As befits a group full of social maladjusts, the blogosphere has turned out some good stuff on the passing of E. Gary Gygax. Jason Sigger has a good round-up and a nice tribute here. Russell Arben Fox also has a nice remembrance. A friend forwarded this article from two years ago, written by Paul La Farge, who traveled to Lake Geneva in order to play D&D with Gygax. And of course Rich Burlew does characteristically good work here.
Tag: "i see dead people"
I can’t find a news report about it yet, but the buzz is that Gary Gygax, founder of Dungeons and Dragons, passed away this morning. I played my first game of D&D at the age of eight with the basic rule set, and in the twenty-five years since have played on and off throughout the evolution of the game. Gygax’ participation in the system was limited after 1985, but he will nonetheless be missed.
Here’s to the 20-sided die. Rest in peace, Gary.
William F. Buckley has shuffled off his mortal coil. For want of something useful to say, I’ll just link to this account of a conversation on a NRO cruise between Buckley and Norm Podhoretz, cited by Wolcott:
“Aren’t you embarrassed by the absence of these weapons?” Buckley snaps at Podhoretz. He has just explained that he supported the war reluctantly, because Dick Cheney convinced him that Saddam Hussein had WMD primed to be fired. “No,” Podhoretz replies. “As I say, they were shipped to Syria. During Gulf War One, the entire Iraqi air force was hidden in the deserts in Iran.” He says he is “heartbroken” by this “rise of defeatism on the right.” He adds, apropos of nothing, “There was nobody better than Don Rumsfeld. This defeatist talk only contributes to the impression we are losing, when I think we are winning.”
The audience cheers Podhoretz. The nuanced doubts of Bill Buckley leave them confused. Doesn’t he sound like the liberal media? Later, over dinner, a tablemate from Denver calls Buckley “a coward.” His wife nods and says, “Buckley’s an old man,” tapping her head with her finger to suggest dementia.
…Rick Perlstein offers some words of remembrance.
…Media Czech compares Buckley to John Shaft.
In Lexington, Kentucky, somebody coughed up $17,000 on Friday night for what were supposed to be four strands of George Washington’s hair.
Christa Allen, a Colorado woman who once lived in Owsley County, sold them. Allen said she got the hair, which was pressed under glass in a locket and accompanied by a watch, from her father, a Philadelphia attorney.
Jamie Bates, owner of Thompson & Riley, which auctioned the hair, had hoped the auction would bring at least $75,000.
“I’ve never sold George Washington’s hair before; I don’t know,” Bates said before the auction.
Allen told potential buyers how the hair was handed down from person to person since it was clipped from Washington. The Historical Society of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, looked at Allen’s evidence and gave her its backing.
Eric James, president of The James Preservation Trust, discussed the chain of ownership of the hairs from the time Washington was briefly disinterred and his hair snipped in 1837.
I’m sure there’s all kinds of strange presidential refuse floating around among collectors — fingernails, used handkerchiefs, tiny jars of urine and such — but what I can’t for the life of me figure out is why GW’s casket would have been uncorked in 1837. This isn’t the sort of information that usually appears in presidential biographies, and ten minutes or so with Google have failed to turn up anything even remotely suggestive of an answer.
. . . John in comments spends eleven minutes with Google and discovers the reason for Washington’s bizarre resurfacing in 1837. The official explanation was that his tomb was “rapidly going to decay.” The real reason, as I’m sure everyone would suspect, was that the Whigs were hoping to reanimate him in time for the 1840 election. As it turned out, the party instead got William Henry Harrison, who croaked after a few dozen days in office. The stuffed and electrified corpse of George Washington, disgruntled Whigs were known to claim, would have performed at least as well.
Another argument for the existence of Hell.
Conservatives are prone to all sorts of uncontrolled yapping about the “Asian bloodbath” that followed the American loss in Vietnam. The bogosity of those claims need not detain us here, except to point out that they almost universally fail to mention one post-Vietnam bloodbath for which the United States was directly accountable — the 1975 invasion and occupation of East Timor, which the Ford administration green-lighted and subsequent US presidents endorsed with arms and silence. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of Indonesians his government disposed of, upwards of 200,000 East Timorese people died to protect, among other things, the “reputation” of the U.S. in Southeast Asia.
