Friday, February 27, 2015


  I follow the news on the Internet or the newspapers instead of television so it should be no surprise that I’m always dumbfounded by the reverence and trust television viewers hold for their favorite local and national news anchorpeople. I never thought the news was any different whether Tom Brokaw or Dan Rather or Walter Cronkite or Peter Jennings or Katie Couric was reading the news from the teleprompter. I always thought the best anchorman were like the best sports referees or the best chess tournament directors for that matter – unnoticed. But to get big ratings and big paychecks anchorpeople have consistently tried to become more and more opinionated and appear more like the newsmakers than the news reporters. Bill O’Reilly, Rachael Maddox, Rush Limbaugh, and even comedians like Steven Colbert and Jonathan Stewart have become cult figures whose followers take most of their utterances as gospel without even realizing that they are more like actors playing a part than objective news reporters.

  NBC Evening News anchor Brian Williams was recently suspended for six months when he either at most told tales of being in an Army helicopter in Iraq that was hit in by a RPG (rocket propelled grenade) and forced down in the desert or at least didn’t correct anyone that made the assumption. As I read the CNN timeline it seems as if there is a lot of wordplay going on to make it seem as if Williams was actively lying about whether his helicopter was actually fired upon and hit by a RPG.

  I’m sure Williams is very embarrassed at being caught out but at least his explanation is semi plausible, unlike the many politicians of late that lied about military service in order to impress the electorate or donors. In 2012 Democrat Ken Aden lied about being in the Green Berets even though the 10 year veteran who served in Iraq should have very little to prove in the military service department. In 2010, Illinois congressman Mark Kirk claimed he won the ‘Navy Intelligence Officer of the Year’ award while locked in a Senate race. Even this paled to 2010 Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal repeatedly claiming he served in Vietnam when in reality he received five deferments and was in the Reserves. It’s not just a guy thing either. In 2008, Hillary Clinton reminisced about evading sniper fire during a 1996 landing in Bosnia and having to run across the tarmac. She said this in order to demonstrate something or other about her foreign policy experience but had to back off her statements when a CBS news video showed her being greeted by a young girl and no snipers.

  I can understand a news anchor like Williams wanting people to think he was in harrowing combat near-death experiences but I’ll never understand why politicians would make up fables of military service. Can you name the last veteran to be President? It was George Bush, who was a pilot in World War II. Since then we have 24 years of presidents that haven’t been in combat (George W Bush was in the Reserves) and in their 6 elections defeated two World War II veterans (Clinton defeated Bush and Bob Dole) and three Vietnam veterans (W. Bush defeated Al Gore and John Kerry while Obama defeated John McCain). I’m not saying that these 5 candidates that served overseas (Gore was a journalist but the rest were in combat to varying degrees) didn’t help but they certainly didn’t help enough to get them elected. In the heartland state of Iowa, Iraq veteran Joni Ernst won her Senate seat over Bruce Braley and her military service undoubtedly helped but I’m of the opinion that Braley’s video to the Texas lawyers had much more to do with his defeat than his lack of military experience. Not only is military service not a guarantee for winning an election false claims of military service easy to disprove and make a mockery of the candidate.If I was a political candidate I'd start telling tales about sewing quilts before I tried to lie about military service.

  In my opinion, Williams is being unfairly castigated. He WAS in a group of helicopters over Iraq and they WERE fired upon and they DID have to land. Making up stuff is not so good but as someone who nearly threw up when a plane going from Des Moines to Denver took off I have to give Williams credit for being in Iraq in a helicopter that could be shot down at any second. Not as much credit as the soldiers who were actually operating the helicopters and staring at getting fired upon every day but credit nonetheless.

  I think Williams biggest crime was his fame as a network anchor. I’m not excusing his lies or mistruths but he is just a guy on the television that reads the news and not a newsworthy person in and of himself. Any power he has is conferred upon him by the viewing public that trusts him and believes him. He has betrayed their trust but I have to question the wisdom of anyone that hangs on the words of a talking head on television with unfettered belief and trust.

  I doubt I’ll ever be a network anchorman but if I ever become one instead of lying about my military experience I’ll probably have to fabricate some stories about my great basketball picks since I went 1-2 last week to run my record to 1-5 and am down $450 mythical dollars. I could have been 2-1 but with two seconds left and his team leading by two points, Timberwolves forward Kevin Martin missed two free throws that kept the team from covering the 2.5 point spread against the Suns. Bad breaks are part of sports predictions but so are good breaks some of which I'm overdue for when picking tonights NBA games using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page for entertainment purposes only with no real money is being wagered.

Milwaukee Bucks at Los Angeles Lakers
The woeful Lakers have won two games in a row including a road win over the red hot Utah Jazz but I predict the streak will end against the visiting Bucks who will easily cover the 5.5 point spread.

Orlando Magic at Atlanta Hawks
The Eastern Conference leading Hawks rebounded nicely from last Friday's home blowout loss to Toronto with double digit wins on the road to the Bucks and at home against the Mavericks. The Magic's three game winning streak crashed on Wednesday when they lost a game to the Heat when they were ahead by 8 points with a minute left. I'll pick the Hawks to cover the 11 point spread against the hapless Magic.

Charlotte Hornets at Boston Celtics
These two teams are on the periphery of the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Celtics have won two in a row since their embarrassing loss to the Lakers while the Hornets just broke their four game losing streak by beating the Bulls in an impressive road win. I like the Celtics pickup of Isiah Thomas to have his way against the injury depleted Hornet backcourt and will pick the Celtics to cover the two point spread.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Going to California

  Once upon a time six blind men lived in a village. One day the villagers told them, "Hey, there is an elephant in the village today." They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, "Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway." All of them went where the elephant was and touched the elephant. "The elephant is a pillar," said the man who touched his leg. "No! it is like a rope," said the man who touched the tail. "It is like a thick branch of a tree," said the man who touched the trunk of the elephant. "It is like a big hand fan" said the man who touched the ear of the elephant. "It is like a huge wall," said the man who touched the belly of the elephant. "It is like a solid pipe," said the man who touched the tusk of the elephant.
~An Ancient proverb

Welcome to Sacramento, California - The large pit is the future home of the new basketball arena.

