Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Jessie Gilbert

Does anyone remember Jessie Gilbert? Who cries for Jessie Gilbert? Jessie Gilbert died on July 26, 2006. Jessie fell from a window up some 8 stories one night at age 19, while attending a chess tournament in the Czech Republic. At the time of her death, Jessie was due to give testimony against her father on criminal charges of sexual abuse of Jessie and other minor females. After Jessie's death, Mr. Gilbert was found the equivalent of "not guilty." "I loved my daughter", said Mr. Gilbert. Yeah, it seems he loved her to death. Jessie's mother says her daughter killed herself. After the inquest into Jessie's death, Mr. Gilbert sued his former wife for custody of their two minor daughters (Jessie's sisters), then aged 15 and 9. The former Mrs. Gilbert was said to have threatened the life of Mr. Gilbert at the time, but no charges were ever filed against her. Eventually, the story dropped from the public eye. There was substantial evidence of a long history of self-abuse (such as self-slashing) by Jessie Gilbert and earlier suicide attempts. According to news reports at the time, Jessie was on antidepressants at the time of her death. From what I've read, these are classic symptoms of a young child who has suffered sexual abuse. I wonder if Mr. Gilbert had private visitation rights with his two minor daughters after his divorce from their mother. On this day in history: 1999 – Eleven-year-old Jessie Gilbert from Croydon became the World Women’s Amateur Chess Champion. Background coverage at Chessbase.

A Grandmaster Who Gives Back

A great story that deserves more publicity. Thank you, GM Murray Chandler. From The $100,000 thank-you Russell Blackstock January 8, 2009 Queenstown Chess Classic organiser Murray Chandler is personally underwriting the international tournament with a six-figure sum. The New Zealand grandmaster – who owns property in the resort – also put his hand in his pocket to the tune of $30,000 for the inaugural contest three years ago. This time the prize pot for the 10-day competition – which starts at the Millennium Hotel next Thursday – is a whopping $50,000. “I’m underwriting the tournament again for about $100,000 as a thank you to the NZ chess community, who were fantastic to me when I started out as a professional player in 1975 when I was aged 15,” says Chandler. “I’ve had a wonderful time playing throughout the world and will never forget the tremendous support I received as a youngster.” About 115 competitors have registered for this year’s event, including strong representation from Europe. An additional $6500 is also on offer in the NZ Rapidplay and Lightning Championships – and for under-18s, a Queenstown Junior Classic is being introduced over four mornings.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

More Photos from Christmas, 2008

A couple of dondelion's photos from The Venetian. This is "St. Martin's Square" inside the Venetian Hotel. This shot was taken on Christmas night, after we'd seen "Phantom of the Opera." We had 10:30 PM dinner reservations at a restaurant on the "Square" and were reconnoitering the territory and taking in some of the local entertainment prior to supper. There was a musical group playing (off camera). The "Square" was packed with people (I've never seen it otherwise during my prior visits) and dondelion chose this shot toward a corner of the "Square" to show the skyline and realistic "architecture"The sky was tending toward "sunset" at the time (it changes on a regular schedule from sunrise to sunset). Another shot of "St. Martin's Square," this one toward the opposite end of the "Square." The sky is deepening in color toward evening and the "Square" is packed with revelers! Our restaurant is on the right (outdoor seating), marked with the small oval yellow sign on the wrought-iron fencing. The lights and fencing on the right mark off one of Wolfgang Puck's restaurants.

Think Burning "Witches" Is a Thing of the Past?

Think again. Ohmygoddess! What a horrible, monstrous story. Report from ABC Woman burnt at stake in PNG: reports Posted 8 minutes ago Updated 9 minutes ago A young Papua New Guinea woman was lashed naked to a pole and burnt to death in what authorities fear may be another sorcery killing in the jungle interior of the country, local media reported. Black magic is still practiced in the highlands of Papua New Guinea and women are often killed for having extra marital affairs, being accused of sorcery, or blamed for spreading HIV/AIDS. Witnesses told The Post Courier newspaper that the woman, aged between 16 and 20, was stripped, blindfolded, gagged and tied to a pole on Tuesday. "The girl was stripped naked and could not shout for assistance or resist as she was tightly strapped and her mouth gagged," witness Jessie James told the newspaper. Truck tyres and firewood were then placed around her, petrol poured over the tyres and wood and set alight, Mr James said. "I don't know the right words to describe it but it's barbaric. Can you find the best words to describe such acts that are rampant here?" highlands police chief Simon Kauba said. The Post Courier newspaper editorial condemned the killing, saying PNG's hysteria over sorcery was creating a climate similar to the 17th century witch trials in America. "If it is alleged she was a sorcerer, this is yet one more example of hysteria and superstition running rampant in parts of our country," the editorial said. "Sorcery is a most difficult crime to prove. "In the witchery trials of America, hundreds of years ago, hysteria took charge and terrible injustices were done. "People were burned at the stake. We are doing the same thing now. "How many of our young are afraid to go home because of these sorcery beliefs and vengeance practices? "Those who say she got primitive justice should pause to think, it could be you next on that truckload of burning tyres." - Reuters

