Thursday, September 30, 2010

Getting your head on straight

  The Yankees have finally clinched a spot in the playoffs, but have stumbled badly by losing 6 of 8 games after winning the first 2 games of a 4 game series against the Devil Rays. They went from having a 2 game lead on the rest of the league and having the home field advantage until the World Series to the likely wild card spot. In order to get to the World Series they’ll have to win 2 series on the road. I have very little faith that the Yankees will be playing long in October. The pitching has been atrocious all month. C.C. Sabathia can match up with anyone, but was not up to the task in last week’s 10-2 loss to the Devil Rays that would have all but clinched the division. After Sabathia, there is not one Yankee starting pitcher I would trust on the mound. Pettite has been hit hard since he came back from injury, Burnett has been hit hard all year, and Hughes pitches just good enough to lose in big games. The relievers have shown some improvement as of late, but the great Mariano Riveria has been blowing games and looks pretty shaky in the games he does manage to save. It is disappointing to see his age seriously showing. Joba Chamberlain should have the closer this year, but he has regressed and probably will never live up to his promise. Pitching wins in the playoffs and this year’s Yankees pitching staff reminds me a lot of the teams that made early exits in the ’05,’06, and ’07 playoffs.

  The only advantage I can see for the Yankees is their experience in winning the championship last year. It is possible that they can get through the Twins or the Rangers because they have the confidence to succeed in the playoffs, but this 2010 Twins team seems a lot more mentally tough than the 2009 team that kept botching simple fielding plays and getting runners thrown out on the bases. Because of their awesome starting pitching, I expect the Phillies to win the world championship this year. They have 3 top starters and have been playing lights out since they got their better hitters back from injury. They also have the championship experience advantage, winning the World Series 2 years ago and losing to the Yankees in the series last year. I am very happy they made the postseason instead of the filthy Red Sox, but Yankee fans can only consider a successful season one that ends with the world championship.

  The football Giants are a team that decidedly does not have their head on straight. After beating an awful Carolina team at home and losing to a very good Colts team on the road, the Giants were at home against a fair Tennessee Titans team last Sunday and the game was on our local TV, a rare break from the steady diet of Vikings, Packers, Bears, and Chief games I normally get. Unfortunately, the Giants were sloppy and undisciplined and lost a game they had every opportunity to win. Fumbles, interceptions, and missed field goals in scoring territory complemented the 11 penalties (including stupid personal fouls) made the Giants look like one of the worse teams in the league and got me wondering if the Colts were really that good or if the Giants were really that bad.

  I helped to straighten some heads this week, myself. Our local newspaper had not been delivered for a week straight and we had to call every night to get it delivered. On Sunday it wasn’t delivered again and I didn’t call until I got back from church at 10:10. Of course, you had to call before 10 for the delivery before the circulation department closes for the day, so no paper. On Monday when it wasn’t delivered yet again, I called the circulation department to ask for the paper and offered to cancel my subscription until they could figure out a way to deliver the paper since it would be no more expensive and a lot less aggravating to just get one from the store on my way home from work if it wasn’t going to be waiting for me. I also mentioned that the circulation department was probably as sick of me calling as I was. I got no argument on that point, but my subscription was credited for my trouble and the paper has arrived every day since. I had brought my sons laptop to a computer repair shop to be fixed last Friday (he dropped it and it won’t boot up) and was told I’d get a call on Saturday to come pick it up. I did not get a call on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday so I called to say that I’d just like to pick it up and if they hadn’t worked on it, that was OK. I called again today and the owner who told me it would be done on Saturday said he thought it was done. Thought. I said it either was or wasn’t done and could he stop thinking and start telling. He compromised on it being almost done and offered to cut my bill a bit for my trouble. I’ll pass on the offer and consider it a parting gift.

  I am heading straight to the end of my exercise resolutions. Last year I crawled to the finish line after almost stopping for a month, but this year I’m sprinting to the finish.

