Thursday, May 22, 2008

Scientists dig Indy's exploits - to a point

Scientists dig Indy's exploits - to a point

Archaeology professors and students get inspiration and a few chuckles from the "Indiana Jones" movies.

Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Thursday, May 22, 2008, p. E-1 ff.
By BILL WARD, Star Tribune

The new "Indiana Jones" movie inspired Rob Lusteck, an anthropology student working on his doctorate at the University of Minnesota.

"Ahh, the Indiana Jones effect," anthropology Prof. William Beeman intoned solemnly. It was clear what was coming next: a scholarly dismantling, a pedantic pooh-poohing, of Hollywood's glamorization and fabrications of a serious science.

Except. ...

"We love it," exclaimed the chair of the University of Minnesota's Department of Anthropology, which includes archaeology. "There's no question our enrollment goes up when one of these movies comes out. And not just Indy. We have the 'Lara Croft' effect, the 'CSI' effect."

This might explain why the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) last week named Harrison Ford to the organization's board of directors. The group promotes archaeological excavation, research, education and preservation worldwide, and AIA President Brian Rose said Ford's Indiana Jones character has played a major part in stimulating interest in archaeological exploration.

Ford's fictional exploits certainly reeled in Rob Lusteck when the U of M doctoral candidate was a boy. "I thought 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' was the greatest film ever, or at least since 'Star Wars,'" Lusteck said. And because there was little likelihood of his becoming a Jedi warrior or even an X-Wing pilot in this lifetime, the kid from Jackson, Miss., opted for anthropology.

Fellow grad student Steven Blondo also was in second grade when he decided he would be an archaeologist. But he said the Indy movies "solidified my decision" more than spawning it. "I mean, who wouldn't want to escape giant boulders and Nazis without losing your hat and always getting the girl?" said the Minneapolis resident.

Fortunately for Beeman and his fellow professors, most students arrive knowing that there's little Hollywood-style derring-do and glamour in this field of study. For the others. ...

"We quickly disabuse them -- get them out on the site with the little sable brushes," he said. "But the truth is that once students get some real field experience, they get excited."

Down and dirty

Like most vocations, Lusteck and Blondo agreed, theirs is a mixed bag, with some of the more mundane work requiring an Indiana Jones-like ardor for the topic.

Lusteck called archaeology "incredibly interesting" and "tedious at times, but it is from the tedium that true discoveries are made." Blondo said he loves his work, but allowed that "there is a lot more research and paper-pushing than anyone realizes. You don't always get to go dig wherever you want to, and you can't pick up anything without first photographing and writing down where you found it."

Archaeology, a subfield of anthropology, is a meticulous vocation, involving a slow uncovering of the cultures of those who came before us.

"It starts with just dirt," said Beeman, "but you can uncover pottery and buildings and all sorts of stuff you didn't know was there -- just not necessarily the gold. But a whole pattern of existence of people who are long gone suddenly emerges before your eyes; that's the real wonder we want to inspire them with."

What, no treasure trove, no Ark of the Covenant?

"Though it would be nice to find the Holy Grail," said Blondo, "there is satisfaction learning about local history and putting together the pieces."

Laughing at the gaffes

Archaeology folks have a not-so-secret guilty pleasure: watching movies that portray their field and howling at the gaffes, which a group of students does every Thursday night. Portrayals of archaeologists as treasure hunters, often funded by mysterious benefactors, is only the half of it. Indeed, a lot of movies get the facts about half right.

"There's a scene in 'Holy Grail' where Indiana Jones enters a temple," said Beeman. "They went to Petra, Jordan, and filmed him entering a façade called the Treasury. It's the real deal and a wonderful façade, but it's just that: a façade. It goes back about 2 feet. When he enters and all of a sudden he's in a giant cavern with weird bridges, that's total fantasy. But the archaeological site is a real one."

And don't even get Beeman started on the recent movie "10,000 B.C." ("Oh, my goodness, it went beyond the pale, the mixup of time periods -- it was just hilarious") or the "Clan of the Cave Bear" books. "It's like they wake up and say 'OK, it's Monday, we're going to invent agriculture,' and then 'OK, it's Tuesday, we're going to invent pottery.' We get a huge laugh out of all this stuff."

Ironically, he added, movies and books are just about the only avenue for getting young folks interested in anthropology, which is rarely taught in elementary or high schools.

