Tonight on the National Geographic Channel: a TV show that’s “contrary to the ethics of American archaeological practice, highly destructive, and possibly illegal.”

Does John Fahey have any control over what’s broadcast on the National Geographic Channel? Or are David Lyle, Howard Owens, and the other guys from Fox actually calling all the shots?

Here’s the latest test case…

Tonight on the National Geographic Channel, a new series called Diggers has its premiere. From in Iowa:

Cedar Rapids Natives Land Extreme Metal Detecting TV Show

By Tish Mehaffey, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa- Treasure hunter Tim Saylor is not above licking a clump of dirt if he loses a bet over finding a silver dollar, but he prefers it when his buddy loses and has to wear a yellow prom dress while riding his bike off the dock into the icy Montana waters.

George Wyant (left) and Tim Saylor shooting a promo for the TV series Diggers.

Saylor, a Cedar Rapids and Williamsburg native, started “extreme metal detecting” with friend George Wyant about 10 years ago when he moved to Anaconda, Mt. They even formed a company,, to share their zany exploits and tips with other hunters.

Saylor, an insurance software programmer, insists the fun isn’t about finding something worth thousands of dollars because he doesn’t sell most of what he finds. It’s “all about the chase,” silly stunts and antics along the way to digging up buffalo nickels, silver dollars, 1800s saloon tokens, Civil War artifacts, rings and any other treasures they find.

After writing a book, producing six DVDs, You Tube videos and a short appearance on Good Morning America showcasing their metal detecting prowess, Saylor and Wyant landed a series, “Diggers,” which premieres two episodes Feb. 28, on the National Geographic Channel.

“Treasure hunting shows are popular right now but they liked us because of the way we do it,” Saylor said laughing. “We had interest from 14 production companies and I thought ‘what is going on, why us,’ but they were looking for something entertaining and I guess we are. It’s just beyond dumb and over the top (our behavior). And we’re not afraid of the camera. We’re just being ourselves.” …

Problem is, professional archaeologists are appalled. Archaeology Southwest calls it “looting as reality TV,” and says the show “encourages and glorifies looting and the antiquities trade at the expense of American history.”

The Society for American Archaeology has called on John Fahey, CEO of National Geographic, to make changes to the show, which, the SAA says, is “contrary to the ethics of American archaeological practice, highly destructive, and possibly illegal.” Here’s the whole memo to John:

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In addition, more than 2,800 people have signed an online petition calling on National Geographic to stop airing the show. Scores of folks have also posted their reasons for signing (see the comments here, under the tab “About this petition”); most of them echo this lament:

Phil LeckmanAs a professional archaeologist I cannot believe that an institution as respected as the National Geographic Society would in any way support this kind of disregard for America’s historic heritage, to say nothing of the blind eye this program turns towards American historic preservation law. Dismaying and depressing.

Here’s the majority owner of the National Geographic Channel:

Rupert Murdoch


John Fahey National Geographic

Dear John,
Are you going to intervene?
Or are you unwilling (or perhaps powerless)
to stop Murdoch & Company
from their ongoing pistol whipping
of the National Geographic brand?

≡  Diggers promo graphic via KCRG in Iowa


Emphasis on “almost”

Ezra Klein

One of the most mind-bending facts of our information culture is that almost every major medium of information supports itself by advertising.

Radio? Advertisers. Magazines? Advertisers. Television? Advertisers. Google? Advertisers. Facebook? Advertisers. Twitter? Advertisers. Perhaps the only major exceptions to this rule are books, which are supported by sales, and Wikipedia, which is supported largely through donations.

— from “Information Is Free but Only Because Advertisers Pay,” by Ezra Klein, Bloomberg View, January 4, 2012  (emphasis added)

Another prominent exception: National Geographic magazine. Advertising once represented only 10 percent of the Magazine’s annual revenue; now that number is closer to 30 percent (if not more).

Which makes us wonder: Why has our Society rolled this one-of-a-kind publication in with all the other ad-driven media at NGS? Why take what’s been a unique relationship with the Society’s members, and turn it into the same old business that everyone else is trying desperately to sustain (ad dollars for viewer eyeballs)?

Why have we voluntarily sacrificed the relationship with members that’s long made the Society special?

Interested in “the gritty reality of high-end sex work”?

The executive producers at the National Geographic Channel
think you might be. And they’re serving it up in prime time:

Worth remembering: David Lyle, the new CEO of the National Geographic Channel,
said his tabloid TV days were behind him.


Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp is the majority owner of the National Geographic Channel, is wreaking havoc with our Society's good name.

John Fahey National Geographic

≡   “Sex for Sale” promotional graphic via the Facebook page of National Geographic correspondent Mariana van Zeller
≡   The Nat Geo TV Blog has a program summary & video trailer here

Uh oh.

 via The Washington Post

“The apparatus of control….”

From “Protests, Self-Immolation Signs of a Desperate Tibet,” by Louisa Lim, NPR’s Morning Edition, February 21, 2012

Monks swathed in crimson robes chant under silk hangings in a murky hall, heavy with the smell of yak butter. Photos of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama – seen by China as a splittist – are openly displayed, as if in defiance. But security forces have tightened their grip on the Tibetan plateau, while monasteries appear to be emptying out, gripped by an atmosphere of fear and loss.

Tibetan novice monks in Dharmsala, India, participate in a candlelight vigil in January to protest violence by Chinese police against demonstrators in Tibet.

In this town, the monks refused to set off fireworks at Chinese New Year at the end of January, boycotting normal celebrations as a mourning gesture. “Too many of our people died this year,” one monk told me, referring to nearly two dozen Tibetans who have set themselves on fire as a protest against Chinese repression. Identifying details have been removed to protect those who talked to NPR.

Policecars patrol the town’s streets, and on the morning of new year, security forces took pre-emptive action. “Paramilitary forces from elsewhere were sent here”, says the monk. “There were tanks too.”

“They closed off all the exits to our monastery and didn’t let us leave,” says a second monk. The paramilitary police withdrew afterwards, but monks say plainclothes police remain inside the monastery. The monks listen secretly to Voice of America’s Tibetan service news every night, despite feeling almost physical pain at the bleak news. Despite a Buddhist prohibition against violence or suicide, they are of one mind on the self-immolations.

This photo, provided to, shows a man being forcibly detained by security forces in the town of Serther in Tibet following a clash with protesters and police.

“What they did was great”, says the first monk, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” says the second. “That’s why we didn’t mark the new year. Because of them.”

Those who have set themselves on fire include a forty-two year old tulku or living buddha, Sonam Wangyal Sopa Rinpoche, who ran an old people’s home and an orphanage in Darlag, Golok prefecture, Qinghai province. He left behind a crackly audio recording of his last message, where he says, “This year in which so many Tibetan heroes have died, I am sacrificing my body to stand in solidarity with them…. I pray that the Dalai Lama will return to Tibet.” On January the eighth, standing in front of a police station in Darlag, he drank kerosene. Then he set himself alight.

It’s a sign of Tibetan desperation, and Tibetan radicalization, with the anger bursting into a number of peaceful protests in Qinghai province. But in neighbouring Sichuan province, at least seven Tibetans have been shot dead by security forces and more than 60 wounded, according to exiled advocacy groups, when police put down protests late last month. Chinese state media said police fired in self-defence.

“We’re supposed to talk about the history and culture of the temple, the artwork, the lives of the monks, their food and customs.”

… In Ta’ersi, also known as Kumbum, ticket machines beep as tourists swipe through. This monastery is one of the main schools of the Dalai Lama’s sect, and, close to the city of Xining, it’s also become a major tourist attraction, with Chinese visitors paying almost thirteen dollars a head. There are no pictures of the Dalai Lama here; testament to Chinese efforts to use “patriotic education” to divorce Tibetan Buddhism from its spiritual leader.

“Lots of tourists ask me, but the monastery doesn’t allow us to talk about these things,” says our Tibetan tourguide, reluctant to discuss the topic of the Dalai Lama. “We’re supposed to talk about the history and culture of the temple, the artwork, the lives of the monks, their food and customs.”

… “The population in monastic institutions has decreased tremendously,” says Lobsang Nyandak, the representative of the Dalai Lama in the US. “The number of monks and nuns has declined. Primarily either they have been expelled for not obeying Chinese commands. Many voluntarily left the monastic institutions, because they cannot tolerate the repression the monks and nuns have to undergo.”

He makes the shape of a gun with his fingers, and puts it to his head, pulling the trigger. Then, in case of any misunderstanding, he repeats the gesture.

These include submitting to new monastery committees headed, for the first time, not by monks but by government officials.

… “We don’t have the right to speak freely,” one monk says. “We are scared. If we talk to you, they’ll arrest us.”

