I’m starting to see little bursts of freeply outrage at my Recursive museum updates post of 13 June, as well as at the comments that followed it. I figure these reactions are a potentially useful measure of the freepi’s natural unassisted processing time.
Funniest line so far: “I’m just sick to death of the left hijacking the moral high ground on every issue under the sun.” If I’ve got that right, what he’s saying is “I perceive myself to be on the moral low ground—and it’s all your fault!”
This is from the Denver Post:
The results were entirely predictable.
Utah town’s Viking yarn spins some anger
Gullible fall for tall tale intended to promote fest
Sometimes fiction is stranger than truth. But that didn’t stop people from believing a whopper about “local Vikings,” as told by the mayor of this small town in the desert highlands of southwest Utah.
Mayor Gerald Sherratt was seeking attention for what he hopes will be the town’s next successful big event, the Festival Royale of Himmelsk, a days-long celebration of fictional Vikings planned for April. “This town has nothing Norwegian about it,” Sherratt says. “We were founded by English, Irish and Scotch people.”
So Sherratt and a task force, which he described as “a bunch of weirdos,” spun a long yarn about the discovery in a nearby canyon cave of the artifacts of an ancient Viking settlement. Starting in the fall of last year and ending this spring, they published the tale in installments in local newspapers. …
The story goes like this: The Vikings, including King Harold “The Fair-Haired” Haarfarger, his son Eric Blodoks and others, first landed on April 1, 956, on a coral island in the Pacific Ocean. But small volcanic eruptions jostled off the island’s cap and set it and its inhabitants adrift in the ocean.
A final huge volcanic explosion and resulting tsunami carried the island, on the tip of the giant wave, and dumped it inland—far inland—on a desert plateau in Utah. Right here by Cedar City.Most island dwellers survived the event, of course, and so the Vikings lived peacefully alongside the Paiute Indians in a settlement called Himmelsk - until a nosy President James Polk sent an expedition in 1845 to explore the area. Eventually, the Vikings were found and cheated out of their land by the U.S. government, which never paid the negotiated sales price, $88.7 billion in today’s dollars. If only the rightful Blodoks royal family heirs could be found, this could all be set right. …
Despite the Viking saga’s fantastic twists, it inspired a few true believers. Some of them came forward to claim the ancient artifacts—swords and other weapons unearthed along with documents telling the entire Himmelsk history. The priceless antiquities, the ads had informed, were to be sent to Washington, D.C., for study.This is my very favorite part:
“We started getting calls,” Sherratt says. “One man begged me not to let the Smithsonian have those things. ‘You’ll never get them back,’ he said. I had a couple that told me they have property on a mountain with a cave, and the things might be theirs, and we should not have given away their property. And one man called and said he has the mold that the swords and other things were cast from.
“‘Oh, really?’ I said.”
Other callers thought there might be a connection with the Book of Mormon, a text sacred to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Sherratt says he immediately confessed to all such callers that the recently immortalized Viking explorers were a big fib fabricated for tourism promotion. “They got mad,” he says. Other callers did not believe it was fiction and cried coverup.Fellow festival promoter David Nyman, a retired chairman of Southern Utah University’s music department, says he has no regrets about taking the Vikings ruse too far. “It’s unbelievable people would believe it,” Nyman says. “I guess they’re gullible. We thought it was funny. We’re just trying to bring more revenue to the town.”
Sherratt would not release his critics’ names because, he said, “I’m embarrassed for them.”If you take that reaction together with the stupidities that prompted it, you have one of the basic social transactions in that part of the world.
But he does note that all the calls were from the St. George area, also known for towns such as La Verkin, where there is a referendum to reinstate a citywide ban of United Nations activities, and Virgin, known for its city law encouraging every household to have a gun. …They talk funny, too.
[Cedar City’s] 42-year-old Utah Shakespearean Festival draws tens of thousands of visitors over the summer months to this town of 23,000. It won a Tony award three years ago for best regional theater. It seems only logical for the town to make the leap from the sublime to the ridiculous. “The Shakespearean Festival attracts 150,000 wealthy, educated people. We’re looking for a different crowd,” Sherratt says. Sherratt says he wants the new festival to have all the idiocy of Mardi Gras without the booze or the raunch. There will be a royal procession down Main Street. The Himmelsk armed forces, with catapult, will march.If anyone in my family is reading this, will they please not tell Mom about it for a while yet? She’s only just got her staples out.
This one’s for Chuck Taggart.
I put up liqueurs just about every year. I go for the simple methods—no fermenting, no distilling. I’d like to try that, but I just don’t have the room and the time for it. So I do the dead simple kind, where you take strong distilled spirits, macerate flavoring materials in them until it be enough, strain the results, and temper it up with honey or sugar syrup. Put it in a good bottle, put a good cork in it, label it before you forget, and put it in the basement until it comes out right.
Yes, those are loose instructions. That’s how I cook.
If you want a dead simple recipe, take the thinly peeled-off zest of citrus fruit (but not blood oranges or pummelos or lavender gems), a leetle pinch of fresh mace or nutmeg, and a whole vanilla bean, and toss them into a bottle of vodka. I prefer Devil’s Springs brand, which is seriously overproof—the East Coast equivalent of Everclear. Wait a couple of weeks. Give it a shake once in a while. Strain, and dose with sugar syrup (2 c. sugar, 1 c. water, heat until it’s syrup). Let age a few months, though you can probably get away with drinking it in a few weeks.
Fruits may or may not have to macerate longer, but they do have to age longer. If you put up blackberry liqueur in blackberry season, it’ll get good just in time to do in everyone at your New Year’s party. Good blackberry liqueur is wicked stuff. The first time I made it, Patrick sampled the first bottle right before New Year’s. “Aw, too bad,” he said. “It tastes great, but all the alcohol has evaporated.”
I tried some myself. It tasted like sweet innocent summer fruit. Then my earlobes got hot. “We have a winner,” I said. We threw a hell of a New Year’s party that year. That was the year that Jerry Kaufman broke our broomstick, and Kathryn Howes and Rebecca Lesses broke one of our chairs while demonstrating wrestling moves, and Joanna Russ got into a whipped-cream fight, and Ole Kvern went home without his shoes when there was snow on the ground. There were bodies all over the carpet next morning.
