Saturday, December 29, 2007

Lakshmi Back in the News

Lakshmi Tatma, the little Indian girl born with four arms and four legs, is back in the news: Villagers idolize Lakshmi as Goddess, sans extra limbs December 29th, 2007 - 6:34 pm ICT by admin By Ajay Kumar Bihar, Dec 29 (ANI): A two-year-old girl born with four arms, four legs and extra internal organs is worshipped like a Goddess in her village even after being successfully operated upon last month to cure of her birth defect. Lakshmi Tatma, born with the deformity was named after the four-armed Hindu goddess of wealth (Lakshmi). Indian Goddesses and Gods are depicted in epics and mythological books as very powerful with more than one pair of hands equipped with arms to kill the demons.Referred to as an incarnation of the Goddesses, the villagers want to build a permanent temple to honour the deity. “When she was born, she had four hands and four legs. We were very happy that the Goddess has taken birth. When she was being taken to Bangalore for the operation, all of us thought that there should be some remembrance of the form in which she was born, so we decided to build a temple and worship her. said Indradev, Lakshmis uncle. “Whenever such a child is born, we have seen that the child doesn’t survive. But Lakshmi fought back and she survived the operation too. The villagers worship her for the same,” said Rajesh, Sarpanch, Kottarpatti village. A team of around 30 medics removed what amounted to Lakshmi’s headless identical twin sister who was joined at the pelvis and who did not develop and separate properly in the womb, in an extremely rare case, in a risky operation. The rare birth defect is known as a parasitic twin. While cutting off the extra limbs, doctors had also removed extra internal organs and corrected a deformed skeleton. The hospital said it did not charge Lakshmi’s poor parents even a penny of the steep 2.5 million rupees the surgery cost. She will need what doctors termed corrective treatment at a later date, but is being allowed to go home as her parents were keen to get back to their village. Lakshmi’s parents are poor labourers from Bihar state in northern India. They told the media that they had refused offers from circus owners to buy their daughter. (ANI)

U.S. Chess League

The U.S. Chess League is growing. Teams have been added in Chicago and Arizona for the 2008 season, so the League now boasts 14 teams. The Arizona Scorpions will be managed by NM Leo Martinez. The Scorpion lineup will include Leo, as well as the following players: IM Levon Altounian, IM Mark Ginsburg and FM Daniel Rensch. Robby Adamson, who penned many articles on the U.S. Chess League for CLO will also join the Scorpions as a team member and an assistant manager. The Chicago Blaze is managed by USCF TD Glenn Panner. Sevan Muradian, 2007 USCF organizer of the year is the assistant manager. The squad will include GM Dmitry Gurevich, IM Angelo Young, FM Mehmed Pasalic, and Adam Strunk. The games will be played at the Touch Move Chess Center in Chicago. Read Jennifer Shahade's article at Chess Life Online.

Iran, US engaged in a lethal Chess Game

By Linda S. Heard Online Journal Contributing Writer Dec 28, 2007, 00:18 In this ongoing and protracted game of chess, there are two teams at play. On the one side of the table is the US and Israel and on the other is Russia and Iran. Parts of the game are being held in the open with other sessions behind closed doors. Which side will eventually be checkmated is anybody’s guess. What’s certain is the game is high stakes for both teams but different for each partner on the same team. The US and Russia are hungry for hegemony. But for Israel and Iran, their very survival could hang on the outcome. More.

NEWS FLASH! Kushan Icon Excavated in Canada

A most exciting discovery, possibly the discovery of the century, was uncovered in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in December, 2006. The present owner of the rare icon has now authorized release of information regarding the remarkable discovery to the public.

The exact location of the site, where excavation is ongoing, is not being released to the public, to protect the area from being overrun by treasure-hunters.

The piece was uncovered by a collector digging for Depression-era glass flagons in the curb area of an unidentified residential street in Verdun (Montreal), Quebec, Canada, in mid-December, 2006. At first dismissing the find as a piece of junk, the finder later turned the piece over to an historian friend as a "christmas present" joke.

The wooden icon, since identified as an extremely rare "scarred warrior" from the Kushan Empire (c. 2nd century BCE - 3rd century CE), is all the more remarkable for having survived, and in such fine condition. Wooden artifacts very rarely survive 2000 years, and then only under specific conditions, such as in the dry desert climate away from the Nile River in Egypt, where several carved wooden items have been excavated. In addition, much of the original decorative paint detail remains visible on the warrior.

Experts are split on whether the warrior's missing left arm was lost during the 2000 years since it was first carved in the "clothespin" style associated with the Kushan city of Begram, or whether the arm was deliberately left off, in the "scarred warrior" tradition.

Under the rule of the Kushans, northwest India and adjoining regions participated both in seagoing trade and in commerce along the Silk Road to China. The name Kushan derives from the Chinese term Guishang, used in historical writings to describe one branch of the Yuezhi—a loose confederation of Indo-European people who had been living in northwestern China until they were driven west by another group, the Xiongnu, in 176–160 BCE. The Yuezhi reached Bactria (northwest Afghanistan and Tajikistan) around 135 BCE. Kujula Kadphises united the disparate tribes in the first century BCE. Gradually wresting control of the area from the Scytho-Parthians [Persians], the Yuezhi moved south into the northwest Indian region traditionally known as Gandhara (now parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan) and established a capital near Kabul. They had learned to use a form of the Greek alphabet, and Kujula's son was the first Indian ruler to strike gold coins in imitation of the Roman aureus exchanged along the caravan routes.

