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 (https://www.oxfordamerican.org/magazine/item/456-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.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/we-have-an-epidemic-of-loneliness-how-can-we-fix-it/2018/10/12/e8378a38-cd92-11e8-920f-dd52e1ae4570_story.html?utm_term=.e87c12c89089

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Classical Chess

“Bill James is the best known baseball analyst in the world” (http://sabr.org/about/bill-james). Bill began his writing career by questioning the assumptions in baseball, something commonly called, “The Book.” For questioning some of the commonly held beliefs in baseball Bill was excoriated by the MLB establishment. His books, and the thinking contained therein, caught on with many and his books became very successful. Many other baseball fans began to question things like the sacrifice bunt, held dear by the MLB establishment. Decades later Bill was hired by the Boston Red Sox as an analyst and the Red Sox became the World Champions. Now every MLB team has an analyst, or team of analysts.

Bill’s latest book is, “Fools Rush Inn: More Detours on the Way to Conventional Wisdom.” One of the essays is, “Classical Sport.” As is often the case, while reading the essay my thoughts would drift to chess and I would substitute the word “chess” for “classical music.” Read on and you will understand why.

Bill writes, “Classical music has very, very serious problems as an industry. The number of people who enjoy classical music is small compared to the market for other kinds of music and the market is composed primarily of old people.

“Classical music survives, or has survived so far, because it has advantages over the marketplace, rather than advantage in the marketplace. Classical music is perceived by a very large cadre of musical professionals as the highest form of music, and these people have integrated themselves and their music into the society in ways that insulate it from extinction by economic forces. High schools do not teach young musicians to play rock and roll, as a rule; they teach them to play “instruments,” which are in truth the instruments of classical music. Millions of small children take violin lessons, which their parents get for them because this is how music is taught. The perception that this form of music is “classy” -widely accepted in our culture- keeps the form alive by giving it these advantages, and many similar and related advantages. At the symphony I am below the median age and, I suspect, well below the median income. Those old people who go to the symphony have more-than proportional power because they have more-than proportional wealth. There is something much more than that going on here. It has to do with the perception of rectitude, of value and of virtue.”

“Music, like sport, is instinctive to us, exists in all cultures, and will never disappear. There are primal and sophisticated forms of music and of sport, which could also be called vibrant and calcified, or youthful and moribund. There is a spectrum in these activities that runs from vibrant, primal and youthful to sophisticated, calcified and moribund. All sports and all forms of music move across that spectrum, crawling toward obsolescence.”

I have always thought of chess as a form of the “Glass Bead Game,” made popular by the greatest novel ever written, “The Glass Bead Game,” also published as “Magister Ludi,” Latin for “Master of the Game,” by Hermann Hesse, who won a Nobel Prize in Literature for the book. The Glass Bead Game takes place centuries into the future. It concerns the place the game occupies in the culture. “As the novel progresses, Knecht begins to question his loyalty to the order; he gradually comes to doubt that the intellectually gifted have a right to withdraw from life’s big problems. Knecht comes to see Castalia as a kind of ivory tower, an ethereal and protected community, devoted to pure intellectual pursuits but oblivious to the problems posed by life outside its borders.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Glass_Bead_Game)

The game of chess can be thought of in the way Bill James writes of classical music. Chess has always been thought of as important because it requires thought, something some very wealthy people have valued highly enough to become patrons of the game. I am thinking of Gregor Piatigorsky and his wife, Jacqueline, and the famous tournaments they funded in Los Angeles in 1963 and 1966, called the Piatigorsky Cup. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piatigorsky_Cup) Every chess player knows of these tournaments, and if you encounter anyone involved with chess who has never heard of the Piatigorsky tournaments the question becomes, “What is this person doing in chess?” In 1961 the Piatigorsky’s sponsored a match between Bobby Fischer and Sammy Reshevsky. It ended prematurely when the wealthy couple wanted to change the scheduled time of one of the games because of a conflict Gregor had with a musical performance. Bobby refused because he had signed a contract that specified the round time of each game. The wealthy couple must have felt like Ronald Raygun, when running for POTUS, and he was heckled from the audience. Ronnie famously yelled, “I am paying for this microphone!” In actuality he was not paying. The people contributing money toward his campaign were paying, but why quibble? It was a great sound bite for the Gypper. The Piatigorsky’s were paying and thought Bobby should jump through any hoop provided. Bobby provided them with what is called a “rude awakening” when he “just said no.” Extraordinarily wealthy people are not used to being refused. They are also not used to being told “no” because they surround themselves with “yes men.”
I mention this because without the patronage of very wealthy people there may not be future chess as we have known it until now. Consider for a moment the state of chess without the largess provided by the latest patron, billionaire Rex Sinquefield. Rather than being held in the state of the art St. Louis Chess Club & Scholastic Center the US Championships may have been held in some room in a college, as has been the case previously. The STLCC&SC is an artificial construct. I mean that because St. Louis was never known as a hot-bed of chess in the way New York city was known to be a hot-bed of chess. The game of chess developed naturally in New York, San Francisco, and other cities without some fantastically wealthy individual building it so they would come. Please do not take me wrong; I am not saying this is a bad thing, just that it is a “thing.”

Chess is in a fight for its life in the marketplace. The common perception among adults is that chess is dead, and that it died when the computer program “defeated” human World Chess Champ Garry Kasparov. In order to survive chess has been “sold” as a wonderful game to help children “think.” Chess is a wonderful tool to help children learn how to think, but so are literature and math The game of Wei-Chi, popularly known as “Go” in the west, is also a wonderful game and in many ways it is better than chess because a computer program is not yet as strong as the best human players (I will discuss this in a planned future post). Go is exponentially more complicated than chess and it is much simpler to learn, with no “weird” moves such as castling or en passant. A draw in go is about as common as leap year. One of the major problems afflicting chess is non-serious games. It will be terribly difficult to explain the worth of a game in which he is asked to contribute after being shown a game such as the one played today in the British Championship:

Pert, Richard G – Pert, Nicholas
101st ch-GBR 2014 Aberystwyth WLS (8.2), 2014.07.27
1.e4 e5 ½-½

To those who may say they are related I say, “Go talk to Venus and Serena Williams.” To those who may say it is near the end of the Championship and they were tired I say, “It is only one game per day and the previous day was an OFF DAY!”