How Britain Planned to "Resist" A German Occupation

A fascinating story, all the more so because it's true. From The Times January 5, 2009 Secret army of ‘scallywags’ to sabotage German occupation Michael Evans, Defence Editor By day they were ordinary civilians — from dentists and clergymen to gamekeepers and roadmenders – in a Britain gripped by fear of imminent invasion by Hitler’s blitzkreig troops. The only clue to their alter egos might have been the pieces of paper in their pockets – informing any police officer suspicious of their behaviour “to ask no questions of the bearer but phone this number”. But new details have now emerged of the highly secretive role played by a “resistance” army of fit young men and women chosen as would-be saboteurs and spies in the event of a German landing. In the dark days of 1940, the unit grew to about 6,000 members, who knew little of each other and operated in small guerrilla groups. Recruited to disrupt a German occupation force – including roles such as blowing up tanks, lorry parks and communications – the teams prepared by carrying out covert missions, known as “scallywagging”, at night. The Auxiliers, as they were known, formed operational patrols of seven or eight heavily armed men who emerged from hideouts to watch the coastlines of East Anglia for any sign of approaching German commandos. Their role was to engage in irregular warfare, which meant that, as civilians, their capture by the Germans would have led to their instant execution as spies. Not everyone in the military hierarchy approved of the concept, believing that only men in uniform should be recruited to fight the enemy. Official records of the GHQ Auxiliary Units – whose creation was authorised by the inner War Cabinet, chaired by Winston Churchill – have rarely been released by the National Archives. Now John Warwicker, a 78-year-old retired Scotland Yard Special Branch officer, has unlocked some of the secrets and written an account of the resistance organisation-in-waiting, called Churchill’s Underground Army. “There is unnecessary secrecy about these units [but] Britain’s stay-behind army of civilian men and women should not be cast aside or written off as insignificant,” Mr Warwicker said. Even those recruited for bombing missions never knew who was really behind the idea. Mr Warwicker said that they had thought they were working for the War Office, but GHQ Auxiliary Units were financed by MI6, and one element of it, the Special Duties Section, became so experienced in covert operations that after the threat of invasion receded, members of the section were snatched up by the SAS for the rest of the war. Some of the Special Duties Section spies were women. Many of those who were recruited into the Auxiliary Units had been selected from the ranks of the Home Guard – yet as one senior officer recorded at the time: “To compare them with the Home Guard was to compare the Brigade of Guards with the Salvation Army.” “They were a secret guerrilla group – the members were not to know each other. As cover for their activities they were to appear to continue their lives entirely normally,” Mr Warwicker said. The key man in each patrol group had a store of explosives and weaponry hidden away and only he knew where it was. When the idea was first mooted in 1940, recruiters were dispatched around the country to find suitable candidates: men and women who had not been sent to war because they were needed on the land or in other vital jobs. The trawl included clergymen, gamekeepers, poachers, dentists and roadmenders. “A minor police record was not necessarily a disadvantage,” Mr Warwicker said. Each operational patrol was also issued with one gallon of rum. The jar was to be opened only to relieve pain in the event of injury or in the face of imminent capture, in the belief that “a tot or two might help to extend the time an auxilier could be expected to resist interrogation and torture”. In 1944 an ungrateful War Office demanded the return of every jar of rum, unopened and still with an official seal. It failed to notice that many, while still apparently sealed, were filled with green tea – or something similar. ‘I said I would do anything’ Case study Don Handscombe, an early recruit to Churchill’s underground army, recalls the moment when he was arrested by a sharp-eyed police constable who wanted to know why he was scurrying around at night with a revolver in a holster. Now 90 and living in Suffolk, Mr Handscombe told The Times: “I said I was with the Home Guard but he didn’t believe me. He didn’t like the look of me — this was after Dunkirk when we expected to be invaded. I had to spend a few hours in a police cell until our intelligence officer arrived to release me.” After that, Auxiliers were given a note to produce in such circumstances. Mr. Handscombe, who was trained in explosives and marksmanship, had been recruited while he was working as a farm manager: “I was asked what I was prepared to do for my country and I said I would do anything.”
This is scary stuff. I remember in college back in early 80's in one political science class, we did a series of exercises trying to imagine what it would be like if the - then - seemingly powerful Soviet Union invaded the United States. (Remember the television mini-series "Amerika?" - really scary stuff!) Was it better to be Red than Dead? Or better to be Dead than Red? I opted for better Dead than Red and joined a subversive group to undermine the ruling Communists. Easy to pretend to do so, in a college classroom. If push ever came to shove, what would I really do, more than 30 years later?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Las Vegas Pictures, December 25-26, 2008

dondelion wanted to get a photograph of one of the slots at the Casino in the Wynn and it didn't occur to me until he was literally in the middle of his shot that - I think the casinos don't like this! I'm sure I heard this somewhere or other. Of course, that hasn't stopped me from taking pictures in many of the LV casinos. Realistically, if a competitor wants to find out what is going on in another casino, it only has to send in some people with a notepad and paper, or good memories, and report on what they see. So maybe there is no longer a big taboo about taking photos inside a casino! This is a rather shakey shot of the theater at the Venetian where we saw "The Phantom of the Opera." It was stressed several times that photographs were strictly prohibited, but as it was after the show we figured what the heck - dondelion wanted a photo so I handed him my camera and said go for it, Mr. Don. As he was getting ready to snap a very large female attendant looked up at us from about 10 rows and one section over and started making tracks as she yelled "NO PHOTOGRAPHS ALLOWED." I hinted that Mr. Don might want to HURRY IT UP and even as the flash was dying I grabbed the camera from him, shut it down and shoved it into my purse as we beat a hasty retreat. It brought back to mind memories of running out of the vault at the Prado in Madrid in October, 2002, after I took an illicit photo of a crystal barque on golden wheels that, unfortunately, was done in pre-digital days and came out mostly blurred. I've never published that particular photograph. The guards ran after Mr. Don and I, we just were closer to the vault door and the narrow hallway was crowded, so I was able to worm my way away... I've no doubt they would have confiscated my camera if I'd been caught. It is an absolutely spectacular space and you can see - lit in all its glory, the chandelier that plays such an important role in the play.
I'm trying to remember where this photograph was taken - somewhere on the enormous grounds of Caesar's Palace, I believe, and it had to have been taken on Christmas Eve day, because we spent all Christmas Day at Isis' and Michelle's place and didn't get back to the hotel until after dark. This was taken near a shrine - I think dondelion got a picture of that, I'll look for it. The garden in this area is parterred and lovely, even in winter. There are three fountains, this is a shot of one. Our hotel, the Imperial Palace, can be seen in the distance, next to Harrah's.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

More Photos from Christmas, 2008

dondelion, Isis and yours truly, at Isis and Michelle's new house. This photo was taken by Michelle in the living room - the fireplace (not seen) is in the background. Behind the curtains on the right is a sliding door to one of the patios and the pool. The chair that dondelion and Isis are sharing is Michelle's papasan chair. I was sitting on a "hard" chair to avoid pet dander. No - dondelion is not Chinese and no, I do not have lights embedded in my cheekbones. Isis and Michelle's pool. Even in December it's inviting! Isis had new grass laid in, the concrete surfaces around the patio and house were resurfaced, textured and painted, and the block fence was also painted to coordinate with the painted concrete and the newly-painted trim on the house. To the right is the golf course. During the early part of our visit, there was a sun-shower, it was raining on the golf course but on the other side of the fence where we were standing, it was dry! Later a fierce rain storm rolled in and blew branches and debris into the pool and pounded us as we drove back to the hotel. Here is Michelle in one of the 360 degree chairs - it turns in a circle 360 degrees so you can face the wide flat-screen t.v., the patio doors with a view of the pool or the fireplace. Behind is the "formal" front entry to the house. On the wall to the right of the entry is one of Isis' oil paintings (among other things, Isis is a painter). In the breakfast room where we ate brunch, dondelion relaxes next to another of Isis' paintings. No, it's not Twiggy although it does resemble the model during her hey-day in the mid 1960's. The table isn't visible - it's a Saarinen style white pedestal table surrounded by four deeply cushioned button- upholstered 360-degree rotating chairs in ecru.

