Saturday, December 1, 2007

Ending Famine, Simply by Ignoring the Experts

From The New York Times: By CELIA W. DUGGER Published: December 2, 2007 LILONGWE, Malawi — Malawi hovered for years at the brink of famine. After a disastrous corn harvest in 2005, almost five million of its 13 million people needed emergency food aid. But this year, a nation that has perennially extended a begging bowl to the world is instead feeding its hungry neighbors. It is selling more corn to the World Food Program of the United Nations than any other country in southern Africa and is exporting hundreds of thousands of tons of corn to Zimbabwe. In Malawi itself, the prevalence of acute child hunger has fallen sharply. In October, the United Nations Children’s Fund sent three tons of powdered milk, stockpiled here to treat severely malnourished children, to Uganda instead. “We will not be able to use it!” Juan Ortiz-Iruri, Unicef’s deputy representative in Malawi, said jubilantly. Farmers explain Malawi’s extraordinary turnaround — one with broad implications for hunger-fighting methods across Africa — with one word: fertilizer. Over the past 20 years, the World Bank and some rich nations Malawi depends on for aid have periodically pressed this small, landlocked country to adhere to free market policies and cut back or eliminate fertilizer subsidies, even as the United States and Europe extensively subsidized their own farmers. But after the 2005 harvest, the worst in a decade, Bingu wa Mutharika, Malawi’s newly elected president, decided to follow what the West practiced, not what it preached. Stung by the humiliation of pleading for charity, he led the way to reinstating and deepening fertilizer subsidies despite a skeptical reception from the United States and Britain. Malawi’s soil, like that across sub-Saharan Africa, is gravely depleted, and many, if not most, of its farmers are too poor to afford fertilizer at market prices. “As long as I’m president, I don’t want to be going to other capitals begging for food,” Mr. Mutharika declared. Patrick Kabambe, the senior civil servant in the Agriculture Ministry, said the president told his advisers, “Our people are poor because they lack the resources to use the soil and the water we have.” The country’s successful use of subsidies is contributing to a broader reappraisal of the crucial role of agriculture in alleviating poverty in Africa and the pivotal importance of public investments in the basics of a farm economy: fertilizer, improved seed, farmer education, credit and agricultural research. Malawi, an overwhelmingly rural nation about the size of Pennsylvania, is an extreme example of what happens when those things are missing. As its population has grown and inherited landholdings have shrunk, impoverished farmers have planted every inch of ground. Desperate to feed their families, they could not afford to let their land lie fallow or to fertilize it. Over time, their depleted plots yielded less food and the farmers fell deeper into poverty. Malawi’s leaders have long favored fertilizer subsidies, but they reluctantly acceded to donor prescriptions, often shaped by foreign-aid fashions in Washington, that featured a faith in private markets and an antipathy to government intervention. In the 1980s and again in the 1990s, the World Bank pushed Malawi to eliminate fertilizer subsidies entirely. Its theory both times was that Malawi’s farmers should shift to growing cash crops for export and use the foreign exchange earnings to import food, according to Jane Harrigan, an economist at the University of London. In a withering evaluation of the World Bank’s record on African agriculture, the bank’s own internal watchdog concluded in October not only that the removal of subsidies had led to exorbitant fertilizer prices in African countries, but that the bank itself had often failed to recognize that improving Africa’s declining soil quality was essential to lifting food production. “The donors took away the role of the government and the disasters mounted,” said Jeffrey Sachs, a Columbia University economist who lobbied Britain and the World Bank on behalf of Malawi’s fertilizer program and who has championed the idea that wealthy countries should invest in fertilizer and seed for Africa’s farmers. Here in Malawi, deep fertilizer subsidies and lesser ones for seed, abetted by good rains, helped farmers produce record-breaking corn harvests in 2006 and 2007, according to government crop estimates. Corn production leapt to 2.7 billion metric tons in 2006 and 3.4 billion in 2007 from 1.2 billion in 2005, the government reported. “The rest of the world is fed because of the use of good seed and inorganic fertilizer, full stop,” said Stephen Carr, who has lived in Malawi since 1989, when he retired as the World Bank’s principal agriculturalist in sub-Saharan Africa. “This technology has not been used in most of Africa. The only way you can help farmers gain access to it is to give it away free or subsidize it heavily.” “The government has taken the bull by the horns and done what farmers wanted,” he said. Some economists have questioned whether Malawi’s 2007 bumper harvest should be credited to good rains or subsidies, but an independent evaluation, financed by the United States and Britain, found that the subsidy program accounted for a large share of this year’s increase in corn production. The harvest also helped the poor by lowering food prices and increasing wages for farm workers. Researchers at Imperial College London and Michigan State University concluded in their preliminary report that a well-run subsidy program in a sensibly managed economy “has the potential to drive growth forward out of the poverty trap in which many Malawians and the Malawian economy are currently caught.” Farmers interviewed recently in Malawi’s southern and central regions said fertilizer had greatly improved their ability to fill their bellies with nsima, the thick, cornmeal porridge that is Malawi’s staff of life. In the hamlet of Mthungu, Enelesi Chakhaza, an elderly widow whose husband died of hunger five years ago, boasted that she got two ox-cart-loads of corn this year from her small plot instead of half a cart. Last year, roughly half the country’s farming families received coupons that entitled them to buy two 110-pound bags of fertilizer, enough to nourish an acre of land, for around $15 — about a third the market price. The government also gave them coupons for enough seed to plant less than half an acre. Malawians are still haunted by the hungry season of 2001-02. That season, an already shrunken program to give poor farmers enough fertilizer and seed to plant a meager quarter acre of land had been reduced again. Regional flooding further lowered the harvest. Corn prices surged. And under the government then in power, the country’s entire grain reserve was sold as a result of mismanagement and corruption. Mrs. Chakhaza watched her husband starve to death that season. His strength ebbed away as they tried to subsist on pumpkin leaves. He was one of many who succumbed that year, said K. B. Kakunga, the local Agriculture Ministry official. He recalled mothers and children begging for food at his door. “I had a little something, but I could not afford to help each and every one,” he said. “It was very pathetic, very pathetic indeed.” But Mr. Kakunga brightened as he talked about the impact of the subsidies, which he said had more than doubled corn production in his jurisdiction since 2005. “It’s quite marvelous!” he exclaimed. Malawi’s determination to heavily subsidize fertilizer and the payoff in increased production are beginning to change the attitudes of donors, say economists who have studied Malawi’s experience. The Department for International Development in Britain contributed $8 million to the subsidy program last year. Bernabé Sánchez, an economist with the agency in Malawi, estimated the extra corn produced because of the $74 million subsidy was worth $120 million to $140 million. “It was really a good economic investment,” he said. The United States, which has shipped $147 million worth of American food to Malawi as emergency relief since 2002, but only $53 million to help Malawi grow its own food, has not provided any financial support for the subsidy program, except for helping pay for the evaluation of it. Over the years, the United States Agency for International Development has focused on promoting the role of the private sector in delivering fertilizer and seed, and saw subsidies as undermining that effort. But Alan Eastham, the American ambassador to Malawi, said in a recent interview that the subsidy program had worked “pretty well,” though it displaced some commercial fertilizer sales. “The plain fact is that Malawi got lucky last year,” he said. “They got fertilizer out while it was needed. The lucky part was that they got the rains.” And the World Bank now sometimes supports the temporary use of subsidies aimed at the poor and carried out in a way that fosters private markets. Here in Malawi, bank officials say they generally support Malawi’s policy, though they criticize the government for not having a strategy to eventually end the subsidies, question whether its 2007 corn production estimates are inflated and say there is still a lot of room for improvement in how the subsidy is carried out. “The issue is, let’s do a better job of it,” said David Rohrbach, a senior agricultural economist at the bank. Though the donors are sometimes ambivalent, Malawi’s farmers have embraced the subsidies. And the government moved this year to give its people a more direct hand in their distribution. Villagers in Chembe gathered one recent morning under the spreading arms of a kachere tree to decide who most needed fertilizer coupons as the planting season loomed. They had only enough for 19 of the village’s 53 families. “Ladies and gentlemen, should we start with the elderly or the orphans?” asked Samuel Dama, a representative of the Chembe clan. Men led the assembly, but women sitting on the ground at their feet called out almost all the names of the neediest, gesturing to families rearing children orphaned by AIDS or caring for toothless elders. There were more poor families than there were coupons, so grumbling began among those who knew they would have to watch over the coming year as their neighbors’ fertilized corn fields turned deep green. Sensing the rising resentment, the village chief, Zaudeni Mapila, rose. Barefoot and dressed in dusty jeans and a royal blue jacket, he acted out a silly pantomime of husbands stuffing their pants with corn to sell on the sly for money to get drunk at the beer hall. The women howled with laughter. The tension fled. He closed with a reminder he hoped would dampen any jealousy. “I don’t want anyone to complain,” he said. “It’s not me who chose. It’s you.” The women sang back to him in a chorus of acknowledgment, then dispersed to their homes and fields. *********************************************************************************** Solving one evil by creating more evils. What will happen when the fertilizer builds up to critical level in the water table? What will happen when the salts left behind by the fertilizers builds up in the soil and cannot be flushed away, and starts to kill any seedlings planted within the poisoned soil? What happens when the increased food supply encourages already large families (that led to the overtaxing of the land to begin with) to produce yet even more children? What happens when the system inevitably collapses upon itself, as we all know it will - in 10 years, 15 years, tops. What happens then?

