Sunday, February 27, 2011

Battles with Kushan Part 2

13 year old expert Kushan Tyagi from Ames, Iowa

  Late last year, Kushan Tyagi of Ames challenged me to play a game on I've known Kushan and his family for 5 or 6 years. He has a brother Nirvan who is the same age as Matt and they used to play in the Grades championship every year. Kushan has developed into a great chess player and when he plays in one of my tournaments, I know I'm going to have some exciting games to watch. Last year at the Okoboji Open, he beat 3 experts Dan Vasto, Bob Keating, and Joe Knapp in a row on his way to a 3rd place finish. In April, he'll be playing with Matt and 4 other players for the Iowa Chess Championship. If he wins, I think he will be the youngest state champion ever.

  When I last played Kushan Tyagi on early last year, he was the 32nd highest ranked 13 year old in the country. now he is an expert chess player and is the 22nd ranked 13 year old. I only play one game at a time on and Kushan seems to be down to 10 or so games at a time. Last year, he was playing 30 to 40 games at once, so my advantage to offset his superior chess ability was not going to be as big as last year. The games were played at the pace of one move every 3 days, although Kushan rarely took more than a day to figure out his move. I would study the position when I was driving back and forth to work an hour each way. I'd tape the board position to the dashboard and try to think about it without looking. My car and I are both still in one piece, so I suppose the strategy worked.
  One of the better games I've played. It helped a lot that I was able to dull the game up and not let Kushan start attacking. I think he lost the pawn by mistake, but boredom may have had something to do with it. Last year, I played a dull Queen's Gambit as black, but in April I played the Dutch against Kushan in an offhand game at the West Des Moines Chessathon and managed to get a draw by a perpetual check after being worse throughout. That emboldened me to try the Dutch against Kushan for the rematch game. I enjoy the Dutch Defense, because while it can get exciting at times, if I'm not feeling particularly confident, I can play the Stonewall Variation and dull the game up if necessary.
A real battle and I was happy to escape with the draw. I'm looking forward to our next matchup.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Going Postal

  Letter carriers have a very tough job. Lugging the carrier sack in all kinds of weather with the possibility of a stray dog lurking around every corner and having to memorize hundreds of addresses isn't easy, but when was the last time some mail you sent or were expecting didn't get delivered? Letter carriers are also some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. Joe Skovil was a letter carrier in Hillside New Jersey and was the first person to ever call me Hank. I started using that name full time when I got out of High School, so I can thank Joe from saving me a lifetime of being called Henry (except from my brother). I’ve met most of my local Marshalltown letter carriers when I see them while walking my dogs and they’re always friendly. Whenever I’ve gone to the Marshalltown Post Office to do some sort of special mailing, the service has been efficient and if more than 2 people are in line, like magic another clerk will appear from the back to keep me from waiting a long time.

  I wish I could say the same about the clerks in the Urbandale Post Office. I had occasion to send some certified mail a few months ago. I got there shortly after noon during my lunch break. There were a dozen people in line and 1 clerk. You could hear the other workers in the back laughing and joking. Someone told them to keep it down and one of the workers yelled out, “If they don’t want to hear us, they shouldn’t come here during our lunch hour!”. You would think the postal service would be able to see the sense of having the counters fully staffed during the one hour that most people have off to use their service. I’m sure McDonalds and Burger King don’t have all the workers eating lunch at the same time as they would get the most customers. I felt like I should have waited until Saturday and taken care of it in Marshalltown, but I was already there and I waited while the clerk got done with the dozen customers and took care of me 40 minutes later. I heard the other workers having a good time but no one came out to help anyone. Aside from email and electronic billing replacing letters, this kind of garbage service is what is causing the Post Office to go out of business. And the first people who lose their jobs will probably be the letter carriers not the so-called ‘service’ clerks.

  I hadn’t mailed my Iowa Tax Forms yet and I had a couple of other large envelopes to mail so last Friday I went to the Urbandale Post Office at 12:15. There were 7 people in line and one clerk explaining the various options of sending a package to Bosnia to a little girl who was interpreting for her father and mother. There was also the Post Office supervisor who was telling people that if they had a debit card they could use the self service station right behind him. The man in front of me decided to use the machine, so I was now number 7 in line instead of number 8. Sadly, after the man had spent 5 minutes entering the required information into the machine, it wouldn’t take his debit card for the amount and I was back to being number 8 in line (If I was younger and in New Jersey, I’d probably have either still been number 7 or in a line at the emergency room). On the positive side, it was my turn to be told by the supervisor that I could use the self-service machine if I had a debit card. In a moment of what could only be divine inspiration, an idea popped into my head, and I gave the supervisor my nicest smile and said

“No thanks, I have to wait in line to do the audit.”
said the supervisor with a disbelieving smirk on his face
“Yeah, I’m supposed to see how long it takes me to send these.” I said, holding up my 4 pieces of mail and smiling as nicely as I knew how.

