Saturday, November 8, 2008

A "Real American" Squirrel

A "real American" squirrel, the kind Sarah Palin would just love, you betcha. Of course, he's jes doin' what squirrels do all over the world - he's trying to snatch some of the flag material for his nest. Maybe he's actually a S-O-C-I-A-L-I-S-T... Photo: From, Omaha, Nebraska, November 6, 2008.

Lakshmi - A Year Later

How is the little girl who was born with eight limbs doing a year after surgery to remove the extra arms and legs? Little Lakshmi touched everyone with her story and her megawatt smile. Here's how she is doing now: From The Sunday Times November 9, 2008 One year on: Lakshmi Tatma An Indian girl born with eight limbs beats all the odds to live a normal life Dean Nelson ”It’s a miracle!” says Poonam Tatma, beaming proudly at her daughter Lakshmi. Her little girl laughs and runs around in the grounds of the school for the disabled in Jodhpur where she lives with her family. She seems like any normal toddler — but only a year ago Lakshmi’s parents faced the likelihood that their daughter would never live a normal life. Born with eight limbs, she was the result of a rare condition in which a foetus is joined at the pelvis to a “parasitic” twin who has stopped developing in the mother’s womb. In Lakshmi’s case, she was born having absorbed the limbs and other body parts of her undeveloped sibling. Poonam and her husband, Shambhu, were raising their son, Mitilesh, on Shambhu’s labouring wage of 25 rupees (27p) per day, and living in a mud hut in the rural Indian village of Bihar. Their world had no electricity, running water or cars, and was steeped in ignorance and superstition. “At the time of the birth I was unconscious,” says Poonam, “but when I woke up my mother said to me, ‘You’ve given birth to the goddess Lakshmi.’ ” Not only had the girl been born on the day of Diwali, when Indians pray to Lakshmi for wealth, but, like the goddess herself, she had four extra limbs. “It was a shock,” says Poonam. “But people said, ‘Don’t worry, Goddess Lakshmi has come into your home.’ ” As the news spread, people flocked in their thousands to see this reincarnated goddess, transforming the family’s mud hut into a makeshift temple. But Poonam’s priority was her child’s health. Shambhu borrowed 7,000 rupees (£87) — almost a year’s wages — and they travelled to Delhi to see a specialist. He told them the operation would be too expensive for them to even dream about. Back home, worshippers continued to gather, leaving offerings outside their hut. “So many people came, I was scared,” says Poonam. “But I thought, ‘Maybe someone will hear, and my daughter will get help.’ ” Lakshmi’s story eventually reached a British tabloid agency specialising in pictures of India’s many unfortunate medical curiosities. In the wake of this, Channel 4 signed Poonam and Shambhu to a contract, and a TV documentary team flew in with a surgeon, who had agreed to carry out the operation free. But the villagers became angry. “They came to me waving their fingers and shouting, ‘Lakshmi is a god! If you allow them to operate on her, the whole village will be cursed.’ But I needed a good life for my daughter.” With the help of Dr Bhairoon Singh Bhati, the family went to Bangalore, where surgeons worked for 27 hours to separate Lakshmi’s spine from the conjoined twin’s, to remove four limbs and a parasitic trunk, and move a kidney from the twin to Lakshmi’s body. While her daughter was being operated on, Poonam became paralysed, unable to speak or move. In December last year, when Lakshmi was discharged, the family moved into Dr Bhati’s school for the disabled, SKSN, near Jodhpur, where they now live. They enjoy a new sense of security: the school will provide free education for Lakshmi, her brother and their new little sister, Saraswati, and the accommodation that goes with Shambhu’s job as a kitchen hand and gardener. In June, Lakshmi took her first steps. “I never believed it was possible,” says Poonam. “Before the operation, she could not stand or walk. Now she can play and she is starting to write.” But despite this year of miracles, there are battles ahead. “Lakshmi still has only one functioning kidney, and she needs surgery to construct a bowel so she can go to the toilet normally,” says Poonam. She will also need further operations on her legs, spine, and reproductive organs. But the family’s immediate concern is: how will it all be paid for? A fund set up by her school has little money left. Poonam is torn between gratitude and anxiety. But she remains optimistic. “We have seen cars, computers, fridges, schools for the first time. This would not have happened if Lakshmi had not been born,” she says. “She is both a goddess and a normal little girl to me. My hope for our daughter is good health and a good education. The rest is up to God.” To donate to the Lakshmi After Care Fund, visit:

Doomed by Climate Change

Climate change ‘doomed ancient Argyll site' November 7, 2008 An ancient Scots religious site predating the Pyramids and Stonehenge may have been abandoned because of climate change, according to archaeologists. Kilmartin Glen, in Argyll, has one of the most important concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in Europe. The glen - a place of sacred rites from 3700BC or earlier - contains at least 350 ancient monuments, including burial cairns, rock carvings and standing stones. The most spectacular of the remains is the fortress of the Scots at Dunadd, capital of the kingdom of Dalriada. But archaeologists have identified a period of almost 1,000 years in which no monuments were erected and the population virtually disappeared. Alison Sheridan, head of early prehistory at the National Museum of Scotland, said: “Kilmartin Glen is one of the richest archaeological areas in Scotland, with a very high concentration of ritual sites.” She added that the earliest activity dated back to hunter-gatherers about 4500BC, who left behind nothing more than a few pits, charcoal and some flint. It was a sacred landscape from at least as early as 3700BC until as late as 1100BC. Dr Sheridan said: “It was a place for ceremony, for burying people, and observing the movements of the Sun and the Moon. We are not too certain what happened between 1100BC and 200BC. A hoard of swords has been found and a few artefacts buried as gifts to the gods in the late Bronze Age between 1000 and 750BC. But there are few structures and no settlements. When you start getting settlements again around 200BC they are in little fortified settlements ... It was no longer a happy valley, and people raided each other.”

Treasure Trove in India!