More Photos from Christmas, 2008

More photos from The Domes at Mitchell Park (December 28, 2008). A view of the mini-lagoon in the Tropical Dome. Makes me want to stay there forever, it's so beautiful... Close-up of a banana tree, with bananas, in the Tropical Dome. A view in the Arid Dome.

Turkish Housewife Opens Her Own Museum

Okay - how could this person possibly afford to do this - is she independently wealthy? Does she have some other source of income? Where did these objects come from that she is now displaying in her "museum"? How did she acquire them? Did she buy them and, if so, for how much? Were they gifts to her and, if so, from whom and when? Did she dig them out of the ground herself and, if so, where and when, and did she meet all requirements for legal export/import of ancient antiquities? Where did the money come from for the lady to purchase a house to use as a museum? Was this article done as the equivalent of Turkey's "April Fool's Day"? Inquiring minds want to know! Story from Hurriyet Daily January 4, 2009 Housewife opens museum GAZİANTEP - After collecting historical artifacts in her home, housewife Füsun İşsever has bought a historical Gaziantep house, restored it and turned it into a museum. The latest pieces she has added to her museum are three important artifacts from the Roman Empire. İşsever lives in the southeastern city of Gaziantep. She said she had dreamed of setting up a museum for many years and, so she could display historical artifacts to a wider audience and in a historical space. She said she had bought an old Antep house right next to the city’s historic castle and began to display nearly 1,500 artifacts. "Glass, porcelain and hand-made clothes are on display at the museum, which is called the Medusa Culture and Art House. There is also a jewelry store in the museum. A jeweler from Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and a filigree master from Mardin’s Midyat district work in the store." İşsever added that the glassware in the museum was Turkey’s second largest collection after the Koç Foundation collection. Rare figures in the museum The museum has recently put on display four important artifacts from the Roman Empire. One of them features a queen giving birth, the child is born dead and an angel takes him to heaven. Another 3,000-year-old artifact depicts the Greek god of wine drinking, and people playing the flute and having fun behind him. İşsever said it was a very rare item. A 3,500-year-old wine cube depicts Zeus, Apollo and Alexander the Great returning from war. An ancient Greek bowl portrays running horses, carriages, and a queen.
Did you catch that? Alexander the Great appearing on a 3,50o year old "wine cube?" Darlings, Alexander the Great died in the 4th century BCE!

