Saturday, September 20, 2008

Khazar Capital Found (Maybe)

Scholar claims to find medieval Jewish capital By MANSUR MIROVALEV, Associated Press Writer Sat Sep 20, 2:13 PM ET MOSCOW - A Russian archaeologist says he has found the lost capital of the Khazars, a powerful nation that adopted Judaism as its official religion more than 1,000 years ago, only to disappear leaving little trace of its culture. Dmitry Vasilyev, a professor at Astrakhan State University, said his nine-year excavation near the Caspian Sea has finally unearthed the foundations of a triangular fortress of flamed brick, along with modest yurt-shaped dwellings, and he believes these are part of what was once Itil, the Khazar capital. By law Khazars could use flamed bricks only in the capital, Vasilyev said. The general location of the city on the Silk Road was confirmed in medieval chronicles by Arab, Jewish and European authors. "The discovery of the capital of Eastern Europe's first feudal state is of great significance," he told The Associated Press. "We should view it as part of Russian history." Kevin Brook, the American author of "The Jews of Khazaria," e-mailed Wednesday that he has followed the Itil dig over the years, and even though it has yielded no Jewish artifacts, "Now I'm as confident as the archaeological team is that they've truly found the long-lost city, The Khazars were a Turkic tribe that roamed the steppes from Northern China to the Black Sea. Between the 7th and 10th centuries they conquered huge swaths of what is now southern Russia and Ukraine, the Caucasus Mountains and Central Asia as far as the Aral Sea. Itil, about 800 miles south of Moscow, had a population of up to 60,000 and occupied 0.8 square miles of marshy plains southwest of the Russian Caspian Sea port of Astrakhan, Vasilyev said. It lay at a major junction of the Silk Road, the trade route between Europe and China, which "helped Khazars amass giant profits," he said. The Khazar empire was once a regional superpower, and Vasilyev said his team has found "luxurious collections" of well-preserved ceramics that help identify cultural ties of the Khazar state with Europe, the Byzantine Empire and even Northern Africa. They also found armor, wooden kitchenware, glass lamps and cups, jewelry and vessels for transporting precious balms dating back to the eighth and ninth centuries, he said. But a scholar in Israel, while calling the excavations interesting, said the challenge was to find Khazar inscriptions. "If they found a few buildings, or remains of buildings, that's interesting but does not make a big difference," said Dr. Simon Kraiz, an expert on Eastern European Jewry at Haifa University. "If they found Khazar writings, that would be very important." Vasilyev says no Jewish artifacts have been found at the site, and in general, most of what is known about the Khazars comes from chroniclers from other, sometimes competing cultures and empires. "We know a lot about them, and yet we know almost nothing: Jews wrote about them, and so did Russians, Georgians, and Armenians, to name a few," said Kraiz. "But from the Khazars themselves we have nearly nothing." The Khazars' ruling dynasty and nobility converted to Judaism sometime in the 8th or 9th centuries. Vasilyev said the limited number of Jewish religious artifacts such as mezuzas and Stars of David found at other Khazar sites prove that ordinary Khazars preferred traditional beliefs such as shamanism, or newly introduced religions including Islam. Yevgeny Satanovsky, director of the Middle Eastern Institute in Moscow, said he believes the Khazar elite chose Judaism out of political expediency — to remain independent of neighboring Muslim and Christian states. "They embraced Judaism because they wanted to remain neutral, like Switzerland these days," he said. In particular, he said, the Khazars opposed the Arab advance into the Caucasus Mountains and were instrumental in containing a Muslim push toward eastern Europe. He compared their role in eastern Europe to that of the French knights who defeated Arab forces at the Battle of Tours in France in 732. The Khazars succeeded in holding off the Arabs, but a young, expanding Russian state vanquished the Khazar empire in the late 10th century. Medieval Russian epic poems mention Russian warriors fighting the "Jewish Giant." "In many ways, Russia is a successor of the Khazar state," Vasilyev said. He said his dig revealed traces of a large fire that was probably caused by the Russian conquest. He said Itil was rebuilt following the fall of the Khazar empire, when ethnic Khazars were slowly assimilated by Turkic-speaking tribes, Tatars and Mongols, who inhabited the city until it was flooded by the rising Caspian Sea around the 14th century. The study of the Khazar empire was discouraged in the Soviet Union. The dictator Josef Stalin, in particular, detested the idea that a Jewish empire had come before Russia's own. He ordered references to Khazar history removed from textbooks because they "disproved his theory of Russian statehood," Satanovsky said. Only now are Russian scholars free to explore Khazar culture. The Itil excavations have been sponsored by the Russian-Jewish Congress, a nonprofit organization that supports cultural projects in Russia. "Khazar studies are just beginning," Satanovsky said.
The romantic Silk Road, ahhhh. According to the traditional view of chess history, a form of proto-chess was spread by travelers along the Silk Road. Most say it went from India to Persia, and then from Persia to China. China says it went from China to Persia, or perhaps from China directly to India, and then to Persia. Most historians (except the Chinese historians and Joseph Needham) discount this theory. Personally, I think both are wrong :)

Computer, Oh Computer...

Hola darlings! Whew! I've spent the better part of the day doing yardwork and trying to get a file and printer sharing network going between my desktop (which I'm working on now), and my brand new beautiful Toshiba laptop (situated downstairs on the kitchen table for the moment). The yardwork went much better than the fledgling network. I haven't been able to get that going yet, despite trying several different fixes. Drat! It's hot and humid here - 80 degrees today and 62 dewpoint. I ran out of steam about 3:15 after cutting the front lawn, putzing with the computers, cleaning the deck, putzing with the computers, cutting the backyard, putzing with the computers, eating a very late lunch (4 p.m.) and sacking out in the recliner for awhile. I didn't fall asleep but it sure felt good! But then I felt guilty because the lawnmower had run out of gas in the middle of the backyard. Should I finish up the final third of the yard? Nah. I'll do that tomorrow. The rain that was forecast failed to materialize and now it looks like clear skies until Wednesday. So, instead I just put my feet up out on the deck under the umbrella and fed peanuts to the chipmunks and squirrels. It's depressing that it's twilight before 7 p.m., and dark by ten after, but today wasn't so bad because it was sunny; the tail-end of twilight is flickering in the window in the den here and that night hush has fallen. It's stuffy in the house even with the windows open, but it's been dropping into the 50's at night, very comfortable sleeping weather. I love this kind of weather and this time of year, even though the day lilies are dying off and the leaves are already turning on the trees. The squirrels have been doing double time squirreling away the approximate ton of peanuts I've fed them the past couple of weeks - which scares me because I'm thinking it's going to be another long, hard winter and the squirrels know it and we dumb humans don't! Soooo, now I'm trying to figure out what I did wrong in trying to set up file sharing and printer sharing. Thank goddess, the wireless network is working flawlessly. Now, to the next batch of contradictory internet research on how to set up file-sharing...

Friday, September 19, 2008

I Have a Problem with This Story...

