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Panem et Circenses

22 May 2011

A cold wind blew the snow across the railroad station's platform. The Manhattan-bound commuters began to straggle onto the platform. It was still dark; the sun would not rise for two more hours. A group of World Trade Center ground zero construction workers warmed their hands with cups of hot coffee.

One of them, Angelo, a tall pony-tailed man in his early fifties said, "Those damn Giants! They should have won that game. I am sick about it, sick! I did not sleep all night."

His buddy, Gene, short and squat, smiled and replied, "I'm happy! My Cowboys won. That is three in a row. They are back, baby! That's all I care about."

Almost in unison the other four construction workers began taunting him, "Screw the Cowboys, they suck! They are not going anywhere!"

Gene nearly choked on his bagel as he replied, "Cowboys suck? Bullshit! The Giants suck! Manning is just a lucky bastard!"

What followed was a raucous debate that continued during their hour-long commute into Manhattan; the same debate that went on every work day. There were only two things that changed. Both depended on the time of the year. The first was the teams they argued about. They changed with the seasons: baseball, football, basketball and hockey. It was an endless rotation.

The only other thing that changed was Angelo's attire. Each day he wore a different sports jersey. No one could recall him wearing anything other than a sports jersey. In fact, they could not recall him wearing the same jersey twice. He seemed to have an inexhaustible supply: Jeter, A-Rod, Ruth, DiMaggio, Manning, Simms, Barber, Taylor. He coordinated them with the season.

Any commuter that was not a sports enthusiast, overhearing these arguments, had to wonder why these guys put so much energy into their debates. It was hard to believe that they took the athletic performance of total strangers so personally.

The truth was that, regardless of the performance of their favorite player or the outcome of a game featuring their favorite team, they still had to get up in the wee hours, subject themselves to an hour commute and then put in a full day of manual labor, in all types of weather.

It probably never occurred to them that, to a non-sports fan, a grown man wearing the sports jersey of his favorite player was sort of like a "Grey's Anatomy" viewer wearing scrubs as they watched the medical drama on television.

What was more incredible to the non-sports fan overhearing this group was the discussion of the price they paid to attend the various sporting competitions. It would not be unusual for one of the fanatics to pay the equivalent of several days' pay for the privilege of freezing or sweating their butts off in an open stadium, while paying exorbitant prices for cold hot dogs and warm beer, all the while cheering for millionaires that possessed an unusual prowess in kicking, throwing, or hitting a ball.

Sports in the America of 2011 had become the modern-day opium of the masses.

The sports fans will squeal with joy while screaming, "We won! We won!" when their team is victorious. High fives and cheers accompany home runs, goals or touchdowns by total strangers.

Diehard sports enthusiasts listen to hours of sports radio. They watch the cable sports channels and memorize stats for their favorite teams and their competitors.

Undoubtedly, many more Americans can recite the nine players in starting line-up up of their favorite baseball team than can name the nine members of the Unites States Supreme Court.

Sports takes people's attention from the real world of crime, war, drugs, terrorism, corrupt politicians, Wall Street scams, home foreclosures, bad marriages, and unfulfilling jobs because none of that exists when a fan's attention is focused on sports.

It is said that in ancient Rome the politicians used "Panem et Circenses," which translates to "Bread and Circuses," to keep the people distracted and amused. They would stage huge gladiatorial spectaculars that included fights to the death, exotic wild animals and simulated sea battles. These events became the center of the average citizen's life.

The politicians did not stage these shows for any altruistic reason. Their motives were far from noble. In reality, while the people concentrated on a recent gladiatorial event or anticipated an upcoming spectacular, the politicians were working behind the scenes to build their personal power and enrich themselves. This personal enrichment was at the expense of the great Roman society.

Over time the Roman citizens shifted their focus from striving for perfection and building a great nation. They were distracted from civics and they became complacent.

The citizens gradually lost their traditional sense of pride and nationalism. They lost the deep sense of civic responsibility that the prior generations of Romans viewed as a virtue.

Meanwhile, the mighty Roman military was in decline. They were weakened from being stretched to the limits in faraway wars. Supply lines could not be maintained and the homeland was unprotected.

Slowly bands of barbarians began to infiltrate the great Roman society. At first the Romans greatly outnumbered the barbarians. The Roman people and the government were prosperous and they could absorb the uneducated barbarian hoards.

However, over time more and more barbarians came into Roman territories. The systems were becoming overwhelmed. The nation's wealth was being threatened.

As time passed the barbarians began to outnumber the Romans. Roman greatness and culture became more and more diluted until it disappeared.

The parallels to modern times are frightening. The signs of decline have been apparent since the 1960s yet they either were not recognized or ignored.

America's slide into "Third Worldism" is now approaching a free fall.

Perhaps if the average citizen had concentrated more on the front pages of the daily newspaper rather than the rear sports pages, the American standard of living would be rising today rather than declining.

Scan
Scan works in a top-secret government agency and he is therefore not allowed to reveal his real name or show a picture of himself. We’ve used a clip-art drawing to indicate his nature. Needless to say, he is an extremely bright guy. He is an active member of the goldentouchcraps.com private members-only Web site where he posts his thoughts and gambling theories on a regular basis.
Scan
Scan works in a top-secret government agency and he is therefore not allowed to reveal his real name or show a picture of himself. We’ve used a clip-art drawing to indicate his nature. Needless to say, he is an extremely bright guy. He is an active member of the goldentouchcraps.com private members-only Web site where he posts his thoughts and gambling theories on a regular basis.