos, lo cual llevó a que paulatinamente la oferta de africanos como mano de obra esclava comenzaran a escasear durante los años siguientes. Recién en 1842, en plena Guerra Grande, la esclavitud es abolida finalmente por medio de la ley N°242. Por tanto, no resulta extraño pensar que uno de los objetivos de la persecución a los charrúas fuese, justamente, la apropiación de mano de obra para fines de esclavitud en trabajos domésticos.

La mayor parte de los sobrevivientes de Salsipuedes fueron mujeres y niños de ambos sexos. Los hombres jóvenes o líderes fueron encarcelados y más tarde ofrecidos como personal de servicio a los buques de bandera extranjera, con la tajante prohibición de sólo poder bajar los indios a tierra una vez en territorio extranjero.  Por otra parte, los nombres originales de los niños y niñas fueron cambiados y, -separados de sus madres-, muchos fueron bautizados en la Iglesia Matriz. Algunas de las personalidades que dan nombre a nuestras calles de Montevideo fueron personas que tomaron “indiecitos” del reparto: José Brito del Pino, Luis Lamas, Joaquín Campana, Rufino Bauzá, para mencionar algunos[x].

Un indígena siempre fuera de su tiempo

Irónicamente o no, en los años de re-emergencia de colectivos de identificación charrúa, académicos contemporáneos pasaron cada vez más a reivindicar la figura de los guaraníes, o de los “indígenas misioneros”. Algunos aseguran que si hoy existe algún indio auténtico, este no sería de forma alguna charrúa, sino más bien guaraní. “¿Qué nos van a venir a decir quiénes somos nosotros!?”, me cuestionó irritado un militante charrúa en 2014, haciendo referencia a los conocidos dichos de Daniel Vidart[xi].

Desde los años 1980 han habido enormes esfuerzos en materia académica por “recuperar” el patrimonio cultural de los guaraníes y de reivindicar el significativo aporte poblacional que éstos tuvieron en la base de nuestra sociedad, en detrimento del silencio que se asentó sobre ellos durante dos siglos[xii]. Parte de esos esfuerzos son los que trajeron a tono el ingreso de más de 8000 guaraníes en 1828, o la existencia de varias colonias indígenas, como la de Villa Soriano, San Borja o Bella Unión. En esa línea, algunos académicos sustentan que la idea del charrúa como el indio nacional y predominante en nuestra historia sería equivocada, pues se basaría en una hipervaloración de su presencia, en perjuicio de la enorme mayoría numérica guaraní. Lo irónico es que los esfuerzos por dislocar la imagen del indio nacional hacia el guaraní sean justamente en el momento de re-emergencia charrúa.

Esos sectores, atacan a los descendientes de charrúas afirmando que estos promueven una lógica según la cual cualquier persona podría convertirse en indígena con el sólo hecho de así desearlo, que no mantienen ninguna característica cultural nativa, como el uso de lengua charrúa, y que tampoco conviven en espacios territorialmente demarcados. Para ellos, los charrúas de hoy no encajan en las características que –según afirman- definirían a alguien como indígena. El problema central de esta cuestión es qué toman los antropólogos como pautas de comparación. Aún más, ¿qué tipo de autoridad académica poseen para sobreponer teorías y definiciones antiguas a la re-emergencia de un grupo étnico y a la resignificación de una identidad en tanto fenómeno social que lleva ya más de 30 años? En primer lugar, les exigen a los descendientes autenticidad de costumbres en un contexto en el cual el Estado-nación los obligó a dispersarse y a esconderse por la fuerza. Es decir, les exigen trazos culturales que no condicen con las acciones de exterminio a los cuales fueron sometidos. En segundo lugar, porque toman como pautas clasificatorias a las descripciones hechas por viajeros europeos durante el período colonial, o sea, de hace más de 300 años.

Por otra parte, algunos antropólogos se han basado en argumentos de cuño biológico para argumentar en contra de la presencia charrúa. Señalan que, aunque hayan sobrevivido charrúas luego de las masacres, el hecho de heredar algunos genes no sería prueba suficiente para ser considerados indígenas. De hecho no es prueba suficiente. Pero no lo es por “insuficiencia” de marcadores genéticos, sino porque el propio argumento es erróneo. En la antropología social, fenómenos como el de las identidades étnicas no son mensurables en porcentajes genéticos, en tipos raciales determinados biológicamente, y en ningún tipo de determinantes que no sean fenómenos surgidos en el ámbito social de donde son emanados y recreados.

Mientras el “exceso” de marcadores indígenas –siempre presentadas como características negativas- atribuidas a los charrúas de los 1800 decretaron su etnocidio, hoy, la identidad en recuperación, el pasado y las memorias compartidas no son catalogadas como marcadores suficientes para reconocerlos como indígenas, lo cual denota que el charrúa es pensado siempre como un indio incómodo y a destiempo. La supresión de los guaraníes en nuestra historia y la violencia ejercida sobre las colonias misioneras, así como las campañas de masacre y asimilación forzada charrúa, llaman la atención sobre un doble movimiento de una misma lógica de Estado que llevó a ambos grupos a una “desaparición” obligada. Esta “desaparición”, sea entendida como fruto de las campañas de exterminio o sea por la supresión de esas presencias en las producciones historiográficas o contemporáneas, debe ser examinada a la luz de re-emergencia charrúa.

La re-emergencia charrúa

La identidad reivindicada por los descendientes y charrúas contemporáneos, no es una imitación a aquella que los europeos registraron en el siglo XVIII. Como comenté al inicio, a fines de los años 1980 y luego de la reapertura democrática, emergieron los primeros colectivos charrúas. Comúnmente, el pasar a identificarse como un descendiente o un charrúa lleva tiempo, y sobre todo, un arduo trabajo de investigación de las ramas familiares. Muchas veces el “descubrimiento” de pertenecer a una familia indígena se da por accidente, por desconfianza previa o por relatos que los más viejos deciden poner sobre la mesa. En esos casos, descendientes me han relatado que luego de descubrir que su familia era de origen indígena, pasaron a reconocer en sus propias prácticas cotidianas, -como formas de cura, mitos e incluso trazos fenotípicos-, prácticas conocidas como pertenecientes a la cultura charrúa. Pero más allá de prácticas tradicionales, lo que comparten los descendientes son el ser portadores de memorias de dolor. Lo que salta a la vista y que unifica a esta población es la memoria de trauma, de vergüenzas y miedo que comparten o que sus antepasados les transmitieron. Cargan con las memorias de sus antepasados, y mantienen vivo el peso de las persecuciones, del imperativo de llamarse a silencio, del usar nombres de origen europeo. El miedo a decirse indígena en público, el compartir trayectorias personales sólo de puertas adentro o la vergüenza de reconocerse como tal en un país que se jacta de su origen europeo, son algunos de los trazos en común.

Por qué motivo estas memorias subterráneas –haciendo eco de las palabras de Pollak (2006)-, irrumpieron en la arena pública luego de la dictadura, puede ser atribuido a muchas razones. Sin embargo, lo que debería interesarnos (y principalmente a los antropólogos sociales) es qué formas viene adoptando la re-emergencia indígena en el Uruguay, cuáles son los mecanismos y las estrategias de irrupción de memorias, qué historias tienen para contar, qué gramáticas y memorias comparten. ¿Hasta cuándo seguiremos sin tomar en serio las trayectorias de más de 76.000 integrantes de nuestra sociedad y de más de 30 años de lucha por la reivindicación de la identidad charrúa?  

* Francesca Repetto es magíster en Antropología Social por el Programa de Posgrado en Antropología Social del Museo Nacional de la Universidad Federal de Rio de Janeiro, y doctoranda por la misma institución.


[i] Para más detalle, consultar el Informe Temático “El perfil demográfico y socioeconómico de la población uruguaya según su ascendencia racial”, de Marisa Bucheli y Wanda Cabella. INE, s/d.

[ii] Por ejemplo, “Entrevista Pi Hugarte y los charrúas”. Montevideo Portal. Acceso en: 20/12/2014. O también: Vidart, Daniel. “No hay indios en el Uruguay contemporáneo”. Anuario de Antropología Social y Cultural en Uruguay, Vol. 10, 2012, pp. 251-257.

[iii] Acosta y Lara, 2006, vol. II, p. 85.

[iv] Algunos autores llegaron a contabilizar a 20.000 guaraníes en distintos fondos documentales del país, sin embargo, la documentación de archivo consultada en el Archivo General de la Nación habla de 8.000 misioneros. Por más detalle, consultar Gonzáles y Rissotto, y Susana Rodríguez Varese. “Contribuciones al estudio de la influencia guaraní en la formación de la sociedad uruguaya”. Revista Histórica. 1982, pp. 199-316.

[v] La colonia San Servando, en el Departamento de Cerro Largo, fue fundada en 1833. Para más detalle acerca de la situación de las colonias misioneras en el país, consultar el “Informe Uruguay”, para la Comisión del Patrimonio Cultural de la Nación. PROPIM, 2012.

[vi] Archivo General de la Nación: Ministerio de Guerra y Marina, Caja 1199, Foja 60, 23.01.1832

[vii] Archivo General de la Nación: Ministerio de Guerra y Marina, Caja 1209, Foja 1, 27.12.1832.

[viii] Archivo General de la Nación: Ministerio de Gobierno y Relaciones Exteriores, Caja 214, Expediente 48, 01.01.1860.

[ix] Archivo General de la Nación: Ministerio de Guerra y Marina, Caja 1190, Foja 7.

[x] Archivo General de la Nación: Ministerio de Gobierno, Caja 1187, Foja 25.

[xi] VIDART, Daniel. “No hay indios charrúas en el Uruguay contemporáneo”. S/D. Link:,7. Acceso en 01/05/2019

[xii] Para más información, consultar los trabajos de Isabel Barreto, Diego Bracco y Carmen Curbelo.


POLLAK, Michael. Memoria, olvido, silencio. La producción social de identidades frente a situaciones límite. La Plata, Argentina: Ed. Al Margen, 2006.

REPETTO, A. Francesca. Arqueología do apagamento. Narrativas de desaparecimento charrúa no Uruguai desde 1830. Tesis de maestria defendida en el Programa de Pós-graduação em Antropologia Social, Museu Nacional/UFRJ. Rio de Janeiro, 2017.

VIDART, Daniel. No hay indios charrúas en el Uruguay contemporáneo. S/D. Link:,7. Acceso en 01/05/2019

O Brasil deveria mudar o modo como lida com a memória da escravidão? (BBC Brasil)

29 outubro 2016

Exposição 'Mãe Preta', no Rio de Janeiro

O Brasil recebeu a maioria dos africanos escravizados enviados às Américas

Uma sala com peças de um navio que levava para o Brasil 500 mulheres, crianças e homens escravizados é a principal atração do novo museu sobre a história dos americanos negros, em Washington.

Numa segunda-feira de outubro, era preciso passar 15 minutos na fila para entrar na sala com objetos do São José – Paquete de África, no subsolo do Museu de História e Cultura Afroamericana.

Inaugurado em setembro pelo Smithsonian Institution, o museu custou o equivalente a R$ 1,7 bilhão se tornou o mais concorrido da capital americana: os ingressos estão esgotados até março de 2017.

Em 1794, o São José deixou a Ilha de Moçambique, no leste africano, carregado de pessoas que seriam vendidas como escravas em São Luís do Maranhão. A embarcação portuguesa naufragou na costa da África do Sul, e 223 cativos morreram.

Visitantes – em sua maioria negros americanos – caminhavam em silêncio pela sala que simula o porão de um navio negreiro, entre lastros de ferro do São José e algemas usadas em outras embarcações (um dos pares, com circunferência menor, era destinado a mulheres ou crianças).

“Tivemos 12 negros que se afogaram voluntariamente e outros que jejuaram até a morte, porque acreditam que quando morrem retornam a seu país e a seus amigos”, diz o capitão de outro navio, em relato afixado na parede.

Prova de existência

Expor peças de um navio negreiro era uma obsessão do diretor do museu, Lonnie Bunch. Em entrevista ao The Washington Post, ele disse ter rodado o mundo atrás dos objetos, “a única prova tangível de que essas pessoas realmente existiram”.

Destroços do São José foram descobertos em 1980, mas só entre 2010 e 2011 pesquisadores localizaram em Lisboa documentos que permitiram identificá-lo. Um acordo entre arqueólogos marinhos sul-africanos e o Smithsonian selou a vinda das peças para Washington.

Museu de História e Cultura Afroamericana

Inaugurado em setembro, o Museu de História e Cultura Afroamericana custou US$ 1,7 bilhão. DIVULGAÇÃO/SMITHSONIAN

Que o destino do São José fosse o Brasil não era coincidência, diz Luiz Felipe de Alencastro, professor emérito da Universidade de Paris Sorbonne e um dos maiores especialistas na história da escravidão transatlântica.

Ele afirma à BBC Brasil que fomos o paradeiro de 43% dos africanos escravizados enviados às Américas, enquanto os Estados Unidos acolheram apenas 0,5%.

Segundo um estudo da Universidade de Emory (EUA), ao longo da escravidão ingressaram nos portos brasileiros 4,8 milhões de africanos, a maior marca entre todos os países do hemisfério.

Esse contingente, oito vezes maior que o número de portugueses que entraram no Brasil até 1850, faz com que Alencastro costume dizer que o Brasil “não é um país de colonização europeia, mas africana e europeia”.

O fluxo de africanos também explica porque o Brasil é o país com mais afrodescendentes fora da África (segundo o IBGE, 53% dos brasileiros se consideram pretos ou pardos).

Por que, então, o Brasil não tem museus ou monumentos sobre a escravidão comparáveis ao novo museu afroamericano de Washington?

Apartheid e pilhagem da África

Para Alencastro, é preciso considerar as diferenças nas formas como Brasil e EUA lidaram com a escravidão e seus desdobramentos.

Ele diz que, nos EUA, houve uma maior exploração de negros nascidos no país, o que acabaria resultando numa “forma radical de racismo legal, de apartheid”.

Crianças brincam no Museu de História e Cultura Afroamericana

Museu virou um dos mais concorridos da capital americana e está com os ingressos esgotados até março. BBC BRASIL / JOÃO FELLET

Até a década de 1960, em partes do EUA, vigoravam leis que segregavam negros e brancos em espaços públicos, ônibus, banheiros e restaurantes. Até 1967, casamentos inter-raciais eram ilegais em alguns Estados americanos.

No Brasil, Alencastro diz que a escravidão “se concentrou muito mais na exploração dos africanos e na pilhagem da África”, embora os brasileiros evitem assumir responsabilidade por esses processos.

Ele afirma que muitos no país culpam os portugueses pela escravidão, mas que brasileiros tiveram um papel central na expansão do tráfico de escravos no Atlântico.

Alencastro conta que o reino do Congo, no oeste da África, foi derrubado em 1665 em batalha ordenada pelo governo da então capitania da Paraíba.

“O pelotão de frente das tropas era formado por mulatos pernambucanos que foram barbarizar na África e derrubar um reino independente”, ele diz.

Vizinha ao Congo, Angola também foi invadida por milicianos do Brasil e passou vários anos sob o domínio de brasileiros, que a tornaram o principal ponto de partida de escravos destinados ao país.

“Essas histórias são muito ocultadas e não aparecem no Brasil”, ele afirma.

Reparações históricas

Para a brasileira Ana Lucia Araújo, professora da Howard University, em Washington, “o Brasil ainda está muito atrás dos EUA” na forma como trata a história da escravidão.

“Aqui (nos EUA) se reconhece que o dinheiro feito nas costas dos escravos ajudou a construir o país, enquanto, no Brasil, há uma negação disso”, ela diz.

Autora de vários estudos sobre a escravidão nas Américas, Araújo afirma que até a ditadura (1964-1985) era forte no Brasil a “ideologia da democracia racial”, segundo a qual brancos e negros conviviam harmonicamente no país.

São recentes no Brasil políticas para atenuar os efeitos da escravidão, como cotas para negros em universidades públicas e a demarcação de territórios quilombolas.

Ferragens usadas em navios negreiros

Expor peças de um navio negreiro era uma obsessão do diretor do museu. DIVULGAÇÃO/SMITHSONIAN

Ela diz que ainda poucos museus no Brasil abordam a escravidão, “e, quando o fazem, se referem à população afrobrasileira de maneira negativa, inferiorizante”.

Segundo a professora, um dos poucos espaços a celebrar a cultura e a história afrobrasileira é o Museu Afro Brasil, em São Paulo, mas a instituição deve sua existência principalmente à iniciativa pessoal de seu fundador, o artista plástico Emanoel Araújo.

E só nos últimos anos o Rio de Janeiro passou a discutir o que fazer com o Cais do Valongo, maior porto receptor de escravos do mundo. Mantido por voluntários por vários anos, o local se tornou neste ano candidato ao posto de Patrimônio da Humanidade na Unesco.

Para a professora, museus e monumentos sobre a escravidão “não melhoram as vidas das pessoas, mas promovem um tipo de reparação simbólica ao fazer com que a história dessas populações seja reconhecida no espaço público”.

Visibilidade e representação

Para o jornalista e pesquisador moçambicano Rogério Ba-Senga, a escravidão e outros pontos da história entre Brasil a África têm pouca visibilidade no país, porque “no Brasil os brancos ainda têm o monopólio da representação social dos negros”.

“Há muitos negros pensando e pesquisando a cultura negra no Brasil, mas o centro decisório ainda é branco”, diz Ba-Senga, que mora em São Paulo desde 2003.

Para ele, o cenário mudará quando negros forem mais numerosos na mídia brasileira – “para que ponham esses assuntos em pauta” – e nos órgãos públicos.

Para Alencastro, mesmo que o Estado brasileiro evite tratar da escravidão, o tema virá à tona por iniciativa de outros grupos.

“Nações africanas que foram pilhadas se tornaram independentes. Há nesses países pessoas estudando o tema e uma imigração potencialmente crescente de africanos para o Brasil”, ele diz.

Em outra frente, o professor afirma que movimentos brasileiros em periferias e grupos quilombolas pressionam para que os assuntos ganhem espaço.

“Há hoje uma desconexão entre a academia e o debate no movimento popular, mas logo, logo tudo vai se juntar, até porque a maioria da população brasileira é afrodescentente. Os negros são maioria aqui.”

Slamming the Anthropocene: Performing climate change in museums (reCollections)

reCollections / Issues / Volume 10 number 1 / Papers / Slamming the Anthropocene

by Libby Robin and Cameron Muir – April 2015

The Anthropocene

Today’s museums are generally expected to use their objects and collections in ways that extend beyond exhibitions. Theatrical events, for example, can provide important complementary activities. This particularly applies to public issues such as climate change and nature conservation, which are often framed in scientific and technical terms. An exhibition is expensive to mount and demands long lead times, but a public program is ‘light on its feet’; it can respond to a topical moment such as a sudden disaster, and it can incorporate new scientific findings where relevant.

One way to make such debates inclusive and non-technical is to explore through performance the cultural and emotional dimensions of living with environmental change. Violent Ends: The Arts of Environmental Anxiety, staged at the National Museum of Australia in 2011,is an example of a one-day event that used art, film and performance to explore anxieties and public concerns about climate change. The event opened with the Chorus of Women, who sang a ‘Lament for Gaia’, and it concluded with ‘Reconciliation’, both works excerpted from The Gifts of the Furies(composed by Glenda Cloughly, 2009).[1] The performance presented  issues that are often rendered as ‘dry science’ in a way that enabled emotional responses to be included in discussions about global warming. A legacy of this event is a ‘web exhibition’ that includes podcasts, recordings and some of the art, including that of a leading Australian environmental artist, Mandy Martin, whose more recent work we discuss further below.[2] The curators of the event, Carolyn Strange (Australian National University), Libby Robin (National Museum of Australia and Australian National University), William L Fox (Director of the Center for Art+Environment, Nevada Museum of Art, Reno) and Tom Griffiths (Director of the Centre for Environmental History, Australian National University), are all scholars  with active partnerships in the arts and the museum sector. Violent Ends explored climate change through a variety of environmental arts. Since 2011, we have seen many comparable programs, in Australia and beyond.

banner image for the Violent Ends website

Thunderstorm over Paestum, after Turner, Wanderers in the Desert of the Real, 2008, used in the banner for the Violent Ends website ©Mandy Martin

In this paper, we review some recent international museum and events-based ideas emerging around the concept of the Anthropocene, the proposition that the Earth has now left the Holocene and entered a new epoch: The Anthropocene (or Age of Humans). The Anthropocene is defined by changes in natural systems that have occurred because of the activities of humans. It is an idea that emerges from earth sciences, but it is also cultural: indeed the geological epoch of the Holocene (the last 11,700 years) marks the period in which most of the world’s major civilisations and cultures have emerged; it includes both the Agricultural and Industrial revolutions. To assert that the planet has moved ‘beyond the Holocene’ is to assert that humanity (indeed all life) has entered a new cultural and physical space that has not been previously experienced. Questions of how humans live in a planet with changed atmosphere, oceans, land systems, cities and climates are moral as well as physical. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has described climate change as the greatest human rights issue of our times.[3]

The Anthropocene epoch is defined by material evidence of human activities that have affected the way biophysical systems work. The stratigraphers (geologists) who decide if the new epoch should be formalised are seeking evidence of human activities in the crust of the earth, in rock strata, as this is the way boundaries between geological eras, epochs and ages have been traditionally defined.[4] Paul Crutzen, a Nobel-Prize-winning atmospheric chemist and the author of the original proposal to name the new epoch the ‘Anthropocene’, has focused on global systems, particularly evidence such as CO2 levels in the atmosphere (showing the burning of fossil fuels) and pH factors in the oceans (showing acidification caused by agricultural outfalls).[5]

Perhaps the most important question is not whether the Holocene has ended but, if it has, how are people (and the cultural systems that have evolved in the Holocene years) to live with such change? The idea of an uncharted new Age of Humans has attracted considerable attention from creative artists, museum curators and scholars in the environmental humanities.[6] Even as the stratigraphers debate the end of the Holocene, global change is upon us, and the creative sector has tackled these questions in its own way. One art and ethnographic museum, the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Berlin, hosted the most recent scientific meeting of the International Commission on Stratigraphy in October 2014.[7] HKW, with its mission to represent ‘all the cultures of the world’, recognises that the ‘people’ focus of the Anthropocene demands debate that is both cultural and scientific, and that is concerned with more than just the people of the West. The HKW Anthropocene Project and Anthropocene Curriculum have a strong artistic and museum sector focus, which we discuss further below.[8]

Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW)

Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Berlin, October 2014 – photograph by Libby Robin

Environmental humanities scholars of the Anthropocene emphasise the questions of justice (and injustice) embedded in planetary changes. Changes to climate, air quality and oceans, and loss of biodiversity are caused by subsets of humans (not all humanity) and their effects are felt by different people, and of course ultimately all life on Earth. The challenge for the humanities is to enable the voices of the people who suffer from the changes, or advocate on behalf of other creatures, to be part of the conversations that contribute to adapting cultural practices in response. People are already living with rapid change: the so-called ‘Great Acceleration’ of changes since the 1950s includes sharp growths in population, wealth and global financial systems, as well as biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, atmospheric carbon dioxide and inequalities between rich and poor.[9] All these changes together are unsettling, yet people are seeking positive, resilient futures in the face of ‘strange change’. This is a debate where the creative sector – design, architecture, museums and humanistic scholarship – is well-poised to make contributions to ideas for living in a changed world of the future. Artists and scientists alike want a broad-based future, not just one that simply ‘reduces the future to climate’, in the apt phrase of Mike Hulme, one of the world’s leading climate scientists.[10]

The Anthropocene is defined by its materiality. The fossil systems that trace its onset and evolution may be buried under layers of rock, lava or sea, as were the traces of earlier epochs. Stratigraphers seeking ‘markers’ for this epoch look for material that might survive the end of an age of Earth. For example, in the case of the mass extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago, footprints in the mud and bones remain, even after the collision of the Earth with a huge meteorite. The ‘markers of the era’ are material, and particularly well preserved if the disaster is sudden and buries them (rather than slow and eroding).  University of Leicester geologist Jan Zalasiewicz and his Anthropocene stratigraphy committee are looking for things that might become ‘buried treasure’, surviving as markers of humanity, after humanity is long gone. They are considering various forms of ‘artificial rock’ – bricks and concrete, for example, are long lasting, human-made and in vast quantities. The group is also considering plastics (manufactured polymers) as ideal for forming fossils that would date this epoch as different from all before it.[11]

The materiality of the Anthropocene makes it of interest to museums, but on a very different scale from that considered by the stratigraphers. One of the alternatives to looking for material change in rock strata is to create cabinets of curiosities in our museums, spaces where objects enable conversations about what is strange change. People now have more ‘stuff’ than ever before and there is ever more waste – what does a gyre of plastic the size of a continent floating in the Pacific ocean (‘the Great Pacific Garbage Patch’), say about the Age of Humans?[12] How could it be embodied as an object or set of objects in a Museum? What are the material objects that complement abstract representations of strata, atmospheric chemical analysis, and graphs trending upwards? The challenge for museums and cultural institutions with a stake in valuing objects is to tell their stories well, and to give them rich context. If we are interested in how objects can entertain, inform and inspire, we need to present them as more than mere ‘stuff’.

