.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hitting Kim Jong Il Where it Hurts

As reported here The U.S. Commerce Secretary, Carlos Gutierrez, has declared that "While North Korea's people starve and suffer, there is simply no excuse for the regime to be splurging on cognac and cigars." Accordingly the Bush Administration has published a list of luxury items that it wants U.S. companies, and, more importantly, other countries to stop selling to North Koreans. The list includes tobacco products, booze, sporting items, yachts, expensive watches, musical instruments, art works, and jewelry.

This news brings up a question that I ask in a lot of connections. "Why do they bother?"

There are several things that are questionable about the Secretary's statement. It sounds patronizing. Who is he to be telling the North Koreans when they should or should not splurge? He could be violating the very principle by which so many Americans of modest means apparently follow the lead of their much better-heeled fellow citizens in voting Republican in the hope and even the expectation that their ship, too, will eventually sail in, and when it does they want their cigars and cognac to be right there on the store shelves, waiting.

Isn't this policy bad for business? And as a combative measure in the campaigh to get the North Koreans to stop thinking nuclear, it looks to be on the ineffectual and spiteful side.

But the most obvious question that suggests itself was dodged by the Bloomberg article to which I linked above. That question is: What about China?

I am sure that when the North Koreans can no longer get that stuff from the U.S., Japan, and other countries, China, which shares communism and a border with the North Koreans, will be happy to step right in and take up the slack.

I'm sure that China makes and can supply as many of those luxury items as the Koreans might desire. Ironically, the Chinese already ship so many luxury goods to the U.S. itself that they are enjoying a huge trade surplus at American expense, and many of the items on the Secretary's list are likely to be mainly Chinese-made. And meanwhile even the South Koreans, who also make boatloads of luxury goods, are likely to brave bringing on American and Japanese ire by smuggling a few things across the border to their long-detached but never forgotten brethren to the north.

The Uselessness of Apology

They're at it again. The screamers are out in force, yelling for an apology from some unfortunate public figure.

This time it's being demanded of -- and received from -- the comic, Michael (Cosmo) Richards for the comments he fired back at some hecklers the other day.

Before that the Moslems were demanding an apology from the Pope for quoting another pope of centuries ago who in turn was speaking of Islamic misdeeds of centuries before him and which history says weren't far from the truth. Islam, like Christianity and I would say most other religions, came into practice by means of a lot of kick-ass doctrine and behavior.

And before that Mel Gibson was attacked for some crazy anti-Jewish remarks he made in a drunken state after the police stopped him for a traffic violation.

And before that the Moslems were also demanding retractions from an European newspaper for running cartoons that they saw as offensive to their faith.

And before that it was Mel Gibson again, because of perceptions that a bad movie that he had just made was offensive to Jews by portraying their behavior toward Christ 2,000 years ago as violent and uncalled-for in the extreme.

And before that hypocrites of many stripes were demanding apologies from President Clinton for yielding to an importunate young female admirer -- as if holders of that office are not humans first and Presidents a distant second, for all their pretensions to the contrary. Frailties, especially those of the flesh, seem to be hard-wired into all of us, and nothing can be done about that.

And so it has gone, on and on and on.

I wonder why people are so fond of demanding apologies, when they never have any way of knowing whether the apology, should one be given, is sincere? And the big likelihood is that it is almost never really sincere. Instead, if you're familiar with human nature at all, you know that hidden behind it is intense resentment at all the pressure that had been exerted on them.

I know, I know. The demanders know all that, and their real purpose is to reinforce the perception of the unacceptability of the miscreant's bad behavior.

Or is that their real purpose? I doubt it. I think the real purpose is to humble someone -- a popular human pastime.

It's unfair and injurious to the cause of truth that career considerations force Richards to go along. How much better it would be for him to say instead something like, "Yes, that was what I said, and I meant it. I was having a bad night, and though I'm regarded as being especially adept at improvisation, as you can see by my reply to those two suckers, even that fell flat, and that's all there was to it. Am I a racist? I don't know. Some people think that racism is part and parcel of being an American. Meanwhile it should be remembered that being funny on stage is one of the hardest jobs there is, and every such performer lives in mortal fear of having a bad night."

The Pope had no need to apologize either, and I don't think he really ever did. Neither did Mel Gibson, and neither did those newspapers, at least in any meaningful way. Clinton was impeached, but he was merely trying not to tell us things that were really none of our affair, and he was justifiably found not guilty.

