Saturday, September 29, 2007

Nitty Gritty Chess in Washington, D.C.

An excellent article from the Washington Post on a famous site where chess hustlers reign and "straight" players come to battle on the 65th square: The Days and Knights of Tom Murphy Chess players and hustlers come from all over to be part of Dupont Circle's famed scene. For some, leaving is much harder. By Wells TowerSunday, September 30, 2007; Page W08 In five sections.

Request for Bids for 2008 U.S. Chess Championships

Hola darlings! It's a gorgeous Saturday morning here and I've got a ton of yardwork to do; this afternoon I plan on doing some serious relaxing on the deck, catching up on some reading. I visited the recently revamped U.S. Chess Federation website this morning and discovered that Executive Director Bill Hall put out a request for bids for the 2008 U.S. Chess Championships on September 21, 2007. I will keep my fingers and toes crossed that generous sponsorship will come forward for the 2008 event(s). The bidding is wide open as far as format is concerned, evidently; when AF4C was sponsoring the championships, the women's and men's championships were combined into one huge event with the top finishing woman declared the women's champion. A separate prize structure was also in place in many of those years for the women who competed, leading to much grousing in the peanut gallery when a female player earned more in prize money for a lower overall score than men competing in the men's championship. This system had pluses, and several minuses. If I had unlimited funds and could sponsor such an event, I would prefer it to be structured along the lines of the 2007 U.S. Women's Chess Championship, where the top 10 rated female players in the country were invited and, where invitations were declined, the offer(s) went to the next women on the ratings list. The prize structure was also fixed and, if I understand it correctly, there was no prize "pooling" - that is - there were definitive tie-breaks so that, say, five players who finished with the same score did not pool and divide the five money prizes for their relative placements and so that each player would take home an equal amount of prize money from the "pool." I disapprove of this kind of arrangement; it seems to me it discourages fighting chess. Anyway, it will be interesting to see how much information (if any) we in the peanut gallery receive about the bids received - assuming bids are made, that is! This is supposed to be a new day and age for the USCF Executive Board - an age of transparency and free sharing of information of interest to the rank and file membership. My dues - and the dues of thousands of others - support the USCF and our votes put these people into office. So, it is to be hoped that those in office will let us know what's going on in due course - and earn their keep!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Marie Antoinette's Pearls

