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April 16, 2003

Art vs. Food???

From the message boards:


from godless:

who fucking gives a shit about this stupid Iraqi museum? such a mountain out of a molehill, comparatively speaking...jayzus christ! stupid liberals and their moving goalposts...not enough to totally and utterly kick ass, oh no, we need to do all this other stupid shit or else we're "negligent". God, these people at this university...they annoy me intensely, particularly because I cannot respond...

from zizka:

Not a stupid museum. Civilization began in Iraq.

from godless:

I am, I confess, an unrepentant cultural philistine in this context. I basically think that the looting of the museum shouldn't be such a big deal, compared to the fall of Saddam's regime and the liberation of Iraq. I mean, it's not like people from the West were able to travel to Baghdad and check out these relics before Saddam's regime fell, so we're where we started off before the war. More importantly, the people of Baghdad are probably a hell of a lot better off with no museum/no Saddam than the previous state of unlooted museum/Saddam present. (razib's added emphasis)

from alpha:

Call me cold, but, the contents of the Iraq museum are more important to me than the Iraqi people or their freedom - i couldn't care less about them.


Well, it won't be surprising to anyone that I care. But godless makes a good point, for what price shall we fund the "finer things" of this life, rice for the people? I favor the space program, but the money that goes into such things could feed many. We often value things on an aesthetic or personal level that might not pan out on a first-order utilitarian accounting.

To follow-up alpha-this generation of Iraqis will come and go, but the memory of Ur will last for centuries (has lasted for the cycle of written history already). But these questions are important to ask-especially when others pay the price for the beauty of this world (save the rainforest-but what about poor landless farmers that burn it trying to feed their family?).

On a historical note, Mo-Tzu, Chinese utilitarian and proponent of "universal equal love" par excellance militated constantly against "music," a byword for the useless ritual and frippery that characterized ancient Chinese life, especially major rituals such as mourning. Confucius rejected this view, and asserted that there was value in such things, not measured in bread and water, his language to me often sounding Burkean in an East Asian context. Are we more than metabolic instruments-converting nutrients into energy and tissue? I believe so. Does the spirit of God(s) animate us? I doubt it.

More later....

Posted by razib at 01:38 PM




"Much of this art (all of it?) was made by the Iraqi people. They can create more. They're just paintings and relics and stuff.....They are part of what make civilization "worth defending", but we can always make more." and "This is because I think art/pottery/etc. is nice but replaceable"

Iraq way back when, was a center, if not the center, of civiliation. That's what makes these relics so valuable and in my opinion irreplaceable.

"in the end, paintings and art are just ancilliaries."

I think art being subordinate to science (perosnally, i'm with you on that godless)is a subjective view. I think that appreciation of art may be hard wired - maybe i'm wrong. I'm not an artsy guy, but some art just pleases me. The same with some mucic. I can live without it - but life would be so much more dull without it.

I have not yet read Pinker's The Blank Slate, but if i'm not mistaken, i believe he points out that appreciation of certain types of art may be partly hard wired - maybe i'm talking out of my ass cause i haven't read the book.

I think i'm with godless when he states:

"Furthermore, I admit that I would get a lot more worked up if we were talking about (say) the destruction of scientific knowledge."

I personally value scientific knowlege more than art, but i value Iraq's ancient art more than the current population of Iraq and any art they reproduce nontheless. I kind of doubt that the looters of art are gonna be the ones "creating more" of this art.

Posted by: the_alpha_male at April 16, 2003 02:32 PM


"Perhaps this is a function of my politics...I have far less sympathy for the Palestinians than I do for the Iraqis, not least because the former were dancing in the streets on 9/11 while the latter welcomed our soldiers as liberators."

Yeah - I had a sick feeling in my stomach when I seen that dancing shit - and i was "somewhat" sympathetic to their cause prior to 9/11. The rage i feel after seeing the looters of those precious artefacts enrages me in the same vein - but by orders of magnitude less - of course. I know many liberal friends of mine who were more supportive of Palestine than I, state "what the fuck is wrong with those people" when they saw that dancing shit after 9/11.

I remember a few months after 9/11 - CBC News or some other TV news broadcast indicated that some, if not all of the clips of Palestinians dancing in the streets were not taken after 9/11 - but for something that happened much earlier. I don't know if it was true or not - i have my doubts. Anyone know what i'm talking about? Was there any truth to that?

Posted by: the_alpha_male at April 16, 2003 02:57 PM


nietzsche: "I mean, it's not like people from the West were able to travel to Baghdad and check out these relics before Saddam's regime fell, so we're where we started off before the war."

Whether people from the "West" can presently travel to Baghdad is pretty irrelevant. The "West" is a wrinkle in time; Mesopotamia is the beginning of civilization for our species.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 16, 2003 03:01 PM


This wasn't an art museum in the sense people think of that. It was artifacts of all kinds from the beginning of civilization. Thus there was historical knowledge lost. (Not that I am indifferent to lotting art museums.)

As a leftist, pure utilitarian Maoist know-nothingism is something I'm familiar with. Chop up the Buddha statues and use them to cook food. It's sort of funny to see it here. And I also have known Bible-reading Christians who were willing to burn down libraries.

Posted by: zizka at April 16, 2003 04:03 PM


>> I was the one who said that, not nietzsche.

Mmm, time to visit the optometrist :) I apologize.

>> And I don't think it's irrelevant - what's the point of having the stuff *exist* if no one can look at it?

Well, obviously the *Iraqis* could look at it. It's pretty irrelevant whether people from the "West" can look at it or not. The Mesopotamian cultural heritage should be preserved for the future, not for the present-day "West" or "East", which will eventually be superseded.

>> As for "when civilization started", one can draw a line at many different points in time.

Civilization is defined precisely: cities, and writing. Civilization first started in Mesopotamia. The publication of the Principia is an advance in science, it cannot be taken to be the "start of civilization".

Posted by: Dienekes at April 16, 2003 04:34 PM


A few points:

