Friday, December 28, 2007

Battle of the Sabis

Seems like a thousand years (or a bit over 30 generations) since I had occasion to actually write about Gaul. Here, though, is Livius' marvellous website devoted to the Battle of the Sabis, the 57 BC fight between Julius Caesar's legions and the Nervian Confederacy of Northern Gaul (Belgium, they called it--but it was a much broader swath of land that what we call Belgium today.)

The pictures on that site--including my favorite here, which belongs to Livius & is © Marco Prins and Jona Lendering--are of the Selle River. As I understand it, other locations have their adherants, and no discoveries have settled the matter. No battlefield remnants have been found, IOW. I think the Escault River is another possible site.

Still, these pictures are great, very well researched, and fit all that is known about the Sabis River site. Except . . .

. . . well, the picture right above is, according to the site, a hill called Le Quesnoy, and the spot where Caesar's 10th Legion had parked. A hill? Seriously? The "slope" to the right leads down to the river.

Here is what Caesar says, according to my copy of The Conquest of Gaul:

"2:18 At the place that the Romans had chosen for their camp a hill sloped down evenly from its summit to the Sambre. Opposite it, on the other side of the river, rose another hill with a similar gradient, on the lower slope of which were three hundred yards of open ground. . ."

Sambre was the Roman's name for the river.

The Livius site says this last picture looks from the Nervian side of the river, looking toward where the 12th and 7th legions of Rome assembled. Here, yes, I do see a hill. However, most of the landscape in the pictures (and there are over a dozen) show land I consider pretty flat.

In fact, I will throw in the small version of a last picture, showing the Nervian campsite. Remember, this is supposed to be a similar hill, with 300 yards of open ground on its lower slope.

I guess the jury's still out.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Battle of the Top Tens

National Geographic now has a top ten archaeological stories of 2007. Were the Archaeology Magazine picks (previous post) not good enough?

Apparently not, since NG doesn't agree. Their list has stories about Hatshepsut (you can see my hubpage on that), Stonehenge settlements, plague graves on a Venetian island, the Lupercal cave in Rome--in fact, not one story matches Archaeology's top ten.

Which is, actually, really cool. That means 2007 was a great year for discoveries and new info, and there's double the reading for us armchair history lovers.

The picture is of a large Stonehenge house, one of two big buildings out of eight excavated. Either it belonged to someone important, or was used for ritual purposes.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Archaeology's Top Ten of 2007

Archaeology Magazine lists the top ten discoveries for 2007 online and in its Jan-Feb issue. They include new dating on Clovis points, discoveries at Tell Brak, Syria, Chankillo, Peru (& the squash seeds in Peru), Anghor, Cambodia, and Lismullin, Ireland, where a big Iron Age settlement was found within a mile of Tara.

That last one is pictured at right.
Highway workers found a henge--a ceremonial enclosure--dating back 2000 years.

People are irate over this: Lismullin is scheduled for demolition, like other towns along the M3 path. The EU is actually taking Ireland to the European Court of Justice over this! Yay! Here's the magazine link, and here's the Save Tara website.

In late November, those highway workers made another significant find: a carved stone probably dating back to the time that Newgrange was constructed, some 5000 years. Here's the story.

And here's the picture.

Also in the past few weeks, in Collierstown in the same vicinity, 60 bodies were unearthed, buried in a concentric circle. At another village, Roestown, a prehistoric game board, beads and jewelry--including gold torcs--were excavated. Here's a really interesting website that charts information of all the discoveries made in the area. Those discoveries include graves, mounds, filled-in ditches, homes and work areas that date back to the Bronze Age and before, all the way up to Medieval era.

Right. Who wouldn't want to run a highway through that?

That last website is maintained by the highway authorities. They state that the point of the excavation is: "should you so want to you could recreate the site. "

Recreation, not preservation. That's sad.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Site at Risk? Buy it Yourself!

Love this: a 33-acre archaeological site north of Austin, TX has been bought by one of the professors fighting to preserve it. The prof, one Michael Collins, then gave the parcel of land to the Archaeological Conservancy.

Like most college professors, Collins is not extravagantly wealthy. He cashed out his personal savings to close the sale.

The Gault site, as it's called, "was one of the major areas of activity for the Clovis people in North America and contains relics that are as many as 13,500 years old." That quote is from the American-Statesman web article. The Gault site was first worked over 1929 by University of Texas archaeologists, who loved the place so much they kept coming back. Here's a link to the UT website about Gault.

Even more spectacular--don't you agree that a site, used for several centuries some 13,000 years ago by mammoth hunters is spectacular?--is that in 2002, the University of Texas archaeologists found artefacts that predate Clovis.

(Clovis is defined by certain types of arrow and spearheads, originally discovered in Clovis, NM. The pictured points are from the Gault site, according to an article. For a long time, archaeologists insisted that Clovis people were the first in North America, and nothing could predate them. But excavations elsewhere--like Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Pennsylvania--are chipping away at this belief.)

