Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Gonna be an odd sort of day...

You know it will be good and bad when this is the first thing you see when you get up, and it makes you laugh till you cry.

On the plus side, the first thing waiting in my email box was a request for sample chapters from an agent. Go, me!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Oldest Flute (so far) Found near Ulm

How old? Thirty-five thousand years. And it is unmistakeably a deliberately carved flute. The twelve pieces of it fit together to show a delicate instrument with five holes, carved from the wing bone of a griffon vulture. The finished mouth piece has a V notched into it. (The other end is missing)

Griffon vultures are now gone from Germany, but the species is not extinct. They thrive in Spain and in the Middle East.

The flute was found at Hohle Fels (which means Hollow Rock in German), a cave in the hills west of Ulm. This picture is from the ShowCaves site, and was taken by Jochen Ducheck. The cave entrance is right below the giant rock.

This is the same cave in which an equally ancient, headless, tiny, voluptuous, female-shaped carving made of mammoth ivory was found--here's my post on that. And here's another picture from ShowCaves showing an excavation near the entrance to the cave.

So. Musical instruments, lots of bones indicating successful hunts, and big-boobed statues . . . Obviously, around 35,000 years ago, Hohle Fels was party central. And that's not just mho--most of the articles, including this one from the New York Times, make some joke about Happy Hours. The Los Angeles Times story was headlined, "Germany's 1st nightclub?"

The same archaeologist (Nicholas J. Conard) that made this recent find also discovered the previous claimant to World's Oldest Flute as well--in the same area. I wrote about that on a HubPages entry, and included an interesting link to a sound recording of what that flute would sound like. Just in case you're interested. But those and other possible flutes were apparently not considered conclusive. Were the holes placed there deliberately, some nabobs of negativism queried, or were these very old bits of ivory just thin and deteriorating? Well, the vulture bone has lines--decorative, I'm guessing--as well as aligned holes, so I don't think the artifact could conceivably be anything BUT a flute.

Monday, June 22, 2009

1897 Lourdes Film

The World Digital Library has all sorts of online treasures, graphically searchable by continent or time line. Our own Library of Congress collaborated with UN agencies to compile it, making the world's cultural heritage (well, part of it) available to anyone. What have they got?

Ancient maps. The first printing of a letter from Christopher Columbus dated 1493. Photographs from all over the world. Recordings, including a bagpipe version of Amazing Grace. Manuscripts, including Christine de Pisan's 15th century book on etiquette and practical advice, translated into English in 1489 so that Henry VII's soldiers could benefit from her words.

Here's a film by the Lumiere brothers showing the procession at Lourdes in 1897. Neato!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Update on Looting

Eric Holder Testifies Before Senate Cmte On Justice Dept Oversight

In the previous post I gave the basic story of how looters--who were digging up Native American artifacts in the Four Corners area--were arrested last week.

To be very clear, NO ADULT could possibly be unaware that what they were doing was a crime. While most of the artifacts came from federally-owned land, we now learn that some were dug up on tribal land. These people committed crimes for years and profited from them, making tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Their actions show not only a scorn of law and order, but complete disregard for Native American sensibilities.

One of the accused committed suicide, leaving his wife to face charges. No one's cheering about that, but he committed crimes and so, charges were filed against him. Did that drive him to suicide? Do we not arrest people if they're liable to kill themselves?

Latest development? According to the Los Angeles Times, Senator Orrin Hatch grilled our Attorney General Eric Holder (pictured) over the display of force used in the arrests. Senator Hatch questions the used of 100 armed and body armored agents to arrest two dozen criminals in a remote area.


The government finally enforces long-standing laws, sending four officers per criminal, and that's excessive?

"They came in full combat gear...like they were going after, you know, the worst drug dealers in the world," Hatch said.

My, how unreasonable. Dressing for the occasion, not taking chances when arresting those who have broken the law repeatedly. Hatch called it a dog-and-pony show. I think he's running one of his own.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Looters Charged with Looting--what a concept

Indictments have been issued against 24 people accused of looting Native American sites on public land (story in the Los Angeles Times)


The crimes took place in the Four Corners area, and many of the folks indicted live in Blanding, Utah (pictured at right, and the picture is from city-data.com). But looting seems to go on everywhere in America. As the Times story says, "Archaeologists, Native American groups, and preservationists have long argued that the government has not moved aggressively enough to stamp out the plundering of artifacts." Soooo true. Often, the only steps taken (because no money has been allocated to do more) is to keep sites kinda secret, so that looters won't sneak in.