The current (illegal) occupant of the Oval Office owes apologies all over the place, especially to the millions of bereaved in Iraq, but his crimes are so large by contrast to all the piddly ones I've mentioned, that apologies are totally irrelevant, and also so many others are equally complicit by voting for him and then going along with his subsequent misdeeds that the wagons are being drawn up in force right now in the enormous attempt that we see going on to sweep current history under the rug.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Michael Richards Case and the "N-Word" (Nigger)

In reference to comedian Michael Richards totally losing his cool to hecklers recently, first of all, Richards' crime wasn't that he was being a racist. I doubt that he spends much time being that way, but if in the unlikely event that he does, so what? We should be glad, instead, that he thereby gave us important information on his mindset, though my guess is that he was just blindly and impulsively reaching for the nearest and most explosive possible missile to hurl at some people who weren't appreciating his work.

Meanwhile, in a nation whose foundations, like rebar in concrete, include a history of killing and expelling Indians in order to grab their land, and importing Africans in order to subject them to lifetimes of hard labor without pay and many other forms of inhuman treatment, racism is so ingrained in the national psyche that we should never be surprised when occasionally expressions of it erupt.

Richards' crime on that occasion, instead, was being angry. Though most people don't realize it, because they find it so congenial to the secretly evil parts of their natures, anger is a very dangerous condition for a person to indulge in, because it will invariably lead to him doing something stupid, and the Richards thing is a textbook case.

"Nigger" has been a problem term for me for a long time, but not because I regard it as being toxic in the extreme or, actually, at all. In all my 75 years and in settings with all sorts of people, I can recall hearing it hurled at me in derision only once, and I've never been hard of hearing. That was when, as a child, I was walking by some "white" kid's yard and he yelled that at me and my sister while we were walking past on our way to catch the bus to school. We just ignored him, and it was remarkable how little it hurt, which was not one little bit.

I have, however, been called "nigger" many times as a term of something approaching fondness, by youthful contemporaries who shared my sort of dark-skinned ancestry. So that can't help but lead to continuing confusion as to what "nigger" actually means and is.

In the wake of Richards' outburst, Jesse Jackson and others are calling for the entertainment industry to ban the use of the so-called "N-word" and other derogatory terms. He calls it "giving a Christmas present to our ancestors." I wonder if he consulted beforehand with all the rap singers and the Russell Simmons HBO comedians, for whom the term is a mainstay part of the language. He probably didn't check, and I think we can guarantee that he is going to be roundly ignored by them.

That idea is mistaken and totally unworkable, and Jackson must know that, which leads me to suspect that he is just taking advantage of an opportunity for publicity, which he has been known to do from time to time. Furthermore it is the kind of thing that he is expected to say, and people on every side of the issue will take their normal comfort in it.

Instead what should be done is not to try to do away with "nigger," but instead to take away as much of the venom as possible that it seems to inject so deeply into people with skins much thinner than mine. That means not screaming with rage every time we hear it, because that merely gladdens the hearts of those who like to use the term as a weapon, and thereby that weapon is kept razor sharp, when what we should want is for it to be dulled, considerably. The time when the use of "nigger" no longer gets such a "rise" will signal a better day for all except those unfortunates who are much more bonafide haters than the "Cosmo Kramer" bird has otherwise shown himself to be.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Meanings of Words: "To Refute"

Few things are more important than the giving of information, and a lot of information exists in the form of words. Therefore it's essential that they be used accurately so as to avoid as few misunderstandings as possible. But languages quite often work against understanding. This must be because there are many more meanings than there are words to go around or that people want to learn. So -- especially in a language as complex as English -- there are thousands of words that have to perform multiple duties, and that doesn't help the human mind that already has to deal with so many other complexities.

A good example of this is the verb "to refute." Maybe this has always had a second meaning: "to contradict" or "to deny." So political writers especially will write that "so-and-so refuted something when he said that what this other so-and-so said isn't right and there such-and-such is really the case." But in using "refute" in this way, no evidence to back up that opposing notion is presented.

I don't know whether "refutation" has always had that second meaning or whether it is instead a quickly spreading recent development, like a linguistic virus. But coming from the chess world, that use of the word is intensely jarring and misleading to me.

In chess, refutation is a key and clearly understood and agreed-upon concept. There the word is always used in its first meaning and in that one only. There it doesn't mean mere denial or contradiction. Insead it means to show that an opponent has just made a mistake, and if he is sharp enough the player accomplishes that demonstration in no uncertain terms by answering with a move or moves that quickly lead to a definite and often winning advantage.

