Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Maniac at the Table

It’s easy to overreact.

A new player sits down at the table and immediately starts opening every pot, consistently raising two or three times the “norm.” He’s betting and raising after the flop, too, instantly disrupting the game’s previous rhythm and causing a kind of temporary paralysis to take over many players at the table.

He’s kind of a jerk as well, it turns out, making rude comments to the dealer and wait staff, and even directing a few unfriendly, terse judgments toward others at the table.

You gradually start to adjust to this newcomer -- or to tell yourself you’re adjusting, even if you’re still folding every hand to his raises while keeping mum. “I’ll find a spot,” you think to yourself, convinced this new, reckless-appearing style can’t possibly be effective over the long term.

Since the inauguration a week-and-a-half ago, the president of the United States and his team of advisors have heightened fears among many that his tenure in office will create lasting damage to the nation’s welfare and standing in the global community. Whether they will succeed in transforming the country’s core values -- equality, liberty, individualism, justice, the common good, diversity and unity -- is less certain, although those, too, are obviously under siege.

Indeed, through a hastily delivered series of executive orders and presidential memoranda, numerous erratic and hair-raising statements (including threats) by himself and his team to various groups including the press, and the continued advancement of an overall impression of instability and startling unpredictability, it appears damage has already been done that will take many years and likely multiple subsequent administrations to repair.

Unlike at any other time I can remember -- save, perhaps, the days following the attacks of 9/11 -- the country and its organizing principles feel genuinely threatened. Every single day since January 20 has presented new evidence to suggest that life as we know it both here in the U.S. and elsewhere is swiftly transforming into something less certain and more potentially destructive. Those among us who are not overtly supportive of the president and his team will suffer the most and the most directly, although even many of the most ardent red hat-wearers are going to find themselves significantly hurt as well.

Many commentators have suggested a few analogies between the present administration’s wrecking ball approach to governance and the damage inflicted during the five-and-a-half years of Richard Nixon’s presidency. It’s a logical step to make, given that there are some parallels. It’s also kind of an assuring one, in a way, suggesting as it does (at least indirectly) that what is happening right now isn’t necessarily as bad as it seems since, well, the world didn’t end with Nixon.

That’s what a friend of mine was telling me just last Friday after I commented to him how “exhausting” it was following the coverage of yet another crisis or three having been introduced by this administration. I brought up to him Nixon’s famous “Saturday Night Massacre,” that remarkable, turning-point moment in the Watergate scandal when the president’s willingness to abuse his power became much clearer to many and the idea of impeachment became a lot more concrete.

In May 1973, Nixon had his Attorney General Elliot Richardson appoint a Watergate Special Prosecutor to investigate improprieties related to the ’72 election, and Richardson appointed Archibald Cox. In fact Richardson had only been made A.G. immediately before making the appointment, and during his confirmation hearings had assured the Senate he wouldn’t use his authority to dismiss Cox without there being sufficient cause to do so.

In July came the public revelation of the White House taping system, and Cox soon was asking for copies of tapes of some of the recorded conversations about the break-in and its subsequent handling. The White House refused to hand them over, and Cox responded by serving a subpoena for the tapes. The resistance continued with Nixon continuing to refuse to hand over tapes, claiming “executive privilege.” By October Nixon and his staff came up with a compromise plan to have a senator listen to and summarize the tapes, but Cox refused to agree with such a compromise.

The next day -- Saturday, October 20, 1973 -- Nixon ordered Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson refused to do so, referring back to his promise to the Senate, and resigned in protest. Nixon then ordered the Deputy A.G. William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox, and he also refused the order and resigned. Finally the next in line, Soliticor General Robert Bork, did fire Cox.

News coverage of that night is interesting to follow, and gives a sense of just how strange and scary it all seemed at the time. There is two hours’ worth of audio that compiles TV networks’ reporting from that evening and just afterward available over on archive.org. You hear anchors breathlessly describing the developments as “stunning” and “dramatic” and “unprecedented,” with talk of a constitutional crisis like nothing they had ever witnessed before.

