Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Rich Cheat on Their Taxes - NO!

How the Rich Cheat On Their Taxes by Janet NovackThursday, October 23, 2008 A new study based on unpublished Internal Revenue Service data shows the rich are different when it comes to paying taxes: They hide more of their income. The previously unreported study estimates that taxpayers whose true income was between $500,000 and $1 million a year understated their adjusted gross incomes by 21% overall in 2001, compared to an 8% underreporting rate for those earning $50,000 to $100,000 and even lower rates for those earning less. (The "net misreporting rate" as the IRS calls it, includes both underreported income and inflated deductions.) In all, because of their higher noncompliance rates, those with true incomes of $200,000 or more received 25% of all income, but accounted for 40% of net underreported income and 42% of underreported tax in 2001, the new analysis finds. The study was written by Joel Slemrod, an economics professor and director of the Office of Tax Policy Research at the University of Michigan's business school and IRS economist Andrew Johns. It has not been officially endorsed or even released by the IRS and seems sure to add fuel to the election season debate over whether those earning $250,000 or more should pay higher tax rates, as Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, has proposed. The Slemrod/Johns analysis uses unpublished data from special research audits the IRS conducted on a sample of 45,000 individual returns filed for 2001. It was the IRS' first such research effort since 1988, and it led the agency to estimate the 2001 gross "tax gap" at $345 billion. The main reason for the income-related cheating disparity: Higher income folks receive more of their income from sources that are easier to hide, including self-employment earnings; income from rents, partnerships and S corporations; and capital gains. "The distribution of noncompliance lines up pretty closely with who gets income that's hard (for the IRS) to keep track of,'' Slemrod says. Still, he notes, the distribution of income by source doesn't explain all the increased noncompliance at higher income levels. In its 2001 tax gap study, the IRS estimated that individuals underreported business income by 43% overall. Sole proprietors, who report self-employment income on schedule C of their tax returns, underreported their income a stunning 57%. By contrast, the IRS found, 99% of all wages were reported by individual tax filers. The obvious explanation is that workers have no choice--their employers report their earnings to the IRS and withhold taxes on them. Meanwhile, net capital gains for 2001 were underreported by 12%, the IRS estimated. The IRS receives reports from brokers of taxpayers' gross sales of stocks and bonds, but not of their initial costs or profits--therefore it has no way to easily check their reported capital gains. (Last month, as part of the $700 billion bailout bill, Congress mandated that brokers report the basis of any stocks bought in 2011 or later.) The new study seems to show that the really rich are more tax compliant than the merely well-off, although not nearly as compliant as middle- and working-class wage slaves. Those earning $2 million plus had an 11% underreporting rate. But Slemrod told Forbes that he was "less comfortable" with that finding, noting that the very rich may have made use of techniques that IRS research audits didn't detect. "I just don't know whether these audits were able to track down really sophisticated noncompliance or Swiss bank accounts. They may underestimate it (noncompliance) at the top,'' he says. Indeed, in the past several years, the IRS has collected billions in back taxes from wealthy taxpayers who used dicey tax shelters to manufacture huge phony losses in the late 1990s, 2000 and 2001. But the IRS didn't get a handle on the nature or extent of these shelters until years later and relied on tax shelter promoters' customer lists and special self-disclosure programs, not audits, to find most of the taxpayers involved. Currently, the government is suing UBS for the names of 18,000 wealthy Americans it believes may have had unreported Swiss bank accounts. Copyrighted, All rights reserved.

Happy Squirrels!

Today I ventured forth to do a list of errands: (1) ice melt (2) mulch (3) birdseed and sunflower seed (4) gasoline (5) wine - lots of wine. Mission accomplished! When I got home, I put out some sunflower seeds for the squirrels, along with some fresh peanuts, and whistled for my furry little buddies to come eat. They appeared within seconds. It never ceases to amaze me. My whistling leaves much to be desired - I'm sure a bird can't hear me from 6 feet away. Still, they come. Check out this little guy or gal - photo from Bishek, Kyrgyzstan. The hair around the ears - how cute is that? Sort of reminds me of GM Alexander Khalifman's hair back in 1999, when he won the FIDE World Chess Championship in Las Vegas.

Antique Chess Set Stolen

Some questions: Were the thieve really after the set and just took the other stuff to cover their tracks? Are the thieves chessplayer? Would your run of the mill thieves (ahem) understand the value of a hand-carved 17th century ivory chess set??? Is this actually some insidious plot to gather some pieces of the legendary Montglane Chess Service in an attempt to recreate the Elixir of Eternal Life? Story from The Thieves steal 17th century chess set October 25, 2008 BRAZEN thieves have made off with an antique hand-carved chess set after breaking into a Brisbane home. Police say the home on Franklin Way, Wakerley, in Brisbane's east, was robbed on October 13. "Thieves brazenly removed palings from the front wooden fence of the ... home to gain access to the yard,'' Queensland Police said. "They then broke into the house and stole a quantity of personal items, including jewellery, a laptop computer and the antique chess set.'' Police said the 17th century chess set was a much-loved family treasure and its 32 black and white pieces were made from hand-carved ivory. The chess pieces are also distinctive because they are each made up of eight individual sections of ivory.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday Night Miscellany

No Showgirls tonight, darlings! They're putting a wrap on their report - yes, I know - there are still 4 more games scheduled, but all GM Anand has to do is garner 1.5 points from those games in order to win the WCC Match outright. The Girls aren't bucking the odds and yes, they are hearing the Fat Lady Sing. Now, down to the business of the ridiculous and the sublime. There's lots to choose from, but I'm tired and Katherine Neville's "The Fire" is calling out to me, along with the fireplace and a glass of wine. Tomorrow it's running errands to get ready for the winter here, which may visit us with the first snow of the season Sunday evening, eek! It's buy mulch, bulk ice melt, bulk bird seed, bulk sunflower seed, bulk dog food (for the crows and other critters), one last 2 gallon container of gasoline (which optimistically looks forward to at least 1 more warm enough weekend where the grass can be cut before winter descends), bulk wine time, cuz I don't want to be lugging this stuff home once it drops below zero and the blizzards blow like they did last year! In the sad but sublime column, Barack Obama quits the campaign trail for a day or so during a crucial time period to visit his gravely ill grandmother. The generation that fought in and were adults during WWII is fast dying off. Obama's grandmother worked in an airplane factory during WWII and his grandfather fought in the war. My own dear father, a WWII Marines veteran, died at the age of 80 in November, 2002, just a few days before Veteran's Day. He was wounded in action and was awarded a Purple Heart. It wasn't until years later, as we all grew up that we realized he also suffered other lingering injuries from frostbite suffered in 1944. He had other medals and ribbons too, but I don't know what they were - he never talked about them. Dad's funeral was featured in a Journal/Sentinel article in 2002 close to Veteran's Day, that talked about the decreasing number of veterans available to play taps at Vets' memorial services. Now, many veterans have a taped "Taps" played at their memorial services. We were fortunate, we had a live bugle player, and as a Vet, Dad received a 21-gun salute. Dad is buried in a Veterans' Cemetery in southeastern Wisconsin, and there is a place for mom next to his grave. I have a rose carefully preserved from that service, in a glass-enclosed bookcase that houses my most precious mementos and books. I see it every day and remember the man it represents. Mom, who has had a few health scares over the years but takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin', is either 85 or 81, depending upon which date of birth she uses :) I think she'll live to be 100, at least. That's what I plan for myself, by the way. Mom is from tough Polish stock, stubborn as hell, and while I got my coloring and build from my father's French-mixed ancestry, I sure got more than my share of mom's unbending neck! My oldest brother went into the Army out of high school in the mid 1970's and served his time in Germany, was honorably discharged, and went into the Wisconsin National Guard. He eventually earned the NCO rank of Seargent - don't ask me what level because I don't know, it's not something we've talked about. My brother was still in the Guard when his unit was called up in 1991 to go serve in Desert Storm. My brother did not, however, travel with his unit, though he threw a big fit about it! He wanted to go but, you see, he was recovering from chemo- and radiation-therapy for a certain form of cancer that often strikes young men in the prime of their lives. While the cancer was pronounced eradicated, his lungs had been severely weakened by the treatments he received and his doctor refused to release him to go overseas to a desert climate which, so the doc said, would probably kill him. My brother would have gone anyway, but the government said no. So, he swallowed his disappointment and continued to serve at home. He married his long-time girlfriend, who was already a sister-in-law de facto if not de jure! She was one of the family even if there was no wedding ring. She's black, we're white. Oh, pardon me, she's African-American (she'd laugh if I ever called her that to her face, LOL!) Another mark against us, I suppose. My brother continued in the Guard until a few years ago; I'll have to check with him for the exact number of years, I believe he served 25 years in the Guard before retiring. It really yanks my chain when Sarah Palin stands up and implies in her speech that because I am a Democrat from a family of Democrats, that because I - and my family - support ideas that she doesn't agree with - we are not REAL Americans, we are NOT patriotic, we are somehow LESS than human and beneath contempt. She has crowds cheering her when this filth and calumny flows from her mouth. That tells me all I need to know about Sarah Palin, John McCain and the party and people who support this kind of "campaigning." Are we living in Germany during the 1930's - geez! Let's move on to the ridiculous, shall we? How about getting yourself and your family a brand new wardrobe to the tune of $150,000 courtesy of the Republican National Committee? (Notice the source - a British newspaper, lol!) We're not talking Walmart, baby, nosiree! Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom's, Designer Labels and exclusive designer boutiques. I want to know what happened to the hockey mom from Alaska. Oh, I forgot - she's the one caught out charging the state of Alaska for per diem expenses when oops, she was actually at home and, oops, her kids traveled on the state's dime as part of "official business" and oops, she's got a $500,000 house on a reported income that doesn't support the mortgage payment. Hmmmm.... Oh, maybe she doesn't have a mortgage. Maybe she and First Dude came up with $500,000 in cash to pay for the house in full. Gee, maybe we should all move to Alaska and cash in too! Darlings, I'm in the wrong profession. I should have gone into MAKE-UP. The McCain Campaign has paid a make-up artist over $22,000 for TWO WEEKS WORK on Sarah Palin. That's just about half of what I make in a YEAR. Nice work if you can get it. But what the hell, the McCain Campaign is funded by OUR TAX DOLLARS (public campaign financing) - Mr. McCain has made a BIG POINT of that, like he took the High Road. What's the difference between Sarah Palin dipping into taxpayer dollars to cloth herself and her family so they all look good while traipsing around the country trumpeting a bigoted, narrow-minded campaign that seeks to divide the country along racial, economic and religious lines, and the dudes who master-minded the taxpayer financed bail out Wall Street to the tune of $700 million and counting, the bail out AIG to the tune of $122 million and counting, the bail out of various large financial institutions to the tune of $250 million and counting. So who cares if Palin spends a measely $150,000 for clothes the likes of which 99.5% of Americans will never be able to afford, right? Chump change. But, John McCain says that Obama's proposed tax cuts for the working poor and middle class are SOCIALISM and modest tax increases to the wealthy and rich - in reality, just peeling back the gigantic giveaways to the rich and richer given out during the Bushite years - is well, gaddummit, just plain wrong! We've got to balance the budget! We've got to pay off them Commies over in China, hell, we owe them $500 billion. You want soup lines darlings? The Great Depression ain't got nothing on what will happen in this country if McCain wins the election. The rich will eat their cake and continue to quaff their French champagne, while setting up trusts that protect their millions and billions from any liability while putting their handicapped and mentally ill children on the public dole (it's only against the law for the increasingly disappearing middle class in this country to "divest" assets when a spouse has to go into a nursing home; it's not illegal for a billionaire to put his mentally incompetent or physically handicapped child into state-funded Medicaid programs once they reach the age of majority in their state), and everyone else will just starve to death while McCain fiddles in the White House during intermittent bouts of hysteria and Sarah impatiently taps her $400 shod foot, waiting for him to croak. Gee, a great prospect, aina hey? Just remember, the guys who are bitching about SOCIALISM are the same guys who want to put your Social Security taxes to work in the "Free market." These are also the same guys who are the first with their hands out to collect their Social Security when they hit 62, and the first who try to find a way to prevent the Social Security benefits payable to their moms and dads drooling away in nursing homes from going to the state, while mom and dad are on Medicaid (taxpayer funded) because son and daughter can't be bothered to part with their parents' hard-earned millions to pay for their care. Let the stupid frigging taxpayers do it, the say! It's all legal too, and all rigged for the rich and uber-rich to get away with this kind of b.s. Irony of ironies, working class and poor people actually BELIEVE that McCain and Palin have their best interests at heart. If nothing else, this definitively demonstrates the abject failure of "No Child Left Behind", one of the shining examples of legislation left behind by the Bush Years. Cough cough. P.T. Barnam sure was right. Anyone earning less than $250,000 a year in income in this country who votes the Republican ticket is voting against his or her own self-interest, and yet they're happy to do it! Just goes to show - there are suckers born every minute, boooyah! Or brain-washed Borg. How sad. Why not just take a big knife and slit your own throats while your at it. I'm sure the Wall Street guys will get a big kick out of that. From the sad but true department, a white female campaign worker for the McCain campaign was caught out in a big lie when she said that a big black man (BOOOO!) attacked her and carved a backwards "B" on her cheek when he discovered she was a McCain supporter. I'm surprised she didn't also say he sported a turban and flowing "Arab" robes. Turns out the lady carved up her own cheek. She's not sure why... Unfortunately, I'm sure that some folks read the initial reports but have not seen the follow-up reports - and will go away thinking -- well, you can fill in your own blanks about what they'll be thinking. Pathetic. And really Pathetic. Time to go read Katherine Neville.

