Art Pottery, Politics and Food
Friday, May 02, 2003
The junior partnership
Was the only ship
That I ever had seen.
--1st Lord of the Admiralty, Gilbert & Sullivan
Excepting brief Scott Peterson updates, the cable “news” networks are well into their second day of allowing the White House image polishers a free hand in producing the Bush at sea epic, HMS Bush’04.
Never before in the history of the United States has the party holding the White House so grievously manipulated the power and perks of the Presidency for such base political ends.
Breathless commentary sprinkled throughout nearly identical cable coverage yesterday heavily implied that “our brave President” was co-piloting or even piloting whatever craft it was that became his air transportation. That impression was further reinforced by his flight suit costume and the constant display of the erect First Thumb.
But, if I was appalled in the afternoon I was aghast by early evening.
Mr. Rove delights in presenting completely opposing ideas within the same context. Contradictory ideas such as the President not claiming victory in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner are certainly becoming signatures for the Bush administration. According to the Los Angeles Times:
Bush's visit to the carrier, which is headed toward San Diego, was the result of a week of meticulous planning by White House aides, eager to cement the president's image as a victorious commander in chief. Much of the stagecraft — including a banner reading "Mission Accomplished" — was reminiscent of a campaign appearance.
Officers even reduced the carrier's speed so that land would not be visible in the background as the president spoke.
With a United States Navy aircraft carrier’s Control Tower draped in a political banner and a crew bedecked fighter jet in the dusky pink background, the President’s interminable monotone was interrupted repeatedly with rapidly executed standing ovations by US Navy personnel more reminiscent of a Politburo meeting.
The obvious political use of the aircraft carrier, its crew and equipment by a White House was a historic first left off the giddy lists of Presidential Firsts uttered by so many wide eyed television presenters. A historically aware and free press certainly would have, at the very least, noted the potentially unseemly and historic alliance between a sitting White House and elements of the United States military needed to produce such an extravaganza as was witnessed yesterday evening.
It is worth noting that coverage yesterday of the developing friction (see Newsweek) between the White House and Congress over White House refusal to declassify the 800 page secret report of the Joint Congressional Investigation of 9/11 was minimal to nonexistent.
Photo: Don Tormey, LA Times
Thursday, May 01, 2003
A Beautiful Spring Day!
Clematis bloomed yesterday and what was a stunted blossom less rose bush two years ago is now, after pruning and vitamins, a proper shape and heavy with buds.
And, while awaiting rose blooms, I am amazed to see the abundance of this years strawberries.
I am watching for the return of a massive and voracious garden spider.
As Don Rumsfeld’s security-wrapped “Victory that Dare Not Speak its Name” tour gave the illusion of traveling in two Iraqi cities to a gaggle of excited SecDef aides and plump Washington media a Marine colonel and former Manhattan district attorney tried putting a positive spin on the Iraq Museum devastation.
Gold-plated Head of
a Bull, 2400BC
In a May 1st New York Times story filled with contradictory quotes and headlined Loss Estimates Are Cut, but Questions Remain, we learn:
American investigators now say the losses seem to be less severe than originally thought. Col. Matthew F. Bogdanos, a Marine reservist who is investigating the looting and is stationed at the museum, said museum officials had given him a list of 29 artifacts that were definitely missing. But since then, 4 items — ivory objects from the eighth century B.C. — had been traced. "Twenty-five pieces is not the same as 170,000," said Colonel Bogdanos, who in civilian life is an assistant Manhattan district attorney…As evidence of a planned assault, museum officials say they found keys and glass-cutters. One official said he saw two "European looking" men enter the museum with the mob, point to various treasures and leave. "Behind the looting there were wicked hands," Mr. Khalil said. "They took precious pieces and left less valuable ones”… Officials at the National Museum, whose scholars and scientists are widely respected, dismissed the idea that the museum was targeted as another symbol of Mr. Hussein's rule…Colonel Bogdanos said that some Iraqis returned looted objects to him, rather than to the museum itself, "Everyone says this looting was anger at the regime."…The Iraqi cultural officials cannot help looking back to April 8 and 9, when their appeals for American military protection of the museum went unheeded. In conversation after conversation, the subject resurfaces, invariably with a bitter reminder that American forces were already protecting the nearby Ministry of Oil…The American response since then has been to try to fix what has been broken.
