Fair-ish and Balanced-ish
Friday, July 25, 2003
The declassified version of the congressional joint inquiry report on the 911 terrorist attacks can be found here. Careful, it's a big pdf.
Peddlers of Death Porn
Now that pictures of the dead Hussein boys are appearing on news sites, I await with bated breath for Bargarz's denouncement of FOXNews and CNN as "peddlers of death porn" given that he described Al-Jazeera as "peddlers of POW death porn" during the Iraq war.
Iraq and Al-Qaida
If this UPI report is correct, then George Bush has a lot of explaining to do (see below for extracts from his State of the Union speech).
The last paragraph has an interesting quote from a unnamed government official:
"They take a fact that you could draw several different conclusions from, and in every case they draw the conclusion that supports the policy, without any particular evidence that would meet the normal bar that analytic tradecraft would require for you to make that conclusion"
Maybe it's time for an official devils advocate position?
Update: Apparently it's not true. There is bugger all in the 9/11 report on Iraq.
The Forging of the Ossuary of Ya'acob bar Yosef
During late 2002 a significant announcement in the field of Biblical archeology was made by Professor André Lemaire. The box used to store the body of Jesus's brother James had been discovered. Since then, the ossuary attracted lots of attention in the academic community, caused a fair few intense debates, been the subject of a book, toured the Royal Ontario Museum and finally been exposed as an elaborate forgery. This post is aimed as an introduction to this tale. It should also be noted that I'm about as far from an expert as you can get, so be prepared for large numbers of mistakes.
The ossuary was a trapezoid, with one end being 12 inches wide and the other slightly shorter. The box was about 20 inches long.
The ossuary was constructed from limestone. It has a rough surface, which has two important natural features. One is a very thin layer of clay known as rock varnish. This is caused by the actions of bacteria and alga over a long period of time. The other feature is a coating of minerals in small "cauliflower" patterns known as the patina. This is caused by minerals leaching out of the limestone.
There is evidence of increased phosphate levels inside the ossuary, which may be due to leaching from that bones that it once held, however, now the ossuary is empty.
The ossuary had some small patterns carved into it (and possible painted on, however, this has worn away), but most importantly, there is a inscription on one side of it, naming the body that was once within it. Another significant detail is that the patina has grown over the inscription, indicating that the inscription is very old.
The inscription on it reads:
Yakov son of Josef brother of Yeshua
Translating these names into their english equivalent we get:
Jacob son of Joseph brother of Joshua
or in more familiar terms:
James son of Joseph brother of Jesus
Why is it important
An ossuary is essentially a coffin. It is used to store the bones of a dead person. They became popular among Jews in Jerusalem around 30 BCE, and the practice ended with the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 70 CE. In other areas of Judea, the practice of storing bones in ossuaries lasted until approximately the third century.
Ossuary's were commonly inscribed with the name of the occupant, and their fathers name. The addition of the brothers name is very rare (this is suggestive that the brother was important).
Jesus died in approximately 30 AD, and James in approximately 50 AD, putting James in the right time period for an ossuary. The frequency of the names Jesus, James and Joseph make in unlikely that there were many people named James, with a brother called Jesus, and a father called Joseph. As noted above the use of the brothers name on the ossuary suggests that he was a significant figure.
This is all suggestive that the ossuary did belong to the brother of Jesus.
The ossuary takes on greater significance when it is compared with early clues about Jesus. There are no Christian writings contemporary with Jesus. The earliest Christian writings (some of Paul's letters) were made in-between 50 and 60 CE. The Jewish historian Josephus has the earliest non-Christian mention of Jesus, however this was written after 70 CE, and there is considerable debate as to whether or not his mention of Jesus was a later Christian interpolation. The oldest Christian documents are fragments of certain gospels, which date to around 125 CE. So basically, there is a lack of archaeological data during the early origins of Christian Church. Rather we depend on what later generations wrote about this time period in order to study it.
If the ossuary did belong to James, then it would be the earliest known Christian artifact.
