Saturday, October 20, 2007

Saturday Night Restless

I didn't have a chance to do my usual Friday Night Miscellany last night, so I thought I'd do a round-up of some interesting things tonight. I'm not in a good mood, darlings. In fact, I've been feeling decidedly prickly today and ready to rip someone's head off - is Sam Sloan near by??? Well, poor Mr. Sloan, perhaps I shouldn't pick on him, he's got enough on his plate just being - him. Geez. How about the Chinese, instead? What a government of asses! Even worse that the Dubya administration (yes, hard to believe, I know). I've written about this before, the practice of female infanticide because of the Chinese "cultural" preference for sons. Some "culture." There's a new "opinion" article out by the Christian Science Monitor: China's surplus of sons: A geopolitical time bomb. Birth ratios of 130 to 140 boys to 100 girls, because of abortions and the revered ancient practice of exposing new-born female infants to the elements and wild animals to die "by natural causes." Expect the restless masses of horny Chinese men to inflict untold horrors on the world in the 21st century. First stop - over the border to Russia - they've always hankered for those blonde-haired, blue-eyed, buxom beauties (we all know they do). Putin, who will be around 90 by then, will have his hands full (darlings, I'm not even going to go there). Couldn't happen to a nicer fella, by the way. Hope I'm dead by then so I won't have to see it. Another interesting "opinion" piece: About that Muslim Letter to the Pope. I don't recall hearing about this - it makes interesting reading. The moral of the story is: Muslims, don't be looking to pick out the piece of straw in the Christians' collective eyes without first plucking out the rafter from your own collective eyes. And if you don't get it, write to me, I'll send you the Bible verse. From the OH PULLLEEEESSEEEEE category, J.K. Rowling, who used to be someone I respected, says the Albus Dumbledore character in her Harry Potter series of books was gay - madly in love, no less, with a man he was ultimately responsible for sending to a lifetime's imprisonment. It's all about "tolerance." Yeah, right. Bankers wary of investment fund rescue effort. Why am I not surprised (yawn....) Signs of slowdown eyed in earnings deluge. Well, DUH! Here's an idea, darlings. Appoint JANXENA (that's me in my piss-ant mood) as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Hey, I've a Bachelor's in Economics and Political Science and I've a Juris Doctor degree, too. What more qualifications do I need, I ask you? Oh - hey - here's something we always wanted to know. Mona Lisa once had eyebrows. Before she went to a cut-rate spa and they used too much wax, that is... Iran minister says U.S. in no position to attack - another asshole. Are he and Dubya twins separated at birth? IRS to poker winners: Pay up! Okay, now we know it's the end of the world as we know it, everyone, locate your cyanide pill and swallow on three, two, one... 'night, darlings. Hope you don't get eaten alive by bed bugs. Yechy!

AIDS Infected Children Pray to Goddess Durga

Soon the Durga Puja will be over for the year. Yahoo! News India Web HIV-hit children offer prayers to Goddess Durga in West Bengal By ANI Friday October 19, 03:00 PM Gobindpur (West Bengal), Oct 19 (ANI): Children suffering from AIDS visited a pandal to offer their prayers to Goddess Durga on the occasion of Durga Puja. It was a momentous occasion for about 80 children who are mentally challenged apart from being HIV positive. Unlike other parts of the country where HIV positive are mostly ostracized, the residents of Gobindpur village in West Bengal mingled freely with these children and enjoyed the fun and frolic. 'Offer', a Non-Governmental Organisation, which runs a residential complex for these children, organised the village festival. The objective of the whole exercise was to spread the message that AIDS is not an infectious disease. "We run a residential programme where abandoned children are kept. They are socially unaccepted. We try to bring them up in congenial environment", saidallol Ghosh, Secretary of NGO. The children started preparations for the festival a month in advance. Attired in their new dresses, they enjoyed full independence. "For five to six days, we try to bring a smile to their faces. We have lunch together, we dance together and also organise some cultural programmes," saidomashree, chief co-ordinator of the NGO. There has been an alarming increase in the number of AIDS cases in West Bengal, which has a population of about 80 million. According to National AIDS Control Organisation estimats, there were 6,941 HIV positive people in West Bengal as of July 2005 of which 2,397 were full blown AIDS patients. India has the world's third highest HIV caseload, after South Africa and Nigeria, with around 2.5 million people living with the virus. The Government said at least 21,000 children are infected every year through mother-to-child transmission of the virus. According to UNAIDS, 60,000 infants are born every year with disease. (ANI)

The Bird Goddess of Senorbi

Excavated from the ruins of a neolithic village, carved from alabaster in Sardinia during the latter part of the 4th millennium BCE.

Her abstract shape, with arms folded and feet together, was typical of the period. The long beak and chevron necklace are ancient bird symbols and are reflected in many examples of female figurines excavated throughout Europe, the Mediterranean area and the Middle East. Its form clearly represents fertility and is very reminicent of the Cycladic style from Greece.

Location of original: National Archaeological Museum of Cagliary (Sardinia), 3200 - 2800 BC

Xu Yuhua Qualifies for 2007 World Cup

China's women world champion qualifies for men's World Cup in Russia 11:14, October 20, 2007 Women's 2006 world chess champion Xu Yuhua of China has qualified for the men's World Chess Cup alongside with other seven Chinese, according to the International Chess Federation (FIDE) website on Friday. The Chinese qualifiers are Xu, Bu Xiangzhi, Wang Yue, Zhang Penxiang, Wang Hao, Zhao Jun, Wen Yang and Ahou Jianchao. World Cup 2007, slated in Khanty-Mansiysk from 23rd of November to 18th of December, will feature 128 chess players from 38 countries and regions having qualified from zonal and continental events, the FIDE stated. Best chess players from Asia, Oceania, Europe, Americas and Africa have qualified for the tournament, including former World Chess Championship Mexico-2007 contenders Levon Aronian of Armenia and Russians Peter Svidler and Alexander Grischuk. According to the FIDE's general statistics, China has 16 men chess grandmasters including Xu, 10 women grandmasters, seven international masters, 10 FIDE masters and five women Fide masters. FIDE still has three wildcards for this event and it will later decide on the passes receivers. Source:Xinhua

Jennifer Shahade to Give Talk

Chess Icon Jennifer Shahade to Lecture on Women in Chess - October 19, 2007 Two-time U.S. women's chess champion and author of "Chess Bitch: Women in the Ultimate Intellectual Sport," Jennifer Shahade will give a lecture titled "Leveling the Chessboard: Women in Competitive Chess" on Sunday, Oct. 21, at 7:30 p.m. The event, which will be held at Griffin Hall, room 3, on the Williams College campus, is free and open to the public. Following the lecture, Shahade will play 20 simultaneous chess games in Griffin 4. Participants who give her the most challenge will receive signed copies of her book. Those interested in signing up should contact Trevor Murphy at Shahade, a Woman Grand Master who has an FIDE rating of 2322, is considered by some to be the strongest female player ever born and raised in the U.S. In 1998, she became the first female to win the U.S. Junior Open. She then proceeded to win the U.S. Women's Chess Championship in 2002 and 2004. Shahade's 2005 book, "Chess Bitch," is a controversial but critically acclaimed investigation of young women in chess today. The book profiles international chess players and explores trends and biases in the game. This Brooklyn-based chess expert is also the web editor in chief for the United States Chess Federation. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications. In 2005, the New York Times carried an op-ed by Shahade, in which she suggests that chess in the U.S. can and should be popularized in a manner similar to the mainstream presentation of poker, a game she also plays competitively. Shahade who holds a B.A. in comparative literature from NYU teaches chess and is involved in performance art.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Board Games - Entertainment for Thousands of Years

