Not Dancing in a Mirror

While it was not officially branded as such, our February 2014 issue was a “special” edition of ALIVE—at least to me it was. If you’re a regular reader you may remember; it was our ALIVE… for the love of chess issue, and most of the editorial in the magazine that month had something to do with the game of chess.

Now I realize not everyone loves or even plays chess, so let me be clear—this article isn’t really about chess at all, it’s about people, and how playing the game has afforded me the opportunity to connect with players all over the world.

Prior to the internet, if you wanted to play chess with someone far away, your only option was to play chess by mail, via the good old U.S. Postal Service—but those games could easily last months or even years. Then, in about 1990, email was introduced and you could play using one of the few email services like AOL. While that moved things along at a much better pace, you were still limited in terms of who you could play with. The fact was, unless you belonged to a chess club (something few and far between) one’s entire chess-opponent-universe consisted of people you already knew; those friends and relatives who just happened to enjoy playing chess too. In my case, that meant my dad, my younger brother, one friend, and one cousin that I only saw at family get-togethers a couple of times a year.

Of course by then there were chess programs that allowed you to play against your computer, but computer chess just wasn’t the same experience as playing with another person. It was like dancing in a mirror—dry, cold, and unsatisfying.

By the time I graduated from high school, chess had moved pretty far into my life’s rear view mirror. In the years that followed, every so often I’d encounter someone who played, but it was pretty rare.

Then came the iPhone.

I was a Blackberry user until about 2008 when I switched to my first iPhone. I used it primarily for business, so email and calls were about it for me. I had little use for apps, and while I knew there were chess apps, I assumed they were all just mobile versions of computer play. For several years, I never really thought about my iPhone in terms of playing chess (I know, pretty dumb of me).

Then, in 2012, something clicked in my head. I had the urge to play chess but had no one close by to play with, so I began searching the app store to see what was available. I discovered several different apps that facilitated live play and after trying out a few, I settled on an app called Social Chess. There was a free version that allowed you to play up to five games at a time, which I tried for a month or so, but soon decided that the enhanced benefits offered in the paid version were well worth the $9.95 price.

Now, five years later, I have to say that the real benefit of the Social Chess app has less to do with the chess and more to do with the “social” than I could ever have imagined. I have played chess with people in nearly very state in the U.S., as well as countries all over the world, including Russia, Australia, Germany, France, Indonesia, Cuba, India, Mexico, Iran, Ukraine, Malta, England, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and many others. All totaled, since July 2012, I have played a total of 2,185 games (1,138 wins, 953 losses, 94 draws).

The best part of this system is that alongside your chess games, you can converse through a text add-on function, enjoying conversations with your opponents. I’ve made some very interesting acquaintances, learned a lot about much more than chess, and best of all, have made some wonderful friends that I never would have met, if not for our mutual interest in chess.

Today, I typically have anywhere from a dozen to thirty games going at any one time, so it’s not uncommon to have an amazing geographic cross section of conversations happening all at once. For example, right now I have 18 games going with two different players in Mexico, two in Russia, one in India, one in Germany, one in Michigan, two in New York, one in Florida, one in Berkeley, one in Louisiana, and one in Los Angeles. Another five of my current games are with players who prefer to play without revealing their location.

Of course, just like anyone you meet in life, not everyone who plays wants to connect much beyond the game itself. Some partake in the app for the game alone, and while I’m fine with that, I much prefer playing with the people I’ve met who have become friends.

Take the last two I listed of my current games for example. The player in Louisiana, Matt, is a husband and father who works on a barge that travels up and down the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico for extended  periods. We’ve been playing for about four years and have a game going almost all the time. He often has to work on holidays, so I know our games during those times become a good way for him to pass the time until he can reunite with his family. I’ve learned a lot about the work Matt does, but more importantly, about the kind of man he is. I have learned that his family has good reason to be very proud of him.