Reality Check: Sub-Prime Crisis More than Just Foreclosures

We're just beginning to hear about the problems the US sub-prime mortgage crisis has created for investors around the world. My question is - will the real villains who, through greed and avarice, bundled, marketed and sold these "securitized mortgages" as viable investment vehicles, ever be held to account? Hint: Don't hold your breath. Meanwhile, officials in a small town in the Arctic Circle in Norway sit in the dark, lights turned off to try and save money, after losing millions invested in Citibank-authored sub-prime investments. From The New York Times: U.S. Credit Crisis Adds to Gloom in Arctic Norway By MARK LANDLER Published: December 2, 2007 NARVIK, Norway, Nov. 30 — At this time of year, the sun does not rise at all this far north of the Arctic Circle. But Karen Margrethe Kuvaas says she has not been able to sleep well for days. What is keeping her awake are the far-reaching ripple effects of the troubled housing market in sunny Florida, California and other parts of the United States. Ms. Kuvaas is the mayor of Narvik, a remote seaport where the season’s perpetual gloom deepened even further in recent days after news that the town — along with three other Norwegian municipalities — had lost about $64 million, and potentially much more, in complex securities investments that went sour. “I think about it every minute,” Ms. Kuvaas, 60, said in an interview, her manner polite but harried. “Because of this, we can’t focus on things that matter, like schools or care for the elderly.” Norway’s unlucky towns are the latest victims — and perhaps the least likely ones so far — of the credit crisis that began last summer in the American subprime mortgage market and has spread to the farthest reaches of the world, causing untold losses and sowing fears about the global economy. Where all the bad debt ended up remains something of a mystery, but to those hit by the collateral damage, it hardly matters. Tiny specks on the map, these Norwegian towns are links in a chain of misery that stretches from insolvent homeowners in California to the state treasury of Maine, and from regional banks in Germany to the mightiest names on Wall Street. Citigroup, among the hardest hit, created the investments bought by the towns through a Norwegian broker. For Ms. Kuvaas, being in such company is no comfort. People here are angry and scared, fearing that the losses will hurt local services like kindergartens, nursing homes and cultural institutions. With Christmas only weeks away, Narvik has already missed a payroll for municipal workers. Above all, the residents want to know how their close-knit community of 18,000 could have mortgaged its future — built on the revenue from a hydroelectric plant on a nearby fjord — by dabbling in what many view as the black arts of investment bankers in distant places. “The people in City Hall were naïve and they were manipulated,” said Paal Droenen, who was buying fish at a market across the street from the mayor’s office. “The fund guys were telling them tales, like, ‘This could happen to you.’ It’s a catastrophe for a small town like this.” Now, the towns are considering legal action against the Norwegian brokerage company, Terra Securities, that sold them the investments. They allege that they were duped by Terra’s brokers, who did not warn them that these types of securities were risky and subject to being cashed out, at a loss, if their market price fell below a certain level. “When you sell something that is not what you say it is, that is a lie,” Ms. Kuvaas said. She disputed the suggestion that people here lacked the sophistication to understand what they were buying. “We’re not especially stupid because we live so far in the north,” she said. Norway’s financial regulator agreed that the brokers had misled the towns, and it revoked the license of Terra Securities, prompting the company to file for bankruptcy. But the company’s parent, Terra Group, which is in turn owned by 78 savings banks and remains in business, rejected calls for it to compensate the towns. A spokesman for the group said it too had taken a hit from the episode. Norway’s finance minister, Kristin Halvorsen, has ruled out the possibility of a state bailout, and Citigroup, which announced Thursday that it would shut down one of the money-losing investments Narvik bought, said it had no legal obligation to step in. At City Hall, the stark reality of the situation is starting to set in. Narvik’s chief administrator, Trond L. Hermansen, figures he may recoup half of the town’s $9.4 million investment in the defunct Citigroup product — a package of securities linked to municipal bonds in the United States. Those securities declined in value after the market for bonds dried up. But Narvik has $34.5 million in a second Citigroup-devised investment, known as a collateralized debt obligation, which has also lost value as a result of the broader market turmoil. The town stands to lose at least some of that money, too. Those investments represent a quarter of Narvik’s annual budget of $163 million, and covering the losses would necessitate taking out a long-term loan, which the town could only pay off by cutting back on services. “You can calculate this in terms of places for schoolchildren or help for the elderly,” said Mr. Hermansen, a soft-spoken man who sat in his office in near-darkness, the lights switched off. As the losses begin to bite, the political finger-pointing has begun. Down the hall from Ms. Kuvaas, the town’s opposition leader, Torgeir Traeldal, is calling for an investigation of how and why Narvik could have made such an ill-advised investment. “Heads are going to roll,” Mr. Traeldal said, repeating the phrase a few times to drive home his point. From Mr. Traeldal’s window, cargo ships are visible in Narvik’s harbor, waiting to be loaded with iron ore. They testify to the town’s strategic location, more than 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle, not far from rich ore fields in Sweden. This has long made Narvik a target of opportunity for foreigners. Hitler viewed the port as an important conquest because it could provide Nazi Germany with an ice-free harbor from which to ship iron ore to build his war machine. The British had similar ideas, and the stage was set for one of the first great naval battles of World War II. In April 1940, German warships sailed to Narvik. They were met by Norwegian and British ships, and the ensuing clashes left hundreds of sailors dead and the wrecks of more than a dozen destroyers scattered in the fjords. Narvik’s war history is chronicled in a little museum next to the fish market that attracts visitors from around the world. But it, too, may be a victim of the crisis. Ulf Eirik Torgersen, the director, said the town told him his budget would be cut by 40 percent, which could mean closing. “That would be a shame,” he said, “because this whole town is based on naval history and war history.” Nowadays, scuba divers prospect the World War II shipwrecks, part of the town’s busy tourist trade. Like many other Norwegian towns, Narvik also gets hefty tax payments and other revenue from the nearby hydropower plant. That wealth is what got it into trouble. In 2004, Narvik and a number of other towns took out a large loan, using future energy revenue as collateral. They invested the money, through Terra Securities, in the Citigroup debt vehicle, which offered a better return than traditional investments. In June 2007, as the subprime problems were brewing, Narvik shifted some money from that investment into an even more complex one, again through Terra Securities. Within weeks, as the market deteriorated, that investment declined in value, and Narvik got a letter from Terra Securities, demanding an additional payment of $2.8 million. Mr. Hermansen said Terra’s brokers never told him that he would be liable for such payments. The chief investigator of Norway’s financial regulator, Eystein Kleven, said Terra Securities’ Norwegian-language prospectus did not mention such payments, or other risk factors. Citigroup’s term sheet did provide information on risks, but Narvik got a copy only after it had signed the agreement. “This is the most serious matter we have dealt with in the stock market in the last 10 years,” Mr. Kleven said. Even if the Norwegian prospectus had been complete, it is not certain that Narvik would have shunned the investment. Ms. Kuvaas, for one, said she did not read the prospectus before voting to authorize it — a decision that was made when she was in the government but not yet mayor. She said the town trusted Terra Securities, with which it had worked since the late 1990s. To local residents, the bigger question is why Narvik would gamble its future energy revenue on exotic investments. “We’re upset with our politicians because they should have known better,” said Eileen Jacobsen, 34, a kindergarten teacher. “If this was a private person who did this, people would say, ‘Hello?’” Ms. Jacobsen, who has a son in kindergarten, said she worried that the town would cut back on resources. Fourteen adults look after 54 children at the kindergarten. But, even without the crisis, Narvik has 40 children on a waiting list for kindergarten, something that is considered almost a right in Norway. With candles burning in the windows and lights strung on the streets, Narvik and its residents seem determined not to let the losses spoil the season. But late at night, in the Narvik Guten pub, the sadness is palpable. “I really love this town,” said Per Ellingsen, 45, a carpenter who recently returned home after years away. “I’m afraid this is going to set us back 10 years.” Walter Gibbs contributed reporting from Oslo.

"Capture the Queen: A 48 Hours Mystery"

"48 Hours Mystery" is on tonight, December 1, 2007, on CBS stations. From The New York Post HOW DID SHE DO IT? (A review of "48 Hours Mystery") By Linda Stasi '48 HOURS' TRACKS COLUMBIA FRAUD STUDENT December 1, 2007 -- HOW does anyone disappear, reappear in a different guise, disappear and then reappear again in a post 9-11 world? It's impossible. Isn't it? The government likes to think it is. And hell, we like to think it is, too - unless of course you're the one doing the disappearing. Take Esther Elizabeth Reed, a 20-year-old woman who disappeared from her Seattle home in the summer of 1999. You might know her, or at least recognize, her as Brooke Henson, because earlier this year she made the front pages here. At that point, she had been uncovered as a fraud while enrolled at Columbia University. As a student there she maintained a 3.22 GPA, and played competitive chess. Before that she was a student at Harvard and before that she was enrolled at the Cal State Fullerton campus of the debate institute there. Turns out that Brooke Henson, one of just four identities that Reed, a high school dropout, assumed, was the name of another young high school dropout who'd disappeared the same summer that Reed disappeared - but in South Carolina. Her other assumed identities at various schools included Natalie Fisher and Natalie Bowman. When Henson's family found out that a student with her ID was registered at Columbia, they thought they'd found their missing relative. But before they could identify her, Reed had disappeared again. "48 Hours Mystery" takes a hard, long look into the Esther Reed mystery and it's riveting. You'd think it would be tough enough to disappear and assume another identity, but to do so using the name of a missing high school drop-out and still get into Harvard and Columbia? Now that's impossible! Reporter Peter Van Sant and private investigator Steve Rambam together try to track down the missing-again young woman and what they uncover is fascinating. For some reason, she left meticulous records at the last apartment she lived in NYC - credit card bills, you name it. Rambam found everyone she'd been in contact with over those months, including her best friend from her Fullerton days, Bita Shaghagi, a medical student; Steven Fouts, a Chicago resident and convicted sex offender whose cell phone Reed had called repeatedly; and Kyle Brengel, a military academy cadet whom Esther had dated and to whom she'd e-mailed her desire to become a spy. And that's why the government is more than a bit concerned with finding Reed. Is the high school dropout/brilliant college student with a lot of mysterious money and some plastic surgery a spy? Or is she just a psycho who happens to be better at the game than anyone else? Hard to tell, because she's totally vanished. Again. Great stuff.

