World Cup

Brazil a mix of mutiny and mourning after ‘biggest shame in history’

The morning after the night before, Brazil will wake up, shake its head and pray it has all been a terrible nightmare.

copa 2014

Left disorientated, punch drunk and confused by the 7-1 annihilation in the Estádio Mineirão it will take time for the full implications to sink in for a country that had so much invested – in all senses of the word – in World Cup success.

The newspapers, broadcasters and websites that had spent the last few days whipping up a sentimental tidal wave of sympathy for Neymar turned on Luiz Felipe Scolari’s men.

David Luiz, the capering heartbeat of this side and their second most popular player after the stricken No10, was now the tear-stained villain.

The Mineiraço, as it is already being called in an echo of the deep impact of the 1950 Maracanazo when Uruguay defeated Brazil in the final the last time the tournament was held here, was variously described as “the disgrace of all disgraces” and “a historic humiliation”. The sports paper Lance called it “the biggest shame in history”.

The previous day there had been even bigger tailbacks than usual in São Paulo as Brazilians rushed home to ensure they were in front of a television set. By 5pm, the streets were eerily silent in Brazil’s biggest city. What was to follow was equally unsettling.

The effects will be wide-ranging, for a whole host of reasons – political, economic and cultural – in a country where, despite everything, football remains so closely bound up with national identity.

For president, Dilma Rousseff, who found herself the target of obscene chants that had not been heard inside World Cup grounds since the São Paulo opener, the result could have an impact on her re-election prospects in October.

In São Paulo, those catcalls were generally interpreted as the chants of a moneyed crowd who despise her spending on welfare rather than those of a popular uprising.

In Belo Horizonte, intermingled with abuse for the Brazilian players (especially Fred), they felt more like an attempt to lash out at anyone and everyone.

But the dissatisfaction with under-investment in public services, and endemic corruption, of the millions that took to the streets during a Confederations Cup that Brazil won last summer has not gone away.

Immediately following the epochal defeat, Dilma took to Twitter to try to put into words the pain of a nation. “Like every Brazilian, I am very, very sad about this defeat. I am immensely sorry for all of us. Fans and our players,” she said, before borrowing the lyrics of a popular samba song to urge them to “shake off the dust” and rise again. That will be easier said than done.

There were also immediate fears that Brazil’s exit could ignite violent protests or pour petrol on anti-World Cup feelings that have continued to simmer since last summer’s mass marches but have been effectively smothered by police and the prevailing goodwill towards the football – if not Fifa or the authorities – up to now.

That may change, as discontent with Scolari’s humiliated team gives way to deeper introspection about the $11bn price tag of hosting the World Cup.

The tone before the game was already off key. The mawkishness before kick-off – the Neymar hats, the holding up of his shirt like a religious artefact – jarred with the lack of a minute’s silence for the two people killed in the collapse of an overpass in Belo Horizonte last week.

It was as though nothing must be allowed to get in the way of the “Força Neymar” narrative.

One of the striking things about this World Cup is the extent to which Brazil have gone from being everyone’s second favourite team to hardly anyone’s.

There is still the odd tourist clad in yellow and green here, but internationally there has been a backlash against the side – as though they have gone from standing for everything that is right in the game to everything that is wrong.

On the streets of São Paulo, an atmosphere of dazed confusion quickly settled over the city. In the run-up to the opening match, it had felt tense: metro workers were striking, the city’s overcrowded streets were even more congested than usual and there was a sense of foreboding rather than celebration about what the World Cup would bring.

If that changed as the tournament went on and the city loosened up a bit, it flooded back as the goals rained in.

On Paulista, a small gang of protesters against the World Cup revelled in Brazil’s defeat. In Zona Sul, buses were set on fire and a shop looted. But for the vast majority, stunned resignation seemed to be the order of the day.

During that extraordinary first-half flurry of goals, there were tears through dazed eyes. By the end, punch-drunk fans had either turned away from the television altogether or were staring blankly at their phones – as though social networks could somehow make sense of the humiliation.

