Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Technology Teacher

I wrote an article for the Technology Teacher which should be out about now, although they don't have online access. The article was about Design Squad, an excellent PBS show aimed at the 9 yrs old and above crowd and is reality show where teams compete by building things. Yes, it teaches engineering and science while being fun to watch. Their website also has lots of cool project sheets to download. After Austin expressed interest in a catapult, I got a Dixie cup, paint stirrer and a wooden block and we shot plastic balls into the air with it. And now he knows what a fulcrum is. (Or he did, for a moment.)

Check out the site, and if anyone gets Technology Teacher at their school and wants to comment on the article, please do!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Another Altercation comment

A comment I made to the blog Altercation was published on Friday. I realize it sounds like it could be sarcastic or cynical, but I'm really curious about what the mission in Afghanistan will be.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

More on Moqtada al-Sadr

Well, turns out people better informed than me also think that Moqtada al-Sadr is one of the central figures in Iraq, marginalized by the Iraqi and American governments (as well as the American media). Here's a post with the last chapter of Patrick Cockburn's new book Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Victory in Iraq

Is it just me, or is it clear to everyone who the winner of the war in Iraq is? Is it just a matter of time before he's identified by everyone else?

I'm writing, of course, about Moqtada al-Sadr.

He and his Mahdi army have been powerful forces and power brokers for a long time.

Was violence down in Iraq in 2007? Yep, but not because of the "surge." It's because al-Sadr declared a cease fire.

Is violence suddenly back up in Iraq? Yes, because offshoots from al-Sadr's Mahdi Army are fighting again. And here's the kicker: if they keep fighting, al-Sadr becomes more powerful in the minds of Iraqis; if they stop fighting because al-Sadr commands them to stop, al-Sadr becomes more powerful in the minds of Iraqis.

The trouble with a lot of American news is they set everything up from the point of view of the American military or American politicians. Reading the news with Moqtada al-Sadr in mind, it's easy to see how from an Iraqi point of view, he's becoming more and more powerful.

Frankly, I think he's winning not only the war but the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. Maybe the US should start negotiating with him.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Introduction from ANE Art in Context, aka Irene Winter Festschrift

I'm excerpting below the introduction that Marian Feldman and I wrote for Ancient Near Eastern Art in Context: Studies in Honor of Irene J. Winter. I'd meant to do this earlier to help Googlers find articles that are in the book, but it makes sense to do it now, too, because we will be having a session dedicated to Irene at this year's American Society for Oriental Research (ASOR) meeting in Boston. That will happen in November. Sign up for the meetings if you haven't yet!

Okay, from the introduction, skipping all the mushy stuff:

While Irene’s contributions to the field of ancient Near Eastern art
are so numerous that it might seem impossible to make an accurate
accounting of them, arguably one of the most profound has been her
unfailing commitment to contextualization in the widest and richest
sense of the term—from a careful consideration of the art within its
archaeological settings to the ideological, rhetorical, ritual and aesthetic
networks in which these arts existed and participated. It is this total
integration that has inspired the title of this volume and that we hope
to have emulated in the diverse array of articles gathered within it.

To begin, however, we have two articles of a more personal nature
from two of Irene’s first graduate students that put Irene herself into
context. John Russell contributes a scholarly biography, assessing
Irene’s contributions to the academy from his own perspective as a
scholar, teacher and activist. Michelle Marcus writes about Irene’s
role as an educator and mentor as a model for pre-college education,
and she makes the case for the importance of and potential for
studying visual culture even in kindergarten and elementary school

In the rest of the contributions, although we did not solicit specific
topics, we were pleased to find that common themes emerged as we
assembled the finished articles. And these themes, not surprisingly,
intersect with those that Irene has explored in her own work. Thus,
we have grouped the articles in five sections, the title of each having
been drawn from seminal articles in Irene’s corpus.

I. “Seat of Kingship/A Wonder to Behold”: Architectural Contexts

Irene’s work in the early 1980s on the Neo-Assyrian palace of Ashurnasirpal
II pioneered an approach to studying the relationship between
texts, images and architecture as an integrated and coherent program
designed to define or defend a royal ideology. Her students continue
to explore the use of architecture and architectural decoration as
symbol, especially as they convey messages about royal power. In
this section, Irit Ziffer examines a group of Chalcolithic Levantine
copper “crowns” and suggests they reflect palatial forms of an early,
emerging rulership. Ömür Harmansah explores the development of
the orthostat tradition in North Syria, which the Neo-Assyrian rulers
later drew upon for their palaces, and considers how the physical
and structural qualities of the orthostats convey as much meaning
as the images carved on them. Stephanie Reed problematizes the
interpretation of the Neo-Assyrian palace reliefs of Ashurbanipal,
finding traces of emotive affect in the depiction of prisoners of war
that may be indicative of a little-explored aspect of conflicting
Assyrian perceptions of the enemy.

II. “Idols of the King”: Ritual Contexts

In her work on the statues of Gudea in the late 1980s and early
1990s, Irene considered the ways in which ancient monuments operated
within contexts of ritual and in particular how such ritualized
use reinforced royal needs. Monuments are not simply objects to
admire, but rather key participants in social action and thus represent
traces of physical acts and desires played out long ago. A number
of our contributors have taken a similar tack, reconstructing ritual
based on archaeological, representational or architectural evidence
and then contextualizing how those rituals may have served significant
functions in maintaining hegemony. Ann Shafer considers the
peripheral monuments of Assyrian kings—carved stelae and rock
reliefs—not only as marking the borders of conquest, but also as
sites and residues of ritual performance critical to the maintenance
of royal ideology. Tallay Ornan proposes that the Neo-Assyrian king
Sennacherib may have appropriated aspects of the divine in his images,
blurring the lines between god and king and moving toward
a kind of royal deification. Elif Denel demonstrates that areas of
the city of Carchemish, elaborately ornamented with carved reliefs
and exhibiting evidence of offerings, were designed as focal points of
rituals that reinforced the power of the North Syrian rulers. TuÅba
Tanyeri-Erdemir traces the coevolution of temple architecture and
state ideology in the Urartian Empire, arguing that rituals conducted
outside and inside state sponsored sacred sites were critical to the
establishment and perpetuation of an Urartian royal ideology.

