Jeremy Lott résumé
1184 Bridgeview Drive | Lynden, WA 98264
Articles published in the following outlets:
Alberta Views Nederlands Dagblad (Dutch)
American Conservative The Oregonian
American Prospect Ottawa Citizen
American Spectator Portland Mercury
Australian Financial Review Reason
Books & Culture (columnist) The Report
Books in Canada The Stranger (Seattle)
The Door Tech Central Station
Doublethink Washington Post
Illinois Times Washington Times
Linguafranca Weekly Standard
National Post Wilson Quarterly
Assistant managing editor and assistant web editor for the American Spectator
(September 2003 to the end of August 2004)
Production director and senior editor for The Report (October 2002 to March 2003 --
Burton C. Gray Memorial Intern for Reason magazine (summer of 2002)
Involved in various fizzled Internet startups and student journalism (roughly late 1999
to the spring of 2002)
Non writing-related work of note
Washington State University's Vancouver-Lynden Satellite Research Station (1999-
2000; manager for 2000)
Intern for then-congressman Randy Tate (1996)
B.A. from Trinity Western University (1999-2002; high honors)
A.A.S. from Tacoma Community College (1995-1997; honors)
Cosh, Colby -columnist, the National Post- (780) 433-0976
Gillespie, Nick -editor, Reason- (202) 249-1751
Macomber, Shawn -reporter, the American Spectator- (703) 472-1301
Pleszczynski, Wlady -executive editor, the American Spectator- (703) 978-7678
Steel, Kevin -reporter, the Western Standard- (250) 558-3370
Wilson, John -editor, Books & Culture- (630) 260-6200
Tech Central Station (September 15, 2003)
By Jeremy Lott
Our story thus far: A group of early childcare activists teamed up with local
daycare providers to gather signatures to put the so-called latte levy on the ballot
in Seattle. So-called because they wanted to add a surcharge of a dime to every
espresso-bearing beverage sold within city limits, to fund daycare and preschool
for poor young children. When the latte tax lobby failed to gather enough
signatures in time to force the vote onto the ballot in the fall of last year, the city
council chose to delay the vote on Initiative 77 until this September. On the 16th,
voters will decide whether or not to undertake a massive new march of dimes, at
taxpayer expense, of course.
The latte levy has worked the normally mellow Seattleites into a fever pitch.
There have been several tax protests, including a rendition of the Boston Tea
Party at the south end of Green Lake (favorite chant: "What do we want? Cof-fe!
How do we want it? Tax free!"). Proponents claim the initiative is "for the
children" and would "only" wring an extra dime out of every cup of espresso
coffee, and, in a sense, they're factually correct. However, in addition to the
moral and regional arguments against the measure, there are also three practical
objections that have not received enough attention.
The first objection, concerns the efficacy of preschool and daycare. The text of I-
77 contains a startling, not to say incredible, claim: "[F]or each dollar invested
per child at risk of school failure, there is a potential savings to taxpayers of
seven dollars in special education, crime and public assistance costs." Though
theoretically grounded in the findings of the High/Scope Educational Research
Foundation, the drafter must have known this one was a stretch. Thus the
"potential" savings and the use of fungible terms (e.g., Who counts as "at risk"?;
Why would special education money be considered apart from dollars invested?).
"They can't substantiate that," says Lance Izumi, educational director of the
Pacific Research Institute. "First of all, preschool is a program that does not have
universal support. Whether it helps kids or not is an open question." Indeed,
research by Georgia State University looked at the educational achievement of
the state's young students after the legislature had passed universal preschool
funding. Overall, there were no discernible differences in achievement between
the preschooled children and those who went without.
Second, if preschool did make an important difference, I-77 still wouldn't make a
huge dent. Supporters expect the levy will raise $7-10 million a year, but those
figures are somewhat optimistic, to say the least. The city of Seattle estimates a
much smaller windfall ($1.8-3.4 million). And the city's estimate may be over-
optimistic yet, because it doesn't factor in things that could change espresso
drinkers' buying patterns
To wit, drinkers with limited pocket change may prefer one venti to two talls. For
those who can choose between buying espresso coffee in Seattle or in the
surrounding suburbs, the financial incentives will shift ever so slightly. Since drip
coffee is a) cheaper and b) not subject to the espresso tax, well, there's more
than one way to deliver the drug of choice of tens of thousands of Seattleites.
