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’état 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.