Friday, June 29, 2007

The Miracle of a Life

Today my father-in-law Dominic Francese celebrates a significant milestone--his 80th birthday. Our family has been greatly blessed by his presence in our house for these past several years, so I'd like to honor him by publishing this tribute composed by my wife Linda. Enjoy!

I want to tell you all a story: the story of Domenico Antonio Pietro Francese. Born in 1927 of a marriage between a bold adventurer and a shy peasant girl (my grandparents Nicola Francese and Fortunata Pagano), he was raised in an Italian immigrant community in Poughkeepsie, NY. Domenico was a boy “made of tomatoes, olive oil, pork fat, and pasta,” as he is fond of saying--a hard-working carpenter’s son, with a quick mind and a sensitive nature. As a child he lived under a dark cloud of hard times and Old World superstitions. As a young man he struggled to prove his abilities and satisfy his intellect. His dream was to become a professional musician, but practical considerations got in the way. Nonetheless he played his trombone in bands throughout the Hudson Valley and in the local philharmonic for many years. In time, Domenico made his parents proud by attending college and becoming a skilled professional in the printing industry. At the office he was known as “The Professor” because of his probing mind and thoughtful ways; in fact he was the only one of his peers to have studied past high school.

One day, he was told of a beautiful, intelligent woman who was also college-educated. She worked at the same publishing company, but in the factory—a gifted Mexican immigrant with no hope of career advancement. Dominic became her Prince Charming; as she told us later, their honeymoon together in Washington, DC was a Cinderella’s dream. They joyfully became both parents and teachers of five children. Despite the financial difficulties of raising a large family, Dad provided more than enough to feed our dreams—dance and music lessons, and instruments of all types, including violins, pianos and electric keyboards, trumpets, flutes, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, percussion instruments, saxophone, French horn, clarinet, lots of sound equipment for my brothers’ rock band—and throw in some harmonicas. Then came college for all of us, graduate studies for three, and, oh yes, the weddings. As a widower Dad eventually came to live with us, and for many years now he has blessed our home with humor, wisdom, love and service.

I don’t suppose, Dad, that you have ever thought of your life as a miracle. But consider this:

  • From simple beginnings, your life has blossomed and borne fruit like Aaron’s staff. Your life has been an offering multiplied, like the loaves and fishes. Most importantly, your good works have caused many to rejoice and to give thanks to God.
  • You prepared your children for success at great personal sacrifice, and now our whole extended family is abundantly blessed.
  • You gave up your dream of a musical career for your family, and yet through your children, grandchildren and others you have mentored, you have given the world more music than you ever could have alone.
  • The good works of your life have been far-reaching; you have often been generous to the poor, you have been a father to the fatherless and a counselor to many troubled youth.
  • You never stood in the way of your daughter’s call to missions, even though it cost you a great deal in worry and the sadness of separation.

For all of these reasons and more, I see your life as one touched by the grace of God—truly a miracle. And I thank you, Dad--once again--for everything. Happy birthday!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Paul Truong Has a Question to Answer, However...

In my last post about Paul Truong, I explained how a 1986 Chess Life interview with Life Master Kenneth Clayton acted as confirmation of his Vietnamese chess career and national titles. Recently, however, USCF Issues participant "Theodulf" dug up strong evidence that Paul has, in the past, publicly claimed an academic honor that he does not possess.

By searching at the Internet Archive, Theodulf found a page that had been part of the site. This was the home site for AOL's paultruong user--which is most definitely Paul Truong, candidate for USCF Executive Board. We know this because Paul has publicly listed his paultruong AOL inbox as the place to contact him by email in his capacity as Polgar Committee chair. The page was archived 8 times between November 2001 and January 2005, and each time, the heading of the page is "Paul Truong, Ph.D."

The problem here is that Paul has never (as of this date) received a Ph.D. It is quite possible that he has pursued graduate studies with the goal of earning a Ph.D. However, I consider the possibility that a future USCF Executive Board member has at any time falsely claimed qualifications to be troubling. One important quality we desire in a leader is unquestioned integrity.

The heading of "Paul Truong, Ph.D" also shows up on a page that bills itself as the "Personal Chess Page of Paul Truong, Ph.D." While it is not impossible that the page could be a spoof, all the available evidence points in the direction of authenticity. The comments page shows that it has been in existence from September 2001 until today, and that lots of commentators have begun their messages "Hi Paul" or "FM Truong" and the like. Many comments speak of recent games played on internet chess sites with Truong:

Robert from Las Vegas:
"I have had a lot of great games with you, and i hope to have a lot more."

