Monday, October 30, 2006


Things come in threes perhaps as often as in fours, and almost certainly more than they come in fives or sixes. Just the other day, someone proposed that we should look closely at the proposition, "This House believes that scholars should be officers and gentlemen." My immediate response was that this triad should be looked at very carefully to see if it were a true triad.

My next response was a little unusual. I have quoted Jeremiah 9:23-24 before many times, but what struck me this time was how complete it was as an answer to the idea that these three things should be one. The text in full reads:

23 This is what the LORD says:
"Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of his strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,

24 but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,"
declares the LORD.

The point really is that the scholar (the wise man), the officer (the strong man) and the gentleman (the rich man) are old ideals of humanity, but they are not necessarily the best of humanity. Rather, whether collectively or respectively, they can only be at their best when wisdom is tempered by mercy, strength is ameliorated by justice, and wealth is used rightly. Without these virtues, which should be firmly attached to these archetypes, wisdom might be cruelly applied, strength might serve injustice, and wealth would be both a temptation to avarice and the font of every inequity (and iniquity).

This wasn't the only passage which came to mind. I Corinthians 1:18-31 is the New Testament equivalent. In that passage may be found these lines:

26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.
27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are,
29 so that no one may boast before him.

Again, a perfect match to the elements of the proposed triad. 'Wise', 'influential', 'of noble birth' are pretty close to 'scholar', 'officer' and 'gentleman'. And this time, God is said to choose the foolish to shame the wise, the weak to shame the strong, and the lowly and despised to shame that which is of material value.

There is a powerful lesson to be learnt here. This House believes that scholars should be officers and gentlemen is a noble proposition indeed. But it can only work out well if the attendant virtues continue to be bound to these human ideals. Scholars must be wise but merciful, and prepared to be made fools. Officers must be strong but just, and prepared to help the weak. Gentlemen must be rich and righteous, and prepared to use their wealth in the service of the lowly.

Only then can the best be yet to be.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

The Wolf At Your Door

A famously (mis)quoted Norse proverb says, "The reason humans are like this is that each man has two wolves in him, a good one and a bad one. The quality of the man shows in which one he causes to win."

The thing is that as Christians, we're supposed to have slung one of the contenders out the door. In fact, I suppose traditional Christian symbolism would say two lions instead - the Lion of Judah and the roaring lion prowling around seeking whom he might devour.

But even after you sling him out, he waits. He lurks. He behaves in unbecoming ways. And one day, if you are unwary and overconfident, he might bite you.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Angry Confusion Sets In?

Today, for reasons I cannot even begin to explore - or at least, ought not to speculate on in a public forum - the school was full of people coming up to me and asking me when I would have time to go out for coffee and chat. Some sounded most upset; some sounded as if their favourite hamster had just given birth to geckos. A few asked why everyone seemed so distraught, unhappy, angry, bewildered. Another person thought that things were confusing, one implied I must be confused if I thought a certain way.

But I must say that I have always possessed a lot more clarity of thought in the long-term, in the kind of vision which spans five years to ten years ahead. I suppose I must be one of those cursed with long-sightedness. Sometimes, my strategic vision is very bad at assessing short-term problems and obstacles. Yet, trawling through the thousands of things I've written in the 20 years of my public career, I realise that what I need to work on is bridging the gap between 'now' and 'five years from now'. I have never been wrong so far about 'five years from now'.

I say this with painful humility, because I never noticed this before. It is like a gift that operates under your radar. You don't know you have it. But people keep pointing things out to you. One young man, a former student, came to see me a few weeks ago to tell me that five years ago, when I told him to make a particularly cold-blooded career choice, I was right in the end. He thanked me for the advice, and wondered how I had seen so far ahead.

I don't know. It is a gift. And now I know I have it, I have to be even more careful about what I do, think or say. The future is bright - I must say that it always is, until we tarnish it; the best is yet to be, but sometimes it has not yet been conceived and hence is in no condition to be born. So we work for the best, in whatever estate, high or low, that God has ordained for us. And indeed, may it come to pass someday.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


This is another day, much like one which happened two years ago.

Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

So said the great Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins. This latter half of this poem kept running through my head this morning. It is easy for one man to wound another with a knife; it is easy to listen to what you want to hear rather than what is. All parties in an affray are to blame, but the one in the hospital with a drip vainly feeding into his arm - that one is the one whose mother will mourn.