Paintings from the Lost Tomb of Nebamun

How grateful I am that any of these magnificent tomb paintings have survived since c. 1500 BCE, and how sad I am that antiquities robbers destroyed so much of their beauty for money. Irreplaceable heritage and history destroyed forever and hacked out of the 'living rock' of our memories for a few lousy bucks. A pox and a curse on the houses of those people who dealt in and continue to deal in such iniquity! I am really GLAD the man who destroyed Nebamun's tomb died on the streets of London a pauper. Photo: Nebamun, his wife and daughter on board a skiff, during a hunting trip. For colours, the unknown 'Michelangelo of the Nile' would have used soot, desert stones and ground glass Photograph: Corbis (Notice the cat, sort of "floating" at the knees of Nebamun, helping herself to the plethora of birds! Cats - invariably female - were Egyptian symbols for female sexuality and the recreative force, embodied in such goddesses as Bast (Bastet) and the powerful and ancient lioness-headed Sekhmet (Sakhmet), an aspect of equally ancient goddess Hathor (Het-hert), often depicted as a cow-headed woman. In later depictions, Hathor was depicted as a woman sporting long cow horns with the Sun resting in-between, and often confused with renditions of Isis.) Raiders of the lost art They are ancient Egypt's greatest tomb paintings, yet they were created for a middle-ranking official by an unknown artist. As the Nebamun panels go on display in the British Museum, Robin McKie reveals a tale of exquisite craftsmanship and a 3,500-year-old tabby cat Robin McKie The Observer, Sunday 4 January 2009 Enter the British Museum's new Egyptian gallery and you will be struck by a line of painted panels of unexpectedly rich colouring and extravagant composition. On one panel, a pair of naked female dancers, their fingers interlaced, glide sinuously before a crowd at a banquet. Beside them, a flute player stares out from the painting, her hair shimmering as if she is swaying to the music. Each figure is distinct, individual and freely drawn, their proportions and detail captured perfectly. Wander further along the main wall and you will find other exuberant depictions of everyday life in 18th Dynasty Egypt: a boy driving cattle along a road; geese, stored in baskets, ready for the market; a farmer, stooped and balding, checking his fields, and a hunt through reed beds that burst with creatures - shrike, wagtails and pintail ducks - easily identifiable still. These are the tomb paintings that once belonged to Nebamun, a court official who lived almost 3,500 years ago, and they are the greatest surviving paintings we have from ancient Egypt. Each was created for Nebamun by a painter as gifted as any of the Renaissance's finest artists, and they will be revealed to the public this month when the British Museum opens a special gallery dedicated to them, a 10-year project that has cost £1.5m to complete. It will be a striking addition to the museum. Yet for all the effort that has gone into the gallery's construction and the studies of its paintings, mystery still shrouds the Nebamun panels. For a start, archaeologists have no idea about the identity of the artist who created them and are equally puzzled why a painter of such talent was involved with a relatively minor clerk like Nebamun. Nor do historians have any record of the original tomb's location. The man who discovered them was a Greek grave robber called Giovanni d'Athanasi, who dug them up in Thebes, as Luxor was then known, and then passed them on, via a collector, to the British Museum. However, in 1835 D'Athanasi fell out with curators over his finder's fee and refused to divulge the precise position of the tomb. He took his secret to the grave, dying a pauper in 1854 in Howland Street, a few minutes' walk from the museum. Ever since, archaeologists have searched in vain for the tomb of Nebamun and any treasures that it may still contain. The Nebamun paintings have - to say the least - a colourful history, and the task of unravelling it, and for caring for these remarkable works, has been handled by Egyptologist Richard Parkinson. Dapper, bow-tied and possessed of an infectious enthusiasm for his subject, Parkinson showed me the panels last November, when they were cased in wood and glass, ready for removal to their new gallery. They were stacked in a museum basement store which held other Egyptian artefacts, including a series of panels dedicated to a chief treasurer, Sobekhotep. Think of him as the 18th Dynasty's answer to Alistair Darling, a politician who controlled the nation's wealth and economic destiny. Yet the panels commemorating him are thin, lifeless and provide little feeling for the man's life or times, or any sense of artistic sensitivity. By contrast, the artwork that celebrates Nebamun's life bursts with energy. In one panel, he stands on a papyrus skiff at the head of a hunting trip into reed-covered marshes filled with tilapia and puffer fish, Egyptian red geese, tiger butterflies, black and white wagtails and an exquisitely painted tawny cat that is helping itself to the birds being brought down by Nebamun. The cat is a product of particularly grand draughtsmanship, in which stripes and dots have been delicately assembled to produce a magnificently whiskered tabby. Scales on fish, feathers on ducks and soft folds in the clothes of the Nebamun retinue have also been created this way. It is an extraordinary evocation of Egyptian life, its vitality undimmed 3,500 years later. As for Nebamun, in the hunting panel he towers over proceedings, his wife Hatshepsut beside him and their daughter at his feet. Wearing a black wig and a great collar of beads, he strikes a pose that is assured and proud, almost regal. Yet Nebamun was really just a bean counter - or to be precise, a grain counter whose job was to make sure the wheat stores in the temple of Amun were properly controlled. So how did this middle-grade civil servant acquire the services of one of the greatest painters of ancient Egypt while his superiors had to make do with second-rate artists? "These are the greatest paintings we have from ancient Egypt," Parkinson says. "There is nothing to touch them in any museum in the world. Yet they were created for an official too lowly to have been known by the pharaoh. It is quite extraordinary." Parkinson does, however, have an intriguing explanation. The "Michelangelo of the Nile" who created these great tomb panels was almost certainly working on another project in the neighbourhood of Nebamun's tomb at the time. This building or burial complex would have been constructed, and decorated, on a far grander style for a far more important figure. Nebamun merely slipped the artist and his team some extra cash and they stole off to paint his own panels. In short, the secret of his tomb and its great painting lies with one word: backhanders. "Life then was not that different from today," says Parkinson. Ironically, the artist's main project was no doubt a finer work, but it has disappeared, looted and trashed like the vast majority of ancient Egypt's great treasures. The Nebamun panels are the only record we have of this genius. We have therefore good reason to be grateful to Nebamun, one of life's perennial opportunists, but an astute collector of fine art just the same. As to their purpose, the paintings were intended to make Nebamun appear important in the afterlife. They would have covered the tomb's upper level, while his body was interred in a chamber below ground. Friends and family would have visited the upper part of the tomb, left gifts and held feasts to commemorate Nebamun's life. "This was where life and death merged," says Parkinson. Thus the paintings were not buried and hidden away but established a link between the living and the dead. Hence their importance to Nebamun's family. They were to be appreciated, leisurely, after the man's death as reminders of his achievements. They were certainly not created at a leisurely rate, however, as Parkinson has found in his investigations of the paintings. Once the tomb's stone walls had been erected, they were covered in straw and Nile mud mixed together into a squishy paste. Then, when this was dry, a thin layer of white plaster was added. As that started to dry, the artist and his team began to paint, using soot from cooking pots, desert stones for red, yellow and white pigments, and ground glass for blue and green. Rushes, chewed at the end, would have acted as brushes. Squashed into the dark, narrow upper tomb, the painters would have had to work by lamplight before the plaster dried. The results are almost impressionistic in the freedom of their execution. "I think Nebamun had all his paintings done for his tomb-chapel walls in three months," says Parkinson. "Yet the draughtsmanship was quite wonderful. The thing is that although the artist and his team may have done them in a few weeks, I have now spent a quarter of my life studying their handiwork." The panels' importance to modern eyes is clear. They tell us a great deal about ancient Egypt and its everyday activities, and about differences and similarities between life then and now. "The straw crates in which geese are sold at market - you see these on just about every street corner in Cairo," says Parkinson. "And the women's jet-black hair and skin colour are just the same as we see in Egypt today." However, Parkinson warns about drawing too many parallels between modern life and the scenes depicted in the panels. Objects and animals are often included because they had great symbolic importance. That great hunt scene is more than a depiction of everyday life: the birds and cat are symbols of fertility and female sexuality, and Nebamun's expedition can also be seen as "taking possession of the cycle of creations and rebirth", as one scholar has put it. Certainly, visitors should take care when trying to interpret the panels' meaning. Nevertheless, the paintings repay detailed inspection. On several of them, you can see where d'Athanasi's grave robbers had started to crowbar a panel from a wall only to find it cracking, ready to split. They would then move on to splinter open the panel at a new spot. "Only 20 per cent of the panels survived these attacks," adds Parkinson. "Only sections that would appeal to British audiences were taken: the ones with naked dancing girls and scenes from gardens. Perfect for our taste, in short." One or two other fragments did end up in other museums, including several that are now kept in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin. Evidence also suggests that a handful of fragments may survive elsewhere. For example, records from the Cairo Museum show that, just after the second world war, a few sections from the tomb were about to be exported from Egypt, a move that was opposed by its government - so officials had the panel pieces photographed and stored in the great vaults below the Cairo Museum. And that is where they rest today, though their precise location has been lost. All that is known is that among the tens of thousands of other ancient treasures kept in the museum's store, the missing Nebamun panels are today gathering dust in a dark, lost corner. It is a strange fate and it invites - irresistibly - a comparison with the fictional resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, dumped in a mammoth warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. In short, a fantastic end for some fantastic art.

Treasure Trove!

From the Jewish Community Voice, published by the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey December 31, 2008 Ancient coins found in Jerusalem STRIKING GOLD… A cache of ancient gold coins was discovered at a Jerusalem archeological site. More than 250 coins, thought to be 1,300 years old, were found in the excavations at the Givati car park in the City of David. Archeological excavations under the auspices of the Israel Antiquities Authority began in the area two years ago. The coins were discovered on the site of a large seventh century C.E. building that is being uncovered. Since no other pottery vessels were discovered near the hoard, it is suspected that the coins were hidden inside a niche in the building's wall, according to Dr. Doron Ben-Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets, the directors of the excavation at the site on behalf of the Antiquities Authority. "This is one of the largest and most impressive coin hoards ever discovered in Jerusalem—certainly the largest and most important of its period," the directors said in a news release. (JTA)

