Friday, October 10, 2008

Palin Buzz

Commentary on Presidential Politics - read only if you have an exceptionally strong stomach, otherwise, I highly recommend you skip this post. The McCain/Palin campaign, backed by whatever millions the Republican National Committee has left after the Mother of All Stock Market Crashes, has been in attack/lie/attack/MONDO lie mode ever since McCain lost the second debate to Obama on national television. I say that McCain lost not out of personal bias, but by the evidence presented by national polls taken about the debate performances of McCain and Obama. Today the Republican National Committee and the McCain campaign unleashed a new round of attack ads that feature the most blatant misrepresentations and outright lies - and absolute character assassination of an opponent, that I have ever seen. And believe me, darlings, I've seen plenty since my first "official" presidential election in 1972, not to mention the b.s. I had to dig my way through when I actively practiced law (including going up against a couple of New York lawyers, who were blasphemously against the Great Goddess called "snakes"!) That's par for the course; normally I don't pay any attention to this type of bullshit politics in an election. But in the case of our presidential election now less than a month away, the issues at hand are too pressing, too important, and too overwhelming to deal with crap like the lies McCain is tossing up at the 11th hour in an attempt to sway the "undecided" voters out there. McCain and Palin are triggering my gag reflex big time. I destest, hate and positively loathe the "new and improved" McCain ads plastered all over television in this "battleground" state of Wisconsin. These feelings are even more intensified against Senator McCain for abandoning his ethics in what will prove, I have no doubt, to be a totally futile attempt to win the White House. I used to think he was an honorable man, although misguided in his political leanings. But a good man, nonetheless. I no longer think so, and it makes me sad, and it makes me very very angry, too. How could he have sold himself out like this? A good man could not condone the lies and garbage being passed off as political commentary in the new Republican ads. Earlier today I read an article at The New York Times - I don't remember what the article was, perhaps it was on the political blog; it was short, and there were a lot of comments. I usually don't read such commentary at all, but given the recent dramatic economic developments that have directly affected my pocketbook and my 401(k)s and my retirement nestegg, which has had five years of hard-earned gains wiped out in seven days, I've been reading more of this type of commentary. I used to think I could retire at my "full" Social Security retirement age of 67 years and 4 months. I no longer think so. Now I think I'll be working until I drop dead at the copy machine with some first year associate standing over me bitching that I'm not moving fast enough. Today I happened upon a comment that linked the new aggressive and full of lies attack mode of the Republican campaign and the Republican National Committee to the soon to be released report on what the press is calling Palin's "Troopergate." It seems the person who wrote that post was 100% on and showed a great deal of astuteness. I checked the news a bit ago and saw that the bipartisan committee of the Alaskan Legislature that was investigating Troopergate found improprieties in Palin's conduct. Tsk tsk. Fifi the Alaskan Attack Dog has been caught out. Is she going to take a rifle to the Alaskan Assembly and gut them out??? Legislative panel: Palin abused authority 2 hours, 16 minutes ago ANCHORAGE, Alaska - A legislative committee investigating Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has found she unlawfully abused her authority in firing the state's public safety commissioner. The investigative report concludes that a family grudge wasn't the sole reason for firing Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan but says it likely was a contributing factor. The Republican vice presidential nominee has been accused of firing a commissioner to settle a family dispute. Palin supporters have called the investigation politically motivated. Monegan says he was dismissed as retribution for resisting pressure to fire a state trooper involved in a bitter divorce with the governor's sister. Palin says Monegan was fired as part of a legitimate budget dispute. THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below. ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska lawmakers have emerged from a private session in Anchorage where they spent more than six hours discussing a politically charged ethics report into Gov. Sarah Palin's firing of her state public safety commissioner. The legislative panel began its public session by discussing whether to release the report's findings. The investigation was examining whether Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, fired a state commissioner to settle a family dispute. The report was also expected to touch on whether Palin's husband meddled in state affairs and whether her administration inappropriately accessed employee medical records. Critics claim Palin fired Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan after months of pressure on him to fire Mike Wooten, a state trooper involved in a nasty divorce and custody dispute with the governor's sister. Lawmakers indicated they planned to release the report even though there was disagreement about its findings. "I think there are some problems in this report," Republican state Sen. Gary Stevens. "I would encourage people to be very cautious, to look at this with a jaundiced eye." ******************************************************************************* It's shame shame on the Alaskan Republicans for trying to hush this up at the 11th hour - once Palin was pinned as the VP candidate. They filed - and lost - a law suit in an attempt to block release of the investigation's results until AFTER the presidential election. I find it very strange, don't you, that the Republicans in the Alaskan State Legislature had no problems with investigating their very own Governor Palin BEFORE she hit the national spotlight. Their actions triggers that gag reflex again, doesn't it. Pathetic. They can try - and will try - to put a different twist on the plain truth that Palin was trying to get her former brother-in-law fired from his job as a state trooper and she brought as much pressure on the man who could fire him as she could. But anyone who isn't already leaning in one direction or the other who can read will see the truth of the matter. Palin is guilty of malfeasance in office.

A Heart-Tugging Story from Stonehenge

From the Daily Mail ( online: Prehistoric child is discovered buried with 'toy hedgehog' at Stonehenge By Daily Mail Reporter Last updated at 9:42 AM on 10th October 2008 This toy hedgehog, found in a child's grave at Stonehenge, is proof of what we have always known - children have always loved to play. The chalk figurine was probably a favourite possession of the three year old, and placed next to the child when they died in the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age, around 3,000 years ago. Archaeologists who discovered the grave, where the child was laying on his or her side, believe the toy - perhaps placed there by a doting father - is the earliest known depiction of a hedgehog in British history. The diggers were working to the west of Stonehenge in what is known as the Palisade Ditch when they made the remarkable discovery last month in the top of the pit in which the child was buried. Archaeologist Dennis Price said: 'It is not difficult to envisage the raw emotion and harrowing grief that would have accompanied the death of this child. 'Amid the aura of gloom that surrounds Stonehenge, it comes as a beam of light to find a child's toy lovingly placed with the tiny corpse to keep him or her company through eternity. 'I'm not aware of hedgehogs having any significance in pagan tradition so the discovery must rank as yet another unique and baffling aspect of one of the most famous and instantly recognisable prehistoric monuments on Earth. To my mind, the hedgehog possesses a real charm and an innocent beauty. ' Dr. Joshua Pollard, of the Stonehenge Riverside Project, said: 'Representational art from this period is very rare and so far as I'm aware, if the identification is correct, it's the only known prehistoric depiction of a hedgehog from Britain.' Fay Vass, of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, said: 'We are very excited to hear about this find. It shows humans have taken hedgehogs to their hearts for a very long time. ************************************************************************* I confess I'm not exactly sure what a hedgehog looks like! At first I thought this resembled a "hippo" - but the ears aren't right for a hippo (they have little rounded upright ears) - this animal has floppy ears. Then I thought, perhaps it is a sow. Sows were a symbol of the Great Mother Goddess and the timing would be right (circa 1000 BCE) for worship of the Sow aspect of the Great Goddess in old England. Is it really a hedgehog - or is this a presumption imposed on a singular find? I don't know. I'd be interested to know if they can tell the origin of the chalk from which this was carved. That might not mean, though, that the piece was carved where the chalk came from.

Learn and Play Chess in Madison, Wisconsin

Madison is the capital of my home state, and a beautiful town. It is situated amongst three lakes (Mendota, Monona and Wingra, the one nobody ever remembers the name!), with the State Capitol building situated on rising ground that can be viewed from just about all approaches into the city. It has breathtakingly beautiful views. Home to the largest University of Wisconsin campus and the nationally known Wisconsin Badgers Football Team (part of the original Big Ten), Madison is a cosmopolitan, liberal city and proud of it. From the Madison Eagle: Chess sharpens minds Fridays at YMCA Published: Friday, October 10, 2008 7:01 AM EDT MADISON – For both aficionados and people who have always wanted to learn how to play, the Madison Area YMCA at 111 Kings Road hosts its own chess club at 7 p.m. each Friday. The chess club is free and open to the public. Players from teens to seniors are invited to play chess with all age groups, learn from someone who knows the game well, stimulate their minds and develop strategic thinking. For information, contact Barbara Carkhuff at (973) 822-9622, ext. 2307, or

