Saturday, October 28, 2006
It has been my privilege to prepare essays on various subjects pertaining to ancient Egypt . This essay will focus on my area of most focused egyptological study – the art and science of mummification. There are links to images and references that can enhance understanding.As always, I would like to list the sources for the material cited through this article
1) Egyptian Mummies (Unraveling the Secrets of an Ancient Art), Dr. Bob Brier, 1994 (ISBN 0-688-10272-7).
2) The Mummy in Ancient Egypt (Equipping the Dead for Eternity), Salima Ikram and Aidan Dodson, 1998 (ISBN 0-500-05088-0).
This piece will strictly focus on the actual process of mummification as practiced by the ancient Egyptians, as well as how we know this information. As always, I will be delighted to address questions from ACOC members on this material.
EGYPTIAN MUMMIFICATION – THE DELUXE TREATMENT
The Egyptians believed that a fully preserved body was essential, as the spirit (“Ka”) required an intact home. Through centuries of experience and practice, the ancient Egyptians developed very worthy techniques. We are able to look upon the faces of some of the most prominent men in history (e.g., Ramses the Great, Amenhotep the Magnificent) as a result of the art and science they practiced.
The first step in producing a worthy mummy is to remove all traces of water. Water permits the bacteria, which are responsible for the process of decay, to thrive and multiply. Consider a raisin – it is essentially the mummy of a grape. Therefore, the primary goal of the ancient mummifier was extracting as much water as possible from the corpse.
This total process of ancient Egyptian mummification included numerous religious and ritual aspects. However, two specific elements in the ceremony addressed the need for water removal -- evisceration and dehydration.
The first step in mummification, once a corpse arrived and was ritually cleansed, was eviseration. The first embalmer, a priest, would an incision line on the left side of the abdomen. Here is where the obsidian knife comes in. In most instances, a 4 inch slice was made in the lower-right portion of the abdomen, from which the internal organs could be removed. During is experiments, Dr. Bob Brier attempted to use a variety of knifes that were constructed in similar fashion to those available in the ancient world. Ultimately, he discovered that an obsidian blade (refered to in Greek literature as the “Ethiopian Knife”) was surgically sharp and the single most effective tool to begin the eviscerating procedure.
It is interesting to note that the “Slitter”, as this individual is termed in ancient Egyptian texts, was reviled for this act of desecration. The other members of the mummification crew would have tossed stones at him after the cut. Likely they missed, as the “Slitter” was most likely a brother or another member of the family engaging in the clan’s business. Also officiating at the ceremony was an embalmer wearing an Anubis mask, performing specific rituals during the mummification process.
The internal organs, called viscera, were normally removed from the thoracic and abdominal cavities through an abdominal incision in the left flank. In some instances, the viscera were not extracted at all, while in others they were removed through the anus. Typically, however, there will be a 4-inch incision though which even the largest abdominal organ (the liver) could be removed. Dr. Brier commented that the liver came out in two sections, but was able to be extracted though the small slit.
This organ tissue was then dehydrated with natron, and either placed in canopic jars or made into four packages and reinserted into the body cavities (especially during the 21st dynasty and after). Some were wrapped in one large packet that was placed on the legs of the mummy. Interestingly, the heart was considered to be the organ associated with the individual's intelligence and life force and was therefore retained in place, while the brain was removed and discarded.
- Imset (depicted as a human) was responsible for the liver;
- Hapi (a baboon) for the lungs;
- Duamutef (a jackal) for the stomach;
- Kebechsenef (a falcon) for the viscera of the lower body.
The brain itself is a water-rich organ, and had to be removed for effective mummification. Reviewing the ancient literature, it was theorized that a hook was inserted into the nostril, and the brain removed in piecemeal fashion. However, during his 1994 mummification of a modern man, Dr. Brier ascertained the hook was used to scramble the brain matter, which would then ooze out once the head was tipped. Then, linen would be inserted and removed, extracting more residue. Only when the linen came out clean would this process be concluded. As mentioned before, the brain was discarded as useless.
After removal of the internal organs, the body cavities were washed out with spiced palm wine and then filled with a mixture of dry natron (a type of salt) gum resin and vegetable matter. An average sized human being requires 600 pounds of natron for dehydration. Once placed on special boards (which would permit the corpse to be completely surrounded by natron, so that the glutteal and back areas would be dried), the corpse was left to dehydrate for a period of approximately 35 days. At that point, the limbs were still mobile enough for movement (so that the mummy could be posed in classic funereal styles).