This is another area in which chess involves useful lessons that it can offer to the larger world.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Bombing Iran

If an Administration comes in that doesn't meet your approval, it can be highly uncomfortable to see and hear it referred to as "The U.S.," when all you can see is an enormous disconnect between the two.

A lot of people would instantly dismiss this as simply a matter of semantics and too trivial to even mention, but to me it is much more than mere wording, because it explains, for one thing, how such an Administration can perform misdeeds in secrecy or even in plain sight when the nation's citizens are too preoccupied with truly weighty matters like the personal life of Britney Spears, leaving them open to surprise when those misdeeds performed in their name finally and inevitably come to light.

Common Dreams today is carrying an article with the title "U.S Could Bomb Iran Nuclear Sites in 2007: Analysts."

You see a lot of stuff written this way, though actually "the U.S." is doing no such a thing. If by "the U.S." you mean what it ought to mean, which is the main body of American citizens, they are instead contemplating an endless variety of other things, the great majority of which have nothing to do with Iran, much less bombing it. And in fact, if a poll as extensive as a national election could be taken, I'm confident that they would answer that any American leader who would consider such a move is just operating with the brain at the bottom of his spinal column instead of the one at its top. The American military already has its hands full in two tough Middle Eastern countries, yet somebody is going to commit them to engaging a third country that is in the same neighborhood but has three or four times as many already stirred-up people and so figures to be three or four times as difficult to subdue, plus it has had much more time than either Afghanistan or Iraq to prepare? That's insane!

Maybe, in fact, the just-finished elections were such a poll. Meanwhile we should always remind ourselves that while running in 2000, G.W. Bush never dared to mention what was high up on his agenda: "If elected and under the falsest of pretenses, I will set into motion widespread destruction and tens of thousands of early deaths by invading Iraq."

I guess people who now would bomb Iran can't see any farther than the time when, a generation or so ago, the Israelis successfully made a surprise attack on Iraq's nuclear facilities from the air without suffering any consequences beyond the ineffectual Scud attacks later in the Gulf War.

We notice that this time the Israelis, even with a surely much stronger Air Force and armed with nukes itself, would rather have the Americans perform the illegal deed.

That ought to give would-be bombers of Iran pause, and it probably does. So what we see now are the two sides merely blowing smoke at each other out of various unusual orifices, and if there is the slightest bit of rationality left in this Administration or the next, tempers should rise no higher than that purely verbal level far beyond this coming year.

What I'm Thinking

It has been several days since I made my 5th move in my game of bloggers chess. Rook is taking his good time in ruminating over his answer, and that has given me extra time to likewise stare at the position and to reach a few conclusions that might not otherwise have seen the light of day, and I don't know whether that is good or bad.

You would think that this current position, shown above, can't help but be simple and no big thing. It can be reached almost instantly and with almost no thinking, and the way by which it is reached looks quite logical. Yet I doubt that in all my Ruys I have ever played the move that clinched this position, Rook's last, his 4 ...P-QN4. If I have it was in a few skittle games in my earliest days, before I learned what is regularly played, and I have rarely seen anyone else play the move either. It is regarded as premature to deliver that second boot to the rear of White's Bishop so quickly. Instead it is thought to be best to hold that tactic in reserve for a few moves more. Yet, in this extra time that Rook is so generously allowing, I can see no clear refutation of his move, and I keep asking, why should this be?

4 ...P-QN4 may be premature but it looks feasible enough for Rook to reach the more usual continuations later on anyway, through transposition of moves. So is his move fully playable after all? Has Rook just made a great discovery and contribution to chess theory? And is this a case, then, of players of all strengths and over many years just blindly following custom and fashion? Or, if the move can be proven to be bad right off, does that mean that in my failure to see it, at my ever-lengthening age have my eyes, chessically or otherwise, gotten even blearier than I had thought? What is happening here?

There are interesting psychological considerations involved in taking advantage of the properties of a weblog by saying these things with full knowledge that while he is deciding on his next shot, Rook can easily check this site and see ahead of time just what I'm thinking. But would that be helpful to him?

I don't see how, as for one thing I can justifiably avoid saying what I would do if I were in his shoes, by pointing out, truthfully if not also a little disengenuously from the point of view of making a fair argument, that I wouldn't have played his 4th move in the first place -- not because of calculations but out of pure habit.