Friday, December 14, 2007

UI Profs find Captain Kidd's Last Ship!

Newspapers and AP, ScienceDaily, and all other outlets would have you believe that the big news is that buccaneer Captain Kidd's ship has been found!

No. The big news is that Captain Kidd's ship was found and Robert Ballard had nothing to do with it. :->

The finders are an underwater archaeology team from Indiana University. They say that:

"The barnacled cannons and anchors found stacked beneath just 10 feet of crystalline coastal waters off Catalina Island [part of the Dominican Republic] are believed to be the wreckage of the Quedagh Merchant, a ship abandoned by the Scottish privateer in 1699."

The sunken ship is unlooted, but it wasn't holding treasure when it was sunk. The Quedagh Merchant was intentionally scuttled and burned after Kidd left it. He was on his way to New York to try (unsuccessfully) to clear his name. He was hung for piracy in 1701.

It was holding gold, silver, satin, and silk when Kidd siezed it south of the Indian coast a year earlier, however. Kidd had plenty of time to sell off some of its riches and bury the rest.

That's Dr. Charles Beeker, director of Academic Diving and Underwater Science Programs in IU Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, in the photo.

The plan is to explore it for the historical record, then set up an underwater preserve, accessible to snorkelers and divers. According the news story, the Dominican government has done this with other shipwrecks in its waters. Much more on the collaboration between the government and university is in the ScienceDaily story.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Plagiarism: OK if You've Already Got the PhD

The Washington Post, citing 02138 Magazine as its source, exposes the practice of celebrity professors at Harvard, who produce an unbelievable number of books while fulfilling their teaching responsibilities. . . . and while keeping their face in the press with interviews, tours, and talking head appearances.

(You have to scroll to the second story on the WaPo page, btw. )

F’rinstance Alan Deshowitz, Law Professor, has published a dozen books since 2000.

Now, I couldn’t write a dozen books in 7 years if I did absolutely nothing else but work on them day and night. Most authors couldn’t. (a million monkeys, maybe.)

Jacob Hale Russell (of 02138) says Dershowitz pays a couple of full-time researchers and 3 or 4 part-timers $11.50 an hour to churn these books out. Dershowitz also repackages his own published text and chapters under new titles. It's legal.

Another Harvard Law Prof, Charles Ogletree,was not too disturbed when others found that his book contained several uncited paragraphs of another author's published text. Ogletree used the old “my research assistant copied text verbatim from another source and another assistant accidently left out the attribution while typing” excuse. That's gotten a lot of mileage lately, but the academic community doesn't seem to mind.

As Peter Carlson of WaPo observes, students get expelled for such antics. It’s called plagiarism, and you’d think law professors—especially as their value lies in their rep—would put themselves above suspicion. You'd think that their peers, at least, would demand that.

Of course, you’d think historians like Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin would review the text from their books as well, removing passages lifted whole from other authors. But they used the same excuse—my research assistants wrote it and forgot the attribution.

Look, if your research assistants are writing your books, their names should be on the spine.

The practice of sending out underpaid grad students to compile books that will sell because a noted scholar—honest or not—is listed as the author has apparently become acceptable. I find it vile and shameful.

For the record, none of my professors ever did anything like that.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Los Angeles Times (I think it was them) reports that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have arranged with Comedy Central to keep paying non-writing (and therefore non-striking) staff members, at least through this week. Variety reports that Jay Leno has assured his staff he will pay them through the holidays. Apparently, Letterman, Conan O’Brien, and Jimmy Kimmel have also stepped up to the plate.

I feel all warm and fuzzy. This picture is from the BBC website--a series of photos of the strike dated November 14, 2007.

Rationalizations aside, this is Hollywood. It IS all about image.

Shame on Carson Daly. As for Ellen Degeneres, . . . maybe if writers had four feet and tails she’d show a little more backbone. OTOH—Daly’s feeble attempt at an unscripted monologue does show how vital writers are.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Roman Artefacts in London Well

Great picture of 4th century AD goblets and tableware, most made of copper alloy. They were found in a wood-lined well at Upper Walbrook Valley in London.

The 19 pieces include "a matching set of three bowls that nest together, buckets that were probably used to water down wine, a cauldron, jugs and a ladle.Despite being 1,700 years old, the swinging handles on some of the artefacts are still in working condition." according to the London Telegraph. The first two pictures were also copied from the Telegraph site.

The treasure is dated mostly by the coins that were found in the well with them.

The assumption is that the poor used wood or ceramics, so this belonged to rich Romans (were Romans the only class with money, then? The article isn't clear).

Why were these objects dumped in a well? Either they were being hidden during dangerous days, with the intention of being retrieved later--or, there was some ritual significance to their deposit in water, which sounds a lot more Celtic than Roman to me.

