Art Pottery, Politics and Food
Friday, April 18, 2003
More from the Washington Post on the Museum looting:
Looters at Iraq's National Museum of Antiquities pillaged and, perhaps, destroyed an archive of more than 100,000 cuneiform clay tablets -- a unique and priceless trove of ancient Mesopotamian writings that included the "Sippar Library," the oldest library ever found intact on its original shelves...The Sippar Library, discovered in 1986 at a well-known neo-Babylonian site near Baghdad, was one of the archive's crown jewels.
Dating from the sixth century B.C., it comprised only about 800 tablets, but it included hymns, prayers, lamentations, bits of epics, glossaries, astronomical and scientific texts, missing pieces of a flood legend that closely parallels the biblical story of Noah, and the prologue to the Code of Hammurabi, the ancient Babylonian lawgiver...Iraqi archaeologists found the library in a previously unexcavated section of temple ruins at Sippar, 20 miles southwest of Baghdad... said Jeremy Black of Oxford University's Oriental Institute. "The tablets were still in the pigeonholes, intact and in place. We'd never found such a thing before." "It's very hard to absorb what has happened here," said Johns Hopkins University Assyriologist Jerry Cooper. "It as if the entire Mall -- the National Archives and the Smithsonian -- had been looted, along with the Library of Congress." And although U.S. officials have said the United States will help recover and restore the collection, it may be too late. Stone noted that cuneiform tablets, for all their longevity, do not travel well. "You put these things in the back of a truck and drive over a bumpy road, and pretty soon you have a sackful of dust."
The BBC, meanwhile, reports a third resignation from the President's Advisory Committee on Cultural Property identified as Richard S. Lanier, "director of a New York foundation".
Photo: Detail, 3rd Ur Dynasty Tablet, Clark Collection of Ancient Art, Ripon College, Wisconsin
Kismet at Christie's?
7th-8th Century Glazed Pot, Iran
Through this interesting site we discover that Christie's of London is having a "fresh as this morning's headlines" Islamic Art and Manuscripts auction this coming April 29th. Here is the catalogue.
According to this morning's Washington Post:
Well-organized professional thieves stole most of the priceless artifacts looted from Baghdad's National Museum of Antiquities last week, and they may have had inside help from low-level museum employees, the head of UNESCO said today...Thousands of objects were lost at the museum, both to the sophisticated burglars and to mob looting, Koichiro Matsuura, director general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, said in an interview....one group of thieves had keys to an underground vault where the most valuable artifacts were stored..."The most important, best material" was taken by professionals who "knew what they were doing," Gibson (McGuire Gibson, University of Chicago's Oriental Institute) said. "Then mobs came in and just marauded."
Quoting a similar story in The New York Times:
``It looks as if part of the theft was a very, very deliberate, planned action,'' said McGuire Gibson, president of the American Association for Research in Baghdad.
``They were able to obtain keys from somewhere for the vaults and were able to take out the very important, the very best material,'' Gibson said. ``I have a suspicion it was organized outside the country. In fact, I'm pretty sure it was.''
Photo: Lot from Christie's catalogue
Thursday, April 17, 2003
It seems these past few days as if some independent UHF started broadcasting “Don Rumsfeld Week” on its Afternoon Movie. Has the Secretary been on every day or does it just seem that way?
At first, as I flicked power on the remote, I thought Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was having another press conference. But, then, the fresh faced young service people fronting a flag bouquet with gel light caused me to think, perhaps, something else was afoot!
I noticed the superimposed title bar, a Pentagon Town Hall Meeting, and pondered the mutually exclusive concepts while thinking that Mr. Rove’s live TV event team has had a busy April.
A several hour long and tortured ad lib-packed Day with Secretary Rumsfeld aired last evening on C-SPAN, a press conference the day before yesterday, the General on Larry that evening and now this Town Hall Meeting amid the scattered “on message” soundbites drifting through the flotsom of the days news current, makes one think the Bush Administration is very very concerned that the American people are not quite “on message” as far as regarding this war as one quick perfect victory, period.
