One Night in Bangkok I Played Chess for World Domination

ChessThe song goes “One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble.”  It was by Murray Head and was featured in the musical Chess.  This was a story put to music about the battle between Bobby Fischer, the brilliant American chess genius and Boris Spassky the efficient machine like Russian chess grandmaster.   (In the play, the antagonists are an American chess champion and a Russian chess champion and Fisher and Spassky are never mentioned but the characters are thinly veiled portraits of Fisher and Spassky)  Ostensibly this was a chess match between two magnificent chess players.  However, only slightly beneath the surface it was in reality a match between the United States and the the-production-company-chess-michael-falzon-and-castSoviet Union for dominance of the world.  (If you would like to hear the song, click here)

One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble
Not much between despair and ecstasy
One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble
Can’t be too careful with your company
I can feel the Devil walking next to me.

1972wc Fischer vs Spassky The New York Times bookThe match took place at the height of the Cold War between the Russians and the US.  Everything from sports to ballet to politics was imbued with the animosity that characterized Russian American relations during this time frame.  The match took place in 1972.  Spassky was the defending world champion and Fischer was the United States great “Western Hope.”  The Russians were well known for being the greatest chess players in the world and few would have ever hoped that the US could challenge them at what amounts to their national game.  For the previous 24 years, the Russians had defeated all comers to remain the world chess champions.  All eyes, all hopes, all dreams, all aspirations and all of the US national pride rode on the shoulders of Bobby Fischer.  People who would not know the difference between a pawn and a knight were tuned into what would become one of the most epic battles of the entire Cold War.

I grew up playing chess when my father taught me the game at about the age of 6.  At the age of 8, I could beat my father easily.  I played whenever and whomever I could and rarely lost a game more than once to the same person.  I thought of chess as my game since it was a game of logic and intellect.

Bobby Fisher could have easily been described by the following adjectives:  eccentric, idiosyncratic, unconventional, unorthodox, unusual, strange, bizarre, peculiar and odd.  At age 15, Fischer became both the youngest grandmaster in history and the youngest candidate for the World Championship.  Fisher died in 2008 in Iceland at the age of 64.  This was the same country where he had defeated Spassky in 1972.

At the time of his death, Fisher was no longer a national hero (if he had ever been one).  He had been considered a fugitive from US justice over some tax payments that the government believed he owed for more than sixteen years.  Haunted and hounded by the US Department of Revenue, he had to flee arrest several times.  He no longer had the support of the American public due to his rabid anti-Semitic comments as well as his other anti-American views.  Few in this country saw him as upholding American values or the American way of life.

I don’t see you guys rating
The kind of mate I’m contemplating
I’d let you watch, I would invite you
But the queens we use would not excite you.

PokerPoker is a more popular game in the United State than chess.  It is estimated that there are over 60 million poker players in the US, forty millions of whom play regularly.   It is estimated that there are 45 million chess players in the US but only a small subset of this play regularly and there are only 90,000 active tournament players in the US for chess compared to 10 million Americans who play poker regularly for money.  Poker is a game of bluff, luck and intuition.  Chess is a game of logic, cognitive ability and foresight.  Both are games of strategy.  Poker favors an emergent strategy which takes stock of trends, cards, people, bets, emotions, tells and previous history to determine the best odds on which to place a bet, hold em or fold em.  Chess favors a predictive strategy which takes stock of position, history, foresight, patterns and possibilities to determine the next best move.  There is no luck in chess since both players have the same pieces and the same possibility for moves.  Poker can be determined by the luck of the draw wherein one player gets dealt a full house and the other player gets a pair of deuces.  Nevertheless, it is possible for the player with the deuces to still win.

Russian chess players versus American poker players!  In many ways, the differences between the two games highlight the way Americans seem to pursue foreign policy versus the way the Russians have pursued foreign policy.  To beat the Russians at chess required someone like Bobby Fisher who was perhaps the most creative and innovative chess player in the history of the game.  There was little that was methodical or predictable about Fisher’s game playing.  In many ways, Fisher was a poker player who adapted his skills to the game of chess.

