Cultural artifacts and property rights

In the November/December 2016 issue of Biblical Archeological Review (which is available only to subscribers), Huntington University Professor Mark Fairchild published an article entitled “Turkey’s Treasures in Trouble”. While the article meanders, it ultimately focuses on the conflict between scholars and local inhabitants on how cultural artifacts should be excavated and treated.

Dr. Fairchild concludes his article by presenting the conflict in a manner that clearly puts scholars in a far better light.

Simply put, Turkey has vast treasure buried undergound. In the past, Turkey scarcely realized the value of its hidden treasures and was ill-prepared to excavate them. Today, however, Turkey’s universities are training the next generation of historians and archeologists who are eager to explore Turkey’s past. In recent years, a few new digs have begun at some sites around the country. But Turkey’s resources are limited. Meanwhile, scores of ancient sites are left unprotected and are being ravaged by locals who are hoping to hit the jackpot.

Given this blog’s love/hate relationship with memes, his position can be summed up thusly.


A professor walks into a tea house…

To put Dr. Fairchild’s characterization of locals seeking to “hit the jackpot” into context, perhaps it helps to read a particular encounter he had with locals:

On one trip I came to Balkis, a small village in northwest Turkey in search of the ruins of the ancient city of Kyzikos. As I turned off the road and pulled into the lot of a small cafe, the eyes of a dozen men stared at me. In Turkey men commonly gather at the village cafe and sip çay (tea) at tables outside. I was a stranger, and they don’t typically see many strankers in Balkis. After a few customary greeting, I was invited to sit offered çay. I don’t like çay, but I drank it anyway, knowing that I was making a connection with the villagers.

How magnanimous of him to sit down with the common folk.

He continues:

Whatever discussions the men were having prior to my arrival were now suspended, and I was the focus of their attention. In short order, the questions came: “Where are you from?” and “What are you doing here?” I explained that I was a professor at an American university, and I was interested in examining the ancient ruins of Kyzikos. Most of the men were not familiar with the name Kyzikos, but I explained that I was looking for an ancient city located in the woods and surrounding countryside. Most of the men knew of ruins that existed out in the brush, but they didn’t know anything about them. After a bit of discussion, the men determined that Ahmet (not his real name), one of the men, should accompany me to the ruins.

At the end of the day, Ahmet insisted that I have dinner with him and his family. Ahmet actually lives within the Roman baths of Kyzikos. Before dinner Ahmet introduced me to his neighbor, who had returned from prison about a year previously. His neighbor had been caught trying to sell antiquities on the black market. He explained to me that he had dug up a frieze with a beautiful relief of winged charioteers. He broke up the relief panel to smuggle the pieces out of the country, but he was caught and jailed. As we were talking, it dawned on me that I had just seen a frieze similar to this at the Bandirma Museum the day before. I was puzzled when I viewed the objects because the frieze appeared to have fresh breaks, and the separate pieces had newly exposed surfaces. I pulled out my camera and flipped back to the shots I had taken a day earlier. As I showed the photos to Ahmet and his neighbo, they affirmed that this was the frieze that Ahmet’s neighbor had uncovered. Undeterred, Ahmet’s neighbor continued his clandestine activities. To him, the rewards far outweighed the risks.

The curse of cultural patrimony

Dr. Fairchild’s day in northwest Turkey is an excellent illustration of Steven Vincent calls “cultural patrimony,” or deciding “who has the right to own and exhibit mankind’s aesthetic and archaeological treasures.” In essence, countries such as Turkey that have extensive, but yet-to-be excavated, cultural artifacts have proclaimed all such objects as state-owned. They do so primarily to protect a nation’s identity and sense of self-determination. Governments then issue excavation permits to archeologists, who are restricted in how found artifacts can be examined and displayed.

Unfortunately, such restrictions merely create black markets for valuable goods such as cultural artifacts. They create unnecessary tension between scholars who want to increase knowledge about a particular culture, locals who want to earn a living finding and selling artifacts, and collectors who want to preserve them.

Currently, antiquities laws favor scholars who develop close ties to governments handing out excavation permits. One can call it crony archeology.