  The supervisor looked at me closely and smirked like he knew I was lying and I just turned to stare at the back of the head of number 7 in line, while the people now in line behind me were offered to the chance to play ‘debit-card roulette’ with the self service machine. While the lady in line behind me went to try her debit card in the self-service machine and the rest of us got a 5-minute Berlitz lesson on how to say “Air Mail”, "How long?" and "How Much?" in Bosnian, I took out my cell phone and casually made a 360 degree sweep of the postal station as if I was taking a video, and put the phone back into my pocket without fanfare. The supervisor’s eyes opened kind of wide and he disappeared into the back for a minute, reappearing with an old guy with a cash drawer who started hurriedly punching numbers into his work station. 3 minutes later, this guy was still fumbling around with the computer, the lady who had been behind me in line was back, having had her debit card rejected, and I pulled out my phone to make another 360 degree sweep. The supervisor (who wasn’t smirking anymore) stared at me, disappeared for another minute, and reappeared behind the counter with another clerk and a cash drawer. The supervisor punched the numbers in her station and in a few seconds, she was helping the next person in line. Then the supervisor helped the old guy get his station set up and after 40 seconds, I was number 6 in line. Then the package at the first station finally got on its way to Bosnia and I was number 5. A few short minutes minutes later, the old fellow was telling me how much I had to pay for my 2 tax returns and the other 2 oversized envelopes. I was tempted to try to pay with my debit card, but just gave him cash. As I left the supervisor was waiting by the exit and told me to have a nice day. I thanked him for doing such a nice job getting me through the line so quickly and he had a big smile.

  Maybe it was a coincidence that as soon as I started faking a video, the service improved markedly, but I think the supervisor had a vision of him becoming a star on YouTube or 20/20 or Undercover Boss. Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I don’t think I’ll be going to the Urbandale Post Office anytime soon, but when I do, I’ll bring a camera crew and be out of there in no time flat.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Wrestling with a conscience

  Iowa high school wrestler Joel Northrup made the national headlines this week when, having made it to the state championship tournament, he defaulted his round 1 match when he was scheduled to face female wrestler Cassy Herkleman. There are 8 district tournaments and the top 2 wrestlers in each of Iowa’s 14 weight classes in each district are allowed to compete in the state tournament. Northrup cited religious reasons for his refusal to compete stating “Wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times," ...As a matter of conscience and my faith I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most other high school sports in Iowa.”

  Herkleman and Megan Black both made the state championship tournament this year and are the first 2 females to make Iowa’s championship tournament. Girls have competed in 1979 in Iowa high school wrestling. Montana and Nebraska have had female wrestlers advance as far as the semi finals. There is no rule compelling states to allow girls to compete in boy’s wrestling, and some states have a separate girls’ wrestling program.

  There is a precedent for athletes not competing due to religious reasons. Sandy Koufax, Hall of Fame pitcher for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers, was Jewish and would not pitch on the holiday of Yom Kipper. This wasn’t very controversial until 1965 when the
holiday fell on the same day as game one of the World Series. Fellow Dodger Hall of Famer Don Drysdale pitched and lost game 1 and then Koufax lost game 2, but the Dodgers managed to still beat the Twins in 7 games. On Christmas Day, the NBA plays an entire schedule and the NFL has games when it falls on a Sunday, but so far no player has refused to play on Christmas.

  I think Northrup is being disingenuous when he says he has been “placed in this situation”. In my opinion, he has placed himself in the situation. Wrestling entails a lot of grabbing and holding that could get one labeled as a sex offender if done off of the mat. Northrup has known for years that he may have to compete against a female wrestler and still chose to compete. He should have given his place in the state championship to someone else once he knew that he would be in the same bracket against other regional winners he had no intention of competing against. And since he is also wrestling for the Lin-Mar school wrestling team, his team also pays a penalty in the team standings for his refusal to compete and would have been better served if he had given a teammate the chance to compete in the district tournament for the chance to compete in the state tournament. Northrup’s parents could have satisfied his passion for wresting and their religious beliefs in many other states or one of the many wrestling programs that are outside the dual-gendered regulations of the Iowa High School Athletic Association (IHSAA).

  Having made the decision to compete in the IHSAA system, Northrup was obligated to follow through on this decision and compete. I don’t see how the choice he made is any different than the choice facing the
1963 segregated all-white Mississippi State basketball team that was forbidden from playing the mostly black Loyola of Chicgo team in the NCAA tournament in Lansing Michigan by edict of the Governor and a court order. The Mississippi State team defied the orders and snuck across the Mississippi line to travel and compete in the game. One of the Loyola players was Jerry Harkness, who owned a shoe store in Indianapolis and would call the company I worked for help with his retail software. I talked to him after seeing the TV special on the 1963 Loyola team that had won the NCAA championship. He told me how much courage the Mississippi State players showed by breaking the law to play in the game and how much his team appreciated it.