  Two weeks ago I took a work trip to California to meet with regulators and the customers and prospects of a customer of our company in preparation for a new software development project. I’d never been to California before – the furthest west I’d ever been was Las Vegas once and I got a gun stuck in my face that time but thats a topic for another post maybe. Most people thought I should be very excited about my trip but I wasn’t for a number of reasons. The first and foremost is that I hate flying. I hadn’t been on a plane since 2007 when I took a work trip to Indianapolis. The first leg of that flight was to St. Louis which got delayed when it was discovered there wasn’t enough fuel on the plane to get us to St. Louis! Then the second leg of the trip was delayed when a malfunctioning part on the plane was discovered. I was glad the malfunctioning part wasn’t the part that found out there wasn’t enough fuel to get to St. Louis. I know there aren’t very many plane accidents but all the same I’ll take my chances driving and walking thank you.

  The other reason I wasn’t excited about the trip was that I’d be leaving on Wednesday and returning after midnight on Saturday. This meant I’d have to miss Thursday night chess club in Marshalltown, Friday morning chess class at St. Francis, and at least 5 walks with my beagles. If I had to list my favorite things to do walking my beagles, chess club in Marshalltown, and teaching chess at St. Francis would be near the top of my list and this week I would be missing out on all three of them.

If you're claustrophobic the parking lot or waiting area at the Des Moines Airport is a much better destination than the back row of a tiny metal tube hurtling through the air...

  I was looking forward to designing a new software project but I wish I could have done the legwork from home. But I don’t work because I want to – I work to feed my family so 2 Wednesdays ago I found myself at the Des Moines airport on my way to Sacramento, California. Whenever me or Kathy had to drop off a car at the airport we were able to park in the covered parking garage across the street from the airport but on this day every lot was full except one parking lot that was at least a mile away from the airport. Luckily there was a shuttle and after a few minutes I was at the terminal.

  I got through the airport security with no problem and was using my 45 free minutes of internet with my iPod conveniently plugged into one of the many charging stations built into the waiting area seats. I boarded the plane that was taking me to Denver for the connector flight and was seated in the very last row and when the plane took off I almost threw up. I really hate flying but settled down after a bit and before I knew it I was in Denver. The Denver airport is really nice with moving walkways but there was no free internet or charging stations. I noticed all the laptop and phone users huddled around the few available outlets (probably available for use by the cleaning crew) hoping to get their devices charged up before their next destination. The flight from Denver to Sacramento was uneventful (unless you were daydreaming about a crash while flying over the Rocky Mountains) and as a bonus there were charging stations in the airplane seats and wireless internet was available for a dollar an hour.

The Denver airport had a moving walkway but then there was more flying - this time over mountains...

  My traveling companions and I got to Sacramento, rented a car, and drove to the Embassy Suites hotel which was right on the Sacramento River across from a touristy area known as ‘Old Town’ which is a few blocks of Wild West era buildings containing restaurants, gift and souvenir shops, and craft stores. One of the restaurants was called the ‘Firehouse’ which was where we were going to meet a prospect for dinner.

On the left is an appetizer sampler from 'The Firehouse' after which you need to cleanse your palate with the cucumber sorbet on the right.

  The weather was pretty warm (around 50 degrees) and after settling in our rooms for a few minutes we were off to Old Town. ‘The FireHouse’ was quite the restaurant with high ceilings, giant paintings, and a wait staff that as all over the place picking up empty plates refilling glasses as soon as they could be emptied. The prices were high but not that much more than I could pay for a steak in Marshalltown. After entrees I had a steak and both were excellent. In between servings we were given a little cup of what I thought was ‘ice cream’ that I was told was ‘cucumber sorbet’ that was meant to ‘cleanse my palate’. I was going to say something about my palate not being dirty but I thought the better of it and was glad I did since I was the only person at the table whose palate had never been cleansed.

This pile of bacon and sausage at the breakfast room of the Embassy Suites makes me think the chef was from Iowa...

  After the meal, we walked back to the hotel. It was midnight Iowa time but only 10pm California time and when I woke up a 4am Iowa time like I normally do it was 2am California time. I didn’t have any beagles to walk so I used the blazingly fast internet in the hotel to play some one minute chess in between naps until 6:30 when I headed downstairs for the free breakfast. And what a breakfast! Coffee, juice, toast, pastries, fresh fruit, giant omelets to order, and massive trays of eggs, bacon, sausage, and hash browns were all readily available. I passed on the eggs but loaded up on the bacon, sausage, and fruit and was ready for a day of meetings in California.

  The meetings were all in downtown Sacramento so we walked everywhere. Sacramento has half a million people and during the day walking downtown it looked like most any downtown in any big city. I would have loved to visit some of the seedier sections but the meetings were all in big buildings downtown. The town itself seemed pretty clean. I didn't see any beggars and only two 'Slappy' types rooting around in the garbage cans for cans and bottles. There was an electric bus that took people all around so there wasn’t any noticeable traffic jams. One thing I did notice was a giant hole in the ground for the new basketball arena for the Sacramento Kings. Sacramento is paying $250 million dollars to build the $477 million dollar arena which was the price to keep the NBA Kings (Sacramento's only major league team) from moving to Seattle. While walking past the construction site I noticed ‘Ali Baba’s Kabob House’ was the first restaurant on the edge of the construction site. Once the arena is complete, Ali Baba’s Kabob House will be the first restaurant many eventgoers see as they leave the arena and if there is ever a corruption probe in Sacramento concerning payoffs for a certain Kabob House not only escaping the wrecking ball but becoming prime real estate you heard it here first.