Labourers unearth gold coins in Maharashtra school 8 Nov 2008, 2030 hrs IST,IANS PUNE: Labourers digging at a school campus in Maharashtra stumbled upon a minor treasure, a cache of 847 gold coins of an unknown period, bearing inscriptions in Greek and Urdu, and worth roughly Rs.4.2m, the police said on Saturday. The labourers tried to keep secret their find but were apprehended. The treasure trove weighs 2.47kg and is worth about Rs.4.20m, an investigating officer said. The gold coins were recovered on Friday when some labourers were digging to construct a new swimming pool on the campus of the Gadgil Municipal High School at Shaniwarpeth in Pune. Three labourers attempted to steal the coins but were later arrested by the police. The entire cache was recovered from the accused. Shivappa Husanappa Godekar, 40, of Pune, Mallesh Pareshram Nadavikari, 25, of Karnataka and Bhimsha Tirappa Bansode of Sholapur were presented in a city court and released on bail Saturday. The police have called archaeological and history experts to ascertain the historic origins and the exact value of the gold coins.

Jamaican Chess News

This article mentions a couple of chess femmes who participated in this event. From The Jamaica Observer Stuart James wins Clarendon Chess Open Saturday, November 08, 2008 Fifteen-year-old Wolmer's Boys student Stuart James scored five points from six games to win the sixth staging of the Clarendon Chess Open, held at Glenmuir High School in May Pen, Clarendon over the weekend. James topped the Open section ahead of Mikhail Solomon and Paul Brooks, who each ended on four and a half points to take joint second. Five players secured four points each to tie for fourth - National Master Malaku Lorne, Laurence Davy, Zachary Ramsay, Peter Thomas and Lucien Rowe. The award for best female entrant in the Open section went to Krishna Gray of Wolmer's Girls, the prize for best player under 1800 was shared between Andrew Ellis, Terence Lindo and Shandar Sybron, while Laurence Davy and Lucien Rowe shared the award for best player from Clarendon. The section for entrants with a Jamaica Chess Federation (JCF) rating under 1600, saw veteran Oral Wright scoring five points from six games to take the section over Kevron Campbell and Demain Patrick, who also scored five points, but took the second and third, respectively, on tiebreak. Alethia Edwards and Noel Brown shared fourth place with four and a half points each. Category winners in the Under 1600 section included: Alethia Edwards - Best Female; Kevron Campbell and Demain Patrick - Best Player from outside the Corporate Area; John Lord - Best Under-14; John Lord - Best Under-12; John Lord - Best Under-10; and Kevron Campbell - Best New Player. The tournament, which was organised by the Clarendon Chess Association (CCA) and the Jamaica Chess Federation, had a field of 66 entrants, the largest since its inception in 2003.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Katherine Neville "The Fire"

Nov. 7, 2008 BOOK REVIEW: 'The Fire': A Powerful Sequel to Katherine Neville's Genre-Twisting 'The Eight' By David M. Kinchen Book Critic Twenty years is a long time for Katherine Neville's fans to wait for a sequel to her genre-bending historical thriller "The Eight," but her devotees will find that "The Fire" (Ballantine Books, $26, 464 pages) was worth the wait. When "The Eight" was published in 1988, it combined elements of romance novels, historical novels and thrillers -- long before Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" (2003) and Elizabeth Kostova's "The Historian." (2005). It was part of Ballantine's entry into hard-cover books by an imprint -- owned by the world's largest publisher, the Random House group -- that had long been noted for publishing mass-market paperbacks. With a massive first printing and a main selection of the Book of the Month Club, "The Fire" is review proof. The only thing that could hold back sales of this novel is the recession, but fans of this genre are a loyal bunch, so I predict a top position on all the bestseller charts. It was No. 12 on the New York Times Nov. 2 fiction list. The world-wide chess game that was the centerpiece in "The Eight" has started in "The Fire" as Alexandra "Xie" Solarin, a now grown-up child chess prodigy, is invited to her mother's birthday party in a remote Colorado lodge in the Four Corners area where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah converge. It's the spring of 2003 and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq is underway. Ancient Mesopotamia -- today's Iraq -- was where the legendary Montglane Service chess set was made almost 1,500 years ago, so the timing is crucial. Cat's birthday, April 4, is the direct opposite of Xie's Oct. 4 birthday and it's been almost 10 years since Xie's father, Alexander Solarin, has been slain at a chess tournament in Russia. One of her opponents at the tournament shows up at the party, along with other unlikely -- to Xie -- guests. Xie blames the opponent, Vartan Azov, a handsome twenty-something Ukrainian, for the tragic events at the tournament held in the autumn of 1993 in the remote Russian monastery of Zagorsk. Cat Velis, who's been estranged from Xie for at least five years, doesn't appear at her own party and the game is afoot, as Arthur Conan Doyle would have written. I'm not going to divulge the twists and turns of the plot, but it hinges on Xie finding Cat Velis and the remaining pieces of the Montglane Service that have been scattered around the world. Among the historical figures in the novel are Thomas Jefferson, his friend (and possible lover) in 18th Century Paris, English painter Maria Cosway; Talleyrand, the ultimate French survivor; Napoleon's sister; Charlemagne; Lord Byron and his friend and fellow poet Percy Shelley, and many more -- along with dozens of eccentric characters created by Neville. One of the most intriguing figures in "The Fire" is a Basque restaurant owner named "Rodo" Boujaron, who employs Xie as a sous chef at his open hearth restaurant, Sutalde (the Hearth) in the Georgetown district of Washington, DC. He's a perfectionist who treats his employees like slaves, but they seem to love it. Another is Xie's friend since she was a child, Nokomis Key, a geothermal scientist and bush pilot who has Francis Scott Key, the composer of the national anthem, as one of her ancestors, along with American Indian roots. Nokomis is named after a character in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's epic poem "The Song of Hiawatha": By the shores of Gitchie Gumme,By the shining Big-Sea-Water,Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.Dark behind it rose the forest,Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,Rose the firs with cones upon them;Bright before it beat the water,Beat the clear and sunny water,Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water. Although Neville provides plenty of help deciphering the puzzles and mythological references -- as well as heaping quantities of numerology -- in headnotes and in the narrative of "The Fire," I found my well-thumbed copy of Hans Biedermann's "Dictionary of Symbolism" helpful as I read the novel. Each chapter ends with a "ka-ching" surprise, which could be off-putting to some readers. But formulaic writing didn't affect the sales of books by Michael Crichton ("The Andromeda Strain," "Jurassic Park," "State of Fear" and many more techno thrillers) who just died at the age of 66, and I don't think it will hurt the sales of "The Fire." I read the book as a guilty pleasure and enjoyed it immensely. About the Author: Born in the Midwest in 1945, Neville is the author of "A Calculated Risk," and "The Magic Circle," in addition to "The Eight" and "The Fire." She has been an international computer consultant, a vice president of the Bank of America, a restaurant wait person, a model and a commercial photographer -- all careers that have contributed to her writing. She lives in Washington, DC, and the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Publisher's web site:
Yeah, 20 years was a hell of a long time to wait for a sequel, but it took me that long to learn and grow in knowledge in symbolism and feminine mythologies to the point where I am now savoring nearly every word in "The Fire" as one would savor a wine that comes along once in a thousand years.

