Friday, August 31, 2007

Beethoven Succumbed to Lead Poisoning!

I knew, I just knew. . . years ago, when a locket of Beethoven's hair was auctioned off (pre-Ebay), I knew it would be subjected to analysis after analysis. Seems the scientists have also gotten hold of some bone fragments too, and worked whatever CSI hocus-pocus was needed to determine that the poor man died of lead poisoning.

That's why he always scowls and looks so suspicious in his portraits. He knew people would still be picking away at his bones, poking into his business, 200 years after he died.

Oh, well, at least it's gotten us off the "Beethoven had syphilis" kick that was so trendy twenty years ago.

Read the story here.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Present v. Past in Istanbul

Two magazines, two different takes on the excavation of an ancient Byzantine harbor in Istanbul--which was once Constantinople.

I've been following the news in Archaeology Magazine--here's one article: "Under Istanbul."

I have to admit, though, that Wired presents a much more comprehensive view of the situation.

Read the online piece, "Quake Fears, Ancient Finds have Europe-Asia Tunnel in Non-stop Delay."

Synopsis: Turkey, which wants to get into the EU, is trying to build a much-needed subway system in an earthquake-prone city of ten million people . At the same time, they're boring, dredging, and constructing the deepest underground tunnel ever attempted, to relieve traffic on bridges across the Bosporus, and connect Asia and Europe with a whole new shipping network.

It's gonna cost $3 billion and take years, and they just happen to dig into an ancient Byzantine harbor, lost for centuries, stretching across acres of city, and filled with priceless artefacts that make it possibly the most valuable find since the Valley of the Kings.

Complicated problem. I can't even arrange my office efficiently, so who knows what they'll do?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Media Hand-Wringing

Since I blog about writing occasionally, I believe this fits in.

Many news reports on Owen Wilson seem to involve a long introduction (longer than the sparse facts about Wilson take to relate, in fact) in which the reporter confesses his/her ambivalence about reporting the story when Wilson and his family have requested privacy.

My heart breaks. I hate to see these poor, beautiful journalists so torn.

Here's an innovative suggestion to address the conflict: Shut up. Don't spin a story. Don't speculate. Don't stand outside Cedars-Sinai bemoaning the fact that you can't get any information. Give it a break, and stop rationalizing your presence.

My favorite: Elle Magazine is dropping an interview they did with Wilson. Editor-in-chief Roberta Myers said. "When we were to be on the newsstand with the story [in December 07], it would have been quite dated. Obviously, he's not going to update it for us. Out of respect for his privacy and anything he is going through, we're not going to run the piece." (source)

Read carefully and in proper order. Does that last line come across as a bit hypocritical, or is just me?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Robert Ballard's latest

Here's a story on the latest adventure of Robert Ballard (He Who Found the Titanic). He’s back at the Black Sea, testing out a new vessel for deployment next year. This one has a huge network of scientists all over the globe tied in through internet connections, so that experts can be called it to consult on whatever the "Okeanos Explorer" finds. And it could find almost anything--the scientists at NOAA intend to send it to places that no one has ever explored!
The caption of the picture above (from NOAA's website) reads:

The ex-CAPABLE soon to be NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer under repair and refit in dry dock in Seattle, WA.
For more info on the exploarations around the Black Sea, check out my Hubpages article.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Fires in Greece

Fires don't get any nastier. One story reported the charred remains of a woman and her four children, found huddled together, and today all news stations report that the fires threaten the site of the ancient Olympics.

This photo from Yahoo is captioned:

A fire burns inside the archaeological stadium of ancient Olympia in south Peloponnese, about 350 km (217 miles) from Athens, August 26, 2007. Firefighters battled to save ancient Olympia on Sunday as Greece's worst forest fires in decades ravaged hills around the historic site and the death toll rose to 56. REUTERS/John Kolesidis (GREECE)
The 2500-year-old Temple of Apollo Epikourios is also threatened.

Living in southern California, we have our share of horrible fires whipped up by high winds, and I've blogged before on how they both threaten and reveal archaelogical sites. But the woman and her four children is a nightmarish image; I have to wonder how that happened. Lack of communication? Shortage of firefighters (although other countries have sent help)? Hell-raising speed of the flames?

Probably the speed; the story cited above says that the fire has moved a mile in three minutes.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ceren: The American Pompeii

Archaeologists have been uncovering a Mayan village called Ceren that was buried in ten feet of ash around 600 A.D. Now, they've found a freshly planted-manioc field there, too--fresh, as of 1400 years ago.

It's the oldest evidence of manioc cultivation in the Americas, and helps explain how Mayan towns fed growing populations.

What is manioc? Wiki has a great article with pictures. The manioc root is what people eat, but it takes a lot of preparation, since it contains arsenic. That has to be leeched out by pounding, squeezing, or grating, then cooking or stewing, and drying.

