Saturday, June 7, 2008

Well, Duh!

From The New York Times Water-Starved California Slows Development By JENNIFER STEINHAUER Published: June 7, 2008 PERRIS, Calif. — As California faces one of its worst droughts in two decades, building projects are being curtailed for the first time under state law by the inability of developers to find long-term water supplies. Water authorities and other government agencies scattered throughout the state, including here in sprawling Riverside County, east of Los Angeles, have begun denying, delaying or challenging authorization for dozens of housing tracts and other developments under a state law that requires a 20-year water supply as a condition for building. California officials suggested that the actions were only the beginning, and they worry about the impact on a state that has grown into an economic powerhouse over the last several decades. The state law was enacted in 2001, but until statewide water shortages, it had not been invoked to hold up projects. While previous droughts and supply problems have led to severe water cutbacks and rationing, water officials said the outright refusal to sign off on projects over water scarcity had until now been virtually unheard of on a statewide scale. “Businesses are telling us that they can’t get things done because of water,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, said in a telephone interview. On Wednesday, Mr. Schwarzenegger declared an official statewide drought, the first such designation since 1991. As the governor was making his drought announcement, the Eastern Municipal Water District in Riverside County — one of the fastest-growing counties in the state in recent years — gave a provisional nod to nine projects that it had held up for months because of water concerns. The approval came with the caveat that the water district could revisit its decision, and only after adjustments had been made to the plans to reduce water demand. “The statement that we’re making is that this isn’t business as usual,” said Randy A. Record, a water district board member, at the meeting here in Perris. Shawn Jenkins, a developer who had two projects caught up in the delays, said he was accustomed to piles of paperwork and reams of red tape in getting projects approved. But he was not prepared to have the water district hold up the projects he was planning. He changed the projects’ landscaping, to make it less water dependent, as the board pondered their fate. “I think this is a warning for everyone,” Mr. Jenkins said. Also in Riverside County, a superior court judge recently stopped a 1,500-home development project, citing, among others things, a failure to provide substantial evidence of adequate water supply. In San Luis Obispo County, north of Los Angeles, the City of Pismo Beach was recently denied the right to annex unincorporated land to build a large multipurpose project because, “the city didn’t have enough water to adequately serve the development,” said Paul Hood, the executive officer of the commission that approves the annexations and incorporations of cities. In agriculturally rich Kern County, north of Los Angeles, at least three developers scrapped plans recently to apply for permits, realizing water was going to be an issue. An official from the county’s planning department said the developers were the first ever in the county to be stymied by water concerns. Large-scale housing developments in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties have met a similar fate, officials in those counties said. Throughout the state, other projects have been suspended or are being revised to accommodate water shortages, and water authorities and cities have increasingly begun to consider holding off on “will-serve” letters — promises to developers to provide water — for new projects. “The water in our state is not sufficient to add more demand,” said Lester Snow, the director of the California Department of Water Resources. “And that now means that some large development can’t go forward. If we don’t make changes with water, we are going to have a major economic problem in this state.” The words “crisis” and “water” have gone together in this state since the 49ers traded flecks of gold for food. But several factors have combined to make the current water crisis more acute than those of recent years. Rest of article.

Just Plain Acrobats - or a Wild West Show???

Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody - Wild West Shows! I think we've all seen re-enactments of those 19th century acrobats that jump on and off horses and do all kinds of wondrous things while galloping full-tilt on the back of a horse! So, when I read this story about "hu'b", I thought to myself - Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody and those "riders of the Wild West" that did all of those mind-boggling acrobats on and off horses. Flash-back 4300 years ago... From Science Acrobat's last tumble By Bruce Bower June 6th, 2008 Web edition Text Size A 4,300-year-old building in Syria reveals an unusual human sacrifice Sometimes it’s just good fortune to find a headless acrobat’s skeleton sprawled on the floor near the remains of two other people, several mules and an array of valuable metal objects. That, at least, is the opinion of archaeologists who have identified just such a scene, apparently the result of a ritual sacrifice, at an ancient city in northeastern Syria. This discovery offers a unique view of the social world nearly 4,300 years ago at Nagar, a city that belonged to Mesopotamia’s Akkadian Empire, say Joan Oates of the University of Cambridge in England and her colleagues. Nagar’s remnants lie within layers of mud-brick construction known collectively as Tell Brak (SN: 2/9/08, p. 90). The earliest layers date to more than 6,000 years ago. Evidence suggests that this Nagar sacrifice immediately followed a brief abandonment of the site because of some sort of natural disaster. Residents appeased their gods by surrendering valued individuals, animals and objects in a building formerly used for breeding and trading mules that pulled kings’ chariots and war wagons. Following the sacrifice, the structure was closed to further activity. Acrobats apparently ranked high enough in Nagar’s social sphere to serve as sacrificial offerings, the researchers report in the June Antiquity. Cuneiform texts from Ebla, a nearby site from the same time period, refer to individuals from Nagar known as húb. Scholars have variously defined húb as a term for acrobats, jugglers or horsemen. An analysis of the most complete human skeleton found in the Nagar structure supports a translation of húb as acrobats, Oates says. The specimen’s leg, foot and toe bones display signs of enlarged muscles and energetic activity associated with acrobatics, her team finds. In further support of that hypothesis, cylinder seals found earlier at Nagar depict processions of spiky-haired acrobats bending over backwards. Ebla documents contain separate terms for dancers and singers, whom Oates regards as unlikely sources of the Nagar skeleton. “The húb at Nagar were well-known, maybe even famous entertainers, so perhaps their fame was a reason for choosing one of them to sacrifice,” Oates says. Rest of article.

Stormy Weather!

Eek! I've never been so scared in my life! Tornado warning was sounded before 4 p.m. today and then the damn sirens went off! I'd been out cutting the grass in the mondo overgrown backyard and ran out of gas after an hour - not even half done yet! I was waiting for the lawn mower to cool down before putting in more gasoline when all hell broke loose weather wise! So, I put the lawn mower in the garage and run inside and put on the radio, and they're telling me to GET DOWN INTO THE BASEMENT THIS INSTANT, YOU STUPID WOMAN! So, I go down into the basement - after I sweep the stairs (don't want to be sitting in ick). Stay there all of 2 minutes, maybe less. Curiosity killed the cat - now I understand that saying completely! I won't go into all of the gory details of the past 2.5 hours. I ran around and around and around the kitchen and dinette cleaning up stacks of papers and putting away the knife block and utensils attached to the wall on racks (LOL!), piles of research, checkbooks - and I stuffed my high blood pressure medication into a plastic bag and tied it to a loop in my jeans! Suffice to say I tried to take photos of the flooding in the road out front and in my back yard - thank Goddess my house is built on a small rise! Unfortunately, they didn't turn out - I'm just not skilled enough with this camera. I tried to take them through the screens and pouring rain and all I ended up with was a big blur! We got about 4 inches of rain - it slacked off for all of 5 minutes, now it's deluge time again and I expect a flooded basement soon, because the sump pump, the super-duper model I had my brother-in-law Fred install in 1993 after I got flooded-out the first time, won't be able to keep up. We had this kind of weather system at the end of June/beginning of July, 1996 and I had a flooded basement again. Power never went out mind you, the pump just couldn't keep up with the thousands of gallons of water gushing into the pit. We are now in something call "back storms?" Well, something like that - although the "super-cell" that spawned the earlier tornadoes has now blown out over Lake Michigan toward the east, the weather system has redeveloped to the west and is blowing this way. More lightning, more thunder, "white" rain - it's raining so hard I can't see anything outside except white. I hope the water level doesn't rise another five feet, I'll be flooded on my first floor if it does. The basement - probably a lost cause...

