Saturday, February 24, 2007

All Done

Well, I finally finished labelling all the old posts on this blog. One observation: I sure don't blog about sports as much as I used to (recent foray into the difficulties besetting Italian soccer aside).

Friday, February 23, 2007

Short Friday Archaeology Blogging
Return to Stonehenge edition!

A few weeks back, we mentioned the new discoveries at the site of Stonehenge. Well, it turns out that the workers' village wasn't the only thing they discovered (and much thanks to Alison from Creekside for the heads-up on this one):

Wooden counterpart of Stonehenge found
Second temple seen as counterpart to famous monoliths


In a teleconference conducted by the National Geographic Society, Parker Pearson said a circle of ditches and earthen banks at Durrington Walls enclosed concentric rings of huge timber posts, "basically a wooden version of Stonehenge," he said.

So, why two henges? Well, Stonehenge itself (the famous one) was itself originally constructed of wood and earthworks, approximately 1,000 years before the immense stone blocks were brought in.

An early phase at Stonehenge

It is not a stretch to suppose that the construction of the stone structure would have interfered with any rituals that had to take place at the site, and I think it entirely possible that this wooden henge was meant as a temporary place of worship while Stonehenge was being "upgraded," as it were. This notion, however, presupposes that the wooden henge was contemporary with the importation of the stone blocks. If this is not the case, then it is entirely likely that there were actually two ritual sites in use at the same time at Stonehenge, and indeed there is no reason why there shouldn't have been. Anyway, the question cannot be answered without dating evidence, none of which has been forthcoming just yet.

The Canadians Are Coming!!

Salvage, over at Hairy Fish Nuts has done a brilliant job poking fun at one of our home-grown wingnuts. Apparently, said wingnut has just published a book revealing how Canada is basically a big seething pot of gay, threatening to overflow onto the innocent folks to the south of us. That's right, the whole same-sex marriage movement in Canada is nothing but a horrible Soviet Canuckistani plot to corrupt the United States. I believe the operative word here is "yeesh."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Swift-Boating of Navdeep Singh Bains

Harper shouted down by Liberals
Last Updated: Wednesday, February 21, 2007 | 6:05 PM ET
CBC News
Stephen Harper was shouted down with cries of "shame, shame" during question period Wednesday after he raised a media report that said a Liberal MP is the son-in-law of a man police allegedly interviewed in connection with the Air India bombing case.

Ok, let's think about this for a moment. Nowhere did the media report say that Navdeep Singh Bains' father-in-law was actually a suspect, nor did it say anything about Bains himself. So, basically, the story's a complete non-starter. That, of course, did not prevent Harper from passing the following chain of logic on to his drooling sycophants: Bain's father-in-law was interviewed in connection with an act of terrorism, therefore the father-in-law is a terrorist, therefore Bains is probably a terrorist sympathizer, therefore the Liberals like terrorism. It's basically the same thing that's going on in the states with the silly babbling about Barrack HUSSEIN Obama's middle name, and that's doubtless where Harper got the idea.

And of course, he refused to apologize, blaming the Liberals for the fact that he didn't even get to deliver his insult before he was rightly shouted down. What a twerp.

Italian PM Prodi resigns after foreign policy defeat
Last Updated: Wednesday, February 21, 2007 | 3:29 PM ET
CBC News

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi resigned Wednesday after his ruling centre-left coalition suffered a major defeat in a Senate vote.

Just as long as they don't end up back with Berlusconi.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Day-Old Friday Archaeology Blogging
Short people edition.

The Discovery of the Hobbit: The scientific breakthrough that changed the face of human history
Deborah Smith
February 17, 2007

THE UNEARTHING OF remains of ancient hobbit-sized people in a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores caused a sensation in 2004. Only a metre tall, these little humans had brains no bigger than grapefruit, yet they were able to hunt pygmy elephants and giant rats while fending off fierce komodo dragons.

The reason that this discovery is back in the news this week is that paleontologists have determined that the skull found does come from a separate species, not simply a human individual with an unusually small head. This species seems to have lived about 12,000 years ago, which is not actually that long ago in anthropological terms (consider that the neandertals had vanished from the scene at least 10,000 years before that).

Comparison of "hobbit" skull and human skull.

And so, now, the $64,000 dollar question: where did they come from? Did they, in fact, develop indigenously on South Pacific islands? People have claimed that, if they did, this casts doubt upon the theory of an African origin for humanity; I'm not so sure that's the case, but even so it does indicate that Africa was not the only place where human-like beings originated. On the other hand, if these "hobbits" did migrate from somewhere else, where did they come from? These questions, for now, remain unanswered.

Anyway, that's all for this week; there's a large pile of exams awaiting the tender caress of my red pen of dooooooooooom, so I'd better get on with that...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Holding Their Feet to the Fire

Kyoto bill forced through parliament

OTTAWA (CP) - The country sailed toward uncharted constitional waters following a vote in the Commons to force the Conservative government to respect Canada's commitments under the Kyoto accord.