1) It's not a matter of "Art vs. Food", the two are not mutually exclusive. We can say that all of this museum criticism is "moving goal posts", or "playa-hating", or "another disingenuous excuse to undermine the war effort", and in many cases all of these might be true, but a better question is if in any way the complaints are valid- did we do all we should have done? There is another vein of childishness on the opposite end that gets reflexively defensive at any suggestion that America might have fucked-up, and that's not good either. Also "who fucking gives a shit about this stupid Iraqi museum?" shows a problematic chauvanism which actually reinforces the Left's opinion of this war. Personally, I don't "give a fucking shit" about the kaaba, but I'd be pissed if our soldiers were wiping their ass on it (in the hypothetical future) and it would be in all of our best interests to make sure they didn't. Remember Spiderman: 'with great power comes great responsibility' (ok, how fucking nerdy was that? :) )
2) My position then - in the end, paintings and art are just ancilliaries. They are part of what make civilization "worth defending", but we can always make more.
First of all, it's not "just art", it's history, godless. In many cases unstudied history. And it's not just history- it's civilization's oldest history, and therefore invaluable and irreplaceble knowledge about man's past. Lost equations and science can always be rediscovered with time (they are timeless by their very nature), this ephermal evidence of man's past is certainly more important. What if "the missing link" was found and destroyed before any scientist studied it? Wouldn't that be worth crying over?
Second, I don't demand that you like any art or value any culture. Perhaps you feel that the collective works of Beethoven, Bach, and Shakespeare could be destroyed tomorrow, and that would be 'no big deal' ("mountain out of a mole-hill") b/c man could "always make more"; I, of course, doubt you do feel that way, but even if you do I'll say that's your opinion and that's fine. But virtually no one else does- I certainly don't- and give culture and art incredible personal value; not just the ideas themselves, but_specific_culture and art, and you would do better to consider those values as legitimate if you care about other people.
3) This museum stuff is also overblown b/c a) the museum cared little for its artefacts to begin with (it hasn't photographed any of its relics but a few done in the 1970s, making it impossible for the international art community to put a trade ban on potentially stolen pieces.) b) The precious history of Iraq is more endangered by the conditions of the country. Much like the end of our earths most precious bio-diversity in Africa and Asia, the loss of history in Iraq is a product of the conditions of desperation, and it's been happening for a long time now. Our long term presence could actually secure this history by improving the conditions (_could_)
4) America was a chauvanistic asshole - unless someone wants to look me in the eyes and tell me that America would just sit back and let Iraqi's loot the Mona Lisa. Oh, but its different when its *their* treasures. We didn't do everything we should have.

Posted by: Jason M. at April 16, 2003 05:05 PM


Where is this goddamn message board? I've been looking for it on and off for months but can't find it. When I follow the links, all I get is a board with at most 2-3 topics many months old.

Posted by: blabla at April 16, 2003 05:09 PM


no one posts on the board-so it has empty restaurant syndrome, no one posts because no one has, ergo, they assume no one will read the posts.

for the record, i'm a self-admitted cultural philistine as well-though i differ with godless on this issue.

i did not mean to imply that it was a 1:1 trade-off, art vs. food, but everyone has a subconscious line in their head. i am curious to explore where that line is.

i wish i could say more-but for once, i have to put blogging on the back-burner, but please do not take my lack of comment as any indication.....

good fighting guys :)

Posted by: razib at April 16, 2003 05:32 PM


How about a reality check?

  • Most of the stuff was stolen, not destroyed. A lot of it will turn up again. The US is already trying to buy it on the black market.
  • The more valuable the artifact the more likely it was stolen rather than destroyed.
  • Saddam's regime or museum curators probably hid some of the stuff even before the looting began. Other museum curators have taken similar action in similar circumstances in the past. They are going to wait till things look really peaceful before bringing the artifacts back again.
  • The bulk of the historical value of these artifacts in terms of getting a better understanding of the past has already been milked from them.
  • There are, no doubt, photographs of the artifacts that will allow people to see what they looked like.
  • There are tons of similar artifacts in Western museums, private collections, and other locations. Probably the best stuff was taken out of Iraq a long time ago by Brits and other Europeans.
  • Any stolen archives that make it to the West will be safer in the long run than if they had stayed in Iraq.
  • Humans alive today are worth more than humans who lived a long time ago.
Posted by: Randall Parker at April 16, 2003 06:06 PM


Damn,
I go out and Jason and Randall make my points, that of those artifacts making it onto the black market for a long time now (thanks to both Saddam, and looting during Gulf war I and during the Iran-Iraq war). Also while I recognize the value to historians of obscure points of a history we have mapped out well, I also recognize the complete lack of value these objects have to people who are living in conditions such as the Iraqi people are. It's much the same argument that libertarians make for enviromentalism in first world countries; when you are poor, dirty and hungry an ancient sumearian mask makes a good cooking pot, only when you are rich and secure can you see the beauty and historical value of that mask.
Finally, I have no prob if the iraqi people (as a whole) decide to sell their "treasures" to collectors for money to rebuild their country, though that would elicit a humorous response from the anti-war type, i.e. "no war for historical artifacts"

Posted by: scott at April 16, 2003 07:04 PM


First of all, even the hypothetical condition of the Maoists is not met. Looting the museum will not feed the Iraqis, few of whom were starving anyway (though lacking clean water and medicine).

The issue with the looting of the museum is that the US might easily have stopped it, and had been warned, but didn't bother. It's also a bad omen for the future of Iraq and, as doves have been warning, the US is in charge now and responsible for what happens.

There are a LOT of bald, sometimes completely hypothetical assertions up today. Especially by Randall Parker.

Godless, you can't win an argument by pulling a definition of the net. Especially that #5 definition, which is colloquial and jokey. It's listed last for a reason.

Back to my original point -- even the Maoists eventually learned not to say the things you guys are saying.

The idea that "no one cares abouit this stuff" is not true, except perhaps autobiographically by the speaker.

Posted by: zizka at April 16, 2003 08:31 PM


>> Most of the stuff was stolen, not destroyed. A lot of it will turn up again. The US is already trying to buy it on the black market.

Stolen, or destroyed is a small difference, since they can no longer be studied by scholars. Most of it will end up in private collections, and there is no guarantee that the US will succeed in buying it back. Incidentally, uncatalogued finds will be difficult to study in the future, since it will not be able to tie them to their proper context.

>> The more valuable the artifact the more likely it was stolen rather than destroyed.

I doubt that looters have the capacity to distinguish between valuable and invaluable artifacts. Valuable finds are valuable because of their significance for history, not because of the way they look.

>> Saddam's regime or museum curators probably hid some of the stuff even before the looting began. Other museum curators have taken similar action in similar circumstances in the past. They are going to wait till things look really peaceful before bringing the artifacts back again.

Well, the museum curators apparently removed some of the artefacts to storage rooms that were also ransacked. In fact, Western scholars who had connections in Iraq warned the coalition of the impending disaster. If the coalition acted on the (undocumented) supposition that the museum's collection was not in the museum, then they are to blame for the disaster.

>> The bulk of the historical value of these artifacts in terms of getting a better understanding of the past has already been milked from them.

Incorrect. Finds get excavated, recorded, catalogued, published. Only after a find is published can scholars usually make use of it, by placing it in its proper historical context. There is no reason to believe that these finds had no use any longer.

By the same reckoning, if someone stole the original copy of the Declaration of Independence, or demolished the Parthenon it would be no big deal.

>> There are, no doubt, photographs of the artifacts that will allow people to see what they looked like.

Photographs, even if they exist for all artefacts, do not replace artefacts. One can't do a chemical analysis on a photograph, or see the fine details on a cuneiform text.

>> There are tons of similar artifacts in Western museums, private collections, and other locations. Probably the best stuff was taken out of Iraq a long time ago by Brits and other Europeans.