On the busiest streets of bars after the final whistle, some drank to forget in their green and yellow outfits. Others discreetly took off their brand new Seleção jerseys and pushed them into their bags.

The street sellers across Brazil who had been doing a roaring trade in knock-off Neymar shirts, horns, hooters, flags and other paraphernalia must now take stock of piles of unsold inventory.

In the small bars and lanchonetes that pepper the streets of every Brazilian city, televisions burbled away in the background as small groups sat around over a shared bottle of beer and dissected the most arresting result in Brazilian football history.

Even the pundits looked funereal. Ronaldo, on the World Cup organising committee, stared blankly into space as his colleagues attempted to make some sense of the chaos.

In Rio de Janeiro, the mood was similar – small scuffles broke out and there was panic at a mass robbery on the beach, but the overall atmosphere was somewhere between mutiny and mournful resignation as tens of thousands trooped away from the Copacabana in the teeming rain.

There were reports of arrests in Recife and Salvador, two of the northern cities that have taken this tournament to their heart.

Hundreds of those in the stadium in Belo Horizonte left at half-time but, perhaps surprisingly, the majority stayed until the bitter end. When André Schürrle scored Germany’s seventh, they rose as one to give their conquerors a standing ovation.

At the final on Sunday in a brand new Maracanã stadium that will not now host a Brazil team at this tournament, such treatment is unlikely to repeated for either Dilma or the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, when they emerge to hand over the trophy.

In the short term, Scolari’s side must rouse themselves for the third-place play-off in Brasília. Where they – and the 200 million people still trying to come to terms with humiliation on a grand scale in their own backyard – go from there is anyone’s guess.


Source: The Guardian, online edition

Confederations Cup 2013: Brazil win will bring World Cup belief


Brazil have not lost a competitive match on home soil since a defeat to Peru in 1975. Brazil coach Scolari said that record and the belief and support of the fans meant Spain are not automatic favourites at the Estádio Maracanã.

“Victory will send a message that Brazil are on the right road to win the World Cup,” he said. “Even if we don’t win but play well and show we are in good shape, it will also send a message.

“I do not consider Spain strong favourites. In the past six years, they have won two European Championships and a World Cup.”

“Spain are spectacular – but like any team they have their faults. They have played with a settled team and that is an advantage. But with strength and spirit we can match them and even go beyond them.”

Scolari spoke of the need for his team to win over any remaining doubters in Brazil, having been at the centre of so much criticism in the weeks before the Confederations Cup.

“Victory will challenge those in Brazil that doubt us,” he said. “My players are very motivated, we want to make ourselves respected at home.”

“The fans have been fantastic from the (2-2) match against England at the Maracanã. They have given us a huge confidence boost.”

Much has been made of Brazil’s move away from flair and fluency towards a more functional approach, but Scolari said history only remembered results, not how you got them.

“Brazil played pretty [at] a World Cup (1982) and did not win,” added Scolari. “We sacrificed the result by the spectacle. The Spain team has been playing well and winning. Everybody wants that, but sometimes it is not possible. The result is the story, not the beautiful game.”

Scolari said he would not restructure his side to cope with the threat of Spain, after Italy frustrated them by playing three central defenders. Instead, Brazil are expected to name the same side that overcame Uruguay 2-1 in Belo Horizonte on Wednesday.

Spain counterpart Vicente del Bosque is relishing the prospect of Sunday’s final.

“I am highly satisfied, and for all of us this is something very beautiful. We are playing Brazil, the kings of football who have lived through marvellous moments in their football history, and to play in Maracana is something very special.

“I am delighted we are playing the final here and perhaps we can come back and play the World Cup final here as well in 2014.”


Source: BBC

Brazil’s leaders caught out by mass protests

It began with smaller-scale protests over rises in fares for public transport in various Brazilian cities.

But within weeks, it had galvanised tens of thousands of people, many of them young, to take their anger onto the streets.