  By choosing to compete, Herkleman and the other female wrestlers are indicating their willingness to compete by the same rules as all the other wrestlers without special treatment and Northrup’s choosing when he will and won’t compete is an insult to the sport he obviously is passionate about. If he really had a religious objection, he should not have competed in an organization that promotes behaviour he finds so objectionable.

  In chess, I’ve never had a problem with a male player refusing to compete against a female. Once in a great while, a player will grumble “if I win, it’s just a girl and if I lose, I lost to a girl” and I try to point out that it is no different than playing someone much older or younger. Age, race, or how money in your pocket doesn’t matter when you sit down at the chessboard and whether you are playing a boy or a girl doesn’t matter either. Interestingly enough, if a tournament allows computers to play a participant may choose in advance not to play the computer. I’ve never had a computer in any tournament I played. If I do and refuse to play it I don’t think I’d get on ESPN, but I might get sued by the Society for Silicon Based Equal Rights.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Deficit Sleight of Hand

  President Obama’s new budget calls for 3.73 TRILLION dollars in spending this year with a deficit of 1.65 TRILLION dollars. He says his budget will reduce the deficit by 1.1 TRILLION dollars over the next decade. This is some nice double speak, since there is no budget surplus planned just less borrowing from the government. By my math, spending 3.73 TRILLION dollars and have a 1.65 TRILLION dollar deficit means the government is borrowing 44 cents for every dollar they are spending. The Republican Congress will pare the budget in order to attempt back up the promises they made to cut 100 BILLION dollars in order to get control of the House of Representatives in last November’s election. Cutting 100 BILLION dollars from the budget will mean a deficit of ONLY 1.55 TRILLION DOLLARS and we will only be borrowing 41 cents for every dollar we spend. I’m glad the House Republicans will be cutting spending by 100 BILLION dollars, but it just seems like a drop in the bucket to me. And when you read the fine print, the drop just got smaller, since the goal is really a seasonally adjusted 61 BILLION dollars. It reminds me a little of the fellow I saw at the gas station this morning. He bought 2 donuts, 2 Sausage and Egg sandwiches, a slice of breakfast pizza, used his refill cup to save 50 cents on his diet soda (he was watching his weight) and paid for it with a credit card.

  Historically, the government makes up the deficit through inflation creating increased tax revenue. If I knew I was going to get double my pay next year, but prices were also going to be doubled, I would be well advised to borrow against next year’s pay, buy the things I need today, and pay it off with next year’s inflated income. The government will cut Social Security spending by not giving Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA)
like they have the last 2 years while prices go up. Inflation is almost zero, according to the COLA calculations. If you’ve bought gas or groceries regularly during the last 6 months, I expect you know that prices have gone up. But the official Consumer Price Index (CPI) says inflation and prices have barely moved. Maybe I’d agree if I was buying a house every year instead of gas and groceries every week. Of course, these are the same people who tell us the unemployment rate has gone down because people have given up looking for jobs don’t count as unemployed anymore. By that twisted logic, unemployment could be eliminated by laying everyone off and making it illegal to look for a job.

  At a recent chess tournament the other chess dads and I were discussing the budget. Someone made the comment that the current deficit was proof positive that Keynesian economics doesn’t work. I said it was only proof that Keynesian economics can’t work with partisan politicians. Keynes was a proponent of deficit spending to stimulate economic demand during recessions and politicians of every party have no problem with that part (even when there's not a recession). The other side of the ‘Keynesian coin’ is that when the deficit spending has done its job and the economy is expanding without government help, it is time to put a brake on the economy by taking the money out of the system to not only replace the monies spent during the recession but to also keep excess demand from outstripping supply and creating inflation. This is the part politicians of all parties can’t seem to figure out. President Obama is going to plan for a 500 BILLION dollar deficit by the year 2021 and says he is slashing the deficit by 1.1 TRILLION Dollars. In 2001 President Bush used the budget surplus to justify a big tax cut, but then 9-11 happened and the country was at war. Instead of asking Americans to forego their tax cuts in order to pay for fighting terrorists, Bush resorted to deficit spending, borrowing the money to fight terrorism AND still giving everyone a tax cut. In the 60’s spending on the Vietnam War and the social programs of the ‘Great Society’ was called ‘guns and butter’. In any era it is called not having the stomach to make a tough decision.