The slam

In November 2014, the University of Wisconsin hosted an Anthropocene slam, an object-inspired event that brought together artists, filmmakers, scholars and performers at its campus in the state capital, Madison. The university has, since its inception, avowed a commitment to public intellectual life and the community of Wisconsin state. ‘The Wisconsin Idea’, as expressed by the university’s president, Charles Van Hise, in 1904, is quoted today in the words on the wall of the Wisconsin Seminar Room and on a centenary public memorial on the highest hill on the Madison campus: ‘I shall never be content until the beneficent influence of the university reaches every home in the state’.

‘The Wisconsin Idea’ centenary public memorial

‘The Wisconsin Idea’ centenary public memorial – photograph by Libby Robin

The Wisconsin Idea expresses an aspiration that university work can inform and enrich the ‘public good’ including cultural institutions. The University of Wisconsin takes as its brief to benefit all the citizens of Wisconsin, not just those who have the privilege to be its students. As well as repaying the investment of the state in its university, the public good aspiration has come to hold strong appeal for the state’s benefactors and donors. The Chazen Art Museum in the University of Wisconsin at Madison combines an outstanding collection of modern art and a strong teaching program in art history, including curatorial education, research and leadership programs.

The Nelson Institute’s Center for Culture, History, and Environment (CHE) initiative at the university has also used the support of private donors to develop a range of ambitious programs under the banner ‘Environmental futures’. The film festival Tales from Planet Earth, which has since 2007 successfully screened all over Madison and beyond in a range of venues, including Centro Hispano, a community centre serving Madison’s Latino population, has drawn new local audiences to the university’s programs and has helped to increase diversity within the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. In November 2014, the CHE team, Gregg Mitman, William Cronon and Rob Nixon, among others, hosted a new venture, a very different sort of public event, The Anthropocene Slam: A Cabinet of Curiosities.

The ‘slam’ is a concept that originated with poetry, performance and a competitive spirit. The first poetry slam in 1984 was a poetry reading in the Get Me High lounge in Chicago. Poets performed their words and audiences voted with acclamation for the winners. The community audience was essential. The slams were noisy, theatrical and democratic – very different from ‘high art’ poetry recitation. The Anthropocene Slam borrowed the performance and entertainment idea, asking contributors to ‘pitch in a public fishbowl setting’ an object that might represent the Anthropocene in a cabinet of curiosities. From a large field of applicants, 25 objects appeared in five sessions, involving a total of 32 presenters (several objects were presented by teams). The sessions (held across three days from 8-10 November 2014) were grouped into intriguing themes:

  1. nightmares/dreams
  2. Anthropocene fossils
  3. tales and projections
  4. trespass
  5. resistance/persistence.

The aim was to find objects that might help humanity rethink ‘its relationship to time, place, and the agency of things that shape planetary change’.[13] This innovative scholarly method was designed from the start to be inclusive of scientific, artistic and practical ideas, extending what is usually possible in academic settings. One of its public outcomes was the performance event in Madison.

The slam presentations were complemented by a major public lecture from journalist Elizabeth Kolbert, drawing on her bestselling book, The Sixth Extinction.[14] An audience of more than 500 people from all over Wisconsin came out on a chilly night to hear this fluent and well-known communicator of big ideas explain the thesis that the loss of biodiversity today is on a scale equivalent to the mass extinctions evident in geological strata. The last (fifth) mass extinction ended the era of dinosaurs. The slam created a context for this important lecture.[15]

Another aspect of the slam was the building of a travelling cabinet of curiosities,to exhibit the most popular objects and stories, and to take them to local communities. Like the original Wunderkammer from the 16th and 17th centuries, the cabinet created out of the slam is as much a cabinet of conversations and global connections as one of objects.[16] The purpose of the slam was to discover objects that might travel to a cabinet in another context: the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany, the largest science and technology museum in the world. One item from the cabinet even made it to opening night on 4 December 2014 of Willkommen im Anthropozän, the world’s first gallery exhibition of the Anthropocene.[17]

There will be a more formal reception for the cabinet and its objects in July 2015, in an Anthropocene Objects and Environmental Futures workshop, a collaboration between the University of Wisconsin, the Rachel Carson Center at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU), the Deutsches Museum and the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Stockholm.[18] The cabinet will also be available to travel elsewhere, including to Sweden, where the KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory hosted an international variation on the Tales from Planet Earth film festival in 2014.[19]

The ‘call for objects’ drafted by Gregg Mitman and Rob Nixon was rather different from a standard conference or workshop ‘call’:

We are in the midst of a great reawakening to questions of time – across the spans of geological, ecological, evolutionary, and human history. It is a reawakening precipitated, not by a nostalgia for the past, but by a sense of urgency about the future. The Anthropocene, coined in 2000 by ecologist Eugene Stoermer and popularized by Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist, Paul Crutzen, is one of the most resonant examples of how the urgency of the future has prompted scientists, artists, humanities scholars and social scientists to engage creatively with the emerging legacy of our geomorphic and biomorphic powers. The advent of this new scientific object – the Anthropocene – is altering how we conceptualize, imagine and inhabit time. The Anthropocene encourages us to re-envisage (in Nigel Clark’s phrase) future and past relations between ‘earthly volatility and bodily vulnerability’. What images and stories can we create that speak with conceptual richness and emotional energy to our rapidly changing visions of future possibility? For in a world deluged with data, arresting stories and images matter immeasurably, playing a critical role in the making of environmental publics and the shaping of environmental policy.

The Anthropocene is just one among many moments in time when new scientific objects have altered humanity’s relationship to the past, present, and future. The coming-into-being of scientific objects such as fossils, radioactivity, genetic mutations, toxic pesticides, and ice cores, to name a few, have precipitated different narratives and imaginings of the human past and the human future. What might a cabinet of curiosities for the age of the Anthropocene look like? What objects might jolt us into reimagining environmental time across diverse scales, from the recent past to deep history? How might certain kinds of objects make visible the differential impacts – past, present, and future – that have come to shape the relationships among human and non-human beings, living in an era of extreme hydrocarbon extraction, extreme weather events, and extreme economic disparity?

… How is the appearance and impact of homo sapiensas a geomorphic force registered in the sediments of history, the objects around us, and the things yet to be? What emotionally layered Anthropocene objects can surprise, disturb, startle or delight us into new ways of thinking and feeling? What objects speak to resilience or adaptation, to vanishing biota or emerging morphologies?[20]

The cabinet also explored ‘future imaginaries’, both ‘utopian and apocalyptic’, considering the ideas of art and science, literature and film, history and policy. This wider Environmental Futures project opened a transnational and interdisciplinary conversation, with a focus on material objects and on the emotional responses (for example, hopes and fears) that they invoked. The challenge for the objects and their presenters was to:

… comprehend and portray environmental change that occurs imperceptibly and over eons of time – and that inflicts slow violence upon future generations – when media, corporate, and political cultures thrive on the short-term.[21]

Cabinets of curiosities

The Wunderkammer started life in German as a ‘room of wonder’, rather than the English ‘curiosity’. The cabinet of curiosities evoked awe. Rather than evoking rational curiosity, a cabinet should enable enchantment, according to political ecologist Jane Bennett:

Thirteenth-century writer Albertus Magnus described wonder as, like fear, ‘shocked surprise’ … but fear cannot dominate if enchantment is to be … it is a state of interactive fascination, not fall to your knees awe.’[22]

‘Awe’ was a word laden with moral and religious overtones in pre-Enlightenment times. In the 21st century, the objects of a cabinet stir questions about the ‘ethical relevance of human affect’.[23]

The rarity of objects in the era of the Wunderkammer added much to their value. In 1500, the average Middle European household had just 30 objects. By 1900, such households contained 400 objects. The proliferation of objects continued throughout the 20th century, rising to 12,000 objects per household in 2010.[24] The sheer number of objects in modern life changes them: they are no longer precious but rather just ‘stuff’, too many to count or care about. An Anthropocene-era cabinet of curiosities rediscovers objects that can stir wonder, curiosity and care, even for a jaded 21st-century viewer, whose home is burdened with an excess of objects. Each object’s story needs to be evocative, remarkable, perhaps even luminous. Even a prosaic object can carry a big story. This can be assisted by a great ‘pitch’ or performance that breathes life into the story.

When objects have lost their stories and their place in the lives of their owners, they are just stuff. When the stories are remembered and embraced with the object, they stimulate memories and reflection. These can even have clinical value for those suffering from memory loss. Keeping the context of the object simple and clear is often better for stimulating memory than cluttering it with high-tech apps.[25]

Restoring enchantment to objects demands retelling their stories, making individual objects special and important to identity again. The slam was a deliberate strategy to foster engagement and to enliven and reinvigorate objects, to sponsor a ‘sense of play’. It was a technique that could ‘hone sensory receptivity to the marvellous specificity of things’ and, above all, that could ‘resist the story of the disenchantment of modernity’, in Jane Bennett’s words.[26] The challenge of the Anthropocene is its scale. It may seem so large and frightening that it makes people feel they can do nothing about it. The performance event is a strategy for keeping open possibilities for adaptive strategies in the face of rapid change, allowing objects to explore facets of a bigger story in smaller, playful ways.

Neil MacGregor’s History of the World in 100 Objects is one attempt to tell human history ‘from out of Africa to the credit card’. He argues for the levelling power of objects: not all societies have text to tell their stories, but objects may survive to speak from cultures beyond the written word. A history created from objects can include the 95 per cent of human history that is only told in stone. [27] While organic objects cannot survive indefinitely, and fragile objects are more likely to be lost than robust ones, the survival of an object is not just physical: it is also testimony to a cultural context where someone cared enough to protect this object – perhaps in a grave, perhaps in a pocket. Small objects may survive better than large. Edmund de Waal’s imaginative memoir The Hare with Amber Eyes, told through his global family’s netsuke collection, shows just how powerful a small and special object can become. Netsuke are tiny Japanese ceramic, wood and ivory carvings (originally merely a functional addendum that enabled men to carry a tobacco pouch on a kimono). The de Waal collection of netsuke moved through generations and over a century of extraordinary international events, holding the family memories across time and space, and encapsulating his family’s history.[28]

If we follow Neil MacGregor’s notion of a museum as a place that enables ‘the study of things [which] can lead to a truer understanding of the world’[29], then we have a particular new challenge to find the poignancy of objects in a time when there are too many of them. Which objects might enchant audiences and museum visitors in a world marked by the proliferation of things? How can we learn to wonder or be curious about ‘stuff’? The answer, in Mitman’s vision, is that we select and perform or present just a few objects, juxtaposed with others that can carry the Anthropocene story in quirky ways. When the idea of global change is too big and abstract for human comprehension, a small cabinet can act as a microcosm to enable an imaginative and active response. Each object is there for its own story. Together in a cabinet they become a chorus of stories.

The object

One of the 25 objects ‘performed’ at the Anthropene Slam and subsequently selected for the Deutsches Museum’s Anthropocene Wunderkammer was a domestic pesticide applicator. The familiar bike-pump-sized pesticide sprayer was a popular household item from the 1920s to the 1950s. In the United States the Standard Oil Company’s ‘Flit’ brand of insecticide became synonymous with the spray pump. Other countries had their own brands: in Australia it was Mortein.

‘Flit’ branded handheld pesticide spray pump

‘Flit’ branded handheld pesticide spray pump, 1928 – Hamburg Museum

The pesticide pump sprayer speaks of a faith in science to improve lifestyles, and the hubris of humanity’s desire to control nature. The sprayer’s genealogy links to both the Agricultural and Industrial revolutions, each a break in time that has been argued to mark the Anthropocene.[30] It is an object born of the demographic shift towards large urban populations, and the demands for greater intensification and efficiencies in food growing that make that shift possible. Until the mid-20th century (the likely date stratigraphers will use for the dawn of the Anthropocene[31]), most older-generation pesticides had been available for hundreds of years. Soaps, oils, salt, sulphur, and more toxic substances, such as those derived from arsenic, lead and mercury, were applied in all manner of ways. It was the social and economic changes of the 19th century, however, that drove sprayer development, as growers sought to cover plants and trees on a larger scale, with more efficiency.

Bellows syringe sprayer

Bellows syringe sprayer, 1874 – The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser

As early as the 1870s, American Agriculturalist reported a French horticulturalist using bellows across a nozzle to disperse insecticide. The article explains that the device and its production of ‘liquid dust’ use the same principles of fluid dynamics as a perfume sprinkler or medical atomiser.[32] A fine spray could cover all of a tree more easily, quickly and without wasting pouring liquid or dusting. By the 1890s the use of portable and horsedrawn pesticide sprayers was so common that the New South Wales Minister for Mines and Agriculture held a field competition in December 1890 at Parramatta to determine the best and most efficient commercial insecticide sprayer. The Australian-made ‘Farrington’ machine was fitted on a cart and could spray 500 gallons per day. Some needed two operators but others could be used by a single person, pumping with one hand and holding the sprayer with the other. The Lowe’s machine had a three-in-one action: it could spray, fumigate and expel a hot vapour of sulphur and steam near its nozzle. Observers noted that cross-winds often wasted the fumigant, so some orchardists proposed enveloping trees in tents that could ensure the expensive fumes were trapped where they were needed. On the day, the most impressive sprayer was a new machine from the United States. It was compact and used compressed air rather than a hand pump to create the hydraulic pressure, so ‘all that the orchardist has to do is stand at the nozzle and blaze away at pest and disease’.[33] It was the fastest of the sprayers in the competition, dressing a tree in just two-and-a-half minutes.

At the same time that chemical companies were advertising pesticide formulas to landholders in the late 19th century, they were adapting agricultural sprayers to deliver chemicals for domestic gardens and inside the home.[34] From the 1920s, when better sprayer design and pervasive chemical industry advertising combined with higher household incomes and campaigns for improved domestic hygiene and ‘mothercraft’, the familiar home pump sprayer became widely used. After the Second World War, the sprayer formulas became longer lasting and more effective, with new synthetic chemicals. Less than two decades later, the public began to discover that the miracle chemicals were not as safe as they had been led to believe.

Performing the object

A ten-minute ‘slam’ format presents a challenge to historians in particular, who by their nature and training, are dedicated to providing context. How much story, information and reflection is possible in ten minutes? The format shaped the form and selection of story – the performance had to provoke and begin a conversation. It would not be possible to explain everything. The invited presenters, Michelle Mart and Cameron Muir, opened their performance by playing characters, two archetypes associated with the use of chemicals in different contexts – domestic, urban, wealthy on the one hand, and industrial, rural and poor on the other.[35]

An immaculate housewife waits at the door to greet her husband

An immaculate housewife waits at the door to greet her husband, 1953 – H Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Corbis

Michelle Mart appeared as a 1950s housewife, a stereotype from the period’s advertising posters come to life, complete with lipstick, pearls and twin-set. She advocated the convenience and virtues of a bug-free household, as images projected in the background showed advertising and stylised scenes of the suburban ideal. Successful domestic management, or orderliness, cleanliness, and wholesomeness: perfect weed-free lawns, insect-free kitchens, and unblemished fruit and vegetables. Mart was the woman who stood on the veranda of a neat, architecturally designed house to welcome her husband home from work. Her home was managed with a pump spray that dispersed DDT through the kitchen cupboards, just like in the military, where officers were photographed spraying DDT down a fellow serviceman’s shirt. Some of the men came home from being sprayed in wartime service to the new peacetime spraying on the suburban frontier.

A US soldier is demonstrating DDT hand-spraying equipment while applying the insecticide

A US soldier is demonstrating DDT hand-spraying equipment while applying the insecticide – Centres for Disease Control Public Health Image Library

Advertising urged homeowners to use chemicals for the sake of the family’s health (some thought polio was spread by the housefly), while another has fruit and vegetables singing, ‘DDT is good for me-e-e!’ Mart’s 1950s character proclaimed she is ‘lucky to live at a time when the wonders of modern technology and chemistry have transformed our lives’, and best of all, the new chemicals are ‘safe for everybody’.[36]

‘DDT is good for m-e-e’ advertisement, Penn Salt Chemicals

‘DDT is good for m-e-e’ advertisement, Penn Salt Chemicals, 1947 – Collector’s Weekly

At this point the second character entered: Cameron Muir was an agricultural worker in a white, full-body chemical hazmat suit, including hood, gloves, goggles and face mask, and carrying a large knapsack pump sprayer adorned with lurid red-and-black warnings about its toxicity. We have moved beyond the innocence of postwar hubris in scientific and industrial expertise, but users are exposed to more chemicals than ever. The agricultural worker character speaks of his brother, who blames the pesticides for illnesses and behavioural problems in his children. He wants to leave the job of spraying but he can’t find work elsewhere. The worker fears local complaints about the chemicals will endanger their relationship with the company employing them.

Woman in Metema community, Ethiopia, using knapsack sprayer

Woman in Metema community, Ethiopia, using knapsack sprayer, 2010 – International Livestock Research Institute

The images projected in the background show the faces of individual agricultural works in developing countries, some of them disfigured by pesticide exposure and light aircraft spraying vast fields. Amidst health concerns and well-informed anxiety about spraying pesticides, industrial agriculture has scaled up again in the 21st century.

Crop duster plane flying over Imperial Valley farms

Crop duster plane flying over Imperial Valley farms, May 1972 – Charles O’Rear/The US National Archives

The object and performance as provocateur

Who owns the story of pesticides? The narrative of triumphant technological progress and control of nature continues to hold influence even in the face of startling costs and unintended consequences. Social and political commentators still attempt to discredit Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring 50 years later, while the chemical and seed industries sell promises of control, simplicity and safety to farmers wracked by the reality of an unpredictable nature and markets. More powerful than earnestness and statistics, Mart and Muir’s performance gave the voice to the Flit spray can and used it to retell the stereotypical narrative of technological progress. Humour, irony and juxtaposition can be more effective than numbers in exposing hubris in the failed narrative. The presentation made its point not just by telling, but by showing. It is a human story. The archetypal characters, images and objects spoke for themselves; each member of the audience actively made their own interpretations and connections.

Towards the end of the presentation, Mart and Muir stepped out of character and spoke to the audience directly, personally. The ‘pitch’ or telling mode was reserved until the object story and its historical frames had been performed beforehand. The background or hypertext for the performance included the bigger scale, Anthropocene stories: since the Second World War humans have released more than 80,000 chemical compounds that no organism had previously encountered in the 3.5-billion-year history of life on earth.[37] This profound change will persist in the geological record and in our genetic legacies. Everyone is still exposed to this chemical soup. Researchers in the Lancet Neurology have declared we are in the midst of a ‘global, silent pandemic of neurodevelopmental toxicity’.[38] It’s even worse for those who farm or who live in the world’s most polluted places. The presentation ended with a provocative set of images. In the 1990s anthropologist Elizabeth Guillette asked children from the Yaqui Valley in Mexico to draw simple pictures – one group was from the agricultural lowlands, the other from the pesticide-free highlands. The children from the agricultural region could barely form shapes.[39] The difference in the drawings was a striking visualisation of what is largely an invisible agent of harm. It was also an illustration of the geographic inequality of toxic burdens.

The chorus

The domestic pesticide applicator object was one of 25 performed in the Madison Chorus. It has now been chosen to travel on to the Deutsches Museum, where a new cabinet of curiosities will be re-assembled in July 2015 with some of the Madison objects and some new, locally chosen Anthropocene objects. Global changes are everywhere, but human responses are personal, local, and the slam was an event for Madison. Munich is another context: another language, a science and technology museum, and the juxtaposition of the cabinet with a whole gallery of ideas and objects for the Anthropocene.[40] What the Madison cabinet brings is an event and a set of objects that can interrogate the gallery project for the Deutsches Museum and its university partner, the Rachel Carson Center. It also invites local content – objects that have resonance in Munich. The slam-style event works to collect together the object stories and to draw out patterns and sympathies between them.

The Anthropocene Slam created a chorus of objects that worked together in Madison, juxtaposed with each other and the performances of their presenters. In fact, the audience was reluctant to vote for ‘best object’ in each section; these were not solo objects or voices, but rather notes that together created chords of global change stories, stories that were layered together with others. It didn’t make sense to pick out the ‘tenor’ or ‘soprano’ line for special attention. The poetry slam is usually a competition with a cash prize. The Anthropocene Slam resisted the competitive framework. Rather, it invited scholarly collaboration in a playful context. The shift from competition to chorus was its great success, enabling collaboration and partnerships and the reflections arising from some very different objects.

The global and the local

The Anthropocene Slam suggested one way to scale the abstract and global through personal objects. It created an object-conversation that worked for all ages and in intergenerational contexts. Educating citizens about living with global change is not a task for schools alone. This story affects every generation. As the Deutsches Museum has already realised, museums can be partners in this global education, and are ideally suited to intergenerational conversations: grandchildren and grandparents already often visit a museum together.

HKW took the scholarly mission to educate people about the Anthropocene as its focus, as part of a two-year Anthropocene Project. For 11 days in November 2014, HKW created an international ‘Anthropocene Campus’, where its galleries showcased the exhibitions, video documentaries and artworks developed through its Anthropocene Project. Campus participants worked to develop a ‘curriculum’, including textbook and online teaching materials, through seminars and workshops on approaches to the ideas of the Anthropocene. Nearly 30 presenters worked with more than 100 interested participants, doctoral and postdoctoral scholars and practising artists.[41] Most of the presenters came from scientific disciplines leading Anthropocene discussions (especially earth, atmospheric and ocean sciences). Participants included a significant number of designers, museum specialists and visual artists, as well as scholars of earth sciences and environmental humanities. The boundaries between science and humanities dissolved in the intense program; the need to communicate and to teach and learn demanded clear, non-technical language and strong images. The overwhelming thrust of the curriculum materials was to develop human and emotional responses to the Anthropocene, as well as ways to converse beyond disciplinary silos to work together to solve problems and engage audiences.

