Still on time for a BMoF today, and here is a recently released video clip/short film by rapper Criolo (that I'm a bit of a fan is no secret to anyone) of two tracks, 'Duas de Cinco' and 'Cóccix-ência'. Hope ya'll in the mood for rap on Fridays today!
In his Two New Sciences (1638), Galileo presents a puzzle about infinite collections of numbers that became known as ‘Galileo’s paradox’. Written in the form of a dialogue, the interlocutors in the text observe that there are many more positive integers than there are perfect squares, but that every positive integer is the root of a given square. And so, there is a one-to-one correspondence between the positive integers and the perfect squares, and thus we may conclude that there are as many positive integers as there are perfect squares. And yet, the initial assumption was that there are more positive integers than perfect squares, as every perfect square is a positive integer but not vice-versa; in other words, the collection of the perfect squares is strictly contained in the collection of the positive integers. How can they be of the same size then?
Galileo’s conclusion is that principles and concepts pertaining to the size of finite collections cannot be simply transposed, mutatis mutandis, to cases of infinity: “the attributes "equal," "greater," and "less," are not applicable to infinite, but only to finite, quantities.” With respect to finite collections, two uncontroversial principles hold:
Part-whole: a collection A that is strictly contained in a collection B has a strictly smaller size than B.
One-to-one: two collections for which there exists a one-to-one correspondence between their elements are of the same size.
What Galileo’s paradox shows is that, when moving to infinite cases, these two principles clash with each other, and thus that at least one of them has to go. In other words, we simply cannot transpose these two basic intuitions pertaining to counting finite collections to the case of infinite collections. As is well known, Cantor chose to keep One-to-one at the expenses of Part-whole, famously concluding that all countable infinite collections are of the same size (in his terms, have the same cardinality); this is still the reigning orthodoxy.
... in Turkey. I suppose no one should be surprised by what Recep Tayyip Erdogan is capable of by now, but this is definitely a new low. Below is a short BBC video narrating the chronology of events, and here is a piece in the Guardian from the point of view of those fighting back against the suppression of internet freedom in Turkey (H/T Lucas Thorpe for both).
I invite well informed readers to offer further elements on the situation in comments below.
This week we had the pleasure of welcoming Jerrold Levinson for a workshop in Groningen. I had never met Jerry in person before, but I had anticipated great conversations on music, given his influential work on the aesthetics of music. Well, as it turns out, it was even better than expected (and would have been better only if we had had more time to talk). It involved in particular some brief duets at restaurants in a variety of languages (English, Portuguese, French, even a bit of Spanish).
One of these songs was the bossa nova classic ‘Desafinado’: me in Portuguese, Jerry in English. And so the choice of what to post here at BMoF this week was pretty obvious: here is ‘Desafinado’, in the classic version from the Getz/Gilberto album, and the English version, ‘Slightly out of tune’ with the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald (live at a TV show). Incidentally, I find that the English lyrics, and Ella’s interpretation, give the song an ‘upbeat-ness’ that is extraneous to it, as it is basically a melancholic song about somebody who is accused of singing out of tune by his lover (and this causes him ‘immense pain’). Still, perhaps the way to think about it is of ‘Slightly out of tune’ as almost like a different song altogether, and a great one at that.
(And here is to hoping for more such duets involving Jerry and me in the future.)
I am currently supervising a student writing a paper on Wittgenstein’s notion of therapy as a metaphilosophical concept. The paper relies centrally on a very useful distinction discussed in N. Rescher’s 1985 book The Strife of Systems (though I do not know whether it was introduced there for the first time), namely the distinction between prescriptive vs. descriptive metaphilosophy (the topic of chap. 14 of the book).
The descriptive issue of how philosophy has been done is one of factual inquiry largely to be handled in terms of the history of the field. But the normative issue of how philosophy should be done – or significant questions, adequate solutions, and good arguments – is something very different. (Rescher 1985, 261)
Rescher goes on to argue that descriptive metaphilosophy is not part of philosophy at all; it is a branch of factual inquiry, namely the history of philosophy and perhaps its sociology. Prescriptive metaphilosophy, by contrast, is real philosophy: methodological claims on how philosophy should be done are themselves philosophical claims. (Full disclosure: I haven’t read the whole chapter, only what google books allows me to see…) Rescher’s position as described here seems to be quite widespread, encapsulating the ‘disdain’ with which not only descriptive metaphilosophy, but also the history of philosophy in general, is often viewed by ‘real philosophers’. And yet, this position seems to me to be fundamentally wrong (and this is also the claim that my student is defending in his paper).