The most striking image was of protesters on the national congress building (Image: Mídia NINJA)

The most striking image was of protesters on the national congress building (Image: Mídia NINJA)

The focus of all this discontent seems to be spread across a wide range of issues: the costs of hosting the World Cup and the Olympics sat alongside demands to invest more in education and health.

Political corruption, as always, loomed large, with politicians accused of giving themselves high salaries and appointing relatives to phoney jobs in the capital, Brasilia.

For some, evictions to facilitate the big sporting events are part of a wider injustice.

In the capital, demonstrators chanted: “I give up on the World Cup. I want money for education and health.”

To further humiliate the country’s political leaders, the demonstrators breached security at the iconic Oscar Niemeyer-designed National Congress building, clambering onto the roof.

In a night of protest – some of it violent, much of it peaceful – it was the most visually striking image of the gap between many Brazilians and the politicians for whom they often hold nothing but contempt.

In Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo, there was another incentive to protest: anger over police tactics at earlier demonstrations, most notably last Thursday.

The police were widely accused by witnesses of firing rubber bullets at peaceful protesters, with many officers hiding their name-tags to conceal their identities.

Among the more than 100 people injured in the unrest were journalists from national news organisations who said they had been deliberately targeted.

The authorities denied wrongdoing, promised to investigate the allegations, and ruled out the use of rubber bullets at the latest protest.

But for people watching, the images of a young couple being clubbed to the ground by a snarling policeman that appeared on the front of many magazines and papers was all too much.

Raised expectations

Brazil had not returned to democracy in 1985, after 21 years of dictatorship, to let it come to this. Social media helped stir a wave of revulsion.

All of this happened at a time when Brazil is playing host to the Confederations Cup, the warm-up tournament for the World Cup.

(Image: Reuters)

President Rousseff is said to view the current protests as “legitimate” (Image: Reuters)

At the opening ceremony in Brasilia on the weekend, President Dilma Rousseff was booed. There were clashes outside the stadiums there, and in Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte.

Many of the headlines in recent years about Brazilians have been about millions lifted out of poverty, a country seizing a chance to enhance its profile on the world stage, an agricultural super power.

The World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 were the icing on this cake.

But for many Brazilians the raised expectations do not seem to have been matched by results.

The litany of politicians accused of corruption continued, even if sometimes the courts snatched at their heels.

Despite some longer-term improvements in some cities, crime continues to create ugly headlines: the gang rape of a foreign tourist in Rio de Janeiro; two dentists burnt to death by robbers in Sao Paulo.

For a moment Brazil seemed to be storming ahead on the economic front fulfilling its promise as a Bric country alongside Russia, India and China. But now, growth is sluggish, and concerns growing.

Brazilians are normally slow to take to the streets, with demonstrations like this not seen since a former President, Fernando Collor de Mello, was forced from office in 1992.

Ms Rousseff is said to view the current protests as “legitimate” and part of the nature of democracy.

But Brazil’s political establishment has been caught on the hop by a movement that has grown more daring by the week.

Perplexed and taken back, they now have to decide how to respond, and to do so in a country that is in the glare of an international spotlight.


Source: BBC News


The Wildly Ambitious Quest to Build a Mind-Controlled Exoskeleton by 2014

The feet of a monkey-sized prototype of the exoskeleton in Nicolelis’s lab at Duke. Photo: Nick Pironio/Wired

The feet of a monkey-sized prototype of the exoskeleton in Nicolelis’s lab at Duke. Photo: Nick Pironio/Wired

Neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis went on The Daily Show in 2011 and told Jon Stewart that he would develop a robotic body suit that would allow paralyzed people to walk again simply by thinking about it — and he’d do it in just 3 or 4 years.

It was an audacious, some might say reckless, claim. But two years later, Nicolelis insists he’s on track. And he hopes to prove it in brazen fashion in front of billions of people during one of the world’s most-watched events: the World Cup.

The tournament, which will be held in his native Brazil, is less than 16 months away. If all goes according to plan, during the opening ceremony, a young paralyzed person will step onto the field in a robotic exoskeleton operated by electrodes implanted in his or her brain, walk about 20 steps, and kick a soccer ball.