Some historians have speculated that the "clothespin" style of carved icons were actually board game pieces, possibly pawns in the Persian game of chatrang, a direct ancestor of modern chess. This hypothesis has not, however, been accepted by board games scholars, primarily for two reasons; first, no two or more icons have ever been discovered in close proximity to each other, thereby preventing their positive identification as board game pieces; second, the age of the few recovered "scarred warrior" and "clothespin" style carvings would push back the game of chess some 400-500 years earliers than most experts date its invention.

The remarkable icon, now in the possession of conservators of an internationally renowned museum in the midwestern United States, has been carbon-dated to c. 67 CE (+/- 50). The piece has been "stabilized" and there are no plans by the owner to offer it for exhibit.

What is not known is how the icon traveled half a world away, from the Hindu Kush area of its origins 2000 years ago to modern-day Montreal. The piece was discovered near the property that formerly housed the Togo Embassy, leading some to speculate that the piece may have arrived in Montreal through nefarious methods.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Wobble Chess Set

Got $289? Here's a chess set that caught my eye. I love how the pieces are designed, they have a very sensual look about them. The board - well, that doesn't appeal.

The Wobble Chess set, designed by Adin Mümma, 2006, is made of beautiful walnut and maple hardwood. The pieces are rounded and weighted to fit the concave landscape of the board, giving a quiet action to the intense game.

Additional Information:
Design: Adin Mümma / 2006 / Canada
Materials: Walnut, Maple and Chrome Plated Zinc
Dimensions: 15" Length x 15" Width

Teach Chess to Teach Kids About Money

The article cites several other things parents can do to teach their children about money and how to handle it. But teaching kids how to play chess makes sense to me because of the known benefits in developing critical thinking skills and self-control. From NuWire Investor Teaching Kids About Money: 10 Tips Ways for parents to teach their children about money Published on: Wednesday, December 26, 2007Written by: Trista Winnie Parents have been giving financial advice to their children for ages. "Neither a borrower nor a lender be," Polonius told his son Laertes in William Shakespeare's Hamlet. As with good hygiene and good manners, most parents strive to teach their children lessons on how to be good at handling money. "If you can teach your child the difference between needs and wants, how to budget and how to save, your child will know more than many adults," according to Scott Reeves of Forbes. "But if you get it wrong, your child is likely to join the millions of Americans who rack up huge credit card debt and get stung each month by stiff interest payments." In other words, no pressure. The lives of children who understand money, its value and how to handle it will be far easier than those of children who don't. Here are 10 tips for teaching your kids about money, focusing on saving and investing money, so they will grow up and use it responsibly. . . . 3) Teach them critical thinking While not directly a lesson in money, kids who learn how to think critically will make better decisions when it comes to money because they will be able to consider the short, medium and long term effects of their decisions, as well as plan for contingencies. One great way to teach them how to plan, strategize and think critically is to teach them chess. Chess is a game in which cause and effect, concrete rules, analysis and planning for different scenarios are all crucial. Chess can also help kids hone their ability to recognize when to take risks and when to play it safe, which is a critical investment skill. A real life example of this can be found in the story of David MacEnulty, an English teacher who taught a group of inner-city, low-income students in the South Bronx how to play chess. These students went on to compete and win in chess competitions and their critical thinking skills put them on the path to success. The story was documented in the 2005 movie, Knights of the South Bronx.

Image of the Sole Female Jain Tirthankar Discovered

From The Daily Star:

1,800-year-old terracotta discovered
Staff Correspondent, Khulna

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Khulna office of the Archaeology Department has discovered an 1,800-year-old terracotta plaque bearing the image of the only female Jain Tirthankar, Mallinath.

The rare terracotta piece was discovered after digging a large mound of earth at Damdampir of Manirampur upazila in Jessore on December 18 but the discovery was kept secret for security reasons.

"We did not immediately disclose the facts about this particular discovery for security reasons," said Shihabuddin Mohammad Akbar, director of the Khulna regional office of Archaeology Department.

He said the digging began in 2004-05 financial year under the direct supervision of the Khulna Archaeology Department office.

Besides the seven-inch-long red sandstone terracotta image of Jain Mallinath, more antiques including earthenware from the 200-year-old Jain dynasty were discovered at the site, Shihabuddin said.

He said Mallinath was the daughter of Kumbharaja of Mithila and Prabhavati. Mallinath was 19th of the 24 Jain Tirthankars.

Shihabuddin expects that more antiques will be found at the site where digging work is still going on.

Friday Night Miscellany - Demon Plow Operators

Hola Darlings!

Do you suppose if I blew up a plow and its driver I'd be convicted of a crime by a jury of my peers?

I came home tonight to 8 inches of snow in my driveway - the driveway that dondelion and I labored so hard to clear last Saturday. It was obvious because of the hard pack and ruts in the road that the plow had not yet been through my street. So, tired though I was after a long hard day at the office, I pulled out my trusty shovel and worked my way ever so slowly down from the porch to the road and back again, and then cleared out a 10 foot width of open space at the base of the driveway, figuring that once the plow came through the snow would disburse over the cleared area and not pile up into a mountain across the base of the drive that would be frozen by morning.

Ha! I heard that %*)4!@#+@^ come through but by the time I ran downstairs and threw open the front door he was already gone. I would have run after him down the street, that #$(8&^%@+(*, cursing all the way and hurling snowballs.

Of course, I would have had to climb over the mountain of snow that the plow left behind at the base of my once-cleared driveway in order to chase after him. That $^^*&@^(+=*@.

