Saturday, August 4, 2007

Is "Deathly Hallows" Really the Last Potter Novel?

Personally – I don’t think so. I think Rowling left just a wee bit of an opening for herself to – if she (or someone else) wants to - write a whole new series of Potter-world novels. I say this for two reasons: Reason 1: The final two sentences of the "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:" "The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well." The phrasing invites one to speculate that all would NOT be well in the future – particularly if Harry’s scar started to "itch" again. Just because it had been quiescent for 19 years does not mean it would be quiescent in the future… Why, you ask, would Harry’s scar start to "itch" again after 19 years? Hints were given throughout Novel 7 of a deeper relationship between Bellatrix and Voldemort, and this leads to point 2. I’m not going to trawl through the novel now to write them all down. Suffice to say that Rowling made sure we got the gist of Bellatrix’s fascination with and, indeed, nearly god-like worship of, Voldemort – and there was certainly a sexual element implied if not explicitly conveyed in her various descriptions of their interactions, including this scene: (Page 724 U.S. hard cover version): "My Lord…my Lord…" It was Bellatrix’s voice, and she spoke as if to a lover. (Page 725 U.S. hard cover version): "My Lord …" "That will do," said Voldemort’s voice. …Voldemort seemed to be getting to his feet. Various Death Eaters were hurrying away form him, returning to the crowd lining the clearing. Bellatrix alone remained behind, kneeling beside Voldemort. In the final battle scene, Bellatrix is fighting "fifty yards away from Voldemort, and like her master she dueled three at once" (Page 735). After just missing Ginny Weasley with a death curse, Mrs. Weasley shoves the three Hogwarts duelers aside and herself engages Bellatrix in a one-on-one battle to the death, slipping a killing curse in underneath an upraised arm just as Bellatrix taunts her: (Page 736): Bellatrix’s gloating smile froze, her eyes seemed to bulge: For the tiniest space of time she knew what had happened, and then she toppled, and the watching crowd roared; and Voldemort screamed. Reason 2: Based on these hints of a deeper relationship, I believe that Bellatrix and Voldemort conceived a child and Bellatrix gave birth prior to the final confrontations in "Deathly Hallows." The child was – depending upon the time line – either forcibly taken from Bellatrix while she was still imprisoned and hidden away with an adoptive family (Muggles in Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA, for instance?) or whisked away to a place of safety by Voldemort’s minions before – or after – Bellatrix’s escape from Azkaban. I can easily see a story line developed around a relationship between Voldemort after he re-incorporated into a physical body (in that spell that used some of Harry’s blood) and a physical union with Bellatrix, who then conceived Voldemort’s child. Voldemort's motives for such a thing happening - well, I leave that to the writer's imagination. The time line of the novels provides sufficient time for a child to have been conceived and born –either after Bellatrix and the other death-eaters were broken out of Azkaban (Book 5 - "Order of the Phoenix"), or perhaps Bellatrix conceived and possibly even gave birth while she was still imprisoned – the child could have been conceived, for instance, during an occasional fly-by visit of Voldemort to Bellatrix's cell… That child – now older than 19 years (I think age 21) – would have a physical link to Harry (via Harry’s blood that had been taken in by Voldemort and then passed along to his child) – and thus Harry’s scar could possibly be reactivated if, for instance, that child learned of his or her true heritage and decided to follow in the footsteps of his parents… Well, the possibilities for developing an entirely new series along these lines are overwhelming. Remember my sugestion in a prior post about a Harry Potter daugher (whom I called Penelope)? According to the postscript in #7, Harry and Ginny have three children: James, Albus Severus, and Lily. What if Lily and the offspring of Voldemort & Bellatrix mix it up in subsequent novels...

Karen Allen Returning to "Indiana Jones" Movie

Yahhhhh! Actress Karen Allen (photo, right) (who is my age) has signed on for the new Indiana Jones film project, according to Fox News. I just loved her character Marion in the original "Raiders of the Lost Ark" film - hard to believe that was in 1981 - eek - my first year in law school! At one time I fancied that we looked somewhat alike :) Well - probably not. Among other things, my eyes are hazel-brown, not blue, and except over my nose right now after being burnt half to death during our Chicago outing, I don't have as many freckles. But personality wise Marion and JanXena are twins in the womb! Of COURSE darlings, we're both more beautiful now than in 1981 and better than ever! 'Indiana Jones 4': Karen Allen Back As A MomDirector Steven Spielberg let a big cat out of the bag Thursday. Karen Allen is back in “Indiana Jones 4” as Marion Ravenwood, Indy’s first love. The character helped kick off the series in 1981’s phenomenal “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” In fact, although Spielberg didn’t say it, Allen returns as the mother of Indy’s son, played by 21-year-old actor Shia LaBoeuf. That’s the same kid who’s on the cover of Vanity Fair this month. Sources say that Allen was asked to join the movie last January. She hadn’t been in a film since 2004, but instead was concentrating on a successful retail business in Great Barrington, Mass. Karen Allen Fiber Arts sells fine cashmere clothing. Allen also had a yoga center, and that experience came in handy. “When they called, there was a lot of training involved,” said one observer. “Karen’s yoga made her ready for that.” Allen turns 56 in October, but you’d never guess it. She looks like she’s not a day over 35. She’s been in plenty of memorable films, but the most popular were probably "Animal House" (1978) and "Starman" (1984). Ironically, none of the math in “Indy 4” really works out. LaBoeuf is 21 and Allen is 56, which means she allegedly had him at age 35. But in 1981, when “Raiders” was released, Allen was barely 30 and looked 20. That’s Hollywood for you! At least we know that Marion and Indy had conjugal relations. Theirs was the only bed shared in an “Indy” movie. Now that we know Allen is back, maybe Spielberg has plans for cameos of his real-life wife Kate Capshaw (“Temple of Doom”) and Irish beauty Alison Doody (“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”) who subsequently retired from films. One character who won’t be returning with the original actor: Indy’s dad. Sean Connery decided not to reprise his role as Henry Jones from “Last Crusade.”

