Saturday, July 31, 2010

From last to ... next to last!

  I had previously written about how I had submitted my blog posting about the Okoboji Open for the Best Humorous Contribution in the 2010 Chess Journalists of America Awards. Unlike my experience 4 years ago, this year’s awards were very transparently and professionally run. I thought I was a long shot to win an award but when I saw my wife Kathy chuckle when reading the posting, I figured I had a chance (Kathy doesn’t like my sense of humor very often). I also had another chance at fame and glory when the my article about the 2009 Iowa Championships had been submitted for the Best tournament Report by the editor of the Iowa Chess News quarterly magazine, En Passant. Somehow, the report had been attributed to my son Matt, but I wasn’t going to concern myself with that small detail unless I happened to win.

  The results came to me via e-mail this week and not only were the winners supplied, I got to see the judges’ scores for all the entries. The judges, who are all anonymous, assigned each entry 0 (terrible or no merit), 1 (fair), or 2 (excellent) points. There were 6 judges in the Best Humorous section and 4 entries. I received 1 point from 1 judge and zero points from the other 5. Needless to say, I finished 4th out of the 4 entries. Not only was my entry the worst in that section, since no other entry received less than 4 points, my entry was judged as the worst overall entry.

  My tournament report did better. My entry finished tied for 7th and 8th out of 9 entries. I got zero points from 2 judges, 1 point from 2 judges, and 2 points from 3 judges for 8 points. One of the judges that gave me 2 points did not give any of the other entries 2 points so I did have a big supporter.

  I am a little disturbed at having the worst overall entry, but not too much since I have a bunch of excuses I can use. I write about chess but the blog is not meant for chess players, so the humor is probably a little edgier than what most of the chess-playing judges are used to. The tournament report was written for chess players and the judges naturally liked it better. In the other hand, I could just be a misunderstood writer. After all, Van Gogh’s paintings were not highly thought of until he was dead.

  I do want to thank the one judge who gave me a point because that allows me to cling to the possibility that some other entry in the future will not even get one point and remove me from the record book. And I may even find a sort of infamy with my low score. Just like the players of the 72-73 Philadelphia 76er’s basketball team are interviewed when a team threatens their record of only 9 wins, I’ll be asked how I feel having my ‘achievement’ safe for another year, especially when an entry gets only 2 or 3 points.

  I didn’t want to bring this up, but maybe there is an Iowa bias in the country causing my poor marks. I noticed when the Washington Nationals pitching prodigy Stephen Strasburg was scratched from his scheduled start last week, his replacement pitcher Miguel Batista was booed by the home crowd. When asked about the booing, Batista showed he understood the crowd’s action by saying “Imagine if you go to see Miss Universe, then you end up having to see Miss Iowa” (story here). I would play up the fact I’m from New Jersey in future submissions but that would probably be putting a bigger target on my back. One time at St. Mary Church in Marshalltown Iowa, a guest priest from Italy was giving a homily in very broken English. The first thing he did was to apologize for his poor command of the language by saying “I was in New Jersey last week, and they too not understand well. I talked too good English for them...”.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Not backing down

  I previously wrote about my posting to Bob Long’s blog about his description of the rating of one of the personalities attending his October’s chess clinic, Andres Hortilossa, (“his rating was 2199 last I looked”) and the misleading response Bob posted. I had previously written a review about Hortillosa’s book “Improve Your Chess at Any Age”, which served a collections of the author’s games and outlines his chess improvement system.

  It seems as if I have opened a hornet’s nest. 2 weekends ago, the author responded in a blog posting referring to my opinions as a ‘big lie’ and ‘factual accusations’. And this past weekend, I was sent a copy of 4-page article printed in Long’s ‘Chess Reports’ magazine where he and Hortillosa refer to me as an ‘idiot’ and ‘sophomoric’ [Clarification: Long referred to me as an 'idiot', Hortillosa as using 'sophomoric logic'], among quite a few other insulting phrases. The language in the private forum was a lot less civil than in the blog postings, but I don’t think I was meant to see this one, as it is a subscriber-only magazine that is part instruction and part advertisement for Bob’s other chess-related entrepreneurial endeavors.

