Science Cheerleader

May 26, 2008

My friend Darlene Cavalier (we worked together, in the Late Cretaceous, at Discover magazine) has a provocative op ed in The Philadelphia Inquirer about public support for science. Darlene, who was once a cheerleader for the Philadelphia 76ers, is the brains behind the new blog ScienceCheerleader.

In the Inquirer, she makes the economic case for Washington investing in science: “Roughly half the nation’s growth in gross domestic product over the last 50 years has arisen from science-related innovation, yet the U.S. government invests less in all physical sciences research than International Business Machines Corp. spends a year on research and development. The United States, long the center of science innovation, is producing fewer scientists. And a commonly cited projection suggests that more than 90 percent of all scientists and engineers will live in Asia by 2010.”

Chess Tipping

April 28, 2008

My friend Chris sent me this photo of the tip jars in the coffee shop below his office. Judging by the distribution of money, it seems that the shop is frequented by more woodpushers than masters. Or could it be that there are more (self-identified) good players than weak ones but the latter are better tippers?

Political Endgame

April 19, 2008

A chess analogy carried unusually far in The Huffington Post: “At this point the entire endgame is predictable. Clinton, like a good chess player, can easily see that the remaining moves inevitably lead to checkmate; it’s time for her to tip over her King and concede defeat.”

Triple Entendre

April 8, 2008

Mary Roach’s new book Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex includes a delightful triple entendre: “Kinsey wanted Dellenback to film his own staff. There are three ways to read that sentence, all of them true.”

(hat tip: The New York Times)

“I’m a Terror to Teachers”

April 7, 2008

In King’s Gambit: A Son, A Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game, I wrote about my losses (expected but painful nonetheless) in simultaneous chess exhibitions to Bent Larsen and Garry Kasparov. On Friday, I had the opportunity to be on the other side of the table when I played 24 kids at once at the chess club in my son’s elementary school. I now appreciate the stamina that simuls require. I was nearly dizzy when it was all over and dropped a bishop in a twenty-fifth game, against the sole adult who crashed the gathering.

Later that evening, the chess club held a bake sale at Poetry Night at the school. A couple hundred people showed up to hear the kids read verse that they had composed. My eight-year-old was one of the readers. He wouldn’t tell me in advance what he was going to read. His classmates recited nice, sentimental ditties about the beauty of sunsets, deer, and swans. Not my kid. He’s a little Jack Nicholson. He brought down the house with a poem that began: “I’m a terror to teachers/ a stingray to substitutes/ I can make the clock hand go to 3:30/ when it’s only been two seconds of math.”

A Girl Like Spitzer

March 20, 2008

A clever if syntactically challenged panhandler held a handwritten sign in Times Square: “I need only $4,300 so I can meet a nice girl like our Governor Spitzer” [hat tip: New York Times].

Speaking of political sex scandals, the release of Hillary Clinton’s schedule as First Lady may offer further insight into Interngate. Does anyone else find it odd that on seven occasions when Monica did it with the president, Hillary was in the White House at the same time? I guess Bill couldn’t just sneak off to the Days Inn a la New York’s classy new governor. But couldn’t he have kept his pants on until his wife was out of town negotiating bilateral arms treaties or freeing political prisoners? Then again maybe Bill and company were taking a page from the Friday-night play book of a mayor who became governor of New Jersey.

Chess for the Masses

March 20, 2008

Chess educators have long hoped that the royal game would be universally taught in schools across the country. Today’s New York Times reports that Idaho will become the first state to offer a chess curriculum. Anecdotal evidence from a pilot program with second and third graders suggests that chess not only improves cognitive skills (concentration, planning ahead) but also emotional development. The children learned to be gracious in victory and mellow in defeat (lessons they may forget if they ever become grandmasters).

Yet Another Bad Chess Analogy

March 17, 2008

In a story on the prosecutor who’ll decide whether to bring charges against Elliot Spitzer, The New York Times clumsily invokes chess: “In a way, the case is like a chess match with two grand masters, in which the high-powered players know and trust each other but will pull no punches.”

Trust each other? Suspicion, not trust, seems to dominate relations between the world’s chess elite. This is a sport in which top players freely level cheating accusations at each other when things aren’t going their way.

Caucus, Schmaucus

March 5, 2008

Here’s an absolutely beautiful sentence, especially when read in isolation:

“But she will continue to find herself in a difficult position mathematically.”

It’s from today’s New York Times.

Castro’s 638 Lives (Or is it 634?)

March 3, 2008

fidelcastro.jpg (Fidel Castro flanked by world chess champion Tigran Petrosian and grandmaster Lev Polugaevsky)

Speaking of heads of state and aspiring h.o.s’s who play chess, Fidel Castro was a stand-out. But judging from the surviving game score of a King’s Gambit he defended and won in 1966 (when the 17th world chess Olympiad was held in Cuba), he was more accomplished as a revolutionary than as a woodpusher. Away from the chessboard, Castro was certainly a master of defense.

Tonight on the Sundance Channel is the U.S. premiere of “638 Ways to Kill Castro,” a British documentary that explores his invincibleness. The film’s title “refers to the number of assassination plans that Fabián Escalante, the former director of Cuban intelligence, claims to have evidence for and, in many cases, to have thwarted,” writes Mike Hale in today’s New York Times. “Mr. Escalante breaks it down by administration:

Eisenhower, 38;

Kennedy, 42;

Johnson, 72;

Nixon, 184;

Carter, 64;

Reagan, 197;

Bush Sr., 16;

Clinton, 21.

(That adds up to 634, but we can forgive him for losing track of a few poisoned diving suits.)”