Possible Age of Chinese Writing Pushed Back

New archaeological discovery rewrites earliest Chinese characters dating 2008-10-25 00:05:06 JINAN, Oct. 24 (Xinhua) -- Inscribed animal bones and jade pieces unearthed in Changle County of eastern Shandong Province are earliest examples of Chinese characters dating back 4,500 years ago, the latest archaeological studies show. The discovery broke the record for the previous earliest known examples of Chinese characters, the inscribed animal bones and tortoise shells, known as the oracle bones, of the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC-1100 BC), by more than 1,300 years. The oracle bones were major discoveries at the Yinxu in Anyang of central China's Henan Province. The Shandong discovery was first made in 2004 by Xiao Guangde, the Changle Culture and History Committee director and an amateur collector. He noticed many sub-fossil bones were being thrown away when local peasants were digging at the Yuanjiazhuang relic site in the county. After carefully cleaning some of the unearthed bones, Wang found they bore obvious inscriptions. He also bought other samples, often at high prices, from local people. Over a period of four years, his collection grew to about 100 inscribed bones and two jade relics also with inscriptions. Lined up in order, the inscriptions bear resemblance to drawings and characters, and show objects such as a bird, a crab, a triangle and the sun. Some inscriptions emerge repeatedly. "This kind of repeating proves the inscriptions are carved by human beings," Wang Yuxin, the China Yinshang Association of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences president, noted. Li Laifu, the Shandong Oracle Scripts Association president, said the inscriptions may be left by the Dongyi people who lived in what is today's Shandong Province as early as 8,300 years ago. They made birds as their totem. However, archaeologists speculated from the bones' color, structure, and degree of their petrifaction, that the scripts had existed for about 4,500 years. "Unlike other inscriptions dated earlier than the oracle bones, these scripts are in a considerable number and are systematic," said Wang. "Their structures also follow certain rules." He reckoned the oracle bones found in Henan may inherit some characters from the newly-found scripts. However, he denied they were for divination use. "The bones and jade don't bear deviation marks such as drills, or chisel and burn traces, so the writing maybe for keeping records of events." The discoveries were named the "Changle bone scripts" after the place where they were found. Though they could not be translated at present, archaeologists believed they may provide valuable evidence in the studies of the evolution of ancient Chinese characters, and to reproduce a picture of an ancient society that was barely known. Oracle bones were first unearthed in the late 19th century at the ruins of Yin (Yinxu) in Anyang, capital of the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC-1100 BC). Yin was the ancient name for the Shang Dynasty. The ruins were listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006. Editor: Yan