Pushups 7545 (out of 8000)
Stationary Bike 520 (out of 525 miles)
Blogs 78 (out of 104)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Return on Investment

  When our family moved to Marshalltown in 1994, there was a 5 screen movie theatre on the south side in a ‘mall’ by the Wal-Mart and a 2 screen theatre in the older downtown section called the Orpheum. Within a couple of years the Orpheum closed and the south side theatre has steadily expanded to the point where it can show 12 movies at once. As part of a $25 million dollar bond issue for the Community College, the Community College bought and renovated the Orpheum Theatre and is using it for their fine arts classes. The theatre also has some kids programs and even shows old movies every weekend.

  This past weekend they were showing the ‘Wizard of Oz’. When I was a kid, the movie would be on TV once a year and was a big event to watch. When I was college age, groups of us would get together and watch it in various altered states of mind. I’ve never seen the movie in a theatre and got my wife to go along with me last Saturday night.

  We only had to pay $3 each to see the movie and could get a soda for $2 and candy for $1 or even a quarter for a tiny box of candy like you would get for Halloween. The theater was clean and the screen was large, if smaller than the big screens at more expensive theatres. The movie was a trip to see on a large screen. I wonder what the people who thought this up were thinking of. Munchkins, winged monkeys, and green faced witches indeed! At the time, none of the characters were famous, although the OZ books were very well known. Most of the major actors in the film became icons and many had their obituary on the front page of the New York Times. The story of leaving the dull black and white world to go to the land of Technicolor for an adventure and then wanting to go back home is something that everone can relate to, not just the Depression generation the movie was made for. The special effects hold up fairly well even 70 years later if taken with a grain of salt. I enjoyed the movie and intend on seeing the great Hitchcock movie ‘North by Northwest’ there in a couple of weeks.

  It was nice to actually get some benefit of the millions and millions of tax dollars that have been poured into Marshalltown the last few years. The first big purchase was an aquatic center. The proponents said that Marshalltown had to have it to compete with other towns so companies and people would want to relocate here. It was promised that it would pay for itself, and be open until Labor Day and neither has been the case. More money was poured into a new Public Library. The new building is very nice and won some awards, but the library still has mostly old books, is not open Sundays as promised, and the meeting rooms that were touted as being designed to be available to the community even when the library was closed are off limits except during library hours. I was hoping to be able to have a chess tournament or 2 there, but it isn’t open enough long enough to have one. The library is barely open when I'm not working.

  The latest big ticket item was the remaking of the old library to be the new City Hall. For 1.6 million dollars, our city workers have new offices and a remodeled lobby. Only $700K will have to be directly paid back by the towns taxpayers, since $300K came from Housing and Urban Development's Section 8 Rental Assistance Program (Too bad for anyone who needed rental assistance) and $618,618 came from the I-Jobs program. At the grand opening, State Representative Steve Sodders said "The money has a sole purpose to keep people working and get people working, so it was an investment in this county and in this town. This is an investment in our people." I was curious about this statement and looked at the I-Jobs web site. The $618,618 paid for 10 full-time temporary jobs, none of which were retained. So much for keeping people working. In the teeth of a recession, I’d like to think the city workers could make do with their old offices. At least the rest of the taxpayers in the state will help pay off the $600K, but we have to help pay off their projects also. And a new City Hall won’t bring one job to this town, although the higher taxes from the incurred debt might help keep jobs away. It is just money down the drain. If this was an investment in people, it was a poor investment.

  I don’t know what happened to the rest of the Community College’s $25 million dollars, but I was happy to get a little something back.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Takeback, please

  I played chess about as badly as I could at last Thursday’s blitz tournament. I had a won game against 3 time Iowa Girls champion Bethany Carson (11th grader), but spoiled it by moving too quickly and stalemating her king. Then to make matters worse, I traded pieces in the wrong order against her younger sister Charity (8th grade) and lost a piece. I was so disgusted with myself that I just resigned the game instead of continuing the battle a piece down. I’d like to think my poor performance was due to my dog Tuffy passing the way the day before, but the REAL facts are that I’ve been playing poorly the last 3 weeks and not taking time to examine the consequences of my moves or just being too lazy to calculate tactics to their completion. In order to attempt a correction, I’ve been doing harder chess puzzles puzzles, and playing a lot of internet chess this week with an emphasis on completing my calculations in hopes of getting in fighting form for a tournament this Sunday. My internet play has improved all week and whether I have play well Sunday or not, I feel like I’ve recognized my problem, dealt with it, and moved on.