(Notice that to discuss the status of descriptive metaphilosophy as philosophy, we need to go meta-metaphilosophical! It’s turtles all the way up, or down, depending on how you look at it.)
Dominguinhos was one of the greatest Brazilian accordionists of all times, and musical heir of Luiz Gonzaga – second only to Gonzaga in the pantheon of Brazilian northeastern music. Sadly, he passed away last year in July. In the year before his death, a documentary on his life and oeuvre was filmed and is now completed. The documentary itself will be released in May (though it will be competing in a number of film festivals the coming months), but as a prelude to the documentary a webseries of 8 short episodes is being posted online, a new episode every Wednesday. Each episode focuses on musical encounters of Dominguinhos with other musicians: the first episode is with Gilberto Gil, second with João Donato, and third with Djavan, among other illustrious guests. I’ve been enjoying each of them tremendously, and look forward to the remaining 5 – and of course, to the documentary!
I’m posting here ‘Abri a porta’, with Gilberto Gil; ‘Minha saudade’, with legendary jazz pianist João Donato; 'Retrato da vida' with Djavan and Mayra Andrade . In all tracks, the magical accordion of Dominguinhos shines. (You can follow the next episodes on Facebook or the Youtube channel.) Brazilian music lovers are unbelievably lucky that all this wonderful material was recorded just before Dominguinhos' death, as this means there is more of him still around for us to enjoy.
[H]e is proclaiming his new project, the Wolfram Language, to be the biggest computer language of all time. It has been in the works for more than 20 years, and, while in development, formed the underlying basis of Wolfram’s popular Mathematica software. In the words of Wolfram, now 54, his new language “knows about the world” and makes the world computable.
From the point of view of the philosophical debates on artificial intelligence, the crucial bit is the claim that his new language, unlike all other computer languages, “knows about the world”. Could it be that this language does indeed constitute a convincing reply to Searle’s Chinese Room argument?
To be clear, I take Searle’s argument to be problematic in a number of ways (some of which very aptly discussed in M. Boden’s classic paper), but the challenge posed by the Chinese Room seems to me to still stand; it still is one of the main questions in the philosophy of artificial intelligence. So if Wolfram’s new language does indeed differ from the other computer languages thus far developed specifically in this respect, it may offer us reasons to revisit the whole debate (which for now seems to have reached a stalemate).
As many readers will have seen, the great Paco de Lucia passed away last week. So to honor him, here is the (to my knowledge) only song recorded by him with a Brazilian musician, namely Djavan. The song is ‘Oceano’ of 1989, and to be honest it is not among my favorite Djavan songs (it doesn’t help that it was the main theme of the ‘love story’ between the protagonists of a soap-opera, so we all got over-exposed to it back in the day). But there is a beautiful solo by Paco de Lucia between 2.30 and 3.00 mins., which already makes it all worth it. I’m also posting one of the many breath-taking duos of Paco de Lucia with the equally great (and also prematurely deceased) Camarón de la Isla, simply because one can never get enough of these two; here, 'Tu cariño es mi castigo'.
Carnival has already started in Brazil. The internationally most famous carnival celebration is the parade of samba schools in Rio, but two equally strong carnival traditions thrive in Salvador (Bahia) and Recife/Olinda (Pernambuco) – democratic, street carnival in both cases. What the samba school is for carnival in Rio (and a few other places, like São Paulo), the ‘bloco’ is for street carnival. Blocos are (more or less) organized groups with their own music band and participants who dance along. In Bahia, the most famous bloco is probably Ilê Aiyê, created in 1974 as an affirmation of black pride and a celebration of the Afro cultural heritage in Bahia and in Brazil more generally. When it first came into existence, it was viewed as ‘racist’ given its emphasis on the value of African-Brazilian culture, and to this day only blacks are allowed to parade with the group. Ilê Aiyê remains one of the symbols of the strength of the Afro-Brazilian culture – here is a song by Caetano Veloso celebrating their existence.