Ali Baba's Kebob House may not seem like much today but someday it may be THE food destination after Sacramento Kings games.

  After the Thursday meetings, I trolled the shops in Old Town for a Valentine’s Day gift for Kathy. There was a Christmas shop but when I asked if they had any Christmas candles the clerk gave a curt ‘no’ without even looking up from his smartphone so I settled on a fudge sampler and some salt water taffy from ‘Sacramento Sweets’ which had an operational taffy pulling machine on the premises. With Valentine’s Day all settled I shared a pizza for dinner at an Italian restaurant in Old Town and was back in the hotel room by 10 California time – midnight Iowa time.

Sacramento Sweets helped me out with Valentine's Day presents for Kathy!

  I woke up again at 4am Iowa time – and 2am California time and spent some time napping, working, and playing chess until 6:30 when I could get to the lobby of the Embassy Suites for another awesome breakfast of bacon, sausage, fruit, and more bacon. There was one more meeting an hour away and by 1pm I was back in the Sacramento airport ready to head home. I went through the security gate but while I was able to pass the Des Moines security easily there was a snag in Sacramento – my plane ticket was made out to Hank but my driver’s license has my given name Henry. The TSA agent told me her grandfather’s name was Henry but everyone called him Hank so she understood that I probably wasn’t an imposter but if I didn’t have any identification with Hank on it there was no way I was going to get past the checkpoint. I fished through my wallet and found a Triple A card with ‘Hank’ on it. This only satisfied the TSA agent somewhat and I got to be the recipient of a full body pat down along with a thorough search of my travel bags. I survived the detailed inspection (although the fudge and taffy I got my wife were opened and closed and reopened) and was in the terminal after 20 minutes. I felt like asking how I got to Sacramento from Des Moines in the first place but I figured that would probably get me more attention than I wanted so I kept my mouth shut.

On the left is one of the many excellent work areas and charging stations at the Sacramento airport (once you get past the security). I did manage to get in some celebrity spotting on my trip. I knew Bruce Jenner was undergoing a gender transformation but I hadn't read about Michael Moore also undergoing a similar change. As you can see from the picture on the right it worked a lot better than Jenner's and she was hardly recognized on the flight back...

  Once I got through the extra scrutiny of the Transportation Safety Administration, the Sacramento airport was the best I’ve ever seen. It has charging stations with room for laptops and free wi-fi that was so blazingly fast I was able to play 1 minute chess on the Internet Chess Club with no lag time and was beating people on time that always beat me on time when I use Marshalltown’s Mediacom internet. Sufficiently juiced by a tremendous session of one minute chess the flight to Phoenix and then Des Moines took no time at all and by 12:30am on Saturday I was back in the far away parking lot in Des Moines International Airport. I arrived in Marshalltown at 1:30 and stopped in the Wal-Mart to get Valentine’s Day flowers for Kathy and stood in line behind a surprising number of men who were also buying cards, candy, and flowers. I got home at 2 in the morning and by 5am was back to my normal routine of beagle walking.

  I didn’t get to see too much of California but I can now say I’ve been there and if anyone asks me what California was like I’d have to answer that it’s a pretty clean place with reasonably nice weather and a lot of meeting rooms, hotels, and restaurants. I’d also note that Californians are really security conscious, have great internet, and palates that need a lot of cleansing. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to California but if I fly I’ll be sure to get my ticket under the name of Henry instead of Hank.

Friday, February 20, 2015

What is a Broken Pawn?

  I was telling someone about my blog the other day. They asked me the name of it and when I said ‘Broken Pawn’ the reply was “What is a Broken Pawn?” I almost passed along a phrase I’ve learned in business meetings - “That’s a good question”. Whenever I hear someone say “That’s a good question.” My brain hears ‘I don’t know but I don’t want to admit it so I need to buy some time while I think of some sort of answer.’ and whenever I hear the phrase “That’s a great question!” I take that to mean that ‘I have no clue how to answer that so I’ll compliment you and maybe you’ll forget you asked it’. The next time you are talking to someone and they say “That’s a good question” or “That’s a great question” instead of feeling complimented for asking such a good or great question see if you actually get an answer – I’ll bet you don’t.

  Whenever someone asked me something I didn’t know I would repeat the question. I didn’t even know I was doing this until Bruce Stein, and old boss of mine from half a lifetime ago pointed it out. Now whenever I don’t have an answer I either say ‘I don’t know’ or just pause while I think of what I want to say which is what I did when asked “What is a Broken Pawn?”

  After my pause I talked a little about how I was struggling with a name for my blog until my friend Eldon gave me this ceramic big pawn he found at a garage sale but when he slammed it on a table to show me it broke into three pieces. It seemed like a good name five years ago and it seems like a good name now.

  On my hour long commutes to and from work (likely to soon to be an hour and fifteen minutes thanks to a corporate move to the far side of the West Des Moines area) and what seemed like an interminable amount of hours spent in airplane terminals recently I got to thinking more about what a broken pawn is or what a broken pawn could be so the next time someone asks me what is a broken pawn I would have a better answer.

  A pawn is the least valuable piece on the chessboard although in the paradoxical world of chess that means that more valuable pieces run away when attacked by a pawn and even if the attacked piece could capture the pawn it isn’t worth it if the pawn is sufficiently defended. Pawns are the only piece in chess that cannot move backwards but if it can make it all the way to the other side of the board it can be ‘promoted’ and transformed into any other piece. Another feature of the pawn is that it is the only piece that doesn’t capture the same way it moves. Combined with its inability to go backwards it is easy for pawns to be locked in place, unable to move backwards or forwards. Pawns are often sacrificed or gambitted in the beginning of games to open lines for pieces as if they were not just worthless but as if they were less than worthless since they are in the way of the bigger and more valuable pieces. I like pawns and I like to win pawns and I rarely sacrifice pawns - I'd rather win by nursing one of my pawns to the other end of the board and give it a promotion!

