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A Mash-up of Dworkin & Fifty Shades (Free Pussy Riot) August 21, 2012

Posted by Administrator in : books,feminism,politics , add a comment

I awoke on Friday, August 17th to a photo of the greatest chess player in history, Garry Kasparov, restrained by three police outside the Pussy Riot trial in Moscow (Photo by Olaf Koens). Pussy Riot, a punk rock feminist band, were given two years for singing an anti-Putin song inside a church. I was surprised by how angry the verdict and the images and video of Kasparov made me feel. It made a lot of people feel that way. Kasparov was released later that day, but is being charged for “biting” an officer, which Kasparov vehemently denies.

When I was a kid first reading about Kasparov, I was inspired by his moves and life but irked by chauvinistic explanations for women’s relative lack of success in the chess world: “A women’s train of thought can be broken more easily by extraneous events, such as a baby crying upstairs.” When I met him in 2005, he was already turning a corner–he told me that to promote chess in America, it was critical to address the feminist concern over segregated women’s tournaments. And now, he fights heroically alongside a feminist group with a common goal to unseat Putin.

Poster by artist Molly Crabapple

In Vice Magazine, Pussy Riot sited radical feminist and vocal anti-porn activist Andrea Dworkin (1946-2005) as an influence. They channel Dworkin in explaining their name: “A female sex organ, which is supposed to be receiving and shapeless, suddenly starts a radical rebellion against the cultural order.”

Dworkin is too often reduced as the obese feminist in overalls who thought that all sex was rape. Though I don’t believe any serious reader of her work could come to that conclusion, I don’t align myself with Dworkin’s anti-porn stance. If anything, I’m more enamored than ever of beautiful female surfaces from photography to fashion, like the work and erotic portraiture of “MissKacieMarie.” I worked with Kacie on several projects, including X Chess and Cinderella. My own vanity is evident in my aggressive promotion of only the most flattering photographs of myself. As I joked on twitter, I ask myself often: “At what point does a vain American woman stop trying to look hot, and just try to look rich?” Also see my earlier post on poker, art and the passage of time.

Beyond “pro-sex” and “anti-sex”, I’m entranced by Dworkin’s writing and feel a compulsion to share it with you guys. So after re-reading Dworkin’s artful book Intercourse, I did a literary mash-up of it with the poorly written but hot best-seller, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L James.

Dworkin is the most masterfully rhythmic writer I’ve ever read–that rhythm is seductive, and sexy, even if she challenges sex itself. In contrast, the trite writing and simplistic character sketches in Fifty Shades of Grey make some of the pornographic scenes cartoonish, like a strip club with flourescent lighting and no music or alcohol.

Fifty Shades in italics, Dworkin in bold italics

Sometimes the skin comes off in sex. The people merge, skinless. The body loses its boundaries. We are each in these separate bodies; and then, with someone and not with someone else, the skin dissolves altogether; and what touches is unspeakably, grotesquely visceral, not inside language or conceptualization, not inside time; raw, blood and fat and muscle and bone, unmediated by form or formal limits.

“There’s a very fine line between pleasure and pain, Anastasia. They are two sides of the same coin, one not existing without the other. I can show you how pleasurable pain can be. Again, it comes down to trust….Do you trust me, Ana?”

“My heart was open to you,” says a man obsessively in love in the Face of Another by Kobo Abe, “quite as if the front of it had been sliced away.” This skinless sex is a fever, but fever is too small. It is obsession, but obsession is too psychological. It becomes life, and as such, it is a state of being, a metaphysical reality for those in it, for whom no one else exists. It ends when the skin comes back into being as a boundary.

His skin is so smooth and velvety….and hard….hmmm, what a delicious combination. “Stop Ana, stop. I don’t want to come.” I sit up…..My inner goddess looks like someone snatched her ice cream.

Inside a person, sexual desire-or need or compulsion is sometimes experienced as a stigma, as if it marks the person, as if it can be seen; a great aura emanating from inside; an interior play of light and shadow, vitality and death, wanting and being used up; an identifying mark that is indelible; a badge of desire or experience; a sign that differentiates the individual carrying it, both attracting and repelling others, in the end isolating the marked one, who is destroyed by the intensity and ultimate hopelessness of a sexual calling.

My inner goddess frowns at me. You can do this, she coaxes—play this sex god at his own game….picking up a spear of asparagus, I gaze at him and bit my lip. Then very slowly put the tip of my cold asparagus in my mouth and suck it.

Am I saying that I know more than men about fucking? Yes, I am. Not just different: more and better, deeper and wider, the way anyone used knows the user.

“Christian. You use sex as a weapon. It really isn’t fair”…He raises his eyebrows surprised and I see he’s considering my words.

