Saturday, December 17, 2011

Count-down to Christmas!

I confess, darlings, today I piddled around doing this, doing that, and not really "working."  I posted only a few things here, for instance; I did not research at all; I didn't even work on the family tree that is due next week (gasp!)  Instead, I took a lovely walk early this morning, when the sun was still out, with a fresh quarter-inch of snow on the ground, to Walgreens, to pick up a 50% off wreath hanger and a large pack of AA batteries (20 on sale for $5.99).  I needed them because, you see, yesterday, I succumbed to the magic of the season and brought a pre-lit battery-operated 24" wreath for my front door!

Oh Joy!

I'm so happy!  I haven't had a wreath on the front door in years!  Not since 1996 probably.  The last wreath I had was a first-generation plastic model that I purchased at Walgreens eons ago.  It held it's shape perfectly and had glitter and red berries on it.  It was pretty.  But, alas, I gave it away many years ago to a friend who at the time had little money and two young kids and needed a tree, ornaments, decorations - you name it.  I gave her every decoration I had, including "Christmas Around the World" collector ornaments, a nice artificial tree, the wreath, tons of lights, etc. etc.  Happy to say her kids grew up with my contributions, and despite an occasional twinge of loss every now and then, I was happy to do it.  I didn't get another tree in the house until Mr. Don's first visit - whenever the heck that was (1902??? something like that...)

Anyway, I saw this wreath perhaps two weeks ago when I made a foray to purchase some 60% off ornaments (I know, I know, I swore up and down this year I wouldn't do that, but it's Boston Store and they have such lovely ornaments...)  The wreath was then on sale for $19.99, but since I was already loaded down with a dozen large ornaments and had blown my budget (so I thought at the time), I turned my back on it.

Yesterday we received our year-end bonus checks and I was feeling flush with cash, at least temporarily.  So, at lunch I ran to deposit the check and then I ran even faster to Boston Store in the Shoppes at Grand Avenue and headed for the Christmas area.  Sure enough, ornaments on clearance, but not marked down lower than what I'd previously paid for them.  Drat!  Then, I turned and GASP! there was a tower of boxes of those pre-lit wreaths on sale for the unbelievable price of $9.99.  Originally marked $50.  I know, I know!  Well, darlings, how could I resist?  I couldn't.  I plowed through the tower and picked out a likely looking wreath and hustled it to a check-out.  I toted it home last night on the bus in this gigantic red plastic bag (Santa would fit in this bag, I swear) to await installation.

I put it up this afternoon, one of those putsy things I've spent the day doing.  I managed to figure out how to get the battery case apart (it did not come with written directions, but since they would probably be in Chinese anyway...), insert the batteries, and get the case back into it's "rack."  Fortunately, there is an off-on button on the top part of the battery case that is easy to reach but is disguised behind the "foilage."  The lights are LED so they'll last practically forever but they aren't that dreaded greyish dead white but a nice and bright warm light, surprise surprise!

Back to today -- while I was at my second stop of that nice walk -- the Pick 'n Save -- the florists just happened to be putting out these gorgeous big glittery ornaments for a mere $2 each.  Another "I couldn't resist" purchase.  The single ornament I bought is now adorning my new wreath!

Here's a picture I took earlier this evening, sans flash -- can't figure out how to get the flash turned back on and too lazy to dig out the instruction book for the camera, oh well --

Hmmmm, on second thought, perhaps that particular ornament isn't the best selection for a wreath...
well, on the other hand, this is a Goddess-blessed house and the Hieros Gamos - oh, never mind...

It's staying as it is.  In fact, I just re-hung that center phallic symbol ornament so it's more perfectly centered within the wreath.  In future years I may add a few ornaments or thread some ribbon around it (the wreath, not the phallic symbol ornament), but for this season, I swear to you I'm decorated out!

Before I return upstairs to continue my off-and-on cleaning rounds in the bedrooms, here are the latest photos I could not resist taking of the living room. 

I've got a fire going right now and it's so warm and cozy in here, the flameless candles are flickering (LOL!) and earlier today I pulled out my stuffed grizzly bear (it's tiny, not full size, unfortunately), put a bow on him, and he's sitting on the back of the sofa right now.  I didn't take a picture though because he's away from the light and without a flash on the camera you really can't see him.  I'll grab a pic tomorrow when it's light in here or whenever I get the flash turned back on.  He's so cute!  He's so soft, and cuddly and smooshy - this time of year I'll take comfort wherever I can find it, even from a grizzly bear.

But - avast!  Soon the Winter Solstice will be upon us! And then the days will get longer by a few minutes in the morning, and a few minutes in the evening, each day, all the way to the Summer Soltice in June when it doesn't get dark until close to 9:30 p.m.! 

In the meantime, we combat the dark and the cold with our dressed up "Festival of Lights."  We decorate evergreen trees (real and faux), an ancient symbol of eternal life, with glittering ornaments and lights and every good thing we can think of, including cookies, candies and fruits!  We stuff ourselves with rich foods, cuddle and ponder next to fires, make lots of love (it's no coincidence so many babies are born during the summer, you know) under bundles of warm blankets, and drink lots of hot liquered-up nogs and such.  We busy ourselves (especially we femmes) decorating our homely havens and shopping for the holidays to find that just-so-perfect gift for our special somebodies, and we hum age-old carols under our breath as we cook and bake, even those of us who rarely otherwise cook and bake.  Even if it's crappy.  It's the effort that counts, and the critters outside will always eat it, even if I won't! 

