Tuesday, April 10, 2018

This Day in History

It's been exactly one year since my last post here, both that one and this motivated by a singular event seventy-four years ago.  Of all the days that have come and gone in those intervening years, what would make this one stand out so boldly?  It has been a life-changing event for many people—both then and now.  

On this day in 1944, at a tiny bungalow in the suberbs of Waukesha, Wisconsin, I was a chubby-cheeked, curly-haired, lad barely learning to walk.  It was the day after Easter and winter was whispering farewell.  War was raging in Europe and the Pacific— not that anyone could tell by the idyllic simplicity of our lives.  It would be several years before I would see my first television and I only faintly remember the existence of a radio at that time.  One single light bulb hung by a twisted wire in the center of our small living room and our only source of water was a hand-pump in the yard outside.  I do remember, as a very small child, that we had a wringer-type washing machine and the rotation of the agitator fascinated me.  Equally fascinating was the weekly gathering of family members who played a variety of musical instruments.  It was a wonderful environment in which to grow.  Little did I know then, or for many years after that time, how many young men sacrificed their lives for me and those of my generation to enjoy that privilege.

William Edward Cramsie was one of those heroes.  He was endowed with exceptional talent, superb social skills, outstanding leadership qualities and boundless dedication.  Bill was good at everything he chose to undertake—graduating at the top of his High School class, top 8% of his West Point class of June 1943 and considered by many of his fellow pilots in the 416th Bomb Group to be the best formation flyer in the Group.  By his fourth combat mission, he had already been chosen to fly on the left wing of the formation leader.  That was a position of considerable honor and responsibility, not to mention danger.  German gunners preferred to target the leading aircraft in a formation.  That fourth mission, on April 10, 1944, was a disaster for Bill Cramsie and his crew.  Hit twice by flak from the German 88mm cannons, they lost an engine over France and began losing altitude as they headed back across the English Channel on one engine toward their base at Wethersfield.  Only a few miles from land, their A-20 Havoc could carry them no further.  They went down in Bradwell Bay and neither plane nor crew were ever found.

Each passing year the technological advances in underwater search make it more likely that these young men will be located and honored appropriately.  We long for that day and continue to honor their sacrifice by heralding their achievements and the service of all who flew or worked with them during those trying times.  The background and details of this sad but inspiring saga, are covered at http://cramsie.blogspot.com and in the 416th web site at http://416th.com as well as the 416th Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/416th .

 Note:  This entry was written for the Cramsie blog cited above,  but Google has seen fit to post it here on the Ancient Coin blog and I can't find a way to get it transferred.  So, if you are looking for coin comments -- sorry :-( 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

More Verification of Fake News

Several months ago I cited a 78-page  Dutch National Police Investigation report that criticized Fake News in the media.  In particular, this investigation debunked the outrageous claims of Cultural Property Nationalists, many of whom are American Institute of Archaeology members or colleagues, that the funding of ISIS is (or was) derived in large measure by the looting and sale of cultural artifacts.  As I stated earlier, this claim was not universally supported within the archaeological community, but it did garner the support and encouragement of some "big name" leaders in that field.  It was clearly a text book example of the "big lie" syndrome that was eagerly disseminated by the media without even rudimentary verification.

An indepth study by MIT scholars, recently reported in The Atlantic,  analyzed some 126,000 contested news stories that surfaced on Twitter.  Their finding has undeniably confirmed that the propensity to lie or grossly exaggerate in the media, and consequently online, has risen to alarming proportions.  I suppose that some Archaeologists might feel vindicated in that they were just following the Pack while creating and feeding on the fallout from those Fake News claims of ISIS marketing through the antiquities trade.  Of course the lies were not innocent little barbs, they were extremely destructive and irreversible.   This abdication of professional ethics is in itself a serious cause for concern and could well lead to a backlash that those guilty of supporting had not anticipated.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire...

The Committee for Cultural Policy has pointed out on several past occasions that exaggerated media reports, of Islamic State (ISIS) income from the sale of looted antiquities to art and coin collecting communities, are and have from the start been unfounded.  The persistence of outright lies has cast a cloud over the credibility of several major media outlets and their academic "experts" who fed the flame for what is obviously an ideological anti-trade agenda.  In their August 2017 newsletter, the CCP presents a report on the findings of a Dutch National Police investigation that flatly debunks this supposed collusion.  In all fairness, similar findings have been reported by respectable archaeologists who value truth over public brainwashing—for what some believe to be the "greater good".  Sadly, these laudable professionals have rarely been quoted and certainly are not heralded by their more radical peers.  Who could ever have imagined that Cultural Property Nationalists would lead Archaeology down such a destructive path?

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A sign of the times?