Indeed. If the Brits fail to return the Iraqi archaeological heritage to its rightful owners, then it should give to Iraq part of its collection, to make up for the loss due to their negligence.

>> Any stolen archives that make it to the West will be safer in the long run than if they had stayed in Iraq.

Yeah, perhaps the occupying force in Iraq could finish the looters' job and remove the remainder of Iraq's heritage to the West for safe storage.

>> Humans alive today are worth more than humans who lived a long time ago.

Which humans? If the US sent troops to defend the Iraqi museum, it is conceivable that either looters or US troopers would die. In all likelihood none would.

If looters were dumb enough to loot with American troops present, then they would have had it coming.

The US cannot bring up protecting its own forces as an excuse for not protecting the museum. As an occupying force, it has the legal responsibility to protect the Iraqi heritage.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 16, 2003 09:20 PM


>> 5 Modern society with its conveniences: returned to civilization after camping in the mountains.

>> I was thinking of civilization in the broad sense (5) as the "onset of modernity", which is not the narrow sense.

Definition (5) is not the "onset of modernity". The example given, makes it clear that it is organized society as opposed to the wild, not as opposed to pre-modern society.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 16, 2003 09:23 PM


There's evidence that the most valuable items weren't looted by the civilians - but by the museum staff themselves. Archaeology magazine had a coincidental article about the museums precautions for the war in their May/June issue (it was written before the war).

Here's a telling sentence:
"Across the Iraqi capital, authorities have painted "UNESCO" on museum rooftops to remind pilots that they are cultural buildings--not prime military targets--and the staff of the Baghdad Museum has been trained to empty its thirty-two rooms in less than twenty-four hours and move the collections to secret locations."
http://www.archaeology.org/magazine.php?page=0305/etc/iraq

Perhaps the missing knowledge was hidden in one of Saddam's many bunkers before the looters even got there?

British soldiers also reported on one of the news channels that some of the remaining artefacts looked like fakes.

Posted by: Lollia at April 16, 2003 09:59 PM


>> There's evidence that the most valuable items weren't looted by the civilians - but by the museum staff themselves.

The Archaeology piece is not evidence, it may just lend some support to this type of speculation. It is more parsimonious to attribute the looting to the same criminal elements that looted homes, government buildings, and stores in Baghdad, rather than to the staff of the museum - especially since the staff made pleas before the war to their Western colleagues - precisely the type of thing that they would not do if they planned to loot the museum.

>> British soldiers also reported on one of the news channels that some of the remaining artefacts looked like fakes

British soldiers are in no position to judge the fakeness or not of historical artefacts. Oftimes, highly significant artefacts are kept in a safe place and reproductions are shown to the public, and this happens in museums everywhere.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 16, 2003 10:44 PM


Dienekes wrote:

Civilization is defined precisely: cities, and writing. Civilization first started in Mesopotamia.

Dear Mr. Pontikos:

I think you would be closer to the truth if you stated that civilization may or may not have started in Mesopotamia, and that we lack sufficient data to say for sure.

Unwarranted dogmatism has greatly impeded human progress -- especially in the field of archaeology.

As you know, the accepted chronology of the ancient world is ever-changing and in hot dispute. Consider the ruckus Colin Renfrew created a few years back when he proposed changing virtually every carbon-14 benchmark in every textbook in the world by several centuries.

Egyptologist David M. Rohl stubbornly rejects the traditional dating of the Sojourn of Joseph and the Israelites in Egypt to the 18th-Dynasty (1539-1295 BC) and that of the Exodus to the 19th Dynasty (1295 - 1186 BC). Rohl places these events instead in the late 12th Dynasty (1991 - 1785 BC) and 13th Dynasty (beginning 1785 BC) respectively, when archaeological evidence of an Asiatic subculture is actually quite strong in Egypt.

He re-dates the time of David and Solomon correspondingly, rejecting the mainstream Iron Age IIA dates (c. 1000-900 BC) in favor of the Late Bronze Age (c. 1350 - 1250 BC), whose material culture actually seems to reflect the Solomomic splendor and cosmopolitan economy described in the Bible.

Of course, if we really want to get wild and woolly, consider the contention of geologist Robert Schoch of Boston University that the Great Sphinx of Giza -- traditionally dated no earlier than 2500 BC -- actually appears to be at least 5,000 years older, based upon evidence of water erosion.

Open your mind, Mr. Pontikos. No scholar or scientist ever achieved a significant breakthrough by rote recitation of conventional wisdom.

Posted by: Richard Poe at April 17, 2003 06:08 AM


would you have wanted coalition troops to restore order by shooting Iraqis?

I doubt securing cultural centers would lead to this. Not many would be ready to suicidally push through an armed military man at the front door. Even so, I was never against our military functioning as an active police force in the newly created anarchy.

Again, US soldiers were busy with other things.

Seriously, how many allocated resources does it take?

No one has yet passed my test, looked me in the eyes and told me that America would have let the Mona Lisa get looted.

Egyptologist David M. Rohl stubbornly rejects the traditional dating of the Sojourn of Joseph and the Israelites in Egypt to the 18th-Dynasty (1539-1295 BC) and that of the Exodus to the 19th Dynasty (1295 - 1186 BC). Rohl places these events instead. . .

I don't know who this David Rohl chap is, but if he's dating the Exodus, then I'm not sure he's firmly operating within the mainstream . . .it's kind of like dating the fall of Atlantis.

Posted by: Jason M. at April 17, 2003 06:48 AM


>>"The Archaeology piece is not evidence, it may just lend some support to this type of speculation. It is more parsimonious to attribute the looting to the same criminal elements that looted homes, government buildings, and stores in Baghdad, rather than to the staff of the museum - especially since the staff made pleas before the war to their Western colleagues - precisely the type of thing that they would not do if they planned to loot the museum."


I should have put the word looted as applied to the museum curators in quotes. I didn't mean I thought they took the artefacts home - it's just possible that the most valuable items were taken to those "secret locations" as commanded by Saddam at some point earlier in the war. So when the looters got there, everything gilded may have already been hidden away. This wouldn't conflict with the museum curators asking that the coalition preserve the building.

Posted by: Lollia at April 17, 2003 07:34 AM


Dienekes,

The US military was busy shooting and getting shot at. The best you could argue is that the US should have approached Baghdad with a much larger force. I would argue that anyway because the US should have captured the intelligence ministry buildings much quicker and prevented valuable files from being made off with both by Iraqi regime members and by looters.

I hope the British hang on to all their Mesopotamian artifacts. That way those artifacts will stay safe from the regime change and dictators of the Middle East.

As for the lack of sophistication of the looters: The average looter is going to go grab computers, furniture, and the like from other buildings. The most knowledgeable about art and history are going to be drawn more strongly to a museum. I bet the museum looters were, on average, more sophisticated than the looters in the other buildings. Though of course common street people would have come in as well just to see if anything was interesting. But why loot stuff that is hard to sell when other buildings had more saleable and usable stuff? What would an unsophistcated person want with 3000 year old pottery?