Kasparov Speaks Out - Wall Street Journal

For background, see November 30, 2007 post "Kasparov Speaks Out" and and November 27, 2007 post "Karpov Denied Visit to Jailed Kasparov". I don't generally agree with its politics, but this time, the newspaper got it absolutely dead on. Even if you are not a fan of Kasparov, what he's standing up for now in Russia, by insisting on free and open elections to all comers - and being blasted as a "traitor" for this stance - is really important, and some of the comments he makes in this article, quite matter-of-fact, are very chilling. From The Wall Street Journal: COMMENTARY Our Struggle Against Tyranny in Russia By GARRY KASPAROV December 1, 2007; Page A13 For years the governments of the U.S. and Europe have tried to accept Vladimir Putin's Russia as an equal. Western diplomats now acknowledge that there are differences between Russia and the West, but say these differences are minor, and -- in the words of one European Union official -- within an "acceptable range." For me and for a dozen of my associates this week, that "acceptable range" was 120 square feet. That's the size of the jail cell I occupied for five days as punishment for "disobeying the orders of a police officer" at an opposition rally in Moscow last Saturday. That's the charge a Moscow district court added after the fact, a charge not mentioned in the handwritten testimony of the arresting officers. This was the least conspicuous of the many curious aspects of my arrest and trial. After our rally of several thousand people, we attempted to meet up with another group led by well-known human rights leader Lev Ponomarev. From there we intended to deliver a petition of protest to the office of the Central Election Committee. The police had blocked the underground pedestrian passageways, so we had to cross the broad street instead and were soon blocked by more police. When they moved in close, I spoke with commanding officer Maj. Gen. Vyacheslav Kozlov, whom I had met previously. He warned us to turn back, saying we would not be allowed to approach the CEC offices. I offered to send a small delegation of 20 people to present the petition. He again told us to turn back, which we did. Of course it is inaccurate to say that the police commander was the one in command. KGB officers in plain clothes were clearly in charge even at the police station, and the arrest itself was as choreographed as the trial to come. When the special security forces known as OMON pushed in past everyone else to arrest me, we could all hear "make sure you get Kasparov" on their walkie-talkies. From the moment of our detention, we were not allowed to see our lawyers, even when charged at the police station. Three hours into the trial, the judge said it would be adjourned to the following day. But the judge then left the bench and returned to say that we had misheard her, and that my trial would go forward. No doubt another example of what we call "telephone justice." As in the street and at the police station, the KGB and the OMON forces were in control. The defense was not allowed to call any witnesses or to present any materials, such as the videos and photos journalists had taken of the march and the arrests. After the show trial was over, I was taken to the police jail at Petrovka 38 in Moscow, and here the procedural violations continued. Not with regard to my treatment, which was respectful and as hospitable as a small box with metal furnishings and a hole in the floor for a toilet can be. I wasn't allowed a phone call and all visitors were refused access. Even my lawyer Olga Mikhailova and Duma member Vladimir Ryzhkov were forbidden to visit me, despite having the legal right to do so. My world chess champion predecessor, Anatoly Karpov, for years my great rival, generously attempted to pay me a visit but was also turned away. My other concern was food, since it was out of the question to consume anything provided by the staff. (Nor do I fly Aeroflot. "Paranoia" long ago became an obsolete concept among those in opposition to the Putin regime.) On Sunday, thanks to growing external pressure, they allowed me to receive food packages from home. In a fitting conclusion, even my release was handled illegally. Instead of letting me out at the jail into the crowd of media and supporters, many of whom had themselves been arrested and harassed while picketing, I was secretly taken to the police station where I was first charged. From there I was taken in a colonel's automobile all the way to my home. This may sound like good service, but it was obvious the authorities wanted to avoid the festive scene that would have occurred outside the jail. When I was arrested last April and fined $40, some poked fun at the trivial amount. And five days in a Moscow jail is not the worst fate that can be imagined. Some commentators even suspected I wanted to provoke my own arrest for publicity, a chess player's far-sighted strategy. First off, the penalty is not the point; the principle is. Are we to have the rule of law in Russia or not? Second, I have no intention of becoming a martyr, or in leading an opposition movement from prison. I had no illusions and now I can confirm it is not a pleasant place to be. And this is not chess, with its cold-blooded calculations. This is about honor and morality. I cannot ask people to protest in the streets if I am not there with them. At the rally on Saturday, I said our slogan must be "We must overcome our fear," and I am obliged to stand by these words. It is also essential to point out that these arrests are only the tip of the iceberg. Such things are taking place all over Russia on a daily basis. Opposition activists -- or just those who happen to be in the way of the administration -- are harassed and arrested on false charges of drug possession, extremism, or the latest trend, for owning illegal software. There is little doubt tomorrow's parliamentary elections will be as fixed as my trial. The presidential elections on March 2 will be a different sort of performance, more improvised, since even now Mr. Putin and his gang are not sure how to resolve their dilemma. The loss of power could mean the loss of fortune and freedom. Outright dictatorship would endanger their lucrative ties with the West. The campaign rhetoric of Mr. Putin and his supporters is genuinely frightening. Here we have an allegedly popular president who dominates the media, the parliament and the judiciary. He and his closest allies are in total control of the nation's wealth. And yet his recent speeches are hysterical rants about "enemies within" and "foreign antagonists" trying to weaken Russia -- language characteristic of totalitarian states. So far this campaign has been largely ineffective, at least in my case. During my five days in jail I had the chance to speak to many of the ordinary consumers of Kremlin propaganda. They were generally sympathetic, and showed no signs of believing the many lies the Kremlin and the youth groups it sponsors have spread about the opposition. For them I was still the Soviet chess champion and the idea that I was an "American agent" sounded as ludicrous as it is. So why is Mr. Putin so scared if things are going so well? He is a rational and pragmatic person, not prone to melodrama. He knows the numbers, so why the heavy and heavy-handed campaigning if he knows he and United Russia are going to win? The answer is that he is very aware of how brittle his power structure has become. Instead of sounding like a Tsar, high above the crowd, he's beginning to sound like just another nervous autocrat. As George Bernard Shaw wrote, "The most anxious man in a prison is the governor." So demagoguery it is and demagoguery it will be. A violent pro-Putin youth group, Nashi, has already released a poster celebrating Mr. Putin's "crushing victory" on December 2. It also warns against the "enemies of the people of Russia," myself included, attempting to disqualify the results. These terms jibe nicely with Mr. Putin's own rhetoric of threats and fear. The ground is being prepared for greater oppression. The Other Russia will continue our activities because, simply, some things are worth fighting for and will not come without being fought for. All of the "minor differences" between Mr. Putin's Russia and the nations of the free world add up to one very large difference: that between democracy and tyranny. Mr. Kasparov, a leader of the Other Russia coalition, is the former world chess champion and a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal.

The Goddess of the Yangtze Speaks - Will We Hear?

From Loss of 'goddess' a grave warning sign John Yeld November 30 2007 at 12:00PM One marine mammal - the Chinese river dolphin, or baiji - has gone extinct in the past 50 years and others are likely to follow in the coming decades, a leading marine scientist has warned.' The baiji, a white dolphin found only in China's Yangtze River and nicknamed "the goddess of the Yangtze", is considered extinct after scientists failed to find a single animal during a six-week search on the river last November and December. Speaking on Thursday at the opening plenary of the 17th biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, Society for Marine Mammalogy president John Reynolds made a plea for scientists to also promote conservation of the species that they worked on and cared about, which was "far more difficult" than science. "We're losing species, we're losing stocks - the standard (scientific) operating procedures are not working well," he warned. The conference, co-hosted by the Society for Marine Mammalogy and Pretoria University's Mammal Research Institute, has attracted more than 900 delegates from 57 nations. It is the first time it has been held in the southern hemisphere and only the second time outside north America. Reynolds noted that the recent extinction of the baiji - the small, nearly blind white dolphin - had been foreseeable and could have been prevented."What does that say about our values and priorities?" he asked [Jan Note: Actually, this says a lot about the values and priorities of the Communist Chinese Government], and added: "And it's not likely to be a unique event in the next few decades." The Caribbean monk seal had also been "irrevocably lost", and at least another 22 species or particular stocks of species - including the killer whales off the North American coastline - were on the verge of becoming extinct unless urgent conservation programmes were implemented, he pointed out."And based on recent history, I don't know if we will (be able to implement such programmes)," he warned.There were some success stories, such as the Alaskan bowhead whale whose numbers were increasing at more than three percent a year, which was "great news". However, marine mammals were facing a number of risks in the future, including global climate change. "It's a really daunting picture, and there are no guarantees that all stocks and species will make it."Reynolds said conservation was "more difficult, more elusive" than good science, and he challenged society members to augment their science by also practising conservation advocacy, "for what you think is right". "All that is needed is a collective will to preserve." Reynold's theme was echoed by eminent Japanese marine mammal scientist Dr Toshio Kasuya, who was presented with the society's second Kenneth S Norris Career Achievement Award, in honour of his "exemplary and sustained contributions to science and society through research, teaching and service in marine mammalogy" over 46 years. Kasuya, who retired last year, spoke of two marine mammal "tragedies" in Japan's fisheries history. These were the failure of the government fisheries agency to take the scientists' advice to regulate the annual catch by coastal fishermen of as many as 21 000 dolphins, most of them striped dolphins, and the hunting of sperm whales off Japan. Officially this hunting killed 88 000 whales between 1910 and 1988, but the true number could have been two or even three times greater because of poaching by Japanese coastal fishermen and Soviet pelagic fishing. Kasuya said there was "no doubt" that whales had culture, with experience transmitted among members of the group."Whales can learn, they live long enough to accumulate experiences and they have a social system to transmit it to others." He was opposed to Japan's recent approach of evaluating science in terms of economic benefit and said no marine mammal science was free from the conservation imperative. "We are responsible for the future of marine mammals, even when we are paid by organisations with other objectives." This article was originally published on page 13 of Cape Argus on November 30, 2007

Friday, November 30, 2007

Kasparov Speaks Out

The chess champion speaks out about his recent imprisonment and the state of Russia. The man has cojones, I have to say. Associated Press, November 30, 2007: Kasparov: Russian Election a Farce ABC News Online, November 30, 20076: Kasparov labels imprisonment unconstitutional 756 news article - according to the search for "chess news" I did tonight. Mig Greengard's "Daily Dirt" probably has the best commentary on the subject. People there aren't afraid of censorship or falling on the wrong side of Stalin - er, Putin.

Ancient Chinese City Uncovered

I'm filing this one under "we'll see." Remains of ancient city discovered in east ChinaPosted: 2007/11/30From: Mathaba HANGZHOU, Nov. 29 (Xinhua) -- Chinese archaeologists said Thursday they have discovered the remains of an ancient city in eastern Zhejiang Province, which could better prove the long history of Chinese civilization. The relic was found near Mojiao Mountain between Liangzhu and Pingyao townships in Yuhang District of the provincial capital Hangzhou, said Bao Xianlun, director of Zhejiang Provincial Cultural Heritage Bureau. Based on the remains, experts estimate the ancient city covered an area of about three square kilometers. There are still pieces of walls as high as four meters at the site. The location of the ancient city should have been carefully selected and it can be dated prior to the late period of the Liangzhu culture (about 4,150 to 5,250 years ago), according to Liu Bin, a research fellow with the bureau. The Liangzhu culture is believed to be one of the key prehistoric cultures in the Taihu Lake area. It is named after Liangzhu, where a number of relic sites have been discovered since the 1930s. Yan Wenming, an archaeologist from Beijing University, said the discovery of the city remains showed that the Liangzhu culture period had entered an advanced development stage of prehistoric civilization.

