Saturday, August 25, 2007

Tong Yingtai Invents Three-Dimensional Chess

Hola darlings! Well, that title is rather misleading. What the article really means to say is that Tong has created a "figural" chess set, carved out of jade. Xiang qi (Chinese chess) is typically played with flat round discs that are marked on top with the pieces' identities. Obviously, Mr. Tong did not invent "three-dimensional" chess (ala the game played on the 1960's series "Star Trek"), nor did he invent figural pieces, which were created as part of chess when it first started being played some 2300 or more years ago. Here's the story from Three-dimensional Chinese chess born in Qiqihar 2007-08-23 10:17:15 BEIJING, Aug. 23 -- The first three-dimensional Chinese chess came out recently in Qiqihar, northeast China's Heilongjiang Province. The three-dimensional jade Chinese chess was made by a jade workshop in Qiqihar, based on the original design of Tong Yingtai, inventor of the unique set. The set has been awarded an intellectual patent right. Working with a local tourist bureau in Heilongjiang province, Tong Yingtai has devoted 14 years in studying and designing the three-dimensional Chinese chess, hoping to bring the unique Chinese culture to the world. Following his invention, Dong spent more than 4 months traveling by bicycle across some 87 Chinese cities from the north to the south in 2001, publicizing his three-dimensional chess along his trip. This time, with the approaching of Beijing 2008 Olympics, Dong once again plans to embark on his bike tour on Sept. 1 this year, aross some 38 more cities from China's west to east, hoping to extend his welcome to the "Green Olympics" in Beijing. ****************************************************************************** Mr. Tong may not be the first creator of a figural Xiang qi set. According to Dr. David Li in his work on chess history, "The Genealogy of Chess" (Premiere Publishing, Bethesda, MD, 1998), it was Emperor Tai-zong (r. 626-649CE) who introduced "three-dimensional playing pieces" made out of metal to Xiang qi, an experiment that did not survive after his death.

GM Ashley Visits Knights of Valor in Baltimore

In my book, GM Maurice Ashley is a great human being and true champion of the game.

From the Baltimore Times Online:

Grand Master Maurice Ashley visits Huber's Knights of Valor Chess Ministry
by Ellen Andrews
Originally posted 8/24/2007

Maurice Ashley sat quietly, hands folded at rest, but his very presence at this Northeast Baltimore church's chess tournament speaks volumes about his commitment to the game and its community. Maurice Ashley, first African American Grand Master of Chess, kept his promise to come to Baltimore to play Huber's Knights of Valor (KOV) chess ministry in a series of simultaneous chess games - blindfolded. Before the games Ashley spoke to the audience of enthusiastic KOV members, ages 6 to 21, the KOV chess moms, church staff and others-all supporters and lovers of the game of chess. He regaled them with stories about actor Will Smith and a trick played on jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and others he's met through the game of chess.

Kenneth Tabron or rather, Sir Kenneth Tabron, founder and leader of the KOV, invited Grandmaster Ashley to come to Baltimore upon meeting Ashley during KOV's trip to New York City. Ashley and Tabron's mutual love of the game and concern for inner-city youth gave them much in common. Also on hand for the event was Michael McDuffie, Chess Ambassador of Buffalo, NY and Baltimore City Public School's Steve Alpern who's office oversees chess clubs in sixty schools citywide. McDuffie spoke of Buffalo's 50% dropout rate and the $49.7 million funded for before and after-school programs serving under-performing students and to promote chess as a tool “to teach life skills; help kids think of a plan B and a plan C. Chess teaches math and critical thinking skills,” said McDuffie, who is brother to David McDuffie, who lives in Baltimore and is known in the chess world as the Pawn Master.

The Pawn Master took the office of moving Grand Master Ashley's pieces called out during the course of the blindfold match, which was filled with laughter and what might be called chess “trash” talking. Knights of Valor members, Paris Alexander, Dishaye Davis and Michael Greene had the honor of being soundly “whupped” by Maurice Ashley and now have a story to tell for years to come.

Ashley signed autographs, and spent time with the children teaching in his gentle but direct way the game of chess, prompting them to think deeply about their moves. “One thing they need is board awareness,” said Ashley. “They tend to get tunnel vision and forget about where other game pieces are and how to best use them. This is something they need to do everyday, play the game.

When asked what motivated him to reach out to kids, Ashley thought about the question for a moment and then answered: “I didn't grow up with my parents around, so I missed that kind of close relationship. I realize that now because of my own relationship with my son. So when I meet these young people I remember that chess and the people who mentored me filled that gap, supplied that connection for me. When I meet kids in chess groups like these I know what this connection [with caring adults and peers] can do for a child. It's a chance to connect.”

India's Future Chess Stars

A story from the Hindustan Times: Knight and dawn Last Updated: 04:46 IST(25/8/2007) Never heard of B Adhiban? Or R Ashwath? How about Ashwin Jayaram and Mehar Chinna Reddy? No? In the next few years, you will. They are young standouts in Indian chess promising to take over from the Anands, Humpys, Harikrishnas and Sasikirans. The last six months have been fertile for Indian chess. This is partly owing to the form of the established stars like Viswanathan Anand, Koneru Humpy, P Harikrishna and K Sasikiran. Equally, it is due to the exploits of the Gen-Now members mentioned above, all between age 12 and 18. Anand is safely perched at the top of the world chess rankings in classical chess and maintained his supremacy in the rapid form by winning the Mainz Chess Classic for the 10th time; Humpy achieved Super Grandmaster status by winning the Kaupthing GM Open and finishing fifth in the Dubai International Open this week. Harikrishna finished joint second in the Montreal Open in Canada and joint first in the 5th Marx Gyrogy memorial earlier this month. Earlier this month, freshers Adhiban, Ashwath, S. Nitin, P. Shyam Nikhil and Swayams Mishra won the World Youth Olympiad in Singapore. This was the first-ever team title for India at the world level, an honour even the likes of Anand, Humpy, Harikrishna and Sasikiran missed in their career. “That was an amazing result for Indian chess,” said D.V. Sundar, honourary secretary, All India Chess Federation (AICF). “We had expected a medal from the boys, but not gold. They overcame some strong opponents. We are doing exceedingly well in the age group tournaments and have some good junior players, particularly in the 12 to 16 age group.” India has 15 Grandmasters (GMs) and 52 International Masters (IMS) among a total of 124 titled players in the last rating list put up by Fide in July. This pales in comparison to Russia, which has 173 GMs, 439 IMs among 1715 players with titles. But the fact that the Indian GMs list swelled from 3 to 15 in less then a decade proves the success rate is impressive. What adds lustre to this growth is that this success has come despite the usual problems of financial constraints, lack of exposure, limited tournaments in the national calendar and limited opportunities available. In fact, India would have more top-notchers if not for the fact that it loses many players due to lack of encouragement. However, recent success has reinforced India’s reputation as the fastest growing chess nation in the world. The young and the restless, led by the 13-year-old chess prodigy Parimarjan Negi, are not bothered by reputations, are not afraid to storm ahead on the 64 squares, winning tournaments, bagging ELO points, norms and titles, making giant strides in a sport that originated in India centuries ago but has been dominated by Russia and the erstwhile Soviet Republic and some European nations. Take the case of Abhishek Das from West Bengal, who bagged IM norms in his first two international events during a Europe tour by the Indian juniors last month, beating some strong players on his way. Five other Indian youngsters made norms in the same tournament at Balaguer in Spain at which Das claimed his second IM norm. Abhijeet Gupta of Bhilwara, Rajasthan, completed his third GM norm and now needs to take his rating to 2500 to become India’s 16th Grandmaster. Arun Karthik made his maiden GM norm, Soumya Swaminathan earned an IM norm while Padmini Rout bagged her WIM (Women’s International Master) norm. Das is but only a representative of this young breed that also includes players like Ashwin Jayaram of Kerala, SP Sethuraman and MR Lalithbabu of Tamil Nadu, Vidit Gujarathi of Maharashtra and Mehar Chinna Reddy of Andhra Pradesh. The last two, at 13 and 12 years, respectively, will be the youngest players at the National ‘A’ chess championship to be held next month in Chennai. One reason for players to gain skill at a young age is that chess coaching is available to them early thanks to the internet and chess softwares, says GM Pravin Thipsay. “Unlike my times when we had to depend on books for knowledge of recent developments in the game, players today get coaching information rather easily,” says Thipsay. “You buy a software like Chessbase and you get around 30 lakh games to study and prepare yourself. Earlier the books used to have a few hundred games. So that way things are easy. But this also means it is tougher to succeed because everyone is well prepared. What has impressed me is the work they put in and their dedication. “Recently, I played a young player and he made a move that was used by (Vassily) Ivanchuk in a tournament just three days ago. I couldn’t ask him whether he knew the move or picked it up from the Ivanchuk game, but that is the extent of preparationthat they do.” Sundar says the AICF is taking special interest in the development of young players and plans to provide them regular international exposure. “It is easy to get good chess coaching through computers and the internet, so we are concentrating on providing them more exposure by sending them to play abroad so that they can earn norms and titles,” he said. Thipsay approves of the plan. He says, “If they are nurtured well, they have the potential to not only catch up with the seniors but do even better than some of them.”