Also, for reasons I'll explain shortly, there may soon be significantly fewer outlets
in the Emerald City at which lattes may be purchased, further crimping sales and
Purely attitudinal factors may also work to drive down latte tax revenues. In an
earlier digression on this topic, I joked about the "angry latte sipping male"
demographic. But the reality of mass tax protests in Seattle is quite startling. A lot
of latte drinkers and coffee shop owners are mad as hell and will be very, very
reluctant to fork over the dime per cup that the referendum requires.
Finally, the compliance costs for this sort of tax are likely to be substantial. The
latte tax applies to any establishment with revenues of $50,000 a year. Shops
would have to track espresso sales separately and report to the city on a
quarterly basis. In many cases, to track such sales would require the purchase of
new technology. For small stands, or for stores that only sell lattes on the side,
there would be a great incentive to stop serving espresso-laden products, which
would reduce tax revenues further.
But don't take my word for it, the lefty alternative weekly The Stranger also came
out swinging against the initiative. As the editors explained:
"Sure, the big boys like Starbucks could afford to impose, collect, and track a
dime-a-cup surcharge on the drinks they sell without undue hardship. But for the
small players, the mom-and-pop independent coffeehouses that dot the city, the
imposition of this tax would in our opinion impose an enormous administrative
burden. Frankly, it's goofy ideas like this that give liberalism a bad name."
Washington Post (August 15, 2004)
This Land is Our Land
A Blueprint for Managing the Earth: by People, for People
by James Trefil
Times, 249 pp., $26
Reviewed by Jeremy Lott
I began reading this book in earnest on the hottest day of the year. Through all of
western Washington state, from the 49th parallel through Seattle and on to
Oregon, thermometers pushed above 100 degrees, and some gauges registered
much higher. Homeowners saturated their lawns to try to keep them from
roasting in the sun, vehicles broke down, and people did what they could to cope
with the heat.
Home air conditioning is considered a luxury in the cooler climes of the
Evergreen State, so the malls, restaurants and movie theatres were jam-packed-
-and some ad hoc lemonade stands did enough business for the little gougers to
start college funds. Interstate 5 was choked with cars heading to Canada to try to
find relief--though it was scarcely much cooler north of the border. If the warm air
had been accompanied by the kind of humidity that residents of Washington,
D.C. are used to, it's likely that corpses would have started piling up. If that
sounds far-fetched, recall that nearly 15,000 people died from a heatwave in
France last summer. In July 1995, a week-long hot spell in Chicago killed more
than 700 people.
Sometimes the natural seems tranquil, maternal even. When winter gives way to
spring, only those with severe allergies fail to be moved by the sunlight and the
flowers and the wonderful warming breeze. But then a hail storm or a heat wave
hits, and our dealings with Ma Nature take on shades of "Leiningen Versus the
Ants." In Human Nature, George Mason University physicist James Trefil offers
his expertise on such climatological tussles. He says that science is about to give
mankind the tools to tame nature and argues that we should use them.
The author nudges readers up to the subject by writing of his acquisition, in the
early '70s, of abandoned farmland near the Blue Ridge mountains, where he
planned to build a house and raise a family. While canvassing the property and
trying to decide where to build, he got a weird vibe. "I will never forget the feeling
of--it's hard to find the right word but I guess 'inhospitality' will do--I got from the
land," he says. "There was no water, no shelter, nothing but the hot sun and the
dry grass." By doing this "back-to-the-land thing" that was all the rage in the Me
Decade, Trefil acquired an understanding of the natural world that had been
missing from his admittedly "largely urban" life. That is: "I learned that nature is
not good and it's not bad--it just is." And that we have to deal with it as best we
Trefil argues that this inhospitality has always been the way of things. Ever since
our ancestors started walking upright (he spends a tedious number of pages
arguing with creationists that evolution really is a fact), the human race has
manipulated the natural environment to suit our needs. Hunter-gatherers learned
how to attract and manage prey and possibly came up with some very inventive
uses of fire. When European settlers came to North America, they were shocked
to learn that native tribes did controlled burns of fields (because the first grasses
that shot up after a blaze would draw the buffalo like a magnet).