I swear to the Goddess, if I see him, I'll kill him. I'll take my plastic shovel and I'll chase him down and I'll chop his head off with it.

Murder of city plow operators aside, I snapped the photo this evening, just experimenting. I didn't have the camera set to the correct speed but I was too tired to look it up in the instruction booklet, so I just snapped away. This is a scene from my deck (not yet shoveled).

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Pyramid Discovered in Mexico City

From The New York Times: Ancient Pyramid Found In Central Mexico City By REUTERS Published: December 27, 2007 Filed at 10:40 p.m. ET MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Archeologists have discovered the ruins of an 800-year-old Aztec pyramid in the heart of the Mexican capital that could show the ancient city is at least a century older than previously thought. Mexican archeologists found the ruins, which are about 36 feet high, in the central Tlatelolco area, once a major religious and political centre for the Aztec elite. Since the discovery of another pyramid at the site 15 years ago, historians have thought Tlatelolco was founded by the Aztecs in 1325, the same year as the twin city of Tenochtitlan nearby, the capital of the Aztec empire, which the Spanish razed in 1521 to found Mexico City, conquering the Aztecs. The pyramid, found last month as part of an investigation begun in August, could have been built in 1100 or 1200, signaling the Aztecs began to develop their civilization in the mountains of central Mexico earlier than believed. "We have found the stairs of this, much older pyramid. The (Aztec) timeline is going to need to be revised," archaeologist Patricia Ledesma said at the site on Thursday. Tlatelolco, visited by thousands of tourists for its pre-Hispanic ruins and colonial-era Spanish church and convent, is also infamous for the 1968 massacre of leftist students by state security forces there, days before Mexico hosted the Olympic Games. Ledesma and the archaeological group's coordinator, Salvador Guilliem, said they will continue to dig and study the area next year to get a better idea of the pyramid's size and age. The archeologists also have detected a sculpture that could be of the Aztec rain god Tlaloc, or of the god of the sky and earth Tezcatlipoca. In addition, the dig has turned up five skulls and a series of rooms near the pyramid that could date from 1431. "What we hope to find soon should tell us much more about the society of Tlatelolco," said Ledesma. Mexico City is littered with pre-Hispanic ruins. In August, archeologists in the city's crime-ridden Iztapalapa district unearthed what they believe may be the main pyramid of Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs, a warlike and religious people who built monumental works and are credited with inventing chocolate, ruled an empire stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean and encompassing much of modern-day central Mexico. (Editing by Xavier Briand)

Jiroft Artifacts to Be Returned to Iran

From CAIS (Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies):

(Image: Oscar Muscarella at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art says this game board is a forgery - see link at end of article)

Iran Wins Battle Against London Barakat Gallery in Jiroft's Smuggled Artefacts

December 22, 2007

LONDON, (CAIS) -- A London appeal court made a ruling on Friday that the city’s Barakat Gallery must return 18 artefacts smuggled from the ancient site of Jiroft in southern Iran.

In March 2007, London’s High Court had rejected Iran’s ownership of the 5,000-year-old artefacts which had been put up for auction at the Barakat Gallery, which has offices in Mayfair, central London and Beverly Hills.

Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization (CHTHO) appealed against the court decision in May.

“The return of the artefacts is vital for Iranian culture and civilization,” deputy director of CHTHO’s Legal Department Sussan Cheraghchi told the Persian service of CHN.

The collection of historic items consists of two jars, five cups, six vases, a bowl, a vessel and three weights.

Lawyers and other experts had reckoned that Iran and the Barakat Gallery had equal chances of winning the legal battle. The court had set a security of 100,000 euros for the appeal, and Iran had accepted to pay the sum to induce the appeal court to begin legal proceedings.

If Iran had lost the case, the security would have been paid to the Barakat Gallery as compensation for the delay in the auction of the artefacts.

In March 2005, Britain returned 118 ancient artefacts which had been looted from Jiroft. The items had been confiscated by HM Customs and Excise at Heathrow Airport in the summer of 2004.

Jiroft came under the spotlight in 2002, when reports surfaced that local people had begun extensive illegal excavations and were plundering priceless relics.

Five excavation seasons have been carried out at the Jiroft site, under the supervision of Professor Yusef Majidzadeh, leading to the discovery of a ziggurat made of more than four million mud bricks dating back to circa 2200 BCE.

After numerous rare discoveries in the region, Majidzadeh declared Jiroft to be a cradle of art and civilisation, and named it as the “archaeologists’ lost paradise”.
Not mentioned is whether any of these artifacts are forgeries...

2007 Russian Championship Superfinals

Women's standings after Round 8: 1. Tairova, Elena m RUS 2391 6½ 2. Korbut, Ekaterina m RUS 2443 6 3. Pogonina, Natalija wg RUS 2462 5½ 4. Kosintseva, Tatiana m RUS 2492 5 5. Matveeva, Svetlana m RUS 2433 4½ 6. Ovod, Evgenija m RUS 2386 4½ 7. Kosintseva, Nadezhda m RUS 2469 4 8. Shadrina, Tatiana wg RUS 2379 4 9. Stepovaia, Tatiana wg RUS 2375 3½ 10. Kovalevskaya, Ekaterina m RUS 2448 2 11. Girya, Olga wf RUS 2338 2 12. Gunina, Valentina wf RUS 2359 ½

