Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Boston Globe / With Fischer, Iceland makes a bad move

"By Alex Beam, Globe Columnist | March 29, 2005

REYKJAVIK -- I happened to be vacationing here when chess legend Bobby Fischer flew into town. Fischer was, is -- perhaps ever shall be -- the biggest thing to hit modern Iceland. Because of his dramatic 1972 world championship chess upset of Boris Spassky at Reykjavik's Exhibition Hall, Fischer enjoys a status here rivaling only that of Leif Ericson, the famous Norwegian explorer hailed as a ''son of Iceland' for chauvinistic purposes.

The newest ''son of Iceland,' a freshly minted citizen created by a quick vote of the Icelandic parliament, was very much on display last week. ''Fischer Comes Home' was the improbable rubric used by Icelandic television for its saturation coverage of the prodigal hero's progress from his Tokyo detention cell to a luxury hotel in Reykjavik.

The story line is broadly familiar: Persecuted by small-minded US bureaucrats for violating United Nations sanctions against Yugoslavia -- Fischer played Spassky there in a 1992 rematch -- the chess hero had been run to ground in Japan, which was on the verge of extraditing him to the United States. But plucky little Iceland rescued Fischer from the hated Bush administration warmongers, blah blah blah.

Almost every assumption attached to Fischer's escape to Iceland is wrong. Fischer knowingly flouted United Nations sanctions against Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic's genocidal regime and accepted $3.65 million in prize money from a Milosevic crony. At a press conference, he boasted that he would never pay a penny to the US Treasury, and that in fact he hadn't paid any taxes since 1976. The warrant for his arrest dates to 1992 and spans the previous Bush and Clinton administrations.

More disturbing, the world press has portrayed Fischer as a misguided, eccentric genius, given to popping off occasional, regrettable condemnations of world Jewry. ''That's Bobby," is the refrain heard from his supporters in Iceland, Japan, and elsewhere when he denounces the ''bandit state of Israel," or yammers on about the rights of the ''red man," as he calls the American Indian.

(In a book prominently displayed in several Reykjavik bookstores, ''Bobby Fischer Goes to War," authors David Edmonds and John Eidinow reveal that both of Fischer's parents were Jewish and that he was not the product of a mixed marriage, as previously believed.)

Here is a taste of the real Bobby Fischer, as profiled by Rene Chun in The Atlantic in 2002: ''The Jews are a 'filthy, lying bastard people,' bent on world domination through such insidious schemes as the Holocaust ('a money-making invention'), the mass murder of Christian children ('their blood is used for black-magic ceremonies'), and junk food (William Rosenberg, the founder of Dunkin' Donuts, is singled out as a culprit)."

Here is an excerpt from a radio interview with Fischer broadcast in the Philippines, hailing the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001: ''This is all wonderful news," Fischer announced. ''I applaud the act. The US and Israel have been slaughtering the Palestinians, just slaughtering them for years. Robbing them and slaughtering them. Nobody gave a [expletive]. Now it's coming back to the US. [Expletive] the US. I want to see the US wiped out."

The irony, which I suspect is lost on Fischer's sympathizers both at home and abroad, is that any number of countries in the world would be happy to clap Fischer in irons for hate speech. The United States, which he so loudly reviles, is not one of them.

Iceland, it seems to me from an extremely short acquaintance, is an impressive country whose citizens have made many admirable decisions about how they choose to live. But lionizing Bobby Fischer is not one of them.

Fischer is not a hero, and he is not a persecuted human rights refugee. He is a greedy, manipulative, deranged hatemonger who will be a blight on Icelandic society for years to come. My bet is that Icelanders -- the ''Icelandic creeps," as Fischer called them in 1972 -- will tire quickly of their ''honored guest" and find a reason to honor their extradition treaty with the United States, returning Bobby to his real home.

The sad endgame of Bobby Fischer has begun."

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Beyonce Knowles to play Bob Dylan


"Beyoncé Knowles is on the shortlist to play grizzled protest singer Bob Dylan.

The 'Bootlicious' singer is one of several black female stars being considered to play Dylan in a biopic of his life after the director, Todd Haynes, announced he was searching for a woman to do justice to the white Jewish singer's 'inner blackness'.

Seven actors - including the black woman - will portray Dylan during different eras in his 43-year career, starting in the 1960s when his song, 'The Times They Are Changin' became an anti-war anthem.

Other female stars in line to play Dylan include tennis champion Venus Williams and TV presenter Oprah Winfrey.

Although it is quite common in film biopics for characters to be played by more then one actor, it is extremely rare for them to change sex or race. Haynes, whose previous work has earned him an Oscar nomination, says he wants to hire various actors to take on the role as Dylan was 'too complex' to be played by a conventional actor.

He added: "I am setting out to explode the idea that anybody can be depicted in a single self."

However, producers at Paramount, who will make the film, are not entirely convinced the bold move will pay off.

One said: Dylan has always acknowledged his debt to blues gospel, but critics may say there are other ways of celebrating the African-American musical heritage.

Todd is, however, a serious film maker and we are confident that he will treat it all with respect. We hope."

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The New York Times >From Checking Kings to Influencing Presidents


Garry Kasparov is certain that his place in history as a chess player is secure. But now he says he has a new goal: nothing less than achieving real democracy in Russia.

Since Mr. Kasparov's announcement of his retirement from chess and fresh focus on politics, some in Russia have questioned his prospects and commitment, partly because he has helped found and then abandoned political parties.

Some criticism has followed predictable party lines. In a radio interview, Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, the nationalist leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, dismissed Mr. Kasparov's move as his biggest mistake.

But even some like-minded politicians have raised doubts. Grigory A. Yavlinsky, leader of the Yabloko Party, suggested that Mr. Kasparov had yet to prove his political acumen. "Let him try to create a party, and succeed or fail," he told the magazine Itogi. "And we will talk to him after that."

The Kremlin, not surprisingly, has said nothing.

Mr. Kasparov, who lives in Moscow and has made millions of dollars from chess and endorsements, said he had recently hired bodyguards for himself and his family. His second wife, from whom he is divorced, and his 8-year-old son also live in Moscow, and in June, he plans to marry again.

"Am I scared about our safety?" he asked. "Seriously concerned. It is a dangerous game."

While Mr. Kasparov is concentrating on politics, he is not turning his back on chess. He is writing a book, "How Life Imitates Chess," about applying lessons from the game to everyday decisions. He said he also planned to complete his series, "Garry Kasparov on My Great Predecessors," about chess champions who came before him. The fourth of Mr. Kasparov's 10 planned books, about Bobby Fischer, "Garry Kasparov on Fischer," was published recently by Everyman Chess.

He also plans to continue working with his Kasparov Chess Foundation to promote teaching the game in schools.

And what about playing top-level competitive chess again? "Could I imagine a day in 6 months, or 12 months, when I wake up and say, 'Oh, I can't live without this?' " he said. "It's possible. But I have other things I want to do now."

Still, the pull of competition remains strong. As the interview drew to a close, Mr. Kasparov logged on to his laptop to check results from the Melody Amber tournament in Monte Carlo. Many of the world's best players were there.

"Anand is four out of four," he said, referring to the world's No. 2 player, Viswanathan Anand. "Bravo. He is encouraged now that I am out."

Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting for this article from Moscow.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Scientists Recover Tissue From T. Rex

Excite News: "Mar 24, 6:08 PM (ET)


WASHINGTON (AP) - For more than a century, the study of dinosaurs has been limited to fossilized bones. Now, researchers have recovered 70-million-year-old soft tissue, including what may be blood vessels and cells, from a Tyrannosaurus rex.

If scientists can isolate proteins from the material, they may be able to learn new details of how dinosaurs lived, said lead researcher Mary Higby Schweitzer of North Carolina State University.

'We're doing a lot of stuff in the lab right now that looks promising,' she said in a telephone interview. But, she said, she does not know yet if scientists will be able to isolate dinosaur DNA from the materials.

It was recovered dinosaur DNA - the blueprint for life - that was featured in the fictional recreation of the ancient animals in the book and film 'Jurassic Park.'

The soft tissues were recovered from the thighbone of a T. rex, known as MOR 1125, that was found in a sandstone formation in Montana. The dinosaur was about 18 years old when it died.

The bone was broken when it was removed from the site. Schweitzer and her colleagues then analyzed the material inside the bone.

'The vessels and contents are similar in all respects to blood vessels recovered from ... ostrich bone,' they reported in a paper bring published Friday in the journal Science.

Because evidence has accumulated in recent years that modern birds descended from dinosaurs, Schweitzer said she chose to compare the dinosaur remains with those of an ostrich, the largest bird available.

Brooks Hanson, a deputy editor of Science, noted that there are few examples of soft tissues, except for leaves or petrified wood, that are preserved as fossils, just as there are few discoveries of insects in amber or humans and mammoths in peat or ice.

Soft tissues are rare in older finds. "That's why in a 70-million-year-old fossil it is so interesting," he said.

Matthew Carrano, curator of dinosaurs at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, said the discovery was "pretty exciting stuff."

"You are actually getting into the small-scale biology of the animal, which is something we rarely get the opportunity to look at," said Carrano, who was not part of the research team.

