Thursday, June 19, 2014

Unity, Harmony and Peace?

Introduction:

In the natural world, from the very onset of its existence, life has been sustained through a constant battle of what biological arrangement or form can stick it through the challenge(s) that a given environment—which is ever-changing in our universe—throws its way. It's from this earthly-pervasive phenomenon, that the now common saying of "survival of the fittest" was coined, once the human mind was eventually able to pick it up [think for example, Darwin].

In a given environment, some biological units died out, and some managed to live on. In the biological world, this was made possible by what are—technically speaking—errors in DNA coding during the attempt at self-replication, i.e. another but crucial mode, by which life has been able to sustain and preserve itself to this point.

So, as it turns out, we humans and practically every other known life form owe our very existence to "imperfection" in the natural world. Without these "mistakes", it is safe to say that we would not be here. Yes, there are schools of thought which will argue otherwise and say that we owe our existence to a purposeful conscience, which has pre-programmed life to ride along the way it has, but that's another discussion [for related matter, see: link]. It's perhaps then natural to see why many multicellular organisms are competitive with one another, whether within or across species; why we see animals marking their territory for the attentive minds of those from both within and out of their own species, competing for a mate and for food. Humans are apparently no exception to this basic arrangement of existence: It's perhaps why humans would rather kill their own kind for natural resources than share, and for the purpose of the present entry, why we have so many more competitive or antagonizing social events than consolidating or unifying social events.

Seemingly harmless nationalistic social events like our international Olympic games and cup-tournaments are perhaps an outgrowth of this inherent character of our nature. Against this backdrop, having competitive social events in the mold of international sport or athletic games is understandable, and so not to sound too paranoid while at it, it is worth taking a look at these games for what they truly are versus what they are reputed to be.

Discussion:

In modern times, many have come to think of well known mega international sport events, which usually take place quadrennially, as moments of relative peace and unity, in that the games supposedly bring people from around the world together with at least one goal in mind, i.e. to watch the games, and in doing so, put aside their pressing differences. Can this perspective stand up to scrutiny? It may very well be so that individuals from across different parts of the planet do get drawn in to watch the games, but is it necessarily on friendly or good-spirited terms? If anything, these games are more inclined to engender feelings of nationalism and xenophobia than solidarity.

People are compelled to align themselves in nationalistic and divisive social units than comprehensive units. For every person, it becomes a matter of paying allegiance to one's assigned, whether self-inflicted or not, nationality first and foremost. Anything else may well be taken as treasonous.

Supporters and cheerleaders alike of respective competing teams would like those on the outside to think that aside from the "harmless" momentary cheer-leading, they otherwise regard their rival factions in good spirit. In fact however, when supporters are rooting for the victory of their respective national unit, they are in effect actively seeking and wanting the defeat and misfortune of their rivaling faction(s). This is clearly a case of antagonism, and importantly, its residual effects cannot be one of good spirit, outside of all obligatory smiles and winks to the contrary.

In extreme cases, as on occasion seen in say, soccer games, these residual effects take expression in the form of riots in the competing venue, with fans and athletes alike getting out of control and turning to outright violence. In other cases, athletes of competing nationality are harassed and bullied by disapproving fans of another team, with things thrown at players and/or insults hurled at them, all generally in the name of nationality in one form or another. Yes, these sort of incidents may not be the case for all competitive social events, but they are yet another expression among a variety, of the antagonistic as opposed to unifying nature of these events.

These games generally do very little to compel people to reflect on socially disruptive schisms cultivated by their ethnic, cultural or national differences and quench them. They do the opposite: they encourage the embracement and active promotion of these differences. They do however, compel people from across the globe, who are subjected to similar social pressures and class experiences under those of the privileged few, to look past such under-utilized inspirational gems of social solidarity and progression to a truly democratic globalization, where the means of production and distribution of goods and services is mainly owned/controlled by the broad masses as opposed to a privileged few.

Often these games are sold to the broad masses as a source of huge economic payoffs, provided a country is able to secure the "rare" privilege of hosting the games. Building a country's image as a potential tourist hot spot is for instance, usually envisioned as one of these residual benefits. However experiences from the past reveal that in many cases, hosting nations rarely recoup their expenses; rather, many end up losing revenue to supposed "non-profit" organizations that are set up to oversee the implementation of these games.