  I wish I could take back some of my awful moves of last week, and I have good company in the wanting to take back department based on this week’s news.

  Colin Powell, former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said earlier this week on Meet the Press of illegal immigrants (
original article here), "They're all over my house, doing things whenever I call for repairs, and I'm sure you've seen them at your house." While Powell was arguing for some sort of legal immigration status for illegal immigrants, his comments caused such a furor that he had to quickly backtrack and said the next day that he didn’t hire illegal immigrants, but “I was referring to the many service contractors who work in my neighborhood, using mostly immigrant workers, who do good work. Some may well be 'illegal.' (article here)

  Powell is ostensibly a Republican, but holds so many liberal views (pro-abortion, endorsed Obama in the 2008 election, etc.) that he is not held to the typical Republican standard by the mainstream media. Otherwise, he would certainly been accused of being racist. How does he know these workers were immigrants and not born in this country? Does he check their birth certificates? And then he assumes that since they are immigrants, they must all be illegal. All in all, it was a pretty embarrassing situation for a man who has dedicated himself to this country. I’m sure he felt the Republican Party was going to turn to him as a vice presidential candidate at some point to capture moderate voters, only to find that his party has moved so far away from his social views that his defense expertise carries little weight.

  Joe Torre, the former Yankee manager who won 4 World Series in his first 5 years and then managed to keep his job after winning zero world series in the 7 years afterwards has served notice that he will not continue as the Los Angeles Dodgers manager after this season. When Torre was in New York this week for the unveiling of the massive monument to George Steinbrenner, Torre got on a sports talk radio station and when asked if he would take the Mets manager job said “"I have not had and nobody that I know of has had contact with anybody. I am curious. When the season is over, I hope the phone will be ringing." (
article here) Not only is Torre still managing a team, the Mets still have manager Jerry Manuel under contract. If Torre wanted to let the Mets know he was interested, he could have just called the owner instead of hoping the fans would demand that he be hired. When Manuel noted the lack of class on Torre’s part of campaigning for a job held by another man, Torre expressed sorrow for his comments and said he wouldn’t be managing the Mets, but would be curious about talking to them if they called. It was a nice backtrack, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Torre was with the Mets in some capacity next year. He has a home in the area and the Mets have enough talent to contend for the playoffs.

  Torre had a classy image as a Yankee manager because he won and he never blew up at Steinbrenner like all the other managers did, but he is also a competitor who will go through anybody to get what he wants, even if his classy image take son a bit of tarnish. Before all the Met fans beat their drums for Torre, I hope they remember that he managed the Mets to last place finishes in the 70s and in the last 7 years the closest he has gotten to the World Series is one win away in the historic 2004 collapse to the Red Sox, which is also as close as former Met manager and Yankee great Willie Randoph got in 2006. Randolph was run out of town by the same fans that now want Torre in.

  And then there is James Willie Jones, who went on a Florida school bus on September 3rd to confront some students he felt were harassing his cerebral-palsy afflicted daughter. (
Here's the video) In his rage, Jones threatened to harm both students and the bus driver in an expletive-laced tirade that was captured on YouTube.

  In apologizing this week, Jones said "my actions were definitely appalling” and that no parent should copy his behavior, but that’s where the apologizing stopped and the justification started. (
article here) At his news conference, Jones said, "If you see the tape, I feel like I was backed up against the wall as a parent. I just didn't know where else to go. We definitely don't want to promote that. We don't want vigilantes going on buses, threatening kids, because kids have rights too."

