Saturday, June 6, 2009

China's Lack of Marriageable Women Leads to Scams

Yep - you could see it coming. All those years of abandoning unwanted female infants to die after birth, abortions of female fetuses and the overt favoring of boys over girls have come back to haunt Chinese society today. Mark my words - if this isn't already happening in India, it soon will be. Their birth of male to female children is nearly as distorted. Well, you reap what you sow... This story is from The Wall Street Journal. Image: From The Wall Street Journal, duped farmer Zhou Pin and his new bride, Cai Niucuo. ASIA NEWS JUNE 5, 2009 It's Cold Cash, Not Cold Feet, Motivating Runaway Brides in China Surplus of Bachelors Spurs New Scam; Mr. Zhou, Briefly Betrothed, Now Pines By MEI FONG XIN'AN VILLAGE, HANZHONG, China -- With no eligible women in his village, Zhou Pin, 27 years old, thought he was lucky to find a pretty bride whom he met and married within a week, following the custom in rural China. Ten days later, Cai Niucuo vanished, leaving behind her clothes and identity papers. She did not, however, leave behind her bride price: 38,000 yuan, or about $5,500, which Mr. Zhou and his family had scrimped and borrowed to put together. When Mr. Zhou reported his missing spouse to authorities, he found his situation wasn't unique. In the first two months of this year, Hanzhong town saw a record number of scams designed to extract high bride prices in a region with an oversupply of bachelors. The fleeing Mrs. Zhou was one of 11 runaway brides -- hardly the isolated case or two that the town had seen in years past. The local phenomenon has fueled broader speculation among officials that the fast-footed wives may be part of a larger criminal ring. "She called me soon after she left," says Mr. Zhou, a slight man with a tentative smile. He says she asked how he was doing, and apologized for the hardship she had caused. "I told her, 'I will see you again one day.' " Thanks to its 30-year-old population-planning policy and customary preference for boys, China has one of the largest male-to-female ratios in the world. Using data from the 2005 China census -- the most recent -- a study published in last month's British Journal of Medicine estimates there was a surplus of 32 million males under the age of 20 at the time the census was taken. That's roughly the size of Canada's population. Now some of these men have reached marriageable age, resulting in intense competition for spouses, especially in rural areas. It also appears to have caused a sharp spike in bride prices and betrothal gifts. The higher prices are even found in big cities such as Tianjin. A study by Columbia University economist Shang-Jin Wei found that some areas in China with a high proportion of males have an above-average savings rate, even after accounting for factors such as education levels, income and life-expectancy rates. Areas with more men than women, the study notes, also have low spending rates -- suggesting that many rural Chinese may be saving up for bride prices. Curbing consumption in hopes of connubial pleasure is increasingly the norm in Xin'an Village, or New Peace Village, a lushly verdant spot with 14,000 people, located in central China's Shaanxi province. The village has over 30 men of marriageable age, but no single women. As in other parts of the country, village customs dictate the groom's family pay the bride's family a set amount -- known as cai li -- while the bride furnishes a dowry of mostly simple household items. In the 1980s, before the start of China's economic reforms, cai li sums were small. "When I married, my husband just bought me several sets of clothes," recalls Zhang Shufen, Mr. Zhou's mother. In the 1990s, cai li prices rose to several thousand yuan (about $200 to $400 at today's conversion rates), mirroring the country's growing prosperity. But it was only starting in 2002-03 that villagers noticed a sharp spike in cai li prices, which shot up to between 6,000 to 10,000 yuan -- several years' worth of farming income. Not coincidentally, this was also the period when the first generation of children since the family-planning policy was launched in 1979 started reaching marriageable age. So the normally frugal Xin'an villagers began saving even more in anticipation of rising wedding costs. While the Zhous are fairly well-off by village standards, they had been scrimping for years, growing their own vegetables and eating mainly rice and noodles, with little meat. The family had curbed spending in anticipation of wedding costs for their son who was working in southern Chinese factories. The hope was that he would return with a prospective mate in tow. But when the younger Mr. Zhou returned home a year ago, he was still single. "In our village, when a boy is older than 24, 25, it is a shame on him for not marrying," says his mother. Last December a family friend told his mother that her nephew recently married a girl from neighboring Sichuan province. The bride had three female friends visiting her, who might be interested in marrying local men, said this friend. Encouraged, Mr. Zhou and his mother met the three girls the next day. After an hour's chat with the trio, who claimed to be ages 23, 25 and 27, Mr. Zhou found himself drawn to the prettiest and youngest, Ms. Cai, who had angular features and an ivory complexion. He proposed marriage. She agreed, with one proviso: cai li of 38,000 yuan, or roughly five years' worth of farm income. The Zhous agreed, but took the precaution of running a quick background check. Tang Yunshou, Xin'an's Communist Party secretary, said Ms. Cai's identity and residential papers checked. Three days later the couple registered their union at the local registrar's office. They posed for studio shots, with the bride in a creamy satin gown, the groom in a tuxedo. In one shot, they wear traditional garb, the bride pretending to light a string of firecrackers. Mr. Zhou mugs a grimace, hands to his ears. They held the wedding banquet a week later, on Jan. 4, where Mr Zhou's mother formally handed over the dowry -- half of it loans from family members -- to a woman she believed to be Ms. Cai's cousin. The new bride took up residence with her in-laws, and quickly found favor with her diligent and respectful ways, said Mrs. Zhou. "I treated her better than my own daughter," she said. A red electric scooter, with ribbons on the handles, sits in the living room, a wedding present for Ms. Cai. Matrimony was catching. Two neighbors sought Ms. Cai out, and asked her to act as matchmaker for their sons. Ms. Cai recommended two girls within a few days. The neighbors each paid 40,000 yuan in cai li. On Jan. 28, all these brides vanished, leaving the villagers reeling. While there are no nationwide statistics, wedding scams have occurred before, but usually isolated cases. Mr. Tang, Xin'an's Communist Party secretary, says he has never before seen such clusters of cases. Most of the 11 families involved lost an average of 40,000 yuan. Officials consider these to be fraud cases. So if caught, the women could serve jail time, according to police. Meanwhile, Mr. Zhou is still lovelorn. "I feel I can't hate her," says the deserted husband, who is now so depressed his parents have forbidden him to leave the village, as he longs to. "She must have her own troubles."—Gao Sen contributed to this article. Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A1

2009 Chinese Chess Championships

Whoa! Earlier today I read at Mig's Daily Dirt Chess Blog that Hou Yifan was forfeited a game because she wasn't at her place when the round began, although she was in the room and on her way to the table: Wang Hao was running away with the powerful Chinese Championship, racking up win after win. The only competitor to even keep him in view was teenager Ding Liren, but even he was 1.5 points behind with two rounds to play. Then something interesting happened on the way to the celestial city. Ding Liren beat Wang Hao in their 10th-round game, which had the additional plus of giving him better tiebreaks, if my interpretation of the google translation of the official site is to be trusted. So a Wang Hao loss or draw and Ding Liren win (or WH loss and DL draw) in the final round would give the title to the 16-year-old. As it turned out, tiebreaks weren't necessary. Ding Liren's final-round opponent, Zhou Jianchao, became the second player of the event to be forfeited under the new FIDE "zero tolerance" rule because he wasn't at his board when the games began. Supposedly he overslept. (A few days earlier Hou Yifan was forfeited even though she was apparently in the room at the time and headed to her board.) What a joke to have this happen in the final round of a national championship. Then something almost as odd happened. Wang Hao lost with white to the tournament tailender Liang Chong (who was the recipient of the free point against Hou Yifan). The leader missed a trivial draw in a knight endgame with 59.Nxa5, though to be fair, and again assuming my understanding of the tiebreaks is correct, he knew from the start that he needed to win to take the title because Ding Liren reached 8.5/11 without a fight. Well, that's really adding salt to my pepper statement a day or two ago that Hou had a lousy tournament (earning her lumps, to so speak). But to be forfeited - and - get this - according to what else I read at Mig's, those new-fangled FIDE rules about zero tolerance for showing up late to play don't go into effect until July 1st of this year! But the Chinese organizer, or Chinese Chess Federation - or who the hell knows who? - decided to enforce those new rules anyway: Oscar June 6, 2009 3:54 PM Reply All new FIDE-rules will be effective only from the 1st of July; see e.g. It seems that the Chinese are ahead of that. Now, it's possible that Hou would have lost that forfeited game; on the other hand, she might have drawn it or won it. In such a fiercely-fought contest as these Championships were, it might have made all the difference in the world. In hypothetical terms, I think this is a good rules. Players should be on time, no excuses. So what if your car breaks down, your husband goes into labor, your teeth all fell out while you were brushing that morning - so what? Right?