First World Mind Sports Games

Xiang qi - Chinese chess - variously translated as "elephant game," something akin to "ambassador game" and "star" or "celestial" game." It has a lot of similarities to western chess, but has enough differences to require learning a whole different set of pattern-recognition and, of course, basic piece moves and rules. The pieces are different from western ches pieces, too. The modern game of xiang qi is played with flat pieces (like checkers) that have their symbols painted or printed on them. The xiang qi board is not checkered like a western chess board; the pieces are placed on the intersections of the squares and not within the squares, and there is a "river" that divides the xiang qi board in half - so a xiang qi board has 72 squares, but the number of playing pieces is 16 to each side because of their placement. Pieces are distingished entirely by color and by subtle variations in the names of the pieces. I'm no expert, that's for sure! The extent of my knowledge is very limited, basically gleaned from a few articles read when I researched the meaning of the name of xiang qi in English ("qi" basically can mean "man" - as in a "playing piece" - but it can also, more intriguingly, refer to the "qi" that is, to put it into popular venacular, rather like "The Force," that invisible yet palpable "something" that forms the very essence of the universe, from "Star Wars." Thre are several different siang qi events taking place side by side with western chess events. Here is news about one of the women's events. Unfortunately, the photograph of the chessboard and pieces in the article is a western chess set with a checkered board! Lan Huong brings home xiangqi bronze 14:06' 10/10/2008 (GMT+7) VietNamNet Bridge – Ngo Lan Huong yesterday secured a bronze medal in the women's individual xiangqi (Chinese chess) event at the first-ever World Mind Sports Games, held in Beijing, China. Huong beat Tan Min Fang Fiona from Singapore in the last round to grab a spot in the top three. The 2007 Asian Indoor Games title-holder pocketed 10 points after seven matches, finishing behind China's Wang Linna and Zhao Guanfang. In a near tie-break for gold, Wang and her compatriot Zhao both accumulated 13 points. Wang was finally awarded the medal because of better rival points, suggesting she encountered stronger opponents during the tournament. "I am so excited with the results," said 28-year-old Wang. "After all, this is the World Mind Sports Games, and in some sense it is just like the Olympic Games for the mind. So being the champion means a lot to me." Ranked as one of the best female xiangqi players in China, Wang earned six victories during, the competition. A native of Heilongjiang Province in northeast China, Wang is a veteran in the sport, having started learning xiangqi at the age of eight. She bagged her first national title in 1997. But facing Zhao was a close call, Wang said. "I did not play well in that match. I left too many chances for my opponent. I think Zhao was too nervous to beat me at that time, or I could not have earned one point from that match." The champion said she hoped her gold medal will be a good start for Chinese female xiangqi players, adding: "Hopefully, my teammates will win another gold for China in the women's team event." The competition was also a hard-won battle for silver medallist Zhao: "Foreign female xiangqi players have made great progress in recent years. Competitors from Viet Nam, the Netherlands and Britain have posed a huge challenge for us during the matches." On the men's side, Vietnamese Nguyen Thanh Bao and Nguyen Hoang Lam are both in the top ten. The duo finished round five with six points. The competition for men has nine rounds and will conclude tomorrow. In the chess event's mixed pair blitz, Ecuador secured gold after tense games against India. In the play-off for third place the Ukraine proved too strong for Iran, winning 3-1 to take the bronze. Vietnamese duo Le Quang Liem and Hoang Thi Nhu Y did not play well, earning only 13 points after 11 rounds, which was not enough to qualify for the semi-final. In the mixed pair rapid event which kicked off yesterday, Dao Thien Hai and Le Kieu Thien Kim of Viet Nam took two points from two first matches and were in the middle of the ranking table. The first World Mind Sports Games attracted more than 3,000 players from 143 countries and regions. Masters compete for 35 medal sets divided into five events: bridge, chess, go, draughts and xiangqi. (Source: VNS/XINHUA)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Maoists Approve New Kumari

Nepalese girl begins life as 'living goddess' 2 days ago KATHMANDU (AFP) — The three-year-old daughter of a Nepalese watch repairer became a "living goddess" on Tuesday after being approved by the country's new atheist government. Despite Nepal being a Maoist republic after the monarchy was unseated in May, the centuries-old tradition of worshipping a young virgin as the living embodiment of a powerful Hindu goddess has survived. "Matina Shakya was chosen after consultation with Buddhist priests, community leaders and officials who will look after her," said Achyut Pokharel, a member of the government-run trust that maintains the tradition. "She became Royal Kumari after a series of pujas (religious ceremonies) on Tuesday at the auspicious time of 11:39 am," Pokharel said, referring to the moment chosen by astrologers as the luckiest for the Kumari succession. Dozens of people in Kathmandu's medieval quarter joined in the procession as the young girl was carried by family members from her home to the ornate palace where she will be confined for several years. "It was very hard to make the decision to allow her to become the Kumari," her father Pratap Man Shrestha told AFP. "I am going to miss her terribly but it is a great privilege to have a Kumari for a daughter and we are helping maintain a unique, age-old part of our culture." Tradition dictates that the Kumari must only leave her new home for festivals a few times per year. Earlier this year, Nepal's Supreme Court ruled that Kumaris had the right to attend school but her family accepts that she will stay in the ancient palace in central Kathmandu. "She will be home schooled in the palace but we can go and meet her any time," said her father. Three-year-old Matina remained silent throughout the ten-minute procession to begin her life as a goddess and seemed unperturbed by the commotion, posing happily for pictures. Preeti Shakya, 12, the previous Royal Kumari, was in floods of tears as she was led out of the palace and back to her family by a band playing curved horns and banging drums. Her term ended because she was approaching menstruation, after which she would be ritually unclean. As she watched the new Kumari being taken to the palace, Aaste Shakya, a Norwegian married to a Nepalese man, said she respected the tradition but felt sorry for the girl. "She can't have a normal childhood. She won't have the same freedom, schooling and social activities as everyone else her age," said Shakya. "She is too young to really understand what is happening to her." The Kumari, which means virgin, must meet 32 strict criteria -- including having a "chest like a lion" and "thighs like a deer" -- as well as pass tests that include being in a room with dead sacrificed buffalo and not crying. Three towns in the Kathmandu valley follow the custom, but the Royal Kumari in the capital is considered the most powerful, and has the closest links to Nepal's deposed monarch. Former monarch Gyanenendra and his ancestors would seek annual blessings -- and tacit spiritual approval of their reign -- from the girl selected from the Buddhist Shakya caste. Today, Gyanenendra is a commoner living as a virtual recluse on the outskirts of Kathmandu, and the Nepalese president now receives blessings from the girl. Nepal became the world's newest republic after former rebel Maoists ended their civil war in 2006, and won landmark polls in April.

Stonehenge Back in the News

Perhaps a month (?) ago, a lot of press was given to a new theory about Stonehenge: that it was a "Lourdes-like" center of healing, dated to about 2300 BCE, therefore making it some 300 years younger than the oldest of the "great" pyramids at Giza. I saw new press tonight, that challenges the "healing center" theory and also pushes the date of Stonehenge back to 3000 BCE. First up, a story from the Stonehenge 'was a cremation cemetry, not healing centre' By Louise Gray Environment Correspondent Last Updated: 12:01am BST 09/10/2008 Stonehenge was used as a cremation cemetry throughout its history, according to new evidence that divides archaeologists over whether England's most famous ancient monument was about celebrating life or death. The origins and purposes of Stonehenge have eluded academics and historians for centuries and been the subject of much debate.The circle of standing stones was originally through to have been erected in 2,600 BC, to replace an earlier wood and earth structure where cremation was carried out. Recently a BBC documentary suggested that the standing stones were not erected until 2,300BC, when the site became a centre of healing. Now a team behind the latest dig suggest the standing stones were erected much earlier than previously thought, in 3,000 BC, and used for cremation burial throughout their history and not for healing. The latest evidence is from a team of archaeologists from a number of British universities who have been carrying out excavations over the past five summers. The Stonehenge Riverside Project looked at remains found in an "Aubrey Hole", one of the pits where it was originally throught the wooden posts that predated the standing stones stood. Crushed chalk was discovered leading the team to conclude that in fact standing stones had been erected in the holes much earlier than previously thought. The report said: "We propose that very early in Stonehenge's history, 56 Welsh bluestones stood in a ring 285 feet 6 inches across. This has sweeping implications for our understanding of Stonehenge." The second significant finding was from radiocarbon dating of human remains found on the site from between 2,300 and 3,000 BC. Researchers concluded that this meant cremation burial was going on long after the standing stones had been erected. The report said: "Contrary to claims made in the recent BBC Timewatch film, which promoted a theory of Stonehenge as a healing centre built after the practice of cremation burial had ceased, standing stones and burial may have been prominent aspects of Stonehenge's meaning and purpose for a millenium." Mike Pitts, one of the authors of the study and editor of British Archaelogy, said that the study overturned previous theory over Stonehenge. "This means there were earlier connections with Wales, where the standing stones came from, than previously thought and that Stonehenge was always about death and ancestors and burial and not healing," he said. Geoffrey Wainwright, one of the archaelogists behind the BBC film, maintained that healing was one of the uses of the site. "We do not claim Stonehenge was a single use monument," he said. "We think it was a multifunctional monument and part of its purpose was for healing." Second story from BBC News: Stonehenge 'older than believed' Page last updated at 12:50 GMT, Thursday, 9 October 2008 13:50 UK New findings at Stonehenge suggest its stones were erected much earlier than thought, challenging the site's conventional history. A new excavation puts the stones' arrival at 3000 BC - almost 500 years earlier than originally thought - and suggests it was mainly a burial site. The latest results are from a dig by the Stonehenge Riverside Project. It is in conflict with recent research dating construction to 2300 BC and suggesting it was a healing centre. The 2300 BC date was arrived at by carbon dating and was the major finding from an excavation inside the henge by professors Tim Darvill and Geoff Wainwright. That dig was the subject of a BBC Timewatch documentary. The latest theories, putting construction much earlier, result from an excavation at Aubrey Hole 7 - one of a circle of pits surrounding the stones - in August 2008. The researchers believe the pit probably held a standing stone. The team suggests the 2300 BC date relates to the time when the stones were moved from the outer pits to the centre of the site. The dig was directed by archaeologists Mike Parker-Pearson, Mike Pitts and Julian Richards for the Stonehenge Riverside Project. The Aubrey Hole has already been excavated twice. The first time, when discovered in 1920, and again in 1935. 'Very exciting' Mike Parker-Pearson, professor of archaeology at Sheffield University, revived an earlier theory that the holes had held bluestones as the evidence of crushed and compacted chalk had been recorded in 1920 in three of the pits. Professor Parker-Pearson said: "It's very exciting that we have evidence for stones right from its beginnings around 3000 BC. "That's almost 500 years earlier than anyone had thought. "These stones were very closely associated with the remains of the dead. There were cremation burials from inside the holes holding the stones and also the areas around them." The archaeologists suggest that very early in Stonehenge's history there were 56 Welsh bluestones standing in a ring - 87m (285ft) across. The Stonehenge Riverside Project has been responsible for major excavation within the Stonehenge world heritage site over the past five years.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Feeling Out of Control Sparks "Magical Thinking"

