Monday 19 March 2012

Mad (as in 'as a hatter') Monday: Blurting Out the Reality Checks, one at a time

If you post something on Twitter, it's called a tweet. If you post something using email it's called... wait for it.... an email. If you post something by snail mail it's called a letter. What, then, do you call something you post on a blog? Simple. A blurt! Or a bleat. Except that 'bleat' makes it sound like you're a sheep, and 'blurt' makes it sound like you're shy. In my case they're prolly both appropriate. So, I flipped a coin, and from now on I'm calling each article that I publish on the Subversive Archaeologist a 'blurt.'

My last blurt, as it happens, unleashed a torrent of comment. One, to be exact. And it appears as if Unknown completely misinterpreted my point(s) with respect to Einstein's thought experiment, at the same time as reminding me that the GPS system and other observations made over the years since 1905 are clear evidence that time dilation exists as a result of Special Relativity (well, not the theory, the physical process that the theory describes [or imputes]). All I can say for certain after my foray into the cosmological realm is that it's a good thing I'm not trying to establish and maintain credentials as a physicist or, for that matter *cough* a mathematician or philosopher of science.

My second-to-last blurt was not so much a criticism of the archaeologist who lately exhumed some of Mesopotamia's history, but of the means by which she and her colleagues 'gained access,' as it were. I thought it was very telling *cough* that they could only venture out in sight of one of the new mondo military bases that've been established not to house the soldiers who aren't still there, 'cause the U.S. apparently pulled out a month or so ago. What's that? They only pulled out the last of the combat troops? My bad. But, that's a good thing, isn't it? I mean, if the people in the bases aren't combat troops then the U.S. is no longer at war with Iraq. Right? OK. So, the U.S. has troops on the ground to protect the personnel and equipment at their shiny new mega-bases (and the Green Zone). Ipso facto they're not there to wage war against the Iraqi people or their neighbours [this sentence contains the elements of a teachable grammar moment, if you have any small children nearby]. So (he asked rather coyly) why are the bases and the equipment and the soldiers and the support staff still in Mesopotamia in great numbers? Occupied? Of course the bases are occupied! If they weren't occupied they wouldn't need the soldiers to protect the people and equipment they surround. Would they? What's that? Not the bases? The country. The country is occupied? Obvies! If it hadn't been occupied there'd never have been a war in the first place, stoopid! Sorry? Oh. Doh! Duh me! Iraq is occupied by the U.S. military because the U.S. has vital national interests there. I see. Kinda like Japan after WWII? No, huh? Unlike Japan, Iraq was a poor country ruled by a vicious tin-pot dictator. So, why occupy Iraq? [Can I please stop the dumb show, now, and get back to the point I'm trying to make as pointedly and as protractedly as possible?]

Professor Stone's intentions may have been, and no doubt were, as innocent as can be. And her hopes for a renaissance of home-grown Iraqi archaeology may also be heartfelt. But, her actions suggest that she and her colleagues are, at best, a little 'tone deaf' and don't realize the signal that they're sending, loud and clear.

Maybe I can draw you a word picture to better illustrate. It's an analogous situation, played out in a university setting, which many of you can appreciate. You could also change the titles and imagine a business context. 

I'm Professor John at WhoAre University. I have a graduate student whom I'm supervising. I've heard that she has a fabulous collection of old vinyl 78s from the early jazz era in America with one-of-a-kind recordings. I love that stuff, and it's really valuable. And because of that, no one I know has anything of the kind. One day I waltz on over to Ms. Q.T. and declare my interest in the music in her collection. And I suggest that she invite me over some time to listen. And just between you and me she kinda doesn't want to, but says OK, anyway. By about the fifth or sixth of my requests to come over and listen, she's desperate to say 'No,' and I'm not about to put her out of her misery. Because she can't say 'No.' 

Why? Why can't Ms. Q.T. just say 'No?' Probly for the same reason that she would have trouble refusing Prof. John's sexual advances. See the relationship between the two isn't equal. It's what the enlightened members of the academic and private-sector establishment have termed a 'power imbalance.' One side, Prof. John, is all powerful--wielding life and death in his palm. Ms. Q.T. is, well, powerless. Almost. She can always take the issue to the university brass and have Prof. John put in his place. The Iraqis? Where are they gonna go? 

Your guess is as good as mine. And, frankly, it doesn't matter if it's oil, or sand, or Ur's gold, or the Great Woolly's petrified faeces. Just being there is bad PR.

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