It is interesting to note that natron, believed to be the main ingredient used to pack the body, is found in a dry desert valley called the Wadi Natrun, now famous for its monasteries. It is composed of sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate and includes some natural impurities. Originally, there was some discussion in Egyptology circles concerning the use of natron, actual salt (sodium chloride), or lime (calcium carbonate) as the main dehydration agent in Egyptian mummification. There was also a question of whether the natron was used in a solution such as water, or in a solid state. However, assessment of the Greek texts that describes the process, together with modern experiments on mummification has led us to believe that dry natron provides the most satisfactory results and was probably used exclusively.
After the body was completely dehydrated, the temporary stuffing that was used to fill the body was removed from its cavities and replaced with the permanent stuffing and sometimes also with the viscera packages. Next the abdominal incision was closed, the nostrils were plugged with resin or wax, and the body was anointed with a variety of oils and gum resins, which may have also played some part in preventing or delaying insect attack and in masking the odors of decomposition that would have accompanied the mummification process. However, all of these later stages were essentially cosmetic and had little effect in preserving the tissues.
After the basic mummification process was completed, the embalmers then wrapped the mummy in layers of linen bandages, between which they inserted protected amulets to guard the deceased from evil and danger. A decomposing body will soon begin to swell and loose its recognizable human form. This swelling will effect all of the body, but is particularly apparent in the abdomen, where gasses being produced by bacteria inflate the intestines. Removal of the internal organs of course aids in preventing this process. However, bandaging of the body also prevents or at least restricts such swelling, as well as excluding air from direct contact with the corpse, thus slowing deterioration. Bandaging would also prevent the formation of blisters on the skin, caused by fluid within the body, which appear in the first stages of decomposition. It is thought that the bandages were derived from the bed-linens and clothing items the ancient Egyptians utilized during their lives.
At the end of the embalming process the priest would conclude by repeating an embalming spell:
“You will live again, you will live forever. Behold, you are young again forever”.
EGYPTIAN MUMMIFICATION – VALUE TREATMENTS AND ENHANCEMENTS
The approach I described above was essentially the premier treatment. There were two less expensive value packages that Herodotus mentions did not involve the complete evisceration of the body. In a second method, which was also used for animal mummification, oil of cedar was injected into the anus, which was then plugged to prevent the liquid from escaping. The body was afterwards treated with natron. Next, the oil was drained off and the intestines and the stomach, which became liquefied by the natron, came away with the oil. All that remained was actually the skin and the skeleton. The body was returned to the family in this state for burial. However, this was even superior to the cheapest method, where the body was purged so that the intestines came away. Afterwards, the body was treated with natron.
Over the long history of ancient Egyptian mummification, there were only two major additions to the basic procedure. From as early as the Middle Kingdom, the brain was removed in some mummies and by the New Kingdom, this procedure of excerebration had become widespread. This process involved the insertion of a metal hook by the embalmer into the cranial cavity through the nostril and ethmoid bone, and the brain was pulverized to fragments so that it could be removed with a spatula type instrument. However, at times, access was gained to the cranial cavity either through the base of the skull or an eye socket. Obviously, it would have been impossible to remove every small fragment of the brain through any of these methods. Before the mummification was complete, the emptied cranial cavity was packed with strips of linen that had been impregnated with resin, though at other times molten resin was poured into the skull. In fact, King Tutankhamen’s skull contains such resin residue.
The second innovation in mummification was probably not introduced until as late as the 21st Dynasty. Then the embalmers sought to develop a technique that originally had been used during the 18th Dynasty mummification of King Amenhotep III. His embalmers had attempted to recreate the plumpness of the king's appearance by introducing packing under the skin of his mummy though incisions made in his legs, neck and arms. The priests of the 21st Dynasty began to use this subcutaneous packing for anyone who could afford such an expensive technique. Now, the body cavities were packed through a flank incision with sawdust, butter, linen and mud, and the four individually wrapped packages of viscera were also inserted into these cavities, rather than being placed in canopic jars.