Auction Results

There was an auction of chess artifacts in conjunction with the CCI (Chess Collectors International) meeting in Florida in May (held in tandem with the U.S. Seniors Chess Championship). Here's some info on the auction: Art, Furniture and Exotic Chess Sets Lead The Way in a Fast Paced Spring in West Palm Beach West Palm Beach, FL (OPENPRESS) June 7, 2008 -- Brian Kogan, owner of Auction Gallery of the Palm Beaches, certainly met his goal of the skillful merger of art and commerce in the three sales in his Gallery in March and May. Then the Gallery executed a complete change of direction and went from a broad based art form to a narrowly focused event to conduct the biennial auction of Chess Collectors International on May 1. This sale featured exotic chess sets, memorabilia and related ephemera from around the world. It was the first CCI sale to be held in the United States since 2002 and was conducted in conjunction with U.S. Seniors Open Chess Tournament held in Boca Raton. The 137 lots attracted 50 bidders to the room and had 82 online through LiveAuctioneers. The top lot was a unique Japanese 20th century carved ivory set. The two 3¼in tall kings were each signed with a red seal. One set of competitors was lightly stained and the other left natural ivory. Each figure represented an activity in traditional Japanese life. The king was a warlord, the queen held a box, the bishops were ninjas and the knights were samurai. With fitted box and carrying case, the set sold for $15,210. It was followed closely by a rare French/German “Dieppe” style carved bone figural set, 18th/19th century. Each figure was fitted with a leather hat and all figures were in period costume. Estimated at $6,000/$8,000, this popular set brought 20 bids and was a nice surprise closing online at $13,420. Most of the remainder of the lots sold in the $1,500 - $2,500 range.

Friday, June 6, 2008

USCF Seeks Money to Fund Olympiad "Team"

Check this out. The United States Chess Federation is soliciting contributions (that, as I understand it, are NOT tax deductible because the USCF is not a tax-exempt entity under the Internal Revenue Code) to send a "Team" to the 2008 Chess Olympiad in Dresden, Germany. Actually, that should be "teams," since men and women play in separate events - therefore, two teams. Notice that the linked page does not specify that contributions will be made to US Chess Trust, which DOES qualify under s. 501 IRC as a non-profit organization (therefore contributions are tax-deductible). So, why would a person make a contribution of $$$ that is not tax-deductible? This raises a separate question: why does the USCF need a separate arm to receive tax-deductible contributions anyway? Why does the USCF not remake itself into a tax-exempt institution? I mean, really, how much money could it possibly be making from the sale of books and chess equipment? If sales were good, wouldn't USCF be making money hand over fist instead of being (again) in the red some $200,000 this year? A further troubling aspect - how does someone who makes a contribution KNOW FOR CERTAIN that the $$$ contributed to send teams to the Olympiad will actually, in fact, be used to send teams to the Olympiad??? I didn't see a thing on the "donation" page that guarantees that money contributed will only be used for that particular purpose. So, what's to prevent the USCF from using the money for purposes OTHER THAN what the donee intended? Another troubling aspect - the Olympiad is in November - not much time for players to prepare for such an important event. As of yet, the U.S. teams have not even been named! If USCF does not intend to give the players as much time as possible to prepare (train) for the Olympiad, why are we even bothering to send teams? After all, it's not as if the USA has the best chessplayers in the world, who need no training and can go to Dresden and cold-cock the competition. Far from it! Seems to me that USCF is asking people to contribute blindly, to support teams that may not have a snowball's chance in hell of winning any medal. Other than the two U.S. Chess Champions - Yuri Shulman (Men's) and Anna Zatonskih (Women's), we have no idea who will be on the teams - except we KNOW that GM Susan Polgar will NOT be competing on the U.S. Women's Team. Hey, I love chess, but I'm not THAT stupid. Now this has got me to wondering - is this the extent of USCF's marketing and solicitations for money to fund 2008 Olympiad teams? A button on its Chess Life Online website? Yeah, potential corporate sponsors visit every day and $$$ will be pouring in. Philanthropists visit every day and someone will give USCF a million dollars just to fund Olympiads. NOT!

Forensic Science for Antiques

Revealing art secrets—and exposing forgeries
By Dina Modianot-Fox, May 15, 2008
(Photo: Fake Tang Dynasty Horse - I have to ask - how could anyone be fooled by this piece??? Does this look 2300 years old to you???)

The clients had paid many thousands of dollars for the Chinese silk samples with the bird motifs and now wanted reassurance that they were indeed from the Warring States period (about 480–221 B.C.).

But the news was not good. After testing them, the Rafter Radiocarbon Laboratory in New Zealand declared the samples less than 50 years old. "We had some really unhappy submitters," says Dr. Christine Prior, team leader at Rafter, which is part of the National Isotope Centre of the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences.

We've all marveled at the forensic wizardry that traps villains on such TV hits as CBS's "CSI" ("Crime Scene Investigation"), but dazzling science is also exposing secrets in another, more refined field—art. Armed with the latest technology, art historians are becoming cultural detectives, piecing together the puzzle of an item's past and, in the process, helping differentiate genuine from bogus.

The fake Chinese silk samples fell afoul of radiocarbon dating, a technique discovered in 1949 but greatly improved since then. It can tell the age of material (such as wood, silk, cotton or bone) that was alive in the last 50,000 or so years by measuring the amount of carbon 14 it has lost. Dr. Prior says that the period 1650 to 1950 is hard to date precisely because so much fossil fuel (oil and coal) was burned that it "disturbed the natural production cycle of carbon 14." However, nuclear tests conducted in the 1950s and 1960s released huge quantities of carbon 14 in the air, creating the "bomb effect"—a chronological benchmark.

"Although art and antiquities forgers can be very exact in replicating materials, style and technique," she explains, "if they use a raw material that has been growing since 1950, it will have 'bomb' carbon 14 in it."

Radiocarbon dating and other high-tech tools have become such adjuncts to art collecting that many museums and art galleries have extensive in-house laboratories. Wondering about the age of an oak panel painting from northern Europe? Dendrochronology can reveal when the tree was felled by counting the number of rings in the wood. Trying to date an Italian bronze? X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectroscopes detail the metal's composition, thereby providing the alloy mix that is characteristic of a certain period. And if the item is too large to bring to a lab, portable XRF machines provide in situ inspection. Could this be a newly discovered Monet? Pigment analysis will tell whether the paints used were available during Monet's lifetime.

Infrared reflectography, ultraviolet light, plain old X-rays, CT scans and microscopes are all part of the exploratory process.

Nicholas Penny, the new director of the National Gallery in London and former senior curator of sculpture at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., says: "A very great deal of the investigation is undertaken to find out how an item was made, not necessarily to clear it for authentication."

But authentication is an overwhelming issue, especially when it comes to Chinese items. Soaring auction prices—Christie's sold a Yuan Dynasty (mid-14th century) blue and white porcelain jar for $27.7 million in 2005—combined with China's tradition of reproduction have proved a dangerous mix, leading to a flood of forgeries. Almost 75 percent of the so-called antiques marketed through Hong Kong are said to be copies. That's where another state-of-the-art technique comes in: thermoluminescence (TL) dating. Small samples taken from inconspicuous parts of the object are heated to a sufficiently high temperature to produce a measurable blue light (thermoluminescence). Pottery, porcelain and the casting cores of bronzes can be dated by the amount of radiation the piece absorbs. The more intense the glow, the older the piece.

Rest of story.

Albino Squirrel Sighting!

From Buckinghamshire Free Press.UK

Ghostly white creature makes rare appearance
By James Nadal
6:26pm Wednesday 4th June 2008

A GHOSTLY furry white figure surprised a family when they looked into their back garden.

The Skipp family from Clearbrook Close, Loudwater, were amazed to discover an unusual visitor had crept into their garden for a snack-an albino squirrel.

It was first seen on Monday by Melanie Skipp, 27, and has been spotted every day since. She said: "I was at home on my lunch break and spotted something white and furry in my back garden.

"At first I thought it was a little kitten then realised to my amazement that it was a pure white squirrel with red eyes. I managed to quickly find a camera and take this picture of it.

"It ate some nuts from the bird feeder and then had a quick drink from the bird bath. I was so excited. I think Bill Oddie would be proud."

Although Miss Skipp's photo was blurred, the squirrel can clearly be distinguished.

Albino squirrels are extremely rare - only one in 100,000 are born with the condition which is caused by a gene inherited from the parents. The striking all white red-eyed nut eaters can have grey siblings because the gene is not dominant.

There was a sighting in a village near Ashford, Kent in March this year and there have been reports of others in Hampshire and Berkshire over the last 18 months.

Mother Nora Skipp said: " It turns up around lunch time - it's a late riser. It's certainly smaller than the other squirrels but it held its own against the two grey ones and it was fighting for peanuts. Our next door neighbour has sighted it as well.

"I think he's here to stay. He's found our bird food table and I'm expecting to see him daily. The squirrels all live across the road in Magpie woods and come across from there. It's cute that's for sure."

