Globo: “Colonel Blotto Has Mystical Powers”

The Brazilian mass media systematically promotes magical thinking. The Grupo Abril’s Veja magazine covers the iPhone, January 2007: “It’s like magic!” In June 2007, as the gizmo launched, Steve Jobs calls it “a magical product.” If you think that’s a coincidence, I have a bridge you might like to take a look at. Photocredit: Fotoagência NMM(-TV)SNB(B)CNN(P)BS-Tabajara. That is to say, I snapped it at the local padaria myself.

Rumor is both a process of information dissemination and a process of interpretation and commentary. Shibutani conceives of rumor as a collective activity that tries to make sense of unexplained events, but insists that it depends on two necessary conditions: The importance of the information and its ambiguity.“Rumors: Voices That Insinuate”

Mass hysteria and stupidity can make a real difference to a business’ bottom line. … –Rhymer Rigby. “Craze Management.” Management Today. London: Jun 1998. p. 58

“I do not use a crystal ball, God does not whisper in my ear, and my predictions may turn out wrong. What I do is science, there is no mystery to it. I am not Nostradamus,” said the professor. But the influence of the man who — despite his protests — is indeed compared to Nostradamus, extends to the Oval Office of the White House. What he tells Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — with whom he has just finished co-authoring a book — is often taken into account by President George W. Bush.

Novo Nostradamus prevê um milagre latino-americano (G1/Jornal do Globo): “‘New Nostradamus’ foresees a Latin American Miracle.”

The first thing that we can observe about this piece is its use of a standard Globo parajournalistic gambit: Ventriloquism.

The man is quoted on the record here as saying “I am not some Nostradamus.”

Globo begs to differ.

The headline characterizes him as “The New Nostradamus.” Between quotation marks, as though someone in the article were quoted on the record as describing him as that.

No one is. [Cue spooky theremin music.] Globo is apparently channeling invisible voices from The Beyond.

See also

Psychiatrist (emphatically): [Between ‘nature’ and ‘nurture,’] “environment is the most significant factor” in determining corrupt behavior. Globo studio host: “According to our expert, corrupt persons are born! Not made!”

My bedside reading for a week or so now has been As Vidas de Chico Xavier (2003) by Marcel Souto Maior, a “journalist” and producer for Rede Globo’s aptly-named Sunday infotainment magazine Fantástico.

The portrait of the legendary psychographer from rural Minas Gerais, whom first TV Tupi and later the Globo network turned into a mass-media celebrity in the 1970s and 1980s, will be the subject of a biopic to be released this year.

“Dueling nonsense” cage-matches, pitting the spiritualist followers of Chico and Alan Kardec against Padre Quevedo of CLAP (the Latin American Parapsychology Center), became a staple of “auditorium shows” like the infamous Ratinho, and later, of Fantástico.


About Souto Maior’s book and its journalistic bona fides, suffice it to say that the vast majority of sources cited in its bibliography are official publications of the very same “spiritualist” foundations that have promoted the cult of Chico.

Foundations that were founded and supported, in large part, by the royalties on the hundreds of titles “downloaded from the Other Side” by the prolific “automatic writer,” Chico Xavier.

It is little more than a massive, tacitly authorized plagiarism of the press release — the NMM technical term for this is “autohagiography by proxy” — in other words. Ecce Globo.

Souto Maior has simply boiled down the vast hagiographical literature on the man into a digestible literary format, with a thin veneer of journalistic due diligence. He has since produced two other books on the Xavier legend, Piercing the Veil of Isis (2004) and The Lessons of Chico Xavier (2005).

Chico became a huge celebrity, with national prestige built up with celebrity testimonials as to the authenticity of his direct communication with the Beyond. A senior Globo executive is cited in the book as one of his sincerest devotees.

Globo has shown a remarkable commitment to promoting magical thinking over the years — except when it is hysterically debunking charlatanism.

In an astonishing case we saw this year, having to do with a debate over commercial claims about the medically useful properties — or lack thereof — of biomagnetism, we saw how Fantástico has at various times treated the phenomenon as (1) “a mysterious and powerful Oriental practice [cue vaguely Asian-sounding mystical angular banjos] that is a hot, hot trend among American professional athletes” and [2] as a cheap con game on a par with street-level loan sharking and hookers who lure drunken sailors into alleys to be rolled.

With a straight face. See

This profile of an eminent American game theorist is no exception.

Lá na Bíblia, são inúmeros os relatos de profecias; ainda hoje, o mundo discute o valor de profecias feitas no século XVI por um francês chamando Nostradamus.

In the Bible, there are countless stories of prophecy; even today, the world is still debating the validity of prophecies made in the 16th century by a Frenchman named Nostradamus.

Mas é possível prever o futuro através de equações matemáticas, sem um poder adivinhatório? Um pesquisador da universidade de Stanford diz que sim.

