Brazil’s public intellectual

first_imgWhen Nicolau Sevcenko’s parents arrived in Brazil as political refugees — a destination chosen mostly because it was one of the few nations in the 1950s that accepted Soviet émigrés — they never imagined their newborn son would become perhaps the world’s leading authority on Brazilian cultural history.Sevcenko was born in the coastal city of Santos while his family was en route to São Paolo to escape the turmoil of Europe after World War II. Once settled in Brazil, however, Sevcenko’s parents were reluctant to integrate into the culture. Convinced that the Soviet Union would soon collapse and they could return home, they made no effort to learn Portuguese, or to teach it to their young son.The Harvard professor remembers sitting at the back of the classroom on his first day of school and not understanding a word that was said.“I came home and told my mother that she had made a mistake and accidentally sent me to a foreign school,” said Sevcenko, who joined the Harvard faculty last year as a professor of Romance languages and literatures. But he quickly learned that he, in fact, was the foreigner.Learning a new language and trying to navigate his position within Brazilian society were not the only obstacles Sevcenko faced growing up. He was born left-handed, but because left-handedness was considered a sin by his church, Sevcenko’s mother tied that hand behind his back, forcing him to become right-handed. Then, as a young adult, he was diagnosed as severely dyslexic.Adding to his confusion was his parents’ refusal to discuss the circumstances that had brought them to Brazil.“People would get very nervous if you ever mentioned the past or the word ‘communism,’ ” Sevcenko said. “It was very disturbing.”Sevcenko’s desire to surmount this secrecy and understand his family’s story contributed to his decision to become a historian, and he sees his scholarly interests as a means of filling in the gaps and coming to terms with his own national identity.“More than anything else, I wanted to know what Brazil was, what Latin America was,” he said.While Sevcenko was navigating a difficult childhood and adolescence, all of Brazil was facing the turmoil of the military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1964 to 1985. This period was marked by severe censorship of books, movies, television shows, and music.Ironically, because of this censorship, young people of Sevcenko’s generation became particularly interested in avant-garde cultural forms, and Sevcenko was exposed to experimental writing at an early age. His 1983 book on Rio de Janeiro’s “Belle Époque” at the beginning of the 20th century attracted widespread attention, his access to underground networks of banned cultural materials allowing him to present a vision of social and cultural life that challenged the party line of the waning military dictatorship.Almost immediately after publication of this first book, Sevcenko rose to the status of public intellectual in Brazil. It’s a position he has maintained since: In addition to his academic writings, he has written for a number of newspapers and magazines on a diverse array of topics, ranging from theater and film to architecture and urban studies.Sevcenko is often recognized on the street when in Brazil and is asked to comment on issues of public debate. He admits to enjoying his newfound anonymity in Cambridge, which allows him to walk unimpeded all over the city.Sevcenko first came to Harvard, which he calls “the intellectual crossroads of the world,” as a visiting professor in 2004. Though he misses his wife, who remains in Brazil caring for his ailing mother and mother-in-law, Sevcenko expresses his delight at being at Harvard, not least because of the tranquility of Cambridge compared with São Paolo, a teeming metropolitan area of 20 million people.“It’s an urban inferno,” he said of the city in which he had taught since 1983. “Changing from that into little Cambridge is just coming into paradise.”last_img read more

Pinker explains ‘The Long Peace’