Click on the image for hi resolution
Take FIFA for instance, particularly given that another year for the World Cup games to take place is now here. The latest tournament takes place amid social upheaval in Brazil, including mass demonstrations directed at the very prospect of massive expenditure towards hosting the games in the middle of a protracted economic slump—which seems to have picked up during the emergence of the 2008 economic slowdown in a number of countries around the globe, when such money could have otherwise been channeled directly towards social welfare programs.

Image on the left: The Police clashing with protesters in Belo Horizonte, courtesy of AP

Polling reports have been cited, indicating slippage in favorable public opinion for the implementation of the World Cup in Brazil, no doubt related to the aforementioned mismanagement of tax-payer money. Of course, it is necessary to note that polls generally cover only a small—though considered "effective" by poll takers—piece of the general populace, but civil unrest across the country, regardless of shifting vigor (there are talks of relatively larger turnouts in the preceding year), seems to be reinforcing the sentiments reflected in the polls.

According a local polling concern, Datafolha, approval for the World Cup steadily slipped from 79% late in 2008 to 49% this year. For one, FIFA is exempted from paying taxes on revenue generated from the games, which would include massive revenue accrued from ticket sales and other goods and services provided, and expenditure on such things like electricity within the premises of the soccer games. This is extended to transnational companies that are headquartered overseas, like say, sponsoring beverage companies and other official sponsorers of the World Cup games. This means that the tax paying public of hosting nations essentially end up footing the bill for what is supposed to be an international event, with comparatively little economic return to show for it. Brazilian expenditure on the World Cup infrastructure has been placed at $11.5 billion.

Any tax accrued in preparation for and during the games will have to pretty much come from the tax paying public of the hosting nations, as well as visiting spectators. The Brazilian internal revenue service reportedly places the immediate loss of revenue linked to these tax exemptions at about $250 million, with this potentially getting higher—of about twice the just-mentioned estimated loss—within the time span of between 2011 and 2015.[2]  The implementation of security and its cost is no doubt solely the responsibility of the hosting nation.

Usually included in security operations, is the assurance that any signs of civil unrest (like public demonstrations, or otherwise usual "undesirable" visuals like say, camping by the homeless) is channeled out of direct public view in and around the competing premises, and this is usually done with displays of intimidation through strong paramilitary and police presence, usually in gear that serve as a warning sign that they are ready to pounce on disruptors on any moment's notice. These security apparatuses are designed to sell the illusion of calm and economic stability in the hosting country to visitors from overseas.

The South African authorities for instance, did a good a job of exemplifying how this is done during both the preparations for and implementation of the games when that nation won the bid to host the 2010 World Cup games. So did the British, with respect to the nation's role as host to the 2012 Olympic games, as we've seen (see: The Coming of Age of the Olympic Games). Perhaps these burgeoning intrusive measures would be easier to overlook, were it not for the prospect that it has become fashionable to spend lavishly on "security" in anticipation of these sorts of events. If not matching the efforts of the previous hosts, then outdo them, seems to be the idea growing within the circles of the ruling establishments of the world who take up the bid to host these mega competitive events.

Reports have surfaced that Brazil spent some $900 million or so on security alone for the 2014 games, five times that of the South African expenditure for the preceding World Cup events. One article making rounds in the net notes as follows:

"The stakeholders — bodies like the International Olympic Committee and FIFA — increased pressure on countries to guarantee the event's safety. The governments of participating nations and their planning committees would also make specific demands for heightened security, depending on what they perceived as the threat to their team and spectators. In order to meet this pressure for their 2004 Games, the first to be held post-9/11, Greece accepted the tutelage of a security consortium of the U.S.A., U.K., Germany, Israel, Australia, France, and Spain, along with input from NATO, the FBI, the CIA, MI6, and Mossad. All this security comes with a hefty, and growing, price tag. Brazil's security budget is five times that of the previous South Africa World Cup. As the technology evolves, so does the magnitude of the threat and the cost of countering it. And that's without any significant attack having yet taken place. "If anything truly catastrophic ever happens, these events would be virtually impossible to pay for," Tarbitt said." [1]

This developing trend is noteworthy, but equally so, is what these measures mean for the local populace of hosting nations; the same source cited above, goes on:

"But for a host country, the astronomical cost can be worth it. These events are a chance for them to secure a good global image, and more problematically, greater security capabilities on the home front. As South Africa's police minister said in the lead up to that country's 2010 World Cup, "these investments are not only meant for the event but will continue to assist the police in their crime-fighting initiatives long after the Soccer World Cup is over."