Tree with faux-gifts (except for one real one) now arranged underneath the tree.
I'm loving that new tree skirt and my new jerry-rigged traditional star tree-topper.
Those gift bags cover up the "stem" of the tree nicely.  I think next year
I'm going to elevate the tree on some phone books -- an idea I saw this year
(after the fact) on the internet!  It will make it easier to crawl around underneath and
arrange the tree skirt and gifts!

In this photo you can see the "cardinal" framed pics I added on the right side and underneath the tick-tock on the left.
No close-ups of those!  This is the warm cozy glow of my evening/night-time living room.  As the pillow on the
chair by the fireplace says "It's Good to be QUEEN."

Asian Women's Xiangi Champ Wins Silver in Mind Games

From Vietnam News (English)
Updated December, 17 2011 10:25:00

HA NOI — Asian xiangqi (Chinese chess) champion Ngo Lan Huong received a silver medal in the women's category at the SportAccord World Mind Games 2011 which ended in China yesterday.

Huong earned seven points after drawing with Australia's Liu Bi Jun and beating the US's Take Aki, three points fewer than the host nation's Jin Hai Ying. Liu Bi Jun, who stands behind Huong, earned four points. In this case, the first and second positions were finalised prior to the final round.

In the men's category, Vietnamese master Nguyen Hoang Lam lost his last two games to miss out on a medal. Chinese player Jiang Chuan secured his place as a champion.

International grandmaster Le Quang Liem did not make it to the medal round in blindfolded chess. During the tournament, he defeated Chinese Wang Yue and Cuban Dominguez Perez, drew with Russian Sergey Alexandrovich Karjakin and lost to Ukranian Rusland Olegovich Ponomariov. The Vietnamese master finished in 14th place out of 16 with 6.5 points in rapid chess and in 10th position out of 16 with six points in blitz chess.

With Huong's silver, the Vietnamese delegation stood at the 13th position. The host nation lead the medal tally with eight gold, two silver and one bronze. The US took the second place with four gold, one silver and four bronze while Russia palmed three gold, two silver and one bronze medals. — VNS

From Chessboard Geometry to Geomancy

Not as far as stretch as you might think... 

But first, the article, from the Malaysian New Strait Times:

Mixing chess, feng shui and politics

I have tried picking Christi Hon's brains over a drink a few times but he never fails to intrigue me -- the enigmatic man that he is.

Little was heard of Christi following his disappearance from the Malaysian chess scene in 1989 after winning the national championship a record five times.

After nine years of obscurity, from 2002 to 2010, Christi is back with a new move -- this time wearing the 1Malaysia badge and charging around like a knight with a mission to effect social changes.

But this time you see Christi not as the chess champion but as opinion giver, arguer and adviser.

I inquired where he had been and what he had been up to all these years.

Christi revealed that he had been travelling often to other countries as a feng shui consultant.

I tried putting the pieces of info together -- a chess master becoming a feng shui master, chess geometry making way for geomancy.

Though chess and feng shui are as different as cheese and chalk, Christi has turned out to be master of both.

He said there is something common between them; chess is about predicting the opponent's moves and countering while feng shui is also about looking ahead and taking the right steps.

Christi has represented Malaysia in the World Chess Olympiad in Buenos Aires (Argentina), Lucerne (Switzerland), Thessaloniki (Greece) and Dubai.

He was Malaysia's first Fide Master after earning a rating from the World Chess Federation and also had the distinction of beating Anand Viswanathan, the current world champion from India, in an IM tournament in New Delhi in 1985.

"You really beat Anand Viswanathan?" I asked Christi in a really-I-don't-quite-believe-you tone of voice.

"I thrashed Anand in 30 minutes," he replied.

Wow, I would say that is something great for Christi to thump his chest.

But for Christi, 53, his world is no longer about 64 black and white squares but a political landscape coloured by dark clouds.

Christi says he is ready to speak out for Malaysians. Boldly printed on his calling card is the proclamation: "I am the New Voice of 26 million Rakyat!"

Admitting that he was apolitical when he was a serious chess player in the 1980s, Christi looks at the world differently today.

Away from the chessboard, he sees political pawns, king makers, sacrifices, manoeuvres, and end games of a different kind.

