Sports Fandom Is More Positive Than We Once Thought

September 8, 2008

Fans of the legendary English soccer team Liverpool FC display their support

Fans of professional sports are a derided bunch. Usually associated with belonging to the lowest common denominator intellectually and culturally, others have gone as far as to claim that they represent the most prevalent form of social conditioning present in our modern society.

An observer in first century Rome coined the phrase bread and circuses to describe how Romans of that era chose food and fun over freedom, thus giving up their civic duty in favour of decadence. To people like Noam Chomsky, little has changed. In Manufacturing Consent Chomsky explains the role of sports in social conditioning:

Take, say, sports — that’s another crucial example of the indoctrination system, in my view. For one thing because it — you know, it offers people something to pay attention to that’s of no importance. [audience laughs] That keeps them from worrying about — [applause] keeps them from worrying about things that matter to their lives that they might have some idea of doing something about. And in fact it’s striking to see the intelligence that’s used by ordinary people in [discussions of] sports [as opposed to political and social issues]. I mean, you listen to radio stations where people call in — they have the most exotic information [more laughter] and understanding about all kind of arcane issues. And the press undoubtedly does a lot with this.

You know, I remember in high school, already I was pretty old. I suddenly asked myself at one point, why do I care if my high school team wins the football game? [laughter] I mean, I don’t know anybody on the team, you know? [audience roars] I mean, they have nothing to do with me, I mean, why I am cheering for my team? It doesn’t mean any — it doesn’t make sense. But the point is, it does make sense: it’s a way of building up irrational attitudes of submission to authority, and group cohesion behind leadership elements — in fact, it’s training in irrational jingoism. That’s also a feature of competitive sports. I think if you look closely at these things, I think, typically, they do have functions, and that’s why energy is devoted to supporting them and creating a basis for them and advertisers are willing to pay for them and so on.

Is being a fan of professional sports all that bad? New research by economists and psychologists suggests that sports fandom actually has some benefits.

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Freedoms Gained and Freedoms Lost

September 5, 2008

The struggle for freedom can take many shapes and sizes, and can quite often be contradictory

To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the magazine More Intelligent Life is asking a dozen eminent figures what freedoms they’ve gained and what freedoms they’ve lost.

Commentator Neil Ascherson on his freedoms gained and lost:

Can one regret a right which damaged other people’s rights—in this case, their right to health and clean air? I was never more than an occasional smoker. Yet I still miss the compound pleasure of going to a movie in the afternoon, putting my boots on the seat in front, and lighting up a fat black Gauloise. The smoke curling up to the cupola of the almost empty cinema. The total, concentrated anticipation. The feeling that “this is the life”. With that loss went a whole grubby sensual underworld: the extinct trick of telling where a stranger came from by the perfume of his cigarettes: Ekstra-Mocny from Poland, Nazionale, Roth-Händle (this guy’s a west German left-winger), Morava from Nis which was so much sweeter than Morava from Sarajevo…

The new right for which I am most grateful has to be visa-free travel. A right still limited to certain parts of the world. But the knowledge that, within a few hours of an impulse, I can be not just in a capital city (Prague, Warsaw, Berlin) but wandering down Piotrkowska Street in Lodz , or standing on the cobbles of an East Bohemian village inhaling its scent of pork chops and cabbage, or buying the real original Weihnachtsstollen at the Christmas Fair in Dresden—that’s still miraculous. Do I regret the long waits at frontier stations, the sound of jackboots slowly moving along the corridor from compartment to compartment? No, it’s all been perfectly preserved in novels. And if you still hanker for that paranoia kick, just put on a burqa for your return journey to Britain.

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The Dead Sea Scrolls Are Coming to the Internet

September 3, 2008

Dead Sea Scrolls
A portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Back in 1947, a Bedouin goat herder stumbled upon the archaeological discovery of the century in a place called Qumran in what is now the West Bank. What he found in there is what we refer to as The Dead Sea Scrolls. The importance of these scrolls to history and faith is still yet to be determined as much of their contents have been jealously guarded.

Thanks to the rise of the internet, the scrolls themselves will be open to all eventually as scientists have announced that they will be publishing the scrolls on the internet using American space technology:

Scientists using American space technology have started a huge project to digitally photograph the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest known version of the Hebrew Bible, and post it on the Internet for all to see, Israeli authorities said Wednesday.

High-tech cameras using infrared photography are being used to uncover sections of the 2,000-year-old scrolls that have faded over the centuries and become indecipherable, the Israeli Antiquities Authority said.

The project is expected to take about five years and the goal is to make the scrolls accessible to scientists and the general public, Antiquities Authority official Pnina Shor said.

“Now for the first time the scrolls will be a computer click away,” said Shor, who heads the authority’s department responsible for the conservation of artifacts. “This will ensure that the scrolls are preserved for another 2,000 years.”

The internet has been a boon for amateur archaeologists and anthropologists as historical records have been finding their way into the virtual world. The two best examples are The Domesday Book from Medieval England and the Ellis Island Records from the turn of the century USA. I have no doubt that the Dead Sea Scrolls will prove just as fascinating as these two already available online.

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Earliest Humans Had Neanderthal Qualities

September 2, 2008

On the left is a neanderthal skull from France and on the right is a modern human skull from Polynesia

Neanderthals are a hot topic in the world of archaeology. Recently on this site, we reviewed the long running debate on how the neanderthals disappeared so rapidly by asking whether they were the victims of inbreeding with early humans.

A new discovery in Ethiopia could lead to the conclusion that inbreeding occurred much, much earlier as we’re told that the earliest humans had neanderthal qualities. Here’s an excerpt:

The world’s first known modern human was a tall, thin individual — probably male — who lived around 200,000 years ago and resembled present-day Ethiopians, save for one important difference: He retained a few primitive characteristics associated with Neanderthals, according to a series of forthcoming studies conducted by multiple international research teams.

The extraordinary findings, which will soon be outlined in a special issue of the Journal of Human Evolution devoted to the first known Homo sapiens, also reveal information about the material culture of the first known people, their surroundings, possible lifestyle and, perhaps most startling, their probable neighbors — Homo erectus.

“Omo I,” as the researchers refer to the find, would probably have been considered healthy-looking and handsome by today’s standards, despite the touch of Neanderthal.

“From the size of the preserved bones, we estimated that Omo I was tall and slender, most likely around 5’10” tall and about 155 pounds,” University of New Mexico anthropologist Osbjorn Pearson, who co-authored at least two of the new papers, told Discovery News.

Pearson said another, later fossil was also recently found. It too belonged to a “moderately tall — around 5’9″ — and slender individual.”

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Emperor Hadrian’s Favourite Galatian City Throwing Up Archaeological Treasures

August 15, 2008

Sagalassos, the first city of the Roman province of Galatia (present-day southwestern Turkey)

The archaeological dig at Sagalassos in present-day southwestern Turkey is uncovering some real treasures.

Last year, a massive statue of Emperor Hadrian was uncovered. This week a colossal marble head of Faustina the Elder was found by archaeologists.

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