  If I look in the dictionary the definition of pawn (aside from pawning merchandise for money and the chess definition) is ‘someone who is used or manipulated to further another person's purposes.’ The same dictionary defines broken as ‘not functioning properly; out of working order’. I admittedly pick and choose my definitions and by the definitions I choose almost everyone is a pawn, especially in the eyes of the media and politicians.

  Have you noticed that President Obama asking Congress for permission for the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIS or ISIL (just as his predecessor George W. Bush asked for AUMF in Iraq and Afghanistan) last week came right after the release of videos of more beheadings by the militant group?

  This week’s beheading video was especially gruesome since it showed what appeared to be 21 simultaneous beheadings of Egyptian Christians and came right on the heels of videos of a Jordanian pilot being burned alive and 2 beheadings of Japanese hostages after a failed attempt to gain a $200 million dollar ransom. This latest rash of videos has led Jordan and Egypt to launch airstrikes against the ISIS strongholds and now the president wants the United States to follow suit but instead of acting under the aegis of NATO like in Libya he is asking for Congressional approval.

  The president had pulled out most U.S. troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq, sponsored regime change in Libya, tried to sponsor a regime change in Syria, and stood passively by through a regime change in Egypt and then also stood passively by after an Egyptian military takeover (not labelled a coup d’├ętat in order to preserve Egypt’s ability to buy billions of dollars of military goods from American companies) jailed thousands of ‘dissidents’. But the president is now publicly asking for permission to wage war against ISIS. The President says the U.S. will only send troops in harm’s way only when ‘absolutely necessary’ and speaking of ground combat operations that “Local forces, rather than U.S. military forces, should be deployed to conduct such operations.”

  I think the sudden media re-emphasis on beheadings and the setting a pilot on fire is meant to manipulate me (and the rest of the American public) into giving the powers that be a blank check to wage another war in the Middle East but I’m not buying it. ISIS was previously part of the ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels we were arming to effect a regime change and they are using much American made equipment in their current offensive. Al-Quaeda first got its start as American backed ‘local force’ that were ‘freedom fighters’ against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970’s.

  I don’t think much of beheadings or setting people on fire (and I live in Iowa’s leading city in setting people on fire). But I fail to see the difference between those actions and global genocides and atrocities and ‘Harry the Human Bomb’ stunts except in visibility and media attention. I wonder why anyone would every think that any ‘local forces’ that we help battle ISIS won’t be burning our flag as soon as they cement their hold on power .

  Why anyone in the United States would think our leaders have any clue on how to solve any problem in the Middle East when everything we have touched there in the last 15 years led to nothing but bigger and bigger problems with each despot or dictator that is ousted replaced by a more corrupt or more violent counterpart? I don’t think anyone does but when we are shown pictures of people in orange jumpsuits being beheaded by people in black headscarves we are supposed to feel obligated to give our leaders the moral authority to prevent it.

  And that leads me to what a ‘broken pawn’ is. A pawn in working order would look at the beheadings on the news and give our leaders approval to prevent it and ‘get the bad guys’. But I am a broken pawn and I don’t function the way a properly working pawn does. I think military action against ISIS won’t cause a regime change – it will cause a wardrobe change as the people in the orange jumpsuits and handcuffs will switch places with the people in the black headscarves and scimitars while the ‘local forces’ that we arm and train get a head start in their future battles with our country until a future president asks congress for an AUMF against them.

  So what is a broken pawn? A pawn is something or someone that is meant to be held in place, restricted, and is easily sacrificed, with the promise of a ‘promotion’ if a faraway and difficult destination can be reached. BUT since it doesn’t function properly the broken pawn has flexibility of thought and movement and instead of abiding by the societal norms of a ‘pawn’ it finds its own path and just doesn’t behave the way a pawn should. This is just one example of many that makes me a broken pawn and I am proud to be one.

  One thing that's certainly broken was my basketball predictions from two weeks ago. I picked three road teams including one on a back to back and all three lost. My record is 0-3, I'm $330 in the hole, and last week's All-Star break couldn't have come at a better time. With a rejuvenated attitude I will be placing my mythical bets using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page and as usual for entertainment purposes only with no real money is being wagered.

Phoenix Suns at Minnesota Timberwolves
The Suns have just performed a major shake up of their three guard backcourt, sending Goran Dragic to the Miami Heat, Isiah Thomas to the Celtics while picking up Brevin Knight from the Bucks. I predict the team will struggle until it regains its identity and will pick the improving Timberwolves (winners of four of their last 10 games) to win by more than the line of 2.5 points

San Antonio Spurs at Golden State Warriors
This is normally a tough matchup for the league leading Warriors and they lost their last home game to the Spurs but I'll predict a Warriors win by more than the seven point spread since the Spurs are on a back to back after a disheartening road loss to the Blake Griffin-less Clippers last night.

Portland Trailblazers at Utah Jazz
Portland picked up backup guard Aaron Affalo from the Nuggets at the trade deadline for some spare parts in a move I don't see having a major impact while the Jazz traded center Enes Kanter to the Thunder in an addition by subtraction move to get more playing time for the promising Rudy Gobert. I think the Trailblazers will celebrate management not trading any of their rotation players with a big road win over the Jazz, easily covering the 5.5 point spread.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Best Two Hours


  After what seemed like forever but was only two months, The Walking Dead finally resumed season 5 on Sunday. The mid-season finale was lowlighted by the nearly pointless death of regular Beth Greene, who was shot in the head when she attacked the gun-toting Officer Beth with a tiny pair of scissors in the hospital where she was being held captive until she worked off her debt of having a cast put on her broken wrist.