But I digress.
I have a bottle sitting next to me here that’s labeled “Summer 2000”, since I couldn’t think of a better name for it at the time. The label says it’s made from basil, rose geranium, lemon verbena, the petals of Stanwell Perpetual roses, citrus peel, peppercorns, coriander, honey, quince jelly, vodka, and sugar. That’s not in order by proportion; that’s in order as remembered when writing out the label.
I forget what I had in mind when I made it. I did manage to stump Jon Singer with it. He’s the Man with the Nose, but he couldn’t sort out the overlapping rose petals and rose geranium leaves. It’s sort of in the Benedictine/Chartreuse range, only friendlier. It’s gotten pretty good.
A few weeks back, Patrick came home with a bottle of Jim Beam rye whisky. You don’t see rye too often these days, but I’ve always liked it: a good straightforward whisky-flavored whisky, without the banana/acetone overtones of bourbon or the peat-smoked seaweed taste of scotch. After I’d tasted it a couple of times, the Cocktail Fairy came to me and gave me a recipe:
1 - 2 tbsp. Summer 2000
a double shot of Jim Beam rye
a couple of pinches of fresh mint
lots of ice cubes
Give the mint sprigs a good pinch apiece and put them into highball glasses full of ice cubes. Meanwhile, fill a cocktail shaker with more ice cubes and toss in the spirits. Shake until your hands hurt from the cold. Pour.
There’s something that feels almost virtuous about sitting back with a drink that was made possible by your having put up one of its constituent liqueurs three years ago. But only almost.
Some years back, Claire Eddy came over to spend Thanksgiving with us, and while I was cooking she got to browsing through my family’s cookbook. It’s just a little spiral-bound thing my mother and my Aunt Ruth Ann Crandall put together after collecting favorite recipes from everyone in the family. As an artifact, I’m very fond of it.
Claire’s people were Hell’s Kitchen Irish Catholics for I don’t know how many generations. She’s a Manhattan girl, and to her, everything in my family cookbook was exotic. So was the Queen Creek Relief Society Cookbook. Claire kept flipping through them, looking more and more bemused. Finally, she burst out, “What is it with all the marshmallows?”
I’ve had a lot of time to think about it since then. What I’d say now is that Intermountain West Mormon cooking classifies marshmallows as a vegetable or fruit, depending on the dish in which they occur. Then, I could only shrug helplessly, and say I’d asked myself the same question a lot of times when I was growing up.
Back then I was also taught to make candle salad, only we dipped our bananas in Dream Whip and rolled them in crushed cornflakes before placing them upright in their pineapple rings and sticking half of a red maraschino cherry onto the tip. It takes a very, very clean mind to think that up.
Every year, I get into a misunderstanding at St. Augustine’s Pentecost parish potluck picnic. It goes like this: Partly on account of the Pentecost speaking-in-tongues thing, and partly because St. A’s has a polyglot congregation, with services in English, Spanish, and Haitian Kreol, and a parish bulletin that looks like the Rosetta Stone, Father Bob always encourages everyone to bring the food of their native land. This works out to ten or twenty variations on rice and beans, something involving short ribs in a reddish sauce, a big pan of that yummy Philippine cold noodle thing, and me with my strawberry jello fruit salad. If you want ethnic, it’s that or Funeral Potatoes; and the bright red jello looks nice for Pentecost.
The problem is that every year I absentmindedly put myself down for a salad on the sign-up sheet, and every year the ladies of St. Augustine’s take one look at what I’ve brought and declare it a dessert.This would never happen back home. It’s jello, which is understood to qualify as salad until proven otherwise. It has fruit in it, over 50% by volume, which is also understood to have the salad nature. And it doesn’t contain coconut, Cool Whip, miniature marshmallows, or instant pudding mix, which in Zion is practically austere. The following are all considered salads:
Quick and Creamy Fruit SaladAlso:
2 14-oz. cans fruit saladPour all the fruit into a strainer and drain for at least two hours. Put the instant pudding and buttermilk in a bowl and mix well. Add the Cool Whip and mix again. Fold in fruit. Chill for at least one hour before serving.
2 cans mandarin orange segments
1 can pineapple tidbits
8 oz. Cool Whip
1 c. buttermilk
1 small pkg. instant vanilla pudding
1 4-ounce pkg. instant pistachio pudding mixDrain pineapple, reserving 4 T. of the juice. Mix the instant pudding with the pineapple juice. Mix in pineapple, marshmallows, and nuts, then add the Cool Whip. Refrigerate. Best if made overnight.
1 20-oz. can crushed pineapple
1 c. miniature marshmallows
1/2 c. chopped nuts
8 oz. Cool Whip
Orange Sherbet SaladAlso:
3-oz pkg orange gelatinDissolve gelatin in boiling water and chill to egg white consistency. Whip with beater and fold in whipped cream. Add sherbet and remaining ingredients. Chill until ready to serve.
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup whipped cream
1/2 pint orange sherbet, softened
1/2 cup mandarin oranges, drained
1/2 cup crushed pineapple, drained
Mormon Pioneer Salad 1 cup whipping cream2. Confusion I won’t give the whole recipe for Yam, Apple, and Cranberry Crisp; I’ll just note that the family cookbook says it can be served as a side dish during dinner, or served afterward as a dessert. If an anthropologist asked me the difference, I’d say that it would be improper to put Cool Whip on top of it if it were being served as a vegetable. But really, the biggest source of confusion is that you can do things with jello that ought not be possible.
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 c. vinegar
leaf lettuce, torn
Whip the cream with the sugar and salt until the mixture begins to thicken. Stir in the vinegar and then toss with torn lettuce. Makes about 1 1/2 cups dressing for the lettuce.
Pretzel Jello 3 c. thin pretzelsAlso:
3/4 c. margarine
16 oz. cream cheese
2 c. sugar
2 pkg. Dream Whip
6 oz. strawberry gelatin powder
2 c. pineapple juice
2 c. frozen strawberries
Chop or coarsely grind pretzels and mix with 3/4 c. melted margarine. Press into a 9”×12” pan and bake for 10 minutes at 400 F. Let cool. Cream sugar together with cream cheese. Spread over pretzel crust. Whip two packages of Dream Whip and spread over the cheese mixture, reserving 1/2 cup for decoration. Heat pineapple juice to boiling and dissolve Jello powder into it. Mix in 2 c. frozen strawberries and keep stirring. When the mixture begins to jell, spoon it on top of the layers in the pan. Decorate with remaining Dream Whip when fully set. Keep refrigerated.