Subcutaneous material was also inserted through mall incisions into the skin, the neck and the face was packed through the mouth. Hence, the embalmers attempted to retain the original body contours at least to some extent in order to give the mummy a more lifelike appearance. In fact, artificial eyes were often placed in the eye sockets and the skin was sometimes painted with red ocher (for men) or yellow ocher (for women). False plaits and curls were even woven into the natural hair. However, these very expensive and time consuming processes were not retained beyond the 23rd Dynasty.
The following is an example of the high-point in Mummification: the mummy of 21st Dynasty Queen Nodjmet. Prepared with subcutaneous stuffing, flase hair, and inlaid eyes, she is extremely well preserved and almost looks asleep. Nodjmet was the wife of the Priest-King, Herihor.
One can readily assume the entire mummification process was an odoriferous one. Bob Brier noted that one of the titles Anubis (the ancient Egyptian god devoted to mummification) was “He Who Is Upon His Hill” or “He Who Is In His Tent”. Therefore, it is theorized that most mummification was conducted within tents, outside the borders of the city/village on nearby hills.
During the Graeco-Roman period, records indicate it would cost about 450 drachmae (about $5000) to prepare a mummy. The most costly item was linen, as so much was used. Addional charges included an Anubis mask (probably worn during specific ceremonies by one of the embalmers), mourners, and carriage by donkey.
THE OVERALL HISTORY OF EGYPTIAN MUMMIFICATION
The history of Egyptian mummifcation can be summarized based on the kingdom divisions of the Egypt’s history.
· Old-Kingdom (initial experimentation; mummies made mainly of royal persons; mummies essentially consist of wrapped corpses poorly preserved).
· Middle-Kingdom (moderate progress; mummies made of nobles and royals; better dehydration and preservation techniques.)
· New Kingdom (High-Mark; mummies made of nobles, royals, and the wealthy; brain removal and subcutaneous padding).
· Late Kingdom (Generally good, and mummification services offered to more and more citizens; explosion in the number of animal mummies produced).
· Graeco-Roman Period (Generally poor preservation, but the bandaging is precise and is an artform in itself; mummification is available to all who can afford it; cartonage and gold-covered masks cover the mummies).
The history in full starts with an understanding that in Egypt, a combination of climate and environment, as well as the people's religious beliefs and practices, led first to unintentional natural mummification and then to true mummification. In Egypt, and particularly ancient Egypt, there was a lack of cultivatable land and so the early Egyptians chose to bury their dead in shallow pit-graves on the edges of the desert, where the heat of the sun and the dryness of the sand created the natural mummification process. Even this natural process produced remarkably well preserved bodies. Often, these early natural mummified bodies retained skin tissue and hair, along with a likeness of the person's appearance when alive.
Prior to about 3400 BC, all Egyptians were buried in pit graves, whether rich or poor, royal or common. Later however, as prosperity and the advance in building techniques improved, more elaborate tombs for those of high social status were constructed. Yet at the same time, these brick lined underground burial chambers no longer provided the conditions which led to natural mummification in the older pit graves. Now however, mummification had been established in the religious belief system so that the deceased's ka, or spirit, could return to and recognize the body, reenter it, and thus gain spiritual sustenance from the food offerings. Hence, a method was sought to artificially preserve the bodies of the highest classes. However, preservation of the body was probably also required due to the longer period that it took to actually inter the body, as grave goods and even the tomb itself received final preparations.
What we sometimes called true mummification involves a sophisticated process that was developed from experimentation. The best example of this process is Egyptian mummification, which involved the use of chemical and other agents. The experimentation that led to true mummification probably lasted several hundred years. Such efforts may have begun as early as the 2nd Dynasty. J. E. Quibell, an Egyptologist who worked in some primitive Egyptian necropolises, found a large mass of corroded linen between the bandages and bones of a body interred in a cemetery at Saqqara that perhaps evidences an attempt to use natron or another agent as a preservative by applying it to the surface of the skin.
Another early technique involved the covering of the body in fine linen and then coating this with plaster to carefully preserve the deceased's body shape and features, in particular the head. In 1891, W. M. Flinders Petrie discovered a body at Meidum dating to the 5th Dynasty in which there had been some attempt to preserve the body tissue as well as to recreate the body form. Bandages were carefully molded to reproduce the shape of the torso. Arms and legs were separately wrapped and the breasts and genitals were modeled in resin-soaked linen. Nevertheless, decomposition had taken the body beneath the bandages, and only the skeleton remained.