Friday, August 24, 2007

Goddess Sighting: Our Lady of Guadalupe

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the account, here are the basics:

The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated on December 12, commemorating traditional accounts of her appearances to Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin (d. 1548) on the hill of Tepeyac near Mexico City from December 9 through December 12, 1531.

There were four separate appearances of the Lady to Cuauhtlatoatzin over that period of days, and several miracles: a miraculous healing of Cuauhtlatoatzin’s uncle, who had either been struck gravely ill of a sudden or had been gravely ill before but, in any event, was close to death and then was saved; the appearance of Castilian roses on the Tepeyac hillside in December (not their blooming time); and the appearance of a permanent image on Cuauhtlatoatzin’s woven mantle in which he had wrapped the roses he picked to present to the non-believing Bishop. Supposedly, the original mantle hangs yet today in the Basilica dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Mexico.

Convinced, the Bishop became a believer in the apparitions, and it was eventually officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. A shrine was built in 1533 at the hillside of Tepeyac, on the location of an ancient shrine of the Aztec corn goddess Tonantzin, and over the years, a greater complex grew.

There are several things that point to the Lady in question being someone other than the Virgin Mary:

(1) Tepeyac had for centuries been of significance to the Aztecs and their descendants as the site of a shrine to the goddess Tonantzin, the corn goddess.

(2) Tonantzin, associated with the snake goddess Coatlique, was worshipped in the Winter Solstice celebrations at around this time of year (note the dates of the apparitions). Tonantzin wore a white robe covered in feathers and seashells, which adorned her as the goddess promenaded among the worshippers and was ceremonially killed in a scene reminiscent of the apparent death of the sun of winter. The goddess was also known by the name of Ilamatecuhtli (‘a noble old woman’) and Cozcamiauh (‘a necklace of maize flowers’). (The traditional appearance of this Goddess in a white gown may be significant, because in many later apparitions of the "Virgin Mary" in Europe, the apparitions were dressed in white. In the Zeitun appearances in Egypt from 1968-1971, the apparition was invariably white light in the form of a woman).

(3) It has been suggested that the name 'Guadalupe' is actually a corruption of a Nahuatl (Aztec) name, 'Coatlaxopeuh', which has been translated as 'Who Crushes the Serpent' – and that this means the Virgin Mary. In some of her depictions, the Virgin Mary is seen with a "crown" of stars circling her head and standing barefoot on a snake/serpent resting on a half-globe. However, the Bible does not say that Mary crushed the serpent, it says that the offspring of the woman crushed the serpent’s head. The "offspring of the woman" is Jesus Christ and this scripture is believed to be a prophecy of Christ's eventual conquest and destruction of Satan, the Great Serpent, at The End of Days.

Personally I find it fascinating and quite ingenious how the Roman Catholic Church twisted the meaning of a goddess symbol 180 degrees. The Serpent had been an ancient symbol of the Mother Goddess. Serpents represented the Cycle of Eternal Life, death and resurrection/rebirth via the shed skin, also the "circle of life" represented by the Ouroboros – a serpent biting tail to form a circle, thus representing eternity. And yet, the serpent became a symbol of Ultimate Evil to this Church. It is not within the scope of this blog or my inclination to publish a full-fledged study of this usurpation here! But if you want to read a paper I wrote about goddess symbolism in ancient board games that I presented to a symposium on board games back in 2001, check it out here.

And yet, the Church has not managed to erase ancient 'indicators' of the Mother Goddess in the image that was somehow emblazoned on Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin's cloak that is yet revered today: the rays of the sun surrounding Her in glory; Her cloak of stars; and the crescent moon upon which She stands, which are sometimes depicted as "horns" in other, older, visions of the Goddess.

I’m not a linguist, although I find it a fascinating field of study. I wonder if anyone else has seen the similarity in Juan Diego’s Aztec name, CUAUHTLATOATZIN, to those of the two Aztec Goddesses: COATLIQUE and TONANTZIN. I wouldn’t be at all shocked if the 57 year old Aztec Cuauhtlatoatzin had actually been a Priest of either one or both of those ancient Goddesses before his "conversion" to Roman Catholicism.

It would be supremely ironic if the ancient corn goddess Tonantzin had the last laugh on the Roman Catholic Church, masquerading as the Theotokos – the Mother of the Roman Catholic god.

For general information, see entry at Wikipedia and the public version (online) of the 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia.