first_imgViolence may seem to be all around us. Soldiers are fighting in Afghanistan. Drug-related shootings and senseless murders splash across the nightly news, and even the schools are no haven, with episodes of hazing and bullying prompting a national discussion on how to keep children safe — from each other.Violence may seem to be wherever we look, but the perception that we live in violent times is wrong, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker said Tuesday evening during a talk at the Boston Public Library’s Honan-Allston Branch.Pinker, the Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology and Harvard College Professor, said we’re actually in a period referred to by scholars as “The Long Peace,” which began at the end of World War II, and which is marked by the absence of war among the world’s great powers.But that’s just part of the picture, Pinker said. Interpersonal violence is also at a historic low, he said, likely brought about by the spread of civilization, of police and justice systems, of literacy and global trade, and by concepts of civil and human rights.“Violence has been in decline for long stretches of time, and today may be the most peaceful era in our species’ history,” Pinker said.Pinker spoke as part of the John Harvard Book Celebration, a lecture series that brings prominent Harvard speakers and other programs to each public library in Cambridge and Boston in connection with the University’s 375th anniversary festivities. The talks are coupled with the gift of 400 books to each city’s library systems to commemorate those donated by Harvard’s namesake, John Harvard, to the College’s nascent library in 1638.Kevin Casey, Harvard’s associate vice president for public affairs and communications, introduced Pinker, saying that his talk and the John Harvard Book Celebration are extending the 375th celebration into the communities of which Harvard is a part.“Tonight we’re going to talk about the ideas and the things that happen inside the walls of a university and a place like Harvard,” Casey said. “It’s an effort to … bring what happens at Harvard into our [neighborhoods]. We think that by touching every corner of Boston and Cambridge, it shows that Harvard really is part of these communities.”Several members of the audience explained afterward how they enjoyed the talk. Sarah Griffith of Cambridge said Pinker changed some of her assumptions about violence generally and altered her sense of World War II by viewing it over the long span of history.“He did change a lot of the ways I thought about violence and changed some of my assumptions about what has gone on,” Griffith said.Pinker’s talk was based on his latest book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” published last year.Records of past wars and new research into the lifestyles of ancient man provided the backdrop for Pinker’s assertions. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle before the rise of civilization was a violent one, Pinker said. Studies of ancient human remains have shown that some kind of violent trauma — skulls bashed in, arrows lodged in bones — accompanied roughly 15 percent of burials. By contrast, deaths related directly and indirectly to war, genocide, and famine during the 20th century, often considered the most violent because of its two world wars, amounted to just 3 percent, Pinker said.Additional insight is gained by studying modern hunter-gatherer societies. Those studies have shown that there are about 524 violent deaths per 100,000 in those societies, compared with an overall rate of violent death in the 20th century of about 60 per 100,000.Pinker attributed the long decline in violence to the rise of civilization, with centralized governments and disinterested third parties like police and court justices to resolve disputes. In England, where records have been kept for centuries, the modern Englishman has just one-fiftieth the chance of being murdered compared with his medieval ancestor 800 years ago.Commerce may also be a major factor in the decline of violence, Pinker said. Trade means that transactions where both parties come out ahead become more attractive than theft and plunder, where only one side wins, at potentially great cost to both sides.Major milestones on the march from a violent past include the abolition of judicial torture, which used to include horrific practices like impalement, sawing in half, and breaking bones on a wheel. Other factors include the abolition of slavery and the decline of the death penalty, and the abolition of dueling, lynching, and blood sports.The violence during World Wars I and II was indeed horrific, but when compared with the planet’s population at the time, World War II ranks just ninth in major conflicts, while World War I isn’t in the top 10. Wars between the world’s great powers used to be regular, if not continual, and lasted for decades, as in the 30 Years’ War and the 100 Years’ War.Since World War II, the nature of war on the planet has changed, Pinker said. Nations that might be considered great powers, which once warred regularly, have had an extended period of peace, colonial wars have tapered off, and the most common form of warfare now is civil war, which is less deadly than major conflicts between large nations.Even interpersonal violence is declining, with the incidence of rape down 80 percent since the early 1970s, with declines in the deaths of wives and husbands at the hands of their spouses, with the acceptance of corporal punishment in schools falling, and with rates of physical and sexual abuse of children also declining.Pinker said he doesn’t believe that humans have become inherently less violent or that such tendencies have been bred out of them. Rather, he said, people have always been complex creatures. The civilizing effects of institutions, combined with the spread of literacy, education, and public discourse, have all favored our nonviolent inclinations, he said.In the end, Pinker said, it’s important to recognize these peaceful trends so they can be better understood.“I believe that calls for a rehabilitation of the ideals of modernity and progress, and it’s a cause for gratitude for the institutions of civilization and enlightenment that made it possible,” Pinker said.Kevin Casey, Harvard’s associate vice president for public affairs and communications, introduced Pinker, saying that his talk and the John Harvard Book Celebration are extending the 375th celebration into the communities of which Harvard is a part.John Harvard Book Celebration continues with Anne Fadiman discussing “Using Bacon for Bookmarks: How Readers Treat their Books.” Fadiman is an author, essayist, editor, and teacher, as well as a member of Harvard’s Board of Overseers. The talk will be from 4 to 5 p.m. April 1 at the Cambridge Public Library’s main branch, 449 Broadway.last_img read more