The well was under the Draper Company Gardens, and was excavated in advance of new construction. The Draper Company has donated them all to the Museum of London, where they've been put on temporary display. it's called (groan) "All's Well that Ends Well."

The last picture is of Museum conservator Nancy Shippey working on the vessels.

Monday, December 03, 2007

NAGPRA Threatened?

According to, and other science news websites, the Dept. of the Interior has drafted new regulations that "would destroy the use of cultural affiliation as the principle for repatriation decisions."

Some Background:
NAGPRA stands for Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. NAGPRA is a federal law passed in 1990 that requires all museums and institutions receiving federal funds to return human remains and cultural items from graves to tribes or tribal descendents. It also protects gravesites or suspected gravesites from digs--either archaeological or accidental.

This 1997 pictures shows NAGPRA in action. The box contains the rattle of a Sioux medicine man, Elk Head. The rattle is being returned to a descendent of Elk Head by the South Dakota State Historical Society Museum.

The National Park Service has a great chart explaining what NAGPRA covers.

The Dept of the Interior has a website on NAGPRA too, which is ironic because that Department now wants to change the rules.

“The Department’s proposed regulations have no basis in law or science and reflect an attempt to impermissibly legislate in a manner not prescribed by Congress. The adoption of the regulations as they stand would force the NAGPRA process back to square one,” said Dean Snow, who is president of the Society of American Archaeologists. His group says that the DoI doesn't have the authority to implement this change, which is flawed.

Here are the Federal Register summaries of the changes in pdf form. The SAA claims these changes destroy the use of cultural affiliation as the guide for who gets what artefacts.

I don't pretend to understand it, but NAGPRA was a hard-fought and much-needed law. Mucking it up is not wise.

Friday, November 30, 2007

ONE More Mailer Quote

Just One!

"A writer of the largest dimension can alter the nerve and marrow of a nation."

Wasn't that worth it?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007 Protecting the First Amendment

According to an AP story, phone companies and other entities--balked when zealous law enforcement demanded a list of people who'd bought certain books online.

Wow--imagine standing by principles in today's scary world. Even more astounding--this is a business standing up for our rights! We can't even find Congressional representatives willing to do that!

This all came about because federal prosecutors are going after an official who sold used books online--from his official office. He didn't report the profits. Bad, bad man.

The feds figured his book customers would make good witnesses. They wanted Amazon to turn over records of who purchased books from this guy, so they could contact those purchasers. Honest, that's it.

"We didn't care about the content of what anybody read. We just wanted to know what these business transactions were," the prosecutor said.

But Judge Stephen Crocker said "No."

More specifically, he said: "It is an unsettling and un-American scenario to envision federal agents nosing through the reading lists of law-abiding citizens while hunting for evidence against somebody else."

Yay, Judge Crocker! Yay, Amazon!

Could this be a trend? Will we actually start demanding the protections developed under 200 years of Constitutional rule?

Gee. . . what a great country could spring from that!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Follow-up to Satellite Mapping of Egypt

Much more information about Dr. Sarah Parcak and her team at the University of Alabama's Birgmingham campus can be found in a local newspaper here. Apparently Discovery Channel is filming a segment about her work.
"Anytime you see a significant change in elevation, you are going to find an archaeological site,". . . . Soils from ancient settlements are detectable because they have a higher organic content, which tends to retain more water. "Archaeological soils are chemically different than other soils," Parcak said.

Using Satellites to Find Sites in Egypt

This had to happen--I only wonder why it took so long. Seems like satellite technology has been used to find sites in the Americas for a couple of years now.

(Satellites, schmatellites. In the 1920s, airplane pilots pointed out intaglios carved into the California and Arizona deserts. And Roger Agache began using aerial photography to pinpoint the locations and outlines of Roman and pre-Roman Celtic sites in the Picardie region of northern France in the 1970s.)

But to get to the point--Yahoo reports that satellite mapping has identified over 100 new archaeological sites in Egypt. The work was done by ten computers run by researchers in Birmingham. Yahoo puts them in the UK (Birmingham, England) but that may be a mistake. Dr. Sarah Parcak (right) , Egyptologist with the University of Alabama, Birmingham leads the project. The sites include:

". . . a lost temple buried beneath agricultural fields, a major town in the East Nile Delta dating to the time of the pyramids, a large monastery from 400 A.D. in Middle Egypt and a massive, largely buried city beneath a field on the East Delta dating to 600 B.C."

Googling reaveals that that LiveScience reported in June 2007 that the same researchers had rediscovered a forgotten 1600-year-old metropolis 200 miles south of Cairo. This picture , credited to DigitalGlobe, is of the Great Aten temple at Tell al-Amarna. It shows a temple enclosure wall in the north, buried under a modern cemetery.