Brazil is looking to achieve something similar in 2014." [1]

Brazil, it is noted, has set up "central command" sites in each of the 12 World Cup hosting cities. For operation, these central command posts are assisted by a network of up to about 4,000 cameras. Greece is said to be still operating some 1,600 CCTV cameras that were first acquired and put into operation for the purpose of the 2004 Olympic games.

Importantly...

""Privacy is encroached on ever more at these events," Tarbitt said. "But after the event, no one goes back and asks if the surveillance infrastructure has been downgraded."
...

With such cover, mega events can be a useful means of introducing surveillance technologies into a society that might otherwise balk at them because of financial or privacy concerns, especially in host countries that may not have a history of attacks. Brazil, for example, while it has a very real crime problem, has had few experiences with terrorism.

So whom is this security technology meant to protect? And whom are they being protected from? In Brazil, and in many other host countries, it seems that the security apparatus is predominantly focused not on subduing an outside enemy, but its own people." [1]

Could FIFA tacitly be referring to this legacy, in this apparent bid to stave off criticism leveled against it?...

"The host country provide the general infrastructure for the event, which remains as a legacy in the country such as transportation, IT, upgrades on airports."

"Legacy" in other areas described above, as Brazil serves as the latest example for, can essentially amount to civil discontent, given that construction projects involved excessive work extraction from construction workers, not leaving out circumventing civil opposition through the glaringly expedient use of cheap and temporary migrant workers. The "legacy" will have to also include reports of the usually-dangerous working conditions and appalling safety regulations that engender such construction projects in an apparent bid to keep up with deadlines as the start of the sport events draw closer.

These dangerous situations at times, have resulted in worker fatalities; a single known case was cited for the 2012 Winter Olympics in Canada, two known cases were cited for the 2010 World Cup games in South Africa, 10 known cases were cited for 2008 Summer Olympics in China, 14 known cases were cited for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece, at least 25 confirmed cases (exact total was in question, putting aside these confirmed instances) were cited for the preparation of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, and most recently, 8 cases were cited for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Even more fatalities than the ones already cited here are projected for preparation of the next World Cup event, which takes place in Qatar! [4] A number of stadiums in Brazilian cities, that were to be venues for the World Cup games, have been cited as not having been completed as of the start of the games, while it appears others had suspiciously just been pronounced as "completed", calling into question the prospect of cutting corners in both working conditions for construction workers and safety integrity of the so-called newly completed stadiums.

Arena Carinthians under construction. Image-click for hi res.
The Arena Carinthians stadium of Sao Paulo is of one those stadiums implicated in the "incomplete" camp, having suffered delays due to construction complications and worker fatalities, incurring a construction expenditure 14-18% higher (est. $413 million) than the pegged budget. The stadium as it now stands, is impaired by failure to be cleared by all the necessary safety inspections.[5] With the Itaquerão stadium's completion delays, the venue had yet to stage a full scale test, while the Arena Amazonia venue had to contend with unfinished ground asphalting outside the stadium, unfinished changing room where doors were yet to be fitted and power cables yet to be fully fixed, and a newly laid pitch that was already showing signs of "degradation", as of June 11th, 2014.[6]  Furthermore, some observers fear that some of these stadiums will end up being "white elephants" after the World Cup games.

Both with regards to the tax exempt policy pressed by FIFA, and its insistence on certain security assurances, the organization has managed to put itself in an influential position of bypassing local laws of hosting nations. To this end, one CNN article reports:

""In that bid book model of the FIFA as commercial organization, it claimed a privilege of 100% tax freedom (no corporate tax, no income tax, no VAT, no excise duties, no local tax, not any other taxes), irrespective of regular national tax law, European tax law and international tax law," said Kogels after examining the Netherlands part of the bid." [2].