One of the first serious challenges to the ossuary came from Dr. Rochelle Altman. She looked at the text of the inscription, and came to the conclusion that first part of the inscription (James son of Joseph) was written one person, whereas, the second part was written by a different person. Even more interestingly, from clues in the writing style the following can be said about the first author:
The person who wrote the first part of the inscription was necessarily a surviving member of the family. He was fully literate; he clearly was familiar with the formal square script (those cuneiform wedges), the writing is internally consistent, and this part of the inscription is his expertly written holograph. The ease with which he wrote on stone further implies a mercantile family; commercial contracts and real property transactions were often painted on stone and over-carved. The carver of the ossuary inscription was an expert.
whereas about the second author:
The person who wrote the second part may have been literate, but it is doubtful that he was literate in Aramaic or Hebrew scripts. The script of the second part is a conglomeration of unrelated graphs from across the centuries and not a coherent script design. This peculiar diversity suggests that the writer chose graphs from examples on other ossuaries and/or documents stored in a tomb-cave or other dug-out family “mausoleum.” (Ossuaries in Greek-Hebrew and Greek-Aramaic have been found. Perhaps the questionable upsilon/dalet is the result of imitating the inscription on one of these dual language ossuaries.)
She concluded that ossuary was genuine, but somebody (perhaps around 3rd or 4th century CE) added the second part of the inscription. One important point to note, is that other experts in ancient writings have also examined the text. Some agree with her analysis, others do not.
Interestingly she also adds this to her report:
When I first saw digital photographs of the so-called James Ossuary, I immediately knew the inscription was fake without giving a paleographic analysis for two reasons: biovermiculation and patina.
Biovermiculation is limestone erosion and dissolution caused by bacteria over time in the form of pitting and etching. The ossuary had plenty, except in and around the area of the inscription. This is not normal. The patina consisted of the appropriate minerals, but it was reported to have been cleaned off the inscription. This is impossible since patina cannot be cleaned off limestone with any solvent or cleanser since it is essentially baked-on glass. It is possible to forge patina, but when it is, it cracks off. This appears to be what happened with the ossuary.
Microscopic and Isotopic Analysis
A in-depth study of the inscription was also carried out by Israel Antiquities Authority.
Several interesting observations were made:
* The inscription has been cut through the cave varnish, rather than the varnish growing on the top of the inscription.
* Around the inscription, the patina appeared to be different. It was nicknamed the James Bond.
* The James Bond had significant amounts of microfossils known as coccoliths. This is unusual as coccoliths are insoluble in water, and hence don't leach out of limestone in natural patina. They are however, common in normal chalk.
* Isotopic data taken from the patina around the inscription indicated that it was very different from the patina covering the rest of the ossuary. And from other ossuaries.
* The isotopic data also indicated water which laid down the James Bond was hot, in direct contradiction to the cool damp conditions which were responsible for natural patina.
At some time long after the natural processes of varnish and patination in a damp cave environment had been completed, someone carved a series of letters through the natural varnish on the ossuary. Then he or she covered the freshly cut letters with an imitation patina made from water and ground chalk.
On the issue of multiple authors the mag Archaeology have raised an interesting point:
The physical examination showed that the entire inscription was carved at the same time, so two different hands seemed unlikely in an inscription of only five words. Or did it? And examination of the very same catalogue of published ossuaries that Professor Lemaire had used as comparison for the letter forms in the ossuary Inscription, now seemed possibly to be their source. In an age of readily available scanning software it is entirely possible to make flawless copies of ancient letters as they appear on genuine artifacts. For example, taking the word "Jacob" (from catalogue no. 396); the words "son of Joseph (from catalogue no. 573); "brother of" (from catalogue no. 570); "Jesus" (common enough to have many examples) and resizing them and aligning them with the computer software Photoshop or PageMaker could have created an extraordinarily authentic template for a faked inscription, that seemed to be carved by more than one hand.
Unsurprisingly, the report by the Israel Antiquities Authority caused a mini-shitstorm. The ossuary had previously been examined by a number of experts, who now look bad. The first geologists to look at it, were made to look even worse, as another artifact (the Jehoash Inscription) which they had pronounced genuine turned out to be a forgery. The ossuary, which had been valued at over US$2 million, changed from a important archaeological artifact to a joke. Hershel Shanks, who had just co-authored a book on the ossuary, fought back, challenging the objectivity of the director of the Israel Antiquities Authority and by attacking the scientific credentials of the team which examined the patina (interestingly, he acted as if four of the five examiners didn't exist, and then attacking the fifth for not being been an expert in all of the various fields used in the examination - these gaps were filled by the other four experts).
In what is probably the final twist to this story Oded Golan, the owner of the ossuary was recently arrested by Israeli police for the forging of artifacts. An Israeli police officer, Gil Kleiman, stated that during a search of Golan's home ''[t]hey found storage rooms with antiquities they suspect were forgeries and very advanced equipment to make forgeries.''
Burial Box of James - Biblical Archaeology Review
New Tests Bolster Case for Authenticity - Biblical Archaeology Review
Early Christian Writings - Peter Kirby
Official Report on the James Ossuary - Dr. Rochelle Altman (an update to this report can be found here).