Posted by: Randall Parker at April 17, 2003 12:20 PM


Jason M. wrote:

I don't know who this David Rohl chap is, but if he's dating the Exodus, then I'm not sure he's firmly operating within the mainstream . . .it's kind of like dating the fall of Atlantis.

Rohl is definitely working outside the mainstream, as are the other researchers I named (with the exception of Colin Renfrew, whose views are "mainstream" by definition, even when they are dead wrong).

My point is that you've got to think outside of the box if you want to solve the big problems. Rohl's dating system would largely solve the "minimalist-vs.-maximalist" problem cited in that Salon article you linked. A large part of the reason that the Biblical minimalists have so much trouble finding artifacts that corroborate the Biblical account may very well be that they are looking for those artifacts in the wrong strata. Rohl's theory might point them to the correct strata. But no one is listening to Rohl.

Posted by: Richard Poe at April 17, 2003 01:08 PM


>> The US military was busy shooting and getting shot at. The best you could argue is that the US should have approached Baghdad with a much larger force.

The US did send tanks to protect the museum for about an hour during the period that it was being looted. But they pulled back, and let the looting continue. Clearly lack of resources is not an issue. At most, the troops that were assigned to Saddam statue demolition for public relations could have been put to much better use.

>> I hope the British hang on to all their Mesopotamian artifacts. That way those artifacts will stay safe from the regime change and dictators of the Middle East.

I hope too that the stolen property of Iraq will be retrieved. In one form or another Iraq must be compensated for the negligence of the occupying force.

>> But why loot stuff that is hard to sell when other buildings had more saleable and usable stuff? What would an unsophistcated person want with 3000 year old pottery?

It's hard to sell, but leaves a huge profit. It's common knowledge in countries that actually do have an archaeological heritage that art collectors pay lots of money from this stuff.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 17, 2003 01:56 PM


>> I think you would be closer to the truth if you stated that civilization may or may not have started in Mesopotamia, and that we lack sufficient data to say for sure.

Of course in archaeology, it is always possible for newer finds to upset current theories. With current evidence, the Sumerians created the first civilization.

>> Consider the ruckus Colin Renfrew created a few years back when he proposed changing virtually every carbon-14 benchmark in every textbook in the world by several centuries.

Colin Renfrew redated the Megalithic monuments of Europe. That has hardly any relevance for the history of civilization, since the Megalithic builders did not have cities, or writing, nor did they develop these things to the best of our knowledge.

Perhaps, one day Sumerian civilization will be taken off its pedestal, but at present it is the earliest known civilization, as well as the only one whose development and influence to subsequent civilizations can be plainly seen in the archaeological record.

>> Egyptologist David M. Rohl stubbornly rejects the traditional dating of the Sojourn of Joseph and the Israelites in Egypt to the 18th-Dynasty (1539-1295 BC) and that of the Exodus to the 19th Dynasty (1295 - 1186 BC).

If he "stubbornly rejects" it, it means that most of his colleagues accept it. In any case, the "sojourn of Joseph" is hardly relevant for the origins of civilization, which took place much earlier.

>> Of course, if we really want to get wild and woolly, consider the contention of geologist Robert Schoch of Boston University that the Great Sphinx of Giza

Speculation ought to be grounded in reality. Perhaps one day the Sphinx will be redated, but at present most scholars accept the traditional chronology.

>> Open your mind, Mr. Pontikos. No scholar or scientist ever achieved a significant breakthrough by rote recitation of conventional wisdom.

Remember this advice when you publish Black Spark, White Fire II. In addition to the stories about wild beasts, cannibals etc. in ancient Europe, you might want to add some information about the early writing of the Vinca culture in the Balkans, or perhaps about the city of Poliochni.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 17, 2003 02:30 PM


Mr. Pontikos wrote:

With current evidence, the Sumerians created the first civilization.

I think you mean, "with all evidence currently accepted as relevant by scholarly consensus, the Sumerians created the first civilization." This of course excludes much evidence casting doubt on Sumer's priority, which scholarly consensus presently regards as irrelevant, with or without good reason.

Mr. Pontikos also wrote:

...at present most scholars accept the traditional chronology.

Mr. Pontikos also wrote:

If [Rohl] "stubbornly rejects" it, it means that most of his colleagues accept it.

By these dismissive comments, you appear to reject my central point, which was, as I explained to Jason M., "that you've got to think outside of the box if you want to solve the big problems." Your statements imply that collegial approval is the ultimate litmus test of a scholar's work, and that thoughts which do not fit into the "box" do not merit serious discussion.

Thomas Kuhn has done an excellent job of explaining why this is not so.

As for the achievements of Neolithic Europe, I gave them a respectful nod in Chapter 3 of Black Spark, White Fire, with my allusion to Gimbutas's "Old Europeans" and their monumental stoneworks. Had I dwelt at greater length on this subject, Black Spark, White Fire would have turned out even longer than its current 501 pages (minus footnotes), and its core thesis would have remained unchanged.

Posted by: Richard Poe at April 17, 2003 03:28 PM


Richard Poe: Your erudite response to Pontikos was all red herring. Whether or not civilization started in Egypt or Sumeria (Iraq), it started in the Middle East. What we're arguing about right now is whether the artifacts in the Iraq museum are of enormous historical importance or not. (They are). If Egypt has priority according to some definitions of civilization (something I knew was possible, but left out of my original post in order to stay on topic) that changes nothing.

"Open up your mind and let the wind blow through". Sometimes an open mind is a very bad thing.

Posted by: zizka at April 17, 2003 04:06 PM


P.S. The argument is frequently made that artifacts are safer (and more available for study) in Western museums than they would be in the decrepit third world countries where they originally came from. This argument is not completely ridiculous (though I advise you not to use it in the physical presence of Mr. Dienekes, who might end up doing something he'd later regret).

Even if the argument is good as a general principle, it is no good when artifacts which had been preserved by a third world country are destroyed or lost as soon as that country has been conquered by a "higher nation". "Iraq can't be trusted with this heritage because it will be destroyed as soon as we conquer Iraq". Doesn't fly.

The historical value of artifacts is diminished in a situation like this. Some of it will be put in private collections and become unavailable for study, and some will be separated from its documentation so that its significance becomes hard to analyze. (And some will be lost or destroyed, too).

Posted by: zizka at April 17, 2003 04:21 PM


>> This of course excludes much evidence casting doubt on Sumer's priority, which scholarly consensus presently regards as irrelevant, with or without good reason.

I am in no position of second-guessing scholars who know a hell of a lot more about the archaeology of the Near East and its languages. Theories are proposed, scrutinized, and accepted or rejected based on their merits. The idea that Sumer is the earliest civilization on the planet has so far withstood the critiques it has faced.

>> By these dismissive comments, you appear to reject my central point, which was, as I explained to Jason M., "that you've got to think outside of the box if you want to solve the big problems."