From The Times Online.UK September 19, 2008 ‘Ancient’ Christian amulet exposed as modern hoax Simon de Bruxelles A silver cross regarded as one of the most important early Christian artefacts found in Britain is a modern fake, scientists confirmed yesterday. The Chi-Rho Amulet, which bears an early Christian symbol incorporating the first two letters of Christ’s name in Greek, was found in a 4th-century Roman grave near the Somerset town of Shepton Mallet in 1990. Tests carried out by Dr Matthew Ponting, from the University of Liver-pool, revealed that the silver used to make the cross is of 19th-century origin. The test, using inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry (ICP-AES), examined impurities in the metal. It also established that silver used to make the cross and the pierced disc that bears the Chi-Rho inscription comes from two sources. Suspicion is focusing on protesters who opposed construction of a vast drinks warehouse on the site beside the Fosse Way, an Ancient Roman road. The discovery of the amulet 18 years ago caused a sensation in Shepton Mallet. An entertainment complex and a street were named after it and a replica was presented to George Carey (now Lord Carey of Clifton), who wore it at his enthronement as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1991. Marsh, deputy leader of the town council, said: “It’s like the magic has been removed from Shepton Mallet. I’m not sure there’ll be any need to change any names in the town but it’s a shame the myth of the amulet has now burst. “It was part of the town’s claim to fame, though the revelation that it’s a fake won’t come as a surprise to many people. When the amulet was first discovered it was felt it may have been placed there as a joke. But we’re still proud of Shepton and its Roman heritage.” Stephen Minnitt, acting head of the Somerset museum service, said: “Following detailed analysis of the Shepton Mallet amulet Somerset County Council can confirm that the artefact is almost certainly not the rare Christian artefact it was first believed to be. Experts are now 99 per cent certain the amulet is not genuine.” He appealed for the faker to come forward to solve the mystery. “It was deliberately planted. It didn’t get there by accident. There was a lot of local concern over the fact that the site was being destroyed and there was quite a lot of local opposition.” He said the hoaxer would not be punished. “There is no threat to them. They haven’t committed a crime or anything. It would be good to bring the story to a conclusion. We would be delighted if someone came forward and told us why and what happened.” The amulet is believed to have been copied from a genuine but little-known Roman brooch presented to the British Museum in 1954, implying a degree of specialist knowledge. The amulet was found in the grave of a man in one of 16 burial plots in the Roman cemetery. Peter Leach, who led the Birmingham University Field Archaeology Unit that carried out the excavation, said that he did not suspect any of his 40-strong team of planting the amulet. “There is absolutely no question it was anybody to do with the archaeological team,” he said. “I was there when it was found. There was never any doubt about its provenance as it was in a genuine Roman burial.“A local group might have had an agenda to place an object there in the hope that an archaeological find would stop the development.”
This cross was found at a bonafide archaeological dig in 1990. How the heck did it get there? Was it just left behind on the surface one night by a prankster and the next day the diggers showed up and said oh lo and behold, a new artifact? Hmmm..... So perhaps it was buried underground in - as it turns out - a 4th century Roman grave. Coincidence? And why did the people working on excavating this particular grave NOT NOTICE that the dirt had been disturbed? I mean, darlings, don't you think the dirt would have been disturbed if you were intent on burying an object in a grave that wasn't there originally??? How else could it have been done - was it shot into the ground with a gun? (That's a joke). So, you're brushing away on this grave for weeks and weeks (because that's what the "diggers" often use - brushes) and you don't notice any disturbance in the dirt at your dig that suddenly shows up overnight? Hmmm....

Ayatollah Sistani Gets Hacked Off!

Couldn't happen to a nicer guy... tee hee hee. From The Los Angeles Times blog, Babylon and Beyond, September 19, 2008: Babylon & Beyond IRAQ: The ayatollah gets hacked Shiite Muslims who check Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's website,, for advice on everything from chess to sex were in for a shock today. Hackers attacked the site of the spiritual guide to millions of Shiites and slapped a video showing comedian Bill Maher poking fun at Sistani's advice-giving on the home page. A group calling itself Group-XP claimed responsibility, according to a statement on the hacked site, which normally invites visitors to write in with questions on what is permitted under Shiism, and to get advice on how to be a better Muslim. Sistani is Iraq's most revered Shiite religious leader and though he stays mostly out of politics, his words hold immense sway. Iran's Fars News Agency said the hackers had shut down about 300 Shiite websites and were Sunnis based in the United Arab Emirates. It described the attack as the most serious of its kind in years. For several hours, visitors to the Sistani site were greeted with what appeared to be a video of the white-bearded cleric and a statement written in red lettering scrolling down the screen. "Did you think you were alone on the Internet and nobody was capable of hacking your site?" the statement reads. It went on to make fun of Sistani and his sexual pronouncements, referring to him as Sextani and urging people to click on the video. That launched several minutes of Maher joking about the site's advice on what is haram, or forbidden, and what is allowed. Chess is deemed haram, apparently because it requires so much mental concentration that players are distracted from thinking about anything else, including prayer. [Does that mean that Iranian chess players are BAD Muslims? Then why haven't they been arrested and whipped for crimes against Allah?] Backgammon also is not permitted, nor are most forms physical contact between unmarried men and women. Late Friday, the site was off-line altogether, or so it seemed. But the incident generated chatter among Arabic-language websites, and one cyber sleuth wrote that the hack was not successful the world over. The writer said the site had been redirected, not hacked, and that if readers went to and did not use the domain name, it would work. Indeed, it did. There was no reaction from Sistani, who rarely speaks publicly and almost never talks to the media. The last time he met with reporters was last month, when Sistani summoned some journalists to his home to refute reports he was gravely ill. — Tina Susman and Caesar Ahmad in Baghdad
September 20, 2008, Tehran Times: Iran's Grandmaster Ehsan Qaem Maqami beats Ronald Bancod from the Philippines in the fourth Prospero Pichay Cup International Chess Championship. So much for Ayatollah Sistani's advice on chess...

Kosteniuk "Not Just a Chess Kournikova"

By Dylan Loeb McClain at The International Herald Tribune: Dylan Loeb McClain: Chess Published: September 19, 2008 Alexandra Kosteniuk can no longer be called the Anna Kournikova of chess. For years, Kournikova, the tennis player, was more noted for her looks than her accomplishments on the court. Like Kournikova, the 24-year-old Kosteniuk, a Russian grandmaster, has traded on her looks, modeling for magazines like the European editions of Vogue and Marie Claire, and selling bikini-clad images of herself through her Web site. Kosteniuk, however, bristles at comparisons with Kournikova. "I think I've won enough chess competitions not to be compared to her," Kosteniuk said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. Her argument is now beyond doubt. That interview took place barely an hour after she became the 14th women's world champion by winning a tournament in Russia. Kosteniuk's victory was a bit of a surprise. She had not played much since giving birth to a daughter two years ago. "I wanted to have some time," she said. Once she decided to return to tournament play, Kosteniuk found it difficult to regain her competitive form. But, she began working intentively with four grandmasters, and the work paid off. Kosteniuk, who is ranked No. 10 among active women players, played exceptionally well during the championship, beating Pia Cramling of Sweden, No. 6, in the semifinals and Hou Yifan of China, No. 4, in the final. Kosteniuk said Hou will dominate women's competitions in a few years. Hou certainly learned some valuable lessons in her match with Kosteniuk, who had the upper hand in every game. Still, she only managed to win the first, while the other three ended in draws. In that first game, Hou played 8 a3 to avoid the Marshall Attack, which arises after 8 c3 d5. The position was fairly balanced until Hou lashed out with 17 g4, an impetuous move; 17 Ng3 was more circumspect. Kosteniuk immediately took advantage, launching an attack with 17 ... h5. Hou managed to hold on until Kosteniuk broke through, first with 33...Nd3 and then 36 ... Nf3 and 37 ... Bg4. The point was that White could not play 38 Qg4 because of 38 ... Qg4 39 Ng4 d1/Q, while 38 Ng4 would lose to 38 ... Qf3 39 Kf3 d1/Q. Hou resigned after 48 ... fg because she faced certain checkmate.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Praise for Indiana Jones