In addition, he said, it is a huge opportunity to learn more about how fossils are made, a process that is not fully understood.

Richard A. Hengst of Purdue University said the finding "opens the door for research into the protein structure of ancient organisms, if nothing else. While we think that nature is conservative in how things are built, this gives scientists an opportunity to observe this at the chemical and cellular level." Hengst was not part of the research team.

John R. Horner of the Museum of the Rockies at Montana State University, said the discovery is "a fantastic specimen," but probably is not unique. Other researchers might find similarly preserved soft tissues if they split open the bones in their collections, said Horner, a co-author of the paper.

Most museums, he said, prefer to keep their specimens intact.

Schweitzer said that after removing the minerals from the specimen, the remaining tissues were soft and transparent and could be manipulated with instruments.

The bone matrix was stretchy and flexible, she said. Also, there were long structures like blood vessels. What appeared to be individual cells were visible.

She did not know if they were blood cells. "They are little round cells," Schweitzer said.

She likened the process to placing a chicken bone in vinegar. The minerals will dissolve, leaving the soft tissues.

The research was funded by North Carolina State University and grants from N. Myhrvold and the National Science Foundation.


On the Net:

Science: http://www.sciencemag.org

Museum of the Rockies: http://museum.montana.edu/

Octopuses Observed Avoiding Predators

"Mar 24, 6:09 PM (ET)


WASHINGTON (AP) - Octopuses, known for using camouflage to avoid predators, have been observed apparently trying to sneak away by walking on two arms while pretending to be a bunch of algae. Two kinds of octopus were seen to use different ways of walking along the sea floor, researchers were reporting in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

The movements were discovered by Christine L. Huffard of the University of California, Berkeley, who was studying underwater video camera tapes of the animals.

Berkeley professor Robert J. Full said Huffard was studying octopus movement as part of a robotics project. He said the researchers use examples from nature in designing robots; one project is to build a soft robot.

Octopuses trying to avoid being eaten usually hold still to camouflage themselves. But by walking on two arms, these two types were able to move quickly while using their other arms to disguise themselves.

Two individuals of O. marginatus from Indonesia wrapped six arms around themselves, looking like a coconut on the sea floor. They ten used the two rear arms to move backward.

In Australia, O. aculeatus was seen raising two arms above its head before lifting four more and moving backward on the two remaining arms. The researchers described it as looking like 'a clump of algae tiptoeing away.'

The researchers believe the octopuses were trying to flee from predators, though they cannot be sure until they have seen more examples of the behavior.

The research was funded by the American Malacological Society and the National Science Foundation.


On the Net:

Science: http://www.sciencemag.org

Video of the walking octopuses is available at: http://wid.ap.org/video/octopus.rm

American Malacological Society: http://erato.acnatsci.org/ams/ "

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Bobby Fischer Freed From Japan

"Mar 23, 10:34 PM (ET)


USHIKU, Japan (AP) - Chess legend Bobby Fischer was freed Thursday from a Japanese detention center and immediately headed for flight to Iceland, bringing to a halt efforts to deport him to the United States.

Fischer, sporting a long, gray beard, jeans and a baseball cap pulled down low to cover his face, left the immigration detention center in this city on Tokyo's outskirts early Thursday morning.

The eccentric chess icon was taken into custody by Japanese immigration officials in July when he tried to leave the country using an invalid U.S. passport.

As he was taken away in a black limousine provided by the Icelandic Embassy, his vehicle was mobbed by a few dozen photographers and reporters. Fischer did not emerge from the car or make any comment.

Fischer was accompanied by his fiancee, Miyoko Watai, the head of Japan's chess association, and an official from the Icelandic Embassy. They were headed for the airport to try and catch an afternoon flight to Denmark en route to Iceland, where he has been granted citizenship.

Fischer was characteristically defiant as he arrived at the airport.

'I won't be free until I get out of Japan. This was not an arrest. It was a kidnapping cooked up by Bush and Koizumi,' he said referring to President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Fischer, who has been held in detention since his arrest, claims his U.S. passport was revoked illegally and sued to block a deportation order to the United States, where he is wanted for violating sanctions imposed on the former Yugoslavia by playing an exhibition match against Russian Boris Spassky in 1992.

This week, Iceland's Parliament stepped in to break the standoff, awarding citizenship to Fischer. Iceland is where Fischer won the world championship in 1972, defeating Spassky in a classic Cold War showdown that propelled Fischer to international stardom.

Fischer, 62, could still face extradition to the United States - Iceland, like Japan, has an extradition treaty with Washington.

Thordur Oskarsson, Iceland's ambassador to Japan, said before Fischer's release that Washington sent a "message of disappointment" to the Icelandic government over its vote to grant Fischer citizenship.

"Despite the message, the decision was put through Parliament on humanitarian grounds," Oskarsson said.

In Washington on Tuesday, the State Department said it had officially asked Japan to hand over Fischer because of the charges against him.

"That's what we've asked for," said Adam Ereli, deputy spokesman for the State Department. "Mr. Fischer is a fugitive from justice. There is a federal warrant for his arrest."

Japan's Foreign Ministry, which has denied that there has been any pressure from Washington, had no immediate comment. The U.S. Embassy also declined to comment.

Tokyo initially refused Fischer's request to go to Iceland, saying Japanese law only allows for Fischer's deportation to the country of his origin. But following Iceland's decision Monday, Japanese Justice Minister Chieko Nono said officials would consider the possibility of allowing Fischer to go there.

Fischer became an icon in 1972 when he dethroned Spassky in a series of games in Reykjavik to claim America's first world chess championship in more than a century.

But a few years later he forfeited the title to another Soviet, Anatoly Karpov, when he refused to defend it. He then fell into obscurity before resurfacing to play the exhibition rematch against Spassky in the former Yugoslavia in 1992.

Fischer won the rematch on the resort island of Sveti Stefan. But the game was played in violation of U.S. sanctions imposed to punish then-President Slobodan Milosevic. If convicted, Fischer, who hasn't been to the United States since then, could face 10 years in prison and a fine of US$250,000.

Fischer also has emerged from silence in radio broadcasts and on his Web page to express anti-Semitic views and rail against the United States."

Japan to let Bobby Fischer go to Iceland-lawyer

"By Linda Sieg

4:28 a.m. March 23, 2005

TOKYO – Japan will release former world chess champion Bobby Fischer, wanted in the United States, so he can go to Iceland where he has been granted citizenship, his lawyer said on Wednesday.

The United States – where Fischer is wanted for violating sanctions against the former Yugoslavia by playing a chess match there in 1992 – has said it was disappointed by Iceland's move and reiterated that Washington wanted Fischer handed over.

Fischer, 62, will be released from detention on Thursday and probably fly out a few hours later, his lawyer, Masako Suzuki told Reuters.

He has been held in Japan since July, when he was arrested for travelling on what U.S. officials said was an invalid passport.

Japanese justice ministry officials were not immediately available to comment.

Iceland's parliament had granted Fischer citizenship on Monday, opening the door for the fugitive American to settle in the tiny North Atlantic republic, where he won the world title in 1972 in a classic Cold War encounter with Soviet champion Boris Spassky, a victory that made him something of a hero in Iceland.

'The formal procedure is finished,' Iceland's ambassador to Japan, Thordur Oskarsson, told Reuters on Wednesday.

'Mr Fischer is a true Icelander now.'

Fischer has used a series of legal moves to fight deportation to the United States, including seeking refugee status, renouncing his U.S. citizenship and unveiling plans to marry his companion Miyoko Watai, a four-time Japan women's chess champion.


Japanese officials have said it was legally possible for Fischer to be deported to Iceland if he had citizenship there.

The United States said on Tuesday that it was disappointed at its ally Iceland's decision to grant Fischer citizenship.
"We would like Mr. Fischer to return to the United States so that the charges that have been filed against him can be properly addressed through our legal system," Linda Hartley, spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Iceland's capital of Reykjavik, told Icelandic television channel RUV.

Iceland has long been a close ally of the United States, and, as the only non-armed member of NATO, depends on Washington for its military defence.

An aide to Icelandic Foreign Minister David Oddsson said the country was helping Fischer because of his "historical connection with Iceland."

Fischer disappeared after the 1992 match, in which he beat Spassky and pocketed $3 million, and did not resurface until after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

In an interview with a Philippine radio station, Fischer praised the strikes and said he wanted to see America "wiped out." Although born to a Jewish mother, Fischer has also stirred controversy with anti-Semitic remarks."

Treasure Trove Of Online Images

The link above is to an article from the Christian Science Monitor, detailing the fact that the New York Public Library has put online a large portion of it's visual collection on the web, at .

Currently at 275,000 images (!), they expect to increase this 500,000 items in the next couple of months. Read the fascinating article to get an idea of what's available.

Dolphins Make Surprise Visit in Israel

"Mar 22, 2:21 PM (ET)


HAIFA, Israel (AP) - Dozens of dolphins arched in line out of the polluted waters of Haifa harbor Tuesday, in an unprecedented visit to the crowded Mediterranean port that surprised and delighted researchers.

Between 40 and 50 of the usually reclusive rough-toothed dolphins appeared in the busy commercial and navy port for what one researcher called 'a lunch break' and appeared to be in no distress.