Oldest Known Pottery Discovered in China

I'll keep my eye out for further stories on this - who has the oldest pottery seems to be an area of some contention among archaeologists! Story from Archaeologists Discover Oldest Pottery Remains in the World Published 7 hours ago by Christopher Szabo. The remnants of the oldest known pottery have been found in a cave in southern China’s Hunnan province. The pottery shards, estimated at being from about 18,000 years Before Present, or 16, 000 years B.C. The Hungarian-language Mult Kor website said the oldest known rice grains were also found in the Yuchanyan cave site, which scientists say shows an important link between hunter-gatherer cave-dwellers and agriculturalists. Associated Press (AP) reported that Elisabetta Boaretto of Bar Ilan University in Israel believed hunter-gatherers were able to make pottery, something not widely accepted. She added the discovery: Supports the proposal made in the past that pottery making by foragers began in south China. An anthropologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Tracey Lu, explained the significance of ancient pottery finds: Pottery initially serves as a cooking and storage facility. Later on, some pottery vessels become symbols of power and social status, as well as examples of art. Lu said that ancient pottery making was likely spread over a wide area: I agree that pottery was made by foragers in South China, but I also think pottery was produced more or less contemporaneously in several places in East Asia ... from Russia, Japan to North and South China by foragers living in different environments. Until now, the earliest pottery discoveries have come from Japan, at around 17,000 to 16,000 years ago. This form of pottery ware is known as Jomon pottery, and was found on the coast of the island of Kyushu. Like much ancient pottery, it was made of cords pressed into clay and then heated at relatively low temperatures. (600-900 degrees Celsius.)
For information on Jomon pottery:
Japanese Pottery - Clay Figurines from the Jomon Period (some of these sure look like much later eye goddesses that were popular all over the Middle East)
Compare to the Naqada II black and red ware (second image), circa 3550 - 3400 BCE.

Bone Carving Confirms Man's Presence 12,000 Years Ago

Ancient carvings of elephants and their ancestors, mammoths and mastodons, fascinate me, probably because of their very old connection to the game of chess. The bishop piece in modern Western chess started out his life as an elephant, after all :) Check out this beautiful carving from Vero Beach, Florida, confirmed to be between 12,000 to 14,000 years old. (Image from Vero Beach 32963 article - see link below). It is a never-ending source of amazement to me how artists (ancient and modern), can catch the living essence of an animal with seemingly a few lines! (Compare to this rock-carved image from the other side of the Atlantic, in Somerset, England, dated to circa 13,000 years ago). University of Florida: Epic carving on fossil bone found in Vero Beach BY SANDRA RAWLS, CORRESPONDENT © 2009, VERO BEACH 32963 In what a top Florida anthropologist is calling “the oldest, most spectacular and rare work of art in the Americas,” an amateur Vero Beach fossil hunter has found an ancient bone etched with a clear image of a walking mammoth or mastodon. According to leading experts from the University of Florida, the remarkable find demonstrates with new and startling certainty that humans coexisted with prehistoric animals more than 12,000 years ago in this fossil- rich region of the state. No similar carved figure has ever been authenticated in the United States, or anywhere in this hemisphere. The brown, mineral-hardened bone bearing the unique carving is a foot-long fragment from a larger bone that belonged to an extinct “mammoth, mastodon or ground sloth” according to Dr. Richard C. Hulbert, a vertebrate paleontologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History museum. These animals have been extinct in Florida for at least 10,000 years. Etched into the bone by a highly sharpened stone tool or the tooth of the animal is the clear image of a walking adult mammoth or mastodon. Extensive tests over the past two months have shown that the image was created when the bone was fresh, presumably right after the animal it belonged to was killed or died. Experts who have examined the bone, found at a location which has not been publicly disclosed on the northern side of Vero Beach, concluded the carving and surface are of the same age – 12,000 to 14,000 years old — with no evidence of recent tampering (see accompanying story on tests that have been performed to date). Rest of article.

New Method for Calculating Dates of Human Migration

I think 100 years from now we're going to have a much different take on DNA and migration, but I won't be here and neither will this blog, so here's the article on the latest new technique, from Science Daily Online: New 'Molecular Clock' Aids Dating Of Human Migration History June 4, 2009 Estimating the chronology of population migrations throughout mankind's early history has always been problematic. The most widely used genetic method works back to find the last common ancestor of any particular set of lineages using samples of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), but this method has recently been shown to be unreliable, throwing 20 years of research into doubt. The new method refines the mtDNA calculation by taking into account the process of natural selection - which researchers realised was skewing their results - and has been tested successfully against known colonisation dates confirmed by archaeological evidence, such as in Polynesia in the Pacific (approximately 3,000 years ago), and the Canary Islands (approximately 2,500 years ago). Says PhD student Pedro Soares who devised the new method: "Natural selection's very gradual removal of harmful gene mutations in the mtDNA produces a time-dependent effect on how many mutations you see in the family tree. What we've done is work out a formula that corrects this effect so that we now have a reliable way of dating genetic lineages. "This means that we can put a timescale on any part of the particular family tree, right back to humanity's last common maternal ancestor, known as 'Mitochondrial Eve', who lived some 200,000 years ago. In fact we can date any migration for which we have available data," he says. Moreover, working with a published database of more than 2,000 fully sequenced mtDNA samples, Soares' calculation, for the first time, uses data from the whole of the mtDNA molecule. This means that the results are not only more accurate, but also more precise, giving narrower date ranges. The new method has already yielded some surprising findings. Says archaogeneticist Professor Martin Richards, who supervised Soares: "We can settle the debate regarding mankind's expansion through the Americas. Researchers have been estimating dates from mtDNA that are too old for the archaeological evidence, but our calculations confirm the date to be some 15,000 years ago, around the time of the first unequivocal archaeological remains. [Convenient, aina hey...] "Furthermore, we can say with some confidence that the estimate of humanity's 'out of Africa' migration was around 60-70,000 years ago – some 10-20,000 years earlier than previously thought." The team has devised a simple calculator into which researchers can feed their data and this is being made freely available on the University of Leeds website. The paper is published in the current edition of the American Journal of Human Genetics. Journal reference: Pedro Soares , Luca Ermini , Noel Thomson , Maru Mormina , Teresa Rito , Arne Röhl , Antonio Salas , Stephen Oppenheimer , Vincent Macaulay and Martin B. Richards. Correcting for Purifying Selection: An Improved Human Mitochondrial Molecular Clock. American Journal of Human Genetics, 2009; DOI: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2009.05.001 Adapted from materials provided by University of Leeds, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.
Can someone explain this to me in plain English? It seems rather convenient to come up with a new method of dating the migration of people based on mitochondrial DNA that now correlates to the presence of archaeological evidence (other than the bones themselves, that is). That neatly disposes of any bones out there that were deemed older, because those results can now be deemed a mistake. Hmmm... This new method, however, cannot address evidence of human habitation from 50,000 years ago, for instance, that isn't supported by human remains.

