Saturday, April 4, 2009

Oh oh - Squirrel for Lunch

No lie - this is a photo taken March 28, 2009 by Mark Hoffman, published by the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel on April 4, 2009, showing a red fox trotting across someone's urban front or back yard in Bay View, Wisconsin. Bay View is a neighborhood south of downtown that starts at the lakefront and spreads west and south. It is an old area of the city and very urbanized. Seeing this fox is a surprise - I'm used to seeing them much further west in the suburban areas! Poor squirrel.

Taliban Whips 17-Year Old Girl for Refusing to Marry a Dirty Old Man

Article from the India's Muslims denounce Taliban whipping of girl as un-Islamic April 4, 2009 New Delhi (IANS): After video clips of a 17-year-old girl being flogged in public by Taliban fighters in Pakistan's Swat valley were shown on TV, India's Islamic scholars denounced it as "un-Islamic" and "satanic" and condemned it as "gross violation" of Quranic codes. Renowned Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan spoke out strongly against the incident and added that if anything, the act was absolutely "un-Islamic - even satanic". "This kind of treatment is neither Islamic nor human. In fact, not only is it un-Islamic and inhuman, but also satanic," Khan, who has authored over 200 books on Islam, told IANS. "The first thing that should be done is to educate people, develop ethical values, sensitivity towards women and treat them equally. Society can be reformed through education - punishment (of the perpetrators) can never be the starting point for any kind of reform or change," he added. Similarly, Mushirul Hasan, vice chancellor of the Jamia Millia Islamia university, condemned the incident saying that it was a wrong portrayal of Islam, which preaches exactly opposite of what the Taliban were seen doing to the hapless young girl. "I am horrified. This (incident) is a gross violation of Islamic and Quranic injunctions which teaches humanity, love, peace and magnanimity," Hasan told IANS. The dangers of imposing Sharia laws in Pakistan's restive Swat Valley were brought into sharp focus Friday with the airing of a two-minute video showing a 17-year-old screaming, burqa-clad girl being whipped by Taliban fighters for coming "out of her house with another man who was not her husband". [That's the charge, but it's a lie. See the link to the Los Angeles Times article below for the real scoop - she refused to marry a much older icky man, and so charges were trumped up against her and she was whipped as a punishment for her faked-up "crimes against Islam."] The grainy video, shot on a mobile phone, showed the girl face down on the ground. Two men held her arms and feet while a third, a black-turbaned man with a flowing beard, whipped her repeatedly. Salima Khan, a student doing her PhD in Delhi University, said that she literally boiled in anger after seeing the video clip on YouTube, the popular video sharing website and then again on TV. "I can't believe how anybody can humiliate and beat up an innocent young girl in the name of religion. And what was her fault - that she was seen with a man who was not her husband! Who in their right state of mind would ever dare to do such a dastardly act? "Such acts just show how Islam has been grossly misinterpreted by a handful of people who are using it as a tool to serve their own cause," Salima said angrily. On YouTube, the video received thousands of hits overnight and a barrage of comments. One of the comments read: "These people (Taliban) should be given a taste of their own medicine. They should be whipped in public for maligning the name of Islam and inflicting torture on poor, helpless women". Another comment from an Indian woman read: "Thank God I was born in India and not there (Swat valley). There they treat women like animals - no, even worse. To live a life like that seems like sheer hell." However, the authorities of Darul Uloom, one of the most renowned seminaries in the Deoband town of western Uttar Pradesh, chose to keep mum. Maulana Abdul Khaleeq Madrasi, pro vice chancellor of the seminary, told IANS: "We cannot give any statement on the matter from the institution as we don't know the details at the moment". India has an estimated 140 million Muslims, the third largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan.
For the REAL REASON for this supposed "punishment", see the Los Angeles Times April 4, 2009 article (includes link to video) by Mubashir Zaidi and Laura King, with contribution from Special Correspondent Zulfiqar Ali in the city of Peshawar: "This is intolerable," prominent human rights activist Asma Jahangir told journalists in the eastern city of Lahore. Jahangir said the girl was believed to have been punished after refusing to marry a Taliban commander in the Swat Valley, where the government in February struck a truce with Islamic militants to stem violence. The militants then accused her of immoral behavior and ordered 34 lashes, Pakistani news reports said. The video, shot with a cellphone, initially shows the girl, clad in an all-enveloping black burka, being held by men while another begins striking her. She can be heard shouting for help in the Pashto language, spoken by most people in Swat. She is then dragged to another location, held down and flogged. Several dozen people can be seen watching. "For God's sake, please stop, stop it," the girl pleads as the whip falls. "I am dying." Off-camera, another militant gives orders: "Hold her feet tightly. Lift her burka a bit."
You can bet your bippy that there were no women in that circle of spectators savoring every single delicious lash and the girl's screams, heh. Now the Taliban is saying the video was FAKE, created by its enemies to discredit it. Yeah right. The assholes who blew up the Swat Valley Buddha would not hesitate for a second to whip a defenseless teenage girl for refusing to marry a man she doesn't want. How many of them held her down? How many men were tightly packed in that circle around the girl and her tormentors, no doubt salivating over every single lash and scream of the helpless victim? PERVERTS! A pox on them all. I hope they all die a horrible death, but not before their penises falling off from a dread disease, and that they all rot in Hell for ever.