From Biblical Archaeological Review (you'll love the visual review of various hats worn by real life archaeologists all around the world :) ) BAR 34:05, Sep/Oct 2008 In Praise of Indiana Jones! By Aren M. Maeir I went to see the newest Indiana Jones filma with two of my sons, and, to tell you the truth, I really had a good time! What can I say? Spielberg, Lucas and Ford still have it in them to put together a very enjoyable and stimulating film. And needless to say, as an archaeologist I felt totally at home; this is what archaeology really looks like! I would like to come to the defense of my colleague Jones. In a recent op-ed in The Washington Post (May 25, 2008), Neil Asher Silberman wrote a scathing attack on the message behind the movie. Silberman claimed that Dr. Jones presents a warped image of archaeology, interested only in finding unique artifacts, while at the same time chasing, and being chased by, the bad guys (or gals). According to Silberman, the image of an archaeologist that Dr. Jones portrays is one of a swashbuckling adventurer, whose main tools of the trade are his bullwhip and pistol! Silberman complains that this completely reverses what a true archaeologist is—and does. Rather than running around looking for unique objects, he points out, today’s archaeologists work in the context of a single site, using interdisciplinary teams and sophisticated methods, attempting to understand in a holistic manner what ancient societies are all about. But I beg to differ! First of all, who says that archaeology is not about running around, being chased by Nazis (or Soviets), shot at with poison arrows and saving the world (and not to mention, winning the pretty girl)? Ask anyone who has been on an archaeological dig, and he or she will tell you that is exactly what goes on—day in and day out! What? Multi- and interdisciplinary science? What is that? All I need is my hat and a bag to put the goodies in. And of course, I don’t have to search for the Ark of the Covenant or the Crystal Skull: I’ve already found them! But really, c’mon, let’s get serious. Does Silberman really think that the image of the profession of archaeology, and of archaeologists, in the public’s eye is based solely on Dr. Jones? Of course not! Just like the public’s images of physics and physicists are not based on Dr. Strangelove, the public has the sense to tell the difference between a movie and real life. I don’t think that the public believes that there are crystal skulls connected to alien beings—just because they were mentioned in the recent movie. Of course archaeology is a multifaceted, interdisciplinary science. In fact, it is even more so than Silberman knows. We, the archaeologists out in the field, do not learn our methods from Dr. Jones, nor does the public really think that he represents what we do. Rather, I see a much more important contribution in the acts, deeds and endeavors of Dr. Jones. This is bringing the very term—archaeology—to the public’s awareness and, in particular, to children and youth. Dr. Jones has, over the past few decades, done a tremendous service to archaeology and archaeologists all over the world. He has ticked the public’s interest in our profession. In a world where concentration spans are so short, and where public interest, even fleeting, can make or break the funding of important scientific work, he has done more than most archaeologists I know of to kindle an initial interest, and even fascination, in what we do and why we do it. Dr. Jones, to a large extent, serves as our most important ambassador to the public—one whose work must be followed by real archaeologists who can explain their work and their reasoning to the educated lay public. Dr. Jones is our wake-up call to the fact that we, as responsible and morally committed archaeologists, must turn more of our attention, and our explaining, to the lay public—not only to our academic colleagues. If we want to make a dent in the public’s understanding of the past—and the importance of preserving and studying it—we must find multiple channels in which to communicate this to the public. And this is why, in my opinion, there is no doubt at all that Dr. Jones deserves tenure at “Marshall College”—even if his list of peer-reviewed publications is not that long. And now, if you will excuse me, I have to go get my hat and chase off some bad guys ...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Russian Markets in Free Fall

Russian Exchanges Remain Closed a Second Day September 18, 2008 The New York Times MOSCOW — The Russian government will inject up to $20 billion into domestic stocks in an effort to halt the free fall of the Russian stock markets, President Dmitri A. Medvedev said Thursday, in the most direct effort yet to use oil profits to ease a deepening stock market crisis here. The two main Russian stock exchanges remained closed Thursday after authorities halted trading Wednesday afternoon. By that time, they had each lost about 57 percent since their peaks in May — the steepest fall of any major stock market since the current financial crisis erupted from Wall Street. In addition to fallout from turmoil in New York and declining oil prices, the Russian market has been weakened by poor corporate governance standards here and investor concerns about a breach in relations with the West after the war in Georgia. But unlike the American financial institutions that were bought up or declared bankruptcy this week, Russia has plenty of capital. The question is whether injecting some of it into the stock market will be enough to restore investor confidence — or whether it will be perceived as a sign of official desperation and perhaps even reason to flee Russian securities. Authorities used the market holiday to unveil measures intended to restore confidence in what had been until this year one of the world’s best-performing emerging markets. Under the plan, the government will directly invest 250 billion rubles, or about $10 billion, in domestic stocks in an effort to raise prices, Aleksei L. Kudrin, the finance minister said, according to Interfax. If that is not enough to stave off a market collapse, the government will amend the budget to free up another 250 billion rubles for investment. Eventually, he said, the government will seek to resell the shares for a profit if markets rise. Until then, Russian taxpayers will effectively hold them. The plan mimicked an effort by the government of Hong Kong to invest directly in the local stock exchange during the so-called Asian contagion of the late 1990s, when many Asian markets plunged more than 60 percent. In that case, the Hong Kong government later bundled its investments into a fund that made a profit as the market rebounded. The Russian government also announced lower oil export tariffs than had been expected, a move that should increase investor interest in energy companies. The tariff will be lowered on Oct. 1 to $50.70 a barrel, as opposed to the $66.20 a barrel that was expected. The government had set oil tariffs based on average prices in previous months. Under the adjustment, the government used only the sharply reduced oil prices of the first weeks of September to calculate the tariff, according to an investor note from Citibank. Also on Thursday, three Russian banks that had been given access to $44 billion in government money said the capital would be made available to other banks and brokerage companies investing in the stock exchanges. The measures underlined an assessment offered by the International Monetary Fund that the Russian economy has “buffers” that should prevent a repeat of the 1998 financial crisis here. “Over all, the macroeconomic situation remains strong and the country will maintain a current-account surplus even with lower oil prices,” a fund spokesman, David Hawley, told a news conference in Washington. In one positive sign, some Russian company shares that are traded as global depository receipts in London and New York rose on Thursday. Mr. Kudrin, the finance minister, said markets would reopen Friday morning.
They think this is going to work, heh, closing the markets down for a day and a half? Bwwwwaaaaahhhhh!!!!