Shira Evans and Her Amazing Foundation

Hola! Shira and I have been nattering back and forth via email. While Shira has not played rated chess for awhile (last update to her ELO information at USCF was January, 2006), she's become involved in the most amazing activities. This year Shira started a foundation called Computer Labs for Kids. Shira receives donated or buys laptop computers with donations and then gives them to needy children and provides training and orientation on how to use the laptops! Wow! Shira's first activity was to travel to Agra, India where she taught several girls who are residents of a girls' school there. This You Tube video follows their progress. Shira has just returned to the states from Ashkelon, Israel, and later this year she'll be going to Egypt. You can read more about Shira's foundation work and travels at her Facebook site. Here is a brief update from Shira: Dear Goddesschess Followers, I have a non-profit charity organization which gives laptops to children in areas of need around the world. I am writing this from Israel, having just visited Ashkelon which is right on the Gaza stripborder; an area frequently bombed. And as a chessplayer (ok I've been away from chess for a few years, but I am now inspired to get back into the game) I see something very chessish here. Do you know how psychological the game of chess is when you're sitting across from an opponent? You can be totally winning, get nervous and then lose. Or you can be losing, play a dubious but seemingly brilliant move, and win! It's an incredible rush. Well here in Ashkelon, I see a similar pattern. Here is the most beautiful beach front property, and really, right now there is peace and no sign of bombing or war. I went to the hospital here and spoke with a hospital representative who told stories of people living in terror, afraid to go 15 minutes away from their doorsteps because a bomb siren might go off, and they would have only 15 minutes to get to a safe house. But right now, here in this time, there is calmness, beauty and peace. What makes the area dangerous is that people are living in the past, afraid of what already happened. But right here and now, the area is calm. OK. I drove away from Ashkelon and when I talked to a man who inquired where I had been and I told him, he said, "Oh don't go to Ashkelon. You don't want to visit there." He was sending me mental pictures of war, destruction and dirty, polluted walkways -- the opposite of what Ashkelon really looks like here at this moment in time. So this is what I see.... You're playing a game of chess, and you get into a position where you always mess up (like the war torn Ashkelon), and you think, "Oh no, I'm done for." And there you go losing another game. What we need to do is see the city (or chess position) for how it really is right now at this moment in time. That is where the chess brilliance happens! Hopefully too, I can wake up the people of Israel to a brighter more brilliant future. Please join my charity cause on Facebook! Happy chessplaying and thanks! Shira
I'd love to see Shira get back into playing competitive chess, but I don't think she's going to have time! I will stay in touch with Shira. She's doing great work. I hope you'll consider making a donation to her foundation.

Friday, June 5, 2009

2009 Chinese Women's Chess Championship

The final results are in: Rk. Name FED Rtg Pts. TB1 TB2 TB3 1 WGM Shen Yang CHN 2420 8,0 0,0 33,50 6 2 GM Zhao Xue CHN 2531 7,5 1,0 35,75 6 3 Tan Zhongyi CHN 2436 7,5 0,0 30,00 6 4 WIM Zhang Xiaowen CHN 2340 6,5 0,0 22,25 6 5 IM Wang Yu A CHN 2364 5,5 1,5 26,50 3 6 WFM Ding Yixin CHN 2281 5,5 1,0 19,75 4 7 Ju Wenjun CHN 2454 5,5 0,5 26,25 2 8 WGM Gu Xiaobing CHN 2336 5,0 0,0 19,00 3 9 Wang Xiaohui CHN 2265 3,5 0,0 12,50 1 10 WGM Zhang Jilin CHN 2335 2,5 0,0 8,50 0 11 WIM Xu Tong CHN 2231 2,0 0,0 4,00 1 12 Wang Jue CHN 2162 1,0 0,0 4,00 0 Annotation: Tie Break 1: The results of the players in the same point group#results against Tie Break 2: Sonneborn-Berger-Tie-Break (with real points) Tie Break 3: The greater number of victories How did GM Hou Yifan do playing in the Men's section? Not good: Rk. Name FED Rtg Pts. TB1 TB2 TB3 1 GM Wang Hao CHN 2696 8,0 0,0 36,50 7 2 Ding Liren CHN 2458 7,5 0,0 35,75 5 3 GM Bu Xiangzhi CHN 2704 6,0 0,5 28,75 2 4 GM Zhou Weiqi CHN 2563 6,0 0,5 25,50 3 5 GM Ni Hua CHN 2724 5,5 0,0 21,25 4 6 GM Li Chao B CHN 2643 5,0 0,0 21,50 2 7 Ji Dan CHN 2342 4,5 0,5 19,75 2 8 GM Zhou Jianchao CHN 2635 4,5 0,5 19,25 2 9 GM Zhang Pengxiang CHN 2638 4,0 0,0 20,00 1 10 GM Liang Chong CHN 2511 3,0 2,0 11,75 2 11 GM Hou Yifan CHN 2590 3,0 0,0 15,00 0 12 GM Li Shilong CHN 2557 3,0 0,0 14,00 2 Does this mean the Chinese authorities will not pull her back and put her in women-only events? I sure hope not. She has to take her lumps in order to develop. Who the hell is Ding Liren???

Aerial Photography Leads to Stunning Discovery

From the New Forest discovery thought be one of oldest ever made in UK 9:00am Thursday 4th June 2009 By Chris Yandell (Photo: Dr. Helen Wickstead) TWO 6,000-year-old tombs have been unearthed in Hampshire in one of the biggest archaeological finds for years. The discovery, thought to be among the oldest ever made in the UK, is set to shed new light on the life led by the county’s earliest settlers. Flint tools and fragments of pottery have already been retrieved from the Neolithic site at Damerham in the New Forest. The nationally important find has been made by a team of experts from Kingston University in London. Archaeologist Dr. Helen Wickstead said she and her colleagues were “stunned and delighted” when evidence of the prehistoric complex came to light. She added: “Some artefacts have already been recovered and in the summer a team of volunteers will make a systematic survey on the site. “If we can excavate, we’ll learn a lot more about Neolithic people in the area and discover things such as who was buried there, what kind of life they led and what the environment was like 6,000 years ago.” The site, 15 miles from Stonehenge, is close to Cranborne Chase, one of the most thoroughly researched prehistoric areas in Europe. Last night New Forest author and historian Peter Roberts described the find as extremely rare. The former New Forest Verderer added: “It’s clearly very exciting and will throw new light on the settlements between Cranborne Chase and the Forest.” The tombs were discovered after staff from English Heritage studied aerial photographs of farmland in the Damerham area and saw signs of buried archaeological sites. Dr. Wickstead said she was astonished that the monuments had remained undiscovered for so long. She added: “Cranborne Chase is one of the most famous prehistoric landscapes, a mecca for prehistorians. You’d have thought the archaeological world would have gone over it with a fine tooth comb.” The team has vowed that any human bones found in the tombs will be treated with dignity. “The recovery of ancient human remains is always handled sensitively,” added Dr. Wickstead. “We feel respect for the dead people we study and we treat their remains with care.”