Chavez - Just another spoiled brat

Oh, this "leader of a major country" is a real piece of work. Now he's thrown himself down on the ground, kicking and flailing, about the King of Spain's recent comment to him to zip his lip. Chavez is so great, mighty, and powerful, he's threatening to nationalize two Spanish banks doing business in Venezuela. I can just hear "nanny, nanny, boo boob" - oops, that should be "boo", of course. Except that Chavez is a boob - funnier than the Three Stooges! Got to love the man, he provides constant laughs for this non-domestic Goddess. CARACAS, Venezuela - President Hugo Chavez threatened Friday to nationalize the Venezuelan subsidiaries of Spanish banks Banco Santander SA and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, if Spain's king does not apologize for telling Chavez to "shut up." "Are we going to turn the page, are we going to forget? No!" Chavez told hundreds of thousands [actually, 50] of supporters at a campaign rally ahead of a vote Sunday on changes to Venezuela's constitution. "The only way this is going to be fixed is for the king of Spain to offer an apology for having attacked the Venezuelan head of state," Chavez said. [Bribes accepted - email (deleted) for particulars on international transmittal for wire transfers]. Otherwise, "I'll start thinking about what actions to take," he continued. "Spaniards bought some banks here, and it doesn't cost me anything to take those banks back and nationalize them again, and put them in the service of the Venezuelan people." Nanny, nanny, boo boob. Oh, don't look now, that's Chavez sucking his thumb...

Friday Night Miscellany

Hola! Whew, what a week at the office. End of year in our practice is always the busiest time of the year and I'm exhausted. After my candlelit aroma-therapy bath ritual later this evening, I'll be calling it a night early. Tomorrow promises to be absolutely horrid outside weather-wise. In the morning, temperatures in the teens with snow starting, changing later on when a "warm front" comes through to freezing rain and sleet. By Sunday morning we may have an inch or more of ice over 4 inches of snow on the ground. Great. Just great. Unfortunately, I have to be out in it for several hours in the morning, and hope to be back home before the worst of it hits. (Please, Weather Goddess, let it be so...) I stopped at the supermarket tonight on the way home from work - like about a kajillion other people - to stock up on essentials in anticipation of the storm. Does everyone in the world have ill-tempered, screaming, nasty bratty children - and why, oh why, do they have to haul their sorry butts to the grocery store where, after a long, hard day at the office, I am subjected to their non-stop screaming, whining and conniption fits in the middle of the aisles? Some of the little monsters even THROW things at people - swoop they pluck something off a shelf and you have to duck for your life! And don't you DARE say anything to the oblivious parent about their precious little darling's behavior. One of these days, I'm going to throw my own conniption fit right in the middle of the meat aisle - I will scream at the top of my lungs, jump up and down, fling myself down and flail my arms and legs, and curse the day the Goddess created children. We'd be much better off if we hatched out of eggs fully grown and matured. Anyway, I stocked up on the essentials - nuts for the squirrels, delicacies for myself, croissants for breakfast for the next few days, and double-dark chocolate coated Pepperidge Farm cookies. I have coffee, wine, Christian Bros. (HAR!) egg nog stocked and my fireplace is ready to go. Plus, I have a new flat screen LCD HDTV. What an amazing thing. No giant tube sticking out the back; the TV is perhaps 3 inches deep. It's sitting on top of the fireplace mantle, which is 12 inches deep, with lots of room to spare. Perfect! And Absolutely Amazing. So I'm more or less ready for whatever winter throws at me this weekend, as long as the electricity stays on. Man, it was cold as hell walking home from the supermarket in the dark - and it wasn't even windy! It felt like near zero. We are cursed this week with a "clipper" from Canada. Curse the Canadians and their clippers! How will I survive when it drops to below zero with 40 below windchills? To cheer myself up, I've done some Christmas shopping online. I love shopping online, and one of my favorite places to shop is Wine Country Gift Baskets - they make it so easy to order multiple baskets and you can designate individual shipping instructions for each basket, all in one order. I ordered four gifts from Wine Country - shipping rates in the US are quite reasonable. As I've ordered from Wine Country before, I can attest to the quality of their products. When unwrapped from their protective shipping packaging, the towers I've ordered come in individually stacked, decorated gift boxes, five high, wrapped in ribbon, loaded with all sorts of delicious goodies. I've also done a good deed at the start of this Christmas season, I'll be getting a gift for a young person who requested a chess set through the "Giving Tree" program. Okay - to work here. If you are a religious Christian, you may not want to read this: The Nine Most (bleep) Bible Verses. I laughed my head off - and I'm religious! But then, I've always been a strange one...a blend of Pagan and Christian and Animist and lots of other stuff. That's what happens when you let your children read without supervision, parents, and THEN let them attend night-school at a state-funded college in order to earn a college diploma. Be warned! You may end up with a child like - MOI! Quel horreurs! On a sad note, Richard Leigh, one of the co-authors of the best-selling work The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail (with Michael Baigent and Henry Lincoln) died at age 64 on November 21, 2007. There is an obituary published on The Daily Grail, posted on November 29, 2007. The authors brought a law suit against mega best-selling author Dan Brown for plagarism (The Da Vinci Code), but they lost the suit. Still, the law suit, along with Brown's novel, kindled renewed interest in The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail and introduced an entirely new generation to an intersting hypothesis about the Priory of Scion and the bloodline allegedly produced by the marriage of Jesus Christ (who did NOT die after all) and Mary Magdelene. For those interested in geology, new research from geoscientists at the University of Michigan and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln calls into question the accepted timeline/scenario about when and how the great pan-continent called "Pangea" began to split apart, forming the present continents we all see on modern maps of the world today (for the map challenged, that's seven continents, darlings, although actually "Europe" and "Asia" are joined together at the waist, and are not really separate at all). Traditional theory holds (allegedly supported by geomagnetic evidence) that the portion of the ancient supercontinent of Pangea that is now the Colorado Plateau in southern Utah shifted more than 1,300 miles north during a 100-million-year span that ended about 200 million years ago in the early Jurassic Period, when Pangea began to break up. However, the new research says the area must have remained at the equator during the time in question. The scientists cannot reconcile the conflicting evidence. "It's a conundrum" they say. "Further research is needed", they say, in order to reconcile the conflicting evidence. They have no idea how that may happen. Ha ha ha! Maybe their entire "Pangea" continent theory is a lot of hog-wash - ohhhh, slap my face for even thinking such a thing! These silly people. If "God" supposedly dies in The Golden Compass book/film, what does this say about the faith these so-called "Christians" have - and the faith they are supposed to be passing along to their children? If they really had faith, they'd know that obviously Phillip Pullman's books are pure fantasy, because - as a FUNDAMENTAL element of faith - GODDESS can NEVER die. She is everlasting, without beginning, without end. A Mystery, as it were. Accept it - or not. And just shut up already, hey? I'm really sick of their whining. They're all as bad as their nasty, ill-manner kids they haul along to the supermarket! "Source: KHARTOUM, Sudan - Thousands of Sudanese, many armed with clubs and swords and beating drums, burned pictures of a British teacher Friday and demanded her execution for insulting Islam by letting her students name a teddy bear Muhammad." These people need to do some seriously chilling-out. How about dancing around a bonfire to "Boogey Wonderland?" while drinking lots of fire-water. Oh - sorry - that might possibly be construed as a racist comment. Should I add a disclaimer? Should I say what I REALLY think about these people? [White Angel, sitting on Jan's right shoulder is now saying "Now Jan, you know better than that. Where is your charity? Where is your forebearance and tolerance?" Red Devil sitting on Jan's left shoulder is saying "Go for it Hot Momma, blast those suckas. Tell it like it really is." At which point I interject to Red Devil that while I am Hot (particularly with my new "do"), I am NOT a momma. Heaven Forbid!] Oh, geez, just had a hot flash! Now I know I'm on the right track (hot flashes are signs from Goddess, you know). So, all those Sudanese "Muslims" who supposedly believe in the Koran, but who can't read or write and are utterly depending upon the "imans" giving them The Word (rather like Christians were dependent upon "The Church" feeding them their own Word prior to the invention of the printing press) should gather around gigantic bonfires shaped like a woman's reproductive tract (that's what the Ka'bah is, after all, a gigantic Goddess symbol embodied in a carved meteorite - do some research on the subject if you don't believe me), and do a jig in honor of the Arabic Triple Goddess whose sacred shrine underlies the most sacred site in Mecca. The ancient Arabic tribes prayed to the Triple Goddess three times a day, and the Muslims continue the tradition today, although they don't know it. See what "unsupervised" reading can do for a woman? Tsk, tsk. GODDESS POWER!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Every Woman Has a Goddess Within Her

Don't believe me? Darlings - it's all in the attitude, a good haircut, and well-fitted clothes... She's gorgeous!
From The Sun, November 30, 2007:

CIVIL servant Sue Deane is desperate to add sparkle to her winter wardrobe. The 47-year-old from Upminster, Essex, has been through a lot recently and thoroughly deserves her major makeover.

In the past 18 months, Sue has lost her mum, dad and mother-in-law.
So her husband Simon, along with kids Ingrid, 16, and Craig, 17, were delighted to see her get the Street Chic SOS treatment.

Sue says: “It’s only now I’m feeling like I’m getting my spark back and I want to show that in how I dress. I love dresses and would like to be a bit more glam as I have a few work parties coming up.
Nigella Lawson has a great look – she always looks really chic. If I could look anywhere near as great as her it would be amazing. I just want my husband to look at me and think, ‘She’s still got it’.”

Nigella, eat your heart out – Sue has got curves to rival the Domestic Goddess any day. Her feminine, hourglass figure was hidden beneath baggy clothes and was screaming to be shown off.

Sue’s work-wear was pretty boring – she wore suits when she was on appointments and stuck to casual gear like jeans in the office. We wanted to release the vixen inside and dressed her in sexy pencil skirt and corset effect shirt.