It's a kind of deja vu for me to be going through the same route. Divestment of powers, the removal of the things of earth which I cannot change, which I lost heart in the changing of, which I cannot be trusted to handle. I am become Bombadil, to whom the Ring could not be entrusted.

A failure, again. And yet, a failure who is owned by no man.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


I think it is reasonably clear that a discipline's claim to universality, by which I mean its consistent applicability within any given human context, hinges on three things.

Firstly, it depends on whether the discipline has got readily accessible standards which can be debated openly. Secondly, it depends on whether that discipline produces successfully a) effective and b) predictive models for action within our known frames of reference. Thirdly, its principles must be efficient; that is, given fulfilment of a basic principle or law, all such cases which that law applied to would be covered.

This is how we can evaluate whether art (for example) would fail as a universal discipline. Art would fail if any of the following were true.

1. Art doesn't have readily accessible standards, although the proffered standards can be debated openly.

2a. If you told someone to make art, each case produced has to be evaluated separately. As a discipline, it does not allow for effective models - cognitive structures which when applied lead reproducibly to the production of art.

2b. If a person attempted art, it would be impossible to reliably predict that it would be considered art.

3. If a person followed basic principles of art, his product might still not be art (alternatively, if a person could make art while violating a basic principle of art).

The same tests (with appropriate adjustments) might be applied to any discipline. As an exercise, try 'life sciences'. In the weeks ahead, I will probably post more on this subject.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


This post is about loss and the passage of time.

Some months ago, I remembered the world known as Moonsweep. From the same universe comes the world named Eventide. Again, like Moonsweep, the name is somewhat ambiguous - is it the time of evening, is it the regularity of the tide, is it something else?

And like Moonsweep, the name is somewhat melancholic. It has always brought to mind one of my favourite hymns, the first line of which reads, "Abide with me, fast falls the eventide..." As the darkness deepens, what indeed abides? "All flesh is as grass, and the glory of man is as the flower of grass; the grass fades and the flower falls away..." says the good book.

Which brings us to the idea of fading. All the strength and glory and pageant of mankind fades away. The Romans used the word vanus to connote the emptiness of a vessel that once was filled. "It has vanished," one can imagine a mournful Roman child saying, as she looks into the honeypot to find it bare. The translators of the Septuagint were similarly cognizant when they used the phrase vanity of vanities in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes - an emptiness, a vainglory, where once we might have expected wisdom and success and the marks of a better age.

It is all about evanescence - the quality of something which fades as you look at it, becomes less tangible until it is gone without you quite seeing how it went. This is like the life of a mayfly, one of those curious insects which is born, lives, and dies within a day. Senescence and obsolescence within hours of adolescence. Does it make sense? Is it science? They are all one - in one day. So a human might seem to an elf, in a Tolkienesque world.

This is why there is a genus of butterflies named Vanessa. Butterflies are the most evanescent of glories in the field - they are of the order Lepidoptera, "charming wings". But the Painted Ladies of genus Vanessa are larger than life, vibrant, cosmopolitan. Across the world, they will tip their eyespotted wings at you, as if to say, "I see everything, and I am cheerful!"

It somewhat belies the fact that when Jonathan Swift invented the name to describe a friend of his, he almost certainly knew that it meant 'the essence of that which fades.' Perhaps, that is what the butterfly does. As the evening, the eventide, falls around it, it is the last light of the darkening field. If and when the sun rises, it is there to catch the light of the morning on its wings - and it tells us that although the grass fades and the flower falls away, there are things that abide forever. And there are things that are signs of this abiding hope.

Even then.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Where Angels Tread

I watch people a lot - they show me things unseen.

Sometimes, I relax in the relative cool of the air-conditioned study and close my eyes. And I think of the land in which I was born, her pageantry and deft dominion, her troubled and mighty history, her triumphs and occasional failures, her songs and the deprivation and privation of her soul. Sometimes I think I see ripples in the stream, as if from afar she exerts influence disproportionate to her size, and resonates in the people around me. And then I look again, and she has gone, although I have seen her light in some other person. Some day, I shall write poetry which may yet catch that supernatural fire; that day is not yet come, but I already know what the first line will say:

"Like England, she is..."

The question is: What would the remaining lines say?

I suppose that for each person I meet, there will be a reflection of some state of being, some state of mind, a perfect or imperfect state, with or without natural or notional (combining to give national?) boundaries. Some day perhaps I shall meet a person whose light and momentary reflection reminds me of... Andorra, perhaps.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Today, A Dozen Years Ago

On this day, twelve years ago, my great ancestor died the death of the body. Today, in my 200th post in this blog, I shall remember things of his essence, and what they meant to me.