To my friend I remarked that every single day last week felt like what those anchors were describing when reporting on the Saturday Night Massacre. It began with the president’s dark, divisive inauguration speech and absurdist one-man show before the CIA where his primary message concerned his “running war with the media.” Then came the feverish first performance by his press secretary in which he threatened to “hold the press accountable” while (1) strangely insisting upon statements about the inauguration crowd sizes that were verifiably false, and (2) not taking any questions himself. (It was more out there than anything Ron Ziegler ever did as Nixon’s sometimes combative and accusatory press secretary.)

The next day the Counselor to the President infamously defended “alternative facts,” helping encourage Orwellian-inspired commentaries. The various executive orders and memoranda then came raining down over the next several days (I won’t summarize all of them), fueling the fire of discontent in very deliberate-seeming ways. Finally on late Friday afternoon came the E.O. titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” which suspends the U.S. Refugees Admissions Program for 120 days while also prohibiting entry into the country of anyone from seven countries, all of which have overwhelmingly Muslim populations.

Chaos and confusion followed that last one, including protests and ugly scenes at airports all over the U.S. In the days since details have surfaced regarding the non-standard procedures followed by the president and his team to produce the order, including failing to consult with administration officials and his own party’s legislators before the order was signed.

As I say, I had already been reminded of the Saturday Night Massacre a few days before. But then last night everyone was reminded of it when the current Attorney General Sally Yates chose to defy the president in a manner that somewhat echoed Richardson’s action, even if the circumstances are quite different, when issuing a directive to the Justice Department not to defend the executive order. The president swiftly fired Yates (adding -- as he cannot avoid doing whenever he does anything -- a bitter, personal social media message about her).

I wake up this morning to more headlines sounding the alarm, and I brace myself like many others are for the next threat to emerge.

The argument over “who’s worse” between Nixon and Trump is an interesting one, though perhaps of limited practical value at such an early stage.

Nixon is the past. His presidency caused significant trauma to this country, weakening both the office and the American government in serious ways. After Nixon became president and especially starting near the end of his first term in office, he explored methods to remake government entirely, in particular to increase the overall power of the executive branch either by reducing constraints upon it or by exploiting weaknesses in the system of checks and balances. He and his reelection committee additionally engaged in outright criminal activity.

The Watergate break-in and subsequent cover-up (and, as importantly, the attempted cover-up of the cover-up) would not only overwhelm Nixon’s ability to continue as president, it would obscure deeper, more significant corruption and illegality both in his campaign and his administration, not to mention the usurping of power that enabled him to order intervention in Cambodia without Congressional approval and similarly to continue the Vietnam War by evoking his title as Commander-in-Chief of the military.

However the “system” did manage to remove him from office (thanks both to some good fortune and strategic missteps by Nixon himself). And, as my friend reminded me, the country and its government did survive him.

Now this new jerk has come to the table. Some of us actually invited him. And within just a few hands it’s obvious that he is clearly doing everything he can to ruin the game. I’m reminded how I pursued this same analogy nearly a year-and-a-half ago, right after the first G.O.P. debate, in a post titled “America Is In Serious Trouble.”

Whatever his intentions might truly be, it’s clear he wants both to provoke us all and to keep us all fixated on him and him only. Eventually everything we do or say (he hopes) will necessarily be influenced by him. He’s not just playing to win, but to make it impossible for anyone else ever to win again.

Sure, it’s easy to overreact. Then again, against certain opponents whose actions are themselves wildly, crazily disproportionate, what feels like overreacting is simply responding in kind.

Images: “Trump signing order January 27” (top), Staff of the President of the United States, Public Domain; front page of the New York Times (October 21, 1973), Fair Use.

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

My New Novel, Obsessica

Finally... finally! I have a new novel, only seven years or so after the first one.

Back in 2009 I published Same Difference, a hard-boiled detective novel that served as both a kind of fiction-writing apprenticeship for me and a chance to explore that fun, page-turning, puzzle-creating-and-solving formula represented by that type of novel. The book is set in New York City in the mid-1970s, and while it necessarily incorporates a lot of my own experiences, it is mostly an invention, pieced together from my memory of the era and lots of other second-hand research.

I wrote the first draft of Same Difference several years before, rewriting it a couple of times including changing what had been a third-person narration into first-person. It then took me a while to do the extra work to get it ready for publication. I did spend some time shopping it around to publishers, by the way, a couple of whom were very positive with their feedback. But no one I was talking to seemed to eager to do anything in the detective subgenre and so I ended up proceeding with it on my own.