Hola darlings! I'm baaaaacccckkkk! It's been a horrendous week at the office, I don't even want to think about it. My poor shoulders and neck were so tense tonight when it was finally 5 p.m. and I was able to unchain myself from my desk that I looked about 10 feet tall as I left the office, I was THAT strung out (my normal height is 5 feet 3 and 3/4th inches, thank you very much). I was stressed; I was depressed; I was upset. Dealing with the B.S. dished out at the office is one thing; dealing with being treated as a dead-beat criminal by AT&T is on an entirely different level. I wanted nothing so much as something that would make me happy. At 6:30 p.m., after tossing out several handsfull of peanuts for the squirrels who were knocking at the patio door just before sundown, I put in the DVD of "Searching for Bobby Fischer." "Searching for Bobby Fischer" possibly is one of the best movies of all time. It is so damn subtle and yet so overwhelmingly beautiful in the story it tells. It never fails to capture me and carry me away. So what if the most of it is "fiction" - ie., not exactly what happened in the real life of Josh Waitzkin; yes, characters were compressed and changed; yes, the timeline was compressed; and yes, of course the "real length" chess games were compressed into exciting shots of what looks like speed chess with suitably dramatic echoes of hands slapping the clock. So fricking what! The story the movie tells is wonderful and awe-inspiring, and it never fails to lift me up. The acting is superb; hell, the casting was superb. Joan Allen as the mom is the height of perfection - well - I don't want to go on and on right now, I may do so, though, at a later time. Suffice to say that after viewing "Searching for Bobby Fischer" (the Man himself should be PROUD this movie has his name in its title instead of bitching and moaning about how the producers ripped him off by using his name without his "permission" - oh please!) the knots in the back of my neck and across my shoulders and down my spine were "untied" and I'd shrunk back to my regular height. I poured myself a glass of cheap wine and wandered upstairs where my computer is. I turned on the upstairs t.v. and turned on the computer not really expecting to be able to get online since I'd discovered earlier at the office that I couldn't even frigging send myself an email (talk about being naive! here I thought the damn things were being cached and would be delivered one I rendered my account into "approved status". Ha! What kind of fool am I....) and lo and behold, the fourth little green light on my DSL box lit up. Well! I didn't believe it. So I tested it out to see if it was really telling me the truth. Lo and behold further, I actually was able to connect to the internet. I'm only missing nearly a week's worth of email because I discovered today, entirely by accident, that any mail sent to my personal home email address evidently was rejected as if the addy no longer existed! I cannot tell you about the amount of steam that poured out of my ears when I discovered THAT about 3:30 this afternoon at the office, when I emailed myself a document that I had been working on for later on work at home, only to get one of the "daemon" return messages about 10 minutes later. ARRRGGGGHHH! AT&T has seen the last of my hard-earned money, it can't be soon enough! Now that I've got my at-home online ability back, I will be able to do more research about suitable alternatives for my situation. Okay - so I'm back, at least for now. Who knows what trials and tribulations I may have to undergo before I finally get a new system of communication installed into the homestead, or how long it will take. I have already started drafting my letter of complaint to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission about the treatment I received at the hands of AT&T. I investigated bringing a small claims action against AT&T to collect a credit for the number of days I was without DSL service (unfairly denied service), and had decided that the cost of the Summons alone, plus the cost of taking a day off work to appear in Small Claims Court wasn't worth it. But that was BEFORE I discovered that an unknown number of emails sent to me by admiring fans and department stores with which I am registered from all around the world were cruelly, most cruelly, REJECTED through the cold caprice of AT&T. I believe that action alone by AT&T constitutes tortious interference with contract, since I am a major partner in and my email is my lifeline to the larger world of chess. There is not a question in my mind that AT&T's actions constitute intentional infliction of emotional distress. Anyway, talking about making AT&T pays for its unjustified sins against me wasn't the point of this post - believe it or not. Nope - I actually wanted to post here about Marie Antoinette and her pearls. Here's the story: By Mike Collett-White Thu Sep 27, 12:21 PM ET LONDON (Reuters) - A set of pearls once belonging to Marie Antoinette and taken to Britain by a friend for safekeeping will go on sale in December, and are expected to fetch up to $800,000. Now part of a diamond, ruby and pearl necklace, France's last queen gave a bag of pearls and diamonds to Lady Sutherland, the British ambassador's wife, before she fled revolutionary France in 1792, a year before Marie Antoinette's death. "Lady Sutherland was wife of the ambassador and friends with the queen, and they had children of the same age," said Raymond Sancroft-Baker, senior director of Christie's jewelry in London. "When you are in a dire situation, there are not many people you can trust and the key was to give the jewels to someone with diplomatic immunity," he told Reuters. Marie Antoinette, legendary for her extravagance, did not know her fate at the time, he said, and would have hoped to be reunited with her treasures one day. "Hope springs eternal," added Sancroft-Baker. According to Christie's, Sutherland arranged for clothes and linen to be sent to the queen while she was in prison. "This was reportedly the last gesture of kindness shown to the doomed queen," the auctioneer said in a statement. Marie Antoinette was executed by guillotine in October 1793. The diamonds were made into a necklace, while the pearls were mounted later for the occasion of the marriage of Sutherland's grandson in 1849. Christie's did not specify which of Sutherland's descendants was selling the necklace. "The owner said it just sits in the bank the whole time, and there comes a time for everything," Sancroft-Baker said. He hoped the pearls, which have never been offered at auction before and remained in the same family for over 200 years, would be made available for the public to see. "The Louvre might be interested, for example," he said, adding that the story behind the necklace made it one of the most important sales he had overseen at Christie's. "It's right up there in the top 10 we've ever sold, because its provenance is rock solid, as far as we can be aware. There are documents to go with it and contemporary supporting evidence." The necklace will go under the hammer at the Magnificent Jewelry sale in London on December 12, and is expected to make between 350,000 and 400,000 pounds ($700-800,000). *********************************************************************************** If I had the money, I would bid and bid and bid until I won. And then I would make sure that these magnificent jewels would be open to public viewing and their tragic history well spelled-out. Actually, though, I think it is perfectly disgusting that this Sutherland descendant is attempting to profit from jewels that were, essentially, expropriated by his or her family upon Marie Antoinette's death. Did they never attempt to seek out her heirs? Surely she must have had some! Rightfully, morally, the pearls and diamonds that were handed over to Lady Sutherland all those years ago belong to Marie Antoinette's family, not to the descendants of the Sutherlands!

Friday Late Afternoon Miscellany

As of last night I'm without DSL at home although I'm sure by now the telephone company has received and cashed my check - the bloody bandits - and I am shopping for new service and plotting my revenge against AT&T. I have to sit down and do some benefit/cost analysis among the competing options, which I cannot do here at the office. Actually, I should be working right now, ahem… This will be short and sweet. I found this story about the babau festival, a fascinating legend about a monster (who sounds an awful lot like descriptions of the Loch Ness monster) that invaded the town one deep dark February night in 1290 CE from the river the town fronts and evidently made away with six children (presumably eaten, eek!) As the legend developed over the years the monster changed shape and size and in at least one account I read online is actually not a monster at all but bandits led by a very bad man who were causing problems for the town. Eventually the leader of this bad bunch was caught and done away in the town square in front of numerous witnesses. Anyway, check it out. I much prefer the “nessy” version of the story myself. gives this definition of a babau: “The bogie with which nurses in Languedoc terrify unruly children." Perhaps the legend of the babau spread outside of the town and was used elsewhere to scare the you-know-what out of kids. For that matter, when we were kids our teenaged baby-sitters used to scare the stuffing out of us with tales of the boogey man. Must be a pretty universal thing – scaring kids half to death with horror stories! I’m fascinated by all forms of ancient writing and the development of alphabets. Nova has an excellent article on runes. Runes are interesting not only because they were used for communication but were also used for divination (and divination is connected to some ancient board games – perhaps connected to all original ancient board games – sounds like that song “the thigh bone is connected to the knee bone, the knee bone is connected to the – what bone was that??? – well, you get the idea). Nova online has a very good article/overview on the history of runes for your reading pleasure. Have you heard the one about the singing stones? No – this is not a joke about Mick Jagger and the Rolling Pot-Heads, darlings! I have heard about the colossi at Memnon in Egypt – I think I need to learn more about this fascinating phenomenon. Friday night wouldn’t be complete without at least some mention of chess. I’m glad to see my man Moro at 5.5 – it would be nice to see him make 50% but in any event he (and indeed all of the players) will be taking home a very nice paycheck for his Mexico City efforts. I have to say I thought most of the players dressed themselves very well and made an effort to look presentable – well, Anand, Leko and Kramnik always are well groomed but some of the other guys it’s been touch and go at times. I’m looking forward to an Anand-Kramnik match and an Anand victory! And will Garry Kasparov really accept a nomination to run for office in Russia? The man REALLY must have a death wish. Everyone who has half a brain knows that Putin is a cold-blooded murderer and wouldn't hesitate to order Kasparov's removal through a convenient 'accident' - I don't think even Putin would be so stupid as to use radioactive poison again, though. Although, come to think of it, heads of state aren't so bright these days, are they...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Sexual Sounds Banned on Chinese Television (Huh?)

