Sunday, January 30, 2011

Crazy About Sports

  This is the first weekend without a meaningful NFL game since last September and I can’t find anything on TV I want to watch. Given my choice, I’d be watching the Miami Heat play the Oklahoma City Thunder, but Matt wants to watch the X-Games and I don’t feel strongly enough about the NBA to either insist on my way or find a different TV to watch it on. I do want to watch the Celtics and Lakers play later on this afternoon. I’m not a big fan of either team, but I’ve liked Phil Jackson since he played for the Knicks in the 70’s and wrote about his drug experiences. I’ve always admired how he never left his free spirit ways and still found success at the highest levels.

  Last weekend Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler found himself in the center of a firestorm when he left the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers due to a sprained knee. With Bear backup QB Todd Collins ineffective and the team trailing 14-0, the Bears turned to their 3rd string quarterback Caleb Hanie to save their season. Hanie played the best of all 3 Bear quarterbacks and did manage to lead the team to 2 touchdowns, but also gave a touchdown back with a poorly thrown ball that was intercepted and ran back for a Packer score and sealed the Bears fate with another interception while leading the team down the field in an attempt to tie the score in the final minutes of the Packer’s 21-14 victory.

  Cutler did not seem in a lot of pain on the sideline and A lot of NFL players used the Twitter during the game to question Cutler’s pain threshold, heart, and manhood. It got worse after the game, when many fans burned their Jay Cutler Bear jerseys.

  I’m not sure what’s crazier, paying $150 dollars for a souvenir jersey for any team, or burning the jersey after paying for it. Maybe they were just gifts or five-fingered discounts so it didn’t matter. I wonder how many Bear fans realize that if Cutler had been hurt earlier, they might have won the game behind Caleb Hanie seeing as they outscored the Packers 14-7 when Hanie was the quarterback. Instead of cursing Cutler for not being tough enough to play with his sprained knee, Bear fans should be wishing he had pretended he was hurt in the first quarter.

  At the Austrailian Open Ladies finals match yesterday, Kim Clisters beat the Li Na, the first Chinese player to make a grand slam final. When Na won the first set, she had no complaints with the crowd, but as the match started to slip away in the next 2 sets, she got increasingly irritated at the crowd noise, at one point asking the chair umpire to ask the chinese spectators to quiet down ("Can you tell the Chinese don't teach me how to play tennis?"). I imagine there will be fewer Chinese citizens at the US Open in September than in nearby Australia, but since the New Yorkers will be even louder than her countrymen, I hope Na will invest in some earplugs between now and then.

  The Iowa Hawkeyes football team made the national headlines when 13 players were hospitalized for Rhabdomyolysis, a condition that occurs when muscle breaks down and dumps its contents into the bloodstream, causing partial kidney failure. The illness is related to extreme workouts and dehydration. All the players are expected to recover and many are already out of the hospital. More alarming than the sheer number of players hospitalized was that there have been no comments from the Iowa athletic director, football coach, or the strength and conditioning staff until this past Friday when Hawkeye head coach Kirk Ferentz said 5 players were out of the hospital and he has been talking to the parents. The university President and the state Board of Regents have started a probe with the results made known to the board of regents after 90 days. The whole affair seems to me to be a coverup to protect the Hawkeye football program. If one or 2 players had been hospitalized, I could see it as a couple of out of shape players, but 13? The Hawkeye strength and conditioning program has been long held as an example of turning lesser regarded players into NFL prospects and has received a lot of credit for the success of Ferentz’s Hawkeyes, but it sure looks as if someone was trying to accelerate the conditioning process. This is after a month where the Hawkeyes leading rusher and receiver both pleaded guilty to marijuana possession. I’m sure the results of the probe won’t be made public until long after the Hawkeye fans are back to being excited at the prospect of another football season and the hospitalized players are a distant memory.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

American Innovation Wherever You Look

  In order to get re-elected in 22 months, many think President Obama will need a US economic recovery. In this week’s State of the Union address, he stressed initiatives to improve American competitiveness and innovation. I registered as a Republican this year in order to vote in the primary for my friend and fellow chess player George Eichhorn, but normally I’m not a fan of either political party. But in the interests of bipartisanship, I wanted to show some examples of innovation already in America that both parties can celebrate and hopefully encourage.

  The 4th Annual Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival in Des Moines, Iowa sold out all $40 main event tickets in just 4 minutes. There are still $140 tickets available, which will in addition to the commemorative t-shirt, koozie, and unlimited bacon samples includes an entry to the Bacon Elegance Dinner. This is what America needs more of. Not only is the USA highly competitive in pork production, we are competitive in pork consumption, also. Every state should have a Bacon Festival at least once a month. The left over bacon products (if there are any), could be given to people who are having trouble making ends meet. It will be tough to maintain our leadership in bacon production, consumption, and festival organization, but if the government acts quickly and creates a Department of Bacon, we can extend our domination for a generation or more.