Thinking with museums

How can we slow down the future to enable a sense of control? What is globally curious? What will we ‘wonder’ at in future? What sort of objects should we collect now for museums of the future? These are all urgent present problems as we imagine how museums will work in the changing circumstances of the Anthropocene. For Collecting the Future, a museum event at the American Museum of Natural History in October 2013, Jennifer Newell, Libby Robin and Kirsten Wehner specifically investigated what communities might collect for community museums of the future in local places that are changing fastest. What objects and stories can travel from depopulating Pacific Islands (where people are confronted with salinising ground water and rising seas) to their new communities in New Zealand or New York? These practical questions about living with climate change can bring communities into museums to use their collections in new ways. Community museums, national museums, science museums and art museums are all members of the Museums and Climate Change network of exchange that emerged from this event.[42]

In Australia, as elsewhere, the arts have been engaging with ideas for imaginative futures through local museums and events. Climarte is one such group that ‘harnesses the creative power of the Arts to inform, engage and inspire action on climate change’.[43] It is an arts-led partnership including prominent artists, Nobel-Prize-winning scientist Peter Doherty and directors of key galleries, Maudie Palmer (founding director of Heide Museum of Modern Art and TarraWarra Museum of Art) and Stuart Purves (director of Australian Galleries, Australia’s longest and most established commercial art gallery). Australian Galleries will host the 2015 Climarte Festival’s opening exhibition, The Warming, curated by Mandy Martin, who was one of the international artists attending the Wisconsin Anthropocene Slam. The exhibition brings together eight artists from Australian Galleries with 17 additional artists who have been invited to contribute an ‘Anthropocene cabinet of curiosities’, a plinth of objects at the heart of the show. Some of the artists will also pitch their ‘curious object’ briefly at a special event on 3 May 2015, and there will be responses from moderators, Peter Christoff (from the University of Melbourne and formerly Victorian Commissioner for the Future), William L Fox and Libby Robin. The aim is to create an event to inspire new thinking about what the arts can do in a future beyond the Holocene.

The future is often constructed through the lens of economic expertise. For example, the Australian Treasury has issued a 2015 Intergenerational Report that focuses exclusively on the economic burdens that the present generation places on those living in 2055.[44] Sometimes it is earth system scientists, or climate modellers who describe futures – for example, under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios of 2 or 4 or 6 degrees of warming. Yet the future is also about cultural and moral choices, not just economics and environment. The worlds of 2055 and beyond will be more than just climate spaces and economies. The museum sector is poised to treat the future as a ‘cultural fact’, in Arjun Appadurai’s terms. Appadurai writes of a future that includes ‘imagination, anticipation and aspiration’.[45] The future is not just about imagining nature or anticipating economic conditions, it is also about aspiration. While ‘probable’ futures are generated by mathematical models of nature and economics, such models often offer little hope. An alternative is to look to museums, to objects and to the creative dialogues of personal visits and performance events to foster qualitative possible futures. The future is not just a technical or neutral space: it is ‘shot through with affect and sensation’.[46] Science and scholarship alone often lack important sensations for imagining the future: ‘awe, vertigo, excitement, disorientation’. Rather than just measuring change in our world – or denying that there is any – we can take a third way that acknowledges change, including, but not only, climate change. Cultural institutions have an important role in enabling communities to get on with living positively with the changes of the Anthropocene. Culture works through ‘the traction of the imagination’, expanding the possibilities for ways to live with the future as it unfolds.[47]

This paper has been independently peer-reviewed.



2 Violent Ends: The Arts of Environmental Anxiety.


4 Jan Zalasiewicz, Colin N Waters, Mark Williams et al., ‘When did the Anthropocene begin? A mid-twentieth century boundary level is stratigraphically optimal’, Quaternary International, 12 January 2015,

5 PJ Crutzen, ‘Geology of mankind’, Nature, vol. 415, no. 6867, 2002, 23.

6 Christian Schwägerl, The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How it Shapes the Planet, Synergetic Press, Santa Fe/London, 2014; Luke Keogh & Nina Möllers, ‘Pushing the boundaries: Curating the Anthropocene at the Deutsches Museum’, in Fiona Cameron & Brett Neilson (eds), Climate Change, Museum Futures: The Roles and Agencies of Museums and Science Centers, Routledge, London, 2014, pp. 78–89.

7 Currently chaired by Jan Zalasiewicz, who has worked extensively with humanities scholars (at the University of Chicago and the University of Sydney), and has supervised art projects such as the French artist Yesenia Thibault-Picazo’s Cabinet of Future Geology, currently showing at the Deutsches Museum, Munich, until 2016. In 2015 another version of Thibault-Picazo’s work will be part of the Globale Festival in the New Media Museum, Karlsruhe, Germany.

8 Bernd Scherer (ed.), The Anthropocene Project: A Report, HKW, Berlin, 2014; Libby Robin, Dag Avango, Luke Keogh, Nina Möllers, Bernd Scherer & Helmuth Trischler, ‘Three galleries of the Anthropocene’, Anthropocene Review, vol. 1, no. 3,  207–24.

9 W Steffen, J Grinevald, P Crutzen & J McNeill, ‘The Anthropocene: Conceptual and historical perspectives’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A,vol. 369, 2011, 842–67.

10 Mike Hulme, ‘Reducing the future to climate: A story of climate determinism and reductionism’, Osiris, vol. 26, 2011, 245–66, p. 245.

11 Jan Zalasiewicz, ‘Buried treasure’, in Geoff Manaugh (ed.), Landscape Futures: Instruments, Devices and Architectural Inventions, Nevada Museum of Art and Actar, Reno, 2013, pp. 258–61.

12 Susan L Dautel, ‘Transoceanic trash: International and United States strategies for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch’, Golden Gate University Environmental Law Journal, vol. 3, no. 1, 2009, 181–208. This sort of global phenomenon (which grew and changed shape dramatically after the tsunami that struck Japan in 2011) has been very effectively illustrated in museums through ‘Science on a Sphere’ technology created by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Alaska State Museum, Juneau,

13 From the ‘Call for objects’ (distributed through H-Net online 2013),

14 Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2014.

15 Crutzen, ‘Geology of mankind’ (p. 23).

16 Oliver Impey & Arthur MacGregor (eds) The Origins of Museums: The Cabinet of Curiosities in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Europe, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1985.

17 Welcome to the Anthropocene: The Earth in Our Hands (in English). The exhibition gallery opened 4 December 2014, and will run till 2016; Nina Möllers, Christian Schwägerl & Helmuth Trischler (eds) Willkommen im Anthropozän: Unsere Verantwortung für die Zukunft der Erde, Deutsches Museum, Munich, 2014; see also Libby Robin, Dag Avango, Luke Keogh, Nina Möllers, Bernd Scherer & Helmuth Trischler, ‘Three galleries of the Anthropocene’, Anthropocene Review, vol. 1, no. 3, 2014, 207–24, doi:10.1177/2053019614550533.

18 Munich, 5–7 July 2015,



21 From Environmental Futures unpublished prospectus (‘Call for papers’), 2013; see also Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2011.

22 Jane Bennett, The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2001, p. 5, emphasis added.

23 Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, Duke UP, Durham, 2010, p. xi.

24 Christof Mauch, ‘The Great Acceleration of Objects’, Plenary panel, Anthropocene Slam, UW Madison, 10 November 2014.

25 Charles Leadbeater, ‘The disremembered’, Aeon Magazine, March 2015,

26 Bennett, Enchantment,p. 4.

27 Neil MacGregor, A History of the World in 100 Objects, Penguin, London, 2012 (1st edn 2010), p. xix.

28 Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance, Vintage, London, 2011.

29 MacGregor, History of the World, p. xxv.

30 William F Ruddiman, ‘The Anthropogenic Greenhouse Era began thousands of years ago’, Climatic Change, vol. 61, no. 3, 2003; Crutzen, ‘Geology of mankind’.

31 Zalasiewicz, Waters, Williams et al., ‘When did the Anthropocene begin?’.

32 ‘Destroying insects – Bellows-Syringe’, Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 28 March 1874.

33 ‘Death to fruit pests and diseases: Experiments with appliances’, Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW), 13 December 1890.

34 Will Allen, The War on Bugs, Chelsea Green, White River Junction, Vt, 2008.

35 Michelle Mart (Pennsylvania State University) and Cameron Muir (Australian National University), both former fellows of the Rachel Carson Center, Munich, independently suggested the sprayer. They were both among the group selected to present at the slam, and since they had the same object, they were asked to work together on it.

36 Michelle Mart & Cameron Muir, ‘Flit sprayer’, Anthropocene Slam presentation, 8 November 2014, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA.

37 Mariann Lloyd-Smith & Bro Sheffield-Brotherton, ‘Children’s environmental health: Intergenerational equity in action – a civil society perspective’, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol. 11, no. 1140, 2008, 190–200.

38 Philippe Grandjean & Philip J Landrigan, ‘Neurobehavioural effects of developmental toxicity’, Lancet Neurology, vol. 13, no. 3, 2014, 330–8.

39 Elizabeth A Guillette, Maria Mercedes Meza, Maria Guadalupe Aquilar, Alma Delia Soto & Idalia Enedina Garcia, ‘An anthropological approach to the evaluation of preschool children exposed to pesticides in Mexico’, Environmental Health Perspectives, vol. 106, 1998, 347–53.

40 Robin et al., ‘Three galleries’.

41 Scherer et al., The Anthropocene Project; see also Robin et al., ‘Three galleries’, esp. p. 215, doi:10.1177/2053019614550533.

42 Museums and Climate Change; Collecting the Future event,; Jennifer Newell, Libby Robin & Kirsten Wehner (eds), Curating the Future,University of Hawaii Press, Hawaii, forthcoming.



45 Arjun Appadurai, The Future as a Cultural Fact: Essays on the Global Condition, Verso, London, 2013, p. 286.

46 ibid.

47 ibid.

Seca faz cidade submersa há 45 anos ressurgir em SP (OESP)

Em Igaratá Velha (SP)

31/01/201509h00 Atualizada 31/01/201512h58 

Carlos de Almeida, 50, morador de Igaratá (SP), exibe uma foto da antiga cidade, inundada desde março de 1969

Carlos de Almeida, 50, morador de Igaratá (SP), exibe uma foto da antiga cidade, inundada desde março de 1969. Tiago Queiroz/Estadão

A seca que atinge o rio Jaguari fez reaparecer as ruínas de uma cidade que estava submersa desde março de 1969, quando começou a construção dos reservatórios usados na geração de energia para a região do Vale do Paraíba e do Sistema Cantareira.

No fundo de uma represa, que está 30 metros abaixo do nível normal, entre Joanópolis e São José dos Campos, no interior paulista, a igreja matriz, a praça e a rua principal da Igaratá Velha ressurgiram e se transformaram em ponto turístico.

Os 2 mil moradores do antigo povoado de Igaratá Velha, formado em meados de 1865 em uma confluência dos Rios Jaguari e do Peixe, foram removidos para uma nova cidade homônima um século depois. Criada em dezembro de 1969 a 3 quilômetros da antiga cidade, a nova Igaratá nasceu em um terreno da antiga Centrais Elétricas de São Paulo (Cesp), doado aos moradores. Hoje, o município tem cerca de 9 mil habitantes.

O reaparecimento das ruínas da Igreja Nossa Senhora do Patrocínio emociona quem viveu no antigo povoado. Um grupo colocou uma nova cruz onde ficava a igreja. “O pessoal mais velho vem e passa o domingo rezando em volta da cruz. Não querem que a água cubra de volta a igreja”, diz o agricultor Edilson Cardoso, de 32 anos.

Com um quadro da Igaratá Velha debaixo dos braços, o pescador José Carlos de Almeida, de 50 anos, cobra R$ 5 para levar turistas de canoa até as ruínas do antigo grupo escolar, no meio da represa. “Se a represa baixar os 10 metros que faltam, vai reaparecer a cidade inteira.”

A prefeitura de Igaratá também fez melhorias na pista de terra que dá acesso às ruínas, para facilitar a visitação. “Uma pena não ter dinheiro para fazer a preservação das peças encontradas. Muita coisa as pessoas já levaram embora”, diz o secretário de Obras de Igaratá, Emerson Rodrigues, de 35 anos.


Na época da remoção promovida pela Cesp, a maior parte dos moradores concordava com a mudança. “Era muita enchente. No período das chuvas todo mundo tinha de sair de casa. Só os mais antigos não queriam mudar”, recorda José Rodrigues, de 72 anos.

Na nova Igaratá, a emoção pelo ressurgimento da antiga igreja parece ter anestesiado a preocupação com a seca. Mesmo entre os mais jovens a curiosidade é grande. Muitos querem descobrir onde ficava a casa da avó, da tia que morreu, do prefeito.

Telhas dos anos 1940, escadarias, tanques de lavar roupa e restos das cadeiras da praça podem ser observados sobre o solo seco. No meio da represa estão estacas das casas demolidas na época da inundação.

“Toda semana aparece uma coisa nova. Muito velhinho vem aqui e se emociona, chora mesmo”, conta Fabio Saltonato, de 28 anos. “Quero achar a casa que era do meu pai. Pelo que vi nas fotos, se baixar mais 2 metros ela vai aparecer. Quem sabe depois do carnaval.”

Mas a seca derrubou o turismo, principal atividade econômica de Igaratá. Na beira da represa, dezenas de chácaras e sítios de veraneio estão à venda. Pontos que funcionavam como marinas estão vazios. “Com essa transposição de água da represa, a cidade vai ‘morrer’ economicamente. Esse é nosso medo”, diz o secretário de Obras.

Brain researchers pinpoint gateway to human memory (Science Daily)


November 26, 2014


DZNE – German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases


An international team of researchers has successfully determined the location, where memories are generated with a level of precision never achieved before. To this end the scientists used a particularly accurate type of magnetic resonance imaging technology.


Magnetic resonance imaging provides insights into the brain. Credit: DZNE/Guido Hennes

The human brain continuously collects information. However, we have only basic knowledge of how new experiences are converted into lasting memories. Now, an international team led by researchers of the University of Magdeburg and the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) has successfully determined the location, where memories are generated with a level of precision never achieved before. The team was able to pinpoint this location down to specific circuits of the human brain. To this end the scientists used a particularly accurate type of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology. The researchers hope that the results and method of their study might be able to assist in acquiring a better understanding of the effects Alzheimer’s disease has on the brain.

The findings are reported in Nature Communications.

For the recall of experiences and facts, various parts of the brain have to work together. Much of this interdependence is still undetermined, however, it is known that memories are stored primarily in the cerebral cortex and that the control center that generates memory content and also retrieves it, is located in the brain’s interior. This happens in the hippocampus and in the adjacent entorhinal cortex.

“It is been known for quite some time that these areas of the brain participate in the generation of memories. This is where information is collected and processed. Our study has refined our view of this situation,” explains Professor Emrah Düzel, site speaker of the DZNE in Magdeburg and director of the Institute of Cognitive Neurology and Dementia Research at the University of Magdeburg. “We have been able to locate the generation of human memories to certain neuronal layers within the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex. We were able to determine which neuronal layer was active. This revealed if information was directed into the hippocampus or whether it traveled from the hippocampus into the cerebral cortex. Previously used MRI techniques were not precise enough to capture this directional information. Hence, this is the first time we have been able to show where in the brain the doorway to memory is located.”

For this study, the scientists examined the brains of persons who had volunteered to participate in a memory test. The researchers used a special type of magnetic resonance imaging technology called “7 Tesla ultra-high field MRI.” This enabled them to determine the activity of individual brain regions with unprecedented accuracy.

A Precision method for research on Alzheimer’s

“This measuring technique allows us to track the flow of information inside the brain and examine the areas that are involved in the processing of memories in great detail,” comments Düzel. “As a result, we hope to gain new insights into how memory impairments arise that are typical for Alzheimer’s. Concerning dementia, is the information still intact at the gateway to memory? Do troubles arise later on, when memories are processed? We hope to answer such questions.”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by DZNE – German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Anne Maass, Hartmut Schütze, Oliver Speck, Andrew Yonelinas, Claus Tempelmann, Hans-Jochen Heinze, David Berron, Arturo Cardenas-Blanco, Kay H. Brodersen, Klaas Enno Stephan, Emrah Düzel. Laminar activity in the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex related to novelty and episodic encoding. Nature Communications, 2014; 5: 5547 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms6547

Treating mental illness by changing memories of things past (Science Daily)

Date: August 12, 2014

Source: Elsevier

Summary: Author Marcel Proust makes a compelling case that our identities and decisions are shaped in profound and ongoing ways by our memories. This truth is powerfully reflected in mental illnesses, like posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addictions. In PTSD, memories of traumas intrude vividly upon consciousness, causing distress, driving people to avoid reminders of their traumas, and increasing risk for addiction and suicide. In addiction, memories of drug use influence reactions to drug-related cues and motivate compulsive drug use.


“Memory reconsolidation is probably among the most exciting phenomena in cognitive neuroscience today. It assumes that memories may be modified once they are retrieved which may give us the great opportunity to change seemingly robust, unwanted memories,” explains Dr. Lars Schwabe of Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany. Credit: Image courtesy of Elsevier

In the novel À la recherche du temps perdu (translated into English as Remembrance of Things Past), Marcel Proust makes a compelling case that our identities and decisions are shaped in profound and ongoing ways by our memories.

This truth is powerfully reflected in mental illnesses, like posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addictions. In PTSD, memories of traumas intrude vividly upon consciousness, causing distress, driving people to avoid reminders of their traumas, and increasing risk for addiction and suicide. In addiction, memories of drug use influence reactions to drug-related cues and motivate compulsive drug use.

What if one could change these dysfunctional memories? Although we all like to believe that our memories are reliable and permanent, it turns out that memories may indeed be plastic.

The process for modifying memories, depicted in the graphic, is called memory reconsolidation. After memories are formed and stored, subsequent retrieval may make them unstable. In other words, when a memory is activated, it also becomes open to revision and reconsolidation in a new form.

“Memory reconsolidation is probably among the most exciting phenomena in cognitive neuroscience today. It assumes that memories may be modified once they are retrieved which may give us the great opportunity to change seemingly robust, unwanted memories,” explains Dr. Lars Schwabe of Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany. He and his colleagues have authored a review paper on the topic, published in the current issue of Biological Psychiatry.

The idea of memory reconsolidation was initially discovered and demonstrated in rodents.

The first evidence of reconsolidation in humans was reported in a study in 2003, and the findings have since continued to accumulate. The current report summarizes the most recent findings on memory reconsolidation in humans and poses additional questions that must be answered by future studies.

“Reconsolidation appears to be a fundamental process underlying cognitive and behavioral therapies. Identifying its roles and mechanisms is an important step forward to fully harnessing the reconsolidation process in psychotherapy,” said Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry.

The translation of the animal data to humans is a vital step for the potential application of memory reconsolidation in the context of mental disorders. Memory reconsolidation could open the door to novel treatment approaches for disorders such as PTSD or drug addiction.

Journal Reference:

  1. Lars Schwabe, Karim Nader, Jens C. Pruessner. Reconsolidation of Human Memory: Brain Mechanisms and Clinical Relevance. Biological Psychiatry, 2014; 76 (4): 274 DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.03.008

Events in the collective environmental memory of humanity


Publicado em 26/02/2014

What are the most important events in the collective environmental memory of humanity? This is the question addressed in this video highlighting 22 events that professional environmental historians regard as turning points in the relationship between humans and the environment. Topics include deforestation, mining and oil extraction, nuclear disaster, bugs, Earth Day, a dust veil event and the invention of agriculture. The events discussed in the video move beyond the confines of human history. The earliest event is the asteroid impact that ended the age of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. At the other end of the timeline the video moves into the future and speculates about a future mega-earthquake in the Tokyo Bay area. In spatial terms, events were scattered over all five continents as well as the entire globe

This video provides an introduction to some of the most prominent events in the interaction between humans and the planetary environment that have shaped history.

The video is based on an article compiled and introduced by Frank Uekötter: “What Should We Remember? A Global Poll Among Environmental Historians”, Global Environment, 11 (2013), pp. 209-210.

Memória humana é capaz de ‘reescrever’ o passado com experiências atuais (O Globo)

JC e-mail 4889, de 06 de fevereiro de 2014

Cientistas descobrem que nossas lembranças não são como vídeos, que armazenam perfeitamente as informações

Nossa memória viaja no tempo e arranca fragmentos do presente para inseri-los no passado. Essa foi a constatação de um novo estudo elaborado pela “Northwestern Medicine Feinberg School of Medicine”, de Chicago, nos Estados Unidos. O trabalho constatou que, em termos de precisão, ela está longe de se assemelhar às câmeras de video, que armazenam perfeitamente as informações. Assim, nossa memória reescreve o passado com as informações atuais, atualizando suas lembranças com novas experiências.

O estudo é o primeiro a mostrar especificamente como a memória humana relaciona tão fortemente o presente ao passado. Ele indica o ponto exato no tempo em que uma informação, de forma incorreta, é implantada em uma memória existente.

Segundo a autora do estudo, a pós-doutora em ciências sociais médicas Donna Jo Bridge, para nos ajudar a sobreviver, a memória se adapta a um ambiente em constante mudança e nos ajuda a lidar com o que é importante agora.

– Nossa memória não é como uma câmera de vídeo. Ela reformula e edita eventos para criar uma história adequada à realidade atual – ressalta Bridge à BBC News. Essa “edição” acontece no hipocampo.

Para a realização do experimento, 17 pessoas estudaram 168 objetos dispostos em uma tela de computador, com variadas imagens de fundo. Os cientistas observaram a atividade cerebral dos participantes, assim como o movimento dos olhos.

As imagens traziam cenas como o fundo do oceano ou a vista aérea de terras agrícolas. Em seguida, os pesquisadores pediram aos participantes para que eles colocassem o objeto no local original, mas em uma nova tela de fundo. O que se verificou foi que os objetos sempre eram colocados em um local incorreto.

– Eles sempre escolhiam o local que já haviam selecionado na etapa anterior. Isso mostra que sua memória original do local foi alterada para remeter a localização que lembravam na nova tela de fundo – disse a cientista.

Os participantes também fizeram testes de ressonância magnética para que fossem observadas as atividades cerebrais. O movimento dos olhos também foi estudado.

– Todo mundo gosta de pensar em memória como alguma coisa que nos permite lembrar vividamente nossa infância ou o que fizemos na semana passada. Porém, a noção de uma memória perfeita é um mito – disse à BBC News Joel Voss, autor sênior da pesquisa e professor assistente de ciências sociais .

Bridge acrescenta que o estudo pode ter implicações para depoimentos de testemunhas, por exemplo.

– Nossa memória é construída para mudar, não somente relatar fatos. Sendo assim, não somos testemunhas muito confiáveis – observou à BBC.

Before Babel? Ancient Mother Tongue Reconstructed (Live Science)

Tia Ghose, LiveScience Staff Writer

06 May 2013, 03:00 PM ET

an old oil painting of the Tower of Babel.The idea of a universal human language goes back at least to the Bible, in which humanity spoke a common tongue, but were punished with mutual unintelligibility after trying to build the Tower of Babel all the way to heaven. Now scientists have reconstructed words from such a language. CREDIT: Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) 

The ancestors of people from across Europe and Asia may have spoken a common language about 15,000 years ago, new research suggests.