Farming took this control one step further. Farmers displaced vegetation and
bred new strains of plants to favor their own sustenance, not the plants'. Forests
were razed to create arable land. Canals and dams redirected water to irrigate
crops, a process that profoundly reshaped civilization. Animals were bred to
produce traits that humans wanted--again, against the dictates of what the
natural world might have preferred. The weaker but more useful strains of both
plants and animals had to be protected against predators, many of which were
hunted to extinction. Insecticides helped to kill the insects that would eat the
plants, but these chemicals, in their earlier, more indiscriminate doses, were hell
on bird and amphibian populations.
We don't yet manipulate weather as we do agriculture, but we are increasingly
prepared to respond to it. In the introduction, Trefil refers to something that a
Washington Post editorial mentioned last September: Although storms around
the turn of the 20th century tended to catch people by surprise, today weather
tracking and forecasting have developed to the point that Hurricane Isabel was in
the news a week before she struck. People had plenty of advance warning to
either get out of the way or take precautions. Schools were shut down early, and
local governments distributed sandbags. Stores could stock up on emergency
items and thus be less likely to run out of them and create panics. The Weather
Channel and local news outlets followed all the twists of the storm and provided
In the long run, says Trefil, we are proving less than willing to take the hand that
the natural world has dealt us. He even predicts that, from the genetic
reengineering of plants and animals to advances in ecosystem management to
innovative methods of predicting and reducing global warming, humanity is set to
finally get a firmer grasp on nature.
Of course, there's a difference between can and ought, and Trefil doesn't try to
skirt either the science or the ethics of what he's proposing. He thinks that nature
can and should be managed like a garden, to the gardener's benefit. Some think
that man would make a lousy gardener, or that even if he could, he shouldn't. So
let's fight about it. Human Nature is the ideal place to start.
Weekly Standard (March 26, 2001)
David Kessler's account of his own heroism at the FDA
A Question of Intent
A Great American Battle with a Deadly Industry
by David Kessler
Public Affairs, 400 pp., $ 27.50
Reviewed by Jeremy Lott
As Dr. David Kessler was about to be nominated by President George H. W.
Bush to head the Food and Drug Administration, he bumped into his former boss,
Utah senator Orrin Hatch, at a social gathering. The senator greeted him with a
bear hug and said, "Remember Uncle Orrin when you're commissioner of the
FDA." After reading Kessler's memoir cum indictment of the cigarette industry,
one still has not much idea whether "Uncle Orrin" ever came calling, but the
author's recall of such amusing incidents at least keeps it interesting.
To hear Kessler tell it, when he assumed the post, "virtually nobody was happy
with the FDA. . . . Much of its authority had been diluted by the Office of
Management and Budget, which was used by the White House to pursue an
aggressive and dangerous deregulatory agenda."
Worse, the functions of the FDA were spread out in buildings all over
Washington, D.C., making it a logistical nightmare to try to run. Kessler set out to
bolster the agency's image, consolidate operations and, above all, "enforce the
law." The agency's job, as he saw it, was to regulate in the interest of public
health; politics be damned.
Well, some politics. AIDS victims managed early on to impress upon Kessler the
point that they didn't like the FDA's normal review process holding up potentially
Perhaps he tired of the picket signs labeling him a murderer, or perhaps he
simply thought they had a point: One of his signature acts under Bush was the
streamlining of the approval process for such emergency drugs. He also
managed to force food companies to alter the packaging of store-bought foods
so that they included the now ubiquitous "nutrition facts" labels.
He writes that he considered resigning if George Bush didn't side with the FDA in
the fight over the USDA. This was important to him because he "knew that diet
accounted for the second largest cause of preventable death in the United States
. . . and that improving how Americans ate was one of the most important public
health actions we could take. My goal was not to dictate behavior but to allow
people to make educated choices."
The statement was made by Kessler, the competent Bush appointee with
aspirations to make modest improvements in public health. Jeff Nesbit, an old
Dan Quayle hand, did his best to keep the tobacco regulatory fires from dying,
but Kessler had taken no action on the issue. Instead, he had killed it the good
old-fashioned Republican way: with a series of useless meandering meetings.