Four Babies Now Dead from Melamine Poisoning

Four babies are now dead in China due to consuming melamine poisoned milk, and thousands more are hospitalized - and the response of the Chinese government is to fire a mayor? Gee, that must really make the Chinese citizens feel secure and confident in their government's ability to police the food supply and punish criminals. Mayor in China Fired in Milk Scandal By EDWARD WONG September 19, 2008 (The New York Times) BEIJING — China’s adulterated milk scandal continued to widen Thursday, as authorities arrested a dozen people, fired a senior government official and acknowledged that a wider range of milk products showed traces of a chemical used to disguise its poor quality. Officials said a fourth infant had died from tainted baby formula, while health regulators in neighboring Hong Kong announced a broader recall of mainland Chinese-made milk, yogurt and ice cream contaminated with the chemical melamine. Tainted milk is the latest in a long string of food and drug safety problems that have caused consumers in China and in the country’s major export markets to worry about the quality of some Chinese goods. Shoddy infant formula was at the center of another scandal in 2004 that prompted a crackdown on rogue suppliers. But the new safety problems are much more widespread, involving at least 22 dairy companies and contaminated milk products that have appeared nationwide. China Central Television, the main government network, reported Thursday night that melamine had been found in some liquid milk from three major brands. The authorities also announced that Ji Chuntang, the mayor of Shijiazhuang, a city whose officials have been accused of failing to deal with reports of tainted formula, had been dismissed. He was the most senior official to be punished so far. Sanlu Group, one of China’s largest dairy companies and the first company that was found to be selling contaminated formula, has its headquarters in Shijiazhuang, which is in the northern province of Hebei. Investigators have discovered traces of melamine, an industrial chemical, in batches of powdered baby formula made by the 22 dairy companies, all of which have said they were recalling their milk products. Producers trying to cut costs often dilute milk with water, which lowers the nutritional content. But the addition of melamine, which is high in nitrogen, helps the milk appear to meet nutrition standards by artificially raising its protein count. Mr. Ji was dismissed in the investigation of what appeared to be a chain of neglect and a cover-up that began with Sanlu. Sanlu received complaints months ago about suspected problems in the formula, but the company waited until Aug. 2 to tell the Shijiazhuang city government, Hebei’s deputy governor said Wednesday. City officials waited until Sept. 9 to tell provincial officials, who did not inform the central government until the next day. Sanlu finally recalled 700 tons of the formula on Sept. 11. Mr. Ji’s firing indicated that the political consequences of the scandal could increase as more information emerges on the role played by officials and as the death toll climbs. Four city officials were fired before Mr. Ji’s dismissal. The general manager of Sanlu, Tian Wenhua, has also been fired and was detained by the police. The police in Hebei Province have arrested 18 people, including six who sold melamine to milk producers, the official news agency Xinhua reported. The others were milk producers who added melamine to their products and then sold the milk to dairy companies. On Thursday, Hong Kong ordered the recall of the dairy products of Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group after tests found melamine in 8 of the company’s 30 products. The police are seeking a milk seller named Xue Jianzhong, who is accused of adding melamine to his milk. Mr. Xue was put on a wanted list late Wednesday, Xinhua reported. United States Food and Drug Administration officials said they had been reassured by manufacturers of infant formula for the American market that they did not import products or ingredients from China. An F.D.A. official said the agency was also inspecting bulk shipments from Asia to examine milk-derived ingredients, like milk protein concentrate and whey powder, in order to determine if they were contaminated with melamine. So far all the samples have shown no contamination. Andrew Martin contributed reporting from New York. Huang Yuanxi contributed research.

Ringing Endorsement for "The Eight"

Marcus Brewster proposed the top 10 best pre-"DaVinci Code" type books of all time - he calls them "millenial thrillers." The top ranked book is Katherine Neville's "The Eight." Marcus Brewster 18 September 2008 04:11 (1) Katherine Neville "The Eight". Long before there was Dan Brown, a female writer Katherine Neville penned a spirited debut novel, "The Eight". Published in 1988, Eight is a quest for the legendary Montglane chess service and the earth-shattering secret it reveals when all the pieces are assembled on the board. Eight's spirit is closer to "Romancing the Stone" in that it has a female protagonist, an unusual conceit even pre the boom in airport reads which are traditionally testosterone fuelled. Whereas many millennial thrillers have a historical prologue as a scene set for the modern quest, much of Eight is set in the last few centuries as Neville describes how the greatest minds of preceding generations were tantalized by the mystery of the Montglane set and sought it for themselves. Neville's cunningness brings to life everyone from Catherine the Great to Napoleon, from Jacques-Louis David to Wordsworth and makes you wonder if their contribution to history hasn't been mis-stated. Endlessly diverting and full of charm, Eight is the gold standard against which all others should be measured.

Local Libraries: Bastions of Chess Activity

It's become very apparent since I've started publishing local chess announcements at this blog that libraries are chess magnets. Most of the announcements I publish here feature free chess clubs and chess events hosted at local libraries. (Photo by Laura Archazki-Pacter: Homeschool student Hannah Smith contemplates her next move during a free chess program at the Golden Gate Children’s Library. Designed especially for children, the program will be held from 3-4 p.m., Sept. 25 and Oct. 2 and is open to the public. The brand new library offers an expanded childrens section with a variety of programs.) Here is an article about one such program: From the Collier Citizen (Florida) Learning chess is no ‘checkmate’ at library By LAURA ARCHAZKI-PACTER 4:20 p.m., Wednesday, September 17, 2008 Kings, queens, bishops and knights will command youthful attention during special chess classes at the new Golden Gate Library. A first for the community, the free chess classes and competitions will take place from 3-4 p.m., Thursdays, Sept. 25 and Oct. 2, as the library provides youngsters a chance to learn and participate in this strategic game. Children’s Librarian Kathy Hemmat chiseled chess into the library’s free program schedule, complete with a volunteer chess coach to oversee activities for children ages seven and older. “In the age of television and Internet, it’s good for children to be here to play chess,” she explains. “Parents have looked all over Naples and tell me it’s hard to find places to play chess, so we’re providing the place to play. It’s something they can do together.” Hemmat credits local homeschool mom Gena Smith with bringing the chess program to Golden Gate. Smith wanted a place for her children, Carly, 13; Hannah, 10; Carter, 8 and Michael 5, to practice and play chess together, but she hit a roadblock when local parks charged fees for room use. Smith’s chess pieces fell into place at the Golden Gate Library, when Hemmat agreed to offer room in the Children’s Library. Why chess? Smith says she was pleased when Hannah expressed an interest in learning the game because chess provides an excellent work-out for critical thinking skills. “When you make a mistake, you learn from it, and you can try something different next time,” she says. Jonathan Corbblah agrees. He’s taught more than 8,000 students to play chess over the years. As a senior instructor, and Candidate Master, in the game, Corbblah has played since he was six years old. For him, chess is not just a game, but his career. Corbblah was a lead chess instructor at the Community School of Naples this summer and he travels throughout the United States with USA Chess Camps to introduce parents and children to the basics of the game. “I do think chess has a great deal of benefits,” he says. “Chess improves spatial reasoning and logic. It trains you for learning. The way that chess players get better is by analysis of mistakes. They emulate what excellent players do, and study things players have done in the past.” To Corbblah, chess means more than improved thought processes, though. “Really, by far, it helps self esteem, and there’s a positive stigma with chess. It’s a natural sort of feelgood game. Hopefully, that success will continue into math, humanities, and science, with the same confidence to accomplish anything. Chess also teaches kids to learn how to win and lose gracefully,” he said. For more information on the chess camp, go online to

Alexandra Kosteniuk at Rightfielders, Oh My...

