a lesson in literary criticism from governor schwarzenegger

Letter from California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to

A letter from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano. While a typical reading of the letter states, "the fact that major issues are overlooked while many unnecessary bills come to me for consideration," and concludes, "I believe it is unnecessary to sign this measure at this time," a vertical reading of the far-left-hand letters in each of lines reads: "I f@#k you."

there is no way on earth that this can be a coincidence. so, i shall interpret this as an exercise by governor schwarzenegger in literary criticism.

our beloved governator, arnold schwarzenegger, has a pair of brass ones. and it’s why i still like him.

schwarzenegger recently vetoed a poposed bill by california assemblyman tom ammiano dealing with the financing of the port of san francisco. schwarzenegger followed with a letter explaining his decision.

an article by phillip matier and andrew ross in the san francisco chronicle points out:

A straight reading of the guv’s letter laments “the fact that major issues are overlooked while many unnecessary bills come to me for consideration,” and concludes, “I believe it is unnecessary to sign this measure at this time.”

But a vertical read of the far-left-hand letters in each of the missive’s eight lines offers a more blunt explanation: “I f- you.”

apparently the governor vetoed the measure after a few choice words from ammiano to schwarzenegger:

the veto message came after Ammiano called the governor a liar and shouted from the audience to “kiss my gay ass” when Schwarzenegger unexpectedly showed up at a Democratic Party dinner in San Francisco on Oct. 7.

Ammiano later called Schwarzenegger’s attendance at the event a “cheap publicity stunt” that wasn’t at all amusing, in light of the governor’s cuts in social services, ordered furloughs of state workers and failure to act on some gay-rights issues.

so, after the governor heard what ammiano had to say, and with ammiano’s bill still on his desk, schwarzenegger vetoed it. of course, there were certainly some policy and political concerns involved, and this wasn’t done simply done out of spite, but i like the way coincidence always seems to rear its head at the most opportune times.

and that’s how it is done. just like the great acrostics of the hebrew bible, governor schwarzenegger sent a message to the democratic assemblyman and sent him a letter too.

how to worship (or at least look like you are)

this is an instant classic! it is perhaps the best parody instructional video on emoti-worship i’ve ever seen.

seriously, now you know why i do not clap, raise my hands, or make the ‘going poo’ faces in worship. i’m busy thinking about what is being said and how i can incorporate it into my life. i’m all for rocking out, but i don’t feel compelled to act out the words of the songs i sing. we are not in an early 80’s mtv music video when we’re in church. i’m especially opposed to those who order me to ‘stand up’ in the middle of a song or look at me funny (like i’m not really into the song) when i don’t clap at all as loud as they are.

i’ll make you a deal: i’ll start standing up when we sing ‘we stand up’ and raising my hands when we sing ‘we lift our hands’ when the rest of you get on the floor and start bowing every time we sing ‘we bow down.’ deal?

if you want to express yourself in worship, fine. but don’t expect me to join in the interpretative dance. people worship in different ways. no one is better than the other. my style happens to be one involving cerebral reflection and intellectual consideration of the words being said. i do feel emotion, but i don’t feel others need to see it in order for it to be real.

anywho, check out the video.

(with thanx to jim west and stephen smuts)

8 months later: bar finally ‘reports’ on the golb scandal

Raphael Golb

Raphael Golb, son of Norman Golb

Norman Golb

University of Chicago historian Norman Golb

Hershel Shanks, Editor of Biblical Archaeology Review

Biblical Archaeology Review Editor Hershel Shanks


biblical archaeology review has finally ‘reported‘ the march 5, 2009 arrest of raphael golb. while they did mention it in a byline news blurb a few months ago, the magazine that has arguably made its name reporting the original dead sea scrolls ‘scandal’ and other scandals from the world of biblical archaeology (remember the ‘fleas‘ issue 16/2 of mar/apr 1990) has finally acknowledged the existence of the dead sea scrolls scandal of this decade: the identity theft and smear campaign of raphael golb on behalf of his father, university of chicago history professor norman golb and his largely unaccepted views on the origin of the dead sea scrolls and the nature of qumran. (be sure to read the interesting comments following the chicago maroon article by sara jerome.)

