Saturday, June 11, 2011

Chess Femme News!

It's another mucky day here. Monday through Wednesday we broke records for heat and humidity, it was awful outside! Wednesday night a cold front came through in an explosive storm with lots of lightning, hail and thunder, and then the rains came. And came, and came.  The storm was fast moving out over Lake Michigan but the rains continued, and lots of lightning but little thunder, very unusual! I always associate the two (thunder/lightning) together. The cold front ushered in cooler temperatures. MUCH cooler. Thursday morning it was 49 degrees F when I woke up, shivering under my sheet, because I had cranked my bedroom windows open and turned off the AC when the cold front came through after the worst of the storm had passed.

Now we're breaking records for LOW temperatures, LOL! Today, more of the same, but the rain has stopped. Supposed to get "sunny" this afternoon (it's already 4:23 p.m. here as I type this) and sunny/warmer tonight with a high of 70F. We'll see. My grass is half a foot tall because of all the rain/fertilizer it's had and needs a cutting!

Right now I've got my living (front) room torn apart rearranging and cleaning supplies are scattered throughout the house as I work on the computer a bit and then clean a bit, etc. Tomorrow the ladies of the investment club will be here for our first meeting in a couple of months so I want the house to be spic and span.

GM Title for Nadezhda Kosintseva of Russia

Turning to the news, I was pleased to see that one of Russia's female superstar chessplayers (one of a pair of chessplaying sisters), Nadezhda Kosintseva, has been awarded a GM title by FIDE at the latest meeting of the Presidential Board. All right! Congratulations to GM N. Kosintseva on her well-deserved new title.

When I first started following chess online and then writing about female chessplayers, there were, I believe, eight females who had the coveted GM title. That was in December, 1998. Now there are over twenty female chessplayers with the international GM title. The international GM (grandmaster) title is distinct and higher than the title of international WGM or women's grandmaster; the qualifications to earn a GM title are much tougher to meet. The earliest female players to get the GM title were divided into distinct generations: there were older mostly Russian players who were awarded GM titles by FIDE on the basis of their distinguished careers. Back in the not-so-old-days, women were banned from playing in many of the "higher" tournaments, including the World Chess Championship, where they might have earned GM "norms" (similar to points accrual toward a title) and were generally restricted, either by regulations or tradition and pressure, to playing in women-only events. So, the best female players, who back then were mostly Russian, were stymied from achieving higher ratings and greater glory.

That discrimination was tough to fight against, but fight the women did, beginning with an entirely new generation of talented and fearless non-Russian players like Susan Polgar and Judith Polgar, Pia Cramling, and Xie Jun of China who kow-towed to no one and no silly traditions. As a result of these uncompromising female players, FIDE ever-so-slowly began to creep into the late 20th century! GM titles were awarded to deserving female players of the older generation who had been denied the chance to earn them on their own because of sexual discrimination, and titles were earned by younger players the traditional way -- by meeting the tough requirements! Susan Polgar was the first to do this; shortly after SP earned her GM title, her sister Judit earned her own GM title, and then Pia Cramling of Sweden earned her GM title.

Those three female players unleashed something of a flood thereafter in female players rising through the ranks -- but GM Susan Polgar was still denied the right to compete in the World Chess Championship cycle in 1986, which she had legitimately qualified to do. It had been, theretofore, an exclusively male domain and FIDE seemed determined to keep it so.

However, not even FIDE could not resist the bad publicity that ensued in the age of Women's Liberation and Women's Rights and when the Iron Curtain finally came crashing down, FIDE bowed to international pressure. The NON-WRITTEN FIDE "rule" barring a female from competing in the World Chess Championship cycle was put to death once and for all time, one hopes, when GM Judit Polgar (Susan's younger sister) became the first woman to compete in the world chess championship cycle. It was, some years later, a pleasure to catch the last game of the quarter-finals in the FIDE World Chess Championship in August, 1999 in Las Vegas where I watched Judit Polgar play against eventual winner of the title, GM Alexander Khalifman of Russia.

Active Female Chessplayers with GM Title -- 23

Rank Name Title Country Rating Games B-Year

1 Polgar, Judit g HUN 2699 11 1976
2 Koneru, Humpy g IND 2614 11 1987
3 Hou, Yifan g CHN 2612 20 1994
4 Kosintseva, Nadezhda m RUS 2567 0 1985 (now a GM)
5 Kosintseva, Tatiana g RUS 2559 0 1986
6 Dzagnidze, Nana g GEO 2557 11 1987
9 Lahno, Kateryna g UKR 2530 10 1989
10 Kosteniuk, Alexandra g RUS 2522 7 1984
13 Stefanova, Antoaneta g BUL 2506 16 1979
14 Danielian, Elina g ARM 2506 11 1978
15 Cmilyte, Viktorija g LTU 2504 21 1983
16 Sebag, Marie g FRA 2504 11 1986
17 Chiburdanidze, Maia g GEO 2500 11 1961
19 Socko, Monika g POL 2487 20 1978
21 Zhu, Chen g QAT 2485 11 1976
22 Xu, Yuhua g CHN 2480 11 1976
24 Zhao, Xue g CHN 2475 20 1985
29 Cramling, Pia g SWE 2468 18 1963
33 Arakhamia-Grant, Ketevan g SCO 2462 6 1968
36 Hoang Thanh Trang g HUN 2456 0 1980
53 Zhukova, Natalia g UKR 2428 17 1979
90 Peng, Zhaoqin g NED 2375 1 1968
103 Gaprindashvili, Nona g GEO 2360 0 1941

Non-Active and/or Retired Female Chessplayers with GM Title -- 2

Xie Jun g CHN peak rating 2574 1970(Xie Jun was awarded her GM title for winning the Women's World Chess Championship in 1991, prior to Pia Cramling earning her GM title the traditional way via norms, in 1992)

Polgar Susan g HUN peak rating 2577 1969 (first woman to earn a GM title the traditional way)

That makes 25 female GMs (versus a couple thousand male GMs) - hope I didn't miss anyone!  Just to show how much progress has been by female chessplayers achieving the GM title and progressing in the ranks of players world-wide, the 12th Women's Chess Champion, GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, earned her GM title in 2004. She was, at that time, the 10th woman to do so!  Fifteen more female chessplayers have earned the GM title in the seven years since then.  I salute you all!  You are all heroines to me. 

I compiled the information for this post from FIDE records (list of top 100 currently active female chessplayers), Wikipedia (list of female GM title holders) and this 2005 article from the New York Daily News Online:

She had to checkmate sexism
Sunday, April 03, 2005

Also earning FIDE titles:

IM title:
RUS Gunina, Valentina
RUS Savina, Anastasia

WGM title:
BUL Nikolova, Adriana
BUL Videnova, Iva
CHN Guo, Qi
COL Ortiz, Nadya Karolina
CUB Ordaz Valdes, Lisandra Teresa
GEO Tsatsalashvili, Keti
HUN Schneider, Veronika
USA Abrahamyan, Tatev
VIE Pham, Le Thao Nguyen

WIM title:
ARM Hairapetian, Anna
ESP Vega Gutierrez, Belinda
IRI Hakimifard, Ghazal
ISR Efroimski, Marsel
ISR Porat, Maya
PHI Camacho, Chardine Cheradee
PHI Perena, Catherine
ROU Sgircea, Silvia-Raluca
RUS Bezgodova, Maria
SRB Djukic, Sandra

German Women's Chess Championship
The 2011 German Women's Chess Championship was held in conjunction with the "open" German Chess Championship 26 May - 4 June, 2011.  Another cheater was discovered in the "open" Championship, who used the simple expedient of going to the bathroom and checking his position on a chess program on his smart phone. Now everyone is once again up in arms about rampant cheating in chess.  You know what, just ban cell phones, etc. from being accessed at all during tournament play. What's the big deal about doing so?  If someone cannot wait until the very end of a game to use their damn cell phone, that person should not be playing, period!  Cell phones should be checked in and stored (similar to a coat-check) until the end of the game.  All liability on the part of the player in case a phone is lost or stolen.  End of story!  People, this is not that difficult to implement.  If players don't like it, they can go suck eggs and stop playing.  Stop the cheating via electronic devices.  All tournament results are now automatically rendered suspect because of the ability of players to use this form of technology to cheat. One cheating player taints all the other players who don't cheat. This sucks!