Would saying these things be helpful to me instead, from the point of view of possibly influencing Rook to his detriment? I doubt that, too. If his 4th move is actually bad, and if I can find a way to show that, then it's only to the good, because that would be instructive for both of us. This is one of the most basic positions in the Ruy Lopez, and, with the possible exception of the Sicilian Defence, the Ruy is probably the most popular of all the King-side openings. And besides, just as I have mainly my instincts developed over years to help me along, Rook has his fresher and unbiased eyes plus a monster genie that he can readily call out of the bottle and that he mysteriously calls his "resources."

Meanwhile, as I keep looking at this position, it occurs to me that Black's most basic problem in the Ruy might lie in deciding how to deploy his Bishops. I wonder if I have ever before thought of things that way.

So here, Black has the choice of keeping his QB on the Q-side by playing ...B-Kt2 or waiting for a chance to swing it over to the K-Side closer to my King by an eventual ...B-K3 or ...B-KKt5. And he also has to decide whether he should try to get his other B, the KB, up to his QB4 so as to have more of a say in contesting the all-important center, or should he hold it closer to his King by playing ...B-K2? And both of these are big decisions that Rook is making right NOW.

Those are purely strategic considerations. Meanwhile, it's interesting that we are near the brink of some tactics that are as dangerous for me as they are for Rook, two traps, one within the other. The snare that would threaten me is so old that it is called “the Noah's Ark trap." Rook has cleared the way for these but only I can set out the bait, and I think I will avoid doing that, because otherwise next he would be the one who would decide which of us thereby drops into the toilet, and maybe you can see how for me that would not be a very thrilling state of affairs.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Joe Lieberman, The Shambling Monkey Wrench

I picked the title of this post very carefully. For instance I could have said "The Walking Monkey Wrench" instead, but walking is too positive and admirable an activity to apply to the Senator from Connecticut. I also considered using "Joe Lieberman, Saboteur-in-waiting," or "The Joe Lieberman Time Bomb," but those titles would make him look like a much stronger character than he actually is. But I'm not really comfortable with what I'm using either, because a monkey wrench is a very substantial and useful tool, made of stout steel with good weight, terms that it seems to me have never applied to the likes of Lieberman.

For at least 20 years I have been baffled as to why anyone would vote for this man, and I was especially dismayed and surprised when Gore accepted him as his running mate for the 2000 elections. Lieberman seems to be entirely lacking in personality and convictions any stronger than those of a wet noodle.. Instead he strikes me as being like a person who has just awakened from a decades-long coma, and now, quavering with disorientation, he is best advised to return to his sick bed for another good little while. I didn't see how anyone would take a man in his state seriously for any post at all, yet people were ready to place this man just one step away from the U.S. Presidency. But I guess that shows the parlous and ridiculous state of politics that still exists in the supposedly advanced state of Connecticut and in the country.

As I recall, it was hoped that Lieberman would help hold the Jewish vote for the Democrats. But in a process that is still going on, that turned out to be a gross miscalcuation that could've been easily avoided if people had only devoted a few minutes to take a better look at this man, when there were so many better candidates available, and the one that comes most to my mind was and still is Jeff Bingaman, from New Mexico. The choice of Lieberman prefigured not only Gore's eventual failure but also the hijacking of the Presidency in that election by a man fully as insubstantial and ill-suited for the post as Lieberman, the eventual "victor" over Gore, G.W. Bush, and that, as we all know, has led to a long series of catastrophes for not only the U.S. but also a bunch of other countries, though that has yet to dawn on some of them.

When he was beaten in the primaries in his most recent run for Senator, at the hands of Ned Lamont, a little known but impressive progressive, I hoped that that would be the last we would hear of Lieberman. But he billed his defeat as merely a signal that he should move farther to the center, and he left the Democrats and ran instead as supposedly an Independent. But that was purely bogus, as, much earlier, Lieberman had actually moved much farther right than that. He had become a true Republican, and it would've been much more honest and better for all if he had run as such. Instead he won the election as a so-called Independent, with 70 percent of his votes coming from Republicans.

His listing in the Senate as an Independent allows the Democrats to contol the Senate by the slimmest possible margin of only one man or woman, and therein lies Lieberman's role of being the tool of my title and the dire threat that he poses directly to the Democrats and indirectly to countless others.

I have seen two different readings of what Lieberman now represents, which is not the great state of Connecticut. Neither view is attractive at all.

The first says that eventually, no matter how much the Democrats try to please him in order to keep the current status quo, Lieberman will eventually and finally show his first shred ever of integrity by shedding all the pretense and changing his party affiliation to Republican, at which point, with only that one switch needed, the Senate will instantly become Republican-controlled again -- a tragedy for the Democrats and for the U.S. and the world, but an occasion of joy for the Republicans, as their interests don't coincide with the good of the country and of the planet at all, and who better to demonstrate that, even if unconsciously, than Lieberman.