A blast from the past: These pastimes go back thousands of years but they’re still keeping families entertained By IVONNE ROVIRA For The Courier-Journal In the Internet age, when we spend countless hours playing videogames, surfing the Web or spinning DVDs on our big-screen home theaters, people can still need a break for some fun and games. How about a little Monopoly tonight? A game of Clue? Parcheesi? "Board games are not only surviving but thriving," says Mark Morris, spokesman for Hasbro, a company that makes many of the most popular games in the world. Though the company doesn’t release exact numbers, "Millions get sold every year," he says. How can such an old-fashioned pleasure live on in today’s fast-paced world? "The reason for that is that, at a time when people have more entertainment options than at any time in our history, they provide a social experience that isn’t matched by any other form of entertainment," Morris says. Ryan Brown, a professor at Illinois State University in Normal, Ill., agrees: "You can get Monopoly for your computer," says Brown, who teaches computer graphics and animation. "You can get Risk for your computer. My son’s a college freshman, and we’ve tried the electronic versions, but it’s a lot more fun to roll the dice yourself." HABIT STARTS EARLY Kids play board games such as Candyland and Hi-Ho Cherry-o even before they learn to read. Such games are children’s first introduction to taking turns, following directions and learning to lose gracefully — more or less. Board games aren’t just an American phenomenon. "Monopoly is sold in 80 countries and 26 different languages," Morris says. According to the Toy Industry Association, $2.09 billion in games and puzzles were sold in 2002, the latest year available. Most board games fall into one of two types: some sort of race to the finish (like Candyland and Parcheesi), or a strategic battle on the board to gain the most (squares, territory, tokens, etc.) or get rid of the most. While new board games come on the market all the time, some games keep selling through the decades. "Trying to keep up with a kids’ world today can be pretty daunting," Morris says. When parents see board games from their childhood, it "can be like finding an old friend." "There’s a feeling of being able to pass along the same games that I loved growing up," he adds. GAMES THROUGH THE AGES What’s the oldest game of all? No one’s quite sure. Among the contenders are chess and Nine Men’s Morris, a game in which pegs are moved around three concentric squares. Chess, of course, is played by millions worldwide now. Once played in Egypt, ancient Greece, Scandinavia and China, Nine Men’s Morris is still played in Great Britain. Board games came before most people could read. Still, the ancient Arabs had books of rules for games. All are now lost, but the Spanish King Alfonso X (who died in 1284) had these books translated into Spanish. The only surviving "The Book of Games" is in a monastery near Madrid, according to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia. Alfonso’s book mentions chess, backgammon and dice, among others. Chess is believed to have originated in Persia or India 4,000 years ago. Its earliest version was very different. Called Chaturanga, it was a dice game for four players. Instead of the king, queen, bishop, rooks and pawns we now use, the original pieces were elephants, horses, chariots and tiny soldiers. By 2,000 years ago, the game had evolved into the chess we know today. Like cards, chess was brought to the New World by Christopher Columbus. Checkers is one of the first games children learn to play. It’s a very old pastime, dating back to 3,000 B.C. Archeologists found a version when excavating the ancient city of Ur in what is now Iraq. The Egyptians called this game Alquerque. Speaking of Egyptians, how important were board games to them? So important that the roof of the temple at Kurna has seven board games cut into it, says Wikipedia. Among them are chess and Nine Men’s Morris. Originally, board games were expensive sets of inlaid wood and carved game pieces. But the rise of cheap printing and mass-produced markers in the early 1800s meant most families could afford them. A GAME OF MORALS S.B. Ives published the first commercially produced American board game in 1843. The Mansion of Happiness was a moralistic game in which good deeds got you closer to eternal happiness, while bad deeds moved you backward. Americans in the 19th century were still a very Puritan lot. Many parents didn’t want their children playing cards or board games with dice because it was too much like gambling, Brown explained. Dice "were the devil’s tools," he said. "There were problems in the early days for accepting games for children" that didn’t teach moral values or something else educational, says Brown, whose hobby concentrates on Parker Brothers games from the 1920s to the 1970s. For example, with the card game Authors, introduced in 1861, "you were learning about books," Brown says. While such an unexciting game is long out of print, The Mansion of Happiness gave a 16-year-old Salem, Mass., boy named George S. Parker the idea of coming up with his own game in 1883. Parker thought games should be fun, not pious. His game was called Banking, and it was just one of over 1,800 games Parker Brothers would produce in its 114-year history. These include Monopoly (1935), Risk (1959), Clue (1949) and Rook (1906), which are still selling today. Monopoly alone has sold more than 20 million copies! (Parker Brothers has been owned by Hasbro since 1991.) One of the games you’ve probably played is older than you think. Milton Bradley’s Game of Life was first published in 1860 as The Checkered Game of Life. The version you know was re-issued in 1960 by the company formed by the lithographer Milton Bradley of Springfield, Mass. Besides The Game of Life, Milton Bradley’s most famous games include Chutes and Ladders (1943), Candyland (1949) and Twister (1966). Like Parker Brothers and Playskool, Milton Bradley is now also owned by Hasbro. When Bradley came up with his version of the Game of Life, he had to be clever to make any sales. For one thing, the game had to have a moralistic message, Morris explained. "He was trying to design a game in Puritanical New England, which thought playing games was a total waste of time," he said. "He couldn’t use dice because that was associated with gambling. He couldn’t use cards because that was associated with tarot card readings. So he used spinners in the four corners of the games." Bradley "believed kids learned more when having fun," Morris said. That’s why he opened the first kindergarten in the United States in Springfield, Mass. The teacher was Bradley’s father, and Bradley’s daughters were the first students.

A Brief History of Scotland Yard

During an 8-hour stop-over in London enroute to Madrid in October, 2002, Don and I took the Tube from Heathrow to Picadilly Circus and took a whirlwind tour of the City. We walked past Great Scotland Yard - he snapped a picture of the street sign (pub sign above, lol). It's not the best photo in the world - it was raining that day (as you can see from all the umbrelllas) and darkish, even though it was only about 1 in the afternoon.

Here's a brief article from the Smithsonian online about Scotland Yard:

Investigating London's famous police force and some of its most infamous cases
By Jess Blumberg, September 28, 2007

The name Scotland Yard invokes the image of a foggy London street being patrolled by a detective in a trench coat puffing smoke from his pipe. But Scotland Yard has an easily muddled history, full of misnomers and controversy. Neither in Scotland, nor in a yard, it is the name of the headquarters of London's Metropolitan Police and, by association, has become synonymous with the force. The Yard doesn't serve the city either, but instead the Greater London area. With all this confusion, it's time to investigate the story of Scotland Yard and some of its most infamous cases, from Jack the Ripper to the 2005 London bombings.

Making the Force
The London police force was created in 1829 by an act introduced in Parliament by Home Secretary (similar to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior) Sir Robert Peel—hence the nickname "bobbies," for policeman. The new police superseded the old system of watchmen. By 1839 these men had replaced the Bow Street Patrols, who enforced the decisions of magistrates, and the River Police, who worked to prevent crime along the Thames.

The responsibility of organizing the new police force was placed on Colonel Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne, who occupied a private house at 4 Whitehall Place, the back of which opened onto a courtyard: the Great Scotland Yard. The Yard's name was inspired by its site, a medieval palace which housed Scottish royalty on their visits to London.

The staff of Scotland Yard was responsible for the protection of important individuals, community patrols, public affairs, recruitment and personnel management. When the Yard sent out its first plainclothes police agents in 1842, the public felt uncomfortable with these "spies" on the streets. But the force's role in several important cases, and the charisma of many of its detectives, helped it win the people's trust.

One such personality, Inspector Charles Frederick Field, joined the force upon its establishment in 1829. He became good friends with Charles Dickens, who occasionally accompanied constables on their nightly rounds. Dickens wrote a short essay about Field, "On Duty With Inspector Field," and used him as a model for the all-knowing, charming Inspector Bucket in his novel Bleak House. Field retired as a chief of the detective branch in 1852.

In 1877, four out of the five heads for the detective branch were brought to trial for conspiring with criminals in a betting scheme. In an effort to repair the force's tarnished reputation, Howard Vincent submitted a restructuring proposal to the force. Soon Vincent was appointed director of criminal investigations and he reorganized Scotland Yard, strengthening its central unit. And with that, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), a respected unit of plainclothes police detectives, was born.

Blood Work
The turn of the century saw many monumental events at Scotland Yard. Britain's "Bloody Sunday" occurred on November 13, 1887, when 2,000 police officers disrupted a meeting in Trafalgar Square organized by the Social Democratic Federation, resulting in more than 100 casualties. A few years later, the force moved to its new building on the Victoria Embankment. The premises became known as New Scotland Yard.