  I like to have a good humor about things and don't care for all the vitriol from Bob and Hortilossa. I offered my opinions and generally had a favorable review of the book. I'm rather offended at taking a private beatdown in a subscriber only magazine without having the opportunity to respond, but since I have my own 'media' outlet as the Tom Petty song goes, I can stand my ground and not back down.

  Hortillosa seems upset with my opinion that his jump from an unrated international player to one rated 2199 was the result of an exceptional performance in his first internationally rated tournament (most US tournaments are not internationally rated due to the high cost and extra regulations), since his national rating (that was established over 20 years and 900+ games) was never 2199 and his international rating has been in free-fall over the past 2 years (losing 200+ points in less than 2 years). In his post he points out that his initial international rating was indeed 2199 and asks if I am just ignorant of that fact or am just promulgating a ‘big lie’, treating my mentioning that his national rating was never 2199 as a denial of his initial international rating.

  He also doesn’t seem to like my conclusion of his rating downslide as showing his system “could not improve his chess at his current age”. He notes that when he follows his system he has good results, but when he doesn’t follow his system, he plays like ‘his critics’ (that would be me, I assume). I’ll give him a tie in the ‘sarcastic remark’ contest although I do like my play on the book title better. An improvement system (chess or otherwise) doesn’t give me a lot of confidence when the inventor and primary example of the system can’t follow it consistently. If he can’t follow his own system, what hope do I have of following it and more importantly, why should I even bother? In an entire universe of chess improvement systems, I’m going to pick one that the originator can’t follow? For me to sign on to a system, I’d like to see a sustained improvement from its leading advocate, not being Cinderella for a tournament or two and then having the horse and carraige turning back into mice and a pumpkin at midnight. I’ll pass on playing Charley in a real life version of ‘Flowers for Algernon’.

  I could relate when Hortillosa compared his system to a weight loss program that I shouldn’t dismiss because he has put his weight back on. He says “Hank, ignore my own ’weight’ issues. See if you can really use my prescriptive ‘diet plan’ because you might be a better practitioner of the plan than I could ever become.” I don’t think Hortillosa is aware of my having been recently labeled as obese at my work’s health screening, so I won’t accuse him of being weight-intolerant, but I did get to think who would I want to help me lose weight if I was really serious about it? I came up with 4 choices. Who would you pick?

Yes, I picked #2 also. There’s a reason the TV show on NBC isn’t called ‘Losing it with the guy sleeping on a lazy boy' or ‘Losing it with the guy who can drink his furniture’. I went to the Target today and looked through all the weight loss books and workout videos. None of the people on the covers of the books and DVD’s looked like a guy that would need the New York Fire Department to come over with ropes and ladders to help him get out of his apartment building when he fell down, like this fellow
(You can read about it here).

  Mind you, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being so obese that you need the fire department to help you out of your apartment building when you fall down. I'm merely saying that I’d go elsewhere for my dieting advice, thank you. But, maybe I can get in touch with him to see if he has a chess improvement program…

  (How's that for sophomoric?)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Race to be stupid

  A big item in the news this week was the showcasing of excerpted comments made by Shirley Sherrod to the NAACP Freedom Fund. The excerpts showed Sherrod (who is black) talking about in the 1980’s she was working for a non-profit organization helping farmers fight foreclosure, the first time she had to help a white farmer and how she decided to help him just enough to tell her boss that she tried and referred him to a white lawyer so one of ‘his own kind’ could help him. The excerpt was aired on a right-wing website and caught on the major news services quickly.

  Before checking on the facts or questioning Sherrod, the NAACP condemned her remarks (even though they were at a NAACP event), she was called by either the White House or the Department of Agriculture and ordered to resign her government job via her Blackberry. No wasting time there. Sherrod said the order came from the White House, but Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack took credit/blame for the decision. In time the entire speech came out and the untold part of Sherrod’s story was how she stepped in to help the farmer save his farm a few months later when the white lawyer wasn’t helping him. She went on in that speech to say that the real struggle is not between black and white but between the haves and the have-nots.