  Another American innovation we have not taken advantage of is in the area of naming rights and human bill boarding. Its use is rampant in sports, but there are so many more possibilities when backed by the power of the Federal Government. The state of Utah has taken the lead by proposing the Browning M1911 as the official state gun, but they are shortsighted in not trying to collect a fee for the distinction. Iowa has a state bird and a state flower, why not a state pickup truck, a state rifle, and a state shampoo? Why should the United States Post Office be losing billions of dollars and paying more money to advertise in the media when the post office trucks and employee uniforms can be adorned with the patches like the NASCAR drivers? Stamps are also prime advertising real estate. The deficit would be wiped out if we could get Apple, Google, and Microsoft to bid on having their logo on the back of the dollar bill for a year or 2. How much would Coke pay to be able to add a 12 oz. bottle and straw to Teddy Roosevelt’s image on Mount Rushmore? Not as much as Pepsi would pay afterwards to be able to stick a Mountain Dew in Abe Lincoln’s hand on the Lincoln Monument in an advertising counterstrike. I’m not saying all our institutions should be up for sale. We should save some of them for a rainy day. When the Social Security system is finally broke, the President could start giving his speeches in the Sherwin Williams (or the highest bidder) White House.

  An area where America is head and shoulders above the rest of the world are lawsuits. Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich is suing a congressional cafeteria for $150,000 because he bit into an olive pit while eating a sandwich wrap purchased at the cafeteria. He is suing for past and future medical and dental expenses, and compensation for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment, among other grievances. That is one expensive olive pit. I think his constituents should also sue the cafeteria for the loss of the use of their congressman. But then Kucinich might sue his constituents for voting for him and exposing him to the dangerous olive-pit laden cafeteria. I’m not sure how the government can cash in on these sorts of innovative grievances. Perhaps the Lawsuit Tax Act of 2011 to impose a 25% fee on all pain and suffering related judgments will be one of the first acts of the new Congress. Then we will all be doing our patriotic duty whenever we call a lawyer after we bite into an olive pit, spill scalding coffee on ourselves in a McDonalds, or suffer permanent brain damage because we choked while stuffing 2 double beef whoppers down our throats at once.

  Unfortunately, governmental neglect of existing American innovation has let the United States fall behind the rest of the world in a lot of areas. We need enhanced espionage capabilities to find out what our global competitors are up to. This is where Stephanie Travetta Moreland comes in. Stephanie was in the Mall of Americas earlier this month and (allegedly) wanted a $6,500 fur coat. In the spirit of innovation, she (allegedly) arranged her underwear so she could stuff the coat in the front of her drawers, but was able to hike up her dress to reveal only a bare behind and not a fur coat when confronted by store employees. (The story is here in case you don't believe me.) It appeared to the shocked clerks that Moreland didn’t even have underwear under her dress, much less a $6,500 fur coat. When the police took her into custody later that day, Moreland managed to keep the coat hidden for the weekend despite a police pat down and a metal detector search, only to reveal the coat when taken to court the following Monday. I think Moreland’s big crime was merely being a bit too ambitious. She probably would have been more successful heisting a fur wrap or maybe just some jewelry. I would like to see her offered amnesty in return for training others how to make off with industrial secrets. And she could also help train airline consumers on how to avoid those pesky baggage charges.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Unwelcome Requests

  When people treated me poorly, I used to want to make them pay and if I cut off my nose to spite my face, so what? As I’ve gotten older, I wanted to extract vengeance but at no cost to me. Now that I’m much older, I just want nothing to do with people that treat me poorly. Someday I’ll be able to bless my enemies and forgive and forget. It's a long journey, but at least I’m still on the right path.

  Last August, I wrote about how I had been given the cold shoulder from my old employer when I asked for them to load some software on my new laptop after having given them free advice for over 2 years. Since then, I did a side job for them in September that I had agreed to do months before and gotten 2 emails from my old colleagues asking me how I was doing, glad they could keep in touch, and BY THE WAY, could I answer a few questions for them about how the programs I’d worked on for many years functions? I answered both letters by saying I was doing fine, hoped they were doing fine also, we should get together for lunch someday, and I’d be happy to help them as long as I was paid a fee because I was saving up for some software for my laptop. No fees were paid, no advice was given, and no Christmas cards were exchanged. 2 weeks ago, I received another email requesting a quote to do some custom programming work. I sent in the quote and the approval came back so fast I should have quoted more. I’m a bit upset with myself for having anything to do with a group that I feel treated me shabbily, but you could say I have thousands of reasons to go along with the request.

  Last week, I was asked by a chess associate of mine on behalf of IASCA President Steve Young if I would be willing to see if the Salvation Army in Marshalltown would host the Iowa Class and Closed Championships in April. The tournament was planned to be in Pella like last year, but there seems to be some sort of problem with getting the playing site. I was asked because I have a good relationship with the Salvation Army and they let me use building, and my son Matt will be one of the contestants in the Closed Championship.

  Steve ran many of the tournaments I brought my sons to when they were just starting out in chess. He was the tournament director and speech maker and Donn Ronnfeldt would handle the money and computer. Steve asked me for help in setting up an adult tournament in Marshalltown in 2003. I could have gotten the Salvation Army building, but he didn’t know if he wanted a 1 or 2 day tournament and the Salvation Army has worship services on Sunday, so I rented a different place for the tournament and then Steve decided he only wanted a 1 day tournament after the deposit was paid. I let him sleep at my house the night before the tournament and the tournament itself seemed to go over well enough. I missed playing in it so I could see Matt play in a little league tournament, but I was able to set up the tournament room and put the tables back when it was over.