  Season 5 started off in an action-packed vein as Rick Grimes’ band of zombie apocalypse survivors fought their way through an encounter with the cannibalistic people of Terminus in an epic battle full of zombies, explosions, and more zombies. The group then found refuge in Father Gabriel’s church for a few episodes while making a large score of food from a nearby zombie infested food bank. Their good fortune was short lived as Terminus leader Gareth and some other Terminus survivors captured series regular Bob, cut off his leg, cooked it, and consumed it in front of him. Another epic battle ensued with the deaths of all the Terminus crew and the group split up with one group taking Eugene the scientist to Washington to cure the world of the zombie virus, Daryl and Carol headed off to find Beth (who was missing since season 4), and the rest to hang out at the church to await the return of Daryl and Carol.

  In the remaining episodes, Father Gabriel’s church was overrun by zombies, Eugene the scientist confessed that he was a fraud that lied about having a cure in order to have the others protect him, and Beth was shot and killed as part of a prisoner exchange gone wrong. I didn’t see any great symbolism in Beth’s death – I saw it as more of a plot device to introduce hospital refugee Noah to the cast. In any event at the end of the season the crew was on the road with no immediate destination.

  The second half of the season opened with the crew burying someone I assumed to be Beth and headed to Noah’s town in Virginia which was a gated community that was a safe haven when he was last there a year ago. There was no mention of why Noah left the safe haven or how he ended up at the Atlanta hospital that was ruled by Officer Dawn and the rest of the officers. A scout team found the gated community had been overrun by zombies and there were severed limbs and bodies everywhere along with a few zombies. Noah was overcome by grief but was consoled by Tyrese, the largest, most physically imposing, but least violent of the crew. Tyrese told Noah that he had to choose whether he wanted to live and that Tyrese himself could have given up long ago but because he chose to live he was able to save others.

Turn around Tyrese!! TURN AROUND!!

  This all sounded great but when Tyrese is looking at some pictures in what used to be the house where Noah’s family lived, Noah’s dead zombified brother snuck into the room and bit Tyrese in the arm! In this show a zombie bite is fatal within a few hours and the rest of the episode consisted of Tyrese hallucinating (or maybe seeing spirits beyond the pale) of friends and enemies that died in previous seasons and having conversations with them. Throughout the entire show I never thought that Tyrese would die. Rick and the gang cut his arm off and loaded him into their car to get back to camp. I thought Tyrese would make it and struggle through with his one arm but as the crew was heading back to camp he started to hallucinate again and gave up on living. In the end, the burial at the beginning of the show was revealed to be Tyrese’s burial.

  It was only an hour long show but this episode of The Walking Dead was as masterful as any movie I’ve ever seen. I went from thinking I knew what was going to happen next to not knowing what was going to happen next to just watching to see what would happen next. The way the funeral at the beginning of the show became the ending scene and the seemingly random shots in the opening scenes all tied together made this the best hour of television I can ever remember seeing.

RIP Tyresee. A man that could defeat a horde of zombies with only a hammer done in by a scriptwriter and a moment of inattention...

  Tyrese was the biggest proponent of choosing life and he starts the half season off by choosing to die. I think the rest of the season will be devoted to the other characters having to make a similar choice of death or life although maybe not in Tyrese’s extreme circumstances. It will be hard to top the first episode of this half season but after the best hour of television I’ve ever seen I’m looking forward to the next seven episodes like I’ve rarely looked forward to anything on my TV.

During the six hour classical games I found commentators Nigel Short and Jan Gustafsson to be rather boring but when Caruana and Aronian dropped in to watch the rapid, blitz, and armageddon match between Carlsen and Naiditsch it was one of the best chess broadcasts I've ever seen. Was it the guest commentators or the quickened pace of the games? It was both.

  I got in another great hour of viewing last Tuesday but it wasn’t on my TV – it was on my amazing iPod. I had been following the Grenke Chess Classic from’s feed on The tournament was held in Baden-Baden, Germany and featured the current world champion Magnus Carlsen, former world champion Viswanathan Anand, World #2 Fabiano Caruana, and former World #2 Levon Aronian among the 8 player in an all play all format. The daily broadcasts were around six hours long which was far too long for me to pay full attention to commentators Nigel Short (former world championship challenger) and Jan Gustafsson and I followed the tournament by peeking in on the action only occasionally and checking out the boards from the website.

  The tournament ended at 10pm of so German time in a tie between Carlsen and Germany’s top player Arkadij Naiditsch. After a short break the pair proceeded to play a tie-break match of two games with 15 minutes per side. Short and Gustafsson were joined in the broadcast booth by Aronian and Caruana and the foursome were shouting out moves, analyzing, predicting the results, and occasionally trash talking each other’s ideas.

  The tiebreak went on well past midnight in Germany as Carlsen and Naiditsch each won one of the 15 minutes games and then drew a pair of 5 minute games, setting up an Armageddon showdown where Carlsen had 6 minutes and the white pieces while Naiditsch had 5 minutes and draw odds. Nigel Short was alluding to some of the commentators having had too much wine and Carlsen won the Armageddon game along with the championship.

  It was a great hour plus of rapid fire chess commentary with two of the top ten players in the world joining the phlegmatic Short and mildly entertaining Gustafsson. The quick pace of the games left little time for boring commentary and provided the back and forth drama of a top sporting event. I’m not sure which hour of entertainment I enjoyed more but I know I will watching the Walking Dead the next seven Sundays while I cannot say when the next time I’ll be watching an hour of chess on

Monday, February 9, 2015

Beagle's Choice

I have to take a work trip to California this week and won't be able to blog but I was lucky enough to enlist those most literate of beagles, Baxter and Daisy to once again fill in with their incisive beagle-eye commentary.

Hank is going to California on a work trip this week and he asked us to help by writing his blog for him, Daisy.  I think Hank can write his blog from anywhere, Baxter. I really think he didn’t want to face his readers after his terrible basketball predictions last week.  They were awful. He picked three games and lost all three. I'm glad he didn’t bet our beef stick money on them.  Me too. And speaking of glad, we were all glad when you came back from the vet safely from having your teeth cleaned.  I was worried when Kathy left me at the vet but then they gave me something to make me go to sleep. I was a little groggy when I woke up but now I’m as good as new and my teeth look great! The only problem was I couldn’t eat for a whole day but I made up for lost time.  The vet said you’ve been eating way too much anyway and that you weigh 37 pounds – much more than I weigh.  That’s just my winter layer. Once the weather gets warmer I’ll get lots of exercise and the pounds will just melt away. 