"No one is getting exposure to anthropology except through popular culture," Beeman said, adding that in these movies, "there's enough reality there to sort of launch the fantasy. If that's what hooks people into wanting to explore some of these ideas in greater depth, it's wonderful."

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643

Friday, May 16, 2008

A Ruling Californians Can Love

A ruling Californians can love

Amid the intellectual arguments over gay marriage, real couples have waited decades to finally be treated with dignity.

By Gavin Newsom
May 16, 2008

CALIFORNIA HAS ALWAYS been a place where traditional class, race and gender barriers have been pushed aside by a spirit of equality and opportunity that says to all -- no matter who you are, no matter where you come from -- "It can be done."

In that spirit, yet one more barrier gave way when

the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that all Californians, regardless of sexual orientation, have the right to marry.

The court's ruling affirms the very best of what California represents: our long-standing commitment to equality and justice.

It was 60 years ago that the state Supreme Court ruled in Perez vs. Sharp that the ban on interracial marriage was unconstitutional -- 19 years before the U.S. Supreme Court would come to the same conclusion in Loving vs. Virginia. So in February 2004, when I ordered San Francisco's county clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, it was with full recognition that as goes California, so goes the nation.

This is a historic moment for California and our country. We have taken an irrevocable step toward resolving one of the most important civil rights issues of our generation.

But the road ahead will be difficult. The same groups that sponsored Proposition 22, the ballot measure the court just overturned, are close to placing a measure on the November ballot that would write discrimination against gays and lesbians into our state Constitution. This effort would not only nullify Thursday's ruling, it could overturn existing laws granting the most basic rights to same-sex couples.

It is one thing to have an intellectual discussion about marriage equality. It is quite another to sit down with a loving couple of nearly 50 years and try to explain to them why they are being discriminated against by a government they help fund with their tax dollars.

When you sit down and learn a little about Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin -- two women now in their 80s who have been together as a committed couple since the early 1950s -- you realize there are no intellectual arguments against marriage equality that survive one second in the real world. And there are no more rationales for delaying the fight for equality.

Phyllis and Del were the first to take wedding vows in San Francisco City Hall in 2004 -- vows that were invalidated by the state Supreme Court months later. Which is why it is so important that the court reject any request to delay implementation of Thursday's ruling until after the November election. This loving couple has been waiting decades for the same rights that straight couples enjoy. They have waited long enough.

In its correct and courageous move, the California Supreme Court affirmed an important principle. But it did so much more than that. It affirmed that the bond between these two people is as strong and loving and secure as any other marriage in this city, state or nation.

If they agree, I would like to officiate at another marriage for Phyllis and Del as soon as possible. And when I do, it will be much more than a legal principle we celebrate. It will be the life-affirming love between two fellow Californians.

We are no longer debating the principle of marriage equality in California. We are ready to put that principle into practice. I hope to see many more same-sex couples throughout the state married in the weeks and months ahead.

Come November we will, in all likelihood, have to defend these new marriages at the ballot box. I hope that before anyone makes up their mind on the issue of same-sex marriage, they will take a few minutes to meet some of the many, many people who are finally enjoying the rights the rest of us enjoy.

Like Phyllis and Del, who will finally be able to say "I do."

Anyone who meets these two wonderful women, or the thousands of couples soon to follow in their footsteps, surely can only reach the conclusion that we can't allow a wrongheaded ballot measure to take these marriages away.

Gavin Newsom is the mayor of San Francisco.

Monday, May 12, 2008

IRAQ: The Elusive Weapons--LA Times Babylon & Beyond Blog

(Note: Experts have been saying for more than two years that U.S. claims of Iranian supplied weapons in Iraq lack any credible proof. Michael O'Halloran of the American Enterprise Institute claimed that "over half" of the U.S. fatalities in Iraq have been killed by Iranian munitions. The article below demonstrates clearly that the U.S. Military has no proof whatever of Iranians supplying munitions in Iraq. --W. Beeman). Babylon & Beyond blog

IRAQ: The elusive Iranian weapons

There was something interesting missing from Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner's introductory remarks to journalists at his regular news briefing in Baghdad on Wednesday: the word "Iran," or any form of it. It was especially striking as Bergner, the U.S. military spokesman here, announced the extraordinary list of weapons and munitions that have been uncovered in recent weeks since fighting erupted between Iraqi and U.S. security forces and Shiite militiamen.