  Disturbingly, Jones has garnered a lot of public support. A Facebook group in his support has over 1300 members. I think Jones is lucky that none of the kids on the bus had a gun and they’re lucky he didn’t have one either. If my kid was on that bus, I’d be suing the school system for not having a system in place for keeping non-students off the bus.
  I have a lot of sympathy for his plight, but nobody needs angry out of control people rushing a school bus threatening kids and drivers. One time in New Jersey, I came home from work only to find this 20 year old guy named Joey (I’d call him a kid, but I wasn’t much older myself at the time) banging and screaming at the front door threatening to go get a gun and start shooting if I didn’t come out. I went over to see what was going on. There were 2 ladies parked in a car in front of the house and I asked them what was going on. I heard one of them say ‘Oh s---! That’s not him.” I went over to see Joey and the police rolled up. While the police were putting the handcuffs on Joey, he was explaining that somebody had robbed his mother at gunpoint and the 2 girls with him said somebody at a bar told him that it sounded like me. Joey said he was really, really, really sorry, but what did I expect him to do? After all, he was defending his mother! I told the cops we weren’t going to press charges and asked Joey if it would be OK for me to threaten his mom just because some girl’s drunk friend in a bar fingered him for something he didn’t do. Of course, he didn’t like that idea because we were talking about his mom, but he was still justified in his own mind. I never saw Joey again, but I feel bad for him. He was born 30 years too late. Nowadays, the police would have taped the incident and Joey would have a lot of followers on Facebook and be started on his new career as a motivational speaker on the subject of containing your rage.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Piercing Argument

  Last week 14 year old Ariana Iacono was suspended from Clayton High School in North Carolina because she had a piercing on her nose. This was a violation of the school's dress code. Since the dress code offers exemptions on spiritual, cultural, and religious grounds, Iacono claimed a religious exemption based on her membership in the Church of Body Modification, which is an incorporated church of 3,500 members registered as a non-profit organization in Pennsylvania (20 members are in North Carolina). According to the church’s website, it is their belief that ‘body modification is one of the safest and most societal responsible ways to stay spiritually healthy and whole. We accept the possibility that there are other means to this end, but for us, this is our chosen method.’ and that body modification is defined as “anything that involves a significant modification to the body. In this we include piercing, tattoos, scarification, reconstructive and cosmetic surgery and the many other ways in which the physical biological development of the body can be controlled and subverted”. The church also defines body manipulation as “body suspension, hook pulling, play piercing, fasting, binding, corsetry, firewalking, and other rituals that test and push the limits of the flesh and spirit”.

  By these definitions Iacono and her nose ring is not exactly a body modification John the Baptist. Dress codes are one of the things school districts try to establish uniformity and eliminate distractions among the school population. The ACLU is looking into taking up the case for Iacono’s nose ring. It is ironic that the ACLU will fight to have the 10 commandments taken out of public buildings and prevent the pledge of allegiance being said in schools because it contains the word 'God', but will defend the Church of Body Modification’s right to practice their customs in these same public schools. If the Iacono’s win, I hope there is not a ‘Church of Walking Around with a Bomb Strapped to your Chest’ somewhere believing true enlightenment is attained by walking around with a bomb strapped to your chest. But even if there is not, surely there will be the ‘Church of Being Nude Everywhere’, the ‘Church of Going Everywhere with Your Pet Hamster’, or the ‘Church of 2+2=5’ all demanding their own exemptions to any school system rules.

  In my opinion, the school system has made a tactical error by allowing ANY exceptions. What allows the ‘Church of Body Modification’ to claim discrimination is that since exceptions are allowed, the school authorities are now in the position of determining what a worthy exception is and what is not. And once the nose piercing is allowed, can corsetry, binding, and hook pulling be far behind in the school system? A set of rules in a public forum should be applicable to all. Then the wisdom of the rules can be debated instead of the wisdom of the exceptions. And if the ‘Church of Body Modification’ doesn’t approve of the rules, they can start their own schools just like the christian learning academies for parents who want to have religious education for their kids. I wonder, will Iacono would be able to get into the School of Body Modification with just a nose piercing? I imagine not, but she may have dozens of body modifications that we don’t know about and would make the honor roll.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

If all dogs go to heaven...I've given my share

Tuffy 05/01/1996 - 09/15/2010

  This past Saturday night, our 14-year old half-beagle Tuffy had a huge seizure. He was panting, twitching, and foaming at the mouth for 15 minutes before he stopped, but after that he spent the next 2 hours walking around in circles, walking into walls, and getting himself wedged into tight little spots where he couldn’t get out and then would just bark or howl. Eventually, I put him in the basement room where we put the dogs when no one is home and the rest of the night was uneventful. On Sunday morning, I took Tuffy for our normal walk to get a beef stick and he seemed fine. I spent the day helping at our church’s fall festival and when I got home, Kathy told me that Tuffy had another seizure. The he had another seizure that night. He was walking even more unsteady than before and his legs would go out from under him occasionally. We put him in the basement earlier than the night before.