Matsu Back in the News

Original post. Matsu gets around - and travels first class. Hsingkang spruced up with new open plaza in front of Matsu temple Thursday, December 27, 2007 By Dan Bloom, Special to The China Post Every year in the spring, thousands of religious pilgrims make the long trek from Taichung (台中) County to Chiayi (嘉義) County--and back again--in honor of the goddess Matsu (媽祖). But tourists flock to Hsingkang in southern Taiwan every day of the year, especially on weekends. As a result, Hsingkang (新港) has become a popular weekend tourist destination, and with the High Speed Rail now whisking passengers up and down Taiwan's long west coast, Hsingkang has become a lot closer for people living in the Taipei and Kaohsiung regions. The High Speed Rail's well-designed Taibao (太保) station is just five kilometers away from Hsingkang and is a quick and convenient bus or taxi ride from the station. With more and more tourists coming to town on weekends and with the growing popularity of the springtime Matsu pilgrimage, town officials, together with central government planners, have built a new open plaza in front of the Fengtien Temple, complete with a white cobblestone roadway and gracefully-modern red street lamps, designed to look like festival lanterns, that contrast sharply, yet harmoniously, with the adjacent temple area nearby. . . . Maggie Lin, a temple guide and a native of Hsingkang, showed me around when I was visiting recently, and she told me some interesting stories about the goddess Matsu as well. . . . Inside the temple grounds, Lin took me to the fifth floor of a building behind the main temple, where you can see a long panorama of the temple itself and the main street in front of the temple. It makes a great photograph, too, I might add. Lin also told me an interesting story about the Hsingkang Matsu's trip to New York City a few months ago to visit the United Nations. "On the flight from Taoyuan to New Jersey, the statue of Matsu was originally given a ticket for a seat in economy class, but when one of the Taiwanese flight attendants noticed that the famous goddess was aboard, she arranged for Matsu to be moved up to a first-class seat," Lin said. "In addition, the Hsingkang man who was watching over Matsu during the plane ride to New York used some special red fortune dice to ask Matsu what she would like to drink and eat on the airplane. The assistant would ask a simple question that required just a yes or no answer, and when the answer was ascertained, Matsu would be given the coffee or tea drink that she had asked for. "The same went for the meals that were served to Matsu during her flight, which, by the way, marked the first time she had ever visited North America. It was really an interesting trip over and back, and now Matsu is safely back in her resting place here in Hsingkang, with many stories to tell about her trip to the United Nations." . . .

The Moon and Mars on Christmas Eve

On December 23 and 24th, we were experimenting with different settings on my digital camera and dondelion took several night shots outdoors. We don't have a tripod (now on my list of things to purchase in 2008) so this image on the slow shutter speed for night shots came out a wee bit blurred. It's looking due east from my front porch, taken Christmas Eve. The moon and Mars, above to the north/northeast of the moon, were spectacular.