“Fischer was a master of clarity and a king of artful positioning. His opponents would see where he was going but were powerless to stop him. I like to say that Bobby Fischer was the greatest Russian player ever. All of his great opening moves came from the Russians. He studied all of their methods. But what made Fischer a genius was his ability to blend an American freshness and pragmatism with Russian ideas about strategy.” – Bruce Pandolfini

Bobby_Fischer_graveThere are many claims to the “Great American Tragedy” but in my mind, few equal the tragedy of Robert Fischer.  Perhaps at some level, I can find myself identifying with him.  Not in terms of his anti-Semitic or anti-American opinions but certainly in his idiosyncrasies regarding his playing and his involvement in tournaments.  When I was a child, we used to play a game called “King of the Hill.”  You could only be king for so long and eventually either one or the entire group would pull you down.  This game taught me that you can only “reign” for so long and eventually whatever greatness you have will be eclipsed by others.  Great actors become has-beens.  Great athletes become washed-up.  Great singers become past their prime.  Great politicians outlive their times.  Great thinkers are no longer able to think great thoughts. Whenever we become “King of the Hill” there is only one direction to go.


Chess Champion Bobby Fischer

Bobbie Fischer was the greatest chess player in history.  But the more he won the higher up the hill he went.  The higher up the hill he went, the farther he had to fall down.  I stopped playing chess regularly many years ago.  The more games I won, the harder it was to play.  I could not bear the idea of losing or the possibility of losing.  Despite the fact that I had always learned from losing in my early years of chess playing, I could no longer accept the idea of losing.  I told myself repeatedly that one has to lose to get better and that even if someone beat me, I could adapt and overcome.  Something inside me lost the drive to win.  I lost the will to power. I no longer aspired to be a “higher” man.   It simply seemed like too much work.

“The higher man is distinguished from the lower by his fearlessness and his readiness to challenge misfortune.”  ― Friedrich NietzscheThe Will to Power

russia versus US chess setI can only imagine what it must have been like to be Fischer. The entire esteem of the United States was riding on his match with Spassky.  All minds and all hearts needed him to beat the Russian.  We had to show the world that we were not only the economic and physical match for the Russians but we were also their intellectual match.  The Free World, democracy and God were riding on the outcome of Fischer’s match with Spassky.  Can you imagine the pressure that was riding on Fischer’s shoulders?  The stress that he had to cope with would have been incomprehensible.  I think it would have driven most people stark raving mad, which I sometimes suspect it did to Bobbie.

One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble
Not much between despair and ecstasy
One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble
Can’t be too careful with your company
I can feel the Devil walking next to me.

Obama-and-Putin-s-International-Chess-Match--115652It is now almost 50 years later and we are still playing chess with the Russians.  Obama and Putin have taken the place of Kennedy and Khrushchev.  The game of chess is still pitted against the game of poker.  World fortunes and prestige still ride on the outcome of matchups between us and the Russians.  The pawns have become the Arabs while the rulers of Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, ISIS, Iraq, Jordan and Europe fill in for the knights, bishops and rooks.  Putin is the King for the Red side and Obama is the King for the White Side.  The head of the Sunnis will fill in for the Red Queen while the head of the Shiites can fill in for the White Queen.  Let the games roll on.