Casino de Barcelona

Oh crap. Is there no good news in the world tonight to cheer me up a little bit? Stefanova lost her last round game to Dreev (tournament leader in Round 8), so she finishes with 4.5/9. 50% - not bad - but not so good, either. The final cross-table has not yet been posted at the official website, so I don't have final standings.

Friday Night Miscellany

Hola Darlings!
Whew - what a week. The election is FINALLY over with, Thank Goddess! we're free of those horrid lying, sleezy political advertisements (both sides, but especially on the Republican side, unfortunately) for the next 2 years, I hope!
Speaking of sad, check this out. The Governor's Feelings Are Hurt. Boo Hoo. Lady, it hurts my feelings that you are so far right Hitler would feel uncomfortably LIBERAL next to you. Er, shouldn't those balloons be red (photo above)? But maybe the Alaskans who decorated Sarah Palin's governor office think red means "Communist" - or possibly, "Socialist" and so they didn't want to use the Republicans' TRUE COLOR. I mean, darlings, what could possibly be more Socialist or even outright COMMY RED than spending a trillion dollars and more of taxpayer money to bail out Wall Street and the rich sons of bitches who pitched this country headlong into probably the worst "recession" (it's actually going to be a Depression, as in Great Depression) in living memory. This COMMUNISM under the Bushites. Make no mistake, the Bushites' motto is SCREW THE MIDDLE CLASS INTO NON-EXISTENCE, and isn't that exactly what the Communist goal was? Of course! So, we have Socialist/Communism for the rich bastards, and everyone else is screwed. It will take at least eight years, and quite possibly the rest of my life, to recover from the incredible destruction that the Bushites have wrought upon this country. The Bushites, starting with Carl Rove and the Vice-President, should be taken out and shot as traitors to this country. All current descendants of George Bush, Sr. should be sterilized so they can no longer reproduce and pass along their defective genes to another generation. Of course, we're civilized, so we won't do that. Sometimes -- if we could only be just a little bit more "Russian" as in Putin-Russian, the evil smut, where "enemies" of the state get poisoned or shoved down stairwells or out of a window from the 29th floor in a building somewhere. Oh well. In a neat trick of reversal, which the Bushites are very good at, one can only hope that someone will do the world a favor and shove Miniputin down a bottomless pit - with a stake through his heart.
I'll be working probably until I drop dead around age 100 to make up for the money my 401(k) plans have lost since October, 2007 when the Great Bear Market began, just to try and maintain my current standard of living (such as it is). Food prices up 30 to 40%; natural gas prices up 40%; electric bill up 30%; water bill up 35%; sewer bill up 20%. Just in the past 12 months. Who knows what the hell my property taxes will be? One thing I know for sure - they will not GO DOWN! Health insurance coverage costs for 2009 - up 90%. That's not a mistake. My monthly premiums are increasing from around $61 a month to $110 a month if I want to maintain the same coverage (I won't be able to do that - I cannot afford it). My raise - I won't know until early January, 2009, but suffice to say it won't be anywhere NEAR the cost of living increase during the past 12 months. Let's see, I'll probably lose about 32% total purchasing power - but I should count myself lucky, because I still (may) have a job. Silly me - what am I thinking. There probably won't be a raise. In 2009, they may even ask me for money back - well, those first years who are earning $150,000 must be fed, and I do have to lose more weight...
Things are so bad, even the state of Wisconsin is telling their very well-pensioned retirees that their checks will be smaller this year. The screams of rage are still echoing around the hills and valleys. I suppose I shouldn't wish that some of those retired hunters and members of the NRA would go "bear hunting" on Wall Street. Perhaps all MBA degrees should be banned in this country. Think of it - people with common sense and everyone's interests at heart actually running things in the banks and financial industry if all of the pricks and greedy Gordon Gekko wannabes were wiped out. Hell, even if we killed every single one of the sods tomorrow, their claims for deferred compensation and company-paid life-insurance would probably bankrupt the country. Expect full employment for lawyers for the next 500 years, but a vicious cycle of declining beginning wages for first years who may actually have to WORK 60 hours a week in order to earn their $150,000. Oh oh, they may even have to do their own typing, copying, mailing, filing, scanning, archiving, taking abuse from irate clients. I may be out of a job soon - growing vegetables in my upstairs bedrooms under green lights until the power is cut off, chopping down my trees for firewood to keep warm in the winter, luring my currently fat and sassy squirrels into traps for meat. Thank heaven the Family has lots of land up north. We can hold out up there for years, I'll just have to get used to using an outhouse while holding my nose. dondelion and I may be relocating sooner than we thought...
The President of Italy is being hoisted, roasted, and everywhichway toasted over a big fat Italian fire for a joke that is silly, juvenile and absolutely inane, but harmless. So Barack Obama has a "suntan" - so what? How can this be an insult in the United States where every day on the bus and in populars videos and music I hear dark-skinned kids and pale-skinned Polish descended kids calling each other NIGGAH. So now sudddenly the WORLD is getting sensitive about noticing the color of someone's skin? Hey, music video and record producers, better sit up and take notice, darlings. There's a new world dawning where words really DO mean something, so get rid of the racist crap. Yeah, right.
Times are tought all over. Even the plastic surgeons - oh, excuse me - costmetic artistes - are offering discounts to keep their pockets flush during this economic catastrophe some pundits are euphemistically calling a "downturn."
The first "measureable" ice/sleet/snow is expected here tonight. The house is exactly the same temperature it is at all times throughout the five month heating season (64 degrees F), but it feels COLD! I'm going to do a Mr. Cratchet (Bob Cratchet from "Scrooge") and light a candle at my computer desk to warm my hands over! Hopefully I'll acclimate as the temperatures continue to drop and the snow begins to pile up. But every year it gets harder. Retirement, which used to be 10 years away before the geniuses on Wall Street decided to do their best Stalin imitation of wiping out all and asking questions never, is now an impossible dream. Good bye, warm, dry, climate - the dream that never was... Hmmm, what was the name of that Jodi Foster movie where she learns how to shoot and fight dirty in order to get revenge on the assholes who killed the love of her life? I think I need to watch that movie, and sign up for some lessons... I have LOTS OF REVENGE I want to work out.
Good night darlings, if you can.