However, these laws prevent collectors who cherish these artifacts from lawfully purchasing and preserving them. As one antiquities dealer put it to Vincent, “A strong market assures a free flow of antiquities and acts in the best interests of everyone–archaeologists, collectors, and the people in source and market nations.” In fact, governments who restrict the excavation of cultural artifacts frequently value them far less than scholars and collectors. For example, a 5,000-year-old burial site in central Anatolia (Turkey) was “covered over with concrete and turned into a recreational area.”

How property rights can protect cultural artifacts

If governments truly want to protect cultural artifacts in their borders, they would allow people to not only buy and sell them freely, but also buy and sell the real estate in which these artifacts are currently buried. Everyone, except for cultural warriors, would benefit. Locals would be able to buy property they believe holds artifacts that are valuable to scholars and collectors. Scholars would be able to interact more freely with locals and collectors alike, each of whom are incentivized to know where antiquities may be and why they are significant. (They might even be able to avoid drinking çay in the process.) Collectors would have a far greater selection of artifacts from which to choose. Finally, the public would benefit from the increased selection, distribution, and knowledge of these artifacts.

Given the current state of affairs, governments are not going to privatize the collection of artifacts anytime soon. However, that does not mean that such a privitization would not be of great benefit to everyone.

Memebuster no. 14: Abortion rage

The following meme was shared in the liberal Facebookesphere:



The meme was published by The Reprimand Project. Its Facebook page describes it as posting:

Common sense messages to level the playing field as the GOP wages its legislative wars on Constitutional rights and law-abiding citizens.

Apparently killing innocent humans is a Constitutional right.

Astonishingly, the meme does not deny that abortion actually “kills innocent humans”. Rather, the charge is that those sanctimonious Republicans who oppose abortion are hypocrites, because of all of the reasons cited.

Notwithstanding the meme’s righteous indignation, I have just a few questions.

Can one be against the killing of innocent humans while believing that environmental regulations hurt property rights and the economy more than help the environment?

Can one be against the killing of innocent humans while believing that gun control laws will prevent law-abiding citizens from protecting themselves against criminals with guns?

Can one be against the killing of innocent humans while believing that minimum wage and living wage laws hurt the very people those laws are designed to help?

Can one be against the killing of innocent humans while believing that laws requiring the purchase of health insurance do nothing but raise the cost of health insurance and medical care, thereby preventing poor people from obtaining both?

According to this meme, apparently not.

The meme is yet another example of liberals who confuse good intentions with good policy. Like all good people, liberals want good outcomes for everyone. Unfortunately, they do not understand how economics works. They do not see that their policies hurt the very people they want to help. Meanwhile, they ironically demonize their opponents as “arrogant and ignorant” for opposing bad policies and not wanting innocent people to be killed.

So much for common sense messages.


Senator-elect Kamala Harris’s inane anti-speech tweet

Someone once told me lawyers are smart.

If she keeps this up, maybe she can become the Democrats’ next VP nominee…



Mike Cernovich: Why is the Atlantic focusing on Richard Spencer?

Mike Cernovich asks what I think is a reasonable question.

Why would the media ignore him yet give free PR to a neo-Nazi?

His theory is that, notwithstanding the role he, InfoWars, Milo Yiannopoulos, Breitbart News, Vox Day, and Stefan Molyneaux, among others, played in promoting Trump during the election, the mainstream media is playing avowed racists up as the “real” leaders of the alt-right.

If it turns out to be true, to say that the media is playing with fire is a severe understatement. Moves like this can lead to people getting killed.

Fortunately, the Trump transition team has issued a statement (h/t Target Liberty) denouncing “racism of any kind”. This shouldn’t be the least bit surprising, given how Trump reached out to black voters, and the passionate support he received as a result.

Just ask Diamond and Silk.

Whether the statement has any impact remains to be seen.

St. Augustine, pray for us!

St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!

St. Francis, pray for us!

St. Maximiliam Kolbe, pray for us!

St. Edith Stein, pray for us!

St. John Paul II, pray for us!

St. Mother Teresa, pray for us!


Peace Prayer of Saint Francis

We need this prayer now more than ever:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

St. Francis, pray for us!


Behold, leftists, the white nationalists you helped create

The identity politics of the left has led to the identity politics of the right.

