Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday Night Miscellany

A shortened version. "The Fire" is singing it's siren song from downstairs, before the fireplace, as is a new jug of wine... I've now lost over 8 pounds on my "new and improved regimen" began nearly five weeks ago - coinciding with the start of "The Biggest Loser" on TV. LOL! The goal was to lose 10 pounds in 5 weeks. My five weeks expires officially on Monday October 20, but with 2 pounds to go I don't think I'll make it, although I may make it to 9 pounds lost. I will be starting a second cycle on October 20 with a goal of losing another 10 pounds. We'll see how close I come. As the weather gets colder it gets harder to get motivated to get out and walk my butt off (literally). For the Friday Night Miscellany: JOE THE PLUMBER I have to say that I was shocked - really! - when it was reported the day after the last debate between Obama and McCain that "Joe the Plumber" was a liar and a tax cheat. Now you know, darlings, it's probably splitting hairs that he isn't a "licensed" plumber in a state that doesn't require it, although certain municipalities within his home state do require licensing. Joe happens to work in a city where a license to be a plumber is required, therefore he is working as a plumber illegal. Just what part of illegal do the Republican hordes now idolizing Joe as a symbol of the suffering middle class abused by a liberal media not understand? And it's probably splitting hairs that Joe didn't know enough about accounting practices in running a business to realize that he, personally, would have to NET $250,000 income from his business a year to experience a tax increase under Obama's proposed tax plan. This has nothing to do with net taxable business income. I'm ignoring that Joe doesn't have the funds to buy a shoe-shine business, let alone a plumbing business that would NET him wages of $250,000 a year! It is not splitting hairs that Joe lied about being a member of the local plumbers union on his personal web space. Tsk, tsk. It is also not splitting hairs that Joe is delinquent on personal property taxes. Yeah, it can happen to anybody I suppose, but if you put yourself out there in a confrontational mode with a candidate for President of the United States, and Joe readily admits that is what he did, trying to get a "gotcha moment", then you'd best be prepared for media scrutiny. And this is a fella now being held up by John McCain and Sarah Palin as an "average" American being made a political scapegoat by the evil Democrats. If Joe the Plumber is an average American, Goddess Help Us! WHAT IS MIDDLE CLASS Since when is making $250,000 a year "middle class?" I don't have the exact figure but I know the current mean wages in the US is about $45,000 a year! That's GROSS wages, folks, not what you're left with after state and federal taxes, Medicare and Social Security deductions. And - get this - people earning $45,000 a year actually pay a higher percentage overall of their total income in such taxes and deductions than someone earning $250,000 a year, because Social Security taxes stop at $110,000. Earn more than $110,000 a year in wages and you don't pay a DIME extra in Social Security taxes. So please, John McCain, don't tell me that a "family" - in Federal speak that means a husband and wife - earning $250,000 a year GROSS are "middle class." The middle is $45,000. 345,000 YEAR OLD HUMAN FOOTPRINTS I find it fascinating that on the one hand, homo heidelbergensis is called "human" in this article, and on the other hand, Neanderthal man, whom you probably wouldn't notice cleaned up and in a suit, is NOT considered human. Scientists speaketh with forked tongues. LET'S TALK CRAP No - not about Wall Street or the Bush Administration. A book about how we "do our business", how we clean up (or not) after we "do our business," and why it's a matter of life and death. From Salon (site pass - click on Enter Salon in upper right to enter to story if the link doesn't work). WITCHCRAFT, OH, IT'S WITCHCRAFT... Really! Some evidence of practice at recently as the 1950's has cropped up in the yard of an old homestead in England. Eek! WATER WITCHING A/K/A DOWSING They don't know how it works, they just know it does more often than not...

Human Sacrifice in Ancient Egypt?