Structure is very important when you have curves like Sue’s. We opted for darker colours to create a svelte silhouette. These styles are made for hour-glasses, highlighting the best assets without flashing too much flesh. Topped off with the cummerbund belt and killer heels, this outfit proves she means business.
The result? A flattering, chic and stylish look suitable for both work and play.

For her second outfit we wanted to put Sue in a glam frock. The stunning silver dress from Hobbs at John Lewis swept perfectly over her curves and the wrap top flatters a larger bust. The slinky satin makes it more ladylike and, again, a waistband highlights her womanly shape. Delicate jewellery adds the sparkle Sue felt she was lacking. And taming her unruly hair with a sleek style takes years off her.

Sue really does look the belle of the ball and there’s no doubt her husband Simon will be bowled over by her beautiful new look.

Exciting Excavation to Begin in China

China to start excavation of horse-and-chariot burial 2007-11-29 10:09:14 JINGZHOU, Hubei Province, Nov. 29 (Xinhua) -- Chinese archaeologists will soon start excavations at the horse-and-chariot chamber of a tomb dating back 2,300 to 2,400 years, more than 100 years older than the tomb containing the terracotta army. "Excavation will start on the 131-meter-long horse-chariot sector of the Xiongjiazhong Tomb before February, 2008," said Yan Pin, director of the Archaeology Bureau of Jingzhou, central China's Hubei Province, where the tomb is. The tomb is the largest and best preserved yet found in China from the State of Chu in the Warring States Period (475-221 BC). The excavation was formally launched in August 2006 after three comprehensive surveys of the tomb made since 1979. "We have found more than 30 horse-and-chariot pits arrayed in a row in the tomb. It is the largest of such finds from the Warring States Period," said Yan. The excavation has been progressing scoop by scoop, but the work has been assisted with state-of-the-art mapping and computerized technology. Archaeologists do not yet know the occupant of the tomb, which covers an area of 60,000 square meters. They surmise that the master of the tomb was a Chu noble, since a large amount of treasures, particularly jade items, have been unearthed from the tomb's burial sector. Over 1,300 jade items from the tomb were put on show in Jingzhou in September, the largest exhibition of jade articles in China. "The burial is large in scale and well arranged. We have found 92 graves that might be people buried with the dead, which was a burial custom of the State of Chu - showing a dedication to the master even after death," said Yan. [Jan Note: dedication to the master even after death? Yeah, right. They were poisoned or garotted or, in some Chinese tombs, sealed inside and left to die. Some dedication to the master!] Many scholars suspected that the master of the tomb was one of the kings in the State of Chu. In all, 11 kings ruled Chu successively. "The great probability is that the tomb is of King Zhao of Chu, named Xiong Zhen, who was the last king of the state," said Xu Wenwu, a professor with the Changjiang University. The king's name is also linked with the name of the tomb, Xiongjiazhong, which literally means the tomb of a family surnamed Xiong. But professor Xu said that his deduction needs to be supported by findings from the tomb. According to sources with the Jingzhou city government, the tomb is expected to be turned into a museum, like that of the tomb of the terracotta warriors in the mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shihuang in Shaanxi. Editor: Du Guodong

Israeli girl wins world chess tourney

From November 29, 2007 By Jonah Newman Marsel Efroimaski, a 12-year-old from Kfar Saba, is the new world chess champion for girls 12 and under. She won the title after eight rounds of play at the 2007 World Youth Chess Championships held this week in Antalya, Turkey. Efroimaski, who returned to Israel on Thursday, is still trying to grasp her huge victory. "At the moment I knew I got first place, it was exciting and confusing and it was hard to believe that I had won," Marsel told The Jerusalem Post. "I was overtaken by emotion." Although she came into the tournament ranked tenth in her class, Efroimski was undefeated in the first 9 rounds of 11, securing her win in the eighth round of the tournament. Her eighth win was against Dinara Saduakaskova, a competitor from Kazakhstan. Round ten presented Efroimski with her hardest challenge, and she lost her first game of the tournament. In the eleventh round, Efroimski negotiated a draw, knowing that she had already secured first place. She ended the tournament with an astounding 9.5 points out of a possible 11. The young chess champion started to play after-school chess when she was eight. She continued to play in the Kfar Saba chess club, and now plays in Ashdod. "We are very proud of Marsel and see this as one of the two most important wins in Israeli chess history," said Yigal Lotan, director of the Israel Chess Federation. Lotan highlighted the importance of Efroimaski's victory in relation to a number of youth chess workshops that the Israel Chess Federation has set up over the past few years, one of which Efroimaski participated in. "We hope that this will bring more kids into chess," he said.

Undercover Restorers -

Okay - just what is it exactly, these "undercover restorers" do??? Hmmm...I wonder if there are any American undercover restorers: Undercover restorers fix Paris landmark's clock 'Cultural guerrillas' cleared of lawbreaking over secret workshop in Pantheon Emilie Boyer King in Paris Monday November 26, 2007 The Guardian It is one of Paris's most celebrated monuments, a neoclassical masterpiece that has cast its shadow across the city for more than two centuries. But it is unlikely that the Panthéon, or any other building in France's capital, will have played host to a more bizarre sequence of events than those revealed in a court last week. Four members of an underground "cultural guerrilla" movement known as the Untergunther, whose purpose is to restore France's cultural heritage, were cleared on Friday of breaking into the 18th-century monument in a plot worthy of Dan Brown or Umberto Eco. For a year from September 2005, under the nose of the Panthéon's unsuspecting security officials, a group of intrepid "illegal restorers" set up a secret workshop and lounge in a cavity under the building's famous dome. Under the supervision of group member Jean-Baptiste Viot, a professional clockmaker, they pieced apart and repaired the antique clock that had been left to rust in the building since the 1960s. Only when their clandestine revamp of the elaborate timepiece had been completed did they reveal themselves. "When we had finished the repairs, we had a big debate on whether we should let the Panthéon's officials know or not," said Lazar Klausmann, a spokesperson for the Untergunther. "We decided to tell them in the end so that they would know to wind the clock up so it would still work. "The Panthéon's administrator thought it was a hoax at first, but when we showed him the clock, and then took him up to our workshop, he had to take a deep breath and sit down." The Centre of National Monuments, embarrassed by the way the group entered the building so easily, did not take to the news kindly, taking legal action and replacing the administrator. Getting into the building was the easiest part, according to Klausmann. The squad allowed themselves to be locked into the Panthéon one night, and then identified a side entrance near some stairs leading up to their future hiding place. "Opening a lock is the easiest thing for a clockmaker," said Klausmann. From then on, they sneaked in day or night under the unsuspecting noses of the Panthéon's officials. "I've been working here for years," said a ticket officer at the Panthéon who wished to remain anonymous. "I know every corner of the building. And I never noticed anything." The hardest part of the scheme was carrying up the planks used to make chairs and tables to furnish the Untergunther's cosy squat cum workshop, which has sweeping views over Paris. The group managed to connect the hideaway to the electricity grid and install a computer connected to the net. Klausmann and his crew are connaisseurs of the Parisian underworld. Since the 1990s they have restored crypts, staged readings and plays in monuments at night, and organised rock concerts in quarries. The network was unknown to the authorities until 2004, when the police discovered an underground cinema, complete with bar and restaurant, under the Seine. They have tried to track them down ever since. But the UX, the name of Untergunther's parent organisation, is a finely tuned organisation. It has around 150 members and is divided into separate groups, which specialise in different activities ranging from getting into buildings after dark to setting up cultural events. Untergunther is the restoration cell of the network. Members know Paris intimately. Many of them were students in the Latin Quarter in the 80s and 90s, when it was popular to have secret parties in Paris's network of tunnels. They have now grown up and become nurses or lawyers, but still have a taste for the capital's underworld, and they now have more than just partying on their mind. "We would like to be able to replace the state in the areas it is incompetent," said Klausmann. "But our means are limited and we can only do a fraction of what needs to be done. There's so much to do in Paris that we won't manage in our lifetime." The Untergunther are already busy working on another restoration mission Paris. The location is top secret, of course. But the Panthéon clock remains one of its proudest feats. "The Latin Quarter is where the concept of human rights came from, it's the centre of everything. The Panthéon clock is in the middle of it. So it's a bit like the clock at the centre of the world."