October 02, 2008 Feeling out of control sparks magical thinking: Psychology Today journalist Matthew Hutson covers some fascinating experiments just published in this week's Science that found that reducing participants' control increase the tendency for magical thinking and the perception of illusory meaning in random or patternless visual scenes. Hutson covers all six experiments, but here's a sample from his article which should give you the general idea: In the fourth study, people who recalled a situation where they lacked control were more likely to see nonexistent images in snowy pictures and were also more likely to suspect conspiracies in ambiguous vignettes. (In one story, three local construction companies raise their prices after their owners all spend the same weekend at one bed and breakfast. In another, the protagonist was denied a promotion right after his boss and a workmate exchanged a flurry of emails.) The fifth experiment showed that describing the stock market as volatile (versus stable) renders people more likely to spot false correlations in reports on company financials—and then make stock investments based on their unfounded conclusions. Finally, the sixth study showed that feeling good about yourself reduces the frantic grasping for straws. There were three groups. One group recalled not having control, another recalled not having control and then performed a self-affirmation task, and a third group did neither. The first group saw more figures in snowy pictures and perceived more conspiracies than the other groups did. Apparently, increasing self-esteem fosters a sense of control over one's life and reduces the need to seek additional stability in random noise. Two of the 'snowy pictures' are shown on the right. The one on the top is completely random, the other has an embedded picture. This is particularly interesting to me, because one of my own studies I completed with some colleagues in Cardiff also involved getting participants to perceive images in random visual patterns. We did something a little different though, in that we didn't have any hidden images, so every time someone saw something we knew it was illusory. However, we also managed to alter how often people saw the images, but we used electromagnets (a technique called TMS) to alter the function of the temporal lobes which have been previously thought to be involved in the magical thinking spectrum - from everyday examples to diagnosable psychosis. This study was inspired by an earlier study by neuroscientist Peter Brugger, who found that people who professed a belief in ESP ('telepathy') were more likely to see meaningful patterns in visual noise than those that didn't. Both the new study and our study are interesting because they show how this type of magical thinking can be manipulated. However, this new study takes it to a whole new level because it involves a whole range of magical thinking tests (not just the 'snowy patterns') and shows how a number they are subject to the tides of emotion and feelings of being in control. Link to Hutson's excellent write-up.Link to study in Science.Link to DOI entry for same. —Vaughan. Posted at October 2, 2008 10:00 PM
Bah, humbug! This is a very poor extrapolation of experiments covered in much more detail a day or two ago in The Wall Street Journal! The point is not "magical thinking" at all - but I think, personally, that the results show it does have a lot to do with "imagination." Do the two equate? Guess that depends upon your definations for "Magic" and "Imagination." The root for both words is "magus" which, in its basic sense, means "wise man " i.e., one steeped in the knowledge of the wisdom of the ages. Some people say this means occult knowledge. While it may include some knowledge of the occult (as opposed to being an practitioner of occult arts) it is much more than that. I also have some serious bones to pick with the premise of these experiments. Show ANYONE, maybe even some intelligent dogs or that elephant who can paint watercolors, an image of "random snow" and ask them to find an image or images in it and I'll bet you $10 that 99 out of 100 (including the intelligent dogs and the elephant) will find one or more images. I'm no expert, not even a psychology major, but I've read about experiments that report on the well-known phenomenon of subjects wanting to please their testers and so they will go out of their way to "see" or "do" whatever it is that they perceive their testers want them to see or do. Seeing one or more images amidst random chaos does not indicate, to me, a per se relationship to wanting to be in control or seeking to impose a sense of order on perceived disorder. What a bunch of dildo-heads for spouting such nonsense! They evidently have no imaginations whatsoever, and unfortunately, imagination is precisely what "No Child Left Behind" is now busy attempting to stomp out in our latest generation of youth for the sake of "scoring" on dummied-down standardized tests. Lose imagination, become citizens of "1984." Several females in my family have the ability to "see" things that other people can't see. Doesn't mean what we see isn't actually there, it's just that other people don't have the extra something or other to see these things. This ability extends to seeing patterns in so-called randomly generated "snow" pictures and seeing "omens" in patterns of seemingly unconnected occurrences and events that others don't see. How well I still remember as a 7 year old the look on the face of the "tester" who was flashing Rorschach cards before me in the school principal's office as I told him what I saw. What does a child know about "control" or stock market crashes (which is what The Wall Street Journal article related the study to, how people try to make "order" out of the chaos of a stock market crash when fear rules all, by supposedly seeing patterns and significances in totally unrelated bits of information and occurrences that aren't really there). We were born with these abilities or whatever you want to call them, we were raised with them, and to us we're all perfectly normal except perhaps our IQs are about 20 to 30 points higher than "normal." We talk amongst ourselves about what we see and what our aunts saw and what our grandmothers saw - sometimes prescient, sometimes not. You just live with it, it's no big deal. There are a lot of people out there who have these abilities, they just don't talk about them much (usually for very good reasons). According to these experts, this is where "conspiracy theories" come from, and the implication is that such beliefs are, at their core, irrational. Let me tell you darlings, I'm not a conspiracy theory fan, but I've seen enough extra-normal stuff in my 57 years to know there's much more to the reality surrounding us than - to paraphrase badly - ever dreamed of in Heaven and Earth, Horatio. Is this "magical?" I don't think so. I think we're just so out of touch with some of our natural abilities and have so suppressed others in the cause of "rationality" that we've forgotten what it's like to be truly human.

Copper Age Shocker

The archaeological site at Plocnik is back in the news, this time with a stunning discovery that could very well change a fundamental archaeological paradigm. Copper Age began earlier than believed, scientists say Europe News Oct 7, 2008, 14:47 GMT Belgrade - Serbian archaeologists say a 7,500-year-old copper axe found at a Balkan site shows the metal was used in the Balkans hundreds of years earlier than previously thought. The find near the Serbian town of Prokuplje shifts the timeline of the Copper Age and the Stone Age's neolithic period, archaeologist Julka Kuzmanovic-Cvetkovic told the independent Beta news agency. 'Until now, experts said that only stone was used in the Stone Age and that the Copper Age came a bit later. Our finds, however, confirm that metal was used some 500 to 800 years earlier,' she said. The Copper Age marks the first stage of humans' use of metal. It is thought to have started in about the 4th millennium BC in southeastern Europe and earlier in the Middle East. Archaeologists at the Plocnik site also found furnace and melting pots with traces of copper, suggesting the site may have been an important metal age center of the Balkans. 'All this undeniably proves that human civilization in this area produced metal in the 5th millennium BC,' archaeologist Dusan Sljivar told Beta. The Plocnik site was discovered in 1927 and first excavations began a year later when first neolithic items were found. It is part of the Vinca culture, Europe's biggest prehistoric civilization. Vinca culture flourished from 6th to 3rd millennium BC in present-day Serbia, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria and Macedonia. Its name came from the village Vinca on the Danube river, some 14 kilometers downstream from Belgrade. (c) Deutch Press-Agentur

Chess Player Wins the Women's World Open II Poker

Many professional chessplayers and former pro chessplayers are now making a living playing professional poker. Here'e another former chessplayer who's now making a good living playing pro poker! Live Women's World Open result Soraya Homam wins the Women's World Open II By PokerPlayer October 2008 Women's World Open II, London, $3,000 No Limit Hold'em, October 7th - 8th 2008 Entrants: 36 Buyin: $3,000 Prizepool: $108,000 1. Soraya Homam, Germany, $50,000 2. Stefanie Bergener, Germany, $22,000 3. May Maceiras, Spain, $14,000 4. Eliza Burnett, UK, $10,000 5. Michelle Orpe, UK, $7,000 6. Kyla Kalmar, UK, $5,000 46-year-old German poker professional Soraya Homam is the winner of the Women’s World Open II! Homam, a veteran on the circuit from Frankfurt danced a jig with delight after she beat fellow German Stefanie Bergener in an epic heads-up match to scoop $50,000 and the title. After a number of swings that saw the balance of power switch a number times, Homam’s AK suited held-up all-in against Bergener’s A6 off-suit. “I’m truly delighted to have won,” said Homam, who is a German citizen of Iranian descent. “ My luggage got lost on the flight over to London and I was down about that. When it was located and arrived I felt I had a new lease of life. It sounds strange but it gave me more confidence and made me feel much more comfortable at the table.” Homam has been playing poker for 20 years and has been there and seen it all on the live circuit. She narrowly missed out on a place on the final table at the Women’s World Open I at the expense of Jen Mason. Big domestic wins in 2000 and 2001 had previously been the highlight of her career. She is also a chess player and insists that the skills she picked up in that game have helped her on the felt. “I have been playing tournaments and cash games for many years now and I see all the debate in the poker world about all women’s tournaments. The future is all about us ladies!” she exclaimed. Runner-up Bergener, a 41-year-old pro from Ollenbach, Germany was also pleased with her finish in the tournament. “ I’m so happy with the result, I have had most of my success online and this is great. I promised my son one percent of my winnings to buy him a new BMX bike, so I have no problems there!” Bergener went home with $22,000 and also bust US star Erica Schoenberg after only three hands of her heat when she sat with the better full house. May Maceiras, a 28 year-old from Vigo, Spain, finished in third place for $14,000 and was heavily tipped to win after running over the final table with great flair. Commentary on her use of position and exploiting the format could not have been more complimentary and nobody doubts she has a huge future ahead of her. That said, she has already achieved so much after exploding on the scene in the last couple of years with victories at the Spanish Poker Championships and on the Spanish Poker Tour. “Poker in Spain is still in its infancy,” said May, “there is still such a long way to go but I am proud of what I achieved here and I hope it encourages others to follow in my path,” she said. First out on the final table was Kyla Kalmar, wife of 2007 WSOP* Main Event final tablist Jon ‘Skalie’ Kalmar. Out in fifth was television presenter Michelle Orpe, followed in fourth by journalist Eliza Burnett. The Women’s World Open II saw 36 players from all over the world battle it out for a share of a $108,000 prize-fund. The buy-in for the tournament was set at $3,000. Among those who took part included Erica Schoenberg, Women’s World Open I champion Bev Pace, Jen Mason, Late Night Poker finalist Maria Demetriou, Xuyen “Bad Girl” Pham, former World Open winner Pippa Flanders, former European Ladies champion Jackie Meecham, Katharine Hartree, Mel Lofthouse, comedienne Lucy Porter, Michelle Orpe, Bucks Fizz star Cheryl Baker, Bronwyn Campbell, Shelley Rubenstein, Dutch pop star Maud Mulder, Polish television presenter Agnieszka Rylik and Christine Klecz. Eddie Hearn, Head of Online Gaming at Matchroom Sport said: “The international flavour of the Women’s World Open II final table just goes to show that this tournament is stronger than ever. It is one of the most popular events in the eyes of international broadcasters.” A spokesman said: “Last year, UK players dominated the final table so we have seen a complete turnaround. Beverley Pace won last year but there is no doubt that the ladies from Germany and Spain are now the pacesetters. It could also be true that the Spanish poker scene has found itself a Fernando Torres in the form of May Maceiras.” Coverage of the event will be shown on Five in the UK next year and then distributed worldwide. Commentary for coverage of the final will be provided by Jesse May and Robert Williamson III.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Slow Death of the Yanomami