Shortly after Bill Clinton's inauguration, however, Kessler confided to Harriet
Rabb, counsel to the Department of Health and Human Services, that compared
with all the other good things the FDA had accomplished, "stopping tobacco use
would have a bigger effect on health in this country." As it did to so many other
things, the Clinton administration shifted Kessler's focus, producing an
increasingly activist agency bent on "regulating" Big Tobacco.
The problem with regulations, Kessler admitted at the time, is obvious to anybody
who knows anything about the FDA. A cigarette is such a toxic substance that
the moment the agency declares its principal component, nicotine, a drug, it will
have to be banned. A "safer" cigarette was largely a nonstarter because by the
time nicotine and the rest of the pantheon of carcinogens were removed from
tobacco, nobody would want to smoke it. As one tobacco executive quipped, "A
cigarette without nicotine is like sex without an orgasm."
Another impediment would be that the FDA knew practically nothing about
tobacco. But on the basis of information submitted by one informant code-
named--and I am not making this up--"Deep Cough," the agency issued a letter
to anti-smoking activists that put the decision not in Congress's tobacco-stained
hands but in the FDA's. Kessler acknowledges that "from a congressional
perspective, our letter had the word 'hearing' written all over it."
And so it did. Until the GOP took back Congress, hearings--under California
Democrat Henry Waxman--were the order of the day. Tobacco executives were
made to answer charges of nicotine manipulation, genetic engineering, and other
Very Bad Things.
The remainder of the book runs along two parallel tracks: one detailing the
discovery of the pharmacological process and properties of tobacco; the other
rediscovering the history and ferocity of Big Tobacco to survive and expand
market share against all impediments. The forensic details alternate between
fascinating and tedious, with Kessler stressing all along that he did not intend to
bring down Big Tobacco, but rather, to get at the truth. Shortly before the first
hearing, Kessler "ticked off some of the questions we had to answer: How are
cigarettes made? How is nicotine related to addiction? Are manufacturers adding
nicotine to cigarettes? How does the industry set nicotine levels? Where is the
nicotine coming from?"
The short-run solution was a cram session, with massive research following.
Where the FDA's own labs came up short, ex-smokers and former employees of
tobacco companies--in spite of the stringent secrecy agreements they had
signed--were more than willing to fill in the blanks.
Two things proved decisive in the FDA's historic decision to take the first steps in
regulating tobacco: the first was the supposed revelation that tobacco companies
were targeting children, and the second was Dick Morris. The first shook the
public out of its normal reflexive distrust for government intervention, while the
latter wanted Bill Clinton to use it as a campaign issue to beat Bob Dole over the
head with. Once Morris had polled tobacco-producing states and determined that
strong majorities favored tightening the rules for teens, Joe Camel was a goner.
We know the rest of the story. Bill Clinton, stogie smoker, went up against Dole,
the ex-smoker, and painted him as a pawn of Big Tobacco. Former demon-weed
farmer Al Gore used his speech at the Democratic National Convention to damn
the industry for killing his sister. Our children, they assured, must be protected
from this noxious substance, and Republicans were complicit in this tragedy.
Though a settlement was reached with all the state attorneys general, it appears
that tobacco may yet be bled to death through punitive damages.
Looking back, Kessler thinks that the beast must be killed, not wounded. "If
public health is to be the center of tobacco control," he says, "the tobacco
industry . . . needs to be dismantled." Tobacco companies should be stripped of
their trade, and the ability to manufacture and distribute cigarettes should be
solely vested in the federal government. He deems this necessary because if the
current arrangement is allowed to continue, "profits are inevitably used to create
the same addictive product and to generate more sales."
It really is quite a leap from Kessler wanting to "allow people to make educated
choices" to the current call for a new near-prohibition, but perhaps we shouldn't
be too harsh. He has, after all, seen the fruits of his nutrition initiative: Americans
are now better informed tubs of lard than ever before.
But there's one Kessler assertion card-carrying conservatives are obliged to take
issue with. "To this day," he says "the FDA has not been given some of the most
basic powers a regulatory agency should have."