Only as early as the 4th Dynasty do we actually find convincing evidence of successful, true mummification. The mother of Khufu (i.e., Hetepheres), the king who built the Great Pyramid at Giza, also had a tomb at Giza. Though her body has not been found, in her tomb was discovered preserved viscera which could probably be attributed to this queen. An analysis of these viscera packets proved that they had been treated with natron, the agent that was successfully used in later times to dehydrate the body tissue. Hence, this find demonstrates that the two most important components of mummification, evisceration of the body and dehydration of the tissues, was already in use by royalty. Afterwards, mummification continued to be practiced in Egypt for some three thousand years, lasting until the end of the Christian era.
As Egyptian history progressed, mummification became available to people of the upper and even the middle classes. During the Middle Kingdom, the political and economic growth of the middle classes and the increased importance of religious beliefs and practices among all Egyptian social classes resulted in the spread of mummification to new sections of the population. More mummies have survived from that period than from the Old Kingdom, but it is also evident that less care was taken in their preparations. Mummification was actually most widespread during the Greco-Roman period. It was then that foreign immigrants who settled in Egypt began to adopt Egyptian funerary beliefs and customs. Mummification at that time became an increasingly prosperous commercial venture, and it tended to indicate the decease's social status rather than any religious conviction. This resulted in a further decline in the quality of the mummification process. At that time, bodies were elaborately bandaged and encased in covers made of cartonnage (a mixture of plaster and papyrus or linen). However, modern radiographic analysis confirms that these bodies were frequently poorly preserved inside their wrappings. Mummification was never generally available to the common classes of people. Yet, since they could not afford the sophisticated funerary structures, they continued to be interred in simple desert graves where their bodies were naturally preserved.
KEYS TO MUMMY IDENTIFICATION
The following section summarizes important things to look for, so that you can readily identify the general period of time during which an Egyptian mummy was prepared. This list is not all inclusive, but should give ACOC members an idea of the basic trends and identification clues that can be used in determining the age of a specific mummy.
Old Kingdom (Mummies of Royals. Very rare; never usually seen outside of Egypt or the oldest European Collections).
· Plastered-Shaped Mummy
· Plain Wooden Coffins, Box-Shaped.
· When used, stone or pottery Canopic jars were plain.
Middle Kingdom (Mummies of Royals and Nobles).
· Plaster Masks (called Cartonnage), generally of simple design, but usually of high quality and beauty.
· Wooden Coffins, Box-Shaped.
· Coffins have elaborate hieroglyphics, and eyes on the side of the box.
· Mummy buried on its side.
· Stone or pottery Canopic jars were plain or had human heads.
New Kingdom – Late Kingdom (Mummies of Royals, Nobles, and Wealthy).
· Plaster Masks (called Cartonnage), of more complex design (e.g., feathered headdresses). These tend to be more colorful and garish then Middle Kingdom.
· The Royal Mummies would have gold or silver masks (e.g., the famous one of King Tutankhamen).
· Arthropoid Coffins, Human-Shaped.
· Coffins have elaborate hieroglyphics.
· Richer burials utilize box-shaped wood or stone sarcophagus, which can be highly decorated (either with paintings or reliefs)
· Canopic jars were generally had human heads or those of the Four Sons of Horus.
· Papyrus “Book of the Dead” are buried with the mummy.
Ptolemaic-Graeco-Roman (Mummies of all who can afford the price).
· Plaster Masks (called Cartonnage), were used/ However, there was a wide variety of types, and many were highly influenced by Greek art (which focused on producing more realistic results). Plaster or gold-foil masks with very Greek characteristics are noted.
· Some of the wealthier mummies (especially in later history) have encaustic mummy portraits instead of masks. These portraits are as close to a snap-shot of what the actual individual looked like as could be achieved during this period of history.
· The quality of preservation techniques deteriorated. However, the bandaging became quite elaborate to make up for it. Therefore, a mummy with diamond-shaped patterns of bandages will always be from this period.
· Canopic jars may or may not be associated with a burial.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Three Threats to Security
A good electronic friend posed this question (hat-tip, Royd!!!!). Many of the responses obtained were one-word wonders. However, I gave this matter some thought. (Note - Picture is of Egyptian God of War Montu)
The question was: What are the three biggest threats to peace and security.
I told him that I think this is more a phsycology question rather than one related to current events. The answers will tell you something about the person responding.