Really it was Vera who lit the fire under me, causing me to move forward and eventually get it out into the world, and I was so very grateful to her for doing so. It was satisfying to get to the end of such a project and see it through to publication, and to get nice feedback from those who’ve read it has been even more gratifying.

You can find Same Difference over on Amazon both in paperback and for the Kindle.

It wasn’t that long after Same Difference appeared that I began searching for new subjects. I didn’t really want to do a sequel or even another “hard-boiled” story. Nor was I interested in writing anything about poker, given how much I write about poker otherwise.

I began work on a new story, one based a little more closely on some of my own experiences as a kid growing up in North Carolina. It became another murder mystery of sorts, with the young hero of the book working with others trying to sort out “whodunit.” I liked the initial draft and a few of the characters, and kept reworking it until finally I began to have some friends read and offer feedback.

Then I did something similar to what happened with the first novel -- I waited. Like a couple of years. I’d bring it out from time to time, rereading and tinkering, but was mostly in a holding pattern with it until last summer when I finally tried again to see whether or not I could get the thing into a form I felt comfortable sharing with the world.

It kind of dovetailed on the curator-like stuff I performed with all of that music I’d made many years ago, an effort that culminated in my releasing seven albums all at once at the start of September. As was the case with that project, I found myself in a position where I finally decided I’d rather not just keep what I’d spent all that effort and time creating to myself any longer.

I revised some more, had others read and give feedback again, then came the formatting work and still more editing. Finally -- today -- I’ve approved the final final final final version of the thing (as my young nephew might say).

The book is called Obsessica, the title a reference to a character in the book but also in a way describing my own obsessive relationship with every tiny little detail. You can get a print copy right now over at Lulu, and in a few weeks it will start to turn up at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other places where you get get books online. Soon I plan also to have an ebook version available -- will let you know.

Here is a blurb, to entice further:

Eric Younger tells the story of his boyhood infatuation with a friend’s older sister, Jessica. An unexpected sequence of events finds Eric being suddenly enlisted by Jessica to help to solve a mystery, providing Eric a distraction from his parents’ impending divorce and a chance to get to know Jessica and her strangely obsessive ways.

Click on these cover images to see bigger versions of them. Like I say this one is certainly more autobiographical (also still a fiction), set as it is in 1980 and featuring a narrator-protagonist who was about my age then. But once again, don’t expect to find any card playing whatsoever -- just one fleeting reference to a “poker face,” included almost as a in-joke. Kind of like a lot of other thematic references and details in the book, all of which I would be delighted to discuss with anyone who reads the sucker.

Click here to order a copy from Lulu, and like I say I’ll be letting you know when it turns up elsewhere to purchase as well as when an ebook version becomes available.

(EDIT [added 2/7/16]: Obsessica is now available on Amazon!)

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Finishing First

Everyone was ganging up on 2016 as the year concluded, what with all of the bad news punctuating seemingly every week of the calendar year.

For your humble scribbler, the year seemed to involve an inordinate number of second-place finishes. My Carolina Panthers came up short in the Super Bowl in February, then my UNC Tar Heels also took runner-up in the NCAA finals in April. Then in May I finished second in a poker tournament in Monte Carlo, and came here to whimper a little at having come so close to winning only to have it snatched away.

The presidential election in November was hardly considered a victory here on the farm either, I’ll confess. It was right after that I remember messaging a friend and after listing all of the second-place finishes making a stubborn proclamation: “I am winning the gotdamn Pigskin Pick’em and that’s all there is to it.”

I was referring to the Pauly’s Pub football pool, of course, which I wrote about a bit during the course of the NFL season here although not as much as I have in past years. This was the eighth year running I’ve participated. I won it once before (in 2011), and this year managed to get off to a fast start to tie for the lead in Week 2, then take the lead all by myself in Week 3. By November I had built up a long streak as the frontrunner, and would remain in the top spot into the final weeks.

My largest lead over the chase pack was five games -- six, in fact, for a brief period halfway through one Sunday’s games -- but it had been reduced to just one game heading into Week 16. I was a bit of a basket case, I’ll admit, worrying that I was sadly, slowly careening toward yet another second-place showing.