China bans 'sexually provocative sounds' on TVReuters Thursday, 27 September 2007 China has banned "sexually provocative sounds" on television and pulled the plug on a show reconstructing infamous crimes by women ahead of a major Communist Party meeting next month. The order, issued by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, is the latest in a raft of measures which have included axing reality shows featuring sex changes and plastic surgery and banning talent contests during prime-time. "Sexually suggestive advertisements and scenes showing how women are influenced into a life of crime are detrimental to society," it said in a statement posted on its Web site, referring to its decision to axe "Red Question Mark," a crime documentary. "Commercials containing sexually provocative sounds or tantalizing language as well as vulgar advertisements for breast enhancement and female underwear are banned, effective immediately," said the SARFT notice. The watchdog also ordered an end to programs with titles including the names of "sex-related drugs, products or medical institutions." A total of 1,466 advertisements worth 2 billion yuan ($NZ360 million) in revenues had been stripped from China's airways since August, SARFT said, citing department statistics. Since launching a campaign to purify China's state-controlled airways earlier in the year, the media watchdog's edicts have gained fever pitch in recent weeks, ahead of a meeting of the 17th Party congress, a sensitive five-yearly meeting at which key government leaders are appointed and national policy set for the next few years. It earlier urged the country's increasingly freewheeling broadcasters to forgo vulgarity and bad taste in the pursuit of ratings in favor of providing "inspiring" content for the masses imbued with "socialist" values. ************************************************************************************ Hmmmm, just what are those sexually provocative sounds that have been banned??? Actually, I'm surprised the right-wingers here in the USA haven't tried this (yet). Anyone up for "inspiring" programs on "evangelical" values?

Squirrels Being Evicted!

Formally on my lunch hour now, my posts here wouldn't be complete without a squirrel story. Slovakia's main airport starts moving out squirrels Sep 11, 2007 BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AFP) — Slovakia's biggest airport Tuesday began relocating ground squirrels near the complex as they were endangering flights by attracting large birds. "We started moving the first animals today," Bratislava airport spokeswoman Zora Kalouskova told AFP, adding that around half of the estimated 1,000-strong ground squirrels could be relocated from fields bordering the airport. The squirrels attracted large birds of prey. This often led to bird hits or caused them to be sucked into the engines of planes either landing and taking off. The ground squirrels will are being relocated to an area about 40 kilometres (25 miles) away where holes have already been dug to house them.

It's a Cultural Thing

Thursday, September 27, 2007 Greenland teen becomes NH girls chess champ GREENLAND — Fourteen-year-old Avary Bell never suspected that a simple visit to the library last year would result in her becoming the girls state chess champion. Avary placed first in the New Hampshire State Girls Chess Championship this past May. Her chess career began a little more than a year ago as she happened to walk into the Greenland Town Library and spotted some boys playing chess with former Greenland librarian Michael Sullivan as part of his Tales Told Tall private chess club. She quickly learned the basics — the bishops move this way, rooks that way — and strategy became more commonplace. "It's not just the same every time," she said while playing a game with Sullivan at the Coffee Beanery on Monday. Sullivan said Avary has progressed "amazingly fast." Full story.

Dead Horse Theory

This just in from a friend via email - too good to not post here.

”Dead Horse Theory”

The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed on from generation to generation, says that 'When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.'

However, in government, education, and in corporate America, more advanced strategies are often employed, such as:

1. Buying a stronger whip.

2. Changing riders.

3. Appointing a committee to study the horse. Better yet, bring in an army of consultants to over-study the horse.

4. Arranging to visit other countries to see how other cultures ride dead horses.

5. Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included.

6. Reclassifying the dead horse as living-impaired.

7. Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.

8. Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed.

9. Providing additional funding and/or training to increase dead horse's performance.

10. Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse's performance.

11. Declaring that as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overhead and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the economy than do some other horses.

12. Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses.