The player in Los Angeles, Felicity Ann, has become a very good, close friend. She has even become an occasional contributing writer in ALIVE (she’s listed in our masthead), and had her first article in that special 2014 chess issue. Felicity currently works as a bakery manager, volunteers at her local library, and is multi-talented artist to boot. We exchange gifts at birthdays and holidays, and she is one of the brightest, most thoughtful people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.

Who would have guessed that of all of that can be learned from playing lots of chess, and considering that chess was created as a substitute for war, isn’t it ironic that the best thing about it would be learning about other cultures, other people, and most of all, making new friends.

Yes, I certainly do enjoy playing chess, but unlike dancing in a mirror, it really is the game’s connection with people that makes it worthwhile playing at all.

 

    

 

        

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Often referred to as “The Royal Game,” chess is considered, by most accounts, the world’s oldest game, having been played at least since the sixth and probably fifth century. The game is thought to have originated in India, although some argue that China was its true birthplace. The earliest known literary reference to chess was from India, in a Sanskrit romance called The Vasavadatta, in 590 A.D. Another, slightly later reference comes from Persia, from about 600 A.D., in another ancient romance called Kárnamák.

 

 

 

The Game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement; several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired and strengthened by it, so as to become habits ready on all occasions; for life is a kind of Chess, in which we have often points to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with, and in which there is a vast variety of good and ill events, that are, in some degree, the effect of prudence, or the want of it. By playing at Chess then, we may learn: 1st, Foresight, which looks a little into futurity, and considers the consequences that may attend an action … 2nd, Circumspection, which surveys the whole Chess-board, or scene of action: — the relation of the several Pieces, and their situations; … 3rd, Caution, not to make our moves too hastily…

Benjamin Franklin, “The Morals of Chess” (article) (1750).

 

Dadisms

I have been a dad for almost 20 years. Despite what you might have heard to the contrary from two Danville girls in their late teens, whose names rhyme with Banana and Bear, I’d like to think I’m a pretty good dad. There’s no question I have a few flaws; over protective, overly involved, and I like my eggs over easy, however, I try my best to overcompensate for my weaknesses by not being hypocritical or judgmental. Instead, I’ve always tried to be patient, understanding, compassionate, empathetic, and always loving. Like every father/daughter relations, we have our share of arguments, disagreements and general conflict, but there are a lot more good days than bad, (roughly a 29:1 ratio most months).

If you’re the emotional type and cry easily, feel free to pause and grab a tissue before continuing with the rest of this article. You see, the two greatest days of my roughly 19,692 days on Earth, were the days Hannah and Claire were born, followed closely by the day I made First-Team All-League my senior year of high school football. But seriously, I truly love being a dad and the time I get to spend with these two smart, funny, beautiful, creative, clever, compassionate, strong, amazing young women.

In past articles, I’ve declared that being a dad is the greatest job in the world, but in reality, being a dad isn’t a job at all. There’s no pay, no regular hours and no personal time off or paid vacation. The dad job doesn’t offer stock options, a 401K or even an expense account. Despite the fact that I am somewhat of a family CEO, I don’t get any of the fancy CEO perks like a car allowance, Giants season tickets, or even my own designated parking stall. It’s been a big “DAD” adjustment with Hannah now being away at the University of Colorado and Claire getting ready to attend the University of Oklahoma in the fall. I’ll soon be coming to grips with the reality of the “empty nest syndrome.” Where are my tissues?

As a dad, part of my “job” description includes inspiring and lifting up my children whenever possible. Ever since my girls were presented with a Danville-required smart phone, immediately following their 5th grade promotion ceremony, I have sent them periodic text messages that I thought were profound, topical, motivational,encouraging and, dare I say, inspirational. I come across these jewels in books, songs, and my friends’ Facebook posts. Occasionally, I also make one up. I like to call them Dadisms. Please allow me to share a sampling of my Dadisms with you now. Again, keep the tissues close.