More on Gobekli Tepe, Turkey

Prior post. Coverage and insight of why this is an earth-shaking discovery from Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple? Predating Stonehenge by 6,000 years, Turkey's stunning Gobekli Tepe upends the conventional view of the rise of civilization By Andrew Curry Photographs by Berthold Steinhilber Smithsonian magazine, November 2008 Six miles from Urfa, an ancient city in southeastern Turkey, Klaus Schmidt has made one of the most startling archaeological discoveries of our time: massive carved stones about 11,000 years old, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery. The megaliths predate Stonehenge by some 6,000 years. The place is called Gobekli Tepe, and Schmidt, a German archaeologist who has been working here more than a decade, is convinced it's the site of the world's oldest temple. "Guten Morgen," he says at 5:20 a.m. when his van picks me up at my hotel in Urfa. Thirty minutes later, the van reaches the foot of a grassy hill and parks next to strands of barbed wire. We follow a knot of workmen up the hill to rectangular pits shaded by a corrugated steel roof—the main excavation site. In the pits, standing stones, or pillars, are arranged in circles. Beyond, on the hillside, are four other rings of partially excavated pillars. Each ring has a roughly similar layout: in the center are two large stone T-shaped pillars encircled by slightly smaller stones facing inward. The tallest pillars tower 16 feet and, Schmidt says, weigh between seven and ten tons. As we walk among them, I see that some are blank, while others are elaborately carved: foxes, lions, scorpions and vultures abound, twisting and crawling on the pillars' broad sides. Schmidt points to the great stone rings, one of them 65 feet across. "This is the first human-built holy place," he says. From this perch 1,000 feet above the valley, we can see to the horizon in nearly every direction. Schmidt, 53, asks me to imagine what the landscape would have looked like 11,000 years ago, before centuries of intensive farming and settlement turned it into the nearly featureless brown expanse it is today. Prehistoric people would have gazed upon herds of gazelle and other wild animals; gently flowing rivers, which attracted migrating geese and ducks; fruit and nut trees; and rippling fields of wild barley and wild wheat varieties such as emmer and einkorn. "This area was like a paradise," says Schmidt, a member of the German Archaeological Institute. Indeed, Gobekli Tepe sits at the northern edge of the Fertile Crescent—an arc of mild climate and arable land from the Persian Gulf to present-day Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Egypt—and would have attracted hunter-gatherers from Africa and the Levant. And partly because Schmidt has found no evidence that people permanently resided on the summit of Gobekli Tepe itself, he believes this was a place of worship on an unprecedented scale—humanity's first "cathedral on a hill." With the sun higher in the sky, Schmidt ties a white scarf around his balding head, turban-style, and deftly picks his way down the hill among the relics. In rapid-fire German he explains that he has mapped the entire summit using ground-penetrating radar and geomagnetic surveys, charting where at least 16 other megalith rings remain buried across 22 acres. The one-acre excavation covers less than 5 percent of the site. He says archaeologists could dig here for another 50 years and barely scratch the surface. Gobekli Tepe was first examined—and dismissed—by University of Chicago and Istanbul University anthropologists in the 1960s. As part of a sweeping survey of the region, they visited the hill, saw some broken slabs of limestone and assumed the mound was nothing more than an abandoned medieval cemetery. In 1994, Schmidt was working on his own survey of prehistoric sites in the region. After reading a brief mention of the stone-littered hilltop in the University of Chicago researchers' report, he decided to go there himself. From the moment he first saw it, he knew the place was extraordinary. Unlike the stark plateaus nearby, Gobekli Tepe (the name means "belly hill" in Turkish) has a gently rounded top that rises 50 feet above the surrounding landscape. To Schmidt's eye, the shape stood out. "Only man could have created something like this," he says. "It was clear right away this was a gigantic Stone Age site." The broken pieces of limestone that earlier surveyors had mistaken for gravestones suddenly took on a different meaning. Schmidt returned a year later with five colleagues and they uncovered the first megaliths, a few buried so close to the surface they were scarred by plows. As the archaeologists dug deeper, they unearthed pillars arranged in circles. Schmidt's team, however, found none of the telltale signs of a settlement: no cooking hearths, houses or trash pits, and none of the clay fertility figurines that litter nearby sites of about the same age. The archaeologists did find evidence of tool use, including stone hammers and blades. And because those artifacts closely resemble others from nearby sites previously carbon-dated to about 9000 B.C., Schmidt and co-workers estimate that Gobekli Tepe's stone structures are the same age. Limited carbon dating undertaken by Schmidt at the site confirms this assessment. The way Schmidt sees it, Gobekli Tepe's sloping, rocky ground is a stonecutter's dream. Even without metal chisels or hammers, prehistoric masons wielding flint tools could have chipped away at softer limestone outcrops, shaping them into pillars on the spot before carrying them a few hundred yards to the summit and lifting them upright. Then, Schmidt says, once the stone rings were finished, the ancient builders covered them over with dirt. Eventually, they placed another ring nearby or on top of the old one. Over centuries, these layers created the hilltop. Today, Schmidt oversees a team of more than a dozen German archaeologists, 50 local laborers and a steady stream of enthusiastic students. He typically excavates at the site for two months in the spring and two in the fall. (Summer temperatures reach 115 degrees, too hot to dig; in the winter the area is deluged by rain.) In 1995, he bought a traditional Ottoman house with a courtyard in Urfa, a city of nearly a half-million people, to use as a base of operations. On the day I visit, a bespectacled Belgian man sits at one end of a long table in front of a pile of bones. Joris Peters, an archaeozoologist from the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, specializes in the analysis of animal remains. Since 1998, he has examined more than 100,000 bone fragments from Gobekli Tepe. Peters has often found cut marks and splintered edges on them—signs that the animals from which they came were butchered and cooked. The bones, stored in dozens of plastic crates stacked in a storeroom at the house, are the best clue to how people who created Gobekli Tepe lived. Peters has identified tens of thousands of gazelle bones, which make up more than 60 percent of the total, plus those of other wild game such as boar, sheep and red deer. He's also found bones of a dozen different bird species, including vultures, cranes, ducks and geese. "The first year, we went through 15,000 pieces of animal bone, all of them wild. It was pretty clear we were dealing with a hunter-gatherer site," Peters says. "It's been the same every year since." The abundant remnants of wild game indicate that the people who lived here had not yet domesticated animals or farmed. But, Peters and Schmidt say, Gobekli Tepe's builders were on the verge of a major change in how they lived, thanks to an environment that held the raw materials for farming. "They had wild sheep, wild grains that could be domesticated—and the people with the potential to do it," Schmidt says. In fact, research at other sites in the region has shown that within 1,000 years of Gobekli Tepe's construction, settlers had corralled sheep, cattle and pigs. And, at a prehistoric village just 20 miles away, geneticists found evidence of the world's oldest domesticated strains of wheat; radiocarbon dating indicates agriculture developed there around 10,500 years ago, or just five centuries after Gobekli Tepe's construction. To Schmidt and others, these new findings suggest a novel theory of civilization. Scholars have long believed that only after people learned to farm and live in settled communities did they have the time, organization and resources to construct temples and support complicated social structures. But Schmidt argues it was the other way around: the extensive, coordinated effort to build the monoliths literally laid the groundwork for the development of complex societies. The immensity of the undertaking at Gobekli Tepe reinforces that view. Schmidt says the monuments could not have been built by ragged bands of hunter-gatherers. To carve, erect and bury rings of seven-ton stone pillars would have required hundreds of workers, all needing to be fed and housed. Hence the eventual emergence of settled communities in the area around 10,000 years ago. "This shows sociocultural changes come first, agriculture comes later," says Stanford University archaeologist Ian Hodder, who excavated Catalhoyuk, a prehistoric settlement 300 miles from Gobekli Tepe. "You can make a good case this area is the real origin of complex Neolithic societies." What was so important to these early people that they gathered to build (and bury) the stone rings? The gulf that separates us from Gobekli Tepe's builders is almost unimaginable. Indeed, though I stood among the looming megaliths eager to take in their meaning, they didn't speak to me. They were utterly foreign, placed there by people who saw the world in a way I will never comprehend. There are no sources to explain what the symbols might mean. Schmidt agrees. "We're 6,000 years before the invention of writing here," he says. "There's more time between Gobekli Tepe and the Sumerian clay tablets [etched in 3300 B.C.] than from Sumer to today," says Gary Rollefson, an archaeologist at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, who is familiar with Schmidt's work. "Trying to pick out symbolism from prehistoric context is an exercise in futility." Still, archaeologists have their theories—evidence, perhaps, of the irresistible human urge to explain the unexplainable. The surprising lack of evidence that people lived right there, researchers say, argues against its use as a settlement or even a place where, for instance, clan leaders gathered. Hodder is fascinated that Gobekli Tepe's pillar carvings are dominated not by edible prey like deer and cattle but by menacing creatures such as lions, spiders, snakes and scorpions. "It's a scary, fantastic world of nasty-looking beasts," he muses. While later cultures were more concerned with farming and fertility, he suggests, perhaps these hunters were trying to master their fears by building this complex, which is a good distance from where they lived. Danielle Stordeur, an archaeologist at the National Center for Scientific Research in France, emphasizes the significance of the vulture carvings. Some cultures have long believed the high-flying carrion birds transported the flesh of the dead up to the heavens. Stordeur has found similar symbols at sites from the same era as Gobekli Tepe just 50 miles away in Syria. "You can really see it's the same culture," she says. "All the most important symbols are the same." For his part, Schmidt is certain the secret is right beneath his feet. Over the years, his team has found fragments of human bone in the layers of dirt that filled the complex. Deep test pits have shown that the floors of the rings are made of hardened limestone. Schmidt is betting that beneath the floors he'll find the structures' true purpose: a final resting place for a society of hunters. Perhaps, Schmidt says, the site was a burial ground or the center of a death cult, the dead laid out on the hillside among the stylized gods and spirits of the afterlife. If so, Gobekli Tepe's location was no accident. "From here the dead are looking out at the ideal view," Schmidt says as the sun casts long shadows over the half-buried pillars. "They're looking out over a hunter's dream."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