Observing the Ossuary - Dr. Paul Flesher
Does the James' Ossuary Really Refer To Jesus - Dr. Paul Flesher
Gold Dust and James Bond - Archaeology
Ossuary Patina Faked - Geological Survey of Israel
Exchange Between Yuval Goren And Hershel Shanks - Biblical Archaeology Society
Israeli Held In Suspected Forgery of Artifacts - The Boston Globe
Thursday, July 24, 2003
Quote of the Day
Did you ever consider that WMD's aren't such a pressing issue now that Saddam isn't around to use/sell them? The only reason to look for them now is to satisfy people like you, which is probably not high on their agenda.
--Yobbo, who is apparently unaware that the transfer of weapons of mass destruction from the hands of one S. Hussein (address at time of WMD possession: Al-Qaddissiya Presidential Palace) to the hands of persons unknown (current address: unknown) isn't necessarily a good thing.
Wednesday, July 23, 2003
So, the War Wasn't About Weapons of Mass Destruction
Sections of George Bush's State of the Union speech concerning Iraq:
America is making a broad and determined effort to confront these dangers. We have called on the United Nations to fulfill its charter and stand by its demand that Iraq disarm. We're strongly supporting the International Atomic Energy Agency in its mission to track and control nuclear materials around the world. We're working with other governments to secure nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union, and to strengthen global treaties banning the production and shipment of missile technologies and weapons of mass destruction....
...Our nation and the world must learn the lessons of the Korean Peninsula and not allow an even greater threat to rise up in Iraq. A brutal dictator, with a history of reckless aggression, with ties to terrorism, with great potential wealth, will not be permitted to dominate a vital region and threaten the United States.
Twelve years ago, Saddam Hussein faced the prospect of being the last casualty in a war he had started and lost. To spare himself, he agreed to disarm of all weapons of mass destruction. For the next 12 years, he systematically violated that agreement. He pursued chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, even while inspectors were in his country. Nothing to date has restrained him from his pursuit of these weapons -- not economic sanctions, not isolation from the civilized world, not even cruise missile strikes on his military facilities.
Almost three months ago, the United Nations Security Council gave Saddam Hussein his final chance to disarm. He has shown instead utter contempt for the United Nations, and for the opinion of the world. The 108 U.N. inspectors were sent to conduct -- were not sent to conduct a scavenger hunt for hidden materials across a country the size of California. The job of the inspectors is to verify that Iraq's regime is disarming. It is up to Iraq to show exactly where it is hiding its banned weapons, lay those weapons out for the world to see, and destroy them as directed. Nothing like this has happened.
The United Nations concluded in 1999 that Saddam Hussein had biological weapons sufficient to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax -- enough doses to kill several million people. He hasn't accounted for that material. He's given no evidence that he has destroyed it.
The United Nations concluded that Saddam Hussein had materials sufficient to produce more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin -- enough to subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure. He hadn't accounted for that material. He's given no evidence that he has destroyed it.
Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. In such quantities, these chemical agents could also kill untold thousands. He's not accounted for these materials. He has given no evidence that he has destroyed them.
U.S. intelligence indicates that Saddam Hussein had upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents. Inspectors recently turned up 16 of them -- despite Iraq's recent declaration denying their existence. Saddam Hussein has not accounted for the remaining 29,984 of these prohibited munitions. He's given no evidence that he has destroyed them.
From three Iraqi defectors we know that Iraq, in the late 1990s, had several mobile biological weapons labs. These are designed to produce germ warfare agents, and can be moved from place to a place to evade inspectors. Saddam Hussein has not disclosed these facilities. He's given no evidence that he has destroyed them.
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb. The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide.
The dictator of Iraq is not disarming. To the contrary; he is deceiving. From intelligence sources we know, for instance, that thousands of Iraqi security personnel are at work hiding documents and materials from the U.N. inspectors, sanitizing inspection sites and monitoring the inspectors themselves. Iraqi officials accompany the inspectors in order to intimidate witnesses.
Iraq is blocking U-2 surveillance flights requested by the United Nations. Iraqi intelligence officers are posing as the scientists inspectors are supposed to interview. Real scientists have been coached by Iraqi officials on what to say. Intelligence sources indicate that Saddam Hussein has ordered that scientists who cooperate with U.N. inspectors in disarming Iraq will be killed, along with their families.