For various accounts, interpretation and information, see;;

Blast from the Past - Sexy Chess at Corus

Using a Come-Hither Line To Seduce and Ruin a Foe By ROBERT BYRNE Published: February 18, 2001 An effective strategy, when it works, is to feign weakness and lure the opponent to his destruction. This requires that you resuscitate a line of play long thought to be incorrect. Your judgment must be right. You must be equally right that you have circumvented the bugs that everyone is sure it has. Many a project of this type fails when the opponent produces a new refutation. You are then usually dead. In a hurry. You must be skilled at creating complex tactics that give the impression you have forgotten the analysis and are floundering. The Russian grandmaster Aleksandr Morozevich met all the requirements in his game with the Dutch grandmaster Loek Van Wely in Round 3 of the Corus International Tournament in Wijk-aan-Zee, the Netherlands. A fine performance of this type. In the Slav Defense's main line, the early thrust in the center with 5 . . . c5 is rare. That's because it has an abominable reputation. Smyslov used it against Boleslavsky in Budapest 1950, but after 6 e4 cd 7 Qd4 Qd4 8 Nd4 e6 9 Ndb5 Na6 10 Bc4 Bc5 11 Bf4 Ke7 12 O-O Bd7 13 e5 Nh5 14 Be3, he had the worst of it. A Wulfson-Alatortsev game in Kuibyshev 1942 went badly for Black after 9 . . . Be4 10 Nc3 Qd1 11 Kd1 Bg6 12 Nd5 Nd5 13 Bd5 Nc6 14 Bc6 bc 15 Ne5 Be4 16 f3 f6 17 Nc4 Bd3 18 b3 O-O-O 19 Bd2 Be7 20 Nb2. Because of the weak doubled c pawns, Alatortsev lost the endgame. After 10 Qb3, Morozevich stoutly played 10 . . . Qd7, but then it might have been smarter for Van Wely to play 11 Bd2, when 11 . . . Ne4 12 Rd2 Bd6 would, however, present no way to refute the black defense. The hot-blooded Van Wely, as might be expected, could not resist the challenge he presented with 11 Nf6 gf. Van Wely had to use a tempo with 12 Bd2 to take care of the threat of 12 . . . Na5. Then, after 12 . . . Rg8, he did not want to play 13 O-O because of 13 . . . Be4 14 Ne1 Bg2 15 Ng2 Rg2 16 Kg2 Qg4 17 Kh1 Qf3 with a perpetual check draw. After his presumptious 13 Bc3, however, Morozevich hit the throttle with an adventurous gambit, 13 . . . O-O-O!? Van Wely, stubbornly out to prove a superiority for White, took him up on it with 14 Bf7. Perhaps Van Wely thought that 14 . . . Rg2! was unplayable, overlooking that 15 Nh4 was to be hit by 15 . . . Ne5!, the first point of which was that 16 Ng2 (16 Be5? is an invitation to mate following 16 . . . Qd2) would have been mauled by 16 . . . Nf3 17 Ke2 Bd3 18 Kf3 Qh3 19 Kf4 Bh6mate. After 16 . . . Nd3, Van Wely could have chosen defense by 17 Kd1, but 17 . . . Kb8! 18 Qe6 (18 Be6 Qc6 sets up winning threats of 19 . . . Nf2 or 19 . . . Qf3 or 19 . . . c4) Nf2 19 Ke1 Nh1 20 Qd7 Rd7 21 Be6 Rc7 would have won for Morozevich. Defense by 19 e4 is crushed by 19 . . . c4! 20 Qc4 Rf5 21 ef Qf5 22 Qh4 Bc5 23 Kg2 Nf4 24 Kf1 (or 24 Kg3 Rd3mate) Qd3 25 Ke1 Qe2mate. And 19 Ng3 is crushed by 19 . . . Qc6 20 e4 c4! 21 Qb5 Bc5 22 Qc6 bc 23 Bc4 Nf4 24 h4 (or 24 Bf1 Re2 25 Bd4 Bd4mate) Rb2 25 Kf1 Rf2 26 Kg1 Rc2 27 Kf1 Rc3 28 Ne2 Rf3 29 Ke1 Ng2mate. So Van Wely gave back the piece with 19 Qe6 Rf5. After 20 h4 Bd6 21 Rf1 Rg8!, Van Wely, staring at 22 Bg8 Qg7mate, gave up.

It's Friday and I'm Nuts!

Hola! The forecasters are promising that the never-ending rain and thunderstorms are supposed to blow out of here tomorrow - we only have to get through today. It's been dark and gloomy since a week ago Friday and raining since noon last Saturday. I'm wondering what the suicide rate in Seattle is - doesn't it rain there all the time? I probably would have done myself in a few days ago already, but we had a couple hours of sunshine, in between the early morning and 5 p.m. thunderstorms Wednesday and Thursday, and a glimpse of blue skies and sun this morning! I cannot deal with unrelenting gloom and the constant threat of the mold monster lurking in my backyard, ready to devour my house (it's now about 12 cubic feet large).

The weather people aren't even reporting how much rain has fallen anymore; we've been under flash flood warnings for the past four days, and there is severe flooding along the Mississippi border area of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. Yesterday Chicago got hammered pretty bad - they'd been dodging the bullets all week but yesterday made up for it, almost 200,000 people without power, winds strong enough to damage trees and buildings. We've had trees downed here too, but they are falling over, literally, because they are so top heavy that the sodden ground is not holding the roots!

Last night I did my usual 'check the patio door and turn on the deck light to scare away the critters before I lock up for the night' routine, and the juvenile raccoons were out in the backyard scavenging. I banged on the glass and yelled and one went scampering over the retaining wall and made a bee-line under the north fence, but the companion, he just sat on top of the retaining wall and stared in my direction. I opened the door and clapped and yelled and he slowly sauntered off. I turned off the light and waited a few minutes (there she goes again, playing games with the critters, the neighbors sigh to themselves) and then turned it back on - now there were THREE raccoons! And then - oh - FOUR raccoons! Banged on the glass and yelled again - they didn't even blink, courage in numbers, I guess. They didn't hang around long, though, perhaps the light bothered them or perhaps they thought I might pull out the hose and blast them a cold stinging stream of water. So, one of the raccoons who's been hanging around here for the past three years has become a momma of four babies, and they all survived - I figured they were siblings because they were all the same size and they weren't fighting with each other like I figured juveniles from competing mommas might do. I must be feeding the critters too well...

Demon Squirrel Alert!!!! This story was NOT written on April Fool's Day. I wonder what's in the water in this Russian town where squirrels allegedly attacked and killed a dog just because he was being, well, a dog, barking up the trees at them! And who ate all the pinecones? From the BBC website:

Last Updated Thursday, 1 December 2005, 18:14 GMT

Squirrels have bitten to death a stray dog which was barking at them in a Russian park, local media report.

Passers-by were too late to stop the attack by the black squirrels in a village in the far east, which reportedly lasted about a minute.

They are said to have scampered off at the sight of humans, some carrying pieces of flesh.

A pine cone shortage may have led the squirrels to seek other food sources, although scientists are sceptical.

The attack was reported in parkland in the centre of Lazo, a village in the Maritime Territory, and was witnessed by three local people.

A "big" stray dog was nosing about the trees and barking at squirrels hiding in branches overhead when a number of them suddenly descended and attacked, reports say.

"They literally gutted the dog," local journalist Anastasia Trubitsina told Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.

"When they saw the men, they scattered in different directions, taking pieces of their kill away with them."

Mikhail Tiyunov, a scientist in the region, said it was the first he had ever heard of such an attack.