Once that's all done, manioc can be used to make flour, soup, stew, tapioca, dough, dumplings. . . The Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History maintains a website showing how manioc is grown and used by the Canela people of Brazil (as in this photo).

Back to Ceren, which was buried by an eruption of the Loma Caldera, preserving homes and everyday life, just as Pompeii did.

The most complete story of the Ceren field discovery that I found is here at EurekAlert!, although others (like the Los Angeles Times) include the salient information.

Monday, August 20, 2007

A New sort of Newsite?

A friend overseas pointed me to this May commentary from

There are fewer and fewer people subscribing to . . . local papers but how many of the local daily newspaper's readers subscribed simply to get what they couldn't get elsewhere, like national, international and entertainment news and tidbits on their hometown team? And as the Internet started to give them opportunities to find better coverage of the issues they were interested in, why wouldn't they have dropped the paper?. . . People are reading news, but fewer and fewer of them are reading newspapers.
I bolded the excellent point.
And the is…? According to the “About Us” on their website,

“We are the only professionally staffed, nonprofit online news site in the state focused on local news and issues. We will continue to operate with the support of individuals, foundations and businesses which, like you, recognize the importance of local news from an independent perspective.”

As near as I can tell, Voice of San Diego is an unprinted newspaper, existing entirely on the web with no restrictions or sign-in needed. They ask for money, which is reasonable. They're not obnoxious about it, which is very nice. And as they refer to their staff as "professional" I assume they are paid regularly.

In all honesty, the site looks like the website of any metropolitian newspaper. They’ve been online for two years. I can’t judge the content; I don’t live in San Diego. It may be great--or not.

It's an interesting experiment. I'd like to find a five-year calendar, so I can remind myself to check in with them and see how they’re doing, and what changes they’ve made by 2011.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Losers Weepers, Finders . . . Ignored

By now, you've probably seen the story (this link's to CBS) about the Austrian dumpster diver that found a Medieval cross in the trash. She took it home and stashed it behind her couch (can't help but wonder what other junk filled the house, that she couldn't even set it on a table).

That was in 2004. A neighbor realized the cross might be valuable and took it to a museum. (with permission? without?) This picture is of the museum curator holding the 12th century cross--worth over a half-million dollars. Experts figured out that the cross--made in Limoges, France--was part of a collection of Polish art hidden from the Nazi's almost 70 years ago. In 1941 it was found in a basement in Warsaw by said greedy Nazis.

The provenance is a bit unclear (as meticulous as Nazis were in their record-keeping, there was a war going on), but the cross ended up in the home of a hotel-owner in Zell am See, Austria, who died. Relatives tossed the cross as they cleared out the house, and our dumpster diver found it. She even asked the relatives if they wanted it back, and they said no!

A judge awarded custody of the cross to the museum. The heirs of the pre-Nazi owner would like it too. The finder has gotten zip for her trouble, and no one will comment as to whether she'll be rewarded.

A word to the wise: don't let neighbors sneak off with anything from behind the couch.

Makes the link between archaeology and trash-digging crystal clear, don't it? It's all a matter of time and perspective.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Internet Up, Newspapers Down hosts an AFP story about a year-long study by Harvard, showing that:

"In the past year alone... newspaper circulation has fallen by three percent, broadcast news has lost a million viewers," said the study, entitled "Creative Destruction: An Exploratory Look and News on the Internet."
Meanwhile, the numbers of people using the Internet as a news source have increased -- exponentially, in some cases.

The snide part of me wants to file this under "tell me something I don't know." But . . . common knowledge is the worst sort to rely on. With the figures from the Harvard study, this becomes documented and validates whining and hand-wringing as rational, rather than neurotic.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Ice cream and ethics

Freelancer Kate Hahn wrote a wonderful piece for the Washington Post about her summer job during the Iran Contra Hearings.

My memories of being the same age are of the Watergate hearings, which were constantly playing on television at the Student Activity Center in college. Believe it or not, we packed into that place until it was standing room only, right out to the stairs. That was the early 70s for you: everyone was vitally concerned about the revealed duplicity in the Oval Office. Now we take it for granted.

I have nothing else to say--go read the excellent Post article.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

New Info on Angkor

Angkor Wat has been a World Heritage site since 1992. The city, built by the Khmer Empire, thrived for six centuries. In recent years (it was abandoned in 16th century) the ruins of Angkor were endangered by war in Cambodia, looting, and the plain old ravages of time.

It's back in the news now because (as the BBC puts it):

Using NASA satellites, an international team have discovered at least 74 new temples and complex irrigation systems.
The map, published in the journal PNAS, extends the known settlement by 1000 sq km, about the size of Los Angeles.