The unusual animal has a fan club in Texas - the Albino Squirrel Preservation Society - dedicated "to the protection of all squirrels, especially those that are albino."

Nepal's Living Goddess in Limbo

BBC News By Charles Haviland BBC News, Kathmandu Friday, June 6, 2008 The appointment of a new "living goddess" in Nepal is being held up by the recent abolition of the monarchy, a Nepalese official says. According to tradition, the king's priest appoints the girl, who is chosen in her infancy and is treated as a goddess, or Kumari, until puberty. But the priest no longer has any say in the republic, the head of the trust overseeing the tradition says. Hindus and Buddhists regard the Kumaris as incarnations of a deity. 'Unthinkable' Shreeya Bajracharya, 6, has been selected by a religious panel as the "living goddess" in the town of Bhaktapur, near the capital Kathmandu. She was chosen to replace the previous goddess who retired early in March. Under the ancient tradition, she has to have certain physical attributes and undergo special tests to be selected. But the head of the trust overseeing the Kumari tradition told the BBC that because Nepal is now a republic that priest no longer has any role in the matter. He said the chairman of the trust's board would have to decide soon who would approve the new living goddess. This quandary is just one of many set to arise now that the politicians have abolished the monarchy without thinking through the religious or political implications. It is unthinkable that this deeply religious country would scrap the rich series of traditions and festivals which pepper the people's lives and are also a magnet for tourists. Yet many traditions are associated with the king and may face adjustments in future. Nepal is now supposed to be a secular state but for the past two years the elderly Prime Minister, Girija Prasad Koirala, has been trying to take on the king's religious roles with a stream of temple visits. A few months ago the prime minister was said to be angered when the royal priest refused to give a blessing. The biggest elected party, the Maoists, are fiercely non-religious. However, the party's deputy leader was blessed by a priest at the start of his election campaign.

Why the Panic?

Admittedly my degree in economics was earned in 1980 - but I don't think the underlying principles of macro and micro-economics have changed much in the past 20+ years! So why is everyone panicking because the unemployment rate "surged" to 5.5% this month? Say what? When I was in undergrad an unemployment rate of 5% represented FULL employment - with only the "dregs" left over -- those who didn't want to work and those who didn't have the requisite skills to hold even a minimum wage job. People didn't start panicking until the unemployment rate started hitting 9%. It's been awhile, but I seem to recall unemployment rates approaching 10% in the United States during some past recessions. What a bunch of wimps we've turned into. Oh, the unemployment rate is 5.5% - quick, jump from the windows! Oh, gasoline is $4 a gallon - quick, jump from the windows! Oh, the Dow Industrial Average dropped almost 400 points today - quick jump from the windows! I think the real problem is two-fold; one is the mainstream media. They don't want to report real news (too much effort), so they focus on routine economic data and the sensationalist story of the day, and blow things all out of proportion. The other problem is that Americans have gotten used to the sound-bite and, for whatever reasons, they don't read anymore or take the time to analyze just what IS being reported as "news." I don't think kids study history in school anymore, and so they don't know that we've been there and done all of this before - over and over again! Hell, this country survived the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, immigration of millions from Ireland, Germany, the Baltics, Eastern Europe, Italy, Puerto Rico, Japan, etc. etc. as well as the stagflation of the '70's, the Oil Crisis (the first one), the Crash of '87, and the election of Bill Clinton (no fooling, some people thought that would trigger the end of the world as we know it). We've also managed to survive eight years of George Bush and his chums. Yeah, we're battered and tattered; "pundits" (just who annointed them as demigods, anyway?) moan about how unprepared America is to compete in the new world economy. Other people worry about the hungry encroaching "Brown Hordes" in Mexico, Central America and South America. But we've been there and done that before, too. We'll survive. So suck it up, people, and quit whining. Geez! You don't like $4 a gallon gas - try living in France or Germany and paying twice as much! You want to save a little money - try taking public transportation and walking your fat butts a couple of miles to and from the store lugging 25 pounds of groceries every few days. That's guaranteed to take off pounds and get your aerobic system back in shape. People in the US are the most obese in the world. That really says something about us, doesn't it - and it's not good. You don't like what's happening in the country, our fearful leaders who care more about feeding their pensions and their fully-funded health care plan than taking care of their constituents, then get out and vote, and quit thinking that a turn-out of 50% in a presidential election is a remarkable achievement. Oh gag, darlings!

Sichuan Earthquake Caused by Nuclear Explosion?

I don't know what to make of this, but it sure is an interesting story! From The Epoch Times Nuclear Explosion Occurs Near Epicenter of the Sichuan Earthquake, Expert Says By Wu Weilin Epoch Times Staff Jun 03, 2008 Boxun News, a Chinese-language Web site based outside China, reported that an unnamed expert has claimed that there was a nuclear explosion near the epicenter of the Sichuan earthquake, based on witness reports and the discovery of concrete rubble believed to have come from an underground military installation. The news of this nuclear explosion has raised questions about the cause of the earthquake. Mr. He, a local resident, stated that when the earthquake occurred on May 12, people saw something erupt from the top of a mountain next to the valley, "It looked like toothpaste being squeezed out," said He. "No, it wasn't [magma]. It was these concrete pieces. The eruption lasted about three minutes." According to a China News Services (CNS) report on May 31, 2008, paramedics from People's Liberation Army (PLA) hospitals and psychologists from Beijing onsite May 23 found concrete debris at the bottom of a valley near the epicenter. The half-mile-wide valley was covered with debris 10 - 20 inches thick, covering the valley floor for almost 1.5 miles. No major construction was occurring in the area at the time of the earthquake. The thickness of the concrete pieces seemed to match that used in China's underground military bases, according to Boxun's expert. He explained that while there are documented cases that earthquakes cause volcanic eruptions, there are no accounts of eruptions ejecting concrete. Based on the CNS report and timing of the eruption at the scene, there seemed to be no evidence of natural volcanic activity. The expert stated he was certain a nuclear explosion shattered the underground concrete structures, hurling debris into the air. At least one of China's nuclear military bases is located in Mianyang City, Sichuan, near the epicenter. Chinese Internet surfers commented that right after the quake military Special Forces blocked traffic heading toward the epicenter on the mountain, and men in white chemical protective clothing in military vehicles were also spotted driving toward the mountain. Rescue personnel near the epicenter were all military, according to witnesses. The expert believes the nuclear explosion was not confined to the underground test area and has caused radiation contamination, stating that in a call to Beijing he recommended authorities accept help from other countries, seal the area, find and provide help to those who had been exposed to contamination during the rescue work, and take emergency measures to prevent water contamination. The expert believes that the nuclear explosion caused the recent 8.0 magnitude Sichuan earthquake in China. However, other experts referenced by Boxun withheld judgment as to whether the explosion caused the earthquake or the earthquake the explosion. Click here to read the original article in Chinese

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Women in Archaeology: Maggie Spivey

From the Harvard University Gazette Online:

Maggie Spivey: Archaeologist, comedian, princess
By Emily T. Simon
June 5, 2008
FAS Communications

Walk past Maggie Spivey in the Yard or on the streets of Cambridge, and you might find her with head down, eyes glued to the ground. She’s not being anti-social, or lamenting a flubbed grade — this dynamic archaeology concentrator just knows that often the most fascinating stories can be found underfoot.

Spivey, who hails from the small town of Hephzibah, Ga., didn’t arrive at Harvard with plans to study archaeology. But when she sat down with the “Courses of Instruction” book, highlighter at the ready, it soon became clear where her interests lay.

After she’d taken a whirl through the book, Spivey recalls, “Archaeology and social anthropology had the most items highlighted. So I figured that was a pretty good indication of where I should start.”

It proved to be a good strategy. Four years later, Spivey is graduating with a degree in archaeology and a wealth of fieldwork experience, including a dig in the Yard this fall to find remains of Harvard’s Indian College.

Spivey’s fascination with the past — in particular the history American Indian culture — stems in part from her own unique family background. She is a member of the Pee Dee Indian Nation, a tribe that originated in the southeastern United States. The documented history of the Pee Dee Nation dates back to the Revolutionary War era, when six Pee Dee men served in the company of Continental Army Lt. Col. Francis Marion, also known as the “Swamp Fox.”

The Pee Dee Nation had a reservation in South Carolina until the 1840s, when they were run off the land by a rival tribe.

“The federal government offered no help,” Spivey explains, “so a lot of the tribe members moved into cities and began mixing with the people of European descent who lived there.”