Here are the women's final standings:

ch-UZB Major League

The Championships of Uzbekistan Major League (I'm assuming this was a final qualifier for the main event) took place 21st-31st May 2011. Both men's and women's events had 11 player all-play-alls.  Information from The Week in Chess:

2011 African Individual Chess Championships
These championships (Open and Women's) are taking place 4 June - 13 June, 2011 in Maputo, Mozambique (Africa).  Current women's standings (through R7):

"The Tiger's Wife Wins" the Orange Prize

Not about Tiger Woods' wife!  Written by first time novelist Tea Obrecht, who just won the prestigious Orange prize for her efforts, it's a novel that interweaves myths and legends of the Balkans, where she was born, into its story.

Thanks to Robur d'Amour, who posted a comment about the book/award under "The World Is Going To The Dogs." 

Several reviews are available online.  I read one published by (National Public Radio), 'The Tiger's Wife:' A Young Talent Takes On Folklore (March 11, 2011), that contains an absolutely fascinating description of a belief about the soul after a person dies:

The forty days of the soul begin on the morning after death. That first night, before its forty days begin, the soul lies still against sweated-on pillows and watches the living fold the hands and close the eyes, choke the room with smoke and silence to keep the new soul from the doors and the windows and the cracks in the floor so that it does not run out of the house like a river. The living know that, at daybreak, the soul will leave them and make its way to the places of its past—the schools and dormitories of its youth, army barracks and tenements, houses razed to the ground and rebuilt, places that recall love and guilt, difficulties and unbridled happiness, optimism and ecstasy, memories of grace meaningless to anyone else—and sometimes this journey will carry it so far for so long that it will forget to come back. For this reason, the living bring their own rituals to a standstill: to welcome the newly loosed spirit, the living will not clean, will not wash or tidy, will not remove the soul's belongings for forty days, hoping that sentiment and longing will bring it home again, encourage it to return with a message, with a sign, or with forgiveness.

If it is properly enticed, the soul will return as the days go by, to rummage through drawers, peer inside cupboards, seek the tactile comfort of its living identity by reassessing the dish rack and the doorbell and the telephone, reminding itself of functionality, all the time touching things that produce sound and make its presence known to the inhabitants of the house.

The Orange prize

Launched in 1996, the Orange prize celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in women's writing from throughout the world. The winner receives a cheque for £30,000 and a limited edition bronze known as a 'Bessie', created by the artist Grizel Niven. 

Coverage at BBC

Friday, June 10, 2011

GM Alexandra Kosteniuk Launches Chess Queen (TM) Couture

12th Women's World Chess Champion GM Alexandra Kosteniuk has launched a new clothing brand - Chess Queen (TM) Couture - featuring exclusive designs. Check out some of the products.

I was a test subject.  I am pleased to report that I love my sleeveless collared tee (style not shown here).  The material is light but has a nice texture and feel to it, it drapes very nicely.  The graphic is crisp and clear and very pretty in close-up.  It's feminine without being too saccharine. 

The World Is Going To The Dogs

Dogs are in the news - not always in a good way.  Dogs and tigers and bears, oh my!

Is there a pack of "bloodthirsty" killer wild dogs on the loose in Stevens County, northeast Washington state?  That's what some folks are saying and here is a photograph of at least one of the guilty canines taken by a security camera at one of the farms where an animal was allegedly killed by the pack.  What the hell kind of dog is this?  A - get ready for it - HELL HOUND. Bwwwwaaaahhhhaaaaa!
Fri Jun 10, 3:36 pm ET
Bloodthirsty pack of dogs take out 350-lb. llama
By Liz Goodwin
I would not want to meet such a critter in a dark alley, or even a light alley.

Thu Jun 9, 1:01 pm ET
Millionaire dog dies at age 12
By Liz Goodwin
Trouble and her human, Leona Helmsley. Date unknown.
Photo from story.
Leona Helmsley's cute little poochy died at age 12, evidently in December, 2010. You may remember that after Helmsley's death the dog was left millions of dollars in trust for his care.  This little doggy, who never hurt anyone in his entire life, received death threats! Some people are just so fricking sick it's not funny. Trouble, the dog, lost his beloved owner, and then - according to the story - lost at least two more family caretakers - during what was left of his life. People who know dogs know that they mourn and grieve, and they do remember lost loved ones. Trouble the dog suffered a lot of trauma.  So-called scientists who have studied dogs and say stupid things like dogs don't have emotions and aren't all that intelligent haven't spent enough time with them and really gotten to know them. Now, the cemetery where Leona Helmsley is buried refuses to let the dog's remains be buried with her, although she specified that this was her wish. I mean, come on! You won't let the lady have her last wish to have her beloved pet buried with her? How low can you go?  As low as someone making death threats to a dog? Geez.

You know things are really going to the dogs when police dogs lose their jobs! Here are two recent reports of canine heros who have been "laid off" because of budget crunches. Why not lay off police horses? They eat a lot more!

Police Dog Laid Off In Jeannette
Wando, 3 Officers Victims Of Budget Cuts
POSTED: 1:50 pm EDT September 28, 2010
UPDATED: 8:05 pm EDT September 28, 2010
Wando says, you took a crappy picture of me
and my human, dude!
JEANNETTE, Pa. -- Budget issues in one Westmoreland County community has left a four-footed officer without a job.

Channel 4 Action News' Jennifer Miele reported that Jeannette City Council voted to lay off three police officers effective next Tuesday, about a quarter of the force, because of budgetary concerns.

The layoffs include the department's K-9 unit, Officer Justin Scalzo and his drug dog, Wando.

Time Magazine on line reports that 5-year old Canine drug-sniffer Daro was laid off:

Reported June 8, 2011
In This Recession, Even a Police Dog Got Laid Off
(No photo of Daro)
This story  may have more to do with a dispute with the doggy's handler - but then you know how those politicians twist everything around to make an innocent person look like a villain - especially when it comes ot budget cuts.  I say - CUT THE GOVERNORS - CUT THE LT. GOVERNORS.  CUT THE ATTORNEYS-GENERAL, who the hell needs them when it's the assistant attorneys prosecuting all the cases and doing all the work anyway?  CUT ALL DEPARTMENT HEADS.  The workers make up their own schedules and police themselves, so who needs departmental heads?  They add absolutely no value to the services that government provides.  All they do is take up desk space and shuffle paper around all day trying to look busy.  I've interacted with these people for years, I know whereof I speak!

Keep the dogs!  Dogs earn their pay and work without complaint.  Dogs love us and will never leave us, no matter if we're jerks.  Dogs always give 150% because they want to please us.  Dogs can teach us a lot about being human beings. 

Fibonnaci Sequence

I saw this image the other day at Yahoo News and it took my breath away.  It is a 1910 x-ray image of a whelk shell taken by inventor of the x-ray, Edward Charles Le Grice.

For more information on the Fibonnaci sequence, see Fibonnaci Numbers and Nature.

Other posts on the Fibonnaci sequence:

The Magic of Phi, September 30 2007
Beautiful Images of the Center of the Milky Way Galaxy, November 13 2009

Lithuanian PM thanks chess-player Cmilyte for impressive victory

BC, Vilnius, 09.06.2011

On Wednesday, Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius has welcomed and thanked European women chess champion Viktorija Cmilyte (27) and her father and coach Viktoras Cmilis. Prime minister once again thanked the champion for "a good news to Lithuania, having secured an impressive victory in the intellectual sports", writes LETA/ELTA.

Cmilyte has been awarded with a 20,000 litas (5,701 euros) monetary award and Prime Minister's brand name watch. Klemensas Rimselis, Director General at the Department of Physical Education and Sports has awarded the grandmaster with a Sporting Achievement Medal.