Like what, summary execution?
Reason (March 2002)
How would-be censors promote free speech
By Jeremy Lott
In December, just as author J.K. Rowling--the world’s most famous living single
mother--was about to be made an honest woman again, New Mexico pastor Jack
Brock announced a most generous and unlikely wedding present. Brock, the
leader of the Alamogordo Christ Community Church, scheduled a "holy bonfire"
of all his congregants' Harry Potter books for December 30. The popular novels
about a boy wizard, the 74-year-old parson told Reuters, "are an abomination to
God and to me" and are liable to "destroy the lives of many young people." His
Christmas Eve sermon asked the tough question, "Baby Jesus or Harry Potter?"
Rowling, a member in good standing of the Church of Scotland, declined to
comment. But one suspects that the she had to suppress a chuckle when she
thought of all those kids sneaking out to buy new copies of the destroyed
Some fundamentalists cheered the Rev. Brock’s efforts to burn Harry Potter and
other suspect works. More commonly, however, they and their more moderate
co-religionists winced. Certainly, the overwhelming majority of residents in
Alamogordo (population: 30,000) were mortified, as their town was inundated
with mass media scrutiny of the least flattering sort.
In the end, more than a dozen big press outfits, including The Associated Press,
CNN, and the BBC, showed up to cover the spectacle. As an annoyed reader
wrote to the local paper of record, the Alamogordo Daily News, "There’s nothing
better than showing the entire state that blind ignorance is alive somewhere in
[our town]." In the suddenly lively letters page of the Daily News, opinion ran
heavily, if not quite unanimously, against the book burning, with Brock and his
flock routinely compared to the Nazis and Osama bin Laden.
Upward of 800 demonstrators--including a coalition of Unitarians, Pagans,
Democrats, Methodists, Presbyterians, and one Adolf Hitler impersonator--
protested the wanton destruction of best-selling literature. (Other items burned
included J.R.R. Tolkein novels and the works of Shakespeare.) As the 400
members of the Christ Community Church put flame to paper in a private
ceremony, one agitator held up a sandwich board sign that read "‘God’ hates
book burners," and another claimed to have surreptitiously saved a Stephen King
novel from the flames.
Many of the demonstrators said that the book burning reminded them of
Fahrenheit 451, the Taliban's destruction of ancient Buddha statues, and similar
acts of cultural repression. The protesters could draw on a long, sad string of
historic precedents by which to denounce the event. Even John Calvin, that great
exponent of Christian liberty, famously forced his godless opponents to burn their
own books publicly in order to escape execution.
But to characterize the book burning as a serious threat to free expression, as
several demonstrators and many outside commentators did, is to misunderstand
completely how such actions resonate in contemporary America. The United
States has certain features built into its legal framework, including theoretically
inviolable property rights and freedoms of speech and the press, that make it
very difficult for would-be Ayatollahs to coerce the rejection of certain writings or
Granted, the Constitution also guarantees freedom of religion; but these
mechanisms force religion to bend in such a way that, in effect, the pastors
propose and the congregations dispose. Brock himself acknowledged this,
writing in a church newsletter that "if you do not feel led to participate in tonight’s
[book burning], then please do not feel condemned or excluded, just follow God’s
leading for your family."
Worse (from Brock’s perspective, at least), civic habits have collided with
technology to create an automatic response to any hint of censorship. When a
concerned citizen takes it upon himself to publicly burn books, it invites press
coverage. Which, in turn, invites outraged charges of "censorship" by enlightened
souls everywhere. Which, in turn, invites more press coverage--and on and on.
The upshot is inevitably an outcome similar to the one in New Mexico in
December: disproportionate protest and ridicule for the burners, bigger sales and
near immortality for the targeted book. The work, whatever its merits,
automatically joins the American Library Association's coveted list of "challenged
and banned books," ensuring that it will be stocked and read well into the next
Which for an author is a far more thoughtful wedding gift than a crockpot or place
Reason (January 2004)
What archaeologists can gain from markets, or lose by ignoring them
By Jeremy Lott
The initial reports from Iraq last spring confirmed the worst fears of
archaeologists around the world. Warnings and pleas about safeguarding
important cultural sites had gone unheeded. With coalition forces still struggling
to accomplish key objectives and put down resistance, mobs ran riot through
Iraqi cultural institutions, including the National Museum and several libraries.