Year after year, Saddam Hussein has gone to elaborate lengths, spent enormous sums, taken great risks to build and keep weapons of mass destruction. But why? The only possible explanation, the only possible use he could have for those weapons, is to dominate, intimidate, or attack.
With nuclear arms or a full arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, Saddam Hussein could resume his ambitions of conquest in the Middle East and create deadly havoc in that region. And this Congress and the America people must recognize another threat. Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda. Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own.
Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans -- this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known. We will do everything in our power to make sure that that day never comes.
Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.
The dictator who is assembling the world's most dangerous weapons has already used them on whole villages -- leaving thousands of his own citizens dead, blind, or disfigured. Iraqi refugees tell us how forced confessions are obtained -- by torturing children while their parents are made to watch. International human rights groups have catalogued other methods used in the torture chambers of Iraq: electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, and rape. If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning.
And tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country -- your enemy is ruling your country. And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation.
The world has waited 12 years for Iraq to disarm. America will not accept a serious and mounting threat to our country, and our friends and our allies. The United States will ask the U.N. Security Council to convene on February the 5th to consider the facts of Iraq's ongoing defiance of the world. Secretary of State Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraqi's legal -- Iraq's illegal weapons programs, its attempt to hide those weapons from inspectors, and its links to terrorist groups.
We will consult. But let there be no misunderstanding: If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him....
...And as we and our coalition partners are doing in Afghanistan, we will bring to the Iraqi people food and medicines and supplies -- and freedom.
Having just come back from reading Troppo Armadillo, I'm inspired not to blog on my obsession with global warming for at least one week.
Geoff Honnor can be thanked for part of this decision for making the following statement:
Unless someone can come up with incontrovertible proof that Saddam was actually engaged on an elaborate subterfuge to conceal the fact that he was working on a remix of "We are the world, we are the children" with Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel and Oprah Winfrey - all proceeds to charity - it may be time to drop the whole reasons for war non-event. If any Australian voter ever believed that the reasons for war rested on Niger uranium and 45 minutes to Armageddon I'd be very surprised, and probably more perplexed than Hugh.
Obviously, I don't agree. And will post more on the subject.
Another Armadillo, Christopher Sheil, can also take partially blame for this. By mentioning Herodotus, of whom this blogger has a particular soft spot for, he's reminded me that I've been planning to write a view of the Histories since this blogs start.
And on the history theme, I will also write a post on the forging of the Jesus Ossuary, something which I've been researching for a while, but have consistently put off writing up.
The optimist in me suggests that this can be done in week. The realist suggests that it will be a while longer before global warming reenters this site.
Tuesday, July 22, 2003
The Rise of the Taliban
Time have an online article on the current state of the Taliban. In a nutshell, it can be said that they are regrouping, using sanctuaries in Pakistan. While still weak, they are recruiting and making alliances with the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
Also of interest, is the stuff on reconstruction efforts.
A school or clinic built by the coalition, NGOs or local government can have a huge impact on a village, providing not only services but also a rebuttal to the Taliban's call to jihad. In Tani, a village in Khost province a few kilometers from the border with Pakistan, parents say school enrollment has doubled, and a 14-year-old boy excitedly describes a curriculum that now includes science, math and English. At a fruit stand in Logar province, Shakur, 60, says his village now has a medical clinic. The Taliban, he says, "did nothing for this country."
If the Taliban and their ideological allies are to be defeated, reconstruction of Afghanistan is vital.
Some of the forged Niger documents can be found here.
Pity I can't read French.
(via. Federation of American Scientists)
So, the War Wasn't About Weapons of Mass Destruction
Printed below is John Howard's 20th of March speech justifying war against Iraq:
The Government has decided to commit Australian forces to action to disarm Iraq because we believe it is right, it is lawful and it's in Australia's national interest.
We are determined to join other countries to deprive Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, its chemical and biological weapons, which even in minute quantities are capable of causing death and destruction on a mammoth scale.
Iraq has been an aggressor in the past against its neighbors and even its own people. If Iraq is allowed to keep these weapons not only might she use them again but moreover other rogue countries will copy Iraq knowing that the world will do nothing to stop them.
And the more countries that have these weapons - countries run by despotic regimes - the greater becomes the likelihood that these weapons will fall into the hands of terrorists. If that happens can anyone doubt that the terrorists will use them whatever the cost might be?
The attacks on the 11th of September and in Bali showed that international terrorists have no regard for human life no matter what the nationality of their victims may be.
Iraq has long supported international terrorism. Saddam Hussein pays $25,000 to each family of Palestinian suicide bombers who wreak such murderous havoc in Israel. He has sheltered and sponsored many terrorist groups.