  When the entirety of Sherrod’s speech came out
(you can read the text of the speech here), the NAACP apologized, and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack ( a former Iowa Governor) fell all over himself to not only apologize and offer Sherrod her job back, but now she has been offered a better job. This offer has been backed by the White House. I don’t know why she deserves a better job from the government because of this. Did she become more qualified because she was bullied into resigning? If Vilsack wants to hire her and pay out of his own pocket, that’s fine by me, but this is a poor use of public money to reward her for Vilsack’s incompetence.

  It’s no surprise for me that Vilsack finds himself in the middle of a big flip-flop. When he was the governor of Iowa seeking his second term, he voted for a very anti-liberal bill
making English the official language of Iowa. But after he was re-elected and was trying to advance himself to be John Kerry’s vice-presidential candidate, he started apologizing profusely for signing the bill now that he was playing to a new audience. He said he was talked into signing the bill by his staff because 80% of Iowans supported it and he apologized “personally and for the people of my state”. While I’m pleased that the ex-Governor knows so much more than 80% of the people he was elected to served that he could apologize for us, I’m glad that 80% of all Iowans didn’t think he should have stuck his head up his rear end because he may have suffocated. Vilsack not only is missing the courage of his convictions, he has neither courage nor convictions.

  This story makes everybody but Sherrod look stupid. The right wing web site looks deceitful, the NAACP and the White House look so concerned about perception that justice flies out the window not once, but twice. And the news media comes off as so concerned about sensationalizing the story that they couldn’t be bothered to check the facts. The story has since completely disappeared from the news, which I find interesting since the original coverage was so ‘in your face’.

  Sherrod may be on to something about the haves vs. the have-nots. The people she worked for were willing to obliterate her career in public service for a speech about her actions 25 years ago, but the late Senator Robert Byrd was allowed to sweep his
career as a Klu Klux Klan organizer and leader under the rug as long as he could deliver billions and billions of public aid dollars to his home state of West Virginia.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Live chess everywhere

  I took my son Matt to Minnesota this past weekend to play in a strong tournament as a warm-up for the National Tournament of State High School champions in California in 2 weeks. After the 4 and a half hour drive Friday night, we got to the tournament site on Saturday morning. The tournament was at the Chess Castle which is a chess club in a rehabilitated warehouse district in Minneapolis. The Chess Castle is in a building with a church, a science fiction and anime aficionado club, a circus school, and the “Black Boys Wrestling School”. And that is only the groups I saw in the building. The club seems like a nice quiet place for the players but since I don’t like to be in the room where Matt is playing, I was relegated with the other parents to an empty warehouse space next door. My younger son Ben came with me. He is ‘retired’ from chess, but since my wife went to a high school reunion this weekend, I was the lesser of 2 evils. We visited a couple of bookstores while Matt was just starting his games so we could be back before he finished.

  The Chess Castle shares their wireless internet and also broadcast the games on the Monroi web site (free registration is required). The players use the Monroi handheld device to record their moves and a receiving station wirelessly receives the moves and transmits them to the web site for the public to view. It was very cool to be able to look at Matt’s games over the internet while he was playing. I did have to shut my computer down pretty quick in one instance when I looked up and there was Matt was walking towards me. He wanted to know what the lunch plans were.

At work this past week, I’ve been able to look in on the Dortmund (Germany) chess tournament at lunch. Every year this tournament matches 6 top grandmasters to play 2 games each against each other. This year, the top player in the field is former World champion Vladimir Kramnik. He is joined by 3 other super GM’s (Ruslan Ponomriov, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, and Peter Leko), the top German player Arkadij Naiditsch, and the winner of the Russian Aeroflot tournament Le Quang Liem from Vietnam. The games have been reaching their conclusion during my lunch hour and the 6 combatants have played uncompromising chess during the first half of the event. Less than half of the games have been drawn and with so many decisive results, the second half of the event promises more fighting chess as the first half losers try to exact their revenge on their conquerors in their rematches with reversed colors.