Chris "Blacksheep" Jones from Greenville, SC:
"Dr. Truong, I just wanted to thank you for challenging me to those lightning games on Monday. Many players of your strength would not bother with someone as low rated as me. "

John Panther D. from Pennsylvania:
"Hey Truong! its Panther from USChesslive!"

Of course, a mitigating factor is that Paul has never during his campaign for an Executive Board post claimed a Ph.D. Still....

As soon as I post this article, I am going to ask Paul to respond via a comment. I look forward either to convincing proof that he never authored the pages in question (although that appears to be highly unlikely, especially the AOL hometown page) or to an expression of deep apology. Either would restore my confidence in Paul's ability to provide capable leadership for the US Chess Federation.

Note: It is possible for site owners to ask the Internet Archive to remove their content from the Archive's database. It is also possible for whoever administers the site to alter it. Therefore, I have preserved images of the relevant pages below.

Training for the Last Transition

Recently I have come to the conclusion that I must stop frequenting the USCF Issues forum. There is nothing wrong per se with reading the discussions and occasionally (or in my case, often) jumping in. It's just that visiting the forum instead of putting my kids to bed or spending time with my wife or completing my work for the day is not a good thing. And forum participation has been supplanting the more important things far too often.

I have asked the forum administrator to revoke my access at his earliest convenience after midnight tonight. Telling him to do that has made me feel a bit like a hospice patient who has just asked the doctor to stop heroic measures so he can pass on from this life. There are so many interesting things going on in this world I've been in, and I'm not going to be able to learn about them or participate in them any more! I will be cut off from so many friends! I will lose work I've enjoyed doing! What's going to happen to me now?

When I think about my situation, though, I realize that the old is about to give way to something better. I very much look forward to taking more walks with Linda, to putting my kids to bed earlier, to wrapping up my work earlier. I might even blog more about life and religion, not just chess. It's a good change.

So this act of leaving an old world and entering a new one has been a kind of training for that last transition--when I'll be leaving this old world behind and heading on to my destiny with the elect, in God's presence.

Here's what I wrote in my farewell post to the USCF Issues forum:

"For the past week or so I've been trying to cut back on my time spent in the USCF Issues forum because I have other things in my life that should be getting more priority. Exercise. Relaxed dinners with my family. Helping Mike Nolan with USCF programming issues (to the extent that my contribution might help him). But like a moth drawn to a flame, or an alcoholic to a bottle, I just can't stay away. The only way I can see to deal with this is to ask Mike to revoke my access to this forum. Mike, please do so at your earliest convenience after midnight Friday evening (the interlude will allow me to go through my inbox and retain PMs from friends that I wish to keep).

"I initially considered just quietly walking off, but I didn't want anyone to speculate as to my motives.

"I want everyone to know that I have valued our interactions, even when we have disagreed. I have concluded that, basically, everyone who is participating in the forum has the best interest of the USCF in mind. As a result, we should view ourselves, and each other, as a community of USCF members who care about the well-being of our organization, and are interested in talking about it.

"Maintaining this perspective, however, can sometimes be difficult when participants use terms like 'Polgar supporters' and 'Polgar haters' or 'Polgaristas' or 'Sloan supporters' or 'Sloan haters,' and so on. This type of language implicitly divides our community into 2 groups:

* the reasonable and well-informed people who agree with me, and
* some other group of misguided souls who are not keeping the best interest of the organization in mind.

"If we allow ourselves to indulge in this kind of language, we are losing the battle to make ourselves a community of participants who can collaborate for good. Instead, we are selfishly turning the discussion into a battle to see who can win an argument. I cannot say that I have always and everywhere avoided this temptation, but I can say that I have tried very hard to avoid it.

"So suggestion #1 is:

"Do not use language (like "Polgar supporters" or "Polgar haters") that divides us into warring camps. Instead, use language that simply addresses the particular issue (and if necessary, individuals) at hand.

"I have also noticed that we often want to resume battles that we might have previously had with a fellow participant, should he or she disagree with us on another issue. "You always say XYZ" or "You're consistently rude" or "Joe Schmo keeps saying dumb things" are not constructive statements; they are invitations to combat. Such statements alienate us from one another.