They were apparently drawn by the fish-rich waters of Haifa Bay. However, the bay is also full of noxious chemicals, and Aviad Sheinin, of Haifa University's Maritime Studies Department, said he hoped they would swim back to sea soon.

'It seems that they are quite relaxed. They don't seem to be stressed,' he said, adding that he did not believe they had been harmed by the pollution.

Israeli TV stations opened their evening newscasts with video of the dolphins diving in the bay, the port facilities in the background.

Haifa Bay is lined by chemical companies that have been pouring toxic waste into the water for decades. While pollution levels have dropped in recent years, the water is still considered a health hazard.

Marine mammal expert Ron Yaffe said the rough-toothed dolphins, so named because of the ridges of enamel that run down their teeth, usually leave the open seas for bays when in need of food and relaxation.

'There are lots of fish in Haifa port. Unfortunately we couldn't tell them (the fish) are not healthy, and I don't know what the consequences will be,' he told Israel Army Radio.

Hundreds of Haifa residents flocked to the Haifa Bay to see the spectacle, and researchers said this provided a rare opportunity to film and study the rough-toothed dolphins.

In addition to the dozens of dolphins that swam into port Tuesday, a similar number stayed outside the breakwater.

Later Tuesday the dolphins left the port but remained near the entrance and Israel's coast guard was patrolling the area to try to make sure the dolphins did not re-enter the toxic waters, Channel Two TV reported.

Relatively little is known about rough-tooth dolphins, which are usually found in deep, warm tropical waters. About 70 beached themselves in the Florida Keys earlier this month, leading the U.S. Navy to investigate if they could have become confused by sonar being used during an exercise in the area.

Haifa is a main base for the Israeli navy, but Sheinin dismissed speculation that sonar could have disoriented the dolphins or damaged their sense of direction. He said some were already starting to head back out to sea.

"They look healthy, they don't look sick," he said. "Maybe they just came here for a lunch break, to relax. I think that they are on their way out now and everything will be back to normal."

Monday, March 21, 2005

Iceland Grants Citizenship for Chess Star

"Mar 21, 1:54 PM (ET)


REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) - Iceland, the country where Bobby Fischer won the world chess championship a generation ago, granted citizenship to the 62-year-old recluse Monday - a boost to Fischer's efforts to fight deportation from Japan to the United States.

Fischer, who is wanted by the United States for violating economic sanctions against the former Yugoslavia by playing a highly publicized match there in 1992, has been in Japanese custody since July 13. He was detained while trying to board a flight with an invalid passport.

Immigration officials in Iceland said a passport for Fischer could be ready as early as Tuesday.

The legislation, which passed with 40 members of parliament voting in favor and two abstaining, took effect immediately. The 21 other members of the Althingi were absent.

Fischer and his supporters have staged several high-profile attempts to fight the deportation order.

'I am very pleased with this and I think that the dignity of the parliament has increased,' said Saemundur Palsson, a Fischer supporter, after the parliamentary vote.

There is widespread support for Fischer in Iceland, and the parliament's approval had been widely expected. The bill went through the required three readings in 12 minutes.

The Japanese government had no immediate official reaction. But Palsson has claimed Japan confirmed it would allow him to go to Iceland if citizenship was granted.

'I hope that he will stop cursing the Americans now, it has gotten him into so much trouble,' Palsson told reporters.

Since being taken into custody, Fischer has repeatedly denounced the U.S. deportation order as politically motivated, demanded refugee status, renounced his U.S. citizenship and said he wants to become a German national.

He also has applied to marry Mikyoko Watai, head of the Japan Chess Association.

Iceland's parliament voted last month against granting Fischer citizenship, offering him a special foreigners' passport and residence permit instead. But Japanese officials declined to release him. Supporters were hoping the new offer of citizenship will resolve the standoff over his status.

Fischer became an icon in 1972 when he dethroned the Soviet Union's Boris Spassky in a series of games in Reykjavik to claim America's first world chess championship in more than a century. But a few years later he forfeited the title to another Soviet, Anatoly Karpov, when he refused to defend it. He then fell into obscurity before resurfacing to play an exhibition rematch against Spassky in the former Yugoslavia in 1992.

Fischer won the rematch on the resort island of Sveti Stefan. But the victory came with a high price - It was played in violation of U.S. sanctions imposed to punish then-President Slobodan Milosevic. If convicted, Fischer, who hasn't been to the United States since then, could face 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

Fischer also has emerged from silence in radio broadcasts and on his Web page to express anti-Semitic views and rail against the United States.

A federal grand jury in Washington, meanwhile, is investigating possible money-laundering charges involving Fischer, Richard J. Vattuone, one of his lawyers said this month.

Fischer was reported to have received $3.5 million from the competition in the former Yugoslavia. He boasted at the time that he didn't intend to pay any income tax on the money."

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Southern Excursion

After nearly 5 years of being largely homebound, Teresa and I took a brief vacation together to Orlando at the beginning of this month. Ah, the joys of running your own business!

Following are some excerpts from my journal...

Yesterday we went to the Titanic Museum, or more properly the Titanic 'Experience', which houses a recreation of the Grand Staircase -- down to the inch -- as well as several berths, corridors, the main screw, etc. A tour took place, the first half of which was hosted by a third-class passenger, the second by John Jacob Astor himself.

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Entrance to Titanic Experience

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Teresa at the foot of the Grand Stairway

A nice feature is that one's admission ticket is a semi-reproduction of a passenger ticket from the fateful voyage itself. Included on it is biographical information about who 'you' are. In my case, it was 3rd-class passenger Ernst Ulrik Persson, aged 25, from Stockholm, Sweden. A chauffeur, he traveled with his sister Elna and niece Telma, and his wife and two children were to join him later (more can be read at the Encyclopedia Titanica).

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My ticket as Ernst Ulrik Persson

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A 1st Class stateroom

Coincidentally, during our tour -- consisting of about 35 people -- the guide asked who had Persson's ticket. When I identified myself, he pointed out some the recovered personal items of my doppleganger, which included ticket, receipt of some kind and suitcase (I mentioned to the guide that I was *sure* I'd purchased a 1st-class ticket). As I look at the brochure for the 'Experience', they also mention Captain Smith and Molly Brown as tour guides, but I guess they were vacationing themselves.

The tour took about an hour, filled with the expected facts and figures about the ship itself as well as descriptions of the events leading to, and following the collision with the iceberg.

In a semi-mockup of the bridge and helm, the description of the horrendous water and air temperature of that night were graphically -- and tactilely -- brought home by an iceberg model made of ice. We were asked to hold our palms against the model for a mere 15 seconds, which brought a modicum of understanding to us of the survivor's accounts of being frozen yet simultaneously feeling 'on fire'. How anyone survived the several hours until rescue is amazing.

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John Jacob Astor at the helm, standing before the recreated iceberg

A reconstruction of one of the typical life vests was on display, which contained a series of hand-sewn pockets, each of which held a block of hard cork for buoyancy. Passengers were advised not to jump into the ocean if the jump was more than 10 feet. Tragically, many were forced to jump from much greater heights and the reason behind the admonition became apparent -- although not to them -- as the force of impact would drive the vest up into the jaw, instantly snapping the neck. Apparently a great number of passengers perished in this manner, and all things considered, perhaps it was a blessing in disguise.

Throughout the tour, various sounds of shipboard life were played in the background, from the thrum of the engines, the blaring of the whistle, the yells and screams of the terrified passengers, and the music of the heroic musicians playing 'Nearer My God to Thee' as the ship was in its death throes.

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Teresa admires her new dress

Not unexpectedly, the final destination of the tour was to the gift shop, where my only temptation was a walking stick like that which Mr. Astor had sported. It unscrewed into three sections for easy storage, and additionally housed secret compartments containing a compass and a stoppered vial for a spirited libation after a strenuous walk.

My main interest actually was to show the proprietor (as our guides disappeared immediately upon completion of their duties) the fountain pen I'd especially chosen for the trip, and with which this journal account is written -- a Visconti Titanic! I explained to him how the clip represented the ship, locked into the immovable line of fate, inexorably headed toward the clip's jewel -- the iceberg. He seemed impressed but was perhaps only being polite.

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Barrel of the Visconti Titanic fountain pen

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Closeup of the clip showing the ship, the lines of fate, and the iceberg 'jewel'

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Arabian Nights

Monday night we drove to Kissimmee, to the Arabian Nights dinner theater. The show featured sixty horse (thirteen breeds) and about thirty human performers, with a story loosely based on Sheherazade (daughter of the Sultan in our story), who was to marry a prince -- with the help of a genii and a black stallion (allied to help keep her out of the clutches of an evil lord). The story line and display were focused on a five-year-old level, but the horsemanship was impressive.

For some reason we were seated in the 'preferred' section, right next to the 90,000 sq. ft. circular arena. The total cost, with a passable dinner (all the beer, wine coffee and soda you could drink) came to $90.00 for the two of us, and the show lasted about an hour and forty-five minutes.