  When I was asked to take over the IASCA scholastics in 2005, Steve had already had some of the tournaments set up and I worked with him with the High School and Junior High School Team Championships. They were each pretty depressing affairs with poor attendance (4 5-man teams and a side section of 20 players without teams). Steve showed up late to both tournaments because he doesn’t have a car and needed to get a ride with a player, and that left me to set up the tournament hall. That would have been OK except Steve kept the chess sets with him, so both tournaments started late. The High School tournament went OK, but Steve was very erratic at the Junior High School tournament. In the side section, there were 20 players. One of them was Dan Brashaw, the future 3-time Iowa High School champion who was rated higher than any 2 of the other players put together. Dan has played in my Youth Trophy tournaments and I liked having him there. He never belittled the other players, gave them an opportunity to test themselves against the best, and has always been a gracious winner and a good (and infrequent) loser. Of course, I have over 20 trophies at my youth tournaments and since Steve had 4 trophies at this one, Dan’s presence meant that 25% of the trophies had suddenly been taken out of reach of the rest of the players. When Dan won the tournament and it was time to present his award, Steve made a big point of putting Dan down by saying he didn’t belong at this tournament and shouldn’t be there taking a trophy away from a deserving player. Steve also decided to make a little speech about my upcoming tournament in Grinnell. It was a tournament for players rated less than 1200, which is mostly younger players but can include some adults also. I was offering prizes for the top scoring ladies amongst the 19 trophies and Steve said “I see Mr. Anzis is giving prizes to girls in his tournament in Grinnell. Will you be giving out prizes for boys, Mr. Anzis?” There was a parent listening to this who had signed up 3 of his daughters to play in Grinnell and I could see the steam coming out of his ears. He didn’t bring his family to that tournament and I didn’t see them at a tournament for over a year. There is a lot of debate for the merits of prizes for the top scoring girls. I think if I want more girls (it is about 4 boys to 1 girl for the very young players going up to 20 to 1 for adult tournaments) to participate in chess tournaments, I should offer these prizes. Other people don’t see it the same way, but the time for debate is not during announcements. When it was time to give out the team prizes, Steve only had a few of the trophies he had advertised and said he would take care of it at a later time. I got emails from some of the participants a month later that they still hadn’t received their trophies. Steve wasn’t responding to emails, so I ordered them myself and mailed them out. A month after I'd done that, Steve sent an email apologizing for the delay and offering to get the trophies. It was the tournament from hell. I try to be ultra-organized in what I do and I felt like people were looking at me and Steve as ‘birds of a feather’, and I decided that I was not working with Steve anymore.

  The next year, I took a big risk by having the High School and Junior High School team championships on one day and upgrading the side tournament to a full blown youth trophy tournament with 21 prizes (including 2 for the top scoring ladies). Steve sent emails to different people sniping at me for combining the tournaments because he had some young players in Iowa City he was coaching who could play for the Junior High School and the High School team, but now they couldn't because I'd decided to have them on the same date. I offered to let him make a proposal to run the High School tournament at a date and time of his choosing as long as I wasn’t involved. He never took me up on that, but instead decided to offer a tournament the same day as the state girl’s championship. Instead of advertising the tournament on the state web site, Steve decided to send private invitations to players via email, including many of the top girl players. I found out about it by accident when he sent an invitation to the son of the organizer of the girls championship (she had a different last name as her son).

  As it turned out, combining the 2 team championships was a pretty good idea. We ended up with 6 high school teams, 7 middle school teams, and 55 players in the trophy tournament. There were over 100 attending and it was a very exciting tournament to be part of. Steve was there to root on his hometown Iowa City Junior High School team. A coach of a team playing in the tournament for the first time got upset with Steve when he was loudly telling an Iowa City parent that the team they were playing (the coach’s team) was the worst bunch of players he had ever seen. Then Steve had a meltdown when the top player on the Iowa City Junior High team got in big time pressure and messed up a drawn ending in the first place matchup with Ames Middle School that ended up costing his team the match and the championship. Steve stomped around, muttered curses about the kid’s stupid endgame play, and made himself quite the center of attention. I was really happy he had nothing to do with the tournament since it would have been a shame if I had gotten associated with that kind of boorish behavior.

  I’ve later been told that Steve has had the same effect on lots of people other than me, so it is nothing I’m taking personally. There are many people actively involved in the IASCA that I have a lot of respect for and some who I consider myself in debt to. But when it comes to Steve Young, not only do I NOT have thousands of reasons to help him out, I don’t even have one.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

High Achievement

  The book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Yale Law School Professor Amy Chua seems to have struck a nerve in certain circles. In the first excerpts of the book in the Wall Street Journal, Chua seemingly recommends a ‘Chinese’ approach to parenting, which allows seemingly no fun time (no TV, computer games or sleepovers), a demand for excellence in school (grades less than an A are not allowed), and complete control over the child’s extracurricular activities (the child must learn to play the piano or violin AND ONLY the Piano or violin). Chua is using the word ’Chinese’ as the demand for perfection, not me.

  She compares the ‘Chinese’ parenting method favorably to the permissive Western parenting method of nicely asking their children to do their best and then praising the effort when their children fail. After reading the excerpt I think Chua’s main point is that by demanding excellence (not letting the child go to the bathroom until excellence is achieved, for example), the child will be more successful and have more self-esteem than by praising any effort a child gives regardless of the results of said efforts.