Poor Secretary Rumsfeld, except for the thickly applied mantan, he seems so stooped and careworn from all those double and triple questions from the press. After drinking in the drama it seems those old meanie henny penny retired generals and the liberal antiwar press (believe that notion, or not) have become the maguffin as credits roll in the open sequence to a possibly Hitchcockian campaign ’04.
Jimmy Stewart in "Rear Window"
A Pentagon Town Hall Meeting. Subtle, Karl, very subtle.
It was a tidy little production, except for General Myers remark about scripting speech (a Nixonian “but, that would be wrong.”) and a crazy zoom out that showed the tiny proportions of the room, with worshipful questions from the promotion eager audience and devoted uninterrupted coverage by all three cable nets. Mr. Rove should really take another cue from the master and occasionally insert himself unobtrusively into the scene. Maybe he did, unobtrusively. Only the President’s Boy Wonder would have the chutzpah (or, the previously posted round brass objects) to make a straw man of the docile, compliant and cheerleading press coverage this war has received in the United States. The chutzpah shown here was of an altogether higher order for innocent members of the United States military were used as political props for an event whose sole purpose was to again reinforce the idea of Iraq II as a perfectly fought war while advancing the political notions of smaller, lighter and increased privatization of supply function. I’m surprised balloons didn’t fall.
Additionally, no matter its selection as a Rovian summer leit motif, I grow weary with the slamming of the retired generals particularly in front of the politicized service member backdrop observed today. The Secretary made a chilling little joke about the generals having vanished due to their error over the war. And, vanished they have replaced with colonels and sergeant majors through the assistance of those helpful ratings spiked network executives. But to keep slamming men who honorably served and who were graciously giving their own best guesses at times of crisis and who were possibly unaware of political agendas, it seems to me, ill suit a Cabinet ranked official of the Federal government.
The drums cannot quite beat loud enough to cover the noise coming from the Iraq National Museum.
Mene Mene Tekel Parsin
9th Century Bronze Ewer
As shock over the looting of the Iraq National Museum ripples through the art world, the Bush administration has its first resignations over the matter.
According to today’s Washington Post:
Citing "the wanton and preventable destruction" of Iraq's National Museum of Antiquities, the chairman of the President's Advisory Committee on Cultural Property has submitted his resignation to President Bush. Another of the committee's nine members is also resigning over the issue…"While our military forces have displayed extraordinary precision and restraint in deploying arms -- and apparently in securing the Oil Ministry and oil fields -- they have been nothing short of impotent in failing to attend to the protection of [Iraq's] cultural heritage," Martin E. Sullivan wrote in the resignation letter that he sent Monday to the White House. The second committee resignation came from Gary Vikan, director of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.
ArtsJournal.com has many links dealing with the Iraq Museum debacle including 296 downloadable black and white photographs (many with a side view) of the more choice missing artifacts posted by the quirky and very euro TheArtNewspaper. Patience is required for the photos…a very slow site but one's patience is usually rewarded.
The ArtsJournal site can be a bit quirky as well with the occasional non functioning link but it is updated daily and culls papers from around the globe for articles relating to visual arts, music, people, theatre, publishing, media and dance.
Wednesday, April 16, 2003
When news broke of the looting of the Iraq National Museum, I recalled reading about a group of conservative US business types with shady interests in antiquities gathering in Rome and in discussion with the US over Iraq's "retentionist antiquities policy". I hadn't saved a link, could not recall further details and so did not mention the story in this space.