Christi, whose specialty is divination through feng shui, has indicated he is keen to help BN checkmate its rivals in the coming general election. He sees himself as a foreteller who makes predictions for 2012 -- its big conflicts and big changes.
One of the theories about the development of board games is that they arose out of ancient divining techniques and geomancy practices honed by practitioners over thousands of years.  One has only to see the intricate boards drawn in sand or soil for "fox print" divination by a Dogon shaman, or inspect an ancient diagram from a millennium old book on feng shui to see the same geometry at play as that on a modern-day chessboard.  Alas, we have long forgotten the significance and meaning behind the moves, but that meaning is still there, buried in the distant past. 
A typical feng shui bagua, derived from the 64 trigrams of the I Ching.
This image is from Lisa's Blog

A dogon shaman creating a 'board' in the sand for
fox divination.  If blessed by the spirits, a fox will visit the
site overnight, leaving prints behind, that the shaman will
interpret to answer a question put to him by a villager.
Originally this image was at National Geographic online.
Dr. Joseph Needham  spent a lifetime studying ancient Chinese culture and produced a staggering multi-volume study on the development of Chinese science and technology from ancient times forward. Goddesschess has archived two excerpts from volumes by Dr. Needham:

Joseph Needham
PDF (900 Kb) Ch.11

The pseudo sciences and the sceptical tradition

Joseph Needham
1.88 Mb)
Ch. 26
Physics - the Chinese orientation to chess - Ch. 26 Physics, (8) The Magnet, Divination, and Chess, pp. 314-334.

See also:  Thoughts on The Origin of Chess
by Joseph Needham, (Cambridge), 1962

You may find these some fascinating reading.  I have full citations (not at hand or I'd type them in right now) for the book excerpts. I've provided the information to our webmaster from time to time over the years but it's never made its way to the website :)  Such is life.  So, if you should happen across this blog some day and want to use the excerpts to support your research on the ancient origins of chess and need proper citations - and I'm still alive - email me and I'll send you the information. 

More on Imprisoned Afghan Rape Victim

What punishment did the rapist receive for committing "adultery?"  Is the rapist's family shamed in the eyes of society?

Report from

Karzai: Freed rape victim has choice to marry attacker

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 6:36 AM EST, Sat December 17, 2011
Kabul (CNN) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said that a rape victim freed from prison after he intervened on her behalf has the right to make her own choice about whether to marry her attacker.
In an exclusive interview from Kabul, Karzai told CNN's Fareed Zakaria that the woman's case appeared to be a "misjudgment" that had to be resolved.

The woman, identified only as Gulnaz for her own protection, was sentenced to 12 years in prison after she reported that her cousin's husband had raped her.

But the 21-year-old was freed this week following the president's intervention, and is now staying at a women's shelter in Kabul, with the daughter she conceived in the attack and gave birth to in prison.

Her plight attracted international attention when it came out that she had agreed to marry her attacker to gain her freedom and legitimize her daughter. 

Karzai said he had convened a judicial meeting when he came aware of her case. "The issue was discussed in detail, and the right inquiries made. We, on advice from the chief justice and the minister of justice, decided that this was a case, perhaps, of misjudgment and that it has to be resolved, and resolved by giving her a pardon immediately. That's what I did."

Asked whether it was appropriate that Gulnaz should marry her attacker, as some in Afghanistan say, Karzai said it was her choice. "It's up to her to decide who to marry or who not to marry," he said. "And Islam gives her that right."
Looking to the future, Karzai said the West should have confidence in Afghanistan's judicial processes after international forces withdraw. "It's a country that has been troubled a lot. But it is also an old country, with laws and a penal code and judicial history," he said.
"I can assure you that, once the international forces are withdrawn and not as many as there are today, Afghanistan will neither go into a trouble within the country or strife or into miscarriage of justice. I can assure you of that."
After the attack two years ago, Gulnaz hid what happened as long as she could because she was afraid of reprisals. But then she began showing signs of pregnancy and, aged only 19, was found guilty by the courts of sex outside of marriage -- adultery -- and sentenced to 12 years in jail.
A key problem is that Afghan law fails to clearly distinguish between rape and adultery, which is a crime under Sharia, or Islamic law.
And despite the pardon, Gulnaz's future remains unclear in a conservative society where her ordeal is considered to have brought shame on her family. She told CNN from prison last month that she was willing to marry her attacker in order to end her incarceration, though she did not want that option.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Swedish King's Tomb Misidentified

I find this a very interesting article for its implications.  What other mistakes have been made based on the assumption that those who came before us had it right?

Wrong persons found in King´s tomb
Culture | 2011-12-09

King Magnus Ladulas
The Swedish King Magnus Ladulås (1240-1290 a.d.) is buried in the Riddarholmen church (Riddarholmskyrkan) in Gamla Stan, Stockholm. This is at least what everybody have taken for granted...until new facts were presented recently. A new radiocarbon dating of the tomb's content indicates that the content of the tomb comes from the remains of nine persons who were buried some time between 1430 and 1520, i.e. at least 200 years after King Magnus.

It is thus clear now that King Johan II (son of Gustav Vasa) put up the pompous tomb above the wrong grave. The research group around Magnus Ladulås tomb is very excited about their new discovery and want to open a nearby tomb. They write the following on their blog:

"It is a fantastic story that is rolled up in front of our eyes. Johan II had the impressive tomb put up above the wrong grave and this historical hoax has been unchallenged for 400 years! On good grounds we believe instead that Magnus Ladulås was placed in the southern tomb in front of the choir, i.e. the tomb in which King Karl Knutsson placed himself in the 15th century. With the knowledge we have today it is obvious that we have only done half the job. In order to make further progress in this project we need to open also the southern part of the choir-tombs (the tomb of Karl Knutsson) and investigate all individuals there." (Stockholm News translation.)