It was particularly interesting for me to see after having just read The Man Who Listens to Horses by Monty Roberts, one the true 'horse whisperers', who trains horses through speaking their language -- which he dubbed Equus -- not through using fear, pain and intimidation. It was neat to be able to read some of the horses' body language (the vocabulary of Equus), such as chewing motions and ear position, which I would never have been aware of prior to reading the book. The horses were largely directed with slender poles and leads, and I saw only one instance of a spurred rider. Overall, they seemed to be well cared for and treated with respect. They seemed to want to perform and please, which is indicative of proper training.

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The Black Stallion, Sheherazade and the Prince

Mention is made in the Arabian Nights' brochure of 'Walter Farley's black stallion' -- a very impressive and talented performer during our show. Farley was the author of the famous children's book The Black Stallion, and many sequels. I'm not sure of the connection, other than perhaps use of the name in the show, although Farley lived in Florida and perhaps gave his blessing before his death in 1989.

Seating in the arena is for thirteen-hundred and it was near capacity on the night we attended. The gift shop, which I visited after the performance, was a madhouse. I perservered though, and purchased a commemorative mug with painted scenes from the show and Teresa emblazoned upon it, as a little extra for Teresa's birthday.

After the performance, the horses were released into the arena to frolic, roll around and generally cavort (much as I do after a strenuous display of talent). A number of audience members approached the rail to pet and feed the animals, at which point I noticed that there were little paper sticks on our table filled with sugar. How many hundreds of movies have depicted someone feeding sugar cubes to a horse as a treat or reward?

It seemed like a capital idea to empty a packet into my hand and do likewise. I bonded with several equine brethren in this manner and even persuaded Teresa to have her palm licked. It was only a bit later, as I was awaiting the chance to share the Monty Roberts story with one of the mounted riders -- a particularly attractive female one, naturally -- that I overheard another rider admonish someone not to give sugar to any of the horses, as their diets were closely monitored and some them were on medication!

As I was far from the only person to have the same bright idea -- and who naturally thought that this was why sugar was presented in such a convenient, measured manner -- the caretakers would have been well-advised to make a general announcement at the show's conclusion of this restriction, prior to allowing interaction between horse and human.

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The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum

Tuesday brought a trip to Winter Park and the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art. The museum is world-renowned for its collection of Tiffany, most impressively the Tiffany Chapel. The chapel was personally designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany for the World's Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893. Small in size (only 1,082 sq. ft., including the bapistry), it's a gorgeous, non-denominational creation of carved plaster, leaded glass, marble and glass mosaics. The 1000 lb. Electrolier, or electrified chandelier in the shape of a cross, is breathtaking.

After the World's Fair the chapel was first removed back to the Tiffany Glass and Decorating company in New York, but rested there for only about two years. It was purchased by a wealthy Chicago widow for installation in the still-under-construction Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York. It was to have been given a place of honor in the main church, but was actually installed in the basement crypt, where it languished for ten years, abandoned and deteriorating until 1916.

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Museum catalogs and the enameled red hat I purchased there

Tiffany saved it from destruction and had it reassembled at his Long Island estate -- Laurelton Hall. Extensive restoration was required for broken and missing pieces, but apparently Tiffany considered it one of his greatest achievements.

After his death in 1933, Laurelton Hall itself had many of its great treasures dispersed and suffered a tragic fire in 1957. Although housed in its own separate building, the chapel once again fell to neglect.

The founders of the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum, Jeannette McKean and her husband Hugh, were able to again rescue the chapel from oblivion and have it transported to Winter Park. Finally, in 1996, the Museum's trustees installed the restored chapel in a new wing of the museum for preservation in perpetuity.

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The sign says it all!
After leaving the Morse Museum we drove around a bit through Winter Park to see some of the magnificent multimillion dollar homes, situated on winding, cobblestoned streets. Perhaps the highlight of the trip for me was the hour spent touring three of the lakes there...Lake Osceola and Lake Virginia are the two that come to mind, on the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour. It was one of the few opportunities to take a break from built-up and manmade Orlando and experience some wonders in the their natural state.

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Pontoon boat

Although the lakes are surrounded by homes, they're beautiful mansions which make an attempt in most cases to blend in to the environment. We were on an 18-person pontoon boat and due to the day of the week, time of day and slight chill to the air, the only watercraft. We really had the lakes to ourselves. These three are part of a seven-lake chain, joined together by winding canals -- originally manmade -- but now the most natural part of the system, having had 100 years or so for nature to reclaim the banks.

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a winding canal

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A lakeshore estate

We saw three-week-old egrets perched upon a lonely little tree a couple of hundred yards from shore, as well as a horned owl carefully marking our progress as we proceeded through one of the canals. Being a bit windy, one of the passengers lost his favorite baseball cap to the breeze, but we were able to turn about and retrieve it prior to its sinking.

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Three week old egrets nesting aloft

The guide filled us in on many of the surrounding mansions and schools, but I only half-listened as I enjoyed taking in the scenery. I never anticipated being attracted to Florida as a place to live but I could visualize suffering through the winters at one of these lakeside estates.

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One of the myriad boathouses on the lakes

Even though it was only an hour tour, it was nice to sit back and let someone else do the 'driving'. As I'm the designated chauffeur in the family, it's a rare treat to actually have a chance to look at something without having to simultaneously operate the conveyance!

Our final day -- Thursday -- was largely devoted to packing, checking out and waiting at the airport in Atlanta, as our original return flight had been cancelled and we needed to fly out of Orlando a bit after 4:00 P.M. instead of the originally scheduled 6:00 P.M. and change.

We did manage to fit in a rousing game of mini-golf while still on International Drive, punctuated periodically by an erupting volcano. The eruptions scared Teresa enough to allow me to squeak through with a victory.

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I also wanted to stop in a touristy gift store, as I had fond memories of doing so as a kid, when my parents took me on a trip to visit relatives in Jacksonville. I was thrilled to find that they had the save stuffed baby alligators and keychains I remembered from forty years before. I opted for the latter this time, having no doubt become more P.C. in my dotage.

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The giftstore haul, which included a 'fine' pen for Teresa, and a cheesy keychain for me

All-in-all a nice, short getaway, which already seems a distant memory.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Goofing Off In The Computer Age

"In the computer era, one game is ubiquitous, a humble standard on nearly every computer in the halls of international commerce.

The game, of course, is solitaire.

Here in North Carolina, the perennial favorite that was adapted so beautifully for the little screen has become a flash point between taxpayers and state employees. Goofing off on the cubicle computer may be today's version of the coffee break. But now some state lawmakers want the fun and games to stop - at least on company time. Saying taxpayers would be 'outraged' to know how much work time is frittered away by insurance-commission secretaries and DMV employees honing their solitaire and Mine Sweeper skills on the state's 50,000 computers, Catawba County Republican Sen. Austin Allran has sponsored what may be the country's first anti-solitaire legislation."

Click the title above to read the entire article

Friday, March 18, 2005

Fischer Gets Initial OK for Citizenship


(AP) Mizuho Fukushima, leader of Japan's Social Democratic Party, speaks to a reporter outside Justice...
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REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) - American chess genius Bobby Fischer took the advantage Friday in his latest move to avoid deportation to the United States, as an Icelandic committee agreed to send his request for citizenship to parliament for a vote.

Fischer, an erratic personality who is wanted in the United States on charges of violating international sanctions against the former Yugoslavia, has been in Japanese custody since his July 13 detention while trying to board a flight with an invalid passport.

That provoked a series of efforts by the 62-year-old chess legend and determined supporters to fight a deportation order to the United States.

A parliamentary committee in Iceland on Friday approved a measure to grant citizenship to Fischer, sending it to the 63-member Althingi for a vote next week.

'The matter has been finished,' said Gudrun Oegmundsdottir, a member the General Committee. 'It will now go before the parliament on Monday for the vote.'

There is widespread support for Fischer in Iceland, where he played the Soviet Union's Boris Spassky in a world championship match in 1972, and parliament is expected to approve the measure.

The Japanese government had no immediate official reaction. But Saemundur Palsson, one of Fischer's supporters in Iceland, claimed Japan had confirmed it would allow him to go to Iceland if citizenship was granted.

Mizuho Fukushima, leader of Japan's Social Democratic Party, speaks to a reporter outside Justice Ministry in Tokyo Wednesday, March 16, 2005. Mizuho Fukushima, leader of Japan's opposition Social Democratic Party, said senior immigration officials told her that Fischer would be allowed to go to Iceland if he is given citizenship there.

'This is great news,' Palsson said. 'They had been waiting on confirmation from Japan that Fischer would be let go if he had Icelandic citizenship. This arrived to me this morning.'

Fischer became an icon when he dethroned Spassky in a series of games in Reykjavik to claim America's first world chess championship in more than a century. But a few years later he forfeited the title to another Soviet, Anatoly Karpov, when he refused to defend it. He then fell into obscurity before resurfacing to play an exhibition rematch against Spassky in the former Yugoslavia in 1992.

Fischer won the rematch on the resort island of Sveti Stefan. But the victory came with a high price - It was played in violation of U.S. sanctions imposed to punish then-President Slobodan Milosevic. If convicted, Fischer, who hasn't been to the United States since then, could face 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

Fischer also has emerged from silence in radio broadcasts and on his Web page to express anti-Semitic views and rail against the United States.

Fischer has repeatedly denounced the U.S. deportation order as politically motivated, demanded refugee status, renounced his U.S. citizenship and said he wants to become a German national instead. He also has applied to marry Mikyoko Watai, head of the Japan Chess Association.