  There are only 2 ways to balance the government’s budget, tax more or spend less. But since politicians can only get elected by promising one or the other, but cannot get re-elected by doing either, they are in a tough spot. For example, after a months-long struggle, Congress today voted to
cancel funding for an engine for a military jet that would have cost 3 billion dollars over the next few years. When you are looking at a 3.73 trillion dollar budget, 3 billion (only half a billion this year) in savings is more like a grain of sand than a drop in the bucket. The President and the military didn’t want to spend the money to produce the engine, but many congressmen want to see it in production and the leader of the pack for spending money to produce an fighter jet engine that the military doesn’t want is none other than House Speaker Jim Boehner of Ohio. Why? Because Ohio is where the bulk of the jobs created by making this engine are located! This is probably not Boehner meant when his website posted that “Boehner Calls on President Obama to Start Cutting Spending Now”. And if too much more job-creating spending gets cut from his district, he’ll really have something to cry about unless the next Congress extends his unemployment benefits. If it is this hard to cancel spending for a piece of military equipment that even the military doesn’t want, how is the government going to cut Medicare, Social Security, welfare, or raise taxes to close the deficit?

  Despite all this, I don’t find myself especially worried by the current deficit situation and remain pretty optimistic. Like so many things, I feel it not worth the time I could spend worrying about it and I believe it will all work itself out in the end. One thing I do know is that I NEVER know. In 1972, after Richard Nixon won re-election to the presidency in a landslide, what kind of odds would you have gotten that he would be out of a job just 2 years later? In 1979 and 1980, the government was running the biggest deficit ever up to that point AND the price of gas doubled overnight AND you had to wait hours in line just to fill up your tank AND inflation was at 18% AND unemployment was at 18% AND the Russians had just invaded Afghanistan AND every night on the news we were treated to watching American citizens held hostage in the embassy in Iran, but less than 10 years later the Berlin Wall had fallen, the Soviet Union had collapsed, and America was being called the last superpower. In 1993 when the country was in a recession and the government was running the biggest deficits ever, who would have thought 5 years later the government would be running a surplus? And who would have thought that 5 years after that, we would be running record deficits again and the president would be the son of the man who was booted out of office just 8 years prior? It wouldn’t surprise me if the government was running surpluses by 2016, but I would be shocked if one of George W. Bush’s kids was president.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Answering The Call

  Yesterday, I had the second of my 5 open chess tournaments in Des Moines at the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School cafeteria. My tournament on January 8th had an amazing 64 players compete, but I was expecting lesser numbers this time around. The IASCA was holding the K-6 team championships in Iowa City yesterday and so I did not have any players from Ames, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa City as those towns chess programs are driven by school clubs who have great interest in the team championship. I had a player and his dad from my chess club in Marshalltown, 7 players from the Madison Area Home School group in Winterset, a player from Ankeny, and a father and son from Bettendorf who were in town for a conference. It is a tremendous compliment when people travel a long distance to play in my tournaments and it gives everyone the chance to play chess and socialize with new people, but I feel a local chess program that relies on out of town players is doomed to failure. Without a base of local players to support your program, organizers from other towns will recognize that there is an unfilled need for their local players, supply tournaments to fill that need, and your tournaments will be left without the players from other towns you were relying on. Already a tournament has been scheduled in Iowa City on the same day as my April date and I recently found out that an unpublicized tournament was held in Iowa City the same date as my tournament in January.

  At the beginning of last weekend, I had a bad feeling about the tournament since I was only staring at a dozen entries. As the week went on, the entries picked up steam and I had 40 entries and with 8 entries late Friday night and walking in unannounced Saturday morning, I ended up with 48 players and parents, almost 40 from the Des Moines area. This shows me that a scholastic chess program in Des Moines will be self-sustaining without relying on the chess players from other towns to travel to Des Moines.

  An oddity of the tournament was that there was not a single player of high school age. A brother of 2 of the players from Winterset wanted to play, but when he found out he would be the oldest and highest rated player, decided to compete in the parents and friends section instead. I did get a 19 year old, Luke Munson, to help me out by playing in the rated section to give me an even number of players. Luke had brought 2 of his brothers to the tournament and had played in my tournaments for many years. When you have an odd number of players, the player who is doing the worst at the end of each round gets a ‘bye’, which is a free point as if they played and won. Some of the kids are happy to get the free point, but others feel like losers. I don’t like to tell a player they don’t have an opponent so Luke did me a big favor by playing even though he hadn’t played in 2 years.

A good thing about no older or higher rated players was that a lot of younger players had better chances to win a top prize!

  The tournament ran very smoothly and it seemed to me that all the kids had a great time. There was one young player who lost his queen and started crying, but he calmed down after a few minutes. Two brothers were talking a lot while standing by their friend’s games and his opponent’s mom got upset and called me over. I asked the brothers to either communicate by telepathy or maybe talk to each other somewhere else. This stuff happens at every tournament and was no big deal. A lot of the parents of the players who played in the unrated section for non national federation members told me they were really happy their children were taking up chess as a hobby and that there was a chess activity like the tournament to occupy their day.