5th Century CE Indian Artifacts Discovered

Photographs! I want photographs! LOL! From the Online Edition of The Hindu 5th century artefacts discovered in West Bengal Raktima Bose Saturday, June 6, 2009 KOLKATA: The arrival of Buddhism in Bengal was till now traced back to the 7th century post-Gupta period. But recent archaeological excavations by the State’s Directorate of Archaeology and Museums at a non-descript village named Dheka in Murshidabad district have thrown up seals and artefacts dating back to the 5th century AD – indicating the presence of the religion in the region much earlier than was previously thought. The site is just 20 kilometres off Karnasubarno, which was considered the earliest Buddhist site in the State and houses the ruins of the ancient Buddhist university of Raktamrittika that finds mention in the travelogues of the famous Chinese pilgrim, Hiuen Tsang (7th century CE Chinese Buddhist monk who travelled to India during the reign on the first Tang Dynasty Emperior, Tai Zong). “The presence of several mounds in the region adjoining Karnasubarno always made me curious,” Amal Roy, superintendent of archaeology at the State’s Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, told The Hindu here on Friday. “So we started excavating at one such site named Deuliapar in February this year and stumbled upon the artefacts.” Among the articles recovered are fragmented stucco figurines, terracotta plaques, earthen lamps, iron nails and slugs, beads, bangles and hopscotch made of terracotta and, most interestingly, terracotta seals inscribed with scripts used way back in 5th century AD. Mr. Roy said that two names – Vijayachandrasya and Vainya – have been deciphered from the seals, though their identities are yet to be established. “We still do not have any concrete evidence as to whether it was a Buddhist site or not. But its close proximity to Karnasubarno and the nature of the artefacts excavated so far are strong indications of its Buddhist affiliation,” Mr. Roy said. The site has three layers, which indicates that it has undergone three phases of construction in the past, starting from the post-Gupta period. Mr. Roy said that the earliest used bricks were large and highly decorated with geometrical patterns. Some were even adorned with stuccos. The later ones were much smaller. Interestingly, archaeologists have lately discovered another site named Ugura, which is not very far from Deulipar, where excavations have revealed Buddhist sculptures inscribed with the image of Lord Buddha. “There is a high possibility that the region housed a flourishing Buddhist centre in early times. The entire picture will become clear once the excavation is completed,” Mr. Roy said. “What we have found till now is just the beginning.”

Shira Evans Has Found Me!

Hola darlings! The email I sent off to two separate email addys has yielded fruit! Shira Evans has found me! (Photo: Shira at a tournament in 2002. I still had this photo on my hard drive. When I got this new computer I deleted all of my old "Chess Goddesses" files for the old website, but this photo remained on my "C" drive and was passed along to my new computer when I did a file transfer). We've exchanged emails and I have much to catch-up on. Suffice to say for now that Shira is into some really interesting activities these days -- I will write all about it but I want to do it right rather than piece-meal, so I'm going to read first and then write a draft with background info before I publish Shira's update that I received from her today, all in one hopefully coherent package! Stayed tuned - I'll be back with that Shira update soon.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

2009 Montreal Open Chess Championship

Hola everyone! Goddesschess is very pleased to announce that it will be sponsoring special prizes for chess femmes who participate in the 2009 Montreal Open Chess Championship! Check out the fabulous website for further details about this great event! Press release. Information also available at the Quebec Chess Federation (in French - but a Google translation into English works well). September 11 - 13, 2009, Montreal, Quebec: Round 1: September 11, 2009 Round 2: September 12, 2009 Round 3: September 13, 2009 Special Class Prizes sponsored by Goddesschess: Section B - $45 for best finish by female player Section C - $35 for best finish by female player Section D - $25 for best finish by female player These prizes are in addition to any class prizes that may be won by female players. We'll be featuring photographs from the Tournament and (with their consent) interviews with the prize winners! Ladies, we hope to see you at the Tournament!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Only Rated Female Chessplayer in Wyoming?

Elizabeth Scott paints a colorful life by Elysia Conner Wednesday, June 3, 2009 12:59 PM MDT Whoa! In an article profiling artist Elizabeth Scott, the author Elysia Conner of the Casper Journal made the following statement: Scott also is a competitive chess player and has won the Wyoming Reserve Chess champion title twice. She is the highest ranked woman chess player in the state, but also the only one, she pointed out. I sincerely hope Ms. Scott is not the lone chess femme in the entire state of Wyoming! Given the wording, I have assumed that Ms. Conner means that Ms. Scott is the only adult chess femme in the state, and she is not including scholastic chess players who are female. Checking further, I looked for and located the Wyoming Chess Association's website, but it doesn't seem to have been updated recently. Not a good sign! I clicked on several links and they were dead-ends to the information I was seeking - namely, a list of current rated players in the state of Wyoming. Maybe I was doing something wrong... I did come across the names of two chess femmes at the combined website of the Wyoming Chess Association and the Cheyenne Chess Club: Shira Evans and Barb Fortune. Personally, I find these names very evocative of two chess goddesses :) Shira Evans is a name out of my past! She was one of two chess femmes who provided me regular updates on her chess adventures while I had Chess Goddesses online between 2001 and 2004. I sent an email to Shira at the email listed at the website, but one of them bounced. I'm keeping my fingers crossed about the other one. I'll do some further checking to see if I can get in touch with her. Shira, if you read this, please email me. You can always reach me via the email at The other lovely young lady who provided me with regular reports of her events for Chess Goddesses was Tatjana Plachinova, from Bulgaria. I was not able to locate her name this evening on the FIDE ratings list, so I assume either she got married and changed her name or she is no longer playing in FIDE-rated chess events. Tatjana, if you read this, I'd love to hear from you. So, I got totally distracted from my search on information about chess femmes in the state of Wyoming, and it's time to eat supper, so I'll report back at a later date!
Update 10:13 p.m. I looked through the player listings at USCF's website twice for Wyoming, and as far as I can determine, Ms. Elizabeth Scott IS the only current adult female player in the entire state: 103 2582914 010-01-31 LIZABETH G SCOTT 414 009-03-01 Shira Evans' information showed up, but the last update was from January, 2006.

2009 Subic International Open

The 2nd Subic International Open was held May 25 - 31, 2009 in the Philippines. (Image: IM Tania Sachdev, from 2007) Seventy-four (74) players competed. The winner (clear first by half a point) was GM Ehsan Ghaem Maghami (hope I have the name correctly) (IRI 2593), with 7.0/9. The best female finish was IM Tania Sachdev (IND 2423), in 18th place with 5.5. Other female finishers whose names I recognized: 38 WGM Mohota Nisha IND 2304 4,5 73 WIM Nadig Kruttika IND 2361 2,0 I did not recognize most of the names. did not give indication of the sex of the player. I just don't have time to put each name into the FIDE registry to see if a player is M or F. I wish organizers would make this information readily available for future events. It would make my job a lot easier, and there are some folks out here in cyberspace who want to know who were the chess femmes who played in a given event and how they finished. I noted a lot of Chinese players whose names I did not recognize at all. No titles, but I am assuming most of those players were chess dudes, not chess femmes (although a few of them may be women). World, take notice - it seems likely the Chinese will only continue to develop and eventually dominate western chess if more of their players get chances to develop their talent in international competitions.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Southwest Chess Club: More Action Galore!

Sorry not to have published this last night - I claim exhaustion. And hives - this morning shortly after I arrived at the office (when I couldn't do a thing other than pop some antihistimine tablets) I've broken out in hives and not only do I have itchy arms and legs, I have a swollen distorted face and lips because of soft tissue hives that popped up on the inside of the right side my mouth and inside my right cheek. Eek! Have pity on me, for they are no doubt due to the stress of returning to the office after a three week vacation. Sigh, and ugh - I'm not a pretty sight to see at the moment, I look like Charles Laughton in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." Check out the action at my adopted chess club, SOUTHWEST CHESS CLUB: This Thursday night (June 4th) we have a one-night tournament (3 games) in two formats: (1) Action-rated only (Game/29), affects only your Action Rating (not your regular rating), (2) Dual-rated (Game/30), which affects both your Regular Rating and your Action Rating. We will have separate G/29 and G/30 sections. The details are given below: Heatwave Action II: June 4 3-Round Swiss in Two Sections (G/30 Minutes and G/29 Minutes).USCF Rated. EF: $5 members, $7 others. (½ Point Bye available for only first round if requested prior to round) TD is Becker; ATD is Grochowski. OTHER UPCOMING EVENTS (don't miss the Club Championship and other tournaments this summer) ! Sizzling Summer Cook-off Swiss: June 11, 18 & 25 3-Round Swiss in Two Sections. (Open and Under 1600) Game/100 minutes. USCF Rated. EF: $5 members, $7 others. (One ½ Point Bye Available for any round (except round four) if requested at least 2-days prior to round). TD is Fogec; ATD is Grochowski. SWCC Simul Kickoff: July 2 Lecture and a simul. This is a free event. Southwest Chess Club Championship: July 9, 16, 23, 30 & August 6 & 13 6-Round Swiss in One Section. Game/100. USCF Rated. EF: $7 (must be a member to participate). SWCC Membership $10 (can join prior to first round). (Two ½ point byes available in rounds 1 through 5 if requested at least 2-days in advance; no byes available for round 6.) TD is Becker; ATD is Grochowski. Great folks, a friendly relaxed atmosphere, over-the-board chess the way the game should be played. BE THERE - BE SQUARE (AS IN 8X8). LOCATION: St. James Catholic Church in the lower level of the Parish Center building (immediately in front of the church). The address is 7219 South 27th Street, Franklin, Wisconsin.