The second view predicts that by holding over the Democrats the twin hammers of his vote and of the completion of the second and final part of his defection, he will force the Democrats into allowing unpleasant events that they wouldn't otherwise consider. And they will put holding their newly regained but still tenuous majority ahead of carrying through the parts of their agenda that don't please Lieberman's good buddies, like the Fox Hannity bird, giving Lieberman power far out of proportion to his being just one among 99.

One thing that Lieberman doesn't lack is ego. So, if he overtly throws in with the Repubs, he will personally suffer the ignominy of becoming just another faceless Republican senator marching in the usual lockstep on that side of the aisle. But if he chooses to stay ostensibly "Independent," he will play the much more noticeable role of being a big monkey wrench thrown by some of the Connecticut voters into the national gears of government.

My guess is that he will choose to do the latter, especially because it could be a principal reason why he got so many Republican votes. To them any damage to the larger world, including themselves in the long run, is preferable to Democrats taking their turn as good American citizens in their right to decide things, too.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Our Slapdash Eyes

In the scientific political world a fight is going on that has no foreseeable end: the one between the evolutionists and the creationists. In recent years the latter sensed the growing weakness of their position, and their response was to revamp their theology a bit along with giving their cause a new name, Intelligent Design. But their main theme remains unchanged. God, not Evolution, is reponsible for the origins of the various species.

A great place for keeping track of the latest salvoes in this struggle is The Panda's Thumb site. And recently they cited an article that they had seen in another interesting science site, Pharyngula.

That article started with the following paragraph:

Ian Musgrave has just posted an excellent article on the poor design of the vertebrate eye compared to the cephalopod eye; it's very thorough, and explains how the clumsy organization of the eye clearly indicates that it is the product of an evolutionary process rather than of any kind of intelligent design. A while back, Russ Fernald of Stanford University published a fine review of eye evolution that summarizes another part of the evolution argument: it's not just that the eye has awkward 'design' features that are best explained by contingent and developmental processes, but that the diversity of eyes found in the animal kingdom share deep elements that link them together as the product of common descent. If all we had to go on was suboptimal design, one could argue for an Incompetent Designer who slapped together various eyes in different ways as an exercise in whimsy (strangely enough, though, this is not the kind of designer IDists want to propose)…but the diversity we do see reveals a notable historical pattern of constraint.

Say what? Poor design? Clumsy? Awkward? Exercise in whimsy? Are they talking about our eyes, those amazing organs that enable us to see all the myriad colors of the autumn forest, and to distinguish all the subtleties of human face, and to detect objects millions of miles away as well as right on the tips of our noses? Those orbs that are the most beautiful features of the human body and that are seen as windows into souls and minds? Those terrific instruments of vision that, barring mishaps, can keep operating to some degree for a century or more? Delicate globes that nevertheless can survive all but the most crushing of blows? That's poor design?

And here I had been going around praising in my mind every day the miracle of the human eye and the abilities it gives us to sense our immediate and distant surroundings with such acuity and thoroughness.

I've been doing this lately because a few years ago I was diagnosed with glaucoma, a condition that I am stuck with from here on out as there is no cure for it. I've had the laser thing done on my left eye and I have to take drops every day to keep the pressure on my optic nerves under control.

This started when, for a short time, I had floaters in my right eye, the weaker of the two. As I do with any physical difficulty that pops up, I just wished it away, but a year or two later I decided that I didn't like what was happening with my vision, especially in my right eye, and I went to see the optics doctor. Oddly, however, the pressure was worse in what I thought was my good left eye, hence the laser. The trouble with the right, which remains unlasered, is not so much the optic nerve as it is a small cataract.

As of now I can still see most stuff well enough, except very small print, and my only complaint is a very vague mistiness, as if I'm viewing the world through the thinnest of stage scrims -- though like so much else in my life, I don't know if that isn't purely mental, a product of my fears. Meanwhile I am extremely grateful that my eyes aren't any worse, because everything I do is so dependent on vision.

I wonder what these scientists would call an optimal design? Would it be for our eyes to have the abilities of an electron microscope combined with those of the Hubble telescope, along with 360-degree peripheral vision? For myself I'm more than happy with them the way they are. I think they're a great bargain that we've struck at conception with whatever is responsible for endowing us with them.