This may sound incredible, but in recent years, research on using signals from the brain to operate machines has taken great strides. Scientists have developed brain-machine interfaces that allow paralyzed humans to move a computer cursor or even use a robotic arm to pick up a piece of chocolate or touch a loved one for the first time in years. Nicolelis has set his sights even higher: He wants to get paralyzed people up and walking around. If he succeeds it could be a tremendous advance. Right now he’s still developing this technology in monkeys. There’s a long way to go.

But Nicolelis was brimming with confidence in January when I visited his lab at Duke University to see how his work is progressing. “We’re getting close to making wheelchairs obsolete,” he said.

Miguel Nicolelis. Photo: Nick Pironio/Wired

Miguel Nicolelis. Photo: Nick Pironio/Wired

Such proclamations don’t sit well with everyone. In the Brazilian media, some scientists have criticized Nicolelis’ plan as premature, an expensive stunt, funded with scarce federal research money and aimed more at creating a spectacle than advancing science. Meanwhile, some U.S. researchers fear he could deal a setback to the fast-moving field of brain-machine interfaces by promising too much, too soon.

“Nicolelis may enjoy being provocative, and certainly that could strike many people as not being as cautious as one could be,” said Krishna Shenoy, who studies brain-machine interfaces at Stanford. But Shenoy doesn’t necessarily take it as a sign of recklessness. “I think he may tend to over-promise as a way to motivate himself and his crew,” he said.

Brain-controlled prostheses are one of the hottest areas in neuroscience. In December, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh published a case study in The Lancet of a 53-year-old woman named Jan Scheuermann who was paralyzed from the neck down by a genetic neurodegenerative condition. Scheuermann learned to control a nearby robotic arm after surgeons implanted a small grid of electrodes in her brain.

In videos released with the paper and aired on 60 Minutes, she moves the arm in 3 dimensions and uses it to grasp and move objects, stacking several plastic cones, for example. The arm itself is a marvel of engineering: It cost DARPA more than $100 million to develop, and its hand and fingers can do almost everything the real deal can. Scheuermann’s movements are slow and sometimes faltering, but they are astonishing nonetheless. After all, she’s controlling the arm just by thinking about it. And she’s making the most sophisticated movements yet made by a human being with a brain-controlled prosthetic.

Nicolelis thinks he can do much better.

As a boy growing up in São Paulo, he was inspired by the Apollo program to become a scientist. Now he sees neural prostheses that free people from paralyzed bodies as a 21st century moonshot. He also feels compelled to give something back to his native country, which he left at the age of 27 to study in the U.S.

The giving goes both ways. Nicolelis says the Brazilian government has awarded him $20 million to pursue his grand plan. Only a small part of that will go toward the demo at the World Cup, which he says was approved in a meeting with the secretary general of FIFA, the world governing body of soccer. The rest will be used to establish a neurorobotic rehabilitation and research center at a hospital in São Paulo.

An electrode array. Photo: Nick Pironio/Wired

An electrode array. Photo: Nick Pironio/Wired

Nicolelis thinks the next big leap in the performance of neural prosthetics will come from two types of advances. One is using information from a much larger number of neurons to enable faster, more natural movements. So far, electrode grids used in human patients can capture the electric blips of about 100 neurons. Nicolelis and colleagues at Duke have pushed that number to 500, and they’ve implanted up to four of these electrode arrays in a single monkey, enabling them to record from nearly 2,000 neurons simultaneously.

And there’s no reason to stop there, especially in the much larger brain of a human patient, Nicolelis says. With 20,000 or 30,0000 neurons, the fluidity of movements would be even better.

“I could get them to kick Brazilian style,” he said. “Not British, Brazilian.”

The other key, in his view, is incorporating tactile feedback. In 2011, his team broke new ground by demonstrating a neural prosthesis with an artificial sense of touch in monkeys. Electrodes implanted in a brain region responsible for the feeling texture enabled the monkeys to identify different virtual objects by “feel.”