A University of Toronto site shows and tells about satellite imagery along the Nile Delta and Sinai regions. That project is called SEPE (Survey & Excavation Projects in Egypt.) Most of its info dates from 2004, but it's still interesting.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Norman Mailer Quotes

More words of wisdom from Norman Mailer's The Spooky Art:
  • A man lays his character on the line when he writes a novel. Anything in him which is lazy, or meretricious, or unthought-out, complacent, fearful, overambitious, or terrified by the ultimate logic of his exploration will be revealed in his book. . . . no novelist can escape his or her own character altogether.
  • Where indeed would England be now without Shakespeare? . . . If you ask who has had that kind of influence today in America, I'd say Madonna. . . . So far, she's had more to do with women's liberation than Women's Liberation.
  • The young writer usually starts as a loser and so is obliged to live with the conviction that the world he knows had better be wrong or he or she is wrong. On the answer depends one's evaluation of one's right to survive.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Excavating Rome and the Lupercal

This picture is too beautiful not to pass along.

It comes from a probe sent into a cave on the Palatine Hill in Rome. This dome, decorated with shells and mosaic art, may have been erected over what the Romans considered most sacred: the cave where, their legend said, the twins Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf. IOW, the cave where Rome began.

This picture comes from the BBC website, as did the diagram, which shows how deeply the structure is buried. The accompanying story is here.

An earlier story, with a few other details, is here.

The cave is near the ruins of the palace of Augustus Caesar, the first Emperor of Rome. The palace was built over 2000 years ago; the date of this dome has not been established.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Funny Videos by Striking Writers

These are links to entertaining videos. One of these days I will figure out how to embed videos on this blog--or (in the odd chance that my incompetence is not the culprit) blogger will provide a working methodology. But meanwhile:

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Luckiest Archaeology Student in the World

What's more exciting than finding a Roman-era pot in the back yard of the house you just bought in Yorkshire?

Being an archaeology student and finding a Roman-era pot in the back yard of the house you just bought in Yorkshire.

Seriously. Read about it here.

What if he switches his major to Forensic Science? Will he dig up a dead body?

Better yet--Gender Studies!

The possibilities are endless.

Here's a quote from the article:

Holme-on-Spalding Moor [the location of the student's house] has a history of historic discoveries, including an Iron Age boat excavated on the banks of the River Foulness at nearby Hasholme in the 1980s.

The River Foulness?

Who named that? Gollum?

Investigative Journalism

I just did a piece on ProPublica, the new non-profit investigative journalism organization. It's starting up in January, with Paul Steiner, former editor of the Wall Street Journal at the helm. Read my article and get all the here, on HubPages.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Norman Mailer On Writing

I've had the book for two years but I'm finally reading The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing, Mailer's book on writing. How edifying to learn that bouts of insecurity, financial panic, disillusionment, and disgust are normal . . . if Norman Mailer's experience could be considered normal. At least, they're not abnormal.

Here are Mailer quotes (and I'm only on pg. 57):

  • when a writer can't find the nuance of an experience, he usually loads up with adjectives.

  • Mega-best-seller readers want to be able to read and read and read--they do not want to ponder any truly unexpected revelations.

  • if I wanted my work to travel further than others, the life of my talent depended on fighting a littel more, and looking for help a little less.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Peru, dateline 2000 BC

Here is a lovely picture of a deer hunt (yeah, I don't quite see it either but that's what the archaeologists say), found in Peru. What's significant is that this piece of rather sophistcated art is 4,000 years old.

I love these stories that start out with the idea that this new discovery indicates people were more "advanced" or "complex" than previously thought. Don't we ever get tired of our own pomposity?

Anyway, this 7000-foot square temple complex called Ventarron was discovered near Peru's northern desert coast, 400 miles north of Lima, according to the Yahoo/AP story.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Huffington Haiku

How did we share jokes before email? Anyone?

A friend sent me Haiku's by Ariana Huffington. She was asked by Atlantic Monthly to compose these (Why? she wonders in her blog entry. ." . . sadism, perverse sense of humor, the pleasure of hearing a Greek talking like the blind monk on Kung Fu [?]"

I copy only one here, but it's a gem:

American Idea

A fizzy mix of freedom

Are we the hiccup?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Scab Writers!

It had to happen. ("Helping Hollywood in its time of need") has short promotional videos that are well worth the few seconds of your time. Some suffer from lighting issues, but hey, he's a writer, not an electrician. They're funny, that's the main point, and how many times can we watch reruns and still laugh?

He looks familiar. . . . I think he may be up for adoption if the price is right.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

News Hot, News Business Not

Catchy quotes from Tom Curley, President & CEO of AP, given during a November 1 dinner in New York and published by Editor and Publisher:

"The irony of the disrupted news economy of the 21st century is that the news is hot, but the news business is not ..."