Now, researchers have reconstructed words, such as “mother,” “to pull” and “man,” which would have been spoken by ancient hunter-gatherers, possibly in an area such as the Caucusus. The word list, detailed today (May 6) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help researchers retrace the history of ancient migrations and contacts between prehistoric cultures.

“We can trace echoes of language back 15,000 years to a time that corresponds to about the end of the last ice age,” said study co-author Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom.

Tower of Babel

The idea of a universal human language goes back at least to the Bible, in which humanity spoke a common tongue, but were punished with mutual unintelligibility after trying to build the Tower of Babel all the way to heaven. [Image Gallery: Ancient Middle-Eastern Texts]

But not all linguists believe in a single common origin of language, and trying to reconstruct that language seemed impossible. Most researchers thought they could only trace a language’s roots back 3,000 to 4,000 years. (Even so, researchers recently said they had traced the roots of a common mother tongue to many Eurasian languages back 8,000 to 9,500 years to Anatolia, a southwestern Asian peninsula that is now part of Turkey.)

Pagel, however, wondered whether language evolution proceeds much like biological evolution. If so, the most critical words, such as the frequently used words that define our social relationships, would change much more slowly.

To find out if he could uncover those ancient words, Pagel and his colleagues in a previous study tracked how quickly words changed in modern languages. They identified the most stable words. They also mapped out how different modern languages were related.

They then reconstructed ancient words based on the frequency at which certain sounds tend to change in different languages — for instance, p’s and f’s often change over time in many languages, as in the change from “pater” in Latin to the more recent term “father” in English.

The researchers could predict what 23 words, including “I,” “ye,” “mother,” “male,” “fire,” “hand” and “to hear” might sound like in an ancestral language dating to 15,000 years ago.

In other words, if modern-day humans could somehow encounter their Stone Age ancestors, they could say one or two very simple statements and make themselves understood, Pagel said.

Limitations of tracing language

Unfortunately, this language technique may have reached its limits in terms of how far back in history it can go.

“It’s going to be very difficult to go much beyond that, even these slowly evolving words are starting to run out of steam,” Pagel told LiveScience.

The study raises the possibility that researchers could combine linguistic data with archaeology and anthropology “to tell the story of human prehistory,” for instance by recreating ancient migrations and contacts between people, said William Croft, a comparative linguist at the University of New Mexico, who was not involved in the study.

“That has been held back because most linguists say you can only go so far back in time,” Croft said. “So this is an intriguing suggestion that you can go further back in time.”

Futuristic predictions from 1988 LA Times Magazine come true… mostly (Singularity Hub)

Written By: 

Posted: 03/28/13 8:52 AM


In 2013, a day in the life of a Los Angeles family of four is an amazing testament to technological progress and the idealistic society that can be achieved…or at least that’s what the Los Angeles Times Magazine was hoping for 25 years ago. Back in April 1988, the magazine ran a special cover story called “L.A. 2013″ and presented what a typical day would be like for a family living in the city.

The author of the story, Nicole Yorkin, spoke with over 30 experts and futurists to forecast daily life in 2013 and then wove these into a story akin to those “World of Tomorrow” MGM cartoons from the mid-20th century. But unlike the cartoons which often included far fetched technologies for humor, what’s most remarkable about the 1988 article is just how many of the predictions have actually come to pass, giving some leeway in how accurately the future can be imagined.

For anyone considering what will happen in the next 25 years, the article is worth a read as it serves as an amazing window into how well the future can be predicted in addition to what technology is able to achieve in a short period of time.


Just consider the section on ‘smart cars’ speculated to be “smaller, more efficient, more automated and more personalized” than cars 25 years ago. While experts envisioned that cars would have more Transformer-like abilities to change from a sports car to a beach buggy, the key development in automobile technology will be “a central computer in the car that will control a number of devices.” Furthermore, cars were expected to be equipped with “electronic navigation or map systems,” or GPS systems. Although modern cars don’t have a ‘sonar shield’ that would cause a car to slow down when it came closer to another, parking sensors are becoming common and rearview cameras may soon be required by law.

Though the article doesn’t explicitly predict the Internet and all its consequences per se, computers were implicit to some of the predictions, such as telecommuting, virtual shopping, smart cards for health monitoring, a personalized ‘home newspaper,’ and video chatting. Integrated computers were also expected in the form of smart appliances, wall-to-ceiling computer displays in classrooms, and 3D video conferencing. These technologies exist today thanks to the networked computer revolution that was amazingly only in its infancy in 1988.


‘The Ultimate Appliance’ is the mobile robot expected to be a ‘fixture’ in today’s homes.

But of all the technologies expected to be part of daily life in 2013, the biggest miss by the article comes with robots.

In fact, the mobile robot “Billy Rae” is depicted as an integral component to the household, much like Rosie The Robot was in The Jetsons. In the story, the family communicates with Billy Rae naturally as the mother reads a list of chores for cleaning the house and preparing meals. There’s even a pet canine robot named Max that helps the son learn to read and do math. The robots aren’t necessarily depicted as being super intelligent, but they were still expected to be vital, even being referred to as the “ultimate appliance.”

In recent years, great strides have been made with robots and artificial intelligence, but we are years away from having a maid-like robot that was hoped for in the article. We’re all familiar withcleaning robots like the Roomba and hospitals are starting to utilize healthcare robots.Personal assistants like Siri show that we’re getting closer to the day when people and computers can communicate verbally. But bringing all these technologies together is one of the most challenging problems to be solved, even with the high amounts of expectation and huge market potential that these bots will experience.

In light of this, it’s interesting to compare the predictions in this article to those in French illustrations drawn around 1900, which also include a fair share of robotic automation.

The piece is peppered with utopian speculation, but already on the radar were concerns about the shifting job market, increasing pollution, and the need for quality schooling, public transportation, and affordable housing, issues that have reached or are nearing crisis levels. It’s comforting to know that many of the problems that modern cities face were understood fairly well a quarter of a century ago, but it is sobering to recognize how technologies have been slow in some cases at handling these problems.

Perhaps the greatest lesson from reading the article is that few of the predictions are completely wrong, but the timescale was ambitious. Almost all of the technologies described will get here sooner or later. The real issue then is, what is preventing rapid innovation or broad-scale adoption of technologies?

Not surprisingly, the answers today are the same as they were 25 years ago: time and money.


[images: kla4067/Flickr, LA Times]

Neuroscientists Pinpoint Location of Fear Memory in Amygdala (Science Daily)

Jan. 27, 2013 — A rustle of undergrowth in the outback: it’s a sound that might make an animal or person stop sharply and be still, in the anticipation of a predator. That “freezing” is part of the fear response, a reaction to a stimulus in the environment and part of the brain’s determination of whether to be afraid of it.

An image showing neurons in the lateral subdivision of the central amygdala (CeL). In red are somatostain-positive (SOM+) neurons, which control fear; in green are another set of neurons known as PKC-delta cells. (Credit: Image courtesy of Bo Li)

A neuroscience group at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) led by Assistant Professor Bo Li Ph.D., together with collaborator Professor Z. Josh Huang Ph.D., have just released the results of a new study that examines the how fear responses are learned, controlled, and memorized. They show that a particular class of neurons in a subdivision of the amygdala plays an active role in these processes.

Locating fear memory in the amygdala

Previous research had indicated that structures inside the amygdalae, a pair of almond-shaped formations that sit deep within the brain and are known to be involved in emotion and reward-based behavior, may be part of the circuit that controls fear learning and memory. In particular, a region called the central amygdala, or CeA, was thought to be a passive relay for the signals relayed within this circuit.

Li’s lab became interested when they observed that neurons in a region of the central amygdala called the lateral subdivision, or CeL, “lit up” in a particular strain of mice while studying this circuit.

“Neuroscientists believed that changes in the strength of the connections onto neurons in the central amygdala must occur for fear memory to be encoded,” Li says, “but nobody had been able to actually show this.”

This led the team to further probe into the role of these neurons in fear responses and furthermore to ask the question: If the central amygdala stores fear memory, how is that memory trace read out and translated into fear responses?

To examine the behavior of mice undergoing a fear test the team first trained them to respond in a Pavlovian manner to an auditory cue. The mice began to “freeze,” a very common fear response, whenever they heard one of the sounds they had been trained to fear.

To study the particular neurons involved, and to understand them in relation to the fear-inducing auditory cue, the CSHL team used a variety of methods. One of these involved delivering a gene that encodes for a light-sensitive protein into the particular neurons Li’s group wanted to look at.

By implanting a very thin fiber-optic cable directly into the area containing the photosensitive neurons, the team was able to shine colored laser light with pinpoint accuracy onto the cells, and in this manner activate them. This is a technique known as optogenetics. Any changes in the behavior of the mice in response to the laser were then monitored.

A subset of neurons in the central amygdala controls fear expression

The ability to probe genetically defined groups of neurons was vital because there are two sets of neurons important in fear-learning and memory processes. The difference between them, the team learned, was in their release of message-carrying neurotransmitters into the spaces called synapses between neurons. In one subset of neurons, neurotransmitter release was enhanced; in another it was diminished. If measurements had been taken across the total cell population in the central amygdala, neurotransmitter levels from these two distinct sets of neurons would have been averaged out, and thus would not have been detected.

Li’s group found that fear conditioning induced experience-dependent changes in the release of neurotransmitters in excitatory synapses that connect with inhibitory neurons — neurons that suppress the activity of other neurons — in the central amygdala. These changes in the strength of neuronal connections are known as synaptic plasticity.

Particularly important in this process, the team discovered, were somatostatin-positive (SOM+) neurons. Somatostatin is a hormone that affects neurotransmitter release. Li and colleagues found that fear-memory formation was impaired when they prevent the activation of SOM+ neurons.

SOM+ neurons are necessary for recall of fear memories, the team also found. Indeed, the activity of these neurons alone proved sufficient to drive fear responses. Thus, instead of being a passive relay for the signals driving fear learning and responses in mice, the team’s work demonstrates that the central amygdala is an active component, and is driven by input from the lateral amygdala, to which it is connected.

“We find that the fear memory in the central amygdala can modify the circuit in a way that translates into action — or what we call the fear response,” explains Li.

In the future Li’s group will try to obtain a better understanding of how these processes may be altered in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other disorders involving abnormal fear learning. One important goal is to develop pharmacological interventions for such disorders.

Li says more research is needed, but is hopeful that with the discovery of specific cellular markers and techniques such as optogenetics, a breakthrough can be made.

Journal Reference:

  1. Haohong Li, Mario A Penzo, Hiroki Taniguchi, Charles D Kopec, Z Josh Huang, Bo Li. Experience-dependent modification of a central amygdala fear circuitNature Neuroscience, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nn.3322

Understanding the Historical Probability of Drought (Science Daily)

Jan. 30, 2013 — Droughts can severely limit crop growth, causing yearly losses of around $8 billion in the United States. But it may be possible to minimize those losses if farmers can synchronize the growth of crops with periods of time when drought is less likely to occur. Researchers from Oklahoma State University are working to create a reliable “calendar” of seasonal drought patterns that could help farmers optimize crop production by avoiding days prone to drought.

Historical probabilities of drought, which can point to days on which crop water stress is likely, are often calculated using atmospheric data such as rainfall and temperatures. However, those measurements do not consider the soil properties of individual fields or sites.

“Atmospheric variables do not take into account soil moisture,” explains Tyson Ochsner, lead author of the study. “And soil moisture can provide an important buffer against short-term precipitation deficits.”

In an attempt to more accurately assess drought probabilities, Ochsner and co-authors, Guilherme Torres and Romulo Lollato, used 15 years of soil moisture measurements from eight locations across Oklahoma to calculate soil water deficits and determine the days on which dry conditions would be likely. Results of the study, which began as a student-led class research project, were published online Jan. 29 inAgronomy Journal. The researchers found that soil water deficits more successfully identified periods during which plants were likely to be water stressed than did traditional atmospheric measurements when used as proposed by previous research.

Soil water deficit is defined in the study as the difference between the capacity of the soil to hold water and the actual water content calculated from long-term soil moisture measurements. Researchers then compared that soil water deficit to a threshold at which plants would experience water stress and, therefore, drought conditions. The threshold was determined for each study site since available water, a factor used to calculate threshold, is affected by specific soil characteristics.

“The soil water contents differ across sites and depths depending on the sand, silt, and clay contents,” says Ochsner. “Readily available water is a site- and depth-specific parameter.”

Upon calculating soil water deficits and stress thresholds for the study sites, the research team compared their assessment of drought probability to assessments made using atmospheric data. They found that a previously developed method using atmospheric data often underestimated drought conditions, while soil water deficits measurements more accurately and consistently assessed drought probabilities. Therefore, the researchers suggest that soil water data be used whenever it is available to create a picture of the days on which drought conditions are likely.

If soil measurements are not available, however, the researchers recommend that the calculations used for atmospheric assessments be reconfigured to be more accurate. The authors made two such changes in their study. First, they decreased the threshold at which plants were deemed stressed, thus allowing a smaller deficit to be considered a drought condition. They also increased the number of days over which atmospheric deficits were summed. Those two changes provided estimates that better agreed with soil water deficit probabilities.

Further research is needed, says Ochsner, to optimize atmospheric calculations and provide accurate estimations for those without soil water data. “We are in a time of rapid increase in the availability of soil moisture data, but many users will still have to rely on the atmospheric water deficit method for locations where soil moisture data are insufficient.”

Regardless of the method used, Ochsner and his team hope that their research will help farmers better plan the cultivation of their crops and avoid costly losses to drought conditions.

Journal Reference:

  1. Guilherme M. Torres, Romulo P. Lollato, Tyson E. Ochsner.Comparison of Drought Probability Assessments Based on Atmospheric Water Deficit and Soil Water Deficit.Agronomy Journal, 2013; DOI: 10.2134/agronj2012.0295

Scientists Underestimated Potential for Tohoku Earthquake: Now What? (Science Daily)

Jan. 23, 2013 — The massive Tohoku, Japan, earthquake in 2011 and Sumatra-Andaman superquake in 2004 stunned scientists because neither region was thought to be capable of producing a megathrust earthquake with a magnitude exceeding 8.4.

Seismograph. (Credit: © huebi71 / Fotolia)

Now earthquake scientists are going back to the proverbial drawing board and admitting that existing predictive models looking at maximum earthquake size are no longer valid.

In a new analysis published in the journal Seismological Research Letters, a team of scientists led by Oregon State University’s Chris Goldfinger describes how past global estimates of earthquake potential were constrained by short historical records and even shorter instrumental records. To gain a better appreciation for earthquake potential, he says, scientists need to investigate longer paleoseismic records.

“Once you start examining the paleoseismic and geodetic records, it becomes apparent that there had been the kind of long-term plate deformation required by a giant earthquake such as the one that struck Japan in 2011,” Goldfinger said. “Paleoseismic work has confirmed several likely predecessors to Tohoku, at about 1,000-year intervals.”

The researchers also identified long-term “supercycles” of energy within plate boundary faults, which appear to store this energy like a battery for many thousands of years before yielding a giant earthquake and releasing the pressure. At the same time, smaller earthquakes occur that do not to any great extent dissipate the energy stored within the plates.

The newly published analysis acknowledges that scientists historically may have underestimated the number of regions capable of producing major earthquakes on a scale of Tohoku.

“Since the 1970s, scientists have divided the world into plate boundaries that can generate 9.0 earthquakes versus those that cannot,” said Goldfinger, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Those models were already being called into question when Sumatra drove one stake through their heart, and Tohoku drove the second one.

“Now we have no models that work,” he added, “and we may not have for decades. We have to assume, however, that the potential for 9.0 subduction zone earthquakes is much more widespread than originally thought.”

Both Tohoku and Sumatra were written off in the textbooks as not having the potential for a major earthquake, Goldfinger pointed out.

“Their plate age was too old, and they didn’t have a really large earthquake in their recent history,” Goldfinger said. “In fact, if you look at a northern Japan seismic risk map from several years ago, it looks quite benign — but this was an artifact of recent statistics.”

Paleoseismic evidence of subduction zone earthquakes is not yet plentiful in most cases, so little is known about the long-term earthquake potential of most major faults. Scientists can determine whether a fault has ruptured in the past — when and to what extent — but they cannot easily estimate how big a specific earthquake might have been. Most, Goldfinger says, fall into ranges — say, 8.4 to 8.7.

Nevertheless, that type of evidence can be more telling than historical records because it may take many thousands of years to capture the full range of earthquake behavior.

In their analysis, the researchers point to several subduction zone areas that previously had been discounted as potential 9.0 earthquake producers — but may be due for reconsideration. These include central Chile, Peru, New Zealand, the Kuriles fault between Japan and Russia, the western Aleutian Islands, the Philippines, Java, the Antilles Islands and Makran, Pakistan/Iran.

Onshore faults such as the Himalayan Front may also be hiding outsized earthquakes, the researchers add. Their work was supported by the National Science Foundation.

Goldfinger, who directs the Active Tectonics and Seafloor Mapping Laboratory at Oregon State, is a leading expert on the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the Pacific Northwest coast of North America. His comparative studies have taken him to the Indian Ocean, Japan and Chile, and in 2007, he led the first American research ship into Sumatra waters in nearly 30 years to study similarities between the Indian Ocean subduction zone and Cascadia.

Paleoseismic evidence abounds in the Cascadia Subduction Zone, Goldfinger pointed out. When a major offshore earthquake occurs, the disturbance causes mud and sand to begin streaming down the continental margins and into the undersea canyons. Coarse sediments called turbidites run out onto the abyssal plain; these sediments stand out distinctly from the fine particulate matter that accumulates on a regular basis between major tectonic events.

By dating the fine particles through carbon-14 analysis and other methods, Goldfinger and colleagues can estimate with a great deal of accuracy when major earthquakes have occurred. Over the past 10,000 years, there have been 19 earthquakes that extended along most of the Cascadia Subduction Zone margin, stretching from southern Vancouver Island to the Oregon-California border.

“These would typically be of a magnitude from about 8.7 to 9.2 — really huge earthquakes,” Goldfinger said. “We’ve also determined that there have been 22 additional earthquakes that involved just the southern end of the fault. We are assuming that these are slightly smaller — more like 8.0 — but not necessarily. They were still very large earthquakes that if they happened today could have a devastating impact.”

Other researchers on the analysis include Yasutaka Ikeda of University of Tokyo, Robert S. Yeats of Oregon State University, and Junjie Ren, of the Chinese Seismological Bureau.

Journal Reference:

  1. C. Goldfinger, Y. Ikeda, R. S. Yeats, J. Ren. Superquakes and SupercyclesSeismological Research Letters, 2013; 84 (1): 24 DOI: 10.1785/0220110135

Wallerstein: a crise estrutural do capitalismo vai continuar (Revista Fórum)

13/11/2012 8:05 pm


Para sociólogo, o que ele denomina como sistema-mundo tem problemas de tal magnitude que não será possível sua sobrevivência, mas o que virá depois é algo ainda totalmente incerto

Entrevista a por Lee Su-hoon | Tradução de Hugo Albuquerque e Inês Castilho para o Outras Palavras

Em dois sentidos, pelo menos, o sociólogo norte-americano Immanuel Wallerstein parece disposto a contrariar as ideias que ainda predominam sobre a crise iniciada em 2007. Primeiro, no diagnóstico do fenômeno. Para ele, estamos diante de algo muito mais profundo que uma mera turbulência financeira. Foram abaladas as bases do próprio capitalismo. Ou, para usar um conceito caro a Wallerstein, do “sistema-mundo” que se desenhou a partir do século 16, em algumas partes da Europa, e se tornou globalmente hegemônico desde os anos 1800. Tal sistema teria atingido “o limite de suas possibilidades”, sendo incapaz de sobreviver à crise atual. Se ainda temos dificuldade para compreender o alcance das transformações em curso é porque, presos à inércia, demoramos a aceitar que “há alguns dilemas insolúveis”. “Nada dura para sempre – nem o Universo”, lembra Wallerstein, um tanto irônico.

O segundo ponto de vista não-convencional deste sociólogo – também um pesquisador de enorme repercussão internacional nos terrenos da História e da Geopolítica – diz respeito ao que virá, diante do eventual colapso do atual sistema-mundo. Ele diverge dos que pensam, baseados numa interpretação pouco refinada do marxismo, que podemos permanecer tranquilos – já que o declínio do sistema atual dará necessariamente lugar a uma ordem fraterna e socialista.

Não – diz Wallerstein – o futuro está mais aberto que nunca. O declínio do capitalismo pode abrir espaço, inclusive, a um sistema mais desumano – como sugere a forte presença, em todo o mundo, de correntes de pensamento autoritárias e xenófobas.

Estamos, portanto, condenados à ação, sugere este pensador, em cuja obra destaca-se a tetralogia “O Sistema Mundial Moderno”. Se o sentido do século 21 é imprevisível, isso deve-se ao fato de ele estar sendo construído neste exato momento, “em uma infinidade de nano-ações, desempenhadas por uma infinidade de nano-atores, em múltiplos nano-momentos. Em outras palavras, convoca Wallerstein, não se trata de prever o futuro, mas de construí-lo, inclusive em ações e atitudes quotidianas.

Para transformar, contudo, é preciso conhecer. Talvez por isso, embora aos 83 anos e consagrado por vasta obra teórica, Wallerstein dedica-se, em seu site, a análises quinzenais sobre temas contemporâneos muito concretos. Boa parte do material produzindo nos últimos dois anos traduzida e publicada por “Outras Palavras”. Entrevistado há poucas semanas pelo cientista político coreano Lee Su-hoon, ele avança no exame destes temas, muitas vezes expressando pontos de vista pouco usuais.

Indigado sobre a Europa, onde os cortes de direitos sociais e serviços públicos parecem não têm fim, propõe que se busque alternativas olhando, por exemplo, para a Argentina e Malásia. Estes países saíram da crise porque contrariaram, nas décadas de 1990 e 2000. Agora, pensa Wallerstein, o espaço para fazê-lo é ainda maior – mas é preciso ter coragem política.

O mundo irá tornar-se mais seguro se o Irã for impedido de desenvolver energia atômica? A resposta é “não”, garante este professor da Universidade de Yale: o atual Tratado de Não-Proliferação nuclear (TNP) é absolutamente hipócrita e será cada vez mais ineficaz. Contra o que ele preconiza, prevê Wallerstein, diversos países do Sul desenvolverão armas atômicas nos próximos anos – inclusive o Brasil…

China e Estados Unidos tendem a se converter em potências globais inimigas? Nada demonstra esta hipótese, frisa ele. A despeito da retórica, e da necessidade de satisfazer audiências locais, na prática Washington e Beijing mantêm cada vez mais interesses em comum. A entrevista completa, publicada pelo ótimo jornal sul-coreano Hankioreh, vem a seguir. (Antonio Martins)

Lee Su-hoon: Você disse: “Nos próximos 50 anos o mundo vai mergulhar em uma turbulência econômica séria e, mais tarde, o capitalismo vai enfrentar uma crise tremenda, como a da Grande Depressão”. As pessoas dizem que a crise se deve à ganância de Wall Street e à bolha imobiliária etc. Como você analisa essa crise?

Wallerstein: Faz cinco anos que eu não mudo de opinião. Basicamente, a meu ver, estamos em uma crise estrutural da economia capitalista mundial desde os anos 1970, e ela vai continuar. E não vai ser totalmente resolvida até talvez 2040 ou 2050. É difícil prever a data exata, mas vai levar muito tempo. No momento, o sistema mundial está bifurcado. Tem problemas de tal magnitude que não poderá sobreviver, está tão longe do equilíbrio que não há como voltar atrás. Mas para onde ele vai é totalmente incerto, porque, como disse, essa bifurcação significa que, tecnicamente, há duas formas de resolver uma mesma equação, o que não é normal.

