Monday, 30 June 2014

"Wayne's Words", or Somebody Else's?

This is rocket science,
the antiquities trade is not.
The so-called e-sylum (Volume 17, Number 27, June 30, 2014, Article 20) an 'electronic publication of 'The Numismatic Bibliomania Society' (a non-profit organization promoting numismatic literature)  has attempted to be topical with a discussion the 'Ongoing Debate on Looting and Collecting'. The journal is edited by one Wayne Homren [Computer Systems Researcher at United States Department of Defense, Washington D.C]. He makes a pig's ear of it. It seems the numismatist's idea of "publication" is lifting two other people's texts without sourcing them properly, stitching them together with some linking stuff and 'voila', a ready-made "noomismatic publication".

The first text is lifted verbatim from "Science daily". This turns out to be an edited version of the Baylor University press release - why not just link to that? Mr Homren vacantly sums it up as an article "blaming coin looting on collectors". But it does not. The nearest (the original) gets to it is: "insisting on the provenance of coins and avoiding giving money to those who buy from looters and smugglers". Mr Homren adds from himself:
I doubt there are many numismatists who would deny that the coin marketplace creates incentives for looters. The problem for numismatists is the push to assume guilt on the part of a collector who can't prove that his coin WASN'T looted at some point in its 2,000 year history. I don't like Asian sweatshops either, but without worldwide regulation and oversight there's no way I could ever prove my T-shirt wasn’t made in one. The haters are putting the cart before the horse.
So, once again we see the desire to play the victim. According to this model, there is no real problem to resolve, the problem is the irrationality of "the haters". Nobody is talking about a problem with a coin being looted two thousand years ago. This is another of those straw man arguments coin-collectors try to muddy the waters. What the rest of us (Elkins included) are talking about is freshly surfaced coins, and looting within the last few decades or so, and indeed right now. There is not even the slightest note of regret (instead there is one of defiance) that a collector "can't prove that his coin wasn't looted". Given the concerns about today's market, a responsible collector is one who will not acquire an artefact that has documentation proving its licit origins. Like the second-hand car, like the exotic pets.

As for the sweatshops, Mr Homren misses out totally the element of the "ongoing debate" about Fair Deal. Do they have "Fair Deal" products in Washington? Do the US Department of Defence buy goods produced in Asian, or any other sweatshops?  And since we have global markets, why not devise some workable form of global regulation to regulate them? Anyway, Homren goes on to cut-and-paste another text to make up his "publication". Mr Homren has lifted two largeish chunks of text of my PACHI post Dirty Old Coin Dealings:
At least the Science Daily article is professionally written, unlike the snarky tone of this screed against Ras Suarez.
He calls Mr Suarez "author of The Encyclopedia of Roman Imperial Coins" but forgot to say he's above all a dealer who sells dirt-encrusted bulk lots. I am of course not discussing Mr S's literary achievements or not (I've not seen this book). In my blog post I am referring to how he presents what he sells. In his efforts to present it as unduly "snarky" perhaps, Mr Homren has without scruples (numismatic, literary or otherwise) welded two separate fragments from my text together without any indication of elipsis. In doing so he omits a substantial 3540 character passage from between them which explains the title of my text and what my problems are with sales spiel of Mr Suarez's coins. Only later, after some other gubbins, does he give the source of the text he has mangled. In one thing, Mr Homren is correct; in assuming that I am not paid to write my blog (does his non-profit take money for amateurishly editing other people's stuff as his own "publication"?).  Homren goes on to explain to the readers presented with a fragment of my blog out of context:
'PAS" is the Portable Antiquities Scheme, a perfect example of the better regulation and oversight needed worldwide. In my time living in London I began to feel that there was no more civilized place anywhere in the world, and the PAS is another fine piece of evidence for that thesis. The PAS leverages market forces IN FAVOR of archeology and conservation by ensuring that finders have a strong economic incentive to report their finds to the authorities. 
What the...? Do you reckon Mr Homren's "defense" analyses are as incisive as this? Heaven help America if they are. Although it is not exactly rocket science, it obviously needs explaining a bazillion times to US coin collectors and defence analysts that the PAS offers no financial incentives. Neither is the PAS any form of "regulation". What on earth is this cut-and-paste merchant yammering about? The PAS "levers" no "market forces", indeed, that and precisely that was the subject of the bit of my text that the defence analyst cut out! The defense analyist continiues his analysis:
Absent such an incentive (as in most of the rest of the world), finders quickly become looters and only looters want to find.
Somebody has been confusing Mr Homren's mind with gobbldy-gook. This sentence confuses the notion of "finder" and "searcher". Treasure hunters with metal detectors are not the same as accidental finders, are they?  An accidental finder (toothless peasant farmer maybe) who stumbles across a few old items which his neighbour says are saleable and he "knows this bloke" is not the same as the dentally-challenged British nighthawk (or Bulgarian digger) that deliberately goes out at night onto the legally protected scheduled Roman fort site to hoik collectables.  In Britain, the latter has an incentive all right. All he has to do is lie about where he found it (nobody will ask to see any documentation) and he can get a reward from the state, or he can choose to flog it himself.

Mr Homren says that hoards "discovered in any other place would never be reported, and end up smuggled out of the country, landing anonymously in collections worldwide with no legitimate provenance chain". In other words, they end up in the hands of collectors who have no scruples about buying items without the slightest bit of evidence that they were legally obtained, who are quite willing to buy items which could well be totally illegally obtained. After all, the teeshirt might have been produced in Asian sweatshops, but if we shut out that possibility from our mind, who is to know... ask no questions, get told no lies. And nobody thinks about what is in the label, so the exploitation goes on; consumers get their geegaw goodies at a low price and the exploited carry on failing to get a fair deal.

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