Also during this time, one of Scotland Yard's most durable detectives, Frederick Porter Wensley (a.k.a. "the weasel"), began his 40-year post. Wensley joined the force in 1888, and his career was highlighted with many landmark cases, including the murder of 32-year-old French woman Emilienne Gerard, also known as the "Blodie Belgium" case. On the morning of November 2, 1917, street sweepers found Gerard's torso along with a note reading "Blodie Belgium." Wensley questioned Gerard's lover, Louis Voisin, asking him to write the message "Bloody Belgium." Voisin made the same spelling error, sealing his guilt.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

2007 World Juniors Chess Championship

Final standings for the "girls" under 20: 1 6 WIM Nebolsina Vera 2349 RUS 10.0 2 4 WGM Zawadzka Jolanta 2371 POL 9.5 3 5 WGM Melia Salome 2364 GEO 9.5 4 2 IM Tairova Elena 2391 RUS 9.0 5 1 IM Harika Dronavalli 2480 IND 8.5 6 3 WGM Mongontuul Bathuyag 2389 MGL 8.5 7 13 WGM Arutyunova Diana 2256 UKR 8.5 8 15 WIM Soumya Swaminathan 2244 IND 8.5 9 7 WGM Karavade Eesha Sanjay 2331 IND 8.0 10 8 WGM Vega Gutierrez Sabrina 2331 ESP 8.0 11 16 WIM Dauletova Gulmira 2240 KAZ 8.0 12 10 WFM Guramishvili Sopiko 2305 GEO 8.0 13 27 Priya Panneer Ramachandran 2129 IND 8.0 14 25 WFM Kulon Klaudia 2139 POL 8.0 15 21 WFM Gasik Anna 2191 POL 7.5 16 9 WGM Khotenashvili Bela 2307 GEO 7.5 17 22 WFM Pertlova Sona 2169 CZE 7.5 18 24 Limontaite Simona 2141 LTU 7.5 19 26 WFM Bokuchava Madona 2130 GEO 7.5 20 19 WFM Hoolt Sarah 2199 GER 7.0 21 40 Hairapetian Anna 2030 ARM 7.0 22 12 WIM Gomes Mary Ann 2262 IND 7.0 23 32 Kharatyan Anahit 2102 ARM 7.0 24 17 WFM Borosova Zuzana 2233 SVK 7.0 25 33 Darbinyan Nune 2089 ARM 7.0 26 11 WIM Rudolf Anna 2297 HUN 7.0 27 14 WFM Abrahamyan Tatev 2246 USA 6.5 28 18 Padmini Rout 2226 IND 6.5 29 36 WFM Gevorgyan Irina 2078 UZB 6.5 30 49 Salvador Aices 1927 PHI 6.5 31 35 Tjolsen Katrine 2081 NOR 6.5 32 51 Khalaji Hanieh 1872 IRI 6.5 33 28 Martirosian Lia 2121 ARM 6.5 34 31 Hakimifard Ghazal 2102 IRI 6.5 35 20 WFM Airapetian Tatevik 2193 RUS 6.0 36 39 Kalashyan Varduhi 2059 ARM 6.0 37 44 Alaverdyan Lusine 1990 ARM 6.0 38 50 Van Hoecke Elena 1875 BEL 6.0 39 43 WIM Mona Khaled 2004 EGY 6.0 40 41 WFM Lovece Ruth 2010 ARG 6.0 41 37 Grigorian Marine 2078 RUS 5.5 42 56 Jelsen Yemi 0 INA 5.5 43 29 WFM Bolon Karelle 2103 FRA 5.5 44 23 Markantonaki Haritomeni 2161 GRE 5.5 45 45 Gutierrez Mancillas Alicia Abig 1981 MEX 5.5 46 54 Febriana Nita Nurmala 0 INA 5.5 47 57 Karhanyan Arusyak 0 ARM 5.5 48 42 Zarkua Elisabed 2009 GEO 5.5 49 38 WFM Bayat Shohreh 2076 IRI 5.5 50 48 Karapetyan Lusine 1950 ARM 5.0 51 34 Darbinyan Ani 2085 ARM 5.0 52 47 Hegarty Sarah 1967 ENG 4.5 53 46 Mnatsakanyan Diana 1970 ARM 4.5 54 55 Ghazaryan Narine 0 ARM 4.5 55 30 WFM Hamza Amira 2103 ALG 4.5 56 52 Neric Jelena 1861 MNE 3.0 57 53 Diaz Lopes Genara 1794 CHI 1.5 58 58 Menezes Grasielle da Silva 0 BRA 1.0

Athena, Goddess of the Serpent

The identity between Athena and the snake was explicitly stated in ancient Greece. The historian Herodotus reports that in Athens "they have a great snake which guards the Acropolis and to which each month offerings of honey cake are made, and graciously received. But at the time of the Persian invasion, the snake refused to eat the offering. And when the priestess announced this, the Athenians deserted the city the more readily because the Goddess herself had deserted the acropolis."

However, Archaic Athena is not a Greek goddess, she predates them and her name does not have a Greek etymology. She is an echo of an ancient goddess, perhaps a bird goddess. In the classical Greek period, Athena was associated with an owl, "wisdom" (perhaps a remnant of her bird goddess origins). In poetry from Homer onward, Athena's most common epithet is glaukopis, which is usually translated "bright-eyed" or "with gleaming eyes." It is a combination of glaukos ("gleaming," "silvery," and later, "bluish-green" or "gray") and ops ("eye," or sometimes, "face"). Glaux, "owl," is from the same root, presumably because of its own distinctive eyes. The bird that sees in the night is closely associated with the goddess of wisdom: in archaic images, she is frequently depicted with an owl perched on her head.

Another archaic myth relates that a god named Pallas, with wings attached either to the ankles or to his back, like the archaic winged goddesses, was Athena’s father. He tried to rape her. She killed him and tore his skin off to make the Aegis of "goat skin." A question remains – just what was Athena’s Aegis? In some verisons of her myth, it is the great god Zeus’ shield that comes into Athena’s possession; in other versions of her myth, the Aegis is a cloak or cover, trimmed with serpents (later depicted as "tassles") that she throws over her shoulders and can be used as a protective covering.

The association of the Goddess Athena with the serpent remains for all to see. As stern guardian of the Acropolis, the Goddess is accompanied by the great snake which encircles her shield, thought to be Erichthonios himself - the babe born under "mysterious" circumstances, and nurtured next to the Goddess's own breast, wrapped in her great goatskin.

The red-figure vase featured at the beginning of this article is from ca. 420 BCE. It depicts the birth of the 'Earth-born One' (Erichthonios). Earth (Gaia) presents the new-born child to Athena, who represents the reborn serpent-friendly Eve after the Flood. The figure to the left of Gaia and the child is Hephaistos, the eldest son of Zeus and Hera, the deified Kain. According to one version of the myth surrounding this event, Athena obtained the sperm, or seed, of Hephaistos (Kain), and placed it into the Earth, and out of Earth sprang the rejuvenated line of Kain after the Flood. The essence of ancient Greek religion is very simple. After the Flood, which caused the line of Kain to disappear into the earth, Athena, the reborn serpent-friendly Eve, nurtures the reborn line of Kain which re-emerges from the earth into which it had disappeared. Another, darker version of the myth says Erichthonios is Athena’s own child, born after her father, the winged-God Pallas, raped her.

Notice the checkerboard decoration on Athena's garb: her helmet and cuirass are checked black and white. The helmet is feathered, harking back to Athena’s archaic origins as a bird goddess, and the owl is prominently featured, hovering above Athena’s right shoulder. Although it is a little unclear in the image, the black edging or trim on her gown (possibly meant to represent the Aegis) ends in the heads of two serpents.

Here, all wrapped up in one image: an ancient Goddess associated with the bird, the serpent, wisdom – and the checkerboard pattern. The powerful totemic magic of this prehistoric pattern was repeated over and over in ancient board games drawn into the dirt, used for divination and sacred rituals, and then erased after being used. In a very few cases, bits and pieces of these ancient game boards are still preserved today - in stone boards discovered in ancient tombs, in a few carved wooden boards miraculously preserved through thousands of years in arid climates, and depicted in tomb paintings, on pottery, and in sculpture. The true origins of chess are discovered in such images.