Blast From the Past: Two Years After Katrina

This article first appeared in The Wall Street Journal on September 8, 2005. I remember getting chills down my spine when I read it. In fact, I made a copy of the article and came across it recently when I was cleaning out one of my desk drawers at the office. I found it online at several places. Perhaps others found the article as chilling as I did. I think it's well worth reading. Old-Line Families Escape Worst of Flood And Plot the Future by Christopher Cooper NEW ORLEANS - On a sultry morning earlier this week, Ashton O'Dwyer stepped out of his home on this city's grandest street and made a beeline for his neighbor's pool. Wearing nothing but a pair of blue swim trunks and carrying two milk jugs, he drew enough pool water to flush the toilet in his home. The mostly African-American neighborhoods of New Orleans are largely underwater, and the people who lived there have scattered across the country. But in many of the predominantly white and more affluent areas, streets are dry and passable. Gracious homes are mostly intact and powered by generators. Yesterday, officials reiterated that all residents must leave New Orleans, but it's still unclear how far they will go to enforce the order. The green expanse of Audubon Park, in the city's Uptown area, has doubled in recent days as a heliport for the city's rich -- and a terminus for the small armies of private security guards who have been dispatched to keep the homes there safe and habitable. Mr. O'Dwyer has cellphone service and ice cubes to cool off his highballs in the evening. By yesterday, the city water service even sprang to life, making the daily trips to his neighbor's pool unnecessary. A pair of oil-company engineers, dispatched by his son-in-law, delivered four cases of water, a box of delicacies including herring with mustard sauce and 15 gallons of generator gasoline. Despite the disaster that has overwhelmed New Orleans, the city's monied, mostly white elite is hanging on and maneuvering to play a role in the recovery when the floodwaters of Katrina are gone. "New Orleans is ready to be rebuilt. Let's start right here," says Mr. O'Dwyer, standing in his expansive kitchen, next to a counter covered with a jumble of weaponry and electric wires. More than a few people in Uptown, the fashionable district surrounding St. Charles Ave., have ancestors who arrived here in the 1700s. High society is still dominated by these old-line families, represented today by prominent figures such as former New Orleans Board of Trade President Thomas Westfeldt; Richard Freeman, scion of the family that long owned the city's Coca-Cola bottling plant; and William Boatner Reily, owner of a Louisiana coffee company. Their social pecking order is dictated by the mysterious hierarchy of "krewes," groups with hereditary membership that participate in the annual carnival leading up to Mardi Gras. In recent years, the city's most powerful business circles have expanded to include some newcomers and non-whites, such as Mayor Ray Nagin, the former Cox Communications executive elected in 2002. A few blocks from Mr. O'Dwyer, in an exclusive gated community known as Audubon Place, is the home of James Reiss, descendent of an old-line Uptown family. He fled Hurricane Katrina just before the storm and returned soon afterward by private helicopter. Mr. Reiss became wealthy as a supplier of electronic systems to shipbuilders, and he serves in Mayor Nagin's administration as chairman of the city's Regional Transit Authority. When New Orleans descended into a spiral of looting and anarchy, Mr. Reiss helicoptered in an Israeli security company to guard his Audubon Place house and those of his neighbors. He says he has been in contact with about 40 other New Orleans business leaders since the storm. Tomorrow, he says, he and some of those leaders plan to be in Dallas, meeting with Mr. Nagin to begin mapping out a future for the city. The power elite of New Orleans -- whether they are still in the city or have moved temporarily to enclaves such as Destin, Fla., and Vail, Colo. -- insist the remade city won't simply restore the old order. New Orleans before the flood was burdened by a teeming underclass, substandard schools and a high crime rate. The city has few corporate headquarters. The new city must be something very different, Mr. Reiss says, with better services and fewer poor people. "Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically," he says. "I'm not just speaking for myself here. The way we've been living is not going to happen again, or we're out." Not every white business leader or prominent family supports that view. Some black leaders and their allies in New Orleans fear that it boils down to preventing large numbers of blacks from returning to the city and eliminating the African-American voting majority. Rep. William Jefferson, a sharecropper's son who was educated at Harvard and is currently serving his eighth term in Congress, points out that the evacuees from New Orleans already have been spread out across many states far from their old home and won't be able to afford to return. "This is an example of poor people forced to make choices because they don't have the money to do otherwise," Mr. Jefferson says. Calvin Fayard, a wealthy white plaintiffs' lawyer who lives near Mr. O'Dwyer, says the mass evacuation could turn a Democratic stronghold into a Republican one. Mr. Fayard, a prominent Democratic fund-raiser, says tampering with the city's demographics means tampering with its unique culture and shouldn't be done. "People can't survive a year temporarily -- they'll go somewhere, get a job and never come back," he says. Mr. Reiss acknowledges that shrinking parts of the city occupied by hardscrabble neighborhoods would inevitably result in fewer poor and African-American residents. But he says the electoral balance of the city wouldn't change significantly and that the business elite isn't trying to reverse the last 30 years of black political control. "We understand that African Americans have had a great deal of influence on the history of New Orleans," he says. A key question will be the position of Mr. Nagin, who was elected with the support of the city's business leadership. He couldn't be reached yesterday. Mr. Reiss says the mayor suggested the Dallas meeting and will likely attend when he goes there to visit his evacuated family. Black politicians have controlled City Hall here since the late 1970s, but the wealthy white families of New Orleans have never been fully eclipsed. Stuffing campaign coffers with donations, these families dominate the city's professional and executive classes, including the white-shoe law firms, engineering offices, and local shipping companies. White voters often act as a swing bloc, propelling blacks or Creoles into the city's top political jobs. That was the case with Mr. Nagin, who defeated another African American to win the mayoral election in 2002. Creoles, as many mixed-race residents of New Orleans call themselves, dominate the city's white-collar and government ranks and tend to ally themselves with white voters on issues such as crime and education, while sharing many of the same social concerns as African-American voters. Though the flooding took a toll on many Creole neighborhoods, it's likely that Creoles will return to the city in fairly large numbers, since many of them have the means to do so. © 2005 Dow Jones & Company

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve, 2007


Whew! It's been a whirlwind since dondelion arrived on Wednesday. Yesterday was the first day of virtually no activity because the weather turned very nasty - high winds, very cold, and sharp blowing snow for 24 hours. I made a big breakfast for us in the morning, including some "country style" bacon - a gift from friend P - THANKS P! - it was truly delicious, never had any bacon quite like it. The taste was extremely decadent - rich and smoky and sweet.

Later we settled in the living room before the fireplace to watch the Packers v. Bears game. The house was drafty and coldish because of the strong winds outside rattling the timbers, and the fireplace warmed things up nicely, but we turned the game off shortly into the third quarter. Don took this photo of the Christmas tree from the overlook upstairs during half-time.

We lucked out - our area received only a few inches of snow which Don promptly dispatched with the shovel this morning. The wind was still up a bit but it was not snowing and so we ventured out shortly after 10 a.m. Unfortunately, the Woolrich gloves I'd picked out for Don did not fit - so we took the opportunity to travel to the Mall where I hoped to exchange them for a larger size. However, the largest size the store had in stock did not fit Don's hands! As he nearly had a stroke when he found out how much I'd paid for them (okay, so I'm extragavant sometimes), he insisted I get a refund, which we used to buy lunch at Olive Garden.

Unlike last Christmas Eve Day, this year there were LOTS of people out and about. The Mall was crowded with shoppers; Half Price Books was busy and, as per usual with Mr. Don, he got into an interesting conversation (about coinage) with a shopper who happened to wander from one aisle over (antiques, collecting, and coins) into the aisle we were browsing in (ancient art and architecture).

When the growling in my stomach could no longer be denied and my legs were tired from trudging around in my new shoe-boots (what can I say - they're heavy), we headed to Olive Garden for a nice, relaxing lunch. The restaurant was busy too, but not overly so. We got seated right away. We arrived home at 3 p.m. and settled in for the evening.