A federal grand jury in Washington, meanwhile, is investigating possible money-laundering charges involving Fischer, Richard J. Vattuone, one of his lawyers said this month.

Fischer was reported to have received $3.5 million from the competition in the former Yugoslavia. He boasted at the time that he didn't intend to pay any income tax on the money.

Vattuone, who has been working to secure Fischer's release from the Japanese detention center, said he believes U.S. prosecutors are now exploring money laundering and tax charges in an attempt to extradite Fischer eventually from Iceland or Japan.

Iceland's parliament voted last month against granting Fischer citizenship, offering him a special foreigners' passport and residence permit instead. But Japanese officials declined to release him. Supporters are hoping the offer of citizenship will resolve the standoff over his status."

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Iceland May Grant Citizenship to Fischer


(AP) Mizuho Fukushima, leader of Japan's Social Democratic Party, speaks to a reporter outside Justice...
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REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) - Lawmakers in Iceland are likely to grant citizenship to mercurial chess genius Bobby Fischer, who currently sits in a Japanese cell, a member of a parliamentary committee studying the issue said Wednesday.

Gudrun Ogmundsdottir told The Associated Press that a citizenship motion probably would be approved by the nine-member committee Thursday. If it passes, it will go before Iceland's 63-member parliament, the Althingi.

'I think that parliament may approve of the citizenship as early as tomorrow,' said Ogmundsdottir, a member of the opposition Alliance Party.

'Somebody would then go over to Japan with the passport, which would enable him to travel here or anywhere in the world.'

Fischer, 62, is in a Japanese detention cell awaiting deportation to the United States, where he is wanted for violating economic sanctions against the former Yugoslavia by playing a highly publicized chess match there in 1992.

Mizuho Fukushima, leader of Japan's opposition Social Democratic Party, said senior immigration officials told her that Fischer would be allowed to go to Iceland if he is given citizenship there.

There is widespread support for Fischer in Iceland, where he played the Soviet Union's Boris Spassky in a celebrated world championship match in 1972 that put the small country on the map.

Last month, Iceland's parliament voted against granting Fischer citizenship, instead offering him a special foreigners' passport and residence permit. But Japanese officials so far have declined to release Fischer.

Several Icelandic politicians indicated Wednesday that parliament was now likely to grant Fischer citizenship.

"I can't speak for the whole party, but think few if any members of Parliament are opposed to granting Fischer citizenship," said Drifa Hjartardottir, a lawmaker with the Independence Party, which governs as part of Iceland's coalition government.

"We will not stand in the way of Fischer getting citizenship and want this issue to be resolved as quickly as possible," said Ogmundur Jonasson, a lawmaker with the Left-Green opposition party. "The worst thing we can do, both for Iceland and for Fischer, is to wait any longer."

Since being taken into custody in July for allegedly trying to leave Japan on a revoked U.S. passport, Fischer has lived up to his reputation for unpredictability.

He has repeatedly denounced the U.S. deportation order as politically motivated, demanded refugee status, unilaterally renounced his U.S. citizenship and said he wants to become a German national instead. He has also applied to marry a Japanese woman who heads this country's chess association and is his longtime companion.

Einar S. Einarsson, the former CEO of Visa Iceland who is one of Fischer's most fervent supporters, said he was optimistic.

"It's been like a chess game and there's only one move left before checkmate," he said.

Fischer, who has not visited Iceland since his 1972 match, virtually disappeared from the limelight for years before the 1992 rematch. In recent years, he has emerged from silence in radio broadcasts and on his Web page to express anti-Semitic views and rail against the United States."

Penspotting: What Dreams May Come

I just watched this film again, starring Robin Williams and Annabella
Sciorra. There's a scene, about a quarter of the way into the film, where
Sciorra's character writes in her journal with either a burgundy Hero '329'
or more likely a '330'. It's a bit hard to see the shape of the barrel end,
and the pen is used without its cap being visible, but there's an extensive
close-up of the hooded nib and emblem as she writes -- and as the spirit of
Williams' character writes *through* her, a la automatic writing.

I'd first caught this when the film originally came out in 1998, not too
long after I started importing Hero pens (the '329' was my own introduction
to the brand, and the '330' was the second model that I brought into the
U.S. from China).

Hero '330'

When I saw that the movie was on cable tonight I had to see it again, just
for penspotting purposes and to see if I could narrow down the model.
There's one shot where the end of the barrel is barely visible, but
out-of-focus, which hinted at the more squared-off '330' end.

I've always wondered who chose this pen for the film, and why. :-)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

I got my comeuppance!

Earlier today I was on the phone with CitiBank, upgrading one of my business credit cards to another program with better rewards. I was speaking with a customer service rep named Angela, who had to go over my financial and account information, and also read to me the usual boilerplate associated with such things. We joked about that and I pretended to snore in the midst of it.

Anyway, when all was neatly tied with a bow, Angela asked me the standard "Is there anything else I can help you with" end-of-call question, and I answered with my usual smartass

"Well, most astronomers now agree that the Universe is about 13.7 billion years old. I was wondering if you could tell me if that was true or not",
to which Angela replied,
"That depends, of course, upon whether the Universe truly began with a Big Bang, or rather has always existed in a Steady State, and if the former, whether or not it's expanded at a uniform rate or if the Inflation model is correct, coupled with the very real possibility that the rate of expansion is accelerating".

I nearly fell off of my chair! The usual response I get is a polite laugh - or perhaps more deservedly -- dead silence. After I stopped laughing with glee, I got her to tell me that reading about astronomy is one of her favorite things to do, and that a good friend of hers is an astrophysicist.

Once again His Nibs was reminded of his title, and the definition that graces the top of this weblog.

Fischer 'must be deported to US'

"Japan has announced that former chess champion Bobby Fischer can only be deported to the US and not to Iceland, as he had demanded.

People were deported to their home countries as a matter of principle, a Japanese official said.

The chess player has already been detained for eight months near Tokyo.

He is wanted in the US for playing a game in Yugoslavia in 1992, in spite of an international blockade imposed on the country over the Balkan wars.

He faces a 10-year jail term in the US if found guilty of defying the economic sanctions.

The 62-year-old is asking to be allowed to go to Iceland, a country that has granted him a special passport for foreigners in memory of a 1972 landmark game played in the capital, Reykjavik.

Iceland has offered Mr Fischer a passport and residence rights

Japanese opposition politicians, who claim the government is acting at the behest of the US, have protested against Mr Fischer's lengthy detention.

Adventurous life

But Japan's chief immigration official, Masaharu Miura, said his case was no exception.

'The fundamental principle is that the destination of deportation is the country of the person's nationality,' he said.

And Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura denied receiving an extradition request for Mr Fischer from the US authorities.

'I do not think the justice ministry is applying the law with special consideration to the American side,' he said.

Mr Fischer has been on the run from the US authorities for more than a decade.

Before his detention, he had managed to live undetected in Japan for three years, sometimes travelling abroad.

Mr Fischer became a chess grandmaster at 15, and shot to fame in 1972 when he beat Boris Spassky of the then Soviet Union.

While in detention, he has become engaged to the head of the Japan Chess Association, Miyoko Watai, but the authorities are still studying their marriage application."

The New York Times > Mother Culture, or Only a Sister?

"March 15, 2005
Mother Culture, or Only a Sister?

On a coastal flood plain etched by rivers flowing through swamps and alongside fields of maize and beans, the people archaeologists call the Olmecs lived in a society of emergent complexity. It was more than 3,000 years ago along the Gulf of Mexico around Veracruz.

The Olmecs, mobilized by ambitious rulers and fortified by a pantheon of gods, moved a veritable mountain of earth to create a plateau above the plain, and there planted a city, the ruins of which are known today as San Lorenzo. They left behind palace remnants, distinctive pottery and art with anthropomorphic jaguar motifs. Most impressive were Olmec sculptures: colossal stone heads with thick lips and staring eyes that are assumed to be monuments to revered rulers.

The Olmecs are widely regarded as creators of the first civilization in Mesoamerica, the area encompassing much of Mexico and Central America, and a cultural wellspring of later societies, notably the Maya. Some scholars think the Olmec civilization was the first anywhere in America, though doubt has been cast by recent discoveries in Peru.

Archaeologists have split sharply over how much influence the Olmecs had on contemporary and subsequent Mesoamerican cultures. Were Olmecs the 'mother' culture? Or were they one among 'sister' cultures whose interactions through the region produced shared attributes of religion, art, political structure and hierarchical society?

Last month, the simmering pot of mother-sister controversy was stirred anew by Dr. Jeffrey P. Blomster, an Olmec archaeologist at George Washington University. In a report in the journal Science, he and other researchers described evidence of the widespread export of Olmec ceramics that they said supported "Olmec priority in the creation and spread of the first unified style and iconographic system in Mesoamerica."

Dr. Blomster's team analyzed the chemistry of 725 pieces of pottery decorated with symbols and designs in the Olmec style and collected throughout the region. The researchers compared the composition of the ceramics with local clays. They determined that most of these were not imitations of the Olmec style made by local potters. In a significant number of pots, the clay matched the chemistry of material found around San Lorenzo.