The Eight - Six (Philidor's Tale continued)

(Page 173) "I initiated myself," said Bach calmly. "Oh, I know that there are secret societies of men who spend their lives trying to unravel the mysteries of the universe, but I am not a member. I seek truth in my own fashion." Saying this, he reached over and plucked Euler's formulaic ches map from the piano. With a nearby quill he scratched two words across the top: Quaerendo invenietis. Seek, and ye shall find. Then he handed the Knight's Tour to me. "I do not understand," I told him in some confusion. "Herr Philidor," said Bach, "you are both a chess master, like Dr. Euler, and a composer, like myself. In one person, you combine two valuable skills." "Valuable in what way?" I asked politely. "For I must confess, I've found neither to be of great value from a financial standpoint!" I smiled at him. "Though it is hard to remember sometimes," Bach said, chuckling, "there are greater forces at work in the universe than money. For example - have you ever heard of the Montglane Service?" I turned suddenly to Euler, who had gasped aloud. "You see," said Bach, "that the name is not unfamiliar to our friend the Herr Doktor. Perhaps I can enlighten you as well." I listened, fascinated, while Bach told me of the strange chess service, belonging at one time to Charlemagne and reputed to contain properties of great power. When the composer finished his summary, he said to me: "The reason I asked you gentlemen here today was to perform an experiment. All my life I have studied the peculiar powers of music. It has a force of its own that few would deny. It can tranqulize a savage beast or move a placid man to charge in battle. At length, I learned through my own experiments the secret of this power. Music, you see, has a logic of its own. It is similar to mathematical logic, but in some ways different. For music does not merely communicate with our minds, but in fact changes our thought in some imperceptible fashion." "What do you mean by that?" I asked. But I knew that Bach had struck a chord within my own being that I could not quite define. Something I felt I'd known for many years, something buried deep inside me that I felt only when I heard a beautiful, haunting melody. Or played a game of chess. "What I mean," said Bach, "is that the universe is like a great mathematical game that is played upon a tremendous scale. Music is one of the purest forms of mathematics. Each mathematical formula can be converted into music, as I've done with Dr. Euler's." He glanced at Euler, and the latter nodded back, as if the two shared a secret to which I was not yet privy. "And music," Bach continued, "can be converted into mathematics, with, I might add, surprising results. The Architect who built the universe designed it that way. Music has power to create a universe or to destroy a civilization. If you don't believe me, I suggest you read the Bible." Euler stood in silence for a moment. "Yes," he said at last, "there are other architects in the Bible whose stories are quite revealing, are they not?" "My friend," said Bach, turning to me with a smile, "as I've said, seek and ye shall find. He who understands the architecture of music will understand the power of the Montglane Service. For the two are one." *********************************************************************************** David has listened closely to the story. Now, as they approached the fretted iron gates of his courtyard, he turned to Philidor in dismay. "But what does it all mean?" he asked. "Waht do music and mathematics have to do with the Montglane Service? What do any of these things have to do with power, whether on earth or in the heavens? Your story only serves to support my claim that this legendary chess service appeals to mystics and fools. Mucha s I hate to tie such appellations to Dr. Euler, your story suggests he was easily prey to fantasies of this sort." Philidor paused beneath the dark horse chestnut trees that hung low over the gates of David's courtyard. "I have studied the subject for years," the composer whispered. "At long last, though I've never been interested in biblical scholastics, I took it upon myself to read the Bible, as Euler and Bach had suggested. Bach died soon after our meeting, and Euler immigrated to Russia, so I was never again to meet the two men to discuss what I had found." "And what did you find?" said David, extracting his key to unlock the gates. "They'd directed me to study architects, and so I did. There were only two architects of note within the Bible. One was the Architect of the universe. That is, Gog. The other was the architect of the Tower of Babel. The very word 'Bab-El' means, is discovered, 'Gate of God.' The Babylonians were a very proud people. They were the greatet civilization since the beginning of time. They built hanging gardens that rivaled the finest works of nature. And they wanted to build a tower that would reach to heaven itself, a tower that would reach to the sun. The story of this tower is the one, I felt sure, that Bach and Euler alluded to. "The architect," Philidor continued as the two men passed through the gates, "was one Nimrod. The greatest architect of his day. He built a tower higher than any known to man. But it was never completed. Do you know why?" "God smote him down, as I recall," David said as he crossed the court. "But how did He smite him down?" asked Philidor. "He did not send a bolt of lightning, a flood, or a plague, as was His custom! I shall tell you how God destroyed the work of Nimrod, my friend. God confused the languages of the workers, which until then had been one language. He struck down the language. He destroyed the Word!" ************************************************************************************** This is the end of Philidor's tale. I would like to add one other Bible story in which "music" (sound) is used to destroy a civilization. Perhaps you will recall the tale of Joshua and Jericho. Joshua was instructed by God to have his army march around the seemingly inpenetrable walls of the city for a prescribed seven days: for the first six days the army and seven priests playing seven rams' horns marched around the city once; on the seventh day the seven priests once again played their horns as they marched around the city with the army seven times, but not a word was spoken, only the music of the rams' horns was heard. And then, at a signal, all the Israelites let lose a great war cry. And the walls of Jericho crumbled and fell down. Interesting...