Jello Plum Pudding (a Christmas dessert)3. Classics
1 pkg. cherry JelloPour boiling water over Jello. When it has dissolved, add Grape-Nuts and let stand about five minutes. Stir in all the other ingredients and refrigerate until very firm. Serve with lemon sauce or whipped cream.
3/4 c. Grape-Nuts
3/4 c. raisins
3/4 c. cooked prunes
3/4 c. candied orange peel
3/4 c. chopped nuts
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
2 c. boiling water
a pinch of salt
I’m missing a recipe for a Mormon classic: potato salad. I know, I know—everybody makes potato salad. Ours is different. My friend Mike Farren didn’t know his family was Mormon until he ate my mother’s potato salad and identified it as the same distinctive recipe he’d only previously known his aunt to make. He started asking around. Turned out there’d been some kind of kerfluffle in the previous generation, and his entire family had left the church and never talked about it afterward. But the potato salad remained.
Maybe Mom will send me her recipe. She makes the best. It’s right up there with Uncle John’s baked goods and Aunt Gay’s fresh peach ice cream.
As for the rest of these recipes—well, you know that thing where you add cream of mushroom soup to the string beans, then take canned onion rings and either stir them in, or sprinkle them in a layer on top? These recipes are like that. They’ll never make you brag about your culinary technique, but they will assuredly get eaten.
Missionary Dessert (also known as “Bishop’s Dessert”, for no very good reason)And, unavoidably:
1 large can fruit pie fillingDrain pineapple. Mix with fruit pie filling. (Optionally: just use two cans of fruit pie filling.) Spread it in the bottom of a sheet cake pan. Spread the dry cake mix evenly on top of it. Sprinkle the nuts on the cake mix. Take the melted butter and thinly drizzle it all over the top of the cake mix. Bake at 350 F. for 45-60 minutes. Let cool before serving.
1 large can crushed pineapple
1 boxed cake mix
2 sticks butter or margarine
1 c. chopped nuts
Funeral Potatoes (simple)Also:
2 tbsp. melted butterDump everything in a bowl, mix thoroughly, cover, and bake at 350 F. in a greased 9”×13” pan for 45-60 minutes.
1 can cream of chicken soup
1-1/2 lb. frozen hash browned potatoes (shredded are best)
1 c. sour cream
4 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
Funeral Potatoes (classic)And that’s that. Bless all the people who weren’t here this time that they may be here next time amen.
6-8 potatoes, cooked, peeled, and grated or cubedSpread potatoes in a buttered casserole dish. Heat soup, sour cream, and onion in sauce pan, then pour over potatoes, but DO NOT STIR. Sprinkle cheese on top if you’re Aunt Marilyn Crandall; if you’re Julie Nielsen, mix the cheese, butter, and cornflakes together, and then sprinkle them on top. Bake at 350 F. for 30 minutes.
1/2 c. minced onion
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 pint sour cream
1/2 c. grated cheese
3/4 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. melted butter
1 c. crushed cornflakes
I don’t see why the NYTimes is in such a fluster about this supposed terrorist threat to the Brooklyn Bridge. I just wish everyone who plotted to attack NYC were as incompetent as Iyman Faris.
The guy’s a naturalized American citizen living in Columbus, and he’s alleged to have pleaded guilty to having provided support to terrorists. I say “alleged” because this took place in closed proceedings. The story is that he’s been traveling to Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2000, communicating with Al Qaeda operatives and even meeting with Osama bin Laden. And what was this group’s brilliant plan? They were going to use blowtorches to cut the suspension cables on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Yeah, right. Whadda buncha maroons. Have you ever looked at those things?
The Brooklyn Bridge has four main suspension cables. Each is a shade under sixteen inches in diameter, almost fifty inches around. They’re made of Mr. Roebling’s wire rope; that is, multiple twists of steel wire, which in the cables are under a considerable amount of tension. According to another story in the Times, the reason the terrorists were going after the Brooklyn Bridge was because it’s the only bridge whose main support cables all come together at the ends, in two small rooms 15 or 20 feet beneath the walkway. If you cut through one or two cables the bridge might come down, but I wouldn’t bet the mortgage on it. One of the many lovable features of the Brooklyn Bridge is that it’s notoriously over-engineered.
As it happens, the cable rooms are protected by security cams, sensors, alarms, 24-hour foot patrols, and a police boat that’s constantly kept nearby. The police can respond to a tripped alarm within seconds. On the Manhattan side, it would be embarrassing if they couldn’t respond quickly; the bridge comes down right next to the main police complex. But if Iyman Faris (et presumably al.) had somehow managed to neutralize all the security measures, which is extremely unlikely, and, dragging his cumbersome equipment behind him, had made his way into one of the cable rooms, he’d still have had a hell of a task before him.
Those cables are big. The workspace is small. The wire would conduct heat away from the working area, so you’d have to be pouring on the heat to get any cutting done. The room would rapidly get hot and fill with fumes. And while I might be mistaken about this, I do believe the older-style wire rope unlays itself, violently and almost instantaneously, when it’s cut or broken. You wouldn’t want to be anywhere near those wires as they came unlaid. You definitely wouldn’t want to be stuck in a small room with a volatile oxyacetylene torch setup when they did it.
But say you managed to cut through one cable. At that point, the effects would be visible from orbit. The bridge would not fall down. And you would not be given the opportunity to cut through the other cables.
It was a doofy idea. Nice to be reminded that these guys aren’t evil-genius supervillain masterminds.
Gene Healy and Jacob Sullum have both commented on one of the more disturbing aspects of this case: that Iyman Faris may have decided to plead guilty and tell all because the prosecutors threatened to declare him an “enemy combatant”—in which case, like Jose9 Padilla, he could have been subject to indefinite “preventive” detention without ever being charged, tried, or given access to legal counsel.
