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The United States decided this week to put a black female abolitionist on their new $20 bill, replacing Andrew Jackson, the seventh president who was accused of keeping slaves.

The decision to honour Harriet Tubman got me thinking about Brazil and who we look up to here – or down to, as we flip through bank notes.

Brazil has in the past been much more egalitarian than the US, putting more women and more minorities (including indigenous people) on their notes. Over the years, composers and scientists, novelists and poets have been among those adorning the country’s paper money. (See this great slideshow for more.)

Brazil hasn’t had real people on its bank notes since 1994 when it introduced the real as its seventh currency in 27 years.

The Central Bank didn’t know how long the currency would last and so rather than subject historical figures to a short and ignominious stint in people’s pockets, they put generic Greek God like figures on the 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 real notes.

The Brazilian currency is robust and shows no signs of going the same way as the cruzado, the cruzado novo, the rei, the conto, the cruzeiro or the cruzeiro real., the currencies that preceded them.

So is it time to start honouring real Brazilians again on bank notes? Maybe now, in the midst of a financial crisis, is not the best time to implement such a costly change. But it’s time to at least begin a debate on the issue.

Off the top of my head, I suggest André Rebouças, Pelé, Ayrton Senna, Joaquim Nabuco, Orlando Villas Boas and Tom Jobim as possible new honorees. Suggestions?







My Haiti story came out last week in the Chronicle of Higher Education and although it’s only available to subscribers, I’m uploading the front page of the paper so that anyone interested can get a sneak preview.

Click here to see the front page.

Anyone who truly wants to know more about higher education in the world and is willing to invest in a subscription can learn more here.

For me, it’s now back to Brazil. The two stories of the moment are Mulheres Ricas, the sensational reality show on (see a great piece on it here in The Guardian) and the inexplicable success of Michael Teló’s song ‘Ai Se Eu Te Pego.’

The former offers an insight into the lives of Brazil’s shallow and clueless super rich madams and is (unintentionally) hilarious. The latter is just inexplicable, even though this guy does a valiant job of trying.

Decide for yourself in this youtube clip.


I was thinking of going to see Paul McCartney in Rio next month, or at least going online at midnight to try and buy a ticket.

I’ve seen almost everyone I ever wanted to see live, with the exceptions of The Clash and The Jam, the former of whom I missed only because their 1982 (or was it 1983?) gig in Edinburgh was cancelled.

I reckon I might never get another opportunity to see the greatest Beatle of them all so I was prepared to go all the way to Rio and even to pay over the odds for the privilege.

I had no idea how much over the odds. The full page ads in the newspapers don’t tell you how much the tickets cost. Maybe they’re too embarrassed to put the price. They should be. Because the cheapest tickets in Rio are $150 reais (not including the massive booking fee). That’s almost $100.

In Chile the week McCartney before plays Rio, tickets are on sale for the equivalent of 75 reais. In Lima, two weeks before he plays in Rio, Peruvian fans will pay a minimum of around 127 reais. Even in Toronto, Canada, the cheapest tickets for last year’s gig there were the equivalent of 94 reais.

In other words, Brazilians are asked to pay much more than elsewhere. Why?

Part of the reason is that so many Brazilians use student IDs which gives them 50 percent off. One recent study showed that more than two-thirds of people but tickets using the discount. Of course, many of them are fake.

Another reason is this: Brazilian ‘celebrities’ are bussed in, given tshirts, free food and drink and then allowed a first row seat in front of the real fans. Or they are ensconced in a comfortable executive box. No matter how marginal their fame, or how they ‘achieved’ it, they’re there. Hundreds of them.

A few of them were photographed at the U2 concerts in São Paulo last weekend.

Edmundo, for example, a retired footballer who killed three people while driving drunk in Rio in 2004. Maureen Maggi, a long jumper who was banned by the IOC for testing positive for steroids. Two sons of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Fabio Assuncao, an actor who was such a big U2 fan he left before the show ended.

I’d love to see Paul McCartney, just as I’d love to see many of the big names that play in Brazil. But I refuse to pay these ridiculous prices. Especially knowing that I am subsidising free entry for half-wit ‘celebrities.’

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