Yesterday at lunch, the Dortmund players had the day off, but I was able to watch the Biel Chess Festival live from Switzerland. Every year Biel matches some of the top players in the world and this year is holding a Young Grandmaster tournament with the 10 players aged from 16 to 23. The headliners are the Italian champion (by way of the USA) Fabiano Caruana, World Junior and French champion Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and European champion Evgeny Tomashevsky from Russia.

  The last 2 weeks, my son Matt has been watching the US Women’s and US Junior Championships being broadcast from the
St. Louis Chess Club almost every afternoon. The club is the brainchild of multi-millionaire Rex Sinquefield, who bankrolled these 2 events and the US Championship earlier this year with the largest prize funds ever. The women’s champion is Irina Krush, while the junior championship was won by Sam Shankland. Both tournaments got international attention, but most of the coverage of the Junior tournament centered on the chances of Ray Robson, who at 15 years old is the youngest American grandmaster. Shankland has gotten on the bad side of the chess media by complaining about the lack of chances to get his final grandmaster norm. In order to qualify as a grandmaster, one must play to grandmaster strength in 3 tournaments and must also play a number of grandmasters in the tournament. While Robson had the means and opportunities to earn his norms in invitational tournaments, Shankland has had a tougher road and been denied norms by technicalities. I found it interesting that while the Chessbase and uschess web sites covered the junior championship extensively up to the final round, after Shankland won his last round game to force a 3 way playoff and then won the playoff the next day, Chessbase did not note his victory and the USCF web site did not see fit to write an article about it at all, only offering a link to the St. Louis chess club article. Maybe Shankland has a point about being treated unfairly. His victory is suspiciously out of chronological order with the other headline articles and is not even listed on the sidebar.

  Normally the top chess tournaments hold their games in the afternoon, but the reason I can see them at lunch is because of the time difference between Europe and the US. I don’t have the attention span to watch 5 hours of chess, but the one hour is just enough for me to wish I didn’t have a night job.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Owning LeBron

  I wonder if the Miami Heat think they have bought an NBA Championship by signing free-agent superstars LeBron James and Chris Bosh to go along with their own superstar Dwyane Wade. As a Yankee fan I know that having the best player in the league is a good start towards a championship, but until the championship trophy is presented the only thing the Heat have ‘won’ is the right to sign some very large paychecks for a very long time. The NBA’s salary cap will keep the Heat from buying more superstar players so they will have to fill out their roster with players willing to make less money than they could get from other teams in return for the chance to play for a championship. So far, they are off to a good start, signing 3-point shooter Mike Miller and re-signing power forward Udonis Haslem for far less than they could have commanded on the open market. This is very much the formula Heat General Manager Pat Rielly used in 2005 and 2006, teaming Wade with Shaquile O’Neal and getting veterans like Antoine Walker, Gary Payton, and Jason Williams on the cheap to supplement the superstars. That team went to the conference finals in 2005, won the NBA championship in 2006 after a meltdown by the Dallas Mavericks in the finals, and fell apart the next year when the O’Neal was out of shape, injured, unmotivated, and finally traded.

  I tend to think that the Heat will win a championship with their 3 superstars. Rielly is a championship coach who can get players to believe him when he says he is giving them the chance to play for a championship team and a good enough GM to get the correct complementary players. The only stumbling block I see is if the team doesn’t win in the first year, there is a possibility of the three superstars engaging in an implosion of finger-pointing. James in particular will be coming in with the weight of high expectations and will be in for a lot of criticism if the team fails in the playoffs. Look to see what kind of start the Heat get off to next year. If they get out of the gate by winning 25 or more of their first 30 games, they should have gained the confidence to feel unbeatable enough to win the championship.