Archaeologists now guess that a million people lived in Angkor, that the city spread out over 115 square miles, and that it depended on diverting and managing the waterways to survive.

News stories are everywhere, but check out too, for more of the history and context. I borrowed the picture from them.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Trendy Vampires

What is it with vampires? Bram Stoker gave way to Anne Rice, and her many, many imitators. Buffy, Angel, Blade, Saint-Germain. . . . We have vampire detectives, vampire lovers, vampire heroes, vampire worlds, and vampire apocalyses clogging the arteries of the media bloodlines.

Now I read that Ridley Scott's production company has won a bidding war (payout: $1.75 million) for the half-finished first volume of a planned trilogy, from a writer no one has heard of: Jordan Ainsley. I checked; his name's not listed on anything. Which doesn't mean he can't write a great trilogy, of course. . . but I wouldn't bet my $1.75 mil on him.

Check here at the NY Times, if you need more details. The Times story is about how studios are desperate for series-type material. (Which explains why Ridley Scott is not knocking on my door, since I kill everyone off at the end of my book. Grouse, grouse.)

But. . . . the first novel's only half-written. The world is full of half-written novels! So I figure it must be the vampire-sex-blood-thing. Why is that so fascinating?
Maybe I should turn my hero into a druid-vampire and start a sequel.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Announcing a New Blog!

I live on the outskirts of Los Angeles, as I have for most of my life. Now I've combined my love of history with bits and pieces of LA architecture that have survived the decades in a blog called History, Los Angeles.

The blog entries consist of links to news stories related to Los Angeles County history. That's a wide area running from Long Beach to Malibu and east to good ol' Claremont. Not hard to find a daily bit of news, sometimes two, about a building or theater or restaurant with deep and colorful roots.

So please visit, and let me know what you think! Suggestions are always welcome (any attention is good attention, iow).

Friday, August 10, 2007

What if All Professionals Got Paid Like Writers?

In answer to those ridiculous ads that ask writers to write without compensation but promise publication and "exposure:"

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Harry Potter and the London Bookies

Mediabistro reports that 62,000 pounds has been returned to those who bet on the ending of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I won't say more, but if you're curious and don't mind an ambiguous sort of spoiler, check out the story at either the Mediabistro link above, or this link to The Guardian. One bookie is featured, who took over 4000 bets on the book's ending.

(This cover is from the British edition--very different than the USA version of the book.)

The bookie must be a glutton for punishment though--he's already taken in another 12,000 pounds in bets that J. K. Rowling will/will not publish another Harry Potter book.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Gobelins--Something Else to See in Paris

And I should be so lucky. . .
The Galerie des Gobelins is exhibiting 400 years of their treasures, including the Artemis tapestries woven for Marie de Medici in 1607. Her husband, Henry IV, commissioned them. As this article by Gunilla Knutsson (at the Nordic tells us:

For the first time in centuries, these fifteen tapestries hang side by side again. They were dispersed in the mid-1600s with only seven of them left in France. The eight missing pieces of this unique demonstration of French artistry of four hundred years ago were considered lost forever. During the Revolution and other times of crisis tapestries, especially those with gold or silver thread, were routinely destroyed to recuperate the metals.
Suddenly, about a decade ago, they turned up on the antique market in England at a price of 1,825 million Euros. Thanks to the detective work of a French expert the tapestries were identified as belonging to the original Artemis series. And with the generous help of a French financial group, they were finally returned to their homeland.
The tapestries will be shown through September; here's an announcement. The Gobelins workshops are open to the public three days a week.
If anyone wins the lottery and wants to tithe to me, I won't tell.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

On the Drudge Report

"Gossip has become so much a part of journalism that what he does doesn't stand out."

So says the editor of the, Jim Brady, in a story about Matt Drudge and the Drudge Report in the Los Angeles Times. (My bad: the quote is actually from Frank Rich, a NY Times columnist. See comments)

Let's pause for a moment of silence.

This is a tiny little quote buried in a big front page article. I find it profoundly disturbing. I don't know the Drudge Report well, but for the Washington Post to acknowledge that gossip has become a part of journalism saddens me. Gossip is what Hearst did back in the twenties and thirties. Gossip is what led to McCarthyism and all sorts of evilness. Gossip is why I read newspapers rather than check-out stand tabloids at the market.

Gossip should not be part of journalism!

Here's a quote from further down in the story:

"Even when accuracy is not an issue, some journalists remain concerned about Drudge's influence."

Even when accuracy is not an issue?

When is accuracy NOT AN ISSUE to a journalist?

That's it. I'm moving to a cave.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Fake News Rules!

Oh Joy! Oh Rapture! Ring the Merry Bells of Fortune!
Comedy Central has put up the INDECISION 2008 Website!
GO there to watch videos about stupid candidate tricks!
Go there now. . . I have nothing further to say.