"The evidence is overwhelming that San Lorenzo, the first Olmec capital, was doing the exporting," Dr. Blomster said. "The Olmecs were disseminating their culture and it was something of great interest to others."

The research, he added, showed that San Lorenzo did not appear to be importing artifacts emblematic of other cultures or that regional contemporaries were exchanging such material with one another. The city on the artificial plateau seemed to be the hub of regional culture and central, he said, to understanding the origin and development of complex society in Mesoamerica.

Dr. Richard A. Diehl of the University of Alabama wrote in Science that the findings "provide powerful support for the mother-culture school," adding, "San Lorenzo thus dominated in the commercial relationships and attendant spread of Olmec iconography and belief systems."

But Dr. Diehl, a proponent of the mother school and the author of "The Olmec," published last year, said in an interview that the "connections we are seeing may not have lasted more than a generation, perhaps the time of a particular ruler, and at most, not more than a century or century and a half."

The Blomster research dealt with pottery from the latter half of the early formative period of Mesoamerican culture, which extended from 1500 to 900 B.C. The last centuries of this period were the time of San Lorenzo's ascendance, but afterward the city was largely abandoned and the Olmec hub gravitated to La Venta, nearby in what is now the state of Tabasco.

Dr. Blomster collaborated with Dr. Hector Neff, an archaeologist at California State University, Long Beach, and Dr. Michael D. Glascock of the Research Reactor Center at the University of Missouri. The Missouri center analyzed the pottery and clay samples from San Lorenzo and six other Mexican sites from the era of Olmec prominence.

Proponents of the sister school are not letting the interpretation of the new research go unchallenged. They may be a minority in Mesoamerican studies, but a vocal and formidable one, including such stalwarts as Dr. Kent V. Flannery and Dr. Joyce Marcus of the University of Michigan and Dr. David C. Grove, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois.

Dr. Grove disputed Dr. Blomster's conclusions, saying that the research demonstrated only that Olmec pottery was traded, not that the trade disseminated Olmec political and religious concepts around the region. Others questioned the assertion that no pottery of other cultures had found its way to San Lorenzo.

The mother-culture advocates, said Dr. Susan D. Gillespie, a Mesoamerican archaeologist at the University of Florida, who is married to Dr. Grove, were "flogging a dead horse, the idea that the Olmec invented civilization, carried it to all of Mesoamerica and it's the basis of the Maya."

Dr. Gillespie acknowledged that the Olmecs established a vibrant culture and that their accomplishments were extraordinary. She also agreed that they were innovative and that their leaders presided over a political system capable of mobilizing labor for public works. It was no easy task raising an artificial plateau or hauling heavy blocks of basalt 40 miles to San Lorenzo from volcanic fields and fashioning them into the stone heads that stand as high as 10 feet.

Olmecs also contributed games with rubber balls, which became popular and fiercely played by later regional cultures. The Aztecs, much later, used the name in their own language for "rubber people" - Olmec - to describe the culture that was by then long vanished but not forgotten. No one knows what the ancient Olmecs called themselves.

"But others in the area were doing things equally complex, though different," Dr. Gillespie said. "Other areas were also taking steps on their own toward the development of Mesoamerican civilization."

That, and an active interchange of ideas and beliefs among various neighboring societies, is the essence of the argument advanced by sister-culture proponents. They further contend that the concept of the Olmecs as a mother culture grew out of 19th-century ethnocentrism, in which the construction of stone sculptures is a sign of civilization because that is a hallmark of early Western civilizations.

Many of these archaeologists have concentrated their research and excavations on non-Olmec areas with evidence of ancient complex societies, like the Valley of Oaxaca, the central basin of Mexico and the Pacific coastal sites of Chiapas in southwestern Mexico. Dr. Gillespie, though, has studied Olmec workshops that were operating in the culture's heyday, mainly producing stone artifacts thought to be altar thrones.

Dr. Blomster cited recent excavations by Dr. Ann Cyphers of the National University of Mexico that "emphasize the higher sociopolitical level that the Olmecs achieved relative to contemporaneous groups in Mesoamerica," a view contrary to the sister-culture position. Dr. Cyphers said the rulers of San Lorenzo appear to have lived in a palace with huge basalt columns and sculptures, while leaders in the adjacent Valley of Oaxaca had places not much better than the wattle-and-daub huts of commoners.

Dr. Michael D. Coe, an archaeologist at Yale who is an authority on the Olmec and the Maya cultures, sides more with the mother-culture school, saying that "much of the complex culture in Mesoamerica has an Olmec origin."

In the new edition of his book "The Maya," Dr. Coe writes that during four centuries of San Lorenzo's prime, ending about 900 B.C., "Olmec influence emanating from this area was found throughout Mesoamerica, with the curious exception of the Maya domain - perhaps because there were few Maya populations at that time sufficiently large to have interested the expanding Olmecs."

But early Olmec rulers were aware of the territory where the Maya eventually established imposing cities. Three years ago, scientists reported finding a rich lode of jadite, including huge boulders of it, in the jungles of Guatemala. Traces of ancient mining were uncovered, and some of the outcroppings were of blue jade, the prized gemstone Olmec artists used for carving delicate human forms and scary masks.

Archaeologists said the discovery not only solved a mystery of the origin of Olmec jade, but also showed that the Olmecs exerted wide influence over the region, either directly or by trade through intermediaries.

The Olmec influence on the Maya began to show up in artifacts, starting before 100 B.C. By then, Dr. Coe and other scholars said, Olmec art, religion, rubber-ball games and the ceremonial dress of rulers had clearly found its way to Maya cities.

Dr. Diehl of Alabama said there was "good evidence that Olmec sculpture is portraying beliefs" also related in Popol Vuh, the epic of creation found in Maya writing. This cosmology predated the Maya and was widespread in Mesoamerica, but its origins are murky.

The classic maize god of the Maya, scholars say, appears to be a clear descendant of a similar Olmec god. A Maya wall painting in San Bartolo, Guatemala, shows a resurrected maize god surrounded by figures offering him gifts of tamales and water. "The deity's head is purely Olmec," Dr. Coe said.

The assumption is that aspects of Olmec culture reached the Maya indirectly, probably through what is known as the Izapa civilization in the territory extending from the Gulf Coast across to the Pacific Coast of Chiapas, in Mexico, and of Guatemala. The city known as Izapa is the site of imposing temple mounds in Chiapas, a place where the Olmec sculpture and Maya painting and glyphs seemed to converge.

Dr. John E. Clark, an archaeologist at Brigham Young University, has excavated in the area for years and is involved with current research, he said, showing strong links between San Lorenzo and ancient sites in Chiapas.

From there, Dr. Clark said, the influence of the Olmecs - not only their art and gods but their kingship and all its trappings - eventually penetrated deep into Maya country and its rising cities. It appeared to be a melding of late Olmec culture with preclassic Maya. Some early carvings of Maya kings, he said, were made on the backs of Olmec jade pieces. A comparison of their art reveals that Maya and late Olmec kings dressed in similar style, resplendent in jade and feather capes like their shared gods.

In his journal commentary, Dr. Diehl supported the Blomster team's research as the largest and most comprehensive study ever conducted on the spread of Olmec pottery.

The research appeared to show, for example, that the exchanges of pottery and presumably other goods were arranged between Olmec rulers and specific foreign lords "rather than the more diffuse trade networks posited by sister-culture proponents," Dr. Diehl said. But left unexplained, he added, was how "this was accomplished and what motivated people on both ends."

Were these truly commercial ventures? Dr. Diehl said there was so far no archaeological evidence suggesting that the Olmecs conquered or proselytized its neighboring societies. Neither is there a clear picture of what happened to San Lorenzo.

Nothing in the ruins or later legends points to conquest by an invading army. More likely, some scientists think, the city was abandoned by the ninth century B.C. because of natural catastrophe: the rivers they depended on probably changed course, the result of silt and tectonic shifts in the coastal landscape.

La Venta, the new capital, came to an equally mysterious end around 400 B.C., and it was not long until the Olmecs lapsed into decline. Pockets of the culture persisted in Tres Zapotes, near the former capitals, and scattered communities in southern Mexico.

By the time the first major civilization of Mesoamerica was disappearing, the Olmecs blending into other societies, it apparently had reached out far enough in trade and influence to pass on a legacy of politics, art and religion to the up-and-coming Maya. A few mother-culture archaeologists, citing the new research, liken the relationship of the Olmecs to the Maya to the Greeks and Romans of Western civilization."

Friday, March 11, 2005

In a Surprise Move, Kasparov Retires


(AP) Garry Kasparov, the world's No. 1 ranked chess player since 1984, speaks at a news conference in Moscow in this Jan. 2004 file picture. Kasparov announced Thursday, March 10, 2005 that he was retiring from professional play. The Russian grandmaster's stunning announcement came shortly after he won the 14-match Linares tournament in Spain on Thursday, despite losing the final game. (AP Photo/ Misha Japaridze, file )

MOSCOW (AP) - Garry Kasparov, the brilliant and aggressive tactician regarded by many as the greatest chess player of all time, announced his retirement from professional play. He said he plans to write books and become more active in the politics of Russia, a country that's 'headed down the wrong path.'