If the research group's application to open this tomb is accepted by the Royal court of Sweden, it can start in 2014 at the earliest.

Short background about King Magnus Ladulås:

King Magnus Ladulås was the first 'Magnus' to rule Sweden for any length of time. He was king of Sweden 1275-1290.

The name 'Ladulås' is thought to come from his decree of 1279 prohibiting travelling nobles or bishops to demand from the peasant to provide them with food and beds. The word Ladulås is therefore believed to be the name he got after this decree.

Ladulås means "the lock of the barn", i.e. the right of the peasants in Sweden to say no to travelling nobles of enterring their house. Another theory of the name 'Ladulås' is that it refers to his Slavic heritage and would in that case be 'Ladislaus'.

1st SportAccord Mind Games

The event is over and the final results are in.  The last contest was blindfold chess - eek!  This, from the official website:

Time to say goodbye!
Friday, 16 December 2011
The SportAccord World Mind Games are over and in the final day we knew the surprising results of both the men and women events.

The women's World Champion Hou Yifan from China proved again, that she is the best chess player in the world. Her results were brilliant - she was able to clearly win 2 of 3 competitions! Only in the rapid event, where she took 6th place , was this not really sucessful. Anyway, we congratulate the Chinese player with this great results!  [Keep in mind that this event was sponsored by a Chinese company and held in China. I think Hou Yifan's results speak for themselves, but she is not the best female chessplayer in the world and she certainly is not the best chessplayer in the world!]

The Russian former world champion Alexandra Kosteniuk can be proud of her results also. She won the rapid competition and took the 4th and 3rd place in blitz and blindfold accordingly. And last but not least - she was selected as the Ambassador of this games among the other great players and officials of 5 mind sports. We can't even imagine who can do this job better then her. She was brilliant - on the chess board and outside it.

Final standings - Blindfold (Women's)

11GMHou Yifan2578CHN2b06w115b113w14b111w13b½
29GMCmilyte Viktorija2503LTU1w18b½9w111b110w13w04b0
316GMKosteniuk Alexandra2439RUS7b14w010w012b114w12b11w½
46GMDzagnidze Nana2516GEO16w13b111w08b½1w010b12w1
513IMDembo Yelena2468GRE13w½10b½8w07b19b½12w111b1
615IMPaehtz Elisabeth2457GER10w½1b014w½15w113b½9b18w1
78IMZatonskih Anna2506USA3w016b012b15w015b114w113b14
83GMLahno Kateryna2549UKR15b½2w½5b14w½11b½13w16b04
910GMDanielian Elina2497ARM12b111w½2b010b½5w½6w016b1
107GMHarika Dronavalli2512IND6b½5w½3b19w½2b04w014b1
114WGMJu Wenjun2543CHN14w19b½4b12w08w½1b05w03
122IMMuzychuk Anna2562SLO9w014b½7w03w016b15b015w1
135GMStefanova Antoaneta2531BUL5b½15w½16b11b06w½8b07w0
1412GMSocko Monika2479POL11b012w½6b½16w13b07b010w02
1511GMCramling Pia2495SWE8w½13b½1w06b07w016w112b02
1614IMSkripchenko Almira2468FRA4b07w113w014b012w015b09w01

Photo from Chessqueen:

GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, left, and GM Hou Yifan, right, the 12th and
13th Women's World Chess Champions, respectively.  Kosteniuk won gold (blitz)
and bronze (blindfold) medals; Hou won two gold (rapid and blindfold).

Koneru Humpy Playing in 23rd Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB) Inter-Unit tournament

Humpy, Sasikiran to contest in PSPB Chess tourney
Press Trust of India
Last updated on Friday, 16 December 2011 19:27

Mumbai:  India's top chess players, including Grandmasters Koneru Humpy and Krishnan Sasikaran, would vie for team as well as individual honours in the 23rd Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB) Inter-Unit tournament starting on Saturday.

Besides Humpy and Sasikiran, leading players like RB Ramesh, Surya Sekhar Ganguly, Deepak Chakravorty, Nilotpal Das, A Kunte, P Konguvel and V Saravanan - among men - and Nisha Mohota and Anupama Gokhale - among women - will be taking part in the tournament to be held at hosts Hindustan Petroleum's housing complex in suburban Chembur, it was announced at a media conference on Friday.

"This is virtually a national as most of the top players would be taking part in it. Indian Oil Corporation won the team championships last year, while ONGC and Bharat Petroleum Corporation finished second and third in that order," said PSPB's Delhi-based Member Secretary R S Jadeja.

Humpy and Sasikiran will be defending their individual titles too in the five-day tournament in which the teams would play over five rounds and the individuals eight to nine rounds.

"Hindustan Petroleum conducts two inter-unit events in different sports annually and this time we are conducting chess in Mumbai and badminton at Jaipur from January 27-31," said HPCL GM (Industrial Relations) Sandeep Joseph. Though the top performing players would not receive any cash prizes, they would be given gift vouchers and trophies, the organisers said.

