An Epidemic of Loneliness

George Will

is a columnist for the Washington Post and his latest effort is titled, We have an epidemic of loneliness. How can we fix it?

Excerpts follow, but I would like to begin with this, which is frightening: “America’s largest job category is “driver” and, with self-driving vehicles coming, two-thirds of such jobs could disappear in a decade.”

I drove professionally and I do not just mean when driving a taxi. There were various driving gigs in varied places when younger. I once drove a brand new Ford Probe across the country from Atlanta to Los Angeles in less than three days. I slept, or more properly napped, only in rest areas, stopping to take only one shower in a truck stop along the way because of tremendous time pressure, something with which all Chess players can identify. The person contracted to drive the car to the architect who had won it in a raffle at an architectural convention in Atlanta pulled out at the last moment. The owner of the company called me because, as he put it, “You are the only driver who can get it there on time.” The car was delivered to the owner on time. He gave me a twenty dollar bill as a tip. Enraged, I said, While driving a taxi for Buckhead Safety Cab Mickey Mantle once gave me a fifty dollar bill for a three fifty fare!” The cheapskate just glared at me…

Another driving gig was transporting Bell South vehicles to various cities in Southern states. Vehicles heading to the larger cities would usually go via hauler because those drivers could transport multiple vehicles. The single vehicles heading to smaller cities had to transported by individuals such as yours truly. Some of the drivers had worked for an airline, which at the time meant Delta Airlines in Atlanta, and they could return home using their free miles, while I would have to return on my own, which meant the Greyhound bus or Amtrak. The older drivers had no desire to go to, for example, Lake Charles Louisiana.

I, on the other hand, loved heading to Lake Charles because it meant a trip to New Orleans, a visit with the sui generis Jude Frazier Acers,

the Chess King of Decatur street ( and a night on Bourbon Street, before heading to the Amtrak station, and a train leaving the next morning at seven, giving me plenty of time for sleep on the return trip.

George begins his column, “If Sen. Ben Sasse is right — he has not recently been wrong about anything important — the nation’s most-discussed political problem is entangled with the least-understood public-health problem. The political problem is furious partisanship. The public-health problem is loneliness. Sasse’s new book argues that Americans are richer, more informed and “connected” than ever — and unhappier, more isolated and less fulfilled.”

“In “Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal,” Sasse’s subject is “the evaporation of social capital” — the satisfactions of work and community. This reflects a perverse phenomenon: What has come to count as connectedness is displacing the real thing. And matters might quickly become dramatically worse.”

“Loneliness in “epidemic proportions” is producing a “loneliness literature” of sociological and medical findings about the effect of loneliness on individuals’ brains and bodies, and on communities. Sasse (R-Neb.) says “there is a growing consensus” that loneliness — not obesity, cancer or heart disease — is the nation’s “number one health crisis.” “Persistent loneliness” reduces average longevity more than twice as much as does heavy drinking and more than three times as much as obesity, which often is a consequence of loneliness. Research demonstrates that loneliness is as physically dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and contributes to cognitive decline, including more rapid advance of Alzheimer’s disease. Sasse says, “We’re literally dying of despair,” of the failure “to fill the hole millions of Americans feel in their lives.”

“Work, which Sasse calls “arguably the most fundamental anchor of human identity,” is at the beginning of “a staggering level of cultural disruption” swifter and more radical than even America’s transformation from a rural and agricultural to an urban and industrial nation. At that time, one response to social disruption was alcoholism, which begat Prohibition. Today, one reason the average American life span has declined for three consecutive years is that many more are dying of drug overdoses — one of the “diseases of despair” — annually than died during the entire Vietnam War. People “need to be needed,” but McKinsey & Co. analysts calculate that, globally, 50 percent of paid activities — jobs — could be automated by currently demonstrated technologies. America’s largest job category is “driver” and, with self-driving vehicles coming, two-thirds of such jobs could disappear in a decade.”

I hope you will read the entire column.

They Bad

In an interview with Albert Silver appearing on Chessbase, former World Chess Champion Anatoly Karpov said, “…the quality of the players has worsened. In the autumn, Carlsen and Anand were playing, and I came to the final. The FIDE Vice President Georgios Makropoulos came to me and said: “Judging by today’s games, even an out-of-shape Karpov would beat either of them…”

It is natural for older people to consider things having been better “back in the day.” This is common in all walks of life. For example, many years ago I worked for a company owned by a former Delta Airlines employee. The company transported vehicles to nine different Southern states, and many of the drivers were former Delta employees who had retired. To a man they all agreed Delta was a better company “back in the day.” Upon hearing this for the umptheenth time, I said, “Maybe it was just a different company back then.” This was met with glares and stares, and I was shunned. A short time later I mentioned one of my girlfriends had been a stewardess for Delta in the early ’70’s, and another had worked for only Delta, and had done so for decades, adding, “Seems like it was a better company back then.” Everyone smiled, clapped me on the back, and things were right with the world of James Auto Transport!

That said, I must agree with Mr. Karpov. The matches for the World Chess Championship this decade have left much to be desired. Back in the day we looked forward to the upcoming WC match with much anticipation. This is no longer the case. I am having trouble recalling the last interesting match for the World Chess Championship.