Biblical Archaeology Review Cover of March/April 1990 issue (Vol. 16, No.2)

according to the very short, unsigned report in the strata section, bar states:

According to an indictment handed down last summer by a Manhattan grand jury, son Raphael adopted some unorthodox methods to support his father’s views. The indictment charges Raphael Golb with assuming the identity of prominent Dead Sea Scroll scholar Lawrence Schiffman of New York University; the indictment charges Raphael Golb with creating more than 50 e-mail accounts and dozens of internet blogs, in which Raphael Golb (posing as Schiffman) espoused the views of Norman Golb and (again, as Schiffman) confessed to plagiarizing from Norman Golb.

Raphael Golb also allegedly opened other e-mail accounts in the names of Dead Sea Scroll scholars Jonathan Seidel and Stephen Goranson.

that’s it. other than a brief introduction that can be read for free on the website, the two remaining paragraphs are little more than information gleaned from the manhattan da’s press release from march 2009.

for a magazine (bar) and an editor (shanks) that appear to crave controversy and love the dead sea scrolls, this story seems like a no-brainer. in fact, it has been somewhat of a mystery why bar has not already run a feature length exposé or two on this story. it hasn’t been on the cover. it has received no in depth investigation. it hasn’t even attracted from bar a simple investigative inquiry that bar readers have come to expect on issues relating to biblical archaeology. the intriguing story of a man using the cloak of the anonymous internet to weave together a network of aliases to write blogs, send emails, leave comments, send letters, dupe media outlets, harass in a most aggravated manner, and in the end, steal the identity of and impersonate another scholar, all in an effort to promote norman golb and criticize his perceived opponents has been largely ignored, save for this late acknowledgment and the initial byline news item.

some have speculated why shanks may have held his tongue on this scandal. when hershel shanks published a facsimile of the dead sea scrolls manuscript mmt, prompting elisha qimron later to sue shanks and win in court, norman golb testified in shanks’ defense. some speculate that shanks has held his tongue as a form of repayment – a kind of ‘thank you’ to norman golb for earlier testifying on his behalf. of course, this is merely speculation, but it does give one pause because it appears to be completely out of character (and certainly not at all profitable) for shanks not to report this story (especially when there is so much evidence are so many details of the campaign catalogued on the internet and readily available to the public).

whatever the reason, biblical archaeology review has finally reported on the golb scandal. but this ‘report’ obviously lacks the expected vigor, insight, and detailed attention that mr. shanks regularly shows to other disputes, like the james ossuary, the talpiot tomb, the hazon gabriel, his ongoing rift with with shuka dorfman and the iaa, and other past dss-related issues. i know of one person who was recommended to mr. shanks by a respected qumran archaeologist as one who could knowledgeably write about this for bar, but as of the writing of this post, bar still has not contacted him. i’m beginning to wonder if this particular dead sea scrolls scandal is simply being given a ‘minimalist’ amount of attention for reasons other than a lack of a public interest. it seems the last time someone was arrested for a biblical archaeology related crime, bar paid a little more attention. in fact, they even held their own trial. (see also here and here and here and here.)

sometimes, the deafening silence says more than words ever can.

stanford to accept digital dissertations

The Seal of Stanford Universitythis is great news for scholars – both graduate students and professors.

stanford university has decided to accept digital dissertations. that’s right, you heard me correctly:

Put away your checkbook. Don’t bother buying reams of acid-free paper. Just hit the “submit” button to digitally upload dissertations under a new program that begins in November.

i was a year (and 312 miles) too soon. i would have loved to have a policy like that in place last september.

in my ucla doctoral dissertation (now available as a book), i provided a new methodology for testing digital reconstructions of archaeological remains in virtual reality. in writing my digital humanities dissertation, i lamented the fact that original research involving three dimensional reconstructions that are able to show complex architectural development over time is not suited for a two-dimensional printed page. while i can describe the methodology involved, the actual model i describe requires an actual three dimensional space to in order to be visualized, and a fourth dimension of time is required to see the diachronic development of the site.