Weapons1_2Among other things, Bergner cited 20,000 "items of ammunition, explosives and weapons" reported by Iraqi forces in the central city of Karbala; an additional Karbala cache containing 570 explosive devices, nine mortars, four anti-aircraft missiles, and 45 RPGs; and in the southern city of Basra alone, 39 mortar tubes, 1,800 mortars and artillery rounds, 600 rockets, and 387 roadside bombs. Read his remarks here.

Not once did Bergner point the finger at Iran for any of these weapons and munitions, which is a striking change from just a couple of weeks ago when U.S. military officials here and at the Pentagon were saying that caches found in Basra in particular had revealed Iranian-made arms manufactured as recently as this year. They say the majority of rockets being fired at U.S. bases, including Baghdad's Green Zone, are launched by militiamen receiving training, arms and other aid from Iran.

Today brought fresh attacks, including an unusual barrage fired at a military base used by British and U.S. forces in Basra, in southern Iraq. A statement said "several" rockets hit the base during the afternoon, and that initial reports indicated two civilian contractors were killed, and four soldiers and four civilians injured.

It was the first reported attack of its kind since March 27 in Basra.

Iraqi officials also have accused Iran of meddling in violence and had echoed the U.S. accusations of new Iranian-made arms being found in Basra. But neither the United States nor Iraq has displayed any of the alleged arms to the public or press, and lately it is looking less likely they will. U.S. military officials said it was up to the Iraqis to show the items; Iraqi officials lately have backed off the accusations against Iran.

A plan to show some alleged Iranian-supplied explosives to journalists last week in Karbala and then destroy them was canceled after the United States realized none of them was from Iran. A U.S. military spokesman attributed the confusion to a misunderstanding that emerged after an Iraqi Army general in Karbala erroneously reported the items were of Iranian origin.

When U.S. explosives experts went to investigate, they discovered they were not Iranian after all.

Iran, meanwhile, continues to seethe after an Iraqi delegation went to Tehran last week to confront it with the accusations. It has denied the accusations, and it says as long as U.S. forces continue to take part in military action in Iraq's Shiite strongholds, it won't consider holding further talks with Washington on how to stabilize Iraq.

—Tina Susman in Baghdad

Photo: Made in Iran? Not necessarily. Iraqi forces prepare to detonate weapons found earlier this month in Karbala. (Army Sgt. 1st Class Tami Hillis)!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Are these Syrian nuclear pictures faked? (The Guardian--UK)

Are these Syrian nuclear pictures faked?

* Ewen MacAskill
* The Guardian,
* Thursday May 1 2008
* Article history

About this article
This article appeared in the Guardian on Thursday May 01 2008 on p3 of the Comment & features section. It was last updated at 00:10 on May 01 2008.

The CIA published three aerial photographs last week purporting to show a Syrian nuclear reactor, bombed by Israel last September. But are the pictures all that they seem? Doubts about their authenticity have been raised by Professor William Beeman, head of anthropology at the University of Minnesota, who has had a long involvement with the Middle East.

He posted on a Los Angeles Times website a note received from a "colleague with US security clearance" pointing out "irregularities". The unnamed colleague said a picture taken before the bombing looked as if it had been digitally enhanced, noting that the lower part of the building, the annexe and the windows pointing south appeared much sharper than the rest.

He also questioned why the alleged reactor had no air defences, no military checkpoints and no powerlines. Turning to two shots of the bombed building, he noted that the first showed a rectangular building and the second a square one. Were they the same building?

His note has produced lively and detailed exchanges, involving photo technicians, graphic artists and military analysts past and present, including a specialist in aerial reconnaissance. The basic divide is between those who think it is unpatriotic to question the Bush administration and those suspicious that it is a rerun of 2003, when the administration put out misleading intelligence before the Iraq invasion.

Bloggers supportive of the CIA acknowledge that the first picture was digitally enhanced but say that the CIA never claimed last week that it was untouched. As for the discrepancies between pictures two and three, they suggest that the differences between the rectangular shape and the square can be explained by having been taken at different angles.

Beeman told the Guardian he did not know one way or another whether there had been a nuclear reactor in the desert, but he had been concerned last week when the administration put out the pictures. "It was so sloppy and obviously doctored," he said.

"My friend who watches this material carefully in his capacity as an analyst said, 'This does not add up.'"

* © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008