In their first carnival, in 1975, Ilê Aiyê paraded with a song that remains emblematic for the black pride movement in Brazil: ‘Que bloco é esse - Ilê Aiyê’. And so to join the carnival spirit this week I’ll be posting numerous versions of this song. It’s really a great song, and here is a bit of the lyrics translated (as usual, very hard to come up with a decent translation):
Many of you are now waking up with the distressing news of another ‘harassment scandal’ in philosophy, this time at Oxford, involving Jeffrey Ketland (a lecturer at Pembroke College) and a student who committed suicide in June of last year. The reports available so far come from news outlets such as the Daily Mail, the Telegraph and The Times (especially the first two, not known for a high level of journalistic impartiality).
Full disclosure: Jeff is a friend of mine, we co-blog at M-Phi and have been friends for a few years. There is much information concerning these tragic events that I got from him, and which I am not at liberty to share at this point (obviously). What does seem to me to be worth pointing out now is that the articles on the story seem to suggest that the harassment accusations have been confirmed, which is not the case at this point. Jeff merely received a harassment warning, and for those of us not familiar with the British legal system, it may not be clear what this amounts to. Brian Leiter links to a useful Guardian article that clarifies the concept, and here are some relevant passages:
Harassment warnings can be issued by police officers with little or no prior investigation of the original allegation and there is a real concern that this is later incorrectly presented as, or perceived by some to be, little short of a conviction.
A harassment warning can be given by police following an allegation which, if true and if repeated, would amount to an offence under the PHA. Until or unless further similar allegations are made, there is not enough evidence to charge the person with harassment, hence the warning.
A harassment warning is not a criminal conviction – simply a notice that a complaint has been received. The behaviour complained of, by itself, does not amount to a crime.
To be clear, the harassment accusations have so far not been confirmed (or disconfirmed, for that matter) by any official investigation, so at this point in time there is no official conclusion as to what exactly happened. Thus, at the very least, at this point we should be careful when using factive terminology like ‘the student was harassed by the lecturer’, ‘the harasser’, ‘the victim’ and such like, as none of this has been corroborated by investigation. That the student took her own life is an extremely distressing turn of events, obviously, but to draw causal connections between this outcome and her complex interactions with Jeff Ketland (they had known each other since 2008), as these reports seem to suggest, is (at this point in time at least) entirely unwarranted. (Some of the articles do mention other distressing recent events in the student's life.)
(Some readers may also be wondering why this is coming up now, if the suicide took place in June last year. What happened is that the inquest, the juridical procedure to establish cause of death, took place yesterday, February 26th, and this is how the story 'leaked' to the press.)
Ok, so today is my birthday (yes, somehow every year it coincides with Valentine's day), and most of it will be spent packing and then in the car, driving to the mountains. So not exactly the best birthday ever, but with a nice reward to come after: a week of vacation. (So no BMoF next week.)
Anyway, to congratulate myself I'm posting the Brazilian version of 'Happy birthday', 'Parabéns pra você', quite possibly the most often sung song in the whole history of Brazilian music (damn, not an original Brazilian song!). So here it is, sung by soulman Ed Motta, who already made an appearance here at BMoF a while back.
And yes, I'm happy to accept congratulations in comments.
I have a PhD student working on justification in epistemology. He just got started a few months ago, so for now we are sort of ‘sniffing around’ before we define a more precise focus. (He wrote his Master’s thesis on John Norton and the justification of induction.) Now, by a nice twist of fate, last week I received a Google Scholar citation alert which put us on a very promising track: Rawls’ notion of justification. (My book Formal Languages in Logic was cited in this Pitt dissertation, in the same section where there is a discussion of Rawls on justification. The dissertation, by Thomas V. Cunningham, looks very interesting by the way.)
Here is the crucial passage as quoted in the dissertation:
Justification is argument addressed to those who disagree with us, or to ourselves when we are of two minds. It presumes a clash of views between persons or within one person, and seeks to convince others, or ourselves, of the reasonableness of the principles upon which our claims and judgments are founded … justification proceeds from what all parties to the discussion hold in common … thus, mere proof is not justification … proofs become justification once the starting points are mutually recognized, or the conclusions so comprehensive and compelling as to persuade us of the soundness of the conception expressed by their premises…[C]onsensus…is the nature of justification. (Rawls, A Theory of Justice (1999 ed.), 508-509).