Here’s my question: Why is this happening at all? There may have been some compelling reason to bust this man, but I don’t see it. John Ashcroft’s been touting this case as a significant blow struck against terrorism, but Iyman Faris is small potatoes. He doesn’t seem to have been terribly effectual, and his Al Qaeda buddies are no prizes either. If we’d left him in situ and monitored the hell out of him, he could have been a worry and expense and distraction to Al Qaeda, and they to him, and we could have recorded all their contacts and message traffic to see what we could see. And if he’d ever looked like he was going to actually accomplish something, we could have collared him before he did it.
But let’s suppose it was necessary to arrest him. Why are we trumpeting it to the world? We have Faris dead to rights, and he’s cooperating. That could have been very useful. At absolute minimum, he would have continued to cost Al Qaeda whatever attention and resources it takes for them to maintain contact with an agent. They would have thought they had a working agent where they had none. And again, we could have gone on monitoring their contacts and communications. That’s at minimum. The additional benefits that might have accrued from our having turned one of Al Qaeda’s agents are incalculable, and unfortunately will now remain that way.
The conduct of this case does not appear to have increased security for the citizens of the United States as its primary goal.In closing, I give you the Telegraph:
Critics of Mr Ashcroft have accused him of exaggerating the importance of relatively low-level al-Qa’eda operatives. They say that he is intent on securing unprecedented powers for the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.And also the New York Times:
Justice Department officials decided to announce the case at a time when Mr. Ashcroft has been put on the defensive by charges from his own inspector general this month that the department mistreated many illegal immigrants after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in its aggressive pursuit of terrorist suspects.I can well believe that to have announced the case sooner—or, more pertinently, later—would have impaired some interests that Mr. Ashcroft considers important. Forgive me for thinking that those interests are primarily his own.
The Faris case allowed Mr. Ashcroft to claim another high-profile victory in the campaign against terrorism, and he compared it to other significant prosecutions against terrorist supporters in Detroit, Lackawanna, N.Y., and elsewhere. Although he declined to discuss details, he said the timing in making the case public was driven solely by law enforcement concerns.“I firmly believe that for us to have announced this case a day sooner would have carried with it the potential of impairing very important interests,” Mr. Ashcroft told reporters today.
In a move that wouldn’t surprise a blind maimed midget living at the bottom of an abandoned mine in Outer Mongolia, Dubya has now laid the blame for our COMPLETE AND UTTER FAILURE TO FIND WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION IN IRAQ on … Iraqi looters!
You heard it: Iraqi looters. The WMDs were there, realio trulio, but in the chaos attendant upon our invasion, RANDOM BUNCHES OF IRAQI CIVILIANS came and took them all away! And NOBODY CAN TELL US WHERE THEY WENT, no matter how much we OFFER TO BRIBE THEM!
“We are determined to discover the true extent of Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs, no matter how long it takes,” Bush added with a straight face.
Elsewhere this week, according to Reuters, “Bush dismissed questions over his reasons for going to war as the work of ‘historical revisionists’.” Various critics have objected to this interpretation, only partly on the grounds that Bush doesn’t know those words.
Damn, damn, damn. I would so much rather have been wrong. According to The Washington Post, the count of artifacts stolen from the National Museum of Antiquities now stands at 6,000, and is expected to rise. That’s not counting artifacts stolen from other museums and known archaeological sites.
It’s a depressingly plausible-sounding story. The recent report that only 33 priceless artifacts and some 3000 lesser artifacts were stolen is looking culpably inoperative. The freeperati’s rush to publicize it, and demand apologies from those who criticized Rumsfeld et al., is looking worse.
Shall we sit back and see who prints corrections? Will we need more than one hand? One suspects the entire point of the earlier report was to get as much publicity as possible for the magic number “33”; and then, once they’d got it stuck in people’s minds, drop the story entirely. Many of the people who’ve heard that “33” won’t hear any subsequent versions unless the disinformationist conduits carry the story; or if they do hear them, they’ll assume that more accurate later estimates are those supposedly overinflated figures that were demolished by the magic “33”.
(Eighth bolgia, eighth circle, Andrew Sullivan. Canto XXVI. Just you remember.)Back to the story itself:
U.S. and Iraqi officials have confirmed the theft of at least 6,000 artifacts from Iraq’s National Museum of Antiquities during a prolonged looting spree as U.S. forces entered Baghdad two months ago, a leading archaeologist said yesterday.Looks like I guessed right.
University of Chicago archaeologist McGuire Gibson said the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement told him June 13 that the official count of missing items had reached 6,000 and was climbing as museum and Customs investigators proceeded with an inventory of three looted storerooms.
The June 13 total was double the number of stolen items reported by Customs a week earlier, and Gibson suggested the final tally could be “far, far worse.” Customs could not immediately obtain an updated report, a spokesman said.
The mid-June count was the latest in a confusing chain of seemingly contradictory estimates of losses at the museum, the principal repository of artifacts from thousands of Iraqi archaeological sites documenting human history from the dawn of civilization 7,000 years ago to the pinnacle of medieval Islam.
It now appears, however, that although the losses were not nearly as grave as early reports indicated, they go far beyond the 33 items known to have been taken from the museum’s display halls. Gibson said looters sacked two ground-floor storerooms and broke into a third in the basement. Two other storerooms appear to have been untouched. …
Looters broke into the downtown Baghdad museum and sacked it for several days in early April as U.S. forces toppled the government of Saddam Hussein and took possession of the Iraqi capital. U.S. soldiers were harshly criticized for standing idle as the looters rampaged through the building. …
Reporters and investigators arriving in the first days after the looting saw a virtually empty museum that had been thoroughly trashed. They assumed the worst, Gibson said, an impression that the museum staff did not seek to dispel.
In fact, the staff — anticipating possible looting — had spirited away a huge portion of the inventory, including almost everything portable in the display collection, and stashed it either in the basement or in off-site bunkers, Gibson said. Staff had also hidden a gold collection in a Central Bank vault during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and never removed it.
When U.S. authorities took their first close look at the damage, it appeared the finest artifacts had been “cherry-picked” by thieves with inside knowledge. Some U.S. officials suggested that staff members might have been complicit.“This was unfortunate” but easily explained, Gibson said. Bitterly offended by U.S. forces’ failure to protect the museum from the looters, staffers “were not going to give information on where things were,” he added.