  The reaction of Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert to James’ signing with the Heat was surreal, to say the least. He wrote an open letter to the Cavalier fans, calling James a ‘deserter’, his signing with the Heat a ‘cowardly betrayal’ and guaranteeing that the Cavaliers would win a championship before the Heat would. Then Gilbert told the Associated Press that James had quit on his team in the playoffs the last 2 years. I understand that it is frustrating to lose your best player to another team for reasons that are beyond your control (championship caliber teammates, warm weather, no state income tax), but I’d have been a lot more impressed if Gilbert had said James quit on his team while there was still a chance he was going to sign with Cleveland, not AFTER he signed with another team. I would ask Gilbert why he trying to spend millions of dollars on someone who was a quitter. Unless I get a good answer, I think Gilbert must be either the stupidest owner who ever lived or just took the opportunity to get ingratiate himself to the Cavalier fans. Gilbert was fined $100,000 by the NBA for his comments and got called a racist with a slave-owner's mentality by Jesse Jackson (undoubtedly a slow news day for the Reverend). But the real damage Gilbert's comments has done is to let every prospective free-agent understand how they will be treated by the owner if they ever butt heads with him.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Remembrances of Steinbrenner

  George Steinbrenner passed away at the age of 80 yesterday. He bought the Yankees when I was 13 and was a central figure in my teenage years. There will be a lot of talk about how George was a visionary and that is true. He wasn’t the first owner to buy players (the Yankees bought Joe DiMaggio from the San Francisco Seals for $100,000 in 1936, and the Boston Red Sox paid $100,000 for Jimmy Foxx a few years before that), but he was one of the first owners to ransom a city for stadium improvements when he threatened to move the team to New Jersey in 1973 and he was the first baseball owner to put the majority of his team’s games on cable when he agreed to sell 12 years of Yankee games to the Madison Square Garden network for $500 million over 12 years. Even though that was an unheard of amount at the time, by the end of the contract it turned out that Madison Square Garden had made a great deal because everyone wants to watch the Yankees and companies would pay top dollar to advertise on the games. After the contract expired, Steinbrenner was able to start his own cable network (another first) and keep all the profits.

  I wasn’t as upset by Steinbrenner’s passing as I was when the great Yankee player and manager Billy Martin died in a 1989 car accident. Maybe it was because I was younger or maybe it was because Billy’s death was unexpected. I think it was because when George would fire and rehire Billy in the 70’s and 80’s the crowd of Yankee fans I hung with in New Jersey identified with Billy as the former Yankee player, World Series MVP, hard living, hard drinking, fight at the drop of a hat winner we all wish we could be. We all saw Steinbrenner as the silver spoon rich shipbuilder son of a rich shipbuilder jock-sniffing wannabe athlete. (None of us had dad’s who were shipbuilders or even rich).

  It’s easy to think Steinbrenner was a much beloved figure during his whole ownership reign from listening to all the tributes this week, but he was referred to by his employees of the 70’s and 80’s as ‘The Fat Man’, ‘Manager George’, ‘Georgie Porgie’, among others. In 1982, Steinbrenner let Reggie Jackson sign with the Angels and decided to remake the Yankees into a ‘speed team’. He bragged about plan, but the team was awful and on a Sunday afternoon game against the Angels, Jackson hit a long home run in blowout game and 40,000 people chanted “Steinbrenner Sucks!” for the rest of the game. The chant was again heard in the early nineties when the Yankees were the worst team in baseball and fans wore paper bags on their head. And of course there was Billy Martin’s famous reference to his felony conviction for illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon, “The two of them deserve each other. One’s a born liar (Reggie Jackson), the other’s convicted.” Billy was drunk at the time, but he lost his job just like the famous secretary who brought Steinbrenner a tuna fish sandwich instead of roast beef.

  Steinbrenner bought the Yankees near the end of a 12 year drought of World Series appearances, but the arrow was already pointing up and many of the key components of the great teams of the late 70’s were already in place. Steinbrenner benefitted by the onset of baseball free agency because he now could just get players by paying them directly instead of giving money and good young players in trade to other teams for the same players. This meant that it only cost money for Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage, and Catfish Hunter and the team didn’t have to trade top prospects like Ron Guidry for them. Since no other team was willing to spend for free agents, George had the field to himself and could get any player he wanted.