Week 16 saw games happening all over the place as the NFL scheduled things around (and on) Christmas (which was a Sunday). I believe games took place on four different days that week. I enjoyed some great fortune in three games that mattered a lot, as in each I’d gone one way and my trailing opponent(s) went the other.

The first was the Atlanta-Carolina game where I took the Falcons, others took the Panthers, and Atlanta won easily. Then came the Cincinnati-Houston game the night of Christmas Eve. I had the Texans, my nearest foe had the Bengals, and while Houston led 12-10 in the final minute Cincy was driving for what seemed a certain winning field goal. With seconds left, Bengals kicker Randy Bullock tried a 43-yard field goal that somehow went wide right, and Houston won.

Then on Christmas Day I’d taken Pittsburgh over Baltimore (whom my closest challenger took), and after a crazy back-and-forth game the Steelers got a go-ahead TD with just over a minute left to win 31-27. I was up four games heading into the final week, a relatively comfortable place to be.

For Week 17 all 16 games were played on Sunday, and after making my picks I realized I could very well have it all locked up by mid-afternoon. But it didn’t go so easily.

Up four versus three opponents tied for second, two of them gained two games on me in the early afternoon games, cutting my lead to two. In the late afternoon games one of those two and I made identical picks for all six of them, which meant I’d automatically clinched beating that player as there was only the single night game left.

With the other opponent we’d picked five games the same, only differing in one -- the New York Giants (whom he picked) at Washington (whom I’d picked). The Redskins were playing to earn a playoff spot while the Giants had nothing to play for at all, having already clinched a seed that wouldn’t change with a win. But NY played their starters throughout, Washington struggled mightily, and the Giants won the game.

Now with only the Green Bay at Detroit night game left to go -- the 256th of 256 regular season games -- I had a one-game lead. And I had a strong suspicion my opponent was going to go with the underdog Lions in an effort to close the gap.

I was facing an interesting “game theory”-type situation, I realized. And I had about an hour before the kickoff to ponder it.

I had already chosen Green Bay, but could change my pick if I wished. That said, I had imposed on myself a strict “no-change” policy according to which I never changed a pick once I had entered it. I estimated the likelihood my opponent was taking the Lions to be at least 75%, perhaps even higher. If he did and I switched to Detroit, I’d clinch the title as soon as the game kicked off. But if I stuck with Green Bay and he took Detroit, I’d have to sweat one last game.

I decided not to change my pick, and when the game began I saw indeed he’d taken Detroit. Then the Lions led for the first half, and I was filled with misgivings for having let a superstition of sorts overrule my rational analysis of the situation. Green Bay stormed back in the second half, though, with Aaron Rodgers leading the Packers to three TDs in four drives to build a two-touchdown lead. I don’t think I finally exhaled, though, until after Green Bay covered up the onside kick at the very end after Detroit had made it 31-24.

I couldn’t help but laugh, thinking how I’d spent 10-plus hours during the first day of 2017 fretting about the pool, thinking all along how if things had gone just slightly differently I might’ve clinched things during the early afternoon and avoided all the stress.

Today the trophy arrived, which turned out to be a shiny bit of fun amid a dreary day in which a newly-inaugurated president is going on about “America First,” seemingly unable to understand the difference between national pride and jingoism. (Not to mention unaware -- or perhaps not -- of the term’s history and less than appealing connotations.)

In any case, I’ll say it was fun to be first nearly all year, and even more so to end up on top -- a nice finish to start a new year.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Back from Paradise

A quick one today to report I’m back home safely from a week-and-half in the Bahamas on Paradise Island, a trip which as I mentioned before was timed in such a way that I missed entirely the Great Snowstorm of 2017 here on the farm.

Eight inches dumped down on us the day after I left, and by the time I returned on Monday it was all melted, very likely the only snow we’ll see all winter here in NC.

“Well played, Shamus,” said Vera on my return.

The trip was fun, and as has been the case these last three years the series in Nassau tends to operate as a kind of annual reunion for many players, media, and staff, so it was good again to see friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen since last January. Good to get home, though, where I’m expecting to stay put for at least the next couple of months.

That pic up above was one taken by the great Carlos Monti of a group of Selene Vomer fish, better known as “Lookdown” fish, just one of more than 250 species of marine life one can see in the aquariums and around Atlantis. I love looking at the Lookdown, which have such expressive faces and uncannily appear two-dimensional.