And of course:

13. Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position.

(Ed. Note: This gives new meaning to your boss being a horse's patooty.)

Scotland Wants Lewis Chess Pieces Back

See what happens when museums start "repatriating" pieces back to their 'homelands'? There's now a suggestion to repatriate the Lewis Chess Pieces from the British Museum. Geez! What next - will the French ask for the Statue of Liberty back??? Historic chessmen 'should return' The success of a major art exhibition at Stornoway Museum has proved that the town is capable of hosting the Lewis chessmen, a councillor has claimed. BBC News Wednesday, 26 September 2007, 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK Annie MacDonald said there had been "unprecedented co-operation" in creating the Fonn's Duthchas exhibition at Stornoway's museum. The exhibition includes Sir Walter Scott's manuscript for Rob Roy and several 17th Century paintings. The world-famous chess pieces are housed in London and Edinburgh. Fonn's Duthchas (Land and Heritage), which has received £402,000 of funding from the Scottish Government, is being held as part of the Highland 2007 programme. Mrs MacDonald said: "There has been a huge deal of co-operation that hasn't really happened before with the National Galleries and the National Library in tow with the museum. "The lesson I am learning from it is that we can put on a fantastic exhibition in Stornoway. "There is no reason why, if we can do that with masterpieces from the 17th Century, that we can't do it for our own chess pieces." Year-long tour A total of 82 chess pieces were found on Lewis in 1831 before eventually being bought by the British Museum. There are now 78 in existence, enough to make at least four incomplete chess sets. They are believed to have been made in Norway, with most of the pieces carved from ivory and others from whale bone. Some of the pieces were put on view at the Uig Community Centre on Lewis for one day only in 2000. Fonn's Duthchas opened in Inverness in January before embarking on a year-long tour of venues across Scotland. It can currently be seen in Stornoway.

Still Here

Hola! I'm at war with my DSL provider since Monday and there's no end in sight. At issue is one month's bill which I did not pay at the end of August, and so AT&T cut off my service, even though I've been a customer for 30 years through its various incarnations and I've never stiffed the phone company ONCE despite numerous moves. I sometimes pay two months at a time, and I did that at the end of August for 2 months' bills, and I sent a check yesterday for a bill due September 29 for 2 months' bills. My DSL service didn't get cut off last month, so why this month? I tell you, I am so angry I am going to take this to Small Claims Court and demand a rebate/credit for the days for which I have not received DSL service. And I'm shopping for a new telephone service and DSL provider. This may be the spur that gets me off my land line into cell phone service and cable and AT&T can add me to the growing ranks of dissatisfied customers whom they treated like crap and that's the reason we're leaving in droves. I'll let you know what happens... Meanwhile, I'm posting from the office. Here's an interesting story about the similarities in certain cultural aspects of the ancient Egyptians and the Aztecs. Well, duh! Now, I'm not sure that I buy some of the more far-out-there theories about the Egyptians being survivors from the Atlantis disaster and ditto the peoples of South America, after all, there IS the slight problem of the time differential in their respective civilizations. But is IS interesting that such cultural similarities do exist and I'm not 100% convinced that it's due entirely to independent invention rather than cross-cultural contacts and difusion. Snake-bird gods fascinated both Aztecs and pharaohs Mon 24 Sep 2007, 17:05 GMT By Robin Emmott MONTERREY, Mexico, Sept 24 (Reuters Life!) - Ancient Mexicans and Egyptians who never met and lived centuries and thousands of miles apart both worshiped feathered-serpent deities, built pyramids and developed a 365-day calendar, a new exhibition shows. Billed as the world's largest temporary archeological showcase, Mexican archeologists have brought treasures from ancient Egypt to display alongside the great indigenous civilizations of Mexico for the first time. The exhibition, which boasts a five-tonne, 3,000-year-old sculpture of Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II and stone carvings from Mexican pyramid Chichen Itza, aims to show many of the similarities of two complex worlds both conquered by Europeans in invasions 1,500 years apart. "There are huge cultural parallels between ancient Egypt and Mexico in religion, astronomy, architecture and the arts. They deserve to be appreciated together," said exhibition organizer Gina Ulloa, who spent almost three years preparing the 35,520 square-feet (3,300 meter-square) display. The exhibition, which opened at the weekend in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey, shows how Mexican civilizations worshiped the feathered snake god Quetzalcoatl from about 1,200 BC to 1521, when the Spanish conquered the Aztecs. From 3,000 BC onward Egyptians often portrayed their gods, including the goddess of the pharaohs Isis, in art and sculpture as serpents with wings or feathers. "The feathered serpent and the serpent alongside a deity signifies the duality of human existence, at once in touch with water and earth, the serpent, and the heavens, the feathers of a bird," said Ulloa. Egyptian sculptures at the exhibition -- flown to Mexico from ancient temples along the Nile and from museums in Cairo, Luxor and Alexandria -- show how Isis' son Horus was often represented with winged arms and accompanied by serpents. Cleopatra, the last Egyptian queen before the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 BC, saw herself as Isis and wore a gold serpent in her headpiece, Ulloa added. UNCANNY SIMILARITIES In the arts, Mexico's earliest civilization, the Olmecs, echo Egypt's finest sculptures. Olmec artists carved large man-jaguar warriors that are similar to the Egyptian sphinxes on display showing lions with the heads of gods or kings. The seated statue of an Egyptian scribe carved between 2465 and 2323 BC shows stonework and attention to detail that parallels a seated stone sculpture of an Olmec lord. There is no evidence the Olmecs and Egyptians ever met. Shared traits run to architecture, with Egyptians building pyramids as royal tombs and the Mayans and Aztecs following suit with pyramids as places of sacrifice to the gods. While there is no room for pyramids at the exhibition -- part of the Universal Forum of Cultures, an international cultural festival held in Barcelona in 2004 -- organizers say it is the first time many of pieces have left Egypt. They include entire archways from Nile temples, a bracelet worn by Ramses II and sarcophagi used by the pharaohs. Mexico has also brought together Aztec, Mayan and Olmec pieces from across the country. "Any visitor to Egypt and Mexico might be disappointed by the gaps in the museums. The only thing Egypt declined to loan were the mummies," Ulloa said. © Reuters 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