  Rooting for a championship contender every year is great and Steinbrenner deserves a lot of the credit for pushing the team over the top, but the constant hiring and firing of managers and the strategy of trading top prospects in favor of accumulating all-star caliber players to be backups started to backfire in the early 80’s. The top-line free agent players could get almost the same money the Yankees would pay from teams like Gene Autry’s Angels and Ted Turner’s Braves and would use the Yankees high bids to sign with other clubs for almost the same money and the security of not being lambasted by the New York media, embarrassed publicly by the owner, or just losing their playing time because the owner could decide to buy a different all-star player. After the embarrassment of losing the 1981 World Series to the Dodgers after winning the first 2 games, (George broke his hand after what he said was a fight with some Dodger fans on an elevator and he never forgave his expensive free agent Dave Winfield for going 1 for 22 in the series), George ended up overpaying for mediocre talent and having to trade top prospects for real star players. The teams of the middle 80’s had an awesome offense led by Rickey Henderson, Don Mattingly, and Dave Winfield, but never even won a division, always being undone by well-paid but underperforming players like Ed Whitson, Ken Phelps, Pascual Perez, and Steve Kemp who were superstars only in their paychecks. What few prospects came up through the farm system were traded for either has-beens or someone who just had the best year of their career before resuming their mediocre ways. Steinbrenner was thought of as a laughing stock by Yankee fans and most of the baseball writers I read and there were many calls for him to sell the team.

  In the late 80’s the team became undone by Mattingly’s back injury, Henderson wanting a new contract and forcing a trade, aging pitching, and no prospects in the farm system. The Yankees were a last place team into the early nineties. Steinbrenner was on the US Olympic Committee and when he was caught paying a known gambler for information that may have proved Dave Winfield threw the 1981 World Series, he accepted a voluntary lifetime ban from baseball rather a suspension which may have gotten him thrown off the Olympic Committee. I think Winfield was paid for his poor performance and George got a raw deal, but so soon after the Pete Rose scandal, baseball decided to sweep the affair under the run and punish Steinbrenner for consorting with gamblers. With no expectation of winning and without the pressure from the owner, the Yankees rebuilt their farm system, made some smart trades to get players like Paul O’Neill, and were ready to contend when Steinbrenner’s ban was lifted. The 90’s Steinbrenner was much smarter than the 80’s version. He stopped ranting and railing against the players and managers and let his front office use the Yankee money to get the missing pieces of the puzzle instead of getting every available player who ever made an All-Star team. The result of this was the dynasty of the late 90’s. After the aging of that group, Steinbrenner went back to his old ways of overpaying for the biggest names available (Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, Bobby Abreu) and while making the playoffs every year, the team did not have the cohesion needed to win a championship.

  Steinbrenner was mostly concerned over his last years of owning the team with getting the new Yankee Stadium built. He tried to get it put in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, but even threatening to move to New Jersey could not get him such prime real estate. He arranged to build the stadium across the street from the old one and turned the team over to his sons in 2007. I thought had a stroke based on how suddenly he disappeared from the public eye, or maybe I just didn’t notice a larger than life figure turn old and frail until he was. In any event, I give Steinbrenner a lot of credit for bringing championships to New York, and I’m glad he lived long enough to see the Yankees win a World Championship in the stadium he built. Rest in Peace, George.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Honest and Half-Honest

  If you want to get annoyed during a conversation with me, just start a sentence with one of the following phrases:
"To be honest with you,..."
"To tell the truth,..."

  When you finish talking, I'll ask if you were lying about everything you said to me up to that point. When you say no, I'll ask why you felt the need to preface your last statement by letting me know you were telling the truth if you weren't lying the rest of the time. And every time after that if you don't begin a statement by expressing your honesty, I'll ask if you were just being honest, since you didn't preface your remarks by letting me know you were telling the truth THIS time. If I'm on my game, I can get the other party to break down in tears or start screaming "WHAT IS THIS? A @#%$(@ TRIAL?"." Honest people never have to say they are being honest. I've run across a couple of examples of honesty this week that I'd like to share.