Looting merged with violent expressions of hatred for Saddam’s Ba’athist regime.
Exhibits were smashed, books burned, computers stolen, and records destroyed;
the looters made off with a massive number of priceless and irreplaceable
artifacts. In fact, early wire dispatches pegged the National Museum as a
complete loss: all 170,000 items just...gone.
And that was only in Baghdad. Elsewhere in Iraq, similar desperate scenes
played out. The museum at Mosul was sacked, and dozens of key archaeological
sites--including ancient Nineveh and Nimrud digs--were looted, often using heavy
equipment. In late May, reporter Edmund Andrews wrote in The New York Times
of looting that was still going on at an archaeological site near Isan Bakhriat. A
man who had been the site’s armed guard under Saddam’s rule watched
helplessly as local villagers started pillaging. In one morning alone, looters dug
out two urns, a vase, a statue leg, and a number of engraved artifacts. "In two
weeks, they have ruined all the work that was done over 15 years," said
archaeologist Susanne Osthoff, who had been part of the original excavation
Students of antiquity were understandably upset, and grief quickly turned to
finger pointing. "Why didn’t they stick a tank there?" asks Ellen Herscher, chair of
the Cultural Property Legislation and Policy Committee of the Archaeological
Institute of America. In an interview with reason, Herscher called for a full
investigation to help prevent future wartime disasters. Although she says she
would never want to second-guess the actions of the troops on the ground,
Herscher echoes a familiar grievance-laden refrain of many archaeologists: Why
did the troops manage to secure the oil ministry but not the museum?
The total-cultural-destruction scenario received massive play in the press, in part
because it was an apparently legitimate story, and in part because it was a handy
stick for the war’s critics. A Doonesbury character sold a plundered scroll on
eBay. New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote that "America stood idly by
while much of the heritage of that civilization...was being destroyed." Rich,
unsurprisingly, used the looting to criticize the barren wasteland that passes for
U.S. culture: "Goodbye, dreary old antiquity! Hello, ‘Friends’!"
One of the notable aspects of total-destruction fantasies, however, is how rarely
they pan out. Eventually, a very different picture emerged from Iraq. Yes, the
National Museum was looted, but the staff had already removed most of the
items from the display area. Most items were spared, and calls by imams to
return museum pieces had a remarkable effect. In several cases, we’ve seen the
entertaining phenomenon of "pre-emptive looters": Iraqis who explain that they
only took stuff to keep other people from taking it, or to keep it out of the hands of
some museum directors, who were thought to be too close to Saddam. As for the
American "failure" to protect the museum, evidence uncovered by the BBC
supports U.S. claims that its forces avoided the site because Ba’athist loyalists
were using the museum as a defensive stronghold.
Adding evidence for the view that the looting scandal is as much about ideology
as tragedy, several pro-war commentators seized on a line in a June 9
Washington Post story and radically misread it to claim there were only "33 items
missing" from the National Museum. And according to a story in The Times of
London, there was a pitched gunfight next to the museum in which Iraqi soldiers
used the museum like a hostage. Thus, in the minds of many, total destruction
and malignant American neglect became, "Nothing happened here, move along."
But something did happen. Even the Post story pegged the number of missing
antiquities at 3,000. As of late June, many archaeologists in Iraq regarded that
number as optimistic, with the suspected total running to twice or three times
that. (Depending on whom you believe, the discrepancy between the early figure
of 170,000 and the current estimates occurred either because the foreign
journalists misunderstood what the Iraqi curators were saying or because the
Iraqis were initially very inventive with their estimates.)
The revised version of the National Museum story is good news, but it is
tempered by the knowledge that thousands of its items were professionally
looted and will be very difficult to retrieve; that museum records are in disarray;
that site looting continues to be a major, underreported problem; and that
Ba’athist cronies had already taken away a great number of important antiquities
well before the hostilities commenced. (The best story to emerge from the whole
farrago is the fact that Hussein put his belly-dancing former mistress in charge of
the antiquities market in the north. That must have been some shimmy.) The
looting of Iraq’s cultural resources is a real and continuing problem, one which
will resonate far beyond the bounds of ancient Mesopotamia.