  I worked from home and took Tuffy to the vet on Monday. The vet said based on some tests we had done earlier this year, Tuffy probably had a disease of the adrenal and pituitary glands called Cushing’s. She could only run more tests after Tuffy fasted and that if he was having 15 minute seizures, there wouldn’t be anything she could do for him if he had it. I asked how long he would have if he did have the disease and the vet said he would have about a month and the seizures would get worse and worse until the end. She gave me a prescription to treat the seizures and I took Tuffy home. He spent the rest of the day walking around in circles, bumping into walls, and spent the night in the basement again. Kathy and I took him for a walk Monday afternoon. He enjoyed the walk, but his legs were giving out a lot and he was swaying from side to side and was trailing behind Kathy. Normally, Tuffy will be in front leading us.

Kathy loved walking Tuffy more that I did
and she was his favorite.

  I took Tuffy out for a walk Tuesday morning and he was more like his old self for the first 2 blocks, but after that he was stumbling and rolling on his side a lot. He ate his breakfast and had a good appetite, but got stuck behind the toilet and in corners, giving howls of pain, confusion, and embarrassment until somebody would guide him backwards out of his predicament. When I got back from work on Tuesday, Kathy and I took him on another lumbering, stumbling walk. When we got home he was constantly getting stuck in corners and barking and howling. Eventually, he slept for a couple of hours of the floor beside me. When I put him outside to go potty, he got stuck in a tree and started howling. When I got him back inside, he tried to go upstairs, but he couldn’t control his back legs and kept sliding down. I put him in the basement again but he kept on barking and howling. I went down to check on him a lot and sometimes he would be caught in a corner and sometimes he wasn’t. Maybe he had a seizure or 2 down there. Around midnight, I took him for a long walk in the hopes of tiring him out. He was pretty energetic and only stumbled a few times, but when we got back to the house he kept on walking into corners. Kathy finally got him settled down and sleeping, but I prayed about the situation and I just knew that this was no life for a proud and strong dog like Tuffy.

  Kathy agreed with me and I made my second call in 3 weeks to the vet to have a dog put to sleep. I got home early from work and Kathy and I took Tuffy for one last walk. He was pretty unenthusiastic even when I got him a beef stick at the nearby liquor store. We got him back home for the kids to say goodbye and took Tuffy to the vet. Kathy hung out with Tuffy outside the office by a tree while I waited inside for him to be called. Just like Queenie gravitated towards me, Tuffy gravitated towards Kathy. When it was time, I got Kathy, she brought Tuffy in, we took him to the room and put him on the table and Kathy and I held him and told him how much we loved him while the vet shaved a piece of his leg and gave him the shot. He was panting like he always did, suddenly stopped panting and it was over. We spent a couple of minutes with him and left.

  It was very sad saying good bye to such a great dog that loved living so much and maybe he could have held on a couple of more weeks, but for a dog who lived with such enthusiasm to spend his last days as a stumbling shell of what he was, crying for help because he forgot to walk backwards, wouldn’t have been fair to Tuffy and was more than I could bear also. After reading about Cushing’s disease, the tumors that form by the pituitary gland probably pushed up against his brain causing all the disorientation. And the stress of losing his mother 3 weeks ago surely didn’t help. The solution for this disease with younger dogs is surgery to remove the tumors, but an older dog like Tuffy most likely wouldn’t have made it off the operating table. So maybe it is just as well. Or so I’ll tell myself.

  I know my dogs Queenie and Tuffy are in a better place. I know this. But it is really hard for me to accept that 6 weeks ago I was taking them on mile and a half walks to the Jiffy to get coffee and beef sticks and now they are both gone and that 2 times in the last 3 weeks I've watched one of my best friends take their last breath. And except for Kathy, they were my two best friends, which is either quite an endorsement of my people skills, or a sign of how much these 2 dogs became a part of my heart. I know it is going to be really rough to get up in the morning and not have an enthusiastic face beckoning me to join in the adventure of a morning walk. When I ate dinner tonight, I instinctively took a piece of food off my plate to give away to a friend, but only a cat was looking for a handout. Queenie and Tuffy are in a better place, but my place is a lot worse. It may be awhile, but I’m looking forward to our next walk together.