"So suggestion #2 is:

"Don't deal with yesterday's faults today. Don't try to drag a previous conflict into today's discussion. Restrict yourself to the current issue. If you must address a continuing lack of manners or some other interpersonal conflict with someone, take the discussion offline by exchanging emails or PMs.

"Finally, I have been especially impressed by the genuine humility that Steve Owens and Harry Payne have demonstrated by openly apologizing for momentarily straying across the line of civility. They are setting an example for all of us. In addition, it is no sin to advance a viewpoint, and then to revise it based on the feedback and perspectives of others. If we are only trying to start and win arguments, then we have transformed ourselves from a community that cares about the USCF into a debating society.

"So my final suggestion is:

"Show some humility. If you momentarily lose your composure in the heat of argument, move toward reconciliation by apologizing. Value the perspectives of others, and acknowledge any contributions that influence your opinion.

"I hope that my circumstances might some day change so that I may rejoin this most interesting community. Until then, I wish you all Godspeed and great fruitfulness in your continuing endeavors."

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

1986 Chess Life Interview Confirms Truong's Early Career

While most of you were busy living productive lives, a storm was brewing in the USCF Issues forum over the legitimacy of candidate Paul Truong's claim to have won several Vietnamese national titles prior to his flight from that country at age 14. Since documentation from the period is hard to come by, some observers speculated that Paul was fabricating, or at least distorting, his Vietnamese chess career. (This is not to say that all questions are illegitimate, or that everyone who was asking the questions was doing so out of ill motive.)

This morning's blockbuster revelation is that in 1986, Chess Life Assistant Editor Randall Hough (yes, that Randy Hough, the sitting USCF Executive Board member) interviewed Life Master Kenneth Clayton about his encounters with Paul Truong in Saigon. According to the article,

At age eight, Paul won the closest thing that Vietnam had to a national championship by finishing behind only Clayton in a tournament at the sports club.

It appears that the Vietnamese members of Saigon's National Sports Center Chess Club considered the top finisher at a particular annual tournament to be their national champion. Clayton's account confirms what Paul stated elsewhere: he created an uproar on the Vietnamese chess scene by becoming their national champion at the age of 8. (Not that it was a big or important chess scene as the world of chess goes, of course.) Furthermore, I see no reason to question Paul's account of becoming national junior champ a few years earlier, and of retaining his title for 4 consecutive years following.

Some people are claiming that the lack of a formal Vietnamese sanctioning organization casts doubt on Paul's title claim. But I think we should view Paul's title in the light of other title claims in chess history. There was no formal world chess organization until 1924, but chess players everywhere consider Wilhelm Steinitz (1866-1894), Emmanuel Lasker (1894 - 1921) and Jose Capablanca (1921 - 1927) to be world champions. If you consider Steinitz, Lasker, and Capablanca to be world champions, why can you not consider Paul Truong to be a Vietnamese national champion?

If the South Vietnamese chess community saw fit to anoint the top finisher at one of their annual tournaments to be the national champion, I see no reason to dispute their view.

Friday, June 1, 2007

My Recommendations for the US Chess Federation Board

I thought I ought to go ahead and share my thinking on who the best 4 candidates for USCF Executive Board are.

1. Susan Polgar - Susan is an organizer par excellence of scholastic events. She has invested herself like no one else in the present and future success of the US women's chess program. She has been successful like no one else in getting sponsors for promising junior players. She brings unparalleled energy and ideas to the table.

2. Randy Bauer - Randy served as the budget director for the state of Iowa. He brings great expertise in aligning corporate structure with an organization's mission, and in managing budgets. He participates actively in the USCF Issues forum; he always listens well and speaks well.

3. Mikhail Korenman - Korenman did terrific work in Lindsborg, KS, by establishing the Karpov Chess School and staging a "Battle of the Genders" (Karpov vs. Polgar) as part of the Chess for Peace initiative. These activities generated $2 million in revenue for Kansas and a nice article in National Geographic. Korenman is intimately familiar with the scholastic chess community, and has some excellent ideas on how to strengthen scholastic chess.

4. Jim Berry - Jim and his twin brother Frank have invested a lot of money and energy into organizing some of the leading events for US chess professionals. Jim has enjoyed a successful career in financial services and serves on the board of an Oklahoma bank.

Paul Truong, Stephen Jones, Joe Lux, and Don Schultz would also do our organization proud if they are elected. I can only vote for 4, though, and I think that Polgar, Bauer, Korenman, and Berry are the best of the bunch.