1. "That's a rook." "Why does it look like a castle?" "Hrmm. Well, that's what it is too." And so I learnt to play chess, aged four. I know I wasn't five yet, because I remember sight-reading the 1972 World Championship games between Robert J Fischer and Boris Vasilievich Spassky. I took me years before I could beat him - my grandfather, that is.

2. It was he who first detected my colour-blindness. Who would have known that stamp-collecting could have gone so far towards compensating for that woeful genetic lapse? Now, with years of neurobiology aiding us, we know that the brain can be retrained to compensate for almost any loss which isn't total. How on earth did Grandfather know?

3. Early morning piano-playing. Again, it took me years to figure out his game. It was all a joke of sorts - one day, I picked up the scores he had uncharacteristically left lying around on the music-stand. Chopin's Nocturnes, forsooth; Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, as well. I always wondered whether anyone else had figured it out.

4. Slightly less-early morning house calls. I used to accompany him on his rounds, when he visited the old, infirm, unwell, and hypochondriac. He would tell me about how fingers told him stories, how the pulse and the rush of air in the lungs spoke volumes. And he taught me how to read the Latin inscriptions on his pharmacy bottles.

5. That, of course, led to the gift of a small koiné Greek New Testament, and his sister's (my grandaunt's) invaluable notes. He read Hebrew too, but I drew the line there, not too confident of a language with shifting vowels. I remember consuming endless slices of my grandmother's rich chocolate fudge cake while he pointed out things and worked on his Bible study notes for the church newsletter. I remember now that his own father had helped translate the Bible into peranakan Malay.

There are many ways in which my life would have been much less richer without him and his wife, my grandma. I would never have learnt to assemble archives, never have learnt the virtues of teak as a building material or oil of wintergreen as a painkiller. I would never have learnt to make cobwebs from plastic cement. I would never have learnt the drastic oxidising properties of potassium manganate(VII). You can see the in memoriam notice in today's newspapers. But such reminders of mortality teach us nothing of the people they commemorate.

And today, a dozen years ago, I see (as through a glass darkly) his breathing stop and my grandmother weep. His last words were, "...and underneath are the everlasting arms." The morphine bottle by his bedside stood unused and full, the antidote to his only fear. His mortal vessel lay on the bed, fully used but empty. I will never forget that evening - because I was late by a few minutes, and was not there.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Wisdom Not

I have to admit that I have heard almost all the fifty phrases here, and they are often followed by the additional pressure of moral, social, and organisational intimidation.

My response is muted because many years ago, when I was a student, I read Power, Force and Violence. The authoritarianism of position, mechanism, and irrational domination tends to be deployed against those who would shift the status quo, and so the wise man learns to glean what he can, plant for the future, and live a long life of doing nothing. Or is that the wise thing to do?

Those who would disagree with my (so far unstated, but certainly guessable) position should at least read the list, and ask themselves whether or not they have used such language to my face.

Then again, I should confess my own lack of wisdom. Much against my rational philosophy, I have balked the system of its prey many times. Tax authorities, education authorities, others who have not done what is right - because of some, all or any of the fifty phrases on that list - these have been my targets. And I am convinced that while I have been unwise, some people are the better for it.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


Spent a pleasant evening at the university's new conservatory, where an old friend was conducting the local student orchestra. A small but elegant buffet with some excellent coffee made a good prelude to the main movements.

This is what was on offer:

1. Brahms - Academic Festival Overture (Op. 80): Perhaps the most lyrical interpretation I've heard yet; this one actually told a story. You could hear students whispering as they got their final grades, the little whines of disappointment and the joys of graduation, and the sudden grand sweep of liberation as they went out into the streets to party. It all sounds much more classy (classical?) if you say gaudeamus igitur or auspicium melioris aevi instead of let's paint the town red or looking for a good time respectively... but hey, this overture was a delightfully smooth appetizer.

2. Tchaikovsky - Piano Concerto #1 in B-flat minor (Op. 23): Jerome Lowenthal did an excellent job. He has tremendous, poetic passion, and his 74 years of age sit lightly on what seems to be a 60-year-old's frame at worst. You could see him get into the flow of it, and his fingers trembled as they fell like tender hammers on the keyboard. It was over too soon, which is something I rarely say about Tchaikovsky (whom I think of as one of the greatest poseurs of the nationalist movement). The bonus was Lowenthal's encore rendition of Debussy's Clair de Lune, that bane of piano students worldwide. What made it great was that you knew it was Debussy from the beginning, that it was tender and magical without being soppy and histrionic.