  2 weeks ago I drove my son Matt to Jackson, Minnesota where he was helping to conduct a
chess camp run by John Flores of Sibley, Iowa. John has run the camp the last 2 years featuring the high school chess champions of Iowa and Minnesota and donated the proceeds to the 2 champions to help with expenses attending the national tournament. This year’s camp was not well attended, but John and Sam Smith of the Southwest Minnesota Chess Association pulled a lot of money out of their pockets to give to the champions. This year's tournament in in Irvine, California so the money will come in very handy. Matt and I were kind of embarrassed taking their money, and we hope to be able to return the favor in the future. I’m a better giver than receiver, but I’m getting better at receiving as I get older.

  This past week John sent me an email saying that he had received another donation for the chess camp and was going to be splitting up the donation and was going to forward it to Matt and the Minnesota champion. I’m not sure I wouldn’t have just pocketed the cash and not said another word, but John is an honest man and this shows just how honest he is. He ran for the office of Treasurer for the Iowa State Chess Association and I voted for him, since the current treasurer had not attended any of the annual meetings since his last re-election and also not bothered submitting any treasurer reports over the last 2 years. Unfortunately, there was no open election process so John had to run as a write in candidate. The current treasurer managed to come the meeting to be re-elected and even came up with a treasurer’s report. Sadly, John did not get elected.

  In May, I
reviewed the book ‘How to Improve Your Chess at Any Age’ by Andres Hortillosa. I noted that the book advertises how the author went from an unrated player to an international ratting of 2199 using his method. I pointed out that the international rating was due to a successful first international tournament and has fallen steadily since. Last week, Bob Long advertised on his blog that Hortillosa would be appearing at his chess Clinic in October. He mentioned the book and said “his rating was 2199 last I looked”. I wrote a comment on his blog that Bob must have not looked at his rating for quite some time since Hortillosa’s international rating was 2199 in October of 2008 and was never 2199 nationally. Bob wrote back that I should go to his chess clinic and ask Hortillosa about his rating and also that “I'm not concerned much about the rating as it's been a while since I was near 2100, but I have beaten more masters than many other people.”

  I was very disappointed in this reply since I’ve always found Bob to be a person of high integrity. I’ve seen him come to a tournament to sell books only to walk out when he found a book vendor there who he felt illegally copied old books to CD to sell, violating copyright laws. If he was not so concerned about ratings, he shouldn’t have mentioned it, but having mentioned it, he should have been stand-up enough to admit that he ‘last looked’ at the rating from the advertisement on the back of the book and corrected himself once alerted. The bulldog in me went to look up Bob’s rating to see when he was rated 2100 and beating “more masters than many other people”. Looking at
Bob’s USCF record, I can see that he has not been rated 2100 since at least 1991 (as far back as the computerized records go), and has been over 2000 for 2 months in the last 20 years (August 1994). Further investigation shows that in the last 20 years Bob has played 3 masters and lost all 3 games. I haven’t beaten any masters in the last 20 years either, so I don’t want you to think I’m knocking Bob, but it would be nice if the facts added up. There is nothing factually wrong, but facts used to lead the reader to a wrong conclusion are half-honest at best.

  When I was working writing retail store software, a company that was a division of one of our competitors tried to convince my boss to partner for some e-commerce initiatives. They mentioned that they had been talking to the head of the NSRA (National Shoe Retailers Association) and that he was going to recommend the e-commerce initiative to his members. My boss called the head of the NRSA and found he never talked to this company. My boss was telling me about the lie and I told him that they may have been talking to him, he just wasn’t on the phone at the time. I mentioned that I was discussing foreign affairs with President Bush the week before. To be honest, he wasn't in my office or on the phone but that didn't mean I wasn't talking to him.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The real shortage

  I had Monday off, but it was raining in the morning so instead of walking my dogs to the Jiffy convenience store for their beef sticks and my cup of coffee, they went to the backyard and neither of us got our morning treat. It had stopped raining in the afternoon, so Kathy and I took the dogs to the Jiffy to get their treats. Normally on weekend afternoons, we take them to the Kum & Go for their treat and we each get a 32 ounce soda for 59 cents. We went to the Jiffy because it was not warm enough for an ice-cold soda and I wanted a cup of coffee. We got to the store, I got my 20 ounce cup full of coffee and the 2 beef sticks and fished 6 pennies out of my pocket (99 cent coffee, 2 beef sticks for $1 and 7 cents tax = $2.06) as I have done for years. I got to the register, the clerk rang me up while I was getting the bills out of my wallet and then I got the shock of my life.