I'm currently running a series of posts at M-Phi with sections of a paper I'm working on, 'Axiomatizations of arithmetic and the first-order/second-order divide', which may be of interest to at least some of the NewAPPS readership. It focuses on the idea that, when it comes to axiomatizing arithmetic, descriptive power and deductive power cannot be combined: axiomatizations that are categorical (using a highly expressive logical language, typically second-order logic) will typically be intractable, whereas axiomatizations with deductively better-behaved underlying logics (typically, first-order logic) will not be categorical -- i.e. will be true of models other than the intended model of the series of the natural numbers. Based on a distinction proposed by Hintikka between the descriptive use and the deductive use of logic in the foundations of mathematics, I discuss what the impossibility of having our arithmetical cake and eating it (i.e. of combining deductive power with expressive power to characterize arithmetic with logical tools) means for the first-order logic vs. second-order logic debate.
We've recently had a NewAPPS post where it became clear in comments that many (presumably well-meaning) people are at loss when it comes to the appropriate terminology to use when talking about transgender people. (Interestingly, there is a recent post over at Feminist Philosophers on this very topic.) Conveniently, the Guardian just published an informative piece with very sensible guidelines on how to go about it (at least, they seem sensible to me, but I'd like to hear more from people more knowledgeable than me on this matter). For example, I often asked myself which pronoun to use when talking about a transperson's past, prior to her/his transition, and here is the answer:
Whether discussing a person's past, present or future, only use the correct pronouns for their gender. A person's gender generally does not change. Public presentation may change in transition and secondary sex characteristics may change with the aid of hormones and/or surgery, but one's sense of being either male or female is, in most cases, constant throughout life.
There is much more sensible advice in the article, so go check it out!
Yesterday (February 6th) would have been Bob Marley’s 69th birthday. As it so happens, I spent a huge portion of my adolescence and early adulthood listening to Bob Marley. In fact, it is difficult to express how much his music has always been and still is an integral part of my life. Reggae in general, and Bob Marley in particular, is extremely popular in Brazil, and I’ve posted before some samples of Brazilian reggae (here, here, and here). But today, to celebrate Bob’s birthday, it is time to post a few songs from the 2002 tribute album to him by Gilberto Gil, Kaya N’Gan Daya (which phonetically reads as ‘Caia na gandaia’, something like ‘Go party’, and is of course a reference to Bob Marley's song 'Kaya'). Gil is a long-time Marley fan; his version of ‘No woman no cry’, ‘Não chore mais’ is a classic from his Realce album (1979), and received a new version in the 2002 album (I like the older version better).
It is hard for me to choose which songs from Kaya N’Gan Daya to post, simply because I’m such a huge fan of pretty much every existing Bob Marley song (and possibly the non-existing ones as well), but I’ll go with ‘Waiting in vain’ and ‘Positive vibrations’. Fellow Bob Marley fans, feel free to post your favorites in comments below!
Recently, I received two journal rejections within 4 days; it must be some kind of record. I could of course despair and take it personally, which is what I used to do at early stages of my career. But now, with sufficient publication success in the past to assure me that I am not a hopeless case when it comes to publications (or so I hope!), I try to look at rejections from a more positive, constructive angle. Readers who were interested in this post of mine of a few weeks ago, on how to go about selecting journals to submit your papers to, may find my current thoughts on how to deal with these two rejections useful.
The first of the two rejections was somewhat frustrating. It came from a very fine, highly selective journal, but it was based on only one referee report, and a referee who seemed to misunderstand the main claim of the paper quite severely. (S/he identified an equivocation that I’m pretty sure is simply not there.) But at the very least, the report suggested that I hadn’t been clear enough concerning the main claims of the paper. The truth is that this paper defends a somewhat controversial thesis; the referee commended the paper as well written and well structured, but seemed simply not to find the main thesis particularly appealing.
There have been quite a few musically relevant events this week. Most important of all, Pete Seeger left this world. But on a more down-to-earth dimension, the Grammy earlier this week had a few memorable moments, including the Daft Punk-Stevie Wonder performance of ‘Get lucky’. At the same Grammy, but receiving much less publicity, a Brazilian trio, Trio Corrente, won the Latin Jazz Grammy award for their album Song for Maura, a collaboration with iconic Cuban saxophone player Paquito D’Rivera. So here is the beautiful eponymous song from the album. (It’s not like I had heard about Trio Corrente before, so thanks Grammy for calling my attention to this beautiful gem.)
This article by Laurie Penny on women and short hair, which in turn is a response to another article claiming that women with short hair are ‘damaged’, has been making the rounds on the internet (H/T Gillian Russell on Facebook). It makes a number of very important points concerning ideals of femininity, and the kind of policing that women are submitted to, by men and women alike, concerning their appearance.