"nothing has been invented to take the place of what reporters and committed news organizations do. Above all, it is about speaking truth to power when power most needs to be told."

"We are approaching an amazing point in the history of media. Quality will rule. With traffic to destination websites flattening and new distribution making all content accessible, we’re entering a new era of brutal competition. The best will stand out because they will be sought out. Newsrooms need to be reorganized around new content needs ..." [This seems unjustifiably rosy to me, but I willingly bow to the superior wisdom of the guy who runs AP]

"The perfect paper or newscast is becoming possible -- at least in the reader’s or viewer’s eyes. What is it you really want to know? We can personalize content now ..."

"Our focus must be on becoming the very best at filling people’s 24-hour news needs"

Sunday, November 04, 2007

. . . the Mother of Invention

According to The Wooden Horse ezine, a new service called Maghound hopes to 'Netflixize' magazine readers. For about $5, you get three mags a month. $8 gets you five, and $10 gets you seven. The service will start in September '08, and is run by Time Consumer Marketing--but will offer Time's competitors too. Subscribers can change their desired magazines as often as they like, online.

You can sign up to be notified of Maghound's launch at their website.

Anything that slows the agonizing death-throes of so many (but not all!) magazines is fine with me. Why don't they just get on with rolling out the collapsible viewscreen that we will all be using in the future--you know, the one that fits in our pocket, to which all of our subscriptions will be broadcast? If we can all have Iphones, and we'd all like to "save a tree," I really wonder why this has not happened yet.

And then, magazines will have healthy readerships once more and they can start paying their freelance writers a decent rate. Would it be loverly?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Another Winner for Gall!

Another winner of A-Lot-of-Gaul Award!

This may become a regular event . . . but not just yet. I'm too lazy to design a statuette. Still, attention must be paid.

Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France (Gaul) has just been voted a salary increase of 140%. He's only been in office six months and the French economy va à l'enfer, so it can't be a merit raise.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Presidential Two-steps

Being leader of the free world (do we still use that phrase?) is fine, but the important issue is--can the candidate move with panache?

Here's a link to CNN's Jeanne Moos' two-and-a-half minute video on Obama & Guiliani's dance efforts. It's cute, but you have to endure a 15-second commercial first

It must be said, however, that prowess on the dance floor is hardly a determinant for presidential ability. George Washington danced well and was a sought-after partner, according to biographers. Abraham Lincoln, otoh, was a terrible dancer.

In the movie Young Mr. Lincoln, Mary Todd (played by Ruth Gordon) tells Abe, "You said you wanted to dance with me in the worst way, and I must say that you’ve kept your word!”

Monday, October 29, 2007

WGA: Damned if you do, damned if you don't

A friend sent me the latest deliniation of writer/directorial responsibilities in the event of a WGA (Writers Guild of America) strike, from Variety.

Here are a few gems, as I read it.

  • Writers who direct are screwed. If they change so much as a stage direction on a script, they can be disciplined by the WGA. If they don't change what must be changed, they can be sued for breach of contract by their producers.

  • Since the DGA (Directors) has a no-strike clause, they must cross picket lines. . . but they can and should ask their producers to indemnify them as they do so, in writing. (presumably, writing such a contract would not be breaching the writing strike)

  • About 1400 people belong to both unions--the WGA and DGA

I have a new appreciation of my lackluster freelance status. As far as I can tell, I cannot be sued by anyone for writing or not writing anything.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


"Not too long ago only the giants of the mainstream media world—the Tom Wolfes and the Joan Didions—were bona fide media personalities. It was a class you aspired to, and few reached. "

So says an article by Doree Shafrir, "Fame and Obscurity at the New York Times," published in the New York Observer. "That was before anyone with a blog and a Flickr account could burrow into a writerly niche and, if all went according to plan, come out burnished by the soft glow of Internet fame. "

Oh, sigh, for that soft glow! But enough about me; the article goes on. To summarize the last century of journalism: "First came work, then came the brand."

Now, however, we must all be branded--an idea Shafrir traces to the 1997 article "The Brand Called You" by Tom Peters. And that includes journalists and writers.

Until the 1970s, the NY Times used bylines for only a few, front-page story reporters. Today, young tyros are hired and positioned because of their names and the following they've built up through blogs and networking sites.

I've been hearing agents and editors talk about branding and platforms since I started going to writing conferences six years ago. I keep hoping such talk will become passe. It seems to have gone mainstream and become part of the conventional wisdom that all writers must now learn. . . surely that's the last step before obsolescence?

The article is thought-provoking and touches on many elements of our me-culture. This quote stuck out:

"Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway, who wrote in 2000 that personal branding is “distasteful for being blatantly ambitious, sneaky and superficial.” . . .