USCF Shows Some Stones

Well, this is rather ironic given the USCF's own history, I can't stop snickering. But Hooray for the USCF showing some stones in standing up for GM Gata Kamsky's rights in the on-again/off-again match with GM Veselin Topolov of Bulgaria. FIDE made a public declaration on June 1, 2008 published at its official website and at numerous chess websites and blogs that its President guaranteed a $750,000 prize fund for the match to be held in Lvov, Ukraine, which is presently scheduled to start near the end of this month. The organizer failed to come up with the money and FIDE has now requested an offer from the Bulgarian Chess Federation of $300,000 - $250,000 for prize money and $50,000 for FIDE - why FIDE deserves even a penny under the circumstances is unclear and simply outrageous. Fearless Leader Kirsan has publicly reneged on his guarantee of the Lvov prize fund of $750,000!!! Altogether now, can you say S-C-H-M-U-C-K? What part of the concept of guarantee does he not understand? It's clear he doesn't understand anything about honoring his word. Bill Goichberg, President of the USCF, in an open letter to Kirsan, is rightly taking him to task for reneging on his publicly-stated promise. Kirsan should front the money so that the match can go on as scheduled, in Lvov. Shame, shame on Kirsan. How CAN this man be in control of FIDE? He is a walking, talking disaster and embarrassment to the world! No lie is too blatant, no promise is too large or small not to keep, he continues to rape chess for his and his cronies' own personal gain - and he (and they) get away with it, laughing all the way to the bank. Geez.

Chess Politics in Pakistan

When it comes to disfunctional chess federations, the USCF has plenty of company. Here's an interesting article about the Pakistan Chess Federation and the Sindh Chess Federation (a member federation of CFP). I'm happy to read that Pakistan selected teams for the Olympiad - I hope they raise enough money to actually get there! Sindh chess body media briefing turns sour Friday, November 07, 2008 By Syed Khalid Mahmood KARACHI: The media briefing of the Sindh Chess Association (SCA) meant to introduce the members of the national men and women squad for the 38th Chess Olympiad, to be held later this month in Dresden, Germany, turned sour on more than one count. The fiery speech of one of the officials, Mohammad Wasif, in which he openly ridiculed the policies of the Chess Federation of Pakistan (CFP) caught the media by surprise because the SCA was itself one of the affiliated units of the federation. The men squad comprises National Masters Wahid Hussain (Hyderabad), Aamir Karim (Lahore), Mohammad Waqar (Karachi), Khalil-ur-Rahman Butt (Lahore) and Hasib Ahmed (Karachi). All the five members of the women team, Zenobia, Nida Shiraz, Sharjeela Kiran, Arsalana Tanvir and Sabica Shiraz, belong to Karachi. The SCA office-bearers could not give a convincing answer when questioned if the provincial body was sending the national men and women squad for the 38th Chess Olympiad on behalf of the federation. It was revealed that the SCA, after having failed to get any kind of assistance from the CFP, had approached various government and private organisations for financial support by means of sponsorship.“We have been assured financial support from the Government of Sindh, the City District Government Karachi (CDGK) as well as a few commercial establishments. Their support will enable us to cover a part of the costs to be incurred in sending the men and women squads for the Olympiad,” Mohammad Aslam, Secretary SCA, stated. He did not disclose the amount they were expected to raise for this event through sponsorship. Neither did he deem it proper to reveal the total amount needed to send the squads to Germany. When asked specifically, he said around Rupees one lac would be needed for each participant. Aslam, who is also the Vice President of the CFP, clarified that the SCA had differences with the federation only in the matter pertaining to the women squad while all was well as far as the selection of the men team was concerned. He added that the reigning national champion Mahmood Ahmed Lodhi, an International Master, had declared himself unavailable for the Olympiad due to personal reasons.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Casino de Barcelona

GM Antoaneta Stefanova, the sole chess femme at this invitational, has not lost a game. She is at 4.5/8 and has moved up in the standings, with one round to go; she is either in 4th or 5th. Alexey Dreev is in clear first with 6.0 Georgiev Kiril is in clear second with 5.5 USA's Boris Gulko is in clear third with 5.0 Baadur Jobava and Stefanova each have 4.5