Cmilyte sincerely thank PM for exceptional attention paid to the chess sport and her victory. Chess sport situation in Lithuania was also discussed during the meeting with the prime minister, the participants of the meeting exchanged opinion on wider chess training opportunities in secondary schools of Lithuania. Kubilius wished the champion all the very best of luck in upcoming matches. As reported, the Government decided on the reward a week ago, stressing that the 27-year-old chess player significantly contributed to the promotion of the name of Lithuania. Her victory was the first of such an importance throughout Lithuania's history of chess tournaments, the Cabinet said.

Cmilyte won the title of the European chess champion in the 12th European Women Chess Championship held in Tbilisi, Georgia, on May 7-18.

According to the Government's resolution adopted 10 years ago, the chess player would have received a reward of 4,000 litas (1,140 euros) for the victory in Tbilisi. As rewards were halved due to the economic recession, Cmilyte would have been awarded with just 2,000 litas (570 euros).

[One of my favorite facts about Cmilyte is that she was the first and, so far, only female chessplayer to ever win the Lithuanian men's chess championship - and she did it twice!  She was 16 when she won her first title (2000) and won it again in 2005.]

More about Cmilyte. 

Video interview after winning 2011 European Women's title (at Susan Polgar's chess blog)

Chess games

And You Thought It Was Only Nancy Reagan Who Did It...

From The Wall Street Journal
June 10, 2011
Rough Spell for Iranian Politics: President's Staff Accused of Sorcery
Fortune Teller to the Elite Fears Evil Plot, but Ahmadinejad Calls Attacks 'Jokes'.

In a small leafy village outside of Isfahan, a 67-year-old sorcerer with thinning hair and deep wrinkles deploys his supernatural powers in service of Iran's government.

Seyed Sadigh, an alias he goes by, sits cross-legged on the floor dressed in loose gray pants and a long shirt. He recites Quranic verses in a low hypnotic voice and rubs his fingers together. He is summoning Jinn, invisible creatures who, according to Islamic teachings, live in a parallel world, can shift form, travel at the speed of light and know the unknowable. The Jinn who communicate with Mr. Sadigh are visible only to him.

Sorcerers, fortune tellers or Jinn catchers, as they are colloquially known, have existed for centuries in Muslim lore. Ordinary people in Iran and elsewhere flock to these men to get spells and prayers, and to communicate with Jinn in order to discover the whereabouts of a lost loved one or stolen property.

Government officials, on the other hand, aren't known to consult with sorcerers. Or are they?

Mr. Sadigh is considered the top sorcerer among Iran's ruling elite, according to associates, clients and government officials. He says dozens of officials call on him regularly and that he has met President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad twice, the last time two years ago, but has stayed in contact with the president through members of the administration.

"Officials seek me out because I can help untie some difficult knots," says Mr. Sadigh in an interview at his summer home. "We have had a long battle to infiltrate the Israeli Jinn and find out what they know."

Indeed, Mr. Sadigh says he doesn't waste Jinn powers on trivial matters such as love and money. Rather, he contacts Jinn who can help out on matters of national security and the regime's political stability.

His regular roll call includes Jinn who work for Israel's intelligence agency, the Mossad, and for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Occasionally, he says, he beckons Jinn who are in the service of Arab Gulf countries.

Some typical questions his visitors ask of the Jinn: What does Israel have on Iran's nuclear program? Is it planning to attack Iran? What is Washington's plan for a soft war on Tehran? Are Arabs polluting Iran's waters? What is Saudi Arabia's contingency plan for when Shiite Islam's 12th Imam, the Mahdi, re-appears from hiding to save the world?

Mr. Sadigh's work with government officials comes as his profession is at the center of a controversy that threatens to bring down Mr. Ahmadinejad's administration. Since late April, more than two dozen officials in the president's inner circle have been arrested on charges of practicing sorcery and black magic. The accusations are part of a larger struggle for power by conservative clerics and rival political factions.

Mr. Ahmadinejad's detractors have accused the president and his advisers, including the Presidential Palace's top imam, of belonging to a cult-like ring that promotes superstition and mystical fanaticism. Some have said that Mr. Ahmadinejad is under a spell cooked up by his chief of staff, Esfanidar Rahim Mashaie. Mr. Mashaie is already a controversial figure for promoting nationalism over religion, and for his alleged affinity for astrology and mysticism.

The president was acting "strange" and "irrational" during a recent dispute over dismissing a minister, said the Ayatollah Mohamad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi in a magazine interview. The former spiritual leader for Mr. Ahmadinejad said it appeared the president's "free will has been taken away."

Mr. Mashaie has denied the allegations, jokingly challenging the clerics to use their Islamic teachings to remove his spell on the president, according to the official Iranian news agency IRNA.

Mr. Ahmadinejad has also denied the allegations. "Those who have spoken in recent days about the influence of fortune tellers and Jinn on government were telling jokes and it made us laugh," Mr. Ahmadinejad said last month, according to Iranian media reports.

But the controversy hasn't gone away. Opposition websites and conservative newspapers continue to carry articles poking fun at the president's inner circle. One cartoon depicted Messrs. Ahmadinejad and Mashaie as two Jinn with horns and tails standing side-by-side.

Some of the most outlandish allegations have been against Abbas Ghaffari, a member of Mr. Ahmadinejad's office, recently arrested as a ring leader of sorcery in the government and deemed influential on the president. Javan Online, a news site linked to the Revolutionary Guards, accused him of hypnotizing and raping 360 women, as well as defiling the Quran to obtain demonic powers. Mr. Ghaffari is in prison and can't be reached for comment.

Iranians have had a mixed reaction. In interviews, some say they get a dark satisfaction from the smearing of Mr. Ahmadinejad after a disputed reelection and his administration's crackdowns on the opposition. Others are embarrassed, saying they wished the government would focus on resolving economic and social problems.

Still others think consulting Jinn is legitimate. "All countries have enemies, sometimes you have to use every option to stand in front of them," says a man who would only identify himself as Iraj, a taxi driver who has occasionally sought spells and prayers for his family disputes.

On a recent spring afternoon, a small group of clerics traveled from Isfahan to consult with Mr. Sadigh, the sorcerer. He received them in a garden dotted with tall cypress trees and jasmine on a wooden daybed covered in cushions next to a shallow blue pool.

Mr. Sadigh, who says he doesn't see walk-in clients or accept money for his work, read from an old Islamic manuscript and in neat Persian calligraphy wrote spells and prayers on a thin piece of paper.

He says he worries about Mr. Ahmadinejad, and thinks the president has surrounded himself with the wrong kind of sorcerers, specifically Mr. Ghaffari, who might do him more harm than Israeli or American Jinn ever could.

"I have information that Ahmadinejad is under a spell and they are now trying to cast one on [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali] Khamenei to obey them blindly," he says.

One way to ward off the evil Jinn is to wear a silver agate ring or to tuck one of Mr. Sadigh's special spells under a rug. He says he sends Mr. Khamenei prayers every month with a messenger, although he doesn't know if he uses them or not.

How rich!  The high mucky-mucks who are (nominally) in control of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran engage in practices for which, I understand, the penalty can be death.  I wonder if it's occurred to any of them that the Israeli and CIA jinn their magician is conjuring up are actually feeding them false information invented by the jinn of MI5.  Ya know, you just can't trust a jinn to be straight with you.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ancestors of Humans Arose in Asia and Moved to Africa...

Another shot in the ongoing war of where humans arose.  New evidence suggests Dmanisi has concurrent or even older evidence of Homo habitation than Africa.

Site hints at Asian roots for human genus
New finds in Caucasus suggest non-African origin for ancient Homo species
By Bruce Bower
Web edition : Monday, June 6th, 2011

Early members of the genus Homo, possibly direct ancestors of people today, may have evolved in Asia and then gone to Africa, not vice versa as many scientists have assumed.

Most paleoanthropologists have favored an African origin for the potential human ancestor Homo erectus. But new evidence shows the species occupied a West Asian site called Dmanisi from 1.85 million to 1.77 million years ago, at the same time or slightly before the earliest evidence of this humanlike species in Africa, say geologist Reid Ferring of the University of North Texas in Denton and his colleagues.

The new Dmanisi discoveries point to an Asian homeland for H. erectus, the scientists propose online June 6 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Dmanisi was occupied repeatedly for roughly 80,000 years and supported a population that was well established and probably quite mobile,” Ferring says.