  Some people are so threatened by Chua’s conclusions that she's receiving death threats and she’s recently backtracked, saying the book excepts doesn’t include how she explained that has mellowed in her parenting approach. This ‘extreme parenting’ guide is sensational enough to get attention and has hit on the insecurities of many parents who are worried about their children not being able to compete in the global economy. I don’t agree with Chua either, but I can see some logic in her ideas. I think it is a truism that parents want what is best for their children, with the only the methods in question.

  I coached both my sons in the earliest stages of Little League, T-ball for 5 and 6 year olds. The players would hit the ball off a tee, and run to the base while the other team would try to pick up the ball and throw them out. It was meant to teach the kids the basics of baseball. When Matt was 6 in 1999, hardly anyone every made an out because the kids fielded so poorly, but if someone happened to catch a ball or make a throw to a base that was caught, the kid would go back to the dugout and sit down. Since no one wanted to get thrown out, everyone ran hard to the next base, and there was a bonus in that if the ball was thrown away, the player could run 2 bases.
  In the 3 short years later when I coached Ben in T-ball, a new standard had emerged among the coaches. The kids would hit the ball, run to one base only, and stay there whether they made an out or the ball was overthrown. I was still ‘old school’ and would let the kids run 2 bases if they could and made them sit down if they made an out. This was pretty unpopular with the other T-Ball coaches (“We don’t want a track meet out there, Coach”), but I didn’t care because I think kids are meant to run and I tried to find ways to get them to run. I noticed that while the kids on my team tried to run as fast as they could to try to get to run 2 bases, the kids on the other teams would trot to the next base because there was no reward for running fast and no penalty for running so slowly that they got thrown out. These kids also wouldn’t rush to field the ball because there was no incentive to try to make an out and half of them would barely swing hard at the ball. Not making any demands on these kids made it look like a lazy convention.

  When my kids were in Little League, I saw plenty of parents yelling at their kids when they weren’t performing well. Sometimes, the kids would crawl into a shell, other times their performance would dramatically improve. Once I saw a coach pull his 14 year old son from the game. They started yelling and cursing at each other and, but later in the game, the kid hid a home run and got a big hug from his dad. I don’t know what the deal was, but I’m sure some therapist is paying off his second house because of it.

  I only knew one chess family that would get upset when their kid didn’t win. My son was in the same tournament and in the last round the father started getting upset with his son’s chess coach because it looked like his son was losing. The coach explained that his son had a good position and it only looked like he was losing. When the kid ended up losing the game, the parents sat him on some stairs and gave him a good talking to in their native tongue, complete with finger-wagging. At a later tournament, the kid gave up a draw to a player he should have beaten and his sister kept on asking him how ‘he could not beat that guy’. The kid looked like he would rather be anywhere else and did not seem to me to have the same zest for chess after that. The only time I got upset at my kids over a chess game was when 6-year old Ben was playing some kid from Ames who would start a conversation with him over whether he wrote down the move correctly whenever Ben’s clock was running. Ben lost the game on time and I was furious that he would let that kid distract him like that. I probably went a little overboard, but that situation never happened again.

  I directed the K-8 and High School chess championships last weekend and there were a lot of the top players in the state there. A few years ago most of the top scholastic players in the state were home schooled. I thought at the time it was because they had more time to practice and study chess than the other kids. Lately the top scholastic players have been the children of college professors at the state universities. A lot of these kids got their start at school clubs but then receive private lessons. I had chess lessons for both my kids at various times and I think they help a lot, but not as much as having a desire to compete and learn. In talking with the parents, many of them also paid for piano and violin lessons for their children. But when their kids eventually lost a chess game or two (there’s limited room at the top), I didn’t see any yelling, screaming, or calling the kids ‘garbage’ (as Chua confesses to having been called and been called).

  I’ve always wanted my kids to do well, but most of all I want to see them be happy at what they do. I feel if you like doing something you will learn to do it well, not that if you learn to do something well you will then learn to like it. I feel my children are high achievers, and don’t feel as if I’ve pushed them into anything. When they’ve wanted to give up baseball or chess or other activities, I’ve gone along because I think it is pointless to make people and children do things they don’t want to do. I do try to point out the consequences, but that’s where it ends.

  Part of the allure of ‘extreme parenting’ is the results. The Polgar sisters were trained to be chess masters from their birth by their father Lazlo as part of his ‘Geniuses are made, not born’ theory. They have all made a tremendous living playing, teaching, and promoting chess. Mickey Mantle was pitched to by his father and his left-handed uncle so he would learn to be a switch hitter and he was one of the greatest players ever. But while every success story takes on a storybook quality to be handed down to generations, we rarely hear of the children who were bred for success but fell short of the mark and what happened to them. Todd Marinovich is a well-known example of extreme parenting gone wrong, but even he attained a comparatively high level of success despite his drug and legal problems. The high suicide rates among students who have extremely high expectations is also rarely reported.
  I’m pretty comfortable with the way Kathy and I raised our sons, but if I was in a country that only allowed each couple one child, the stakes might be high enough for me to go ‘extreme’ in my parenting. Unquestionably, it’s a cold world and coddled children will be at a disadvantage if they are not taught to want to do their best or to expect that minimal effort will be rewarded, but I don’t think it’s necessary to be as hardcore as Chua. I would be the first to admit that Chua’s methods would surely be better than this example of ‘extreme unparenting’!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

It not how much money you make, but who you can make it for...