And of course...

This Sunday's postings wouldn't be complete without including a story using chess (and checkers!) as political metaphor: The EU is playing checkers; Gazprom is playing chess From a blog by the Editors of Foreign Policy Fri., 09/21/2007, 5:15 p.m. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a 2006 press conference with Tony Blair, said the European Union needed to work towards a common energy policy to limit the influence of Gazprom, the Russian-controlled energy giant. Merkel's statement came after Russia, unhappy with the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine, turned off that country's gas in the middle of the winter. Not long after, Merkel pirouetted and signed a unilateral deal with Russia to supply about 90 percent of German energy. Other large countries have signed similar deals (all under different terms). So much for EU solidarity. However, smaller EU countries have become increasingly concerned about Gazprom as it has expanded its business interests in Europe. On Thursday, EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes presented what she said was a concrete step to counter the company's influence. According to Forbes, the European Commission is expected to publish a new law that mandates separate ownership for non-EU gas distribution and gas production companies. This is known as "unbundling," and it means that the same company cannot produce and distribute the gas. Because the measure is clearly directed at Russia, it has become known in the EU as the Gazprom Clause. On the surface, this law suggests a shift towards a common energy policy. But a deeper examination shows it has no teeth. First, Germany, Italy and France will oppose the deal, as they all have national utility companies with substantial foreign ownership. They do not want to break up those firms, which would be required by the proposed law. Without both of those countries on board, it's unlikely the law will make it through the EU parliamentary process. Perhaps anticipating this opposition, the Commission also presented a second plan that allows joint ownership as long as an independent operator controls one of the companies. In other words, Russia would have to create a separate company to distribute gas, while Gazprom produces it. This separation is insignificant, as both companies answer to the same master. So, the Commission's victory for collectivism appears to be a hollow one. Until more forceful steps are taken towards EU consensus, Russia will keep striking unilateral deals with European countries, making a common energy policy less and less likely.

The Chinese - Future Force in the Chess World

It's about time I did a post about chess, darlings! Here is Andy Soltis column from the New York Post: CHINA'S UNKNOWNS RULE THE BOARDS By ANDY SOLTIS September 23, 2007 -- CHESS CHINA, where chess was illegal during the Cultural Revolution, has emerged as one of the world's leading chess nations - without producing individual stars. In the last few weeks, a visiting Chinese national team defeated Russia 521/2-47½ in Nizhny Novgorod, then trounced the British national team, led by Michael Admas and Nigel Short, by 28-22 in Liverpool. The Chinese managed to do this without having a single player among the world's 20 highest-rated grandmasters. Who are those guys? Well, they do have a future star in 20-year-old Wang Yue, ranked 22nd in the world. But the strength of Chinese chess seems to lie in solid base of young, less-known masters. Chinese players have the highest average rating of any nation on the most recent world chess federation list. Their 330 players average 2245. (The United States is fifth with an average of 2204). They are also extraordinarily young. The average age of the British team in Liverpool was 29. For the Chinese it was 20. Two of the world's top players under age 20 are Chinese. Three of the world's seven highest-rated girls are Chinese.