International terrorism knows no borders. We have learnt that to our cost. Australia and Australians anywhere in the world are as much targets as any other western country and its people.
Therefore the possession of chemical, biological, or even worse still, nuclear weapons by a terrorist network would be a direct undeniable and lethal threat to Australia and its people.
That is the reason above all others why I passionately believe that action must be taken to disarm Iraq. Not only will it take dangerous weapons from that country but it will send a clear signal to other rogue states and terrorists groups like Al Qaeda which clearly want such weapons that the world is prepared to take a stand.
There's also another reason and that is our close security alliance with the United States. The Americans have helped us in the past and the United States is very important to Australia's long-term security.
It is critical that we maintain the involvement of the United States in our own region where at present there are real concerns about the dangerous behaviour of North Korea.
The relationship between our two countries will grow more rather than less important as the years go by.
A key element of our close friendship with the United States and indeed with the British is our full and intimate sharing of intelligence material.
In the difficult fight against the new menace of international terrorism there is nothing more crucial than timely and accurate intelligence. This is a priceless component of our relationship with our two very close allies. There is nothing comparable to be found in any other relationship - nothing more relevant indeed to the challenges of the contemporary world.
I know that some people are saying that what we have done makes it more likely that terrorists will attack Australia.
Australia has been a terrorist target at least since the 11th of September 2001.
Australia is a western country with western values. Nothing will or should change that. That is why we are a target. Remember that bin Laden specifically targeted Australia because of our intervention to save the people of East Timor.
Does any Australian seriously suggest that if Bin Laden's warning had come before the East Timor action we should have caved in and changed our policy. That will never be the Australian way.
We believe that so far from our action in Iraq increasing the terrorist threat it will, by stopping the spread of chemical and biological weapons, make it less likely that a devastating terrorist attack will be carried out against Australia.
I want to assure all of you that the action we are taking is fully legal under international law. Back in the early 1990s resolutions were passed by the Security Council authorising military action against Iraq.
That action was only suspended on condition that Iraq gave up its weapons of mass destruction. Clearly we all know this has not happened. As a result the authority to take military action under those earlier resolutions has revived.
America's critics both here and abroad have been both opportunistic and inconsistent. They know and admit that weapons inspectors only returned to Iraq because of the pressure of the American military build-up. Yet they have persistently criticised American policy.
Apparently they believe that a quarter of a million American, British and indeed Australian troops should stay in the desert doing nothing indefinitely. We all know that if the troops had been withdrawn Iraq would have immediately stopped its minimal co-operation with the inspectors.
Another point I'd make to you very strongly is that we're not dealing here with a regime of ordinary brutality. There are many dictatorships in the world. - but this is a dictatorship of a particularly horrific kind.
His is an appalling regime: its torture, its use of rape as an instrument of intimidation; the cruelty to children to extract confessions from parents. It is a terrible catalogue of inflicting human misery on a people who deserve much better.
This week, the Times of London detailed the use of a human shredding machine as a vehicle for putting to death critics of Saddam Hussein. This is the man, this is the apparatus of terror we are dealing with.
The removal of Saddam Hussein will lift this immense burden of terror from the Iraqi people.
Our argument is with Saddam Hussein's regime. It is certainly not with Islam.
Australians of an Arab background or of the Islamic faith are a treasured part of our community. Over the weeks ahead and beyond we should all extend to them the hand of Australian mateship.
To those in the community who may not agree with me, please vent your anger against me and towards the government. Remember that our forces are on duty in the Gulf in our name and doing their job in the best traditions of Australia's defence forces.
Can I say something that I know will find an echo from all of you whether or not you agree with the Government. And that is to say to the men and women of the Australian Defence Force in the Gulf - we admire you, we are thinking of you, we want all of you come to back home safe and sound. We care for and we anguish with your loved ones back here in Australia. Our prayers and our hopes are with all of you.
We now live in a world made very different by the scourge of international terrorism.
This has been a very difficult decision for the Government but a decision which is good for Australia's long term security and the cause of a safer world.
Quote of the Day
Everyone knows that there were unaccounted for weapons in Iraq. They weren't very significant in quantity. They're the ones that I reported to the Security Council. My successor Hans Blix did the same. But before the war, Bush, Blair and Howard said there were vastly more weapons.
Over the past year, a number of individuals (Joseph Wilson, Andrew Wilike etc) with specialised information on the Iraqi WMD have spoken out against the establishment line.
Have any of them not been smeared by pro-war bloggers at various times?