2008 European Club Cup

Final ranking of women (from various Women's Teams) according to Performance Rating: 1 IM Ovod Evgenija 2429 Spartak Vidnoe 2859 3,0 3 100,0 4 2 IM Dzagnidze Nana 2503 Cercle d'Echecs Monte Carlo 2707 6,0 7 85,7 2 3 GM Stefanova Antoaneta 2548 Spartak Vidnoe 2694 5,0 6 83,3 1 4 IM Harika Dronavalli 2462 Economist SGSEU Saratov 2689 4,0 5 80,0 2 5 IM Muzychuk Anna 2508 T-com Podgorica 2649 5,5 7 78,6 1 6 GM Koneru Humpy 2618 Cercle d'Echecs Monte Carlo 2646 4,5 6 75,0 1 7 IM Ushenina Anna 2496 Economist SGSEU Saratov 2541 4,5 7 64,3 1 8 GM Chiburdanidze Maia 2489 MIKA Yerevan 2523 3,0 5 60,0 1 9 GM Lahno Kateryna 2488 MIKA Yerevan 2519 4,0 6 66,7 2 10 IM Kosintseva Tatiana 2513 Spartak Vidnoe 2507 4,5 6 75,0 3 11 WGM Sharevich Anna 2322 EPAM 2504 3,5 4 87,5 4 12 IM Maric Alisa 2405 T-com Podgorica 2494 4,5 7 64,3 2 13 IM Zatonskih Anna 2440 EPAM 2485 3,5 6 58,3 1 (US Women's Champion) 14 GM Hoang Thanh Trang 2483 EPAM 2482 3,0 6 50,0 1 15 IM Khurtsidze Nino 2417 MIKA Yerevan 2479 3,5 5 70,0 4 16 GM Zhao Xue 2518 Spartak Vidnoe 2475 3,0 5 60,0 2 17 IM Korbut Ekaterina 2459 Finek St. Petersburg 2471 3,0 6 50,0 1 18 IM Cmilyte Viktorija 2512 Finek St. Petersburg 2469 3,5 6 58,3 1 19 IM Matveeva Svetlana 2411 EPAM 2462 2,5 5 50,0 3 20 IM Mkrtchian Lilit 2443 MIKA Yerevan 2460 3,5 5 70,0 3 21 IM Kovalevskaya Ekaterina 2439 T-com Podgorica 2458 5,5 7 78,6 4 22 WGM Motoc Alina 2313 CS Cotnari-Politehnica Iasi 2452 6,0 7 85,7 3 23 WGM Hou Yifan 2578 Spartak Vidnoe 2448 2,0 4 50,0 1 24 WIM Cherenkova Kristina 2245 Aspropirgos Attikis 2423 4,5 7 64,3 2 25 IM Skripchenko Almira 2455 Cercle d'Echecs Monte Carlo 2422 3,0 4 75,0 4 26 IM Foisor Cristina Adela 2365 Radnicki Rudovci 2419 5,5 7 78,6 2 27 GM Cramling Pia 2550 Cercle d'Echecs Monte Carlo 2414 3,0 6 50,0 1 28 WGM Kovanova Baira 2379 Economist SGSEU Saratov 2413 4,5 7 64,3 3 29 IM Atalik Ekaterina 2432 EPAM 2407 3,5 7 50,0 2 30 IM Ciuksyte Dagne 2339 Panevezys Chess Club 2405 4,5 7 64,3 1 31 IM Socko Monika 2434 Cercle d'Echecs Monte Carlo 2386 2,5 5 50,0 3 32 WGM Zhukova Natalia 2488 Finek St. Petersburg 2384 3,0 6 50,0 2 33 IM Danielian Elina 2513 MIKA Yerevan 2383 3,5 7 50,0 1 34 IM Paehtz Elisabeth 2471 Economist SGSEU Saratov 2375 3,5 7 50,0 2 35 WGM Stojanovic Andjelija 2357 Rudar Ugljevik 2368 4,5 7 64,3 1 36 WFM Congiu Mathilde 2230 Vandoeuvre Echecs 2341 3,5 7 50,0 1 37 IM Gaponenko Inna 2473 T-com Podgorica 2327 3,5 7 50,0 3 38 WFM Fakhretdinova Margarita 2147 Aspropirgos Attikis 2311 4,0 7 57,1 3 39 WGM Voicu Carmen 2239 SK Gross-Lehna 2285 3,5 6 58,3 2 40 WGM Demina Julia 2357 Finek St. Petersburg 2268 2,5 4 62,5 3 41 WGM Chelushkina Irina 2360 Radnicki Rudovci 2266 3,0 7 42,9 1 42 IM Kosintseva Nadezhda 2468 Spartak Vidnoe 2263 2,0 4 50,0 3 43 WGM Cosma Elena Luminita 2340 CS Cotnari-Politehnica Iasi 2262 4,5 7 64,3 2 44 IM Peptan Corina-Isabela 2430 CS Cotnari-Politehnica Iasi 2252 3,0 7 42,9 1 45 IM Turova Irina 2381 Finek St. Petersburg 2251 4,0 6 66,7 4 46 WFM Botvinnik Irina 2239 Herzliya Chess Club 2251 3,0 7 42,9 1 47 WGM Pitam Ella 2295 Madatech Haifa Chess Club 2234 3,0 7 42,9 1 48 WFM Steil-Antoni Fiona 2166 Vandoeuvre Echecs 2229 3,0 7 42,9 2 49 Porat Maya 2167 Madatech Haifa Chess Club 2202 5,0 7 71,4 4 50 WIM Daulyte Deimante 2278 Panevezys Chess Club 2196 3,0 7 42,9 2 51 WIM Papadopoulou Vera 2196 Aspropirgos Attikis 2172 1,5 7 21,4 1 52 WIM Boric Elena 2292 Rudar Ugljevik 2153 3,5 7 50,0 2 53 WFM Vujic-Katanic Branka 2107 Rudar Ugljevik 2147 4,0 7 57,1 3 54 Genzling Sylvie 1936 Bischwiller 2140 2,0 7 28,6 1 55 WGM Karlovich Anastazia 2256 SK Gross-Lehna 2138 2,5 6 41,7 1 56 IM Petrenko Svetlana 2285 SK Gross-Lehna 2135 2,0 6 33,3 1 57 WFM Limontaite Simona 2197 Panevezys Chess Club 2105 4,5 7 64,3 4 58 Klipper Rebecca 2023 Vandoeuvre Echecs 2101 2,5 7 35,7 3 59 WGM Olarasu Gabriela 2297 Radnicki Rudovci 2099 3,0 7 42,9 3 60 Iordanidou Zoi 2110 Aspropirgos Attikis 2096 2,5 7 35,7 4 61 WIM Makka Ioulia 2220 Panevezys Chess Club 2089 3,0 7 42,9 3 62 WGM Igla Bella 2254 Madatech Haifa Chess Club 2087 2,5 7 35,7 2 63 WIM Paulet Iozefina 2307 CS Cotnari-Politehnica Iasi 2083 4,0 6 66,7 4 64 Nagel Verena 2052 SK Gross-Lehna 2023 2,0 5 40,0 3 65 Len Irina 2091 Herzliya Chess Club 2016 2,0 7 28,6 2 66 Grapsa Georgia 2121 Galaxias Thessaloniki 2006 1,5 7 21,4 1 67 Vovinkina Natalia 2147 Madatech Haifa Chess Club 2002 2,0 7 28,6 3 Annotation: forfeit points are ignored

Discovery of "Tantric University" Baffles Archaeologists?

Hmmmm, I think perhaps something got lost in translation here. Why would archaeologists be "baffled" by this discovery, when the "university" itself was evidently well attested-to in Indian sources? From The Times of India Archaeologists baffled by tantric varsity 23 Oct 2008, 0232 hrs IST, Pranava K Chaudhary, TNN PATNA: The recent discovery of forgotten ancient tantric university - Oddantapuri Mahavihara near Biharsharif, district headquarters of Nalanda, has baffled archaeologists here. Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) claims to have discovered the location of this forgotten university which was set up in 730 AD somewhere near Biharsharif hill. "I have made frequent visits to the site which is located on Biharsharif hill to locate the exact location of the ancient tantric university," said superintending archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) , Patna circle, P K Mishra. "On the basis of various ancient texts I found a settlement on the top of Biharsharif hillock," he said. Mishra told TOI: "At least a dozen-member ASI technical team, including archaeologists, would visit the site on Friday to authenticate existence of the university. On the basis of various ancient texts and records I have come to the conclusion that the univeristy is located somewhere around this site." A large number of seals, sealings and images of Buddhist and Hindu cult, were found at Biharsharif during 1910, Mishra said. They are preserved in the Indian Museum, Kolkata. During research, Mishra procured a model of Oddantapuri from Tibet. The model must have been imported from the original Oddantapuri, Mishra said. Interestingly, in 775 AD, the king of Tibet had established a `Sarmaya Vihara' on the model of Oddantapuri at Lhasa. It is also mentioned in the Rahul Sankritayana collection which is preserved in Patna Museum. The Tibet model of Oddantapuri is still alive, Mishra said. Ancient texts say that the tantric university was destroyed in 1199 AD when Turk Afghan Mohd Bakhtiar Khilji invaded it. Quoting various ancient texts, Mishra said that Gopala, the first king of Pala dynasty, founded a great monastery at Oddantapuri. Laksmana Sena was then the king of Bengal. "The discovery of Tantric university at Biharsharif as a major seat of learning would add a new dimension to the field of ancient Indian history. Already we have two ancient universities - Nalanda and Vikramshila in Bihar. Now a third university in Bihar would be a new dimension to the study of tantricism," Mishra said.

Oh Those Showgirls! Kramnik! Anand!

Thursday, October 23, 2008, Bonn: Candi: I can't believe it - I just can't believe any of this is happening. Anand played (1) d4 again! Oh, Bambi, it's, it's - well, I just can't think of the right word at the moment - I'm sure it will come to me. Bambi: Candi, it's perfectly reasonable that Vishy would play (1) d4 again, since it's clear by now that is a line of play he's concentrated his home prep on for months. He's been successful with it too - unbelievably successful. Why mess with success? Candi: You've been reading the commentators again, haven't you. Bambi: Yes, and so have you. Candi: I can't believe that Vlady only managed a draw. Bambi: Well, he was playing black. Candi: Yes, but he had our secret weapon moves! Honestly, is it too much to ask the man to at least play them correctly? All that effort - down the toilet! Bambi: Candi, you did deliver the letter containing our moves to Vlady, didn't you? Candi: I gave the envelope to Leaky. He's the one who answered the door at Vlady's suite. Bambi: WHAT! Ooooh noooo! But you realize what this means - what must have happened! Candi: What? What happened? All I know is that Vlady didn't play the knight moves we sent him. Bambi: Exactly! That's because Leaky didn't give Vlady the letter, he read it himself but HE DIDN'T KNOW THE CODE! Candi: Ohmygoddess! I forgot! THE CODE! Bambi: He gave Vlady the moves, but he played them out of sequence! Ohmygoddess! Candi: Oh, oh, I think I feel faint again, Bambi. Bambi: Don't you faint on me again, Candi. Pull yourself together. We've got to think about what to do! Candi: Two days ago you were telling me to read your lips, that nothing could be done. Now you're thinking about what we can do? Bambi: I'm only trying to mitigate the damage that's already been done. You studied law - remember the concept - "Mitigation of Damages?" Anyway, you were the one who suggested "Knight Moves." Candi: Oh - right. Bambi: Candi, are you in love with Vlady? Candi: WHAT! Good Goddess, no. Absolutely not! Bambi! How could you think such a thing? Bambi: You've been acting strangely ever since we got here. You didn't know Vlady was married; and you fainted when you saw the wedding pictures! Were you carrying on with him? Candi: I have not been carrying on with Vlady here in Bonn. I fainted when I saw That Woman! And you know, Bambi, something has been knocking on the door of my brain ever since I saw her photograph. She reminds me of somebody, somebody we both know, only - I can't think of who it is she reminds me of! But I know we both know her. I'm surprised you haven't recognized her. Bambi: Before you told me that those photographs of Vlady's wife were of Olga Villiers, I had no idea what she looked like. I can't say I've seen that face before. And she would have been - Candi: I want to talk about The Hex. You said we were The Hex eight years ago in London. Bambi: Yes - I'm certain of it. The only thing that makes sense is that not only did Frogius blackmail me into doing his bidding, he blackmailed you, too! Candi: WHAT? Frogius blackmailed you too? Bambi: A ha! I see it all now! Frogius must have bet heavily against the line, and in order to reap the big pay-off, he had to make sure Kaspy lost to Vlady in the 2000 Brain Games Match. Oh Goddess, and there we were, ripe pickings to do his evil bidding. I cannot believe I was so incredibly stupid! I swear I'll hunt him down if it's the last thing I do - Candi: Oh please! You're upsetting me, Bambi. I hate to see you so - so - vengeful! Vengence is Mine, Sayeth the Lord. I Will Repay! So let's let the Lord do his vengence thingy, and we get out of Dodge while the getting is good. Sounds like a plan to me! I'll start packing - Bambi: Absolutely not. I'm not leaving here until we get to the bottom of this. Tell me this, Candi. Just what hook did Frogius use on you? Candi: Oh - I don't think I want to talk about it. Bambi: Tell me, it's vitally important! Candi: Bambi! Let me go, you're hurting me! Your acrylics are digging into my arms! Bambi: Oh, sorry. Just tell me how he forced you to having an affair with Kaspy. Candi: Well, oh - I can see now just how silly I was to believe him. But at the time, he was soooo convincing. Anyway, he told me that if I didn't do what he wanted, he'd make sure not only that The International Chessoid was wiped off the face of the internet, he'd get rid of Goddesschess, too! And Bambi, I just couldn't let that happen. I just couldn't! Bambi: Now, now, that's all right, Candi, that's all right. No need to get so emotional. My goodness, you really have been uber-emotional lately. Are you sure you're not - Candi: BAMBI! Gloria Belanova! GLORIA BELANOVA! Bambi: Who? Candi: Oh, don't tell me you don't remember her! She was the Riktonator's Personal Assistant for 21 years - his faithful everything! She was to Frogius what Della Street was to Perry Mason! She's the person I had the brain knocking on, the one I couldn't remember. Only now I do. It was Gloria, Gloria - I think I've got your number, Gloria - Bambi: Ohmygoddess! Now I remember! Candi: Look at their pictures side by side - I think - Bambi! I'm having a brain flash - they're Mother and Daughter! Bambi: Ohmygoddess! Frogius sent his own daughter to London to interview Kaspy after that disastrous tournament! And - and -- Candi: Yes? And - and -- Bambi: I haven't got that far in this narrative yet, give me a night to sleep on it, I'll dream something up --
Holy Pawn! What new revelations will the Showgirls next uncork on us, I ask you? Wow! I'm hyperventilating, darlings, I can't keep up! Intrigue! Romance! Sex? Chess - only Vlady can't follow directions, only he didn't know, because Leaky kept the letter from him, and didn't know The Code! Wait a minute - what is this "Code" business, anyway? And just what were those "Knight Moves" the Girls put in that letter delivered to GM Kramnik's suite, into the hands of GM Peter Leko (one of a team of Seconds)? Will Vishy play (1) d4 tomorrow, in Game 8? Will the Girls put together the rest of the story behind the story of what really happened in London eight years ago? And what is really happening behind the scenes in Bonn today? Will Vlady, er, GM Vladimir Kramnik, have a miraculous epiphany, and suddenly begin playing absolutely brilliant chess, winning the match (wins in 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12, for good measure)? Okay, probably not.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Oh, She's Just One of Us - B. Frigging S.