The three opposition parties overpowered the minority government in adopting legislation that - upon approval by the Senate - gives the Tories just 60 days to table a plan to meet Kyoto's greenhouse-gas targets.

Ok, first of all, a slap upsides the head for c-news. What the hell do you mean "forced through parliament?" The bill was put to a vote, and passed. Yes, it's somewhat unusual for an opposition backbencher's bill to pass, and yes, the Tories tried to have it thrown out on a technicality, but that bill was no more "forced" through than any other bill.

Secondly, in case you were wondering how sincere the Tories' new-found environmentalism is, here you go:

But the government hinted strongly that it would simply ignore the law, and would be prepared to face any resulting lawsuits or even a non-confidence motion that could cause an election.

And now you know.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Friday Archaeology Blogging

They're apparently having a fine old time up on the Palatine Hill these days! A few weeks ago, we dealt with the discovery of the insignia of Maxentius. Now, they've apparently found something else:

Sacred Cave of Rome's Founders Discovered, Archaeologists Say
Maria Cristina Valsecchi in Rome
for National Geographic News
January 26, 2007

Archaeologists say they have unearthed Lupercale—the sacred cave where, according to legend, a she-wolf nursed the twin founders of Rome and where the city itself was born.

Pretty much everyone knows the tale of Romulus and Remus. Abandoned at birth, the were rescued and nursed by a she-wolf (I pass lightly over the fact the Latin word for a she-wolf is the same as the Latin word for a female prostitute) before being raised by a humble woodsman. When grown, they returned to found a city at the spot where the wolf had nursed them. The two brothers later fell out, and Romulus killed Remus and named their new city after himself.

Not surprisingly, the episode of Romulus and Remus became a major source of inspiration for ancient artists, the most famous result of which is probably this:

The Capitoline Wolf

The bronze wolf is Etruscan, and dates to the 6th century B.C., a time when the ruling family of Rome was Etruscan. Interestingly, the babies weren't added to the statue until the Renaissance. Depictions of the wolf story also occur on coinage:

Denarius of Antoninus Pius, dated to A.D. 140

Anyway, back to what they've found on the Palatine Hill. The main question, I suppose has got to be whether the cave they've found is "the" cave. The cave is described as richly decorated, particularly with mosaics; however, no mention is made of what sorts of imagery, if any, is involved. Since the archaeologists haven't yet found the entrance to the cave, they haven't been able to investigate it terribly closely. However, given that it is richly decorated, and it is on the Palatine, chances are fairly good that they've actually discovered that the ancient Romans associated with the myth of the she-wolf.

I would close by mentioning that this discovery came about during fairly frantic efforts to shore up a number of ancient structures on the hill. The Palatine, which really ought to be an archaeological showpiece for the city of Rome, has suffered from shoddy maintenance for quite a long time, and it's excellent that serious, concerted, steps are now being taken to preserve it.

UPDATE: Added a wee link.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

More Italian Soccer Stuff

ROME, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Soccer matches in Italy will resume this weekend, the football federation said on Wednesday, after the government approved a tough set of measures to fight hooliganism despite resistance by clubs.

All play had been suspended last Friday following the killing of a policeman by rioting fans outside a stadium in Sicily.

And the "tough set of measures"?

Under the new measures stadiums which are not in line with security regulations will remain closed to fans.

Other measures include a ban on the block sale of tickets to away fans, a beefing-up of stadium bans for those involved in violence, including under 18s, tougher prison sentences for hooliganism and a ban on financial relationships between clubs and fan associations.

Firecrackers will no longer be allowed inside stadiums and, at least initially, there will be no late-night matches.

Well, most of those are what I was writing about yesterday. I hadn't thought about the issue of late-night matches, and I'm not sure what problem they're trying to address. Somewhat surprisingly, booze is not a major contributing factor (although it does play a role) to the mayhem provoked by the Ultras; this is a major difference between soccer hooliganism in Italy and that phenomenon in, say, Britain. Perhaps the issue is more the availability of public transport to get fans away from the stadium.

Anyway, it's progress. Time will tell whether it's enough progress.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Italian Soccer Excursus

Well, anyone who follows European soccer, or soccer in general, is by now all too well aware of what went down last Friday in Sicily. In case you haven't been following soccer, what happened was this:

Italian league halted by violence

The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) has suspended all matches indefinitely after a policeman was killed at a Serie A match between Catania and Palermo.

This is not the first time that the Italian authorities have shut down the top divisions (or more) of Italian soccer; similar measures were taken after a fan was killed outside Genoa's stadium in 1995. However, this time there seems to be a sense that, even if the games resume soon, it may be awhile before fans are let in to watch them:

Serie A and B clubs meet on Tuesday to discuss a government proposal to close stadiums deemed unsafe for fans.

