I've been following the world championship chess match being played in New York, which will finish tomorrow with short-duration tiebreak games.
The first world championship I followed was Fischer-Spassky in 1972. The differences between that match and this year's reflect not just changes in chess over the past 44 years but also changes in the world.
In 1972 the players wore suits; this year they're wearing suits with the logos of their sponsors on their sleeves.
In 1972, chess had not been analyzed to death. Nowadays top players stick to a smaller set of deeply analyzed opening lines (in current chess jargon: "theory"). There was greater variety in openings in the 1972 match and more lively play in general. World championship matches used to generate striking games that would be cherished for years, but I didn't see any such games this month. Yesterday's game was perhaps the quickest draw ever seen in world championship play (36 minutes) and one of the dullest.
In 1972, live coverage of the match featured expert commentary and analysis. Same in 2016 except that computers have joined in. People still enjoy following the games but it is now partly a matter of seeing whether the players find what machines deem the best moves at each turn.
The NY Times' coverage of this year's match has not been of high quality, which probably reflects the financial pressure newspapers are under nowadays. In the 1970s the Times had regular columns by grandmasters Robert Byrne and Samuel Reshevsky.
And yet the caliber of play has only improved. Players are attaining grandmaster status at ever‑younger ages. It reminds me of how many top‑notch pianists there are nowadays. Masha Gessen is right about (among other things) how institutions will fail to check an autocrat. News media are failing already. I was listening to BBC World Service this morning, their World Have Your Say programme, in which they were asking people how they felt about Melania Trump wanting to live in New York rather than move to the White House. For fuck's sake—we have a President‑elect who doesn't understand the office he's about to assume, who ran the most racist campaign since George Wallace (who I'm old enough to remember), who is naming appalling people to his cabinet, and who recently settled a lawsuit over his "university" which was a fraud from bark to core. And one of the world's premier news organizations is asking how we feel about where his wife wants to live. As John Cole put it, we are well and truly fucked. Hapless side-blotched lizard impaled on my Joshua tree, probably the handiwork of a loggerhead shrike (Lanius ludovicianus). Yesterday I wrote about the process of voting in the morning and about having a pleasant afternoon outdoors, with the unspoken expectation of settling in at home for a quiet evening watching Trump lose. There had been only a trickle of early poll results when I posted, not enough to give much of an indication of what was about to unfold. I was expecting to see him lose decisively, in line with recent poll results.
The stakes were high this year, and it felt satisfying to cast a vote sending a message to Trump about what I thought of his racism, dishonesty, poor judgment, contempt for law, denial of climate science, and so on. I was looking forward to being part of a majority of voters denying him the chance to cause great harm to the country and the world, but that's not how things went.
I of course have no regrets that I voted, but deep sadness that the public chose this person.
Now comes a test of maintaining equanimity in the face of dark times. I know people who stopped paying attention to current events a while ago and who say they're happy not knowing—but that's not how I want to live. The challenge now is to keep my eyes open even though the news is likely to be seriously demoralizing for quite some time. I was listening to radio coverage of the election results this evening until they played cheers from Trump Headquarters, at which point I turned it off. I imagine that once he's in office, I'll find his speech (tone and content) even more unpleasant than George Bush's was (which I considered pretty grim).
To the rest of the world: sorry about the poor judgment my fellow Americans exhibited in this election. I wish I could say it's an aberration and we'll improve but I don't know what plays out next.
Much more to say, but there'll be plenty of time to say it. I prefer voting in person rather than by mail. Pretty much every time I've voted I've been moved by the quality of the interaction between the volunteer staff and the voters. Not a lot of words are exchanged, but mutual respect and gratitude comes across in tone and facial expression: thank you for participating. Even today, at the culmination of the most demoralizing campaign season I've ever seen, I saw people attend to the process of voting with dignity and grace.
To vote in the morning and climb in the afternoon: a good day.
I read an essay on the web this morning reminding us all that the sun will rise tomorrow no matter what. Sure you can say that with words, but you can get the same sentiment by spending time in the company of a dog.
Sadie this afternoon, attending to what she sees as her responsibility whenever we're out climbing—watching out, and alerting us about anyone approaching who she doesn't recognize:
16 presidential elections ago.
My great-grandfather Otis at age 90.