The Pharyngula article, however, is well worth reading, though you could eventually get lost, as I did, in the wealth of detail about the eyes of our fellow creatures as well as our own.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Rewards of Chess

You will notice that in rapid succession I have made three straight posts on chess.

This will be no surprise to anyone who has known me over the years, including a fair number that I suspect are unfortunately no longer here. I can think of no subject that I'm more comfortable pontificating on than chess, and part of that is because pitifully few of the pitiful few who see this weblog can reasonably challenge me on anything I might have to say. I've earned that by my fidelity to the game. (Smile!)

This year or the next will mark 60 years since that happy day when I learned the moves. But even so, at 16 or 17, I was late in coming in coming to the game, that is, if one wants to attain masterdom. If you want to do that you usually have to start much earlier, by no later than 10 or 11. (I'm just talking about males here, because those more practical beings, females, to my observation have absolutely no taste for all the nonsense involved.) At 10 or 11 a person still has that natural savagery of the child that is so necessary in being a great chess-for-blood player, plus you are more disposed to spend a lot of time cramming your noggin with all the thousands of necessary opening lines and such. By 16 or 17, on the other hand, a person is already starting to come to his senses, and that blood-thirstiness is starting to be modified as he starts to take on that dim awareness that there are other people in the world than just himself, and he has to take into account how they feel about things, too.

I am not regretful to say that though I came close, I never became a master. Too many things were in my way, especially my lack of a killer instinct. But I found that "kicking butt" is one of the least of the many rewards of playing chess.

Since 1946 or 47, then, I've never gotten far from the game, though periods of years have passed, especially recently, when I haven't played any "serious" games at all, and now my memory is weakening, and I am generally much shakier than I already was even in my "best" days. So I can't say that my experience gives me any real advantage over Rook. I may be more familiar with precedents than he is, so that when one or the other of us gets into trouble, I will most likely sense it earlier. But that doesn't mean that I will necessarily be just as quick to know what to do about it, so I will have to work just as hard as he will, in figuring out just what measures to take. In fact he may have the advantage of not taking things for granted as much as I might.

It all works out, and we'll just have to see. For those psychological considerations alone it will be interesting. This kind of thing is one of the many charms of chess, and the reason why I feel so fortunate in having acquainted myself with this game when I did. Meanwhile, just as NTodd can be praised for having beautified his home page -- for a while -- with a chess diagram, Rook is to be congratulated for his lasting recognition of the joys of chess, as shown by his weblog activities -- his form of prayers at the altar of the bitch-goddess, Caissa.

If you think that term is too strong, then you have never known the exhiliration of finding yourself in severe time trouble after four or five hours of uninterrupted hard thinking during a tournament game and with a bunch of your highly interested competitors looking on and enjoying your agony, and you are desperately praying that you can make all your required moves before the little red flag on your clock falls. That kind of unadulterated terror is one of the purest forms of excitement that there can be.

The Chess Game So Far

Here is the position of my game of bloggers chess with Rook, of "Rook's Rant." Playing White I have just made my fourth move, and I'm waiting for his answer. It will be an especially important move, not because there are any big threats at work as yet but because so much of the future tenor of this game will be determined by it.

Rook thinks I've been moving unusually fast, but the truth is that so far I've been playing strictly by rote. I don't know what Rook is doing. These moves have already been played millions of times, over several hundred years. Still it's best to ease into putting on my thinking cap before the going starts to get tough.

Though White is generally thought to start with a slight advantage by having the first move, I am not as comfortable in this opening, the Ruy Lopez, as I would be if I had the Black pieces. The reason is that I have more pet lines as Black in this opening than I do with White. But Rook saw himself as being generous when he offered to play Black in his challenge to all comers.

Despite the general consensus, however, there are a group of warped players who think that Black actually has the advantage by starting second, and I am one of those twisted few. Maybe Rook is one of them, too. The thinking is that thereby White gets the first chance to make a mistake. But, and especially in the Ruy, there also can be a recoil effect that is often at Black's disposal, and for that reason, despite being so well studied -- or I should say because of all that study -- the Ruy Lopez, more so than most openings, is considered to be equally dangerous for White and for Black!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bloggers Chess

I've had the temerity to challenge Rook, proprietor of the very interesting weblog "Rooks Rant," to a game of what he calls "bloggers chess," and we've just made our first moves, via email.

Several years ago, through reading the equally interesting "Dohiyi Mir" weblog, I chanced to come upon a game that its creator, NTodd, was playing with Rook.