  The tournament went very quickly, with most of the rounds only taking a half hour instead of the allotted hour. Instead of the half hour lunch break that was scheduled, I had almost an hour and a half. A 9 year old girl was telling me how she lost her first 2 games. We got to talking about why and I asked her if she ever thought about what her opponent was trying to do. She said no, so I printed up a game that I played last April and we played over it. It was a very simple game where one player would make a simple attack and the other player would defend the attack. There was very little high level strategy (or if there was, I missed it), and eventually one of us missed the other’s attack and lost the game. I was able to get the girl to spot many of the simple attacking moves in the game and think about a defense. After we had finished playing through the game, she asked me to play it over again. We went over it again and this time 3 or 4 of the other kids had come back from lunch and playing along at our little game of ‘find the attack’ and the 9-year old girl was playing more of the role of the teacher, showing some of the moves to the other kids. She won 1, drew 1 and lost 1 in her last 3 games and I think I helped her to see chess in a new and more enjoyable way.

This young lady has come to every tournament I've held this year. After a short lesson, she saw chess in a new way and finished the tournament with a win and a draw in her last 3 games.

  I got a special treat in the middle of the next to last game when National Master, 3-time state champ, and former IASCA president Tim McEntee came by to drop off something for me to bring to my son Matt. Tim spent every Sunday afternoon the last 2 summers helping Matt to represent Iowa in the National Tournament of High School champions. Like Jim Mona of St Francis who will mop the cafeteria floor or get awards for kids in his chess club out of his own pocket, Tim looks to do good for chess among his many other endeavors and it makes no difference to him if anyone, everyone, or no one knows about his works. Tim stayed around to talk to parents, helped any of the players who had questions for him about chess or wanted to play a game with a master, and we got a chance to talk about my plans for my program of chess tournaments. He even moved the tables in the cafeteria while I swept the floor (mopping was not required this day) and helped carry my tournament stuff to my car. And did I mention that it was his birthday?

  The tournament was over by 3:30, including giving out the awards. All the players got either a trophy or a medal and a round of applause. As an added bonus, I made enough money to pay for my gas. I would have made a profit, but I told the last unrated player to leave that if he beat me in a game, I’d give him one of my leftover trophies. I was winning easily, but stalemated him and there went my trophy out of inventory! By 9pm last night, I had the pictures and article posted on the Internet and was playing with Daisy and Baxter (my beagle puppies).

Sometimes I think the parents and friends enjoy playing in the tournament more than their kids and brothers.

  At the Salvation Army chess club last Thursday, Ed was there cooking a dinner for the Laurel Lions monthly meeting. Ed is in his late 60’s and works at the Salvation Army. He always makes sure that there are snacks set out for the chess club and there have been times when he would bake a pan of chicken legs or a bucket of chilli for us to feast on. He fulfilled one of his dreams last summer by buying his own hot dog cart and he can be seen around town during lunch hour serving the best Chicago style dogs I’ve ever eaten. Chicago style seems to be a thicker shorter dog than the New York dogs I’m used to, but like I said, they are the best! When I asked Ed what he was up to, he told me he was going to give the sermon on Sunday at the Salvation Army service. I didn’t know Ed gave sermons, so I told him I’d be there to listen. Ed is a lot like Tim and Jim, he will do what needs to be done, whether it is driving 2 hours to get a truckload of donated food, cooking a dinner for the Lauren Lions, or giving a sermon at the Salvation Army. You may have noticed that these are the kind of people I have a lot of respect for and try to emulate in my own way. I got to the service when it started at 11:00, an hour after going to Mass with my son Ben. Ed talked about the Holy Spirit working in our lives and calling us to follow Jesus. He talked a lot about things I learned from serving on the Stewardship Committee at St. Mary for 7 years, things like how God has given each of us different talents to use to help other people and we not only have an obligation to use these talents, we have a need to use them when called. Then he started to talk about the different people at the service and the different things they do to help other people, like the guy that can barely walk but he gives out the programs for the service, to the lady that does the cleaning, and many of the other people. He never mentioned himself, but then he brought me up and said that maybe there was some kid who wasn’t somewhere they shouldn’t be because they were playing chess at my club or in a tournament I was holding. That touched me since I only started the chess club in 2001 when I asked if the Salvation Army had a club and was told “No we don’t. Why don’t you start one?” If Major Joan Stoker hadn’t challenged me that day, I doubt my involvement in chess would have ever gone beyond playing and taking my kids to tournaments.

