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.

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…


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.

    the great IIM reporting the takeover of Shea Stadium,

    When Rush Limbaugh told his radio audience the Iraqi Info Min (turns out he’s a Democrat, who knew?) had just claimed to have invaded the US and taken over Shea, then Yankee Stadium (“because it was snowing, and they knew the opener’d been cancelled and the stadium would be empty”), one listener called CBS to excoriate them for ignoring this vital piece of news, and another scolded Rush for foolishly leaking “a GO signal” to the Iraqi sleeper cells in NYC. You can laugh now, but these folks are probably more likely to vote than the five people sitting nearest to you right now.
    Listen to the clip of Rush Limbaugh. [Did I really just write that? Thanks a lot, Monkey Disaster.]

    For those who aren’t familiar with Phoenix (the US city I’ve most heard Baghdad compared to on NPR), the Webby-nominated has published the Baghdad City Size Comparison.
    With the ribbon-cutting for the American Express office still weeks away, and Halliburton’s contract to build out the Iraqi ATM network caught up in the whole Cirrus vs. Carte-Bleu Smartchip debate, you may want to take some Iraqi dinars with you before you go. Wired reports on the popularity of Sadaam Dinars on eBay.
    Did I say popularity? I meant bubble. “How much is a Pokemon worth today? Or a Nasdaq index? Yes, there is a Saddam Dinar bubble,” confesses collectible currency dealer George Lindgren. But maybe your dotcom experience has enabled you to ride a bubble just right. Go ahead. Otherwise, for now, just take USD.

    Lord Bless This Defender of Freedom Figurine, M-16 included,

    For those who are put off by the Lord Bless This Defender of Freedom Figurine from The Bradford Group’s Hamilton Collection, be of good cheer.
    When the Power that made and preserved us a (free, capitalist) nation, He surely knew someone–even the original Precious Moments, created by His servant, Samuel Butcher— would still minister to the non-M-16-toting, teardrop-eyed, religious, children-in-military-uniforms figurine market. (And if the Good Lord had wanted the PM figurine to be $19.95, like the Hamilton figurine, instead of $35.00, He wouldn’t have created brand equity. What are you, a Godless communist?)
    I'm proud to be an American-Army Figurine, image:

    Visit the Precious Moments Chapel–which includes a PM-style copy of the Sistine Chapel–in Carthage, Missouri. Or visit the investor relations page of Enesco (NYSE: ENC, the manufacturer of Precious Moments.

    Slate‘s Timothy Noah rounds up some public relations experts to explain the increasingly reality-challenged statements of/give advice to Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf. Meanwhile, In the SF Chron, Ashraf Khalil comments on a live FoxNews interview with US troops in one of Sadaam’s palaces, juxtaposed with a live rooftop statement from al-Sahhaf denying that there were any US soldiers in Baghdad. [Khalil bonus: the translator apparently struggles and ad-libs to accurately capture all the color of al-Sahhaf’s statements.]
    As bloghdadded earlier, the NYT‘s John F. Burns was ahead of this news curve; here’s how he closed his April 3 report from the streets of Baghad Read carefully. You don’t have to argue over the definition of “cakewalk” to see that, in PR terms, al-Sahhaf is not actually lying (well, except for the whole “bitterly defeated” part) :

    At Kut, [al-Sahhaf] said, the Americans had been “bitterly defeated.” At Hilla, too.
    “We’re giving them a real lesson today,” he burbled. ” `Heavy’ doesn’t accurately describe the level of casualties we have inflicted.”
    As for reports that American troops were nearing the airport at Baghdad, he chuckled. “The Americans aren’t even 100 miles from Baghdad,” he said.

    I say, credibility straining, obfuscation, and trying to put a pretty face on ugly events is SOP for an Information Minister, even if his title is “White House Press Secretary.” Mike McCurry empathizes, “”I’m sure the poor guy has to do this because someone’s going to shoot him if he doesn’t. At least I never had that problem.” That sighing sound you hear may be a sadly envious Ari Fleischer.
    Update: Slate rounds third with a lengthy list of al-Sahhaf profiles and fascinating speculations.

    Don’t quite know where to categorize this post…probably between “Hey, that was my idea,” and “Maybe if you’d mentioned it or moved on it…” David Edelstein looks at
    David O. Russell‘s 1999 GW1 movie, Three Kings through 2003 GW2 eyes:

    Again and again, he uses color, sound and surreal interpolations to break through the viewer’s movie-fed, CNN-filtered, rock-‘n’-roll-fueled dissociation. With its jarring mixture of tones, “Three Kings” was not a box-office blockbuster. But it looks more and more like a classic.

    What timing.A year ago, I met David when he came to NYC for a MoMA film dept. award. Since hanging out with him again in Feb., I’ve been thinking of the prescience of Three Kings. On his screen, Russell mapped the moral complexity on both sides in a very humanistic way, even as the twin towers of Sadaam’s evil and UN/US righteousness dominated the other, television screens.
    In addition to the outrage of the US not supporting Iraqi uprisings in ’91 (which is acid-etched in 3K), Russell’s opposed to the current, um, incursion. But what also jerks his chain is the appropriation of 3K‘s “blown out, grainy, kinetic, CNNish” look and feel by the Go Army recruitment campaign.
    I’ll root around and post some audio/video of DOR talking about Three Kings. Stay tuned. [In the mean time, try the DVD‘s great commentary tracks.]