The Republican National Committee spends $150,000.00 - ONE HUNDRED FIFTY THOUSAND AND 00/100 DOLLARS - on clothes for Sarah Palin. And she's supposed to be a female version of Joe the Lying Ass, Tax Dodging Plumber, an Average American. Well, I don't know any Average Americans like Joe the Plumber, and I sure as hell am glad I don't - I might be arrested as a criminal accesory after the fact! Here I am, one of those EVIL COMMY UNAMERICAN LIBERALS. I earn $45,000 a year gross. My clothing budget is around $300 a year. Last year I really splurged and spent nearly $90 (on sale) buying a pair of water-proof Sorels guaranteed to keep my feet warm to 20 below zero. That was in addition to my $300 for other clothing purchases. This year I'm only shopping for new shoes to get me through the winter, as my clothing budget has otherwise been eaten up by the double-digit increases in my electric and gas bills, my real estate taxes, and what I pay for groceries. I expect to pay a total of perhaps $50 for two, hopefully three, pairs of shoes at Payless. Woooo hoooo! Now you tell me, darlings, just who is more representative of the average American, heh? Fifi the Alaskan Attack Dog from Alaska, or yours truly from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, whose feet do not sport $400 a pair designer stilletto heels. Sarah, Sarah, how can you be so frigging stupid? You are letting these Republican a-hole duds (I'd call them dudes but actually, they are just duds) ruin your future career in politics to serve their selfish short-term goals. Sarah, you are thereby proving every single negative perjorative the Janus-faced "neo-con" Nazis who are now running the Republican party in this country have ever foisted upon the female sex. Sarah, you should know better.
Hmmm, sounds rather like Chekov on Star Trek back in the '60's bragging about all the things that the Russians did (not!): Russians the first potters on earth? Wed, 22 Oct 2008 10:50:16 GMT Russian archeologists claim that the Russians were the first people on the planet to cultivate land, breed cattle and make earthenware. Russian tribes [how do they know they were "Russian" tribes?] inhabited Khabarovsk Region in the Stone Age, the archeologists said after finding a 15,000-year-old hunters' settlement on the bank of the Amur River in Khabarovsk. Stone axes, knives, scrapers, arrowheads and baked earthenware have so far been unearthed in the area. "It was the first earthenware on the globe, and though it was primitive, with plain decoration, and poorly baked, yet it was a significant landmark in the history of mankind," said Andrei Malyavin, an employee of Khabarovsk Archeology Museum. [Not necessarily the "first earthenware on the globe", but to date it's the oldest preserved evidence discovered.] Firing shaped clay is among the possible first steps toward social organization, or society. The production of earthenware shows that the group had moved beyond simple farming, and into some specialization. Khabarovsk is the administrative center and the largest city of Khabarovsk Krai, Russia, located some 30 km from the Chinese border. HRF/JG/RA
Take a look at the map that is in the article. The Jomon Culture is in the area - across a narrow straight on the islands that today comprise the nation of Japan. Jomon dates back to approximately 14,000 BCE, verified by updated carbon-14 readings. Those "Russians" who created the earliest known pottery (to date) along the Amur River could just as easily have been Jomon Culture people. Thing is, we don't know, and never will know, unless we find flash-frozen bodies or well-preserved human remains and can do extensive DNA analysis! However, I doubt we are talking about blonde-haired blue-eyed Russians, the only kind of Russian the Kremlin likes to showcase. More intriguing to me is the question of whether these ancient Amur/Jomon people are related to the people who crossed over into the Americas sometime before? It seems to me that most people have an image in mind that the people who settled the Americas were primative savages who crossed over the Bering Strait during the last interglacial period while they were following the last of the giant game. This ignores the reality of the fact that, to date, we haven't found any older evidence of pottery-making anywhere on earth - not in Egypt, not in Mesopotamia, not anywhere in the Fertile Crescent, not in Southeastern Europe (Greece, Bulgaria, Albania, Romania), not in the Anatolian Peninsula. We know that people were in South America 13,000 years ago, and in eastern United States even earlier than that! So, perhaps all the concentration on the Middle East, etc. looking for the origins of civilization is mistaken, and we need to look along the far Pacific coastline of Europe and Asia.

Oh Those Showgirls! Kramnik! Anand!

We last left Candi gracefully passed out on the bear skin rug in front of the fireplace in the Library of the cushy Villa the Girls rented in Bonn during their assignment for Goddesschess: A little while later - Bambi: Candi! Oh, Thank Goddess! You scared the life out of me, collapsing like that! You've never ever fainted before! Don't you ever do that to me again! Candi: Ooooh, ooooh, I feel so strange, Bambi. I think I need something to drink. Bambi: Here's some Boobie Beer - Candi: No, Chivas Regal. Please. With a cherry. Bambi: Are you kidding me? Where do you expect me to come up with some Chivas Regal in the middle of Bonn? Candi: Suitcase - secret compartment. Bambi: Oh - okay, hold on -- Candi: Don't forget the jar of cherries... -- a few minutes later Bambi emerges from the Candi's bedroom with a velvet-covered bottle in one hand and a jar of marischino cherries in the other -- Bambi: Okay, here we are. Over ice? Soda? Candi: Neat, please. I feel just like Patricia Neal! Bambi: Now you're being historical. Candi: Don't you mean hysterical? I feel a bit screamy, actually, and I think I'm seeing pink elephants, too. Bambi: No, I said historical and I meant historical. Patricia Neal, indeed. I've seen that movie too, you know. It's one of my favorites! Now, what was this fainting all about. Candi - tell me true - are your expecting an interesting event? Candi: No, I've been very regular this trip, but thank you for asking. I think it's the grapefruit -- Bambi: That wasn't what I was asking about - oh, never mind. What made you faint? Candi: It was That Woman! Bambi: What woman? Candi: Bambi - are you blind? That Woman! Olga Villiers! The one who interviewed Kasparov for that story in The International Chessoid's December, 2000 End of the Millennium Mega-Edition! The one where he kept saying "Bambi...Bambi..." Oh, it was horrid! Bambi: Please! Get control of yourself, Candi! Olga Villiers? Are you certain? Where did you see her? Candi: Oh honestly, Bambi, you are blind! She's right there on your laptop, those photographs from Chessbase. She married Vlady on December 31, 2006! Bambi: WHAT? Candi: It's true! Did you never meet her at TIC headquarters? Bambi: No - no, I never did. That horrid Riktor Frogius fired us shortly after the 2000 Brain Games Championship, and I haven't been back to TIC since. Ohmygoddess, are you sure it's her? Candi: Sure I'm sure. I forget names all the time, but I never forget a face. That's her! Bambi: Oh, oh - I've got to think about this for a minute - my head hurts! Goddess! Candi: Oh, Bambi! I believe you are discombobulated! Here, sit down, have some of my Chivas Regal with a cherry on top. Bambi: Thank you, Candi. Ohmygoddess! Well, you said something strange was going on, and it certainly is! Only think - Olga Villiers is married to Vlady; Vlady beat, no, he not only beat, he humiliated and destroyed Kaspy, he crushed him, in the London match; Olga Villiers does that embarrassing interview with Kaspy and Mig. Now here is Vlady eight years later married to That Woman! Coincidence? Candi: Are you asking me or telling me? Bambi: That was a rhetorical - oh, never mind. Candi, I smell a rat! Candi: Or a skanky beaver... Bambi: Ohmygoddess! I feel so used! The Hex! Candi: Oh yes, you were going to tell me all about that. What was The Hex? Bambi: Candi - use your brain! It was us! We were The Hex! Candi: Ooooh - er, okay. Bambi: That dirty rotten filthy Communist Nazi Frogius - oh, I could just kill him! I'll strangle him with my thighs - I'll strangle him with one thigh tied behind my back! Candi: Bambi, please! Control yourself. Underage people read the columns at Goddesschess, you know! Bambi: Well, they aren't supposed to! I can't control the Entire Universe, Candi. If underage people are reading our columns at Goddesschess, they'll just have to suck it up and get over it! Candi: Never apologize, never explain. Bambi: Oh, you are so right, Candi! I smell Frogius all over this Operation, his filthy fingerprints are everywhere! Ha! Candi: Ha! Okay, how do we get him? Bambi: Oh Candi, you are my very best friend in the entire world, but I wouldn't ask you to undertake this desperately dangerous mission with me. You could get hurt. Candi: Oh! Er, well, okay. I'm all for fun, but not much for danger - Bambi: Candi! I was only kidding, of course! Candi: Oh! Er, well, of course! A horse is a horse, of course, of course, unless of course, the horse is hoarse, la la la la, la la la La, la la La LAAAAAHHHHH... Bambi: Candi! Oh, you are sooooo brilliant! That is exactly the answer - Candi: Oh! Er, well, of course! A Knight Move? Bambi: Precisely! Candi: Oooooh, I can hardly wait. I just love Knights and Their Moves! But Bambi, won't you please explain to me just how we were The Hex? Bambi: Not now, Candi. We've got lots of work to do -
Oh oh! What are those Showgirls plotting? Will it have an impact on Vlady's - er, GM Vladimir Kramnik's, play during the second half of the Match? Will a Knight Move come into play (hint hint)? And just what was The Hex, exactly? Stay Tuned for MORE LAS VEGAS SHOWGIRLS!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Golden "Spindle-Shaped" Objects Discovered in Bulgarian Tomb