  I felt a little like I dropped the ball when I left my Des Moines tournaments to other people who didn’t follow through, but now I think it was a necessary step to strengthen my resolve to provide chess as an activity of value for families. Other people may see going from 64 players to 48 was a step back, but I see it as a giant leap forward and the parents and players now see after 2 tournaments that I am serious and committed, since I have had 2 tournaments, 3 more monthly tournaments scheduled, and if I can find a free site I’ll go through the summer. The people who have invested the time to take their kids to tournaments seemed to be telling me the same things as Ed said, only in a little different way. If this is my calling, I intend to answer the call and not put down the phone.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ending of Eras

  I watched almost the entire Super Bowl on Sunday. It was a generally a well played exciting game with the Steelers interceptions and fumbles being matched by the many dropped passes by the Packer receivers. In the end the Steelers couldn’t duplicate their last minute comeback of 2 years ago and the Packers won a close game. Living in Iowa, I know a lot of Packer fans and I’m happy for their team’s victory, especially after the pain of watching Brett Farve lead the rival Vikings to 2 victories over the Packers and the brink of the Super Bowl last year. I remember the sense of loss I felt watching the last pieces of the Yankees championship teams of the 70’s (Willie Randolph and Ron Guidry) leave in the late 80’s, but at least I never had to watch them wearing the uniform of the filthy Boston Red Sox. Now that the Packers have won the Super Bowl without Farve, they can put that era in the past and iconize the group of players who have brought them their most recent championship, while Farve can retire and try to live down the laughingstock the end of his career became with his recorded pleadings for hookups and alleged ‘photo shoots’ of ‘lil brett’ sent to New York Jets breast-implanted sideline reporter Jen Sterger in 2008. Farve’s image as a ‘good-ol’-boy’ didn’t take as much of a hit as Tiger Woods carefully polished image, but it was a costly blow for the man who had all of America rooting for him while he played the day after his father’s death on Monday Night Football and through his wife’s battle with breast cancer. I would have expected him to be on one of the football pre-game shows and selling jeans, trucks, and beer for the next 30 years but that will probably wait while he spends a few years as a pariah until people forget the sad end of his career and remember the young gunslinger with the rocket arm who played every game like it was his last. It worked for Pete Rose, right?

  Last week Yankee great Andy Pettitte announced his retirement from baseball. I remember cursing him out after he got torched by the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the 1996 World Series in a 11-2 loss to Tom Glavine and then a week later admiring his guts in a 1-0 masterpiece in Atlanta to give the Yankees a 3 games to 2 lead. This seemed a common occurrence in Pettitte’s career that he would pitch better the second time than the first in a big series. The only exception was in game 6 of the 2001 World Series when he lost 16-1 to the hated Randy Johnson and the Diamondbacks. Pettitte went on to win a record 19 playoff games, 18 with the Yankees and 1 with the Astros when he followed the loser Roger Clemens to Houston and ended up getting tainted as an HGH user while hanging with the ‘Rocket’ during Clemens decade of steroid abuse. He was rarely the best pitcher on the staff, but when he took the mound, I was always sure he’d give the Yankees a chance to win. It’s no surprise to me that the Astros got to the World Series when Pettitte showed up and went in the toilet when he left or that he pitched the clinching game of the 2009 World Series for the Yankees because Andy Pettitte, like Jeter, Posada, and Rivera, is one of those guys that winning follows around. I’m hoping that he will stay in shape and come back later in the summer to help the Yankees out in a pinch or maybe be a pitching coach in a few years and show a new generation what winning is all about.

  An era in Iowa scholastic chess closed last month when Matt Anzis won his fourth state High School championship. He tied with Dan Brashaw in 2008 (losing a tiebreak match to determine the state’s representative to the national tournament), and won outright the last 3 years with a record of 13 wins and 2 draws in the 4 championship tournaments. Matt is really smart, but what makes him an exceptional chess player to me is his will to win and inability to accept defeat. When Matt started in chess, he wasn’t the highest rated player for his age in the state but as he got better than the other players, most of them dropped out of chess. In 2006, Matt lost the state 8th Grade championship to Hong Kai Pan of Ames in an upset. Instead of quitting, he only got more determined and 5 months later when he got his chance for a rematch he was the winner. It was the same way when he lost the playoff to Brashaw in 2008. He had never beaten Dan up to that point, but 2 months later he beat him at the high school team championships and then the next year at the high school championships. I’d like to take credit for instilling that kind of toughness, but it really only comes from within. Matt is just the latest in a long line of scholastic excellence in Iowa, following in the footsteps of players like Dan Goffstein, who won 2 state championships while he was in high school and blazing the trail for players like Kushan Tyagi, who is an expert while still an 8th grader, but time marches on. In 2003, my youngest son Ben won the state K-3 championship as a first grader, the youngest at the time. Then in 2008 Nicholas Huerter won the same event while in kindergarten. Ben was helping me with the tournament and when I told him his record was broken, he told me, “Yeah, but it was a lot harder when I had to do it."

