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Letter from the editor | 115

Dinosaurs, rabies and the rich

Dinosaurs, with the fantasies that they arouse of an entirely alien, primitive and wild world, empty of men and thoughts, in the same land that we populate today, are extremely exciting for the imagination – aside from Steven Spielberg and his insupportable Jurassic Park. We always want to know more and more about them and about the remote past of this place where we only arrived 60 million years afterwards. In Brazil, unfortunately, the tracks of the passage of the dinosaurs are rather scarce, particularly if compared with the abundance of fossils of these animals found in the United States. For a reason that may seem a bit strange, recalls science editor Carlos Fioravanti, in the cover story of this issue, from page 34 onwards, there are no deserts in the Brazilian territory. And fossils of every kind are much better conserved in the aridity of the desert than under the forests that, incidentally, still cover the greater part of the Brazilian territory – some 60% of the total, they believe, according to the Ministry of the Environment. Even so, over a dozen new species of animals that lived millions or thousands of years ago on Brazilian soil were presented last month at the 2nd Latin American Congress of Vertebrate Paleontology, which shows, at the least, that as a scientific activity, Brazilian paleontology is very much alive, in spite of its modest collection of more or less 250 vertebrate fossil species discovered until today.

But let us pass on to the contemporary world. And if here the rage that an immense number of Brazilians has been feeling in the last two or three months is mixed with a painful feeling of impotence, because there is no sign of a remedy in the short term, against another kind of rage, or rabies (which means rage in Latin), a viral disease that affects man most frequently through infected dogs, cats and bats, a new vaccine will soon be available in the country, safe, effective and cheap, developed by the Butantan Institute. As reported by special editor Marcos Pivetta from page 64 onwards, production on a commercial scale should start even before the end of this year, or at the beginning of the next, which is good news at a moment like this.

Anyhow, a simple and persistent question reappears forcibly at each new political crisis faced by the country: why, after all, is Brazil like it is? In a certain measure, it is a question of a clear enigma. And one of the possible ways of deciphering it, without the slightest pretension of exhausting the question, of course, is the systematic study of the elites of this country. It is in this field that the article by the humanities editor Carlos Haag unfolds, from page 78, about new studies that try to understand why rich Brazilians are rich. Speaking of that, in the fine interview of this issue (page 10) with historian José Murilo de Carvalho, which also throws light on the crisis of the moment, he observes that talking of elites in Brazil in the 1970’s did not garner any great popularity for him in academic circles, more involved in discussions about the working classes. Good reading!

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