Although the display collection lost only a few heavy, nonremovable artifacts that were either cut in pieces or ripped from their pedestals, the overall toll was much worse. Staff members began to inventory the museum’s five storerooms in May. Losses there numbered in the thousands.Previous posts on this and related subjects in Making Light:
Both ground-floor storerooms had been looted, Gibson said. One housed the study collection, while the other held shelved artifacts and about 10 steel trunks containing as-yet unnumbered material from recent digs. All the trunks had been opened and emptied, Gibson said.Two basement storerooms appeared to be untouched, including one containing most of the museum’s priceless collection of cuneiform tablets, Gibson said. The third had been breached, however, and contained “some of the most important stuff in the museum, including pottery and ivory inlays,” he added.
12 April 03: Loss. Initial reports of the looting of the National Museum of Antiquities in Baghdad.
16 April 03: Reading comprehension, and other problems. The lie that destruction was the necessary price of freedom. The lie that freeing the Iraqis was our primary aim. Freepi: apolitical opportunists. Why we might not mind the looting. Why this is all Donald Rumsfeld’s fault. The addictive rush of cheap moral righteousness. Ostensible reasons we went to war viewed as codswallop. Looting, and other civil disorders.
16 April 03: And this is evidence of…? Initial reports of the burning of the Iraqi National Library and Archives, and the non-search for WMDs.
21 April 03: Why it’s a bad idea to burn old libraries. Nyekulturniy!
13 May 03: Excellent good news. Reports that a surreptitious salvage operation by the library staff saved most of the National Library and Archives, no thanks to us. On being willing to die in defense of libraries.
13 June 03: Recursive museum updates. Reported losses lighter than originally feared. Looting continues elsewhere. Freepi not entitled to collect on any of this. Andrew Sullivan presumed to be in state of mortal sin.
Have I ever mentioned what’s in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction? I keep meaning to. I’ve known what it was since the first time I saw the film.
It’s the Holy Grail.
It emits an unaccountable light. It’s a conduit of grace. Everyone who sees it is struck with wonder, and no one needs to have it explained. Miracles happen in its vicinity, but it’s deeply perilous for those who reject or misuse it. It’s spoken of in the singular. The scripture-quoting Jules says it belongs to his boss.
What else could it possibly be?
The Wocky Jivvy website chronicles an ongoing R&D program whose aim is to write a poem so awful that that perennial scam, the International Library of Poetry contest, will turn it down. So far, no success; every one of their poems has been declared a semi-finalist, which means it’ll be published in a Beautiful Anthology, of which the author will be invited to purchase a copy or three, along with other Choice Memorabilia.
Here’s recent unsuccessful attempt.The frustration engendered by ILP’s relentless praise and acceptance led poet David Taub to submit his own string of bad poems to ILP’s contests. Flubblebop is my favorite:
flobble bobble blop yim yam widdley wooooILP declared it a semifinalist, and published it in their Promises of Love anthology. Taub’s other two poems, Nicky Nacky Noo and Yew Gotta Larf, are IMO not quite as lively. They do however have the dual virtues of being written in English, and being denunciations of ILP and its contests and other offers. Here’s a bit of “Yew Gotta Larf”:
yip yip yip
nish-nash nockle nockle
opfem magurby voey
Ahh! “Wurby tictoc?”
bim-burm nurgle shliptog
afttowicky wicky wicky
erm addmuksle slibberyjert! …
Yew gotta larf at any moreon who could write, “your poem was selectedUnfortunately, Poetry.com found the poem’s unique perspective perfect for its new anthology, Seasons of Happiness.
for publication, and as a contest semi-finalist, on the basis of your unique talent
and artistic vision.”
when we all know this is about as artistic
as vomitting on the neigbour’s porch.
Burp… huey… excuse me while I be artistic on your cat.. so much for
the vision.. I never saw your cat.
Now let’s get down to the real truth..
You hope I am fooled into parting with
my cash to see this in your anthology. …
The phoenix which has risen from the ashes of this disappointment is the Wergle Flomp Poetry Contest, which annually awards a prize of $817.70 for the best parodically bad poem which also makes fun of vanity poetry contests. In order to qualify, entries must have previously been submitted to a vanity poetry competition.
Science marches on.
Certain online discussion venues that cater to aspiring writers have been having a major fluster over the last week or two. I could be mistaken, but I believe this one started when PublishAmerica noticed it was rated as “not recommended” on the Preditors & Editors website, and went on the warpath. It had been a fairly quiet, unobtrusive little “not recommended”; but as of this past weekend the dustup over it had been upgraded to “tropical fluster”, and was developing a rotating motion and an eye. In the process it had spread into four or five online venues. In all but one of them, participants took the opportunity to air their views and grievances in re PublishAmerica. The other was PublishAmerica’s own message board, where remarks like that get deleted even faster than a “you people suck” message does here.
I don’t have a dog in that fight. I did take a short break yesterday to comment, after the fact, on some issues that were raised in alt.writing.scams, but that was all. Could be I’m getting prudent in my old age.
Of course, when you go anywhere near a fluster, you’re going to get e-mail about it; and in due course various things have appeared in my mailbox. Some of them are far from prudent. The letter below takes some explaining.
Many of the online/e-publishing/POD (Print On Demand) startups haven’t known any better than to ask for absurdly long, comprehensive grants of rights unaccompanied by reversion clauses. A reversion clause says that if the publishers have stopped selling the book, or have stopped making it generally available to the general public, they have to give it back to the author.
A lot of these newfangled publishing startups have croaked. Others are just scraping along. And what publishing law says about bankruptcy is that books held in inventory can’t be given back to their authors before the publisher’s secured creditors are paid off. In some of these cases, that’s going to happen around the same time that pigs sprout wings.The following piece of grossly irresponsible advice, received yesterday, appears to be a proposed answer to question of what to do when your novel is stuck in the neverending contract from hell:
Take your book. Change the title. Change the author’s name. Do a light rewrite on the first and last chapters, the first and last paragraphs of all the other chapters, and the frontmatter and backmatter.The only thing I’ll say is that the author is someone I published once, but not many of you would recognize the name.