Wearing your hair short, or making any other personal life choice that works against the imperative to be as conventionally attractive and appealing to patriarchy as possible, is a political statement. And the threat that if we don’t behave, if we don’t play the game, we will end up alone and unloved is still a strategy of control.
(There is a lot of serious, interesting scholarship on hair out there (not only restricted to hair that grows in heads), which I am not able to address here – but do go check it out, for example this book).
I’ve had fairly long hair for most of my life, but when I was 17 and a bit of a capoeira fanatic I had my hair cut really short (I felt all that hair was in the way for my capoeira moves). Reactions were mostly positive (including my boyfriend at the time), but one comment I got was epic. The guard at my high school (!!) deemed himself in the right to comment on my new haircut, in fact to ask a question: “Is this a penitence?” Why else would any woman want to wear her hair so short?
In my regular visits to Munich as an external member of the MCMP, a frequent item on my program is meeting with Peter Adamson, of ‘History of Philosophy without any Gaps’ fame, to talk about, well, the history of philosophy (there are still gaps to be filled!). So last week, after another lovely 2-hour session that felt like 10 minutes, Peter told me about a chapter of Julian Barnes’ AHistory of the World in 10 ½ Chapters, where everyone goes to heaven and gets to do whatever they want for however long they want. After some years of pleasurable life, almost everyone then gives up and wants to die ‘for real’, but a particular group of people is remarkably resilient: the philosophers, who are happy to go on discussing with each other for decades and decades. They are the ones who last the longest in heaven. (I haven’t read the book yet, but coincidentally I was reading another one of Barnes’ books.)
Coincidence or not, a day later I came across an article by Nigel Warburton, of ‘Philosophy Bites’ fame, on how philosophy is above all about conversation. (Those podcasters like their talking alright.) The article points out that, while the image of the philosopher as the lone thinker, associated with Descartes, Boethius, and Wittgenstein, is still influential, it is simply a very partial, if not entirely wrong, picture of philosophical practice. Warburton relies on John Stuart Mill to emphasize the importance of conversation and dissent for philosophical inquiry:
Rolling Stone Brasil announced their ‘Best of 2013’ lists. Topping the list of best Brazilian songs of the year, a curious item: ‘Problema seu’, by Felipe Cordeiro, a singer from the northern state of Pará. In Pará, the genre ‘brega’ (initially a pejorative word, something like tacky/distasteful/cheap, originating from a term for 'brothel') is particularly popular, with its over-the-top aesthetics and ultra-mellow lyrics, but in Pará mixed with local sounds and with a splash of Caribbean influences thrown in.
Brega, like funk carioca, was for a long time considered to be ‘cheap music’ and frowned upon by the intellectual and cultural elite, while being widely popular with the masses. The fact that a song with a clear brega inspiration makes it to the top of Rolling Stone Brasil’s list of best songs of the year is remarkable (though in previous years brega diva Gaby Amarantos had also scored well on the RS lists), but for this song in particular, it is not that surprising considering the groovy guitar riffs, a high danceable factor, and catchy lyrics (Você pra mim/é problema seu…). So yes, a rather good song!
A new site was launched: Women of Philosophy, an online database collecting information about women currently working in philosophy and their research. It has lots of nice features, such as divisions per area (although some seem not to be operational yet), main and secondary areas of expertise per person, as well as personal and PhilPapers websites listed – and all this with an extremely user-friendly layout. It is a brand-new project, so there may well be quite a few women philosophers missing in the database (so go submit your entries!). However, in the long run, it is likely that all the numerous lists of women working in different areas of philosophy scattered around the internet will become superfluous thanks to this database (which is great news! There is much to be said about a unified database such as this one).
Other laudable efforts to promote diversity in philosophy – not only along the gender dimension – are underway: the PhilPapers crew seems to be working on a database to contain all professional philosophers (they do not shy away from big projects!), listed under a number of diversity categories. So more and more, there will be little excuse not to engage in promoting diversity in philosophy, now that there is an increasing number of useful resources available to all.
Big pile of exams to mark here today, so this will be a short post. I’m going with an unchallenged classic: ‘Fé cega, faca amolada’, from Milton Nascimento’s 1975 album Minas (one of the albums I listened to over and over again as a child), in a duo with Beto Guedes. Besides the awesomeness of the song and of Milton’s voice, I really like the instrumental arrangement: it mixes jazzy undertones with some psychedelic distorted guitars, and the overall result is quite unexpected -- and quite something!