5,000 year old Uruk Vase, detail
Thanks to Cursor a link to pfaffenBlog who has the most detailed information I've seen about the Iraq Museum. Bryan Pfaffenberger of the University of Virginia says:
The team of concerned U.S. scholars wasn't the only group to make contact with the Pentagon about Iraq's antiquities. A group of art traders, calling itself the American Council for Cultural Policy (ACCP), recently met with Defense Department officials. Scholars fear that the meeting "was an attempt by the influential dealers to ease restrictions on Iraq's antiquities laws. The group's treasurer has called current policies 'retentionist,' and favors the export and sale of some of the world's oldest treasures to the US." According to German antiquities expert named Sonja Zekri, the ACCP's goal is to " loosen up the Iraqi antiquities laws under an American-controlled postwar regime.... In short, it's the legalized plundering of Mesopotamian culture by Americans after US bombs have already destroyed the land, and US companies have profited from reconstruction."
Most archaeologists would be alarmed if this group were involved in the post-war supervision of Iraqi antiquities. According to Liam McDougall, an arts columnist for the Sunday Herald, "among its main members are collectors and lawyers with chequered histories in collecting valuable artefacts, including alleged exhibitions of Nazi loot."
CNN has reported the Iraq Museum thieves displayed some expertise by avoiding replicas of exhibits on loan to other museums and taking only actual antiquities. CNN also reported Museum officials finding high quality foreign made glass cutters left in the debris on the museum floor.
Another media cycle ticks by and still nothing further on Colonel Joe Dowdy is to be found in the mainstream media. Meanwhile Internet search engines are humming with repeated requests for the limited information on Dowdy available.
The very telepresent Chairman of the Joints Chiefs General Richard Myers was on Larry King last evening reinforcing the heavy administration spin regarding the ground battle in Iraq and attempting again to smear any criticism of the plan.
Old Larry tried to mine for a little dirt by pressing the General on Rumsfeld’s “style”.
It was funny watching the General’s eyes pong about as he stammered that the Defense Secretary’s style was “widely known”. If “widely known” means material that I too have read and not just Pentagon hallway scuttlebutt then it seems the JCS Chairman was acknowledging Rummy’s go for the throat no disagreement countenanced personality.
I wish they could be honest enough with the American people to say that the decision to rapidly push on to Baghdad was made knowing the gamble would lead to potentially increased numbers of lost American lives.
Mere preliminary questioning along these lines prompted great waves of dissembling bon homme from the peripatetic Earth shoe wearing Defense Secretary at yesterday’s press conference. “We have no perfect knowledge…” is a favorite Rumfeldian way of saying, “shit happens” as an argument closer. A preponderance of Henny Penny negativity grew, into “…chasing the wrong rabbit” when it came to a question on the initially trouble beset lighter ground force.
So, lets see…nothing is perfect and reporters are chasing rabbits if they look at less than perfect aspects of the “superb” plan?
Finally a question on the Iraqi National Museum and the Secretary just doesn’t know “the Iraqi will have to sort this out…”
I thought it very curious that all cable "news" networks left the press conference as the Secretary was responding to the Iraq National Museum question causing this writer's flight to C-SPAN. The networks were hustling to a Laci Peterson update and, of course, couldn't wait until the Defense Secretary finished his question. Even press conference slo-poke MSNBC hopped out of the Pentagon press conference fast as a rabbit being chased!
A very interesting report in the London Guardian indicates that the US government didn’t attempt to freeze or monitor Iraqi financial transactions in the weeks and days leading up to war as was done prior to Afghanistan with the Taliban.
…Before the fall of Baghdad…a far more damaging form of looting was already under way as Iraqi bank accounts were ransacked and millions of dollars were transferred into private accounts abroad, Middle Eastern banking sources said yesterday.
US investigators are scrambling to track down the missing money, estimated at between $5bn and $40bn (£3.2m and £25.bn), but some financial experts believe much of it has gone for good, and may have slipped into the hands of extremist groups such as al-Qaida. One official who has seen reports from Middle Eastern banks told the Guardian he had seen details of at least five transfers of between $100,000 and $1m going to a single bank whose name he provided but did not want published.