Islamist Regime Busy Drowning Iran's Pre-Islamic History

From CAIS: Lake Sivand Takes Shape and Busy Drowning pre-Islamic Iranian History 29 November 2007 LONDON, (CAIS) -- Lake Sivand (also Bolaghi) is beginning to flood the Bolaghi Valley, but Naqsh-e Rostam allegedly [will] be safe from the proposed railway line that could have damaged the structures of the ancient site. In an interview with the Tehran Times in the Bolaghi Valley earlier this month, Parsa-Pasargadae Research Foundation archaeologist Afshin Yazdani, who is based at Persepolis, said that the government has given preliminary approval to a plan according to which the route of the Shiraz-Esfahan railway line will be located 1200 meters from Naqsh-e Rostam, although the final decision has not been made yet. The earlier plan was construct railway track only 400 meters away from Naqsh-e Rostam, but the experts protested, confirming vibrations caused by passing trains would almost certainly broaden existing cracks in the tomb of Xerxes I and result in its collapse, and would also cause the total destruction of Ka’aba of Zoroaster within less than ten years if the railway line were to be located so close. It is believed that the affluent landowners, who wanted to sell their lands which are situated near the site of Naqsh-e Rostam have bribed[1] the authorities at the Roads and Transportation Ministry to place the railway route only 400 meters away the historical site. Naqsh-e Rostam is situated about 12 kilometres northwest of Persepolis and is one of the most important historical sites in Iran-Proper, since it holds number of tombs, belonging to the Achaemenid King of Kings, such as Darius the Great, his son Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I, and Darius II, all have been carved into the solid rock of the mountain. The site also contains bas-reliefs dating back to the Elamites as well as the Sasanian dynastic eras. Yazdani said that Naqsh-e Rostam was an important ceremonial site for the Elamites, nearly 1000 years before the rise of the Achaemenid dynasty to power. Yazdani also took me on a tour of some of the ancient sites of the Bolaghi Valley that will be flooded by the filling of the reservoir of the Sivand Dam, a process which is currently underway – quite unfortunately. The Bolaghi Valley, which has over 130 important archaeological sites, is located in Fars Province and stretches for about 15 kilometres from the Bolaghi Pass (Tang-e Bolaghi) to the Sivand Dam and then for several more kilometres after the dam. The Bolaghi Pass is about 4 kilometres from the village of Pasargad, which is beside the ruins of Pasargadae, the first capital of the Persian Empire. The area was previously called Tang-e Bolaghi, but since most of the ancient sites are in the valley that opens up after the mountain pass, experts changed its appellation to the Bolaghi Valley or Darreh Bolaghi in Persian. The Archaeological Rescue Excavations of the Bolaghi Valley Project was implemented from 2004 to 2007 to study the area’s archaeological sites. The filling of the reservoir of the Sivand Dam, which will flood a large section of the valley, began in spring 2007. In an interview at the Persepolis Complex last spring, Parsa-Pasargadae Research Foundation Director Mohammad Hassan Talebian told the Tehran Times that only 24 of the archaeological sites of the Bolaghi Valley would be submerged by the reservoir of the Sivand Dam. During our tour of the Bolaghi Valley, Yazdani showed me a wall and stone foundation of a monumental building of the Achaemenid dynastic era discovered by the Polish-Iranian archaeological team. At one Sasanian dynastic era site, we saw a large jug that was partly excavated, and nearby we saw a Sasanian basin. In addition, archaeologists found jars, potshards, and a house with a courtyard and hearth at the site. A jar with an Aramaic inscription of a quantity, which was produced for the royal system of agriculture, was also discovered at the site, Yazdani said. Near the Sivand Dam, we saw that Lake Sivand was taking shape and had already flooded some areas of the Bolaghi Valley. ********************************************************************************** [1] Since 1979 Islamic Iran ranks 88 out of 158 countries on the "Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index" (CPI) with a CPI score of 2.9 (a scale of 0 – 10 with 0 being the most corrupt). In real terms Islamic regime made bribery another form of income supplement to disintegrate traditional values and moralities among Iranian people, in order to pave the way for destruction of Iran. Corruption at every level have become an accepted part of every day life - from gifting the postman to make sure one’s mail is delivered to major corruption on the international level in the oil and its related industries. Also the cliques of clerics and their families in power accumulate unheard of wealth through corruption, bribery and embezzlement and live in opulence and luxury at the expense of the Iranian nation.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Winners 2007 World Youth Chess Championships

Hot off the presses from Chessbase: Boys Under 18: GM Popov Ivan 2539 RUS 9 Girls Under 18: WFM Gunina Valentina 2359 RUS 9 Boys Under 16: FM Chirila Ioan Cristian 2423 ROU 8½ Girls Under 16: Tsatsalashvili Keti 2161 GEO 8½ (USA's WFM Alisa Melekhina 2208 finished in 11th place with 7½) Boys Under 14: IM Sjugirov Sanan 2422 RUS 9 (USA's Ray Robson 2368 finished in 7th place with 8 points) Girls Under 14: WFM Paikidze Nazi 2292 GEO 9½ (USA's Dai Yang 1959 finished in 14th place with 7½) Boys Under 12: Naroditsky Daniel 2124 USA 9½ Girls Under 12: Efroimski Marsel 1911 ISR 9½ Boys Under 10: Wang Tong Sen 0 CHN 10 (USA's Brian J. Luo 1946 finished in 7th place with 8) Girls Under 10: Styazhkina Anna 1869 RUS 9½ (USA's Sarah Chiang 0 finished in 2nd place with 8½) Boys Under 8: Savenkov Konstantin 0 RUS 10 (USA's Jonathan Chiang 0 finished in 6th place with 8) Girls Under 8: Furtado Ivana Maria 0 IND 9 (USA's Simone Liao 0 finished in 6th place with 8) Congratulations to the winners and to all of the chessplayers who participated in this huge event. The Russians dominated the gold medals but the USA's performances are promising, particularly in the younger ranks.

Ivana Furtado Under 8 Girls World Chess Champion

Impressive - and great for chess in India. Goa’s Chess prodigy Ivana retains world title BY SPORTS REPORTER PANJIM, NOV 28 – There is no stopping Ivana Furtado. After securing a place in the Limca Book of Records for being India’s youngest world champion, Ivana added another feather to her cap by retaining the World Girls under-8 chess title at Antalya, Turkey. On Wednesday, Ivana – playing with black pieces — kept her cool and played the all-important draw with Zhansaya Abdumalik (Kazakhstan) to retain her title. She secured nine points from a maximum of 11 after winning eight games, drawing two and losing one. Ivana now becomes only the third girl after Koneru Humpy and Dronavalli Harika to win more than one world age group title. Ivana’s title triumph in distant Antalya was received with a thunderous applause right from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. World champion Viswanathan Anand was among the first to congratulate Goa’s child prodigy. The World Champion hailed the triumph and said he was delighted that there was one more age group world champion. “I was in contact with Ivana Furtado and was supposed to have played a simultaneous in Goa but could not make it,” Anand said on the AICF’s official website, before continuing, “I am happy for her win and wish her well.” Chief Minister Digambar Kamat said Ivana’s amazing success at Antalya will be a great motivator for youngsters in Goa. “I am sure Ivana’s triumph will inspire many others,” said Digambar. Goa State Chess Association President Sameer Salgaoncar attributed Ivana’s success to her coach Dronacharya awardee Raghunandan Gokhale, her family and GSCA.

American Boy New Under 12 Category World Chess Champion

Wow! San Francisco Chronicle Foster City boy wins world chess championship in Turkey Jill Tucker, Chronicle Staff Writer Wednesday, November 28, 2007 (11-28) 16:25 PST ANTALYA, TURKEY -- A Bay Area sixth grader captured the world championship in chess for the under-12 division after a final two-hour match Wednesday in Antalya, Turkey. Daniel Naroditsky, of Foster City, had the highest score of the 160 boys in his division after 11 rounds at the World Youth Chess Championship, taking the gold medal for the United States. Girls play in separate divisions. Daniel won nine of his games over the two-week tournament, lost one and played to a draw with the previously ranked No. 1 player and chess wunderkind Illya Nyzhnyk, of Ukraine. His victory also earned him the title of Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE) Master, an international distinction coveted by competitive chess players. "It's unbelievable," said Daniel's father Vladimir Naroditsky of the gold medal. "It's a huge accomplishment to this country." Daniel started playing when he was 6 and within months was forcing his father to think about his moves. The 12-year-old plays chess a few hours a day and more on the weekends and studies and plays with grand masters at the Mechanics' Institute Library and Chess Club in San Francisco. He is a student at Hillsborough's Crystal Springs Upland School. Daniel was unavailable given the time difference and his pre-dawn departure from Turkey. His father said he told him earlier in the day that he was very happy about the victory. "But the first question he asked is whether he has to go to school on Friday," Naroditsky said.

Ancient Chinese Astronomers Earn New Respect

This article demonstrates how important - and how seriously - the ancient Chinese took their astronomical observations. According to Joseph Needham, it is quite possible that the precursor of Xiang Qi (Chinese chess) was Xiangi Xi - the "astronomical" game, invented possibly 50-100 years before Xiangi Qi appeared. Ancient Chinese Astronomy: New insights from old information 26 Nov 2007 By Nigel Henbest China has the world’s longest-running observations of the sky: though based in astrology, they are of unique importance to astronomy today. In 210 BC, the great First Emperor of China was buried near Xi’an with his famous Terracotta Army of full-sized clay warriors. According a contemporary account, his own tomb – yet to be excavated – was even more lavish, containing a fabulous double map: “Below was a map of the Earth. The hundred rivers of the Empire were modeled in mercury: cleverly designed machines made the rivers flow. Above everything was the starry vault.” This map reflected the crucial role that the sky played in ancient Chinese thought. The heavens weren’t remote from everyday life. The sky was a mirror of the Earth. Every time that something unexpected occurred in the sky, it showed a disruption on the Earth – which, in effect, meant somewhere in China. To pinpoint exactly where, the Chinese split the stars into 283 small constellations, representing different parts of the Empire. On 7 December, AD 185, for instance, Chinese astronomers spotted a brilliant new star and reported: “A guest star appeared within the Southern Gate. It was as large as half a mat; it showed the five colours and it scintillated.” The Astronomer Royal alerted the Emperor, and decisive action was taken against the region corresponding to the Southern Gate. “The governor of the metropolitan region Yuan Shao punished and eliminated the middle officials… and several thousand people were killed.” The Chinese astronomers kept watch from a raised platform, where four observers faced north, south, east and west; while a fifth lay on his back and looked straight upwards – surely the best job! The next morning they reported to the Astronomical Bureau, which kept records from 206 BC to AD 1912 – the longest-lived bureaucracy the world has ever seen. Today, astronomers can mine this ancient archive for unique information on astronomical events. New insights from old information British astronomer Richard Stephenson, who taught himself ancient Chinese and is now a leading expert on the astronomy of the Far East, has looked into the “guest star” of AD 185. He identifies the Southern Gate as the two bright stars Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri. And he concludes that the guest star was so brilliant that it had to be a nearby supernova – the most violent kind of stellar explosion. Led by the Chinese results, Stephenson has pinpointed where the explosion occurred. And here astronomers studying X-rays from the Cosmos with the orbiting Chandra Observatory have located the incandescent fireball still expanding from the 2000-year-old explosion. “One of the key things is that you have a definite date,” Stephenson explains, “so you know precisely how long the remnant has been evolving.” The Chinese observations can also indicate how bright the supernova was. “In the case of a supernova seen in AD 1006,” Stephenson continues, “the Chinese said it was so bright that you could see things on the ground by its light.” These ancient observations really come into their own with the supernova spotted in July AD 1054. A star exploded in the constellation we know as Taurus, shining so brilliantly it was visible in daylight for 23 days. Today, in this location we find the twisted wreck of the long-dead star: the Crab Nebula. It’s powered by a collapsed core of the old star, which lurks at the centre of the nebula as a pulsar – a super-dense ball of neutrons only 25 km across, spinning around 30 times a second. Astronomers and physicists are short in understanding how neutron stars change as they grow older. With the Crab Pulsar, the Chinese observations provide a unique piece of information: the pulsar’s age. We know that it was born exactly 953 years ago. The Chandra Observatory has also pinpointed pulsars within supernova remnants that - according to Stephenson - are the fireballs from stars the Chinese saw explode in AD 386 and 1181. Sometimes, the imperial astronomers were treated not to a guest star, but to a “broom star” – a fuzzy object that crawled across the sky, sweeping the sky with its tail. In 240 BC, they set down the world’s first record of the celestial visitor we now know as Halley’s Comet. In AD 530, the Chinese recorded Halley’s Comet with more precision: “On 1 September, it was one degree to the northwest of Xiatai [a star in Ursa Major].” These early fixes on the comet’s orbit meant that European mission controllers could predict its 1986 apparition with greater accuracy, enabling them to send the Giotto spacecraft through the comet’s heart with unerring precision. Ancient Chinese Eclipse Predictions The Chinese were also careful to record eclipses of the Sun – a portent of doom that would directly affect the Emperor or his family. “There was a total eclipse in 181 BC,” says Stephenson, “and the Emperor’s dowager was really alarmed by it: she died two years later.” An eclipse features in the earliest astronomical record in the world, from the Chinese city of Anyang. Around 3000 years ago, a diviner inscribed a question on an oracle bone – a polished shard of animal bone: “Diviner Ge asks if the following day will be sunny or not.” He pushed in a red-hot needle, and interpreted the ensuing cracks. Twenty-four hours later, the diviner inscribed the actual answer to the question. In this case, something rudely interrupted the sunshine: “Three flames ate the Sun, and big stars were seen.” This is clearly an account of a total solar eclipse. The “flames” were the Sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, with the brighter stars and planets becoming visible during the darkness of totality. To astronomers’ eternal gratitude, Diviner Ge recorded that the eclipse fell on the 52nd day of the 60-day lunar month. In 1989, NASA researchers calculated when a total solar eclipse would have been seen in China on the 52nd day of any month. The only date that fits is 5 June 1302 BC – making this eclipse the most ancient exactly dated astronomical event. This eclipse isn’t important only as a record-breaker. It reveals new information about the Earth’s rotation. Astronomers know that our day is gradually getting longer, due to the influence of the Moon’s gravity – that’s why we have to occasionally insert “leap seconds” to our clocks. But the rate of slowing isn’t constant. By studying exactly where eclipses have been seen over the past millennia, Stephenson has tracked the variation in the Earth’s rotation rate. As well as the Moon’s influence, he has to invoke minute changes in the Earth’s shape as the surface bounces back from the weight of ice sheets that burdened northern lands during the last Ice Age: “especially in the area around the Gulf of Bothnia, the land’s still rising at quite a rate.” These results are showing – in a way the ancient Chinese could never have predicted – that their scrutiny of the heavens has indeed been mirrored in the planet under their feet!