While squirrels without sources of protein might attack birds' nests, he said, the idea of them chewing a dog to death was "absurd".

"If it really happened, things must be pretty bad in our forests," he added.
Komosmolskaya Pravda notes that in a previous incident this autumn chipmunks terrorised cats in a part of the territory.

A Lazo man who called himself only Mikhalich said there had been "no pine cones at all" in the local forests this year.

"The little beasts are agitated because they have nothing to eat," he added.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Mata Hari Was Framed

We have a soft spot for Mata Hari; a character bearing that name figures prominently in a novelette that dondelion wrote years ago. For many years Mata was also one of the graphics gracing the header at Goddesschess' main page. We retired her with honors during our latest revamp in March.

So, when I saw this story about a definitive biography coming out, I wanted to pass along the news.


Last updated at 22:00pm on 10th August 2007

She stood alone in the sodden field on the outskirts of Paris, her fashionable ankle boots firmly planted in the mud churned up by the cavalry who drilled there.

No, she would not be tied to the stake, she told her executioners politely. And nor would she allow them to blindfold her. She faced the barrels of the firing squad without flinching.

Earlier, at 5am, they had woken her in her filthy cell in the Prison de Saint-Lazare to tell her this was the day she would die. She dressed in her best - stockings, a low-cut blouse under a dove-grey, two-piece suit.

On her head she perched a three-cornered hat at a jaunty angle, hiding her greying hair, unkempt and unwashed through nine months of incarceration. Over her shoulders she slung a vivid blue coat like a cloak to keep out the cold October air.

In a black car with its window blinds down, Margaretha Zelle, convicted of espionage, was then driven at speed through the still streets of the capital - a place she loved with a passion, though she was Dutch not French - to this damp and drear spot.

The 12 soldiers in their khaki uniforms and red fezzes raised their rifles. She waved to the two weeping nuns who had been her comfort in prison and on her last journey. She blew a kiss to the priest and another to her lawyer, an ex-lover.

The sun was coming up when the shots rang out. Zelle slumped to the ground. The officer in charge marched forward and fired a single bullet into her brain, the coup de grace.

An extraordinary life was over. The woman who was executed that day in 1917 was better known as Mata Hari, the name Zelle had chosen for herself when she became Europe's queen of unbridled eroticism, an exotic dancer, courtesan, harlot, great lover, spendthrift, liar, deceiver and thief.

And German spy? That is what - in the fevered atmosphere of France in World War I, with the Kaiser's troops encamped within its borders - she had been shot for. She caused the deaths of tens of thousands of French soldiers, it was said, a crime that would ever after make her synonymous with seduction and treachery, the ultimate femme fatale.

Except that she may not have been guilty at all...

Read the rest here.

FEMME FATALE: A Biography Of Mata Hari by Pat Shipman is published by by Weidenfeld & Nicholson.

German returns "cursed" stolen Pharaonic carving

From the news (Yahoo): Wed Aug 22, 8:43 AM ET CAIRO (Reuters) - A German has handed in a package containing part of a Pharaonic carving to Egypt's embassy in Berlin, with a note saying his stepfather had suffered a "curse of the Pharaohs" for stealing it, Egypt said on Wednesday. The note said the man felt obliged to return the carving to make amends for his late stepfather and enable his soul to rest in peace, Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities said. The stepfather had stolen the piece while on a visit to Egypt in 2004 and on his return to Germany suffered paralysis, nausea, unexplained fevers and cancer before dying recently, the anonymous man said in the note. The Egyptian embassy in Berlin had sent the fragment back to Egypt by diplomatic pouch and it had been handed over to the Supreme Council for Antiquities, where a committee of experts was trying to ascertain its authenticity, the statement said. The belief in a curse that strikes down anyone who disturbs the tombs or mummies of ancient Egypt's Pharaohs has been around since the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922 and the subsequent death of the excavation's financier Lord Carnarvon.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Human pawns, free at last

USA Wed Aug 22, 12:20 AM ET Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari, 67, has been living in an Orwellian hell since her Tehran airport taxi was stopped by three masked, knife-wielding men in December. They prevented her from flying home to the USA after visiting her ailing mother. In May, after months of interviews by Iranian intelligence, she was imprisoned and held virtually incommunicado. Until Tuesday. Suddenly, she was let out on $333,000 "bail," guaranteed by the deed to her mother's Tehran apartment. It's unclear whether Esfandiari will be allowed back to the USA or whether the charges will be dropped. Her case is part of a profoundly disturbing pattern. Iran has a history of using hostages for extreme psychological warfare. It inflicted trauma on the USA almost 30 years ago when young Revolutionary Guards seized 52 U.S. Embassy hostages and held them for 444 days. Now Iran is returning to this abusive tactic. In March, it held 15 British sailors and marines on trumped-up charges. It has charged three other Iranian-Americans for security-related offenses. Iranian TV has churned out chilling, coerced propaganda. Why the newfound capriciousness? Revolutionary Guard student leaders, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are now in positions of power. The nation needs bargaining chips as it spars with the United States over Iran's illicit nuclear weapons program and influence in Iraq. Hard-liners are desperate to win internal factional power struggles. Whatever the underlying reasons, they reflect an erratic, insecure regime. Firm, steady, concerted pressure is the appropriate response, be it to the weapons program or the holding of human pawns. Beijing games China, meanwhile, has released a jailed activist — and allowed him to return to his home, wife and two children in the Boston area after five years in prison. The case of Yang Jianli (left, by Getty Images), 44, a Chinese citizen and legal U.S. resident, has some parallels to that of Esfandiari. The Harvard scholar and former Tiananmen Square protester was detained in 2002 while traveling around China, meeting activists and laid-off workers. He was held, mostly incommunicado, on charges of spying for Taiwan and entering China illegally. Although he was released in April, he wasn't allowed to leave the country until now. After being reunited with his family Saturday, Yang said he still believes that China is on the path to democracy, that the government is "sitting on a powder keg" and "the tighter the grip on power, the more difficulty they will have in holding on." That may, or may not, be true. As with Esfandiari, U.S. officials — including President Bush and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson — championed Yang's cause and pressed for his release. But what seems to have clinched the deal: China is eager to show a tolerant face to the outside world as the 2008 Beijing Olympics approach. Repressive regimes have always used human beings as pawns. During the Cold War, Eastern bloc countries singled out dissidents according to the state of the political chess game with the West. The fates of Esfandiari and Yang are proof that the game still goes on. Leverage on Iran is more limited. Fortunately for Yang — and perhaps for others — China's grandmasters are looking toward the Beijing Games. But the real test of whether China's tolerance is genuine will come only after the games are over.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Humpy Becomes Super GM!

From the Hindu online. Congratulations to GM Koneru Humpy, who has reached the 2600 ELO level. Onward and upward!

Humpy elated at rare feat
V.V. Subrahmanyam
Wednesday, Aug 22, 2007

HYDERABAD: For 20-year-old Koneru Humpy, becoming a super Grandmaster is a high point of her career which should only spur her in future.