"Fires of Vesuvius" by Mary Beard

Historian Mary Beard has a new book on the market, fascinating in its approach to telling us (average readers) what archaeology can - and cannot - tell us, even in this day of modern technological miracles and analysis. From The St. Petersburg Times Review: In 'Fires of Vesuvius' by Mary Beard, Pompeii's ruins have much to tell By David Walton, Special to the Times In print: Sunday, January 4, 2009 “Everything is not as it may at first seem," historian Mary Beard says of today's Pompeii, the Roman city buried by volcanic ash in an eruption of Mount Vesuvius on Aug. 27, 79 CE. The destruction of Pompeii is one of the best-remembered incidents from ancient history, not just for its drama, but also because an entire city "frozen in time" offers a unique glimpse into everyday life in the ancient world. Graffiti is still on the walls, bodies still in the postures of dying. But, as Beard points out in her wonderfully comprehensive The Fires of Vesuvius, Pompeii has two histories, one that ended with the eruption, another that began with the excavation. Throughout the 19th century people dug, reconstructed, speculated and theorized and, as millions today do, toured the site. Beard's book is, first of all, an excellent account of what the ruins of Pompeii can and cannot tell us. Archaeologists can now determine from preserved seeds and pollen exactly what plants grew in Pompeii's gardens. They can measure the plaque on the victims' teeth. Yet we cannot be sure what the upstairs rooms of houses were used for, or for certain where people slept. Nor can we assume that objects were in their ordinary locations. Rather than a city frozen in time, Pompeii was, Beard says, a city in flight — evidenced by the comparatively few bodies found. Especially misleading is the "austere modernist aesthetic, uncluttered, even uncomfortably empty," of reconstructed homes. Furniture and doors were burned away, leaving only bone hinges, bronze fittings and outlines of furnishings. Early visitors entered Pompeii through its cemeteries, which by Roman custom were outside the city. Victorian visitors were entering a city of the dead. We today enter through a Visitor Center — but the distinction goes beyond commercialism. For Beard, drawing on the latest archaeological findings, Pompeii is a living city. David Walton is a writer in Pittsburgh.
The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found By Mary Beard Harvard University Press, 360 pages, $26.95

Hastings International Chess Congress

IM/WGM Jovanka Houska is hanging tough with the leaders after 7 rounds of the Masters Tournament at the Hastings International Chess Congress (December 28, 2008 - January 5, 2009) with 5.0. Her round 8 matchup will be a tough one, as she is outranked by nearly 200 ELO points. Eek! 3 HOUSKA,Jovanka 2399 (5) - HOWELL,David 2593 (5) 20 3 A relative hand-full of other chess femmes are also playing in the Hastings Masters (104 entries): HAGESAETHER Arne, NOR, 2181 FLEAR Christine, FRA, wim 2092 WILSON Alexandra, SUI, wfm 2026 NORINKEVICIUTE Rasa, LTU, wfm 2005 JUCIUTE Einora, LTU, 1815 DALE Hannah, ENG unr Houska is the currently reigning British Women's Chess Champion.

Rilton Cup

Several chess femmes are playing in the Rilton Cup (December 27, 2008 - January 5, 2009) - here are their standings after R8: 10 GM Cramling Pia SWE 2550 5,5 34 WIM Boric Elena BIH 2292 4,0 43 WGM Sammalvuo Niina FIN 2249 4,0 72 Agrest Inna SWE 2215 1,0 (in last place) Leader: 1 GM Wojtaszek Radoslaw POL 2599 6,0

Saturday, January 3, 2009

More Christmas, 2008 Photos

Photographs from the Show Dome at Mitchell Park.

Koneru Humpy - I Want to Be World Champion

‘Winning the World championship is my dream’ Story from The Hindu January 4, 2009 HYDERABAD: World No. 2 Koneru Humpy has decided to compete in more men’s events in 2009 with the specific objective of breaking the ELO 2650 barrier (her current rating is ELO 2621) and for that she is also planning extensive preparations to master some of the complicated lines in the middle-game. Talking to The Hindu during her visit to Hyderabad for the ONGC inter-active coaching camp, in which Super GM Krishnan Sasikiran, Sandeepan Chanda, Neelotpal Das and Konguvel are also involved, the 21-year-old Humpy said the semifinal defeat in the last World championship [that is, Women's World Chess Championship] still haunts her as she had lost that contest from a seemingly comfortable position. “I don’t think I had a moderate year in 2008 given the fact that I won a bronze in the World championship, helped my club Monaco finish second in the European Club championship, finished second after tying for the first place in the Mumbai International event and good rating points in the Spanish Ruy Lopez championship,” she said. Consistent About five years ago, Viswanathan Anand rated Humpy and Pentyala Harikrishna as the potential world champions. Does it hurt her that she is still to win the big title? “Certainly not. The fact that I have been the World No. 2 for more than three years, and considering the fact that Judith Polgar is the No. 1 despite not playing in the women’s circuit for a long time now, is proof that I am consistent at the highest level. But, no doubt, winning the World championship is the dream I am chasing now,” she said. Humpy said she needs to improve her openings repertoire and look for complicated lines especially in the middle-game. “There is no need for a ‘second’ even now. My father (Koneru Ashok) will continue to be my coach and he is capable of helping me realise my dream of becoming a world champion one day,” she asserted. “Yes, it is a pity that not many international Grandmasters tournaments are being held in India compared to countries like China. This is a major handicap for all Indians as playing abroad is a pretty expensive affair and it will be worse given the economic recession now prevailing,” she said. High expectations “I am aware that having won the 2001 World junior championship, expectations on me are naturally high. There is no doubt that I badly need a really big win to silence some of the critics,” Humpy said. “Definitely, the standard of chess has improved a lot in India in recent times. There are many more brilliant players now analysing the positions with a high level of excellence and the game is really getting competitive which is good.” For the first time in her international career, Humpy will be taking a three-month break before competing in an international event.


Sometime between the last time I logged off on 12/22/08 and the next time I tried to log in on 12/23/08 my desk top in the upstairs den got bounced off my wireless network - and one vacation, one telephone call to AT&T support hell and countless hours of trying to get this desk top back online later, I jerryrigged a connetion between my wireless router and the desktop just to get internet access. My bedroom is torn apart (that's where the telephone jack and DSL modem is, along with the wireless router), my den is torn apart, the computer hutch that houses the desk top is now wheeled into my bedroom and everything is a gigantic mess! At present, I'm just not up to another call to AT&T support. Maybe tomorrow, after a good night's sleep. Anyway, I see that Fearless Leader says that chess will soon be an Olympic sport. Yeah, he's smoking the really good stuff again. Ha! Talk about pipe dreams.

2008 North American Open

We were enroute back home when the North American Open started at Bally's on December 26, 2008. Too bad, I would have liked to stay and watch some of the chess. Oh well, such is life. Only a few chess femmes (as far as I can tell) participated in the 89 player Open, which was won by GM Giorgi Kacheishvili 2657 (he's listed as NY - never heard of this highly rated GM before, he cannot be an American resident, can he???) - with 6.0/7. Here are the chess femmes: 71 WIM Ruth I Haring 1936 CA) 2.5/6 79 Marian M Nita III 2120 (CA) 1.5/6 Brian Wall (2229), a chess friend from the days of Chess Goddesses website (2001-2004) finished in 51st place with 3.0/7. Way to go Brian, still slugging it out in the trenches! Dr. Eric Moskow (2229) also played in this event. He set a goal in 2007 to achieve an IM title. I'm glad to see he's still working toward that goal, finishing in a respectable 43rd position with 3.0/7. As the classes drop in ELO the chess femmes playing increase. In the U2100 (125 players): 31 Vanessa A West 2040 (CA) 4.0/7 48 Hana Itkis 2090 (NJ) 3.5/7 59 Megan Lee 1910 (WA) 3.5/7 72 Amanda R. Mateer 1987 (AZ) 3.0/7 96 Kelly Zhang 1936 (CA) 2.0/7