Upcoming: First Women's U.S. Open Chess Championship

From the Oklahoma Chess Federation website: September 5-7, 2009 - 1st U.S. Women's Open - Tulsa, Oklahoma - $$1600 Gtd. 6-SS G/90(+30). Tulsa Best Western Trade Winds Central, 3141 E. Skelly Dr., Tulsa, OK 74105 (918)749-5561. Prizes: $1600 (Gtd): 1st- $800 + trophy + probable invitation to 2010 U.S. Women's Championship; 2nd - $500, 3rd - $300, class prizes as entries permit. Eligibility: Open to all female USCF members. EF: $80 if rec'd by 8/30; $90 at site. Reg: 9:00-10:15am. Rds: 10:30-3, 9-2, 9-2. Tiebreaks after round 6 if necessary. Byes: One 1/2-point bye available if req. by rd 3. HR: $55, (800) 685-4564. Free wireless. Side Events: Sat: Blitz Fischer-Random Pizza Bash. Sun: River Spirit Casino. Info: Frank Berry. Website: Adv Entry: Cks payable to: Frank K. Berry, 402 S. Willis, Stillwater, OK 74074. FIDE rated. NS. W.
I'm happy to see Mr. Frank Berry organize this event. I hope it is the first of many U.S. Women's Open Chess Championships to come. We need more women-only event like this one!

2009 Chinese Women's Chess Championship

Standings after Round 7 (tournament ends June 5th): Rk. Name FED Rtg Pts. TB1 TB2 TB3 1 Tan Zhongyi CHN 2436 6,0 0,0 16,00 5 2 WGM Shen Yang CHN 2420 5,5 0,5 15,00 4 GM Zhao Xue CHN 2531 5,5 0,5 15,00 4 4 IM Wang Yu A CHN 2364 4,0 0,0 12,00 2 5 WFM Ding Yixin CHN 2281 3,5 2,0 9,50 3 6 Ju Wenjun CHN 2454 3,5 1,0 14,00 1 7 Wang Xiaohui CHN 2265 3,5 0,5 9,00 1 8 WIM Zhang Xiaowen CHN 2340 3,5 0,5 8,25 3 9 WGM Gu Xiaobing CHN 2336 3,0 0,0 9,00 2 10 WIM Xu Tong CHN 2231 2,0 0,0 3,00 1 11 WGM Zhang Jilin CHN 2335 1,5 0,0 4,25 0 12 Wang Jue CHN 2162 0,5 0,0 2,00 0 Annotation: Tie Break 1: The results of the players in the same point group#results against Tie Break 2: Sonneborn-Berger-Tie-Break (with real points) GM Hou Yifan is playing in the Men's section. She's in 9th place with 2.5 after 7 rounds. A tough event for Hou (and some of the other Chinese GMs, too). Rk. Name FED Rtg Pts. TB1 TB2 TB3 1 GM Wang Hao CHN 2696 6,5 0,0 19,00 6 2 Ding Liren CHN 2458 5,5 0,0 14,50 4 3 GM Bu Xiangzhi CHN 2704 4,5 0,0 13,75 2 4 GM Zhou Weiqi CHN 2563 4,0 0,0 11,75 2 5 GM Ni Hua CHN 2724 3,5 1,5 11,00 2 6 Ji Dan CHN 2342 3,5 0,5 9,75 2 7 GM Zhou Jianchao CHN 2635 3,5 0,0 8,75 2 8 GM Li Chao B CHN 2643 3,0 0,0 8,25 1 9 GM Hou Yifan CHN 2590 2,5 0,0 9,25 0 10 GM Zhang Pengxiang CHN 2638 2,0 0,5 7,25 0 11 GM Liang Chong CHN 2511 2,0 0,5 5,25 1 12 GM Li Shilong CHN 2557 1,5 0,0 4,50 1

Churches "Built by Angels"

From Yahoo News. (Image: From Sacred Sites of Ethiopia and the Arc [sic] of the Covenant - Bet Giorgis Church, Lalibela) Ethiopia: lifting the mystery on rock churches 'built by angels' by Emmanuel Goujon Emmanuel Goujon – Sun May 31, 7:58 pm ET LALIBELA, Ethiopia (AFP) – The ancient mystery shrouding Lalibela, Ethiopia's revered medieval rock-hewn churches, could be lifted by a group of French researchers given the go-ahead for the first comprehensive study of this world heritage site legend says was "built by angels". The team will have full access to the network of 10 Orthodox chapels chiseled out of volcanic rock -- some standing 15 metres (42 feet) high -- in the mountainous heart of Ethiopia. Local lore holds they were built in less than 25 years by their namesake, the 13th-century King Lalibela, with the help of angels after God ordered him to erect a "New Jerusalem". The monolithic structures are located 500 kilometres (300 miles) north of the capital Addis Ababa. Long a holy pilgrimage site in a land proud of its Christian Orthodox heritage, they are also a travel draw in a poverty-stricken country hoping to boost tourism. The multidisciplinary team of historians, archaeologists, topographers and a specialist in liturgy will spend several weeks probing the subterranean complex to try to identify its origins. Historian Marie Laure Derat, with the French Centre for Ethiopian Studies (CFEE), said "there are several theories". In one, "an Egyptian patriarch was believed to be the source of these structures, another says the 13th-century King Lalibela built the site from scratch." "During the day the king would work with Ethiopian artisans and at night he would 'be helped by angels'. Some even cite a key role by the Knights Templar," she said, referring to one of the key Western Christian military orders of the Middle Ages. Though earlier studies have been carried out, they were generally by lone researchers with restricted access who studied mainly church interiors. Derat said the heretofore reluctant Orthodox church gave the French team carte blanche to probe "the entire site, not just the churches, to understand how the periods overlap and to read history in this open book that is Lalibela." Funded by the French government and Ethiopian Airlines, the team is already certain the chapels were not built in one go. Research chief Francois Xavier Fauvelle said three distinct periods have been identified in the maze of deep tunnels, passageways and chapels, some of which resemble ancient Greek temples. "There was originally a basalt dome under which we found evidence of cave dwellers. Then there was the construction of a fortress with trenches, a perimetre wall and underground tunnels," he said pointing to rocks he said where once part of the defence wall. "The third period was established thanks to an enormous mound of earth about 20 metres high that came from the excavation of the church of Gabriel Ruphael," he said, referring to the chapel some believe was once King Lalibela's residence. "The Ruphael Gabriel church was probably part of the fortress and was turned into a church: the facade was extended, windows opened and a chapel dug out," said Fauvelle. UNESCO added Lalibela to its world heritage list in 1978, a boon for tourism efforts in this country of 85 million where poverty is rampant and agriculture accounts for nearly half the economy. Visitors can already join organized tours of the site. But the bid to shed light on its origins has not shaken the Orthodox clergy and faithful here, who contend that Lalibela arose with divine intervention. "It is God through his angels who made these churches," said Alebachew Reta, spokesman for the Lalibela clergy who insisted "the 10 churches were created in just 24 years." "You can observe that even one would be difficult to build in that space of time. So for us it is God's work," said Reta. "For the one who created mankind, building these churches was not difficult."