Goddesschess Meeting 2007

This year's Goddesschess meeting was held in the most beautiful spot in Milwaukee Wisconsin, Jan Newton's lovely home. Jan Newton is the driving force behind Goddesschess, and is responsible for making our web-site and blog a great success. I am honored to have such a wonderful friend and research partner. The focus of this year's meeting was how to promote and market chess. Earlier this year I attended the Las Vegas Open Chess Tournament held at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas Nevada. My assignment, for Goddesschess, was to attend Susan Polger's seminar and report new ideas to market chess. I was impressed with the ideas that Susan and her charming husband detailed in the seminar. For more on this subject go to Susan Polgar's Blog. Susan Polgar explained how difficult it is for women chess players to get recognition from the "Old Boys Club" of chess...The boys seem to be stuck in the dark ages, they need to move into the 21st Century. Women need sponsorship, and larger prize money, in order to continue competing in tournaments. The lack of money makes a career in chess almost impossible for young women. The chess world needs to follow the lead of other successful games, such as Billards and Poker. Both of these games have become multi-billion dollar businesses now. I believe that chess can also become a multi-billion dollar industry, and move into the main stream. The secret is women!! Women bring money to the games. Steve Miserak, World Champion pool player, mentioned during an interview on PBS, that women took pool out of the pool rooms, and put it on major sports net-works. He also mentioned that women were the best thing that has happened the game of pool...there is money to be made playing pool now, which means one can make a comfortable living playing pool professionally. The prize money in tournaments has increased tremendously. Poker is another game that has benefited from the influx of women. Over 60% of the people that watch poker on TV are Women! Women have help take the game of poker from the back room to the front room of every home. Women bring money to games...billions of dollars. The "Old Boys Club" is missing the boat when it comes to marketing chess. The discriminatory attitudes of these men has kept chess from growing. When are they going to wake-up and smell the roses, or smell money? In summary, women need to have more opportunities to make a living playing chess. Bigger prize money, more sponsorship, and more exposure. We at Goddesschess support the efforts of the beautiful, and brilliant, women chess players through out the world.


Cub-reporter for Goddesschess

Friday, August 3, 2007

Kirzan and the Aliens!