I have previously read that there was some very early evidence of human sacrifice in ancient Egypt, but it was something that the Egyptians evidently decided against quite early on in their dynastic development, turning instead to the original and clever invention of "substitutes" by way of ushabti dolls, carved and molded miniatures and artful tomb paintings. Therefore, I'm taking this report at National Geographic with a grain of salt. Egypt has undergone extensive excavations, some more "expert" than others, for more than 200 years (I'm starting from 1799). If human sacrifice was prevalent for a couple hundred years or more, wouldn't there be a lot more evidence??? Abydos - Life and Death at the Dawn of Egyptian Civilization By John Galvin Photographs by Kenneth Garrett (Photo Gallery from the dig of Aha's Tomb) New evidence shows that human sacrifice helped populate the royal city of the dead. King Aha, "The Fighter," was not killed while unifying the Nile's two warring kingdoms, nor while building the capital of Memphis. No, one legend has it that the first ruler of a united Egypt was killed in a hunting accident after a reign of 62 years, unceremoniously trampled to death by a rampaging hippopotamus. News of his demise brought a separate, special terror to his staff. For many, the honor of serving the king in life would lead to the more dubious distinction of serving the king in death. On the day of Aha's burial a solemn procession made its way through the sacred precincts of Abydos, royal necropolis of Egypt's first kings. Led by priests in flowing white gowns, the funeral retinue included the royal family, vizier, treasurer, administrators, trade and tax officers, and Aha's successor, Djer. Just beyond the town's gates the procession stopped at a monumental structure with imposing brick walls surrounding an open plaza. Inside the walls the priests waded through a cloud of incense to a small chapel, where they performed cryptic rites to seal Aha's immortality. Outside, situated around the enclosure's walls, were six open graves. In a final act of devotion, or coercion, six people were poisoned and buried along with wine and food to take into the afterlife. One was a child of just four or five, perhaps the king's beloved son or daughter, who was expensively furnished with ivory bracelets and tiny lapis beads. The procession then walked westward into the setting sun, crossing sand dunes and moving up a dry riverbed to a remote cemetery at the base of a high desert plateau. Here Aha's three-chambered tomb was stockpiled with provisions for a lavish life in eternity. There were large cuts of ox meat, freshly killed waterbirds, loaves of bread, cheese, dried figs, jars of beer, and dozens of wine vessels, each bearing Aha's official seal. Beside his tomb more than 30 graves were laid out in three neat rows. As the ceremony climaxed, several lions were slain and placed in a separate burial pit. As Aha's body was lowered into a brick-lined burial chamber, a select group of loyal courtiers and servants also took poison and joined their king in the next world. Is this how a pharaoh's funeral in 2900 b.c. actually unfolded? It's a plausible scenario, experts say. Archaeologists have been sifting through the dry sands of Abydos for more than a century. Now they have found compelling evidence that ancient Egyptians indeed engaged in human sacrifice, shedding new—and not always welcome—light on one of the ancient world's great civilizations. "Yellah! Yellah! Yellah!" barks Ibrahim Mohammed Ali, the Egyptian crew boss, spurring his workers to move it, move it, move it. "You are big fat water buffalo! You are dung!" The mostly teenage boys hauling buckets of sand giggle nervously but pick up the pace while keeping an eye on their still ranting foreman. "You chatter worse than a bunch of women!" Standing tall in a loose, flowing galabia and white head wrap, Ibrahim looks somehow wizardly, maybe capable of vaporizing slackers with a cast from the long, intimidating stick-wand he keeps clutched behind his back. Ibrahim's 125-person crew is working with a team of archaeologists to uncover part of the immense royal burial center at Abydos, located 260 miles (420 kilometers) up the Nile from Cairo. As a line of workers use hoe-like tureyas to scrape away the sand, the so-named bucket boys haul away clanking pails of dirt and pour it like water into the laps of sifters. Excavators are on the ground with trowels in hand, surveyors are plotting the coordinates of artifacts, a photographer is documenting each new find, and illustrators are pencil-drawing an ancient coffin and an infant skeleton. Kneeling on one knee in the center of this swarm is Matthew Adams, associate director of a multiyear project sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania Museum, Yale University, and New York University's Institute of Fine Arts. Adams is brushing sand away to reveal a smooth, ancient mud floor. "If this is from the time of Aha," he says in a raspy voice dried out from months in the desert, "then it's the oldest funerary enclosure ever found in Egypt. We're talking about the beginning of Egyptian history. Not one trowel has been laid here before now." Abydos is the source of many of Egypt's most ancient artifacts. In 1988 Günter Dreyer, a German archaeologist, unearthed small bone and ivory tags intricately inscribed with one of the world's earliest forms of writing—crude hieroglyphs developed at about the same time as Mesopotamian cuneiform. In 1991 Adams's mentor and the project's director, David O'Connor, uncovered an eerie fleet of wooden boats buried in enormous brick-lined graves. Now O'Connor and Adams are digging down into the beginning of Egypt's 1st dynasty, a pivotal period when kings laid down the roots of religion, government, and architecture that would last for the next 3,000 years. Unlike the colossal pyramids of later pharaohs, the more modest burial complexes of the Abydos kings consisted of two separate structures—a tomb and a ceremonial enclosure. The large, walled enclosures where mortuary rituals were performed were situated on the edge of town, while the underground tombs were located more than a mile away on the threshold of the desolate Western Desert, a place known to ancient Egyptians as the land of the dead. All of the 1st-dynasty tombs and most of the enclosures excavated so far are accompanied by subsidiary graves—hundreds in some cases—containing the remains of elite officials and courtiers. Egyptologists have long speculated that these graves might hold victims of sacrifice but also acknowledged that they could simply be graves reserved for the king's staff, ready to use as each person died naturally. [Emphasis added]. The question of whether ancient Egyptians practiced human sacrifice has intrigued archaeologists since the late 1800s. Frenchman Émile Amélineau and his English rival Sir Flinders Petrie excavated all the 1st-dynasty desert tombs by 1902. Each had been heavily looted in antiquity, and no royal remains were found except a single bejeweled arm. Still, there was much yet to discover. In Aha's tomb were the remains of dozens of wine vessels, tools, some jewelry, and signs of food. Beside the tomb Petrie discovered 35 subsidiary graves, which he called the Great Cemetery of the Domestics. While he didn't dwell on it in his published papers, he hinted at human sacrifice. Later, in the 1980s, German archaeologists uncovered the remains of at least seven young lions. The only funerary enclosure standing during Petrie's time was the massive 4,600-year-old Shunet el-Zebib, built by the 2nd-dynasty king Khasekhemwy. The towering shuneh (storehouse), with its three-story walls enclosing nearly two acres of space, still dominates the landscape. Two of Petrie's associates discovered another 2nd-dynasty enclosure, built by King Peribsen, and Petrie returned in the 1920s and found hundreds of subsidiary graves. The graves surrounded three 1st-dynasty enclosures, but curi-ously, Petrie located only one of them. These discoveries led archaeologists to speculate that they had found only half the puzzle of Abydos, and that for each tomb they had uncovered out in the desert, there should be a corresponding enclosure still hidden on the city's edge. In 1967 David O'Connor came to Abydos to search for, among other things, the funerary enclosures that had eluded Petrie. Almost 20 years later, while digging in the shadow of the shuneh, he made a totally unexpected discovery. "I opened an excavation pit, and poking into one corner of it was this intrusion," O'Connor recalls. "I knew it was something from the earliest dynasty, I just didn't know what." To O'Connor's amazement, the "intrusion" turned out to be one of 14 ancient boats, each buried in its own brick-lined tomb adjacent to the enclosure of a still unknown king. The boats, which measured up to 75 feet (23 meters) long, were expertly crafted and had been fully functional when buried. They proved to be the world's oldest surviving boats built of planks (as opposed to those made of reeds or hollowed-out logs). "The boats are like the servants who were buried at Abydos," says O'Connor. "The king intended to use t hem in the afterlife in the same manner that he used them before his death." In life the boats enabled the king to travel rapidly up and down the Nile in a powerful display of wealth and military might. As the Egyptian kings also expected to be kings in the afterlife, the boats would be useful tools. News of the boats'discovery rippled through the Egyptology world and also energized O'Connor's hunt for the lost enclosures of the first kings. To help focus the search, O'Connor and Adams sought out Tomasz Herbich, a Polish archaeologist who specializes in finding buried ruins with a device called a fluxgate gradiometer, a type of magnetometer. It measures slight variations in the Earth's magnetic field caused by certain types of iron oxides beneath the surface. "These oxides are present in Nile mud," explains Herbich. "And what's the main material used by ancient Egyptian builders? Sun-dried bricks made of Nile mud!" For nearly a week in 2001 Herbich's assistant walked more than ten miles (16 kilometers) a day over a numbing grid, taking over 80,000 measurements. The survey turned up several small funerary chapels but no enclosures. Then, during Herbich's last hour in the field, his magnetic divining rod finally found royal mud. He downloaded the data onto his laptop, and as the digital map came into focus, he called out, "We have an enclosure!" Adams and a small crew went to work uncovering part of the enclosure, but the field season was ending, and they had to rebury it and return home. In 2002 O'Connor again asked Adams to go to Abydos, this time to undertake a massive excavation of the new discovery. After a month of tediously peeling back layers of sand, Adams uncovered jars and wine stoppers bearing Aha's name, confirming that his lost funerary enclosure was at last found. Once the crew reached the enclosure's floor, they discovered six surrounding graves. Three contained the bodies of adult women, one held the remains of a man, and one held a young child with 25 ivory bracelets embellished with tiny lapis beads. The sixth grave remains unexcavated. In each case the archaeological evidence pointed to a sacrificial death. "The graves were dug and lined with bricks, then roofed with wood and capped with mud-brick masonry," says Adams. "Above that masonry cap, a plaster floor extends out from the enclosure and covers all the graves." The floor extension is seamless-an important clue, for it would have been impossible to entomb people under the floor except all at the same time. It's unlikely that 41 people-the six at Aha's enclosure plus 35 at his tomb-would have died of natural causes at the same time. Another possibility is that they died randomly over time and were then stockpiled and reburied en masse. But for O'Connor and Adams, the evidence strongly suggests they were sacrificed. How were they killed? Petrie believed that he saw signs of post-burial movement in the tomb graves, suggesting that people were alive or semiconscious when buried. Brenda Baker, a physical anthropologist from Arizona State University, examined all the skeletons from Aha's enclosure and found no signs of trauma. "The method of their demise is still a mystery," says Adams. "My guess is that they were drugged." Or strangled, suggests Nancy Lovell, a physical anthropologist at the University of Alberta. Lovell studied skulls from Aha's tomb and found telltale stains inside the victims' teeth. "When someone is strangled," she explains, "increased blood pressure can cause blood cells inside the teeth to rupture and stain the dentin, the part of the tooth just under the enamel." It now seems clear that human sacrifice was practiced in early Egypt-as was true in other parts of the ancient world. Sir Leonard Woolley's excavation during the 1920s and '30s at Ur in modern-day Iraq revealed hundreds of sacrificial graves dating back to 2500 b.c. and related to the burial of Mesopotamian kings and queens. Evidence for sacrifice has also been seen in Nubian, Mesoamerican, and several other ancient cultures. In Egypt enthusiasm for the grim practice seems to have waned quickly. Aha's subsidiary graves are the earliest to be found, and his successor, Djer, embraced the practice with fervor-more than 300 graves flank his tomb, and another 269 surround his mortuary enclosure. But Qaa, the last ruler of the 1st dynasty, had fewer than 30 sacrificial graves beside his tomb, although his enclosure remains lost. And by the 2nd dynasty the practice simply stopped. O'Connor thinks it ended because the royal staff rebelled. "People tend to say that the Egyptians were becoming more civilized and that's why it stopped, but I think that reflects our own prejudices. These graves included relatively high-ranking people, and the reason it stopped might be more political than ethical." Perhaps it was an honor to serve the king in the afterlife, but it was an honor that could wait. By the 3rd dynasty Egypt's pharaohs began building their tombs more than 250 miles (400 kilometers) downstream at Saqqara. There, a new tradition arose: The separate tomb and enclosure were combined into a single complex that included a colossal pyramid tomb bounded by the walls of a ceremonial enclosure. The royal necropolis at Abydos lay abandoned for the next 700 years. Then during the Middle Kingdom the cult of Osiris became a major force in Egyptian religion. Legend held that Osiris, lord of the afterlife, was also Egypt's first king, and so pharaohs dispatched priests to Abydos on a kind of archaeological expedition to locate Osiris's tomb. They excavated several of the 1st-dynasty tombs and ultimately decided that Djer's belonged to Osiris. In so doing they turned Abydos into the mecca of ancient Egypt. Over the next 2,000 years several pharaohs, including Senusret III and Ramses II, built great monuments and temples at Abydos to honor Osiris. Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, farmers and pharaohs alike, made the pilgrimage to take part in an annual celebration of Osiris's resurrection. The festival culminated in an elaborate parade that wound from the town past a series of small chapels built to honor the god-king, then up a dry riverbed to the ancient desert cemetery. Arriving at Osiris's tomb, the pilgrims had no inkling that hundreds of their ancestors-royal staff members sacrificed more than a thousand years earlier-lay buried beneath their feet. Seeking Osiris's blessing for their own passage to the afterlife, the worshippers brought millions of small clay offering pots filled with fruit and smoldering incense. You can still see the potsherds today, piled high like so many hopes that in the wake of death comes eternal life.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