The Importance of Knowing History

A thought-provoking article from Global Politician. Fjordman - 10/16/2007 Europe, 480 BC: "Come and take them!" Leonidas, King of Sparta, to the vastly more numerous Persian forces calling for the Greeks to lay down their arms during the battle of Thermopylae. Leonidas and his men died in battle after holding their ground for three days, but bought the Greek city-states enough time to defeat the Persians and permanently end Persian inroads into Europe. Europe, 2004 AD: "We must be open and tolerant towards Islam and Muslims because when we become a minority, they will be so towards us." Jens Orback, Minister for Democracy, Metropolitan Affairs, Integration and Gender Equality from the Swedish Social Democratic Party during a debate in Swedish radio. Europe, 2006 AD: You stone your mothers Flog your sisters Mutilate your daughters Behind veils But I want to be your friend Norwegian singer Åge Aleksandersen in his song "Æ vil vær din venn" ("I want to be your friend") about his relationship with Muslims. No irony was intended in the lyrics. Henry Ford once famously said that "History is bunk." Personally, I subscribe more to the view of Edmund Burke: "People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors." Knowing your people's history is crucially important when you want to shape your future. Unfortunately, especially in my native Europe, we are either suffering from a deliberate historical amnesia or are being spoon-fed a mixture of half-truths and outright lies. One of the most persistent myths so eagerly promoted by Eurabians is that of the "shared Greco-Roman heritage" between Europeans and Arabs, which is now going to lay the foundations for a new Euro-Mediterranean entity, Eurabia. It is true that countries such as Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Algeria were just as much a part of the Roman Empire as were England or France. However, the Arab conquerors later rejected many elements of this Greco-Roman era once they invaded these nations. As British philosopher Roger Scruton has explained, one of the most important legacies of the Roman Empire was the idea of secular laws, which were unconcerned with a person's religious affiliations as long as he accepted the political authority of the Roman state. This left a major impact on Christian Europe, but was neglected in the Arab Middle East because it clashed fundamentally with the basic principles of sharia, the law of Allah. Scruton calls this "the greatest of all Roman achievements, which was the universal system of law as a means for the resolution of conflicts." The Roman law was secular and "could change in response to changing circumstances. That conception of law is perhaps the most important force in the emergence of European forms of sovereignty." Likewise, it is true that Arabs translated some Greek classics, but they were highly particular about which ones to include or exclude. Historian Bernard Lewis writes in his book What Went Wrong?, page 139:"In the vast bibliography of works translated in the Middle Ages from Greek into Arabic, we find no poets, no dramatists, not even historians. These were not useful and they were of no interest; they did not figure in the translation programs. This was clearly a cultural rejection: you take what is useful from the infidel; but you don't need to look at his absurd ideas or to try and understand his inferior literature, or to study his meaningless history." Iranian intellectual Amir Taheri agrees:"To understand a civilisation it is important to understand its vocabulary. If it was not on their tongues it is likely that it was not on their minds either. There was no word in any of the Muslim languages for democracy until the 1890s. Even then the Greek word democracy entered Muslim languages with little change: democrasi in Persian, dimokraytiyah in Arabic, demokratio in Turkish. (...) It is no accident that early Muslims translated numerous ancient Greek texts but never those related to political matters. The great Avicenna himself translated Aristotle's Poetics. But there was no translation of Aristotle's Politics in Persian until 1963." In other words: There was a great deal of Greek knowledge that could never have been "transferred" to Europeans by Arabs, as is frequently claimed by Western Multiculturalists, because many Greek works had never been translated into Arabic in the first place. Arabs especially turned down political texts, since these included descriptions of systems in which men ruled themselves according to their own laws. This was considered blasphemous by Muslims, as laws are made by Allah and rule belongs to his representatives. Lars Hedegaard, president of the Danish Free Press Society, believes that economic progress hinges on free speech. In the 1760s, a scientific expedition financed by the king of Denmark set out from Copenhagen destined for Egypt, today's Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Persia, Mesopotamia, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Turkey. The objective was to study all aspects of these lands, their culture, history and peoples. Only one participant survived, the German Carsten Niebuhr, whose notes have left us with important information from this period. Notice that this expedition was partly arranged due to Western intellectual curiosity. Ibn Warraq has severely criticized Edward Said and his book Orientalism for ignoring what has been a hallmark of Western civilization: the seeking after knowledge for its own sake: "The Greek word, historia, from which we get our 'history,' means 'research' or 'inquiry,' and Herodotus believed his work was the outcome of research: what he had seen, heard, and read but supplemented and verified by inquiry." This part of the Greek heritage was, again, carefully ignored by Muslims. Carsten Niebuhr's writings leave a powerful impression of a region that was primitive underdeveloped and steeped in Islamic fatalism. This was prior to European colonialism in the area and before the United States had even been created. Western influences thus had nothing had to do with it; the backwardness was caused by local cultural factors. Rest of story.

Spain Blockades Treasure Hunting Ship

Spain forces treasure ship into port in battle over fortune in pieces of eight Fear that Americans have seized national heritage Florida court to rule on 'commercial archaeology' Paul Hamilos in Algeciras Wednesday October 17, 2007 The Guardian A Spanish warship forced a US treasure hunting vessel back into port at gunpoint yesterday as it tried to leave Gibraltar in the latest episode in a battle over what is claimed to be the world's largest recovery of treasure from the sea. The Odyssey Explorer, a 250ft salvage vessel, was trying to leave Gibraltar, where it had been effectively blockaded for three months after Spain claimed a share of millions of dollars worth of gold and silver coins it had recovered. After setting sail, it was approached by a Spanish navy gunboat and civil guard patrol ship once it passed the three-mile "buffer zone" that surrounds Gibraltar and forced to turn round and head for the Spanish port of Algeciras. "We were forced at gunpoint to come to Algeciras," said Ali Nessar, a company representative on the boat. Rest of story.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ray Robson Fund Raiser

From the Chess ace to challenge all comers October 17, 2007 Ray Robson, 12-year-old national chess master from Largo, will visit the Clermont Chess Club to play in a simultaneous exhibition against all challengers at noon Saturday at the Kehlor Building, 466 W. Minneola Ave., Clermont.The purpose of the exhibition is to raise money to support Robson's travels to Turkey from Nov. 17-29 to represent the United States and Florida in the World Youth Chess Championship. A $20 donation is suggested to participate in the exhibition, but anyone is welcome to play for a donation of any amount. The U.S. Chess Federation will provide $800, with another $300 coming from the Florida Chess Association, and Robson's family must make up the difference. The total cost for him to travel to Turkey is more than $5,000. Ray has been an occasional visitor to the Clermont Chess Club since he was 8, and other members have watched his progress.He earned the national master title in January 2006 and has won seven national scholastic titles. He is the son of Gary and Yee-chen Robson of Largo. Details: Paul Leggett, 352-243-8342. ************************************************************************************ I spoke with Mr. Leggett this evening. This is a worthy cause to help our one of our up and coming U.S. chess players. If you would like to contribute to Ray's fund to help him travel to Turkey, please make it payable (if by check) to Gary Robson, c/o Paul Leggett, 14840 Windy Mount Circle, Clermont, FL 34711. Thanks, darlings!