I'll post the article first and comment later: Amazing Archaeological Discovery in the South of Sakar Mountain Updated on: 20.10.2008, 18:27 Published on: 20.10.2008, 12:17 Author: Diana Stoykova A sensational golden discovery was made in the South of Sakar Mountain by a team of archaeologists under the governance of Ph.D. Borislav Borislavov from Sofia University "Climent Ohridski" and Nadezhda Ivanova - vice-chief (National Institute Of Archaeology And Museum - Bulgarian Academy of Sciences) The excavations were sponsored by the Ministry of Culture through the National History Museum, the sum amounting of 22 000 leva, announced NHM director Bozhidar Dimitrov. The expedition explored a mound in the surroundings of Izvorovo village, Harmanli Municipality. The mound is 31 m in diameter, 2, 9 m in height. Two stages of heaping were determined. The first dates back to the second half of the 2nd millennium B.C. (middle bronze age) and the second - to the 2nd century A.C. (Romanian period) During the Bronze Age a rubble and stamped clay platform was shaped, over which a funeral device was built. It is in fact a mould of quartz with a clay foundation, 8 m in diameter and 2 m in height. At its foundation a crematory funeral was performed. The remains were put in a richly decorated clay pot and dispersed around the stones. At the same level treasures which of extreme importance were found having in mind the period - a golden jewel, consisting of 320 beads: small spherical (2 mm) taking turns with big barley-shaped beads (7 mm), 1, 5 m all, two golden spindle-shaped objects, with a solar decoration, a golden and a silver tile, tied together with a sliver knit, a silver ring and a bronze knife with a stone hone. Golden finds of the same kind have been found only on Crete - these finds, however, outnumber them almost 15 times. Ph.D. Borislavov suspects that it is the mould of a man of utmost importance - a ruler or a high priest. The number and the master's workmanship can be explained by the fact that this region was a major trading road, connecting Asia Minor,the Balkans and Central Europe. These treasures, however, can be the work of a local culture. It is know that Sakar mountain is the home of a mysterious stone culture -the dolmens. The mound was preserved as a cult place, when during the 2nd century A.C. a village was built around it. It is surrounded by a circle of big stone blocks, 22 m in diameter, and heaped by red soil and three levels of stones, which helped its perseverance through the centuries. This discovery is unique not only for Bulgaria and it will shed light on long kept secrets about far forgotten ages. Tomorrow- Tuesday at a press-conference in NHM minister Danailov will personally present the finds to the public. After that they will be exhibited in hall 1 of the National History Museum.
Okay, first of all, the article (and archaeologists) totally slighted the discovery of TWO SPINDLE-LIKE OBJECTS in this tomb. Now darlings, everyone knows that spindles do not appear in men's tombs; they only appear in women's tombs because they were used - say it all together now - in spinning wool and flax for the weaving of cloth! Duh! Compare the previous posted article about the portion of a stone spindle discovered in Iceland. Second, it is premature, without more to go on, to just assume that the mound was the burial spot of a MAN of "utmost importance" - a ruler or a priest. Why not the tome of a female ruler - or a priestess? The TWO GOLDEN SPINDLE-LIKE OBJECTS would seem to point more toward a female burial than a male burial. In the absence of remains that could be analyzed anatomically - only ashes from a cremation - it is totally presumptive, and unfortunately typical - to assume that the burial was male. Can the ashes be analyzed for male or female DNA? Third, I don't know about you, darlings, but the style of that gold bead necklace found in the mound certainly reminds me of necklaces worn by women and not those worn by men, even in the bad old days! In fact, it has a very modern ambiance to it, doesn't it! I think the archaeologist dudes made a big mistake...

Ancient Inscribed Spindle Found in Iceland

From 20/10/2008 11:42 Ancient Spindle with Runes Discovered in Reykjavík A fracture of a spindle with a runic inscription was discovered in an archeological excavation near the Althingi parliament building in Reykjavík last week. It is believed to date back to the 11th century and may be the oldest runic inscription in Iceland. Archeologist Vala Gardarsdóttir, who is in control of the excavation, told Fréttabladid that the discovery is of great significance. “What makes it so special is that it is the only runic inscription from that time that has been found in Iceland.” “This find could tell us a lot about the development of runes in Iceland because it can prove to be an important piece of the puzzle. One could even say that we’ve discovered the missing link,” Gardarsdóttir said. Thórgunnur Snaedal, a professor with expertise in runes, has examined the spindle and decoded the inscription. “The female name Thórunn is probably inscribed to the fraction and the words ‘owns me’.” The spindle is made from green sandstone which indicates that it was made from a stone from Esja, the mountain which towers over Reykjavík. Relics of the oldest inhabitation in Reykjavík have been discovered near the Althingi building, the most important of which is the settlement lodge on Adalstraeti 16. Gardarsdóttir said various objects have been discovered which indicate that during the settlement era this was an industrial area and such operations were probably undertaken inside or next to the lodge.

Oh, Those Showgirls! Kramnik! Anand!