By the time I started playing, Bobby Fischer was long gone from the American chess scene. We know today that he was still around, giving the occasional interview or lesson, but before the internet it was remarkably difficult to track such appearances, and it seemed to almost everyone that he had simply vanished from the face of the earth. Of course, just because he was gone didn’t mean that he was gone; his ghost hovered over the game of chess, both for the public-at-large and for the serious player. For the public, he was the only recognizable American chess player, and his life lent an aura of the bizarre to what really wasn’t all that bizarre of a game. For the serious player Fischer was a bit more difficult, because the absence of the greatest player meant that the rest of what was going on in American chess felt like kind of a sideshow. People wondered what would happen when He returned, and what it would mean for chess if He never returned, and about what He meant for the game, and so forth and so on.
I started playing chess “seriously” in the 10th grade. I played for the Oregon City High School chess team, but also in various tournaments around Portland and in a couple of the local chess clubs. The questions about Fischer had, in an important sense, played themselves out by 1990. The larger world of chess was represented by the 1990 Karpov-Kasparov match, which had its own post-Cold War overtones. While I cheered for Kasparov, I felt that my style of play more closely matched Karpov, to the extent that it makes sense to think about similarities between the game of a grandmaster and a D level player. Fischer was always around, though. A few times each year we’d have a conversation about Fischer during chess practice, wondering where he was, what he was doing, and whether or not he could beat Kasparov. I believed that he could; Kasparov had come to prominence in the absence of the best player that the world had ever seen, and thus his success was suspect. All of the American champions, too, seemed to be playing for runner up, second to the ghost of Fischer. In any case, I had enough talent and patience to rise to low class C, which made me by far the best player in my high school and in the top ten of state high school players. If I had committed myself to chess I might eventually have gotten to class A, just below Expert but far short of Master, but it was enough simply to be the best at OCHS and to be competitive on a state level.
What chess did for me was help to achieve a certain level of notoriety, to set me apart from the common nerd, and to get my name in the announcements now and again. None of these are particularly laudable goals, but they meant a lot at age 16. To this goal, Fischer was a better model than either Karpov or Kasparov. Karpov and Kasparov have very different personalities (and political outlooks) from one another, but are both notable for being, in their own ways, quite normal. They both belie the notion that there’s a connection between the chess and the crazy; this belief appears, largely but not entirely because of Fischer, to be particularly American. But of course, to the nerd seeking notoriety, Karpov and Kasparov were entirely useless. If I could have been normal and cool and good at chess I would have been, but this was simply not to be. Fischer was a much more compelling role model for a young man who made the terrible mistake of putting chess at the front of his social resume. Now, this isn’t to say that I threatened to drop out, or started doing poorly in classes, or started dressing like Fischer, but I did learn as much about his life as I could (remember again that this was pre-internet), became familiar with the “where is he now?” debates, and developed a capability for holding forth on the question of whether he could beat Kasparov. I also took a certain pleasure in noting that Bobby and I shared initials.
Of course, high school ends and no one wants to start school at a big state university with “chess nerd” as his primary identity. But then Fischer came back, a month before classes were supposed to start, and I felt I owed him something. Fall 1992 was my first semester at the University of Oregon, and the second class on my first day was Political Science 225: Political Ideologies. While the listed professor was George Zaninovich, it was actually taught by a graduate student named Joshua Gold. It appears that he now works at Salt Lake Community College; if you have a chance, take a course from him. It was reasonably demanding for a freshman/sophomore course, as in addition to the Ball and Dagger Political Ideologies Gold also assigned Berger and Luckmann’s The Social Construction of Reality, and Carol Pateman’s Participation and Democratic Theory. The course ended with a novel assignment; produce your own internally coherent political ideology. I wrote a paper called “Chess as Ideology”; it was written as a Trotsky-esque recapitulation of a revolution led by Bobby Fischer that overthrew the government of New Zealand and established a society based on chess. The ideology wasn’t terribly attractive, as it could best be described as internally oriented fascism with a substantial dose of Indian caste system. That made some sense, though, as it was becoming clear by that point that Bobby hadn’t come back quite right. As I mentioned the internet was in its infancy, so news of Fischer’s behavior during the 1980s and even during the 1992 match with Spassky was pretty limited, but it still seemed that he was more than a little off.