It's not even an article from The International Chessoid (wish I'd thought it up when TIC was up and running!) Weekend Herald Weird world of chess-loving enclave 5:00AM Thursday July 26, 2007 By Shaun Walker In the full glare of the ferocious midday sun, a chubby teenage boy scoops up his plastic castle, and moves it one square forward on the giant marble chessboard carved into Elista's central square. Murmurs run through the watching crowd. The only person who doesn't adopt a horrified expression is Lenin, who remains stoic surveying the square from a pedestal. "You idiot!" cry out three men in unison. Sure enough, a few seconds later his metre-high castle is pole-axed by an opposing pawn, and the game is all but lost. The boy wanders away dejected, and another takes his place to challenge the victor, a youngster sporting a Barcelona football shirt. Chess is everywhere in Kalmykia, an arid chunk of steppe, that lies on Russia's Caspian Sea coast. The fetish is largely down to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, an eccentric millionaire with a taste for sharp suits and fast cars, who has ruled the isolated republic for almost 15 years. And since 1998, when Ilyumzhinov added the presidency of the World Chess Federation (Fide) to his portfolio, the ex-schoolboy champion has turned his region into a chess mecca. Despite crippling poverty and unemployment in the republic, which is one of the poorest of Russia's regions, US$50 million ($62 million) was found to build a "City Chess" complex outside Elista, and compulsory chess lessons for every child over 6 were introduced in schools. And last year at another Elista arena his ultimate chess fantasy became reality. Fide champion Veselin Topalov and classical champion Vladimir Kramnik went head to head in a match that ended the divide in international chess and created a single world champion for the first time since 1993, the year Ilyumzhinov came to power. Elista is a dilapidated but pleasant city, filled with cottages and five-storey Khrushchev-era apartment blocks, the windows covered in silver foil to keep out the ferocious sun. But out of the capital, life is hard. Farming is still the major source of income, despite the difficulties of rearing livestock in almost-desert conditions. Incomes are as low as US$50 per month and unemployment is rampant. Ilyumzhinov doesn't share these financial problems. At Elista's weed-strewn airport, the only two planes are the presidential jet and a rusty 32-seater Yak 40 jet that meanders to Moscow three times a week. And once on the ground, he has a fleet of Rolls-Royces to call on. He made his money in murky circumstances during the early 1990s, and seems to have become richer during his time as leader of Kalmykia. Opposition figures say this additional wealth is the result of corruption, where companies taking advantage of Kalmykia's tax haven status in the 1990s made payments into Ilyumzhinov's personal account. He denies the allegations. The Kalmyk leader has great faith in the predictions of an elderly Bulgarian fortune teller named Vanga, who apparently foretold his presidencies of both Fide and Kalmykia. He counts among his friends Chuck Norris, the Dalai Lama, and the late Saddam Hussein, whom he met during an attempt to bring the World Chess Championships to Baghdad. Ilyumzhinov's office set three interview dates but cancelled them all at the last minute. As a substitute, they provided a copy of his 1998 autobiography, entitled The President's Crown of Thorns, a strange mix of pseudo-philosophy and stream-of-consciousness reminiscences. One chapter is entitled: "Without me, the people are incomplete." Another is charmingly headed: "It only takes two weeks to have a man killed." Among the stranger claims of Ilyumzhinov is that he was abducted by aliens in September 1997. "I was taken from my apartment in Moscow to this spaceship," he said in a recent television interview. "We went to some star. After that I said 'Please bring me back' because the next day I had to go to Kalmykia and then to Ukraine, and they said 'No problem, Kirsan, you have time'." He rejects the idea that these claims make him appear to be a few pieces short of a full chess set. "I'm not a crazy man. From the United States every year more than 4000 people are contacted in such a way. It's an official statistic." Ethnic Kalmyks make up just over half of Kalmykia's 300,000 population. A Mongol people who originated in what is now western China, they settled in the area nearly 400 years ago, and are traditionally Buddhist. The Kalmyks didn't have a very good run during the Soviet period. All the Buddhist temples were destroyed in the 1930s, and the entire Kalmyk population was deported to remote Siberian outposts in 1943 for alleged collaboration with Nazi forces. In a dark page of the Russian war effort, that rarely forms part of public discourse on the World War II here, around 10,000 troops were mobilised in Kalmykia. And on a cold morning in December 1943, Kalmyk families were bundled out of their homes on to cattle wagons. Most of the men were fighting at the front, so the victims were mainly women, children and the elderly. In the three-week journey to Siberia, and in the first difficult months of exile, more than 40 per cent of the Kalmyks perished, estimates local historian Vladimir Ubushayev. "There was a special wagon at the back of each train that was used to hold the bodies of those who died on the way." In 1957, the Kalmyks returned as part of Nikita Khrushchev's thaw, but the years in dispersed exile had taken a toll on their traditions and language. Now, few people under 50 speak fluent Kalmyk, a language close to Mongolian. Buddhism, however, has undergone a gradual renaissance since the fall of the Soviets, with the Dalai Lama making three visits to Kalmykia, and new temples springing up every year. The most impressive is the Golden Temple in central Elista, a cream and white structure of immense proportions - the largest Buddhist temple in Europe. It was officially opened in December 2005, but the interior is still being painted by a team of travelling Tibetan artists, a pleasingly medieval process that could take up to five years. "Before 1917 there was a strong tradition of Buddhism here, but then the communists destroyed it," says Tupten Shaty, a Tibetan monk at the temple. "Now we're here to revive the tradition." On the top floor, a luxurious multi-roomed suite awaits a return visit from the Dalai Lama to bless the completed temple. Nobody else is allowed to stay in the palatial residence, but so far even Ilyumzhinov's charms have been unable to bring the Dalai Lama back to town - Moscow is wary of issuing him a visa given improving relations with China. Pictures of Ilyumzhinov with the Dalai Lama abound in Elista, as if the Kalmyk leader wants to reinforce his credibility among his Buddhist people. In fact, Ilyumzhinov's portrait is everywhere. Here he is with the late Pope John Paul II; there he is with Vladimir Putin. He even makes it into a display about antelopes in the local museum. Many Kalmyks seem to be happy with their leader. "Kirsan does the work of three men, and is an excellent role model for young children," says Anatoly Shamakov, a tutor at a chess school. "I think he was sent to us from God. Sanal Shavaliyev, the editor of a local newspaper and chairman of the Kalmykia Union of Journalists, agrees. "He's an exceptionally intelligent man and has turned Kalmykia into a place that people all over the world know about," he says. "We're very proud to have him as our President." The approval is not unanimous. "He's a pathological liar with serious psychological problems," says Semyon Ateyev, director of the Kalmykia Bureau of Human Rights. "After 14 years of his rule, we're still one of the poorest regions of Russia. "We have a Minister of Economic Development, who's also in charge of organising chess tournaments. We don't have any economic development, because he spends his whole time organising chess tournaments." Many also suggest that there's a darker side to the quirky Kalmyk ruler. Nine years ago, Larisa Yudina, editor of Sovietskaya Gazeta, a local Opposition newspaper, was murdered. "She told me she had found some documents that clearly implicated Ilyumzhinov in a huge corruption scheme," says Valery Badmayev, the paper's current editor. "A few days later she was dead." Two former members of Ilyumzhinov's administration were found guilty of the murder, but the leader himself escaped the fallout. When President Putin abolished elections for regional leaders in the aftermath of the Beslan school siege, analysts pointed to one potential positive outcome being that unaccountable local rulers could no longer manipulate local elections and remain in power. "In 2004, in just one month we collected 74,000 signatures against Ilyumzhinov's rule," says Badmayev. It was expected that Ilyumzhinov would be one of the first victims of Putin's new law. But in 2005, the President came to Elista and reappointed Ilyumzhinov, giving him a mandate until 2010. "The Opposition here is going through a bad period, like in the rest of Russia," says Badmayev. "We've given up hope of getting rid of Kirsan while Putin is in power." They can only pray that the aliens come for Ilyumzhinov again, and this time don't bring him back. - INDEPENDENT

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The New York Times Review of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"

Hola darlings! Well, I don't know what all the hoo-ha was about. I read the review this evening and the reviewer didn't - in my view - give anything important or critical away at all! I had pre-ordered the book from Amazon and it was delivered on 7/24. I did not read non-stop because I had vacation guests here - I didn't open it until 7/26, thinking I would save it for after my vacation. But then Michelle arrived and had read several chapters already and was eager to discuss the developments, and so I eagerly dived in and we had a sort of reading contest. I finished the book a week ago today (I literally read last Tuesday until I could not uncross my eyes anymore).