  • If you can’t be good, be careful.
  • Forget all the reasons why it won’t work and believe the one reason why it will.
  • Pay attention to your gut No matter how good something looks, if it doesn’t feel right, walk away.
  • Be nice to someone for no reason. You never know when you’ll need someone to be nice to you.
  • Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t give up.
  • Be somebody who makes everybody feel like somebody.
  • Don’t chase people. Be an example. Attract them. The people who belong in your life will come find you and stay. Just be yourself and do your thing.
  • A person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected.
  • When you see something beautiful in someone, tell them! It may take seconds to say, but for them, it could last a lifetime.
  • If someone treats you like crap, just remember that there’s something wrong with them, not you. Don’t go around destroying other people.
  • Think before you speak. Is it true, is it helpful, is it inspiring, is it necessary and is it kind?
  • Who to spend time with: Those who make you better, those who want to see you grow, those who see the greatness in you, those who are good for your mental health, those who are inspired, excited and grateful, and those who force you to push yourself up a level.
  • Don’t be impressed by: money, followers, degrees and titles. Be impressed by: kindness, integrity, humility and generosity.
  • Rules of Action: If you do not go after what you want, you will never get If you do not ask, the answer will always be “NO.” If you do not step forward, you will always be in the same place.
  • Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs; the ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what.
  • Beauty isn’t about having a pretty face, it’s about having a kind heart, an accepting mind and a beautiful soul.
  • We don’t grow when things are easy, we grow when we face challenges.
  • Life lessons are rarely inexpensive or painless.
  • Good friends are like stars. You don’t always see them, but you know they’re always there.
  • If you stumble, make it part of the dance.
  • There comes a time in your life, when you walk away from all the drama and people who create it. You surround yourself with people who make you laugh. Forget the bad and focus on the good. Love the people who treat you right and pray for the ones who don’t. Life it too short to be anything but happy.
  • 10 Things that require zero talent; Being on time, work ethic, body language, a positive attitude, passion, being coachable, effort, extra effort, being prepared and listening.
  • Take pride in how far you’ve come and have faith in how far you can go.
  • You either get better or you get bitter. It’s that simple. You either deal with what life has dealt you and allow it to make you a better person or you allow it to tear you down. The choice does not belong to fate, it belongs to you.
  • Having real friends is better than having many friends.
  • Successful people build each other up. They motivate, inspire and encourage each other. Unsuccessful people just hate, blame and complain.
  • No matter how educated, rich or cool you believe you are, how you treat people tells all. Integrity is everything.
  • Pick your battles. Sometimes peace is better than being right.
  • Other ways to say “I love you”… I miss you; Sweet dreams; Are you hungry? How’s your day going? Drive careful; Call me when you get there so I know you’re safe; I hope you’ re feeling better; Be careful; Don’t worry; I’ll take care of it for you; Do you need a hug? You don’t have to hear the words I Love You to know you’re loved. Listen carefully. People speak from the heart in more ways than one.
  • Do not think of today’s failures, but of the success that may come tomorrow. You have set yourself a difficult task, but you will succeed. If you persevere, you will find joy in overcoming obstacles.
  • Life is amazing and then it’s awful, and then it’s amazing again. In between amazing and awful it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living our heartbreaking, healing, amazing, awful, ordinary lives and it’s heartbreakingly beautiful.
  • Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of simple embarrassing bravery and I promise you something great can come of it.

There are more, but I don’t want to lose my audience. For those of you still awake, I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into my “sensitive dad” soul.  When I’m not being deep, I occasionally send something light-hearted such as this gem:

“I often look at my children and can’t see me in them. Then they open their mouth and say something sarcastic and I’m like…’Oh, there I am.’”

If you think your son or daughter could benefit from receiving one of these nuggets above, please feel free to pass them along as your own Dadism or Momism.

With the house soon to be very quiet, I may finally have to find a hobby that pays more than writing magazine articles. Perhaps I’ll create my own Dadisms App. I’ve already got the copyright#dadisms and the domain name, www.dadisms.com. Don’t forget Father’s Day is June 18th.

 

 

Make America Great!