Poker-wise, the trip was a bit more entertaining than average, I’m going to conclude. My time was split between three big events, the $100K Super High Roller, the $5K Main Event, and the $25K High Roller. Jason Koon, Christian Harder, and Luc Greenwood won those (respectively).

In the latter, Luc actually knocked out his brother Sam just shy of the final table, and indeed the win represented a breakthrough for Luc, the biggest cash of his career by tenfold (nearly $800K).

Incidentally, prior to this first ever PokerStars Championship, I had a chance to interview a number of people for a piece that appeared on the PokerStars blog just as things were getting going in the Bahamas, something called “Anatomy of a PokerStars Championship.”

These things are such huge, complicated undertakings, and it was kind of fascinating to talk to some of those involved with putting them together. Because of space limitations I had to cut out a lot, but hopefully it at least comes across how much goes into the planning and staging of these things.

Relatively speaking, farm life is a lot more simple. That said, as I’ve noted before, every time you look up there’s always something else to do around here.

Photo: courtesy Carlos Monti / PokerStars blog.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Slides, Celebs, and Likes

Been in the Bahamas for more than a week now, having left the farm just a day before the Great Snowstorm of 2017 hit to cover the place with eight inches of the white stuff. Vera and our four-legged friends all managed okay, though I felt more than a little guilty not being around to help deal with it all.

Quite a contrast down here, weather-wise, as you might imagine, with temps in the mid-to-upper 70s, the cloudless skies baby blue, and the water an even darker, more brilliant shade of blue. It’s been busy, but I did manage to goof around on the water slides on two separate occasions already, including daring to plunge down “The Abyss.” It only lasts a few seconds, but it’s still long enough for all manner of existential doubt to overwhelm a dude before splash landing at the bottom.

The PokerStars Championship Bahamas festival is now heading into its home stretch, with the High Roller and Main Event both ending tomorrow. The poker’s been fun to follow, as I was on the $100K Super High Roller to start, then the Main Event, and now the $25K HR.

That first event saw the actor-comedian Kevin Hart take part, livening things up quite a lot for the first day-and-a-half before he finally busted a second time. Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad fame then played in the Main, so there was a lot of star-gazing going on between those two.

Speaking of poker-playing actors, Jennifer Tilly is here, too, and in fact took runner-up in a $5K turbo event this week, one where the final table included David Peters, Benjamin Pollak, and Mustapha Kanit.

I’d met her before but finally had a chance to talk with her a bit more this week. She’s a great follow on Twitter by the way -- @Jtillathekilla2 -- and one of the things we talked about were the folks we follow on there.

I also confessed to her that I never have gotten in the habit of favoriting tweets. I’ll retweet ones I like occasionally, but I just never got around to start “liking” them. For example, I liked one she sent a few days ago sagely observing: “Poker tournaments are like life: We're all gonna die, just some of us last longer than others.” But I just had to tell her I liked it as I didn’t “like” it on Twitter. (She assured me that was fine.)

(That reminded me of something similar I’ve been known to utter around poker tournaments.)

Vera kids me about not “liking” tweets. I’ll tweet something and get a bunch of likes, then mention it to her. “And how does that make you feel?” she asks with a grin.

“I like it,” I reply.

One more day of poker tomorrow and then back home to the horses where the snow has already melted. There’s a pic to the left from the day after that I tweeted before. It’s totally okay if you didn’t favorite it.

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Thursday, January 05, 2017

“I’m Reading Their Hand”: LBJ, Nixon, and the Week Before the 1968 Election

Several friends recently passed along to me an article from The New York Times that appeared on New Year’s Eve, one sharing a bit of news regarding Richard Nixon’s actions during the final days prior to the 1968 presidential election when he won a narrow victory versus Hubert Humphrey. They did so both because they know about my ongoing “Nixon studies” and because there’s a small poker reference in the article, too.

The article is titled “Nixon’s Vietnam Treachery” and was written by John A. Farrell who is currently at work on a Nixon bio coming out later this year. The story being told in the article is not new at all, although Farrell does pass along some relatively unknown evidence regarding Nixon’s role in possibly preventing a peace settlement from occurring in Vietnam just prior to the election. (The evidence isn’t new, although it hadn’t gotten a lot of attention before.)