Earth's Eighth Continent

Not "Atlantis," not "Mu." Earth's Eighth Continent It swirls. It grows. It's a massive, floating 'garbage patch.' By David Reid Published: November 21, 2007 The Phoenix Located in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii and measuring in at roughly twice the size of Texas, this elusive mass is home to hundreds of species of marine life and is constantly expanding. It has tripled in size since the middle of the 1990s and could grow tenfold in the next decade. Although no official title has been given to the mass yet, a popular label thus far has been "The Great Pacific Garbage Patch." As suggested by the name, the island is almost entirely comprises human-made trash. It currently weighs approximately 3.5 million tons with a concentration of 3.34 million pieces of garbage per square kilometer, 80 per cent of which is plastic. Due to the Patch's location in the North Pacific Gyre, its growth is guaranteed to continue as this Africa-sized section of ocean spins in a vortex that effectively traps flotsam. Few visitors The cause for the Patch's relative lack of acknowledgment is that the portion of the Pacific it occupies is almost entirely unvisited. It lacks the wind to attract sailing vessels, the biology to encourage fishing, and is not in the path of major shipping lanes. What little air movement there is blows inwards, further trapping the garbage. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Marcus Eriksen, a director at the Algatita Marine Research Foundation, said that "with the winds blowing in and the currents in the gyre going circular, it's the perfect environment for trapping." While the trash is in the ocean, it is doing what could be irreparable harm to sea life, the water it's in, and eventually humans. Plastic resists biodegrading. Instead, a plastic shopping bag or pop bottle will photo-degrade over time, meaning that it will break down into smaller and smaller pieces but retain its original molecular composition. The result is a great amount of fine plastic sand that resembles food to many creatures. Unfortunately, the plastic cannot be digested, so sea birds or fish can eventually starve to death with a stomach full of plastic. Even if the amount of plastic in a creature's body is not enough to block the passage of food, the small pellets act as sponges for several toxins, concentrating chemicals such as DDT to 1 million times the normal level. This concentration then works its way up the food chain until a fish is served at our dinner table. A deadly shining Some birds, attracted to the shining in the ocean, approach the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in search of food. Marine researchers have commented that pelicans dissected in that area have stomachs so full of lighters that they resemble convenience stores. Sea turtles are also prone to mistaking plastic bags for jelly fish, which then cause their deaths or sit in their guts for the decades it takes the bags to break down. In total, 267 species have been reported to have eaten from, or become entangled in, the Patch. According to Chris Parry of the California Coastal Commission, regrettably little can be done to clean up the Patch, although many urge that a decreased reliance on plastic is the first step. "At this point," said Parry, "cleaning it up isn't an option . . . it's just going to get bigger as our reliance on plastics continues." "The long-term solution is to stop producing as much plastic products at home and change our consumption habits." Cleaning up the Patch will likely cost billions of dollars and, as an approximation, be more difficult than vacuuming every inch of the United States. The plastic and garbage reach more than 30 metres down into the ocean and a great number of organisms would be destroyed in the process. So far, no country has so much as proposed a solution, presumably because no nation wishes to claim responsibility. Even if all plastic usage were to stop immediately, future geologists would be able to clearly mark the stratum designating the 20th and 21st century by an indelible layer of plastic coating the world's oceans.

Stupid Politician Comments

So these makes headlines? Picked from the news today:

(1) Hamas and Iran say they will do anything they can to "disrupt" Middle East peace process. Well - DUH! Now it would REALLY be news if the dudes said hey, yeah, let's get on with this and stop killing everyone's (including our own) women and children. Yeah, right.

(2) Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who got dropped on his head too many times as a child, says: "While President Uribe is president of Colombia I will have no type of relationship with him or with the government in Colombia." Boo hoo hoo, you won't play nicey-nicey with me so I'm going home to tell my mommy on you, you bad boy. Check out the pic: Can't you just see him pounding his fists on the ground going I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, you bad bad boy. Really, Hugo, you got to learn to chill, darling!

(3) As violence ebbs, Sarkozy calls riots "unacceptable." Oh, gee, really?

(4) Vatican spokesman says Palestinians have right to return to their homeland. Oh - and which homeland is that? I'd take advice from the Queen of England's favorite horse before listening to the Pope's "spokesmen."

(5) “We don’t name animals Muhammad,” says spokesman for the Sudanese government, that is charging a British primary school teacher with a crime for "insulting Islam" - naming a teddy bear used as a classroom project "Muhammad." Now she has "to prove her innocence" before an Islamic judge. Nice, a totally rigged system. Teacher is facing a penalty of six months in prison and 40 lashes. What would the punishment be, I wonder, for naming a dildo Muhammad?

There's a million of them out there, folks. This will be a continuing feature in the future, tee he he.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

2007 World Youth Chess Championships

Some standings after Round 10: Girls Under 18: Rank SNo. Name Rtg FED Pts Fide Rp 1 5 WIM NEMCOVA Katerina 2255 CZE 8 47 2414 2 1 WFM GUNINA Valentina 2359 RUS 8 40 2285 3 3 WIM GOMES Mary Ann 2262 IND 7½ 47 2279 4 9 WIM YILDIZ Betul Cemre 2220 TUR 7½ 43 2357 5 13 WFM HAMRAKULOVA Yulduz 2185 UZB 7½ 42 2239 6 18 ANDRENKO Irina 2145 UKR 7 40 2313 7 7 RAKIC Marija 2232 SRB 7 38 2223 8 20 PREETHI R 2125 IND 7 35 2180 9 23 WFM STEIL-ANTONI Fiona 2104 LUX 6½ 42 2208 10 8 WIM IGNACZ Maria 2223 HUN 6½ 39½ 2207 USA Players' Standings: (21) NIKOLOVA Ettie 2049 6; (57) KERR Julia 2026 4; (59) KATS Elina 0 USA 4. Girls Under 16: Rank SNo. Name Rtg FED Pts Fide Rp 1 1 WFM GIRYA Olga 2338 RUS 8½ 47½ 2372 2 11 TSATSALASHVILI Keti 2161 GEO 8 48 2333 3 12 WFM REPINA Varvara 2154 RUS 7½ 43 2270 4 20 WFM NAKHBAYEVA Guliskhan 2098 KAZ 7½ 43 2196 5 16 IVANENKO Olga 2125 UKR 7½ 41½ 2168 6 8 WFM OZTURK Kubra 2174 TUR 7½ 40 2227 7 2 WFM GURAMISHVILI Sopiko 2305 GEO 7 39½ 2158 8 5 MAMMADOVA Gulnar 2217 AZE 7 36 2127 9 26 OLSAROVA Tereza 2048 CZE 7 36 1947 10 4 VOJINOVIC Jovana 2227 MNE 7 35½ 2137 USA Players' Standings: (18) WFM MELEKHINA Alisa 2208 6½; (22) WFM MARSHALL Abby 2208 6; (46) JAMISON Courtney 1949 5; (63) LIVSCHITZ Louiza 2005 4½. In the Boys' Under 14, USA's Ray Robson is in 5th place with 7.5 - one point of the lead. Here are the top 5 in that category: 1 10 WANG Chen 2311 CHN 8½ 2 2 IM SJUGIROV Sanan 2422 RUS 8 3 3 FM TER-SAHAKYAN Samvel 2389 ARM 8 4 7 KANAREK Marcel 2324 POL 8 5 5 FM ROBSON Ray 2368 USA 7½