Em linguagem leiga, isso significa simplesmente que o futuro sistema mundial, ou sistemas mundiais (porque não sabemos se haverá um só) que vai ou vão surgir no final desse processo podem ter, no mínimo, duas variedades fundamentais. Assim, não se pode prever qual sistema teremos, porque ele vai ser uma consequência de uma infinidade de nano-ações, desempenhadas por uma infinidade de nano-atores, em múltiplos nano-momentos – e ninguém é capaz de elaborar tanta coisa. Mas vai acontecer. Então, aqui estamos nós, no meio de tudo isso. É caótico, como se diz.

E o que significa dizer “É caótico”? Significa que as flutuações são enormes e, portanto, há incertezas inclusive no prazo muito curto. Isso significa que uma pessoa que preveja qual será a relação entre o iene, o dólar, o euro e a libra dentro de um ano será alguém muito corajoso. Não há como saber. Mas os empresários precisam dessa informação. Eles têm de ter o mínimo de estabilidade, do contrário correm o risco de sofrer perdas enormes. Isso os deixa paralisados, com muito receio de se envolver em qualquer tipo de investimento, uma das coisas que está acontecendo no mundo todo. É por isso que o desemprego explodiu. E é também por isso que os governos estão em tal dificuldade financeira, pois sem essa produção adicional não há receitas fiscais, e sem receitas os governos passaram a sofrer um grande aperto. E então o desemprego aumenta, o que coloca mais pressão sobre o governo. É o que acontece hoje em praticamente todos os países do mundo. Os governos têm menos dinheiro e enfrentam demandas para gastar mais. Isso, naturalmente, é impossível: não se pode ter menos e gastar mais. Então, eles vêm com tudo quanto é tipo de solução. Nenhuma parece funcionar. É onde nos encontramos atualmente.

Lee: E muitos países europeus estão enfrentando uma crise fiscal, uma espécie de moratória, o que os leva a tentar obter ajuda da UE (União Europeia) e do BCE (Banco Central Europeu).

Wallerstein: Os europeus têm um problema básico. Possuem pelo menos nove moedas, e 17 países compartilham o euro. Mas não têm um governo federal. É uma situação muito complicada, pois significa que os governos não podem intervir em sua própria moeda. Uma dos instrumentos que os governos utilizam tradicionalmente para lidar com suas dificuldades é aumentar ou diminuir o valor da moeda. Ao diminuir o valor da moeda pode-se vender mais; aumentando o seu valor, pode-se comprar mais. Os países da zona do euro não têm essa opção, porque nenhum país tem moeda própria. E eles estão enfrentando os mesmos problemas de todos os outros. Ou seja, exigências crescentes, porque o aumento do desemprego gera mais demandas sobre o governo. Ao mesmo tempo, a receita do governo diminui, porque não há empregos.

Sua única opção (da Grécia, Espanha, Portugal ou Irlanda) é obter ajuda, algum tipo de solidariedade. Então eles se deparam com a relutância, por parte dos países mais ricos, em “salvar” os mais pobres. Isso não leva em conta o fato de que o único e maior beneficiário da zona do euro é, de fato, a Alemanha. E é justamente o país que está fazendo o maior estardalhaço sobre não querer ajudar outros países, a menos que façam X, Y ou Z – medidas que, na verdade, só pioram a situação. Essa é a questão da zona do euro. É o problema enfrentado por todo o mundo, acrescido do fato de que esses países não podem manipular individualmente suas próprias moedas. Mas o problema básico não é diferente daquele dos EUA, da Rússia, do Egito ou de qualquer outro lugar onde haja aperto.

Lee: Aqui na Coreia, os especialistas e a mídia apresentam dois argumentos diferentes. A Irlanda, a Grécia e outros gastam muito dinheiro em benefícios sociais – essa é uma linha de argumentação. A outra é o efeito de contágio, por causa da facilidade de migração na zona do euro.

Wallerstein: Vamos lidar com os dois argumentos. O primeiro é “a Grécia está em apuros porque exagerou no bem-estar social”. Isso é exatamente o que o Partido Republicano diz sobre os EUA. É um mesmo argumento para todo o mundo, não um argumento especial para a Grécia. A reação das forças mais conservadoras a essa crise é dizer “corte benefícios”, o que significa “reduzir os gastos do governo”. Mas se você cortar benefícios reduz também o poder de compra das pessoas. Cria assim uma demanda menos eficaz. Por exemplo, uma pessoa que fabrica camisetas, ou algo assim, tem menos clientes. De forma que essa não parece ser a solução. Para mim, só piora o problema. De qualquer forma, a questão é que não é um problema específico da Grécia, da Espanha ou de Portugal. É um problema de todos os países.

Agora, o efeito de contágio. O que acontece é que, como os governos estão sem recursos, precisam de dinheiro emprestado. E para obter esse dinheiro, dependem do mercado. As pessoas emprestam dinheiro com mais facilidade quando veem possibilidades de obter reembolso. Então há, sim, um efeito de contágio na Europa: a Grécia começa a ter problemas, Portugal e Irlanda começam a ter problemas, e Espanha e Itália começam a ter problemas. E agora é a França que está se metendo em encrencas, e depois a Holanda e a própria Alemanha. É o efeito de contágio, em parte criado pelas agências de classificação de risco – que não são neutras –, mas também um problema muito real. O efeito de contágio vai da Europa para os EUA, e da Europa para o resto do mundo. Vai deixando as pessoas paralisadas. Isso significa que, quando veem as coisas indo tão mal, dizem “bem, pode dar errado em outros lugares também, portanto, não vamos emprestar o dinheiro”, ou “vamos exigir taxas de juro mais elevadas”.

Mas se tomamos o dinheiro emprestado a taxas de juros mais altas, sobra ainda menos dinheiro para gastar em outras coisas. Esse é exatamente o problema mundial. Então, novamente, não vejo isso como um problema especialmente europeu. A questão na Europa, no momento, é saber se as forças que dizem ”os países europeus estariam em situação melhor se não houvesse euro” conseguirão aboliro euro e voltar para suas moedas nacionais. Há um certo movimento nessa direção, tanto da direita como de alguns setores de esquerda.

A esquerda europeia não gosta do fato de que Bruxelas, com tanta influência, tenha um viés neoliberal tão forte. Diz-se (em alguns países escandinavos e mesmo na França): “estaríamos melhor se estivéssemos livres do controle de Bruxelas”, em oposição ao ponto de vista ainda dominante – o de que o euro fortalece a posição europeia frente ao resto do mundo e, mais especificamente, frente aos Estados Unidos.

Está acontecendo uma luta política, não há dúvida. Tendo a acreditar que, em geral, deve-se separar a retórica política da realidade e das pressões geopolíticas. A retórica política é em geral uma resposta a uma circunstância política imediata de um país. Se a chanceler Angela Merkel diz certas coisas na Alemanha, não é necessariamente porque ela acredita naquilo, mas porque, na próxima eleição, que pode ser muito em breve, ela julga que com isso ganharia votos. A mesma coisa vale para Obama. Vale também, tenho certeza, para o presidente da Coreia. Os políticos têm de se preocupar com a próxima eleição. Isso não significa que: (a) eles querem realmente dizer o que falam, e (b) o que dizem tem importância. Não acho que importe muito.

Ainda que, numa situação muito volátil, a estupidez possa prevalecer. Em geral, o que acontece é decorrente de pressões geopolíticas. Então, penso que a pressão para manter o euro, os benefícios em termos de geopolítica, são muito maiores do que a pressão para voltar às moedas individuais.

A chanceler Merkel está dizendo às pessoas, em toda a Europa, “deixem-me fazer isso, e então terei cacife político para convencer os políticos e eleitores alemães a me acompanhar”. Penso que a Europa vai concordar com um aumento do federalismo, ainda que não chamem isso de federalismo, porque não gostam dessa palavra. Mas um fortalecimento do poder central e, em consequência, um aumento do fluxo de dinheiro. Nos EUA, um estado como o Mississippi só não vai à falência porque o governo federal pode redirecionar dinheiro para lá. É disso que a Europa precisa. É isso o que querem realmente dizer as pessoas que estão clamando por “solidariedade”.

Se você me pedir que faça previsões, penso que a probabilidade de vermos, em três anos, não apenas um euro, mas um euro fortalecido, é muito maior do que o contrário. E algum tipo de mecanismo que permita enfatizar menos a prosperidade e mais a volta de recursos, ter o dinheiro fluindo novamente, é a única solução de curto prazo para os problemas europeus, assim como para os dos EUA.

Lee: Gostaria de acrescentar algo em sua análise da situação da zona do euro. Você mencionou os países escandinavos, que são mais fortes em termos de benefícios sociais. São os que mais gastam com bem-estar social e os que pagam mais impostos. Mas não estão em crise, embora se argumente que o chamado “populismo do bem-estar” social é inteiramente errado.

Wallerstein: Sim, evidente. Isso pode ser demonstrada de várias maneiras. É claro, existem cinco países nórdicos diferentes, cada um com uma situação um pouco diferente, inclusive aqueles que estão e aqueles que não estão na zona do euro, e os que estão e os que não estão na OTAN. Mas, em geral, você tem toda a razão ao dizer que aqueles cinco países nórdicos ainda são estados de bem-estar fortes, com impostos relativamente altos.

Lee: Sim, na verdade o problema fiscal da Europa é um problema mundial. Quando você olha para países específicos, há diferenças. Em alguns países, a corrupção é mais grave do que em outros.

Wallerstein: Vamos nos deter um pouco na corrupção. Penso que a corrupção é mais grave nos EUA, na Grã-Bretanha, na França e na Alemanha, do que em alguns casos de países muito citados em todo o mundo. Eles são fichinha, perto da corrupção real. Temos escândalos o tempo todo nos EUA, França e Grã-Bretanha. Quando você se depara com esses escândalos, de repente descobre que se trata de trilhões de dólares. Já quando ocorre algo do tipo em Myanmar ou no Iraque, por exemplo, estamos lidando com milhões, nem sequer com bilhões de dólares.

Assim, a corrupção é uma arma deveras etnocêntrica. Os países do Norte tendem a dizer que os do Sul são imorais, porque são corruptos. Mas não dizem que somos imorais porque somos corruptos. A corrupção é geral em nosso sistema. É geral porque, se você tem um sistema em que o principal objetivo é a acumulação de capital, a corrupção é simplesmente um aluguel que as pessoas que estão no lugar certo cobram, da acumulação sem fim do capital. Dizer que “eles não deveriam” é uma posição moral correta, mas retórica, porque eles irão até onde der, já que a opinião pública não gosta de enxergar a corrupção. E talvez uma ou duas pessoas sejam presas por um tempo relativamente pequeno, mas, basicamente, nada mais é feito contra a corrupção. Quando foi a última vez que uma pessoa corrupta dessas foi mandada para uma prisão de verdade, por um período realmente longo e teve de devolver todo o dinheiro que levou? Isso simplesmente não acontece.

Lee: Quando ouvi o discurso de feito por Obama ao se candidatar à reeleição, anotei o que ele apresentou como receitas para salvar os EUA dos tempos difíceis: criar mais postos de trabalho na indústria, reconstruir a classe média, enfatizar a educação, cortar tributos sobre a riqueza, uma nova política energética, a redução das importações e benefícios sociais que incluíssem assistência médica – um tema sempre muito controverso nas eleições norte-americanas. Mas eu me surpreendi ao ouvir as mesmas coisas dos candidatos presidenciais aqui na Coreia do Sul. Claro, a Coreia tem uma situação peculiar: a divisão da península, razão pela qual a questão da paz e a questão nuclear são importantes. Fora isso, os programas e políticas socioeconômicas eram mais ou menos idênticos. Isso me levou a pensar se a Coreia do Sul seria como os EUA socioeconomicamente. Cerca de vinte anos atrás a Coreia do Sul foi saudada como modelo para os países de Terceiro Mundo, uma vez que alcançou o crescimento econômico com relativa igualdade. Mas após as crises de 1997 e 2008 a Coreia do Sul revelou-se muito parecida com os EUA, e então as receitas políticas são quase idênticas nos dois países, penso eu.

Wallerstein: Bem, não discordo. Dentre os países mais ricos do mundo, a Coreia do Sul não está no topo, mas não está muito mal. As opiniões sobre o bem-estar social parecem estar divididas entre os conservadores e as pessoas de esquerda. Mas penso que, na verdade, a divisão pode ser mais ampla. Quando se olha para o papel do governo nos países mais pobres do mundo, ainda há a questão de quanto eles têm de benefícios sociais. Uma das coisas que o neoliberalismo, como um movimento atuante desde os anos 1980, tem prescrito para os países do Sul é: “Vejam, ocês têm todos esses problemas econômicos. Querem emprestar dinheiro de nós? Então reduzam os benefícios sociais, porque isso é dinheiro jogado fora”. A teoria age como uma força conservadora contra o governo local, que está atuando mais à esquerda. É o mesmo tipo de debate.

Você se lembra da chamada ”crise da dívida asiática” de 1997? De repente, uma série de países do Leste e do Sudeste da Ásia se viu encrencado economicamente. Ou seja, o dinheiro desapareceu. Os governos viram-se em apuros. Alguns buscaram ajuda, dizendo: “emprestem-nos dinheiro.” E esses governos contaram que a resposta recebida em geral foi: “emprestar dinheiro para vocês? Sim, desde que façam assim e assado”.

O único país que se recusou a tomar dinheiro emprestado nesses termos foi a Malásia — e ela foi o que se recuperou mais rapidamente, por ter recusado. Ao aceitar as exigências, a Indonésia provocou a queda de Suharto. E eu gostaria de citar este episódio. Trata-se de uma famosa atuação de Henry Kissinger, um político reconhecidamente de direita. Após a queda de Suharto, ele escreveu: ”como vocês (FMI e governo dos EUA) podem ser tão estúpidos? Vocês prescrevem para o governo de Suharto medidas que provocam sua queda e colocam, no seu lugar, um governo à esquerda dele. É mais importante manter Suharto no poder do que negar-lhe dinheiro. Vocês não entenderam suas prioridades. A prioridade é geopolítica, e não econômica”. Ele os repreendeu por fazer o que vinham fazendo há dez ou vinte anos em países menos importantes que a Indonesia.

A Coreia ficou no meio, tendo em vista o modo como respondeu. Teve uma atuação melhor do que a dos países que se entregaram completamente ao FMI, mas não tão boa quanto a da Malásia. Uma das coisas que se aprende com isso, e depois do que aconteceu na Argentina, é que esses países têm mais poder geopolítico do que acreditam ter e são mais capazes de reagir contra agências tipo FMI. Naturalmente, o FMI e o Banco Mundial aprenderam a lição. E começaram a falar em programas contra a pobreza. De repente, sua linguagem mudou, como resultado da crise da dívida asiática, porque se deram conta daquilo que Kissinger estava lhes dizendo: precisam ser mais astutos politicamente; não podem ser estritamente econômicos em suas exigências.

Lee: Na convenção do Partido Democrata norte-americano deste ano, Joseph Biden afirmou, repetidamente, que “os EUA não estão em declínio”, e Obama disse que “os EUA são um país do Pacífico”. Isso pode ser interpretado como um retorno dos EUA à zona asiática do Pacífico, inclusive sugerindo a contenção da China.

Wallerstein: Aqui há duas questões. Uma delas é afirmar que os EUA não estão em declínio. A outra é o que eles estão tentando fazer com essa ênfase na Ásia e no Pacífico.

“Os EUA não estão em declínio” é um mantra nos Estados Unidos. Nenhum político pode dizer que os EUA estão em decadência. Na verdade, todos eles se esforçam para negar essa realidade, porque a população dos EUA não está preparada para aceitar o fato de que os EUA não são mais o “Número 1”, um exemplo admirado no mundo inteiro. Eles não vão dizer isso publicamente. É uma pena porque, a meu ver, uma das coisas importantes é tornar a população dos Estados Unidos mais consciente da realidade geopolítica e do fato de que os EUA são um país muito forte – mas não mais, em nenhum sentido, acima dos demais. Há vários países com avaliação melhor que os EUA em determinadas questões. E a capacidade de os EUA para influenciar a situação em várias partes do mundo diminuiu enormemente. Então, penso que é preciso separar a retórica política da realidade política.

E agora, o que os Estados Unidos estavam fazendo na Ásia? A primeira coisa a notar é que os EUA não têm força econômica e militar suficiente para engajar-se por completo, como costumavam, na Europa e na Ásia. Se eles dizem publicamente “vamos estar fazer isso na Ásia”, querem dizer ao mesmo tempo que não vão fazer isso na Europa. Isso não está sendo ignorado pelos europeus. Está sendo ignorado pela opinião pública dos Estados Unidos. Ou seja: isso, em parte, é admitir o declínio.

Agora, a segunda parte é ”conter” a China. Os comunistas chegaram ao poder em 1948. A China não tem sido politicamente popular nos EUA. A Guerra da Coreia, entre o Norte e o Sul da península, foi também uma guerra entre os EUA e a China. Não a denominamos assim, mas essa é a realidade. E a linha de armistício não é tão diferente da linha anterior à guerra. Considero que houve um empate militar entre a China e os EUA. Nenhum dos lados ganhou. No entanto, a retórica era muito forte nos dois lados, China e EUA denunciando um ao outro de todas as maneiras possíveis, até que Nixon foi à China, guiado por seus instintos geopolíticos e os de Henry Kissinger. A combinação era bastante forte. Ambos eram muito cínicos e muito inteligentes. Naquele momento, a China travava uma grande disputa com a União Soviética. Tinham um terreno comum. Uniram-se contra a União Soviética, é simples assim.

Agora, a Guerra Fria acabou, e a União Soviética não existe mais, e há algo chamado Rússia, que é o mesmo país e ao mesmo tempo um país extremamente diferente. A China ficou mais forte do que era antes – militarmente e economicamente. Mas não se deve exagerar. A China está se afirmando geopoliticamente como líder da Ásia. Mas, trinta anos atrás, ninguém na África ou na América Latina pensava na China. A China simplesmente não fazia parte da cena. Agora, mudou. A China ambiciona ser uma potência, e uma potência mundial precisa interessar-se por todas as partes do mundo, da mesma forma que os EUA e a Grã-Bretanha, que são potências mundiais, estão interessados em todas as partes do mundo. Nesse sentido, a União Soviética era uma potência mundial.

A China e os Estados Unidos têm muitas diferenças sobre questões imediatas, e esfregam isso na cara um do outro, de modo errado, de tempos em tempos. E atualmente há um monte de difamadores da China nos EUA. Os políticos gostam de culpá-la por tudo. Isso irrita os chineses, mas é um jogo. Se você olhar para a realidade das políticas dos Estados Unidos e a realidade das políticas chinesas ao longo dos últimos trinta anos, verá que eles nunca fizeram nada que ultrapassasse os limites um do outro. Têm sido muito cuidadosos em manter boas relações geopolíticas.

Então, não considero tão significativa a nova ênfase dos EUA na Ásia e no Pacífico. Primeiro, vejo isso como um show de retórica, em parte para os EUA e em parte para os outros países da Ásia, porque há que se preocupar com a Coreia do Sul, Japão, Vietnã e Filipinas. Estes países são ambivalentes com relação aos EUA. Eles gostam dos EUA, porque Washington os ajuda em certas coisas. Por outro lado, não querem realmente os EUA. Então, têm relações complicadas. E os EUA sentiram que precisavam reassegurar a esses aliados que não os haviam excluído da cena completamente. Não acho que seja mais do que isso. Penso que, quanto a isso, os dois lados não vão cruzar a linha, a não ser a linha retórica, no máximo.

Agora, a península coreana é de fato uma das questões cruciais nas relações EUA-China, porque temos um país chamado Coreia do Norte e outro chamado Coreia do Sul. Ambos são muito coreanos, e o nacionalismo coreano é muito forte. A pressão geopolítica pela reunificação é enorme. E agora os EUA e a China têm de se preocupar com isso. Se as tropas americanas tiverem que sair, isso significa que a Coreia reunificada possuiria armas nucleares? E se eles tiverem armas nucleares, o que os japoneses diriam sobre isso? E Taiwan? Penso que a pressão para nuclearizar, para acabar com a abstenção de armas nucleares na Coreia do Sul, no Japão e em Taiwan é muito forte. Não acho que os EUA estejam felizes com isso. Nem a China. O que leva à aproximação, não ao distanciamento dos EUA e da China. E ambos estão tentando descobrir, “podemos parar este processo?”

Não posso enxergar o que têm em mente, mas suspeito que isso está no topo da sua lista de preocupações. O fato é que eles antecipam, não que a Coreia do Norte vá se desnuclearizar, mas que a Coreia do Sul, o Japão e Taiwan venham a se nuclearizar. Se você me pedir novamente uma previsão, diria que em dez anos, todos eles estarão nuclearizados. E não acho isso desastroso. O fato de os EUA e a União Soviética terem, ambos, armas nucleares, foi um fator importante para garantir que não haveria guerra entre eles. Foi uma coisa positiva, e não negativa.

Agora, é claro, com armas nucleares existe sempre a possibilidade de desastre. As armas nucleares estão em determinado lugar, sob um comandante militar. Ele pode apertar um botão qualquer e dispará-las. Nossa aposta é que ele, como indivíduo, irá obedecer ao comandante-em-chefe do seu país. Em 999 das vezes, é possível contar com isso. Mas há sempre uma chance em mil de haver um oficial descontrolado. Ademais, é bem verdade que, havendo mais armas nucleares no mundo, as pessoas podem roubá-las. Isso vem sendo discutido com relação ao Paquistão. Continua-se a dizer: ”Você sabe, o Paquistão tem de 70 a 80 armas nucleares e bombas” e “Será que os lugares onde estão armazenadas são realmente bem protegidos?”, “Alguém, afiliados à Al Qaeda ou talvez a outro grupo, poderia atacá-los e roubá-los?”

Assim, não excluo o potencial negativo da nuclearização generalizada. Mas não penso que isso significa que o Irã irá bombardear alguém. Na verdade, os governos usam as armas nucleares como um mecanismo de defesa, e não um mecanismo agressivo. Usam como um modo de se safar de ser bombardeados. Os EUA foram para o Iraque não porque ele tinha armas nucleares, mas porque ele não tinha. Os EUA sabiam que, portanto, Bagdá não poderia responder com uma arma nuclear.

Penso que essa é a lição que o Irã e a Coreia do Norte tiraram imediatamente do que aconteceu no Iraque. Na verdade, do ponto de vista da Coreia do Norte, essa é a única proteção real que eles têm militarmente, no momento. Minha previsão é de que, em dez anos, todos os países da Ásia Oriental terão essas armas. E também muitos outros países, como Brasil e Argentina. Suécia, Egito e Arábia Saudita as terão. Sempre pelas mesmas razões: para evitar de ser bombardeado pelos outros.

Lee: E se todo mundo desistisse das armas nucleares, inclusive aqueles que já as possuem?

Wallerstein: Isso seria o ideal, se você considera possível convencer os EUA ou o Paquistão, Índia, Israel, França e Grã-Bretanha. Mas não há política que possa persuadir esses países a reduzir os armamentos nucleares a zero. Você poderá persuadi-los a reduzir o número de bombas que têm, em certas condições. Mas voltar a zero não seria prático. Pela simples razão de que é difícil verificar se os outros estão de fato reduzidos a zero. Há muitas maneiras de esconder essas coisas. É por isso que eles não vão aceitar.