She became the second woman after Judith Polgar to do so in women’s section.

Speaking to The Hindu on her return from the Dubai international tournament, the former World junior champion said that after a shaky start where she won just 2.5 points from the first five rounds, she never thought of achieving any thing special.

“Especially after the loss to Tejas Bakre I was terribly disappointed. But later things moved dramatically in my favour and a win over top seed GM Evgenij Miroshnichenko of Ukraine (ELO 2671) helped me in winning those crucial ELO points which gave me this rare privilege,” Humpy, the first Indian woman to achieve this feat, said.

How significant is this achievement in the long-term perspective of her career? “Now obviously, it is difficult to sustain this high-level of rating. I have to be consistently brilliant. If you consider the fact that after V. Anand and K. Sasikiran, I am the only other Indian to achieve this feat, you can understand the pressure on me,” she said.

“Honestly, I never thought I would become a Super GM in the Dubai event itself and I dedicate this to my parents — Ashok and Lata,” she said. Perfect platform

Humpy feels that the European Club championship from October 2 to 10 and Macau Asian Indoor Games from October 26, where five gold medals in chess are at stake, should be a perfect platform for her preparations for the next year’s World championship.

“Essentially, I will be looking to improve my opening repertoire and also be a much better player in rapid chess which is likely to be the format for the World championship. And my father Ashok will continue to be my coach,” Humpy said.

“This Super GM title, coming close on the heels of the Padma Shri and my father being nominated for the Dronacharya Award, should only make us try for much bigger things in future,” Humpy said.

Chess Sets out of Salt and Pepper Shakers

I came across this article and thought it was interesting and fun: From the New York Times FORAGING; Chess Sets Seasoned To Taste By FRED BERNSTEIN Published: June 14, 2002 I HAVE been wandering New York City's restaurant supply district, a four-block stretch along the Bowery just below Houston Street. In each store, I ask to see the salt and pepper shakers. The smallest shakers -- clear glass cubes not much larger than dice, with tiny metal tops -- range from $5 to $10 a dozen, depending on the store. I have already bought 16 of these. Now I need 16 more in a variety of shapes and sizes. The shakers will become part of a chess set, an item I created as a bar mitzvah gift for a boy whose main interests were chess and restaurants. Making that first set was harder than it looked. For nearly a week, I rode my bike to the Bowery each day, picked through bins of shakers, brought my discoveries home to the West village, and tried them out in different combinations. I wanted kings that were distinguishable from queens, that were distinguishable from bishops, and so on. There is nothing worse than a chess set in which you can't tell the pieces apart. But the shakers had to have a similar feel -- no cut glass, or colors that would detract from the clean look I was seeking. (Half of the pieces would be filled with salt, and half with pepper, though I have also experimented with fish-tank gravel, which is more colorful and less expensive.) Some of the pieces were easy; the tiny cubes, sold by the dozen, were ideal pawns. For the bishops, I found shakers whose glass bodies resembled flowing robes. For the rooks, which I know as castles, I needed something squarish, almost architectural. As for the knights, well, I knew no shaker would look like a knight; I would settle for anything shorter than the bishops and narrower than the rooks. The real challenge was finding kings and queens that towered above the other pieces, but would fit on a tabletop chessboard. My inspiration, if you want to call it that, came when I decided that a cruet -- the kind most restaurants use for oil and vinegar -- would make a perfect king: full-bodied, with a pointed, if somewhat tinny, crown (picture Henry VIII in glass). Cruets are about $1.25. With a bulbous shaker as queen, I had my (slightly stereotypic) royals. Only once, when I saw an octagonal pair that reminded me of castles, was I tempted to steal shakers from a restaurant. As it was, I ended up with so many rejects I could be donating shakers to restaurants. I still needed a board with squares big enough to accommodate the cruet kings. I looked at large wooden boards at a chess store, but they were more than $100. Then, at ABC Carpet, on Broadway at 19th Street, I spotted a checkerboard-patterned sisal carpet and measured the squares (which were 2-by-2 inches). I asked if I could buy a 16-by-16-inch rug. The salesman, who like anyone who has worked in Manhattan long enough, is inured to special requests, wrote up the order. Did he think I was carpeting a closet? Having the sisal edged drove the price of the ''board'' to more than $40. All that was left to do was to fill the pieces with rock salt and peppercorns. I have given out four or five of the chess sets, and each time I try new combinations of shakers. On my last visit, I found Balter, at 209 Bowery, which had the largest variety of shakers I have seen -- though little patience for someone like me, whose entire order fit into a knapsack. ''Our customers buy in bulk,'' one woman snapped. Indeed, buying two of anything in the restaurant supply district is like asking McDonald's for two French fries. She told me the shakers I wanted were sold only as part of a set, with a stainless-steel caddy, for $18. When I suggested that the manufacturer must sell the shakers separately, as replacement parts, she reluctantly inquired. After a long discussion, she hung up the phone, said, ''I'm never ordering from them again,'' and inexplicably offered to sell me the shakers for $3 each. That is a lot for a clear glass shaker, but I took four. They will be part of a set I am planning to give as a gift next week. I am still trying to decide if they will be knights or bishops.

The Sudarium of Oviedo

The what? I'd never heard of this religious relic - here's a fascinating overview of what it is and its history: By J.M. Sinclair (posted at The Paranormal Report on August 6, 2007) This article is copyright The Paranormal Report 2007, all rights reserved unless explicit, written statement is present. Lying in the Cathedral of Oviedo, Spain in relative obscurity compared to its more famous cousin, the Sudarium presents a better provenance and history than the Shroud and may be the sole surviving relic of the crucifixion that has made it to modern times. Measuring 34" by 21", the Sudarium is a bloodstained cloth purported to have covered the head of Jesus of Nazareth after his burial. The cloth is mentioned to have been in the tomb in John 20:6-7 described as a cloth seperate from the shroud. It isn't mentioned again until 570 A.D. when it was being kept by monks in a cave near Jerusalem. In 614, just before the Sasanian King of Persia Khusru II conquered Jerusalem, the cloth was taken to Alexandria, and within just a few years made its way to Spain through North Africa. Its been there ever since. Unlike most relics, which tend to be medieval forgeries, the Sudarium is much different in both its clear provenance and history, and the fact that it really isn't all that impressive to look at. It has no miraculous images, its not a spear or a nail, or a crown of thorns. Its a blood stained cloth that covered the head of someone who died a very brutal death. An investigation by Dr. Jose Villalain showed that the victim died in an upright position, and the stains are comprised mostly of fluid from the lungs, along with blood. This illustrates death by asphyxiation while bleeding, consistent with crucifixion, which tends to suffocate the victim rather than cause death from blood loss. The stains are superimposed on top of one another, suggesting that some of the stains were at least partly dried when the body was moved again causing new fluid to deposit. The folds of the Sudarium suggest that the cloth was put in place while the body was in an upright position, perhaps still on the cross. There are smaller bloodstains present that may suggest a crown of thorns. Pollen samples taken from the cloth by Dr. Max Frei are consistent with Jerusalem, North Africa and Spain. It has also been argued that there are clear correlations between the stains on the Sudarium and the Shroud of Turin, and the two seem to be made from very similar cloth. While the debate rages on about the authenticity of the Shroud, the Sudarium's clear history has protected it from the same level of controversy. Radiocarbon dating done by Baima Bollone showed the Sudarium to date from the 6th century, but Bollone stated that the dating is probably unreliable. We know that the person who wore the Sudarium died a violent death consistent with crucifixion. We know it dates from at least the 6th century, probably before. And we know that the cloth was in Jerusalem. The one question that remains is who's head did it cover. In the world of relics, most are highly questionable. Some are outright ridiculous, such as The Most Holy Umbilical Cord. But this one simple piece of cloth may be as close as we will ever get to a true relic of the passion. ********************************************************************************************* Hmmmm, well, frankly I'm sceptical. If you'd like more information, here are a few links:

The Mystery of the Amber Room

A disappearing room, a curse, mysterious deaths...I just love history!

Dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World," the room that once symbolized peace was stolen by Nazis—then disappeared for good

By Jess Blumberg

While many Americans associate amber with the casing for dinosaur DNA in 1993's Jurassic Park, the stone has enthralled Europeans, and especially Russians, for centuries because of the golden, jewel-encrusted Amber Room, which was made of several tons of the gemstone. A gift to Peter the Great in 1716 celebrating peace between Russia and Prussia, the room's fate became anything but peaceful: Nazis looted it during World War II, and in the final months of the war, the amber panels, which had been packed away in crates, disappeared. A replica was completed in 2003, but the contents of the original, dubbed "the Eighth Wonder of the World," have remained missing for decades.

Golden Gift
Construction of the Amber Room began in 1701. It was originally installed at Charlottenburg Palace, home of Friedrich I, the first King of Prussia. Truly an international collaboration, the room was designed by German baroque sculptor Andreas Schlüter and constructed by the Danish amber craftsman Gottfried Wolfram. Peter the Great admired the room on a visit, and in 1716 the King of Prussia—then Frederick William I—presented it to the Peter as a gift, cementing a Prussian-Russian alliance against Sweden.

The Amber Room was shipped to Russia in 18 large boxes and installed in the Winter House in St. Petersburg as a part of a European art collection. In 1755, Czarina Elizabeth ordered the room to be moved to the Catherine Palace in Pushkin, named Tsarskoye Selo, or "Czar's Village." Italian designer Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli redesigned the room to fit into its new, larger space using additional amber shipped from Berlin.

After other 18th-century renovations, the room covered about 180 square feet and glowed with six tons of amber and other semi-precious stones. The amber panels were backed with gold leaf, and historians estimate that, at the time, the room was worth $142 million in today's dollars. Over time, the Amber Room was used as a private meditation chamber for Czarina Elizabeth, a gathering room for Catherine the Great and a trophy space for amber connoisseur Alexander II.

Nazi Looting
On June 22, 1941, Adolf Hitler initiated Operation Barbarossa, which launched three million German soldiers into the Soviet Union. The invasion led to the looting of tens of thousands of art treasures, including the illustrious Amber Room, which the Nazis believed was made by Germans and, most certainly, made for Germans.

As the forces moved into Pushkin, officials and curators of the Catherine Palace attempted to disassemble and hide the Amber Room. When the dry amber began to crumble, the officials instead tried hiding the room behind thin wallpaper. But the ruse didn't fool the German soldiers, who tore down the Amber Room within 36 hours, packed it up in 27 crates and shipped it to Königsberg, Germany (present-day Kaliningrad). The room was reinstalled in Königsberg's castle museum on the Baltic Coast.

The museum's director, Alfred Rohde, was an amber aficionado and studied the room's panel history while it was on display for the next two years. In late 1943, with the end of the war in sight, Rohde was advised to dismantle the Amber Room and crate it away. In August of the following year, allied bombing raids destroyed the city and turned the castle museum into ruins. And with that, the trail of the Amber Room was lost.

Conspiracies, Curses and Construction
It seems hard to believe that crates of several tons of amber could go missing, and many historians have tried to solve the mystery. The most basic theory is that the crates were destroyed by the bombings of 1944.

Others believe that the amber is still in Kaliningrad, while some say it was loaded onto a ship and can be found somewhere at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. In 1997, a group of German art detectives got a tip that someone was trying to hawk a piece of the Amber Room. They raided the office of the seller's lawyer and found one of the room's mosaic panels in Bremen, but the seller was the son of a deceased soldier and had no idea as to the panel's origin. One of the more extreme theories is that Stalin actually had a second Amber Room and the Germans stole a fake.

Another bizarre aspect of this story is the "Amber Room Curse." Many people connected to the room have met untimely ends. Take Rohde and his wife, for example, who died of typhus while the KGB was investigating the room. Or General Gusev, a Russian intelligence officer who died in a car crash after he talked to a journalist about the Amber Room. Or, most disturbing of all, Amber Room hunter and former German soldier Georg Stein, who in 1987 was murdered in a Bavarian forest.

The history of the new Amber Room, at least, is known for sure. The reconstruction began in 1979 at Tsarskoye Selo and was completed 25 years—and $11 million—later. Dedicated by Russian President Vladimir Putin and then-German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, the new room marked the 300-year anniversary of St. Petersburg in a unifying ceremony that echoed the peaceful sentiment behind the original. The room remains on display to the public at the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve outside of St. Petersburg.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Fischer Random Chess

Dylan McLain wrote this column at the New York Times on August 19, 2007:

Giraffes, Viziers and Wizards: Variations on the Old Game

Published: August 19, 2007

Five years ago, Bobby Fischer, the former champion, was asked if he still played chess. Referring to a chess variant he introduced in 1996, he replied: “Only Fischer Random. I don’t play the old chess any more. The old chess is dead; it’s been played out.”

Most players do not agree, but that has not discouraged people from inventing chess variants.

One is Turkish Great Chess. According to a Web site on variants (, the game is mentioned in the 18th century. It is played on a 10-by-10-square board and has a few extra pieces: giraffes, which move like a queen or a knight; war machines, which move like a rook or a knight; and viziers, which move like a bishop or a knight.

Another variant called Grand Chess was invented in 1984 by Christian Freeling, a Dutch game designer. It is also on a 10-by-10 board. Its extra pieces are marshalls, which move like a rook or a knight, and cardinals, which move like a bishop or a knight.

There is also Omega Chess. It is on a 10-by-10 board with an additional outside square diagonally at each corner, for a total of 104 squares. Four pieces called wizards start on those corner squares. They move one square diagonally in any direction or leap over pieces by moving up or down or sideways three squares and then one square to either side. Other pieces, called champions, move orthogonally in any direction or jump two squares up or down, sideways or diagonally.

Fischer Random Chess, also called Chess960, is popular. In Chess960, pieces along the first and eighth ranks are arranged in one of 960 starting positions. (The white and black pieces face their counterparts, so if a white rook is on a1, a black rook is on a8.) By shuffling the pieces, players cannot use openings they have learned for regular chess.