"We saw it pick up right at the beginning of the shooting war. Then it really peaked the day before and the day of the fall of Saddam's statue [in Baghdad]. We haven't really seen anything since," the official said.
Administration water carrier Howard Kurtz has a frightening sentiment buried in his column in today’s Washington Post that most likely conveys the feelings of some in the Bush camp:
Syria? Bah. It's already being touted as "Cakewalk II".
Tuesday, April 15, 2003
Speaking of Michael Wolff's Guardian article, I wondered, like most, at the identity of the "Centcom uber-civilian" who threatened Wolff's manner of questioning saying:
"A lot of people don't like you." And then: "Don't fuck with things you don't understand." And too: "This is fucking war, asshole." And finally: "No more questions for you."
Well, through Atrios I'm linked to Digby who identifies "uber" as Jim Wilkinson, "a veteran White House publicist as well as a Navy Reserve lieutenant, Wilkinson headed the anti-Taliban Coalition Information Center during the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan and was spokesman for the Bush campaign in Miami-Dade County during the Florida recount after the 2000 election. Digby also quotes Buzzflash, "...this entire public affairs operation is headed Jim Wilkinson, one of the thugs who protested the Florida recount. Ever the good soldier...though a civilian, Wilkinson reportedly wears a military desert camouflage uniform to work...
It is clear, certainly from this current war, that the media must broaden its continued Internet decentralization if free speech is to survive. The old broadcast media is growing feeble in its stylistic decadence and the increasing distrust of its more shaped news product.
CNN anchor Paula Zahn
I think it is of interest that CNN, not unlike most, has misrepresented what its recent war viewers were seeking. In some laughably ponderous promotion currently enjoying a healthy rotation, the Noodle Network mistakenly concludes that a war time spike in ratings confirmed a glowing cloak of trust for Larry, Paula and the whole increasingly fun “gang”. I don’t think so.
We tuned in for the satellite phone video embed reports that smug insiders in their usual hideously poor taste were calling war porn. It wasn’t any particular reporter that lured our info hungry eyes (though I do believe NBC benefited from its often time better quality signal) for the sand and grime reduced them all to a soldierly sameness and often times to a talking blob. The lure, without minimizing the bravery or skill of the embeds, was what the industry calls “natural sound” with a silent witness Point of View camera and the reactions of someone not quite traditionally reporting so much as experiencing and participating.
Many viewers, after experiencing these reports, would rove the internet reading battlefield reports from a variety of more traditional embedded print reporters and commentary from traditional sources and internet web sites aided by the newer and more leveling blog phenomena providing some news, commentary and links to further information. The gestalt of all this old style and new made for broader deeper understanding of the war as an evolving Rubric’s Cube of conflicting data and emotion with the key to understanding provided by the passive embedded camera. Michael Wolff in his widely read London Guardian commentary this week admitted that the reporters in the Press Command Center sensed that this traditional place to be was not the place to be.
The embed, man and camera, could easily become the essential ingredient: the probing finger of the giant beast that is the entire media gestalt.
Embeds not to reason why
Embeds but to view or die.
I am surprised, considering the actions of some embeds, that at least one of the reporter deaths didn’t occur before the camera and happen live. What would have happened had that occurred is anyone’s guess. But, aside from the moral questions involved with such a public death, the event, coldly, would have become another valid bit of relevant data added to the story of a war.
After the disastrous ratings declines for the old major networks announced at the beginning of the week, I am quite sure the networks will latch onto and mutate aspects of the embed approach certainly into the reality shows and possibly into more news programming.
I just cannot imagine an American television news executive being able to pass up someone embedded with the citizens of town X as monster hurricane Y storms up the coast. Or, even better, to ratings hungry news executive, imagine some Internet video chat group with a member present, capable of reporting and broadcasting from a future news event like a hostage situation, bank robbery or volcano. Or, maybe even long form documentary-style embedding from the state mental health facility or the high school.