Study on Left-Handedness

My mother is right-handed; my father was left-handed. Of their six children, four of us are left-handed, one is right-handed, and my brother Dennis writes left-handed but does most everything else right-handed. Statistically, our family beat the odds; today, about 10% of the overall population is left-handed. Except for my youngest brother, who was born in 1964, we were all born in the 50's, and back then, it was not politically correct to be a lefty (in more ways than one, ahem). Of course as children, what did we know about "handedness" - nothing, and my parents never made a fuss about what hand we used to do what. By the time we got to school age we were set in our ways, although the nuns at St. Rose's Catholic Grade School were determined to make it otherwise. But, try as they might, they could not get me (or two other of my equally stubborn left-handed sisters, heh heh) to write with right hand. Not even the purely evil Sister Elvira (who lived to be at least 1,000) with her swatting ruler that came down on my left hand hundreds of times. Of course the nuns would not admit defeat despite not being able to convert my sisters or I to the right-handed way, and so they taught us to slant our writing in the correct "right-handed" way so that it would not have that evil "left-handed" (back-handed) slant. My brothers did not go to catholic schools and so they were spared this torture. Today, Darlene, Yvonne and I all write in the same palsied-looking manner - with our wrists twisted around and our paper far askew, but our handwriting slants beautifully to the right. When people watch us write, they marvel that we can do it at all! When I watch my sisters write I wonder how they do it! I've been asked more than once over the years "does it hurt to write like that?" No, it doesn't. Not anymore. I became interested in the subject of "handedness" many years ago. The 50's are long gone, and as far as I know, at least in the United States children are no longer forced to favor one hand over the other - at least, good goddess - I sincerely hope not! I do wonder why there are so few of us - only 10% of the population - and why it seems that a disproportionately large number of left-handed people are among the lawyers, judges, politicians and physicists in the U.S. today. Is left-handed suppression still going on here and elsewhere? With the overwhelming majority of humans being right-handed, why hasn't left-handedness died out as an evolutionary dead-end? Why are there still left-handed people at all? One of the fascinating things I learned about our Goddesschess group back in 1999 was that most of us are left-handed, although we work the computer mouse with our right hands... Anyway, this is all a lead-in to another fascinating story I found at the New York Times - it's all Queen Victoria's fault! Victorian-Era Films Mined for Clues to Handedness By HENRY FOUNTAIN Published: September 18, 2007 Scientists look for data anywhere they can find it. Researchers from University College London studying handedness, for example, found data in a group of early 20th-century films of everyday English life. More than 800 short films made from 1900 to 1906 by Mitchell & Kenyon, a company in Blackburn, were found in 1994 and preserved by the British Film Institute. The researchers, Chris McManus and Alex Hartigan, wanted to see what the films showed about rates of left-handedness. More than 10 percent of people are left-handed, but studies have shown that the percentage was lower a century ago. The researchers found 391 arm-waving examples in the films, 61 involving the left arm. Other studies have shown a correlation between arm waving and handedness. In a control sample of 391 modern images of arm waving, 95 involved the left arm. The findings were published in Current Biology. The researchers estimated the ages of arm wavers and found that the frequency of left-arm use increased with age. It was higher, for example, among people estimated to have been born in the 1860s than those born in the 1870s. The researchers concluded left-handedness declined in Victorian England because of social and school pressures and the rise of industrial tools, among other factors, reaching bottom around the turn of the 20th century.

Joan of Arc Revised!

There's a lot of fascinating stories out today, my goddess! Awhile back, Joan of Arc was in the news when it was discovered through DNA testing that what was thought to be some of her bones were actually those of an ancient Egyptian mummy! Ha ha ha! Joan is back in the news again - in a new book - sounds fascinating. I wasn't aware of any alternative theories about Joan of Arc but I suppose there are alternative theories about everything these days! How Joan escaped the stake and lived happily ever after New book angers historians with claims maid was not an illiterate peasant but a royal Angelique Chrisafis in Paris Saturday September 22, 2007 The Guardian She was a peasant teenager inspired by voices from God to lead the French against the English, and burned as a witch before being recognised as a hero and saint. For centuries, France's cult of Joan of Arc has been seized on by politicians looking for patriotic martyr figures, including by Nicolas Sarkozy during his presidential campaign. Now a new book has sparked anger among historians by claiming the Maid of Orléans was not an illiterate peasant but a royal. She did not hear voices and was not burned at the stake, but escaped with the help of English soldiers and went on to live a happily married life. In L'Affaire Jeanne d'Arc, or the Joan of Arc Affair, French investigative journalist Marcel Gay and former secret service agent Roger Senzig claim that France's most famous virgin peasant was the illegitimate daughter of the French queen consort, Isabeau of Bavaria, who groomed her for use as a political puppet. They claim Joan was manipulated in a cover-up they call Operation Virgin. Joan was not inspired by voices from heaven to lead troops to miraculously lift the siege of Orléans and save France from English domination. Gay says she was trained for warfare, taught languages and well-educated for her mission. After her trial for heresy in 1431, she escaped, and an unknown woman was burned in her place. She later married a French knight, Robert des Armoises. "She spoke English and it was the English who saved her from the stake," Gay told the Guardian. "Everything we were taught at school was wrong." French medievalists this week rubbished the book, saying it rehashed discredited ideas to satisfy the booming audience of conspiracy theorists intent on dismantling the Jeanne d'Arc story. The publisher said the work fitted the trend for Da Vinci Code-style investigations debunking official history. Joan of Arc has inspired an industry with more than 20,000 books published in France, around 50 films and, recently, video games. This year forensic scientists carried out tests on Joan's "relics" - bones and linen fragments discovered in the attic of a Paris pharmacy in 1867. Analysis showed the bones belonged to someone who died between the 6th and 3rd centuries BC and had been mummified in a way typical of ancient Egypt. Politicians cling to Joan of Arc as an emblem, with Jean-Marie Le Pen's extreme-right National Front appropriating a day in May to march and celebrate her. But the socialist Ségolène Royal, who comes from near Joan's village, continues to try to win the maid back for the left. This week she compared her party's attacks on her to Joan's martyrdom. "If I'd been Joan of Arc, I would already have been burned alive," she said. French intellectuals are locked in debate over politicians' need to find a new Joan of Arc-style symbol of national unity and resistance to the invader. President Sarkozy, who also namechecked Joan on the campaign trail, is promoting a new martyr hero, 17-year-old communist Guy Môquet, who was shot by the Nazis. Marie-Véronique Clin, director of the Maison Jeanne d'Arc in Orléans, said: "Joan of Arc is still a hugely important figure. These theories that she survived are simply not true. We're not saying burn these theorists at the stake, but it's dishonest to make these claims." Olivier Bouzy, a medieval historian and co-director of the Joan of Arc centre in Orléans, said: "These theories have been knocked down 100 times. This is about people who are not historians, who don't understand the mentality of the Middle Ages, looking for a contemporary explanation. It shows there is a clear market of readers who aren't satisfied with what history tells us, otherwise these books would never be published."