Mark Shea links to an NPR interview with Richard Spencer, an avowed white nationalist who discusses identity politics in much the same way as a leftist would. It’s just that he’s focusing on white people rather than on another race, gender, or sexual orientation.

It is clear that Mr. Shea, and the NPR interview, are disgusted with Mr. Spencer. So be it.

Perhaps a natural question to ask the NPR interviewer would be whether she has objected when leftists talked about people outside of his or her particular identity in a similar manner.

I’m curious what her answer would be.


Twitter Purges Dozens of “Alt-Right” Accounts

Among the hysterical claims thrown at Trump has been that, given his condemnation of radical Islamic terrorism and call to halt Muslim immigration after terrorist attacks, his election would lead to a “Kristallnacht” for Muslims in the US. Bill Weld, a Hillary Clinton shill – I’m sorry – former Vice Presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party, made the same accusation in May.  While Trump’s positions are certainly debatable, the viewpoint from which he is arguing is understandable and, I daresay, rational. Further, I am not aware of any Trump statements advocating violence against Muslims. In fact, during his recent 60 Minutes interview, Trump told any supporters harrassing minorities, including Muslims, to “stop it“. (Then again, whether his supporters are actually harrassing minorities is itself debatable.)

Therefore, it is ironic, to the point of my becoming bored by its repetition, that ZeroHedge identifies another instance when the left holds Trump to a standard to which it doesn’t hold itself.

In a move dubbed as “corporate Stalinism” by one of those impacted, overnight Twitter again suspended dozens of accounts associated with the alt-right movement, the same day the social media service said it would crack down on hate speech.

Among those suspended was Richard Spencer, who runs an alt-right think tank and had a verified account on Twitter.

According to USA Today, Twitter on Tuesday removed Spencer’s account, @RichardBSpencer, that of his think tank, the National Policy Institute @npiamerica, and his online magazine @radixjournal.

Twitter has suspended alt-right accounts in the past but never so many at once. In one of the highest-profile bans, Twitter removed the account of Milo Yiannopoulos, an outspoken editor at Breitbart in July. He had engaged in a campaign of abuse in which hundreds of anonymous Twitter accounts bombarded Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones with racist and sexist taunts. Before banning Yiannopoulos, Twitter stripped him of his verified status.

Subsequently Twitter also banned University of Tennessee professor Glenn Reynolds aka “Instapundit”, however it reinstituted his account shortly after.

Speaking to the Daily Caller, Spencer said the move is “is corporate Stalinism.” In a YouTube video, entitled Knight of the Long Knives, an apparent reference to the purge of Nazi leaders in 1934 to consolidate Adolf Hitler’s power, Spencer said Twitter had engaged in a coordinated effort to wipe out alt-right Twitter.

“I am alive physically but digitally speaking there has been execution squads across the alt right,” he said. “There is a great purge going on and they are purging people based on their views.”

Spencer said he supported Yiannopoulos and didn’t think he should have been banned from Twitter. But, he said in his YouTube video, “Milo was engaging in something that could be called harassment.”

“The fact is that I, and a number of other people who have just got banned, weren’t even trolling,” he said. “I was using Twitter just like I always use Twitter, to give people some updates and maybe to comment on a news story here and there.”

While Twitter claims to have suspended these accounts to crack down on hate speech, ZeroHedge concluded its report by indicating another possible reason:

Twitter was the platform of choice for the campaign of President-elect Donald Trump and the alt-right political movement that embraced him. According to USA Today, “the alt-right used social media to spread its cause of white supremacy, operating largely unchecked by social media giants Twitter and Facebook.”

UPDATE: Richard Spencer’s statement on YouTube about his account suspension:

Virginia Heffernan: Hillary Clinton is “light itself”

As she writes in Lenny, Lena Dunham’s newsletter:

Hillary Clinton did everything right in this campaign, and she won more votes than her opponent did. She won. She cannot be faulted, criticized, or analyzed for even one more second. Instead, she will be decorated as an epochal heroine far too extraordinary to be contained by the mere White House. Let that revolting president-elect be Millard Fillmore or Herbert Hoover or whatever. Hillary is Athena.

Nope. No cult of personality there. Move along.

h/t Reason’s Hit and Run blog