Monthly Archives: October 2008

Revisiting the era of my namesake

A fort near the Valley of Elah, where David is said to have slain Goliath, is shedding new light on the period when David is said to have reigned.

The city needed 200,000 tonnes of stone and it is, as yet, unclear how it relates to the persons mentioned in the biblical tale — or indeed if it has anything to do with the Israelites at all.

“This is a new type of site that suddenly opens a window on an area where we have had almost nothing and requires us to rethink what was going on at that period,” said Aren Maeir, professor of archaeology at Bar-Ilan University and the director of a major Philistine dig not far from here. “This is not a run-of-the-mill find.”

The 10th century B.C. is the most controversial period in biblical archaeology because it is then, according to the Old Testament, that David united the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, setting the stage for his son Solomon to build his great temple and rule over a vast area from the Nile to the Euphrates Rivers.

But the archaeological record of that kingdom is exceedingly sparse — in fact almost nonexistent — and a number of scholars today argue that the kingdom was largely a myth created some centuries later. A great power, they note, would have left traces of cities and activity, and been mentioned by those around it. Yet in this area nothing like that has turned up — at least until now.

An enormous amount of work remains to be done, and nothing has been published on the artifacts uncovered by the archaeologists. There are also concerns about the project’s financing:  it is funded by a group that seeks “to strengthen the tie of the Jewish people to the land”.

But regardless of what is uncovered for certain, or to whom the city belonged, this is a wonderful site for work on the period. As the team has noted, there is very little evidence about the time. This means that anything that can be discovered is fantastic for historical and archaeological research and can add just a little more to the pool of human knowledge.

Calling all notebook designer wannabes

Have your say over at, a joint venture by Asus and Intel that allows users to specifiy what they’d like to see in a computer. You can also draw the thing if you’re feeling creative 😀

Some of the stuff is quite broad in aspiration: “quality display, perfect performance, huge HDD”. I wonder how one defines “perfect performance”, particularly if WIndows Vista is installed.

The site lets you balance between long battery life and a large screen, weight versus durability, performance against price and that sort of thing, so it’s impossible to, say, have one with a battery that lasts for nine hours that also has a 19-inch screen.

One of the most highly rated so far is the extensible gaming laptop, which says nuts to a long battery in favour of desktop power.

I have yet to come across the one advocating hair, though.

Saudi stands up to be counted

The kingdom is making progress, according to Emile Hokayem, a columnist for my former employer, The National.

While the hardware remains firmly in the hands of the ruling elites, the state is reasserting ownership of the “software” through gradual educational and judicial reform. Clerics are gradually losing their dominant say in courts and classrooms while the civil service and merchant class, the country’s lead reformers, are empowered.

Plainly, without the leadership of King Abdullah – whom many Saudis regret came to power too late – this progress would not have happened. At a time when his country was facing threats from radicals at home and challenges abroad, his personal credibility shifted the debate from whether the Saud family could still hold the reins of the country to whether the progress of the past few years will be sustained.

But the thrust of Hokayem’s argument is that greater Saudi independence from the United States enhances its position as a regional power and global force. Its massive oil wealth already gives it importance, but it is actively seeking friendly terms with the likes of Russia and China.

The rise of Asian consumers makes the Saudis less susceptible to leverage or pressure from their Western partners. One can already see a more evenly balanced set of “special” relationships between Saudi Arabia and its key customers, although it is doubtful that any of these new friends could provide the security guarantees that are implicit in the US-Saudi strategic partnership.

It will be interesting to see how far this political change goes, and whether Saudi can consolidate its position as a global actor.

Everybody calm down

The Peruvian faith healers have finally made their endorsement for the US presidential election: they’re backing Obama.

“Obama is growing stronger, I’ve seen that he has the spiritual support of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy to protect him,” Juan Osco, president of the Apus-Inka healers association, told The Associated Press. “He’s going to win.”

So there you have it. We can all rest easy now.

Links o' the day 30/10/08

I’m swamped but hope to do a photo post or two over the weekend. In the meantime:

Ireland to lose full employment: BoI (RTÉ)

Does the Border matter in a time of recession? (Slugger O’Toole)

Australian plan to kill the internet (Mr Angry)

Bailout, schmailout (Jeff Jarvis)

MTV expected to announce Beatles Rock Band deal (Reuters)

Google Reader now shows how good (or bad) you are at reading (CNet)