WGM (Elect) Alina Kashlinskaya

Article from Russia Today: Grandmaster at 15 Years Old 09 February, 2009 The Russian teenage chess prodigy Alina Kashlinskaya is poised to become Europe’s youngest Grandmaster. The World Chess Federation (FIDE) sets certain criteria for a player to become a Grandmaster. He or she must take part in an international competition where other Grandmasters play and end up with an Elo rating, which reflects a skill level of at least 2400. Alina achieved a total of three of these norms on February 8 at Russia’s biggest chess tournament, the Moscow Open. This entitles the 15-year-old to receive the honorary title. The Russian Chess Federation will send a request to FIDE’s next congress. In 2007 Kashlinskaya became Europe’s youngest International Master, which is one step lower then Grandmaster in FIDE’s rankings. Alina is a determined player who wants to get to the top of the chess ladder. She said: “It has always been not only a sport but also a kind of art. I want to reach every high goal there is, to win every possible thing.” The youngest ever female Grandmaster is Hou Yifan, who was 14-years-old when she achieved the honour.
I'd like to make it clear to our readers who aren't familiar with chess terminology that Alina has qualified for a WGM - Woman Grandmaster - title. There is a difference between the WGM title and the title of GM - Grandmaster. The requirements for earning a GM title are stricter and one's ELO rating (that is a relative ranking of players by playing strength) must be at least 2500 in order to qualify for the GM title. As I understand the FIDE rules, a player earns a title by achieving three "norms" and achieving an ELO rating of a a certain level. For a WGM title (Woman Grandmaster), the level is 2400; for a GM (Grandmaster) title, the level is 2500. Earning a "norm" is a complicated process. A norm is earned by achieving a certain score in an international tournament in which a player has played higher-rated, titled players. "International" means that a certain number of the higher-rated players must be from a country other than your own. I'm sure it's more complicated than that, but that is is in a nutshell. I'm very happy for WIM (Women's International Master) Kashlinskaya, but the article is misleading - she is NOT a GM - she has qualified for a WGM title - if she achieves a 2400 ELO. According to FIDE's ratings list, which was updated on April 1, 2009 (it is updated every quarter), at present WIM Kashlinskaya has a rating of 2344, and is second on the current listing of all active female players under the age of 16. In Russia, she is number one on the list of active female players under the age of 16. That is quite an accomplishment in a country that boasts the most GMs in the world! It is not easy for chessplayers in the US to earn "norms." Even today, in the age of jet travel, there are only a handful of tournaments in the US each year that attract GMs from other countries, mostly because the prizes offered are small. In those events where larger prizes are offered, so many highly rated players are competing for the prizes that generally lower rated players are shut out of the action because of how pairings are generated. There are many more opportunities to earn norms in Europe, where many tournaments are specifically designed with this goal in mind. It's expensive to travel to Europe to participate in open tournaments where a player has a chance to earn a norm; in benefit/cost analysis, most up and coming US players conclude that they cannot afford to take the chance. It is only recently in the US that such tournaments have been specifically created in an attempt to get more American players the opportunity to earn norms without the expense of travelling out of the country. The North American Chess Association has hosted several such tournaments, and SPICE (at Texas Tech University), which is just a couple years old, has hosted some tournaments of this nature too. Recently, SPICE hosted an invitational (also called a "closed" event) international tournament in Lubbock, Texas, in which American player IM (International Master) Robert Hess participated (born 1991), and earned his third GM norm. Hess also won the event with outstanding play. IM Hess' current FIDE rating is 2485 (updated on April 1, 2009), so he needs to earn only 15 more ELO points to qualify for the GM title. Hess is currently playing in the 2009 US "Supernationals" in Nashville, Tennessee. Another young American player, IM Ray Robson (born 1994), also participated in that SPICE tournament and earned an even score. This score was not enough to earn a "norm" but was a fine performance, showing promise for the future. IM Robson's current FIDE rating is 2464. Here's an article on Kashlinskaya from Russia Today dated April 4, 2009.

Polgar Chess University

The Polgar Chess University (PCU), launched on April 1, 2009, is offering the following special (all information from Susan Polgar's blog): Sign up now for a one year plan and get an additional three bonus months plus one year of World Chess Live membership FREE! For just about $1.50 per week, you can learn from the best! Just enter the code “SuperNationals” when you sign up.
  • Affordable Chess Training with World-Class Instructors!
  • Weekly Classes for Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced levels!
  • Classes are personally being conducted by me and many other World-Class Chess Trainers!
Polgar Chess University: My brand new online chess training program where students of all levels, no matter where they live, have an opportunity to learn chess from some of the best instructors in the game. I created this online school with the dream of bringing expert advice and training to chess enthusiasts around the world at a very affordable cost. I developed the structured curriculum, personally teaching many of the courses along with other top chess players and professional instructors who will be joining the faculty as the school grows. Polgar Chess University is initially offered in this format:
  • Courses identified by level - Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced
  • Three general courses, one at each level, run concurrently
  • Course lessons are prerecorded lectures that may be viewed at your convenience
  • A new lesson in each course is offered each week, on Mondays
  • Earlier lessons may be retrieved from the library at no extra cost
More specialized courses, especially for teachers, along with special guests and events, are planned for the future. Please visit for more information.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Lost in Austen

Ohmygoddess! I had no idea this book and movie existed until a week or so ago, when I happened to come across a reference to it while I was hunting out things to blog about here. Three or four nights ago, I did a search at You Tube, not knowing if I'd find anything, and found it! Unfortunately, it's totally disjointed and you have to click here and then there to try and piece it all together, and I did not succeed in doing that, watching 30 second snippets from several different sources, it was horrid - but what I did manage to view was absolutely SO FAB and it whetted my appetite for more. I enjoyed "Pride and Prejudice" (the 1940, 1996 and 2006 versions) and Bollywood's take-off, "Bride and Prejudice," in fact, when I feel a need to cheer myself up I play the "Bride and Prejudice" DVD and dance all around the family room. It never fails to bring a smile to my face, especially remembering the summer of 2007 during Isis and Michelle's visit when we all entertained dondelion, who was regally stretched out on the sofa like some grey-goateed raja, with our energetic if inexpert dancing to the Indian rock-and-roll rythyms pulsing from the DVD. I have a feeling that "Lost in Austen" will do the same to lift my sagging spirts during this never-ending winter. So tonight I'm pre-ordering the DVD from - it's due for release on April 14th. Oh, I can hardly wait!