2008 World Youth Chess Championships

From the Southlake Times Star: Eubanks student makes second trip to world chess championship By Christina Rowland/ Staff Writer (Created: Thursday, October 16, 2008 1:02 PM CDT) Sarah Chiang has come a long way since she took up chess four years ago. The 11-year-old leaves Friday morning for Vietnam and her second appearance at the World chess Championships. Sarah was originally taught the game by her father and shortly after joined a Southlake city-wide chess club to perfect her skills. When asked about how she felt about her upcoming matches she said, “It’s going to be hard, I think it is hard because you can’t really master a game of chess all the way through because there is always something new.” To get ready for the upcoming tournament, Sarah studies her openings.According to Christine Chiang, Sarah’s mom, the game of chess is broken up into three parts openings, middle games, and end games. “(In openings) all the pieces are still on the board, so you plan the best place to put your pieces,” Christine said. Sarah has also been practicing tactics, which includes tricks and traps. Her mom said she practices 50 to 100 of these a day. Sarah also works with a chess coach. “He usually teaches us middle game strategy and what you think and the ideas behind it,” Sarah said. Sarah leaves Friday for Vietnam and the tournament runs from Oct.17 through Nov.1 with only one day of rest. When she gets there, her typical schedule will be to wake up, eat breakfast, spend a half-hour working with her coach, play a match, go over match with her coach, eat dinner and go to bed. The matches start at 3 p.m. everyday and can last hours. Christine explained that each player gets 90 minutes to play, but after each move they make, they hit the clock on their side and it adds 30 seconds back to the clock. “Sometimes in a game you get stuck and use up a lot of time,” Sarah said. A player wins a chess game if they checkmate the other player, if one player runs out of time, or if there is a draw, which means that there are no pieces on the board to make a move with. “Chess is a battle of ideas across the board,” Sarah said. “Every single game is different and there are always new challenges to meet and it’s always interesting.” There are 11 rounds in the tournament and each player acquires points in the rounds.. A win earns one point, a draw earns half a point, and a loss gets zero points. There are 68 girls in Sarah’s category representing 39 different countries. Sarah represents the U.S. Team under 12. Last year, she placed second in the world and earned the title Woman Candidate Master. She had eight and a half points.“(This year) I just hope I don’t do bad. It would be wonderful if I got first but I don’t know,” Sarah said. Sarah will be joined in Vietnam by her little brother, Jonathan, who also plays on the U.S. Chess team under 8 division.

Katherine Neville "The Fire"

I started reading "The Fire" on the bus ride to the office this morning. Read some more on the ride home tonight. Wow! Unbelievably, I guess I won't be giving too much away to say it starts out with a bang. So, for the next few days as I snatch time to read, I won't be here much!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

When Did People Arrive in the Americas?

From The Archaeology Channel: ICE AGE DISCOVERIES: NEW EVIDENCE Location: Virginia Length: 30 min. (Windows Media Player 56k 300k 700k) (Real Player 56k 300k 700k) Click on your speed to play Recent excavations at a number of sites, including Cactus Hill located along the Nottoway River in southwest Virginia, have provided new evidence and raised new questions about when people ventured into the Americas. For many years, archaeologists thought that people arrived approximately 11,500 years ago. However, stone artifacts, charcoal, and soil, plant and animal remains suggest human habitation at Cactus Hill at least 18,000 years ago, when much of the continent was under ice.

Supporting Local Chess: The Southwest Chess Club, Hales Corners, WI

I have news! The results of the judging for the "best games" prizes funded by Goddesschess at the Hales Corners Challenge VIII on October 4, 2008 are in: Best Game by a Female Player--$25: won by Joanna Huang for her victory over Al Buschmann; and Best Game by a Male Player--$25: won by Andrew Grochowski for his victory over Bill Olk. The prize games can be replayed here. Here is the entire announcement from my adopted Club's website: Our club sponsors two weekend tournaments each year (October & April). The Hales Corners Challenge VIII was held on Saturday, October 4, 2008 at the Wyndham Milwaukee Airport Hotel. In addition to the usual prizes, Goddess Chess sponsored additional prizes: Top Finishing Female Player--$50: won by Nicole Niemi; Best Game by a Female Player--$25: won by Joanna Huang for her victory over Al Buschmann; and Best Game by a Male Player--$25: won by Andrew Grochowski for his victory over Bill Olk. The prize games can be replayed here. Stay tuned for details on our next Hales Corners Challenge series tournament, scheduled for April 25, 2009 (probably at the Wyndham Milwaukee Airport Hotel).
Thanks to the folks who volunteered to go over the games after the tournament finished to select the games for the "best games" prizes. It was a lot of fun for Goddesschess to sponsor prizes for local events in Milwaukee and Montreal this year. We're already looking forward to 2009.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Byzantine Mosaics of the Amazon Queens

From Today's Zaman: Amazonian queen excavations reveal ancient palace in Şanlıurfa Excavation work in southeastern Şanlıurfa province has led to the discovery of a Roman palace (A.D. fifth to sixth century) and floor mosaics. The Anatolia news agency reported on Sunday that the Haleplibahçe district, one of the oldest historical residential areas of the city, constitutes an important part of the ancient city of Edessa, famous for its wall pictures depicting the Amazonian queens Hippolyte, Antiope, Melanippe and Penthesileia hunting in the forest. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism began the excavation work two years ago after these wall pictures were found. Archeologists have analyzed the mosaic of goddess Kticic, the founder and guardian goddess, found during the course of this year's excavations, which lasted for four months. She stands in the foreground, holding the scales of justice in her hand. The background includes a black man and a zebra. The archeologists explained that the figure of the black man and the zebra in mosaics are characteristic of Palestine and that this was the first time they had been encountered in Turkey. The work also partly revealed a mosaic that depicts a scene in which Chiron, the trainer of Achilles -- the famous Greek mythological warrior -- is learning how to fight. Excavation work in the region still continues and, following its completion, the area will be turned into an archeology park. Mehmet Önal, one of the archeologists working on the Haleplibahçe excavations, said the mosaics they found were very similar to those found in Antakya and Byzantine mosaics in İstanbul. Önal noted that they have revealed western, northern and eastern walls of the ancient building this year, adding that there were also fountains and shallow pools around the walls of the palace. Önal stated that the palace had a 34-meter-long baronial hall with a floor covered with mosaics, adding that the palace was similar to villas that were found in the ancient city of Zeugma in Gaziantep province. However, none of the villas in Zeugma had a hall of this size. "The tesserae used for the mosaics of this palace are very small, which shows that the workmanship of the mosaics was very good. This shows that the palace belonged to an important administrator of the Eastern Roman Empire," Önal said, adding: "There is an unbelievable color harmony in the mosaics with their rich anatomical figures. No other mosaic has ever had the influential image of the horse that Amazonian Penthesilea rides." 14 October 2008, Tues Tuesday TODAY'S ZAMAN WITH WIRES İSTANBUL

Kumar Purnima and Puja to Laxmi

Two celebrations running concurrently in parts of India: Hemant Kumar Rout I ENS First Published : 14 Oct 2008 11:05:00 AM IST Last Updated : 14 Oct 2008 01:24:34 PM IST BALASORE: After bidding adieu to Goddess Durga, girls of the coastal district of Balasore are all set to celebrate Kumar Purnima, on Tuesday. It is a festival of unmarried girls. This autumn festival is celebrated on a full-moon day in the month of Aswina and is one of the most popular festivals of Orissa. Kumar or Kartikeya, the son of Lord Shiva was born on this day. During the festival, instead of any God, the girls worship the Sun and the Moon. “We have been celebrating this festival for years. As this is the only festival for teenage girls, we eagerly wait to celebrate it. It spreads the message of togetherness,” said Sumitra Mohanty, a college girl. Puja to Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth, also starts from the day of Kumar Purnima and continues for a week. Beautiful images of Goddess Laxmi are prepared in clay and worshiped in brightly decorated puja pandals. Besides the ‘sarbajanin’ pujas, some people also offer puja to the Goddess after installing idols in their houses. “Many people worship the Goddess in their homes and keep themselves awake by playing pasa (chess), and other indoor games. Significantly, it suggests that those who wish to acquire wealth should always be vigilant at night. It is for this reason that the owl, the carrier of Goddess Laxmi, sleeps in the day and comes out only at night,” said Gananatha Padhi, a priest.