You’d be surprised how often the central plot mcguffin can be swapped for a different mcguffin without making you have to do a major rewrite. If that’s true of your book, swap it out.
Now go through the book again and change all the proper names, plus all the place names that can be changed without doing violence to the continuity. Change any made-up language you used. If there’s poetry, consider deleting it. You probably should have done that the first time around anyway. If you used chapter titles, change those too.
Dedicate it to someone else. For instance, dedicate it to your parents, but give them different names. Or dedicate the book to everyone who helped you with it at some university or workshop you never attended. Draw a new map. If any of the frontmatter could just as well be backmatter, move it there. Same goes for backmatter that could just as well be frontmatter. Finally, change the copyright notice. You’re allowed to do that. It’s a substantially different work.
What you now have is a manuscript that can only be identified as the book published by the Bad Old Publisher if the person doing the identifying has read both versions. This is unlikely. (Let’s face it: If anyone had read that edition, you wouldn’t be looking for a new publisher.) It’s even more unlikely that the person who spots it will be your former publisher, or someone who still likes your former publisher.
One faint possibility is that it’ll be the person who was employed to do the text formatting and spellchecking the first time around. Don’t worry. Nobody uses in-house staff for work like that unless they have money to burn, so the text wrangler was either a freelancer who doesn’t much care, or an ex-employee who doesn’t care at all.The other possibility is that it’ll be spotted by your vengeful former spouse or employee. God gives us enemies to make sure there’ll always be someone around who’s interested in how we’re doing. The current emotional status of your exes is something you’ll have to calculate for yourself. If your ex-spouse comprehensively loathes you, consider using this as your new dedication:
This one’s yours, honey; Always was, always will be.
If you find this message, call me.
You know my number.
They’ll be slower to confront you if they think it’ll be taken as a gesture of reconciliation.
If someone does rat you out, insist that the revised version is a separate book that took you even longer to write than the first one did. Start prosing on about the many significant differences between the two titles. You’ll sound just like one of those authors who really does write the same book every time. Keep it up until your accuser dies of boredom or goes away, whichever comes first.
Don’t ever talk about having pulled this stunt. Not even if it makes a good story. Not even if you claim it happened to your cousin. Not even in an interview years and years from now when you’ve become rich and famous. Not at all. It’s bad enough for me to suggest that this is possible. Saying that you’ve done it is wildly indiscreet, and could be used against you in a court of law. Remember: the only easy way to prove you’ve done this is to have you say so yourself.
Will this actually work? Seriously, it might. If there’s one thing you can assume about vanity presses that publish dozens or even hundreds of titles, it’s that management isn’t reading the books. Besides, a lot of books have similar-sounding plots. If you’re trying to smuggle your book out under their radar, it’s probably enough that you don’t provide them with any easily googled search strings, and that you alter the text they’re most likely to look at while flipping through a printed copy.
Remember, only one reviewer ever noticed that Richard Bachman wrote just like Stephen King; and when he said so, nobody paid much attention.So here’s the end. I can’t say I’m recommending that you do this. I’m just saying it’ll probably work. But whatever happens, you didn’t hear it from me.
Do I, personally, have an opinion about this stuff? Not on your life.
Being an art critic is easy. In most cases, you know exactly what you’re supposed to say. And if you somehow forget, there is always the gallery’s press release to help you out.Both versions are amusing—the second for its opinions, and the first for its catalogue of cliches:
So the fact that the new exhibit of Larry Clark strikes me as an idiotic waste of time doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m supposed to say about it.In the interests of balance, however, here are two reviews: the first, the way it’s “supposed” to be written, and then the way it should be written. …
Clark turns his camera’s eye with unflinching honesty on a world too many people choose to ignore and brings forth mighty, if unwelcome truths about society. …I’ve heard that said—repeatedly, and in a variety of positions. (via Claire Eddy)
The Spoonbill Generator is a collaborative poetry site that invites passersby to add a line to one of the three currently accreting poems. While they’re in process the poems are titled “Red poem”, “Green poem”, or “Blue poem”; when one is finished it becomes “Untitled Poem”, and is added to the list of poems needing titles. Naturally, passersby are invited to supply the titles, too.The results aren’t half bad, which is more than you can say for most poetry on the web. I liked “My Nightly Righteous Ferment”, which begins:
I think that I shall never see A piece of cake too big for me;It doesn’t end there. Credit for these lines belongs to TG, Apsley, Roland, Apsley, TG, Pongo&perdita the 67th, fester, madge, fester, and Apsley. (via Jim Macdonald)
Though sometimes in a hazy dream
I eat a hunk of clotted cream:
This shows that we aren’t what we seem I burned my arse with kettle steam
Whilst dreaming of Ann Widdecombe;
Oh how I’d like to rub whipped cream
On her, whilst she sprays shaving foam
Into the parts that make a home …
I don’t do a lot of “hey, look at that” posts, but I love Adam Felber’s Perelmanesque Transcript of Ayad Futayyih Khalifa al-Rawi’s 1st Interrogation. (via Redwood Dragon)
Start with the joyful news that many of you will have already heard, which is that the National Museum of Antiquities in Baghdad lost far fewer artifacts than was originally thought. By these estimates it still lost 33 irreplaceable items and perhaps 3,000 less significant ones—a loss sufficient to produce screams of outrage, if it happened to one of our museums—but that’s still a huge improvement over the initial reports.Who wouldn’t rejoice to hear this? David Aaronovitch, for one, writing in the Guardian. He’s very angry at the museum’s Director of Research, Dr. Donny George, who as of 14 April:
… was distraught. The museum had housed the leading collection of the continuous history of mankind, “And it’s gone, and it’s lost. If Marines had started [protecting the museum] before, none of this would have happened. It’s too late. It’s no use. It’s no use.”So sad! Only it didn’t happen quite that way:
There was some looting and damage to a small number of galleries and storerooms, and that is grievous enough. But over the past six weeks it has gradually become clear that most of the objects which had been on display in the museum galleries were removed before the war. Some of the most valuable went into bank vaults, where they were discovered last week. Eight thousand more have been found in 179 boxes hidden “in a secret vault”. And several of the larger and most remarked items seem to have been spirited away long before the Americans arrived in Baghdad.So yes, there was some looting, the museum took some serious losses, other museums in Iraq were unquestionably looted as well, and of course Iraq’s archaeological sites have been getting hit hard by pot-hunters since the Gulf War; but it would appear that on that day in April, Dr. Donny George misrepresented the situation just a tad.