Keeping a "Poker Face" in Chess Match

From the Brownsville (Texas) Herald Chess: Ultimate mind sport tests your patience and your poker face April 2, 2009 - 5:44 PM By Ronnie Zamora, Special to The Herald The game of chess is loved by those who play it and misunderstood by those who don't. "A lot of people don't know about chess," said Mauricio Flores, the top-ranked member of the UTB-TSC Chess Team, which will be competing in the Final Four of College Chess in Dallas on Saturday and Sunday. "Chess is in its own world. Nothing else compares to it." Many chess matches will take as long as five hours to complete at the Final Four. But through it all, members of the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College Chess Team must remember one thing: Keep a straight face when competing. Chess is a game of little emotion and seriousness. "That's something that I have improved on," team captain Daniel Fernandez, a junior, said. "I have a good poker face when I make a mistake. I keep my composure. Many years ago, you could see it on my face if I made a mistake. Now during a game, I don't have expression." Keeping a straight face is vital to the success of the best players. Any facial expressions, especially those of disappointment, give an opponent the advantage of knowing that a mistake probably has been made. A good opponent will eventually find the mistake and attempt to capitalize on the error. "I'm usually pretty good about hiding it," freshman Bradley Sawyer said. "I try not to show any expression. The less your opponent knows, the better." Just like big stakes poker tournaments that last hours and test the stamina of participants, the length of time the matches also tests the patience of chess players. "Chess gives you a lot of tension," sophomore Nadya Ortiz said. "You never know how you are doing until it's almost over. Sometimes, you may be down by one piece but have the advantage because of better positioning." Ortiz said chess "is not like basketball or football, where you know you are winning a game because you have more points. In chess, the position is confused, and you don't know if you are doing well or not." To have strong focus and stamina for long matches, UTB-TSC Chess team members turn to physical exercise to stay fit and strong. "Physical exercise is important because sometimes you are playing 7-8 hours a day," Ortiz said. "Your mind is going to be tired in 1-2 hours. If you have a healthy body, your mind will be sharper." Most members of the team play tennis for recreation. Others play basketball and pington. But it's the love of the chess - the ultimate mind sport - that keeps them going. "It's an addiction for me," Flores said. "A lot of people don't know you have to study chess like any other courses in college. A professional chess player needs to study the game to keep improving. We're always learning. "For me, this is what I enjoy doing more than anything else."
Well, during a match, players aren't always without expression - or movement. All part of the "psych out" of your opponent - or sometimes you just have to go to the bathroom really bad but you don't want to leave the table.

Looters Damage Priceless Artifacts

Article from Turkish press. Are there no lengths to which looters will go in an attempt to get things to sell on the black market for money? This just makes me sick. Historical artifacts damaged in Mersin MERSİN - It is reported that several historical artifacts, including reliefs, have been damaged in the Kızkalesi district of Mersin by treasure-hunters using dynamite. According to a statement posted on the Mersin University Klikia Archeological Research Center’s Web site, 11 niches in the Şeytan Valley, where reliefs are carved into the rock walls, were damaged by exploding dynamite. A member of the university’s archaeology department, Associated Professor Murat Durukan, claimed they looters had sabotaged not just Turkey’s, but also whole world’s cultural heritage. He said on the Web site: "The situation we experienced here in Mersin is not different to the destruction of historical artifacts in Afghanistan. Being indifferent to this event will damage our country’s image. The authorities should appoint a guard in this place for 24 hours to stop this insanity." Talking to the Anatolia news agency, Durukan said hey had informed police about the incident that happened ten days ago. "The Adamkayalar (the rocks in shape of men) go back to the third century B.C. It is a commemoration ceremony area. These reliefs were made to commemorate important people, mostly Kings, soldiers and priest of that time." Mersin Culture and Tourism District Manager Mehmet Çalışkan said they were aware of the incident. "We already launched an investigation to catch the people who did the damage to this area."

How Did I Miss THIS?

HOLY GODDESS! Check out this press release from March 30th - I have no idea how I could have missed it! Japanese Super Chess Computer By Dr. Andras Akobian Russian Federation Contact publisher via email Introducing “SPACE Tech”, the latest Cyborg chess beast Susan Polgar Advanced Computer Engineering (SPACE) Technology and Fujitso LLC For_Immediate_Release: Russian Federation (Press Release) March 30, 2009 -- Introducing “SPACE Tech”, the latest Cyborg chess beast By Fujitso LLC

Susan Polgar Advanced Computer Engineering (SPACE) Technology·

DD660 includes quad-core Xeon processors and 1-TB SATA drive support.

8 GIG of RAM.

The system provides up to 2 TB per hour of aggregate inline de-duplication throughput, and up to 700 GB per hour for a single stream. It offers up to 36 TB of raw capacity. With its data reduction capabilities, the system can handle from 520 TB to 1.3 PB of logical capacity.

SPACE also contains additional secret state of the art components by Fujitso LLC which will greatly enhance calculation speed.

source: FPR

Chess database of over 4 million games.

Latest endgame tablebases which include nearly all significant 7-piece endgame.

Latest opening tablebases which include a number of secret analysis from top Russian Grandmasters.

This super computer is trained to learn from its own mistakes as well as those of the opponent. It utilizes an expreimental artifical intelligence program developed by the Russian Academy of Science which provides the program with unmatched middlegame positional play.

After 6 months of lab testing, SPACE has an estimated rating of 3,500, which is far stronger than the latest version of Rybka.

NASA has shown great interest in the program as a possible onboard mission commander for deep space exploration.

Russian Academy of Science 152020 Pereslavl-Zalessky Russia

********************************************************************* What will GM Susan Polgar be involved in next, I ask you? And - you read it here first - that wily rascal Phil Innes a/k/a The Parrot over at has publicly declared (although not in so many words), that he has competing interests to Polgar's vis a vis certain Japanese business interests and therefore is he "distancing himself" from America's sole female GM. Is a competitor SUPER COMPUTER about to be unveiled - one designed with input from the nearly IM Innes? Stay tuned! LOL! I darn near peed my pants laughing. This one is MUCH better than last year's April Fools Announcement. Good job, GM Polgar and Phil!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