Over the past decade, collectors of ancient coins have been faced with constant pressure from left wing radicals of academia—particularly the archaeological community leadership and their sycophants.  Among the ardent supporters of anti-collector groups are a small but well entrenched cadre of bureaucrats in Washington.  The level of governmental infiltration by these cultural property nationalists—bent on eliminating or controlling international trade in cultural property—is in itself cause for some concern.  History is replete with examples of ideology supplanting law and individual rights in a quest for social management.  It has been the cause of more than one major war between nations, not to mention a global plethora of internal strife over the desire to dictate.

In recent years there has been a barrage of baseless claims in the liberal press stating boldly that the terrorist movements of the Middle East are being funded by huge revenues from the sale (mainly within the U.S.) of ancient artifacts looted in conflict areas either from theft or support of illegal excavation and exportation.  Even avowed supporters of academic archaeology have debunked these wild claims, but they continue to proliferate in the media without justification or any basis in fact.  It's the "Big Lie" in what some see as its finest hour.  One element of that campaign was an Executive Branch program created during the Obama Administration ostensibly to interdict illegal trade and monetary transfers that aided terrorists.  The project was called Operation Choke Point and one of its goals was to throttle trade that the administration considered suspect.  In reality, the project became a tool for ideologues to exert pressure on legitimate business that they disagreed with philosophically.  Ancient coin dealers were among that group targeted.  Under pressure from governmental agencies, several banks cancelled longstanding business accounts with dealers in ancient coins—not due to any transgression nor illegal activity, but simply because they dealt in ancient coins.  Of course, those disenfranchised businesses lodged complaints with their elected representatives and Congress held numerous related hearings that outlined problems to no avail.  The Executive Branch was apparently within its rights and sphere of influence in imposing this form of repressive overreach.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on which way one looks at the situation, the ancient coin community was not alone.   Operation Choke Point affected many other legitimate enterprises in negative ways that the Obama Administration accepted and explained as "collateral consequences".  One was expected to believe that the philosophical overtones were merely coincidental.  This nonchalant writeoff of legitimate American business drew much attention and as early as January 2014 Forbes contributor Tom Basile wrote, "There is a dangerous arrogance of power among the President and senior-level Democrats that should concern every American."

Happily, we can now speak of Operation Chokepoint in the past tense.  As of August 16, 2017 the Trump Administration has terminated that program and described it as a "misguided initiative".  Hopefully, this is a sign of the times and the present administration will also recognize the negative consequences of bureaucratic overreach at the State Department and U.S. Customs.  They might start with implementation of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act and guide the bureaucracy back to a position consistent with the law and not driven, as it has been, by misguided ideology.




Sunday, July 30, 2017

Unintended Consequences

Three years ago, coin collector and hobby advocate Scott Barman posted on his blog an insightful article about the nature of what others have described as ideologically inspired bureaucratic overreach.  He named the post "An Ancient Dilemma" and discussed the issue of unintended consequences in an era of "hyper-partisanship".  Where other members of the coin hobby and trade—including myself on some occasions—have become understandably emotional on this topic, Mr. Barman exhibits a remarkable degree of restraint and appeals both to law and common sense.  In the past several years, he has also written other pieces on this subject, see:

http://coinsblog.ws/2013/04/why-you-should-care-about-restrictions-on-collecting-ancient-coins.html

http://coinsblog.ws/2014/05/ancient-collectors-need-your-help.html

http://coinsblog.ws/2016/04/stop-the-government-from-turning-ancient-coin-collectors-into-criminals.html

http://coinsblog.ws/2016/09/collectors-of-ancient-coins-need-your-help.html

For those who would care to evaluate the "ancient coin collector" perspective, without the mindless media disinformation barrage of our times, the thoughts expressed by Mr. Barman will certainly be worth considering.

Friday, June 23, 2017

A Sad Day for America

Today, Friday June 23, 2017, The Financial Services Committee of the House of Representatives held a hearing entitled "The Exploitation of Cultural Property: Examining Illicit Activity in the Antiquities and Art Trade." This is certainly a worthy topic of consideration, though the tone is not exactly what the title implies.  It's heartwarming, in one respect, that Congress has the time to consider these sorts of issues when the viability of our Republic is at serious risk.  On the other hand, it may say something about the very nature of representative government and who is actually represented versus who the electorate is.  The three bureaucrats testifiying before Congress in this hearing presented one point of view.  They understandingly deplored the loss of cultural property, but essentially blamed that loss on private ownership that evolved through trade with illegal sources -- "trafficking" is the operative word.  Not surprisingly, each heralded their own efforts to "save the past" for all of us.  Nobody in the room talked about the failure of law enforcement worldwide to stop "trafficking".  How is any buyer in an international market able to distinguish between an object recirculating in a vibrant and venerable trade from one stolen yesterday?  That is not the "buyer's" job, it is the role of law enforcement and the markets based on verifiable evidence -- commonly called "due diligence".  Does that mean providing extensive provenance on any object offered for sale?  In the case of minor antiquities that is unreasonable and impossible in far too many cases.  Still, some items may well appear "too fresh" and should be avoided by all sellers.  The burden of proof that something is illicit, however, remains with the accuser.