3. Robert Sirota - Meridians: Specially commissioned piece, just for this gala opening of the conservatory. Meridians is all about communication - as Sirota pointed out in his introductory bit, Baltimore and Singapore are a world apart, and yet closely linked by accidents of history, space, time and technology. I loved the way it began with dim drums throbbing and began to blend in the sounds of other, more modern, forms of communication. At one point, I had to suppress an unexpected giggle as I distinctly heard the MSN 'you have a message' chime deftly woven in. There were also trains, planes and telegraphs in that tapestry, which made for great entertainment, but left one slightly chaos-dazzled - much as the modern world does.

4. Respighi - The Pines of Rome: Great entertainment? Heh; Respighi was one for the cinematic scope. From the suburban villas to the fountains and stately viaducts of Empire, every bit was drama. Trumpets and trombones played from the side galleries at the end rounded off this most Roman and dramatic of pieces. There was even a throughly melodramatic moment in which the conductor's baton took a flight detour towards the airspace of the heavy brass. It was enjoyable, but a bit rich. The encore allowed the audience to unwind and feel more human - we got the Champagne Polka, complete with audience participation (and a new baton).

It's been a long time since I last enjoyed classical music so much. But the best is yet to be: the conservatory has plenty of free concerts lined up.

Make Haze While The Sun Shines

In this corner of the world, the farmers in Indonesia are burning the forests again. The pollutant level in the centre of the burning is really high. As it is, only coarse particulate matter (PM10 - 'big dust') is being measured. But what the measure doesn't tell us is that the dust causing the haze probably contains a lot of 'small dust' (PM2.5), and that's a lot more dangerous.



Forest, forest, burning bright
In the autumn moonlit night:
What possesses farmer man
To live while burning what he can?

In that furnace, what the gain?
What the price of all your grain?
Will your lung-burnt children care?
Money cannot buy you air.

When you cloud this air of mine
With the dust of ash so fine,
Turn the forest into haze,
Do you count your shortened days?

Carbon oxides dull your mind,
Leave the insight numb and blind.
Pray that clarity will rise
As the monsoon breaks the skies!

Forest, forest, burning bright
To make food by bringing blight;
Was the angel's flaming blade
For this agriculture made?

With apologies to William Blake

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Word of the Day: Miasma

What a useful word this is! A tainted, defiling, toxic, poisonous, noxious, unwholesome atmosphere - like the swamps which birthed the Lernaean Hydra - miasma is a plural noun in more than one way. The singular, I suppose, would be miasm, which comes from the Greek miainein - to defile, make unclean, pollute, render unfit.

I think it's an appropriate word for our times, especially as I sit here with the local pollution index just having hit 101; this reifying indicator means that people with respiratory or heart ailments should not venture out into the bad air (Italian mal aria). As Lyte wrote in the second verse of that funereal hymn Abide With Me, "Change and decay in all around I see." In fact, the hymn itself is testament to this - it used to have eight verses; these days, we're lucky to have three. And of course, the actually quite cheering words of the hymn are made to sound terribly sombre by the music which doesn't quite match the triumphant iambic pentameter (well, at least in a number of key lines).

But, yes. As my senses, both immediate and extended, receive the data of these days, I have begun to sense that indeed change is upon us. The finger points and writes and, having written, moves on. As the yellowing tendrils of the living miasma rattle against our feeble defences, as the malaise of the age takes hold, we ache for a change of air, a change of scene. And perhaps, someday quite soon, as it was with that nomadic patriarch Abraham, we should get a move on. The tents should be folded and the beasts of burden knouted till they, complaining, drag our loads onward to the promised land.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006


In 1998, we sat in the dying evening. The pale fluorescent candles flickered on, lighting the cavern of the empty school. We were young men. The aging sorcerer, himself a protegé of the ancient Gnome, had asked us to do something new. What if, he asked, you could teach anything you wanted? What if, he continued, you could have four years to change the system of the world?

We looked at the white streak in his hair, now a black streak in the white. We could almost see the chessmen moving across the landscape of his mind. Why did he ask us, two young men in an old men's dream? It was then, in the cold summer of 1998, that we began the fateful journey which would lead us to this day.

Our first papers were tiny pickings. Four years is not much time. We planned to capture our students at the height of their adolescence, to widen their horizons and show them the many worlds. The words came unbidden. No birds were sacrificed for the auspices of a better age. Neither were the prayers of the mouth made, their fragrance rising into the upper air to do the works of God.