DNA Clues in Irish "Invasion" of Scotland

Article from BBC News Online: Clues to ancient invasion in DNA Page last updated at 00:08 GMT, Thursday, 2 April 2009 01:08 UK Scientific evidence of an ancient invasion of Scotland from Ireland may have been uncovered by DNA techniques. Researchers from Edinburgh University said studies of Scots living on Islay, Lewis, Harris and Skye were found to have strong links with Irish people. Early historical sources recount how the Gaels came from Ireland about 500 AD and conquered the Picts in Argyll. Scientists said the study was the first demonstration of a significant Irish genetics component in Scots' ancestry. The research, which features work by geneticist Dr Jim Wilson, a specialist in population genetics, is being featured in programmes on Gaelic television channel BBC Alba. The study also suggests intriguing ancestry of Scots living on the Western Isles and in the north and north east of Scotland. Trading networks Dr Wilson said: "It was extremely exciting to see for the first time the ancient genetic connection between Scotland and Ireland - the signature of a movement of people from Ireland to Scotland, perhaps of the Scots or Gaels themselves." The origin of the Gaels - who by conquering and integrating with Pictish northern tribes created the Kingdom of Alba - has been debated by historians for centuries. The earliest historical source comes from around the 10th Century and relates that the Gaels came from Ireland in about 500 AD, under King Fergus Mor. However, more recently archaeologists have suggested the Gaels had lived in Argyll for centuries before Fergus Mor's invasion. The study also suggested an east-west genetic divide seen in England and attributed to Anglo-Saxons and Danes was evident in the north of Scotland. This was noted in places far from Anglo-Saxon and Danish settlements, indicating that this division was older and may have arisen in the Bronze Age through trading networks across the North Sea. Geneticists also said as many as 40% of the population on the Western Isles could have Viking ancestry, while no Viking ancestry was found in north east Scotland.

2009 USCF Executive Board Election

It's official - I renewed my membership and now I will be able to vote in the 2009 election for four Executive Board seats. I don't know how many of the people who visit here are USCF members, but to those of you who are, I would urge you to study the candidates as best you can, and above all, vote. You can find out about the candidates by googling their names, also by visiting chess blogs and discussion boards, and if you receive Chess Life Magazine, reading the candidates' statements. I believe (although I am not certain) that you will also be able to read the candidates' statements at Chess Life Online. If your membership includes receiving Chess Life magazine, I think it's in the June edition that you will receive a paper ballot which you can fill out and mail in. I'm not sure what happens if you've got one of the new elective memberships where you do not receive the paper magazine - there may be a way to vote online, or perhaps you'll receive a separate paper ballot in the mail. One way or another, you will be able to vote, and I urge all USCF members to vote after doing your own "due diligence" (a legal term of art, forgive me). There are four seats up for election in this cycle, for four year terms. Here are the eleven registered candidates in alphabetical order: Mike Atkins Jim Berry (running for re-election) Bill Goichberg (running for re-election) Ruth Haring Eric Hecht Mikhail Korenman Brian Lafferty Blas Lugo Brian Mottershead Mike Nietman Sam Sloan A lot of information is available on the internet about some of the candidates, but not so much on others. Sometimes it takes a little digging, but you can find info. You can check Mark Weeks' blog for information. He links each candidate to google searches under their names. At Chess, I was led to these opinions on the candidates offered by John Hillery at his blog, Western Chess. In her blog, popularly known as Lizzy Knows All, U.S. chessplayer and chess coach Elizabeth Vicary interviewed candidates Mike Atkins and Brian Lafferty. I know none of the candidates personally. I have read much on some of the candidates, have read what information I can find on other candidates who have pretty much steered clear of chess politics, and have read what some of the candidates have written and said for themselves. I have formed my impressions of the candidates accordingly. Here are the candidates of which I know of no evil and I am voting for: IM Ruth Haring Mike Nietman Mikhail Korenman Mike Atkins This election, like others before it, is contentious. USCF members who are interested in voting can well educate themselves on the issues and the candidates. I hope this election will result in peace among the members of the Executive Board and a shared vision to promote chess in the United States to the best of all EB members' unique abilities and talents. I give a special plug to fellow Wisconsinite Mike Nietman. He has been a TD and promoter of chess in Wisconsin for many years, a rated player here (in Wisconsin's top 100), the President of the Wisconsin Chess Association and involved in promoting scholastic chess. In talking to local chess folks about Mr. Nietman, I hear only good things. I also really like the idea of adding another experienced female chessplayer to the EB in the person of IM Ruth Haring. We could do with a bit less testosterone on the Board, I think, and Haring will add not only a feminine point of view but the voice of a well-seasoned competitive tournament player.