This week, a friend reminded me on FB of this song from Marisa Monte's second album, Mais (1991), which I listened to a lot back in the day. (It has some other great songs, like 'Ainda lembro' and 'Ensaboa'.) The song itself is beautiful (and beautifully sung), but what makes it really cool is the accompanying video-clip and how it matches the lyrics. Here is the text in Portuguese, and you can try your luck with google translate; my favorite line: "Para dias de folga: namorado" (For your days off: a boyfriend). I was watching it with my kids this morning, and they loved it; indeed, the song has a lullaby ring to it, and the animation in the clip is simple and yet clever. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as we did!
Formal/mathematical philosophy is a well-established approach within philosophical inquiry, having its friends as well as its foes. Now, even though I am very much a formal-approaches-enthusiast, I believe that fundamental methodological questions tend not to receive as much attention as they deserve within this tradition. In particular, a key question which is unfortunately not asked often enough is: what counts as a ‘good’ formalization? How do we know that a given proposed formalization is adequate, so that the insights provided by it are indeed insights about the target phenomenon in question? In recent years, the question of what counts as adequate formalization seems to be for the most part a ‘Swiss obsession’, with the thought-provoking work of Georg Brun, and Michael Baumgartner & Timm Lampert. But even these authors seem to me to restrict the question to a limited notion of formalization, as translation of pieces of natural language into some formalism. (I argued in chapter 3 of my book Formal Languages in Logic that this is not the best way to think about formalization.)
However, some of the pioneers in formal/mathematical approaches to philosophical questions did pay at least some attention to the issue of what counts as an adequate formalization. In this post, I want to discuss how Tarski and Carnap approached the issue, hoping to convince more ‘formal philosophers’ to go back to these questions. (I also find the ‘squeezing argument’ framework developed by Kreisel particularly illuminating, but will leave it out for now, for reasons of space.)
I’m still waiting for Rolling Stone Brasil to publish their ‘Best of 2013’ lists, which often give me good ideas of music to post here at BMoF. But for now, let me post a 2013 song by one of the most experimental of all experimental musicians in Brazil, Tom Zé. He is relatively well known outside Brazil in alternative, world music circles, after having become of one of David Byrne’s protégés in the 1990s (he was an iconic figure in the Tropicália movement in the 1960s, but was then by and large ‘forgotten’ for many years). But one of the remarkable things about Tom Zé is that he continues to make music exactly as he sees fit, completely ignoring any ‘market pressure’ and not trying to please anyone with facile tricks.
The song below is ‘Tribunal do Feicebuqui’ (‘Feicebuqui’ being a transliteration of ‘Facebook’), a song that shows not only that Tom Zé keeps up with current social phenomena (recall that he is 78 years old), but also that he looks at these phenomena with astute, critical eyes. I’m also posting ‘Curiosidade’, from his great 1998 concept album ComDefeito de Fabricação. There is much more memorable music by Tom Zé one should listen to, but these two give at least an idea of the work of one of the most creative, independent musicians currently in activity in Brazil.
Exactly one year ago I finished off my blogging year with a post on gendered atrocities, focusing in particular on the Newtown shooting and the widely discussed gang rape in India. At that point, the hope was that these two events would at least not have been in vain, and that they would stir changes in the right direction. It seems that this did in fact happen in India, where the horridness of rape was given much more attention in the aftermath of the event, which triggered a firestorm of protest. (As for mass shootings and gun control in the US, to my knowledge nothing much seems to have changed since last year...)
And now, looking back on 2013, what strikes me as an absolute lowlight of the year is again something gender-related, at first sight of a much lesser degree of gravity – but only at first sight. One of the biggest hits of the year, Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’, is nothing short of a badly concealed rape apology (read the lyrics for yourself here). That millions and millions of young (and not-so-young) impressionable people should be exposed to the truly disturbing message of the song is very, very worrisome. The catchiness of the song (yes, I’ll admit to its catchiness, which is really the merit of singer, co-writer and producer Pharrell Williams -- who, unlike Thicke, is a talented musician) only makes it worse, as it results in millions of kids singing ‘I know you want it’, ‘good girl’, and other horrific bits of the text. (It is particularly surprising that the three singers all seem fairly adjusted, family-oriented people; but what doesn’t one do for success…) The video is equally appalling, featuring three scantily clad female models interacting in unflattering ways with the three fully clad male singers (I’ll just mention hair-pulling and puffing smoke on one of the women’s face – see the video for yourself if you have to. Oh, and there is also an uncensored version!).