From The New York Times Rain Forest Tribe’s Charge of Neglect Is Shrouded by Religion and Politics By SIMON ROMERO Published: October 6, 2008 PUERTO AYACUCHO, Venezuela — Three years after President Hugo Chávez expelled American missionaries from the Venezuelan Amazon, accusing them of using proselytism of remote tribes as a cover for espionage, resentment is festering here over what some tribal leaders say was official negligence that led to the deaths of dozens of indigenous children and adults. Some leaders of the Yanomami, one of South America’s largest forest-dwelling tribes, say that 50 people in their communities in the southern rain forest have died since the expulsion of the missionaries in 2005 because of recurring shortages of medicine and fuel, and unreliable transportation out of the jungle to medical facilities. Mr. Chávez’s government disputes the claims and points to more spending than ever on social welfare programs for the Yanomami. The spending is part of a broader plan to assert greater military and social control over expanses of rain forest that are viewed as essential for Venezuela’s sovereignty. The Yanomami leaders are wading into a politicized debate about how officials react to health care challenges faced by the Yanomami and other Amazonian tribes. In recent interviews here, government officials contended that the Yanomami could be exaggerating their claims to win more resources from the government and undercut its authority in the Amazon. Meanwhile, the Yanomami claims come amid growing concern in Venezuela over indigenous health care after a scandal erupted in August over a tepid official response to a mystery disease that killed 38 Warao Indians in the country’s northeast. “This government makes a big show of helping the Yanomami, but rhetoric is one thing and reality another,” said Ramón González, 49, a Yanomami leader from the village of Yajanamateli who traveled recently to Puerto Ayacucho, the capital of Amazonas State, to ask military officials and civilian doctors for improved health care. “The truth is that Yanomami lives are still considered worthless,” said Mr. González, who was converted to Christianity by New Tribes Mission, a Florida group expelled in 2005. “The boats, the planes, the money, it’s all for the criollos, not for us,” he said, using a term for nonindigenous Venezuelans. The Yanomami leaders offer a far different image of the tribe than those found in anthropology books, which often depict it in Rousseaulike settings with painted faces and clad in loincloths. There are about 26,000 Yanomami in the Amazon rain forest, in Venezuela and Brazil, where they subsist as seminomadic hunters and cultivators of crops like manioc and bananas. They remain susceptible to ailments for which they have weak defenses, including respiratory diseases and drug-resistant strains of malaria. In Puerto Ayacucho, they can be seen wandering through the traffic-clogged streets, clad in the modern uniform of T-shirts and baggy pants, toting cellphones. Earlier this decade, the anthropology world was consumed by claims by the writer Patrick Tierney that American scholars may have started and exacerbated a measles epidemic in the late 1960s that killed hundreds of Yanomami. And claims of medical neglect emerged before Mr. Chávez expelled the American missionaries, who numbered about 200. They administered care to the Yanomami with donated medicine from the United States and transported them to clinics on small propeller planes using dozens of airstrips carved out of the jungle. New Tribes, the most prominent of the expelled groups, has denied Mr. Chávez’s charges of espionage but declined to comment for this article, citing the tense relations between Venezuela and the United States. Mr. González and other Yanomami leaders provided the names of 50 people, including 22 children, who they said died from ailments like malaria and pneumonia after the military limited civilian and missionary flights to their villages in 2005. The military replaced the missionaries’ operations with its own fleet of small planes and helicopters, but critics say the missions were infrequent or unresponsive. The Yanomami leaders said they made the list public after showing it to health and military officials and receiving a cold response. “They told us we should be grateful for the help we’re already being given,” said Eduardo Mejía, 24, a Yanomami leader from the village of El Cejal. The official in charge of transportation in Amazonas’s interior, Gen. Yomar José Rubio of the 52nd Infantry Brigade in Puerto Ayacucho, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. But other officials here questioned the claims. “The missionaries were in Amazonas for 50 years, creating dependent indigenous populations in some places, so their withdrawal was bound to have positive and negative effects,” said Carlos Botto, a senior official with Caicet, a government research institute that focuses on tropical diseases. “But one cannot forget that the Yanomami and other indigenous groups have learned how to exert pressure on the government in order to receive food or other benefits,” he said. “This does not mean there aren’t challenges in providing them with health care, but caution is necessary with claims like these.” The dispute has also focused attention on an innovative government project created in late 2005, the Yanomami Health Plan. With a staff of 46, it trains some Yanomami to be health workers in their villages while sending doctors into the jungle to provide health care to remote communities. “We have 14 doctors in our team, with 11 trained in Cuba for work in jungle areas,” said Meydell Simancas, 32, a tropical disease specialist who directs the project from a compound here once owned by New Tribes Mission. Dr. Simancas said that more than 20 Yanomami had been trained as paramedics, and that statistics showed that doctors had increased immunizations and programs to control malaria and river blindness across Amazonas. The Yanomami leaders complaining of negligence acknowledged Dr. Simancas’s good intentions. But they said serious problems persisted in coordinating access to doctors and medicine with the military, which the Yanomami and government doctors both rely on for travel in and out of the rain forest. Dr. Simancas suggested the claims of the dozens of deaths originated in the village of Coshilowateli, where a holdout American evangelist group, Padamo Mission, has fought expulsion by arguing that its leaders cannot be expelled because they hold Venezuelan citizenship. “There is subjective data that could be worth investigating,” Dr. Simancas said, referring to Coshilowateli, “but it comes from a community in a situation of political tension.” Michael Dawson, a leader of Padamo Mission, denied the claims of negligence were exaggerated or politically motivated. He also said they originated not in Coshilowateli, but in villages where the Yanomami were converted to Christianity by missionaries Mr. Chávez had expelled. “It is easier for them to just blame us rather than admit they have really not helped the Indians much,” said Mr. Dawson, 53, who was born and raised among the Yanomami. “Every name on the list is a verified case of an emergency where repeated requests for help went out over public airwaves via ham radio.” For their part, Yanomami leaders point to what they consider to be a broad pattern of neglect and condescension from public officials. “They put pictures of Yanomami everywhere, on tourist brochures, in airport lobbies, even on ambulances here in Puerto Ayacucho,” said Andrés González, 38, a Yanomami leader. “That’s where they want us, in pictures, not positions of power,” he said. Meanwhile, the Yanomami who do make it here for medical care stay at a squalid compound once owned by foreign missionaries who were expelled in 2005. In the property’s trash-strewn yard, women cook manioc in steel pots over a fire, under the shade of a mango tree. The men lounge in hammocks slung in an open-air shed. Pedro Camico, 36, said he traveled here from El Cejal after one of his children died of malaria; she was not on the Yanomami leaders’ list of 50 dead. He stood by his son, Misael, 4, also sick with malaria but with the hope of recovery through medicine here. “I have one child dead and another alive, but I am here with my son,” Mr. Camico said. “I am one of the lucky ones.”