Secretary Rumsfeld signs a soldier's
looted highway sign
On Rummy’s Victory Tour, again via this morning’s New York Times:
Mr. Rumsfeld dismissed any notion that he was indulging in a victory tour…spent much of his day in Baghdad operating from one of Mr. Hussein's opulent palaces…Rumsfeld and his top aides flew into Baghdad's international airport aboard an MC-130 Combat Talon, a transport plane…The plane flew the last 30 miles just 500 feet above the ground to thwart surface-to-air missiles. The secretary wore a flak vest during his heavily guarded motorcade…Mr. Rumsfeld got an upbeat report…from Jay Garner…his handpicked choice to lead the Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. Before his meeting, General Garner scolded reporters with Mr. Rumsfeld for dwelling on the shortcomings of the effort to restore civilian order and services to Iraq. "Yeah, there are some demonstrations, but that's the first step in democracy," General Garner said. "You're allowed to demonstrate." As reporters were leaving, he called them back to make one last point: "We ought to look in a mirror and get proud, and stick out our chests and suck in our bellies and say, `Damn, we're Americans!' "
Photos: Hirmer Vertag and Luke Frazza
Wednesday, April 30, 2003
Posted today as a Newsweek Web Exclusive is a Micheal Isikoff and Mark Hosenball article headlined, The Secrets of September 11:
…As White House political aides plot a 2004 campaign plan designed to capitalize on the…September 11 terror attacks, administration officials are waging a behind-the-scenes battle to restrict public disclosure of key events relating to the attacks. At the center of the dispute is a more-than-800-page secret report prepared by a joint congressional inquiry detailing…provocative, if unheeded warnings, given President Bush and his top advisers during the summer of 2001…By refusing to declassify many of its most significant conclusions, the administration has essentially thwarted congressional plans to release the report by the end of this month…In (Democratic Sen. Bob) Graham’s view, the Bush administration isn’t protecting legitimate issues of national security but information that could be a political “embarrassment,” the aide said. Graham, who last year served as Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, recently told Newsweek: “There has been a cover-up of this.” The tensions over the release of 9-11 related material seems especially relevant—if not ironic—in light of recent reports that the president’s political advisers have devised an unusual re-election strategy that essentially uses the story of September 11 as the liftoff for his campaign. The White House is delaying the Republican nominating convention, scheduled for New York City, until the first week in September 2004—the latest in the party’s history…sources who have read the still-secret congressional report say some sections would not play quite so neatly into White House plans. One portion deals extensively with the stream of U.S. intelligence-agency reports in the summer of 2001 suggesting that Al Qaeda was planning an upcoming attack against the United States—and implicitly raises questions about how Bush and his top aides responded. One such CIA briefing, in July 2001, was particularly chilling and prophetic…Osama bin Laden was about to launch a terrorist strike “in the coming weeks”… “The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against U.S. facilities or interests. Attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning.”
The substance of that intelligence report was first disclosed at a public hearing last September by staff director Hill. But at the last minute, Hill was blocked from saying precisely who within the Bush White House got the briefing…
Tuesday, April 29, 2003
Tom Ridge, the Director of Homeland Security, was trotted before the National Press Club this morning to again promise more after-the-fact assistance in salvaging the wreckage of the Iraq National Museum while serious global art institutions and organizations are banding into a recovery effort without the slow assistance of governments.
According to an early afternoon report from the Associated Press thru the New York Times website:
The world's top museum curators urged U.S. authorities to secure Iraq's borders to stop the flow of looted antiquities, a loss that one said was the worst calamity for a national art collection since World War II…``American control at the border is almost zero,'' said Donny George, research director of Iraq's National Museum in Baghdad. ``Anyone can take anything and go out. ....the bleeding of antiquities is still going on.'' The British Museum and UNESCO brought experts from the Louvre in Paris, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, Russia's Hermitage and the Berlin Museums to hear a report from George and British Museum Near East curator John Curtis, who returned Monday after a week in Iraq…``This is without question the greatest disaster to a national collection since the Second World War,'' British Museum director Neil MacGregor told BBC radio earlier. In an interview with The Associated Press, Franks said it did not appear that the looting had been carried out by an organized network of thieves…But Professor Peter Stone, who advised the British military on Iraq's historic sites, disagreed, saying some of the items were probably stolen for specific clients.
``I would be very surprised if it were not the case that some of it had been stolen to order -- although I have no cast-iron evidence of that,'' said Stone, an archaeology expert at Newcastle University.
Canada’s National Post has an interesting story on loot:
According to Argos, a French insurance group, about US$10-billion worth of art treasures is stolen and traded around the world every year.
"It's become the fourth-largest illicit activity -- behind drugs, guns and fraud," says Special Agent Robert Wittman, a Federal Bureau of Investigation art crime specialist, who has been probing art and antiquities theft since 1988.