III. “Legitimization of Authority”: Ideological Contexts

In her work on the seemingly mundane sealings of Ur III bureaucrats,
as well as in her research on royal images, Irene has shown us that
ideological messages are pervasive in the visual culture, the two being
inextricably entwined with the larger socio-political landscape of the
Near East. The three papers in this section explore different ways
in which Near Eastern rulers derived political legitimization through
artistic production. Jülide Aker’s contribution focuses on Ashurbanipal’s
lion hunt reliefs to find the hierarchies of the royal personnel
reflected and affirmed in the quality of the craftsmanship applied to
different subjects. Marian Feldman traces the Mesopotamian, and in
particular Akkadian Empire, lineage of Darius I’s “heroizing” style
and proposes methods of transmission from Mesopotamia to Persia
and from the third millennium to the first. Mehmet-Ali Ataç draws
upon parallels from Classical Greece to explore the description of
divine radiance—melammu in Akkadian—as a heroic quality associated
with Mesopotamian kingship.

IV. “Sex, Rhetoric and the Public Monument”: Gendered Contexts

Given that questions of gender and sexuality must be considered in
any social history and Irene’s commitment to a total understanding
of ancient Mesopotamia, it is not surprising that a part of her work
has focused in this area. In her 1996 study of the Stele of Naram-Sin,
Irene applied theories of gender and masculinity to demonstrate how
Naram-Sin’s physical allure functioned as a key quality in his royal
persona. Attempting to reconstruct the roles of women in Mesopotamian
society, she has written on the Disk of Enheduanna, one of the
very few images of women in the corpus of ancient Near Eastern art.
The three contributions in this section follow suit, exploring diverse
cases of gendered contexts. Claudia Suter identifies representations of
priestesses in the Akkad through Isin-Larsa periods, and in so doing,
brings their socio-economic and ideological roles into focus. Using a
case study of an archive attributed to a wife of Shulgi, Tonia Sharlach
discusses the methodological considerations in studying a “woman’s”
archive—including how to define such a thing. Julia Assante studies
a group of presumably private monuments—pornographic lead inlays—
proposing that the aesthetic treatment of women and foreigners
seen on them, and the ways in which they would have been experienced
by Assyrian courtiers, played a decisive role in bolstering the
royal ideology of Tukulti-Ninurta I.

V. “Opening the Eyes and Opening the Mouth”: Interdisciplinary Contexts

One of Irene’s great talents is to look at familiar objects in a fresh
light and through new “eyes” in order to provide a different perspective
on them. The title of this section is taken from an article from
2000 in which Irene drew upon living rituals observed in India to
gain insight into the ancient practices in which artworks once existed.
The article—like so much of Irene’s work—emphasizes and capitalizes
on the benefits of crossing fields, disciplines, media, time and space.
The contributions in this final section exhibit a similar “breaching”
of traditional boundaries and in the process reveal new aspects of
the ancient Near East. Andrew Cohen discusses how and why barley
became a “key symbol”—an important and pervasive touchstone
that helped define Mesopotamian culture on an economic as well as
ideological level. Abraham Winitzer combines his knowledge of both
Hebrew and Akkadian to parse the Deuteronomic laws regarding the
taking of a neighbor’s fruit and grain. Jack Cheng considers the phenomenon
of objects depicted with representations of themselves as a
message from the past to the future. Amy Gansell, in a nod to Irene’s
ethnoarchaeological explorations of Hindu ceremonies, researches a
modern tradition of Syrian bridal adornment as a way of furthering
our understanding of ancient jewelry. Benjamin Studevent-Hickman
takes a new look at the moment at which cuneiform writing turned
ninety degrees and discusses the variables involved, suggesting that
to insist on a single point in time is to miss the dynamic complexity
of language and writing.

A few additional editorial observations may serve as further testament
to the quality and breadth of Irene’s scholarship. Our authors cited
29 different articles by Irene, dating from 1974 to her more recent
publications in 2004. It is certainly a tribute to her continuing relevance
in the field that Irene has never had a fallow period in her
scholarship and continues to publish groundbreaking work on almost
every period of Mesopotamian art history. This is mirrored in the
wide range of dates and cultures explored by the contributors, from
Ziffer at the beginning of state formation in the fourth millennium
to Feldman at the end of the independent ancient Near East in the
Achaemenid period to Gansell’s ethnographic study of Syria in the
20th century CE. The Neo-Assyrian period—an area in which Irene
has produced such impressive scholarship—is the subject of papers
by Aker, Ornan, Reed and Shafer. Her interest in the first millennium
kingdoms of northern Syria and southeastern Turkey surfaces
in papers by Denel, Harmansah and Tanyeri-Erdemir. Different aspects
of the third millennium are addressed in the papers of Cohen,
Sharlach and Suter. In addition, Irene’s continuing interest in the
relationship between text and image is explored by Studevent-Hickman
and Cheng. Her recent work on aesthetics and affect threads
through many of these papers.

Despite the disruptions and lengthy time in the production of this
volume, we are delighted with the quality and breadth of the essays. In
pitching the idea of this book to our publisher, we made the argument
that Irene’s influence is so broad and deep that her students represent
the next wave of scholarship of the visual culture of the ancient Near
East. For Irene’s sake, we hope that promise has been fulfilled.