Joseph Needham Biography

Joseph Needham was a sometimes contributor to the Initiativ Gruppe Koenigstein (IGK), a group of chess historians and chess afficianados founded in Germany some ten years ago. Needham's raison d'existence was not discovering who first invented chess or the even more obscure subject, the origins of the game. He was a historian, but his focus in writing about ancient China was about what the Chinese did, and did not do, in science and technology. Some years ago at Goddesschess we hunted down what Needham wrote about the origins of chess at a university library in Montreal, Canada that housed a collection of his monumental work, Science and Civilisation in China. Check out Needham's articles. Here is a review of the Needham biography, from The Timesonline. uk: October 1, 2008 What the West makes of Chinese science Early China's scientific achievements and Joseph Needham, their controversial advocate John Keay Until fifty years ago, it was widely assumed that China had no tradition of scientific thought and innovation. Meticulous observation and reasoned deduction were taken to be European traits, as was the application of scientific principles to industrial production. The Chinese were supposed to be good at imitating, not originating; and the notion that the West’s scientific and industrial revolutions owed anything to the East’s inventiveness seemed laughable. We now know better. Ancient China’s precocity in almost every field of scientific achievement has since been acknowledged – in medicine, metallurgy, ceramics, mechanics, chemistry, physics, mathematics. Ridicule has turned to awe, tinged with trepidation. This dramatic reversal is credited to one man, the redoubtable Dr Joseph Needham, plus a small team of devoted disciples and a monumental work of scholarship. All three provide rich matter for Simon Winchester’s Bomb, Book and Compass, while the stature of Needham’s great work may be judged by the appearance of a new volume on ferrous metallurgy, the twenty-fourth in his Science and Civilisation in China series. Fifty years since the first volume appeared, and thirteen since Needham died, the work of assessing pre-Qing China’s scientific achievement goes on. “Sci[ence] in general in China – why [did it] not develop?”, wondered Needham in an aide-memoire jotted down in 1942. Later touted as “the Needham question”, this conundrum about why so promising a tradition failed to generate its own industrial revolution has never been satisfactorily answered – by Needham or anyone else. But the idea behind it – that China did indeed once excel in science – has generated an industry of its own. Mining the world’s most richly documented culture for references to scientific and technological practice now provides employment for a host of scholars; many of them enjoy the resources on offer at Cambridge University’s specially built Needham Research Institute; and seldom has there not been a volume of Science and Civilisation in China making its stately progress across the print floor of the University Press. For revealing how, in almost every conceivable field of scientific endeavour, the Chinese had preceded other nations, Needham was hailed as “the Erasmus of the twentieth century”, fawned on by the Left and feted by international academe. The Fellows of Caius College, Cambridge, made him their Master; Beijing, no less than Taipei, showered him with honours. Yet, boisterous and headstrong, Needham was not without his critics. Cambridge had cause to resent his long absences and reluctance to teach. Washington steadfastly refused him entry following his endorsement of Communist claims that US aircraft had dropped cholera-infected rats on North Korea. Forums designed to further the cause of international understanding were something of a deathtrap for Needham. He was hoodwinked by his Maoist friends – and by a Soviet-laid germ-trail in respect of the rats. It was not until the Cultural Revolution that his faith in Communist China began to waver. His flaws and foibles were legion, and it is these that seem to have recommended him to that connoisseur of bookish eccentricity, Simon Winchester. Bomb, Book and Compass (these being some of the undisputed products of Chinese invention) is no more a standard biography than was The Surgeon of Crowthorne (Winchester’s book about William Minor and the OED). Instead, Winchester delivers a masterly narrative, rich in description and quirky asides, and as undemanding as it is compelling. Needham, we learn, though a distinguished embryologist, self-taught sinologist and general polymath, was susceptible to distractions. He was keen on steam engines, morris dancing, singing and swimming in the nude. A Communist in all but party membership, he yet remained a devout Anglo-Catholic; and a dedicated husband in so far as his compulsive womanizing permitted. Nearly half of Winchester’s book is devoted to the years (1943–6) that Needham spent in China as the head of a wartime agency called the Sino-British Scientific Co-operation Office. Winchester insists it had nothing to do with intelligence gathering and was solely concerned with offering encouragement and materials to scientific institutions uprooted by the Japanese invasion. But it does seem to have involved more adventurous travel than the distribution of books and laboratory equipment strictly required. Though based in Chongqing, the capital of unoccupied China, Needham was seldom there. It was his first visit to China and would be his only extended residence in the country; he was determined to make the most of it. His three major journeys, one by truck to Gansu in the north-western desert, another by road to Yunnan in the south-west, and a third mainly by rail to Fuzhou in the south-east, were as notable for what he learned about Chinese science as for what he imparted to it. Indeed, the immense collection of books and artefacts that he brought back probably outweighed the largesse he distributed. Shipped to Cambridge, they would provide the raw material for Science and Civilisation in China and the core of the Needham Research Institute’s extensive library. Winchester has retraced these expeditions exhaustively. He makes good use of the reports submitted at the time, and writes of China with real affection. The Man Who Loved China, which is the title of his book in the US, could as well apply to the author as the subject. But all this leaves little room for the rest of Needham’s career, which is sketched in the broadest of strokes, and none at all for the ongoing debate over the methodology of Science and Civilisation in China. Needham’s purpose was to demonstrate not just the scale of early China’s scientific achievement, but its importance in the development of world science. Even his disciples have had difficulty with this. In his handsome contribution on ferrous technology – Part Eleven of the fifth volume, Chemistry and Chemical Technology, in Science and Civilisation in China – Donald B. Wagner dissociates himself from Needham’s faith in both “the essential virtue of Progress” and “modern natural science as a measure of historical value”. Like others, he is also unhappy with Needham’s extraction of Chinese science from its geographical, cultural and social context and his categorization of it into essentially Western disciplines – chemistry, physics, biology, etc – that were unfamiliar to the Chinese. And finally, though he wrestles with the Needham dictum that the West owed its eventual technological superiority to the East, Wagner concludes that in respect of iron, “the results are not by any means conclusive”. Unfazed by such apostasy, Needham stuck to his task well into his nineties (he died in 1995). He devoured every available text and interrogated every known authority for the earliest Chinese references to any relevant technology. Finding that these generally predated anything in other cultural traditions, he then awarded to China a precedence based on priority and offered conjectures as to how this technology might subsequently have spread to other receptive societies. He was, in short, a committed diffusionist; he made no allowance for the possibility of independent invention and parallel development elsewhere. He also made no allowance for the profusion and antiquity of Chinese textual sources compared with those of other cultures. The doubtful nature of references to ferrous technology in, for instance, India’s historiography does not prove that this material was unknown there; witness the famous iron pillar at the Qutb in Delhi. It merely affirms the comparative paucity of the textual resources available for pre-Islamic India. Notching up these Chinese “inventions and discoveries” and awarding to each a date based on the earliest known reference became something of an obsession for Needham. Several such listings appear in his published works and have since been adapted by admirers; Winchester reproduces a representative example. But while one can hardly quarrel with “Blast furnace – 3rd century b.c.”, “Book, printed, first to be dated – a.d. 868”, or “Crank handle – 1st century b.c.”, the whole exercise invites ridicule with the inclusion of items such as “Wheelbarrow, sail-assisted – 6th century a.d.”, “Great Wall of China – 3rd century b.c.”, or “Bookworm repellent – no date”. For reducing the painstakingly researched and elegantly written tomes of Science and Civilisation in China to the level of general knowledge trivia, Needham himself must bear much blame. But what Donald Wagner’s new volume well demonstrates is the extent to which recent archaeology, while modifying some of Needham’s conclusions, generally supports the veracity of the textual testimony and so the value of his life’s great work. Simon Winchester BOMB, BOOK AND COMPASS Joseph Needham and the great secrets of China 336pp. Viking. £20. 978 0 670 91378 7 Donald B. Wagner SCIENCE AND CIVILISATION IN CHINA Volume Five: Chemistry and Chemical Technology Part Eleven: Ferrous Metallurgy 478pp. Cambridge University Press. £120 (US $220). 978 0 521 87566 0