  The clerk said “That will be two twenty seven”

  I thought I had heard her wrong, or maybe she thought I was a cappuccino drinker, or maybe she had made a mistake. She saw my puzzlement and pointed to the large sign over the coffee machine. My 20 ounce coffee had gone from 99 cents to a dollar nineteen. And to add insult to injury, the state of Iowa was charging an extra penny sales tax. I put my 6 cents back in my pocket, pulled out an extra dollar bill, paid and left.

  It was a depressing walk home. I had just gotten the same size coffee the day before for 99 cents + tax and it went up 20 cents in the blink of an eye. The coffee wasn’t new and improved either. It was just the same old coffee. As we were walking back, we passed the Casey’s convenience store. I saw that the price of gasoline was still $2.59 a gallon. Since there are 128 ounces to a gallon, I figured my coffee cost over 7.25 per gallon. It’s a good thing our cars don’t run on coffee.

  I don’t understand why coffee is so much more expensive than gasoline. I know the coffee comes in a cup, but if I wanted to, I could buy 20 ounces of gasoline. It only takes the clerk about a minute to get a giant canister of coffee brewing so it can’t be the labor costs. I have to go in the store, pour the coffee in the cup, put the creamer in it, and put the lid on it, so it can’t be the convenience of getting the coffee. After all, I can fill my car up with gas and pay for it without even stepping foot in the store. The only reasonable conclusion is that coffee is more valuable than oil. I bet if coffee had started leaking into the Gulf of Mexico this spill would have been contained in no time. There’s probably more than enough oil but the world is running out of coffee so the country is arranging to strategically stockpile it in our convenience stores. These foreign countries that think they have the USA hooked on foreign oil will eventually realize that we’ve been accumulating an even more valuable commodity and then they’ll be singing a different tune!

Monday, July 5, 2010


  The year was half over on Wednesday and the baseball season is halfway over for the Yankees. The Yankees record is 50 wins and 31 losses so they are on a pace for 100 wins. Just like yesterday’s 7-6 win over Toronto where the starting pitching was suspect, 3 Yankees got thrown out at the plate, Rivera blew a save in the 9th , the Yankees got just enough help from the Blue Jays inherent laziness (allowing an inside park home run on a ball the center fielder missed and no one backed up on and a double play on a botched bunt that the batter didn’t run hard on) to win the game. The pitchers wins and losses look impressive enough with Pettitte, Hughes, and Sabathia all having 10 wins, but Hughes has been awful the last month, Pettitte is 38 and starting to show some wear, and Burnett has been pathetic for 2 months. In the bullpen, no one has been reliable. Chamberlain and only Marte and Rivera have been reliable.

  The hitting has been carrying the team by scoring the second most runs in the league to make up for giving up more than runs than all but 2 teams. Cano is an all-star, Rodriguez and Teixeira are heating up, but Jeter and Posada have cooled off after hot starts. Curtis Granderson, the new center fielder has been good in the field but doesn’t get on base enough to be able to hit at the top of the order.

  Despite all the problems, the Yankees are still in first place by 2 games over the Red Sox and the Devil Rays. I think they have enough to beat out the Rays to at least get in the playoffs, but it bothers me a lot that the Red Sox have almost their entire starting lineup on the injured list, yet have overcome a poor start to be within 2 games of first place. If they can get all their players healthy, they could blow the race wide open.

  Ultimately, the goal of the regular season is to get into the playoff with the pitching staff healthy and in a groove. The Yankees understand this better than any team so hopefully they will be able to get the staffs’ problems worked out in the next 2 months for the stretch run.

  On my personal halftime, the first half of 2010 has been successful. The new job is going great and my chess rating is at an all time high (I suffered a defeat to the barefoot chess player last Thursday, but that was July 1st, the second half of the year. I’ve been playing very poorly in our blitz tournaments the last few weeks, but like the Yankees, have done just enough to win. I’m looking forward to the results when I start to play well again.