I think that the following are the most serious threats to international peace and security, as far was we Americans (and perhaps the Brits/Australians) are concerned.
1) Suppression of quality capitalism. People who are not hungry, have a decent job, and a safe family are not inclined to rattle cages or trigger nuclear detonation. Healthy economies and effective trade promote peace and good relations. I believe much of the aggression in the world is related to one neighboring country being jealous of the quality life of successful societies in which capitalism is promoted (or the leaders of the dysfunctional societies distracting their unhappy people by redirecting their anger).
2) The unprofessional, unrestrained and unapologetic liberal media. Here is fabulous example of what I mean by that:
Now of course Byron Calame of the NY Times made his famous excuse this week, “I hated Bush so much I couldn’t do my job…” and I’m quite sure Calame, having pounded his chest, is figuring the story of his paper’s harmful leaking of a worthwhile and legal program used to combat terrorism is “over.” Not so fast, Mr. Calame. Giving away security secrets.
Crying "racism" whenever valid border security issues are brought up by congressional leaders. Minimizing true threats (e.g., North Korea's armaments) when they are the result of poor policies of liberal leaders. Suppressing information as to the real state of the economy and the war in Iraq when it can help Conservative/Republican leaders:
It’s always driven me crazy that in the 1990’s we were told that 5.6% unemployment was “virtually full employment,” (of course it was, a Democrat was in the WH!) but the current 4.6% unemployment rate never gets reported, and even if it does, there is always a “but.” The headline reads: Job Growth Slows, Unemployment Rate Dips. Hmmmm…maybe “full employment” is actually near, this time? It’s at a 5 year low…: The economy created 51,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said in Washington. While that was fewer than economists predicted, it was offset by a 188,000 rise in August that was almost 50 percent bigger than the government previously reported. The jobless rate unexpectedly declined to 4.6 percent. Bonds fell and the dollar jumped as the reports suggested the economy will withstand the worst housing-industry downturn in more than a decade. The numbers also diminished speculation that the Federal Reserve will reduce interest rates in coming months.
Many of us who live in New York have not forgotten that on 9/12/01 the only consulate not flying their flag at half-staff was Iraq’s. The “mediating intelligences” decided long ago that 45,000 boxes of documents from Iraq were uninteresting and they simply don’t cover what is being discovered within those boxes.
But Ed Morrissey has been keeping track of things and ohhh…lookey here…March 2001: Iraq wants to attack American assets…: …a close look at document CMPC-2003-006758, translating it from the Arabic and revealing the intent of Iraq to attack American interests. The memo from the IIS complains about the election of “Bush the Son” and talks about the need to exhort terrorists to attack America… Read it, folks.
You’re not going to see it covered in the Mainstream Media.
3) The United Nations. Egghead intellectuals have become dependent on the UN to magically address the enormous security threats created when certain populations are unwilling or unable to get rid of nut-job leaders. Meanwhile, as very angry letters are written and wrist-slaps distributed, some seriously dangerous men are allowed to destabilize my country and arm theirs to the teeth (of course, North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela come to mine). I long for the days when treaties could be made with specific countries, and every time there was an international issue that threatened American security, that we could take action (alone or with true allies). Waiting for "Coalitions" means we lose time, flexibility, and other valuable security perks while waiting for wine-sipping, egotistical diplomats (which I view as a species less worthy than politicians) decide where they will place their child-raping thieves.
Egypt News: We have to thank the thieves.
I am hoping to include regular news updates from the wonderful world of Egyptology. I have loved ancient Egypt since I was 5 years old and my dad showed me the National Geographic magazine article about ancient Egypt that he treasured (by William Hayes, “Daily Life in Ancient Egypt,” National Geographic Magazine 80 (1941): 419-515. H. M. Herget’s 32 imaginary color paintings). I am amazed at how many people are also intrigued by this ancient land.
Here is an exciting news development from Saqqara:
Thieves unearth ancient tombs
SAQQARA, Egypt: Thieves led an Egyptian archaeological team to discover three tombs of dentists to the ancient kings, unveiled yesterday at the Saqqara pyramid complex south of Cairo.