Russia: The Rot From Within

From The Washington Post DYING INSIDE Behind the Bluster, Russia Is Collapsing By Murray FeshbachSunday, October 5, 2008; Page B03 The bear is back. That's what all too many Russia-watchers have been saying since Russian troops steamrolled Georgia in August, warning that the country's strongman, Vladimir Putin, was clawing his way back toward superpower status. The new Russia's resurgence has been fueled -- quite literally -- by windfall profits from gas and oil, a big jump in defense spending and the cocky attitude on such display during the mauling of Georgia, its U.S.-backed neighbor to the south. Many now believe that the powerful Russian bear of the Cold War years is coming out of hibernation. Not so fast. Predictions that Russia will again become powerful, rich and influential ignore some simply devastating problems at home that block any march to power. Sure, Russia's army could take tiny Georgia. But Putin's military is still in tatters, armed with rusting weaponry and staffed with indifferent recruits. Meanwhile, a declining population is robbing the military of a new generation of soldiers. Russia's economy is almost totally dependent on the price of oil. And, worst of all, it's facing a public health crisis that verges on the catastrophic. To be sure, the skylines of Russia's cities are chock-a-block with cranes. Industrial lofts are now the rage in Moscow, Russian tourists crowd far-flung locales from Thailand to the Caribbean, and Russian moguls are snapping up real estate and art in London almost as quickly as their oil-rich counterparts from the Persian Gulf. But behind the shiny surface, Russian society may actually be weaker than it was even during Soviet times. The Kremlin's recent military adventures and tough talk are the bluster of the frail, not the swagger of the strong. While Russia has capitalized impressively on its oil industry, the volatility of the world oil market means that Putin cannot count on a long-term pipeline of cash flowing from high oil prices. A predicted drop of about one-third in the price of a barrel of oil will surely constrain Putin's ability to carry out his ambitious agendas, both foreign and domestic. That makes Moscow's announced plan to boost defense spending by close to 26 percent in 2009 -- in order to fully re-arm its military with state-of-the-art weaponry -- a dicey proposition. What the world saw in Georgia was a badly outdated arsenal, one that would take many years to replace -- even assuming the country could afford the $200 billion cost. Something even larger is blocking Russia's march. Recent decades, most notably since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, have seen an appalling deterioration in the health of the Russian population, anchoring Russia not in the forefront of developed countries but among the most backward of nations. This is a tragedy of huge proportions -- but not a particularly surprising one, at least to me. I followed population, health and environmental issues in the Soviet Union for decades, and more recently, I have reported on diseases such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic ravaging the Russian population. I've visited Russia more than 50 times over the years, so I can say from firsthand experience that this national calamity isn't happening suddenly. It's happening inexorably. According to U.N. figures, the average life expectancy for a Russian man is 59 years -- putting the country at about 166th place in the world longevity sweepstakes, one notch above Gambia. For women, the picture is somewhat rosier: They can expect to live, on average, 73 years, barely beating out the Moldovans. But there are still some 126 countries where they could expect to live longer. And the gap between expected longevity for men and for women -- 14 years -- is the largest in the developed world. So what's killing the Russians? All the usual suspects -- HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, alcoholism, cancer, cardiovascular and circulatory diseases, suicides, smoking, traffic accidents -- but they occur in alarmingly large numbers, and Moscow has neither the resources nor the will to stem the tide. Consider this: Three times as many Russians die from heart-related illnesses as do Americans or Europeans, per each 100,000 people. Tuberculosis deaths in Russia are about triple the World Health Organization's definition of an epidemic, which is based on a new-case rate of 50 cases per 100,000 people. Average alcohol consumption per capita is double the rate the WHO considers dangerous to one's health. About 1 million people in Russia have been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, according to WHO estimates. Using mid-year figures, it's estimated that 25 percent more new HIV/AIDS cases will be recorded this year than were logged in 2007. And none of this is likely to get better any time soon. Peter Piot, the head of UNAIDS, the U.N. agency created in response to the epidemic, told a press conference this summer that he is "very pessimistic about what is going on in Russia and Eastern Europe . . . where there is the least progress." This should be all the more worrisome because young people are most at risk in Russia. In the United States and Western Europe, 70 percent of those with HIV/AIDS are men over age 30; in Russia, 80 percent of this group are aged 15 to 29. And although injected-drug users represent about 65 percent of Russia's cases, the country has officially rejected methadone as a treatment, even though it would likely reduce the potential for HIV infections that lead to AIDS. And then there's tuberculosis -- remember tuberculosis? In the United States, with a population of 303 million, 650 people died of the disease in 2007. In Russia, which has a total of 142 million people, an astonishing 24,000 of them died of tuberculosis in 2007. Can it possibly be coincidental that, according to Gennady Onishchenko, the country's chief public health physician, only 9 percent of Russian TB hospitals meet current hygienic standards, 21 percent lack either hot or cold running water, 11 percent lack a sewer system, and 20 percent have a shortage of TB drugs? Hardly. On the other end of the lifeline, the news isn't much better. Russia's birth rate has been declining for more than a decade, and even a recent increase in births will be limited by the fact that the number of women age 20 to 29 (those responsible for two-thirds of all babies) will drop markedly in the next four or five years to mirror the 50 percent drop in the birth rate in the late 1980s and the 1990s. And, sadly, the health of Russia's newborns is quite poor, with about 70 percent of them experiencing complications at birth. Last summer, Piot of UNAIDS said that bringing Russia's HIV/AIDS epidemic under control was "a matter of political leadership and of changing the policy." He might just as well have been talking about the much larger public health crisis that threatens this vast country. But the policies seem unlikely to change as the bear lumbers along, driven by disastrously misplaced priorities and the blindingly unrealistic expectations of a resentment-driven political leadership. Moscow remains bent on ignoring the devastating truth: The nation is not just sick but dying. Murray Feshbach is a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a research professor emeritus at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.