The Queen and Mrs. Obama

Michelle Obama charms queen away from protocol From A.P. By JENNIFER QUINN, Associated Press Writer Jennifer Quinn, Associated Press Writer – Thu Apr 2, 2:15 pm ET
LONDON – Michelle Obama's meeting with Queen Elizabeth II began with a handshake and ended in a hug. The first lady arrived Wednesday with President Barack Obama. After separate meetings on the eve of the G-20 summit, the couple attended an evening reception for world leaders hosted by the queen. Mrs. Obama clearly made an impression with the 82-year-old monarch — so much that the smiling queen strayed slightly from protocol and briefly wrapped her arm around the first lady in a rare public show of affection. It was the first time Mrs. Obama — who is nearly a foot taller — had met the queen. The first lady also wrapped her arm around the monarch's shoulder and back. A Buckingham Palace spokesman who asked not to be identified because of palace policy said he could not remember the last time the queen had displayed such public affection with a first lady or dignitary. "It was a mutual and spontaneous display of affection," he said. "We don't issue instructions on not touching the queen." When the former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating put his arm around the queen in 1992, the tabloids dubbed him the "Lizard of Oz." When his successor, John Howard, was accused of doing the same, a spokesman insisted: "We firmly deny that there was any contact whatsoever." In 2007, President George W. Bush gave the queen a sly wink during a visit she paid to the United States. The Daily Mail said the "two women clearly took to each other." Wednesday's reception was followed by a dinner at Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Downing Street home, where the leaders' spouses were joined by notable British women, including "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling and Olympic gold medal runner Kelly Holmes. "Michelle walks in and she is as she seems," Holmes told reporters Thursday. "So warm, engaging, a beautiful, beautiful lady — and I quickly got my photo in the middle of her and Sarah Brown," the prime minister's wife. Mrs. Obama also seemed to win over the often feral British press. The last time a first lady made such a hit in Britain was last year with French President Nicolas Sarkozy's wife, the former fashion model and songwriter Carla Bruni. But on Thursday, London's Times newspaper had moved on, writing "Carla who?" The BBC described Mrs. Obama as her husband's co-star rather than supporting act — appropriate for a Harvard-educated lawyer. Mrs. Obama visited an all-girls school in north London on Thursday afternoon. She told the 240 girls about growing up on Chicago's south side, and urged them to think of education as "cool." "I never cut class. I liked being smart. I liked getting A's," she said. "You have everything you need. Everything you need to succeed you already have right here." At the end of the visit, Mrs. Obama doled out hugs to the students, and was swarmed by them — to the extent that some Secret Service agents stepped nervously forward. Earlier Thursday, Mrs. Obama attended a performance at the Royal Opera House with the other spouses and guests. The program included music by Handel and a dance performance by Ballet Black, a troupe set up to give performing opportunities to black and Asian classical dancers. Wearing a bright teal blue dress by Jason Wu — who designed her inauguration gown — and a sweater by Junya Watanabe, Mrs. Obama posed for photographs with Sarah Brown, Therese Rein, wife of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso's wife Chikako Aso, and Laureen Harper, who is married to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on the stage of the opera house. ************************************************************************** I have great admiration for both of these very cool ladies ladies - so different, and yet so alike too. In watching the video (see link above and take a look at the third video down on the left side of the page), it's clear that it was the Queen who, in a spontaneous and unguarded moment, first put her arm around Mrs. Obama's waist! Lovely! And then Mrs. Obama reciprocated and the two ladies shared a look, a word, and a laugh. It was all over in a few seconds, but with today's ever-present video cams, etc., the moment was captured in time forever. The Queen is about my mom's age. I was born the same year Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne (1951). It just awes me how much the world has changed since that time - how much I've seen in my 57 years (soon to be 58 - in August) and how much much more the Queen and my mom have seen in their lifetimes. Sometimes, when I think about how it was when I was a child, it seems like we're now living on a different planet! How much more so must that feeling be for my mom - and the Queen.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

From Eye of Horus to 'Rx'

Article from (Voice of English) Take This Medicine: The Story of the Sign 'Rx' How a special sign came to mean a doctor’s prescription. Transcript of radio broadcast: 21 March 2009 Now, the VOA Special English program, WORDS AND THEIR STORIES. Every week at this time, the Voice of America tells about popular words and expressions used in the United States. Some of these words and expressions are old. Some are new. Together, they form the living speech of the American people. Our story today is very old. It goes back about five-thousand years. It is about a sign that is used to represent some words. We see this sign on drug stores and whenever we visit a doctor to get an order for medicine. It also appears on bottles of pills and other medicines. The sign is formed by a line across the right foot of the letter "R." It represents the word "prescription." It has come to mean "take this medicine." The sign has its beginnings five thousand years ago in Egypt. At that time, people prayed to Horus, the god of the Sun. It was said that when Horus was a child, he was attacked by Seth, the demon of evil. The evil Seth put out the eye of the young Horus. The mother of Horus called for help. Her cry was answered by Thoth, the god of learning and magic. Thoth, with his wisdom and special powers, healed the eye of Horus. And the child was able to see again. The ancient Egyptians used a drawing of the eye of Horus as a magic sign to protect themselves from disease, suffering and evil. They cut this sign in the stones they used for buildings. And it was painted on the papyrus rolls used for writing about medicine and doctors. For thousands of years, the eye of Horus remained as a sign of the god's help to the suffering and sick. Long after the fall of the ancient Egyptian civilization, doctors and alchemists in Europe continued the custom of showing a sign of the gods' help and protection. But over the years, the sign changed from the eye of Horus to the sign for Jupiter, the chief god of the Romans. Jupiter's sign looked much like the printed number "four." That sign changed, also. Today, it is the easily-recognized capital "R" with a line across its foot. The sign no longer offers heavenly assistance to the sick. It now means "take this medicine." This VOA Special English program WORDS AND THEIR STORIES was written by Frank Beardsley. The narrator was Maurice Joyce. I'm Warren Sheer.

They Still Don't Get It

Article from Early humans may have cared for disabled young 14:03 31 March 2009 by Ewen Callaway A recently unearthed ancient human skull shows signs of a disorder that might have caused mental retardation. This offers the earliest evidence that ancestors of Homo sapiens did not abandon young with severe birth defects. The 500,000-year-old skeleton belonged to a five to 12-year-old child who suffered from craniosynostosis. The rare congenital condition occurs when two of the flat bones that make up the skull fuse together along their margins (sutures) too early during fetal development, hindering brain growth. Spanish researchers discovered the first pieces of the skull near Atapuerca, Spain, in 2001, but they only recently pieced enough of it together to make a conclusive diagnosis. "We were sure we had evidence of a real pathology," says Ana Gracia, a palaeoanthropologist at Complutense University in Madrid, who led the new study. "It's obvious – you only have to look at the cranium." Different Appearance The child suffered from a form of craniosynostosis that occurs in about 1 in every 200,000 children. He or she was a member of the species Homo heidelbergensis, – early humans that lived in Europe up to 800,000 years ago and may have given rise to Neanderthals. The discovery marks the earliest example of a human skeleton with signs of a physical deformity that that might have made the individual dependent on others for survival. Most animals, including primates, sacrifice or abandon young born with crippling deformities, Gracia says. It's impossible to know whether the child suffered from any cognitive problems, but he or she would undoubtedly have looked different from family and friends, she says. Rest of article.
When are the scientists and evolution folks finally going to get it that humankind is NOT an animal, duh! Within their paradigm, they cannot explain the presence of flowers in the graves of so-called "Neanderthals." It is totally outside their realm of accepted "animal" experience. And yet there are plenty of accounts that demonstrate that so-called "animals" mourn the loss of a loved one. Today we have so-called Homo Sapiens Sapiens ("Modern Man") who routinely torture, starve, abuse and kill their own children in various ways, and show no remorse or grief whatsoever. So who is truly "human," and who is not? You tell me.