"It seems for the first time that the ancient Egyptians made a cemetery to the dentist and they are buried in the shadow of the Step Pyramid," Zahi Hawass, chief of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, said as he toured the site. About 4,200 years old, the tombs honour a chief dentist and two other dentists, who served the royal families. They show the ancient Egyptians "cared about the treatment of their teeth", Hawass said. He pointed out two hieroglyphs - an eye over a tusk, appearing frequently among the neat rows of symbols decorating the tombs' doors - that he said identify the men as dentists.
Thieves beat the archaeologists to the site of the new tombs, launching their own dig one summer night two months ago, before they were captured and jailed.
"We have to thank the thieves," Hawass said. They likely didn't notice a curse inscription just inside the prominent doorway to the chief dentist's tomb, which showed a crocodile and a snake, designed to ward off invaders.
There is additional backrodund information from a related article:
The tombs date back more than 4,000 years ago to the 5th Dynasty and were meant to honor a chief dentist and two others who treated the pharaohs and their families, Hawass said............
They depict the chief dentist and his family immersed in daily rituals — playing games, slaughtering animals and presenting offerings to the dead, including the standard 1,000 loaves of bread and 1,000 vases of beer.............
Although archaeologists have been exploring Egypt's ruins intensively for more than 150 years, Hawass believes only 30 percent of what lies hidden beneath the sands has been uncovered. Excavation continues .
My thoughts and notes on this:
a) The Tombs are Old Kingdom. Old Kingdom is the most ancient, and therefore the most obscure, of ancient Egyptian history. A find of noblemen, or even upper class health professionals, is truly exciting. The dentist tombs were built just after the Great Pyramid (which was 4th Dynasty), and before the decline of the Old Kingdom to the First Intermediate period.
b) The tomb of the dentists can tell s much about basic life in ancient Egypt. The more famous tombs of kings and queens focus on divine mythos. These newly discovered tombs offer more insight into daily living.
c) This site promises to offer much more news and exciting material!!!!
Saturday, October 21, 2006
The New Media, Wall Street &New York Times
I just had an epiphany, and I wanted to share it with you today. I will apologize beforehand. I am experiencing technical difficulties on my main computer at home, so I won't be able to provide links and specific citations as I normally would. However, I think this observation will be one that many enjoy.
This past week, there have been two news articles I have noted: The Dow Jones closing up above 12,000 points and the NYT profits down a whopping 39 % (I would loved to have been a fly on the wall when the NYT accountants went into NYT Publisher Pinch Schultzberger's office and given this buffoon the news).
I think these two stories are deeply related.
The Old Media (spearheaded by the NYT) has been essentially masking how terrific the economy under the Bush Administration has been. For example, the very low unemployment rates (that is, unless your are a Mainstream Media type) have been unheralded. Stories about "outsourcing" are fairly regular elite media fare.
Yet, investors and businessmen seem jazzed. Euphoric. Optimistic about the economy. Why is this?
Because those of us in the business world utilize New Media sources for making business decisions. I know that many of you, like myself, are entrepreneurs and small business owners. Where do YOU go for your news on matters of national and international importance???
I know for damn sure I don't, won't and shan't use the NYT or any other traditional media outlet. I go to the Drudge Report, RealClearPolitics, and Fox News for hard news. I utilize the Competitive Enterprise Institute and other more conservative sites for materials related to certain aspects of my business. It seems to me most business people are doing much the same thing.
I wonder how this economy would be doing if the toxic, traditional media types were still the only source of news? We would probably be stuck with President John Kerry chirping about "malaise".
Thursday, October 12, 2006
OPEN LETTER TO REPORTERS
I am writing an open letter to formally record my utter disgust and disdain for what you have done to a once nobel profession.
Some background: My father was a professor of journalism at Wayne State University in Detroit Michigan and was part of the team winning the Pulitzer Prize for covering the Detroit Riots (1968, Local News)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1968_Pulitzer_Prize). My mother was the second female journalist on staff, ever, for the Schenectady gazette. I began my career as a journalist for the Ferndale Gazetter in 1979, and wrote for various publications through the years (e.g., Ferndale Gazette, The South End, and the San Diego Union Tribune). I now do freelance work, in my capacity as a specialst in biology/science matters, for a local FOX affiliate. Therefore, my comments are grounded in an appreciation of some journalism basics. For you reporters who have forgotten, these basics are:
WHO. WHAT. WHERE. WHEN. WHY. HOW.