If what Kogel claims is anything to go by, it would then seem that FIFA's case serves as an extreme case of what looks to be a trend in these ever-commercialized sport events, which profess to be vehicles of international unity while maintaining balkanization of masses through nationalistic and jingoistic tendencies...

"I was (and still am) not aware of any other international commercial sport event being subsidized through full tax exemption at the cost of (other) taxpayers, and did not see any justification for such unequal treatment of FIFA." [2]

Kogel may not be ware of it, and this applies to anyone else wondering about it, but word is out that these sweet privileges will be extended to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), when the next summer Olympic (2016) games take place in Brazil! [2]

One succinct description of these developments comes from none other than an insider of the sport itself:

"FIFA will make a profit of four billion reais ($1.8 billion) which should provide one billion ($450 million) in tax, but they will not pay anything," Romario said in a video posted on the websites of several Brazilian newspapers.

"They come, set up the circus, they don't spend anything and they take everything with them." [2]

As if the no-tax policy was not enough slap in the face of the tax-paying public of hosting nations, thereby further exacerbating loss in economic returns, one source recalls, for example:

"As in South Africa for the World Cup in 2010, Brazil's World Cup General Law instituted a "area of exclusivity", a demarcated area up to 2km around stadiums and official FIFA "Fan Fests", where only companies or people authorised by FIFA can distribute, sell, publicise or advertise products and perform services.

FIFA's major partners include Visa, Sony, Coca-Cola and Emirates Airlines, which pay tens of millions of dollars per year, and other World Cup sponsor brands like Budweiser, Castrol and McDonald's.

"What this meant to Cape Town [South Africa], where a large percentage of the population are reliant on income through informal economies, was a huge loss of income and livelihoods, through wholesale discriminatory practises," said Killian Doherty, an architect working in areas of conflict who looked at the issue in Cape Town in 2010.

In Brazil, a section of the law criminalised the use of FIFA trademarks, or practising any promotional activities not authorised by FIFA." [3]

In another line, the same source relates:

"FIFA convinced the government to temporarily remove a safety ban on alcohol sales inside stadiums to make room for Budweiser, a World Cup sponsor." [3]

In addition to playing a role in eroding economic returns for the hosting nations, as one can see from the lines above, FIFA not only manages to bypass local laws of hosting nations, but also put its very own in place. Read on:

One of the innovating, and polemical, aspects was the insertion into Brazilian legislation of ‘ambush marketing’, with a view to protect FIFA and its commercial partners,” explained Eduardo Calezzo, a sports lawyer and president of the South American Association of Football Players.

The law, punishable by up to a year in jail, lasts until after the event ends - December 31, 2014 - and is enforced by a special group of FIFA agents, civil and military police, and the municipal guard, according to a Rio security official, focused on FIFA-related branding." [3]

Apparently, FIFA views even local police enforcement of hosting nations as insufficient in efforts to draw the maximum profit possible from the World Cup games; for that, it turns to its very own police enforcement apparatus. Is it any wonder then someone would describe FIFA's presence in a hosting country as follows, "FIFA comes to our country and sets up a state within a state."? If that sounds far-fetched, then consider the fact that FIFA's president and secretary general are demanded to be treated as "heads of state" during these games!....

"According to officials, FIFA also entered into an agreement with the Brazilian government to create as many as 400 security protocols, such as no-fly zones and the security of hotels, stadiums and heads of state. For instance, protocols demand that the president of FIFA and its secretary-general, Jerome Valcke, will receive the status of heads of state during the games, according to Undersecretary of Security for Major Events Roberto Alzir." [3]

Last but not least, as covered on this site before, is the ridiculous extents to which ongoing commercialization of international sport events have affected both individual sport personalities and the games. Practically all the major mega international sport events are fraught with reports or complaints about bribery and rigging or fixing of games by judges or monitoring personnel, if not illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs by sports personalities themselves. At times, politics plays a role in this, and other times, purely commercial interest, if not both at the same time.