My hope for a great America can truly be realized during our current presidency.  America is now in many ways a much better nation of individuals acting as a whole than it was in 1776. When the Declaration of Independence was signed, the actions of Americans did not follow the words and ideals that were written as guidelines for conduct and behavior. Despite the phrase “all men are created equal” that was penned to illustrate the fact that all people deserve the same regard, there are many examples of total disregard for this sentiment. Millions of people in this country were denied, and many are still being denied the right to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

In 1539, the killing of Florida Native Americans occurred by Europeans in the Napituca Massacre. Since then, hundreds of thousands of Native Americans have been subjected to genocide. Today, many indigenous Americans who have largely been relegated to reservations, are fighting yet another greedy indiscretion regarding construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. When completed, a section of the pipeline will be under Lake Oahe; a lake considered a sacred water source by the Native Americans living there. This is just one more example of how Native Americans have yet to recover anything remotely close to what was taken from them centuries ago.

In 1826, slavery of Africans in America was accepted as a commonplace necessity and the torture and dehumanization of men, women and children took place for over 300 years in order to provide the manual labor needed to create this great country.The socioeconomic and emotional repercussions of that atrocity are still reverberating through generations of families.

In the 1950s, McCarthyism targeted innocent people, who lost their jobs and were jailed, under the “threat of communism and homosexuality.”

Today, the President of the United States is trying to pass a travel ban against innocent people of Muslim heritage under the “threat of terrorism.” Also, Mexican immigrants who have lived and worked in this country for decades or more are literally being hunted and deported from their homes and families without regard to their contributions to their communities and America.

Unfortunately, the list of American atrocities against its own citizens is long throughout history and continues today. The difference between American then and now is that we have evolved into a beautifully diverse country of citizens and hopeful citizens who have the advantage of 20:20 hindsight. The United States is home to people who represent every race, nationality, color and creed from all over the world. The ultimate benefit of this is that we can come to understand, have empathy for, and be familiar with people and cultures outside of our own immediate circle.

Now is the time for us to act and react to political issues based on our own ethical compasses. The importance is not in whether we’re going to support or follow the lead of a Republican or Democrat. Americans need to decide if the people we elect to serve and lead the country are doing so for the benefit of the people of the country and to more closely uphold the original ideals as set forth by our founding fathers. If they are not, we need to acknowledge that fact, be vocal and dissent. This is a government of the people, for the people, and by the people. Let us not forget that idea and let us not repeat the mistakes of the past that violated the rights of the people.

 

What’s in a Name? Lies!

In recent years we have heard a great deal about renaming sports teams that have names considered offensive to Native Americans. The primary objects have been such professional teams as football’s Washington “Redskins” and baseball’s Atlanta “Braves” and Cleveland “Indians,” as well as smaller teams with similar names. We will not belabor that point which has been made so often and so emphatically. We will deal with other sports teams whose names do not precede our European, African, and Asian ancestors, but rather because the are either misleading or make no sense whatsoever.

With June marking the second month of the season and the indoor, winter sport of basketball finally coming to a close, the time has come to examine those team names involved in the National pastime, which is still BASEBALL. We might also take a peek at some other team names that make little or no sense.

Some team names make sense because of their location or an article of clothing.  For instance, Seattle borders Puget sound, the Pacific Ocean, and suffers with about 527 days of rain annually: hence, the Mariners. The American League Chicago and Boston teams identify themselves by the color of their socks:  White Sox and Red Sox , respectively, not to mention the original name of the Cincinnati Red Stockings, now just the Reds.  For the Houston, Texas, team Astros makes a great deal of sense.  (The space program, Tom Hanks, and “Houston, we have a problem!”)  The New York Mets play in the largest METropolitan in North America, as do the Yankees.  (We will not touch that one for fear of invoking another “Babe Ruthian” curse.)

Animal names try to indicate a fierce attitude that will not offend, but still give a fighting, tough image for the team. Are the Arizona Diamondbacks really poisonous and deadly?  (Probably not, at least until they get some better pitching.)  Florida’s Marlins suggests a laid back, “Let’s go fishing” attitude, while across the state the Tampa Bay Devil Rays suggest aggression again.