Well, in this case, the "box", i.e., the earliest manifestation of civilization in Sumer has a pretty good case for itself. Thinking outside the box is useful when the "box" is problematic. But, in this case the origin of civilization in Sumer is not problematic at all, but a very well-rounded theory.

>> Your statements imply that collegial approval is the ultimate litmus test of a scholar's work, and that thoughts which do not fit into the "box" do not merit serious discussion.

A scholar's work has value inasmuch as it corresponds with the facts of reality - reasonably interpreted. Scholars are in a better position to judge each other's work, because they are specialists. So, while there is no guarantee that scholarly consensus is _right_, it is the best way found so far to get an estimate of what the truth is.

>> As for the achievements of Neolithic Europe, I gave them a respectful nod in Chapter 3 of Black Spark, White Fire, with my allusion to Gimbutas's "Old Europeans" and their monumental stoneworks.

Your exposition of the theories of Gimbutas in pp. 12-13 shows a lack of knowledge of terminology. For example, in p. 12 you write:

"The Old Europeans according to Gimbutas, raised the trilithons of Stonehedge".

But in reality, Old Europe was defined by Gimbutas [1] as:

"A new designation, Civilization of Old Europe, is introduced here in recognition of the collective identity and achievement of the different cultures of Neolithic-Chalcolithic southeastern Europe. The area extends from the Aegean and Adriatic, including the islands, as far north as Czechoslovakia, southern Poland and the western Ukraine."

In BSWF, a whole paragraph is devoted to the exposition of the civilization of Old Europe according to Gimbutas. Surely, there was room enough to fit an 81st chapter that would give some idea to the reader of what the civilization of the Aegean, Balkans, and Anatolia was like and what it had achieved.

But, then, that would conflict with the general theme of African explorers boldly sailing into "Darkest Europe".

[1] Marija Gimbutas, Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, University of California Press, 1990, p. 17

Posted by: Dienekes at April 17, 2003 04:51 PM


Dear Mr. Pontikos:

If zizka promises not to chide me again for getting "off topic," I will be delighted to address your point about Old Europe and Gimbutas's definition thereof -- as well as your advice on how I ought to have written Black Spark, White Fire -- even though these subjects have little bearing on the looting of the Baghdad Museum.

But first, I have a question for you, Mr. Pontikos. Two questions, in fact. You write:

Scholars are in a better position to judge each other's work, because they are specialists.

Are you a scholar, Mr. Pontikos? (And, if so, what is your area of specialty please? And what degrees do you hold therein?)

Also, are journalists the best people to judge the work of other journalists? And are authors of popular mass-market books the people best qualified to judge the work of other authors of popular mass-market books?

Or is that different?

Posted by: Richard Poe at April 17, 2003 05:30 PM


>> Whether or not civilization started in Egypt or Sumeria (Iraq), it started in the Middle East.

Afrocentrics tend to think of Egypt as black African. Hence, if civilization started in Egypt, then black Africans were the first civilized people. That is also why Eurocentrics place so much emphasis on the oldness and sophistication of Megalithic cultures, as described in Mr. Poe's book. They want to make the opposite argument, that civilization started in Western Europe.

In reality, these phenomena are just a reflection of the genetic composition of the societies that produce them. People who tend to think along those terms will emphasize the primacy of their ancestors. Such people can't quite entertain the possibility that civilization started by the ancestors of (gasp!) Iraqis.

>> The argument is frequently made that artifacts are safer (and more available for study) in Western museums than they would be in the decrepit third world countries where they originally came from.

That argument would be much weaker if it were made in the early '40s. Also, much of art was destroyed en route to European 'safekeeping': Venus de Milo doesn't have arms for a reason.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 17, 2003 05:35 PM


zizka writes:

Your erudite response to Pontikos was all red herring. ... Open up your mind and let the wind blow through". Sometimes an open mind is a very bad thing.

Dear zizka:

The first time we encountered each other on this message board, you threatened to leave in a huff simply because I had asked you, in very courteous terms, to please explain your position on a question of racial politics.

Rather than force you to leave, I left instead.

I would like you to know that the reason I left was out of respect for Jason M., who for some reason holds you in high regard. I did not leave out of respect for you, as you have done nothing to earn my respect.

Since my return, I have noticed that you have made a habit of being needlessly, pointlessly, casually and almost continually rude to me.

Perhaps you mistook my past courtesy for weakness. Perhaps you interpreted Jason M's words of support for you as a license to treat me with contempt. If so, you were mistaken on both counts.

I must insist that you either explain and justify your rudeness -- in which case I will accept it humbly as my just desserts -- or else apologize for it.

You will do one or the another. And you will please do it now, without further delay.

And Jason, if you feel I am being too rough on poor ziz, it is your prerogative to ban me from this forum. Until I am banned, however, I will continue to insist that ziz address me with the same courtesy that I have always shown him.

Posted by: Richard Poe at April 17, 2003 05:54 PM


>> If zizka promises not to chide me again for getting "off topic," I will be delighted to address your point about Old Europe and Gimbutas's definition thereof

Whatever is convenient, Mr. Poe. I am in no hurry.

>> Are you a scholar, Mr. Pontikos? (And, if so, what is your area of specialty please? And what degrees do you hold therein?)

I never made any claims that I was in a position to second-guess scholars' works. That is why I linked to the work of geo-archaeologists with respect to the dating of the Sphinx, for example.

>> Also, are journalists the best people to judge the work of other journalists? And are authors of popular mass-market books the people best qualified to judge the work of other authors of popular mass-market books?

>> Or is that different?

It's different. We prize the opinions of experts, because that is the natural thing to do. For example, if someone translates a Sumerian text, I will ask a Sumerologist whether the translation is accurate.

If a journalist was writing about journalism, then other journalists would obviously be the one to ask on this matter. But, if he was writing about e.g., sports, then his work could also be judged by other sports journalists, coaches, athletes, as well as knowledgeable fans, i.e., by all experts on this field.

In other words, people who read Sumerian are the only experts in their field. But journalists cannot be said to be the only experts about any subject that they write about (with the possible exception of the subject of journalism itself).

Posted by: Dienekes at April 17, 2003 06:22 PM


Richard, I don't really have the authority to ban here, nor would I ever ban you if I did. I realize the sensitive nature of the topics here and the diversity of the participants poses special problems. I felt you were alienating zizka on a board where he is somewhat of a token by pushing him for answers about a topic he is not entirely comfortable with/interested in (but still willing to occasionally muse on if the topic arises organically, as in a conversation). I never intended it as a signal that I do not enjoy your presence here, and, however it was interpreted, I didn't mean for my defense of zizka to alienate you either.

I am now sorry for stepping into a role ("the man") that I probably can't play very well or with much consistency. I can only ask that you or zizka PLEASE just ignore eachother if the other gets too irritating instead of alienating others with a pointless personal battle or depriving us of your valuable indivindual perspectives.

. . .And, of course, the less ad hominem/chest-beating the better.