But is it possible to foresee the future using mathematical equations, without using any powers of divination? A researcher from the University of Stanford says it is.

The researcher in question in an NYU political scientist with a fellowship at the Hoover Institute there at the Leland Stanford Junior Farm.

His forthcoming book, as listed on his faculty profile:

Forecasting Policy Futures and The Logic of Political Survival, with Alastair Smith, Randolph M. Siverson and James D. Morrow.

The man appears to be a standard, respectable and experienced RAND Corporation player of n-dimensional Prisoner’s Dilemma and Colonel Blotto games — and as such, is certainly not making the claim Globo attributes to him.

1) Aproxima-se um milagre econômico na América Latina.

1. An economic miracle in Latin America is coming.

2) Hugo Chávez não será o novo Fidel Castro: em breve, deixará a presidência da Venezuela.

2. Chávez will not become the new Fidel Castro; he will soon leave the presidency of Venezuela.

Essas não são afirmações psicografadas, não apareceram nos búzios nem em bola de cristal; também não são a mera opinião de um iluminado professor americano.

These are not the results of pyschographic communications; they are not read from scattered cowrie shells or in a crystal ball; nor are they the mere opinions of an enlightened American professor.

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita – que, apesar do nome, só tem parentes distantes no Brasil – é professor das universidades de Stanford e de Nova York, e faz previsões com base numa série de equações matemáticas desenvolvidas ao longo de 30 anos.

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita — who despite the name has only distant relative in Brazil — is a Stanford and [NYU] professor who makes predictions based on mathematical equations developed over the course of three decades.

The Mesquita clan owns the Estado de S. Paulo media group (while Eduardo Bueno is an anchorman on the GloboNews 24-hour news channel — which is far from being the network’s worst offering, by the way. The weather report and market updates, at least, are perfectly reliable. Which is a start, at least.)


Longas matrizes respondem às perguntas feitas pelo cientista. De acordo com a CIA, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita e seu programa de computador acertam 90% das previsões.

Complicated equations respond to the questions put to them by the scientist. According to the CIA, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and his computer program are right in 90% of their predictions.

According to whom at the CIA? Did they download this information off the Web site or does Globo have CIA sources in Brazil that it talks to? Who set this interview up, anyway?

“Não uso bola de cristal, Deus não fala nos meus ouvidos e minhas previsões podem dar errado. O que faço é ciência, não é algo misterioso. Eu não sou Nostradamus”, diz o professor.

“I do not use a crystal ball, God does not whisper in my ear, and my predictions may turn out wrong. What I do is science, there is no mystery to it. I am not Nostradamus,” said the professor.

A influência daquele que – mesmo sob protestos – é, sim, comparado a Nostradamus se estende ao salão oval da Casa Branca. O que ele diz à secretaria de Estado, Condoleezza Rice – com quem acaba de escrever um livro – costuma ser levado em conta pelo presidente George W. Bush.

But his influence of the man who — despite his protests — is indeed compared to Nostradamus extends to the Oval Office of the White House. What he tells Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — with whom he has just finished co-authoring a book — is often taken into account by President George W. Bush.

Compared to Nostradamus by whom?

Did he predict that the Iraq War would pay for itself, or provide backing for the Rice-Rumsfeld “mushroom cloud” risk assessment on Iraqi WMD? Those predictions turned out to be 99.9% wrong, after all.

An idle bet: The predictions of this highly reputable, veteran risk-assessment nerd were likely most often ignored by the faith-based Dubya.

Condi was the first woman Provost of Stanford — birthplace of “innovation journalism” — from 1993-1999.

O matemático, assim como o personagem do filme “Uma mente brilhante” [sic], baseia-se num conjunto de premissas e equações conhecidas como Teoria dos Jogos. Há mais de 60 anos, os criadores da teoria concluíram que qualquer fato pode ser traduzido em números, desde que seja feita uma coleta de dados precisa e que todas as informações que podem influir sobre um determinado cenário sejam levadas em conta.

The mathematician, just like the character in the film A Beautiful Mind, bases his work on a set of premises and equations known as Game Theory. More than 60 years, the creators of this theory concluded that any fact can be translated into numbers, as long as precise data is collected, and that all the information that can possibly influence a given scenario is taken into account.
A standard “life imitates art imititing life” topos from Globo. The film A Beautiful Mind was based on a real-life mathematician. Slightly grammar-challenged IMDB amateur gist:
A biopic of the meteoric rise of John Forbes Nash Jr., a math prodigy able to solve problems that baffled the greatest of minds. And how he overcame years of suffering through schizophrenia to win the Nobel Prize.

Hopefully Bruce does not suffer from the same malady.

One recalls another fictional character whose suffering from the same malady posed certain (fictional) game-theoretical risks to the survival of the human race:

“Cut to: int. Burleson AFB, Ripper’s office. Mandrake examines a notepad on Ripper’s desk. It is covered with doodles and an interlocking pattern of the words Peace On Earth, and Purity Of Essence.”