Reykjavik Open 2009

The event was won by GM Hedinn Steingrimsson (ISC 2547) with 7.0/9. Here are the final standings of the chess femmes after Round 9 (out of 110 players): 18 IM Harika Dronavalli IND 2473 6,0 56 WIM Cori T Deysi PER 2256 4,5 61 WGM Ptacnikova Lenka ISL 2249 4,5 71 WGM Karlovich Anastazia UKR 2251 4,0 76 Finnbogadottir Tinna Kristin ISL 1660 4,0 77 WIM Andersson Christin SWE 2132 4,0 102 Gudmundsdottir Geirthrudur Ann ISL 1775 2,5 105 Helgadottir Sigridur Bjorg ISL 1646 2,5 107 Johannsdottir Johanna Bjorg ISL 1724 2,5 Dronavalli was the 8th out of 8 players to finish on 6 points. I have great admiration for Dronavalli. I was also very pleased to see Deysi Cori (or is it Cori Deysi???) playing in this event. Congratulations to all of the chess femmes!

When 64 = 65 (Say What???)

Check out this fun article at Chessbase: A Mathematical Chessboard Paradox 24.03.2009 – In Germany 2008 was the “Year of Mathematics”, and at the same time there was a Chess World Championship and a Chess Olympiade in the country. Reason enough to take a look at an interesting problem at the interface of these two intellectual activities. It is a fascinating paradox which seems to prove that 64 is equal to 65 simply by cutting up a chessboard. Prof. Christian Hesse explains. Chess Expeditions By Prof. Christian Hesse

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Did Nefertiti Have a Bump on Her Nose?

So what if she did? Cleopatra (THE Cleopatra, I believe was Cleopatra VII), also had a pronounced "Greek" bump on her nose according to her images on ancient coins, but she is still reputed as one of the most "beautiful" women in the world ever, along with Nefertiti. (Image of Nefertiti Bust: Berlin Museum). Of course, "beauty" encompasses a lot of meanings. At the risk of being absolutely prosaic, there's a reason for that old saw "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with just physical beauty - whatever that means (it changes every other year, it seems). Anyway, this is a fascinating story - sort of CSI archaeology. The famous bust of Nefertiti housed in Berlin, the one that Zahi Hawass lusts after so much to be "returned" to Egypt, underwent a high-tech CT scan recently. The scan revealed that the stone "under-sculpture" that supports the outer layer of gesso forming the face of Nefertiti with which we are all familiar, shows some decided flaws that did not show up in the final bust/portrait. Oh my, what's an archaeologist to do??? LOL! I guess they just don't understand about "before" and "after" make-overs, do they? Heh heh heh. Coverage: AFP report at Google Yahoo! News (some photos which show the underlying stone sculpture and it's "flaws")

What's Going On?

Hola darlings! I've been too busy today. It all started at the office where we are inundated with individual income tax and fiduciary income tax returns that are all due on April 15. Eek! Then, in a way that is too convoluted to go into here, especially when I'm sitting here contemplating getting toothpicks to keep my eyelids up long enough to finish blogging for tonight! Anyway, I was revisiting much older personal research (some going back to 2003, double Eek!) on the elephant in the Middle East and Egypt. Through something dondelion mentioned in this week's Random Round-up at Goddesschess, I discovered a new clue and started following it back into my old research, and into new research. The result is - I'm totally confused (nothing new there) and exhausted; but it appears to promise new insights into our quest for the origins of chess -- I should more properly say into our quest for the origins of boardgames out of which chessly concepts arose. Is that utterly obtuse and opaque? LOL! I sound like a candidate for a seat on the United States Chess Federation Executive Board! Seriously (har!), I'm going to work on a little something to present here - or at Goddessches - about the history of the elephant and how it came to be used as a piece in chess. It's now article 6 (7?) in line with other articles I'm working on. Sigh. Anyway, please check out dondelion's March 29, 209 edition of Random Round-Up at Goddesschess (right hand-column, scroll down to Random Round-Up) - it's really good stuff and if you read all of the info provided at the links the results will take you along paths where you can join us in our never-ending game of "connecting the dots" in the never-ending quest for the origins of chess. I also did a quick update at Chess Femme News, a sort of random round-up of my own relating recent news of chess femmes.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Three Thousand Year Old Bone Insciptions Found in Shaanxi Province

The article includes a video (don't know if it will work): Bone inscriptions found in China WATCH VIDEO Source: 03-26-2009 08:29 Archeologists have discovered inscriptions on bones which offer clues to the name of the father of Emperor Wen, founder of the Western Zhou Dynasty some three-thousand years ago. The discovery was made during an excavation in northern China's Shaanxi Province. In an area where were the domain of the Western Zhou Dynasty, about 700 animal bones bearing inscriptions have been uncovered. Of the readable 16-hundred inscribed characters, archeologists found the name "Wang Ji" which had never been mentioned in other historic records before. They inferred that this probably refers to the father of Emperor Wen. Archeologist Wang Zhankui said, "The Grandfather of Emperor Wen was pleased by the good omen occurring at the birth of Emperor Wen. So he passed his title down to the father of Emperor Wen which was his third son." The inscriptions also mentioned many other important figures of the Western Zhou Dynasty.