Hola! Things have been developing so quickly in the Kramnik/Anand WCC match in Bonn that the Showgirls can't keep up! But trust me - they's been writing reams of materials and emailing/texting/faxing it to me 24-7. Oy! Rather than waiting until the weekend to assemble all of their reports into one harmonious (or not) whole, I've decided to publish some of their reports as they come in. You can read the Girls' coverage of the first 4 games, published at Goddesschess late Sunday, October 19th - it will give you some much-needed background too on the Girls' rather complicated relationship with Vladimir Kramnik and some of what really happened behind the scenes at the 2000 Brain Games World Chess Championship match in London between Kasparov/Kramnik. Tonight I'm publishing the Girls' bulletins from yesterday and today, as hot off the presses as I can get them up and running here, given the time differential and my work schedule (out the door at 7:30 a.m., in the door at 6:30 p.m.) Even the Girls cannot believe what has been going on - it's almost like a novel what's been happening in Bonn! But it's all true! Kramnik lost again today, once again falling victim in Game 6 to Anand's (1) d4!!!!! I couldn't even make this stuff up if I tried - and neither could the Girls! Anand now leads at the half-way mark 4.5/1.5. Kramnik has only 6 games to frame and forge a comeback -- if he can. Can he? Bambi doesn't seem to think so. Candi seems to think the Girls can concoct some sort of Plan to help Vlady, er, Kramnik, out of his funk. Here, without further ado, are the Girls' reports from Monday October 20 and today, October 21: Monday, October 20, 2008, Paris: Bambi: Okay, this should do it - Candi, tell me what you think of this report to Jan: Dear Jan: White (1) d4 has struck again - this time with disastrous results for Vlady! Unbelievably, in Game 5, Kramnik behind the white pieces played the move Vishy had played in Games 2 and 4! Well, he should have known - copycats always get short shrift! What was he thinking??? While the game involved some intriguing complications (oooh, we just love complications), it was clear after move 29.Nxd4?? that Vlady was lost - and lose he did, to go down 2 full points to Vishy by move 35! Everyone and his uncle is now saying what Vlady should have done was play 29.Ne3 and not swallowed the poison pawn! It is obvious that this former World Champion is not himself - will he be able to recover? The match is only 12 games and in order to avoid a brutal play-off Vlady must win the match outright. So far, he hasn't proven that he can do anything behind the black pieces, and he only has white 3 mores times! What will Vlady do for a come-back tomorrow? More importantly, will Vishy once again uncork (1) d4? Bambi and Candi, Live from Bonn! Candi: Bambi, that's a great report, but it sounds so professional - not quite like us. Do you think Jan will suspect something? Bambi: Oh, I hope not! She can't possibly be reading every single word on the internet about this match - there are millions and millions of them. You know she doesn't care much for men's chess, but then, she is a Goddess and she always seem to know things in a most uncanny way... Candi: Writing from others' internet reports like Polgar and Mig isn't quite the same as being in Bonn live. Poor Vlady! You know, I feel guilty. I think we should go back to Bonn and actually cover the match live, like we promised we would. Maybe we could do something to help Vlady? Bambi: Hmmmm, I've been feeling a bit guilty too. We can always come back to Paris for shopping once Vlady loses - I'm sure it won't take all 12 games! Candi: Bambi! You are not - you are not rooting for Vlady to lose, are you? Bambi: Of course not! I don't wish any ill-will on Vlady. Candi: Bambi - I just have the eeriest feeling that something spooky is going on! Bambi: Hold that thought - we'll talk about it when we get back to Bonn... Tuesday, October 21, 2008, Bonn: Candi: Bambi, oh Bambi, this is a DIS-ASTER! Bambi: Calm down, Candi. Breathe, in ---- out ---- in ---- out ----. That's it. Now sit down, please. Have some Boobie Bottles Tea - here. Candi: Oh, thank you! I feel much better. I think I was cyberventilating! But what are we going to do about this? Bambi: Candi, please, there isn't anything we can do! We can't very well play the games for Vlady, after all, at least - not without cheating. And I would never ever do that in a millions years. And neither would you. Candi: Well, all right, if you say so. But honestly - I told you yesterday - there's something really spooky going on here, and this proves it! Who could possibly have imagined Vishy playing (1) d4 yet again today in Game 6! Unbelievable! I've got chills running up and down my spine just thinking about it. Vlady is doomed, I tell you, doomed! He's hexed - it's come back to haunt him hasn't it - that hex he put on Kaspy back in London. Ohmygoddess! What are we going to do? Bambi: Candi, read my lips - there-is-nothing-we-can-do. Candi: I refuse to believe that. We always come up with a plan, don't we? Remember that time we were cornered in the Casbah in Algiers? And remember that time the pilot had a heart attack on our Cesna and yet we managed to land the plane without a scratch? And remember that time you painted the Black Putin's black labrador white and we had to improvise our escape at the last second because you'd gained so much weight you couldn't get your leg over the wall of the dacha? Bambi: Candi! Don't tell our readers I was too heavy to climb over a brick wall! What will they think? Anyway, I've lost all of that weight and more. Imagine, Jan has started a weight loss plan too, without any prompting from us, and I never thought she'd do that! I think she's planning something spectacular for 2009 and will unveil her new svelt and sexy self in Las Vegas! Candi: Hmmmm, maybe we can find a spot for her in the show -- oh, there you go, dissecting me again. I'm on to your tricks, though, Bambi. You can't fool me again! I am intending. Bambi: Distracting, Bambi, not dissecting, and it's attending, not intending. Yes, you are too sharp for me. Candi: My studying a ten-new-words list every day has vastly improved my vocalibation. Occasionally wearing my glasses helps, too. So - no more dissections! I think we can come up with A Plan. Bambi: Hmmmm, Candi - take a look at this blog entry at Mig's: Bartleby October 21, 2008 12:55 PM Reply That's not him.Instead of playing the slow, quiet position slowly and patiently, he went for dubious activity.Does anyone know if he has fallen in love or something? Candi: Bambi! Do you think it's true - Vlady is in Love!? Bambi: Candi! Control yourself! He is a married man! Candi: WHAT? Oh no he isn't. I KNOW he isn't! Bambi: What are you talking about? For goddess sake, he's been married since December 31, 2006. Chessbase did a big spread on the wedding, photographs and everything. They even got a piece of the wedding cake. Here - look, I've got the website on the laptop -
Candi: Oh, I feel faint, I'm sinking, sinking into the dark swirling mist of unconsciousness, sinking into the abyss of despair - death cannot be far behind - -- whereupon Candi gracefully sinks to the bear skin rug in front of the fireplace in the library where the Girls were sitting in their rented villa on the Rhine River, her eyelids fluttering and then going still.
Oh my! What drama! Candi fainting - she never faints (trust me, I know, wink wink). What could possibly cause her to faint? Why was she sinking into the "abyss of despair"??? Why was she so certain that Kramnik was not married? Okay - enough telegraphing the story line (har!) No - wait! There's a big surprise coming - Jan, don't give everything away! And at long last, the real truth about the Bambi/Candi/Kaspy/Vlady quadrangle will be revealed! As well as lots of other interesting stuff but all subsidiary to Sex! Shopping! Sex! Scandal! Sex! Sleeping! Yes! Yes! Yes!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Quick (Cheaters') Chicken Noodle Soup

I love chicken noodle soup, I just don't like the time it takes to cook up a real batch from scratch. So, here's my recipe for cheater's CN soup: 1 Mrs. Grass chicken noodle soup "nugget" 1 Mrs. Grass chicken noodle soup packet of flavorings Feed Mrs. Grass' thin and skimpy "noodles" to the birds Follow Mrs. Grass' package recipe for making soup but dump everything in before bringing to a boil: 4 cups water, "nugget" (shaped like an egg) and packet of flavorings Add one cup frozen peas Meanwhile: if you like carrots, cut up half a pound in coin size, par-boil, then add to "soup" mix Keep fire low. When simmer level is reached, add four large hands-full of large-size egg noodles Add one chicken flavor boullion cube and cover pot Simmer for 20 minutes or so, until noodles are tender. Taste broth and add salt and pepper as needed. This recipe does not include chicken. If you want a deluxe version, add some shredded chicken from a left-over broast picked up at the supermarket. Delish!

Live - From Bonn - It's Bambi and Candi!

Oh, those fabulous Las Vegas Showgirls, Candi Kane and Bambi Darlin! They put their own particular spin on covering big chess events. Even now they're enroute from shopping in Paris (playing hooky, tsk tsk) back to Bonn to continue their two-of-a-kind coverage of the World Chess Championship Match. Read their report on the first four games! THE CURSE OF (1) d4 FOR KRAMNIK???? Stay tuned for their further unique take on events and more scandalous revelations!!! Oy! If the Showgirls are there, can scandal be far behind?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Chess News

Darlings! Please keep your eye on Goddesschess tonight; even as I type this, delion is busy working on the weekly update to Random Round-up and, in addition, those fabulous Las Vegas Showgirls, Candi Kane and Bambi Darlin, have emailed Goddesschess an exclusive review of the first four games of the World Chess Championship Match between Anand and Kramnik! Their hot off the press review will also be up and running sometime tonight!

China Trying to Calm the Restive Provinces

In addition to clamping down - hard - on the Muslims within the "autonomous regions", China has enacted "land reform." Yeah - right. Let's see how far this reform is implemented in the face of totally corrupt local bureaucracies that the central government continues to do absolutely nothing about: China Enacts Major Land-Use Reform By JIM YARDLEY Published: October 19, 2008 BEIJING — After days of uncertainty, the governing Communist Party on Sunday announced a rural reform policy that for the first time would allow farmers to lease or transfer land-use rights, a step that advocates say would raise lagging incomes in the Chinese countryside. The new policy, announced by Chinese state media, is a major economic reform and is also rich in historical resonance, coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the land reforms enacted by the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, which were considered the first critical steps in the policies that have fueled China’s rapid economic growth. For President Hu Jintao, whose tenure has disappointed some reformers, the new policy seems intended to position him as a worthy heir to Deng. “The new measures adopted are seen by economists as a major breakthrough in land reforms initiated by late leader Deng Xiaoping 30 years ago,” reported Xinhua, the country’s official news agency. Under the current system, farmers are assigned small plots of land. Under the new policy, the government will establish markets where farmers can “subcontract, lease, exchange or swap” land-use rights or join cooperatives. Reform advocates say allowing leasing or transfer would enable the creation of larger, more efficient farms that could increase output. The fate of the reform program has been uncertain for the past week. Analysts had expected an announcement last Sunday after the conclusion of an important annual Communist Party planning session. But the communiqué released after the meeting made no mention of land reform, fueling speculation that opponents may have derailed the plan. Critics had warned that weakening the existing system of collective village ownership could deprive peasants of the security of having a piece of land and possibly lead to millions of landless farmers. [Well, duh! Of course it will, darlings!] But the existing system has become rife with corruption, as local officials and developers have illegally seized farmland for urban expansion while paying minimal compensation to farmers. Signs that the reforms had been approved began to appear during the week. In Chengdu, the capital of the southwestern Sichuan Province, a government land market opened last Monday. On Thursday, a leading Communist Party magazine published an article by one of the country’s most senior officials on rural issues in which he said that the party would create a market for transferring land-use rights in the countryside. Deng’s reforms broke up the collective use, if not ownership, of land and created a household registration system that assigned land to individual families to use as they saw fit. Those reforms enabled farm incomes to rise sharply during the early 1980s, even as city dwellers suffered. But the later creation of an urban real estate market saw an explosion of wealth in the cities that contributed to a sharp income divide between increasingly affluent city dwellers and impoverished peasants. In recent years, rural protests have become increasingly common as disgruntled farmers have demonstrated against illegal land grabs or corrupt local officials. At the same time, tens of millions of farmers have flocked to cities in search of work, leaving plots of land to be tended by their elderly parents. Reducing the rural-urban income gap has been a major priority for Mr. Hu, but the gap has continued to widen in recent years, as China has become one of the most unequal societies in the world. On Sunday, Xinhua also announced the party’s intention to establish a modern rural financial system to extend more credit and investment into the countryside. Chinese banking regulators have been ordered to establish 40 more rural banking institutions by year’s end. Increasing incomes in the countryside is a major part of the government’s effort to raise China’s domestic consumption at a time when the overall economy is slowing. More than 700 million people are still designated as rural inhabitants, yet their spending is minimal. [Well, duh again! That's because they don't have the money to spend, nim-nuts!] Economists say that jump-starting the rural economy is one way to offset the possibility of a recession, as exports are expected to slow because of the global financial crisis. [Yeah, right. Good luck with that.] Huang Yuanxi contributed research.