Disagreement Behind the Scenes

The people of Goddesschess are generally a pretty unified group because of our shared vision, but with strong personalities disagreements occasionally do happen and when they do well, watch out. dondelion and I are in the middle of one right now, stemming from this week's Random Round-up that he put up at Goddesschess on Sunday night. He thought it might be - well, I don't know what - to publish our email exchanges on the subject. To show that we're human and we disagree? Oh, I've got it - to show that he's a numbnut and I'm a bitch, and that the road to putting together a website (for 10 years in May, 2009) isn't always a piece of cake... So, here are our email exchanges - he's an hour eastward of my location, so keep that in mind with the time stamps: 10/5/08 11:52 p.m. HOLA! RR is up a bit late - and so was I. Getting this week's edition done was a marathon 12 hour event. My head hurts!!! Maybe my hat is on too tight? must hit the sack!Cheers to all and congratulations on the new homestead Georgia! a bientot Don I didn't see this email until I got home from work last night. 10/6/08 6:01 p.m. Hi Don, I'm sorry you put so much effort into this week's RR. I have many complaints about it. The horns depicted in the photo from the Persian dig, those ARE horns, NOT a goddess. That's the reason I did not publish the photograph at the Goddesschess blog when the story first showed up, because it's perfectly clear they are antelope or deer horns, NOT a carved goddess. I looked for the other references including any published photographs from the other dig mentioned and could not find a photograph of any goddess recovered at either Persian dig. This makes me extremely suspicious. Next, the link to "Ishtar" is to a general message board and it's impossible to determine under which subject "Ishtar" may have posted - what about a link directly to her post? But why go that way at all? Using an unknown poster as authority for anything??? None of those photographs are provenanced! They could be total fakes or totally misrepresent what she says they are representing. Frankly, that one goddess does not looked "horned" to me at all - the ancients certainly knew how to depict horns, Don. If those "globs" on either side of her head are anything, it's coiled up hair, rather like Princess Leia's style. I do NOT believe the "Sorcerer" painting is an authentic representation. Why the big difference in clarity between the image you published at Goddesschess RR and the image published at the link you gave, which is fuzzy and faded? Did you check to see if there are any other photographs of this image on the internet from better sources? Also, I think there are decent authorities out there to cite with respect to the well-known belief of shamans being able to "transform" into animals, why cite to a blog? Thank you Ishtar? Who IS this person? For all you know, you could be thanking someone we would NOT want to give any credibility to whatsoever. Please Don! And then you jumped to Anahita? Sorry to be so picky and critical. I don't think it's a good job, not up to the caliber of other RRs you've done. It looks and feels strained and uncertain and does not hang together for me. I'd much prefer you just stick to reporting archaeological news then trying to do "themed" presentations that take a hell of a lot more explanation and material to hang together than what's available for you at RR. (rest of email on another subject) Jan 6:01 p.m. P.S. "Ishtar" is wrong about the date of the Venus of Willendorf - she is at least 25,000 years old, not 13,000 years old. Don's reply: 10/6/08 7:54 p.m. Hi Jan Well - I knew what I was doing had some risk involved. I took it on faith that the published article (as per your C/P of the description - which i verified by checking the actual press release) was indeed a "goddess" - and it could well be, given the prevalence of horned goddesses in general and the pics Ishtar included in her post at Archaeologica drew a number of solid comparisons that Noury's PHd research confirmed. For some reason I couldn't pick up the page url from the actual section she posted on and just gave the generic url. There would have been problems with the exact page anyway, since a reader at g-chess would have had to scroll down the Archaeolgica site to find the exact reference to her post on their message board. If anything, I should return there, log in and let her know that her info impressed me enough to rearrange it on our R&R page with few edits. I did find one canard - but the rest was solid enough. BTW, there is no mention of the Wallendorf [sic] Venus made in any section of of Ishtar's entry. She is referring to a similar Indian icon which I recognized is dffferent from the much older one you are referring to. Combined, they propose a 19,000 year carry over of one singularly important tradition. Pretty amazing - but no less so than the use of antelope horns as a pan-global signature for shamans in general. I closed in on some Siberian and Tlingit info, found several shaman's antlers and thought it would be redundant to include more of the same at R&R. The date, provenance and so forth of the Indian goddess icon I could not verify independently. I merely took it on faith that she was being truthful since the rest of her synopsis was - to the best of my knowledge - accurate and displayed understanding of iconic sharing and evolution among primordial Egyptian, Persian and Indian cultures. I was skeptical about the "horns" of this Indian gal as well. Nonetheless, this is a good example of how iconic form can morph into approximation. Details of the self same "cleft" are almost of secondary importance since I could have explained that two headed or forked icons represent the two genders responsible for all creation - the demiurgic yin-yang/ linga-yoni aspect of the whole chain of earthly procreation and that the image therefore implied hermaphroditic characteristics as well - a common theme in ancient ritual art. It is also of specific interest to goddeschess because the entwining serpent aspect contracts around Ganesha (al pil) and is part of his personal myth. How he acquires this ancient property is explained in Indian religious lore - and it is actually a humorous tale. Now we have specific evidence that Genesha recalls pre-neolithic iconography and so, this indian icon is therefore very important to the background of chess and chaturanja. Will other readers "get" this? Maybe yes maybe no. Also the "mala" beads representing the entwining snakes fall into the same category of iconic license. Aside from the Indian "devi" we already know Hathor's menat necklace, menat offerings and the expository ritual framework of senet are conjoined in a way that suggest "chess". How many people know this? Probably very few. It was frustrating trying to find any further info on the Kermanshah "horns". I dug deep and just got clones of the same article. Ishtar's commentary was the only one to venture anything pertinent or interesting. Better than nothing - and a fair appraisal of how the iconic Mary is sanitized and shorn of earlier shamanic traits via latter day athropomorphism. Some people will get this and some wont. At least we have not offended anyone with that inclusion. Besides, it states a fact. I chose the artistic re-rendering of the Trois Freres pic for clarity - but could have selected the original I suppose. I was handling lots of data and his page provided a shortcut with good visual content. Click the thumbnail pic on the source page and it opens up into a much larger one. I took the large one and scaled it down. It might not be the original, but the info about it was accurate. Anahita was not a blind leap onto nowhere. Noury's article clearly states that her icon is found at Kermanshah where these ancient "horns" appear. Is it coincidence that Anihita's earliest representations appear in the same location? In any case, this reference draws the entire gist of this week's RR full circle and makes a statement about Avestan incorporation of Anahita's myth as being, like Ganesha, a syncretic compoound of earlier orientations - which is of course, very apropos to the idea of a Persian origin of chess. Is she, like other goddess, a possible representation of the actual chess board itself? Her titulary aspects do not conflict with that assumption and I was deeply gratified to find a PhD who could include significant details Wikipedia missed. Now I think we should post this e-mail up at the blog and include a reciprocal url at g-chess. At least that give g-chess readers a means of grappling with the same problems you faced.... I think it's cool that we have internal controversy and show how we can deal with it in a constructive way. I suggest you post something to the effect that "Jan Xena Calls Wallace to the Carpet and Wallace Respectfully Replies". It's OK to do that you know. You ARE entitled to shout "Off with his head!!!" - (lol!) and it might actually be a good thing to show that we actually do question one another from time to time... genuine human behavior at the very least... What say you? a bientot Don Are you getting bored yet? No? Here's my reply: 10/6/08 8:11 p.m. Yes, I will publish my email and your response at the blog. Here is a direct QUOTE from Goddesschess that specifically refers to the VENUS OF WILLENDORF with a date of 13000 BC. You cannot trust a person who cannot get his or her dates correct about such an iconic and well known goddess symbol, Don. It's 25000 BCE, NOT 13000 BCE. So don't tell me that I'm imagining things that aren't there. Learn to read your own work, mister. But it doesn't make sense that we have preserved images of goddesses going back to the 13000 BC (Venus of Willendorf) but none for the most famous of all until more than three centuries after the Christian era began. 8:18 p.m. P.S. Precisely because you could NOT find any confirmation that the deer horns were, in fact, a goddess, SHOULD mean that you do not assume they were! We could get away with that bullshit in the early days when we didn't know any better, but we do know better now, don't we, after 9 years on the internet, and it's a cop out to use that photo and call it a goddess just because you wanted to - without stating up front that this is your opinion that these horns ARE the goddess carving referred to in the article. Bad form, Don. Don's reply, 10/6/08 8:35 p.m. Right - c.23,000 BCE. ?i just spotted it - and made a correction. It could have been a typo -? To verify the other figure - I dialed "Mehrgarh horned goddess" into a search and?found this... which is not a decisive match for Ishtar's Indus pic - - but - important nonetheless - the boobies my dear - they are consistent with the bishop and the canopic Egyptian piece and the Minoan art I have in tow... ? THe Indian figure ?found - ?Archeological evidence from related cultures suggests that Indus Valley mythology was centered in the idea of female power and Goddess cults. There is direct evidence of Goddess dominance on Indus seals, which, like the seals of ancient Sumer, bring together goddesses, sacred snakes, and such symbols of male power and virility as horned bulls and rams and mythical animals such as unicorns. There is also ample indication on the seals of rituals involving sacrifice to what appears to be a horned goddess. At the ruins at the ancient settlement of Mehrgarh, dating back to as early as 6000 BCE, goddess figurines have been discovered that would seem to confirm the importance of the female power during the 600–2500 BCE period.? (source) [remainder of email on another topic] My reply: 10/6/08 8:53 p.m. That goddess figurine has more in common with the "bird" goddesses I've posted images at This and That that you continue to ignore. 23000 BCE is not the date of the "Venus" of Willendorf. How soon you forget - in July you published at Random Round-up a link to the - I believe - 100th anniversary of her discovery. Don't try to excuse shoddy posting with a typo. 13,000 BCE is wrong, and you know it. If that is wrong, what else did that person post that is also wrong. Our job these days is to not only tweak interest - it is also to verify. We aren't virgins in the woods anymore, and can't get away with bullshit - and shouldn't try and foist that off on our readers. [remainder of email on another topic] Jan Don's reply: 10/6/08 8:38 p.m. Jan - the article explicity stated the horns were a 'goddess". If I had included nothing else but the info from the article you provided that assumption would have been published at g-chess nonetheless... and Ishtar is also wondering about how antlers could be a goddess... My reply: 10/6/08 8:56 p.m. No, Don, it did not. Read it again. Don's reply: 10/6/08 8:53 p.m. More context of the "two headed - two horned" goddess here... Crystallinks - but generally OK for general info... Harappa - in teracotta - srcoll [remainder of email on unrelated topics] Me: 10/6/08 9:00 p.m. Here is the text of the article: The first phase of archeological excavations at Sheikhi Abad mound in Iran's Kermanshah Province has yielded the statue of a goddess.The statute, which resembles a figurine previously found in Kermanshah's Sarab-Mort, is believed by experts to be a valuable source of information. Iranian and British archeologists, who studied the site for the first time in the past fifty years, also discovered nearly 50 botanical samples that can shed light on some of the mysteries of the Neolithic Age. Skeletal remains of red deer, goat, ram and fish were also found at the site, which archeologists hope will elucidate how animals were domesticated in those days. Previous studies had dated Sheikhi Abad mound to nine to ten thousand years ago. Archeologists believe the site was home to the earliest human settlers. Show me, exactly, where it says the goddess statue, was in the form of deer horns? IT DOES NOT. It DOES say that "skeletal remains of red deer...were also found at the site". Nothing to link the goddess statue to the remains of red deer. Jan Don: 10/6/08 9:47 p.m. "Show me, exactly, where it says the goddess statue, was in the form of deer horns? IT DOES NOT. It DOES say that "skeletal remains of red deer...were also found at the site". Nothing to link the goddess statue to the remains of red deer." I'm not sure what you mean by this. First off, I began with the press release. I didn't make that "horned" assumption, but the article leads directly towards it by publishing the pic in concert with the claim - however disputable. As I mentioned, and as is clear from the iconography of surrounding cultures - albeit much later - there is ample credence to that "horned" assumption as well - and granted, it could be many things but there is plenty of leeway and really lots of ways to interpret the symbolic aspect of a "Y" figure - like the Dogon "ladder" or the indigenous Egyptian "Y" which was her national symbol. It has obvious celestial connotations vis a vis "the descent of matter" from cosmic sources and it could even be related to the Ka upraised arms or the Minoan snake goddess... [portions of email deleted that were not on topic] I'm snarly - yeah - but I have a budding cold and reserve the right to be a stubborn old prick sometimes... If we want to rejoin the issue at RR there is always next week and endless opportunity to question the things the press feeds us... Me - things are getting quite testy now - can you tell: 10/6/08 9:01 p.m. Why not stop trying to justify copying and pasting shoddy work and fix the damn column. Write an article about your findings regarding horns and the goddess and publish it at Goddesschess, and put the energy you've spent trying to prove me wrong (which you did not) to good use. Jan And for good measure: 10/6/08 10:09 p.m. Jan - the article explicity stated the horns were a 'goddess". Those are your words, not mine. As far as the photograph goes, it does not show a goddess figurine - it shows a set of horns and a lot of dirt. Read the article again. Don't tell me that I don't know how to read, Don. The evidence tonight indicates that I read quite accurately, and you can't read your way out of paper sack. Jan The final word on the matter, from Don: 10/6/08 10:15 p.m. end ai kent spelz two gud neder... LOL! I haven't replied. This will be one of those disagreements that is never resolved.

Hales Corners Challenge VIII

The results are in! Tom Fogec from the Southwest Chess Club (Hales Corners, WI) emailed me with the awards for the chess femmes who played in the Challenge this weekend: Here are the results. We explained about all of the prizes at the beginning of the tournament to all in attendance. We had 6 chess femmes enter Hales Corners Challenge VIII over the weekend. Five were in the Reserve Section and one in the Open Section. Because there was only one female in the Open Section, we wanted to honor your request that no one receive the award by default. I explained to the woman in the Open Section that the $50 prize award would be awarded to the top scoring female in either section. She did go on to be the top scoring female in either section with 3 points in four rounds. She was also the sole winner of the Class A prize, and finished tied for Fifth Place overall. There was excitement heading into the final round as there were three females going into the last round with 2 points, and one won, one drew, and one lost. We then awarded the $25 prize to the highest scoring female in the Reserve Section. Top Scoring Female in either section is Nicole Niemi with 3.0 points, who was also the sole winner of the Class A prize and finished in Fifth Place in the Open Section. Top Scoring Female in Reserve Section is Joanna Huang with 2.5 points. There's more! $25 each will be awarded to games for one chess dude and one chess femme based on the judgment of a committee of volunteers who will meet this weekend and go over the games to make their decisions. Here is a link to the full results for the Open and Reserve Sections. Congratulations to the winners of the Goddesschess prizes for best chess femme results!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Mysterious Burial of 11th Century Woman

Swedish archaeologists uncover Viking-era church Published: 3 Oct 08 17:18 CET Online: The remains of a Viking-era stave church, including the skeletal remains of a woman, have been uncovered near the cemetery of the Lännäs church in Odensbacken outside Örebro in central Sweden. “It’ a unique find,” said Bo Annuswer of the Swedish National Heritage Board (Riksantikvarieämbetet) to the Nerikes Allehanda newspaper. “The churches that have found earlier have been really damaged. Now archaeologists uncovered four posts which mark the church, and the burial site. Such an undisturbed site is unique.” Stave churches, common in medieval northern Europe, are constructed with timber framing and walls filled with vertical planks. The site was excavated late in the summer following an examination of the area in preparation for the building of a new parish home. The discovery has raised a number of questions among archaeologists who wonder about the social status of the person whose remains were discovered in the church, which archaeologist estimate is from the 11th century. “Not just anyone was buried in the middle of a church; it hints that the person was someone very special. In modern times it was fairly common for priests to end up in a church. But commoners were kept outside the church,” said Annuswer. Annuswer added that the discovery will serve as important source of information about churches and graves from the era. “This is an undisturbed environment which shows how people buried bodies and what sort of objects people had with them in their graves,” he said. David Landes ( 8 656 6518) **************************************** What will the body itself reveal? Perhaps she was buried there for centuries before the church was built, and the builders didn't know she was there. Or perhaps she was a particularly important chieftan or even a "priestess". The Viking peoples who adopted Christianity evidently had a "loose" concept of what constituted appropriate worship, and with respect to this particular church and its congregants, perhaps it extended to the concept of a female priest. I hope further information is published on this story as it is developed!