Koneru Humpy - India's Other Chess Prodigy

From Sports Manisha Mohite Wednesday, 17 October , 2007, 16:58 Cerebral calculations may result in combinations on the chessboard but their impact is better reflected in numbers that are periodically released by FIDE, the World Chess Organisation, for it is these that indicate the strength and domination of a chess player. This time around, the October rating list had a strong and special Indian presence perched atop in both the Open and Women's section with Viswanathan Anand crossing the 2800 barrier for the second time and Koneru Humpy also clearing 2600. Humpy incidentally is only the second woman in the history of the game to cross 2600, the other being Judit Polgar of Hungary who at 2709 is ranked 20th in the Open section. This is a major milestone crossed by Humpy as, for all practical purposes, she is the top rated player in women's section as Judit Polgar plays only in open events and has not even tried to compete for the World title in the women's section. The 20-year-old Hyderabadi, with 2606 points, has left the third highest rated player Pia Cramling of Sweden far behind at 2531. Humpy notched up one of her finest performances in the European Club Cup that concluded last week by scoring 5.5 with a whopping 2800 rating performance, which is virtually unheard of in women's chess. Humpy spearheaded her team Cercle d'Echecs de Monte-Carlo to a Gold medal in that event. Humpy is the shy, soft-spoken sort and her presence almost goes unnoticed. But once at the board there are no compromises, no agreed draws and it is here that the fighting spirit, the deadly determination and the thirst for victories completely eclipse her personality off board. Humpy undoubtedly is one of the finest sportspersons India has ever produced but has never hogged media attention. A world junior girls title in which she was the youngest to win in the history of the game at 14-years, the youngest woman to win a GM title at 15-years, four World titles in Age Categories, a semi-finalist at World Cup at just 15 years, two gold medals at the last Asian Games, innumerable tournament victories and it almost seems a shame that she remains an almost unknown personality in this era of brands and brand ambassadors. 'Gun for Gold’ is the strong motto for Humpy as she mentions, “Right now I am heading for the Asian indoor Games at Macau where we will play in Mixed team events in Classical and Rapid Chess and then qualify from there for the Individual events." Interestingly, it was in 1987, when Indian Chess first hit international headlines with Anand becoming the first Asian to be crowned World junior champion, that at Gudivad, Andhra Pradesh, Koneru Ashok and Lata were blessed with a tiny tot, whom they unhesitatingly decided would walk in the footsteps of Anand. The lass was named ‘Hampi’ which was then changed to Humpy by her father to have a 'Russian' feel as most top players were Russian and their names ended with 'y'. There are not many who would risk their all to nurture a talent, especially in a country where academics take precedence over everything else. Ashok, a chemistry lecturer, was himself a national 'B' player and many eyebrows were raised in disbelief when he chucked his job to coach his daughter full time in 1995. What followed later was applause and accolades albeit with a few bitter-sweet memories. The Chalapathi Residential School where Humpy studied provided her facilities to pursue her game while Bank of Baroda sponsored her when she needed the money most. However, later, sponsorship was difficult. But things started to turn for the good and Humpy happily acknowledges, “Most of my monetary worries are over as ONGC has employed me and given me full freedom to pursue the tournaments of my choice". Every rising player attracts admiration for her efforts but then also invites jealousy, wrath and attack for the achievements and popularity. Sometimes these attacks can be scathing, insensitive and destroy a person's self-belief. And Humpy was to learn this lesson at a very early age! One of the most traumatic times for this terrific talent and one that would be a haunting memory for the followers of the game was in August 2002 at Hyderabad when Humpy broke down, crying inconsolably in front of the Sports Minister's house with hundreds of people around. What was to be her moment of glory at becoming the youngest woman to achieve the GM title turned out to be a nightmare. The sceptics, other players and the media doubted the credibility of her GM norms which she had earned in Hungary, found her rating insufficient to complete the technicalities for a GM norm and other allegations also followed suit, that she was afraid of playing Indian players and hence concentrated only on overseas events. This against a child, just 14-years-old, and it was hardly surprising that she entertained thoughts of giving up chess. Sanity however prevailed and she hit out and shut out the harsh criticism in the best way possible – by better and better performances. She however missed out on college life as she decided to opt for open University courses but confesses, “I have now even stopped entertaining that thought and am focusing only on chess.” What is most surprising is that throughout this outstanding career, her father has been her only coach and she has never felt the need for an external coach. Her father has been felicitated with the 'Dronacharya Award’ and Humpy has been conferred the 'Arjuna Award' and the Padmashree. Like most Telugu people, Humpy is fond of movies and actor Chiranjeevi is an all-time favourite As for now, Humpy has her sights firmly focused on the Women's World championship and enhancing her rating further to match up with her idol, Judit Polgar. “I am preparing intensively for the World Championship scheduled sometime in May next year,” she says, with such conviction that it is not difficult to picture her with the crown and India with two ruling World champions, come May!

Has the Curse of the Pharaohs Returned?

An interesting story. From The Daily Mail. Am I cursed by King Tut? By LESLEY-ANN JONES - More by this author » Last updated at 16:42pm on 17th October 2007 Eight years ago I found dusty family heirlooms from the tomb of Tutankhamun. Since then, my life has been one disaster after another... The startling sight the other day of a colossal gold statue of the Jackal-headed god Anubis sailing under Tower Bridge, heralding the return to London of Tut-Mania next month, sent shivers down my spine - but for all the wrong reasons. The boy king's glittering tomb treasures will soon arrive in London from America for a major exhibition. More than 300,000 tickets have already been sold - but I may have to excuse myself from coming face-to-face with him again, for reasons which I shall explain. The eight-metre high image of Anubis, the ancient Egyptian god of the dead, evoked extraordinary memories. I was one of the 1.7 million who braved interminable queues at the British Museum to view Tutankhamun's 3,000-year-old tomb treasures back in 1972. But the statue also had my mind rolling back to another astonishing discovery made more recently, in 1999, which has had extraordinary ramifications in my own life. I am a rational person, but, believe me, it has led me to question my sanity more than once, and to wonder in earnest whether I, in the 21st century, have been the victim of the legendary "Pharaoh's Curse". Of course, in the cold light of day, it sounds somewhat fanciful. Yet the "Curse of Tut" is said to have claimed the lives, fortunes and happiness of scores of people who were involved in British archaeologist Howard Carter's discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922. But though I am no fan of paranormal claptrap, I have nevertheless quaked at times when I think back over the string of disasters which have befallen me since I first handled a collection of obscure objects which had once lain buried with Tutankhamun himself. Rest of story.

Protestor Banned from the British Museum

Great story! Terracotta eco-warrior Andrew Hough, Evening Standard15.10.07 An eco-protester breached security at the British Museum to put face masks on exhibits from the Chinese Terracotta Army. The man jumped barriers to place the masks bearing the slogan "CO2 emission polluter" on two of the life-sized figures to highlight China's poor pollution record. Security guards intervened after they were alerted by other visitors. Martin Wyness, 49, was dragged away from the 2,200-year-old exhibits and has been banned for life from visiting the museum. A Chinese official who travelled with the exhibits was inspecting the soldiers to see if they have been damaged.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Lion of the Goddess Durga

The lion of Durga is a gift from a Greek goddess Arindam Roy Merinews 11 October 2007, Thursday Durga was created by the powers of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. They opened their third eye and she was born. Various gods decorated her with weapons. A Greek goddess’ gift was forgotten, it seems. A report on the evolution of Durga iconography. THE WHITE LION of Mahisasur-mardini (Durga) has been imported from Greece. The lion, as a vehicle, was incorporated in the Durga iconography between sixth century AD and 12th century AD. It was ‘imported’ from (read, gifted by) the Greek goddess, Nanaia. We find occasional representation of Nanaia riding a lion on some Kushan coins and seals. Historians point out that on the basis of the development of the Durga iconography, it might be said that the prominence of the war-goddess grew in 700 years. In the early Kushan period, around first century AD, Durga was a lesser goddess. The terracotta figurines and stone sculptures of this period depict the goddess with two or four hands, wrestling with the demon (Mahisasur), locked in hand to hand combat. Most of these figurines and sculptures were excavated at a site called Sonkh, near Mathura. It forms a rich legacy of the Mathura Art. For 300 odd years, during the Kushan period, the lion is not seen. "The Mahisasur-mardini icon of goddess Durga, as we see it today, evolved in the Gupta period, undergoing changes in iconography. Around this time, we find examples of Devi with eight, 10, 12 and even 16 hands. As her stature grew, her iconography evolved," informed Dr Sriranjan Shukla, the assistant keeper of Allahabad Museum, in an exclusive interview. Durga is the most widely worshipped aspect of Shakti, till today. The Gupta period is a time of transition. Referring to a sandstone relief, of the latter part of the fifth century AD, of a Chandrasala (which were placed outside temples to indicate the ruling deity), we see Mahisasur-mardini combating the asura (demon). It shows the goddess place one of her feet contemptuously on the head of the vanquished demon. She lifts his hindquarters by the tail and pins him down with her Trishul (trident). A short male figure, as her attendant, establishes her glory. He is a gana of Shiva, consort of the goddess. The locks of the gana and the goddess are elaborately treated, in the style of that period. The Kushan artists of the Mathura Art School are credited to conceptualize Mahisasur-mardini, or the form of Durga defeating the buffalo-demon. From a lesser goddess, depicted in terracotta figurines and sandstone relief, she attained glory in the Gupta period. Most of the Puranas were authored in the Gupta period, which was a golden era of Indian art, literature, trade, commerce and polity. It was a time of peace and prosperity. Shukla explained, "The sculpture of the Gupta period is marked by serenity, poise and calm, which is reflected in the face and postures of the images. There are few ornaments. The divine beings are comfortable disposition, as they are in Lalit-asana and Sukha-asana. There is liveliness and energy in the art of this period. Even the standing images are not static. For example, a standing image of Lord Buddha, show a foot raised, knee bent, moving forward. This was the spirit of this era." Dr Sunil Gupta, an art-historian, said, "It was probably in Gupta period, between fourth century AD and sixth century AD that Durga icon was introduced in Bengal. The worship of the female principle is reflected in popular terracotta art, since ancient times, in Bengal. I have seen the famous mother goddess figurines, in terracotta, from the ancient port of Tamralipti (presently, Tamlute, in Midnapore district, West Bengal) in the Ashmoleon Museum, Oxford. This is from the first century AD, and the icon is not that of Durga. It was only natural for the people of the eastern state to accept Durga and assimilate it in their lifestyle." Swami Harshananda, of Ramkrishna Math, in his book, ‘Hindu Gods and Goddesses’, says, "Lion, the royal beast, her mount, represents the best in animal creation. It can also represent the greed for food, and hence the greed for other objects of enjoyment which inevitably leads to lust. To become divine (Devatva) one should keep one’s animal instinct under complete control. This seems to be the lesson we can draw from the picture of the Simhavahini (the rider of the lion)."