I've got a pot-roast with vegetables in the slow-cooker for a late supper. Later we'll take a walk around the neighborhood and admire all of the neighbors' decorations now that it's dark out. We're going to watch a movie or two until midnight, when we'll open our gifts. I think I'll sneak "A Christmas Carol" in the movie mix :)

Happy Christmas to all. Thank you so much for making this blog a smashing success!

Tiny Tim and Scrooge Play Chess

For those of you who celebrate Christmas, a wonderful little addition to Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." For those of you who do not celebrate Christmas, enjoy the chess!

From the

Published December 24, 2007 05:04 pm - Chess: Tiny Tim’s chess moves
By Eric Morrow
Submitted Story
Tiny Tim v. Scrooge

It is a little know fact that after the events in Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” Scrooge and Tiny Tim regularly played chess together. This week’s position is from one of those games. The game occurred on Christmas day in 1853, ten years after Scrooge’s night with the three ghosts. Tiny Tim is playing white, Scrooge, black.

With a smile Scrooge said “Ba humbug” to Tim’s threats and pinned white queen’s with his bishop at b7. Scrooge thought he was about to win Tim’s queen and the game. Tim saw, however, that Scrooge’s greed had given him an unexpected Christmas gift. Please try and find how Tim saved his queen and secured a winning position.

In chess notation, the board is a grid: the vertical columns are numbered "1" through "8"; the horizontal rows, "a" through "h". Each square on the board is identified by a specific letter and number. For example, if the white rook at d1 were to move to d3, the notation would be rd3 (r=rook, q=queen, x=takes, etc.).

Tim first checked black by moving his rook at d1 to d8. Because black’s pawns pin their king to the 8th rank, the queen must capture the rook. This deflection-sacrifice saves the queen because it leaves the black bishop unprotected. After qxr Tim then captured the bishop with his queen.

White threatens to pin black’s king by moving its rook to a8 with the support of its queen. Scrooge craftily moved his knight to a6. Now if Tim gets greedy and takes the knight with his rook, Scrooge could perpetually check the white king with his queen. Tim thus moved his rook over to c1.

This renews the threat of the rook moving to the 8th rank and pinning the black queen. Scrooge saw that his best reply was to accept the loss of his knight and move it to c7 (although c5 is very similar).

After Tim took the knight with his queen, Scrooge could check the white king. But only temporarily, as the white king is checked across the board towards the protection of its queen and rook. Once the checks ended Scrooge resigned.

The lesson here is to not overvalue one’s own attack and scoff at your opponent’s potential threats with a silent “Bah, Humbug.”

Ancient Games: Points to Ponder

A short essay from the Elliott Avedon Museum and Archive of Games website: Origins of Games - Issues to Ponder There is considerable difficulty in determining the origin of many games. This page offers some reasons why this is so. The main issue seems to be - are most games just modifications of a couple of games from the very distant past which have evolved and have been diffused throughout the world over time? Or are most games individual creative productions which were invented in different parts of the world at time periods in time. One reason that determining the origin of games is difficult is because games have been around a long time, and people didn't bother to maintain records about something as inconsequential as games. Although there are ancient tomb paintings depicting game playing, or remnants of ancient game equipment [discovered in archaeological excavations in Egypt and Mesopotamia], no one specifically maintained information about when or where a game was "invented' or from which culture it was "borrowed". Such record keeping is a product of the late middle ages and onward. In examining the origins of anything in society, one knows that a thing is either a spontaneous invention of someone, someplace - or the thing is a modified copy of the original that shows up in some other place. That's easy to see because a chair is a chair, or a can opener is a can opener, and this is also true with regard to certain intellectual concepts in mathematics or physics, for example. With games - this is not always the case. Nowadays, when one identifies something as a game as opposed to something else in society, they recognize that a game is a special device or behavior used for recreative purposes. It is taken for granted that games have been perpetuated by civilization to amuse and to entertain. Nonetheless, some people may have also consciously used games for other purposes, such as education or treatment of illness. This has probably been the case since people first began playing games, and may help to explain why in the 19th and early 20th centuries so much of scholarly study of game origins concerned their use in religious rites and practices of certain cultures. In examining anything, one may arbitrarily concentrate on the physical aspects of the thing, or how it might have been used. In the case of a chair or a can opener - its design is limited by its function. Since games may be assigned different functions in society, they may have been consciously modified. This has confused investigation in the past. (For example, in our time those 52 pieces of blank white plastic with little bumps on them are in reality a deck of Braille playing cards designed for use of sightless persons.) In a physical sense, there are two types of games - those that require special equipment and/or settings - and those that don't. Examples of the former would be roulette or tennis; while examples of the latter would be 20 questions or charades. Tracing the origins of games without physical equipment is even more difficult. At times, it is possible to trace connections among games even though they may look and seem very different. A case in point is a standard European Chess set and a Japanese Shogi set. Although they have different boards and playing pieces - one of the pieces in each set features the same unique move. In the West it's called the knight's move - one forward and one to the side, or one to the side and one forward. Or another example would be in decks of playing cards from many different cultures - all decks of cards are divided into suits and sequences. Similarities such as these have led a number of scholars to conclude that many games have a singular origin and were diffused to different cultures over time by traders, travelers, and soldiers. Because of these and certain other reasons, for the most part - theories about the origins and early geographical distribution of games are just theories which may never be verified!

The World's Oldest Ice Skates

Where And Why Humans Made Skates Out Of Animal Bones

(Illustration of a bone skate used in the experiments. (Credit: Image courtesy of Blackwell Publishing)

ScienceDaily (Dec. 24, 2007) — Archaeological evidence shows that bone skates (skates made of animal bones) are the oldest human powered means of transport, dating back to 3000 BC. Why people started skating on ice and where is not as clear, since ancient remains were found in several locations spread across Central and North Europe.