Drought Caused Collapse of Chinese Dynasties

What happened before happened many times, and is happening now... Ancient China: Lack Of Rainfall Could Have Contributed To Social Upheaval And Fall Of Dynasties ScienceDaily (Nov. 7, 2008) — Chinese history is replete with the rise and fall of dynasties, but researchers now have identified a natural phenomenon that may have been the last straw for some of them: a weakening of the summer Asian Monsoons. Such weakening accompanied the fall of three dynasties and now could be lessening precipitation in northern China. Results of the study, led by researchers from the University of Minnesota and Lanzhou University in China, appear in the journal Science. The work rests on climate records preserved in the layers of stone in a 118-millimeter-long stalagmite found in Wanxiang Cave in Gansu Province, China. By measuring amounts of the elements uranium and thorium throughout the stalagmite, the researchers could tell the date each layer was formed. And by analyzing the "signatures" of two forms of oxygen in the stalagmite, they could match amounts of rainfall--a measure of summer monsoon strength--to those dates. The stalagmite was formed over 1,810 years; stone at its base dates from A.D. 190, and stone at its tip was laid down in A.D. 2003, the year the stalagmite was collected. "It was unexpected that a record of surface weather would be preserved in underground cave deposits," said David Verardo, director of the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Paleoclimatology Program, which funded the research. "These results illustrate the promise of paleoclimate science to look beyond the obvious and see new possibilities." "Summer monsoon winds originate in the Indian Ocean and sweep into China," said Hai Cheng, author of the paper and a scientist at the University of Minnesota. "When the summer monsoon is stronger, it pushes farther northwest into China." These moisture-laden winds bring rain necessary for cultivating rice. But when the monsoon is weak, the rains stall farther south and east, depriving northern and western parts of China of summer rains. A lack of rainfall could have contributed to social upheaval and the fall of dynasties. The researchers discovered that periods of weak summer monsoons coincided with the last years of the Tang, Yuan and Ming dynasties, which are known to have been times of popular unrest. Conversely, the scientists found that a strong summer monsoon prevailed during one of China's "golden ages," the Northern Song Dynasty. The ample summer monsoon rains may have contributed to the rapid expansion of rice cultivation from southern China to the midsection of the country. During the Northern Song Dynasty, rice first became China's main staple crop, and China's population doubled. "The waxing and waning of summer monsoon rains are just one piece of the puzzle of changing climate and culture around the world," said Larry Edwards, geologist at the University of Minnesota and a co-author of the paper. For example, the study showed that the dry period at the end of the Tang Dynasty coincided with a previously identified drought halfway around the world, in Meso-America, which has been linked to the fall of the Mayan civilization. The study also showed that the ample summer rains of the Northern Song Dynasty coincided with the beginning of the well-known Medieval Warm Period in Europe and Greenland. During this time--the late 10th century--Vikings colonized southern Greenland. Centuries later, a series of weak monsoons prevailed as Europe and Greenland shivered through what geologists call the Little Ice Age. In the 14th and early 15th centuries, as the cold of the Little Ice Age settled into Greenland, the Vikings disappeared from there. At the same time, on the other side of the world, the weak monsoons of the 14th century coincided with the end of the Yuan Dynasty. A second major finding concerns the relationship between temperature and the strength of the monsoons. For most of the last 1,810 years, as average temperatures rose, so, too, did the strength of the summer monsoon. That relationship flipped, however, around 1960, a sign that the late 20th century weakening of the monsoon and drying in northwestern China was caused by human activity. If carbon dioxide is the culprit, as some have proposed, the drying trend may well continue in Inner Mongolia, northern China and neighboring areas on the fringes of the monsoon's reach. If, however, the culprit is man-made soot, as others have proposed, the trend could be reversed, the researchers said, by reduction of soot emissions. The research also was supported by the National Science Foundation of China and the Gary Comer Science and Education Foundation. Adapted from materials provided by National Science Foundation.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Handicapping U.S. Women's Olympiad Team

From Chess Life Magazine, November 2008 - print edition. An article by FM Mike Klein takes a look at the U.S. Men's and Women's Olympiad Teams headed to Dresden later this month. Here is FM Klein's take on the Women's Team, with some of my thoughts interpersed. I couldn't help myself. We're going to get creamed, people. May as well face it. The current installment of American women will be a blend of veteran talent and less familiar faces. Top player IM Irina Krush, 24, is the likely number-one board. Her tremendous history at four olympiads (including the last three) has yielded a 69.1 percentage over 47 games (the most by any American woman on this year's team). Although this would be the first year she has played top board since 2002, it was there in Bled, Slovenia that she went undefeated, remarkable since she played 13 out of 14 rounds. She will arrive in Dresden with her highest-ever olympiad rating - 2470. Current U.S. Women's Champion WGM Anna Zatonskih, 30, played board one for the women's squad in 2006 but is once again outrated by Krush and may cede her the top board. The two women have a lot in common - both were born in the Ukraine and both have played in four past olympiads (Zatonskih's first two trips were under the Ukrainian flag). Additionally, the duo were part of the 2004 silver medal team, the only top-three finish in American history. Led by GM Susan Polgar, that team's average FIDE rating was 2490, the highest-ever for the Americans, whereas this year's team is 2375, it's lowest since 2000. [In other words, darlings, the American women don't stand a chance]. Occupying board three will be fellow WGM Rusudan Goletiani, 28, three-time World Yough chess champion and a native of the republic of Georgia. This will be her second olympiad. Goletiani is rated 2359. In 2006 she scored six wins, five draws and a single loss, for a 70.8 percent score, the best of any American competing in Dresden. [Goletiani has not played in many events since 2006]. Olympiad newcomers WGM Katerina Rohonyan, 24, and WFM Tatev Abrahamyan, 20, will round out the team. Rohonyan is the third Ukrainian-American on the women's team and Abrahamyan, like [GM Varuahan] Akobian, got the selection based partly on the age bonus. She gets 30 bonus ratin points for being 20 years old, which narrowly eded her past both WGM Camila Baginskaite [a seasoned veteran in prior years in U.S. Women's Championships and on prior olympiad teams] and WIM Batchimeg Tuvshintugs. [Rohonyan is a relatively new immigrant to the U.S., she was going to college here on a chess scholarship, but I believe she recently graduated and is now working on a master's degree; Abrahamyan won the 2008 Goddesschess "Fighting Chess" Award at the 2008 U.S. Women's Chess Championships for wining 6 games and losing none, chosen by GM Susan Polgar]. The women's team will be an underdog to medal [you don't say] but will be aided by the experienced support staff of Captain Michael Khodarkovsky [oh my goddess, NOT HIM! - he's the guy who thinks a woman can't play chess decently if she is menstruating] and Coach GM Gregory Kaidanov. Gregory will not play after a string of six consecutive olympiads he competed in from 1996-2006 [is this USCF's way of giving Kaidanov a "pay-off"? - GM Kaidanov would be better off staying state-side and giving lessons!] (over which time he chalked up one team silver, two team bronzes, and one individual silver for going +6=4-0 on board four in Calvia, Spain in 2004).