Leading with latitude

first_img Read Full Story Democrats and Republicans are more divided today than at almost any other time in United States history. According to a 2018 survey, when asked to describe members of the opposite political party, 61 percent of Democrats described Republicans as racist, bigoted, and/or sexist, and 49 percent of Republicans described Democrats as ignorant. These statistics capture the underlying tension between the two political parties.At a particularly polarizing time when it is challenging to compromise and negotiate, Jeffrey Sánchez, former Massachusetts State House Representative and Harvard alumnus, reminds us that “change doesn’t happen in a vacuum.”On Friday, Feb. 15, Dr. Robert Blendon, senior associate dean for policy translation and leadership development, had the unique opportunity to interview his former student, Jeffrey Sánchez, in the Leadership Studio. Sánchez shared his experiences as a leader in Massachusetts and a young man of Puerto Rican heritage growing up in the Mission Hill neighborhood.Sánchez is a current Harvard University Menschel Senior Leadership Fellow. He graduated with a masters in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School in 2011. While he has fond memories of his time as a student at Harvard and left with lifelong relationships, Sánchez’s impressions of the University were not always positive. He recalls how it felt to grow up next door to one of the most elite institutions in the United States: “We used to want to go play in that quad where the grass was really green, because the parks were all messed up over here in Mission Main. [W]e were living in a place that folks wanted to shut down. So let’s just say the grass over here was really greener.”For Sánchez, the train tracks that separate the University from Mission Main, a Boston Housing Authority property that had been repeatedly ignored, symbolize a distinct barrier between Harvard and the greater community in which it is located — a relationship that has been historically tenuous. Growing up in the Mission Main housing development, Sánchez directly witnessed the impact that one person’s voice can have, especially when compounded with the voices of others.Sánchez grew up among activists. His mother, along with other women living in his neighborhood, fought to make the Mission Main housing development and its residents a priority for local legislators. It was his mother’s health advocacy that brought Sánchez and his family from Washington Heights in New York City to Boston to seek treatment at Children’s Hospital. Sánchez’s sister was sick and his mother was in search of better healthcare. They quickly found that “[the] hospital … wasn’t taking kids in the emergency room. … They were doing everything through outpatient visit at the time. And being Puerto Rican, being Hispanic and being black from the south, even though we lived across the street, a lot of the folks we grew up with were receiving health care over at City Hospital.”Seeing the power of advocacy through his mother, who grew up on a tobacco farm in Puerto Rico, left a lasting impression on Sánchez. Advocacy taught him how people from historically oppressed backgrounds continue to be deprived of basic human needs, despite living in close proximity to communities of overwhelming wealth.Sánchez spent 16 years representing Brookline, Mission Hill, and Jamaica Plain in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and most recently served as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee from 2017–2018. In that time, he celebrated several victories, including criminal justice reform, universal health coverage, and gun control legislation. Sánchez attributes his success primarily to meeting and listening to people. Whether it was his colleagues or constituents, he felt it was important to “follow people where they’re at. It’s the way to find out who they are.”last_img read more