Well, what can I say? I disagree vehemently with any critic who says the book was boring and left much to be desired, I thought it was excellent and I could only put it down when I was forced to do so either by eyes that refused to cooperate any longer to read or the call of duty as a hostess (like cooking, socializing and going on outings). Fortunately, my guests, who are my closest Goddesschess buddies and Don is also my long-suffering fiance, showed great forebearance :)

So, here is the New York Times review. Why, you ask, should Harry Potter appear here? Well darlings, Harry Potter is, amongst other things, a modern-day take-off on the tales surrounding the death, resurrection and adventures of the Osiris, Isis and Horus triad in Egyptian mythology - with doses of just about every other worthy ancient myth thrown in for good measure -- ahhh, and magic too, the realm of the goddess Isis in ancient Egypt. That Rowling wove such threads into her monumental seven volume epic is just extra spice to the sauce of life. The tale is good enough to stand on its own merits as a classic coming of age story without any such allusions.

Books of The Times
An Epic Showdown as Harry Potter Is Initiated Into Adulthood
Published: July 19, 2007

So, here it is at last: The final confrontation between Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, the Chosen One, the “symbol of hope” for both the Wizard and Muggle worlds, and Lord Voldemort, He Who Must Not Be Named, the nefarious leader of the Death Eaters and would-be ruler of all. Good versus Evil. Love versus Hate. The Seeker versus the Dark Lord.

J. K. Rowling’s monumental, spellbinding epic, 10 years in the making, is deeply rooted in traditional literature and Hollywood sagas — from the Greek myths to Dickens and Tolkien to “Star Wars.” And true to its roots, it ends not with modernist, “Soprano”-esque equivocation, but with good old-fashioned closure: a big-screen, heart-racing, bone-chilling confrontation and an epilogue that clearly lays out people’s fates. Getting to the finish line is not seamless — the last part of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the seventh and final book in the series, has some lumpy passages of exposition and a couple of clunky detours — but the overall conclusion and its determination of the main characters’ story lines possess a convincing inevitability that make some of the prepublication speculation seem curiously blinkered in retrospect.

With each installment, the “Potter” series has grown increasingly dark, and this volume — a copy of which was purchased at a New York City store yesterday, though the book is embargoed for release until 12:01 a.m. on Saturday — is no exception. While Ms. Rowling’s astonishingly limber voice still moves effortlessly between Ron’s adolescent sarcasm and Harry’s growing solemnity, from youthful exuberance to more philosophical gravity, “Deathly Hallows” is, for the most part, a somber book that marks Harry’s final initiation into the complexities and sadnesses of adulthood.

From his first days at Hogwarts, the young, green-eyed boy bore the burden of his destiny as a leader, coping with the expectations and duties of his role, and in this volume he is clearly more Henry V than Prince Hal, more King Arthur than young Wart: high-spirited war games of Quidditch have given way to real war, and Harry often wishes he were not the de facto leader of the Resistance movement, shouldering terrifying responsibilities, but an ordinary teenage boy — free to romance Ginny Weasley and hang out with his friends.

Harry has already lost his parents, his godfather Sirius and his teacher Professor Dumbledore (all mentors he might have once received instruction from) and in this volume, the losses mount with unnerving speed: at least a half-dozen characters we have come to know die in these pages, and many others are wounded or tortured. Voldemort and his followers have infiltrated Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic, creating havoc and terror in the Wizard and Muggle worlds alike, and the members of various populations — including elves, goblins and centaurs — are choosing sides.

No wonder then that Harry often seems overwhelmed with disillusionment and doubt in the final installment of this seven-volume bildungsroman. He continues to struggle to control his temper, and as he and Ron and Hermione search for the missing Horcruxes (secret magical objects in which Voldemort has stashed parts of his soul, objects that Harry must destroy if he hopes to kill the evil lord), he literally enters a dark wood, in which he must do battle not only with the Death Eaters, but also with the temptations of hubris and despair.

Harry’s weird psychic connection with Voldemort (symbolized by the lightning-bolt forehead scar he bears as a result of the Dark Lord’s attack on him as a baby) seems to have grown stronger too, giving him clues to Voldemort’s actions and whereabouts, even as it lures him ever closer to the dark side. One of the plot’s significant turning points concerns Harry’s decision on whether to continue looking for the Horcruxes — the mission assigned to him by the late Dumbledore — or to pursue the Hallows, three magical objects said to make their possessor the master of Death.

Harry’s journey will propel him forward to a final showdown with his arch enemy, and also send him backward into the past, to the house in Godric’s Hollow where his parents died, to learn about his family history and the equally mysterious history of Dumbledore’s family. At the same time, he will be forced to ponder the equation between fraternity and independence, free will and fate, and to come to terms with his own frailties and those of others. Indeed, ambiguities proliferate throughout “The Deathly Hallows”: we are made to see that kindly Dumbledore, sinister Severus Snape and perhaps even the awful Muggle cousin Dudley Dursley may be more complicated than they initially seem, that all of them, like Harry, have hidden aspects to their personalities, and that choice — more than talent or predisposition — matters most of all.