Mas essa é a razão porque o tratado de não-proliferação nuclear é uma farsa, pois basicamente o que ele diz é que ninguém deve possuir armas nucleares, exceto os cinco membros permanentes do Conselho de Segurança da ONU. O resto de vocês, o mundo todo, deve renunciar a qualquer tentativa de ter armas nucleares, e em troca disso nós prometemos duas coisas: (1) vamos reduzir significativamente o nosso estoque, e (2) vamos permitir que você desenvolva a energia nuclear para fins pacíficos.

Desde que o tratado entrou em vigor, não houve uma redução significativa, e agora todo o mundo está falando novamente em renovar e expandir. Os três únicos países que se recusaram a assinar o tratado são a Índia, o Paquistão e Israel. E isso agora está praticamente aceito. Eles desafiam o mundo, desafiam todas as regras, e agora são membros do clube. Os EUA têm boas relações com os três países, e nenhum foi penalizado por ter armas nucleares.

Lee: Então, o que você diz sobre a nossa tentativa de persuadir a Coreia do Norte a desistir das armas nucleares…

Wallerstein: É que é impossível. Se eu estivesse dirigindo a Coreia do Norte, certamente não concordaria.

Lee: Se for esse o caso, acha que o impasse atual entre os EUA e a Coreia do Norte vai continuar? E o que dizer da China?

Wallerstein: Mais uma vez, há a retórica e a realidade. De fato, os diplomatas norte-americanos sabem, todos, que essa proibição é impossível. Mas não sabem o que fazer. Eles certamente não podem dizer, por razões políticas internas, que “não há esperança”. Então imaginam que, colocando pressão sobre a China, estão, por tabela, pressionando a Coreia do Norte. E usam um mecanismo de retardo, não um mecanismo sério. Os militares dos EUA dizem “não vamos enviar tropas ao Irã em hipótese nenhuma”. Por outro lado, os EUA estão comprometidos com Israel e Israel, por sua vez, está dizendo: “Temos que bombardear o Irã”. Então, o que fazem os EUA? Operam com seu mecanismo de retardo. Isso reflete as limitações essenciais do poder dos EUA, o que revela parte de seu declínio. Houve um tempo em que eles não precisavam retardar. Houve um tempo em que podiam tomar decisões fortes sobre outros países. Já não podem. Aqui estamos. Separemos a retórica da realidade geopolítica.

Lee: Isso deixa muitos coreanos progressistas, que são-aliança, pró-negociações, pró-diplomacia, pró-processo de paz, muito pessimistas.

Wallerstein: Por que? Há muitos possíveis acordos entre as Coreias do Norte e do Sul, a começar pelas questões econômicas. Veja, se você está no comando de um regime como o da Coreia do Norte, tem que levar em conta a realidade geopolítica. Por outro lado, quer permanecer no poder. Até agora, eles contaram com um regime de mão pesada, muito repressivo, e o apoio do exército. Podem tentar continuar a reprimir a maioria, os famintos, podem tentar ludibriá-los com a ideologia, tentando fazê-los acreditar que vivem maravilhosamente bem. Mas hoje é cada vez mais difícil fazê-los acreditar nisso. Então é preciso dar-lhes um pouco de bem-estar social – o que significa que deve haver algumas mudanças na política econômica da Coreia do Norte, na linha das que foram feitas pela China e Vietnã. Tanto a China quanto o Vietnã mostraram a eles um modelo, no qual um partido único pode permanecer no poder e ainda assim promover uma abertura econômica. E acho que o novo líder está tentado pela idéia, mas é um caminho difícil. Ele tem as mesmas dificuldades em negociar com o seu público interno que a chanceler Merkel tem, que Obama tem, e certamente todo o mundo precisa se preocupar em manter a retórica satisfatória, internamente. Assim, ele pode ser capaz de ter algo equivalente ao que os chineses fizeram, como as Zonas Econômicas Especiais.

Lee: Se você fosse o presidente da Coreia do Sul, interessado em desenvolver boas relações com a Coreia do Norte, se esforçaria mais para ajudá-la nesse esforço?

Wallerstein: Se eu fosse o presidente da Coreia do Sul é o que eu faria, até onde fosse politicamente possível. Você precisa assegurar um equilíbrio, mantendo o poder político na sua base e as demandas geopolíticas. Mas penso que esse vai ser o caminho a seguir. Sei que a resposta das forças mais conservadoras na Coreia do Sul seria dizer ”bem, nós tentamos uma política de diálogo e não funcionou.” E a resposta é ”sim, não funcionou, em parte porque os tempos eram diferentes, o líder era diferente, com uma atitude diferente. E em segundo lugar porque as coisas foram feitas sem entusiasmo. Talvez a gente tenha que fazer ainda mais.” Esse tipo de debate acontece o tempo todo na política.

Lee: Tocamos em muitas questões hoje. Uma última questão é sobre o capitalismo fundamentalista. Depois da crise de 2008, houve uma volta à abordagem keynesiana do mercado. Pessoalmente, acho que eles não estão certos, mas isso levanta a questão do futuro do capitalismo.

Wallerstein: Algumas reformas vão resolver esse problema. Mas as pessoas estão muito reformistas na sua abordagem dos problemas. É muito difícil para elas aceitar o fato de que há alguns dilemas insolúveis. Quando digo que alguma coisa é insolúvel, elas dizem “oh, nós gostamos do seu argumento até aqui, mas esse ponto nos incomoda.” Os sistemas têm vida. Nenhum sistema dura para sempre. Seja o universo, o maior sistema que possamos conhecer, ou o menor dos nano-sistemas que não podemos ver, nenhum deles vai durar para sempre. Em sua vida, os sistemas se movem gradualmente para mais e mais longe do equilíbrio até atingir um ponto em que já não podem equilibrar-se novamente. E nós somos um sistema. É o chamado sistema mundial moderno. Foi um sistema bem sucedido, mas atingiu o limite das possibilidades. Quando comecei a dizer isso, trinta anos atrás, as pessoas riam. Agora elas não riem, argumentam contra. Já é um progresso. Penso que daqui a vinte anos as pessoas vão estar bem conscientes disso. Pelo menos assim espero, porque é muito difícil empenhar-se em políticas inteligentes para tentar empurrar o mundo para a direção certa, sem que se esteja ciente da realidade.

Government, Industry Can Better Manage Risks of Very Rare Catastrophic Events, Experts Say (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Nov. 15, 2012) — Several potentially preventable disasters have occurred during the past decade, including the recent outbreak of rare fungal meningitis linked to steroid shots given to 13,000 patients to relieve back pain. Before that, the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion in 2003, the financial crisis that started in 2008, the Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico in 2011, and the Fukushima tsunami and ensuing nuclear accident also in 2011 were among rare and unexpected disasters that were considered extremely unlikely or even unthinkable.

A Stanford University engineer and risk management expert has analyzed the phenomenon of government and industry waiting for rare catastrophes to happen before taking risk management steps. She concluded that a different approach to these events would go far towards anticipating them, preventing them or limiting the losses.

To examine the risk management failures discernible in several major catastrophes, the research draws upon the combination of systems analysis and probability as used, for example, in engineering risk analysis. When relevant statistics are not available, it discusses the powerful alternative of systemic risk analysis to try to anticipate and manage the risks of highly uncertain, rare events. The paper by Stanford University researcher Professor Elisabeth Paté-Cornell recommends “a systematic risk analysis anchored in history and fundamental knowledge” as opposed to both industry and regulators sometimes waiting until after a disaster occurs to take safety measures as was the case, for example, of the Deepwater Horizon accident in 2011. Her paper, “On ‘Black Swans’ and ‘Perfect Storms’: Risk Analysis and Management When Statistics Are Not Enough,” appears in the November 2012 issue of Risk Analysis, published by the Society for Risk Analysis.

Paté-Cornell’s paper draws upon two commonly cited images representing different types of uncertainty — “black swans” and “perfect storms” — that are used both to describe extremely unlikely but high-consequence events and often to justify inaction until after the fact. The uncertainty in “perfect storms” derives mainly from the randomness of rare but known events occurring together. The uncertainty in “black swans” stems from the limits of fundamental understanding of a phenomenon, including in extreme cases, a complete lack of knowledge about its very existence.

Given these two extreme types of uncertainties, Paté-Cornell asks what has been learned about rare events in engineering risk analysis that can be incorporated in other fields such as finance or medicine. She notes that risk management often requires “an in-depth analysis of the system, its functions, and the probabilities of its failure modes.” The discipline confronts uncertainties by systematic identification of failure “scenarios,” including rare ones, using “reasoned imagination,” signals (new intelligence information, medical alerts, near-misses and accident precursors) and a set of analytical tools to assess the chances of events that have not happened yet. A main emphasis of systemic risk analysis is on dependencies (of failures, human errors, etc.) and on the role of external factors, such as earthquakes and tsunamis that become common causes of failure.

The “risk of no risk analysis” is illustrated by the case of the 14 meter Fukushima tsunami resulting from a magnitude 9 earthquake. Historical records showed that large tsunamis had occurred at least twice before in the same area. The first time was the Sanriku earthquake in the year 869, which was estimated at magnitude 8.6 with a tsunami that penetrated 4 kilometers inland. The second was the Sanriku earthquake of 1611, estimated at magnitude 8.1 that caused a tsunami with an estimated maximum wave height of about 20 meters. Yet, those previous events were not factored into the design of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear reactor, which was built for a maximum wave height of 5.7 meters, simply based on the tidal wave caused in that area by the 1960 earthquake in Chile. Similar failures to capture historical data and various “signals” occurred in the cases of the 9/11 attacks, the Columbia Space Shuttle explosion and other examples analyzed in the paper.

The risks of truly unimaginable events that have never been seen before (such as the AIDS epidemics) cannot be assessed a priori, but careful and systematic monitoring, signals observation and a concerted response are keys to limiting the losses. Other rare events that place heavy pressure on human or technical systems are the result of convergences of known events (“perfect storms”) that can and should be anticipated. Their probabilities can be assessed using a set of analytical tools that capture dependencies and dynamics in scenario analysis. Given the results of such models, there should be no excuse for failing to take measures against rare but predictable events that have damaging consequences, and to react to signals, even imperfect ones, that something new may be unfolding.

Journal Reference:

  1. Elisabeth Paté-Cornell. On “Black Swans” and “Perfect Storms”: Risk Analysis and Management When Statistics Are Not EnoughRisk Analysis, 2012; DOI:10.1111/j.1539-6924.2011.01787.x

De Sandy a Deus (FSP)


Algo me diz que a aproximação de Brasil, África do Sul e Austrália será boa para os três países

SE HOUVESSE um supremo tribunal interplanetário para julgar a culpa pelos efeitos dramáticos do furacão Sandy, gerados pelos habitantes da Terra contra a natureza, talvez a decisão fosse condenatória. As mortes e a destruição decorrentes do Sandy justificariam uma pergunta hoje de uso comum: como ficaria a dosimetria? Quem foi, e em que grau, responsável pelo mau uso da superfície, do ar e das entranhas do planeta no hemisfério norte?

O limite da pergunta se explica. Nós, do hemisfério sul, começamos a intervir na vida dos continentes há menos de 600 anos. Os do norte assinalaram sua presença há uns 12.000 anos -boa parte do hemisfério sul era desconhecida pelo menos até o século 16.

Esses 600 anos marcaram a ocupação de todo planeta. Mesmo assim, só no século 20 surgiram muitas das duas centenas de nações novas, com independência ao menos formal. Desapareceram colônias de países europeus e asiáticos nos cinco continentes.

O avanço dos conquistadores eurasiáticos nessa área marcou a história da Terra. O remanescente apenas alcançou o nível de vida civilizada, segundo os padrões ocidentais, quando conquistadores europeus se instalaram no México e nos Estados Unidos e igualmente com a verificação da terra que se sabia existir na latitude atingida por Pedro Álvares Cabral.

Percebo a pergunta do leitor: por qual a razão uma coluna jurídica precisa dar tantas referências geográficas? Simples: a Constituição brasileira enuncia princípios que, favorecendo relações internacionais, preservam, no art. 4º, a independência nacional; garantem regras de autodeterminação dos povos e de não intervenção. O mesmo resulta do art. 21, I (relações com outros Estados e organizações internacionais), colocando sob o presidente da República a condução do relacionamento externo.

O aprofundamento do exame impõe o conhecimento das áreas envolvidas. Existem três países de grande extensão territorial ao sul do Equador -Austrália, África do Sul e Brasil- com expressão bem marcada no cenário internacional. Os 50 milhões de sul-africanos ocupam 1,2 milhões de quilômetros quadrados, muito menos que os 7,7 milhões da amplitude australiana, mas de população rarefeita e modesta, na casa dos 21 milhões. Ambos menores que o Brasil nos dois quesitos, pois somos 192 milhões espalhados em 8,3 milhões de quilômetros quadrados, com milhares de cidades.

Dois outros pontos diferenciam os três países: hoje se pode dizer que o território brasileiro está inteiramente ocupado. Não a Austrália, nem tanto por ser o país mais plano do mundo, mas pelos seus quatro grandes desertos. A África do Sul ainda vive consequências da política da separação entre brancos a negros, até a segunda metade do século 20.

Dentre os três, se for o caso de composição uniforme dos interesses multinacionais, nosso país tem presença marcante, o que não obsta a associação dos três para percorrer caminho mais adequado para o futuro comum. A composição dos instrumentos legais para viabilizar a aproximação tem a vantagem de facilitar o acesso marítimo, pelo Oceano Atlântico e pelo Indico, só no hemisfério sul. Algo me diz que, de Sandy a Deus, a aproximação do sul será boa para os três na linha reta do trópico de Capricórnio.

Henry A. Giroux: Why Don’t Americans Care About Democracy at Home? (

Tuesday, 02 October 2012 13:47 – By Henry A GirouxTruthout | Op-Ed


(Photo: Lance Page / Truthout)“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”  – James Baldwin

Four decades of neoliberal policies have given way to an economic Darwinism that promotes a politics of cruelty. And its much vaunted ideology is taking over the United States.[1] As a theater of cruelty and mode of public pedagogy, economic Darwinism undermines all forms of solidarity capable of challenging market-driven values and social relations. At the same time, economic Darwinism promotes the virtues of an unbridled individualism that is almost pathological in its disdain for community, social responsibility, public values and the public good. As the welfare state is dismantled and spending is cut to the point where government becomes unrecognizable – except to promote policies that benefit the rich, corporations and the defense industry – the already weakened federal and state governments are increasingly replaced by the harsh realities of the punishing state and what João Biehl has called proliferating “zones of social abandonment” and “terminal exclusion.”[2]

To read more articles by Henry Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

One consequence is that social problems are increasingly criminalized, while social protections are either eliminated or fatally weakened. Another result of this crushing form of economic Darwinism is that it thrives on a kind of social amnesia that erases critical thought, historical analyses and any understanding of broader systemic relations. In this instance, it does the opposite of critical memory work by eliminating those public spheres where people learn to translate private troubles into public issues. That is, it breaks “the link between public agendas and private worries, the very hub of the democratic process.”[3] Once set in motion, economic Darwinism unleashes a mode of thinking in which social problems are reduced to individual flaws and political considerations collapse into the injurious and self-indicting discourse of character. As George Lakoff and Glenn Smith argue, the anti-public philosophy of economic Darwinism makes a parody of democracy by defining freedom as “the liberty to seek one’s own interests and well-being, without being responsible for the interests or well-being of anyone else. It’s a morality of personal, but not social, responsibility. The only freedom you should have is what you can provide for yourself, not what the Public provides for you to start out.”[4] Put simply, we alone become responsible for the problems we confront when we can no longer conceive how larger forces control or constrain our choices and the lives we are destined to lead.

Yet, the harsh values and practices of this new social order are visible – in the increasing incarceration of young people, the modeling of public schools after prisons, state violence waged against peaceful student protesters and state policies that bail out investment bankers but leave the middle and working classes in a state of poverty, despair and insecurity. Such values are also evident in the GOP Social-Darwinist budget plan that rewards the rich and cuts aid for those who need it the most. For instance, the Romney/Ryan budget plan “proposes to cut the taxes of households earning over $1 million by an average of $295,874 a year,”[5] but at a cruel cost to those most disadvantaged populations who rely on social programs. In order to pay for tax reductions that benefit the rich, the Romney/Ryan budget would cut funds for food stamps, Pell grants, health care benefits, unemployment insurance, veterans’ benefits and other crucial social programs.[6] As Paul Krugman has argued, the Ryan budget “isn’t just looking for ways to save money [it’s] also trying to make life harder for the poor – for their own good. In March, explaining his cuts in aid for the unfortunate, [Ryan] declared, ‘We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.'”[7] Krugman rightly replies, “I doubt that Americans forced to rely on unemployment benefits and food stamps in a depressed economy feel that they’re living in a comfortable hammock.”[8] As an extremist version of neoliberalism, Ryanomics is especially vicious towards American children, 16.1 million of whom currently live in poverty. Marian Wright Edelman captures the harshness and savagery of the Ryan budget passed in the House of Representatives. She writes:

Ryanomics is an all out assault on our poorest children while asking not a dime of sacrifice from the richest 2 percent of Americans or from wealthy corporations. Ryanomics slashes hundreds of billions of dollars from child and family nutrition, health, child care, education and child protection services, in order to extend and add to the massive Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires at a taxpayer cost of $5 trillion over 10 years. On top of making the Bush tax cuts permanent, the top income bracket would get an additional 10 percent tax cut. Millionaires and billionaires would on average keep at least an additional quarter of a million dollars each year and possibly as much as $400,000 a year according to the Citizens for Tax Justice.[9]

Under the euphemism of a politics of austerity, we are witnessing not only widespread cuts in vital infrastructures, education and social protections, but also the emergence of policies produced in the spirit of revenge aimed at the poor, the elderly and others marginalized by race and class. As Robert Reich, Charles Ferguson, and a host of recent commentators have pointed out, this extreme concentration of power in every commanding institution of society promotes predatory practices and rewards sociopathic behavior. Such a system creates an authoritarian class of corporate and hedge-fund swindlers that reaps its own profits by

placing big bets with other people’s money. The winners in this system are top Wall Street executives and traders, private-equity managers and hedge-fund moguls, and the losers are most of the rest of us. The system is largely responsible for the greatest concentration of the nation’s income and wealth at the very top since the Gilded Age of the 19th century, with the richest 400 Americans owning as much as the bottom 150 million put together. And these multimillionaires and billionaires are now actively buying the 2012 election – and with it, American democracy.[10]

Unfortunately, the American public has remained largely silent, if not also complicitous with the rise of a neoliberal version of authoritarianism. While young people have started to challenge this politics and machinery of corruption, war, violence and death, they represent a small and marginalized part of the movement that will be necessary to initiate massive collective resistance to the aggressive violence being waged against all those public spheres that further the promise of democracy in the United States. The actions of student protesters and others have been crucial in drawing public attention to the constellation of forces that are pushing the United States into what Hannah Arendt called “dark times.” The questions now being asked must be seen as the first step toward exposing dire social and political costs of concentrating wealth, income and power into the hands of the upper one percent.

Neoliberal Ideology and the Rhetoric of Freedom

In addition to amassing ever expanding amounts of material wealth, the rich now control the means of schooling and education in the United States. They have disinvested in critical education, while reproducing notions of common sense that incessantly replicate the basic values, ideas and relations necessary to sustain the institutions of economic Darwinism. Both parties support educational reforms that increase conceptual illiteracy. Critical learning is now reduced to mastering test-taking, memorizing facts, and learning how not to question knowledge and authority. This type of rote pedagogy, as Zygmunt Bauman points out, is “the most effective prescription for grinding communication to a halt and for [robbing] it of the presumption and expectation of meaningfulness and sense.”[11]

This type of market-driven illiteracy has eviscerated the notion of freedom, turning it largely into the desire to consume and invest exclusively in relationships that serve only one’s individual interests. Citizens are treated by the political and economic elite as restless children and are “invited daily to convert the practice of citizenship into the art of shopping.”[12] Shallow consumerism coupled with an indifference to the needs and suffering of others has produced a politics of disengagement and a culture of moral irresponsibility. Language has been stripped of the terms, phrases and ideas that embrace a concern for the other. With meaning utterly privatized, words are reduced to signifiers that mimic spectacles of violence, designed to provide entertainment rather than thoughtful analysis. Sentiments circulating in the dominant culture parade either idiocy or a survival-of-the-fittest ethic, while anti-public rhetoric strips society of the knowledge and values necessary for the development of a democratically engaged and socially responsible public.

In such circumstances, freedom has truly morphed into its opposite. Neoliberal ideology has construed as pathological any notion that in a healthy society people depend on each other in multiple, complex, direct and indirect ways. As Lewis Lapham points out, “Citizens are no longer held in thoughtful regard … just as thinking and acting are removed from acts of public conscience.”[13] Economic Darwinism has produced a legitimating ideology in which the conditions for critical inquiry, moral responsibility and social and economic justice disappear. The result is that neoliberal ideology increasingly resembles a call to war that turns the principles of democracy against democracy itself. Americans now live in an atomized and pulverized society, “spattered with the debris of broken interhuman bonds”[14] in which “democracy becomes a perishable commodity”[15] and all things public are viewed with disdain. Increasingly, it appears the only bond holding American society together is a perverse collective death-drive.

Neoliberal Governance

At the level of governance, neoliberalism has turned politics into a tawdry form of money laundering in which the spaces and registers that circulate power are controlled by those who have amassed large amounts of capital. Elections, like mainstream politicians, are now bought and sold to the highest bidder. In the Senate and House of Representatives, 47 percent are millionaires and the “estimated median net worth of a current U.S. senator stood at an average of $2.56 million while the median net worth of members of Congress is $913,000.”[16] Elected representatives no longer do the bidding of the people who elect them. Rather, they are now largely influenced by the demands of lobbyists who have enormous clout in promoting the interests of the elite, financial services and mega corporations. Currently, there are just over 14,000 registered lobbyists in Washington, DC, which amounts to approximately 23 lobbyists for every member of Congress. Although the number of lobbyists has steadily increased by about 20 percent since 1998, the Center for Responsive Politics found that “total spending on lobbying the federal government has almost tripled since 1998, to $3.3 billion.”[17] As Bill Moyers and Bernard Weisberger succinctly put it, “A radical minority of the superrich has gained ascendency over politics, buying the policies, laws, tax breaks, subsidies and rules that consolidate a permanent state of vast inequality by which they can further help themselves to America’s wealth and resources.”[18] Democratic governance has been replaced by the sovereignty of the market, paving the way for modes of governance intent on transforming democratic citizens into entrepreneurial agents. The language of the market and business culture have now almost entirely supplanted any celebration of the public good or the calls to enhance civil society characteristic of past generations.