It’s unfortunate that the antiquities issue became grist for the domestic squabbles
of the U.S., because the controversy obscured a much more interesting and
long-running conflict within the profession of archaeology, one with ramifications
that are anything but academic. Everyone agreed that what happened in Iraq
was a tragedy. With the news that the National’s catalog might have been
destroyed, several independent efforts were launched to reconstruct it from
records at other museums and post the results on the Internet. But there the
consensus splintered into two schools of thought.
A pair of late April op-ed pieces in The Wall Street Journal by Hershel Shanks,
publisher of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) and Archaeology Odyssey, and
André Emmerich, a longtime collector of antiquities, made several parallel points:
1) The law would probably not be an effective remedy in recovering many of the
looted items; 2) a buyback program should be instituted in Iraq, quickly; 3)
internationally, the aid of dealers and collectors should be sought to ransom
whatever items make it through Iraq’s borders; 4) the "archaeological
establishment" is not being realistic about how to deal with this problem; and 5) in
the future, archaeology will have to find a way to use markets rather than fight
The current approach is vastly different. In the U.S., the Archaeological Institute
of America (AIA) has urged that Iraq’s borders be sealed and that the U.N. and
the U.S. condemn the theft and establish a worldwide ban on the trade of Iraqi
antiquities. Before the anti-anti-looting backlash, archaeologists were hopeful that
the U.S. would finally ratify the Hague Protocols relating to cultural property.
These would transfer even more of the burden of protecting antiquities onto
invading armies, a prospect that isn’t likely to fly with the Bush administration.
University of Virginia archaeologist Malcolm Bell, an AIA officer, strongly urged
antiquities collectors to declare the items in their collections now in order to better
weather future crackdowns.
To be fair, there was some overlap between the supposedly hidebound AIA and
its more market-savvy critics. Most establishment archaeologists supported a
limited buyback program, though they are loath to label it as such. "We’re calling
it more of a rewards program," says the AIA’s Herscher in an interview. Even
modest cash payments within the bounds of Iraq set off paroxysms of hand
wringing. Several archaeologists expressed concern about fueling the dreaded
international antiquities markets. In fact, they sometimes seem more concerned
about not enriching collectors than about recovering the artifacts. When I asked
for a reaction to Emmerich’s Journal argument, one AIA member responded with
a hissing sound.
That reaction is understandable. Cambridge’s Neil Brodie spelled out the extent
of the looting that followed the first war with Iraq in the July/August issue of the
AIA’s glossy magazine, Archaeology. In the three years following the 1991 war,
10 regional museums were attacked and looted. More than 3,000 items were
taken, and smuggling methods and connections were tried, tested, and refined.
Established trade routes likely exist through Iran, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia,
and Syria, leading to various European and Asian countries, Israel, and America.
As Brodie put it: "No one can blame the Iraqis for believing that their museums
were modern treasure houses--in a sense, they were."
Yet looted material from museums was only a small part of the overall trade. One
of the few forms of ready cash during the years of the debilitating, decade-long
sanctions regime against Iraq came from artifact sales. In defiance of the
Ba’athist government, which occasionally executed looters, and of U.N. Security
Council resolutions, an extensive black market in Iraqi antiquities was in place
before the recent scandal. The Iraqi antiquities that ended up for sale on eBay
were likely from this earlier period. By 1997, enough antiquities had been seized
at the Iraq-Jordan border to have their own exhibit at the National.
Nor are Iraq’s looting problems unique. In the last dozen or so years, museums
in Afghanistan, Somalia, and Kuwait have been sacked. Site looting is the order
of the day anywhere poor people find themselves sitting on land that is less
valuable than what is underneath the soil. In an interview, Hershel Shanks
described a conversation with an Italian museum curator to illustrate the point: "I
said to him, in certain places in Italy they’ve been looting tombs for three
generations. He said, ‘No. Four.’" For Shanks, the exchange embodies a certain
bitter truth: To archaeologists, site looting is more damaging than sacking
museums. At least in the case of the latter, the items have been excavated using
methods that allow scholars to compare notes. The information can survive the
loss or the destruction of the object, but haphazard, undocumented looting
deprives future generations of important tools for reconstructing the past.