It is Ms. Rowling’s achievement in this series that she manages to make Harry both a familiar adolescent — coping with the banal frustrations of school and dating — and an epic hero, kin to everyone from the young King Arthur to Spider-Man and Luke Skywalker. This same magpie talent has enabled her to create a narrative that effortlessly mixes up allusions to Homer, Milton, Shakespeare and Kafka, with silly kid jokes about vomit-flavored candies, a narrative that fuses a plethora of genres (from the boarding-school novel to the detective story to the epic quest) into a story that could be Exhibit A in a Joseph Campbell survey of mythic archetypes.

In doing so, J. K. Rowling has created a world as fully detailed as L. Frank Baum’s Oz or J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, a world so minutely imagined in terms of its history and rituals and rules that it qualifies as an alternate universe, which may be one reason the “Potter” books have spawned such a passionate following and such fervent exegesis. With this volume, the reader realizes that small incidents and asides in earlier installments (hidden among a huge number of red herrings) create a breadcrumb trail of clues to the plot, that Ms. Rowling has fitted together the jigsaw-puzzle pieces of this long undertaking with Dickensian ingenuity and ardor. Objects and spells from earlier books — like the invisibility cloak, Polyjuice Potion, Dumbledore’s Pensieve and Sirius’s flying motorcycle — play important roles in this volume, and characters encountered before, like the house-elf Dobby and Mr. Ollivander the wandmaker, resurface, too.

The world of Harry Potter is a place where the mundane and the marvelous, the ordinary and the surreal coexist. It’s a place where cars can fly and owls can deliver the mail, a place where paintings talk and a mirror reflects people’s innermost desires. It’s also a place utterly recognizable to readers, a place where death and the catastrophes of daily life are inevitable, and people’s lives are defined by love and loss and hope — the same way they are in our own mortal world.

More Press on Humpy

From Sportstar Weekly From the publishers of THE HINDU VOL.30 :: NO.31 :: Aug. 04, 2007 CH. VIJAYA BHASKAR By the high standards she has set for herself, 2006 wasn’t a great year for Koneru Humpy. “My game didn’t progress the way I wanted it to, and the main reason for that was that I didn’t play in as many tournaments as I would have liked to, because I didn’t have a sponsor,” says the Vijayawada-based World No. 2 in women’s chess. “After joining ONGC as a personnel administrative officer, I can now play in all the tournaments I want to.” She could as well have said that she could win all the tournaments she wanted to. The 20-year-old won two open tournaments in Europe, back to back, recently. And in both of those events — the HSG Open in Hilversum (Netherlands) and the Kaupthing Open in Differdange (Luxembourg) — most of her rivals were men. She has always relished her battles with the stronger sex. She had won the Asian (under-12) boys’ title in 1999. She has won men’s events before this twin triumph in Europe, too. Humpy says she didn’t anticipate her two latest victories, though. “My aim was to gain some Elo points so that I could improve my rating, which hasn’t changed much for a year. I had actually wanted to cross the 2600 mark last year.” She is inching close to that mark now, having collected 25 points from the two European events. Her July rating is 2572, so she should be able to go past the 2600 mark in the next rating list, to be released in October. In the history of women’s chess, only one player — Judit Polgar of Hungary — has been there before. Humpy is looking forward to gain more Elo points from her forthcoming tournaments so that she could go beyond 2600. “My next event is the Abu Dhabi Open from August 12. Then I will be playing for Monaco Chess Club in the European Club Championship in Turkey — my teammates are Zhu Chen, Pia Cramling, Almira Skripchenko and Monica Socko — and the Asian Indoor Games in Macau,” she says.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Breaking Into the Top

From Dylan McClain's chess column at the New York Times:

Published: July 22, 2007

A nagging question over the years has been: Why aren’t there more good players who are women?

Since the World Chess Federation began ranking players more than 40 years ago, only one, Judit Polgar of Hungary, has been in the top 100.

Some men, notably Garry Kasparov, the former champion, have suggested that women do not have the psychological makeup (meaning aggressiveness) or intellectual capacity to play high-level chess.

Late last year, a study in Psychological Science concluded that that was not necessarily true. It said a likely reason for the dearth of good women players was that not enough of them played competitive chess.

The study was by Christopher F. Chabris, a research associate in the psychology department at Harvard, and Mark E. Glickman, an associate professor of health policy and management at Boston University.

“If you look at boys and girls who started at roughly the same playing strength,” Professor Glickman said, “if you look at them at the start and follow them over time, there tends not to be a difference.”

Still, it is puzzling that Polgar has stood alone for so long. At long last, however, she may be about to get some help in the battle of the sexes. Humpy Koneru, a 20-year-old from India, may be poised to break into the elite ranks. She is now the No. 2 woman in the world, one of just 10 to earn the title of grandmaster, which she did at 15 years 2 months, three months younger than Polgar was when she earned the title. Over the last 18 months, she has played a number of strong tournaments against men, including the second section of the elite Corus tournament in 2006, with good results.

Two weeks ago, in a field with 13 grandmasters, she tied for first at the Kaupthing Open in Luxembourg with Hannes Stefansson of Iceland. Going into the last round, she was in a six-way tie for first, but beat Sebastian Siebrecht of Germany. How’s that for lack of aggression?

After 3 Nf3, Siebrecht had a few options as Black, but steered the game into a Benoni opening, showing he was spoiling for a fight.

Koneru and Siebrecht showed that they knew recent theory, playing more than 20 moves that followed the course of recent games, in particular a 2001 encounter between Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov, which ended in a draw.