This time, though, investigators put a mic on an antiques dealer and--after two years--were able to catch the brigands who were allegedly fencing goodies, including a rug made with turkey feathers.

The article describes how the University of Utah used to pay people to bring in arrowheads and pots--up to the 1920s. That was 80+ years ago, but the sense I get from this story is that some experts blame the government for not convincing the public in this area that looting damages archaeological sites.

I don't buy that. While greed and stupidity go hand in hand, no one is so ignorant as to think that digging up a grave isn't doing damage. No one supposes that desecrating a grave is a good thing, do they? There's even a Wikipedia entry on Looting!

These jerks sneak around and work at night because they know they're breaking the law. The affidavits show that the thieves knew the authorities were after them.

Archaeologists estimate that 90% of the 20,000 archaeological sites in that area--San Juan County--have been looted. The criminals can get up to ten years in prison.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Thank You, James Poniewozik!


Which is: If the Journalism Business Fails, Who Pays for Journalism? That's also the title of his June 8 editorial in Time Magazine.

Here's a quote: "If journalism is not a revenue producer, much of it could become like freelancing—but freelancing you can't live off of."

Poniewozik (I love that name) brings up some interesting near-future scenarios about who and what system might produce our news. I especially like the ideas about product placement and am rooting for Miles O'Brien (if you don't understand the reference, please go read the column. Really, it's good).

I'm not a journalist; never went to journalism school and have very limited experience writing straight news stories. But journalists are fellow writers, and thus I feel their pain. (I also worry that if the freelance market is flooded with out-of-work journalists, jobs for writers will be even harder to get. Selfish me.)

Monday, June 08, 2009

Recommended Reading for the Summer

The Berrybender Narratives, starting with Sin Killer: A Novel (Berrybender Narratives)

If you slurp up stories like a 10-year-old does an icee, you may finish these four books in a week or two. But take your time, keep them in the car, stretch them out--they're so worth it.

Larry McMurtry tells the story of the Berrybender family, a spoiled, clever, hedonistic pack of British bluebloods who dare the American west in the 1830s. Why? Because Papa wants to shoot exotic game. (Papa is the type who started naming his children Nine and Ten for convenience' sake, when all the good names were used.) The clan and their long-suffering servants meet up with Indians, trappers, and slavers. Some of them die or lose body parts or sneak off for healthy fornication; some Berrybenders you hate but they begin to grow on you. Historical figures like George Catlin, Kit Carson, Pomp Charbonneau, and Jim Bridger are part of the mix, drifting in and out of the Berrybender saga over a couple of years.

McMurtry is brilliant. He's done something I have never, ever seen or heard of before: he changes point of view five or six times in one page, hopping in and out of characters with wild abandon. In his skillful prose, it all makes sense. Reading becomes voyeuristic: the books are a quadrille, with all the dancers switching places, twirling around--yet to the observer, the changes are always graceful and entertaining.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Nick Magazines Closing Down

I'm reading a lot into this, but not doom and gloom. Nickolodeon and Nick Jr magazines are shutting their doors and about 30 staffers will lose their jobs--not to mention the multiple freelancers who lose another market.

Kids are not reading less--in fact, I think they're reading more than ever (thank you, Lemony Snicket and J.K. Rowling and all the rest!) But the idea of children watching the mailbox in anticipation of a glossy new magazine just for them, with their name on the address label, is just so quaint.

Why would a kid in 2009 look forward to getting a magazine when they can hop on the internet for all the stories and pictures they want, picking and choosing among many topics and printing out what appeals most to them? Ligers, shipwrecks, dreamy androgynous dudes--right there at your fingertips. It's all free, as long as there's a spare color print cartridge nearby.

Change is good. That's my mantra, when things-fall-apart-and-the-center-cannot-hold-and-I-need-to-get-to-my-happy-place-fast. Change is good. Really. Good and hard.

From a reader's point of view, it's a simple paradigm shift. Adults have habits--well, some of us do--of flipping idly through bound pages as we sip our lattes. Kids are forming new habits. Let's just hope they don't spill their strawberry fraps [please keep them from caffeine] on the keyboard as they're googling and clicking.

From a writer's pov, there's this little wrinkle of making a living. Hard to find internet markets that pay as well as print did--not that print paid all that well, or even all the time. In ten years I'll probably have it figured out, but right now it's dicey.