I'd never heard of this website but when I was doing a chess news search tonight, up popped this website. Oh my. Well, it IS news and it IS introducing chess and, in particular, female chessplayers, to a whole different kind of audience than normally follows the game. The biographical information presented at the website is accurate and correctly pointed out that Kosteniuk is the first ethnic Russian to win the WWCC title since Elizaveta Bykova.

Did a Shortage of Women Cause the Viking Age?

Viking Age Triggered by Shortage of Wives? Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News Sept. 17, 2008 -- During the Viking Age from the late eighth to the mid-eleventh centuries, Scandinavians tore across Europe attacking, robbing and terrorizing locals. According to a new study, the young warriors were driven to seek their fortunes to better their chances of finding wives. The odd twist to the story, said researcher James Barrett, is that it was the selective killing of female newborns that led to a shortage of Scandinavian women in the first place, resulting later in intense competition over eligible women. "Selective female infanticide was recorded as part of pagan Scandinavian practice in later medieval sources, such as the Icelandic sagas," Barrett, who is deputy director of Cambridge University's McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, told Discovery News. Although it's believed many cultures throughout world history have practiced female infanticide, said Barrett, he admits that "it is difficult to identify in the archaeological record," so the claim "must remain a hypothesis." To strengthen the argument, however, Barrett has reviewed and dismissed several other proposed causes for the Viking Age. Improved seafaring technologies are often cited as the trigger, but he points out that an earlier migration from Scandinavia to Britain took place in the fifth and sixth centuries. "Thus the development of the Viking ship cannot have been a cause of movements of this kind," he said. "Ships capable of carrying warriors over long distances are a necessary pre-requisite for the Viking Age, but clearly they did not cause it." What's more, he points out, the sailing time from Norway to Ireland is quite short -- perhaps a week using vessels of the time -- so the Vikings were probably capable of raiding Ireland well before the official start of their reign of terror. The study is published in the current issue of Antiquity. Barrett also dismisses other proposed causes of the Viking Age, such as climate change, overpopulation in Scandinavia, economic woes and more. An intriguing archaeological clue is that much of the bounty plundered from Britain -- particularly from monasteries -- wound up later in the graves of Viking wives. The items included precious metals, fine cloth, jewelry and other handicrafts. Barrett's analysis of Nordic historical records found that Scandinavian men often served as warriors, frequently forming "military brotherhoods," until they were able to marry and establish their own households, which were key to prestige and power. According to Barrett, honor and religious fatalism -- the idea that the time and manner of death is predestined -- also fueled the Vikings, helping explain why men were willing to risk death in violent battles and risky seafaring. The Viking religion held that "the cosmos began in the frozen emptiness...and will end in fire with the last battle," said Barrett. Despite the infanticide, he still believes the Vikings "highly valued" women. Aside from lavishing bridal prospects with plundered goods, they held solemn burials at sea for women. In fact, one of the most important known Viking Age burials, involved numerous goods and two female skeletons encased in a ship called the Oseberg. Soren Sindbaek, assistant professor of medieval and Renaissance archaeology at Denmark's University of Aarhus, told Discovery News that the new paper "is very right in pointing out the inadequacy" of former explanations for the Viking Age. "We need indeed to seek for an individual, social motivation behind the fact that a large number of young men chose to set out on extremely risky voyages in hopes of acquiring wealth and esteem in foreign lands," Sindbaek said. "Barrett points to the wish of disadvantaged young men to acquire resources necessary to set up a family as crucial," he added. "This is the 'marriage imperative,' which I think Barrett succeeds in substantiating within the limitations of the evidence." Barrett suggested additional studies on the Vikings since would help "to understand how small-scale societies -- and issues of a very human scale -- can have a large impact on world history, positive and/or negative."
Female infanticide is practiced in India and China (I've posted about that here before) because of a cultural bias for males. In India, although the practice has been outlawed by the national government, female fetuses are identified through walk-up ultrasound vendors and aborted. In China, ultrasound has caught on among the emerging middle class, but China is still mostly rural and in the rural areas they don't have ultrasound vendors and even if they did, the rural poor can't afford it. If a female child is born and is unwanted its neck is broken at birth by the midwife or the child is left outside away from the village to die of exposure and be scavenged by wild animals and carrion eating birds. The "lucky" ones are given over to state orphanages where they languish from lack of care and often die before they are two. The imbalance between the ratio of males to females has become acute in both countries. Government policies to "encourage" couples to produce and nurture female infants have not been able to remedy the imbalance. What happens to a society when there aren't enough females for men looking for mates?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fed to Rescue AIG with $85 BILLION

Well, this is very interesting. What amounts to the Government of the United States of America (that is, all U.S. taxpayers) is purchasing an $85 billion stake in AIG, the world's largest insurer, in hopes of rescuing it from going into bankruptcy. Hey - where are my shares??? Story exerpted from The New York Times September 16, 2008 Fed’s $85 Billion Loan Rescues Insurer U.S. to Get a Stake in the Troubled Giant A.I.G. By EDMUND L. ANDREWS, MICHAEL J. de la MERCED and MARY WILLIAMS WALSH WASHINGTON — Fearing a financial crisis worldwide, the Federal Reserve reversed course on Tuesday and agreed to an $85 billion bailout that would give the government control of the troubled insurance giant American International Group. The decision, only two weeks after the Treasury took over the federally chartered mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, is the most radical intervention in private business in the central bank’s history. With time running out after A.I.G. failed to get a bank loan to avoid bankruptcy, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and the Fed chairman Ben S. Bernanke convened a meeting with House and Senate leaders on Capitol Hill about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday to explain the rescue plan. They emerged just after 7:30 p.m. with Mr. Paulson and Mr. Bernanke looking grim, but with top lawmakers generally expressing support for the plan. But the bailout is likely to prove controversial, because it effectively puts taxpayer money at risk while protecting bad investments made by A.I.G. and other institutions it does business with. What frightened Fed and Treasury officials was not simply the prospect of another giant corporate bankruptcy, but A.I.G.’s role as an enormous provider of financial insurance to investors who bought complex debt securities. That effectively required A.I.G. to cover losses suffered by the buyers in the event the securities defaulted. It meant A.I.G. was potentially on the hook for billions of dollars worth of risky securities that were once considered safe. If A.I.G. had collapsed — and been unable to pay all of its insurance claims — institutional investors around the world would have been instantly forced to reappraise the value of those securities, which in turn would have reduced their own capital and the value of their own debt. “It would have been a chain reaction,” said Uwe Reinhardt, a professor of economics at Princeton University. “The spillover effects could have been incredible.” Financial markets, which on Monday had plunged over worries about A.I.G.’s possible collapse, reacted with relief to the news of the bailout. In anticipation of a deal, stocks rose about 1 percent in the United States on Tuesday and were up about 2 percent in early trading in Asian markets Wednesday morning. [HERE'S THE RUB - WHO LEAKED THE NEWS OF A POSSIBLE BAILOUT AND WHEN??? Reading this report tonight at the New York Times was the first I heard about it, long long after markets closed to trading by regular small fry like me.]