This and That

The October edition of JanXena's Les Echecs des Femmes is up and running at Chessville. Be one of the dozen people who read it every month :) At Goddesschess, dondelion has done a new Random Round-up - a very interesting one this week on headgear and horns and the Persian Goddess Anahita - modern Iranians still celebrate a holiday in her honor. Check RR out in the right-hand column under Axis Mundae.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

In Poverty and Strife, Women Test Limits

From The New York Times By CARLOTTA GALL Published: October 5, 2008 BAMIAN, Afghanistan — Far away from the Taliban insurgency, in this most peaceful corner of Afghanistan, a quiet revolution is gaining pace. Women are driving cars — a rarity in Afghanistan — working in public offices and police stations, and sitting on local councils. There is even a female governor, the first and only one in Afghanistan. In many ways this province, Bamian, is unique. A half-dozen years of relative peace in this part of the country since the fall of the Taliban and a lessening of lawlessness and disorder have allowed women to push the boundaries here. Most of the people in Bamian are ethnic Hazaras, Shiite Muslims who are in any case more open than most Afghans to the idea of women working outside the home. But the changes in women’s lives here are also an enormous step for Afghanistan as a whole. And they may point the way to broader possibilities for women, eventually, if peace can be secured in this very conservative Muslim society, which has been dominated by militia commanders and warlords during the last 30 years of war. In a country with low rankings on many indicators of social progress, women and girls are the most disadvantaged. More than 80 percent of Afghan women are illiterate. Women’s life expectancy is only 45 years, lower than that of men, mostly because of the very high rates of death during pregnancy. Forced marriage and under-age marriage are common for girls, and only 13 percent of girls complete primary school, compared with 32 percent of boys. The cult of war left women particularly vulnerable. For years now they have been the victims of abduction and rape. Hundreds of thousands were left war widows, mired in desperate poverty. Particularly in the last years of Taliban rule, even widows, who had no one to provide for them, were not allowed to work or leave the home unaccompanied by a male relative. Fear of armed militiamen left women afraid even to walk in front of the police station in the town of Bamian, recalled Nahida Rezai, 25, the first woman to join the police force here. “And I came right into the police station,” she said, admitting to some fears. At the beginning, she had some problems. “I received some threats by telephone,” she said. “But now I am working as a police officer, I think nothing can deter me.” Nekbakht, 20, joined the police force, too, and now helps her father, a casual laborer, support the family. They live in a single room tucked into the cliff face of Bamian valley, where homeless refugees have found shelter in caves inhabited centuries ago by Buddhist pilgrims. "It was very difficult to find a job,” she said. “We had economic problems, and with the high prices life was difficult. Finally, I decided if I could not find another job, I should go into the police.” After joining nine months ago, she likes the job so much she says she is encouraging other women to join, too. Indeed, growing economic hardship has helped drive some women to join the work force or to take other bold steps as they try to help their families cope with a severe drought, rising food prices and unemployment. That was the case for Zeinab Husseini, 19. Her father, with seven daughters and no sons, says he had little choice when he needed a second driver to help at home. “I like driving,” she said, seated at the wheel of her family’s minibus. “I was interested from childhood to learn to drive and to buy a car. I was the first woman in Bamian to drive.” But over all, it is the return to relative peace here that has allowed for women’s progress, said the governor, Habiba Sarabi, a doctor and educator who ran underground literacy classes during the Taliban regime. “If the general situation improves, it can improve the situation for women,” she said. She pushed to have policewomen so they could handle women’s cases, and there are now 14 women on the force, she said. Some of the changes in Bamian have been echoed in more conservative parts of Afghanistan. But even the success stories sometimes end up showing the continuing dangers for women who take jobs to improve their lot. In Kandahar Province, one of the most noted female police officials in the country, Capt. Malalai Kakar, was gunned down on her way to work on Sept. 28. In Bamian Province, Mrs. Sarabi, 52, has been the driving force behind women’s progress in public life. Her appointment by President Hamid Karzai three years ago as governor of Bamian was a bold move when jihadi leaders were still so powerful in the towns and countryside. Some opponents are still agitating for her removal, Mrs. Sarabi said. “It is not only because they are against women,” she said, “but they do not want to lose power, so they make trouble for the governor.” The people of Bamian say they accepted a woman as governor in the hope that an English-speaking, development-oriented technocrat like Mrs. Sarabi would deliver jobs and prosperity. In fact, the success of women’s Community Development Councils here has caught the attention of the World Bank, which has been a major donor to the programs and is looking to develop them further. Around the country there are 17,000 such councils, which choose local development projects and could be expanded to work on district and regional levels, said the bank’s president, Robert B. Zoellick, who visited Bamian this year. “They are very effective,” he said of the councils in a recent interview. “People feel they have an influence in the future.” The quiet work being done by women on the councils and in other jobs has helped turn things around for many in Bamian. Najiba, 48, is a woman in Yakowlang District who lost her husband in the notorious massacre by Taliban forces there in the winter of 2000-1. The Taliban fighters came on horseback, forcing the villagers and townspeople to flee in the night, leaving everything behind. Their shops and homes were set on fire while they sought refuge in the mountains. After the American intervention in Afghanistan and the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, they returned home to nothing, not even a roof over their heads. “I just had one skirt, and I was always patching it,” Najiba said. As the government began development programs in the provinces, Najiba was elected head of a newly formed women’s development council, representing her village and the neighboring village. Its job was to plan how to spend a government development grant. The men’s council decided the area needed a road, and flood barriers to save the farming land near the river. The women’s council wanted instead to buy livestock for each family, traditionally the women’s domain in Afghan households, to improve the food supply for families. The men won that debate. “We did not get the farming project,” Najiba said. “We are still suggesting it was valuable; we are trying to work on our projects so we don’t have to depend on the men.” The women got their way with the next project: solar panels to provide light to groups of four houses. That project has opened up all sorts of ideas, for computers, televisions and educational and election programs, she said. Women have participated in literacy and tailoring training programs, too. Najiba laughed as she explained: “We have changed our way of life. Now I have lots of skirts.” She added, “It all comes down to the council.” Now, women are taking courses run by nongovernmental organizations, getting educated and learning ways to improve their family incomes. Most important, the women have won over the men, she said. “Their minds have changed,” Najiba said. “They want to share decisions, not too far, but they want to give us some share.”

Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt

A review of a new biography on one of the most famous queens of all time. From Minneapolis-St. Paul Cleopatra biography blasts old illusions Author challenges film portrayals of Egyptian queen as villainous vamp. By ALLEN BARRA, Special to the Star Tribune Last update: October 3, 2008 - 1:34 PM Cleopatra has generated more fame -- in the form of poems, paintings, books, plays and films -- per known fact than any woman in history. As Joyce Tyldesley phrases it in her fascinating and irresistible biography, "Cleopatra, Last Queen of Egypt," "it is clearly never going to be possible to write a conventional biography of Cleopatra." So Tyldesley has gone ahead and written one. An archaeologist, author ("Daughters of Isis"), and popular consultant for TV shows on ancient history, Tyldesley has chosen to re-create her subject by putting together the puzzle pieces of history that surround Cleopatra's life and legend. Neither an Egyptian by blood nor an actual Greek -- she could trace her ancestry on her father's side to the original Ptolemy, a general of Alexander the Great -- she was a fabulous hybrid of those cultures and several others which were native to the Egypt of the first century B.C. What she was not, Tyldesley argues, was the villainous vamp portrayed in the movies. Played by such actresses as Theda Bara, Claudette Colbert and Elizabeth Taylor, the movie Cleopatra derived from the overheated imaginations of such western writers as Plutarch, whose "Life of Mark Antony" influenced most later writers, including Shakespeare. Where Tyldesley's book differs from most modern accounts of Cleopatra's life and times is that her conclusions stem from an intimate knowledge of Egyptian culture rather than from Greek and Roman historians, to whom Cleopatra was a combination of sorceress and seductress. Charm and intelligence were almost certainly her most alluring traits and what first attracted Caesar to her. (Her money didn't hurt, either; according to Tyldesley, "Cleopatra was the wealthiest monarch in the world.") Cleopatra was, she concludes, "an intelligent and effective monarch who set realistic goals and who very nearly succeeded in creating a dynasty that would have re-established Egypt as a world super power." Roman historians, though, saw only "an unnatural, immodest woman who preyed on other women's husbands. From this developed the myth of the sexually promiscuous Cleopatra ... a harsh legacy indeed for a woman who probably had no more than two, consecutive sexual relationships." Readers who enjoy not only history but how it evolves into myth will find a feast in Tyldesley's book. You may be disappointed to find out that the Queen of Egypt did not first appear to Caesar unwrapped from an Oriental carpet, and it's unlikely that Cleopatra succumbed to the bite of an asp, but Tyldesley's theories as to what most likely did happen are at least as interesting as the folklore. Allen Barra writes about sports and culture for the Wall Street Journal. His next book is "Yogi Berra, Eternal Yankee," due in March 2009.
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