Why Brazil Needs to Win the World Cup

Daniel Altman: The World Cup of soccer is a phenomenally huge event for the whole world and this year no more so than in Brazil.  Brazil though it is the home of some of the world’s best soccer players and has won the World Cup several times hasn’t hosted the World Cup since 1950 when it lost heartbreakingly to Uruguay and never lived that memory down.  Well, there have been a lot of protests in Brazil that have suggested that all of the billions of dollars that Brazil is spending on infrastructure and updating its stadiums and security might be better spent on things that would help the Brazilian economy to grow at the grass roots like healthcare and education, worker training, housing.  And those protests may yet continue during the World Cup itself.  But there have been a lot of dire predictions about how safe people will be, whether the Brazilian World Cup will turn into something of a disaster and an embarrassment and I don’t think they’re likely to turn out to be true because we heard a lot of the same predictions before the World Cup in South Africa four years ago.

Now the World Cup in South Africa was viewed as a big risk because here was a country that had severe problems with crime and there never had been a World Cup in Africa before.  So the question was how would the soccer officials and the local officials deal with all of the potential risks and things could go wrong in a country like South Africa.  Well it turned out that those fears were broadly exaggerated because it was a fantastic festival of football that went off without a hitch.  In fact, there was probably less crime going on during the World Cup than other times of the year because people were enjoying it and watching the soccer wherever they were all over the country.  Now in Brazil things are a bit different because Brazil is an enormous country. There are big parts of the country that have not received any investment as a result of the World Cup and Brazil is in a situation where its growth has been lagging.

Brazil can’t necessarily look at the World Cup as something that’s gonna stimulate its economy just as South Africa couldn’t necessarily look for a big payoff from the World Cup in economic terms either.  But it was something that put South Africa on the map for a lot of people and perhaps in the long term they would see something out of it in terms of tourism or at least a restoration of faith that South Africa was a place that you could visit safely and have a good time.  In Brazil though I think that we’re looking at something a little bit different.  Brazil, to me, really needs to win this World Cup to have any economic effect because it is a time where the country has been facing some challenges.  Expectations for growth have come down somewhat.  The broad progress that we saw during the Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva administration has not necessarily been continued under his successor Dilma Rousseff.  And so if Brazil were to win it might add confidence, add consumer confidence that could really get this economy going.  In the past we’ve seen a pattern where countries that host the World Cup don’t necessarily make off that much better economically but countries that win the World Cup do seem to get a little boost over the next few years.  So this could be just the confidence boost that the Brazilian economy needs.  However, to win it they’re gonna need to make it through some really tough teams.  So I don’t know if my money’s on Brazil but for the sake of the Brazilian economy it would be great if they came through.

Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler and Dillon Fitton

 

Big Think's resident economist Daniel Altman explains why Brazil needs to not only host the World Cup but win it too if it wants to see an economic boost from the tournament.

Elizabeth Warren's plan to forgive student loan debt could lead to an economic boom

A plan to forgive almost a trillion dollars in debt would solve the student loan debt crisis, but can it work?

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Politics & Current Affairs
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren has just proposed a bold education reform plan that would forgive billions in student debt.
  • The plan would forgive the debt held by more than 30 million Americans.
  • The debt forgiveness program is one part of a larger program to make higher education more accessible.
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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Supreme Court to hear 3 cases on LGBT workplace discrimination

In most states, LGBTQ Americans have no legal protections against discrimination in the workplace.

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Politics & Current Affairs
  • The Supreme Court will decide whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also applies to gay and transgender people.
  • The court, which currently has a probable conservative majority, will likely decide on the cases in 2020.
  • Only 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws effectively extending the Civil Rights of 1964 to gay and transgender people.
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