I am equally sure, considering the relative low cost and manpower, that there will emerge a whole new generation of more highly trained free lance, hired gun satellite video phone reporting teams experiencing the news and relaying it to the consumer through internet streams or more traditional venues.
The toothpaste is out of the tube.
Photo: CNN via AP and NYT
Monday, April 14, 2003
A great many interesting links this morning that should stoke your outrage or broaden your knowledge base.
First, a highly interesting observation made yesterday by Josh Marshall and posted on his Talking Points Memo:
This evening CNN has been running live coverage of a firefight in which several snipers or paramilitaries were firing on US Marines near the Palestine Hotel. The CNN reporter on the scene is Rula Amin.
Just after 6:00 PM on the East Coast, Amin was having a back and forth with Wolf Blitzer about those foreign volunteers in the country to fight the US. During that conversation she said that the Saudi volunteers were a bigger deal or there in greater numbers than the Syrians. I don't have down the precise language she used. But the basic point was clear: there are more Saudis there fighting us than Syrians. (Wolf, buddy, why no follow-up?!?!)
Then an old friend from her days as a panelist on the bygone Agronsky & Company program, Elizabeth Drew reviews the new books Bush’s Brain and Boy Genius for the New York Review of Books. I have always valued Elizabeth’s skilled reporter’s eye and remarkable political insight. That she seems out of fashion with the current media punditry, to me, adds to her credibility. Ms. Drew finds the most juice in the James Moore and Wayne Slater book Boy Genius:
Rove protests to outsiders that he's not involved in foreign policy, knowing that this would appear unseemly for a political consultant. But he does in fact take part in foreign policy decisions—as usual, from the perspective of what's in the President's electoral interests. This is probably the most tightly concealed aspect of his many activities…Moore and Slater argue that Rove has been deeply involved in Bush's policy toward Iraq and it seems altogether likely that he has; but here they are on weaker ground than in other parts of the book because much of their case is based on surmise, and they also neglect the strong influence of Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz. Still, some aspects of Bush's handling of the matter have a Roveian ring. When Colin Powell was preparing his presentation to the UN Security Council on February 6, he resisted citing the alleged links between Iraq and al-Qaeda; he was forced to do so at the White House's insistence. This was the weakest part of his presentation. It has not been established that Rove was involved in the decisions about Powell's speech; but it is a safe bet that he took the view that going to war with Iraq would have more public support if people thought that it was involved with the September 11 attack and that if officials said it often enough, the public would believe it.
Sadly, an extremely depressing article in this morning’s Washington Post headlined Pentagon Was Told of Risk to Museums:
In the months leading up to the Iraq war, U.S. scholars repeatedly urged the Defense Department to protect Iraq's priceless archaeological heritage from looters, and warned specifically that the National Museum of Antiquities was the single most important site in the country. Late in January, a mix of scholars, museum directors, art collectors and antiquities dealers asked for and were granted a meeting at the Pentagon to discuss their misgivings. McGuire Gibson, an Iraq specialist at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, said yesterday that he went back twice more, and he and colleagues peppered Defense Department officials with e-mail reminders in the weeks before the war began. "I thought I was given assurances that sites and museums would be protected," Gibson said.
Among the treasures:
…The 5,000-year-old alabaster Uruk Vase, which shows a procession entering a temple -- the earliest known depiction of a ritual.
…The "White Lady", the stone face of a woman that looks as if it was carved during the Greek Classic period but is 5,500 years old, one of the earliest known examples of representational sculpture.
The bust of an Akkadian king, dated 2300 B.C., is the earliest copper casting ever found.
…A spectacular cache of gold artifacts from the burial tombs of Assyrian queens in Nimrud.
…A cultural heritage that extends for thousands of years and encompasses the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Parthians, Sassanids and Muslims, to name only the best-known civilizations.