“The more things change, the more they are the same.” — Alphonse Karr

Time for Questions:

Do you play chess?  Do you play poker?  Which do you prefer? Why?  Have you ever played in a tournament?  What does it take to be great?   Which strategy works best in politics?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

“I believe every chess player senses beauty, when he succeeds in creating situations, which contradict the expectations and the rules, and he succeeds in mastering this situation.” — Vladimir Kramnik


The Fallacy of the DOUBLE STANDARD.

politicallly incorrectWe have a concept called the Double Standard which denotes a situation wherein some behavior is generally thought of as unfair, inequitable or simply wrong.  It is a much used term employed by sexists and racists.  It is generally used as an argument against some actions being taken on behalf of a minority or other exploited group.  Such groups include immigrants, women, children, the poor, Native Americans, Blacks, Latinos and many other underprivileged groups or groups wherein an asymmetrical relationship exists with the dominant power group.  Let me give you an example before I define some terms.

black versus white racism.pngA friend was arguing about the laws impacting the actions that business owners may or may not take in terms of delivering service to customers.  The recent spate of arguments by the so called “Christian” Right against serving gays and other minorities whose religion or beliefs they disagree with was the spur or nucleus of his rant.  He made the following analogy.  “Suppose a Black man went into a White baker to have a birthday cake made and he was refused service?  What do you think would happen he argued?”  The reply given by his audience was, “It would probably be seen as discriminatory or perhaps even illegal.”   He then argued, “Ok, so suppose a KKK member went into a Black baker and asked for a cake made for a KKK celebration and he was refused.  What do you think would happen?”  I replied that this seemed like an argument “reductio ad absurdum” or something taken to the extreme absurd.  His argument was that it was not ridiculous and such situations are typical of the differences between how Blacks and Whites are now treated in our country or that a “Double Standard” exists.

This argument of a Double Standard is a very popular one and one that it seems most people take at face value to assume is characteristic of bad or incorrect behavior.  In fact, a double standard is not wrong in an asymmetrical relationship.  In such a relationship, it is in fact a highly logical and moral standard.  Let me define some terms before I give you some evidence of why, when and how a double standard makes sense.

A Double Standard is defined as:

  • A situation in which two people, groups, etc., are treated very differently from each other in a way that is unfair to one of them
  • A set of principles that applies differently and usually more rigorously to one group of people or circumstances than to another; especially:  a code of morals that applies more severe standards of sexual behavior to women than to men.  — On-line Merriam Webster Dictionary.

In an article on Fallacies the following comment is made:

“There are many situations in which you should judge two things or people by the same standard.  If in one of those situations you use different standards for the two, your reasoning contains the Fallacy of Using a Double Standard.”

You will note that in none of the above descriptions do the definitions say anything about the equality or inequality of the relationships between either the things or the people whom the double standard is allegedly applied to.  None of the authors raise the question of whether or not a Double Standard applies to relationships that are unequal or asymmetrical.   What is an asymmetrical relationship?

Merriam Webster defines the term asymmetrical with the following definition:

  • Having two sides or halves that are not the same : not symmetrical

Applying the concept to relationships between people or groups of people can be misleadingly simple.  A few quick examples are age, weight and height.  Thus, no one would think that giving a small child only a small piece of cake and a large piece to an adult would be unfair or a double standard.  Similarly, no one would think a curfew for a young child was unfair when an older child could stay out later.  Nevertheless, in both these examples, we have a double standard.  However, here is where the concept gets trickier.  What if the differences between the two people or two groups are not so obvious or what if the differences are based on ethnicity, income or social status?

Bush-Obama-Islam-ver3What if you were very poor and you were going out with a very rich person?  Suppose you gave gifts to each other on your birthdays.  You gave a modest low budget gift from Walmart to your loved one.  She/he in turn gave you an all-expense paid two week trip to Paris.  Would you scream and yell that this was an unfair double standard?  Unfair because you could not possible meet such a standard on your much lower income?  You might want to argue that the example I have provided is ridiculous.  However, it is no more ridiculous an example that many of the examples given by opponents of civil rights, affirmative action, equal pay, immigration laws, welfare and other measures to help create a more equitable society.  (PC opponents are often guilty of such ignorance and there are numerous situations wherein they perceive that Political Correctness has created an unfair Double Standard.)