The 41-year-old Kasparov has been ranked No. 1 in the world since 1984, dominating chess for two decades with formidable energy, discipline and intellect. His announcement came shortly after he won the 14-match Linares tournament in Spain.

Kasparov's mastery of chess seemed sometimes to be superhuman, and perhaps his most famous loss was a 1997 match against IBM supercomputer Deep Blue.

Shay Bushinsky, a programmer behind another chess computer, told The Associated Press that as a chess player Kasparov was 'the closest thing to a computer that I know as a man. Sometimes I think he has silicon running in his veins.'

But Kasparov also became famous for his colorful and vibrant personality. He was seen as an especially vital and well-rounded person in a pursuit where top players often have the image of not having interests besides chess.

'He isn't just a pawn; and he isn't just a database, either, an inflated cerebellum, a throbbing maniac in the closed system of 64 squares,' novelist Martin Amis wrote of him in a 1993 essay.

Among Kasparov's interests is politics. A Russian citizen, Kasparov has emerged as an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin and is playing a leading role in the Committee 2008: Free Choice, a group formed by liberal opposition leaders.

But he was increasingly exasperated with the politics of the chess world, which has been bitterly divided since 1993 into two rival federations with rival champions. In his retirement announcement Thursday, he reiterated that he was disappointed with a failed campaign to reunify the title.

He also said part of the reason he was retiring was that he saw no real goals in professional chess.

(AP) Garry Kasparov, the world's No. 1 ranked chess player since 1984, speaks at a news conference in...
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'As a chess player, I did everything I could, even more. Now I want to use my intellect and strategic thinking in Russian politics,' Kasparov said Friday in a statement cited by the Interfax news agency.

'I will do everything in my power to resist Putin's dictatorship,' he said. 'My opinion is that the country is headed down the wrong path now.'

Kasparov said he would continue to play chess, write books about it and take part in tournaments, such as events in which he plays many opponents at once, or in speed-chess games.

Alexander Roshal, chief editor of a popular Russian chess magazine called 64, said Kasparov had no peers in the chess world.

'There's no one else of his caliber. No one comes close. He saw that, and said 'you go on without me,'' he said.

Kasparov evidently was thinking about retiring for a long time after it became clear the reunification title match would not happen soon, Roshal said.

'He won more than 40 super-tournaments and in a month he'll be 42,' Roshal said. 'For chess, that's not young, and he has no reason to waste time preparing for another tournament. He's not going to be greater than he was or is.'

Born in Baku in the then-Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, Kasparov is thought by many to be the best chess player in history. His defeat by Deep Blue was seen as a watershed moment in technological advancement, but in 2003 he averted a similar defeat when he agreed to a draw in the last game of his series against Deep Junior, which could process 3 million chess moves per second.

'Kasparov has the most incredible look-ahead and memory capabilities I have ever seen,' said Bushinsky, one of two Israelis who helped design Deep Junior.

Kasparov's chess talent was apparent at an early age. At 12 he became the youngest player ever to win the USSR Junior Championship. Four years later, he won the World Junior Championship, and achieved the title of grandmaster on his 17th birthday.

His first title match, from September 1984 to February 1985 against Anatoly Karpov, was the longest in chess history. After 48 games, the psychological and physical strain on Karpov, who was leading but appeared likely to lose, caused chess authorities to end the match inconclusively amid controversy.

Kasparov won a rematch six months later, becoming the youngest world champion ever. He defended his title against Karpov in 1986, 1987 and 1990."

Fischer poser


If you do not believe how much trouble a single hard-boiled egg can cause, you just need to ask former world chess champion, Bobby Fischer, about it. That is, if you ever get to meet this chess hero in person.

Fischer, however, is still languishing in a Japanese jail, awaiting deportation to the United States where he faces federal charges of violating sanctions against the former Yugoslavia when he chose to play a chess match there with Boris Spassky in 1992.

He was nabbed eight months ago by Japanese immigration officials when he was leaving Japan and his American passport was seized and revoked by the American embassy in Japan. But Fischer proved to be a tougher nut than the Americans or the Japanese could reckon.

Firstly, he promptly renounced his American citizenship in an effort to delay the deportation. Secondly, Fischer had the unwavering support of his fiancée Miyoko Watai who had stood steadfastly by him during these eight months. And thirdly, his loyal legion of fans worldwide launched a campaign to have him freed. After all, they argued, what could the American Government hope to achieve by arresting the apparently harmless but eccentric Fischer?

Fischer certainly had friends in high places around the world and Iceland was one country that rallied to his aid. To the Icelandic people, Fischer was their hero because of his celebrated chess match against Spassky in Reykjavik in 1972. But short of offering him Icelandic citizenship, the Icelandic government approved a special foreigner’s passport for Fischer which would have allowed him to leave Japan and travel around freely in most parts of Europe. Iceland even sent two groups of official representatives to escort Fischer out of Japan.

It would have been a satisfying end to this saga but for the fact that the Japanese Government still refused to let Fischer go. Instead, he ended up being placed in solitary confinement.

Fischer would have been 62 years old two days ago. His supporters had hoped that he would be freed before then, but at this point of writing, it looked very unlikely. Rather, if Fischer is not freed by today, he has instructed his supporters and lawyers to sue the Japanese Ministry of Justice and Immigration Bureau.

According to his lead lawyer, Masako Suzuki, there are no legal grounds to detain Fischer further. However, the Japanese immigration has refused to say anything and their only argument was that Iceland’s invitation to Fischer was irrelevant to his case."

Saturday, March 05, 2005

TheStar.com - Beery chess whiz unzips new offence

"Drunken Master adjusts fly for opening gambit

Sanctions pondered against apologetic player


It is a game ... typically played ... at a ... sedate ... pace. A single move can take half an hour. Talking is forbidden. Drama occurs imperceptibly, like the rising of a tide. A malfunctioning time clock counts as unexpected excitement. Etiquette and sportsmanship generally rule.

Generally. Not always.

The Canadian chess community has been buzzing over the strange saga of the drunken International Master.

Drunk is only the half of it.

According to a report posted on (but since bumped off) the Ottawa Chess Club bulletin board, one of Canada's top players created a rare spectacle at the RA Winter Open tournament in January.

Michael Schleifer 'drank a huge amount a (sic) beer' while celebrating his birthday before Round 3 of the Ottawa event, wrote Neil James Frarey, president of the Eastern Ontario Chess Association. He was cut off but a friend bought the player more beer before the start of his next game.

'The IM made it on time to his game, and then proceeded to pass out, head on hands at the board.'

He was startled awake by a ringing cellphone.

'Immediately after awakening he stood up, unzipped his pants, pulled out his manhood, and urinated all over the table, the chess pieces and board, and on the floor. His opponent was transfixed in complete shock,' the report said.

Schleifer has since sent letters of apology to local organizers and to the Chess Federation of Canada, which is pondering sanctions.

What is shocking is not just the bizarre nature of the incident — which one bulletin board respondent dubbed 'The Open Fly Gambit' — but the glimpse it provides into the world of chess masters behaving badly.

It is also providing fertile fodder for another rarity — chess humour.

'This brings a new meaning to `elimination round,'' commented one message-writer.

"Certainly we can expect ... to have an increase in the sale of plastic (i.e. washable) boards and plastic pieces," wrote Kevin Spraggett, Canada's top-ranked Grandmaster.

The player's unexpected opening manoeuvre threatens to bring the game some of the attention normally accorded to the bad boys of mainstream sports.

(Chess is considered a sport by some and has been formally recognized by the International Olympic Committee.)

Though it happened at a modest tournament in Ottawa, the incident has been noted on international chess websites and, says the Portugal-based Spraggett, discussed at European tournaments.

"It was so out of character and so astonishing," says veteran chess columnist Lawrence Day, the Canadian champion in 1991 and an International Master (one step below Grandmaster) since 1972.

"You go 10,000 chess games, everything is normal and peaceful like church, and then every now and then something happens and you notice. In my whole life, and that's like 3,000 tournaments, I've witnessed one fight."

That was in 1981 in New York. Two Grandmasters were playing other opponents on adjacent boards when one broke the no-talking rule.

Day remembers the Grandmaster imitating Robert De Niro's character from Taxi Driver: "`What are you looking at?' he says with a Bronx accent like Travis Bickle. This Hungarian Grandmaster replies: `What are you looking at?' And the first guy says: `Do you want to step outside?'

"This is a quaint chess club in New York with a little garden in the back yard, about 20 square yards," continues Day.

"So these two guys go out to the garden and all the players in the tournament, looking at each other, wonder what's going on. Then they all, almost simultaneously, agreed to draws and left."

Day never did learn what set off the quarrel.

But bizarre behaviour is not unheard of in championship chess.

"Chess players are eccentric at the top level," says Robert Hamilton, a top-25 player in Canada recognized by the world chess governing body as a Master.

"These are people who grow up spending a great deal of their life inside of something that's 18 inches by 18 inches."

In fact, some of the game's most famous players have built their reputations, in part, on their antics. Mikhail Chigorin took open bottles of brandy to his 1889 world title match against Wilhelm Steinitz, prompting Steinitz to bring champagne. Steinitz won.