Competing nations in the geopolitical arena have not shied away from using major international tournaments and sport events as yet another proxy for "flexing their muscles" at their rivals, whether these rivals are "friendly" or "unfriendly", in which individual athletes become pawns. At the same time, commercialization has created an environment where individual athletes are tempted to take short cuts in winning games, because winning can turn athletes into brands, marketing props and celebrities.

Generally, ruling administrations themselves offer little in way of rewards or payoffs to their nation's "triumphant" sport teams or participants, other than possibly extending televised invitations to presidential palaces, which are calculated to also serve as politically-expedient photo-ops for heads of state. That role (with regards to huge payoffs) is often left to major private transnational corporations, which amass around certain sport personalities who have been turned into overnight "heroes" or sensations in the course of the events.

Many of these very transnational corporations are also regular "sponsorers" of World Cup tournaments and the Olympic games. That's where the huge payoffs primarily come from for sport personalities. Several specific examples illustrating the appalling level to which this has reached and corrupted sport games have been offered here. Soccer tournaments (football, as some call it) are no exception to this trend; think of the likes of David Beckham, Pele, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Arjen Robben, Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney, Samuel Eto'o, Radamel Falcao, Philipp Lahm, Dani Alves, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Yaya Toure, Fabio Capello, and the list goes on, each of whose individual net worth are staggering millions, having made much of this fortune in the name of soccer games!

Click on the image for an enhanced view

Image above: Some familiar faces in the world of soccer. The net worth of sports personalities can be a staggering sum in the mega millions, thanks to commercial endorsements, and astronomical salaries secured through contracts to play for league or club teams, which themselves function as money making mills for wealthy business folk and which  may or may not represent home cities or states of said personalities

To ordinary spectators, the real value of these competitive social activities, or "games" as many like to call them, in the end boils down to sheer entertainment—nothing more or less; but for sport personalities, coaches, transnational corporations, and yes, the so-called "non-profit" governing bodies of such mega events like the World Cup and the Olympics (FIFA and IOC, respectively) are included here, these events are so much more than vehicles for "unifying" or entertaining humanity, or promoting "peace" in any capacity. Rather, these competitive events are gigantic cash registers. Fluff about "unity" or "peace" and "national pride" is just fodder, to lure the ordinary folk through additional emotional appeal around what are otherwise fairly corrupt enterprises. Sure enough, ordinary folk generally eat up such hollow words, while overlooking that which really matters. Perhaps however, there is some silver lining; in the case of Brazil, people are taking to the streets, even as the games have started...at least for the time being!

*Content herein may be subject to revision or modification as made necessary by information inflow
_______________________________________________________________________
*References and notes:

— [1] Ariel Bogle, courtesy of New American Foundation via The Weekly Wonk, June 13, 2014.

— [2] John Sinnott, A fair World Cup deal for Brazil?, CNN, July 24, 2013.

— [3] Elizabeth Gorman, Protests gather against FIFA exclusion zones, Jun. 15, 2014, courtesy of Al  Jazeera. com.

— [4] Kendall Jones, The Olympics, World Cup & Construction Worker Deaths, Construction News, Jan. 17, 2014, c/o Construction Data Company's Building Blocks Blog.

— [5] Beverley Mitchell, World Cup Stadium Embarrassingly Incomplete Just Days Ahead of Opening Day in Brazil, 06/02/14, courtesy of Inhabitant.com.

— [6] Jonathan Watts, World Cup 2014: ready or not, it is Brazil's time to show the world, The Guardian, Wednesday 11 June 2014.

2 comments:

BlackTerror said...