I am not interested in "gottcha" reporting. I am not interested in interpretations of words/events/speeches -- I have brains enough to do that myself. I want the facts -- just the facts. If I want news analysis, I have specific sources for that.
I was appalled by the disdain and disrespect shown to President Bush during the recent Rose Garden press briefing by news reporters. While you and I may not agree with Presdient Bush on all matters, the fact is he is due some basic courtesy and thougtfulness while being questioned. Here is an example of the idiocy that passes for great journalism today:
(Terry Hunt, AP): Thank you, Mr. President. Democrats say that North Korea's reported test shows that your policy has been a failure, that you got bogged down in Iraq where there were no weapons of mass destruction while North Korea was moving ahead with a bomb. Is your administration to blame for letting North Korea get this far?
How shameful. As far as I am concerned, we are now reaping the effects of President Clinton's policies of the 1990's. President Bush is left to address the mess left behind during Clinton's reign of zipper diplomacy. However, even if I belived otherwise, I think this question is appalling and does not hit anywhere near the heart of what Americans such as myslef would like to know -- WHAT DOES THE ADMINISTRATION PLAN TO DO NOW?
President Bush is stuggling with weighty global matters, and is attempting to do the best with the available resources and personality. He is not evil, and wants what is best for the country. Instead of treating him with such contempt, would it be too much to ask for addressing the President with tactful, thoughtful questions that would actually be the basis for stories I would want to read.
I used to love reading the newspaper and news magazines. However, during the last 10 years, I have found myself turning to alternative news venues. Presently, I confine my news reading to the local section of our city newspaper, and the comics section. My husband will read the business and sports sections. Our national and international news is obtained through the Drudge Report, FNC and other internet and radio sources. We can't be the only Americans for whom this is now true.
Here are other items that reinforce the above points:
Not to make too big a deal of this, but falsifying that report - as Reid apparently did - is a federal crime. Under Title 18 US Code Section 1001, it's a false official statement. For which Reid could be sent to jail. If you're looking for this on tonight's network news or on the front page of tomorrow's New York Times (next to the newest revival of the Foley minutiae) you won't find it. There's ample time for Mark Foley, the discredited generals' revolt, and even the comprehensively discredited Lancet report on civilian casualties in Iraq. But cover a real scandal, with real misconduct that's punishable under federal criminal law? Just imagine if this were Bill Frist, not Harry Reid.
Oops. Back in 2004, then-ABC White House correspondent Terry Moran argued President Bush’s tax cuts were building debt, not prosperity: “Most experts say that making those tax cuts permanent would cause gigantic deficits virtually as far as the eye can see.” Early last year, CBS’s Bob Schieffer suggested it would be impossible for the federal budget deficit to be cut in half before 2009 without raising taxes: “The government has just got to find some money to finance these programs.”
Well, the tax cuts haven’t been repealed, and there have been no big new tax increases. But yesterday the White House announced that final tallies for the federal government’s fiscal year ending September 30, 2006, the budget deficit had shrunk from $413 billion two years ago to $248 billion. The federal government collected $2.407 trillion in taxes in FY2006, $122 billion more than originally forecast back in February.
While I wish that my journalist friends would be successful, the traditional media will continue its freefall as it continues to alientate about 50% of its potential audience -- and, most significant, alientates that portion of the population that is most readily interested in current events. Now is the time to get back to the basics, include information from all points of view (not just liberal, Democrat, coastal-area sensibilities), and treat fellow, law-abiding Americans with basic human dignity (even if they hold different political views).
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
LIFE CHANGING BOOKS
I am a scientist by day. At night, however, I dabble in art, history and the arcane arts (tarot reading and astrology). That way, I keep myself in balance.
I am a successful scientist (mostly). Art, however, is a humbling experience. I play flute and recorders well enough to do Christmas carols and play olde English music. However, I am amazed at the musical abilities of many in my local American Recorder Society chapter.
I used to draw. I will never be a master artist, but drawing relaxes me. To draw (or paint) well is a skill that amazes me. Therefore, when I realized my son was of an age to begin drawing and painting, I wanted to relearn some basics so I could teach him more than what I was taught when young. I went on a quest for a good source of information for a beginner.
Based on a recommendation of some electronic friends, I ordered this book. It is one of the few, truly wonderful, life-changing books I have ever read. I have only finished the first few chapters, but I have learned some astonishing things on how the brain functions to process data and very practical ways to apply this information when teaching my son.