2008 Women's World Chess Championship

I did a Google news search tonight under Hou Yifan's name to see if any English-translated newspapers are picking up on her battle for the WWCC in Nalchik (where?) - and didn't find a damn thing! Chessbase reports, The Hindu reports, The Daily News and Analysis (India) reports, even USCF reports - but nothing in Xinhua showed up. See the Game 3 report from Chessbase on the final between Hou (white) and Kosteniuk (black) that took place earlier today: Nalchik Final: Kosteniuk leads 2:1, needs just a draw17.09.2008 – The third game of the Women's World Championship Final was a tough, 72-move draw. That left Russian GM Alexandra Kosteniuk in the lead with 2:1 points. On Wednesday the 14-year-old Chinese has to win with black in the last game to force a tiebreak. Kosteniuk can pick up the title with a draw. The game starts at 15:00h local time (GMT +3). You can watch it on the Playchess server. Photo: Final, Kosteniuk behind the black pieces on move 12.

A Great Experience for a Paralympian Chess Player

The translation is a bit ragged in places, but the experience is very real. Indonesian Paralympian wowed the grand Game Xinhua Updated: 2008-09-16 14:12 JAKARTA -- Dati Sosiawan Putra of Indonesia, who just returned from the Beijing Paralympic Games, said that he really could not imagine how the government of China has made a wonderful success of world events, Beijing 2008 Olympics and Paralympics. Sosiawan is a disabled-seeing Indonesian athlete, namely chess-board games. Born in Bandung, 120 kilometres from the capital city of Jakarta, he has just returned from Beijing after representing the national Paralympic Committee of Indonesian (NPC) and traveling together the whole contingent of Indonesian. "Although three Indonesian Paralympian failed to earn medals, but our participation in Beijing would attribute to bilateral relationship and friendhsip between Indonesian and Chinese sports committee, particularly Paralympic," he told Xinhua during a recent interview in Jakarta. He persistently praised China with not only the success of organizing the sport events, Olympics and Paralympics but the booming economy and the generous feeling of the people. "Wherever we went to some tourist destinations in China, I felt a kind of generous feeling of Chinese people," he said. Sosiawan said that after the games, the whole Indonesian contingent spare time for sight-seeing. They went to see historial ancient mosque in Beijing, and also visited the Great Wall. Wherever he went, his assistant led him due to seeing disability condition. His assistant, wearing Moslem veil led him patiently by grasping his hand. Sosiawan is extrovert. He told Xinhua that he had suffered seeing disability since he was five years old. "I was bornt in 1966. I started to feel something different with my sight-seeing in 1971. Since that, I struggled to keep survive, and started to play chess-board. I guess, my achievement is not too bad, by earning silver medal in Thailand 2007. And I am looking forward to Malaysia 2009 for gold medal during the Fespic Games X," he said with optimism. He felt the Chinese people's support for Beijing 2008 was really extraordinary. "The people were willing to stay tuned to the games and supported their athletes with enthusiasm. But they still regard foreign Paralympians with full respect and warm welcome," he said. "Volunteers also respected all foreign athletes. They refused any generous tipping, yet it had become habitual in most countries throughout the world," he said.

Monday, September 15, 2008

What Women Want

Both Sides Seeking to Be What Women Want By KATE ZERNIKE Published: September 14, 2008 What Women Want By Julia Baird NEWSWEEK Published Sep 13, 2008 From the magazine issue dated Sep 22, 2008 It's big news - the politicians are trying to figure out what I - a real, live, flesh and blood 57 year old woman - wants! Ha! Why don't they just ASK ME. BUT I NEVER get a telephone call from a political pollster (and yes, I do vote). Just who the hell are they talking to? Are they just pretending they're talking to REAL women, and making it all up? This question is not rocket science. All they have to do is ask more than a "cross-section" of 100 women what they want, and they'll get the right answers - provided they actually do read them and accurately compile the information. Geez! ECONOMIC SECURITY We want our Social Security. We've worked for it all our lives - we've earned it. We want to get equal pay for equal work. We still haven't achieved that and, in fact, many of us are falling farther and farther behind because our annual wage increases are less than the rate of inflation. HEALTH CARE We don't want to go bankrupt caring for a sick child or elderly parent. We ALSO don't want the minimum care that Medicaid provides, particularly for our elderly parents, in sub-standard under-staffed nursing homes, over-crowded, smelly, with undertrained, uncaring, minimum wage staff. The government can do better for us - and for our most fragile citizens. We want the companies that promised our husbands health care when they took retirement to own up to their promises and not be able to weasle out of their commitments by filing bankruptcy. PERSONAL RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS We want the government to stay out of our bedrooms and medicine cabinets. If we get a prescription for birth control pills, no one should have the right to deny us the right to purchase our prescription. We believe in personal choice with regard to abortion, even if we wouldn't choose abortion for ourselves. That decsion should be between us and our doctors only and private. Keep your noses out of our churchs and our charities. INTERNATIONAL POLICIES We want illegal aliens caught, arrested, and shipped back across the border, no matter what. Solve the problem, whatever it takes. Bring our troops home. If we have to fight a "war against terror" they can do it better by protecting us here. Institute really fair trade policies. We're sick of seeing our brothers, nephews, husbands and sons lose their jobs because of unfair international competition. Stop raping the Earth. Our children and grandchildren will need clean air and water to live, and food from the oceans and the land to eat. This is what this woman wants. Not amazing to me, this is pretty much what every woman I've talked to where I work discussing these topics wants, too. They are all ages and races, some married, some divorced, some never married, some widowed, some mothers, some without children. Some are college-educated, some are not. I work in a law firm. I've talked to attorneys, mail room clerks, secretaries, messengers, paralegals, billing clerks, Trust accountants, and kitchen attendants. I don't know - or care - what political party any of these women belong to or identify with, if any. I know what concerns unite us. When you peel down the layers of the onion and get past the 60-second sound bite crap, what I've written above is what these women want. I live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, middle-town USA. Politicians, are you really listening to US?

The Secret to a Long Life...

Ah yes, the power of el vino... Chianti: Secret to Long Life, Says Ancient Recipe Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News Sept. 15, 2008 -- The elixir of life may be a concoction of honey, cherries and secret herbs infused in a full Chianti wine, according to a centuries-old recipe discovered in one of Italy's oldest pharmacies. The 18th century-old recipe was discovered in an old manuscript found among the shelves of a pharmacy in Asciano near Sienna dating back to 1715. "My ancestors left several manuscripts with formulas for digestive drinks, but this one struck me because of its ingredients. I knew it had strong scientific basis," said pharmacist Giovanni De Munari, who found the old recipe from behind a small shelf in his Tuscany pharmacy. Upon finding the recipe, De Munari brewed the beverage, and came up with a "low-calorie, highly digestive alcoholic infusion which tasted delicious." The main ingredient in the elixir is the Sangiovese grape, which is the soul of Chianti wine. Until the middle of the 19th century, Chianti was based uniquely on Sangiovese grapes. Around 1850, Baron Bettino Ricasoli codified the Chianti formula and called for as much as 15 percent white grapes like malvasia. "In our recipe, we only have Sangiovese grapes. This is much more like the famous Brunello variety which grows in this area," De Munari said. The elixir's formula echoes recent scientific studies that credit resveratrol, a compound which is found in the skins of red grapes, with helping to prevent heart disease and other age-related illnesses. "Researchers are currently investigating whether resveratrol acts like a longevity molecule that mimics the effects of a calorie-restricted diet," De Munari said. "My ancestors may not have known the names of the chemicals, but they knew that red wine, and Chianti in particular, had therapeutic properties." The other ingredients in the infusion are regional natural products, and all have antiseptic and antibacteric properties, according to the pharmacist. "They combine with resveratrol to achieve such a convincing result. We are so impressed that we are now working with a distillery in northern Italy to make the elixir on a commercial scale," De Munari said. The elixir will be presented to the scientific community at the "Wine and Health" congress in Montalcino next month. However, not all the ingredients will be revealed. "It's a secret formula, like Coca Cola's recipe. Indeed, pharmacists can create great drinks," De Munari said.