Sexual Intercourse is not intrinsically banal, though pop culture magazine like Esquire and Cosmopolitan would suggest that it is. It is intense, often desperate. The internal landscape is violent upheaval, a wild and ultimately cruel disregard of human individuality, a brazen, high-strung wanting that is absolute and imperishable, not attached to personality, no respecter of boundaries; ending not in sexual climax but in a human tragedy of failed relationships, vengeful bitterness in an aftermath of sexual heat, personality corroded by too much endurance of undesired, habitual intercourse, conflict, a wearing away of vitality in the numbness finally of habit or compulsion or the loneliness of separation.

I don’t even know how to categorize him. If I do this thing…..will he be my boyfriend?…The truth is I don’t think he will.

Having an interior life of wanting, needing, gives fucking human meaning in a human context. Being stigmatized by sex is being marked by its meaning in a human life of loneliness and imperfection, where some pain is indelible.

I did follow my heart, and I have a sore ass and an anguished, broken spirit to show for it.

In Amerika, there is the nearly universal conviction or so it appears- that sex (fucking) is good and that liking it is right: morally right; a sign of human health; nearly a standard for citizenship.

But I’m not sure I have the stomach to be his submissive—deep down, it’s the canes and whips that put me off.

In fucking, one’s insides are on the line; and the fragile and unique intimacy of going for broke makes communion possible, in human reach—not transcendental and otherworldy, but an experience in flesh and love.

“You are not buying me a car.”
He glowers at me, his jaw tense.
“We’ll see,” he says tightly.

And crossing on that high and rotting and shaking bridge to identity, with whatever degree or quality of fear or courage is the ordeal that makes empathy possible: not a false sympathy of abstract self-indulgence, a liberal condescension, but a way of seeing others for what they are by seeing what their own lives have cost them.

Brave Iranian Women June 22, 2009

Posted by Jennifer in : chess,feminism,politics , add a comment
The top two women chessplayers in Iran, Shadi Paridar and Atousa Pourkashiyan

I had a dream last night that I was in Iran and that I left my building without wearing hijab. I felt terrified that I would be caught so I ran around and found a pair of leggings to cover my hair. The dream reminded me  I am lucky to have the right to vote, protest, or to wear whatever sort of nail polish I desire, but as a feminist I am connected to those who don’t have the same privileges.

I am moved by the courage of Iranian women who are protesting at the risk of beatings, and even death.

I wonder about the Iranian women’s chess team and Shadi Paridar, who I profiled in Chess Bitch in the chapter "Checkmate Around the World."  

Chess is one of the few sports in which Iranian women can compete abroad… (because) wearing hijab is not an impediment to play. When I ask Shadi if she likes wearing hijab, she bursts into…laugher and makes faces at me….When she finally calms down she says sarcastically, "Oh I just love it. I feel like such a star in this outfit. People look at me and know I am from Iran." Then she raises her eyebrows and informs me, "I am very bad at wearing hijab."

I also wonder about the members of the Iranian team who we hung out with in China (Shadi was not there). The Iranians were very strong in China- the men beat the American men in the bronze medal playoffs for the rapid teams and Atousa Pourkashiyan, rated just over 2200 at the time, went on a rampage to defeat a number of WGMs and IMs. Iranian arbiter, Mehrad Pahlevanzadeh who now lives in United Arab Emirates, literally gave me the vest off his back when I suggested that my father would probably love it as a souvenir from the Mind Sport Games. Mehrad also wrote a very smart article on chessbase.com about how if we want to make chess more popular, it is important to play till checkmate.

I hope that Shadi, Atousa, Elshan etc. are all safe and that the revolution will end in a way that’s positive for the Iranian people. And who knows, maybe the next time we meet the Iranian women’s chess team, they will be wearing different outfits.

Recently, I reviewed Shadi Paridar’s games while mining for material for an upcoming 9queens workbook filled with combinations of top women players. You can read a little more about the workbook here. Here’s a puzzle from one of Shadi’s games.   I will publish the answer as a comment to this blog post.  


White to Move


A week on Broad Street November 8, 2008

Posted by Jennifer in : politics , 6 comments

I will remember November 4, 11 PM, 2008 for the rest of my life, and I have the photos to remind me of the details. 

After watching the election results come in at a party in Fairmount, I walked down the Parkway, which was was disappointingly quiet with just occasional "wooooo"’s in the distance. Tens of thousands of Philadelphians had taken the day off on Halloween to celebrate the Phillies World Series victory but where was the Obama Love? As I approached Broad Street, it became clear that Philly was ready to do it up again, in  the same street. Thousands of Obamafans took over both sides of the street, with cops lining the intersections. The party was still on when I left at 1 AM, and although it was boisterous and passionate, there were few signs of alcohol or belligerence.  It was a wonderful experience to see strangers hugging and kissing each other, and people who had probably never considered themselves patriotic wrapping themselves in and waving in the air American flags.

