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The little brother of war: The history of lacrosse
For the Iroquois, it was a type of military training and a way to honor the gods.
For the Iroquois, it was a type of military training, and a way to honor the gods.
Long, long ago, only the quadrupeds played lacrosse, against the birds. The leaders of the first team were the bear, the deer and the turtle; of the second, the owl, the hawk and the eagle. One time, not long after a match, the mouse and the squirrel visited the birds and asked whether they could join their team.
"Why don't you ask the quadrupeds?" the eagle asked.
"We did. They laughed at us because we're small," the mouse and the squirrel replied.
After long deliberations, the birds decided to accept the players, but they had to be equipped with wings. One of the birds suggested finding a drum, taking off the skin and attaching it to the mouse's legs. And thus was born the bat. Wanting to test their new player, they threw the ball up. It turned out that the bat could keep it in the air, with great control. The owl, hawk and eagle decided that the new player would strengthen their team. There was no skin left for the squirrel, and no time to find another drum, as the match was about to start.
"And maybe we could stretch the squirrel's skin?" the owl suggested.
And the birds pulled with all their might, from every direction, until they made the flying squirrel.
The bear and the eagle started the match. The flying squirrel got the ball and passed to the hawk, who kept it in the air for a while, but made an error in the end, and it was almost stolen by the deer. At the last moment, the eagle took the ball. He faked a pass to the flying squirrel, but in the end passed the ball to the bat, who scored the winning goal.
This legend (in slightly varying versions) has been told for centuries by the Indigenous peoples of North America. The moral of the story is that regardless of size and strength, one day anybody can come in handy.
Sticks like crosiers
We don't know what exactly the French Jesuit Jean de Brébeuf saw when in 1637 he travelled through what is now the Canadian province of Ontario. He saw people behaving strangely – neither fighting nor playing. His attention was drawn to the sticks they held. They reminded him of a bishop's crosier – in French, a crosse. That's the name De Brébeuf gave to this activity, unknown in Europe. But he didn't devote a great deal of space to it in his memoirs. There was no information on the rules, the number of players or gameplay. It's possible that the reason was simply the missionary's approach to foreign games – he treated them with contempt, and believed them to be anti-Christian. Additionally, the games were an occasion for increased alcohol consumption, and gambling for horses, weapons and clothes; it even happened that the losers were left with nothing at all.
Another source of doubt concerning De Brébeuf's discovery is that the Indigenous North Americans played many games in which a ball and stick were important; they differed only in the details. The Cherokee played to 12 points; the Menominee to four; the Great Lakes tribes to three; and the Iroquois required different scores depending on the circumstances and the stakes. Usually the matches happened on land between villages, and lasted from sunrise to sunset (though there were also multi-day games). The pitch could be several kilometres long, and the goals hundreds of metres wide. Sometimes as many as 1000 people took part. The goal of the players equipped with sticks was to put into the net a ball made from wood, clay or deer skin. The detailed rules were set by the elders the day before each match.
George Catlin, Wikimedia Commons
Power of muscles, power of ritual
The Shawnee let women play, but only with their hands. Only the men used sticks. The Dakota didn't have any such prohibitions. They even allowed mixed matches, but for each male player there had to be five females (the women also competed among themselves). But these were exceptions; in most tribes, women were prohibited from coming near the pitch. Men whose wives were pregnant weren't considered for the team, as it was believed that they had transferred all their strength to the child and were greatly weakened. For three days before the match, the players were required to refrain from sex. Before the team left the village, the shamans sent scouts to make sure the way was clear – enemies could leave something along the path that would weaken the players.
Before the match began, the players marked their bodies with charcoal; they believed this gave them strength. In clouds of sacred tobacco thrown onto a fire, they asked for supernatural strength to give them the eyesight of the hawk, the agility of the deer, the strength of the bear. But the most important were the sticks. The players paid them the same respect as they did to weapons. Before entering the pitch they smeared them with magical ointments, festooning them with amulets prepared by the shamans. The sticks were also placed in players' coffins so that they'd have equipment to play with in the afterlife. The reasons for playing a match were legion. It could be about maintaining relations with neighbours (after a game ended, a rematch was immediately agreed); rendering honour to the heavens, e.g. on behalf of an ill person (whose fate depended on the result); commemorating the dead. Matches could also be part of a funerary rite.
Lacrosse was also used to solve conflicts; the game was seen as a great method of keeping warriors in shape. Sometimes, during a match, the players stopped worrying about the ball and focused on each other. Confrontations switched instantly into wrestling or fistfights. Hence the Mohawk-speaking tribes called their version of lacrosse begadwe, or the 'little brother of war', and those who spoke Onondaga, dehuntshigwa'es: 'small war'.
The most spectacular example of using lacrosse during a battle was a manoeuvre by Ojibwa chief Minweweh in 1763. At that time, several tribes rose up against British rule, starting what became known as Pontiac's Rebellion. Since the springtime, the Sauks and Ojibwas had been passing through the Mackinac straits to Fort Michilimackinac, one of the strongest fortresses in the region, and one of the most difficult to capture. On 2nd June, unexpectedly for the British, a lacrosse match began. The tribes played outside the fort for several hours, when suddenly the play turned into an attack, and the players into warriors. The fort fell; 35 British soldiers perished. The capture of Michilimackinac turned out to be one of the most effective victories of the rebellion; the Europeans retook the fort only a year later.
Ball and identity
Men's teams have 10 players; women's have 12. The men play four quarters; the women, two halves. The men wear helmets and gloves, while the women have protective goggles. All of them carry sticks with a pouch-like net on the end. The object is to put the ball (slightly larger than a golf ball) into a square goal. That's how lacrosse looks today.
In 1860, the Montreal dentist William George Beers recorded the rules on paper for the first time. Since then, of course, many things have changed, but lacrosse has proven resistant to the disease of modernity. It hasn't been corrupted by money, as there's never been any. The best players are semi-pros, earning about $30,000 a year in America's Major League Lacrosse. Not a small amount, but compared to the millions that basketball, soccer, baseball and American football players cart off the field, it's nothing.
The presence of an Iroquois team at the world championships shows how lacrosse hasn't completely lost its character or its consciousness of its roots. The team can't compete in the Olympics or the World Cup (not that they have particularly tried); those events are only for nations with their own territory, recognized by the international community. The lacrosse world championships are different. It's the only event where the Iroquois can send a team, sing their anthem, show their colours. For them, this is probably even more important than sporting success measured by scores and medals (over three decades, they've only taken home two bronzes).
In 2010, the world championships were organized in Manchester in the UK. Right before they started, the British government announced that it wouldn't let players enter the country on their Iroquois passports (which the Confederation has been issuing for almost 100 years). When the team got stuck in New York, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proposed express issuance of American documents for the players; with US passports, they wouldn't have any problems at the border. The Iroquois deemed the idea an attack on their identity. They preferred to withdraw from the championship rather than taking part with passports from another state.
Translated from the Polish by Nathaniel Espino.
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How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.
One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
Jupiter's Colorful Cloud Bands Studied by Spacecraft<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a72dfe5b407b584cf867852c36211dc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GzUzCesfVuw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.