Danny O'Brien quotes Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle: "What happens to libraries? they burn," a pretty nihilistic-sounding comment if it's taken to be a comment on Iraqi libraries burning.

And Cory Doctorow points to a librarian's-eye critique of blithe, "oh, just reprint it all" dismissals of burning by people who "should know better."

But so far, all I can actually find about this "quote" from Brewster Kahle, is this ancient (1996!) Slate article on the looming, Borges-ian threat of a web archive, i.e., never being able to forget anything, ever. According to the oh-so-long-ago peace, love and cyber-utopian understanding paradise that was 1996, this kind of (admittedly traumatic) institutional slate-wiping is necessary "to rid yourself of the past so you can go forward.''

Perhaps the rhetoric's just a bit, er, overheated. It was 1996, after all. But now that we've actually had a good, old-fashioned library-burnin' or two, are we prepared to entertain the possibility that an ahistoricist, culture-be-damned imperialism may actually be boldly revolutionary and forward-thinking? Just playin' Rumsfeld's advocate here...

4/22 Update/Clarification/Retraction: If your main goal is just email *volume*, you probably can't do better than to unintentionally sound like you're slamming/questioning netgods Brewster Kahle and Danny O'Brien. If, however, you actually *care* what people think, and you also happen to be a longtime worshipper/groupie of said gods, you should quickly add context when it's provided.

More later, (gotta drop the car off for service) but start by checking Danny's original interview with Kahle, and the original quote, which is much better than the abbreviated version (and not just because it calls a spade a spade on the Bush library burning issue).

Sue Ellicott writes in the Washington Post about how the British Museum (known, before last week, for having "the greatest collection of Mesopotamian antiquities outside Iraq") mobilized during wartime. They quickly programmed lectures, gallery talks, and panels to meet the sudden surge in visitor interest in Assyrian and Mesopotamian art and culture.

And speaking of the British Museum: In the NYT, John Tierney looks at the Looting Formerly Known As Capitalism, Thank You, specifically, Lord Elgin's "buying" the Parthenon frieze, which, inconveniently for present-day archeologist ideologues, saved it from destruction by the Turks. Or someone. I'm still waiting for Jeff Jarvis to slam France for not giving the Louvre back to Egypt. Or to the Pope.

April 18, 2003

The NYTimes' man in Baghdad, John F. Burns, talks to Newshour about the shakedowns and threats from his Iraqi Information Ministry handlers in the last days of the regime. Apparently, they were not all as funny as al-Sahhaf.

[4/19 update: In Sunday's Times, Burns hits for the fence with a looong article on the thuggish nature of Saddam's whole crew.

April 18, 2003

Arts Journal has an extensive round-up of coverage of the Iraqi National Museum and libraries looting/burning (Including LAT's Christopher Knight's view of Bush admin. views of art/culture, which coincides with my own.It doesn't include Pfaffenblog's extensive discussion of possible pre-war collector lobbying at the Pentagon.) [via MAN]

Frankly, I've been surprised by the rather glib indignation of some peoples' reactions to this issue (and I don't mean Rumsfeld's; his dismissiveness is entirelyto be expected.) If you'd suggested--two years, a year, even two months ago-- that cuneiform diaries would become a poisonously partisan issue, you'd have been laughed out of whatever chatroom you'd wandered into. (If you'd said it in any more substantial forum, you'd've been hauled off in a padded wagon.)

But here we all are, screaming across the barricades, trying to spin a cultural tragedy (which has a primarily long-term impact on capital C Civilization, but almost no serious direct effect on any individual human alive) into instantaneous political pointscoring (which is designed to serve, above all, the ego and immediate wants of the person spinning). It's like listening to ImClone derivatives daytraders arguing over the state of basic science research.

This is probably a fence-sitter between and A Guardian interview with Jack Shaheen, who's spent 20+ years studying Hollywood's depiction of Arabs. His massive survey, Reel Bad Arabs, came out in the US in 2001, but is just reaching the UK. In his analysis of over 900 films, he finds negative stereotyping to a degree that'd now be unthinkable for other groups (unless, of course, they're making mad bank off their own stereotypes, a la My Big Fat Greek Wedding).

And everyone complained Lucas was mindlessly stereotyping JEWS.  Hugh Griffith and Watto, And people criticized Lucas for his crafty Jewish traders? (Or was it his Inscrutable Asians? Or his...) Ben-Hur's Arab Friend was played by Hugh Griffith, left, image:

But seriously, setting aside David Russell's Three Kings (which Shaheen adised on, btw), if the best you can hope for from Hollywood's is the Ben-Hur treatment--where the Arab sheikh is a Brit (named Hugh Griffith) dipped in a tub of bronzer--you know there's a problem. Of course, the Jews got stuck with Charlton Heston, so it's lose-lose for everyone...

April 14, 2003


The AP report on CNN details the contents of Saddam's "shagadelic" safehouse.

On the day when I'm meeting a producer of Austin Powers for lunch, all my websites are converging.