Native American History for Sale

This story made me sick, and sad. Disgusting. St. Louis' last remaining Indian mound is for sale, listed at $400,000 By Matthew Hathaway ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH 11/04/2008 ST. LOUIS — With an outdated kitchen and living space that measures only about 900 square feet, the modest house at 4420 Ohio Street isn't your typical $400,000 listing. It's what lies beneath the home that excites lovers of St. Louis history, or, in this case, prehistory. The house sits on Sugar Loaf Mound, the city's last remaining link with the native people who lived here centuries before 1764, when Auguste Chouteau and a band of Creoles landed at the river's edge. There once were dozens of these earthen structures in St. Louis, but all save Sugar Loaf were cleared in the name of progress. That's why people interested in the ancient Mississippians tend to look eastward, to the Metro East and Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, not to the Mount Pleasant neighborhood on the city's south side. But those in the know have long pointed out Sugar Loaf, which rises between Interstate 55 and the Mississippi River, about 4 miles south of the Arch. Now, this last vestige of Mound City — the 19th century nickname for St. Louis — is for sale for the first time in nearly 50 years. "There must be people who have been watching this house — or, this mound — for a long time," said Leigh Maibes. She is the real estate agent representing Walter and Eileen Strosnider, the property's elderly owners who have moved to California to be closer to relatives. "I got the first phone call literally four or five minutes after putting the sign in the yard," Maibes said. The one-story house on top of Sugar Loaf mound dates to 1928. Maibes concedes that, just about anywhere else in south St. Louis, the house would sell for a fraction of its listed price. Then again, when's the last time a house atop an Indian mound came on the market?"One of the reasons that price tag is on it is to discourage people who would want to (demolish) the mound," Maibes said, noting that the owner wants a buyer who will act as a custodian for the site. [Yeah, right. If the owner was really interested in preserving the mount, he or she would donate it to the state historical society and allow archaeological work to be done of the property, and then have the mound closed back up for posterity. This is ONLY about $$$. I HATE liars!] (The mound, but not the house, was listed in 1984 on the National Register of Historic Places. That designation doesn't prohibit an owner from damaging or even destroying the mound.) Sugar Loaf was named by early settlers for its lumpish shape. Originally, it likely had a more defined and terraced shape. The property for sale doesn't include the entire mound, and there's another house on a lower tier. John Kelly, an archaeology professor at Washington University, said scientists and historians aren't sure what to make of Sugar Loaf Mound, which has never been the site of an extensive excavation. Kelly said he suspects that the mound is about 2,000 years old, dating to the Middle Woodland Period, which lasted from about 1000 B.C. to 1000 A.D. But, the archaeologist said, without a serious excavation there's no way to know for sure. Kelly said it was most likely a burial mound, which were commonly situated on river bluffs. Or, the mound could have been used as a platform for a structure like a temple or a chieftain's home. Kelly disagrees with a popular theory that Sugar Loaf was a signal mound, and that Indians lit fires there to alert others of boats approaching upriver. "It could have been used for that, but that's not why people built mounds," Kelly said. That Sugar Loaf Mound survived this long is an accident of geography, said Nini Harris, a St. Louis historian and author who sometimes points out the mound on her history tours of the city's south side. Harris said that the mound was spared largely because it is on the northern end of Chouteau's Bluff, a steep, mile-long bank along the river. Building factories and homes there would have been difficult, so early developers largely skipped this stretch of the river. That's not to say that the mound hasn't suffered in the name of progress. Part of it was demolished about 150 years ago by workers at a nearby quarry. The construction of Interstate 55 in the 1960s obscured much of the mound's western slope. "There's a lot more substance to this mound than you can see today, thanks to the highway," Harris said. "Even at that time, we didn't have the sensitivity to protect our archaeological heritage. "The first open house will be from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit a website and blog created by Maibes,

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

13-Year Old Somali Girl Stoned to Death for Adultery

I meant to post this story on Sunday when I first saw it in my local newspaper, but I didn't post anything here Sunday (was busy getting my Chessville column ready) and last night was just too tired to do much of anything. Story from Fox News Amnesty International Denounces Stoning Death of 13-Year-Old Somali Girl Sunday, November 02, 2008 MOGADISHU, Somalia — A 13-year-old girl who said she had been raped was stoned to death in Somalia after being accused of adultery by Islamic militants, a human rights group said. Dozens of men stoned Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow to death Oct. 27 in a stadium packed with 1,000 spectators in the southern port city of Kismayo, Amnesty International and Somali media reported, citing witnesses. The Islamic militia in charge of Kismayo had accused her of adultery after she reported that three men had raped her, the rights group said. Initial local media reports said Duhulow was 23, but her father told Amnesty International she was 13. Some of the Somali journalists who first reported the killing later told Amnesty International that they had reported she was 23 based upon her physical appearance. Calls to Somali government officials and the local administration in Kismayo rang unanswered Saturday. "This child suffered a horrendous death at the behest of the armed opposition groups who currently control Kismayo," David Copeman, Amnesty International's Somalia campaigner, said in a statement Friday. Somalia is among the world's most violent and impoverished countries. The nation of some 8 million people has not had a functioning government since warlords overthrew a dictator in 1991 then turned on each other. A quarter of Somali children die before age 5; nearly every public institution has collapsed. Fighting is a daily occurrence, with violent deaths reported nearly every day. Islamic militants with ties to Al Qaeda have been battling the government and its Ethiopian allies since their combined forces pushed the Islamists from the capital in December 2006. Within weeks of being driven out, the Islamists launched an insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians. In recent months, the militants appear to be gaining strength. The group has taken over the port of Kismayo, Somalia's third-largest city, and dismantled pro-government roadblocks. They also effectively closed the Mogadishu airport by threatening to attack any plane using it.