I am very excited. The book notes that handwriting is a form of drawing, at which many analytical left-brainers (ME) are not skilled. My writing is worst than ancient Egyptian hieratic (which looks rather like stenography done by a drunk secretary). Since completing some basic exercises that trigger the right side of your brain to overcome left-brain domination, my handwriting has really improved to near legibility. And I do see marked improvement in my ability to render objects. And the best thing is that I have been able to direct my son to tap into his right-brain, too. He is beginning to enjoy and be good at handwriting and drawing.
This just shows you are never too old to learn something terrific. Here is a link for other interested people:
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Rightosphere Muslim Defense
Let me not leave you with the impression that all members of Ann Coulter Official Chat are ranting, thoughtless attackers of all that is Islam. Many, member fellow chatters in my group have been striving to elevate the discussion of Islam and to actually learn something about the Muslim faith, practices, and diversity of opinion. In light of my previous post, a very thoughtful ACOC friend sent me this contibution. With his permission, I repost it here.
Hi! I went a little long with this message so I decided to start off addressing your request for any good links. As far as moderate interpretations of Islam, I'm not aware of any that are better than the freemuslimcoalition that you're already aware of.
I have a few links that might be of interest.
These two organizations led the campaign to stop sharia tribunals here in Canada http://www.wluml.org/english/index.shtml (women living under muslim laws) Yes, religion is a more contentious issue than politics! I've been trying to understand religion and belief in God for almost 40 years. When it comes to belief, I've been all over the map since I was 12 years old. Way back then,growing up in a fundamentalist home, I was disturbed by an article I found in a book on zoology I received as a present.
It was about Ichneumonidae wasps that lay their eggs inside a live caterpillar. The larvae can only feed on live flesh, and as they hatch, they slowly devour their host. Even though they were just lowly insects, it made me wonder how and why an omniscient, caring God would create such a system. It seemed to only make sense in a dispassionate survival of the fittest sense. I did not receive any useful answers to the question and even though I never considered an advanced education in science or philosophy; since then I've spent a good portion of my spare time investigating science, religion and philosophy to try to find some satisfactory answers. From the beginning, I discovered that most people were not all that curious about these kind of anomalies or why there are so many different religions in the world.
When I was young, we kept changing churches as my father would keep finding inconsistencies in the beliefs of the new church and would move us on to a new one in a fruitless search for God's true church. Over the years, I've shifted from belief to nonbelief countless times, but I've always steered clear of religions that claim exclusive truth or salvation. This doesn't work for many people who seem to need a strict infallible dogma and a set of rules to follow. This has been a problem for many liberal churches that have tried to update their doctrines in the wake of social pressures or new scientific discoveries, and lose members in the process who start becoming suspicious of the church leadership. The fundamentalist churches ignore or oppose these pressures, but there are two problems with that approach.
ONE The opposition to new science(especially evolution, but also neuroscientists looking for the source of consciousness in the brain and new cosmological theories) encourage a hostility and lack of interest in science that some educators believe may already be endangering the U.S.'s dominance in many research areas. TWO When more than one religion claims exclusive revelation from God, someone has to be wrong. And that I believe, is the primary source of the hostility being expressed towards Islam.
If one church or a group of churches such as the evangelicals who insist on dispensationalist salvation, believe that their dogma holds the only salvation for all of mankind; having a foreign religion that views Jesus as just another prophet flourishing, might be seen as invalidating their claim to divine truth. And I believe this is why the true believers do not want to hear about moderate Muslims or compromises. Many of the posts on the Islam threads are fatalistic about an inevitable war with Islam based on their interpretations of the prophecies in Revelation. (I can't help notice how many members are using crusader avatars lately)
This reasoning is obviously being fueled by the pastors like John Hagee and Jack Van Impe, who are preaching that the Muslims will be the Antichrist's armies in the final battle of Armageddon.(A generation ago, the Soviet Union and China had that distinction) On the Muslim side, the fundamentalists like Ahmadinejad and Bin Laden are preaching that Mahdi will come to lead them to victory against the Jews and Christians in the final war. An innocent bystander can only conclude that fundamentalists on both sides either subconsciously or deliberately, are willing to risk destroying the planet in the goal of deciding religious supremacy.
So with all that going on, I hope that voices of moderation on both sides can encourage people to step back and consider the risks involved if they are wrong.