Antiquities Smuggling

Antiquities smuggling: Growing problem at US ports By TAMARA LUSH, Associated Press Writer Sun Sep 14, 2:55 PM ET MIAMI - Three years ago, an elderly Italian man pulled his van into a South Florida park to sell some rare, 2,500-year-old emeralds plundered from a South American tomb. But Ugo Bagnato, an archaeologist, didn't know his potential customer was a federal agent. Bagnato flashed the green gems, which were as large as dominoes, and explained to the immigration and customs agent that he had bribed South American authorities and used fake paperwork to smuggle the highly illegal goods into the United States. Authorities discovered Bagnato had a cache of more than 400 artifacts from Peru and Colombia, all predating Columbus' arrival in the Americas: burial shrouds, jewelry, terra cotta pots and other treasures were wedged in boxes in his van and kept in a storage unit. Bagnato was arrested, charged with the sale and receipt of stolen goods, and in 2006, pleaded guilty. He was later deported. It was one of the largest antiquities smuggling cases ever prosecuted in the U.S., but federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement authorities say smuggling of rare artifacts from around the globe into the United States is on the rise — up from 63 cases in fiscal year 2006 to 134 this fiscal year, which ends in two weeks. Such looting robs countries not only of treasures, but of their heritage — and archaeologists say it also destroys valuable research opportunities. "A nation's culture is not for sale. These are not souvenirs to be displayed at someone's house," said Anthony Mangione, a special agent in charge of the Miami office of the agency also known as ICE. But that's exactly what's happening, as artifacts from around the world are surreptitiously carried into the United States and sold by dealers, on eBay or, in the case of Ugo Bagnato, out of the back of a van. There are several recent cases: • On Monday, federal authorities will repatriate some 1,000 items, including a rare temple marker worth $100,000, to Iraq. On June 7, 2001, ICE agents in New York received information from the Art Loss Register that a Sumerian Foundation Cone, buried under a Babylonian temple, was being sold by auction at Christie's New York. ICE New York agents seized the artifact from Christie's and discovered that it, and several other items in the U.S., had been stolen from the Baghdad Museum and other locations at the end of the first Gulf War. • In May, four tons of fossils from Argentina — including 200-million-year-old dinosaur eggs, egg shell fragments, petrified pine cones and fossilized prehistoric crabs — were seized by federal agents in Tucson, Ariz. Authorities said a corporation based in Argentina had brought the fossils into the country. No arrests have been made, but the fossils were repatriated. • In February, an Army pilot was arrested and charged with stealing 370 pre-dynastic artifacts from the Ma'adi Museum near Cairo, Egypt, and selling them to an art dealer in Texas for $20,000. The artifacts, dating to 3000 B.C. and earlier, were originally discovered during excavations in Egypt in the 1920s and 1930s. The pilot, Edward George Johnson, pleaded guilty in June and is awaiting sentencing. "This whole market is driven by the demand for all kinds of antiquities, and the demand is constantly increasing," explained Robert Sharer, curator of the Americas section of the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia. Adding to the problem, too often people who live in poor areas of Latin America, the Middle East and Africa are willing to loot ancient graves for cash. "A lot of pieces are disappearing," said Edouard Planche, an assistant program specialist for UNESCO in France. "And these poorer countries have less capacity to control the illegal smuggling." Many of the smuggled goods are intercepted at U.S. airports and cargo ports. Sometimes Customs and Border Protection agents find antiquities in suitcases. At other times, agents will get tips about smuggled items from confidential informants or by trolling sites such as eBay. If agents are suspicious, they call academic experts for help. Carol Damian, interim director of the Frost Art Museum at Florida International University in Miami, said she's gotten a steady stream of calls in recent years to examine Pre-Colombian artifacts smuggled into South Florida. Sometimes the goods are fake, but occasionally, the rare treasures are breathtaking. Once in the late 1990s, she was called to assess 15 crates smuggled from Peru — and they contained mummies, shrunken heads and gold. "It's the past, it's exotic, it's mysterious," said Damian. The cases can be difficult to prosecute. Federal officials say it's sometimes hard to prove a person or company knew they were smuggling illegal items. "It's very difficult to prove criminal intent," said Joseph Cangro, a cultural artifact expert at ICE. Museums and galleries, meanwhile, are trying to slow the tide of cultural artifacts entering the United States. This summer, the American Association of Museums released guidelines that said institutions should make ownership history records publicly available for all ancient art and archaeological artifacts in their collections and rigorously research new acquisitions. Similar guidelines were published earlier by the Association of Art Museum Directors. Museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, have agreed in recent years to return artifacts to Italy that its government says were looted or stolen. "Each piece represents a building or a site or a tomb and the complete destruction of it and all the information it could have given us," said Karen Olsen Bruhns, a professor emeritus in anthropology at San Francisco State University. "It's gone forever."

Koneru Out of 2008 Women's World Chess Championship: The Aftermath

From Humpy Dumpty had a big fall… Rajesh Pansare Monday, September 15, 2008 04:16 IST MUMBAI: During an interview last year, Grand Master Koneru Humpy tipped Chinese sensation Yifan Hou to match the heights reached by Judith Polgar, the first women’s Grand Master and the highest-rated women’s player. At the Women’s World Championship in Nalchik, Russia, we came to know why Humpy spoke so highly of the 14-year-old Hou. The Chinese denied the top-rated Indian player a place in the final. Humpy has never won the World championship and this time it was Hou who came in the way. Humpy is the best thing going around in women’s chess. She has an ELO rating of 2,622 but Hou is not a walkover. Hou has the fourth-best rating among women (2,557). But what titled the game in favour of the Chinese? Experts believe Humpy has the tendency to choke under pressure, especially when she is a favourite at a tournament. Grand Master Abhijit Kunte said, “Humpy puts a lot of pressure on herself to win the World championship and though she won the early rounds with ease, she buckled under pressure against her Chinese opponent in the first game. Though she won the second game, she never played her normal game from there on.” After being knocked out in 2004 in the semis and 2006 in the second round, Humpy had trained all her energies towards clinching the World title, the only trophy missing from her cabinet. But like in the previous editions, she failed to deliver. She even withdrew her name from the Indian squad to take part in the Olympiad, to can concentrate on this event. And though, she had achieved her peak rating in July this year, she was not in the best of form going in this tournament. Dronacharya awardee and chess coach Raghunandan Gokhale has an interesting take. “Humpy likes to take part in the men’s tournament because she is an underdog with no pressure on herself. But that’s not the case in the women’s tournament, where everyone expects her to win. Being the highest rated women’s player automatically puts a lot of pressure on her. As a result she doesn’t perform to the best of her ability.” Humpy’s loss means India were denied the distinction of having reigning champions in all the major categories. She could have joined the list of other champions like men’s world champion in Viswanathan Anand, men’s world junior champion in Abhijeet Gupta and the women’s U-20 champion in Dronavalli Harika. So how can Humpy crack the code? “Maybe change her coach,” Gokhale felt. “She has been coached by her father (Koneru Ashok) for a long time, who is a good coach, but if she has to improve her game further, she has to train with a foreign coach, maybe a Russian. She has to change her outlook towards the game.” But Abhijit Kunte has a complete different take on Humpy’s game. “She is a pretty strong player and will bounce back from this loss. It’s just a one-off game. She doesn’t have to make any drastic change. She just has to be mentally more strong,” Kunte said.