Hindus Offended at Heidi Klum 'Kali' Costume

Heidi Klum in trouble for Kali costume Indo Asian News Service Tuesday, November 4, 2008 (New York) Pics: Heidi leads Hollywood's Halloween gang (Photo: From San Francisco Gate "Daily Dish", November 3, 2008) Supermodel Heidi Klum has stirred a controversy by dressing up as Hindu goddess Kali for a Halloween party, with some Hindus seeking an apology from her and others asserting that she did nothing objectionable. The Halloween party here was thrown by Klum and attended by many celebrities. The German celebrity wore a goddess Kali costume while her husband, singer Seal, dressed up as Angulimaal - an Indian mythical character who used to chop off people's fingers and wear them as a necklace. Klum, who was in India last year along with Seal, told reporters at her annual bash that the idea of dressing up like goddess Kali was that of her secretary."My husband and I were in India last year, so she said, 'Why don't you do an Indian goddess? Like a scary Indian goddess?' And I said, 'Ok'," Klum was quoted saying. After this, her secretary did some Google search and showed her a picture of goddess Kali."I loved it because she's so mean and killed all these different people and had fingers hanging off her and little shrunken heads everywhere," Klum said. Nevada-based Hindu priest Rajan Zed, in a statement issued Monday, demanded the supermodel tender a public apology for dressing up as goddess Kali. "Goddess Kali is highly revered in Hinduism. She is meant to be worshipped in temples and not to be used in clubs for publicity stunts or thrown around loosely for dramatic effects," Zed said. However, there are others who feel otherwise. Kirit Desai said: "It is in good taste, if we could tune it in properly."In an online discussion, Ashish Dimri said: "We all know Heidi and Seal are fascinated by Hinduism. Maybe she did not know implication of her innocent act."Shamita Dasgupta said Heidi's dress reminded her about the Bengali tradition in which adults and kids dress up as deities, including goddess Kali and parade around. "This shouldn't pose a problem," she said.

GM Antoaneta Stefanova - On a Roll!

From Antoaneta Stefanova with at least four medals from the beginning of October Updated on: 04.11.2008, 17:43 Published on: 04.11.2008, 17:38 Author: Diana Stoykova Four medals, two golden and two silver, has won gross master Antoaneta Stefanova during the last month. First in the Chinese capital Beijing the ex-world and European champion won a golden medal in accelerated chess and a sliver medal in blitz at the first World Mind Games in Beijing. At the European Club Cup in Calethea (Greece) Stefanova won a silver medal with her new team Spartak Vidnoe (Russia) and a golden medal on the second board. "The competition was really hard. In Beijing it was difficult, because of the trip, the time difference and the new rules. I lost the blitz from Aelxandra Kostenjuk, but at the accelerated games I compensated the loss", stated Lazarova. Until the end of the year she will take part in a tournament in Barcelona where she will be the only woman. From 12 to 25 November in Dresden the Chess Olympic Games will be held, where Stefanova will be the first board of the Bulgarian team. "I hope that I will perform well on both tournaments", adds Antoaneta.
In the Casino de Barcelona Tournament (mentioned above), after six (of 10) rounds completed, Stefanova is at 3.5. She's had all draws and one win thus far. Dreev and Georgiev are tied for first place with 4.0 each, and Stefanova is tied with Lopez and Jobaba at 3.5.

Election Night - and a Good Chicken Breast Recipe

Hola darlings! Since I do not have cable or satellite television, I am rather limited to my choice of prime time television viewing tonight. All of the major networks and one of our PBS channels are featuring election coverage :) As I was taking the bus to the office this morning, I had a passing thought - more a daydream than anything rooted in reality - that John McCain would give a concession speech by 10:00 p.m. Milwaukee time tonight. We'll see. In the meantime, I'll be interested to learn - probably not until much later because the polls don't close for at least another hour in California - what the estimated percentage turn-out was for eligible voters across the country. I tried a chicken breast recipe tonight that turned out great - absolutely delicious! I've had grilled chicken breast that's been dry and tasteless, and fried chicken breast that is greasy and soggy. This one came out crisp on the outside (before I melted a slice of swiss cheese over the top, yum!) and moist but cooked through inside. Here's the recipe - since I was only cooking one chicken breast for myself, I disregarded the amounts given in the recipe I found online. This is my wing-it (har!) version: Called for flour - I didn't have any - I forgot, I tossed it out a few months ago because it was so old it couldn't possible have been good anymore. But I did have some not quite so old generic baking mix in the cabinet (think Bisquick), so I tossed some of that in a shallow bowl, added lots of salt, pepper and non-salt Mrs. Dash spice mix. Stirred around. In a separate bowl mixed up one egg (no seasonings added). Washed and dried the chicken breast (skinless), then plopped it into the egg bowl, both sides, then tossed it into the dry mix bowl, first one side and then the other. Shake shake shake, then back in the egg mix on both sides once again. Then into the dry mix on both sides a final time. Plopped it into a hot frying pan to brown both sides. I used Pam vegetable oil spray because I'm counting calories, although the recipe called for frying in vegetable oil. The Pam did smoke up the pan a lot, but it also browned the "crust" on the chicken just fine. My total cooking time was perhaps five minutes. Put the browned chicken breast into a glass baking dish and tossed into a preheated 350 degree oven for 25 minutes. I pulled it out of the oven, tented it for about 5 minutes with aluminum foil to let it cool but keep it moist, then put it on a plate, added one slice of swiss cheese over the top, and microwaved it on high for 60 seconds. Now that I think about it, I probably could have just put the swiss cheese on top of the just out of the oven chicken before I tented it to let it rest, and it would have melted without nuking. It passed the taste test, but perhaps could have used a bit more seasonings in the dry mix. It was cooked through, but very moist and tender. The swiss cheese added an additional layer of flavor. The coating was just a bit crispy, not dry and not soggy. One rather smallish chicken breast and a cup of green peas filled me up for supper!