  Congratulations to the Auburn Tigers on winning this year’s college football National championship. They were led to the crown by their star quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton. It was alleged and verified by the NCAA that Newton’s father, Cecil had offered the services of his son to Mississippi State University for $180,000 last year before his son agreed to play for Auburn this year. The NCAA said that since Newton did not know of his father’s actions, he was eligible to play for the Tigers in the Southeast Conference and National championship games.

  It’s said that when there is smoke, there’s fire and I’m sure that there will be many private investigations into whether Cam Newton knew about his father shopping him around and whether Auburn did on fact pay for his services for this football season. I doubt the NCAA wanted to remove their major TV attraction just before the championship game, but now that Newton has ended his college career by declaring for the NFL draft, the investigation will begin in earnest. This is the same tactic they used with Reggie Bush 5 years ago. There were a lot of allegations and the signs were obvious that Bush and his family were receiving payments from sports marketers hoping to cash in on Bush’s fame after leaving college. The most obvious sign of payment was Bush’s parents living rent free in a $750,000 house in San Diego. But the NCAA stuck their heads in the sand until Bush was done with his college career and only got into the act when Bush and his parents were sued by their ‘benefactors’ for failing to repay their largesse. Only 5 years after Bush’s last college game, did the NCAA issue their findings of wrongdoing and made USC forfeit their wins during that period. The NCAA will not have to forfeit any of the TV revenue they collected from Bush’s image during this period.

  5 players from the Ohio State University football team were found to have exchanged signed memorabilia for free tattoos. They were also found to have sold awards for cash. These are clear violations of the NCAA rules, but the 5 players were not suspended for the upcoming Sugar Bowl that would be on national televisions, instead being suspended for the first 5 games in next year’s season. The NCAA’s reason for the delayed penalty was that the players were not informed that their actions were violations by the college. If that was the case, why even suspend them at all? The NCAA was paid half a billion dollars by ESPN to show the 5 major bowl games for 4 years. That’s 25 million dollars a game and why should the NCAA damage it’s most marketable product when they can suspend the players for 5 games next year that will NOT be nationally broadcast.

  I don’t have a problem with players cashing on their college fame. Why not, the schools are making a fortune on their backs. Yes, the athletes are getting a free education, but what is not said loudly is that athletic scholarships are year to year. If a player gets hurt, fails to perform to expectations, or gets on the wrong side of the coach, their scholarship can disappear into thin air. An entire industry is built up over the recruitment and exploitation of the athletes, and it seems that they are the only ones not allowed to cash a check. I’m just pointing out that the NCAA habitually delays punishment for their petty rules when it suits their checkbook.

  While the players can’t sell their awards and jerseys, colleges profit handsomely by having their players wear a particular company’s brand. Michigan University was paid $60 million dollars by Adidas in 2007 to have their players wear their logo on the team’s uniforms for the next 8 years. While the players didn’t benefit, some people other than the university did benefit from this deal. When Michigan head football coach Rich Rodriguez was fired last week, he donated over 400 pieces of his Michigan gear to the Salvation Army. There is no word yet if it will be an NCAA violation if Rodriguez claims a tax deduction for his donation.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Beagle Puppy update

3 weeks in, Daisy and Baxter are part of the family!

  Today we will have had our new puppies, Daisy and Baxter for 3 weeks, even though it already seems as if we’ve had them forever. The new puppies have energized the entire household as we all work together to train and enjoy them. 2 weeks ago the vet found that Daisy and Baxter had worms and gave them a pill. The pill irritated Daisy’s stomach and she started passing blood in her stool so she got some special food to help her stomach heal. When they went back to the vet, different kinds of worms and parasites were found, and so now the pups have new medicines to take. Aside from the worms and stuff all puppies get, they are healthy, putting on weight, getting longer and leaner and have great appetites.

  Kathy and I bring Daisy and Baxter up to our bedroom when we go to bed at night. We put them in a folding fence that we have shaped into a 8x8 foot pen that goes in a spare area off the bedroom. After 2 weeks, Daisy and Baxter were only getting up once or twice a night. Kathy and I (sometimes) would get up, play with them a bit to tire them out, and they’d go to sleep. Lately, the pups have started getting up more often and have been whining and screaming until we come over to hang out with them. We’ve been trying to ignore them to see if they’ll go to sleep, but so far they’ve outlasted us. Who’s training who? During the day, we bring the folding fence down to the kitchen and the dogs seem pretty settled without too much supervision there so we may just leave them their when we go to bed this weekend.

A fight to the finish!

  Matt has been playing sock and glove games with Baxter to get him to stand on his back 2 feet in order to force him to use his foot that has only the one toe on it. We all play a lot with Daisy and Baxter, but they love to wrestle with each other. Baxter is bigger than Daisy, but Daisy is much quicker so their battles have a lot of give and take. As beagles are prone to do, they whine and whine whenever their food is being prepared and when they get it, whoever finishes eating first scrounges over to the other bowl to steal an extra bite or 3. At some point they’ll discover the refrigerator! They leave Oreo the rabbit alone for the most part on the rare occasions they escape their pen, but Daisy ate some of his cedar chips and had an upset stomach one day.