In a recent paper, published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society of London, Dr Formenti and Professor Minetti show substantial evidence supporting the hypothesis that the birth of ice skating took place in Southern Finland, where the number of lakes within 100 square kilometres is the highest in the world.

"In Central and Northern Europe, five thousand years ago people struggled to survive the severe winter conditions and it seems unlikely that ice skating developed as a hobby" says Dr Formenti. "As happened later for skis and bicycles, I am convinced that we first made ice skates in order to limit the energy required for our daily journeys".

Formenti and Minetti did their experiments on an ice rink by the Alps, where they measured the energy consumption of people skating on bones. Through mathematical models and computer simulations of 240 ten-kilometre journeys, their research study shows that in winter the use of bone skates would have limited the energy requirements of Finnish people by 10%. On the other hand, the advantage given by the use of skates in other North European countries would be only about 1%.

Subsequent studies performed by Formenti and Minetti have shown how fast and how far people could skate in past epochs, from 3000BC to date.

Adapted from materials provided by Wiley-Blackwell.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Where Boys Were Kings, a Shift Toward Baby Girls

From The New York Times By CHOE SANG-HUN Published: December 23, 2007 SEOUL, South Korea — When Park He-ran was a young mother, other women would approach her to ask what her secret was. She had given birth to three boys in a row at a time when South Korean women considered it their paramount duty to bear a son. Ms. Park, a 61-year-old newspaper executive, gets a different reaction today. “When I tell people I have three sons and no daughter, they say they are sorry for my misfortune,” she said. “Within a generation, I have turned from the luckiest woman possible to a pitiful mother.” In South Korea, once one of Asia’s most rigidly patriarchal societies, a centuries-old preference for baby boys is fast receding. And that has led to what seems to be a decrease in the number of abortions performed after ultrasounds that reveal the sex of a fetus. According to a study released by the World Bank in October, South Korea is the first of several Asian countries with large sex imbalances at birth to reverse the trend, moving toward greater parity between the sexes. Last year, the ratio was 107.4 boys born for every 100 girls, still above what is considered normal, but down from a peak of 116.5 boys born for every 100 girls in 1990. The most important factor in changing attitudes toward girls was the radical shift in the country’s economy that opened the doors to women in the work force as never before and dismantled long-held traditions, which so devalued daughters that mothers would often apologize for giving birth to a girl. The government also played a small role starting in the 1970s. After growing alarmed by the rise in sex-preference abortions, leaders mounted campaigns to change people’s attitudes, including one that featured the popular slogan “One daughter raised well is worth 10 sons!” In 1987, the government banned doctors from revealing the sex of a fetus before birth. But experts say enforcement was lax because officials feared too many doctors would be caught. Demographers say the rapid change in South Koreans’ feelings about female babies gives them hope that sex imbalances will begin to shrink in other rapidly developing Asian countries — notably China and India — where the same combination of a preference for boys and new technology has led to the widespread practice of aborting female fetuses. “China and India are closely studying South Korea as a trendsetter in Asia,” said Chung Woo-jin, a professor at Yonsei University in Seoul. “They are curious whether the same social and economic changes can occur in their countries as fast as they did in South Korea’s relatively small and densely populated society.” In China in 2005, the ratio was 120 boys born for every 100 girls, according to the United Nations Population Fund. Vietnam reported a ratio of 110 boys to 100 girls last year. And although India recorded about 108 boys for every 100 girls in 2001, when the last census was taken, experts say the gap is sure to have widened by now. The Population Fund warned in an October report that the rampant tinkering with nature’s probabilities in Asia could eventually lead to increased sexual violence and trafficking of women as a generation of boys finds marriage prospects severely limited. In South Korea, the gap in the ratio of boys to girls born began to widen in the 1970s, but experts say it became especially pronounced in the mid-1980s as ultrasound technology became more widespread and increasing wages allowed more families to pay for the tests. The imbalance was widest from 1990 through 1995, when it remained above 112 to 100. The imbalance has been closing steadily only since 2002. Last year’s ratio of 107.4 boys for every 100 girls was closer to the ratio of 105 to 100 that demographers consider normal and, according to The World Factbook, published by the Central Intelligence Agency, just above the global average of 107 boys born for every 100 girls. The preference for boys here is centuries old and was rooted in part in an agrarian society that relied on sons to do the hard work on family farms. But in Asia’s Confucian societies, men were also accorded special status because they were considered the carriers of the family’s all-important bloodline. That elevated status came with certain perquisites — men received their families’ inheritance — but also responsibilities. Once the eldest son married, he and his wife went to live with his family; he was expected to support his parents financially while his wife was expected to care for them in their old age. The wife’s lowly role in her new family was constantly reinforced by customs that included requiring a daughter-in-law to serve her father-in-law food while on her knees. “In the old days, when there was no adequate social safety net, Korean parents regarded having a son as kind of making an investment for old age security,” Professor Chung said. It was common for married Korean men to feel ashamed if they had no sons. Some went so far as to divorce wives who did not bear boys. Then in the 1970s and ’80s, the country threw itself into an industrial revolution that would remake society in ways few South Koreans could have imagined. Sons drifted away to higher-paying jobs in the cities, leaving their parents behind. And older Koreans found their own incomes rising, allowing them to save money for retirement rather than relying on their sons for support. Married daughters, no longer shackled to their husbands’ families, returned to provide emotional or financial support for their own elderly parents. “Daughters are much better at emotional contact with their parents, visiting them more often, while Korean sons tend to be distant,” said Kim Seung-kwon, a demographer at the government’s Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs. Ms. Park, the newspaper executive, said such changes forced people to rethink their old biases. “In restaurants and parks, when you see a large family out for a dinner or picnic, 9 out of 10, it’s the wife who brings the family together with her parents, not the husband with his parents,” she said. “To be practical, for an old Korean parent, having a daughter sometimes is much better than having a son.” The economic changes also unleashed a revolution of a different sort. With the economy heating up, men could no longer afford to keep women out of the workforce, and women began slowly to gain confidence, and grudging respect. Although change is coming slowly and deep prejudices remain — in some businesses, women are pressured to leave their jobs when pregnant — women are more accepted now in the workplace and at the best universities that send graduates to the top corporations. Six of 10 South Korean women entered college last year; fewer than one out of 10 did so in 1981. And in the National Assembly, once one of the nation’s most male-dominated institutions, women now hold about 13 percent of the seats, about double the percentage they held just four years ago. Shin Hye-sun, 39, says she has witnessed many of the changes in women’s status during her 13 years at the TBC television station in Taegu, in central South Korea. “When I first joined the company in 1995, a woman was expected to quit her job once she got married; we called it a ‘resignation on a company suggestion,’” she said. Now, she said, many women stay after marriage and take a three-month break after giving birth before returning to work. “If someone suggests that a woman should quit after marriage, female workers in my company will take it as an insult and say so,” Ms. Shin said. According to the World Bank study, one of the surprises in South Korea was that it took as long as it did for the effects of a booming economy to translate into changes in people’s attitudes toward the birth of daughters. The study suggests that the country’s former authoritarian rulers helped slow the transition by upholding laws and devising policies that supported a continuation of Confucian hierarchy, which encourages fealty not only to family patriarchs, but also to the nation’s leaders. With the move toward democracy in the late 1980s, the concept of equal rights for men and women began to creep into Koreans’ thinking. In 1990, the law guaranteeing men their family’s inheritance — a cornerstone of the Confucian system — was the first of the so-called family laws to fall; the rest would be dismantled over the next 15 years. After 2002, the narrowing of the gender gap signaled that attitudes about the value of women — and ultimately of daughters — had begun to catch up to the seismic changes in the economy and the law. And last year, a study by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs showed that of 5,400 married South Korean women younger than 45 who were surveyed, only 10 percent said they felt that they must have a son. That was down from 40 percent in 1991. “When my father took me to our ancestral graves for worshiping, my grandfather used to say, ‘Why did you bring a daughter here?’” said Park Su-mi, 29, a newlywed who calls the idea that only men carry on a family’s bloodline “unscientific and absurd.” “My husband and I have no preference at all for boys,” she said. “We don’t care whether we have a boy or girl because we don’t see any difference between a boy and a girl in helping make our family happy.”