The point missed either through ignorance or convenience by such opponents is the issue of the asymmetry of relationships.  A Double Standard in an asymmetrical relationship is essential to provide equity.  Since the relationships are not equal, there can be no question of a generalized equal treatment in all areas.  To insist on such “equal treatment” is both stupid and in effect discriminatory.   We still have two problems though.

DOUBLE-STANDARDS-29-PHOTOS-8a165b628ff99e559127aa8359a86573First:  on what basis do we decide the symmetry of a relationship?  Should we be looking at power, wealth, status, employment or opportunities as measures of symmetry?  Second, when and how do we decide that relationships have become symmetrical and no longer need a Double Standard?  Both of these questions are very difficult but they are also both critical since unless they are ultimately answered, the perception of unfairness will hover over any relationships where a Double Standard exists.  This of course leads to such accusations as “reverse racism” and even claims that “Today White people are the real people being discriminated against.”  (See 4 ‘Reverse Racism’ Myths That Need To Stop or Why isn’t there a White History Month?!”)

florida double standardsThe answer to the first question concerning metrics for determining symmetry is fairly easy.  We need to look at metrics that will help to create a fair and just society.  If we are attempting to create a level playing field for all groups in our country, then we must consider any measures that will help us to obtain this goal.  There are measures for income, jobs, opportunities, education, incarceration and health that have and should be used to apply Double Standards when they will help to level the playing field.

How will we know when the playing field is level?  This should be pretty obvious. The same metrics should tell us when incomes and equality in this country are equal or at least where the divide is not so great as to create serious problems.  When we have a country wherein the top 20% of US households own more than 84% of the wealth, and the bottom 40% combine for a paltry 0.3%, you have a nation that is going to feel cheated and as a result angry.  (Economic Inequality: It’s Far Worse than You Think)

Time for Questions:

Have you ever been in an asymmetrical relationship?  What does fair or equal mean in such a relationship?  Do you think the term “Double Standard” applies in an asymmetrical relationship?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

Some “Double Standards” to ponder.

“When a man gives his opinion, he’s a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she’s a bitch.”  ― Bette Davis

“For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit.” ― Noam Chomsky

“I spend some of my time brooding about people who seem addicted to double standards – those who take an allegedly principled stand on a Monday, then switch firmly to the opposite principle on Tuesday if it is to their advantage.” — John Leo


This Will Be the War to End All Wars

Battle of Thermopylae: 480 BCE

spartan warThis will be the war to end all wars.  We are fighting for peace and justice.  We have the moral high ground.  Our enemies want to destroy the world.  They seek a reign of terror and injustice.  We are the good guys, it is clear.  They are the bad guys, it is clear.  Good guys have the right to maim and kill.  We do it for the right reasons.  God is on our side.  This war will forever stamp out evil.  We will march and sing hymns of praise to God.  We will only kill those that need to be killed.  Women and children that get in the way are collateral damage.  We will save them from themselves.  The world and history will thank us.  Onward soldiers for God and country!

The Battle of Pharsalus: 48 BCE

roman warThis will be the war to end all wars.  If we don’t stop them now, they will soon be over here.  We must take the battle to them and show them we mean business. We are not afraid.  Have you ever heard of the Domino Effect?  If we let them take one domino, they will soon take them all.  Pretty soon, they will come to our country to take our dominoes.   We must keep our dominoes for ourselves.  No one else can be allowed to play with our dominoes.  What are a few thousand or million dead people?  We must destroy the village before we can save it.  We fight for a cause that is bigger than any one of us.  Forget yourself, charge the enemy.  Do not take any prisoners.  They would not be kind to you.