Sri Lankan Female Chess Masters

From The Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka f/k/a Ceylon) January 3, 2009 Pramodaya first woman Master Pramodaya Senanayake of Musaeus College Colombo was the first Sri Lankan woman FIDE Master after competing in the 37th Chess Olympiad held in May-June 2006 in Italy. She scored six out of nine points to achieve this feat. She was attending school in that year and had also won a bronze medal at the Asian Schools Chess Festival held in Singapore in December 2005. Thereafter, Nirmala from Visakha Vidyalaya, Colombo too had achieved the title of woman FIDE Master a few years later. Besides these two women, the latest girl to achieve this feat is Supeshala Thilakawardane also of Musaeus College. She achieved this title when participating in the Chess Olympiad held in Germany in November last year. It was inadvertently published by Daily Mirror that Thilakawardane was the first woman FIDE Master in Sri Lanka. We regret this error as credit must go to Pramodaya Senanayake who was also a student of Musaeus College. This fact was brought to the notice of Daily Mirror by G.S. Dissanayake who was the secretary of the Chess Federation for ten years since being elected in 1975 for the first time. R. Bodhinagoda was the president at that time. (TBR)

Antique Chess Table and Set Stolen

Hmmm, this all sounds rather suspicious to me. It has to be someone knowledgeable about antiques, not your run of the mill English burglar just rummaging around! From BBC News January 3, 2009 Antiques stolen in house burglary Hand painted pictures and candle snuffers were among a haul of antiques stolen from a Northamptonshire house. Burglars broke in through patio doors at the back of the property in High Street, Gretton, police said. Among the items stolen in the raid on Friday morning were a mahogany table with in-laid chess table with hand carved pieces in red and white. Northamptonshire police have appealed for anyone with information about the raid to contact them. Also stolen was a black writing box with a mother of pearl top and blue velvet interior with a silver and glass inkpot, various silver antique match boxes and a pair of flint lock pistols, one of which had a male's head in brass on the bottom of the handle.

Friday, January 2, 2009

2009 U.S. Women's Chess Championship

This is a late announcement of this important news: The new posh St. Louis Chess Club will be hosting the 2009 U.S. Women's Chess Championship sometime in late summer or early fall. This announcement was made in October, 2008. I don't understand why firm dates have not yet been set! I mean, come on fellas, the ladies have to get their 2009 playing calendars firmed up and, as you are no doubt aware, invitations to events are often accepted and/or set months in advance. What's the hold-up on announcing firm dates for this event??? The purse is certainly attractive: $64,000.00 total with $15,000.00 going to first the place winner. ("Men's" Championship purse is $100,000.00 with $30,000.00 going to first place and will be held sometime in May, 2009 - I did not see exact dates at either USCF or St. Louis Chess Club's websites). Here is more information from the announcement: The tournament is a 9 round event, paired using the Round Robin pairing system with one round per day and a rest day between rounds 5 and 6. Time controls will be the classical 40 moves in 2 hours, with the remaining moves in 1 hour. Invitations will be sent to the top 10 U.S. women by their rating. Earlier this evening Isis and I had a little chat about the 2009 Goddesschess prize for the U.S. Women's Chess Championship. This will be Goddesschess' third year of funding a special prize for the Women's Championship. Stay tuned for further information - we're working on the details and arrangements.