but the resistance to ‘digital’ forms of published dissertations lies not in the technology, but in the traditional skepticism of the academy of anything other than a typewriter typed dissertation on acid-free paper. i said as much in the conclusion of my book:

This research also realizes the overt incompatibility of publishing a book involving digital reconstructions in three-dimensional space in the traditional paper and ink format. It is, of course, highly ironic that this three-dimensional research is looked down upon by many, who prefer the time-honored, traditional medium of the printed book, which cannot fully convey the technological approach described within its pages. It is as incomplete as literally trying to describe a picture with a thousand words! Thus, the present research calls on scholars, publishers, dissertation committees, and departments of archaeology, architecture, and other related programs to make themselves more accommodating to newer digital forms of publication. As the word processor has replaced the typewriter, so too will digital and three-dimensional formats soon replace analog and two-dimensional formats for publishing archaeological materials. These new digital formats should not be seen as “alternative” or lesser means of publication, but as “progressive” media that are on the cutting edge of modern archaeological research. (Cargill, Qumran through (Real) Time, p. 217-18)

apparently, stanford is listening:

Speaking at the Oct. 22 Faculty Senate meeting, University Librarian Michael Keller said the digital world offers a “much greater palette of expression” to graduate students, because they will be able to include more graphics, color and character sets in their dissertations than in paper copies.

not only can doctoral students print their research with greater ease and at a lesser expense, but other scholars will have greater and cheaper (read: free!) access to the new dissertations:

“We were clearly in favor of a less expensive alternative to ProQuest and one that has far greater intellectual reach through some agreement with Google or some other Internet carrier,” Roberts wrote in an email message.

in addition to cutting down on paper costs, helping the environment, ridding the tedious process of printing out multiple copies of a 300-page document, and not having to pay pro-quest to re-digitize a paper dissertation that was originally written in digital format on a computer, digital dissertations will allow for the publication of more innovative technological research in the sciences and digital humanities. this process preserves the rigorous process of ensuring credible research approved by a disertations committee, but eliminates the hassles of printing, which are now nearly obsolete since most of us read others’ dissertations online anyway.

i applaud the move and encourage ucla to adopt a similar policy.

on the success of the toronto rom dead sea scrolls exhibit

4Q271_Damascus_Doc-b

4Q271 - A fragment of the Damascus Document

the jewish tribune is reporting that the dead sea scrolls exhibition in toronto is doing quite well. i wish i could say as much for the jewish tribune, who not only misspelled two of the three names of exhibit curator risa levitt kohn (they said ‘Resa Levitt Cohen‘), but also underrepresented the number of visitors to the museum by, oh, about 200,000 people.

Since the June 27 opening of the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, more than 160,000 visitors have gone to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) to view the display, which is “about ideas and values as much as artifacts and ideology,” said William Thorsell, the ROM’s CEO.

the problem is (and it is a good problem to have) that the attendance is much closer to 400,000 than the 160,00 that the jewish tribune reported. the attendance is even more impressive in the light of the numerous attempts by anti-israel and pro-palestinian protest groups to drive visitors away from the museum.

congratulations to the royal ontario museum in toronto on a successful exhibition. many congratulations to curator risa levitt kohn on her patience and persistence in bringing not one, but two successful dead sea scrolls exhibitions to north america (despite the nonsense ;-).

snl spoofs online universities

SNL "Online University Commercial" sketch on Hulu

SNL "Online University Commercial" sketch on Hulu

i recently posted about the perils of attending online internet colleges. now, snl has joined in the fun and spoofed online universities. check it out.

on the balancing act between faith and credible archaeology

i recently received a letter via facebook that asked an intriguing question: how does one do archaeology and still retain one’s faith?

the question alone gave me pause because it implied that doing science will ultimately lead one to renounce one’s belief in god, or at the very least shatter one’s theological understanding of the world.