Posted by: Jason M. at April 17, 2003 07:17 PM


Mr. Poe: I have always been aware of being somewhat out of place here. When I offered to leave awhile back, I was not trying to punish GNXP by depriving the place of the blessing of my company. I was stating my unwillingness to be a troll.

When you concluded that, if I wasn't going to have to leave, you would have to, I responded that I did not want that. I stand on that.


With regard to refusing to get into arguments for and against what I've called old racism (KKK racism, which I distinguish from racial realism mostly because I find the former offensive while I think the latter is just wrong, though I can't prove it) -- well, that stands. For everyone there are some things which aren't discussable, for whatever reason -- holocaust denial, flat earth, cold fusion, crystals, cannibal liberation, etc.

Your statements about archaeology, prehistory, and openmindedness reminded me of creationist critiques of evolution. What you said seemed to make a virtue of disagreement with scholarly consensus whether or not the disagreement was well-grounded. I definitely do not think that open-mindedness is always a virtue; I've known way too many spaced-out people.

My own style of debate is pretty sharp and as I get more at home here it shows up more. You are not the only one whom I've spoken sharply to. And my response to you was not a personal attack, but an attack on your argument.

Posted by: zizka at April 17, 2003 07:18 PM


A professor of the Smithsonian who spoke on Nightline: "my goodness we have nothing compared with what they had" [with respect to the collection present in Baghdad]. That ought to settle the argument as to whether the best stuff had already been taken out of Iraq.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 17, 2003 11:43 PM


Dienekes Pontikos writes:

...Old Europe was defined by Gimbutas [1] as:

"A new designation, Civilization of Old Europe, is introduced here in recognition of the collective identity and achievement of the different cultures of Neolithic-Chalcolithic southeastern Europe. The area extends from the Aegean and Adriatic, including the islands, as far north as Czechoslovakia, southern Poland and the western Ukraine."

[1] Marija Gimbutas, Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, University of California Press, 1990, p. 17

Dear Mr. Pontikos:

You have correctly cited Gimbutas' definition of "Old Europe," as of about 1982 -- the last year that Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe was updated. However, as Gimbutas' enthusiasm for Old Europe grew, her definition grew with it. For instance, in 1991, she wrote:

"My purpose in this book is to bring into our awareness essential aspects of European prehistory that have been unknown or simply not treated on a pan-European scale. ...

"This book examines the way of life, religion, and social structure of the peoples who inhabited Europe from the 7th to the 3rd millennia B.C., which I have termed Old Europe, referring to Neolithic Europe before the Indo-Europeans."

Marija Gimbutas, The Civilization of the Goddess, HarperSanFrancisco, 1991, p. vii.

In short, Gimbutas ultimately arrived at the position that Old Europe encompassed the whole of Neolithic Europe prior to the Aryan or Indo-European incursions.

Mr. Pontikos, I do not know whether you are a scholar, as you have repeatedly evaded this question when I put it to you. Nevertheless, since you are plainly eager to engage in scholarly debate, I think you would do well to ponder the words of Our Lord in Matthew 7:1-2. To wit:

”Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measurement ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

To put it bluntly, I have just caught you in an error, Mr. Pontikos. But that's okay. Everyone makes errors, even the most highly trained specialists. The error you made is particularly forgivable, since you would have had to read all of Gimbutas' books, not just one, to understand how her definition of Old Europe evolved over time.

Mature scholars -- indeed, mature people in all walks of life -- tend to be forgiving of error, since we are all guilty of it from time to time.

Less forgivable is a penchant for making false accusations of error against others -- whether deliberately or (as in this case) through carelessness and haste. Only certain people are prone to this practice, and they are quickly singled out from the crowd.

Beware, Mr. Pontikos, lest you develop a reputation for being that sort of person. No matter what profession you follow, such behavior will not redound to your credit.

Posted by: Richard Poe at April 18, 2003 06:59 AM


I have always been aware of being somewhat out of place here.

Dear zizka:

Join the club. It would seem that you and I have at least that one thing in common.

However, it would also seem from some of Godless Capitalist's remarks (particularly the rather odd one about open-mindedness striking him as being redolent of "creationism") that you are far more culturally at home here than I.

Ironic, no?

Posted by: Richard Poe at April 18, 2003 07:14 AM


Mr. Poe-what is your criterion for distinguishing the legitimate voice of dissent (e.g. Duesberg's proposition that the HIV virus does not cause AIDS) from the outright crank (e.g. The Flat Earth Society)?

Posted by: martin at April 18, 2003 07:59 AM


In no sense whatever is Duesberg a legitimate voice of dissent.

Posted by: Jason M. at April 18, 2003 08:13 AM


zizka wrote:

Your statements about archaeology, prehistory, and openmindedness reminded me of creationist critiques of evolution. What you said seemed to make a virtue of disagreement with scholarly consensus whether or not the disagreement was well-grounded. I definitely do not think that open-mindedness is always a virtue; I've known way too many spaced-out people.

Skepticism toward group-think, consensus and conventional wisdom is not only a virtue -- it is arguably the defining virtue of Western civilization, without which scientific advance is impossible.

For the record, I happen to believe in evolution. But I have not the slightest inclination to mock, stigmatize, ostracize or in any other way violate the dignity of those who choose to reject evolution.

Posted by: Richard Poe at April 18, 2003 08:25 AM


Fine Jason-i'm not wedded to Duesberg-i really don't follow that debate-i'll switch him to the crank category solely on your recommendation. The question still stands however.

Posted by: martin at April 18, 2003 10:44 AM


gize, i'm bizy with a lot of different things now-i can barely do anything more than throw in a quick post-but here's a suggestion on these boards, if it starts to get acrimonious, switch it to the discussion board.

Posted by: razib at April 18, 2003 10:54 AM


Martin wrote:

Mr. Poe - what is your criterion for distinguishing the legitimate voice of dissent (e.g. Duesberg's proposition that the HIV virus does not cause AIDS) from the outright crank (e.g. The Flat Earth Society)?

I find that common sense is the best criterion.
Jason M. wrote:

In no sense whatever is Duesberg a legitimate voice of dissent.

Of course, as Jason M. demonstrates in the above quote, one man's common sense is another man's horsehockey. This complicates the matter greatly.

It is possible that the question of who is a crank and who a legitimate dissenter cannot be solved through reason, but only through Darwinian struggle. Many important scientific breakthroughs were successfully repressed right up until the moment that the last of their principal repressors died of old age. Only then did these renegade ideas find their way into the "mainstream" literature.

Incidentally, while I am not a scientist myself, I come from a scientific family. My late father was an engineer for General Electric who played a significant role in pioneering the space program and the microchip revolution. My mother was a research microbiologist who did ground-breaking work in mycoplasmas and other infectious diseases.

I just had dinner with my eldest brother and his family this afternoon. He is an ear surgeon with an international reputation, who has developed some extremely important but unconventional surgical techniques.