To give a little context, by mid-October 1968 outgoing president Lyndon B. Johnson was hopeful to find some way to end the war before leaving office. After months of negotiations, Johnson had a breakthrough of sorts when the North Vietnamese finally agreed to enter into talks with the South Vietnamese in Paris if the U.S. called a bombing halt. Such talks hardly meant peace would be imminent, but they represented an significant first step toward such an eventuality.

What’s been known for quite some time now (thanks primarily to some FBI-supplied evidence) is that high-level members of Nixon’s campaign team were communicating with South Vietnamese leader Colonel Nguyen Van Thieu at the time, urging Thieu not to enter any peace talks just yet while promising a better negotiating position once Nixon took office. Such a move is rightly regarded with suspicion, obviously motivated primarily by the fact that an announcement of peace in Vietnam on the eve of the election would serve as a last-minute boost to Humphrey in what had become a tight race to the finish.

In The Making of the President 1968, Theodore H. White recounts the day-by-day developments leading up to Election Day, telling how with just one week to go (on October 29) “the promised end of the war in Vietnam was beginning to leak from every news source around the world.” Two days later, on Thursday, October 31, Johnson announced the cessation of bombing “in the belief that this action can lead to progress toward peaceful settlement of the Vietnamese war” (as LBJ said).

The promising news remained atop the headlines for about a day before doubts began to creep back in to cloud the picture regarding peace in southeast Asia, and by Saturday The New York Times was reporting that the word from Saigon was that the South Vietnamese couldn’t participate in any talks. The way White reports it (sharing what was known at the time), it appeared President Thieu had agreed to the talks without having secured the support of his cabinet or the national assembly, and that once they objected the deal had been dashed.

White then introduces the mysterious Anna Chennault into the story, the Chinese-born widow of a WWII hero who became involved in politics and chaired a number of Nixon’s citizen committees during the ’68 campaign. Chennault had numerous connections throughout Asia, and (says White) had learned about the secret negotiations in October. Using her contacts (including some within the South Vietnamese government), “she had begun early, by cable and telephone, to mobilize their resistance to the agreement -- apparently implying, as she went, that she spoke for the Nixon campaign.”

LBJ found out about Chennault’s chicanery, and that weekend accused the Republicans of sabotaging the peace effort, including having a somewhat tense phone conversation with Nixon on Sunday regarding the matter. (You can hear that phone call, with a transcription, over on YouTube.)

All of this tumult during the final week before the election certainly had some effect on the outcome, but it’s hard to say how much.

The situation recalls the one surrounding the final days before the 2016 election. I’m referring of course to FBI Director James Comey’s letter to Congress saying the bureau would be investigating more of Hillary Clinton emails, a letter Comey delivered just 11 days before the election, then his announcement two days before Election Day that Clinton would face no charges regarding the messages -- a dubious two-step that also likely had some, hard-to-measure effect on a certain number of voters near the end.

As noted above, it has been known for a good while that members of Nixon’s team -- among them campaign director John Mitchell and vice-presidential candidate Spiro Agnew -- were talking with Chennault, which would explain how she could represent herself to the South Vietnamese as speaking for Nixon.

A few books have delved more deeply into the Nixon-Chennault connection, with William Bundy’s A Tangled Web: The Making of Foreign Policy in the Nixon Presidency (1998), Jeffrey Kimball’s Nixon’s Vietnam War (1998), and Anthony Summers’s The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon (2000) among the more earnest efforts. More recently Ken Hughes’s Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate (2015) looks even more closely at the story.

As with Watergate, the extent of Nixon’s particular involvement here has long invited much speculation and debate. Was Nixon directly involved with Chennault’s suggestions to the South Vietnamese that they not enter peace talks and wait for a Nixon administration to move forward? Or was this (as with the Watergate break-in and some elements of the cover-up) an example of some of his subordinates freelancing with a kind of vague endorsement from the top man? The new NYT piece sheds some additional light on the situation.