"Today, being “blatantly ambitious” has different overtones; we live in an era in which we’ve convinced ourselves that nearly any behavior is okay, as long as we’re up front about it. The only thing worse than blatant ambition, after all, is false modesty."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

American Heritage Re-Birth

American Heritage is coming back!

Of course, that doesn't mean that it'll be the same magazine. The old American Heritage, after all, was not making money. That's why it suspended publication, right? So it stands to reason that the new owner, Edwin S. Grosvenor, will make some changes.

According to a NY Post story, those changes include hiring John F. Ross, formerly of the Smithsonian Magazine, as editor.

The Forbes family will retain 25% ownership in the magazine, which will resume publication in December 2007/January 2008.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Words o' Wisdom

You just never know when a bit of brilliance will strike.

I've never heard of Carolyn Hax, advice columnist--not surprising, since I don't read advice columns. But my eye fell on this yesterday, while skimming the articles in the Los Angeles Times Calendar section:

This is how people work: They do what they want. Consciously or not. Don't be distracted by all the colorful stuff they do or say to rationalize it.
That must either be a Zen coen or an AA maxim.

And doesn't it explain a lot about friends/family that we tend to rationalize?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Strike? Doesn't that Imply Steady Employment to Begin With?

Funny op-ed piece by Rob Long in the Los Angeles Times, about what types of writing might actually be forbidden if there is, in fact, a writer's strike. Not being a screenwriter, I usually just skim both the daily updates in the Times Calendar section and the editorials, but this made me laugh during jury duty. (the lovely patio is at the 18th St. Coffee Shop in Santa Monica, which is mentioned in Long's essay.)

As a professional writer, I've always been pretty good at not writing. Not writing, in fact, is one of my chief skills. I can not write anywhere -- on a plane, in a coffee shop, in my office -- and I often feel that a day spent without not writing is a day wasted. I even keep a notebook by the side of the bed, in case I wake up with an idea at 3 in the morning and don't want to write it down in case I don't forget it.

That first paragraph sounds a lot like 17 different advice articles I read about writing in my subscription magazines last month. Advice articles generally suck (even mine).

So, obviously, the prospect of a writers strike puts me in a curious position. Among the many proclamations and communiques issued by the leadership of the Writers Guild of America, as it marches its membership to glorious and pointless suicide, is an alarming list of things we're not supposed to do if there's a strike. Mostly, these involve some form of writing, which is something I tend not to do anyway. . . .

Read the rest here.

(Let's face it, if you want today's news on the writer-corporate studio negotiations, you must turn on the TV or computer. The paper will only tell you what sticking point were they haggling over yesterday.)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

First Edition Hobbit

Here is a literary anniversary I missed last month.

On September 21, 1937, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit: There and Back Again was published in London in a limited edition of 1500 copies, with illustrations by the author. The publication was announced in the New York Times.

One of the 1500 copies is for sale at, for 8,500 pounds, or $17,288. That's where I got this picture.

Wonder if it comes with pipeweed?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Congress Acts . . . on a 1915 issue

The only issue on which Congress--or at least the House--is showing consensus and dynamism is the resolution that declares Turkey's actions against Armenia a genocide.

That's true; it is. Was. in 1915, when it happened.

It's fine that Congress wants to make a grand, ethical statement.

Do they have to dig back 92 years to find something they can all agree on?

Do they have nothing else to posture over, besides deaths that occurred 92 years ago?

Will we have to wait till 2099 to see action on global warming or the defense budget?

Congress' lack of attention to the many pressing matters that threaten this country is an embarrassment. Do our representatives think we won't notice if they point a finger at the Ottoman Empire?

Should I be glad that they're not picking on gays, for once, or trying to keep women barefoot and pregnant?

Please tell me there's something better I can do with my voting rights than to support these bozos.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ann Coulter: Give her enough rope . . .


Here is what she said on CNBC, with Donny Deutsch. I'm taking this from the Editor and Publisher website, which has the transcript of the interview.

columnist/author Ann Coulter suggested that the U.S. would be a better place if there weren't any Jewish people and that they had "perfected" themselves into -- Christians."
Asked by Deutsch regarding whether she wanted to be like "the head of Iran" and "wipe Israel off the Earth," Coulter stated: "No, we just want Jews to be perfected, as they say. ... That's what Christianity is. We believe the Old Testament."

If Ann Coulter represents Christians, I'll take the fires of Gehenna any day.

Literature Awards and Nominees

Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize for Literature!
At last, someone whose work I've read! Someone I like! (especially her sci-fi)

And National Book Award Finalists include Christopher Hitchens (betcha he won't thank Jesus in his speech!) (yeah, I know, everyone else made that joke too), Sheman Alexie, and the author of a biography on Ralph Ellison, Arnold Rampersad.

Other finalists are in the AP Release. I'm gonna try to make Amazon links now.