AP photographer John Moore creates an image worthy of Thomas Struth, image:
In a nod to Thomas Struth, AP's John Moore took this picture of US Army Lt Eric Hooper checking out the art in Saddam's shagpad. image: AP, via

[Update: The Guardian's Jonathan Jones looks at what can be learned from "the hysterical aesthetic, the hyperpornography of power and violence" of Saddam's "art" collection.

The paintings were made in the mid-80's by "Fantasy Artist Extraordinaire," The NY-based Rowena, who sold one to a Japanese collector years ago for $20,000. She insisted to the NY Daily News that her newer work "is much better." Here's an online gallery. Oh, yeah, apples and oranges. Still, the Daily News wins with their headline, "Shag-dad art is mine!" (Thanks, BoingBoing!)]

Pillagers Strip Iraqi Museum of Its Treasure, John F. Burns in the NYT.
Mosul descends into chaos as even museum is looted, Luke Harding in the Guardian.

When I said yesterday that the US administration had no interest or care for art, this isn't what I meant. Honestly, this is as unconscionable as the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statues by the Taliban, which UNESCO's director general, Koichiro Matsuura called "a cold and calculated 'crime against culture'".

Taliban destruction of the world's largest Buddha statue, Every other March, a country taken over by fundamentalists gets its priceless cultural heritage destroyed on CNN.

[Update: In the 4/15 Washingon Post, Philip Kennicott discusses the destruction of the museum and the fate of Ali, the 12-year old double amputee survivor of a US rocket attack. Referring to Prospero, he asks us what someone should ask Rumsfeld, et al, "This thing of darkness, do you acknowledge it yours?"]

In his Bloghdad column on Slate [love the name, Will!], William Saletan scores a direct hit on the "soft bigotry" of Bush's complimenting the Iraqi people as "gifted." "He doesn't mean exceptional. He means ethnic." For Bush, it turns out, "gifted" and "talented," are traits shared by many fine non-white races, God bless'em.

It's funny how things change; when I was growing up in North Carolina, "gifted and talented" meant "white." To comply "with all deliberate speed" to the Supreme Court's 1955 Brown vs. Board of Education order to integrate schools, the GT program opened, not equal and technically not separate, on the grounds of Ligon Middle School on the other side of Raleigh, just in time for my 6th grade year, in 1979. Our history teacher instructed us, on the day the one black GT student was absent: "Lord, just don't call them colored."

Talk about motivated seller. The Wash. Post's Jonathan Finer went to an open house at Tariq Aziz' place in Baghdad, and like any good open house visitor, he judges the owner's taste in books, movies, and bathroom reading. It's gotta be heartening for Graydon Carter to learn that there were "dozens of Vanity Fair magazines" next to the DVD's ("It's not just for Oklahoman divorcees anymore!").

For your total Tariq Lifestlye shopping convenience, I've formatted the inventory --including a few of Tariq's favorite scents--into Amazon Lists:

  • From the Library of Tariq Aziz
  • "Tariq, what are you doing in there?" Master bathroom reading
  • Tariq Aziz's Movies to Front For a Tyrant By
  • Rollin' on Baghdad: Step out like Tariq Aziz

    A western perspective: the non-Tariq Aziz, Non-Expert, calls Drakkar Noir "the scent of choice for scoring at homecoming dances and JV volleyball games."

  • WNYC is my media default setting. I know several artists who live by WNYC; they have it playing in their studios all day. If they still do this, I don't know; but I find myself turning off wall-to-wall war discussion more frequently, whether out of distraction, exhaustion, or resignation.

    Oddly, that's just the opposite of what I did during/after September 11th. For days, weeks, WNYC was this incredible lifeline, an important source of solace, community; I almost never turned it off. Divisions over the war run deep, and positions seem to be calcifying. With the microsegmentation/balkanization of media sources, war coverage itself has become a point of contention. Rather than bringing people together, media--even the media I generally agree with--ends up reinforcing the differences.

    Cheney in Bunker, by Kira Od, image:wnyc.orgFor more than a week now, WNYC has been soliciting art from its listeners, by its listeners, art made in response to the war. Submissions to date number nearly 100, and can be seen online. It's a sobering collection, in ways I don't think are intentional.

    It's protest art, almost without exception. (I remember host Brian Lehrer's intermittent pleas for art from supporters of the war/troops/president, which didn't materialize, apparently.) The exhibit reveals not just overarching bitterness, but an almost pathetic sense of powerlessness. In the tone and content, the raw anger, and in some cases, the sheer obviousness, there's a subtext of impotent rage. Art, at least this art, seems like the resort of people who tried other means of protest and found them wanting.

    In her Oscar speech, Nicole Kidman weakly reassured us that "art is important." It's certainly important to its creators. And yeah, it's important in the whole "what it means to be human" sense. But the absence of pro-war art has less to do with WNYC's political demographics, and everything to do with deep conservative suspicion of the role of "art" itself. The administration in power/culture in ascendance right now views art, not patriotism, as the last refuge of the scoundrel. And that unsettles me almost as much as the threat of perpetual war.

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    Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

    Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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