More on the Female Shaman Burial

Follow-up post (see below for initial post)
Here's an image and further explanation/description of the find.
NOW Daily News
3 November 2008
Before there were priests or doctors, people seeking solace or treatment for an illness often called in a shaman, an intermediary between the human and spirit worlds.
Archaeologists working in Israel now claim that a 12,000-year-old grave of a woman buried with various animal and human body parts is that of an early shaman. If true, it could mean that shamanism arose during a critical period in human cultural evolution.
Although largely supplanted by organized religion, shamanism is still widespread in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. For example, many Eskimo groups around the Arctic Circle practice shamanism. The roots of shamanism reach back at least to the ancient Greeks and possibly even to prehistoric times. Many archaeologists assume that shamanism preceded organized religion, and some see depictions of shamans in cave art from 15,000 years ago or earlier--although that interpretation is controversial.
But recent excavations at Hilazon Tachtit, a cave west of the Sea of Galilee in Israel, may provide new support for prehistoric shamanism. Hilazon Tachtit was occupied by the Natufians, a people who inhabited the Near East between about 15,000 and 11,500 years ago. Most archaeologists see
Natufian culture as a transition between hunting and gathering and the sedentary lifestyles of early farmers. At Hilazon Tachtit, a team led by archaeologist Leore Grosman of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has found the remains of at least 25 people, most in collective burials. But one was treated differently. A woman, about 45 years old when she died and whose pelvis and spine were deformed, was buried separately, accompanied by a menagerie of animal remains. Among her grave goods were tail bones from wild cattle, a wing bone from a golden eagle, the shells of 50 tortoises, and a large foot from another person.
The team, which reports its findings online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, notes that tortoises, cow tails, and eagle wings play a role in the ritualistic practices of many shamans today and that many societies ascribe special powers to physically disabled people. "It seems that the woman in the Natufian burial was perceived as being in a close relationship with these animal spirits," the authors write. They suggest that shamanism either sparked, or was the result of, the cultural upheavals that accompanied the agricultural revolution in the Near East.
"This is an extremely important report on a rare find at a critical time of cultural evolution," says Brian Hayden, an archaeologist at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada. Ian Kuijt, an anthropologist at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, adds that the "authors have done an excellent job of supporting their argument" for prehistoric shamanism. But Mina Evron, an archaeologist at the University of Haifa in Israel, cautions that there may be alternative explanations, though she doesn't offer one herself. Just because the team's "colorful interpretation" seems plausible, she says, "it ain't necessarily so."

Earliest known shaman grave site found

A significant and important discovery. A female shaman's burial. As I understand prior evidence, the earliest shamans were of both sexes. Tue Nov 4, 8:29 am ET LONDON (Reuters) – An ancient grave unearthed in modern-day Israel containing 50 tortoise shells, a human foot and body parts from numerous animals is likely one of the earliest known shaman burial sites, researchers said on Monday. The 12,000-year-old grave [10,000 BCE] dates back to the Natufian people who were the first society to adopt a sedentary lifestyle, Hebrew University of Jerusalem researcher Leore Grosman and colleagues said. "The interment rituals and the method used to construct and seal the grave suggest this is the burial of an ancient shaman, one of the earliest known from the archaeological record," they wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Shamans play an important role in many cultures, mediating between the human and spiritual worlds and acting as messengers, healers, magicians to serve the community, the researchers said. The Israeli team found the bones in a small cave in the lower Galilee region of present-day Israel that was a Natufian burial ground for a least 28 people. At the time of burial, more than 10 large stones were placed directly on the head, pelvis, and arms of the elderly woman whose body was laid on its side. The legs were spread apart and folded inward at the knee. The special treatment of the body and use of stones to keep it in a certain position suggests the woman held a unique position in the community, likely some sort of a shaman, the researchers said. "The burial of the unlike any burial found in the Natufian or the preceding Palaeolithic periods," Grosman's team wrote. "We argue that this burial is consistent with expectations for a shaman's grave." The woman was also interred with some unusual grave goods, including the complete tortoise shells and select body-parts of a wild boar, an eagle, a cow, a leopard, and two martens, as well as a complete human foot. The grave portrays several hallmarks that later become central in the spiritual arena of cultures worldwide, the researchers added. "Tortoises, cow tails, eagle wings, and fur-bearing animals continue to play important symbolic and shamanistic roles in the spiritual arena of human cultures worldwide today," they wrote. "It seems that the woman in the Natufian burial was perceived as being in a close relationship with these animal spirits." (Reporting by Michael Kahn, Editing by Maggie Fox and Jon Boyle)

Monday, November 3, 2008

White Squirrel

From The Stamford Advocate
Rare white squirrel takes up residence in Old Greenwich By Colin GustafsonStaff Writer Article Launched: 10/31/2008 02:52:42 AM EDT
Old Greenwich resident Joe Mozian calls it a harbinger of heavy snowfalls this winter.
His hockey-playing sons, Michael, 10, and Alex, 8, call it a good-luck charm that helps them score goals.
His mother-in-law, Miki Dougherty, just calls it "a little white devil."
For two months, a rare white squirrel has taken up residence amid the hardwood trees and low-lying foliage of Mozian's yard on Marshall Street. Affectionately named the "Polar Squirrel" by Mozian's two sons, the bushy-tailed rodent sports an all-white coat from tip to tail and can be spotted about twice a day, zipping back and forth across the lawn, darting over fences and racing across the tree tops, witnesses said.
"He's definitely more hyper than any other squirrel I've seen," Mozian quipped. "Maybe the other squirrels picked on him because he's different, so now he's a little more wild than the rest."
Wild perhaps, but also a rare find in Greenwich, even in the town's heavily wooded habitats where black and gray breeds of the tree-dwelling rodents abound, said Ted Gilman, a naturalist and education specialist at Audubon Greenwich.
In his nearly 32 years working at the nature center, Gilman said he has seen "partially albino deer" and a white woodpecker, but never a white squirrel. "It's certainly an unusual event."
With its beady black eyes, the Polar Squirrel most likely suffers from "leucism," a rare genetic condition in which the body cannot produce pigment on all or part of its skin and fur, Gilman said. Albinism, by contrast, typically produces red eye color, as opposed to brown or black.
Whether leucistic or albino, however, Mozian said the Polar Squirrel occupies a special place in his heart.
He first encountered his beloved critter while doing yard work in late August, when he spotted a flash of white in the bushes. At first, "I thought it might be a possum or something," he recalled. But "when I realized it was a white squirrel, I started screaming like a lunatic, telling my wife and kids, 'Get out here, get out here! It's a white squirrel!'"
Today, Mozian and his family say they have spotted the squirrel hundreds of times and have snapped nearly a dozen photographs of the elusive creature, climbing up trees or rummaging through the grass for acorns and various nuts.
"To be honest, I used to think they were all pests," Mozian said of the run-of-the-mill, gray-coated rodents that dig up his tulip garden every summer. "But now that we have this white one, I'm fascinated. I want to know everything I can about him."
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