this issue comes up again and again with students. essentially, archaeology students soon learn that while some of the passages and claims made within the bible are consistent with archaeological findings, many others are not. this quickly leads a person of faith to make one of two choices: either to cling to one’s faith and begin to look for alternate ‘methodologies’ that could explain the bible’s claims that are inconsistent with the archaeological evidence, or, to accept the scientific data and re-examine one’s religious preconceptions. afraid to admit that what they were taught or have believed for so long might be wrong, many students opt for clinging to their belief in the inerrancy and infallibility of the bible and seek out new ways to interpret the data so that it is congruent with their preconceived beliefs. yet, this methodology leads only to poor science, even poorer interpretations of the data, and ultimately to misleading claims about the nature of the remains.

sometimes, archaeology is nothing more than boring rocks in the ground. but the true archaeologist does not seek out the big discovery that changes all we know in one amazing find, but rather gives his or her life to seasons of excavation and discovery, letting the evidence speak for itself until the larger picture of the social, economic, and yes, at times, religious makeup of the society is slowly revealed.

so for those seeking to balance faith and archaeology, here are a few tips:

  1. follow the data wherever it leads. sometimes the data doesn’t line up with the text of the bible. this is true about many sites and many verses. in some places, the text just isn’t supported by the evidence. this does not mean that the bible does not contain truth in other places, but it does tell us a lot about the author and the message the author was attempting to convey. remember, even the early church father origen offered a straightforward explanation of the preservation of factual truth within documents edited by human hands. in his commentary on john 10:4, origen says, ‘the spiritual truth was often preserved, as one might say, in material falsehood.’ just because a factual error exists in the text of the bible doesn’t mean that truth cannot still be conveyed.
  2. follow sound scientific methodology. if your methodology is good, your claims will be better received, and you (and/or your organization) will retain credibility. don’t fudge. take good notes, log everything (especially if it is contrary to your hypothesis), and don’t cut corners. methodical monotony is boring, but will be your friend in the long run. baby steps, small turns, an inch at a time. it is by the archaeological method employed that the academy will judge an archaeologist. credibility is earned over a long period of time, not with a single find.
  3. not every ‘biblical archaeology’ object is the same. just because noah’s ark and the holy grail are most likely legendary, doesn’t mean the ancient israelites didn’t carry a gold covered wooden box (the ark of the covenant) around in front of them when they marched into battle (like every other army at the time). each object is unique and should be treated as such. walls and pots are often (read: usually) more important than gold and silver. treat every object with respect, wash every sherd, and always check for writing.
  4. partner up. the best way to earn credibility as an archaeologist is to partner with and work for an established, credible archaeologist or excavation. don’t seek to strike out on your own too quickly. this requires substantial fundraising and once you begin asking for funds more than you dig, scholars begin to question your motives, your credibility drops, and your conclusions will be questioned more often. be humble. pay your dues. earn your stripes. and then, when you have established the credibility and education you need, work with the authorities to secure your own excavation.
  5. never, ever search for the ark of the covenant, noah’s ark, or the holy grail. adventure quests will always bring immediate derision and condemnation from the academy. never claim to be the first to discover anything; someone else has already done something similar. cite them! remember that most scholars rightly reject any primordial notion of god destroying the earth with a flood; they opt instead to see this story as a parallel to the gilgamesh epic or some other early flood narrative. sensational claims are the quickest way to expose oneself as a fundamentalist. know the literature, read, and always see what your opponents have to say before you make a claim.
  6. submit to the peer-review process. the most credible archaeologists submit to the peer-review process and allow their findings to be critiqued by the academy. submit articles for publication in refereed journals and present papers at national conferences. welcome criticism and feedback. this is the only way to ensure your that interpretations will gain the traction they need to become the accepted consensus.

ultimately, it’s not about what you believe, or even what you can prove. rather, a credible archaeologist or archaeology program is judged by the methodology it uses to reach its conclusions. if the science is good, and the results are published in credible journals, the program as well as the scholar will be a success.

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