2007 World Juniors Chess Championship

From TWIC: 12 of 13 rounds 1 6 WIM Nebolsina Vera 2349 RUS 9.5 2294 2 1 IM Harika Dronavalli 2480 IND 8.5 2292 3 3 WGM Mongontuul Bathuyag 2389 MGL 8.5 2292 4 4 WGM Zawadzka Jolanta 2371 POL 8.5 2279 5 2 IM Tairova Elena 2391 RUS 8.5 2198 6 5 WGM Melia Salome 2364 GEO 8.5 2186 7 16 WIM Dauletova Gulmira 2240 KAZ 8.0 2237 8 8 WGM Vega Gutierrez Sabrina 2331 ESP 7.5 2263 9 13 WGM Arutyunova Diana 2256 UKR 7.5 2229 10 21 WFM Gasik Anna 2191 POL 7.5 2183 11 15 WIM Soumya Swaminathan 2244 IND 7.5 2182 12 27 Priya Panneer Ramachandran 2129 IND 7.5 2128 13 7 WGM Karavade Eesha Sanjay 2331 IND 7.0 2263 14 10 WFM Guramishvili Sopiko 2305 GEO 7.0 2253 15 9 WGM Khotenashvili Bela 2307 GEO 7.0 2191 16 22 WFM Pertlova Sona 2169 CZE 7.0 2171 17 12 WIM Gomes Mary Ann 2262 IND 7.0 2154 18 33 Darbinyan Nune 2089 ARM 7.0 2133 19 24 Limontaite Simona 2141 LTU 7.0 2121 20 25 WFM Kulon Klaudia 2139 POL 7.0 2084 21 26 WFM Bokuchava Madona 2130 GEO 7.0 2068 Don't have the rest of the standings - I'll check tomorrow to see if someone has the final standings for all the female players.

Towering Mysteries

A blast from the past - Smithsonian Magazine Who built them and why? An amateur archaeologist tries to get to the bottom of some astonishing structures in Tibet and Sichuan Province, China By Richard Stone, April 01, 2004 Martine "Frederique" Darragon set out from New York City for the hinterlands of western China and Tibet in 1998 to pursue an interest in the endangered snow leopard when she fell under the spell of another elusive phenomenon: old stone towers, some vaguely star-shaped and some more than 100 feet tall, scattered across the foothills of the Himalayas. Yet when she asked local residents about the towers—Who built them? When? Why?—nobody seemed to have a clue. What she had stumbled upon was rare indeed: a riddle in plain sight. The structures became a near obsession for Darragon, 54, a self-described free spirit who is originally from Paris and boasts an eclectic résumé: an undergraduate degree in economics, founder of an organization that supports education in rural China, star polo player in Argentina, sailboat racer, artist. Over five years, she journeyed nine times to western China, where she saw nearly 200 of the towers in Sichuan Province and Tibet. She photographed and measured them, climbed into them when possible and carved off bits of wooden beams for analysis. She talked to local monks who said they'd found no mention of the structures in centuries-old monastery documents. Still, she did find a few references to the towers in some Chinese annals and, back in European libraries, in the diaries of 19th-century Western travelers to the region. From 2000 to 2003, Darragon shipped pieces of wood from 32 towers to a laboratory in Miami for radiocarbon dating. The procedure yields an estimate of a material's age based on the level of the radioactive element carbon-14 in organic material. Most of the wood samples she had tested are several hundred years old; the towers from which they came are presumably about the same age. But one structure in Kongpo, Tibet, a day's drive from the capital, Lhasa, proved much older. It was likely built between 1,000 and 1,200 years ago, before Mongolian tribes invaded Tibet, around 1240. The dating method isn't definitive and it's possible that the wood used by some tower builders was already very old, in which case the structures may be younger. Still, scholars who've heard about Darragon's amateur archaeological sleuthing (the Discovery Channel aired a documentary about it last November) say it is valuable. "Her most important contribution is the attempt to date the towers," says Elliot Sperling, a Tibet scholar at Indiana University. Local ignorance of the towers' original purpose may trace to the area's history and geography. A millennium ago, the place was dominated by mountain tribes that, over the centuries, have maintained their isolation; in some areas they can barely speak with one another. "People in one valley usually cannot understand what is said in the next valley," says Darragon, who speaks some Mandarin Chinese and some Tibetan. She wonders if knowledge of the towers that was once passed down orally may have been lost as dialects evolved or disappeared. Darragon was especially intrigued by the more than 40 roughly star-shaped towers she encountered. Some have 8 points, others 12. In both configurations, star-shaped towers are rare, scholars say. At least two others can be found in Afghanistan, including the Minaret of Bahram Shah in Ghazni. Darragon speculates that the star shape makes the Chinese structures less susceptible to tremors. "All the people I asked in the villages said the towers resist earthquakes," Darragon says. And, in fact, she found that the only towers still standing in the Kongpo area of Tibet are star-shaped, though it's certainly conceivable that those structures have survived for reasons other than their supposed earthquake resistance. The question remains: Why were they built? One idea is they served a religious function, perhaps representing the dmu cord that, according to Tibetan legend, is said to connect heaven and earth. "The towers might actually symbolize this cord," says Bianca Horlemann, an independent Tibet scholar in Bethesda, Maryland. Alternatively, some scholars suggest the structures were watchtowers or forts. "The towers were built for defense," says Marielle Prins, a linguist with the Southwest Institute for Nationalities in Chengdu, China. "Most of them are from the Jinchuan Wars [of the 18th century] in which the Chinese emperor spent large amounts of silver and human resources to pacify a small part of the Gyalrong area." Eric Mortensen, a Tibet scholar at National Taiwan University, who has traveled in the region, says the structures were "likely used as signal towers." He bases that conclusion on their locations, which generally provide a line of sight from one to another. Finally, the towers might have been status symbols erected by royalty—the Cadillacs of their day. "We can only speculate," says Sperling. "Our knowledge is extremely spotty." Some scholars suggest that the towers are not so mysterious after all. "If there's any mystery surrounding them, it's no doubt partly a product of Western mythology around anything Tibetan and the fact that until recently the Chinese forbade access to the region," says Alex Gardner, a Buddhism specialist at the University of Michigan. "I don’t see how they could be called 'unknown' when they are visible for miles, and the region is crisscrossed with trading routes and now automobile roads." [Jan Note: Spoken like a true, clueless "expert." I didn't see him giving any answers as to the origins, age or purpose of the towers - just a stupid non-sequitur opinion. Typical.] Now that the region is being modernized, Darragon worries that turning the towers into tourist sites too quickly could do more harm than centuries of neglect have done. "Some are being restored in a disastrous way," she says, referring to a few whose crumbling upper reaches have been lopped off. Also, time continues to exact its toll; one of the oldest towers, Darragon says, collapsed last June. So she is trying to convince Chinese and Tibetan authorities, among others, to have UNESCO classify the towers as a World Heritage Site. The designation would likely help protect the towers and raise money to restore them. She is also trying to enlist Sichuan University's help in studying the structures. "Her work might lead to a further opening of the area to scholars," says Sperling. Meanwhile, the peripatetic Darragon is providing herself with an opportunity for more sleuthing by buying a house in a valley in the Kham area of China. The free spirit is settling down—next door to a tower.