Siebrecht should have removed his king from in front of Koneru’s rook with 22 ... Kh8. Koneru’s 29 Rf1 was not the most accurate, as Siebrecht could have played 29 ... Qb2. Instead, 29 ... Qd5 opened the critical a2/g8 diagonal for White’s bishop.

Still, the position was not fatal. After 30 f5, Siebrecht could play 30 ... c4, when 31 Bc4 is met by 31 ... Rf5.

But 30 ... Ref7 was a critical error. Even after 31 ... Rf5 32 Rh4 Kg8 33 Rg1 Qb7 34 Bc3, Black is losing.

Siebrecht fell on his sword with 33... Be4 rather than play out a most likely hopeless position with 34 ... Qg2 35 Kg2 Bc2.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

New Form of Chess Invented

This is a strange story out of Vietnam: Last Updated: Tuesday, July 31, 2007 11:24:10 Vietnam (GMT+07) Man develops new kind of chess, refuses to sell it for $1 mln Vo Bay of the northern Bac Ninh province invented the game which requires players to use four basis operations - addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. He invented the game in the 1980’s and sought recognition from the then State Science Commission. But his license application was turned down because the commission was unable to calculate the total number of possible moves in the game. His repeated requests were subsequently rejected by other agencies and it was not until 2005 that the game was recognized by the Copyright Bureau. Then, a Chinese man offered Bay US$1 million for the game but Bay refused. He said it was because he did not want the Vietnamese features of the game altered or its name to be changed to international math chess instead of Vietnamese math chess. “I do not want the game commercialized,” he added, saying he could make ends meet with his current work as a sculptor. What intrigued him most about the game was its underlying philosophy – a player would lose if he/she sought only to add or multiply. People lived not only to benefit themselves but also to help others, he pointed out. Since the game was recognized, Bay receives a daily influx of people flocking to his house to learn about it. He said he was looking for government backing to promote the game. The province’s education department has sought the Ministry of Education and Training’s go-ahead to incorporate it into the school curriculum. Source: Tuoi Tre – Translated by An Dien

Chessplayers Shot in Chicago

This south side area has been in decline for years despite periodic influxes of city money and new programs, it's a shame. Gangbangers and drug dealers rule the day - and night. Unfortunately, the story is lacking in much detail: Chicago Sun Times 2 shot during South Side chess game July 30, 2007 FROM STNG WIRE REPORTS Two men are in stable condition early Monday after being shot while playing chess late Sunday in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side. An unidentified man shot two 23-year-old men playing chess in the 7100 block of South Paulina Steet about 11:05 p.m. Sunday. The gunman, described only as a black man in his 20s, appeared from an alley and shot the victims with a handgun before fleeing back into the alley, a report from the police First Deputy Superintendent's office said. Both men were taken to Holy Cross Hospital in stable condition. One man was shot in both legs, while the other was shot in one leg, the report said. Wentworth Area detectives are investigating. ********************************************************************************* Added August 1, 2007: A few details have emerged in this report, also from the Chicago Sun Times: The chess game was being played about 11 p.m. on the trunk of a car parked in the 7100 block of South Paulina, police said. The first victim, who was playing the game, heard about seven shots and then felt a pain in both his ankles, police said. The second victim was watching the game when he also felt a pain in his leg. No one was in custody Monday evening, and Wentworth Area detectives were continuing the investigation.

Butterfly Redux

It's back to work today - oy! My desk was buried, I had 400 emails and only 20 voice mails. I have managed to clear a small spot, about a square foot, on my "work space" (they're not called desks any more for good reason, this thing doesn't remotely resemble a desk, it's shaped like a boomerang but is much less efficient). Yesterday Don trekked to the library to make some photocopies of some magazine articles and while there, he consulted a couple of books on butterflies, looking for Orithya Wallacei. He copied a few pages; unfortunately, the copies are in black and white! He thought he had nailed a likely culprit for our drunken butterfly, but when we did an image search on the internet for the particular butterly (can't remember the exact name) the color wasn't at all the same. We did learn that at least some Orithya are called "Blue Pansy" because they have blue circles/markings on their wings. Well, wouldn't you know it, As Don and I were savoring some quiet moments on the deck yesterday evening, out of nowhere flits a butterfly and lands on Don's right leg - just for a few seconds - and then whoosh, it was off again. At first we thought it might be the drunken butterfly who'd visited last week and so freaked me out (yes, I had a glass of wine near by), but even though we didn't get a long look at it, we both agreed that this new butterfly was not the same one and, actually, the coloring rather did remind me of some of the "Blue Pansy" butterflies we'd looked at on the internet earlier in the day! Cue spooky music...oooooooOOOOOOOOOooooo.... I'm pretty sure the drunken butterfly is NOT an Orithya, but Don is not so certain. By the way, I've added a photo of the drunken butterfly to the original post.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Quantum Physics - Blow Your Mind!