My new coat is much more stylish than Baxter's because it came from Theisens instead of Wal-Mart!

I don’t like winter very much but one thing I liked about this winter is that I got a stylish new coat from Thiesens.  I got a new coat too! Mine came from the Wal-Mart. It’s black and form-fitting. It makes me look real tough like an action hero.  Wal-Mart is very nice but everyone knows that Thiesens is THE place for beagle outerwear. My coat is beige with a paw sewn onto the back. It’s very versatile. I can wear it as a turtleneck or a loose fitting sweater. Everyone tells me how nice I look in it.  We’re very lucky that Hank and Kathy can afford to get us such nice new coats to keep us warm in the winter, Daisy.  That’s right Baxter. There’s a lot of things I don’t like about the winter besides the cold weather.  For one thing, we hardly ever see Bill and Marilyn from down the block. They’re really old and don’t go on the porch when its cold.  We did see them in their driveway one day and Hank and Kathy held us up to the car windows so they could pet us.  And a couple of times we saw Marilyn in her living room and came in so she could pet us.  Marilyn told us she can't wait until the weather gets warmer so she can see us every day on our afternoon walks.  Me either. 

The other thing I don’t like about the winter is all the awards that are given out. There are the Golden Globe awards, the Oscar nominations, and a bunch of other awards.  What’s so bad about the awards, Daisy?  We can’t go to the movie theatres and Hank hardly watches any television except for sports, reruns, and his post apocalypse television shows like The Walking Dead so I always feel so left out when I hear about all the television shows and movies that get awards.  Hank and Kathy rented John Wick the other day and Hank has been watching Flash and Arrow but we never get to see any of the new movies.  And besides that Baxter, these awards really don’t look at things from a beagle point of view. We have an entirely different aesthetical sense than humans. And that’s why we decided to use this blog to have our own awards to reflect the beagle point of view.  It was a great idea Daisy. After all, we already give out a Beef Stick Convenience Store Awards every year.  Our awards are based on what we’ve seen and done over the past year. And we’re calling our awards the ‘Beagle’s Choice Awards’.  I was hoping we could call them the Baxters and the winners would get a statue of me. Everyone would want to win a Baxter so much that the entire society would start presenting things from a beagle’s point of view.  We don’t have a budget for Baxter awards. But if our awards get popular maybe we’ll get invited to television and movie premieres!  OH BOY!!! Then we could eat popcorn! I love popcorn!! YUM!!! 

I think our first category should be for the best grocery store. Groceries are very important to beagles.  That’s right Daisy. The Fareway has excellent bologna that Hank uses to make sandwiches in the morning. They would be a great award winner.  I agree Baxter, but there is an even worthier grocery store.  Which one?  The one where Kathy gets specially select cured salami infused with Chianti or Pinot Grigio wines.  YES!! THE ALDI!! That salami is the best! YUM!!!  Kathy gets Hank both kinds almost every week. Hank has it as a special snack and he always gives us some.  And it tastes really good!  I agree! It’s both meaty and fatty at the same time. What I like best is how the fatty part sticks to my lips after Hank gives us some. I can taste it on my face all night long!  YUM!! And it tastes really good. I say the Beagle’s Choice for grocery stores is the ALDI!!  Aldi it is!!  Did I mention that how good the salami tastes? It tastes really good!  I think you did mention that, Baxter. 

Hmm…What category should be next? I know – how about movies?  OK Baxter. One movie we should consider is ‘Taken’. It’s on television all the time.  Liam Neeson cooks steaks for his friends at the beginning of the movie. They were big and juicy.  Then he takes his daughter to a restaurant for a strawberry shake with two cherries on top.  At the end he visits his friend Jean-Claude in Paris and Jean-Claude’s wife roasts a chicken for dinner. Liam asks for dark meat.  That’s right, Baxter. But since he has to find his daughter he doesn’t eat the chicken – he shoots Jean-Claude’s wife in the arm and makes Jean-Claude tell him how he can find Patrice St. Clair.  Liam should have shot Jean-Claude’s wife after eating the chicken, not before.  What’s the point of having Liam Neeson and a roasted chicken if he doesn’t eat it?  The other movie we saw with food in it was 'Under Seige' with Steven Seagal.  Oooooh that’s right Baxter. Steven Seagal is a cook on a ship and has to fight a bunch of bad guys.  There’s a whole kitchen full of great food, Daisy. And Steven Seagal isn’t just a cook – he’s the captain’s private chef and a martial arts expert and an explosives expert and a firearms expert.  And Steven Seagal is so dreamy…he could feed me Pinot Grigio infused salami anytime!  I could be Steven Seagal’s beagle sidekick and spring into action alongside him. After eating some Pinot Grigio infused cured salami, of course.  Of course, Baxter. It was an exciting movie and Steven had a fully stocked pantry. Let’s give the Beagle’s choice award to Under Siege.  That’s a great choice, Daisy. I hope they have the sequel , 'Under Siege 2' on television soon. 

Now that we've eaten, let's go get those bad guys, Steven!
Why yes, Steven...I'd love to join you for another slice of Pinot Grigio infused salami!