Why the Padres, A’s and Mets could surprise in 60-game MLB season

first_imgLast year, for example, the Phillies and Rangers held postseason spots through 60 contests. They finished September nowhere near that mark.MORE: Free-agent signings who will make biggest differenceWith that in mind, here are a handful of teams with the boom-or-bust potential that meshes well with an abridged season:PadresThe Padres were a trendy pick to contend for a wild-card spot last year but faded fast after an OK first month. Still, they flashed the tools to succeed in a shortened season amid that otherwise disappointing campaign.Because beefy bullpens could be of the utmost importance in a sprint of a season — think of how managers treat the playoffs — San Diego’s strength toward the end of games is crucial. Despite the injury losses of Trey Wingenter and Andres Munoz, the Padres have a nice collection of young, high-upside relievers. Among the inexperienced, gas-throwing hurlers to watch are Gerardo Reyes, Adrian Morejon, Michel Baez and possibly MacKenzie Gore, a top prospect who made the team’s 60-player pool and has impressed in camp. Then there are the proven commodities to help out around the seventh and eighth, such as Drew Pomeranz, Emilio Pagán and Craig Stammen. Kirby Yates remains an excellent stopper for the ninth inning.The rest of the roster isn’t too shabby, though quality depth in a couple of spots might be a problem. If starting pitchers Dinelson Lamet and Garrett Richards can stay healthy for two months to solidify the rotation, and third baseman Manny Machado gets going at the plate, the Padres could run up their win tally against the bottom-dwelling Rockies and Giants, better the evenly matched Diamondbacks and sneak into October as a wild-card entrant.A’sNo team has gotten as hot as Oakland at its peak over the past two years — during the second halves of 2018 and 2019 combined, the A’s went 108-54. In a rare turn of events for the club, most key roster components are returning for a third straight year. Plus, manager Bob Melvin’s pitching staff is designed to put a heavy burden on its bullpen, a sound strategy considering there aren’t enough games for back-end pieces to wear down.There’s also a lot of pressure. Like in 2002 and 2014, the A’s know they are likely about to shed stars to free agency and must break through soon. Marcus Semien hits the open market this offseason, and Matt Chapman and Matt Olson are a year away from arbitration. Oakland has not responded well to October stress since the turn of the century.What following baseball long enough teaches spectators, though, is that there is no such thing as destiny, good or bad. The “cursed” White Sox, Red Sox, Cubs and Nationals have won the World Series over the past 20 years. Supposed teams of destiny, such as the 2007 Rockies and 2012 A’s, have been bounced unceremoniously. Even the Yankees have gone 11 years without a title.So, the snakebitten nature of Oakland squads in recent memory should not rule out a dominant run through a talented set of AL teams in 2020. This group is tight-knit and capable of surprising those who doubt its ability to advance further than the past two years.MetsThe Mets have so many players who could either be fantastic or non-entities, and the possibility of those guys moving in the right direction this year makes New York an NL East sleeper. Yoenis Cespedes and Jed Lowrie played in a combined nine games last year while making almost $33 million. Cespedes is back and looking better than expected during exhibitions, but Lowrie is still experiencing lower-body pain. Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis were phenomenal at the plate last year with minimal track records of MLB success. Robinson Cano, once a regular All-Star, was miserable in all facets of the game. The Mets would be thrilled to have three of the above five players hit at an above-average level to form a decent lineup around Pete Alonso.A host of Mets pitchers could go either way as well. Is Edwin Diaz OK? Can Dellin Betances return from a year lost to injury as a stud? Does Jeurys Familia have a bounce-back season in him? Will Steven Matz ever be able to fulfill his promise? There’s a really good staff here in one universe and one full of meltdowns in another. Mets fans, largely cynical by nature, will expect the worst. Still, they have the right to be excited given the potential payoff if their most volatile players enjoy positive small-sample runs. One of MLB’s defining features is its large sample size compared with other sports. The baseball regular season typically does a pretty good job of sorting out the most talented teams from the pretenders.The 2020 campaign, though, brings a different dynamic. With 60 games instead of 162, there will most likely be clubs reaching the playoffs that ordinarily would finish far outside contention.last_img read more

Lack of confidence blamed for low investment– Opposition MPs

first_imgAs the curtain came down on the 2017 Guyana Business Summit on Thursday, some attendees were left with the impression that a lack of confidence may be the main reason for Guyana not being able to attract both local and private business investments, which would help to create economic growth.Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Nigel Dharamlall, who was part of a panel that discussed Sourcing Capital/Capital Market Development, raised this concern, stating that if the political climate is not stable, and if there is no positive indicator, investors may not want to come.PPP MP Nigel DharamlallThe MP told the gathering it is a fact that there is a high possibility investors do not have any confidence in the current Government and the business climate in Guyana, and this is good enough reason why they do not feel the need to commence businesses here.While access to capital could also be a contributing factor, Dharamlall said, those issues present only part of the problem of limited business investment in Guyana since the new Government assumed office. He said this image needs immediate change.Meanwhile, on the sidelines of the summit, Opposition MP Juan Edghill said discussions must focus on moving the private sector from the current situation it is in right now and getting the economy booming. “Let’s get confidence going! Get the correct signals sent and (take) advantage of all the opportunities that exist, and ensuring that the political climate is conducive for both local and foreign investments in Guyana,” he admonished.Edghill also said that while the initiative is good on the part of the private sector, he feels that Government officials imposed themselves on this summit. “We have had feature addresses by every minister that showed up, many of them not dealing with the specific issues or answering the questions that were posed by the chairman of the PSC in his address at the opening session,” he clarified.According to the former junior finance minister, President David Granger did not engage the private sector on those matters. He also observed that the President’s address spoke to the very simplistic approach to investment, something that the private sector is fully aware of, including things like innovation and institutional capacity strengthening, which according to him are very mundane.“I would hope that the investment of human and financial resources to bring this off is not wasted, and that there is a follow-up discussion. I would propose, from the parliamentary Opposition, the private sector preparing a document coming out of the conference, and continue to engage both Government and the Opposition to get to an agreed consensual way forward,” he added.But a member of the Private Sector, Deodat Indar, said many people were pleased with the outcome of the summit, and think that it was a huge success.He said, “We believe it’s a start to a national institutional framework for conversation and dialogue, and we will ensure that the plan would be to (identify) items as priority, evaluated and implemented as far as practical.” The aim, he said, is to have a national dialogue and a working together to improve the economy.last_img read more