I could be mistaken, but to me David Aaronovitch’s upset sounds a lot like that burst of anger that hits you after the first wave of relief subsides, right after you’ve discovered that your best beloved was not in fact on the flight that crashed, but hadn’t thought to phone and tell you so. You’ll be forever grateful that he was spared—but first you have to shake him by the shoulders and yell “Don’t ever scare me like that again!”
Besides, Aaronovitch, along with every other commentator I’ve heard so far, has missed what I would have thought was an obvious possibility. If I were the curator of the National Museum of Antiquities, and I knew I was facing a spell of civil chaos, I can only hope that I too would have the motherwit to stand up in front of the reporters and cry “Alas! Eheu! Welawey! All the good stuff has been looted! The cheap stuff too! We’re stripped to the walls! There’s nothing left!” If that’s what he intended, it worked. As Tom Tomorrow noted, the museum turns out to be one of the only major institutions in Baghdad that wasn’t completely looted. I’ll put up with having my emotions played with, if it means the holdings are preserved. Plenty of things in this life are distasteful while doing no one any good at all.
Assorted ankle-high freepi have gotten the idea that this should be the occasion for a vast confession of left-of-center error and guilt. Wrong, wrong, wrong. No one owes anyone an apology for having believed a story that was reported by every major news feed on the planet. And if anyone were owed an apology, these pismires aren’t the ones it would be owed to; so what the hell are they doing trying to collect on it? Go away! Take dance lessons or something. Get a different hobby.
Andrew Sullivan arraigns me (and Frank Rich and other Bush administration critics) for “hyping” reports about the looting of priceless artifacts in Iraq…Happily, “only 33” irreplaceable items are now believed lost—along with what noted archaeologist and antiquarian Sully describes as “3,000 minor objects of limited value.” (If 33 “priceless pieces” and another 3,000 of lesser worth were stolen from the Smithsonian or the Metropolitan Museum, that would be considered the heist of the century.)Tom Tomorrow’s response was more colorful:
That the ultimate losses weren’t much worse can be attributed to the foresight of the museum’s staff rather than the wisdom of Rummy.So I don’t see any reason to revise my roasting of the defense secretary, whose nonchalant patter about “that same vase” badly damaged the prestige of the United States.
The blurb for Sullivan’s “Liberal Idiocy of the Week” column over at Salon (you can go find it yourself if you’re interested) reads:Tom Tomorrow’s staying with this story, and has posted an update on it. Eric Alterman (no permalinks; scroll down to June 11, “Raiders of the Lost Art”) notes this Washington Post story from June 9 (“All Along, Most Iraqi Relics Were ‘Safe and Sound’”), and quotes this letter to the H-Diplo list from Jeff Tenuth, historian and chief cataloger at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis:It was originally reported that 170,000 priceless artifacts were looted from Iraq’s national museum. That number now stands at 33. Will overeager Bush critics issue corrections?So. Let’s put on our thinking caps. Is there anything else, anything perhaps slightly more important, which turns out to have been not quite as initially reported? Such as, say, the WMD’s which were the justification for the entire war? Why anyone continues to take Sullivan seriously is beyond my comprehension as a simple uneducated cartoonist. But it’s no wonder he keeps harping on this one— misdirection is everything. Consider two points: (1) the museum may have been the only goddamned site in Iraq which wasn’t looted down to the bare walls, and (2) that was only due to the foresight of the museum officials. If you will forgive me the indulgence of quoting one of my own previous posts:The fact that the museum’s curators managed to hide the majority of the museum’s treasures in advance does not make the US indifference to that museum’s looting any more ethically palatable. If a police officer stands by and watches a mugger shoot a victim and does nothing to stop it, he’s still guilty of negligence even if the victim lives because he happened to be wearing a bulletproof vest.
As an historian with twenty years experience in the museum field, I was astonished to read that the Washington Post is now an authoritative source on the number of artifacts missing from the Iraqi National Museum and other sites. While we may never know exactly how many artifacts are missing, it is certainly more than 33. And it is not just museums that have been looted, but important archaeological sites as well. Part of the problem lies in poor record-keeping on the part of the Museum itself. That is a common problem in the museum world. I doubt if there is a museum in the world that has an exact accounting of all its artifacts. A number of the artifacts may have been destroyed, hence they will never be found. It is also true that the United States government was warned that this may happen. Yet it did nothing to prevent the destruction and/or theft of artifacts that represent the beginnings of civilization. It is not only the Iraqi legacy that has been destroyed, but ours as well. We should all lament this loss. We have lost not only part of our history, but part of our humanity as well. For those interested in reading more on this topic, they may consult several websites including www.aam-us.org (The American Association of Museums), www.H-Museum.net, and www.icom.museum (the International Council on Museums). The ICOM site has recently published a “Red List” of twenty-five artifacts that head the list of missing artifacts. Other lists are in preparation. Some of the artifacts date back to the Ubaid period, the last pre-historic period before the advent of civilization in Iraq (i.e. before the invention of writing). It is also worth noting that ICOM has published a list of forty-two Iraqi museums that are compiling lists of artifacts that may be missing or destroyed. Among the most important clues to identifying missing artifacts are: 1) any object with a number on it or a number beginning with “IM” (Iraqi Museum), 2) any tablet or objects written in cuneiform, and 3) any object or tablet written in Aramaic. Also, the museum world is developing strategies to help prevent the export, sale, and acquisition of Iraqi artifacts that belong to the Iraqi people and the world.Finally, whereas in the Washington Post of June 9, “Most Iraqi Relics Were ‘Safe and Sound’”, in the Washington Post of June 12 it turns out that “Worst Looting May Be In Remote Parts of Iraq”:
While considerable attention has been focused on the looting and damage to antiquities in Baghdad, the scale of damage may be far greater in the rest of Iraq, home to some of the most ancient sites of human civilization, according to the most comprehensive survey to date.And buried at the bottom, a further twist to the original National Museum story:
Tens of thousands of Iraqi artifacts were looted after the war from remote areas in Iraq, and many sites continue to be ransacked, a group of American experts said yesterday after making a systematic assessment of the damage to Iraq’s archaeological heritage. […]
Two teams of top archaeologists fanned out across northern and southern Iraq last month. Of 19 sites they visited, 13 showed serious evidence of recent looting. A separate survey of 13 sites, which included some of the same locations, found 10 with serious damage.The scale of destruction means that archaeologists and historians studying ancient Mesopotamia — where the first human cities were started about 3500 B.C. — may have permanently lost clues into the origins of the first written words, complex agriculture, the first written laws, organized religion and science, said a statement by the National Geographic Society, which organized the survey. […]
Responding to the conflicting reports about damage to the National Museum of Antiquities in Baghdad, McGuire Gibson, a University of Chicago expert on ancient Mesopotamia, said damage far exceeded the 33 items recently reported. That number, he said, reflected the items taken only from the main galleries. Three of five storerooms of the museum also had been raided, he said, and officials had already determined that more than 1,000 items were missing.That’s an interesting correction to this week’s correction, and suggests that the full extent of the loss is not yet known. I’ll continue to hope for the best. In the meantime, “Will overeager Bush apologists now issue corrections?” as Andrew Sullivan has conspicuously not asked…
Alma 11(Unfortunately, at this point Alma’s narrative wanders away from this very promising story problem, gets itself entangled in a dull conversation between Amulek and Zeezrom, and never wanders back again.)
