I've been trying to learn chess. A close friend with whom I share a competitive streak is an enthusiastic chess player, and this made me decide that I would learn chess secretly, then finally challenge him to a game and annihilate him, emerging as Queen of the Chess People and probably going on to international fame and fortune.
You will be shocked to find out that this did not go quite to plan.
Our first game didn't go catastrophically considering my super-beginner starting point, but needless to say I lost more or less immediately and have continued to do so both online and in person, and a week or so ago, he informed me he'd just won his 1500th game on a particular app. He'd probably want me to also point out that he has lots of losses, too (he is trying to sell me on the Losing is Part of the Process concept, which is true but also infuriating), but the guy's win percentage is 0.648 and 1500 wins is impressive so really, who cares about his losing? My online loss percentage is 0.777 and even that's ridiculous and actually more like 0.977 because most of the "wins" in my stats are timeouts from opponents - I've won one game fair and square. Queen of the Chess People indeed.
Anyway, this whole chess business is a challenge because while I learned some basic stuff about movement and object when I was younger, I know next to nothing about tactics and actual strategy and I have been learning slowly. One of the most helpful things this friend has gotten me into the habit of doing is to look at the opponent's move and figure out what they're up to first, before deciding what to do. This has not yet brought me to a place where I always make the right move as a result, but at least the thought process is the correct one. Sometimes when you look at the move, you see that you must deal with the resulting position immediately, and sometimes you look at it and see that you have a little bit of time. I have developed a bad habit of talking to myself when I'm playing online, and I often respond to moves that allow time with "...but so what?"
That's kind of how I feel about a lot of polling and particularly about the GOP debates going on these days. "...But so what?" There is so much ink being spilled over the various debates and who said what and all this stuff, and I think we probably should be talking about the content of what the candidates are saying, but there's a whole other layer of bullshit over the top of this that drives me right up the wall, and that layer is comprised of polls and commentary. There is so much focus on how these people would fare against Obama, and let's start there...it is still 2011. The election is in November of 2012. There is absolutely no telling what could happen in the interim - there could be more natural disasters, there could be another financial meltdown, the Euro could collapse, etc. - and any major event could dramatically change Obama and any opponent's chances. Moreover, not a single GOP candidate has any kind of solid platform that the public is clear on at this point. While they all have positions and such, the debates thus far have basically been extended Two Minute Hates on Obama and his various policies (and I'll leave it to you to decide what other groups have received some of said Hate), and little has been articulated about how they would do otherwise. It's a beauty contest at this point, so of course people are going to rank GOP candidates higher than Obama - Obama has an actual Presidential track record, and these people are speaking in glittering generalities. So I don't care about how [Insert Candidate Here] is polling against Obama, because it is September of 2011 and they haven't even articulated positions yet.
Beyond that complaint, I feel like we need serious discussion about where this country is and will be, and the coverage of these debates along with the incessant polling and bullshit is making that impossible. I've been down in the trenches, and I've been That Campaign Worker and That Staffer who knew all the numbers all the time. I know how easy it is to get sucked into that and to continually fidget with poll data without prejudice - "well, the poll says." "Yeah but it's about how people with pets vote on Wednesdays in June." "Yeah but it says."- but it really is distracting and foolish. Focusing on polls and pole position and all of this stuff makes the debates and the campaign at large about the election qua the election, not about the Presidency or Congress that will follow nor about need to select the best possible candidate on the basis of policy proposals. It turns into a story about one freaking day and it's this kind of thinking that has given us the shallow, ignorant politics that currently has most of the country infuriated.
This brings me back to chess. I've been reading commentary on last night's debate, and at a certain point I just sat back and thought "...but so what?" None of this matters, really. Last night was basically Mitt Romney and Rick Perry swapping jabs that were based on comparisons to liberals years out of public office. I mean seriously...Al Gore Internet jokes? Michael Dukakis slams? Is it late night TV in 1988? Oh and lots of "Obama is a poophead" level stuff, which...we know, okay? You don't like Obama. Noted. Fine. How about specific reasons for that? No? You'd rather stick with "[that policy I don't like] is bad." Get the hell out of here. This is a time for serious people willing to engage in serious debate with all Americans (and I direct this at Obama as well, whose communication with the American people has been massively problematic), not for juvenile sniping. So although I know I'm many people's "Political Friend" representative, I'm not watching this stuff, because I don't have to deal with the move right now....it's just one big "...but so what?"