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Daisy and the 'Bax' - Beagle Puppy update

Daisy(left) and Baxter know how to relax!

  Tuesday will be Daisy and Baxter’s 3 month birthday and they have been in the house for 45 days today. They are getting bigger and bigger but in absolute terms, they are still pretty small. Baxter has grown from 3.8 to 7.6 pounds and Daisy has gone from 3.1 to 6.8 pounds.

  Both dogs are sleeping through the night for the most part. They get up when I wake up at 4:30 and Kathy hangs out with them for a half hour while I take a bath and get dressed. Then we move the pen and puppies downstairs, feed them, and I hang out with them while Kathy goes to the YMCA to exercise. When I’m alone with them, they wrestle with each other, play with me, and then jostle for position on my lap until they fall asleep. After a bit, I put them in their bed and then go to work.

  Aside from a little waddle, Baxter’s back foot with only the one toe is proving to be no problem. Matt has been working with him a lot, making him walk on his back legs and he can out jump Daisy. He has a big thick neck and a broad face just like his father. Like most puppies that are the bigger ones in the litter, he is a very gentle dog. He is a lot of fun and has been a real blessing, just like I’d expect from a dog that just dropped in out lap.

  Daisy seems just half the size of Baxter, even though she is close to his weight. She is long and lean and is quick to get fierce when she plays with Baxter or us. Her face crinkles up when she get worried and she has an ancient look about her. I’ve been calling her ‘Old Wrinkly’, but Kathy doesn’t like the nickname so I’m trying to stop saying it.

  In the past week, the puppies have graduated from their pen in the kitchen to some supervised play time in the rest of the first floor. Our house has 3 rooms arranged in a circle, so the pups can run around and around. We’ve walled them off from the stairs because while they can climb the stairs, they haven’t learned to get back down them.

Daisy and Baxter are getting the run of the house.

  The other big milestone the Daisy and Baxter have hit is that they are starting to go for walks outside. When the temperature is above freezing, Matt and Kathy (and me too on the weekend) have been putting their collars and leashes on and taking Daisy and Baxter for a 2 block walk. Baxter looks forward to getting outside, but Daisy has been fighting tooth and nail against having her collar put on. Once she gets outside though, she is happy to walk.

Walking the beagle puppies.

  Having beagle puppies takes up a lot of time, but the happiness they bring are more than worth it. I was only half joking in one of my recent blog postings blaming the unrest in Egypt on a lack of beagles. I’ve had a problematic couple of weeks with problems popping up in programs at work that had been working like clockwork for months and years, my youth chess tournament this coming week looking to be poorly attended, and I’ve had some people turn their back on me over some real or imagined slights. But when I sit down and have a pair of puppies jumping over each other to play with me, all that stuff becomes as unimportant as it should be.

In the world of 'beagle puppy playtime' there is no room for the worries of the outside world.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Anger Management

  Last week, someone wrote to me telling me I had an anger management problem based on a conversation we had the week before. My first thought is, ‘So What? We all have anger management problems.’ I tend to be very blunt in the things I say and this wasn't the first time my observations were taken as personal attacks or judgments rather than me just saying what I’m thinking.

  I can think of only one time in the last few years that I lost my temper past the point of no return. I took my son Matt to play in a chess tournament and in the first round this guy I’d met casually from previous tournaments came right over to me as soon as his game was over and told me he had this completely winning position, but lost it because he was stupid. I mentioned that maybe it was a winning position for a computer, but not for his playing style. This got the guy so upset, he started cursing me out and eventually stomped away, telling everyone who came by what an ass I was for saying something like that and who the hell did I think I was anyway and on and on and on. This went on for over an hour and when Matt’s game was over and while he was hanging out with a bunch of other young kids going over his game, this guy comes walking over, sticks his hand out and says, ‘hey, no hard feelings’ or something like that. I really dislike people who spit whatever comes out of their mouths or do whatever they want, and then just want to pretend like it never happened because they say they’re sorry. I can deal with being cursed out, but if you don't really mean it, why even start? I like to think if I say something, I mean it and will for quite a while. In this case, I just snapped. I stood up and cursed this guy out using every curse word I could use in every combination I could think of (including some combinations that likely hadn’t been invented yet). I was so mad I was hoping this guy would take a swing at me, but then he says, ‘Hey, I’m just trying to be the bigger man here’. That sent me off even further. I told him if he wanted to be the bigger man, he could get on his knees and perform a service that would probably cost me a few dollars in Las Vegas (not in those words exactly). I don’t think there was much of a comeback to that and the guy left and didn’t give me any further updates on his games for the rest of the tournament. I did sort of apologize at the next tournament I saw him in. I went up to him and said I wished the incident had never happened. A truce was declared and we have exchanged pleasantries (but not Christmas Cards) whenever we have met since.