Evidence remains meager for the geographic origins of the Homo genus, says anthropologist Bernard Wood of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Several scenarios of Homo evolution are possible, and it’s possible that humankind’s genus got its start in Asia with H. erectus.

Researchers have abandoned the long-standing view that a small-brained hominid from East Africa known as Homo habilis, which first appeared about 2.4 million years ago, evolved into H. erectus. Recent fossil finds showing that the two species coexisted in East Africa for several hundred thousand years have undermined that assumption. Ferring’s team suspects that an as-yet-unidentified African hominid reached Asia before 1.85 million years ago and evolved into H. erectus.

With the new Dmanisi dates, “it certainly looks as though the African origin of H. erectus must be reconsidered,” remarks Harvard University anthropologist Philip Rightmire.

Wood regards H. habilis fossils as apelike enough to be reclassified as part of the Australopithecus lineage, which includes a more than 3-million-year-old species represented by a partial skeleton known as Lucy. Other researchers, though, champion 2-million-year-old Australopithecus fossils from South Africa as direct precursors of Homo (SN: 5/7/11, p. 16).

The new Dmanisi discoveries come from just beneath soil that previously yielded 1.77-million-year-old H. erectus fossils, including skulls with surprisingly small brain cases suggestive of an early form of the species (SN: 9/22/07, p. 179). Excavations produced 73 stone tools for cutting and chopping, as well as 34 bone fragments from unidentified creatures. The artifacts came from a series of H. erectus camps at Dmanisi between 1.85 and 1.78 million years ago, the scientists say.

Measurements of reversals in Earth’s magnetic field and of the rate of decay of the element argon in a series of volcanic ash layers provided age estimates for the new finds. [Note the dating techniques being employed.]

2011 Humpy v. Hou: Update

Current Women's World Chess Champion (title won December, 2010) Hou Yifan of China, the youngest yet female champion, continues intense and public preparation for the scheduled women's chess championship match scheduled for November-December, 2011.

As far as I am aware, no announcement of a winning bid has yet been made, so it's up in the air as to whether said championship match will actually take place.  I hope someone will come through with an acceptable bid, because this is one match (10 games) I would like to see.

Hou Yifan is all over the place, it seems!  Humpy is nowhere to be found!  It's driving me nuts - what is Humpy doing????

And hmmmm...... I wonder if it's driving Yifan nuts, too????

Ahhhhhh, the psychology of chess.  Anyone who thinks chess is just a sport hasn't got the half of it!  The Art of War is much more like it...

Hou is currently playing in the Chinese League as Board No. 5(!) on Shandong (a women only team) and has 5.0/6.

For the May FIDE reporting period, Humpy has 11 games recorded, Hou has 20. However, Humpy's games were from the which occurred in February! She had no games for the March FIDE reporting games.

In contrast, Hou's 20 games include the March 30, 2011 China Individual Championship Division A Men, and the April 16, 2011 First Chinese Female Professional Chess Championship (11 games).

Next up for Hou:

Women's world champ Hou Yifan ready for AAI Grandmasters chess
New Delhi, June 6 (IANS)
Reigning women's world champion Hou Yifan of China is all set p for the upcoming inaugural Airports Authority of India (AAI) Grandmasters Chess Tournament beginning here June 21.

The 17-year-old, who last year became the youngest-ever world champion in either the men's or women's section, will become the first women's reigning champion to play in India since Maya Chiburdanidze played in India in the early 1980s.

Apart from Hou, the other participants will be World Junior No.1 GM Fabiano Caruana of Italy, Philippines' No. 1 GM Wesely So, Czech Republic No. 2 GM Viktor Laznicka; India No. 2 GM Krishnan Sasikiran and the reigning Indian National Champion GM Parimarjan Negi.

The tournament will offer prize of $24,500. The winner will take $8,000 and the runner-up $6,000.

Hou, who interestingly will be challenged by India's Koneru Humpy for the world title later this year, is using the tournament as part of her preparations. She was recognised as the Best Sportswoman in China in a sport that is not included in the Olympic programme.

Hou recently won the first-ever Chinese Female Professional chess tournament held in Wuxi, Jiangsu in China in April with a highly impressive score of 9/11. However, she had disappointing result in Asian Individual, where playing in the Open section, she ended 33rd in Mashhad, Iran.

Hou hails from Xinghua, which is famous for holding top level Chinese individual chess tournaments for the past three years. The town has two women grandmasters, eight national champions and over 10,000 playing youngsters live here.

According to Susan Polgar, one of the strongest-ever women's players, but now retired, Hou is preparing for her match against Humpy and all these Open events are part of her larger plan.

This will be India's first ever Category 17 chess tournament with a unique group of six grandmasters playing in a double round robin event from June 21 to July 2.

Botswana v. Zambia - Female Chessplayers Duke It Out!

Hola darlings!  Sorry for not getting this story up earlier.

Botswana clobbers Zambia in chess friendly
Staff Writer
Tuesday, 31 May 2011 | Issue: Vol.28 No.79

Botswana women gave their Zambian opponents a 15-5 thumping in a friendly chess match played in Kasane on Saturday.

The two teams played four rounds. In the last round, the Zambians were walloped 4-0 as Keitumetse Mokgacha, Onkemetse Francis Thapelo Francis, and Tuduetso Sabure finished with maximum points.

The Botswana women had also given their opponents a 4-0 thrashing in round three. The Zambians only managed half a point in round two when Onkemetse was held to a draw. However, Botswana men lost heavily to Zambia in their friendly match also played in Kasane on Saturday, going down 14.5 points to 5.5 after four rounds of torture. In the last round all Botswana men lost.

At the receiving end were Ignatius Njobvu, Ofentse Molale, newly crowned champion Abel Dzilani, and Thabo Gumpo. The new champion however managed the only point for the home side in round two.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Iranian Women's Soccer Team Pays the Price for Wearing Banned Gear

Mon Jun 06 03:51pm EDT From Yahoo's Fourth Place Medal Sports Blog
Iranian women’s soccer team forfeits 2012 qualifier over head scarves
By Brooks Peck

The Iranian women's soccer team was in tears after being forced to forfeit a 2012 London Olympics qualifying match this past weekend because it showed up to play in hajibs. FIFA banned the Islamic head scarf in 2007, saying that it could cause choking injuries -- the same reason it gave for recently banning snoods (neck warmers). FIFA also has strict rules against any religious statements in team uniforms.

Since Iran refused to comply with these rules and didn't use the specially designed caps that its 2010 Youth Olympics team wore, Friday's match was abandoned by officials and a 3-0 win was awarded to Jordan as a result. The Football Federation of Iran said it will complain to FIFA about the ruling, but FIFA says assurances were made beforehand so that this situation would've been avoided. From the AP:

"Despite initial assurances that the Iranian delegation understood this, the players came out wearing the hijab, and the head and neck totally covered, which was an infringement of the laws of the game," FIFA said in a statement. [...]

Jordan team officials also objected to the hijab rule before the game, but prepared to play by declining to select women who objected on religious grounds.

"The Iranian team and three Jordanian players were also banned from playing because they wore the traditional head cover," Rana Husseini, head of Jordan's women's football committee, told The Associated Press.

"The problem is that the head cover assigned and approved by FIFA for women players to wear does not suit them as it reveals part of the neck and this is not allowed and it is not acceptable," she said.

Iran also forfeited a second group match against Vietnam on Sunday, seriously damaging its chances of advancing to the London Olympics. It seems unlikely that its federation's complaints will help its case, though, since these rules are not new and compromises have been made in the past. It's just a shame these women were put in the middle of this debate between Iran's federation and FIFA and set up for disappointment.

Photo: Reuters.

All you  politicians who play with peoples' lives for your "values" and "beliefs" - you SUCK. Of course, who cares about a few crying women whose dreams have been shattered because of POLITICS?

Water Crisis in China Spurs Big Plans

It seems there is no such thing as benefit/cost analysis and environmental impact studies in Communist China.  Their excessive population and disregard for the environment will bring China down.  I foresee China begging water plus nations like Canada and the US to export water to them...  I'm sure I'll see it within what is left of my lifetime.  I sincerely hope the "free marketers" will not be in control of either country when it starts - and ends.