The business people in Chicago are torn between the Bulls and the Bears.  Perhaps they should just concentrate on the World Series championship Cubs.  In hockey the “Second City” returns to Native Americans with the Blackhawks.

Now it is incumbent upon the writer of this column to identify some of the mis-named or badly named teams.  (Anything to get away from politics for a while.)  To carry out that duty, we shall begin in our own backyard with the Oakland Athletics or A’s, who before coming west resided in Philadelphia and Kansas City.  When the old Pacific Coast League played AAA ball on the West Coast, Oakland had the Oaks, like the big strong tree. Why not once again?  Based on their performance in the past few years, let’s change from the A’s to the C Minuses.  (Once a school teacher, always etc.) For now, Oakland also has the Warriors. “Warriors?”  Perhaps the Finessers.  Or maybe the Show Timers #2, but not Warriors. They have too much fun to be WARriors. Anyway, they are another Philadelphia team that migrated west to the Promised Land.

Then we have the San Francisco 49’ers who play in Santa Clara.  Is there anyone living outside of an institution or a cave who would confuse Santa Clara with San Francisco? (The way the team played last season might get them moved to the Middle East or Ketchikan, Alaska.) 

Oakland Raiders?  Las Vegas Raiders?  Maybe they should have Bekins somewhere in their name. (Is it not strange the way winning covers up and even solves problems?) 

When we travel to our friends in Southern California, we really find the misuse of language in team names. In Northern Tiajuana–oops, that’s San Diego–we find the Padres. While many, if not most, of the original Padres were good men, some of them treated the Native Americans like slaves or like savage children, treatment vastly worse than naming sports teams irrationally.

It is in the Los Angeles, however, that we find the real naming culprits.  The original Brooklyn team received the name Dodgers because they had to dodge streetcars to get to the ball park. Has anyone ever ridden a streetcar in Los Angeles?  Has anyone ever SEEN a streetcar in Los Angeles?  (I actually did ride them back in the late 1940s and early 1950s.)  Perhaps a better name would be the L. A. Traffic Sitters or Freeway Parkers. Maybe simply the LaLas.

The other baseball team in So Cal is the Anaheim or Los Angeles Angels or Halos. At the risk of sounding like a mathematician, I say “Anaheim is to Los Angeles as Santa Clara is to San Francisco.”  They should follow the Disneyesque example of the hockey Ducks and become the Mice or the Mickeys.  (It ain’t gonna happen!)

Once again Los Angeles has the football Rams.  That is, of course, the Cleveland Rams who begat the Los Angeles Rams who begat the St. Louis Rams who . . . Sounds almost Biblical.  Pick a name, any name will do, although those ram’s horns on the helmets look really cool.

Which brings us to the basketball Los Angeles Lakers, long, long ago the Minneapolis Lakers as in Land of a Thousand Lakes.  Yes, there are lakes within the City of Angels; there is even a Silverlake District. To be consistent, however, they would have to be called the Large Puddles, which is not terribly masculine.  Call them the Valleys, the Freeways, the Tar Pits—anything but Lakers.

Finally, in round ball we come to the most egregious and absurd name in all of professional sports:  the Utah Jazz.  UTAH = JAZZ!  An oxymoron if there ever was one. The state of Utah has some magnificent scenery such as Bryce, Zion, and the Arches; tons of lovely mountains; salt flats; and in their lake full of sodium chloride. They have one of the world’s greatest choirs whose classical and show music has few peers. However, JAZZ??  When the team resided in New Orleans, that name made geographical and musical sense, even more than the current Pelicans.  (As one who frequented the Hermosa Beach Lighthouse while in college during his often misspent youth and still loves to hear real jazz, I find the concept appalling.)

But enough about basketball, the indoor, winter game still being played in June.  Certainly enough about four hours of commercials occasionally interrupted by a football game.  Hockey?  Booooring!  We have survived the long, cold, wet, empty winter months and BASEBALL is back and in full swing.  It does not really matter to this old baseball nut what we call the teams.  All we need to know are the last twelve words of The Star-Spangled Banner:

“Land of the free and the home of the brave, PLAY BALL!”