A Wired story details the interest in a searchable database of items from the Iraq Museum:
The Lost Iraqi Heritage project is a joint effort of over 80 universities, museums and individuals working to create a tool that law enforcement, customs officials and art dealers can use to prevent the sale and export of stolen objects…The effort faces severe challenges. Little is known outside Iraq about the extent of the holdings, which makes the process of learning what has been looted almost impossible.
I’ve been taking bets about the appearance of this story for the last few weeks. A Reuter’s story about Prostitutes returning to Baghdad contains this interesting story about a crackdown effort by Saddam:
Most agree on the cause of the crackdown -- foreign pornographic videos of Iraqi prostitutes wrapped in the black, white and red national flag, and, according to many versions, dancing on a portrait of Saddam.
Rounding up today’s Lost Stories of the A Section link fest is this story about a speech given by Senator Hillary Clinton Monday evening in Connecticut:
In a fiery speech, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton accused the Bush administration of having the worst economic policies since Herbert Hoover, with no real plan to end the nation's fiscal troubles…``There is an unease,'' she told the party faithful gathered at the Democrats' annual Jefferson Jackson Bailey dinner in Southington. ``People know better than what they hear and what they see.''
Art: Tribune Media
Monday, April 28, 2003
In this funny Alice through the Looking Glass world we live in not all news stories appear in the daily papers or on the slick marketing/sales vehicles more commonly known as cable news channels.
Other items of interest have only certain aspects of their story presented to the public and some stories receive a special kind of treatment wherein misstatements and hyperbole are used in the “developing” story.
A classic example of the disappearing story would be the one involving Marine Colonel Joe Dowdy and his removal from the Command of Marine Combat 1 shortly after the battle of alKut. The Colonel has not appeared in newsprint since he was helicoptered off the battlefield toward the end of the first week of war. No news story, no family feature, nada, zip. The Colonel is getting the same tube “face time” as the unphotographed fresh American troops now arriving in Iraq.
The ongoing story of the looting at the Iraq National Museum is an example of a story where only certain aspects are presented to the public while other key elements are left to drift, hopefully to some I imagine, into oblivion.
An Associated Press interview with CentCom Commander General Tommy Franks filed today at 2:03pm EST and printed on the NYT web site is a case in point for the “certain aspects” story:
…The commander of U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf region, said in the past three days Iraqis had begun informing coalition forces of the whereabouts of the artifacts…Franks said ordinary Iraqis had told coalition forces that they wanted the items in coalition hands, not with Baath party members who were responsible for managing the museums and are accused of spiriting the antiquities away…he said he thought U.S. forces reacted well in containing it, and that the situation was improving daily…Franks didn't elaborate on which items had been recovered. He said some of the items had been taken out of the museums before the war started by Baath party museum officials either for their personal use or for selling on the black market…He said he doesn't expect to find an organized network of thieves as some art experts have suggested. ``We're apt to find where an individual person decided he or she could take some of the antiquities and save them for a rainy day,''
Detail, Iruk vase
The general wants us to focus on the fact that some Iraqi are returning items taken by Baath party members and his own personal expectation that organized professional looting did not take place.
Long before the Iraq II war took place it was widely reported that Saddam and Baath party hotshots had removed items from the Iraq museum for their private homes. It is curious that in the coverage of military, US media and Free Iraqi caught looting or importing looted material from Saddam’s palaces and the homes of upper class Iraqi only the pop kitsch bad painting/Danielle Steel novel loot is reported as being recovered.
At no point in today’s interview does the General mention the “professional foreign-made glasscutters” reported as littering the post-theft Museum’s floors or why a United States tank initially broke down the Museum’s gates. I have read that some small scale high value item looting had started prior to the US tank’s arrival but that the rapid in earnest looting started after the tank stripped away the Museum’s last defense.
The General also briefly goes out of his way to contradict published speculation by some the world’s leading art experts that some of the looting was “highly organized and professional” by offering this classic of homespun Bushian disinformation, “We're apt to find where an individual person decided he or she could take some of the antiquities and save them for a rainy day.''
Previously on this page I have posted a variety of information that would, at least, indicate some organized and professional looting of the Iraq National Museum with some possible American and Chalabi partisan involvement. What is clear from the General’s published remarks is that US forces are not examining the actions of “professionals” in the looting of the Iraq National Museum.
A story involving misstatement, hyperbole and this bosomy Barbara Bush staffer swirled briefly and vanished with the dissolution of a book deal. Sure to be a burning Bush if it ever makes the light of day, witnesses might be prone to kneel.
Art: The Guttenberg Project
Photo: John Everett, The Houston Chronicle