Battle for the ruins of Uruk in Iraq

A shepard is battling looters at the archaeological site of Uruk in Iraq, according to this report.

Mr Altubi, 65, calls himself custodian of the dead city of Uruk.

"When I saw them
[looters], I shouted at them to leave, get off this land. What is buried here doesn't belong to any man. It belongs to the world," Mr Altubi said.

Uruk was the most important site in southern Mesopotamia, and probably the entire Middle East, in the 4th-3rd millennia BCE, the period in which the legendary king Gilgamesh supposedly built the city's walls. But, in Iraq, it's almost impossible not to find antiquities when you dig a little bit anywhere.

If this story is true, it's a good one.


Study finds Labour doomsday scenario "misleading"

Looks like Blair is employing a favorite political tactic again:

John Curtice, the respected psephologist and professor of politics at Strathclyde University, who carried out the analysis, said: "Labour's claim that switching from Labour to the Liberal Democrats could enable Mr Howard to win the election is highly misleading."

Blair? Misleading? Using bullshit scare tactics not backed up by any evidence (if you don't vote Labour, Howard will fly his balsa-wood drones over London and spray you with Tory dust)? Say it isn't so.

If Labour and all of the well-meaning British liberals who, for good reason, do not not want to see the Tories back in power really want to see Labour go on to a certain win at the polls next week, then all this effort directed at getting people to hold their noses and reward Blair for his part in the Iraq war would be better spent in a getting a set date for him to step down as PM - as in right after the elections.

Robin Cook makes the argument that Labour has done a lot for lower-class and elderly people in the UK. Fine. You know what? Labour will survive without Blair, and they can keep doing all their nice things without him. But Blair fucked up, big time. The Labour mantra that British voters should "get over it" might as well be phrased as "fuck you". When you screw up that badly, and condescend that much, you have to go.


America's second-most important columnist

Has Robert Novak always been this much of a jackass?

Republicans, weak and disorganized, were ground down by the Democratic juggernaut. Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio was so impressed by Democratic demagoguery that he impulsively dropped his support of Bolton, ending the narrow 10-8 committee tally for sending the nomination to the Senate floor.

Awful, simply awful. "Juggernaut"... "demagoguery"... "impulsively" - Novak sounds like an eighth-grader forced to write an essay incorporating this week's vocabulary words. Who cares if it makes any kind of sense, as long as it's grammatically correct.

Then there's this:

The only new element in Dodd's case against Bolton was the claim by Melody Townsel (self-described as a "vocal" outspoken Democrat) that she was mistreated by Bolton in a 1994 dispute in Moscow when Bolton worked in the private sector. Her claims were buttressed by Washington consultant Kirby Jones, and here again the Cuban connection emerges. Jones is described by Newsweek as having "better contacts in Cuba than any other American" and by the New York Times as "the man to see about business in Cuba."

A person claims she was subjected to psychotic behavior by a guy who wants to be UN ambassador - and this is merely a "new element" in the mix? Shit - it's a good thing Bolton didn't stick an ax in someone's head, because then Novak might have to somehow work around a "minor incident" or maybe, going back to the grade-school vocabulary, an "episodic outburst". And is Novak trying to imply that all the fuss about Bolton is simply about Cuba? Maybe Fidel is secretly transmitting instructions to his dupes in the Senate.

Or maybe Novak has simply been a hack all along.

'America's most important columnist'

Just in case: if you have not read Matt Taibbi's review of Friedman's new book, do it now. Beyond hilarious.

The usual ratio of Friedman criticism is 2:1, i.e., two human words to make sense of each single word of Friedmanese. Friedman is such a genius of literary incompetence that even his most innocent passages invite feature-length essays. I'll give you an example, drawn at random from The World Is Flat. On page 174, Friedman is describing a flight he took on Southwest Airlines from Baltimore to Hartford, Connecticut. (Friedman never forgets to name the company or the brand name; if he had written The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa would have awoken from uneasy dreams in a Sealy Posturepedic.) Here's what he says:

I stomped off, went through security, bought a Cinnabon, and glumly sat at the back of the B line, waiting to be herded on board so that I could hunt for space in the overhead bins.

Forget the Cinnabon. Name me a herd animal that hunts. Name me one.


Journalistic force

Good old Doug Jehl at the New York Times - whenever his byline shows up, you can be sure that hilarious mediocrity is not too far behind.