After that I left chess behind. I watched a couple films that featured Fischer, including the remarkably powerful Fresh, and the awfully bad Searching for Bobby Fischer, and vaguely followed his career, but as the chess connection waned I came to evaluate him on his merits as a celebrity. I didn’t take any joy in his difficulties, but didn’t feel that they were particularly undeserved. What bothered me most, I suppose, was his contempt for Garry Kasparov. Kasparov may have been a product of the same Soviet chess system that Fischer legitimately deplored, but he is now and was then both an admirable figure and a fantastic chess player. To attack Kasparov, it seemed to me, both denigrated the game and foreclosed the possibilities that it had produced. Kasparov, in short, was an amazing former world chess champion, while Fischer was a waste of oxygen.
On the whole “crazy” thing, I really don’t know what to think about Fischer’s mental state. It has become clear enough that whatever issues he had after the return were simply amplifications of issues that had been present before 1972, and not behavior qualitatively different. While on one hand I kind of want to believe that he was suffering from some kind of mental illness, I’m also wary of diagnosing mental illness from political belief. It’s possible that he was just a pretty awful human being, in the way that lots of people are awful human beings, although perhaps in a way that was enhanced by his particular celebrity and experience.
So, I feel like I should mourn Bobby Fischer, but I’m not sure how. Unlike Chris, I can’t mourn the Fischer of 1972, because I never experienced that. Fischer to me was a ghost, but an important and meaningful ghost. I can’t excuse the late Fischer in favor of the young, because all the bad that was present in the late was also there in the young. I can mourn the ghost, but I feel kind of bad about that because it seems to celebrate Fischer’s death (his return to “ghost” status) more than remember it. And so I find myself in a bit of a quandry regarding Bobby.
Still, I can say that there are very few to whom I can more sincerely say “Rest in Peace,” than Bobby Fischer.
Anyhow, the Axis’ namesake passed away today, setting a dark cloud over Clay Aiken’s 29th birthday while commemorating the release of a Michael Jackson album titled, appropriately enough, Thriller.
I suppose Hyde will be remembered best for enabling the federal government to arbitrarily punish poor women for choices of which it did not approve, thus protecting the lives of fetuses who — once born — his party preferred to cast into the wind.
Rob has already mentioned the untimely passing of Sean Taylor; hopefully those who shot him will be brought to justice. And although he’s a less prominent athlete, I should also note the death of Joe Kennedy. Most baseball fans have some sore-armed veteran trying to gut out a career that the root for, and Kennedy was always one of mine. Although I watch most games from the cheap seats, once or twice a year I would buy a really nice ticket, and in 2002 it happens that I saw a fantastic pitcher’s duel between Kennedy and Jamie Moyer from right behind home plate. Kennedy won 1-0 with a 4-hitter, and his stuff was very impressive (although admittedly pitching against Moyer probably makes your heater look better.) He was never the same after he hurt his arm the next year, but I always hoped he’d figure something out and stay in the league. R.I.P.
"All over the ship, all through the convoy, there was a knowledge that in a few hours some of them were going to be dead."
Between his misogyny and authenticity-obsessed nutty politics — whatever one thinks of the aesthetic quality of the work, I would avoid a first date with a guy who wants to meet you by leaving a note in An American Dream — Mailer was an anachronism. But he was also an anachronism whose best work — especially Miami and the Siege of Chicago and Armies of the Night and The Executioner’s Song — I’ve been drawn back to recently and holds up surprisingly well. I’m sure this will compel me to pull The Time of Our Times off the shelf and see how often I can be pleasantly surprised as well as infuriated or baffled.