Politkovskaya family lawyer ill, possibly poisoned

From the website for The Committee to Protect Journalists: FRANCE/RUSSIA: Politkovskaya family lawyer ill, possibly poisoned New York, October 14, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned about the welfare of Russian lawyer Karinna Moskalenko, who represents the family of slain Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Moskalenko was the target of an apparent poisoning in Strasbourg, France, days before she was due to appear in a Moscow court for pretrial proceedings for three suspects charged in Politkovskaya’s October 2006 slaying, news reports said. “We are shocked by this apparent attempt to intimidate Karinna Moskalenko,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We wish Moskalenko and her family a speedy recovery, and we call on French and Russian authorities to investigate the matter thoroughly.” Moskalenko was sickened by a mercury-like substance she found beneath the rugs of her car on Sunday morning, according to Sergei Sokolov, Novaya Gazeta’s deputy editor-in-chief. French police opened a criminal investigation but have not commented publicly, Agence France-Presse reported. Investigators were working to identify the substance, which the Moskalenkos found because the car’s rugs were not fitting properly, according to Russian press reports. Moskalenko had felt weak for several days, suffering nausea, coughing, swelling, and headaches, according to Russian press reports. The lawyer, who lives part-time in Strasbourg with her husband and three children because of her frequent appearances before the European Court of Human Rights, told the independent Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy, that her children suffered similar symptoms. Sokolov, who is in contact with the lawyer, said Moskalenko and her family were examined by doctors in Strasbourg today and were told they would recover. Doctors did not publicly disclose a diagnosis, but the lawyer said she believed the illnesses were tied to the substance, news reports said. Sokolov said lingering illness would preclude Moskalenko from traveling to Moscow for Wednesday’s scheduled opening of the Politkovskaya murder proceedings. A preliminary hearing in the case against Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, a former police officer with the Moscow Directorate for Combating Organized Crime, and brothers Ibragim and Dzhabrail Makhmudov is due to start on Wednesday in Moscow District Military Court, Sokolov said. He said Politkovskaya’s son, Ilya, and defense lawyer Anna Stavitskaya are expected to seek a postponement because of the Strasbourg incident. The preliminary hearing is significant. Sokolov told CPJ that the hearing would determine whether the case would be heard by a jury or a judge; if the defendants would be held in custody during the proceedings; and whether the trial would be open to the public. Novaya Gazeta and CPJ have called for the proceedings to be open. Sokolov told CPJ that the motive for the apparent poisoning is unclear. Moskalenko has been involved in a number of sensitive cases. Her clients include Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the imprisoned former chief executive of oil conglomerate Yukos; Garry Kasparov, the world chess champion turned opposition leader, dissident Aleksandr Litvinenko, who was slained in London in 2006; and the relatives of slain journalist Dmitry Kholodov, who was murdered in October 1994. Moskalenko and her team of lawyers at the Moscow-based International Protection Center have won 27 cases before the European Court of Human Rights and have more than a 100 cases pending, according to the Russian independent news Web site Gazeta. She has represented families of torture victims in Chechnya, as well as relatives of victims of the 2002 Nord-Ost theater hostage crisis in Moscow and the 2004 school hostage crisis in Beslan, according to Russian press reports. © 2008 Committee to Protect Journalists. E-mail:

Katherine Neville "The Fire"