Monday, June 1, 2009

Obama Goes to Bat for the Queen

All right!

It was evident that a few months ago when President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama travelled to London and met with Queen Elizabeth II, an immediate connection between the parties was made on a deeply personal level. (Photo: Queen Elizabeth II and Michelle Obama during a personal moment, April 2, 2009 - the Queen was not offended). Personally, I was pleased to see this, as I deeply appreciate the long-term historical connection between Great Britain and the United States of America. I think sometimes people tend to forget about the abiding ties between our countries, forged through fire and iron.

I was chagrined to read recent press reports that the French government had neglected to issue an invitation to Queen Elizabeth to participate in D-Day memorial events.

I didn't write about it this year on Memorial Day, but it was in my mind - and the coverage of veterans in our local newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel, hasn't helped my emotions. It has published a series of stories on local veterans of WWII, who are dying at the rate of about 1,000 (?) veterans each month. (Not sure if that means 1,000 U.S. WWII veterans a month or worldwide WWII veterans a month. When my dad died, my recollection is that veterans of his era were dying at the rate of 5,000 a month. (Image: my dad, WWII, personal archive). If the 1,000 a month figure is correct, that means that a lot of deaths have occurred since Dad died, and the death rate has slowed, only because there aren't a whole lot of WWII vets left). My dad, a WWII vet, died in early November, 2002. Since he died, my emotions seem to be closer to the surface of my "skin" than ever before, perhaps because I'm dealing with issues of my own mortality. Perhaps because I realize the most important things in life the older I get.

Anyway, knowing how much Queen Elizabeth's family, and Queen Elizabeth and her sister, Princess Margaret, did for morale in Great Britain and the British Empire during WWII, and knowing how many British men died during and after crossing the English Channel to Dunkirk, my thought is that of course she should be invited as a representative of the British people, in addition to PM Gordon Brown. (Image: then Princess Elizabeth in uniform. Princess Elizabeth served with the Auxiliary Territorial Service during World War II).

Call me sentimental - I freely admit it. Queen Elizabeth is of the same generation as my parents; she got married in 1947. She, and my folks (dad now deceased), have lived through the most incredible historic events and hard times that we, their children, can't even imagine.

Bravo to President Obama for sending this blatant message to the French Government. Story from "The Caucus" at The New York Times:

June 1, 2009, 4:10 pm — Updated: 5:26 pm -->
White House Seeks a Proper Invitation for the Queen
By Helene Cooper

The Obama administration is working with their French counterparts to make sure that Britain’s Queen Elizabeth — reportedly miffed, according to the British Press, at not being invited to the D-Day anniversary festivities in Normandy this weekend — gets a formal invitation.

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said on Monday that President Obama thinks the queen should be present at the event on Saturday. “We are working with those involved to see if we can make that happen,” Mr. Gibbs said.

Mr. Gibbs’s comments came after Buckingham Palace pointedly noted last week that the queen didn’t get an invite, an omission which has had the British press fuming. Mr. Obama is attending the event (French President Nicolas Sarkozy invited him two months ago) as is British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Mr. Sarkozy has said that the queen is welcome to come to the ceremony, but Obama administration officials say that they would like to see her receive a formal invitation.

Driving home that point, Mr. Gibbs joked at the end of his daily briefing with reporters Monday: “Will you — will you — will you please pass that directly to the queen for me?”

More Egypt Pictures by Carmen!

For a change of pace, photos from Cairo, Christmas, 2008:

Tomb of Queen Himiko found

Article from the By Julian Ryall in Tokyo Last Updated: 7:19AM BST 01 Jun 2009 Japanese archaeologists believe they have identified the final resting place of the legendary Queen Himiko, who ruled the Yamatai kingdom in the third century, but are unlikely to ever have conclusive proof as the palace has forbidden further excavation of the site. Researchers from the National Museum of Japanese History presented a paper to the 75th annual meeting of the Japanese Archaeological Association on Sunday, claiming that evidence points to a burial mound in the town of Sakurai, near the ancient capital of Nara in central Japan, as the tomb of Queen Himiko. Archaeologists had previously claimed that the tomb, built in the traditional keyhole-shape design, was built in the fourth century and therefore too modern for Queen Himiko. But a team led by Professor Hideki Harunari has discovered new clay artefacts close to the site, which radiocarbon dating indicates were made between 240AD and 260AD. According to records from the Chinese court, with which the Yamatai kingdom had links, Queen Himiko died around 250 AD. The tomb, at 280 metres long, is nearly three times the size of other burial mounds in the region. "She is a very important part of Japanese history as she was the first queen, ruled for many years - although we do not know exactly how long - and has gone down in history as a very popular ruler," said Professor Harunari. Prof Harunari's paper is likely to provoke new debate over Japanese history and the royal family, which the Imperial Household Agency still claims is descended from the mythical sun goddess Amaterasu. One of the biggest question marks remains over whether Himiko was a queen or more of a shaman. [So what? In some cultures, being a shaman was MUCH better than being a ruler; particularly if one was a male ruler, who was sacrificed during the Winter Soltice every year...] Excavation of the tomb could settle that debate once and for all, although the Imperial Household Agency appear to have ruled that out. "I would love to be able to excavate the tomb, but it is impossible to get permission because the agency says that our present emperor is descended from Queen Himiko," said Professor Harunari. "But I still believe the evidence fits and this is her tomb."

Monday Night Miscellany - Say What!?!