A Tale of Sex, Obsession, Greed, Murder - 150 Years Ago

A Lurid Tale From 1857 Is Revived in Granite By ANDY NEWMAN Published: September 19, 2007 The New York Times Back in 1857, they were the hottest names in old New-York. Harvey Burdell and Emma Cunningham — the violent, rapacious and brutally murdered society dentist and his scheming and probably murderous mistress, mutual antagonists in the most lurid true-crime drama of the age. For well over a century, the pair, essentially disowned by their families, lay interred in unmarked graves a few hundred yards from each other in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, their whereabouts known only to a few history buffs. No longer. Yesterday, before a rapt if small audience of retrospective voyeurs, two sparkling granite headstones were unveiled: Harvey Burdell, 1811-1857. And Emma Augusta Hempstead Cunningham, 1818-1887. “May God rest her troubled soul,” reads the inscription. The stones — and Mrs. Cunningham’s epitaph — are the doing of an amateur historian sufficiently obsessed with the case to spend the last seven years writing a book about it. The man, Benjamin Feldman, a retired lawyer, real estate developer and Yiddishist, insisted that no endorsement of the couple’s evil ways was implied. “It’s not a question of honoring them,” Mr. Feldman, a thin, ponytailed man with the bearing of a merry undertaker, said after the graveside service, news of which was published yesterday by AM New York. “It’s a question of what in Hebrew is called ‘t’chiyat ha-metim’ — raising the dead. You enlarge all of us when you bring these stories back to life.” And what a story. In their ever-spiraling battle of bad faith and faithlessness, the two lovers managed to embody many of the ills of the age: the rampant vice and political corruption, the straitened economic and sexual circumstances of women and the destabilizing influence of new wealth on traditional social structures. The tale, as lovingly told by Mr. Feldman in his book, “Butchery on Bond Street,” boils down to this: Harvey Burdell was a dentist of humble background who built a thriving practice in his four-story town house at 31 Bond Street, midway between the vice dens of the Bowery and the glitzier honky-tonk of lower Broadway. In his spare time, Dr. Burdell, who was divorced, enjoyed gambling, sexual predation and real estate swindling. Emma Cunningham was a young widow with five children and was desperately seeking a man who could support her and her brood in the manner to which she had grown accustomed. She had been married to a distiller who had squandered most of his family’s fortune. No one alive knows precisely how Emma met Harvey, but once they got together, in or around 1854, things got pretty intense. They returned from a whirlwind trip to Saratoga Springs, N.Y., with Mrs. Cunningham pregnant. She wanted to keep the baby. He did not. She had an abortion, possibly performed by him. Nothing if not persistent, Mrs. Cunningham insinuated herself into the dentist’s household as the landlady of the rooming house he ran out of his building. They continued their dalliance. She claimed he raped her twice, according to court papers. “It was not a comfortable relationship,” Mr. Feldman observed. Mrs. Cunningham tried everything to get Dr. Burdell to agree to tie the knot. She had him arrested for breach of promise to marry. In secret, she did marry a man who told the minister he was Harvey Burdell, but who was almost undoubtedly an impostor. Three months after the ceremony, on Jan. 31, 1857, Dr. Burdell was found dead in his dental clinic. More precisely, according to The New-York Daily Times, “the body was lying upon the floor, shockingly mutilated, and surrounded with clots of blood, and the door and walls of the room besmeared with blood.” Not to be outdone, The New York Herald described 6 of the 15 stab wounds. “Twice the steel had pierced the heart, twice the lungs had been reached with the deadly point of the stiletto, while the jugular vein and the carotid artery were both severed,” it said, according to Mr. Feldman’s book. Then the case really took off. The coroner’s inquest was held in Dr. Burdell’s office, with witnesses testifying in the chair where his patients had recently sat. A recommendation that one of the dead man’s eyeballs be excised and his retina examined for traces of what, or whom, he saw in his dying moments was proposed and discarded. Mrs. Cunningham threw herself on the open coffin and cried, “Oh, I wish to God you could speak and tell who done it.” More than 8,000 people tried to cram into Grace Church on Broadway at 10th Street for his funeral. Soon after, she was charged with the murder. There being no witnesses, and her lawyer arguing successfully that a member of the weaker sex afflicted with rheumatism was incapable of such a brutal attack, she was acquitted. (Mr. Feldman said he believed that Mrs. Cunningham had a prominent role in the murder even if she did not commit it herself.) Set free, Mrs. Cunningham tackled her next mission: obtaining Dr. Burdell’s estate, estimated at $80,000. But her claim to be carrying his child was proven false when she was caught taking delivery of another woman’s baby to call her own. And her insistence that she had married Dr. Burdell similarly unraveled in the face of testimony that another paramour had been seen buying a toupee and false whiskers the day of the wedding in order to resemble Dr. Burdell. Emma Cunningham died a pauper at the age of 69. Harvey Burdell’s murder was never solved. Both were eventually forgotten, until Jeffrey I. Richman, the historian of Green-Wood Cemetery, read an account of the case and included it in a book about the cemetery. Mr. Feldman bought the book in 2000, and a fixation was born. Mr. Feldman and the cemetery split the $6,500 cost of the grave markers.