Chess Princess: Margaret Hua

Ten-year-old set to compete in world chess tournament Rachel Lippmann, KWMU ST. LOUIS, MO (2008-10-15) On a rainy Tuesday night in the Central West End in the thick of an election season, TV's in 600,000 homes across the St. Louis area are tuned into the second presidential debate. The debate is on downstairs at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. But upstairs, the hands of eight players fly between the pieces on the vinyl chess boards in front of them and the switches of their game clocks. It's the Chess Club's weekly blitz tournament, where players play five, five-minute games of chess. Ten-year-old Margaret Hua sits with her feet tucked under her, paying close attention to her unfolding game. She is the only girl, and one of the youngest players here. The fifth-grader at Parkway's Pierremont Elementary School started playing chess with her family three years ago. "Me and my family would just play chess for fun, and then during summer, summer school they found a chess class, and then they put me in it, and I won the teacher, and then the, my parents thought I was pretty good, so I started to play chess tournaments," Margaret said. Those tournaments, and some lessons, have helped Margaret achieve a 1603 ranking from the United States Chess Federation. That makes her the 36th best 10-year-old in the nation, and the 86th best player in Missouri - of all ages. That ranking also earned her a spot on the 30-person team that will represent the United States at this year's World Youth Chess Championship in Vietnam. "What do you think is going to be the best thing about it?" I asked. "That I'll be able to visit the beach, and I'll be able to have a good experience playing with other strong players," Margaret replied. The tournament gives her a chance to compete against the top 10-year-old girls from 70 different countries. The Chess Club is paying Margaret's way to the tournament. Executive director Tony Rich calls Margaret's invitation to the tournament an honor. And he says it shows just how focused she is on the game. "Girls under 10, typically they have lower ratings than the average chess population, so the fact that Margaret has a very respectable chess rating indicates just how committed she is to the game and how focused she really is," Rich said. In her third game at the Tuesday night blitz tournament, Margaret faced off against Joseph Garnier, ranked 38th in the state and the 2005 Missouri Scholastic champion. Garnier gave Margaret chess lessons for about a year. "I would put her in the top three most talented children I've worked with. Now she's so good that I can't even teach her anymore. She might beat me, y'know," he said laughing. "So I have to be humble and admit it, but she's very talented. I know eventually she's going to be beating all of us. It's inevitable." More than an hour after the blitz tournament was over, Margaret, Joseph, and three other players were still gathered around the chess boards, playing a variety of different games and learning some moves that might come in handy in their next tournaments. "I've got one more for Margaret and then you've got to go home," Joseph told her. Margaret's parents, Jun and Diane Hua, looked like they'd been read to go home for a while, since it's a 40-minute drive back to Ballwin, where the family lives. "She's never tired while playing chess," Jun remarked. He hopes his daughter's success at the game gets more girls playing chess in the United States. "Do you think that with you going in and playing so much chess that maybe more girls will start playing?" I asked. "Umm, maybe because I inspire them, I guess?" Margaret replied tentatively. She knows for certain though, that she'd like to be a Grand Master - the highest rating [title] possible for a chess player. © Copyright 2008, KWMU

Another Murder Over a Chess Game

History keeps on repeating itself. The oldest story about a murder over a chess game I've been able to find is the King Canute story that dates to the late 10th or early 11th century CE. Story from The Chicago Tribune: Man dies after chess match leads to fight Associated Press 1:44 PM CDT, October 19, 2008 IOWA CITY, Iowa - A late-night game of chess between neighbors went from a shouting match to a fight that left one man dead early Sunday morning. Michael A. Steward died of his injuries at a local hospital. Police charged his neighbor David Christian with second-degree homicide and public intoxication. Emergency responders found Steward unresponsive at about 3 a.m. on Sunday. Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton says preliminary results from an autopsy are expected back this week. Brotherton says its unknown what injuries Steward suffered in the fight or what caused his death. Brotherton says she doesn't know whether weapons were involved.

Roman Elvis?

Back in the old days of the internet, when the wildly popular The International Chessoid used to ply its trade on the ether with news about chess and chessplayers that was not published anywhere else (mostly because it was all made up), the Chessoid featured "The Dead Ringers of Chess." The creative but admittedly warped minds behind the Chessoid would cull through online archives from history and art galleries for images resembling well-known (and not so well-known) chess players and feature them side-by-side in the Chessoid. Imagine my delight when I saw this article crop up. It really is an uncanny resemblance: £24,000 FOR 'ELVIS' Thursday October 16,2008 By Paul Jeeves A ROMAN marble head that looks like Elvis – right down to the quiff – was sold for £24,000 at auction yesterday. The 13-inch carving, which came from a 2nd century AD sarcophagus, was bought by an unnamed collector at a Bonhams sale in London. Antiquities specialist Georgiana Aitken said: “It bears an uncanny likeness to Elvis. It’s the quiff that does it. It wasn’t a hairstyle of the day as far as I know.”

Oval Objects of Desire

Lovely new book about the Faberge eggs. I have a modest collection of eggs; my most expensive was a "splurge" purchase made in Las Vegas in 1999 (while I was there for the FIDE World Chess Championship) of a Waterford crystal egg from a display I passed in the connecting hallway between Harrah's and the hotel/casino complext next store. It cost $100. The rest of my eggs have ranged in prize from a few dollars to about $20. I also collect pink elephants - but that's another story. OCTOBER 6, 2008 Bookshelf Oval Objects of Desire By JOSEPH TARTAKOVSKY In 1885, Czar Alexander III gave the czarina an Easter present that astonished her. When your wife lives in a palace with 900 rooms, delighting her with a gift is no easy task. And at first, Czarina Marie Fedorovna could have been excused for being underwhelmed by Alexander's offering: It was a plain enameled egg -- the traditional Russian Easter gift -- 2½ inches high. Inside the egg, though, she found a yolk made of gold; inside that, an exquisite golden hen on a bed of golden straw; inside that, a miniature diamond crown; and inside that, a tiny ruby pendant. She'd never seen anything like it. No one had. It so captivated the family that its maker, Carl Gustavovich Fabergé, earned the right to display the royal seal. Nearly every Easter thereafter, Alexander III gave a new Fabergé creation to Marie; when he died, his son Czar Nicholas II continued each spring to present an egg, one to his wife, Alexandra, and one to his mother. Between 1885 and 1916, 50 "imperial eggs" were made for the czars. Then the tradition ended: In 1917, eggs were the last thing on the mind of a czar worried about his very survival. Over the years the Fabergé eggs had grown more elaborate, each with a theme calculated to charm its recipient. When Marie's sons went to sea in 1890 on a Russian cruiser, the egg the following spring contained a gold and platinum replica of the ship floating on aquamarine, with diamonds for portholes. The Danish Palaces Egg from that period was so complex -- featuring watercolor miniatures of palaces from the czarina's youth in Denmark -- that it took a year to make. The 1913 Winter Egg, made of rock crystal and designed to imitate ice, was so perfectly etched and polished that it seemed freezing to the touch. Marie called Fabergé the "greatest genius of our time." (What did Tolstoy ever do for her?) Luscious though Fabergé eggs might be, Toby Faber has not written a book just about glittering baubles. The former managing director of the British publishing house Faber & Faber and the author of "Stradivari's Genius" (2005) argues that these objects have something to teach us about history. Noting, for instance, that Carl Fabergé borrowed designs from the court jewelers of Louis XV and XVI, Mr. Faber observes that the French and Russian dynasties, both coming to gory ends, had both also debauched themselves in riches. While the Romanovs were ogling the latest gem-encrusted Fabergé fantasy, their subjects were farming with medieval tools. But Mr. Faber wisely doesn't turn his story into a grim portrait of unfeeling excess. Instead, he tells a vivid, engrossing tale, describing, for instance, the rise and fall of Rasputin, the czarina's confidant, and giving a harrowing account of the final miserable months of Nicholas II and his family. We see them, prisoners in Siberia, hand-decorating Easter eggs that had been donated by sympathetic villagers, before being shot. The leading character of Mr. Faber's book is, of course, Carl Fabergé. How did he become the world's most famous jeweler, purveyor to half of Europe's nobility? He hailed from a French Huguenot family, Mr. Faber informs us, that had arrived in the Russian Empire by 1800; the surname was probably modified by an ancestor to emphasize Gallic roots at a time when Russian aristocrats spoke French. A brilliant designer and craftsman, Fabergé trained in St. Petersburg, Dresden and Frankfurt before taking over his father's St. Petersburg jewelry store in 1872. Fabergé was a brilliant businessman as well. His company eventually made necklaces, rings, clocks, fans, plates and hundreds of other items; by 1910, it employed more than 1,500 people and turned (in today's dollars) annual profits of $175 million. His detailed system of accounting ensured that he kept his labor costs just low enough so that they never threatened his profit margins. Not that he was a skinflint: Every morning at 10, Fabergé toured his workshop, occasionally taking up a nearly finished object, examining it coolly and then smashing it to pieces. "You can do better," he would tell a gaping craftsman. "Start again and do it right." In 1918, a year after the Russian Revolution, Lenin's commissars seized Fabergé's company and looted dozens of imperial eggs from the deposed czar's possessions. The communists sold the eggs abroad during the 1920s to raise desperately needed hard currency. Other eggs had been smuggled out of the country long before. Mr. Faber tracks these masterpieces as they turn up around the world, from Shanghai flea markets to the private collections of heiresses. It was investor-aficionado Malcolm Forbes who, in modern times, "almost single-handedly" made the eggs into some of the world's most precious objects, Mr. Faber says. Between 1965 and 1985, bidding at auctions and striking private deals, Forbes purchased nine imperial eggs for ever-increasing sums. Mr. Faber wonders whether Fabergé's prestige today is in part the effect, not the cause, of the price that Mr. Forbes was willing to pay. Many people predicted that after Malcolm Forbes's death (in 1990) prices would collapse. They didn't. In 1994 the Winter Egg sold for $5.6 million; eight years later the emir of Qatar bought it for $9.6 million. Then, in 2004, the Forbes family engaged Sotheby's to put its Fabergé hoard -- all nine eggs -- up for sale. A Russian oil magnate named Viktor Vekselberg swooped in before the auction could even take place and bought the lot for $90 million. "There's a satisfying symmetry," Mr. Faber writes, "inherent in the idea of eggs that were once ordered by the czar, the individual at the apex of an aristocratic society, being brought back to Russia by his modern-day successors, the oligarchs who now bestride the Russian economy." Maybe Mr. Vekselberg will someday give his collection to a Russian museum -- say, the famous one in St. Petersburg that was once an imperial palace -- and the circle will be complete. Mr. Tartakovsky is an associate editor of the Claremont Review of Books. Fabergé's Eggs By Toby Faber (Random House, 302 pages, $30)
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