Yeah, what the heck. It's not Friday night. I've been too tired on Fridays for the past few months t0 do a full-fledged, or even a half-fledged, edition of Friday Night Miscellany. But today I feel energized - wonder if it has anything to do with the thunderstorms that rumbled through the area this morning? Scary stuff, actually - thunderstorms. As of this moment (5:50 p.m. CST), no word yet on the fate of that French 330A airbus that took off from Rio toward Paris last night. But at this point, there is no hope whatsoever that the jet, or its passengers, survived. From what I understand, the jet encountered a large area of extreme turbulence and the last message received, which was an automated message, was that the jet had electrical problems. Of course, Air France says the craft was struck by lightning, trying to deflect any possibility that the jet's electrical system may not have been able to withstand a mega-event. Well, what the hell do I know - nothing, darlings, nothing. Whatever happened, I hope it was fast and painless for the 228 souls on-board. T-storms are threatening here again tonight. The local weather has been extreme. Today started out cool (in the low 50's), and then there was a downpour; and then the sun came out and it was a steam bath (I understand it got up to at least 80)! About 3:30 p.m. the winds started shifting from the west to the northeast (off Lake Michigan), and the great temperature drop began. I closed down all the windows and the patio door. It's downright cold out there right now, but the winds have abruptly abated (it's now 6:00 p.m.) Whether we get rain tonight or not, tomorrow is not expected to get out of the low 50's. May as well be back in fricking March. GIMPY SQUIRREL UPDATE: I was pleased as punch to spot Mr. Gimpy Squirrel out in the yard late this afternoon, it was right around the time the wind started shifting and I was closing the patio door. When I saw him down there I quickly launched individual in-shell almonds into the general area. Sure enough, about 5 minutes later I noticed Mr. Gimpy Squirrel dragging his way laboriously up the Big Tree, but this time he was on the left-hand trunk, not the right-hand trunk! What gives, I thought. But I got distracted with other things and went inside. When I next looked out, Mr. Gimpy Squirrel had climbed the tree and was up on a high, sturdy branch (where I had spotted him a few days ago), and I could tell he had an almond in his paws! I do hope he figured out how to break through the shell and eat the nut-meat. I think he did. Although he moved out of sight, I stationed myself on the deck, wrapped in my jacked and an afghan against the cold wind from the northeast, and I could hear "crunch crunch" noises coming from an area on the Big Tree where I think Mr. Gimpy was. So, now the question is whether I should attempt to stuff some almonds into the hidey-hole that Mr. Gimpy has found in the pile of logs along the north fence line (for the next week, month, year, years?), or if I should content myself with continuing to toss the nuts into the general area, with perhaps an extra-large cupful of "critter mix." Okay - moving to other things... SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS: I'm pleased to learn today from the Social Security Administration that, should my earnings maintain their current level, I will be entitled to a monthly retirement benefit at age 66 and 4 months of $1,719.00 a month. Of course, that is before mandatory deductions for Medicare premiums, which by the time I retire will probably wipe out about half of my monthly SS benefit; and despite the fact that I will be mortgage free upon reaching retirement age, my property taxes will probably eat up whatever is left of my SS benefit. So I'll be left with whatever I've managed to accumulate in my 401(k) plans and miniscule pension from the old Office World (I don't even want to go there, darlings!), plus various other investments, all of which absolutely suck at the moment, and if history is any predicator, will suck again right around the time I's rady to retire. With luck, I may be able to afford one or perhaps even two $5.00 foot-longs from Subway each and every month. Gee, I'm thrilled. Can't you tell? BACHELORETTE: Tonight the lovely lass from America's 52nd state (Canada) is back on prime-time juggling the attentions of some 20 bachelors, at least, I think that is the current count. It's so easy to lose track on these shows. Not that I should be watching such prime time dreck at all, that's what I keep telling myself. But I watch it anyway, damn the dreck! So tonight Jillian, the erstwhile heroine from Canada, will smooch it up and play ballsy-pallsy with various types of age-eligible young men. I cannot understand why the guy with the foot fetish is still in the show. He's not good-looking and he's positively creepy! What is the matter with you, Woman? Why didn't you ditch the dude the first chance you got? Arggggh! Guess it really is true that the show's results are now totally rigged and G (J?) really has no choice in the matter, in a sorry attempt by the show's producers to maintain viewer interest and/or attract new viewers. Barf me. Now, let's get into some really interesting stuff! SUSAN BOYLE: I want to make this clear. I love Susan Boyle's voice. Tone for tone, I think she far-outclasses any of the other singers I've heard on American Idol and certainly any other singer I've watch on from "Britain's Got Talent," other than Katherine McPhee. Age-wise and "hotty-wise," McPhee has it all over Ms. Boyle, but when it comes to voice, I choose Susan's. In my opinion, the way Ms. Boyle was treated by the British tabloids the past few weeks is absolutely actionable under libel laws, even those in Great Britain (which, basically, do not exist at all). I hope, I sincerely hope, that each and every one of those reporters with by-lines (and all of those unmentionables who contributed to the by-line stories) ROT IN HELL FOREVER AND EVER, with the DEVIL PUTTING HIS PITCHFORK UP YOUR BUTT 60 TIMES A MINUTE. When Susan Boyle's first CD comes out, I will stand in line to buy it, if necessary.

Eight Written Languages Not Yet Deciphered

Decoding antiquity: Eight scripts that still can't be read 27 May 2009 by Andrew Robinson Magazine issue 2710. Subscribe and get 4 free issues. For similar stories, visit the Histories Topic Guide WRITING is one of the greatest inventions in human history. Perhaps the greatest, since it made history possible. Without writing, there could be no accumulation of knowledge, no historical record, no science - and of course no books, newspapers or internet. The first true writing we know of is Sumerian cuneiform - consisting mainly of wedge-shaped impressions on clay tablets - which was used more than 5000 years ago in Mesopotamia. Soon afterwards writing appeared in Egypt, and much later in Europe, China and Central America. Civilisations have invented hundreds of different writing systems. Some, such as the one you are reading now, have remained in use, but most have fallen into disuse. These dead scripts tantalise us. We can see that they are writing, but what do they say? That is the great challenge of decipherment: to reach deep into the past and hear the voices of the dead. When the Egyptian hieroglyphs were deciphered in 1823, they extended the span of recorded history by around 2000 years and allowed us to read the words of Ramses the Great. The decipherment of the Mayan glyphs revealed that the New World had a sophisticated, literate civilisation at the time of the Roman empire. So how do you decipher an unknown script? There are two minimum requirements. First, there has to be enough material to work with. Secondly, there must be some link to a known language. It helps enormously if there is a bilingual inscription or identifiable proper names - the Rosetta Stone (see image), for example, is written in both ancient Egyptian and ancient Greek, and also contains the name of the Ptolemy dynasty. If there is no clear link, an attempt must be made to relate the concealed language to a known one. Many ancient scripts have been deciphered (see "The great decipherments" and The ancient scripts), but some significant ones have yet to be cracked. These fall into three broad categories: a known script writing an unknown language; an unknown script writing a known language; and an unknown script writing an unknown language. The first two categories are more likely to yield to decipherment; the third - which recalls Donald Rumsfeld's infamous "unknown unknowns" - is a much tougher proposition, though this doesn't keep people from trying. Most of the undeciphered scripts featured here have been partially deciphered, and well-known researchers have claimed that they have deciphered some much more fully. Further progress is possible for most of them, especially if new inscriptions are discovered, which fortunately happens fairly often. Rest of article.

Goddesschess Gets Favorable Mention!

The following information obtained from Susan Polgar's chess blog (always the latest information there). There's a new chess e-zine in town: Official website It's excellent and it's free! You can subscribe by visiting the website above. Here is one article in this month's issue: BILL WALL’S CHESS WEBSITE’S REVIEW Visit Bill’s own great site -- There are thousands of chess websites. Some are very good and others not so good or not updated very much. Here is a review of some of my favorite web sites.For chess news, I always go the ChessBase at . From the U.S. Championship coverage to super grandmaster tournaments, ChessBase covers it all and includes lots of pictures. Games are usually included in the tournament reports in pgn format. ChessBase lite is available for free to play over the games. For other chess news, I like The Week in Chess (TWIC) at . This site sums up the major events of the week and makes available hundreds of chess games weekly from the major events around the world. There are lots of crosstables in the latest news section and a list up major upcoming events. Another site with the latest in chess is Chessdom at . It carries the latest news in chess with pictures and there are links to interviews of top chess players around the world. For chess history or trivia, I like Chess Notes by Edward Winter at . Winter has written several chess books based on his chess notes as he tries to uncover historical chess facts or points out errors and mistakes in chess writings. His articles are usually accompanied by historical chess photos. Winter is probably the best chess historian of our time. Another chess historical site is Goddess Chess at . There is a lot of information on the history of chess, chess art and artifacts. For general information, some chess articles, or a place to purchase chess books and equipment, I like Chess Café at . There are plenty of book reviews and chess columns. In December, Chess Café holds its annual chess quiz. You really have to be a chess buff to do well in this contest. Another good site is Chessville at . It is full of chess articles, reviews, news, and chess problems. It also has a good chess store. For online chess database of master chess games, at is very good. It has almost all the games of top players, with discussion groups, an Opening Explorer database with millions of games, a player’s dictionary, and game of the day. For me, the best place to play chess online is at . You can play online chess or live chess with thousands of players, including dozens of grandmasters and international masters. The site has a players’ forum to discuss topics, a chess blog site, a chess wikipedia, hundreds of chess articles, lots of history and trivia, and a lot more. It is also home to Chess Mentor and Tactics Trainer. For chess humor and some good chess articles, I like Chandler Cornered or Chess Edinburgh at . The website is by Geoff Chandler of Scotland and he writes in a humorous style and includes chess pictures and illustrations. He includes lots of local games and annotates them well, with lots of diagrams. Tim Krabbe’s Chess Curiosities at keeps a list of records in chess (longest, shortest, latest, mostest, etc) along with his chess diary. He includes lots of chess problems and chess stories. My favorite chess blog is Susan Polgar’s chess blog at . She usually keeps up to date on the latest chess events and includes lots of pictures. She also has a section called the current state of the USCF, which is usually not good. Another good blog site is by Jim West at . This New York master has written dozens of articles and annotated many of his games to fill up his blog site. Another good one is Mig Greengard’s Chessninja Daily Dirt chess blog at . His coverage of the U.S. championship and other events is great. The Closet Grandmaster at is another good blog site from an Australian chess blogger. If you are interested in chess problems, one of the best sites is . Chess problems can be selected from easy to hard, with about 4,000 games in its database. One of my favorite chess home pages is A.J. Chess Home Page at . It is full of annotated chess games, reviews, chess news, and chess trivia of all interests. He has put a lot of work in his annotated games. If you play correspondence chess, a good site is . There are a lot links to other correspondence chess sites, including the Campbell Report at . Campbell keeps up to date on correspondence chess around the world. More from Bill next month! Thanks to Bill Wall, Chess-Check, and Susan Polgar's blog!