The heart was the key. My friend was a ruthless pragmatist (he claimed). He said I was too much the idealist, too good a man. I demurred. We were both mortal, but our plans were elevated by what seemed to be the burning fire of the spirit. For three years we toiled with our equally-dedicated friends and fellows. Two years after that the fellowship finally collapsed. It had been riven asunder by the weight of the cold black iron of the times.

And of the original commissioning, of my fellow journeymen? We are sundered indeed. We will never come back together again, to work on a Great Work such as this. In each of our little worlds, we could try again to forge the rings of power, but we would fail, as indeed we should. The lesson to be learnt is the lesson of Troy, of Camelot and of the Paladins — where the Great Work is inspired, it must be destroyed. Else how will the birds scatter its crumbs to the starving world?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Nowhere Man

Today I sat in the canteen talking to a young man. Like me, he's a product of a complex, almost Byzantine system which has been around for a bit more than a century. We looked to the future for a while. It looked a little bleak. If we want light, we will have to make it ourselves. Until then, the lyrics from an old Lennon/McCartney song describe my current mood very well.


He's a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody

Doesn't have a point of view
knows not where he's going to
Isn't he a bit like you and me?
Nowhere man please listen
You don't know what you're missing
Nowhere man, The world is at your command

He's as blind as he can be
Just sees what he wants to see
Nowhere man, can you see me at all
Nowhere man don't worry
Take your time, don't hurry
Leave it all till somebody else
Lends you a hand
Ah, la, la, la, la

Doesn't have a point of view
knows not where he's going to
Isn't he a bit like you and me?
Nowhere man please listen
You don't know what you're missing
Nowhere man, The world is at your command
Ah, la, la, la, la

He's a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody

Monday, October 02, 2006

ML3: Elista Triumphant

After days of unresolved tension, the World Chess Championship is to resume. The event, held in the Kalmykian city of Elista, in the former Soviet Union, has been marred by unbelievable toilet suspicions and other problems. Nevertheless, Kramnik (now a hero under protest) and Topalov the toilet-plaintiff will continue their titanomachy this morning (0700h, NYC EST).

How was the tiebreaking compromise reached? Essentially, the toilets were inspected and all the law that could be salvaged (after the undignified failure of jurisprudence at the hands of the less-than-capable Appeals Committee) was salvaged. Kramnik will continue playing at 3-2 up, which would have been 3-1 had he not forfeited a game to his opponent for failure to play a game after the clock had started.

The final lessons to be learnt:

1) Being right does not always win - Kramnik was in the right, but he ruined it in two ways. Firstly, he should have played Game 5 under protest; secondly, he should then have lodged a complaint. Instead, he did not play Game 5, forfeited it under the normal laws of chess, and failed to complain within the deadline.

2) Being wrong but loud can win points - Topalov was in the wrong and his complaint should not have been accepted. But his manager and he complained loudly and long, outlasted Kramnik in the psychological war, and Topalov gained a point without having to play for it.

That makes a total of eight mismanagement lessons from the sad story of the 2006 World Chess Championships at Elista. Let us hope the games continue until a single Champion emerges. Personally, I think Kramnik deserves to win. His colleagues endorse this, the chess world (well, about 95% of it) endorses it. All he has to do is prove himself.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

ML2: Elista Reborn

Life for millions of chessplayers today has taken on a rosier hue. The headline says it all: Toilet settlement reached, Appeals Committee resigns. This post is a sequel to Mismanagement Lessons (now christened 'ML1').

In that post, I suggested four lessons that management should understand when handling a problem. The resolution so far indicates two further lessons:

1) Be open - yes, maintaining free flow and access is exactly what controllers fear; however, it reaps dividends. In the case of Elista 2006, the management agreed to allow full access to toilets, but with the proviso that either side can be allowed under the right circumstances a thorough inspection of the other's facilities.

2) Be responsible - the Appeals Committee has resigned voluntarily. They have taken responsibility for their apparently somewhat ill-advised action and stepped down. The FIDE President will carry out whatever remaining functions they might have until such time as a new one is appointed.

Such things don't happen often in corporate life. This is because corporate life is not as open to the public as international competition in which each player is an intelligent professional. While players might be unwise, venal, uncooperative, sociopathic and so on, they are also both intelligent and professional. Negotiation can occur; force is unlikely to win the day without clever diplomacy.