Today, descendants of the original Pee Dee tribe can be found primarily in South Carolina as well as mid- and southern Georgia. Spivey says she has been proud to bring their heritage a bit farther north, to Harvard.

For the past six years, Spivey has served as the princess for the Pee Dee Nation. Her role is primarily ambassadorial: She represents the tribe at cultural events in the area, and helps to raise awareness of Pee Dee culture. At Harvard she has extended her responsibilities to support Native American culture more broadly. Spivey is actively involved with Native Americans at Harvard College, and has participated in the annual Harvard Powwow. She also serves on the Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program to encourage Native American high school students to apply to Harvard. In addition, Spivey has worked at the Peabody Museum as a research assistant, providing support for cataloging, tours, and visiting scholars.

In between her study and work responsibilities, Spivey still finds time to cut loose with the Immediate Gratification Players (IGP), an undergraduate improv comedy troupe.

“I really like making people laugh,” says Spivey. “It just makes me happy. If I can brighten someone’s day, I will always try to.”

Along with her fellow IGPers, Spivey acts in several shows a month, produces videos, and organizes special events such as comedy dinner parties. The troupe specializes in “long form” comedy, in which players build on audience suggestions to create a series of hilarious — but believable — scenes.

“We aim to create amusing relationships onstage,” says Spivey, “which I think is a good way to cultivate humor. We don’t fall back on ‘crutches’ like pop culture or off-color jokes, but instead try to show how everyday interactions between people can be funny.”

When she talks about performing with IGP, supporting the Pee Dee Nation, or the nuances of archaeological research, it’s clear that Spivey has found her place at Harvard. She adores her castmates, is proud of her work for Native Americans, and demonstrates a passion for her studies. But as a first-year student, Spivey wasn’t quite so confident that Harvard was right for her.

“I come from a rural town in Georgia that has only two stoplights,” she said. “I attended the same high school as my mom and my grandmother. So I was totally taken aback when I first arrived in Cambridge — the culture seemed remarkably foreign and I felt a thousand miles away from home.”

Spivey, who is the first in her family to attend college, gradually found ways to make Harvard feel more like home.

“It took a while, but I finally got used to everything — and my accent has certainly changed,” she quips.

This summer, Spivey will strike out even further afield. She’s headed to Benin, western Africa, for a five-week archaeological dig.

“The project is focused on historic Africa, or the Africa of the past few hundred years,” Spivey says. “It primarily involves survey work.”

Spivey and her colleagues will comb the landscape, picking up items of historical significance, such as pieces of ceramic. Then, they will evaluate what has been collected and record the location of each artifact.

“People often miss these items because they can appear to be trash, but there are such rich materials if you only stop to look closely!” Spivey says.

Spivey will manage the computer aspect of the project, processing the information and recording it in a geographic information system (GIS).

Following the Benin trip, Spivey will return to the United States and look for a one-year position in archaeology. She will use that time to evaluate whether she should continue to work in archaeology and pursue a Ph.D. in the field, or switch gears and attend law school. [DON'T DO IT]

“I have always thought it would be interesting to be a public prosecutor,” Spivey says. “To me, the process is very similar to archaeology — you are picking up pieces of evidence and putting them together to draw a meaningful conclusion.”

If she chooses the archaeology route, Spivey says, she eventually hopes to star in a television show.

“I don’t want to be a female Indiana Jones,” she says, “but I would love to participate in an authentic production that conveys the excitement of archeological research.”

Turkey's High Court - A Gutsy Ruling

Story from The New York Times: Turkey’s High Court Overturns Headscarf Rule By SABRINA TAVERNISE Published: June 6, 2008 ISTANBUL — Turkey’s highest court dealt a stinging slap to the governing party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday, ruling that a legal change allowing women to attend universities wearing head scarves was unconstitutional. [Hooray! A symbol of women's oppression is done away with.] The Constitutional Court said in a brief statement that the change, proposed by Mr. Erdogan’s party and passed by the Parliament in February, violated principles of secularism set in Turkey’s constitution. The ruling sets the stage for a final showdown between Turkey’s secular elite — its military, judiciary and secular political party — and Mr. Erdogan, a Muslim with an Islamist past. The court is one of Turkey’s most important secular institutions, and the ruling was seen as largely political. It bodes ominously for Mr. Erdogan: The same court is considering a case that would ban him and 70 members of his party from politics. A decision is expected in the summer. Turkey’s political system has been controlled for generations by a powerful secular elite that has stepped in with coups and judicial decisions against elected governments. Mr. Erdogan and his party, Justice and Development, or AKP, have come the closest of any political party in Turkey’s history to breaking its hold on power. In the head-scarf case, the elite establishment argued that allowing veiled women onto college campuses threatens Turkish secularism, which was imposed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in a secular revolution in the 1920s. Head scarves were banned from campuses in the 1990s. Kemal Anadol, a deputy chairman of the secular opposition Republican People’s Party, called the verdict a triumph of justice and said it showed that secularism and democracy are “constitutional principles that can’t be separated from one other.” Mr. Erdogan calls the case a matter of individual rights, arguing that all Turks should be able to attend university no matter what they wear or believe. But the way his party proposed it — abruptly, with little public discussion — angered the secular old guard and disappointed liberals, who support the changes, but wanted them to be accompanied by changes that would strengthen other rights, like free speech. Some said AKP seemed to be pursuing only those changes that would please its constituency, and not the broader range that was needed to join the European Union. “AKP is lost in the spell of their own power,” said Mithat Sancar, a law professor in Ankara, Turkey’s capital. “When they want to listen to liberals, they do, but when they don’t, they comfortably ignore them.” Despite Mr. Erdogan’s broad popularity — his party won 47 percent of the vote in an election last July — the threat of closure is serious: The authorities have closed more than 20 parties in the past, and Thursday’s ruling seemed like it could be a sign of things to come. The head-scarf amendment is considered to be the single most important irritant that set off the case to ban Mr. Erdogan and 70 other AKP members, and is central to its argument that Mr. Erdogan and his allies are trying to dismantle secularism in Turkey, a charge they strongly dispute. Many secular Turks are skeptical that Mr. Erdogan, whose past is in political Islam, will defend secularism in the future, even though he frequently reassures them that he will. “There is still a group within the AKP that is remembered for their Islamic past,” said Ersin Kalaycioglu, a political science professor from Sabanci University. “Fears don’t need to be rational.” Dengir Firat, a senior member of Mr. Erdogan’s party, said that was no reason for the head-scarf ban. “You can’t limit someone’s liberties on the basis of people’s fears,” he said. [Note to Mr. Firat: Oh yes, you can - and with good reason. There are reasons why neo-Nazis are feared, for instance; and reasons why Islamists who advocate the forcible overthrow of all other religions are feared, for instance...] The military, another strongly secular institution, expressed muted approval of the court’s decision. “A different ruling would have been surprising,” said Gen. Aydogan Babaoglu, chief of Turkey’s Air Force, according to NTV television. All but lost in the debate have been the voices of the women themselves whose future is caught in the political cross hairs. Neslihan Akbulut, a 26-year-old sociology graduate student, said she cried when she heard the verdict. “There is no way for me in Turkey now,” she said. “When I see this result, I feel that I don’t need to wait. I would need to wait for a long time.” [No offense, but try Saudi Arabia.] Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting.

2008 Indian National Women's "B" Chess Championship

This is going to be a tough tournament for the women, competing for spots in the Women's National "A" Tournament in September. Story from The Hindu online: Women’s ‘B’ chess from today KOZHIKODE: Several big names in Indian women’s chess, including former World under-18 champion Aarthie Ramaswamy, Nisha Mohota, Swati Ghate, Eesha Karvade and Mary Ann Gomes, will battle it out in the 35th National women’s ‘B’ chess championship, which opens at Hotel Sana Tower here on Friday. Over a hundred ladies will play for nine qualifying spots for the National women’s ‘A’; the top nine players will join the top three players from the last National ‘A’ for this year’s National women’s ‘A’, scheduled to be held in New Delhi in September. Mohota, with an Elo rating of 2400, is the top seed and starts as one of the favourites for the title. “With five Woman Grandmasters in the fray, this is going to be the strongest National women’s ‘B’ ever, so even to make the qualifying mark, one will have to play really well,” the Kolkata-based WGM told The Hindu. The tournament, to be played over 11 Swiss rounds, should produce some exciting chess over the next one week. “We could see some new talents coming up from Andhra or Tamil Nadu; always do in tournaments like this,” said Mohota.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Never Forget...