The team championship would be fought among the PSPB's 11 members belonging to public sector organisations from the oil, gas and related sectors.

Jadeja said in the near future even private firms dealing in these sectors will become members of PSPB.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Sandstone "Men" of Al-Jouf Province, Saudi Arabia

Enigmatic standing stele of Al-Rajajil

JEDDAH: On a lonely exposed hillside a few kilometers outside the capital of Al-Jouf province, Sakkaka, stand clusters of three-meter high fingers of stone.

Etched with ancient Thamudic graffiti, these monuments to a long extinct culture have maintained their lonely vigil for six millennia. Many have fallen over and others lean at bizarre random angles.
Al-Rajajil (“the men”), the sandstone stele weighing up to five tons each, is popularly called Saudi Arabia’s Stonehenge. They are possibly the oldest human monuments on the peninsula.

Some time in the Chalcolithic, or Copper Age, people living in the area where Al-Jouf is today laboriously erected 54 groups of rudely trimmed stone pillars. Each group contains two to 19 pillars.
At ground level there is no immediately obvious placement of the groups. However, aerial images suggest a rough alignment to sunrise and sunset. There is no positive answer to the question why they are there. An archaeological dig over 30 years ago at the base of one set of pillars failed to turn up any bones or votive offerings, suggesting that religious motives were not the reason.

Political or astronomical reasons are a possibility, though not proven. It is possible that is a landmark for a trade route. Al-Jouf was a significant stopover point on the trade route from Yemen to Mesopotamia. One trade route, the oldest land route in recorded history, ran from Yemen and parallel to the Red Sea coast through Madinah, Al-‘Ula and Madaen Salih. It turned northeast to Al-Jouf and then north toward Damascus and Turkey.

The Arabian Peninsula and Saudi Arabia in particular has hugely rich archaeological wealth. Much can be definitively written into history, but the standing stele of Al-Rajajil remains an enigma.

An Exciting Find in Shaanxi

From the Peoples' Daily Online

Engraved tortoise shells found in Shaanxi

By Jiang Feng (People's Daily)
15:43, December 15, 2011
Edited and translated by People's Daily Online

An archaeological team made up of archaeologists from the School of Archaeology and Museology under Peking University and Shaanxi Archaeological Research Institute has unearthed more than 10,000 tortoise shells at the Zhougong Temple site in Shaanxi province.

These tortoise shells date back to the Western Zhou dynasty and were engraved with nearly 2,600 recognizable characters. A tortoise shell unearthed in late November presents a scene of two people practicing divination simultaneously for the first time.

Lei Xingshan, head of the archaeological team and a professor from Peking University’s School of Archaeology and Museology, said that since the beginning of excavations on the Zhougong Temple site in 2004, they have pieced together the tribal structures during the Shang and Zhou dynasties.

Lei said the unearthed tortoise shells record information about dream interpretation, ancestor worship, troop movements and other matters.
Tortoise shells found in one pit were once used by the Duke of Zhou, also known as Zhou Gong.

“Previously, archaeologists found no more than 1,100 characters engraved on Xizhou tortoise shells. The large amounts of tortoise shells found at the Zhougong Temple site are enough to bring about a qualitative change in the inscriptions study of the Xizhou tortoise shells,” Lei said.

Some prior posts on tortoise shell divination:

Western Zhou Dynasty Tortoise Shell
June 20, 2010

Record Oracle Bones Discovered in China
November 13, 2008

A Feel Good Story: Anonymous Donors Paying Off K-Mart Lay-Aways

There are millions of generous souls out there in this crazy old world - we just don't hear enough about them.  We need more news about the good people in the world and a hell of a lot less about the evil-doers.  Pay it forward; do good unselfishly for others, feel that certain warm glow in your heart, in your spirit.

Anonymous donors pay off Kmart layaway accounts

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The young father stood in line at the Kmart layaway counter, wearing dirty clothes and worn-out boots. With him were three small children.  He asked to pay something on his bill because he knew he wouldn't be able to afford it all before Christmas. Then a mysterious woman stepped up to the counter.

"She told him, 'No, I'm paying for it,'" recalled Edna Deppe, assistant manager at the store in Indianapolis. "He just stood there and looked at her and then looked at me and asked if it was a joke. I told him it wasn't, and that she was going to pay for him. And he just busted out in tears."

At Kmart stores across the country, Santa seems to be getting some help: Anonymous donors are paying off strangers' layaway accounts, buying the Christmas gifts other families couldn't afford, especially toys and children's clothes set aside by impoverished parents.

Before she left the store Tuesday evening, the Indianapolis woman in her mid-40s had paid the layaway orders for as many as 50 people. On the way out, she handed out $50 bills and paid for two carts of toys for a woman in line at the cash register.

"She was doing it in the memory of her husband who had just died, and she said she wasn't going to be able to spend it and wanted to make people happy with it," Deppe said. The woman did not identify herself and only asked people to "remember Ben," an apparent reference to her husband.

Deppe, who said she's worked in retail for 40 years, had never seen anything like it. "It was like an angel fell out of the sky and appeared in our store," she said.