The Battle of Tours: 732 CE

medieval warThis will be the war to end all wars.  We must be tough.  No one who wants to win can flinch in the face of the enemy.  Prime your rifles and mount your bayonets.  Charge on command!  Don’t think, just act.  Yours is not to reason why.  Follow your orders.  The enemy will not hesitate.  You must not give them any quarter.  They will slaughter your wife and children.  They will destroy your way of life.  Heroism and medals await those of you who put your lives on the line for your country.  Protect your flanks.  Never retreat.  When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

The Battle of Agincourt: 1415 CE

100 years warThis will be the war to end all wars.  We have drawn a line in the sand and we cannot back down.  The die is cast and we must stand up to injustice and tyranny.  We will fight the good fight and God will be on our side.  God asks us to be brave soldiers and to never fear.  The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  Cowards die many times before their deaths but heroes only die once, though sometimes it is a slow lingering death.  Never worry though, there is a special place in heaven for those who die in defense of liberty and justice and freedom.  There are also many medals you can earn and if you die in the line of duty, there are posthumous awards which can go to your survivors or nearest relatives.  Never fear, you will not be forgotten.

Battle of the Somme:  1916 CE

ww1This will be the war to end all wars.  We must show them we mean business.  We are a nation of practical business people.  We are a nation that wages war like a business.  We do not mean to really kill anyone but it is just good business.  It is nothing personal you know.  We might even like you if the circumstances were different but it is good for the economy.  Practical matters aside, you don’t understand our economic system.  Perhaps, if we could kill you more impersonally, you would not object so much.  We can build more drones and you will not even see them coming.  We don’t want bodies on the ground; it is not good for business.  Good wars like any good business must be pragmatic.  If we kill a few millions of you perhaps you will understand that God wants us to succeed.  You must put your own personal problems aside when your country needs you.  Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.  Be proud to die for your country and your economic system.

The Tet Offensive: 1968 CE

vietnam warThis will be the war to end all wars.  We fight for the greater good.  Right is on our side.  Might makes right and we are the mightiest nation on the face of the earth.  We are righteous and just and our enemies are cowards and liars.  We fight to make the world a better place to live and for future generations.  Our evil enemies only fight for themselves and their ill-gotten gains.  Our battle is wondrous.  Glory, glory, hallelujah!  Our God is marching on.  As he died to make men holy, let us die to make sure that all men are free.  Ours is never to reason why, ours is never to make reply, ours is simply to do or die.  There is no try.  Greatness awaits us in heaven for this small price we must pay on earth.  Never fear, you will get your rewards as all good soldiers must.  Remember old soldiers never die.  Their memories may fade away, but the glory of the valiant men and women who will give up their lives today to protect their native land will never be forgotten.  Stand firm now, toe to toe, shield to shield, rifles to rifles.  Be ready, be able and be willing.  One can ask no more than that you are willing to give up your life to end all wars.

This will be the war to end all wars,

No more war, no more war, ever again.

This will be the war to end all wars,

We are finally, yes finally, going to get the peace dividend.

Time for Questions:

Is there ever a good war?  What wars have ended all wars?  Have you ever fought in a war?  What were your experiences?  Why do we seem to have one war after another?  What will it take to end war?

Life is just beginning.

“The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.” —  George S. Patton





The Greatest Story Never Told!

I want to share this blog again as it deals with my Mother and it seems fitting to post this story on Mothers Day or at least the week of Mothers Day. Consider it a story for all Moms who are not appreciated when they are alive but deeply appreciated when it is too late to let them know.

Aging Capriciously

I think this is a great day to write a blog.  Imagine rain and thunder and lightning in Arizona!  I went to a conference on writing skills at Central Arizona College on Thursday with my friend Socorro.  It is amazing how much one can learn about writing no matter how much one thinks they know.  I have been suffering from “writers block” for the past week or perhaps “lack of writing time” and this workshop motivated me to get my butt on the keyboard.  There is no writing without some form of sitting time.  With a day of rain and storms, there is little I can use in the form of an excuse to not write this blog.  Besides, I was inspired by my dead grandfather last night to tell this story.  It is the story that he never told me.  I woke up in the middle of the night…

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