...the Goddess of Democracy in Tiananmen Square - and how She was destroyed by the oppressive Communist regime in China. China won't ever be in the "big leagues" until it learns that dissent is the essence of a free people. Of course, its people AREN'T free, and perhaps they won't be within my lifetime. But it's coming, folks, it's coming. Russia is regressing - I expect to see another revolution there before I kick the bucket (sometime within the next 30-40 years). In one of my dreams last night was that great song by the Young Rascals (a true blast from the past!) - I don't know the exact title but it has words "listen, please listen, that's the way it should be, people everywhere just want to be free..." From China Should Give Account of Tiananmen Crackdown, U.S. Says By Michael Heath June 3 (Bloomberg) -- China's government should give a full account of the people killed or detained when pro-democracy protests were crushed in Tiananmen Square in 1989, the U.S. State Department said on the 19th anniversary of the crackdown. The government in Beijing needs to reexamine what happened, ``release all Tiananmen-era prisoners and cease harassment of the families of the victims,'' spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement. The State Department estimates between 50 and 200 protesters remain in jail. China's Foreign Ministry declined to address the issue of the detainees when asked earlier today. ``As to that occurrence of political turmoil at the end of the 1980s, there was a clear conclusion long ago,'' spokesman Qin Gang said at a news briefing in Beijing. It ``concerns an internal matter of China, and as a Foreign Ministry spokesman, I can't respond.'' Chinese soldiers, backed by tanks, on June 3-4 killed hundreds of activists who had rallied for weeks in and around Tiananmen Square and in other Chinese cities calling for greater pluralism. China faced international condemnation for the crackdown, which in 1990 then-President Jiang Zemin dismissed as ``much ado about nothing,'' according to Human Rights Watch. ``The time for the Chinese government to provide the fullest possible public accounting of the thousands killed, detained or missing in the massacre that followed the protests is long overdue,'' McCormack said in the statement issued in Washington. Security Tightened China has tightened security at the square, authorizing police to randomly search visitors, state-run Xinhua News Agency reported last month. ``Security around Tiananmen is very important and has great international influence,'' it cited Zhang Peili, an official at the municipal government law office, as saying at the time. The security measures are necessary to protect the Beijing Olympic Games in August, he said. ``The revision will help prevent and stop all kinds of extremist and terrorist incidents and maintain public security,'' Zhang said, according to Xinhua. China should honor its pledge to improve human rights by releasing the Tiananmen-era prisoners before the Beijing Olympics when the square will be used for functions, Human Rights Watch said in a statement yesterday. China wants the 2008 Games ``to expunge the memories of the 1989 Beijing massacre,'' said Sophie Richardson, the New York- based group's Asia advocacy director. ``China could replace the image of the lone man blocking the tanks with the image of Tiananmen prisoners being freed -- a truly Olympian gesture.'' Hundreds of Arrests The 1989 crackdown resulted in the arrest of hundreds of people on charges ranging from ``counterrevolutionary'' offenses to ``hooliganism,'' including robbery, arson and assault, Human Rights Watch said. It estimates 130 protesters remain in jail. McCormack said most of the Tiananmen-era detainees have served ``well over half'' of their sentences and are eligible for parole under Chinese law. U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will address Chinese Americans and human rights advocates tomorrow during a ceremony in Washington to mark the anniversary. Nearly two decades after the killings and arrests, China continues a relentless crackdown on democracy advocates and opponents of its one-party regime even while preparing for its Olympic debut, Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. ``The dream of democracy, held so vividly by the students who constructed the statue of the Goddess of Democracy in Tiananmen Square, has proved to be, so far, a midsummer's night dream,'' she will tell protestors today, the statement said. Ros-Lehtinen will cite Chinese efforts to arrest North Korean refugees, shut down unencumbered access to the Internet and close down underground house churches as evidence of continued systematic repression, according to the statement. To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Heath in Sydney at Last Updated: June 3, 2008 21:33 EDT

Discoveries in Egypt

From Egypt State Information Service Wednesday, June 04, 2008 Sphinx road missing sections discovered Egyptian archeologists have discovered missing sections of the so-called Sphinx road and the bottom part of an unknown pyramid in Sakkara area. The road was mentioned in some ancient Greek manuscripts, according to chief of the Egyptian Supreme Council for Antiquities Zahi Hawwas. According to him, it is believed that the discovered parts are connected to the passage leading to Anubis Temples of the jackal-headed god associated with mummification and the afterlife in Egyptian mythology. Sakkara is one section of the great necropolis of Memphis. The old Kingdom capital and the kings of the 1st dynasty as well as that of the 2nd dynasty are mostly buried in this section of the Memphis necropolis. It is a place that has been of constant interest to Egyptologists. Three major discoveries have recently been made at Sakkara, including a prime minister's tomb, a queen's pyramid, and the tomb of the son of a dynasty-founding king. Each discovery has a fascinating story, with many adventures for the archeologists as they revealed the secrets of the past. Sakkara is best known for the Step Pyramid, the oldest known of Egypt's 97 pyramids. It was built for King Djoser of the 3rd Dynasty by the architect and genius Imhotep, who designed it and its surrounding complex to be as grand as it was unique and revolutionary.

Mitropa Cup

Here are the final standings for the 2008 Mitropa Cup (Women): (1): Italy 16 (2): Germany 14 (3): Hungary 11 (4): Slovakia 9 (5): Austria 6 (6): Switzerland 4 Italy!?! Yes, these weren't the highest rated players in the world, but I believe Italy has only one IM who is a woman - not a strong chessplaying culture for femmes. Interesting.

Fischer's Daughter to Get Part of Estate

Fischer heiress to get share of P140-M estate soon Philippine Daily Inquirer First Posted 02:52:00 06/05/2008 MANILA, Philippines—Jinky Young, the late Bobby Fischer’s Filipino child, will soon receive her share of the estate left by the chess icon estimated at P140 million, excluding gold deposits and royalty from the movie, “Bobby Fischer Goes to War.” This was disclosed by lawyers Sammy Estimo and Rudy Tacorda after getting word from Reykjavik, Iceland that the Probate Court had already received the claim folder of Jinky Young. The deadline for receiving claims to the estate of the deceased chess legend was May 17, or three months after Fischer died on January 17, 2008 of renal failure. Estimo said that Fischer had contacted him and Grandmaster Eugene Torre in 1984 while he was in an airport prison cell in Japan and had wanted to become a Filipino citizen to be with his child and common-law wife, Marilyn. But Estimo advised him not to push through with his plan because it was in the Philippines that Fischer’s passport was cancelled. With the help of some Icelandic chess friends, Fischer was able to obtain an Icelandic passport and was flown out of Japan in March 2005. Jinky Young and her mother linked up with Bobby in Iceland in September 2005 but that was the last time the three of them lived together as one small family. But Fischer kept in touch with them through daily calls via mobile phones. The late chess legend also sent them monthly euro remittances. Copyright 2008 Philippine Daily Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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If I did the currency conversion correctly, P140M equals $3,186,890 USD. The article did not state what percentage the daughter's share would be. Assuming the movie actually gets made and released, royalties could potentially be quite lucrative. Guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Wu Tang Clan promote unity through chess

Are these people speaking a foreign language? I swear I didn't understand half of what was written in this article, LOL! But, good for Wu - whoever or whatever Wu is... Clan leader RZA unveils WuChess, his online social network for hip-hop chess-heads worldwide Sean MichaelsWednesday June 4, 2008 Fifteen years after 36 Chambers, the Wu-Tang Clan have turned their attention to 64 black and white squares. The hip-hop group's latest project isn't a Method Man album or a street-level mixtape - it's, "the world's first online chess and urban social network". The combination of rap and online chess might not seem like an obvious fit, but the Wu have always been unabashed in their non-bling interests, from kung fu to comic books and science fiction. And chess has long been a passion of founding Clan-member RZA, who created WuChess together with social network For a $48 (£24) annual fee, WuChess subscribers can play against hip-hop chess-heads worldwide, form "chess clans" to group their rankings, and even compete against chess-playing rappers like the RZA himself. A "large part" of WuChess' revenue will be donated to the Hip-Hop Chess Federation - whose almost ridiculously cool mission statement is to use "chess, music and martial arts to promote unity, strategy and non-violence". RZA isn't alone in his chess fixation. The game has been surging in the American hip-hop community, with everyone from Ghostface Killah to the Hieroglyphics taking part. No less than the Dilated Peoples' Rakaa leads WuChess' video tour. Everyone seems to have taken to heart the wisdom sampled at the beginning of the Wu-Tang's Da Mystery of Chessboxin': "The game of chess is like a swordfight. You must think first, before you move ... When it's properly used, it's almost invincible." It's only a matter of time before other board games win the support of musical acts. Risk for Coldplay, Boggle for Sigur Rós, and maybe Amy Winehouse's social networking website could chronicle the ups and downs of snakes and ladders.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Stone Age Tribe Was Killed for Its Women