Whoa! My copy of Neville's long-awaited seqel to "The Eight" is on its way from Borders online, yippee! Saw this - an excerpt from USA Today!!! Excerpt from 'The Fire' 9/4/2008 11:33 AM By Katherine Neville EXCERPT... THE BLACK LAND Wyrd oft nereth unfaegne eorl, ponne his ellen deah. (Unless he is already doomed, fortune is apt to favor the man who keeps his nerve.) –Beowulf Mesa Verde, Colorado Spring 2003 BEFORE I'D EVEN REACHED THE HOUSE, I KNEW SOMETHING was wrong. Very wrong. Even though on the surface, it all seemed picture-perfect. The steep, sweeping curve of drive was blanketed deep in snow and lined with stately rows of towering Colorado blue spruce. Their snow-covered branches sparkled like rose quartz in the early morning light. Atop the hill, where the driveway flattened and spread out for parking, I pulled up my rented Land Rover in front of the lodge. A lazy curl of blue-gray smoke rose from the moss rock chimney that formed the center of the building. The rich scent of pine smoke pervaded the air, which meant that–although I might not be warmly welcomed after all this time–at least I was expected. To confirm this, I saw that my mother's truck and jeep were both sitting side-by-side in the former horse stable at the edge of the parking area. I did find it odd, though, that the drive had not yet been plowed and there were no tracks. If I were expected, wouldn't someone have cleared a path? Now that I was here at last, in the only place I'd ever called home, you would think I could finally relax. But I couldn't shake the sense that something was wrong. Our family lodge had been built at about this same period in the prior century, by neighboring tribes, for my great-great-grandmother, a pioneering mountain lass. Constructed of hand-hewn rock and massive tree trunks chinked together, it was a huge log cabin that was shaped like an octagon–patterned after a hogan or sweat lodge–with many-paned windows facing in each cardinal direction, like a vast, architectural compass rose. Each female descendant had lived here at one time or another, including my mother and me.. .. So what was wrong with me? Why couldn't I ever come here without this sense of impending doom? I knew why, of course. And so did my mother. It was the thing we never spoke about. That's why–when I had finally left home for good–my mother understood. She'd never insisted, like other mothers, that I come back for familial visits. That is, not until today. But then, my presence today hadn't exactly been by invitation–it was more of a summons, a cryptic message that Mother had left on my home phone back in Washington D.C., when she knew very well I'd be off at work. She was inviting me, she said, to her birthday party. And that, of course, was a big part of the problem. You see, my mother didn't have birthdays. She'd never had birthdays. I don't mean she was concerned about her youth or appearance or wished to lie about her age–in fact, she looked more youthful each year. But the strange truth was, she didn't want anyone outside of our family even to know when her birthday was. This secrecy, combined with a few other idiosyncracies–like the fact that she'd been in hermetic retreat up on top of this mountain for the past ten years, ever since. .. the thing we never spoke about–all went far to explain why there were those who may have perceived my mother, Catherine Velis, as a pretty eccentric duck. The other part of my current problem was that I hadn't been able to contact my mother for an explanation of her sudden revelation. She'd answered neither her phone nor the messages I'd left for her, here at the lodge. The alternate number she'd given me was clearly not right–it was missing some final digits. With my first true inkling that something was really wrong, I'd taken a few days off work, bought a ticket, caught the last flight into Cortez, Colorado, in a blizzard, and rented the last four-wheel-drive vehicle in the airport lot. Now I left the engine running as I sat here for a moment, letting my eyes graze over the breathtaking panoramic view. I hadn't been home in more than four years. And each time I saw it afresh, it smacked the wind out of me. I got out of the Rover in knee-deep snow and let the engine run. From here on the mountaintop, fourteen thousand feet atop the Colorado Plateau, I could see the vast, billowing sea of three-mile-high mountain peaks, licked by the rosy morning light. On a clear day like this, I could see all the way to Mount Hesperus–which the Diné call Dibé Nitsaa: Black Mountain. One of the four sacred mountains created by First Man and First Woman. Together with Sisnaajinii, white mountain (Mt. Blanca) in the east; Tsoodzil, blue mountain (Mt. Taylor) in the south, and Dook'o'osliid, yellow mountain (San Francisco Peaks) in the west, these four marked out the four corners of Dinétah–"Home of the Diné," as the Navajo call themselves. And they pointed as well to the high plateau I was standing on: Four Corners, the only place in the U.S. where four states–Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona–come together at right angles to form a cross. Long before anyone ever thought to draw dotted lines on a map, this land was sacred to everyone who ever walked across it. If my mother was going to have her first-ever birthday party in the nearly twenty-two years I had known her, I could understand why she wanted to have it here. Regardless of how many years she had lived abroad or away, like all the women in our family she was part of this land. For some reason, I knew that this connection with the land was somehow important. I knew that was why she had left a message strange enough to bring me to this spot. And I knew something else, even if no one else did. I knew why she'd insisted I come here today. For today–April fourth–actually was my mother, Cat Velis's, birthday. I YANKED MY KEYS FROM THE IGNITION, GRABBED MY hastily packed duffle bag from the passenger seat, and plowed my way through the snow to our hundred-yearold front doors. These huge doors–two massive slabs of heart pine ten feet high, cut from ancient trees–were carved in bas-relief with two animals that seemed to be coming right at you. On the left, a golden eagle soared straight at your face. And from the right door burst an angry, upright female bear. Despite the weathering of these carvings, they were pretty realistic–with glass eyes and real talons and claws. The early twentieth century had loved clever inventions, and this one was a doozy: If you pulled the bear's paw, her jaw dropped open to reveal very real and frightening teeth. If you had the nerve to stick your hand into her mouth, you could twist the old-fashioned door chime, to alert those within. I did both and waited. But even after a few moments, there was no response. Someone must have been inside–the chimney was active. And I knew from practice that stoking that fire pit took hours of tending and a Herculean effort to haul the wood. But with our hearth, which was capable of receiving a log of fifty caliper inches, a fire could have been laid days ago and still be burning. My situation suddenly dawned on me: Having flown and driven a few thousand miles, I was standing in the snow on top of a mountain, trying to get access to my own house, desperate to know if anyone was inside. But I didn't have a key. My alternative–wading through acres of deep snow to peep through a window–seemed a poor idea. What would I do if I got wetter than I already was and still couldn't get inside? What if I got inside and no one was there? There were no car tracks, ski tracks–even deer tracks–anywhere near the house. So I did the only intelligent thing I could think of: I yanked my cellphone out of my pocket and dialed Mother's number, right here at the lodge. I was relieved when her message machine picked up after six rings, thinking she might have left some clue as to her whereabouts. But when her recorded voice came on, my heart sank: "I can be reached at. .. " and she rattled off the same number she'd left on my D.C. phone–still missing the very last digits! I stood before the door, wet and cold, and fuming with confusion and frustration. Where did one go from here? And then I remembered the game. My favorite uncle, Slava, was famed throughout the world as the noted technocrat and author Ladislaus Nim. He'd been my best friend in my childhood, and though I hadn't seen him in years, I felt he still was. Slava hated telephones. He vowed he would never have one in his house. Telephones, no–but Uncle Slava loved puzzles. He'd written several books on the topic. Through my childhood, if anyone received a message from Slava with a phone number where you could reach him, they always knew it wasn't real–it must be some kind of encrypted message. That was his delight. It seemed unlikely, though, that my mother would use such a technique to communicate with me. For one thing, she wasn't even good at deciphering such messages herself, and she couldn't invent a puzzle if her life depended upon it. More unlikely still, was the idea that Slava had created a message for her. As far as I knew, she hadn't talked to my uncle in years, not since. .. the thing we never spoke about. Yet I was sure, somehow, that this was a message. I jumped back up into the Land Rover and switched on the engine. Decrypting puzzles to locate my mother sure beat all hell out of the alternatives: breaking into an abandoned house, or flying back to D.C. and never learning where she'd gone. I called her machine again: I jotted down the phone number she'd left there, for all the world to hear. If she was in real trouble of some kind and trying to contact only me, I prayed that I would decipher it first. "I can be reached at 615-263-94.. ." my mother's recorded voice said. My hand was shaking as I wrote out the numbers on a pad. I'd been provided eight numbers, rather than the ten numbers required to make a long-distance call. But as with Uncle Slava's puzzles, I suspected this had nothing to do with phones. Here was a ten-digit code, of which the final two numbers were missing. Those two numbers themselves were my hidden message. It took about ten minutes to figure it out–much longer than when I was running neck and neck with my crazy but wonderful uncle. If you divided the string of numbers into twos (hint: we were missing the last two digits), then you ended up with: 61-52-63-94 If you reversed those numbers, as I quickly saw, you ended up with two-digit square numbers, starting with the square of four. That is, the products of four, five, six, and seven when multiplied by themselves: 16-25-36-49 The next number in the sequence–and the missing number–was eight. So the missing last two digits of the series were the square of eight–that is, 64. In the real puzzle, of course, if you reversed the number, the answer would have been 46–but that wasn't it. I knew–and so did my mother–that 64 had another meaning for me. It was the number of squares on a chess board, with eight squares on each side. In a nutshell: the thing we never talked about. My distraught and intractable mother had refused ever to speak of the game of chess–even to permit it into her house. Since my father's death (the other thing which we never talked about), I was forbidden ever to play the game–the only thing I'd ever known how to do, the only thing that helped me connect with the world around me. I might as well have been ordered, at the age of twelve, to become autistic. My mother was opposed, in every way imaginable, to the idea of chess. Though I'd never been able to follow her logic–if indeed, it was logic–to my mother's mind, chess would prove as dangerous to me as it had been to my father. But now it seemed that by bringing me here on her birthday, by leaving that cryptic phrase with its encrypted message, she was welcoming me back to the game. I TIMED IT: IT TOOK ME TWENTY-SEVEN MINUTES AND– since I'd left the engine running–a gallon of hog-guzzling gas, until I figured out how to get inside. By now, anyone with half a brain would have guessed that those two-digit numbers were also combinations on a tumbler. But there were no locks on the house. Except there was one in the barn. On a lock box. The keys to the cars were kept there. Would I be justified in saying "Duh"? I switched off the Rover, plowed through the snow to the barn–and voil?!–a few tumblers dropped, the door to the lock box opened, and the door key appeared on a chain. Back at the house, it took a moment to recall that the key was inserted into the eagle's left claw. Then the ancient doors groaned open a crack. I scraped my boots on the rusty old fireplace grille we kept beside the entrance, shoved open the heavy front doors of the lodge, and slammed them shut behind me, causing a flurry of sparkling snowflakes to sift through the slanted morning light. Within the dim interior of the mud room–an entry not much bigger than a confessional that kept the cold winds out–I kicked off my dripping boots and pulled on a pair of the fuzzy sheepskin apr?s-ski booties that always sat there atop our frozen-food locker. When I'd hung up my parka, I opened the inner doors and stepped into the vast octagon, warmed by the giant log that was burning in the central hearth. The octagon was a room perhaps one hundred feet across and thirty feet high. The fire pit took up the center, with a copper hood above it, hung with pots, rising to the moss stone chimney that pulled smoke upward to the sky. It was like an enormous teepee, except for the massive furniture scattered everywhere. My mother had always been averse to things one might actually sit on, but there was our ebony parlor grand piano, a sideboard, an assortment of desks, library tables, and revolving bookcases, and a billiard table that no one ever played on. The upper floor was an octagonal balcony that overhung the room. There were small chambers there where people could sleep and even, sometimes, bathe. Molten light poured through the lower windows at every side, glittering across the dust that draped the mahogany. From the ceiling skylights, rosy morning light sifted down, picking out the features of the colorfully painted heads of animal totems that were carved into the enormous beams supporting the balcony: bear, wolf, eagle, stag, buffalo, goat, cougar, ram. From their lofty perspective, nearly twenty feet high, they seemed to be floating timelessly in space. Everything seemed to be frozen in time. The only sound was the occasional cracking of fire from the log. I walked around the perimeter, from one window to another, looking out at the snow: There was not one print to be seen, anywhere. I went up the spiral stairs to the balcony and checked each partitioned sleeping space. Not the slightest trace. But how had she done it? It appeared that my mother, Cat Velis, had vanished into thin air. A jarring noise broke the silence: A telephone was ringing. I dashed down the steep, twisted stair and snatched the receiver from atop mother's British campaign desk, just before the machine kicked in. "Good Lord, what were you thinking, darling, choosing this god forsaken spot?" came the throaty voice, tinted with a bit of British accent, of a woman I knew only too well. "And for that matter, where on earth are you? We've been driving around this wilderness for what seems like days!" There was a pause, when she seemed to be speaking to someone else. "Aunt Lily?" I said. For it was surely she–my aunt, Lily Rad–my first chess mentor, and still one of the top women grandmasters in the game. Once, she'd been my mother's best friend, though they hadn't touched base in years. But what was she doing calling here now? And driving around–what on earth did that mean? "Alexandra?" said Lily, confused. "I thought I was phoning your mother. What are you doing there? I thought you and she weren't. .. on the best of terms." "We've reconciled," I said hastily, not wanting to open that can of worms again. "But mother doesn't seem to be here right now. And where exactly are you?" "She's not there?! You can't be serious," Lily said, fuming. "I've come all the way from London just to see her. She insisted! Something about a birthday party– God knows what that means. As for where I am right now, it is anyone's guess! The satellite positioning system on my automobile keeps insisting that I'm in Purgatory–and I'm fully able to accept that judgment. We haven't seen anything resembling civilization for hours." "You're here? In Purgatory?" I said. "That's a ski area; it's less than an hour from here." But it seemed crazy: The top female British-American chess champion came from London to Purgatory, Colorado, to attend a birthday party? "When did mother invite you?" "It wasn't so much an invitation as an edict," Lily admitted. "She left the news on my cellphone, with no means to reply." There was a pause, then Lily added, "I adore your mother–you know that, Alexandra. But I could never accept–" "Neither could I," I agreed. "Let's drop it. So how did you know how to find her?" "I didn't! Good God, I still don't! My car's by the road someplace near a town that promotes itself as the next stop from Hell; there's no edible food; my driver refuses to budge without being given a pint of vodka; my dog has disappeared into some. .. dune of snow, chasing some local rodent. .. and–I might add–I have had more trouble locating your mother by phone, this past week, than the Mossad had in tracking down Doctor Mengele in South America!" She was hyperventillating. I considered it was time to intervene. "It's okay, Aunt Lily," I told her. "We'll get you here. As for food, you know I can whip something up. There's always plenty of tinned food here and vodka for your driver–we can put him up, too, if you like. I'm too far away; it would take me too long to reach you. But if you'll give me your satellite coordinates, I've a friend quite near there who can escort you here to the lodge." "Whomever he may be, bless him," said my aunt Lily, not a person normally given to gratitude. "It's a she," I said. "And her name is Key. She'll be there in half an hour." I took down Lily's cellphone number and left a message at the airstrip to arrange for Key to pick her up. Key had been my best friend since childhood, but she'd be more than surprised to learn that I'd turned up here with no warning after all this time. As I hung up the phone, I saw something across the room that I hadn't noticed before. The top of Mother's parlor grand piano–which was always raised, in case she got the urge to play–had been lowered flat. Atop was a piece of paper with a round, dark weight set upon it. I went over to look, and I felt the blood flooding into my brain. The paperweight was overt enough: Propped on a metal key ring, to keep it from rolling, was the eight ball from our billiard table. The note itself was definitely from my mother; the code was so simplistic that no one else could have invented it. I saw how hard she'd worked to communicate cryptically, clearly with no help. The note, in large print, read: –Washington –Luxury Car –Virgin Isles –Elvis Lives –As Above So Below The Elvis part was simple: My mother's last name– Velis–was spelled two different ways to show it was from her. As if I needed that helpful clue. The rest was a lot more upsetting. And not because of the code. Washington was, of course, "DC"; Luxury Car was "LX"; Virgin Isles was "VI." Together, in Roman numerals (as they clearly were), their numeric value was: D = 500 C = 100 L = 50 X = 10 V = 5 I = 1 Tally them up, and it's 666–the Number of the Beast from the apocalypse. I wasn't worried about that Beast–we had plenty of those protecting us, scattered about the lodge as our animal totems. But for the first time, I was truly worried about my mother. Why had she used this hackneyed pseudomillennial ruse to grab my attention? What about the paperweight on top–another standard bunkum, "Behind the eight ball"–what on earth did that mean? And what should one make of that old alchemical drivel, "As Above, So Below"? Then, of course, I got it. I removed the eight ball and the bit of paper, setting them on the keyboard music stand, and I opened the piano. Before I could set the strut in place, I nearly dropped the lid. There, inside the hollow body of the instrument, I saw something I thought I would never, ever see again inside my mother's house as long as she lived. A chess set. Not just a chess set–but a chess set with a game set up, a game that was partially in play. There were pieces that had been removed from the field of play and set out upon the keyboard strings at either side–black or white. The first thing I noticed was that the Black Queen was missing. I glanced over at the billiard table–good heavens, Mother, really!–and saw that the missing queen had been placed in the rack where the eight ball was supposed to be. It was something like being drawn into a vortex. I began to feel the game in play. Good Lord, how I had missed this. How had I been able to leave it behind? It was nothing like a drug at all, as people sometimes said. It was an infusion of life. I forgot the pieces that were off the board or behind the eight ball; I could reconstruct everything from the patterns that were still there. For several long moments, I forgot my missing mother, my aunt Lily lost in Purgatory with her chauffeur, her dog, and her car. I forgot what I'd sacrificed–what my life had become against my will. I forgot everything except the game before me–the game cached away like a dark secret, in the belly of that piano. But as I reconstructed the moves, dawn arose through the high glass windows–just as a sobering realization dawned within my mind. I could not stop the horror of this game. How could I stop it, when I had replayed it over and over again in my mind, these past ten years? For I knew this game quite well. It was the game that had killed my father. THE FIRE ISBN: 978-0-345-50067-0 On Sale: October 14, 2008 $26.00 Publisher: Ballantine Books