Outrageous Behavior by Bill Goichberg of USCF!

I find it difficult to believe that someone would stoop to this level but I've got the evidence right here, resting against my keyboard as I type this. Today I received in the U.S. mail two cards from the Continental Chess Association, which is owned by Bill Goichberg of the United States Chess Federation. I found this rather unusual since I cannot recall ever receiving prior cards from the Continental Chess Federation. The cards purportedly announce two upcoming events - the World Open in Philadelphia and the Chicago Class Championships in Chicago, both to be held in July of this year. However, both cards also prominently feature statements by Bill Goichberg, current President of the USCF and also a member of the USCF Executive Board who is running for re-election. These statements contain allegations relating to a law suit or suits involving various members of the Executive Board. Mr. Goichberg has the unmitigated gall to assert in these statements that "Board members have a fiduciary duty to work for the interests of their organization, not its destruction, and I find these lawsuits outrageous." Outrageous, indeed! Why not tell us all of the facts, Mr. Goichberg. For instance, what about the fact that it was the USCF that attempted to have Board Member Paul Truong removed from office by delegate vote after an agent of the USCF leaked confidential information (a habit of which certain members of the USCF Executive seem particularly fond) alleging that Mr. Truong was guilty of making posts at various message boards and chess forums under "false" names. When that maneuver failed because the delegates did not vote to remove Mr. Truong from office, the USCF then filed suit in the state of Illinois to have both GM Susan Polgar and Mr. Truong removed from office. After the USCF filed another law suit in California against GM Polgar and others, GM Polgar filed her own suit in Texas against the USCF and various members of the Executive Board and other parties, alleging defamation, slander, libel, and other claims. On numerous occasions GM Polgar has publicly offered to settle this suit for $1.00 and an apology from various members of the USCF. This settlement offer has been rejected numerous times. Which one of these law suits are you pinpointing as aggrieving you, Mr. Goichberg? What I want to know is this: how did Mr. Goichberg come by my name and address and USCF membership ID number? Did he purchase a list of members from the USCF - did you pay money for the list, Mr. Goichberg? Did he just expropriate the membership information for his own personal uses, using his position as President and Executive Board member to do so? Who within the USCF provided this information to Mr. Goichberg, and under what authority? Whatever method Mr. Goichberg employed to obtain the information necessary to make these kinds of mailings to USCF members, under any definitions of fiduciary duty and conflict of interest of which I am aware MR. GOICHBERG'S CONDUCT IS CONTRARY TO HIS FIDUCIARY DUTY AS A MEMBER OF THE USCF EXECUTIVE BOARD AND PRESIDENT! Mr. Goichberg is using membership information in a blatant attempt to sway the election in favor of his re-election and the election of three other new members to the Executive Board. This is disgusting, immoral and possibly illegal conduct by Mr. Goichberg. I did not pay my dues to the USCF to enable Mr. Goichberg to continue his libel and slander against other Executive Board members, the prosecution by USCF of what I consider to be frivilous and vindictive law suits or to enable Mr. Goichberg to retain his seat on the USCF Executive Board! Mr. Goichberg, please do not send me any more of your mailings. I find your conduct as President and an Executive Board member of the USCF appalling, vile and disgusting.

Gimpy Squirrel Update

Hola! I'm pleased to report that the little fella has survived the weekend. The right rear leg seems to be totally useless (broken?) and it also looks like he lost about half of his tail, which doesn't help with his balance issues with the useless leg. However, he's plucky! He's been showing up very early in the morning to feed before the other (bigger) squirrels are around to knock him out of the way. He was out there early Saturday, yesterday and this morning. He's digging around where I throw the bird seed every morning, maybe eating whatever sunflower seeds he can find. I've thrown almonds (in the shell) down there but he doesn't seem to have connected them with "food" yet, and the other squirrels come in and take the almonds as the morning goes on. It doesn't take long! Mr. Gimpy Squirrel also found a hidey-hole amidst the piled-up logs that are laid against the north fence down below the retaining wall by the big tree. I've seen him tuck into an opening between the logs whenever he feels threatened, and then some minutes later if I watch long enough I see his nose peek out! After seeing him do this Saturday morning, I thought he might have taken up residence and I was worried all day - what if it rained (the area can flood if we get a lot of rain). What if a predator comes along? And I was out there with my very noisy and scary gas lawnmower, cutting the grass, and then later on I was down in the area trimming the black berry tree/bush! I was relieved when I saw him out there again, Sunday morning. At first I thought he might be living in that log hidey-hole, but this morning, when it seems he'd had enough to eat (or the competition from the other squirrels was getting to be too much for him), I watched him laboriously climb all the way up one of the tree trunks on the Big Tree to a limb way off the ground, where an old squirrels nest rests (used last season and now abandoned). I saw him go in and not come back out, so I figure he's living there now. It's good to know he's off the ground where he would be easy prey to predators because he can't move very well or quickly. This photo of that limb was taken from my second floor bedroom window, which is below the level of the nest Mr. Gimpy has moved into! The nest is in the high "V" formed by two branches on the right. It is barely visible - it looks like a sort of "hairy lump" in the "V." I hope he makes it. Since losing Mr. Tipsy Squirrel, who made it through a nasty winter only to disappear in April, my heart has been aching. Oh I know it's foolish to get so attached to wild animals - and to squirrels in particular, since many people consider them vermin and/or food! But to see him, so tiny and helpless, and yet he's fighting to survive as hard as he can because he doesn't know how to do anything else, just touches my heart.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Lady Dai!

I may have written about this already, but I'm too tired to go back and check, so if I already have, you can skip this post. Photos by Michelle. On Mr. Don's and my last full day in New York, Mr. Don, Michelle, Isis and I trekked to the China Institute to see the special exhibit of artifacts excavated at Mawangdui. We weren't allowed to take photographs of any of the artifacts, which were exhibited in two climate controlled rooms on either side of the reception area. The exhibit was not large, per se, but there were more than enough artifacts over which to ooh and ahh! Only tonight did I pull out the exhibition catalog and start to look through it. I didn't get very far and will save it for another weekend when I'm less tired. You can find some of the artifacts online, Archaeology Magazine's article.

The Life of Meresamun: A Temple Singer in Ancient Egypt

Mr. Don and I didn't have a chance to get to Chicago to see this exhibit at the Oriental Institute when he was here earlier this month (for our trip to New York to celebrate Goddesschess' 10th anniversary). Perhaps we can zip down on the train for a day in August before we leave for Las Vegas (we'll be celebrating my birthday - hmmm, let's see, I think I'll be 39 again, in Las Vegas, where I celebrated it 10 years ago). The Life of Meresamun: A Temple Singer in Ancient Egypt February 10 - December 6, 2009 See the Archaeological Institute's online article on Meresamun by Emily Teeter.
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