Kosteniuk - American Resident

Chess By Lubomir Kavalek Special to The Washington Post Monday, September 15, 2008; Page C10 Florida attracts not only hurricanes. Many excellent foreign tennis players found a second home there, and chess players were not far behind. The Russian grandmaster Alexandra Kosteniuk also lives in the Sunshine State. Last week, she made it to the final of the FIDE Women's World Championship in Nalchik, Russia. Her decisive quaterfinal victory against Ukraine's Anna Ushenina came in a Nimzo-Indian variation that debuted in a world championship match in 1993 in London. By slightly tweaking the move order, Kosteniuk created a perfect storm. Ushenina-Kosteniuk 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 d5 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bg5 c5 7.dxc5 h6 8.Bh4 g5 9.Bg3 Ne4! 10.e3 Qa5! (I found this precise move order when I was preparing Nigel Short for his world championship match against Garry Kasparov in 1993. It improves on 10...Nc6 11.Nf3 Qa5 12.Nd2! Nxc3 13.bxc3 Bxc3 14.Rb1 Qxc5 15.Rb5 Qa3 16.Rb3 Bxd2+ 17.Qxd2 Qa5 played in the game Spassky-Fischer, Belgrade 1992.) 11.Be5 (The bishop move was also Kasparov's first reaction against Short. After he had time to analyze it, he came up with 11.Nge2.) 11...0-0 12.Bd3 Nc6 13.Bxe4 Nxe5! 14.Bh7+ ?! (A suspect move. After 14.Bxd5 Bg4! the game Kasparov-Short, London 1993, went 15.Nf3 Bxf3 16.Bxf3 Nxf3+ 17.gxf3 Rac8 18.0-0 and draw was agreed. As later games confirmed, black is already better after 18...Rxc5. Instead of 15.Nf3, grabbing the pawn 15.Bxb7 led to a disaster in the game Carlhammar-Kosten, Villeurbanne 2003, after 15...Rad8 16.Be4 Nc4 17.Rc1 Nxb2 18.f3 Nc4 19.Nge2 Nxe3 20.Qb1 Be6 21.Kf2 f5 and white resigned.) 14...Kg7 15.Bd3 b6! (Kosteniuk finds an improvement to 15...d4 16.exd4 Nxd3+ 17.Qxd3 Re8+ 18.Nge2 b6 when white can try to escape with 19.0-0-0.) 16.cxb6? (Loses by force. After 16.0-0-0 Bxc3 17.Qxc3 Qxc3+ 18.bxc3 Nxd3+ 19.Rxd3 Bf5 20.Rd2 [On 20.Rxd5 Be4 wins.] 20...bxc5 black has the edge.) 1 6...d4! 17.exd4 Nxd3+ 18.Qxd3 Re8+ 19.Kd1 (After 19.Nge2 Ba6 wins.) 19...Bf5 20.Qd2 (20.Qf3 only transposes to the game after 20...Bxc3 21.Qxc3, since 21.bxc3? allows 21...Qa4+ 22.Kd2 Qc2 mate.) 20...Bxc3 21.Qxc3 Qxb6 (21...Qa6! 22.Kd2 Rac8 23.Qb3 Qa5+ also wins.) 22.Ne2 Rac8 23.Qa3 Rc2 (Almost everything wins here, for example 23...Qc6 24.Rc1 Qe4!; or 23...Rc4 24.h3 Rxd4+ 25.Ke1 Rxe2+! 26.Kxe2 Qb5+ 27.Ke1 Re4+.) 24.Re1 Rd8 (24...Rc4 is also good.) 25.Qe3 Qxb2 26.Rc1 Re8 (27.Qxe8 allows 27...Rd2 epaulet mate.) White resigned.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

This and That

A new Random Round-up is running at Goddesschess - from Mehen to particle accelerators, it's spooky physics all around. Located in the right-hand column down below Axis Mundae. I don't remember if I told you - my August/September column is now up and running at Chessville. And I've done some updating at Chess Femme News on the Women's World Chess Championship. I've got a lot to catch up on there!

2008 Women's World Chess Championship

An interesting development! Susan Polgar's blog reports that Hou lost behind the White pieces to Kosteniuk in Game 1 of the WWCC finals (4 games total, plus play-offs if needed). Chessdom has lost interest in reporting currently on the WWCC - wonder why, when they were doing such a good job the first several rounds? Did all of their favorites go home too? The official website isn't any better - no current news, although supposedly you can follow the games there live (I haven't tried it). Instead, it features an article by GM Sergey Shipov (September 14, 2008) stuffed full of sexist stereotypes. Geez! He also included comprehensive analysis of the four semi-final games played between Kosteniuk-Cramling, and Hou-Koneru, so he partially redeemed himself from being a total schmuck.

Supporting Local Chess: Some Announcements

TEXAS From Fort Worth Star Telegram Northeast Tarrant community calendar Tuesday, September 16, 2008 NORTH RICHLAND HILLS — Watauga Chess Club, 7 p.m., North Richland Hills Parks and Recreation, 6720 NE Loop 820. Free. ILLINOIS From The Southtown Star Thursday, September 18, 2008 chess club The Oak Lawn Park District offers a free Chess Club for ages 16 and older from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. Fridays at Oak View Center, 4625 W. 110th St. Saturday, September 19, 2008 chess/scraBble Homewood Public Library, 17917 Dixie Highway, hosts open chess and Scrabble for participants of all ages and abilities from noon to 4 p.m. the first and third Saturdays of the month. Information: (708) 798-0121, Ext. 222. GEORGIA From the Savannah Morning News LOOKING FOR VOLUNTEERS: Savannah Association for the Blind The organization is looking for volunteers to help at the agency, located at 214 Drayton St., as well as in the homes of some of the group's clients. Some activities volunteers participate in include manning the Talking Books Library, bowling with clients, playing chess and other board games, writing grant proposals for the agency, grocery shopping, assisting with writing and paying bills and more. Call 232-6048.

Unusual Sarcophogi Uncovered on Cyrus

From Cyprus dig finds 'very rare' ancient coffin ASSOCIATED PRESS 11:05 a.m. September 12, 2008 NICOSIA, Cyprus – Cyprus' top archaeologist says a chance dig has unearthed a “very rare” 2,500-year-old marble sarcophagus in the shape of a woman. Antiquities Department director Pavlos Flourentzos says the coffin found at a construction site in the southern coastal town of Larnaca has a “strong classical Greek influence.” Flourentzos said Friday the coffin's rarity rests on the fact that the marble used to build it was imported because none exists on the Mediterranean island. The faint traces of paint the coffin retains are also rare. Flourentzos says a second marble coffin found at the site was meticulously crafted in the “form of a temple”. Flourentzos said tests will determine from which country the marble was imported.
Arrrgggh! What about what was INSIDE of these coffins? Anything? The article doesn't say a word about it!
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