Europe's Last Witch-Hunt

I don't know why people scare themselves half to death reading fictional horror stories when incidents from real life are plenty scary enough! Here's a real life event that frightened me right down to my toes. Thursday September 20, 2007 Europe's last witch-hunt By Imogen Foulkes BBC News, Switzerland Fear and superstition fuelled witch-hunts all over Europe in the Middle Ages and caused the deaths of many innocent women. The last execution for witchcraft took place little more than 200 years ago but campaigners in Switzerland claim it may be time to clear Anna Goeldi's name. To understand Anna Goeldi's story you need to go to where it unfolded, in the tiny Swiss canton of Glarus. It is a long narrow valley, the mountains loom above, the villages are squeezed below into the spaces where the grey rock unwillingly makes way for earth and grass. You get the sense, even today, that many of the world's events have passed Glarus by. This was where Anna Goeldi arrived in 1765, looking for work as a maid. One of the houses she worked in still exists. It is imposing, smug almost, four storeys high, with a grand doorway, and the crests of the noble Glarus families who lived there painted on its walls. It is the first clue to Anna Goeldi's fate. Witchcraft She found work with Jakob Tschudi, the magistrate and a rising political figure. We know from records of the time that Anna Goeldi was tall, generously proportioned, with dark hair, brown eyes, and a rosy complexion. These attributes were not lost on her employer. All went well to begin with, until one morning one of the Tschudi children found a needle in her milk. Two days later needles appeared in the bread as well and suspicion fell upon Anna. Despite her protestations of innocence, she was sacked by the Tschudis, accused of witchcraft, tortured, and finally executed. Not in the Middle Ages, but in 1782, at the height of Europe's so-called Age of Enlightenment. But today Walter Hauser, a local journalist, does not believe Anna died because isolated Glarus remained mired in medieval superstition. Researching the original records of the case, he found something far more banal. "Jakob Tschudi had an affair with Anna Goeldi," he explains. "When she was sacked, she threatened to reveal that. Adultery was a crime then. He stood to lose everything if he was found out." But at that time in Glarus, witchcraft was a crime. Mr Hauser calls Anna's trial and execution "judicial murder". "Educated people here did not believe in witchcraft in 1782," he insists. "Anna Goeldi was a threat to powerful people. They wanted her out of the way, accusing her of being a witch. It was a legal way to kill her." Anna Goeldi's ordeal remains, in meticulous detail, in the Glarus archives. Confession under torture This woman, who could neither read nor write, was questioned day and night by the religious and political leaders of Glarus. She insisted on her innocence, so they tortured her, hanging her up by her thumbs and tying stones to her feet. When she finally confessed, it was to all sorts of bizarre cliches. The devil had appeared to her in the form of a black dog. The needles had been given to her by Satan. But once free of the torture, she withdrew her confession. They tortured her again so brutally that she confessed again, and stuck with her confession. Two weeks later, she was led out to the public square, where her head was cut off with a sword. Fritz Schiesser, who today represents Glarus in the Swiss parliament, believes it is time to officially acknowledge this as a miscarriage of justice. "Everyone agrees that what happened was completely wrong," he tells me. "We need to take this last step, and admit it." But in Glarus opinions are mixed. At the local high school, many students are uncomfortable about reviving this old story. "I agree it was shocking, but that was Glarus then," says one girl. "It happened a long time ago," says another. "I don't think people today should be held responsible for the past." It is a familiar argument. Switzerland used it for years as justification for not apologising for the way it turned away Jewish refugees during World War II. An official apology was finally made after great international pressure at the end of the 1990s, but the authorities in Glarus do not want to learn from that. They could exonerate Anna Goeldi today, but refuse to do so, calling it a cheap solution which would not help anyone. Journalist Walter Hauser is disappointed. "We were the last in Europe to execute a woman for witchcraft," he says "It is a stain on our history. Now we could do something to erase that stain." Fritz Schiesser has tabled a motion in parliament calling for Anna Goeldi's exoneration. This weekend a museum will open in Glarus dedicated to her. It is ironic really. When Anna Goeldi was executed, the people of Glarus tried to hush it up, afraid of what the rest of the world would think. Two hundred and twenty five years later, her story has come back to haunt them.
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