Young Philippines Players Headed to World Youth Chess Championships

Wednesday, October 15, 2008 4 Pangasinense chess players to compete in Vietnam LINGAYEN -- Four Pangasinense young chess protégés will be flying to Vietnam to compete in the upcoming World Youth Chess Championships on October 19-31 in Vungtau, Vietnam. The chess players are Haridas Pascua of Mangatarem (15 years old), Prince Mark Aquino of San Nicolas (13 years old), Cherry Ann Mejia of San Jacinto (13 years old), and Samantha Glo Revita of Rosales (eight years old). Pascua and Revita had played in several international competitions and brought home several medals. Mejia said it will be her second competition abroad. Aquino has also experienced playing in other countries. Last Monday, Sangguniang Kabataan Provincial Federation president Kazel Celeste wished Mejia and the other players good luck during their visit to the provincial Capitol. Celeste also commended the parents of the four chess players for supporting their children especially when they compete abroad. One of the parents said it is really hard work and patience for them as they shoulder all of the expenses of their children. The National Chess Federation extends no financial assistance to the players. (LCMY/Sunnex)

Alisha Chawla: Chess Princess

Fremont girl is a chess star at age 7 Posted by tomlangland on Tuesday, October 14 @ 10:58:59 CDT Photo: From Susan Polgar Girls Blog Alisha Chawla isn't much for dolls, but she loves the children's book, "A Little Princess," and adores the queen. How fitting for Fremont's 7-year-old little princess of chess, the highest-rated female player for her age in Northern California, who is rapidly becoming one of the best in the country. Alisha is adorable. She's sweet and petite. Like most 7-year-olds, she's precocious at times and shy at others. For her first newspaper interview, she pretty much stuck to one-word answers and required frequent eye-glance reassurance from her mother. But on a chess board, particularly wielding her favorite piece — the queen — Little Miss Chawla quickly transforms into a tiger. She moves the pieces authoritatively and thumps them hard onto the board wherever she places them. It's intimidating, even for an adult sports columnist who challenged her to a game. "I like to win," Alisha said with an innocent but confident smile. A large shelf in her room proves that she's already won a lot. It's loaded with trophies, and she quickly removed her piano recital and softball trophies to display just the ones she's accumulated playing chess — 22 by her count. It looked like more. One of the largest trophies in Alisha's growing collection came less than two weeks ago, when she tied for first in her age group at the Las Vegas International Chess Festival, winning four of five games. Her achievement landed her a spot in the prestigious Susan Polgar National Invitational For Girls at Texas Tech in July, an event that will bring together the country's top young female players. Alisha's biggest honor, however, was the invitation she recently received to participate in the World Youth Chess Championships in Vung Tau, Vietnam, Oct. 19 to 31. It's an unprecedented development for the renowned Weibel Elementary School chess program, which attracts more than 200 K-6 students every year to learn and play the most cerebral of strategy games. "We've had some fine, highly ranked players who placed high at the state and national levels in the past," said Dr. Alan Kirshner, an Ohlone College history/political science professor who has run the Weibel program since 1988. "But this is the first time we've ever had any of our players invited to a world championship — male or female — so it's very, very exciting for us." The Bay Area boasts some of the best preteen chess talent in the world. In March, 9-year-old Nicholas Nip of San Francisco became the youngest master in history by reaching a 2200 rating, an accomplishment that the late Bobby Fischer did not achieve until he was 13. In the East Bay, 7-year-old Tanuj Vasudeva of Newark tied for first in the Lerner National Elementary Championships in May, an event in which Chawla finished 57th but was the second-highest female finisher. The United States Chess Federation lists Vasudeva as the fifth-ranked 7-and-under player in the country with a rating of 1545. Another Weibel 7-year-old, Kevin Moy, is ranked 42nd nationally (1020 rating), and Chawla is 77th and rated at 924. Ratings go up or down with wins and losses against other rated competition in tournaments, and Alisha has nearly doubled her rating in the past year. "I'm no match for her now," said Alisha's mother, Sunanda Chawla, who taught her daughter to play when she was 3. Neither is her older brother, Ashwin, whom she followed into the Weibel program. Her father, Sanjeev, a telecommunications software executive, has to study constantly to keep up and win an occasional game. While there are better players her age nationally, Alisha's distinction in chess is her gender. Young male chess players outnumber females by nearly 10 to 1, and the disparity grows as the competition gets tougher. Only in the past two decades have top women started to gain notice, largely because of the Hungarian-born Polgar sisters, Susan and Judit. Susan, the world women's chess champ from 1995 to 1999, is one of the game's leading promoters and authors. Judit is the highest-rated woman in history (eighth) and the only woman among the top 100 chess players in the world. It's too early to know the full level of Alisha's potential. Her skills must be developed and refined. She has to increase her game study and also maintain her verve for playing. But she showed rare talent and the instincts of a fearless competitor in kindergarten. "She doesn't like losing," said Ted Castro of Newark, chess tutor to 10 East Bay youngsters ranked in the top 100 nationally, including Chawla and Vasudeva. "She's very, very competitive and very feisty, too. She's very good at opening and she has excelled at tactics, but endgame is an area where she definitely needs to get better. She's a work in progress, but she has many, many years to improve." She definitely has the heart of a champion. Chawla and Vasudeva "fought it out" for the state kindergarten championship last year, but Vasudeva won — no disgrace considering he had beaten Weibel's top sixth-graders. Kirshner and Castro said she did not take it well. "She was so upset by losing, she would not accept the second-place trophy," said Kirshner. "You can see a determination in this young lady that's just unreal." After losing three consecutive times to Vasudeva in competition, she finally beat him in a regional tournament last year. "She didn't care how she did the rest of the tournament," said Castro, who tutors Alisha four hours a week. "She was jumping around and yelling, 'I beat Tanuj, I finally beat Tanuj.' " Earlier this week, five other young Weibel players gathered in the Chawla's garage for a "simul" against Alisha. She played the five kids and one columnist on six boards at once. She went 3-3, beating 8-year-old Sangetha Bharath, 7-year-old Desiree Ho (state K-1 girls champ) and 7-year-old Luke Bugbee. She lost to Moy, in the top 50 nationally; 9-year-old Nick Bugbee and the 50-something columnist named Carl ... barely. She had the columnist in trouble but missed a key move late that would have sealed her win. Ah, that endgame. Then again, it was Alisha's first real simul, and she doesn't often play adults other than her parents. She offered her tiny hand when the game ended, congratulated me and then ran away to play, later returning to pronounce me a good player. In truth, I was probably lucky. I asked Alisha for some sage 7-year-old chess advice, which she graciously provided. "Castle as early as you can, knights before bishops and hold back the queen," she said. Add this one: If you're playing Alisha Chawla, ignore the puppy-dog eyes and the little princess look. She'll have you in checkmate before you can say, "Aw, how cute." Source:

Monday, October 13, 2008

On Auction: Game Counters Owned by Frank Marshall

From Sotheby's, on auction October 18, 2008: Sale: N08478 Location: New York Auction Dates: Session 1: Fri, 17 Oct 08 10:00 AM LOT 106 A SET OF THIRTY SILVER AND ENAMEL AND IVORY GAMING COUNTERS, PROBABLY AUSTRIAN, LATE 19TH CENTURY 5,000—7,000 USD MEASUREMENTS diameter 1 3/8 in. (3.6cm) DESCRIPTION the ivory discs applied with crowned cartouches enameled in translucent green or red with pellets, stars or crescents on ermine backgrounds, each with blue enamel ribbon suspending a crescent, fitted case CATALOGUE NOTE Stated to have been given as a chess prize to Frank Marshall, American chess champion.

A Pledge to the Goddess to Stop Female Foeticide

From Ambaji pilgrims pledge before goddess to fight female foeticide Amrita Didyala Posted: Oct 13, 2008 at 0313 hrs IST Ahmedabad, October 12 A total of five lakh ‘Sankalp Patras’ signed to save the girl child and curb sex discrimination Pilgrims at the famous Ambaji temple in Banaskantha district found a new way to check the dwindling female sex ratio in the state - ‘Sankalp Patras’. The Ambaji Temple Committee members made the devotees sign the ‘Sankalp Patras’ to curb sex discrimination and female foeticide, along with a pledge to save the girl child. A total of five lakh ‘Sankalp Patras’ were signed. R.J Patel, District Collector of Banaskantha and Chairman of the Ambaji Temple Committee, said: “Out of the 25 lakh pilgrims who visited Ambaji Temple, a total of 5 lakh devotees signed the Sankalp Patras in a span of 5 days between September 11 and 15.” He added: “While the idea has been implemented for the first time at any religious place, the chances of its success are quite high as people have willingly taken a pledge before the goddess and are most likely to abide by it. In fact, we did not have to make too many efforts to persuade the devotees. All we had to do was to put up notice boards along with the Sankalp Patras.” The Ambaji Development Authority also plans to implement the same method to make devotees pledge for saving the girl child by making the Sanklap Patras available in the soon-to-be developed replicas of the 51 Shaktipeeths at the Gabbar mountain. Patel said: “We have plans to extend the experiment to other religious destinations in the area as well. This is for the first time that such an experiment has been undertaken at a religious place in the state. However, with the active participation of future devotees, the awareness campaign is bound to be effective.”

It's That Time of Year Again: Durga Puja Returns

A look at the Goddess and her Festival in the United States, from the For weekend, school hosts Hindu goddess By Chris Sikich Posted: October 13, 2008 Northview Middle School took on a new look this weekend for a Bengali religious event called the Durga Puja. Hundreds of people from Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana flocked to Indianapolis on Saturday and Sunday for the 24th annual Tri State Durga Puja and erected a shrine in the Far-Northside school's gym. The holiday honors the goddess Durga. Hindus believe she comes to Earth once a year to destroy evil and bring happiness to families. Bengal is a state in northeast India, and the Bengali people practice a form of Hinduism that celebrates Durga Puja as its major holiday. Dipan Basu, 60, president of the Bengali Association of Indiana, compares Durga Puja to Christmas in its importance. The Indianapolis event drew 700 adults and 200 children. A statue of the 10-armed goddess showed her riding a lion and defeating a blue demon. Statues of her four children flanked her. The devotees left their everyday clothes behind and donned traditional colorful robes and shirts for the celebration. They took off their shoes, knelt and prayed, and placed offerings of fruit, flowers and sweets on the floor before the statues. They also listened to and watched musical and dance performances in the school's auditorium and enjoyed traditional Indian food. Basu, a Rolls-Royce Corp. engineer from Carmel, said the event also serves social and cultural purposes, giving participants who don't see one another often the chance to connect. Rabindra Mukerjea, 63, West Lafayette, director of strategic planning and assessment at Purdue University, sang philosophical and religious songs Saturday night. "This is a wonderful gathering of people, not only for religious traditions but also for fellowship," Mukerjea said. Saturday's festivities lasted past midnight, but many people were back at the school in time for the closing religious ceremony at 10 a.m. Sunday. In Bengal, the holiday lasts 10 days; families observe five of the days privately and five with the community. Here, the five public days of celebration are condensed into a weekend, said Sudip Das, 49, Carmel. The Tri State Durga Puja comes to Indiana every four years after making a stop in Kentucky and two in Ohio. Related Information: Durga: The most powerful deity The Bengali believe the goddess Durga visits Earth once a year to destroy all evil and bring happiness to families. She's the most powerful god or goddess in Bengali tradition and is depicted with 10 arms. During Durga Puja, the Bengali pray and offer the goddess and her four children gifts such as fruit, flowers and sweets. After she defeats evil, she leaves Earth and returns to her husband, the god Shiva. Source: Dipan Basu, president, Bengali Association of Indiana

Göbekli Tepe - Oldest Constructed Place of Worship Yet Discovered

From Archaeology Magazine: The World's First Temple Volume 61 Number 6, November/December 2008 by Sandra Scham Turkey's 12,000-year-old stone circles were the spiritual center of a nomadic people [Image: carved pillar, two boars and what the article calles "ostrich-like" birds on the top] At first glance, the fox on the surface of the limestone pillar appears to be a trick of the bright sunlight. But as I move closer to the large, T-shaped megalith, I find it is carved with an improbable menagerie. A bull and a crane join the fox in an animal parade etched across the surface of the pillar, one of dozens erected by early Neolithic people at Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey. The press here is fond of calling the site "the Turkish Stonehenge," but the comparison hardly does justice to this 25-acre arrangement of at least seven stone circles. The first structures at Göbekli Tepe were built as early as 10,000 B.C., predating their famous British counterpart by about 7,000 years. The oldest man-made place of worship yet discovered, Göbekli Tepe is "one of the most important monuments in the world," says Hassan Karabulut, associate curator of the nearby Urfa Museum. He and archaeologist Zerrin Ekdogan of the Turkish Ministry of Culture guide me around the site. Their enthusiasm for the ancient temple is palpable. By the time of my visit in late summer, the excavation team lead by Klaus Schmidt of the German Archaeological Institute has wrapped up work for the season. But there is still plenty to see, including three excavated circles now protected by a large metal shelter. The megaliths, which may have once supported roofs, are about nine feet tall. Göbekli Tepe's circles range from 30 to 100 feet in diameter and are surrounded by rectangular stone walls about six feet high. Many of the pillars are carved with elaborate animal figure reliefs. In addition to bulls, foxes, and cranes, representations of lions, ducks, scorpions, ants, spiders, and snakes appear on the pillars. Freestanding sculptures depicting the animals have also been found within the circles. During the most recent excavation season, archaeologists uncovered a statue of a human and sculptures of a vulture's head and a boar. As we walk around the recently excavated pillars, the site seems at once familiar and exotic. I have seen stone circles before, but none like these. Excavations have revealed that Göbekli Tepe was constructed in two stages. The oldest structures belong to what archaeologists call the early Pre-Pottery Neolithic A period, which ended around 9000 B.C. Strangely enough, the later remains, which date to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period, or about 8000 B.C., are less elaborate. The earliest levels contain most of the T-shaped pillars and animal sculptures. Archaeologist Klaus Schmidt downplays extravagant spiritual interpretations of Göbekli Tepe, such as the idea, made popular in the press, that the site is the inspiration for the Biblical Garden of Eden. But he does agree that it was a sanctuary of profound significance in the Neolithic world. He sees it as a key site in understanding the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture, and from tribal to regional religion. Schmidt and his colleagues estimate that at least 500 people were required to hew the 10- to 50-ton stone pillars from local quarries, move them from as far as a quarter-mile away, and erect them. How did Stone Age people achieve the level of organization necessary to do this? Hauptmann speculates that an elite class of religious leaders supervised the work and later controlled the rituals that took place at the site. If so, this would be the oldest known evidence for a priestly caste--much earlier than when social distinctions became evident at other Near Eastern sites. [Typical assumption, that the ancient people used an organizational structure similar to our hierarchal way of thinking! Why not just admit the truth, WE DON'T KNOW, and leave it at that.] Before the discovery of Göbekli Tepe, archaeologists believed that societies in the early Neolithic were organized into small bands of hunter-gatherers and that the first complex religious practices were developed by groups that had already mastered agriculture. Scholars thought that the earliest monumental architecture was possible only after agriculture provided Neolithic people with food surpluses, freeing them from a constant focus on day-to-day survival. A site of unbelievable artistry and intricate detail, Göbekli Tepe has turned this theory on its head. [Yes, and if we were wrong about that, what else are we wrong about?] Schmidt believes the people who created these massive and enigmatic structures came from great distances. It seems certain that once pilgrims reached Göbekli Tepe, they made animal sacrifices. Schmidt and his team have found the bones of wild animals, including gazelles, red deer, boars, goats, sheep, and oxen, plus a dozen different bird species, such as vultures and ducks, scattered around the site. Most of these animals are depicted in the sculptures and reliefs at the site. There is still much that we don't understand about religious practices at Göbekli Tepe, Schmidt cautions. But broadly speaking, the animal images "probably illustrate stories of hunter-gatherer religion and beliefs," he says, "though we don't know at the moment." The sculptors of Göbekli Tepe may have simply wanted to depict the animals they saw, or perhaps create symbolic representations of the animals to use in rituals to ensure hunting success. Schmidt has another theory about how Göbekli Tepe became a sacred place. Though he has yet to find them, he believes that the first stone circles on the hill of the navel marked graves of important people. Hauptmann's team discovered graves at Nevali Cori, and Schmidt is reasonably confident that burials lie somewhere in the earliest layers of Göbekli Tepe. This leads him to suspect the pillars represent human beings and that the cult practices at this site may initially have focused on some sort of ancestor worship. The T-shaped pillars, he points out, look like human bodies with the upper part of the "T" resembling a head in profile. Once, Schmidt says, they stood on the hillside "like a meeting of stone beings." Sandra Scham is ARCHAEOLOGY's Washington, D.C., correspondent and a fellow at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. © 2008 by the Archaeological Institute of