Relics of Saints Discovered in 12th Century Altar

Saints, heh? I wonder if some of these bits are of saints that were kicked off the official list during Vatican II (or was it Vatican I)? Only one name of a saint was given - Saint Benedict (Italian, 6th century CE). More about this saint in my after-comments. Here is the article, from the British Museum finds relics of 39 saints after 100 years Discovery made by curator when 12th-century German portable altar was opened for the first time Maev Kennedy The Guardian, Tuesday 24 March 2009 The new medieval gallery at the British Museum is full of beautiful images of saints in ivory, stone, gold and wood - but invisible to visitors, it also holds the bones of 39 real saints, whose discovery came as a shock to their curator. The relics, packed in tiny bundles of cloth including one scrap of fabric over 1,000 years old, were found when a 12th-century German portable altar was opened for the first time since it came into the British Museum collection in 1902. It was in for a condition check and cleaning, before going on display in the gallery that opens tomorrow - but to the amazement of James Robinson, curator of medieval antiquities, when it was opened a linen cloth was revealed, and inside it dozens of tiny bundles of cloth, each neatly labelled on little pieces of vellum. The most precious was the relic of St Benedict, an Italian who in the early 6th century was credited as the father of the western monastic tradition, founding monasteries and establishing guiding principles still followed at many monasteries. The relic was wrapped in cloth that was itself an extraordinary object, a piece of silk from 8th or 9th century Byzantium. Each Roman Catholic altar-stone is supposed to contain at least one relic of a saint, usually in the form of minute flakes of bone. There was a clue on the back of the museum's altar in a list of names beginning slightly implausibly with John the Baptist, and including saints James, John and Mary Magdalene. There are many reliquaries in the gallery, in the form of crosses, pendants and rings, including one owned by a saint, the Georgian queen Kethevan who was executed by Shah Abbas in 1624 for refusing to convert to Islam. Almost all have long since lost their contents in the centuries of religious and political upheaval which scattered them from palaces and monasteries and eventually brought them to the British Museum. A relic of bone fragments was discovered almost 30 years ago in a spectacular lifesize head of St Eustace, but the relic was sent back to Basle cathedral in Switzerland which was forced to sell the golden reliquary in 1830. The newly discovered saints will remain in Bloomsbury. Robinson said they were cared for and rearranged into the 19th century, the date of the most recent piece of fabric, but at some point one was lost as there are 40 engraved names but only 39 saintly bundles.
Okay, who took the 40th saint bundle, heh? Come on, fess up. About the "real saint", St. Benedict, this is what Barbara Walker's The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Legends has to say about him: An ancient shrine of the sun god Apollo on Monte Cassino was taken over and converted into a Christian monastery. The "St. Benedict" to whom it was dedicated was really Apollo Benedictus, the "Good-speaker."(1) Even Catholic scholars say there is no evidence that "St. Benedict" was ever a Christian priest [was he even a real person???]. However, his legend did assimilate him to the sun god. when Benedict prayed, "the whole world seemed to be gathered into one sunbeam and brought thus before his eyes."(2) Notes: (1) Rose, 294. (2) Attwater, 62.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

4,000 Year Old Temple Discovered on Cyprus

Article from MSNBC 4,000-year-old temple discovered in Cyprus Structure predates any found on the Mediterranean island by a millennium By Menelaos Hadjicostis updated 12:40 p.m. CT, Fri., March. 27, 2009 NICOSIA, Cyprus - An Italian archaeologist claimed Friday to have discovered Cyprus' oldest religious site, which she said echoes descriptions in the Bible of temples in ancient Palestine. Maria Rosaria Belgiorno said the 4,000-year-old triangular temple predates any other found on the east Mediterranean island by a millennium. "For sure it's the most ancient religious site on the island," she told The Associated Press from her home in Rome. "This confirms that religious worship in Cyprus began much earlier than previously believed." But authorities on the island say they cannot confirm her claim before further study. "That the site is dated to around 2,000 B.C. is certain, but the interpretation that it's a temple or a sacred site has yet to be confirmed," Cyprus Antiquities Department official Maria Hadjicosti told state radio. The 200-sq.-meter (2,150-sq.-foot) building was discovered last year outside Pyrgos, a village near the south coast, where previous digs unearthed a settlement dating to 2,000 B.C. that included a perfumery, winery and a metal workshop. Belgiorno, who heads an Italian archaeological mission in Cyprus, initially disclosed the find to English-language The Cyprus Weekly. She said evidence points to a monotheistic temple with a sacrificial altar that resembles Canaanite places of worship described in the Bible. "The temple has a very peculiar shape for a building, which is very rare." Belgiorno said a key piece of evidence linking the site to Biblical accounts of temples in ancient Palestine is a pair of 6-meter (20-foot) stone "channels" extending from either side of the altar that allowed sacrificial animals' blood to flow out of the structure. Other evidence includes a stone water basin, which she said might have been used in the ritual cleansing of the channels. Belgiorno said the temple was situated across from the industrial area in the heart of the settlement, which she estimates covered 35 hectares (86 acres). Most of the settlement now lies under village homes and holiday villas. The industrial area was built around a large mill producing olive oil that was used as fuel to fire up the metal workshop and as a perfume base.

A Politician Married to a Really Stupid Man

The British press doesn't have anything better to do these days now that Tony Blair is out of office??? From The New York Times, The Lede Blog March 29, 2009, 3:13 pm — Updated: 3:49 pm --> British Minister Promises to Pay for Porn By Robert Mackey Jacqui Smith, the British home secretary, was forced to issue a statement on Sunday saying that she would repay British taxpayers £21 ($30) after a newspaper revealed that expenses she claimed last year for home internet service also included four pay-per-view movies, two of which were adult films. The newspaper that first reported the embarrassing expense report, The Sunday Express, wrote on Sunday that “A source close to Ms Smith, 46, said last night that she had not been at the family home in Redditch, Worcestershire, on April 1 and April 6 last year when the adult films were viewed.” Ms. Smith, who lives in London with her sister during the week and spends weekends at home with her family, has recently come under fire for suggestions that she has taken advantage of government allowances to claim £116,000 ($166,000) in living expenses since 2001 to subsidize her two residences. Last month Michael White, The Guardian’s former political editor, wrote a blog post headlined: “Jacqui Smith’s use of housing allowance is within the rules – but it doesn’t feel right.” According to The Times of London, Ms. Smith, who said that she had “mistakenly claimed for a television package” which was bundled in to a charge for Internet service from the same company, Virgin Media, is not happy with her husband, Richard Timney: A friend said the Home Secretary knew there was “no excuse” for the error but added: “To say she’s angry with her husband is an understatement. Jacqui was not there when these films were watched. She’s furious and mortified.” Mr. Timney, who is himself paid £40,000 ($57,000) a year by the British government to advise his wife [can I get work like this???], spent what might well have been the least comfortable 26 seconds of his life outside the family home on Sunday reading this statement of apology to the assembled press (published on the Web site of Channel 4 News). Then again, perhaps Mr. Timney is making a bid to take the unofficial title of most embarrassing British husband away from Prince Philip, the Queens’s spouse, who has made a well-catalogued series of outrageous statements, mainly about people from other countries, over the years. In December, Mr. Timney was caught writing a letter in support of his wife’s policies, under his own name but without disclosing their relationship, to their local newspaper. Matters are not made better by the fact that Ms. Smith, who leads the British government department overseeing immigration, drugs policy, counter-terrorism and the police, recently announced plans to change the law on prostitution in Britain to punish men who pay for sex, in an attempt to cut down on demand. As The Guardian reported in November: Ms. Smith that in the past the government has concentrated on addressing the “supply side” issues relating to prostitution. Now the government wanted to curtail the demand. “At the end what we also need to recognise is that if there is no demand for sex with women, there will be less trafficking,” she said.