Combined with my joy was a measure of caution during the Halloween, Phillies and Obama celebrations. My negative side wonders, will this be the best week ever for Philadelphia? Will Obama live up to his promise?  I think that even if Obama does not prove to be a great president, the patriotism and connection that he engendered in so many millions of America will remain. Obama did not so much create new love for America as unearth it…. I definitely feel like a different person, more connected and curious about the future. 

Because my last photo quiz was criticized for being too difficult, I present a very easy challenge. Which of the following photos were from the November 4 midnight celebration on Broad Street, and which were from the October 31 Phillies celebration?

Me on Broad Street
Celebrating on buses and on roofs
Thousands celebrated with City Hall in the distance
A hand and a helicopter

An ecstatic week for me!
A Strong Middle Class would definitely come in handy during what looks to be shaping up to be the "D-Word"
In a busy week for Philly cops, women could feel uh...safe, with this guy around.
Dancing on cars to celebrate Obama's win.
Working his way to the front of the crowd


Greg Shahade and Susan Lin


One of many celebratory embraces
A cardboard Obama joins the celebration!

 The last photo was taken just minutes after 11  PM, Nov.4 with author and letter writer Samara O’Shea. We were at a party with delicious blue cupcakes, and upon arrival I vowed to indulge only when Obama was declared #44, but of course I resisted temptation for about… 44 seconds. I felt a lot better when I read an interview with a cake artist in Buffalo who sketched our president elect with 1240 cupcakes. Clearly, Obama had all the cupcake karma he needed.

Obama Plays Chess Against McCain September 23, 2008

Posted by Jennifer in : chess,politics , add a comment

Four years ago, GM Pascal Charbonneau, John Fernandez and I created a fictional chess game between John Kerry and George W. Bush. Here we go again…

September Surprise!  Instead of tonight’s scheduled debate, Barack Obama and John McCain will face off in a chess game. And what a match up it will be! Barack Obama just defeated an overly aggressive World Women’s Champion.  McCain lost his last World Championship Candidates match to a two-time champ consumed by fears of exploding rooks, but just made his comeback against a bishop-obsessed candidate. McCain’s greatest strength is fighting spirit: No one can stop talking about how he defended a pawn down rook endgame for seven years straight. Critics of Obama site his lack of experience on the international circuit, but his talent is indisputable. We have over 225 million opinions on the relative strengths of Obama and McCain, but tonight, chess seems a more appropriate decider than democrazy.

 Barack Obama- John McCain

I am Barack Obama and I am the future winner of this game. I stand on the shoulders of my great American Chess predecessors who favored 1.e4. Who would have thought that a young boy from Brooklyn, without any ties to the Russian chess elite, brought up by a single Jewish mother would one day stand in front of the American public as World Champion? And that 150 years before the levees broke, a self-taught New Orleans genius would claim the first unofficial World Championship? But on the other side of American triumph is American tragedy. Paul Morphy went crazy and died alone in his bathtub while Bobby Fischer was exiled from America for tax evasion and became a raving Anti-American and Anti-Semite. Too many on the fringes of our society, the sick and mentally ill as well as the brilliant are promoted as strong pawns on the top of their game but discarded as isolanis when past their prime. Under my presidency, no pawn will be left behind, and in contrast to my not so great predecessor, I am not talking about more standardized tests, underpaid teachers and uninsured children. I want to help pawns before they even arrive at the board. We’re not talking under-promotion, we’re talking pre-promotion. With 1.e4, I promise you  I will not let America down.

With his first move, the popular 1.e4, Obama takes immediate initiative.

1…. c6

I am John McCain, and I am the future winner of this game. I will restore economic vitality to this country so that all pawns will have a merry Christmas. Meanwhile, my opponent has made one move, but said 100 words. Typical of a man who owns all of Dvoretsky’s books but hasn’t solved any problems.  For my first move, can you expect me to play any other opening than the Maverick Variation of the Sicilian? Oops, I played the Caro. My eyesight is not what it used to be. (McCain excuses himself and returns) Gata Kamsky plays the Caro Kann, so with 1…c6 I profess my undying support for America’s troops. If you currently support Obama, I urge you to consider the Iranian Attack. Unlike my passive opponent, I have an immediate tactical refutation.

Obama: I don’t need to play with a queen. This may be the most important decision of the game, but I’m going to replace the most powerful piece on the board- with another rook, a talkative straight shooter who won’t try any sneaky moves on me after we win the game. (Barack takes his queen away, and replaces it with a rook on d1.)

In a startling move 2 play, Barack seizes the center but gives up his queen for a rook.

John McCain highlights Obama's early queen sack with a queen move of his own, Qa5 check.


McCain: The difference between pushing pawns and moving your queen is that a queen has actual responsibilities.
3. c3
McCain: Under a McCain presidency, every pawn will be powered at the rate of $2.22 a square. And not only that, the standing on a square tax will be reduced for all Americans.