According to this theory, anyway. Very interesting story from the By Roger Highfield, Science Editor Last Updated: 12:01am BST 03/06/2008 Many archaeologists have argued that women have long motivated cycles of violence and blood feuds throughout history but there has really been no solid archaeological evidence to support this view. Now a relatively new method has been used to work out the origins of the victims tossed into a mass grave of skeletons, and so distinguish one tribe from another, revealing that neighbouring tribes were prepared to kill their male rivals to secure their women some 7000 years ago. The Durham University research, described in the academic journal Antiquity, focused on 34 skeletons found buried in the village of Talheim in the south-west of Germany. Geographic "signatures", chemically derived from the skeletons' teeth, suggest they were of people killed in an attack between rival tribes around 5000 BC as previously dated through radiocarbon methods. Before the study, it seemed several women were among this unfortunate group, a minority. But once the new method was used to separate the victims by geographic origin, it was clear that the local group was special - local because it was the only group with any young children, and special because it was the only group without adult women, despite being the largest group. The researchers conclude the absence of local females indicates that they were spared execution and captured instead which may have indeed been the primary motivation for the attack. Lead author Dr Alex Bentley says the simplest explanation is that the women of one tribe were captured."It seems this community was specifically targeted, as could happen in a cycle of revenge between rival groups. Although resources and population were undoubtedly factors in central Europe around that time, women appear to be the immediate reason for the attack. "Our analysis points to the local women being regarded as somehow special and were therefore kept alive." The Durham University-led team, with researchers from University College London, University of Wisconsin and a German government body, came to their conclusions after analysing the strontium, carbon and oxygen isotopes signatures of the skeletons' teeth. These give vital information about the skeletons' geological origin and diet. The skeletons from the mass grave in Talheim, which were excavated in the 1980s, were all buried in a single pit of three metres long. German experts determined that the majority had been killed by a blow to the left side of the head, suggesting the victims were bound and killed, probably with a stone axe. Others may have been killed from arrow-wounds from behind as if the victims had tried to flee. Whereas the women from the local community were spared, what remains open for speculation is why women from the non-local groups wound up killed. How did they get caught up in the massacre? They might even have been from the attacking group. "What we know," Dr. Bentley says, "is that the local women were the target," and what the role was of the others is part of the mystery."

In Spain, Water is a New Battleground

It's only going to get worse as the population continues to grow and the weather gets dryer and hotter in the regions already suffering from drought and lack of potable water. The implications of this article are truly frightening:

From The New York Times
Published: June 3, 2008
FORTUNA, Spain — Lush fields of lettuce and hothouses of tomatoes line the roads. Verdant new developments of plush pastel vacation homes beckon buyers from Britain and Germany. Golf courses — dozens of them, all recently built — give way to the beach. At last, this hardscrabble corner of southeast Spain is thriving.

There is only one problem with the picture of bounty: this province, Murcia, is running out of water. Swaths of southeast Spain are steadily turning into desert, a process spurred on by global warming and poorly planned development.

Murcia, traditionally a poor farming region, has undergone a resort-building boom in recent years, even as many of its farmers have switched to more thirsty crops, encouraged by water transfer plans, which have become increasingly untenable. The combination has put new pressures on the land and its dwindling supply of water.

This year, farmers are fighting developers over water rights. They are fighting one another over who gets to water their crops. And in a sign of their mounting desperation, they are buying and selling water like gold on a rapidly growing black market, mostly from illegal wells.

Southern Spain has long been plagued by cyclical droughts, but the current crisis, scientists say, probably reflects a more permanent climate change brought on by global warming. And it is a harbinger of a new kind of conflict.

The battles of yesterday were fought over land, they warn. Those of the present center on oil. But those of the future — a future made hotter and drier by climate change in much of the world — seem likely to focus on water, they say.

“Water will be the environmental issue this year — the problem is urgent and immediate,” said Barbara Helferrich, a spokeswoman for the European Union’s Environment Directorate. “If you already have water shortages in spring, you know it’s going to be a really bad summer.”

Dozens of world leaders will be meeting at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization headquarters in Rome starting Tuesday to address a global food crisis caused in part by water shortages in Africa, Australia and here in southern Spain.

Climate change means that creeping deserts may eventually drive 135 million people off their land, the United Nations estimates. Most of them are in the developing world. But Southern Europe is experiencing the problem now, its climate drying to the point that it is becoming more like Africa’s, scientists say.

For Murcia, the arrival of the water crisis has been accelerated by developers and farmers who have hewed to water-hungry ventures highly unsuited to a drier, warmer climate: crops like lettuce that need ample irrigation, resorts that promise a swimming pool in the yard, acres of freshly sodded golf courses that sop up millions of gallons a day.

“I come under a lot of pressure to release water from farmers and also from developers,” said Antonio Pérez Gracia, the water manager here in Fortuna, sipping coffee with farmers in a bar in the town’s dusty square. He rued the fact that he could provide each property owner with only 30 percent of its government-determined water allotment.

“I’m not sure what we’ll do this summer,” he added, noting that the local aquifer was sinking so quickly that the pumps would not reach it soon. “I come under a lot of pressure to release water, from farmers and also from developers. They can complain as much as they want, but if there’s no more water, there’s no more water.”

Rubén Vives, a farmer who relies on Mr. Pérez Gracia’s largess, said he could not afford the black market water prices. “This year, my livelihood is in danger,” said Mr. Vives, who has farmed low-water crops like lemons here for nearly two decades.

The hundreds of thousands of wells — most of them illegal — that have in the past provided a temporary reprieve from thirst have depleted underground water to the point of no return. Water from northern Spain that was once transferred here has also slowed to a trickle, as wetter northern provinces are drying up, too.

The scramble for water has set off scandals. Local officials are in prison for taking payoffs to grant building permits in places where there is not adequate water. Chema Gil, a journalist who exposed one such scheme, has been subject to death threats, carries pepper spray and is guarded day and night by the Guardia Civil, a police force with military and civilian functions.

Rest of article.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The International Tour of "The Greeks" Exhibit

I'm jealous! Don will get to see this, and I won't, boo hoo (well, unless I take a couple of days off and fly up...) Image: Greek toy horse, 5-7th Century CE, bone, from Egypt.

June 2, 2008
In its Only North American Stop, Exhibition Explores Incredible Legacy of The Greeks

QUEBEC.- The Greek world was at the origin, then at the heart, of social, cultural and political movements that touched Europe, Asia and Africa. Discover the richness of this great civilization through a collection of artifacts spanning 8,000 years of Greek history in a must-see exhibition opening May 30 at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

The Greeks offers a captivating insight into the land of Socrates and Euclid , the Parthenon and Mount Olympus . It also explores the survival and adaptation of the Greek world within the once-mighty Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. The exhibition is organized by the prestigious Benaki Museum in Athens and features 180 treasured objects dating from prehistoric to modern times.

“This exhibition illustrates the remarkable diversity and influence of Greek art, culture and society,” said Dr. Victor Rabinovitch , President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation.

“Greece has often been at the crossroads of history and the Greek people have experienced the ebb and flow of history’s fortune for thousands of years. I am delighted the Benaki Museum has shared these remarkable treasures with a Canadian audience.”

Featured in The Greeks are sculptures and ceramics, jewellery and embroidered textiles, paintings, metalwork, religious icons, toys, figurines, lamps, wooden chests and more. The artifacts bear witness to the unparalleled sweep of Greek civilization, which continues to influence the world today.

The exhibition is organized chronologically and has four principal zones: Prehistory and Antiquity (7000 BCE – fourth century CE), the Byzantine Period (fourth century – fifteenth century), The Greeks in the Ottoman Empire (fifteenth century – eighteenth century) and Towards an Independent Greek State (nineteenth century).

