Monday, March 13, 2006

The rite of spring
Last fall I pointed out that I don't date the beginning of the holiday season by the appearance of Christmas decorations, the announcements of holiday sales, or a special feeling in the air. No, I date it by the first Fox News segment about the war on Christmas and the suffering of the poor, persecuted Christians who make up the vast majority of our population.

I use the same type of test for the start of Spring. Spring is not announced by the first crocus pushing up through the cold soil, the buds on trees, or the return of migratory birds. No, I date the beginning of Spring by the first announcement of some fundamentalist saying he's found Noah's Ark and is raising funds for an expedition to Mt. Ararat.

Trifecta, posting at Kos, was the first to notice, via the medium of Paul Harvey's folksy voice.* I didn't even know Paul Harvey was still alive. He was offering his annoying wisdom when I was a kid in the early sixties. How old is he? Wasn't he on the Ark?
Flipping through the am dial this morning, I caught 1 minute of Paul Harvey. After hawking the Bose wave radio, he announced an "important" bit of news of "biblical proportions."

Harvey informed his audience that the Government of Turkey has banned exploration on the North Eastern side of Mount Ararat, and now there are satellite photos showing a massive object there buried under the ice. These are US Air Force photographs btw, and Paul Harvey has personally viewed them. It's all a big cover-up of course. You see, Paul also told us that the new and old testament mention Noah's flood, and Noah's flood is a "scientifically proven" fact.

I suppose the Noachian flood is a "scientifically proven" fact if your science is creationism or it's pretentious bastard child, Intelligent Design. I'm not going to mock old Paul too much, I want to get to page two and the rest of the story.

A quick check at Google news let me know that this Spring's Ark-eologist (yes, they really do call themselves that), one Porcher Taylor, an associate professor in paralegal studies at the University of Richmond's School of Continuing Studies in Virginia.
High on Mt. Ararat in eastern Turkey, there is a baffling mountainside "anomaly," a feature that one researcher claims may be something of biblical proportions.


Whatever it is, the anomaly of interest rests at 15,300 feet (4,663 meters) on the northwest corner of Mt. Ararat, and is nearly submerged in glacial ice. It would be easy to call it merely a strange rock formation.

Easy, because it is one.
But at least one man wonders if it could be the remains of Noah's Ark, a vessel said to have been built to save people and selected animals from the Great Flood, the 40 days and 40 nights of deluge as detailed in the Book of Genesis.


Taylor has been a national security analyst for more than 30 years, also serving as a senior associate for five years at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.

I couldn't find out if he specialized in Iraqi weapons programs. In any case, this does not make me feel more secure.
"I've got new found optimism ... as far as my continuing push to have the intelligence community declassify some of the more definitive-type imagery," Taylor told He points to a "new and significant development," a high-resolution image taken by DigitalGlobe's impressive QuickBird satellite and shown here publicly for the first time.


Taylor said his goal is straightforward: Combining this imagery to make the Ararat anomaly transparent to the public, as well as to the discerning, dispassionate eyes of scientists, imagery analysts, and other experts.

Wouldn't making one side of a mountain transparent present a navigational hazard to aircraft?
"I had no preconceived notions or agendas when I began this in 1993 as to what I was looking for," Taylor said.

Taylor is being humble to the point of disingenuous here. He didn't just wake up one day in 1993 and say to himself, "I think I'll file a Freedom of Information request for classified pictures of the West side of Mt. Ararat's peak and see what it looks like." The Ararat Anomaly was fist noticed by spy plane flights operating near the southern border of the Soviet Union in 1949. Rumors of this and other "boat shaped objects" on Ararat were eagerly passed around fundamentalist and conspiracy all through the Cold War. In a 1996 article, Taylor tells how he first heard of the Anomaly while at West Point in 1973.
Over the course of the next two decades, the 1973 "CIA boat report" faded into the deep recesses of my mind until February 1993 when a prime-time special about Noah's Ark aired on television. What caught my attention in that show was a claim that the CIA had classified satellite photos of some "object" on Mt. Ararat that might possibly be the remains of Noah's Ark - a claim that tallied perfectly with the report that had ricocheted around West Point's halls 20 Years earlier. That very night, I resolved to try to clear the air, definitely, with respect to that 1973 "boat report."

By "no preconceived notions or agendas" means that with the Ark foremost in his mind, he sought out pictures of that one location to check out its Arkishness for himself.

Soon after his 1993 resolution, Taylor was able to make friends with former CIA director George A. Carver, and with his help lobbied the agency to release pictures of the Anomaly. He succeeded in getting the pictures in March 1995. As FOIA requests go, two years is not an unusual wait. Some researchers wait ten years or more just be told no. It appears that every couple years, Taylor gets a new batch of pictures and holds a little press circus. Googling around I found almost identical stories to this week's coverage dated 1995, 2000, and 2002. These stories excite the faithful, but do little to convince the skeptical.

Lacking on-the-ground confirmation, Taylor's pictures leave a lot to be desired as proof. First, the latest pictures don't look much like a boat. They look like a rock ridge. Second, they don't match the Biblical description very well. In the photos, Taylor identifies a long shape gracefully tapering from the middle. Genesis describes a box. The very word "ark" means a storage chest. One of Taylor's associates has estimated that face of the anomaly measures 1,015 feet (309 meters) across. The Ark should be about 450 feet (150 meters) long.

The identification Agri Dagh (Mt. Ararat) as the resting place of the Ark is a modern association. Genesis says the Ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat, that is the mountains in a region called Ararat, not on a single mountain named Ararat. Ararat, or Urartu, was an ancient name for the remote mountainous plateaus North and Northeast of Babylon. In classical times, the writers who mentioned the Noah story usually claimed that the Ark was in Gordyan hills, the southern part of Urartu, roughly modern Iraqi Kurdistan.

Many local villages claimed that their local mountain was the landing place of the Ark of Noah. Pilgrim trade was very valuable in the Middle Ages. Movable artifacts, like saint's bones and pieces of the one true cross, were regularly stolen and counterfeited by rival towns. When the location of holy sites was in question, dozens of villages would claim to be the real location of this or that miracle. The towns around Agri Dagh didn't get in on this trade by calling their mountain Noah's mountain until just before the crusades, in the tenth or eleventh century.

This is without even beginning to question the scientific and historical likelihood of a world-wide flood depositing one small boat containing the seed of all terrestrial on a mountaintop. Nevertheless, despite the likelihood that it's not a boat, it's the wrong mountain, and the legend is a just-so story, millions are going to read the coverage of Taylor's pictures and, like Paul Harvey, think "they" have proven the truth of Genesis. Tens of thousands will be ready to cough up their hard-earned money for the first con artist who shows up at their church with a nice slide show announcing his expedition.**

It happens every year with the regularity of the seasons changing from winter into spring.

* Am I the only one who thinks Paul Harvey sounds like the late Jim Backus' Mr. Magoo voice? Imagine this in your mind's ear, "...and now you know...the rest of the story. Oh, Magoo! You've done it again, heh heh." I'm surprised one of them didn't sue the other for artistic plagiarism.

** This is not to suggest that Mr. Taylor is himself that con artist. He seems very sincere and content to stick with the lecture circuit here in the states.

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