For the last six years, the Mainz Chess Classic in Germany has had a Chess960 tournament and matches. There were 280 players in this year’s tournament, including many of the world’s best.

The Chess960 matches, which ended Thursday, included Viswanathan Anand of India and Levon Aronian of Armenia. Aronian beat Anand in the final. Although Anand lost in a tie-breaker, he forced overtime with a victory in Game 4. The starting position is on the diagram.

After 19 ab, 19 ... cd is risky as White gets two passed pawns.

Instead of 38 ... Ra3, Aronian could have played 38 ... Rh1 to eliminate White’s pawns.

Instead of 44 ... Bg7, 44 ... d3 gives Black enough counterplay to hold the balance.

After 53 Rb5, Aronian was hopelessly behind, so he gave up.

The "Magical Battle of Britain"

I was doing a little research on author Dion Fortune (writer of many occult textbooks and novels back in the 20’s and 30’s) and read this about her at Wikipedia: Dion Fortune participated in the "Magical Battle of Britain," which was an attempt by British occultists to magically aid the war effort and which aimed to forestall the impending German invasion during the darkest days of World War II. Her efforts in regard to this are recorded in a series of letters she wrote at the time. The effort involved in this endeavour is said to have contributed to her death shortly after the war ended. (Ms. Fortune died of leukemia in 1946). What is this "Magical Battle of Britain?" Never heard of it – does it mean what I think it means? That a group of people got together and tried to influence the course of WWII using MAGIC? Well – sure enough! In fact, Dion Fortune wrote about it, and a book was put together by the organization she founded "The Society of Inner Light" many years after her death, in 1993. I’m not going to buy and read the book to get more information. Under a quick search of "Magical Battle of Britain" on the internet I found some interesting tidbits about this "magical battle" that took place more than 60 years ago:
  • This review of a television program from The London Independent on July 26, 1999: Far Out (Sun C4), a series that sets out to recast British history in the 20th century in New Age form. Most of the time, the programme's uncritical endorsement of loopy claims is simply irritating - as this week, when we were told that "As the men went off to war in 1939, some of the women they left behind began to discover they had special powers of premonition..." When the story moved on to the so-called "Magical Battle of Britain", it overstepped the mark. One woman remembered trying to combat Nazism's psychic assault by projecting loving thoughts, while a witch talked of dancing round bonfires (smouldering, so as to abide by black-out regulations), chanting "Can't cross the sea, can't cross the sea". And hey, the Germans didn't invade: coincidence - or something far stranger? Illustrating this deluded, self- aggrandising nonsense with footage of the real Battle of Britain, the one in which people were killed and maimed, lifted it beyond mere stupidity into downright tastelessness.
  • This website entry at Llewellyn Encyclopedia: It was the goal of the occultists [Note: more than Fortune and her group were involved, evidently] to prevent a Nazi invasion of England.
  • And then I found this from The Cabinet of Wonders blog, a recent entry, from May 16, 2007: We have previously looked at Ian Fleming and his involvement in the psychic defence of Britain, but was he responsible for clamping down on other magical activity during the war?

Yes, it’s that Ian Fleming, the guy who wrote the James Bond novels! Good Goddess! There’s lots of interesting links and information in this particular blog post, and the comments are educational in and of themselves.

Evidently Fortune, Fleming and Aleister Crowley, the infamous occultist, had acquaintance with each other and may perhaps have collaborated at times during WWII in performing magical - well, experiments I guess I'd call them to try and stop or at least slow down the Nazis. And – brace yourselves – Ron Hubbard fits into this too – you know, the "L. Ron Hubbard" of scientology fame.

Well! One could get lost in such research, but in the end, it doesn’t have anything to do with regular chess (although there's always Enochian Chess that was played by the Golden Dawn people) and so I’m dropping it, but I thought it was interesting. We’ve all heard the old chestnut about the truth sometimes being stranger than fiction, and in this case, I’d say that’s the truth!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

12th Asian Women's Chess Championship

(Sheikh Sultan Bin Khalifah Al-Nehyan, President of A.C.F. - could he possibly be related to former World Chess Champion Alexander Khalifman??? - well, just wondering, take off the headdress and dye his hair and beard blonde...)

Iran Chess Federation will organize 12th Asian Women Championship in Tehran, Iran from 2 -12 September 2007. Total prize of tournament will be 10000$ for 6 top players and 3 players will qualify for world women championship. Tournament will organize in 9 round Swiss System tournament and time control is 90 Min for 40 Move and 30 Min. for finish the game with 30 sec. increment for every move in the second time control.
Download the Regulation, Invitation and Registration form.

Ten countries have so far announced readiness to take part in Asian Women Chess Championships, due to be held in Tehran from September 2-11.

Head of the Chess Federation's Competitions Committee Hamid-Reza Pour-Shahmari told IRNA on Saturday that China, Bangladesh, Vietnam and India are among the participating contenders and that the number of participants including some from Asia, are to increase.

Pour-Shahmari said 40 chess players are to take part in the Swiss-method contests. ********************************************************************************************
Hmmmm, 10 countries to participate (so far), but only four were listed - five - if Iran is included in the list.
Will the foreign female players have to wear head scarves, even if this insults their religious beliefs or personal political beliefs?
Interesting that the prize fund is in the Great Satan's U.S. dollars...guess there's still some things we're good for, heh?

World Chess Championship Blog

Mark Weeks, who has been on the internet since it was first invented, darlings, has created a blog related to all events (zonals, various championships, etc.) that will complement his excellent chess websites. You can find the blog here. Mark's blog includes a list of links to his informative websites. If you have factual questions about prior championships, Mark Weeks' sites are the first place to visit. I hope Mark's blog continues to time indefinite.