A few weeks ago I posted ‘Sua estupidez’, sung by Gal Costa but composed by Roberto Carlos and Erasmo Carlos. Roberto Carlos is known in Brazil as ‘The King’, that is the king of folk music, and is immensely popular especially among the less economically favored segments of the population. He is known in particular for his ultra-romantic, ultra-mellow songs – yes, ‘tacky’ would be an appropriate description for lots of it…
But the duo Roberto/Erasmo Carlos has also produced some real gems, such as ‘Sua estupidez’ of a few weeks ago, ‘Debaixo dos caracóis dos seus cabelos’, ‘Fera ferida’, and ‘Cachaça mecânica’, which I am posting below: the first two sung by Caetano Veloso, and the third by Erasmo Carlos. (It turns out that Roberto Carlos’ versions themselves are usually not that good, not because he is not a good singer, but because of tacky arrangements…) The first two are real classics known by everyone; the third one is much less known, but possibly the best among the three: a wonderful, sad samba. So start with the third!
( From the graphic novel Logicomix, taken from this blog post by Richard Zach.)
“He doesn’t want to prove this or that, but to find out how things really are.” This is how Russell describes Wittgenstein in a letter to Lady Ottoline Morrell (as reported in M. Potter’s wonderful book Wittgenstein's Notes on Logic, p. 50 – see my critical note on the book). This may well be the most accurate characterization of Wittgenstein’s approach to philosophy in general, in fact a fitting description of the different phases Wittgenstein went through. Indeed, if there is a common denominator to the first, second, intermediate etc. Wittgensteins, it is the fundamental nature of the questions he asked: different answers, but similar questions throughout. So instead of proving ‘this or that’, for example, he asks what a proof is in the first place.
This week’s post is again not entirely Brazilian, technically speaking: today we have Cape Verdian young singer Mayra Andrade, who some of my friends have been raving about for a while (Jeroen and Rafa, that's you!). What justifies her inclusion among the BMoF guests is not only the fact that most of her songs are sung in Cape Verdean Crioulo, a variation of Portuguese; Mayra herself claims to have been highly influenced by Brazilian music. In fact, the first song she recalls singing as a child is the beautiful lullaby ‘Leaozinho’ by Caetano Veloso (equally popular among Brazilian children at large). Mayra often collaborates with Brazilian musicians and records Brazilian songs, and while not yet very widely known in Brazil, she is definitely a rising star worldwide. Her newly released album Lovely Difficult moves away from world music and towards something that can be described as ‘universal pop’, including songs in English (such as the single ‘We used to call it love’), while retaining the freshness and innovation she is known for.
I’m posting here some of Mayra’s versions of Brazilian songs, but music lovers should really also check her ‘non-Brazilian’ music, including her interpretation of Cape Verdean mornas but also her more recent work. So here is her version of 'Berimbau' (classic by Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes) with Trio Mocotó, featured in the Red, Hot + Rio 2 album, and a live version of ‘O que será’ (classic by Chico Buarque), a duet with French singer Benjamin Biolay. And I couldn’t resist posting a duet with the marvelous Cesária Évora, ‘Petit Pays’ – Cape Verde, that is (such a beautiful line: ‘Petit pays, je t’aime beaucoup…’) (See here for more of her songs, and a short interview with Mayra (in Portuguese).)
Yet another interesting piece in the Guardian on academia: Nobel-prize winner (in medicine) Randy Schekman declares he will no longer submit papers to ‘luxury’ journals such as Nature, Science and Cell. His main argument:
These journals aggressively curate their brands, in ways more conducive to selling subscriptions than to stimulating the most important research. Like fashion designers who create limited-edition handbags or suits, they know scarcity stokes demand, so they artificially restrict the number of papers they accept. The exclusive brands are then marketed with a gimmick called "impact factor" – a score for each journal, measuring the number of times its papers are cited by subsequent research. Better papers, the theory goes, are cited more often, so better journals boast higher scores. Yet it is a deeply flawed measure, pursuing which has become an end in itself – and is as damaging to science as the bonus culture is to banking.