Published: June 1, 2011
New York Times

Plan for China’s Water Crisis Spurs Concern

DANJIANGKOU, China — North China is dying.

A chronic drought is ravaging farmland. The Gobi Desert is inching south. The Yellow River, the so-called birthplace of Chinese civilization, is so polluted it can no longer supply drinking water. The rapid growth of megacities — 22 million people in Beijing and 12 million in Tianjin alone — has drained underground aquifers that took millenniums to fill.

Not atypically, the Chinese government has a grand and expensive solution: Divert at least six trillion gallons of water each year hundreds of miles from the other great Chinese river, the Yangtze, to slake the thirst of the north China plain and its 440 million people.

The engineering feat, called the South-North Water Diversion Project, is China’s most ambitious attempt to subjugate nature. It would be like channeling water from the Mississippi River to meet the drinking needs of Boston, New York and Washington. Its $62 billion price tag is twice that of the Three Gorges Dam, which is the world’s largest hydroelectric project. And not unlike that project, which Chinese officials last month admitted had “urgent problems,” the water diversion scheme is increasingly mired in concerns about its cost, its environmental impact and the sacrifices poor people in the provinces are told to make for those in richer cities.

Three artificial channels from the Yangtze would transport precious water from the south, which itself is increasingly afflicted by droughts; the region is suffering its worst one in 50 years. The project’s human cost is staggering — along the middle route, which starts here in Hubei Province at a gigantic reservoir and snakes 800 miles to Beijing, about 350,000 villagers are being relocated to make way for the canal. Many are being resettled far from their homes and given low-grade farmland; in Hubei, thousands of people have been moved to the grounds of a former prison.

“Look at this dead yellow earth,” said Li Jiaying, 67, a hunched woman hobbling to her new concrete home clutching a sickle and a bundle of dry sticks for firewood. “Our old home wasn’t even being flooded for the project and we were asked to leave. No one wanted to leave.”

About 150,000 people had been resettled by this spring. Many more will follow. A recent front-page article in People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, said the project “has entered a key period of construction.”

Some Chinese scientists say the diversion could destroy the ecology of the southern rivers, making them as useless as the Yellow River. The government has neglected to do proper impact studies, they say. There are precedents in the United States. Lakes in California were damaged and destroyed when the Owens River was diverted in the early 20th century to build Los Angeles.

Here, more than 14 million people in Hubei would be affected if the project damaged the Han River, the tributary of the Yangtze where the middle route starts, said Du Yun, a geographer at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuhan, the provincial capital.

Officials in provinces south of Beijing and Tianjin have privately raised objections and are haggling over water pricing and compensation; midlevel officials in water-scarce Hebei Province are frustrated that four reservoirs in their region have sent more than 775 million cubic meters, or 205 billion gallons, of water to Beijing since September 2008 in an “emergency” supplement to the middle route.

Overseers of the eastern route, which is being built alongside an ancient waterway for barges called the Grand Canal, have found that the drinking water to be brought to Tianjin from the Yangtze is so polluted that 426 sewage treatment plants have to be built; water pollution control on the route takes up 44 percent of the $5 billion investment, according to Xinhua, the official news agency. The source water from the Han River on the middle route is cleaner. But the main channel will cross 205 rivers and streams in the industrial heartland of China before reaching Beijing.

“When water comes to Beijing, there’s the danger of the water not being safe to drink,” said Dai Qing, an environmental advocate who has written critically about the Three Gorges Dam.

“I think this project is a product of the totalitarian regime in Beijing as it seeks to take away the resources of others,” she added. “I am totally opposed to this project.”

Ms. Dai and some Chinese scholars say the government should instead be limiting the population in the northern cities and encouraging water conservation.

The project’s official Web site says that the diversion “will be an important and basic facility for mitigating the existing crisis of water resources in north China” and that sufficient studies have been done. Wang Jian, a former environmental and water management official with the Beijing government and the State Council, China’s cabinet, agreed that the project “carries huge risks,” but he said there were no other options given the severity of the current water shortage.

The middle route is to start major operations in 2014, and the eastern route is expected to be operational by 2013. The lines were originally supposed to open by the 2008 Summer Olympics, but have been hobbled by myriad problems.

The diversion project was first studied in the 1950s, after Mao uttered: “Water in the south is abundant, water in the north scarce. If possible, it would be fine to borrow a little.”

In a country afflicted by severe cycles of droughts and floods and peasant rebellions that often resulted from them, control of water has always been important to Chinese rulers. Emperors sought to legitimize their rule with large-scale water projects like the Grand Canal or the irrigation system in Dujiangyan.

After the initial studies in the 1950s, the government did not look seriously again at the project until the 1990s, when north China was hit hard by droughts. In 2002, the State Council gave the green light for work to start on the middle and eastern routes; the western route, which would run at an average altitude of 10,000 to 13,000 feet across the Tibetan plateau to help irrigate the Yellow River basin, has been deemed too difficult to start for now.

Officials in Tianjin are so skeptical of the eastern route’s ability to deliver drinkable water that they are looking at desalinization as an alternative. Planners have more hope for the middle route, though the engineering is a much greater challenge — the canal has to be built entirely from scratch, with 1,774 structures constructed along its length to channel the water, since there is no pre-existing waterway like the Grand Canal to follow.

At the start of the route, the water level of the Danjiangkou Reservoir on the Han River has been raised 43 feet to 558 feet so that the water can flow downhill to Beijing. The government said the rising waters and a need to combat soil erosion necessitated moving 130,000 farmers last year from around the reservoir. Similar relocations are taking place all along the main channel, which runs through four provinces.

About 1,300 residents of Qingshan township have been moved to Xiangbei Farm, desolate land where a prison once stood. The villagers now live in sterile rows of yellow concrete houses 125 miles east of their abandoned ancestral homes. A government sign in the middle of the settlement says: “The land is fertile and has complete irrigation systems.”

The farmers know better. Each person is supposed to get a small plot of land free, but the soil here is well known to be exceedingly poor. The people also complain that in the government’s compensation formula, their old homes were undervalued, so many have had to pay several thousand dollars to buy new homes.

“There’s nothing here,” said Huang Jiuguo, 57. “There’s no enterprise. Our children are grown, and they need something to do.”

For three days last November, thousands of residents of a resettlement area in Qianjiang city blocked roads to protest poorly built homes and lack of promised compensation, according to a report by Radio Free Asia. Officials ordered the police to break up the rally, resulting in clashes, injuries and arrests.

Forced relocations, though, could pale next to larger fallouts from the project.

“We feel that we are still unsure how the project is going to impact on the environment, ecologies, economies and society at large,” said Mr. Du, the geographer in Wuhan, who carefully added he was not outright opposed to the project.

The central question for people in Hubei is whether the Han River, crucial to farming and industrial production hubs, will be killed to keep north China alive.

In a paper published in the Bulletin of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Mr. Du and two co-authors estimated that the diversion project would reduce the flow of the middle and lower stretches of the Han significantly, “leading to an uphill situation for the prevention of water pollution and ecological protection.” Though the study first appeared in 2006, the government has not altered its original plan, Mr. Du said.

Central planners decided on the amount of water to be diverted based on calculations of water flow in the Han done from the 1950s to the early 1990s; since then, the water flow has dropped, partly because of prolonged droughts, but planners have made no adjustments, Mr. Du said. The amount to be diverted is more than one-third of the annual water flow. “That will exert a huge damaging impact on the river,” he said.

The Han River is already facing enormous challenges — industries are discharging more and more pollutants, companies are dredging sand to feed construction needs in nearby cities and algal bloom has hit the river hard. The diversion of water to Beijing will add to the pressures. “If the water quality cannot be ameliorated effectively, the aquatic life populations will be further decimated,” Mr. Du and his co-authors wrote.

The diversion from the Han is necessitating more complex projects to raise water levels. One side diversion brings water from the Yangtze to the Han. Another would bring water from the Three Gorges reservoir to the Danjiangkou reservoir.