My favorite Doris Lessing:Shikasta: Re, Colonised Planet 5 (George Sherban Emissary)
But there's also:The Golden Notebook: Perennial Classics edition (Perennial Classics)
Christopher Hitchens: God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
Sherman AlexieThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Arnold Rampersad: Ralph Ellison: A Biography

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

50 Best Breasts in Movie History

It's to celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It's . . . noble!

Another motivation might be to see how many pseudonyms and catchphrases the writers could find for "Bodacious Tatas."

Don't give up before the end; the last pair's the best!


Monday, October 08, 2007

Nobel Prizes

Men whose names I can't pronounce have won Nobel Prizes for manipulating mouse genes in ways I cannot fathom. Why would I blog about that?

Sucker for sentimentality. Here's what Yahoo says about one of the winners, Mario Capecchi:
The Nobel is a particularly striking achievement for Capecchi, (pronounced kuh-PEK'-ee). A native of Italy, he was separated from his mother at age 4 when she was taken to the Dachau concentration camp as a political prisoner during World War II.
For four years, Capecchi lived on the street or in orphanages, "and most of the time hungry," he recalled in a University of Utah publication in 1997. Malnutrition sent him to a hospital where his mother found him on his ninth birthday. Within two weeks they left for the United States, where he went to school for the first time, starting in third grade despite not knowing English.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Queries, Emailed

Many magazines accept emailed queries nowadays--which means, they're often getting swamped with them.

I have heard that some editors, in an effort to sift the chaff, delete those queries that use free email addresses, like yahoo, gmail, sbcglobal, earthlink, verizon, and especially aol.

I can't verify this. (hey, if I could call up editors to chat and ask if this is true, why would I need to send queries out?) But it's definitely something to think about, and another good reason to get that website you've been promising yourself.

If there's any way to improve the odds of getting your queries read, do it!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Who is John Galt?

If Wikipedia and the Los Angeles Times can be believed (especially as they agree), October 12 is the 50-year anniversary of the publication of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

The first time I read it, a well-meaning friend told me to "skip the philosophical parts--they go on for pages and pages." I never heard worse advice in my life! One can criticize or argue the book on many levels (bearing in mind, I hope, how groundbreaking and unprecedented it was in 1957) but don't skip a word. It is brilliant.

Everyone should read it, if only to get over it.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Radio Fatheads

O'Reilly makes racist remarks & refuses to apologize!

Limbaugh insults U.S. soldiers!

On and on . . . these blowhards live to upset you . There's only one way to shut them up--don't listen. Turn them off. Period

Monday, October 01, 2007

Wired: "Cue the Scream"

I love Wired Magazine. 95% of it goes over my head, and 3% is gorp, but that 2% that's left . . . . priceless.

A timeline in the current issue tells of all the times that a particular scream, originally dubbed into the 1951 movie Distant Drums, has been reused in films. The audio gag is called the wilhelm scream, and you can hear it here. You can also follow the timeline, as the Wilhelm scream made it into Them, the Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Lethal Weapon movies, Lord of the Rings, and Toy Story.

There's a compilation video at the site. Apparently over 130 movies have used it!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Rice in China, 7700 years ago

History never stays the same.

A couple of years ago, scientists and archaeologists were quite certain that people began cultivating rice in China at a certain date . . . but new discoveries have pushed that date back to 5700 B.C. (7700 years ago).

Turns out the sediments 9 to 12 feet deep, at the mouth of the Yangtze reveal that folks were building dams, burning fields to clear them, and flooding rice paddies. They may have been doing it long before the date mentioned, but by that time, the scientists say, those farmers had driven out other, older, trees and vegetation and were planting rice and cattails.

Cattails? Yuck.

The site is called Kuahuqiao, and the report is in Nature. This picture is of Kuahuqiao in 2001. Here's a transcription of a podcast, and an article in the Los Angeles Times.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Sleep-Deprived Congress

Bill Clinton (on the Daily Show) , speaking of the "sheer, physical strain on all these members of Congress.:"

"I think it makes them more edgy, I think it makes them more irritable, I think it makes them more vulnerable to being pulled back and forth by interest groups that want more conflict and less cooperation . . . I do believe sleep deprivation has a lot to do with some of the edginess of Washington today."

This comes during the last minute or so of the 6-minute video. Best reason I've heard for some of the shot-myself-in-the-foot behavior of certain Reps. They melt down, break laws, blow up, or mouth off in career-ending dramas. . . . what other explanation is there?

History Quotes

From Ken Burns, on the Daily Show:
"History is a set of questions we in the present ask of the past."

Some of my other favorite quotes on history:
Stuart Piggott: "Archaeological evidence in itself consists of the accidentally durable "
Gary Nash: "Do not try to skirt the dark, tragic episodes. If you do, you will only produce cynics. "
Arthur Schlesinger: "History is to the nation rather as memory is to the individual."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Other commitments will keep me busy this week (Yay! That means I can buy groceries in November!)