As Farrell shares, notes taken by Nixon advisor H.R. “Bob” Haldeman (later RN’s White House Chief of Staff and key Watergate figure) recount an October 22 telephone conversation in which Nixon advised him to tell others to do what they could to thwart LBJ’s efforts to negotiate the beginning of peace talks. “Keep Anna Chennault working on SVN,” Haldeman scribbled, a fairly direct-sounding directive from Tricky Dick. “Any other way to monkey wrench it?” added Haldeman, referring to Nixon’s ostensible desire to come up with futher means to scuttle the talks.

Such notes strongly suggest that despite Nixon’s later claims to the contrary, he was not only aware of what was going on behind the scenes with regard to those representing him while pressuring Thieu not to enter talks just yet, he was encouraging that effort. The NY Times piece concludes with a reference to another phone call between LBJ and Everett Dirksen, the Republican senator from Illinois who had served as Senate Minority Leader for nearly a decade -- one that can also be heard over on YouTube, if you’re curious.

That call came on Saturday, November 2 (a day before the call to Nixon), and finds LBJ speaking directly about the apparent sabotage. LBJ declares “this is treason,” complaining outwardly that “they’re contacting a foreign power in the middle of a war.”

Indeed, for Nixon -- then technically a private citizen -- to have anything at all to do with the country’s talks with a foreign power like this was obviously out of bounds, a violation of the Logan Act, a federal law forbidding unauthorized citizens from negotiating with other governments. (A few weeks ago I was alluding to another, much less outrageous example of this same sort of violation prior to my recent trip to Prague, one involving Frank Zappa’s dialogue with Václav Havel.)

Johnson encourages Dirksen to talk to his party colleagues, telling them how they “oughta keep the Mrs. Chennaults and all the rest of them from running around here” while threatening to go public with the information that the Nixon team was obstructing negotiations that would hopefully lead to an end for the war.

“I think it would shock America if a principal candidate was playing with a source like this on a matter this important,” says Johnson. (The mind wanders toward a certain president-elect’s strange communications regarding a certain foreign power.)

Also tucked into that conversation is a poker metaphor, used by Johnson to refer to the fact that he is privy to what all sides have been up to, including what Chennault has been doing on behalf of Nixon.

“Now I’m reading their hand, Everett,” says Johnson, adding “I don’t want to get this into the campaign.” (The NYT piece shares that quote, too, near the end.)

Those conversations are fascinating to listen to, especially the one between Nixon and Johnson, both of whom were accomplished poker players. Understanding the larger context, it is clear both knew full well what the other “player” had in his hand, with both also obviously walking a fine line trying not to give too much away to each other.

Photo: Richard Nixon Foundation.

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Monday, January 02, 2017

A Post About Posting

Just firing a short one here today both to wish everyone a Happy New Year and to make a short announcement regarding the blog and my posting schedule here in 2017 (and beyond).

For years I’ve been hinting here at slowing the pace of my posting, though somehow have kept up the same routine of sharing something every single weekday -- and weekends sometimes, too, such as when doing “travel reports” -- without exception.

Sometimes I’ve fallen behind a little and had to backdate things to fill in gaps. Typically what I’ve done (say, when on a trip) is to sketch a quick draft of a post and save it, then go back later to finish. That has been the case for a good while now.

I started Hard-Boiled Poker way back in April 2006, adding to the list of what was then a fast-growing crowd of other “poker blogs.” Full of enthusiasm about both playing the game and writing about it, it didn’t take me long to work up to that five-post-a-week pace by the start of 2008, which I’ve continued for nearly nine years.

I remember sometimes during the first few years when I’d make lists of topics about which to write each week, often having to whittle the list down to just five. Coming up on the 3,000th post here, which if you divide by 10-and-a-half years you can figure out what kind of pace that means.

Of course, once you’ve written about something once or twice or ten times, the urgency to write about it again diminishes. As I imagine does the desire to read about such things, too.

In any case, the plan going forward is to check in regularly -- at the very least once per week -- and as a result try to give a bit more substance to each post, perhaps making them more like features than journal entries.

That said, I won’t self-impose any sort of formal restrictions, other than the only one I’ve ever followed here which is to make every post have at least something to do with poker, even when it isn’t about poker at all.

Meanwhile, I’ll have much else to share in the coming weeks and months -- including a new novel that is already on its way (no shinola!) -- plus some other writing projects that are already well along. More about all of that soon.

Image: “Found Blur Motion,” ilouque. CC BY 2.0.

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