At the 1978 world championship, organizers reportedly had to install a board under the table so that fierce rivals Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi couldn't kick each other.

And then there's Bobby Fischer, whose peerless play was trumped only by his public rants — "Is it against the law to kill a reporter?" he once asked.

"Chess players are oddballs in many ways," says Spraggett, who recalls shocking a friend when he took him into a chess club in Montreal about 15 years ago.

"He didn't know too much about chess and I was showing him around the club. All of the sudden we came across this guy who was sleeping underneath one of the tables. It was very embarrassing because he was the Canadian champion."

Despite the oddities, most competitions are, as Day points out, pedestrian affairs.

For some chess lovers that means Ottawa's "Open Fly Gambit" is a cause for celebration.

Wrote one on the Ottawa Chess Club bulletin board:

"Thanks for finally showing us that a chess tournament isn't just full of uptight nerds with no sense of humour!"

Thursday, March 03, 2005

'Hobbit' Brain Supports Species Theory

"Mar 3, 4:31 PM (ET)


Scientists working with powerful imaging computers say the spectacular 'Hobbit' fossil recently discovered in Indonesia had distinctive brain features that could justify its classification as a separate - and tiny - human ancestor.

The new report, published Thursday in the online journal Science Express, seems to support the idea of a sophisticated human dwarf species marooned for eons while modern man proliferated.

The new research produced a computer-generated model that compared surface impressions on the inside of the fossil skull with brain casts of modern and ancient humans, as well as chimps and other primates.

Kirk E. Smith / Washington University, St. Louis

The scientists said the model shows that the 3-foot specimen, nicknamed Hobbit, had a brain unlike anything they had seen before in the human lineage. The brain is chimplike in size, about 417 cubic centimeters.

Yet the Hobbit's brain shared wrinkled surface features with the much larger brains of both modern humans and Homo erectus, a tool-making ancestor that lived in southeast Asia more than 1 million years ago. Some of those brain features are consistent with higher cognitive traits.

These brain features coincide with physical evidence of advanced behaviors, such as hunting, firemaking and the use of stone tools, which were found alongside the bones in a cave on the remote equatorial island of Flores. To some, this suggests an organized society of tiny hunters flourished on the island for millennia at a time when modern humans dominated the planet.

'This is a unique creature,' said Florida State University anthropologist Dean Falk, who led the study. 'We found amazing, specialized features across the surface from front to back.'

'These findings are consistent with the kinds of sophisticated behaviors that are hypothesized' for the Hobbit, Falk said, but she stopped short of saying the Hobbit was a tool-maker.

In October, scientists from Indonesia and Australia caused an international sensation with their report of a trove of tiny fossils. As many as eight individuals were represented in layers that were dated from 95,000 to 12,000 years ago. The Hobbit skeleton was the most complete specimen and contained the only skull.

In a project funded by the National Geographic Society, Falk and researchers from Washington University in St. Louis created a three-dimensional computer model of the brain using CT scans of the interior of the Hobbit's skull. Known as virtual endocasts, these images show the wrinkles, vessels and other surface features that made faint impressions on the skull's lining.

They compared that model with the brains of chimps, a female Homo erectus, a contemporary woman, a pygmy and a European specimen of a person with a small-brain syndrome known as microcephaly.

Scientists say its brain shape is most closely associated with that of Homo erectus. However, it also reflects some features of modern humans, including:

_A fissure near the back of the brain known as the lunate sulcus, similarly found in the modern human brain. "I almost fell over seeing this feature in something so small," Falk said.

_A swollen temporal lobe, the mid-brain area between the ears where hearing, memory, image identification and emotions are processed.

_A part of the frontal lobe near the eyes that is thought to be involved in planning and initiative-taking.

Such advanced brain features were especially surprising because the rest of the skeleton has more primitive traits like coarse teeth and an apelike pelvis similar to human ancestors that emerged in Africa some 4 million years ago.

"It's a really strange combination of traits," said Michael J. Morwood of the University of New England in Australia, one of the Hobbit's excavators. "It is a new, diminutive human species."

Whether the Hobbit evolved into a dwarfed form of Homo erectus or hails from another, older human cousin is unknown, he said.

Other human evolution specialists were split over the new report.

Katerina Semendeferi of the University of California-San Diego described it as a "cutting edge study." While the Hobbit brain does not fit neatly into an evolutionary pattern, she said it is too much to expect that all species would have brain sizes that would neatly transition in size from ape to modern human.

But some experts dismissed the brain-scan study as "trivial." Primatologist Robert Martin, provost of the Field Museum in Chicago, said the Hobbit probably was a modern human that suffered from a form of microcephaly.

But Falk said the Hobbit brain was quite different from the brain of a modern human with abnormal brain growth, or a human pygmy."

Dozens of Dolphins Strand Selves in Keys

"MARATHON, Fla. (AP) - Some 49 dolphins stranded themselves Wednesday off the Florida Keys and more than 20 were in a nearby canal or boat channel, officials said.

The rough-tooth dolphins were on flats and sand bars about a quarter of a mile off Marathon, said Laura Engleby, a biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service. They were in about 6 inches of water at low tide, she said.

Marine mammals may strand when they are sick, injured or disoriented, she noted. 'Right now the stranding network is busy stabilizing all the dolphins,' Engleby said.

Denise Jackson, a member of the Marine Mammal Rescue Team assisting the dolphins, said darkness and the extreme low tide were complicating efforts.

'We're running boats in and out of an unlit channel at night,' she said.

Marathon is on Key Vaca, in the middle of the Florida Keys about 46 miles east of Key West. The dolphins were stranded on the ocean side of the island. "

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Ancient Earth Drawings Found in Peru

"LIMA, Peru (AP) - Archaeologists have discovered a group of giant figures scraped into the hills of Peru's southern coastal desert that are believed to predate the country's famed Nazca lines.

About 50 figures were etched into the earth over an area roughly 90 square miles near the city of Palpa, 220 miles southeast of Lima, El Comercio newspaper reported.

The drawings - which include human figures as well as animals such as birds, monkeys, and felines - are believed to be created by members of the Paracas culture sometime between 600 and 100 B.C., Johny Islas, the director of the Andean Institute of Archaeological Studies, told the newspaper.

One prominent figure appears to represent a deity commonly depicted on textiles and ceramics from the period, Islas said.

The recently discovered designs predate the country's famous Nazca lines, which have mystified scientists and were added to the United Nation's Cultural Heritage list in 1994.

The Nazca lines - which also include pictographs of various animals - cover a 35-mile stretch of desert some 250 miles south of Lima and are one of Peru's top tourist attractions. The Nazca culture flourished between 50 B.C. and 600 A.D., Islas said.

The lines, thousands of them in all, were made by clearing darker rocks on the desert surface to expose lighter soil underneath. "

Frozen bacterium adds to Mars speculation

"A newly-discovered life form that froze on Earth 30,000 years ago was apparently alive all that time and started swimming as soon as it thawed, a NASA scientist reports.

Dr Richard Hoover, of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Centre in Alabama, says the find has implications for possible contemporary life on Mars.

The organism - a bacterium dubbed Carnobacterium pleistocenium - probably flourished in the Pleistocene Age, along with woolly mammoths and sabre-tooth tigers.

Speculation: The thawed bacterium adds weight to theories of life on Mars. [File photo] (Reuters)

Dr Hoover discovered the bacterium near the town of Fox, Alaska, in a tunnel drilled through permafrost - a mix of permanently frozen ice, soil and rock.

'When they cut into the Fox tunnel, they actually cut through Pleistocene ice wedges, which are similar to structures that we see on Mars,' Dr Hoover said.

Dr Hoover says these ice wedges contain a golden-brown layer about half-a-metre thick, and this layer contained a group of microscopic brownish bacteria.

'These bacteria that had just thawed out of the ice ... were swimming around,' he said.

'The instant the ice melted, they started swimming. They were alive... but they had been frozen for over 30,000 years.'

Dr Hoover says this discovery, coupled with research released this week by the European Space Agency, makes it more likely that life could be found on Mars.
Life on Mars

Scientists have focused on Mars as the most likely spot in our solar system for Earth-like life, but none has so far been confirmed.

What has been found is ample evidence that water once flowed on the currently cold and frost-locked planet.

This is significant because liquid water - not ice - has been seen as a prerequisite for life as it is known on Earth.

Images made by the European Mars Express space probe indicate a giant frozen sea near the Martian equator, the first time scientists have detected evidence of ice beyond Mars' polar caps.

Dr Hoover says this this vast sea is covered by a layer of dust, which might be heated by the sun and could conduct heat down to create sub-surface layers of water from time to time.

"Those layers would be ideal regions for microbiological activity and so that means that the presence of this frozen sea, if that turns out to be precisely what's going on, it greatly enhances the possibility that there may be life existing on Mars today," he said.

The discovery of the living bacteria in Alaska's permafrost raises another possibility, Dr Hoover says.

"The other thing that's exciting: Just like we found in the Fox tunnel of Alaska, frozen biology in the form of unicellular bacteria might even have remained alive, frozen in the Martian sea," he said.

Dr Hoover found the bacterium in 2000, but it took five years to confirm that it was in fact a new form of life.

The finding was published in January in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, the official journal of record for such matters.

- Reuters"