Position after 3...e5

Obama: Pawns should pay no more than $2.21 to push a square, and only the king and queen should pay more for square rental. The people of America can’t afford more expenses at this time of crisis, but we do need to rollback some of the cuts that allow the top 1% gold encrusted borders.
McCain: Did you hear what he just said? Obama wants to raise taxes on  hard-working Americans!
Obama: I think you need to work on your hearing as well as your eyesight, Senator McCain.
5.Bxf4 Ke7 6.Bd6+
McCain: After abandoning your bishops and Jeremiahs, what will you do next? Pray five times a day that you’ll beat me?   

Position after 6...Kxd6

Obama: This is a tight race and I think it’s high time I follow the textbook advice, "invite everyone to the party", including my g1 knight. We once had disagreements, in fact, some said that  the king’s knight and I were dividing the party. But now, we must pull together. KNO McCain, KNO How.
7.Nf3 Na6 8.Bc4 Ne7 9.0-0 b5 10.Bb3 Nc7 
Obama:   I’d like to thank my opponent for a tough fight. Moreover, I’d like to recognize all 305 million pawns including those who are too young to vote, incarcerated or even voted against me.  Without you, I’d never be able to say this: Checkmate, John McCain.

The final position, in which McCain finds himself checkmated by a pawn.


Also see my Chess Life Online post where I solicit more fictional games, and Jonathan Rowson’s take on Elizabeth Vicary’s blog.

What Eggers and Obama Have in Common April 30, 2008

Posted by Jennifer in : books,politics , add a comment

I went to preschool at Trinity Church, the same place in which I voted for Hillary Clinton last week. Memories of forced naps and bananas swirled as I realized that I was still torn. My final choice was not only based on colorful blazers and gender; more importantly, I like Hillary’s chances against the vicious attacks that the Republicans will unleash against either candidate. I love Obama’s writing style and his ability to inspire and shake out apathy— I even have some regrets about casting my ballot for H.C. I still believe in my logic, but I worry that I’ve become part of the problem, the divisiveness that is dragging this race out, and will make it harder for either candidate to win against McCain.

To console myself, I thought about the positive side of the long drag. Perhaps the proximity of the result to the actual ballot-casting will allow the interest in the race to peak in the summer, and simmer until election day in November.

So, what do Barack Obama and Dave Eggers have in common? They both have terrible book titles. I know this is an easy criticism to mock, since both have written big bestsellers, but seriously, Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope? In a title-only book contest, those would be low on my list. I love Obama’s writing, but I hope he consults me on title #3.

 I resisted reading Eggers for years because of the annoying title, Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius and then also rejected What is the What? which sounds like a book that you can only read if you’re really smart. To me, that’s pretentious titling and also absurd, since the book is an accessible and soul-searing memoir of a boy’s walk through war-torn Sudan, and his eventual immigration to America.

I gave into What is the What?, because it was selected as the "One Book, One Philadelphia." I enjoyed it more than any book I’ve read this year. It’s beautifully written, brilliantly structured and the ending is sublime. The next book I read was of course, Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius, which was also great for the first 100-150 pages, but then became virtually unreadable in its self-obsessiveness. In his debut, Eggers failed to solve the problem of keeping first person narration interesting for 400+ pages, but in What is the What, he solved it in a brilliant way: although the narrative voice is always Valentino Achak Deng’s, the audience shifts. In one chapter, Deng directs his writing to his pious upstairs neighbors, and in the next, it’s a jogger that he checks in at the gym he works at.
After voting, I ate a Calamari Caesar salad (as good as it sounds) and gave up on Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius. On my way home, I ran into a black man, who was pushing a cart with a limp. He may have been homeless. He asked me "What is that, auburn hair?" I told him I’d call it red, and we both agreed that regardless of nomenclature, it was a great color. This type of exchange has become typical for me in the past few weeks: the number of black men who have hit on me since going redhead has gone through the roof, while white men flirt with me the same amount, maybe even less. For instance, today at the 7-11 I got: "I want to have a redheaded baby."


I asked the man on the street if he had voted yet, and he told me not yet, but that he was on his way to the polls. He looked at me, and said, "you’re voting for Hillary right?",  an annoying question because he was right but how did he know?  I avoided the question, and asked who he voted for. He said "Obama" and I said, "yeah, he’s great, good choice." So I wished him well and walked off but he asked louder, "So who did you vote for?" I waffled again and said, "Both good choices." When I was already on the other side of the street he shouted the question one more time. I didn’t want to admit to a probably homeless and definitely poor black man that I voted for H.C. But I couldn’t lie and could no longer escape his inquiry. I was already across the street when I finally yelled: "Hillary." Before walking away, he told me: "Good choice too."