Sensors on the exoskeleton will eventually feed directly into the brain in a similar manner to provide crucial feedback on the position of the limbs and when the feet hit the ground, Nicolelis says. “None of these robotic devices will work for real without tactile feedback,” he said. “You can’t walk without knowing where the floor is.“ The extent to which sensory feedback will be ready for the World Cup demo remains to be seen.

And with less than a year and a half to go, Nicolelis is still working exclusively with monkeys.

Shankari Rajangam monitors an experiment with a monkey in an adjacent room. Photo: Nick Pironio/Wired

Shankari Rajangam monitors an experiment with a monkey in an adjacent room. Photo: Nick Pironio/Wired

In a small control room at Duke during my visit in January, a young woman dressed hairnet to booties in blue surgical garb monitors an experiment on several screens. She’s training a monkey in an adjacent room to control an avatar with its mind. Small grids of electrodes record signals from the animal’s primary motor cortex, creating softly crackling background noise on an audio monitor. A computer translates those signals into commands that control the avatar. What the real monkey thinks, the virtual monkey does. Or that’s the idea. For now the computer is doing most of the work.

On one screen, a cartoonish monkey avatar can be seen from the back, ambling slowly down what looks like a bowling lane towards a ghostly, translucent cube. The monkey sees the same thing on another screen inside its room. When the avatar monkey’s arms touch the cube, the real monkey gets a drop of juice, and the routine starts over. The juice reward teaches her that good things happen when the avatar touches the block. This monkey is just starting to learn the task, but with time the researchers will dial down the computer’s contribution to controlling the avatar and the monkey’s brain will take over, telling each leg when and how to move.

This animal is one of two being trained to test a monkey-sized prototype of the robotic exoskeleton. Once the animals master the avatar, they’ll take a crack at controlling the exoskeleton.

The monkey version of the exoskeleton looks vaguely insect-like. Color-coded wires hang from the ceiling. When a student switches it on, it sounds like an air gun firefight has suddenly broken out as pneumatic pistons spring to life with clicks and pffft’s and the empty exoskeleton takes a few steps.

The monkey exoskeleton. Photo: Nick Pironio/Wired

The monkey exoskeleton. Photo: Nick Pironio/Wired

It’s suspended over a treadmill and attached to a harness. Nicolelis’ team is currently training the two monkeys to sit in the harness and let their legs go limp so the exoskeleton can do its thing. A few months from now the whole system will be subjected to a sterner test: Researchers will temporarily paralyze the legs of a monkey with an injection, and the primate will then try to transfer what it’s learned from playing with the avatar to control the exoskeleton with its thoughts. If it goes according to plan, the monkey will walk on the treadmill.

The brain of a monkey is about half the size of a person’s fist. A human brain is about 15 times larger. And that’s not the only anatomical difference. “The space between the skull and the brain is different in monkeys, it’s very tight and holds things in place,” said Shenoy. Electrodes in a human brain are more likely to move around and potentially lose the signal, which may be one reason neural prostheses have consistently performed better in monkey experiments than they have so far in people, Shenoy said.

“That translation between monkeys and humans is not a done deal.”

So far only two research teams, the one in Pittsburgh and another started by researchers at Brown University, have published reports on neural prostheses controlled by electrodes implanted in the brains of paralyzed people. Both declined to comment on Nicolelis or his plans.

“He’s a polarizing figure,” said Brendan Allison, a visiting scholar at the University of California, San Diego who researches brain-machine interfaces.

Whether the World Cup demo, if it happens, represents a scientific milestone depends on how much of the work is done by the exoskeleton and how much is done by the patient’s brain, Allison says.

“Getting a signal from the brain to do a task is much easier than people think,” he said. “I could put an electrode cap on your head, in a public place with lots of electrical noise, and within 10 minutes, you could send a reliable signal with thought alone.” If signals from the brain are used to issue simple commands to a super smart exoskeleton – walk, now kick – that’s less of a technological leap, Allison says.