I think our next category should be television shows, Baxter. Luckily Hank watches a lot of television.  That’s true but I don’t think too much of post-apocalypse shows like The Walking Dead, The Last Ship, and Falling Skies. There never seems to be enough food.  When Hank was watching The Walking Dead last year some of people cut off Bob’s leg and cooked it and ate it right in front of Bob. That looked tasty.  I thought it was a sirloin steak myself but I like my television characters to be eating real food. When Hank used to watch Law & Order there was plenty of sandwiches, hot dogs, and Chinese takeout being eaten by all the detectives.  They eat lots of pizza too Baxter, don’t forget about the pizza…  I forgot about the pizza Daisy! YUM!! I love pizza! There’s another show we see where the main characters have a home cooked meal every show.  That’s right! All the stations have reruns of a show called 'Blue Bloods'. It’s a police show and every episode all members of this police family get together and have a big feast!  Sometimes they have two meals in the episode. It’s like Christmas every day at what house, Daisy. They have roast beef and turkey and giant hams.YUM!!  One time they had spaghetti with meatballs. The meatballs were HUGE. It was my favorite episode.  They looked really good. There’s no doubt - Blue Bloods deserves the Beagle’s Choice award for television shows. 

I’m wondering if we should have an award for politicians, Daisy.  I don’t see why not Baxter. In Iowa the former Senator Tom Harkin has an annual steak fry I love steak! YUM!! Why weren’t we ever invited, Daisy?  I think you have to donate money to attend the steak fry, Baxter. Harkin is a Democrat, Hank is a registered Republican, and Kathy is a registered Democrat but she doesn’t eat steak. It’s so sad.  Well how about Rand Paul. He’s a republican and he had a Meat and Greet on Saturday at Legends Grill. YUM!! I love meat.  Baxter! It wasn’t a MEAT and greet. It was a MEET and great. They’re not the same thing.  Oh...Does that mean there was chicken too? YUM!! I love chicken. 

Meet and Greet sounds nice but I'd like a Meat and Greet (and we can skip the greet)

Friday, February 6, 2015

A Short Separation

While Daisy's teeth on the left are pretty white, Baxter's are a tartar magnet.

  My beagles Daisy and Baxter turned 4 years old last November and they have been in great health. While I’ve loved all my animals and especially my dogs I have a connection to these two unlike any other I’ve ever had. If I were pressed for an explanation I‘d say there was such a void in my life after my great dogs Queenie and Tuffy passed away within weeks of each other in 2009 that I have made sure to enjoy every second with Daisy and Baxter after they came into our lives in Christmas of that year.

  Except for one vacation in 2010 to New Jersey and my annual chess weekends in Okoboji and Jackson, I’ve hung out with Daisy and Baxter every single morning after taking one of our thousands of walks around the neighborhood. They help me eat my morning carrots and hang out and sleep on the couch on either side of me like beagle bookends. Around once a week I’ll brush their teeth. Daisy’s teeth are still pretty white but Baxter’s teeth have accumulated a lot of tartar on them. Queenie had the same problem and as she got older her teeth started to rot and fall out so I decided to make an appointment to the vet to have Baxter’s teeth cleaned.

  The appointment was for this Thursday and as the day approached I was more and more nervous about it. Baxter would have to be knocked out for the vet to clean his teeth. My parents had a dog named Grizzly and when my mom had his teeth cleaned he never woke up from being knocked out. Queenie had her teeth cleaned without incident but the Grizzly incident stuck in the back of my mind. Even so, I know Baxter will have a better life as he ages without a bunch of rotten teeth so despite my nervousness I was fairly comfortable with having his teeth cleaned. Like Pete Carroll’s decision to throw on second down in the last minute of the Super Bowl my decision to get Baxter’s teeth cleaned will be judged by the results not the intentions and I was hoping my result would be better than Carroll’s.

Before he went to the vet Baxter was wondering what was going on and Daisy was confused at being left alone.

  We had our normal morning walk but Baxter couldn’t have any food or water before being knocked out so we took away the water bowl and there was no morning breakfast or carrots for either Daisy or Baxter. They kept on looking at us wondering why they weren’t being fed but after our walk both settled down on the couch next to me and fell asleep.

  At seven Kathy took Baxter to the vet while I fed Daisy. We could have given Daisy food and water before that but figured that Baxter would get upset and I didn’t even have my normal morning carrots. When Kathy put Baxter on his leash to take him to the vet, Daisy realized she wasn’t going with them and started to shriek. Once Kathy and Baxter left I fed Daisy and she calmed down a bit. Kathy came back a half hour later and said Baxter was pretty confused when she left him at the vet while Daisy was sniffing her and looking for Baxter.

  When it was time for Daisy’s 9am walk, she kept looking for Baxter and Kathy had to bring her back after a half block. It only seems weird if you don’t realize that they have been together every single day of their lives. I just worked and tried not to think about Baxter’s absence. At lunch I went with Kathy and Daisy on the noontime walk. Daisy was her chipper self and didn’t look behind her once.

Together again and look at those teeth!

  After our walk Kathy left to hang out with a friend of hers and I spent the afternoon working while Daisy slept on the couch. The phone rang and my heart skipped a beat but it was just a telemarketer. A little after three Kathy was home and Baxter was with her (she picked him up on the way back). Baxter seemed a little unsteady from being knocked out and he can’t eat until Friday morning but he’ll be as good as new after a good night’s sleep. And his teeth look as good as Daisy’s!

  It was a scary day with a happy ending. I flashed back to a few years ago when I lost Queenie and Tuffy but now I appreciate my awesome beagles even more. At some point I’ll have to revisit those dark days and I know it will be awful but I’m thankful it wasn’t today.

   As I indicated last week, I will attempt to build on my successful NFL playoff predictions by picking some occasional NBA weekend games and keep track of my results. I will be placing my mythical bets using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page and as usual for entertainment purposes only and no real money is being wagered.

Cleveland Cavaliers at Indiana Pacers
After a lackluster start, the Cavaliers have found their groove and are on an 11 game winning streak since the acquisition of Timofey Mozgov and the return of LeBron James from two weeks of inaction to rest his back and knee. The Pacers are in the midst of an injury plagued non-playoff season but have won three of their last five games. Despite the Cavaliers being on the second game of a back to back I predict they will cover the five point spread to the tune of $100. The Pacers’s closest loss to a playoff team in the last month was a nine point loss to the Hornets on January 17th and they haven’t beaten a team with a winning record since November 24th’s road win vs. Dallas.