The modern archaeological establishment has responded to the threat of
markets by lobbying governments to disrupt the flow of antiquities across
borders, and to crack down on collectors and dealers. They may have occasional
legislative successes--Switzerland recently tightened its notoriously loose
antiquities laws, for example--but the most likely result will be a slight reduction in
trade volume, and even that much is uncertain. Historically, governments have
not proven to be very good at preservation.
Reducing the flow of illicit goods would do precious little to fix some of the other
problems that plague professional archaeology, including a chronic lack of
funding for digs, and of the time and money needed to service large collections of
artifacts. One of the reasons the details from the National Museum are still so
sketchy is that thousands of items were still awaiting documentation. As with
many museums, the National had (and continues to have) thousands of items
deteriorating in storage in the hope that someone might someday pull them out
and catalog them before sticking them back on the shelf. At any given time, Iraq’s
premier cultural institution could showcase perhaps 8,000 items from its 170,000-
piece collection. Practically, this means that most items will never see the light of
Shanks argues that from the point of view of archaeology, collectors can be
either "good" or "bad," and that a lot of the collectors' actions depend on what
archaeologists choose to do as a profession. That means that both law and the
field of archaeology should carve out a place where collectors and potential
looters can funnel their energies. There are many possible ways to structure
such an arrangement. Shanks, for example, has suggested giving responsibility
for major sites to private companies that would ensure the sites’ security in
exchange for an opportunity to trade in duplicate finds.
Potential looters should be hired and supervised by archaeologists (a perfectly
common arrangement in archaeology’s past), who could pay for the digs by
getting collectors to sponsor them or by selling many of the items afterwards,
after they’ve been studied and cataloged. Emmerich argues, and Shanks
concurs, that many duplicate pots and artifacts currently sitting in museum
storage should be sold to private collectors, who would be more likely to properly
maintain and display them, and who might keep their own property safe in a time
A less antagonistic arrangement would be ideal for archaeologists, for collectors,
and for the nations that are so rich with physical evidence of ancient cultures.
Archaeology is more interested in the information that the artifacts provide than in
the artifacts themselves. By controlling the excavations and thoroughly
documenting finds, archaeologists could get all the necessary information.
Collectors could get access to artifacts that interest them, especially duplicate
objects that are otherwise sent into eternal storage, without risking forgeries,
lawsuits, or public denunciation. Countries of origin could require that a minimum
percentage of the antiquities found (including all unique objects) be donated to
their museums, which would both enrich their collections and boost their
reputations. The possibility of continuous employment--along with the occasional
payout for important finds and no risk of being shot or hanged--might persuade
the locals to go along with an ordered excavation instead of looting.
These proposals are neither new nor untested. Shanks likes to point out that the
Dead Sea Scrolls were found and dug out by people we’d now consider looters.
Archaeologists responded by buying the scrolls from antiquities dealers, then
hiring the Bedouins to help them further excavate the fragments of this ancient
library. Many museums in the U.S. and other countries have Iraqi antiquities
today because they agreed to finance digs with the understanding that they could
keep half the artifacts.
Much of what happens in the next few years will depend on the actions of the
archaeological establishment. Right now, an anti-collector, anti-market bias
remains pervasive. That may be a majority position, or it could be that, as pro-
market archaeology types would have it, a loud minority only makes it sound that
way. In either event, the utility of this attitude is far from clear. If used properly,
markets could help preserve artifacts, reduce looting, and expand the number of
digs. It’s a virtuous circle waiting to happen.
Regarding the current problem in Iraq, the University of Virginia’s Bell admits
much of the recovery effort will "depend on the principles that govern the
behavior of dealers and collectors." He hopes they will help recover the items,
but that would seem rather less likely to occur if the AIA’s recommended
import/export ban is ratified by Congress. In that case, the items likely will be
unloaded on less scrupulous dealers and disappear into the hands of very
discreet collectors, leaving them outside the scope of professional study for our