Most of the donors have done their giving secretly. Dona Bremser, an Omaha nurse, was at work when a Kmart employee called to tell her that someone had paid off the $70 balance of her layaway account, which held nearly $200 in toys for her 4-year-old son.  "I was speechless," Bremser said. "It made me believe in Christmas again."

Dozens of other customers have received similar calls in Nebraska, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana and Montana. The benefactors generally ask to help families who are squirreling away items for young children. They often pay a portion of the balance, usually all but a few dollars or cents so the layaway order stays in the store's system.

The phenomenon seems to have begun in Michigan before spreading, Kmart executives said. "It is honestly being driven by people wanting to do a good deed at this time of the year," said Salima Yala, Kmart's division vice president for layaway.

The good Samaritans seem to be visiting mainly Kmart stores, though a Wal-Mart spokesman said a few of his stores in Joplin, Mo., and Chicago have also seen some layaway accounts paid off. Kmart representatives say they did nothing to instigate the secret Santas or spread word of the generosity. But it's happening as the company struggles to compete with chains such as Wal-Mart and Target.

Kmart may be the focus of layaway generosity, Yala said, because it is one of the few large discount stores that has offered layaway year-round for about four decades. Under the program, customers can make purchases but let the store hold onto their merchandise as they pay it off slowly over several weeks.

The sad memories of layaways lost prompted at least one good Samaritan to pay off the accounts of five people at an Omaha Kmart, said Karl Graff, the store's assistant manager. "She told me that when she was younger, her mom used to set up things on layaway at Kmart, but they rarely were able to pay them off because they just didn't have the money for it," Graff said.

He called a woman who had been helped, "and she broke down in tears on the phone with me. She wasn't sure she was going to be able to pay off their layaway and was afraid their kids weren't going to have anything for Christmas."

"You know, 50 bucks may not sound like a lot, but I tell you what, at the right time, it may as well be a million dollars for some people," Graff said.

Graff's store alone has seen about a dozen layaway accounts paid off in the last 10 days, with the donors paying $50 to $250 on each account. "To be honest, in retail, it's easy to get cynical about the holidays, because you're kind of grinding it out when everybody else is having family time," Graff said. "It's really encouraging to see this side of Christmas again."

Lori Stearnes of Omaha also benefited from the generosity of a stranger who paid all but $58 of her $250 layaway bill for toys for her four youngest grandchildren. Stearnes said she and her husband live paycheck to paycheck, but she plans to use the money she was saving for the toys to help pay for someone else's layaway.

In Missoula, Mont., a man spent more than $1,200 to pay down the balances of six customers whose layaway orders were about to be returned to a Kmart store's inventory because of late payments. Store employees reached one beneficiary on her cellphone at Seattle Children's Hospital, where her son was being treated for an undisclosed illness.

"She was yelling at the nurses, 'We're going to have Christmas after all!'" store manager Josine Murrin said.

A Kmart in Plainfield Township, Mich., called Roberta Carter last week to let her know a man had paid all but 40 cents of her $60 layaway. Carter, a mother of eight from Grand Rapids, Mich., said she cried upon hearing the news. She and her family have been struggling as she seeks a full-time job.
"My kids will have clothes for Christmas," she said.

Angie Torres, a stay-at-home mother of four children under the age of 8, was in the Indianapolis Kmart on Tuesday to make a payment on her layaway bill when she learned the woman next to her was paying off her account. "I started to cry. I couldn't believe it," said Torres, who doubted she would have been able to pay off the balance. "I was in disbelief. I hugged her and gave her a kiss."

Scary Headline: Giant Plumes of Methane in Arctic Ocean

From "The Sideshow" at Yahoo News

Giant plumes of methane bubbling to surface of Arctic Ocean
By Eric Pfeiffer | The SideshowWed, Dec 14, 2011

Russian scientists have discovered hundreds of plumes of methane gas, some 1,000 meters in diameter, bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean. Scientists are concerned that as the Arctic Shelf recedes, the unprecedented levels of gas released could greatly accelerate global climate change.

Igor Semiletov of the Russian Academy of Sciences tells the UK's Independent that the plumes of methane, a gas 20 times as harmful as carbon dioxide, have shocked scientists who have been studying the region for decades. "Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of meters in diameter," he said. "This is the first time that we've found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It's amazing."

Semiletov said that while his research team has discovered more than 100 plumes, they estimate there to be "thousands" over the wider area, extending from the Russian mainland to the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.

"In a very small area, less than 10,000 square miles, we have counted more than 100 fountains, or torch-like structures, bubbling through the water column and injected directly into the atmosphere from the seabed," Semiletov said. "We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale — I think on a scale not seen before. Some plumes were a kilometer or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere — the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal."
My first thought upon reading this article was - OHMYGODDESS!  I was pretty sure that methane is produced only by decaying/decomposing organic matter -- I double-checked tonight to make sure -- and the thought that something now is going on in the frigid depths of the Arctic that is releasing this gas is just plain scary to me.  Then I calmed down, and realized that this methane is probably ancient and being released from caches deep in the earth, and that it was created millions of years ago when the earth was much different than it is today.  I certainly hope it's not due to massive die-offs of sea life now rotting away on the floor of the Arctic Ocean...