That's all well and good, on the surface. It would leave open only five stadia among the forty-two teams in Serie A and B, although some of those venues host more than one team; presumably games not taking place in those stadia would be played behind closed doors. Something along these lines is indeed necessary; it's something of a miracle that Italy has not experienced, domestically, a disaster like Heysel or Hillsborough. However, fixing up the stadia is not, by itself, going to fix up the problem. The policeman in Catania was not killed in the Stadio Angelo Massimino, and the Genoa fan in 1995 was also killed outside, on the street.

Restricting access to the games (and yes, fixing up the stadia will help with that) is indeed part of the solution. However, what's really got to go away is the influence exercised over the clubs by the "Ultras". What began as simply somewhat boisterous fan clubs have developed into groups of violent marauders, condoned and often even financially supported by the teams themselves. Far too often, now, these groups have been taken over by elements of the violent right (or, in the case of Livorno, the violent left). They control access to parts of their home stadia, and they control what goes on there (one lovely example: in May of 2001, Inter Milan Ultras smuggled a motorscooter into their stadium, set it on fire, and threw it off the upper tier. Miraculously nobody was hurt). So, what's to be done? Well, here are a few ideas for starters:

  1. Clubs should be prohibited from giving money etc. to supporters' groups. Let the Ultras buy their own damn flares.

  2. Put the infrastructure in place to allow dangerous materials to be effectively banned from stadia. Right now, flares, weapons, motorscooters, etc, are banned from soccer games, but there's just no way of making that stick, particularly with the Ultras controlling access to parts of the stadium. Hopefully, a meaningful ban on dangerous items would prevent people from bringing them to the game in the first place, which would make the area around the stadium safer as well.

  3. No large groups of away fans at games. Difficult but not impossible to enforce, this seems to me to be simple common sense.

  4. People convicted of soccer-related violence should not only be banned from the stadia, but forced to report to the police when their team is playing. This has been done in response to hooliganism in Britain.

  5. Maintain the crackdown on extremist political behaviour at matches. In 99% of the cases, this means stomp hard on neo-Nazis. No racist banners, no anti-semitic chanting, no monkey noises at black players, and, to be fair, no celebrating Stalin's birthday, or your team pays the price both in the standings and in the bank account. Yes, this means that the team becomes responsible for the behaviour of its more lunatic fans, which isn't really just. However, it also provides an incentive for the "ordinary" fans, just out to support their team, to turn around and say to the Ultras "look, you are hurting your team, shut up now." It's a difficult thing to do, and not entirely effective, but the effort has got to be made.

Even taken together, this does not represent a panacea (nor is it terribly original; the Italian parliament is hard at work on numbers 2 and 3 as we speak, and attempts have been underway at number 5 for years). However, it represents a start.

To end on a positive note, and to clear up any idea that I'm just bashing on Italians in general, the Italian Olympic Committee has stepped in to fund the educations of the two small children of the policeman killed in Catania. A decent, classy, move.
This is Sufficiently Cool...

A very concise history of the Middle East:

Sunday, February 04, 2007

It's Panicin' Time!

Shorter Neil Waugh: "Heads up Alberta! The U.N., the eastern news media, Stephen Harper, and John Baird are coming for your money!"

Fun though it is to watch conservatives mauling their own, I think we're all going to be very tired, very soon, of the complaining coming out of this province. If we're not already, that is.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Brief Friday Archaeology Blogging
Posted, as usual, on Saturday.

Village near Stonehenge was party central
By Thomas H. Maugh Ii
Los Angeles Times
(Feb 3, 2007)

Archaeologists working near Stonehenge have discovered what appears to be an ancient religious complex containing a treasure trove of artifacts that may finally illuminate the lives and religious practices of the people who built the mysterious monument 4,600 years ago.

The builders of Stonehenge are indeed mysterious. There has long been a misapprehension that the Celts built the monument, but it had in fact been there for about two thousand years before the Celts even arrived in Britain. They probably used Stonehenge, but whether they put it to the use its creators intended is unknowable. So who were these mysterious pre-Celtic Britons? Well, they were a late neolithic people (the neolithic period in Britain ran from about 5,500 B.C. to c. 2,500 B.C), who began to practise agriculture, albeit not terribly skillfully, in about 4,000 B.C. In addition to building Stonehenge, and a number of other "henges", they are also believed to have been responsible for a number of the gigantic carvings on chalk hills in the south of England, such as the White Horse of Uffington:

Beyond that, we really don't know much about them, or what became of them, so the discovery of the seasonal village near Stonehenge, apparently associated with rituals at the henge itself, could turn out to be very, very important. Encouragingly, the archaeologists have discovered a great number of small artifacts, which will aid greatly in establishing typologies for neolithic pottery, etc. In short, it's a big find, and one that archaeologists working in the field of neolithic studies should be very excited about.

Thursday, February 01, 2007