Friday Night Miscellany

Oy, I've got the Mother of all head colds. Drat! I have gotten sick after several trips in the past, but was hoping to buck the odds this time. No such luck. Everything that is said about the foulness and pestulescent tendencies of airplane air is TRUE! I'm certain I caught this virus courtesy of Air-Tran. My nose gushed like Niagra Falls all day at the office, and my eyes, particularly my left, eye, leaked tears whenever I sneezed or blew my nose (which was about every 5 seconds), despite medicating myself with cold-capsules and antihistamine. I'm exhausted and going to bed. Here are some more photos from Christmas vacation: Can you spot the Goddess in this still life taken in the Tropical Dome at Mitchell Park? One of my better compositions :) This is called the candlabra cactus. I thought it looked like a dinosaur, or maybe a couple of dinosaurs! From the Arid Dome at Mitchell Park. A still life of paperwhites and pointsettia in the Show Dome at Mitchell Park. Your resident Goddess reps, taken at Isis and Michelle's new digs on Christmas Day. Left to right: Michelle, Isis, and yours truly.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Hola darlings! Happy New Year to everyone, and may the Goddess bless you in 2009. I had off work today - a brief reprieve! I seem to have contracted some kind of something that affects only my nose. It's been running like a bad faucet all day, despite taking two cold tablets and an antihistamine! This better go away soon! Already gone through half a box of tissue and my nose is so sore now I can hardly touch it. I look like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. That's not a joke! I did not last until midnight last night to greet the New Year - I was zonked out by 10:30 PM, LOL! I slept in this morning, not getting up until almost 7:30 AM when the squirrels tapping on the patio door finally mustered me to my household duties :) I trekked down to the store later and stocked up on mixed nuts which are now on sale. I will stop again tomorrow night after work, because soon they will be gone until next holiday season, and my squirrels will have to sustain themselves on peanuts (which they will turn their noses up at first, having been spoiled for the past couple of months with almonds, hazelnuts a/k/a filberts, pecans, Brazil nuts and walnuts!) I've got a new critter - he (or she) may be living under my next store neighbor's deck - that's where I saw it last duck when I startled it one night last week by turning on the patio light to check the snow. That must have been 12/23, the night dondelion arrived. It's either a fox or a young coyote, but I haven't seen it now for several days. Call me a sucker - I put some food out anyway, probably not the wisest thing to do but even coyotes must eat, and the possums, and the raccoons, and the skunks. Only thing is, the food I put out is cooked, not raw, and it will freeze up fast if some critter doesn't come along and munch it down. So, I wait until after sundown to put it out, but it will probably be frozen solid by 7 PM. So - no new resolutions for the New Year, just a continuation of my slow but steady weight loss program with less "bad" food and more exercise - sort of fell off the wagon during the whirlwind Las Vegas trip but I'm back to eating salads at lunch now, good girl that I am. And I suppose I should resolve to finally get all of my mounds of printed research in some kind of order, eek! That will take days - but we're so busy at the office it looks like I'll be working at least 1 to 2 Saturdays a month for the foreseeable future. Good for the pocketbook but bad for trying to keep on top of my second, "chessly" career. Argggh! Finally, this Sunday probably (because I'll be working Saturday) I will take down the Christmas tree as the holiday season ends. It's always a melancholy exercise taking off all of the ornaments, wrapping up the exquisite Egyptian blown glass ornaments in tissue paper, wiping dust off and putting the colored glass ornaments back into their boxes, and cleaning the crystal snow drops, icicles and spirals before they go back into their foam-padded boxes. It is an all-day process, punctured liberally by much drinking of wine and munching on chocolate-covered cherries, an indulgence I allow myself this one day every year. Then it will be the struggle wrestling the 6.5' tall tree that weighs what seems like half a ton all by myself past the living room furniture, into the hallway past the stairs and basement door, around the corner through the dinette, then turn another corner into the family room and out the door into the frozen garage. Yikes! It's a real work-out, worth at least 1,000 calories, no lie, so I won't feel so badly about scarfing down two boxes of Queen Anne brand chocolate covered cherries. Hopefully the entire tree will stick together this year and I'll get it out to the garage in one piece (it is a 3-piece jointed tree and the joints tend to separate as I lug/drag the tree along), where it will be wrapped up once again in freshly-laundered sheets that are pinned up at the bottom. Not that THAT keeps the bugs out, but I try, I try... I scared the crap out of more than one spider this year lugging the tree BACK into the house, LOL! That's what they get, the little buggers, for daring to nest in my artificial Christmas tree. Ha! Some more photos from dondlion's visit. I downloaded all the photos to the desktop but that still isn't up and running on my in-house network so I don't have access to them yet - I may tackle THAT reconnection issue on Sunday, sigh. These photos I've got on my laptop, downloaded from dondelion's flashdrive, all photos that I took on our visit to Mother Newton and the Domes on 12/28. First: dondelion at Mom's house, 12/28/08. Penny the Poodle is next to him, color-coordinated in her blue sweater. Penny is probably 200 years old now, and she's got cataracts so she doesn't see very well and doesn't hear very well, but she still has enough spring to jump up on the sofa when company arrives, and it seems she can see well-enough when she wants to and her doggy senses haven't been so impaired :) When dondelion and I were getting ready to leave at the end of our visit, Penny was jumping up on my legs like no tomorow, wanting to go along. Mom has overwhelmed the house with Christmas decorations, although she claimed she wasn't going to "celebrate" Christmas this year, LOL! Study this photograph carefully, you will be tested on its contents later. Note especially the home decorating program that is on the large flat screen television :) The large mirrored area behind the sofa is partially covered with a digitally lighted tapestry, a gift to Mom from Aunt Diane this year. It is so over the top, it actually is pretty. Second: A potted jade plant in full bloom with white delicate flowers, in the Arid Dome at Mitchell Park. I had no idea jade plants bloomed! As we strolled through the Arid Dome, there were several jade plants scattered about, and they were all blooming! I thought it was so pretty, and I was so amazed by these blooming plants at the end of December, I just had to take some photos. Third: A standard shot of the waterfall in the Tropical Dome at Mitchell Park. This is one of the most popular spots in this Dome - gee, wonder why, LOL! All the ice and snow and cold outside melt away while strolling through the Tropical Dome, with its birds, orchids, blooming flowers, high humidity and warmth. It's a wonderful place to while away several hours and it's amazing I was able to get a shot in this Dome without a person in it. But I cheated - I was leaning WAY over the little footbridge out of everyones' way to get this shot.

WIM Iryna Zenyuk Earns IM Norm!

Iryna Zenyuk has been busy with her education and she had not appeared much in the news, but stepped up her chessplaying activities during 2008. She is a player with great potential. I featured Iryna my Chessville column in April, 2008. I was very pleased to see the news that Iryna earned WGM and IM norms in the 2nd Berkeley Masters Tournament which took place from December 14 - 23, 2008. Information from TWIC: The 2008 Berkeley Masters took place December 14th-23rd 2008 in Berkeley, California, Giorgi Kacheishivili won with 7.5/10. IM-norms: FM Daniel Rensch, FM Marc Esserman, WIM Iryna Zenyuk WGM-norm: WIM Iryna Zenyuk. It is a 10 round swiss, open to players rated fide 2200+. Space in the tournament and conditions for some Grandmasters are available on a first-come first-serve basis. Prize fund $5000 US. Games were broadcast on ICC. Info at Final Standings: Berkeley Masters (USA), 14-23 xii 2008 1 Kacheishvili, Giorgi g GEO 2572 7.5 /10 2 Izoria, Zviad g GEO 2610 7.0 /10 3 Friedel, Joshua E m USA 2498 6.0 /10 4 Krush, Irina m USA 2452 6.0 /10 5 Rensch, Daniel f USA 2354 6.0 /10 6 Bhat, Vinay S m USA 2498 5.5 /10 7 Pruess, David m USA 2422 5.5 /10 8 Kraai, Jesse g USA 2502 5.0 /10 9 Sarkar, Justin m USA 2451 5.0 /10 10 Sharavdorj, Dashzegve g MGL 2441 5.0 /10 11 Esserman, Marc USA 2348 5.0 /10 12 Zenyuk, Iryna wf USA 2237 5.0 /10 13 Milman, Lev m USA 2488 4.0 /10 14 Naroditsky, Daniel f USA 2382 4.0 /10 15 Haessel, Dale R f CAN 2199 4.0 /10 16 Evans, Bela f USA 2258 3.5 /10 17 Kustar, Sandor m HUN 2356 3.0 /10 18 Lee, Andy C USA 2240 1.5 /2 19 Jahedi, Salar USA 2106 0.5 /3 20 Shivaji, Shivkuma f PLE 2308 0.0 /1

2008 India Women's National 'A' Championship

Final standings (from TWIC): 35th ch-IND w National A New Delhi IND (IND), 18-28 xii 2008 cat. II (2284) *12 player round robin) 1. Nadig, Kruttika wm IND 2387 8 2449 2. Sachdev, Tania m IND 2425 7 2372 3. Mohota, Nisha wg IND 2311 6 2317 4. Karavade, Eesha wg IND 2386 6 2310 5. Swathi, Ghate wg IND 2320 6 2316 6. Gomes, Mary Ann wg IND 2298 5½ 2282 7. Soumya, Swaminathan wm IND 2326 5 2243 8. Bhakti, Kulkarni wf IND 2163 5 2258 9. Amrutha, Mokal IND 2163 5 2258 10. Pon, N Krithika wf IND 2191 4½ 2227 11. Padmini, Rout wm IND 2235 4 2186 12. Kiran, Manisha Mohanty wm IND 2198 4 2189

2008 Pamplona Open

December 22 - 29. No chess femmes played in the 8-player round robin invitational, but several played in the Open of 104 players and did quite well. The Open was won by IM Roi Reinaldo Castineira (ESP 2516) with 7.5/9. Congrats to the following chess femmes for their fine finishes: 6 VEGA GUTIERREZ, Sabrina WGM ESP 2278 6½ 8 RUDOLF, Anna WGM HUN 2318 6½ 12 DJINGAROVA, Emilia WGM BUL 2352 6 15 IGNACZ, Rozsa HUN 2061 6 Photo: Emilia Djingarova, Torino, 2006.