In reply to the post “Has Cheating Affected Chess?” my friend the Discman sent me an email in which he wrote, “Interesting discussion and on point. However, cheating isn’t the biggest problem facing chess. Computers have taken the mystery out of the game. GM’s used to be gods with almost super-natural powers. Now any schmo with a smartphone can figure out the best move. Technology and the public’s need for instant gratification have left chess behind. It is no longer relevant in the public consciousness. Yes, cheating and the potential of cheating are contributing factors, but not the root cause.”

Chris has hit the nail on the head. The Royal game no longer has mystique. Most adults without children consider chess an anachronism, much in the same way they think of the game of checkers, a hugely popular game once upon a time. Consider these comments, first from Ron Suarez on the USCF forum: “We have seen a big drop in adult participation and membership.” (http://www.uschess.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=23&t=20209&sid=98f50abff42e50fe2fc1e9553255a7cd)
Gary Maltzman wrote this on the NCAA forum: “Seems like some of the big NC Tournaments are on an attendance downswing.” (http://www.ncchess.org/Discussion/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=856&sid=4d93659f883d9f10934dba14bd4e056b)

These kinds of comments proliferate on the web these days.

I have no solution to offer other than those previously written. The chess world has to look toward those in positions of power, for better or worse. A quote attributed to Albert Einstein to mind: “The thinking it took to get us into this mess is not the same thinking that is going to get us out of it.”

Hollywood’s Chess Master

There is a TV Guide special edition of “American Icons” for sale at a price of $9.99 focusing on “100 Years of Our Nation’s Greatest Actor.” The choice of TV Guide is Humphrey Bogart. This point is debatable. Many consider Ronald Raygun the best actor of all-time simply because of the fact that of all the actors to have played the President of the U.S. he was the best at acting like a President. For my money the greatest was John Wilkes Booth, for obvious reasons. The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that Humphrey Bogart was “Hollywood’s Chess Master.” He is considered to be the strongest players of the Royal game among those in the know in the movie making industry. The magazine quotes Pete Tamburro, “…of Chess Life, the official magazine of the U.S. Chess Federation,” who says, “In the 1940s, chess was extraordinarily popular in Hollywood, and Bogart was one of the best players.”
The author of the article, James Ellis, continues, “For Bogart, chess was a constant companion throughout the course of his life. And it wasn’t just the game-it was a way of putting food on the table when he was down and out in New York.”
“He used to hustle for money,” Tamburro says. Bogart’s playing style could easily belong to one of the crafty and cunning private eyes from his noir films. “No matter how good you think you’re playing, he’s going to swindle you somehow,” Tamburro says. “It’d be like playing Rick in his cafe.” One of the pictures in the magazine is of Humphrey as Richard Blaine in his cafe, Rick’s Café Américain, looking at a chess board with Peter Lorre, as Ugarte, looking at Rick while lighting a cigarette.
I have lost count of the number of times I have watched the movie. Humphrey would have to be on my short list of favorite actors, but how much is because of my awareness of his fondness for the Royal game I cannot say. I can still watch it, but can no longer watch the two other movies on my top three list, “Cool Hand Luke,” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” because they are too depressing.
There are pictures of some postcards Bogart used in correspondence games “…with friends around the world, including GIs serving overseas in World War II.” There is a picture of the July, 1945 Chess Review with Bogie and Lauren Bacall on the cover, as well as Bogart’s chess set, a small wooden, well worn, board and over sized wooden pieces.
“More than just an avid player, Bogart threw himself into organizing tournaments to promote the sport. He served as a tournament director for the United States Chess federation and, with the help of other celebrity chess fans such as Basil Rathbone, sponsored the Los Angeles Pan American Chess Conference in 1945.”
“They were creative people, and creative people are fascinated by the game and its competitive nature,” Tamburro says.
The era of Bogie and Bacall is a relic of the past. How long before the Royal game is thought of in the same way?
“Key Largo”
Wrapped around each other
Trying so hard to stay warm
That first cold winter together
Lying in each others arms
Watching those old movies
Falling in love so desperately
Honey, I was your hero
And you were my leading lady

We had it all
Just like Bogie and Bacall
Starring in our old late, late show
Sailing away to Key Largo

Here’s lookin’ at you kid
Missing all the things we did
We can find it once again, I know
Just like they did in Key Largo

Honey, can’t you remember
We played all the parts
That sweet scene of surrender
When you gave me your heart
Please say you will
Play it again
‘Cause I love you still
Baby, this can’t be the end

We had it all
(We had it all)
Just like Bogie and Bacall
Starring in our old late, late show
Sailing away to Key Largo

Here’s lookin’ at you kid
(Here’s lookin’ at you kid)
Missing all the things we did
We can find it once again, I know
Just like they did in Key Largo

We had it all
(We had it all)
Just like Bogie and Bacall
Starring in our old late, late show
Sailing away to Key Largo

BERTIE HIGGINS- “KEY LARGO” (W/ LYRICS) – YouTube

“Released as a single in September 1981, the song became Higgins’ only Top 40 hit in the United States in early 1982, when it peaked at #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song spent 17 weeks in the Top 40 and was certified Gold by the RIAA.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Key_Largo_%28song%29