  Except for trips to the vet, we’ve only taken them out once on Christmas weekend to visit a family down the block who we used to chat with when we walked Queenie and Tuffy. Walks won’t start till spring and I can’t wait.

Dinner time. Daisy and Baxter race to finish first and then gobble up the other's food.

  Kathy and I try to take pictures or video of Daisy and Baxter every day. In a few years, we will look back and marvel at how small the dogs were. Speaking of marvels, I find it amazing that when we got Queenie in 1994 every roll of pictures cost a few dollars to buy and develop and mail to your friends, but in 2011 I can take pictures with a digital camera, store them on a laptop, and post them on the internet in minutes for all to see and it costs nothing. This is the world of the future.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A top 10 kind of day

The empty tournament room, waiting to be filled with chess players...

  On Saturday, I held the first of my series of chess tournaments in the Des Moines metro area that was open to all scholastic players at the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School cafeteria. My 2 previous tournaments at St. Francis were restricted to Parochial school students only and were attended by 25 and 16 kids. This tournament was open to all players aged 19 and under and I was expecting to have 25 players.

  The tournament was in 3 sections, a rated section for national chess federation members with trophy prizes ($10 entry fee), an unrated section for non-members with medal prizes ($4 entry fee), and a parents and friend section with medal prizes (free but you must be accompanied by a chess player).

  You never know how well or poorly attended a tournament will be, but I was comfortable that I had done my due diligence to promote the event. I sent a letter to all the schools within 3 counties of Des Moines, placed an ad on the state and national chess web sites, and sent emails to all the people that were on the chess mailing list I had assembled 3 years ago. I was worried that some of the parents of the Catholic school players that attended before would not want their kids to play with outsiders so I sent them a separate letter explaining that I knew the new players would be well-behaved and that their children would be competitive. Even though it is the middle of the Catholic school basketball league season, 12 of the parochial school kids were able to attend.

  A week before the event, I had 20 entries. I considered that a good sign since schools were off for Christmas break the past couple of weeks. Then the entries started pouring in this past week and by Friday morning, I had 40 entries. We had our first chess class at St. Francis in 3 weeks and I got even more entries and still more entries waiting in my e-mail when I got home from work. By Friday night I had 49 entries.

  I packed up my car at 6 in the morning on Saturday with my tournament supplies, and at 7 picked up my Thursday night blitz chess rival, high school junior Jaleb Jay, and headed off for the 63 mile drive to West Des Moines. Jaleb was going to help me set up the tournament hall in return for free entry and a ride to the tournament. We got to the school a couple of minutes after 8, the doors were open as promised (I had to wait a half hour to get in at one of the previous tournaments), and set up the tournament hall. We were done setting up by 8:45 and the first of the players started arriving at 9:15. One family came 4 hours from Sioux Center to play. I don’t let anyone mail me their entry fee in advance (that way if they decide not to show up, I don’t have any money or checks to return), so I didn’t think I could get everyone checked in and paid by the 10:00 start time. Normally, I have at least one person who I forgot to check in or put in the wrong section and have to redo the assignments, but at 10:00 I had over 50 players and parents checked in, seated, and ready to play with no hitches. I made my normal starting announcements (going over some basic rules and answering questions) and then I had the kids give their parents a round of applause to thank them for taking them to the tournament. Once everybody got started, I took care of some of the late arriving players and got to talk to some of the first time chess parents about how tournaments work. A lot of parents think that the kids just play until they lose and seem relieved when told that all the players get to play 5 games.

  The head St. Francis chess coach, Jim Mona came just in time for the start of the second round with his son Austin. Jim was coaching Austin’s AAU basketball game and hurried over to the tournament so they could both play.

...and just a few hours later, filled with players of every kind enjoying a day of chess. Jim Mona told me he knew we had a great crowd because I was grinning ear to ear when he came over to play after coaching his son's AAU basketball team in the morning.

  In the end, I had a total of 64 players (25 rated, 27 unrated, and 12 parents) and the day flew by in a whirlwind of activity. While the kids played, I would watch the games and chat with the parents. As each round wound down, I’d keep a close eye on the few remaining games and once they ended, entered the results into my computer and printed out the playing assignments for the next round. Jim brought me a Subway sandwich during the lunch break and I managed to eat half of it over the next 4 hours till the end of the tournament.

  Sometime at tournaments, the parents start getting riled up over their children not winning or accuse opponents of cheating, or get upset at me because their kid had to play someone much older, but there was none of that at this tournament. They all seemed really happy to have their kids be able to play chess for the day. The kids were also very good sports. When the younger ones were done with their tournament games, they were likely to play another game with their opponent. And even the first time tournament players deciphered the pairing assignment sheets and by the second of the 5 rounds were able to seat themselves at the correct chess board (of the 32 that were set up) in front of the pieces they were assigned to play.

  Once the tournament was over, Jim and I relabeled some of the medals and trophies so everyone would get a prize. For example, I had 2 medals for each age from 5 to 19. I had 5 7 year olds and no 18 or 19 year olds, so we relabeled the medals that would not have been given out and gave them to the kids that wouldn’t have otherwise won one. I’ve gotten complaints from parents in the past that I am so generous with my prizes it cheapens the accomplishments of the top players. There is some merit to their point, but for some of these kids, maybe this is the only chess trophy or medal they’ll ever get and if they have one, someday when they are parents whose children are thinking about playing chess, they have something to show their kids and get back into chess along with their children.