I have no idea what's going on, but a LOT of methane is now making its way to the surface and being released into our atmosphere.  Maybe it has been doing this for time immemorial, and we're just noticing it now because the ice covering is disappearing and the process has become more obvious!  But, the comments by the scientists about the increasing size of these plumes is particularly disturbing.  Why are the sizes of the plumes increasing

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Treasure Trove! And Evidence for an Unknown King!

From the Guardian

Evidence for unknown Viking king Airdeconut found in Lancashire

201-piece silver hoard from AD900 discovered by a metal detectorist in Silverdale, Lancashire
Maeve Kennedy
Evidence of a previously unknown Viking king has been discovered in a hoard of silver found by a metal detectorist, stashed in a lead box in a field in Lancashire.

The 201 pieces of silver including beautiful arm rings, worn by Viking warriors, were found on the outskirts of Silverdale, a village near the coast in north Lancashire, by Darren Webster, using the metal detector his wife gave him as a Christmas present. It adds up to more than 1kg of silver, probably stashed for safe keeping around AD900 at a time of wars and power struggles among the Vikings of northern England, and never recovered.

Airdeconut – thought to be the Anglo Saxon coin maker's struggle to get to grips with the Viking name Harthacnut – was found on one of the coins in the hoard.

The Airdeconut coin also reveals that within a generation of the Vikings starting to colonise permanent settlements in Britain in the 870s – instead of coming as summer raiders – their kings had allied themselves to the Christian god. The reverse of the coin has the words DNS – for Dominus – Rex, arranged as a cross.

The hoard is regarded as among the best found this century, and the fact that it was never recovered suggests its owner came to an untimely end.

"It was a considerable sum of money, the price of a reasonable herd of cattle, or a very good herd of sheep," Gareth Williams, a coins expert at the British Museum where the hoard is being studied, said. "One arm ring alone would just buy you an ox."

Webster had collected his son from school, and was heading back to work – but he decided to allow himself a few hours in a field where he had been several times before, but never found anything more exciting than a Tudor half groat.

He hit a strong signal almost immediately, and uncovered a sheet of lead only a few inches down – and was slightly disappointed with his find. The lead proved to be crudely folded into a container, and when he lifted it he released a shower of pieces of silver.

"I knew when I saw the bracelets it had to be Viking," he said. "When I heard later there was one coin that nobody had ever seen before, that was a strange feeling."

The find will go through a treasure inquest next week to determine its value. The reward will be shared between Webster and the land owner. The Museum of Lancaster hopes to raise funds to buy the hoard.

The hoard also had coins minted for Alwaldus, who defected to the Vikings in Northumbria after an unsuccessful attempt to claim the English crown from his considerably better known uncle, Alfred the Great. The Vikings allowed him to call himself a king, but he only survived a few years before dying in battle.

There are also Frankish and Islamic coins, but one of the more intriguing would have been worthless to the original owner. Williams explained that silver coins are often found in Viking hoards, which have been tested by clipping or bending: the scruffy little fake, of copper with the thinnest film of silver almost worn away, shows what they were wary of.

One of the arm rings – usually given by leaders to their warriors in return for services rendered and expected – is particularly unusual, combining Irish, Anglo Saxon and Carolingian style ornament.
Another Viking hoard was found in the next parish in the 1990s, and the site is only about 97km (60 miles) from one of the most famous Viking hoards ever uncovered, the 8,600 pieces of silver, 40kg in total, of the Cuerdale hoard. Staff at the British Museum have been working on the definitive account of its discovery by workmen in 1840, and the contents of the treasure – some closely resembling pieces from the Silverdale hoard – are now within months of publication after a mere 130 years devoted to the task.

The British Museum also announced the most recent results for the treasure finds scheme and the portable antiquities scheme , which encourages voluntary reporting by amateurs of less valuable – but historically priceless – finds. A total of 157,188 antiquities finds were reported, and 1,638 treasure finds in 2009 and 2010, up from 19 reported treasure finds in 1988, an indication of the spectacular increase in reporting since a network of finds officers was established across the country. Treasure finds included a bronze age hoard found near Lewes in East Sussex, evidence of the complex trading networks 3,500 years ago: the objects included gold-foil decoration from northern France, amber beads, which may have come from the Baltic, along with "Sussex loop" bracelets, which have only ever been found within an 80km (50-mile) radius of Brighton.


See Art Daily from December 18, 2011 for photograph of one of the coins from the "Silverdale Hoard" and further information. 

Follow-Up on Execution of Saudi "Sorceress"

Prior post.

Saudi Woman Beheaded for 'Witchcraft'

A Saudi woman was beheaded after being convicted of practicing "witchcraft and sorcery," according to the Saudi Interior Ministry, at least the second such execution for sorcery this year.

The woman, Amina bint Abdulhalim Nassar, was executed in the northern Saudi province of al-Jawf on Monday.