Be Someone Founder Honored

Isis sent me this for posting: Date: Dec 20, 2007 6:44 AM Subject: In The News! “BE SOMEONE, INC.” FOUNDER HONORED AS WESTERN UNION “PAY IT FORWARD” CONTEST WINNER FOR MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN ATLANTA.(ATLANTA) (Dec. 20, 2007) The Western Union Company (NYSE: WU) and 104.1 KISS FM radio announced today Orrin “Checkmate” Hudson, Founder of Be Someone, Inc. has been selected as one of three Western Union “Pay It Forward” Hero contest winners. The individuals chosen as prize winners were selected in honor of their unwavering dedication and steadfast support of the local Atlanta community within which they live and work. Be Someone, Inc. is an non-profit organization that has enabled more than 20,000 children to learn problem solving techniques and achieve their potential by applying chess skills to everyday life problems. Be Someone, Inc. ( ) mentors at risk youth and helps young people to learn proven success principles. Immediate and lasting results which are achieved through the Be Someone program include students improving their GPA, increased classroom participation and fewer drop-outs, improved concentration and problem solving skills leading to positive community involvement and goal setting for measurable results in the classroom and at home. Orrin Hudson started Be Someone in 2001, after hearing of seven employees who were shot in a Wendy’s Restaurant for $2400. He believed that evil prevails when good people do nothing, so he made the decision to dedicate his life to helping kids win in the game of chess and thus in the game of life. He believes so strongly that attitudes and personal strength through making good decisions can change your life, he is carrying his message of hope, “Heads Up, Pants Up, Grades Up!” throughout America in the effort of implementing real change in the lives of our country’s young people. “Today is the best day of my life. The good you do for others comes back to you, and I am living proof. I want to thank Western Union and KISS 104.1 FM for this wonderful award.” stated Hudson. “We are proud to team up with 104.1 KISS FM to recognize the everyday heroes in Atlanta through the “Pay It Forward” program.”, said Margaret Lapkin, marketing director, Western Union. “The concept of “paying it forward” refers to the repaying the good deeds one has received by doing good things for other people. We feel those chosen have taken this concept to a new level. Western Union has made a commitment to supporting others in many countries around the world, and in the United States. We see this program as a great opportunity to recognize local heroes, such as Orrin Hudson, and thank them for their determined dedication to their communities.” Orrin Hudson teaches these same strategies in his presentations to adult groups and corporate audiences. For more information on Be Someone, Inc., or to have Orrin speak for your school, church, organization or meeting visit or call 678-526-0292
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