My brother told us how the medical faculty of a very prominent university to which he is loosely affiliated has literally forbade discussion of his techniques among its interns and residents. Just this last weekend, my brother prepared a lecture on his techniques, to be delivered at this same very famous institution. He spent many hours preparing for this lecture, dissecting cadaver specimens for display purposes. Two days before his lecture, all his specimens mysteriously vanished. He had to obtain new cadaver specimens and spend the whole weekend redoing the exhibits.

So you see, though I am not myself a scientist, I grew up with science, and I know its culture intimately. Consequently, I harbor no illusions about scientists' Olympian devotion to reason and progress.

Science, like all fields of human endeavor, is a battleground of competing egos, power-hungry memes and feral, genetic urges.

Posted by: Richard Poe at April 18, 2003 03:46 PM


I agree 100% Mr. Poe. As Bertrand Russell writes, concluding Hume's devastating critique of empiricism cannot be countered by rationalism: "The lunatic who believes that he is a poached egg is to be condemned solely on the grounds that he is in a minority, or rather-since we must not assume democracy-on the ground that the government does not agree with him."

Posted by: martin at April 18, 2003 08:01 PM


>> To put it bluntly, I have just caught you in an error, Mr. Pontikos.

Ah, not really. Old Europe was precisely defined by Gimbutas in her early works, and does have a validity as an archaeological concept. Later she became all inclusive, associating various unrelated cultures across the continent with her hypothetical Goddess worship. The unravelling of Gimbutas' scholarship across the length of her career is best described in Meskell (1995).

'Old Europe' is of course never used by serious archaeologists any more to describe the totality of Neolithic Europe. The term is occasionally used in discussions of the specific interactions between the Kurgan pastoralists and the peoples of the southeastern Neolithic, i.e., in Gimbutas' original sense.

But the main question remains unanswered. Why does a book pretending to show influence of Africans in prehistoric southeastern Europe summarize European prehistory in a single paragraph, which mentions nothing about southeastern European prehistory.

Why isn't Catal Huyuk, Poliochni, Dispilio, and a host of other landmarks of prehistoric southeastern Europe and Anatolia in the index of this particular book.

Perhaps they were less important than obscure species of bos or European cannibals for maintaining the overall theme of the book.

More importantly, how come an impartial book uses only part of a quote by Diodorus Siculus and fails to include Diodorus' opinion that follows (the one in boldface)?

"By many statements like these, spoken more out of a love of glory that with regard for the truth, as I see the matter, the Egyptians claim Athens was their colony because of the fame of the city. In general, the Egyptians claim that their ancestors sent forth many colonies to many parts of the inhabited world, due to the pre-eminence of their old kings and the size of their population; but because they give no precise proof at all for these statements, and because no historian worth believing gives credence to them, we have not thought that it is worth noting their sayings."

Meskell, Lynn. (1995). Goddesses, Gimbutas and 'New Age' archaeology , Antiquity, 69(262), pp. 74-86.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 18, 2003 08:49 PM


I wrote:

To put it bluntly, I have just caught you in an error, Mr. Pontikos.

Mr. Pontikos wrote:

Ah, not really. Old Europe was precisely defined by Gimbutas in her early works, and does have a validity as an archaeological concept. Later she became all inclusive, associating various unrelated cultures across the continent with her hypothetical Goddess worship. The unravelling of Gimbutas' scholarship across the length of her career is best described in Meskell (1995).

Let's examine this more closely. You seem to imply that you agree with Gimbutas's early definition of "Old Europe" circa 1982. Mazel tov.

But you make clear that you disagree with her later definition of "Old Europe." That's fine too. You are entitled to your opinions.

Here's where you messed up.

You accused me of being in error not because I made an actual mistake, but because I failed to share your personal opinion that Gimbutas's 1982 definition was superior to her 1991 definition.

This is intellectual dishonesty. You attempted to portray a legitimate difference of opinion between us as if it were an error of fact on my part.

Mr. Pontikos writes:

But the main question remains unanswered. Why does a book pretending to show influence of Africans in prehistoric southeastern Europe summarize European prehistory in a single paragraph...

Mr. Pontikos, I already answered this question. To state that I didn't answer it is yet another instance of intellectual dishonesty.

If you did not like my answer, or wish further elucidation, that's fine. Just say so. But do not accuse me falsely of having provided no answer at all. Here is what I wrote the first time you asked me this question:

As for the achievements of Neolithic Europe, I gave them a respectful nod in Chapter 3 of Black Spark, White Fire, with my allusion to Gimbutas's "Old Europeans" and their monumental stoneworks. Had I dwelt at greater length on this subject, Black Spark, White Fire would have turned out even longer than its current 501 pages (minus footnotes), and its core thesis would have remained unchanged.

Mr. Pontikos, if you have a problem with this answer, or feel that it is inadequate in any way, please, by all means, state the nature of its alleged deficiency and request further details. But if honesty has any meaning for you, you will not say again that I have failed to answer your question.

An example of a question which has actually not been answered would be this:

Are you a scholar, Mr. Pontikos? (And, if so, what is your area of specialty please? And what degrees do you hold therein?)

You have evaded and ignored this question every time I have repeated it.

Mr. Pontikos wrote:

...how come an impartial book uses only part of a quote by Diodorus Siculus and fails to include Diodorus' opinion that follows (the one in boldface)?

"By many statements like these, spoken more out of a love of glory that with regard for the truth, as I see the matter, the Egyptians claim Athens was their colony because of the fame of the city. In general, the Egyptians claim that their ancestors sent forth many colonies to many parts of the inhabited world, due to the pre-eminence of their old kings and the size of their population; but because they give no precise proof at all for these statements, and because no historian worth believing gives credence to them, we have not thought that it is worth noting their sayings."

Meskell, Lynn. (1995). Goddesses, Gimbutas and 'New Age' archaeology , Antiquity, 69(262), pp. 74-86.

In answering this question, I am tempted to be cute and argue that I am here merely heeding Mary Lefkowitz's advice to discount the opinions of Greco-Roman historians, since they were -- in Lefkowitz's view -- ill-informed, prejudiced, unscientific and unreliable.

However, I will resist the temptation and simply tell you straightforwardly that Diodorus Siculus' opinion on this matter was irrelevant to my specific point. Exploring Diodorus' opinion and the possible reasons for it would have constituted a needless digression.

What was interesting about Diodorus' statement was its indication that an oral tradition existed among the Egyptians of an ancient connection with Athens -- not whether or not Diodorus personally believed this story.

Posted by: Richard Poe at April 19, 2003 05:24 AM


>> This is intellectual dishonesty. You attempted to portray a legitimate difference of opinion between us as if it were an error of fact on my part.

Ok, it was not an error of fact on your part under the late definition. I apologize. I have no interest in continuing to argue the semantics of Gimbutas' Old Europe.

Now, feel free to take a stab at the more serious issues which you have consistently avoided providing satisfactory answers for.

>> If you did not like my answer, or wish further elucidation, that's fine.