Neoliberal governance has produced an economy and a political system almost entirely controlled by the rich and powerful – what a Citigroup report called a “Plutonomy,” an economy powered by the wealthy.[19] These plutocrats are what I have called the new zombies sucking the resources out of the planet and the rest of us in order to strengthen their grasp on political and economic power and fuel their exorbitant lifestyles. Policies are now enacted that provide massive tax cuts to the rich and generous subsidies to banks and corporations – alongside massive disinvestments in job creation programs, the building of critical infrastructures and the development of crucial social programs, which range from health care to school meal programs for disadvantaged children. In reality, the massive disinvestment in schools, social programs and an aging infrastructure is not about a lack of money. The real problem stems from government priorities that inform both how the money is collected and how it is spent.[20] Over 60 percent of the federal budget goes to military spending, while only 6 percent is allocated toward education. The US spends more than $92 billion on corporate subsidies and only $59 billion on social welfare programs.[21] John Cavanagh has estimated that if there were a tiny tax imposed on Wall Street “stock and derivatives transactions,” the government could raise $150 billion annually.[22] In addition, if the tax code were adjusted in a fair manner to tax the wealthy, another $79 billion could be raised. Finally, Cavanagh points out that $100 billion in tax income is lost annually through tax haven abuse; proper regulation would make it costly for corporations to declare “their profits in overseas tax havens like the Cayman Islands.”[23]

At the same time, the financialization of the economy and culture has resulted in the poisonous growth of monopoly power, predatory lending, abusive credit card practices and misuses of CEO pay. The false but central neoliberal tenet that markets can solve all of society’s problems has no way of limiting the power of money and has given rise to “a politics in which policies that favor the rich … have allowed the financial sector to amass vast economic and political power.”[24] As Joseph Stiglitz points out, there is more at work in this form of governance than a pandering to the wealthy and powerful: There is also the specter of an authoritarian society “where people live in gated communities,” large segments of the population are impoverished or locked up in prison and Americans live in a state of constant fear as they face growing “economic insecurity, health care insecurity [and] a sense of physical insecurity.”[25] In other words, the authoritarian nature of neoliberal political governance and economic power is also visible in the rise of a national security state in which civil liberties are being drastically abridged and violated.

As the war on terror becomes a normalized state of existence, the most basic rights available to American citizens are being shredded. The spirit of revenge, militarization and fear now permeates the discourse of national security. For instance, under Presidents Bush and Obama, the idea of habeas corpus with its guarantee that prisoners have minimal rights has given way to policies of indefinite detention, abductions, targeted assassinations, drone killings and an expanding state surveillance apparatus. The Obama administration has designated 46 inmates for indefinite detention at Guantanamo because, according to the government, they can be neither tried nor safely released. Moreover, another “167 men now confined at Guantanamo … have been cleared for release yet remain at the facility.”[26]

With the passing of the National Defense Authorization Act in 2012, the rule of legal illegalities has been extended to threaten the lives and rights of US citizens. The law authorizes military detention of individuals who are suspected of belonging not only to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda but to “associated forces.” As Glenn Greenwald points out, this “grants the president the power to indefinitely detain in military custody not only accused terrorists, but also their supporters, all without charges or trial.”[27] The vagueness of the law allows the possibility of subjecting US citizens who are considered in violation of the law to indefinite detention. Of course, that might include journalists, writers, intellectuals and anyone else who might be accused because of their dealings with alleged terrorists. Fortunately, US District Judge Katherine Forrest of New York agreed with Chris Hedges, Noam Chomsky and other writers who have challenged the legality of the law. Judge Forrest recently acknowledged the unconstitutionality of the law and ruled in favor of a preliminary barring of the enforcement of the National Defense Authorization Act.[28]

The anti-democratic practices at work in the Obama administration also include the US government’s use of state secrecy to provide a cover or prevent being embarrassed by practices that range from the illegal use of torture to the abduction of innocent foreign nationals. Under the rubric of national security, a shadow state has emerged that eschews transparency and commits unlawful acts. Given the power of the government to engage in a range of illegalities and to make them disappear through an appeal to state secrecy, it should come as no surprise that warrantless wiretapping, justified in the name of national security, is on the rise at both the federal and state levels. For instance, the New York City Police Department “implemented surveillance programs that violate the civil liberties of that city’s Muslim-American citizens [by infiltrating] mosques and universities [and] collecting information on individuals suspected of no crimes.”[29] And the American public barely acknowledged this shocking abuse of power. Such anti-democratic policies and practices have become the new norm in American society and reveal a frightening and dangerous move toward a 21st century version of authoritarianism.

Neoliberalism as the New Lingua Franca of Cruelty

The harsh realities of a society defined by the imperatives of punishment, cruelty, militarism, secrecy and exclusion can also be seen in the emergence of a growing rhetoric of insult, humiliation and slander. Teachers are referred to as welfare queens by right-wing pundits; conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that Michael J. Fox was “faking” the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease when he appeared in a political ad for Democrat Claire McCaskill; and the public is routinely treated to racist comments, slurs and insults about Barack Obama by a host of shock jocks, politicians and even one federal judge.[30] Poverty is not only seen as a personal failing, it has become the object of abuse, fear and loathing. Poor people, rather than poverty, are now the problem, because the poor, as right-wing ideologues never fail to remind us, are lazy (and after all how could they be poor since they own TVs and cell phones). Racism, cruelty, insults and the discourse of humiliation are now packaged in a mindless rhetoric that is as unapologetic as it is ruthless – and has become the new lingua franca of public exchange.

Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney echoed the harshness of the new lingua franca of cruelty when asked recently about the government’s responsibility to 50 million Americans who don’t have health insurance. Incredibly, Romney said they already have access to health care because they can go to hospital emergency rooms. In response, a New York Times editorial pointed out that emergency room care “is the most expensive and least effective way of providing care” and such a remark “reeks of contempt for those left behind by the current insurance system, suggesting that they must suffer with illness until the point where they need an ambulance.”[31] Indifferent to the health care needs of the poor and middle class, Romney also conveniently forgets that, as indicated in a Harvard University study, “more than 62 percent of all personal bankruptcies are caused by the cost of overwhelming medical expenses.”[32] The new lingua franca of cruelty and its politics of disposability are on full display here. To paraphrase Hannah Arendt, we live in a time when revenge has become the cure-all for most of our social and economic ills.

Neoliberalism and the Retreat from Ethical Considerations

Not only does neoliberal rationality believe in the ability of markets to solve all problems, it also removes economics and markets from ethical considerations. Economic growth, rather than social needs, drives politics. Long-term investments are replaced by short-term gains and profits, while compassion is viewed as a weakness and democratic public values are scorned because they subordinate market considerations to the common good. As the language of privatization, deregulation and commodification replaces the discourse of social responsibility, all things public – including public schools, libraries, transportation systems, crucial infrastructures and public services – are viewed either as a drain on the market or as a pathology.[33] Greed is now championed because it allegedly drives innovation and creates jobs. Massive disparities in income and wealth are celebrated as a justification for embracing a survival-of-the-fittest ethic and paying homage to a ruthless mode of unbridled individualism.

Morality in this instance becomes empty, stripped of any obligations to the other. How else to explain Mitt Romney’s gaffe caught on video in which he derided “47 percent of the people [who] will vote for the president no matter what?”[34] There was more at work here than what some have called “the killing of the American dream” or simply a cynical political admission by Romney that some voting blocs do not matter. [35]Romney’s comments about those 47 percent of adult Americans who don’t pay income taxes for one reason or another, whom he described as “people who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it,”[36] makes clear that a politics of disposability is central to the extreme right-wing philosophy of those who control the Congress and are vying for the presidency. Paul Krugman is on target in arguing that in spite of massive suffering caused by the economic recession – a recession that produced “once-unthinkable levels of economic distress” – there is “growing evidence that our governing elite just doesn’t care.”[37] Of course, Krugman is not suggesting that if the corporate and financial elite cared the predatory nature of capitalism would be transformed. Rather, he is suggesting that economic Darwinism leaves no room for compassion or ethical considerations, which makes it use of power much worse than more liberal models of a market-based society.

Politics of Disposability and the Breakdown of American Democracy

The not-so-hidden order of politics underlying the second Gilded Age and its heartless version of economic Darwinism is that some populations, primarily the elderly, young people, the unemployed, immigrants and poor whites and minorities of color, now constitute a form of human waste or excess. The politics of disposability delineates these populations as unworthy of investment or of sharing in the rights, benefits and protections of a substantive democracy.[38] What is particularly disturbing is how little opposition among there is among the American public to this view of particular social groups as disposable – this, perhaps more than anything else, signals the presence of a rising authoritarianism in the United States. Left unchecked, economic Darwinism will not only destroy the social fabric and undermine democracy; it will also ensure the marginalization and eventual elimination of those intellectuals willing to fight for public values, rights, spaces and institutions not wedded to the logic of privatization, commodification, deregulation, militarization, hyper-masculinity and a ruthless “competitive struggle in which only the fittest could survive.”[39] Clearly, this new politics of disposability and culture of cruelty will wreak destruction in ways not yet imaginable, despite the horrific outcomes of the economic and financial crisis brought on by economic Darwinism. All evidence suggests a new reality is unfolding, one that is characterized by a deeply rooted crisis of education, agency and social responsibility.

Under such circumstances, to paraphrase C. Wright Mills, we are seeing the breakdown of democracy, the disappearance of critical intellectuals, and “the collapse of those public spheres which offer a sense of critical agency and social imagination.”[40] Since the 1970s, we have witnessed the forces of market fundamentalism attempt to strip education of its public values, critical content and civic responsibilities as part of a broader goal to create new subjects wedded to the logic of privatization, efficiency, flexibility, consumerism and the destruction of the social state. Today, neoliberalism’s ascendency has made the educational force of culture toxic, while educational institutions – whether in public or higher education – have all but transformed from promoting the public good to affirming private interests.

Encountering an onslaught of neoliberal ideology from all sides, it becomes increasingly difficult for the larger public to hold on to ideas that affirm social justice, community and those public values central to the cultural and political life of an aspiring democracy. Within both formal education and the educational force of the broader cultural apparatus – with its networks of knowledge production in the old and new media – we are witnessing the emergence and dominance of a powerful and ruthless market-driven notion of politics, governance, teaching, learning, freedom, agency and responsibility. Such modes of education do not foster a sense of organized responsibility central to a healthy democracy. Instead, they foster what I have referred to in the past as a sense of organized irresponsibility – a practice that underlies the economic Darwinism, public pedagogy and corruption at the heart of both the current recession and American politics.

Beyond Neoliberal Mis-Education

The anti-democratic practices that drive free-market fundamentalism are increasingly evident in the neoliberal framing of public and higher education as a corporate-based sector that embraces commodifying the curriculum, supporting top-down management, implementing more courses that promote business values and reducing all spheres of education to job training sites. As universities turn toward corporate management models, they increasingly use and exploit cheap faculty labor. In fact, many colleges and universities are drawing more and more upon adjunct and non-tenured faculty, many of whom occupy the status of indentured servants who are overworked, lack benefits, receive little or no support and are paid salaries that qualify them for food stamps.[41] Students are buried under huge debts that are celebrated by the debt collection industry that is cashing in on their misfortune. Jerry Aston, one member of the industry, wrote in a column after witnessing a protest rally by students criticizing their mounting debt that “I couldn’t believe the accumulated wealth they represent – for our industry.”[42]

There is more at work here than infusing market values into every aspect of higher education. There is also a full-fledged assault on the very notion of public goods, democratic public spheres and the role of education in creating an informed citizenry. When Rick Santorum argued that intellectuals were not wanted in the Republican Party, he was mimicking what has become common sense in a society wedded to narrow instrumental values and various modes of fundamentalism. Critical thinking and a literate public have become dangerous to those who want to celebrate orthodoxy over dialogue, emotion over reason and ideological certainty over thoughtfulness. Hannah Arendt’s warning that “it was not stupidity but a curious, quite authentic inability to think”[43] at the heart of authoritarian regimes is now embraced as a fundamental tenet of Republican Party politics.

In the United States, many of the problems in higher education can be linked to low funding, the domination of universities by market mechanisms, the rise of for-profit colleges, the intrusion of the national security state and the lack of faculty self-governance, all of which not only contradicts the culture and democratic value of higher education, but also makes a mockery of the very meaning and mission of the university. Decreased financial support for higher education stands in sharp contrast to increased support for tax benefits for the rich, financial industries and corporations. Rather than strengthen civic imagination among students, public universities are wedded more and more to the logic of profitability, to producing students as useful machines and to a form of education that promotes a “technically trained docility.”[44]

Universities and colleges have been largely abandoned as democratic public spheres dedicated to providing a public service, expanding upon humankind’s great intellectual and cultural achievements and educating future generations to be able to confront the challenges of a global democracy. As a core political and civic institution, higher education rarely appears any longer to be committed to addressing important social problems. Instead, many universities and colleges have become unapologetic accomplices to corporate values and power, and in doing so increasingly make social problems either irrelevant or invisible. Just as democracy appears to be fading in the United States, so is the legacy of higher education’s faith in and commitment to democracy.

Unfortunately, one measure of this disinvestment in higher education as a public good can be seen in the fact that many states such as California are spending more on prisons than on higher education.[45] Educating low income and poor minorities to be engaged citizens has been undermined by an unholy alliance of law-and-order conservatives, private prison corporations and prison guard unions along with the rise of the punishing state, all of whom have more of a vested interest in locking people up than educating them. It is no coincidence that as the US disinvests in the institutions fundamental to a democracy, it has invested heavily in those apparatuses that propel the rise of the prison-industrial complex and the punishing-surveillance state. The social costs of prioritizing punishing over education is clear in one shocking statistic provided by a recent study that stated “by age 23, almost a third of Americans or 30.2 percent have been arrested for a crime…. Researchers say [this] is a measure of growing exposure to the criminal justice system in everyday life.”[46]

The assault on the university is symptomatic of the deep educational and political crisis facing the United States. It is but one lens through which to recognize that the future of democracy depends on achieving the educational and ethical standards of the society we inhabit.[47] Political, moral, and social indifference is the result, in part, of a public that is increasingly constituted within an educational landscape that reduces thinking to a burden and celebrates civic illiteracy as foundational for negotiating a society in which moral disengagement and political corruption go hand in hand.[48]

This collapse on the part of the American public into a political and moral coma is induced, in part, by an ever expanding mass mediated celebrity culture that trades in hype and sensation. It is also accentuated by a governmental apparatus that sanctions modes of training that undermine any viable notion of critical schooling and public pedagogy. While there is much being written about how unfair the left is to the Obama administration, what is often forgotten by these liberal critics is that Obama has virtually aligned himself with educational practices and policies that are as instrumentalist and anti-intellectual as they are politically reactionary and therein lies one viable reason for not supporting his candidacy.[49]What liberals refuse to entertain is that the left is correct in attacking Obama for his cowardly retreat from a number of progressive issues and his dastardly undermining of civil liberties. In fact, they do not go far enough in their criticisms. Often even progressives miss that Obama’s views on what type of formative educational culture is necessary to create critically engaged and socially responsible citizens is utterly reactionary and provides no space for the nurturance of a radically democratic imagination. Hence, while liberals point to some of Obama’s progressive policies – often in a new age discourse that betrays their own supine moralism – in making a case for his re-election, they fail to acknowledge that Obama’s educational policies do nothing to contest, and are aligned with, his weak-willed compromises and authoritarian policies. In other words, Obama’s educational commitments undermine the creation of a formative culture capable of questioning authoritarian ideas, modes of governance and reactionary policies. The question is not whether he is slightly less repugnant than Romney. On the contrary, it is about how the left should engage politics in a more robust and democratic way by imagining what it would mean to work collectively and with “slow impatience” for a new political order outside of the current moderate and extreme right-wing politics and the debased, uncritical educational apparatus that supports it.

The Role of Critical Education

One way of challenging the new authoritarianism is to reclaim the relationship between critical education and social change. Education both in and out of schools is the bedrock for the formative culture necessary to create not only a literate public but also a public willing to fight for its capacity to hold power accountable and to participate in the decisions and institutions that shape its everyday existence. The question of what kind of subjects and modes of individual and social agency are necessary for a democracy to survive appears more crucial now than ever before, and this is a question that places matters of education, pedagogy and culture at the center of any understanding of politics. We live at a time when the American people appear to have no interest in democracy – beyond the four-year ritual performance of voting, and even this act fails to attract a robust majority of citizens. The term has been emptied of any viable meaning, hijacked by political scoundrels, corporate elites and the advertising industry. The passion that democracy exhibits as an ongoing struggle for rights, justice and a future of hope has been transmuted into a misplaced desire to shop, fulfill the pleasure quotient in spectacles of violence and misappropriate the language of democracy to deploy it as a rationale for racist actions against immigrants, Muslims and poor minorities of color and class.

Clearly, as the Occupy Movement and other youth movements around the world have demonstrated, the time has come not only to redefine the promise of democracy but also to challenge those who have poisoned its meaning. We have already witnessed such a challenge by protest movements both at home and abroad in which the struggle over education has become one of the most powerful fulcrums for addressing the detrimental effects of neoliberalism. What these struggles, particularly by young people, have in common is the attempt to merge the powers of persuasion and critical, civic literacy with the power of social movements to activate and mobilize real change. They are recovering a notion of the social and reclaiming a kind of humanity that should inspire and inform our collective willingness to imagine what a real democracy might look like. The political philosopher, Cornelius Castoriadis, rightly argues that “people need to be educated for democracy by not only expanding the capacities that enable them to assume public responsibility but also through active participation in the very process of governing.”[50] The current attack on democracy is directly linked to a systemic destruction of all those public spheres that expand the power of the imagination, critical inquiry, thoughtful exchange and the formative culture that makes critical education and an engaged citizenry dangerous to fundamentalists of all ideological stripes.

As the crucial lens through which to create the formative culture in which politics and power can be made visible and held accountable, pedagogy plays a central role. But as Archon Fung points out, criticism is not the only public responsibility of intellectuals, artists, journalists, educators and others who engage in critical pedagogical practices. “Intellectuals can also join citizens – and sometimes governments – to construct a world that is more just and democratic. One such constructive role is aiding popular movements and organizations in their efforts to advance justice and democracy.”[51] In this instance, understanding must be linked to the practice of social responsibility and the willingness to fashion a politics that addresses real problems and enacts concrete solutions. As Heather Gautney points out:

We need to start thinking seriously about what kind of political system we really want. And we need to start pressing for things that our politicians did not discuss at the conventions. Real solutions – like universal education, debt forgiveness, wealth redistribution and participatory political structures – that would empower us to decide together what’s best. Not who’s best.[52]

Critical thinking divorced from action is often as sterile as action divorced from critical theory. Given the urgency of the historical moment, we need a politics and a public pedagogy which make knowledge meaningful in order to make it critical and transformative. Or as Stuart Hall argues, we need to produce modes of analyses and knowledge in which “people can invest something of themselves … something that they recognize is of them or speaks to their condition.”[53]

I want to conclude by quoting from James Baldwin, a courageous writer who refused to let the hope of democracy die in his lifetime and who offered that mix of politics, passion and courage that deserves not just admiration but emulation. His sense of rage was grounded in a working-class sensibility, eloquence and passion that illuminates a higher standard for what it means to be a public intellectual and an engaged intellectual. His words capture something that is missing from the American cultural and political landscape, something affirmative that needs to be seized upon, rethought, and occupied – as part of both the fight against the new authoritarianism and its cynical, dangerous and cruel practices, and the struggle to reclaim a notion of justice and mutuality that seems to be dying in all of us. In “The Fire Next Time,” Baldwin writes:

One must say Yes to life, and embrace it wherever it is found – and it is found in terrible places…. For nothing is fixed, forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.


Manfred B. Steger and Ravi K. Roy, [i]Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction,[/i] (Oxford University Press, 2010). Juliet B. Schor,[i] Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth[/i](New York: Penguin Press, 2010); Henry A. Giroux, [i]Against the Terror of Neoliberalism[/i] (Boulder: Paradigm, 2008); David Harvey,[i] A Brief History of Neoliberalism[/i] (New York: Oxford Press, 2005); John and Jean Comaroff, eds. [i]Millennial Capitalism and the Culture of Neoliberalism[/i]  (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001). On the moral limits and failings of neoliberalism, see Michael J. Sandel, [i] What Money Can’t Buy[/i] (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012) and for positing a case for neoliberalism as a criminal enterprise, see Jeff Madrick,[i] Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present [/i](New York: Vintage, 2011); Charles Ferguson, [i]Predator Nation [/i](New York: Crown Business, 2012); Henry A. Giroux, [i]Zombie Politics in the Age of Casino Capitalism[/i] (New York: Peter Lang, 2010).

João Biehl, [i]Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment [/i](Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005). These zones are also brilliantly analyzed in Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco, [i]Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt [/i](New York: Knopf, 2012).

Zygmunt Bauman,”Does ‘Democracy’ Still Mean Anything? (And in Case It Does, What Is It?)” [i]Truthout [/i](January 21, 2011). Online:;view=item&id=73:does-democracy-still-mean-anything-and-in-case-it-does-what-is-it

George Lakoff and Glenn W. G Smith, “Romney, Ryan and the Devil’s Budget,” The Berkeley Blog (August 23, 2012). Online:


Robert Reich,”Mitt Romney and the New Gilded Age” [i]Truthout [/i](July 2, 2012). Online:

David Theo Goldberg, “The Taxing Terms of the GOP Plan Invite Class Carnage,” (September 20, 2012). Online:

Paul Krugman,”Galt, gold and God,” [i]The New York Times, [/i](August 23, 2012), p. A25.

8. Ibid.

 Marian Wright Edelman,”Ryanomics Assault on Poor and Hungry Children,” [i]Huffington Post [/i](September 14, 2012). Online:

10. Reich,”Mitt Romney and the New Gilded Age,”; Charles Ferguson, [i]Predatory Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America [/i](New York: Crown Business, 2012); Daisy Grewal,”How Wealth Reduces Compassion: As Riches Grow, Empathy for Others Seems to Decline,”[i] Scientific American[/i](April 10, 2012). Online:

Bauman,”Does ‘Democracy’ Still Mean Anything?”

Lewis H. Lapham,”Feast of Fools: How American Democracy Became the Property of a Commercial Oligarchy,” [i]Truthout[/i] (September 20, 2012). Online:


Zygmunt Bauman, [i]This is Not a Diary[/i] (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012), p. 102.

15. Lapham,”Feast of Fools,”

16. Eric Lichtblau,”Economic Downturn Took a Detour at Capitol Hill,” [i]The New York Times[/i] (December 26, 2011). Online:

17. Peter Grier,”So Much Money, So Few Lobbyists in D.C.: How Does the Math Work?” [i]DC Decoder[/i] (February 24, 2012). Online:

Bill Moyers and Bernard Weisberger,”Money in Politics: Where is the Outrage?” [i]Huffington Post [/i](August 30, 2012). Online:

It is difficult to access this study because Citigroup does its best to make it disappear from the Internet. See the discussion of it by Noam Chomsky in”Plutonomy and the Precariat: On the History of the U.S. Economy in Decline,”[i] Truthdig [/i](May 8, 2012). Online:

Salvatore Babones,”To End the Jobs Recession, Invest an Extra $20 Billion in Public Education,” [i]Truthout [/i](August 21, 2012). Online:$20-billion-in-public-education

John Atcheson,”The Real Welfare Problem: Government Giveaways to the Corporate 1%,” [i]Common  Dreams [/i](September 3, 2012). Online:

John Cavanagh,”Seven Ways to End the Deficit (Without Throwing Grandma Under the Bus),” [i]Yes! Magazine [/i](September 7, 2012). Online:


Joseph Stiglitz,”Politics Is at the Root of the Problem,” [i]European Magazine[/i](April 23, 2012). Online:

Lynn Parramore,”Exclusive Interview: Joseph Stiglitz Sees Terrifying Future for America If We Don’t Reverse Inequality,” [i]AlterNet [/i](June 24, 2012). Online:

Editorial,”America’s Detainee Problem,” [i]Los Angeles Times [/i](September 23, 2012). Online:

Glenn Greenwald,”Unlike Afghan Leaders, Obama Fights for Power of Indefinite Military Detention,” [i]The Guardian[/i] (September 18, 2012). Online: See also, Glenn Greenwald,”Federal Court Enjoins NDAA,” [i]Salon[/i] (May 16, 2012). Online: . See also, Henry A. Giroux, [i]Hearts of Darkness: Torturing Children in the War on Terror[/i](BoulderParadigm 2010).