Bruce explica que a ciência está em criar valores para fatos, instituições e indivíduos, como fez recentemente com o presidente da Venezuela. “Eu já transformei Chávez em números. Fiz uma análise recentemente que mostra que vai haver um aumento no nível de democracia na Venezuela a partir de 2008”, prevê. Os cálculos do matemático indicam que Hugo Chávez teria apenas duas alternativas: “ou ele entrega o poder candidamente ou foge do país pra escapar da prisão”.

Bruce explains that science consists in assigning [numerical] values to facts, institutions and individuals, as he did recently with the president of Venezuela. “I transformed Chávez into numbers. I did an analysis recently which shows that there is going to be an increase in the level of democracy in Venezuela starting in 2008,” he predicts. The mathematical calculations indicate that Chávez might have only two options: “Either he straightforwardly [hands over, surrenders, devolves, cedes] power or he flees the country to escape jail.”

There is a translation I would like to check.

On a similar analysis, which does not, however, necessarily foresee a premature departure from office of the Boliviarian Blowhard, only a more restrained and decorous role for the Blowhard Presidency in the overall jogo político, see

Baduel, of course, is basing this, not on back of the envelope calculations, but on a gut-check about his own ability to influence events in that direction. Interesting guy, Baduel.

Banana-republican strong presidentialism, as we unfortunately all now know from personal gringo experience, having the track record it has.

As equações matemáticas anunciam também um futuro com menos populismo, mais democracia e menos corrupção nos países da América Latina. Independentemente de partido político, os governos tenderiam a ser cada vez mais democráticos.

The mathematical equations also foretell a future with less populism, more democracy and less corruption in Latin America. Regardless of political party, governments will tend to be increasingly democratic.

Se não houver imprevistos e forem confirmadas as previsões do matemático se confirmarem, veríamos, em breve, um milagre econômico na América Latina. “Acho que assim como aconteceu o milagre asiático, vai haver o milagre latino-americano. A América Latina vai ser a região mais dinâmica do mundo nos próximos dez a 20 anos por causa da melhora na administração pública – que melhora tudo: libera as pessoas para fazerem novos empreendimentos, atrai investimentos, e grandes coisas acontecem”, afirma.

Barring unforeseen events and if the mathematician’s predictions are confirmed, we would shortly see an economic miracle in Latin American.”I think that just as you had the Asian miracle, there will be a Latin American mircale. Latin America will be the most dynamic region in the world in the next 20 years because of improvements in public administration — which improves everything: It freeds people up to start new enterprises, it attracts investments, and great things happen,” he says.

I share that general theory — though of course I am no eminent rocket scientist — and I hope it turns out to be true.

I do like these Latin Americans — I am related by marriage now to a bewildering variety of them — and am moved by their determination to recover from the bad old days of banana-republicanism.

An example of “administrative improvements” in the Brazililan news recently: The federal Supersimples plan for this year, which gives businesses the option of joining a “flat tax” tax-consolidationn plan, instead of the insanely incomprehensible alphabet soup of “traditional” taxes on small businesses, with many advantages touted. The theory being the government will attract more small businesses into “the formality” — the formal economy as opposed to the Great Sino-Paraguayan Silk Road — this way. It will be an interesting business-nerd story to watch. I hope it works out.

We have also experienced the “Poupa-Tempo” bureaucracy-reduction initiative here in Sampa at first hand, and, much to my surprise, at least, in my own dealings with Kafkaesque bureaus, found not much more patience-straining absurdity than back in Brooklyn in most cases. I actually managed to get things done. It still takes forever and is insanely complicated, but now there are people there who explain it to you, courteously, in simple Portuguese.

Which I take as a good sign: Sampa is an opposition stronghold, but between the current federal government and some of the major opposition strongholds you actually seem to have the stirrings of virtuous political competition based on who can measurably get the most demonstrably useful stuff done.

If Serra, with an eye on the presidency, actually completes the Rodoanel, for example, and delivers lower tolls, how can you complain? Even if you are a diehard devotee of Lula lá.

I mean, who is actually for the current state of São Paulo traffic engineering?

Traffic here is — almost literally — murder.

As I always say, it would be comforting to be able to think that of the leading candidates, none of them is very likely to flush the whole thing down the crapper if they win. (I am not sure I feel that way about the upcoming municipal election, though.)

Which is the basis of my qualified editorial policy of political neutrality down here — I do not vote, but I do pay taxes; therefore I do not endorse political parties, but I do root for the responsible adults to prevail over the Moonies, regardless of party affiliation.

Globo being a gazillion-jigawatt megaphone dedicated to gabbling Moonism, quite often.

Será apenas otimismo ou puro matemática? “É otimismo baseado em matemática, baseado na lógica sobre quais são as conseqüências das escolhas que as pessoas fazem”.



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