So for anyone who wonders if I have lost interest in blogging--ix-nay, no way. In fact, I am so dedicated to writing that even though Viggo is waging the good fight nightly (au buffo, except for tattos) directly across the street, I have not invested the time or $10.50 to watch. Such dedication borders on obsession. I not only have no life, but even fantasyland is a bit dry.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Profanity censored, but not headless corpses

I may be the only squeamish person in the galaxy, but I find this weird:

Broadcasting & Cable reports that:

[Re: The War ] " PBS is feeding both an edited and unedited version of The War to stations for each of seven two-hour debut broadcasts over seven evenings, which began Sunday night. It feeds only the edited version -- minus four swear words that crop up in episodes two and five -- to stations for weekend "stacking," when some stations will run all four of the first week's episodes back-to-back, which means that they will start airing in the afternoon or even the morning.

"Why? "Because conceivably, a four-year-old could watch it,” PBS spokeswoman Lea Sloan said, "and it would be going right into the teeth of the FCC." "

Umm . . . would a four-year-old not balk at the pictures of beheaded or gutted bodies, especially the ones with flies clustering over them? Would said four-year-old be oblivious to verbal descriptions of torture and mayhem?

The War is an excellent show and I hope it wins a passel o' Emmys. It is also engaging history. But cutting out four swear words and leaving in gore because "conceivably, a four-year-old could watch it" is just plain silly, and indicates that PBS--or, in truth, the FCC, to whom PBS must answer--thinks we have very distorted sensibilities.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Love, War and Sexuality

A new exhibition in Paris--Amours, Guerres, et Sexualite--shows how World Wars I and II affected the sex lives and amours of ordinary soldiers and civilians in Europe.

One review tells of engagement rings made of shrapnel, photographs and diaries, Mata Hari's travel documents, pinups, propaganda, and sex crimes--at turns touching and sentimental, or lewd, crude, and disgusting.

"Love, War and Sexuality" runs through Dec. 31 at Les Invalides in Paris and will not travel elsewhere. Here's the program in French. The website seems to be undergoing some changes and does not have the description up in English yet.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Seriously Skewed Priorities

Americans need to refocus and decide what's important.

There are no politics behind that statement. It's inspired by a new survey of over 1000 Americans in September, done by an advertising agency. The responses indicate that:

  • 28% of us sacrifice time that we would have spent talking or being with freinds and family, to surf the internet

  • One out of five of us--20%--has let the internet cut into our sex life.

Read the article here. Or go have sex. It's up to you.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Robert Ballard Talk

Dr. Robert Ballard gave a talk, showed slides, and signed books in L.A. last night. Fascinating evening if you are at all into underwater archaeology, the Black Sea, shipwrecks, WWII, or the Titanic. If you don't find those things interesting . . . why would you be reading my blog?

Dr. Ballard is the guy who found the Titanic. And the Bismarck. And the remains of PT-109 (JFK's ship). And a whole lotta other shipwrecks, including a Byzantine ship in the Black Sea, which constitutes his latest project.

The Black Sea, lacking oxygen below a certain level, preserves the wood of shipwrecks. Check out this website for more info on the most recent research trip.

Lucky me! Here's himself, signing my book (this explains why Dr. Ballard wears a baseball cap in most pictures.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

First Ever ALotOfGaul Award

How can I not bestow this? It involves both Gaul and gall!

Alexis Debat, a "self-proclaimed expert on terrorism. . . [and] regular contributor to the foreign affairs reviews Politique Internationale and National Interest, . . . a consultant for ABC News and an analyst of the prestigious Nixon Center attending conferences with the cream of the crop of American foreign policy circles. . ." (a media mover and shaker, iow) faked interviews with people like Senator Barack Obama, President Bill Clinton, former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan, NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and Microsoft uberlord Bill Gates.

He also pretended he had a PhD that he never earned . . . but that's small potatoes, compared with fabricating comments from world leaders.

Read all about it at! The scam is highly entertaining & a bit humbling. I'm sure a screenplay is in the works. . . . I can see Gaspar Ulliel (right) as Debat. You can't get any more charmant than that.

The Gaul tie-in? He's French, of course, and folks at ABC call him "Pepe le Pew." Additionally, Debat submitted the bogus Obama interview to French Political Review Politique Internationale, who published it. Ma foix. He's also written for Figaro, presented himself as being an officer with France's Defense Ministry . . . .

BTW, the pictur of Debat (above left) is from a Nov. 7, 2005 online transcript of Jim Lehrer's NewsHour on PBS. Lehrer introduces the talking head as:
"Alexis Debat, a contributing editor to the National Interest and a consultant for ABC News. He was a French defense ministry official and social worker before moving to the U.S.."
I want to ghostwrite his bio. But what does he need ghostwriters for?