In his latest offering, Dougie examines the problems John "Anger Management" Bolton is having in his Senate committee hearings:

Senator Lincoln Chafee, the Rhode Island Republican who had earlier said he was inclined to support Mr. Bolton, said Wednesday that he wanted to consult with his colleagues in the wake of the stormy meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday at which Democrats forced the postponement of a vote until next month.

So, according to Dougie, "the Democrats" forced the committee to delay its vote on wingnut Bolton's nomination. It's too bad that he didn't note how impressive that feat was, considering that the Democrats have only 8 people on the committee, while the Republicans have 10.

But this mystery is cleared up a few lines later:

Senator George V. Voinovich, Republican of Ohio, sided Tuesday with the Democrats, forcing the panel's chairman, Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, to put off a vote.

So, as it turns out, it was Voinovich, and not The Democrats, who "forced" the vote on Bible Boy to be put off. Voinovich... The Democrats... it gets all confused in the synergy of Washington journalism. Or perhaps Jehl is attempting to imply something more sinister: maybe the Democrats "forced" Voinovich to side with them, producing a scenario by which Voinovich served as the nominal "forcer" of this delay, while the Democrats, ultimately, were the real "force" behind the "forced" postponement.

In any event, reports of psyocopathic behavior weren't bothering Bush, who was was fully backing Dolton:

"Take John Bolton, the good man I nominated to represent our country at the United Nations," Mr. Bush said. ... "I urge the Senate to put politics aside and confirm John Bolton to the United Nations."

Uhh, dude... you are aware that the Senate is absolutely full of "politicians", right? And that "politicians" do "politics"? And that if Senators, being "politicians", "put politics aside", they won't be doing their jobs?

It is truly terrible that "politics" has to get in the way of a psycopath's confirmation. What is America coming to?


Ratzinger and the Church

Someone else pointed out that while, for non-Catholics, the election of a new pope means little in terms of spirituality, doctrine, etc., it nevertheless has other important implications, political, for example. So for what it's worth, here are some thoughts from a Protestant-turned-atheist on the election of Cardinal Ratzinger to head the Roman Catholic church.

Some people are already expressing hope that Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict XVI, will not be so bad and are advising people to "give him a chance". They think that he may have some kind of change of outlook from his days as the Vatican's commissar of ideological correctness. I have to wonder whether these people are a little slow, naive, or just stupid. The guy, just one day ago, declared war on modernism, post-modernism, even pre-modernism - hell, anything to do with secularism at all. People who believe in a progressive, humanist outlook and a secular state that guarantees citizens freedom of worship and conscience are said to be contributing to a "dictatorship"; but fanatics who want to force people to live by their rules, which they attribute to "god" but most of which were developed during a period when the Church was burning heretics and ignorantly insisting that the sun revolved around the earth, are, according to Ratzinger, wrongly labelled as "fundamentalists".

This is not a minor disagreement about faith in the modern world; this is a declaration of war. This is a war that is very real for Ratzinger and his cohorts and one they intend to prosecute. The Vatican, in general, and Ratzinger, specifically, have made it clear that they think it acceptable to use religion to interfere in political institutions and processes that affect many more people than just Catholics. Other commentators discuss the need to clarify a morality without "theocratic absolutism"; but Ratzinger and others who share his worldview (not just fundamentalist Catholics) aren't ignorant. They know this exists, and they reject it, with contempt. A theocratic outlook combined with means to enforce it upon people who do not share this worldview calls for more than dialogue (as important as that is), as we are seeing in the contemporary United States.

Max makes a point about focusing on Ratzinger's Nazi past. The first comment, as a rebuttal, is worth considering. Without dwelling on it too much: the Church knew this would be an issue for many people, for good reason. One can be justified for skepticism about the Church's pronouncements on reconciliation and dialogue in this respect.

Finally, we get down to how the new Benedict XVI is going to work out for the Church. Speaking as someone without a direct stake in the matter, I think he was a bad choice. The Church will shed members; those who stay will have to conform or shut up. We can expect to see the continuation of a trends that began during the reign of John Paul II. But this raises the issue of the nature of organizations. If an organization or a group changes its fundamental policies and ideologies, then after a certain point, it becomes a different organization. If the Catholic church admits women as priests, eases up on its hierarchy, and eliminates the dogma underlying these policies and others that bother "liberals", what will differentiate it from, say, Episcopalianism? From what I've seen, many reformers are asking the Church to become something it's never been. There will be limits to this, and I think that many people are going to be disappointed. Real change, though, might come when more and more people, at the bottom of the organization, start questioning more and more why such a hierarchy, which was developed in an imperial climate 2,000 years ago and in which they have no say, is necessary for their salvation in the modern world.

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