  I gave the parents their medals first and the kids got to clap for them. A lot of parents told me afterwards that they wish they had played because it looked like so much fun. Jim won the parents tournament, which was nice to see because without his hard work, we could not have gotten the facility for the tournaments. The kids came up a few at a time, got their medals or trophies and a big round of applause, with the top 5 finishers in each section the last to get their prizes.

  It was around 4 when the tournament was over and the parents left. Jaleb and I put away all the chess sets and took out the garbage, while Jim mopped the cafeteria floor. Here is a guy who runs a company during the week, coached a basketball game in the morning, won a chess tournament in the afternoon, and then was mopping the floors at night. In my tournament write-up, I mentioned how he mopped up at the tournament, since he not only mopped the floor; he also mopped up the competition in the parents section. I didn’t say it quite like that but I hope the readers will catch my double meaning. It is a real treat to work with a guy like Jim, who has a great love for chess, a passion for working with youth, and is happy to mop the floors in a cafeteria when no one is around to look.

Jim Mona (left), mopping up his game before mopping the floor literally

  It was a really, really, busy day, but we showed that chess is a lot of fun and a great activity for the entire family. There have been very few times where I felt this good about something I’d put so much effort in. I posted Jim and my pictures of the tournament on the internet, and sent links to the parents on Sunday. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from the parents telling me what a good time their kids had and how they want to play in the parents section next month. And just before I got thinking I was too perfect, I got an email from Jim asking me to change the flyer for the next tournament. It seems I had told the parents to use the northwest entrance, but that was the entrance to the church and the cafeteria entrance was on the northeast side. The father that was on duty had to mention to several parents that there were no chess boards at the altar before pointing them to the correct entrance.

  A couple of months ago, I thought it would take a year to get 50 players to the youth tournaments and we hit that on the first try. I don’t know if that level of attendance is sustainable, but it is a great start.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Fired up about who's getting fired

  In the National Football League, Black Monday is the day after the regular season ends. It is called ‘Black Monday’ because this is the day that the teams that didn’t make it to the playoffs tend to fire their coaches. I thought the Giant’s coach Tom Coughlin might get fired after the team’s collapse 2 weeks ago against the hated Eagles cost the team a spot in the playoffs, but ownership decided to keep him. It was a reasonable decision since the team won 10 out of their 16 games.

  Tom Cable of the Oakland Raiders led his team to an 8 win - 8 loss season, but lost his job anyway. He was the only coach of a non-losing team to get fired. You might think that he was fired because only winning half his games was a step down for the Raiders, but actually, it was the first time since 2002 that the team had not lost 10 games. You could look it up.

  There is a lot of speculation about why Cable was fired. Some say it was because of his violent temper. Cable allegedly beat both his wife and his girlfriend , though not at the same time and was accused of breaking the jaw of an assistant coach during an argument. Others say that 81 year old Raiders owner Al Davis wants to promote his offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson to head coach rather than lose him to another team. Still others offer the opinion that Davis is senile to fire the coach that has led his team to it’s best record in almost a decade. I think Davis just got tired of having a coach that looked like a member of the Three Stooges.

I think that is former Oakland Raider coach Tom Cable on the left and Curly of the Three Stooges on the right. I don't think they have ever been seen in the same place at the same time.

  I assume that Cable will be able to get a new job, but the sting of rejection will not go away easily. I’ve been fired a couple of times and the thing that bothered me the most was the finality of it. Somewhere you are working tells you you don’t work there anymore and that’s. Once when I was working as a fast food place, I got it in my head to spray the manager with the kitchen spray hose. It was pretty funny and fairly legendary as far as teenage pranks go, but I was fired before the last drop of water hit the floor. That was bad because not only was that my job, it was also my social hangout. When I was a security guard, I was working a few miles from my house in Elizabeth at a supermarket distribution facility and my boss asked me if I would be willing to work at a mall in New Brunswick (40 miles away) for one day. I agreed and when I went back to Elizabeth the day after was asked if I would be willing to work there permanently. I said no since I couldn’t afford that kind of drive on a minimum wage job and was fired before the phone conversation ended. That story had a happy ending. The guard company got caught short of people and gave me an overnight shift at the distribution center as a sub the next week. Since I didn’t fall asleep the whole night, I became a ‘top performer’ and worked there for a couple of years while I went to college.

  I’ve never been laid off, but have been working at places where other people were. At the Bristol-Myers factory, they were moving the operations from New Jersey to North Carolina when they laid off half the 3rd shift. The boss kept reading the names and we all knew they were going by the least seniority. The names stopped at the person hired right after me. A year and half ago at Fisher, they let half the programmers in my department know they would be let go in 4 weeks, including my best friend at the workplace. I’ve never liked working at a place where people were being let go and I left both those jobs as soon as I could.
  I had to fire someone once. A programmer was working for me that thought he should be my boss. He did poor work and one afternoon when I was reviewing a report he was working on, we got in a big argument about how many lines were printed on the report. It was only printing on a 3rd of the page, but he insisted that he was printing 60 lines of data. I started counting the lines, he grabbed the paper out of my hands, ran out of my office, and told me to get off his ‘F***N’ case. It was pretty loud and we both ended up in my boss’s office. If this guy had just said that he was having a bad day or he had taken his green pill instead of his red pill (he had lots of pills for back pain) or any other excuse, I’d have let the whole thing slide. But instead, he said that next time he would be a bigger man and overlook my obvious issues. He seemed pretty surprised when I fired him with my next sentence. It bothered me for a long time, but I learned and the next time I had a situation where someone I was supervising stopped respecting me, I just had as little as possible to do with them. Eventually, they got the message, got a new job, and moved on.