To paraphrase a friend, "Here's to Tuffy. Hoping every day
in heaven is like a holiday with your Mom."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Measuring Success

  Today is the day of the St. Mary Fall Festival. Yes, it is still summer, but some other committee picks the date of the festival. I thought about suggesting changing the name to the Almost Fall Festival, but decided to hold my tongue for a change.

  As I’ve written before, I’ve been the chair person of the festival committee the last 3 years by appointment after I was late to the first meeting. I learned from running chess tournaments that the management style that suits me personally is to personally and quickly take responsibility for the hardest tasks or the tasks that the other people don’t want to do, assign other tasks to capable people, let them do their jobs without micro-managing, and have as little to do as possible with people who want to help by telling you what you are doing wrong.

  This year’s festival planning was almost effortless. The same group has been together for 3 years and knows what to do and how to stay out of each other’s way. I’ve just been marking the completed tasks off on my little list, passing it out to the committee members, and writing announcements and calling some of the volunteers. Today I'll be handling the money outside for the second year in a row. It was easily the most complained about job 2 years ago, so I told everyone that that would be my job from now on. Then if anyone else complained, I could offer to trade jobs.

  The first year the festival raised $9,000, but after the festival, we were told that the church finance committee had budgeted for $11,000 so we were all disappointed. Since I did not make a budget, I shouldered the blame for this failure. The second year I asked what the festival had been budgeted to make and was told $14,000. In our committee meetings, I made sure to ridicule this budget number as much as possible and stress that we should not tether the success or failure of our efforts to some number on a piece of paper. We had a very well run festival and made $11,000 to boot. I considered it a success but not because of the money that was raised, but because we had a well run festival.

  This year, I didn’t even ask what the budget number was. One of the committee members mentioned last week that we had to make more money than last year. I’m not sure what number we will raise for this year’s festival. A lot depends on how much money the auction will bring in, but I expect to come very close to last year’s numbers. When I agreed to serve on the committee, I committed to 3 years and this is year 3. In my mind, the festival is already successful, regardless of whatever today’s chaos of ‘game day’ bring. It may even be a favor to the next group of committee members to fall a little short in the money raising department to give them an easier act to follow.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Burned Up or Burned Out?

  A huge story in the headlines this week is the plan of Florida preacher Terry Jones to burn copies of the Muslim Holy Book Quran this Saturday to commemorate the 9th anniversary of 9/11. People from all across the political and religious spectrums worldwide are condemning the activity and the US commander in Afghanistan says the proposed event would endanger the lives of US troops worldwide.

  I’m not a big fan of this Quran-burning, but I have to congratulate Pastor Jones for finding a way to get worldwide publicity for his 50 member Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. Already there are protests in Muslim countries with the requisite ‘Death to America’ chants. I know that since many of these same countries have been on the news in recent years burning the American flag, they will seize on any excuse to bash America and not focus on the fact that there will not be millions of people burning Qurans this weekend. If these countries would burn Danish embassies and issue death threats against a Dutch cartoonist who drew pictures of the Muslim prophet Mohammed, I hate to see what they’ll threaten against Jones.

  Maybe people who see Pastor Jones as extreme will think of the people who hijacked those planes 9 years ago and flew them into the Pentagon and World Trade Center as his spiritual kin. In any event, I think the amount of comments made by our countries representatives is overkill. I don’t see why they can’t just say that this guy is either a publicity seeker or a crackpot, people in this country burn the US flag with less fanfare, it’s part and parcel of living in a free country, and be done with it. The comments from U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey and the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. Lloyd Austin were especially amusing “As this holy month of Ramadan comes to a close and Iraqis prepare to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, we join with the citizens of Iraq and of every nation to repudiate religious intolerance and to respect and defend the diversity of faiths of our fellow man". In most Muslim countries it is against the law for Christians to worship outside the home, let alone try to convert members of other religions. So much for “repudiating religious intolerance” and “respecting diversity of faith”.