Naturally, given my longtime closeness to chess, I was intrigued and kept close track of that game ...for a while ...especially because of Rook's running comments, and if you're interested you might want to keep track of this present game through his site if only to see what he will find to say. He has some views, on chess as well as on many other matters, where unique is often an understatement.

Rook and Todd -- especially Rook I think -- advertised their contest as the "First Ever Game of Blogger's Chess." I thought that notion was admirable, though I just chalked it up to sheer exuberance on somebody's part.

Those two players, and especially Todd I suspect, had a lot of other agendas to absorb their attention, and after several months the game had barely gotten out of the opening, which to me was kind of ...odd. (You didn't hear me say "deplorable.") Eventually I went into one of my weblog "sabbaticals" and I never did find out how that game ended, though I do remember that one of them was a piece behind. I wonder if they mutually just forgot about that game.

Since then, Todd seems to have to replaced chess with volleyball, but Rook, true to his name, has kept the faith, and a short while ago I noticed that he was involved in another game with a second foe.

But by the time I came upon the scene, though it was again after just a few moves had been made, Rook's new adversary had made a move on no more than his fourth or fifth turn that on its face looked reasonable enough but proved to be disastrous, and Rook had a quick and easy win.

I will try to be more careful ...and also more punctual. And the first victory in this game figures to be if we can at least get out of the opening!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

My Watch and Riverbend

Something weird is happening when I try to bring up "Baghdad Burning," the weblog of Our Lady in Iraq, the mysterious Riverbend. When I use the link which is on this site here to the left, it comes up okay, with her last post being on the 5th. That link is keyed to blogspot. But when I use another link that isn't blogspot, I just get a notice saying that her domain expired on the 5th and needs to be renewed.

There is surely a simple explanation for all this, and everything will be made clear in time. But I seem to be ending this day the same way I started it -- hitting the panic button unjustifiably.

This morning my brand new $35 dollar pocket watch suddenly stopped working. I've been very pleased with this watch, and I tried not to let it bother me. But I did keep consulting it and suddenly, later in the day, it was working just fine again. All I can figure is that jostling in my pocket pulled the stem up to the position when it is normally stopped so the hands can be repositioned.

This sort of stuff has been happening with me a lot lately, and I blame it on the usual longevity thing.

I won't worry too much about Riverbend either.

Her site has been essential reading ever since the Bushers invaded her beloved land and thus opened the way for a huge mess to be made of the place and the decimation of her people. Nobody that I've seen has been better at informing us of just what it's been like to live in Iraq and specifically in the center of the maelstrom, the main city, Baghdad. Because I'm not fond of hearing bad news, there've been times when I've approached reading her with trepidation, and so I haven't kept up with her as closely as I should, but I still read her regularly enough.

Over the several years I have also worried a lot about her personal safety. Whenever I read about bombings and mass killings in that city, my first thoughts go to her, as if she is a relative or a close friend. And it doesn't help that she seems to be the feisty sort, who doesn't willingly obey the norms that are expected of her in that questionable Iraqi society, mainly her modes of dress. I know she stays close to home, but still she's in Battered Baghdad, and she has never expressed any desire to get out of there, which makes her all the more admirable, as I suspect that if she had wanted to get out of there and out of Iraq period, she could have managed it long before now.

Well, there've been other times when she's fallen silent, and she's always reappeared after a period of weeks, and she doesn't post at any definite time intervals anyway, but only when the fancy hits her and the electricity is on.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

New Ideas and Wrong Ideas

When I saw a Google News headline saying that some Republicans are criticizing their man in the Oval Office for his timing in getting rid of Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defence, I thought they were miffed because they thought that Bush acted too quickly in his desire to appear to go in a new direction, after it became clear that his party had lost big in the elections. But no, they were angry because they thought he had acted too slowly instead. They argued that, knowing that he had already decided to dump Donald, he should have done it two weeks before the election. Newt Gingrich and Arlen Specter are convinced that that would have swung things the other way, or rather, kept them the same way, with the Republicans still exercising an iron clamp on Congress.

It's not easy to face up to losing power that you expected your side to hold forever, because you see yourself as being so much more deserving of it than is the other side. So you grab at any little twig that you see spinning in the whirlpool around you.

With Rumsfeld speaking sayonara, Bush is now saying he is open to new ideas about how to get out of the mess he created in Iraq, even from Democrats.

What new ideas would those be?

Of course it's been clear for years that the most straightforward and therefore the best idea is for him to get out of there with the same speed and dispatch but with a touch more honesty than he used in going in there. But that is an idea that is considered to be the exclusive property of "the left wing of the Democrats," and as such, it is not considered to be even worth mentioning.