Golden State Warriors at Atlanta Hawks
This is a highly anticipated matchup with the only two teams in the league with less than 10 losses. The Warriors have won three straight games by double digits since their stunning upset at the hands of the Utah Jazz last Saturday while the Hawks rebounded from Mondays loss at New Orleans with a nine point win at home against the Wizards. I’ll predict the Warriors will be motivated to prove they are the best team in the league and make a statement game and bet $100 they will easily cover the 1.5 points.

Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics
The Celtics have won two straight games against the moribund Knicks and Nuggets while the 76ers have won three straight home games against non-playoff teams (Nuggets, Pistons, and the Timberwolves) and lost nine straight road games. This game is in Boston but the youthful 76ers have been competitive against their fellow league tail enders of late and I’ll put $100 on them to cover the seven point spread.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Mirror, Mirror

  Before I get to my regular post, I wanted to offer a few comments about the Super Bowl game yesterday. In a back and forth game Seattle found itself trailing by four points but had second and goal from the one yard line with one time out and less than a minute left on the clock. Instead of giving the ball to their almost unstoppable running back Marshawn Lynch or having their shifty quarterback Russell Wilson roll out with a pass/run option, the Seahawks elected to throw a short slant to a receiver. Wilson’s pass was slightly behind the intended receiver and Patriots defender Malcolm Butler made a great interception and the Patriots went from an almost hopeless situation to Super Bowl champions.

  Seahawk coach Pete Carroll offered the explanation that the second down pass play was designed to counteract the Patriots goal line defense and if the pass was incomplete the team would have been able to let Lynch run twice (using their remaining time out) to get the winning score. I understand Carroll’s logic and while I think Wilson rolling out with the option of throwing the ball into the stands was a better and safer option Carroll’s biggest offense was that the play worked as bad as it possibly could have and if the Seahawks had scored he and his team would have been feted for their courage and ‘outside the box thinking’.

  I always used to wonder why NFL teams in similar must score situations throw up two or three lobs into the corner of the end zone where either their receiver makes an unbelievable catch or the pass ends up out of bounds but having seen the consequence of Carroll’s decision I’ll wonder no more. It was a great football game between two championship worthy teams and best of all (from my perspective) there were 52 total points scored which made my bet of more than 47.5 points a winner and left me $140 mythical dollars in the black for this playoff season. I’ve been in the black for each of the three years I’ve offered NFL playoff predictions and am strongly considering directing my prognosticative abilities towards the Friday night NBA games. Now on to the topic of my feathered ‘friend’, Harry the cockatiel:

  In November I wrote about the untimely death of Mr. Feathers, one of our two cockatiels and the resulting loneliness of his companion Harry. In the couple of months that followed Harry had gravitated closer to me. Part of the reason probably has to do with the fact that one of my few household tasks is to change his water and food every day. Every weekday I take Daisy and Baxter on their 4:40 walk and on the days I don’t leave for Des Moines earlier than my normal 7am time I close off the living room, set up Harry’s play area on a chair, and let him out of his cage. Kathy takes over when I leave for work and Harry gets to stay out until Daisy and Baxter’s 9am walk so Harry gets a couple of hours to spend with each of us.

  In the early mornings, Harry would sit on my shoulder when I read or wrote and sit on my finger while I watched chess videos on YouTube. I think Harry liked the voice of Christof Silecki of the ChessExplained channel on YouTube. When Harry perched on my finger I'd try to touch him with my off hand he pecked and snapped at me but when I watched ChessExplained videos, Harry would bow his head and let me rub the feathers on top of his head. Within a week we got to the point where I was rubbing all the feathers on the top of his head, the back of his head, and the sides of his face.

Harry and I became best buddies for awhile

  I’m a dog person but I have to admit having a cockatiel as a little buddy is pretty cool. Harry would squawk goodbye when I left for work and squawk hello when I came home and when it was time for him to come out of his cage each morning he’d amble on over to me so I could scratch his head or hop on my shoulder and watch me write my blog or play some one-minute chess. I was even thinking maybe Harry could be a guest blogger for me and talk about the videos we watch on You Tube or maybe even comment on my chess games. Harry and I were getting along so nicely that Kathy and I hadn’t even thought about getting Harry another cockatiel friend. One morning I left for work like normal and when I got home Harry didn’t squawk any greeting to me. Kathy noticed that Harry was staring at his reflection in the television so she got him a mirror and Harry spent the rest of the day looking at himself in the mirror.

  The next morning Harry didn’t come out of his cage – not even once. He just stayed in his cage and stared and squawked at his reflection in the mirror. The next morning I put the mirror on his play area and Harry came out of his cage but only to look at himself in the mirror. The next day I tried to get Harry to play and he did sit on my finger for a little bit but when I tried to pet him he just snapped at me. After a couple of minutes on my finger and shoulder Harry ambled back to his mirror. I’ve tried to get Harry to hang out with me like the good old days and on Saturday he did let me rub the feathers on his head but on Sunday and every other day after he resumed his snapping and mirror watching ways.

Harry has changed from an inquisitive cockatiel to a homebody that just looks in the mirror...

  Kathy and I considered taking away Harry’s mirror so he would start being my friend again but I figure if he wants to look in the mirror all day who am I to argue with him. I liked being Harry’s pal and hopefully he’ll get bored with his mirror soon and start hanging out with me in the mornings again.

  It’s not much fun to be second place to a mirror, even if its just for a cockatiel’s friendship. One thing to consider is that Harry’s tiny cockatiel head doesn’t have a lot of room for a brain. Just to be on the safe side I did a sweep of the house and made sure that all the mirrors in the house are higher than my two beagles and if I start to feel a little insecure about Kathy I suppose the mirrors in the house can start to accidentally break...