I must also agree with the former WCC about the quality of the play of the current top players. I am not exactly certain, but it could be the influence of the computer chess programs in that they have humbled the Grandmasters, or, shall we say, taken them down a peg, or two. My friend the Discman said something, published on this blog, some time ago, “GM’s used to be thought of as Gods.” Now the Gods of chess come with names like Komodo, and Stockfish.

As an example of what I mean let me refer you to the coverage on Chessbase of the most recent “elite” tournament, the Grenke Chess Classic in Baden-Baden. The players were having much trouble converting winning endgames. I watched as GM Etienne Bacrot, who had been winning for quite sometime, came completely unglued trying to push home his advantage versus GM Michael Adams. ( This was one of many butchered endgames in this particular tournament. Unfortunately, it is not the only recent tournament about which the same can be said.

What makes it worse is that the players make statements like, “We are so much better than the players of the last century that even when they were on top of their game the best players of today would wipe the floor with them, and we have got the numbers to prove it.” OK, I am paraphrasing here, but you get the idea. Their ratings are higher and the best players of today do seem to strut around like Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in the movie Silver Streak, saying, “That’s right, we bad, WE BAD!” Then they go out and draw another winnable endgame. For example, “…while Adams could not convert his advantage against Aronian.” (

Sometimes it is even worse than the above. Consider what was written after the headline, “GRENKE Rd4: Two Blunders, Two Black wins.”
“What a round! Two major blunders defined the two victories, games that were on the verge of being wildly interesting and dissipated into a win for Black as in both cases the White side simply missed Black’s resources or overestimated his own attacking chances. Carlsen bounced back with a win over Anand in a stonewall, while Baramidze basically gave Naiditsch the tournament lead.” (

What a round, indeed. Baramidze failed to answer a question every chess player should ask himself before making a move, “Am I leaving anything en prise?” He actually put a Knight en prise, giving Naiditsch a piece for nothing. Amazing….Granted, GM Baramidze is clearly not a Super GM, but still…

Not to be outdone, former World Human Chess Champion Vishy Anand gave his opponent that day, World Human Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen, a full ROOK! I kid you not. The game is annotated by GM Alejandro Ramirez at the Chessbase website. ( Anand should give some serious consideration to retiring. If he continues to play he will only continue to embarrass himself, and tarnish his reputation.

That’s right, they bad, THEY BAD!

Speaking of GM Alejandro Ramirez…Annotating the game between Radoslaw Wojtaszek and Magnus Carlsen from round three of the Tata Steel tournament, after 1.d4 d6 2.Nf3 g6 3.c4 f5 4.b4 Bg7 5.Bb2 a5 6.b5 a4!?, Alejandro writes, “This brave pawn will be weak, but it does restrict White a little. Carlsen has to be very careful not to lose it though.”

Come on! I know Magnus is the World Human Chess Champion, but I do not need a 3300 rated program to tell me this move is bad, REAL BAD! And this is not an isolated example. Everyone in the chess world, except maybe the VP of the GCA, is aware of the “howler,” Kd2, Magnus played against Viswanathan Anand in their most recent WCC match. Magnus was saved because Vishy sat there for one minute without asking himself the first question every chess player, other than the VP of the GCA, asks himself after his opponent makes a move, which is, “Why did my opponent make that move?” But what about the move Carlsen played as White against Fabiano Caruana in a Bishop’s Opening last year at the Sinquefield Cup?

Carlsen vs Caruana

1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d3 c6 4. Nf3 d5 5. Bb3 Bb4+ 6. c3 Bd6 7. Bg5 dxe4 8. dxe4 h6 9. Bh4 Qe7 10. Nbd2 Nbd7 11. Bg3 Bc7 12. O-O Nh5 13. h3?

Once again, I do not need a computer program to tell me how bad is this move. This move stinks. It is the kind of move that may be played by the VP of the GCA, a triple digit player. I give the rest of the game for the record, and as proof as to what kind of chess is being passed off a being better than that played “back in the day.” 13…Nxg3 14. fxg3 Nc5 15. Bxf7+ Kxf7 16. Nxe5+ Kg8 17. Ng6 Qg5 18. Rf8+ Kh7 19. Nxh8 Bg4 20. Qf1 Nd3 21. Qxd3 Rxf8 22. hxg4 Qxg4 23. Nf3 Qxg3 24. e5+ Kxh8 25. e6 Bb6+ 26. Kh1 Qg4 27. Qd6 Rd8 28. Qe5 Rd5 29. Qb8+ Kh7 30. e7 Qh5+ 31. Nh2 Rd1+ 32. Rxd1 Qxd1+ 33. Nf1 Qxf1+ 34. Kh2 Qg1+ 0-1

Keep in mind the current human WCC backed into the match in which he became Chess Champ of the World. In the biggest game of his career, a game he had to win, Magnus Carlsen LOST. He was saved when GM Vladmir Kramnik also lost, giving the right to Carlsen to play a match with an old, tired, and obviously worn out toothless Tiger. I can still picture the young Magnus sitting on his knees in his chair like a little boy at a weekend swiss as his time dwindled. This man could never stand toe to toe with the Giants of the past. They would wipe the floor with him, and then eat him alive.