That's the kind of automatic non-thinking that got the Republicans and, by their doing, the country into this big mess in the first place. Their main policy was to do the exact opposite of what the Democrats, especially Clinton, had done and would do. Never mind that those Clinton ideas were the best ones, which left the country in far better shape when he left than is going to be the case when Bush goes.

What ultimately happens in Iraq is in the hands purely of the Iraqis and their neighbors, not in those over on this side of the globe. But seeing one's self in a class by itself as a "superpower" makes it impossible for one to grasp such a simple truth.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Elections

In the last three days I've been feeling pretty good in ways that haven't been available to me for years. It's because the Republicans, for whom I have long had no respect whatever, received a serious rebuff this past Tuesday, to an extent that I didn't think would be in the cards any time soon. They lost control of the Congress over which they had exercised a hammerlock for the past 12 years, and this means that, while they still call all the shots in the other two main branches of the U.S. government, namely the Executive and the Judiciary, this means there's hope yet that the cattle cars won't start rolling in this country for at least another few years. By that I mean falling into some form of fascism, concealed at first and then becoming gradually more overt, for which it seems to me modern day Republicans have been preparing the way since the days of R. Reagan, if not R. Nixon.

Of course most Americans don't need to fear this development, and an even larger majority don't, but I do.

If you think politics are important, then it's a very discouraging thing to see elections going against you year after year, which has been the case for far too much of my adult life, given the success of Republicans since the days of Eisenhower. But now, for the next two years at least and hopefully for longer, things will be on the upbeat side.

Of course you have to bear in mind the fact that I grew up during the four illustrious terms of F.D.R. and that during my early adult years I saw many American ideals actually being implemented, especially in the field of Civil Rights, during the administrations of Democratic Presidents H. Truman and L. Johnson. Without that I might still have been struggling with the status of being a second-class citizen.

I had a feeling that this past Election Day would be special, when I set out in the rain to drive the 15 miles to the polling place (an epic drive for me, you understand). There had been all the polls pointing to the likelihood of the Democrats retaking the House, and possibly the Senate, too. But also the weather reminded me of another cool, rainy election day, when my foresight in moving to Virginia from my native D.C. some years earlier had paid off, and I had gotten the chance to cast a vote for a man of my color, Doug Wilder, to be governor of the state, and so it had happened -- the first Rainbow (i.e. "black") governor of any state in the Union, so far.

And on this present day Virginia got a chance to make history again, by providing the final and sixth senator that the Democrats needed to gain the Senate, too, and it did, by choosing a former Republican, Jim Webb, over longtime Republican iron rascal, George Allen.

Oddly, George Allen is one of the few well-known politicians that I've seen up close, and it's even stranger, now that I think of it, that Marion Barry is the only other one that I can recall right off. That's not good, is it, that I should have personally sighted only infamous ones. In his very early days of running for stuff, Allen showed up one day at at event held at the local high school when my son was going there, back in the early 80's it must have been. I may even have shaken Allen's hand on that occasion, though I don't remember doing so. In those days I had no idea of his toxic, repressionistic leanings. I just remember that he was a pleasant-looking eager young guy running for office, and that he was the son of the then very famous head coach of the Washington Redskins, who had passed on his name (but in the present era hopefully not much else) to this guy who would go on to become a governor and then a U.S. senator, though now, thankfully, no more.

Webb didn't win by much -- a little over 7,000 votes out of the several million cast -- but it was enough to make unlikely a different result by a recount. But that means that my one little vote was more important than usual, and it shows why it is always important to vote, regardless of the weather or anything else. You never know, and it's just the right thing to do anyway, if you value your civilization and regardless of how much one may think of how little it matters. It always matters.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Avoiding New Posts

I seem to have found a new way to avoid putting posts on this, my own site. I've been going around putting comments on other people's weblogs.

Formerly this was never the case. Formerly I would leave comments elsewhere only after I had pulled myself together here -- for a short while.

I have no explanation for my change in strategy, which I am trying to fight now.

It's uncomfortable but not so hard to believe that it's been nearly a month since I published a post here. It's all a part of the ever-growing acceleration in time that has become my lot. I have glaucoma but the world has become a blur in more ways than just my vision. Everybody seems to talk too fast for me, not to mention moving too fast.

Crazy stuff! But what can I do? And anyway, things could be worse.

I'm speaking here only of the human components of that world. Otherwise the cats and the trees seem to be moving at their same stately and relaxed pace as always, and that helps.