Nice Dye Job!

This British squirrel has gone punk - Purple squirrel baffles experts Last Updated: 12:38AM GMT 22 Dec 2008 Teachers and pupils at Meoncross School in Stubbington, Hants, were amazed when they saw the creature through the window during a lesson. Since the squirrel, now nicknamed Pete, was first seen, it has become a regular fixture at the school but no one has been able to say whether the animal has fallen into purple paint, had a run-in with some purple dye, or whether there is another explanation. Dr Mike Edwards, an English teacher, said: "I was sitting in my classroom and looked out the window and saw it sitting on the fence. I had to do a double take. "Since then it's been a bit of a regular at the school - everyone's seen it. We thought it might have been paint or something but then when you look at it up close, it's an all over coat, not in patches like you'd expect if it had been near some paint. Its fur actually looks purple all the way through. It's an absolute mystery." Pupils, staff and parents have contacted vets and even e-mailed television nature expert Bill Oddie to see if an explanation could be found. Lorraine Orridge, the school's registrar, believes Pete's coloured fur looks like a school uniform. She said: "The squirrel has become a bit of a legend among staff and pupils at the school. He makes an appearance most days and we always look forward to seeing him. "We don't think he is a mutant squirrel but he may have had a mishap around the school. The old building where we have seen him nipping in and out is a bit of a graveyard for computer printers. He may have found some printer toners in there. "We haven't seen any purple baby squirrels yet." TV wildlife expert Chris Packham believes Pete will moult and lose his purple fur in time for spring. He said: "I have never seen anything like it before. Squirrels will chew anything even if it's obviously inedible. It is possible he has been chewing on a purple ink cartridge and then groomed that colouring into his fur. Alternatively he may have fallen into a bucket containing a weak colour solution that has stained his fur. "Underneath there's a normal grey squirrel who has just given himself an unusual hair colour - you would pay a fortune for that in some salons."

The Sex Trade

I remember how shocked I was some 10 years ago, when Isis first mentioned the child sex trade to me. I refused to believe it was a problem, not having read anything about it (that I could recall) in news coverage and news magazines. I wasn't online back then - that happened in December, 1998 at work and I didn't have my own computer at home until March, 1999. Since those days, I've read many articles and news reports about the international sex trade in children of both sexes and, particularly, young girls. It is a sickening reality that, unfortunately, most people are unaware, just like I was. Here is an article from today's New York Times. Op-Ed Columnist The Evil Behind the Smiles By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF Published: December 31, 2008 PHNOM PENH, Cambodia Western men who visit red-light districts in poor countries often find themselves surrounded by coquettish teenage girls laughingly tugging them toward the brothels. The men assume that the girls are there voluntarily, and in some cases they are right. But anyone inclined to take the girls’ smiles at face value should talk to Sina Vann, who was once one of those smiling girls. Sina is Vietnamese but was kidnapped at the age of 13 and taken to Cambodia, where she was drugged. She said she woke up naked and bloody on a bed with a white man — she doesn’t know his nationality — who had purchased her virginity. After that, she was locked on the upper floors of a nice hotel and offered to Western men and wealthy Cambodians. She said she was beaten ferociously to force her to smile and act seductive. “My first phrase in Khmer,” the Cambodian language, “was, ‘I want to sleep with you,’ ” she said. “My first phrase in English was” — well, it’s unprintable. Sina mostly followed instructions and smiled alluringly at men because she would have been beaten if men didn’t choose her. But sometimes she was in such pain that she resisted, and then she said she would be dragged down to a torture chamber in the basement. “Many of the brothels have these torture chambers,” she said. “They are underground because then the girls’ screams are muffled.” As in many brothels, the torture of choice was electric shocks. Sina would be tied down, doused in water and then prodded with wires running from the 220-volt wall outlet. The jolt causes intense pain, sometimes evacuation of the bladder and bowel — and even unconsciousness. Shocks fit well into the brothel business model because they cause agonizing pain and terrify the girls without damaging their looks or undermining their market value. After the beatings and shocks, Sina said she would be locked naked in a wooden coffin full of biting ants. The coffin was dark, suffocating and so tight that she could not move her hands up to her face to brush off the ants. Her tears washed the ants out of her eyes. She was locked in the coffin for a day or two at a time, and she said this happened many, many times. Finally, Sina was freed in a police raid, and found herself blinded by the first daylight she had seen in years. The raid was organized by Somaly Mam, a Cambodian woman who herself had been sold into the brothels but managed to escape, educate herself and now heads a foundation fighting forced prostitution. After being freed, Sina began studying and eventually became one of Somaly’s trusted lieutenants. They now work together, in defiance of death threats from brothel owners, to free other girls. To get at Somaly, the brothel owners kidnapped and brutalized her 14-year-old daughter. And six months ago, the daughter of another anti-trafficking activist (my interpreter when I interviewed Sina) went missing. I had heard about torture chambers under the brothels but had never seen one, so a few days ago Sina took me to the red-light district here where she once was imprisoned. A brothel had been torn down, revealing a warren of dungeons underneath. “I was in a room just like those,” she said, pointing. “There must be many girls who died in those rooms.” She grew distressed and added: “I’m cold and afraid. Tonight I won’t sleep.” “Photograph quickly,” she added, and pointed to brothels lining the street. “It’s not safe to stay here long.” Sina and Somaly sustain themselves with a wicked sense of humor. They tease each other mercilessly, with Sina, who is single, mock-scolding Somaly: “At least I had plenty of men until you had to come along and rescue me!” Sex trafficking is truly the 21st century’s version of slavery. One of the differences from 19th-century slavery is that many of these modern slaves will die of AIDS by their late 20s. Whenever I report on sex trafficking, I come away less depressed by the atrocities than inspired by the courage of modern abolitionists like Somaly and Sina. They are risking their lives to help others still locked up in the brothels, and they have the credibility and experience to lead this fight. In my next column, I’ll introduce a girl that Sina is now helping to recover from mind-boggling torture in a brothel — and Sina’s own story gives hope to the girl in a way that an army of psychologists couldn’t. I hope that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will recognize slavery as unfinished business on the foreign policy agenda. The abolitionist cause simply hasn’t been completed as long as 14-year-old girls are being jolted with electric shocks — right now, as you read this — to make them smile before oblivious tourists. I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.
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