Among the many notable objects are a Byzantine processional cross made from moulded, hammered, engraved and punched copper; an elegant chalice in gilded silver plate, crafted during Ottoman rule, and a magnificent oil painting of the English poet Lord Byron in Greek costume, an iconic image from the Greek struggle for independence. The Museum has specially selected 12 artifacts that will be displayed nowhere else on the tour, including a striking crown of oak leaves and flowers in engraved and embossed gold leaf and a magnificent embroidered sperveri (bed tent).

The Museum of Civilization will be the only venue in Canada for the international tour of The Greeks. The exhibition is presented from May 30 to September 28, 2008.

Texas Bush and the Crystal Skull

Got to love this, no matter what your political persuasion may be... from The Onion (where else?)

New Book by Gavin Menzies

Menzies has been skewered by the so-called "experts" for his book "1421: The Year China Discovered the World." It's a large book and it's on my reading list - I completed the Preface and the first chapter, and when summer comes around again and I spend hours out on the deck with my feet up, I'll be reading further. Keep in mind that, as so often has happened, today's "crazy theories" are - 30 years from now - the new orthodoxy. I guess people find it offensive that the Chinese might have been the first to circumnavigate the globe and might, just might, have opened up new thoughts and perspectives during a visit to Italy in 1434. This is the premise of Menzie's new book, briefly mentioned in this "damning by faint praise" article at The Wall Street Journal online: May 30, 2008, 8:10 am Did China Spark the Renaissance? Early 17th century Chinese woodblock print said to depict Zheng He It did indeed, according to Gavin Menzies, the author of the best-selling and highly controversial “1421: The Year China Discovered the World,” who’s back with a sequel, of sorts: “1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance.” In his earlier book (published in 2002), Menzies claimed that the Chinese fleet of admiral Zheng He had traveled to America and circumnavigated the globe in the early 15th century, well before the journeys of Columbus and Magellan. The theory, known as the “1421 hypothesis,” has been discounted by many professional historians. (Menzies himself is a retired British Royal Navy officer who doesn’t read Chinese.) According to its publicity materials, the new book asserts that “a sophisticated Chinese delegation visited Italy in 1434, sparked the Renaissance and forever changed the course of Western civilization. After that date the authority of Aristotle and Ptolemy was overturned and artistic conventions challenged, as was Arabic astronomy and cartography.” “1434” also promises to take us “aboard the remarkable Chinese fleet as it sails from China to Cairo to Florence, and then back across the world,” offering “further astonishing evidence that it was also Chinese advances in science, art, and technology that formed the basis of the European Renaissance and our modern world.” If Menzies’ last book was anything to go by, we can look forward to seeing “1434.” in every Chinese airport bookstore this summer. But we’re already wondering what Menzies is planning next. Perhaps “1447: The Year Zheng He Became the First Man on the Moon.” -Sky Canaves

Leaning Tower of Pisa Good for Next 300 Years

So say the experts - but we know about them, don't we!

From The
Leaning Tower of Pisa 'saved' for 300 years
By Malcolm Moore in Rome
Last Updated: 2:24AM BST 29/05/2008

The Leaning Tower of Pisa has been saved for another 300 years and is no longer moving, according to the engineers in charge of the rescue operation.

"All of our best hopes have been confirmed. We can now say that the tower will not move again for at least three centuries," said Michele Jamiolkowski, a Turin-based engineer who led the project to stabilise the tower.

The tower currently leans 13 feet off centre, and has been straightened by 14.5 inches since 1999 thanks to a £20 million restoration project.

As an added bonus, the authorities plan to reopen a "secret wonder" of the tower. Until 1935 it was possible, by entering a side door of the tower, to gaze upwards through its seven storeys to see the sky.

"Since then, the view has been obstructed by an attic level where the instruments to measure the stability of the tower were kept," said Nunziate Squeglia, a professor of engineering at the University of Pisa. "But now it can be removed and the view will be back".

The tower, which has been leaning almost since building work first began in 1173, was closed to the public in 1990 because of safety fears. The 183-foot tower was nearly 15 feet off vertical and its structure was found to have been weakened by centuries of strain.

The last attempt at straightening the tower was carried out under orders from Benito Mussolini, who wanted it to be perfectly vertical. Concrete was poured into the foundations, but the result was that the tower sank further into the soil.

The restoration of the tower has also included polishing its marble exterior, which had darkened over the years with pollution and grime. The second phase of the cleaning began on Tuesday and the tower will be shrouded temporarily with a moving scaffold.

The finishing ceremony for the completed straightening and restoration project will take place in three months time, according to Giuseppe Bentivoglio, the head of the council department responsible for the care of monuments in Pisa's Field of Miracles.

New Portrait of Elizabeth I Discovered

BBC NEWS / NORTHAMPTONSHIRE 09:37 GMT, Tuesday, 27 May 2008 10:37 UK Rare Elizabeth I portrait found A rare portrait of Queen Elizabeth I as a young princess has been discovered in a private collection at a stately home in Northamptonshire. The portrait, dating from 1650 to 1680, was found in the Duke of Buccleuch's collection at Boughton House. It shows Elizabeth with siblings Edward VI and Mary I, father Henry VIII and his jester, Will Somers. It is a copy of an original panel painting, which is thought to date back to the early 1550s. The portrait was examined by historians Alison Weir and Tracy Borman after they were told of its existence by the director of Boughton House. It will now be put on display at the stately home, and historians hope to trace the original through publicising the discovery. Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I before her accession to the throne are extremely rare, with only two other proven portraits known - one at Hampton Court and the other at Windsor Castle. Mystery Tracy Borman said that when she was first sent a picture of the portrait she realised it had never been seen before. "The more we found out, the more obvious it was that nobody had come across this," she said. "It's clearly a copy of a lost original and it's that mystery that we started to try to solve. "It's also a very different look to Elizabeth and comparing it to other portraits it helps us to solve the identity of other portraits - for example one always known as the Unknown Lady in the National Portrait Gallery." Charles Lister, house manager at Boughton House, said the picture was to go on public display when the house opens in August. He said: "The portrait is normally in a private area of the house with a number of other Tudor portraits. "When we had a meeting with Tracy it came under discussion and it sort of all went from there. "We knew it was important because it's a picture of Henry VIII and his family but we did not realise it in the context of Elizabeth as princess." The finding is reported in the latest edition of the BBC History Magazine.

Kharg (Khark) Achaemenid Inscription Almost Destroyed

There are photos (before and after). From Circle of Iranian Studies (CAIS) June 2, 2008 LONDON, (CAIS) -- The Achaemenid stone inscription of Khark Island was seriously damaged by vandals on Thursday night. “Unknown people climbed the fence surrounding the cuneiform inscription and destroyed it with a chisel, such that about 70 percent of the inscription has been destroyed,” Khark Deputy Governor Ali Jazebi told the Persian service of CHN on Saturday. “The nature of the damage indicates that it has been done deliberately,” he added. In late February, Iranian experts warned the Islamic Republic's officials of the Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization about the threats posed by the forces of nature and vandals.Unfortunately, no appropriate security system was established to safeguard the cuneiform inscription, which has been incised on a piece of uneven rock encrusted with coral. The irreplaceable relic was discovered during a road construction project on the island in the Persian Gulf in mid-November 2007. The rock, measuring 85x116cm, has become detached from its original terrain. The project was halted for a time because the rock prevented the project managers from continuing their work and finally they were forced to change the route.Shortly after its discovery, the inscription was deciphered by Rasul Bashshash, an expert at the Archaeological Research Center of Iran (ARCI). He made the following translation: “(This) land was a dry area with no water; (I) brought happiness and welfare, Bahana… water wells.”Experts had previously said that the inscription was important since it was another piece of evidence that confirms the word Persian for the Persian Gulf.The discovery of the inscription sparked a media frenzy in the Arab mini-states of the Persian Gulf, where efforts were made to cast doubt on its authenticity. The Bushehr Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Department (BCHTHD) announced on Saturday that they have filed a lawsuit against the suspected vandals. “There are several people (of Arab origin) suspected of (being responsible for) the damage to the inscription. We have sued them so the judicial investigation will begin as soon as possible,” BCHTHD Director Ahmad Dashti told CHN. He refused to name the suspects.Dashti said that 10 to 15 percent of the Old-Persian inscription has been damaged, which is considerably different than the Khark deputy governor’s assessment. He rejected rumors that there was a connection between the vandalism and the disputes over the name of the Persian Gulf. Some people believe that the BCHTHD is responsible for the problem" Dashti rejected by, saying, “The police are responsible for safeguarding the site, and they did their best”; -Obviously their best was not good enough. “However, lack of an appropriate area to establish a guardhouse is one of our main problems here. The island is owned by the Is,mic regime controlled Iran's Oil industries and they don’t provide even a span of earth to us to set up the base,” he explained. An Iranian archaeologist with ICHTO who wishes to remain anonymous for his safety told CAIS correspondent: "another crime has been committed against our nation and the [Islamic] regime is to blame for failing to protect our heritage". He continued, "if the incised Old Persian script on the rock was instead Arabic and there were rumors that one of the toes of such and such [Shiat] Imam touched the rock while he was passing through centuries ago, the regime would have invested billions of rials to erect a shrine over it with a golden dome on top." The destruction of yet another relic in Iran has prompted an outcry by Iranians and the cultural enthusiasts around the world, who see that the Islamic Republic is persisting in a campaign of destruction of invaluable assets of the country's cultural heritage. The destruction of the Achaemenid inscription in Kharg represents the latest in a series of destructions that appears to be aimed at systematically destroying pre-Islamic Iranian heritage sites either by Arab settlers or the Islamic regime in power.