Female Infanticide in India

A frank look at a problem most people in the west aren't even aware exists in the world's "largest democracy." Girls at risk amid India's prosperity By Nick Bryant BBC News August 18, 2007 India is in the throes of a revolution of rising expectations, a country animated by a providential sense of its own possibility. Already, it is close to dislodging Japan as the world's third largest economy, if purchasing power is taken into account. And by 2040 should have eased past China to become the planet's most populous country. Though progress can be agonisingly and needlessly slow, especially in the countryside, living standards are improving, along with literacy rates and life expectancy. In Mumbai not so long ago, I visited what can only be described as a gentrified slum, where a young father sat in front of his colour television mesmerised by the fast-moving ticker racing across the bottom of the screen. He was checking on the value of his share portfolio, and happily it was increasing with each occasional blink of his eyes. Daring to dream Even in the shanties, still stinking and overcrowded, people are daring to dream. The signs of change are everywhere. Inequalities aside, the crude equation that increased wealth will lead ultimately to decreased suffering should apply to most of India's social and economic maladies. Yet there is one problem that prosperity is actually aggravating. I saw this for myself in a hospital in Punjab, where we filmed a young mother giving birth, with the help of a surgeon's scalpel, to her second daughter. The Caesarean section was a complete success, and the safe arrival of such a beautiful ball of life should have been greeted with uncomplicated delight. But the mother had failed once again to provide her husband with a son and heir, so it was a singularly joyless occasion. Old attitudes Handed the little girl, not yet 10 minutes old, the women of the family were disapproving and edgy, fretful perhaps of how they would break the news to the men folk, who had not even come to the hospital. On the maternity ward a few minutes later, I was asked by one of the ladies - the mother's sister, I think - whether we would like to name the baby girl. We demurred, of course. Then came an even more extraordinary request: did we want to take the baby, not just to hold, but to have? In another time, she might have been killed. For this prosperous Punjabi family, we seemingly offered a less savage means of disposal. In modern-day India, sex selection, the all-too-common practice by which female foetuses are terminated before birth, conforms to a very different and disturbing calculus: increased wealth brings increased access to prenatal ultrasounds and sonograms. New and more widely available technology, the engine of India's relentless economic growth, is also fuelling female foeticide. Illegal According to a study by Unicef, a higher percentage of boys are born now than 10 years ago in 80% of India's districts. Only last month in the state of Orissa, the skulls of 40 female foetuses and newborn girls were discovered in an abandoned well. More distressing still, sex selection is worst in the most affluent parts of the country: Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat. In northern Punjab, for example, there are just 798 girls under the age of six for every 1,000 boys. The national average is 927. Even though it is illegal in India for a doctor to reveal the gender of an unborn child, the law is rarely enforced. Over the past 20 years, it has been estimated that some 10 million female foetuses have been aborted. Girls are unwanted because they are seen as a financial burden. Land holdings can pass to in-laws and dowries, which themselves are illegal, siphon money from families. First birthday Why pay 50,000 rupees to your new in-laws when you can pay 500 rupees for an abortion? You do not even have to leave home. Many unscrupulous doctors carry portable ultra-sound equipment in the boots of their cars. Increased consumer choice is one of the hallmarks of the new India. Tragically, it is being applied, with almost industrial efficiency, to depress the female birth rate.

Goodbye, Mighty Aphrodite

A paeon to a mighty Goddess who will soon be travelling back home to Italy.

Aphrodite's mighty appeal
Whether she resides in Italy or on the California coast, the statue of Aphrodite will always exude power and charm.
By Janie Dempsey Watts
from the August 16, 2007 edition

Everyone needs a friend who is larger than life; the strong, silent type who is a good listener. And if she happens to be much older and has a sketchy past, so much the better. In Malibu, Calif., I found just such a friend who is always there for me, at least for the moment.

My friend Aphrodite arrived in California in the late '80s to make her home at the Getty Museum. I first encountered her ringed by admirers who gazed at the strong lines of her 7-1/2-foot frame. She stood on her pedestal, proud and sure of herself, holding court. Being in the limelight was easy for her since she had spent a number of years underground.

The 2,400-year-old Aphrodite was brought to the Getty to be the centerpiece of its antiquities collection. The museum paid $18 million for her. And to think, she has a chipped nose and is bald – although she probably originally had hair and a veil.

Over the past two decades, I have visited her more than a dozen times, awed every time by her immense size. Her voluptuousness is stunning and quite reassuring. It's nice to know that plus-size women were valued at some point in history, and, in her case, she was known as the most beautiful goddess – goddess of love and queen of the heavens.

In fact, the information placard says her size is what makes her a goddess. If big equals good, does that make me and my fellow size-14 women goddesses, too? I would like to think so.

What I like best is that she looks strong. Being that powerful, I imagine she didn't have to put up with too many antics from her husbands and lovers.

Being married to that ugly Hephaestus, the god of fire, must have been difficult for someone so lovely, but she never complained. If I could get her to talk, I'd offer her a shoulder to cry on – although she might crush me in the process.

The placard placed near her base says that the wind-blown garments clinging to her body are characteristic of Aphrodite, goddess of love.
But I know the truth: The real reason she's dressed in a loose toga is to downplay those thunderous thighs. The woman is smart – she knows she wouldn't look good in a miniskirt.

She's a hardheaded woman. Marble, to be precise. Her head looks a little small for her limestone body. Some have speculated her current head might not be her head at all. She could be a composite of two ancient artworks.

Whatever the case, having a head that is, well, completely different from your body is tough. Talk about feeling disconnected.

And as if this head thing weren't enough, her origins are in question. She could be from north Africa or Sicily. Sicily is more likely, since the limestone she's made of is of the Sicilian type, according to the geologists at the University of Palermo in Italy. Experts at the Getty also believe that the limestone is closest to the Sicilian variety.

I don't know why anyone had to consult the scientists to figure out she is Sicilian. All they had to do was ask me.

After 25 years around a Sicilian mother-in-law, I can assure you Aphrodite is a Sicilian girl. She's larger than life and exudes power from every square inch of her body and face. One look at those serious eyes, and you know not to mess with her.

Need more proof that she's Sicilian? Take a look at her outstretched arm and open hand. It's obvious the woman is begging for a snack. It could have been a golden apple or a pomegranate that she wanted, but I'm sure it was a large slice of pizza.

For the moment, she seems comfortable at the Getty Villa in Malibu. But she will soon be moving home because Italy wants her back.

Italy, Malibu, either will work as long as the big girl stays near the sea. After all, she was born of the sea and had many temples built by the sea, so she probably feels most at home by the coast, surrounded by admirers.

I have to admit I'm a little envious of my friend Aphrodite. To be mostly bald, plus size, oh-so-old, and to have so many folks fighting over you – now that's heaven.


A Passion for Having Fun with Chess

Errol Tiwari's latest column is out today:

Sheriffa Ali is eight, tiny, and bursting with energy. She tells me she will switch sides with her opponent across the table during a practice game of chess. I show her the way around. But she crawls under the table to the other side.

Sheriffa, a student of Winfer Gardens Primary School, may behave the way other kids do, but over the chess board she transforms into a grandmaster. She moves the pieces around with confidence, too quickly I say to her, and like every serious chess player, examines a position intensely for opportunites to gain a positional advantage, capture a piece, or execute checkmate. On the chess board, Sheriffa is not a child any more.

Forty-two students attended the Chess Committee's workshop last week and like Sheriffa, they demonstrated a passion for learning and having fun with chess. It was truly impressive. One little girl was visibly upset when she said to me, "I don't have a chess board." Her demeanour changed from one extreme to the other when I handed her a board with pieces.

The kids were separated into seven groups by Workshop Directors Irshad Mohamed and Ronuel Greenidge, and tutors worked with the groups separately. Mr Tony Hanoman, a former Guyana junior and national chess champion held a separate session for the more advanced kids at the Oasis Cafe Too, where he concentrated on tactics and strategy. Mr Hanoman is a former Queen's College student who currently resides in Sweden and teaches chess there. He is home on vacation and presented a dozen chess sets and a chess clock to the committee.

Tomorrow, Mr Hanoman will play a simultaneous chess exhibition starting at 3 pm on the lawns outside Guyana Stores. He will play 25 persons simultaneously.

Students of the Chess Workshop were presented with Certificates of Participation for their efforts and enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, a few parents also took the opportunity to learn the game with the kids.

The workshop was sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport.
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