Hi Mystery Solver I tried to PM you on the nile valley forum until I realized that forum went inactive years ago. I am sorry that this might not be an approriate place, however I want to say thanks for always keeping the record straight. Before I was told a lot of racist bs about white supremecy even by people who rather seemed to me intellgient, and had I not found Egyptsearch, I might have remained in the dark on this situation. I've learned a lot more than that by lurking and reading up whenever I can. There is one off topic request I have, and I hope I do not come off too rude; there's a reason why I'm asking you specifically since you wont beat around the bush with the topic. The PM I sent you was : A mystery that I've never been able to ever grasp properly, is : why are some people smarter than others? I know this is a vague and possibly a stupid question; but take me for example, I am a really slow learner no matter the efforts I put in, and there are people who can easily think more abstract than I ever could, learn faster than I ever could etc.. I tried to ask some of the smarter people I've encountered in my life and even they seemed to be struggling to answer why they have a more cognitive ability than others. Some have said it has to do with genetics (this is why I said this question might be related to genetics) however some have also stated there are certain "methods". Methods such as "speed-reading" for example. But even these are just for memory. Is the ability to think abstract (where the higher echelon of geniuses are) really just an ability some people have and others don't? The best answer I read on a topic like this was from this site in the comments by Kamuyu : http://www.creativitypost.com/create/how_geniuses_think . In fact I have read somewhere where you had said the same : that you do not like being put into boxes (I believe it was during a conversation on egyptsearch between you and Hammer). I bring up the point about boxes because I have been told that I am a conformist a lot of the times I am in a rut; but I don't know if this is the main setback. So my question is can something be done about "intelligence" or am I fated to be simple minded no matter what I do? It's really set me back a lot in life so this question is not only about curiosity but a personal one as well. Regardless of whether you share any insights with me, I appreciate you reading my post and on that note I also appreciate reading your posts from when I would lurk. Thank you Smile .

Every other smart person I have come across have told me it really lives up to the cliche which is "everyones going to learn in their own way, and you pretty much have to figure out what suits you best" is this something you will also conclude as well?

I realize you are a busy man and that you might not even reply to this. Regardless I appreciate that you took the time to read it, and that you've put so much great info on your blogsite debunking with empirical data on many controversial subjects.

Mystery Solver said...

Black Terror,

Thanks for the comments. As to your question of "intelligence", here's my take, and something that I said on a few occasions on "Egyptsearch" when the issues of "IQ" and "intelligence" came up:

Overall "intelligence" is something that is very difficult to measure!

One individual may be a "genius" at say, artistic painting, but this same individual may be a klutz at say, competitive-sprinting or basket ball, or even some abstract science. Another individual may be a "genius" at contact sport but may be very clumsy when it comes to abstract academic sciences, like say physics or mathematics, while the reverse may be true for yet another individual who is a "genius" at those academic sciences. My point is, you take your pick; you are likely to come across any individual who is very good at something that many others are not, but that this same individual is more than likely inadequate in other fields!

You'll even hear the likes of often-reputed "geniuses" like Albert Einstein make this same point more or less.

Those "IQ" tests only measure performance on select or hand-picked disciplines/fields by the overseers of those tests. The results of those tests therefore only measure potential or performance in those test disciplines, and not those of unrelated disciplines outside of those! It is therefore far-fetched, as I have argued before, to say that these tests measure the overall intelligence of people!

Also, results of said "IQ" tests may be subject to respective residing environments, social experiences, and even possibly social class of test-subjects, and possibly adding to the complexity of measure "true" or "overall" intelligence. It also said from time to time, that humans use approximately only about "10%" of their brain capacity. I'm welling to bet that other animals do not access the full capacity of their brains, either.

A "hunter-gatherer" may not do well in those "IQ" tests, because the average "hunter-gatherer" prospect doesn't learn such disciplines, and even if he/she did, it would likely have been in "unconventional" ways. Yet an average "hunter-gatherer" well very likely ace an "IQ" test on "hunting" skills, and living off on self-executed hunting alone, without needing any assistance from convenience stores that many people in cities feel compelled to rely on! A hunter-gatherer does not even need to do well in the aforementioned conventional "IQ" tests in the "West", because for one, he/she does not need it! It isn't necessary to their livelihood!

"Skills" is a multifaceted thing, not a rigid composite of set skills picked by a few individuals in academia in some country or another, who claim to be "experts" in what the "size" of "intelligence" is. It is therefore hard to pin down actual "size" of "intelligence" which is quite varied in scope!

Your question is not a rude one, and it is a matter that I intend to cover in the blog at some point...don't be surprised if elements our exchange on this page come up.