Charlie Savage,”Judge Rules against Law on Indefinite Detention,” [i]New York Times [/i](September 12, 2012). Online:

Karen J. Greenberg,”Ever More and Ever Less,” [i]TomDispatch[/i] (March 18, 2012). Online:

Catherine Poe,”Federal Judge Emails Racist Joke about President Obama,” [i]Washington Times [/i](March 1, 2012). Online:

Editorial,”Why Romney Is Slipping,” [i]New York Times[/i] (September 25, 2012), p. A20.

Brennan Keller,”Medical Expenses: Top Cause of Bankruptcy in the United States,” [i]Give Forward[/i] (October 13, 2011). Online:

George Lakoff and Glenn W. G Smith,”Romney, Ryan and the Devil’s Budget,” [i]Berkeley Blog [/i](August 23, 2012). Online:

David Corn, “Secret Video: Romney Tells Millionaire Donors What He Really Thinks of Obama Voters,” [i]Mother Jones[/i] (September 17, 2012). Online:

Naomi Wolf,”How the Mitt Romney Video Killed the American Dream,” [i]The Guardian [/i](September 21, 2012). Online:

Corn,”Secret Video,”

Paul Krugman,”Defining Prosperity Down,” [i]New York Times [/i](August 1, 2010), p. A17.

Zygmunt Bauman is the most important theorist writing about the politics of disposability.  Among his many books, see [i]Wasted Lives [/i](London: Polity Press, 2004).

Robert Reich,”The Rebirth of Social Darwinism,” [i]Robert Reich’s Blog[/i](November 30, 2011). Online:

C. Wright Mills, [i]The Politics of Truth: Selected Writings of C. Wright Mills [/i](New York:OxfordUniversity Press, 2008), p. 200.

Hart Research Associates, [i]American Academics: Survey of Part Time and Adjunct Higher Education Faculty[/i] (Washington, D.C.: AFT, 2011). Online: Street, Maria Maisto, Esther Merves, and Gary  Rhoades, [i]Who Is Professor “Staff” and How Can This Person Teach So Many Classes?[/i] (Los Angeles: Center for the Future of Higher Education, 2012). Online:

Andrew Martin and Andrew W. Lehren,”A Generation Hobbled by the Soaring Cost of College,” [i]New York Times [/i](May 12, 2012), p. A1.

Cited in Richard J. Bernstein, [i]The Abuse of Evil: The Corruption of Politics and Religion since 9/11[/i] (London: Polity Press, 2005), pp. 7-8.

Martha C. Nussbaum,[i] Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs The Humanities[/i](New Jersey:PrincetonUniversity Press, 2010), p. 142.

45. Les Leopold,”Crazy Country: 6 Reasons America Spends More on Prisons Than On Higher Education,” [i]Alternet[/i] (August 27, 2012). Online On this issue, see also the classic work by Angela Y. Davis, [i]Are Prisons Obsolete?[/i] (New York: Open Media, 2003); and Michelle Alexander, [i]The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness [/i](New York: New Press, 2012).

Erica Goode,”Many in U.S. Are Arrested by Age 23, Study Finds,” New York Times(December 19, 2011), p. A15.

Zygmunt Bauman,[i] The Individualized Society[/i] (London: Polity, 2001), p. 4.

Leopold,”Crazy Country,”

49. See, for instance, Rebecca Solnit,”Rain on Our Parade: A Letter to the Dismal Left,” [i][/i] (September 27, 2012). Online:,_we_could_be_heroes/ TomDispatch refers to this article as a call for hope over despair. It should be labeled as a call for accommodation over the need for a radical democratic politics.  For an alternative to this politics of accommodation, see the work of Stanley Aronowitz, Chris Hedges, Henry Giroux, Noam Chomsky, and others.

Cornelius Castoriadis,”Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime,” [i]Constellations [/i]4:1 (1997), p. 5.

Archon Fung,”The Constructive Responsibility of Intellectuals,” [i]Boston Review[/i](September 9, 2011). Online:

Heather Gautney,”Why Do Political Elites All Hate Democracy?”[i] LA Progressive[/i] (September 19, 2012). Online:

Stuart Hall and Les Back,”In Conversation: At Home and Not at Home,” [i]Cultural Studies[/i] Vol. 23, No. 4 (July 2009), p. 681.

Antropofagia em cena (Fapesp)

Com mais de 50 anos de atuação, Teatro Oficina agora faz pesquisa voltada para a intervenção urbana

GUSTAVO FIORATTI | Edição 199 – Setembro de 2012

Zé Celso em cena de “A terra”, de 2001, trilogia de “Os sertões”: fundador do Oficina continua sempre presente. © MARILIA HALLA

A fachada do Teatro Oficina na rua Jaceguai – uma estreita via de acesso 
à 9 de Julho no bairro do Bixiga, em São Paulo – tem a simplicidade de uma garagem. Quando a pesada porta da entrada se abre, revela-se então uma estrutura que em nada lembra a de um teatro convencional: lá dentro, uma espécie de passarela, comprida, corre por entre duas arquibancadas de aço e madeira.

Nada de cortinas, nada de palco, nada de poltronas. Quem percorre esse corredor nota um leve declive em direção aos fundos. À esquerda, ao lado de uma das arquibancadas e já no meio do percurso, uma imensa janela 
de vidro tem vista para os edifícios do bairro.

A arquiteta italiana Lina Bo Bardi projetou o espaço nos anos 1980 para que o diretor José Celso Martinez Corrêa, hoje com 75 anos, pudesse desenvolver uma linha de trabalho que tem um pé na arena grega e outro no Carnaval. Os espetáculos apresentados ali ocupam não só a passarela; costumam espalhar-se por todos os cantos. Não raro, o lugar da plateia é também o lugar da cena, e o público entra na dança.

José Celso está sempre presente, muitas vezes em cena, com cabelos brancos 
e roupas claras. “O ‘Teato’ é uma feitiçaria que engole o enfeitiçamento geral 
com que a sociedade de espetáculos, com o fetiche da mercadoria, escraviza a humanidade. Nós queremos nos ‘desvoduzar’. Trazer sopros que invertam as equações abstratas dominantes”, diz ele.

O rei da vela, de 1967: pesquisa voltada para o teatro épico. © DIVULGAÇÃO / ARQUIVO TEATRO OFICINA

O diretor grafa a palavra teatro sempre sem o “r” – ou com o “r” entre parênteses – para conjugar a sílaba “te” à palavra “ato”. Diz que ato 
e representação não são coisas iguais, ampliando o sentido da mimese, do texto decorado, para um trabalho performático com ares de celebração dionisíaca. 
A última peça do Teatro  Oficina, Macumba antropófaga, tem esse perfil: o espetáculo começava dentro do teatro e partia para a rua. Descia a rua Jaceguai e, por entre becos, casas, ruelas da vizinhança, prosseguia com atores conduzindo performancesao som de bumbos, pandeiros e declamações.

É um momento atual do grupo, que José Celso considera fazer parte “da descoberta do teatro como intervenção urbana”. 
O que não muda é a diretriz estabelecida por uma referência fundamental: 
a obra do escritor Oswald de Andrade (1890-1954), especialmente seu Manifesto antropófago.

A redescoberta de Oswald “foi a revolução cultural mais importante da segunda metade do século XX”, diz o diretor, em referência ao movimento Tropicalista. “Ninguém o conhecida, nem Glauber [Rocha, cineasta], nem Caetano [Veloso], nem Gil [Gilberto Gil] nem o Hélio Oiticica [artista plástico]; a antena de Oswald nos ligou neste movimento definitivo de descolonização da língua, do corpo, da arte”, prossegue.

O Oficina foi fundado em 1958 por José Celso, Renato Borghi e Etti Fraser, entre outros atores. Teve uma primeira fase realista, com pesquisa fundamentada na metodologia do russo Constantin Stanislavski. Após um incêndio que destruiu o teatro por completo, o grupo encenou em 1967 O rei da vela, de Oswald. A peça marca a nova pesquisa, voltada para o teatro épico do alemão Bertolt Brecht.

“As bacantes”, de 1996, em reapresentação de 2010. © ARTHUR MAX

O grupo se desfez em parte por conta da situação política – a ditadura militar leva José Celso para o exílio, após 20 dias de prisão por conta de manifestos contra o regime – e em parte por desacordos entre os integrantes. O diretor retornou ao Brasil em 1978 e se seguiu o período da retomada de seu trabalho. Retomada lenta e gradual, agora sim articulada à parceria com a arquiteta Lina Bo Bardi.

A reabertura do repertório do Oficina ocorreu em 1991, com o espetáculo As boas, com texto de Jean Genet e com Raul Cortez no elenco. Ham-let (1993), baseado na obra de Shakespeare, e As bacantes (1996), de Eurípedes, aprofundam a inspiração na mitologia grega de Dionísio, deus dos prazeres, da loucura, do vinho, do sexo. O Oficina firma seu terreno na celebração da nudez, do corpo e da carne como ponte para um gozo espiritual.

É uma linha de pesquisa que resulta em espetáculos longos, muitas vezes com até quatro horas de duração. Assim era Cacilda!, de 1998, baseada na vida e no trabalho da atriz Cacilda Becker, e a trilogia de Os sertões, adaptação da obra de Euclides da Cunha, de modo que o original era dividido em três partes: A terra, 
O homem e A luta. Houve sessões que reuniam esses três espetáculos, com mais 
de 10 horas de duração. Uma delas foi apresentada no mesmo município da Bahia onde houve o massacre de Canudos, narrado no livro de Euclides da Cunha.

Embrapa envia sementes de milho e arroz para o Banco de Svalbard, na Noruega (O Globo)

JC e-mail 4577, de 05 de Setembro de 2012.

Banco nórdico é o mais seguro do mundo, construído para resistir a catástrofes climáticas e a explosão nuclear.

A Embrapa envia esta semana 264 amostras representativas de sementes de milho e 541 de arroz para o Banco Global de Sementes de Svalbard, na Noruega, como parte do acordo assinado com o Real Ministério de Agricultura e Alimentação do país em 2008. Serão enviadas ao banco genético norueguês as coleções nucleares de arroz e milho, ou seja, um grupo limitado de acessos derivados de uma coleção vegetal, escolhido para representar a variabilidade genética da coleção inteira. Tradicionalmente, as coleções nucleares são estabelecidas com tamanho em torno de 10% dos acessos de toda a coleção original e incluem aproximadamente 70% no acervo genético.

A escolha dessas culturas atende a uma das recomendações do Banco de Svalbard quanto à relevância para a segurança alimentar e agricultura sustentável. Embora não sejam culturas originárias do Brasil, são cultivadas no país há séculos e têm características de rusticidade e adaptabilidade às condições nacionais. A próxima cultura agrícola a ser encaminhada para o banco norueguês será o feijão, o que deve acontecer até o fim de 2012.

O envio de amostras para Svalbard é mais uma garantia de segurança, já que o banco nórdico é o mais seguro do mundo, construído com total segurança para resistir a catástrofes climáticas e até a uma explosão nuclear. O banco tem capacidade para quatro milhões e quinhentas mil amostras de sementes. O conjunto arquitetônico conta com três câmaras de segurança máxima situadas ao final de um túnel de 125 metros dentro de uma montanha em uma pequena ilha do arquipélago de Svalbard situado no paralelo 780 N, próximo do Pólo Norte.

As sementes são armazenadas a 20ºC abaixo de zero em embalagens hermeticamente fechadas, guardadas em caixas armazenadas em prateleiras. O depósito está rodeado pelo clima glacial do Ártico, o que assegura as baixas temperaturas, mesmo se houver falha no suprimento de energia elétrica. As baixas temperatura e umidade garantem a baixa atividade metabólica, mantendo a viabilidade das sementes por um milênio ou mais.

Mathematics or Memory? Study Charts Collision Course in Brain (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Sep. 3, 2012) — You already know it’s hard to balance your checkbook while simultaneously reflecting on your past. Now, investigators at the Stanford University School of Medicine — having done the equivalent of wire-tapping a hard-to-reach region of the brain — can tell us how this impasse arises.

The area in red is the posterior medial cortex, the portion of the brain that is most active when people recall details of their own pasts. (Credit: Courtesy of Josef Parvizi)

The researchers showed that groups of nerve cells in a structure called the posterior medial cortex, or PMC, are strongly activated during a recall task such as trying to remember whether you had coffee yesterday, but just as strongly suppressed when you’re engaged in solving a math problem.

The PMC, situated roughly where the brain’s two hemispheres meet, is of great interest to neuroscientists because of its central role in introspective activities.

“This brain region is famously well-connected with many other regions that are important for higher cognitive functions,” said Josef Parvizi, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology and neurological sciences and director of Stanford’s Human Intracranial Cognitive Electrophysiology Program. “But it’s very hard to reach. It’s so deep in the brain that the most commonly used electrophysiological methods can’t access it.”

In a study published online Sept. 3 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Parvizi and his Stanford colleagues found a way to directly and sensitively record the output from this ordinarily anatomically inaccessible site in human subjects. By doing so, the researchers learned that particular clusters of nerve cells in the PMC that are most active when you are recalling details of your own past are strongly suppressed when you are performing mathematical calculations. Parvizi is the study’s senior author. The first and second authors, respectively, are postdoctoral scholars Brett Foster, PhD, and Mohammed Dastjerdi, PhD.

Much of our understanding of what roles different parts of the brain play has been obtained by techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, which measures the amount of blood flowing through various brain regions as a proxy for activity in those regions. But changes in blood flow are relatively slow, making fMRI a poor medium for listening in on the high-frequency electrical bursts (approximately 200 times per second) that best reflect nerve-cell firing. Moreover, fMRI typically requires pooling images from several subjects into one composite image. Each person’s brain physiognomy is somewhat different, so the blending blurs the observable anatomical coordinates of a region of interest.

Nonetheless, fMRI imaging has shown that the PMC is quite active in introspective processes such as autobiographical memory processing (“I ate breakfast this morning”) or daydreaming, and less so in external sensory processing (“How far away is that pedestrian?”). “Whenever you pay attention to the outside world, its activity decreases,” said Parvizi.

To learn what specific parts of this region are doing during, say, recall versus arithmetic requires more-individualized anatomical resolution than an fMRI provides. Otherwise, Parvizi said, “if some nerve-cell populations become less active and others more active, it all washes out, and you see no net change.” So you miss what’s really going on.

For this study, the Stanford scientists employed a highly sensitive technique to demonstrate that introspective and externally focused cognitive tasks directly interfere with one another, because they impose opposite requirements on the same brain circuitry.

The researchers took advantage of a procedure performed on patients who were being evaluated for brain surgery at the Stanford Epilepsy Monitoring Unit, associated with Stanford University Medical Center. These patients were unresponsive to drug therapy and, as a result, suffered continuing seizures. The procedure involves temporarily removing small sections of a patient’s skull, placing a thin plastic film containing electrodes onto the surface of the brain near the suspected point of origin of that patient’s seizure (the location is unique to each patient), and then monitoring electrical activity in that region for five to seven days — all of it spent in a hospital bed. Once the epilepsy team identifies the point of origin of any seizures that occurred during that time, surgeons can precisely excise a small piece of tissue at that position, effectively breaking the vicious cycle of brain-wave amplification that is a seizure.

Implanting these electrode packets doesn’t mean piercing the brain or individual cells within it. “Each electrode picks up activity from about a half-million nerve cells,” Parvizi said. “It’s more like dotting the ceiling of a big room, filled with a lot of people talking, with multiple microphones. We’re listening to the buzz in the room, not individual conversations. Each microphone picks up the buzz from a different bunch of partiers. Some groups are more excited and talking more loudly than others.”

The experimenters found eight patients whose seizures were believed to be originating somewhere near the brain’s midline and who, therefore, had had electrode packets placed in the crevasse dividing the hemispheres. (The brain’s two hemispheres are spaced far enough apart to slip an electrode packet between them without incurring damage.)

The researchers got permission from these eight patients to bring in laptop computers and put the volunteers through a battery of simple tasks requiring modest intellectual effort. “It can be boring to lie in bed waiting seven days for a seizure to come,” said Foster. “Our studies helped them pass the time.” The sessions lasted about an hour.

On the laptop would appear a series of true/false statements falling into one of four categories. Three categories were self-referential, albeit with varying degrees of specificity. Most specific was so-called “autobiographical episodic memory,” an example of which might be: “I drank coffee yesterday.” The next category of statements was more generic: “I eat a lot of fruit.” The most abstract category, “self-judgment,” comprised sentences along the lines of: “I am honest.”

A fourth category differed from the first three in that it consisted of arithmetical equations such as: 67 + 6 = 75. Evaluating such a statement’s truth required no introspection but, instead, an outward, more sensory orientation.

For each item, patients were instructed to press “1” if a statement was true, “2” if it was false.

Significant portions of the PMC that were “tapped” by electrodes became activated during self-episodic memory processing, confirming the PMC’s strong role in recall of one’s past experiences. Interestingly, true/false statements involving less specifically narrative recall — such as, “I eat a lot of fruit” — induced relatively little activity. “Self-judgment” statements — such as, “I am attractive” — elicited none at all. Moreover, whether a volunteer judged a statement to be true or false made no difference with respect to the intensity, location or duration of electrical activity in activated PMC circuits.

This suggests, both Parvizi and Foster said, that the PMC is not the brain’s “center of self-consciousness” as some have proposed, but is more specifically engaged in constructing autobiographical narrative scenes, as occurs in recall or imagination.

Foster, Dastjerdi and Parvizi also found that the PMC circuitry activated by a recall task took close to a half-second to fire up, ruling out the possibility that this circuitry’s true role was in reading or making sense of the sentence on the screen. (These two activities are typically completed within the first one-fifth of a second or so.) Once activated, these circuits remained active for a full second.

Yet all the electrodes that lit up during the self-episodic condition were conspicuously deactivated during arithmetic calculation. In fact, the circuits being monitored by these electrodes were not merely passively silent, but actively suppressed, said Parvizi. “The more a circuit is activated during autobiographical recall, the more it is suppressed during math. It’s essentially impossible to do both at once.”

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, with partial sponsorship from the Stanford Institute for NeuroInnovation and Translational Neuroscience.

Earthquake Hazards Map Study Finds Deadly Flaws (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Aug. 31, 2012) — Three of the largest and deadliest earthquakes in recent history occurred where earthquake hazard maps didn’t predict massive quakes. A University of Missouri scientist and his colleagues recently studied the reasons for the maps’ failure to forecast these quakes. They also explored ways to improve the maps. Developing better hazard maps and alerting people to their limitations could potentially save lives and money in areas such as the New Madrid, Missouri fault zone.

“Forecasting earthquakes involves many uncertainties, so we should inform the public of these uncertainties,” said Mian Liu, of MU’s department of geological sciences. “The public is accustomed to the uncertainties of weather forecasting, but foreseeing where and when earthquakes may strike is far more difficult. Too much reliance on earthquake hazard maps can have serious consequences. Two suggestions may improve this situation. First, we recommend a better communication of the uncertainties, which would allow citizens to make more informed decisions about how to best use their resources. Second, seismic hazard maps must be empirically tested to find out how reliable they are and thus improve them.”

Liu and his colleagues suggest testing maps against what is called a null hypothesis, the possibility that the likelihood of an earthquake in a given area — like Japan — is uniform. Testing would show which mapping approaches were better at forecasting earthquakes and subsequently improve the maps.

Liu and his colleagues at Northwestern University and the University of Tokyo detailed how hazard maps had failed in three major quakes that struck within a decade of each other. The researchers interpreted the shortcomings of hazard maps as the result of bad assumptions, bad data, bad physics and bad luck.

Wenchuan, China — In 2008, a quake struck China’s Sichuan Province and cost more than 69,000 lives. Locals blamed the government and contractors for not making buildings in the area earthquake-proof, according to Liu, who says that hazard maps bear some of the blame as well since the maps, based on bad assumptions, had designated the zone as an area of relatively low earthquake hazard.

Léogâne, Haiti — The 2010 earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince and killed an estimated 316,000 people occurred along a fault that had not caused a major quake in hundreds of years. Using only the short history of earthquakes since seismometers were invented approximately one hundred years ago yielded hazard maps that were didn’t indicate the danger there.

Tōhoku, Japan — Scientists previously thought the faults off the northeast coast of Japan weren’t capable of causing massive quakes and thus giant tsunamis like the one that destroyed the Fukushima nuclear reactor. This bad understanding of particular faults’ capabilities led to a lack of adequate preparation. The area had been prepared for smaller quakes and the resulting tsunamis, but the Tōhoku quake overwhelmed the defenses.

“If we limit our attention to the earthquake records in the past, we will be unprepared for the future,” Liu said. “Hazard maps tend to underestimate the likelihood of quakes in areas where they haven’t occurred previously. In most places, including the central and eastern U.S., seismologists don’t have a long enough record of earthquake history to make predictions based on historical patterns. Although bad luck can mean that quakes occur in places with a genuinely low probability, what we see are too many ‘black swans,’ or too many exceptions to the presumed patterns.”

“We’re playing a complicated game against nature,” said the study’s first author, Seth Stein of Northwestern University. “It’s a very high stakes game. We don’t really understand all the rules very well. As a result, our ability to assess earthquake hazards often isn’t very good, and the policies that we make to mitigate earthquake hazards sometimes aren’t well thought out. For example, the billions of dollars the Japanese spent on tsunami defenses were largely wasted.

“We need to very carefully try to formulate the best strategies we can, given the limits of our knowledge,” Stein said. “Understanding the uncertainties in earthquake hazard maps, testing them, and improving them is important if we want to do better than we’ve done so far.”

The study, “Why earthquake hazard maps often fail and what to do about it,” was published by the journal Tectonophysics. First author of the study was Seth Stein of Northwestern University. Robert Geller of the University of Tokyo was co-author. Mian Liu is William H. Byler Distinguished Chair in Geological Sciences in the College of Arts and Science at the University of Missouri.

Anunciado no Facebook, tênis da Adidas é considerado “racista” (Revista Cult)

Com correntes de borracha, calçado teve a venda suspensa

Junho 2012

No mês de junho, a fabricante de materiais esportivos Adidas anunciou em sua página do Facebook o lançamento de um novo tênis na linha outono-inverno 2012, segundo informou o jornal “Le Monde”. Desenhado pelo estilista Jeremy Scott Roundhouse, o calçado traz pulseiras de borracha simulando correntes, que muitos internautas viram como uma referência à escravidão.

Segundo a CNN, a empresa rapidamente removeu a postagem na página do Facebook, mas o assunto já havia rodado o globo gerando revolta entre internautas.

“Aparentemente não havia pessoas de cor no departamento de marketing que o aprovou”, brinca Rodwell em comentário no site “Nice Kicks”, portal destinado aos lançamentos de tênis.

A empresa, inicialmente, defendeu o designer, descrevendo seu estilo como “original” e alegre, mas o fabricante alemão emitiu um comunicado onde pede desculpas aos ofendidos com o caso e afirma que o modelo não será comercializado.