Are You Right Brained or Left Brained?

I wouldn't have believed it if I had not tried it for myself. Test and see what you see - is the dancer spinning clockwise - or counter-clockwise? And can you get her to change direction? I was able to - and now I can't get her to reverse! From the Herald Sun.

Board Games Studies 2008 Colloquium

Technical difficulties prevented me from posting last night - blogspot was evidently suffering from PMS. The Board Games Studies Group has put together their 2008 colloquium and this year they have omitted the "call for papers" that has been issued in prior years, opting for "invitation only" presentations. That's too bad; the folks who are interested in board games studies are a small enough group as it is, and closing out others who might not be part of the "regulars" doesn't strike me as conducive to encouraging further research in this cross-disciplinary area. Oh well, what do I know, I'm just a board games patzer without a related degree to my name (a BA in History and a JD don't count). From the line up, this sounds like it's going to be a rip-roaring good time and attendees will be on the edges of their seats eagerly absorbing the latest research and theories to be expounded. Well, that is how it is supposed to work... The 2008 event will be held in beautiful Lisbon, Portugal, hosted at the Museum of Science at the University of Lisbon April 23-26, 2008 Here is the website with a list and particulars of some of the speakers and a more details listing of the program.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Despite Centuries of Foreign Indoctrination, the Goddess Remains

From The Baltimore Sun online
(Photo: Osun Shrine at Sacred Grove)
Nigerians blend beliefs with ancient practices
Associated Press
October 14, 2007
OSHOGBO, Nigeria - Wasiu Olasunkani drops to his knees in the sacred grove, lowers his chin to his chest and turns his palms skyward: a gesture of thanks to a traditional water goddess embodied by the huge stone idol with outstretched arms that sweep over an ancient shrine.

Olasunkani, a Muslim whose 1998 pilgrimage to Mecca fulfilled one of the five pillars of Islam, joins tens of thousands of ethnic Yoruba people each year to pray before the idol and offer libations to her mermaid-like spirit, Osun. Last year, Olasunkani beseeched the goddess for a baby. This year he's thanking her for twin boys, Farook and Cordroy.

"If you want to get a baby, you come here and pray, and you'll certainly have one," said the 46- year-old doctor after finishing his riverside reverie. Speaking of his fellow Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria - 20 million strong and roughly evenly split between Christians and Muslims - he says: "We've been doing this for centuries."

Across West Africa, churches or mosques can be found in virtually every settlement: evidence of deep Christian and Muslim roots sown by the merchants, missionaries and slave traders who brought the religions hundreds of years ago. But also firmly settled in the red soil are indigenous practices that West Africans integrate with the foreign beliefs.

The results may sometimes seem to flout the monotheistic holy books, the Bible and Quran. But many West African faithful say their interpretations are equally valid - although they don't always tell their pastors or imams.

Olasunkani says his prayers to Osun, only one goddess in the Yoruba pantheon, are cultural and shouldn't be considered in conflict with Islam's monotheism.

"I believe that there is God. What I mean is that we should have the fear of God," he says, water still dripping from his face after ablutions in the river also called Osun, near the city of Oshogbo.

"In Saudi, they'll tell you that this isn't good. But God is our creator, and he made everything. If God thought this wasn't good, he wouldn't allow it."

Tunde Osunleti, a Christian also at a recent festival celebrating Osun, agrees.

"Jesus is the one who created this Osun. I just believe we're serving one God," says the 19- year-old artist. "My pastor would say, 'Don't go here.' But my pastor is not my God. I only believe in God, and myself."

In the largely Christian areas farther south, many professed Christians have more than one wife, which tallies with pre-Christian practices where men took on many spouses to ensure survival of the bloodline during times of drought or war.

Some people practice both Islam and Christianity. One taxi driver in Freetown, Sierra Leone, tells of traveling with his first wife to mosque on Friday and his second wife to church on Sunday.

In Nigeria, shrines with old icons abound, with members of many ethnic groups praying to their old gods.

The first visitors who brought Christianity, largely by boat to the coasts, and Islam, to inland areas by camel over the Sahara, tried to end local practices. Their spiritual descendants, now often Africans themselves, are still trying.

Christians, particularly evangelicals, have told some followers to smash the idols near their homes. In Nigeria's Muslim north, some imams tried to end the tribal dances and mask displays.

But the prayers to multiple gods, or treating animals as deities, continues even among self-avowed Christians and Muslims.

Nigerians joke that their notoriously corrupt politicians enter office swearing on the Bible or Quran to uphold the laws of the land, but if they were forced to promise fealty to the law before their local god of thunder, the thievery would end immediately.

While the Yoruba are evenly divided between Muslims and Christians, religious disputes are rare among them, and Islamic extremism virtually unknown. The sheer volume of belief systems forces Nigerians to accept others' practices, lest their own be rejected.

Across Nigeria, members of the two faiths live in close quarters, and when fighting has occurred, ethnic or other considerations have also been a major factor. Usually, uneducated and impoverished young men are cajoled into conflict by cynical leaders.

"Where there's understanding, it helps that we have more than one religion" in Nigeria, says the Rev. Akintunde Popoola, a spokesman for the Anglican Communion in Nigeria. "We must understand each other while holding onto our beliefs. The problems arise when there's not enough understanding, and one religion tries to lord it over another."

While many of the old practices go on in secret, others don't. Each year, upward of 100,000 Yoruba people like Osunleti and Olasunkani travel to a forest in the middle of the southern city of Oshogbo to pray to Osun. Osun, the fable holds, rose from the river to help lead the Yoruba people to the area, and each year hordes of Yoruba people of all ages cram into the riverside glen that has been named a UNESCO world heritage site.

On a recent Friday, throngs of people made their way down into the forest to partake in the festivities, where they give thanks and praises. The festival is so popular that it's broadcast live on national television, sponsored by Nigerian telecommunications and alcohol companies.

"Some people may say we're worshiping idols. But no, this is our heritage and we can't forget it," says Oladunjoye Wasiu, a 25-year-old student standing by the river. "Allah sent the water in the days of our forefathers, so there's a rapport."