A source close to the Saudi religious police told Arab newspaper al Hayat that authorities who searched Nassar's home found a book about witchcraft, 35 veils and glass bottles full of "an unknown liquid used for sorcery" among her possessions. According to reports, authorities said Nassar claimed to be a healer and would sell a veil and three bottles for 1500 riyals, or about $400.
According to the ministry, Nassar's death sentence was upheld by an appeals court and the Saudi Supreme Judicial Council.

Philip Luther, the interim direct of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa program, condemned Nassar's killing, calling it "deeply shocking."

"The charges of 'witchcraft and sorcery' are not defined as crimes in Saudi Arabia and to use them to subject someone to the cruel and extreme penalty of execution is truly appalling," Luther said.

Luther said that a charge of sorcery is often used by the Saudi government as a smokescreen under which they punish people for exercising freedom of speech.

Nassar was not the first person to be executed for alleged witchcraft by the Saudi government this year. In September, a Sudanese man was publicly decapitated with a sword in the city of Medina after he was found guilty of the same crime.

According to Amnesty International, at least 79 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia so far in 2011, more than three times as many as in 2010. The human rights group condemned the kingdom's reliance on capital punishment.

"Where the death penalty is used, under international law it should only be applied to the most serious crimes," Luther said.

The Saudi embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Meryl Streep Interview in Vogue

Full interview.  Here is a fascinating excerpt - and she's do right!

Today Streep is in Washington, D.C., in order to sit for a portrait alongside an honorable, honored, and bipartisan group of women who, like her, support the long-standing (since 1998) campaign for a National Women’s History Museum. So far, this exists as a virtual entity with a nice Web site (, but campaigners have been working to get an actual, physical museum “Right Here. Right Now” (as their literature puts it) on a property on or adjacent to the National Mall. Since this is federal land, Congress must pass legislation to authorize the purchase, even though—get ready to gasp—the whole museum will not cost the taxpayer one penny, because it will be privately funded. For some long years, the wheels of Congress have turned exceedingly slowly on this “women’s issue.” Speeding up now, though with Meryl Streep as the NWHM National Spokesperson. At last year’s fund-raising gala, she donated one million dollars and considerable oratorical punch. NWHM supporters are upbeat, and there she is in the picture, smiling another little half-smile, on the West Lawn. You’d like to have this woman on your side.

In the current financial climate, the ambition to help build a museum from scratch in order to fix the female place in American history may seem less than pressing. Not to Streep. She says it’s extremely important symbolically to tell the story that hasn’t been told “because our history was written by the other team, basically. For instance,” she says, forking at a bread-crumbed oyster, “we are taught about Benedict Arnold, the first traitor in America, but I’ve never heard—until I went onto the museum Web site—about Deborah Sampson, the first woman to take a bullet for her nation. She was 21 years old in the Revolutionary War. She enlisted on the American side under a man’s name, wore boys’ clothing, was cut with a British saber across her forehead, and took a musket ball in her thigh.” She’s a good storyteller, with a warm, urgent voice. “And her compatriots carried her six miles to the doctor’s, and he stitched up her head and she wouldn’t let him take her pants off—because he would discover she was a woman!” So did she die of her wound? “No—she was very good with her needle, so she cut the musket ball out and sewed her own leg up and served another eighteen months. In 1783 she was discharged, went home and had three children.” Sampson was granted £34 by the state of Massachusetts for exhibiting “an extraordinary instance of feminine heroism by discharging the duties of a faithful, gallant soldier, and at the same time preserving the virtue and chastity of her sex unsuspected and unblemished.” Amazing story. “And I am 60 years old and I learn this story,” says Streep. “I should have learned that story in the fourth grade. Because it helps you as a child to know that it is not just Paul Revere riding a horse and calling, ‘The British are coming, the British are coming.’ It’s not just Benjamin Franklin and George Washington and the battles won, it’s the bravery of all these people that are undiscovered, unknown.” She says that since women are great diarists, there is a huge cache of information that just hasn’t made it into the history books or into the halls of importance (a wonderful phrase I never heard before).

1st SportAccord Mind Games

Final Standings - Women's Blitz Championship
Blitz - Women
141GMHou Yifan2578CHN*1½½½½½11101111111½09
82GMStefanova Antoaneta2531BUL0*½½100111½½111½½7
103IMMuzychuk Anna2562SLO½½*1½1½1½½0½1½1½½5
64GMKosteniuk Alexandra2439RUS½½0*1101½0½11½½1916
155GMDzagnidze Nana2516GEO½0½0*½11100½1111907
136GMHarika Dronavalli2512IND½100½*1½½00½½111815
37IMDembo Yelena2468GRE½1½100*101101010807
168GMLahno Kateryna2549UKR00000½0*111111½½06
129IMZatonskih Anna2506USA00½½0½10*½11100175
110GMDanielian Elina2497ARM00½11100½*½10½01715
211WGMJu Wenjun2543CHN1½1½11000½*00½107½5
912IMSkripchenko Almira2468FRA0½½0½½10001*0101604
413GMCmilyte Viktorija2503LTU00000½000111*½1½½4
514GMSocko Monika2479POL00½½00101½½0½*10½3
715IMPaehtz Elisabeth2457GER000½000½110100*1504
1116GMCramling Pia2495SWE0½½0001½0010½10*503
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