Well, it depends on what constitutes an "answer". Saying something irrelevant (e.g., that the book would be "even longer") does not answer the question why the archaeology of the area which was supposedly colonized and civilized by African explorers did not merit a mention in the book.

Obviously, if you had chosen to include more information on that subject, the book would be longer. Your "answer" is stating the obvious. The question stands, why is the prehistory of southeastern Europe glossed over.

>> An example of a question which has actually not been answered would be this:

I don't have any intention of bringing the discussion to a personal level. I present factual criticism.

>> However, I will resist the temptation and simply tell you straightforwardly that Diodorus Siculus' opinion on this matter was irrelevant to my specific point. Exploring Diodorus' opinion and the possible reasons for it would have constituted a needless digression.

Actually that is not what you do. You write (p. 116):


Diodoros was skeptical of these boasts, suspecting that the Egyptians were simply trying to claim Athens as a colony "because of the fame of that city". Nevertheless the priests offered many convincing proofs, which Diodoros felt compelled to repeat.

That is, you insinuate that Diodoros rejected the Egyptian claims only because he suspected them of wishing to appropriate the fame of Athens, whereas Diodors clearly states that he doubts the Egyptian claims because the "proofs" that he is "compelled to repeat" are "no precise proofs at all", and "most historians" reject the Egyptian inventions.

But, I guess a paragraph on this matter would "lengthen" the book, while two paragraphs on bos primigenius survivals in northern Europe were indispensable.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 19, 2003 06:21 AM


Dear Mr. Pontikos:

Razib has gently -- and no doubt wisely -- suggested that our discussion may be a bit off-topic for this thread. He recommends that we repair to the discussion forum (where it just happens that your associate Doric Greek has already taken the liberty of initiating an exchange on this very subject).

I have what I think is a better suggestion, however. Go and write your long-promised critical review of Black Spark, White Fire. Sign your name to it (assuming, of course, that Dienekes Pontikos really is your name). Then post it proudly on the Internet for all to see.

I will then be delighted to answer any and all criticisms it raises about my book -- both legitimate and illegitimate.

Good luck to you, sir! We will meet again in the arena.

Morituri te salutant.

Posted by: Richard Poe at April 19, 2003 06:44 AM


Dienekes,

There is a huge difference between the ability to keep a tank at a location in a battle zone for an hour and to sustain its presence. M1 tanks burn fuel sitting still at the same rate as when moving if the engine is running. If the engine is not running it is not in a position to defend itself.

More generally, the military can defend itself far more easily while moving than while sitting still. That's because when moving the enemy can't concentrate forces against it. When sitting still it needs a lot of supporting forces to do patrols around any concentration to defend that concentration. Otherwise the enemy will sneak up with snipers, mortars, and the like and start killing US soldiers. I realize you make care more about the artifacts than about the soldiers but I personally care more about the soldiers.

You continue to belittle the difficulty that the US military had in maintaining concentrations of troops around the clock in the center of Baghdad in the first few days of its presence in Baghdad. The difficulties were not trivial and would have been surmountable only if a much larger force had been present. The problem is that the regime fell too quickly before all of the 3rd I.D., MEF, and other US forces could arrive at Baghdad.

The major US mistake was to approach Baghdad with a force that was large enough to defeat the regime but not large enough to maintain order in Baghdad. Likely the US did not think the regime would fall that quickly. After all, most commentators a few weeks ago were claiming at the time that the taking of Baghdad would take weeks and cost hundreds to thousands of American lives and much larger numbers of civilians. Well, the US made some thrusts into Baghdad and most of the regime fled while some fighters continued to oppose the US forces. The US was in the position of having to fight the remaining opposition in a city that no longer had a government.

The real problem was that the size of the force needed to defeat the regime was smaller than the size of the force needed to maintain order. Looting resulted. You are not happy with the outcome. Hey, neither am I. But at the time that the looting was occurring the US really had insufficient forces available to put a stop to it.

Posted by: Randall Parker at April 20, 2003 12:23 AM


>> The real problem was that the size of the force needed to defeat the regime was smaller than the size of the force needed to maintain order.

That should have been taken into consideration then. But, obviously the occupuing force had taken measures to secure various spots of the capital, e.g., the oil ministry, or the location of the Saddam statue demolition public relations project. But not the Museum.

>> When sitting still it needs a lot of supporting forces to do patrols around any concentration to defend that concentration. Otherwise the enemy will sneak up with snipers, mortars, and the like and start killing US soldiers. I realize you make care more about the artifacts than about the soldiers but I personally care more about the soldiers.

Ok, I perosnally find it hard to believe that the army that defeated a couple of Republican Guard divisions did not have the resources to protect a single building.

Of course commanders have the obligation to protect American soldiers' lives. But as occupiers, they also have the duty to protect the property of Iraq. If they can't act as a police force, at least they should protect important buildings. If a police officer failed to do anything over a period of 48 hours while a crime was commited, he would lose his job. But, then again, there is no one to hold the occupying force accountable for its dereliction of duty in Iraq.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 20, 2003 12:55 AM


Dienekes,

Yes, they had the resources to protect a single building. THe problem was that there were lots of single buildings and they didn't have the resources to protect them all. You are upset that they didn't protect the building that you think is most important. Well, get over it.

Posted by: Randall Parker at April 20, 2003 10:39 AM


>> THe problem was that there were lots of single buildings and they didn't have the resources to protect them all. You are upset that they didn't protect the building that you think is most important. Well, get over it.

Yes, I guess different peoples have different standards as to what is important. Donald Rumsfeld joking about the "pots" is a good example of how much the world's heritage is valued by the occupiers.

It'd be interesting to see, once all this is over what higher priorities the Americans had so that they could not spare a few troops to protect irreplaceable antiquities.

I hope the new Iraqi government won't have its hands tied up and will make the proper claims for the damages suffered during the occupation.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 20, 2003 10:16 PM


An arab myself, i could care less about the loss of a bunch of ancient relics that'll end up in the villas of wealthy people anyway, people who will probably also be white and of a cold, globalist interventionist outlook. During 12 years of US-sponsored economic sanctions (they were terrorist, remember, responsible for a number deaths none of you can probably even grasp realistically), archaelogical sites in IRQ were looted like there was no tomorrow. A big archaelogy figure gave his life defending one of these sites. And now you are talking about a museum, which is of relatively little worth compared to what's already been destroyed of the area's historic culture.
NOw what I do care about is getting these fuckin terrorists out of our country with their bullshit nonsense about liberation and nation building. I'd rather have no Museum and no OIL than have a fucking Jay Garner and goddamn Burger King try to taint our culture and our identity and offer us some token Israeli sponsored freedom. Americans don't have the balls to admit, or the wits to perceive, that they are here to open up a huge markets for their mickey mouse companies and to pry our natural wealths out of our own hands. But we are urged to suck their cocks because they bought out Saddam's generals. Jesus.

Posted by: Hilaal Darmaki at April 23, 2003 08:53 AM