Hou Wins First Gold Medal at Mind Sports Games

From People's Daily Online: China's hopeful Hou reaps first chess gold at World Mind Games 09:27, October 13, 2008 China's ace chess player Hou Yifan claimed her first title at the World Mind Sports Games here on Sunday as the 14-year-old promising star paced the host's pairs toa convincing victory in the rapid finals. Hou, combined with her teammate Ni Hua, whitewashed their Vietnamese counterpart 4-0 in the two round finals, presenting China's chess team the second gold of the 15-day Games. Though winning the gold, Hou said it was only her start. "It feels great to win my first gold medal. But there are still two team events in the following days. They are more important than the pairs competitions." said Hou, adding that the coach's timely directions helped her back to track. "I wanted to say 'thank you' to my coach. He helped me a lot and made me feel less pressure today. I was in good form and played better than I did in the blitz round. I hoped to win more golds in the following days." said the winner. China's leading pairs witnessed a slump in blitz chess on last Wednesday. They failed to advance to the finals after their upset defeat to Ecuador in the preliminaries. China's head coach Ye Jiangchuan said lacking experience was the reason to their failure. "Both of them played less blitz chess before and they were still not used to it. Take Hou for example, she lost both in the individual and pairs competitions though she played much better in the slow chess in other world tournaments. We will do more trainings on this event after the Games," said Ye. Hou is the highest ranking player in China's women team. In last month's world championships, the wunderkind could have become the world's youngest chess queen by a finger's breadth. In the final, Hou lost to Russian pinup player Kosteniuk, who is ten-year-older than her Chinese opponent. However, China's coach still showed his confidence to the hopeful girl. "She is a talented player with good potentials. In the preliminaries, she collected nine straight victories, which is not common in the world's top level competitions. Besides, her steady performance is the key to the pairs' victory today. I hope she can learn some lessons from the Games and do better in the oncoming tournaments." said Ye. In the third-place playoff, Iran beat Indonesia to wrap up the bronze. The 1st World Mind Games have attracted more than 3,000 players from 143 countries and regions. Bridge, Chess, Go, Draughts and Xiangqi were on the program. Source: Xinhua

Phillipines Chess News

From the Sun Star: Tuesday, October 14, 2008 Lady chessers sow terror in 14U class A PAIR of lady woodpushers threatens to spoil the party of the boys' pre dominated 14-under field in the well-attended 1st Ace Hardware Youth Challenge Open chess tournament in Cagayan de Oro at the Inilog Grill. Alyssa Joshua Jamaca bestowed her Polgar-like aura in mesmerizing fashion to conquer Ven Christian Salcedo, as Carol Anne Chua protects her own winning streak by holding early pacesetter Kenneth Norman Honculada to a fighting draw. With this development, the two little señoritas are assured to dispute the top honors in this exciting event, which also stakes fabulous trophies, medals and knowledge book on top of the cash prizes. While the top-board features an all-male clash between Honculada and Chezter Jayson Coquilla, fellow 4.5 pointers Chua and Jamaca were taking on Jan Eduard Amper and Annerose Manilhig, respectively, on the second and third boards in the penultimate sixth round. "Now we witness a fighting chess unfolding in the kiddies rivalry that it's not a remote possibility to see a girl ending up in a big triumph," surmised tournament arbiter Lorenzo "Jun" Cuizon. Half a point behind at 4 points each are Christian Mario Pabillore and Harold Taganas who were still locked in horns against Alexander Ray Sumania and Keenard Troy Ibaoc. In the junior division for 20 and below participants, chess buddies Alfredo Rapanot Jr., Lennon Hart Salgados and Charles Joseph Laya went on to share the lead after the third round. "I wish them luck in the last two rounds," the 15-year-old Salgados said of Laya and Rapanot who were still battling in the pivotal fourth round. "I just keep on playing over the board matches so as to prepare myself for the grandfinals of the 2008 National Shell Youth Active tourney," said Cagayan de Oro's lone finalist to the national Shell junior championship.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sunday Miscellany!

Hola darlings! I'm tapping away on the Toshiba laptop outdoors at the moment, with the Packers/Seahawks game on the radio in the background. It's a gorgeous day, one of summer's last gasps. Hot, humid, sunny, a fitful breeze. It's after 5 now and the squirrels are out in force, foraging for peanuts and other treats, and the sun is sinking in the southwest. I should have cut the grass in the backyard today, but I didn't. It was too damn hot and humid! I think it reached 80 degrees, incongruous when looking at the trees colored and shedding their leaves, my hostas and grape-vine covered fence turning yellow. At the moment the Packers/Seahawks are tied 10-10, but the Seahawks have the ball at the moment... Today was the ladies' investment club meeting. One of our members left at the end of June, but our newest member joined at about the same time, so we are still at five members. Despite - oh yippee! Packers just scored, and now lead 17/10 - Despite losing most of our gains accrued during the past three plus years in the past seven days' market crash, we have accumulated some cash and are buying great companies at Depression-era prices. It's just amazing to me that we have already purchased stock in two companies whose shares are selling for less than solid book value. People are so fricking stupid some times, selling their stocks at the worst possible moment! But hell, we're just a small group of middle-aged LIBERAL Democrats, what do we know from Wall Street, heh? We're all old enough to have lived through several recessions before, and it doesn't make any difference to us that this one is caused by a "liquidity" problem. Eventually it will be solved, one way or another, and things will either go on as before or we'll all be living in caves and it won't make any difference. Darlings, despite the Republicans' best efforts to force us back to the Stone Age in the USA, I do not believe we will be living in the Stone Age. So, here I sit, gingerly typing away on this yet unfamiliar keyboard as the squirrels cavort around - much to the ladies' delight earlier today a couple came up to the open patio screen door and peered in, seeming to intently listen as we discussed the current market conditions and our potential purchases! So, here I sit, not writing about anything of substance, just knowing that despite the market's gyrations, the world, and life, go on, oblivious of Wall Street and all of our collective Angst. This too, shall pass. The leaves are turning, and are dropping from the trees; the sun is going down before 6:30 now, and now rising until after 7 a.m.; the squirrels have fat white bellies, well, at least the squirrels who hang around here have fat white bellies! Today is beautiful, and I'm enjoying it. I've got a hot pizza waiting in the oven, a full glass of wine, and the Packers are winning against that TRAITOR MIKE HOLMGREN. All is right with the world.
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