Ridiculous domestic political arguments over responsibility for this tragedy are surely cueing up on the talk agenda and, like so many, will have no meaning. Neither the excuses of neglect or omission matter in the long run for the precious historic objects are gone or destroyed. Thousands of years of careful guardianship by generations of our common forebearers erased in a few frenzied moments or spirited away to the vaults of a few twisted wealthy elitists.
What does blame matter? I am sick with the artistic and cultural loss and embarrassed that America could even be remotely connected to it.
Bold or Brass?
Here we have, as outlined in this morning’s New York Times, the political impetus for the rapid advance to Baghdad and the heavy Washington spin geared toward downplaying the anarchy in Iraq.
Under the headline Rumsfeld Requests Power to Reorganize Services we learn:
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is asking Congress for broad new powers to reshape the uniformed services from the highest ranking officers down to reservists and supply clerks…the proposed legislation requests greater flexibility over personnel policy affecting the very senior levels, allowing a defense secretary to extend the tenure of generals and admirals in especially important jobs, while easing the early retirement of those unlikely to be promoted further…Lower in the ranks, the legislation would clear the way for transferring a large number of military support jobs to civilian employees…increasing the numbers of combat troops without adding to the roughly 1.5 million people in uniform today.
Sunday, April 13, 2003
No matter one's political leanings, this is soothing comfort food at its very best. You will wonder why Mom didn't use Vodka in more dishes.
Chicken Vodka Pot Pie
This recipe is for the Pot Pie filling. Piecrust recipe for one crust on March 18 post. If you bake this in an unbaked pie shell with a top crust add more flour (about 3 more Tbsp) when called for in recipe. Feel free to add some chopped turnip and parsnip with potatoes and carrots. I prefer a less thick stock. In order to have the Pot Pie effect, I usually roll out a pie crust, cut it into cracker sized pieces, sprinkle with a little salt and bake on a cookie sheet. Piecrust crackers are served with the hot filling…mmm good!
5 Tbsp Butter
1 White Onion, chopped
2 Potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 or 4 Carrots, peeled and chopped
10-15 Button or Cremini Mushrooms, sliced or chopped
1/3 cup Vodka
5 Tbsp Flour
2 cans Chicken Stock
1 cup Milk
2-3 pre-roasted Chicken Breasts, cubed
1 medium handful fresh Parsley, chopped
1 Tsp Thyme
½ cup frozen Peas, thawed
Saute Onion in Butter. Add Potatoes and Carrots and cook 10 minutes. Add Mushrooms. Add Vodka and cook down (until alcohol smell mostly vanishes). Stir in Flour and add Chicken Stock and Milk. Bring to a boil. Add cubed Chicken, Parsley, Thyme and Peas. Simmer 5-10 minutes
Great news! Seven captured American servicemen have been recovered in Iraq overnight. Two are wounded.
An excellent piece that walks Washington's political tightrope while relating important factual details about the drive to Baghdad appeared in this morning' Washington Post under the headline Confused Start, Decisive End.
This report confirms that the rapid push for Baghdad originated in Washington (or, specifically Camp David) and that the impetus was political:
The president also had another agenda, said this official (described as a presidential advisor). Several people close to Bush said the calculated risk of plunging ahead was driven partly by the realization that it was important for Rumsfeld's ambition of transforming the military into a lighter, more agile force. Slowing down on the battlefield threatened to suggest a reversal of the administration's key defense policy.
Ouch! Secretary Rumsfeld certainly cracked the whip over a babbling Tim Russert and a stoic Tom Friedman on Meet The Press and Face the Nation respectively this morning. It is clear, particularly from the Meet appearance that there is little love lost between the Defense Secretary and the Secretary of State. Imagine, for the sake of discussion, that the presidential advisor responsible for the above Camp David quote in the WashPost this morning is the Secretary of State. It puts a different spin to Mr. Rumsfeld's deliciously nasty remark to Russert that Cap Weinberger was the real author of the Powell Doctrine.