Karpov Denied Visit to Jailed Kasparov

Does Putin really think people aren't talking about this? Well, what goes around comes around, and I expect that in due time, this will come back to bite Putin in his skinny butt in a very big (and probably unexpected) way: Karpov denied visit to old rival Kasparov Tue Nov 27, 2007 3:46pm EST MOSCOW (Reuters) - Chess grandmaster Anatoly Karpov was turned away on Tuesday when he tried to visit and offer moral support to his old rival Garry Kasparov, under detention for anti-Kremlin protests, a Kasparov aide said. Kasparov is serving a five-day sentence at a Moscow detention centre for leading a protest against President Vladimir Putin last weekend. He is due to be freed on Thursday. "He (Karpov) was trying to visit Kasparov but he was not allowed to do so," Marina Litvinovich, a senior member of Kasparov's United Civil Front, told Reuters. "Karpov is a member of the Public Chamber (collective government oversight body) and has the right to visit those detained. All the same, they would not let him in," she said. "Karpov must have been seeking to extend moral support or see the conditions in which Kasparov is being held." The United States and European powers have expressed concern at the Kremlin's crackdown on the protests ahead of December 2 parliamentary election. Karpov became one of the Soviet Union's most influential public figures after Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev personally branded him the "The Chess King" and told him "to hold the crown" when the young grandmaster became world champion in 1975. Ten years later, his reign was over when he lost the title to Kasparov who confessed eventually that by defeating Karpov he was also challenging the old communist system and fighting for a new, democratic Russia. On Tuesday, the two men's personal ambitions and different political views seemed to matter little. "A person is in trouble; of course I'm not indifferent to that," Karpov told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. "In Russia right now we have, what, four world chess champions? And of course the fate of any one of them is important to other chess players, both in Russia and abroad." Karpov told the radio station he must have spent more time at the chessboard with Kasparov than with any other player, including a grueling match that went on for four months. "Generally speaking, I don't share his political views, but that's something different," he said. "I didn't come here to support him politically." (Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Andrew Dobbie) (c) Reuters 2007

More Information on Kharg Island Inscription

This is a follow-up to my post on November 21, 2007. From CAIS press release November 27, 2007: Expert Gives Another Translation of Kharg Inscription LONDON, (CAIS) -- An expert on ancient Iranian languages has come up with a different translation of the newly discovered stone inscription found on Kharg Island in the Persian Gulf, the Archaeological Research Centre of Iran (ARCI) reported in a press release published on Tuesday. “(This) land was a dried area with no water; (I) brought happiness and welfare, Bahana… water wells,” is the text of the inscription, as deciphered by an expert of the ARCI Rasul Bashshash. Bahana is a name, probably of a ruler, who issued a decree for the development and cultivation of the area. The cuneiform inscription, which has been etched on a piece of uneven rock encrusted with corals, was discovered in mid-November during a road construction project. The rock, measuring 85x116cm, has become detached from its original terrain. The artefact is believed to date back to the late Achaemenid dynastic era (550-330 BCE). According to Bashshash, the words have been written carelessly in two sections divided by an irregular horizontal curved line. The top section bears three lines of horizontal writing and the lower section carries two lines of writing. The lines of the inscription are spaced at a distance of 8 centimetres from each other. In addition, several phonetic signs have been carved in a scattered manner on the inscription. New translation differs from previous version A previous translation of the inscription, which was published by Reza Moradi Ghiasabadi last week, greatly differs from the new version. According to Moradi, the inscription comprises six words on six different horizontal lines. Only the first word, meaning “was” or “were”, has frequently been observed in Old Persian inscriptions and the other five words are new discoveries. The artefact has three crown-shaped motifs inscribed in a side-ways fashion in the middle of the inscription and also at the beginning of the third and fourth lines. The motifs are similar to the crowns of the Sasanian King of Kings (224-651 CE). He said that the discovery may add five words to our knowledge of the Old Persian language. He has also cited some points which throw doubt on the authenticity of the inscription: careless and fast writing -- which is not commonly observed in previously discovered Achaemenid inscriptions -- slight layers of sediment on the edges and insides of the letters, multi-typography style of the inscription, unknown words and the use of strange motifs resembling the Sasanian kings’ crown on an allegedly Achaemenid artefact.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Successful Recipe for Shepherd's Pie

Today as Paula and I were walking during our lunch hour she told me about a shepherd's pie recipe she'd come across that uses left-over stuffing and turkey. Made out of left-overs, it sounded quick, easy, and delicious. I don't have any left-over turkey, vegetables or stuffing. But I had Shepherd's Pie on the brain. I haven't had much exposure to this dish. My mother didn't make the dish, and it wasn't in my repertoire of recipes. I vaguely remember eating something one night at a party back in the early '70's that was called Shepherd's Pie and it was very good - but I don't remember the particulars about the dish as I was rather the worse for drink at the time (back in my wild party days). And so, it remained until a few years ago, shortly after one of my friends bought her first home and invited me over for supper, to revisit Shepherd's Pie. Now don't get me wrong - my friend is a great gal - and we've been friends a long time, but this dish was not a success. The mashed potatoes that topped the dish were lumpy (not mashed/whipped sufficiently) and dried out from baking; the edges were burnt but there were no nice crusty browned peaks of potatoes because my friend had smeared them over the top of the dish like watery frosting rather than giving the potatoes peaks; the ground beef had not been sufficiently broken up during the initial browning process and came out of the oven in hard, large tasteless lumps; the vegetables were soggy and equally tasteless. There was no gravy or sauce (something I'd been led to expect by my friend's description of the dish) - only a lot of water. I have no idea where all the water came from. I forced myself to eat two helpings, to be a good guest and a good friend. After hearing Paula's recipe for turkey Shepherd's Pie, I thought to myself, "Self, you can make a Shepherd's Pie for yourself." I also thought "and it had better turn out better than my friend's unfortunately Shepherd's Pie." I had ground beef at home, for a planned Hamburger Helper casserole. I needed vegetables, mashed potatoes, and something for a gravy. A quick stop at the Pick and Save, and this is what I made for myself this evening - flying by the seat of my pants, sans recipe (I don't do that very often, it ususally doesn't work out well for me): Ingredients 1/2 pound ground beef, browned and drained 4 "servings" of instant mashed potatoes prepared per box instruction (but with extra margarine and I would recommend using less salt, mine turned out too salty using box instructions) - about 2 cups 1/2 of regular size can tomato soup, undiluted 8 ozs. (about 1/2 of a 16 oz. package) frozen mixed vegetables (carrots, corn, peas, green beans) While I was browning the ground beef I cooked the veggies in the microwave per package directions (about 8 minutes on high). After I drained the cooked ground beef, I dumped it in a 9 inch pie plate, drained the veggies and dumped them into the pie plate too. I then mixed the ground beef and veggies together with 1/2 can of the undiluted tomato soup and added some salt and pepper. I used tomato soup because it's one of my favorites, but I think the recipe would also work with cream of mushroom or golden mushroom soup. I then made the instant mashed potatoes. Yes, yes, I should have used regular mashed potatoes, only I didn't have any left-overs and I didn't feel like buying a couple of Idahos, peeling them and cooking them up. The whole point of this recipe is EASE. Using instant mashed potatoes the recipe went together quickly, but if you have left-over mashed potatoes or time to make fresh, go for it! If I were using left-over mashed potatoes I would whip in some milk so they don't over-dry while browning in the oven. I spread the meat/veggies/soup mixture around the bottom of the pie plate, and then plopped small spoonfuls of mashed potatoes on top. I lightly spread the potatoes together to cover voids over the meat mixture, making sure there were plenty of peaks and valleys, and popped the dish into a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes. It probably could have gone for another 5 minutes, for more browning of the potatoes - but you wouldn't want to bake too long as the potatoes will dry out, unless you make your potatoes a bit more watery to extend the browning time. The dish came out bubbling, with the potatoes lightly browned and crusty around the edges of the dish. I let it cool about 15 minutes and served myself. The "pie" held together nicely in quarter slices and was not watery or soupy at all. I have to say, this is a successful dish! I ate half of it at one sitting! I stashed the other half for tomorrow night. This recipe would probably fill out better in an 8 inch pie plate but using my 9 inch glass pie plate worked fine. The recipe can easily be doubled and would then fill my 9 inch pie plate.

Knights Templar to Search for Clues in Bulgaria

Hola darlings! First of all, our Random Round-up column at Goddesschess has been updated. We update every Sunday with items of interest from around the world. You can find it on the right hand side of the page. Now, about the Templars. I confess, I'm absolutely fascinated by their history and lore. In some 200 years they built one of the most powerful and wealthy organizations in the western world - only to become objects of vilification and censure. Of course, even though officially the Templars were a banned organization, they didn't just disappear. Many Templars were accepted into other organizations such as the Hospitalliers and the Knights of St. John - and many sought and received safe refuge in Scotland. It is a testament to the power and mystery of the Templars - an order who took vows of poverty, chasity and obedience to the Holy See in Rome - that we still wonder about them today. Did they bury treasure in the new world, in a "money pit" that floods all the more the more people try to dig? Did they uncover mystical secrets of immense power in excavations of the ruins of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem? Did they really aid in the construction of Roslyn Chapel and were some of their secrets embedded and encoded in the strange architecture of that place? And did some renegade Templars sail under the Jolly Roger some 200 years later, terrorizing the high seas? Countless books have been written about them - and doubtless, countless more books will be written about them in the future! So, whenever I see an article about the Templars, I take a look at it. I found this article extremely interesting. This is the modern-day version of the Knights Templar, who have officially been forgiven all their various "sins" and "blasphemies" that were alleged against them in 1307, and are a "fraternal" sort of organization (but not exactly, as some Templars enclaves admit women to their ranks). Fraternal organizations today - at least, in the USA - are in a hard way. People don't join them anymore. In my hometown alone, the Fraternal Orders of the Eagles, the Elks, the Moose, and the Knights of Pythias have become extinct within my lifetime. Only the Shriners and the Masons have any presence in my city now, and that is rather limited. Here is the article: Knights Templar to Seek Traces of Order's Members in Bulgaria November 24, 2007 The Knights Templar are to launch excavation works in the Danube town of Russe to find out traces of order's members, who have once passed through Bulgaria and the Balkans. The statement was made at a Saturday press conference, given by the Order in the National Palace of Culture in Sofia. The order is to finance the initiative, called "Nisovo Project", is to be launched after Russe citizens signalled they noticed "interesting stone crosses" in the region. The Templar Knights consider also making archaeological excavations in the town of Veliko Tarnovo, where they will look for a medieval catholic temple. In order to achieve that aim, the knights will prepare a joint program with the Mayor Rumen Rashev. Bulgaria's Prior Rumen Ralchev has announced the order is to built one of the most modern houses for old people in Europe, which will be situated near the seaside town of Kavarna. ******************************************************************************* Okay - so what are the Templars really interested in excavating, hmmm?
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