  Another firing of sorts occurred to Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer in Pakistan. He was killed last week when his bodyguard shot him in the back with at least 20 rounds of automatic gunfire. His suspected killer said that he killed him because of his opposition to a law that would order death for insulting Islam. Some Pakistani religious scholars are saying that no one should pray or express regret over the murder and lawyers are showering the suspected killer with rose petals. Now that’s really getting fired!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Taking the bad with the good

  The football season ends this week and it looks like my favorite team, the New York Giants will miss the playoffs for the second year in a row. They had a 3 touchdown lead against the hated Philadelphia Eagles with 7 minutes left and gave up 4 touchdowns to lose the game. With just a few seconds left and the score tied, The Giants punted as the last play of the game before overtime. The punter was instructed to just kick the ball out of bounds, but missed his punt and the Eagles managed to return the kick all the way into the end zone. I don’t think the Giants would have won in overtime, but losing on the last play of the game in such a dramatic way will ensure that I can be reminded of this painful loss whenever a sports show discusses football comebacks.

  My son Matt was especially disgusted by the loss, but I had to tell him that this was only 3rd on my list of hideous Giant losses. In 1978, when the giants were winning only a couple of games a year and the Eagles were a playoff contending team, the Giants had a 5 point lead with 30 seconds left in the game and were ready to pull off a big upset. Instead of kneeling on the ball, the coaches called for a hand off to the reliable Larry Czonka to run out the clock. Quarterback Joe Pisarcik fumbled the snap, the ball bounced into the hands of an Eagles defender, he scored the touchdown and the Giants lost 19-17 in a game that was referred to the ‘Pisarcik Bowl’. It was straight out of a Charlie Brown comic and became a symbol of a generation of Giant ineptitude.

  In 2003, the Giants were leading the San Francisco 49ers 38-14 in the second half of a playoff game when Terrell Owens of the 49ers caught a touchdown pass and did one of his prancing choreographed touchdown dances. This infuriated Giant’s defensive end Mike Strahan, who emphatically pointed to the scoreboard which read 38-20 Giants. This just made Owens prance all the more. The 49ers managed to win the game 39 to 38 and at the end it was Owens pointing to the scoreboard. I thought that collapse was worse than this year’s Eagles debacle since it was a playoff game, not just a game to get into the playoffs.

  While it is easy to just remember these awful Giant losses, I also remember some games that the Giants had no business winning. In 1990, the Giants were playing the 49ers for the right to go to the Super Bowl and were losing 14 to 9 with just a few minutes left. The 49er’s had the ball, but the Giants’ Leonard Marshall caught the great Joe Montana from behind, pancaked him to the ground. Montana not only fumbled the ball, but he broke his hand and was done for the day. The Giants got a field goal, got the ball back, and won the game 15-14 with another field goal as time expired. The very next week in the Super Bowl against the Buffalo Bills, the Giants were clinging to a 20-19 lead, but the Bills were driving down the field at the end of the game. With 9 seconds left, they sent their kicker out to make a 47-yeard field goal to win the Super Bowl, but he missed and the Giants won instead.

  The most recent miracle win was the 2008 Super Bowl, when with a minute left and the Giants losing to the unbeaten Patriots, Eli Manning was flung around like a rag doll by the Patriots defense, but managed to stay on his feet, and fired a long pass that David Tyree caught one-handed by pinning the ball against his helmet while being slammed to the ground. The Giants managed to score the winning touchdown to not only win the Super Bowl, but deny the Patriot's bid to be only the second undefeated team in NFL history.

  I got to thinking about these disasters and triumphs after our weekly chess tournament on Thursday. I was playing my one-time gadfly and now rival Jaleb Jay in the second round. The winner of this game would likely win the tournament. Twice in the first 6 moves I touched a piece I didn’t mean to move, and according to the rules, I had to move the piece I touched. I got this terrible position...
  ...and to boot I only had 1 second left on my clock. There was a 2 second delay before the second ran off, so I wouldn’t run out of time as long as I made every move in 2 seconds or less. Jaleb had 3 minutes left, but tried to rush his moves so I couldn’t think on his time. The computer thinks this position is holdable, but in a game between humans, Black should be able to find a way to get his king into the White position and win the game. I managed to reel off 20 or 30 moves without running out of time, and when Jaleb sacrificed a couple of pawns to break into my position with his king, I managed to sacrifice my knight for the 2 center pawns, got a passed pawn on both sides of the board, and won the game when Jaleb didn’t blockade them in time. This is the second time in a month I rescued a desperate position against Jaleb. I hope I can remember my good fortune the next time I lose or draw a game I should win.