2009 World Figure Skating Championships

I was too tired to blog about it last night. Yu Na of South Korea won the women's title in spectacular style. (Photo: Kim Yu Na, by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images/March 28, 2009) At times as she was skating, she reminded me very much of a younger Michelle Kwan, the same artistry and projection of emotion, being one with the music - and with fab technical skills. Joannie Rochette of Canada finished in second, Canada's second ladie's medal - not having scored one since Liz Manley (one of commentator Dick Button's all-time favorites, I think) won a silver for Canada in 1988! I thought Rochette skated just fine, but I thought she was outshown by Yu Na and Japan's Miki Ando (who won the women's world title in 2007), who took the bronze. Ando scored higher in the free skate than Rochette, but Rochette's combined scores were higher than Ando's to maintain her second place position. Mao Asada (last year's Women's World champion) finished in 4th place after falling on an attempted second triple axle. Her program was otherwise superbly skated but she was punished for the fall, not rewarded for the attempt at the second triple axle. American Rachael Flat, at sweet 16, finished in a highly respectable 5th place, while U.S. Women's champ Alissa Czisny was 11th. I did not see her long program, but it was creditable enough to move her up from 14th to 11th overall. Not bad, considering that her short program was disastrous. Rachelle Flat leaves me flat, I do not find her presence on the ice inspiring. I much prefer Czisny's style of skating, but she is so inconsistent. And who knows if she will make it to the 2010 Olympics. I don't know the dates for those Olympics, but there may be a 2010 U.S. Skating Championships beforehand, and there are plenty of younger skaters gunning for Czisny's title. Michelle Kwan, looking drop dead gorgeous, did some commentary on network television last night, and she was asked about a possible comeback for the 2010 Olympics. She said she was skating again and working to get back in shape, but she had no definite plans for a come-back. If she did come back, she would be 28, and she would have to make the U.S. skating team. Twenty-eight is young in the real world, but in the world of women's figure skating, that's senior statesman age! Still, there was at least one skater last night who was 28, and I thought she skated just fine, but was marked too low. Even with the new-fangled scoring system which no one understands and where no one sees the individual judges' scores anymore, there is plenty of room for subjective judgment and, therefore, cheating. It will always be so in such a blend of sport and art as figure-skating. The other thing that the new scoring system has led to is a checklist approach to scoring points throughout a program for technical elements, and it was quite evident in program after program last night that this has led to a great similarity in what goes into programs and how the programs are put together. BORING! Coverage: Chicago Tribune Toronto Star The Seoul Times Queen Kim new queen of figure skating, story by Nancy Armour, Associated Press (reported in many newspapers under various titles)

Giants at Jericho?

An interesting hypothesis put forward by Ronald S. Hendel at the Biblical Archaeology website: BAR 35:02, Mar/Apr 2009 Biblical Views: Giants at Jericho By Ronald S. Hendel It's interesting that the Hebrews were still talking about "giants" - evidently attributable to the descendants of Nephilim - thousands of years after the Great Flood that was supposed to have wiped out every living thing except those that survived on Noah's Ark. Can't have it both ways, folks! If there were still descendants of Nephilim a few thousand years after the flood, that means your accounts of universal destruction are wrong (or God lied to Moses when He was dictating the first five books of the Bible). Or that means that Noah's family weren't as pure as driven snow - because everyone AFTER the Great Flood was supposedly descended from those four men and four women who walked off the Ark somewhere in the region of Mount Ararat. Well, that's another subject! I highly recommend reading the comments in the "Talk Back" section after reading the article. I'm not a biblical scholar, nor an archaeologist, just an avid reader, so this is just my personal opinion. Assuming that an exodus occurred (to my knowledge, there is no consensus on this), I'm of the opinion that it occurred sometime during the troubles with the Hyksos (c. 1650-1550 BCE), possibly in conjunction with the aftermath of the eruption of Thera (I do not think a definitive date has been established - there is a wide range of opinion with dates ranging anywhere from 1645 BC to 1500 BC). Those were chaotic times; it's not amazing to me that no definitive records of a mass migration of Hebrews out of the Delta area have been discovered. One of the comments to Hendel's article also suggest TWO exoduses - an intriguing proposition! Here's an interesting article on the destructive power of the eruption of Thera from Live Science. I recently watched a NOVA special on the eruption of Krakatoa in the 1880's, and that was absolutely terrifying. To think that Thera's eruption was four times more powerful than Krakatoa beggars the imagination - I just cannot conceive of it. It's aftermath must have been felt around the entire globe for years - perhaps a decade. Wow!

More on the Tomb of Djehuty Discoveries

Judith Weingarten, archaeologist and author, blogs about Hatshepsut's valued Treasurer, Djehuty, and the recent discovery of a tomb beneath Djehuty's tomb. Great reading at a great blog (Zenobia, Empress of the East), check it out. Judith gives the background and historical context to Djehuty's life and times - and presents a mystery. I'm rather snooty (some would say anal) when it comes to blog links. Judith's blog is in my short list of links because her blog is uniformly excellent, interesting and informative. I did a couple of posts on the "tomb beneath the tomb":
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