Government officials in the south are keenly aware of the changes coming to the Han. In Xiangfan, officials have shuttered some small factories like paper producers and forced others to use more nonpolluting materials, said Yun Jianli, director of the environmental advocacy group Green Han River. “The local government is very concerned about the river and impact of the diversion project,” she said.

The political conflicts are obvious. Mr. Du, a member of the provincial consultative legislature, said officials in Hubei had been in constant negotiations with officials in Beijing for compensation. In the 1990s, the central government proposed a package of water projects valued at $50 million at the time to help Hubei. After rounds of negotiations, the current proposal for supplemental water projects is estimated at more than $1 billion.

The demands of the north will not abate. Migration from rural areas means Beijing’s population is growing by one million every two years, according to an essay in China Daily written last October by Hou Dongmin, a scholar of population development at Renmin University of China. “With its dwindling water resources, Beijing cannot sustain a larger population,” Mr. Hou said. “Instead, it should make serious efforts to control the population, if not reduce it.”

Beijing has about 100 cubic meters, or 26,000 gallons, of water available per person. According to a standard adopted by the United Nations, that is a fraction of the 1,000 cubic meters, or 260,000 gallons, per person that indicates chronic water scarcity.

The planning for Beijing’s growth up to 2020 by the State Council already assumes the water diversion will work, rather than planning for growth with much less water, said Mr. Wang, the former official.

City planners see a Beijing full of golf courses, swimming pools and nearby ski slopes — the model set by the West. [Ohmhygoddess!]

“Instead of transferring water to meet the growing demand of a city, we should decide the size of a city according to how much water resources it has,” Mr. Wang said. “People’s desire for development has no end.”

Li Bibo, Jonathan Kaiman and Jimmy Wang contributed research from Beijing.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The "Capitoline Venus" on Display at National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The lady doesn't get around much.  I'm happy to see the particular artist who did this copy (of a now lost orignal by Praxiteles, called the Aphrodite of Cnidus) used a middle-aged woman for his model.  No 90 pound weakling, this lady! 

Statue Leaves Italy for the First Time Since 1816 for Exhibition at the National Gallery of Art
June 5, 2011

The Capitoline Venus from the Capitoline Museums.
WASHINGTON (AP).- One of the best preserved sculptures from Roman antiquity, the "Capitoline Venus," has left Italy for the first time in nearly 200 years for a special display at the National Gallery of Art.

The installation goes on public view Saturday through early September, the museum announced Thursday. The full-scale female nude statue has only left Rome one other time: when it was seized by Napoleon and taken to France in 1797. It was returned to Rome's Capitoline Museum in 1816 after Napoleon fell from power.

Gallery Director Earl A. Powell III called it a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to see the piece in the United States. It will have a prime spot as a museum centerpiece for the busy summer months.

"The 'Venus' will feel right at home in our West Building Rotunda, which was designed by John Russell Pope and was based on the Pantheon in Rome," Powell said in a written statement.

The sculpture is a descendent from the "Aphrodite of Cnidos" by Greek sculptor Praxiteles around 360 B.C. That sculpture was groundbreaking in art history for its introduction of the large-scale nude female form as a subject.

The statue was unearthed in the 1670s in a garden in the remains of an ancient building, according to historical accounts. The statue was intact, except for the nose, some fingers and a hand that had broken off. It was later reattached. Pope Benedict XIV gave the sculpture to the Capitoline Museum in 1752.

This is the first time it has been lent for exhibition.

The exhibit is part of an effort by Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno to display masterpieces in the United States between 2011 and 2013. It also marks the 150th anniversary of Italy's unification as a single state.

Next week, Washington Mayor Vincent Gray plans to sign a proclamation announcing a new sister city agreement with Alemanno.
According to Wikipedia, the lady is "The Modest Venus."  Bwwwwwaaaaaaahhhhhaaaaaaa!  Yeah, so she's covering her vulva with her hand and "beginning" to cover her breasts with her other hand and arm.  So why didn't she just grab the towel/cloth conveniently laid across the top of the bathing jug right next to her heh?  Modest, my patootey.  Her strategically placed hands draw attention to her feminine attributes rather than disguising them!  Duh! 

I'm more inclined to Barbara G. Walker's interpretation in her Encyclopedia under the listing Pudens and Pudenziana, Saints:

Naive Christian canonization of the symbolic genitalia of Rome's God and Goddess (pudenda).  According to the Christian legend, Pudenziana was the usual virgin convert, a daughter of Pudens, a wealthy patrician.  Peter and Paul lodged in the house of Pudenziana on their (mythical) visit to Rome.  With the help of a holy man named Pastorus (Shepherd), St. Pudenziana soaked up the blood of Christian martyrs in sponges, which she hiod in a well.(1)  The tale was often cited to account for te numerous bottles of martyrs' blood used as healing relics in countless churches.

The well with its holy blood probably meant the yonic "pit" (puteus) in the Forum, where the spirits of blessed ancestors dwelt.  The Shephered Pastorus was a form of the Pyschopomp or Conductor of Souls, sometimes called Shepherd of the Stars.


(1)  Brewster, 250-51. 
Once again I found some absolutely fascinating information at Wikipedia:  The Church of St. Pudenziana is the oldest in Rome.  It was originally built over a 2nd century CE residence and was used as a residence by the early popes.

Get this:  The Peter chapel, on the left side of the apse, contains a part of the table at which Saint Peter would have held the celebration of the Eucharist in the house of Saint Pudens.

Bwwwwwwwaaaaahhhhhhaaaaaaa!  Okay, so I'm pagan jerk for laughing at this, but it's just so damn funny!  Here's the corker - this quote from the late "Roman" 4th century mosaic from inside the "church":  Dominus conservator ecclesiae Pudentianae.

This is translated, according to Wikipedia as:  The Lord is the preserver of the church of Pudenziana.

Hmmmmm, how about this translation:  The Lord keeps Pudens in her sacred house.  In other words, he's a pimp and she's his ho. Not just any ho though, no no no.  She's a sacred ho, ha ha ha.  Ho ho ho.  She got the Ultimate Big Ho in the Ground (hint: the well).  Ho Ho Ho.  Well, I thought it was funny...

This version of Pudenziana had a sister, also a saint -- St. Praxedix or Praxedes, rather than the Shepherd Pastorus referenced in Walker's information on St. Pudenziana.  I was struck by the irony - how similar Praxides sounds to Praxiteles, the sculptor of the Aphrodite of Cnidus, who started this whole post.

And the wheels go round and round...

Beautiful Example of Pre-Hispanic Textile from the Inca Empire

This portion of an "Andean tunic, one of several on display currently at the Met (The Andean Tunic, 400 BCE - 1800 CE, through September 18, 2011, The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing, AAOA Special Exhibition Gallery, 1st Floor) was depicted in an overview of the exhibit in the 2011 Summer Members Catalog. (I scanned the image from the Catalog).  As it was created prior to the Incas' exposure to European invaders, it cannot be said to be a "copy" or "imitation" of a European checkerboard!

I've got a few other examples of South American "checkerboard" patterned textiles from before the Spanish invasion, they are saved on another computer.  I should dig them out of my image archives!

This is one more example of the universality of the checkerboard pattern.  I've seen examples of the checkerboard motif on 8,000 year old pottery from Iran.  The oldest checkerboard pattern I've ever seen is from one of the caves at Lascaux and probably dates to about 17000 BCE.  You can find it in this blog post

Did the checkerboard pattern come over with humans when they moved to the New World (therefore dating to, perhaps, the time of the settlement of people at Monte Verde, Chile some 13,500 years ago, or perhaps some 32,000 years ago, if the dating of the rock shelter at Pedra Furada, Brazil is accepted as authentic)?  Or, was it independently invented by textile weavers, perhaps by several textile weavers, scattered all around North, Central and South America, at some later dates?  And if so, when? 

This is a subject that continues to fascinate me.  It can't come soon enough - my retirement!  Then, assuming I'm still alive and kicking, I'll have time to explore subjects like this in depth.  I've a whole list of them...