If, on the other hand, signals from the patient’s brain can be used to control exactly when and how each leg of the exoskeleton moves, all while maintaining balance as the patient walks and shifts his or her weight to kick a ball, that would be a phenomenal advance, says Shenoy.

“If he really does what he says he can do, it’s a huge thing,” he said. But Shenoy adds that it will be hard for the public — or even experts — to know exactly what they’re seeing, or more specifically, how much of the exoskeleton’s movement is under neural control. “With a few billion people tuning in, think of the pressure to have something work.”

Gordon Cheng, the roboticist who is developing the physical exoskeleton at the Technical University of Munich in Germany admits that the deadline is tight. “We have bits and pieces of different prototypes being built and tested, we even have a complete mockup built,” he said. “We’re pushing it.”

By design, the exoskeleton will use a mix of signals. “If the signal from the brain is very good, the brain will take control. If the signal from the brain is not so reliable, the robot can take over more of the control,” Cheng said. “This is mainly to guarantee safety.”

A schematic of the human exoskeleton. Image: Gordon Cheng.

A schematic of the human exoskeleton. Image: Gordon Cheng.

Even if the patient’s safety can be guaranteed, some bioethicists see potential red flags.

“I always get nervous with medical breakthroughs that are done partly as showmanship,” said Arthur Caplan, head of medical ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. “They risk exploiting the subject.”

Whether that’s the case depends largely on what happens to the patient after the demo, adds Dan O’Connor of the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University. “Will Nicolelis and his lab be the real beneficiaries here, or is it this paraplegic Brazilian kid?” O’Connor asks. “What sort of access will he or she have to the technology [after the demo], and who will pay for it?”

Nicolelis insists the patient selected for the demo, and many others, will benefit from the technology for years to come, thanks to the largesse of the Brazilian government. That’s the goal of the center in São Paulo, he says. “The project doesn’t end with the World Cup, it starts with the World Cup.”

Nicolelis says his colleagues in Brazil are currently combing a database of thousands of patients to identify 10 for initial training. Their ideal profile: a smallish young adult, no more than 70 kilograms (roughly 150 pounds), whose injury isn’t too new or too old. Like the monkeys in the lab at Duke, the trainees will start by learning to control an avatar on a computer screen, but with brain signals recorded by non-invasive EEG electrodes to start. Then, if the plan stays on track, one brave recipient will go under the knife to receive electrode implants in his or her motor cortex.

The clock is running. The outcome is far from certain, but if the demo happens, one thing is clear: The world will be watching.


Source: Wired


Brazil troops move into Rio airport shanty towns

Brazilian police officers with assault rifles patrolling the Caju shantytown in Rio de Janeiro

Brazilian police backed by troops, helicopters and armoured vehicles have moved into shanty-towns near Rio de Janeiro’s international airport. More than 1,300 security personnel were involved in the operation in the Caju and Barreira do Vasco neighbourhoods. It is part of a strategy to take control of Rio’s poor districts from drug-trafficking gangs before next year’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

Security forces met no resistance as they moved into the area before dawn. “The operation has been a a success, this important area was taken without firing a shot,” military police Col Frederico Caldas told Brazil’s Globo TV. Three hours after they moved in, police hoisted the flags of Brazil and Rio to show the authorities were now in control of the neighbourhoods, after decades of domination by drugs gangs. A number of arrests were made and guns and drugs seized.


The occupation of the shanty towns or favelas is part of a plan to secure access to and from Rio’s international airport. Since 2008 more than 30 favelas in Rio have been “pacified” in the government campaign to improve public security before it hosts the world’s two biggest sporting events.

The programme has helped bring down crime rates in and around the communities, the BBC’s Julia Carneiro in Rio says. But there are more than 600 favelas in the city, and critics say the pacification programme only benefits areas near richer neighbourhoods popular with tourists or Olympic and World Cup venues, our correspondent adds.

Source: BBC News