The last time such a tempest erupted in the world of chess, Kasparov broke off from FIDE with several other intelligent professionals, creating the schism which is at the heart of this championship match. We hope for healing in a world otherwise riven with worse forms of strife.

Children's Day

Today is Children's Day here.

I used to feel an acute sense of loss when thinking about my childhood. In part, this was the result of many people telling me how good childhood was compared to adulthood, and me not realising that it was because they had such miserable and adult adult lives. I had a wonderful childhood myself.

Yet I've also had a wonderful adulthood so far, and I'm not utterly convinced that you can draw a line and say, "When I was a child, I thought like a child; now that I am a man, I think like a man." (The Bible says, " that I am an adult man, I fling away the things of childhood.") It is a powerful image, that the child is father to the man; or that there is a huge, clear and qualitatively convincing line of division between them.

But there isn't. And today, I celebrate Children's Day by indulging in hot dogs and ice-cream cones, waffles with blueberries and butter, and whatever I can cook up tonight that will be messy but nice.

A Portable Curmudgeon

Guy Kawasaki has interviewed Jon Winokur. Who's that? Well, he's someone who will 'Heighten Your Sense of the Absurd'. Yes, indeed. If I'd known earlier that you could write stuff for yourself and have people buy the rights to print it, I'd have started earlier.

ML1: Mismanagement Lessons

This is about mismanagement, and the lessons one can learn from chess.

The World Chess Championships are on in Elista, a beautiful town in the former Soviet republic of Kalmykia. The two contenders are Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria, the FIDE (International Chess Federation) champion who is ranked #1 in the world, and Vladimir Kramnik, the PCA (Professional Chessplayers Association) champion who is ranked #4 in the world. It might be seen as a clash between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance, if you're into that kind of comparison. The stakes are high: whoever wins will be the undisputed chess champion of all the world, unifying both titles.

Unfortunately, the match has stalled after the fourth game. Kramnik, with two wins and two draws, was leading 3-1 when the Topalov team complained he was spending suspicious amounts of time in the toilet. They managed to convince the arbitrators (quite against the rules of the match) to lock Kramnik's toilet up. Kramnik did the legal and correct thing in such situations, and refused to continue play. The fifth game was then awarded to Topalov by default.

Now, the whole situation is threatening to get out of hand. Veteran grandmaster and elder statesman John Nunn has written an excellent piece on the matter. 'It's about imposing your will on the opponent,' Nunn says, showing why the situation is unjust towards Kramnik.

There are several lessons to be gleaned from Nunn's (as usual) well-written argument:

1) Be just - or at least, show that you support fair dealings. You must provide high-level arbitration from qualified professionals, if you want to have a high-stakes match with a respectable process and result. 'Qualified' in this case means 'seasoned, with neutral provenance and experience with world championship matches'.

2) Be sensible - think about the appropriateness of your responses. If you stall the most important match in the world because of a toilet complaint, it is likely to make you look stupid. Internationally so. This is a lesson for nit-pickers. Nunn thinks of this whole incident as 'Chess shooting itself in the foot'.

3) Be impartial - and appear that way to everyone. Favouring 'your man', or someone seen to be in favour with the organizers, against 'the other man', will automatically cause most people to realise that you are evil and biased - even when you're not. Then again, if you are evil and biased, you will have been discovered (or uncovered).

4) Do not cave in to special interests - if you do, and thus inflict a harmful decision against one of the players, you will look weak and untrustworthy. This is especially true if the player so afflicted seems to be winning legitimately and is respected for his previous victories against other respected players.

Giorgios Makropoulos, Zurab Azmaiparashvili and Jorge Vega constitute the Appeals Committee who handled this PR disaster. Public perception has now labelled them as three incompetent buffoons who are old, tired, silly and out of touch. The reality is that they are not, but it is hard for the outsider to see that. This is what public opinion says.

In the court of public opinion, others think of them as sly, conniving, corrupt and venal. This is not necessarily true either, but it appears so to many. The most likely truth is that they are just trying to run this show with insufficient experience of the traditional World Championships, and that their collective wisdom has not sufficed.

At the moment, their esteemed boss, President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov (of both Kalmykia and FIDE!) has flown back in urgent haste to try to resolve the issue. Elder statesmen of the chess community such as Yasser Seirawan and other respected auditors are being brought into the mess.

And that is the bottom line. It is a mess, a lesson in mismanagement. The only positive aspect as that we can all learn from this, strive for the best, and hope not to emulate the worst.