  Here is a quote from Mohammad Mukhtar, a cleric and candidate for the Afghan parliament. "When their holy book Quran gets burned in public, then there is nothing left. If this happens, I think the first and most important reaction will be that wherever Americans are seen, they will be killed. No matter where they will be in the world they will be killed." I suppose the moderate Muslims would want to only stone Americans to death while the liberal Muslims would compromise by merely cutting out our tongues.

I looked for articles to see if Bible burning is rampant in other countries and didn’t find very much. I suppose if a book is illegal in a country there won’t be too many to burn. But I also didn’t have to look very far for an example of Bible burning. It seems the US Military was in the bible burning business as recently as last year, with minimal outrage. In the battle of ideas between the West and the Muslim worlds, while the US Military burns Bibles, the Muslims compromise by momentarily suspending the stoning of a woman accused of adultery.

9-1-1 was a traumatic day for many people. I remember being in Iowa on the phone with my brother who was watching the building burn from his apartment window in Newark. I also remember the gas stations in Iowa doubling the price of gas that afternoon for a few hours until the governor threatened to prosecute all price gougers, and the anthrax-laden envelopes that were sent to government buildings the weeks after the attack. Unfortunately, it was 9 years ago and people are in high school now that only know about it from watching the news or reading history books and think about it as just something older people need to get over just like I thought about the JFK assassination when I was a kid. It remains to be seen whether this short attention span will prove a strength or an asset. I think it is a strength. We can see where the Palestinians and Israelis, Serbs and Bosnians, to name a few have gotten by holding grudges.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The High Cost of Chess

  The Iowa Open was held in Ames, Iowa this past weekend and drew a fairly disappointing crowd of 44 people for the Open, Reserve (Rated under 1600), and Beginner (Under 1200). To give a comparison, last year’s tournament in Cedar Rapids drew 51 players without the beginner section, 82 in 2008 with a beginner section, and 78 in 2007 with a beginner section. The 2006 edition, also in Cedar Rapids drew only 41 players without a beginner section. The tournament is mandated by the Iowa State Chess Association (IASCA) to be held on Labor Day weekend and regularly drew over 100 people in the early part of the last decade when held in Iowa City.

  There are a number of reasons why the attendance is trending down. The fee to play in the open section of the tournament is around $45-$50. My son Matt went to play, but I could not see spending that kind of money for me to play in that tournament. Adding to the expense is the need for a hotel room since the open section is over 2 days. The reason the fee is so high is to offer a top prize ($300-$400) large enough to entice strong out of state players to travel to Iowa and compete. That is a good idea, but on Labor Day weekend for the past few years there has been stiff competition from the Illinois Open in Chicago which has an $80 entry fee and an $11,000 prize fund.

  The attendance at the beginner section is correlated to the strength of the local scholastic chess community and the relationship of the Iowa Open organizer to this community. The Iowa City tournaments were run at a time when there were 2 school clubs in the Iowa City and so there would be 60 or more players at the beginner tournament. The organizer of the 2007 and 2008 Opens was also the main organizer of the local scholastic chess tournaments in Cedar Rapids so there was reasonable scholastic tournament at his opens. Unfortunately, the recent Iowa Open in Ames was run by an organizer from Des Moines without the permission of the very territorial primary scholastic organizer. Suffice to say, there was minimal participation from the robust Ames chess scholastic community in the 16 player beginner section. To be fair to my friend from Ames it should be noted that the beginner section participants were asked to pay $10 for an IASCA membership in addition to their entry fee, which will also tend to hurt attendance.

  Most Iowa adult tournaments have a base of a group of 20 or so hard core players who will play in most every tournament they can and the not so hard core group who might play if the travel time, prize fund, time limit, and entry fee are to their liking. There have been lots of surveys of what the Iowa chess players want and there has never been a consensus on what will get the most players. Some players want quick time limits, others want long games. Some want low entry fees and others want large prize funds. With the exception of the $5 3 round Cychess tournaments in Ames, the adult tournaments in the state this year have all had at least a $20 entry fee and the beginner tournaments start at $10. I am having an open and beginner tournament in Marshalltown on October 9th with a $5 entry fee for everybody. There will be no cash prizes, just trophies and medals. I have a group of my local blitz players that will play and I’m interested in seeing how many of the gang of 20 I’ll attract to this 'anti-tournament'.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Rocketing Into September