2007 World Girls Chess Championship

"Girls" under 21 are competing in Yerevan, Armenia. The official website is a joke, don't both visiting. I got this information from TWIC, which will be updated sometime tomorrow. These are the standings through Round 5: Rank SNo. Name Rtg FED Pts Fide 1 6 WIM Nebolsina Vera 2349 RUS 5 15 2 19 WFM Hoolt Sarah 2199 GER 4 14 3 7 WGM Karavade Eesha Sanjay 2331 IND 4 13½ 4 9 WGM Khotenashvili Bela 2328 GEO 4 13 5 8 WGM Vega Gutierrez Sabrina 2331 ESP 4 12 6 14 WFM Abrahamyan Tatev 2246 USA 4 12 15 WIM Soumya Swaminathan 2244 IND 4 12 8 1 IM Harika Dronavalli 2480 IND 4 11 9 10 WFM Guramishvili Sopiko 2307 GEO 3½ 13 10 3 WGM Mongontuul Bathuyag 2389 MGL 3½ 11 11 4 WGM Zawadzka Jolanta 2371 POL 3½ 10½ 12 17 WFM Borosova Zuzana 2233 SVK 3½ 10½ 13 16 WIM Dauletova Gulmira 2240 KAZ 3½ 10 14 18 Padmini Rout 2226 IND 3 11 40 Hairapetian Anna 2030 ARM 3 11 16 20 WFM Airapetian Tatevik 2193 RUS 3 10½ 17 24 Limontaite Simona 2141 LTU 3 10 18 5 WGM Melia Salome 2365 GEO 3 9 19 21 WFM Gasik Anna 2191 POL 3 9 23 Markantonaki Haritomeni 2161 GRE 3 9 21 59 Yemi Jelsen 0 INA 3 8 22 45 Gutierrez Mancillas Alicia Abi 1981 MEX 3 8 23 37 Grigorian Marine 2078 RUS 3 7½ 24 32 Kharatyan Anahit 2102 ARM 3 7 25 12 WIM Gomes Mary Ann 2262 IND 2½ 10 26 28 Martirosian Lia 2121 ARM 2½ 9 27 13 WGM Arutyunova Diana 2256 UKR 2½ 8½ 28 22 WFM Pertlova Sona 2169 CZE 2½ 8½ 27 Priya Panneer Ramachandran 2129 IND 2½ 8½ 30 29 WFM Bolon Karelle 2103 FRA 2½ 8 31 39 Kalashyan Varduhi 2059 ARM 2½ 6½ 32 25 WFM Kulon Klaudia 2139 POL 2½ 6 33 11 WIM Rudolf Anna 2273 HUN 2½ 6 34 46 Mnatsakanyan Diana 1970 ARM 2½ 5½ 35 33 Darbinyan Nune 2089 ARM 2 7½ 36 36 WFM Gevorgyan Irina 2078 UZB 2 7 54 Ghazaryan Narine 0 ARM 2 7 38 2 IM Tairova Elena 2391 RUS 2 7 39 42 Zarkua Elisabed 2009 GEO 2 6½ 40 26 WFM Bokuchava Madona 2130 GEO 2 6½ 41 57 Nita Nurmala Febriana 0 INA 2 6 42 44 Alaverdyan Lusine 1990 ARM 2 5 49 Salvador Aices 1927 PHI 2 5 44 34 Darbinyan Ani 2085 ARM 2 5 45 43 WIM Mona Khaled 2004 EGY 2 4 46 31 Hakimifard Ghazal 2102 IRI 2 3 35 Tjolsen Katrine 2081 NOR 2 3 48 48 Karapetyan Lusine 1950 ARM 1½ 4 49 47 Hegarty Sarah 1967 ENG 1½ 4 50 38 WFM Bayat Shohreh 2076 IRI 1½ 3½ 51 50 Van Hoecke Elena 1875 BEL 1½ 2½ 52 55 Karhanyan Arusyak 0 ARM 1 5 53 30 WFM Hamza Amira 2103 ALG 1 4 51 Khalaji Hanieh 1872 IRI 1 4 55 53 Diaz Lopes Genara 1794 CHI 1 1 56 41 WFM Lovece Ruth 2010 ARG ½ 1½ 52 Neric Jelena 1861 MNE ½ 1½ 58 56 Menezes Grasielle da Silva 0 BRA 0 0

A Shocking Case of Pollution in China

More than 2 million people use this lake for their source of drinking water. Can you imagine what is going to happen to them, their children, and their children's children? From The New York Times October 13, 2007 In China, a Lake’s Champion Imperils Himself ZHOUTIE, China — Lake Tai, the center of China’s ancient “land of fish and rice,” succumbed this year to floods of industrial and agricultural waste. Toxic cyanobacteria, commonly referred to as pond scum, turned the big lake fluorescent green. The stench of decay choked anyone who came within a mile of its shores. At least two million people who live amid the canals, rice paddies and chemical plants around the lake had to stop drinking or cooking with their main source of water. The outbreak confirmed the claims of a crusading peasant, Wu Lihong, who protested for more than a decade that the region’s thriving chemical industry, and its powerful friends in the local government, were destroying one of China’s ecological treasures. Mr. Wu, however, bore silent witness. Shortly before the algae crisis erupted in May, the authorities here in his hometown arrested him. In mid-August, with a fetid smell still wafting off the lake, a local court sentenced him to three years on an alchemy of charges that smacked of official retribution. Pollution has reached epidemic proportions in China, in part because the ruling Communist Party still treats environmental advocates as bigger threats than the degradation of air, water and soil that prompts them to speak out. Senior officials have tried to address environmental woes mostly through pulling the traditional levers of China’s authoritarian system: issuing command quotas on energy efficiency and emissions reduction; punishing corrupt officials who shield polluters; planting billions of trees across the country to hold back deserts and absorb carbon dioxide. But they do not dare to unleash individuals who want to make China cleaner. Grass-roots environmentalists arguably do more to expose abuses than any edict emanating from Beijing. But they face a political climate that varies from lukewarm tolerance to icy suppression. Fixing the environment is, in other words, a political problem. Central party officials say they need people to report polluters and hold local governments to account. They granted legal status to private citizens’ groups in 1994 and have allowed environmentalism to emerge as an incipient social force. But local officials in China get ahead mainly by generating high rates of economic growth and ensuring social order. They have wide latitude to achieve those goals, including nearly complete control over the police and the courts in their domains. They have little enthusiasm for environmentalists who appeal over their heads to higher-ups in the capital. Rest of the story.

First Calendar in Mesoamerica Was Goddess Centered

From MySAcom

Web Posted: 10/11/2007 05:17 PM CDT
Tracy L. BarnettExpress-News Travel Editor

TAMUIN, Mexico — Deep in the Huastec jungle the enormous carved stone monolith stands, suspended over the pool of water where a team of archaeologists discovered it. A powerful woman stands at the center of the carving, flanked by two smaller decapitated women. A stream of liquid flows from the headless women toward the woman in the center.

The women on each side are thought to represent priestesses, and the liquid represents the life force, while the woman at the center represents Mother Earth; so the priestesses seem to be nurturing the Earth with their life force. The truth is, however, nobody knows for sure what these stones mean.

One thing is fairly certain — because of the recurrence of the number 13, the monolith seems to be a lunar calendar of some sort. That's why it set the archaeological world abuzz with discussion when it was unveiled last November. It is believed to have been created around 600 B.C. — 2,000 years before what was previously the oldest discovered calendar in the Americas, the Aztec Calendar, which dates to A.D. 1400.

"What this discovery did was to force us to stop, turn around and dig deeper into the history of the Huastecan groups to re-evaluate them," said Guillermo Ahuja, the lead archaeologist at Tamtoc who discovered the stone tablet, or Monolith 32, as it's called. "The problem is that there's been so little investigation into the Huastec cultures that we really lack a complete vision."

The discovery was especially surprising given that the Huastec people were thought to be a relatively recent culture. Now archaeologists are wondering whether the Huastecs — or their predecessors, the Proto-Huastecs — might have played a bigger role in the development of Mesoamerica than previously thought. It has also raised questions about whether the Olmecs might have had an influence in the region, since there are cultural similarities, or whether there might have been a third group of people, the so-called Mother Culture, that dominated the area first.

What is known is that Tamtoc was inhabited by a sophisticated people who enjoyed a high standard of living for the time, with one of the most sophisticated hydraulic systems in Mesoamerica. It was first excavated by a group of French archaeologists in the 1960s, but their project was short-lived, and work did not begin on the site in earnest until 2001. It's the only major Huastec archaeological site, and like the Huastec people themselves, it is shrouded in mystery.

The intricate carvings the Huastecs left on the stones leave clues to a culture in which women clearly played a strong role as governors, priestesses and warriors.

"Not just in Tamtoc, but throughout the Potosí region, we have found representations of women dressed as warriors," Ahuja says. "We have a very constant presence of women in the ceramic figurines that have been found, as well as in the stone monuments, which makes me think that the women were participating politically in the decisions of the group. They were an important part of the political life of this society."

The monolith was discovered in a graveyard surrounded by the remains of 84 women — 90 percent of all the remains discovered there. Ahuja has pieced together a story that might explain why.

The monolith seems to have been toppled from its original location, broken into pieces and covered with mud. Ahuja estimates the time period at about the same time that several coastal cities were flooded, probably by a tsunami-type surge, around 300 B.C.

Ahuja believes the sacred tablet was impossible to resurrect, and the people decided to let it lie and create a sacred site where it was buried. The most honored and sacred members of that society were permitted to be buried there. Women became goddesses when they gave birth, and those who died in childbirth were deified, and so they were allowed to be buried along with the Great Mother.

An important item backing this theory was another find: a headless woman's naked figure, carved of limestone and polished to a high sheen. The figure, found in a pool that once stood at the feet of the monolith, was believed to be an offering to the gods. The raised dots on her arms and legs correspond with the number of days in the lunar calendar, according to archaeologist Ricardo Muñoz, while the width of her hips and the fullness of her breasts indicate a woman at the height of her fertility.

With only six years of excavation and analysis behind them, there are many secrets yet to be unearthed, and Ahuja and his team are enormously excited at the possibilities — discoveries that might contradict much of what historians think they already know about ancient Mexican history.

"It really surprised me to learn how little is known about the Huasteca," he said. "It's really the ideal thing for any archaeologist to discover a civilization that nobody knows."
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