Mother India: The Goddess in Indian Painting

A new exhibit is coming to the Met June 29 - November 27, 2011

Florence and Herbert Irving Galleries for the Arts of South and Southeast Asia, 3rd Floor
The image was scanned from the Summer 2011 Members Calendar

Devi, the Indian goddess, is the omnipresent embodiment of power and wisdom given expression in all of India's ancient religions. From the beginnings of figurative representation in early India, she has been the frequent subject of sculpture and a favored subject in later devotional painting. Mother India: The Goddess in Indian Painting, to be presented at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from June 29 through November 27, 2011, will feature 30 works from the Museum's collection that depict Devi in all her various aspects. Perhaps the most widely worshipped deity in all India, Devi stands alongside Shiva and Vishnu in the first rank of the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain pantheons.

The exhibition will present enduring images of the feminine in Indian art from the first millennium BCE through the late 20th century. Devi in her myriad forms—benign, maternal, empowering, and fearsome—expresses the range of human emotions. Later Indian paintings, such as Devi, or the Great Goddess, from 18th-century Bikaner, Rajasthan, show her assuming the form of Durga, displaying the cosmic weapons lent to her by the male gods but standing on lotus flowers, rather than slaying the customary buffalo demon. Saraswati, the benign patron of the arts and learning is represented in a mid-20th-century painting by the artist Srimati.

Sculptural forms range from proto-historic goddess figurines to medieval Durgas of awesome ferocity. These will include rare, early molded clay images of the goddess, such as Goddess with attendants, from Chanduketugarh, in Bengal, dated to the Shunga Period (circa first century BCE). Also on display will be the beautiful 12th-century bronze Yasoda nursing the infant Krishna, from Tamil Nadu, an enduring image of maternal love and very likely a royal commission for use in a private chapel.

Mother India: The Goddess in Indian Painting is organized by John Guy, Florence and Herbert Irving Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art, and Kurt Behrendt, Assistant Curator, in the Metropolitan Museum's Department of Asian Art.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Museum will offer gallery talks that are free with Museum admission.

The exhibition will be featured on the Museum's website at

Who Invented the First Puppets and the Art of Puppetry?

An interesting question -- and perhaps more important, why

The Egyptian Origin of Puppetry and Marionettes
Hoda Nassef Sun, 29/05/2011 - 01:13

Where did this art really begin, and when? Who could say for certain? Up until the present date, and with intensive research, there still is a lot of speculation and controversy. I came up with several documents, after my conversation with the experts at the Drama House, Puppet Theatre, in Cairo, where I met with the main staff; Mr. Mohamed Kishk, a puppet script writer, producer and director as well as the Theatre Director (General Manager); Mr. Emad Gohar, the assistant theatre manager, Mrs. Afaf Sayed El-Khadrawy, the Puppet Theatre’s Information Coordination Manager. I met also Mrs. Nagla Ra’fat, a puppet designer, producer and director – (this attractive 64-year lady has been pensioned off four years ago, but still works as a volunteer at the theatre, out of love and dedication and without any salary). I was also introduced to Mrs. Mohga Mahmoud, who is puppet designer, producer and director.

During the first meeting at the theatre, there was a debate in my presence when we talked about the origin of puppetry. Someone argued that they were originally from Egypt (which I tend to agree to), while someone else said they were originally from Turkey, and a third person present said that they were originally from Greece. However, we all glared at and ignored the fourth person, who declared that they were originally from Romania! Finally, they came collectively to the conclusion that marionettes materialised in Egypt, as far back as the Pharaoh’s Time, while Greece was the founder of “masks”.


In Ancient Egypt, puppets enacted religious rituals. Some were even thrown in the Nile River as an offering, while others were used during the religious celebrations of Isis and Osiris. According to Herodotus, sterile women who wanted to have children participated in parades where legends of progeny and reproduction were played out. Excavations in Old Cairo in 1904 unearthed a complete set of wooden puppets with ivory heads. The “aragoz” (clown) played a major role in reviving literary heritage with stories such as Kalila and Demna, where the stars of the show were mobile animals made of leather. Then came the use of khayal el-dil (silhouettes), which developed into the modern-day puppet show.

As Herodotus describes an Egyptian festival using string-operated figures in a procession, and as he calls these figures neurospasta, then we may say that the word neurospasta refers to these sorts of displays, and not puppet plays, in the sense of theatrical performances. We may also derive from Herodotus that Egypt taught the use of neurospasta to the Greeks, and that the Egyptians invented their use.

Indeed, Herodotus says that much of what Greece has was learnt from the Egyptians. Apart from the string-manipulated puppets, Ancient India too possessed automata. This is attested by Varadpande, referring to the Kamasutra of Vatsayana. Vatsayana mentions puppets with some kind of inbuilt mechanism yantrani. With the help of yantras installed in the puppets, animation is given to them. The existence of mechanised puppets in ancient India can be proved by many literary references.

It is notable that in just this same time frame, in 1211, we have the earliest reference to puppets in Spain from a poem by Girant de Calanso. "The juglar [juggler] (jongleur), says de Calanso, should know how to present puppets (bavastels) and do conjuring tricks (e fey los castells assalhir)". [Mair]

In the Alfonso Manuscript is a miniature where "three Indian seers bring a chess game and a dice game to the Persian king who is portrayed here as a Christian ruler." And around this time, in Persia, we hear of shadow theatre, for the famous Persian poet Omar Khayyam (c. 1050-1123) in his Rubiayat refers to shadow puppet shows.

On the other hand, Metin mentions that "Mediaeval Egyptian shadow puppets [were] discovered in Menzala by Professor Kahle in the early twentieth century…."And, before they came to know shadow theatre, in the 16th century, the Turks enjoyed a long-standing established puppet tradition."

In A Chronological Outline of World Theatre, it indicates that in 1100 "Shadow puppets [were] popular in Egypt", and, "Attar (d.1221), Persian poet, writes of puppet theatre in The Book of the Camel."


Victor H. Mair, in his work Painting and Performance, gives evidence and the probable direction of the diffusion of picture narration out of India to China, Indonesia, Persia, the Middle East, Turkey, and then Europe. The earliest evidence of picture narration in Europe was in Italy in the 10th century AD (these were called "exulted rolls"). So it is safe to say that along with picture narration likely went the Eastern forms of puppetry.


William Dolby, in his article The Origins of Chinese Puppetry, discusses automata and puppetry in China. Perhaps it is a fairly widespread failing to regard the working of simple artificial mechanisms as more wonderful than the commonplace complexities of human movements. This may be why there are, for some periods, more detailed records of automata or ‘fantoccini’ than for hand puppets or marionettes, where human involvement is much more direct and elaborate.

During the years 220-617, it seems clear that water-operated automata of considerable sophistication were known. As Elizabeth I enjoyed her masque on water, so Chinese emperors of various periods were entertained by shows on water, and these sometimes included such automata. There may be a world of difference between automata and manipulative puppetry, but there is evidence for the existence of the latter in China as early as the sixth century A.D. The official history Chiu T'ang-shu, compiled in 945 by Liu Hsu (887-946) and others, says (quote): "K'u-lei-tzu: making wooden models of people and performing plays with them, an excellent medium for song and dance. The latter Ruler of Ch'i, Kao Wei [r. 565-77] was especially fond of them."


One of the earliest Greek references to what is often thought to have been puppets is by Xenophon in his Symposium of 381 BC, supposedly describing a banquet of 40 years before, and the Greek word here usually translated as "puppets" is neurospasta, which literally means "string-pulling", from nervus, meaning either sinew, tendon, muscle, string, or wire, and span, to pull. In the context of this banquet a Syracuse(who is unnamed) employs a young boy and girl who entertain the guests. Since the boy and girl performed dancing and acrobatics, "string (tendon, sinew, or muscle)-pulling" could mean acrobatics in this instance, or even a show of automata - or perhaps, puppets. But considering the Herodotus evidence the reference is most likely to some sort of automata, or primitive puppetry. C. H. Stern discusses this ambiguity: classical antiquity and its exemplary wealth of music and poetry.

European civilization in the Middle Ages was greatly enriched by cultural exchange with the Arabian Emirates in Spain and the passing on of knowledge via Sicily (Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen). George Speaight, in his book The History of the English Puppet Theatre, mentions that: "In the sixth century the Bishop of Alexandria [of the Byzantine Empire] referred to little wooden figures that were shown at weddings, and were moved by some kind of remote control in the actions of dancing."