 Now it was in the law of Mosiah that every man who was a judge of the law, or those who were appointed to be judges, should receive wages according to the time which they labored to judge those who were brought before them to be judged. …
 And the judge received for his wages according to his time—a senine of gold for a day, or a senum of silver, which is equal to a senine of gold; and this is according to the law which was given.
 Now these are the names of the different pieces of their gold, and of their silver, according to their value. And the names are given by the Nephites, for they did not reckon after the manner of the Jews who were at Jerusalem; neither did they measure after the manner of the Jews; but they altered their reckoning and their measure, according to the minds and the circumstances of the people, in every generation, until the reign of the judges, they having been established by king Mosiah.
 Now the reckoning is thus—a senine of gold, a seon of gold, a shum of gold, and a limnah of gold.
 A senum of silver, an amnor of silver, an ezrom of silver, and an onti of silver.
 A senum of silver was equal to a senine of gold, and either for a measure of barley, and also for a measure of every kind of grain.
 Now the amount of a seon of gold was twice the value of a senine.
 And a shum of gold was twice the value of a seon.
 And a limnah of gold was the value of them all.
 And an amnor of silver was as great as two senums.
 And an ezrom of silver was as great as four senums.
 And an onti was as great as them all.
 Now this is the value of the lesser numbers of their reckoning —
 A shiblon is half of a senum; therefore, a shiblon for half a measure of barley.
 And a shiblum is a half of a shiblon.
 And a leah is the half of a shiblum.
 Now this is their number, according to their reckoning. Now an antion of gold is equal to three shiblons.
The challenge: Work out Nephite currency exchange rates.
We deserve a
Van de Graaf Generator.
And a Tesla Coil.
A centrifuge, for separating solutions. A vacuum chamber, the reverse of a pressure cooker, for reducing liquids without heating them, or anyway without heating them as much and for as long as you do when you reduce them by boiling. A serious freezer sub-compartment—it need not be large, perhaps the size of a gallon of ice cream—that produces zero or even subzero temperatures, for use in reverse distillation. A mixer stronger than I am. A central power plant. How many electric motors are there in my powered kitchen appliances? Many. One each. And the cheap ones invariably underperform and burn out, while the sturdier ones cost a mint. I want a single really good electric motor or compressed-air system, perhaps mounted underneath a kitchen counter with its attachment points located up top. That way you could have special-purpose attachments for it, rather than all these special-purpose appliances with their separate motors.
Optionally, I’d like an adjustable powered sauce and custard stirring device, with heat-resistant scraper blades, that I could attach to a saucepan for those “stir constantly at low heat for half of forever” recipes. And it would be nice to have something that would suck the heat out of a dish of food the way a microwave will put it in—but unless I’ve missed something, that would require magic, not engineering.
If you’ve always wanted to build a pulsejet but have no access to expensive welding or machining equipment then I’ve come up with a new design that anyone can build with just a few simple hand tools and readily available materials …has come up with something even more splendid:
You can look at his project objectives here. (via Beth Meacham)
A DIY Cruise Missile
Watch me build one for under $5,000
Some time ago I wrote an article in which I suggested that it would not be difficult for terrorists to build their own relatively sophisticated cruise missiles using off-the-shelf components and materials.
Not surprisingly, that piece has produced a significant amount of feedback from the tens of thousands of people who have read it so far.
Included in this feedback, I’ve received quite a number of emails from former and currently serving US military personnel who acknowledge that the threat is one they are very much aware of and for which there is little in the way of an effective defense available.
However, there have also been a number of people who claim I’m overstating the case and that it’s not possible to build a real cruise missile without access to sophisticated gear, specialist tools and information not readily available outside the military.
So, in order to prove my case, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and build a cruise missile in my own garage, on a budget of just US$5,000.I like to think of this project as the military version of “Junkyard Wars”.
I had this morning a note from John M. Ford:
From a British documentary on the Great Train Robbery:Addendum: If you don’t read the comments, you’ll never understand how we got from this post to Elise’s finial reply:“The brakeman returned to the cab to find his engineer on the floor, his head bleeding. It was filled with men in balaklava masks that hid their faces.”Obviously an inside job.
Oh, dear. Now I have something dreadfully Hiawatha-like in my head. (With a balaklava mask on, no doubt.)Then returned the mighty brakeman To the cab in which he found himackj;kljfthpth ok, i’ll stop now.
Found the noble Hiawatha
Lying on the floor and bleeding
With a head all full of pastry
Sweet and flaky layered pastry
On the men with hidden faces
Tiny men with hidden faces
In the head of Hiawatha