What those few elected representatives in Congress present did not hear (the room was nearly empty) was the six-hundred-year-old story of how private collectors of antiquities have saved countless objects from loss through physical destruction for intrinsic metal value (for example, melting down silver and gold coins) or the countless museums worldwide that are populated with cultural property donated by private collectors.  Why was that perspective not made clear?  Because the Archaeological community stranglehold on academia and bureaucracy has made alternative views all but impossible.  Why was the room nearly empty?  Maybe because this is a special interest and most representatives were juggling impossible schedules.  The approach of bureaucracy, in its mindless support of a small academic ("expert") interest, funded mainly by public support, is actually extralegal and counterproductive.  Academia and Bureaucracy have no actual control over foreign governments, so they turn their attack instead toward the innocent who are blameless.  This is most obvious in the liberal media where hardly a day goes by without some blatant and typically false propaganda.  The actual truth is that private collectors do far more to save the past than the loose-lipped academics ever dreamed of doing.

So, what actually is the chance of a fair discussion of the issues involved?  Virtually zero.  This hearing was essentially a checkmark for the next step in a well planned legislative or bureaucratic event.  The failure of governments and law enforcement in foreign lands to eliminate looting and wanton destruction has become a harpoon in the side of law abiding Americans who love the past.  Worse than that, the U.S. Government has become the advocate for a disgusting array of foreign sovereignties who have not the slightest regard for individual rights.  It's all about politics, not about justice or freedom.  Yet, the LAW is what bureaucracy uses as a hammer by distorting the will of Congress in its letter and intent with impunity.  It's a sad day for those who believe in the American system of Democracy and Justice.
“The Exploitation of Cultural Property: Examining Illicit Activity in the Antiquities and Art Trade”
“The Exploitation of Cultural Property: Examining Illicit Activity in the Antiquities and Art Trade”

What happened to the Debate?

 I was disappointed not long ago when I heard that Ann Coulter's scheduled talk at Berkeley was cancelled by the university and the conservative Young America's Foundation that had sponsored her.  The action was taken in response to serious concerns about student and project-sponsor safety.  Violence on campus has become a hallmark of that once prestigious university and the ultra-liberal element there has effectively abducted reason in their mind-boggling narcissistic tantrums.  One radio talk show host characterized the actions and attitudes of Berkeley students as "Fascist" in their physical repression of free speech—which ironically the liberal community loudly demands when it serves their own purpose.  How easily they forget that it is a right that ALL American citizens enjoy.

Back in the 90s, I don't recall the actual date, I was invited to participate in a program hosted jointly at Berkeley by the Classics Department of the University and the San Francisco Ancient Coin Club.  I delivered a paper about clasped hands as a symbol of marriage on ancient coins.  The atmosphere was very collegial and friendly.  Nobody threatened nor insulted me.  In fact, I was left with a very good feeling about Berkeley in general.  What in the world happened between then and now?

Whatever it was, it didn't just happen recently.  After founding the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild in 2004, I started attending U.S. State Department hearings of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) in Washington DC.  My intention was to establish a dialogue with Archaeologists who opposed the 600-year tradition of private ownership of ancient coins and members of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs that was then becoming proactive in adding ancient coins to designated lists of material restricted from importation into the United States.  I had in fact sent a formal letter to Prof. Jane Waldbaum, then president of the Archaeological Institute of America, suggesting that our respective organizations had common interests and might explore areas of potential cooperation.  She was then a Professor in the University of Wisconsin system and I mentioned our common ground, at least geographically—since I was a post-graduate student at Wisconsin and a PhD candidate.  I never did receive a reply (in retrospect, no great surprise).  At one of the CPAC meetings about six months later, while waiting in the lobby for clearance to enter, I happened to recognize Professor Waldbaum standing alone in the room.  I walked over and introduced myself.  I mentioned that I had recently sent her a letter and wondered if she had received it.  She looked me straight in the eye and said "yes", then without another word, turned and walked away.  At that point, I had a pretty clear indication where we were headed.  Granted, I was only a PhD candidate at UW, but I had by that time become fairly well recognized in the field of Numismatics as an author, publisher and collector advocate.  She knew very well who I was and who I represented.  In a way, I suppose I should thank Jane Waldbaum for laying it out so clearly. That simple act of arrogance taught me a lesson that no classroom exercise ever could. Education is an ongoing adventure and my 75 years on this earth have certainly been adventurous.  What I have learned about people is worth its weight in gold.