Another man butts in. “You speaking with the monks makes them truly scared,” he says, “They could get shot.” He makes the shape of a gun with his fingers, and puts it to his head, pulling the trigger. Then, in case of any misunderstanding, he repeats the gesture.

It’s a sign of how sophisticated the apparatus of control has become. …


Chris Johns & Terry Adamson celebrate NGM's new publishing partnership in the People's Republic of China. (2007)

≡  Tibet burning via Los Angeles Times: Angus McDonald / Associated Press
≡  Man detained on ground from via NPR 

“People are more magical than the iPad”

Scott Heiferman

Scott Heiferman, CEO of Meetup

Watch Us! See Us!
Download us! Join us!
Friend us! Contact us! 
 Follow us!

Enough about “us”!
It’s a false sense of membership.
It’s an illusion of engagement.

What about connecting them
to each other?
You’ve got followers. Now what?

I just discovered this presentation (below) by Scott Heiferman, CEO of Meetup, which he delivered at the 2010 Personal Democracy Forum. Scott makes some great points about the dynamics of groups, and about why people belong to them. His general argument (listen for his “Erins are everywhere” riff) is a wonderful refutation of what John Fahey, CEO of NGS, told me back in 2006: Nobody wants to belong to anything.

Evidently they do:

cc: Robert Michael Murray, National Geographic’s VP for Social Media

On Our Radar: Headquarters makeover… Rupert Murdoch… a bloodied photographer… & more

• The architects at Weiss/Manfredi have just been selected to transform the urban campus of the National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C. A few details (not many) at ArchDaily.

• National Geographic’s Image Collection group will begin to inventory and reclaim pieces from the Society’s art collection in the coming weeks. Details in this memo via NG Connect (the Society’s intranet).

Ashi Fachler beaten up

Photographer Ashi Fachler (via Pixiq)

• Ashi Fachler, who runs the Flickr group Photography Is Not a Crime, was brutally attacked after snapping a couple of photos on the set of a Discovery Channel film last month. (Think that’s tragic? Of course it is. But once you get beyond those knee-jerk emotions, you’ll be ready to think more like a marketing pro. Here’s a scholarly paper from a marketing professor at the Wharton School of Business about how negative publicity for a product can increase sales.)

• An online campaign calling on Congress to investigate Rupert Murdoch and News Corp is gathering steam over at Free Press. (News Corp is the majority owner of the National Geographic Channel.)


• According to The GuardianNews Corp faces renewed threat of prosecution in the United States; investigation of alleged bribery under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is the greatest danger to Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. 

Why, then, did we choose the book by Bill O’Reilly?

Soon to be on display at the newly-constructed Ford’s Theatre Center for Education and Leadership in Washington, DC, this 34-foot pillar of literature includes over 15,000 unique titles about the United States’ 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.  (from Colossal Art & Design)


Given that enormous reservoir of scholarship,
how in the world could this happen?

Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp is the majority owner of the National Geographic Channel, is wreaking havoc with our Society's good name.

John Fahey National Geographic


We’re all Knicks fans now.
(And that’s coming from a lifelong Celtics fan.)

P.S. The National Geographic connection?
Uhhh… we’re still working on that.

South Africa’s Picture of Hope

Nelson Mandela will be celebrated in the redesign of the South African rand. The old design, which features iconic African wildlife, will be retired by year's end.

This is outstanding: A society that understands its future — and its “new era of hope” — ultimately hinges not on the planet, but upon the story it tells itself about its own people moving from apartheid to freedom. (Evidently, pictures of big cats and other iconic wildlife were sending the wrong message.)

13 February 2012
As South Africa marks the 22nd anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, President Jacob Zuma has said a complete new series of banknotes will be issued, all bearing the anti-apartheid leader’s image.

“With this humble gesture, we are expressing our deep gratitude, as the South African people, to a life spent in service of the people of this country and in the cause of humanity worldwide,” Mr Zuma said at the central bank offices.

He said Mr Mandela’s release after 27 years in prison for fighting apartheid “marked the beginning of a new era of hope for our country and the world”.

The new notes are expected to appear before the end of the year and will all carry the same likeness of Mr Mandela.

South Africa issues notes in five denominations: 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 rand, which currently carry images of the “big five” game animals.

Read the whole thing here.


NO NEW POSTS will be published here after February 6, 2014. THIS IS WHY.