Open Letter from IM Irina Krush - Response

Here is my prior post. Today at Chess Life Online Tom Braunlich gave a response to IM Krush's letter.

Chess News

My June column is up and running at Chessville. This month there's also a separate report on the Frank K. Berry U.S. Women's Chess Championship. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Ancient Eclipse Stopped Battle!

May 28, 585 B.C.: Predicted Solar Eclipse Stops Battle By Randy Alfred 05.28.08 12:00 AM 585 B.C.: A solar eclipse in Asia Minor brings an abrupt halt to a battle, as the warring armies lay down their arms and declare a truce. Historical astronomy later sets a likely date, providing a debatable calculation point for pinning down some dates in ancient history. This was not the first recorded solar eclipse. After failing to predict one such in 2300 B.C., two Chinese astrologers attached to the emperor's court were soon detached from their heads. Clay tablets from Babylon record an eclipse in Ugarit in 1375 B.C. Later records identify total solar eclipses that "turned day into night" in 1063 and 763 B.C. But the 585 B.C. eclipse was the first we know that was predicted. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that Thales of Milete predicted an eclipse in a year when the Medians and the Lydians were at war. Using the same calculating methods that predict future eclipses, astronomers have been able to calculate when eclipses occurred in the past. You can run the planetary clock in reverse as well as forward. To coin a word, you can postdict as well as predict. The most likely candidate for Thales' eclipse took place on May 28, 585 B.C., though some authorities believe it may have been 25 years earlier in 610 B.C. Hundreds of scholars have debated this for nearly two millenniums. Predicting a solar eclipse is not easy. You need to calculate not only when it will happen, but where it will be visible. In a lunar eclipse, when the moon passes through the Earth's huge sun shadow, the event is visible on the whole side of the Earth that's in nighttime, and totality often lasts more than an hour. But in a solar eclipse, the moon's shadow falls across the Earth in a relatively narrow path, and the maximum duration of totality at any given place is only about 7½ minutes. So you need to know the moon's orbit in great detail -- within a small fraction of a degree of arc. The early Greeks did not have this data. We do not know the method Thales used to make his prediction. The method may have been used only once, because we have no other records of the Greeks of this era accurately predicting further eclipses. Thales is believed to have studied the Egyptians' techniques of land measurement (geo metry in Greek) later codified by Euclid. One has to wonder whether Thales made the famous eclipse prediction himself, or if he simply borrowed it from the Egyptians. However he made the prediction, and however precise or vague it may have been, the eclipse occurred. Aylattes, the king of Lydia, was battling Cyaxares, king of the Medes, probably near the River Halys in what is now central Turkey. The heavens darkened. Soldiers of both kings put down their weapons. The battle was over. And so was the war. After 15 years of back-and-forth fighting between the Medes and the Lydians, the kings of Cilicia and Babylon intervened and negotiated a treaty. The River Halys, where the Battle of the Eclipse was fought, became the border between the Lydians and the Medes. Source: NASA, Crystalinks

"Helen" - More Than Just a Pretty Face

DNA explodes Greek myth about women British researchers have unearthed evidence that proves Helen was much more than a chattel By Robie McKie, science editor The Observer, Sunday June 1 2008 Women in Ancient Greece were major power brokers in their own right, researchers have discovered, and often played key roles in running affairs of state. Until now it was thought they were treated little better than servants. The discovery is part of an investigation by Manchester researchers into the founders of Mycenae, Europe's first great city-state and capital of King Agamemnon's domains. 'It was thought that in those days women were rated as little more than chattels in Ancient Greece,' said Professor Terry Brown, of the faculty of life sciences at Manchester University. 'Our work now suggests that notion is wrong.' Mycenae is one of the most important and evocative archaeological sites in Europe. According to legend, Agamemnon led his armies from Mycenae to Troy to bring back Helen - the wife of his ally, Menelaus - who had run off with the Trojan prince Paris. The citadel was first excavated in the 1870s by Heinrich Schliemann, who uncovered tombs containing crumbling bones draped with jewels and gold face masks. 'I have discovered the graves of Agamemnon, Eurymedon, and their companions, all slain at a banquet by Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthos,' he told the King of Greece. In fact, the graves have since been dated and shown to be too old for those of Agamemnon. Nevertheless, Mycenae has since proved to be a treasure trove of archaeological riches. Most recently, these have involved scientists using a range of new techniques, including facial reconstruction work carried out by Manchester researchers John Prag and Richard Neave. They recreated the faces of seven individuals whose skeletons had been excavated at a circle of graves inside the citadel. The images provided scientists with a family picture album for the rulers of Europe's first great city-state. However, genetics experts have now taken this work a stage further by attempting to extract DNA from 22 of the 35 bodies found in the grave circle. 'The facial reconstructions were carried out 10 years ago, but it is only now that scientists have developed sensitive enough techniques to get DNA from skeletons as old as these,' said Brown. 'In each case we had to deal with a single cell's worth of DNA.' The genetic material isolated by the scientists is known as mitochondrial DNA, which humans inherit exclusively from their mothers. However, of the 22 skeletons that were tested, only four produced enough DNA for full analysis. Nevertheless, findings from these provided a shock for the team from Manchester. While two of the males had DNA that indicated they were unrelated, the genetic material extracted from the remaining pair, a man and a woman, revealed they were brother and sister. They had been thought to have been man and wife. 'To be precise, our DNA evidence suggests the pair were closely related, possibly siblings or possibly cousins. However, the facial reconstruction work of Prag and Neave also shows they were very similar in appearance which indicates they were brother and sister,' said Brown. The critical point, he said, was that the woman was thought to have been buried in a richly endowed grave because she was the wife of a powerful man. That was in keeping with previous ideas about Ancient Greece - that women had little power and could only exert influence through their husbands. 'But this discovery shows both the man and the woman were of equal status and had equal power,' he said. 'Women in Ancient Greece held positions of power by right of birth, it now appears. 'The problem has been that up until recently our interpretation of life in Ancient Greece has been the work of a previous generations of archaeologists, then a male-oriented profession and who interpreted their findings in a male-oriented way. That is changing now and women in Ancient Greece are being seen in a new light.'


Hola darlings! Yes, I'm still alive and kicking (sort of). I spent the better part of the past two days putting togther my June column for Chessville. Argggh! It always takes longer than I think it will and this month I had the addition of the U.S. Women's Chess Championship to write about. It's not as if I haven't gone through this exercise before and, by now, I should know better. But I swear to you I thought that, since I'd already had so much written before hand, and since I already had the news published both here and at Chess Femme News, it wouldn't take any time at all to put the June 1st column together. Ha! It took all day Saturday, starting before 9 a.m. until I hit a wall at 8 p.m. (I'd collapsed into bed before 8:30) and most of the day today (again starting before 9:00 a.m. and sending off the final draft of the second column shortly after 7 this evening). BUT - soon, it will be posted at Chessville (I hope). Meanwhile, before I collapse one more I'll try and post a few things...
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