  Heading into September, the Yankees still have the best record in baseball by a game over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. I’m not sure how they’ve done it. The pitching has been spotty. Pettite is hurt and Burnett and Chamberlain have been awful. Hughes and Sabathia have held their own but Hughes hasn’t gone past 6 innings in a couple of months. The offense has been riding Mark Teixeira all summer and are scoring bunches of runs despite not having A-Rod and Jeter having his worst year. Last year, the team got through the playoffs by having pitching that was just good enough and an offense that could bludgeon opponents. I don’t think the pitching is as good as last year and was upset to see the Rangers get Cliff Lee and the Phillies get Roy Oswalt, but the Yankees only get Kerry Wood to help the pitching. Wood has been productive so far so it is probably a good thing that I’m not the Yankee general manager instead of Cashman. The rookie Ivan Nova has been excellent and probably would have had to be traded for a big name pitcher, but pitching rookies in the postseason is a risky proposition. If Pettite and A-Rod can come back strong and Hughes picks it up a notch, there probably isn’t a team that can beat the Yankees in a short series, but those are some big unknowns.

  Ex-Yankee Roger Clemens was indicted for lying to Congress when he denied (under oath) taking steroids and human growth hormones. Good for him. I remember how disgusted I was when the Yankees picked him up in 1999 and not just because he was an ex Red Sox player.

  In 1986 he was the starting pitcher in the famous World Series Game where the Mets made an amazing comeback by getting 5 straight hits with 2 outs to score 3 runs in the 11th inning of Game 6 to tie the World Series. Clemens had a lead in that game and begged out with a blister on his finger. After the team lost, he claimed he wanted to stay in the game, but the manager didn’t agree.

  In 1990, Clemens was pitching in the American League Championship Series against the Oakland A’s and a real champion, Dave Stewart. Clemens’ team was behind in the series 3-0 and he managed to get thrown out of the game for arguing balls and strikes in the very first inning. When he got to the Yankees, Clemens was a good pitcher in games you didn't need to win. He'd pitch in the playoffs when the Yankees had a series lead and the pressure was off. He did pitch great in Game 7 if the 2001 World Series and even left with a lead, but that is the only time I can remember him pitching big in a big game.

  In 2003, Clemens started Game 7 of the American League Championship Series for the Yankees against the hated Red Sox. He left the game with the Yankees losing and the fans were cheering him in case it was his last game as a Yankee and Clemens waved his cap to the fans in a big farewell gesture even though his team was losing thanks to his efforts. The Yankees managed to win that game in a miracle comeback and in Game 4 of the World Series, Clemens left the game against the Marlins with his team losing and again the fans cheered him and again he stopped and waved his cap to the fans. The only difference was that this game was in Miami, not New York. Clemens didn’t care if his team was winning or losing as long as he got his cheers. Disgusting and he didn’t even retire, but just went to Houston so he could be close to his family. When he wore out his welcome in Houston, he came back to the Yankees in 2007. I guess being close to his family wasn’t that important after all.

  Everyone always marveled at how Clemens could keep throwing so hard into his 40’s. He claimed it was because of his workout regimen that was patterned after his idol, Nolan Ryan. But after his retirement his personal trainer, Brian McNamee, claimed he injected Clemens with steroids and HGH. His former teammate, Andy Pettite says that Clemens admitted to him that he used HGH. Clemens even admitted that his wife took HGH while denying his own use. Of course, she probably had a reason to try to hang on to her youth since Roger had been having a long term affair with country singer Mindy McCready that began when Clemens was 28 and a father of 2 and McCready was 15. Yes, she was 15!

  I’ve always felt that a man who cheats on his wife will cheat on anyone and Clemens is no different. I see no reason to think that he wouldn’t take steroids and HGH to keep his fastball, while letting everyone think he was a workout warrior. He had a lot of talent, but took the easy way out his whole career. I wish he had never been a Yankee. They won before he showed up, won after he left, and won while he was there but except for 1 game in his Yankee career, when he was needed him, he disappeared. I hope he appears in a jail cell soon.