  I didn’t manage my anger very well at the time. I would have been better served by shaking the guys hand and moving on, but being reminded of anger management shortcomings got me to thinking about how other people I have known managed their anger in a positive way.

  I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but a teacher from my High School, Mr. Glackin, was very good at anger management now that I look back. Our homeroom was right next to his classroom and our teacher was rarely there after taking the attendance. We would be in various stages of altered consciousness (it was the seventies) and would rarely if ever stand during the pledge of allegiance. One day, Mr. Glackin (who was quite bear-like at 6’5” and 300 pounds with mutton chops and well known for his foul temper) noticed our slacking off during the pledge. Confusing our hungoverness and other altered states with a lack of patriotism, he barged into the room and started screaming at the top of his lungs that if we didn’t want to stand during the pledge of Allegiance he would break every bone in our bodies and then we would have an excuse not to stand. Needless to say, we all sobered up, woke up, and stood up. Mr. Glackin probably couldn’t get away with that 35 years later and I don’t know if that’s good or bad thing, but he certainly accomplished his objective by managing his anger.

  The best case of anger management I’ve ever seen at a chess tournament came at the Hawkeye Mind Challenge in the spring of 2005. I was in the middle of a terrible tournament (throwing away a piece on consecutive moves in round 1 and being crushed in a 400 point upset in round 2), and found myself at the end of the room with all the other players that had lost their first 2 games. Sitting next to me and on the other side of the table was a big, muscular guy I’d never seen before. His name was Steve. He noticed that I had a headset and a CD player and yelled at me “TURN THAT DOWN”. I told him that I had permission from the tournament director to use the player and besides, it wasn’t even on at the moment. Steve then told me in a half shout, “WELL, KEEP IT DOWN”. Play started a few minutes later. Steve’s opponent was a high school player from West Des Moines who was no bigger around than Steve’s forearm. I was playing an older fellow who was in his first tournament in 7 years. At one point the high school player who was next to me opened a bag of Reese’s Pieces and started eating them. Strictly speaking, it is not allowed to eat at the chess table, but I don’t know anyone who has ever complained about it or enforced that rule. I don’t know if Steve knew the rule, but when he thundered “STOP EATING”, the kid next to me put the bag of candy away.
  Eventually Steve lost a piece and sort of curled up into his chair, sitting sideways with his arms grasped around each other and his face curled up into what can only be described as a giant fist. When he moved, he would pick up his piece, slam it down, and bang the clock so hard that my table would shake. Once, Steve made his move, banged the clock, and after a few seconds yelled “MOVE!” His opponent said (very quietly) “I’m thinking about my move.” A player is allowed to take as long as they want for a move, but after a few seconds, Steve yelled “HURRY UP!!”. I thought about calling over the tournament director, but I was playing bad enough already without having my head snapped off like a beer can top and kept quiet. Besides, it looked to me as if my opponent was even more distracted than I was since I was winning our game. The high schooler looked more and more uncomfortable, made a couple of hasty moves, and lost a rook, where upon Steve uncurled, stopped banging his clock, seemingly calmed down, and won the game. I gave him the (private) nickname ‘Psycho’ and it became one of my favorite tournament stories for a number of years whenever the subject of over-the-board intimidation came up. 'Psycho' managed his anger well enough to win a game he had no business winning.

  These are all great stories, but nothing that will help MY alleged anger management problem. I’ve been reading the book ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff...and it’s all small stuff” by Richard Carlson. Chapter 82 says to lighten up, so I thought I’d listen to some music to see if it would make me less angry. I oscillate between listening to mixes featuring John Lennon, Johnny Cash, Led Zeppelin, and the Grateful Dead and when I opened up my music player, the Johnny Cash music was up.

The first song was ‘Tennessee Stud’
“We pulled our guns and he fell with a thud. I rode away on the Tennessee Stud.”

Next up was ‘Delia’
“First time I shot her, shot her in the side. Hard to watch her suffer, but with the second shot she died.”

‘Folsom Prison Blues’ was next
“I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.”

Then came ‘Cocaine Blues’
“Early one morning while making the rounds, I took a shot of cocaine and I shot my woman down.”

And the last song on the mix was ‘Sam Hall’
“And I smashed in his head. And I left him laying dead. Damn his eyes.”

  I felt a lot less angry after listening to some music, so I guess it worked. I don’t think Johnny Cash was ever translated into Arabic, which might be why everyone is so angry in Egypt.

  I also have more proof that I’ve solved my alleged anger management problems.  It is impossible to be angry when you are calm enough to have beagle puppies fall asleep in your lap. You’ll notice that none of the Egyptian protesters have any beagle puppies falling asleep in their laps.