It is known that medieval churches used automata moved by clockwork mechanisms, to attract the Congregation. Allardyce Nicoll in Masks Mimes and Miracles gives us an early history of puppets in Europe: These, called by various names of which bastaxi, joueurs des basteaux, and juers dels bavastelz, were the commonest, who carried round their small wooden marionettes and gave shows with them.

The art of the puppets had never been lost since the time when Xenophon introduced it at a Greek banquet. Among the entertainments condemned by the Fathers of the Church the neurospasta often figured; Tertullian condemned them under another name, sigillarium. In the Eastern Empire they are found flourishing during the sixth, eighth and twelfth centuries, while in the West there is ample record of their popularity. In the thirteenth century the Proven├žal roman called Flamenca mentions "the play of puppets" lo juec dels banastelz [should be bavastelz?] and in 1317, the Council of Tarragona condemns the bastaxi; while in the fourteenth century and later, references to them are common.


Before this time, around AD 711, the Moslems had conquered almost all of Spain and soon occupied territories in Portugal and France, plus the Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia. They ruled these territories for over 500 years. There are no documents showing when and where Oriental puppets came to Europe, but the example of the history of the game of chess may serve as perhaps the method and path of transference. There exists a Persian manuscript from the 14th century, which describes how an ambassador from India brought chess to the Persian court. "From India, chess made its way to Persia and was thence taken to Europe by the Arab conquerors of medieval Spain" [Grunfeld].

The next European illustrations in history showing puppets come down to us in the Flemish manuscript dated 1344 entitled Li Romans d'Alixandre, in the Bodleian Library. This possesses border decorations, two of which show glove puppets presented from puppet booths practically identical to those used centuries later by English Punch and Judy showmen.

All this proves that puppets of a kind were definitely known by the ancient Greek and Roman civilisations, but were probably only of the dancing and mechanized variety (primitive puppets or automata), as no plays or any descriptions of the puppets are mentioned in the ancient writings to give us any basis for believing that there were puppet plays in the modern sense. Often, there is only the one word neurospasta spoken in passing. In India too, all the supposed references to puppets (e.g., in the Mahabharata) are extremely vague and lacking in detail. When descriptions are given, we see that probably automata displays or very primitive puppet shows are meant.

An ancient Roman reference, written in Latin but using the Greek word neurospasta, is by Gellius in AD 150 who says men are "but a species of ludicrous and ridiculous puppets." So there is a sense that these "string-pulling" marionette acts were looked upon as low entertainment. This is the attitude of most people even today towards puppet shows.

By Hoda Nassef

Prehistoric Egyptian Site Safe - for Now

From the Huffington Post
Egypt's Revolution May Save Neolithic Site That Holds Nation's Oldest Evidence Of Agriculture
Story from Reuters
Posted: 06/ 2/11 11:21 AM ET

LAKE QARUN, Egypt (Reuters) – Egypt's popular uprising may have arrived just in time to save a Neolithic site that holds the country's oldest evidence of agriculture and could yield vital clues to the rise of Pharaonic civilization.

The site lies in a protected nature reserve along the shore north of Lake Qarun that until recently had remained virtually untouched, even though it lies only 70 km (43.50 miles) from Cairo, Egypt's fast-expanding capital.

A month before the protests that toppled President Hosni Mubarak erupted in January, the Egyptian government carved 2.8 square kilometers of prime land from the reserve and awarded it to property developer Amer Group for a tourist resort.

Since Mubarak was ousted, three government ministers who sat on a committee that approved the sale have been jailed while they battle corruption charges not related to the Amer deal.

One of them, Housing Minister Ahmed el-Maghrabi, told Reuters in January that archaeology officials had given the re-development the necessary green light.

Egypt's archaeology chief now says that was untrue.

"I did not give any permission to anyone. The excavations are not finished," Zahi Hawass, head of the Supreme Council for Antiquities, told Reuters.

Property developers have come under increasing public scrutiny for their land purchases from Mubarak's government, and some firms have relinquished tracts of land.

Egyptian conservation groups have decried the Amer deal, saying it was done without proper oversight and that the arrival of large numbers of holidaymakers would wreak heavy damage to a wide swathe of the delicate desert landscape.

"This is the thin end of the wedge. It is the destruction of Egyptian natural heritage for future generations." said Ali Fahmi, director of the conservation group Friends of Lake Qarun. "It sets a precedent in desecrating a protected area."


Egypt's cabinet in 1989 declared 1,110 square km north of the lake a nature protectorate, an area that also contains unique geology, Pharaonic basalt quarries from the Old Kingdom and fossils of early whales and primates.

Archaeologists say the remains of rain-based Neolithic farming in the reserve may hold vital clues to a technological leap that led to irrigation-based farming along the Nile.

Around 4,000 BC, humans occupying a strip along the northern shore of the lake seized a window of only a few centuries of rainfall to grow grain in previously inhospitable desert, archaeologists say.

"We have the evidence of the earliest agriculture activity in Egypt. So it's before the Pharaohs, it's before the early dynastic period when Egypt becomes a state," said Willeke Wendrich, an archaeology professor at the University of California in Los Angeles.

"What we have on the north shore of Fayoum is something unique worldwide. What we have is a Neolithic landscape which, because it's desert, has not been overbuilt," she said in an interview.

Khaled Saad, department manager for prehistory at Egypt's Supreme Council for Anquities (SCA), said that four years ago the Tourism Ministry decided it wanted to build hotels and tourist attractions on a 20 square km (7.723 sq mile) tract stretching 10 km along the lake's northern shoreline.

It formed a committee to approve designating the land for development that included Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, Tourism Minister Zoheir Garranah, Maghrabi and other officials, Saad said.

In December, the Tourism Development Authority (TDA), which is under the Tourism Ministry, awarded Amer Group the land under a 99-year concession, charging $28,000 in the first year, rising to an annual $92,000 in the fourth to 10th years.

Maghrabi said in early January that the SCA had brought in archaeologists to survey the area before the project went ahead.

"It has been completely cleared by the department of antiquities. We made sure of that," Maghrabi told Reuters at the time. "This project was approved several years ago but no progress was going to be made until the department of antiquities finished their work. And they did finish their work."


But Hawass of the antiquities council said the work was still ongoing and he was now demanding a fresh assessment.

"Two weeks ago I asked Khaled Saad to come to me with a report to tell me as an archaeologist what he thinks. And now I asked him that we will appoint a large committee of archaeologists to decide the future of the land," Hawass said.

Saad said the survey mentioned by Maghrabi took place between March 2009 and October 2010 and was designed to see if there were antiquities on the site.

"I proved that there were," he said.

The site holds a wealth of prehistoric remains from mid-Mesolithic period 200,000 years ago to the Pharaonic period and later, said Saad.

They also found the remains of 24 ancient whales that swam in the region's waters 42 million years ago, including one belonging to an entirely new species.

Weindrich said further research in the area is crucial to cast light on the origins of Egyptian civilization.

She said agriculture probably arrived late in Egypt because the technology in use elsewhere in the Near East did not fit with the climate, at least until the short period of rainfall in the Neolithic period.

"We have a big research project going on looking at the climate change in that period," she said.

The Neolithic farming community that appeared around six millennia ago had little material to build with and left no sign of permanent buildings or structures, she said.

"They probably lived in some sort of reed matting huts. But what we do see is a whole pattern on the surface of fireplaces for different purposes -- to make pottery, for the fish, to roast their meat. From that pattern we're trying to understand their activities," Wendrich said.

As the moisture disappeared, the desert winds blew away most of the topsoil. Stone tools, pottery and bones once held in soil a meter deep were now concentrated in a thin surface layer.

"There's a howling wind coming from the north, which means the sand blows away, but the heavy things don't," Wendrich said.

"It's great because we can see it, but it's not so great because if you remove the top centimeter, it's gone forever. That's the precarious situation we're dealing with at the moment."

Shortly after the Neolithic period, irrigation began spreading along the Nile Valley.

"By that time, people were looking at different ways for continuing what they by then they were used to doing for a number of centuries," said Wendrich.

Copyright 2011 Thomson Reuters.

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