The Whirled Cup

Five Bullet Points On Brazil

& a Split-Decision to Strike

World Cup 2014 LogoYou may not know this but to most past World Cup hosts, the occasion was for national joy and jubilation, if not much for settling social scores. Brazil, though, is not buying into that placid template: in case you haven’t got the memo, Brazilians are actually angry.
They may have a point. But apart from all disturbing news about the (poor) preparations for the world’s biggest sports event that starts next week in São Paulo, here are five curiosities that go from the promising to the ‘peculiar’ to the far out.
We’ll get to them. But about that anger and the unsettling news: yes, it’s all true. The most expensive World Cup in history may turn out to be, arguably, the turnaround for Brazil’s dreams of being perceived as a global power, capable of handling its moment in the spotlight with composure.
A quick review of the staggering numbers shows that Brazilians are paying between $13 to $18 billion for the right to stage the games, but most of it has been invested either in riches that will quickly evaporate from the country, coming August, or will rot in some stadia built in the middle of nowhere.
Over 200 thousand people have been displaced to accommodate infrastructure projects for the cup and for the 2016 Olympic Games, also to take place in Brazil, according to a Mother Jones infographic, but many of such projects may not be finished for the opening kickoff, or may remain incomplete forever.
Discontent with the way funds have been diverted from needed and more permanent works, and public perception that President Dilma Rousseff hasn’t been fully cognizant to how Brazilians feel left out of the big party, have taken the country by storm and may only get louder during the cup.
In fact, she does seem less concerned about them than how the massive street rallies critical to what was supposed to be a celebration of Brazilians’ passion for the game, will impact the estimated one billion worldwide, expected to follow the month long competition.
But even as those problems have been called out over and over, and may be inseparable from the games this time around, it doesn’t mean we’re not working hard to provide you with some interesting alternatives to experience it all, insights that may be unique to this particular edition. And here they are:
1. THE WALKING STEAD
Talking about the opening kickoff, few know that, technically, it won’t be given by a human foot. Or it’ll but not exactly how one’d expect it. If all goes well, on June 12, a paralyzed person will walk on the field wearing an exoskeleton created by Brazilian neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis.
The technology behind the mind-controlled full-body suit has the potential to revolutionize mobility for millions of people. It’s not the first time that robotics is applied this way, but it still scores a kick in the arse of common indignities associated with being handicapped.
No word yet on who’ll be walking towards the middle of the Arena Corinthians and, with a thought or two, command the suit to help the foot kick the Brazuca. But you can bet your soccer shoes that, for many around the world, it’ll be as historical as the tournament’s winning goal.

2. WELCOME TO FAVELA INN
Some six million soccer fans are expected for the games, the last of them probably on their way in as we speak. But so is a severe hotel room shortage, with prices upwards of $380 a night to boot. So what choices a late comer has to rest their tired bones and avoid crashing in some godforsaken public square?
What about a shantytown? For a bargain $30, one can find a place to stay in one of the thousands of tiny houses, cramped together like jigsaw pieces, in one of Brazil’s hundreds of favelas, conveniently located in most state capitals and often with a much better ocean view than many a pricy hotel.
After all, this is a country where the so-called informal economy Continue reading

The Way We Look

Printing Faces From Chewing
Gum & Food for the Red Planet

The latest tool to redefine facial reconstruction is Three-Dimensional Printing, which has already taken digital technology to surprising realms. But as some rushed to print a firearm, the medical field found a much better use for it, helping people with disfigured faces.
From Egyptian death masks to crime-solving forensics to recovering the likeness of historical figures and early humans, facial recreation has come a long way. Now artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg is combining 3-D with DNA decoding to re-imagine the face of her contemporaries.

Instead of using molds or clay or plaster, though, or reconfiguring someone’s resemblance by their bone structure, Dewey-Hagborg is tapping into a seemingly endless supply of raw material: garbage infused with organic matter. In other words, stray hair, nails, discarded chewing gum and cigarette butts.
These dejects we routinely toss aside with abandon have, potentially, all the information about us that a DNA lab would wish for. You may now insert here your own nightmarish scenario of a shady organization going through dustbins to collect material about you. Which, haven’t you noticed?, is already happening.
Take comfort you’re not the only one concerned about what’s called genetic surveillance, since the whole point of the artist’s ‘Strange Visions‘ exhibit is to raise awareness, by proving that it’s possible to gather an incredible array of personal information about anyone, through not necessarily illegal means.
After all, since the early 1990s, there’s already a well funded National DNA Index System, ready to process such material. Compounded with old-fashioned surveillance, like cameras and recordings, and digital snooping, the whole thing does make old Georgie and his 1984 sound like a kids’ bedtime story.

THE FACE’S VALUE
It doesn’t have to be that way, or rather, it hasn’t always been this way. Face masks were used in the Egyptian highly ritualized burials to memorialize the deceased. Mummies were sent to the great beyond wearing layers of clay, bronze or gold masks, perhaps as an attempt to compensate for the inexorability of flesh decay.
Throughout the centuries, ritualized or not, death masks were adopted as a portraiture device, printed as effigies, Continue reading

Skating to Kabul

For Many Afghan Boys, the Future
Lies Between War & Being a Sex Toy

Last week’s tragic killing of two boys in Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan, underlined once again our worst fears about the future of generations of Afghan youth, squeezed between the brutal choices of either being killed by the war, or sexually abused by their country’s older men.
As the U.S. prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan, many fear it will leave it in a much worst shape than it found 12 years ago, choked in the toxic mix of poverty, obscurantism, and the quirks of ancient law. Still, some see skateboarding as a way out for some children.
The shooting of the young cattle herders by a NATO-led strike was obviously a catastrophic mistake, just the latest in a long list. That however doesn’t lessen the blunt of their loss to their families, who like many others rely on all labor their youngest can put up to, amid the war-ravaged countryside.
Mistaken strikes, often by drone missiles, have been the most deadly cause for civilian casualties in the Afghan war, and the death of the two boys, age seven and eight, follows another attack in early February, that left 10 unarmed people dead, five of which children. There’s no sight this can possibly be stopped.

It’s a fitting, albeit calamitous, coda for a war that started with one purpose, to find the responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. It got deflated before such mission had been accomplished, interrupted by the long, and completely baseless, Iraq invasion, and finally restarted with no visible objective.
The result: over 2,000 American troops killed, an estimated 140,000 civilian ‘casualties’ in the combined Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, the biggest U.S. defense budget ever, far more than all the other NATO nations combined, and an domestic economy in tatters due to this overzealous war effort.
A recent U.N. report also pointed at one of the most lasting damages this war will imprint on Afghan’s society, and the Iraqi’s too for that matter, for years to come: the staggering number of children killed, enough to leave a generational gap in the future of those countries.
As for the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the main reason to justify both military adventures, and the most expensive war effort ever undertaken by the U.S., it ended as everybody knows, with his killing in May, 2, Continue reading