I cannot comprehend how a particle can be in two places at the same time, but since that's been proven by the physicists, I have to accept that it's true. It must mean that some form of "thought travel" or "time travel" is possible, we just have to figure out how to do it - or maybe we already do it, in our dreams for instance? Anyway, here's an interesting article from the July 30 edition of Newsweek magazine that talks about the mind-boggling implications of some of the things we have learned from physics: Putting Time in a (Leaky) Bottle By Sharon Begley Newsweek July 30, 2007 issue - You can tell a lot about a subject by who its muses and mascots are. Neuroscience has philosophers who wax profound about the mind, geology has intrepid explorers and subatomic physics has ... Alice in Wonderland. "Curiouser and curiouser," as Alice said, also describes the subatomic, or quantum, world. With age, this centenarian (quantum physics is 107 years old) has gotten more bizarre. "The surprises keep coming," says physicist David Albert of Columbia University. None is greater than finding loopholes in the hallowed uncertainty principle—and, even more outlandishly, seeing hints that the future may leak into the present. Since experiments keep proving quantum ideas right, physicists are forced to take them seriously. It isn't easy. They have to admit that a particle can be in two places at once. They have to accept that subatomic systems can become so "entangled" that measuring one affects the other even if the two are light-years apart, which Einstein called "spooky action at a distance." But even as quantum weirdness provides fodder for such drivel as the best-selling book "The Secret," it also fuels debate on subjects as lofty as the nature of reality. Last week a conference at Oxford University explored the idea that every time a subatomic system reaches a decision point—to undergo radioactive decay or not, say—it chooses both possibilities: in this world the particle decays, while in a parallel world it does not. Some physicists buy this "many worlds" interpretation because the alternative is even more unpalatable: that quantum systems choose one possibility or another only when an observer looks. Einstein loathed the idea that reality is created by observers. New studies suggest, however, that it is possible to measure something without affecting it. The key is doing the experiments, well, gently. Anyone with a vague memory of Physics 101 knows that if you shine a light on what you want to measure, or stick a thermometer in it, you alter it. Taking the temperature of a steak with a cold thermometer, for instance, cools it as heat is transferred from meat to glass. You don't know what the temperature "really" was before you jabbed in the thermometer—a notion enshrined as the uncertainty principle. To circumvent this rule, Israeli physicist Yakir Aharonov got the idea of making "weak measurements," akin to waving your hand over the steak to feel its heat. That's not very precise with meat, but it works with quantum measurements: if you make enough weak measurements, the average comes impressively close to the actual value, experiments are showing. "Weak measurements let you lift the veil of secrecy imposed by the uncertainty principle," says Paul Davies of Arizona State University.In one use of weak measurements, particles of light (photons) fly toward a screen, one at a time. The screen has two slits. If each photon goes through one slit, they form two bright spots on Venetian blinds beyond the screen. If each photon somehow goes through both slits, however, they form black-and-white stripes when they land on the blinds. Physicists have long known that if a device observes the slits, no zebra pattern forms; it's as if quantum phenomena are too shy to display their magic—one particle going through two slits—when watched. Weak measurements might be able to get around this by being less obtrusive; studies to try are in the works. In the meantime, experiments have put detectors on the far side of the blinds. If the blinds are open and the detectors peek at the slits, photons fly through only one slit and no zebra stripes form. If the blinds are closed so the detectors cannot see the slits, photons fly through both and form the stripes. Here's the twist: if the blinds open only after photons have passed the slits but before they reach the blinds, the stripes fail to form even though the photons have seemingly done what they must to form stripes—namely, fly through two slits, as they always do when unobserved. The act of observing alters what the photons did earlier, somehow changing things so they passed through one slit and not two. There are "many histories" a photon could have, such as passing through one slit or two, Davies writes in his new book, "Cosmic Jackpot." Making a measurement "chooses which [history] existed." That interpretation remains speculative, but weak measurements may indeed show that "something that happens now is affected by something that happens in the future," says physicist Jeff Tollaksen of George Mason University. "It suggests that the universe has a destiny—a destiny that is out there and coming back to us from the future." Maybe physicists should replace Alice with a new muse: Trafalmadorians, who in Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five" saw past, present and future all at once like a landscape, each moment ever present. © 2007 Newsweek, Inc.

Orithya, the Butterfly

Still on vacation but the time is winding down - it's back to work on 7/31, sigh. Isis is still in Chicago with Michelle, they'll be getting back here about 3:30. Mr. Don and I saw the Harry Potter movie yesterday (excellent, but I couldn't watch the deatheater attack scene at the beginning of the movie and Mr. D is still teasing me about that); last night we wandered over to a local church festival - tonight is the grande finale and the festival shoots off a gigantic fireworks display. All the neighbors in the area invite their friends over and have parties going and then everyone settles down about 9:30 p.m. to watch the fireworks. They can be seen far and wide. It's always a signal to me that summer is half-over and it makes me sad - but I do love a good fireworks display and that makes me happy!

I've got a pot roast with potatoes and carrots going and the house is filled with its aroma; it was cool enough last night to keep the central air off and sleep with the windows open, but today is already warm and sticky and I think I'll have to shut the house down and put on the C.A. - a trip to the grocery store is in order and Don is going to cut the grass in the back so the yard looks spiffy when the guests start arriving later this afternoon. Party, party...

Yesterday Mr. D and I checked out the photos from Thursday's excursion to Chicago - most of them turned out excellently. And we've got the butterfly picture - I have added it to the blog entry about the drunken butterfly. Naturally, the butterfly has shown up in Mr. D's current research - he wanted to find out more about the "nymph" Orithya. Turns out she's a very interesting character, and has a butterfly genus named after her!!! Check out this picture - now if that isn't a human looking face on this Orithya I don't know what is! Unfortunately the photo doesn't scan out as large here as it does where we found it - but I didn't save the link (drat). One other interesting thing - Mr. D's nickname from our late "Chief" (Ricardo Calvo) was Wallace; and it just so happens that the official name for the Orithya butterfly includes the Latinized version of "Wallace" in it. Hmmmm.... We figure there's a message in this somewhere, we just have to figure out what it all means.
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